Thursday, 29 October 2015

ulysses or hocus-porcus

By its nature, mythology does not admit to definitive versions, although the fables and folklore of the Greeks, once committed to paper by Homer and Hesiod and countless others took on an air authority that was not a uniting theme in the tradition of story-telling. Although different accounts circulated long afterwards and inheritor traditions continue to build on that unstaid corpus still, lore, variation and invention is sourced to the Heroic Age—those who fought in the Trojan War, and abruptly ended with that diasporic, lost generation afterwards.
Maybe it was because those stories were written down and the winningest narratives became the prevailing ones—competition continued among poets, championing their own character-analyses, morals and retribution and it’s now hard to imagine as the readership that there were opposing legends presented to audiences, amok-time scenarios where Electra and Œdipus had normal families and lost their place in the popular imagination to the racier, received versions. One of the very last myths constructed, a lost epic that seems groundless morose but somewhat reconstituted, by the Greeks is called the Telegony and dealt again with re-deploying veterans and the homecoming of Odysseus, but told from the perspective of the seductress and enchantress Circe. During Odysseus’ captivity on the exile-island of Aeaea—Lošinj, Croatia—(Circe was banished to this remote location to keep her out of trouble), Circe became pregnant and bore Odysseus a son after his departure, the eponymous Telegonus, whose name meant born far away due to his father’s distant home. Athena urges Circe to reveal to her young adult son—juxtaposed with the massacre and funeral service for opportunist suitors of his wife, Penelope, whose advances she solemnly rebuffed for the two decades’ absence of her husband that open the story—who his father is. Telegonus resolves journey to Ithaca to find Odyssey.
Why Athena, as Odysseus’ constant champion and protector, encouraged this reunion seems impenetrable and without the entire story—that’s just been teased out of a few lines and other myths referencing the Telegony—the goddess’ motivation will remain a mystery, I suppose. Before going on this long and dangerous voyage, Circe asks the blacksmith of the gods to craft her son a supernatural spear with the poison tip of a string-ray to defend himself. Just as Telegonus arrives in the Ionian Sea, he is visited by a terrible storm and disoriented, does not realise that he has already arrived at his destination. Though the trope seems rather predictable to us thanks to the tragedies of Sophocles, Telegonus poached one of his father’s cows and was ambushed by Odysseus and his men. As he deftly defends himself, Telegonus strikes down Odysseus, fulfilling a prophesy that the wily hero who satisfied his charge with burying an oar in a land where they never had heard of the ocean that stated he would meet his demise from the sea, and recognizes, too late, that he is his father. Beside himself with remorse, Telegonus takes Odysseus’ body, widow and half-brother, Telemachus (meaning “far from the battle-field” also unborn when Odysseus went off to war) back to Aeaea in the Adriatic. Circe’s magic was unable to restore Odysseus to life but is able to make the landing party immortal. Telegonus marries his step-mother, Penelope, and Circe, Odysseus’ lover, marries Telemachus. I wish we had the whole story in order to make this outcome seem plausible—the classic myths were hinged together in such a way where one could always suspend ones disbelief and accept that a character was fated to be transformed into a tree or flower or would be forced to experiment with the lesser-evils and impossible choices. I wonder if this outline could be expanded.