"Temple of Æsculapius," John William Waterhouse, 1877.
“Temple of Æsculapius,” John William Waterhouse, 1877.

Child of Greek fishing family, Celene, bright-
Eyed and daring, worshipped household gods,
Learned ways of Ægean Seas, beach-combing,
Net mending, boat building and repairing,
Navigating distant isles of Siros and Kithnos,
Fishing with her brothers, reckoning pastel
Clouded skies, wine-like cresting waves.

Predawn morning, Celene’s parents could not
Rouse her, fevered delirium burning in her
Bed, mind on wingéd flight, she spoke beyond
Knowing, blurting prophesies, famine, flood,
Disease, another ten years of war. Tea of willow
Bark she sipped, as chills and fevers quelled,
Reason and senses resurrected.

No memory of her chants, Celene’s parents
Took her to temple healers, two-day journey
By oxen cart. Skeptic priests listened to their
Accounts, new-bleeding adolescent girl, hor-
Monal imagination, they dismissed until she
Stated, “Her mind fire-snatched shall rise to
Emblazoned heights, voices of blesséd gods.”

Asclepiad healers ushered Celene to healing
Altar, drafts of herb-laced opium given, she
Fell into enkoimesis,* awaiting guidance of airy
Deities, fevered-convulsions returned, Celene
Writhing as if pained, groaning earth, her eyes
Ablaze, “End of war shall bring plague upon
The land, returning soldiers harbour disease.”

“Observe this until year concludes, nights and
Days are equal length, tide of disease, rise and
Fall, none left to bury dead, open graves at
Athens Kerameikos. No more shall I speak until
The child’s fever subsides. Sleeping goddess
Cannot escape will of Protean Light,” celestial
Voices concluded in musical strains.

O! Modest ocean maid, child of weary limbs
And mind, Celene recalled her lofty sight, gifted
Curse of immortal gods, mix of mortal and
Divine, metamorphosed by gathering light,
Safety of bronze temple doors, sacred naos
Hidden, touched by gods brought deep sorrow,
Separation from fishing family, open ocean.

Yet, as Celene, Sleeping Goddess, predicted,
Plague devastated Athens, Asclepiad healers
First dying, knowing not rampant disease,
Cures beyond herbs, willow bark, thousands
Dead except those sequestered from dire
Plight, fishing families escaping distant isles,
Pastel clouded skies, wine-like cresting waves.

* According to Wikipedia, “Patients would enter a dream-like state of induced sleep known as “enkoimesis” (Greek: ἐγκοίμησις) not unlike anesthesia, in which they either received guidance from the deity in a dream or were cured by surgery.”

Written in the spirit of “Homeric Hymns.”

For more on the Plague of Athens, see this abstract.
Poem related to Plague of Athens, “Myrtis, Child of Bones.”

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