Orpheus and Eurydice

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot--'Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld'

Orpheus was the son of Calliope, oldest and most beautiful of the nine muses. Before he could walk, Opheus could play the lyre and had a voice that was so enchanting that even the mightiest river would stop to listen. He fell in love with a nymph named Eurydice, and before long the two were married. They lived happily for a while, but their happiness was not to last. One day as Eurydice was walking near a river she accidentally stepped on a snake that was sunning itself on the bank. The snake bit her, and Eurydice died. Orpheus was heartbroken. Not wanting to live without his beloved Eurydice, Orpheus decided to go down into the underworld to bring her back. With his songs he entranced all of the monsters and guardians of the underworld, and was soon in the presence of Hades and Persephone. At first they would not consider Orpheus' pleas to allow Eurydice back into the land of the living, but Or[heus sang of his saddness to them, and their resolve melted. They agreed to allow Orpheus to bring Eurydice back with him, but he could not look at her until they were out of the underworld. Orpheus readily agreed to this and began his descent. At first he could hear his beloved's footfalls behind him, but as his journey progressed they became fainter and fainter. When he was only a few meters from the exit he could no longer hear Eurydice following him. Ignoring the warnings, and fearing a trick by the gods he looked back to see if Eurydice was still behind him. Eurydice's spirit gave a small shriek and dissapeared back into the land of the dead. In anguish, Orpheus tried to re-enter the underworld, but it was closed to him. He spent the rest of his days scorning women, not willing to love another so to stay true to the memory of Eurydice. He wandered the earth before being torn appart by the women of Thrace, who were angry at him for spurning their love and companionship.


The painting is "Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld" by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. More information on Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot can be found in the Senior Humanities section.
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