Orpheus was the prince of Thrace. He was a poet and a great musician, It is said, that he learnt to play the lyre from Apollo, the God of Music himself, and that when he played on his lyre, not just mortals and Gods but animals, plants and even rocks and water bodies were moved.
Orpheus was one of the Argonauts, who went with Jason, to get the Golden Fleece. It was his music that saved the Argonauts from being bewitched by the song of the sirens at sea and crashing their ship on the reefs. The man is however best known for his attempt to bring the love of his life back from the land of the dead.
While on his adventure aboard the Argos, he met and fell in love with a nymph, by the name of Eurydice. The two were soon married and very happy together. But tragedy struck, Eurydice died from the bite of a poisonous snake and Orpheus was heartbroken.
Orpheus followed his wife to the land of the dead. There he sat and played mournfully on his lyre. It is said, that his music was so beautiful, that the ferocious guards of the underworld sobbed like lost children and in the end, even Hades, the gruff God of the underworld had tears rolling down his cheek.
Moved by the depth of Orpheus’ love for his wife and the beauty of his music, Hades did the unthinkable. He said, he would allow Orpheus, to take his dead wife, back into the land of the living, but there was one condition. Neither Orpheus nor Eurydice, were to look back until both were safely out of the underworld. Orpheus readily agreed.
Orpheus led the way, and the pale ghostly Eurydice followed. The way was long and treacherous. Orpheus often wanted to look back and check whether Eurydice was able to keep up with him or not. But he dared not do so, and instead nervously plucked on his lyre, hoping that Eurydice, would be guided by the sound in the darkness that enveloped them.
After many days, Orpheus, could see a hint of light in the far distance. He was so excited, that he turned towards Eurydice! The promise to Hades had been broken, and Orpheus, looked helplessly as his beloved wife, was pulled back into the land of the dead.
Orpheus came back, but he was a broken man. His mind continuously went over the sequence of events that had led to the loss of Eurydice. He lost interest in life and love.
The fact that he was a follower of Apollo and that he had given up on the pleasures of life, drove the Maenads (the female followers of Dionysus) crazy, and they tore his body apart in a frenzy. They threw his head into the river Hebrus.
It is said, that his head sang as it floated down the river, from where it landed into the ocean and finally washed up on the shores of the island Lesbos. Here the head was put to rest in a cave, which then became the Oracle of Orpheus.
The story Orpheus the mortal and his love for his wife, comes as a welcome whiff of fresh air after listening to the many escapades of the Gods and other immortals.