The Penthiliad: Part 2


(For those who aren't aware, I'm pretty keen on history, Ancient Greece especially. A few years back I had a cool idea for a story: what If Artemis and Athene/Athena/Whatever competed over a guy? They're eternal maidens in mythology, and never really pair up with anyone, so I thought it'd be fun to write my own myth about that. I'd even try writing it in the Homeric style, and pretend it was the last great epic poem, a last roar from the Age of Heroes.

The idea did not get far. It was one of those 'oh yeah this'll be really cool for a few days before I run out of steam and forget about it' ideas. Still, I've decided to publish a bit of it here. Maybe I'll even write more of it in the future, who knows. Anyway, hope whoever's reading this likes epithets!)


[1] The next day, Penthilus, Son of Oinops, sat in council with the Great King of Ephesus. They talked at length about the finer points of statecraft; the expansion of the southern wall, traders from the Northern coast, and finally about the destiny of the Ephesians and Tyrians.

[2] ‘O King, we must come to an accord with the Tyrians to the East. Though they may have performed recent transgressions against us, I believe we may yet reconcile our peoples. It is well-known that the purple-clad Tyrians are great seafarers, having shackled the waves to their will, and spread the seeds of civilisation across Oceanus. The well-worn walls of their city betray their wars with the Egyptians, those mighty monument-builders, yet even their engineers could not breach the island citadel. Such success can only be attributed to the gods, and under Athene’s watchful gaze they have prospered in all things.’

[3] Then Thestor asked Penthilus to elaborate, for he was unfamiliar with how such universal prowess came to be.

[4] Then Penthilus, that peerless speaker, began to sing of the tales of Tyre, and how she became the most prosperous of foreign cities.

[5] Penthilus began: ‘it is said that the foundation of Tyre came about when a group of warriors became stranded after a tempest. As the days came and went, the warriors began to quarrel amongst themselves, fighting over what little food and water they had left. Eventually, only two warriors remained, bloodied and exhausted, and they each collapsed to the ground. Upon awakening, they found a maiden tending a fire amongst the battle gore, who announced she had only one loaf of bread to spare. Crazed by hunger, one of the warriors rushed the maiden, whereupon he burst into flames. The remaining warrior, terrified of the power of the maiden, fell to his knees and prostrated himself in front of her. ‘’Fear not my wrath, mortal, for the intended contest is now moot. I am Pallas Athene, bearer of the aegis; I beseech you, heed my advice, or your quarrel may continue eternally in the Asphodel Meadows. Firstly, you must bury your comrades properly, so their turbulent souls may rest. Secondly, feed the fire with what wood you find, that it may rise to a great beacon of light. When the flames lick the sky, immediately douse them so that naught but smoking cinders remain. Search the ash, and you will find the salvation you seek.’’ Thus spoke Pallas, goddess of the flashing eyes. The warrior did as he was heeded; he buried his comrades, so their turbulent souls could rest; he fed the fire with what wood he could find, forsaking all shade and shelter, and once its flames licked the sky, he doused them with the last of the water. Yet when he sought salvation in the ash, he found nothing at all. The wicked god had played the cruellest of tricks on the fallen warrior and driven him to mad deeds with her honeyed words. His soul, unburied, paced the banks of the Styx alone, muttering invocations to the gorgon-slayer, forever unheeded, until Hera, the protector of men, took pity on him, and arranged for some merchants to stumble across his ruined body. They found his remains at the foot of a crude image of Athene, drawn in ash, and imagined it must be a sign of the god’s favour. They buried his remains, and his sprit was finally allowed to re-join his comrades. Upon the bones of a madman was their city founded, and they have forever maintained a pious respect to both Pallas and Hera. For this, they have prospered in all things.’


[6] Of their wars with the Egyptians, Penthilus said this: ‘the Egyptians, when incited to war, are fierce opponents. Yet when confronted with the heights of the Tyrian walls even they found their skills wanting. The island citadel stands tall, unfaltering, like a mighty lion over the pride. No simple assault, by land or sea, can cause a breach. The Egyptians have, in the past, relied on the prophecies of the Siwan oracle, from which the wisdom of Zeus, leader of the fates, is relayed by the oracles there. The arrogant Egyptians rejected any visions of defeat and trusted in their strength of arms alone. The wine-dark sea became corrupted by their blood, and their siege camp can still be visited now, where one can observe what ruinous splendour those monument-builders left behind.’

[7] Lastly, Penthilus revealed how they shackled the sea: ‘they have proven themselves adept traders and seafarers, thanks to the deviousness of a certain damnable ancestor. The Phaeacians, as you know, construct their ships with superior knowledge, and their vessels have neither steersmen nor steering-oars, for they know by themselves what the crew ruminate and intend. It is said a Tyrian thief, envious of their shipwrights, beguiled the heart of Nyx, the Mistress of Night, and had her distract the moon so that no light graced the domain of Alcinous. The thief then stole a Phaeacian ship from their double-harboured city and sailed it back to the land of his fathers. By the grace of his king he was given a great amount of wealth and privilege, and the ship was quickly replicated for the entire fleet. But he was selfish, and claimed to have completed the feat without the grace of the gods, purely by his own merit, however impossible it was to believe. When Nemesis, the daughter of Nyx, discovered his hubris at the expense of her mother, she placed a maddening thirst on the thief as he slept. He awoke in a fit of panic, and when wine and water would not sate him, he threw himself into the sea and drowned a pitiless death. Yet his legacy lived on in Tyre’s wooden walls, and now they are master navigators. Their command of the waves is almost equal to your warriors’ prowess in battle; if they joined with us we would have boundless freedom of the seas. For these reasons and more, I suggest we send an emissary, that we may shower them with gifts of friendship, and grant them the offer of brotherhood.’

[8] Thestor, the loud-roarer, then spoke to Penthilus: ‘Son of Oinops, truly you speak with wisdom far beyond your years! Indeed, I am well aware of the prowess of the Tyrians. Before your time my father dealt with Phoenix, grandson of Poseidon and father of all Phoenicians. At the time, he was searching for his sister, Europa, who had been carried to Crete by the lustful Zeus, though she would never be found by her brother. He arrived on horseback, a giant to my eyes, as he towered above all but my father, who met his gaze and offered sanctuary from the rain when others did not. With what little time was given, my father prepared as much food as he could, and together they drank long into the cold, stormy night. I remember how his greaves glowed dully in the light of the hearth, and the fierceness of his laugh despite the unhappy circumstance. In exchange, Phoenix offered my father the eternal friendship of our houses and sealed it with a gift of his magnificent purple cloak, the cloak that our foes now see when my son, Cunaros, the swift-footed breaker of horses, runs them down in his chariot. For three days he rested at our palace, and three times my father offered him a party of the finest trackers in Ephesus, and three times he was turned down, until finally Phoenix relented and accepted a single companion. My brother, auburn-haired Herodes, left with him then, and though they never found the missing Europa, he stayed in the service of Phoenix until his death. I believe it is time we reminded those Tyrians, his descendants, of this oath of fellowship.'


[9] The King gestured to a nearby servant, who poured the wine into their waiting cups, and the pair drank deeply. After a time, the mighty king began again: ‘If we intend to parley with the Tyrians, it sounds most reasonable for the best of us to greet them first. Penthilus, you are the equal of Hermes in argument and speech, and are respected and loved by the people of Ephesus. You are my stalwart companion on the hunt, and always ensure the goddess’ favour is with us. Even my eldest daughter, whom I have protected as fiercely as an eagle does its kill, have I gladly granted to you. I can think of no one better fitted to be the emissary of our people than you, Son of Oinops. Not even your powers of persuasion are enough to dissuade me from this course of action. My decision is made, and not even almighty Zeus, lord of all, could convince me otherwise. Now leave me, and send for my son, Cunaros, for I have private matters to discuss with him.’

[10] With that, Thestor, the loud-roaring King of Ephesus, dismissed the good Penthilus. The Son of Oinops looked now for the breaker of horses, the swift-footed Cunaros.

#2018 #ProseandPoetry #Greece

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