4. "Don't Smite the Messenger"

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Centering Chryses,
Priest-King of Chryse:

          "He said what?"

The voice of an angry and disbelieving god,
     perhaps real,
          perhaps imagined,
fills my ears.

Sunbeams in the sanctuary
     reflect
off the gold-plated wood  
          of the shining face
     of Apollo's idol
like radiating shafts of anger.

As a priest,
     I have trained to placate angry gods
               on behalf of aggrieved pilgrims,
                    on behalf of quarreling villagers,
               on behalf of luckless fishermen.
          This time I have to stop myself,
          to remind myself
               that I myself
     am the one who now stokes Apollo's holy fire
                    against Agamemnon,
                    Overlord of the Achaean host,
               commander of a thousand black ships.

With a hopeful heart,
     I channel my outrage
          into a repetition of my story.

"I entered the Achaean camp
     under your standard,
          Great Lord Apollo,
     under your protection,
          Great Lord Apollo,
     standing in your place,
          carrying a golden staff adorned with the ribbons of my office.
     gathering a procession of followers
          as I walked among the men,
          as I approached the huts of Agamemnon and Menelaus,
               the stalwart sons of Atreus,
     and called out a prayer on their behalf.
          'Atreides,
     said I,
'may the gods of Olympus grant you leave to sack Priam's city
          and to sail again home in safety.
     With me are fellow servants of Apollo,
          burdened with bundles of wealth,
            a ransom of gold and silver treasures,
       with which I seek to redeem my captive daughter,
               taken
     when strong-armed Achilles pacified the city of Thebe.
Show reverence to custom and to my office,
     and you shall win the favor of far-shooting Apollo,
          the son of Zeus,'
     to which Agamemnon replied,
          'Old man!
               Old fool!
     I best not see you loitering by the ships again,
          with a staff of ribbons
            as your only protection
       against my wrath.
     Your daughter,
          once the mere offshoot of a lowly islander,
          is now the property of a mighty leader of kings!
               I'll not give her up,
                    not while she can yet toil on a loom,
                    not while she can yet pleasure me in bed,
                    not until she's dead,
                         shriveled and useless,
                         broken and beaten,
                              or sooner,
                    if I decide on a whim
     that her death might amuse me.
               You'll never see your daughter again.
          She will die,
            far from her home,
        in distant Mycenae,
     from whence the news of her will never travel here.'

"This is what Agamemnon said.

     "And then he said,
          'Leave me!
     And if you still need to beg for something,
               beg for your own life,
          that I allow you to pass safely out of my encampment.
Your prayer to Apollo should be
          that you never find yourself
     within striking distance of my sword!'"

"This, also, is what he said.

"Great son of Leto,
     If you have ever taken pleasure
          from this humble shrine,
               raised by the hands of Chryses,
          from the bulls and goats
               slaughtered by the hands of Chryses,
          from songs of prayer and thanksgiving,
               sung by the voice of Chryses,
     then loose your arrows
          at the army of Agamemnon
               to avenge the daughter of Chryses.
Make the Achaeans suffer a death
     for every one of my daughter's tears."

     My supplicant voice
               echoes
in the sanctuary of Apollo,
          and returns to my ears
     as a resounding call:

               "So granted."

Author Commentary:

An author commentary for this installment is available to subscribers of the free Mythoversal Newsletter.

EPIC CYCLE ROADMAP:

* The Kypria
* The Iliad
* The Posthomerica
* Tales of Nostos
* The Odyssey
* The Telegony
* The Aeneid
  Rage is the first book of the Iliad. Amazons is the first book of the Posthomerica.
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