A Book of Myths
Page: 19He rose to great power, and became a mighty prince of Thrace. Not his lute alone, but he himself played on the heart of the fair Eurydice and held it captive. It seemed as though, when they became man and wife, all happiness must be theirs. But although Hymen, the god of marriage, himself came to bless them on the day they wed, the omens on that day were against them. The torch that Hymen carried had no golden flame, but sent out pungent black smoke that made their eyes water. They feared they knew not what; but when, soon afterwards, as Eurydice wandered with the nymphs, her companions, through the blue-shadowed woods of Thrace, the reason was discovered. A bold shepherd, who did not know her for a princess, saw Eurydice, and no sooner saw her than he loved her. He ran after her to proclaim to her his love, and she, afraid of his wild uncouthness, fled before him. She [Pg 34] ran, in her terror, too swiftly to watch whither she went, and a poisonous snake that lurked amongst the fern bit the fair white foot that flitted, like a butterfly, across it. In agonised suffering Eurydice died. Her spirit went to the land of the Shades, and Orpheus was left broken-hearted.
The sad winds that blow at night across the sea, the sobbing gales that tell of wreck and death, the birds that wail in the darkness for their mates, the sad, soft whisper of the aspen leaves and the leaves of the heavy clad blue-black cypresses, all now were hushed, for greater than all, more full of bitter sorrow than any, arose the music of Orpheus, a long-drawn sob from a broken heart in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Grief came alike to gods and to men as they listened, but no comfort came to him from the expression of his sorrow. At length, when to bear his grief longer was impossible for him, Orpheus wandered to Olympus, and there besought Zeus to give him permission to seek his wife in the gloomy land of the Shades. Zeus, moved by his anguish, granted the permission he sought, but solemnly warned him of the terrible perils of his undertaking.
But the love of Orpheus was too perfect to know any fear; thankfully he hastened to the dark cave on the side of the promontory of Taenarus, and soon arrived at the entrance of Hades. Stark and grim was the three-headed watchdog, Cerberus, which guarded the door, and with the growls and the furious roaring of a wild beast athirst for its prey it greeted Orpheus. But Orpheus touched his lute, and the brute, amazed, sank into silence. [Pg 35] And still he played, and the dog would gently have licked the player’s feet, and looked up in his face with its savage eyes full of the light that we see in the eyes of the dogs of this earth as they gaze with love at their masters. On, then, strode Orpheus, playing still, and the melody he drew from his lute passed before him into the realms of Pluto.