Orpheus was a gifted musician and singer (I believe he was a Justin Bieber of his times;)). As Apollo’s apprentice he played lyre and sang beautifully – louder and better than the infamous Sirens, what he proved during Argonauts’ Quest. He also loved his wife-to-be the nymph Eurydice like mad… Unfortunately at their wedding something very bad happened: the bride was chased by a brute rapist satyr, in her attempt to escape she fell into a nest of vipers, got bitten and died. After death – like all ancient Greeks – she disappeared in this mythical underworld abyss, kingdom of black god, Hades.
And her loving husband went after her! And he performed the deed that occured never before!
The minstrel charmed with his supreme musical art not only fearsome hellhound Cerberus, but also King Hades and Queen Persephone – so touched they were that they allowed Orpheus to take Eurydice back to life. (Yes, we can call this resurrection...) Although there was one simple condition – he had to walk first and play and sing but couldn’t look back... He had to believe that his sweetheart was following him as in the land of dead she was mute and rather not very lively... So he went first and played and sang, she was behind him. Through the black kingdom they went… across the river they went… over the forest they went… yet at the moment they reached the border between under- and upperworld Orpheus looked back.
And that was the moment Eurydice was taken from him for the second time and forever! Oh, so disconsolate and somber he became!
The myth doesn’t explain why this poor lyre-player fell behind. He just looked, risked, failed. What for? We may try to interpret that by ourselves. To me one of the best artistic translation of the story is a painting by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. To me this picture clearly shows that death is always problem of the alive – these who suffer because their beloved died. To me Eurydice here doesn’t show great willingness to re-live, she looks rather passive. Orpheus is strong and active for both of them, tightly holding his wife’s wrist, maybe afraid of losing her again. Yet it didn’t work, he lost her again... Too impatient? Too self-confident? Or on the contrary too insecure?
Whatever the reason, in my opinion this story tells us that love doesn’t prevail all. We have to accept death and even the greatest affection cannot change that. However art can. Orpheus lost as a lover but won as an artist. Until today he’s widely recognized as a powerful archetype of divine, cosmic artistry, stronger than time.
Did antique people believe in Resurrection like we catholic believe? I doubt that. In their world it was more like general reincarnation, circle of life, spring – summer – autumn – winter – and spring again attitude. For them Easter was a festival of fertility and the rebirth of vegetation. More to do with Persephone than Eurydice... Honestly, if I was given a choice between resurrection and reincarnation, I wouldn’t know what to choose...