When Oedipus Was a Woman

Don’t tell me I’ve got my facts wrong.
Or fall to the fallacy of Freud, imagining only sons
can threaten a father’s throne, or evoke a mother’s passion.
I know a hero’s plotline when I’m born into one.

The Sphinx first tipped me off.
I had come with a riddle of my own: What is happening
to the babies?
My princely brothers each disappearing
as suddenly as he arrived, my mother’s arms empty
as her belly again flat.
“Oracles can be misheard,” the Sphinx said, with a shrug
and rustle of her wings, “or misbelieved. Daughter, son, child who shall—
She bent to sniff my offering: half a lunchtime pb-and-j
and a handful of goldfish crackers, then lipped one cracker
and crunched it, open-mouthed. “What oracles don’t?
Is misspeak. Gotta listen with the same precision.”

I left her growling happily over my sandwich,
lion’s tail curled around her paws like a housecat.
Considered carefully her words. Came to a decision.
Plotted my next moves. A culmination
years in the making.

* * *

The ruler of Thebes drank heavily the night before my nuptials
—contracted without my consent to a weak-chinned heir
of a nameless kingdom, adjunct and toothless
against my father’s power. Deep in his cups, dad’s surprise was short-lived
(if roused at all) to see me over him: bare sword clutched in both my hands,
face determined as a Gentileschi’s Judith.

My mother’s chamber next. I slipped in
between silk sheets, murmured into her hair
“you deserve to know, just once, how good a good time
feels”. . . my fingers petaling her open to enter
where last at birth I exited.
I left her there just before dawn. A smile upon her sleeping face,
my father’s head dropped in an empty bassinet
beside her.

Prearranged, the Sphinx met me at the city limits
with a hotwired hot-rod and a full tank of gas.
As we peeled away, radio blaring, Sphinx hanging out the window
like a dog in the breeze, I flexed my fingers on the steering wheel
like talons. The wet, rich thumping of my heart within my ribs
as red and crowned as any king’s.

~e. alice

[The Myth & Fairy Tale Project is an ongoing collaborative project of reworking myths & fairy tales to understand, resist, and heal from trauma.

Featured image: Judith Decapitating Holofernes, by Artemisia Gentileschi.]

If you’re not familiar with Artemisia Gentileschi, or the Judiths she painted, go now. Check her out.

I’ll wait.

. . . .

. . . .

Okay, everyone back? All caught up?

I’ve been collecting Judith images for decades, a waxing-and-waning obsession that began with seeing Donatello’s impossible sculpture in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio in 1992. (Honestly? You should check this one out too, especially the backside that reveals how Judith’s leg cradles the inert Holofernes. I don’t care how high she’s holding that sword; she will not ever bring it down. She can’t, not without amputating her own limb.)

But truly, all Judiths pale in comparison to those produced by Gentileschi. The firm, all-business-here expressions. The rolled-up sleeves. The accompanying maid, as committed and professional as her mistress.

Artemisia. To know her is to love her—and perhaps, gentled in our joint admiration, forgive me my whimsy in posting today’s act of literal motherfucking. It’s just. . . in the week since I first imagined the possibilities of a gender-bent Oedipal story, I’ve been positively giddy (giggling, even!) at the idea of My Gal Oedipus seizing the reins and turning her story from tragedy to picaresque.

Departing Thebes not blind and in disgrace, but joyous and unrepentant.

Driving off with the Sphinx like an early Greek version of Bonnie and Clyde. (Or perhaps more Thelma and Louise?)

And to get to that ending, I am #sorrynotsorry to say, a little mom-daughter action became inevitable.


Oh! And if any of you happen to have a favorite Judith you’d like to introduce me too, please! 2D, 3D, literary versions all invited! Comment sections were positively made for such wholesome endeavors.

5 thoughts on “When Oedipus Was a Woman

  1. My god, I cannot stop smiling, both from the words and that decisive power bursting from one of my favorite images. I remember a million years ago, or there about, learning of Artemisia in an Art History class. And all those comparisons and analysis with Caravaggio. In my opinion there can be no comparison. Artemisia wins. Hands down, and I will take up my own sword to defend that opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two others, actually. One has the same configuration of figures, with Judith wearing blue; the other is Judith and the maid after the fact, sneaking away with dude’s head in a bag.

      Liked by 1 person

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