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John Hegley explains the story of the painting

'Well I'm going try and do it,' he says. 'I'm going to try because I want to get Eurydice back.' God said, 'Okay, that's the first thing you've got to do; the second thing you've got to do is you've got to get across the River Styx.' And this is a really difficult river to get across - it's got crocodiles in it; it's got all sorts of things. What else might be going on in the river?

(Student) Sharks!
(Student) Electric eels!
(Student) Sea snakes!

Yes, all those things, he's got to get across that river. Okay, basically the idea is it's really hard to get across it, okay? He's not even a very good swimmer, but he says 'I'm going to try and get across it.' Then God says, 'The third thing you've got to do is - when you get past the dog, across the river and you're coming up towards the daylight and you're with your wife and she's behind you, you've got to not look back,' and that's the last task, the last thing and Orpheus says, 'Oh, that will be easy, I'm not worried about that, it's the river and the dog I'm worried about.' So he goes down, he gets past the dog, he gives the dog a bit of dinner and gets past it, gets across the river, Eurydice with him, Orpheus is walking up, there's the light there and he turns and says, 'Hurry up Eurydice,' and bam, what's happened?

(Students) He looked back!

He looked back, she's gone, he's lost her. He looked back, he turned behind him, that was the third thing. Basically what he did was he concentrated on the things that were really hard, but the little thing, he thought 'Oh, that's easy, don't worry about the little thing,' and he lost her and so the last scene of the painting is this one and there's Orpheus, and he decides that he's never, ever going to try and have another wife and that he's just going to sit and sing a song about Eurydice and how he lost her and what happened and the animals come and listen to him sing this song ...

Image of students.Click here for Student Responses.
Image of 'The Death of Eurydice' by Niccolo dell'Abate, about 1552-71.Click here for About the Painting.
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