Session 1 : Orpheus and Eurydice

There you go, the beautiful myth we told to the children ! This is an English version of it, written for you by Andrew, and illustrated by Erika and Janyce. We will soon put up the video (in French …), if we get the authorization. I hope you’ll like the story!

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Orpheus was the finest musician in the world. Whenever he began to sing and play his lyre (a stringed instrument like a harp), everyone who heard him would be so enchanted by the beautiful music, they would have to stop what they were doing to listen. And it was not only people who were charmed by the music of Orpheus: when he played and sang, all of nature paid attention, and the gods themselves became his audience.

Many women loved Orpheus for his amazing talents, but Orpheus loved only Eurydice. She was a nymph, one of the lesser goddesses of the forests, rivers and fields, and she and Orpheus were engaged to be married. On their wedding day, all the nymphs and spirits in attendance danced to the beautiful music of Orpheus. But then, tragedy struck. As Eurydice danced to the music of her new husband, she stepped on a snake, which bit her heel. Orpheus rushed to save his bride, but there was nothing he could do for her. Eurydice died of the poison before Orpheus’s very eyes.

With his beloved wife dead on what was meant to be the happiest day of their lives, Orpheus was overwhelmed with grief. He picked up his lyre and began to play music again, but it was not the same joyful dance as before. Now a weeping Orpheus sang a lament for the dead Eurydice, and his sad song was no less beautiful than his happy one. Just like always, all of nature listened to the music of Orpheus: animals and plants, men and women, and even the gods, high in their palace on top of Mount Olympus. And with this new song, everyone felt the musician’s pain and sadness. The gods were so moved by Orpheus’s song that they gave him permission to do something very unusual indeed. They allowed him to go down to the Underworld and ask Hades, the god of death, if he would allow Eurydice to return to life.

Orpheus went to a cave and began to walk down, down, down into the darkness under the earth. After a long time he came to the gates of the Underworld, guarded by Cerberus, the terrible three-headed dog. Cerberus’s job was to make sure that no living person passed through the gates, only the spirits of the dead. Orpheus was no less frightened of the monstrous dog than any other living man would be, but as he stood before Cerberus he took out his lyre and began to play and sing. Soon the power of Orpheus’s music soothed the monster, who lay down to sleep, allowing Orpheus to slip past the gates and into the Underworld itself.

Orpheus crossed the river of the Underworld and began to make his way to the throne of Hades. It was a dark and shadowy place. Everywhere Orpheus looked he saw the quiet, pale ghosts who had made their way here to reside for all eternity. At last, Orpheus came to the great black throne of Hades, with his wife Persephone beside him. The king and queen of the Underworld were even more fearsome than their three-headed hound. No one ever got past them or went against their wishes, and no spirit, once dead, had ever been allowed to leave their kingdom and return to life. But Orpheus took out his lyre again and stood before them singing and playing his saddest song. All around him the ghosts and monsters of the Underworld were moved to tears. At last, even Hades and Persephone themselves felt Orpheus’s pain.

“I will grant your request,” said Hades. “Eurydice’s spirit will follow you back to the world of the living, walking behind you. But there is one rule you must follow. You must not turn around to look at her, not until you have both returned to the world above. I will give you one chance to do this. You will hear Eurydice’s footsteps behind you, but if you see your wife before both of you have left my kingdom, she will have to remain in the Underworld.”

Orpheus thanked the mighty god of the Underworld and began to walk back the way he had come. As he walked, he slowly became aware that there was someone following him. He had to fight the impulse to turn his head and see who it was behind him. His heart beat faster. It was Eurydice! His wife was following him to the world of the living, just as Hades had said.

With the footsteps of his wife behind him, Orpheus went back across the River Styx that encircles the Underworld. He reached the gates once more and passed through them as a no longer sleeping Cerberus glared at him with six sharp eyes. Then he began the long journey up towards the light of the world of the living. As he walked, Orpheus had to fight the urge to look back at Eurydice many times. Was she still following him? Had her stay in the Underworld changed her, or did she still look the same as he remembered? Was she happy to see him or would she rather have stayed in the Underworld? He couldn’t wait to finally see her face again.

At last, Orpheus reached the place where he had first entered the Underworld. He stepped out of the mouth of the cave and into the sunlight, and as soon as he did so he found himself unable to resist any longer. He had made it, and he had to see the face of the woman for whom he had journeyed so far. Orpheus turned around and there she was: his wife, Eurydice, looking as beautiful as always. But she stood a few steps behind him, in the darkness of the cave. She had not yet crossed into the world of the living, and the instructions of Hades had been clear: Orpheus was not to look at his wife until both of them had reached the upper world. Orpheus reached out for his wife as he realized his mistake, but it was too late. Without a word, the ghost of Eurydice drifted back into the darkness of the Underworld, to remain there forever. Orpheus would not see her again, not until he himself was dead. Then his spirit would make the long journey down, down, down once more, just as he had done years before, to save the woman he loved with the power of his music.

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2 thoughts on “Session 1 : Orpheus and Eurydice

  1. Pingback: Existential Ambiguity (is difficult to bear) « Skias Onar

  2. Pingback: Session 1: Oepheus, the video | The Three Balladeers

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