Thursday, July 3, 2008

To Hell and Back: Analysis and Questions


Now that we have looked at two very similar, yet very different tales concerning the religious and mythological theme of decent into the underworld it is now time to make an evaluation of the two narratives and draw a conclusion in regard to what they have to say about humankind.

Compare and Contrast: “Orpheus and Eurydice” with “Savitri and Satyavan”

The myths of “Orpheus and Eurydice” and “Savitri and Satyavan” both share a great deal in common. Not only do both deal with the motif of decent into the underworld but both also feature a protagonist who descends into the netherworld to rescue a spouse who was killed by a snake. In both tales, the protagonist must cross a river that separates the land of the living from that of the dead. Both tales find our protagonist’s presence in the underworld to be a source of potential cosmological chaos, and both protagonists must, in the end, make a deal with the Lord of the Dead.

However, while the similarities between these two tales may be striking the differences they share are equally profound. To start with, the tale of “Orpheus and Eurydice” is from ancient Greco-Rome while the tale of “Savitri and Satyavan” is from India. In “Orpheus and Eurydice”, it is the husband who is the protagonist and must rescues his wife, while in “Savitri and Satyavan” the scenario is reversed and it is the wife who must save the husband. The other major difference between Orpheus’ and Savitri’s tale is, of course, that Savitri is successful in her quest to retrieve her husband’s soul while Orpheus is not.

The Questions

It is this last observation that leads to the most obvious, though not necessarily the most important, question one can ask about these two myths: Why dose Savitri succeed where Orpheus fails? Another way of looking at this question is to also ask: Why did Orpheus fail? Was it his own weakness or did Hades indeed trick him? Was the deal Orpheus struck with Hades fair? And then for the more culturally centered reader: What dose this story tell you about the beliefs of the ancient Greeks and Romans? What dose it say about the relationship between a husband and a wife? What can we learn from it?

Then coming at this line of questioning from the Indian point of view: Why dose Savitri succeed? Was the deal Savitri struck with Yama fair? Did Savitri trick Yama? If so was this right or wrong of her? And what dose this tale tell us about the Hindu worldview and the role of men and women in it?

I will post my thoughts on these matters in the next few days.

No comments: