By Peggy Duffy
I was married briefly to Orpheus, son of Calliope and maker of music:
a mortal, despite his maternal parentage, for his father was a mere
man. From his father, Orpheus inherited mortality with all its transience
and restrictions, but from his mother, a goddess, the inspiration of
poets and musicians, he received the beautiful gift of music.
He played the lyre, embracing it in one arm as he would a woman, while
lightly gliding his fingers across in song. In the falling light of
day, he'd lean his smooth back against the rough bark of the tree, while
I knelt by his side. He caressed his lyre, stroking its strings and
sending forth a melody of such grace and gentle splendor as to be worthy
of tribute to the gods. The sun would slide beneath the edge of the
earth, and I would turn to watch the pale light of the moon show its
face, large and luminous, while Orpheus continued to send forth sweet,
passionate music. I'd continue to listen and watch the moon raising
itself higher and higher in the night sky, until it would peek over
Orpheus's shoulder and wink its watchful eye at me.
The gods and mortals alike knew and approved of our love, a love sweeter
and higher than any note Orpheus plucked from his strings. Ours was
a dancing, melodic love, a tune of such unsurpassed happiness that even
the tree did not wince when Orpheus had finished his parcel of songs
and, beneath the watchful moon and blinking stars, carved our names
in its trunk for all eternity. He inscribed our names, Orpheus and Eurydice,
into the bark and surrounded them with the outline of a heart.
So it came to pass that one night as I knelt in the grass, wild beasts
came to hear the voice of the lyre. They sprawled on the ground, lulled
into a half-slumber induced by the music. I, too, was soothed into a
dreamlike stupor, resting my head in the soft grass. Then I spotted
through the weedy, thin blades, in no particular hurry, the viper.
I know better, but in this state of lyrical ecstasy, I didn't have
my full wits. I leapt up, stumbling forward. But the merciful gods were
with me, for the snake, hypnotized by the music, did not react out of
its own fears and attack me. Yet Fate was to have her way. Unable to
make out where the viper waited, I stepped forward and tripped over
its long, fat body. Quickly and surely, the viper struck my leg, injecting
its poisonous venom in one rapid motion.
Difficult as it is to express the beauty of Orpheus's music, so also,
I cannot describe being swept away through darkness, ferried by Charon
along the River Styx. We passed through the gates and arrived where
ghosts suffered punishment and condemnation under the stern, cold rule
of Hades and Persephone. Here in the underworld, I have been sentenced
to immortality, to await forever my beloved Orpheus, listening only
to the undying voice of his lyre emitting its earthly songs.