Friday, April 27, 2012

Reading the Leaves

I've always loved prophets. When I read the Orestia in high school, I thought that Cassandra was one of the most misunderstood characters in that story. (Don't get me wrong, there are lots of misunderstood characters in Greek plays; they're like these enormous comedies of error, only they aren't in the least funny and everyone dies, bloody and enraged, at the end. Clytemnestra was probably my favorite, but that's a story for a different day.) Cassandra was this woman who was brought back from her homeland as a prisoner of war, the daughter of the defeated King Priam whom her captor, Agamemnon, has made a slave and used however he saw fit. Agamemnon, hadn't really garnered a lot of favor (with his wife) in the first place, for slaying his youngest daughter to bring favorable winds so he could leave home and fight a war that wasn't his to fight anyway.

Are you following me here? No? Maybe a refresher on the Trojan War, I don't have time to go into it here.
nabbed this from Miller White Scripts, who nabbed it from

So Agamemnon brings this woman back; he returns home a war hero with the spoils to prove it, and the town (chorus) is super happy to see him. After some back and forth with his wife who is less happy to see him--and really, isn't it hard for a couple when one of them comes home from war, practically a stranger, even if he wasn't bringing some Trojan tart with him?--they go inside, but Cassandra stays in the chariot. She's silent, immobile. She won't come when Clytemnestra calls her. Maybe she's dressed funny, wears her hair differently; she's obviously not from around here, and everyone thinks that she doesn't speak the language. Then finally, she opens her mouth and starts to prophesy: ". . . I see evidence I trust—young children screaming as they're butchered—then their father eating his own infants' roasted flesh . . ."* This is about Atreus and Thyestes, one of those family curses that reaches back and forward for generations. Then she moves on to more pressing matters. Clytemnestra is going to kill Agamemnon, war hero and King of Argos.
Oh evil woman, you're going to do it. Your own husband, the man who shares your bed—once you've washed him clean . . . there in the bath . . .How shall I describe how all this ends? It's coming soon. She's stretching out her hand . . . and now her other hand is reaching for him [. . . ]Look over there! Look now! She's caught him in her robes—now she gores him with her black horn. A trap! He's collapsing in the bath! I'm telling you what's going on—he's being murdered in there, while bathing—a plot to kill him!
 Come on! That's some intrigue. Nobody has it on the Greeks for scary shit acted out of our basest human needs and urges, nobody. As an artist, I really wish this stuff was staged more often; I feel like it never goes out of style.

In her fury at being misheard and misunderstood by the townspeople, Cassandra throws off her prophetic garments and rends her clothes, furious with Apollo for having given her the gift of sight in the first place, and burdening her with never being heeded or understood. She bravely turns to face her death, which she knows is coming at the hands of the Mistress, saying that the house stinks of murder, smells like an open grave, and asks the townspeople to mark how she goes to die. "I want you to witness how I went to meet my death, when for me another woman will be killed, a man will die for one who married evil[...] I pray to the sun, here in the light of his most recent day, that those who carry out revenge for me will make my enemies pay with their blood for butchering a slave, an easy victim. Alas, for human life. When things go well, a shadow overturns it all. When badly, a damp sponge wipes away the picture. Of these two, the second is more pitiful."

This story grabs me somewhere special, in a place where I can barely make words. But I didn't want just to talk about Cassandra, but about prophets. I woke up this morning thinking of John the Baptist, that long-haired, locked, bug-eating preacher who wandered the desert of Israel foretelling the arrival of Jesus. He sounds like such a hippie. When the Jewish leaders ask him who he is, he says, "I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.'
I don't know who this guy is, but his look gets close. He needs locked hair. And darker skin.
Pinched from the Archdiocese of Washington page.

(Man, I wish that when people asked me questions like that, I could answer all cryptically, in metaphor and parable and Morpheus-from-The Matrix-speak like that. It probably wouldn't make my life any easier, but it might get people to stop asking me questions.)

John the Baptist knew what was up, and he knew just how to answer people in a way that would leave them schooled. I'm just a man who's getting us ready, he said, but one day soon, this Cat is coming, and he's so dope, I'm not even good enough to tie his shoes for him.

Prophets in the Bible were so compelling to me. Full of poetry, reluctant to have to deliver bad news to the Israelites--and wouldn't you be? Look at what happened to John the Baptist. Jeremiah was a ceramicist, for crying out loud, and all he wanted to do was sit in his shop, and throw bowls and water pitchers, and remain in captivity along with everyone else that Babylon was sitting on, and be left alone. But God was having none of it; He had a message and Jeremiah was the person He'd chosen to deliver it.

I guess I've been thinking about this because when I was in Maui recently, I saw a whale, a humpback whale. Wait, I saw many whales, but this one was close. It was maybe 50 feet from the boat I was on, and it came up, did what's called a peduncle arch (thank you, Pacific Whale Foundation) and a fluke up dive and went down again. It is perhaps one of the most spiritual moments I've experienced in recent history.

Was the whale there just for me? Doubt it. Was it there to mate in warmer water before migrating north to feed during the winter? Almost certainly. But still, I experienced the whale as a kind of messenger. The vibe around me and the whale was, "Listen up, and listen carefully. Something is happening. Don't miss it." Then it was gone, underwater to sing its incomprehensible whale songs, and the spell was broken.

But I was different.

I'm not using this platform to come out as a prophet or seer or anything like that. Although something about that is interesting. With as connected as the world is, as much that people know and as fast as they know it, to have a blog about seeing the future is kind of sickly engaging. But that's not what's happening. In fact, I don't know what's happening. All I know is that a few weeks ago, a mammal the size of a yellow school bus swam by me, and I felt something, and now I'm trying to plug in, to be still and listen, and to look for signs.

*all of the text I'm quoting here is from a version of Agamemnon I found at There's a link there that has some info about the House of Atreus that might be helpful if you don't know it.
*from The Gospel of John.

No comments: