Orpheus and Eurydice

Read by Llewelyn Morgan

Ovid, Metamorphoses 10

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Soon after their wedding, Eurydice was bitten by a snake and died. Orpheus was struck with grief and mourned her much, then resolved to enter the world below to bring her back. Metamorphoses 10.11-39 

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Quam satis ad superās postquam Rhodopēius aurās
dēflēvit vātēs, nē nōn temptāret et umbrās,
ad Styga Taenariā est ausus dēscendere portā;
perque levēs populōs simulācraque fūncta sepulcrō
Persephonēn adiit inamoenaque rēgna tenentem 
umbrārum dominum, pulsīsque ad carmina nervīs
sīc ait: ‘ō positī sub terrā nūmina mundī,
in quem reccidimus quidquid mortāle creāmur,
sī licet et falsī positīs ambāgibus ōris
vēra loquī sinitis, nōn hūc ut opāca vidērem
Tartara dēscendī, nec utī villōsa colubrīs
terna Medūsaeī vincīrem guttura mōnstrī;
causa viae est coniūnx, in quam calcāta venēnum
vīpera diffūdit crēscentēsque abstulit annōs.
posse patī voluī nec mē temptāsse negābō;
vīcit Amor. superā deus hic bene nōtus in ōrā est;
an sit et hīc dubitō. sed et hīc tamen auguror esse,
fāmaque sī veteris nōn est mentīta rapīnae,
vōs quoque iūnxit Amor. per ego haec loca plēna timōris,
per Chaos hocc ingēns vastīque silentia rēgnī,
Eurydicēs, ōrō, properāta retēxite fāta.
omnia dēbēmur vōbīs, paulumque morātī
sērius aut citius sēdem properāmus ad ūnam;
tendimus hūc omnēs, haec est domus ultima, vōsque
hūmānī generis longissima rēgna tenētis.
haec quoque, cum iūstōs mātūra perēgerit annōs,
iūris erit vestrī; prō mūnere poscimus ūsum.
quod sī fāta negant veniam prō coniuge, certum est
nōlle redīre mihī; lētō gaudēte duōrum.’

After mourning her fully in the upper world, the bard of Rhodope then dared to go down to the Styx through the gate of Taenarus to seek a response from the shades. Amid flitting souls and figures whose burial rites have been completed Orpheus approached Persephone and the lord of shadows who controls the unlovely realms. Orpheus played his strings to his song and these were his words: ‘O spirits of the world which lies in the depths of the earth, where we begotten of mortal stuff fall back, if it is permitted and you allow me to speak the truth, having got straight to the point with no pretence, I did not come down here to see dark Tartarus or to bind the three, snake-bristling, throats of the monster son of Medusa. My journey here is for my wife. A serpent she trod on sank its poison into her and took away her prime of life. I wanted to be able to endure this and I’ll not say I didn’t try. But Love has defeated me. This god is well known in the land above; whether here too I am unsure. However, my feeling is he is here too, if the story of the abduction long ago is no lie: Love brought you together as well. By these places full of fear, by this world below and by the silent stretches of a vast kingdom, I beg you, undo the untimely end of Eurydice. We are altogether bound to you. After a short interval, give or take, we soon reach this destination. Here we all make our way, this is our final home. The kingdom you control holds the human race longer than any other. Eurydice too, when she reaches her time and has passed a reasonable number of years, will come under your jurisdiction. I beg a gift of you, to enjoy her still. But if the fates deny this favour for my wife, I am resolved not to return, and you take pleasure in the death of us both.’

The underworld is so struck by his plea and his music that everything, even the punishments, come to a halt. He may have his wife, on one condition.  Metamorphoses 10.40-63

Tālia dīcentem nervōsque ad verba moventem
exsanguēs flēbant animae; nec Tantalus undam
captāvit refugam, stupuitque Ixīonis orbis,
nec carpsēre iecur volucrēs, urnīsque vacārunt
Bēlides, inque tuō sēdistī, Sīsyphe, saxō.
tunc prīmum lacrimīs victārum carmine fāma est 
Eumenidum maduisse genās, nec rēgia coniūnx
sustinet ōrantī nec quī regit īma negāre,
Eurydicēnque vocant. umbrās erat illa recentēs
inter et incessit passū dē vulnere tardō.
hanc simul et lēgem Rhodopēius accipit hērōs,
nē flectat retrō sua lūmina, dōnec Avernās
exierit vallēs; aut inrita dōna futūra.
carpitur acclīvis per mūta silentia trāmes,
arduus, obscūrus, cālīgine dēnsus opācā.
nec procul abfuerunt tellūris margine summae;
hic nē dēficeret metuēns avidusque videndī
flexit amāns oculōs, et prōtinus illa relāpsa est,
bracchiaque intendēns prendīque et prendere certāns
nīl nisi cēdentēs īnfēlīx adripit aurās.
iamque iterum moriēns nōn est dē coniuge quidquam
questa suō (quid enim nisi sē quererētur amātām?)
suprēmumque ‘valē’, quod iam vix auribus ille
acciperet, dīxit revolūtaque rūrsus eōdem est.

He sang such a song and played his strings to the words, and the bloodless souls wept. Tantalus stopped chasing the elusive water, the wheel of Ixion stood still in wonder, nor did the birds peck at the liver. The Belides let go their urns, and you, Sisyphus, sat upon your rock. Then, the story goes, for the first time did tears soak the cheeks of the Furies, who had been overwhelmed by his song. The royal consort and he who rules the depths could not bear Orpheus’ plea to be denied, and they summon Eurydice. She was among the fresh spirits and approached with a limp because of her wound. The hero of Rhodope welcomed her and with her a condition that he not turn back his gaze until he had left the valley of Avernus, otherwise his gift would not be realised. They take the upward path through places silent and still, a steep climb, dark, thick with shadowy murk. They were not far from the edge of the upper world when the loving man, eager to see her and afraid she might falter, turned his eyes – and immediately she fell back. He stretched out his arms and tried to hug her, and be hugged, but the poor fellow grasped nothing but passing air. Dying now a second time she made no complaint at her husband (for what could she say except that he loved her?), and with a final ‘farewell’, which at this point barely reached his ears, she turned back again to the same place.

Ōrantem frūstrāque iterum trānsīre volentem
portitor arcuerat. septem tamen ille diēbus
squalidus in rīpā Cereris sine munere sēdit;
cūra dolorque animī lacrimaeque alimenta fuēre.
esse deōs Erebī crūdēlēs questus in altam
sē recipit Rhodopēn pulsumque aquilōnibus Haemum.

Despite his pleas, the ferryman pushed him back and his yearning to cross again came to nothing. He sat seven days on the bank, unkempt and without food. Grief and the pain in his heart were his only nourishment. He railed at the cruel gods of Erebus, and took himself off to the heights of Rhodope and wind-swept Haemus.

Read by Llewelyn Morgan
Recorded and translated by The LATIN QVARTER, 2020

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