This is the story Homer never bothered to imagine.

This is the song the poets don’t sing.
This is the story Homer never bothered to imagine.

Construe the isle of Ithaca, home of Odysseus and his wife, Penelope. Odysseus has been absent lo these many years–eighteen, at last count–and Penelope is besieged in her fishy-smelling palace by uninvited suitors wanting to take her husband’s place, because surely he must be dead by now and we can’t have a woman running things, can we?

Enter Hera

My husband rarely glances down from Olympus these days, spills his hours in nymphs and wine, but were he to ever bother to look towards the west, this is a darkness where I can hide even my celestial light. Lady of secrets, lady of intrigue, whispering in the shadows where no men go. I feel it now, the old thrill, the taste of the ancient power that has been so long forbidden to me. I was a queen of women once, before my husband bound me with chains and made me a queen of wives.

one of the most enjoyable narrators whose tale it has ever been my pleasure to read. She can’t take outright action, oh no, Zeus might notice and call her back to Olympus before her work here is done, but she can plot and she can scheme and she can whisper in Penelope’s ear, and by god (see what I did there) does she have a voice.

Kenamom takes his time to consider this. Penelope does not mind. The silence of men is a novel experience, and she is prepared to thoroughly enjoy it.

One of the suitors has decided upon direct action as a means of gaining Penelope’s hand and kingdom by way of piracy and pillage, but the queen and her maids and the women of Ithaca are more than a match for him. With help from Hera, of course, and from Athena and Artemis and even an exiled disciple of the god of the Amazons, of whom Hera has begged, Teach my women to fight.

Many familiar names make an appearance, Clytemnestra, Orestes, Electra, all the gods in their less than glory, and through their actions the price of the Trojan War–any war–has never been made so blisteringly plain, paid in the bodies and spirits of women.

Clytemnestra slit the throat of Cassandra, princess of Troy, on her way out of the palace. Cassandra didn’t resist. After the first year of being pulled by the hair into Agamemnon’s bed, hand at her throat, tongue wet, she had learnt that screaming changed nothing. After the second year, even he believed that her silence was a kind of consent, and imagined all kind of stories in which she valued his power over her. By the time Clytemnestra killed her, seven years later, Cassandra had given up on speech altogether, knowing no one would believe her, and no one would care. Thus died the prophetess of Troy, plaything of gods and men.

My favorite character of them all is Leaneira, a Trojan woman taken into slavery who has wept for these things once already and who exists now by the cry only ever uttered in secret, Death to all Greeks. Well, Penelope cannot give her the deaths of all the Greeks, but she can certainly help her to some of them, and save Ithaca and its people at the same time.


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