For the Oracle

Meanwhile more were pouring in through the Kerkoporta, where the defenders had not been able to eliminate the first intruders. Soon the first enemy flags were seen on the walls. The Emperor and his commanders were trying frantically to rally their troops and push back the enemy. It was too late. Waves of Janissaries, followed by other regular units of the Ottoman army, were crashing throught the open Gates, mixed with fleeing and slaughtered Christian soldiers. Then the Emperor, realizing that everything was lost, removed his Imperial insignia, and followed by his cousin Theophilus Palaeologus, the Castilian Don Francisco of Toledo, and John Dalmatus, all four holding their swords, charged into the sea of the enemy soldiers, hitting left and right in a final act of defiance. They were never seen again.

Death and Resurrection of Constantinos Palaeologus

Odysseas Elytis

I

As he stood there erect before the Gate
and impregnable in his sorrow

Far from the world where his spirit sought
to bring Paradise to his measure
And harder even than stone
for no one had ever looked
on him tenderly–at times his crooked teeth
whitened strangely

And as he passed by with his gaze a little
beyond mankind and from them all
extracted One who smiled on him
The Real one
whom death could never seize

He took care to pronounce the word
sea clearly that all the dolphins
within might shine
And the desolation so great it might
contain all of God
and every water drop ascending steadfastly toward
the sun

As a young man he had gold glittering
and gleaming on the shoulders of the great
And one night
he remembers
during a great storm the neck of the sea
roared so it turned murky
but he would not submit to it

The world’s an oppressive place to live through
yet with a little pride it’s worth it.

II

Dear God what now
Who had to battle with thousands
and not only his loneliness
Who?
He who knew with a single word
how to slake the thirst of entire worlds
What?

From whom they taken everything
And his sandals with their crisscrossed
straps and his pointed trident
and the wall he mounted every afternoon
like an unruly and pitching boat
to hold the reigns against the water

And a handful of vervain
which he had rubbed against a girl’s cheek
at midnight
to kiss her
(how the waters of the moon gurled
on the stone steps three cliff-lengths
above the sea …)

Noon out if night
And not one person by his side
Only his faithful words that mingled
all their colors to leave in his mind
a lance of white light

And opposite
along the whole wall’s length
a host of heads poured in plaster
as far as his eye could see

“Noon out of night — all life a radiance!”
he shouted and rushed into the horde
dragging behind him an endless golden line

And at once he felt
the final pallor
overmastering him
as it hastened from afar.

III

Now
as the sun’s wheel turned more and more swiftly
the courtyards plunged into winter and once
again emerged red from the geranium

And the small cool domes
like blue medusae
reached each time into the silverwork
the wind so delicately worked as a painting
for other times more distant

Virgin maidens
their breasts glowing a summer dawn
brought him branches of fresh palm leaves
and those of the myrtle uprooted
from the depths of the sea

Dripping iodine
while under his feet he heard
the prows of black ships
sucked into the great whirlpool
the ancient and smoked sea-craft
from which still erect with riveted gaze
the Mothers of God stood rebuking

Horses overturned on dump-heads
a rabble of buildings large and small
debris and dust flaming in the air

And there lying prone
always with an unbroken word
between his teeth
Himself
the last of the Hellenes!

(For A. , the Oracle)

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