Orpheus and Eurydice



The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is as old as time itself. Long before the story was enshrined by Virgil and Ovid, it existed in Greek mythology and long before that, in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the myth of Dumuzi and Inanna. The desire to reverse death by descending into the underworld to raise a departed loved one must have been a theme in human culture long before writing. Even further back, what must it have been like for the first creature on this planet to come to the realisation of the finality of life? To attempt escaping what all others before them had struggled to avoid by instinct alone feeling only dread and fear?

The myth tells us that the head of Orpheus continues to sing as it floats down the river after having been torn from its body by the wild women of Dionysus. This somewhat macabre scene symbolises the triumph of art over death. But this subversion of the powerful brings with it a heavy price. The loss of Eurydice, trapped in hades for all eternity; the penalty for Orpheus’ curiosity.

In the light of the myth, the artist has to enter the underworld to create, but the result of his curiosity is to create a ghost. We only see a shadow of the vision and for this the artist is left torn between joy and regret. The artist exchanges life to give the semblance of life. Nevertheless, this act of subversion is a bid for freedom from fear.

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden defy God through an act of curiosity. They gain the true meaning of life in exchange for death. Reality is as likely to tear you to pieces as the Maenads do the body of Orpheus.

The artist in a final moment of defiance tries to hold that moment just before looking back. But the inevitable turns what is in the mind into a pillar of salt, a sculpture, painting, film or some other simulacrum of life.

Art attempts reversal of what has been lost or about to be lost; to capture the moment before the head is turned. The result is often tinged with regret for what was not done, but also satisfaction for what was done.