"Sybil," Edward Burne-Jones, WikiArt photo.
“Sybil,” Edward Burne-Jones, WikiArt photo.

Part 7: Oracular Truth-Agonies

Secrets held in ancient papyri, Dolius asked
Ilithya if pleas of farmers she would hear.
He lectured not, only did advise, knowledge
Of collected minds, celestial observations of
Rustics divined first agricultural calendars,
Sun-rise sighting-henge to reckon equinox,
Farming clans sought guidance of the gods,
Concerns for barren fields and non-breeding
Animals. “Without farmers, people do not eat,”
Dolius offered. “Starvation would thrust us
Into dark age.” “What do papyri say?” asked
Ilithya. Few words Dolius replied, “We are the
Papyri.” As if candle-lit, Ilithya understood
Learnéd wisdom of the elder sage.

Having made arduous climb as Ilithya, granite
Steps, sharp and high, farmers prayed, souls
Prepared to approach Dolius, priest of oracular
Temple. Something precious of themselves they
Gave, no coin or jewelry they possessed, locks
Of their own hair, fillets of child that died, bag
Of grain, skin of wine, they made offerings to
Apollo and to his oracle. Tempestuous weather,
Hot and cold, rainy, then arid seasons, first few
Farmers asked when to plant, when harvest was
Expected. “By nineteens,” advised Ilithya, Apollo
Shoulder-close. “March and October. Seeds sown
Prior will not sprout, homage to Demeter, yearling
Lamb’s blood sprinkled on plow-turned earth.”

"Sacrifice to Vesta," Francisco Goya, WikiArt photo.
“Sacrifice to Vesta,” Francisco Goya, WikiArt photo.

At first, Ilithya told all with gladness, until she
Saw pilgrims in winding-waiting lines. Dolius
Led her to reflecting pools, each pilgrim given
Time for watery sight. Alas, torments fell! Ilithya
Viewed all, for each and every soul, sons war-
Killed, villages burnt to ground, plagues and
Disease, miscarriages, death of mother and child,
Apollo’s measured words, truth-agonies neither
God nor Ilithya would disclose. “Final pages are
not written,” advised sun god. “Souls are entwined,
By chance one may live another die, our guidance
Circumspect, lest they turn away in disbelief.
Mislead we do not. We serve greatest good of the
Faithful; as such, gods do not answer every prayer.”

For more on Pythia, oracle-priestess of ancient Delphi,
see this link: http://www.ancient.eu/article/205/

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