Orpheus, the Poetics of Silence, and the Humanities

By Angela Pitts.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the Vergilian version of the katabasis of Orpheus, spatial and interpersonal silences serve to punctuate both the extraordinary poetic triumph of Orpheus and the tragic consequences of his failure. The katabatic hero is a recurring archetype in classical poetry: the ability of a living being whose soul is still attached to corporeal flesh to enter the realm of the dead and return alive marks the hero as one who possesses exceptional status. Unlike the successful journeys to the underworld of other epic heroes like Odysseus and Aeneas, the tragic failure of Orpheus’ katabasis ultimately results in the brutal silencing of his art. His failure to meet the objective of his katabasis leads to a failure of poetics, a failure ironically foreshadowed by the success that he encounters at various stages of his journey, which are marked by curious silencings, as the custodians, criminals and topographical features of the Underworld give way into total quiescence upon hearing his song. This paper will examine the rhetoric of silence in the Vergilian adaptation of the myth of Orpheus, and suggest that Vergil’s unique adaptation of the myth may be read as allegorically relevant to the struggle of the Humanities disciplines to survive in the contemporary academy.

Keywords: Vergil, Orpheus, Classical Literature, Classical Poetry, Myth or Mythology, Humanities

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp.105-116. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 406.728KB).

Dr. Angela Pitts

Associate Professor of Classics, Department of Classics, Philosophy, and Religion, University of Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, USA

Dr. Pitts is an Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Mary Washington College. Her research interests include Archaic Greek lyric, epic poetry, and the poetry of Ovid and Vergil.