Friday, 12 November 2010

Cleïs, Beyond Elaionas

This is not about Cleïs, reputed daughter of our world's Sappho, but about Cleïs of my own Kateverse's antiquity, the Incomparable and Fairest.

Cleïs, Beyond Elaionas

White, they call her now! By death washed white,
Marmoreal of she who weightless bore
The world down with a feather?

Or by light
Of cities burned to please her? Tides of gore
And tears have flowed to bear her name to heaven,
And will she bear the wyte?

- My hair was white,
And white my bones through parchment. Tall kings came,
Each olive in our grove a separate flame
To light their way to glory.

White in ash they lie,
And white my love beside them. Deathless, I
Will follow - not to heaven.

Ask no more,
But since you too must die, call out my name,
And I will blaze your banner in the Night.

White Cleopatra.  Marble bust of Cleopatra VII of Egypt, Altes Museum Berlin - public domain - via Louis Le Grand at Wikimedia Commons

Cleïs is greatly praised in song for her wit and beauty, and greatly blamed for being this sort of person:

Cassander having conquered all the world,
His Cleïs wept, that he might win no more.
"What, love?" said he. "Behind thine azure eyes
A thousand worlds are born with each sunrise,
And by thy hands before my feet unfurled.
There let us walk, nor dream again of war!"

Cassander, needless to say, gets only the praise. There are various stories of what happened to them after that, but all agree on their abruptly dropping out of the picture. In one legend of Morgander, where my tales are set, they are depicted as vanishing to grow old and obscure together in their secluded olive-grove at Elaionas. They are rediscovered by Cassander's warring successors under dramatically convenient circumstances, ending in Morgan the Man's getting told off to found a kingdom which Cleïs prophesies will one day exceed even her lover's empire in honour and glory, and generally the way things usually end up when a minstrel is catting for a patron's attention.

But the improbable retirement to Elaionas - if not the Manifest Destiny of Morgander - seems to have struck a poetic chord, and has become widely attached to the imperial mythos across at least a continent and a half.

Its heroine is sometimes poetically named 'white Cleïs'; contemporary depictions of her suggest that this is rather like carrying on about 'white Cleopatra', and no-one really knows any more how or why that got started. The in-world author of this piece seems to have taken this as his inspiration.

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