Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The White Raven

Painting by Adam Elsheimer
Though a beautiful land of vast plains and towering mountains, Thessaly, in northern Greece, held a dread curse over her ruling house. The house of Phlegyas was damned by Olympus, as the King of the Thessalian Lapith tribe had blasphemed terribly against the most high. Both children of Phlegyas would feel the wrath of gods. The King's son, Ixion, dared vengeance upon Zeus himself, and was now condemned to be bound to a wheel of fire that roared through the vaults of Heaven until the end of times. The fate of the King's daughter, Coronis, hung in the balance...

The maiden of Larissa, the hand of Coronis was sought after far and wide, by mortal, and immortal. But far from winning the hand of any earthly prince, she won something more - the heart of the Sun god himself, Apollo the son of Zeus. While travelling with her father to the land of the Epidaurians deep in the Argolid, when alone one night, the son of Zeus came down to her from on high. Finding the Thessalian princess alone from her kin, out of sight and out of earshot, the god made his strike. Coronis, overwhelmed by the glory of an immortal god, succumbed to the allure of the son of Zeus.

Some months passed, and soon time bore witness to the swell in the belly of the Larissan maid. Apollo, son of Zeus and lord of light, rejoiced at the coming of his child. Commanding his faithful servant, a raven of purest white, he bade the bird keep watch on Coronis, and bring tidings of her to Olympus. Down to the earthly plain it flew, a glimmer of white, for in those days of old the raven was as white as the first winter snow, and 'soft as the swan'.

              " But his own bird the raven chanc'd to find
                The false one with a secret rival joyn'd
                Coronis begg'd him to suppress the tale,
                But could not with repeated pray'rs prevail "

Grim were the tidings indeed, for it seemed the absence of Apollo had hit Coronis hard. The Thessalian princess had since fallen for Ischys, a Thessalian boy, and it was her meeting with the lad that the snowy raven caught sight of now. Cold dread flooded him icier than the snows like which he seemed. The raven agonised over what to do, should he defend his master's honour, and furiously peck the stranger away? Should he chastise Coronis for dishonouring the father of her unborn child? Should he do nothing? At length, the mischievous nature of the raven took flight, and the snowbird soared to the skies, hurtling to the Kingdom of the Sun.

            " The raven to her injur'd patron flew,
               And found him out, and told the fatal truth
              Of false Coronis and the favour'd youth "
                   - THE RAVEN REVEALS CORONIS

Terrible was the fury of the god, cuckolded by a mere mortal, and worse, when the lady was with his child. All colour drained the Sun god's ever youthful complexion bar the red of rage. Madness of jealous anger flooded him, banishing afar reason and good sense. His radiant hand as a flash of his father's lightning darted toward his bow, the dread of giants and all creatures of darkness. With a scream, he wrenched the string back, feathered arrow nocked, and released. Sure and true, the golden dart raced through the Heavens and Earth, and transfixed itself in the breast of Coronis. Where once the sun god had touched in life, he now struck in death. To her knees fell the maiden of Thessaly, gentle groans, and no words, as her life-force trickled out from the burning wound. Apollo's fire grew not cooler, but hotter still, as he found no release from grief at his fell deed. As her soul leaked from her wound, Coronis cried with her last breath:

          " Ah cruel god! Tho' I have justly dy'd,
            What has, alas! my unborn infant done,
            That he should fall, and two expire in one? "
                    - CORONIS' PLEA

The Argolid
Photograph taken by the author
With that, her noblest words, she departed life, as the fires of the sun god's dart consumed her mortal form. Her words pierced both fire and sky, and reached Apollo's ears. A thundering remorse pulsed through him, as he was seized with grief and regret. So great was the heat that emanated from within him the snowy raven was scorched, his magnificent plumage, once pure as hope, now blackened with grief. Charred deeply, from that day the raven and all his descendants would bear the mark of that day, and that is why the raven has black feathers. Soaring down to her body, the sun god heard the cries of a baby, and resolved to protect the child. The son of an immortal god, the child could not die, alas her mother bore not the same shield against Death. From amongst the embers, the screaming child was ripped, a ray of the sun god's hope. To him was given the name of Asclepius, who would one day be the god of healing and rejuvenation. Apollo set him in the land which conceived him, the land of the Epidaurians in the Argolid, there to be raised by the finest tutor of the age, the centaur, Chiron, who had taught Achilles himself. For the god of healing, it was the beginning....

United Kingdom

Penguin Classics
Metamorphoses: A New Verse Translation (Penguin Classics)
(A version which favours ease of understanding than high poetry)

Oxford World's Classics
Metamorphoses (Oxford World's Classics)
(A version which favours ease of understanding than high poetry)

United States

Penguin Classics
Metamorphoses (Penguin Classics)
(A version which favours ease of understanding than high poetry)

Oxford World's Classics
Metamorphoses (Oxford World's Classics)
(A version which favours ease of understanding than high poetry)

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