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Authors: Ralph Hardy


BOOK: Argos
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For Anu, who believed in me,

and George, who made it happen

On the stupidity of sheep

ometimes a new dog will ask me my lineage, for I look like no other hound on Ithaka, most of which are small and bred to shepherd livestock, if they are bred for any purpose at all. When I am asked, this is the story I tell, if the question is not put to me rudely, as often happens in this age.

My master, brave Odysseus—may the gods favor him—found me one day in early summer as he hunted a stag. Rain had begun to fall, and my master took shelter in a cave. Old men from the town claim that the cave served as a bear's den, but I have never seen such a creature on Ithaka, except Ursa in the summer sky. While waiting for the rain to stop, my master heard noises coming from deep in the cave's passages, but having no light, he waited near the mouth of the cave until
the rain passed and then returned home, having lost the stag's trail.

The next morning, he returned with a burning torch to the cave and followed its dark tunnels until he found me, alone, gnawing on a boar's carcass. Next to the carcass lay the bodies of my mother, silver furred and wolfish, and three of my brothers, all black, like me. I alone in that cave lived. My master called me Boar Slayer that day, and later, Argos, and I am still called both. Sometimes when he has drunk too much wine, he will say that my mother was a wolf and my father was the last bear on Ithaka, and perhaps that is true, for my chest is sturdy, and no dog on Ithaka is my match in size. And while there are faster runners on this island, no hound can track as well as I or run as far.

I am Argos, the Boar Slayer, I tell the new dogs, bred of a wolf and a bear, loyal hound to brave Odysseus, guardian of Mistress Penelope, hunting companion to Telemachos, and there my lineage ends.

But tonight a storm comes and the Boar Slayer must guard the sheep. How is it possible for an animal to be so stupid that it does not seek shelter from a storm? They will stand in the most terrible weather, chewing their cuds, bleating on and on about how the grass on one side of the hill tastes better than
the other, seemingly unaware of the rain that beats down upon them. Their wool stinks when it's wet. Don't they smell it? I can smell a wet ewe from twenty stadia, and so can a mountain wolf. And while there are no large packs near here, lone wolves, old and crippled, still roam the far pastures looking for stray lambs. And that is why I have to remain outside tonight in the storm. Because sheep are too stupid to come out of the rain.

Still, the mountain wolves will not feast on sheep tonight. Zeus, the father of the gods, hurls jagged lightning at Ithaka, our island, and that is the only thing they fear, besides my sharp teeth. The wolves will lie in their dens, sheltered from the rain, and wait for better days. Yet Telemachos, my master's son, is on edge. Marauders are about, stealing livestock because the island's brave menfolk left many winters ago with my master to capture the city of Troy, and although Telemachos is only eleven, I can tell he feels responsible for his father's estate. He sits with my mistress Penelope every seven days when the remaining shepherds report their livestock deaths, births, and thefts, marking these numbers on clay tablets, which even my master had never done.

I still remember that morning my master left. On the harbor, the mothers, wives, and daughters of the sailors beat their
chests and tore their clothes, crying out for Poseidon, god of the vast seas, to protect their loved ones. My master's wife and infant son stood on the jetty as well, waving to him, blowing kisses and weeping. I sat beside them and felt my mistress's warm tears fall onto my back. But the gods have their ways; they seldom listen to humans. And no one has returned to fair Ithaka. So the marauders steal our sheep and break our fences, and there is no one to pick the olives, harvest the grapes, and shear the stupid sheep, which stand in the rain.

Ten years or more have passed since I last licked my master's hand. The kestrels speak of great armies with flashing shields, assembling from the corners of mighty Achaia, from Thessaly, Cydonia, Cythera, Ithaka, and more. The high-flying birds speak of heroes and villains, of Achilles and Ajax, Agamemnon, and Paris, the prince of Troy, who stole the beautiful Helen from Sparta and doomed many less foolish men. The chaffinches who alit in the open windows of Troy and gazed upon Helen no longer sing, so much were they in awe of her beauty. But about my master, Odysseus, I have heard nothing since his victory at that cursed city nearly a year ago.

Troy. It is there my master's reputation was made; it is there he became known as the city sacker and the Wily One. Who has not heard how my master had his men cut down the tallest
trees in the wood, constructing a giant horse, a wooden statue as tall as Troy's walls, a noble and grand gesture of surrender? How the Trojans must have laughed at my master, mocked him as if he were a knave and not a king. They did not know my master as I do. He is indeed the Wily One. For as they taunted him, hurled rotten food at his men, and awaited his peace offering, he sharpened his sword deep into the night. So the great moonfaced owl told me last winter.

Once the horse was built, she was rolled up to the gate, which had withstood the Achaian siege without falling. Then the Achaian men who pushed it there retreated under insults and stones, returning to their ships and setting sail. Yet their crews were not full, but smaller by forty men. Nor did they sail far, only beyond the view of the lookouts, where they dropped anchor and waited.

I am told that a few Trojans were suspicious. One, a prophetess, cautioned them to reject the gift, but they did not listen to her admonitions. The Trojans rolled the great horse into their fort and celebrated the retreat of the Achaians late into the night. When all was silent, my master and his men slipped out of the horse and opened the gate for their comrades, who had sailed back under darkness. And so ended the siege of Troy, for the Trojans were all put to the sword. But the Achaians went
too far. They destroyed temples to the gods and sacked the city, desecrating its altars and enslaving its women. Finally my master set sail for his home, unaware that the gods had been angered by his men's actions.

This every schoolboy knows, for some men did return to their homes from Troy to tell the tale. But my master and his men have not. The mountain eagles circle higher and higher, riding the rippling currents, looking for him as I have asked, but see him not. The seagulls I have ordered to fly over every ship to see if my master is enslaved report nothing. Even the vultures, which smell death everywhere, are silent. And so I believe he lives.

BOOK: Argos
8.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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