A Book of Myths

Page: 22

“Such strains as would have won the ear
Of Pluto, to have quite set free
His half-regained Eurydice.”


Day and night he stayed in the shadow of the woodlands, all the sorrow of his heart expressing itself in the song of his lute. The fiercest beasts of the forest crawled to his feet and looked up at him with eyes full of pity. The song of the birds ceased, and when the wind moaned through the trees they echoed his cry, “Eurydice! Eurydice!”

In the dawning hours it would seem to him that he saw her again, flitting, a thing of mist and rising sun, across the dimness of the woods. And when evening came and all things rested, and the night called out the mystery of the forest, again he would see her. In the long blue shadows of the trees she would stand—up the woodland paths she walked, where her little feet fluttered the dry leaves as she passed. Her face was white as a lily in the moonlight, and ever she held out her arms to Orpheus:

“At that elm-vista’s end I trace,
Dimly thy sad leave-taking face,
Eurydice! Eurydice!
The tremulous leaves repeat to me
Eurydice! Eurydice!”



[Pg 39] For Orpheus it was a good day when Jason, chief of the Argonauts, sought him out to bid him come with the other heroes and aid in the quest of the Golden Fleece.

“Have I not had enough of toil and of weary wandering far and wide,” sighed Orpheus. “In vain is the skill of the voice which my goddess mother gave me; in vain have I sung and laboured; in vain I went down to the dead, and charmed all the kings of Hades, to win back Eurydice, my bride. For I won her, my beloved, and lost her again the same day, and wandered away in my madness even to Egypt and the Libyan sands, and the isles of all the seas.... While I charmed in vain the hearts of men, and the savage forest beasts, and the trees, and the lifeless stones, with my magic harp and song, giving rest, but finding none.”[3]

But in the good ship Argo, Orpheus took his place with the others and sailed the watery ways, and the songs that Orpheus sang to his shipmates and that tell of all their great adventures are called the Songs of Orpheus, or the Orphics, to this day.

Many were the mishaps and disasters that his music warded off. With it he lulled monsters to sleep; more powerful to work magic on the hearts of men were his melodies than were the songs of the sirens when they tried to capture the Argonauts by their wiles, and in their downward, destroying rush his music checked mountains.

When the quest of the Argonauts was ended, Orpheus returned to his own land of Thrace. As a hero he had fought and endured hardship, but his wounded soul [Pg 40] remained unhealed. Again the trees listened to the songs of longing. Again they echoed, “Eurydice! Eurydice!”

As he sat one day near a river in the stillness of the forest, there came from afar an ugly clamour of sound. It struck against the music of Orpheus’ lute and slew it, as the coarse cries of the screaming gulls that fight for carrion slay the song of a soaring lark. It was the day of the feast of Bacchus, and through the woods poured Bacchus and his Bacchantes, a shameless rout, satyrs capering around them, centaurs neighing aloud. Long had the Bacchantes hated the loyal poet-lover of one fair woman whose dwelling was with the Shades. His ears were ever deaf to their passionate voices, his eyes blind to their passionate loveliness as they danced through the green trees, a riot of colour, of fierce beauty, of laughter and of mad song. Mad they were indeed this day, and in their madness the very existence of Orpheus was a thing not to be borne. At first they stoned him, but his music made the stones fall harmless at his feet. Then in a frenzy of cruelty, with the maniac lust to cause blood to flow, to know the joy of taking life, they threw themselves upon Orpheus and did him to death. From limb to limb they tore him, casting at last his head and his blood-stained lyre into the river. And still, as the water bore them on, the lyre murmured its last music and the white lips of Orpheus still breathed of her whom at last he had gone to join in the shadowy land, “Eurydice! Eurydice!”