I. Plague of Athens, 430 B.C.

"The Plague of Thebes," Charles Jalabert, 1842, Musée des beaux-arts de Marseille, Wikipedia photo. For this poem, Morys and Myrtis.
“The Plague of Thebes,” Charles Jalabert, 1842, Musée des beaux-arts de Marseille, Wikipedia photo. For this poem, Morys and Myrtis.

Chaos of Athens, disease struck every house-
Hold, dead in streets and ditches, burned on
Funeral pyres, digging mass graves, sickening
Stench of death, plight of Morys and his family,
Death of wife, Thoë, and adolescent daughter,
Myrtis, convulsing from fevers, agonies of grief,
Placing shroud-draped bodies in an open pit.

First to Parthenon Morys brought them, days
Before death, praying to gods, relief of fevers,
Pains, and chills, yet when he arrived, temple
Doors were sealed, priests with thyrsi, holding
Them as spears, no sacrificial animals, no fruit
Or flowers as votive offerings, both wife and
Daughter succumbed to epidemic death.

What blood is more holy than beloved wife and
Daughter, to place them in mass graves? Long
Processions to Kerameikos cemetery, mournful
Hymns and prayers, woes of ancient wailing
Walls, oxen carts bodies heaped, Morys wept
As Thoë and Myrtis were hand-buried, horrific
Shock his mind was unable to endure.

Darkness possessed Morys, Hermit of Pasture-
Lands he was called, wandering madman, in
Tatters he existed, theft and charity, offerings
Farmers left on rocks and at grazing pools.
As years passed, disease left Athens families,
Morys despised the living, good fortunes of
Healthy, supplicants faithful to gods.

What sacrilege is worse than to steal from holy
Temples? In shadowed darkness, Morys took
Figs and fruit, coins left in collection bowls,
He cursed the gods aloud, his cries echoing in
Marbled sanctuaries, he cared not if he lived or
Died, he spit upon godly statues, hatred over
Lost Thoë and Myrtis gnawed dark upon his soul.

“Morys, what do you seek?” Apollo’s statue
Asked, god peering deep into his crazed mind.
“To see my family again, for us to live as we
Once did.” “For sacrilege,” said Apollo, “Only
One wish is granted. If you live a consecrated
Life, Myrtis, you will see, not in this lifetime,
But in one later, certainly not the next.”

II. Kerameikos Excavation, 1995 A.D.

"Myrtis Reconstruction," National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Wikipedia photo.
“Myrtis Reconstruction,” National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Wikipedia photo.

Two millennia passed after Plague of Athens,
Morys attaining consecrated life, Sacred Ways
He followed as Apollo decreed. Sun’s redeeming
Power, life restored to verdant fields, divine
Visions painted by deific healing hands,
Kerameikos Cemetery was to antiquity lost,
Bones veiled from knowledge and from light.

Archaeological excavations unearthed skeletal
Remains, entombed plague victims, including
An adolescent girl they named Myrtis, faceless
Skull waiting discerning study, ancient mysteries
Came to light, her bones examined, telling sex,
Age, and height, her facial features concealed
For ages from scientific sight.

Upon cast of Mrytis’ skull, a sculptor began
To fashion muscles, temporalis, those of facial
Expression, clay at various thicknesses, thin
On bridge of nose, deeper at the jaw, keeping
Youthful appearance, as her skull revealed fine
Features of an Athens girl. Within orbits, eyes
Were placed, her face aesthetically at peace.

Curators placed Myrtis facial reconstruction
With funerary stones at Athens’ National Arch-
Aeological Museum. Clad with a linen gown,
Myrtis’ display was complete. During opening
Of the exhibit, traveler visited the sculpture,
Young man who recognized Myrtis as his
Daughter, lost to virulent plague.

He took photos with his phone, peering closely
At the sculpture, his curiosity catching eyes of
An Athens’ woman, daughter at her side. Spark
Of recognition made, only few words they spoke,
As Lord Apollo deemed, family connections they
Did not make, Morys, Thoë and Myrtis met,
Parting again with smiles distant yet polite.

Whilst Apollo’s temple stands in ruins, ancient
Fates still hold karmic sway. Morys’ debt for
Sacrilege at sun god’s holy temple had been
Paid, his life separated from wife and daughter
For two millennia, another lifetime was required
To bring the three as family, blesséd lives free
From ravages of separation, from fatal disease.

For more on the Plague of Athens and Myrtis, see this link:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_of_Athens

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