Orpheus & Eurydice

Recently I took up studying again, after a month long holiday (pfft, if you call packing and then unpacking a thousand boxes a holiday).

For Latin, I have to do a prescribed Literature Study of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

For those who don’t know, it’s about a musician called Orpheus, and a nymph called Eurydice, who are in love and get married, but soon after tragedy strikes (of course) and she is bitten by a snake and dies. In Greek myth, when people die they go to the Underworld, known as Hades, which is described as usually being a horrible place for the bad people, but a nice place full of fields and butterflies for the good people. Orpheus is wildly in love with Orpheus, and goes to Hades and begs for the king of Hades to return her to him. Pluto, the king, agrees, but only if Orpheus does not look back till he reaches the normal world again. But foolishly, when he has nearly reached the entrance, he looks back, and Eurydice is snatched away from him again. He returns back to the normal world and is unable to be comforted by anything, until eventually he dies, and goes and joins Eurydice in the Underworld.

I’ve read a few versions of this story before, mostly in children’s books, but this time I had the official Latin copies (along with an English translation), and I was amazed at how breathtakingly beautiful it was. Maybe I’m an emotional wreck for some other reason, but it really touched me, so I thought I’d write some of it here.

This is an excerpt from after Eurydice was taken from him a second time

They say he wept for seven whole months, one after another, under a lofty crag near the water of the deserted Strymon and that he unfolded this tale under the icy stars. Taming tigers and leading oak trees with his song; He sang just like the grieving nightingale under the poplar tree’s shade she mourns her lost nestlings which a hard-hearted ploughman has seen and dragged down from the nest unfledged; But she the nightingale weeps all night and sitting on a branch repeats her pitiable song, and fills places all around with her sad lamentations.  – Virgil.

This is an excerpt from after Orpheus dies

His spirit passes beneath the earth, and he recognizes all the places which he had seen before. Searching through the fields of the blessed he comes upon Eurydice and embraces her with eager arms; here they both stroll together side by side, sometimes he follows while she walks in front. Sometimes Orpheus walks in front and looks back at his Eurydice, as he can now safely do.  – Ovid


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