Lyra and the Music of the Gods

The constellation Lyra represents a lyre, or harp, and has within it the very bright star Vega. Its story is a beautiful, albeit a sad one…

One day Mercury was resting by the banks of the River Nile when he found an empty tortoise shell. As he peered into it, he noticed that sounds echoed from within it, and he had the idea to add some strings and create an instrument. This beautiful lyre played sounds so ethereal and beautiful that only immortals could hear it, and Mercury took it to Olympus, the home of the Gods.

All the gods were enamored with the enchanting sounds of lyre — particularly Apollo, who offered Mercury his magic staff, said to contain the power to bring great prosperity to its owner, in exchange for the instrument. Mercury agreed, but before taking to the air in his winged sandals and leaving, he taught Apollo how to play the lyre. But this is just the introduction to the real story of the lyre, because Apollo gave the lyre to his son Orpheus…

Orpheus was in love with Eurydice, but on the day of their wedding Eurydice was bitten by a viper and died instantly. Devastated, Orpheus travelled to the Underworld to ask Pluto, the god of Death, if Eurydice could come be let free — a request Pluto was often asked, but almost never agreed to. In order to convince Pluto, Orpheus played his lyre — a melancholy melody so touching that it moved Pluto’s wife Persephone and all the spirits of the dead to tears.

Pluto agreed: Orpheus could indeed take Eurydice with him back up to the land of the living, but he offered one warning — that as they made their way out of the Underworld, they should not look back…

So Orpheus guided Eurydice through the Underworld until the gates that marked the exit back to Earth came into sight. As the tunnel became narrower, Orpheus let go of Eurydice’s hand and led the way, but, concerned she was not behind him, he turned at the last moment as he walked through the gates to check that she was still there…

The warning had been ignored, and Eurydice was cast back down into the Underworld leaving poor Orpheus once again alone with his lyre to wander the Earth.

If you thought this was tragic, I’m afraid it only gets worse. As Orpheus traversed through hills and dales playing his sad songs on his lyre, trees and animals came to hear him, and they weren’t the only ones… His magic song drew many maidens to him — all of whom fell madly in love with him, but Orpheus refused their advances, thinking only of his love for Eurydice.

In the end he had rejected so many women that they came together in their anger and formed a small army to set upon Orpheus and kill him. And one night, they did just that. Their crazed screams drowned out poor Orpheus’ lyre and the band of women stabbed him in the heart.

As he lay dying, they cast the lyre into the river where it sank to the bottom. But Jupiter, having seen all this from above, sent a vulture down to Earth to pluck the lyre from the water and bring it back to the gods, and place it in the heavens for eternity for the immortals to always hear.

As you look up maybe hoping to catch bright star Vega or the Ring Nebula that sit within Lyra, listen very carefully… maybe you’ll hear its song filling the universe.

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