Monday, August 22, 2011

Orpheus and Eurydice

Orpheus with animals in a landscape by Aelbert Cuyp, c.1640.

Orpheus is the mythic Greek Musician who could charm the wild animals and even the trees and stone with his beautiful music. Eurydice was the woman he loved and would have married if it weren't for a pesky little snake biting her ankle and killing her on the very day of their wedding.

Orphee et Euridice by Louis Ducis, 1825.
Orpheus and Eurydice by George Frederick Watts.

Orpheus decided to brave the underworld and beg Hades and his wife Persephone to return Eurydice to the world of the living.

 Orpheus by Franz Von Stuck, 1891.

Orpheus in the Underworld by Henryk Hector Siemiradzki, 1880-90.


As Orpheus pleaded his cause, enhancing his words
                with music,
He moved the bloodless spirits to tears. For a moment
                Tántalus
Ceased to clutche at the fleeting pool, Ixíon’s wheel
was spellbound, the vultures halted their pecking at
                Títyos’ liver,
The Dánaids dropped their urns and Sísyphus sat on his
                boulder.
The Furies’ hearts were assuaged by the song, and the
story goes
that they wept real tears for the very first time. The king
                and queen
of the world below forbore to refuse such a moving
                appeal,
and they summoned Eurydice.
Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.39-48
Orpheus and Eurydice by Michael Putz-Richard, 1868.
Orpheus was told he could lead her away, on one
                condition:
to walk in front and never look back until he had left
the Vale of Avérnus, or else the concession would count
                for nothing.
Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.50-52

 Orpheus leading Eurydice from the Underworld by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1861.
 They made their way through the underlworld growing ever closer to the exit but Orpheus became afrais Eurydice was falling behind, and how could he know for certain she was even there if he could not look at her. He turned around.

Orpheus and Eurydice by Edmund Dulac.
 
…at once she sank back into
                the dark.
She stretched out her arms to him, struggled to feel his
                hands on her own,
But all she was able to catch, poor soul, was the
                yielding air.
Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.57-59
Orpheus and Eurydice by Charles de Sousy Ricketts, c.1922.

Orpheus by Louis Francais, 1863.
 Orpheus never fully recovered from the double loss of Eurydice.

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