Hymn to Akoites

To Akoites

Hail Akoites, helmsman of the Black Ship
of Dionysos loaded full of the blessings
he has in store for all the people
willing to welcome the God into their fine cities.
You were first to receive a portion
of the fortunate things when you
and your Tyrsenoi mates saw him
walking along the shore in fancy apparel
that made him seem some dissolute king’s son
who had escaped his father’s well-guarded palace
and wandered where he should not.
Or should I say that’s all your compatriots could see,
blinded as they were by the promise of the riches
they’d receive in return for him.
I do not know whether you just had a keener eye,
or if it was your pious nature that enabled you
to see past the clever disguise of Zeus’ beloved boy,
or perhaps it was a shimmer in the sunlight,
the well-timed caw of a seagull, a sneeze, or some other
chance occurrence that betrayed him to you,
but what is not in doubt is your bravery,
O stout-hearted Akoites, when you told the pirates
not to lay a hand on him, that he was something more
than he seemed, and they should just ferry him
to the other shore and be done with him. They did not listen,
as later you tried not to hear when phantom lions
and bears shimmering like starlight, tore their flesh and throats
transformed midscream as those who dove into the deep
wine-dark sea became dolphins, a marvel,
a creature that never before had been spotted in Poseidon’s waters.
Then, to your abject terror, the God was done with them,
and stood before you in all his glory, telling you to stand up
and fear not, for he was most pleased in you.
In return for the kindness you had shown him
he promised to grant you any boon you wished,
and overcome by reverence and the beauty
of his more than mortal form you begged to be his companion.
So he made you the first prophet of the Bacchic faith
after Orpheus, and you joined him in the revels,
journeying with Lyaios to many-gated Thebes
and gold-rich Lydia, the deserts of Bactria and Libya,
and even the snowy lands beyond Lykourgos’ Thrace
where the Borsythenes ranges like a maddened bull,
bringing to all these diverse places the gift of his mystic rites.
So hail to you, Akoites who has seen all this and more,
whose speech bears the force and weight of truth,
honored elder of our tradition, frenzied revealer
of the ceremonies of release and ecstasy,
may you always be hailed
when we gather in worship of He Who Frees.