A Mysterious Fellow

Herodotus is full of wonderful things.

Aristeas, they say, was in lineage the equal or superior of any citizen in his town.  One day he entered a fuller’s shop in Proconnesus and died there, so the fuller locked up his workshop and went to announce to Aristeas’ relatives that he had died.  The news of his death spread quickly throughout the city, but a man of Cyzicus objected.  he had just come from the city of Artace  and he claimed to have just met and talked with Aristeas, who was on his way to Cyzicus.  So he vehemently denied that Aristeas was dead.  Meanwhile, the relatives of Aristeas went for his body at the fuller’s shop bringing along what they needed to take up the corpse for burial.  But when the place was opened, Aristeas was nowhere to be seen, dead or alive.  Seven years later, he appeared in Proconnesus, composed the verses that the Hellenes now call the Arimaspea, and, after he had finished them, disappeared a second time.
(Herodotus, Histories 4.14)

The Arimaspea  detailed Aristeas’s travels in the far north among the cannibal Issedones, who tell him of the the one-eyed titular Arimaspi, locked in perpetual battle with the gold-guarding griffins, and the Hyberboreans, living with Apollo beyond the beyond.  (As an aside, Herodotus also teaches us about Abaris the Hyberborean, who traveled with an arrow and ate no food.)  Only two fragments of the poem remain, the more notable of which is quoted by Longinus:

A marvel exceeding great is this withal to my soul—
Men dwell on the water afar from the land, where deep seas roll.
Wretches are they, for they reap but a harvest of travail and pain,
Their eyes on the stars ever dwell, while their hearts abide in the main.
Often, I ween, to the Gods are their hands upraised on high,
And with hearts in misery heavenward-lifted in prayer do they cry.
(On the Sublime, 10) 

What a fascinating character.

The Listeners, Walter de la Mare

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
   Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
   Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
   Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
   ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
   No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
   Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
   That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
   To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
   That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
   By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
   Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
   ’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
   Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
   That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
   Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
   From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
   And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
   When the plunging hoofs were gone.
Wonderfully eerie.

On Prayer

Prayer is by nature a dialog and a union of man with God.  Its effect is to hold the world together.

John of Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent274

John’s claim here is no empty piety.  He truly believes that prayer is the binding that holds creation together.  We must understand that, for John, man represents one of the two poles of creation and God the other.  Man is created last among all creation and encompasses all creation within his nature.  We can take within ourselves the forms of all things (just think, within your mind you contain so many things, favorite trees and childhood memories, types of cars and the dance of birds) and these forms fundamentally are the things themselves.  We are the microcosmos, the final procession of God’s creative act and intended to inaugurate the return of all things to their Creator.  This process is, of course, disrupted by sin.  Yet, through the Incarnation the pathway toward God is restored.  The aspect of creation that has strayed furthest from its Creator (i.e. us) is sanctified through union with God in Christ, and we are able to be reconciled to our Creator via imitating Him, bringing creation with us and restoring the cosmic order.  Prayer brings about this reconciliation and, thus, is the unifying bond of the world, the thing that holds together creation and Creator and effects their union.