Dancing with the white bull

Transitions №1

Author: Tatiana Bonch-Osmolovskaya

Translation edited by Mark Wingrave


Ariadne draws patterns on sand

I untwine the tangle of my years, my deeds, my dreams, to the knot where my life began. I follow the winding paths which I took before, one turn after another, I follow up the stream to a stone where a spring gurgles, dark waters, as if blood pours from a wound, blood spills out with heart beats, my words pour out of my body. One turn of the tangle and blood flows down my legs, I hold an empty belly, go down to the water, my reflection rushes towards me between twigs in shallow water, trees stand behind my back shielding me from the wind. A baby sleeps on the sand, time runs away into quick water, twists around my legs, mixes with my blood.

After bathing I draw patterns with a twig in the sand, spirals, twists, meander in and meander out, and again in and out and around, next to the sniffling baby, shielding him from fear, sorrows and death, far away from home. Only four months since I came to this tiny island, four months since the hero disappeared. Four years since I began waiting for him. I now remember how I came here.


Ariadne at Knossos terrace waits for a hero

When the moon like cow’s horns rises over the sea, when she rises from her salted, messed up bed, from wet depths, into rolls of the waves, into happiness, then I come to the palace’s tiled terrace. Our beloved crowned mother, the moon rises to azure heights, multiplied by waves. Wind kisses my breasts, trifles with my hair, squeezes my nipple like a blubber-lipped baby, touches softly my shoulders, reassuring me: the one I wait for will come soon. I raise my face to the moon, counting the nights from newborn to full, and from full moon decreasing to a new baby moon. My mouth becomes cold, filled with the horror of waiting. Legs tremble under the carcass of the skirt, oh, my beloved, promised to me by volatile Dionysus who hoisted a precious wreath on my head. My house is built, stone embraces obedient stone, sweet vine sleeps in amphorae, golden wheat closed in sealed pithoi. Oh my beloved, my home waits for you, I, golden haired Ariadne, stand on Knossos terrace, waiting for you!


Ariadne meets the hero

Theseus jumped from the wharf into the deep waters and dived back with a crown in his hands. At that moment I recognized him, the husband predestined to me by prophetic Moirai, I recognized him by the crown in his hands, by dew shining on Dionysus’ flowers.

Wind ruffled my hair, played with my naked breasts. Oh, what greedy looks Theseus’ wild men threw at me! What envious looks the wild women shaking in fear threw at me!

They stood close to each other on the dancing square looking up at the house. The house scared them. It was so complicated and grand. We scared them.

But I knew: time would pass, only several years, and they would learn the dance and learn reading and writing, and singing according to the signs on the stones. They would overcome their wild passions and dance by the turns of meander. They would be like us.


Ariadne arrives on a tiny island

Everything happened so quickly. The ship left the harbour, while I stood on sharp rocks by the shore. The sea was silvery bright to the horizon. Light blinded me, tears came to my eyes, tears concealed the ship. A moment passed or a day? Was it raining? Had the sun woken from the sea? Had I wandered around the island? Had I seen the sea all over the land? Boundless salted sea moisture like a wreath on the rocks? Had I mixed tears with splashes of waves? The wind rustled branches and touched my lips with a kiss, drying my tears. The sea breathes calmly and sleepily, inhales heavily hissing and exhales growling. Shadows fly over pearled water, rising transparent whirlwinds, fading by cold bubbles on my feet.

I was dreaming. A meadow with buttercups, tulips and asphodels, and a rivulet where we washed linen, and an oven where grandma baked bread.

When I awoke trembling from cold on the rocks by the sea, the sun hadn’t risen yet, and Theseus left me. I closed my eyes and was drawn to sleep again. I dreamed of a white baby calf. He lay curled up defenceless and shining like the moon. His back shone through the plexus of branches, like a pearl in sea gloom, hidden by seaweed, by flickering fish shadows, by swirling of waves. Shadow and darkness envelopedm in an embrace, hid him from sight, and I woke to the next day.


Ariadne remembers Knossos

Mother, aye shining Pasiphae, daughter of dazzling Helios, oh tell me, why have I forgotten everything? Since my grandmother Europa left us and disappeared in the cave of the mountain, everything went wrong: you were so busy, all hours, all year round preparing for the annual dance, each year it was harder and harder. My father Minos spent days with the savage Daedalus, letting him into every room of the palace, letting him learn the layout of the walls, and how the roofs and ceiling were made, and stairs to the balconies, and how air was cleaned, and how water came to the baths and where it went after, and how Talos ran around the island, and how Medea flew in a hot air balloon to the mountain and back. Daedalus wandered the hallways, so proud, so swaggering as if he himself took part in construction. Soon he would tell other savages that he really did build our magnificent house.


Ariadne remembers the hero

Seagulls rush to the waves and dive out with their prey just as Theseus did with a wreath.

Mother, why have I forgotten? Dancing with the bull in front of the palace, the dance that brought me to neither meadow, nor a forest, nor sacred grove, but this rocky island. My dance with the hero Theseus, a savage calling himself a son of god. How easily I forgot that he was the cause of misfortunes for my distant sister Medea, that he killed everyone he met on his path to power: Periphetus, Sinis whose daughter gave birth to Theseus’ child; killed Sciron, killed Cercyon, killed Procrustes, killed Pallant and his twenty-five sons, many of them after they had surrendered. He proclaimed them all were the brigands and savages!

He killed my younger brother Androgeus and sent us the body together with the head of a bull and a sword, as if it was bull thatilled him. Fool! My brother learned from childhood how to jump over the bull’s back, he flew between bull’s horns, he whispered into bull’s ear. Only a savage could be afraid of a bull.  

Then the savage Theseus came to me. Where would he go afterwards? To whom next would he bring sorrow? My younger sister Phaedra? Poor little beauty Elena?


Ariadne remembers women of her family

Four women sit at the table. A lamp on the wall is filled with oil. The sun Helios, father of my mum Pasiphae, sends farewell arrows through the olive leaves. He gilds walls with gold, he kisses women’s cheeks, and they smile in response: my grandmother Europa, my mum Pasiphae and my aunt sage Circe. We play with words unravelling woven verbal strings. Grandmother’s riddles are precious stones, they sparkle, blinding those who see them. Hold them tight in your palm, feel their heaviness – ornament, solid form, mystery, enigma, solution. Mother’s and Circe’s words are flamboyant potions inside fire breathing snakes.

Next to me stands a jug of milk to quench pharmakon, and a bowl of sheep’s cheese, and walnuts, and mulberries. I pour milk into my cup, dunk bread in it. I myself gathered mulberry climbing a wrinkly trunk, bending between tree’s twigs, higher, farther from the roots. Hot berries fall on my shoulders, arms, stomach and breasts. My lips are coloured with their juice, my fingers with their farewells, and I laugh happily when mother tells me about foremother Io. Grandmother’s hands smell of milk, she embraces me, pulls me close to her chest, like Hera embraced her young priestess Io ready to deliver a child. I am eleven years old, I haven’t yet learnt the dance. I hear men’s voices behind the wall, at the square, in an oval lit by the setting sun. I get scared. I am scared to die forever. I drink milk with thick yellow cream, gift of a white cow, and mum laughs again: women will be with you when you’re delivering. We know the path, we will show you the way, the old way which Hera showed to Io. Mum touches the walnuts, her fingers slide along the curls of their milky skin, following thin paths of delicate mazes. Your string is woven already, your path reproduces mine, and grandma’s, and your aunt’s path, and your sisters’, reproduces the same trees in our bodies. When the time comes, you will pass by it all. Do not be afraid, the string is woven for you, and we will be by your side. And when the time comes to die, your daughters will be by your side. I laugh and dunk more bread in milk, and put berries in the bowl. Burgundy juice spreads over cream, I see the mother of our people Io, the fifth at our table, accepting the sacrifice to the goddess.


Io glorifies her patroness Hera

My guardian, my protectress, my goddess, you gave me your hand. As a little girl, I entered your house, received keys to your rooms, became a guardian myself, ready to work in your service. Remembering the promise I gave you, I presented myself to my beloved, I sank in his kisses, swam with him across the ocean, and stood alone on the sand. You led me to my fate, you turned ten times in the sky, showing me the path. From the purple abyss, you looked after me with a thousand faithful eyes, giving me strength. My breasts are abundant with milk, just like your lavish udders, my mouth is full of saliva, just as if I licked a baby with my tongue, like you lick your children. My legs carried me along while a child was growing inside me. I went over the sand, over the mountains, over the grass, over the rocks, over the salt water. Your daughter Eileithyia held me, she caressed me, caressed my wet forehead, when I gasped at giving birth. She cut off the umbilical cord for my child. She put the child to my breast.

I praise you, my guardian, who accompanied me, who gave me my child, I praise you, my protectress, the greatest ox-eyed Hera.


Ariadne understands women of her family

I sit on an orange sheet dyed with celandine and alum, I wear a new dress covering my breasts. I hold my child tight. His navel has healed, he smiles at me during feeding, and when he is hungry, he eagerly grabs a nipple with his blubbery lips, holding my breasts with his hands. He closes his eyes and I lean back on the alder, I blow at the soft fluff on his head. Sated, he smacks his lips. I close my eyes and fall asleep beside him.

Around my island the sea is roaring, the moon rises, stars glisten in dusk. Calm pearl light reaches to the horizon, from waves rolling onshore to lesser clouds. Time holds its breath, and sand stops flowing from the crater of tomorrow to the void of yesterday, sand freezes in the present, as if everything has just started. There is no death, death closed her eyes, blinked for a moment, before continuing her deeds. A dense shadow drifts over the waters, the sky trembles, the sand hurries through the crater of time and events, and death stares at the world from the other side of the pearl light. From the sea depths, the white bull of god Poseidon looks at me. He is just a calf, and the crown shines on his head through the splashes of the surf. The sea merges with the sky, day with night, freshness with calmness, and I step into the embraces of water and wind, to my bull, to my calf, to my child. To dance with the white bull.


Pasiphae dances with the bull

In the meadow, the white bull waits still bending his head and moving an ear, as if made from wood or copper or shining bronze, while I come to him, while I lay a wreath on his horns. The sunrise has just begun, grass is covered with dew, tickling my bare feet, tears come to my eyes reflecting in drops on leaves, smaller and smaller until they all dry.

My long skirt is embroidered with silver, the pattern runs over blue linen, string woven along the hem, twisted into a rectangular outline. After laying a wreath on the bull’s horns, I stay still for a moment, while he blinks and shakes his left ear, and moves backward on the coarse grass under the sun, not taking his flaming eyes off me. My shadow runs around the rocks with dark rotten leaves, covered in brown shadows of branches.

I go forward in boustrophedon, eight times eight steps, showing the way for the bull, white skinned Talos, the gift of Zeus to his mortal spouse. Heavy blood flows from the beast’s neck to his ankles, dark bronze limbs are filled with rods, the life forces inside the rods boils, and steam bursts from bull’s nostrils setting the creature in motion.

His back is covered by thick, silver, embroidered cloth, on his horns he holds the tables where the laws had been written. The bronze bull walks by the land with no hurry, at each house a hostess adorns his horns with an olive branch, she rubs his shoulders with oil, she reads aloud the laws carved in bronze. On every high hill, under a tall flowering tree, people gather together, glorifying the union with the eternal goddesses and gods.


Circe corrects a tale of the hero

Theseus was a thrall in Crete. He was not yet prepared for the dance dedication and the meeting with the white bull, when the sky lit up with fire, the mountain split in agony, and a great wave came to the island. Theseus hopped on a ship and returned to Athene. He kept silent about the catastrophe, though talked a lot about his exploits, those murders wild men call exploits. When meeting those he knew on Crete, Theseus pretended he did not recognise them as if he forgot them, forgot everything after spending two years with Pirithous in Hades after trying to steal a wife for his friend.

Concerning Daedalus, what he did on Crete, the Greeks only knew from his words. Our kind know nothing about Daedalus’ service to the king Minos. But the Athenians were so impressed by his words, that they almost forgot how he fled the city after murdering his nephew Talos Perdix, his disciple who surpassed Daedalus in skill.


Ariadne runs to the sea

When you finish reading this scroll, put it away, inhale eight times, then stand, close the door carefully, not awakening the goats and kids, and slip out of the house. The wind sighs in the streets, you run, run by wet tiles of the square trying not to slip, not stepping on cracks between tiles, then fly between sleepy houses, along white walls and carved red shutters, continuing to meander. Not a person on the streets, neither a hen in the dust, nor a dog in a ditch, only the fresh smell of bread from behind white walls, and stars melting in the sky. Run away from the city, run along the road, run faster than a heartbeat, let sandals hit the soil, run a narrow path between thorny bushes, over dandelions washed by dawn, later, later you will gather them into a wreath. Run over old stones, by steps cut inside rock, down to the bay embroidered with salt, with bubbles over pebbles. There unfasten your belt buckle, drop the simple unembroidered cloak, open your body to water bubbling with happiness, enter the bristling, stinging, wild water, go back into your mother’s womb.

Then return to the cloak spread on the rocks, and sit facing the sea and sun arising from the clouds with a crown of rays reflecting on the mirror of the water, shining for everyone, shining for you.


Ariadne looks at herself

my reflection dissolves on the firmament planted by candles four stones in the crown thunder strikes far away my reflection dissolves on the spindrift on my reflection dissolves a seagull flies from a shore to a shore from this shore a crown on my head heat sweat and blood my cheeks burn the pearls returned into the sea my crown my forehead burn the seagull disappeared from the sight my reflection dissolves on the rainbow over the waves my head hurts berries mulberries as mother taught me the sweet medicine when i get old oh mother my back will bend and my eyes will weaken i will remember this day spindrift on spindrift fog line over the seashore my reflection dissolves on my reflection dissolves on my reflection dissolves the firmament planted by candles father faithfully served us both the bull four white horses sharp iron sword new plough but he never entered the cave azure and stars under my feet the gift from my mother my reflection dissolves on spindrift the rainbow over the waves head in heat hurts the crown my reflection dissolves in my reflection dissolves spindrift my reflection dissolves me Ariadne