Orphia and Eurydicius
Harper Collins, 2023, $32.99
Orphia, in Elyse John’s debut novel, is prepared to live (and die) for love and poetry. Elyse John, an Australian novelist and poet, has taken the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, made the protagonist of her novel female, and reinvented the world that she inhabits by reconsidering how these fundamental aspects of our Western culture are shaped by male perspectives.
Orphia, at the beginning of the novel, is training as a warrior on the small Whispering Isle, under the protection of her father, Apollo, and enjoying the company of Jason who later enlists her as one of the Argonauts.
She fleetingly meets the shield maker Eurydicius, who strives to only protect and nurture in opposition to the masculine figures of aggression surrounding Orphia including Zeus and Hades. When King Dorus objects to her humiliation of his son, Ixion, he tells Apollo that Orphia is no longer welcome on the island and in return, Apollo torches the whole place.
Orphia, in addition to her warrior self, longs to be a poet which she only comes to understand when she meets her mother, the muse Calliope. Apollo took the baby Orphia from her mother and did not reveal her true ancestry, hiding the true source of her feminine strength. Orphia embraces the many possibilities that her identity offers her, training with the muses and using her gifts of poetry to achieve strength, beauty and fame as a poet. Eventually she is reunited with Eurydicius, who shows her a path to equal love, where they can both explore all aspects of their identity, and neither individual is possession or pursuer.
Elyse John has reinvented this classic tale to consider ideas about gender, identity and sexuality and how ideas about love, heroism and virtue derived from mythology need to be overturned to allow humanity to fully achieve artistic success and fulfilment through love.