In vain Orpheus tried to follow her, in vain he besought Charon to carry him a second time across the waters of Acheron. Seven days he sat on the further bank without food or drink, nourished by his tears and grief. Then at last he knew that the gods below were pitiless; and full of sorrow he returned to the upper earth.
For three years he wandered among the mountains of Thrace, finding his only consolation in the music of his lyre, for he shunned all men and women and would have no bride after Eurydice.
One day he sat down to rest on a grassy hill in the sunshine, and played and sang to beguile his sorrow. As he played, the coolness of shady branches seemed all about him, and looking up he found himself in the midst of a wood. Oak, poplar, lime, beech, laurel, ash, pine, plane and maple and many another tree had gathered together here, drawn from their distant forest homes by the sounds of Orpheus’s lyre. Yes, and the beasts and the birds of the field came too, and Orpheus sat in their midst and sang and played the tunes of sorrow.
Suddenly a great noise was heard of laughter and shouting and merry-making. For this was one of the feasts of Bacchus, and the women were celebrating his rites, wandering over the mountains with dance and revel. When they saw Orpheus they set up a shout of derision. “See,” they cried, “the wretched singer who mocks at women and will have no bride but the dead. Come, let us kill him, and show that no man shall despise us unpunished.”
With these words they began to throw wands and stones at him, but even the lifeless objects were softened by the music, and fell harmlessly to the ground. Then the women raised a wild shout and made such a clamor with trumpets and cymbals, that the soft tones of the harp were drowned by the noise. Now at last the shots took effect, and in their fury the women fell upon him, dealing blow on blow. Orpheus fell lifeless to the ground.
But he was not to die unwept. The little birds of the forest mourned for him, even the stony rocks wept, the trees shed their leaves with grief, and the dryads and naiads tore their hair and put on the garb of sorrow. Only the pitiless revelers knew no remorse. They seized the singer’s head and threw it with his lyre into the river Hebrus. There it floated down stream and, strange to tell, the chords gave forth a lament, and the lifeless tongue uttered words. “Eurydice, Eurydice,” it cried, till head and lyre were carried down to the sea, and on to Lesbos, the isle of sweet song, where in after years Alcaeus and Sappho tuned afresh the lyre of Orpheus.
But the shade of the dead singer went down to Hades, and found entrance at last. Thus Orpheus and Eurydice were re-united, and won in death the bliss that was denied them in life.
MYTHS OF SCANDINAVIA