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“ If with mists of evening dew
Thou dost nourish these young flowers
Fairest children of the hours,
§ 107. Orpheus and Eurydice.” — Of mortals who have visited Hades and returned, none has a sweeter or sadder history than Orpheus, son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope. Presented by his father with a lyre and taught to play upon it, he became the most famous of musicians; and not only his fellow-mortals but even the wild beasts were softened by his strains. The very trees and rocks were sensible to the charm. And so also was Eurydice, — whom he loved and won.
Hymen was called to bless with his presence the nuptials of Orpheus with Eurydice, but he brought no happyomens with him. His torch smoked and brought tears into the eyes. In coincidence with such prognostics, Eurydice, shortly after her marriage, was seen by the shepherd Aristæus, who was struck with her beauty, and made advances to her. In flying she trod upon a snake in the grass, was bitten in the foot, and died. Orpheus sang his grief to all who breathed the upper air, both gods and men, and finding his complaint of no avail, resolved to seek his wife in the regions of the dead. He descended by a cave situated on the side of the promontory of Tænarus, and arrived in the
1P. B. Shelley: Song of Proserpine, while gathering flowers on the plain of Enna.
2 Ovid, Metam. 10: 1-77.
Stygian realm. He passed through crowds of ghosts, and presented himself before the throne of Pluto and Proserpine. Accompanying his words with the lyre, he sang his petition for his wife. Without her he would not return. In such tender strains he sang that the very ghosts shed tears. Tantalus, in spite of his thirst, stopped for a moment his efforts for water, Ixion's wheel stood still, the vulture ceased to tear the giant's liver, the daughters of
Danaüs rested from their task of drawing water in a sieve,' and Sisyphus sat on his rock to listen. Then for the first time, it is said, the cheeks of the Furies were wet with tears. Proserpine could not resist, and Pluto himself gave way. Eurydice was called. She came from among the new-arrived ghosts, limping with her wounded foot. Orpheus was permitted to take her away with him on condition that he should not turn round to look at her till they should have reached the upper air. Under this condition, they proceeded on their way: he leading, she following. Mindful of his promise, without let or hindrance the bard passed through the horrors of hell. All Hades held its breath.
1 Commentary, $ 133.
? Commentary, 107.
... On he stept,
There, Orpheus! Orpheus! there was all
... to thee.”
Now would not row him o'er the lake again,
Beneath a rock o'er Strymon's Aood on high,
And sooth'd the tiger, moved the oak, with song.1 The Thracian maidens tried their best to captivate him, but he repulsed their advances. Finally, excited by the rites of Bacchus,
1 From W. S. Landor's Orpheus and Eurydice in Dry Sticks.