Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Orpheus (OHR-fee-uhs), the son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope. His father teaches him to play the lyre so that all nature stops to listen to his music. He goes to the Underworld to redeem the shade of his dead wife, Eurydice. His wish to have her returned to him is granted, providing he does not look back until he has left the Underworld. He does look back, however, and Eurydice disappears. Later, Orpheus is killed by a group of Thracian maidens in a Bacchic frenzy. Upon his death, he joins Eurydice in the Underworld.
Apollo (uh-POL-oh), a god and the father of Orpheus. He gives a lyre to his son and teaches him to play it beyond the power of any other mortal.
Eurydice (yew-RIH-dih-see), the mortal wife of Orpheus. Fleeing from a shepherd who desires her, she is bitten by a snake and dies. She is granted permission to return to the world with Orpheus if he will not look back until they have left the Underworld. When he looks back, she disappears again.
Hades (HAY-deez) and
Proserpine (proh-SUR-puh-nee), the king and queen of the Underworld. Moved by Orpheus’ music, they grant his request to take Eurydice back among the living, providing he does not look back at her while he is still in the Underworld.
Calliope (kuh-LI-uh-pee), one of the Muses, Orpheus’ mother.
Hymen (HI-mehn), the god of marriage, who brings no happy omens to the wedding of Orpheus and Eurydice.
The Daughters of Danaus
The Daughters of Danaus (DAN-ee-uhs), and
Sisyphus (SIHS-ih-fuhs), shades of the Underworld who are spellbound by the beauty of Orpheus’ music.
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Anouilh, Jean. Eurydice and Medée. Edited by E. Freeman. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1984. A modern analysis of the Orpheus/Eurydice story and the story of Medea as dramatized by modern writers. Compares the two women as opposites, while exploring the loss of love as it relates to one’s view of the world.
Cotterell, Arthur. The Macmillan Illustrated Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends. New York: Macmillan, 1989. Associates Orpheus with the doctrines of Orphism, a mystery cult derived from Orpheus’ poetry to his lost love, Eurydice.
Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. New York: Penguin Books, 1960. Retells the story of Orpheus, father of music, and his beloved Eurydice, who dies and is held in the Underworld. Orpheus is seen both as a hero and as one who spreads the culture of music throughout the world.
Guthrie, W. K. C. Orpheus and Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. Analyzes Orpheus and Dionysus as the catalysts for the Orphic religion. Places emphasis on the mysteries of the cult and their attraction for women.
Warden, John, ed. Orpheus: The Metamorphoses of a Myth. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1982. An in-depth analysis of the uses to which ancient Greek, Roman, and more recent Western European poets, playwrights, musicians, and composers have put the Orpheus legend. Includes a look at the songs of Orpheus compared to the songs of Christ. Since Orpheus, like Christ, was killed as a sacrifice, the mythic implications of the two stories are of major significance.