Orpheus (mythology)

   Orpheus, in Greek mythology, a harper of wondrous skill. He played so sweetly that the trees moved, the stones stirred themselves to hear, the wild beasts stood at the sound, and the very hounds gave over the chase for the sweetness of his music. Then men, for interruption of their hunting, sent his wife to the lower world; whereupon the harper filled the woods with his sorrowings till even the rivers stayed in their courses. Harp in hand, and playing his sweetest tunes, Orpheus prevailed upon the three-headed Cerberus, the dog that kept the entrance of hell, and Charon, the horrid old gatekeeper, and even those fierce goddesses, the Fates, to admit him to the presence of the king of the lower world be­fore whom he played his divinest strains for the release of his beloved wife. The wheel of Ixion stood still, Tantalus ceased to strive for water, the insatiable vulture tore not the liver of the king, and all the punishments of hell were suspended for his harping.

   The king told Orpheus to lead on, his wife should follow; but not to look backward once, lest he lose her again. The harper set forth playing away bravely, but on passing the outermost portal into the light, he could not resist the temptation to throw a glance over his shoulder to see whether the dear wife were really following him. This was the forbidden act. This broke the spell. The gates of hell closed, and his wife was lost to him forever. At least this is the substance of the version translated by King Alfred from the Greek for the instruction of his Wessex people. The moral is all his own. It is that, once forsaken, we should keep our backs turned resolutely upon our vices, however alluring; and that we should trudge steadily forward toward the light. It seems hardly fair, however, to identify a wife whom Orpheus had not seen for so long a time with the false allurements of the world of dark­ness.

Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld