Athena appearing to Odysseus to reveal the Island of Ithaca. Painting by Giuseppe Bottani (1717–1784)

What’s fate? May any man
influence that which is divinely termed his own? 
I say each man has such power. 
The meddling of the gods is inevitable—
and, yes, sometimes even desired;
but I am skeptical of such interference. 
Far safer to trust to one’s own wit than the whims of the gods.
 
For all my guile, there have been times when my own wit
has thrown me into far worse danger.
Polyphemus laughs, despite his blindness,
to think what ill I wrought upon myself. 
I would not let the prophecy of the gods take credit
when the monster howled that by decree, it should have been Odysseus
who ruined him. I must needs shout back
that I, “Nobody,” was Odysseus, chief of Ithaca—
that I, who’d blinded him and stolen all his flock,
was his predicted nemesis. For that brash action,
I lost my ship and all my crew, and nearly my life and sanity
while tossed from isle to isle by Poseidon’s rage. 
 
Athena, who watched my course, raised no hand to help
till I’d reached Ithaca’s shores.
I’ll not deny the gods have intervened,
nor be so ungracious as to repudiate their aid.
But I’m not quick to surrender my fate to them,
as the gray-eyed maid knows well. 
Athena admonished me for overmuch brooding
upon my return to Ithaca,
said I ought to worry less and trust her more.
And yet in the affair of the suitors,
was it not my own hand that slew so many,
my own arm that drew the bow? 
And did Pallas Athena, Wisdom as she is,
seek to do other than advise me to bolster my courage,
and then fight at my side?
That bloody outcome had been the worse for me, had I stood by
and left it wholly to the goddess’ will.
 
And so I have been master of my fate,
as much as any man may be. 
True, there are times when there is naught
a warrior can do save offer himself to his gods;
and yet even then, it seems to me,
a steady heart and sharp wit
do as much to carve one’s fate
as the hands of gods.
And don’t forget, the faithful heart of one Penelope
is worth more in this capricious world
than any godly promises.
And so, dear gray-eyed maid,
I must in the end refuse your kind offer
to join you in the pantheon,
divine though it may be.

Adele Gardner
Cataloging librarian Adele Gardner (www.gardnercastle.com) is an active member of SFWA and HWA and Clarion West graduate. With 46 stories and 252 poems in Deep Magic, Daily Science Fiction, PodCastle, Strange Horizons, and more, she has a poetry book, Dreaming of Days in Astophel, available under prior byline Lyn C. A. Gardner. Adele lives under her middle name to honor her father, mentor, and namesake, Dr. Delbert R. Gardner, for whom she serves as literary executor.