Sahara Light: a Novel. Part I. Chapter X.

3 Mar

Ianon, walking with crutches, accompanied his friend Ganymede to the shop of Niobe Dosodor. The time was an hour past the sinking of Helios in the west. Gas lamps and tubing illuminated the streets of the Sixth Deck. The walkers felt safer than they would have in the lower two decks of Gamara. Since Ianon was unable to climb steps, they sat down with the proprietor in the rear office of the antique shop, on deck level.

“Where is Echo tonight?” asked Ganymede.

“She’s working late for your brother. I expect her home at any time. May I make some cambric tea for you?”

This took her only a short stretch of time to prepare and serve. Soon the three were all seated, sipping their hot drink.

“Ianon and I went to school together, both for common and advanced courses. No one else was as close to me as he was. His parents were both trained lamp tube technicians. He lost both of them much too early.” Ganymede stared at Niobe. “He has had a long interest in the ergati, therefore in the folk traditions concerning Apollo surviving among our lower classes.”

She turned to Ianon with a warm smile and asked him a question.

“Do you know what the sacred symbol of Apollo was back in Greece? His cultic emblem? I believe that many of the ergati desert workers still keep it as a sign of their devotion to that beloved god.”

“It’s a huge snake that does not exist anywhere today,” replied the union organizer. “I have seen it on many apartment walls on the lower tiers. The desert workers see it as a sacred symbol of sorts.”

“That snake is the python, an enormous one that killed its victims by enveloping and crushing them to death. It was closely connected in ancient Greece to a mountain named Parnassus, and the oracle of Apollo located nearby at Delphi. You have surely heard of the famous oracle. It is all a very complicated story.” Niobe seemed to fall into a trance of some kind, as if she were far away somewhere in the Sahara.

“Both of us would like to hear it from you,” said Ganymede.

Niobe proceeded to satisfy this urging from the painter.

“First, let me relate how the original Python arose.

“At one time long ago, Zeus decided to destroy all the human race on the earth. Mankind had fallen from the heights reached in the Golden Age. But there remained one good, righteous man. He was the king of Thessaly, and his name was Deukalion. He and his wife, Queen Pyrrha, were warned by Zeus to take refuge in an ark that could float through any storm. These two humans were the only ones to survive the great deluge that came. They lived in this ark for nine days, while all the earth was under water. Finally, they came to rest on Mount Parnassus. When the waters receded, Zeus ordered them to throw the bones of their mother behind them. They interpreted this to mean the bones of the Earth, the rocks on the summit of Parnassus. That seemed to be the symbol of their mothers.

“The rocks hurled by King Deukalion turned into men, while those flung by Queen Pyrrha became women. Thus, the human race was reborn. All of us are said to be descended from that miracle at the top of Mount Parnassus.

“But a terrible monster came forth out of the mud left by the flood. The Python took its name from the spot where it came to life, Pytho. Later on, this was named Delphi. It became the site of the main temple of Apollo and the home of his oracle. I will tell you how that came about after we take a moment of rest.”

Niobe sipped some cambric tea, as did her two listeners. Then she went on with the ancient legend she had started to narrate to them.

“Incidentally, I failed to mention that King Deukalion was the son of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from heaven and gave it to mankind. And Queen Pyrrha was the daughter of Epimetheus, another Titan and the brother of Prometheus. Her mother was Pandora, the first human woman. But let me tell you how Apollo came into the picture.

“When Leto was made pregnant by Zeus, his jealous wife, Hera, fumed in anger. She forbade the Earth to give any place of protection to Leto. This envious wife sent the deadly snake of Pytho to pursue her wherever she fled.

“Finally, the ruler of the sea, the god Poseidon, took pity on Leto and allowed her to hide on the floating island of Delos. Posidon made an anchor of diamond to secure the isle for her. Leto arrived on Delos just in time for the birth of twins. Artemis was first to be born, and she aided in the birth of her brother, Apollo. This son grew up among shepherds and became an incredible archer. He spent years hunting for the Python sent to kill him, his sister, and their mother. The serpent was found at Pytho on Parnassus and slain by Apollo as an act of revenge upon the goddess Hera for what she had done.

The early Greeks erected a temple there in honor of their protector, Apollo. A priestess, the Pythia, could receive inspired prophecies from that god when she sat on a tripod over a sacred rock where the serpent had first come to life. This pythoness would chew a leaf from a sacred bay tree and drink the water of a nearby stream. She spoke her messages of prophecy from Apollo in enigmatic verse difficult to decipher. But she was able to foresee what was going to occur.”

Niobe suddenly stopped, dumbstruck by unusual thoughts far beyond her ordinary ones.

“Why don’t you recite the hymn to Apollo that you composed, Niobe?” suddenly said Ganymede. “I’m certain that Ianon would like to hear it.”

She turned to the wounded one and began to sing in a new, different voice.

“Mighty Apollo, Eternal Apollo, lead us through the darkness to your health-giving Light,

Born on the floating isle of Delos, your mother in flight.

The Python of jealous Hera has not the cunning or the might,

To keep the son of Leto from his Zeus-given right.

You are our Helios, our ruler of the sun,

The sole light that illumines us is your face in the sky.”

As she finished singing and reciting, her gaze was fixed on Ianon alone.

Unexpectedly, Ganymede sprang to his feet. “You are a Phytia, a true pythoness. It is you who must lead an Apollonian renascence, Niobe. You are the only one who can accomplish that.”

“Yes,” agreed a voice at his side.

Gany turned to his best friend. “You must help us give a new birth to the ancient ways of enlightenment that were the creation of Apollo,” he declared with exalted emotion. “That alone is what can energize our ergati who labor on the desert fields.”

The two friends stared at each other, both of them silent and thoughtful.

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