ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE
Once Orpheus tried to understand exactly what happened. He had no difficulty remembering the snakebite that sent his wife to the Underworld and the unbearable grief that drove him there in search of her. And no difficulty remembering how the song of his love’s loss had so moved Hades with its anguish and its art that the tearful god allowed him to lead Eurydice back towards the light. Even the warning she would vanish forever if he so much as glanced at her along the way. And how could he forget their anxious steps on the dim trail out of the world of death, since the rough sound of every pebble shifting beneath their feet had echoed over and over in his mind ever since? No, his difficulty came instead from the quick, confident interpretations everyone who hadn’t been there offered of what happened, as if their unsought sympathy ought to have the power to console him. Did he really turn at the last moment, as so many claimed, because he could no longer control a lover’s need? Or because, as others declared with equal self-assurance, his passion for Eurydice was already fated to end in eternal farewell: their private tragedy reduced to just another public sighing over death’s claim on all that lives? Orpheus couldn’t recognize himself in such tidy explanations and wondered how they could satisfy anyone. His turning around hadn’t been an impulsive lapse. Nor the ironic end to some trite allegory of passion and art and death. Nor a mythic illustration of the obvious about fate. Were these the limit to people’s understanding of his love? Eurydice, he was certain, could not have failed to grasp why he’d turned towards her in that final moment of their ascent. She must have known why his heart overruled all else in pledging his dedication at its fullest, feeling the answering devotion in the warmth of her hand on his shoulder as they climbed through the dark chill? A devotion so complete he’d realized he had no way to offer up the depth of his own but to turn full face at the very point nothing could ever be taken back. Nor ever surpassed. “Tragic agony” was not an expression equal to what he’d suffered since watching her fade away into eternal darkness, but his embrace of that agony was the only testament to their love left him. The measure of what he’d pledged in that instant, an ardor that would never cool, never fail, as flesh inevitably must, never fall into a domestic slouch nor doze off at midday—to set that passionate vow at its highest pitch for eternity, love’s perfection—what greater devotion could anyone offer or receive? As they both saw the light reach towards them from outside the Gates of Death and their final steps together drew near, how could he dare hesitate any longer? And when he’d felt the tightening of Eurydice’s fingers, hadn’t it signaled her wish as well that he look back and see in her eyes a love so great no song of enchantment or lament could possibly express it?
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans