Yesterday I was thinking about making dinner when the phone rang and it was my grandson H., who had just turned 6 the day before. It was a video call and he wanted to show us his birthday gifts. Lego, the Playmobil knights we’d sent him, a book about ancient Rome sent by his Ottawa cousins (and their parents), some games. He told his grandfather that his favourite game was chess and the two of them agreed to a game or two when we travel to Edmonton later in the month. What are you doing for your birthday party on the weekend, I asked, expecting a soccer game or a bike ride: H. is very competitive and athletic. It’s a Greek mythology party, he said excitedly. Maybe I should have known. This is a boy who also confessed when we visited last December that his favourite podcast was something called Greeking Out. Here he is with his ear pressed to his mum’s phone (because the rest of us were talking in the next room), listening to an episode.
We read Rosemary Sutcliff’s wonderful retelling of the Odyssey on that trip and at one point he asked, with great seriousness, whether I thought Odysseus was real. Absolutely, I answered.
At his party, there will be an adventure game in which the kids visit the underworld. Luckily H.’s father saved the props from an earlier party based on Harry Potter, featuring a three-headed dog. Apparently Brendan was a hit as Cerberus. But H. confessed his favourite Greek deity is Artemis and I have to say she is perhaps my favourite too. Goddess of the hunt, wilderness, care of children, chastity:
I sing of Artemis, whose shafts are of gold, who cheers on the hounds, the pure maiden, shooter of stags, who delights in archery, own sister to Apollo with the golden sword. Over the shadowy hills and windy peaks she draws her golden bow, rejoicing in the chase, and sends out grievous shafts. The tops of the high mountains tremble and the tangled wood echoes awesomely with the outcry of beasts: earth quakes and the sea also where fishes shoal. But the goddess with a bold heart turns every way destroying the race of wild beasts: and when she is satisfied and has cheered her heart, this huntress who delights in arrows slackens her supple bow and goes to the great house of her dear brother Phoebus Apollo, to the rich land of Delphi, there to order the lovely dance of the Muses and Graces. There she hangs up her curved bow and her arrows, and heads and leads the dances, gracefully arrayed, while all they utter their heavenly voice, singing how neat-ankled Leto bare children supreme among the immortals both in thought and in deed.
–from the “Homeric Hymn to Artemis” (27), translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White
There she hangs up her curved bow and her arrows… Did you know your grandpa was an archer, I asked H. and no, he didn’t. He still has his bow, a recurve beauty made for him when he was a teenager. And your dad has one too, a birthday gift when he was maybe 11. I shot a bow once, said H. Me too, I replied. And I loved it. Next summer we’ll get Grandpa to teach us. We can set up a course at the Lions Park where there’s some open space.
I’m going to look for a bow suitable for children, and arrows too. Throwing my ball of red yarn forward, forward, over the fall months, the long dark winter months, I sing of Artemis, her fierce courage, and a boy who dreams of her. And if you’re in Mill Creek Ravine this weekend, beware of three-headed dogs.