Sunday, July 02, 2006

David Halperin on Eurydice

From "The Best Lover," an essay in the forthcoming collection Dead Lovers: Erotic Bonds and the Study of Premodern Europe (ed. Basil Dufallo and Peggy McCracken):
Eurydice never was the slightest use to anyone when she was alive. No poet, writer, or composer has ever succeeded in making the living Eurydice interesting. The entire point of her existence is to furnish Orpheus with an occassion for song -- to provide him with his most powerful inspiration, the source of a supreme masterpiece, a work of art stronger than death. But only the dead Eurydice can do that. Orpheus's mistake is to rescuscitate her; the revived Eurydice, querulous and uncomprehending, is nobody's idea of a good time. Fortunately for everyone, she doesn't last long.

I don't actually agree with the assessment, and think it likely speaks more about Halperin than Orpheus (surely the sadness of Eurydice fading from her husband's untrusting, backward gaze counts for something?), but I like the way he reverses the traditional reading of the loss. His essay is quite good, and I'll post more about it and the collection soon. Right now I'm reading the galleys in my role as blurbiste.

3 comments:

Eileen Joy said...

This book sounds extremely interesting and I love David Halperin, but I would be remiss if I didn't note that the sentence, "the revived Eurydice, querulous and uncomprehending, is nobody's idea of a good time," made me wince. It has that je ne sais quoi tinge of the misogynistic in it.

J J Cohen said...

Agreed, and thus I write "it likely speaks more about Halperin than Orpheus." Halperin's apparent lack of interest in feminist writers who have tackled similar subjects (see esp. Saint Foucault) has always bothered me.

Just Another Traveler said...

And there's always Rilke's take on the story in his poem which climaxes wonderfully when Hermes says "Er hat sich umgewendet" (he has turned around) and Eurydice responds "Wer?" (who?).