An Odyssey of Love

Francesco Primaticcio "Ulysses and Penelope" circa 1545

Francesco Primaticcio "Ulysses and Penelope" circa 1545

I’m growing to love the word ‘Temenos’ because it brings up more feelings than thoughts.  When I hear ‘Temenos’, I feel pregnant with possibility, and warm with creative anticipation - much like Bonnie’s description of a long-awaited first date. And this is how you set the stage for us, Bonnie Damron, as you created a temenos of intimacy for our group last night.

As you guided us through Penelope’s orientation in Homer’s Odyssey, it was your voice and your emotions that carried me with you, so much more deeply than words alone ever could. Listening to you breathe life into Penelope’s story, I heard the full-hearted passion of a fully embodied woman finally given a voice. For the first time, I heard Penelope’s voice as the voice of Love itself.

The hero is (s)he who is immovably centered
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was reminded of Demaris Wehr’s comment that ‘in the end, love is what really matters’.  And for the first time I felt Odysseus’s need to return home as an enduring longing to rejoin the love of his life, Penelope. How sad that I’d always believed his a primary desire was to reclaim power. You helped me reframe The Odyssey as a love story, and in doing so, you also began healing a very old wound of mine.

You see, way back in college I was awarded the honor of creating my own major and designing its coursework, and I created Western Maritime Culture in the Age of Sail. The Odyssey was to play a central role in my studies, but I never got to finish my work. I abandoned my major because my faculty advisor had created a temenos of a very different kind, most unwelcome, and I was not self-assured enough to speak of his unwanted attention. I was not ‘immovably centered’ and I surrendered my dream.

But even though I was thrown from my academic path, I’ve never lost my passion for exploring the nuances of personal voyage, and the intrigues and discoveries of an odyssey.

T.S. Eliot’s poem “Dry Salvages” was meant to be a part of my studies. For decades, during sleepless nights, I have returned to these lines-

The tolling bell measures time….older than time counted by anxious worried women, lying awake, calculating the future, trying to unweave, unwind, unravel, and piece together the past and the future, between midnight and dawn...
— T.S. Eliot, "Dry Salvages"

I’ve heard these lines from the orientation of someone who had allowed her center, her temenos, to be violated. And I’ve felt that Eliot was speaking of the voice of insomnia due to trauma. But now I hear another layer - I hear your voice repeating Penelope’s words, almost as a mantra, “I weave my own wiles.” And now I wonder - as Eliot was surely referring to the image of Penelope weaving - if perhaps his words “unweave, unwind, unravel, and piece together” are oriented in wisdom, instead of trauma. Perhaps Eliot could be speaking of Penelope’s strength and determination to hold on to love against all odds, “even in its absence, or even if it is not seen to exist.”

“I weave my own wiles.”
— Penelope, The Odyssey

This brings me to wonder about the true nature of Love, and whether I’ve ever really felt it at all. Love without violation, love that is ravishing but does not leave one ravaged. Love that is the foundation from which life unfolds. And I believe I’ve felt a shimmering of this beauty, but have never found a way to hold it as my own. I’ve felt it most often when I was studying as an actor, and most deeply in the part of James Joyce’s character, Molly Bloom. Her flowing rush of unpunctuated words in the Penelope chapter of “Ulysses” best express what I imagine it must feel like to be fully embodied in the feminine.

After that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could.
— James Joyce, "Ulysses"

Molly’s soliloquy continues with a stream of yesses intertwined with palliable images from her memory. “She weaves her own wiles,” (yes) with her language just as Penelope wove her own resolve. Bonnie, I felt the passion of Molly Bloom in your voice as you invited us to join you in eliciting a temple for a tribal queen from the ancient matriarchal hegonomy.

And at the end of your presentation, when you said you weren’t sure exactly what you had taught us about Penelope, I understood your confusion - because your lecture was not about words.

Instead, you created a Tenemos for Penelope, and anchored her story with the pillar of enduring Love. Thank you for that, from the depth of my locked-away heart.

Heart Wonder 1 by Laurie Pace

Heart Wonder 1 by Laurie Pace

Angeline Ball in her IFTA Award winning role as Molly Bloom from the film Bloom. 03:06