Thursday, September 27, 2012

Slamming Perseus

Slam poetry was one thing I didn't know about when I woke up yesterday morning. I had never heard of Corinna Bain either. What I experienced, when a former student sent me a YouTube link for Bain's 2010 performance of "... and her severed head said to Perseus," might prompt me to investigate and write.
Watching and analyzing the slam itself isn't enough for a Reception Paper. Scholarly inquiry would necessitate reading the artist's own webpage and digging for any critical analysis of the poet's work. But Bain's recitation is sufficiently provocative, leading me to think that her treatment of the Perseus/Medusa myth — and her infusion of Perseus/Andromeda — will reward close scrutiny.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Usage: Rubens' "Peace and War"


If I were under the gun and needed to analyze a usage of classical mythology in short order, I'd probably go with Peter Paul Rubens' 1629 masterpiece "Minerva Protects Pax from Mars" which is also known as "Peace and War".
Peter Paul Rubens painted Minerva into the background of the foreground's idyllic scene. Mars is no match for her.

What makes it a compelling piece:
  • Rubens is a principal painter of the Northern Baroque (so, there is much scholarship about him, his biography, and his craft);
  • The National Gallery's website offers starting points for research, as does Reid's listing of sources ... and an updated (25 sept) OGCMA slide now offers some bibliography;
  • The painting's iconography articulates clearly the important differences between Ares and Athena;
  • The painting has a contextual history that is easy to understand within Rubens' career and its own historical backdrop;
  • That little girl looking out of the painting invites me to step in and get involved. (Don't you agree?)
 Rubens has something to say. He likes saying things with mythological allusions. Athena shows up in many of his allegories. Scholarly sources can be brought to bear in a short research project on this fascinating painting.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Q&A about topic

Maybe this edited email exchange below will help you find a suitable paper topic. — M

Q: Hello, ... So I currently have two ideas for my reception paper and I want to know if either (or neither) of these would work.
1. I heard that the word "Cuckold" originated from the Actaeon myth because people also say "wearing the horns" and in some countries people even make a horn sign with their fingers when referring to a cuckold. 
2. There is a very popular children's book series called Percy Jackson and the Olympians and it's about children who are demi-gods. With this idea I would want to talk about the way the myths are portrayed in this series (or maybe just the first book) and what effect that has on the children who read it (what they learn or get our of mythology from it).

 A:  Dear ______, Sorry to be slow in response.
The cuckold/Actaeon idea is not as easy as an individual item from a Percy Jackson book, but it's likely more interesting.

If you choose PJ, make sure you choose one character, one defining episode, and document by specific references on the pages of the book(s). It's MUCH easier to work on a book than it is a film, in my opinion. In a book, you can find a page number and consider it carefully. Films are harder to document. Riordin conducted many interviews about his motives in creating the series. You can find him talking about his own motives and so forth. Use such statements and reviewers' analysis to underpin your research. I've read a dozen reviews about the PJ books. A published review, of course, counts as a secondary source. A PJ paper takes some work, but writing one is sort of like painting by numbers. I'd recommend it for a first timer.

Actaeon/cuckold is a big theme.  Too big for a short paper. You'd need to find ONE instance of its use, such as the little laughing boy in Hogarth's 'Marriage a la Mode' (OGCMA0022NOTActaeon_Hogarth) There's plenty of support for research, lots to find, if you do Hogarth's use of Actaeon. Or some other artist's treatment of Actaeon.

If somebody were compelling me to write on the Actaeon myth, I think I'd take on a painting by Jean-Leon Gerôme (OGCMA0024NOTActaeon_Gérôme). Gérôme is a remarkable artist. I'd like to know more about him. Why don't you take this painting on?

BTW: That film we watched (OGCMA0025NOTActaeon_Moira) did not make Actaeon a cuckold, though. It's not always a facet of an Actaeon narrative.

Reminder: A 2-pager gives too little space to treat the Actaeon/cuckold theme per se appropriately.

Hope this helps.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Researching some myths and reception

For a limited time — saying that makes me feel like a huckster! — a valuable research tool is available to myth students at BYU. The Oxford Bibliography for Classics/Mythology provides some useful listings you might want to consider for your study of some myths.

The listings for "individual heroic figures" include Narcissus, Oedipus, Perseus, Remus, Helen, Heracles, Medea, Orpheus, and Theseus.

The section on "Later Tradition in European Cultures (Literature, Art, Music)" has this opening statement:
The tradition of classical mythology in European cultures, needless to say, is so massive that it has become a subfield of classical studies and has generated an immense literature. This list of citations is therefore very selective. There are two subsections: first, some important basic reference works, and second, titles that treat specific topics, such as the tradition in film or in music....
Mayerson 1971 is still very useful and informative, but for more serious research it needs to be supplemented with updated bibliographical references, such as the excellent Walther 2003. Both are good as quick reference works. Reid 1993 is the most complete and best-organized guide. Kreuz, et al. 2008 is a bibliography that may be overwhelming to the nonspecialist. Chance 1994–2000 provides a superb treatment of classical myths and their interpretation in the Middle Ages, for scholars.
Maybe there's something here for your own interests.

Access the Oxford Bibliography online through Once there type "Oxford Bibliographies" in the databases box (lower left of the homepage) and then click "Classics" from the resulting homepage listing. Within the very very deep pool of information in the Classics Bibliography, you can find the Mythology bibliography and then scroll through to the sections on Medea, and Orpheus, and so forth.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Usage: Brecht's Antigone

1942. Bertold Brecht published his Antigonelegende. He subtitled it "a tragedy in a modern setting."
Brecht "showed Creon overtly as Hitler, along with his aggressive son Megareus, who continues to fight and finally brings defeat on Thebes, an allusion to modern Germany. He succeeds in his Verfremdungseffekt (alientation effect), distancing us from all the characters, including Antigone. This alienation is a technique for distancing the audience members so that they can make an objective assessment of the action they are seeing and come up with a moral judgment. Brecht wants to enlist minds over emotions, but he does not always succeed. Brecht objected to what he saw as Antigone's pacifism. He thought she did a disservice to the memory of the German partisans who fought against the Nazis." M. McDonald,  The Living Art of Greek Tragedy (Bloomington, 2003), 81.
Brecht introduced enough changes to the play that it was no longer simply Sophocles' play; rather, it became Brecht's own commentary on his contemporary situation. Whether or not Sophocles was speaking thus in his own day is less pertinent in the context of 1942 Germany.

This is a paper topic with lots of potential.

If I were able to research this more deeply, I would start with the premise of McDonald's observation on Brecht's motives. I would dig into contemporary reactions. Much scholarship has been done on Brecht, even in English. So, I wouldn't have a hard time finding secondary sources to guide my research into Brecht's usage of Antigone. And I'm reasonably confident that I could find interesting stuff without blowing my time-budget.

Not a usage: Abuladze's *Repentance*

A 1999 article by M. Colakis argues that Tengiz Abuladze’s 1984 film, Repentance draws on the Antigone myth to teach contemporary audiences of the problems with Soviet tyranny. Abuladze, according to Colakis, critiques Soviet tyranny through intertextual application of the Antigone myth. While narrative similarities give one food for thought, Abuladze seems unaware of the connections to Antigone. 

Archetypal considerations underpin Colakis' analysis. In my opinion, the film does not qualify as a "usage" of classical myth.

If Abuladze’s narrative is derived from Antigone, he appears to have left no documentation to that effect. Colakis: “While no direct influence can be proven, it is not farfetched to see Abuladze as drawing on the Antigone.” (p. 73) There is no smoking gun. Nevertheless, Colakis argues in the conclusion that “Repentance draws on [the] myth,” and that “As the new political leaders of the former Soviet Union looked to the West for political/economic models, so did one of its new cinematic leaders look to an important Western myth to speak to a culture in transition.”

The “rules” of reception include “an acknowledged transposition of a recognizable work”. (Hutcheon, Adaptation, 8; my emphasis) For Abuladze’s narrative to stand as a usage of the Antigone myth, fewer divergences from the myth’s essential narrative strands and more convincing admission of authorial awareness ought to be manifest. 

Because Colakis' article is compelling, the film has a OGCMA reference number. The index allows me to place the discussion. My slide OGCMA0109NOTAntigone_Abuladze offers a link to Colakis' article in .pdf and to other pertinent items.

Colakis, M. "A Glasnost Antigone: Tengiz Abuladze's Repentance." Classical and Modern Literature 19 (1999), 173 - 78.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Usage: Manship's Actaeon

Paul Manship's "Actaeon #2" (1923, Smithsonian) articulates a disoriented man's confused anguish. Mary Grant said it better:
“The American sculptor, Paul Manship, has a bronze group of Actaeon and his dogs, in which he has skillfully shown the psychology of the metamorphosis — the animal 'change' in Actaeon’s features with the sprouting of horns on his head. Late Classical writers, playing with such themes, were often interested in more than the physical transformation. Ovid is a conspicuous example."
Manship uses classical mythology to illustrate.

Manship's usage is lasting, but succinct and unmistakeable. I call it a "usage" because
  • the work mentions the myth in the title
  • the work depends upon essential identifiers — horned man, dogs
  • the work omits elements that can reasonably be extrapolated by one who knows the myth (e.g. Artemis, Actaeon's error).
Not every deer in the headlights is an Actaeon.
What ARE the essential identifiers for an Actaeon narrative? Is it the dogs? Is it a man-stag? Will antlers alone do it?  If one of these were missing, could Manship's bronze still be identifiable as Actaeon? Somewhere in the process, Manship's sculpture became a treatment of the Actaeon myth.
Mary Grant, trans., The Myth of Hyginus, University of Kansas Humanistic Studies 34 (Lawrence 1960). (notes)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Usage: Juno orbits Jupiter (NASA)

Usage: the engineers at NASA work the myth of Io into their exploration of the planet Jupiter.
LEGO figurines are on board before the 2011 launch of the spacecraft Juno. Jupiter has his thunderbolt, Juno has her spyglass because she wants to go in for a closer look on the cloudy planet (maybe she'll find Io there with Jupiter!), and Gallileo holds a miniature model of the Jovian planet.

See my slide: OGCMA0598NOTIo_NASA

The classical usage in Hamlet

Hamlet receives the Players at Elsinore in the middle of the play named after him.

He importunes the chief to recite a stirring rendition of "Aeneas' tale to Dido" about the sack of Troy. Hamlet had heard this at least once before, and indeed demonstrates that he has committed much of the speech to memory. He has internalized the narrative.

The myth, as the Player tells it, offers useful models for action within the confines of the play. Gertrude can learn from Hecuba how a queen ought to lament her husband's death. Hamlet can learn from Pyrrhus how to decide and act. The onlookers can learn that the death of Hamlet Senior seems to be an epically earth-shattering event for young Hamlet.

It cannot escape anybody's notice that the myth of Hecuba and Priam occurs within the Hamlet. Once noted, a scholar is obligated to consider Shakespeare's narrative gain, the reason why the author inserts the mythological allusion, why here, why thus, etc.

That's an overt usage of a myth. Shakespeare is holding a smoking gun. He is caught using classical myth.

Some students of Shakespeare's Hamlet have worked with the observation that Hamlet is similar to the Oresteia. The two narratives have the ghostly supernatural, and adulterous new king, a troubled son, a tragic ending. What Hamlet really lacks, though, is an overt reference to the Orestes story.

Without an overt reference, we are only discussing archetypal similarities between the two narratives.

Bluntly: Hecuba in Hamlet is a good paper choice, Orestes in Hamlet is questionable.
     Hamlet manifests a USAGE of the Hecuba/Priam/Pyrrhus/Aeneas myth.
     Hamlet's likeness to the oresteia is a narrative similarity and NOT a usage.

Don't read this, if you are unclear about what I said above. It will only confuse, unless the above is clear.
Extraneous complicators: Reid cites Hamlet in her OGCMA, but I think she wrong to do so. (And she cites Gilbert Highet, who agrees with me.) The Player's narrative of Aeneas' tale to Dido isn't really taken very clearly from Vergil's Aeneid.

Orpheus Film Festival: Offenbach's Orphée aux Enfers

This opera is the home of the Can-Can.  

Eurydice in Offenbach's treatment is none too content with her bridegroom's negligence, even yielding to the advances of Aristaeus. Audiences who like the way Wicked turned The Wizard of Oz inside out will appreciate that Offenbach's opera reverses ALL our expectations — the Olympians in the Underworld, burlesque carrying on where one might have expected solemnity, and the comic intervention of Public Opinion on the stage.

A person can appreciate this comic operatic romp in its own right; but, recognizing a few riffs from Gluck's Orfeo makes the experience more enjoyable. These allusions to Gluck drive home the point that Offenbach was commenting on the need for reforming his peers' approach to opera.


Orpheus Film Festival: Black Orpheus

Marcel Camus, a French cinemaste, created a remarkable film from Vinicius de Moraes's play Orfeu Negro 1959. It won the Cannes Gold Palm and the Oscar, as well as many other awards, and has been a staple of international cinema ever since.

International cinema begins for many here.
I disliked the film the first couple of times I watched it. This is no longer true.

One thing I failed to appreciate earlier was Camus' introduction of Bassa Nova music. That was revolutionary, a first for artistic expression outside Brazil.

Another thing I missed was the creativity of Camus' narrative. Because I used to consider the storyline of Black Orpheus to be a simplistic application of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth — a rehearsal of the myth without divergence, I thought —the frowned on the way mythological characters were pressed into real-life roles: Orpheus as tram-driver, Hades as coroner, Aristaeus as masked celebrant at Carnival in Rio, etc.

In case you care, I see these things differently now. The music is actually pretty amazing, and the inflection of the myth into the favellas above Rio has provoked me to reconsider. The clincher, I think, has been that moment very late in the film when a new Orpheus picks up a guitar and causes the sun to rise over a new day.

My dad used to tell us kids, when we were faced with some new gross-out food or other, that we didn't need to like it, but we did need to try it. You might feel the same when you find your way into Orfeu NegroOGCMA0795OrpheusEurydice_Camus

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Orpheus Film Festival: Moulin Rouge!

The "smoking gun" principle is illustrated nowhere more effectively than in the Moulin Rouge! by Baz Luhrmann. The film feels remotely like a version of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth if you pay attention to the story line (and don't get caught up in the cleverness of all the pop covers from The Sound of Music right through to Roxanne and Elton John's Your Song).

When Christian goes "back to the Moulin Rouge" to recover his lost girl, allusions to Orpheus's descent into the Underworld start to become more obvious. When he loses her a second time by looking back, the connection to Orpheus seems sure.

Monica Cyrino showed the narrative similarities quite convincingly in an article in Classical and Modern Literature28 (2009). I come from that article still feeling that we're looking at archetypal similarities in the film, like Luhrmann would have shown his hand somewhere. The hellish nature of Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge notwithstanding and in spite of Cyrino's skillful explication of the moment of Christian's orphic retrospection, I still harbored doubts that the director was purposefully dealing with the myth of Orpheus per se. I didn't see smoking-gun proof that Luhrmann knew he was doing the Orpheus/Eurydice narrative. And the characters felt like an "Orpheus figure" and a "Eurydice figure" and so forth.

An article called "The First Tango in Paris", however, changed my mind. The piece included an interview with the director/creator and included a fair disclosure that Luhrmann knowingly worked with the Orpheus myth in the film:
Upon completion of a major project, Baz Luhrmann goes on a backpacking trip around the world to recharge his creative batteries. After Romeo + Juliet, he trekked to Marrakech, Cairo, Alexandria, and Paris, and came back with the inspiration for Moulin Rouge: the myth of Orpheus, the Greek lyre player who went into the underworld to save his lady love but failed. ''The myth is about the moment you realize there are things you cannot control,'' Luhrmann says later in his cramped office on the Twentieth Century Fox lot.
This is what I call a "smoking gun." It's proof that the artist is aware that the creation works with the classical myth. In such a moment of disclosure, the creation passes from archetype to usage. The applied myth becomes overt.  The topic becomes fairgame for treatment in a Reception Paper.

Monica Cyrino, "To Love and Toulouse: The Orpheus and Eurydice Theme in Marcel Camus' Orfeu Negro (1959) and Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! (2001)," Classical and Modern Literature 28 (2009)
Jeff Jensen, "The First Tango in Paris," 25 May 2001 [click here].
For other starting bibliography, see my slide OGCMA0796NOTOrpheusEurydice_Luhrmann

Monday, September 10, 2012

Orpheus Film Festival: Gluck's Orfeo

Gluck's Orfeo effected a reform of opera in the late 18th Century. The composer likely engaged for this reform the myth of the mankind's greatest musician, Orpheus, for the purpose of returning to music's roots. But, Gluck and the librettist, Calzabigi, use the opera to articulate the Enlightenment's most sincere expressions of human emotions. Patricia Howard calls Gluck's Orfeo "in every sense a child of its time."

Orfeo's most engaging narrative move, in my opinion, is Gluck/Calzabigi's decision to equip Eurydice with emotions and impulses. Ovid and Vergil, who had told the story classically, focused on Orpheus's heroism and failure. Gluck's Eurydice encounters in her heroic husband a perplexing inability to communicate, one who refuses to answer her questions. This Orpheus is a man whose heroism is insufficient to retain his bride a second time. She begs for communication and willingly terminates her rejoinders, when she surmises that life with Orpheus will mean an existence of adled communication.

Other narratives work with the same awkwardness in Orpheus. Offenbach's self-important musician is as much to blame as is Eurydice herself, she of the wandering eye — and Orpheus can try as he will, but he won't easily recover his bride. Sarah Ruhl's masterpiece has Eurydice perplexed when Orpheus arrives and assumes his bride will be ecstatic to return to his world, a place where she is beginning to fear alienation long before he arrives. Indeed, Ruhl's Eurydice meets her deceased father in the Underworld and hopes to renew communication with him on new terms. Then Orpheus intervenes.

Harry Kupfer's production of Gluck's Orfeo was produced at the English National Opera, Covent Garden in 1991. Jochen Kowalski's virtuosity notwithstanding, newcomers to this opera may be surprised at what comes out when the male alto opens his mouth. The bold staging of this production realizes an entirely new interpretation of the mythological scene. The musical hero's journey to recover his bride is, here, the emotional depression of a bereaved lover trying to recover in a psychiatric hospital. The Italian libretto is performed on a very modern stage (for 1991), complete with close-circuit television cameras, a rotating set, and a Fender guitar.

P. Howard, ed., C.W. Gluck, Orfeo, Cambridge Opera Handbooks (Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press, 1981)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Orpheus Film Festival: Vertigo

Hitchcock's Vertigo is an adaptation of Boileau-Narcejac's gumshoe novel, D'Entre les Morts (From Among the Dead; also titled Froides Sueurs Cold Sweat). The opening credits of Vertigo acknowledge this, and the development of the screenplay is well documented.

The French novel narrates a thematically engrained usage of the Orpheus myth: Flaviers calls his girlfriend "mon petite Eurydice" and a cigarette lighter inscribed with that name plays a key role in the plot's denouement.

When you watch the film, you may be struck by the similarities between Scottie Ferguson and Orpheus — his brooding melancholy, his involvement in the realm of the dead, his retrospective moment that leads to final loss. And you might conclude that Hitchcock liked the Orpheus myth for its archetypal qualities. Royal Brown astutely noted these similarities in 1986.

I wonder about Hitchcock's process of removing the overt references to the Orpheus myth. In the process from source-novel to screenplay and then subsequent drafts of that, Hitchcock systematically removed these and replaced them with less obvious, i.e. merely similar, narrative similarities to the Orpheus myth. Does the film still "count" as a usage of the Orpheus myth?

Select Bibliography for starters:
Brown, Royal S. "Vertigo as Orphic Tragedy," Literature/Film Quarterly 14 (1986): 32-43 = Rprt. in Perspectives on Alfred Hitchcock, edited by David Boyd (NY: GKHall 1995) 112-27.
Krohn, Bill. Hitchcock at Work. London: Phaidon 2000. Pages184 - 94.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Orpheus Film Festival: Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire, a brilliant film in its own right, intrigues me enormously for Danny Boyle's usage of the Orpheus myth.

Frieda Pinto plays Latika in Slumdog Millionaire. The lovestory of Jamal and Latika is different in Danny Boyle's film than it is in the source-novel by Vikas Swarup. Swarup's novel works with the Taj Mahal and the Mugal lovestory behind the building of the Taj. Boyle introduces classical mythology in a remarkable way.

The story of Jamal and Latika is Orpheus/Eurydice-like.
   Boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, etc.
Boyle's inclusion of one scene nails the story as THE Orpheus myth, and not just an archetypal resemblance.

One evening, Jamal and other thieves are stealing purses from an audience that is watching an operatic performance. Jamal takes a moment to watch the tenor singing his lament on stage. But just a moment. Danny Boyle cuts quickly from the operatic scene to a fleeting glimpse of Latika and then to the gameshow set, where Jamal must answer the next question on his way to 1-billion rupees.

Watch the clip. (A link is on my slide: OGCMA0797NOTOrpheusEurydice_Boyle. Click the "chapter 12" link right sidebar.

Did you catch the song the operatic tenor was singing? It's the moment in Gluck's Orfeo where Orpheus has just lost the love of his life, Eurydice.

Danny Boyle worked with Vikas Swarup's novel, Q & A (now retitled after the film Slumdog Millionaire), and introduced the element of Orpheus into the plot. Indeed, there is nothing of Orpheus/Eurydice except archetypal similarities in the novel itself. The insertion of overt Orpheus elements into the film is entirely the genius of Danny Boyle.

Swarup's lovestory has archetypal resemblance to Orpheus. Boyle's lovestory uses the Orpheus myth to add depth and new meaning to the narrative. The myth works like allusory shorthand.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Orpheus Film Festival: Cocteau's Orphée

When International Cinema screens Cocteau's cinematic landmark, it's perhaps the easiest item in the Orpheus Film Festival to take in.

Jean Marais plays Orpheus in Cocteau's film. The mirror is Cocteau's portal between the world of the living and the world of immortals. Orpheus, mythically, longs for and ascertains the way across and back, when his bride perishes. But, is he in love with her or with the idea of that portal? Click the YouTube link for the French trailer.

Jean Cocteau was an artist of difficult categorization. He was more than a cinemaste, yet he developed the artform; and he was not merely a poet, for he called his films "poems". With numerous murals and sketches and films and stage-plays dealing with Orpheus, Cocteau was deeply involved with the development of the myth throughout his life.

The 1950 film is at once easy to watch and challenging to comprehend. The viewer will readily trace the story of Orpheus from his preoccupation with his craft — decoding messages from an oracular source — to his neglect of his bride, to his pursuit of his departed wife into another existence. If the challenge of Orpheus is to transition from the world of living into the world of departed spirits, then Cocteau's Orpheus meets the challenge in a remarkable way. True to the elements of the myth, once Orpheus returns from the other side with Eurydice, he faces anew the problem of finding the time and attention required to sustain his love for her. Just as C.W. Gluck played with the challenge of retaining a recovered love, Cocteau shows us in Orpheus a lover of epic drive but mundane recollection.

Watch the film and you'll see what I mean.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Orpheus Film Festival: Pushing Daisies

The next few posts will deal with the individual constituents of the "Orpheus Film Festival." A handful of great cinematic (or sort-of-cinematic) narratives has been chosen to get students thinking about the Orpheus myth. The film festival is also designed to spark some thinking about the complexities and complications of mythological reception.

Lee Pace and Anna Friel play at the narrative of Orpheus Eurydice in Pushing Daisies (Bryan Fuller, creator; ABC 2007-2009) OGCMA0796NOTOrpheusEurydice_Fuller
Bryan Fuller's biography leads from one successful screenwrite to another — several episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies. The last two involve remarkable treatments of death and life-after-death. To my eye, though, Fuller's first engagement with narrative material from a classical source is Pushing Daisies.

The premise for the entirety of Pushing Daisies is uncannily similar to the fundamentals of the Orpheus myth. Ned is a artist who deals in pie. Somewhere in his life he acquired a gift that allows him to revive the dead with a simple touch. If he touches that person a second time, the person dies a second death and may not be revived.

Ned's gift equips him to make the most remarkable pie. In a later episode we see him revive some moldy strawberries. Put those in a pie.

Compare Orpheus. He is not merely a great lover. He is the greatest singer the world has ever known. The ability to animate the landscape and charm living things comes by birth to him, the son of Calliope. Thus empowered, Orpheus proceeds to the Underworld to recover the soul of his fatally snakebit bride, Eurydice.

Anna Friel's Charlotte "Chuck" in PD was the childhood crush of Lee Pace's Ned. Some 20 years after their first and only kiss, she shows up murdered in the mortuary, when Ned comes to call. Knowing that his kiss will revive her, he indulges, reanimates the body, and begins the challenging task of never touching her ever again.

I worry about reception. For me, it makes a difference whether PD's narrative premise is actually (i.e. purposefully, knowingly, overtly, etc.) based upon the Orpheus myth or whether the two premises are merely related archetypes. Linda Hutcheons' "rules" of adaptation help me worry about such things. If Bryan Fuller ever tips his hand and shows me that he "knows" he is using the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, then I will say I've caught him holding a smoking gun. Then I'll know that the many similarities in the series's narrative are intentional, that the show's creator did not merely stumble upon a narrative that was "like" that tale of Orpheus and Eurydice; rather, I'll be able to say that Ned is an Orpheus and Chuck in a Eurydice.

I owe the original observation for this connection between PD and Orpheus/Eurydice to a former MA student, Chris Haney, who developed the thesis in a great paper he read at the Classical Association of the Middle West and South in 2010. Haney observes a slew of narrative similarities and tries to catch Fuller holding that smoking gun, the evidence that shows he knew he was dealing with Orpheus/Eurydice per se (and not merely a familiar old plot line). I don't think Haney would ever say he caught Fuller.

I found today a contemporary review of Pushing Daisies from 3 October 2007, the day the PD pilot aired on ABC. Dozens such reviews are archived in internet resources. The review by Robert Lloyd in The Los Angeles Times (3 Oct 2007) is the only published piece that articulates agreement with Haney's thesis. Lloyd:

Fairy tales have been told to children for years, but they weren’t ‘made’ for them the way, say, ‘The Backyardigans’ of ‘Hannah Montana’ are. They’re shared currency, the myth and yarns of our world, and the charge they carry flows across borders and time and age brackets. There’s an old story at the back of ‘Pushing Daisies’ — the one about Orpheus fetching Eurydice from the underworld. Forbidden to look back at her as they trudge Earthward, he does anyway, and she’s dead again. Whatever that is supposed to tell you about having your cake and eating it too or listening when teacher talks, the tragedy of losing again what you managed extraordinarily to regain is clear and powerful enough. click link here

The issue that will continue to keep me awake is this: Just because Haney and Lloyd (and Macfarlane) believe there PD is built on Orphic mythological material, Bryan Fuller doesn't necessarily admit to it. ... And does it matter whether Fuller does or not.

The Orpheus Film Festival includes one episode from Pushing Daisies, the opening episode of season two, and episode called "Bzzzzzzzzz!" And here's what I think clinches it as a narrative with undeniable connections to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice: the opening spot where Chuck revives her hive of bees by pouring their dead corpses over Ned's shoulders, which brings them back to life.

In Vergil's Georgics, a beekeeper named Aristaeus suffers the devastating loss of all his hive. He prays to his mother, the nymph Arethusa, and asks how his livelihood could be taken from him in a feel blow. Aristaeus learns after much inquiry and effort that he is personally responsible for the loss of his bees, for when he pursued the lovely Eurydice he unwittingly effected her death as she stepped upon a snake and died from the bite. Aristaeus receives instruction that allows him to appease the disturbed gods and bring his hive back from death. No small part of Aristaeus's instruction has to do with learning the details of Orpheus's recovery of Eurydice from the world of the dead.

Vergil's account of Orpheus and Eurydice abides still, alongside the slightly later version in Ovid's Metamorphoses as the classical narrative of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth.

I wonder whether PD season two, episode one reveals enough of the bee matter that I might be able to surmise from it that Fuller knows Orpheus in a classical, esoteric way. Sometimes when I watch this episode, I think I've finally got him! Sometimes, I think I'm fantasizing.

Watch it and see for yourself.

Other films in the Orpheus Film Festival are shown to enrolled class members only, via a streaming feed that emanates from BYU College of Humanities Digital Lab. This one, however, is unique in my offering merely a link to the Warner Brothers website, where the entire episode is available for free viewing. Go have a look. Feel free to respond in the comments below.

posted by RTM