Unsung Odysseys is a work of mythic fiction based on Homer’s Odyssey as told by the women caught up in Odysseus’ escapades during his ten-year journey home after leaving Troy. Each female speaks directly to the reader in her own voice, describing her encounter with and feelings toward Odysseus.
The novel will be released in January 2017 on Amazon Kindle.
Chapter 1 (Excerpt)
I didn’t like his choice. Not one bit. Why would he choose a name like that? Why the son of pain? Does that mean my son will bring me pain? I grimaced. I looked at Laertes, my eyes pleading with him to object, to say something to my father for choosing such a name. But Laertes didn’t seem at all concerned. His grin went from ear to ear. Manly pride at fathering a son. I bit my tongue. I lowered my eyes. I couldn’t question my own father for choosing such a name. It wouldn’t be right. Wives and daughters had been tossed aside for a lot less.
My father, Autolycus, had come to see his new grandson. It was our custom to ask the grandfather of a child to name him. So Eurycleia, the baby’s nurse, set the infant on father’s knees and asked him to find a suitable name for the child.
“Let him be called Odysseus, the son of pain. And when he’s old enough, let him visit me in my estate of Parnassus where I will shower him with enough treasure to make his heart fill with joy.”
Odysseus, the son of pain. My son who brought me so much joy, so much pain. A beautiful baby—big and healthy with puffy red cheeks and the brightest eyes you ever saw. I could tell right away he was going to be strong and quick-witted. I wasn’t disappointed. He was never like other boys, always wanting to out-do them, out-run them, out-wit them. He grew up to be a healthy, rambunctious boy, outspoken and a leader even as a child. He just seemed to have a natural talent to lead. Even children who were older than him would dote on him and follow him around, hanging on his every word.
Laertes beamed with pride. “My son, the leader,” he chuckled. And as for me, well, I couldn’t have been happier. Odysseus was my pride. Odysseus was my joy. Odysseus was my son. Odysseus, the son of pain.
His spirit was restless. Constantly testing us and testing himself, he was never satisfied with himself and kept pushing and pushing the limits of his abilities. Always in such a hurry to grow up. I tried to slow him down, but it never worked. I remember oh so many times when I said to him, “You’re still a child, Odysseus. There’s plenty of time for you to grow up. Slow down, son. Why are you in such a hurry?”
“Mother, I’m ready. I can do it. I’m not a child anymore.” And then he’d scuttle off to his father and beg and plead for his blessing to do whatever it was he had set his mind to do. And Laertes would invariably agree.
“You baby him too much,” Laertes cautioned me throughout the boy’s childhood. “Odysseus should be tough and strong, not soft and weak. How can he grow up to be a strong warrior if you keep holding him back?”
I bit my tongue. It was no use arguing with them. It was no use telling them I didn’t want my Odysseus to lie broken on some battlefield with severed limbs just so he could be remembered as a heroic warrior. I wanted something different for my son. I wanted a long and happy life with a beautiful wife by his side and lots and lots of children. Isn’t that what any mother would want for her son? But I was alone in my wishes and so kept them to myself.
And then came the time when Odysseus thought he was old enough to set off to Parnassus visit his grandfather. Of course, I was opposed to the very thought of it. He wasn’t ready. Far, far too young. But he insisted on going to collect the gifts promised to him by my father. I tried to delay his departure. I tried to reason with him. He ignored me. I pleaded with Laertes to deny his permission for the journey until the boy was a little older. Even Eurycleia begged me not to let him go.
“Can’t you do something? He’s still too young. Can’t you stop this?”
“I’ve tried. But they won’t listen to me. He wants to go to prove himself a man. And Laertes is encouraging it.”
“But they’ll take him on a hunt!” Her eyes pooled with tears. “It’s dangerous. He’ll get hurt. He’s just a boy. Can’t this wait until he gets a little older?”
“I don’t know how to stop them.” I shook my head. I buried my face in my hands.
So against my wishes, Odysseus set off. Eurycleia and I waited at home, hoping for the best, fearing the worst.
He was greeted warmly in my father’s house with my relatives fussing over him as I knew they would. Father hosted a feast in his honor. Odysseus was as thrilled as any young boy would be.
I knew much would be expected of him. I knew he would insist on participating in the hunt to prove himself a man. It was traditional in my father’s house for the men to set off for a hunt early every morning. Odysseus was only too eager to join them. And that was when my worst fear materialized. My boy was in a terrible accident. He might have died. Odysseus explained to me how it had happened when he came home after recovering from his injury.
“Mother, it was magnificent! I set off for the hunt with grandfather and my uncles. I was so excited to be a part of it. I raced on ahead of them.” He grinned from ear to ear.
I smiled. My boy. Eager to prove to himself and to the men in my family he was strong and brave and up to the undertaking.
“It was such a thrill! Soon the hounds picked up the scent of an animal and started the chase. I ran as fast as I could behind them.” His breath was heavy with excitement. “I could see the boar running ahead in the distance. We got closer and closer to it. But the boar somehow managed to dodge us. It hid in a dense thicket. I rushed toward it. I reached it before any of the others. I raised my spear like this, ready to thrust it into him.” And Odysseus stood up and raised his arm to show me his movement.
“Before I knew what was happening, the boar came charging out and headed straight for me.” He grinned. I could feel my heart pounding. “I aimed my spear at him. I was about to let it fly. But the boar was too quick for me. It thrust its tusk into my flesh just above my knee. It gouged out my sinews and muscles. You should have seen it, mother.” He chuckled. His eyes danced. “There was blood and gore and mushy stuff everywhere. It was a big mess.” He laughed.
I bit my tongue. I swallowed hard. I smiled. I nodded my head encouragingly.
“The pain was fierce, mother. But I could handle it. I plunged my spear into the boar’s shoulders. I killed it. It dropped dead on the ground just like that. Poof!”
He laughed, rolling over on the ground to show me how it happened.
“My leg was gushing blood. But can you believe it, mother? I didn’t feel any pain. I was just so excited at having killed my first boar. I did it, mother. I did it all by myself. Grandfather and uncles tied up my wound and took me back to the palace. They cleaned up the wound and bound it until it was finally healed. And then they sent me home laden with all these treasures. Grandfather was so proud of me, mother. He kept repeating he had never seen a young boy show such strength and courage. I wasn’t afraid. Not one bit, mother. I didn’t flinch, not even once, not even when they tended my wound. It was all so exciting. I can’t wait to do it again,” he said, face flushed, eyes bright with pleasure.
The wound healed, but the scar never did. It etched itself deeply into his skin. I shuddered every time I saw it. It was a constant reminder my boy had been inches away from losing his life. He might have been crippled forever had the boar’s tusk hit the bone. Or, worse still, he might have died had my family been unable to stop the bleeding.
But Odysseus didn’t see it that way. Oh no, not him. To him, the scar was a badge of honor. Something to brag about in front of his friends. He never tired of telling the story whenever he was asked about it, flaunting it as if it were a testament to his manhood. Naturally, after that incident, there was no stopping him. I lost control of him entirely. He ceased to pay attention to me, waving off my worries for his safety. He was now a man and had the scar to prove it. He didn’t need—or want—his mother fussing and fretting over him.
That was my boy. That was the son of pain….
© 2016 Tamara Agha-Jaffar. All rights reserved.
*Unsung Odysseys will be released on Amazon Kindle in January 2017.