First section

The Death of Orpheus:

A Translation of Virgil’s Georgics, IV, 464–527

Jack Zhou


Orpheus, soothing his broken heart, sang with his hollow lyre,  

“You, sweet wife,” alone on the deserted shore. “You,” from dawn to dusk he sang.  

He journeyed to the mouth of the Taenarus, the deep gates of Hades,  

Into the foggy grove, thick with darkness and fear.  

The Shades closed in on him, the rulers of the Underworld too,

Whose hearts could not be softened by mortals’ prayers.

But Orpheus’s song stirred the Shades from their deepest haunts:

Those shadows and ghosts bereft of light, teeming  

Like the myriad birds who hid themselves in the trees

When the evening came and the winter rain drove them from the mountains.

Mothers and sons, the ghosts of brave heroes (their lives cut short);  

Boys and girls not yet married; the young men atop pyres before their parents’ faces,  

All of whom entrapped in the black mud and deformed reeds  

Of the Coctyus, with its sluggish waters and hideous swamp,

And the nine streams of the Styx block them off from the living.

Even the whole realm, the innermost region of Death,  

The Furies with their twinned locks of blue serpents, and  

The three gaping jaws of Cerberus were stunned.

The wheel of Ixion stopped its rotation with the wind.  

Now Orpheus doubling back cleared all the dangers, and  

Eurydice returned, coming into the regions above,

When madness suddenly seized the careless lover — a forgivable mistake,

If only the Underworld knew how to forgive. He halted,  

Forgetting that Eurydice was trailing behind his shadow – his spirit overcome,  

He looked back.

All his labours wasted, and the pact with the cruel tyrant Hades broken.  

Thrice a crash was heard in the lakes of the Underworld.  

“What has befallen us,” she said, “Orpheus, what madness?

O! the cruel fates call me back, eternal sleep will stop my tears.  

Goodbye — I’ll be taken by the all-surrounding night.  

I hold out my trembling hands to you — but they are no longer yours …”  

She said this, and like thin smoke mixed in the wind, she disappeared

Immediately before his eyes. Though he clutched vainly at her shadow,  

Wanting to say more, she could never see him again.  

Charon, the ferryman, would not let him pass the stream before him.  

What could he do? How could he bring back his wife, taken from him again?  

What tears could move Death? What gods could his voice stir?  

Yet Eurydice was carried across the frozen Styx, and

For seven whole months, they say, he wept under the cliff

By the lonely waters of the Strymon and under the icy stars as

He sang his laments, captivating the tigers and stirring the oak trees.  

A nightingale grieved her dead chicks beneath a poplar’s shadow  

Whom a cruel ploughman had dragged unplucked from the nest.

She had wept through the night. Seated on a branch, she renewed her woeful song  

And filled the fields with her great sorrow.  

No love, no marriage songs, could turn his mind away from grief.

Alone, through the northern ice fields, the snows of the Tanais,  

The frosty Riphean plateau, he roamed, lamenting  

His lost Eurydice and his fruitless deal with Death.

And what of his wretched end, when he could wander no further?    

The matrons of Thrace, spurned by his neglected offerings,1  

In their sacred Bacchanalian orgy,  

Tore the young Orpheus apart and scattered his limbs across the fields.  

And while his head was torn from his marble-smooth neck,  

Carried to the middle of a stream by the Hebrus River,

“Eurydice,” his voice and that cold tongue called,  

“O poor Eurydice!” his fading spirit cried out.  

The banks of the whole river echoed: “Eurydice …”

First section

The background is cream, and the text is black. The poem spreads over two pages. At the bottom of the second page, there is an illustration of a man and a woman, Orpheus and Eurydice, reaching out to one another. In the background, there is an olive tree beside the opening of a dark cave. The branches of the olive tree overhang the image. Orpheus is shown from the side – he is a tall, broad-chested man, wearing a white robe and a crown of leaves. He is holding up a lyre in his right hand. With his left hand, he is reaching out to Eurydice, who is also wearing a robe and crown of leaves. Both her arms are outstretched to him, but her cloak is flowing behind her – it looks like she is being pulled away from him. Both of their lips are parted, and they both look panicked.

The Death of Orpheus:

A Translation of Virgil’s Georgics, IV, 464–527

Jack Zhou


Orpheus, soothing his broken heart, sang with his hollow lyre,  

“You, sweet wife,” alone on the deserted shore. “You,” from dawn to dusk he sang.  

He journeyed to the mouth of the Taenarus, the deep gates of Hades,  

Into the foggy grove, thick with darkness and fear.  

The Shades closed in on him, the rulers of the Underworld too,

Whose hearts could not be softened by mortals’ prayers.

But Orpheus’s song stirred the Shades from their deepest haunts:

Those shadows and ghosts bereft of light, teeming  

Like the myriad birds who hid themselves in the trees

When the evening came and the winter rain drove them from the mountains.

Mothers and sons, the ghosts of brave heroes (their lives cut short);  

Boys and girls not yet married; the young men atop pyres before their parents’ faces,  

All of whom entrapped in the black mud and deformed reeds  

Of the Coctyus, with its sluggish waters and hideous swamp,

And the nine streams of the Styx block them off from the living.

Even the whole realm, the innermost region of Death,  

The Furies with their twinned locks of blue serpents, and  

The three gaping jaws of Cerberus were stunned.

The wheel of Ixion stopped its rotation with the wind.  

Now Orpheus doubling back cleared all the dangers, and  

Eurydice returned, coming into the regions above,

When madness suddenly seized the careless lover — a forgivable mistake,

If only the Underworld knew how to forgive. He halted,  

Forgetting that Eurydice was trailing behind his shadow – his spirit overcome,  

He looked back.

All his labours wasted, and the pact with the cruel tyrant Hades broken.  

Thrice a crash was heard in the lakes of the Underworld.  

“What has befallen us,” she said, “Orpheus, what madness?

O! the cruel fates call me back, eternal sleep will stop my tears.  

Goodbye — I’ll be taken by the all-surrounding night.  

I hold out my trembling hands to you — but they are no longer yours …”  

She said this, and like thin smoke mixed in the wind, she disappeared

Immediately before his eyes. Though he clutched vainly at her shadow,  

Wanting to say more, she could never see him again.  

Charon, the ferryman, would not let him pass the stream before him.  

What could he do? How could he bring back his wife, taken from him again?  

What tears could move Death? What gods could his voice stir?  

Yet Eurydice was carried across the frozen Styx, and

For seven whole months, they say, he wept under the cliff

By the lonely waters of the Strymon and under the icy stars as

He sang his laments, captivating the tigers and stirring the oak trees.  

A nightingale grieved her dead chicks beneath a poplar’s shadow  

Whom a cruel ploughman had dragged unplucked from the nest.

She had wept through the night. Seated on a branch, she renewed her woeful song  

And filled the fields with her great sorrow.  

No love, no marriage songs, could turn his mind away from grief.

Alone, through the northern ice fields, the snows of the Tanais,  

The frosty Riphean plateau, he roamed, lamenting  

His lost Eurydice and his fruitless deal with Death.

And what of his wretched end, when he could wander no further?    

The matrons of Thrace, spurned by his neglected offerings,1  

In their sacred Bacchanalian orgy,  

Tore the young Orpheus apart and scattered his limbs across the fields.  

And while his head was torn from his marble-smooth neck,  

Carried to the middle of a stream by the Hebrus River,

“Eurydice,” his voice and that cold tongue called,  

“O poor Eurydice!” his fading spirit cried out.  

The banks of the whole river echoed: “Eurydice …”

The background is cream, and the text is black. The poem spreads over two pages. At the bottom of the second page, there is an illustration of a man and a woman, Orpheus and Eurydice, reaching out to one another. In the background, there is an olive tree beside the opening of a dark cave. The branches of the olive tree overhang the image. Orpheus is shown from the side – he is a tall, broad-chested man, wearing a white robe and a crown of leaves. He is holding up a lyre in his right hand. With his left hand, he is reaching out to Eurydice, who is also wearing a robe and crown of leaves. Both her arms are outstretched to him, but her cloak is flowing behind her – it looks like she is being pulled away from him. Both of their lips are parted, and they both look panicked.