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A Whirlpool at its Center: Ripple-Effect in Literature

And on the other…divine Charybdis terribly sucked down the salt water of the sea.

— Homer’s Odyssey

A supermassive black hole is a good start for a galaxy. With all the stars and planets of the Milky Way, there’s probably a light-eating titan at its center, four million times the size of our sun. Since harmony is the strength of binding opposites, such an epic devourer of Time and Space entails a richness beyond measure…outside of its wake. In the relative center of the universe of Homer’s Odyssey, there was a whirlpool. Like so many females in Greek myths, Charybdis was reflexively punished by the gods. Zeus chained her to the seabed for eternity, cursing her with an unquenchable thirst for the sea, after Charybdis aided her father, Poseidon, in a sea-grab of land Zeus considered his own. Three times a day, Charybdis swallows up the sea and spouts it forth, creating whirlpools in her own wake. Whereas the supermassive black holes eat the light, never to spout it out again, Charybdis takes and gives, churning the sea in a destruction spiraling along with drowned beauty, causing a ripple-effect in the words that compose her, along with all the others, a song of songs too powerful to be fathomed.

Verily whenever she belched it forth, like a cauldron on a great fire she would seethe and bubble in utter turmoil, and high over head the spray would fall on the tops of both the cliffs.

— Homer’s Odyssey

In the center of Borges’s literary world is a labyrinth, just as the center of our world’s orbit is the sun. Lear’s core was the storm while Hamlet possessed a severe nihilism that devoured his own center, leaving nothing but words. All of us possess hearts, some greater than others, but all are doomed to fail, beating themselves to death. The sea finds its center in the lightless depths of trenches where eyes are meaningless and bones fail to return to mud. In the abysmal dark of every world’s center, there is a superstructure. Nothing of power can exist without a curse, just as Charybdis’s whirling might is a result of her own curse. But these kinds of centers send ripples across the universe, whether it’s a book or a galaxy. The Whirlpool must destroy, not because of hunger or thirst, but at the cost of what this destruction needs in order to feed the resulting creation. Without the whirlpool, the sea is just the sea, another maritime adventure of sea-shanties and rum-guzzling courage. Without the heart of the matter — the Heart beyond the organ — the story ripples at best and the galaxy remains a fog of gases and dust. Take away the lighthouse and Virginia Woolf would have been left with a short story about Lily Briscoe struggling with her painting. Without the sun, there would be nothing to consider, not even through dreams of starlight.

Most piteous did mine eyes behold that thing of all that I bore while I explored the paths of the sea.

— Homer’s Odyssey

A center such as Charybdis moves things, moves sailors and moves spirits who read the words that compose this enigmatic and tragic character. She is no monster. No. Charybdis is the crowning archetype of what cannot be named. Whirlpools that exist in the heart of a story affect the past, present and future of the book. Some of those whirlpools swirl throughout, while others might appear for a few pages, some, only hinted at. There are those whirlpools that are so subtle they might be passed over by the reader entirely, haunting the bound universe, not unlike the uncertainty of the nature of the supermassive black hole that exists at the center of the Milky Way, or not, exists at the center of every galaxy, or none of them at all. Perhaps the quality that all of these centers — these whirlpools — share beyond power, is their mysterious nature. In the case of these centers, nothing is but what is not. And yet, they are something more than can be measured, since they affect and are effected by everyone and everything in their system. Charybdis is the cursed woman chained to the seabed on the Strait of Messina and she is the force of nature who drinks up the sea with relish, all while shaking the pillars of literature for centuries, with an insatiable need to carry on.

Hayden Moore

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