Orpheus’ Descent Underground from Antiquity to the Spanish Baroque
The article presents the reception of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth in Spanish Baroque drama, particularly in the sacramental play (auto sacramental) by Calderón de la Barca. The Orpheus and Eurydice story, one of the most resonant myths in the world’s literature and art, was adopted in antiquity by Vergil and Ovid, and the literary versions created through the two poets’ narrative perspectives served to keep the Orpheus myth fresh for centuries. Due to Orpheus’ attributes and the story itself, it was already in the early Christian period that he was identified in art with Christ and credited with Christ’s role. By the use of allegory, this masquerade flourished especially with the Baroque sacramental plays, which continued the vast medieval tradition of allegory.
While Calderón de la Barca’s theological and mythological spiritual play, El divino Orfeo, does adopt the basic motifs as set out by Vergil and Ovid, the parallels are only skin-deep. At a symbolic level, the framework of the ancient myth is fleshed out with a Christian message. Orpheus, whose power of speech and music is prominent even in the earliest records, becomes Christ attracting mankind with his words. Indeed, humanity is redeemed by his descent underground, which may be interpreted as death on the cross. Eurydice with her frail human nature stands for mankind, saved from damnation by Orpheus – both God and man, as underlined by Calderón. Aristaeus, Orpheus’ antagonist, a Vergilian innovation not found in Ovid, becomes the Prince of Darkness, snake, tempter, spiritual death.
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