Tuesday, 18 June 2013


"Teacher, I saw Mirrinia crying in the neighbouring grove today. She was beating her breast and swearing that there was no man on earth more unbending than you... She even threatened to commit suicide, like Teleboia... Why do you drive them away?"
"You desire to know, Haemonian, why I rejected the love of blue-eyed Mirrinia, why I chased away white-handed Teleboia when she came to me in a black cloak? My dear, can you really not have noticed that all women in the world are as nothing for me?"
O thrice-great Orpheus, O my teacher, so many years have passed since you lost Eurydice. Can it be that even now your inconsolable heart still yearns for her?"
"No, my boy, I do not long for the wife I left behind in Tartarus. And if the god who rules the underworld were to release her once again to the surface of the earth and she were to come to me in Haemonia - believe me - I would only turn away from her in silence."
"Teacher, but didn't you love her? Or is the talk of how you descended to the depths of Hades for the sake of your wife just idle gossip? I have heard that terrible Pluto himself was touched by the music of your lyre and your sad song. I have heard that he allowed you to take Eurydice away, to the bright expanse under the curve of the azure sky. And only because you failed to heed his injunction not to look at her until you were completely out of Tartarus did the winged god Hermes draw her back down to black Hades... Isn't this true, son of the sweet-sounding Muse? ... But forgive me, you are frowning, no doubt I've touched on an unhealed wound in your anguished heart."
For a time there was silence on the crown of the cypress-covered hill. Orpheus sat on the gentle slope. A large black panther lay near him amongst the motley flowers; purring, she arched her back against the singer's caressing hand. The twitching end of the bloodthirsty animal's tail beat playfully on the green grass. On the lower branches of a cypress hung the lyre of glorious renown. Hushed birds sat in the trees all around. They had come from afar to listen to Orpheus.
The Thracian now stopped caressing the animal, and fixing his gaze in the direction of the distant ravines, he spoke in a thoughtful tone, "You have been told the truth, O Antimachus, but not the whole truth. I repeat, if the woman I once called my Eurydice were to return from the dark realm, my heart would not ache with sweet pain. Women and girls no longer exist for me on this earth, washed with blue-green waves. They are all deceivers, and behind the contrived clarity of their gaze shines a dog-like, slavish baseness and a fear of the strong; at the bottom of their hearts lurks eternal lust, and they are forever seeking new embraces, new conquests!..."
"But surely, teacher, not your Eurydice?!"
"Yes, even she. I can never forget what happened in the land of the dead... When gloomy Pluto, giving in to Persephone's pleas, agreed to give Eurydice back and two nymphs from the dark waters of Lethe led her to me, I cast my attentive gaze over the face of the woman who had been my wife.
"She stood naked, pale, shyly lowering her lashes as if concealing the joy of the meeting with her husband.
" 'Here is your Eurydice! Hermes will escort you to the gates of the kingdom of oblivion. Your wife will follow behind you. But woe unto you if you glance back before you are out! ... And you, son of Maia, approach so you may hear my commission to my aegis-bearing brother.'
"Hermes approached the king of the underworld, and the immortal gods whispered together for a long time, laughing and glancing now and then at Eurydice and me.
" 'You may go!' said the sovereign of Tartarus finally, and to the amazement of the mournful shades, we started on our way.
"With firm steps I made for the gates. My heart was bursting with the pride of victory. My fingers strummed the strings of my lyre, and our procession was accompanied by celebratory tones ...Shades of the deceased silently made way for us. Their sad faces gazed apathetically at us from all sides. The gates were close now. an azure and lilac shaft of daylight cut into the gloom.
"I slowed my steps. Behind me it seemed to me I could hear whispers and kissing. I thought at first that it was only a test to make me turn around, and I drove off my suspicions. After another dozen steps I found myself at a turning, from beyond which a current of warm, fragrant air wafted against my face, and a piece of azure sky and flowery slopes and hills covered with forests met my gaze ...Behind me all was quiet. But then from behind me I again caught the sound of quiet, smothered laughter and someone's drawn-out sigh ...There could be no doubt. Only she sighed that way, my Eurydice, in the hours of our blissful embraces.
"Forgetting myself in my rage, forgetting Pluto's admonition, like an anthropophagous beast from faraway India, I threw myself back into the jaws of the gate to hell.
"Gods, what I saw there! Around the bend in the path, she, my Eurydice, my tender beloved with all her demure melancholy - like a wild satyress, in ardent ecstasy, was yielding to the caresses of perfidious Hermes...
"I stood as if carved in marble, frozen in horror. And only my eyes followed as the son of Maia, with insolent laughter, took the woman who had been my wife back into dark Hades.
" 'You defied the prohibition, son of Calliope, and therefore you'll never see your Eurydice again!' he cried, disappearing into the gloom.
"Clinging to the treacherous god, the white shade of my depraved wife obediently vanished with him.
"Not a single curse did I hurl after them.
"Without a word I lifted my lyre and quietly set off away from Tartarus among green hills and shady hollows. My path led me here, to thickly-wooded Thessaly ...Here my heart is not so heavy. Here I can only barely hear that deceitful feminine laughter. Here the wind murmurs in the ravines; dark-green pines nod their heads at me, and wild beasts follow at my heels and rub their soft fur lovingly against my bare knees..."
And as if wishing to show that she understood the poet's speech, the black panther yawned and started tenderly licking Orpheus's dust-covered feet with her long, pink tongue.
When she finished, she gave a stretch, arching her supple back like a wave, and then settled back down, assuming a tranquil pose and attentively fastening her yellow-green eyes on the face of the Muse's son.
Orpheus and his disciple sat without moving. Around them silence reigned. Only a single small bird timidly twittered something in the branches of a cypress.

- Alexander Kondratiev (1876 - 1967).

Picture: 'Orpheus' by Franz von Stuck (1891).

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