M. Q. Stewart

Tέρασυμπια

On the bow of a legendary vessel stood the mighty Odysseus. With spears poised and armor equipped, he made ready to do battle against the terrible Scylla and the equally-as-terrible Charybdis. As the ship neared the deadly strait, a young man with perfectly good eyesight approached the battle-ready hero.

“It’s a pleasure to have you aboard our ship, young Homer,” said Odysseus, barely taking his eyes off the peril ahead.

“Of course,” said Homer. “How else would I find inspiration for my next epic, ‘The Odysseus’?”

“Yes, ‘The Odysseus’ because it’s about me, Odysseus! That’s fantastic,” said he, grinning madly. “And may your beautiful eyes never go blind on account me making some kind of selfish decision.”

“Here’s to that,” said Homer. “But wait, why are you wearing your battle armor? Didn’t Circe tell you NOT to try and fight Scylla? Won’t it kill us all if you do that?”

“Nonsense, Homer! The beast must be destroyed, for her own sake. For she is too ugly to live.”

As if Scylla’s ears were burning, it poked a third of it’s heads out of it’s murky lair, and peered around for a snack.

“I mean, look at her: that scaly reptilian skin, dripping with slime!” said Odysseus, who felt that they were still far enough away to safely insult the beast.

“Yeah,” agreed Homer. “She’s pretty gross.”

“And those nasty jowls!” continued Odysseus. “Yeuch! Someone ought to go up there and pick the sailor out of her teeth. Am I right?”

“Yeah,” said Homer. “Dumb whor—”

“Excuse me,” interrupted a stern, yet feminine, voice.

Homer and Odysseus turned on their heels, and before them stood a maidenly figure with long dark hair.

“By the matted beard of Poseidon! Who let a woman aboard our ship?” exclaimed Odysseus, brandishing a spear. “Are you a sign from the Gods? Or have you come to lure us into the depths with your womanly charms? Answer me, lady! What kind of shape-shifting creature are you?”

“Hold on now, put that away. What’s all of this nonsense about Gods and beards?” cried the mysterious maiden, glaring defiantly. “Surely you must know why I’m here?”

Odysseus pondered this for a moment. He was a clever man, but somehow this had slipped his mind.

“Don’t you remember, Ody?” said Homer, trying on a new nickname for our stalwart hero. “You utterly destroyed that whole tribe of people and kept their women as slaves.”

Odysseus thought hard, but he still couldn’t remember, “Eurylochus!” he called.

The scruffy second-in-command appeared from below deck (where he had been hiding to avoid getting eaten), “Sir?”

“Do we have any women aboard this ship?”

“Yes sir, the Kikones women. We’ve been storing them in amongst the cargo, with the wine, goats and other supplies that we scavenged.”

“That’s right! Our pen is the one next to the goats,” said the woman. “My name is Térasympia, high basket-weaver among the Kikones.”

“Damn, but what’s a basket weaver doing aboard my ship?” said Odysseus stroking his beard contemplatively.

“We already established that Ody,” said Homer, not writing any of this down, but keeping a mental note of it.

“Not now, Homer,” said Odysseus. “I really need to concentrate.”

“Listen,” began Térasympia. “I was going to come up here and commandeer the ship and leave you all to die at the hands of Scylla, but now I feel that I have a duty to address something that’s been bugging me.”

“Speak up demon, or witch, or whatever you are!” said Odysseus, eyeing the basket weaver with suspicion and intrigue.

“Well that’s exactly what I’m talking about,” said Térasympia. “The other women and I have noticed—either from conversations we overhear through the cracks in the floorboards, or from the stories that your men tell when they have their way with us—stories of terrible she-monsters with teeth and claws and the like—it all seems very misogynistic.”

“What? No. Definitely not,” interrupted Odysseus.

“Don’t listen to her,” said Eurylochus. “What would she know? After all, she’s just a woman.”

“There it is again,” said Térasympia. “But besides the fact that you keep us in barrels next to livestock, and, y’know, we’re literally your sex slaves now and all, it seems like you guys are a bunch of women haters.”

At these words, the three men merely guffawed and shook their heads. Not in unison, because that would be weird, but each eventually in their own rhythm.

“Come now,” said Odysseus. “Us? Women haters?”

“Yeah! That’s ridiculous,” chimed in Eurylochus. “We love women!”

“Clearly,” said Térasympia, rolling her eyes.

“No really, I like women,” said Homer. “It doesn’t matter that you guys are softer and dumber than us men are.”

“Okay, great,” said Térasympia, making an effort to get back onto the point of her argument. “Don’t you see what you’re doing? You feminize every monster, whether they’re bird, reptile, fish or what-have-you.”

Suddenly, Odysseus had a terrible thought: that all of this might be true. Could it be?

“No,” he denied it. “That’s ridiculous, us men are not women haters. It’s just that some of these monsters are actually women. Not all of them are.”

“Really? Then what about the sphinx?” queried Térasympia.

“Clever cat with a big rack,” answered Odysseus, almost instinctively. “How fortunate we are that Oedipus solved the riddle. Too bad about his mom though...”

“Yep, just what I thought. How about the harpies?” continued Térasympia.

“Nasty winged titty-birds. They defecated all over Jason and his men,” answered Odysseus.

“Medusa?”

“Not a looker, Perseus could tell ya. Talk about a cold shoulder, right fellas? Get it? ‘Cause she turns them to stone...”

Homer and Eurylochus slapped fives, but Térasympia was not amused.

Suddenly, a barge of haggard old men wearing masks and long robes pulled up to the side of the ship and sang a solemn chorus:

O brave Odysseus,
Trying to make it home,
With Térasympia chastising you,
O what terrible fate!
O what terrible truths you’ve heard,
Today of all the days,
O could it be true, what’s been said?
Charybdis is clearly a vaginal metaphor!
What a shame, when you know,
These stories were written by men!
It’s not like they were trying to be sexist,
That was just the culture back then!

“Hey! Enough of that!” shouted Eurylochus. “You choruses are all the same with your wooden masks and your melancholy voices. Beat it!”

But we are here,
To add commentary,
Even though,
There’s already commentary!

“Stop it!” wailed Eurylochus.

“The sirens!” said Odysseus out of nowhere. “The sirens were beautiful beyond belief. And their songs so sweet... You see Térasympia, not all women—I mean monsters! Not all monsters are ugly.”

Homer and Térasympia merely chuckled, as if they were in on a shared secret.

“What? What’s so funny? Is it wrong for a man to be attracted to a scaly fish woman?” said Odysseus.

“You don’t know?” said Homer.

“Those were man-sirens,” said Téra.

“No! That can’t be right, they were so incredibly gorgeous,” lamented Odysseus. “So curvy...”

“Yes, very feminine, still male,” said Téra, though she wasn’t sure if this had helped her argument at all or weakened it.

“Damn, I am so confused now... This shall mess me up for weeks.”

“The Cyclops,” posited Eurylochus, who was finally able to get the chorus to leave, after bribing them with goats.

“Yes! Polyphemus! He was a male and he was ugly,” cried Odysseus. “Poor dullard...”

“Poor dullard?” cried Térasympia. “You feel sorrow and pity for Polyphemus, yet you’d kill Scylla without a second thought?”

“I don’t get it...” said Odysseus. “Homer, help me out, who’s winning... Am I winning?”

Homer merely shrugged.

“You know what, forget it,” said Térasympia. “I’ll just jump ship and take my chances with Charybdis. Us ‘monsters’ should stick together.”

“Wait Térasympia! I have a plan. It’s such a great plan,” said Odysseus taking a heroic stance. “We shall sail close enough to the cave so that I can jump inside and have a look at the things genitals. Then we’ll know for certain.”

Though Térasympia wanted to prove her case, she also knew deep in her heart that this idea was probably not very great at all, though Homer spoke up about it first.

“Gaia to Ody,” he said. “You can’t reach that cave, Circe said that the walls were too high and slippery.”

“Then I will peer into the cave with my hawk-like eyes and—”

Just then, there was a horrendous dog-like whine, and six terrible heads launched out and each snatched a member of Odysseus’ crew.

“Don’t panic men, and miss ‘Sympia!” called out Odysseus. “We’re far enough away that the thing has to stretch it’s body outside of the cave to reach us! I think I... Yes! It’s rubbing it’s pelvis up against the outer lip of the cave! Let me just have a peek,” what Odysseus saw that day was chthonian and wondrous. “It’s... my, it’s so weird... that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen... why, I can’t tell what it is! Ha!”

They somehow made it passed.

“Well, Téra, I guess you were right,” admitted Odysseus. “It really wasn’t a woman after all. It was an ugly genderless creature! Perhaps I’ve learned my lesson.”

“Perhaps?” lamented Téra. “It got Homer! You monster!”

Odysseus’ heart was struck with a pang of sorrow, like one of Eros’ bolts, except it made you real sad instead of in-love.

“No, I... Curse you vile Scylla!!! You genderless fiend!” he sobbed.

“Can men not be monsters?” said Térasympia, scanning the crew for sympathetic eyes. “When Oedipus tears the eyes out of his face for his children to see, with tendrils and viscera flowing out, is he not a monster? When weird-uncle Hades drags starry-eyed Persephone down into the pits of Tartarus, away from her loving mother, is he not a monster then? When wrathful Achilles defiles the corpse of Hector, such a brave young man, with so much hope, and so much promise, and so much...”

“Yeah, we get the point,” interrupted Eurylochus.

Then there was a sudden “thunk!” as a limp young body slammed against the deck of the ship.

“Homer!” cried Odysseus. “Homer, speak to me. Tell me that you’re alive!”

“Ow, yeah, I’m okay,” he said getting up to his feet. “I was telling her—scylla, of course—about our conversation about gender, and she thought it was good that we were all so open-minded, so she let me go.”

“She? Wait a minute, is that what a vagina looks like?” wondered Odysseus. “I haven’t seen one in so long... doesn’t a vagina have a swirling vortex of oceanic waves where sailors meet their doom beneath the crushing depths—”

“Yeah, that’s a whirlpool,” interrupted Térasympia.

“Ouch. I think that I hit the deck so hard that my eyes popped out of their sockets,” said Homer, who was strikingly calm about all of this. “I guess that I won’t be able to write the Odysseus down on a papyrus now... maybe I should just make it an oral tradition and I’ll just pass it down through the generations.”

“I was thinking about that, by the way. Maybe you should just call it ‘The Odyssey’, it kind of sounds better,” suggested Térasympia.

“Hey yeah! Odyssey. Wow, that’s such a good idea, I wish that I had thought of it,” said Homer.

“Don’t worry Homer,” said Odysseus. “You can just take all of the credit for it, and no one will ever know.”