“O hapless mother, surely thou hast a heart of stone or steel to slay the offspring of thy womb by such a murderous doom.” – Euripides, Medea
They say that when Theseus was a young child, his mother had told him that he would only know his father when he could lift the heaviest rock of the villa, and see what the boy’s mysterious father had hidden beneath the stone. They say, the boy, when he came of age, found a sword beneath the rock.
But there was no sword there. In fact, there was nothing there at all that was tangible.
Something far more dangerous was under that rock, and it had no form and no shape: a broken promise, honed to a hateful edge after so many years of aging, and carried in the palm like the tattoo of a knife.
Later on, a city’s sacrificial vow broken, a god’s promised curse destroyed, Ariadne abandoned, white sails forgotten, and the father, Aegeus, broken in grief.
All of these things came not from Theseus, but from Aegeus and Medea. The curse of a broken promise he had found poisoned him like a black anchor. Medea was a powerful woman, and her curse began as a vow of love.
A curse is a simple thing. “Make a promise to me,” said Medea, to her beloved king of Athens, “and break that promise if you dare. Break your promises to me, and you will ruin yourself.” And even this was not her curse, just a warning. The way of goddesses are storms that roll in, and all anyone can do is ride them out honestly, or fall under them.
The king betrayed his goddess’ love. He gave a child to a shepherd girl, some coins, and lied about his identity to protect himself from the storm. When the shepherd girl touched his arm, and asked him to at least tell her who he really was so her son could find him someday, there was a rock on a hill. The king pointed to it. He said he would place something below that rock that his son could find when he was old and strong enough.
Beneath that rock, he yanked Medea’s love from his flesh. He placed it there like an insect. It hissed. He dropped the rock upon it, hoping it would die there, and he thought no one would remember, and no shepherd boy would bother with this rock.
Medea knew; Medea was in love with her king, and stayed with him as long as she could when she felt the pain of dying love. By now, she had already fled the Argonauts, and she had no more will to run from her own nature.
Theseus lifted the rock one day, and what great things he did with a broken promise: cities conquered, god’s monsters ruined, women’s hearts laid bare upon the sand, immortality in fame.
Medea, with broken promises in her own hands, killed her father, killed her children, and caused all her husbands to fall into the sea.
Women and men, for forty-thousand years.