The Dolphin Dream

6 Nov

Rephim returned to his native city of Tyre with a secret project in mind. This came about after twenty years of work on merchant triremes, the last five as ship captain.

His face tanned reddish-brown by the Mediterranean sun, he traveled home from a long voyage to distant Marsalia. In his mind was a plan promising radical change in Phoenician sea commerce. But he needed a sponsor to finance what he dreamed of.

The first month back, Rephim approached two major shipowners with his idea. Both turned him down flat. His proposal seemed an impossible fantasy to them. It was too risky and impractical, the businessmen argued. They refused to finance such a gamble.

Only when he chanced to meet a young speculator named Avim did the nautical veteran find a patron for his bold scheme to improve the old system of commerce in Tyre.

The various sections of the harbor had docks for shipping to different destinations: Egypt, Cyprus, Crete, Lydia, Ionia, the Aegean isles, Malta, Italy, Sicily, Carthage, Marsalia, Genoa, North Africa, and Iberia.

Walking past triremes under repair along the shore devoted to trade with the Peloponnesus, Rephim came upon a young man looking at the line of ships, studying and comparing them.

He decided to talk with the unknown stranger.

“There are a good many vessels here now, but soon most of them will take to the water and be far from Tyre,” he abruptly began.

The man, in a white and yellow tunic, turned and gave him a look of friendly curiosity.

“You plan to sail out to sea on some ship soon?” he inquired of Rephim.

The latter smiled confidently. “I have taken many journeys to distant places. For now, my aim is to stay in Tyre for a while. There are things I wish to accomplish here.”

The other gave a sudden laugh. “I am in a similar situation. My losses on several recent ventures leave me desirous of finding some new method of satisfying my material needs. I have gambled and lost in trading deals up to now, but my hopes remain as high as ever.”

“Yes,” agreed Rephim. “One must never give up dreams and aspirations. That is one bit of wisdom that years at sea have taught me. It is important to think for oneself and not imitate what others are doing. A man who seeks success must take certain risks in order to achieve any meaningful gain.”

The young stranger looked into the face of the other man. “My name is Avim, and my ambition is to become an overseas trader who owns a large fleet of triremes,” he said boastingly. “I am curious about what your plans and intentions might be. What is it that you are after, sir?”

Rephim instantly realized that he had come across a possible patron and partner. He leaned his tall frame forward and spoke in a near whisper to the prospect. “I wish to train a certain sea denizen in the water to act as a carrier of my messages. The result would be to change completely how commerce is carried on by the traders of Tyre and then over all Phoenicia.”

Avim seemed, for a moment, to fall in a swoon. “Yes,” he managed to say, “You certainly possess a very rich imagination, I dare say.”

Rephim began to grin with satisfaction. “That is true. Would you like to hear the details of what I dream of accomplishing?”

Now smiling, the young man gave an affirmative nod.

The captain then invited his new acquaintance to accompany him to a harbor tavern where they could talk at length over cups of Cypriot wine.

Rephim explained the main points of what he wanted to do.

“There are these swiftly swimming creatures of the sea, the dolphins, that can be trained to carry wax tablets with writing on them. By traveling between harbors, they could transport commercial messages without any human beings having to make a trip over water. Goods could be ordered and exchanges transacted. The merchant anywhere will be in contact with potential buyers and sellers in ports distant from each other.”

Avim, having listened patiently with growing fascination, went to the core of the matter.

“But is there such a marvelously docile being in the sea? I know of nothing, even the dolphin, that can be trained and controlled for what you aim at.”

Rephim smiled with placid confidence.

“The dolphin was once more common and visible than it is today. This great creature of the water makes its home in places where humans are rare. I myself have discovered where they swim and breed. For years, I have observed all of their ways and habits.

“There is no other animal of the sea as intelligent, as wise and gentle as the dolphin. The sounds that they make approach that of humans like us. When one looks into their eyes, the inner spark that moves them can be seen. Nature has no other living member to compare with the sea dolphin.”

Avim began to perceive the possibilities in what he was hearing.

“Can the dolphin be taught to fulfill tasks given to it by us?” he inquired.

“Yes, I have found that they are good learners and docile when captured. The dolphin displays incredible obedience to the person who befriends and takes care of it.”

Both of them fell silent for a spell.

“Where would you attempt to train such beings?” asked the young speculator. “It could not be done here in Tyre harbor, where so many would see it and perhaps interfere.”

Rephim bent forward and murmured his answer.

“I know a small fishing village to the south of the city. No one will bother me there, I am certain. The local population looks with respect and awe upon dolphins.”

“How do you plan to gain control over one of the fish to begin with?” asked Avim.

The seafarer laughed. “Someone like you will advance me the money to purchase a small boat with which I will be able to hunt for my first dolphin. My plan is to sail to Cyprus, where people I know will be eager to help me.”

Avim was now caught up in the enterprise. He decided to become its financial backer, even though it was clearly a risky adventure.

The two men walked to the fishing community of Gello, where a tiny fishing boat was bought by the enthusiastic younger partner. Avim also rented a cottage for the pair to use.

“We shall make it to Kition on Cyprus, where my friends will help me to capture and tame a dolphin,” explained Rephim. “We will teach it to accompany our boat back here to Phoenicia. A dolphin always prefers to swim ahead of a ship, forward of the stern, never back in the wake. Once we have won its trust, it will act as our faithful companion, as it did for our ancestors for countless ages in the past.”

“We in the present have lost the close ties we once had with them,” said Avim with a sigh.

“A dolphin can be a mariner’s best friend,” added Rephim. “When they come to love a particular human being, they refuse to leave him while he is out on the sea. Dolphins will eat out of your hand and fetch objects thrown into the water. They enjoy hearing the music that sailors play on the flute, displaying tender emotions and deep sensitivity. A dolphin will often allow a beloved human being to caress it.

“Do you know the ancient legend of how they were created?”

“No,” confessed Avim. “I do not know that. How was it?”

The shipmaster lowered his voice, speaking from out of his throat.

“The divine creator of Tyre, mighty Melqart, is the god who made the first dolphin. It is a fascinating, touching tale.

“Melqart wished to travel to Cyprus from his palace in Tyre. He hired a crew of rowers to take his ship over there. But the god grew suspicious of these men of the sea, for they looked and acted like pirates who intended to kidnap him, then sell him into slavery on some island. To avert such a fate, Melqart turned to supernatural magic.

“The god turned the would-be criminals into denizens of the sea, the dolphins. That was to be the eternal punishment of these pirates. He threw them into the water, to live there for all time. Never again were they to walk upon the land.

“Melqart gave them the responsibility of transporting the souls of the just to the Isle of the Blessed, in the ocean far to the west.”

Avim gaped in awe.

“Do you mean to say that the dolphins are our close relatives?” he asked.

Rephim nodded yes. “However terrible a storm becomes, they will lead a ship to safety. At sea, we have no better friend or companion.”

“I can therefore understand why we can make a dolphin our messenger,” murmured Avim.

Kition, on the southeast corner of Cyprus, was the main Phoenician colony on that island. The other group that lived here were Mycenean Greeks who had migrated from the Peloponnesus. Merchants from Tyre were the most numerous and active traders from the mainland to the east.

Rephim and his partner sailed into the busy harbor surrounded by a luxuriant green forest.

“I will locate my friends and they will help us in our project,” said the mariner, his eyes aglow.

Once their craft was beached, the two found rooms in a sailors’ inn, then left for a hamlet on the coast where they could find inhabitants willing to work for them.

A retired Phoenician seaman named Hanno was overjoyed to see Rephim again, embracing him as if he were a long-lost brother.

The husky, dark-complected friend assigned a room in his home to the travelers from Tyre. His wife prepared a sumptuous supper of oysters and locustae for the guests. Cypriot wine flowed abundantly that evening as Rephim described the plan that had brought him to the island.

Hanno reacted to all he heard with exuberant approval.

“Fine!” he loudly cried out. “It has been a long time since anyone has attempted the restoration of the dolphins to their ancient position and role. Now is the time for the elevation of the sea creature to its old primacy. For at one time, among our ancestors, the mariners were highly dependent upon the dolphin.

“Have you ever heard of how, at an age long ago, dolphins were tied with ropes to the hulls of Tyrean vessels? Their navigational abilities guided these ships to distant destinations, pulling them across the sea waves. The dolphins never became lost, taking their human companions safely to harbors, even the most faraway. Only in the present age has this method been forgotten and fallen away.”

Rephim grew excited. “Will you join us in befriending and recruiting one of them for an experimental trial that my partner and I plan to make?”

Hanno beamed at him. “Of course. I know precisely where to find such a dolphin for you. We will go out on the water tomorrow morning where they tend to congregate together in schools.”

“We shall both be grateful for the assistance you give,” smiled Rephim.

“When you take a chosen dolphin to Tyre and release it with a message, I will be waiting here on Cyprus for the return of the sea dweller. But first a particular one must be picked to take part in the experiment.”

Luminous sunlight suffused the morning air and the coastal waters.

The boat carrying the pair from Tyre and Hanno had no trouble finding a school of happy, frolicking dolphins attracted by the sailing vessel.

Rejoicing in being alive, the dozen or so creatures circled about the craft, making sounds of a happy character. Come and join us, you standing beings! Take part in our ecstatic hymn to the sea!

The vigorous players circled the boat again and again, coming ever closer.

An easy choice of a single dolphin occurred, the first one to touch the bow of the boat with its head. This large, youthful individual was the one recruited. Both Rephim and Avim agreed at once on the decision. A single glance exchanged between the two communicated their judgment. They both signaled the choice to Hanno with their outstretched arms. The latter began to feed bread to this dolphin.

It will be the carrier of messages, the partners now knew. That is our favorite, our new companion and friend. They turned to Hanno and told him they were satisfied with their decision.

When the time came for them to return to Tyre, the dolphin had been trained to follow their boat.

Avim and Rephim shared a feeling of success. They could now proceed with their plan.

Weeks of practice prepared the dolphin they had named Delphis for the sea voyage. The trip over water proved easier than anticipated. It was accomplished with amazing speed.

Delphis moved from following the boat to swimming ahead of it.

Both partners experienced happiness upon returning to the shores of Gello, south of Tyre.

The dolphin felt joy in being in a new environment. It sported about, looking for companions of its own kind. None was available, having long ago departed.

Delphis grew even closer to the pair who had brought him to Phoenicia.

In a short while, the time came for the great test. Could Delphis be induced to carry a small wax tablet with a message on it to Hanno in Cyprus? Could a dolphin be taught the intended destination of a long sea swim?

Several successful tests were carried out along this coast. Each time, Delphis took a tablet tied to its belly by ropes to an indicated target. Rephim at one end, Avim at the other, were able to lead the creature from point to point on the sandy shore of the mainland.

Soon the exercises ended and Delphis was ready to return home to Cyprus.

Avim and Rephim felt victory was theirs when the dolphin appeared back at Gello with a message from Hanno on the island.

They rewarded Delphis with expensive morsels and delicacies, sweets and spices.

The partners set plans for more ambitious feats. “A team of carriers will be needed,” envisioned Rephim. “We must find patrons among the merchant traders of Tyre. There will be a multiplication of demands for dolphin communications.”

“I dream of training messengers to swim to Crete, then onward to Egypt,” muttered Avim, in a swoon over the future prospects.

Not only did the village of Gello grow fascinated with what was happening, but word spread to Tyre itself. Interested shipowners and traders made the short journey south to learn more and see what they could.

Eventually, word of what was being done with dolphins reached as far as the city’s Temple of Melqart and the ears of the Chief Priest, a person named Emim. This short, corpulent figure decided that he had to see the phenomenon for himself in order to judge what to do about it. His decision was to visit Gello in disguise, posing as a Tyrean merchant. That way of inquiring was most likely to present him the truth, he calculated. He had to know whether the two adventurers in charge were involved in anything subversive of the king or the gods of Phoenicia. For Tyre, that meant any danger to the supremacy of the cult of Melqart, founder of the great city.

As he made his way down to Gello, Emim thought about the majesty of the divinity he served. Mighty Melqart was master of the sea. His shield protected the city’s fleet in war and in peace. Melqart was the patron of all Tyrean shipmasters, captains, traders, and sailors. He it was who had taught his followers the arcane art of navigation on the sea. That was why Emim and the other priests made continual sacrifices to him.

The Hittites to the north called him Aruna. The Hurrians worshipped him as Telepinu. In distant Babylonia, from where the ancestors of the Phoenicians had come, this god had been Alegin. From Tyre, colonists had carried his worship westward, building new temples in Carthage, Malta, Sardinia, and Iberia. On Cyprus, there were shrines of Melqart at Idalim and Lapethos. On coins minted at many places, he was the ruler of the sea, riding the waves on a hippocampus with the head of a horse and the tail of a dolphin. He taught the shipbuilders of Tyre to make their famed keeled cedar ships. It was this primary deity who led the fleet beyond the Pillars of Melqart, into the western ocean, to the islands with deposits of tin.

Who but Melqart had revealed the secrets of making glass and purple dye?

This son of Baal and Astarte had to be protected from potential dangers to his power.

Emim entered the coastal village with a definite purpose in mind.

Both Rephim and Avim took the stranger as being what he said he was, a small shipowner from Tyre.

“I have genuine interest in seeing these wondrous dolphins that work for you,” said Emim after introducing himself and beginning to ask questions.

The partners agreed to take the plump trader by boat to the nearby cave where Delphis was resting. As soon as the boat appeared, the dolphin sped to meet it. In seconds, the animal was leaping up and down before the vessel, noticing a person it had never seen before.

Rephin gave Delphis a hand signal to carry out its favorite tricks and maneuvers.

Circles, upward jumps, turns, and spirals followed. A complete acrobatic performance occurred.

Avim asked the imposter a question when the show came to an end.

“Would you like to give him some food to eat?”

For a moment, Emim seemed confused, but finally shook his head no. Instead of that, it was Rephim who handed the dolphin some items of human food with which it was familiar.

“Would you like to touch and pet Delphis, sir?” inquired Avim.

The pretender indicated he did not, whispering “Perhaps next time.”

Soon the two partners took leave of the dolphin, starting to sail back to Gello.

“What do you think of what we have accomplished?” Avim asked the stranger.

“There is much to consider,” enigmatically said Emim. “I want to think about this talented beast and how it can be included in my plans for the future.”

No more was said as they returned to the village in the boat.

Chief Priest Emim had a busy evening planning an end to the danger he had uncovered.

First of all, he arranged for a contingent of royal guards with which to rid Tyre of the pair of adventurers he had come to hate.

The angry cleric made a visit to the commander of the city defense force. He made a detailed report about what he had learned from his trip south, describing the dolphin named Delphis.

“These two conspirators aim to turn our beloved Tyre and its commerce upside down. I can assure you that divine Melqart does not look favorably on such sedition. Only a god has the right to make such a complete, radical change.”

It took Emim only minutes to gain the cooperation of the top police official.

“We should attack these enemies of order tomorrow morning,” proposed the priest. “If the unit under you leaves the city at dawn, it can be in Gello at a very early hour and surprise the culprits.”

Returning to the Temple of Melqart, Emim realized that the preparations were not completed.

He made a trip to the royal pharmaceutist and requested the most powerful poison that could be provided him. It was soon in his possession.

Emim finally entered the darkened shrine dedicated to Melqart and fell to his knees in front of the sacrificial altar. As he prayed, his eyes went up to the huge cylinder of glass hanging above the table. He could make out the outlines of the eternal lamb encased in the receptacle. He was certain that Melqart would be satisfied by the actions he was about to take to safeguard the god’s authority over sea shipping and navigation.

Rephim had placid sleep that night, until an unusual dream came to him.

Delphis appeared at the edge of the Gello cove, in front of the boat of the two partners.

Avim and Rephim stood upright at the stern, looking forward at the dolphin they had come to love.

But then there arose in front of Delphis something Rephim had never observed before.

As if by magic, there was an enormously bulky monster shape. This leviathan from out of the water was a giant amphibious creature with black fins and large tentacles. Its center was a shadowy mass of colossal weight. Deadly white fangs gleamed at its mouth. Nothing like eyes were visible anywhere on it.

Suddenly, a complex of strange snakes arose about the monster and circled it.

The boat with the two partners followed in the wake of Delphis as the dolphin rescued them from danger.

Rephim wakened himself into consciousness.

Was it a prophecy he had experienced? the mariner wondered. He had to describe his dream to Avim, he decided.. In a second, he was on his feet, going into the room where his friend slept.

He discovered that Avim was already up and awake.

“I experienced a terrible vision, a nightmare,” said the younger man with emotion.

It took only seconds for them to learn that they had shared the identical dream.

They looked at each other in shock and wonder. What did all this mean?

“These dreams were not our own,” mumbled Rephim, ” but came to us from another, beyond you or me.”

“But who sent them to us?” asked Avim, his mind reeling.

Rephim bit his lip. “It had to originate beyond human boundaries. The source had to be close to us, intimately involved with us.”

Avim thought for a moment. “Was it Delphis, then?”

Rephim nodded that it was.

Chief Priest Emim and the city guards arrived in Gello in the middle of morning.

Full of anger and agitation, the cleric carried a poisonous substance he believed could, once and for all, dispose of the dolphin that disturbed his peace of mind.

The partners, though, were not in their cottage, nor in the cave they used on the shore.

Where were they? They went out to sea in their boat, a fisherman reported.

Where was Delphis the dolphin? No one could say for sure.

At last, Emim looked out over the waters. He had an idea that all three had somehow escaped him.

Where will the threesome go, and what will they attempt?

They are now someone else’s problem, Emim cynically told himself.


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