The Story

Hailed as the supreme poet and musician in Greek mythology, Orpheus possessed a beautiful voice and excelled at playing the lyre. His music and singing was so enchanting that it was capable of making birds, fish, beasts, and even rocks and trees dance. His song charmed the Sirens when he voyaged with Jason to recover the Golden Fleece. And it was through his enchanting music and singing that he was able to enter and Underworld to seek the return of his beloved Eurydice.

The Lament of Orpheus by Franz Caucig (1755-1828); [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

The Lament of Orpheus by Franz Caucig (1755-1828); [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Orpheus’ love for Eurydice is legendary. Their wedding day is marred by catastrophe when Eurydice is bitten on her heel by a serpent as she walks through tall grass. Her death is instantaneous. Her spirit plummets to the Underworld. Orpheus discovers her body and is overcome with grief. Unable to either eat or sleep, he mourns the loss of Eurydice by playing such mournful songs that even the gods weep to hear him. Finally, Orpheus decides to venture to the Underworld, a feat few living mortals ever accomplish, with the goal of retreiving Eurydice back to the land of the living.

With his music and singing, Orpheus convinces the ferryman Charon to take him across the River Styx to the opening of the Underworld. Once there, he charms Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding its entrance, to step aside and let him enter. He plays his music and sings his mournful songs, convincing Hades, the god of the Underworld, and his bride Persephone to agree to the release of Eurydice. But there is a condition. Both he and Eurydice are forbidden to look back at the Underworld until they have exited from it entirely and entered the upper world. If either looked back prematurely, Eurydice would have to return. Orpheus agrees to the terms. But for whatever reason, whether it is due to anxiety, excitement, or a lapse in judgment, Orpheus fails to abide by the terms. The consequences prove to be devestating.   

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AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar