In Greek mythology, Eurydice (/jʊəˈrɪdɪsi/; Greek: Εὐρυδίκη, Eurydikē "wide justice", derived from ευρυς eurys "wide" and δικη dike "justice”) was the wife of Orpheus, who tried to bring her back from the dead with his enchanting music.

Traditional story

Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus, who loved her dearly; on their wedding day, he played joyful songs as his bride danced through the meadow. One day, Aristaeus saw and pursued Eurydice, who stepped on a viper, was bitten, and died instantly. Distraught, Orpheus played and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and deities wept and told him to travel to the Underworld to retrieve her, which he gladly did. After his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone, his singing so sweet that even the Erinyes wept, he was allowed to take her back to the world of the living. In another version, Orpheus played his lyre to put Cerberus, the guardian of Hades, to sleep, after which Eurydice was allowed to return with Orpheus to the world of the living. Either way, the condition was attached that he must walk in front of her and not look back until both had reached the upper world. Soon he began to doubt that she was there, suspecting that Hades had deceived him. Just as he reached the portals of Hades and daylight, he turned around to gaze on her face, and because Eurydice had not yet crossed the threshold, she vanished back into the Underworld. When Orpheus later was killed by the Maenads at the orders of Dionysus, his soul ended up in the Underworld where he was reunited with Eurydice.

The story in this form belongs to the time of Virgil, who first introduces the name of Aristaeus and the tragic outcome.[1] Other ancient sources however, speak of Orpheus's visit to the underworld in a more negative light; according to Phaedrus in Plato's Symposium,[2] the infernal deities only "presented an apparition" of Eurydice to him. Ovid says that Eurydice's death was not caused by fleeing from Aristaeus, but by dancing with naiads on her wedding day. In fact, Plato's representation of Orpheus is that of a coward; instead of choosing to die in order to be with the one he loved, he mocked the deities by trying to go to Hades to get her back alive. Since his love was not "true"—meaning he was not willing to die for it—he was punished by the deities, first by giving him only the apparition of his former wife in the underworld and then by being killed by women.[2]

The story of Eurydice may be a late addition to the Orpheus myths. In particular, the name Eurudike ("she whose justice extends widely") recalls cult-titles attached to Persephone. The myth may have been derived from another Orpheus legend in which he travels to Tartarus and charms the goddess Hecate.[3]

The story of Eurydice has a number of strong universal cultural parallels, from the Japanese myth of Izanagi and Izanami, the Mayan myth of Itzamna and Ixchel, the Indian myth of Savitri and Satyavan, to the Akkadian/Sumerian myth of Inanna's descent to the underworld. From the Bible, the story of Lot and his wife is also "often compared to the story of Orpheus and his wife Eurydike."[4]

Works of art

The story of Orpheus and Eurydice has been depicted in a number of works by artists, including Titian, Peter Paul Rubens, Nicolas Poussin, Corot[5] and recently, Bracha Ettinger whose series, Eurydice, was exhibited in the Pompidou Centre, (Face à l'Histoire, 1996); the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (Kabinet, 1997) and The Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerpen (Gorge(l), 2007). The story has inspired ample writings in the fields of ethics, aesthetics, art, and feminist theory.

In addition, the myth has been retold in operas by Jacopo Peri, Monteverdi, Gluck, Yevstigney Fomin, and Harrison Birtwistle (see List of Orphean operas). The myth is also the basis of Anaïs Mitchell's folk opera Hadestown. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice features prominently in the 1967 album Reflections by Manos Hadjidakis, and the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album The Lyre of Orpheus, as well as on the track "Talk" from Hozier's 2019 album Wasteland, Baby!

Additionally, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice is the basis of a play by Sarah Ruhl. It inspired the 1959 film Black Orpheus by Marcel Camus. The myth also inspired the American playwright Tennessee Williams' 1957 drama Orpheus Descending.

Other uses include:



  1. M. Owen Lee, Virgil as Orpheus: A Study of the Georgics, State University of New York Press, Albany (1996), p. 9.
  2. Symposium 179d-e.
  3. Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Penguin Books Ltd., London (1955), Volume 1, Chapter 28, "Orpheus", p. 115.
  4. Mathew Clark, Exploring Greek Myths, Blackwell Publishing, Chichester (2012), Chapter 8, "The Judgment of Paris", p. 106.
  5. "Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld" 1861, painting at the MFAH in Houston by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
  6. Rosand, "Opera: III. Early opera, 1600–90"
  7. Whenham (1986) p. xi
  8. Clayson, Alan (1997). Death Discs: An Account of Fatality in the Popular Song (2nd ed.). Sanctuary. p. 200. ISBN 1860741959. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  9. Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Eurydice", p. 86).


  • Ovid, Metamorphoses 10
  • The Library 1.3.2
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.30
  • Virgil, Georgics 4.453
  • Plato, Symposium
  • Sleepthief, "Eurydice" featuring Jody Quine"
  • Griselda Pollock, "Abandoned at the Mouth of Hell". In: Looking Back to the Future. G&B Arts. ISBN 90-5701-132-8.
  • Judith Butler, "Bracha's Eurydice". In: Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger: Eurydice Series. Edited by Catherine de Zegher and Brian Massumi. Drawing Papers n.24. The Drawing center, NY, 2001. Reprinted in: Theory, Culture and Society, 21(1), 2004. ISSN 0263-2764.
  • Emmanuel Levinas in conversation with Bracha L. Ettinger, "What would Eurydice Say?" (1991–1993). Reprinted in 1997. Reprinted in Athena: Philosophical Studies, Volume 2, 2006. ISSN 1822-5047.
  • Dorota Glowaka, "Lyotard and Eurydice". In: Margret Grebowicz (ed.), Gender after Lyotard. NY: Suny Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7914-6956-9
  • Christine Buci-Glucksmann, "Eurydice and her Doubles. Painting after Auschwitz", in: Artworking 1985-1999, Amsterdam: Ludion, 2000. ISBN 90-5544-283-6.
  • Carol Ann Duffy, "Eurydice". In: The World's Wife. ISBN 978-0-330-37222-0.
  • Ellen Rosand, "Opera: III. Early opera, 1600–90", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed via subscription 27 April 2010)
  • John Whenham, Claudio Monteverdi, Orfeo, Cambridge University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-521-28477-5

Further reading

  • Griselda Pollock. "Orphée et Eurydice: le temps/l'éspace/le regard traumatique". In: Julia Kristeva et al., eds. Guerre et paix des sexes. Hachette, 2009.
  • Jennie Hirsh, and Isabelle D. Wallace, eds. Contemporary Art and Classical Myth. Farnham: Ashgate, 2011. ISBN 978-0-7546-6974-6.
  • Irene Masing-Delic, "Replication or Recreation? The Eurydice Motif in Nabokov's Russian Oeuvre", Russian Literature, 70.3 (2011), 391–414.

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