Pythagoras and Zalmoxis were enjoying a celebratory repast on the occasion of the latter’s manumission
when Zalmoxis threw his hands up and said, “Master, I don’t know that I can do what you ask of me. It’s too immense, and I am but one man, and a Thracian at that.”
“I am Master no longer; today I have made you a man. And as a man, you should face adversity. Always view it as an opportunity to test and improve yourself. If you are not strong, be clever. Any situation can be turned to your advantage, if you are ruthless and willing enough. Now bring me my rods.”
When Zalmoxis handed Pythagoras the bundle of rods wrapped in red cloth Pythagoras gave him one back. “Break it,” he said sternly.
Zalmoxis easily did so.
Pythagoras then handed him all of the rods.
Try as he might, Zalmoxis could not.
“Hopefully my little metaphor requires no explanation.”
“It does not.”
There’s blood in the valley,
it’s up to their knees.
The harvest has come early,
and everyone’s got dues to pay.
Do you feel that hot wind blowing?
and want to get one over
on them that done them wrong.
The center cannot hold,
the ball’s coming apart at the seams.
We’re entering a wolf age,
a volcano age, an age of crows and seagulls.
An age for strong men and women.
With what’s coming,
you will not have the luxury of weakness.
Can you keep up with the Hunt,
or will you spend your days running from it?
The bats shrieked as they fled the cavernous dark
driven out by the torches and eerie chants
of the ash-faced acolytes of the Mountain Mother,
carrying bronze shields in her clashing dance.
At their head was a feral God in animal pelts
and crimson skirt, howling in frenzy
and violently shaking the thyrsos.
Beside him his priest beat the tympanum
to guide their stomping feet
and the Mother swayed like a snake
deep in a prophetic trance.
Outside their cave
lightning rent the heavens
and wolves howled
and the Mother began to speak.
There was a boy,
who was no boy at all.
He was handsome
and his smile warmed everyone
and made the spring flowers come up.
He loved to dance and to sing,
and others loved it too
for his voice was like hot honey
and filled them with sexual longing.
But most of all he loved to hunt,
and to bring back lots of meat for his tribe
and have everyone gather round and praise him.
When he grew up he was going to be
big and strong as an aurochs
and bring peace to the wild, warring lands.
That’s what everyone said,
but they were wrong.
The King’s son
never got the chance to grow up,
and once he was in the ground,
his people forgot all about him.
Search the myths and poetry of the Northmen
and all you’ll find are lacunae.
Even his name has been lost to time.
This was not accidental.
Tall pine trees blotted out the sun
and the snow was packed high and thick all around
and the earth below was hard and unforgiving,
like the wind that bit and burned,
even through all the skins and furs he wore.
This place was so very different
from anything he’d known in Nysa.
This place was alien and inhospitable to him,
but he knew he must go on.
Too much was at stake to turn back now.
He would endure all for knowledge.
An hour – or was it a year? – later
he began to find tufts of wool
hanging from the trees.
Then the wool became threads,
leading deeper into the forest,
and hanging from the threads were bones
and crystals and beads,
bird feathers and baby doll heads.
Tracing one of the threads with his fingers
he found his way through the forest
to a clearing where three Women stood.
One in red stirred a cauldron of honey, milk and flowers.
One in black was skinning a goat kid with a sickle-shaped blade.
One in white was spinning gossamer that came from her heart.
As one they addressed their guest,
“Finally, you have found your way back to us.”
“But I’ve never been here before,” Dionysos replied, confused.
Now it’s 11; sequentially, this poem fits in between Disregard for Consequences and Charisma.
Artemisia of Themyskira was more wolf than woman
as she tore through the Borysthene line,
her axe (a gift from Thracian Ares)
slicing into their shields like a warm knife
through mare’s butter. Often the blow
met with meat and bone and men’s death screams.
The first shield she mangled had a rampant stag,
next came a snake devouring its tail,
then a sixteen point star,
a gryphon, a genii with boar’s tusks,
a scorpion, a sun wheel,
and the last of the eight brothers
who fell to the Amazon
had a silver rose on his shield,
though little good it did him.
She was not able to collect their heads,
but Artemisia sang a warrior’s victory song
all the way back to camp.
Dionysos watched through the trees
and wondered how great a fighter she’d be
if he freed her from sanity.
Dionysos sat with his back against the old oak tree
under which Zeus presented Chthonie
with a veil on which was broidered a map of the World,
a sceper that once had belonged to black-winged Night,
and Golden Apples of the Hesperides, three in number.
How different things were then,
fresh from their victory over the cruel Titan King
and his scaly companions
who sought to storm the walls of high Olympos
and slaughter all they found within.
Everything was fiercer, brighter, younger then
and Dionysos was able to see it clearly from the tree.
But that’s not the information he needed
so he sent his consciousness out through a different branch,
arriving at a different point in time.
There was his father again,
lying defeated at the base of Mount Kasios,
arms and legs splayed out limply,
the sinews having been ripped free with Kronos’ sickle,
and the King God’s blood flooded the hollows of Syria
as far as Cilicia, where the wild goats roam.
Dionysos knew all that followed
and did not need to see it another time;
instead he went back into the tree
and came out on the day
when Zeus and his court visited Samothrace
for the marriage of Kadmos and Harmonia,
and something happened there that should not have.
Dionysos watched intently,
horror dawning in his eyes.
Returning to himself, Dionysos said,
“Well, at least I know which root to cut
– but why did it have to be that one?”