Mummy Portrait of a Young Woman, 3rd Century, Louvre, Paris, Wikipedia photo. For this poem Ismene metamorphosed into maiden scribe.
Mummy Portrait of a Young Woman, 3rd Century, Louvre, Paris, Wikipedia photo. For this poem Ismene metamorphosed into maiden scribe.

Alone on marbled steps, Ismene, humble
Shepherdess, approached priests residing
Within Apollo’s columned Bassæ mountain
Temple, sequestered holy vale of rocks.
Priests ushered her away, sanctity of sacred
Naos, light divine radiated within, omnipres-
Ence, divinity addressing only worthy souls,
Stentorian voices, echoing thoughts of
Silvered Æolian flame, all-encompassing
Voices Ismene had earlier perceived.

As young Ismene explained to rebuffing temple
Guardians, she was of Thracian shepherd clans.
Whilst tending flocks on verdant Pindus moun-
Tain paths, she had dream-visions in her sleep.
Under protection of cloud-veiled moon, orbing
Planetary lights, Cybele, mountain goddess,
Seated in shimmering light appeared, welling
Ismene’s soul, warming hands upon her face,
Wisdom found on sacred Ilion parchments,
Writings of ancient mystic fountain worshipers.

For three days, Ismene, bathed in crystal clean-
Sing pools, clad in linens coarse, her body
Hidden from few who passed. Emanating from
Granite depths, water-trickling voices grasped
Her mind as she reposed on banks of dream
Instilling brooks. They spoke in vaporous
Form, drifting amongst majestic cedars, to and
From time-hewn spilling rocks, holy niches
Where chthonic deities in dark seclusion hid
From gaze of man, din of villages and towns.

"Iliad," Book VIII, Lines 245-253, Greek manuscript, late 5th, early 6th centuries A.D., Wikipedia photo.
“Iliad,” Book VIII, Lines 245-253, Greek manuscript, late 5th, early 6th centuries A.D., Wikipedia photo.

For moments brief, Ismene understood thoughts
Divine; however, she was confounded by her
Dreams. By months of taking twisting Pindus
Paths, tending flocks with loving care, her Grecian
Heart had purified, songs and prayers of elevated
Praise amongst melodies of sheep-adorned
Ringing bells, their incantations rising to godly
Ears high upon imposing meteora, cloud-swept
Ethereal realms. Finite, she stood peering upward
From pillared base to sun-swept azure sphere.

As Ismene’s heart revealed, splendors of her
Dreams, heart-pains and elated joys, she felt
Unnerving realizations, mortals were oft errant
Flesh and wanton bone, gods were beyond her
Comprehension. In her visions, scudding storm
Clouds transformed to heavenly light, sun
Gleaming for lingering dead, souls hidden in
Judgment’s fear, Turkish cities burning, walls
Crumbling, godly hands out-stretched in
Healing love, ascension to divine grace.

In morning light, Apollo’s temple gleamed like
Heavens opening in Ismene’s dream, and within
Her maiden soul, she knew this was invitation
To approach the gods. With sinewed strength
And steadfast faith, Ismene approached priests.
Spear-guarding access to massive doors of
Bronze, inner peristyles of glorious insights,
Acceptance by divine, who spoke words of
Healing light. Priests led her to Apollo’s naos,
Seeking wisdom, anxieties of her dreams.

Upon entry to holy inner chamber, Apollo met
Ismene in human form “sheath’d in shining
Brass, in bright array, legions marched, and the
Sun-god lead the way: his brandish’d falchion
Flames before her eyes, like lightning flashing
Through frighted skies. Clad in his might, earth-
Shaking power appeared; Ismene trembled, and
Confessed her mortal fear.” “What do you want
My child?” Ismene collapsed prostrate, kissing
Warm flesh of Apollo’s sandaled feet. [1]

“My Lord of music and healing,” Ismene began,
“I ask thee for understanding of ancient Ilion
Parchments, voices that spoke to me of ancient
Fountain worshipers. These I have seen in
My dreams.” Apollo listened, his ear intent,
Answering Ismene’s trembling pleas. “To gain
Such deciphering knowledge, my oracle you
Must be, to read and write time-lost tongues,”
The mountaintop lord explained, his glowing
Visage hovering above marbled naos floor.

When Ismene agreed, Apollo’s radiance blazed
Upon her eyes, brief metallic taste, jarring teeth,
Bone marrow boiling, wingéd flight, consumed
In flame, metamorphosed into maiden scribe,
Predating Homeric Troy, city consumed by fire,
Salvation of holy fountained springs, provider of
Living waters, healing baths, brick-making clays,
Towers of Ilios rebuilt by ancient deities, brittle
Parchment, recorded histories, prayers and praise,
Testaments faded into Greek antiquity.

Meteora, Greek-Orthodox Monasteries, Greece, Wikipedia photo.
Meteora, Greek-Orthodox Monasteries, Greece, Wikipedia photo.





1. Description of Apollo was adapted from “The Iliad of Homer,” Book XIV,
p. 433, translated by Alexander Pope, with notes by the Rev. Theodore
Alois Buckley, M.A., F.S.A. and Flaxman’s Designs, 1899.

Inspired by “The Metamorphoses of Ovid,” this poem utilizes symbols
of flame and water, transformation and healing, the knowledge thereof
lies in ancient Ilion manuscripts translated by Shepherdess Ismene.

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