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The Power Of Myth Essay

4019 words - 16 pages

The Power of Myth

"Why is Eurydice such a bitch?" was the comment asked of me during a lesson on the poem "Eurydice" by H.D. "Doesn't she realize that Orpheus loves her and is only trying to rescue her? Why is she so harsh to him?" It was during a unit on mythology that the students were reading H.D's poetryówe had recently completed the small "Orpheus and Eurydice" blurb in Edith Hamilton's Mythology when I came across H.D's effort and decided to introduce it to my students. We had previously explored the roles of women in several contextsóhistorically and religiously. Now we encountered the first female speaker who activated the Greek myth with her strong, powerful language.

Initially, I wanted the students to engage in a comparison of Hamilton's and H.D's female figures. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is one I have instructed in the past, and is relatively brief. Orpheus had a gift of music with which he used to enrapture his young bride, Eurydice. Upon their wedding day, Eurydice suffered a deadly bite from a serpent and subsequently died, thus leaving Orpheus in despair. He descended into the Underworld in order to "rescue" his wife and return her to the upper world. He seduced Hades (the god of the Underworld) and Hades' wife Persephone with the music and was therefore allowed to bring Eurydice back from the deadóon one condition, that Orpheus never turns around to see if she is following. Orpheus, holding his wife's hand, braves the unfriendly terrain of the Underworld to escape with Eurydice and at the entrance, he makes the mistake of turning back. Eurydice's mythical character was only allotted one word ("Farewell") in Hamilton's text. Conversely, poet H.D's lengthy work allowed Eurydice to voice her frustrations and conflicts about her archetypal "rescue." H.D. writes:

"so for your arrogance
and your ruthlessness
I am swept back
where dead lichens drip
dead cinders upon moss of ash

so for your arrogance
I am broken at last,
I who had lived unconscious,
who was almost forgot;

if you had let me wait
I had grown from listlessness into peace,
if you had let me rest with the dead,
I had forgot you
and the past. "

The language was clear enough to evoke an analysis from my students, to facilitate what I had hoped would be a critical reader response. When my female student voiced the questions above, I was taken aback by her honest curiosity, because as the instructor, I understood the themes conveyed: rebellion, regret, resistance. Yet for this and other students, H.D's Eurydice did not fall into a familiar categoryóin fact the category which she appeared to typify represented one of stereotypical submission. I started to question why mythical women were relegated to one word (as in Hamilton's presentation) or stereotyped. I decided to pursue a line of inquiry that explored the nature of women and mythologyódo myths perpetuate certain gender stereotypes? Do they serve as models of...

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