In classical mythology, Orpheus was a great musician, and Eurydice was his wife. The music of Orpheus was so beautiful that it could calm the wildest animal and even make stones rise up and follow. When Eurydice died, Orpheus went to the underworld, played his lyre for Hades, ruler of the dead, and asked that Eurydice be sent back to Earth. The god was so moved that he agreed to let her return, on one condition: that Orpheus go ahead of her and not look back until they had reached the Earth again. Orpheus led Eurydice up, but at the last moment, when he had come out of the underworld and she was about to leave it, he could resist no longer and turned to look at her. She vanished, and he had lost her forever. He spent the rest of his days wandering about, playing his lyre, and singing. In the end, he was torn to pieces by crazed followers of Bacchus, the god of wine.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.