A sculpture by the artist Joan Bennàssar. | Joan Bennàssar
One summer afternoon, around dusk, Anceu el lélege, the Florida Samos, was abandoned on the sandy coast of southern Mallorca, the largest of the Hesperides Islands which are also known as the Foners Islands, or the islands of the Naked Men. These islands are very close to each other and are located at the western end of the sea, just a day’s sailing from Spain when the wind is favourable. The islanders, refrained from killing him but were astonished at his appearance and showed utter contempt for his Greek sandals, his short robe stained by the voyage and his heavy cloak of a sailor. They led him to the high priestess and governor of Mallorca, who lived in the Dragon’s Cave, one of many entrances to Hell and farthest from Greece.
As she was engrossed in some divination work at the time, the high priestess sent Anceu to the other side of the island to judge him and dispose of his daughter, the nymph of the sacred orange grove of Deya. He was escorted through the plains and rugged mountains by a group of naked men, members of the Goat Brotherhood; but by order of the high priestess, they refrained from conversing with him along the way. They maintained a leisurely pace and did not stop for a moment on their journey, except to prostrate themselves before a huge stone monument by the side of the road, where, as children, they had been initiated into the rites of the brotherhood. Three times they came to the confluence of three paths, and three times they made a great detour so as not to approach the great triangular thicket surrounded by stones. Anceu rejoiced at how they respected the Triple Goddess, to whom these enclosures were dedicated.
When he finally reached Deya, very tired and with sore feet, Anceu found the nymph of the Oranges sitting very straight on a stone, near a mighty spring that sprouted from the granite rock and watered the orchard. The mountain, which was covered with a thicket of wild olive and holm-oak trees, descended sharply into the sea five hundred feet below and was splashed that day by small patches of mist that looked like sheep grazing.
When the nymph turned to him, Anceu responded with reverence, using his Pelasgian tongue and keeping his gaze fixed on the ground. All the priestesses of the Triple Goddess have the power to cast the evil eye, which, as Anceus well knew, can turn a man’s spirit into water and his body into stone, and can weaken any animal that crosses his path, to the point of causing his death. The oracular serpents cared for by these priestesses have the same terrible power over birds, mice, and rabbits. Anceu also knew that he had nothing to say to the nymph if it were not answering his questions and even then he had to speak as quickly and in the humblest tone possible.
The nymph ordered the goat-men to retreat, and the goat-men withdrew a little, and all sat in a row on the side of a rock until he called to them again. They were calm, simple people with blue eyes and short, muscular legs. Instead of covering their bodies with clothes, they smeared them with mastic juice mixed with lard. Each carried on his body a goat-skin basket full of stones polished by the sea; they carried one sling in their hands, another rolled up on their heads, and another served as a cover for them. They supposed that the nymph would soon order them to put an end to the stranger, and they were already debating amicably as to who would throw the first stone, who would throw the second and whether they should let him go and hunt him down on the mountain.
The orange grove contained fifty trees and surrounded a rock sanctuary inhabited by an enormous snake that the other nymphs, the Fifty Hesperides, fed daily with a fine paste made of barley flour and goat’s milk. The sanctuary was dedicated to an ancient hero who had brought oranges to Mallorca from a country on the distant shores of the ocean. His name had been forgotten and he was referred to simply as ‘the Benefactor’; the serpent was just like him because she had been begotten of his marrow and his spirit gave him life. The orange is a round, fragrant fruit, unknown to the rest of the civilised world, which is green when it first grows then turns golden and has a warm skin and a fresh, sweet, firm pulp. It grows on a smooth-stemmed tree with bright leaves and thorny branches, and ripens in the middle of winter, unlike other fruits.
It is not eaten every day in Mallorca, only once a year, on the winter solstice, after the ritual chewing of deer thorns and other purging herbs; if eaten in this way, the orange gives long life, but it is such a sacred fruit that at any other time immediate death can occur, just by tasting it, unless it is administered by the same nymph of the Oranges.
On these islands, thanks to the orange, both men and women live as long as they want; as a rule, they only decide to die when they realise that they are becoming a burden to their friends, because of the slowness of their movements or the insipidity of their conversation. Then, out of courtesy, they leave without saying goodbye to their loved ones or creating a commotion in the cave — they all live in caves — they escape without saying anything and throw themselves headfirst from a rock, complacent. in this way the Goddess who bares any unnecessary grievance and pain, rewards these suicides with distinguished and joyful funerals.
The Orange Nymph was tall and beautiful. She wore a bell-shaped skirt with Cretan-style ruffles, a dyed orange fabric with heather dye, and as a single piece on top she wore a green short-sleeved bib with no buttons on the front, showing her splendour and fullness. The symbols of her stature were, a girdle made up of innumerable gold pieces chained in the shape of a serpent with precious stone eyes, a necklace of dried green oranges and a tall bonnet embroidered with pearls and crowned with the gold disc of the full moon. She had given birth to four beautiful dolls, the youngest of whom would one day succeed her in office, just as she, who was the youngest of her sisters, would one day succeed her mother, the high priestess to Dragon. These four dolls were not yet old enough to be nymphs; they were hunting maidens who were very skilful in handling a sling and went out with the men to bring them good luck in the hunt. The maiden, the nymph and the mother form the eternal trinity on the island, and the Goddess, who is worshiped in each of these aspects, represented by the new moon, the full moon and the waning moon, is the sovereign deity. It is she who instills fertility in those trees and plants on which human life depends.
Is it known that all that is green sprouts as the moon grows and ceases to grow as the moon wanes, and that only the hot, rebellious onion does not obey its monthly phases? However, the sun, his son, who is born and dies every year, assists him with his warm emanations. This was the reason why the only male child born to the nymph of the Oranges, as he was the incarnation of the sun, had been sacrificed to the Goddess, according to custom and the dismembered pieces of meat had later been mixed with barley seed to ensure a bountiful harvest.
The nymph was surprised that the Pelasgian language spoken by Anceu closely resembled that of the islands. But even though she was happy to be able to interrogate him without having to resort to the tedious task of making gestures and drawing on clay with a stick, she was a little worried when she thought that maybe Anceu had been conversing with the goat-men on matters which both she and her mother were normally unaware of. The first thing she asked was:
“Are you a Cretan?”
“No, sacred nymph,” replied Anceu; “I am Pelasgian, from the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea, and therefore I am nothing more than a cousin of the Cretans. But my lords are Greek.”
“You’re an ugly old human corpse,” she said.
“Forgive me, holy nymph,” he replied. “I have had a very hard life.”
When asked why he had been abandoned on the coast of Mallorca, he replied that he had been exiled from Samos for his stubborn observance of the ancient ritual of the Goddess — since the Sami had recently introduced the new Olympic ritual that offended his religious soul — and he, knowing that in Mallorca the Goddess was worshiped with primitive innocence, had asked the captain of the ship to allow him to disembark there.
“It’s funny,” said the nymph. “Your story reminds me of a champion named Hercules who visited our island many years ago, when my mother was the nymph of that garden. I can’t tell you the details of his story, because my mother didn’t like to talk about it during my childhood, but I know this: Hercules was sent by his lord, King Eurystheus of Mycenae, to travel the world and perform a series of tasks that at first seemed impossible, and all because of her stubborn devotion to the ancient rituals of the Goddess, he said. He arrived by boat and disembarked on the island, announcing with astonishing boldness that he had come in the name of the Goddess to pick up a sign of sacred oranges from this orchard. He was a lion-man and for this reason he attracted a lot of attention in Mallorca, where we have no brotherhood of the Lion amongst men or women and he was also endowed with colossal strength and a prodigious appetite for food, drink and the pleasures of love. My mother took a liking to the oranges and he honoured her by being her companion during the spring planting. Have you heard of Hercules?”
“I was once a shipmate, if you mean Hercules of Tiryns,” replied Anceus. “That was when I sailed to the Stables of the Sun, aboard the famous Argo and I’m sorry to tell you that the rogue must have deceived your mother. He had no right to ask for the fruit in the name of the Goddess, because she hated it.”
The nymph amused herself with her vehemence and assured him that she had been satisfied with her credentials and that he could look up and look her in the face and talk to her with a little more familiarity, if he wanted to. But was careful not to offer the formal protection of the Goddess. She asked him what brotherhood he belonged to, and he replied that he was a dolphin man.
“Ah,” exclaimed the nymph. “When I was first introduced to nymph rites and was accompanied by men in the open furrow after planting, it was with nine dolphin men. The one I chose as a favourite became the solar champion, or king of war, for the next year, according to our customs. Our dolphins form a small and very old brotherhood and are distinguished by their musical talent that surpasses even that of the seal-men.”
“The dolphin responds to music in a charming way,” Anceu nodded.
“But,” continued the nymph, “when I gave birth I had not a doll, whom I would have kept, but a child; and when it was time my son came back, quartered, from which he had come out. The Goddess took what she had given. Since then, I have not dared to be accompanied by any dolphins, because I believe that this society brings me bad luck. No male child in our family is allowed to live beyond the second seed.”
Anceu had the courage to ask:
“It’s just that no nymph or priestess (since priestesses have so much power on this island) has ever tried to give her own son to an adoptive mother, in secret, raising that mother’s daughter in her place so that the two creatures can survive?”
“Tricks of this caste may be practiced on your island, Anceu,” replied the nymph sternly, “but not ours. There is no woman here who will ever deceive the Triple Goddess.”
“Of course, sacred nymph,” replied Anceu. “No one can deceive the Goddess.”
But he asked again:
“It’s not your custom, if a royal nymph feels an unusual affection for her male child, to sacrifice a calf or a goat in her place, to wrap it in the infant’s clothes, and to put sandals on his feet? On my island the Goddess is supposed to look the other way so as not to see these substitutions, and then the fields yield with the same abundance. It is only after a bad season, when the grain is depleted or not growing, that a child is sacrificed.
“And yet, he is always a child of poor parents, not of royal lineage.”
The nymph responded again in the same stern tone:
“Not on our island. Here no woman ever mocks the Triple Goddess. That’s why we prosper. This is the island of innocence and calm.”
Anceu nodded, saying that it was, of course, the most pleasant island he had ever visited and that there were many of them on his travels, not to mention Samos, his Florida Island.
“I’m ready to hear your story,” said the nymph, “if it’s not boring.” How is it that your cousins, the Cretans, have stopped visiting these islands as they did before, in the time of my great-grandmother, in which they conversed with us in a very good manner in a language which, though not ours, we could understand very well? Who are these Greeks, your lords, who come in the same ships that the Cretans once used? They sell the same goods: jugs, olive oil, dyes, jewellery, linen, emery stone sharpeners and excellent bronze weapons, but they also use a calf instead of a bull as a bow mask - speak in an unintelligible language - bargain in a rude and threatening way - shamelessly look at women and steal any object they can find. We don’t like to trade with them at all and we often make them leave empty handed - their teeth broken by the shots of our slingshots and their metal helmets dented by large stones.
Anceu explained that the land north of Crete, which had once been known as Pelasgian, was now called Greece in honour of its new lords. It was inhabited by a remarkably mixed population. The oldest settlers were the terrestrial Pelasgians who are said to have emerged from the scattered teeth of the serpent Ophius when the Triple Goddess tore it apart. These settlers were joined first by the Cretan settlers of Knossos, then by the Hennite settlers from Asia Minor, mixed with Ethiopians from Egypt, whose powerful king Pelops gave his name to the southern part of the land, the Peloponnese. They built cities with huge stone walls and white marble tombs in the shape of houses like African shacks; and finally the Greeks, barbarian villagers dedicated to grazing, who came from the north, beyond the Danube River, which came down from Thessaly in three successive invasions and ended up taking possession of all the strong Peloponnesian cities. These Greeks ruled the other peoples insolently and arbitrarily. “And unfortunately, holy nymph,” said Anceus, “our lords worship the Father God as a sovereign deity and secretly hate the Triple Goddess.”
The nymph wondered if she had misunderstood his words.
“And who could be the father god? How can a tribe worship a father?” What is a father but the instrument that a woman uses to gain pleasure and to become a mother?”
He began to laugh scornfully and exclaimed:“By the benefactor, I swear this story is the most absurd I’ve ever heard. Parents, no more and no less! Suppose these Greek fathers breastfeed their children and sow barley and hone the figs and dictate the laws and, in a word, do all the responsibilities of a woman, right?”
He banged his head impatiently against a stone and his face darkened with the heat of his blood.
When they noticed his irritation, each of the goat-men silently took a stone from his sack and placed it on the leather strap of his sling. But Anceu answered in a placid, soft tone, and looked down again. He commented that in this world there were many strange customs and many tribes that in the eyes of others seemed insane.
“I’d like to show you the monks of the Black Sea coast, sacred nymphs,” he said, “with their wooden castles and tattooed children who are incredibly fat and feed on chestnut cakes. They live next to the Amazons who are as rare as they are ... And as for the Greeks, their reasoning is this: since women depend on men for their motherhood — because the wind is not enough for them to fill their wombs, as is the case with Iberian mares, men are, consequently, more important than they are.”
“But it’s crazy reasoning,” said the nymph. “It’s like pretending that this pine chip is more important than myself because I use it to clean my teeth. The woman, not the man, is always the main one: she is the agent, he is always the instrument. She gives the orders, he obeys them. It is not the woman who chooses the man and overcomes him with the sweetness of his presence, and orders him to lie on his back in the furrow and there, riding on him, as on a wild colt tamed in the his will, does he take pleasure in it and when he has finished does he leave it lying as if he were dead? Is it not the woman who rules in the cave, and if any of her lovers make her angry because of her bad temper or her laziness, she is warned three times in a row to take her things and go to her brother’s house?
“With the Greeks,” said Anceu hurriedly and in a low voice, “the custom is exactly the opposite. Each man chooses the woman he wants to become the mother of his son (as he calls her), overcomes her with the strength of his desires and orders her to lie on her back in the place that suits her best, then, riding it, he takes pleasure in it. In the house he is the owner, and if the woman makes him angry at her for bothering him or for his obscene behaviour, he beats her with his hand; and if he does not get her to change his behaviour, he sends her to her father’s house with all the things she has brought with her and gives her children to a slave to raise them. But, holy nymph, do not be angry, I pray for the Goddess! I am pelasg, I hate the Greeks and their customs, and I am only obeying your instructions, as is my duty, when I answer your questions.” The nymph was content to say that the Greeks must have been the most ungodly and repugnant people in the world, even worse than the African monkeys — if, indeed, Anceus was not making fun of her. She asked him again about planting barley and figs: how did men manage to get bread and figs without the intervention of the Goddess?
“Holy nymph,” replied Anceus, “when the Greeks first settled in Pelasgia, they were a village of shepherds, feeding only on toast, cheese, milk, honey, and wild salads.” As a result, he knew nothing about planting barley or growing any fruit.
“These insane Greeks,” she said, interrupting him, “suppose then that they came down from the north without their wives, as do bees, who are idle fathers among bees, when they leave the house and make a separate colony, separated from the queen bee, and eat dirt instead of honey, right?”
“No,” said Anceu. “They took their wives with them, but these women were accustomed to what seemed to you an indecent and upside-down way of life. They took care of the flock, and the men sold them and bought them as if they were also flocks.”
“I refuse to believe that men can buy or sell women,” said the nymph. “You’ve been misinformed about this point. But tell me, did these Greeks, dirty with this way of life, continue for a long time once they settled in Pelasgia?”
“The first two invading tribes, the Ionians and the Aeolians,” replied Anceus, “who carried bronze weapons, did not hesitate to surrender to the power of the Goddess when they saw that she consented to adopt her male gods as her children. They renounced many of their barbaric customs, and when they soon persuaded them to eat the bread baked by the Pelasgians and discovered that it had a pleasant taste and sacred properties, one of them, named Triptolemus, asked the Goddess for permission to sow. He did it himself, because he was convinced that men could do it with almost the same success as women. He said he wanted, if possible, to avoid unnecessary work and worries for women, and the Goddess, indulgently, consented.
The nymph laughed until the slopes of the mountain echoed her laughter, and from her rock the goat-men chanted their laughter, wallowing in joy, though they had no idea why they were laughing.“What a fantastic harvest this Triptolem must have harvested!” she said to Anceu.
Anceu was careful not to contradict her. He began to tell her about the third tribe of the Greeks, the Achaeans, whose weapons were made of iron, and their insolent behaviour before the Goddess and how they instituted the divine family of Olympus; but he noticed that she did not listen to him and gave up.
“Let’s see, Anceu,” she said mockingly. “Tell me, how are clans determined among the Greeks? I guess you won’t tell me that they are male clans instead of female and that they determine generations through fathers instead of mothers, right?”
Anceu nodded slowly, as if forced to admit an absurdity by the cunning of the nymph’s interrogation.“Yes,” he said, “since the arrival of the Achaeans of iron weapons, which was many years ago, male clans have replaced female clans in much of Greece. The Ionians and Aeolians had already introduced great innovations, but the arrival of the Achaeans turned everything upside down. The Ionians and Aeolians, by then, had learned to calculate offspring through the mother, but for the Achaeans paternity was, and still is, the only thing they take into account when determining their genealogy, and have recently managed to get most Aeolians and some Ionians to adopt their point of view.”
“No, no, that’s utterly absurd!” Exclaimed the nymph. “It is clear and indisputable, for instance, that little Kore is my daughter, for the midwife took her out of my body, but how can one know for sure who her father was? Because fertilisation does not necessarily come from the first man we enjoy in our sacred orgies. It can come from the first or the new.”
“The Greeks are trying to resolve this uncertainty,” said Anceu, “by having each man choose what they call a wife. A woman who is forbidden to have a man other than her partner. Then, if she conceives, paternity cannot be disputed.”
The nymph looked at him intently and said:
“You have an answer for everything. But do you expect him to believe that women can be governed and guarded to such an extent that they are prevented from enjoying any man who desires them? Imagine a young woman becoming the wife of an old, ugly, disfigured man like you. How could she consent to be his companion?”
Anceu held his gaze and replied:
“The Greeks profess that in this way they can control their wives. But he admits that they often fail to do so, and that sometimes a woman has a secret relationship with a man she is not the wife of. Then her husband becomes jealous and tries to kill them, his wife and his lover, and if the two men are kings, they lead their peoples to war and a great bloodshed ensues.”
“Don’t doubt that,” said the nymph. “First they should not tell lies, and then not undertake what they are not able to accomplish, leading to jealousy. I’ve often noticed that men are absurdly jealous: moreover, after their dishonesty and chatter, I would say that is their main characteristic. But tell me, what happened to the Cretans?”
“They were defeated by Theseus the Greek, who was helped to achieve victory by a certain Daedalus, a famous craftsman and inventor,” said Anceus.
“What did he invent?” The nymph asks.
“Among other things,” replied Anceu, “he built metal bulls that roared artificially when a fire was lit under his belly; also wooden statues of the Goddess that looked like flesh and blood, as the articulated limbs could move in any direction, as if by a miracle, and in addition, the eyes could be opened and closed if a cord was stretched hidden.”
“Is this Daedalus still alive? I’d like to meet him,” the nymph asked.
“Unfortunately not,” replied Anceu. “All of these events occurred long before my time.”
“But can you tell me how the joints of the statues were made so that the limbs could move in any direction?”
“They must have turned in a spherical cavity,” he said, bending his right fist and turning it in the hollow of his left fingers so that she could understand everything he meant. “Since Daedalus invented the spherical joint. In any case, thanks to an invention of Daedalus, the fleet of the Cretans was destroyed, and therefore they are no longer the ones who visit your island, but only the Greeks and some Pelasgians, Thracians or Phrygians.”
“My mother’s mother told me,” said the nymph, “that although the Cretans worshiped the Goddess with almost the same reverence as we do, their religion differed from ours in many respects. For example, the high priestess did not choose a solar champion for just one year. The man she chose sometimes reigned for nine years or more, and refused to step down because she claimed that experience was a matter of wit. He was called the priest Minos, or King Brau, because the Brau brotherhood had become the supreme brotherhood of that island.”
“Deer-men, horse-men, and sheep-men, and the like, never dared to fight for the throne of war, and the high priestess was only accompanied by bull-men. Here my mother and I distribute our favours equally among all the brotherhoods. It is not prudent to let a single brotherhood gain supremacy, nor to let a king reign for more than two or three years at most; men are easily carried away by insolence if they are not kept in their proper place, and then they think they are almost equal to women. With insolence they destroy themselves and also make women angry. No doubt this must have been the case in Crete.
While they were still talking, she secretly signaled to the goat-men to take Anceu out of her sight and then chased him, hunting him down and killing him with her slingshot. Since she decided that a man who could tell such disturbing and indecent stories could not be allowed to continue living on the island, not even for a while longer, now that he had already told her what she wanted to know about the way articulate the wooden statues. She feared the damage it could cause if it disturbed the minds of men. He was also a crooked, bald, ugly old man, an exile, and a dolphin-man who would not bring him good luck in the garden.
The goat-men bowed in reverence to the Nymph of the Oranges, and then, joining in, gladly obeyed her orders. The persecution was not long.