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Useful weblinks: Orpheus and Eurydice

The myth in antiquity 

  • The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice appeared in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book X: 1-85). Virgil also wrote the Orpheus tale in his Georgics (Book IV: 453-527).
  • Here are 5 differences between Virgil’s and Ovid’s Orpheus:

1) Virgil omits Orpheus’ song to the underworld gods; Ovid gives it in full
2) Virgil’s Eurydice sings a lament; Ovid’s says nothing
3) Virgil’s Orpheus mourns for seven months; Ovid’s for seven days
4) Virgil’s Orpheus rejects other women; Ovid’s Orpheus turns to boys
5) Virgil’s Orpheus’ head sings a song of lament; Ovid’s Orpheus’ head sings flebile nescioquid, ‘a weepy something or other’

  • The passage about Orpheus and Eurydice playing ‘follow-the-leader’ in the underworld can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book XI:64-66):

Hic modo coniunctis spatiantur passibus ambo,
nunc praecedentem sequiturnunc praevius anteit
Eurydicenque suam iam tutus respicit Orpheus.

‘There they walk together side by side; now she goes in front and he follows her; now he leads and looks back as he can do, in safety now, at his Eurydice.’

  • A quote about mortals being wretched, such as the one used by Orpheus in his plea, can also be found in Homer’s Iliad (Book XXIV: 525-6):

ὡς γὰρ ἐπεκλώσαντο θεοὶ δειλοῖσι βροτοῖσι
ζώειν ἀχνυμένοιςαὐτοὶ δέ τ᾽ ἀκηδέες εἰσί.

‘For the gods have woven grief into the lives of suffering mortals, but they themselves are free from care.’

Gods 

The Fates

  • The three Fates are three sisters called Clotho (spinner), Lachesis (allotter) and Atropos (unturnable).
  • Although they are generally seen as three separate deities, some see them as representing the Triple Goddess; Virgin, Mother and Crone (this site looks at the Fates from many different points of view). This idea of a trinity, a three-in-one model, can be seen in this picture.
  • Here is a more traditional biography of the Fates.
  • Due to their different roles, presiding over life, death and prophecy, the Fates are depicted in many different ways.
  • The Fates appear in this clip of Disney’s Hercules as ugly and old. 

Hades

  • This site gives a comprehensive look at the Underworld/Hades, including sections on Tartarus and Elysium, and includes a lot of quotes from ancient sources.
  • Map of Hades
  • This drawing of Hades makes it seem red, dark and desolate.
  • In contrast, this view of the entrance to Hades is clear and cultured, with warm lighting and an entrance that would be fitting for a mansion.
  • Charon, the ferryman of the dead, is often portrayed as a grim-reaper type figure, calmly propelling his boat through still, silent water. At other times the water is fierce, as in this painting, where Charon looks as if he is struggling to control the boat! Alexander Lytovchenko painted this scene, where Charon is pushing off from the bank with a boat so full that many are left behind on the shore (alternatively, those left behind might be the unburied dead who are not allowed to cross the river).
  • Cerberus (or Kerberus as the name is sometimes written) is the famous three-headed guard dog of the underworld. He appears on this black-figure vase and is generally shown as being very aggressive (see for instance this modern drawing).
  • Cerberus inspired the three-headed guard dog  ‘Fluffy’ in J.K.Rowling’s book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Not only does this innocently-named character look similar to Cerberus and fulfil a similar role, but his native land is Greece and the way to evade his attack is to send him to sleep by playing a harp (one of the closest modern instruments to the ancient lyre)!

Lyre 

  • A definition, including details of the different designs and possible number of strings (as shown in various archaeological contexts).
  • Lyres can be seen in ancient art, from Minoan times (c.3rd-2nd Millennium BC) onwards, on walls and pots. Based on visual evidence, they probably looked something like this reconstruction or this one.
  • Check out the music that this modern enthusiast plays on his lyre. His goal is to recreate the heart and soul of ancient lyre music in the modern world – no matter whether he authentically succeeds in this or not, his skill is undeniable and the music is lovely!

Influence/Art

Music

  • Andrew Bird released a record entitled Orpheo looks back, the first verse of which goes like this:

And there are places we must go to / To bring these hollow words on back from / You must cross a muddy river / Where love turns to love turns to fear. They say you don’t look / There’s only one way / On back from on back from here / They say you don’t look / They say you don’t look cause it’ll disappear.

  • The band Arcade Fire produced a song called It’s never over (Oh Orpheus), the lyrics of which are very fitting to the myth. For instance, at one point ‘Eurydice’ sings:

Hey, Orpheus!

Just wait until it's over
Wait until it's through
And if I shout for you
Never doubt
Don't turn around too soon

Visual media 

  • This animation was created by the Grand Canonical at University of California, Berkeley in 2008 as part of Campus MovieFest, the world's largest student film festival. The animation is beautifully done and accompanied by fitting music but the ending is rather optimistic!!
  • This video puts a more modern twist on the story. Again, the animation is very well made.
  • Orpheus appears as a character in Disney’s Hercules series; he is a singer and teen idol!
  • This comic strip retells the story of Orpheus, including what happens after he fails to rescue Eurydice from the Underworld.

Opera

  • The oldest of the Orpheus operas – Eurydice – was written by Jacobi Peri and first performed in 1600. It is based entirely on books X and XI of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and so focuses very heavily on Orpheus’ life. However, there is a happy and optimistic twist at the end! Read a summary of the opera or, if you’re linguistically gifted, the original Italian script!
  • The most famous serious opera of the tale, Orfeo ed Eurydice, was composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck and first performed in 1762. You can listen to the full opera or read a summary. Similarly to Peri’s opera, Gluck decided that his audience would prefer a happy ending and so changed the original myth.
  • A less serious opera of the myth was produced by Jaques Offenbach (1858), in which he quotes satirically from Gluck’s earlier opera! The plot is comedic and varies greatly from the original tale – it begins with Orpheus and Eurydice, although married, living separately from each other, each with new lovers. Orpheus’ rescue attempt is half-hearted, driven only by the urging of the character Public Opinion, and both Orpheus and Eurydice are relieved when he fails! This site gives a good background for the opera and a short summary. The most famous music from the opera, which most people have heard at some point in their lives, is the cancan.
  • Igor Stravinsky composed a beautiful ballet entitled Orpheus. It is possible to listen to it here: part 1, part 2 and part 3. 

Poetry 

  • Margaret Atwood’s poem Orpheus and Eurydice draws attention to the fact that in most versions of the tale, Eurydice’s feelings and thoughts aren’t touched. In her poem she focuses on Eurydice and how Orpheus treats her as property rather than a person. At the end of the poem, Eurydice makes the choice to ‘let go’ and return to the underworld rather than it being because Orpheus breaks the agreement he had with Hades.

Art