Friday, 28 May 2010

heading home

hi my friends,

I am writing to let you know that I am finally heading back to NYC after nearly a year away, first paddling/biking down the Mississippi River and then working at a really fine series of artist colonies (Montalvo, the Hermitage, and Ucross.) I'll be starting out tomorrow from northeastern Wyoming, thinking perhaps to head up through Canada a bit and down to Vermont, where I will drop off the kayak and the bike and the car, and then hop onto the Ethan Allen Express down to Penn Station on Saturday. Woo hoo!

One of the pleasures of coming home is that in the first days after getting home, there are gonna be a couple of premieres of my work: definitely an excellent way to get settled in!

On 8 June at Merkin Hall, Mary Rowell is going to premiere a brand new piece I wrote for her, called I'm Worried Now, But I Won't Be Worried Long. (The title comes from a song by Charley Patton.) We'll also be doing my James Tate setting, It Happens Like This, in a new arrangement, and the whole festival looks really wonderful, check it out here:

And on 12 June at the Invisible Dog, the happening guitar quartet, Dither, is doing the first ever live version of The Garden of Cyrus, an electronic piece from 1985. I'm really excited to hear what they do with it live, for sure!!/event.php?eid=123910360956224&ref=mf

So if you're in New York, I hope I'll be able to see you at one or both of these shows, and if not then, soon!!!



Eve Beglarian
PO Box 1677
Old Chelsea Station
New York, NY 10011

EveBeglarian (skype)
new project:

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

pagan places

I've been thinking about the christianization of pagan places and feeling a bit frustrated by my lack of knowledge. There are some examples (like Knowlton and Rudston) where a church has been built in a place that obviously had some kind of significance already. But there are also places that are *thought* of in this way but where the history is difficult to prove and, indeed, disputed. For example, there are quite a lot of 'holy wells' in Britain which are dedicated to one or other saint. There's a commonly held belief that these were 'stolen' by early Christians and were originally pagan sites. But some historians have suggested that this is a myth propagated by different people for different purposes. This includes the neo-pagan movement, so - in an odd way - it may actually be that it is paganism that is appropriating Christian sites rather than the other way round. I gather that the historian, Ronald Hutton, has written about this kind of thing, so I'll see if I can get hold of his book on the pagan religions of Britain.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

churches and pagan sites

I enjoyed your post here! With regard to your question about churches built on pagan sites, two examples spring to mind: Knowlton Church in Dorset (which was built inside a neolithic henge) and Rudston Church in Yorkshire (which has a monlith in the graveyard). You can see pictures here and here. (In both cases, you need to scroll down a fair way to see the full range of photos.) Those are just well-known examples - I expect there are lots of others. I'm not 100% sure who to ask...


I found the post you did yesterday very useful. I have to admit that I hadn't really remembered (or perhaps ever understood) Persephone's role in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. I had just been thinking of Persephone and Eurydice as equivalent figures - exiles in the underworld but within different myths. However, it's interesting that it was Persephone that Orpheus needed to persuade when he came down to rescue Eurydice: one exile adjudicating on the fate of another.

gates to nowhere

These two gate posts stand on the eastern bank of the Derwent Reservoir and whatever building they originally guarded is no longer there. (I think it might have been the vicarage but I'm not certain.) Steve described them as 'gates to nowhere'.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Persephone and Orpheus

Reading through your posts on Orpheus this morning, I'm getting all mushed up in Greek stories, so I'm writing this here to try to get a bit of a handle on it...

The Sirens' songs can be thought of as a call to Persephone.

Here is the relevant text from Ovid (Metamorphoses Book V):
Whence have you, daughters of Acheloüs, feathers and the feet of birds, since you have the faces of maidens? Is it because, when Proserpine was gathering the flowers of spring, you were mingled in the number of her companions? After you had sought her in vain throughout the whole world, immediately, that the waters might be sensible of your concern, you wished to be able, on the support of your wings, to hover over the waves, and you found the Gods propitious, and saw your limbs grow yellow with feathers suddenly formed. But lest the sweetness of your voice, formed for charming the ear, and so great endowments of speech, should lose the gift of a tongue, your virgin countenance and your human voice still remained.

Orpheus' songs defeated the power of the Sirens' songs when the Argonaut passed by.

Here's the section of the Argonautica that describes the encounter with the Sirens:

(Argonautica ll. 885-921) Now when dawn the light-​bringer was touching the edge of heaven, then at the coming of the swift west wind they went to their thwarts from the land; and gladly did they draw up the anchors from the deep and made the tackling ready in due order; and above spread the sail, stretching it taut with the sheets from the yard-​arm. And a fresh breeze wafted the ship on. And soon they saw a fair island, Anthemoessa, where the clear-​voiced Sirens, daughters of Achelous, used to beguile with their sweet songs whoever cast anchor there, and then destroy him. Them lovely Terpsichore, one of the Muses, bare, united with Achelous; and once they tended Demeter's noble daughter still unwed, and sang to her in chorus; and at that time they were fashioned in part like birds and in part like maidens to behold. And ever on the watch from their place of prospect with its fair haven, often from many had they taken away their sweet return, consuming them with wasting desire; and suddenly to the heroes, too, they sent forth from their lips a lily-​like voice. And they were already about to cast from the ship the hawsers to the shore, had not Thracian Orpheus, son of Oeagrus, stringing in his hands his Bistonian lyre, rung forth the hasty snatch of a rippling melody so that their ears might be filled with the sound of his twanging; and the lyre overcame the maidens' voice. And the west wind and the sounding wave rushing astern bore the ship on; and the Sirens kept uttering their ceaseless song. But even so the goodly son of Teleon alone of the comrades leapt before them all from the polished bench into the sea, even Butes, his soul melted by the clear ringing voice of the Sirens; and he swam through the dark surge to mount the beach, poor wretch. Quickly would they have robbed him of his return then and there, but the goddess that rules Eryx, Cypris, in pity snatched him away, while yet in the eddies, and graciously meeting him saved him to dwell on the Lilybean height. And the heroes, seized by anguish, left the Sirens, but other perils still worse, destructive to ships, awaited them in the meeting-​place of the seas.
And Orpheus' song convinced Persephone to allow Orpheus to take Euridice out of the underworld. It wasn't a failure of song, but a failure of trust that caused Orpheus to fail to bring Euridice back to life.

ghost thoughts #1

I've been thinking a lot about ghost towns and, in particular, trying to think about them as a category. It's definitely interesting - and important from a historical point of view - to understand each one's story. But it's also interesting to think about what these very diverse places have in common and how the trope of the abandoned community works on us. To that end, I'll try and post a few of the thoughts I've been having. They're not original (and may turn out not to be that interesting) but I'd like to put them into writing. So, here is thought #1:


Reading about Derwent and Ashopton, it struck me that - to understand the history of the communities - you also have to think about the histories of urban centres like Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, and Derby. The villages of the Derwent Valley were sacrificed to these rapidly expanding cities and the two histories are plotted into each other inextricably.

And this led me back to Minnesota because, when I think about Mallard, I often find myself thinking about Bemidji too. The beginnings of the two towns were not so different, I think, but Bemidji thrived and Mallard died - it is as if Mallard were Bemidji's ailing twin. And, with reference to voices, this reminds me of the reading I did at the Historical Society library in Bemidji, particularly Harold Hagg's book, The Mississippi Headwaters Region: Scenes from the Past (published in 1986). Hagg writes very interestingly about the role of local newspapers in the history of these communities:
Editors were more than newsmen. They were town boosters and prophets of progress. They touted their towns' prospects in the most flowery language they could command. [...] The newspapers kept Headwaters readers informed about the small doings of their neigbors and other local happenings. The syndicated pages provided recreational reading and developed new interests when books and magazines were not readily at hand. The advertisements served the business interests. The newspaper was the voice of the town, an organ of promotion and publicity and a force for developing a sense of community. (Page 100.)
This appeals to me because it brings out the sense of competition among towns and the way in which communities vied for recognition and the economic benefits that, for example, the coming of the railway could bring.

And, in Turkey, Kayaköy/Λεβισσι presumably had a relationship with the Turkish settlements that surrounded it and one wonders what the nature of that relationship was.

My point is really just this: because there is something so compelling about ghost towns, it is easy to focus on them as special places, distinct from everything around them. But - actually - their 'ghostliness' is a function of their position in a network of power. They are the weak points - the regions of low pressure - in an overall pattern of forces.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

visit to derwent

The weather today has been pretty good, so Steve and I took a trip out to the Ladybower Reservoir to visit the place where Derwent once was. This is rather a dull photo of the lake but the point of it is that, before the area was flooded, the village would have been right in the middle of this picture:

I took this photo of an information board. It provides a really good visualistion of where the buildings stood and how they relate to the present shore line:

And here is another information board, this time with a map showing the layout of the village and, again, the position of the present shore line. That photo I mentioned of the church tower rising out of the water is reproduced at the bottom right of the map:

Saturday, 15 May 2010


There is one contextual aspect of the drowning of Derwent that Bill Bevan doesn't mention in the passage I quoted yesterday - the fact that it happened in war time. In his book, Silent Valley, the local historian, Vic Hallam, quotes from the last sermon preached in the church at Derwent, and the quotation makes an interesting connection between the experience of war and the destruction of the village:

The last service held in Derwent Church was on 17th March 1943, and was attended by the Bishop of Derby and members of the Water Board. In his final address to the congregation the Bishop said, 'We build churches with the idea that they will endure for ever, but we know in our heart that our buildings will not endure, for we have seen so much destruction during the war that we no longer have the illusion of permanence of the work of human hands.'

There is something quite strange about this parallel, I think. To compare the abandonment of the village to an act of war is quite a provocative thing to do, given that the building of the dam was supposed to be a work of progress. Perhaps I'm over-interpreting...

Friday, 14 May 2010

Derwent and Ashopton

Today I went to Sheffield's local studies library to see if they had anything on the flooding of the Derwent Valley and the 'drowned' villages of Derwent and Ashopton. They had some interesting photographs, including an extraordinary one of the tower of Derwent Church rising out of the waters of the reservoir, but I can't reproduce those on the blog. Here, instead, is an excerpt from Bill Bevan's book, The Upper Derwent: 10,000 Years in a Peak District Valley, published in 2004. I think it captures the social meanings of the inundation very well.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the largest impact on the Upper Derwent landscape was about to begin and it [...] would be finished within fifty years. By the time it was complete someone born into the family occuping Bridge-End Farm in 1900 was living in a new terrace house just north of Bamford. By then their farmhouse was demolished, fields and carefully maintained dry-stone walls were lost, Derwent Hall was a pile of rubble and the dead who had been buried in Derwent churchyard since the 1870s were settling into the graveyard at Bamford. The heart of the community had moved en masse.

The reason for this was the need for water in the growing cities and towns of South Yorkshire and the East Midlands. Three Acts of Parliament were passed between 1899 and 1904 enabling Sheffield, Derby, Nottingham and Leicester to improve their water supplies by flooding the valleys. Town planners in northern England looked to the valleys of the Pennines and other uplands as potential reservoirs. This flooding of the valleys necessitated the removal of much of the existing dispersed farming population and associated patterns of land-use while leaving the grouse moors relativly undisturbed. For a temporary period, a new society was implanted into the area comprising the navvy dam builders themselves who were housed in the purpose-built village of Birchinlee, also known as Tin Town. By the time the reservoirs were finished the valley landscape was transformed under large bodies of water which covered farms, fields, Derwent Village and Ashopton. For anyone living in the valleys at this time, the impact must have been incredible. (page 142)

I think this evokes the context well: the growth of the industrial cities creating a demand for water, the relocation of a whole rural population (including the dead from the churchyard), the untouched grouse moors (shooting being the sport of the upper classes), and the arrival of the navvies - the stigmatised population of itinerant workers who built this country's industrial infrastructure.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Clement on Orpheus

I've been looking at Elizabeth Henry's book, Orpheus with his Lute: Poetry and the Renewal of Life. She covers a wide range material relating to Orpheus but I was interested to read her discussion of Clement of Alexandria:

The bringer of [...] spiritual liberation and health must, in the early Christian age, have appeared to possess either divine grace or magical powers. The perplexity of a devout Christian is seen in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, on other Greek myths and cultic heroes as well as the Orpheus story. In his Stromata (Miscellanies) of about 200 AD Clement speaks of 'Orpheus the theologian' as one who (like Plato) 'prepared the way' for the Gospel. Such Greek teachers were at this time declared by Clement to be prophets in direct line of descent from Moses. The status of Orpheus is not the equivalence with Christ which we find many centuries later in the Morte Christi celebrata, but that of 'prefiguration', as a divinely sent forerunner who was to show the nature of the Christ to come. This position was not easily maintained, as Clement's (apparently) later Protrepticon (Exhortation to the Greeks) makes clear. This work was a reply to the attack on Christianity by the Platonist Celsus, also of Alexandria, in which he declared Orpheus more worthy of worship than Jesus Christ. The vehemence of Clement's reply is itself a witness to the continuing potency of the Orphean figura:

"A Thracian, cunning master of his art (he also is the subject of a Hellenic legend) tamed the wild beasts by the mere might of song, and transplanted trees - oaks - by music ... How, let me ask, have you believed vain fables, and supposed animals to be charmed by music, while Truth's shining face alone is looked on with credulous eyes? ... To me that Thracian Orpheus seems to have been a deceiver ... enticing men to idols ... But not such is the song of Christ, which has come to loose the bitter bond of tyrannising demons. It alone has tamed men, the most intractable of animals; the frivolous among them answer to the fowls of the air, deceivers to reptiles, the irascible to lions, the voluptuous to swine, the rapacious to wolves. The silly are stocks and stones ... Behold the might of the new song! It has made men out of stones, men out of beasts. Those that were as dead, not being partakers of the new life, have come to the true life, simply by becoming listeners to this song."

I'm interested in this image of the 'song of Christ', especially the moment where Clement says 'Behold the might of the new song!'

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

ghost towns/sirens

On the one hand, this may be obvious, and, on the other, it may not be useful, but I just thought I'd post something about the fact that there is a connection between the thread on ghost towns and the thread on sirens. That connection lies in the fact that, on a number of occasions, the Septuagint presents ruined cities and destroyed communities as the haunts of sirens. This happens in Isaiah 13, 21-22, where the city is Babylon (see here), Isaiah 34, 13, where it is Edom (see here), Jeremiah 51, 39, where the reference is to the Chaldeans, again in Babylon (see here), and Micah 1, 8, where it is to Samaria (see here). So the ghost towns and the sirens potentially form one larger complex of imagery. (I ran into Hugh in the cafe the other day and mentioned these Biblical passages to him - he had some ideas about them and we said we'd get together for a chat about it soon. We haven't done that yet, so I must remember to drop him a line...)

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

abandoned communities

I've just found a website on abandoned communities in Britain. It's really worth a look!

drowned villages

I was thinking about ghost towns and suddenly became curious as to whether there are any places in Britain that fall into that category. There aren't really any large-scale examples here but there are quite a lot of abandoned villages, among them settlements that were drowned as a result of the construction of reservoirs. As it happens, there are examples very near to Sheffield. When the Ladybower Reservoir was built in the late 30s and early 40s, the villages of Derwent and Ashopton were evacuated and flooded. (The wikipedia entry for the former is here and the latter here - they are actually quite helpful.) Apparently, the buildings of Derwent occasionally become visible when the water-level is low but Ashopton never reappears out of the water. It occurs to me that, if you were interested in doing something site-specific over here, an event at the site of the drowned village might be quite exciting. I thought I'd illustrate this post with an image of the overflow at Ladybower - it looks rather dramatic, I think.

Friday, 7 May 2010

fraudulent voices

Even the fraudulent image of the crucified Orpheus can be thought of as an utterance - a sort of iconographic and textual lie. And, because a particular collector believed the lie, the seal ended up in the archive - more specifically, the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, where it was studied by Otto Kern and transcribed in his collected edition of orphic fragments published in 1922. In fact, I'm really *very* interested in this. It foregrounds the materiality of voices - the fact that they exist in records which may be real or may be forgeries, which may survive or be destroyed, that may be transcribed and translated more or less accurately. And all of these processes are, of course, functions of the practice of archiving voices.

orpheus and odysseus

This is just a quick note to gather together some of my thoughts on this pair of Siren-heroes: Odysseus and Orpheus. What strikes me is that they fulfil different symbolic functions for Early Christian commentators. Odysseus is the *human* figure, in exile in the world, avoiding attachments that would enmesh him too closely in the texture of earthly life. Orpheus is the *Christ*, entering the underworld to bring back his bride, herself a symbolic representation of humankind, exiled in a dark place and in need of redemption. But if the patterns of identification here are different - Odysseus and humankind, Orpheus and Christ - they are not simple, because the figure of Odysseus at the mast evokes the figure of Christ on the Cross, and Orpheus, in fact, failed to bring Eurydice out of the underworld, thus manifesting as a human shadow of Christ, the divine.

I suppose this complexity shouldn't be surprising because, in Christianity, Christ is both human and God, both the same as and different from us. What is more, the interaction of Christian and pre-Christian material draws out a kind of exilic dimension in both bodies of narrative. And, as I've said before, there are voices everywhere - the voices of the Sirens, the songs of Orpheus, bodies of narrative moving back and forth across languages and interpretive traditions, narratological layers in both the classical and the Christian texts, a layering of voices that might perhaps be thought of as an archive.

Thursday, 6 May 2010


I've found a website that discusses the image of Orpheus crucified. It refers to an article which was published in Aγγελος as early as 1926 and which asserts that the seal is fake. This judgement was made on the basis of the iconography. Interestingly, one of the key points is that the 'sagging' figure (with bent arms and legs) is characteristically medieval and not attested in late antique images of the crucifixion. The page is here:


I wanted to find an image of the 'iron cylinder' with the representation of Christ as Orpheus Bacchicus. (It's mentioned in the quotation from Rahmer I posted here.) I found an online copy of a book called Orpheus - the Fisher: Comparative Studies in Orphic and Early Christian Cult Symbolism by Robert Eisler, published in London in 1921, and it includes an image answering to the description Rahmer gives. Eisler says that the object in question is a 'seal cylinder' and that it is made of hematite, that is iron oxide. This is the engraving that appears in Orpheus - The Fisher:

While this is quite an intriguing object, I've come across suggestions on the web that it is a fake and, at the moment, have no way of knowing whether that's true or not. So... not necessarily authentic but kind of interesting even if it isn't. What would like behind the faking of an artifact like this?

serpent on a pole

OK, I may be showing my ignorance here but I wasn't entirely clear about the reference to the 'brazen serpent on a pole' in the hymn I've just quoted. For the record, it's a reference to the story in Numbers 21, 8-9, where God tells Moses how to protect the people from serpents:
And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
There is a reference to this passage in John 3, 13-14, where the serpent on the pole is identified with Christ on the cross. It is the sequence where Jesus speaks with Nicodemus, the Pharisee:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
So the hymn that I quoted alludes to two exilic experiences, one Jewish - the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness - and one Greek - Eurydice's exile in the underworld. This makes me think of Levinas and Derrida, but let's not go there this morning :o)

the figure of orpheus

I don't want to keep rendering the mythological theme more and more complex just for the sake of it. But, given that Orpheus is the other great mythological figure to survive the Sirens, I thought I'd look to see how he was perceived by the Early Church. And the answer is that he seems to have been very important. In a different section of Rahner's book (a chapter called 'The Mystery of the Cross') he says:

Christ crucified is "the true Orpheus" who brought home his bride, mankind, out of the depths of dark Hades; he is Orpheus Bacchicus and is so described on a well-known early Christian representation of the cross upon an iron cylinder.

[Note: Cf. Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne, XII, Paris, 1936, col. 2735-55, where also see illustration of the Orpheus cross, Fig. 9249; A. Boulanger, Orphée, Rapports de l'orphisme et du christianisme, Paris, 1925, p. 7.]

The Middle Ages still had an intimation of this and a hymn on the mystery of the cross runs as follows:

Brazen serpent on a pole—
Serpent once did make men whole,
Cured the poisoned sting.
Orpheus of the latter day
Dauntlessly his bride away
Out of Hell did bring.

[Note: Anonymous author (twelfth century) of the Easter sequence, Morte Christi Celebrata. Text in A. Mai, Nova Patrum Bibliotheca, I, 2, Rome, 1852, p. 208.]
I haven't yet seen anything to suggest that the voyage of the Argonauts was understood in terms of exile and I can't honestly see any reason why it would have been. But, on the other hand, Eurydice's time in the underworld is clearly a kind of exile and is used in this hymn to figure the unredeemed state of humankind. And that, of course, is reminiscent of the material in which Persephone/Proserpina is exiled to the underworld, a story in which, as Despina pointed out, the Sirens are involved. (I'll try to find a good version of that story and post it so that it shows up when we follow the relevant keywords.) So maybe some reasons to think of Odysseus and Orpheus as a pair...