A collage of phrases from myths about grief, descent and return, punishment, and what we can bring back from the depths.
I was reading Ithacan author Aaron Sachs’s Up From the Depths, and he mentioned that the writer Lewis Mumford once recommended humanity’s Orphic legacy over its Promethean one - which I thought was an appealing way to say that the gift of music, harmony, and poetry is more transformative and ultimately beneficial to us than the gift of technology, however helpful. As a musician and a technologist, that line stuck with me.
It occurred to me to look at the results of those two characters’ story lines in myth: Prometheus was doomed to eternal punishment (having his liver eaten daily by an eagle); Orpheus did his katabasis - descent to the underworld - to rescue his wife, Eurydice, and returned, although because he didn’t trust the process, Eurydice was sent back - but they were ultimately reunited.
So: the technologist gets eternal punishment, while the musician at least gets to connect with his love, and though he feels tremendous loss, he gets a normal afterlife.
In one telling, Circe was Prometheus’s beloved niece, and was on hand when he was judged. So she gets to be in the song, as well as Eurydice and the two guys.
I had an idea of this as being sung by Enya, featuring Hozier. So, I read about the Celtic correspondences with Orpheus and Prometheus.
Orpheus seems to have a clear Brittanic parallel in Sir Orfeo and his wife Heurodis, who was sick and thought to have died, but Orfeo discovered that she was instead taken to a faery land “three miles deep” through a mountain, where she would never die. He found her and brought her back to the land of the living - a completely successful trip, apparently.
A Celtic correspondence to Prometheus (apparently for linguistic reasons) is Corrgend, who murdered Aed in a jealous rage, and was sentenced to carry Aed’s dead body until he could find the right stone to bury him under. The stone, when he found it, was so heavy that Corrgend’s heart gave out when he tried to lift it.
Another correspondence that occurred while I was developing this: Dr. Frankenstein is subtitled “the Modern Prometheus” and he carries a stolen dead body.
Orfeo, Heurodis is taken
three miles deep where she shall not die
bringing light to the sightless
long before the dawn
half of them are blind
and the day will brook no equal
to the edge to the limit
going over gone beyond
bearing the stone
over road after road
tis by it my heart is bursting
the eagle is flying
can't take the dying
grief and mourning
the fire will not save us
and nor will the bloody lance
put the lyre in his hand
and the rock starts to dance
don't look back
i won't look back
until we stand in light
tjw: synths, electric guitar, vocals
Kate Khosla: vocals