Lesser Greek Gods
A Muse Meant for Critters
The man striding into the room went unnoticed by the sole occupant. The newcomer, broad shouldered, powerful, golden locks falling below his shoulders, entered nude but he carried a gallon jug in each hand, the weight barely noticed by the man.
“You have any cups?” the newcomer asked, his eyes traveling around the room to spy out such things were they in plain sight. The man at the table, quill in his right hand, left arm and hand holding in place the scroll he worked on, looked up the intruder. “Oh, Hades and Poseidon, Bacchus, go away! Can you not see I’m working here.”
“What you do is not work and you know it,” the one called Bacchus replied. “Now, where’s the cups? I’ve some of this year’s Hios and, I’m telling you, this is good stuff!”
“You Sons of Zeus can afford to indulge in wine tasting…”
“We’re not going to ‘taste’ this; Epi, old buddy, we’re gonna drink it. All of it. Today and tonight and for however long it takes to make certain not a drop goes to waste.”
“...as I was saying, we less-than-minor gods must earn our living or we shall acquire no praise of mortals. No praise, no sacrifice. No sacrifice, no honor. No honor, no promotion to the big leagues.”
Bacchus found some cups on a table behind a curtain in the corner of the room. Placing the jugs on top of the scroll Epikruno was working, he went to gather the cups, throwing over his shoulder as he went: “You ain’t makin’ it to the bigs, old buddy. Alpha, you’re quite obviously the wrong sex; beta, all the important muses have been identified. Went from three to six to nine but, all the indications are that straight-nosed brother of mine isn’t going to go any higher. Of course, he hasn’t begun to consider movies, television, or radio but those won’t be around for awhile so he figures he’s got things covered. And you know how he hates women. Figures it’s bad enough he has to supervise nine of “em; he ain’t looking for any more. And that bunch of harpies aren’t going to allow any male competition”
Considering the jugs parked dead center of his scroll, Epikrunos gave up his task. Standing, he peered over the rim of one of the jugs, letting the aroma fill his nostrils, pleased with the expressive sweetness. “It’s Hios, you say?” he asked but didn’t bother to listen to the answer. Instead, he took a cup from Bacchus and ladled the son of Zeus a full measure. Then, he did the same for himself, lifting the full cup to his nose, breathing deeply.
“One thing I’ll concede, Bacchus, the bouquet is as good as the jugs of Thasso you brought a couple of years back and that was as good as I’ve encountered.”
Bacchus nodded agreement but was quickly lost in thought as he sipped from his cup. “It’s probably not fair, I know, but have you had any of the New Zealand 1997 pinot noir?” He flinched as soon as the question escaped his mouth. Epikrunos spun on him, irritation blossoming full on his face: “You know Hera-damned well that Cronos doesn’t let my kind go traipsing around time. We’re not good enough for that.”
“Ooops! Sorry. Knew I was wrong the moment I asked. Let it go, brother; let it go.”
Eying his friend, Epikrunos diverted himself with a sip from his cup, a feat that brought a genuine smile to his face. “Oh, my stars and Hephastia’s garters, that is gooood!!”
Beaming with self-congratulatory “I-told-you-so” smugness, Bacchus agreed: “Got that right!”
The first cup called for a second and that a third. Conversation ranged from gossip about the Twins’ doings and whether Zeus was ever going to do anything about Aphrodite’s pranks to clothing to who was hot among the Sirens this year. In the third cup, Bacchus brought it back to clothing.
“You know, Epi, I’m laying around here in my nothing-at-all and you’re still suffering under that truly ugly himation. Even died scarlet, it doesn’t do a thing for you. Why do you wear it anyway?”
Epikrunos first blushed, then admitted that if he didn’t wear something, he’d get ink all over his body. “Apollo hasn’t got around to spreading the talent, you know. Clio’s the only one who truly handles the quill well.”
“Well, you’re not working now; get rid of it.” And, then a new thought came to Bacchus. “Wait a minute; you got any more of that material?” Epikrunos admitted that he had. Clapping his hands, he sent the servant who appeared to retrieve the roll. “What do you have in mind?” he asked Bacchus, his voice betraying the little suspicion he could not shake. He had much experience of Bacchus’ sense of humor.
“Well, don’t tell Cronos, but you and me are going to have a toga party.”
“What’s a toga party?”
”We’re gonna get dressed like a pair of Romans and get smashed out of our gourds.”
“The Romans? They don’t even have a civilization; why copy them?”
“Trust me on this one, okay?”
The servant returned with a great bolt of woolen fabric, un-dyed and un-bleached. Bacchus unrolled 40 pechyas or so, ripped his selection from the bolt, and threw the remains to Epikrunos. With great care he wrapped the material around his frame. He announced his completion with: “Voila! A toga.”
“What the Hades is a voila and what the Styx is a toga?”
Parading about the room, whirling so that Epikrunos might examine every angle, Bacchus spread his arms in pronouncement: “This is a toga! This is the one and only party dress. All the great parties in history have centered around this toga. I won’t bother naming them as that would be rubbing your nose in things but just trust me. All the great ones had togas.”
There was only 34 pechyas of fabric left but Bacchus opined that would do and set about introducing his friend to the necessary wraps and turns. “Okay, we’re all set,” Bacchus said.
“Now, what do we do?” Epikrunos asked, a little nervous at what the answer would be. Bacchus had a reputation for off-the-wall ideas.
“Now, we drink!” Bacchus answered, filling both their cups.
“Weren’t we doing that before?”
“But, now, we’re wearing togas so it’s a quantum improvement.”
“No one’s thought of quanta yet; they’re still mulling over atoms.”
“Don’t be picky,” Bacchus said. “Say, have you got any anise?”
“For the wine? Are you planning to invite women to this party?”
Wandering the room looking for the spices, Bacchus shook his head. “No, I’m not but I was thinking a little spice would perk this wine a bit.”
“Let’s just stick to honey,”
Shrugging his shoulders, bestowing a rueful look on his friend, Bacchus observed that Epikrunos was pretty much of a traditionalist, that he needed to open up a bit, get a little loose and see what happens.
“Besides,” he said, “I know you have nothing against the occasional dalliance. Didn’t I see you sniffing after Aphrodite the other day?”
Shocked, Epikrunos had to fight to not cough his wine from its travel down his throat. “Do you know what happens to men who make passes at Aphrodite? Do I look crazy to you?”
“That’s men you’re talking about. How about gods? We can’t die you know.”
“But you bigs have a way of making gods who offend you wish they could die. I’m thinking here of Sissyphus and Prometheus. No, thanks, I’m perfectly content to let the virginal one remain so.”
“Well, then, who do you like? Calliope? Thalia? Erato ought to be pretty good, huh?”
Epikrunos took a seat at the table, his attention casting a quick glance at the scroll laying there. “I never mix business with pleasure,” he said, “so I can’t tell you about the Muses. Besides, they tend to think of me as worse than a necessary evil. The fact I help their clients do better work doesn’t seem to make an impression on their highnesses. They seem to believe that their charges could perform just as well without me.”
“Oh, Hecate, not you, too.” Epikrunos stood to grab a jug. “You get the other one off this scroll. Let me show what would happen without me.”
They placed the jugs on the floor but not before filling their cups. Then, leaning over the open scroll, Epikrunos searched for the point he had been working. “Here you go; this is a perfect example,” he said to Bacchus. Leaning over to get a better view, Bacchus asked what he was looking at.
“It’s called Electra. It’s Sophocles latest and it must be ready by the end of the week for its grand opening in Athens.”
“I get that part,” Bacchus said, “but what am I looking at?”
“This is a scene where Electra tries to recruit her sister to plot to kill their parents.”
“Humans are a nasty bunch, aren’t they? Do you suppose it’s because they die?”
“It may well be. Now, pay attention.”
“First, let’s have another cup.”
Epikrunos drained his to catch up to Bacchus and presented the empty to Bacchus who immediately re-filled it. “You know,” Bacchus mused, “it would be nice if they’d hurry up and invent bottles. Then we could line the ‘dead soldiers’ along the wall to measure the progress of our party. I mean, we could scrounge up a thousand cups or so but it just wouldn’t have the same effect.”
“Oh, shut up and pay attention. I’m trying to educate you, here, you illiterate oaf.”
“Hey, I can read the labels…”
“Shut up and pay attention. Look at these lines,” he commanded. Bacchus leaned in closer to look at them. Waiting on the page, these words:
“Hear, then, how I am resolved to act. As for the support of friends, thou thyself must know that we have none; Hades hath taken our friends away. and we two are left alone. I, so long as I heard that my brother still lived and prospered, had hopes that he would yet come to avenge the murder of our sire. But now that he is no more, I look next to thee, not to flinch from aiding me thy sister to slay our father's murderer, Aegisthus:- I must have no secret from thee more. “
“What’s wrong with that?” Bacchus asked. “Seems like Soph got it pretty well.”
“Here, look at my notes,” Epikrunos answered. Around the phrase, in red ink, were a series of annotations, the first of which read: “No friends? None? How can the royal daughters not have any friends? Royal daughters are inundated with friends, folk hoping to make good impressions on the daughters as well as the royal parents.”
“You mean like the chorus Sophocles writes into these things?”
“They could be friends, yes. They are certainly willing to offer advice as much as any friend might do. Which only confirms my point, don’t you see.”
Shaking his head as if not totally convinced, Bacchus asked: “How then should Sophocles mend this point?”
“Not my job! I just point out what I see needs improvement. Calliope and the others can inspire the actual improvements.”
Bacchus regarded his friend for a moment, Epikrunos unaware of the attention as he was moving on to his next point. “See here; she claims Hades has taken all their friends. Even if it were true, she has no way of knowing that. Hades doesn’t leave a calling card to let folk know not to bother looking for their friends, they won’t be around anymore. He’s a hit and run kind of guy.”
“He leaves the bodies,” Bacchus objected.
“Precisely! Nowhere does Sophocles mention any bodies so how does Electra know Hades took her friends away? Maybe they just went on holiday. Maybe they’ve lost interest in her. There could be myriad reasons for her friends to disappear.”
Shaking his head for reasons he does not state, Bacchus pulls away from the scroll to empty his cup. “If I were not already an adept, I believe your work would make me consume more wine than even Samos can produce.” With that, he filled his cup. After he had done so, Bacchus looked into the jug. To himself he muttered “I’d say that’s about below the shoulder of the jug; only a few more minutes of this, we can move this party on.”
Leaning back onto the scroll, he asked Epikrunos what else he had found that ought to be corrected.
“Well, look at this last line: “I must have no secret from thee more.” What secret is she talking about? She’s been moaning the entire play that someone needs to avenge her father. Who on stage or in the audience can be so dense as to not realize what she is up to? Three scrolls back she upbraided her sister for not caring more. As she railed, she yelled: “And yet when I do all I can to avenge our father, do you help me?” How secret can her intentions be?”
As sympathetic as he could feign, Bacchus asked Epikrunos what he had written to Sophocles. Turning the scroll to easier read the note, Epikrunos read it aloud: “Phrase is redundant; see first speech to Chrysothemis.”
“Well, in that speech, she doesn’t exactly say that she intends to murder Aegisthus.”
“Don’t be quibbling as if you were Sophocles himself, Bacchus. You know as well as I that in the epode she told the chorus: “For if the dead shall lie there, nothing but dust and ashes, and they who killed them do not suffer death in return, then for all mankind, fear of the gods, respect for man, have vanished.” She’s a murderous little bitch and everyone knows it.”
“Ah, well, that’s a fact I cannot and will not deny. She is all that.”
As Epikrunos returned the scroll to its original position, Bacchus grabbed the cups and filled them once again. Handing Epikrunos his, Bacchus proposed a toast: “To your critique, my friend; may the world be always blessed with analyses such as these.”
They toasted, Epikrunos unable to conceal the grin of satisfaction that followed Bacchus’ words. Draining his cup, he took Bacchus’ now empty cup and poured the wine, leaving room in the cups for a taste of honey which he dutifully added.
“Ah, my friend, the world will be blessed. I am, after all, the Muse of Criticism, and we gods cannot die.”
The two friends moved away from the table to couches, taking the jugs and the honey with them. Once comfortable, after another healthy sip of his wine, Epikrunos sighed, an act that raised Bacchus’ eyebrow in question.
“Oh, I was just thinking back to the good old days.”
“The good old days?”
“Yes, remembering working with Homer. Almost made the big time then. There was a guy who knew the value of criticism. Never wrote a line without consulting me. Calliope insists it was her doing but you run down to Hades and check with Homer’s shade, you’ll get the true story.”
“But, Epi, old boy, Calliope got the credit.”
“Women! What can you do with them?” Epikrunos disgust overrode Bacchus’ grin. “They are so manipulative! Apollo just wouldn’t listen to reason and I had no proof. Writing hadn’t been invented yet so I had no marked up copy to present to him.”
“Why didn’t Homer stand up for you?”
“Against Calliope? The man wanted to keep on writing, you know. He didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder.”
“And he needed his Muse more than he needed his critter.”
“There you go!” Epikrunos said. “My chance at the bigs shot down by a jealous bitch.”
“Well, don’t give up hope, Epi. It could still happen.”
Epikrunos wasn’t listening though. His mind was still back in the good old days.
“Come to think of it, Dio, do you recall those Mycenean women?”
“I never forget a good woman,” Bacchus said, a broad smile of remembrance filling his face. “Let’s fill our cups because those women deserve a toast.”
“They do; they do!”
Peering into the jug, Bacchus grinned even broader. “Right on schedule,” he thought to himself. “Someday I’m going to have to tell someone the spiritual graduation of two gallons of wine.”