Orpheus and Eurydice. A lovestory that inspired a famous opera
Orpheus finds Eurydice in The Underworld.
Originally this would have been sung by a "castrato".
A love story of Ancient Greece.
Greek mythology is a collection of tales of gods and demigods that form one of the great background curtains of western civilisation. Whether it is the story of Oedipus, and his unfortunate love for his mother, which has given millions of dollars to generations of psychiatric theorists ever since, or the tales of Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece, the exploits of the ancient Greeks have provided entertainment, and philosophical education to the nations ever since.
Of all the many tales of heroics, and frustrated love, that have come down to us, the one that sticks in my mind most, for the pure tragedy, that it relates, is the story of Orpheus, and his love for his dead wife Eurydice.
Orpheus was a famous musician, whose singing, and playing on the lyre, could melt the hearts of the gods. In his earlier life he had been a member of the crew of The Argonaut, the ship that Jason sailed in when he was looking for The Golden Fleece.
As happens so often, when you are on a quest, many perils had to be negotiated. One of them were The Sirens, a group of snake like female monsters, who also had a talent for singing so beautifully, that they lured mariners to their deaths. When Jason and his crew came within earshot of these latter-day Spicegirls, Orpheus sang and played so beautifully, and so loud, that he drowned out the seductive warblings of The Sirens and the sailors escaped.
After a series of adventures, which I am too lazy to tell you about, (look them up for yourself if you must), Orpheus fell in love with, and married, Eurydice. Now whether they had a lovers tiff on the wedding day, or what the problem was, I don’t know.
But when they should have been enjoying “rumpy pumpy” in the nearest ancient Greek Holiday Inn, she decided to go for a walk in the fields. She lay down in a pit of vipers and was stung to death. Her body was found by her husband. Of course, as he was Ancient Greece’s premier crooner, Orpheus started singing songs of great lamentation. He was pleading with the gods for one more chance to be reunited with his great love. He didn’t want to die himself; just to have Eurydice back.
Of course, all the hosts of Heaven were so moved by the beautiful music that they advised the grieving lover to go to The Underworld, and see if he could charm the gods of Hades into releasing his beloved spouse.
This Orpheus proceeded to do. The gods of the underworld were so charmed by his singing, that they released Eurydice. It may be that they very rarely heard any sounds save for the shrieking of the dead, so even if he sounded like a constipated hen, they would still be impressed. But whatever the case, they let his wife go. There was a stipulation however. On no circumstances was he to turn to look at his wife until they were both back above ground. If he did that she would be taken back from him forever.
The behaviour of Eurydice, on the way back to the sunlight, gives hints of possible troubles in the marriage, reserved for the future. It seems that she was a bit of a nag. All that Orpheus could hear as he led this woman out of Hell, to a chance of renewed wedded bliss in the land above was,
“Orpheus do you still love me? Why don’t you turn and look at me?”
This, or a variant of it, was the chorus that accompanied our hero all the way to the surface. It did not occur to him that he could just shout at her to shut up, or that he ought to enlighten her as to the real reason for his seeming coldness.
Anyway, when he did emerge into the light he turned to glance back to see if she was alright. He had forgotten that they both had to be out before he looked at her.
Immediately the spirits emerged from the shadows, to usher Eurydice back down out of his sight forever.
A very sad story, indeed. But in the version told in the famous opera, “Orpheus and Eurydice” by Christoph Willibald Gluck, there is a happy ending. The goddess Amore, moved by the even more mournful singing, brings his wife back to life again, and Orpheus and Eurydice live happily ever after. It seems that the eighteenth century Parisian audience did not have the stomach for the original tragic ending. It didn’t stop them cutting each other’s heads off a few years later, mind you. But that is a story for another day.
I hope you enjoyed the story of Orpheus, and his love for the, slightly scatty, Eurydice. Who in their right mind would lie down in a pit of vipers on their wedding day? Somebody is not telling us something.
The main reason why I bothered with any of the above, was to tempt you to listen to the really gorgeous aria, "Che farò senza Euridice?” from the opera. I have been listening to it since I was a child, and I love it. I hope you will too.
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