Study Guide

Orpheus in The Metamorphoses

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Orpheus is the world's greatest poet and singer. As such, he is profoundly idealistic, capable of deep love, and also somewhat impractical. Orpheus's troubles start on what should be the happiest day of his life: his marriage to a young woman named Eurydice. Unfortunately, because Hymen (the god of marriage) wears a sour expression during their wedding, their marriage is cursed from the beginning. Soon afterwards, Eurydice steps on a poisonous snake and dies. At this point, Orpheus shows his incredible devotion by going to down the Underworld and demanding to have her back. He also shows off his impressive singing abilities when he is able to charm the Underworld's fearsome inhabitants. He even charms Pluto and Proserpina, the king and queen of that realm, and they agree to let Eurydice go—provided that Orpheus does not look back at her the entire time he is leading her up to daylight. Orpheus almost succeeds—but, at the last minute, his devotion and impracticality combine, with disastrous results. Afraid that she isn't behind him, Orpheus turns back at the last minute—and she vanishes. From that point on, Orpheus is consumed by grief, and refuses to sleep with any women. Instead, he spends his day singing songs. One day, some Bacchantes—female devotees of the god Bacchus—come by and kill him because he wouldn't sleep with them. This actually isn't so bad; Now Orpheus and Eurydice are reunited in the Underworld.

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