Orpheus/Eurydice Trope
December 6, 2009 11:01 PM   Subscribe

Are there other examples of stories in which a lover travels to the underworld/heaven/hell to rescue their dead love? I'm idly working on a play based on Orpheus and Eurydice, and would like to collect more versions of that storyline.
posted by stray to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It's been a while since I read it, but Garth Nix's Abhorsen Trilogy has something along these lines.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:09 PM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Quite a lot of the plot of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell focuses on women being stolen into Faerie and later rescued by their husbands/lovers.
posted by athenasbanquet at 11:10 PM on December 6, 2009

Ishtar, love goddess of the Assyrians also travels in the underworld to bring back her lover Tammuz. After a terrifying ordeal, she is returned to the land of the living because the other gods cannot abide even their utopian existence without a goddess of love. Ishtar returns to reign as the Queen of Heaven, though without her lover, Tammuz.
posted by Sparx at 11:17 PM on December 6, 2009

Disney's Hercules. You know, for the cartoon aspect...
posted by papayaninja at 11:38 PM on December 6, 2009

The story of Beren and LĂșthien has a small part with this.
posted by sbutler at 11:38 PM on December 6, 2009

Angel Sanctuary, my favorite manga in the whole wide world.
posted by biochemist at 11:40 PM on December 6, 2009

In Shinto's Kojiki, there is a story about how Izanagi (father of the gods) descends into the underworld to rescue Izanami (mother of the gods), finds that she is a rotting corpse, and flees to the surface and ritually cleanses himself.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 11:53 PM on December 6, 2009

What Dreams May Come book and movie.
As with all of Matheson's works, the book is better, but the movie is so gorgeous and has a great cast.
posted by lilywing13 at 11:57 PM on December 6, 2009

In Finnish mythology there is LemminkÀinen - although he gets rescued by his mother, not lover (even though he's otherwise known as quite the ladies man). The story is rather gruesome, as she has to first fish all his body parts from the river of death and sew him back together.
posted by sively at 12:05 AM on December 7, 2009

In the Norwegian fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, a girl has to go to a castle "east of the sun and west of the moon" to find and rescue her lover. The sun rises in the east; the moon rises in the west — going beyond those places means going to the underworld.

Psyche has to go to the underworld in order to appease Venus and be with her lover, Cupid.
posted by fraula at 12:26 AM on December 7, 2009

his dark materials, kind of innit?
posted by 6am at 1:04 AM on December 7, 2009

Neil Gaiman's The Dream Hunters.
posted by HopperFan at 1:05 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

First you should watch or read about Sarah Ruhl's play Eurydice. She is a young playwright who won a Macarthur genius grant in part for her work on that extraordinary play.
posted by acidic at 1:35 AM on December 7, 2009

Alan Moore's Swamp Thing travels into Hell to rescue a loved-one in the collection Swamp Thing: Love and Death
posted by Cantdosleepy at 2:11 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

* The Greek goddess Demeter trying to rescue her daughter, Persephone, from the underworld;
* In the recent Mummy films have Imhotep trying to bring back his love interest;
* The attempted rescue by Gilgamesh of Enkidu from the Epic of Gilgamesh
posted by jadepearl at 2:24 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

The literary term for this descent is katabasis. I'd argue it's been a motif in Western literature since Gilgamesh. After all, who wouldn't transcend the bounds of human mortality in search of one's love, if they could?
posted by Bromius at 2:34 AM on December 7, 2009 [8 favorites]

The film (and book) What Dreams May Come
posted by GilloD at 2:41 AM on December 7, 2009

Kurt Russel goes to (fake) hell in Big Trouble in Little China so that he can save those chicks with green eyes.
posted by uandt at 3:19 AM on December 7, 2009

Demeter doesn't go to the underworld to rescue Persephone, Hermes does; and he's not her lover, he's acting as a messenger of the Gods. Hades is Persephone's lover and is the reason she's in the underworld in the first place.
posted by Sublimity at 4:29 AM on December 7, 2009

In some traditions, the Harrowing of Hell comes very close to this, with Jesus entering hell to win the release of Adam and Eve and other Biblical people.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:44 AM on December 7, 2009

Vurt by Jeff Noon.
posted by ovvl at 4:53 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Variation on this theme: Irish legendary figure Oisin follows his beloved Niamh to Tir na nOg (Land of the Young - a kind of heaven), and lives there happily with her until his fateful return to Irish soil... Check out Wikipedia summary.
posted by degreezero at 4:54 AM on December 7, 2009

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips.

Full disclosure: I know Marie slightly on account of hanging around some of the same websites.
posted by Electric Dragon at 5:36 AM on December 7, 2009

Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert Heinlein
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:16 AM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are there other examples of stories in which a lover travels to the underworld/heaven/hell to rescue their dead love?

Only too many. Don't forget Jean Cocteau's film version of Orpheus, which is great.
posted by grouse at 6:38 AM on December 7, 2009

I too want to recommend Cocteau's film. It is a masterpiece.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:47 AM on December 7, 2009

Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet is a mashup of Orpheus with rock and roll alt history. I quite liked it, but I'm not sure how highly regarded it is with respect to the rest of Rushdie's canon.
posted by kmz at 7:54 AM on December 7, 2009

There is a Nez Perce myth about the trickster Coyote going into the underworld and trying to return, but failing at his assigned task, thus compelling death to last forever. It is often called the Coyote Orpheus myth. You can find it in the Penguin series, Portable North American Indian Reader, edited by Frederick W. Turner III. It's amazing.
posted by fullofragerie at 7:58 AM on December 7, 2009

If you have a chance to check out Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, jump on it. It tells the Orpheus and Eurydice story twice, from two different perspectives, and it's a wonderful, magical play in its own right.
posted by Clambone at 8:23 AM on December 7, 2009

Hey, if you're going to go all Kurt Russell, I'd put forth "Escape From New York", featuring Donald Pleasence as Eurydice.
posted by Aquaman at 9:00 AM on December 7, 2009

The story of Savitri and Satyavan from the Mahabharatha.
posted by dhruva at 9:28 AM on December 7, 2009

The Hero Twins in the Popol Vuh have some very cool adventures trying to bring their father back from the underworld (including their own mini-death-and-resurrection) but they aren't entirely successful.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:55 AM on December 7, 2009

There's a version of this in Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics. The storyline is set up in issue #9, "Tales in the Sand," and then completed in issues #21-28, collected as Seasons of Mist.
posted by jennyb at 10:04 AM on December 7, 2009

Meatloaf's "Bat Out Of Hell" album is about this.
posted by Kirklander at 10:15 AM on December 7, 2009

In another Neil Gaiman book, American Gods, the main character brings his wife back from the dead.
posted by coevals at 11:30 AM on December 7, 2009

Another cool variation of this story, wherein women are in both of the power roles (the ruler of the underworld and of the earthly savior type), is the Sumerian myth of the goddess Inanna.
posted by so_gracefully at 1:34 PM on December 7, 2009

Demeter is Persephone's mother and out of love she lets famine reign since she is the goddess of the harvest. Hades is Persephone's uncle and kidnapper. Demeter wants her daughter back and Zeus does send Hermes to retrieve her so Sublimity is correct that Demeter did not personally go to the underworld.

I will probably check my copy of Graves to see if I misremembered a version.
posted by jadepearl at 2:28 PM on December 7, 2009

Following up on another Neil Gaiman / Sandman series, within the comics, Orpheus is the son of Dream and Caliope, and the protagonist of the Sandman version of the classic Greek tale. This becomes important when Orpheus is so distraught at his failure that he allows himself to be shredded by the Bacchae, but still does not die... which then triggers several other major plotlines in the Sandman series.

The book is "Sandman Special: The Song of Orpheus" from 1991.
posted by GJSchaller at 3:31 PM on December 7, 2009

Gilgamesh. He goes to the underworld looking to find eternal life because he's broken hearted over the death of Enkidu, but Enkidu is a bit femme if you ask me, what with his long hair and all. I think there was more to that relationship than slaying Humbaba if you ask me. Derek Hines' version is lots of fun if you're familiar with the story. Gilgamesh and Enkidu get into a Fight Club style brew ha ha the first time they meet. Here's Hines' lines on the meeting:

It is done; they accelerate towards each other
welded to Destiny's tram rails: two black cores
hungry for the other's light.
Juggernauts too wide for the narrow streets
they spew tall coxcombs of sparks
as they grind against the buildings.
They meet in the square, and stop.
Haste scissors off their clothes:

Yummy, right? Who wouldn't descend to the underworld for a guy who makes you feel like that?
posted by madred at 1:43 PM on December 8, 2009

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