In time Orpheus took a wife, the young and beautiful Eurydice. But soon after the marriage she was bitten by a serpent and died, where upon she was transported to the Underworld, where all mortals souls went. Orpheus himself entered Hades, playing the lyre as he went. Pluto and all the other ruling spirits were so enchanted by Orpheus' music that they agreed to restore life to Eurydice--but only in one condition--that as Orpheus left Hades he would not look back to see if his wife were following him. As he left Hades, he could not understand why he had not heard footsteps behind him if his wife really were there. Breaking his vow, he looked back. He saw Eurydice, but she was rapidly faded away into the mists of Hades. Now she was lost to him forever, for once reborn, a departed soul cannot be reborn a second time. Utterly sad and lonely, Orpheus spent the rest of his days roaming over the land playing sweet but sad music to himself in memory of his dear wife. So sweet was the music that maidens from far and wide came to him and pleaded that he forget his sorrows and marry one of them. But he would not. Their pride crushed, the young maidens vowed to kill Orpheus since they could not have him for their own. They tore him apart limb by limb and threw his remains and lyre into the river. Zeus knew of these events. Also enchanted by the sweet music of Orpheus, Zeus rewarded the young man by making his music immortal. He raised the lyre into the skies and placed it beside the graceful swan, Cygnus. A small but brilliant constellation, Lyra is crowned with the bright star Vega, also known as the Harp Star.
Chih Nu wove her own wedding dress out of sparkling rays of starlight. They were very happy together. In fact, they were a little too happy and too devoted to each other. Consequently they forgot all about their work. The loom stood still and gathered dusty cobwebs while the royal cattle roamed far and wide across the heavenly meadows. The Sun-King gave them repeated warnings and every time they promised to amend their ways, but soon they lapsed into idleness again. This annoyed the King so much that after several warnings he decided to banish the husband to the other side of the Milky Way again so that he could tend the cattle there. When he had dispatched Ch'ien Niu across the one and only ford, T'ien-tsin, the King had both sides closed by barriers and a guard posted with instructions that neither of them were allowed to pass along this route. Chih Nu pleaded with her father but to no avail. Finally she appealed to the magpies who had pity on the couple. The magpies decided that once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month they would help the parted lovers. On that day all the magpies in China would fly to the Milky Way and make a bridge across it with outspread wings across which the lovers would rush into each other's arms and spend the rest of the day together. On that day a soft rain began to fall in the morning, which were their tears of happiness. But at nightfall the soft rain became a downpour, caused by the tears of having to part again for a year. Having done their duty the magpies would fly away again. When on the following day people saw the magpies in the fields once more they would rejoice and say: "Yes, look, the lovers have been together. See how the feathers on the birds are all worn down where their feet have trampled." If the feathers weren't trampled down the people would be sad and used to say that bad weather had apparently prevented the birds from building the bridge across the Milky Way. It is also said the children are told to throw stones at any magpies if the saw them in the fields on the seventh day of the seventh month, because those selfish birds were negligent of their duty.
The constellation is named for a musical instrument used by the ancient Greeks. It is very similar to a harp, but only has 3 to 10 strings.
Hermes, Messenger of the Gods, one day came upon an empty tortoise shell on the beach and out of it fashioned a small harp like instrument, the lyre. When in the right hands the instrument produced the most beautiful music ever heard by either gods or mortals. Hermes traded his invention with the Sun-god Apollo. Later, Apollo presented the lyre to his son Orpheus. So gifted was Orpheus at playing the lyre that neither mortals, beasts, nor the gods themselves could turn away when he played. It is said that on hearing Orpheus play, Pluto, Lord of the Underworld, wept tears of iron.
The Sumerians and Babylonians saw Lyra not as a harp but a vulture. This is suggested by early records of the constellation as a harp being carried by a vulture. So instead of being the Harp star it may once have been the Vulture Star.
The ancient peoples of Britain called Lyra "the Harp of King Arthur."
The Chinese have a story about a weaving Princess and her cowherd lover. Chih Nu (Vega) was the daughter of the Sun-God. She was a most clever and deft weaving and spinning artist and could make the most exquisite tapestries. One sunny summer day she happened to look out of the palace window and saw her father's herdsman driving the flock of the King along the banks of the Milky Way. As so often happens in love stories, their glances met and both knew that this was love at first sight. The King who had been worried about his daughter's future was delighted when he heard about their romance, especially as the herdsman Ch'ien Niu (Altair) was a very conscientious worker who had always looked after the royal flock with the utmost care.