oil on canvas @1906
George Hitchcock (American, 1850-1913)
Courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.
The following piece was my entry for the Medusa Mythology Creative Writing Contest in which I was tasked to retell a classic Greco-Roman myth from the point of view of a heroic helper. I hope you enjoy.
When he landed on Ogygia, it was dark. Dark enough that I could not see his weathered body worn by years of struggle. Dark enough that I could only see his magnetic brilliance. I immediately decided that like Ogygia, I would be an island of beauty among his ugly waters of trauma and ache. I sang. At the sound of my voice, his eyes met mine. Even behind tears, his eyes shone so intensely that they pierced the darkness and bore into me. I initially believed that my voice, silk like my braided hair, caused his tears— at last! Relief from the turmoil!— but they never stopped. Not in song, not in silence.
We made simple introductions. Calypso. Odysseus. Now, when mortals say my name, it is always in tandem with his. But for seven years, we were the only ones with the power to utter our names. My name, so powerful from his lips. Powerful enough to fell the thickest trees, to brave the wildest storms, to decline immortality, to leave. His name, powerful, but not because I was breathing it. Because that is just who he was: powerful. Brilliant. Odysseus.
I hoped that Ogygia would be a new home to him. Song and service provided him with all. Here, he would forget about that awful war; maybe, he would even lose the bulging muscles formed from constant battle and instead become lean and smooth from tending the gardens and walking the shores; soft and silky like my golden hair. All reminders of his past would soak into Ogygia’s verdant grass. But instead, my gardens soaked up his tears, my flowers blossomed under his pain. He was transferring his brilliance to Ogygia, to me. It killed him to stay.
He apologized when I offered him immortality. Some woman named Penelope and an island named Ithaca and a son named Telemachus. With each new name, his brilliance returned, if just for a moment. I realized no amount of feasts or masterfully woven clothes, no amount of love could keep him in Ogygia. That same night, he prayed to Athena. He asked for home, for Penelope and Telemachus. Hermes came the next day.
I gathered supplies for him as I watched him cry. I scorned bowing to Zeus’s will, but deep down, I knew the will was truly Odysseus’s. How someone would want to leave a place filled with every immortal pleasure, with me, was incomprehensible. Over the next few weeks, as he built his raft, the power absorbed back into his body, and I understood. I was not Penelope; Ogygia was not Ithaca. No matter how beautiful we were, we were still surrounded by briny, lonely, aching waters.
I gave him food, wine, and a good wind. When he left, the sun was rising. I knew he would warp our seven years together into a single day, a story to tell Penelope and Telemachus and Ithaca. But those years would stay forever with me, brilliant and powerful.
Thank you for reading.
© 2022 méabh stanford
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