don’t look back

I re-watched Troy about a week ago and decided to borrow a book on mythology after to read up on some classical myths.

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A few nights ago I read about the Greek lovers, Orpheus & Eurydice.

Orpheus, an accomplished mortal with the gift of music, poetry, agriculture and medicine, fell in love with a beautiful wood nymph called Eurydice. She was drawn to the spell of the beauty in his music and he in her beauty and her reserve. The two fell deep in love and decided to get married. Their marriage was blessed by Hymenaois, the god of marriage and the wedding was grand and full of love and cheer. When the wedding was over and their weding guests had taken their leave, the newlyweds departed for their new home eager to start a life together.

There was one man however, who expressed displeasure at this communion. This man was Aristaeus, a shepherd who despised Orpheus and lusted for Eurydice. He lay in wait in the bushes on the road that the two lovers were taking. When they drew close, he jumped out from his hiding plce in an attempt to kill the mortal and claim the beautiful nymph for his own pleasure. Orpheus however was quick to grab his wife and together, they quickly ran through the woods to escape the jealous shepherd. Aristaeus gave a hard and determined chase. Orpheus and Eurydice ran and ran when she suddenly stumbled and slipped from his grasp. Orpheus cried out in dismay when he saw that his wife had landed in a nest of snakes and received a bite from a poisonous viper. She died soon after. Having witnesses her fall and demise, Aristaeus cursed his luck and Orpheus and eventually abandoned his chase.

Following the death of his wife, Orpheus became mellow and withdrawn. He grieved for her. His pain was immeasurable because his love for her was strong & he yearned for Eurydice. One day, he developed an idea. He decided that he would go to the Underworld and retrieve his wife. His father, Apollo, would talk to Hades, ruler of the Underworld to agree to receive Orpheus and hear his pleas.

And so Orpheus approached Hades and demanded for him to enter the Underworld. With his lyre and magical singing voice, Orpheus sang and made music to the rulers of the Underworld, King Hades and Queen Persephone and asked that his love be returned to him. The music was full of mourn and sorrow. Hades wept. Persephone’s heart melted. Cerberus, their three-headed dog charged with guarding the entry to the Underworld, howled in despair. Hades agreed to return Eurydice to Orpheus and follow him back to the Upper World. Hades had one condition. He warned that Orpheus must never look back to his wife while she followed him from behind. Orpheus was asked to wait for them both to return to the light before looking at her again.

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And so Orpheus, full of love and hope and anticipation, made his way out of the Underworld. As he approached the gates of Underworld ready to leave, he heard footsteps behind him. His heart beat faster and he longed to grab his wife and hug and kiss her. As soon as he took his step into he light, he immediately turned behind to see her. Eurydice however, was still in the dark. As Hades warned Orpheus, she had not yet seen the light of the Sun of the Upper World and Orpheus only caught a small glimpse of hid beautiful wife before she was taken back to the world of the unliving. Anguished, Orpheus approached the gates of the Underworld but was denied entry. The gates were shut. Eurydice was lost to him forever.

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From that day, Orpheus wandered the earth, broken-hearted, defeated and in total despair. He was tormented day and night and could not find joy nor consolation in the simplest of things. He no longer sang joyful songs, but mournful ones and he shunned women completely. Orpheus would only lie upon a huge rock where he would feel the lick of the breezes and look up to the open skies.

One day, a group of women, angered by his scorn toward them, pounced on him and took his life. It was said that his body was cut and the pieces, along with his lyre, were thrown into a river. His head and musical instrument made their way down the river to the island of Lesvos and were found by the Muses who gave Orpheus a proper burial. Folk believed his grave to emit the most lamentful yet beautiful of music. Orpheus’ soul descended down to the Underworld and he was finally reunited with his beloeved wife, Eurydice. Forever.

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I don’t know about you, but like the music that emanates from Orpheus’ grave, this is perhaps the saddest and most beautiful tragic love stories I’ve ever heard.

And I’m one who scoffs love stories and movies.

Moral of the story: don’t look back

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P.S. Hymenaios, is the god of marriage, and is responsible for inspiring beautiful wedding hymns sung during the bride’s procession to the house of her groom. Incidentally, Hymenaois is also known as Hymenaeus or Hymen, which incidentally, in some people and cultures is traditionally symbolic of the bride’s virginity and reserved only for her groom. Go figure.  

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