“Gynodysseia,” or “Calliope’s Journey”


 Finished on May 6th, 2010

“Gynoddysseia” (roughly translated as “girl’s journey”) is still my favorite story to date. I wrote it in May of 2010 for my Intro to Creative Writing Class at Virginia Tech. As you can tell by the Greek title, this story takes place in ancient Greece. No one who has ever read this story has figured out what the main symbol is (even though I’m sure I made it pretty obvious). Try to figure it out while you are reading and I’ll explain at the end of the story.

Γύνοδσζζεία
— by —
John Everett

Sometimes we may be surprised at the history present in our life, our family, or even our town. Only a few may become kings or conquerors, and not every town may be a Corinth or an Athens. But know this: great events may beset a humble village and a great task may be entrusted to the daughter of a humble hunter. Indulge me if you will and I shall tell the tale of a nameless village flanked by mount and gulf which, when besieged with tragedy, was freed by its least likely member.

A fisher’s net was cast into the wavy waters of the bay. Nearby seeds of wheat fell into the furrows and were buried with a slide of the hoe blade, while up on the hills a flock of sheep was being shorn. Throughout the small village near Mount Parnassos people were going about their daily work. Seldom was it that the villagers saw excitement and that fact was especially obvious to one particular girl.
In a thatched-roof cottage a bored, fourteen-year-old mortal girl sat next to her mother who was busy weaving. “Calliope,” her mother nagged. “Calliope! You’re not paying any attention!”
“Hmm?”
“This is the third time I’ve tried to show you how to operate a wheel this week! At this rate you’ll get your finger caught trying to spin a thread before you’re twenty.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, mother. I was just…”
“Thinking about adventure? Enough of that nonsense. You are a woman and it is not your place to roam about. You are to be trained in your natural duties. How can you ever hope to make a man happy…”

Her voice turned to meaningless squabbles. All Calliope could hear was “bar bar bar.” Who’s to say that every last woman must be doomed to a life weaving threads and cooking meat while the men venture wherever their minds take them, free of their home and kin?
“Calliope! You’re not even list—” A great rumble shook their house. Dust fell from the eaves and the sky darkened. A thunderous voice resounded from the heavens and the people of the village ran to their houses. This child and that wife, this shepherd and that farmer, all were denied entry to their cottages by Makhai. These vicious dæmons brandished claws and blood-dripping teeth and backed all the terrified villagers into a group in the center of the town. Then their peers. the Keres. appeared and went into the houses to chase out the remaining villagers. Calliope hid under her parents’ bed. She could only lie there and watch her mother be taken away. Proioxis, whose name means onrush, stood in the entryway and narrowed his grim eyes. He sniffed the air and looked at the bed. Calliope held her breath and tried to shrink her body. The beast drew ever closer, his foul breath overwhelming. Just as he was about to reach his claws under the bed his master descended from the sky.

Proioxis stood erect and ran outside to kneel before his master. Ares, the god of war, appeared before the villagers. “Mortals, hear me! A man among you has stolen an item of mine. Who speaks for Kiriakos, son of Tryphon in his absence?” Calliope’s mother slowly stepped forward. “I, my lord, am Aikaterine, the wife of Kiriakos and humble servant of Ares. My husband is on a hunting trip and shall not return until the morrow.”
Ares stretched out his hand and a ring of light surrounded each villager’s neck. He spoke to them. “If my accoutrement is not returned by sundown tomorrow, you shall die one at a time until none remain.” His head snapped to the right and he glared at the house of Kiriakos. He pointed to one of his monsters. “A girl has not been brought out. Bring her here!” Calliope gasped. She was discovered! With fearful foot she ran to the window and jumped out. A dæmon servant entered and sniffed around; he could not find her.

Calliope was running as fast as she could. She looked back at the village and did not notice the figure ahead, whom she crashed into. She fell to the ground and looked up to see that standing before her was Pallas Athena. At this sight Calliope was filled with awe and trepidation. She bowed before the goddess who told her to rise. Athena urged her to seek the counsel of the Oracle of Delphi, to discover why Ares accused Kiriakos of this theft. Although it was twenty hippika and a stadion away (Equivalent to fifteen kilometers, or about 9.3 miles), the trip must be made both ways before the return of her father lest he be interrogated by Ares.

A spell was draining Athena’s strength. Her power was useless within a distance of the village. Calliope knew she could not expect any help for some of the travel. With shaky resolve Calliope started on her journey to Delphi.

  •      *      *

Only two hours had passed. Now Calliope was hiding behind a boulder, for she heard two armed men riding horses down the path. The sound of them stepping off of their horses made Calliope’s heart skip. One of the marauders had heard her soft squeak of fear. Fear at the thought of what they might do to her. Would she be robbed? Raped? Men so inerudite would have no regard to the life or limb of an unknown girl. They crept slowly around the rock, daggers in hand. What pretty creature awaited them around the other side? She must be a delicate being to utter such a soft moan!

As the men were about to lunge around the rock to meet their victim, a being with a dark brown face and dark hands jumped up, shrieking and seizing about. Calliope shouted “Unclean! Unclean! Beware the plague of Crete from which I have ventured!” The men recoiled and ran to their horses, with arms covering their mouths. “Plague!” they could be heard shouting with muffled voices.

After they were gone Calliope rubbed the mud off her face and continued walking. She giggled at her prank. No need to fight enemies when a simple trick will do. Suddenly distant dots of light caught her attention. Lamps and stove fires were being lit for the evening in homes at the edge of the forest.

The sun had now sunk behind the grassy hills where a shepherd was securing his flock within the fold. Calliope’s worry returned. Who would take her in for the night? Sure enough, door after door closed in her face. How maddening that the code of hospitality does not apply to a wayfaring teenage girl! Would that she had a man to speak for her…. As she was about to search for a cave to patronize, an old couple who were tending to evening chores saw her. They invited her to stay with them. She graciously accepted and followed them to their home a few orgyia away.

As they walked Calliope took the time to wonder about her father’s alleged theft of Ares’ weapon. “He would never do such a thing,” she thought. “Father has never craved war. He fought once long ago. He blared the trumpet and was victorious. That one fight was enough to sate his thirst of war forever. And from it I was born, for mother took his hand in marriage and received the spoils of that battle.” Soon the three reached the cottage.
That night in her sleep Calliope saw a vision of Ares’ weapon. What is a single weapon to Ares, the god of war? Has he not many others? But to lose a weapon to a thief, she could understand, is an offense worthy of ire. Ares, in his unmatched cruelty, threatened to kill her fellow villagers because of the principle, not because of the weapon’s power—or lack thereof.

The thoughts of her sleep drifted to her unwanted future as an obedient housewife. Athena entered the girl’s dream and beseeched Calliope to speak of her woe. Calliope asked “Why must I be bound in wedlock and submit to a man for all my life?” The goddess replied “What alternative do you have? Become a student of Sappho and live isolated on the island of Lesbos, writing poetry forever?”

“O Athena Parthenos! You are allowed to retain your purity! Goddess, if only I could be forever chaste too. My beauty is my curse. Oh, that I could keep it to myself, free from the plague of endless suitors.” This call went unanswered….
Before dawn Calliope was awoken by an owl’s hoot. She dressed and went outside. The owl descended from a branch of a tree and sat in front of her, ruffling its feathers. “Fly to your home, owl.” She told it. “Eos is about to rise above the horizon.” The old lady walked outside and the owl flew away. She put her hand on Calliope’s shoulder. “Up so soon, young lady? You must continue your journey, must you?” Calliope nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I must ask the oracle how to free my village from the grip of Ares.”

“Well then, you’ll need this,” the old lady said as she produced from the folds of her tunic a miniature silver bow and arrow. “The Oracle will request a donation. Please take this.” Before Calliope could thank her, the old woman gave her a loaf of bread and said “No time to waste!” and shooed her away. Delphi was still a few hippika away and time grew short.

Despite the circumstances, the walk through the hilly forest was a pleasant one. There were few traders or travelers on the paths but still Calliope chose to walk off the path rather than risk running into a robber like the night before. Besides, this mode let her appreciate the scene more fully. A doe or two could be seen gliding between the trees and on the branches above there were perhaps a couple of gulls fighting over the remains of a crab. As the sun rose further into the sky Calliope thought of her race against time. If her father Kiriakos returned before she did, Ares would surely torture him. The poor hunter would have no knowledge of this instrument but Ares would not relent until every villager was dead or it was found.

This thought made Calliope’s eyes well up with tears and she stopped in her tracks. “Oh, how foolish I was to ask for adventure! I was given it, and now I wish only that I could be home!” She knew that the lives of her kin and kind relied upon her. She did not know what the Oracle would tell her, or if Calliope would be able to vindicate her father, or even to handle the information given her by the priestess. Calliope grabbed the silver bow and held it up in front of her. “What? With this accurséd toy am I to save them?”

She forgot about her tears when she heard the hoot of an owl. The owl landed atop a bush and faced her, then spoke. “Is that it, then? Are you to end your journey for doubt of your abilities?” Calliope fell to her knees in reverence. Owl-Athena continued. “You are almost at the Temple of Apollo. Lo, the city of Crissa can be seen from the treetops and soon the votive statues lining the sacred road will be in sight.” Athena stretched her wings and hovered in the air. “Fear not, young one. You will have the help of the gods. No Olympian trusts Ares, the god of slaughter and bloodshed, and we shall fight with you.”

Athena morphed into her womanly form and walked with Calliope up and down the forested slopes. Calliope grew curious as to why she was receiving such a large amount of help from the Olympians. When she asked, Athena replied that it was because Calliope inspired them. The girl could hardly believe such an idea. She stopped for a moment. “I… inspire you?” she asked to be sure. Athena explicated this concept. “Calliope, you instill fresh hope in many of the Olympians about mortals. You show us that not all humans are driven by their carnal lusts and petty desires.

Despite the pull of nature you deign to cast aside a man’s secure embrace, and it is not even within the line of some assignment or holy duty.”
Calliope seemed to shrug off this judgment. “But surely goddess, you as a virgin must understand my thought. And, after all, it is not as if I revel in the pursuit of bloody conquest as so many men do.” Athena smirked at the young girl’s naiveté. “You shall find, Calliope, that women are not so pure of heart as you may think.”

“What do you mean?”
“You may discover very soon. But for now, prepare to meet with the oracle, for Delphi is up this slope.”

They found two branches suitable for use as climbing sticks and set about tackling the steep face of Mount Parnassos. Calliope wished to rest when she ran short of breath but the goddess grabbed hold of the girl’s arm and helped her along. After an hour and what seemed forever they reached the plateau upon which Delphi was built. Calliope fell on her hands and knees and drew the sharp, thin air into her burning lungs. “Look behind you, Calliope,” the goddess said in a soothing tone. “See what you have accomplished.”

When Calliope looked behind her she saw that she had climbed a height 200 times her own. From halfway atop Parnassos she could see Mount Giona to the east, and to the south the gulf whose waves everyday wash upon the sands of her village. Betwixt them she could see the forested hills and grassy ridges of the Crissaean plain, and even the cities of Amphissa and Crissa. Athena’s voice broke the silence. “I did not fly you atop this slope with magic, nor did I carry you in my arms,” she exclaimed. “Had I done so you would have been cheated of this success. You may think, young girl, that you need me here to guide you but in truth my presence mostly serves to affirm what you can already accomplish.” Calliope grinned at her mentor at this praise.

“Now then,” the goddess continued, “It seems we have an oracle to see. Now that the mountain is out of the way, let’s not let a hilly road stop us.”
Athena took the form of a bearded philosopher and they walked up the sacred road. There was no difficulty moving to the front of the queue for the people seemed not to care with Athena’s divine influence on their opinions. “Think not of things to come, but of what you must do now.” Athena told Calliope. “I cannot enter the temple of another god, so you must go alone. May the gods favor your undertakings.” With that Athena walked down the road toward the Stoa of the Athenians and Calliope stepped within the temple of Apollo.

The feeling was humbling. Here Calliope, the daughter of a simple hunter, stood within the storied temple of Apollo at Delphi. She saw the red-figure jars and fine curtains given by victorious generals. Though she felt rather small, Calliope could also feel a certain kinship with this place; after all, they both owed their existence to the spoils of war. She was looking around fondly at the temple’s adornments and did not notice a priest approach her.

“What are you doing here, young lady?” he asked. Calliope looked up at the enormous man before her. She did not expect any priest to be so large or tall and the girl felt she could take shelter in his shadow. She quickly curtsied and said “Please, sir, I must see the oracle.” Before she could continue her request the priest threw back his head and laughed a loud, boisterous laugh. “You? Get out of here, girl, before I teach you your place.”

How could she convince him to grant an audience? Even heads of state and generals must come bearing gifts and wait to be given the visit. But they didn’t have the powers of persuasion that a young girl had. Summoning the tears she hadn’t shed earlier that morning, Calliope knelt down and loudly cried, burying her face in her hands. After a moment she looked up and saw the priest cleaning a vase. He was ignoring her.

She stood up and glared at him angrily. The priest chuckled, walked over, and held the vase up. “All right little girl, I’ll let you see the oracle if you can knock this vase out of my hands,” he proposed, “but there’s no way a tiny girl like—OW!” The vase shattered on the floor and the priest bent down to pluck a small silver arrow from his shin.

A woman in her twenties ran to them. “What is the cause of this?” She asked. Her mouth stood agape when she saw the silver bow in Calliope’s hand. “I had a vision of this bow when last I slept,” she said. “As decreed by the gods I must answer the bow-bearer’s question.”
The priest growled. “This girl—”
“Silence, Demetrios.” She interrupted. “What is your name, young lady?” Calliope introduced herself and looked upon the priestess with child-like wonder. In a meek voice Calliope asked if this woman was the oracle. The priestess smiled and said she was Clio, indeed the pythia, virgin priestess of Apollo. Calliope mumbled “Virgin? So, there may be a future for me… Calliope the priestess.” Clio did not hear this for she was telling the priest to return the silver arrow to the girl. He protested. “But Clio!”
“Shh! Give the arrow back,” she ordered firmly. Demetrios did so with a sneer then Clio invited Calliope to sit on a klismos while the priestess carried out her task.

Clio descended into the adyton filled with sweet pneuma gas and sat atop her tripod, holding the leaves of Daphne and a bowl of Kassotis spring water. There she writhed and uttered, and in her fit explained the events of two nights prior. A prophetes repeated her words to Calliope. “Great Apollo sees all at day, and Artemis, the huntress with silver bow and arrow, sees all at night. Behold, Eris, the goddess of strife, conspired to rend a mortal family asunder by bringing to bed a human named Kiriakos.”

Calliope’s eyes widened. “Father!” she thought. The reading continued.

“But Kiriakos had retired from the fight and refused her advance. Eris sought revenge. She stole a weapon of Ares and hid it among the possessions of Kiriakos. To prove the mortal’s innocence Ares must see Eris’ fingerprints on it.” Upon hearing this Calliope curled tightly in a ball on the floor and let out a groan of defeat. The poor girl could not come to terms with the clashing idea implanted in her mind. Was her view of the world wrong all along? Was the desire to be chaste, and of adventuring, futile? If her sex was not trustworthy—even a goddess—perhaps she shouldn’t adventure, lest she become a salacious Eris herself or give in to the charms of the seducer Zeus. And her short adventure to Delphi gave her scrapes and cuts from the harsh rocks and branches. Should this be taken as a lesson to abandon the prospect of adventure before more harm is done?

A drained and exhausted Clio emerged from the chamber and, sensing Calliope’s discouragement, sat next to her. “You should be proud, Calliope. Your father is a great man to resist a tryst with a goddess.”
Calliope sighed. “I know,” she said as she sat up, “but with venturing from my home, I am afraid that I can lose sight of my convictions; that I may bury them under the evils of the world. What if I become the kind of girl that drove Pygmalion to shun all women?”

Clio answered without hesitation. “Hope was too heavy to escape Pandora’s box. No matter what, you will always have your convictions inside of you whenever you need them. Just don’t lose sight of where you came from. And fear not those things to come, for there is hope for the future as well. As pythia I enjoy the freedoms of any man, and my beauty is not to be held within the eye of any suitor. You might take up the position you wish. And as for the folly of our gender, know this: Eris may be an immoral goddess, but you must focus on the other goddesses like Artemis who asked Zeus for eternal chastity. You have a bond with these goddesses greater even than my bond with Apollo, for I can only speak to him from within my dark chamber.”

This brought a smile to Calliope’s face. “Yes,” she said as she stood up, “I have all these wonderful goddesses helping me. If I ever need them they’ll be there! Thank you, Clio! I have to go rescue my village!”
“Wait!” Clio called out. She had a priest hand Calliope a sword and invisible rope. “Apollo told me you’ll need these. You have his assistance as well.” Calliope thanked her and ran out of the temple with these new gifts. The next stop was her village. This time she would not be running from the beasts. Atop the roof of the Athenian treasury, an owl watched Calliope run by, not asking for help.

*      *      *

The sun was sinking ever lower. Calliope hoped that she would be able to prevent her father from being interrogated by Ares and to stop the deaths of villagers afterward. Her sides were burning and her knees were bruised from the sword sheath hitting them as she ran. But stop she would not. The way to Delphi was rife with uncertainty and caution; it required an overnight stay. But the return trip was different. The only thing Calliope had in mind was the destination. It was coming into view; the familiar pastures could be seen through the trees surrounding the path.

The girl could see her father Kiriakos kneeling before Ares who was knocking the roof off a house in his rage at the “impertinent humans.” Calliope called out the god’s name. Ares shouted at his dæmons to capture and bound the girl, but she knew how to defeat them. Calliope drew her sword and held it high and bright light shone from its shiny blade. “Hear me, monsters,” she warned, “This is the sword of mighty Apollo! Its powers of light shall vanquish you and hurl you to the depths of chilly Tartarus!”

The monsters gazed in fear. What chance did they, creatures of darkness, have against the power of the Sun god’s light? The servants of Ares scattered and retreated beyond the horizon. Ares growled at this. He looked down at Calliope who was sheathing her sword. He asked her what she wanted.

“I want for you to return my father, who is innocent, and the people of my village to safety!”
“How dare you speak to a god in that insolent manner? I shall not yield until my weapon is returned!” With this he moved to kill one of the villagers but an owl swooped from the sky and cut the ring of light around the villager’s neck. She continued until all were free.

The villagers except for Calliope and her parents Kiriakos and Aikaterine retreated to their huts and cottages. The owl transformed into Athena and asked Calliope why she did not help free the villagers with the sword of Apollo. Calliope responded “Truly, goddess, the only power of this sword is of reflecting light. That the monsters thought it had special light powers was of their own thinking.” Athena chuckled at Calliope’s bluff.            “Athena!” Ares snarled. “Why do you interfere, sister?”
Athena pointed to Calliope. “This girl has discovered the location of your weapon.” Calliope went to her father’s horse and reached inside the travel sack about the horse’s neck. She pulled out Ares’ weapon, a folding staff with a curved blade at the tip.

Ares grew angry at this sight. “Surely this is proof of the mortal’s guilt!” he shouted. Athena countered “He is in possession, but he lacks a guilty heart. Calliope, whom did you want my brother to call forth?” The girl said Eris, the goddess of discord, should be summoned.

Athena turned to Ares. “Do it, brother. The girl has seen the oracle and the answer can be proven.” Ares grudgingly agreed. He summoned Eris. When Eris came she seemed to carry a smug countenance but her face turned down when she saw Kiriakos was still alive. She looked at the others with equal scorn. “Why have you brought me here?”

Calliope stepped forward and bowed before Eris. “Oh mighty goddess, my father terribly regrets his mistake of refusing your wishes. He hereby surrenders his sword, and has instructed me to deliver it to you.” Calliope unfastened her father’s sword and furtively tied the invisible rope around the sheath, then threw the sword to Eris who caught it by the sheath and hilt. When Eris released her hand from the sheath to hold the sword by the hilt, Calliope pulled on the rope with all her might and the sheath flew off the sword and onto the ground.

Before Eris could gather what just happened Calliope asked Athena to inspect the fingerprints on the sheath and on Ares’ weapon. With Athena’s divine vision she could see the prints were identical. Athena spoke to her brother, “Do you see, Ares? Eris planted this weapon in the human’s satchel when he denied her that which she lusted after. Eris,” she said to the other goddess, “do not try to flee, for all must face Adrasteia.” After this Athena summoned the council of Nemesis Adrasteia, the goddess of retribution. Eris hurled the sword to the ground in anger.

Even before she became visible the words of Nemesis pierced through the late afternoon air. “Eris! Again you have chosen to upset the balance of fortune!” Though Calliope had grown accustomed to stand before the divine beings, she knew it would be unwise not to kneel at the arrival of Nemesis. The goddess of justice hovered above them all; the wind of her wings stirred up the loose dust. Again she spoke. “You once again tampered with the fortune I gave to all according to their deserts. These villagers were not meant to be killed at the hand of Ares. Ares!” she called to the god. “It is hereby prophesied that you shall face shame at the hands of the youth Alectyron for this offense of false accusation. Now be gone with you.”
Ares reluctantly left and Nemesis turned to Eris. “Eris! You conspired to split the family of Kiriakos. It is for this offense that you shall be cleft in three.” Nemesis held her measuring rod over Eris and the goddess of strife was turned into a flower with three leaves. That trifid flower today is called the shamrock. In becoming a flower the power of Eris was lessened, but her influence spread throughout the soil of the entire world. Nemesis landed upon the ground and told Kiriakos to rise.
He stood up before Nemesis. Calliope stepped forward to protest but Athena put a hand on the girl’s shoulder and held her back. Nemesis continued. “Kiriakos, you were found in the possession of a god’s weapon. No matter what the cause, it is forbidden for a mortal to hold a god’s possession without his say. For this you shall be felled with the very weapon Ares lost.” Calliope cried out as the weapon rose off the ground and impaled her father’s chest. Athena restrained her but the girl did not cease to cry and kick about. “Why? Why must he be killed for a crime he did not commit?”
Athena tried to comfort the girl. “Every mortal’s thread must be cut by Atropos eventually.”
Calliope looked up at her. “But, Athena,” she choked through her tears, “who shall cut the thread of Atropos?” She buried her face within the folds of Athena’s tunic.

Nemesis asked Calliope what the girl would have her do. Calliope looked up into Nemesis’ eyes and asked to be turned into a tree so she could guard her village in her father’s absence. The goddess obliged. Calliope became a weeping willow, forever mourning her father’s death. In the center of the village the people witnessed in the dying sunlight a girl’s feet become roots and her arms become branches. Her long brown hair became long green shoots that hung and swayed in the breeze. In her honor the village was named Ιηέα (Itea), which means “willow.” Long after the great temple of Apollo fell into ruin and weeds punched their way through the stone floor of the Parthenon, the people of Itea told the story of how Calliope brought peace to their village.

ηέλος

(Ιηέα (Itea), population 6,072; is a town in southeast Φωκίς (Phocis). It is situated on the shore of the Bay of Itea, which connects to the Gulf of Itea/Crissaean Gulf. Itea lies about 8.6km (5.4 mi.) southwest of Χριζζό (Chrisso). On clear days the Πελοπόννηζος (Peloponnesos) can be seen.)

Explanation of Symbolism:

Since no one who has ever read this story understood the symbolism on their own, I thought I needed to write this.

The main symbol in the story is as follows: War and bloodshed are symbolic of sexual conquest and intercourse. Calliope wished to remain a virgin and never dirtied her hands with bloodshed, instead relying on her wits to defeat her opponents. Ares, having an insecure male ego, felt threatened by the “real man” Kiriakos, a man of self-control and love for his family.

Kiriakos “blared the trumpet and was victorious. That one fight was enough to sate his thirst of war forever. And from it [Calliope] was born, for mother took his hand in marriage and received the spoils of that battle.” The conception of Calliope was the spoil of the “battle” which Kiriakos and Aikaterine “fought” in. Ares’ weapon is a long, folding staff with a curved blade on the tip. It’s perfect for impaling someone you’re at war with. Ares felt powerless without his weapon and became frustrated. Of course, Kiriakos still had his, so Ares felt especially threatened.

The death of Kiriakos at the hands of Ares’ weapon is no less than rape. The definition of “rape” is “to take,” from the Latin “rapere.” Rape is often a power play, in which the rapist intends to humiliate or subjugate the victim. When Kiriakos refused Eris, she felt unattractive and unfeminine. Her failure to seduce a man (and a mortal man at that) led her to question her womanhood. Eris knew that she could not embarrass Kiriakos in the same way because he was secure in his masculinity. Her plan was instead to prove that she had power as a woman by humiliating Ares and holding a position of power over him, and then to strip Kiriakos of his manhood by raping him via Ares. She was not planning on the arrival of Nemesis, and indeed this arrival surprised Eris. Nemesis’ execution of Kiriakos was not sexual on her part, as she was only strictly adhering to the letter of the law. Nemesis had no sexual motive in this scene; she was only a force of nature. In the end Eris did conquer Kiriakos but no one was happy. This is often the case with sexual conquest.

War and sex do have some parallels worth noting. In both activities, the participating parties do not question their activity. Two soldiers engaged in fisticuffs will not pause and ask, “Wait, why are we doing this,” and a married couple will not pause during sex to ask, “What brought us here? What’s the point of this? Do you want to go on?” Of course both parties want to go on. Both have the same goal in mind and both understand that the other wants the same thing. The result of war is bloodshed; completing the act of battle will cause a person to lose his blood—and losing one’s virginity will cause the hymen to rupture, spilling blood.

Calliope’s desire to remain a virgin has several causes. One was just a simple and innocent desire to remain chaste. There is certainly nothing to complain about here. In fact, her desire to remain chaste mirrored the author’s own desire at that time. The author wanted to take a different route from the norm and aspire to other things in life. Of course, some of the author’s reasons for this desire are complicated but they have no bearing on this story. Back to Calliope, the second reason was that she was dissatisfied with social expectations of her future. She did not want to become a docile housewife and associated the loss of virginity with the loss of personal agency.

If she had matured Calliope would have eventually realized that the two are not mutually dependent. It is possible to take a mate without having to give up one’s life and livelihood. What happened instead was that she surrendered everything at her father’s death. She did want to have a man in her life, but when he died she saw no hope. Girls need a father to teach them about men, and Calliope’s romantic future was put in jeopardy the moment her father died.

She chose to become a tree, which had a pro and a con. The pro was its asexuality—a tree worries not about its virginity. The con was its rooted nature—a tree cannot adventure. Calliope wanted to adventure largely because of admiration of her father. Kiriakos often went on hunting trips for days at a time and did not have as much time with his family as he would have liked. Calliope wanted to go with him on his trips but could not. She instead dreamt of adventure for her own benefit. She wanted to grow up to be like her father. When Kiriakos died, a large motivating force behind her wanderlust died with him. Calliope chose instead to watch over her home forever. If she could not have adventure then at least she could have family time—not just with her mother but with all the families of the village.

The willow tree reaches maturity very quickly but dies early—just like Calliope.  Although Calliope did not die at the end of this story, I think it ought to be considered a tragedy nonetheless. In a moment of despair and desperation she sought to preserve all that she thought she had left in the world, and sacrificed herself in the process.

-End

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3 comments on ““Gynodysseia,” or “Calliope’s Journey”

    • Thank you, quasi-spam faux-advertisement! I appreciate your comment, and further still that you would take the time to comment on a blog almost nobody reads! That was sweet of you! :)

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