Wednesday, October 10, 2012

La Mort d'Orphée

Mort d'Orphée by Émile Lévy (1866, Musée d'Orsay, Paris). Here, Maenads are in the process of slaying Orpheus. Why? Paging Dr. Freud . . . Who knows?  Has Orpheus pissed off a god or goddess, or just the Maenads (in Roman terms, the Bacchae) themselves? Is it a case of "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned," as William Congreve put it in The Mourning Bride (1697)? Does this mythical scene represent the transient arc of the artist in life, the fickle nature of how art is perceived?

"Whatever prompted the Maenads to do it, each one wanted Orpheus for himself, and their tugging at him ended in a bloody death," according to Stephen P. Kershaw, in A Brief Guide to the Greek Myths (London: Robinson, 2007), page 56.

As for the painting, that's quite a fantasia there imagined by Lévy. I wonder if he had actual models act out the scene?      

Nymphs Finding Head of Orpheus by John Williams Waterhouse (1900, Collection of Sir Tim Rice). In any case, the myth continues. The head of Orpheus -- along with his lyre -- makes its was to the Island of Lesbos, where it's found either by "nymphs" (as pictured above) or Muses or their representatives. Orpheus was, by most accounts, a son of the Muse Calliope, who also happened to be the "Sing to me, O Muse" of Homer, apparently. So, we've got a case of energy transfer here, a touch of good feng shui and good luck or the will of the gods, because the talents of Orpheus begin to permeate around Lesbos, inspiring later artists such as the poet Sappho. And so, as is often the case, something "good" comes out of something "bad," eh?    

Today's Rune: Initiation.  

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