Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Sources, Syncretism, and Significance in Calderón's El Divino Orfeo (C.1634)

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

Sources, Syncretism, and Significance in Calderón's El Divino Orfeo (C.1634)

Article excerpt

Pedro Calderón de la Barca's El divino Orfeo (c.1634), precursor to the more commonly known 1664 rewrite of the same name, has been the subject of intermittent attention since its publication by Pablo Cabañas in 1948.1 Notable contributions to date include those by Pedro León, Enrique Duarte, Bojana Tome, and a critical edition of both versions of the play by Duarte in 1999. Despite these studies, there remains a paucity of scholarship with regard to Calderón's handling of mythological sources in his creation of the Christian allegorical play. In the most recent offering, Tomc highlighted the major characteristics of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth carried over by Calderón from the poetry of Ovid and Virgil. My intention is to move beyond Orpheus and Eurydice to identify and consider the influence of four additional mythological episodes incorporated by Calderón: creation in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Orpheus in the Garden of the Hesperides, the abduction of Proserpina, and the entry of Aeneas and the Sibyl of Cumae into the Underworld. I will examine how Calderón's use of these myths contributes to the depth and complexity of the catechistic, syncretistic, and didactic religious drama, and challenges an educated courtly audience to better comprehend the mysteries at the heart of the auto sacramental.

The c.1634 version of the auto constructs a narrative allegory that Christianises the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and via which it tells the stories of creation, the fall of humankind, and its redemption through Christ's sacrifice (León, "El divino" 689). This altering of the myth to serve as a vehicle for the Christian message of the auto sacramental continues the syncretic tradition of the European Middle Ages that had particularly affected Ovid's Metamorphoses (Kluge, Baroque 98). The contemporary focus on the Metamorphoses does not preclude the influence of other mythological texts, as we will see, although Ovid's text did enjoy an unprecedented fame and enduring influence well into the baroque era (Kluge, Early 5). Additionally, the auto begins to move away from the older tradition of symbols read in isolation within a frame narrative and towards the construction of a cohesive allegorical whole based upon the Orpheus and Eurydice myth that portrays the underlying story as a "distorted version" (Heiple 222) of the Christian rendition of events. While the earlier version of the play is more faithful to the Latinate source texts than the 1664 rewrite (Osma 165), its a lo divino nature necessitated plot changes by Calderón. Barbara E. Kurtz notes that Calderón generally had no issue with altering Greco-Roman myth in this way and that it could involve the conflation of myths, the addition and omission of characters and material to ensure adherence to scripture, and alterations based on the playwright's own ideas and contributions ("No World" 265). For this reason, a résumé of the plot serves to orient the reader in light of such changes prior to analysis.

The auto begins when Aristeo, a demon who falls from grace, witnesses Orfeo effect creation through the mighty power of his song in accordance with the description given in Genesis. Orfeo crafts Eurídice, who represents humankind, and gives her Gracia, Amor, and Albedrío as companions. Aristeo is envious of the privileged place afforded Eurídice and vows to steal her away from Orfeo, thus he enters the paradisiac garden in disguise and attempts to woo her with the promise of gifts greater than Orfeo's rustic offerings. Initially she entertains his advances because Albedrío told her that he was but a fool, but she soon comes to see the danger behind his sophistry and rejects him in favour of her beloved. Eurídice comes upon the fruit tree forbidden her by Orfeo while collecting flowers and so ensues a battle between Albedrío, who encourages her to eat the fruit, and Gracia, who pleads she leave it be. Gracia is unsuccessful and leaves Eurídice to follow Albedrío's counsel to eat the fruit and she is poisoned as a consequence. …

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