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The Other Eurydice

You have won, men of without, you have recast the stories to suit yourselves, to condemn us of within to the role you like to give us, the role of powers of darkness and of death, and the name you have given us, Hades, is laden with tones of doom. Truly, if all should forget what really happened between us, between Eurydice and Orpheus and myself, Pluto, a story quite the reverse of the one you tell, if no one at all now remembers that Eurydice was one of us and that she never did live on the surface of the Earth until Orpheus snatched her away from me with his deceitful music, then our ancient dream of making the Earth a living sphere will be lost for ever.

Even now hardly anyone still remembers what we meant by making the Earth live: not what you imagine, content with your dustcloud life set down on the border between water, earth and air. I wanted life to expand outwards from the centre of the Earth, to spread upwards through its concentric spheres, to circulate around its metals, liquid and solid. Such was Pluto's dream. It was the only way the Earth might have become an enormous living organism, the only way we could have avoided that condition of precarious exile to which life has been forcibly reduced, the dull weight of an inanimate ball of stone beneath, and above, the void. You can no longer even imagine that life might have been something different from what now goes on without, or rather, almost without, since above you and the Earth's crust, there is always the other tenuous crust of the air. Still, there's no comparing this to the succession of spheres in whose interstices we creatures of the depths have always lived, and from which we still rise up to throng your dreams. The Earth is not solid inside, but disjointed, made up of superimposed layers of different densities one below the other, right down to the iron and nickel nucleus, which again is a system of nuclei one inside the other, each rotating separately from the others according to the greater or lesser liquidity of its element.

I don't know what right you have to call yourself terrestrial creatures. Your true name would be extraterrestrials, people who live without: we who live within are the terrestrials, myself and Eurydice for example, until the day you tricked her and took her away from me, to your desolate without.

This is the realm of Pluto, since it is here that I have always lived, together with Eurydice at first, then alone, in one of these lands within. A sky of stone wheeled above our heads, clearer than your sky and crossed, like yours, by clouds, gathering suspensions of chrome and magnesium. Winged shadows take flight: these skies within have their birds, concretions of light rock tracing out spirals that wind upwards and out of sight. The weather is subject to brusque changes: when showers of leaden rain beat down, or zinc crystals hail, there's nothing for it but to worm your way into the shelter of some porous rock. Sometimes a fiery streak zigzags through the dark: it's not lightning, but an incandescent metal snaking down through a vein.

We thought of the Earth as the internal sphere where we happened to be, the sky as the sphere that surrounded that sphere: the same way you do really, except that here these distinctions were always temporary, arbitrary, since the consistency of the elements was constantly changing, and sometimes we would realize that our sky was hard and solid, a millstone crushing us, while the earth was a sticky glue of whirling eddies and bubbling gasses. I tried to take advantage of the downward melt of heavier elements to get closer to the true centre of the Earth, the nucleus of all nuclei, and I held Eurydice by the hand, leading her in the descent. But every downward infiltration that opened a way towards the centre, would displace other material and force it back towards the surface: sometimes, as we sank down we would be caught by the upward gushing tide and whirled along on the crest of its wave. So we went back up the terrestrial radius; passages would open in the mineral layers and suck us in and beneath us the rock would harden again. Until we found ourselves standing on another soil with another stony sky above our heads, hardly knowing if we were higher or lower than the point we had set out from.

No sooner did she see the metal of a new sky liquefy above us than Eurydice was seized by a yearning to fly. She flung herself upwards, swam across the dome of a first sky, then another, then a third, grabbing on to the stalactites that hung from the highest vaults. I followed, partly to join in her game and partly to remind her that we were supposed to be going in the opposite direction. Of course, Eurydice was as convinced as I was that the place we must get to was the centre of the Earth. Only by reaching the centre could we call the whole planet our own. We were the forefathers of terrestrial life and hence we had to begin to make the Earth live from its nucleus, gradually irradiating our condition throughout the globe. Terrestrial life was our goal, a life of the earth and in the earth; not what sprouts on the surface and which you think you can call terrestrial life, when it is no more than a mould that spreads its stains on the wrinkly peel of the apple.

We could already see the plutonic cities we meant to found rising under basalt skies, surrounded by walls of jasper, spherical, concentric cities sailing on oceans of mercury, washed by rivers of incandescent lava. What we wanted was a living-body-city-machine that would grow and grow until it filled the whole globe, a telluric machine that would use its boundless energy in ceaseless self-construction, combining and transforming all substances and shapes, performing, with the speed of a seismic shock the work that you without have had to pay for with centuries of sweat. And this city-machine-living-body would be inhabited by beings like ourselves, giants stretching out their powerful arms across wheeling skies to embrace giantesses, who, with the rotating of concentric earths, would expose themselves in ever new attitudes giving rise to ever new couplings.

These minglings, these vibrations were to give birth to a realm of diversity and completeness, a realm of silence and of music. Constant vibrations, propagating themselves at varying slownesses, according to the depth and discontinuity of the materials, would ruffle the surface of our great silence, transforming it into the ceaseless music of the world, harmonizing the deep voices of the elements.

This to show you how mistaken your way is, your life where work and pleasure are at odds, where music and noise are two different things; this to show you how even then all this was clear, and the song of Orpheus none other than a sign of your partial and divided world. Why did Eurydice fall into the trap? She belonged entirely to our world, Eurydice, but her enchanted spirit was such that she delighted in every possible state of suspension, and as soon as she got the chance to launch herself in flight, in leaps, in ascents up volcanic vents, you would see her bending her body into twists and turns and curvets and capers.

Boundary zones, the passages that led from one terrestrial layer to another, gave her a keen sense of vertigo. I have said that the Earth is made up of roofs laid one above another, like the skins of an immense onion, and every roof leads to a higher roof, and all together look forward to the final roof, there where the Earth stops being Earth, where everything within is left on this side and on the other there is only what is without. You identify the Earth's boundary with the Earth itself; you believe that the sphere is the surface that wraps around it, not the volume beneath; you have always lived in that flat dimension and you never even imagine that an elsewhere and an otherwise could exist; at the time we knew that this boundary was there, but we didn't imagine one could see it, without leaving the Earth, an idea that wasn't so much frightening as absurd. Everything the Earth expelled from its guts in eruptions and bituminous jets and fumaroles was sent flying out there: gases, liquid mixtures, volatile elements, worthless materials, refuse of every kind. The outside was the world's negative, something we couldn't even picture in our minds, the mere abstract idea of which was enough to provoke a shiver of disgust, no, of horror, or rather, a stupor, yes that's it, a sense of vertigo (certainly our reactions were more complicated than you would imagine, especially Eurydice's), into which would creep a certain fascination, an attraction to the void, the Janus-faced, the ultimate.

Following Eurydice on one of her wandering whims we entered the throat of a spent volcano. Above us, the other side of something like the narrow passage of an hourglass, the crusty grey cavity of the crater opened out into a landscape hardly different in shape and substance from those we lived in deep below; but what bewildered us was that the Earth ended here, it didn't begin to weigh down on itself again in another form, from here on was emptiness, or at least a substance incomparably more tenuous than those we had so far encountered, a transparent, vibrant substance, the blue air.

It was these vibrations that lost Eurydice, vibrations so different from those that spread slowly through basalt and granite, different from all the cracks, clangs and dull boomings that shudder sluggishly through masses of fused metal or great walls of crystals. Here, minute pointed sound-sparks darted towards her one after another from every possible direction and at a speed that was unbearable to us: it was a sort of tickling that filled you with unseemly cravings. We were seized -- or at least I was seized, since from here on I shall have to distinguish between my own state of mind and Eurydice's -- by the desire to retreat into that dark depth of silence over which the echo of earthquakes passes softly and is lost in the distance. But Eurydice, drawn as ever to the unusual and the rash, was eager to make this unique thing her own, regardless of whether it was good or bad.

It was then that the trap was sprung: beyond the edge of the crater the air vibrated continuously, or rather, it vibrated continuously but in a way that involved different discontinuous vibrations. It was a sound that rose to fullness, faded, swelled again, and this modulation was part of an invisible pattern it followed, extended across time like a chequer of solids and spaces. Further vibrations were superimposed on these, and they were shrill and sharply separate, yet drew together in a halo, first sweet then bitter, and as they contrasted or followed the movement of the deeper sound, they imposed a sort of circle or field or dominion of sound.

My immediate instinct was to get out of that circle, to get back to padded density: and I slipped inside the crater. But that same moment Eurydice had leapt up the rocks in the direction of the sound, and before I could stop her she was over the brim of the crater. Oh, it was an arm, something I thought might be an arm, that snatched her, snake-like, and dragged her out; I just heard a cry, her cry, join with the earlier sound, in harmony with it, in a single song that she and the unknown singer struck up together, to the rhythm of a stringed instrument, descending the outer slopes of the volcano.

I don't know whether this image corresponds to something seen or something imagined: I was already sinking down into my darkness, the inner skies were closing one by one above me: the siliceous vaults, aluminium roofs, atmospheres of viscous sulphur; and the dappled subterranean silence echoed around me with its restrained rumblings, its muttered thunder. My relief at finding myself once again far away from the sickening edge of the air and the torment of those soundwaves was matched only by my desperation at having lost Eurydice. I was alone now: I hadn't been able to save her from the torture of being torn from the Earth, exposed to the constant percussion of strings stretched in that air with which the world of the void defends itself from the void. My dream of making the Earth live by reaching the ultimate centre together with Eurydice had failed. Eurydice was a prisoner, exiled in the roofless wastes of the world without.

What followed was a time of waiting. My eyes studied the closely packed landscapes which, one above the other, fill the volume of the globe: threadlike caverns, chains of mountains stacked in scales and sheets, oceans wrung out like sponges: the more I acknowledged and was moved by our crammed, concentrated, compact world, the more I suffered that Eurydice was no longer there to live in it.

Freeing her became my sole obsession: forcing the gates of the world without, inside invading outside, reuniting Eurydice with terrestrial material, building a new vault above her, a new mineral sky, saving her from the hell of that vibrant air, of that sound, that song. I would watch the lava gather in volcanic caverns, the upward pressure on the vertical ducts of the Earth's crust: that was the way.

Came the day of the eruption, a tower of lapilli rose black in the air above a decapitated Vesuvius, the lava poured through the vineyards of the bay, burst the gates of Herculaneum, crushed the mule-driver and his beast against a wall, snatched the miser from his money, the slave from his chopping block; a dog trapped in his collar pulled the chain from the ground and sought refuge in the barn. I was there in the midst: I pressed forward with the lava, the flaming avalanche broke up in tongues, rivers, snakes, and at the foremost tip I was there running forward to find Eurydice. I knew -- something told me -- that she was still a prisoner of the unknown singer: when I heard the music of that instrument and the timbre of that voice, I would have found her too.

I rushed on, transported by the lava flow through secluded gardens towards marble temples. I heard the song and a chord; two voices alternated; I recognized Eurydice's -- but how changed! -- following the stranger's. Greek characters on the undercurve of an arch spelt: Orpheos. I broke down the door, flooded over the threshold. For just an instant I saw her, next to the harp. The place was closed and vaulted, made specially, you would have thought, so that the music could gather there, as though in a shell. A heavy curtain, of leather I had the impression, or rather padded like a quilt, closed off a window, so as to isolate their music from the world around. As soon as I went in, Eurydice wrenched the curtain aside, throwing open the window; outside was the bay dazzling with reflected light and the city and the streets. The midday sun invaded the room, the sun and the sounds: a strumming of guitars rose from every side and the throbbing roar of scores of loudspeakers, together with the jagged backfiring of car engines and the honking of horns. The armour of noise stretched out across the Earth's crust: the cortex which circumscribes your surface lives, with its antennas bristling on the roofs, turning to sound the waves that travel unseen and unheard through space, with its radios stuck to your ears, constantly filling them with the acoustic glue without which you don't know whether you're dead or alive, its jukeboxes with their store of incessantly revolving sounds and the never-ending siren of the ambulance picking up the wounded of your never-ending massacres.

The lava stopped against this wall of sound. Lacerated by the barbs of that fence of crashing vibrations, I made one more move forward to the point where for a moment I had seen Eurydice, but she was gone, and gone likewise her abductor: the song by which and on which they lived was submerged by the intruding avalanche of noise, and I could no longer distinguish either her or her song.

I withdrew, climbing reluctantly back along the lava flow, up the slopes of the volcano, I returned to live in silence, to bury myself.

Now, you who live without, tell me if by chance you happen to catch Eurydice's song in that thick paste of sounds that surrounds you, the song that holds her prisoner and is in turn prisoner of the non-song that massacres all songs, and if you should recognize Eurydice's voice with its distant echo of the silent music of the elements, tell me, give me news of her, you extraterrestrials, temporary victors, so that I can resume my plans to bring Eurydice to the centre of terrestrial life, to restore the realm of the gods of within, of the gods who inhabit the dense compactness of things, now that the gods of without, the gods of the Olympian heights and the rarefied air have given you all they could give, and clearly it isn't enough.