The son of Apollo (the god of music) and Calliope (the eldest Muse, known for her beautiful voice), Orpheus has music in his genes – in a big way. He's famous for playing moving songs on his lyre, a small stringed instrument made from a tortoise shell. Orpheus could charm humans and animals with his tunes, but even rocks and trees loved his stuff, too. It was a pretty diverse fan club, that's for sure.
In his early days, Orpheus sailed around with Jason and the Argonauts, encountering one adventure after another as they searched for the Golden Fleece . (It's definitely worth reading up on Jason and the Argonauts.) Orpheus basically served as the entertainment on their ancient cruise ship. Whenever the men needed a little pump-up music, Orpheus would whip out his lyre and lay down some sweet tracks. He also used his music to get the men out of sticky situations. Once, when they sailed past the Sirens – known for luring men to their deaths with beautiful music – Orpheus saved the crew's lives by drowning out their songs with a ballad of his own.
A Sensitive Dude
Orpheus is probably most famous for his role in this myth with his leading lady, Eurydice. And it's here that he proves himself to be a man of great emotion. In fact, few Greek myths showcase male grieving like this one – when Orpheus loses Eurydice, his sorrow is limitless.
It's not just his tears that prove Orpheus' sensitive side. Let's face it, he clearly loved his wife dearly: heck, he followed her into the Underworld to face its super-creepy citizens. He was also bent on remaining loyal to his lady, and that kind of fidelity was pretty uncommon in Greek mythology.
Orpheus's passion for Eurydice might be why he looked at her before the pair had reached the upper world. Either he was so consumed with love and excitement that he simply forgot Hades' instructions, or he was overcome with doubt as to whether Eurydice was truly behind him. Either way, Orpheus (who was never very good at hiding his feelings), allowed his emotions to get the best of him.
Ultimately, it's hard to say whether Orpheus' journey to the Underworld was worth it. On the one hand, he was able to fight for his love, and had the chance to see Eurydice one last time. But on the other hand, he lost his wife twice, and had to live with the failure of screwing up her rescue attempt. It's probably a safe guess that even if Orpheus hadn't tried to retrieve Eurydice, he would've spent the rest of his life mourning her. No matter what, you're left with a really depressed musician.
What Did We Ever See in Him?
You might be shocked to hear this (not really): as a symbolic figure, Orpheus is associated with music, sadness, and being unable to let go of a lost love. We probably don't have to explain why on any of those. And for that reason, he's a pretty relatable guy. So it's not surprising that we see him in several modern adaptations of the story. The movie Black Orpheus sets the tale in the slums outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, while the artsy film Orpheus places the story in Paris, France.