Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the better known Greek myths; it tells the story of the love between Orpheus, a poet and musician, and Eurydice, the exquisitely beautiful nymph. But as always happens in Greek tales, there is much more to it than a beautiful romantic story.
All creatures loved Orpheus for his artistic abilities. The poetry and music he made with the lyre had the power to fascinate both gods and men.
He, however, only had eyes for the beautiful Eurydice. After winning the girl’s heart, he married her and the couple began an idyllic marriage.
But their happiness vanished when the young Arista, son of the god Apollo, fell hopelessly in love with the nymph. Unfortunately for him, Eurydice did not reciprocate his love and refused his continual advances.
One day while running through long grass in an attempt to escape Arista’s attentions, she stepped on a poisonous snake. The reptile bit her on the ankle and she died almost immediately.
Devastated by the death of his beloved, Orpheus sang his grief with his lyre and managed to move everything, living or not, in the world, even the Erinyes (the three daughters of Uranus, better known as the Furies – Ed.).
Driven mad by his grief and absolutely incapable of imaging life without Eurydice, he decided to rescue his love at all cost and, without a care for his own destiny, descended into the underworld to appeal to Hades and Persephone.
To achieve this he had to face numerous challenges, including Charon, the ferryman of Hades who carried the souls of the newly deceased across the Styx, and Cerberus the monstrous three-headed dog who guarded the entrance to the realm of Hades.
He managed to enchant both with his music and arrived before Hades and Persephone to ask them to return his beloved Eurydice.
Moved by Orpheus’ love, Persephone agreed to release Eurydice, but on one condition: she would have to follow behind him while walking out from the caves of the underworld, and he could not turn to look at her as they walked. To ensure he respected their agreement, Hermes, messenger of the gods, was ordered to accompany them.
So the two lovers began their ascent to the world of the living. Eurydice, who wasn’t aware of the agreement between Persephone and Orpheus, kept calling to him to turn around, but the young man, though full of doubt, managed to continue on the path without ever looking back.
On reaching the light at the threshold of Hades’ realm, thinking he was out of the underworld, Orpheus turned. Eurydice, who was still behind him, felt a sharp pain at the point where the snake had bitten her, froze and couldn’t cross the threshold with her beloved Orpheus. He had broken the only condition imposed on him, and Eurydice was drawn back into the underworld, away from him forever.
If we go beyond the simple story and try to comprehend the symbolism, then the myth itself can become the guide that accompanies us on our path to understanding.
The meanings veiled in this story can be interpreted in many different ways.
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice can be interpreted, for example, as a parable that tells of female desire and the male placed before it.
The female sense of pleasure confronts the man with an enduring enigma.
The man, perched in a position of presumed control, questions the extent to which love and desire for a woman can jeopardise what he sees as his independence.
Could they be fatal to him?
What metamorphosis toward maturity does the man run from, feeling it as a presentiment in his subconscious mind?
Orpheus paid for his fidelity to Eurydice with his life (every version of the myth tells that Orpheus was torn to pieces by Maenads and his head thrown into the river Ebro, and continued to sing the songs and recite the poetry written for his beloved): so shouldn’t men be a little more shrewd than Orpheus?
Wouldn’t it be better to separate from the woman who, sexual encounter after sexual encounter, continues to conceal the ever-invisible form of her desire, and how, embrace after embrace, leaves him ignorant of the sense of her love?
Why does she not reveal it?
What is behind the love of a woman?
In what particular way does it differ from the love of a man?
And again, why was Orpheus forbidden from turning to look? Perhaps because Eurydice would have appeared as the mirror-image of himself?
By turning, would he cast doubt on his work as redeemer?
Can – or perhaps should – a redeemer doubt himself?
The deeper we read into the myth, the more the questions of its meaning continue to multiply. And there can be no definitive answers, each of us can find the explanation that best suits us, based on our own personal stories and experience of the present.
Without a doubt, the reflections on the questions posed by the myth help us develop a greater awareness of ourselves.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR : PERLA @la.preziosa.perla
Perla is a woman in search of herself and her spirit, who chose the path of Eros to accomplish her search.
Through words and photographs, author and radio personality, creator of the podcast “I racconti di Perla” (in Italian), talks to us of all the nuances of Eros, both romantic and explicit, inviting her listeners and watchers to free their sensuality.
The stories and images portraying her are the tools she uses in her highly personal effort to realise the spirit and female body she is endowed with.
For Perla, Eros has to be courted, flattered and seduced, because once it enters our lives it makes them so much happier.
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Petites Luxures @petitesluxures
To inaugurate this new section dedicated to literature and Eros, we could not have wished to work with a better illustrator: Petites Luxures, also known as Simon Frankart, who has been experiencing unstoppable success for several years now.
The stylistic choice is clear: black lines, minimalist features, only a few concessions to colour, generally passionate red, to illustrate love, sex, and the joy of of experiencing them.
Petites Luxures entitles his works with puns and French double entendre. It is always ironic, maliciously direct, refined, and tantalizing in equal measure.
Just as refined, tantalizing and amusing are his drawings which, thanks to their apparent simplicity, lay bare our passions and our inclinations, with all the lightness with which we should always live them.