Little Asclepius runs happily through the grassy meadows of Pelion, unaware of his glorious future, as well as his mournful past. He opens his arms and throws his head back, laughing, for no specific reason. He is content with existing, as children always are. He turns in circles under a leafy oak and offers his face to the sun’s rays that filter through the treetops. He will become a healing god the son of Apollo, following in his father’s footsteps; he will suggest in a dream the prognosis of the disease to those who fall asleep in his temple and will be powerful enough to restore life to those who have died. Chiron knows this; he will soon introduce the child to that art himself, teaching him to crush herbs and treat wounds with wine.
The centaur, master of heroes, has become fond of the child since Apollo took him to the mountain to educate him, after having taken him from his mother’s womb, saving him from the stake. There burned, already dead, the mother who was unable to know him, the beautiful Coronis, with lily cheeks just suffused with a luminous blush..
In Thessaly they hate the crow. If that cursed bird hadn’t been quick to spy, Coronis would now be holding her little Asclepius in her arms. Her maids would knot her braids, pinning them on her white neck and Cleofema would be proud to see her walk forward, her, her daughter, the object of a god’s love! «Cursed raven – say those in Thessaly –, even Apollo has cursed you by depriving you of your white plumage, condemning you to perpetual mourning. Damn Ischi, who got in the way. And you, Coronis, how could you prefer a mortal? Is it the fear of growing old that has led you to do so, the horror of not being, one day, more pleasing to your lover, eternally young and beautiful?”
Chiron sighs, takes his eyes off the child, looks into the distance. He thinks of Apollo, so beautiful and so unlucky in love. To have Cassandra, had given her the privilege of prophecy, but Priam’s daughter, ungrateful, had rejected it. The god, angry with her, had spat in her mouth, thus condemning her to never be believed. And she, rejected Apollo, had been exposed to the violence of Ajax, on the night of the capture of Troy, and had fallen victim to the revenge of Clytaemestrawhich arrived in Greece with Agamemnon as a reward for the king’s victory.
A burning passion the god had nurtured for Daphne, the nymph daughter of the river Peneus; but the Naiad, consecrated to the virgin goddess Artemis, had rushed into an exhausting race to escape Apollo’s pursuit and had finally changed into a tree, just to avoid the union with him. Why hadn’t the young girl listened to the god’s passionate words, Chiron still thought? The proof of her love for her was that laurel wreath with which Apollo crowned his hair and with which leaders and poets were rewarded. She had not had Daphne, but she would have had the plant forever, sacred to his god.
And finally she, Coronis, who unlike the others reciprocated his love: so, at least, it seemed, until she fell in love with the Arcadian prince Ischi and that talkative raven, which Apollo had left in her care before leaving for Delphi, dutiful to his duty, flew to his master to act as a spy. The centaur shudders as the images of what followed appear in succession to his mind: the god furious at his violated honor, the arrow nocked on the infallible bow, the beautiful flesh of the girl scarred by the blow, the pyre raised to burning the corpse, after Apollo himself had extracted the little body of Asclepius from the dead woman’s pregnant womb. All of this it wouldn’t have happened if only she had continued to love him, Chiron sighs; and equally, if they had not rejected the love of the god, Daphne would sinuously move her beautiful limbs in the rivers and perhaps Cassandra too would have had a different fate, sheltered from such violence.
Just as Giulia would also be alive, Filippo would add, if she had not escaped, if she had remained at his side: she would have graduated (strictly after him, to respect the hierarchy); she would have hugged her friends in the garden of the Engineering department (where the red of a bench, like an open wound, will instead preserve the memory of her life cut short); she would have worn the laurel wreath (symbol of the goal achieved, and yet, in that branch the story of persecution and death of many women symbolically unfolds), with the only shadow that her mother was not with her to add light to that day.
But Giulia, we say, did not support Filippo and now for having said no she is nothing but a name: written in fiery characters on a banner, shouted in a thousand street protests, painfully engraved in the heart. The name number center four of one hundred and ten names of women, who remained entangled in a sick relationship and killed by the alleged love of their men in this 2023 not yet at the end.
We come from a tradition that has legitimized male authority over women for centuries. We are heirs of a classical world that told stories of women hunted, kidnapped, raped and legitimized their subordination in the name of a natural inferiority, transforming the social into the biological (“The relationship that exists between the male and the female is by nature that of those who are better towards those who are worse, of those who command towards those who are commanded”, wrote the Greek philosopher Aristotle). We are part of a culture that punished with an iron muzzle and public ridicule the woman who spoke too much, annoying male authority; and if this painful and mortifying sanction was not applied beyond the 18th century, the sting of moral coercion has not therefore ceased to exist. A persistent patriarchal mentality, ourswhich becomes explosive when it comes into synergy with the feeling of a generation of overprotected young people, less and less capable of accepting rejection and processing pain.
Giulia’s story has shaken consciences: for the young age of the protagonists, for the violence of the execution, for the personal history of the girl, already marked by mourning; on the wave of emotion, people take to the streets, educational strategies are proposed, new legal measures are put in place. The fight against violence against women now seems like everyone’s fight. Let’s become an active part of it, without relaxing the tension when the emotion of these days has become numb.
Three years ago another young woman was brutally killed by her partner: her name was Lorena, she was about to graduate from the University of Messina (the degree was awarded to her after her death, as it will be for Giulia), she dreamed of becoming a pediatrician. Let’s join forces so that there are no longer any Giulias or Lorenes whose dreams can be torn away by the violence of a man. Let’s join forces so that “not one less” remains among us of these young women who confidently open up to life.
*By Anna Maria Urso. Professor of Classical Philology and History of Classical Theater at the University of Messina