The tale of Orpheus and Eurydice has long been a popular myth in music, drama, literature, and film. Anais Mitchell’s recent musical sensation Hadestown (which was workshopped from 2006 and had an off-Broadway debut during the 2017-18 season) is but one example of the reworking of the legendary love story. Although Mitchell’s musical is broadly defined as a folk opera, it is just the latest instance amongst many pop culture reinterpretations of the Orpheus myth across different musical genres. The tragic tale of a famed musician who traveled to the underworld to retrieve his love from the grips of death has inspired several musicians during the 1990s and the 2000s.
It might seem that Plato and Xenophon have little in common with heavy metal bands; however, they do share an admiration for those warlords of Laconia: the Spartans. In a word, each expressed a degree of laconophilia. What drew ancient philosophers and heavy metal bands alike to Sparta may be a feeling of disenchantment with their respective mainstreams. Socrates’ pupils were no doubt disillusioned with Athenian democracy following his execution in 399 BCE, and the Spartan alternative arguably inspired in Plato’s Republic and Xenophon’s Constitution of the Spartans was a type of escapist fantasy.
Classical reception is evident in pop-culture media like films and TV, but it is also a recognizable part of music. I began to ponder this recently after hearing BBC Radio 6 ask the question “What song should be on a playlist inspired by ancient history and why?” The following post details some songs that I’ve enjoyed over the years that feature references to ancient history and the ancient world more generally.
This article was originally published in Amphora 12.1. It has been edited slightly to adhere to current SCS blog conventions.
It is a great time to be a fan of both the classical world and heavy metal music: the two have never overlapped to the extent that they do right now. Consider, for example, the fact that in 2013 not one but two Italian metal bands, Heimdall and Stormlord, released concept albums based on Vergil’s Aeneid.
“At last my love has come along.” — At Last, written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren
tandem uenit amor (at last my love has come along) — Sulpicia poem 1, line 1