But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.
Chapter 87, The Grand Armada
She was always referred to as “the emotional one” in the family, which, given the family environment, wasn’t any particular accomplishment. Her closest competition for the title could easily have been the bag of potatoes sprouting on the dark pantry floor. She was raised by Vulcans.
So, pardon if once she went out into the world of men, which she honestly had very little exposure to those first eighteen years, she was a little perplexed by their peculiar behavior and the inevitable and perpetual conclusion that:
It is all my fault.
It is always
Which has me thinking about Circe again today.
I’m rereading Homer–The Odyssey, and really, if you were required to do this, as I was, at age 12, you might want to go back, because it is it really quite friggin hilarious.
And reading it one begins to see just how ingrained this
good girl/bad girl,
goddess/sorceress/faithful wife weeping ineffectively into her pillow back home while guys in the neighborhood are eating your sheep and raping your maids
whole perception of the female sex is.
And I get it. You have the testosterone and the drive to spread your seed, and we are the sacred vessel, the only flight departing for the land of new human existence, we get picky about who is going to occupy our bodies with their DNA for nine month and the resulting life long commitment, and it sounds like the kind of set up that makes us
Oh to be special. But really, we just get a different set of predetermined options:
Unblemished unfulfilled depressive left behind wife
So, Circe. Granted, our faithful Odysseus has most recently been delayed by Calypso “in thralldom to the nymph” who clasped him in her thighs–I have to say that would not go over at my house, as far as explaining delays go–
“Sorry , honey, you know how no matter which line you choose at check out, it always winds up being the slowest and, while I was working my way up to the register I fell in thralldom to this nymph who clasped me in her thighs. . .”
At any rate, between his weeping and teeth gnashing and staring longingly out at the sea, and , oh yeah, sleeping every night with the beautiful nymph because she “compelled him” (all her fault), the gods eventually come down and say “Let him loose.”
Calypso complies, and when Odysseus acts all shocked and thinks its a trick she graciously just smiles and calls him a dog and waves him off on his way.
Cut to the skip forward and flash back of ancient oral tradition and enter the story of Circe (or, as she is called in the Fitzgerald translation, Kirkê)
But I don’t want to keep hunting down that little circumflex, so I’ll go with the lazy Circe spelling.
Circe has greeted Odysseus’s men and turned them into pigs. Now, keep in mind, these were the same dudes who enslaved women, plundered villages, and were mutinous, fools, on stores of wine, and forgot to leave a sacrifice to the gods so how much of their actually appearing to be swine at this point is Circe’s doing–I’d put to question.
But, within the suspension of disbelief , or a nod to cultural norms of two millenia ago, or by Odysseus’s dense loyalty to his men, lets just say she is a sorceress who turned all of Odysseus’s men into pigs. Then Odyseuss shows up, drinks her honeyed wine and doesn’t fall under it’s spell so she says:
“Put up your weapon in the sheath.
We two shall mingle and make love upon our bed–
so mutual trust may come of play and love.”
(Great idea–can you imagine teaching this text to pre-teen boys? Put you weapon in the sheath, snicker snicker. First comes sex, then comes trust. Brilliant.)
Well, Odysseus is no dummy and he says
“Herein this house you turned my men to swine;
now it is I myself you hold, enticing
into your chamber, to your dangerous bed,
to take my manhood when you have me stripped. . .”
(And here you imagine the declaration being made with a Shakespearean actor’s well-trained timbre:)
UPON IT. . .
. . .
Yes, I swear to god, the next word in the translation is “or–“
as in, well–here’s an idea, how ’bout—we, um, let see, how can we do this. . .
“Or swear to me first a great oath, if I do,”
(and I’m not sayin’ I’m gonna, I’m just sayin’ IF)
“you’ll work no more enchantment to my harm.”
She swore at once, outright, as I demanded.”
and after she had sworn, and bound herself,
I entered Circe’s flawless bed of love.”
HEY! Wait a second!
What about Penelope?
Outta sight, outta mind. And, long story short, Circe turns the swine back into men, or what passes for men, and gives Odysseus a nifty recipe to make a blood bath for the dead in order to get some of his questions answered by shades.
This is the sorceress. This is that horrible woman full of power so abusive who must be villified, and adored, and villified, and damn:
“Exquisite that goddess looked as she stood near me–“
Is there any winning for this woman? Is there any winning for Penelope? Is there any winning for any woman, or does the blame inevitably fall
we made then do it.
My my. Funny how powerless power can feel like. And so I remind myself that this is how the world works. You get some love, you get some blame. No one gets it all, but hey, wash it off and get on that ship home and as the sea wind blows in ,blows me far from this place of trouble– just breathe it in
and I bathe me in the eternal mildness of joy.