(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

While looking for a lost calf, old Mopsus comes upon Aristaeus and his servant Thyrsis. They did not see the animal, but Aristaeus sends the young man in search of it. Meanwhile, he tells Mopsus that he saw a nymph more beautiful than Diana in the woods. Although she was accompanied by a youthful sweetheart, Aristaeus declares that either he must win her love or he will die. Mopsus tried to warn him of the desolation and unhappiness caused by love, but without success; the return of Thyrsis with word that the girl is still in the woods sends Aristaeus hurrying to find her. The shepherds are convinced that he is mad and that some evil will result from his actions.

After finding the nymph, Aristaeus tries to woo her, but she flees. A moment later another nymph appears with news that the lovely Eurydice just died of a serpent bite by the riverside. She calls on her sister dryads to join in a dirge “to set the air ringing with the sound of wailing.” As they sing, they see Orpheus, her sweetheart, approaching with his lyre. The dryad takes it upon herself to break to him the sad news of Eurydice’s death.

When Orpheus’s song about the exploits of Hercules is interrupted by the nymph bearing “crushing tidings,” the desolate poet calls on sky and sea to hear him lament his bitter fate. At last he vows to go to the gates of Tartarus in an attempt to win back his dead love—perhaps the magic of his lyre will move even Death to pity. The...

(The entire section is 437 words.)