Orpheus was the son of the great Olympian god Apollo and the muse Calliope. Apollo gave him a lyre and taught how to play it. Orpheus was blessed with musical talent and he could play it with such perfection that nothing could resist his music and melody. Not only his fellow mortals, but even the wild beasts were softened by his music and stood entranced, forgetting their fierceness, and the rocks and trees would move themselves to be near him.
Orpheus fell in love with Eurydice, a girl of graceful beauty and soon they became inseparable. Their marriage was settled. Hymenaios, the god of marriage, attended the wedding, but suddenly his torch became smoky and that made the guests’ eyes tearful. This was considered an ill omen and Hymenaios predicted that their conjugal life would not last long. However, the young lovers did not pay any heed to it – they were very happy and they started to spend their time frolicking through the meadows.
Soon after the marriage, while Eurydice was wandering in the forest with the nymphs, a shepherd named Aristaeus was attracted by her alluring beauty and made advances to grab her. She sprinted and escaped, but soon she stumbled and was tragically bitten by a venomous snake and died.
Orpheus was so sad about the loss of his beloved that he lost his interest in life. He sang all the time with his lyre to express his utter voids, which melt the hearts of the mortals and the immortals alike. At this stage, Apollo advised his son to descend to Hades (Pluto), the god of the underworld and pray to hear his plea.
Orpheus had nothing to lose. Desperately he passed through the crowds of the ghosts, managed to charm the three-headed monster Cerberus, and presented himself before the throne of Pluto and Proserpine. There he recounted his sad story to the sound of his pensive lyre, which melted the heart of the cold-hearted Hades. He permitted Orpheus to take back Eurydice with him to the land of the living, on one condition, that he should not turn round to look at her till coming out of the darkness to the light of the world above.
So the two passed through the great doors of Hades to the dark path leading to the lighted world. While advancing through the deep darkness, Orpheus knew it for sure that Eurydice must be just behind him. When they almost reached the end of the darkness and the blackness was turning gray, he felt an irresistible urge to look back, but he did not. Finally, he stepped out joyfully into the lighted world and turned back to look at Eurydice. However, it was too soon, she was still in the dark cavern and yet to come out to light. Orpheus had only a glimpse of her in the feeble light and stretched out his hand to clasp hers, but within the wink of his eyes, she became a shadow and slipped back helplessly into the yawning darkness.
Desperately he tried to rush after her and follow her down, but he was not allowed. A living person cannot be consented to enter the world of the dead a second time. Orpheus was forced to return to the earth alone in utter desolation. He forsook the company of men and the nymphs. He wandered all alone, through the wildness of Thrace, comfortless except for his lyre. He wandered aimlessly alone along the secluded paths, and the hills and vales resounded with his pathetic melodies.