Friday, January 29, 2010
Orpheus's journey to hell, to retrieve Eurydice.
The Greeks of the Classical age venerated the legendary figure of Orpheus as chief among poets and musicians, and the perfector of the lyre invented by Hermes. Poets like Simonides of Ceos said that, with his music and singing, he could charm birds, fish and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and even divert the course of rivers. He was one of the handful of Greek heroes to visit the Underworld and return; even in Hades his song and lyre did not lose their power.
The most famous story in which Orpheus figures is that of his wife Eurydice (also known as Agriope). Orpheus met Eurydice and fell instantly and deeply in love with her. On their wedding day, while fleeing from Aristaeus (son of Apollo), Eurydice ran into a nest of snakes, which bit her fatally on her heel. Undone by his wife of only a few hours death, and distraught by the idea of an eternity without her, Orpheus played such sad songs and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and gods wept.
Consumed by grief and on the advice of the gods, Orpheus traveled to the underworld with Jason and Argonaunts. On the journey there each ship must past the dreaded and terribly beautiful Sirens, perched on the rocks waiting to lure sailors to their death. He was the only man to ever tame the Siren's, matching their alluring powerful songs with his own. Orpheus sang and their claws retreated, lulled into a stupor by his exquisite lyre and voice. He and the ship made it safely into Hades and his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone --he was the only person ever to do so—who then agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world.
He set off with Eurydice following and in his anxiety as soon as he reached the upper world he turned to look at her, forgetting that both needed to be in the upper world, and she vanished for the second time, but now forever.