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The Blind Bard

Excerpt from We First Met in Ithaca, or Was It Eden?

By Richard SeltzerPublished about a year ago 5 min read
We First Met in Ithaca, or Was it Eden? at Amazon

“I imagine that Polyphemus was a loner until Odysseus blinded his single eye. Then he needed help to survive and wanted companionship to fill the emptiness he felt in his unending darkness. The other Cyclopses had never liked him. Now they stayed away from him even more, thinking that he was mad or had angered the gods or both. They left food and water for him outside his cave, taking turns out of a sense of responsibility. But they never lingered, not wanting to invite conversation.

“Polyphemus’ father, Poseidon, was enraged at Odysseus for the damage he had done. But he couldn’t restore his son’s sight. That wasn’t the kind of miracle the Olympian gods could perform, not even Zeus. (Poseidon had Hermes check the archives, but there was no precedent for doing anything of the kind.) Gods could blind, but they couldn’t unblind — the same limitation that humans had. And there were no blind gods, so none of them could provide practical help and guidance. The closest to blind were the Graeae sisters, who shared one eye, passing it back and forth among themselves. They were ugly and ill-tempered. Their names meant Dread, Horror, and Alarm. No one, no matter how desperate, would want to ask them for help.

“Poseidon didn’t have time to deal with his son directly. He was busy managing the gods and other creatures who lived in the sea. In addition, he had to attend meetings that Zeus held on Olympus. With his powers, Zeus could have conducted those meetings remotely, but no, not he. The King of the Gods wanted all gatherings to be face-to-face, so every god and goddess would have to grovel before him. In his rare free time, Poseidon vacationed in the mountains and jungles of Ethiopia — a welcome change of pace, far enough from Olympus that he wouldn’t be disturbed for petty matters. And that was mercifully far from Polyphemus as well, who whined and complained endlessly.

“Finally, Poseidon found a solution. He transported Homer, the blind bard, to the island of the Cyclops, to keep Polyphemus company and to teach him how to cope with blindness. ‘Let the blind lead the blind,’ he said.

“Homer taught Polyphemus the practical skills of living in darkness — how to memorize the layout of his cave and of the paths around it, and how to use a walking stick, tapping the ground to the front and the sides to avoid obstacles. Then he taught him to play the lyre and to sing in dactylic hexameters.

“Polyphemus’ voice was exceptionally good. And thanks to his huge lungs, his voice could carry far. Homer’s voice was weakening with age. So, he taught Polyphemus The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Margites, and took him from one island to another, introducing him to his patrons, and giving him opportunities to perform in public.

“When Homer died, Polyphemus became the next blind bard. His renditions were particularly effective when he recited the Cyclops episode, in which Odysseus fooled him and blinded him. The wound that destroyed his one huge eye had left his tear duct intact. So, when he got to that part in his passionate, first-person narrative, tears poured down his face like a waterfall, prompting sympathetic tears from the audience.

“Over time, Polyphemus became sociable, enjoying not only performing, but also interacting with the audience both before and after the show. And he came to crave a closer kind of relationship. He knew that all men and women considered him grotesque. Though many sought after him as a performer, he had no friends and suspected he never would. And while he knew of love between men and women from stories he’d heard as well as stories that he sang, he had never experienced it himself, and he wished that he could. He was certain that no female Cyclops, much less a human female, would ever want him. But it occurred to him that he wasn’t the only outcast in the world — there were Gorgons.

“Medusa was slain by Perseus, but she had two immortal sisters, Stheno and Euryale. Their hair consisted of living poisonous snakes, and their faces were so ugly that anyone who looked at them turned to stone. They were unmarried. No one had ever sought the hand of either of them. But because Polyphemus was blind, their looks wouldn’t matter to him, and he was at no risk of being turned to stone.

“He knew from the tales of Perseus that the Graeae knew how to find the Gorgons. They were daughters of Phorcys, a sea god under the command of Poseidon. Since it had been years since Polyphemus had last asked his father for a favor, Poseidon didn’t hesitate to transport him to their lair.

“On the day Polyphemus arrived, Enyo (Horror) had the single eye the three sisters shared. She had never seen a man so tall and powerful; and because he was blind, this man showed no fear and no disgust in her presence.

“‘I come with the blessing of Poseidon, my father,’ he explained. ‘Father commands that you tell me how to find the Gorgons.’

“‘For what purpose?’

“‘I come as a suitor.’

Horror laughed.

“Little do I care what the Gorgons look like,” he continued. “And little do I fear their power. I am alone and blind and have been for years. I crave the companionship of a woman. Perhaps they crave the companionship of a man, and, unlike other women, they may not be repelled by my looks.’

“Horror was quick to seize this opportunity. ‘Look no farther than here. I, too, am a woman. I, too, am an outcast. And, unlike the Gorgons, I have a dowry to offer you.’

“‘Dowry? I have no need for money or land. I am a son of Poseidon and, in my own right, I am wealthy, as a performer of epics, Homer’s hand-picked successor.’

“‘But I can give you the gift of sight.’

“Polyphemus replied, ‘I know that you three sisters have but one eye among you, which you share. You don’t have the power to make the blind see; otherwise you would have used it on yourselves.’

“‘But I have that eye today. Let’s elope while my sisters are asleep and blind. You and I can share this eye between us, and my sisters will have nothing to say about it. They’re miserable now. They’ll continue to be miserable. But you and I can be blessed, together. We ‘ll see the world through the same eye. No man and woman have ever had such intimacy.’

“And so, Polyphemus and Horror lived happily ever after, in likeminded harmony, two of the greatest lovers of all time.”

We First Met in Ithaca or Was It Eden? at Amazon

Short Story

About the Creator

Richard Seltzer

Richard now writes fulltime. He used to publish public domain ebooks and worked for Digital Equipment as "Internet Evangelist." He graduated from Yale where he had creative writing courses with Robert Penn Warren and Joseph Heller.

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