Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fuck My Ancient Greek Life

I suppose the ancient Greeks had their own spin on “fuck my life, and, perhaps foolishly, I’d like to think that it sounded more eloquent than what people today say when, like, they crack their iPhone screen on when their significant other finds their secret porn Tumblr. Perhaps the ancients would have asked Zeus to strike them down with a lightning bolt. Or maybe they’d ask Artemis to summon a pack of frothing, wild dogs to tear them apart. That’s the beauty of the Greek pantheon: So many ways for the Powers That Be to write the end of your story.

Eloquent or not, many, many, many would have had reason to use the ancient Greek equivalent of “fuck my life,” since most characters in Greek mythology led terrible lives that ended badly. Yes, in spite of the fact that their culture enjoyed the benefits of democracy and homoerotic wrestling, the typical Greek of the ancient world had to contend with multiheaded monsters, countless wars and spear-thrusting jealous lovers, just to name a few of the most common life-enders. Perhaps an unsung heroine of rough Greek life, however, would be Hypsipyle — the Queen of Lemnos and an all-around sad sack.

My reasoning:
  • First, because the women of Lemnos didn’t pay proper tribute to Aphrodite, this hateful goddess of love cursed all of them, Hypsipyle included, with a carnal stink that rendered them untouchable.
  • The men, I’m sure, made other plans, and the women decided that the wholesale slaughter of their male relatives would solve the problem. Only Hypsipyle — she of the name that sounds like an adverb describing the motion of Joan from Mad Men — spared one: her dad. Her betrayal of her female subjects went unnoticed for a time…
  • Meanwhile, Lemnos became a port-of-call for the Argonauts, who were apparently so starved for female affection or so used to boat life and its attendant stench of human ass that they leapt at the chance to score with the Lemnians, she-stink and all. Think of it as a less gay Fleet Week. Jason — the Argonauts’ leader and one the foremost dicks in all of ancient lore — put a baby in Hypsipyle, swore that she’d always be his number-one gal and then promptly shoved off.
  • So recall that Hypsipyle decided not to kill her pops. Well, the lady Lemnians caught on. Seemingly empowered by their recent sexcapades, they forced her off the throne, leaving her to wander the countryside in that way that fallen queens probably do. Eventually, rescue came in the form of a boat.
  • Surprise! The boat is pirates, and they promptly sell her to Nemea, where she ends up working as an au pair to the king’s son, Opheltes. Great job, right? Especially considering Hypsipyle’s lack of work experience?
  • Oh but wait. One day, while she’s apparently taking baby Opheltes on some sort of nature walk, she encounters an army from Argos — not to be confused with the crew from the Argo, which is different and that’s why only one has an “S” — and they demand that she lead them to a drinking fountain. She complies, but then makes the baffling choice of placing the baby on the ground, whereupon he was strangled by a snake.
  • The Theban king, incensed by Hypsipyle’s stupidity and likely regretting hiring her, seeks revenge, though in the end the Argives protected her, just so she could live out her life while stewing in regret and shame.
Oh, and if this fifteenth-century depiction is accurate, the lady also suffered from some serious fivehead.

What’s she writing, do you suppose? I’d like to think it’s a request to the king of Nemea for a letter of rec for a new job.

This is where the story ends, as far as I know. True, many of her contemporaries suffered worse fates and got turned into various animals in an effort to teach other people morals, but as far as mythological C-stringers go, Hypsipyle led a pretty miserable existence. I’m not sure if she’s punished for any misdeed in particular, so I’m afraid there’s nothing to take away from this story, except that you’re probably better off for not being the queen of Lemnos. Please aspire to other goals.

And yes, I’m including the story of Hypsipyle in the “Now That’s Interesting!” tag. Even though this tag has previously been attached to historical characters, there’s probably a historical basis for Hypsipyle, and her life was probably worse.

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