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The serpent biting Eurydice 5.
4302: Charles Nanteuil 1792-1865: Eurydice mourante. Musée de Picardie, Amiens.

"We grant the man his wife to go with him, bought by his song; yet let our law restrict the gift, that, while he Tartarus quits, he shall not turn his gaze." (Hades. Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 3.42).

"Who can give lovers laws?" (Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 3.47).

Orpheus, king of the Ciconians, is counted among the ARGONAUTS. Orpheus practised minstrelsy and by his songs moved stones and trees, holding also a spell over the wild beasts. He descended to the Underworld in order to fetch his dead wife, but had to return without her.

Orpheus loses his wife

Orpheus, whom Apollo taught to play the lyre, traveled to Egypt where he increased his knowledge about the gods and their initiatory rites, bringing from that country most of his mystic ceremonies, orgiastic rites, and his extraordinary account of his descent to the Underworld. Orpheus became famous because of his poems and his songs, excelling everyone in the beauty of his verse and music. He also reached a high degree of influence because he was believed to have discovered mysteries, purification from sins, cures of diseases, and means of averting divine wrath. Some say that Orpheus introduced a cult of Dionysus 2 that was very similar to the cult of Osiris, and that of Isis, which resembles the cult of Demeter. But others affirm that he praised all the gods except Dionysus 2. The Aeginetans worshiped Hecate, and in her honor celebrated every year mystic rites which, they said, had been taught to them by Orpheus. And the Lacedaemonians asserted that it was Orpheus who had taught them the cult of Demeter Chthonia (of the Lower World). Orpheus married Eurydice 5, but she, while strolling through the grass with a group of naiads, was smitten in the ankle by a serpent, which shot its poison into her body and killed her. Having mourned her to the full in the upper world, Orpheus decided to fetch her, and for that purpose he descended to Hades through the gate of Taenarus. Having descended to the Underworld, Orpheus accompanied his words with the music of the lyre, and it is told that not only the spirits wept but that also the ERINYES were wet with tears. He also entranced Persephone by his songs, and persuaded her to help him in his desire to bring back to life his dead wife. And so even Hades himself was persuaded to let her go.

Orpheus loses his wife again

However, the god promised to do so only if on the way up Orpheus would not turn round until he came to his own house. But thoughtless Orpheus forgot, and when he turned round and looked at his wife, she instantly slipped into the depths again. In this manner Orpheus lost her a second time.

Some read the story thus:

"To you this tale refers,
Who seek to lead your mind
Into the upper day;
For he who overcome should turn back his gaze
Towards the Tartarean cave,
Whatever excellence he takes with him
He loses when he looks on those below."
(Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 3.52).

Hades and Persephone listen to Orpheus' song in the Underworld.
5132: H. W. Bissen, 1798-1868: Orpheus pleading with Pluto and Proserpina to restore Eurydice to him. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.

Some have thought that through his descent to the Underworld, Orpheus performed a deed full of courage inspired by love.

Not willing to die

But others point out that Orpheus did not receive his wife back, because his attempt was the quest of a coward, who was not willing to die for her but entered the Underworld alive, and alive he left both Underworld and wife, who in that way died twice. And as they reason thus, they have in mind Alcestis, who was allowed to return from the Underworld for having willingly died for love of her husband.

Death of Orpheus

Some affirm that Orpheus was torn in pieces by the MAENADS, but others say that he committed suicide out of grief for the death of his wife. Still others assert that Orpheus came to his end by being struck by a thunderbolt, hurled at him by god because he revealed sayings in the mysteries to men who had not heard them before. Yet others say that because Orpheus first favored love for youths, he seemed to insult women, and for this reason the latter killed him.

Aphrodite, Calliope, Dionysus 2, Apollo

Concerning the MAENADS or women who killed him, some say that when Aphrodite and Persephone were both in love with Adonis, Orpheus' mother Calliope was then appointed judge by Zeus, and she decided that each should possess him half the year. Aphrodite then, angry at the decision, stirred all the women in Thrace with love, each to seek Orpheus for herself, so that they tore him limb from limb. But some affirm that these women were instigated by Dionysus 2, who was angry against Orpheus because he had looked into the rites of the god. His head fell into the sea and was cast by the waves upon the island of Lesbos where the Lesbians buried it, and for having done this the Lesbians have the reputation of being skilled in music. In the island of Lesbos, they say, Orpheus had a shrine where oracles were given until Apollo, the god of prophecy, rebuked him:

Orpheus losong his wife while leaving the Underworld. 5125: Orpheus and Eurydice. Painting from 1806 by C. G. Kratzenstein-Stub, 1793-1860. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.

"Cease to meddle with my affairs, for I have already put up long enough with your vaticinations." (Flavius Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 4.14).

Women and wine

It is also told that the Thracian women plotted Orpheus' death, because he had persuaded their husbands to follow him in his wanderings, and that first after having drinking much wine, they dared to kill him. This is the reason why their husbands hereafter adopted the custom to march to battle drunk.

River remembered him

Some believe he was killed near Mount Pieria, and close to this place an urn was preserved, which was said to contain the bones of Orpheus. It is also told that when the women who killed Orpheus wished to wash off in a river the blood-stains, the river sank underground, not wishing to lend its waters to cleanse manslaughter.

Bones and nightingales

It is told that the city of Libethra had received an oracle concerning the bones of Orpheus, which stated that when the sun should see his bones the city would be destroyed by a boar. Nobody believed a boar able to cause such a huge destruction, but when one day by accident the urn fell and broke exposing the bones, that same night came a heavy rain, and the river Sys (Boar), one of the torrents about Olympus, destroyed the walls of Libethra, overturning sanctuaries and houses, and drowning the inhabitants and all the animals in the city.

The Thracians used to say that the nightingales that build their nests on the grave of Orpheus sing more sweetly than others.

Constellation Lyra

It has also been said that Orpheus' scattered limbs were gathered by the MUSES, who buried them and put the Lyre among the constellations as a memorial.






Oeagrus & Calliope

unknown & Pierus' Daughter

Oeagrus is sometimes called son of Ares. Otherwise Charops 4 is mentioned as his father. Charops 4 is known for having warned Dionysus 2 of the plot of Lycurgus 1 against him. That is why Dionysus 2, having defeated the Thracians in a battle and killed Lycurgus 1, made Charops 5, out of gratitude for his help, king of Thrace, and instructed him in the secret initiatory rites. Later Oeagrus inherited both the throne and the initiatory rites.
Calliope is one of the MUSES.
Pierus was king of Pella in Macedonia and son of Magnes 1, son of Aeolus 1 and a naiad. He was father of nine daughters who defied the MUSES in a contest of song being defeated by the goddesses. The MUSES themselves are sometimes called Pierides.

Eurydice 5


The parentage of Eurydice 5 is unknown.

Other Eurydices: Eurydice 1 was the wife of the king of Nemea; Eurydice 2 was mother of Danae; Eurydice 3 is one of the DANAIDS; Eurydice 4 is a nereid; Eurydice 6 was mother of the king of Troy, Laomedon 1; Eurydice 7 was married to Neleus, founder of Pylos; Eurydice 8 was Nestor's wife; Eurydice 9 was a daughter of Amphiaraus and Eriphyle; Eurydice 10 was married to Aeneas; Eurydice 11 was mother of Alcmena; Eurydice 12 was married to Creon 2, regent of Thebes.

Musaeus, who some say was not son of Orpheus but of Antiophemus, also wrote songs and poems and uttered oracles, being trained by Apollo and the MUSES. It is said that he received from Boreas 1 (the North Wind) the gift of flight.

Related sections



AO.77; Apd.1.3.2; Dio.4.25.1; Hyg.Ast.2.6, 2.7; Hyg.Fab.14; Man.5.326; Nonn.19.100; Ov.Met.10.23; Pau.9.30.4-6; QS.3.638; Stat.Theb.5.344; Val.1.470; Vir.Geo.4.456ff.