The Three Sons of Euphorion Chapter 1
The peasants of Gela were familiar with the stranger and his boy. As they returned to their huts in the dusk from their hard tilled fields, he would be often seen with his staff and boy making his trembling peregrination up the bank of the river Gela.
He was an old man in rags and long unkempt beard. They noted with the slight surprise given to strangers that his pate was as bald and shiny as a river stone.
Sometimes his boy would grip his shoulder when he seemed like he might stumble. He was kind to the boy and that too was noted by the Sicilian peasants.
One evening a boiling sirocco flapped the old man's rags. He gripped them so not to appear indecent. The peasants had tied down their possessions and settled in for the night. There was not a soul except for the man, the boy and a colony of whirling birds above them. The boy reached out and took the man's arm to lead him safely to his house on the outskirts of the city. They both heard the young woman's bird-like voice driven by the sirocco. The voice seemed to be nowhere and everywhere. She was singing a song that came out of the mountains and sea lashed plains of Hellas. She was lamenting a son's living death in Hades.
The boy knew the song was a funeral dirge keened by old women and young widows in black raiment crouched down, their hands bent over their knees, their hands pressed together in the fading light.
Where are you going to my silver one?
Where are you melting away to,
My fresh sprig of basle?
To lose your bloom?
You are not meant to descend into the black earth
For you are young and made for songs my son
My simple drop of rain
You appeared as a bright day your words were as songs
Your disagreements as obols
And you were small with the small ones
And great with the great ones and
You used to go always in the shade and undercover
So as not to dust yourself
Every five days you would change your clothes
And every sixth you would cut your hair
You will repent a thousand times my boy
For this decision you have made to die there
Where you have gone they call it the land of no return
And a journey without return
Where two together do not sit and three do not talk
And no marriages are made and no festivities are held
And there are no fields where you can play with your horse.
He tugged at the old man to escape its ill spirit. Maybe a young man had just died. The boy was terrified that the old man started and shouted desolately,
Pan is dead.
That was what the boy thought he said. The old man meant, Everything is passed away.
He shook himself from the boy's arm and began to run in the direction of the city cemetery. The boy, crying in fear and pleading, ran after the speeding old man.
In the boy's confusion he suddenly recalled
the story that the old man had fought in the legendary battle of Marathon.
That the old man's elder brother, Cynegiros, had died there, the greatest hero of Marathon after general Miltiades.
That Cynegiros had died of shock from the chop of a Scythian battle axe that had cut off his hand as it seized the stern of an enemy ship.
That ten years later, the old man's younger brother, Aminias, had been the greatest hero of Salamis after general Themistocles.
Some poets said only Aminias' bold ramming of an enemy vessel incited
the Greeks to stop their boats running aground.
The Persian King himself had, from the shore, commented erroneously on Aminias' pursuit of the Dorian woman tyrant Artemisia. Aminias had boasted he would capture her alive not because she was a Persian collaborator but because she was a woman‑in‑arms.
All poets agreed if he had known he was pursuing her he would not have stopped until he had succeeded or was dead. That the old man – now as mad as Ajax – was, many people thought, the greatest living poet.
Then the old man tripped over a hard object at his feet and fell with a groan. The boy thought he was struggling for breath and uttering hideous curses at the sophists. His master's hatred of them had always puzzled the boy as they were most of his friends. The old man in fact was cursing his chief rival poet and the hero of the young, the Athenian Sophocles.
The boy knelt and put his arms around his master to comfort him. Then with a shudder and a rattling groan the old man rolled back and was dead. The boy who had never seen a death before screamed at the lifeless eyes. He got up and began to run like a rabbit back to Gela. Only a dying tortoise with a cracked shell and the whirling birds above were now the old man's companions.The boy ran into Gela and to the mayor's house. As his master was a great poet, to alert the highest authority seemed the most sensible thing. He stood at the entrance in the face of the armoured guards and shouted,
Sirs, tell the mayor, my master the poet Aeschylos
The captain nodded and hastened away. By the end of the night all Gela would know of the death of the poet. By the end of the year, all Greeks would know.
Aeschylos was a master poet. A poet was the
maker of internal worlds. He alone told the truth about the Gods, heroes
and the illustrious or doomed past. When a great poet died, all Greeks
cried out in their hearts:
Everything is passed away.
The mayor broke off his supper. He immediately ordered his soldiers to accompany the boy to Aeschylos. As an afterthought, he ordered a company to seal off Aeschylos' house. The mayor personally entered the house and searched for papers. Gela was a minion of Hiero, the tyrant of Syracuse. It was crucial that the mayor got to Aeschylos' papers first before a flunky of Hiero or a poet or sophist. He found out as had been rumoured for two years, the muse of Aeschylos was spent. He found nothing except shopping lists. Even they were taken away and stored in the lock room of the mayor's house. You could not be too careful when dealing with the death of a great poet.
As the little mayor gave his orders, the keening of the people of Gela
began. The mayor hastened away with his bodyguards to the city gates
to meet the military procession with the corpse. He straightened his
shoulders and raised his chin to a military bearing. Everyone living
and dead in Gela was now on show for Hellas.
Aeschylos boy fearfully recognised the women around him weeping, slapping, and throwing dust over their faces were keening.
You appeared as a bright day
Your words were as poems
Your disagreements as drachmas
And you were small with the small ones
And great with the great ones.
He now believed the keening woman's voice tossed by the sirocco had been a sign. The boy had much to fear now that he would be tossed again into the trade of slaves.
The soldiers had found the corpse beside the dead tortoise with the cracked shell. A solitary eagle beat its wings above the dead corpse on its way against the sirocco to the mountains. Some soldiers felt that the water nymphs of the river Gela were watching them taking away the poet. They looked around but there was only the shuush of the river and the whistle of the sirocco.
A soldier – there is always a clown in a company – broke the spell with a laugh that the eagle thinking it was a rock must have dropped the tortoise on the poet's bald head. The joke was solemnly repeated and pondered among his company. By the day of the city funeral when the procession was followed by Hiero, his chief flunkies and the mayor, all Gela believed the story about Aeschylos, the tortoise and the rock. Everyone set aside their knowledge of the practical world in the face of the truth about the soaring poety and the rock of character of Aeschylos.
By the year's end, all Hellas knew and believed the new fable except for the sophists who stayed quiet in the face of a greater truth.
Only now the Athenians knew their countryman was a great poet. Every other city in Hellas had known it years before. When he was alive, the only thing the Athenians agreed about Aeschylos was: He was always drunk when no wine crossed his lips and the most sober at a drinking bout. The older Athenians had judged him, to quote the poet himself, as the maker of crumbs at the banquet of Homer.
The younger Athenians had judged him as a poet of a bygone age, a distinguished member of a venerable generation. His tragic and satyr operas at the Dionysian and Lenaea festivals faithfully told them home truths about their city and their way of life. Now they noted with secret surprise those homely truths made one of their own a great poet.
There was an unspoken public guilt in Athens that the dead poet could not be buried at his family cemetery in Eleusis, home of the great temple and festival of Demeter and Persephone. At the first Athenian assembly after the news, the conservative party proposed that for the first time old plays might be revived at the festivals, and must be given a chorus without question. Only Aeschylos would be allowed this singular city honour. In the face of the city mourning for a national poet, the ascendant radical party could but grumble in their beards.
The Aeschylos law was passed without a dissenting voice. In Gela, the mayor found at last hidden under a floor board in Aeschylos' study a purse with his will. It did not mention the family of the poet nor Athens. The house with its meagre possessions were bequested to the city. The mayor was surprised to read an epitaph at the bottom of the papers in scarcely intelligible letters.
Here in the fertile soil of Gela lies Aeschylos, son of Euphorion.
Of his courage the field of Marathon could speak, and the long haired Mede, for he knows it well.
The mayor informed Hiero who immediately ordered Aeschylos' funeral wishes be carried out. The engraved tomb in the city cemetery was at once the chief public monument of Gela. Greeks from all Hellas came on pilgrimages. In later centuries, the barbaric pupils of Hellas came too. Every soul read the epitaph and pondered that Hellas' greatest tragic poet did not record his composing of such operas as the flight of the fifty maidens from Egypt to Argos, of the punishment of Prometheos by Zeus, of the fall of the house of Agamemnon, of the invasion and defence of Thebes by the sons of Oedipos, of the defeat of King Xexes at Salamis. Everyone of these operas has survived whole today. Only his fight in the hoplite ranks at Marathon merited words on his tomb.
Euphorion the son of Aeschylos, himself a
tragic poet, was surprised to discover among his father's papers
in the old family home, an unknown opera. Aeschylos' handwriting
demonstrated that he had worked on it at different times of his life
for many years. In the spirit of the new edict, Euphorion smoothed over
a few rough edges, softened lines that might be blasphemous and entered
it in the Dionsyian festival. The opera trilogy was Forethought The
Fire Giver, Forethought Restrained, Forethought Released.
It won first prize in the tragic competition.