myth and poetry

Mythopoetry Scholar

Annual Reflections In Depth Perspectives
Mythopoetry Scholar Ezine 2012
-Stephanie Pope
Narrative and Myth in "The Winds of Ilion" by Stephen Joyce

"The winds of Ilion" cover

Stephen Joyce
The Winds of Ilion

EyeCorner Press

$19.00 / 241 pages
ISBN  978-8792633026
reviewer: Stephanie Pope

two, January, 2012

Oh, I have made myself a tribe out of my true affections, and my tribe is scattered! How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses? In a rising wind…   
................................... - Stanley Kunitz, The Layers

Space reaches out from us and translates the world.
................................... –
Rilke, What Birds Plunge Through Is Not The Intimate Space

Statements of many poets are statements about the inner mythological process which is a necessity…
man is not complete if he is not conscious of this aspect of things.
................................... – C.G. Jung 

Any reading taken of The Winds of Ilion by Steven Joyce ought, beginning with beginnings, begin with the end in mind. 1 Beginning with the end in mind, for the purposes of this review, begins where the mind and its desire vanishes into the text.  It is a space of knowing. Thusly does the last line of the poem opening The Winds of Ilion say, “Thetis, tell him this!” And, “this” abruptly vanishes into layers of text like a white rabbit into wonderland.
The space of the opening takes up the space of a poem and brings to bear upon the work a poetic space important to what “this” is.

…this sire―desire
that is king
in this low and wrunged land

in whispers of a friend’s dying to come home…

Thetis, tell him this!

                              -The Winds of Ilion, p.19

More notion of this space is described as “a conscious, timeless, articulate darkness metaphorically quickened” [italics mine] and as “the very significant Orphean ‘Other’,” an “archetypal darkness” [italics mine] reaching out from within itself toward an “Apollonic” union when this space is once more encountered several essays later in “Eurydice and Orpheus In Love: An Annotated Vignette In The Postmodern Mode.” And just so there can be no a-voiding this void or “space” reaching out from within each of us in our desire to know and interrogate the text, Joyce repeats the poetic phrase likening the archetypal dark consciousness to a lover’s smile repeating the poetic lines once more and claiming the smile in “Chesire desire” all “(king and sire in this low and wrunged land.)”

The journey into text, such as texted in the title as “Ilion”, epic, poetic and mythic and “winds” metaphoric and imaginal―taken not to do something external in the world, except perhaps to write a book review were one so disposed as am I, unites me to something intimately carried, albeit darkly. Entering the text is of a sudden meaning; it means entering at the same time a space (of desire) reaching out from oneself to translate the encounter. In a unique way, each of us is pinned to our own blind spot of mermaid singing, bound to the mast in his/her inwardly encountered, yet not quite consciously understood, image-making center. Keep your pant legs rolled!

I read him blind and long to raid
now that my bones are brittle
my vessel filled
                        -Lord of Ithaka, p. 235

“This” subjectivity, what might it be thinking here in “that” other archetypally conscious yet dark space of encounter with The Winds of Ilion? So “this” I am tempted to call the imaginal life of the images themselves re-visioning and re-flecting back felt senses of the partly unconscious inward vision held by the text as I read and interact with it.  I say “partly unconscious” remembering that Jung tells us we cannot encounter the archetype directly but through image and likeness.

I can imagine there may be a kind of shadowy activism here, a kind of leaping, too, in the cantilever of the text reaching back and an in-between-ness filling out this space of encounter. I am thrown to wonder, too, perhaps not unlike the hermetic, visionary plant, moly given to Odysseus by Hermes threw off Circe allowing Odysseus to set his sail and turn his craft toward unchartered Circean spaces of perspective. In this space is already the pattern in his soul turning image to likeness through the like in which he is not, not one and, not among kin! His moira (fate) is keenly bound to the image of Homeric moira in the age of Acheans; meaning the Homeric moira of the text is bound to the inner character of the metaphorical image, “man of many turns,” neither being remote from life.

This space of see(m)ing by way of layering image upon image in a kind of stereoscopy makes both the eye and seeing through seeming but also, “Ah, I see!” as in “ Ah, I know!”, a space of sight, site and insight. It is a space from which many readings or “cite-ings” might consistently be taken. In other words, it is a space of polymetis.

But Pietro Pucci will prefer to cite this as a space of polytropy because this word implies the process of how the trope is always turning and the turn remains open to the manner in which the reader will, over and over consistently demystify it as they re-read mythically―not only The Odyssey they re-member but also what amounts to, in The Winds of Ilion, another exceptionally well-crafted book re-telling its own version of the story.2 This point is underscored in the poem at the end of this exciting work this way

she still weaves and unweaves her loom
waiting for Odysseus to return.

I lack the courage to tell her
and she me that the story goes on
the lord of Ithaka still wanders
both text and textile assure     
-Lord of Ithaka,  p.235

Pucci also states the epithet; polutropos names the quintessence of the Lord of Ithaka which for the first twenty-one lines in The Odyssey remains unmentioned. And, the name, because it is shared with the god, Hermes, conjures the literal and literary essences in tropos, a word that means metaphor.  This, says Pucci, “makes for the impossibility of separating literal, literary and metaphorical meanings.”3

The space of tropos would be a space of wonder as well as a place of inter-texting between layers of text and layers of person and persons. And, one is to live in the layers of meaning drawn out of one in sense-making as one reads. Yet, there is the difficulty of interpretation for the text demands much from its readers as well as literary critics. The difficulty in interpretations and literary critique of text is one of the other kinds of “winds” touched upon later on in the book in “Disconnected Thoughts On Critical Theory.” “This” is as good a spot as is any to suggest my depth review ought be as eclectic as this work which, the back cover reveals “brings together poetry, academic essay, personal memoir, short-short story, and creative fragments” to weave together “disparate events and marginal circumstances of literary and everyday life.”

The Homeric Space of Wonder

The space of Homeric wonder the Greeks call thauma.4  Wonder holds us in the weave of “disparate” and “marginal” things filling the sail between text and textuality. My review takes in and tries to speak from within the manner in which I wondered in my own encounter with the Joycean wonder at work, a wonder made plain at the onset whose purpose it is to “romanticize” what in wit and writ it worlds. One of the foundational tenets of the mythic Winds of Ilion is that this collection of literary forms bound together in a single volume works a restorative art. One’s own anticipation in the pleasure of reading may lie in a reading of the work taken as if it were once more the many stories of the one, never-ending adventure. And, the one hero, having made a tribe of his deeply held affections, uses his many guises to re-tell to us his story.

Such wonder-liveliness may be consciously unclear at first, not immediately understood at the onset, but how each of us reads may well be the opening to how at least locate the personal plot emplotting connections we suddenly make.5 When you take up The Winds of Ilion to read it, try to locate where your personal enthusiasm resides. Let me come back to this.

The introduction to this book suggests its variety of literary forms demand much of its readers “in terms of knowledge of cultures and traditions, literary precursors, and diverse geographical areas” and how few among us are able to access all of this readily.6 But there is also the mythical mirror of our collective inheritance provided by the author in the title and opening poem and throughout the book’s multilayered text.  And just as Bent Sørensen suggests in his introduction it may be the author’s moira or fate in wordplay, writ and Joycean wit to spin the Odyssey once more, so too, the call goes on behind each of us to enter contextually where the Homeric personification of  “spinning” (Aisa) of our own moira occurs darkly. Our collective and mythic inheritance suggests Homeric spinning has already given us a kind of sense-making from which to work. Thusly, this is already at work under the radar shaping the narrative or story we go on to seek out and into which we (re)make ourselves in the activity of the plot emplotting our homecoming.7

What’s Going On?

In such a moment we will suddenly become inwardly enlivened and something emerges and grabs hold giving us a kind of mirror back through from which our seeing becomes inflected. Joseph Campbell says it is the myth that does this; myth is the mirror of one’s ego.8 It gives one a pattern or kind of track upon which to know where one is in the story.   

The myth is what Steven Joyce provides.  By providing us the Homeric myth he is providing us a background in which his writings (re)situate themselves.  His “Joyce” is also “of the winds” of Homer and puts us squarely in that space of Homeric seeming.  Campbell would call this the monomyth. The monomyth is the one narrative engaging everyone but each in a particular and unique way so that the narrative becomes inflected with our own reading difference.

Intimately united in The Winds of Ilion, therefore, are various kinds of literary forms or styles of writing; underneath them, the mythical. Myths are metaphorical of something and by analogies, we can intuit what this something might be.

Let me underscore. The mythic images of Homer’s Odyssey unite the various styles in Joyce’s text into a single narrative. Behind the story of Odysseus lie the mythic forms themselves and these are imaginal forms. This awareness leads Dr. Dennis Slattery to say in a lecture on the relevance of myth in our lives today how reading narrative not as merely literal fact but through imaginative forms goes beyond sheer facts and provides vital depth insight which retrieves the imaginal in the force of reason itself.9 Professor Slattery suggests the study of myth helps us recover a myth in an ideology during a period of history in which literalism has taken charge.

But, myth as merely story is an insufficient insight, he thinks; to speak only of the content of the plot of our lives is to sidestep what he calls the mythic form sitting behind this plotting. And, yes, I am reminding here once more the earlier insight that the plots may be emplotting connections that we may well know little about at first. Meaning our stories serve an even bigger begetting both in the this and the other/that (the timeless, articulate, archetypal darkness) we, out ourselves and alone, will alone, re-turn. Finally, the narrative engages us uniquely and this engagement provides us the image-pattern of our personal myth. Pay attention, Dennis says, to where you underline something when you read. This is where your personal enthusiasm resides.10 This enlivening lets you grab hold dialogically and relationally from within the personal embodiment of the mythos that resides here. It electrifies you through the erotic experience encountered in the space of desire.

The Space of Desire

At the helm is EROS, whom Sappho calls mythoplokon, weaver of fictions; mythoplokos, antiquity tells us, is Sappho’s way of characterizing erotic experience.11  The mind reaches out to grasp what it knows it would like to know but doesn’t grasp. It is drawn into an unknown fiction-making at work.

Mind is a wooing activity reaching out, thinks poet-classicist, Anne Carson.12 It seems the poetic voice in the line from Rilke might well agree. Jung, too thinks man is not complete without becoming conscious here.13 All this suggests the role such a space plays to translate the world of the unknown the mind touches. Importantly, one also notices how seeing “this” is bound to the image of a nondual, mythological horizon.14

Such a world one finds oneself reading Joyce. One’s mind reaches out making a tribe and a feast of its concealments to suggest how one is reading this work. The work itself, as narrative, provides us both a myth and story of being in the world. But that alone is not enough.  One reads not as literal fact this world one touches described in the introduction as “anthologia, a gathering of flowers for the purpose of weaving a celebratory garland.”15  

Naming In The Space of Desire

This “giving of a name” to something nameless by linking things which are not like anything else but like each other in a certain way is metaphora.  Carson says this space of mind reaches out from us toward something different, maybe better and surely desired and thusly this space is a place of concealment into which both our thought and our desire vanishes. The one thing we all have in common is this reaching out to know which gives to us our delight but also gives that vanishing point. It is the spot in which our thoughts are concealed from us. She tells us this kind of epic diction may already be implied in Homer’s use of a Greek verb, mnaomai which links both “being mindful” and “wooing” as does a suitor.16

And so it is as the introduction to this work suggests. The Winds of Ilion is not the easiest of reads. It is an aesthetic and intellectual work that will challenge your preconceptions about not only poetics and narrative but as well the value of myth and the necessary retrieval of the imaginal in literature and in life.


I was taught by one of my endearing post graduate professors of yesteryear to survey a book before ever opening it. “Feel the weight of its body,” he said, “and think about the weight of that layer seeking embodiment.”  In this case the layer sought is itself seeking to re-turn “thickly poetic.”  In German, “dichter” means both “poet’ and “thick”, primarily “thick with cloud” as is the image that graces the cover.  Myths do not ground, they open us and invite us to experience something in a fresh and unknown way. With that in mind, here is a peek at the little meditation which began my “reading” of The Winds of Ilion before even opening the book.

Before opening the deep blue, midnight cover of The Winds of Ilion by Steven Joyce, consider this cover.

There is a horizontal picture running along the bottom margin. What is pictured are the heavens and the open sea and in the heavens, clouds are edged in foil of illumination. Those are Nephelai (or Nephelae), what the Greeks of Homer’s time call Okeanids. Because they are amber-trimmed, they are a metaphor for Electra. Electra is a daughter of Tethys, sister to Thetis (mother to Achilles and also the goddess invoked in the initial poetic narrative when you open the book.) Thetis is the wife of the sea. And the sea in this moment is called Thaumas. By way of Thauma(s), sea-wonder, Thetis becomes the mother of the harpies and Iris, another name for the rainbow. The rainbow reflects her second name, Ozomene, which suggests the cloudy source by which a rainbow might at any moment in electrification shoot down to the sea. There is a shadow sister to Iris, a second bow. Her name is Arkē (or Archē). Arkē has wings on her feet just like her sister, Iris… until Zeus takes her wings from her casting her out and she vanishes. Zeus gives the wings of Arkē to Thetis the day she weds Thaumas. And Thetis gives the wings of Arkē to Achilles. Thusly, by way the beating wings of Arkē can Thetis show Achilles his moira.
Hesiod in the epic, Theogony17 writes that Tethys brought forth her daughter-nephelai as a race apart. And he says, they have the young in their keep because it is this right given them by Zeus.  One can guess this image remembers the ancestresses in the soul of the text. What the image suggests signals the presence of some great, unfathomable spilling in how it moves toward you from father out, a mystery source from out a wider remembering almost or completely forgotten. One might next notice the vertical word falling down along the right margin: “Fragments.”  

So here is the memory of the sea at home in the soul right where inheritances in antiquity’s imaginal life seamingly sea and seeingly seem. Perhaps this is how our remembrances know where they imaginally reside in the magic of fluid, mythic forms. Likewise here in this titanic region of unknown depths and uncharted internal distances must also dwell the unknown illumination which, as if wooing, might shoot down once more and draw us into the shape of it, bit by bit.


1 Jung calls such vantage point a ‘vision of the world’ outside history and the territorialisms of time encapsulate spaces. One is pushed into the wider, uninhabited dimension. This space of knowing Jung calls in conspectu mortis. See The Wisdom of Carl Jung. Edited by Edward Hoffman. New York: Citadel Press, 2003, p.182.

2 “If I choose to speak of Odysseus’ polytropy rather than of his mētis it is because “polytropy” has the felicitous advantage of describing not only his character but the thematic and rhetorical qualities of his text, for the turns and re-turn of his wanderings, the turns and ruses of his mind are mirrored in the turns (tropoi, rhetoric and rhetorical figures) of the Odyssey itself.” Pietro Pucci, Odysseus Polutropos, New York; Cornell, 1987, pp. 16-17.

3 Ibid, p. 24.

4 Raymond Adolph Prier writes, “The power of this word is neatly revealed in Odyssey 10: When Circe’s drugs do not work on Odysseus, wonder literally holds her (thauma m’echei―Od. 10:326) see Thauma Idesthai, Florida: University Press, 1989, p93.

5“Myths are not sound bites, not even megabytes of meaning, they are plots emplotting connections… mythology can give understanding if it can be thought through.” See David L. Miller, “A Myth is as Good as a Smile! The Mythology of a Consumerist Culture”, Imaginings: Thoughts On Imagination, Leigh Melander Ph.D. accessed August 7, 2011. Also see The Salt Journal, 2/1 (1999): 64 for first publication of a shorter and different presentation of the essay.

6 p. 17.

7 The Moira are personified three times in the Iliad and the Odyssey under the one form of Aisa, spinning. See B. C. Dietrich, “The Spinning of Fate In Homer,” Phoenix, vol. 16, no. 2, Summer, 1962 p 86.

8 “The ego sees itself in the patterned mirror, the reflex of the myth.” See “Myth As The Mirror Of The Ego,” video clip © 2009, Joseph Campbell Foundation, accessed August 7, 2011.

9 Dennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D., Joseph Campbell and the Relevance of Myth in Our Lives, video, June 3, 2011, accessed August 9, 2011.

10 Ibid

11 “Socrates calls EROS a Sophist, but Sappho calls him “weaver of fictions.” Maximus of Tyre 18.9; Sappho, LP, fr. 188.  See also Anne Carson, EROS: The Bittersweet, New Jersey: Princeton, 1986, p170 for a turning of the significant aspects of EROS.

12  Ibid. Carson writes, “There would seem to be some resemblance between the way EROS acts in the mind of a lover and the way knowing acts in the mind of a thinker…. There is something like electrification in them. They are not like anything else but they are like each other.”

13 CG Jung, Matter of The Heart, video documentary, 1:45:16    ©1981 CG, Michael Whitney, producer . Published on line ©2009 Accessed August 12, 2011.  See 1:13:01 on the poetic crafting of the mythological process.

14 Prier, Ibid, p.71.  see Prier’s turning of  leussein and the range of sight Achilles experiences once Poseidon casts away mists letting him save Aeneas (Il:20.345-46) He indicates he suddenly sees clearly not the man in front of him but the wonder. Prier says our attentions are directed to a clear space transformed by wonder which is ‘mythical’… “Clear sight extends to the horizon and creates a particular archaic locus. The experience is phenomenolocial.” Compare this space of  myth-logical insight to the image presented on the front cover and in the epilogue at the end of this review.

15 p. 12

16Carson, Ibid, p. 71.

17 346 ff , trans. Evelyn-White.

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Stephen Joyce

Author Bio

Steven Joyce is an Associate Professor of German and comparative studies at the Ohio State University, Mansfield campus.  He has published a book on G. B. Shaw entitled Transformations and Texts and has published poetry in a number of poetry journals including Kimera and Red River Review and Minimus.  A new book of essays entitled The Winds of Ilion appeared in March 2011.  He holds a Ph. D. in comparative literature from UNC-Chapel Hill and as  published a number of articles on literary theory and criticism.
stephanie pope

Reviewer Bio

Editor & publisher of Mythopoetry Scholar Ezine vol. 1-3, cultural mythologer and poet, Stephanie Pope works mythopoetics on line where she explores, traces and reveals dominant mythic images and mythemes in psyche-making at work between cosmos and culture today.

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