Orpheus and Eurydice
Andy - Historical and Legacy
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has remained prominent in Western and Eurocentric societies since antiquity, with 1959’s “Black Orpheus” by French filmmaker Marcus Camus being of particular importance. In this essay, I will analyze the historical influence and context that inspired Camus, how “Black Orpheus” was originally reviewed, before discussing how scholars view the film in both negative and positive ways today. Ultimately, this essay will portray “Black Orpheus” as a historically impactful film with a complex legacy.
Historically, the inspiration behind Camus’ endeavor started with the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre had coined the term “Orphée Noire,” or “Black Orpheus,” to describe how African diasporas were redefining parts of Black culture separate from Eurocentric influence (Schliephake 124). While Afro-Brazilians termed this “Black revival,” this term was not then used by Western audiences, as Afro-Brazilian culture was still considered obscure at the time. However, Camus, who had read Sartre’s work and had an interest in Brazilian media, decided to incorporate both angles into a film adaptation of Orfeu da Conceição, a Brazilian play by Vinicius de Moraes about Orpheus and Eurydice (Steans 15). However, rather than base his adaptation on solely the play, Camus decided to intertwine elements of the Black revivial movement.
At release, Camus was the first person to introduce the idea of Afro-Brazilian cultural revival to the West, as no previous Western director had attempted to create a theatrical work about the racism and other conditions that led to Black revival (Steans 15). As such, the work was widely acclaimed as an accessible introduction to Brazilian culture and considered a work of art, garnering acclaims from the Cannes Film Festival, Golden Globe Awards, and Oscars (Steans 14). Critics also praised the lead actors for the choreography and cinematography that the film employed, which they deemed as masterful tools to portray both the Black experience and a retelling of a well-known myth (Kauffmann 23). The critical acclaim has continued to be overwhelmingly positive, as critical reviews of the historical film consider “Black Orpheus” to be foundational to exploring the Afro-Brazilian experience and showcasing it for non-Brazilians.
However, the historical legacy of “Black Orpheus” has not remained entirely positive. Black academics have viewed the film as a misguided introduction of Black revival to Eurocentric audiences. Camus’ work serves as a misappropriation of Black actors and art (Lord 141; Schliephake 122). They argue that Camus can be thought of as a malicious agent of colonialism who tried to “give meaning to [Afro-Brazilian] cultural expressions… with a cultural memory of the Western tradition,” resulting in “neocolonialism” (Schliephake 122). They argue that even if Camus was not aware of the film’s neocolonialist undertones, the portrayal of Black people and culture in the film devalues them. This criticism stems from a more robust discourse on how an artist’s background affects their portrayal of other experiences.
Yet, parts of the positive legacy persist into the modern discourse surrounding “Black Orpheus.” Brazilian scholar Glauco Ortolano praises the film for helping Brazilian media become popular worldwide (Ortolano and Porter 23). To scholars like Ortolano, the film’s role as a pivotal piece of media is the film’s primary legacy. They believe that the film showcases that “people of African descent [can] find creative ways to resist and transcend difficult situations” (Steans 15). In this way, the film can be viewed as an important part of featuring the Black experience in cinema. “Black Orpheus” can also be argued to be an influential work that has helped shape modern trends in Brazilian and non-Western culture to Western audiences, as without its legacy, these cultures may not have rose to as much prominence in that period of time, or even today.
Ultimately, “Black Orpheus” is a film with a complex historical legacy. While initially praised by Eurocentric audiences as an introduction to Afro-Brazilian culture through a myth that was well-known in that culture, the film was viewed less positively for being a product of neocolonialism and exploitation of Black people. However, this robust discourse represents the enduring legacy of such a film, and the continued need to understand how myths and their recountings have a real impact on our world today.
Jada Xu - Comparative Analysis
Orpheus and Eurydice is a renowned tale from Greek mythology, telling a fateful story of love, devotion, tragedy, and loss. It has been an inspiration through the ages with a myriad of adaptations and retellings, even to modern day. However, while some recounts remain faithful to the original version found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, others contain deviations. The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, a short film by Gucci depicting the tale in the modern world, contains similarities to the original myth by following its storyline, but contains differences in its introduction of an additional character and its incomplete conclusion.
Even though the Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice takes place in modern day, it is similar to the original myth by staying true to the plot. Like the original myth found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the textbook Classical Mythology, the story begins with Orpheus and Eurydice’s marriage. However, their happiness was cut short when Eurydice was bitten by a snake in a park and passed away. Rather than moving on from her death, Orpheus journeys to an underground club that represents the underworld and enters the presence of Hades, where he plays a guitar to convince him to return Eurydice to the world of the living. Moved by his music, Hades agrees, telling him that Eurydice will be following behind and that he must not look back until they were out of the underworld. Orpheus grabs Eurydice’s hand and they make their way out. However, a passerby bumps into her, causing her hand to slip from Orpheus’s. Like the Orpheus from the original myth who “was frightened that she might not be well and yearning to see her with his own eyes,” Orpheus from the retelling turned and looked, and there was nothing he could do to stop Eurydice from “slipping away and down” and returning to the underworld (Metamorphoses, 10.53-56). Thus, despite having a modern setting, the Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice contains many similarities to the original through its nearly identical storyline.
However, the Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has differences to the original myth through the introduction of an additional character and its incomplete conclusion. In the original, there were only three main characters – Orpheus, Eurydice, and Hades. However, in Gucci’s retelling, there was a woman dressed in red that appeared constantly through the film, such as gazing at the couple during their wedding, following them during their walks in the park, and watching Eurydice as she dies from the snake bite without helping. I believe that she might represent death or one of the Fates to foreshadow tragedy, or that she might be one of Orpheus’s jealous lovers unhappy that Eurydice was the one he loved. Another difference would be the incomplete conclusion. In Metamorphoses, the tale continues with Orpheus turning down women after Eurydice’s death, which caused many hopeful lovers to be upset. Sure enough, “in their sacrilege, they destroyed him” by tearing him apart (Metamorphoses 11.61-66). However, the story ends on a lighter note with Orpheus being reunited with Eurydice in the underworld, “here now they walk together side by side, […] sometimes he goes ahead and safely now looks back at his Eurydice” (Metamorphoses 11.61-66). However, in Gucci’s retelling, the story simply ends after Orpheus loses Eurydice to the underworld by looking back. On one hand, I understand why Gucci might have chosen to conclude the film there, because having Orpheus gaze hollowly at the street where Eurydice is a poetic ending. At the same time, Orpheus’s dismemberment and reunification with Eurydice in death was also a significant part of the original myth, and it would have been just as powerful if the film incorporated the original conclusion inside. Therefore, even though Gucci’s retelling faithfully follows Ovid’s storyline, its additional character and its incomplete conclusion differ from the original version of the myth.
The Myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has certainly done justice to the original story as presented in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and tells a compelling story of love, devotion, and loss. Like how the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has already inspired renowned brands such as Gucci to produce films and retellings of it, I am sure that it will continue to inspire many more.
Zhi/Vicky - Scholarly Criticism
Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the great love stories from Greek mythology, which portrays the tale of the musician Orpheus and his wife Eurydice. The tragic love story features love, death, poetry, and the afterlife. Why has this romantic tragedy fascinated people for centuries? Are people looking for a ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ kind of doomed relationship? Let’s take a look from the scholar’s perspective to look at the story from a different angle. The author’s name is Alastair Blanshard, Paul Eliadis Chair of Classics and Ancient History Deputy Head of School, The University of Queensland.
Although Orpheus loved his wife very much that he could kill himself to join Eurydice’s death, this kind of devotion is not very rational and realistic. According to Blanshard, the story doesn’t really make sense. “Why throw away at the last minute everything you’ve struggled so hard to get?” I didn’t get it either. If I were Orpheus, I would not walk myself into the fire. Maybe the original story just wanted to show a fantasy that people yearn for, or maybe the mysterious storyline intrigues curiosity, the story itself is somewhat fundamentally absurd. Moreover, Plato wasn’t a big fan of the love story. He thought Orpheus took the easy way out. He reasoned if Orpheus really wanted to be with Eurydice, he should have just killed himself and joined her in death forever.” Because Orpheus is able to retrieve his beloved wife and still have an earthy existence, it doesn’t really seem like a loss for him. Instead, it was a win-win for him to descend into the underworld, so he fulfilled his will in seeing his wife and retained his ability to be back on earth, showing only half-hearted devotion. “Is this myth about the power of love or the triumph of death?” or it could be both. From my understanding, it seems like Orpheus’s action was a little controversial. He wanted to bring his wife back, but he wasn’t brave enough to look back and make sure that his wife had followed him, and he lost her. He went through death and sacrificed himself because he was so desperate to recover his wife, but he failed to turn around to even take one glance at Eurydice, which condemned her back to the underworld again. It was so sad to see that all efforts were in vain. It was quite ironic that all Orpheus wanted to bring his wife back, but he was leaving the Underworld without her after all. “This is the Underworld we’re talking about: you can’t just pop back if you’ve forgotten something, like the supermarket.”
Overall, the main emotion that drove Orpheus was fear and doubt. I couldn’t deny that he is a talented and legendary musician, and he loved his wife very much. But the myths still remain unsolved on his confusion and his half-hearted devotion. Blanshard’s argument showed Orpheus’s failure of his determination.
Clarissa Robison - Personal Perspective
Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the most famous Greek myths of all time, with many retellings and pieces of art inspired by the original myth from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It has all the classic elements of a great, but tragic love story, which probably contributes to its popularity. Our piece that we selected to represent in this exhibition is the Academy Award winning film, Black Orpheus, which was directed by Marcel Camus. The story rewrites the original myth by placing the characters in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. I will be looking at both the original myth and the retelling and showing you all what this myth means to me.
The first thing I want to touch on is the basic plot of this myth, which is a love story. Orpheus loses the love of his life, but is willing to face Hades, the god of the Underworld, to bring her back to him. I think that is one of the reasons this story is so popular is because a lot of people want a great love story like that. They want to find someone who would be willing to face a god so that they could spend the rest of their life with you. Orpheus even appeals to the love Hades has for Persephone by saying “if the story of the abduction of long ago is not a lie, Love also brought you two together” (Metamorphoses 10.28-29). This just goes to show that love is something so extraordinary that even the gods answer to it.
Another part of this myth that really stands out to me is the aspect of fear. When Orpheus is leaving the Underworld he turns back at the last second to look at Eurydice because he is “frightened that she might not be well and yearning to see her with his own eyes” (Metamorphoses 10.51). It helps the audience understand that even great heroes in Greek mythology are not perfect and make mistakes. I know when I first read the myth I was annoyed because he was almost out of the Underworld and if he waited one more second she would be alive. But after reading it again I think this part of the myth shows how fear can get the best of us sometimes.
After looking at Black Orpheus and comparing it to Ovid’s version of the myth, I think it brings even more depth to the story by setting it during Carnival in Rio. It introduces amazing bossa nova music, dancing, and bright colors that make this story even more enjoyable and relatable. It was also said that this movie introduced the world to Brazil, which is why it was such a huge success in Europe and America, but there is also a lot of criticism because the movie seemed to portray a “foreigner’s take on Carnival” (Gan, “Black Orpheus: How a French Film Introduced the World to Brazil”). Overall when looking at the film in relation to the myth I think the film does a spectacular job at keeping the original aspects of the myth that I love, while making it into a really enjoyable movie.
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