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Mistresses of time
Point of View

Mistresses of time

Friday, 19 June 2009
By Cyrille Vigneron
Cyrille Vigneron

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5 min read

Eve, Penelope and Calypso: three mythical figures and three women who, each in their own way, have reconciled humankind with the mysteries of time and life. Mysteries to which women will always hold the key.


According to the Bible, Eve was the first woman and possibly the most controversial too. Because she sank her teeth into the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, and had Adam – who didn’t need asking twice – taste it too, our two ancestors were banished from the Garden of Eden. The fathers of the church concluded that everything was her fault, and that she bore the burden of responsibility for this original sin that has poisoned Western lives since the world began. Yet this version of creation overlooks a key point in the Book of Genesis: why did the serpent, symbol of life, invite Eve, rather than Adam, to taste the fruit of knowledge? Because women are closer to the mystery of life. And whatever our concern, whether it’s the mystery of life or which shelf in the fridge the yoghurts are on, we need feminine intervention. No two ways about it. If Humanity began its long quest for knowledge with an apple, it’s thanks to Eve. Without her, we’d still be down on all fours, chomping grass with the goats and blissfully unaware of global warming, which would never have happened anyway. If Eve hadn’t set Human Time in motion, we’d never have known about Nespresso machines and reality TV. Thank you, Eve.


“Happy the man who, like Ulysses, has travelled well…” says the poem. But if truth be told, was Ulysses really that happy to go home? When he finally reached Ithaca, dressed as a beggar, his old nursemaid immediately saw through his rags. Penelope, who had no idea who he was, subjected him to Twenty (trick) Questions to be sure this wasn’t some impostor loitering on her doorstep. Ulysses answered correctly, the two were reunited, and Penelope lumbered him with the job he did best: slay the suitors who had eaten his cattle, sullied his home and tried to kill his son, Telemachus. The whole thing ended in a bloodbath, including for the conniving servants. Quite the homecoming, and one that doesn’t leave much room for sentiments, including the married kind. The boss may be back, it’s Penelope and the Gods who pull the strings.

Penelope, described as a “loyal and patient wife,” is first and foremost an attentive mother and the devoted mistress of the house. Her battle-hungry husband married her and left her pregnant while he rushed off in search of glory, leaving her to run the household and raise Telemachus (married life hasn’t really changed, despite women’s emancipation). That Penelope fends off her avid and concupiscent suitors, that she suspends the thread of time by undoing her weaving each night, is more to leave her son time to become a man than in the hope of seeing her husband return.

If there were no Penelopes to pull the threads of time, keep the house in order and know when to pick up little Johnny from playgroup, there would be no running off to cover ourselves in glory. In mud, if we’re lucky. Barack wouldn’t be such a wise guy without Michelle. Thank you, all the Penelopes of this world.


What was Ulysses up to while Penelope was weaving by day and unpicking by night? After ten years covering himself in blood beneath the walls of Troy, and after an eventful journey home, he washed up on an island and straight into the arms of Calypso. Of his ten years’ wandering, seven were spent there. Seven years of bliss with a loving and caring woman. The warhorse became a contented lover in the arms of a woman who lived for the present. When the Gods appeared to remind Ulysses that island life was all well and good but duty still called, he reluctantly set sail, leaving a broken-hearted Calypso waving her handkerchief from the shore. Knowing what was waiting for him at home, we can understand his lack of enthusiasm.

Penelope is feted for her patience, but spare a thought for poor Calypso who gave the best years of her life as an immortal nymph before letting her lover go. Dry your tears, Calypso, as Shakespeare has Balthasar sing in “Much Ado About Nothing”: “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever, One foot in sea and one on shore, To one thing constant never: Then sigh not so, but let them go, And be you blithe and bonny, Converting all your sighs of woe into Hey nonny, nonny.” Sigh no more, Calypso. Even if happiness doesn’t last for ever (seven years), we still love you.

Seven years… now doesn’t that ring a bell? The halcyon years, 2002 to 2008, when the watchmaking industry lay blissfully in Calypso’s arms. Seven years when the happiness of growth seemed never-ending. But the Gods have reined us in. The time has come to take up our bows and knives, to see off suitors and set things straight. There will be blood on the walls and bodies on the ground. Crises are like that.

But remember: happiness doesn’t last for ever and nor does a crisis. Penelope is watching out for us and Calypso is waiting. How lucky we are. Thank you, all the Eves, Penelopes and Calypsos who start time, stop time, always know where the children’s aspirin is, and make us happy here and now.

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