Myths, Morals and Midterms

Installment I: Orpheus, King of Double-Takes

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Myths, Morals and Midterms

Sophia Dempsey, Writer

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The classics offer us an abundance of culture—our democracy, philosophy, and Olympics are all Greek; our poetry, architecture, and meals are Roman, and our very alphabet is influenced by both. However, when we think back to Ancient Greece, many of our minds will jump to the plethora of myths that have so often been alluded to in our everyday lives. These are more than just stories, however. Many include morals or lessons that, at first, may seem difficult or nearly impossible to relate to; however, a closer look at these myths by a high school junior might just lead to an interpretation that could apply to the average Loyola student.

We all have happy memories, whether it be our first kiss, twelfth birthday party, the adoption of our beloved pet, or the kindergarten Christmas pageant. When we find ourselves feeling blue from the hustle and bustle of high school, we might find comfort in remembering these moments that bring a smile to our cheeks. There is no harm in this; however, when we choose to dwell solely in our past and refuse to face the present, hindsight may become dangerous. Our dear friend Orpheus exemplifies this notion.

While Apollo invented the lyre (a stringed instrument predating the guitar), it is a commonly accepted truth among classicists and lovers of mythology that Orpheus perfected it. He was a honey-tongued poet and musician; it was said that even the trees would dance when he sang. Ladies, we all know that sweet, sensitive guys with great music taste is a keeper, and the beautiful Eurydice was no stranger to this concept. She was Orpheus’ beloved, and the two were scheduled to be blissfully married.

Unfortunately, on their wedding day, Eurydice was bitten by a venomous viper and soon fell to the ground, dead. Orpheus was heartbroken, and his grief motivated him to accomplish the impossible— retrieve Eurydice from the underworld and live with her happily again. Of course, such a feat would defy the laws of nature, and Hades, the god of the underworld, knowing this, would not allow Orpheus to rescue his bride.

However, upon hearing Orpheus play his lyre and sing of his love for Eurydice, Hades’ hardest of hearts was unhardened. He allowed Eurydice to be freed to her lover on one condition— climbing out of the underworld, Orpheus would not turn to see if Eurydice was behind him, lest she have to stay in Hades’ kingdom of the dead.

With every step, our beloved Orpheus grew more and more doubtful that his lover was behind him, and just before he stepped out of hell, he gave into temptation and turned to check to see if she was there. Alas, the beautiful Eurydice was doomed to remain in the underworld, and Orpheus would be separated from her until his own death.

So, what’s the moral of the story? The easy answer is not to give into temptation. However, that is a lesson we have all been taught since we were young children. I am sure you know it by now.

The way I see it, Orpheus teaches us to not look back and dwell on what we have had, but rather move forward and focus on our lives ahead of us. He was far too engaged with the Eurydice that he had once loved that he sacrificed the possibility of being with her again in the future. Our lives are ephemeral, and I know that it may seem as though high school is going to be our heyday, or that our childhood already was. Do not let this be true for you.

I was once told by my Greek teacher my sophomore year, “Death is not an interruption of life, life is an interruption of an eternity of non-existence.” Do not waste your time reminiscing on your past, for you would miss the life happening right in front of you. I know it’s tempting, as a high schooler, but do not be like Orpheus and throw away a future by looking back for too long.


Note: by the way, I highly recommend that you all check out the musical Hadestown, which is a Great-Depression era spinoff of this myth.