My Favourite Women of Myth

DelilahThey’ve are some women who’ve been so (un)popular in history that their several layers of personality continue to intrigue us even today. To begin with a Naiad who captured a man simply for her own sexual pleasure – the one and only, Calypso.

Calypso, not that freaky woman(?) in the Pirates movie who speaks in a unidentifiable accent, but the Calypso in Greek mythology, the daughter of Atlas who lived on the island of Gozo is infamous for delaying Odyssesus. She kept him on her island for seven years of sexual imprisonment. Zeus on the bequest of Athena sent Hermes, the messenger of the Gods, to tell Calypso to release Odysseus from his torment. As Zeus was the God of the Gods, she couldn’t refuse him, although she wished to. Calypso promised Odysseus immortality if he stayed on but he eventually returned to his homeland of Ithaca and his ever-faithful wife Penelope.

Today however, Calypso refers to not just this Greek myth but also to Calypso music, a style of Caribbean folk music, Calypso software, a wholesale travel software package and even a medical device company. It has spawned so far to be the brand name of a comic chain, a moon of Saturn, an ice-cream flavour as well as being a town in North Carolina. The Calypso Orchid is a genus of orchids containing only one species. The Calypso (ship) is an oceanographic research ship captained by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and is a popular song written by John Denver as a tribute to Jacques.

If Calypso was a temptress, the ultimate betrayer title goes to Delilah. In the Hebrew Bible Delilah is the one whom Samson loved, and who was his downfall because she betrayed him and she did it for money. History says that Delilah was approached by the enemies of Israel to discover the secret of Samson’s strength. She cajoled and manipulated to find the secret to Samson’s strength but every time he gave her a false answer. On the fourth occasion he gave her the true reason: that he did not cut his hair in fulfillment of a vow to God. Delilah betrayed him to his enemies by cutting his hair and destroying his invincibility.

What I hadn’t realised was just how popular Delilah is. There are plenty of songs dedicated to her – Mysterious ways by U2, and others by The Cranberries, Queen, Plain white T’s and Chuck Berry.

In the song Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, Delilah is mentioned subtly in the line “She tied you to her kitchen chair/ She broke her throne and she cut your hair.” Bob Dylan’s song, Tombstone Blues, makes reference to Delilah, “The geometry of innocence flesh on the bone/ Causes Galileo’s math book to get thrown/ At Delilah who sits worthlessly alone/ But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter”. Neil Sedaka wrote a song titled “Run, Samson, Run”, in which he warns all men “there’s a little of Delilah in each and every gal.” In the song “Someday We’ll Know” by the New Radicals, there is the mention “Someday we’ll know why Samson loved Delilah”.

Apart from music, in an episode of the ‘Friends’, Ross suggests naming his daughter Delilah. Rachel disagrees with the name instantly, saying that it makes the baby a “Biblical whore”.

Its uncanny how these women of myth change and evolve and get weaved into our popular culture. They say that if you really want to know what’s going on in the world – listen to the musicians not the politicians. So if these songs are anything to go by, the legends of Delilah and Calypso will continue to sneak in here and there and next time you hear of them, it’ll be our private joke.

Inayat Sabhikhi