Nine Depictions of Orpheus, Ranked in Order of Horniness

Written By Meg Elison

Meg Elison is a Philip K. Dick and Locus award winning author, as well as a Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Otherwise awards finalist. A prolific short story writer and essayist, Elison has been published in Slate, McSweeney’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fangoria, Uncanny, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley.

Have you ever had grief sex? There are a varieties of the funeral fuck: there’s the petit mort in the graveyard, in the style of the great Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, shagging it out using her mother’s tombstone for leverage. Then there’s the kind where the funeral hit home; you buried someone you loved or perhaps just knew well, Horatio the funnyman or Hector, who was the first of the gang to die. Orpheus is that kind of story. We’re all in black, we know it won’t end well, but we’ve got to get up, get down, get in, and get off anyway. Adaptations of this story vary in a lot of ways; everybody has got their own way of relating to the great musician who went to Hades to get his lover back and lost her just the same. But we’re going to talk about the most important feature: how horny are they?

9. Orphée 🍑

Coming in last with one single peach emoji, we’ve got Jean Cocteaju’s Orphée, a French surrealist film made in 1950. Despite the fact that the actors (a virile Jean Marais and femme fatale Maria Casarés) are hotter than melted raclette in a foodie’s Instagram story, there’s hardly a whisper of sexuality in this film. There’s a squabbling foursome: Death wants to get railed by Orpheus, Death’s helper wants Orpheus’ wife super bad, but even that can’t get this peach fuzz damp. Blame it on the 50s censors: this one is dry as bones.

8. Hadestown 😓

Eighth, with a sweat emoji, sees us to Hadestown, the 2006 musical by Anaïs Mitchell. If your grandparents warned you that jazz might lead you down a smoky hallway toward wanton acts of carnality, you might have thought this one would take a drag while holding eye contact and then exhale into your open mouth. However, despite some catchy melodies and some big moments of emotion in this one, all it’s gonna do is make your clothes smell weird. All smoke; no fire. This Orpheus sings to his Eurydice that he wants to marry her, not that he wants to die in her arms having spent himself in her shallow grave.

7. “Orpheus with Clay Feet” 🤖

Seventh with a robot emoji in honor of author Philip K. Dick brings the short story “Orpheus with Clay Feet.” Published in 1964, this science fiction short is deceptive as a dustbuster sold in a sex toy box. Published in a gentlemen’s magazine with actual naked people on its pages and penned by a man whose name is literally Dick, you might think this one offered a little titillation. Alas no; this retelling of the myth of a man with talent but not much sense is really just about how capitalism fucks us all. No lube, no love, no lyre for our lovers. Beep boop.

6. Two Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus 💃

Having dispensed with all that, let’s look to fine art in sixth place. Ranked with two dancing girl emoji, this is John William Waterhouse’s painting Two Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus. The story of Orpheus was super sexy to the pre-Raphaelite painters of the late 19th and early 20th century. They loved all these tragedies happening to hot people, and they licked their brushes and rubbed hundreds out in their honor. This painting happens at the end of the myth: Orpheus, wracked with grief, plays a song that basically amounts to o hot goths/please step on my throat/tbh wish I was dead/hit me with your chariot until some maenads come and do him the favor. These nymphs are observing the floating remnants of that man who was torn limb from limb just as he desired.

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    5. Gluck’s Orpheus & Eurydice 🩰🩰🩰

    Fifth we have perhaps the horniest of all art forms: dance. No better way to show people how you’d like to put it down than by grinding like Rihanna against a lover made of air. Choreographer Pina Bausch gets three ballet dancer emoji for having the vision and fortitude to make a dance set to an opera, in this case: Gluck’s Orpheus & Eurydice. This creation is at once funereal and sensuous, playing on the veiled nature of the corpse and the terrible juxtaposition of death and the lithe movement of the young body. A gorgeous piece of work on the story of love’s labors lost, and one that may stir the viewers in heat as well as in heart.

    4. Orpheus and Eurydice 🫣

    Now we’re getting to the good stuff, the depictions of Orpheus you could really crank it to. Imagine seeing this painting of Orpheus and Eurydice in the late 19th century:

    Orpheus and Eurydice

    Remember: you’ve never seen pornography before. You’ve had nothing better than your own imagination, and then Frederic Leighton hits you with this little number. Look at the push and pull in their grip on one another. Look at her flesh like marble, his like blushing beef. The tone in his cheeks tell me what’s going on under that toga; he could play the lyre with no hands right now. Look at her mouth, begging in profile. Jeez, I hope your 19th century parents aren’t at the museum with you. One peeking-through-fingers emoji.

    (Photo credit: Photo credit: The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Culture Service, Leighton House Museum, from

    3. “The Elysian Job”

    Bottom of the top three brings us “The Elysian Job” by Margaret Ronald, who gets a matching pair of masked bandit emoji for bringing us a Orpheus and Eurydice/Bonnie and Clyde crossover in 2022. This couple has seen some real shit in their time together, and that’s before they journey to the underworld. A little slicker than the rest of this ranked list, these two have actually had sex and make open reference to it—in a church! Like many of these depictions, this retelling of the classic myth makes the connection between the things that happen to people in churches: weddings and funerals. One means you’re allowed to start having sex, and the other means you’ve gotta stop. Probably. Maybe. Does anybody know where the entrance to the underworld is?

    2. “L’Esprit de L’Escalier” 💀🎸🪴

    Penultimate horny Orpheus goes to Catherynne M. Valente’s “L’Esprit de L’Escalier. Skull emoji, guitar emoji, plant emoji. If you’ve ever broken up with someone, gone through a divorce, waited through a time when you knew you should have left, this one’s going to gut you. Valente is not the kind of writer who lets her tools get dull, so the gutting will be fast and hot. Speaking of hot, this story also takes apart what happens to a couple’s sex life when they’re in vastly different places and still sleeping in the same bed. It also puts together Orpheus and a hot nymph who can’t stop climbing up on top of his talent to shine his instrument. Hot as breakup sex and just as likely to wreck you, this is something you should have and then block its number.

    1. Moulin Rouge 🎭

    Horniest of horns arrives in a crash of trumpets, a swirl of skirts, a flash of diamonds and a hint of blood. Let’s have a drama emoji moment with Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film, Moulin Rouge. In most stories, Orpheus goes to the literal underworld for his lady; in this one it’s just the demimonde; the underbelly of 1890s Paris. Eurydice’s counterpart here is a courtesan named Satine and she is doing actual sex work. The hero is still focused on getting his lover out of hell, but we all know that’s a doomed enterprise even if we weren’t trapped in a Greek Tragedy. Best of all: the sex is not figurative. It’s not hinted, and it’s not euphemized. The A-list cast doesn’t bone on screen, but they do say it out loud. There’s a sexy tango about the thin line between love and possession, and there’s a dance of pursuit between a man pretending to be a lion and a man pretending to be a shrinking virgin. True to the tale, the lovers have happiness snatched from them at the final moment, at what should be their triumph, in a heartbreaking moment of glory and grief.

    And when the screen goes black, I believe you know what to do.