Young Folks' Treasury: Myths and Legendary Heroes HTML version

Orpheus, the Thracian singer, was the most famous of all the musicians of Greece.
Apollo himself had given him his golden harp, and on it he played music of such
wondrous power and beauty that rocks, trees and beasts would follow to hear him. Jason
had persuaded Orpheus to accompany the Argonauts when they went to fetch back the
golden fleece, for he knew that the perils of the way would be lightened by song. To the
sound of his lyre the Argo had floated down to the sea, and he played so sweetly when
they passed the rocks of the Sirens that the dreadful monsters sang their most alluring
strains in vain.
Orpheus wedded the fair nymph Eurydice, whom he loved dearly, and who returned his
love. But at their marriage the omens were not favorable. Hymen, the marriage god, came
to it with a gloomy countenance and the wedding torches smoked and would not give
forth a cheerful flame.
Indeed the happiness of Orpheus and Eurydice was to be but short-lived. For as the new-
made bride wandered through the woods with the other nymphs a poisonous serpent
stung her heel, and no remedy availed to save her. Orpheus was thrown into most
passionate grief at his wife's death. He could not believe that he had lost her for ever, but
prayed day and [pg 54] night without ceasing to the gods above to restore her to him. When they
would not listen, he resolved to make one last effort to win her back. He would go down
to the Lower World and seek her among the dead, and try whether any prayer or
persuasion could move Pluto to restore his beloved.
Near Tænarum, in Laconia, was a cave among dark and gloomy rocks, through which led
one of the entrances to the Lower World. This was the road by which Hercules descended
when he went to carry off Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the threshold of
Pluto. Undaunted by the terrors of the place, Orpheus passed through this gate and down
a dark and dismal road to the kingdom of the dead. Here he came in safety through the
crowd of ghosts and phantoms, and stood at last before the throne of Pluto and
Proserpina. Then he touched the chords of his lyre and chanted these words:
"Great lords of the world below the earth, to which all we mortals must one day come,
grant me to tell a simple tale and declare unto you the truth. Not to look upon the
blackness of Tartarus have I come hither, nor yet to bind in chains the snaky heads on
Cerberus. It is my wife I seek. A viper's sting has robbed her of the years that were her
due. I should have borne my loss, indeed I tried to bear it, but I was overcome by Love, a
god well known in the world above, and I think not without honor in your kingdom,
unless the story of Proserpina's theft be a lying tale. I beseech you, by the realms of the
dead, by mighty Chaos and the silence of your vast kingdom, revoke the untimely doom
of Eurydice. All our lives are forfeit to you. 'Tis but a short delay, and late or soon we all
hasten towards one goal. Hither all our footsteps tend. This is our last home, yours is the