Book IV - Orpheus and Eurydice

This second passage from the Georgics tells the tragic story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Originally a Greek tale, the story is one of repeated heartbreak in which newlywed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice are torn away from each other by cruel death.

Orpheus and Eurydice
A relief sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice. Lantern Slide, James Logie Memorial Collection.

When Eurydice dies of a fatal snake bite to her foot, Orpheus refuses to accept that he will never see his beloved wife again, and so attempts to achieve the impossible by retrieving her from the Underworld.

Putting the supernatural creatures in his path under the spell of his divine lyre music, Orpheus manages to get through all of the obstacles of the Underworld. As a reward, he is granted the opportunity to lead Eurydice back to life with him, on the condition that he never looks back at his ghost wife as they exit the Underworld.

Tragically, Orpheus fails to meet the obligations of the deal and in a moment of madness he looks back at Eurydice, condemning her once more to the shadows.

Grief and guilt overwhelm him so deeply that he mourns loudly for months on end. Orpheus loses his will to live to the point that he does not respond to the sexual advances of the Bacchantes, and does not even try to stop them as they tear his body to pieces in frustration.

Next: Epic Poetry