Orpheus and Eurydice Summary

Orpheus and Eurydice are figures from ancient Greek mythology. When Eurydice dies tragically from a snakebite, Orpheus travels to the Underworld to win her back. Hades tells him that if he can walk to the Upperworld without looking back at Eurydice, then she can return with him.

  • Orpheus and Eurydice's marriage is doomed from the beginning. Hymen, the Greek god of marriage, doesn't bless their wedding, and Eurydice dies soon after it while fleeing from an insistent suitor.

  • Devastated, Orpheus travels to the Underworld to bring Eurydice back to life. Hades makes a deal with Orpheus: if he can walk all the way to the Upperworld without looking back at Eurydice, she can return to the land of the living. Orpheus fails.

  • One day, a group of Thracian maidens enthralled by a Bacchanalian rite tears Orpheus limb from limb. He's sent to the Underworld, where he and Eurydice remain forever.

Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Orpheus, son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope, grows up in Thrace, a land long noted for the purity and richness of its divine gift of song. His father presents him with a lyre and teaches him to play it. So lovely are the songs of Orpheus that the wild beasts follow him when he plays, and even the trees, the rocks, and the hills gather near him. It is said his music softens the composition of stones.

Orpheus charms Eurydice with his music, but Hymen brings no happy omens to their wedding. His torch smokes so that tears come to their eyes. Passionately in love with his wife, Orpheus becomes mad with grief when Eurydice dies. Fleeing from a shepherd who desires her, she steps upon a snake and dies from its bite.

Heartbroken, Orpheus wanders over the hills composing and singing melancholy songs of memory for the lost Eurydice. Finally he descends into the Underworld and makes his way past the sentries by means of his music. Approaching the throne of Proserpine and Hades, he sings a lovely song in which he says that love brings him to the Underworld. He complains that Eurydice was taken from him before her time and if they will not release her, he will not leave Hades. Proserpine and Hades cannot resist his pleas. They agree to set Eurydice free if Orpheus will promise not to look upon her until they safely reach the Upperworld.

The music of Orpheus is so tender that even the ghosts shed tears. Tantalus forgets his search for water;...

(The entire section is 543 words.)