Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Angry Women

     Medea was an angry woman.  Married to Jason, who with her help retrieved the golden fleece, she was also betrayed by him.  Jason was made by divine order to fall in love with Glauce, the king's daughter.  Perhaps it was the fiery temperament bequeathed to her as granddaughter of the sun god, Helios, because Medea took revenge for this betrayal by sending Glauce a dress and golden coronet soaked in poison.  Glauce died, and so did her father, the king of Corinth, Creon, when he tried to save her.  Her anger not yet worn out, Medea then killed her two children by Jason, and left Corinth in a fast, golden chariot driven by two dragons.
     Hera was another angry, vengeful woman.  As both sister and wife of Zeus, she witnessed the lovers of Zeus come and go, one after another, igniting her raging jealousy.  She had not married Zeus by choice, but was tricked by him when he turned himself into an injured bird to get close to her, then raped her--hence her simmering resentment.  Raised by the Titans, Hera was a majestic queen who knew how to use her power.  Far from being reproached for her murderous jealousy, a cult developed in Greece in honor of Hera, whose anger may have been seen as legitimate, and a correct response to her circumstances.  At one point, she arranged for other gods to entrap Zeus when he was sleeping, and tie him in knots.  Furious, he hung her from chains in the sky for a night, releasing her only when she agreed never to revolt against him again.  Thereafter, instead of outright rebellion she intrigued against him behind the scenes, as women so often do--and this may have become the model she set for wives everywhere.  She became known as the goddess and protector of married women.
     Then there was Electra, one of the seven Pleiades placed in heaven as stars by Zeus.  As the daughter of King Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, she and her brother, Orestes, plotted to have their mother killed as revenge for Clytemnestra's murder of Agamemnon.  Clytemnestra, also an angry woman, killed her husband because he had sacrificed their beautiful daughter, Iphigenia, as a way of getting help from the goddess Artemis to win the Trojan war.  Today, an "Electra complex" (parallel to the Oedipus complex) refers to a woman's murderous anger toward her mother stemming from a wish to have her father all to herself.
     Dido, queen of Carthage turned her anger inward, and committed suicide under a funeral pyre when Aeneas, with whom she had fallen in love, abandoned her to take his fleet of Trojans off to war, in pursuit of his destiny.  Dido cursed Aeneas and vowed endless hatred between Carthage and the Trojans, setting off the Punic Wars.  In Virgil's telling of the story, Aeneas meets Dido again in the underworld, but she turns away, refusing to acknowledge his presence.  "Dido's Lament," an operatic aria by Henry Purcell, is one of the most beautiful piece of music ever written, describing the torturous grief that afflicts a woman who has been betrayed.  (See the 10-minute performance by mezzo-soprano Sarah Connelly at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACY03VwWmnA, or the 5-minute version by the stupendous Jessye Norman, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCpMFAPE5rs--"Remember me, but forget my fate...")
     Colm Toibin has written a new book, The Testament of Mary, in which he gives voice to Mary--not the placid, forbearing figure of Catholic iconography, but a woman who was angry, too.  How could she not be angry, years after her son's death, when the disciples come round, one by one, to get her rendition of the events surrounding Jesus's life and death?  How could she not regret the way her life, and that of her son, had been used for political and psychological gain, by masses of people?  "I was there," she says.  "I saw the cruelty.  I saw the hours passing, and I can tell you, it was not worth it."
     There are many other examples:  Demeter, Persephone, Aphrodite, Medusa, Isis--sister and wife of the murdered Osiris, and the Egyptian equivalent of Mary.  Then there are modern versions:  Lorena Babcock, or the hundreds of women who kill their husbands and set their houses on fire, or the one in four women who are victims of domestic violence, or those millions kidnapped into the sex trade industry, millions whose voices have yet to be heard.
     I am an angry woman.  At least, now I am.  Before the raid on my clinic I lived in a fairy tale world where things seemed fair and everyone in America had a chance at success.  Well, not really, but I had not been affected by major corruption or the war of the worlds enacted by politicians and tyrants everywhere. Therefore, I didn't spend a lot of time feeling angry.  When you live in a fairy tale or myth, it's the gods and superpowers who are responsible for everything bad that happens, and your lot is nothing more than victimhood.  Living on earth means that whether there are gods on Olympus or not, we all have a lot to do right here and now.  Anger isn't such a bad thing--it energizes us to go out and fight.  I don't know where my anger will lead, and whether I can harness it in a Thoreauian or Dalai Lama-approved way.  But when something right in front of you needs to change, who is there better to do it than you?  

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