Orpheus and Eurydice Summary

"Orpheus and Eurydice" is a Greek myth in which a bereaved musician named Orpheus travels to the underworld in hopes of reviving his recently deceased wife, Eurydice.

  • 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 the nuptials.

  • Devastated, Orpheus travels to the Underworld and make a deal with Hades: if Orpheus can walk  to the surface without looking back, Eurydice will return to life. Orpheus fails.

  • Orpheus goes mad with grief and is murdered by a group of maidens. Deaths finally reunites him with Eurydice.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543

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...

(The entire section contains 543 words.)

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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; Ixion’s wheel stops; the vulture stops feeding on the giant’s liver; the daughters of Danaus stop drawing water; and Sisyphus himself stops to listen. Tears stream from the eyes of the Furies. Eurydice then appears, limping. The two walk the long and dismal passageway to the Upperworld, and Orpheus does not look back toward Eurydice. At last, forgetting his vow, he turns, and, as they reach out their arms to embrace, Eurydice disappears.

Orpheus tries to follow her, but the stern ferryman refuses him passage across the River Styx. Declining food and drink, he sits by the River Strymon and sings his twice-felt grief. As he sings his melancholy songs, so sad that oaks move and tigers grieve, a group of Thracian maidens attempt to console him, but he repulses them. One day, while they are observing the sacred rites of Bacchus, they begin to stone him. At first, the stones fall without harm when they come within the sound of the lyre. As the frenzy of the maidens increases, however, their shouting drowns out the notes of the lyre so that it no longer protects Orpheus. Soon he is covered with blood.

Then the savage women tear his limbs from his body and hurl his head and his lyre into the river. Both continue singing sad songs as they float downstream. The fragments of Orpheus’s body are buried at Libethra, and it is said that nightingales sang more sweetly over his grave than in any other part of Greece. Jupiter makes his lyre a constellation of stars in the heavens. Orpheus joins Eurydice in the Underworld, and there, happy at last, they wander through the fields together.

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