Artemis and Lykastos

P Sufenas Virius Lupus

The days of hunting, of forest chasing

for Phylonome came to a close

the humid afternoon that the shepherd

approached, enticed, and seduced her.

Artemis, ever–vigilant virgin

smelled the seed the shepherd left.

No mortal seed was it, sulfurous

and ferrous its rusty aroma.

Ares had ravished the daughter of Nyktimos,

now forever cast out from the troop

of maidens accompanying the Lady

of Far–Shooting and Firebrands.

In anguish and distress Phylonome birthed

twins alone, no goddess or good woman

present as midwife; in fear of her father,

she cast them into the Erymanthos.

A noble she – wolf — strange the tale —

dropped her own pups by the scruffs

of their necks into the rushing river

to make room for the helpless humans.

No barks nor howls upset the night

when the two infants sucked

at the teats of the wolf–bitch

in the hollow of the oak tree.

They would have become hunters,

stalkers of prey in packs

had not another shepherd

taken in the stray children.

Gyliphos, turning the feral boys

from wild men to watchmen

tamed them, clothed them,

called them by their names:

Parrhasios and Lykastos, brothers

of Arcadian lineage. No sheep

was taken by wolf nor dog, thief,

bear, nor mountain lion under their watch,

but no neighbor’s flocks were free

of depradation, true sons of Hermes

as the boys were, stealing, raiding,

taking their increase of wealth.

Helios in his heights one summer,

sweltering the sky under Sirius,

looked down at Lykastos lounging

in the shade of a leaf–crowned laurel.

Parrhasios tended the flocks far away

while Lykastos ventured forth seeking

the spoils of neighboring herds or hunts.

He laid his pedum and chlamys aside,

the sweat glistening on his fair form

yearning to cool in the clear breeze

but denied in the downpour of heat,

his resting breaths heaving in his lungs.

It was then he heard the sound —

a splash like chimes on the wind,

the silvery singing of water

playing upon living flesh.

Thinking not of anything

but to see what could make

a sound so sweet and vibrant

he rose from his rest and started

into the dark thickets and paths

overgrown with weeds and brush.

Nettles stung his naked skin,

thorns and sharp sticks scratched

and bled him, but he paid little mind

to the minor irritations.

The sound sang its chorus still,

and he found upon the whispered breeze

a scent like silver pine boughs.

He came to a clearing, showered

in rays of sunlight streaming forth

upon the waters of a forest pool.

Among the water lilies was a whiteness

of uncovered flesh that paled

the flowers’ color completely:

Artemis of pristine splendor.

Lykastos’ eyes drank in the sight —

the pool, the lilies, the Lady, the light,

the silver speckles of splashing water —

with holy awe and utter calm.

The cooling bathing activity forgotten,

the divine maiden stared in silence

at the amazed youth before her.

She saw his firm flesh, and asked,

“What is it that you want?”

His throat dry, his head parched,

the words like sand through his gullet,

“Only a drink of water.”

She marveled at the naked man,

his beautiful penis hanging slack,

thinking back to Aktaion’s intrusion

and his unrestrained erectness.

“Only water? Then approach, boy!”

Her heart jumped within her breast …

What was this? Restraint, humility,

fearlessness … had slain her?

He stood at water’s edge, eyes downcast,

bending, kneeling, cupping his hands

for a sip of the cool spring’s drink.

His ivory flesh was so close to hers …

But surely he was imperfect, prone

to lust and hubris like all men?

No, like any animal of the woods

his mind was on the water alone.

With a flash of her hands a flail

appeared; she brandished it high,

water drops cascading from its tails,

bring it down harshly upon

the back of Lykastos, intending

to tempt him, teach him, turn him

into the raging beast she thought, knew,

lurked inside his feeble flesh.

He lapped at the water, quivered

under the unexpected blow,

faltered, spilled the liquid

from his surprised fingers.

Again, never looking up,

he cupped his hands and drank,

sipping the sweet water

to quench his summer thirst.

Confused, insulted, Artemis asked,

“Anything else you want, boy?”

Between laps, breathing heavily,

Lykastos made an answer,

“Perhaps to hunt successfully later,

only if it is your will that I do.”

The goddess laughed at this —

amazed, impressed, enamored.

“It is at my side you shall do so!

Be in the form of a wolf

and have the senses of a wolf,

but the reason of a human, now!”

Where once there was skin, fur

covered Lykastos’ muscles, his

two arms now two legs, his face

a muzzle, his ears high and pricked,

a tail from his back side wagged,

his eyes golden and keen.

For a day and a night

under sun and moon they chased

every deer from its thicket,

every hare from its burrow,

fowl from trees and frogs from ponds,

and even mosquitoes in the night air —

but not one beast was felled,

not a drop of blood spilled,

no arrows flown to their marks

or snares set found their victims.

And when the chase was done,

wolf and woman rolled around

on the edge of the pool where they met,

playfully with aroused blood boiling

but never coupling all the while.

Lykastos slowly regained his shape,

clinging tightly to Artemis’ side,

his skin still covered in fur,

his head still lupine lying

on the shoulder of the lady,

his sharp–nailed hand clutching

beneath the breast of the resting goddess.

She placed her hand on his head:

“May you always have the strength

and ferocity of a rabid wolf,

but the sense to use it wisely.”

His toothed maw gleamed as cheeks

pulled back in a canid smile.

She put one hand on his groin

and spoke a further blessing:

“May the seed within you

be the roots of a mighty race

of heroes, of hunters, of wise men

who know not of Aktaion’s fault.”

Lykastos awoke beneath the laurel,

the sun still beating down around him.

With the back of his hand he wiped away

beads of sweat from his forehead.

In the distance he saw approaching

bright Chryses and lovely Cyparissos.

Lykastos laid back and smiled,

aroused, looking down at himself.

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