Love and Tragedy in Greek Mythology
Orpheus leading Eurydice from the Underworld

Love and tragedy feature strongly in Greek mythology, often in the same tales. Here, we look at the most intense love stories in Greek Mythology and their not-so happy endings.


Love Stories in Greek Mythology

Ancient Greek myths are roller-coaster adventures. The characters often go through ‘hero cycles’, where they have to overcome adversity to achieve a goal, only to find that they don’t live happily after at the end.

This is particularly so with the classic love stories from Greek mythology. These stories more often than not have a tragic ending, which is perhaps thought of as unusual nowadays.

To the ancient Greeks though, this was simply the cycle of life. Each man and woman has to pass through different emotions and passions during their journey, and the Greek Myths reflected this.

Do any Greek love stories end well?

Actually, very few if any Greek love stories end well! The obvious one would be Eros and Psyche, however the story we have today is of Roman origin. It was probably the Romans that added the happy ending, because it seems very un-Greek!

Another example that could be thought of is Odysseus and Penelope. Although the story ends happily when Odysseus returns from the Trojan war to be reunited with his love, he wasn’t exactly faithful along the way.

For that reason, we’ve left out the Greek myths of Eros and Psyche, and Odysseus and Penelope here. Instead, we’ve chosen some others that will get your passions rising!

Orpheus and Eurydice

Orpheus leading Eurydice from the Underworld

The Greek God Apollo and the Muse Calliope had a son named Orpheus. Inheriting traits from his parents, he was a naturally gifted musician especially when playing the lyre. Every time he played, his music touched not just people but even the Gods themselves.

As time went by, he fell in love with and then married a beautiful woman named Eurydice. As so often happens In Greek mythology though, tragedy struck when Eurydice was bitten by a snake in the forest and died.

Learning of his wife’s death, Orpheus poured his sorrow into his music, and played such a tune on the lyre that Apollo was moved to help his son. He advised Orpheus that he should descend into the realm of Hades, and seek Eurydice in the Underworld, and that the Gods would help protect him in his search.

Even with the God’s protection, Orpheus underwent many adventures until he found the God Hades where he proceeded to play his lyre. He played with such moving emotion, that Hades icy heart melted to the extent that he said he would allow Eurydice to leave with Orpheus.

There was one condition though. Orpheus would lead her out of the Underworld, but he should under no circumstances look back at Eurydice before walking into the sunlight. If he did, Eurydice would become lost forever.

Orpheus excitedly led his love out of the underworld, but started to be concerned because he could not hear her footsteps. Forgetting Hade’s warning, he looked back to check if she was still there. Tragedy struck for the second time! Eurydice was still there, but because Orpheus had disobeyed Hade’s instructions, her shadow was taken back into the realm of the dead where she stayed forever.

Hero and Leander

The story of Leander and Hero has all the elements of Greek tragedy, starting from an illicit love affair by two separated people, and ending with the death of the lovers.

Hero was a priestess of the Goddess Aphrodite, and lived in a tower in Sestos, on what is now the European side of the Dardanelles. Leander was a young man from the city of Abydos, located on the opposite side of the straits.

Having been smitten by Hero’s beauty, Leander didn’t let the distance stop him. He swam over the waters every night to lay with his love, guided by a light that Hero placed at the top of her tower to aid him.

Things were not to last however. One evening, a mighty storm brewed up, blowing out the light that Hero set for her love, as well as tossing Leander about in the waves. As strong a swimmer as he was, he could no linger keep swimming and was drowned. Learning of his death, Hero then threw herself from the top of the tower to be with him in the afterlife.

Theseus and Ariadne

The Palace of Knossos

The tale of Theseus and Ariadne begins with Theseus and his quest to kill the Minotaur in Crete. (You can read more here about Theseus and the Minotaur).

When Theseus arrives in Crete as part of a tribute of human sacrifices, Ariadne falls in love with him at first sight. Knowing that no one left the Labrynth alive, she gave Theseus a ball of string so he would find his way back out again, and in return Theseus promised to take her back to Athens with him.

Successfully killing the Minotaur, and finding his way back out of the maze, Theseus meets up with Ariadne. Having betrayed her father and fallen in love with Theseus, she accompanies him in his ship on the voyage back to Athens.

During the journey, their ship stops at the island of Delos where they choose to rest. It seems that Theseus has other plans however. Whilst Ariadne is sleeping, Theseus abandons her and sails away to Athens by himself. Charming!

Discover more with Greek Mythology Tours

If you would like to find out more about Greek Mythology whilst exploring the ancient Greek landscape, contact our team today. Our specialist tours are uniquely designed to combine the stories from Greek Mythology with guided excursions to the most significant UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece.

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