Friday, March 06, 2015

Poetry Friday: Oenone

Source:  Scanned image and text by George P. Landow.

Today in eighth grade we reached the part of the story in The Trojan War where Oenone resurfaces.  Oenone, as you may remember, is the nymph girlfriend of Paris while he is living as a shepherd on Mount Ida, unaware that he is really the prince of Troy, cast out of the city by his parents when the prophecy said he would destroy Troy.  (Honestly, don't these people ever learn?  You can't undermine prophecy!)

Paris abandons Oenone when he heads off, panting, to meet Fate and Helen, after Aphrodite promises him the most beautiful woman in the world to marry him, in return for Paris choosing Aphrodite in the beauty contest whose prize was the golden apple.  But at the end of the story, Paris is wounded by a poisoned arrow, and guess who is the only person who can heal wounds from poisoned arrows?  Yep, it's Oenone!

Paris goes back to Oenone on a stretcher, and she asks him why she should help.  Can't Helen help?  Maybe she's too delicately beautiful to be much use in time of poisoned-arrow-induced suffering?  All Paris has to do, for her to help him, is to tell Oenone that she is just as pretty as Helen.  Oenone is waiting...

But Paris just can't do it.  He dies instead, while being carried back on his stretcher to spend his last few minutes with Helen.  Of course, as soon as he leaves Oenone, she is sorry she refused her aid, and she rushes to Troy, arriving too late, and then getting accidentally killed by the javelin thrown by a Trojan sentry.

Middle school lesson: nasty breakups can come back to haunt you years later.  Be nice.

I found out today that Tennyson wrote a poem about Oenone.  It's not about the incident we read today, but about the beginning of the story, when Paris has to choose among Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite to be the recipient of the golden apple.  In the poem, Oenone begs Paris to choose Athena:

Here she ceas'd
And Paris ponder'd, and I cried, 'O Paris,
Give it to Pallas!' but he heard me not,
Or hearing would not hear me, woe is me! 

He just can't resist Aphrodite. He chooses doom, for himself and for Troy, and for Oenone.

Here's the whole poem.

Or you could listen to it read aloud, if you have nearly ten minutes to spare.  Those Victorians liked their long stories as much as the Greeks.  (And before you ask, no, I'm not planning to read the Tennyson with my eighth graders.)

But, you guys, what a great story the whole Trojan War saga is!  And it's amazing how many eighth graders are drawn into it.  I heard Rick Riordan speak at IRA about how middle school is the perfect age for mythology (I wrote about that talk here), and I really think he's right. 

Today's roundup is here.  Happy Poetry Friday!


Tara Smith said...

I love your retelling of the story - complete with middle school connections.

Tabatha said...

"Can't Helen help? Maybe she's too delicately beautiful to be much use in time of poisoned-arrow-induced suffering?" I'm not an 8th-grader, but I was riveted by your storytelling :-)

Mary Lee said...

Love the middle school moral of the story! Way to bring the classics to the kids on their own terms!