Trying something slightly different for this Thursday’s myth. Hopefully it’ll work. (Can’t be worse than last week’s!)
When he was little more than a boy, just barely into his first beard, Odysseus, the young son of Laertes, went to visit his grandfather, Autolycos, at his home near Mount Parnassus. During a hunting trip on his visit, Odysseus was badly wounded in the leg by a wild boar.
His grandfather poured him a healing drought out of a small vial, and told him to drink it up. “May smell bitter, but it’ll work. I stole that from Asclepios himself.”
Odysseus sighed sadly. “I’m not sure you should admit that, grandfather,” he said, before drinking the foul-tasting elixir. “It tastes terrible!” he shouted, reflexively.
“I’ll make it up to you,” Autolycos laughed, slapping his grandson on the shoulder. “I’ll hold a banquet tonight, with all the finest men in the land. The ones who aren’t out to get me, anyway. That’s a much shorter list, but…”
“Will there be girls there?”
“You little scamp!” Autolycos let out a full guffaw, then shook his head. “I doubt you’ll be healed enough for that sort of thing, my boy. But we’ll see. I’ve got plenty enough of slave girls for you, I’m sure.”
Odysseus didn’t seem to want slave girls, but he didn’t complain, and his grandfather went about the preparations for the night’s banquet. There weren’t actually very many guests at all; Autolycos had far more enemies than he cared to admit to his young grandson, as a life of banditry tended to produce more enemies than friends. Most of the guests were announced, or at least introduced to young Odysseus, but one old fellow in a traveler’s cloak and hat simply slipped in through a side door and took up a seat on a low bench against a side wall, idly strumming his tortoise-shell lyre, without saying a word to anyone, or anyone saying a word to him.
During the course of the banquet, despite his injured leg, Odysseus was always trying to catch the attention of the slave girls bringing in the food and wine, but when he propositioned one of them, she only laughed at him. “A helpless young master should just sit quietly and nurse his wound instead of pestering girls he can’t even mix with yet,” she rebuked him.
“Don’t let my youth fool you,” Odysseus replied smoothly. “The great daughter of Zeus compels me as she compels all men, to chase after all the fair-skinned ladies, in desire of the fineness of their nature. That was the reason that women were created and given to mortals, after all, to keep us company and allow us to continue our plentiful species upon the face of this world, after all, was it not? Don’t you want to do your part to fulfill the duty the gods have laid upon the laps of the women of the world?”
“I don’t think that Aphrodite intends me to just open my legs to every horny little boy who comes along!” the slave snapped back at him, causing the men in the room to laugh.
“It was a good argument, boy, but I think she’s got you there,” Autolycos told him, patting his grandson on the shoulder. “Don’t let it worry you. Not sure you got the story right, though.”
“I might have improved on it a bit,” Odysseus agreed. “It suited my argument better if Pandora was sent down as a reward, rather than a punishment. Besides, how could anything so lovely be a punishment?!”
“Wait ’til you’ve got a wife of your own before you ask that question,” one of the old men in the room groaned.
“I won’t marry a woman who’d betray me,” Odysseus replied firmly. That only made the men laugh at him again.
“Anyway, you got something else wrong,” Autolycos told him. “Aphrodite’s not the daughter of Zeus. After Kronos castrated Ouranos and threw his junk into the sea, Aphrodite rose out of the resulting foam. Or one of her did, anyway. There’s two, you know. That one, the older one, she only drives men to pursue handsome boys. So you’d better be careful, or she might drive some of this lot after you,” he added, elbowing his grandson.
“Yes, I’ll be careful,” Odysseus sighed, rolling his eyes.
“She’s the better Aphrodite, interested in the mind, not the body,” Autolycos continued, nodding. “That’s why you’d be in a prime target, since your body’s nothing much to look at and all.”
“Don’t do me any favors,” Odysseus grumbled.
“But I’ve never heard that,” one of the other guests said, looking at Autolycos. “I’ve always heard that Aphrodite was the daughter of the ancient goddess Dione, seduced by Zeus shortly after he wedded Hera.”
“No, no, it was before he married Argive Hera,” another guest corrected him. “Dione was a goddess who lived here before the Olympians arrived or…uh…who is she again…?” The guest looked at the dregs in his cup, as if they might provide him with the answer he sought.
“The gentle Dione is the mother of intemperate Aphrodite, of course,” the bearded traveler in the back replied, still strumming his lyre tunelessly. “Are you interested in tales of Aphrodite? I know a good one.”
“Gonna sing for your supper, minstrel?” one of the younger guests laughed at him.
“I’m not a singer,” the traveler replied, shaking his head, “but I can tell a tale, if you’d like. What do you say, young man?” he asked, looking at Odysseus.
“As long as it doesn’t involve anyone else suggesting I might be assaulted, I’m sure I’d be quite interested in hearing it,” Odysseus replied, still feeling more than a little stung by his grandfather’s off-color joke. At least, he hoped it was only a joke…
The traveler nodded, and strummed his lyre wordlessly for a moment, then launched into his tale. “When Aphrodite blossomed into fertile adulthood, she caused quite a stir, as you might expect, and Father Zeus fretted about what discord she might sow if she was left unwed. A goddess like her would never stay chaste like Athene or Artemis, after all! And she’d never be discreet about it like Demeter, either, Zeus was sure. So she had to be married off, but to whom? That was Zeus’ dilemma, and what a dilemma it was!” The stranger traveler laughed, and looked at Odysseus again. “What do you suppose a father would do in a position like that, boy?”
Odysseus rubbed his chin a moment, though his fingers still weren’t used to the feeling of his beard, so he stopped quickly. “He’d have to find a way to pick a husband that wouldn’t make an enemy of all the others who wanted to marry her. But she’s a goddess. There couldn’t be that many suitors. In fact, wouldn’t all the suitors either be her uncles or her brothers?”
“You really are a child,” one of the guests laughed. “I know plenty of men married to their nieces.”
“It’s not that common, but it does happen,” Autolycos agreed. “Brothers and sisters is definitely forbidden for mortals, though.”
“Forbidden for mortals, but perfectly acceptable for the gods,” the traveler chuckled, “and all of Aphrodite’s brothers wanted to be the one to wed her. Zeus eventually decided to give her hand to Hephaistos. Do you know why, boy?”
“Hmm.” Odysseus frowned, and inhaled deeply. He held the breath for a long moment, then released it. “Either he hoped the other gods would feel ashamed to betray their crippled brother, or he wanted to curry favor with his wife.”
Everyone laughed, including the traveler. “Both good guesses,” the traveler replied. “I wouldn’t dare to guess what goes on in the mind of the father of men and gods, but I suspect you’re probably right on both counts. But if that was what the thunderer had in mind, it was tragically naive of him, because nothing can hold back the lust of Lust herself.” The traveler shook his head, and the strumming of his lyre took on a more frenzied pace. “She wasn’t satisfied with her husband’s performance in bed, and sent word to her favorite lover, Ares, every time that Hephaistos went to visit his favorite sanctuary in Lemnos, since he was typically gone for months at a time when he did.”
“Didn’t he have any servants or slaves to report on what she was doing?” Odysseus asked, sounding aghast.
“What need have the gods for servants or slaves?” the traveler replied with a laugh. “Hephaistos has a pair of metal girls he made that help him walk, but he takes them everywhere he goes. No, no one was left to report on Aphrodite’s behavior, and even if anyone had been, they would likely have sided with her. This went on for the lives of many mortal men, until Helios, driving his chariot through the sky, became tired of watching poor Hephaistos be cuckolded like that, and told him what was going on behind his back.”
“What took him to speak up, if he’d known all along?” Odysseus insisted. “Wasn’t it his duty to interfere from the start?”
“You’re being rude, boy!” Autolycos rebuked him, cuffing him in the back of the head.
“Hey, that hurt!”
“It’s all right, I don’t mind a few curious questions,” the traveler laughed. “Helios had just as many ties of blood to Ares as to Hephaistos, so it was the question of which one he owed more loyalty to, who was the more proper partner for the goddess. After all, she would never have chosen Hephaistos for her husband. What can be proper about marriage when the woman is forced into it by her father, and detests her husband?”
The traveler’s question raised a storm of enraged objections from the guests, but it set Odysseus to contemplating silently about the nature of the institution of marriage.
“In any case, Helios eventually decided he felt more sorry for Hephaistos than he did for Aphrodite, and so he told on the lovers.” The traveler shook his head. “Rather than simply confront his wife with the rumor, Hephaistos decided to prove the truth of it to all the gods, so they would see how badly he had been abused. He crafted a net of the most singular cunning, and hid it beneath the bedding, then told Aphrodite that he was leaving for Lemnos, departing as he normally would.”
The traveler’s words made the guests begin to chuckle in perverse anticipation of the next stage of the story.
“Aphrodite quickly sent for her lover, and Ares arrived with a haste he never shows on the field of battle,” the traveler continued, his lyre strumming becoming positively feverish, as if he wanted to show the urgency of Ares’ lust. “But Hephaistos had not truly left, and once he was sure that his wife was entangled in Ares’ embrace, he returned to the house, and sprung his trap, raising the net within the bed, and ensnaring the lovers’ naked bodies above the bed in which they were so fervently intimate.”
The room erupted with calls of desire as the men imagined the nude body of the goddess of love suspended in a thin net above a sweat-soaked bed, but Odysseus was still too young and inexperienced to imagine anything other than a slave girl’s body, and even that was still only his imagination. (Though he was actively working on making it more than that!)
“How did they get down again?” he asked, since the traveler didn’t seem interested in continuing the tale further.
“Oh, Hephaistos called all the gods from Olympos to see the dove he had ensnared in his net, and he demanded that his father return the bride price, and he was so angry that he might never have let the pair down at all, leaving them in that unbreakable net for all time, if Poseidon hadn’t felt sorry for his nephew and convinced him to let them go,” the traveler explained.
“What were the rest of the gods doing?”
“Watching with envy, of course,” the traveler laughed. “Who wouldn’t envy Ares in that position?” Again, his words made the other guests laugh, and Odysseus felt as thought they were laughing at him, so much so that he was soon retiring to his room, even though that made his grandfather chuckle that he was off to sulk.
After the banquet was over, and the guests had left, only the traveler remained. He took off his hat, and smiled at Autolycos, even as his beard melted away. “You seem well.”
“You’re causing trouble, as usual,” Autolycos sighed, “but it’s good to see you, Father. What brings you here?”
“Oh, I just wanted to get a look at your little grandson while he’s still little. I’ve a feeling he’s going to cause me all sorts of trouble when he gets a bit older.”
Autolycos laughed heartily. “Of course he will! He is my grandson, after all! He’d be a poor heir if he didn’t cause trouble for everyone!”
“I suppose so,” his father admitted. “But I’d better get this lyre back to my brother’s temple before he notices I’ve swiped it. He’s still pretty touchy about me taking his stuff, even though I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
With that, he said his farewells, and was gone.
Yep, a teenage Odysseus. I do write the weirdest things. (And of course I had to make him go off to sulk at the end. Heh.)
Didn’t quite accomplish exactly what I wanted to with this, but…yeah, I think it still worked out kinda sorta in a way. Better than last week’s, anyway.
(Given Monday’s folktale-like thingy, I shoulda done Endymion this week, but…well, I’d already started writing this, so….yeah, I’ll do that next week, I guess.)