Orpheus and Eurydice

My son Kevin and I had an amazing weekend. He wanted to take me to a trap concert down in LA, and on Wednesday and Thursday we trawled around on the web looking for things to do to fill up the time between Saturday morning and Sunday evening. We hit kind of a perfect cultural storm, with the play Water by the Spoonful closing and the opera Orpheus and Eurydice opening at the Music Center on the same weekend.

We didn’t see the opera, but got tickets (for $35 each) at the Getty Villa on Sunday to hear the reflections of curators, musical historians and the opera director James Conlon on the mythical and cultural significance of Orpheus. The event closed with an abridged offering of Gluck’s original score, rewritten for piano accompaniment and sung by two women: an alto as Orpheus and a very pregnant soprano as Amor and Eurydice.

For those that don’t know the myth: on their wedding day, Orpheus entertains the guests with lyre and song, and Eurydice is found alone by a spurned suitor who chases her into the marsh, where she is stung by a serpent and dies. Orpheus is overcome with grief until counseled by Eros (Amor) to use his skills to beguile the guardians of Hades and inspire its master to allow Eurydice to return to life. He succeeds, but the condition is that he neither look at nor speak to Eurydice on the journey out of Hades. Taken from the Elysian fields of eternal happiness, Eurydice is confused, and beseeches Orpheus to explain until becoming angry. Tormented, Orpheus emerges from the cave and turns a moment too soon. Eurydice is still within, and falls into oblivion.

Orpheus wanders the land grieving, renouncing the company of women. His music still enflames their desire, though, and eventually he encounters a company in whom frustration kindles violence. The women beat and dismember him, throwing his head into the river where it floats away still singing.

In Ancient Athens, women were denied access to society, cloistered to ensure the bloodline of the patriarchs. Culturally, Eurydice was an afterthought, and Orpheus celebrated principally for his music and the understanding of the afterlife that was stamped into golden foil to guide the dead on their passage to Hades.

With the resurrection of Greek culture during the Renaissance, the Greek tragedy was recast as Opera, and Orpheus and Eurydice was a staple. Perhaps in part due to that popularity, Gluck adopted it as a set-piece for operatic reforms intended to clarify dramatic focus. The intellectual controversy, the popularity of the myth and the image of art living on after death made the story a mainstay in the plastic arts as well, particularly among those that felt that the Enlightenment was extinguishing the sacred embers that once permeated the world.

In early Christian iconography, it is not uncommon for Orpheus and Christ to be transposed. The torment of Orpheus, destroyed by those whose virtuous exemplar he honors, evokes the Cross. The myth also has parallels with the Garden of Eden: the inattentive male, the trusting spouse, and the serpent that sunders their bliss.

So I found myself, as the Italian libretto was summarized, confronting the same frustration that caused me to write this, when re-iterating God’s motivations in bringing Eve into being:

Get a clue, guys!

Calzabigi (the librettist) charts Eurydice’s descent into doubt and vanity. She is a torment to Orpheus, who eventually sings “I knew that this would happen.” But from the intonations of the soprano on Sunday afternoon, I inferred this: “Orpheus, what is my place in your world?”

It was to explore answers to that question that I had Kevin help me chase down Professor Morris at the reception. I was distressed by the conversation, though not surprised: no one has wrestled meaningfully with the problem of feminine virtue except in juxtaposition to masculine virtue.

What Orpheus must have understood, having lost her again, is that the opportunities she had surrendered to death were things he had not celebrated, for if he did, Elysium would have had no pull on her. Motherhood, gentleness, healing, compassion, inspiration: why did he not sing of these before? Why did he not turn his every effort to bringing Elysium to the world in song, rather than indulging his virtuosity?

For nothing of virtue lasts unless a woman brings it to flower.

Wake Up!

When all the channels broadcast messages that promise satisfaction but lead only to disappointment and suffering:

  • privilege
  • novelty
  • lust
  • violence
  • addictive substances

The abused loyalist has no place to turn for truth but inward.

How do I feel?

It is in that moment that the quiet, still voice of the Holy Spirit enters.

If you still seek love, here we are.

All other messages are then recognized as meaningless clamoring for attention from those that have no power other than to steal strength from the weak.

Those that hunger for love follow the dictates of the Holy Spirit because once that assurance is tendered, the greatest desire is to sustain the connection. Each of us walks in the world open to its suffering, and healing enters in our wake because we do not attempt to monopolize its energy.

There is far more power available to us than is necessary to solve the problems we have created. We simply need to accept that we can’t control it – we can only recognize those that wish to share it with us, and so heal us in turn.

The shadow of darkness hangs over this age, but the dawn will dispel it.

Quantum Inversion

In modeling large-scale systems, wave equations are often useful approximations. So, while water at the quantum scale is made up of molecules that bounce around like billiard balls, in our swimming pool waves look perfectly smooth, and we can predict their behavior using wave theory.

A researcher at Cal Tech has applied this approximation to the modeling of very large astronomical objects: super-massive black holes and their entourage of stars and planetoids. In pursuing the mathematics, he discovered that the system behaves according to a wave equation that looks just like the equation that governs slowly-moving subatomic particles: Schrödinger’s equation.

But the equation alone does not generate “quantum” behavior in the objects described by the equation. That is generated by Fermi’s “exclusion” rules. In Fermi’s rules, the particles that make up stable matter all obey this rule: all particles of any one type (such as an electron) are indistinguishable, and therefore the equation describing the behavior of the system must be the same if any two particles are exchanged, with one exception: the amplitude of the wave changes sign.

Going back to our swimming pool, this is like saying that if we exchanged any two water molecules, the wave would turn into its mirror image: where there were peaks in the wave, now there would be troughs (and visce-versa).

I am absolutely certain that this makes as little sense in describing the behavior of supermassive black holes as it does in describing the behavior of pools of water.

That a working physicist could so casually misrepresent the nature of the system reflects the subtlety of quantum concepts, and the tempting ease with which those concepts are used to manipulate public fascination.


I spent the afternoon out at Pine Trails Park here in Parkland. After checking in at the Resiliency Center, I wandered around the grounds, finally making my way out past the recreation center to discover the memorial for the fallen students and teachers.

I spent the next three hours holding space and giving back to the service animals that have been doing heavy duty over the last two weeks. On the whole, it was quiet. A few students showed, apparently to make sure the displays were holding up, but for the most part it was people from out of town, and at most twenty at a time.

So I had time to notice the unusual diversity of the butterflies. I saw individuals from four species.

I kept moving around, attempting to stay in the shade and out of the way, and noticed a mother and son – he about three or four – putting up a butterfly kite. Twenty minutes later, I saw him running up to the edge of the amphitheater, looking alarmed. Glancing up, I discovered that the kite was hovering over the stage. Thinking that the string must have unraveled too fast, I walked over to offer assistance, but his mother grabbed his hand and hurried him off.

Taking a closer look, I realized why. Magically, the string and handle had become wrapped around one of the stays on the shade screen.

I eventually chased down a park attendant, who told me that the mother had come by to apologize for the accident. He rolled up to the stage ten minutes later, and asked whether I thought people would find it offensive. I laughed in surprise, and tried to convey to him that I found it delightful. My word choice – serendipitous – was probably unfortunate.

I tried to submit an item to the Sun Sentinel with a photo, but I don’t think it got through. That was the low point in my day. That child should be told what a wonderful gift he left for his fallen brothers and sisters.

Invocation of the Elders

I have been conscious of the prevalence of twelve in the traditions of Abraham: the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve Apostles, the twelve wives of Mohammad, the twenty-four (twelve masculine and twelve feminine) elders in Revelation, the twelve stars in the crown of the Sacred Mother (in Revelation 12, of course).

Sometimes the individuals have names: the Apostle Peter, or the tribe of Reuben, but the repetition suggested to me that there was a through-line, something in common that linked the individuals. As the twelves are sacred, I thought of those links as virtues.

But what are they?

This came to the forefront yesterday as I flew out to Fort Lauderdale. The image that had been developing, over the last week, was to bless the students by creating the shelter described in Revelation 21 and 22: the New Jerusalem whose gates are guarded by the twelve masculine elders and within which the twelve feminine elders distribute the Waters of Life. I wanted to drape that aggregate over the school, allowing the students to focus on healing.

To organize such energies, the mystics needs names. Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, offered such a list. There’s no reason for it to correlate with the masculine virtues, but every time the problem comes up, the list comes to mind. So yesterday, on the plane from Phoenix to Fort Lauderdale, I decided to run with it.

In the invocation that follows, the philosophy behind the word choice is that every virtue is a gift that brings choice – particularly the masculine virtues that generate change. Each pairing below, then, ties the first masculine virtue with the goal that allows the feminine virtues to permeate our lives.

I offered the first version of the invocation last night. The campus is accessible only on two sides, so I wasn’t able to walk the entire perimeter. Passing traffic was a distraction, and my concentration was interrupted by contrary thoughts (“This is meaningless” and “You’re not going to change our culture”). Thoughts need time to focus, though, and I worked over dinner to memorize the list, and refined it last night before falling asleep.

I developed a serious back spasm on the plane yesterday, and went to bed resolving that I would go back to the school when I woke up. That came to pass at 5 AM, and I was back at the school around 5:30. I played some music first, and then walked along the front of the campus, reeling somewhat under the weight of grief. Then I walked back to the entrance and addressed the moon, low over the opposite horizon. The Lady who rests her feet there united her intentions with mine as I spoke these words:

Let those that are Trustworthy,
 support Trust, in which Love flourishes.
Let those that are Loyal,
 support Unity, from which Love builds strength.
Let those that are Helpful,
 support Compassion, whereby Love sustains virtue.
Let those that are Friendly,
 support Accommodation, by which Love multiplies opportunities.
Let those that are Courteous,
 support Gentleness, whereby Love preserves autonomy.
Let those that are Kind,
 support Kindness, with which Love inspires effort.
Let those that are Obedient,
 support Commitment, by which Love prepares its reception.
Let those that are Cheerful,
 support Harmony, whereby Love announces its presence.
Let those that are Thrifty,
 support Conservation, by which Love preserves its works.
Let those that are Courageous,
 support Endurance, by which Love overcomes selfishness.
Let those that are Clean,
 support Purity, in which Love is magnified.
Let those that are Reverent,
 support Grace, in which Love is made manifest.

May the Most High bless these children with Love.