The Age of Fable eBook

Thomas Bulfinch
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 1,207 pages of information about The Age of Fable.

Orpheus endeavored to follow her, and besought permission to return and try once more for her release; but the stern ferryman repulsed him and refused passage.  Seven days he lingered about the brink, without food or sleep; then bitterly accusing of cruelty the powers of Erebus, he sang his complaints to the rocks and mountains, melting the hearts of tigers and moving the oaks from their stations.  He held himself aloof from womankind, dwelling constantly on the recollection of his sad mischance.  The Thracian maidens tried their best to captivate him, but he repulsed their advances.  They bore with him as long as they could; but finding him insensible one day, excited by the rites of Bacchus, one of them exclaimed, “See yonder our despiser!” and threw at him her javelin.  The weapon, as soon as it came within the sound of his lyre, fell harmless at his feet.  So did also the stones that they threw at him.  But the women raised a scream and drowned the voice of the music, and then the missiles reached him and soon were stained with his blood.  The maniacs tore him limb from limb, and threw his head and his lyre into the river Hebrus, down which they floated, murmuring sad music, to which the shores responded a plaintive symphony.  The Muses gathered up the fragments of his body and buried them at Libethra, where the nightingale is said to sing over his grave more sweetly than in any other part of Greece.  His lyre was placed by Jupiter among the stars.  His shade passed a second time to Tartarus, where he sought out his Eurydice and embraced her with eager arms.  They roam the happy fields together now, sometimes he leading, sometimes she; and Orpheus gazes as much as he will upon her, no longer incurring a penalty for a thoughtless glance.

The story of Orpheus has furnished Pope with an illustration of the power of music, for his “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day” The following stanza relates the conclusion of the story: 

“But soon, too soon the lover turns his eyes;
Again she falls, again she dies, she dies! 
How wilt thou now the fatal sisters move? 
No crime was thine, if’t is no crime to love. 
Now under hanging mountains,
Beside the falls of fountains,
Or where Hebrus wanders,
Rolling in meanders,
All alone,
He makes his moan,
And calls her ghost,
Forever, ever, ever lost! 
Now with furies surrounded,
Despairing, confounded,
He trembles, he glows,
Amidst Rhodope’s snows
See, wild as the winds o’er the desert he flies;
Hark!  Haemus resounds with the Bacchanals’ cries;
Ah, see, he dies! 
Yet even in death Eurydice he sung,
Eurydice still trembled on his tongue: 
Eurydice the woods
Eurydice the floods
Eurydice the rocks and hollow mountains rung”

The superior melody of the nightingale’s song over the grave of
Orpheus is alluded to by Southey in his “Thalaba”: 

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The Age of Fable from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.