I’d love to say Romeo and Juliette, Humbert Humbert and Lolita, Ron and Hermione, Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers, Harry Dresden and Karrin Murphy, Eddie and Susannah Dean, Troy and Abed, or any of the countless breathtaking relationships I’ve wished I could experience. I’d love to say they even came close to my true favorite. But there is one couple above all others I love the most…
Orpheus and Eurydice
He was the world’s greatest musician. She was his muse and greatest fan.
They swore their love was eternal. But before they could consummate their wedding night, a snake bit Eurydice and she died. Orpheus couldn’t bear life with Eurydice. So he went down into the underworld with his lyre to bring her back.
There, Orpheus played Hades a song and Hades wept. The old god said if Orpheus’s love for Eurydice was as pure as his song, he could take her back to the world of the living. The conditions were simple. Orpheus had only to trust that Eurydice walked behind him without ever turning back to check.
Orpheus agreed and travelled all the way back to the very mouth of the underworld. But there at the threshold, the musician’s faith wavered. He needed to know if his muse was truly there behind him.
So Orpheus turned and found Eurydice there. He grabbed for her, but it was too late. Orpheus proved his unconsummated love was not as strong as his art. Eurydice was forced to stay. Artist and muse were doomed to be forever apart.
Why these lovers?
There are a lot of ways to tell the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. In this telling, I focused on the relationship between artist, inspiration, and audience. On how the key ingredient of such relationships is trust. On how the unconditional love (agape) of art is stronger than the lust-bound love (eros) of two bodies.
But embedded within this simple story are so many other things. There’s the story of mortal love’s limits. In this telling, Orpheus caves, proving their love impure. But in others, Eurydice cries for Orpheus to turn, fearing that his love for her has grown stale. Orpheus is then trapped. Either he saves Eurydice’s life, but loses her love, or he turns and saves her love, but forfeits her life.
We can also look at the story as a metaphor for memory. Our loved ones are always alive in our minds. And they can continue to live with us so long as we don’t turn to them and realize that they’re gone. You might have heard every time we reflect on a memory, we change it. In that sense too, every time we look back, we drive our dearly departed further and further away.
Could we apply this same moral to those in our waking life? Might our relationships be stronger if we never scrutinize them? If we never allow our trust to waver? If we never reflect on the past, and if we live forever in the moment?
Perhaps Orpheus and Eurydice teach us ultimately that all we have is now. That our loved ones change and die. That we should be grateful for the every moment, for there’s no recovering what we had before, and there’s no telling what comes next.