The Man and his Gods
There once lived in this town - or it may have been in the city of Orm, which lies not sixty furlongs from here as the eagle soars - a man whom many counted the most fortunate of his generation, for he was beloved of the most beautiful woman in all the world. Of her it was said - and said truly - that she was so lovely that whenever she went forth from her house, even though it were at the brightest time of the day when the regal Phoebus Apollo surveys the kingdoms of Urth from his aerial chariot of beaten copper, the moon and stars would foregather and walk beside her, that they might share in the golden scattering of Dust which glittered in her train.
It might be supposed that this man was not only very fortunate but also supremely happy; but the more astute among you will have come to realise that lasting happiness is a rare gift - not rarer than beauty, perhaps, but of a different kind. And so it was that this man was indeed, despite his great good fortune, not content.
As is the way with men who carry a burden of unhappiness, he looked around for means of lessening its weight. ‘See if you can find someone to share it with you,’ said the man’s animus. This advice seemed wise to the man, so he went out into the streets, squares and taverns of the town and showed his burden to the people he met there, and asked them if they would carry it for him or, if not, take a portion of the load upon themselves, so that his share would be correspondingly reduced.
You, my wise reader, will not be surprised to learn that the man was disappointed in his search for help. ‘You fool,’ said one whom he approached and, ‘I should have such a problem,’ said another and, ‘Stop bothering my customers,’ said the owner of the Boar’s Head Inn. So the man returned home no less heavy of heart, but certainly lighter in the purse. ‘If I can get no help from Men, then I shall have to send my problem up the line,’ said the man to his animus, and she agreed with him.
In one corner of the man’s house there stood, as I have no doubt there stands in the house of even the most unwise reader, an altar to the small god in whose care he lay. The man made the customary sacrifice of perfumed woods and dried juniper berries on the zinc plate within the shrine and waited for his god to manifest himself; which he did with no little delay, being somewhat busy with other matters.
‘Hello,’ said the small god. ‘How may I help you?’
‘I have a grievous burden to carry and I desire your advice as to how I may reduce the pain that it is causing me to suffer,’ said the man, bowing deeply to the small god’s manifestation.
‘What is your burden, Man?’ said the god.
‘It is Fear,’ said the man.
‘Ah yes,’ said the god, allowing his manifestation to settle down in the shrine and get comfortable. ‘What do you fear? Tell me, and I may be able to help you face it and overcome it. Did you, for example, have a bad experience in your childhood?’
‘No,’ said the man. ‘My childhood was very happy.’
‘Nobody abused you?’
‘To my certain knowledge, no.’
‘Ah,’ said the god, slightly disappointed. ‘Perhaps you had better express your fear in your own words. Reveal your inner child to me, and let us deal with it together.’
The man had no intention of letting the god deal with his inner child, so he gathered his thoughts together and spoke:
‘You know that I am beloved of -----,’ he named his lady friend, ‘and that she is surpassingly beautiful.’
‘Her?’ said the god. ‘You lucky -----!’ He named a denizen of the Underworld. ‘That’s your worry? I should have such a problem!’ He thought. ‘Let’s see... Is she, perhaps, easily roused to anger?’
‘No, she is very sweet-natured.’
‘Does she, perhaps, neglect matters of personal hygiene?’
‘No, the perfume of her skin is more seductive than the blooms of Elysium and her breath is sweeter than all the comfits of Araby.’
‘Hmm. Perhaps, then, she is dull of wit and tedious in company.’
‘No, she sparkles in conversation. She can contrive to make the most foolish man believe himself to be wise.’
‘So she is not cruel or heartless?’
‘No, she is kindness itself.’
The small god considered the matter. ‘In what way then, Man, is she a burden to you? You tell me that she is kind, witty, and altogether delightful to know. How good is she in bed?’
‘You mind your own business,’ said the man.’
‘I’m sorry. Did I touch on a sore point?’ said the god, quite unabashed.
‘Never mind,’ said the man. ‘The thing is...’
‘Yes?’ The small god’s manifestation rested his hands in his lap.
‘I am but one man among many. I am not rich, nor am I particularly good-looking or intelligent. My fear is that my beloved will find another man who does not share my deficiencies and that she will abandon me for him. If that were to occur, I do not believe that I could go on living.’
‘I see, said the god, crossing his manifestation’s legs. ‘What do you want me to do about this? You know that I am not permitted by the laws of Olympus to make you more personable in any way.’
‘I know that,’ said the man.
The god thought briefly. ‘I know! I will send a plague of cysts to your lady-friend. She will become altogether loathsome to the sight of men. No other man will want her and you will be able to keep her for yourself.’
‘No!’ said the man. ‘Do not do that to her. She does not deserve it.’
‘Very well,’ said the god. I think I shall have to send your problem up the line. Would you hold for a minute? Your call is important to us.’
The small god’s manifestation flickered and disappeared. The man waited, and presently the senior god on duty that day, who was the sun-god Phoebus Apollo, appeared before him. The god’s manifestation was as terrible to behold as if the mighty star Arcturus had landed upon the surface of the Urth. His face glowed from within with incandescent light and his hair streamed and crackled about his head like the tail of a fiery comet.
‘Eh-up, lad! What ails thee?’ said Phoebus Apollo. The man explained his problem to the sun-god who thought for a moment, with his chin resting in the palm of his white-hot hand.
‘I’ve got it!’ he said, leaping to his feet in scintillating glory. ‘Look into my eyes, lad. I will take away thy sight and thou shalt forget thy lady’s beauty, and the cause of thy grief shall be taken from thee.’
‘No!’ cried the man. ‘I would not wish to be made blind to the wonders of Urth and Sky. That is a terrible idea!’
‘Oh,’ said Phoebus Apollo, quite crestfallen. ‘I see that I shall have to send thy problem up the line. Half a mo.’ And he left in an effervescence of flame.
The man marvelled at the splendour of the sun-god’s manifestation and departure. ‘Who could possibly be more transcendental than he?’ he thought. He did not have to wait long to find out. With footsteps heavier than the Pillars of Hercules and more relentless than Fate itself, came the Father of the Gods, great Saturn himself. When he spoke, it was as if the weight of all the heavens had descended upon the man, and he felt that he was being crushed into the soil of the Urth.
‘What is all this fuss about?’ he said, and his voice boomed and rolled about the land of Jaed, in which stood the city of Orm, where the man lived. The man shook, and his bowels were loosened; but he was a man yet and he told the god of his fear.
‘You call it Fear,’ pronounced the god, ‘but I have another name for it. It is called Jealousy, and it is a small, mean and nasty thing. Let me tell you what will come of it.’
‘Are you an oracle, then?’ asked the man who, up to this point, had not considered making a pilgrimage to Delphi to seek an answer to his quandary.
‘Enough already!’ thundered the god, ‘I am Saturn, who was once known as Chronos. I am Time, and I see everything that has happened, everything that does happen and everything that will happen, for to me all times are one. I tell you, Man, that if you cannot look upon your lady with the same love and trust with which she regards you, then you will lose her. For in all the comings and goings between men and women there is nothing more important than Trust. Without Trust, love and beauty are nothing and fade and die too soon, as do all things that are washed away from the shores of Time if they are not well-founded on the rock of the Urth below.
‘Now stop bothering me with little matters. I have to count all the atoms in all the grains of sand of all the beaches of all the worlds of all the stars in all the galaxies in all the universes of the Cosmos, and that is quite enough to be getting on with.’
Saturn departed, and lightness returned to the Urth. ‘That told us,’ said the man to the small god, who had re-manifested himself.
‘He’s a… difficult person to deal with,’ said the small god to the man.
Phoebus Apollo returned in a blaze of radiance. ‘Father hasn’t got much time for his children,’ he said to them both. ‘Let me tell you, it’s quite a worry. In fact, it’s eating us up…’
The wise reader will appreciate his concern.