Remember, O Thou Man

Remember, O Thou Man Week Two: I swear this discussion of Hadestown is Really Quite Relevant


If I were a character in Greek mythology, I would swear on the River Styx.

Just…read it. And then I dare you to tell me it’s not applicable.

Also hi. How are you, my friend? Are you taking care of yourself? Just because life is busy and it’s Lent doesn’t give you an excuse to not take care of yourself, mind you. *wags finger at you*

(I’m one to talk.)

My life has been…well, it’s not really any less busy than usual, but my being post COVID has made it a lot more difficult to handle the business of living and adulting and existing as a normal human being. I do remember this happened last time I got COVID. You begin to wonder if you’ll ever not be tired again.

(I’m fine, shut up.)

Anyhow. You came here to read about Hadestown. So tallyho.

Please note: it’s not strictly necessary to listen to any of the linked music in order to understand the post, as I’m quoting and giving context at link. But it seemed only fair to link each lyric to its song. I do highly recommend the show if you like jazz or folk music–or low singing. The bass and alto action in this thing is incredible.

“I dunno ‘bout you boys,” but I’ve noticed a pattern with mythology.

A couple, actually. 

There are a few elements that seem to quietly make their way into almost every mythology, no matter where it comes from or what the culture’s like. As an example, based on my limited observation: no matter what part of the world it comes from, you can almost always find a great flood in a culture’s mythology. (We know where that one came from.) Usually in association with a few people escaping. Here’s another one: dragons! Why should the Chinese and the Norse both have dragons, despite having no possible contact with each other?

My best guess at that one is that since the Garden of Eden, deep down, all humanity has at least subconsciously associated primordial ultimate evil with primordial ultimate lizards. 

Here’s another one, and we’re at the point now:


Certainly, Fates don’t always seem to come in the Greek/Roman configuration of three woman. But it seems to be an incredibly common pattern all the same, and I’d be willing to bet there’s almost always some sort of Fate no matter the form. Take, for an example, the Norse version—the three giantesses, the Norns, that sit at the bottom of the World Tree.  

Fact of the matter is, if the dragons make sense with Salvation History, and the floods do too, I’d be willing to bet almost all consistent patterns have some Salvation History tie-in.

So what’s the deal with Fates? It’s certainly not as obvious as the dragons or the floods. In fact, I wasted a good bit of brainpower trying to think of any possible connection before I gave it up and moved on to other things.

I don’t quite remember what the other things were, but I happened to listen to something quite fantastic while doing them, and thus arrived at a conclusion to my Fates problem.

Cue Hadestown.

A brief explanation, for those of you that don’t know what that is: Hadestown is a recent-ish (created in 2006, hit Broadway 2019) musical adaptation of the Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. (It’s been described as a folk opera, which I think is an extremely apt description.) The music, which is a mixture of traditional show tune sound, Harlem jazz, and American folk music sound, is truly glorious. I love it to bits. However, it might not be for everybody, and the sound of the show is not a hill I would die on, much as I myself love it. But I will stand on the side of Hadestown’s storytelling any day. It is a truly tremendous piece of writing and storycraft, and it’s provided me with a lot of good food for thought on many topics totally unrelated to our little discussion about Fate. But the Fate thing has been particularly thought-provoking, I will admit.

You see, in the original Greek myth, the antagonist isn’t clear. But it’s very clear in the show that the antagonists are the Fates. They are constantly pitted against Orpheus—he’s the only one in the story they never even pretend to be friends with.

So let’s do a little examination of Hadestown, shall we? The beginning and the end, Orpheus and the Fates, and the way they’re pitted against each other. 

Hadestown starts with a brief introduction of the characters—a quick sketch of the key players. This is done by Hermes, who acts as the narrator throughout the story. He’s accompanied by the chorus—and the very first people they speak of are the Fates. “Three old women…always whispering in the back of your mind…” More importantly, however, one comes away from this song with the impression that everybody knows where the story is going. The singers repeat over and over that it’s an old song, that they’re going to sing it ‘again.’ They’ve done it before. Everybody knows what happened last time, but as Hermes puts it, “See someone’s got to tell the tale/whether or not it turns out well./Maybe it will turn out this time…”

We can already tell Fate is playing a very strong hand in this story, although the characters are perhaps lying to themselves as to just how strong it is. The destiny of the story is all set out. The players are going to try and defy it all the same.

You can practically hear the Fates smirking in the background.

Hermes still had to introduce them first.

You see, in Greek mythology, the Fates have a power over even the gods. 

Nobody bests destiny.

The Fates are already in charge and they know it.

But hold your horses, folks, ‘cause here comes Orpheus. Right from this first song, Orpheus is sketched out as a bit of a naïve fellow. A little bumbling, a little daydreamy—but he seems to understand something the others don’t, for he’s the only character that gets to sing in his own introduction (albeit only to himself).

Already the characters are pretty striking, but they only get more clearly defined in this fashion throughout the story. With each character, but especially Orpheus. Over and over again, he sees things others don’t. (“He could make you see what the world could be/in spite of the way it was.”) He fights battles others won’t pick, he questions injustices the other characters (even Hermes) accept as simple reality, and he even dares to try and change the very state of their lives—a long and wearied existence, followed by Death. He challenges the elements with his song, a song nobody else remembers even though they may have known it long ago. He stands up to the King of the Dead himself. In everything he is shown to once again know something the other characters don’t. 

On the other hand, Orpheus is a first-class idiot. He’s naïve—everybody says it. (“Orpheus was a poor boy—some said he was naïve”) He forgets things—important things. Such as the fact that he and his wife are hungry and struggling to survive, for instance.  He has awful social skills, and he doesn’t seem to see the stupidity of challenging Hades, or standing up to the elements, or the Fates themselves.  

It’s funny. Orpheus is as wise as old man and as stupid as a young one. 

Sorta timeless, huh?

The Fates, on the other hand, practically are time. The gnawing hand of mortality. The constant chill of doubt. Every time anybody does anything, they’re there…watching. Giving ‘advice.’ Reminding people that their destiny is set. (“The first shall be first…and the last shall be last. Cast your eyes to Heaven–you get a knife in the back!“) Reminding people, especially Orpheus, that nothing good comes of breaking the rules. (“Why waste your precious breath?/Nothing changes anyhow…”) When Eurydice gets to Hadestown (mainly through the Fates’ influence, I might add) they’re the ones that show her around and tell her gleefully that it’s too late for her to go back. 

This might spark the argument that they’re on the side of Hades. I’d say not. In Word to the Wise, they do give him the advice that eventually becomes Orpheus’ doom, it’s true. But it’s not because they’re on the side of Hades. It’s because they’re on the side of Fate. The implacable hand of Death, and its impassable barrier (“those who go, they don’t come back”) are the only thing the Fates ally themselves with. They never consult with anybody. They’re never conflicted. They never show any preference, except as regards Death. 

They are the Fates.

It should be pretty obvious the way that Orpheus and the Fates stand against each other—and in a sense, the way that everybody in the show stands opposite the Fates. Even Hades, by the end of the story, is rooting for Orpheus. “If he can do it, so can we”…he’s hope. And timelessness, in a sense. He can break any barrier, it seems. He raises his head to the sky, not out of pride, but because he searches for the sun. And in this he stands alone—with an army of silent observers behind him, waiting to see how it plays out.

But eventually it all comes to a head. The Fates confront Orpheus on his walk back (“who are you to hold your head up higher than your fellow man?”) and he’s tired. He’s worn down and Hadestown can get to even him, apparently. 

He begins to doubt. Only the Fates can be heard singing with him now. He’s alone in the dark—is Eurydice behind him? He can’t tell. He can’t hear her song. And who is he to hold his head up? Why should he do this? There’s no sun to look for anymore…except the one that may or may not be behind him…

And he turns. 

And Eurydice sinks back down into the dark forever.

Sadly, slowly, Hermes and the company sing of the end of the story—they didn’t thwart Fate. Once again, that was how it went. Is it worth it to start over? Hermes thinks so. He learned from Orpheus, he says—somebody’s got to tell the tale. Whether or not it turns out well. 

And so they begin again.


There are a couple of pretty obvious themes playing against each other in this story. But I’d say the strongest one is timelessness versus Fate. 

The thing is, the Greeks and the Norse and all the rest knew that there must be something greater than themselves out there. But they couldn’t invent anything beyond man. They couldn’t even imagine the beauty and power of the truth.

And they certainly couldn’t imagine timelessness, so utterly foreign as it is to humanity’s mind. 

So they put in the Fates. 

The great masters—that stand over even the gods. When it came down to it for the Greeks, even if, like Orpheus, their myths and their songs and they themselves could transcend the long and wearied existence, they could not transcend Death, or Fate. 

And that, in my opinion, is why the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the greatest myths of all time.

It’s because no matter how hard he tried, no matter what he did, no matter how incredible and timeless a man he might be in his virtue, Orpheus remains just that—

A man.

Orpheus is actually, in a unique sort of way, related to Adam. He’s an upright man, whose wife fell victim to Sin (in persona snake or suicide, doesn’t matter which; as we discussed last week, suicide is sorta uniquely symbolic of the Fall of Man as well). And he couldn’t save her, no matter how upright he was–couldn’t bring humanity back from the dead. I’ve said this before, but the fundamental salvation history parallel for Orpheus is that he is Adam–but he’s not Jesus.

And in the sad, slow refrain of the end of Hadestown and the end of the myth, there is the unconscious realization that humanity on its own can never rise above death. It is the destiny of all of us. 

The Greeks somehow knew, even if they didn’t know they knew. 

They knew the story wasn’t complete. 

Of course, all that changed with the arrival of Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ. His crucifixion, death and resurrection stand as powerful reminders both of His divinity and of His humanity.

And, I ask my Catholic friends in particular, what could be more timeless than the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, and the impossibly present sacrifice and victory every time the priest raises the host to Heaven? Not replayed, as in Hadestown, but present. Timeless. 

Truly these are mysteries greater than the human mind can plumb.

The Greeks couldn’t invent anything better than Orpheus. No matter how many times the story was retold. They could not imagine timelessness. They were crushed by Fate.

But our timeless God has crushed Fate as Orpheus never could. 

Wrap Up

Welp, that’s that for that, my friends. I hope you enjoyed this somewhat chaotic post on one of my favorite musicals, as well as my thoughts on Fate. I feel like I might have more to say about Hadestown in the future, so if it’s also something you enjoy, feel free to nerd-vibe in the comments, as the kids say.

I will certainly have more to say about the Four Last Things in the future (and likely Fate as well), so I shall see you next week with whatever new machinations of Remember O Thou Man I cook up.

God bless and keep you all, and take care of yourselves!

2 replies on “Remember, O Thou Man Week Two: I swear this discussion of Hadestown is Really Quite Relevant”

Hadestown is always relevant. In my humble opinion.

(Why do I feel like you’re looking RIGHT AT ME when you’re wagging your finger and saying I don’t have an excuse not to take care of myself? *hides*) (To be fair, I am trying to figure out how to take care of myself, but it’s HARD OKAY)

I actually…never thought of the Fates as the antagonists? (See, this is why I LOVE Hadestown–there are so many layers and things to discover! Always!) But it makes so much sense, really. That would kind of explain why they’re so mean. *facepalm* (*whispers to self* Sam, you idiot, look in front of your face!)

“The realization that humanity on its own can never rise above death” <<YESSSSSSSSS "They knew the story wasn't complete" <<<MORE YES ALL THE YES.

Grim, those conclusions are awesome, true, and beautiful, and also a way that I hadn't thought to think about Hadestown before!

"Our timeless God has crushed Fate as Orpheus never could." *shivers*

Liked by 1 person

Hadestown *is* always relevant. This is the truth, so let it be written, so let it be done.
To be honest, when I write stuff like that, I do scroll through the roster of people in my head who I know will likely see this, and think of all of them specifically. And knowing you’d been having a bit of a time, may or may not have thought of you in a special way there. If that’s not creepy, ha. But I know how you feel. I…am really good of taking care of everybody else and pretty much everything I need to…except me. Y’know?
Right???!!! As soon as it occurred to me it was kind of a facepalm moment. But more importantly, like you said, the show has different things you can take out of it depending on what angle you’re taking. Like, you could say Hades is the antagonist, and I don’t think that would be inaccurate. And that leads to piles of other discussions and contemplations. I LOVE THIS SHOW. It’s Chesterton’s oddly shaped keyhole at its finest and it’s just *chef’s kiss* And I’m glad it gave you a new way to think about it. Several of your Hadestown posts have done the same for me. Between us we are ramming the show down everybody’s throats with a digging bar and I have no objection to that. *dusts hands off with a satisfied smile*
So glad you liked this so, Sam! Thanks for stopping by!


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