The Love Goddesses Reflect
by Tala Bar
“Do I have to?” asked Queen Penelope. She was tall, and her golden-red tresses arranged intricately around her head. She was not pretty but her face strongly carved; her brown eyes shone warmly, and her body as desirable as could be. She loved with deep passion, immersing herself into it in a way that would not let go.
“You must love Odysseus too much,” said Princess Isolde, shaking her head. She was even taller than Penelope, her hair, falling down to her waist, looked like a golden waterfall; her eyes were clear blue and her face an incarnation of heartbreak beauty. Her love was still and ever as sweet as a young girl’s.
“Didn’t you love your man?”
“Not Mark. Tristan and I were bound together, and there was no way out of it.”
“And you, Irene?”
“I loved them all, if only they knew how to take it.”
“Well...” She had that hesitating character, trying not to hurt when she knew she must. Not as tall as the other two, her body was so attractively soft, her gray eyes peering deeply into one’s soul under a clump of hair, that was now more silver than gold. Her love was as warm as it was dangerous, because with its quality of compassion it drove men to their destruction.
“Is there no one else, Penelope?” asked Isolde.
“Well... I can’t say that. And Odysseus has been absent for such a long time.”
“You can’t belong to him, you know, only to yourself,” chided Irene.
“Isolde belonged to Mark, didn’t she?”
“No,” said the Princess, “whenever it was Tristan’s time, we met, even to his death.”
“And you didn’t belong to Soams, Irene?”
“That was a crime for which I had to pay, and for which Bosinney died. Jolyon was a choice, but there was never a belonging with him, it was free will according to the rules.”
“You don’t think Odysseus was a free will choice?” asked Penelope, full of doubts.
“You didn’t choose him to go away for such a long time,” Isolde remarked. “Staying on your own when you are wanted, and perhaps also wanting someone else, is definitely against the rules.”
“I did it,” Irene whispered.
“Yes, and you were punished for it until you made your new choice,” Isolde answered sharply. “No, Penelope, you can’t do it for long and remain what you are.”
“But what is it that I am, pray?”
“A Love Goddess, of course. You can’t defy your own destiny from birth and choosing.”
“I don’t know anymore what I choose. I never expected Odysseus to go away for such a long time; that is not how a king should behave toward his own people and subjects.” Penelope sighed, while the other two looked at her closely.
“It’s not really difficult to make a choice,” Irene said, “once you make up your mind to do it.”
“I’ve been thinking, actually...” Penelope began and stopped.
“What?” the Princess’ severe voice cut the air. Irene would have prompted her in a much softer tone of voice.
“Hermes? That doubtful deity? What about him?”
“He’s been visiting me, talking and inviting me to his peculiar rituals... They have a regular orgy, you know, including some unmentionable sacrifices. He’d like me to bear him a son...”
“Well, that’s an idea,” reflected Isolde. “Don’t you think so, Irene? Didn’t you get your only son in some underhand way?”
The woman nodded. “We can debate it, and Penelope can call him in the meantime, to see what it is really about.”
* * *
Isolde reflected on the orgies in which she and Tristan sometimes took part in the forest, that Celtic realm where lovers used to find refuge... Sometimes, even Mark the Horse joined them, getting into a frenzy of lust and blood. She recalled how sad Tristan, the eternal sacrificial victim, was so willing, so submitting to his fate... The Princess sighed deeply, yearning for the old days that have gone for ever.
“So,” said Isolde, “is that the result of your choice, Penlope? Just look at him, Irene, he’s nothing like your son, is he?”
“My son was all light and sunshine,” replied that virtuous woman. “Even though I understand public mating, where loving couples are affected by each other’s action, I don’t quite hold with drugged or drunken orgies, which sometimes involve violence.”
“Violence is not absolutely necessary,” remarked Isolde; “but the essence of an orgy is to give the lovers a chance to free themselves from many civilized rules and limitations. But do tell us about Hermes, Penelope.”
“He is a very illusive entity, you know,” replied the Queen. “He is supposed to look like a handsome boy, but he is too reminiscent of my son, Telemachos, for comfort, so I would not sleep with him in this appearance. So, when we got into it, he turned himself into someone much more mature, even awesome, which could really stir your blood and blur your senses. That’s why I can’t remember much of the orgy itself, only his own performance, which was the most amazing I’ve ever experienced. As I said before, there was always love between me and Odysseus, but even he would not have been able to perform on that level.”
“Well, that sounds gratifying,” Irene commented.
“Didn’t those suitors of yours take part in the orgy, as I heard?” asked Isolde curiously. “My own mating with Mark and Tristan together was something to remember, although I’ve never had it with more.”
“As I said, I can’t tell at all,” Penelope said, “but why don’t you come over and have a look at my new son, girls?”
“You had no children yourself, Isolde, had you?” asked Irene, as little Pan was put back in his cradle and taken away by his nurse. She had rather a difficult time abstaining from commenting about his cleft feet and the beginning of plumage along his legs.
The Princess shook her golden tresses, and the other two could not tell whether it was with regret or not. “None of the authors of the Tristan saga, as they called it, had ever mentioned any children, so how can I tell?” she sighed wistfully.
“Isn’t it unusual for a Love Goddess not to have a child? Even Aphrodite had Eros!” commented Penelope.
“Don’t ask me about history, all I know is my love for Tristan, and his death, which is part of it. In a way, you know, he was my child, identified as I was with my mother, Isolde Queen of Ireland. The story is much too complicated for me to get into its intricate details. I’ll never forget Tristan’s death, which felt to me like the death of a child... The changing roles of Tristan and Mark are sometimes very confusing, but I don’t trouble myself to clear them up...” She breathed deeply, as the other two looked at her with wide-open eyes.
“Now, dear,” Irene said softly, caressing the long, golden waterfall of Isolde’s hair.
“I don’t want ever to mourn the death of my son. Do you, Penelope, even if it is an integral part of the Love Goddess myth?”
“Come, let’s have our own feast,” invited Penelope. After all, the other two were her guests at the Attica Palace, and she was their gracious hostess. “Perhaps we shall also have a small orgy of our own, call in a youth or two to have fun with and fulfill our true function as Goddesses, forget for a time being human as well. What’d you say, Irene, Isolde? Haven’t we earned it?”
* * *
In her preparation for the feast, Irene was pondering about the difference between all that and her own love affairs. There had always been tenderness in it, but tenderness was Irene’s special quality, even when she did not love. She hated Soams for what he had done to her, trying to possess her; but she also had pity for him, she would not harm him intentionally. The harm was the result of her passion for Bosinney, but even that passion was tender, and tenderness was what was left after he died.
She recalled her love for the three Jolyons who had been involved in her life. The old man who had seen her worth, did what he could to guard her from the harsh world. Young Jolyon had loved and adored her even before he knew her. And little Jon loved her blindly and obeyed the Love Goddess that she was with no hesitation. Yes, all three of them were her darlings, and she was happy in her recollections, even though she missed them sometimes in her eternal life.
“I heard he’s back,” Isolde said to Penelope. “How is it between you?”
“Getting your beloved back, that’s a rare treat,” added Irene. “Is it difficult, remembering what had been before and comparing it with what is now?”
“I can’t say,” replied Penelope, hesitating. It was an overwhelming experience, what with the stranger in his disguise, and his fight against the suitors to win his Love Goddess back, together with his kingdom. “He’s so changed, of course, but at the same time much the same, you know, just as if his essence, which used to be covered with his youth and vigor, has now been brought out into the open. For the first time I can see him as he is without that glamour. It is rather pathetic, you know, but at the same time it makes it so much easier to love him...”
“I recall when I saw Tristan on his deathbed,” Isolde reminisced, dreamily. “He was completely wasted from his disease, but at the same time I could see the same loving young man looking at me from his dying eyes. Just for a moment, before he closed them forever.” She winced in pain. “I wish you and Odysseus a long time together before either of you die.”
“My first love, Philip Bosinney, died young as befitting a Love victim,” said Irene. “I never saw him dead, although he died for me, or at least on my account. But Jolyon... he loved me so much and he also died alone, in order not to act against my will. I was really blessed, especially with my son, as you are, Penelope. You should learn to appreciate your happiness, and I wish you many years and many lovers to come and perhaps have more children...”
“I’ll have to part now, Irene, Isolde, and go back to my homecoming mate,” said the Queen, a little sadly. “Thank you for supporting me in my time of difficulties, because I don’t know what I would have done without your company, what with Hermes and one or two of the suitors. It’s much better to have a woman and a peer at one’s side at such times. Bless you, both.”
* * *
Odysseus was back in his old room, recovering his wits and his strength after his battle with all those who had been threatening to take his Love away from him. He had seen her just with a glimpse, but knew that Love was what she had always been and would always be for him. He was now taking account of all the other loves he had encountered on his wanderings. There was young Nausicaa, lithe and fresh, who admired the man she saw as old but not decrepit. There was Circe the witch, who took sex as her prime cause and made it into a holy ritual. And Calypso, with her dark and mysterious magical ways, who could spin thin webs around your head until you could not know whether you were going or coming.
But here was Penelope, ageless, her sight stopping his breath and her touch flaming his blood as ever. She was all of them together and in the end just herself, his own particular special Love Goddess, for whom he was ready to fight, for whom he was ready to live and to die, as he was not willing for any other cause in the world.
Copyright © 2006 by Tala Bar