January 27, 2014 § 2 Comments
It had nothing to do with Apollo. He did not give me the gift of prophecy because he fell in love with me. I wanted to understand, that was all, and I learned to say aloud what should have been plain to anyone. He didn’t make it so no one would believe me because I spurned his advances. People reject what they don’t want to hear and fault the teller. They are blind and blame the gods.
“Don’t let him bring her here,” I said. (It did get to be a pattern with me, warning Trojans not to let things through the gates.) The men laughed and preened and called me jealous. Helen was pretty, no question, but she did not gain any power by it, no matter what they say. It had nothing to do with her, in any case. When the war lust runs in men, any excuse will do. They stowed her in the women’s chambers and polished their swords and waited until the Greeks took their bait.
Paris dallied with his helpless plaything and admired what he had let loose. That is the way he was – selfish, egotistical, and stupid. He was a prince of Troy and my brother but that is what I thought, and I was not wrong. He had no warrior blood in him. Rape was his only weapon. The warriors, who understood the link between war and sex, went along, closing ranks in a clubish manhood. When I called them out, they called me mad.
So I walked the walls, year after year, and watched both camps. I saw no difference between the men outside and those within. The nobility of the Trojans was no greater than that of the Greeks nor our depravity less vile. I watched them wrestle with themselves, seeking glory but running from the death they thought would bring it. They were human, after all, though they rarely saw it in the other.
I leaned on the parapet at all hours, observing the slant of necks, the hunch of shoulders, the sag of jaws among the warriors camped beneath me. In the evening, at table or gathered round the hearth inside the walls, I saw the same – a deep bone-weariness from the constant war within themselves, worse than any explosive flash of weapons. They thrilled to the sound of a sword being drawn, the thud of a blow on a shield, the cries of triumph and anguish. At the same time they yearned to feast and sing and raise their crops. They hated war and loved it too, and the love won out until they were spent.
Was there a chance for peace at any time during those years? Oh yes. Many, if peace had been what they wanted. I would tell them there was a way through if only they would see it. But then some offense would be taken or skirmish break out. Paris would come round with his insinuating ways, parading Helen before enemy and friend. Something great or less would rile their blood and overtake their heart and they would cry victory until their voices failed and the sun went down and they buried their dead. No wall, however thick and tall can defend against the foolishness of men who yearn for war.
It was foolishness ended it. We had reached a stalemate. Their siege persisted; our defenses held. The one who could find a way around the impasse would be the one to win. We had had ten years to understand, to know the workings of the others’ minds. Was it ever in the character of the Greeks to sail away, leaving a war trophy upon the beach? “It is a ruse,” I cried. “Beware! The Greeks want to win as much as you do!” More, perhaps, I thought, for they have kept their wits about them.
It all flashed before me, then. I saw the horse rolling through the gates. I saw the fires and heard the screams. In my vision the towers fell, the men were slaughtered, the women – me – carried off to slake the passions war had stoked.
There was nothing I could do. They were my people. I had to see it through.