Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy….
What is it with that Homeric ‘O’? It’s all at once the hallowed ‘O’ summoning a god, the plaintive ‘O’ asking to receive the story, and the demanding ‘O’ calling for a passerby to listen, to listen now because there is something vital that must be said. The first is filled with hubris, as if we’re even worthy to make the call. The last, more akin to faith, underscores the belief that the story can and will be told to it’s full fruition.
I feel it most, though, as the aching cry, the lament – the Oh Christ, or the child curled in the fetal position, moaning to himself, oh…oh…oh, feeling the score of the wound behind, or the weight of the task ahead, yet unable to get the words out.
But we are not children. And we do have allies. When resolve is lacking, we have cohorts ready to bind us to the mast so that we may stare ahead resolutely, deaf to the call of sirens. Time to get with it.
Where do we go this morning as that once great Greece stumbles along in shambles?
Upon the betrayal of King Shahryar by his Queen and wife, the Sultan had her beheaded and vowed that, henceforth, he would each day take a new wife, he would sleep with her, and at the following dawn slay her to secure her honor as he would slay a thousand women and forever subvert the guile and perfidy of women, even though in this way lay madness.
He nonetheless set forth and the consequent wreak and ruin descended upon the Caliphate, mothers mourning, parents in flight with daughters until not a maiden fit for carnality could be had. That is until the daughter of the Sultan’s Wizir pleaded with her father to allow herself to be taken as the Sultan’s wife and, that if she were allowed to do so, she herself would end the slaughter of women and save all the virgin daughters of Islam. Unable to withstand his daughter’s will, the Wizir agreed. He delivered Scheherezade to the Sultan Shahryar, and he slept with her and he took her maidenhead, and as the dawn approached not yet making itself present, she asked the King if he would entertain a story. With that she began the tale of the Trader and the Jinni.
We know, of course, that she could not finish the tale. The Sultan spared her life for one more night and yet another. The stories continued on for a near infinite number of nights.
Therein lay the beauty of Scherehezade. As long as she breathed a story, she knew at least that she would breathe. For her, the story became a high wire act on which her very life or death depended. Night after night she slept with the Sultan after which she seduced him with her stories until the two acts became equated. In the end, the story became the more powerful seduction. Whole worlds and worlds within worlds were born, leaving the story as the generative act.
And it’s story telling at it’s most basic. A fairy tale and a lullaby. The story that provides solace. The story that nurses us into sleep.