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"He Said What?"

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Cryses

          "He said what?"

The voice of an angry and disbelieving god,
     perhaps real,
          perhaps imagined,
fills the ears of High Priest Cryses.

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,
     Cryses is trained to placate the gods
               on behalf of aggrieved rulers,
                    on behalf of quarreling villagers,
               on behalf of luckless fishermen.
          He has to stop himself,
          to remind himself
               that he himself
     is the one who now stokes Apollo's holy fire
                    against Agamemnon,
                    Overlord of the Achaean host,
                    commander of a thousand black ships
               in the mouth of the wide-flowing Scamander.

With a hopeful heart,
     Cryses channels his outrage
          into a repetition of his story.

"I entered the Achaean camp
     under your standard,
     under your protection,
     standing in your place,
          carrying a golden staff adorned with the ribbons of my office.
     and gathered a procession of followers,
          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 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 a mere offshoot of a lowly priest,
          is now the treasured property of a mighty king!
               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 by old age,
                              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,
        far from her family,
           in distant Mycenae,
     on a day that you will never know.'

"This is what he said.

     "And then he said,
          'Go!
     And if you feel the need to beg something of me,
               beg for your own life,
          that I allow you to pass safely out of my encampment,
and pray to Apollo
     that I never find you within striking distance of my sword.'"

"This, also, is what he said.

"Great son of Leto,
     If you have taken any pleasure
          from this humble shrine,
               raised by my own hands,
          from the bulls and goats
               set before your altar
               as burnt offerings,
          from songs of prayer and thanksgiving,
               offered by your loyal cult,
     loose your arrows
          at the army of Agamemnon.
Make them suffer a death
     for every one of my daughter's tears."

     The voice of the high priest
               echoed
in the sanctuary of Apollo,
          and returned to his ears
     as a resounding call.

               "So granted."

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