Jun 15 2010
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, is the title of a little-known, and rarely-performed play by Shakespeare. It’s a vast romantic saga, with resemblances to the magic voyage myths of the Greeks and the Celts. The hero Pericles wins the love and hand of a princess named Thaisa, and marries her. She dies in childbirth while they are in the middle of a terrible storm at sea. The superstitious sailors demand that Pericles cast her body overboard to allay the storm. He settles her body in a sealed wooden casket with papers to tell who she is, and money to pay for a burial should she ever come to shore, says a tearful farewell, and sends her into the waves. Pericles and his baby daughter continue the voyage and subsequently live out a many-years-long tale of separation and reunion. But Thaisa’s body comes to rest on shore soon after the storm ends, and is brought to the attention of a famous healer. He looks into the casket, sees her still warm body, with sweet air issuing form and determines that she is not dead. After magical ministrations, the warmth of fire, plus music, and invocations to the healer god Asclepius, he lures her back to life, saying, “Live, and make us weep to hear your fate, fair creature, rare as you seem to be.” With the healer’s help, Thaisa sits up in her coffin, and asks, “O dear Diana, Where am I?”
For an audience, this moment provides a vast communal intake of breath: music, magic and a powerful healer enchant us into believing that new life is possible, and sure enough! Thaisa, at exactly the right moment, lifts herself from the confines of her casket and asks the question of her great goddess, “Where am I?” Then she asks: “Where’s my lord?” and then, “What world is this?”
That “coming back to life” moment is one to cherish. We can imitate it each morning when we wake from sleep and dream; or when we recover from illness; or when something brand new enters our awareness. The three questions are useful to remember: First the salute to the god/goddess of our lives, then the “Where am I?” to honor the presence of the soul and spirit inhabiting the miracle of the human body; the next question, “Where are the ones I love?” and remembering them with gratitude and joy. Then “What world is this?” and dedicating our lives to serving that world with grace, as Thaisa does for many years, until Pericles and her daughter are restored to her at last.