From the ritual of love
“The thirst burns me and I am lost…”
I stand at the very edge of time and look. I walk carefully between the thirty-three centuries of my myth and the autumnal present day that has brought me here, to this deserted beach with footprints of seagulls on the damp sand.
The music reaches to this point. It captivates me and I search for its source. A divine melody. And then a voice that sunders even the stones. Never, it was said, never has a song like that been heard since then.
I try to make out the words.
“The thirst burns me and I am lost…”
I try to approach the singer. To see him up close. And then I notice that the entire landscape is in motion, as if it is moving with me; it, too, is moving toward the point from which the song is coming.
Good Heavens! I think I’m hallucinating.
But no. The landscape, shrouded in autumnal mists, along with its deserted cliffs, is moving toward the singer. The tiny lilies dance on the moist sandy soil together with the pebbles and the seaweed, and I am still crossing myself.
Surely I’m hallucinating, I reflect. Since the day I sat down to write about the love of Jason and Hypsipyle, and about the savage massacre perpetrated by the Lemnian women, strange things are happening to me.
It’s starting to sprinkle and that comforts me. I need a stable reality. And with dismay I become aware that this myth I have taken on is alive. That the reality I am living is full of fissures and mystery — that reality which became one with the landscape and is moving steadily toward the source of the melody.
For a moment I falter. I wonder whether I should exit the myth before it ensnares me completely. But no, I say. This myth has troubled me for years. The myth of the women who in one night killed their husbands because they would not approach them erotically.
A harsh myth. Yet my decision to write about it is unshakeable.
And I move ahead together with the moist ocean landscape to find the source of the divine melody. I inhale the saltiness given off by the wet cliffs, the salt crust of the forgotten Marina, and I tremble. I will enter into the depth of the mystery hidden in this moving landscape, I reflect, and I go on.
The singer must be somewhere near me, I suspect, because his voice is close by — a voice pierced by all the layers of the death out of which it emerged and all the echoes from the abysses that flowered so that he could again sing of love.
I love you and for you I will enter
with my lyre into death
and if the thirst, and if the pain burns me
in the thousands of years to come I can
sing to you
like a star that lights your way
like a spring that blooms from you
A song of love, I reflect. Contemporary and ancient. Like a spring that blooms from you! That alone would suffice to describe the entire depth of the eternity hidden in love.
The landscape is deserted. And the wet autumnal day is ending; the twilight paints the triangle of Athos red. The same sunset as then, I reflect, the same movement of the day, the same bloody colors.
I go on, resolved, continue on. I pass one beach after another, the lace-like cliffs, the pools filled with seaweed and solitary moonlight — from that time. The way I have been snared in the myth, I can no longer leave it. I will find you Hypsipyle, I will find your love for Jason, the love that never dies, it is said, only that love can make the abyss bloom with paradises.
Curiosity consumes me and the thirty-three centuries are here, I feel it, as if I pulled the thread from the tunic they were wearing and they spilled out from the laws of nature, outside order.
I make him out on a sloping cliff; my heart is about to burst. Such is the light he gives off that it blinds me. It is the divine singer himself. The great mystic Orpheus. He had come to Lemnos together with Jason and the Argonauts on that winter’s morning, as if it was yesterday. As if the thirty-three centuries were “like yesterday.”
I wonder whether tears are flowing from my eyes and I am not mistaken. He of all men went down to Hades to bring back his beloved Eurydice, I reflect. We all loved and only felt pain; we mourned. He went into Hades and met the souls; he saw then stretching out their hands and asking about their loved ones.
The brilliance still blinds me. Such is the light he emits! It leaps up from his body in tufts, melts on the lyre he holds, and becomes music. The material of his music is that brilliance, I reflect, and I try to see his eyes. The same brilliance wells up from them and it is the brilliance, they say, that reaches the innermost part, the Adyton, of Hades and arouses the souls.
That is why he sings of thirst, I reflect; the souls are always thirsty, those that “sit not in twos or threes/sleep not in tens/and drink to quench their thirst where they find bubbling water…”
Orpheus experienced that thirst. I try to imagine him singing as he descended the asphodel footpaths to reclaim his beloved. The souls shake off forgetfulness and rise up, enchanted, to see him. But he must not look at his Eurydice — that was his agreement with the dark god. He must not turn to look at her. And he moves ahead with head bent.
A little further, a few more steps and they will emerge into the light. Eurydice follows him, trembling with anguish. A little further…but no. Eurydice will never emerge into the light because Orpheus broke his word at the last moment, turned around and looked at her.
And he condemned her to eternal thirst.
Orpheus broke his word. But why?
No one will ever learn whether he turned around intentionally and saw her, in order to condemn her to eternal darkness, or whether his love was so great that he could not restrain himself another minute. And when he heard her cry, then only then, did he realize what he had done. That is the archaic cry that pierces the millennia, like a rending and a betrayal: the cry of a woman.
In anyway, the pain of his love remained the same. Even though he betrayed her, he yearns for her since then with the same anguish, loves her with the same thirst. And he now has the rest of eternity to mourn for her.
I try to discern the two lovers of my myth, Jason and Hypsipyle. They must be here close to Orpheus, I reflect, and I am not wrong.
Here. In a sandy cove formed by the sloping cliff. And they move with the entire landscape to the divine rhythms of the melody.
I stand at the very edge of the damp moving landscape and watch. They do not see me; they cannot. The thirty-three centuries that separate us have become an opaque veil that covers them, protects them from the tides of later ages.
But I can see them. I can make out the slightest movement of their bodies, the anguish of their hands, their hopeless attempt not to give in without a struggle to a love so passionate it will annihilate them.
Because the happiness of love is at once crushing
Hypsipyle already knew from her nurse, Polyxo, who had the gift of seeing the future, that she would fall in love with him from the first moment. That this powerful man who came to the island by happenstance on a wintry morning was the fate in her life. She also knew that she would have two sons by him and that later he would leave her to continue his voyage to Colchis. Polyxo had seen it all, and told her everything. And Hypsipyle knew that Polyxo was never wrong.
But she, no, she said stubbornly each time. I will overcome that fate, she told herself, I will never show him how much I love him, no… no…
Polyxo would shake her head.
No one can overcome fate, she would respond, no one has ever overcome it; that is the fate of mortals.
Her obstinacy increased. Her pride.
I will not accept that he abandons me one day. Let him leave; let him leave right now, let him sail away, the storm has subsided; they came to the island for two days and they are still here.
Such words did she say to her nurse Polyxo. But at this moment, here next to the sloping cliff, her eyes and heart say something different. She fears that he may leave without taking her even once into his arms. She trembles at the thought. Yet she remains obstinate.
There was a royal summer house where she went with her father, Thoas, in happier days, before the act of blood and before she helped him escape by sea in a basket on the night of the savage massacre.
And today, for the first time since then, she came here again.
I notice her fingers that painfully grasp the rock in order not to touch his extended hand.
They are whispering words I cannot hear. Words of love, certainly, from him; words of pride from her.
I try to come closer. As the landscape moves with me I find myself almost beside them. Now I see them up close. If I stretch out my hand I feel that I will touch them. But I don’t do that. The moment I am experiencing is fragile. A moment upright over the abyss. She is wearing a short white mantle fastened with a gold brooch on the left shoulder. Her sandals are tied high on her shapely leg. Her hair is tied up, like Persephone’s. And around her head is a finely wrought garland in the shape of a vine shoot.
He is wearing an expensive short tunic and leather sandals laced up to his bare knee. His eyes shine as if inhabited by suns. And his lips are erotic, thirsty to touch hers. His strong and proud body smells sweetly of long voyages and sea winds and she inhales it with trembling.
I am trying to hear their voices. But my glance remains unmoving on Orpheus, who is now playing softly on his lyre. I am terrified that the image will disappear into the depths of the millennia from which it emerged. And I prick up my ears to hear their voices — I want that more than anything.
“You are free to leave the island; the winds have let up and the Argo waits for you on a calm sea to continue your voyage to Colchis…”
Her voice. So clear. As if not one speck fell on her from the flow of the stars and the solitary moonlight.
“I love you and only on your body will I find the voyages I dreamed of; your body for me now encompasses all the seas, those that open the path to life and to death. And I have no other path other than my love for you…”
It is still raining. The knit jacket I am wearing is damp and saltiness drips from my hair, but I do not move. The fall day is ending. The moving landscape that a short time ago danced, enchanted, to the rhythms of the Orphic lyre is slowly calming down. I look on it for the signs of the fissures out of which life past had emerged. A raw piece from life abolished. But I see nothing. Time heals the fissures. Or else, time fears the fissures. Just as nature fears the void. Nothing. Only a salty odor of sea-cliff wafts in the air.
Orpheus is gone. Gone are the two lovers with their immovable fate. The sloping sea-cliff where the divine singer was standing shortly before is deserted now.
Only the seaweed still gives off the moist odor of saltiness, and the seagulls write their carefree tracks on the huge beach.
I look around. It’s as if solid reality was never fractured, I reflect. As if the thirty-three centuries never moved to the side of love.
And yet it did fracture. And no one can doubt that. And all the centuries together moved toward the side of love.
Because only love can conquer the thousands of years and bloom with life.
But now, I reflect, I had better start my myth from the beginning.
From the blood.
Blood is the beginning of the story that entrapped me.
First the blood, then. Or rather first I will take off the wet jacket I am wearing and dry my hair of the primeval saltiness.