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FOR 106
Myth and Meaning

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Discussion Questions for Test 2, Part 1:

In order to prepare for this part of the exam, which will focus on Cocteau's film Orphee and the chapters in your book also concerned with the Underworld and Orpheus, consider the following questions. Take the time before the test to look up details if you need to. No notes will be allowed in the exam room. You have already considered some of these questions in preparation for your last writing assignment....so you might want to review that! (but take care not to let Muppet Theater influence your memory of the text-Orpheus)

1. How is The World of the Living distinguished from the Other? Consider physical boundaries, scenery, lighting, psychological effect (what we feel and fear and hope...), physicality (how our bodies look), laws of physics, time, etc. Does the layout of the underworld conform to the plan described by Er and in Aeneid 6 in the Underworld Chapter (rivers, pathway, palace, ferryman)? How does Cocteau draw the Underworld? Does his vision amount to the same kind of thing even though the details are different?

2. How does one breach the barrier between the two worlds?

3. Consider the path Orpheus takes going in and going out of the Underworld. Compare Orpheus' descent/ascent to/from the Underworld in text and film. Are these differences significant to the meaning of each presentation?

4. Who is in charge in the Other World? How is their power manifested? (Re-read the part about the judges and punishment in your book). In the film, we find that even Death (and we recall that the Princess is just one aspect of Death) is bound by laws and held accountable. Is this true for any story we have read about the Underworld in classical literature? Include details from both text and film.

5. Why does Orpheus (or anyone) go down to the Underworld (in the text and in the film)? What does he seek? Does he satisfy his desire? Remember that in the film, Orpheus is attracted to Death. In mythology, Death is more of an enemy to be defeated or at least cheated.

6. Determine clearly in your mind what Orpheus' relationship with Art is in the classical text(s). Where does his skill come from, what does it allow him to do that others can't, what is his response to it, how does he use it? Now consider the film-Orpheus. His relationship with Art is different. Consider that in the beginning of the film, he was a successful poet willing to rest on his laurels as long as his fans adored him. Later, art becomes more important as a means to an end. Can you articulate the difference between the relationship with art for the text-Orpheus and the film-Orpheus?

7. In the film, Sleep is a metaphor for Death. It is also a metaphor for Ignorance (while we are alive...). Explain.

8. Compare the Death of Orpheus, film and text. How does Cocteau include elements of the ancient tale, and how is it different? Are Cocteau's reasons for including elements of the maenads' attack the same as for the ancient story? What does bring about Orpheus' death in each?

In short, consider the mythic elements of Cocteau's film: how we use art to transcend the limitations of humanity, how we try to access knowledge just out of our grasp (an example of how human beings constantly strive for something beyond our limited human experience) and the possible promise that Death holds (a release from these limitations). Remember that Orpheus' experiences inspired a mystery cult that swept the known ancient world. Clearly, it offered something that people wanted - the promise of an existence better and beyond our present one. Would Cocteau agree with this? Think about what happens to Orpheus at the end of the film. Which world does he choose? Or does he?


copyright 2001 Janice Siegel, All Rights Reserved
send comments to: Janice Siegel (jfsiege@ilstu.edu)

date this page was edited last: 08/02/2005
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