In the beginning, he was unruly and proud – a man of war, clad in sparkling bronze, with bull-horns upon his long-crested helmet. Mean and lean, he fought like a madman for glory and for plunder. He was quick to leap for joy and not ashamed to cry. Life was good and death was bad. 

When the great palaces of gold fell into ruin and disrepair, he retreated to the city: and there, entrenched, he could still claim kinship to the heroes of old. He exchanged his goat-hide shield for a brass-rimmed hoplon, that concave brick in the living wall of a phalanx on the march. Half of it protected him and the other half the man next to him. Thus, he learned humility; and whenever he shed blood he liked to think it was in defense of virtue of some sort. His thoughts were great, his art was pure. Life was good and death, perhaps, was not the end.

Then the cities burnt each other to the ground and, following his mighty ram-horned king, he opened the gates to the East. He travelled far, to distant lands, and for the first time knew the pleasure worlds of far-flung satrapies. He fought ‘gainst nightmarish beasts, enchained dragons in Indian swamps, and even subdued the dog-headed tribes that dwelt at the ends of the earth. He found himself a hero, like never before, steeped in legend and fantasy. He erected colossi upon the eyries and calculated with precision the circumference of celestial spheres. Life was strange and death stranger still.

Yet his once thick skin had grown supple in the East. His sword had lost its once keen edge. So, when the Roman eagle dove shrieking in, he found out he was not the hero he was always supposed to be. Yet the the battles he couldn’t win with steel he resolved to overcome through wit. The simple conquerors were no match for his profound rhetoric and soon they became the conquered, with a face like his. Life was hard and death considered a release.

The honeyed words entangled themselves into a labyrinth; and as the old gods lay dying new ones were born – yet none dared call them that, for fear of blasphemy. The time of heroes came to an end and he found himself a little less of a man. Half soldier and half monk, he struggled between vice and virtue over damnation’s abyss. Sometimes falling, sometimes rising, hunched under the weight of the grim struggle he had taken on, he grew weary of the world. Life was a test and death the reward.

Perhaps he should have never opened the gates to the East; for from thence came the turbaned hordes that laid waste to his hoary world. His shield was broken, his sword was no more and instead of the heroic lay his lips grew accustomed to laments. Yet he persevered still, doing what had to be done. Some of it was ugly and in some small parts he managed to smuggle in some light. He cleaved to faith and mystic prophecy, biding his time ‘till the stars of God announced the day of revenge. Still, in his darkest hour, he never forgot the hero he once was. Life was bitter and death often sweet.

Through fire and through tides of blood, he finally rose up to sever clean the conqueror’s head; but to his surprise, he found himself a freedman among the ruins. He stumbled on all fours, clawing through the ashes and the mud, looking for some piece of gold. All he found were the colossi of the past and rotting scrolls full of words he could no longer understand. He sold these off for a change of clothes so that he would look like all the rest and relished how easy it was to forget. He grew complacent and fat, afraid of touching either sword or quill. He made new friends and didn’t mind their snickering behind his back. At least he didn’t have to be alone anymore. From time to time he liked telling stories from his past so as to appear more smart and better please his new-found friends. But, in the end, he had to return to an empty home, bereft of heroes’ busts or frescos of his mystery God, and lull himself to sleep with dreams of gold and -even worse- of a pat on his curbed back. Life was sort of good, some of the time; and death? He’d rather not think about that at all. 

Article Published: Saturday, 11 February 2017