Wednesday, May 13, 2015

For Iphigenia (the Bacchus at Phelloe)

The house was built in Appalachian style,
No foundation or frame,
But windows cut from walls nailed to the sill,
On crude upright sandstone.

I thought of it in Aiges, ancient Aegira, which Homer called Hyperesia,
Where, in sight of Parnassus, realm of Apollo,
And of landslides from erosion, an old woman in living memory kept gardens
Behind a cottage built on Mycenaean walls.

It became Aegira, the city of goats, when the Hyperesians, facing war, drove
“Together all the goats that were in their land, and binding torches on their horns,
Enkindled them when the night was far advanced.”
The invaders fled before the river of lights.

That is Pausanias, travel writer for Roman tourists.
He goes on,  “where the most beautiful goat,
The leader of the rest, laid himself down,
They raised a temple of Diana, the Huntress.”

Pausanias notes fine statues of Jupiter and Apollo,
Serapis and Isis,
And an old statue in Diana’s temple, which the locals said
Was Iphigenia, Agamemnon's daughter,
Trades to the gods for a fair wind.

He reports a straight road from Aegira to Phelloe,
“An obscure little town, not constantly inhabited,”
With oak-trees, stags, and wild boars.
I scrambled uphill an hour through pasture, sometimes running,
To the base of Phelloe's acropolis, now just stone on stone,
And apple trees in the agora.
There were goats on the lower slopes, passing to the north.
A huge mastiff kept me back from them.  Their bells mapped them for miles.

The theater at Aegira was cut into stone, fronting Parnassus.
Today its bleacher seats are gulley-washes. 
The front rows hold, and the flagstone of the stage.

Carrying even a pebble from these places is a crime, heavy as drug-smuggling.
The Austrian School excavates a few weeks every summer.
Andreas the goat-herd, who helped them out for cash,
Reports the work is very slow, and not at all like digging.

I smuggled back a ram’s horn from his pastures,
Half-twisted and very dark.

The Bacchus at Phelloe was covered in vermilion.

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