Lethe, by Alan Olejniczak


LETHE enters and pauses to survey the audience. The spirit walks among them and speaks directly.

LETHE. Forgetting is the primordial divinity – the venerable ancestor to remembrance. The essence of memory is not remembering, but forgetting. The forgetfulness of which, one must drink in order to live – in order to be reborn. Forgetting is choice, you know: a blessing, really.


I remember this shade that made her death’s journey through Hades. She came to the River Styx and paid the ferryman to carry her across to be reborn. Charon invited her to drink from my waters, which would remove all memory of her previous life. “Oh”, she asked, “Will I forget all my failures?” Charon replied, “Yes, as well as your victories.”… “Will I forget how I suffered?” “Yes, but you’ll forget how you celebrated.” Finally, the shade asked, “Will I forget how I’ve been lonely?” “Yes, but you’ll forget how you’ve been loved.”


The shade drank from my river, forgetting her former life and climbed into the boat. Most always do. It seems you all are better at remembering sorrow and regret than life’s fleeting moments of joy… Although not all make this journey, you know. There are those that wander the banks and never take the risk. Fear always holds one back and the apathetic are most often left behind.


In the Kingdom of the Dead, I’m Lethe. While my father is best forgotten, my mother, Eris, is not one to be ignored. She is the goddess of discord and strife – admittedly a difficult woman to love. Sadly, my mother is really only remembered for two things: Starting the Trojan War and birthing eight miserable children – toil, starvation, pain, murder, lawlessness, genocide, lies and ruination… It’s hard to get attention in a family like that.


Where was I?…Oh yes. Not ALL drink from my river, you know. Some believe that it is important to remember the mistakes of one’s past lives so that one will be wiser in the next. While I’ve met many smart people in Hades, I’ve only encountered a few that were truly wise. While I understand, you must have memory to gain knowledge, I have to wonder: is the knowledge that memory brings, the knowledge that is best forgotten? While it’s certainly a noble endeavor to remember everything, does this really make you any wiser? The mundane becomes as important as the monumental. Let’s face it, not all things are important.


Still, there are things you are determined to remember: important things, wonderful and terrible things. There was this soldier – I forget his name. Anyway, he died in battle and his body lay in the sun for a week before they could collect the dead. This soldier made his journey and came upon the ferryman. When he was offered to drink from my river, he declined – “Oh no!” I want to remember my life: the good with the bad. This is life, after all!” The soldier drank from Mnemosyne – the waters of remembrance. Of course, he could not stay in Hades, or cross over – and was sent back. He woke on his own pyre moments before they were to set it ablaze. Everyone wanted to learn the great mystery – what lay beyond. He told them the truth: “No one escaped suffering and there was no reward for goodness. The virtuous are punished the same as the corrupted.” They burned him alive. No one was prepared to hear the truth of that.


I say this without judgment, given my family history, but what’s wrong with people? You all have this strange mix of self-loathing and a spectacular sense of your own superiority. It’s an on-going joke with the gods – although they can be just as ridiculous… Still you insist on destroying yourselves. And war! Such horror and waste. Oh sure! There’s blame and remorse, but a generation later all seem determined to start again. I guess there is always someone else to fear – or hate… I know what you’re thinking. It’s about forgetting the past and being doomed to repeat it. It’s not that! It’s about ignorance and denial and that’s not the same as forgetting… To your credit, you have your peace rallies and memorials. But still I wonder why you all commit such atrocities at all.


If there is danger of always remembering, what is gained from forgetting or ignoring the unspeakable suffering of others? Empathy is always nice, but what do you do with it if you don’t take action?… Forgetting is healing. Forgetting is hopeful. Forgetting is how you’re able to connect to your humanity, to find hope and trust – and beauty, when there is seemingly no reason to. Why else would you bring children into the world, love them, nurture them – only to have them bear the senselessness of it all. Why create art when most is forgotten or destroyed? Forgetting your savage-selves is what it takes to live on. It how you’re able to still connect to your humanity: to find hope – and trust – and beauty, when there is seemingly no reason to?


So there it is…

(Prepares to exit)

We will meet again, you know. It’s true. Living and dying are all part of it, and trust me, immortality is not anything you want… But that’s a whole other story. Until then.



Context: Originally developed for the 2016 The San Francisco Olympians Festival

Re-Written for The Artist of Albatross Reach, 2017

More info: If you end up using this monologue, please contact email alanlolen@gmail.com and let Alan know how it went!

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