Sweet Muse of Madness
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As one of the daughters of Ilithyia and Phanes, God-Queen and God-King of the Sacred Grove, Parthenia is deemed by the People of the Plain to be semi-divine, and as such may travel to and from the inviolate realm of her parents and the everyday world of ordinary mortals.  But this privilege carries within it a stark and potentially life threatening choice; she can marry among the common folk and live on the farmhold Thessalia with her grandparents, the respected elders Cybele and Attis, or she can reside night after night in the Sacred Grove, and hope that the man who slays her father and becomes the new God-King, will choose her as his new God-Queen.

When we first meet Parthenia in Sweet Muse of Madness, the beautiful young woman has already chosen the latter option, and further, is perfectly willing to use her own body in manipulating those around her, even if it means putting the lives of her parents and sister, Gamelia, at risk.  For Parthenia, such ruthless behavior is the genuine reflection of a Goddess who personifies self-preservation and power above all else.


Just as the name Ilithyia applied to an aspect of the female experience, namely birth giving, so, too, did the name Parthenia apply to a particular dimension in the lives of women.  Generally, Parthenia was the essence of virginity, and more specifically, virgin birth.

Whether Parthenia was ever a distinct goddess in her own right is not clear, but we do know that she was associated with the queen of the Olympian gods, Hera.  Before she became the wife of Zeus, Hera was worshipped as the female overlord of the sky, and since the heavens were, at least for mortals, a distant, untouched realm, Hera was, in a sense, a celestial virgin, hence, Hera Parthenos.

More famously, the title Parthenos was applied to the goddess Athena, who, as the personification of pure intellect, was not interested in taking on lovers, unlike her lusty cousin, Aphrodite.  Thus, one of the most beautiful statues of the virgin goddess of wisdom is called Athene Parthenos, and in the city which bears her name, on the Acropolis, stands the magnificent temple to the untouched Athena, the Parthenon.

Then we have Parthenope, an apparently virgin siren.  The sirens were those bewitching but deadly creatures whose irresistible song lured sailors to crash their ships on rocky shores.  As the story goes, Parthenope and her sisters tried to seduce Jason and the Argonauts, but the magical music of Orpheus’ lyre overcame the siren call, and the heroes escaped unharmed.  Frustrated by her failure, Parthenope threw herself into the sea and drowned.  Her body washed ashore on the western coast of Italy, where a town was named after her.  Over time, a new city, a Neo-Polis, was built upon the older town of Parthenope. The name Neo-Polis evolved into Naples, an intriguing city which, in its own right, still lures wandering sailors to its shores.

In ancient Sparta, the Partheniae were the sons of unmarried women.  These females, in a sense, gave birth without requiring the male seed.

That virgin birth aspect of the title Parthenos has survived into modern times through the word parthenogenesis, which in biology refers to a type of asexual reproduction whereby an ovum, seed or spore begins to develop without being fertilized by any male cells.  Parthenogenesis does take place among some microscopic organisms, insects and algae.  Indeed, some kinds of fish, snakes and lizards also reproduce this way, their offspring identical to the mothers.

We see the ancient word again in Parthenology, the medical study of virginity in humans.

With all of the above references to virginity, it may seem ironic that the name Parthenia would be given to a character who is as promiscuous as the young woman in the novel Sweet Muse of Madness.  But this irony was not lost upon the ancient Greeks themselves.  They understood that, like the virgin siren Parthenope, one may be well versed in the art of amorous physical attraction, while remaining, in the depths of one’s heart, untouched by genuine love.