Property of Dynamic Range Media

Property of Dynamic Range Media

Sadly I am unable to think of any seasonally appropriate scary/creepy things to post today (I am saving all of my Halloween material about dreams and nightmares for next week!). Therefore I am dedicating today’s post to hyping my friend’s visionary online TV project! My friend, Dan, is a gifted director in Hollywood who has crafted several online TV programs. The first of these shows is a whole series of mini-webisodes which portray a terrifying near-future dystopia of…wait, actually I will tell you about the action-packed series shortly; first let me explain Dan’s business idea.

Business before ultraviolence...

Business before ultraviolence…

Dan believes that in the near future there will be no broadcast or cable television:   programming will be accessed directly through the internet (indeed, most of the people I know under thirty already get their programs this way). He therefore decided to sidestep the nightmarish business of pandering to sharklike Hollywood producers and make his own content directly for the web.

The web likes original content!

The web likes original content!

Although moving to the web gave Dan and his team endless freedom, it also imposed its own severe limits, since they had to make their first program with a shoestring budget. I mean this literally—Dan had the pecuniary resources for string for shoes. This tiny production budget had to cover cameras, props, professional actors, settings, lights, costumes, special effects, catering, stunts…everything.

Hmm...

Hmm…

Dan’s first program has to work so that he can get more funding for the amazing programs to come. He thus constructed this first show “The Kill Corporation” to appeal to very broad tastes. This is a savage world of primary colors, ruthless characters, and non-stop action.

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The Kill Corporation takes place in the business world of tomorrow. Litigation and internecine office politics have been replaced by “terminal arbitration” a swift and final method of conflict resolution carried out by the eponymous third party corporation. Parties involved in arbitration are understandably desperate to win their disputes and they cajole the arbitrators with every manner of blandishment. Some arbitrators chafe under this corrupt scheme—or become generally lost—and the main way to solve such problems is, of course,  more arbitration.

Pictured: Schlubs

Pictured: Schlubs

This works out as you would imagine with unlikable corporate schlubs desperately bumping each other off in hopes of moving up the hierarchy of their own horrible organization. Painted with the vivid expressionistic lines of classic farce, The Kill Corporation transcends its genre to project a satirical vision of humankind’s eternal inability to administrate anything without producing a bloodbath.

Be forewarned, the website for the series is located within the fictional world of the show. While this means you can’t actually purchase terminal arbitration as billed—it also means you can participate in fun online games and hijinks!

Large bronze head (Sanxingdui, Circa 1300-1200 BC, cast bronze)

Large bronze head (Sanxingdui, Circa 1300-1200 BC, cast bronze)

The traditional narrative of Chinese civilization is that the Han people (who originated on the fertile central plains around the Yellow River) invented cities, writing, advanced agriculture, bronzework, and Chinese civilization in general. The first great era of Han Chinese civilization was the Shang “dynasty” which lasted from 1600 BC to 1046 BC (although stories persist of an earlier—perhaps mythical—Xia dynasty). After the Shang age, the superior Han gradually spread through all of China incorporating lesser peoples into their greater hegemony (which endures to this day as the mighty nation we call China). This narrative was called into question in 1986 when workers at the Lanxing Second Brick Factory in Sichuan discovered an ancient pit full of exceedingly weird and magnificent bronze statues.

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Archaeologists flocked to the site and began researching the civilization which was behind these strange works or art. It became apparent that the bronzeworks came from a culture which was contemporary to Shang dynasty China, but which was not directly connected. These ancient people are known as the Sanxingdui culture. They flourished in the Sichuan region, but, aside from the self-evident fact that they were gifted bronze artists, very little is known about the. Archaeologists speculate that the Sanxingdui people lived unified under a strong centralized theocracy in a walled city; also some Chinese scholars identify the Sanxingdui with the Shu kingdom (which is mentioned occasionally in extremely ancient Shang-era sources). I would love to tell you more, but since the Sanxingdui left no recorded history, that is virtually all we know about the creators of these exquisite bug-eyed sculptures and masks. It is believed that some natural disaster or invasion wiped out their city-state and the survivors became integrated with the Ba culture which were in turn swallowed up by the Chin Empire.

 

Bronze Mask with protruding Eyes (Sanxingdui, circa 1300-1200 BC, bronze)

Bronze Mask with protruding Eyes (Sanxingdui, circa 1300-1200 BC, bronze)

Whatever the truth about them, they made amazing art. In addition to the huge alien faces, animals such as snakes, fish, and birds abound in Sanxingdui artwork—as do zoomorphic combination animals and fantasy creatures like dragons. Practical items such as axes and chariot wheels were also found.  Naturally there is a vocal minority out there who insist that Sanxingdui culture was influenced by aliens, Atlantis, or whatever other supernatural entity du jour is selling books, but to find out more about them, we are going to have to wait for more discoveries.

A sacrificial altar with several four-legged animals supporting bronze humanoid figures (Sanxingdui, ca. 1300-1200 BC, bronze)

A sacrificial altar with several four-legged animals supporting bronze humanoid figures (Sanxingdui, ca. 1300-1200 BC, bronze)

lead-image-halloweenDuring secondary school in rural Ohio the music teacher annually dug out the moth-eaten scores for a bunch of Halloween songs including “Black and Gold,” (the lyrics of which I still somewhat remember). The song was a doggerel hymn about the colors of Halloween season and the lyrics were just a list of black and gold items: jet black cats with golden eyes, golden goblins, pumpkins, and black shadows. Some young wag always said “this should be titled ‘black and orange,’” which I thought was a fair point based on all of the orange and black candy and decorations around.

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Allegedly the seasonal color scheme of black and orange go back to the ancient Celtic traditions which Halloween comes from. Orange (or rich gold/saffron, maybe) is the symbolic color of the harvest, the crops, and the autumn leaves whereas black represents night, death, and winter darkness. It’s a good color combination, but I always wonder whether the seasonal obsession with bright orange and black may be more a result of marketers rather than ancient Celts—or maybe they actually dug out black robes and golden sickles every year for Samhain just like the music teacher got out those smudged Halloween music sheets.

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If it is a marketing tradition, the marketers chose well. Orange and black are beautiful together and perfectly fit the season, but you rarely see people running around wearing this combination other than tigers and baseball players (and tigers aren’t even people). I wonder of there are shopping seasons in the future that likewise will be known by color—like back to school will be aqua and puce. Perhaps the seasonal holiday colors are predetermined by the natural colors season. Do Australians have a creepy death holiday in their fall (our spring) or what? Or is everything just orange, dun, and buff there every season? What are holiday color combinations from other cultures?

Polynesian Halloween?

Polynesian Halloween?

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Our current form—bipedal & prone to toppling, with two limited manipulator arms—always struck me as less functional than it could be. If I were making sentient beings, I would first try something else. I can therefore never understand why robot makers are always trying to copy the humanoid template and create androids. Fortunately there are other robotics experts who are willing to consider more versatile shapes for the next generation of robots. Consider this robot octopus, manufactured by a Greek team.

 

The robo-octopus can swim using traditional octopus jet propulsion (particularly effective because of the elastic webs between its tentacles). It can also crawl along the ocean bottom with its many arms and utilize its synthetic tentacles to carry or manipulate multiple objects.

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So far the robo-octopus is merely an experimental plaything and it has all the awkwardness of some first generation Pre-Cambrian jellyfish, but it is hard not to see immense potential in that adaptable be-tentacled shape. Imagine combining it with a supercomputer and giving it wrap-around artificial eyes. What a magnificent robot that would be!  Indeed, maybe we could utilize such a shape for transhuman cyborgs of the future.  Humans could swim around in three dimensions and be free of all this right-leg/left-leg falling down business!

Cyborg_octopus

 

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We are rapidly coming up to Halloween! In years past, Ferrebeekeeper has celebrated this scary holiday with these week-long special topics: Flowers of the Underworld, Echidna Mother of Monsters, and the Undead. This year I want to write about dreams and dream monsters—so look for a whole series concerning suchlike dream phantasms on the last week of October! Spooky!

pumpkins_roadside_with_forest_0(1)Before we get to dream monsters we have plenty of seasonal topics in the real world to get through. Today’s post is once again about pumpkins—but instead of talking about their color, their long agricultural history, or their seasonal mythology we will instead cut right to the quick and write about pumpkin reproduction. For pumpkins have male and female flowers and thus require a very special third party in order to reproduce. Originally pumpkins were (mostly) pollinated by two related genera of new world bees—the squash bees Peponapis and Xenoglossa (which together constitute the very Roman-sounding tribe Eucerini).

Male Squash bee (Peponapis pruinosa) photo by Douglass Moody

Male Squash bee (Peponapis pruinosa) photo by Douglass Moody

These large bees live symbiotically with pumpkins, squash, and cucumbers (the plant genus Cucurbita) and have historically had almost exactly the same range as cucurbits. Bees of this tribe are about the same size as bumblebees and are pollen specialists adapt at dealing with the narrow-necked but elastic flowers of squash and pumpkins. The bees also have large coarse hairs on their legs to better carry the exceptionally large pollens of pumpkins and heavy squash. I remember after planting a pumpkin patch as a child I fearfully avoiding my vegetable charges because of the fierce buzzing of the doughty bees hiding in the many flowers strewn through the maze of abrasive vines. Brrgh, my skin still shivers to recall the noise, smell, and texture of that part of the garden (which, as an added bonus, was located in clinging gelatinous red-clay mud).

Male squash bee - Peponapis pruinosa (photo by Ron Hemberger)

Male squash bee – Peponapis pruinosa (photo by Ron Hemberger)

Sadly the thirteen species of Eucerini bees, like many native bees, have been hit very hard by commercial pesticides. Modern industrial pumpkin growers sometimes call upon honey bees to undertake pumpkin pollination, but the hard-working domestic bees are not nearly as adept at the task as their wild native kin.

A honeybee seems slightly overwhelmed by large grains of sticky pumpkin pollen (Photograph ©2007 John Kimbler)

A honeybee seems slightly overwhelmed by large grains of sticky pumpkin pollen (Photograph ©2007 John Kimbler)

Noor-ul-Ain Tiara

Noor-ul-Ain Tiara

The Noor-ul-Ain is a giant pink diamond which is mounted in a tiara of the same name currently in the possession of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is believed that the Noor-ul-Ain diamond was once part of a vast Indian diamond named “the Great Table” which was embedded in the throne of the greatest Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who ruled India in the middle of the seventeenth century. When the Mughal dynasty withered and came apart a century later, the Persian shah Nāder Shāh Afshār looted and ransacked Dehli. Evidence strongly suggests that the Shah took the Great Table diamond and it was subsequently cut into two giant pink diamonds which became part of the Iranian treasury.

In 1958, the diamond was selected to be made into a wedding tiara for Farah Pahlavi (who became empress of Iran when she was wed to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the famous shah of Iran). The great American jeweler Harry Winston designed this ornate tiara.

36531980Snake coffins! Who hasn’t paused to quip about these ridiculous funerary vessels? There is something inherently amusing about the concept. Perhaps it is the fact that coffins, by nature, are already long and skinny: therefore, making a traditional coffin for an extremely long skinny animal results in something completely risible. Maybe the humor arises from simple schadenfreude at the demise of a hapless reptile. Imagine opening up a pencil box and instead of rulers, pencils, and pens, finding a long, bandaged snake mummy!

Double Snake Coffin (Cairo Antiquities Museum, Late Period (664-332 BC) cast bronze)

Double Snake Coffin (Cairo Antiquities Museum, Late Period (664-332 BC) cast bronze)

Of course somewhere out there a pragmatist is reading this and saying “Wait, what? How common are snake coffins anyway? Has anybody actually ever made such a thing?” Such a query is germane since snakes lack hands and thus cannot build coffins… or any sort of burial container really. Yet snake coffins do exist. The ancient Egyptians built ceremonial coffins for all manner of sacred creatures—including snakes. Such caskets usually date from the New Kingdom and sometimes actually still contain snake mummies!

Snake Coffin with Mummy (Egyptian, Late Period: 664-332 B.C.E., Wood, animal remains, linen)

Snake Coffin with Mummy (Egyptian, Late Period: 664-332 B.C.E., Wood, animal remains, linen)

Snake Coffins

Snake Coffins (Late Period: 664-332 BC, Wood)

Snake Coffin

Snake Coffin (Egyptian, Late Period, Bronze) Note the Sacred Red/White Crown of Lower and Upper Egypt

Cynics will note that nobody since the Ancient Egyptians has made actual snake coffins—but such criticism will not stop me from completing this poorly researched article on time. Even today the association between snakes and coffins remains strong. Numerous artworks and handicrafts feature the two elements together—as can be seen in the following gallery of images.

Cryptic Snake Coffin tattoo

Cryptic Snake Coffin tattoo

Snake Coffin Memory Stick?

Snake Coffin Memory Stick?

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Small coffin made of snake skin

Small coffin made of snake skin

Of course the real association—between reptiles, death, and rebirth–is ancient and compelling. But, as you can tell by the tone of the essay, we are ignoring this larger point. Anyway, in the modern world snakes and death have become decoupled. Unless you are one of my Australian readers, you are about a hundred thousand times more likely to be killed by some healthcare provider’s bureaucratic snafu than by one of the world’s few remaining venomous snakes. So appreciate the art on this page with wry insouciance.

Oh come on!  What is that? MS Paint?

Oh come on! What is that? MS Paint?

 

 

A Young Man in a Fur Cap and a Cuirass (Carel Fabritius, 1654, oil on canvas)

A Young Man in a Fur Cap and a Cuirass (Carel Fabritius, 1654, oil on canvas)

Carel Fabritius (1622 – 12 October 1654) was the most gifted and innovative of Rembrandt’s many pupils. He alone escaped from the master’s shadow by reversing his teacher’s signature style: whereas Rembrandt was known for showing a brightly lit subject against a background of darkness, Fabritius painted dark subjects on a bright background. He certainly had a measure Rembrandt’s masterful humanism (as is evidenced by the soulful self-portrait above). In the early 1650s, Fabritius moved to Delft where a revolution in optics was underway. Based on the below painting “A View of Delft” painted in 1652, Fabritius was an early experimenter with lenses and optics in the visual arts. It is believed he taught Vermeer (who also used lenses to create special effects in his masterworks) and thus was an integral link between the two great 17th century Dutch masters.

A View of Delft (Carel Fabritius, 1652, oil on canvas)

A View of Delft (Carel Fabritius, 1652, oil on canvas)

Indeed Fabritius would likely be one of the most famous luminaries of world art with renown commensurate to Rembrandt & Vermeer except for a tragic and bizarre accident. On October 12, 1654–360 years ago yesterday–Cornelis Soetens opened the door of a gunpowder magazine located in a repurposed Clarissen convent (Soetens was the official keeper of said powder chamber). It is unclear what exactly went wrong but all 66,138 pounds of gunpowder ignited and combusted. The resultant explosion destroyed much of Delft. Fabritius was caught in the explosion and sustained mortal wound. As an added injury, the explosion destroyed Fabritius’ studio along with the majority of his life’s work. Only twelve known paintings remain—but they are very good paintings!

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Today is World Egg Day! At first I had an image of the entire planet splitting open and some giant hatchling slithering out into the galaxy—WorldEgg Day–but a moment of reflection revealed that WED is instead a day for the entire world to celebrate eggs. Indeed the World Egg Day Website reassures us that, “World Egg Day is a unique opportunity to help raise awareness of the benefits of eggs and is celebrated in countries all around the world.”

Ogc3sEcThis website has been unflagging in its dedicated to oviparous creatures. Catfish, turkeys, the vast majority of snakes, all fowl, and even the amazing platypus and echidna are creatures which reproduce by means of eggs. They are all well worth celebrating! Hooray!

Yet somehow, I feel like the World Egg Day High Council (an arm of the even greater International Egg Commission) cares little about ovuliparity (external reproduction via egg). Instead they are concerned only with devouring eggs. They are in fact ovivores of the highest degree—to such an extent that they have built an international organization to promote the continuous eating of eggs to the exclusion of all else. We live in a strange world.

Dasypeltis scabra feeding on a fresh pigeon egg (from exotic-pets.co.uk)

Dasypeltis scabra feeding on a fresh pigeon egg

However, since I am an ovivore myself (although not exclusively) I support the council’s overarching plans—at least to a degree. In order to celebrate World Egg Day, allow me to propose a suitable mascot for the event—the egg-eating snake, Dasypeltis, a delightful genus of reptiles which lives up to the council’s ultimate utopian dreams of eating nothing but eggs. To quote exotic-pets.co.uk, “The Egg Eating Snake must be one of the nicest snakes we have ever come across. With no teeth, a calm nature, [the snake lives entirely] on eggs…no more defrosting rodents!”

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There are 11 species of snake within the Dasypeltis genus and all have evolved to feed exclusively on eggs. These non-venomous snakes live throughout Africa, but prefer wooded areas with large numbers of birds. The snakes possess acute senses which allow them to determine whether an unbroken egg is rotten or too developed for them to eat. Not only are the snakes gifted at hiding and climbing trees, they also have specialized anatomical features for egg consumption including supremely flexible jaws, supple necks, expandable balloon-like throats, and internal vertebral knobs for bursting the egg once consumed. The snakes regularly consume eggs much larger than their own heads. After eating breakfast, the poor creature looks like a maraca! Once the unbroken egg is swallowed whole, the snake’s internal organs burst it open and leech all nutrients out of it. The indigestible shell is regurgitated. Virtually no nutrients are wasted.

Common egg-eater snake (Dasypeltis scabra). Photo by Mond76

Common egg-eater snake (Dasypeltis scabra). Photo by Mond76

Finally, and best of all, Dasypeltis fasciata not only lives entirely on eggs: the snake also reproduces by egg! It is an Oviparous ovivore. Females lay one or two clutches of 6-25 eggs each. The little eggs measure 36 mm x 18 mm (1.4 x 0.7 inches) and are sometimes eaten by rodents or lizards.

dscf0643-300x225You could write to the International Egg Council and explain why this snake would be the perfect mascot to help them popularize eggs. Undoubtedly the exalted high egg commissioners would quickly acknowledge that there can be no purer avatar of the incredible edible egg than this lovable snake. Happy World Egg Day!

Orpheus with animals. (Roman mosaic ca. 200-250 AD)

Orpheus with animals. (Roman mosaic ca. 200-250 AD)

Orpheus was a Thracian…and a mortal.  His mother was Calliope, Muse of heroic poetry.  Different versions of his story differ as to whether his father was a Thracian king or Morpheus, god of dreams.  Thanks to the tutelage of his parents, or perhaps because of his own astonishing gifts, Orpheus could play music more beautifully than words can express. Wherever he went, people would fall under the spell of the golden notes flowing from his lyre and the unbridled beauty of his divine voice.  Animals were transfixed by his music and even trees would lean in closer to hear his songs. Because of the power of his art, Orpheus had a pleasant life which was largely free of care.  He grew up doted upon by his mother and his many gifted aunts. He met a beautiful woman, Eurydice and the two fell deeply in love.  Their pastoral wedding was an event of unbridled happiness and Orpheus, beside himself with delight, played the most joyous music the world had yet known.

Orpheus And Eurydice (Louis Ducis, 1826, oil on canvas)

Orpheus And Eurydice (Louis Ducis, 1826, oil on canvas)

In merry abandon, the bride danced bare-footed in a meadow and there she stepped on a snake which reared up and stung her.  Eurydice sank to the ground and the guests, not seeing what had transpired, laughed at her intoxication, but Eurydice did not rise.  She was dead.  Her spirit had fled away.

Eurydice Stung by a Serpent  from Les Métamorphoses (Pablo Picasso, 1930, print)

Eurydice Stung by a Serpent from Les Métamorphoses (Pablo Picasso, 1930, print)

Then Orpheus went mad with grief.  He wandered off from his home and trod the gray world as an outcast ever seeking an entrance to the land of the dead.  Finally at the dim edge of the earth he found the entrance to the underworld—the realm where the spirit of his beloved wife was imprisoned.  Summoning all of his passion and all of his talent, he began to sing and play his lyre as he walked into the kingdom of Hades.

Orpheus (Giovanni Bellini, 1515, oil on canvas)

Orpheus (Giovanni Bellini, 1515, oil on canvas)

The breath of life and hope was in the music of Orpheus and, for a shining moment, the denizens of the underworld forgot their pain and sorrow.  Cerberus lay down on his back and frolicked.  Each flickering spirit recalled the warmth and love of living. Tantalus was not tortured by his eternal thirst and the Erinyes, stunned by unknown emotions, set aside their scourges and spiked whips.  The damned knew a moment of blessed respite in their endless torment as Orpheus passed.  Persephone’s haunted garden of poplars and willows burst into bloom as though spring had at last come, and the queen of hell herself wept silent tears.

Orpheus in the Underworld (Ambrosius Francken the Elder, ca. 1600?, oil on canvas)

Orpheus in the Underworld (Ambrosius Francken the Elder, ca. 1600?, oil on canvas)

Even Hades, god of death and the world beyond, was moved by the music of Orpheus. After listening to the remainder of the song and hearing the musician’s desperate entreaties, the dark god agreed to let Eurydice return from death to the land of the living, but with one condition:  Orpheus must not look backward until after he left the underworld.  Eurydice would follow him silently. Only in the sunlight of life could they properly be reunited.

Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld (Jean -Baptise-Camille Corot, 1861, oil on canvas)

Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld (Jean -Baptise-Camille Corot, 1861, oil on canvas)

Tormented by doubt, Orpheus made his laborious way back upwards.  Without his music, the underworld again became dreadful and strange.  In the Stygian gloom, fear gnawed at him.  He worried that the lord of the dead had tricked him and nobody walked behind him. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime of fear and darkness he spied the sunlight, and then, suddenly he could bear the overwhelming doubt no longer.  As though unconsciously, he turned to see if Eurydice was behind him.  For a moment he saw her ghostly beautiful face, and then she was gone, her spirit dragged back to the underworld.  All that was left was her final whisper, “I love you.”

Orpheus and Eurydice (Antonio Canova, 1776, marble)

Orpheus and Eurydice (Antonio Canova, 1776, marble)

The world held no joy for Orpheus.  Inconsolable he sat down beside a river in the wilderness with nothing left but his music, and that had turned impossibly sad. All he could do was play dirges of surpassing melancholy.  Beasts, men, plants, insects, even stones were overcome by tears.

Orpheus and the Bacchantes (Gregorio Lazzarini, circa 1710, oil on canvas)

Orpheus and the Bacchantes (Gregorio Lazzarini, circa 1710, oil on canvas)

The heavens themselves wept at the laments he sang.  Then a tribe of wild maenads came down from the hills.  The inebriated women were frenzied by wine and orgies.  They beat tumbrels and screamed in drunken ecstasy. Their shrieks of delight and delirium drowned out the dolorous music of Orpheus.  His sadness had no place in their revels, and he likewise wanted no part of their besotted celebration. Offended by his demurral, the Bacchantes ripped him to bloody pieces and cast his head into the river.  Still singing a lament, the severed head drifted out to the sea.

Death of Orpheus (Henri Levy, 1870, oil on canvas)

Death of Orpheus (Henri Levy, 1870, oil on canvas)

So goes the story of Orpheus, which everyone knows.  He is one of a long list of heroes, mystics, and even gods who braved the underworld in order to attain a boon or complete a quest.  Stories of the descent to the realm of death date back to the very beginning of writing (and presumably to fathomless prehistory before that).  The tale of Innana’s descent to the realm of death is one of the first known written things of any sort.  Gilgamesh, Osiris, Dionysus, Psyche, Hercules, Pirithous, Odin, Baldr, Lemminkäinen, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, Obatala, Arthur, Emperor Taizong of Tang, even Jesus Christ…all had to descend to death and go down questing into darkness.  Only some came back again with the secrets of destiny and eternity.

It is the oldest story because it speaks most directly to us. We are all mortal.  Alas, there are no magic herbs, secret songs, or forbidden elixirs (or cryogenic procedures) which can halt our inevitable death. Oblivion awaits all humans.  Only imaginary folks like deities or made-up heroes can die and come back.  Only art can surmount death.

La Mort d'Orphee (Louis Bouquet, ca. 1925-1939, oil on canvas)

La Mort d’Orphee (Louis Bouquet, ca. 1925-1939, oil on canvas)

I have told the story of Orpheus because Orpheus is the avatar of art.  His music stands in for all human imagination and creativity.  His katabasis story is sadder and deeper than the tale of simpler heroes like Hercules (who used divine strength to go down and come back) or Tammuz who was killed but came back to life because he was really a god. The myth of Orpheus is an allegory of the creative arts: it is the mythmaker’s myth about mythology.  Even in the story, Orpheus was a mortal and his quest was a glorious failure.  He had power over all beings only because of the verisimilitude of his music. He made it to hell and back with the emotional strength of his craft but ultimately failed to regain his love.

This is the story of art—a failure, a singing ghost which has no power to truly change anything. Art only makes us feel–it does not give us things. Look at Chardin’s peaches and bread rolls as long as you like. You will never taste them.  The glowing nude goddess wrought in tempera will never embrace you. And yet, and yet, art provides us a reason to go on…an emotional catharsis which contextualizes the multi-generational struggles which make up the true tale of humankind.

Orpheus with a Harp Playing to Pluto and Persephone in the Underworld (Jan Brueghel, 1594, oil on canvas)

Orpheus with a Harp Playing to Pluto and Persephone in the Underworld (Jan Brueghel, 1594, oil on canvas)

There is no underworld.  It is all made up.  There are no deities there (or probably anywhere).  Look around you at the room where you sit reading a computer screen—you are as close to the numinous as you are likely to get.  But these ancient symbols of death and transcendence still hold profound meaning for us.  We have the ability to imagine things–tales of what never was and never can be.  Over the long generations as our skills at science and engineering grow, it is still our creativity which endows life with meaning.   The imagination lends its transfigurative magic to the more concrete disciplines and drives us all forward, even though individually we might perish in the wilderness (torn apart, like Orpheus, by our own demons and tragedies).

Though all paths through the world lead to one place, do not despair. The singing lyre of Orpheus leads us again back to the light…to the pains and the hopes of life.

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