Hello, all! I’m back for round two of Let’s Talk Mythology. Today, we discuss the tale of Orpheus, or as I like to think of him, Stupid Lyre Boy. Greek mythology is full of idiots, but if there was an Idiot Olympics, Orpheus would at least get the bronze. Yeah, yeah, I know he represents the fragility of the human condition, but he ain’t no Hercules, if you know what I mean.
Stupid Lyre Boy, a.k.a Orpheus is the son of Calliope, one of the nine muses.
He sang almost as beautifully as the Muses themselves. When he was grown, he left his mother and his eight loving aunts and went to live in his father’s kingdom of Thrace to bring the joy of music to earth. His voice rang so pure and true that the fiercest warriors put down their swords and savage beasts lay spellbound at his feet. Trees pulled up their roots and moved closer to listen, and even hard rocks rolled up to him.
Perhaps Orpheus should’ve learned some common sense before he left the Muses to live with the humans, but instead he joined chorus. Almost immediately, Orpheus falls in love with a fair maid named Euridice (pronounced Your-Id-Itchy) and they wait the recommended 3-4 days before deciding to get married. Orpheus is filled with joy and gaiety, but ya’ll know that this sort of happiness can’t last. The Greeks are like the Germans. Their myths are full of grief and punishment.
On the day of his wedding, his songs swelled out, filled with happiness as his bride danced on light feet through the meadow. Suddenly, she trod on a snake and sank to the ground, dead of its poisonous bite.
Orpheus is devastated by the loss of his beautiful bride. Hermes takes her away to the Underworld. The gods tell him to move on, but Orpheus is in the first stage of grief: denial. He stops singing and playing his lyre, and focuses on finding the entrance to the Underworld. Being the son of the Muses, Orpheus believes that he’s above such mortal trivialities as death.
Convinced that he’s the voice of his generation, Orpheus travels to the Underworld to beg for his dead wife back. Everyone is mesmerized by his wonderful singing; even the avenging furies, the entities who exist only to torture the dead, stop their whipping and listen to the music. He’s like the Michael Jackson of 300 B.C., bringing peace through some rocking tunes.
The encounter between Orpheus, winner of the 5th season of the Voice, and Hades, the king of the dead, goes exactly as you might expect. Orpheus uses logic, sorry, I mean singing, to persuade Hades to give him his babe back. Manly-man Hades cries stony tears, but he doesn’t bend until his wife Persephone (also the woman he kidnapped and forced to marry him) convinces him to show some humanity. He’s the king of the dead, but somehow that bit of persuasion does the trick and he allows Euridice to return to the world of the living, with one condition.
Orpheus must not look at his bride before they reached the realm of the living. She would walk behind him, but if he turned and looked at her, she must return to the underworld.
Hades is a smart guy. He knows that Orpheus is a little weakling Elvis wannabe, so he sets him an impossible task. He must have faith in the truthfulness of a god. If he remains strong, he’ll get what he desires, but if he doesn’t, he’ll lose his beloved forever. Perhaps Hades is trying to test Orpheus’ mettle, but I think he’s just trolling everyone, including his wife, to make it seem like he’s compromising, when really he already knows the outcome of the story.
At first, Orpheus is overjoyed, but as the long walk through the Underworld continues, he begins to doubt. At the very last steps, he turns around to see Euridice. She waves farewell and disappears into the gloom.
I can understand having no faith in a God if you have no proof of them, but the Greek gods are bound by honor and live and die (figuratively, since they’re immortal) by their word. Sure, they’re tricksy when they want to be, but they mostly trick each other, not the humans. It’s implausible to me that a guy like Orpheus, who trusts a god to lift his wife from death, wouldn’t trust the same god to keep his word.
Also, Orpheus has persevered and persevered, so the fact that he would turn around when he’s at the finish line makes no sense. He traveled to the END OF THE EARTH to find the Underworld, walked past avenging furies and ghosts and skeletons, talked to a god (the god of the dead, no less) and convinced him to bring his wife back to life, but he gives up at the last second?
I feel bad for Stupid Lyre Boy, but I feel worse for his poor wife Euridice. She was given a sense of fleeting hope. She didn’t expect Stupid Lyre Boy to turn around at the last second. I bet she made so many plans for her new life. She was going to make a snake safety PSA called “don’t tread on me.” It would become mega-famous. But Stupid Lyre Boy and his stupid lyre ruined her dreams, just like he ruins everything (I bet he was the one who wanted an outside wedding) and she had to go back to the Underworld and make friends with dead people.
Filled with despair, Orpheus wanders the world. He’s like a contestant on the Voice after his fifteen minutes of fame, except Orpheus just lost his record deal with the label of LIFE. His music is so mournful that it causes the trees and beasts to weep in despair. Orpheus might have existed forever in this horrible state, but luckily for the world’s ears, a band of vicious wood-nymphs comes along to disrupt his pity-party.
They yelled and carried on so loudly that they could not hear his silvery voice and were not touched by its magic. They wanted him to dance with them, but he had no heart for their revelry, and in a fury they threw themselves over him. They tore him to pieces and tossed his body into a river.
This ending is like the Mad Men Lawnmower Incident of Greek mythology. It’s so weird, violent, and unexpected that you wonder if the translation got muddled somewhere down the line like a game of Telephone and one translator just decided to throw in some murder to spice the story up.
There’s some consolation, however, as Orpheus and Euridice re-unite in the Underworld. The Muses grieve and create a constellation to remember him by, but deep down I’m sure they’re glad they don’t have to hear him singing anymore. Now, Hades will have to deal with non-stop Wonderwall.
The Dubious Moral: Basically the same as Glee‘s. Singing can end world hunger, bring loved ones back from the dead, and makes paraplegics into football players. Oh, and don’t have outdoor weddings.
To all my horror buffs out there: who’s excited to see The Witch?!!! #Black Philip