Danko Antolovic, The Demiurge
Retailer: Apple; Barnes & Noble
Length: ca. 204 pages
The story line of this novella revolves around a protagonist who professes the identity of the mythological immortal, Prometheus.
The protagonist appears initially without any knowledge of the contemporary world, and the story gives an account of his gradual comprehension of current social relationships, material and technological aspects of the world, and contemporary culture. He encounters, and develops relationships with, a number of modern people; some of them evoke echoes of his mythological past, while others draw him into the present time. In the excerpt below, he is brought to a mental hospital where he meets a woman psychiatrist, the first modern person capable of understanding his ancient language.
Classical mythology is often interpreted as an allegory representing timeless topics that remain relevant for the present. This novella attempts the reverse: it accepts the myth literally, as the factual biography of the protagonist, and from that standpoint it seeks to interpret the contemporary world.
I found myself following my companions into one of these enormous buildings, going up some steps and trudging through passageways until we were ushered into a large room. Somebody must have somehow expected our arrival, because a group of seven or eight individuals soon appeared, and one of them immediately approached my companions and began asking questions. Again, a long and animated conversation followed. My charioteer friend from yesterday talked a great deal. He was apparently giving his account of our first meeting, and I was beginning to catch the meaning of some of what he was saying: the words “road,” “naked,” “mad” and “Prometheus” gave me the gist of his explanations.
This new group comprised men and women, and they all wore uniformly white garments. They varied in age considerably, as far as I could tell, and in one or two older men I recognized the expression and manners akin to those of the unpleasant man of yesterday. I had no doubt that he had sent us here. One man in the group even approached me in the same brusque, examining manner, and would have perhaps reached for my head, too, but a brief warning by the charioteer made him step back quickly and in visible alarm.
Apparently stymied in their intended approach, people in white stood around and talked a great deal among themselves. I could not understand what they were saying, but I could see that only one man, seemingly the oldest among them, was entitled to talk freely; he did so at great length, and with a visible sense of self-importance. He was a large man for a mortal, with gray hair and a small gray beard, all carefully groomed for an appearance of distinction. A few others stood close to him, wearing expressions of intense attention and making fawning gestures and noises, while the younger members of the crowd stood around silently, seemingly only allowed to answer if spoken to by the elder. Watching them, I had to smile: for all their crisp white garments and their air of importance, they looked like nothing so much as a small herd of sheep flocking around an old ram with imposing horns!
Among the silent ones in the group, a woman caught my attention. Maybe it was because of her prominent profile, or because of her tall, statuesque figure, but she seemed out of place among these sheep. She stood there, listening silently, but after a while the old ram had seemingly exhausted his store of wisdom, and no one dared add anything to it. On her own, she broke away from the group and walked toward me. As she approached, there was a hint of curiosity in her face, a handsome oval face, unsmiling but with fine features and a piercing gaze. Her light brown hair was pulled into a tight knot in the back of her head. Then she spoke:
“Prometheus, my name is Doctor Tina. Can you understand me?”
She uttered the words a bit haltingly, and with an unusual intonation; but yes, I could understand her. She spoke the way I did!
“Yes, I can understand you well,” I answered, “and I am glad for that. But why is it that I can understand your speech, but not anybody else’s?”
“You speak the way people here spoke thousands of years ago. Not any more, and people today have long forgotten your language. A few still try to learn it; I did, and that is why I can understand you and talk to you.”
At long last, I thought. At long last? A full day and night have not yet passed since my arrival in this alien world, but it feels like a long time already. I have ridden in their chariots and slept in their dwellings, I am wearing their clothes, I have eaten their food. At least it hasn’t been pomegranates... I am drifting, I thought. I have to keep a clear head, find out just what had happened to me.
“Listen, please try to believe me,” I said to the woman, looking straight into her attentive eyes. “Something has happened to me. I know that they already told you how they found me walking on the road, and I know that they think I am a madman. But I did not wander onto that road in some mad or drunken daze: just a little while before that I was in an entirely different place, and no one thought me mad there. I seem to have lost consciousness - for how long or how short I don’t know - and I awoke in a field by the side of the road, in a world I scarcely recognize.”
“I believe you,” she answered calmly, and motioned me to sit down in a nearby chair. She sat down next to me. “Do you remember anything that happened before you lost consciousness? Do you remember who you are?”
“Of course I remember, I remember my entire life before that. And I know who I am: Prometheus, a Titan, son of Iapetus and the grandson of Gaia. I already told the others who I was, but I doubt that they believed me, even though they seemed to somehow recognize my name.”
“Your name is known to us from ancient legends,” she replied, “and perhaps that is why those men thought that you were mad. The old stories talk about a god, a Titan by name of Prometheus. We believe that these stories are thousands of years old, just like the language that you speak.”
Thousands of years... So it is time, deep and dark time that separates this world from mine. And the mortals remember me only as a figure in their legends! The woman next to me crossed her legs in her chair and straightened out her white garment, observing me calmly. I have to say that she was appealing, even beautiful: not in the straightforward, children-making way of mortal beauty, but beautiful like those other women, women of my world. I must be very poor at hiding my admiration, or perhaps those gray eyes really were as perceptive as they looked, because a knowing little smile flickered on her face as she caught my gaze. Then she said:
“So tell me, Prometheus: what do you remember of your life? Can you tell me about any particular things?”
“I remember my parents and my siblings, and I could tell you very many things about my life. I also remember my other relatives: a troublesome uncle and a cousin I came to loathe, among them. And I remember the great battles for supremacy within my family. I wish I knew what has happened to my brothers...”
Meanwhile, the white herd had drifted toward us, and the old ram cleared his throat significantly, perhaps giving voice to his feeling of being left out. Doctor Tina turned to him and gave him some courteous explanations, but it was easy to see that the circumstances had undercut his importance: he could dispense wisdom all he wanted, but he could not talk to me, and she could. All he could do was wait for her to explain what was being said.
I chortled inwardly, and the tall woman sitting next to me bid me to continue my story.
Copyright © 2021 by Danko Antolovic