Daughter’s Bronze Age quest, Ismene searched
Attic shores for her father, Polykles, washed
Over-board in ocean storms, sails gale-ripped,
Returning triremes capsized, Ismene took paid
Passage on merchant ship, Astera, from home
Of Patras to Kirra, to approach Delphic Oracle
For her father, who months later, was rumored
Alive, yet returned not triumphant from the
Trojan War, pestilence, and funeral pyres.
With following seas, Astera made course good
Eastward along Gulf of Corinth, heavy laden
With amphorae of wine and olive oils. As she
Followed coastline villages, Ismene felt pre-
Sence of divine heroes and gods, passions oft
Too human, flaws of creation, having learned
From hubris of King Agamemnon, she knelt in
Quiet reverence to Pantheon deities before her
Land pilgrimage to cryptic Delphic Oracle.
Accompanied by other pilgrims, Ismene made
Gradual mountain ascent to Delphic temple,
Prayers and hymns, strains of lute and lyre,
Confessing sins and fears, grief for missing
Polykles, pilgrims rose above earthly sins and
Transgressions. Ritual body and soul-cleansing
Completed, with priests, Ismene petitioned to
Approach the oracle, anguished mysteries of
Her missing soldier-father so related.
Engulfed in fumes upwelling, depths of stone
Fractures, Oracle, woman deranged from other
Worlds, demanded of young Ismene, “What
Thing of his do you have?” her hand out-
Stretched. Ismene produced a palm-sized
Clay tablet, inscribed with ancient cuneiform.
My father knows not what it says, yet believe
We it speaks of archaic ages. “When gods in
Flesh lived!” Oracle said, eyes alighted.
From this fire-burned pottery plaque,” Oracle
Advised, “Your father lives not be aggrieved for
He rests on Keos pastures, of honour and great-
Ness he is adorned.” Heart bursting, Ismene
Set sail for Keos, island home of blesséd Apollon,
God of healing and of light, daughters sailing
Ship ocean’s plowed, finding her father, Polykles,
As the god’s oracle had decreed, for she found
Her father, not the man her family loved.
Near death upon rocky Keos beach, broken
Body, life-blood given to sand and salt, Polykles
Prayed, that in form gods decreed, he would
Live to see his daughter again, and as Ovid tells,
Gods metamorphosed him to a stag. “His great
Antlers spread so wide, they gave an ample
Shade to his own head, shone with gold: From
His smooth throat a necklace, hung down to his
Strong shoulders — beautiful.”*
O! Poor Ismene, her father found, Oracle’s cryptic
Prophesy. As Ovid tells, she “led to fresh pasturage,
And to waters of the clearest spring. Sometimes
She wove bright garlands for his horns, and like a
Horseman on his back, now here now there, she
Guided his soft mouth with purple reins.” * Holy
Love of ancient inscribed pottery that spoke of
Ancient gods, daughter and stag-father reunited,
Living to old age upon sacred Isle of Keos.
This poem includes an Delphic oracular prophesy than can be interpreted based on comma placement:
“Your father lives, not be aggrieved, for he rests on Keos pastures,
Of honour and greatness he is adorned…” (as in a returning Trojan War hero).
Your father lives not, be aggrieved, for he rests on Keos pastures, of honour and greatness he is adorned…” (as in dying words, god-transformed stag).
*Text adapted from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” Book 10.