THESE BELLBRIGHT BODIES
The sky above the Athenian hills was awake with an unearthly glow as the hour of gathering approached for the woods were bathed in a wondrously soft moonlight and entering these woods, beneath the bright milky haze of the full moon, were four youths who walked tall and stately, their beauty just discernible under the shade of the tree canopy that stirred not, for there was no breeze to interrupt the joyous occasion, a breeze which would have been welcomed for the summer heat seemed interminable. The four boys came upon a glade where a moonlit pool reflected the stars; it was a place to which they often came to linger and to talk during the hours of darkness when sleep was not forthcoming. Here they would bathe or lounge upon the soft crushed grass and meadow flowers and talk easy amongst the bower of friendship where little is lost in understanding and meaning, for they each in their own way wore the delicate mask of beauty and their lithe limbs rested from the soothing caresses of the Gods. As they approached the pool, Hylas who was one of the beautiful figures, suddenly said to the others:‘By the heel of Achilles! If it isn’t our young mad fool Cissus making love to himself at the waterside!’ The other three youths looked round and there at the side of the pool was Narcissus, staring at his own moonlit reflection in the water with a deep and untiring passion.
‘Hush my friends, for I cannot be disturbed tonight; hush, that my eyes may gather the intricacies of my own beauty!’ said Narcissus.
‘Look Hylas,’ said Adonis, ‘see how he is unbroken by his own fair features! Surely he has ingested the milk of madness!’
‘Aye, or he is under some bewitchment!’ uttered Ganymede, ‘let us leave him to his moonlight and magic!’ he continued, and the four youths who by now we have learnt the names of three of them, being Hylas, Adonis, and Ganymede walked with the fourth, who was Hyacinthus, to the opposite side of the pool where they would not disturb poor Narcissus in his un-satiated hunger for his own reflection.
‘It is a wonder this pool does not dry up with shame to have such startling beauty beside it!’ laughed Adonis, who quickly sat down after removing his burdensome peplos which fell to the ground and he stretched his young vibrant limbs upon the cool grass to look up at the stars.
‘That’s what I love about you Adonis, your raging vanity!’ said Ganymede, and they all laughed as the four muscular youths, youths I might add who had not touched upon that fatal and destructive age of twenty, sat close in the bonds of a deep brotherhood of friendship beside the refreshingly cool and tranquil water, their naked bodies appearing as if made by moonlight, devouring the gentle chill from the water to escape the heat of the night.
‘By the cruel and artful lips of Aphrodite! Ganymede, have you been in battle for your body is covered in wounds and bruises?’ Adonis said with a wild look of concern, and indeed the beautiful body of Ganymede was covered in dark bruises which bloomed like roses upon his soft flesh.
‘Fear not my young friend for I do not wear the marks of battle but the marks of seduction which some say are of a similar kind!’ Ganymede answered, smiling.
‘If these are marks of love you wear recorded upon your young body Gan, then mighty Zeus walks with heavy hands upon your tender frame my friend!’ remarked Hylas.
‘Perhaps you should consider purchasing the armour of Achilles for protection!’ nudged a smirking Hyacinthus; ‘and perhaps’ continued Adonis, ‘if you were not born so fearfully handsome you would not stir the virile ardour’s and lustful glances of Zeus into a frenzy of wanton desire hammered upon your beautiful body!’
‘He must have the stamina and constitution of a Cretan bull!’ laughed Adonis, embracing Ganymede tenderly and stroking his downcast face which brightened by the show of affection.
As the companions lay by the pool in silence Ganymede sighed and trailed his hand in the water, raised it over him and let the glistening droplets fall lovingly upon his breast and trickle over his arched throat.
‘By the eyes and ears of Zeus!’ said Ganymede, ‘I see over on the yonder bank bushes twitching, perhaps some stranger feasts upon us?’ and they all looked in the direction to which Ganymede intimated except Adonis who did not have the energy or the same compulsion to open his eyes and he lay still upon his back upon the grass. As the others looked they failed to see anything in the bushes and said so –
‘You are mistaken Gan, there is nothing there!’ said Hylas.
‘Perhaps the moonlight and these forest shapes fool your eyes my friend!’ Hyacinthus said quite lovingly.
‘No I am sure I saw something… Look there!’ Ganymede shouted, ‘do you see now?’ and the others, once again excluding Adonis who was too busy mentally exercising his beauty, looked, and this time they agreed that they could see the bushes twitching and some outline of a man.
‘’Tis only some greybeard with balding pate come to admire and feast upon our naked beauty!’ whispered Hyacinthus, ‘eyes of much longing and un-satiated desires never to be fulfilled!’
‘No Cinthus, for I feel some strange foreboding’ said Ganymede, ‘you remember the story of Actaeon whose lascivious eyes poured upon the naked beauty of Diana bathing and he was turned into a stag and hunted and devoured by his own hounds!’ continued Ganymede excitedly.
‘I shall never grow up to become some wretched greybeard spying upon youths in bushes!’ said Adonis, who had finished counting his own beauty and conjuring some quite unremarkable penetrations.
‘I think the moon has induced some glamour for it is obvious to me and to every inhabitant of this wood that the stranger is none other than my beloved Heracles come to watch over his precious squire!’ Hylas said with his eyes half drawn as if trying to discern fully the contours of the stranger.
‘No, I think you will find it is my own masterful lover, Apollo, come to mindfully make love to the moonlit vision of his own desirable Cin!’ said Hyacinthus stroking his thigh as if in sympathy with his master’s will!
‘You are both mistaken, for I am quite sure, in fact, never more sure that it is my own loving God and master Zeus whom I serve diligently and ardently who comes swift-footed as Hermes through woods to gaze upon the noble and handsome face of his beloved boy!’ said Ganymede, as if not to be outdone.
‘But there, he retires, and that splash tells me he goes to swim and cool arduous thoughts and thyrsus in the small pool beyond the footbridge!’ said Hylas. ‘Perhaps it would be sporting to remove and hide his chiton and sandals for a measure of laughter!’ added Ganymede to which Hyacinthus swiftly answered that it may bring upon them some infernal torment while the moon of Hecate lies full to her enchantment. Hylas then shouted to Narcissus –
‘Cissus, are you not afraid that Echo should happen upon your supine beauty in these woods?’ but Narcissus did not answer Hylas, so Hylas took a pebble and threw it into the water near to him, splash! Narcissus was furious that Hylas should do such a thing and disturb and frighten away the beautiful object of his love, namely his own reflection – ‘By the liver of Prometheus! May you be strangled by the testicals of a hog Hylas!’ shouted Narcissus.
‘Your sword grows rusty from lack of proper use!’ Hylas responded, ‘it could yet still win you many battles and gain you many hearts!’
‘Quiet my squawking goose-footed friends!’ Ganaymede said jovially, ‘see Cissus, the affectionate contours of your sweet love approaches once more!’ and the pool was calm again like a mirror as the reflection was perfectly still and steady once more. And Narcissus returned to his gloomy despondency.
‘By the foamy balls of Poseidon! Hark! Adonis snores!’ whispered Hyacinthus and they all listened affectionately at the boy’s soft sounds of sleep.
‘He does not struggle much in the arms of Hypnus and falls easy into his grasp!’ Ganymede declared.
‘Ah, how like Endymion he is!’ declared Hylas, ‘perhaps Selene has put a sleep spell upon him that she may steal a kiss without his knowing?’ Hylas continued with a twinkle in his eyes, saying that such strong magic can ‘only be overcome by a truthful and faithful lover willing to die in seducing the sleeper from the realm of dreams!’
‘Let us see!’ suggested Ganymede, who moved closer and put his soft lips upon the fair mouth of Adonis who suddenly woke with a start to see the handsome features of Ganymede pressed so close to him – ‘Gan, I am not altogether displeased but perhaps you could have the decency to wait until I am awake next time but I must remind you that your lips are betrothed to Zeus and must remain so!’ and they all laughed.
‘You must forgive Gan dear Adonis for with his eternal youth and immortality bestowed upon him by Zeus he grows ever bold!’ Hylas said touching the soft hairless arm of Adonis, ‘and besides,’ he continued, ‘being once a boy who tended sheep he thought for once he should be a wolf!’ and amid the laughter Hyacinthus interjected – ‘a she-wolf, for they are the most feared of all!’ and Hylas spoke once more saying how the wild wolves were abroad this night with the triple-bodied ‘Goddess of the Underworld, Hecate presiding over us!’ Ganymede took it in his stride and pretended to howl at the moon and claw at the magnificent and muscular torso of Adonis with a crazed look in his eyes, to which Adonis pretended to swoon and show fear.
‘Careful Adonis, your girlish ways may bring our inquisitive visitor upon us once more!’ whispered Hylas.
‘Not a fearful wolf but a sly old fox, a mangy vixen who gathers the pox!’ shouted Narcissus from across the water whose lissom body lay motionless like a sumptuous meal prepared by the Gods, spooned over with buttered moonlight, who had overheard the proceedings and joviality, and they all roared with laughter together with a deep and sonorous laughter that rang through the woods which spoke of the eternal bond of boyhood which amongst the mischief and moonlight sang sweeter than the love of Gods for mortals! Ganymede was used to such gentle teasing and humour and took it in good stead, for knowing Gan’s fear of eagles for such was the bird (who was really Zeus in disguise) that abducted him from Mount Ida to take him to Olympus to be the cup-bearer of Zeus, supplanting Hebe in that role, that on many occasions the other three youths would shout out ‘Eagle!’ to joyously see poor Ganymede fall to the floor and cover his head with utter terror! Ganymede was very handsome, some say that he was the most beautiful boy in all of
‘You must be tired dear Gan, that cup must become very weary and tiresome to carry filled with wine which you spill more of than pour into the loving mouth of great Zeus to quench his eternal thirst for the grape!’ said Hylas with more than a hint of sarcasm, concluding with a remark concerning Ganymede being worth little more than ‘two white horses’ which is what Zeus gave to his father Tros as a sort of payment for the handsome fellow the God took a fancy to!
‘Yes’ added Hyacinthus, ‘those arms of yours have become sturdy and have the strength of two dozen angry swans at their command! I should think good and noble Zeus the happiest of Gods to find those limbs of tree-like girth matched only by the eye-watering and unnatural circumference of the heavenly member of Priapus twisted around him!’
‘By the great helmet of Hades!’ declared Ganymede, ‘it’s not easy being cup-bearer to Zeus to which you freely make jest of as a fool’s errand for the role permits me to carry the wine but taste of it nothing, except the small amounts I spill upon my hands lest my fingers become sticky and stained!’
‘By the lips of Aphrodite! We know the tribulations of your role Gan and only make sport of it for amusement in the highest light of our love and admiration for you!’ Adonis said with a look in his eyes which echoed the eyes of Hylas and Hyacinthus as if to say – ‘we are one and all beyond ordinary mortal shame for our beautiful innocence knows no guilt or regret and the love we share is endless and unbreakable!’ and then there was silence between the young and beautiful boys which fell upon them like a great sheet, wrapping them in the soft moonlight and the haunting shadows of the woods which moved about with ease around the pool, as if figures walked in endless procession in mournful silence, a silence which was broken by Ganymede declaring softly that he ‘didn’t care if he ever saw another cup of foaming wine ever again!’ and a gesture of reassurance was give to Ganymede by Hylas who touched him light and tenderly, saying ‘at least you are loved my precious friend, for I am forever wasting my delicate words and passionate glances beneath the shadow of Polystratus who fell in battle against the Molionidae and whom my beloved Heracles devoted and poured his love upon – he even cut off his hair at the loss of such a love, a love which still torments him and leaves me drowning in despair!’ and Ganymede could see a tear in Hylas’s eye.
‘Perhaps you should take an uncouth lover and live a life of gaiety?’ commented Adonis.
‘That is a great testament of love indeed poor Hylas!’ said Narcissus, ‘and it reminds me of the love of Orpheus for Eurydice. But I never understood why Orpheus looked back upon his wife’s form behind him when he was so near to winning her freedom from Hades! If he had been blessed with wisdom, he should have taken a leaf from the book of Perseus who used the polished shield of Athena to look at the reflection of the Medusa; if not a shield then a sword would have done just as well I should say, but who am I to suggest such refineries to tales of old!’
‘I would trade all my beauty for an ounce of real love!’ said Hyacinthus, ‘I have come close to adding vitriol to my perfect complexion!’ he continued in a less audible tone for fear of invoking pity, but the radiant eyes of all were on him, eyes which declared that Hyacinthus should never be alone and never be unloved while he has the arm of friendship around him!
Hyacinthus looked across the undisturbed water of the pool and met the moonlit mannequin that was Narcissus who still gazed wondrously and affectionately at his own reflection as if he were a waterside flower nodding towards its watery image while on the opposite bank of the pool, Hyacinthus felt for all the world as if he were a flower too, struck by a powerful spell which held him to the caress of moonlight and left his form changed and incomplete. Hylas thought about the great love of Achilles and Patroclus and closed his eyes with a terrible wonder that thundered through his soft and desirable body while Adonis simply closed his eyes and fell to dreaming of a wild boar to which he chased throughout the woods like some mighty Pan in pursuit of fevered love!