The original tells of Orpheus and Eurydice and the story of her death, but focuses on Orpheus and his efforts to locate her and bring her back to the world of the living.
Sarah Ruhl‘s Eurydice focuses on what happens to Eurydice in the Underworld.
She dies on her wedding day, kidnapped by the Lord of the Underground who promises her a letter from her dead father.
She arrives, confused and with no memory of life among the living. Her father, who has never forgotten her, finds her and together they rebuild her memories.
Meanwhile, Orpheus tries everything he can think of to get to the Underworld to rescue his beloved wife. His music makes the gatekeepers weep, and he is let in to bargain for her return. There’s a condition for her departure, Orpheus mustn’t turn back. Turning in response to hearing his name called, Eurydice is sent back to the Underworld, where she dies a second time.
San Jose’s City Lights Theatre Company’s bilingual performances in American Sign Language and English provided an exquisite twist to the usual theatre production. Each character was portrayed both by an English and an ASL speaker. The ASL actors made it a sort of play within a play, interacting with their English speaking counterpart and each other. CLTC’s intimate setting is a perfect place to see small productions like this.
It’s been about a week since I attended and I’m still struggling with how to write about it. The theme of love, both filial and romantic made me tear up in unexpected ways. As did themes of memory and communication. To be loved that much, to be cared for that deeply, to be led back to memories and learn better communication … I found it moving, unsettling, challenging, and thought-provoking.
Most memorable for me is Lauren Rhodes as the English speaking Eurydice, whose shouted, “I’m very angry at you!” made me proud. Women are so rarely allowed to show their anger, that to allow Eurydice to express hers is a high note. It’s one that sticks with me even now.
And I must mention Erik Gandolfi (English) and Dane K. Lentz (ASL) who perform the Lord of the Underworld with unhinged glee. Gandolfi’s costume in the underworld features a school boys’ uniform with short pants and a bright red jacket. The eerie little boys’ voice made this performance all the more chilling.
After Orpheus loses Eurydice the second time, he stands at the threshold to the world of the living expressing his anguish and grief. In a cross talk dialogue, he says, “Your timing was always off! I would tell you that if you didn’t come in on the downbeat, you’d lose everything.”
Meanwhile, Eurydice stands in the Underground shouting, “I’m sorry!”
Stephanie Foisy (ASL) added a poignant dimension to the already distraught Orpheus, portrayed by the English speaking Robert Sean Campbell.
As I left, tears in my eyes and my heart filled with unprocessed emotion, I walked past a table with pieces of paper and pens made available for anyone who wanted to write a note to someone who’d died. It occurred to me that I didn’t really get to say a proper goodbye to the friend I’d known for over 30 years who died from cancer nearly five years ago. So I stopped and wrote a little note to him.
Out into the bright Sunday afternoon light, I tried to make sense of how such a performance could have a profound effect on me. A week later, I’m still sorting it out but no longer hurting as deeply as I was then. Emotions wax and wane, it’s their nature. We just gotta hold on for the roller coaster ride.
Then there’s Bart Ehrman, the once born-again Christian, now atheist New Testament scholar at University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, blew my socks clear across the room. A lot of things I remembered from my youthful days as an Episcopalian made a different kind of sense. I’ve read many of Ehrman’s books and learned a lot about the history, and politics, of the early Christian church.
All of this to say, LitHub has a fascinating article by Jay Parini about Paul, the founder of the Christian church. Some of which reinforces what I’ve already learned, and what would upset Evangelicals if they ever bothered to actually learn their history.
Jesus’ last name was not Christ, it was a title. And in Jesus’ time there were many wandering the desert claiming to be the Messiah.
Jesus was not a Christian, nor did he found the Christian church. He was Jewish, trying to set Judaism back on the path of rightness.
Jesus was a rabble-rouser and was killed by the Roman authorities because his views interfered with their ability to govern and collect taxes from the Jews.
It was Paul who codified the teachings of Jesus into what is now recognized as the Christian church, long after Jesus died. Paul traveled the region tirelessly preaching and writing about his interpretation of Jesus’ life.
Parini, like Ehrman, learned Greek (Koine Greek) in order to read the New Testament in the original. What he found there was different from the popular notions of Christianity and the early church.
“This is astonishing. The whole universe of enlightenment will be found within the individual psyche, or soul … . The Christian message is, in effect, a message of reconciliation between the individual and the universe itself … “
This message, the one of being a part of the larger universe is one that speaks to me more thoroughly than any religious ideology. And, I’m finding more and more thoughtful people who find resonance in it too. However we go about making peace with ourselves and the ineffable, it’s important to realize it’s work that must be done in order to survive the chaos that is the world around us.
“Being a successful, middle-aged, overweight woman, people are so angry that you’re stepping out of line,” she said. “Sometimes it really gets me down.” (Alexandra Alter, New York Times, The Evolution of E. L. James, April 12, 2019)
I would amend E. L. James’ comment to “being a middle-aged, overweight woman, people are angry when [they think] you step out of line.” Something else we agree on, the women she describes are invisible.
That’s where our agreement ends because as much as I adore writers, and believe we get to write and read whatever we want, the woman who wrote fan fiction based on teenaged vampires is not someone whose work I would ever read.
People in the know tell me Fifty Shades of Grey really damaged the kink/fetish community because she wrote about it wrong. And from what I hear it wasn’t about consent at all. It was abusive. And now I read her new book is more of the same.
Let’s be clear, I am against censorship, and I am in no way encouraging she not be published. Nor am I encouraging people not read her.
What I am saying is women have a hard enough time being taken seriously anywhere, and fantasies written about men sweeping an unlikely candidate off her feet and abusing her in the name of love are not helping.
Glorifying non-consensual unbalanced power relationships just sets everyone up to believe that’s okay. Fetish/kink is all about consent. Nothing happens between people unless there is a clear understanding of what’s allowed and isn’t. We should all be so lucky as to know what we’re in for.
“Bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadism are ‘varsity-level’ sex activities, as the sex columnist Dan Savage might say, and they require a great deal of self-knowledge, communication skill, and education. Fifty Shades eroticizes sexual violence, but without any of the emotional maturity and communication required to make it safe.” (Emma Green, Consent Isn’t Enough: The Troubling Sex of Fifty Shades, The Atlantic, February 10, 2015)
I may have taken more than a little glee in Sophie Gilbert’s glorious take down of James’ new book. Maybe.
“It’s not just that [the book] is bad. It’s that it’s bad in ways that seem to cause the space-time continuum itself to wobble, slightly, as the words on the page rearrange themselves into kaleidoscopic fragments of repetition and product placement.” (Sophie Gilbert, The Indelible Awfulness of E. L. James’s The Mister, The Atlantic, April 18, 2019)
I will end by saying good for E. L. James for following her passion and getting published. That’s a dream most writers never see come true. And good for her for making so much money, and being smart about it.
It’s disheartening that such obviously poorly written books about a sexually abusive relationship which is emotionally dangerous is so popular. Women all over the world probably think this is the way romantic relationships are supposed to work, and will continue to pine for their multi-millionaire fantasy man to rescue them from a dreary, sexless reality.
Stand up for yourself! Engage your own agency and find happiness within yourself. If kink is your thing, find a community which will help you explore it in a physically and emotionally healthy way. Get a vibrator for goodness’ sake. No man is going to rescue you.
Lookee here! Three weeks of posting daily. Writing ahead and scheduling hasn’t been working out so I race home after work and write. And for some reason, the scheduling feature on WordPress has stopped working. Neither of the plugins I downloaded work either. So no regularly scheduled posts at 1700 each day. Daily posts when I get to a computer and can push the button.
Over on Twitter, there was a discussion about personal hygiene as a seduction tool. Apparently, because the Viking invaders into what’s now England brushed their hair and cleaned their teeth every day, washed their clothes, and took a bath once a week, the women were leaving their husbands in droves.
“It must be recognized that the Christians of the time avoided bathing specifically because they considered too much cleanliness to be a sign of vanity, which was sin. Thus the infamous smelliness of the medieval period began.” (C. J. Arden, Were the Vikings Dirty?03/20/2015)
To put this in context, the Viking age was ~793–1066 AD. But what I got to wondering about was, when did we go from cleanliness as a vanity and a sin to cleanliness is next to Godliness?
My brief search led me to John Wesley who, in a sermon in 1778, stated that cleanliness was indeed next to Godliness. (There’s a lot of media and books available by and about him here at the Internet Archive, a cool place in itself.)
But even in 1778 personal hygiene was more difficult than we have today. It’s a good reminder we should never expect our norms to fit history. Things evolve and change. I’m grateful every day for indoor plumbing and hot and cold running water.
Title: Alexander Hamilton
Author: Ron Chernow
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publisher’s Blurb: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.
Title: Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth
Author: Stephen F. Knott
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Publisher’s Blurb: …explores the shifting reputation of our most controversial founding father. Since the day Aaron Burr fired his fatal shot, Americans have tried to come to grips with Alexander Hamilton’s legacy. Stephen Knott surveys the Hamilton image in the minds of American statesmen, scholars, literary figures, and the media, explaining why Americans are content to live in a Hamiltonian nation but reluctant to embrace the man himself.
“The image of Hamilton fashioned by Jefferson and his allies has endured and flourished, and the Hamilton of American memory is a Hamilton who championed privilege and who was a foe of liberty.” (Knott, p. 26)
Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and Stephen F. Knott’s Alexander Hamilton & the Persistence of Myth offer a unique insight to both the man, and the legend of the man.
And while I have pondered long and hard about how to write about Hamilton without turning into a Thomas Jefferson bashing machine, it is difficult to talk about one without the other. Thanks to Jefferson and his network of devoted mouthpieces, Hamilton’s reputation remains in tatters centuries after the founding of the US.
That it took a musical based on Chernow’s book to address, and repair, Hamilton’s reputation is a statement on how deeply entrenched lies and rumors become. It’s also a statement on how easy it is to believe the worst in people instead of looking for the best.
Not that Hamilton was a complete paragon of virtue, and could, “at moments of supreme stress, … screw himself up to an emotional pitch that was nearly feverish in intensity.” (Chernow, p. 115) It is hard to imagine how a man with such an towering intellect could have so many blind spots, and be so stupid.
Soaring blind spots seem to go hand in hand with towering intellect. Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and James Madison, all seemed to be intimidated by Hamilton’s intellect. “The byzantine, interrelated nature of his programs (e.g. central banking, professional standing military, international trade with Britain) made him all the more the bane and terror of his opponents.” (Chernow, p. 349)
Nuance, and the lack of understanding thereof, is the two-edged blade of smart people everywhere. It’s baffling how so many around us just don’t understand what we think is an easy idea. “… things were so blindingly self-evident to Hamilton that he was baffled when others didn’t grasp them quickly – an intellectual agility that could breed intolerance for less quick-witted mortals.” (Chernow, p. 119)
Knott picks up this thread, “At bottom, Jefferson could not countenance the fact that an immigrant upstart without the appropriate pedigree … dared challenge him.” (Knott, p. 11)
Jefferson presented the image of a down-home gentleman farmer who understood the agrarian slave-holding farmers of Virginia. He came from wealth, owned property and was a slaveholder. That the bastard child of poverty from the island of Nevis in the Caribbean should rise up and challenge him was more than Jefferson could tolerate.
As is also sometimes true of very smart people, Hamilton was not a crafty plotter and “often could not muzzles his opinions.” (Chernow, p. 176) The myth which has stuck to Hamilton most is that the people are a “great beast,” not to be trusted with direct democracy.
Hamilton was right, but there’s a nuance long missed by his detractors. Trusting a mob mentality to make sensible decisions, especially those involving running a government is a bad idea. As individuals, we are smart and sensible. Of course we know, individually, what we want and need from our government leaders. Put us in a big group and mob mentality takes over, and no one has a good idea, not even what’s for dinner.
This myth about Hamilton continues to live because of he understood the unruliness of a mob. On this point, he was accused of hating all people, especially the less-privileged and standing for something like a monarchy in America. Lesser minds were too busy making up lies and spreading gossip to try to understand the nuance in Hamilton’s statements.
He wasn’t against a democracy per se, he was against allowing the unruly mob have such power. Among other political factors, this is one of the reasons we’re stuck with the electoral college. How else to avoid the mistakes of mob rule?
In the late 18th century it was impossible to believe the republic would ever be big enough, educated enough, and sensible enough to have good decision making processes. Women read? Slaves freed and owning land? Hah, never happen.
Except Hamilton sort of expected it, even if he couldn’t get past the hypocrisy of being white, educated, (male), and marrying into money. His heart and ideals were in the right place, though. His background prepared him well to understand why paying and supplying the militias was important. He championed a standing professional army, precisely because farmers arriving on the field of battle with a pitchfork were woefully unprepared for the rigors of professional fighting.
Hamilton even understood the need for a centralized federal bank for economic stability. (And that’s all I’m qualified to recount because the only thing I know about banking is there are too many fees.) He was, according to both Chernow and Knotts, an economic genius. Well, they’re not the only ones, economists over the centuries have sung his praises too.
But these lofty ideas were held in contempt by those threatened by his enormous mind and his exceptional work ethic. I can understand his disinclination to pander or be less forceful when expressing ideas. We just want to get stuff done and don’t have the energy to play the political games at which others are so good.
And those blind spots? How about Hamilton as participant in the nation’s first sex scandal? For over a year, Maria Reynolds, and her husband, caught Hamilton in their thrall and blackmailed him. “Quite understandably, [there were those who] could not conceive that someone as smart and calculating as Hamilton could have stayed as long in thrall to an enslaving passion. Hamilton could not have been stupid enough to pay hush money for sex, [they] alleged, so the money paid … had to involve illicit speculation. In all fairness, … it is baffling that Hamilton submitted to blackmail for so long.” (Chernow, p. 530)
And Hamilton, rather than quietly admitting it and moving on, wrote volumes to be published in newspapers describing every sordid detail. Career was the motive for this, not worry over his marriage to Eliza and their family. After the affair, Hamilton never strayed far from his family, remaining close by until his death.
Which, of course, leads to the duel with Aaron Burr. Hamilton, “born without honor, was exceedingly sensitive to any slights to his political honor.” (Chernow, p. 237) Born without honor, meaning born of suspect parental lineage. Believed to be a bastard, the quickest way to get him riled up was to mention this.
“[Burr] was a chameleon who evaded clear-cut positions on and was a genius at studied ambiguity.” (Chernow, p. 192) He was an opportunist, and could figure out endless ways to profit from any political wrangling surrounding him. Further, Chernow writes, “… Burr was a lone operator, a protean figure who formed alliances for short-term gain.” (p. 421)
He was bent on revenge for Hamilton’s part in Burr’s ostracism from the Jefferson administration and losing the governorship of New York because Hamilton was freely quoted as saying Burr wasn’t fit for office. Hamilton can hardly be blamed for Jefferson dropping Burr from the ticket as VP. The quote about not being fit for office, that part was true.
Weehawken, NJ on July 11, 1804 lives in infamy as the place Burr shot Hamilton, thus ending the career and loving marriage of Alexander Hamilton who only ever wanted to see the US become a strong nation. Burr’s life ended that day too. “…Hamilton committed his last patriotic act, for he ensured that Aaron Burr would never again be a viable player in the politics of the early republic.” (Knott, p. 1)
But, Hamilton’s legend lives on. Depending on the era, he’s been seen as selfish and elitist, interested only in money and power. Depression-era scholars and politicians blamed the Depression on Hamilton, despite being dead for 125 years.
Even his scandalous affair made an appearance during the Clinton impeachment hearings in 1998 when his team presented “a thirty page brief to the House Judiciary Committee citing Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds and the reluctance of Congress to pursue the issue after concluding it was a private matter.” (Knotts, p. 225)
The profound effect Hamilton had on government is immeasurable. Chernow’s nearly 800 page biography follows Hamilton from Nevis to his rise in US politics and his death at the gun of Aaron Burr. Chernow admires Hamilton but doesn’t let that get in the way of the facts as presented.
Stephen F. Knott also admires Hamilton and defends Hamilton against the scurrilous myths which continue to be taken as truth. Between the two, Chernow and Knott present an interesting and entertaining read of a man too intellectual and uncompromising for the likes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Aaron Burr to respect.
Chernow has the best last word, “Any biographer foolhardy enough to attempt an authoritative life of Alexander Hamilton must tread a daunting maze of detail.” (Chernow, p. 733)
In a silly mood recently, I thought there was a joke to be made about how in my more confident days, this was a picture of me taking dictation from my muse. I mean, look at that gorgeous skin …
The painting was used by someone on Twitter and as is my inclination, I went off on a search.
The introduction of Artemisia Gentileschi began with this article which points out if one were to invest in art, one could do worse than investing in her paintings
“She has a position both as a feminist icon, who grappled with the not always beneficial attentions of the opposite sex, but also as an exponent of a robust style of figurative painting.” (Colin Gleadell, The Telegraph, 4 Dec. 18)
“Wait! Who is that?” I wondered and the search widened. Artemisia Gentileschi was the daughter of Orazio, himself a painter of some repute. She became known for paintings of strong women taking charge. Her best known painting is probably Judith Slaying Holofernes (below), in response to her own rape by her mentor, Agostino Tassi. Tassi was hired by Artemisia’s father because women weren’t allowed to attend the art academy. (Tassi was eventually convicted of rape.)
Wow. As I read further, I learned about the Power of Women, an artistic trope depicting “an admonitory and often humorous inversion of the male-dominated sexual hierarchy.” (Wikipedia, op cit)
This is the truncated version of how I finally got to know Artemisia Gentileschi and her work. There’s much to sort through and think about while placing her in the realm of feminist icon.
And, the name of the painting finally revealed itself at Robilant + Voena, in an exhibition of works inspired by La Artemisia.
By way of Atlas Obscura comes the story of Jarramplas, a monster who gets 30 tons of turnips thrown at him by townsfolk in celebration of … no one’s quite sure what. It’s a town tradition with no settled origin story.
As I read, it struck me as one of the many ways people chased demons away. Turnips in Spain, Zozobra in New Mexico, and sin-eating among them.
Although sin-eating may be borderline because it’s not really chasing the demons away. It’s eating a ritual meal over the body by a designated person. By eating this meal, the sin-eater absorbs the sins of the dead resulting in absolution of the deceased’s soul.
Zozobra represents gloom and annually storms Santa Fe determined to spread it over the entire world, beginning with the children. His eventual burning, brought about by fire spirit dancer, chases the gloom, and bad spirits, of the year away. Light returns, and the Fiestas de Santa Fe begins.
Further it brings to mind Shirley Jackson’s story The Lottery, about an annual ritual performed by townspeople who stone the loser of the lottery to death in order to ensure continued well being of the town and bring about a good harvest.