Sitting by the fire watching the darkness fall around them, Oedipus turned to his friend. “What you’ve told me about the oracles disturbs me deeply. But surely Delphi is not like the others. Everyone knows that Delphi sits at the center of the world, that all things radiate from the hub of the sacred omphalos.
“Besides, I was there. I know what I felt: the exhilaration, the dread, the palpable presence of divinity all about. And, the Great Mother help me, I know deep down that I was told the truth.”
Pleusidippus spoke quietly. “There are many reasons you should discount what you heard this morning. From what I gather, you place the Great Mother above all other gods, am I right?”
“I revere all the gods, as a good Greek should, but yes I worship and adore the Great Mother who gives us life, who sustains us, and who takes us back inside her when we die.”
“Yes. Well. Then you’ll allow me to remind you that Delphi began as an Earth Mother cult but is now thoroughly dominated by the priesthood of Apollo. They pump the poor priestess with drugs, they overlay her with ritual, and then they pretend to translate her inspired ravings into logical statements with multiple meanings.”
Oedipus cut him off. “You’re dead wrong. All power belongs to the Great Mother. The priests may think that Apollo prevails, but that’s delusion merely. The Great Mother’s terrible truth shines through.”
“In any event,” said Pleusidippus, “if gods were involved at all, I suspect that Dionysus, not Apollo, spoke through that poor woman. Mount Parnassus belongs to Dionysus, after all. He was worshiped in Delphi long before Apollo. The way I see it, he stuck around a little longer this year, brought us together over the wild boar, then usurped Apollo’s role in the Great Consultation so he could scare us with the bogus prophecy I’ve been hearing everywhere.”
“That’s sheer nonsense. The gods don’t contend with one another that way. And they don’t treat people like wanton boys treat flies.”
“So the official line has it, I agree. But you roam about, talk to the common people, you learn a few things about Delphi.”
“Really? And what exactly do these people have to say?”
“Plenty. Politically speaking, Delphi’s a cowardly and treacherous place. The priesthood is all too willing, for the right price or under threat of force, to disguise false charges as prophecy.”
“They say there were once two rivals for the Spartan kingship, Cleomenes and Demaratus. It seems Cleomenes bribed a Delphian named Cobon to persuade the Pythia to answer Yes to the question, ‘Is Demaratus a bastard?’ Luckily, the ruse was discovered at the last minute and the guilty parties punished.”
“Sure. So you think somebody bribed the oracle to say what she said about us and then to keel over dead. Come off it!”
“Who knows? I’m just presenting possibilities here, that’s all. Oh look, it’s just too absurd, us sharing the most horrendous prophecy imaginable; it’s hard enough to believe that one person could be given such a prophecy. If this were a comic epic, I could see it. But such things just don’t happen to real people. A man’s life is nothing but a series of random events, patterned only by his thoughts, not by an elaborate plot hatched out of some perverse poet’s brain.”
“But wouldn’t the characters in such a story be made to think precisely that?”
Pleusidippus frowned. “You’re not seriously doubting our reality? I live, I breathe the sweet air, I eat, I shit, I fuck—”
“You gas on and on about this and that, you tempt the gods to strike us down. My friend, you’re all too real for my tastes. How can you deny the power that poured out of that old woman?”
“There’s a perfectly logical explanation for her ravings: The priests fill her up with too many drugs. She feels death approaching, so she rises from her tripod, peers out at us two handsome guys, and longs for one last superb fuck before she dies. But the father figure—that’s the priesthood and the entire pantheon of male gods—stands in her way. ‘Kill daddy,’ she screams at us. ‘Fuck me, boys, and kill daddy.’ Do you really think the priest who translated her ravings was above censoring her meaning?”
“What a lot of nonsense.” Oedipus paced about, confused. Surely the priest had been too scared and upset to deceive him so.
“In the last analysis, Delphi’s no different from any of the other oracles. The best of them put on a good show, but it all comes down to a few men and women pretending to be in touch with the so-called divine. The elaborate ceremony we saw? It’s only trotted out once a month. The rest of the time they resort to cleromancy: they draw lots using black and white beans, where one color stands for Yes, one for No.”
“Word of honor. The Pythia sits right out in the entrance colonnade, hawking her wares like some common peddler.
“Look,” continued Pleusidippus, “even if the oracle were true despite all the arguments we’ve come up with, the important thing is that now you know. You can avoid getting too friendly with your mom. And you can avoid quarreling with your dad. From what you’ve told me, nothing could be easier.”
“You’re right,” said the prince. “It’s so ludicrous. In fact, the more I consider the oracle’s words, the more it reinforces my feelings toward my parents.”
“I’m not surprised. You’ve been told something diametrically opposed to what you know is true. So of course you rebel against it and your real feelings are thrown into sharper relief by the oracular lie.
“But more important than all this, my friend, you’ve got to remember who you are. You’re a great prince. One day, you’ll be a great king. Great kings don’t become great by kowtowing to religion. You owe it to your people and to yourself to go back to Corinth and confront this thing face to face.”
“Wrong again,” said Oedipus. “Princes and kings must set an example for their people. They need to revere and worship the gods.”
Pleusidippus said nothing. He watched his arguments work the furrows of the prince’s brow. He was content to sit back and watch Oedipus battle it out with himself. He stared into the fire, thinking about his father.
The prince paced.
Finally he stopped and sighed.
“All right,” he said, darkness gathering all around him. “Let’s give it a try. We’ll go back to Corinth, spend a week or two there, test the waters. I just hope I won’t live to regret this.”
That night, thick clouds blanketed the stars and the thin sliver of moon, and pitch blackness reigned over their tents.
Oedipus tossed in dream.
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