The Mares of Diomedes are by far my favourite Herculean task. Number eight, to be precise. And I do prefer it with the emphasis skew-wiff, so it sounds out Mares of DiOmedes. Quick, and satisfying like hooves.
I like them so much, I think, partially because the fact that they eat men seems largely incidental. They are excellent horses: several versions of the myth have it that Alexander the Great’s horses are descended from them. Almost everywhere, it is made explicit that the four mares are calmed down by consuming human flesh. Indeed Euripides has it, I think, that they are calmed down so much by eating the flesh of their wild owner, Diomedes King of Thrace, that afterwards they can wander docile around Argos. A phenomenal conceptualization of satiation.
I also greatly enjoy it that they eat Abderus when he is left in charge of them. Pretty good way of being footnoted into a myth, I reckon, having your flesh torn off by Podagros (the fast), Lampon (the shining), Xanthos (the blond) and Deinos (the terrible).
No idea, other than the enjoyment I get from fantastical gore and violence, why this particular labour appeals to me. I think I like the idea of a carnivorous beast of burden. I mean pigs are omnivorous to the point of eating people when pushed, but they are reasonably mistrusted as a species, aren’t they?
But everybody likes horses. Oh yes: cute, powerful, noble, kindly, almost human horses. Terrifying, perhaps, but nobly so – to be respected, and then conquered. I think the matter-of-factness with which they myth relates that these particular horses would like nothing more than to tear your limbs of and munch on then eat your dead flesh is, if nothing else, refreshing.
So they have been in my head today.
In my stomach, it has been a quite different story, with something suspect called ‘biochai’ and a scone from Urban Angels (yes, the website tweely tweets at you, given time). Nice, and a lovely opportunity to say goodbye to a very dear friend, but not quite as yummy as I always imagine it will be. Ah, the power of advertising.
It was also the final day of work: lovely lovely work, where I drink tea and pay authors and talk about the Wigtown Book Festival and if it really exists, because it is nigh on impossible to get to. Leaving them puzzling this, I am now packing up shop to move back down to t’other end of this fair isle. Edinburgh, typically, looks bloody gorgeous, showing off because it knows I’m leaving.
But never mind, because I have the dubious pleasure of the company of four horses which eat people cantering around in my brain, and provided I feed them unsuspecting passers by every now and again, they don’t mind which city they’re in…