Thyestes (III/IV)

Posted on March 24, 2004 by Jenna

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It is 1223 years before the common era. The sun shines white, then later red. The golden lamb plays upon a hill.

The lamb gambols.

Thyestes makes a wreath of flowers. He sets it on a stone beside him; and Artemis is there.

“She’s pretty, ” Thyestes says. “The lamb.”

“Yes, ” Artemis says.



“She was supposed to have been sacrificed to you,” Thyestes says. “A long time ago. But instead, my brother chose to keep her.”

“I suppose he thought that I’d been deceived.”

“Later, we wagered a kingdom on it—on whomever could provide the best lamb. And I seduced his wife, and she brought it to me, and when I and my brother brought forth our herds, mine had the superior sheep.”

Artemis turns over her hand. The gesture indicates that these things happen.

“But Zeus wanted my brother to be King,” Thyestes says. “So he became King anyway. And I left. And one day he invited me back.”

“I’m sorry,” Artemis says.

“It wasn’t your affair,” he says.


“He killed my sons,” Thyestes says. “To punish me for sleeping with his wife. He killed my sons, and he fed them to me, and I didn’t know what I’d eaten until he brought out their cooked heads.”

Artemis reflects on this for a bit. “It happens,” she says. “If someone did that to me, I’d turn them into a badger. But I have divine powers and a temper.”

“I could get revenge,” Thyestes says.

“Ah,” Artemis says.

“I asked an Oracle how. She said to lay with my daughter Pelopia, and sire a son who would avenge me.”

There’s quiet for a bit. The lamb plays in the sun. “You can’t imagine,” Artemis says, “that I’d help you.”

“No,” Thyestes agrees.

“Then what?”

“My house is cursed,” he says. “Cursed for Tantalus. Cursed for Pelops. Cursed for me, for all I know.”

“Ah,” she says.

“Do I have a choice?”

She looks him over.

“If you ask me to,” she says, “I will turn you into a squirrel. Or a woman. Or an arrow for my bow. Or a wave out in the sea.”

“These are hard options,” he says.

“It is these,” she says, “or become a monster.”

“Like the Nemean Lion,” he says.

A long moment passes. “No,” she says. “The word is ill-suited to Echidna’s brood. In time, I think, it would be your kind that would bear the name.”

“You could threaten me,” he says. “It would make it easier. To take the hard road.”

“I can’t. Your house is cursed.”


There’s a silence.

“Tell me of monsters,” he says.

“If you do this,” she says, “then one day your line shall rule even over the gods; but you shall be as empty as your victims. Your heirs will be born in horror, and raised in horror, and grow into monsters that work horror of their own; and then, like the serpent biting its own tail, that horror shall come back to them at the end, and they shall die in sickness and in pain, saying, ‘This is not fair.'”

“And how does this compare to squirrels?”

Artemis rises. Her aspect becomes terrible.

“Make up your mind,” she says.

After a while, she goes away, and the wreath sifts to the ground, and the lamb gambols against the setting sun.