Orpheus and Eurydice

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What lessons about love and death does the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice teach?

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The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice seems to teach numerous lessons about love and death, including the lessons that true love inspires lovers to heroically brave death for their loved ones, that true love can provide the inspiration for heartfelt artistic accomplishments, that absolute trust is imperative in relationships of real love, and that the longing for lost loved ones can be more powerful than the will to live.

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According to one version of the Orpheus myth, the father of Orpheus, the legendary musician, was a Thracian king named Oeagrus, while in other versions, his father was the god Apollo. The muse Calliope was his mother. His ability to sing and play the lyre was unsurpassed. While on a voyage with Jason and the Argonauts, he was able to play music that drowned out the deadly voices of the Sirens, enabling them to pass safely through deadly waters.

Soon after Orpheus met, fell in love with, and married a beautiful woman named Eurydice, she was bitten by a viper while wandering in a forest and died. Overcome with grief, Orpheus decided to descend into the underworld, to Hades and his wife Persephone, to plead for the life of Eurydice. His music so charmed Hades that he agreed to allow Orpheus to take Eurydice back to life on the surface with one condition: during the climb up, he was not to look back to see whether Eurydice was following. If he did, he would forever lose her.

He and his beloved had almost made it to the surface when Orpheus couldn't help but momentarily glance back to ascertain that his wife was really there. When he did, he saw her, but she was immediately and irrevocably swept backwards into the underworld. When Orpheus attempted to follow, the gods would not allow it as long as he was still alive. In his despair, Orpheus longed for death, wandering alone in wild places playing his music and grieving. Not long afterwards, he was killed.

There are numerous lessons we can learn about love and death from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. For example, true love can motivate us to attempt truly heroic deeds. Orpheus's love for Eurydice is so intense that he is even willing to descend into the bowels of the underworld to attempt to win her back. That must have taken considerable courage.

Additionally, true love can provide inspiration for artistic accomplishments that are so profound that they can move anyone. In this story, the intensity of emotion in Orpheus's music causes Hades, the lord of the underworld, to relent and allow a person to leave the underworld and return to the land of the living. Orpheus's love, as expressed in his music, is even stronger than death.

Another lesson is that it is imperative to always absolutely trust your loved one. If Orpheus had only been able to trust that Eurydice was following him for a short time longer, she might have exited the underworld safely and they would have been reunited. As it is, his moment of doubt caused him to lose her again.

Finally, sometimes love can be so intense that it even surpasses the will to live. When Orpheus realizes that he has failed in his quest to bring back his lost loved one, he longs for death.

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