Narcissus Mavroleon, a successful psychiatrist, lives in Athens married to Marian for eleven years, without children. The story begins on the day when, after twenty one years, he returns to his birthplace, near ancient Adonida and the sources of the Acheron. The purpose of his journey is to sell the house he inherited from his familly and the surrounding land, which is crossed by a dried up stream, the ancient Hieros.
On arriving in Adonida, Narcissus finds himself entrapped in mystifying situations, which give his life new and exciting turns. These situations are rooted in thoughts and experiences, which have vexed him all his life, but now they take concrete and unforeseen forms.
Such an experience was an old revelation of his grandfather Euripides, made when Narcissus was a child. He had shown him a cupboard and said that he had locked in there some secret. And that he would get the key from the monk Augustinus.
In addition, ever since Narcissus was eight years of age, he used to have a strange dream, a bit varied each time. He saw that the stream crossing his land in Adonida brought down water and a girl with ivory skin and curly hair used to walk barefoot in the clear water in his direction. Over the years, he came to feel a deep love for the girl of his dreams, although he would not admit it consciously.
The first thing he does, when he arrives in Adonida at the age of thirty six, is to go to the monastery to seek the monk Augustinus. There he learns that the monk died some time ago, and he is relieved of a fear he felt at the thought of finding his grandfather’s secret. Yet, the prior of the monastery tells him that he could get the key from Kosmas, Augustinus’ brother, who has it. Narcissus goes to Kosmas’ house and takes the key. But as he is leaving, he meets face to face with the girl of the waters, the one he saw in his dreams. It is a shock for him. He locks himself in his room at the hotel Adytun, raving at the excitement the girl has caused him. He has learned that her name is Persephone and that she is Kosmas’ young daughter. In the tense hours he spends in his hotel room, his whole life becomes a delirium of love. He waits for her to come. He knows she will, no matter how illogical that is.
And he feels that this is the first trap the place sets to him.
He puts on his raincoat to go out, in order to escape from delirium. And then he sees her before him. She seems to know who he is and she is familiar with his books.
His passion for her becomes unbearable. Also, other “signs”, entrap him in an uncontrollable curiosity to learn what is happening. Such a “sign”, which sets him thinking now, is a half narcissus flower in his chest, a birth-mark, for which he was given his name.
Instead of selling his house, he hires workers to repair it. His wife in Athens is worried and asks why it takes him so long to get back. He moves to his house and waits with strained nerves for Persephone, who arrives possessed by the same passion.
He lives a frenzied love affair with her. He, who throughout his life was faithful to his wife and loved her. Persephone searches his chest to find the half narcissus flower. Her uncle, the monk Augustinus, had told her about it, because she, too, was born with the other half of the flower.
All of a sudden, Persephone says that the river has brought down water and that makes Narcissus wonder how that is possible. He takes a storm lamp and goes out to see for himself. Water is running down the stream. He stays by the river all night, staring at the water, which looks emerald in the dawn light. It is like the river he used to see in his dream, in whose waters the girl walked.
Narcissus manages finally to open grandfather Euripides’ cupboard and finds a manuscript burnt into ash by time. Only a piece of hard paper has been saved, on which an oracle is written. The oracle talks about the river, which will “bloom” and about the bones of martyrs, which “your grandson will find on the day it will be raining”.
Narcissus does not pay attention to the oracle and continues his frenzied love affair with Persephone. After some time, she finds out that she is pregnant, but does not tell him about it.
One day, Persephone takes him to an aged friend of hers, Isabella, who is a diviner and tells oracles like the ancient Pythia. At first, Narcissus sneers at her. But when she sees him, she tells him the same oracle he has found in his grandfather’s cupboard, that he will find the bones of the martyrs the day it will be raining. This upsets him greatly.
It is the second trap the place sets to him and he decides to stay, in order to solve the mystery.
He climbs up to the monastery, which is built near the sources of Acheron and of the ancient river, which runs through his estate. A little further from the monastery, there is a large gorge, with a huge pomegranate tree, and on the edge of the gorge are the ruins of a small Byzantine chapel. From the prior of the monastery he learns that the chapel was built five hundred years before and is dedicated to an unknown roaming saint, who was burned with the rest of the monks and those bones have not yet been found. Narcissus is disturbed, because he connects Isabella’s oracle with the bones, which will be “found on the day it will be raining” and that “ it is he who will find them”.
In the madness of the mystery he lives, he decides to repair the Byzantine chapel of the gorge. But Persephone is opposed to this idea. She is a student of archaeology and lives a different passion. In excavations she has made in the sandy banks of Hieros, she has found buried the statue of a goddess of great beauty. She goes near it at nights and lives there the ecstasy and the mystery, imagining herself a priestess in other bygone times.
Marian, Narcissus’wife, comes determined to persuade him to leave. His friend Ion comes with her and tries to convince Narcissus to attend a medical conference. At first he decides to go, but the place continues to entrap him and he finally decides not to attend the conference.
Meanwhile, Persephone hides so that he will not see that she is pregnant. She feels hostility and hate for him, because he is repairing the old chapel.
Going back in time, the story of the roaming saint with the bloodied cassock is unravelled. The monk Augustinus was the first to see him, when his younger brother Kosmas was in danger one night. Euripides saw him too at a moment, when his grandson Narcissus was in danger. The saint was the first to tell him that his bones will be found by Narcissus the day it will be raining.
Isabella had also seen the roaming saint and she painted his picture in secret, intending to take it to the Byzantine chapel, on the day of its consecration.
One day, while it is raining heavily, the workers who are repairing the chapel in the gorge find in a crypt the bones of the martyrs and of the roaming saint.
At the same time, the river Hieros swells threateningly and floods the village. Persephone, who happens to be at its bank in labour pains, is carried away by the water while trying to give birth to her child. A little before she faints, she sees the roaming saint who rushes into the water to hold her. She is found unconscious on the bank with her child in her arms. She does not want to believe that the stranger who saved her was the saint, whose bones Narcissus had found. But when she goes to attend the consecration of the chapel and sees the picture painted by Isabella, she realizes that it is the same person. And gives her child to the prior of the monastery to christen him Augustinus. Then she stands dizzy at the edge of the gorge, hearing the roar of the water of Acheron and Hieros flowing down from Hades.
There, she stretches her hand to pick a fruit from the pomegranate tree- the tree of Hades- growing on the edge and, losing her senses, falls down into the precipice and dies.
In the Sacred River, the worship of the ancient myth meets the roaming saint with the bloodied cassock. Two different worlds that we carry dimly in the archetypes of our soul.
The Sacred River is all translated into English
Translation of the book: Theony Condos and Minos Pothos