My paper examines the difference between Aristaeus’ success and Orpheus’ failure in the Georgics. Why does Aristaeus succeed in generating a new hive of bees while Orpheus fails to resurrect Eurydice? Some scholars understand the key difference to be a willingness to learn or an ability to follow directions. Others argue that Orpheus’ undoing is his lack of caution or control. But such interpretations ignore the differences between the task each attempts and the instruction each receives. In this paper, I compare the words Vergil uses in relation to their respective tasks: Aristaeus follows praecepta while Orpheus fails to uphold a lex. I argue that the difference between these two terms explains the failure of Orpheus. Aristaeus’ praecepta cast his endeavor as an everyday affair, but the designation of lex marks Orpheus’ resurrection of Eurydice as defiant to the natural order itself. Orpheus fails because he attempts the impossible.
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