Happy Lunar New Year!
And to start things off this year, we have a… Valentine’s Day story?!
Well, without further ado, here’s this month’s Retelling Myths!
The Singing Head of Orpheus
"Welcome!" the rich merchant said to his guest.
"Please, make yourself comfortable!" he said as he gestured to a chair at his dining table.
As the cloaked woman that was the merchant's guest obliged, the merchant gestured to his servant, "Bring 'it' here."
"Yes, sir," the servant said, before bowing and leaving the dining hall.
The merchant poured out some wine, and offered a cup to his guest.
As the cloaked woman sipped a bit of the wine, the merchant sat down as well, and drank merrily out of his cup.
The merchant looked at the woman as they drank. Curious, he asked, "Are you sure that you would not be more comfortable if you removed your cloak? Your hood, at least?"
Almost coldly, the woman replied, "I would prefer to keep my cloak on, thank you."
After a moment of awkwardness, the merchant laughed it off, "Certainly, whatever makes you happy!"
The servant re-entered the dining hall with a gold platter, the contents of which were concealed by a silk cloth.
"Sir," the servant said, while placing the mysterious platter on the table.
"Ah, excellent," the merchant gestured at the platter, "Reveal it."
"Yes, sir," the servant lifted the cloth up.
The cloaked woman let out a small gasp as the silk cloth was pulled back, revealing the head on the platter. She could not help but raise a hand to her mouth, trying to conceal her emotions.
The merchant let out a chuckle, "So, you can be startled, after all."
The cloaked woman stared at the head, "Is that...?"
With a laugh, the merchant boasted, "Yes, this is what you paid good money to see and to listen to - the head of the legendary Orpheus himself!"
Clapping his hands twice, the merchant commanded the head, "Now, give us some entertainment, Orpheus!"
At that, the head opened its eyes, and Orpheus started to sing.
As befitting of the legendary musician, the most beautiful music in the world soon filled the room.
"Now then," the merchant gestured to the feast on the dining table, "shall we partake in some food while listening to this enchanting song?"
The cloaked woman stared at the head a moment longer, before turning to the merchant, "Yes, thank you."
The merchant laughed and gestured at the servant, who then nodded and left the room.
As the two ate, the merchant began to recount the tale of Orpheus, "Ah, Orpheus - the legendary musician and poet, the son of a king and the Muse known as Calliope."
"A singer so legendary," the merchant continued, "that his music had the power to sway Hades, lord of the underworld!"
"Surely, you know the story of Orpheus and Eurydice?" the merchant asked.
The cloaked woman nodded, and said, "Yes, I-"
"Regardless," the merchant interrupted, "please indulge me as I retell it again, as I feel that it is a tale most fitting for the accompanying music."
A slight grimace appeared on the woman's face. Nonetheless, she nodded, and said, "Please, go ahead."
The merchant smiled and started to recount the story after a sip of his wine, "Orpheus had fallen in love with Eurydice, a most beautiful woman. And, in return, she had fallen in love with him as well."
"On their wedding day, Orpheus had played and sang such joyful music, that the world itself was elated during that brief moment."
"However, shortly after, Eurydice was bitten by a snake, and she died. In his grief, the music that Orpheus made that day moved the world to tears."
"It is said that the gods, moved by his dirge, pitied Orpheus, and showed him the way to the underworld of Hades, where the dead reside."
"Though any mortal would have died on the journey to Hades, Orpheus was protected by his nature as a demigod."
"And thus, he journeyed into the underworld, overcoming all obstacles - including the three-headed guard dog of Hades, Cerberus - with his music."
"Upon reaching the lord of the underworld, Orpheus played songs of love so powerful, that even Hades was touched."
"With some convincing from his wife, Persephone, Hades allowed Eurydice to journey back to the mortal realm with Orpheus, but under one condition - Orpheus would have to walk in front, while Eurydice followed, and Orpheus could not turn around to see his wife until they had reached the world of the living again. If Orpheus should turn around before then, Eurydice would have to return to Hades."
"And so, the pair started their journey back to mortal realm. And, as Orpheus walked, unable to ascertain if he had been tricked or not, unable to know if Eurydice was truly behind him or not..."
As if it had been waiting for that moment, the head sang, "Doubt comes in."
The merchant laughed, "Yes! Exactly!"
"And thus," the merchant continued, "after a long journey, with the exit to the underworld only mere steps away... The fool Orpheus turned around!"
Once again, the head sorrowfully sang, "Doubt comes in."
The merchant laughed again, pleased with himself. Gesturing to the head, he said, "It always sings that when I reach this point in the story."
"And you know the rest," the merchant finished the tale, as he ate some of his food, "Eurydice was sent back to Hades, and Orpheus was left alone in the mortal realm."
The cloaked woman sat still for a moment. Whatever emotion the woman was feeling at that moment, the merchant could not tell.
After a brief moment, the cloaked woman turned her head, and seemingly forced a smile at her host, "Thank you for regaling me with the tale."
"May I ask," the woman continued, "how you came into possession of Orpheus's head?"
"Of course," the merchant said, boasting, "as you know, I am a merchant of some renown."
"Using my many contacts, I was able to track down where Orpheus - specifically, his head - was buried."
"When I had finally found it," the merchant took another sip of his wine, "it was already decaying quite badly."
"But," the merchant smiled slyly, "I knew the secret."
"You see," the merchant leaned towards the cloaked woman, "if the head of a demigod, like Orpheus, is still intact enough, as well as being above the ground, then their soul cannot rest."
"So I held on to the head," the merchant leaned back into his seat, "and, after many months, it began to heal."
"Then, using another secret that I know, I brought Orpheus back to life!" the merchant exclaimed.
The cloaked woman nodded, "I see."
If his guest was feeling any emotions regarding his story, the merchant could not tell.
Nevertheless, the merchant continued, "At first, the head refused to sing, begging to be buried again, and to be reunited with his 'beloved Eurydice'."
The merchant rolled his eyes.
"But, after some..." the merchant paused, before euphemising, "convincing, as well as being unable to cope with being just a head..."
"Well," the merchant gestured to the head, "It went quite mad, as you can see."
"And now, it knows only to sing, when I order it to," the merchant finished his story with a smile of self-satisfaction.
The cloaked woman stood up.
"So, you knew," the woman said, her words seething with fury, as she pulled her hood off.
Upon seeing the woman's face, the head stopped singing, and whispered, "Eurydice."
"You knew," the woman angrily said, "that you would be bringing Orpheus back to the mortal realm."
"W-What?" the merchant stammered, "Yes, I did know."
"And knowing this," the woman yelled, "you desecrated and tortured my husband, all just for some dinner-side entertainment?!"
"S-Some very exquisite dinner-side entertainment, I would say," the merchant had stood up, and started to nervously back away from his guest, "A-And as much as I would like to find out how you're still alive, Eurydice, I think that it's time for you to go."
With that, the merchant shouted, "Guards!"
"We were happy together, in our afterlife," Eurydice said, "when you snatched him away from me!"
As she said that, Eurydice recalled how Orpheus had been playing the lyre in their paradise, while the both of them were singing together, when Orpheus had suddenly dropped his lyre.
"Eurydice," was the only thing that Orpheus had managed to say, before he had disappeared from the paradise that they had shared.
Eurydice took out a vial and drank its contents, before saying to the merchant, "It took me years to find him again."
The merchant called out again, "G-Guards!"
Moments passed, but no one came.
Then, suddenly, the merchant began to cough violently.
"G-Guards..." the merchant tried to yell out again. He fell down on to his knees, clutching at his throat.
"Don't bother," Eurydice said, "your guards won't be coming."
"And as for you," Eurydice took out another vial, "I had to sit through your entire, disgusting story, while waiting for the poison in our food to take effect."
"And now that I know what you've done, you will not be getting the antidote," Eurydice threw the vial against the far wall - shattering the vial, and splattering its contents.
The merchant struggled to crawl towards the antidote that was dripping down the wall.
However, the pain soon overtook him, and the merchant could only drop down onto the ground.
Turning to Eurydice, he managed to say, "Y-You should be dead... H-How?"
Eurydice stared at the merchant with hatred in her eyes, before replying "You'll have to thank Lord Hades and Lady Persephone for this when you meet them. I had to beg them to let me come back to the mortal realm."
After letting out one last cough, and trying to gasp for air one last time, the merchant died.
Eurydice stared at the dead merchant.
A long moment passed before her anger started to subside just a little, but she knew that she had to move on.
Picking up Orpheus's head, Eurydice embraced her husband.
And then the two of them left the dining hall.
Outside of the merchant's mansion, a muscular man greeted Eurydice as she walked out.
"Eurydice!" the man walked over, and saw the head in Eurydice's arms, "I am glad to see that you have rescued Orpheus."
Turning to Eurydice, the man asked, "Are you unharmed?"
"I am," Eurydice answered, "Thank you for helping me, Heracles."
"Of course, my dear Eurydice," Heracles replied, "I could not let a fellow Argonaut, as well as a fellow demigod, suffer such a fate."
"I..." Eurydice hesitated, "I hope that the guards aren't too hurt?"
Heracles laughed, "Do not worry, dear Eurydice, the guards will be fine after a few days of rest."
Eurydice let out a sigh of relief.
"I must go," Eurydice said, "Thank you again, Heracles."
"You are most welcome," Heracles replied.
"And please, if you should see Medea again, give her my thanks for providing me with the poisons," Eurydice said.
"It shall be done," Heracles nodded.
"Then, farewell, my dear Heracles," Eurydice said.
Heracles placed a gentle hand on Eurydice's shoulder, "Farewell, my dear Eurydice."
Then, Heracles softly placed his hand on Orpheus's head, "And farewell, my dear Orpheus."
And so, they parted ways.
Some time later, on a hilltop at night, Eurydice and Orpheus looked up at the stars.
"There, you see it, Orpheus?" Eurydice said, as she pointed out Lyra, "To honour you, the gods had placed your lyre amongst the stars."
As she held her husband in her arms, Eurydice noticed that tears were dripping down onto her arms.
Eurydice turned Orpheus's head around, and saw that her husband was crying.
Once again, he sang, "Doubt comes in."
Eurydice gently hushed her husband, and cradled him in her arms, "My dear Orpheus, I don't blame you for turning around - I never have."
After a long embrace, Eurydice finally took out a vial, and said, "Now, drink this, and go to sleep, my dear husband."
Eurydice held the vial to Orpheus's lips, and gently fed him the contents of the vial.
Slowly, the poison gently coursed through the head, putting Orpheus to sleep, before finally killing him again.
After her husband had passed, Eurydice gently placed the head on a funeral pyre.
"Don't worry, Orpheus," Eurydice said, as she lit the pyre, "I'll make sure that this can never happen again."
The pyre burned brightly, and Eurydice watched as the flames started to consumed her husband's head.
"Wait for me," Eurydice said, as the last of Orpheus's head disappeared, "I'm coming."
And so, as Orpheus was finally laid to rest, and his remains became ashes, Eurydice began her long journey back to Hades - where the two lovers would be reunited again.
I hope that you enjoyed that Valentine's Day story!
Here are a few notes that I have on it:
The whole demigods' souls not being able to rest unless if their heads were either buried or destroyed is something that I made up, though it was inspired by stories from Greek mythology about how Orpheus's head would still sing after his death.
Luckily, I had come up with this head thing early enough that I was able to change the earlier story about Medusa slightly, so that it included a line about her sisters hoping that her head would be buried one day.
There are many different accounts of who Orpheus's father and mother were. Some of them had Apollo as the father instead of a mortal king. Some of them had various different people as the mother, ranging from one of the Muses to a mortal daughter of a king. For my version, I chose to make Orpheus a demigod through Calliope, and to just keep his father as some vague king.
There is a reason for why Orpheus's head was buried separately from his body, but I'll leave it up to the readers to find out for themselves.
And lastly, of course, I had to sneak in some references to Hadestown, a great, musical retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice story.
As always, you can find plenty more Retelling Myths on my website here!
The Sun Aegis - Picking up Part 6 again!
Unicorn Girl Comic - All chapters have been edited! Looking for an illustrator now! If you know anyone who’d be interested, please let me know!
More Videos? - Currently thinking about a video adaptation of ‘A Single Rose in a Field of Lavender’. If you know any illustrators who’d be interested in that, please let me know!
Thank you for reading!
As always, please consider:
Happy Lunar New Year, and Happy Valentine’s Day!
From E. H. Lau