Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology

By Geoffrey Miles | Go to book overview

complex as well as the wittiest of twentieth-century rewritings of the myth, goes further than that. His Orpheus is trapped in an endless cycle of death and rebirth. In what looks like a conscious reminiscence of the Fulgentian allegory of the quest of 'best voice' for 'profound judgement', he needs to be reunited with Eurydice, 'the female element complementary to himself, who dwells in 'the inside of things, the place under the places. Underworld, if you like to call it that.' But, as in Feinstein, Orpheus with his masculine desire for power and control cannot accept the nirvana-like peace of Eurydice's underworld, insists on pursuing worldly fame, and so loses Eurydice, dies, and is reborn to enact the cycle again. If only the cycle could be broken, Hoban implies, harmony could return to the world. The nonsense phrases that echo through the novel ('barrow full of rocks', 'harrow full of crocks', etc.) turn out absurdly to stand for Milton's 'The hidden soul of harmony' (O20a). As things are, harmony can only emerge into the world in a nonsensically garbled form, and we have to be content with what can be achieved by Kleinzeit, a 'small-time' Orpheus.


Notes
1
The popularity of the Orpheus myth means that there are far more literary treatments of it than of Adonis or Pygmalion; however, it also tends (perhaps because of its familiarity) to be treated more briefly. That is why the present chapter contains almost twice as many texts as chapters 5 and 6, but is approximately the same length.
2
Reference codes in bold refer to texts in the anthology: O1 is the first text in the 'Orpheus' section. Bibliographical details for these texts can be found in the footnote attached to the tide of each text. For texts which are referred to but not included in the anthology, brief bibliographical details are given in 'Other Versions of Orpheus', below.

-74-

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