Orpheus and Eurydice
The ancient legend of Orpheus and Eurydice concerns the fateful love of Orpheus of Thrace, son of Apollo and the muse Calliope, for the beautiful Eurydice (from Eurudike, "she whose justice extends widely"). It may be a late addition to the Orpheus myths, as the latter cult-title suggests those attached to Persephone. It may have been derived from a legend in which Orpheus travels to Tartarus and charms the goddess Hecate.
In Virgil's classic version of the legend, it completes his Georgics, a poem on the subject of agriculture. Here the name of Aristaeus, or Aristaios, the keeper of bees, and the tragic conclusion, was first introduced.
Ovid's version of the myth, in his Metamorphoses, was published a few decades later and employs a different poetic emphasis and purpose. It relates that Eurydice's death was not caused by fleeing from Aristaeus, but by dancing with naiads on her wedding day.
Other ancient writers treated Orpheus' visit to the underworld more negatively. According to Phaedrus in Plato's Symposium, the infernal deities only "presented an apparition" of Eurydice to him. Plato's representation of Orpheus is in fact that of a coward; instead of choosing to die in order to be with his love, he mocked the deities in an attempt to visit Hades, to get her back alive. As his love was not "true"—meaning that 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 having him killed by women.
Apollo gives his son Orpheus a lyre and teaches him how to play. It is said that "nothing could resist Orpheus's beautiful melodies, neither enemies nor beasts." Thus, he falls in love with Eurydice, a woman of beauty and grace, whom he marries and lives happily with for a short time. However, when Hymen is called to bless the marriage, he predicts that their perfection is not meant to last.
A short time after this prophecy, Eurydice is wandering in the forest with the Nymphs. In some versions of the story, Aristaeus, a shepherd, then sees her, is beguiled by her beauty, makes advances towards her, and begins to chase her. Other versions of the story relate that Eurydice is merely dancing with the Nymphs. In any case, while fleeing or dancing, she is bitten by a snake and dies instantly. Therefore, Orpheus sings his grief with his lyre and manages to move everything, living or not, in the world; both humans and gods learn about his sorrow and grief.
At some point, Orpheus decides to descend to Hades to see his wife. Ovid's version of the myth does not explain this decision, while other versions relate that the gods and nymphs or Apollo himself, Orpheus' father, suggest that he make this journey. Any other mortal would have died, but Orpheus, protected by the gods, goes to Hades and arrives at the Stygian realm, passing by ghosts and souls of people unknown. He also manages to attract Cerberus, the three-headed dog, with a liking for his music. He later presents himself in front of the god of the Greek underworld, Hades (Pluto in Roman mythology), and his wife, Persephone.
Orpheus plays his lyre, attracting Hades. The latter tells the former that he can take Eurydice with him but under one condition: she would have to follow him while walking out to the light from the caves of the underworld, but he should not look at her before coming out to the light or else he would lose her forever. If Orpheus is patient, he will have Eurydice as a normal woman again by his side.
Thinking it a simple task for a patient man like himself, Orpheus is delighted; he thanks the gods and leaves to ascend back into the world. Unable to hear Eurydice's footsteps, however, he begins fearing the gods had fooled him. Eurydice is in fact behind him, but as a shade, having to come back into the light to become a full woman again. Only a few feet away from the exit, Orpheus loses his faith and turns to see Eurydice behind him, but her shade is whisked back among the dead, now trapped in Hades forever.
Orpheus tries to return to the underworld, but it is assumed that a person cannot enter the realm of Hades twice while alive. According to various versions of the myth, he starts playing a mourning song with his lyre, calling for death so that he can be united with Eurydice forever. He is ultimately killed either by beasts tearing him apart, or by the Maenads, in a frenzied mood. According to another version, Zeus decides to strike him with lightning knowing Orpheus would reveal the secrets of the underworld to humans.
In any case, Orpheus dies, but the Muses decide to save his head and keep it among the living people to sing forever, enchanting everyone with his melodies and tones.
Works employing this legend
- The Death of Eurydice episode which occurs in Book X of Metamorphoses by Ovid (8 AD)
- The poem "Orpheus and Eurydice" in The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius (594 AD)
- Sir Orfeo, an anonymous narrative poem (c. late thirteenth or early fourteenth century)
- The Tale of Orpheus and Erudices his Quene, a poem by Robert Henryson (c.1470)
- "Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes", a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke (1907)
- Sonnets to Orpheus, an allusive sonnet sequence by poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1922)
- The Einstein Intersection, a novel by Samuel R. Delany (1967)
- Gravity's Rainbow, a novel by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
- Enchanted Fire, a romance novel by Roberta Gellis (1996)
- The Ground Beneath Her Feet, novel by Salman Rushdie (1999)
- "Eurydice", a poem by Carol Ann Duffy in her collection of poems, The World's Wife (1999)
- Veniss Underground, a novel by Jeff Vandermeer (2003)
- Poetry and Fear, a novel by Grace Andreacchi (2008)
- "Syringa", a poem by John Ashbery, later set to music by Elliott Carter
- "Hymn to Persephone", a poem by Craig Arnold in Made Flesh (2008)
- "Cocktails with Orpheus", a poem by Terrance Hayes (2008)
- A Song for Ella Grey, a novel by David Almond
- Bone Gap, a novel by Laura Ruby
- Goat Song, a novelette by Poul Anderson (1972)
- State of Wonder, a 2011 novel by American author Ann Patchett
- "Eurydice's Footnote", a 1995 poem by A. E. Stallings
Film and drama
- The Orphic Trilogy, a series of films by Jean Cocteau (1930–1959)
- Eurydice, a play by Jean Anouilh (1941)
- Orpheus Descending, a play by Tennessee Williams (1957)
- Black Orpheus, a film by Marcel Camus (1959)
- Evrydiki BA 2O37, a film directed by Nikos Nikolaidis (1975)
- Parking, a film by Jacques Demy (1985)
- An episode of The Storyteller: Greek Myths (1990)
- Orfeu, film by Cacá Diegues (1999)
- Metamorphoses, play by Mary Zimmerman (2002)
- Eurydice, play by Sarah Ruhl (2003)
- Hadestown, folk opera by Anaïs Mitchell (2006)
- Orpheus and Eurydice: A Myth Underground, a theatre production written by Molly Davies with music by James Johnston, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for the National Youth Theatre at the Old Vic Tunnels, directed by James Dacre (2011)
- Orpheus & Eurydice, a musical by Andrew Hanley and Melissa Nally (2011)
- I Am Orpheus, a film by Adam Carter (2012)
- You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, a film by Alain Resnais (2012)
- To Hell and Back, a musical by Joel B. New (2013)
- Jasper in Deadland, a musical by Hunter Foster and Ryan Scott Oliver (2014)
- Gucci Stories: The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (2016)
- What Makes Me Take The Train (2013) by Pierre Mazingarbe
- Hadestown, an expansion of the folk opera by Anaïs Mitchell, directed by Rachel Chavkin, that premiered at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2016 before eventually transferring to Broadway in 2019. (2016)
- Portrait of a Lady on Fire, film by Céline Sciamma (2019)
Music and ballet
- Euridice, an opera by Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini with librettist Ottavio Rinuccini (1600)
- L'Orfeo, the first opera by Monteverdi (1607)
- Orfeo ed Euridice, an opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1762)
- Orfeo ed Euridice, an opera by Ferdinando Bertoni (1776)
- Orpheus in the Underworld, an operetta by Jacques Offenbach (1858)
- Orpheus und Eurydike, an opera by Ernst Krenek (1926)
- Orpheus and Eurydice, a ballet choreographed by Dame Ninette de Valois with music by Gluck (1941)
- Orpheus, a ballet made by choreographer George Balanchine to music by Igor Stravinsky (1948)
- Orpheus and Eurydice, a rock opera album by Alexander Zhurbin (1975)
- La Musique Des Amants, Chêne Noir 2000, Théâtre du Chêne Noir d'Avignon (1976)
- “Orpheus”, for two bassoons and marimba by David Maslanka (1977)
- "Rubin and Cherise", a song by the Jerry Garcia Band, written by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia (1978)
- "Blue Orpheus", a song by Todd Rundgren on his album A Cappella (1985)
- The Mask of Orpheus, an opera by composer Harrison Birtwistle and librettist Peter Zinovieff (1986)
- Orpheus and Eurydice, a song cycle in two acts by Ricky Ian Gordon (2005)
- Metamorpheus, an orchestral album by former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett (2005)
- "Eurydice", a song by Sleepthief featuring Jody Quine (2006)
- Hadestown, an album of songs from the folk opera of the same name by Anaïs Mitchell (2010)
- From the Underworld, a song by the British band The Herd, written by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley (1967)
- Orpheus X, a rock opera by Rinde Eckert (2007)
- Syringa, by Elliott Carter, based on John Ashbery's poem of the same name
- Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, an album by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (2004)
- "Don't Look Back", a song by She & Him, written by Zooey Deschanel (2008)
- "Beat of her Heart", a song by Gungor (2013)
- The cover of the album Reflektor (2013) by Arcade Fire contains a picture of Auguste Rodin's sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice. The myth is referenced in songs ""Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)", "It's Never Over ( Hey Orpheus)" and "Afterlife".
- "Bring You Back", a song by Beacon (2013)
- "Orpheus Mourning", a song by the Spanish band As Light Dies (2014)
- "Don't Look Back Orpheus", a song by The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (2014)
- Orphée, an album by Jóhann Jóhannsson (2016)
- "Eurydice in the Light", a song by Helena Ruth off the album Inherited Branches (2016)
- "Orpheus is Playing the Troubadour", a song by Charlie Fink (2017)
- "The Wind Weeps Eleanor", a song by American Murder Song off the album The Donner Party (2017)
- "Orfeusz+Euridiké", a ballet choreographed by Enrico Morelli (2018)
- “Talk”, song by Hozier on the album Wasteland, Baby (2019)
- "Orpheus", a song by Sara Bareilles off the album "Amidst the Chaos" (2019)
- Orpheus and Eurydice, stone relief, second century, Šempeter, Slovenia
- Orpheus and Eurydice, a painting by Titian (1511)
- Landscape with Orpheus and Eurydice, a painting by Poussin (1650–1653)
- Orpheus and Euridice, a painting by Federico Cervelli
- Orpheus Mourning the Death of Eurydice, a painting by Ary Scheffer (1814)
- Orpheus and Eurydice, a painting by Edward Poynter (1862)
- Orpheus and Euridice, a painting by Frederic Leighton (1864)
- Orpheus and Eurydice, a sculpture by Auguste Rodin (1893)
- Orpheus Searching Eurydice in the Underworld, a painting by the Antwerp school
- The Battle of Olympus, an NES and Game Boy video game by Infinity
- Don't Look Back, an Atari VCS-styled Flash game by Terry Cavanagh
- Persona 3, a Playstation game originally designed for the PS2 in Japan; Orpheus appears as the protagonist's persona fitting as he explores Tartarus and always listens to music
- Dante’s Inferno
- Poem Strip, by Dino Buzzati
- In The Sandman, The Song of Orpheus, by Neil Gaiman, there is a slightly altered version of the myth where the character dream is Orpheus's father instead of Apollo.
- Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Penguin Books Ltd., London (1955), Volume 1, Chapter 28, "Orpheus", p. 115.
- M. Owen Lee, Virgil as Orpheus: A Study of the pundis', State University of New York Press, Albany (1996), p. 9.
- Symposium 179d-e.
- Ovid, Metamorphoses X
- "Cocktails with Orpheus by Terrance Hayes". 4 November 2016.
- Monahan, James (1957). Fonteyn, A Study of the Ballerina in her Setting. New York, New York: Pitman Publishing Corporation. p. 102. OCLC 952072044.
- "Staying Serious, to a Joyful Beat". The New York Times. 29 October 2013.