Voyage to the Temple of Musk
by, 12th July 2010 at 04:48 AM (1195 Views)
Mounted nereid from the temple of Asklepios at Epidauros
Fragrant feelings must be told
But how it's done's a question old.
Should my truth fail perfume's glory
Let this myth tell truer story.
In the third year of our voyage, propelled by a great storm, we were driven far to the western seas. As calm returned, we made landfall on an island, rich in natural beauty.
This strange, grassy land, unknown to us all, was inhabited almost entirely by women. The greater part of them were young, with only a few who were of great age. These older women were the high priestesses of their great temple, called the Temple of Musk. They were referred to as living sacrifices, although the meaning of this term eluded us at first. These women served a heavenly creature whose name was not to be spoken.
We were greeted in a most welcoming manner, our landing having fallen on a holy day of some kind. The inhabitants were busy carrying a strange fruit from their boats to the temple grounds. Our men were not allowed to consume this fruit, nor even to touch it, under penalty of death. Otherwise, we were free to do as we pleased. Many of the women of the island were eager to ply the men with food, drink, and baths, the latter of which they were in most dire need. Sensing no ill will or plots by these women, our oarsman from the East, gifted with prophecy, advised that I should allow it, for he felt that I would obtain a great gift from these women.
I was introduced to the high priestess, who bade her assistant to tend to my every need. This was a wise woman of middle age, whose quick tongue, skilled in our own language, gave answer to my every question.
The women, I was told, were cast out of another land - a land blessed by wonders and magic far greater than anything we had seen in our travels. The reason for the women's banishment was their hunger for the strange fruit, which affected men and women differently, and which had brought a curse upon their land of origin. I asked if these women were the Hesperides, guardians of the golden apples, but she said they were not. She told me that this was merely a rumor which they encouraged for their own protection.
The consuming of this fruit was the secret of the youth of the women. I believed this fully, for the aroma of the fruit was surely divine. Never before or since have I smelled anything like it. Even the most succulent fruits of our journeys were rank and putrid next to its wondrous odor. It was comparable in some ways to oranges and honey, but it also had the strange smell of Cypriot perfume. Though lasting strongly but an hour or two, even soaked into cloth, it was a smell I shall remember until death itself takes me. The odor produced the same effect that one gets when hearing the finest of bells rung. In fact, the odor was so beautiful, and the urge to inhale it over and over so strong, as to almost be sickening. Thus I was warned that the consumption of this fruit by men led to madness and murder, even while imparting great age and wisdom.
As my men took rest and pleasure with the women of this place, my guide showed me many wondrous things of beauty - temples, palaces, and monuments of great age.
I was introduced to one man, learned above all others on the island. He showed me many strange arts, including one which, by passing liquids through invisibility, they became pure beyond belief. Using this art, and others like it, he was able to create numerous medicines and perfumes, including some which caused men to sleep while wounds were tended and broken bones set, or women to rejoice while giving birth - even in the most grievous circumstances . Other arts, surely divine, involved a special fire which must have been snatched from Zeus himself. I was invited to wander through his place, to smell many things, but not to touch the fire of Zeus or things which, using it, appeared to glow like fireflies, or even to move by their own will.
There was one perfume I smelled, which stood out above all others. Prepared from the strange fruit, it was used to scent the temple itself. This perfume began as the temple fruit, luscious and tempting. Behind this, a musky smell like a woman's skin. Soon, wisps of new odors added themselves like players of pipes and flutes to an already beautiful melody. I could smell the finest balsams. The grasses of the island. Gardens of herbs and flowers. Baskets of other fruits. Left on my fingers to dry, the perfume became herbal and resinous, but with a soft, warm smell typical of the skin of the women of this place. The old man said this was due to a bean from a land far to the west, this bean having the power to make all foods tasty.
I asked if I could take some of the perfume, but he assured me that it was forbidden.
We spent several nights on the island, during which time the men recovered their spirit and stamina. We would have remained for longer still, had not tragedy befallen us. As I rested in my room, several oarsmen, including the soothsayer, came to me in great distress.
Three of my youngest men, smitten by a group of young priestesses, had begged not to be parted from them for even a moment. Drunk on both wine and love, the men followed them to their temple duties, and entered the place unaccompanied. Eating the priestesses' fruit, though unobserved, they were given away by the madness it induces in men.
I would have abandoned these men to the price of their folly, had they not included the man I had secretly chosen to replace my helmsman, should he be lost. Worse still, the soothsayer proclaimed that our voyage was doomed if these men should die, for he had dreamt of our empty vessel sinking, as he called one of the captive men's name in vain.
Quickly, I sent my men to kidnap the learned man, and bring him by a circuitous route to the boat. They were to gather as many of our men as they could find. They were ordered to row away quickly, but not to harm the old man, for my plot was that none should die. The men were to return by my signal, or set sail without me.
Returning to the temple, I agreed that my men should be executed, but I kept this pretense only long enough that the bulk of my men were able to escape. When the old man's disappearance was discovered, and my guilt suspected, I confronted my host.
"Yes, I have stolen your eunuch, to whom you have given great life, and thus great knowledge. As surely as I smelled the strange fruit in his drinking cup, I knew that he drank from it with your blessing. And while two wrongs do not make right, I beg that you hear my plea for my men."
"I know that by your laws my men must die, but the gods have ordained that their deaths will sentence ten times their number, all innocent, to Poseidon's rage. Though I tempt divine anger by thwarting your laws, we also tempt worse from more just gods by condemning the innocent. Therefore, let us bargain for greater justice."
These women of age did hear my plea. Wise and just, for they had chosen their own deaths, denying themselves this fruit in order to lead their sisters, they begged me also to hear their good reasons why men who eat this fruit must be put to death. The crux of the matter was that men who had tasted it could never be trusted, for they would seek it again with every fiber of their being. They would convince others to come in search of immortality, and many more would die. Worse still, men would use the fruit to enslave women in their youth for pleasure, never allowing them to rise in wisdom before dying by their own will, acceptable to the gods.
The priestesses, having mercy, offered that my three men could go free if their tongues were cut out. Though my men did agree to this most eagerly, I knew that a mute was worthless at the helm. Cunningly, I offered a third way.
I asked if the women were familiar with the mark given to liars and madmen in some places, that their words should never again be believed. Burned in the face, such men could tell no tales that travelled any further. Familiar with the practice, they accepted my offer.
And so it was. We set sail, fully provisioned and at peace with the women of the land. With a vial of perfume made from the strange fruit, a gift from the old man, I am able to recall this journey, and thereby assure myself that it was not a mere phantasy. For nowhere else have I smelled a fruit of such beauty.
My three boatmen, burned with the mark of liars and the insane, can tell the tale in every port, thrilling women with their words of truth, but never to be believed.
And I walked away with something of even greater value than the priceless perfume, as foretold. My honest helmsman, marked by my own cunning as a liar and a thief, served as our eyes and ears in distant, strange and dangerous places. Never thinking he would be believed, men and women of all manner and status flaunted the truth in his face. For, as the wise priestess of the island stated before branding him, good men who tell only truth are rare, but good men who hear only truth are rarer still.
Temple of Musk (Pure Perfume)
Strange Invisible Perfumes
Alexandra Balahoutis, Perfumer
This entry is not yet on the company website as of 7/12/2010, but keep watching for this one. You might say the citrus is to die for.
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