Centaurology

4 Jan

Why did Bendis Thamon, the Greek folklorist, rush by express train from Athens to Volos on Easter Sunday, 1955?

The main port in Thessaly had suffered severe destruction and many deaths from the several major earthquakes that day. Collapsed buildings and still smoldering fires filled the scene in the town of seventy thousand. Ruin and destruction were everywhere.

Why did this university professor hurry to the natural disaster and human tragedy?

In his early seventies, he planned to test ideas he had conceived about the geodynamics underneath continental Greece.

For several decades, Thamon had been a leading psychic researcher in his country. From his long study of native folklore, he had come to the conclusion that there was some kind of connection between the geothermal forces and the operations of the human mind. They were close to and touched each other, he had come to believe.

And now he had an opportunity to attempt to prove that relationship.

The lanky Athenian with hair like pure snow climbed down from the train car and looked around at the toppled landscape of Volos. A small tear came unexpectedly to one cerulean eyes. He realized how much death, injury, and loss had happened here. Army vehicles and ambulances moved slowly, cautiously through downtown streets covered with bricks and stones. Ships bringing food and medicine were visible out on the calm Pagastic gulf. Across the circular arm of land embracing the bay rose Mount Pelion, looking down on ruined Volos, covered in ash and rubble. How many such scenes had the ancient mountain witnessed through the ages?

How much loss and damage had there been on that famous home of the Centaurs? the folklorist asked himself. The mountain was where he hoped to find a renowned psychic adept who might be able to provide answers to the questions he had brought with him from Athens.

Would it be possible for him to find transportation of any sort at this moment of crisis in Volos? He foresaw great difficulties in that regard.

The visitor, carrying a light leather traveling bag, quickly succeeded in locating an emergency Red Cross station. A young, agitated nurse controlled the entrance from behind an old oak desk that had somehow been salvaged.

“It is most important that I get to Mount Pelion in order to help a friend of mine who lives in Zagora. Is there any way that I can obtain a ride there today, Miss?”

She looked at him with compassionate but exhausted almond eyes.

“There will be a relief truck leaving from here with supplies in a few minutes. It only goes up the slope as far as Makrinitsa, then returns back down. You would have to travel the rest of the way on your own, sir.”

“I would be deeply grateful for such a ride,” replied Thamon with a smile expressing his thankfulness and relief.

Within minutes, the folklorist was sitting beside the driver of a two-ton camion headed for Mount Pelion and its lower ring of villages. The five thousand foot high summit rose sharply above them.

Bendis looked out the window at damaged vineyards and olive groves as the vehicle left the city and began to climb upward.

Fallen branches of beech and chestnut trees littered the sides of the dirt road that zig-zagged its way into the countryside. Bendis could see villagers starting the monumental labor that lay ahead in restoring life as it had been before the catastrophe. Seconds developed into minutes.

“We are almost in Makrinitsa,” announced the driver, speaking for the first time since the ride began. “You will have to walk or hire a donkey if you wish to travel any higher, sir.”

Bendis thanked the man once the truck stopped. He then climbed out with his bag and crossed the village square to a tavern overlooking Volos and the circle of the gulf. Tall plane trees surrounded a large water fountain that appeared to be empty. A small Byzantine church of great age seemed to be rotting away in one corner.

A group of men sat drinking on outside tables. They stared at the stranger in a dark blue city suit.

“I need to reach Zagora to see someone,” said the newcomer, stopping and facing the villagers. “Does anyone have a beast that can carry me up the slope the rest of the way? I am able to pay for such service, I assure you.”

One local resident in a dark coat and hat stood up and volunteered to provide transport for the odd outsider.

“Follow me,” proposed the youngish man. “I shall get you to Zagora on my magaritsa.”

With aching buttocks, the donkey rider climbed down and paid the owner of the strong-willed animal that had transported him.

Thamon, with bag in hand, walked up to a group of curious onlookers and asked them for directions to the cottage of Pholo Celeos.

An aged villager with narrow, twisted moustaches answered in a loud, gravelly voice.

“Crazy Pholo! Why would any sane person come to Zagora to see that lunatic? You must have some kind of serious business or legal dealings with the fool. Are you a lawyer, perhaps?”

“No,” replied Bendis as pleasantly as he could. “I have only come to look in on his personal welfare after the great tragedy of the recent earth tremors on Mount Pelion.”

All of a sudden, the old man and those around him began to laugh.

“Pholo is in all probability hiding and trembling from the powerful shocks!” said one local villager from deep in his throat. “If you wish to help that hermit, he can be found in the old, derelict structure at the end of our village street, down by the grove of chestnut trees. I think that the idiot lives on what he can steal off of them at night.”

Boisterous guffaws followed the Athenian as he turned about and followed the instructions given him by the mocking oldster.

The residence of the recluse appeared to be something between a shanty and a hovel. A single light rap on the flimsy door brought forth the owner inside.

A short, spare man, his back bent, stood in the doorway. Gigantic castanean eyes peered at the stranger in surprise and wonder. All that the hermit could say was a simple “Yes?”

“I understand that you are Mr. Pholo Celeas. Am I correct?”

“Indeed, that is who I am. But who are you, and why are you here?”

Bendis grinned as he identified himself. “As both of us know, we have been corresponding for several years. From the end of the war, in fact. You and I share a common interest in the subject of telepathic communication. Each of us has been quite free and open in expressing personal views on the matter.

“As soon as I learned of the terrible earthquake here, my decision was to travel to Mount Pelion and inquire as to your welfare and provide whatever help to you that I can. It seemed important to me to be present on the spot. I regret that I have never thought till this moment to come and make your personal acquaintance, my dear friend.”

“Please, come in and sit down,” murmured the recluse in a soft voice.

Bendis discovered that the interior of the small structure was completely unlike its neglected, decrepit exterior.

A clean, ordered parlor with beautiful satin furniture and bright wall hangings greeted him.

“Please, take a chair,” said Pholo, pointing to a comfortably cushioned sofa. “I was just boiling a pot of coffee. Would you like a cup with some cream, or perhaps in the Turkish style?”

“I prefer the latter,” confessed the guest.

“As I do, as well,” said Pholo as he disappeared into the kitchen in the rear.

As he waited alone in the parlor, Bendis gazed across the room at black and white lithographs on the walls. They depicted the ancient divinities of the Greek pantheon. What did they indicate about the mind of this strange man? the visitor asked himself.

Soon Pholo returned carrying a metal tray with a pair of cups and a kettle on it. The short, bent man placed it on a low, mahogany table. He then took a cup and filled it from the small kettle. After handing it to the Athenian he filled the second cup for himself and sat down across from the other. The two men sipped coffee for a short time.

“You make superior coffee, my good man,” said Bendis with relish. “I am enjoying it a great deal.”

Pholo smiled upon hearing the compliment.

It is time for me to reveal the motive for being here, decided Bendis Thamon.

“I must admit that there is a somewhat selfish reason for my being here,” began the traveler. “My belief has long been that in ancient times our Greek ancestors thought that there was a connection between the region of the psychic and explosive earth tremors. The seers and sages of the long ago past realized that the human mind and the internal dynamics of our planet were closely tied to each other. Only in our so-called modern age has the this truth been overlooked or hidden from view and consideration. But because of the natural catastrophe that has now occurred on the coast of Thessaly, there exists an opportunity to prove by direct evidence that there is a close link between telepathy and the eruptions from the inner core of the earth.

“What do you think of my hope and ambition of firmly establishing that proposition, dear Pholo?”

The hermit did not respond immediately. He seemed to be searching for an answer to present. When he decided to speak, his tone appeared quarrelsome and combative to Bendis.

“I know that such ideas were accepted by the ancient philosophers of our nation. But all of that may have rested on nothing more than wishful imagination. In our own time, we know much more about the nature of earthquakes and volcanos. As far as I can tell, no one has taken any such connection seriously. What is it that supposedly ties together the physical and the psychic? Why should the one realm have influence within the other? Is there any person anywhere who can prove that there is such a link?”

Bendis took a sip of coffee, then placed his cup on the table.

“What I propose to carry out is a sort of experiment to see whether an earthquake generates psychic waves of any kind. I myself possess only elementary telepathic gifts. My sensitivity, I have to confess, has always been within narrow limits. What has brought me here to Mount Pelion is both the recent seismic event and the presence of an extraordinary adept, namely you. I intend to measure the effects of the quake upon your mental powers.”

He stared fixedly at Pholo. studying his face for signs of any impression his words might be having.

“I take it you wish to make a test of how the geological situation is affecting my receptivity of messages from others. Is that it?”

Exactly,” said the Athenian. “That is my purpose in making my journey here.”

“But what if no direct effects exist? What then?”

“Then, at least that much has been proven and established,” declared Thamon. “We will have learned whether the interior of the earth has influence over the human mind or not.”

Both of them stayed silent for a time.

“Very well, then,” concluded Pholo. “Let us make a try at it.”

The guest decided that he could sleep comfortably on the sofa chair in the parlor. A blanket of heavy wool was provided by the cottage host, who gave his visitor a promise before withdrawing to his bedroom in the rear of the building.

“I will attempt to make telepathic contact with the outside world tonight,” announced Pholo with a serious expression on his face. “It may come to me before I fall asleep, or else upon wakening later on. Whatever it happens to contain, I will relate it to you tomorrow morning. So, I wish you good night until then.”

Within moments of the departure of the psychic adept, Bendis was soundly asleep.

Tired from his journey by train, truck, and then donkey, he slumbered longer than was his custom at home in Athens. A deep, dreamless sleep seized hold of his body and mind. When he awakened, it happened instantaneously.

Across from him sat Pholo, watching his return to consciousness.

The owner of the cottage opened with an astonishing query.

“Is it possible for a psychic to receive signals from another time? For instance, from ancient Greece?”

Bendis gave a start. “How should I know? Tell me what it is you are thinking, Pholo.”

The latter made a fleeting grimace, then went on.

“Have you ever come across the name Eurytion in any of your reading, sir?”

“Let me think a moment. It sounds quite familiar, but is hard for me to place. Is it some person from the distant past? I don’t believe it has any contemporary reference, does it?”

The recluse grinned. “You are right, it is a name from the most ancient of legends in Thessaly. Eurytion was the centaur who played the central role in the deadly battle with the Lapithae. Do you recall the plot of that legendary story?”

Bendis grew excited. “Indeed, it comes back to me now. The centaurs of Mount Pelion were invited by the king of the Lapith tribe to attend his wedding. But a bloody, disorderly riot broke out at the event.”

Pholo continued and finished the tale. “The monarch of the wild Thessalian natives was a man named Pirithous, and his beautiful young bride was Hippodamia. There was much feasting and drinking, lasting a very long while. An old tradition has it that Eurytion, leader of the centaurs, started the riot by attempting to seize and rape the bride. That outrage has often been pointed to as the cause of the violence and bloodshed. But it is not the truth, not at all. What actually occurred was something quite different.”

“What do you mean?” asked the confused folklorist, lowering his feet to the floor from the chair that he lay in.

The chestnut brown eyes of the adept seemed to blaze with an eerie light of some kind.

“Early this morning I received a mental communication from Eurytion himself,” croaked the voice of Pholo, who spoke as if deep in a trance.

Bendis gasped for breath. Is the hermit in some kind of delirium? he asked himself. His mind could produce no explanation for what he had just heard.

After a short pause, the psychic adept continued on.

“There was no attempt by Eurytion to grab hold of the bride. None whatever, he swore to me with an oath. The malicious slander came later, and it originated from King Pirithous himself. He was a known fabricator and liar. In this case, the evil monarch tried to conceal the crime of a Lapith at the wedding celebration. It was a close relative of Pirithous who tried to kidnap the unfortunate young bride. The fighting began among the Thessalians themselves and the centaurs were drawn into it against their will.

“All of that was related to me psychically by Eurytion, who professed total innocence as to the origin of the battle at the marriage of the King of the Lapithae.”

“And his version of the events is to be believed?” gently asked the Athenian.

Pholo stiffened his jaw, jutting it forward. “Why not? Why should the centaur lie?”

All at once, Bendis sprang to his feet, standing upright. “We are to accept this as a genuine communication, somehow facilitated by the earth trembling experienced on Mount Pelion?”

“I have no doubts whatever,” averred the host in a confident tone of voice.

What was a person to think? Bendis did not even try to comprehend.

All that day, the visitor examined the small library in one corner of the front parlor. He could find no specific reference to the telepathic powers in centaurs, only vague hints of such capacities in them.

Over a lunch of scrambled eggs, he asked Pholo how common that ability was in the horse-men of the ancient world.

The psychic, sitting across the table from him, had to think for several seconds before coming up with an answer.

“At the very beginning, the original centaur was one named Centauros. He inherited important traits from both of the species. It is well known how vital the horse was in the early life of the Thesalians. They became master horsemen and horse-breeders. The latter became the guardians of the new combined form of horse-man. They nurtured and protected the earliest centaurs. But some of these escaped into the forests to seek freedom. They ended up as denizens of the caves here on Mount Pelion.

“Inhabitants of the mountain believe that they continue to lurk in deep, hidden caverns, coming forth out of them only late at night.”

Bendis bit his lower lip in his excitement. “We shall see if another message comes to you again tonight,” he mused aloud.

A long afternoon of intense reading in Greek mythology followed for the folklorist. After a light supper, the pair listened for awhile to the radio, then turned in early. Both of them felt nervous. What message might be picked up next?

Thamon underwent a cycle of awakenings and short snoozes. He soon lost count of how often it occurred.

At last, dawn arrived in splendid colors. Pholo made his way into the parlor where his new partner rested on the sofa.

Bendis raised his head, then sat up. “Did you receive anything?” he anxiously inquired.

“It was a centaur named Nessos who spoke to me. What he conveyed was of enormous interest. Let me explain. He is described as extremely evil in many of the ancient legends that we have. But he claims that his enemies have maligned him terribly. They have falsified the truth about his life and activities so long ago. The past has been distorted. Let me relate to you what he said to me.

“The mighty hero named Heracles took as his bride the daughter of the king of Calydon, the lovely Deianeira. The pair came to the river where Nessos ran a ferry service. Heracles ordered the centaur to convey his new wife across first. The demigod hero, standing on the bank, believed that he saw Nessos grab hold of Deianeira and attempt to have his way with her. The maddened Heracles took his bow and arrow, shooting the centaur with one deadly blow.

“As he was dying on his ferry, Nessos told Deianeira to take some of the blood bleeding out of his wound and collect it for its magical powers. Should her husband’s love ever run cold, this special charm had the power to restore his fervor and win back his love. And it worked for her, says the ancient legend about this event. When the hero returned from his farflung adventures with a maiden who had captured his fancy, his wife applied the blood to his robe and waited to see the result.

“Nessos won final revenge, for this blood burned away the skin of Heracles and led directly to his death. As a result, the centaur has gone down in history as the clever trickster who killed the supreme Greek hero.

“Speaking to me, Nessos denied these accusations by the enemies of the centaurs.

“He never grabbed hold of Deianeira or tried to take advantage of her.

“Heracles shot him out of insane jealousy, without cause or justification.

“The blood that he told her to take and keep was misapplied by the confused Deianeira. She used too much of the potent liquid and was herself responsible for the death of her husband. Her actions were extreme, motivated by her unlimited jealousy concerning her husband.

“So, in regard to the death of Heracles, Nessos told me that he is absolutely innocent.”

Bendis, feverishly excited by now, raised himself into a standing position. “That is incredible!” he darkly muttered. “I certainly do not doubt that you received such a communication. But its content is amazing to me. Who would have thought that so much popular belief is false and incorrect?”

“Yes, I too had a sense of utter surprise upon hearing that version of the legend,” said Pholo. “But we have to accept what Nessos related to me as the true story of how Heracles died. There is no alternative to such a choice.”

“But even more importantly,” argued Bendis, “we now have proof that an earthquake can free the psychic projections that originated in the ancient past. Can anyone now doubt our great success in this enterprise of ours?”

Pholo gave him a broad, radiant smile. “No. That is impossible after this.”

The pair went about their necessary activities for the day. Both of them looked forward to what the following night might bring for them.

Early that afternoon, Bendis went outdoors for a stroll about the periphery of Zagora. He walked through several stands of leafy marron chestnut trees. The sun glared down blindingly, whitening the clear blue sky.

For a few minutes, the folklorist escaped the snare that had all but captured the focus of his mind.

How was he going to make any practical use of what the hermit of Mount Pelion was revealing to him? What was his duty and mission going to be?

The telepathic movement, both in Greece and worldwide, was never going to be the same again. What would its future course be? Bandis asked himself.

That evening after dinner, Bendis brought up the subject of the future of psychic endeavors after what they had accomplished.

“Now that we have established that a major earthquake can open channels for mental communication with the distant past, what are we to make of it? Do we dare to make our attainment known to the general public?”

Pholo, sitting across from him in the small kitchen, hesitated in thought before making a reply.

“For me, the most important point to remember is the fact that what we have achieved is unquestionable. I myself have no doubt about the reality of our link with the ancient past. That is the main thing, is it not? We are in telepathic contact, and no one will ever be able to deny it.”

Bendis gave him a searching look. He was on the verge of saying that they could not expect their connection to last forever, but stopped himself before uttering such words. It seemed best to him not to do that.

Enough has already been said about the road ahead of us, he decided. No more was, at the time, necessary.

Another night of tortured sleep followed for the visitor to Mount Pelion. When he awoke in the morning, Pholo was already sitting opposite him in the parlor. A shadow seemed to have fallen over the eyes and face of the recluse.

“Something new and unexpected happened to me this time,” he said in a guarded tone of alarm. “We will have to put an end to our contacts with the ancient centaurs, my friend.”

Bendis squirmed to the edge of the sofa and straightened his body, lowering both his feet to the floor.

“What are you saying, Pholo?” he asked in sudden panic.

“Let me describe what I experienced in the vision I had this last night. Have you ever heard of a centaur whose name was Pholos? That creature must have been my very own namesake. But I was never told by anyone that I happened to be named for a famous centaur of old.

“But let me tell you what I learned in the vision that I received out of the distant past, or rather that I believed that I myself was experiencing at that moment.”

Bendis gave his partner a puzzled look as the latter paused for a moment. But then Pholo went on with his tale.

“This centaur called Pholos discussed with me the story of how Heracles, while busy with his mighty labors, crossed the territory of the centaurs on top of Mount Pelion. It was Pholos, owning a gigantic cask of red wine, who invited the demigod hero to enter his cave and indulge himself in more drinking. Pholos, who was eating some raw meat, offered his guest a large amount of cooked meat that he had prepared ahead of time for Heracles.

“This wine, over a hundred years old, could be smelled for many leagues about. A crowd of centaurs soon gathered, attracted by the strong scent, and rushed wildly into the cave. This drunken, insane mob of inebriated horse-men pelted Heracles with rocks and even entire trees. The violent battle grew ferocious. Centaurs attacked the great hero with axes and firebrands. An angry madness seized hold of all the hybrid creatures.

“Heracles finally won the battle, killing many centaurs and driving away the rest.

“When Pholos returned to his cave to learn the results, a fatal tragedy befell him. He happened to pull out one of the arrows shot by Heracles from the dead body of a centaur lying on the ground. His objective was to examine it closely. Pholos marveled that such a small object could bring down one of the huge horse-men. Accidentally though, he dropped this arrow, which scratched his leg with its point that held virulent poison.

“Legend has it that Pholos died because of this arrow that had drawn his curiosity.

“And the concluding statement was that this tale was the true story of what happened once here on Mount Pelion, and that it is worthy of belief because its truth.”

Pholo caught his breath a second, then went on.

“I dared to ask the centaur Pholos about the other tales, those concerning the war with the Lapithae and the strange adventure of Nessos. He confirmed to me that they are to be fully believed.

“He then instructed me not to give any credibility to the alibis and the special pleadings of those centaurs who broadcast psychic fictions full of their own self-justifications. They are false versions meant to mislead whoever might receive such messages in their minds. There is no truth in them, none at all.

“Centaur tradition contains the true version, Philos said to me. The story he presented to me is alone deserving of trust.”

The two men looked directly at each other in silence for a time.

All at once, Bendis understood the deep significance of what he had just been told.

If the first two messages were fictions, perhaps they had not come out of the ancient past at all. And perhaps none of the three centaur communications were what they claimed to be. Was it possible that all the psychic links were the creations of the fertile mind of Pholo himself? Were they all present-day creations?

The folklorist decided that he had to end the convoluted game he was in.

“I must return to Athens early tomorrow,” he announced. “The train will leave in the morning, so it will be necessary for me to descend Mount Pelion for Volos sometime today, my friend.”

Shortly before noon, Bendis began his journey home by walking out of Zagora on his own.

Pholo saw him off, asking the scholar to write him on how their joint project turned out.

“Yes, I will communicate with you,” Bendis promised the hermit, about to be alone once more.

But the visitor realized that he would never write or speak with this self-deluded psychic adept ever again in this lifetime. Nor would he believe in messages supposedly sent by centaurs of the legendary past.

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