09:08:52 pm on
Monday 06 Dec 2021

Classical Gas
AJ Robinson

When I was a student at Georgia Tech, I took a course in classic literature, as part of my programme in engineering. I know what you’re thinking: Georgia Tech, engineering and classic literature, the terms should be mutually exclusive. Much as the notion of an irresistible force and an immovable object, the terms should not be able to co-exist in the same universe yet can and do.

A famous piece of literature.

Yes, Tech did offer just such a class and I took it as one of my electives. I liked it because the book we read was The Odyssey, by Homer. Quite the famous piece of literature.

When the class finished, I didn’t sell the book back to the campus bookstore, as I did with my other textbooks. No, I kept it and gave it to my mom as I knew it was one of her favourites.

As a little girl in Florence, Italy. My mom would hide in her bed, with a small lamp, and read under the covers. The Odyssey was a book she read multiple times. It became her favourite.

I gave her my copy and she loved reading it, again. Just the other day, I chanced to see the movie version, with Kirk Douglas, and quite the emotions washed over me. Yes, I know, another story of my mother and her love of movies.

You’ll have to forgive me on this one, as it means a great deal to me.

First off, there was the leading lady to Douglas: Silvana Mangano. She played both Penelope, wife of Odysseus, and Circeas, an enchantress, as well as sharing her first name with my mom, Silvana. Seeing her summons up images and memories of my mother.

Next, there’s a scene in the movie that carries a great deal of emotional power. Circe, trying to tempt Ulysses into coming with her to Mount Olympus calls forth his dead crew and other famous people from his life to tell him how terrible their existence in the Underworld is. Ulysses weakens and is about to give in and then Anticlea, his mother, steps out of the mist. Circe is angry as she didn’t summon her, too, but Ulysses is initially happy to see his mother.

She’s dead.

Then he realises that means Anticlea is dead. She scolds him for being away so long and Ulysses, hero of the Siege of Troy, mighty warrior and King of Ithaca, lowers his eyes as any contrite child would. It made me laugh to think that even a man such as he could be chastised by a woman. Of course, this is no ordinary lady, this is his mother.

I could identify with that feeling. I laughed harder. I cried a little, too.

Circe continues to chide Anticlea and orders her away, but all her actions are for naught. Any mother who can battle her way back from the Underworld to stand before her child can defeat an enchantress. I wager even the gods on Mount Olympus would never dare challenge such a woman.

That is when I again thought of my mother and joy swelled in me. Small, diminutive and soft-spoken lady that she was, she was also tough as steel and with fiery grit and determination that I wager Zeus himself would quake before her. In my recent dreams, I’ve seen him hurling lightning bolts at her and what does she do?

She catches the bolts in her bare hands. Mom bends them to her will and launches them back at him. That brings a smile to my face and laughter to my soul.

Then comes the heartache. The mother of Ulysses disappears into the mist. He calls out, “Mother.” When he gets no reply and she doesn’t come back, he shouts louder, “Mother!”

The pain is clear in his voice. He, Ulysses, King of Ithaca wants his mother. I could identify with that feeling and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what I did next.

Anticlea does not return, as the visit served its purpose. Ulysses knows what he must do. Through many more trials and tribulations, he gets back to Ithaca and sees Penelope from his disguise as a beggar.

No one, not noble or servant recognizes him. Ah, but then he comes across his faithful dog Argos, old and feeble and there is no disguise that can fool him. Argo recognizes Ulysses and they share a tender reunion.

The next day, Ulysses slays the suitors to Penelope. He reclaims his crown, home and family. His journey ended.

We don’t have to see his mother to know she’s proud of him. Now, today, I’d like to think the same is true for me. When my mom isn’t cooking or playing a game or dancing for her Nono, I’m hoping she’s checking on how I’m doing. I hope she’s happy with what she sees. I know I’m happy to be able to share a special connection with a great piece of literature with her.

Hay fever movies.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a movie I need to watch again. I’ll be sure to keep the tissues handy. For some reason, my hay fever always gets bad during it.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Working, again, as an engineeer, after years out of the field due to 2009 recession and slow recovery, Robinson finds time to write. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true. His teen vampire adventure novel, "Vampire Vendetta," will publish in 2020. Robinson continues to write books, screenplays and teleplays and keeps hoping for that big break.

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