The bonus episode of Netflix’s Sandman series that dropped on Friday (19th August) featured two standalone stories — A Dream of a Thousand Cats and Calliope — adapted directly from issues of the Neil Gaiman-written DC comic.
But while the stories appear to be one-off tales about the Lord of Dreams, one of them, Calliope, does set up a storyline that will echo through future seasons — the revelation that Dream has a son.
In the story, Calliope is one of the Muses of Greek mythology, who offers inspiration to poets and writers. In the Sandman, she is captured first by Erasmus Fry (Derek Jacobi), who forces her to help him write a string of bestselling novels, and then handed to struggling author Richard Madoc, played by Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill, who keeps her prisoner and embarks on his own stellar career… until she appeals to Morpheus (Tom Sturridge) for help.
Who is the Calliope of myth?
She was considered the Chief of the Muses, presiding over eloquence and epic poetry, and the daughter of Zeus, ruler of the gods of Mount Olympus. She was said to have been the muse of Homer and inspired him to write his epic poem The Illiad.
What is Calliope's relationship to Dream?
When Calliope appeals for help from the Fates, she is told that they are powerless because Erasmus Fry captured and imprisoned her according to the proper laws of human interaction with the gods and goddesses. But it is here that it is revealed she once, long ago, had a romantic relationship with Dream.
More than that, it is said that Dream is the father of her son. We already know that Dream has had romantic entanglements — and that he’s possibly not the best ex-boyfriend in the world. In Episode 4, A Hope In Hell, we meet Nada, imprisoned in the underworld because of Dream and his anger against her. So it’s probably not surprising that Calliope doesn’t hold out much hope that Morpheus will be of any help to her in her imprisonment, especially as she says he’s unlikely to come to her aid "after what I did to him".
However, the Dream who does eventually come to Calliope’s aid is different to the one she knew long ago. His imprisonment for almost a century at the hands of Roderick Burgess seems to have softened him, made him more tender, even when Calliope asks him if he hates her “for leaving him”.
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Who is Dream and Calliope’s son?
At the end of the episode, the newly-free Calliope asks Morpheus if she might visit him in the Dream Realm, so they can have a long overdue chat about their son "and grieve him properly".
If future seasons of The Sandman cleave closely to the comic book that ran for 75 issues from 1988, and given the episodes so far we can probably expect that, then their son is set to be a substantial presence in the future.
*Warning – spoilers from The Sandman comic books follow*
Their son was Orpheus — yes, of Greek myth fame. Orpheus was a human whose lover Eurydice died – he vowed to go to Hades to bring her back, falling at the final hurdle when he failed to follow the instructions to never look back, and she had to stay in Hell just as the star-crossed lovers were about to taste freedom. In actual Greek myth, Orpheus was indeed the son of Calliope, though his father was probably the sun-god Apollo.
How does Orpheus feature in the Sandman story?
In the comics, the story was considered so important and central to the series that it deserved its own special edition, published in October 1991. The Song of Orpheus put the legend firmly in the Sandman mythos, featuring Calliope and Dream and other members of the Endless, who gather for the wedding of Orpheus and Eurydice.
When Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies, Orpheus entreats Dream to save her, but his father will not intervene, causing a rift between the pair. Orpheus tries, and fails, to save his bride himself, and shortly afterwards falls into a depression, ignoring Calliope’s warnings that the savage followers of Dionysus, the Bacchante, are converging on his location, where they eventually brutally tear him limb from limb.
But Orpheus survives, in a fashion, as his head is kept on a remote island and serves as an Oracle. And this feeds into a plot line introduced in the very early episodes, when Dream and the Endless talk about a missing sibling, who has not yet been named in the series.
In the comics, this turns out to be Destruction, the errant Endless sibling, who is living in close proximity to the head of Orpheus, having abandoned his role with the immortal family. Through the Brief Lives storyline, which was published in 1994, Dream is eventually reconciled with Orpheus in a series of events that bring to the fore another member of the Endless who has not, as yet, had much of a role in the series — Delirium.
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