Monday, February 4, 2013

The Chorus of the Furies

Click for bombast.

Yes, it's in Latin. No, you don't really need to understand the words; it's pretty much what you'd expect by the tone. I only now looked up the translation after hearing it dozens of times over the past few years. This song is an excellent example of what i mean by the gestalt of music as opposed to expert dissection of its components. Music is primarily emotional impact. Not only do i not understand Latin, but i have no idea what instruments are being played. I can't name the voice or the meter or cite likely inspirations. My approach to this song veers off mythology instead.

As in many mythologies around the world, the Greek pantheon was said to have been preceded by a chaotic time when the embodiments of the primordial forces ruled the universe: time, darkness, the sky, the earth, etc. What makes Greek legends stand out somewhat in this respect is that the primordials never entirely faded away. Their brutal, implacable influence serves as counterpoint to the Olympians' petty, capricious nature. Gaia lends humanity some help in the Greek version of the flood myth and Chronos, disemboweled and cast down into Tartarus, serves as the gods' oracle in a pinch. Nyx, the eternal night beyond the world, was the mother of ever-present death, Thanatos.

Even more terrible than Thanatos were the daughters of night and heaven, personifications of vengeance which haunted the underworld, emerging only to lay waste to the unrighteous, sources of such fear and loathing that it was considered a bad omen to even call them the Furies, the Erinyes. They were instead politely referenced as the Eumenides, the kindly ones. This was largely tongue-in-cheek because vengeance was in itself implacable and the Erinyes merciless.

The Furies, like the Moirai, the Fates, have an air about them of being above even divinity. Vengeance is a primal force. To be haunted by the Furies is to be condemned by reality itself, trampled under a universal judgment of sin. Gods would only call upon them for the most heinous of crimes such as hubris or Oedipus' incest and patricide. The Fates set you up and the Furies knock you down. They are the ultimate enforcers and torturers, sated never by regret or mitigating circumstances but only pain and penance.

Now listen to the song again. It is best heard on a fairly loud volume setting. Let it engulf you. The Erinyes are eternal and unquestionable, the inevitable undertow of the universe. They are reality itself correcting the sins of free will, brutally and endlessly. Their chorus is the triumph of unassailable power ... but to whom can the goddesses of righteous vengeance and eternal torment turn? Be consumed by the Furies, for a few moments of their eternity.

Something's always bothered me about this post but I don't want to simply redact my mistakes and pretend they didn't happen, and seeing as the page gets the odd hit every once in a while, I'll address the issue thus.
I unfortunately and unintentionally conflated the Furies with the goddess Nemesis by repeating the word vengeance where punishment might have been more correct. In my defense, the line between the two is blurry at best in the original mythology as well and they seem two iterations of the same popular concept of divine retribution or punitive law-enforcement.

This sort of redundancy appears numerous times in mythology. The names associated with divine attributions vary across the centuries and from one city-state to another. See Helios/Apollo or Phoebe/Leto/Artemis or Anubis/Osiris.

In terms of poetic imagery, a single figure which can be imbued with individual personality becomes more useful as oral and especially written tradition expands, but for a one-shot reference vague, vast, ill-defined categories like "angels" or "valkyries" or "furies" give the listener more leeway to conjure up more powerful imagery. Hence, it's probably best this wasn't entitled "The Song of Nemesis."

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