6. "No Man Touches Her"

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Centering Iphis,
Attendant to the Hero's Tomb:

"No man touches her!"

     These bellowed words of Achilles
     reach me
          through the thin walls of my hut
          on the edge of the promontory
               where I live now,
               away from the Achaean camp,
               away from the company
     of the other enslaved women.

"No man touches her!"

     A reminder that life continues
          even as I tend to a master
               who resides within a tomb.

When Patroclus lived,
     I was his woman
          not because I wanted to be,
          but because Achilles said it was so,
          and because the word of Achilles
               animated every breath and movement
               of his beloved Patroclus.

It now becomes harder to remember those days,
     when Brise├»s was my companion,
     when a living Patroclus was my obligation,
     with Achilles looming over us all,

"No man touches her!"

     and harder still to remember the days before that,
          when I was a princess in Phrygian Hyllos,
          when that city was still called Hyllos
               before Achilles arrived
               leading three thousand men.

He had been so giddy,
     this young Phthian conqueror,
          in my father's throne room,
          on my father's throne,
          with my father,
               prostrate before Achilles,
          with my three brothers,
               prostrate before Achilles,
               flanked by Myrmidon warriors.
"I have never conquered a city before,"
     Achilles had said.
          "This shall be my first,
               Ilion shall be my last,
            and in between,
     shall be a dozen of lesser importance."

"We will pay tribute to the Achaeans,"
     my once-proud father had pledged.
          "Our grain,
          our orchards,
          our livestock,
          our fowl
     shall henceforth supply the army of Agamemnon.
You will have my pledge of peace and loyalty,
          Lord Achilles,
on behalf of all men of Hyllos,
     if you leave us now to tend our wounded."

The boy-warrior had grown angry at that.
     "I dictate the terms, old man!"
     And pacing around the hall,
          he proclaimed,
"This city shall henceforth be called Skyros.
     And you henceforth shall be called Deidamia,
     And you henceforth shall be called Deidamia,
     And you henceforth shall be called Deidamia,"
          he'd said to a progression of trembling maidens,
          until each disappointed him in some small way,
               to be discarded for the next.

But I was never to be called Deidamia.
     I kept my name
          even as I lost her freedom,
          even as I was presented to Patroclus
                    by Achilles
     on the occasion of his birthday.

"Become a man today, brother,"
     Achilles had said,
          in the midst of a drunken celebratory stupor,
          with a Deidamia on each arm.
"But we shall not call this one Deidamia.
     It would be awkward
          to find you sleeping with my wife!"

"No man touches her!"

I drop my head
     in sorrow,
        the life I might have had,
   the life that's been erased.

"I will serve this man until one of us dies,
     I once thought,
          but how naïve
     to think that even the death of Patroclus
     would free me from my bondage.

I remain enslaved
     to a dead man
by the whim
     of a monster."


* The Kypria
* The Iliad
* The Posthomerica
* Tales of Nostos
* The Odyssey
* The Telegony
* The Aeneid
  Rage is the first book of the Iliad. Amazons is the first book of the Posthomerica.

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