Here is the Herakles-play I wrote for Dionysia 2020 e.v. per the Readers Poll we held back in February.
- Chorus of Giant Corpses
Scene: Our location is a small cave in the territory between what will one day become the cities of Phanagóreia and Pantikápaion on the eastern shore of the Cimmerian Bosporos. The interior is dark except for parallel lines of beeswax candles leading to a bed of lush vegetation on which Herakles and Aphrodite are lying, their naked bodies still entwined after what was clearly a vigorous lovemaking session. One can see various corpses strewn about outside the cave.
Aphrodite: I really appreciate you coming over and helping out with this Giant problem of mine.
Herakles: It’s what I do.
Aphrodite: How are the wife and kids?
Herakles grows uncomfortably silent.
Aphrodite: Did I say something … ? Oh … oh … sorry. I forgot.
Herakles: You forgot?
Aphrodite: Look, I’ve been busy. I know Hermes mentioned something about it, but then … well … that swift-tongued devil distracted me, and I’ve had a lot going on out here in the borderlands. Even I can’t be stretched as wide as heaven.
Herakles: I don’t know why I bother.
Herakles sits up. Aphrodite rests a hand on his muscled thigh.
Aphrodite: We had some good times.
Herakles: So why did you leave the Sun-kissed Meditteranean for these frigid and barbaric wastes?
Aphrodite: Too much history. I wanted something new, fresh. A land with only a future.
Herakles: And so you end up with a bunch of hairy brutes who want to use and abuse you, knocking at your door.
Aphrodite: And you.
Herakles: What makes you think I’m any different?
Herakles roughly grabs Aphrodite’s wrist, causing her to bite her lip – in pain, or anticipation or both, it is impossible to say.
Aphrodite: You had the venom of the gadfly coursing through your veins when it happened. It wasn’t your fault.
Herakles lets go.
Herakles: I thought you were ignorant of the fate of Megara and my children.
Aphrodite: I was just starting conversation.
Aphrodite places her hand back on his thigh.
Aphrodite: I know you wouldn’t have done it if you were in your right mind. I know what kind of man you are, Alkides.
Herakles: But I still did it.
Aphrodite: And more than atoned for it.
Herakles: How could I ever atone for that foul sin? I loved them.
Aphrodite: And that I know well. You loved them twelve times what a normal heart could possibly bear. If there’s one thing I know it’s hearts.
Herakles: I should have …
Aphrodite puts her finger to his lips and shushes him.
Aphrodite: Should is an abyss.
Aphrodite pulls him down onto her, embraces him tightly and lets his tears dampen her shoulder.
She holds him that way until his arousal returns, and their lovemaking commences.
Outside the Giant corpses begin to sing Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head On My Shoulder.”
When they finish Herakles sputters awake.
Herakles: I am so sorry. I … I didn’t mean to do that.
Aphrodite: You needed it. And I’m used to it by now.
Herakles: I had a dream.
Aphrodite: Don’t all great men?
Herakles: I saw a man. There was a dog at his feet. He was chopping down a tree with an axe, and in the branches of the tree was a bull with three cranes perched on his back. What do you think it means?
Aphrodite: Do I look Egyptian to you?
Herakles: No. More Syro-Phoenician.
Aphrodite: What do you think it means?
Herakles: The man with the dog and axe is about to have a really bad day. There was a lot of rage in that bull.
Aphrodite: Well, for both their sakes I hope it was just a dream.
Herakles: How many more times are we going to do this?
Aphrodite: As many more as you’re up for, my lion-hearted man.
Herakles: I meant it. Assuming it’s not an infinite amount —
Aphrodite: Why assume anything?
Herakles: It can’t be infinite. Doing anything else takes away from the potential number of times we could have done it, and without interruption we just have one. So whatever way you cut it there are only a finite number more times we will do this.
Aphrodite: Anyone ever tell you you think too much?
Herakles: Yes, your husband.
Aphrodite: Which one?
Herakles smiles fondly, sinking into memory.
Outside the Giant corpses begin to sing Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind.”
Aphrodite: And I stand at the window, watching, waiting for the brave young soldier to return to me, but the Revolution has already made my Sasha a hero. When I woke I found myself crying – for this man I haven’t even met yet.
Herakles: I dislike dreaming. And sleeping.
Herakles: Well, to begin with it’s not something I expected to still be doing once I’d become a God. And secondly, it reminds me of them out there.
Herakles: Lifeless bodies. Where does the soul travel when the body slumbers?
Aphrodite: Wherever it wants, I suppose.
Herakles: Do we have one?
Herakles: Gods don’t have souls?
Aphrodite: Singular souls, no. Even animals have multi-part souls. But technically you’re correct: we Gods don’t have psychai either, as those are only created at the moment of death, and our kind are deathless. Well, most of us are. But like humans, parts of our souls can come loose and wander about during slumber. Other fragments can implant themselves in mortal creatures, so we can live out their lives through them, absorbing the sensations and experiences. Have you tried that yet?
Herakles: I’ve only been a God for a couple decades now.
Aphrodite: You have so much to learn.
A Giant stuffs its grotesque face through the opening of the cave and Herakles jumps to his feet. He grabs a gore-dripping spear propped against the cave wall and charges naked at the startled Son of the Earth. Two quick thrusts in either eye renders it blind and then he slashes open its stomach so its guts spill out, flooding the entrance of the cave.
Herakles whistles and a man dressed as a Satyr rushes up to him.
Herakles: Another mess to clean up, Xanthias.
Herakles then stalks back to his mistress, chest covered in red splatter, and props the spear against the wall once more.
Herakles: Enough talking.
Aphrodite: Yes, Sir.
The candles gutter out and all fades to black.