Saturday, 3 November 2012

Orpheus and Eurydice.

The story?
It was their wedding day, just married.

Eurydice wondered away into the woods and was harassed by a satyr- a disreputable shambles of a goat legged pest, rampant, unapologetic and brimful of lust!

Eurydice ran.

She ran too close to a snake in the grass, was bitten and died.

As quick and implacable as that!

Orpheus was too late
Nothing could make him let go of her
Even after her body had been buried.

Distraught, he took up his lyre- a gift from Apollo- and set off to the Underworld to restore her soul to the world above, enchanting all he met, with his sweet, sweet songs...

Into the gloom he went.

Past Cerberus, past the shades and ghosts, down to Persephone and Hades.
Playing all the way.

There he charmed Persephone and gained a promise, that his dear wife may be returned to him if he can but lead her all through the the darkness of Erebus and back to the river with its promise of sunlight.

The path through the Underworld is complicated, narrow and wide, difficult to do even if Orpheus was allowed to see his wife...

Persephone gave the still living Orpheus permission to take Euydice on one condition.

That he would not turn to make sure that she still followed him

A difficult task, but not impossible, surely?

But Orpheus made the mistake Persephone knew he would make.

As Orpheus reaches the light, he turns to see his wife...
Still just within the darkness of Hell

To have to watch her drawn back, sealed away from him.
Until his own death.

Orpheus ends his days on Lesbos as a music teacher

He sends women so mad with frustration by his lack of desire for them...they tear him to bits.

Some say the god Dionysos took against him because he would worship none but Apollo.

His head goes floating away down stream.

Still singing.


Eurydice's role in this story reminds me of another charactor 'The power of the home'  'Alcestis' by Euripides.

Alcestis is newly married to 'the wild man' Admeatus. He, like Orpheus is favored by Apollo. In rreturn for helping the god, Admeatus is given a gift.

He may swap his death with someone else.

Admeatus is destined to die as a young man.
But if he can find someone else to take his place, death will leave him to grow old.

Admeatus thinks that at least one of his elderly parents will die for him; he has young children, surely a grandparent would not be able to watch a son die, and hear grandchildren crying for their father?


His father berates him:
"For better or worse your life is your own concern. I have done my duty by you: you have wide possessions; I shall leave you the large estate that I inherited; so what have you to complain of?
Have I robbed you?
I don’t expect you to die for me, and I’ll not die for you.
You enjoy life: do you think that I do not enjoy it?
I expect to be dead for a long time, and alive for a short time -yes, short, but still sweet.
You took pains enough to save your own skin! You have lived past your time, and as a result you have killed your wife -yes; and then you talk about my cowardice!
You are not fit to call yourself a man; your wife had more balls than you"!
Alcestis, Admeatus's wife, promises to take his place.
Much sadness follows- small children, and servants crying, tears and misery.

Alcestis dies.
Admeatus is shamed and realises that death would have been better than this...

But then Heracles turns up.

An old friend.
He wrestles with death
Returns with Alcestis- who is unrecognisable and unable to speak..
Heracles reassures Admeatus that she will recover, eventually.
The play ends.

The stories of Eurydice and Alcestis never delve into the psychology of these women, both tales portray events happening around the women, rather than what is actually happening to them.

Their thoughts and feelings are left as a blank.

But because of Eurydice, Orpheus goes to the Underworld and, more importantly, returned.

Both stories are connected to Apollo
Because Apollo is not only all bright intellect and light, but also the god of rot and decay with his origins (and plague arrows) from the Mesopotamian deity, Nergal.

The story of how Orpheus returns from the Underworld becomes a mystery cult.

Tradition has it that a hero is half-god, half-mortal. There are many stories of a hero's descent and return. When Strabo (64 BC – c. AD 24) tells of Orpheus, he describes him as an ordinary mortal.

This is something new.

As Orpheus had learnt where to go and what to do in the Underworld, it was possible that such a journey could be made by any of us. Following the Egyptian tradition, of books of the dead containing passwords and phrases required to get a person out of the grim and terrible places in the Underworld, so the 'Orphic' gold tablets are symbolic maps or passports required to help the newly dead cross the borders and boundaries.

People who had taken an Orphic initiation were promised a better Underworld and were buried with Gold tablets put in to their mouths. It has been suggested that the tablets were rolled to look almost like lips, to speak for the dead.

But they were also worn around the neck sometimes, as protective amulets.
I am a child of Earth and of Starry Heaven;
But my race is of Heaven (alone).
The followers of Orpheus required initiations and rules about their conduct: vegetarian, sexual abstinence and a prohibition of being buried in woolen garments.

Their universe is the 'Pythagorean' one, including interpretations of divinity as 'forces' rather than personalities, and of 'Maya', reality tainted with illusion and projection.


Eurydice is Ευρυδικη: broad justice.
Eury means broad or wide (like Europa) and dike means justice.