The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso Read Free Book Online

Book: The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso Read Free Book Online
Authors: Roberto Calasso
Tags: Fiction, Literary
    But Dionysus’s wanderings and conquests were over now. It was time for him to climb up to Olympus. He would still find himself thinking of Ariadne sometimes. He took a garland of flowers up the mountain in remembrance. Then he sat down at the table of the Twelve. His seat was next to Apollo’s.
    Dionysus’s first love was a boy. His name was Ampelos. He played with the young god and the satyrs on the banks of the Pactolus in Lydia. Dionysus noticed the way his long hair fell on his neck, the light that glowed from his body as he climbed out of the water. When he saw him wrestling with a satyr and their feet became knotted together, he was jealous. He wanted to be the only one to fight with Ampelos. They were “erotic athletes.” They threw each other to the ground, and Dionysus loved it when Ampelos got him down and sat on his naked belly. Then they would wash the dust and sweat from their skins, swimming in the river. Theyinvented new games. Ampelos always won. He plaited a crown of snakes and put it on his head the way he’d seen his friend do. He also imitated Dionysus by wearing a mottled tunic. He learned to talk to bears, lions, and tigers. Dionysus encouraged him, but there came the day when he warned him too: you needn’t fear any wild beast, he said, but watch out for the horns of the cruel bull.
    Dionysus was alone one day when he witnessed a scene he felt must be an omen. A horned dragon appeared among the rocks. On his back he was carrying a deer. He tipped the creature off onto a stone altar and plunged a horn into its defenseless body. A pool of blood formed on the stone. Dionysus watched and felt grieved, but along with his grieving came an overwhelming desire to laugh, as if his heart were being split in two. Then he found Ampelos again, and they went on wandering about and hunting together as usual. Ampelos used to like playing his reed pipes, and he played badly. But Dionysus never tired of praising him, because while he praised he would watch him. Sometimes Ampelos would remember Dionysus’s warning about the bull, but it made less and less sense. By now he knew all the wild animals, and they were all his friends: why on earth shouldn’t the bull be a friend too? And one day, when he was out on his own, he met a bull among the rocks. The animal was thirsty, its tongue hanging out. The bull drank, then stared at the boy, then belched, and a stream of saliva dribbled from his mouth. Ampelos tried to stroke his horns. He made himself a rush whip and a sort of bridle. He arranged a mottled pelt over the bull’s back and mounted it. For a few moments he experienced a sense of elation no other animal had ever given him. But Selene was jealous. She saw him from on high and sent a gadfly. Irritated, the bull began to gallop, trying to escape that awful sting. Ampelos could no longer control the beast. A last jolt threw him to the ground. There was a dry, cracking sound as his neck snapped. The bull dragged him on, its horn sinking deeper and deeper into the boy’s flesh.
    Dionysus found Ampelos in the dust, covered in blood,but still beautiful. Gathered in a circle, the satyrs began to mourn over him. But Dionysus couldn’t join in with them. It wasn’t in his nature to weep. And he realized that he wouldn’t be able to follow Ampelos into Hades, because he was immortal. Over and over he promised himself he’d kill the whole bull species with his thyrsus. Eros, who had disguised himself as a shaggy satyr, came over to console him. He told him a love sting could only be cured by the sting of another love. So he should look elsewhere. When a flower has been cut, the gardener plants another one. But now Dionysus was crying for Ampelos. It was a sign that something had happened that would change his nature, and the nature of the world.
    At that moment the Hours were hurrying toward the house of Helios, the sun. There was a sense that something new was about to take place on the celestial wheel.

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