The Circle of Orpheus

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
My submission for CLAN1001 (The Myths and Legends of Greeks and Romans), telling of Orpheus's journey to the underworld.

Submitted: May 09, 2013

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Submitted: May 09, 2013




[A riverbank, Thrace, evening. Picnic items are scattered around. EURYDICE, dressed in the purest white, dances amongst wood nymphs and water sprites. Joyous music and bright colours accompany the dancers. The music is heavily influenced by the sounds of nature, mimicking the river and wind. Within this tune a lyre gently plays. Standing stationary and watching intently is ARISTAEUS, unnoticed, nearly offstage. EURYDICE dances beautifully, with grace born only to the nymphs. Slowly the lights dim as the night approaches. The sprites emit a soft glow to counteract the slowly encroaching darkness. EURYDICE spins as her companions disperse, along with the music. The lyre continues to play softly.]

EURYDICE [looking around, slightly disappointed. She fails to spot Aristaeus, who continues to watch with alarming stillness and concentration.]: My dear Orpheus will be what trouble I've got to again today.

[She begins gently humming to herself as she gathers her things. ARISTAEUS, now nearly completely in shadow, moves forward with the slow, deliberate stealth of a hunting tiger. The low lights emitted from the sprites (now in the forms of trees and river) deepen the shadows around his eyes. A twig snaps underfoot, abruptly cutting off the humming and lyre. ARISTAEUS freezes in the near darkness as EURYDICE sharply looks up. There is a long, silent pause.]

EURYDICE [attempting to bite back uncertainty]: Hello?

[After a moment she returns to her things. Her movements are quicker, no longer leisurely. There is no humming, no lyre. ARISTAEUS moves again, one deliberate step closer. And other. And other. Ominous music, like the scratched wail of lost souls, begins quietly. It grows as ARISTAEUS gathers speed, his impatience and carnal lust breaking through his calm. He reaches EURYDICE as she bolts upright to her feet, swinging around to see him lurch, hands outstretched, towards her neck. She screams.]

[Black out- no sound, no sight (applies to all). It lasts only a moment. The scene is bathed in red light. EURYDICE struggles and breaks away from ARISTAEUS. He gives a primal scream. Black out. She is running, her white dress flying behind her. The sounds of heavy, angered breathing, primitive roaring and furious running drown her silence scream. Black out. The same. EURYDICE is breathing in ragged pants, with no air to even scream. Black out. ARISTAEUS is reaching for her, his clawed hands merely a hair’s breadth away. Quick, single second blackouts flash as she is relentlessly pursued along the river and through the reeds. Black out. EURYDICE looks behind her. Black out. A shape rises in front of her as she runs, head still turned. Black out. She looks forward again, the shape growing in size. Black out. A snake rises before her from the reeds, poised to strike.

EURYDICE [panicked, terrified, desperate]: Orpheu-!

[She is cut of by the last black out. The snake has its fangs within her, and she begins to fall. As it withdraws and EURYDICE falls to the riverbank, the red light bathing the stage slowly turns to grey. She tries to choke out one last word, but it dies upon her lips. Silence.]

ORPHEUS [present only as a voice]: And so I lost my wife.

[Sprite and nymph cries and wails sound in the distance- a high, piercing, heart breaking and otherworldly sound.]

ORPHEUS: Her sisters sang to the hilltops. They wailed to the peaks of Rhodope, high Pangaea, the unwarlike land of Rhesus. The Getae lamented, and Hebrus, and Attic Orithyia. But none as much as I.  

[The haunting cry of a swan sounds as the curtain is lowered.]


[ORPHEUS, center stage, on his knees with his head held in his hands. Beside him on the floor lies his lyre, as if cast aside. Nameless people in unremarkable garb come up to him in succession, giving their condolences, unnoticing of his pained/unresponsive condition before exiting. The only sound is static and the low murmuring of the nameless. The surrounds are dull and minimal.]

ORPHEUS [heartbroken]: My Eurydice...

[The last person, hunched and shriveled, OLD MAN, shuffles in and stands in the background as the last nameless quests offer their condolences. He wears a white traveling cloak. OLD MAN lifts the hood to reveal the face of an anciently old man, lined with the ages and eyes like coal. His beard is white as snow.]

ORPHEUS: My Eurydice...

[He sinks further into his hands. The others file out, leaving OLD MAN standing alone. He steps forward and places a withered hand upon ORPHEUS'S shoulder. ORPHEUS ceases his quiet sobs, but does not look up.]

OLD MAN: Death is merciless, young man. When our string is severed, I can assure you it will always be too soon. You are not the first, nor will you be the last, to suffer this. Mothers, fathers, siblings, lovers, those much too young and those with little left to give. Each will reach the river, that stream of shades. We wish for the time we never knew, while we should look with great pleasure upon the time we were granted. Do not perpetuate the circle of grief.

[He squeezes his shoulder, in either sympathy or something less. ORPHEUS sags slightly. Apparently finished with his speech, OLD MAN stands and begins to walk away. As he does, his foot comes across the lyre. It twinges. ORPHEUS, slowly sitting upright, let his hands fall upon the lyre. His fingers run over the strings, producing a haunting, beautiful sound. He repeats. A low spotlight focuses upon him. Remaining sitting, he continues. The tune reverberates throughout- strong, penetrating, brimming with loss and love. He stops playing. The spotlight fades, though the stage remains brighter than previously.]

ORPHEUS [quiet yet determined]: You say death is merciless, sir? Do they not say the same of the sea? I have tamed that tempestuous mistress. I played and sang as the Muses do- I calmed her. Oh, sir, I have driven away the sirens, known for their enchanting songs, by the power of my artistry. [Stands] This gift shall save my wife. I shall melt the hearts of the God and Goddess of the Underworld themselves. Every note, every tone will permeate their existence.

OLD MAN [unfathomable]: A noble gesture, boy, and one not without folly. Hades lies deep within that black pit, guarded by his ferryman and his monstrosity, even the shades he torments will flock to bar the living. No soul has yet been retrieved from the depths of Hell. This is not without reason.

ORPHEUS: No soul has had a love so devout.

[OLD MAN stands, regarding ORPHEUS. He remains forever unfathomable.]

OLD MAN [sadly]: I have no doubt.

[ORPHEUS turns and exists with a determined stride. OLD MAN stands alone and turns his face skywards. From under his cloak he produces a staff and leans against it heavily. Thunder rolls in the distance.]

OLD MAN: The journey begins, ending with the greatest gift or utter tragedy. Hades guards his souls with reason, although we shall ever debate as to why. Perhaps he shall prevail against that ruthless chasm? All that can be done is await divine intervention. After all, [slight pause] is that not the constant state of mortal souls?

[OLD MAN exists, curtains fall.]


[The Underworld. Dark blues, greys and blacks dominate the stage. A light fog hangs upon the ground. Flickering, inconsistent shadows of indefinable shapes flitter around, accompanied by the sounds of faint screams and moans. The soft sound of ORPHEUS'S lyre begins. ORPHEUS enters. He is signing gently. A soft spotlight shines upon him as he plays. SHADES emerge from the fog and darkness.]

SHADES [weeping, crying, moaning uncomprehendingly. Some reach for him and are beaten back by the light]: Me, take me.

[Stirred from the depths of the Underworld, more shades flock, begging for salvation. Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, heroes, villains, lovers, victims of drowning, burns, sickness, injury and battle surround ORPHEUS, nearly engulfing the light.]

SHADES: Me, oh please, take me. My mother- [Reaching]

SHADES: My son!

SHADES [clamoring, flowing over each other to be heard, calling for family, lovers and salvation]: Please-

[ORPHEUS plays and sings more passionately, increasing the light. The SHADES are beaten back with cries of despair. He looks around apologetically to the cowering crowd, walking through them as they part. He reaches CHARON on the edge of the river Styx. The lost souls retreat, knowing the Ferryman will not let them cross.]

CHARON [A moments pause. He is taking in the music, but remains stoic]: None may cross without payment. I will take your song, your pain. [ORPHEUS moves forward, CHARON stops him] Remember, Orpheus, no mortal should pass this river. It is only for the dead. [Pause] Come along.

[CHARON safely guides him across the Styx. As they cross, disembodied hands, wraithlike, reach up. They are beaten back giving lamenting cries. As they travel, scenes bathed in red light up in the background (in no particular order). As they pass each punishment the red light fades to normal. SISYPHUS pushes his rock ever up a hill, struggling mightily. As ORPHEUS passes and the music reaches him, his strain disappears and the rock is held without effort. In another scene, TITYUS is painfully tied, with bird-like creatures of darkness ripping at his stomach. The creatures flee from the music. Another shows TANTALUS in his great hunger, unable to eat or drink the plentiful goods surrounding him. His hunger is sated when ORPHEUS passes. In another, IXION'S spinning wheel stops. SISYPHUS, TITYUS, IXION AND TANTALUS all revel in their temporary freedom of punishment and the sound of the lyre.]

CHARON: Death's dominion is crumbling. Even the Furies serpentine screeches can no longer be heard echoing across the river. They sleep with minds devoid of horror and death, simply women now, trapped here along with these souls. [Turns to ORPHEUS] You have overcome every obstacle presented with ease, but do not expect Death itself to be so easily defeated.

[ORPHEUS plays and sings all the while. They reach the land beyond the Styx and part ways. CHARON does not even look back as he disappears into the gloom. ORPHEUS wonders onwards, past a placated Cerberus. The great monstrosity is as black as coal, with wisps of darkness emanating from its hide. Each of the three mouths gapes open, its six eyes fluttering shut as it begins to dream. ORPHEUS walks past without a glance, through fog and darkness where SHADES once again moan and flicker. The climax of the song approaches. The light upon the stage grows and grows, until white light completely engulfs the stage. ORPHEUS stops his music. The gates of Hell are presented before him, open. Silence.]

[Curtin falls.]


[Inner sanctum of the Underworld, HADES and PERSEPHONE'S throne room. Once again the stage is bathed in blues, grays and shadows. A top of two thrones sit HADES and PERSEPHONE. Both wear exquisite garb of the darkest shades. ORPHEUS stands before them, lyre in hand.]

PERSEPHONE: My brave artist, who has conquered the trials of the Underworld itself to retrieve his love. Is it not a beautiful tale? [Rises and stalks towards ORPHEUS, circling him slowly] Those Shades, the Shadows of humanity, can drown a living soul without a thought. They steal living breath; sap the warmth from your body as they scramble for redemption. Those who fell or dived from the ferry in fear and desperation will think nothing of clambering over you, dragging you into the depths, simply to escape the fathomless stream of rotting souls. Cerberus's dripping jaws can reduce a mortal into puddles of flesh, the pieces still screaming. The very nature of the Underworld can drive men to insanity. [Pauses] And yet here you stand, with nothing but love and a lyre.

ORPHEUS: My Goddess, the trials of this realm are nothing. I would repeat this journey for a thousand years to regain my Eurydice. I will hold no fear for diving into this deep chasm once more, to plunge into the horrors within. I only ask she be returned to me, as she was so cruelly taken. You have heard my song, felt it flow through you. I know you have a heart, my Goddess. [Drops to the ground at her feet] Please, please restore my love.

PERSEPHONE [returns to her throne]: I believe every word, Orpheus. You have shown yourself to be true and strong. I will grant you this- [ORPHEUS starts and begins to rise. PERSEPHONE gestures for him to remain seated. He looked upon the ground once more] on one condition.

ORPHEUS [quickly]: I will gladly accept, my Goddess. Gladly.

PERSEPHONE [aside]: Oh, how I know it. [Addressing ORPHEUS] Walk from this place to the Upperworld once more. You shall be given safe passage, should you not stray from your path. My condition is this: Eurydice shall follow behind. You cannot look back upon her as you travel, until you both reach the world above. [ORPHEUS goes rigid] Should you look back she will be forfeited to the Darkness, as you shall be forfeited to your own.

ORPHEUS [looking up in despair]: You ask too much of me. I must see her, know she lives and follows. Should I never be able to journey here again, I must know it is her.

PERSEPHONE [quietly, with strength]: That is my condition, Muse Son.

[Pause. ORPHEUS bows his head in a nod, painful reluctance etched in every movement. PERSEPHONE smiles as he looks upon the floor once more. EURYDICE steps forward to stand beside PERSEPHONE'S throne. She remains hidden in shadow. Only the white of her dress, now ragged, should be seen.]

PERSEPHONE: Turn and rise. [ORPHEUS does so] Leave.

[Blackout. SHADES scream. OREPHEUS begins to play, producing a small glow and silencing the SHADES. Behind him, her face remaining in shadow, EURYDICE stands silently. They are no longer within the Throne Room. Fog rolls across the floor.]

ORPHEUS: Oh, my dear, I pray to the merciful Gods you truly follow.

[He begins to walk slowly in the darkness; EURYDICE following like a ghost in shadow. Her footsteps echo behind his own- the only indication of another mortal presence. In the darkness unspeakable shapes writhe, their echoing calls incomprehensible. A light shines dimly from above- the Upperworld. ORPHEUS and EURYDICE continue with only the lyre to keeps the shadows at bay. Blackened hands reach for her ragged dress, pulling with quiet moans. Her face is never out of darkness. The light above brightens as they carry on.]

ORPHEUS [becoming elated]: Soon, my Eurydice, oh soon!

[Brightness illuminates part of the stage. The other part remains in darkness. ORPHEUS and EURYDICE enter from the darkness. EURYDICE remains in shadow as ORPEHUS steps one pace over into the light.]

[The lyre abruptly stops]

ORPHEUS [overjoyed, takes another step forward. EURYDICE follows, but remains on the brink of darkness.]: My love! Oh, my love! I have brought you back into the light, where you belong- beside me, for many, many years more. [Goes to take another step. EURYDICE follows. Slight pause.]

[Instead, he turns around, arms open. Immediately a high screech sounds. Thunder crashes thrice. SHADES erupt from the darkness, spewing onto the stage. EURYDICE is thrown into the light momentarily- her face is sunken, lined and gaping. ORPHEUS cries out.]

EURYDICE [voice cracked and painful]: What curse has been laid upon us both? The madness- oh, I can feel the Darkness wrapping her icy, twisted claws upon me! There is nothing but night, my love. The night and the terror and the black. [Reaching] Why? Why does my heart scream in pain, when you are so close? Why is this borne of love? [Gasping] Goodbye. Fate has been cruel and dark, but yours can still contain light. Please, love, please- [Moaning] Oh, Goodbye, my Orpheus!

[She is swallowed by SHADES and vanishes. Another thunderclap illuminates the stage with brilliant white and black. The entrance to the Underworld disappears. ORPHEUS, screaming, claws at the ground, trying to regain entrance.]

ORPHEUS [driven mad]: Gods be merciful! She was within the light! She was, she was! [Desperate] Oh please, another chance! [Stands up, staggers to center stage. Beyond broken, uncomprehending.] What atrocity have I committed to be granted such a punishment? There is no malice in my heart- never so in hers! What crime demands such repentance? [Anger grows] Sisyphus, Ixion, Tityus, Tantalus… they know nothing. NOTHING! I regained her you spiteful beings! My love, lost once again and forever... [Roars. Calls up to the sky] For all I have done, all the lives saved and journeys made, the songs I dedicated to the Heavens, the love I poured into the world- is this the culmination?

[Thunder rolls and claps. Pause.]

ORPHEUS [drained, drops the lyre]: That is my answer, then.

[He falls to the floor, head cradled in his hands. There is the sound of Time, rushing. ORPHEUS freezes as images of his journey flash in reverse. The images stop, and ORPEHUS begins moving once again. The nameless mortals file through again, a repeat of PART TWO: DECISION.]

ORPHEUS [heartbroken]: My Eurydice...

[OLD MAN enters last once again, a repeat.]

ORPHEUS: My Eurydice...

[OLD MAN places a hand on ORPHEUS’S shoulder once again.]

OLD MAN: Death is merciless, young man. When our string is severed, I can assure you it will always be too soon. You are not the first, nor will you be the last, to suffer this. Mothers, fathers, siblings, lovers, those much too young and those with little left to give. Each will reach the river, that stream of shades. We wish for the time we never knew, while we should look with great pleasure upon the time we were granted. [Pause] Do not perpetuate the circle of grief.

[ORPHEUS repeats his words and actions as found in PART TWO in silence while OLD MAN waits, resigned. A lyre plays- it is a sad, diminished tune.]

OLD MAN [pulled out of his reverie]: I have no doubt.

[ORPHEUS exists. OLD MAN sighs. The lyre continues.]

OLD MAN: This is indeed your answer. [Pause] A thousand years you vowed to that Dark Goddess Persephone, to repeat your journey. Thousands of struggles down that pit of mutilated souls have been granted. What mortal can boast such sway over the Goddess of Darkness? [Quietly. Leaning heavily upon his staff] How shall each chance pass? Shall you contort with the pain of punishment, your soul shredded with each passing? Or shall you revel in the feel of Eurydice in your arms once more, and bathe in the light with her, fully restored? [Pause] A thousand years, Orpheus. A gift or a curse, unclear- but your dearest wish is granted.


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