HOW ORPHEUS THE MINSTREL WENT DOWN TO THE WORLD OF THE DEAD
ANY were the minstrels who, in the early days, went through the
world, telling to men the stories of the gods, telling of their
wars and their births. Of all these minstrels none was so famous
as Orpheus who had gone with the Argonauts; none could tell truer
things about the gods, for he himself was half divine.
But a great grief came to Orpheus, a grief that stopped his
singing and his playing upon the lyre. His young wife Eurydice
was taken from him. One day, walking in the garden, she was
bitten on the heel by a serpent, and straightway she went down to
the world of the dead.
Then everything in this world was dark and bitter for the
 minstrel Orpheus; sleep would not come to him, and for him food
had no taste. Then Orpheus said: "I will do that which no mortal
has ever done before; I will do that which even the immortals
might shrink from doing: I will go down into the world of the
dead, and I will bring back to the living and to the light my
Then Orpheus went on his way to the valley of Acherusia which
goes down, down into the world of the dead. He would never have
found his way to that valley if the trees had not shown him the
way. For as he went along Orpheus played upon his lyre and sang,
and the trees heard his song and they were moved by his grief,
and with their arms and their heads they showed him the way to
the deep, deep valley of Acherusia.
Down, down by winding paths through that deepest and most shadowy
of all valleys Orpheus went. He came at last to the great gate
that opens upon the world of the dead. And the silent guards who
keep watch there for the rulers of the dead were affrighted when
they saw a living being, and they would not let Orpheus approach
But the minstrel, knowing the reason for their fear, said: "I am
not Heracles come again to drag up from the world of the dead
your three-headed dog Cerberus. I am Orpheus, and all that my
hands can do is to make music upon my lyre."
And then he took the lyre in his hands and played upon it. As he
played, the silent watchers gathered around him, leaving the gate
unguarded. And as he played the rulers of the dead
 came forth, Aidoneus and Persephone, and listened to the words of
the living man.
"The cause of my coming through the dark and fearful ways," sang
Orpheus, "is to strive to gain a fairer fate for Eurydice, my
bride. All that is above must come down to you at last, O rulers
of the most lasting world. But before her time has Eurydice been
brought here. I have desired strength to endure her loss, but I
cannot endure it. And I come before you, Aidoneus and Persephone,
brought here by Love."
When Orpheus said the name of Love, Persephone, the queen of the
dead, bowed her young head, and bearded Aidoneus, the king, bowed
his head also. Persephone remembered how Demeter, her mother, had
sought her all through the world, and she remembered the touch of
her mother's tears upon her face. And Aidoneus remembered how his
love for Persephone had led him to carry her away from the valley
in the upper world where she had been gathering flowers. He and
Persephone bowed their heads and stood aside, and Orpheus went
through the gate and came amongst the dead.
Still upon his lyre he played. Tantalus—who, for his crimes, had
been condemned to stand up to his neck in water and yet never be
able to assuage his thirst—Tantalus heard, and for a while did
not strive to put his lips toward the water that ever flowed away
from him; Sisyphus—who had been condemned to roll up a hill a
stone that ever rolled back—Sisyphus heard the music that Orpheus
played, and for a while he sat still
 upon his stone. And even
those dread ones who bring to the dead the memories of all their
crimes and all their faults, even the Eumenides had their cheeks
wet with tears.
In the throng of the newly come dead Orpheus saw Eurydice. She
looked upon her husband, but she had not the power to come near
him. But slowly she came when Aidoneus called her. Then with joy
Orpheus took her hands.
It would be granted them—no mortal ever gained such privilege
before—to leave, both together, the world of the dead, and to
abide for another space in the world of the living. One condition
there would be—that on their way up through the valley of
Acherusia neither Orpheus nor Eurydice should look back.
They went through the gate and came amongst the watchers that are
around the portals. These showed them the path that went up
through the valley of Acherusia. That way they went, Orpheus and
Eurydice, he going before her.
Up and up through the darkened ways they went, Orpheus knowing
that Eurydice was behind him, but never looking back upon her.
But as he went, his heart was filled with things to tell—how the
trees were blossoming in the garden she had left; how the water
was sparkling in the fountain; how the doors of the house stood
open, and how they, sitting together, would watch the sunlight on
the laurel bushes. All these things were in his heart to tell
her, to tell her who came behind him, silent and unseen.
 And now they were nearing the place where the valley of Acherusia
opened on the world of the living. Orpheus looked on the blue of
the sky. A white-winged bird flew by. Orpheus turned around and
cried, "O Eurydice, look upon the world that I have won you back
He turned to say this to her. He saw her with her long dark hair
and pale face. He held out his arms to clasp her. But in that
instant she slipped back into the depths of the valley. And all
he heard spoken was a single word, "Farewell!" Long, long had it
taken Eurydice to climb so far, but in the moment of his turning
around she had fallen back to her place amongst the dead.
Down through the valley of Acherusia Orpheus went again. Again he
came before the watchers of the gate. But now he was not looked
at nor listened to, and, hopeless, he had to return to the world
of the living.
The birds were his friends now, and the trees and the stones. The
birds flew around him and mourned with him; the trees and stones
often followed him, moved by the music of his lyre. But a savage
band slew Orpheus and threw his severed head and his lyre into
the River Hebrus. It is said by the poets that while they floated
in midstream the lyre gave out some mournful notes and the head
of Orpheus answered the notes with song.
And now that he was no longer to be counted with the living,
Orpheus went down to the world of the dead, not going now by that
steep descent through the valley of Acherusia, but going
straightway. The silent watchers let him pass, and he went
amongst the dead and saw his Eurydice in the throng. Again they
were together, Orpheus and Eurydice, and as they went through the
place that King Aidoneus ruled over, they had no fear of looking
back, one upon the other.
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