The Ascent of Orpheus

In the suites Orpheus One and Linead One, Adi Da Samraj has created a visual world and storyline that resonates with the ancient mythical archetypes of Orpheus and Eurydice. Just as the Greek myth has been recast in widely differing forms by Plato, Virgil, Ovid, Rilke, Cocteau, and many other ancient and modern writers and artists, Adi Da radically re-imagines the fundamental shape and import of the story.

Adi Da describes his suites as “abstract narratives.” Thus, the individual images do not tell a story in any conventional sense. Rather, they generate a field of intuitively felt meaning that coincides with the essential meaning of the myth, as re-imagined by Adi Da.


(click image to enlarge)
Orpheus (suggested by the imagery both of white “bird” and of “bicycle” wheels and handlebars)  first descends into the world of darkness (the “red-and-black space”) and then ascends toward the world of light (the “white field” and white circle),  “carrying” Eurydice with him (suggested by the black bird on the right side of the image), ultimately (at the top of the image) manifesting his Oneness with the light, with no “difference” between himself and Eurydice

Adi Da acknowledged that it is important for viewers of his Orpheus One and Linead One suites to have a basic familiarity with the Greek myth:

Familiarity with the Orpheus myth (or narrative) should be part of what informs people’s understanding of what exactly these suites are about, or how the suites can be felt, or how they can be felt to mean. People will bring all kinds of information, personal characteristics, modes of participation, and so forth—and all of that is part of what the images mean, as well as anything that I myself have verbally commented on or visually encoded into the images themselves. [1]

Adi Da summarizes the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in its most commonly known form, in his own telling of the story:

The fundamental story of the ancient Greek myth portrays Orpheus as a poet, singer, and musician. He marries Eurydice, and immediately she is bitten by a snake and falls into the after-death world, the underworld (or Hades).

Orpheus descends into Hades (or what could also be understood as the dark space of the natural world) to find Eurydice and bring her back to the life-world. Using his musical and poetic powers, Orpheus establishes an agreement whereby Eurydice can follow him back to the life-world. However, Orpheus is told that he must not look back as they move out of Hades—he must simply return to the life-world, and they will be united there.

They leave to return to the life-world, but, just as he is about to reenter that world, Orpheus forgets or disregards the instruction, and looks back to check that Eurydice is behind him. Because he violated this curious instruction, she falls back into the afterlife-world, and he is forced to return to the world of the living without Eurydice.

After that, Orpheus suffers Eurydice’s absence, and seeks for her, and goes through all kinds of torment about losing her. He spends the rest of his life in mourning, in a kind of mystical impulse toward union, but without a physical other to relate to. Eventually, in all of his struggling, he is, in effect, sacrificed.

Orpheus goes to hell to save his beloved, which he ultimately fails to do. He ruins himself, but it is his effort that is laudable. [2]

Thus, the original myth is deeply tragic, ending with the failure of Orpheus’ valiant efforts to bring Eurydice back from the underworld to the world of the living. However, Adi Da points out that, despite its tragic outcome, the myth defines an archetype of the ascent from darkness to light—and, on this basis, Adi Da refashions the myth to portray Orpheus as a liberator, who enables Eurydice to ascend to the light, or what Adi Da calls the “Divine Domain,” the blissful realm beyond any trace of ego.

At the core of the myth of Orpheus is a Spiritual descent from the world of light into the natural domain, and a subsequent ascent (or escape) from that domain. The red-and-black space in some of the images of Orpheus One is the realm of difficulty and suffering in which human beings live. However, the evidence in the images of Orpheus One, like the evidence in the myth of Orpheus, suggests a possibility other than merely remaining in the realm of suffering—namely, ascent beyond the hell of the natural world, to a domain free of the darkness that is made by egoity. That ascent is a flight provoked (or made possible) by the descent of the Spiritual hero, who enables a liberating passage beyond egoity—out of the realm of hell, and (ultimately) into the Divine Domain. [3]

Thus, the “story” of Adi Da’s Orpheus One and Linead One, echoing but reframing the story of the Greek myth, is of a heroic being from the world of light descending into the world of darkness—in order to bring his beloved back to the light (rather than merely to the domain of the living). In this story, the world into which Orpheus descends is the world as we commonly know it—a world which is (even unwittingly) made dark by the human collective of unillumined beings (or egos), who live and act on the presumption that the ego (or the sense of, and identity with, a separate “I”) is what is of supreme value in life. In Adi Da’s retelling, Orpheus succeeds in bringing his beloved back to the light. Orpheus must still undertake the ordeal portrayed in the classical myth in order to save his beloved, but, altogether, the story revealed in the Orpheus and Linead suites is one of victorious ascent.

The fundamental significance of this story is expressed in the poetry of the subtitles:

Orpheus One
The Spiritual Descent of The Bicycle
Becomes The Second-Birth of Flight
Linead One
Eurydice One—The Illusory Fall of The Bicycle
Into The Sub-Atomic Parallel Worlds
of Primary Color and Point of View

Both of these subtitles refer to the “descent” or “fall” of the “bicycle.” And, indeed, both suites are characterized by the figurative imagery of bicycles and bicycle wheels, often represented in abstract form as simple circles and lines. Adi Da uses the wheel/circle and the bird in flight as visual metaphors for the means by which Eurydice (or any being) can be enabled to ascend, from the darkness (or the human world that is characterized by self-caused suffering, mythologically portrayed as the dark underworld of the dead) into the light (or the transcendent domain of Truth and Reality, mythologically portrayed as the sunlit world of the living).

In the subtitle to Orpheus One, Adi Da characterizes the descent of the bicycle (a symbol for Orpheus as liberator) as a spiritual event. Thus, Adi Da’s Orpheus is not merely involved in a romantic attempt to resurrect his lost beloved. Rather, Orpheus here succeeds in liberating Eurydice from darkness (or from being trapped in an ego-based life). And this spiritual descent enables “the second-birth of flight”—the “flight” upwards from darkness to light. In other words, the spiritual descent of Orpheus makes it possible for Eurydice to “fly” out of the darkness into the light, and thus be reborn as a spiritually liberated being.

In the subtitle to Linead One, Adi Da intriguingly describes the world of darkness (or the world of ordinary human experience) in the visual-artistic terms of “primary color and point of view.” He uses “primary color” (playing on the obvious perceptual differences between red, yellow, and blue) to point to the universal presumption that all beings and things are inherently different from each other—and, in turn, irreducibly separate from one another. Thus, Adi Da is relating to the primary colors as prismatic “slices” of white (or undifferentiated) light. In this subtitle, Adi Da uses “point of view” to indicate the fundamental presumption that “I” exist as a separate “point” of awareness, in the midst of a “world” full of other separate “points” (or separate beings and things).

In this subtitle, Adi Da reveals that the apparent “fall” is “illusory.” Thus, in Adi Da’s radical recasting of the myth, not only is Eurydice liberated, but she is liberated from what is actually an illusory fate—the fate of confinement to the “Hades” of ego-based existence.

  1. Adi Da Samraj, June 14, 2007.
  2. Adi Da Samraj, August 9, 2007; June 29, 2007; June 14, 2007.
  3. Adi Da Samraj, July 23, 2007.

3 comments (newer on top):

  1. The ascent of Orpheus: Adi Da’s revival of an ancient tradition

    On July 9 last an exhibition was formally opened in the Bargello National Museum in Florence, Italy, of a selection of two image suites, entitled Orpheus One and Linead One (Eurydice One), by the American-born artist Adi Da Samraj (1939-2008). As the titles indicate, the meaning and import of the images are closely associated with the ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Citing a verbal narrative version of the myth by the artist himself, a brief essay in the exhibition catalogue, entitled “The ascent of Orpheus”, suggests that the cited version is a reflection of what was at some point the original, “deeply tragic”, and “merely romantic”, version of the myth, which was subsequently “recast in widely differing forms by Plato, Virgil, Ovid, Rilke, Cocteau” and many others. Although Cocteau’s Orpheus is ultimately reunited with his Eurydice in the upper world, and numerous other versions of the myth since the Middle Ages likewise feature a positive ending,(1) the suggestion in the article, as well as in the leaflet that accompanies the exhibition, seems to be that among these authors and artists Adi Da is somehow original or unique in refashioning the commonly known tragic story into a successful one of “victorious ascent”, portraying Orpheus as divine liberator instead of tragic lover.(2) Such suggestions, however, disregard both the available evidence of the early development, as well as the long tradition of allegorical interpretation of the myth. A brief survey of both of these will reveal that an Orpheus seen as divine liberator is historically by no means unique.

    What Adi Da Samraj regards as “the fundamental story of the ancient Greek myth” essentially corresponds to the version of the myth as related by the Roman poet Ovid in Book X and XI of his Metamorphoses, written at the beginning of the first century CE, and through which, particularly from the twelfth century onwards, it became widely known in literate circles throughout Europe. It is important to note, however, that even though this version became the fundamental, or commonly known, version of the myth, it is quite possible that it was created only a few decades earlier by Ovid’s contemporary and fellow-poet Virgil, since the available evidence suggests that in all versions of the myth before Virgil Orpheus was indeed successful in retrieving his spouse (or, alternatively, one or more otherwise unspecified souls) from the underworld.(3) From an allusion in a fifth century BCE play by Euripides, to a passage from the first century BCE Bibliotheca Historica, by Diodorus Siculus, there is no hint whatever of the motif of the breaking of a taboo set by the rulers of Hades.(4) It seems therefore not unlikely, as has been argued, that Virgil was the first to introduce the motif of Orpheus’s second loss of Eurydice to suit his own literary purposes in the fourth book of his Georgics.(5) But even if he was not, and there did exist earlier tragic versions,(6) the extant early literary allusions to the myth, iconographic evidence from Hellenic times up to late antiquity, as well as artifacts of ritual cultic practice, clearly suggest that before—and even until long after—Virgil, Orpheus was predominantly known for his ability to successfully lead souls out of Hades.

    From the various stories associated with Orpheus, the episode with Eurydice was in fact chronologically among the last to be depicted in Graeco-Roman art, remaining instances predominantly deriving from the first century BCE to the first century CE. In accordance with the earliest literary allusions, these depictions all imply a successful Orpheus, while his connection with salvation in the afterlife is emphasized by the fact that they all derive from a funerary context.(7) The salvationary motif is likewise implied by the suggestion of paradise in what is historically the final scene to emerge in antique art: the iconic picture of Orpheus with his lyre surrounded by all manner of plants and animals.(8) A number of instances of this most widely depicted scene of Orpheus in the Roman Empire has also been found among the famous frescoes (second to the fourth century CE) in the catacombs on the outskirts of ancient Rome.(9) Some other images of Orpheus in the catacombs, such as one in which he is surrounded by scenes from the New Testament, are clearly situated in a Christian religious atmosphere, which would suggest that in this period, at least to some, the figure of the ancient poet and prophet who could save souls from Hades, and the figure of Jesus Christ, who was likewise believed to have saved his followers from death, were closely associated with one another.(10) A further indication of the continued belief in an Orpheus who could be influential in the redemption of souls may be seen in what are known as the “Orphic gold tablets”, thought to be part of the funerary rites of certain religious cults in Greece and southern Italy, who worshipped the God Dionysus and looked to Orpheus as their prophet. While the majority of these tablets date from the fourth and third century BCE, one tablet found at Rome has been dated as late as 260 CE.(11) The Christian Saint and Church Father Augustine (354-430 CE) mentions in his De Civitate Dei that even in his day among the pagans Orpheus is held to preside over their funerary rites.(12)

    At the same time, in Neoplatonic philosophical circles especially, Orpheus had come to be regarded as the single most renowned theologian and prophet of the classical age, his lyre having become an emblem for the concept of the “music of the spheres”, including the concomitant ideas of mystical ascent and the ultimate release of the soul from the repetitive round of birth and death.(13) This salvationary motif associated with Orpheus, evidenced both in philosophy and in funerary art and ritual, was recognized also by early Christian authors such as Clement of Alexandria, who drew parallels between Orpheus and Christ, and between Orpheus’s descent into Hades and Christ’s so-called “Harrowing of hell”, described in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus.(14) The comparison disappeared with antiquity itself, but resurfaces in the fourteenth century in the anonymous Ovide Moralisé, and more fully in the popular and influential commentary on the Metamorphoses by Pierre Bersuire. Bersuire proposes that Orpheus be allegorically identified as Christ, his newly wedded bride Eurydice as the newly created human soul, and her death by snakebite as the fall from Paradise. Orpheus’s descent in this interpretation is therefore the Incarnation of Christ, come to liberate the human soul from the terrible implications of the original sin.(15) For obvious reasons, in this context, Bersuire altogether omits Ovid’s tragic looking-back episode and thus, in effect, reverts to the pre-Virgilian, or Euripidean, version of the myth. The typological interpretation of the myth, casting Orpheus as a prefiguration of the Incarnation of Christ, bec5ame a commonplace in the fifteenth century, while the allegorical treatment of Orpheus as Christ the Liberator is still found as late as the second half of the seventeenth century in Calderón’s play “El divino Orfeo”.(16)

    Clearly, therefore, the story of a successful Orpheus, including its metaphysical and soteriological interpretation, has plenty of historical precedent, but neither was the tragic version of the myth always viewed as “merely romantic”. Quite the contrary, from late antiquity until far into the Renaissance the main line of interpretation of the Ovidian myth was as an exemplum of sin, or worldliness. This interpretation became widespread through the work of the sixth-century Roman statesman and philosopher Boethius, whose Consolation of Philosophy, far more even than the Georgics or the Metamorphoses, was responsible for the huge interest in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice among commentators in the early Middle Ages.(17) Greatly influenced by the contemporary platonic philosophical schools at Athens and Alexandria, Boethius’s use of the myth must be seen against a philosophical background which held that the human soul is potentially and in reality identical to the Universal Soul and the Divine Intellect, provided it makes sure to retain its focus on the Unqualified Transcendental Reality.(18) By looking back into hell, i.e. by being concerned about worldly, or transient matters, Boethius indicates in his introductory lines to the myth, Orpheus had forfeited the ability to behold “the bright source of good”, and made himself liable to be bound by the fetters of the world.(19) Boethius was considered by the Middle Ages a classical authority of the stature of Virgil and Ovid themselves, and his reading of the myth became widely influential after it was first adopted at the start of the tenth century. It naturally came to be expressed in more specifically Christian terms, the bright source of good being identified as God, and the looking back episode as sin or eternal damnation, while the exegesis of the pagan myth was often given support and authority by citations from Scripture, most often Luke 9:62 (“No one who […] looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God”). Boethius’s “platonic” interpretation of the myth enjoyed an upsurge of interest in the eleventh and twelfth century, particularly through the school of Chartres.(20)

    One author of the later Middle Ages profoundly influenced by the Consolation of Philosophy was the born Florentine Dante Alighieri, and the philosophy that informs the Consolation is central also to Dante’s epoch-defining Divine Comedy.(21) Considering the importance of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Consolation and the Metamorphoses, as well as in the contemporary commentary tradition, it is in itself highly remarkable that Dante in the Comedy at no time explicitly refers to it.(22) At a—arguably the—pivotal point in the narrative, however, the passage in Purgatorio XXX where the pilgrim’s master and guide through hell and purgatory, the soul of the Roman poet Virgil, is replaced by the soul of Dante’s childhood love Beatrice, there is a striking allusion to it. As is well known, at this point, in the pilgrim’s lament over Virgil’s disappearance, Dante’s language closely mirrors the passage of Orpheus’s lament over Eurydice in the Georgics.(23) That is to say, at a crucial point in the Divine Comedy that is marked with an obvious allusion to the myth, the author of the tragic version of the myth disappears and is replaced by a new guide who will successfully lead the pilgrim into heaven, and onwards to his all-consuming mystic vision of the Holy Trinity. This clearly indicates firstly that, in spite of appearances, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is of great importance to Dante, and secondly that a central structural feature of the Comedy is the reversal of Virgil’s tragic story into a victorious one. Indeed, it has been pointed out that both Beatrice and Dante may be seen as a successful Orpheus: in one sense, obviously, it is Beatrice who descends into hell in order to save Dante;(24) but in another sense, also, Dante the poet redeems Beatrice from the shade of death—at least so long as men can breathe or eyes can see—by reviving her in his poetry.(25)

    It appears, therefore, that there is a great deal of familiarity between Adi Da Samraj and Dante Alighieri in the way they treat the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and in the significance they attribute to it. In that regard, the venue of the exhibition The Ascent of Orpheus, the Bargello National Museum in Florence, seems to have been particularly aptly chosen, for it is exactly in these streets that Dante Alighieri—now 750 years ago—was born and grew up, and where, as is generally believed from his exposition in Vita Nova, the flame of his love was enkindled upon first setting eyes on Beatrice Portinari, and where later he became inconsolable by her premature death, his profound grief instigating his far-reaching philosophical quest.(26) All of which has served to show that, in whatever way Adi Da’s art may be regarded as unique, he is certainly not original or unique in turning the tragic version of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a victorious one, or to attribute a spiritual, philosophical, or soteriological significance to either version of the story. It is rather that Adi Da is reasserting this ancient tradition in a time in which it had largely been forgotten. Adi Da has written of his own work: “The art I make and do re-establishes the (necessary) right and true connection to the great (and total) world-tradition of art.”(27) A significant part of this re-establishment, evidently, is the revival of a longstanding hermeneutical tradition which recognized in Orpheus the perfect icon of the incarnation of a divine liberator, one who descends into the realm of darkness in order to attract beings, both human and non-human, to himself by his divine play, and lead them out of that darkness into the divine domain of light. It is all the more remarkable that Adi Da effects this through the medium of the most pristine and exquisite forms of abstract modern art.

    Adi Da Samraj. Transcendental Realism: The Image-Art of egoless Coincidence With Reality Itself. Middletown (CA): Dawn Horse Press, 2010.
    Adi Da Samraj: The Ascent of Orpheus. Exhibition catalogue. Bargello National Museum, Firenze. Livorno: Sillabe, 2015.
    Bernabé, A. and Jiménez San Christóbal, A.I. Instructions for the Netherworld: the Orphic Gold Tablets. Leiden: Brill, 2008.
    Bowra, C.M. “Orpheus and Eurydice”. In: The Classical Quarterly. Vol. II. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952.
    Dronke, P. “The Return of Eurydice”. In: Classica et Mediaevalia 23. Copenhagen: Librairie Gyldendal, 1962.
    Durling, R. (tr. & ed.). The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. Vol. 1: Inferno. Notes by R. Durling & R. Martinez. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
    ———. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. Vol. 2: Purgatorio. 2003.
    ———. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. Vol. 3: Paradiso. 2011.
    Eliade, M. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton University Press, 1972 (or. 1951).
    Friedman, J. B. Orpheus in the Middle Ages. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1970.
    Jacoff, R. “Intertextualities in Arcadia: Purgatorio 30.49-51”. In: Jacoff, R. and Schnapp, J.T. (eds.). The Poetry of Allusion: Virgil and Ovid in Dante’s Commedia. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1991.
    Jesnick, I. J. The Image of Orpheus in Roman Mosaic: An Exploration of the Figure of Orpheus in Graeco-Roman Art and Culture with Special Reference to its Expression in the Medium of Mosaic in Late Antiquity. Oxford: Archeopress, 1997.
    Heitmann, K. “Orpheus im Mittelalter”. In: Archiv für Kulturgeschichte. Vol. 45. Berlin: Duncker, 1963.
    Lee, M. O. Virgil as Orpheus: A study of the Georgics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.
    León, P. “Orpheus and the Devil in Calderón’s El divino Orfeo c 1634”. In: Warden, J. (ed.). Orpheus: The Metamorphoses of a myth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.
    McGee, T.J. “Orfeo and Euridice, the First Two Operas”. In: Warden, J. (ed.). Orpheus: The Metamorphoses of a myth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.
    Moevs, C. The Metaphysics of Dante’s Comedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
    Robbins, E. “Famous Orpheus”. In: Warden, J. (ed.). Orpheus: The Metamorphoses of a myth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.
    Robson, C.A. “Medieval Allegories on Ovid and the Divina Commedia”. In: Oxford Dante Society. Centenary Essays on Dante. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965.
    Walsh, P.G. “Introduction”. In: Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999.
    West, M. L. The Orphic Poems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.

    1. For instance three eleventh-century poems in Latin (Dronke, 198-200); or the first three Italian operas, which all take the myth as their subject (McGee, 164-67).
    2. The Ascent of Orpheus, 13-14.
    3. While the name of Orpheus is first recorded in the seventh century BCE, the first evidence of the name of Eurydice associated with his dates from as late as the late fourth century BCE (Lee, 7).
    4. Dronke 200-05; Lee 3-8; Robbins 15-17; Jesnick, 12n38.
    5. Lee, 11; Dronke, 201.
    6. As Bowra (1952) argues, who deduces from the versions in Virgil and Ovid the existence of an earlier but since lost Greek poem. Jesnick, 21.
    7. Jesnick, 12n39.
    8. Jesnick 12.
    9. Jesnick, 16. Friedman, 41; Dronke 207.
    10. Jesnick, 109-11
    11. Bernabé, 133-35; 179-205. Eliade, 391-92.
    12. De Civitate Dei, XVIII, 14; Jesnick 110.
    13. West, 228; 30-31; Friedman, 80-81; Jesnick, 34.
    14. Friedman, 53-58; Dronke 207-08.
    15. Friedman, 126-128; Heitmann, 285-86.
    16. Heitmann, 286-288; and León (p. 183) : “Here the allegory of Orpheus as the word of God, Eurydice as the bride of Christ, Aristaeus as the Devil, is given its final and fullest statement.”
    17. Heitmann, 255; 274; Friedman 90-91.
    18. Walsh, xxiv-xxvii; Moevs, 58-63.
    19. Cons. Phil. III.m12, 1-4. Friedman, 95.
    20. Heitmann, 274-84; Friedman, 98-116.
    21. Durling 2011, 695-702; 744-749.
    22. Robson 1-38, relevant notes on pp. 28 and 36; and Giorgio Paduan: “È singolare che il poeta non accenni mai al bellissimo mito di Euridice (e al viaggio nell’oltretomba) nè alla truce fine di Orfeo, pur così ampiamente descritti da Ovidio.” From: “Orfeo”, Enciclopedia Dantesca (1973).
    23. The pilgrim’s speech when he realizes that Virgil has vanished runs thus:
    Ma Virgilio n’avea lasciati scemi
    di sé—Virgilio, dolcissimo patre,
    Virgilio, a cui per mia salute die’mi— (Purg. XXX, 49-51)
    In the relevant passage in the Georgics, the name of Eurydice in each instance occurs at exactly the same position in the line (second, third and first word respectively) in which Virgil’s name occurs in the passage in the Divine Comedy.
    […] Eurydicen vox ipsa et frigida lingua
    ah miseram Eurydicen! anima fugiente vocabat:
    Eurydicen toto referebant flumine ripae. (Georgics, Book IV, 525-527)
    24. As acknowledged by the pilgrim in his final address to her, echoing the abovecited terzina from Purgatorio:
    “O donna in cui la mia speranza vige
    e che soffristi per la mia salute
    in inferno lasciar le tue vestige” (Par. XXXI, 79-81)
    25. Jacoff, 136-37.
    26. Durling 2011, 696-697.
    27. Transcendental Realism, 165.

  2. What seems most radical about Adi Da’s re-telling of the Orpheus myth is his suggestion in the subtitle of Eurydice One that the fall into the dark underworld is illusory. Key to the pathos of the myth in any telling is the disappearance of Eurydice in the moment of the fall and the reality of the dark world below as the place where love is (temporarily or permanently) lost. If Adi Da is suggesting that the fall itself does not happen/is not true or that the world to which Eurydice apparently descends is an illusion while at the same time depicting an abstract descent and subsequent rise via color and shape, the narrative is new, and cycles between the known and the unknown. Elsewhere on this site Adi Da is quoted as using the term “plane of meaning.” Meaning is usually conveyed as a more locatable thing, a concrete idea: the “point.” This horizon of locatedness in meaning as well as the in the formal elements of the images is of interest to me.

  3. For an exhibition called The Ascent of Orpheus, the commentary seems to be all about various transformations of Renaissance perspective, with the actual myth of Orpheus and Eurydice treated primarily as illustration. Yet there would have been no Renaissance without the rediscovery of classical Greek mythology and philosophy, which occurred before and in parallel with the experiments in perspective, dramatically shifting the content and attitude of Renaissance art from that inherited from the Middle Ages.

    Thanks primarily to Ovid, Orpheus was a key figure in that rediscovery, in part because of his association with the Orphic mysteries. As Broquet has argued, “Orpheus, with his associations to Greek, Egyptian, and possibly Hebrew religion, offers a uniquely powerful symbol of universal sacred tradition that would appeal greatly to Renaissance scholars and philosophers intent on reconciling pagan and Christian traditions.”

    As the consummate “artist-lover”, Orpheus, and the Eurydice myth, were particularly interesting to Renaissance painters, as pagan and Christian sensibilities on the nature of death and immortality encountered each other. For example, Titian’s version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth portrays Eurydice’s dual deaths – physical from snakebite, and spiritual, as Orpheus turns and she falls back into Hades.

    Regarding the “radical re-imagining” of the successful ascent of Orpheus, Emmet Robbins has written interestingly about other early versions of the myth in which Orpheus succeeded in bringing back Eurydice, in John Wardens’ edited collection, Orpheus: The Metamorphoses of a Myth.

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