My dilettantish enthusiasm for the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice was spontaneously generated last week by my reading the death of Orpheus in The Metamorphoses. So this week I'm informally comparing Virgil's resplendent tragic version in the Georgics (76 lines) with Ovid's longer, more baroque and embellished version (105 lines in Book X and yet more about Orpheus's death in Book XI). Virgil's Georgics was published first in 29 B.C. and Ovid's Metamorphoses not till 8 A.D. Ovid cleverly feeds on and alludes to Virgil's solemn, more abbreviated poem, even borrowing vocabulary. Both versions are gorgeous, but different in emphasis. Virgil's Orpheus is a hero who weeps under a cliff for seven months after his wife's death. Ovid's delivers a long rhetorical somehow insincere-sounding speech in the underworld to persuade Persephone to free Eurydice, and, after she dies again, remains a widower but bitterly has gay love affairs.
In Virgil's version, when Orpheus goes singing in the underworld to free Eurydice, "Death's house itself and the bottom of Tartarus and the Eumenides with their hair entwined with blue snakes were stunned." The verb is stupere, "were struck senseless, astounded, stupefied, stopped." In Ovid, Ixion's wheel stupuit, "was struck, stopped." The wheel in Virgil constitit "stood still," a less ostentatious verb.
Virgil has some sympathy for Orpheus.
Cum subita incautam dementia cepit amantem
"When sudden madness caught the incautious lover..."
Note the synchysis, the sudden madness that captures him incautam (incautious).
But Virgil also sympathizes with Eurydice. She says (literally):
"Who killed both you and miserable me, Orpheus, what madness? Behold, the cruel fates call me back and sleep hides my failing eyes." She refers to his madness not as insania but as furor: rage, madness, fury, passion. Virgil, who calls it dementia ("down from mind), emphasizes insanity, madness. Eurydice's life is ruined by insania/furor.
In Ovid all is rhetorical, charming, and witty. Eurydice says nothing but "goodbye."
Iamque iterum moriens non est coniuge quicquam
Questa suo (quid enim nisi se quereretur amatam?)
"And now dying again she did not complain of her husband (for what was there to complain except that she was loved?)..."
Salman Rushdie in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, his novelistic telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, refers to Virgil's version.
"Virgil's treatment of the Orpheus story is extraordinary: he tells it in seventy-six blazing lines, writing with all the stops pulled dout, and then, in a perfunctory thirty lines more, he allows Aristaeus to perform his expiatory ritual sacrifice, and that's the end of the poem, no more need to worry about those foolish doomed lovers."
In the end I'm not sure which myth I prefer.