Again from the Greeks

And one account has it that when his latest one had been killed1 and he took the child up still cauled from the greasy pile of ashes that the girl’d been and whelped the thing himself, she stewed about it. It seemed like an assault on everything she was, wife and mother, guardian of the family portals, a trespass on her kingdom. Then again she hated his infidelity, his wallowing in the gutter, that endless furrow, furrow, furrow. She closed her doors to him, small reprisal, since it had been years since he’d had to sleep alone at her whim, and to be honest she’d found her own amusements, but only in response to his, faithful enough on her own but who could blame her2 for looking for ways to fill the long afternoons of forever?

Anyway, she did it. Singleness became her. Born married, her hand wrapped around her husband3, never an instant to herself, she enjoyed the novelty. But archetypes are archetypes, so she grew fat with child, like she always did, gravid through the summer and groaning in the autumn but the babe wouldn’t come4. When it finally did it was hideous, the left side of its head crumpled in by the long labor, and already bearded.

Now here’s a lie, that she was ashamed of what she’d made, and threw it from her high window and let it fall the three days’ distance to the shore below, and blackened her face in anger when it survived and grew clever, sexual politics of the rankest sort, even if it was suggestive that metalworking came from her and not him, whom you’d have expected, what with the big battle, the lightning bolts and everything. Especially since the boy he’d carried to term was so graceful and beautiful in his parts5, as though that had anything to do with his merits as a mother. No. No, she sorrowed that her boy was so ugly, the way any mother would, and did her best by him, found him clever and gentle enough for all his hairiness, and, most of all, taught him to love and cherish beauty, so that later on all his work was renowned, not simply for the cunning of its utility, but also for the glory of its art. In this way she had her revenge.

1 Through her fault, no doubt, or spurred on through a sorry tale of family jealousy.

2 Except herself.

3 Here again the accounts vary, according to the prudery or prurience of the teller, as to where exactly her hand lingered as an infant. Most modern commentators split the difference and tactfully say ‘thigh’.

4 Of course he’d intercepted the midwife and she couldn’t give birth without her, a technique she’d remember and use against another one of his chippies, but that was later by a couple of dynasties.

5 A little too beautiful, later generations thought, a little too short-tunicked, a little too concerned with the coif of his hair, but androgyny wasn’t quite the stigma then, nor a little bit of tasteful bisexuality, and later he was an icon, hip and bohemian again, his name sighed and signed by replete devotees.