One of my favorite lines in “Metamorphoses” is from the story of Alcyone and Ceyx, who are torn apart when Ceyx goes on a journey.
Just before he leaves, we hear this about their relationship: “These two adored each other, and lived in a monotony of happiness. But nothing in this world is safe.”
I have been meditating on this line since rehearsals began, asking myself why Ceyx must leave Alcyone. He’s happy. His wife is happy. Their happiness is so complete, it’s monotonous. So . . . is he bored? Has he lost the capacity to appreciate what he has? Or is a happy home not enough? Is his journey necessary?
In the original story he has an urgent reason for his trip, but in Mary Zimmerman’s script he explains nothing; he simply says he can’t be domesticated. And he promises to come back “in two months’ time.” For reasons beyond his control, he doesn’t.
Heroes have been going on journeys since the dawn of literature, and I don’t doubt Ceyx’s need to roam. There would be no story without it. I recognize in myself the urge to wander, to leave familiar ground and seek adventure in a new place or a new challenge. Ceyx looks to the other side of the wine-dark sea; I look to new projects. I don’t tolerate boredom well. I have been known to undertake massive schemes (like, oh, I don’t know, starting a theater company) just to keep life interesting.
But I also see myself in Alcyone, the loving wife who begs him not to go, the person who values domesticity and fears any venture that might separate her from the one she loves. I am tightly bound to hearth and home. I have turned down good jobs that would have taken me away for too long, and simply not pursued many others.
This struggle, or tension, or balancing act between love and journey is the story of my life. Participating fully in art and in lasting relationships is a challenge. I consider it my life’s work. It may be the most creative thing I do; it’s certainly the most essential. I can’t be myself without both art and family.
The story of Alcyone and Ceyx is a sad one. But it ends sweetly, with the two of them transformed, after much pain and loss, into sea birds – utterly free, yet still devoted to one another. They “mate and rear their young” and live in “a nest that floats upon the sea.” No longer bound to the land, they find home in the midst of journey, far from familiar shores.
I’m still pondering that ending. I don’t think it means my husband and I should sell our house and live on a sailboat (cool idea, though).
I think it says something about who we humans are, alone and in relationship: sometimes on a journey, sometimes lost at sea, sometimes safe at home.
Sometimes, mysteriously, all of the above.