Elpis: The Story
A long, long time ago, before times were as we know them, there was a many-peaked mountain we know as Olympus. It exists still today, of course, and it is the highest mountain in Greece, sitting on the border between Thessaly and Macedonia as part of the Olympus Range.
There was a particular peak, nowadays called Mytikas but then named Pantheon, which was the meeting place of the twelve Olympian gods who lived in their palaces in the various gorges of the mountain. On Pantheon was the throne of Zeus, both the greatest of these Olympian gods and the most feared, by mortals and gods alike.
It so happened that one day Prometheus, one of these gods, had the ill fortune to greatly anger the thunderbolt-wielding Zeus by stealing fire from him and gifting it to the mortals who he greatly pitied. This is the tale of the aftermath of his act.
Part One: Air
I was only trying to help. I saw the need, I saw a gap in their knowledge that I could fill, and what a privilege to be the one who could bestow this wonder upon them! I do not think his anger warranted. What is it all about, anyway? Nothing but a spark, a tiny flicker, a little flame - all is suddenly upside down and confused, and I am the target of his very great wrath.
I am Elpis. My mother, they say, was Nyx - Nyx the great, the beautiful, the terrifying - Nyx, who over even the aegis-wielding Zeus, the mighty one, has power.
I am Elpis. In my arms I carry no shield, no weapon - my arms overflow with an abundance of sweetly-scented blooms.
I am Elpis.
He does not know what he has done.
In his mirth and his lightheartedness, he thinks nothing of it - thinks that nothing ill can come of this badly-timed delivery. There is colour, and there is darkness. He does not know that all colours together create the most potent black, and that there is nothing so terrifying as blackness. Not a soul can bear it, yet he has authorised its release by his impulsive and foolish gift.
He does not know what he has done.
How shall I reverse the terrible damage of this act?
They came together, the gods, all heads bowed, gathered in a circle. They leaned in, and breathed, and reached out their arms. They spoke and they sang; they whispered and they shrieked. A fierce storm roused itself that day and earth was covered in its leaden treachery. It twitched and trembled with sharp shards of light and sound, and all the while they kept their heads together, close, backs to the world, this grouping of such magnificent power. There, and it was done...they stepped away, now silent, and they regarded what they had formed.
A girl, dark-haired, olive-skinned, face kissed with a luminous glow, rose-petal lips parting just slightly. Long, graceful limbs, slender waist and delicate neck. Formed by Hephaestus, clothed by Athena, adorned with beauty by Aphrodite, and gifted with skill in crafts, music, healing, and tending the earth.
But among these endowments -
From Hera, curiosity.
From Zeus, idleness, the desire to meddle, and foolishness.
From Hermes, cunning, boldness, charm - and a small, black box.
She lay there, still; no movement. Deathly quiet. Expectation hovered around her statue-like form. Finally, Zeus broke forth from the circle entranced by their creation, and went to the girl. Kneeling by her head, he lowered his mouth to hers and exhaled, and all watched as her chest rose for the first time. Rose, and then fell, and she lived, this double-edged sword of a creation.
Zeus raised himself slowly, and in his demeanour was great fatigue. He turned his back to all, and strode off, those same iron-tinged clouds closing in about him and concealing him from view once more.
That charcoal-threaded day he called me to him. I did not know what to expect - he had never summoned me before, and certainly I never expected him to. Of what account was I to one such as he? Dark billowing clouds covered the earth, but the sun still shone above us where we were, in our home of the fine balance of mortal and immortal.
I went to him, and I wanted to flee the moment the clouds parted about his form and I could see him. He sat on his throne, surrounded in equal parts by the angry darkness and brilliant, headache-inducing light. His regard was stern and he said not a word, but beckoned me to come close.
I stood before him, head dipped low, eyes fixed on my feet. I could not look him in the eye.
He moved down from his throne, and was all at once in front of me. The air crackled, charged with the electricity of the intense power he contained. He reached out his great hand, and tipped my chin up.
"Elpis", he said.
I could hear the smile in his voice. I raised my eyes to his. So sad, so resigned. So kind! I could not quite believe it. Why should anyone fear such kindness?
Again he smiled as he repeated my name. He sat, and motioned me towards a stool to the right of his throne. I too sat, and he took my hand in his, and all within me was still, calm and tranquil.
"I have brought you to me because I must charge you with a necessary mission, and I hope that you will not fail me".
I said nothing, because I could not. I was mesmerised by his eyes and the warmth emanating from him like a great, engulfing blanket, making me want only to sleep.
"You are to go into a place of darkness. There is no other who I would send, because you are the only one who has the strength to undergo what must be undertaken. It will be black as pitch, and you will not be able to see your hand when you hold it in front of your face. There will be no light".
"The time will come and...you will not think it possible to go on. Do not be afraid of this. Do not submit yourself to what you find in this place, no matter how hard pressed you find yourself. At exactly the moment you cannot handle it any longer the answer will appear".
He pressed my hand again and looked deeply into my eyes, and he began to sing. It was a gentle, lilting lullaby, vaporous and light and ethereal, and I could not keep my eyes open. I fell into a transfixed state where all seemed to slow like a heartbeat failing and entering into its eternal rest. I did not breathe, I did not move, and all became completely silent and completely devoid of light.
I was in the Dark Place.
It is quite a thing to awake from what seems an everlasting sleep, and to find oneself to be all that the best and most enchanting of dreams holds out in its mirage-like promises.
Zeus woke me up, they tell me, and I can feel his breath in me still. It is warming and reassuring, and I wonder at it.
I am to be sent to them, to the mortals. Bestowed upon them. A treasure. Unlike anything they've ever beheld. Well, to him to whom I am to be presented, anyhow. A man. That man.
Why, why, why?
I turn myself toward the dark clouds that still cover over the earth.
What a thing! the mortals thought, what a thing, what a creature is this woman. She is delightful, she is graceful, she is as though carved from marble and tinted with the melting sun, tall and sure like the cypress tree, red-like-blood smile to answer the doubts in their hearts. An opiate: heady, warm, intoxicating, wonderful.
But she was for one man, and one alone. Prometheus brought her to him: that was his consignment. He knew the harm he was about to inflict, and he hoped in his heart that his brother would heed the warning look in his eyes when he presented her.
He did not.
Epimetheus. The very embodiment of impulsiveness, so delightfully impish and exciting, tall and handsome, strong and amusing, forever getting himself into scrapes and forever fighting to make his way out of them.
So she was presented to him, Pandora, that beauteous gift of the gods. To be his wife, he marvelled. His very own, this creature nobody could take their eyes off. How enchanting. He could feel her in his arms already, watching her as she approached, and knew his heart would beat at just the same tempo as hers: only his would carry the upbeat and hers the down, the breath out to his breath in.
He was ready.