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The Hunt for the
Boar of Kalydon
They come from the cities of Pherae and Phylace on the plain of Thessaly, from Iolcus on the Magnesian coast, Larissa and Titaeron on the banks of the Peneus. They quit Naryx and Trachis and march inland, westward, by way of the tusked peaks of Mount Oeta and the hot basins of Thermopylae. Rivers lead them out of Argolis, Emathia and Locris — the Asopus, the Axius, the Cephisus — and from Megara and Athens their routes lie across the isthmus of Corinth. They sail east from Ithaca and Dulichion; west from Aegina and Salamis.
The heroes are the outposts of a shrinking country whose centre is the place of their assembly. They march towards its discovery, each step drawing the ring of the tinchel tighter about the ground where their tracks must meet. They are one another's quarry in a bloodless, preparatory hunt.
Those descending the high ridges of Taygetus or Erymanthus join those marching west from Argos and Alea, north from Amyclae, Sparta, Gerenia or Pylos. From Taenarus, on the tip of the Peloponnese, the route must pass by way of Messenia; from Messenia, Arene; from Arene, Elis. Arcadia is a mountain fastness, cool and untouched. One walks out of the thick mists of Cimmeria; another makes the journey from Scythia. One takes a small boat down the Scamander to cross the Hellespont, sails south of the isles of Imbros and Samos, north of Lemnos. Mount Athos is a beacon on the triple isthmus of Paeonia. Soon the coast of Euboea, and a lucky tide oreasterly wind to take him down the strait until its brine runs sweet with water from the flood of the mountain-fed Spercheus. Its mouth will be his landfall, the first since Troy.
The landscapes of their childhoods unfold green cloaks and disclose the men they have become: the horsemen and helmsmen and runners and cripples. The new terrain they tread narrows to the routes which will best bring all to the coincidence waiting in their futures. They are smooth-talkers and swindlers; thieves, the sons of thieves and their accomplices too. Their heavy booty drags along the ground behind them. They would abandon it if they could. They steal cattle and tame horses. They ride dolphins. They kill centaurs. They are murderers and their victims and their victims' avengers. They owe one another the blood in their veins; these convergent journeys represent flights from such debts and their collection. A rare respite lies ahead, in the task awaiting them, such as was found by some on the deck of the Argo, or in the dust of Iolcus, where they contested in honour of Pelias. His son is here. His son's killer is here too.
They have murdered their brothers and been cleansed and betrayed. Their very beginnings have twinned them with the manner of their ends, which will come as thunderbolts out of the bright sky and burn their images into the ground. Their acts drag them fowards like beasts whose nature is to loathe one another: fierce lions and fiery-eyed boars yoked together in the traces, who tear up the ground and rake their drivers over the sharp stones. The necklaces of gold which they have looped about their wives' necks become nooses about their own, ploughing them face-first into the earth. They watch their images decay. They feel their skins puncture and split. They bristle with their own broken bones. Their memories are the memories of old men who have seen enough of death, those who watch from the walls, who have ransomed their lives and do not care to survive their sons.
But they are sons themselves and they remember fathers other than the ones they are determined to become. Leaping out into free air to land on the far side of the culvert, one looks up to find a sunburnt arm, knuckles bunched about a chipped scythe. Another watches the grizzled paternal head turn from the sacrifice, his fire-reddened face contorted, hand poised and twitching. A third stares into an open mouth spilling a red mash of tendons, gristle and soft bones. A wolf's eyes look back from behind his guiltless gaze. Their fathers are mortals with the appetites of gods, or gods with the appetites of men.
And yet here, in the gathering coincidence of the heroes' assembly, and now, between their inevitable beginnings and ends, they may step from the tracks holding them to these destined paths. They may struggle out of the deepening furrows marked and dug by their own footprints, which would bury them deep within the earth. They may find the kernel within themselves which cannot be destroyed. Their straggling journeys draw them ever closer, their lines trace a new, earth-bound constellation. A tendrilled creature creates itself over the terrain's rough fibre; its inky body will mark their meeting. They are each other's destinations.
The country which yet divides them is a place of accidental transformations. Its hinterland has been foreshadowed, its instabilities prefigured. Here, brothers turn into uncles, women may become men and men form themselves in the harsh races of rivers, wade out and stand dripping on the banks, a minute old but full-grown. The terrain narrows with every step. Its coordinates are their untrammelled bodies and what they do. Those who die here can do so only by fluke or carelessness. But the sons of Aeacus must survive to become the fathers of Achilles and Teucer, just as the son of Acrisius must once again be the father of sly Odysseus. The ground will close and inseparable allies will find themselves divided between the land of the living and the land of the dead. They have heard their futures in the songs of halcyons and crows; they sounded like commands.
Their country is a spattering of enclaves now: themselves. Their bodies are kingdoms which ally themselves with their neighbours and rivals. Some merged long ago, spooned like twins in the womb, smooth-surfaced and shelled like an egg. The War-god bellows but his son has fled. The Argo sails away from the kingdom and kingship she was built to reclaim. Her captain never returns.
They are the actors of feats they have compelled themselves to perform and others yet awaiting them. Their footfalls shake oak trees to their roots and set off landslides and small thunder-storms. Cattle flee and sheep miscarry. They collapse limestone caverns bunkered deep beneath the earth, or glide over fields of heliotrope without bending a stalk. They wear the armour of their pasts and futures.
Look: the highlands of Taygetus and Erymanthus are deserted, the plains of Elis and Thessaly silent. They have moved on, leaving behind a seismic quiet. The armature of what they mean cases them in its brittle glaze; these are lives which can only be enacted. It will be a weary meeting when they at last look across the gulf and know they may shuck off these encrusted skins.
They are the generation of Heracles: only they would gather in this manner, in the luxury of this long moment. Their sons will destroy one another at Troy. They know this and know that their tale will be twisted there, betrayed by one of their own and recast as policy. The sadness they will forget here is that the armour they shed must encase them again, that their names must swag themselves in epithets, that the sentences they carry will still be here on their return, patient as ferrymen and reproachful as widows. The boats will be waiting and the earth heaped.
The presences of some will leave no deeper imprint than a stylus in wet clay as it lifts and strands them, frozen in strange attitudes in the following silence. For some there will be only that. For others, the scratch of the quill over the papyrus's surface decrees contradictory lineages and mad progresses which will send them sailing between Argos and Colchis, drive them from the well polluted by the body of Chrysippus, or tumble them into the labyrinth which will be built by their sons. They glare in the lights from different altars and their shadows battle among themselves. But those dark spartoi are not themselves; they are competing plausibilities.
Such are the futures which tug at them, from whose grasp they have slipped to make this journey and to whose insistence they now deafen themselves with the noise of their own common purpose. As they near the gathering place they shout out their names to those arrived, to be known among them.
...Euthymachos, Leucippus, Ancaeus, Echion, Thersites, Antimachos, Panopeus, Iphiclus, Aphares, Evippus, Plexippus, Eurypylus, Prothous, Cometes, Prokaon, Klytius, Hippothous, Iolaos, Theseus...
They are heard here, this once and never again. Those who survive will remember this clamour as the true beginning of the hunt. Shout follows shout until together their names raise an edifice of air in which all find shelter from the futures racing towards them, be it exile to the islands in plain view before them, or to fall in the hills rising across the water, to flee Trachis and be taken at Oechalia, to know that their prime has passed.
...Pirithous, Enaesimus, Hippothous, Alcon, Scaeus, Dorycleus, Eutiches, Bucolus, Lycaethus, Tebrus, Eurytus, Hippocorystes, Eumedes, Alcinus, Dorceus, Sebrus, Enarophorus, Iphikles, Acastus, Peleus, Lynceus, Idas, Admetos, Amphiaraus, Podargos, Toxeus, IschepoIis, Harpaleas, Castor, Pollux...
The discus has been launched, thrown so high it will take decades to descend. Beautiful Hyacinthos turns to his brother, as though about to speak. The heroes shout and each shout is taken up by those gathered here until their names thunder about them.
...Caeneus, Cepheus, Pelagon, Telamon, Laertes, Mopsos, Eurytion, Cteatus, Dryas, Jason, Phoenix, Pausileon, Thorax, Antandros, Aristandros, Simon, Kimon, Eupalamus, Lelex, Hyleus, Phyleus, Agelaus, Hippasos, Nestor, Kynortes, Meilanion...
The last of these shouts loud for the last of all, who is his cousin and the lone huntress admitted among their number.
Excerpted from In the Shape of a Boar by Lawrence Norfolk. Copyright © 2000 by Lawrence Norfolk. Excerpted by permission.
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