Orpheus and Eurydice

Orpheus and Eurydice Greek Mythology

Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the most famous mythical love stories in world literature. The story was written down by both Ovid and Virgil.

The story

Throughout the land, the fantastic singer Orpheus was praised. He was the son of King Oiagros of Thrace and had inherited from his mother Calliope the gift of singing, with which he thrilled all the people.

Apollo gave him a lyre, and when Orpheus let out his singing, no one could resist its divine power. All nature's animals, trees and even stones stirred the singer. He couldn't believe his luck when he married the nymph Eurydice.

The happiness was short-lived. When the nymph was chased by Aristaios, who wanted to assault her, she was bitten by a viper. It was a minor wound, but she eventually died from it.

Orpheus, however, could not imagine life without Eurydice. He sang a lament and then the wild animals surrounded him and the trees stopped their rustling.

Orpheus devised an unprecedented plan. He would descend into the underworld and beg the ruler of the phantoms to return his wife to him. At the gate that led to the underworld, he descended. Once at the throne, on which Hades sat with his wife Persephone as ruler over the dead, he took his lyre and began to sing.

Then something unique happened in the underworld. The phantoms listened to the sweet sounds and wept. Tantalus, as was his habit, forgot to bow to the ever receding waters.

The Danaians thought no more of trying to fill the sieve. Sisyphos sat on the stone that he had to keep lifting against a mountain. The royal couple was also deeply moved and decided to reunite Eurydice with him, on one condition: Orpheus had to walk in front of his beloved and was not allowed to look back at her until they reached the sunlight.

So they walked up, Eurydice behind Orpheus, Orpheus asked things to Eurydice; "Eurydice are you alright? Eurydice I missed you!" Eurydice wanted him to trust her and did not answer once.

Orpheus began to worry and wondered if Eurydice had actually come with him. He looked behind him and saw that he had made a mistake, for Eurydice did stand behind him. The agreement had been broken and Eurydice was not allowed to return to the upper world.

Intensely sad, Orpheus returned to his homeland. Three years passed and Orpheus increasingly isolated himself. No one was hated by the nymphs as much as he was, because he no longer wanted to know about love for women (according to Ovid's Metamorphoses, Orpheus devoted himself exclusively to boy love).

One fatal day, even a group of Maenads approached Orpheus, shouting, "There he is, the misogynist, who no longer wants to know anything about us," and blind with hatred, they tore Orpheus to pieces alive.

Orpheus' soul floated down to the phantom realm, where he embraced Eurydice, and they have been walking happily together across the Elysian fields ever since. And whenever he once walked forward, he was allowed to look back at his beloved with impunity.

In the art(world)

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice inspired numerous artists, especially in music, because Orpheus is pretty much the prototype of the (ideal) singer. But many in literature, stagecraft, film and painting were also inspired by the myth, including the following:

Jean Cocteau filmed the story in 1950 as Orphée, based on his 1926 play of the same name.

Marcel Camus filmed a Brazilian version Orfeu Negro in 1959, based on a play by Vinicius de Moraes.

Le Testament d'Orphée, 1960 film by Jean Cocteau starring Pablo Picasso, Brigitte Bardot and Cocteau as himself.

Painter Frederico Cervelli.
Composer Claudio Monteverdi laid the foundations of classical opera with L'Orfeo.
Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote Orfeo ed Euridice, whose Dance of the Blessed Spirits is one of the most popular pieces of classical music.

Jacques Offenbach wrote the operetta Orphée aux enfers. Its story is a lighthearted variation on the myth: here, Eurydice is a frivolous woman, and when she dies, Orpheus is glad to be rid of her. The journey to the underworld to retrieve her he undertakes reluctantly and only at the urging of others.

Franz Liszt wrote a symphonic poem Orpheus.
Kurt Weill created a cantata to poet Yvan Goll's poem "Der Neuer Orpheus" in 1926.

Choreographer George Balanchine, in collaboration with composer Igor Stravinsky, created a 30-minute ballet Orpheus in Hollywood, California in 1947.
The Herd's 1967 song From the Underworld is based on the legend.
Frank Boeijen wrote a song about the story and released it on the CD special Tedere tijd Orpheus.

The Orpheus theme is dominant in most of Dutch poet Gerrit Achterberg's oeuvre.

Harry Mulisch used the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as a background for his book Two Women.

Steve Hackett based a composition for guitar and orchestra on the myth, titled Metamorpheus.

Nick Cave released a CD titled The Lyre of Orpheus in 2004 and performed his interpretation of the story of Orpheus in the title track.

Salman Rushdie used the myth as the basis for his book The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

Hubert Lampo wrote the book Kasper in the Underworld, which is a direct comparison to the myth.

Anais Mitchell released the folk opera "Hadestown" in 2010.
Wim Vandekeybus based the performance "Blush" on the story of Orpheus
Jean Anouilh wrote a modern rendition of this story as a play, "Eurydice."
Reinhard Mey sings "Ich möchte wie Orpheus singen.
American writer Richard Matheson's 1978 novel What Dreams May Come and

Vincent Ward's 1998 American film of the same name bear strong similarities to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Neil Gaiman gives Orpheus a place as the son of Morpheus in his comic saga Sandman: The Song of Orpheus, included in the collection Fables and Reflections.

On Reflektor by the band Arcade Fire, several songs refer to this myth.
Czeslaw Milosz wrote the poem Orpheus and Eurydice, in memory of his wife.
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote Sonnets to Orpheus in 1922.
The Israeli band Orphaned Land has a song called "Like Orpheus."
David Sylvian - song Orpheus from album Secrets of the Beehive 1987

Jóhann Jóhannsson composed Orphée, minimalist music
Several musical societies bear Orpheus in their name, such as:

the Orpheus Institute
the Royal Schiedams Male Voice Choir Orpheus
the Koninklijke Harmonie Orpheus from Tilburg