The third part of my ode to Greece in the stanza of Spencer.
Argument: Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, born into power cannot expect to escape its depravities.
There is a rupture, a moment of bleak
Empty wilderness a time lost to all,
Before whence all idealists did seek,
To test their skills unprepared for the fall,
The house of old Mycenae’s blood drenched hall,
Familiar bonds not always so dear,
A king though in stature may be quite tall,
Orestes’ doom, to complacently hear,
Furies’ cry for lifeblood, his lineage clear.
Tell me how could any such Delphic bard,
Make song of sparse eons’ austerity?
When even muses themselves find it hard,
The act of fine vocal dexterity?
Long gone are days of kind sincerity,
A feature so common among equals,
Fully knowing harsh pending levity,
That weight of a Bronze age that now appalls,
The pending curtain call which upon greatness falls.
Orestes, son of family dispute,
To whom it fell the burden of vengeance,
Against his own kindred, to raise his boot,
Blot out the life that gave him essence.
Electra too, in his sister’s presence,
Brought down retribution on his own head,
Furies sought unremitting repentance,
They drove him forth to Athens, where it’s said,
Trial by reason! Passions soothed and put to bed!
Barely come of age, the soft hairy down
Of his chin still smooth, quite easily seen.
Such youth commits matricide for the crown,
For Clytemnestra’s end he was too keen.
The hot-headed impatience of a teen,
Brought about further dynastic shift.
She having been in turn also too mean,
Orestes merely repeating to lift
The knife by which his father too was set adrift.
Hardly avoidable his destiny,
Punish a mother of so little love,
For a husband long lost at war away,
Agamemnon returning felt her shove
His war weary personage from above,
Down into Hades’ waters thereabout,
Polluted bloodshed the peace of a dove,
Long since denied during Troy’s tragic rout,
Likewise, nobody cared for his own final shout.
Despite his depravity, such an act,
The duty of honour should deserve praise,
To avenge a father who but lacked,
Nothing to a son which should amaze,
Agamemnon’s vengeance he obeys,
A brother & sister seem justified,
Forgetting that father’s very own craze,
Iphigenia, their sibling once sighed,
Ritual sacrifice! The Greek cause obliged!
An ancient bard makes his debut at the sanctuary of Epidaurus...
III. Frail uncertainty of future life Has no bearing on an opponent’s fight, Many noble souls’ unrepenting strife, Each attempt descends into darkest night, Every free spirit enchained, denied sight Of passions, took us away from that bond, Servitude has known not of wrong nor right, Deep embittered patience still remained fond For conceptual beauty! We forever longed!
IV. Then as now stumbling through an era, Eventually to go by the name, A classical age, Apollo’s lyre, Or affinities holding true, the same, Reminiscences, most have always been tame Followers, few deserve remembrance, Those who invent another type of game, Set the dice rolling until decadence Misuses cultural riches through fat opulence!
V. All institutions plagiarize anew, Give ethical clarity, sense denied, The family where sons & daughters grew, Was founded on a stone deep red blood dyed, Against the instincts obligingly lied, Suit propriety, avoid provocation, True loves passion, forgotten, pushed aside. Deadly union, honour’s destitution, Mutual wealth poached into cold extinction!
VI. Our world is abound with divine pretenses, That have always sought to hold their harsh sway, Divide unequally, raising fences, To show who is banished and who can stay, Invoking difference between those who’d say, That we have no quarrel with each other, no! Rather they would try to keep us at bay. Final indictment their weak powers show, Lofty in abundance! Yet spiritually low!
VII. High-minded princes, bravery’s fountain, Not always the case we see poets told. Men suspicious, unbelieving, doubting, Mythology cut off in days of old. The relevance that such tales should hold, Over disparity of meager ways, Not caring for eloquence unless sold. Something fit to wile away idle days, The genius amongst us grudgingly displays!
VIII. The now ruined city of Mycenae Was once founded by Perseus of fame, Who rode the wingèd horse elegantly And the snakes of Medusa’s hair did tame, He brought low the Kraken, that very same Threat to Andromeda, African bride, Whose former suitor he was forced to maim, Only the hauntiness of such Greek pride, Could indulge romantic rivalry to be set aside.
Muses of Sicily, let us attempt a rather more exalted theme. Hedgerow and humble tamarisk do not appeal to all. If we must sing of woodlands, let them be such as may do a consul honour.
We have reached the last era in Sibylline song. Time has conceived and the great Sequence of the Ages starts afresh. Justice, the virgin, comes back to dwell with us, and the rule of Saturn is restored. The firstborn of the New Age is already on his way from high heaven down to earth.
With him, the Iron Race shall end and Golden Man inherit all the World. Smile on the Baby's birth, immaculate Lucina; your own Apollo is enthroned at last.
And it is in your consulship, yours, Pollio, that this glorious Age will dawn and the processing of the great months begin. Under your leadership all traces that remain of our iniquity will be effaced and, as they vanish, free the world from its long night of horror.
He will foregather with the gods; he will see the great men of the past consorting with them, and be himself observed by these, guiding a world to which his father's virtues have brought peace.
Free-roaming ivy, foxgloves in every dell, and smiling acanthus mingled with Egyptian lilies - these, little one, are the first gifts that the earth, unprompted by the hoe, will lavish on you. The goats, unsheparded, will make for home with udders full of milk, and the ox will not be frightened of the lion, for all his might. Your very cradle will adorn itself with blossoms to caress you. The snake will come to grief, and poison lurk no more in the weed. Perfumes of Assyria will breathe from every hedge.
Later, when you have learnt to read the praises of the great and what your father achieved, come to understand what manhood is, the waving corn will slowly flood the plains with gold, grapes hang in ruby clusters on the neglected thorn, and honey-dew exude from the hard trunk of the oak.
Even so, faint traces of our former wickedness will linger on, to make us venture on the sea in ships, build walls around our cities, and plough the soil. With a new Tiphys at the helm, a second Argo will set out, manned by a picked heroic crew. Wars will even repeat themselves and the great Achilles be dispatched to Troy once more.
Later again, when the strengthening years have made a man of you, even the trader will forsake the sea, pine-wood ships will cease to carry merchandise for barter, each land producing all it needs. No mattock will molest the soil, no pruning-knife the vine; and then at last the study ploughman will free his oxen from the yoke. Wool will be taught no more to cheat the eye with this tint or with that, but the ram himself in his own meadows will change the colour of his fleece, now to the soft glow of a purple dye, now to a saffron yellow. Lambs at their pastures will find themselves in scarlet coats.
The fates have spoken, in concord with the unalterable decree of destiny. "Run spindles", they have said. "This is the pattern of the age to come."
Enter - for the hour is close at hand - on your illustrious career, dear child of the gods, great increment of Jove. Look at the world, rocked by the weight of its overhanging dome; look at the lands, the far-flung seas and the unfathomable sky. See how the whole of creation rejoices in the age that is to be!
Ah, if the last days of my life could only be prolonged, and breath enough remain, for me to chronicle your acts, then neither Thracian Orpheus nor Linus could outsing me, not though the one had his mother and the other had his father at his side, Orpheus, his Calliope, and Linus, Apollo in all his beauty. If Pan himself, with Arcady for judge, were to contend with me, the great god Pan, with Arcady for judge, would own defeat.
Begin, then, little boy, to greet you mother with a smile: the ten long months have left her sick at heart. Begin, little boy: no one who has not given his mother a smile has ever been thought worthy of his table by a god, or by a goddess of her bed.