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September 2012

September 2012 -- Greek Mythology

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  • Ancient Greece: Mythology and Clothing Styles
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  • Fiction: Dreamless Nights…


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  • Dreamless Nights…
    by Sergio "ente per ente" Palumbo

    Edited by Michele Dutcher

    It was a sunny day in Akrotiri, on the island of Thera, and everyone was busy coming and going across the main square. The shoppers were surrounded by many multi-level buildings and the shop owners tempted the sophisticated passers-by showing them their expensive goods, some decorated garments, colorful pots and a lot of fresh fish.

    But things looked much darker inside the house of Aither, the wealthy soothsayer, well-known throughout the whole great Minoan town.

    Some braziers had been lighted sideways, and on the bed in the center of the main room, the middle-aged man lay asleep, his long black hair flowing onto the bed as he reclined on the right-hand side. His young long-haired wife, some relatives and all the most faithful servants were waiting for the doctor to finish performing his duties.

    Aither had always been very appreciated among the citizens in Akrotiri, as his special "sight" had often proved capable of announcing in advance some bad events that the common people -- who had previously turned to him for help -- might soon run across. He had also given useful suggestions to the customers about a coming rain,a dry period or whatever else could be of interest to the local population.

    The man usually had such glimpses of the future through his dreams, while asleep, and such a gift had made him wealthy with the passing of the years, of course. But now things were changing, as his ability to dream had almost completely disappeared over the past month, and no local healer, special practitioner nor priest had been able to help him so far.

    Aither had been deeply worried about that matter for many days and his sleep had become soon a sort of suffering because he wasn't able to do anything about it whatsoever. "Dreamless nights" the man had begun calling his unproductive slumbers lately, while up until just recently he had thought of them as an invaluable source of income.

    Now Bartholomaios, the famous bearded academician and physician, who came from the greater island nearby, had been greeted enthusiastically while entering Aither's house. He had sailed to Thera specifically for the purpose of healing the most important soothsayer known in Thera, once and for all.

    All the Minoan doctors paid close attention to their patients' dreams. And during those early times, the Egyptians, in their wide kingdom nearby, did the same. The diagnostic value of dreams had always been recognized within such a society, of course, as all the dreams were supposed to portend commonly to some physical symptoms.

    According to the old tradition, in sleep "the soul became the leader of every individual" and was able to tour its bodily residence without distractions or worries. Thus such cryptic night visions might provide some accurate diagnosis because during sleep the soul traveled inside the body and checked out what was going on. In the morning,the dreamer was finally allowed to retain some important pictures from his free "tours". The Minoan academicians did recognize that inside the body there was a whole world depicted in a way, so, for example, a river, in a dream, might indicate the blood, or a tree might mean a man, and so on.

    The Gods themselves were supposed to appear in dreams before men at times, but the soul of an individual was not transported to another place or time. Usually, most of the dreams commonly recorded tended to fall in three categories: the first came from the Gods giving warnings or advice, the second were delivered from the Gods demanding a certain act or behavior, and the third were some important prophecies.

    According to the most notable physicians in the area, a person asleep actively attempted contact with superior beings as the dream was "a sort of agent sent by a deity". In the Minoan world, and during the Ancient Greeks' times, the Gods took a direct interest in many human affairs and frequently affected them through dreams. Also, if some misfortune overtook a person, it was not considered to be his or her own fault, as the common people believed the cause was completely external. Other than that, not all dreams were to be valued the same way, so everyone had to attempt to discover what was a "true" dream and what was only a "false" one, undoubtedly.

    But this was not the present case, as Bartholomaios, the doctor, had to find the right treatment to heal his patient laying in the bed, asleep. The best way to do this was to practice Incubation, at least this was what his long years of experience had taught him. Common elements of incubation were a sort of drug-induced sleep, followed by the interpretation of a dream by means of an expert priest. Usually, both of them were the same person, of course.

    Bartholomaios had prepared by himself all the peculiar herbs he always used for bringing dreams again into his patient's exhausted mind. With all the lamps lit in the room, encircling the bed which was centered in the middle, the physician started squeezing the herbs, sprinkling around some juice from them in order to invoke all the creatures appointed to this function. Finally Aither had received a clear vision this afternoon.

    As the procedure went on, while the doctor was saying the required words, the soothsayer's soul, laying asleep, began his new tour, once again.

    #####


    Aither found himself along a river bank. He was alone and there were no traces of his home, his wife, his relatives or servants. He jumped up, feeling his body was much lighter than usual, before remembering that this wasn't his true body - it was only his soul. He had long been accustomed to touring the world at night as a soul, but it had been a very long time since he had been able to act that way.

    "What a strange sensation..." the man considered, looking at himself. "Just like feeling again all the senses after having been deprived of those for a while because of some bad illness."

    There were some luxuriant trees along with the poplars that surrounded him, but there were no houses, people or animals at all. In the distance only a huge structure stood silent in the middle of the dark land. Aither decided he had better head towards the middle of the territory that he was presently inside. There was no sign pointing the direction he had to follow, but he was sure the answer to his problem was likely in the building he was admiring from afar, so he only had to reach that as soon as possible.

    Little by little, as the man (or better his soul) came nearer, he was certain the building was some sort of important palace. At the entrance there were a number of strange plants, some known to him but most were not from his world. When the building's main wooden gate was just before him, he simply knocked and it opened wide.

    He could see that the inside was completely dark. There was no way to discover from the outside if there was any danger, but he wouldn't know anything new just by staying outside - and he had traveled a long road just to come here... so he went in.

    The palace he was in now looked like a dark cave, apparently excavated entirely out of a huger rock, where the sun most likely never shown, year round. As the man -- or better, again, his soul -- went past the stony staircase, he found a huge marble throne in the hall surrounded by a roofed colonnade and finally saw before him a half-naked youthful man. He was much taller than anyone who had ever lived on Earth, with some wings attached to his big head: he was the personification of sleep, the Lord of the palace, surely.

    "Who are you, if I may ask?" the soothsayer's soul asked, making a respectful bow.

    "I am the God of Sleep, as you correctly imagined, Aither." The voice coming from him seemed soft and pleasing.

    Just as I thought, the man said to himself. The confirmation came to him as a sort of strong feeling. He just needed something to cling firmly in that place, so seemingly out of space and time. "Do you know my name?"

    "Of course, you've been here many times before. Pleased to see you again," the God said.

    "Again?" the man replied, uncertain. "With all due respect, I don't remember ever being here before..."

    The God's eyes seemed to darken, a worried look appeared on his ever-young face, frowning. "You're one of the most gifted soothsayers I've ever seen, my dear," he stated. "You're endowed with a great power, the prophecies run across your body as the unstoppable winds in the sky."

    "But, if you already know me, you should also be aware that I'm ill. You should know about all it, certainly."

    "You're not ill at all, Aither."

    "But I can't remember my own dreams, the prophecies I was used to seeing and telling my customers, the populations of Akrotiri. My powers are weakening, I'm lost!"

    "Actually, things are different now, my dear."

    "Why is that?" Aither exclaimed.

    "Just stare ahead of you now...do you see it? You can look at the events that are meant to take place precisely on the island where you and your people live today."

    He did as requested and, in fact, some visions appeared before him: enormous waves coming from the high sea, roof structures collapsing, ruins in flames, ash and smoke in the air, in the streets and on top of everything, people running hopelessly here and there! A great eruption was going to destroy the whole town of Akrotiri, maybe Thera itself, and devastate that part of the sea because of its might and violence. Certainly it was a monstrous disaster as no man had ever seen before in the whole area! What a bloody vision, what a complete mess.

    "What's that, the things I'm looking at? Are you saying that these events are going to happen soon in Thera? The destruction of our town, our entire civilization? Why? What can I do to make this not come true? I must inform the population, I have to do all I can to save everyone, to make them escape before it's too late, by any means."

    "But, unfortunately, you can't do that."

    "Why? What's the reason behind your stopping me?"

    "Your island has been cursed by the Sea God because the inhabitants haven't paid all the due respect to him, turning to some other beliefs too many times when in need. At least, this is what the God himself has said."

    "Impossible, I've always been respectful towards the Sea God of the Minoans."

    "But your citizens were not. I mean, not all of them, anyway."

    "But, there must be something I can do!" Aither implored.

    "Believe me: there's nothing that can be done."

    "But then, what good are my powers? Why can't I do anything?"

    "Because you've been cursed, as well."

    "Did I offend the Sea God anytime?" Aither asked surprised.

    "Actually, you didn't, but your powers could be a nuisance to his plans as he has stated that all the citizens of Akrotiri must die during the eruption."

    "So...?"

    "So, he didn't take all your powers away forever, he doesn't hate you. He only decided that your soul had to follow a different path every day, after entering the Dream Realm, before returning to your body when the sleep was over: he wanted your mind to pass through the river Lethe, which is the stream of "forgetfulness", flowing near this palace, down there. This was so you would forget everything you saw here, all the visions you had, so to make you unable to inform the people of the incoming destruction, of course."

    Then the soothsayer finally understood. "So all of them are going to die, and me too."

    "There's nothing I can do, unfortunately, but plant into your mind something important." The God of sleep touched his long beard.

    "What exactly?"

    "You'll see, but don't think about it now. I believe it's already time for you to leave."

    "Just a moment, there must be something," the man insisted.

    "Believe me, I'll help you."

    "But all the others!"

    Then his soul was forced to make a jump back, then his soul was put out of the palace and the man found himself near the river, again.

    The stream was cooling, clean and appealing...There was no way to deviate from the course he was going along, anyway.

    #####

    As soon as the middle-aged man's soul crossed the river stream, his mind was merging into his body. He awoke, arose from his sleep in amazement, cried out and seemed to be stunned for a while. Then he looked around with his dark eyes. He saw the physician near his bed, his lovely wife wearing a simple garment and smiling at him, and then all the other relatives nearby. Aither turned his thoughts to the vision, trying to remember what he had seen, but he wasn't able to recollect anything, apart from the unstoppable river stream...that cooling, clean and appealing water. There was no way to keep that image away from his mind.

    The only thing he could see before his eyes was that of the river raging past ahead of him. He remembered he had crossed that stream -- while being only a soul during the dream -- and then... and then nothing else! He couldn't fix his memories, so his dream was lost. Again!

    There were no answers, there was not enough data to let the appointed physician find an explanation for a possible treatment. The man looked at Bartholomaios, the academician looked at him in return, nodded and shrugged, wretched.

    There was really nothing anyone could do.

    As his powers had gone forever and no doctor had been able to help him, Aither thought that there was no reason to stay in the island of Thera anymore. He had been very appreciated here and his reputation was renowned, indeed. But now that he wasn't capable of being a true soothsayer anymore, there was no reason to remain there any longer.

    Aither knew he had to leave. He had always been thinking of retiring one day or another, after all: maybe this was just the right opportunity to go away and settle on the island nearby or, even better, perhaps on the mainland.

    Tomorrow he would have set everything in motion for his final departure. There were many things to prepare quickly and a lot of arrangements to be done.

    The man rose to his feet, put his clothing on and was accompanied by his wife as they went outside. His eyes stared at the awesome surroundings for a while, admiring the people, busy coming and going across the main square surrounded by many multi-level buildings,the shop owners continuously tempting the sophisticated customers by showing them their goods, a few decorated clothings, colourful tableware and some fresh fishes.

    It was a sunny day, again, and the mountains looked beautiful in the distance on the island of Thera, also known as Atlantis -- that would be named Santorini in the future -- the center of ancient Greek world, ruling indisputably over the Mediterranean Sea until the final catastrophe of 1628 BC which put an end to its civilization.

    Sergio "ente per ente" Palumbo
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