Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Afterthought

Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. --Euripedes

Euripedes was a nitpicker: Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they gleefully destroy.

The gods can wreck you on the installment plan, incrementally, step by fucking step. And, sure, madness is in their bag of tricks, but they have bigger, more wicked stuff up their sleeves than mere madness.

Let's say you're me.

But, no, let's don't say; I wouldn't wish that on you.

Seriously, though, this man: Me. What did I do to deserve my status as a wretched  mythological footnote?

I guess my sad history speaks for itself; those fuckers on Olympus toyed with me from the very beginning, making me the least distinguished, the only truly undistinguished member of a formidable family.

I struggled early and often to find an identity for myself, dwarfed, hobbled, and self-conscious in the shadows of my brothers, Prometheus and Atlas. Those were big shadows, and my parents compounded my frustrations by yoking me with an insult for a name: Epimetheus, or 'Afterthought,' this in deliberate contrast to my brother Prometheus ('Forethought').

I learned to live with this indignity, and the diminished expectations that went along with it. I thought I'd finally caught my lucky break when Hermes offered me Pandora's hand in marriage (only, of course, after Prometheus took a pass).

My bride was the first mortal woman, made to order by Jupiter and blessed with improvident gifts: beauty, elegance, poise, a natural eagerness to please. Sad sack that I was, I can't deny that Pandora made me wild with happiness.

There was, though, that damned box, which was a torment to my curiosity. Presented to me in tandem with my wife, the box was a thing of beauty in its own right, ornate, delicately crafted, and glittering with jewels. It came with a strict prohibition, of course; I was expressly forbidden from ever opening the box. Day after day and night after night it sat there on our mantel, emitting noises that were alternately disturbing and enticing. Some of the time it rattled and hummed like an old radiator; other times it purred, a steady, almost comforting wash of white noise.

Despite what you might have heard, it was I who opened that box, not Pandora. I don't suppose I need to tell you that I was roaring drunk on Old Style at the time. That was, as you would surely imagine, a terrible moment, chaotic, disturbing, beyond frightful. I don't like to remember the things that boiled up out of the box, even though I am still confronted by those memories --and their living, enduring presence in the world-- every single day. Ceaseless affliction and misery, is how you often hear the contents of the box described, and I can ensure you that there's nothing in the way of overstatement in that description.

You also may have heard that in the midst of all the chaos my wife had the presence of mind to lunge from the couch and clamp the lid back on the box.

Here is where I'm not sure what to tell you. Pandora obviously did not move quickly enough. Perhaps, however, she moved too swiftly, or shouldn't have moved at all. Because when we finally collapsed together in the shag carpeting of our living room and surveyed the enormity of the disaster our marriage had made of this world, we were aware of a sound still emanating from within the box, a noise that sounded eerily like a beating heart. It seemed hope --and hope alone-- had not managed to escape from Pandora's box.

And I ask you now: what does that mean? Should we choose to see this bit of information as cause for optimism, or despair? Is hope still present and accessible, or locked away forever?

I'm afraid that I, who have been turned into a monkey by the gods and banished to the island of Pithecusa, am unfortunately in no position to answer such difficult questions.

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