Orpheus and Eurydice (Virgil)
Here we present Virgil’s tale of Orpheus and Eurydice from his Georgics. Among the differences between this and Ovid’s version of the same story, Virgil gives Eurydice a voice, before she floats away back down to the underworld. Suzannah Lipscomb is Eurydice, and the narrator is George Sharpley.
Orpheus was so moved by Eurydice’s death, he went down to the underworld to ask for her return.
Ipse cavā sōlāns aegrum testūdine amōrem
tē, dulcis coniūnx, tē sōlō in lītore sēcum,
tē veniente diē, tē dēcēdente canēbat.
Taenariās etiam faucēs, alta ōstia Dītis,
et cālīgantem nigrā formīdine lūcum
ingressus, Mānīsque adiit rēgemque tremendum
nesciaque hūmānīs precibus mānsuēscere corda.
at cantū commōtae Erebī dē sēdibus īmīs
umbrae ībant tenuēs simulācraque lūce carentum,
quam multa in foliīs avium sē mīlia condunt,
vesper ubi aut hībernus agit dē montibus imber,
mātrēs atque virī dēfūnctaque corpora vītā
magnanimum hērōum, puerī innuptaeque puellae,
impositīque rogīs iuvenēs ante ōra parentum,
quōs circum līmus niger et dēfōrmis harundō
Cōcӯtī tardāque palūs inamābilis undā
alligat et noviēs Styx interfūsa coercet.
quīn ipsae stupuēre domūs atque intima Lētī
Tartara caeruleōsque implexae crīnibus anguīs
Eumenidēs, tenuitque inhiāns tria Cerberus ōra,
atque Ixīoniī ventō rota cōnstitit orbis.
Iamque pedem referēns cāsūs ēvāserat omnīs,
redditaque Eurydicē superās veniēbat ad aurās
pōne sequēns (namque hanc dederat Prōserpina lēgem),
cum subita incautum dēmentia cēpit amantem,
īgnōscenda quidem, scīrent sī īgnōscere Mānēs:
restitit, Eurydicēnque suam iam lūce sub ipsā
immemor heu! victusque animī respexit. ibi omnis
effūsus labor atque immītis rupta tyrannī
foedera, terque fragor stāgnīs audītus Avernīs.
illa ‘quis et mē’ inquit ‘miseram et tē perdidit, Orpheu,
quis tantus furor? ēn iterum crūdēlia retrō
fāta vocant, conditque natantia lūmina somnus.
iamque valē: feror ingentī circumdata nocte
invalidāsque tibī tendēns, heu nōn tua, palmās.’
dīxit et ex oculīs subitō, ceu fūmus in aurās
commixtus tenuīs, fūgit dīversa, neque illum
prēnsantem nēquīquam umbrās et multa volentem
dīcere praetereā vīdit; nec portitor Orcī
amplius obiectam passus trānsīre palūdem.
He comforts his aching heart with a hollow shell, singing of you, sweet wife, on the lonely shore by himself, of you at day rise, of you at its fall. He even entered the jaws of Taenarus, the lofty entrance to Dis and the grove murky with dark fear, and approached the Shades and their fearful king and hearts no human prayers can soften. His song stirred bodiless souls who made their way from the depths of Erebus and so too phantoms of those deprived of light, as many as the thousands of birds that shelter among leaves when evening or a wintry downpour drives them from the hills – mothers and men and figures of great-hearted heroes, boys, unmarried girls, youths placed on pyres before the eyes of their parents. These the black mud and ugly reeds of Cocytus and unpleasant swamp with its sluggish water hold within, and the Styx encloses, nine times encircling. Why, the very homes of Death and innermost chambers and Furies with blue snakes entwined in their hair and Cerberus three jaws agape just stood there, and the wheel of Ixion stopped in the wind.
Now Orpheus was retracing his steps, avoiding all mishap, and Eurydice, now given back to him, was approaching the air above, a few steps behind (Proserpina had set this condition), when a sudden moment of madness caught the loving husband unawares – forgivable for sure, if the Shades knew how to forgive. He stopped, and almost there in daylight, thoughtless, oh no, his resolve undone, he looked back. At that moment all his effort was wasted and the terms of the cruel tyrant unravelled. Three times thunder roared around the pools of Avernus. ‘What is this madness,’ she cries, ‘that has undone both you, Orpheus, and myself, poor wretch that I am? See, cruel fates summon me back again, and sleep buries my swimming eyes. Now farewell: I am borne by all-enveloping darkness, my failing hands reach towards you – ah! – not yours now.’ She spoke, and in that instant fled the other way, out of his sight, just as smoke fades into thin air. She saw him no more, though he clutched vainly at shadows, anxious to say much; nor did the ferryman of Orcus allow him another passage over the swamp that stood in his way.
Virgil, Georgics 4.464-503
Music by Bob Bradley, Paul Clarvis and Thomas Balmforth. Translation by George Sharpley.
Translation and recording © The Latin Qvarter 2022.