The Mask of Apollo
George William Russell - A.E.

A tradition rises up within me of quiet, un-rumoured years, ages before the demigods and heroes toiled at the making of Greece, long ages before the building of the temples and sparkling palaces of her day of glory. The land was pastoral; all over its woods hung stillness as of dawn and of un-awakened beauty deep-breathing in rest. Here and there little villages sent up their smoke and a dreamy people moved about; they grew up, toiled a little at their fields, followed their sheep and goats, they wedded and grey age overtook them, but they never ceased to be children. They worshiped the gods with ancient rites in little wooden temples and knew many things which were forgotten in later years.

Near one of these shrines lived a priest, an old man whose simple and reverend nature made him loved by all around. To him, sitting one summer evening before his hut came a stranger whom he invited to share his meal. The stranger sat down and began to tell him many wonderful things, stories of the magic of the sun and of the bright beings who moved at the gates of the day. The old priest grew drowsy in the warm sunlight and fell asleep. Then the stranger who was Apollo arose and in the guise of the old priest entered the little temple, and the people came in unto him one after the other.

Agathon, the husband-man: "Father, as I bend over the fields or fasten up the vines, I sometimes remember how you said that the gods can be worshiped by doing these things as by sacrifice. How is it, father, that the pouring of cool water over roots, or training up the branches can nourish Zeus?  How can the sacrifice appear before his throne when it is not carried up in the fire and vapour?"

Apollo: "Agathon, the father omnipotent does not live only in the aether.  He runs invisibly within the sun and stars, and as they whirl round and round, they break out into woods and flowers and streams, and the winds are shaken away from them like leaves from off the roses. Great, strange and bright, he busies himself within, and at the end of time his light shall shine through and men shall see it, moving in a world of flame.

Think then, as you bend over your fields, of what you nourish and what rises up within them. Know that every flower as it droops in the quiet of the woodland feels within and far away the approach of an unutterable life and is glad; they reflect that life even as the little pools take up the light of the stars. Agathon, Agathon, Zeus is no greater in the aether than he is in the leaf of grass, and the hymns of men are no sweeter to him than a little water poured over one of his flowers."

Agathon the husband-man went away and bent tenderly over his fruits and vines, and he loved each one of them more than before, and he grew wise in many things as he watched them and he was happy working for the gods.

Then spake Damon the shepherd, "Father, while the flocks are browsing dreams rise up within me; they make the heart sick with longing; the forests vanish, I hear no more the lamb's bleat or the rustling of the fleeces; voices from a thousand depths call me, they whisper, they beseech me, shadows lovelier than earth's children utter music, not for me though I faint while I listen. Father, why do I hear the things others hear not, voices calling to unknown hunters of wide fields, or to herdsmen, shepherds of the starry flocks"?

Apollo answered, "Damon, a song stole from the silence while the gods were not yet, and a thousand ages passed ere they came, called forth by the music, and a thousand ages they listened then joined in the song; then began the worlds to glimmer shadowy about them and bright beings to bow before them. These, their children, began in their turn to sing the song that calls forth and awakens life. He is master of all things who has learned their music. Damon, heed not the shadows, but the voices, the voices have a message to thee from beyond the gods. Learn their song and sing it over again to the people until their hearts too are sick with longing and they can hear the song within themselves. Oh, my son, I see far off how the nations shall join in it as in a chorus, and hearing it the rushing planets shall cease from their speed and be steadfast; men shall hold starry sway." The face of the god shone through the face of the old man, and filled with awe, it was so full of secretness. Damon the herdsman passed from his presence and a strange fire was kindled in his heart. Then the two lovers, Dion and Neaera, came in and stood before Apollo.

Dion spake, "Father, you who are so wise can tell us what love is, so that we shall never miss it. Old Tithonius nods his grey head at us as we pass; he says, 'only with the changeless gods has love endurance, for men the loving time is short and its sweetness is soon over.’”

Neaera added. "But it is not true, father, for his drowsy eyes light when he remembers the old days, when he was happy and proud in love as we are."

Apollo: "My children, I will tell you the legend how love came into the world and how it may endure. It was on high Olympus the gods held council at the making of man; each had brought a gift, they gave to man something of their own nature. Aphrodite, the loveliest and sweetest, paused and was about to add a new grace to his person, but Eros cried, "let them not be so lovely without, let them be lovelier within. Put you own soul in, O mother."

The mighty mother smiled, and so it was; and now whenever love is like hers, which asks not return but shines on all because it must, within that love Aphrodite dwells and it becomes immortal by her presence."

Then Dion and Neaera went out, and as they walked homewards through the forest, purple and vaporous in the evening light, they drew closer together; and Dion looking into her eyes saw there a new gleam, violet, magical, shining, there was the presence of Aphrodite, there was her shrine.

Then came in unto Apollo the two grandchildren of old Thithonius and they cried, "See the flowers we have brought you, we gathered them for you down in the valley where they grow best." Then Apollo said, "What wisdom shall we give to children that they may remember? Our most beautiful for them!" As he stood and looked at them the mask of age and secretness vanished, he stood before them radiant in light; they laughed in joy at his beauty; he bent down and kissed them each upon the forehead then faded away into the light which was his home. As the sun sank down amid the blue hills the old priest awoke with a sigh and cried out, "Oh that we could talk wisely as we do in our dreams."

Irish Theosophist, April 15, 1893

Present article was scanned and proofread and made available for publication by Mr. Jake Jaqua.

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