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This myth is always guaranteed to make me sniffle every time I read a good version of it. It's one of the saddest stories in the world: man loses dearly beloved wife, goes to hell to get her back, and, finally, just when he's just of the verge of escaping with her he has a moment of weakness and looks back, just for one second, and loses her forever. After this he wanders around forlorn and is torn apart by some worshippers of Bacchus because he won't ever love women again - and his head, torn from his body, still sings of Eurydice.

Aieee! That's all Greek myth in that one story: there's nothing safe in this world and just when you are almost there (wherever there is), you lose everything. And then some.

I must be in a particularly maudlin mood today because I'm posting a translation of a portion of (IMO) one of the best versions of the story, Virgil's in the Georgics. I like this one because it actually give Eurydice some voice - the bit I'm posting is mainly her speaking to Orpheus just before she vanishes back into the underworld. It kills me because not only does she die again, they don't get to even say a last farewell to each other. I don't pretend the translation is very good or even terribly accurate, but I hope it gets the power of Virgil across a little bit.

Forgetting, he stopped, his mind conquered, and he looked back
at Eurydice just now stepping into the light.
There he poured out all his labour, and the agreement of the
unforgiving Tyrant was broken,
and a final crash was heard in the stagnant Avernis.
"What great madness has destroyed me and you, Orpheus?"
She asked. "Again the cruel fates call me back
and sleep buries my tearfilled eyes.
And now farewell: I am carried away surrounded by great night.
Holding out to you my useless hands - no longer yours."
She spoke and suddenly fled from his sight,
scattered like smoke mixed in the thin air,
nor again did she see him grasping her shadow in vain
and wishing to speak so many things.
Nor would Hell's ferryman allow him again to cross the opposing marsh.
What could he do? Where could he go, his wife stolen twice?
What tears would move the dead, what song would move the gods?
For in the boat she even now sailed the icy Styx.

Here's the original Latin

Restitit Eurydicenque suam iam luce sub ipsa
immemor heu! victusque animi respexit. Ibi omnis
effusus labor atque immitis rupta tyranni
foedera, terque fragor stagnis auditus Avernis.
Illa, Quis et me, inquit, miseram et te perdidit, Orpheu,
quis tantus furor? En iterum crudelia retro
Fata vocant, conditque natantia lumina somnus.
Iamque vale: feror ingenti circumdata nocte
invalidasque tibi tendens, heu non tua, palmas!
dixit et ex oculis subito, ceu fumus in auras
commixtus tenues, fugit diversa, neque illum,
prensantem nequiquam umbras et multa volentem
dicere, praeterea vidit, nec portitor Orci
amplius obiectam passus transire paludem.
Quid faceret? Quo se rapta bis coniuge ferret?
Quo fletu Manis, quae numina voce moveret?
Illa quidem Stygia nabat iam frigida cumba.

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August 2011

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