the wife of the man of many wiles

Believe what you want to. Believe that I wove,
If you wish, twenty years, and waited, while you
Were knee-deep in blood, hip-deep in goddesses.

I’ve not much to show for twenty years’ weaving—
I have but one half-finished cloth at the loom.
Perhaps it’s the lengthy, meticulous grieving.

Explain how you want to. Believe I unraveled
At night what I stitched in the slow siesta,
How I kept them all waiting for me to finish,

The suitors, you call them. Believe what you want to.
Believe that they waited for me to finish,
Believe I beguiled them with nightly un-doings.

Believe what you want to. That they never touched me.
Believe your own stories, as you would have me do,
How you only survived by the wise infidelities.

Believe that each day you wrote me a letter
That never arrived. Kill all the damn suitors
If you think it will make you feel better.

A.E. Stallings, 2002

play thirty four: hippolytus

Phaedra, please.
Phaedra, please.

Author: Euripides

Published: 428BC

Translator: Anne Carson

Synopsis: Aphrodite is furious for Hippolytus’ refusal of her power and his avowal of chastity to the goddess Artemis. She curses him by forcing his stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with him. Phaedra wishes to kill herself to be released from this illicit burden but her nurse is convinced she may swear Hippolytus to secrecy and make him understand. She fails, and Phaedra kills herself when she overhears the disgust of her stepson. She leaves a note claiming to have been raped by Hippolytus so that he may not reveal her desire to his father Theseus. Theseus finds the note and banishes his son, calling on his father Poseidon to kill him. Poseidon does so by calling out a sea monster to frighten Hippolytus’ horses and drag him to his death. Hippolytus’ dying body is brought to Theseus and Artemis appears to reveal Aphrodite’s trick. Theseus seeks his son’s forgiveness as he dies in his arms.

What moved me: What I love about this work is the mortality of its gods. Aphrodite is the queen of sass and Artemis might be a frosty librarian and both are equally governed by human desires. They experience the desire for power over others just as we do and are subject to the pettiness of rivalry, the pangs of longing, and the sweetness and bitterness of grief.