The Tale of Theoxenia TrismegistusA yarn by Ræl H. Bishop

A satyr plays the panpipes by a forest lake
Célestin François Nanteuil, In the Forest (1841)

Satyrs are an illusive breed of goat-like men living deep in the forests of Greece, hidden from civilization for centuries. Staying concealed lets them practice their hedonistic way of life unbothered, playing music, drinking heavily, and engaging in carnal desires that would cause a Puritan to faint. They live lecherously not out of spite or a need to rebel, but because they hold one maxim above all else: be true to one’s self.

Unlike their plain-dwelling counterparts, they still practice the rites of the old gods in their close-knit tribes. Their rampant hedonism is broken up by days of collective celebration, drunken meditation, and a chance to fill the desires of the soul. Animals are hunted, a feast of meat is held, ancient rites are chanted, and an all-night bacchanalia is hosted to let loose one’s self and live like the animal. And to Dionysus these rites are dedicated, the destroyer of binaries, the one who enjoins us to enjoy life, not merely let it pass by.

As deforestation spreads across Greece, the satyrs move periodically to stay concealed. One such group are the Trismegistus clan, who have moved several times this decade alone. By shunning the outside world, aside from periodic raids to maintain numbers, they have managed to avoid the slaughter and assimilation others of their kin have faced.

Theoxenia, called “Theo” for short, doesn’t fit the mold of his satyr brethren. He’s not a fan of heavy drinking or the hangovers that come afterwards. Chasing tail (of both sexes) doesn’t entice him either. Of the satyr past-times, he instead lives for music. He was quick to learn the songs of the lyre and the epics and chants of his clan. He even sings songs of his own.

But even though he can lead festivals and inspire awe, he finds himself something of an outsider. When everyone enters a drunken slumber, he’s cleaning up the mess. Outside of a festival, he’s more a nuisance than anything else.

He’s also something of a sentimentalist. Every now and again, Theo journeys through the forests to find the remains of his birthplace, which they left behind a generation ago. It used to be a heavily wooded thicket; this afternoon, it’s merely a few trees in a clearing.

One tree, the oldest of them all, bears his name carved into the side: “Θεοξένια Τρισμέγιστος”.

Theo reclines on the tree of his birth and takes in his surroundings. He enjoys the placid calm of the clearing, even if all that remains of his childhood is the tree.

It’s sunset now, and Theo closes his eyes as if to nap. Then, four strange notes can be heard in the distance.

Theo wakes up. They’re unlike anything else he’s ever heard. It’s as if a lyre made of pure metal was being played, devoid of echo but booming and unusually twangy.

His curiosity gets the better of him, and he emerges from the tree to investigate. He slinks from tree to tree until he finds it source. It’s a strange box with a picture on it, showing several dozen men standing behind a row of foreign text written in flowers. As he moves closer and closer, voices in an equally foreign tongue emerge, with a strangely Orphic quality to them. More strange, yet alluring, sounds accompany the twanging, giving way to something “muted” but of a similar metallic quality.

He inches closer and closer to the small box, only for a hand to apprehend it. He was so entranced by the box, he failed to notice the person next to it. Theo backs off quickly, hoping to avoid being noticed.

The figure picks up the box and stabs it repeatedly with its fingers. It’s a human, the first Theo has ever laid eyes on. He was surprised at how much it looked like him. He always imagined humans as these monstrous, Herculean creatures with bulging chests, hair flowing like an endless river, and turgid muscles that could snap him like a twig. Instead, this human was slender and fragile. It seemed to be missing Theo’s fur-covered goat legs, but perhaps they’re hiding under that strange “long blue close-leg tunic”. It also lacked little horns, though it did have Theo’s same curly hair.

The human continues absentmindedly stabbing the box. Theo can catch glimmers of it and see the picture change with each stab.

That night, as Theo returns to the clan and readies for sleep, the strange music still reverberates in his head. He tries to replicate the sound on his lyre, but cannot quite get the metallic “twang” that pierces his mind. It instead becomes a composition all his own, accompanied with his own mangled lyrics trying to mimic those of the song.

Daily thereafter, he wanders back to the clearing and watches. He watches people go by every now and then. More importantly, he listens. He keeps a ready ear out to find that song again.

His study of the humans is as fascinating as it is confusing. They come in all shapes and sizes, even like his slightly paunchy self, but also in both sexes and occasionally something he can’t quite put a finger on. They all wear clothes of sorts he’s not familiar with. His grass skirt is derided as “overly modest” by his clanmates, and the only other clothes he’s worn are simple white robes used in rituals.

He watches an elderly farmer tend to a field of cabbages (one he used to rummage through as a kid) and angrily bat away rabbits and less-cunning critters. Much to his surprise, the farmer then collects the vegetables, takes them to a distant place, and returns with strange, square-shaped colored leaves.

Farming wasn’t a wholly foreign concept to him. Satyrs grow their own grapes for wine in small plots, cultivating herbs and brassicas of their own as well. He just wondered where the farmer went — and why would he exchange cabbages for colored leaves?

Collecting a mix of fabrics, leaves, furs, and other spare materials, Theo cobbles together a shirt of sorts. He watches the farmer, dons the alleged shirt, and follows him quietly, leaping from thicket to thicket.

The two arrive in a “laiki agora,” a Greek farmer’s market.

The farmer enters a stall surrounded by dozens of others, selling all manner of veg in a volume Theo has only seen in dreams. His animal instincts tell him to gobble them up until he heaves, but his fascination with the array of things around him drowns out those urges.

He sees an old woman with jars of honey. She talks to someone, then hands them a jar and receives those leaves in return. The woman must be very strong, he thinks, since the last time he tried to get honey all he came back with was a wealth of bee stings.

Another stall has someone exchanging multicolored bars for the same leaves. The bars smell sweet and look like they’re made of animal fat.

Other stalls hold various things Theo doesn’t quite recognize. What he does see, and begins to understand, are the workings of a currency-based economy. He knows things can be exchanged for the colored leaves, and the leaves can be exchanged again for other things.

He swears he sees that human he saw by the tree, just for a moment, walking through the crowds.

He gets an idea.

The next morning, Theo arrives at the market with his lyre and begins strumming. There’s an old tin can in front of him, empty, which holds tips he collects from passers-by. Every day he arrives in the market’s streets and plays his archaic tunes, slowly collecting coins and colored leaves.

He begins to pick up the local language. Greek, as it turns out, hasn’t changed much since antiquity, but the way they say words and their meanings have. The same goes for the dialect of the satyrs. Over the course of weeks, he’s learned enough of the double meanings and sound changes to communicate, albeit with a strange satyric accent.

He learns to “spend” the colored leaves (finding their taste quite bitter), usually on brassicas and other assorted vegetables. When his alleged shirt is torn beyond repair, he buys a new one from a local weaver.

All in all, he becomes something of a local staple at the agora, a funny fellow with a cheerful face, a song to sing, a goatish stench, and stories to tell from Greece’s mythic past.

At the same time, Theo has grown further and further alienated from his Trismegistus brethren. They didn’t take fondly to him shaving his horns or wearing strange clothes. Satyrs wander, but very rarely return smelling of roses and perfumed soaps.

And then there’s all this strange talk of “money” and “technology” and “the European Union.” All concepts none of them knew or desired to know. They merely tolerated Theo, knowing he could still play old tunes well (alongside strange new ones) and attend festivals like everyone else.

On a Sunday morning, Theo sits alone in the market at sunrise. The rest of the satyrs remain asleep until noon. Shopkeeps, on the other hand, come this early to the agora the other six days of the week. Why was this one day any different?

The curly-haired fellow from before walks through the agora, seemingly in a hurry. Theo waves, and the fellow reciprocates. He follows them, lyre in hand, and tries to start a conversation, but finds the other constantly out of reach.

As the suns finishes rising, the two arrive at a humbly-sized white stone building. Inside sit the townsfolk in crowded benches. Theo is taken aback by the lavish gold adorned all around the walls. Iconography of human faces of a seemingly otherworldly quality are everywhere, alongside paintings of scenes that tell full stories without words. Colors and sounds lay siege on his mind, which surrenders and gives way to pure awe and wonder.

At the center of it all stands a man in an ornate white robe and a portrait of a bearded figure with a golden halo around his head.

In a weird way, the man’s robes remind him of his own white robes he wears during Dionysian rituals. The thought crosses his mind that the portrait is that of a “bearded Dionysus.” He feels a bizarrely familiar, yet some how unique, presence from the multitudinous icons.

It’s strangely comforting.

He sits next to the fellow in the pew and joins the liturgy.

After the service, Theo befriends the curly-headed fellow. He learns its name is “Alex”, and that it is a “he.” Theo had wondered for the longest time which side of the gender binary Alex stood on. Much like Dionysus, Alex prefers to straddle that line. His is a masculinity not of beards and hairy, bare-chested brutes like those of the satyrs, but a masculinity of restraint, strength, and wit. A masculinity that gives way for the warmth and compassion of one’s feminine side. A personality that would’ve had him killed in the woods, but could grow into a great king or advisor.

The two share a love in music. Alex guides Theo to a special place in a town half a day away. It was an all-day agora of sorts. Theo wondered if this is what the streets of Athens or Delphi looked like so many years ago, full of life and business and magical lights seemingly removed from torches.

They enter a building full of wooden crates, each one holding square panels with all kinds of drawing on them. More drawings can be seen on the walls, and strangely musical noises can be heard from metal devices scattered here and there. Strange instruments hang on the wall, looking like animal skeletons of wood and bronze to Theo’s untrained eye.

To a modern viewer, we call this a “music store,” but to Theo, it was nothing short of Elysium.

Alex introduces Theo to his other friends here, each of varying personalities and tastes. They are also musicians. Theo learns about these instruments displayed on walls and shelves: flutes of wood and brass, lyres of varying shapes and sounds, even boxes fueled by “amber magic” that create tones like those from the jowls of Cerebus.

He learns about all new styles of music from Greece and beyond. He especially likes music from a mystical land in the north, where it always rains, kings and democracy rule side-by-side, and people ride in tall red chariots lead by hidden horses.

There it is. That same picture from before, the one with the few dozen gents and the flowerbed. It’s so much larger now, and all the faces can be made out on it. Theo grabs the record and rushes over to the cashier, tossing them all his colored leaves.

Theo asks for Alex’s small box and repeatedly rams it into the side of the LP. He keeps looking at the box, but its face doesn’t change to match that of the record, no matter how hard he tries.

Alex gently removes both from Theo’s hands and takes him into a booth. Minutes later, the two of them are listening to the album, sharing a pair of headphones. A cacophony (or is it a euphany?) of voices and entirely new sounds emerges, equally confusing and amazing. The third track comes on, and Theo melts with joy.

From that moment on, Theo had what we would call a “best friend.”

Theo spent more and more time with Alex and his friends. Assimilating into the group wasn’t as easy as he expected, though. He may wear human clothes and walk through shopping malls like the rest of them, but he was still raised a satyr. Thousands of years of isolation and staunch tradition makes adapting difficult.

For instance, his manners are atrocious. Satyrs eat loudly, heartily, and messily, and tend to pick from each other’s plates. Taking Theo to fancy restaurants was out of the question, lest their party receive glares that could kill a small country.

Living as “one’s true self” means speaking one’s mind and living on impulse, say the satyrs. So Theo always spoke his mind and spoke honestly. If someone annoyed him, he’d yell for them to quiet down. A few near-death experiences taught him some restraint with time.

He’d rummage through the garbage for goodies — after all, why let it “go to waste”?

With time, and enough scolding from Alex’s friends, Theo began to learn the unspoken laws of society.

But Alex’s friends’ patience began to draw thinner and thinner with time. At first, they thought Theo was funny. Eventually he just became annoying. His crazy skill with music was the only reason they still hung out — and even then, they decided he was best in small doses.

Alex still remained close with Theo through it all. He couldn’t give a reason why. He just saw something unique in this lad. He could forgive the barnyard stench and lack of manners — he helped Theo rectify both. Maybe he liked his strange perspective on life. All the pomp and stance of daily life didn’t exist in his world.

One day, Alex decides to play the game of exchanging secrets with Theo.

Theo had an understanding of secrets and lies at this point. He found both of them stupid. He’d discovered most of human culture was built on one or the other. Folks would throw away themselves and live webs of lies just for silly things like colored leaves or social acceptance.

Well, he’d been understanding the latter more and more with time.

He’d never held any secrets in his life until recently. The satyrs began questioning his whereabouts. Elders began giving him the same thermonuclear glares he’d seen from resterauteers. They’d met humans in the past, and there was a reason they lived as far from them as possible.

Now that he thought about it, he’d started picking up some of those bad human habits, too. He’d ignore uncomfortable questions, feigning a deaf ear. He’d be overly polite to worm his way out of interrogations. He’d overcompensate with his strumming at festivals and hide from others once they were over.

He’d also been keeping his satyric heritage from his friends. At first, it was just naïveté. But he soon figured out that outing himself might not be the best idea.

He turns to look Alex in the eyes.

Theo tells Alex his secret. He shows him his fur-covered legs, and parts his locks to show the stubs of shaved horns.

Alex stands back in silence. He tries to hide his confusion and alarm, but his face betrays him. It all seemed to make sense now — the funny accent, the complete disregard for manners, the constant quotations of Greek fables…

How could he have been so blind? He was friends with a freak, an anomaly, a creature banished to the pages of myth.

Then he thought for a minute.

Theo was his friend. Theo is his friend.

Satyr or not, he was the closest with Theo that he had ever been with anyone. And it was the same in reverse.

Alex takes it all in and puts his hand on Theo’s shoulder. It turns into a hug.

Theo never really got around to understanding the first bits of the Bible. He saw it as a bunch of heroic stories buried within dozens and dozens of laws. But he did resonate with the heroes and their vindication by “God”, with a capital “G.”

He never really got the concept of “God” with a capital “G” (or, as it were, god in singular instead of plural). It just didn’t quite make sense to him that such a multifaceted world could be made and controlled by the same person. How can “God” be in the lovingkindness of a mother and also in the raging storms of the mediterranean?

Instead, he imagined his own pagan figures taking on “God”’s role at different times. Genesis was about Phanes, Progenitor of the Gods, and his creation of the world from nothingness. Most of the Old Testament was ruled over by the tempers of Zeus or Ares, or occasionally Dionysus himself. But then he wondered why any of these figures would mandate such stringent rules that they themselves didn’t follow. Was the “God of Israel” some other member of the Olympiad lost to time? Was he a chntonic god of that foreign land? Did he have anything to do with that Set fellow from Egypt? Theo’s heard rumors about him…

Whereas Theo found the Old Testament confusing, he liked the New Testament. He especially liked Jesus and his message of peace and love, a kind of love that was human in presentation and divine in source. Gods becoming human was nothing new to him, but he found Jesus’ message and action more relatable, in a way. He acted like the other gods, in that he had emotions and powers, and yet not like the others, in that his maxim was forgiveness and not individual sovereignty. When he got mad, it was to prove a point, not for a personal goal. Hospitality and humility were virtues the Hellenists cherished, and Jesus embodied both.

But, again, there’s that whole “one God” clause. The priest kept calling these figures “daimonas,” as if it was a bad thing. To the Greek Christian, “demons” are evil spirits; but to the Greeks who invented the word, “daimons” are helpful guiding spirits. So Theo failed to see it as an insult to his gods. An honest mistake, perhaps, but not an insult.

But as the priest’s patience grows thinner and thinner, his “self” overcoming his modesty, Theo soon understood something wasn’t quite clicking. It was “one God” or “many,” not both.

Despite all this, he could not help but still see the gods in the rest of creation. It was strange. He could feel the love of the Christ in the Eucharist and the community, yet could feel that primal bliss of Dionysus in the communion wine and the deepest moments of prayer.

He saw no problem with praying to both Jesus and Dionysus. Could the two not be brothers?

The priests didn’t think so, neither Satyric nor Christian.

And yet… Theo did.

The night of the big event had come. Theo and the other musicians made their way to the stage. A crowd waits below, cheering them on. It looks like the whole town is here, and plenty of folks from elsewhere have come too.

He can see Alex near the front. Their eyes meet. Theo smiles and feels all giddy inside.

Little did he know, his folks from the forest were waiting in the shadows. They had followed him. A dark plan was soon to be set in motion, Theo and the rest none the wiser.

Theo and his band begin to play. Months of practice begins to pay off as the crowd applauds. The sounds of electric guitar, drums, and lyre bounce off the stage, reverberating into the forest and plains.Theo feels alive.

Then, screams emerge.

Theo stops to see his drunken clanmates ravaging the crowd, destroying the scenery, disturbing the concert and its attendees. They get rowdy. They get lecherous. They get violent.

Within minutes, police arrive. Bawdy taunting and assault turns into human-oriented hate, and fights break out.

Gunshots and screams are heard, as the blood of satyrs and humans mingles in the grass.

Attendees flee in droves. The satyrs that don’t die manage to flee into the woods, all of them wounded to a near-fatal degree.

Theo watches the whole thing unfold, petrified. He doesn’t know what to do.

He hears a familiar voice, and sees Alex crying for help in the distance. Theo screams in horror, and runs to his friend, tossing his lyre behind him with such great force that it smashes in two.

He rushes over to Alex with tears pouring down his face. Alex apparently tried fleeing when the fighting broke out, but someone stabbed him in the legs half-way through.

Theo lies there and holds Alex in his arms, muttering incoherently. He places his head on Alex’s chest, and whimpers as his heartbeat slows.

Theo sits under his tree once more, alone. His wide, emotionless eyes tell the world he’s the most sober satyr who has ever lived.

The events from that night still haunt him as he sits, staring off into space.

He no longer wears his daywalker clothes. Just his old grass skirt from so many moons ago.

He doesn’t know where to go. He renounces his satyr heritage and the clan he one called home.

But he knows he’s a satyr, and he can’t go on living in this town after what happened.

And he knows the humans have their own flaws and vices.

Monsters reside in all of us, he figures. You don’t need to have goat’s horns or a gun to be one.

Silence abounds.

It’s deafening.

Wind blows through the trees.

Theo sits, still lost in melancholy.

Then, a blur emerges from the corner of his eye.

It moves closer towards him. He turns his head to see.

Could it be?

The blur moves into view. It’s a limping figure, wearing casual clothes, dragging something behind it. It has Theo’s curly hair.

It is!

Theo rushes over to Alex and hugs him, stopping him mid-limp. Theo quietly cries tears of joy.

The two huddle their way over to Theo’s tree, which has both their names carved into its side. Alex gives Theo his lyre back, expertly repaired.

They spend the afternoon talking, enjoying each other’s presence, periodically laughing and crying and overall ecstatic the other is still alive. It’s a wonderful feeling next to nothing else in this world can encapsulate, a feeling almost divine in and of itself.

They spend time talking about their future. Theo is still wracked with guilt, and may never show his face in town again. He talks about moving to that land over the sea, the one where the king and the democracy rule side-by-side and where the good music comes from.

Alex tells him he needs to move on eventually.

And that he’ll be there, every step of the way.

Theo smiles at Alex. A tear parts from his eye. They hug once more.

A thought crosses Theo’s mind: In the deepest, darkest nights of our lives, nothing is a better lamp than a close friend.

The two watch the sunset. Theo plays that song he once heard so very long ago on his lyre.

Perhaps, in an odd way, Jesus and Dionysus were brothers after all.

το τέλος

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