The story of Orpheus
'Happy the man who could reach the crystal fount of good: happy he who
could shake off
the chains of matter and of earth. The singer of Thrace in olden time
lamented his dead wife: by his tearful strains he made the trees to follow
him, and bound the flowing streams to stay: for him the hind would
fearlessly go side by side with fiercest lions, and the hare would look
upon the hound, nor be afraid, for he was gentle under the song's sway. But
when the hotter flame burnt up his inmost soul, even the strains, which had
subdued all other things, could not soothe their own lord`s mind.
Complaining of the hard hearts of the gods above, he dared approach the
realms below. There he tuned his songs to soothing tones, and sang the lays
he had drawn from his mother`s fount of excellence. His unrestrained
grief did give him power, his love redoubled his grief's power: his
mourning moved the depths of hell. With gentlest prayers he prayed to the
lords of the shades for grace. The three-headed porter was taken captive
with amazement at his fresh songs. The avenging goddesses, who haunt with
fear the guilty, poured out sad tears. Ixion's wheel no longer swiftly
turned. Tantalus, so long abandoned unto thirst, could
then despise the flowing stream. The vulture, satisfied by his strains,
tore not awhile at Tityos's heart. At last the lord of the shades in
pity cried: "We are conquered; take your bride with you, bought by your
song; but one condition binds our gift: till she has left these dark
abodes, turn not your eyes upon her." Who shall set a law to lovers? Love
is a greater law unto itself. Alack! at the very bounds of darkness Orpheus
looked upon his Eurydice; looked, and lost her, and was lost himself.
'To you too this tale refers; you, who seek to lead your thoughts to the
light above. For whosoever is overcome of desire, and turns his gaze upon
the darkness 'neath the earth, he, while he looks on hell, loses the prize
he carried off.'
Translated by: W.V. Cooper, J.M. Dent and Company. London, 1902.