Last Libation of Morgantina
This was inspired by the Morgantina treasure now on display in the “Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World”exhibit, especially by the scarab phiale.
In a vast hall of glass cases
Treasures of three continents
Glisten under perfect light
A cabinet of curios idly perused
Horde sigh golden scarabs yawn
Silver rim…moving on…
Did the email come…?
The afternoon sun drains down upon the temple portico.
The Hierophant pours wine into the footed bowl,
then water, then spices. He stirs the sacred brew,
and reaches for the phiale.
He admires again the four precious scarabs, golden gleaming in the bottom.
He places his finger in the mesamphalos and scoops out from the bowl
an offering portion.
The Priestess and her attendants begin the chant as the phiale is raised to the great Goddess gleaming inside the cella:
Demeter, mother of mysteries, save us!
There She stands, strong legs stride inside rippling chiton,
Her cornucopia promising all.
The libation streams onto the white altar.
The Hierophant lowers the phiale, empty now.
“May Demeter protect us. May Sicily hold. May the Northern Barbarians be defeated and may they never know
Her all-powerful mysteries of Eleusis.”
The Hierophant fills silver goblets and passes.
All sip the Goddess’s drink. They eye the horizon with foreboding.
Etna licks the East with a tiny orange flame.
A strange cloud hangs over the fields to the South.
A dim rumble strides over the stubble — not thunder,
Women and children and old men stream past into the theatre across the Sacred Way. Morgantina is gathering there, the safest place. Fearful murmurs rise from the ranks of tiered seats. Mothers clutch their children in blankets against the November chill.
The Hierophant nods to the Priestess. “It is finished.”
The goblets, platters and bowls, the phiales, and amulets, all the treasure is gathered and cleaned. Still he watches the dark cloud boil over the plains,
the rumble becoming a roar.
A rider gallops up to the Temple, bloody, mud-caked, screaming hoarsely then careening on.
A madman. A wraith.
The Hierophant quails.
It was his son.
He nods to the Priestess then draws his sacred cloak over his face.
Quickly, the women gather the Temple’s treasure.
Muffled clanks as each is wrapped in wool cloth they themselves wove.
Blood caked townsmen stagger through the gates.
The massive doors are closed and barred as they stand guard.
One sun sets to the West but two keep alight: Etna and war.
To a well by the Baths
The Eleusinians almost run
Their precious implements hidden in mantels and cloaks.
They gather around the stone lip their torches sputter
The Hierophant lifts the bronze lid off the ink-dark void.
Now riders sweep through groves and grapevines, the rich land waiting for ruin.
Down go the treasures, each in its wrapping.
Splash and then gone.
The Hierophant coughs and the Priestess weeps.
“They are safe.”
They pray on encircling the well
Unable to move.
Suddenly stars arc from the south fall into the teeming theatre.
Flaming arrows launched by the enemy shower onto the wool-wrapped mob
Set fire to Grandmother, Uncle and Child,
Hades rapes Demeter again
Wails the screaming town as it dies in sacrilege.
Out of the smoke and flame
Swords drawn under twinkling helmets
Soldiers circle the people chanting at a well.
One shouts in a consonated unintelligent tongue —
Harsh Latin to the sibilant Greek-speaking ears.
A torch held to the Hierophants face, the centurion gasps and bows.
Then the soldiers ride on toward the theatre now glowing like a forge.
The Hierophant secretly smiles.
Even barbarians pray.
Their hooves die out and the smoky silence looms.
Then a gust brings the harrowing screams of the burning.
“What do we do now?” pleads the youngest. Her sister is there.
“The mysteries are not yet saved,” intones the Hierophant, gazing across the well at the Priestess and each attendant, each a vessel of cult secrets.
“Come,” he commands and they follow him
into the flaming theatre.
Their blood as it sizzles is the last libation of Morgantina.