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A Preview of the Text

By Paul Watson on .

The text, so far:

I — A Dedication Of Sorts

I stare fixedly at this page because I know that she is standing at my shoulder, a never ending presence. I can sense her emerging from the shadows in the not-quite-seen at the edge of vision. The serpentine movement of her pale limbs bypasses sight, imprinting directly on the mind as imminent peril.

Her sisters are here too — their ophidian perfume fills the room, discordant with the key notes of anger and revenge. I write because they will not touch me while I act as their scribe.

I mouth the words of the sixty-ninth of the Orphic Hymns, hoping to entice their kindlier aspects to the fore, but Alecto’s cold hiss of breath chills the back of my neck. Perhaps writing is the atonement that can placate them. I embrace this small hope. And so I write because I can no longer run.

II — First Flight

I ran, frantic amongst the masonry, the angry ones in furious pursuit. Moonlight and coloured lamps flickered across them in rapid succession, but despite their pale naked skin that should have marked them out they seemed to draw the night about them.

III — Orphic Hymn LXVIII to the Erinyes

Vociferous Bacchanalian Erinyes, hear!
You, I invoke, dread powers, whom all revere;
Nightly, profound, in secret who retire,
Tisiphone, Alecto, and Megaera dire:
Deep in a cavern merged, involved in night,
near where Styx flows impervious to the sight;
Ever attendant on mysterious rites,
furious and fierce, whom Fate’s dread law delights;
Revenge and sorrows dire to you belong,
hid in a savage veil, severe and strong,
Terrific virgins, who forever dwell
endued with various forms, in deepest hell;
Aerial, and unseen by human kind,
and swiftly coursing, rapid as the mind.
In vain the Sun with winged refulgence bright,
in vain the Moon, far darting milder light,
Wisdom and Virtue may attempt in vain;
and pleasing, Art, our transport to obtain
Unless with these you readily conspire,
and far avert your all-destructive ire.
The boundless tribes of mortals you descry,
and justly rule with Dike’s impartial eye.
Come, snaky-haired, Moirai many-formed, divine,
suppress your rage, and to our rites incline.

IV — Orphic Hymn LXIX to the Eumenides

Hear me, illustrious Eumenides, mighty named,
terrific powers, for prudent counsel famed;
Holy and pure, from Zeus Khthonios born
and Persephone, whom lovely locks adorn:
Whose piercing sight, with vision unconfined,
surveys the deeds of all the impious kind:
On Fate attendant, punishing the race
(with wrath severe) of deeds unjust and base.
Dark-coloured queens, whose glittering eyes, are bright
with dreadful, radiant, life-destroying, light:
Eternal rulers, terrible and strong,
to whom revenge, and tortures dire belong;
Fatal and horrid to the human sight,
with snaky tresses wandering in the night;
Either approach, and in these rites rejoice,
for you, I call, with holy, suppliant voice.

V — The Song Of The Erinyes

I can hear them calling outside. The song of the Erinyes is an ululating threnody, cacophonous yet mournful. A sad and damning eulogy to their prey.

I suddenly realise that I have been almost imperceptibly moving my lips to their song in mute accompaniment.

The realisation makes me lock my mouth shut in horror, but moments later I find my lips phrasing the sounds again, this time quietly murmuring the strange melody.

It takes all my strength to resist the urge to take up the refrain with full voice…

VI — The Maniai

So, like Orestes, I flee, but with no Pythian sanctuary in which to go to earth my flight is both frantic and directionless.

My pursuers, manifested in their aspect as the Maniai, shadow my every move. I glimpse them briefly before they draw back into the shadows. I feel their eyes on me at all times, and once, a taunting light touch on the back of my neck.

All my efforts to placate them have been in vain, and I know better than to attempt to banish them. I have consulted a hundred libraries, but I am none the wiser.

VII — Alhktw (I)

They were born of the spilled blood of Ouranos, and released from the darkness of Tartaros to be my tormentors.

Megaera and Tisiphone circle slowly in the darkness, but Alecto advances out of the night. She is graceful, but her every step speaks of restrained violence. She could rend me with ease, but she does not. Not yet. Her limbs are slender, spare of flesh, but not sparing.

Aeschylus was wrong, there are no snakes twined in her hair — it is long and black, I think, almost invisible in the darkness — but her movements are lean and serpentine.

Even the moonlight is circumspect in touching her — clavicle and cartilage are almost imperceptibly picked out in silver filigree. Pale light flickers across the fine bones of her face. And then she smiles, and my heart is frozen ice cold.

VIII — Alhktw (II)

Alecto circles me in the shadows. At times she seems to drop to all fours to a lupine lope, but whenever the dim light catches her she remains deceptively human.

Suddenly she faces me, eyes flashing in the candlelight, and her voice seems to reverberate from the lowest pit of Tartaros. “We are here as your appointed escort — it is our duty and our office.”

I recognise the ancient words and know that protesting my innocence would be both futile and false. Her expression is as cold as marble, divine and demonic. I wonder how even Apollo or Athene could have argued in the face of such controlled fury.

Entranced, it is some minutes until I realise that she and her sisters have withdrawn, and I am left to wonder to what state they are to escort me.

IX — Tisifonh (I)

I wake, febrile and sweating. Tisiphone, the arch-retributionist, towers above me. The guardian of the Gates of Tartaros has come for me.

She stands naked and statuesque in the darkness, but my hands seem almost crimson in the pallid argent light luminescing from her marble skin. I thought this at first an illusion–and from one perspective it is–but I realise that it is no mere coincidence. The Erinyes are ancient and they can create the signs divined by manteia, although it’s true that they have no liking for Oracles any more.

And, in some compact with Mnemosyne or Morpheus, she floods my mind with the memories of my crimes. And they are legion.

X — Megaira (I)

Flame-haired Megaera, feral daughter of Erebos, hisses as she circles.

The Latin writers — from Aeschylus onwards — had her entwined with swarming snakes and draped in black, but the truth, as Pausanias noted, is different. The horror is not in such superficial accoutrements, but in their very essence — their psyche, if you will.

XI — Tisifonh (II)

I offer them a black ewe and a libation of nephalia on the eve of the Eumenideia, but Tisiphone merely stares with eyes full of scorn. Those whom Ovid called “Sorores Genitae Nocte, divinities implacable, doom-laden” cannot be placated. Orpheus might have been able to spellbind them with song, but even he could not send them back to the deepest abysses of Tartaros.