George Frederick Watts - Orpheus and Eurydice
George Frederick Watts – Orpheus and Eurydice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eurydice is a female figure in Greek myth. Among variants, the best known Eurydice in Greek myth is a tree or water nymph and wife of Orpheus. When the god Aristaeus tried to rape her, she fled to escape his advances. While fleeing she was bitten by a poisonous snake, died within hours and descended to Hades.

Her husband Orpheus later journeyed to Hades hoping to rescue her. Orpheus used the musical beauty of his lyre to wrest Eurydice from the underworld’s Lord of Death, the giant three-headed dog Cerberus. But like Lot’s wife, and against a dire warning to not look behind while escaping, Orpheus cast a glance backward, losing Eurydice forever.

The name Eurydice first appears on pottery in the 4th century BCE.¹ Although possibly orally present for centuries, they myth of Orpheus’ descent into the underworld to rescue Eurydice was not fully written down until the  first century BCE, when Roman poets immortalized the tale through written verse.²

Plato criticizes Orpheus in his Symposium for trying to rescue Eurydice through music instead of sheer courage.³

In other variants of the myth Orpheus attempts to save Eurydice from Persephone. The scene of Orpheus attempting to rescue Eurydice is depicted in Neoclassical art, most notably by Nicolas Poussin.

Eurydice is also known as one of the daughters of Apollo.

¹ Richard L. Hunter “Eurydice” The Oxford Classical Dictionary, © Oxford University Press 1996, 2000.

² Sarah Hitch “Orpheus and Eurydice” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Ed. Michael Gagarin. © Oxford University Press 2010. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press. Toronto Public Library. 22 May 2012

³ Ibid.

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