What better way to beat the endless boredom of immortality than watching women fight over who is the most beautiful?
Eris had always found ways to amuse herself, usually sending her minions to antagonize the sons of men, but watching Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera go at it was exceptionally wicked fun. Each one of those primadonnas had egos bigger than Mount Olympus itself, and hearing them vie for Eris’ prize was sheer megalomania on parade! Their bickering over beauty was as unseemly as a pack of satyrs bragging about their virility—those grotesque goatmen doing gods knew what in the woods.
Well, perhaps they wouldn’t leave Eris off the wedding guest list next time. Perhaps Eris wouldn’t bring her Apple of Discord to sacred events (but of course she would). As expected, Zeus blamed Eris for the inevitable fall out of her Golden Apple ploy. Deservedly so, but why her father picked a mortal man to select a winner among the goddesses was typical of his ineptitude.
Men are weak. Women, especially goddesses, know exactly how to exploit male weaknesses. Of course Paris took a bribe from Aphrodite to declare her the winner. Ironically, the bribe was an even more beautiful woman than Aphrodite. Madness!
So, in Eris’ reasoning, the Trojan war wasn’t really her fault. Like everything in the known universe—it was Zeus’s fault. Because if one cannot blame his or her parents for life’s misfortunes, then what long term use are they good for?
Everyone seemed to still be angry with her. After 2800 years, even the annoying muses still clustered around one another, whispering terrible things about her.
Eris didn’t care. She was bored. She needed her minions.
“Assemble!” she called.
“Yes, my queen,” a lickspittle replied, emerging from the shadows.
“I’m in need of someone to torment,” Eris said spitefully. “Go to Hades and bring me three poets. Find several bards or sonneteers. Freshly dead.”
“Will I find them in the Elysium fields or Tartarus?” the minion queried.
Enraged by her underling‘s sheer stupidity, Eris grabbed his tunic in a clenched fist and through clenched teeth said, “These are poets of men, the great spinners of lies, the provocateurs of love . . . of course they are in Tartarus with the rest of the liars and scoundrels.”
The minion disappeared into the underworld, paid Charon the ferryman, crossed the River Styx, and tossed Cerberus a dog biscuit. He noticed Persephone arguing with Hades, pointing at a calendar and throwing a pomegranate at him, but he kept scurrying through the dark realm until he found the three disembodied souls he needed. He hastened his return, knowing how short his mistress’s temper was and how much discord she could sew in his absence.
“I have returned, my queen,” the minion said.
“Excellent,” Eris replied, rubbing her hands together, lacquered nails glinting off the light of the candles in her chamber. “Who did you bring me?”
“Sono Francesco Petrarca,” said the first sonneteer.
“It’s Francesco Petrarch,” the minion translated.
“I’m looking to wreck some human relationships because I’m bored,” Eris smiled. “What is your skillset?”
“Ho composto oltre 300 poesie per una donna con cui non ho mai avuto una relazione.”
“He says he wrote 300 poems for a woman he never had a relationship with.” He turned to Petrarch and wondered aloud, “Why would you do that?!”
“Perché l'amore non corrisposto è il più bello,” cried Petrarch, holding the place where his heart would have been, had it been beating in a human form and not absent from his present ghostly apparition.
“He says unrequited love is the most beautiful,” the minion snickered. “Get a load of this guy. Unrequited love.” A hoard of other minions joined in and howled demonically.
“A little respect, you tiresome fools. You inadvertently grabbed one of the greatest sonneteers in history,” Eris chastised, uncharacteristically charitable. “Petrarch’s popularizing obsessive love is very useful to me. Nothing will screw up a human being faster than being excessively preoccupied with another. Perfect! I can unleash Petrarch’s words to incense the masses.”
“How?” the minion queried.
“It’s a little complicated—an infatuation will produce cortisol triggering a spike in stress. This leads to a dopamine and norepinephrine jolt, decreasing serotonin, which is a mood stabilizer.”
“Sounds like they go crazy,” the minion deduced.
“They go batshit crazy,” Eris said and gleefully rubbed her hands together again. “This is great. Who else do you have?”
“Greetings! Edmund Spenser here—”
Eris glared at the minion disdainfully, then back at Spenser. She pointed her long index finger at him. “I’m. Not. Listening. To. One. Word. Of. The Faerie Queene.”
“Why would you? It’s awful,” he agreed.
“What use do you have for me? I’m wanting to cause chaos,” she snapped.
“Then I present you Spenserian Sonnet 30,” he said, unrolling a lovely scroll inscribed on a vellum parchment. Eris snapped it up, reading its contents in one glance.
“This is brilliant,” she muttered. “You explain how a woman’s coldness isn’t dissolved by ‘hot desire.’ And how her iciness just makes him even more obsessed with her . . . ”
“If I may,” Spenser said, clearing his throat. “‘That fire which all things melts, should harden ice: / And ice which is congealed with senseless cold, / Should kindle fire by wonderful device.”
“I don’t get it,” the minion said.
“Ugh!” Eris groaned, wheeling around to explain to the imp. “Basically fiery passion should melt a woman’s cold indifference, but unrequited love only makes her more disinterested.” She laughed at the pure evil of it all. “Well done. Who else do you have for me?”
“I don’t,” Eris replied. “That’s why I asked.”
“You brought me Shakespeare, didn’t you?
“Salutations, my fair queen!” Shakespeare said grandiloquently.
“Look, pal,” Eris warned. “I don’t want to hear about your comparisons to a ‘summer’s day,’ being in ‘disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes,’ and your marriages of ‘true minds.’ You can just stuff all of that,” Eris said, feeling the prickling of a migraine coming on. Shakespeare.
“Maybe you haven’t read my Sonnet 130?” he smirked, so confident in his abilities. He held out another scroll for her to read.
Eris reluctantly took it. Read it twice.
“For twelve of your fourteen lines, you insult your beloved? You make fun of her eyes, her lips, her breasts, her hair, her bad breath, her voice, and her gait . . . and yet somehow you wrap it up in a rhyming couplet to be the greatest love poem ever written?” Eris laughed until she almost fell over.
The minion grabbed the scroll from Eris and read aloud: “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare.” The minion looked even more confused.
“This is the greatest trick of all,” Eris announced gleefully. “You’ve listed all the faults of a lover, but then you said how much you loved her in spite of them. Oh, that is fabulous. I can use this.” Eris tucked the scroll in the bodice of her robes.
The sonneteers, pleased to be of service, were returned to the underworld.
Eris, holding in her bosom the three greatest ironies of love, prepared to unleash them on an unsuspecting human race.
But the one irony she neglected to gather, since Alfred Lord Tennyson was clearly in the Elysium fields, was “'tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”