Thursday, April 21, 2011

Perceiving The Clue

And if you should return my son
full of breath and braver heart
for having slain the beast,
than hoist white sails
to confirm my joy, my gratitude....
The King of Athens

Scribe and seeress thought
sighting those black sails
summoned Aegeus to his death,
long leap into waters
where seaweed chained
the echo of his name.

But it was more about
the ball of twine, thread
of ruby fleece the lady
inside the cavern spun
to lend as a clue
for navigating the maze
and save her bridegroom, his son.

Days before, the king
had dreamt of his child slaying
the minotaur, the moaning beast
fell to its knees and the necklaced
maiden from Minos would become
his daughter, bearer of fruit
ripening into children
grace-filled or greed-driven
for power, slaves and jewels.

Descendents who might favor
his enemy, her father ---
sovereign of Crete.

He feared the second guess and saw
Ariadne’s small world of string
unraveling into a bloodline
rather than a real measure
of salvation. Toward the sky

hands stretched wide and his voice
scraped the wind with prayer.
He begged the gods for help
and offered himself
as a royal sacrifice
diving then dissolving
with his shadow into the sea.

Later that Summer, the bride
billowed like a white sail
as she hung in her hand-sewn gown
from a cypress tree

where Grecian god or man
had no joy of her
only the feel
of splitting rope, her breath
the dead calm heat.

King Aegeus loved his heroic son Theseus with great hope and adoration. His kingdom, the ancient city of Athens, was obligated to send seven young boys and seven young girls to king Minos in Crete as a tribute every nine years. This was a condition to settle the great rift that had existed between the two rulers and to also provide a lasting peace. There, the children would be sacrificed to the half man, half bull Minotaur that lived in the labyrinth of Knossos. Theseus set off for Crete as one of the boys to end this monstrosity, promising his father that his ships would bear white sails if he made it. Because of the nature of the trip, the Athenian ships carrying the fourteen children would have black sails of mourning.

Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, mistress of the labyrinth, skillful spinner, fell in love with the Athenian prince at first sight. She helped him by giving him a red ball of thread to tie to the entrance of the maze in order to find his way back. And this aid was offered with the promise that he would love and marry her in return. When Theseus had killed the Minotaur, he fled Crete with the girl at his side. They first landed on the holy island of Delos, where a party was held. Some say a wedding feast to honor the newly arrived couple. Later on, they sailed to the next island, Naxos, where Ariadne was left behind after falling asleep.

Because of the joy and celebration after this adventure, Theseus forgot to change the sails. When his father Aegeus sat on a rock looking for the ships, and saw the black sails approaching, he jumped from the rock into the sea, And in some myths, there is also a second suicide, that of Ariadne. In those accounts, the hero-prince grows tired of his new bride and deserts her on an island where she is left to grieve. Feeling betrayed, lonely and worthless, she kills herself by hanging from a tree.

My poem turns the myth around and claims another reason for The King's death, fear of Ariadne's bloodline. She was the daughter of a cruel and blood-thirsty man. What traits of character would prevail in his grandchidren? Having already seen (in a prophetic dream), his son's slaying of the Minotaur and safe exit from the labyrinth, he becomes haunted by the reason. That clue, that ball of twine represented more than a secure way of surviving the maze, it was an unraveling of lineage, an untangling of the birth question. Desperate to spare his family this fate, he prays to the Gods and gives his own life as proof of respect for and loyalty to their greatness; as well as evidence of a father's infinite love for his son.

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