Orpheus and Eurydice
Compiled by John Millen
Orpheus never grew tired of making music. He played the lyre and sang better than any other young man on the island of Thrace. Every morning, he would wake up with the sun and begin to make music to welcome the day.
In spring and summer, Orpheus travelled all around Thrace giving concerts and entertaining at weddings and feasts. People of all ages crowded into village squares and meadows to hear Orpheus sing and play his lyre.
One day, Orpheus was playing his lyre to fans in a village near the sea. It was early morning and most of the villagers were helping the fishermen unload their catch from the boats that had just returned to the harbour.
A group of young women stopped to listen as they walked down to the seashore. Orpheus was used to beautiful girls falling under the spell of his music and swooning over his good looks, but one girl listening to him that fateful morning really caught his eye.
She was prettier than the others, her skin was pale and her long hair was braided with bright flowers. Her name, she told him, was Eurydice.
Orpheus saw Eurydice many times during the next few months and fell hopelessly in love with her. At the start of autumn, they were married in a grand ceremony attended by hundreds of well-wishers.
One morning, Eurydice was walking alone on the seashore when a strange man approached her and asked for a kiss. Eurydice was horrified and ran as fast as she could into the fields that bordered the shoreline. The grass was long, and as she ran through the meadow, Eurydice stepped on a snake which bit her on the leg. Eurydice screamed and fell to the ground. By the time a search party found her later in the day, she was dead.
Orpheus was inconsolable and vowed to make the terrible journey down into the Underworld to bring his wife back. Fighting fear and his deep sadness, the musician travelled through long, dark corridors and came to the River Styx, where Charon the ferryman carried the souls of the dead into the Underworld. Orpheus played his lyre and sang of his love for Eurydice, and the ghostly ferryman, charmed by the music, agreed to row Orpheus across the river to the gates of the Underworld.
And so Orpheus entered the realm of the dead. As he walked through the darkness, he played his lyre and sang of his love for Eurydice. He could feel the shades of the dead pressing around him as he walked into the great black hall where Hades, the king of the dead, sat on his throne of shadows.
Hades listened in silence as Orpheus sang the most beautiful song begging the king of the dead to let Eurydice return to life. Moved by the music, Hades agreed, but on one condition.
'Your wife will follow you back into the light,' a spectral voice whispered from the darkness, 'but you must not look back until you reach the world of mortals.'
Overjoyed, Orpheus turned and began his journey back home. But he could hear no footsteps behind him. Was Eurydice really there? All he could hear was his own footfall. Had Hades lied to him? The urge to turn round was unbearable, but Orpheus walked on until he saw daylight ahead. They were home!
But suddenly, Orpheus had a scary feeling that Eurydice was not there. He quickly glanced over his shoulder.
A smiling Eurydice stepped out of the shadows, and ran towards her husband. But suddenly she stopped. Her arms fell limply to her side, and her body began to fade and crumble to dust. 'What have I done?' Orpheus screamed, falling to his knees in despair as clouds of sparkling silver dust blew past him into the bright sunny morning.
1 What was Orpheus' special gift?
2 How did he first meet Eurydice?
3 What was the result of Eurydice's meeting with a strange man on the beach?
4 What did Orpheus decide to do to get his wife back?
5 Hades agreed that Eurydice could return to life under one condition. What was this?
6 What happened just as Orpheus arrived back in the land of mortals?
1 Orpheus was a very talented musician.
2 She was at one of his performances.
3 She ran away and was bitten by a poisonous snake.
4 He journeyed to the Underworld to find Eurydice.
5 As Orpheus returns home, he should not look behind to see whether Eurydice is there.
6 Orpheus looked over his shoulder and Eurydice crumbled to dust.