Although J. Warren’s Silencing Orpheus makes thematic and literary references to Classical literature, such as naming a chapter “Dawn’s Rose-colored Fingers,” this story is about as far away as you can get from the time when the sound-bite “rosy-fingered dawn” was used to fill out a line of dactylic hexameter, when heroic men of battle spoke to each other with wingéd words. There’s nothing of Gluck’s “che farò senza Eurydice?” or the following “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” in this book, either.
This is a sequel to Stealing Ganymede, which leads me to wonder whether Silencing Orpheus is actually a stand-alone work. I suspect it’s a more meaningful read when coupled with the first volume.
As it stands, this is the story of Orpheus as doomed immortal marooned among the living—angry, paralyzed, haunted, isolated—refusing the comforts of music as well as the company of women. It’s a fascinating premise but for this reviewer, unsatisfying in its execution.
Told in first person present tense, the story is immediate, hard and lonely. The writing is focused and lean, which supports the characterization of the protagonist in his emotional straightjacket. Nothing moves easily, nothing is given away, emotion creates risks he can’t afford, kindness leads to obligation that might tie him down. He has room in his heart only for his own torment. Sometimes his fingers ache so intensely to make music that he has to cut himself to keep saying no to his urge. It’s powerful stuff.
Silencing Orpheus doesn’t show enough character development of the protagonist to be a conventional novel. In fact, the spine of this story is its relentlessly unchanging portrait of a rigid character trapped in a barren existence, someone who has given up everything except drifting and staying ahead of his doom, until he doesn’t.
The Eumenides (Erinyes)—the Furies of Classical mythology—pursue him. According to the author’s premise, Orpheus has violated the natural order of things and has thus earned their vengeance. The Eumenides sprang from drops of Uranus’ blood when he was castrated and killed by his son Kronos. In addition to punishing certain other crimes, their main duty was to punish those who had spilled the blood of their own kin.
So the engine that drives this story forward is that the furies pursue Orpheus. Why? Because he has slept with young men. This constitutes his violation of the natural order of things. I’m not sure the author intended the story to make this moral condemnation of homosexuality, but the logical implication is inescapable.
If sleeping with young men had been cause for vengeance from the Furies in mythic times, a lot more men would have died a gruesome death at their hands. However, to my knowledge there is not one instance of it in the entire body of Classical myth.
This story is compelling, a fiercely atmospheric, brooding piece of fiction with all the unhappiness of a dystopian graphic novel. It relies on its interesting use of mythology, some of it disturbingly unconventional. For those who don’t mind that re-interpretation and enjoy anti-heroes, Silencing Orpheus offers a gloomy but stimulating read.
Reviewed by Lloyd Meeker