Thursday, 8 September 2011

Women in Greek Myth: Helen (Leaving Sparta)

I've been working on a few shorts about Helen, because she is a key character in the Sisyphus universe I'm gradually developing. I have a very strong impression of her as a character; a mother who had to abandon her child, a woman who was used as a pawn on a human-divine chessboard that was not of her making. And yet she survived it all. Unlike most women, she doesn't come to a sticky end. Like Medea, she is removed from the chaos and tragedy that she has caused. I find her fascinating. This story also forms part of my Women in Greek Myth series. You can read about Helen's twin the notorious Clytemnestra in my earlier posts.

Helen: The night she left with Paris

The night-dark sea lifts the Trojan ship, rolling its wooden belly in a storm-swollen caress. It is bathed in starlight, its sailors black wraiths against the shadowed night. Paris holds his hand out to me, his green eyes laughing in the darkness. He knows that my submission is inevitable, knows that whatever bonds of loyalty might bind me to my hand-fasted husband, I will go with him to Troy. I am Tyndareus’ human daughter, Menalaus’ loyal wife. But they are just men. I am to be a god-given prize.

The blood of Zeus that flows in my royal veins forges in me a divine puppet, as lovely and deadly as Pandora and her pestilent box. I am plague, I am evil. I am the most beautiful woman in the world and I am cursed by Aphrodite, whoremonger of the divine. I belong to Paris.

The compulsion to go to him is stronger than siren song, spreading my legs and pasting a courtesan’s smile on my perfect lips. Like a prettily packaged marionette I sway and slink onto the Trojan ship, by stealth in the darkness, every sailor watching me with lust-sick obsession. My eyes are dry, my laugh merry and with each step I take my heart shrivels.

I hear it then, a ghost of a cry on the breeze. My breasts tighten, milk staining the pale silk of my royal tunic. I almost turn, my muscles burning with the anguished instinct to run to my infant daughter’s cradle, to hold Hermione in my arms. Paris touches my hair and I look up at him. I smile. Cursed by the Gods, I smile.


Andrea said...

As always very moving. You have an amazing talent.

Meg McNulty said...

Thank you! That means a lot :)

If only I could apply the same enthusiasm to New Voices.... think M&B will open up a dangerous Greek Women line?

David A Ludwig said...

Wow! Such a powerful scene, and such a tragic light that I don't think is typically cast of Helen's infatuation with Paris being against her will. Sure Aphrodite set it up, but I don't remember hearing much of Helen ever fighting it. Besides the power of the scene (in particular the milk staining her tunic, that's a powerful image there) I'm also attracted to the lustful stares of the sailors in regards to a woman who given free will wouldn't even be there--since it echoes a scene in a story I'd like to write some day.

Meg McNulty said...

I'm really intrigued by the combination of Helen's disempowerment and her relative impunity. She is the agent of a ten year war, but the only character (really) to escape without injury or consequence. What might the psychological impact of that be on a person?