A Story for Dionysos
Written by request, my take on the story of Dionysos, Acoetes, and the pirates. This is probably my favorite story (after the “Bacchae”) in which Dionysos takes part.
The old priest shifted, drawing the cloak closer around himself and his aching joints. He looked at the young petitioner who’d come to hear of the Mysteries of a God, sure that there was nothing to be demanded of him that he wouldn’t readily give, sure that he could buy his way into and out of any obligations this God might demand. An oracle had sent him so here he was. Without understanding. The old man shook his head. “I will tell you of the last man to appear at my door and what he taught me of the gods” he coughed and spat. “and maybe you won’t be so quick to think you can bargain your way out of devotion with pretty trinkets.” He pointed his chin at the gold cup and bracelet the youth, obviously wealthy, had placed on the Mad One’s shrine. “A man just a little older than you turned up here one night, a night grown silent with his passage. Not even the frogs were croaking their come ons to each other when that ragged, mad thing sought my threshold.” His eyes, sharp as razors despite his age pinned the petitioner like a dagger.
This is what the man told me, when he collapsed, raving, shaking mad before the shrine: “I have been blessed by a God.” It was days though before he was able to tell the tale, days of seeing the terror and bliss crowd sanity out of him, days of hearing him screaming each time he tried to sleep. Days of seeing his body convulsing to rhythms and sounds only he could hear.
“We were on the beach.” He finally began, one night as we were seated around the fire, bones like sentinels reaching up from beneath the skin of his cheeks as he spoke, gleaming like sentries at his wrists as his shaking hands grasped the bowl of food I offered. “me and the men….he came and he was beautiful, parting the space around him as he walked with the sinewy tread of a panther. The air itself seemed to hunger for him, and I ached when I saw the way he moved but then I couldn’t breathe and I told them… he is not human. I looked at him you see, and I saw his eyes. They were not a man’s eyes, not a man’s.” he sat the bowl down; his own hands were shaking too badly to hold it. He doubled over holding himself. ‘once, when I was small I looked into the eyes of a great cat. I’d followed my father when he and his brother went hunting. I saw a tiger leap for the kill, saw its eyes before my father’s spear found its mark, saw its eyes and it saw me and I knew I was the real prey and I couldn’t move, couldn’t run, couldn’t even pray.” He shook his head back and forth, matted locks hiding the hollowness of his cheeks and his words were a sob. “He was like that. His eyes…were the eyes of a predator. There was nothing human there.” He laughed, high pitched and ragged. “there had never been anything human there but the others did not see. They mocked me and pushed me aside. I warned them to let this one go but our take had been meager this trip and they said he’d make a fine slave. They said he was pretty enough to fetch a goodly price and he looked at them and smiled and my bowels nearly released because it was not the smile of a man.” He was rocking back and forth at a more frenzied pace now.
“They invited him to join us and I was silent, wanting only to not be seen or to be seen and taken by him in all the ways a man can be taken. For him I would happily have played the woman” he coughed and it turned into a keening laugh. “when they thought he least expected it they pummeled him and bound him and we were on our ship and he kept watching me, a half smile at his lips. And I could almost taste those lips but why would a man destined to be sold as a slave smile?” he laughed again but there was no humor in it.” I begged my comrades to let him go and when I insisted they beat me and would have locked me in the hold but the world stopped.” He looked up at me and his eyes were tortured but there was more than a hint of ecstasy there too. “the world stopped and He stood up and there was a horrible sound. The captain was yelling, the men were yelling. The ship wouldn’t move and the stranger….he just smiled and walked forward and he wasn’t bound anymore and he wasn’t human. He had never been human. I told them he wasn’t why didn’t they listen?” he rocked and began to sob but just for a moment. Then his face became calm, and I shuddered. Now it was this stranger who was marked with the inhuman. He threw his head back and his voice changed and I could see him taken up by the God’s ecstasy…just a little, just a little but enough.
“The timbers of the ship shrieked and cracked and there were vines everywhere. The ship wouldn’t move, and there was ivy twining around the mast, looping over the bow, pushing back the men and the stranger kept smiling. He looked at me –those eyes—and winked and I forgot to breath at all and then he wasn’t shaped like a man anymore. There was a feral tiger on board, all rich sinew and hard muscle and there was screaming and blood and he lunged at the men, tearing their human flesh. I couldn’t move. I sat where I’d been thrown by the captain watching in horror – they should have let him go—the men died screaming and some of them threw themselves overboard to escape, only they didn’t. Escape that is. The stranger became a man shape once more and threw back his head and laughed and he gestured across the water and they turned into animals, dolphins. It hurt them as their flesh transformed. I keep hearing their bones breaking and cracking and their voices screaming until they couldn’t anymore and their eyes…they kept the eyes of men…as the Stranger gave them their lives –to live as the beasts they were in their hearts I realized later.
“Me, He spared.” He laughed again standing, head arched back, arms clawing at the sky. “because I’d sought to spare Him. He took me to Thebes, made me His…men do not know all the ways a man can serve another” he whispered, voice cracking, wild, insane eyes looking up me suddenly as he threw himself to his knees clasping mine. “He was inside of me so deep” he whispered, laughing and shaking and each laugh a ragged sob. “and I did things for Him” he bowed his head down low between my knees and what could I do but put a soothing hand on his ragged head.
He would not be soothed though. He will never be soothed again. I looked at the callow fool who stood before me now and nodded again with my chin to the statue of the God that adorned the shrine. It was colored in odd places with rusty brown streaks. “All the gold you could possibly bring won’t equal those marks of devotion.” I remembered that other young man tearing himself open as he danced before the shrine, pressing his bleeding arms against the statue in homage head thrown back in ecstasies at which I could only guess. I remembered what he looked like when he finally took his leave…having healed as much as he was going to, having learned the paltry pieties I was able to teach. I had seen Dionysos snatch him up again and again, a vessel. There would never be a ‘going home’ for that young man, never again. The mountains were his home now. I exhaled slowly, knowing myself privileged to have helped him, to have tended a body used by a God as his had been. I realized what was so off putting and wrong with the newcomer that stood before me now, with all his finery and eager hunger: he had never known fear. “stay the night” I told him. “you have much to learn.”
copyright 2016 Galina Krasskova.
Posted on April 30, 2016, in Bacchic Things, Uncategorized and tagged Acoetes, Bacchic Things, Bacchus, devotional stories, Dionysos, fiction, Hellenic Things, retelling of lore. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.