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ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE is a myth with legs. Or, to crib computer parlance, there’s a 1.0, sorta its beta; 2.0, an early operatic rendering; 2.1, a later operetta; and 3.0, a modern reinterpretation of the whole thing. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits on all four gleaned from a variety of sources, including personal viewing.
Greek Mythology. In Mythos: The Greek Myths Reimagined, Stephen Fry writes that “Rather an undignified linguistic end meets CALLIOPE, the Muse of epic poetry. Somehow she became a steam-powered organ commonly played in fairgrounds, which are just about the only places where you will hear her name spoken today… Her name means ‘beautiful voice,’ and she gave birth to Orpheus, the most important musician in all Greek history.”
Don’t Look Back 1.0. Wikipedia describes the travels and travails of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice: “While walking among her people in tall grass at her wedding, Eurydice was set upon by a satyr. In her efforts to escape the satyr, Eurydice fell into a nest of vipers and suffered a fatal bite on her heel. Her body was discovered by Orpheus who, overcome with grief, played such sad and mournful songs that all the humans, nymphs, and gods learnt about his sorrow and grief and wept with him.”
It’s said that even stones wept with him. (This observation will recur in Part 2.)
The nymphs and gods persuade Orpheus to visit the Underworld’s Hades and Persephone, who agree to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: He should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world.
Well, you know something’s bound to go awry with this.
Upon reaching the upper world, Orpheus turns to look at her—and Eurydice is doomed forever. Wikipedia calls it “The most notable looking taboo in Greek myth.”
Don’t Look Back 2.0. In 1762, German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck sought to reform traditional (i.e., Italian) opera seria with his Orfeo ed Euridice.
Vivien Schweitzer describes him in A Mad Love: An Introduction to Opera as “yet another reformer on a mission to make opera behave properly…. Gluck may have sounded like a Puritan spoilsport in his quest to ‘reform’ Italian opera, but his efforts resulted in a truly beautiful opera.”
And, what’s more, it’s an opera with a happy ending: Schweitzer describes, “When Orfeo leads Euridice out of Hades and loses her again after illicitly turning back to look at her, he sings an aria called, ‘Che faro senza Euridice’ (What shall I do without Eurydice?).”
As reward for Orpheus’s continued love—and remember his musical chops—the gods return Eurydice to life and reunite the pair.
It’s sort of a Hollywood ending tacked on to the original Don’t Look Back myth.
Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll encounter Don’t Look Back 2.1 as well as a revised 3.0. (Remember stones that weep.) ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022