Thursday, June 20, 2013

Eso’s Chronicles 182/ 4
The Aborted Head
© Eso A.B.

When King Pentheus had climbed into the pine tree in which the Sun had got herself stuck, the King could not quite reach Her from his perch. So, he reached up with his spear and gave her a few pokes with it.  

Try as he might, Pentheus had no luck getting the Sun to move. He thought of climbing yet a little higher, but the heat of the sun was boiling the resin of the pine until it broke through its bark, whence it dripped and collected on one of the edges of the perch where Pentheus was to stand.

Meanwhile, Dionysus and the maenads had began to crowd into the grove below. Everyone who came to the mountain and entered the grove fell on their knees and looked up to the Sun in the pine tree. The would be revelers set up a chorus of moans and wailing. Pentheus, not wishing to be seen, moved to the opposite side of the tree, where he was well hid by the pine’s branches. Unfortunately, the heat from the trapped Sun was melting the resin on that side of the pine as well. Soon King Pentheus’ hands were not only sticky from resin, but the resin was hot and stayed hot for long enough to raise on the skin of his palms painful blisters. For fear of his hands sticking to the bark and tearing the blisters open, the Pentheus hardly dared touch anything. He was forced to move back to his perch, a place where his overcoat was likely to be covered with dripping resin and seen by those looking up from below.

Indeed, it was not long before King Pentheus was seen. There then arose a loud cry and many hands and fingers pointed at him.

“May the Sun burn you to cinder!” a maenad screamed guessing that the King had come into sight because the Sun had scorched him.

Another shouted: “What are you doing there, King!?”

“Jump, King!... Your face is ugly!... We’ve been waiting to show you a porno!...” screamed others.

Still others shouted: “We’re coming after you!” and rushed at the tree and began to climb after the King. When a number of women had reached him, they grabbed his legs and let themselves hang loose. There was nothing Pentheus could do (because of his blistered hands, he could not grab hold of any branches to hang on to), but had to allow himself to be dragged down. Pentheus fell together with three or four maenads holding on to him. They rolled out of the branches and fell into a crowd of outraged women, who had gathered at the bottom of the pine. Pentheus was seized by many women, all of who bit or tore his flesh.

Even as the King felt being torn apart, he suddenly heard a voice close to his ear. The voice was that of his mother. It said: “Be brave, my son. The sacrifice has been foreordained. You must die!” Then the King received a blow to the back of his head, upon which he lost consciousness.

The King’s mother, whose name was Agave, was among the Bacchantes and among the first women to seize Pentheus and wrestle him to the ground. She had then laid herself on the King’s back and killed him by driving a sharp end of a piece of flint into the back of his skull. Now she used the same flint to cut off Pentheus’ head.

Once the King’s head was severed from his body, Agave seized it by its hair and held it up for all to see. “Here! Here!” she shouted, “Here is our offering to the Sun! May no man ever dare to take Her place!”

Another maenad snatched the head out of Agave’s hands and put it between her legs and held it there in an up-side down position. “Here is the abortion!” the maenad screamed with her skirt turned red from the King’s blood, then passed the head to the maenad standing next to her. This one put the head between her legs and began to hop with it—until her knees could hold it no longer and it fell to the ground. In this way the head made its way around the crowd, until Agave retrieved it.

Holding the King’s head by the hair and holding her arm extended before her as if she were holding a lantern, Agave began to run to Thebes. Soon  the head was again snatched from her by another maenad who had joined the run. With the head changing hands frequently, almost the entire band of Bacchantes was soon back in Thebes, where the head was taken to the outhouse at the marketplace and dumped into the excrement hole.

After all the Bacchantes had relieved themselves on the head, Agave had it retrieved and washed. Then she held it aloft once more, screaming: “O, what made you compete with the Sun!? O, Pentheus! O, my son!?” Only now did the Bacchantes awaken to the fact that the King had been killed by none other than his mother. Many now joined the mother in howling and screaming louder than they ever had at any other human sacrifice.

After a long dirge, Agave seemed to have an idea. She asked her attendants to bring her a barrel of pine resin, such as was kept in Thebes for lighting torches. When the barrel was brought, Agave took off its lid and glued the head of the King onto the barrel. Then she proceeded to lead the Bacchantes back up Mt. Cithaeron.

At the ceremonial grove, they were awaited by Dionysus, who had remained there with all too old  to run back and forth. From what everyone could see, the Sun was still caught up in the tree.

However, Dionysus and his companions had dug at the center of the grove a deep pit, which they had filled with dry moss, loose branches, and trunks of fallen trees. When Dionysus saw the head and the barrel of esin, he asked everyone to come to dig the pine tree free of earth. When the tree stood free, it fell, and so did the Sun. Everyone could now see that the Sun was but a large disk of charcoal covered wood that had been dipped in resin, tied to the top of the tree, and put to light.

Dionysus was not for a loss of what to do. He had the pine tree cut in half, a man’s and a half length above the base of the roots, then the top of the trunk was pushed into the pit and raised and secured in such a way that its roots stood vertically into the air.

Agave put the bucket of resin with the head of the King on top of the roots, and someone brought a fire. Dionysus ignited the moss in the pit. Slowly the moss and wood there began to burn and the fire rose to surround the uprooted tree. Eventually the flames came to lick the resin and the contents of the barrel began to burn and boil. The King’s head sunk ever deeper into the pitch until the wood hoops burnt through, the barrel spilled open, and the fire dripped as flaming drops into the pit.

It was at that point that Dionysus raised the cry: “The Sun is risen!”

“The Sun is risen!” echoed the Bacchantes.

Someone brought up a donkey cart that held a cask of wine. A wild dance of maenads began around the fire pit. The dance lasted until the trunk and roots of the pine had burnt and the bony burnt skull of the King had been retrieved as a holy relic. Thereupon the pit was dug shut. When the ground was level, and it was clear to everyone that the Sun had traveled its course and was almost to set, a new sapling of a pine tree was planted on top of this now invisible altar.

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