Homer Rejects The Muses’s Latest Epic:
At whose feet I place my whole earthly bounty for just one more dactyl of verse. It is I, Homer, humbly begging for yet another epic story to share with Man. The people of Greece revere the first two: how skillfully you remarked upon the rage of Achilles, how we swooned to hear the deeds of that man of many turns, the wandering Odysseus. I worry, however, that your most recent epic might be misconstrued as a little…risqué, perhaps?
I’m happy to know you’re singing of Penelope, that discreet and wise woman of valor. I’m happy to see her side of the trials with the Suitors, and the longing for her husband, gone twenty years. Who wouldn’t want to hear the woman’s side of that legendary tale? Where you lose me, however, are the parts where Penelope becomes infatuated with this so-called “mysterious and rich suitor” who keeps inviting her to parties at his chateau. Poetic license, sure. But isn’t Penelope supposed to have saved herself for Odysseus’s return? That’s how the last poem read to me. And who in Ithaca owned a mansion like the one you’re describing? Doesn’t seem very plausible. Certainly not one with a “sex dungeon.”
Yes, I recall Penelope speaking fondly of all the “geese” that appear to her in a dream that clearly represent her willful caring for the suitors, and I suppose you could argue that the quilt she makes every night might metaphorically represent masturbation, but- OK, yes, we could speak at length about the possible imagery pointing to Penelope’s longing for men other than Odysseus, but… I don’t remember any part of the poem featuring an all-out orgy where Penelope allows as many suitors as can fit into her bed. It just doesn’t seem to jive with the other poem.
I know I’m supposed to let you sing through me and not judge, but this long section where the rich suitor convinces Penelope to sign a contract making her his personal sex slave? I’ve never heard of any contract in the history of our civilization! It’s outlandish!
And then there’s the bondage. I don’t know how this is going to play to the Greeks. I know women are coming into their own, sexually speaking. I’ve seen more than a few plays about the wrath of Dionysus (let me tell you!) but I’m trying not to alienate any of the old men who pay me in food and wine to tell these stories. You’ve got a section in here where the rich suitor convinces Penelope to have a foursome with him, Athena, and Poseidon. I can’t even begin to tell you how implausible that is! Not just because of the characters involved, but the sheer physics! Great Apollo’s Bow! I shudder to think of it.
What! -No! I love poems about women! You’ve got it all wrong. I’ve been doing a lot of good work on Demeter! Woo! Now she’s quite the MILF if I ever saw one, right? She loves her daughter so much, she steals her back from Hades? That’s pretty sexy, right? What do you mean she’s an old maid? She’s a single mom! It’s the hot thing to be right now. But Penelope sneaking around the castle testing the limits of how many men she can sleep with in a single night, I’m not sure it’s really our brand. What about Penelope adventuring with her returned husband- Oh. Oh, I see. She’s bored with Odysseus a few years after he returns. Right.
There’s a time and a place for that sort of thing. Why not subtly allude to these longings through innuendo instead of spelling it right out? Penelope had quite an imagination I’m sure,
but couldn’t we hint at the sexuality rather than all these scenes where she’s running around Ithaca with the mysterious suitor trying to “get freaky in every position known to nature”? They could- no, you’re right. The target demographic is shifting. I know more 18-35 year old women are coming to the recitations. But what about an epic where a Penelope fights against these men pursuing her-
I’m not being sexist! I’m being honest!
Please don’t leave. I need you! Fine, I’ll say it! I’m nothing without you! Yes. Your ideas are good and I won’t correct them, all right? I’m ready when you are:
Sing, Muse, of that strong independent woman,
who didn’t need a man to support her
but chose herself, a dark handsome stranger to fill her bed. Penelope, sensuous lover, initiator of virgins-
OK- This is weird….because I feel weird saying it! All right. Fine. we’ll try again:
Sing, Muse, of that many-positioned Penelope, In whose garment lay a rare fruit,
Plucked by anyone she saw above five foot, four
Wait a minute! Now she’s sleeping with anyone above a certain height? This is stupid.
Why? I don’t think that’s what Penelope would do with her time! Oh, how would I know what women are really like? I’ll have you know I’ve been with plenty of women- Maybe they were what? Men acting like women? Oh, and I wouldn’t be able to tell because I’m blind? I think I know the difference between male and female genitalia without eyesight, Muse! That’s offensive. You’re a bigot.
Oh, really? I’m the bigoted one? Good luck finding another bard to sing your weird slash fiction. I’m out of here!
And that’s the reason only a few Homeric hymns survived after the Iliad and Odyssey were finished.