Tim's Reviews > Le Dernier chant d'Orphée

Le Dernier chant d'Orphée by Robert Silverberg
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really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, review-copies, translated-books, français, own, short-stories-novellas, reviewed

Robert Silverberg needs no introduction, as he's one of the big names in SFF-history. It did take me a while to discover his works and so far, I've only read Downward to the Earth, which I can surely recommend. See my review here.

One of his last works is the 2010 novella 'The Last Song of Orpheus', which was translated into French in 2012 and published by Éditions ActuSF. Now, seven years later, a new edition is available, released in April 2019. The novella was translated by Jacqueline Callier and Florence Dolisi.

The French version comes with a foreword by Pierre-Paul Durastanti, the novella itself, and an interview with Mr Silverberg (conducted by Éric Holstein, whose D'or et d'Emeraude is on my TBR-list). The new cover was made by Benjamin Chaignon.

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'Le Dernier Chant d'Orphée' is a rewriting of the Greek myth in which half-god Orpheus falls in love with the nymph Eurydice, but this love and relationship doesn't last long. Died by the bite of a snake, she arrives in the Underworld, home of Hades and Persephone. Orpheus has one big talent: music and singing, thanks to his master Apollo, to whom Orpheus is very much committed. His voice and musical skills cast a spell on all who hear it. Every creature, every tree or plant, quite simply everyone is moved by Orpheus's performances.

As he so heart-broken, Orpheus decides to head into the Underworld to ask for the return of Eurydice. The sole condition is that he can't look behind him until both have reached the world of mortals again. As you can imagine, Orpheus is too anxious and commits the fatal error. Of course, he can't just go back and ask again for her return, since Charon (the ferryman) can't be tricked again by Orpheus's chanting.

And so, our musical artist seeks other activities, even moves to Egypt to work for the pharaoh. Being far away will surely help to ease the pain, he believes. However, one can only learn so much in a new setting. Orpheus returns to Greece/Thrace, but is soon put on several missions to assist in various, dangerous undertakings.

In his rewriting of this myth, Mr Silverberg added the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, in which Jason is to retrieve the Golden Fleece, a symbol of authority and kingship. This fleece is well-guarded by a dragon. Jason manages to retrieve it, but only with the help of Orpheus (who sings the dragon to sleep) and the spells of Medea, the witch with whom Jason has fallen in love.

All's well that ends well, see the various retellings of the Greek mythologies. Except for Orpheus. Or rather, because of his talent, he finally seems to have come to terms with his fate, as Apollo also confirms to him. Or is it Dionysos, god in whose honour a party is held? A party involving liquor, sex, drugs, ... A party which men should not attend, as their lives would be at stake. However, Orpheus does attend, having been invited earlier. And then it's one type of music versus the other. Orpheus does not relent, hangs on to his very skills, but it will mean the end of him. Or will it? It's the only way to be reunited with his former lover, Eurydice, to whom he's been fateful since the beginning. Something not every woman appreciated. So, in a way, all's well that ends well.

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My knowledge of the Greek myths is very vague and thankfully, we have internet these days to quickly look up some information. Yes, there are also libraries and books, for which we should be even more thankful, otherwise much information wouldn't (have) be(en) available on the WWW.

Anyway, not only is this a recommanded retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (and Jason and the Argonauts and more), it's also an excellent way to (re-)explore the world of Greek mythology, one way or another. The translated version of Silverberg's novella is quite accessible and allows for a smooth read. I liked also how Mr Silverberg added some philosophical food for thought, how he put all gods (no matter the kind of religion) in one bowl and considered them as various sides/versions of one and the same god or entity. Like Dionysos and Apollo were considered two sides of the same coin, at least in the story. Again, I would have to dive into the world of Greek mythology for full details and understanding.

But yes, do read 'The Last Chant of Orpheus', or 'Le Dernier chant d'Orphée' if you wish to read it in a different language.

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I was sent this book by Éditions ActuSF for review. Many thanks to them for the trust.

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Reading Progress

March 26, 2019 – Shelved
March 26, 2019 – Shelved as: wishlist
March 26, 2019 – Shelved as: fantasy
March 26, 2019 – Shelved as: review-copies
March 26, 2019 – Shelved as: translated-books
March 26, 2019 – Shelved as: français
April 25, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
April 25, 2019 – Shelved as: own
April 25, 2019 – Shelved as: short-stories-novellas
April 28, 2019 – Started Reading
April 30, 2019 –
page 91
April 30, 2019 – Shelved as: reviewed
April 30, 2019 – Finished Reading

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