Ovid's Metamorphoses, Pausanias's Description of Greece
In Greek mythology , Eurydice was a dryad, a nymph (female nature spirit) associated with trees, who became the bride of Orpheus (pronounced OR-fee-uhs), a hero legendary for his musical skills. While walking in the countryside one day not long after their wedding, Eurydice met Aristaeus (pronounced a-ris-TEE-uhs), the son of the god Apollo (pronounced uh-POL-oh). Aristaeus tried to seize her. Eurydice fled but was bitten by a poisonous snake and died. Overcome with grief at his wife's death, Orpheus decided to go to the underworld and bring her back.
Orpheus gained entrance to the underworld by charming its guardians with his singing and playing of the lyre (a stringed instrument). The beauty of his music persuaded Hades (pronounced HAY-deez), the ruler of the underworld, to allow Eurydice to follow Orpheus back up to the world of the living, but Hades made one condition: Orpheus must not look back at Eurydice as they left his realm. The couple set out on the long, difficult journey back to earth. Toward the end of their trip, just as the darkness of the underworld gave way to the light of earth, Orpheus turned back to Eurydice to share his joy with her. But as he looked at her, Eurydice disappeared, returning to the underworld forever.
Eurydice in Context
The myth of Eurydice and Orpheus reflects the ancient Greek emphasis on the power of music to stir the soul. Greeks used music as an integral part of their most important ceremonies, including marriages and funerals. This may explain why music is so closely associated with both love and death in Greek culture. Several musical instruments, such as the lyre and the double-reed flute known as an aulos, were either invented or popularized in ancient Greece. Music was practiced by many members of the upper classes, and it accompanied events not normally associated with music, such as sports. Some groups used music as a way to worship, drawing themselves into altered states of behavior that they interpreted as closeness with the god they worshipped.
Key Themes and Symbols
One of the main themes of the myth of Eurydice is the power of true love. Although Eurydice has died and passed on to the underworld, Orpheus refuses to let her go. He displays determination and cunning, but above all, he never falters in his unending love for his wife. Another important theme in this myth is the power of music. The lyre of Orpheus symbolizes this power. Orpheus uses it to gain entrance to the underworld, and his skill at playing music convinces Hades to let him take Eurydice back to the land of the living.
Another important theme in this myth is obedience to the gods. Eurydice dies when she flees from Aristaeus; though the gods do not direcdy cause her death, it is clear that her submission to the will of Apollo's son would have resulted in her remaining alive. Later, when Orpheus disobeys Hades by looking back at Eurydice before they reach the surface, he breaks his agreement with Hades, and Eurydice must return to the underworld.
Eurydice in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Even though the myth of Eurydice is similar to other ancient Greek tales in which someone dies at a young age and an attempt is made to bring him or her back from the underworld, it has retained a great deal of popularity through the centuries. Renaissance painters such as Peter Paul Rubens and Titian created depictions of Eurydice and Orpheus, and several operas were written about the pair during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The most famous of these is Jacques Offenbach's 1858 burlesque operetta Orpheus in the Underworld, which includes one piece known popularly as the music played during the French dance called the “Can Can.”
More recently, the story of Eurydice and Orpheus was adapted for the 1959 film Black Orpheus by Marcel Camus. The 1997 Disney animated film Hercules also used elements of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, instead having Hercules travel to the underworld in an attempt to save his love, Megara. Both Eurydice and Orpheus also appear in The Sandman, a comic series written by Neil Gaiman.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
In the myth, Eurydice dies and travels to the underworld. Orpheus later rescues her and almost succeeds in bringing her back to the land of the living. Some people who have experienced severe medical trauma claim to have visited or seen the realm of the dead before being brought back to life by doctors. These are typically known as “near-death experiences.” Research the topic of near-death experiences and express your opinion on the subject. Do you think some people have actually journeyed to the afterlife? What evidence exists that supports this? Is there any evidence that something else might be behind these experiences?
In Greek mythology Eurydice was a dryad, or tree nymph, who became the bride of Orpheus, a legendary hero known for his musical skills. While walking in the countryside one day soon after their wedding, Eurydice met Aristaeus, the son of the god Apollo* . Aristaeus tried to seize her. Eurydice fled but was bitten by a poisonous snake and died. Overcome with grief at his wife's death, Orpheus decided to go to the underworld and bring her back.
nymph minor goddess of nature, usually represented as young and beautiful
underworld land of the dead
Orpheus gained entrance to the underworld by charming its guardians with his singing and playing of the lyre. The beauty of his music persuaded Hades, the ruler of the underworld, to allow Eurydice to return to the world of the living, but Hades made one condition. Orpheus and Eurydice must not look back as they left his realm. The couple set out on the long, difficult journey back to earth. Toward the end of their trip, just as the darkness of the underworld gave way to the light of earth, Orpheus turned back to Eurydice to share his joy with her. But as he looked at her, Eurydice disappeared, returning to the underworld forever. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice appears in various poems, plays, and operas.
See also Greek Mythology; Hades; Orpheus; Underworld.