Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

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Orpheus and Eurydice.

As Apollo had frequent opportunities of meeting the Muses, it is not to be wondered at that he fell a victim to the charms of the fair Calliope, who, in her turn, loved him passionately, and even wrote verses in his honor. This being the state of her feelings, she readily consented to their union, and became the proud mother of Orpheus, who inherited his parents’ musical and poetical gifts.

[76] Orpheus with his lute made trees,
And the mountain-tops, that freeze,
Bow themselves when he did sing:
To his music plants and flowers
Ever sprung; as sun and showers
There had made a lasting spring.
“Everything that heard him play,
Even the billows of the sea,
Hung their heads, and then lay by.”

This talent waxed greater as the years passed by, and became so remarkable, that the youth’s fame was very widespread; and when he fell in love with Eurydice, he brought all his skill into play to serenade her, and wooed her with voice and glance and with tender, passionate music. Eurydice was touched by his courtship, and ere long requited the love lavished upon her by conferring her hand upon Orpheus.

Shortly after their union, while walking alone in the fields, the bride encountered a youth named Aristæus, whose bold admiration proved so distasteful, that she fled from him as quickly as possible. In her haste she accidentally trod upon a venomous serpent lurking in the long grass, which immediately turned upon her, and bit her heel. A short period of agonized suffering ensued; then Eurydice died, and her spirit was conducted down into the gloomy realms of Pluto, leaving Orpheus broken-hearted.

Plaintive, heartrending laments now replaced the joyous wedding strains; but even the charms of music failed to make life endurable, and Orpheus wandered off to Olympus, where he so piteously implored Jupiter to restore his wife to his longing arms, that the great god’s heart was moved to compassion. He gave him permission, therefore, to go down into the Infernal Regions to seek his wife, but warned him at the same time that the undertaking was perilous in the extreme.

Nothing daunted, Orpheus hastened to the entrance of Hades, and there saw the fierce three-headed dog, named Cerberus, who [77] guarded the gate, and would allow no living being to enter, nor any spirit to pass out of Hades. As soon as this monster saw Orpheus, he began to growl and bark savagely, to frighten him away; but Orpheus merely paused, and began to play such melting chords, that Cerberus’ rage was appeased, and he finally allowed him to pass into Pluto’s dark kingdom.

The magic sounds penetrated even into the remote depths of Tartarus, where the condemned suspended their toil for a moment, and hushed their sighs and groans to listen.

“E’en Tantalus ceased from trying to sip
The cup that flies from his arid lip;
Ixion, too, the magic could feel,
And, for a moment, blocked his wheel;
Poor Sisyphus, doomed to tumble and toss
The notable stone that gathers no moss,
Let go his burden, and turned to hear
The charming sounds that ravished his ear.”