Graduates put a fresh perspective on a classic myth

“There is a truth to the way that people speak about things like love and death and life. These stories are emblematic for the discussions about life, whether you feel if it’s worth living. Is death bad? What does death feel like if it’s in a mythical or fantastical realm where death is not sitting over there in a graveyard? What does it mean to live death?”

In the multimedia project “E//O,” Louis Jargow ’10, along with fellow alumnus Blaine O’Neill ’11 and several others, retell the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Through letters and epistolary verse, as well as illustrations and a carefully curated soundtrack, “E//O” examines Eurydice’s under-examined perspective — with a few changes. For one, in this version, Eurydice is a darkly beautiful goth girl, who chooses to leave for Hades. And Hades is relocated from a chasm beneath the earth to Arizona. Along with the correspondence between the two lovers, illustrations by Lauren Moran lend visual interpretation, mixing classic Greek imagery with contemporary elements. An accompanying soundtrack is also available for download with the book.

Jargow notes that in the original myth, Eurydice is brought to the underworld by Hades and must be rescued by Orpheus. Rebuking this depiction of Eurydice as a character who lacks agency, “E//O” offers an alternative: that she went to the underworld of her own volition, committing suicide after realizing she was too dark for the mortal realm. Jargow explains that in myths, women are usually “side notes, wives and important lovers.” All too often, the only characters with dialogue are men. Collaborator Suzahn Ebrahimian provides a strong, independent female voice, writing the letters to Orpheus that convey the conscious decision to stay in Hell.

“Different perspectives collide, Orpheus tells that she left and Eurydice writes about how she decided to leave, it wasn’t magic,” explains Jargow. “It was just that she decided she wasn’t ready to go back to the living.”

“E//O”  began as a deeply personal project. As in any other artistic endeavor, Jargow seeks to articulate his own feelings. He explained how he was drawn in by reading poetry and wanted to “lure people in to figure out why people keep telling these myths in the first place.” Jargow’s own experiences led him to empathize with the plot, and he says that the story “spoke to him.”  Originally, the work was so inextricably mixed with his own life that it took some time to remove his personal baggage and defensive instincts and instead come to terms with the publicity and vulnerability of publishing work. This level of passion and personal investment lends an unmistakable layer of authenticity to the piece.

Prior to writing “E//O,” Jargow read a lot of contemporary, poetic adaptations of other classic Greek tragedies. He realized that common to all the adaptations was “a bridging of worlds,” using humor and other comical aspects to disrupt the more traditional definition of “contemporary.” Jargow incorporates this into his own work, relying heavily on tropes and ambiguity. One example he cites is having a reader question if the entire journey to the underworld is a road trip to Arizona for Orpheus to save his girlfriend.

During his time at Swarthmore, Jargow gained exposure to similar literature through directing plays. In and out of the classroom he challenged the relevancy of myths, exploring how and why such stories survive for eons. Studying abroad in Poland, Jargow was introduced to Professor Micahł Zadara ’99, who was working on adaptations of Greek tragedies. With the advising of Professor Allen Kuharski, chair of the theater department, Jargow tried his own hand at this developing an honors thesis that reinterpreted “Orestia,” a more classic tragedy concerning war, politics, betrayal and revenge.

After the ample support and encouragement he received, Jargow perpetuated his passion in Greek tragedies after commencement, continually being drawn back to the story of Eurydice and Orpheus. He concludes that the expectation of having and focusing on forming collaborative processes was the most useful lesson he took away from Swarthmore. Jargow’s experience working in a team that established a hierarchy and set positions only when absolutely necessary became very relevant when developing this book.

During the publishing process, Jargow faced the complications of funding, including everything from raising enough money to budgeting to determining salaries. Luckily, a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding project has left the team with enough money to do a performance (versus mere readings) once “E//O” is out. Originally, the team had envisioned small, self-published, hand bound books. A happy coincidence introduced publisher Patrick Kiley of Publication Studio, in Hudson, NY, to the team.

To aspiring writers Jargow admits prolific writing is the most important aspect. He explains that for a project of this scale to come to fruition takes time. “E//O” resulted from over a year of writing along with another eight months for the editing process. It was the poetic answer to questions about the meaning of life and death and love, something that the entire team behind “E//O” tried to grapple with. Though very different from how he might have expected, Jargow is “happy things turned out this way” and may still nourish an interest in the myth of Oedipus as his next project.

“E//O” is available for download with the companion soundtrack on Indiegogo.

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