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.
“He loves power. A terrible love.” —Euripedes, Iphigenia at Aulis
The day the great king sacrificed his child for favorable winds in recompense for some gravid deer killed in a sacred grove; —or perhaps the clean calculus of men with swords already thirsty, still a long voyage to Troy and wasn’t it her aunt who started this whole mess in the first place bitch Helen with her dimpled thighs so easily and so widely hinged;
those clustered close at the scaffold’s base would later swear: with dying breath came not the feared but looked-for curse. Her only words, “I’m sorry.”
Dutiful, claimed royal hangers-on long accustomed to the eldest girl’s guilty proclamations. Her contrition for being too loud, too soft too much, too little too argumentative, too acquiescent too beautiful, too plain. For the unset place when guests arrived unannounced. For the household’s every unexpressed desire left untended-to.
The tower, you’ll recognize. The witch, too; an inevitability.
A curse of sorts, petty and grousing, with just enough malice to sour the milk from your neighbor’s cow or rot a field of daffodil bulbs before they blanket the spring in yellow. Not the showstopper enchantment needed to freeze a kingdom, of course, or put entire villages to sleep for a year. A small spell. Not enough to make a husband and wife gift away their newborn son—but a girlchild? For that, sure.
“Eurydice, dying now a second time, uttered no complaint against her husband. What was there to complain of, but that she had been loved?” — Ovid, Metamorphoses
Disregard what poets tell you. They hear the thump of their own hearts and think they have discovered a universe. Or presume that my beloved, musician to the gods who never flubbed an entrance in his life, might in eagerness miscount the beats remaining to lift his wife back out of death. Turn for me too soon, an accident.
You living march toward darkness like a parade, joyous and cacophonous and blind. Whereas I have already worn my shroud. And I have already tasted ashes. The sunlight you steep in cannot thaw bones already chill with such fore-knowledge.
See the truth. In his final triumphant crescendo, Orpheus heard a single word fall from my mouth like a stone:
Somewhere in a story, not yet knowing Jason’s name, Medea dreams of floating away across the wine-dark sea into adventure. Her brother’s dismemberment yet awaits her, and the scattering of his parts upon the ocean like torn bread tossed to ducks. Dragon-teeth remain unplanted, a father’s treasures unravished. Many years and many tales not-yet-told lay between her in this moment and the slaughtering of rivals with sartorial poison, the kebab’ing of sons on barbeque skewers to serve at their father’s remarriage feast.
Do you believe for one moment she dreams unbloodied?
Even before the evils, back when her smiles were still Glenda-the-good-witch charming, Medea caught the mind’s eye. More than Jason ever could, that milquetoast memorable for theft and desertion, and capturing the love of a woman so far beyond him that only rankest misogyny stifling to stillborn our daughters’ horizons explains it.
I would be Medea, if I could. Even in the before, yes. And in the after, a thousand thousand yeses. I would stand bathed in blood and vengeance; I would know the dangers of disobeying and fling myself regardless from an Olympic peak.