Under this sun stands tall the hyacinth, A love story’s epitaph and Beatus Hyacinthus
“The love stories themselves were not told until later.”
Imagine Apollo in our world. Imagine him born and bred in a developing country, knowing thirst and hunger and loneliness and fear. Would it change him? Would he still be as golden and brave and fearless as he was in Homer’s tales?
Modern society is not kind to those who don’t hide their quirks. Imagine Apollo, uninhibited and without a sense of caution, in this society. Ostracised he shall be and the subject of many a lurid gossip over plain, white office desks in the mornings and around varnished tea-tables in the evenings. He does not mind the staring and the whispering, as long as they let him be. Unfortunately, he finds out they will not let him be. They drag him to priests and nuns, to counsellors and psychiatrists and to astrologers and godmen to sort him out, to cast the strangeness out of him so that he would fit in. He is happy with his lyre and books, with his art and languages. He tells them so. He knows that he will not last if caught in the mire of pettiness and abstract motivations that seem to constitute the people around him. They succeed in binding him all the same, and he chafes, and endures. Apollo is all brightness and fury and spontaneity. Endurance does not come naturally to him. He grits his teeth, squares his shoulders and tries to keep himself afloat in the madness of society promising himself seclusion and arts and music and books as soon as he leaves this hell.
Thirteen years of this ordeal and the fight has long left him. He struggles along as best as he can and finds merging easier with each passing day. He knows that he has turned as petty and miserable and bleak as those who tried to reform him. He looks at himself in the mirror and realises that he does not know this new fellow glaring back at him.
Then he finds the hyacinth. That is not right. It is the hyacinth that finds him.
He likes windows. He has an especial fondness for bay windows. One day, while he is perched on one of those windows and gazing at the wild flowers dancing in the wind in yonder field, he feels the heavy weight of a curious gaze upon his neck. He turns half-about, with instincts finely honed from years and years of watching out for himself, and sees a young, ugly fellow staring at him. He spares a scowl and returns to his contemplation of the wild flowers when soft words are carried to him by the same wind which makes the flowers dance.
“You look different in the sunlight.”
The words wound Apollo more than he will ever admit as they force him to remember what he once had been before society had molded him into this, but when he turns to face the speaker, the soft curiosity and the frank appraisal in those beady eyes leave him stranded in a strange, new land. He smiles, an act at which he is unpractised and untalented. Outside, the flowers dance in the bright sunlight. On a whim, he names this fellow Hyacinth.
Theirs is a careful, graceless dance. They stumble in this new land, tethered only by the thin strings of curiosity. Time passes. Apollo feels old needs greeting him with an increasing frequency. His painted exterior begins to crumble. Slowly leaves him the mildness ingrained by years in this society, slowly peels away his facade of indifference and slowly ignites in him the fire of old. Truth and determination and courage he knows once more, each stoked higher in him by every ugly, charming smile Hyacinth grants him. He walks in fields of wild flowers, basking in the sunlight and the eastern winds, and fights for justice, and when society once more directs its malice towards his renewed quirks, Hyacinth stands tall and mighty and wrathful, clearing a path for his Apollo and defending it as deftly as Moses held the Red Sea. Apollo is not a devout man, but he thinks he might have found a deity worthy of his devotion.
Apollo is hated for what he is. Hyacinth they consider an innocent lamb misled. From the west arrive men and women cruel and determined, unrelenting in their self-appointed mission to pry away Hyacinth from the guiles of Apollo. Immoral, they call Apollo, and they call his regard for Hyacinth unconscionable. Apollo pays them no care. He is bright and burning once more, and fears none. Hyacinth carries on, as bravely as ever, in the face of spite and disgust he has rarely encountered before in his short life.
Then all of it becomes too much, too heavy, too cruel, for his young heart. He is noble in mind and far-sighted. So he steps aside hoping that Apollo might be spared the ordeal of counsellors and priests and psychiatrists once again. Apollo does not understand. He rails at this cruelty levelled at him by one whom he trusts whole-heartedly. He rails and rages and makes repeated pleas for renewing what they had, for returning to that halcyon period of sun-washed bliss. Hyacinth’s will is one frontier that Apollo has to admit defeat to, and he retreats. The crowds carry Hyacinth away, back to their placid bosom, and there he becomes one of them.
Apollo rages for days and days turn into months. He spends hours each day on that bay window and stares at the wild hyacinths playing in the wind.
One day, he sees Hyacinth walking in that field with that ugly face upturned to the sun, as if seeking forgiveness. He is gaunt and grieving. Loss and regret and determination shine in those eyes. Apollo understands then what it has cost Hyacinth.
He gets up from his bay window, returns to the world he cannot bear to face without Hyacinth as his wall, and resumes what he does best. He fights with all that he is for his lost causes, he moves to a different land and he continues onward freed by the sacrifice his Hyacinth made. He finds, to his immense astonishment, that he is not angry with Hyacinth. Years later, he has the epiphany that he is no longer pining for an ugly, beautiful, flawed, perfect fellow who liked walking in the evening sun among fields of dancing wild flowers. He thanks Hyacinth, everyday, for having taught him what love meant. Before Hyacinth, Apollo did not know how to love. Now, though, he knows that he can love as deeply as any man has loved, and give all of himself to the person who will want him just as he is. He thanks Hyacinth for that, and for his freedom, and for many things besides.
Occasionally, he hears of Hyacinth. He smiles and it is no longer an awkward, unpractised smile.
And from the blood of the wound
a flower sprang, hyacinth, more brilliant
than the purples of Tyre,
for it was the truth of their hearts bound.
Then Apollo wept.