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Between Scylla and Charybdis


This 1575 Italian fresco shows Miriam on the horns of a dilemma: Should she marry the man her tyrannical father has picked out for her or risk infuriating him? Being literate in Greek, she expresses her dilemma metaphorically. “I thought about my own Strait of Messina, about my own Scylla and my own Charybdis."


She tells us all about it:

 

The finger of fear pressed against my throat. I stared into the tallow lamp and for courage, imagined myself married to Noah, enduring his fawning apologies, his blatant ogles, his feverish lips pouring his sour vapor into me, his putrid odor fouling my skin. And me, claustrophobic in his embrace, doomed to miss the ecstasy of erotic love.

 

Homer wrote about the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis in The Odyssey. Greek mythology has them on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Calabria. Scylla, a submerged rocky ridge, is depicted as a six-headed monster on the Calabrian side and Charybdis as a fierce pool of rotating water off the coast of Sicily. Because of the narrowness of the strait, one or the other poses an inescapable threat. But rather than risk his entire ship in the whirlpool, Odysseus chose to pass closer to Scylla and lose only a few sailors.

 

Miriam faces other dilemmas as well. Should she search for the high-stakes documents that would take her into Alexandria's malignant underbelly or risk losing the respect of the man she loves? To see how she finesses the situation, click here.


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