The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice revolves around their deep love for each other. They were supremely happy together and when Eurydice dies, so suddenly and so young, Orpheus cannot bear to live without her. Guided by his love for his wife, and armed with his extraordinary music, Orpheus undertakes the perilous journey to the Underworld and pleads his case before Persephone and Hades. When he kneels before them and asks Hades to lend Eurdyice to him just a little while longer, my heart aches.I know that longing, don't you? The longing to go back to happier times, to turn back the tide, to escape, just this once, from the inevitable. Have you ever reached deep into the well of your sincerity and made a solemn vow to gods or a fate or the great unknown that you swear that you'll never (fill in the blank) or always (fill in the blank) if only, if only, he/she/it will grant you this one wish? If only everything could be right again?
I have. But is this love? Plato thought that Orpheus was a fool and a coward. A fool to try to negotiate with the inevitable and a coward for not joining his beloved in the Underworld. His love wasn't deep enough for that sacrifice. The theme of whom is willing to die for whom appears in other stories from Greek mythology. They thought, as many of us do, that being willing to die for your spouse or children or friend was the ultimate statement of loyalty and devotion. But even this sacrifice may contain a kernel of resistance don't you think, to the hard truth? Paradoxically perhaps, extreme courage and fear may mingle.
In the last story, the myth of Persephone and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, we concluded that transformation is the rule and that profound change will involve loss. We like to connect this process to a vision of something better, happier, more successful or satisfying. We like to imagine that suffering always leads to a reward or has meaning beyond the common fact of its occurrence. But Orpheus doesn't go on to enjoy much of anything after he loses his wife. In fact, in the most common ending he gets torn apart by angry women. It's not heroic or glorious. But it is life.