Homer was blind and therefore illiterate. This
is probably not true but that's how the story goes. (Each
time I start this story it's different. I start each version
in a different pen. This pen is felt. The ink soaks in.) A
woman yelled out a request: Sing the one about the Great
I can start it from the egg or the apple, he said. That is, the egg that hatched Helen the cause of the war, or the golden apple of dischord coveted and disputed by three goddesses. Or I could start with mighty Achilles pouting. . . . His lower lip trembling, he knitted his brows.
Start with the egg, she snapped.
As he performed the tale now a tragic blues now burlesque, he thought, Even for a meal a comfortable night's sleep this act is wearing thin. He remembered his every performance--this was an unwelcome side effect of his prodigious memory gift of a muse. He had seen better days he recalled them in detail but colors do fade not so much in the memory but in life itself.
Blind Homer wandered the byways plying his song. He never did stay in one place long. But when he ran into this one same guy for it must have been the seventh time (he recognized him by the voice what else could it be?) he had to stop and wonder why. He never knew himself what lay ahead.
Often he'd simply follow a patron's advice about which road to take, who else might want to hear the story songs, or where a local holyday was upcoming. (He loved festivals hootenannies jamborees. They were rare opportunities to share a stage to pick up new material prove he could still cut it.)
He confronted the man: You've been studying me. Don't you know I take no apprentices? The air was dry tense the sky brittle a faded yellow.
This ubiquitous follower explained in reassuring tones. My name is Setys, he offered. I'm no bard and I'm not trying to be one, old man. I am what you call a symbolist.
Homer had heard of these symbols but did not believe in them. How could they capture and hold sounds? He said, This is worse than I suspected. You're some kind of spellcaster--
Setys began quoting him from a rendition of the Terrible Journey Home and he recognized his own turns of phrase word for word from the night before last.
That night three women cornered Homer. He thought it was three. There were three voices but they sounded like the same voice in three different moods or at three different ages.
The first said, Is it true? You are old Homer? Others have claimed to be you. Some were very good. How do I know you are Homer?
(A weary shrug.) It is not for me. . . he began (in an elaborate stylee a fogeyish patter that old men affected when he was young). It is not for me to make you certain as to my being who I am, my identity. I am what am and that's all what I am.
She laughed as he shifted his pipe to his other cheek and cocked his other blind eye at her.
But, said the second (or had the first moved? probably missed the full effect of the pose), I am a Grace.
A Grace? he blurted out. There was a distant peal of thunder.
Or a Fury a Fate a Norn. It's the same, you know. More or less. I measure out the thread.
He said, You're shitting me.
It's your turn to have faith, she said, now looking older now taller to his mind's eye. See that I have dropped some of my artifice. And Homer did see something and recoiled.
You too are more than one and one at the same time, she droned, hypnotically. Which one? He could not tell. Had he not heard these voices before in umpteen dreams?
What do you mean, Erinys? stammered the blind cringing old man all melody drained from his voice.
Where were you born? she demanded as if with sharp finger extended.
Not Ephesus? she taunted him
According to some legends, he admitted and started stopped looked puzzled.
Do you see what I mean? she said. Do you?
sing the destruction that piled pains upon the
Achaians, pain upon pain a thousand times. . . .
A merchant in the audience bedecked adorned and draped in presumptuous purple, stage whispered to the gentleman next to him. That's a new beginning isn't it?
Relatively new, he confirmed. But I have heard it before--just this last spring.
The merchant hooked his thumb toward the dais. And was it blind old Homer singing then?
I believe it was though he looks different now.
No not older. Shorter but less bent less gnarled; yet his voice is the same unmistakable and I recognize the dramatic gestures.
Could this be a student passing himself off as the master?
I don't believe so there is a magical quality that could not be learned but quiet, this is one of my favorite parts:
cheeked Briseis who is yours, take that prize
from your very tent, and I will teach you that
I'm above you so that you will think again before
comparing yourself to me. . . .
That Agamemnon he was an arrogant one was he not? interjected the merchant.
Yes indeed my jewel-encrusted friend. But was he a greater fool than Achilles who brought doom upon his own allies? I should like to ask Briseis, who knew them both.
And both fall to listening again.
He is dead.
Ugly short gnarled he paced in small circles. He could not get the voice of those women out of his mind. Now he was not sure whether it was the second or third that had warned him. They spoke all at once it seemed from many more than three directions.
What she said was meaningless, inane, thought Homer, but I cannot so easily discount the message of such a one. His skin felt dry.
Something is coming something is going but will the new way of things surpass the old? will I even be able to compare them? How will I fit in when my story is not my own? Still, I cannot persevere forever as a lone voice. Perhaps I can bargain with those weird women if I meet them again. How strange the way they slip in and out of my thoughts. They are impossible to hold.
Homer was tired of singing. His voice creaked and his throat burned. But the weather was balmy and his joints were feeling resilient. He thought again about Setys. He would never understand this new magic not like the familiar power of his own art.
He felt that something was slipping away from him but he also felt a new spirit imbuing him. He saw himself performing less and less and nevertheless growing in renown and comfort. He pictured nine cities claiming his as a native son. Day by day he had been growing stronger.
Setys told him that the "writing" would be done in several weeks. Then they would "read" it to him and he would be able to add or make changes. It hadn't hurt a bit. He forgot now what the strange wom'n told him.
Beyond the margin of the page Homer wandered into a tavern and winked at the barmaid. When I sent him over a drink he looked around and I signaled. He waved me over. Can I ask you a few questions? I said. Off the record?