E is for Eurydice

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Eurydice is, in many ways, the opposite sort of mythological woman character to Circe. If Circe is a dangerously liberated woman in Greek myths, Eurydice is the one who is passively rescued (or not). She has little role in the traditional versions of the story, actually, besides being the focal point of Orpheus the musician’s activities.

Over the course of the centuries in Western culture, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice took on new resonances. As allegorical literature developed in later Neo-platonist philosophy and then through the Christian Middle Ages, Eurydice began to take on meanings of being the soul. Lost in the darkness of the Underworld, she has to be rescued by Orpheus, who becomes (in the Latin West, at least) a figure for Christ harrowing Hell. That Orpheus usually fails in the myths was read as an indictment of Greek history (for Orpheus is like Robin Hood, dwelling on the borderland of legend, history, and pure myth); he is an insufficient version of Christ, as Greek philosophy is insufficient to salvation.

So say some readings, anyway. (You can consider Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, which has one version of the story with some not-explicitly-Christian philosophical interpretations given within the text.)

She is rather less passive in my story. She does not, yet, have a story devoted to her and her perspective, but I have one coming. If you read Till Human Voices Wake Us you will find her ghost increasingly present to Raphael–although I should be careful using the word ‘ghost’ here, as I do write fantasy literature. In this case I mean a non-literal ghost, just increasing reminiscences and memories and things like that. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is one I find fascinating on many levels–who was this woman, loved so dearly that Orpheus would go to Hades to rescue her? What did she think when Orpheus turned back too soon? If we give her a voice, what will she say?

That will have to come in future stories. In the meantime, I’ve got an excerpt from Till Human Voices Wake Us, when Scheherezade the Storyteller gives a few versions of the tale. It’s a long chapter, so I’ll only give a small part. (The rest is, dare I say it, available for purchase at Amazon or Kobo or iTunes.)

 

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From Till Human Voices Wake Us

“Once, long ago,” Sherry began, “there lived a musician. He was called Orpheus, and it is said that he was the greatest mortal musician there ever was.”

Raphael knew the story of the greatest musician of all: the one who was sometimes the black king on the chessboard, the second-created of the Creator, the one who had made the rules of the Great Game Aurieleteer* and set them unbreakable into the composition of the universe. The morning star he had been, when he heard the song of creation and played it. The Tantey** said that he had played the worlds into being, on his lirin*** made with wood from a branch of the world tree, strung with the hair of his sibling gods.

Later he had grown jealous and learned the powers of silence and the secrets of the Abyss out of which grows the world tree, and after he lost his game with the Lord Phoenix**** he was cast into its depths. Now they called him the Unnamed One, the Prince of Darkness, the Adversary, the Shadow King, the Eater of Worlds. Once the morning star; now the shadow that flies before the dawn, worse than the dragon in Beowulf.

“Now there are stories of how Orpheus’ music was so beautiful that stones and trees and wild beasts came to hear him play, that the winds and waves crowded close to hear him, that mountains murmured his songs over to themselves long after he passed on.”

The woman below him began to pace around the tree in lop- sided circles, a dark figure against the sallow grass. Her coat caught on the thorns of a lanky rose-bush. She freed herself with an angry jerk and marched on again around the tree. When she neared him Raphael saw that it was Hazel Isling from the play.

“And there were many admirers of Orpheus in those days; for, truly, he was a very great musician. But none of them drew the glances of his eyes or the gift of his heart. Orpheus played so that kings poured ransoms at his feet and the gods themselves tarried to hear him; but he played for peasants and farmers and the silent places of the world as well. He was a wanderer, and stayed his steps nowhere for long. Nowhere, that is, until one day he met Eury- dice.”

Raphael began to count the leaves remaining on the crab- apple from the previous autumn, but it was a thankless task. The wind picked up and they blurred in his vision, and several were severed by a gust that made Hazel bend her head and grip her coat tightly about herself.

“No one knows what made her of all women comely to his eyes, nor who nor what she was. She might have been beautiful as Aphrodite or wise as Athena, gentle as Hestia or fierce as Artemis, graceful as a nymph or radiant as the dawn. But of that we know nothing: nothing but that to Orpheus she was beautiful as sunlight and shadow on a high valley, and that one day he met her.”

Raphael’s mind was treacherous: it told him things he did not want to know. It told him, for instance, exactly what had happened that day, how the sun had been in full summer splendour and he had sat by a forest pool with it warm on his head when she came upon him.There were two deer and a dog and a goat with a hen on its back listening to him play, and she had smiled at him until he stopped playing and looked at her.

“Some say they were married, and others not, but all are agreed that one day Eurydice was picking flowers by the river when she was bitten by an adder, and that there she died.”

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* The Great Game Aurieleteer: a major topic in Till Human Voices Wake Us. Basically a magical contest between two great mages (in this case, between Raphael and Circe) for very high stakes–in this case, control over the world’s magic. This passage occurs the day before the end of the Game. Raphael is under some stress.

** The Tantey: Raphael’s people.

*** lirin: a made-up musical instrument

**** The Lord Phoenix: the god of the Tantey

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One thought on “E is for Eurydice

  1. Pingback: J is for Jullanar of the Sea | The Rose and Phoenix Inn

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