Every so often, I get an odd guest. Sometimes it's a character in a novel who jumps from its pages. Other times, someone journeys to the future. But today's has transported me to the past.
She is the Queen of Rhodes, Polyoxo, from the island of Rhodes where one of the great wonders of the world, the Colossus, was recently was completed through the generous financing of Helen of Troy. Welcome, Queen Polyoxo. I hear the design was crafted originally by Odysseus.
"No. I envisioned the Colossus. I started its creation. I am the reason it exists. Rhodes is my island, my kingdom. Helen was...a guest who overstayed her welcome and overstepped her role."
I see (throat clearing). But the Colossus, it’s amazing. It can be seen from every direction. Is it true it was created to memorialize all the deaths of the Trojan war, both sides?
"Who told you that? I've been very clear with my people that this is my memorial for my husband. It is something I’ve created to put us on the map and keep us protected. I wanted it to straddle the harbor.
I’ve known for 35 years, ever since my husband died that there would be those who would try to take over my kingdom. They thought it would be easy, having a woman at the throne, they could seduce me or overpower me or flatter their way into power. The Colossus even before it was finished, even before Helen came, served as proof that we could do big things. It tells the world today I outlasted them all. I am Rhodes. I am strength. I am the force of the law and no one is higher than the Queen. Helen is getting credit though the long process was not hers."
But I thought you two were childhood friends.
“Helen and I have known each other since we were children. Her parents and mine would get together to discuss trade options. We were the same age so naturally, they'd send us out to be together. Helen, me, Penelope and Clytemnestra. Helen always won. Sometimes she played fair, but sometimes she cheated. It didn't matter. She'd win. She’d always win. No one ever called her on it. She always gets credit. What happened as children still seems to happen now. I never understood why everyone was so smitten with her.”
If you felt that way about Helen, why offer her a place to stay? Why provide sanctuary?
“Helen has always used others to get what she wants. Now, she's alone and she has no one. No throne. No role. No future. She needs someone to take care of her, to make everything better. I wanted it to be me so she could learn she is nothing special. She isn’t just the most beautiful woman in the world, the face that launched 1000 ships. That’s the only part of her history she’s interested in repeating! But there’s the rest of the story. How about the face that was unfaithful and created 20,000 widows, orphans and who knows how many deaths?
Why should she still be beloved? Her name should mean shame and death and destruction! But it doesn’t. She still means beauty after all this time. People get blinded by her charms and wealth and power. I want to help if not the world lose those scales from their eyes, then at least her. Finally, she will know how everyone else lives, she will understand the pain she’s caused people over the years. She should see herself in the mirror as she really is. I will be that mirror to her, and she’ll look since her favorite subject is herself.”
Why? And who appointed you the judge of Helen?
I have a claim. My husband was lost. My future as I planned it, never to be. My whole people, like so many other kingdoms’ people, orphaned and decimated by all these men fulfilling an oath to make one woman hold true to hers.
And I must act. Because gods and men love her and will not. I am neither a godling nor a man, so I am unique, perhaps even set apart by the gods for this purpose. I am her equal by breeding and rank, I am her superior, as a faithful wife unto death, and I am unwilling to let time or sentiment blind me to the crimes to the whole of the world or to my people in particular Helen has helped bring about by her own selfish decisions. There must be some measure of fairness, if not in this world, than in the next, and I do not trust Zeus to be clear headed or purely just with his daughter after death. He’s shown himself on many occasions to always favor her, even over the just claims for justice lodged against her by Queen Hecuba of Troy. She will never be as she deserves, less than a shade, forgotten. Even ages past now, when we are long dust, people will know her name and think passion and beauty, so she will not fade. I know this.
Where is Helen now?
There are lots of stories. They contradict and conflict. The poets (troublesome lot that they are) have spread rumors all over the island and beyond about Helen. I hear but believe none of them. They are just stories.
You know where she is don’t you?
Helen may tell secrets but I don’t. Helen tells stories for lots of reasons, mostly to build herself up in others’ eyes. She shares herself beyond what is asked, believing everyone else loves flattery and being in a confidence as much as she does.
Helen told me her secrets. She wanted to win me over, mistaking the telling of secrets for actual intimacy. As in all things, Helen tries to seduce by overwhelming with all types of treasure. Beauty, largess, shared stories, all of these are tools she uses to curry favor beyond what is deserved, to force those who receive her generosity into a false sense of friendship and loyalty and trust. She seeks to saturate the soul with so much momentary light, fullness and happiness, they forget everything that came before.
She made a mistake, thinking I am like all the others who came before. She trusts too much in her own ability to charm to imagine anyone could ever see through it. She knows better now.”
Is there anyone else who would know about Helen and where she is and what happened?
Yes. Regrettably, there is. Two poets, Pythia and Milos recently escaped the shores of Rhodes aboard a trading vessel. Their connection with Helen is long and detailed. The former acted as Helen’s scribe and inventoried her effects. The later served in my court for many years but grew traitorous when given the opportunity to serve someone as glamorous as Helen. Both are wanted in connection with the recent break in at the palace that destroyed and looted many of Helen’s belongings. It happened closely after Helen's disappearance. I’ve sent out warnings to the neighboring ports of call, if they are found, they will be brought here, interrogated, and justice will be swiftly served.
Any final words you wish to share with readers.
I'm not a monster for wanting Helen to get what is due. It's just that no one wants justice for themselves or anyone they care for, but anything less is unfair to everyone else. The only reason I can be just is I have refused to let her force me to care for her personally. It's necessary. Somehow, the world has to be more fair...to me.
Well that's it (whispering). I'm going back to the future. If you leave a comment, you may win a copy to find out exactly what happened. You can decide for yourself if Polyoxo is telling the truth or not. Or if you want, you can buy the book at the following links: