The Last Song of Orpheus
by Robert Silverberg
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted March 13, 2011
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The Orpheus of Greek myth was a great musician, the son of the muse Calliope and the god Apollo. He is the first person narrator of this story, which recounts several different incidents from his life, including his love for his bride Eurydice, his travels with Jason in search of the Golden Fleece, and his death at the hands of the vengeful Maenads. Nothing really new as far as the myths go, except I don't recall that Orpheus was doomed to repeat his life over and over, but in this case it was necessary for him to explain his death and his acceptance of his fate.
The Last Song of Orpheus is a short book, probably more novella than novel in length. One might be inclined to read it very quickly, but I would advise a slower pace, savoring the lyrical quality of the prose (appropriate for a singer and musician) as well as the thoughtful message intertwined with the familiar story. I don't believe in fate or destiny as does Orpheus, but I do think that one should live his life for the moment, not in fear or anticipation of what lies ahead or full of regret for what has gone before. Since Orpheus has lived his life multiple times he has come to an acceptance of every facet of it, has learned to savor the good times as well as the bad.
The major part of his story with which most readers would be familiar is his love for Eurydice, her death and his journey to the Underworld to bring her back to life. This is recounted in the first part of the book, taking up much less time than I would have expected, but it speaks to Orpheus' acceptance of fate. Yes, he still grieves for her, he wishes he was of stronger resolve not to look back on her beautiful face before they escaped Hell, but he knows that is what the gods foretold, what he is always destined to do. It doesn't make the pain any less severe, but it is just one part of his overall existence and he can accept it for what it is, one of the many details that have shaped the man he eventually becomes, and always will be no matter how he might wish things were different.
Silverberg has always been a master story-teller, and has valued style with substance rather than just one of the two. There are those who might question his choice of subject matter here, and long for a more original story from one of SF's Grand Masters, but Orpheus himself sums it up quite nicely:
"One sings of such stories, not because they are the literal truth, but because they cast the light of truth over the deep realities of the world."
This is the same reason we can enjoy multiple adaptations of all the great stories, from the Greek and Roman myths, to Shakespeare and Dickens, even fairy tales like Cinderella, because they speak to the heart about our hopes and dreams, as well as our fears and anxieties. So shall it ever be. Not the greatest book Silverberg has ever written, but well worth the time to read and to ponder on some of those truths.
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