The Gifts of the Furies
RELOCATING A WESTERN LAW SONG
The Gifts of the Furies began as a lecture Dr Glenda Cloughley was to give to Canberra Jung Society about the social and ethical crisis of climate change in February 2008. But Glenda, a Jungian analyst as well as singer and emerging composer, couldn’t get the language of a lecture to come.
She felt snared by the same ‘sterile anxiety’ that the Citizens’ Chorus cry out about in the Greek tragedies the poet Aeschylus wrote in 458BC. Rather like us as the rivers die and the polar ice melts, the ancient chorus are complicit in a fate set by political leaders who have raised the mortal laws of their city-states above the immortal laws of Nature. Aeschylus saw the necessary corrective in terms of poetic justice and used the dramas to encourage people to bring the laws into right relations so the Furies of Earth would not regulate the balance in a catastrophic way by hurling a bloody tide of destruction against humankind.
Glenda began to feel that the human causes of the climate change crisis were more likely to be addressed if the power of poetics to reach people’s feeling could be activated than if it were all left to rational analysts and lecturers.
Three weeks before the Jung Society date, she began writing a story-song. Basing it in the analogies between our plight and the Greek myth, she also included the pain of ‘suffering into truth’ that is the lot of those artists who become caught in the spiritual challenges of their age. She interspersed the story-song with choral music she had written in the previous 15 months from the Songs to the Earth cycle and the first version of The Gifts of the Furies was completed four days before a work-in-progress performance Glenda and Chorus gave to the Jung Society with musical direction and much emotional nurturance by Johanna McBride.
For the 2009 performances with a much larger Citizens’ Chorus of men and women, new words and music attempted to express the fear, frustration, longing and fragile hope that hums beneath many people’s concerns about the changing climate.
For the 2010 performances, the work has benefited from dramaturgical attention. Glenda has also developed some unattractive parallels between the dysfunctional royals of mythic Argos and us, and added the wise ancestral voice of The Chorus of the Many whose music is mainly in the ‘Pythagorean scale’.
Glenda has based part of the structure of her 80-minute work in storytelling and choral traditions that are more ancient than the dramas of the Greek theatre.
As Storyteller she sings the retold myth to a simple story tune in 120 verses of hexameters set to the Aeolian mode. A Narrator links the seven movements of the work and points to the story’s current relevance. There are choral songs, solos and small vocal ensembles. Throughout, the Chorus of Citizens comments on the emotional consequence of the changing climate and political leaders’ actions. Even the citizens in the audience get in on the story with comments to sing into the drama. In the end, as you might expect, reconciliation between people and Nature is achieved not by kings, queens, business leaders or priests, but by activating the great ethical potency of human love.
Introducing a few key characters
THE CHORUS OF CITIZENS – This is the voice of the people from which democracy and Western theatre both sprang in the golden days of Athens. Tonight, a big chorus of Canberra citizens re-sounds the voice in choral song and comments on events, ancient and current, global and local. There are numerous opportunities for citizens in the audience to sing in this chorus. You just repeat what the Cantor sings, and you will find all your empathic sounds and words printed in bold in the lyrics section of the program.
THE CHORUS OF THE MANY is an ancestral voice of human wisdom, come to help in present crises of relations between people and Earth. As The Many point to connections between the loss, misunderstanding or forgetting of our European law songs and the way urban civilization is poisoning the earth and sky, they prepare us for the mythic stories of Argos and Athens.
THE FURIES OF EARTH – These impressive spirits are drawn both from the Erinyes in The Oresteia and the Gaia hypothesis of contemporary earth and climate system science. The Furies embody forces of regulation in Nature that correct imbalances, including those caused by people. At the beginning and end of The Gifts of the Furies, we also meet the benevolent aspects of Gaia’s spirits that the Greeks call The Eumenides –– The Graces of Earth or The Kindly Ones.
ETHOS – Based partly on Athena in The Oresteia of Aeschylus, the voice of this wise, civilising spirit of the community owes much to conversations with the late Tom Bass about his sculpture Ethos, which has stood outside the ACT Legislative Assembly in Civic Square since 1961. In 2005, Tom Bass dreamed of Ethos speaking words –– since engraved into a plaque alongside Ethos –– which have been set to music in The Gifts of the Furies. A photograph of Ethos is on our poster and the bronze Head of Ethos Tom Bass created last year is present in our performances.
LORD REASON – This great civilising divinity is based partly on the Greek god Apollo and partly on more recent arch-minders of the rational powers.
MR MYTHOS a.k.a. The Songman. This is Aeschylus, the master poet who won first prize in the Athens theatre competition of 458BC for the three tragedies and a lost satyr play that comprise The Oresteia. NB. Mr Mythos does not appear in The Gifts of the Furies, but the dreams and visions that led to his poetic imagining of genuine reconciliation between Nature and culture are the main subjects of the story in Movements II and VI, The Songman and The Eyes of Love.
Synopsis of the movements
1. THE MANTLE OF SONGS Wise ancestral spirits in The Chorus of the Many tell of a mantle around the Earth. This fabric of laws and law-songs has held all of nature in harmony until now. The spirits of Earth –– The Kindly Ones/Furies –– say that life is endangered, with the Mantle of Songs tearing because people live in discord and no longer sing the sacred laws. The Chorus of the Many comes to the house of the people’s power to give the citizens and a storyteller a healing myth from Old Europe to help restore harmony between nature and culture.
2. THE SONGMAN In Athens, a poet called Mr Mythos fears what’s coming as people indulge in the fateful fantasy that the laws of their beautiful city are more powerful than the laws of nature. In visions and dreams he has terrifying encounters with the Furies of Earth, then tries to write a story-song to show people the catastrophic outcome of persisting in their unsustainable way of life. The writing goes badly until Ethos comes to his dream on the night his grand-daughter is born.
3. THE WATCHMAN We move to the city-state of Argos, inside the myth the Songman is writing. The king and his fleet are nearly home after victory in the 10-year Trojan War. We hear from some innocents about atrocities of the ruthless warrior king. The ghost of his daughter tells that he killed her to help win the war. A watchman waits helplessly in grief and dread, remembering his dead son. A young woman receives the remains of her lover in an urn of ash. With the Chorus of Citizens frightened and powerless about the changing climate, the ships arrive home. The tragedy is on.
4. THE CRIMES We enter the palace of Argos where a double of our own predicament lurks in the myth’s dark core. The ghost of the princess sings more of her ghastly story and we hear the story of the girl’s mother who is waiting to murder her husband, the king. The citizens recognise that nature has been pressed too far. Some empathise with her suffering; others worry that she will unhinge the State. She kills the king. Their son, the Crown Prince, seeks the counsel of Lord Reason then takes his mother’s life to avenge his father. Civil disorder follows. The Furies, who command payback for crimes against mothers as well as Mother Earth, sing the prince into madness. Lord Reason can’t help the Prince and refers him to wise Ethos. She constitutes a democratic court to try him in Athens.
5. THE TRIAL The citizens’ jury is seated in the House of Representatives. Ethos presides. Lord Reason will defend the Prince of Argos, who is unfit to plead. The Furies of Earth will pursue for his murdered, murdering mother. The cases are put. Reason argues for the law of urban civilisation to prevail and the Furies threaten to rage against the cities if the law of nature continues to be dishonoured. Ethos says that harmony of people and Earth requires a balance between love and the will to power: between the relational and rational principles. The citizens vote. Ethos sends the Prince back home to restore civil order. The Ghost of the Girl asks the citizens whether they think the Furies of Earth will abide by the verdict of a civil court.
6. THE EYES OF LOVE We step out of the myth, returning into the experience of Mr Mythos, who’s writing the story. After finishing the trial scene, he’s lost his confidence. Reason had to prevail in the civil court, but what about The Furies’ threats to raise the oceans and drown the cities? He doesn’t know how to bring love into the equation. Then he finds it in his baby granddaughter’s smiling eyes. Soon enough, the gaze of love opens his ears to the green songs he’s been longing for … and the right end to the story!
7. RECONCILIATION Back inside the story, the Furies rage at Ethos, threatening to annihilate mankind. Wise Ethos says she is a young god and acknowledges that they are as old as the Earth. “I will never tire of telling you your gifts,” she sings. Although people join her song, the Furies are deeply sceptical. Yet we may find that a path to reconciliation opens between people and Earth when the great voice of the citizens (including all the audience) sings with Wisdom
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