Kanathos

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I missed you, Pausanias, in the Argolid,
Missed you by eighteen centuries at least;
Could we have met, although we never did,
I would choose that Argive plain from all the rest.

Argos; the Argolid: this was Hera’s deme;
Dearest to her of any land in Greece.
Here in her virgin majesty supreme
She ruled and brought fertility and peace.

She fought here with the Earth-shaker and won,
Driving Poseidon back into his sea,
Just as Athena in Attica had done,
And each by reason of her virginity.

For these were goddesses whose names attest
Them older than Greece and its male pantheon,
Spirits of earth through whom the earth was blessed
By virtue of their maidenhood alone.

Terrible are the powers that reside
In virgin loins and in the virgin soul;
Wisdom and prophecy, to others denied,
Are talents granted to their chaste control.

Zeus seduced Hera basely in the shape
Of a sly suppliant, the cuckoo bird;
The goddess, they say, never forgave that rape.
(This was a tale, Pausanias, that you heard

In Argos from a woman’s mystery
And to your credit, would not divulge to men.)
Zeus made her queen of heaven and earth, but she
Yearly restored her virgin state again.

In autumn, when the cuckoo leaves the land,
Striding towards Nauplion, she could be seen,
Disowning her husband, spurning his command,
A shadow against the stars, that angry queen.

At the spring Kanathos, the Gurgling Well,
She bathed at dawn and then, for all to see,
Strode back restoring to her land the spell
Of that renewed, divine virginity.

Lightning along the ridges flashed and ran;
And women with dances greeted her advance
Singing, but woe betide the reckless man
Who put himself in danger of that dance.

These tales, Pausanias, enchant me more
Because, like you, I went to Kanathos
— Neither of course intending to restore
That state of which few men regret the loss —

A house of nuns now guards it. How I wish
We had gone there together, to have seen
Great Hera’s bathtub full of Christian fish
And, as the chaste nuns placed themselves between,

Might have exchanged a graceless, masculine wink
Inspired by Zeus; but then would both agree
To forgo more research; for this, we think
Better than to profane a mystery.

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