In ‘Sede Vacante’, the author combines stories from the Greek myths with a corresponding mythical Fate to illustrate the Fall of man and his inability to solve his fallen state alone. With the corruption of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, the Greek world turns its weary eyes to Olympus, only to find the thrones abandoned by gods who cannot save. The poem ends on a hopeful note, as the ‘myth made fact’, Jesus Christ, is foreshadowed through the longing for a hero who can fulfill the need for redemption, metaphorically represented in the empty seat. Matthew 25:31 tells us that “He will sit on His glorious throne” as King. The title, “Sede Vacante,” is a Latin phrase meaning ‘empty seat.’ (This is used most often in reference to the priestly position of the Papacy.) Through Jesus, our High Priest, we “approach the throne of grace with confidence.” (Hebrews 4:16) Christ both fills, and is literally, the ‘mercy seat’, the no-longer-empty throne. (Romans 3)
The Ancient Greeks and Romans wrote poetry in the Sapphic meter. Named for the Greek poet Sappho, this style requires a particular four-line stanza pattern of trochees and dactyls, with English versions also using certain stressed syllables to sustain the meter. Later revived by the Medievals, with the addition of an ABAB rhyme scheme, and adopted by poets such as Swinburne and Hardy, the Sapphic style remains one of the longest enduring forms of Classical poetry.
Snipping life-thread Atropos ends the story,
Mighty wings of Icarus scissors clipped
Empty seem myth’s memento mori, for thee
The truth told tripped
Leaning, mirrored, Narcissus his own glory
Pooled, puddled — reflected — the weight of man
Keeping measured, Lachesis fathoms, for he
Pride-plunged pain began
Spinning, self-same Arachne weaving warped
Looming lovely, Athena, Clotho knowing
Wheeling, webbing humankind downward dropped
Stolen Beauty Troy’s Helen queenly cometh
Spoilt youth, proud prince of darkness dreaming dimly
Golden apple forbidden biting, stomachs
All thrones upon Olympus empty sitting
godless, storied deity barren, bounden
Silent, bereft Olympus judgment pending-
Where is justice, Astraea, star-ward fleeing?,
Well-heeled great god, Achilles’s likeness, arose
This Son of God — immortal — Man’s Son, reigning
Karise Gililland has a BA in English from Southern Methodist University and a Masters in Imaginative and Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University. She consumes copious amounts of time (and coffee!) shuttling her teenagers to and fro, rescuing her cats from impending peril, and writing for An Unexpected Journal. She currently teaches the most amazing third graders at a classical Christian school in Fort Worth.
Karise Gililland, “Sede Vacante,” An Unexpected Journal: The Ancients 4, no. 3. (Fall 2021), 73-78.
Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com/sede-vacante/
 Latin meaning ‘empty seat’; In this poem, the empty seat is both literal (both the empty thrones of Olympus and the ‘mercy seat’ of the Ark) and metaphorical as in Romans 3; the phrase most often refers to the empty seat of the Papacy, a priestly position; the author also uses this as an allusion to the priestly quality of Christ.
 Atropos — One of the three Fates, daughter of Themis (Law) Her name means ‘inflexible’. She severs the thread of human life.
 memento mori — Latin; “remember that you that you must die”
 Lachesis — One of the three Fates, daughter of Themis (Law). Her name signifies ‘disposer of lots’. She determines and measures the length of the thread of human life.
 Clotho — One of the three Fates, daughter of Themis (Law.) Her name signifies ‘spinner.’ She spins the thread of human life.
 Arete — the concept in Ancient Greek that refers to ‘excellence’ of any kind, including moral virtue or goodness.
 Astrea — goddess of justice; She was the last of the immortals to withdraw from the earth after the Golden Age. Afterwards, she became the constellation Virgo.
 well-heeled, referring both to the weak spot of Achilles, and the contrasting victory of the full hero, Christ, in Genesis 3:15