The Liliad
Chapter 48
World Ceres


Come to this rite, queen whom the drum delights,
all-taming Cybele, saviour of Phrygia, consort of Kronos,
bring thy frenzied Corybantes,
soul-nourishing and ever-blowing breezes,
to seed their fruit upon thee, O mighty lady...

As an archegos of the enaretes kores, Lila was curious about the presence, in Ilium, of a shrine to Demeter, given that the Phrygian Cybele, not the Greek Demeter, served as the divine personification of the Gaiamitros. More to the point, given that the tutelary deity of the Amazons was Artemis Stagslayer, why had Penthesileia been praying to Demeter on the morning that Lila had knelt down beside her, taken her royal hands in hers and, with the words escaping out of Lila’s mouth before she knew what she was saying, offered the Amazon Queen her captured heart?

In the age of the Titans, Atlas, the strongest of them, had fathered seven daughters with Pleione, one of the Oceanids and the sister of Nemesis. These daughters were known as the Pleiades. One of the Pleiades was Electra with whom, after the Olympians had overthrown the Titans, Zeus had fathered three children: two sons, Dardanus and Iasion, and a daughter, Harmonia. But Harmonia's parentage had always been in doubt. Some said that Harmonia's parents were Ares and Aphrodite who’d given Harmonia to Electra to raise as her own. In any event, the three children were brought up on the island of Samothrace where they attained the status of a de facto royal family.

Dardanus became the ancestor of the Dardanians from whom the Trojans were descended. The northwesternmost straits of Phrygia, separated from the easternmost reaches of Thrace by the Bosphoros, came to be known as the Dardanelles. Later legend had it that in the hour in which Ilium fell to the marauding Argives, Electra, shrouding herself in the mist and clouds of mourning, departed from the company of her sisters to hide forevermore, in shame and sorrow, behind the northern pole, which is why only six of the seven Pleiades are visible in the night sky.

Iasion, the younger brother, was apparently quite a ladies man. He attracted the attention of any number of the fair sex including Demeter, the daughter of Cronos and Rhea, who was herself no shrinking violet when it came to rolling in the hay with members of the opposite sex, including Zeus who fathered Persephone. Persephone was thus half sisters with Dardanus, from whom the Trojans had sprung, and also with Harmonia, the first mother of the Amazons, if Zeus had indeed been Harmonia's father.

Iasion and Demeter had a torrid affair after which Iasion dumped Demeter and married and settled down with Cybele.

It came to pass, upon a time, that Zeus was smitten with a passion for Europa, the daughter of King Agenor of Phoenicia, a land situated at the eastern edge of the Great Sea, southeast of Galatia, the easternmost province of Anatolia. Zeus assumed the form of a bull, seized Europa and carried her off on his back to the island of Crete where they trysted on the beach. King Agenor was extremely upset by his daughter's abduction. He ordered his sons to scour the known world in search of Europa and bade them not return unless and until they'd found and brought her home with them.

Cadmus, one of King Agenor's sons, arrived on the island of Samothrace ("Below Thrace") where he met, fell in love with and married Harmonia. It was at these nuptials that Demeter met and fell in love with Iasion. At that point, Cadmus may have lost interest in continuing his search for Europa. Either way, he never returned to Phoenicia. He traveled instead to Boeotia where he founded the city of Thebes to be ruled by his progeny until the unfortunate business with Oedipus, Creon and Antigone had brought Cadmus' line to an end and his great city to rack and ruin. Cadmus seems to have been quite versatile. Among his many achievements, he invented the alphabet by arranging the vowels and consonants in their various combinations. Before that time, literate people drew pictures on papyrus scrolls and communicated in hieroglyphs.

Backtracking a bit, there was once a time on earth when mortals were very wicked. To punish their wickedness, the gods sent a flood upon the earth for the purpose of destroying these wicked mortals. Only two souls, Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, survived the deluge because the gods deemed them, alone of mortals, to be pious and worthy. The gods had Deucalion build an ark for himself and his wife and many species of animals. When the waters subsided, the ark was stranded on the peak of Mount Ararat in central Anatolia south of Pontus, not far from the future site of Themiscyra, the great city of the Amazons, built by Lysippe in honor of Themis, the Titaness who introduced humanity to the ways of law and peace and who delivered the oracles at Delphi prior to the victory of the Olympians and the coming of Apollo.

Deucalion and Pyrrha made their way to Phrygia close to its southern border with Lydia. Per instructions from the gods, they carried a sack which held a quantity of their mother's (Gaia's) bones (stones) which, when the appointed time came, they cast over their shoulders so that the stones landed on the ground. In that way, there sprung up a new race of mortals to re-populate the earth. They were warlike and not very cooperative but apparently they weren't as wicked as the former race of mortals had been.

From the stones thus cast upon the earth, the body of the Great Mother, Cybele, was formed. She was then given divine breath by the gods. Zeus, ever on the lookout for amorous conquests, came down to earth and was so eager to make love to Cybele that he planted his seed in her body before she was fully gestated with the result that Cybele was born pregnant. Her son, Acdestis, grew up to be a terror. He was constantly getting into trouble, had no respect for the gods and ended up raping and impregnating his mother. Liber, the god of the vine, managed to subdue him by drugging him with a potent draught of wine. While Acdestis was passed out, Liber tied a noose tied around Acdestis' genitals. When Acdestis woke up and discovered that he’d been drugged and his clothes had been removed, he was so furious that, heedless of his delicate situation, he leaped up in anger and thereby castrated himself after which he toned down and was somewhat better behaved.

From the blood which gushed forth from the wound in Acdestis' severed genitals, there grew a lovely pomegranate tree. Nana, the daughter of the River Sangarius, devoured one of the seeds and thus became pregnant. Nana's father was so outraged when he discovered that his daughter had been knocked up by a pomegranate that he proceeded to throw her out on her rear. Cybele took pity on Nana and delivered her of a son. Sangarius, still miffed, ordered that the child be exposed and left to die in a high and lonely place.

A Lydian shepherd who was passing by at the time found the abandoned infant and took the child home. The shepherd called him Attis and raised the boy as his own. Cybele, who'd been lurking about when the shepherd had stumbled upon the child, followed them back to the shepherd's hut and bided her time until the child had grown to become the fairest youth in all the land. Cybele then seduced him. Acdestis, having recovered from his wounds, also seduced him, Acdestis now being partial to the affections of those of his own gender.

A pot pourri of tragicomic events led to Attis castrating himself, in a fit of pique, on the day that he was slated to wed Aia, the daughter of King Midas. The guests had made the mistake of imbibing great quantities of wine in advance of the ceremony so that before the couple could formally tie the knot, Gallia, Aia's bridesmaid, tanked to the gills, took a knife and sheared off her breasts. Not to be outdone by this grandiose display of self-mutilation, Attis defenestrated himself with a flute. He died of his self-inflicted wounds, and Acdestis went mad with grief, leaving Cybele to mourn for her castrated son and her dear, departed, youthful and equally castrated lover.

Cybele then left Phrygia and traveled to Samothrace, arriving in time for Cadmus and Harmonia's wedding. Iasion and Cybele hit it off at once, and, to Demeter's chagrin, they left the reception early to consummate their attraction in the woods. Cybele then gave birth to a son, Corybas, who somehow managed to retain his genitals. The Corybantes, celebrants of the rites of Cybele, were named for Corybas. But Demeter wasn't left entirely in the lurch because, some time after Corybas was born, Demeter bore Iasion a son named Ploutos of whom little was afterwards heard from.

Though married to Cadmus, Harmonia, now Cybele's sister-in-law, became Ares’ mistress and, in that capacity, gave birth to their daughter, Otrere, who spurned men's affections and erected the first temple, in Ephesus, to her dear companion, Artemis. Ares eventually wormed his way into Otrere's drawers if not her affections, and they begat Lysippe who went on to bear Ares five children: Tanais who killed himself, Antiope who was killed by her Aunt Molpeidia, Melanippe, who was killed by Penthesileia, Hippolyte who was killed by Herc, and Penthesileia who had yet to be killed by Achilles. If Ares had been Harmonia's father, as some of the legends related, Ares would have been Otrere's grandfather as well as being her father and would have been Lysippe's great-grandfather as well as being her grandfather and father, and would have been Penthisleia's great-great-grandfather as well as being her great-grandfather, grandfather and father. Had Ares successfully courted Hippolyte and had they, in turn, had a child, Ares would have been the child's great-great-great grandfather as well as being his or her great-great-grandfather, great-grandfather, grandfather and father.

Penthesileia would thus have been the great-grand-half-niece of Iasion and, by marriage, the great-grand-stepniece of Demeter. She would also have been a first cousin twice removed from the Corybantes and from King Priam who, through his father, King Laomedon, via Dardanus, was Iasion's grandnephew. In this way, Lila, archegos of Poteidaia's enaretes kores, was distantly related, associationally by marriage, to Penthesileia.

The Corybantes were a sacred travelling road show. They came each year to celebrate the final days of the harvest. They led the crowd in singing and dancing while conducting orgies in honor of Cybele, Phrygia's Gaiamitros, the aunt, by marriage, of both the Trojans and the Amazons.

The Corybantes were comprised of four units: the cabeiroi or nymphs who led the dancing and singing and were, in effect, the ceremonial prostitutes; the dactyls or wizards and satyrs who attended Cybele, many of whom were polygendered castrati and were, in effect, the ceremonial studs; the telechines or sorcerers and water pourers who served as ritual actors and maitre d's; and the curetes or musicians who played the pipes, banged on the drums and shook their brazen shields as an honor guard for the infant Zeus who required protection from his father, Cronos, the Titan who was looking not simply to deprive his infant son of his genitals but to devour him de haut en bas. In spite of the hostilities going full throttle outside the gates, it was party time within the sheltering walls of Ilium; and though these autumnal rites were staged in honor of Cybele, Demeter remained a shadow presence at these ceremonies much as Cybele persisted as a shadow presence at the celebration of Demeter's annual rites at Eleusis, Demeter's sacred, wooded grove some twenty leagues west of Athens. In Rome, the rites of Cybele had become gory and spectacular, accompanied by the ritual slaughter of bulls and a procession of howling mendicants who specialized in turning themselves, with a slash of the blade, into eunuchs along with screaming maidens who specialized in turning themselves, also with a slash of the blade, into gynaikoi a-mazon ("women bereft of breasts"). But at Ilium, as in Hellas, these ritual enactments rarely got so freakishly out of hand.

Yet none of the foregoing explained why Penthesileia had been paying homage to Demeter as opposed to Artemis or Cybele; and Lila couldn't resist the impulse to probe until she'd gotten to the bottom of it.

"What a colorful troupe. There must be dozens of them," Lila observed to Deiphobus as they watched from the portico that led from the Amazons' quarters to the mall and courtyard where the Corybantes were assembling the struts and joists for platforms that went into erecting the stage. It was mid-afternoon and the gaffers were testing the sound system while Sargon and the members of the housekeeping crew were setting up tables and stringing paper lanterns on swooping lengths of twined cable. Lila had come down to watch the preparations and had bumped into Deiphobus who was in charge of the setup for the evening's panatheneia.

"It's evolved into quite an extravaganza as you'll soon see," Deiphobus said, swathed, as usual, in his gold and scarlet robes that, given his dark, swarthy features, made him look like a Persian satrap. "The harvest is over now. We’ll have to subsist on roots and tubers ‘til the spring planting’s in."

"It can’t be that bad," Lila said. "You have no meat or fowl or bread to tide you over? No eggs or milk or cheese? How dreadful."

"No, you’re right; it's really not that bad," Deiphobus smiled. "But once the harvest is in, we’ll have to make do with what’s in store. We won't get to replenish out stocks 'til well after the month of Gamelion when the first of the winter wheat has begun to ripen."

"It's the same in my village," Lila said, watching the pipers and flautists tuning and squealing on their instruments. "But we've lots of salted meat and fermented whey to see us through the cold, winter months. Don't you?"

"In ordinary times, we do," Deiphobus said. "But this wretched blockade that you Greeks have thrown up around us has been taking its toll. We're landlocked now. It's a bloody inconvenience. Our balance of payments has become adversely affected, and inflation’s once again on the rise. Ordinarily, we rely on exporting our surplus grain to agricultural markets throughout the islands. That’s all been shut down since Helen of the Dark Cheeks arrived."

"Surely it’s not all her fault, this state of siege, is it?" Lila said. "I haven't seen hide nor hair of her since I've been here. I wonder I'd recognize her. They say she’s unspeakably beautiful."

"She’s shy but she’s actually quite nice when you get to know her," Deiphobus said. "And yes, she's a magnificently gorgeous creature, and not in the least vain about her looks. That shows real character. Helen may be a Greek name but the lady's African, you know: skin as brown as a hazelnut and features that are very Negroid. I'd happily have carried her off myself if Paris hadn't beaten me to the punch. It's her presence not her person that's the problem. You can see for yourself the difficulties it's caused. These bloody Argives won’t be satisfied until they’ve burned the place to the ground. Then they’ll take over whatever’s left and run it as a subsidiary of the House of Atreus. We've been Hellenized in language and culture but that isn't good enough for the Argives. They want us to cease being Trojans and to become ersatz Greeks as they absorb or decimate what's left of the Dardanians. No reflection on you personally. You're perfectly nice and seem rather accommodating. You could think about making this place your home if we weren't being besieged by an army of bloody mercenaries."

"I'm sorry for the hardships with which you're being afflicted," Lila said. "My sister and Xena once stood off the entire Persian army. Maybe they can make Agammemnon and the others pull in their horns and listen to reason."

"I doubt it," Deiphobus shook his head. "Agammemnon slit his own daughter's throat, don’t you know; forced her down on the bloody block and sacrificed her to appease the gods, just to get his fearful show on the road. And then you've got his seconds, terrible warmongers like that wretched beast, Achilles, all of them in it for the pillage and the glory. With Hector gone, the defense of our fair city has fallen on Aeneas' shoulders. Paris is practically useless; but then again, he always was. As far as the ladies go, we Trojans are reputed to be among the most desirable men in the known world, though less than first rate with the sword and lance, I’m afraid. Wish some of that desirability had rubbed off on me. Sargon! Over this way! Concentrate on arranging the chairs and tables before you worry about setting up the buffet!"

"Oh, you're not so unattractive," Lila smiled. "I'm sure there are many ladies in this city who could easily take a shine to you."

"You're kind to say so," Deiphobus said. "But I'll be a lonely old bachelor in a silk smoking jacket counting my dinars in front of a blazing fireplace with a basset hound sprawling at my feet, paws stretched out on the throw rug, before I'll consent to get mixed up with anyone as racy as Xena or these frightful Amazons. Fracture your skull with a bell clanger if you so much as look at them the wrong way. Is it true that after battling Callisto in dank caves, on sunny beaches, in careening chariots and on rickety bridges suspended over deep chasms, Xena delivered the coup de grace with a dagger dipped in hind's blood once Callisto had become immortal? The very name -- Callisto -- struck fear into our hearts for many moonmarks. We expected her to arrive at the head of an army and to seek to do to us what the One God people did to that huge casino and brothel complex south of Phoenicia. Blow down the walls and scatter the girls and chips to the winds. She never showed up, thank the gods, though she well might have."

"Callisto lived a sad, brief and painful life," Lila said. "Xena didn't want to do her in but, in the end, Callisto left her no choice."

"I suppose not," Deiphobus said. "For Apollo's sake, would you look at... I’d be most obliged if you’d forego indulging in your lascivious routines until after you've finished setting up! I swear, I don't know how these Corybantes tide themselves over from one year to the next. They must have generous patrons or else they’ve got wealthy parents. Would you kindly wait until nightfall before beginning your salacious rituals, for Olympus' sake!"

"What's that fellow doing with that girrr... oh, my...," Lila brought her hand to her mouth and her eyes widened at the sight. "She just went sauntering up behind him and slipped off his robe. He hasn’t got a stitch on. Do you see what she's doing to him?"

"Yes, and I think it's obscene," Deiphobus grumbled. "It's not as though one needs to warm up for that sort of thing."

"He is quite large, isn't he?" Lila stood there marveling, perhaps in spite of herself, "and she's stroking him to make him grow even larger. Not that he seems to need much encouragement."

"Let one pair get started and soon it’s bee a free for all," Deiphobus scowled. "Don't you have drum cases to unpack or water pitchers to fill?!"

"I don't believe it," Lila said, aghast. "That man with the enormous phallus that's being stroked by that lady, the one that's sticking up as stiff as a battle standard, he's got no testicles."

"I do wish they'd go indoors," Deiphobus grunted. "It's broad daylight. You'd think they might have a rudimentary sense of shame, these travelling ritualists. The day is divided into two halves for a reason. There's daytime when it's light out and nighttime when it isn't. It’s animals, not people, who copulate in the daytime. The night is for tea and conversation, listening to motets being played on the lyre and reinvesting accumulated dividends in the diversified portfolios of one's mutual fu..."

"How is something like that possible?" Lila inquired.

"What, re-investing shares of pooled mutual funds?" Deiphobus said. "Simple, you get on the horn, ring up your broker and tell him whether you want him to do it with dinars or on margin."

"How can you get an erection if you haven't got any testicles?" Lila said, her eyes on the couple who were going at it near the stage. The gentleman leaned the lady back against the wall of the palisade, spread her legs apart and deftly entered her.

Deiphobus gave Lila a look. "I can see that you’re a novice in these matters."

"I suppose I am," Lila said, her eyes still fixed on the moaning and sweating couple, "I've never done what those two are doing."

"They're Corybantes," Deiphobus said, "devotees of our Great Mother, Cybele. They routinely go in for that sort of thing."

"But anatomically, physiologically," Lila said. "Oh, well, it's not as though it's any of my business, is it?"

The lady whose back was pressed against the palisade shivered with pain or pleasure, Lila couldn't tell which.

"One can function quite well without any icicles... ah, testaments..., it's just that you can't produce any seed," Deiphobus explained. "The women appear to like it because the men can prolong the excitement for candlemarks at a time and one need never worry about having to take precautions. You'll see the men doing it with the men and the women doing it with the women and the men and the women doing it together. They don't care. They're all polysyllabic. And it's all very ritualized. There's blood sacrifice as well. The two seem to go mano à mano."

Lila thought of her choiros mikros. He'd be slaughtered in time for the solstice. The tissues and organs of his body would feed the family during the moonmarks prior to the equinox. Lila couldn't bear to think of him, let alone watch him, being butchered. Herodotus could barely do the job himself. Some of the families in Lila's village entrusted their pigs to the drovers who herded them into the shambles behind Canty's pub where professional butchers did the job. The families then came with their wagons and carted the pork home, paying a fee to the butcher and the drover for having spared them the labor and, as importantly, the agony of slaughtering their pet pig.

But Herodotus wouldn't hear of it.

"If we're to be nourished 'pon the hocks and hams of this poor, sweet-natured beast," he was accustomed to say, "I won't entrust the killin' of him to no other man. If I were lackin' the nerve to be wieldin' the blade and afterwards to be livin' with the guilt and shame of the treacherous deed, I've got no business to be sittin' at table and keepin' the feast."

So Herodotus insisted upon doing the slaughtering, scalding, skinning and butchering himself. It was a horrible mess in back of the byre. Few stenches on earth were as foul as that of a scalded, skinned and gutted pig; and once the operation had begun, there was no backing away from it. It had to be carried through to completion if only to prevent the eruption and spread of disease among the livestock and the souls who lived on the farm.

"If one were unwillin' to go to the nines and tens, my girl," Herodotus had once said to a tear-stained Lila out by the byre before the unsheathed blade had risen and been thrust to do its murderous, severing, blood-spurting work, "enter not into the one's and two's." As a philosophical statement, Lila felt that her father's observation revealed a good deal of practical wisdom.

Lila turned away from the gasps and moans going on near the stage and said to Deiphobus, "I have a lot of respect for my father."

Deiphobus raised a dark, bushy eyebrow at the apparent non-sequitur.

"His way of looking at the world -- it may be a bit stodgy but I think it's fundamentally sound," Lila said. "He can be over-protective and even a trifle narrow-minded, and he's certainly got his faults and prejudices. He carries on with the men at the pub, sometimes in unseemly ways, and he's got certain stereotyped notions of what a woman's role at home and in the world ought to be, but he's a good provider and a faithful husband, and he’s got a sense of what's truly important in life. A child could do a lot worse than to have a father like him. I hope I get the chance to tell him that."

Suddenly, for the first time, the possibility occurred to Lila that she might not see her parents again if the hostilities in which she was embroiled were to erupt into cataclysmic bloodshed beyond even Xena's ability to control.

"She'll never get to meet my parents," Lila stared into Deiphobus' dark, mildly anxious eyes. "Not if she goes through with what she’s got planned."

"What are you talking about?" Deiphobus frowned. "Who'll never get to meet your parents? That little hussy of a stringy-haired cabeiros who's making use of that handsome dactyl to induce a voluble orgasm, in the middle of the day, in front of she doesn't seem to care whom? You'd be most glad of that, I should think."

A sharp slice of pain, like the gold and scarlet sashes worn by the sorcerers and musicians, lanced Lila from her left shoulder down through her breast and belly to her gut just above the appendix. The woman whom Lila felt she might very well grow to love, were there only world enough and time, would likely never meet her mother and father. Hecuba and Herodotus would never get to welcome, to their home and at their table, the greatest living Amazon queen, Queen Gabrielle's Queen, nor would they ever hear Lila telling them, with Penthesileia sitting quietly blushing in their modest hut under candlelight, that this generous yet needy, willful though dependent, exquisitely tender yet infinitely strong and altogether worthy woman was the choice of their daughter's heart. And on the banner of their standard for every eye to see: a queen's crown and a peasant girl's comb, of equal stature in the aristocracy of the heart, bowing graciously, one to the other, to acknowledge their mutual primacy.

"There must be a way to stop her... or mustn’t there be?" Lila said.

"Stop the Corybantes?" Deiphobus said. "I don't think so. Once they've been consecrated to Cybele -- and it usually takes place in infancy -- it does something to their minds and sensibilities. They seem to live half their life in the performance of ecstasy and the other half in rehearsing for it."

"Their lives are a sacrifice," Lila looked with renewed eyes at the climaxing couple near the stage. The man's protruding phallus, now being gentled by the woman's skilled hand, was spasming but no seed was pouring forth from its fount. "What they're doing is sacred though it may look profane. What we learn, as enaretes kores, is that if those two weren't doing what they're doing, and if what they’re doing weren't being done continually, by some couple, somewhere, at every fall of the sand grain of every turn of the sandglass of every candlemark of every day, no seed would spring in Gaiamitros' plowed furrows, no plants would bloom, no crops would grow, no fields would yield their harvest and the earth would be as barren as... that woman's womb. So if they're wild and queer and inappropriately orgiastic, it's their gift to us. And I imagine they rarely get thanked for it."

"You're a very strange young woman," Deiphobus said. "You're not an Amazon, and though you may be the sister of Xena's close companion, you plainly aren't a warrior. You're not a bard or a priestess or a teacher or someone's wife and mother. What are you, exactly?"

"A pilgrim, a stranger, a woman in the larval state," Lila said. "You aren't a bad man, you know. I'd say you have potential. If you survive the war -- and I hope you do, all of you, all of us; I may be Greek but rest assured I'm no bearer of lethal gifts -- I think you should strike out for Poteidaia or for some town not unlike it, locate a village, find a farm, offer your services as an honest laborer, share the life, give to and take from it. Don't tell anyone you're a king's son. If you've got the mettle -- and I suspect that deep down you do -- they'll figure it out."

Lila smiled and excused herself, then went back inside the castle to return to her quarters. Deiphobus stood at the portal and watched her go. For some days afterwards, when speaking with one or another of his peers about Xena, the Amazon women and the young, dark-haired sister of Xena's sai-wielding companion, the same young woman who seemed to be making a bit of an impression upon the affections of one so august in her bearing as Queen Penthesileia, Deiphobus got into the habit of saying, "She has a pleasant face and a nice manner and a soft body that strikes one as warm and yielding, but those things don't explain the fact that she's actually quite beautiful, do they? And I'll be hanged by my codpiece on the highest lamppost in the courtyard where the Corybantes recently led the crowd in their rambunctious orgy if I can put my finger on precisely why that should be so..."

from Orphic Hymns #27 and #38

Continued - Chapter 49
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