tagIncest/TabooHebat XXIIIa or b?

Hebat XXIIIa or b?


Hebat XXIIIa or b?

In the city of Ephesus, in the Luwian-speaking realm of Arzawa, western Anatolia, 2577 BCE, the early Bronze Age.

* * *

It is mid-morning, a warm day of early summer. I am practising archery with my friend Tibe in the great courtyard, when a messenger approaches, summoning me to a meeting with my mother the Queen.

Stepping out of the bright sunlight, I hasten through the cool, dimly lit corridors of the palace, my mind filled with worries about this urgent summons: Is there bad news from abroad? Have I displeased my mother somehow? I pause briefly at one of the little shrine rooms, to offer up a prayer to our Great Mother Goddess, and to Her Son, the Bull-God. The sight of Her plump, naked image on the altar reassures me.

A hundred paces later, I am at the door of the council chamber. The guards usher me in.

My mother the Queen -- so similar in form to the Goddess I just was just praying to -- sits upon her throne, attended by her adviser and confidante, Lady Arinna, and by the priestess Lady Istustaya. In spite of my worries, I feel the little comforting thrill I always feel in the presence of my mother's beauty. She motions for me to sit near her, smiling at me in welcome; but I notice a certain tenseness in her eyes.

'Very well,' she says, 'prince Attis is now here. Guards, you may withdraw, and let no one else enter. Arrina, proceed.'

Arrina begins pacing the tiled floor. 'The matter before us, my prince, is the matter that has hung over our heads ever since the sad death of your father. I mean the matter of the succession.' She pauses, turning to me. 'Tell me my prince, does it not rankle you, even a little, that our laws are as they are? If we followed the practice of our neighbours the Achaeans, you would have succeeded your father as king, any woman you married would then be the Queen, and there would be no succession problem for us to contend with.'

'My lady Arinna,' I respond, 'I am Luwian born and bred. I would rather be a servant to my mother the Queen, with the Goddess' blessing, than be a jumped-up king of the Achaean sort, ruling through violence and fear.'

'Spoken like a true son of the Goddess,' she answers warmly. 'And yet, I could almost wish our laws were otherwise, for clearly you would make an excellent king: you are devoted to the Great Mother, and loyal to your mother the Queen; you are learned in our laws and religion, brave and level-headed. You are only eighteen years old, but already you have done able and important service to the realm. And you are well-loved by the people. But ... we Luwians, of course, follow the principle of Mother-right. In our lands of Arzawa, no man becomes king, except by marriage to the Queen.'

My mother now speaks: 'After the king your father ... gave his life, I had no desire to take another consort. In those dark days, it was you, my son, who consoled me: I wanted no other man intruding upon our grief. And I was not then concerned about the succession, for my niece Pepeya should have followed me upon the throne. But Pepeya died last winter in childbirth, as you know. Now my nearest kinswoman is my cousin Wurusemu, an empty-headed young woman. Her consort Anzapahhadu is a petulant and impulsive man. With those two on the throne of Arzawa, in these perilous times, disaster would soon befall our nation. I cannot allow Wurusemu to become Queen. I must marry again, and bear a daughter to succeed me.'

So this is it, I think grimly. She will take a new consort. He will be the light of her eyes now, and I will be pushed to the periphery of her life. How could I have ever thought it might be otherwise?

'But whom can your mother marry?' Arinna resumes. 'Our peaceful realm of Arzawa lies between the powerful Hattians to our east, and the warlike Achaeans to our west. Marriage with the royal house of one would be viewed as a provocation by the other, bringing invading armies down upon us, whether they come as conquerors or 'protectors'. She must marry a Luwian then. The Queen cannot marry a commoner, of course. He must therefore be an unmarried man of her own royal house. But who? Her cousin Adra is a lover of men: he cannot get her with child. Her uncle Lubarna is addicted to wine, and in failing health. Among her more distant kin, there is only her cousin Lord Mutallu who seems capable of being king. He is clever, a man of forceful personality, and he enjoys much support within the council of elders --'

My mother breaks in, 'If the good of the realm required it, I would marry Mutallu, notwithstanding my personal dislike for the man: for a Queen must always put her people first. But there is evidence that Mutallu poisoned his wife, the Lady Estan, to free himself to be able to pursue my hand. Alas, the evidence is not firm enough to bring him to trial, but it is sufficient to persuade me. I cannot allow such a man to become king. Mutallu makes no secret of his admiration for the customs of the Achaeans, and shows little reverence for our Goddess. A man who murdered his wife in order to marry me might just as easily murder me and usurp the throne outright, abolishing our ancient laws of Mother-right and the king's sacrifice, and adopting the Achaeans' vengeful sky-gods.'

Lady Istustaya now speaks: 'Yet the elders give no heed to these rumours about Lady Estan's death, and to Mutallu's impieties toward the Great Mother. They see only the danger of Lady Wurusemu's succession. This morning a deputation of elders delivered an ultimatum: if the Queen does not choose a consort -- and very soon -- the council of elders will unite in demanding her marriage to Lord Mutallu. This is why you have been summoned here, Prince Attis. This is why your mother needs your help.'

'My Ladies, of course I will endeavour to do what I might, but ... I do not see what assistance I can -- '

'On the contrary,' Arinna grins triumphantly, 'you present the ideal solution. Have we not said that you would make an excellent king?'

'But you also said that, according to the laws of our people, I cannot become king.'

Arrina shakes her head impatiently. 'Not as the Queen's successor, my prince. As her consort.'

* * *

My mouth goes dry. If I was not already sitting, my knees might buckle under me. A moment before, I was bracing myself for expulsion from my mother's life ... but now this! Could they know, could they have guessed, that in the most secret place of my heart -- so secret that I hardly dare acknowledge it even to myself -- I have longed for this very thing?

I speak slowly, to keep my voice from trembling. 'I take it, Lady Arinna, that you do not mean the ... mere outward form of a marriage ... You mean that my mother and I ... we must, in truth -- '

'Well, yes, you must perform the rites of the marriage bed, of course, and get her with child -- otherwise what would be the point?' Arinna never employs delicacy where bluntness will serve. 'But be of good cheer. You are a young man in good health, and the spirit of the Bull-God is strong within you. Your mother has at least another ten years of childbearing remaining to her. There is every reason to expect you will get her with several more children within that time, with the Goddess' blessing, and surely at least one of them will be a daughter.'

Istustaya now speaks: 'Prince Attis, you seem troubled by this proposal. Let me give you some reassurance. It is true that the Achaeans, with whom we must rub shoulders these days, hold mother-son marriages in horror for some reason. But it is not so among our people. Although such marriages are ... quite rare ... nowadays, in the annals of the Luwian royal house it is recorded that several ancient Queens of our people took their sons as consorts, and the Goddess blessed their unions. These Queens followed the example of the Great Mother Herself. For our most ancient hymns teach us that, in the beginning, the Goddess, alone in Her perfection, conceived of Herself, and bore a Son, whom She loved; and She named Him Attis -- the same name you bear, my Prince -- Who sometimes appears as a bull, but sometimes takes the form of a young man, just as the Goddess Herself sometimes takes the form of a cow, sometimes a woman. Behold,' she points to a brightly-coloured depiction of this creation story, among the numerous frescoes decorating the walls of the room. 'Now, as Attis grew to manhood, His Mother loved and desired Him, and He felt an answering love and desire for Her, and from Their union, the cosmos was born, and all the living things in it, as the artist shows here. Therefore we are all reckoned children of the Great Mother. Indeed, the same pattern is seen in nature itself. For the grain germinates in the womb of its mother the earth. It springs up, tall and erect, like a lusty son. And as it matures, it spills its seed back into that same mother, thus the land remains ever fruitful.

'As for the king's sacrifice,' she continues, 'I can reassure you on that count as well. Once every few generations, the king is called upon to give his life for the sake of his people, to restore balance and obtain the blessing of the spirits of the land. Twelve years ago, your father gave his life, to end the great drought. Be assured: it will not be asked of you, when you are king. No one doubts your courage and selflessness, of course, but the Goddess would not inflict such terrible grief on your mother a second time. I consulted the oracle three times on this point, the same answer each time. Moreover -- '

'Thank you, Istustaya, that will do,' my mother breaks in impatiently. She turns to me, her expression softening: 'My son, I must know your heart on this matter. Forgive me, I should not have sprung this proposal on you in this manner; I should have spoken to you privily first. But the truth is, without these Ladies' support, I did not have the courage to broach the matter with you -- I so feared that my offer might ... repulse you. I imagine it would please you more to marry a girl your own age, slender of form and smooth of skin ... rather than a ... an old blown rose such as me. And it is a great change -- perhaps too great -- to begin to regard your old mother as a lover.' She fights back a sob, pauses to compose herself. 'You have heard the political reasons why I make this offer of marriage to you. But if it displeases you, if your heart recoils from it, we can remain as we are, my son. I will not force it upon you. As for my own heart, the Goddess tells me that I could be very happy with you as my consort. And I believe I could make you happy too. I have loved you, my son, ever since the first moment I felt you stirring in my womb. And now you have grown into a beautiful young man: intelligent, considerate, dutiful, capable. I could ask for no better man to share my throne with. There is no man I could desire more to share my heart with, and my bed. But as I say, I would never force this marriage upon you. I will always love you, my son, no matter what you decide.'

I kneel before her, laying my head in her lap, hugging her knees. 'Your offer does not repulse me, mother!' I look up into her face: both of us teary-eyed. 'On the contrary, you do me the highest honour a man could receive. As you say, it is a great change, to become your lover. But ... yes, my Queen, I will be your consort, with a grateful heart.'

We gaze into each other's eyes for a long moment, neither of us quite daring to believe that this is really happening. 'Ahem,' the priestess interjects. 'My Queen, you wished me to underscore the urgency --'

'Yes,' my mother says. 'Attis, dearest one, your answer pleases me greatly, more than I ever dared hope for. But ... alas, as Lady Istustaya reminds me, we do not have time now for more heart-talk. We must be married immediately. Once you are king, your person will be sacrosanct: not even Mutallu would dare harm you then. But in the meantime, you will be the target of his malice. His spies have probably informed him already that you are meeting with me, and he might guess the reason. I do not want to give him the chance to strike back, to foil our plan. Let us go to the great shrine room at once! The priestesses await us there. Lady Arinna, bid the cooks begin preparing the wedding feast, let the bull-leapers make ready in the great courtyard, and send out messengers into the city to announce the news! Come, my love.' She stands, holding her hand out to me, and I take it.

* * *

The events of the next several hours whirr past, dragging me along in their wake: the rite of the bull's blood; the ceremonial bathing, dressing and annointing; the marriage vows; the procession through the streets of the city; the enthronement at my mother's side; the celebratory bull-leaping games; and now the feast. The people of Ephesus seem to greet the news with joy, in spite of, or perhaps rather because of the unusual nature of this marriage. The common people do not draw fine distinctions between the fat Mother Goddess Whom they pray to and the fat Queen who reigns over them as Her earthly representative. How fitting, how auspicious, then, that their Queen, Hebat the twenty-third of that name, should take her son Attis as consort, just as the Great Mother Herself is said to to have done.

But throughout this rapid succession of rites and ceremonies, my mind is preoccupied with the fast-approaching hour when my mother and I will be alone together in her bed. Our bed. Can I actually lie with her -- this woman who gave birth to me, whose breasts suckled me, who played with me, taught me and disciplined me as a boy, who supported and counselled me as a young man? I love her deeply, of course. We have always been very close, and the tragic death of my father the king brought us even closer. And, yes, I think -- it is time for me to be honest with myself at last: my mother is indeed beautiful to me. Yes, I desire her.

The ambassador Upadarma once told me, very pompously, that the most desirable woman to lie with is a girl of sixteen years, with long, slender thighs and a narrow waist. But he is an Elamite, with bizarre, outlandish tastes. I was raised as a Luwian, in the fervent worship of our plump ancient Mother Goddess, Whom my mother so strikingly resembles. She has therefore always been my womanly ideal. My mother's face is round, with an adorable double chin. Her dark eyes sparkle with warmth and intelligence, her lips are full. Her hair, like mine, is a mass of long black ringlets, though hers are now shot through with grey, bound up attractively in her royal headdress. She is not tall of stature, but she is amply built, with immense hips and a soft, round belly which spills out over the waist of the Cretan-style flounced skirts that she favours. Like most Luwian women, she generally wears no upper garment, except in cold weather. Her heavy breasts are therefore often on display, hanging down to her navel, capped with large, dark nipples, like stunning jewels. I remember sucking on those nipples as a young boy, happily kissing, nuzzling and playing with them. But as I grew to manhood, the sight of her beautiful breasts began to stir much deeper feelings in me than mere childhood memories.

I tried to channel my feelings for my mother into making myself useful to her. I attended council meetings. I officiated with her at public rites and ceremonies. I supervised the construction of a new bridge over the Kaistros river. I oversaw repairs and improvements to our merchant fleet -- anything to find favour in her eyes, to merit her approval. Now it seems I have won her favour and approval beyond my wildest dreams. Truly, this strange and unexpected marriage seems to be the answer to my most fervent wishes.

But a flurry of fears and doubts whirl round and round in my mind; my heart is tied up in knots. What if, in the raw intimacy of the marriage bed, the Queen-my-lover proves to be a different woman to me than the Queen-my-mother? Will the mother I have known and loved all my life be lost to me forever? What if Attis-her-son cannot meet my mother's expectations for Attis-her-consort? What if I disappoint her? What if the rites of the marriage bed prove to be awkward and unfulfilling for us? I know, of course, the mechanics of how to pleasure a woman in bed: like all Luwian high-born youth, I was tutored in the arts of love by a priestess, an older woman. But will I be able to touch my mother's heart? Will I be able to give her deep sexual joy? And will our mother-and-son relationship remain intact?

* * *

The wedding feast is winding down now. My mother and her ladies have already retired to the bedchamber to prepare her for ... well, for ... for, yes, me. Meanwhile my old tutor Mursilis is giving a rambling, not-very-sober toast, pointing out -- yet again this evening -- the auspicious significance of my name, Attis, being the same as that of the Bull-God, who also married His Mother.

'Hail Attis, the Bull of His Mother!' the men drunkenly cheer, quoting the ancient religious formula.

'May He make Her fruitful!' the remaining women cheer in response.

I sip my wine sparingly: it will not do for me to arrive at my mother's bedchamber in a drunken stupor. I look across the room and lock eyes with Mutallu. He glares back for a moment, then sullenly turns away, grabbing a cup of wine from one of the serving boys and slumping back down on his bench.

My friend Tibe approaches and draws me aside. 'Congratulations, my king. I never thought, this morning when we were shooting together, that you would be king of Arzawa this evening.'

'Nor did I, believe me,' I laugh. 'But I thank you, Tibe.'

'You could order anyone to do anything, I suppose. It must be exhilarating, having that power.'

'It is not like that, Tibe. Now I am responsible for the whole realm. It is more like I am everybody's servant.'

'Oh. I thought it might be some consolation for, you know.'

'Consolation?' I ask, warily.

'Well, you ... you can't be very pleased I suppose about, well, the marriage part ... Well, I mean, your own mother. I know they say it will bring blessings upon the realm and all that. But I couldn't imagine my mother and me --'

'Tibe, I do not care to discuss the matter further.' With that I turn away from him. Tibe's words are like a draught of vinegar to me, where I had been expecting sweet wine. Nevertheless, I must not hold this against him, I resolve. He is merely saying out loud what I have been worrying about inwardly.

Presently, Lady Arinna returns to the hall, signalling that the Queen is ready. My groomsmen and I rise, bidding goodnight to the remaining revellers amid further cheers. A torchbearer leads the way as we proceed through the twisting corridors of the palace to my mother's bedchamber, where they leave me. I knock gently on the door.

'Come in,' she answers in a low voice.

* * *

She is sitting beside her bed. A moonbeam from the open sky-light shines down upon her, turning her skin to the loveliest alabaster. She has removed her headdress, letting her long black-and-silver ringlets fall free upon her shoulders and back.

'Attis, my king! I am so joyful to be able to call you that, at last.' She pours me a cup of wine and motions for me to sit beside her. I want to say something, anything, to set her and myself at ease, but I cannot get any speech out, so tightly am I knotted up inside. Tibe's unsettling words echo in my mind: my own mother!

'We have been together all afternoon and evening,' she continues, 'but we have not had a chance for any heart-talk. Not since this morning, when you agreed to ... to marry me, and you made me so happy. Oh Attis, you don't regret it, do you? You haven't changed your mind about all this?'

'Of course not.' I exhale. 'In truth ... oh mother, I have long dreamed of this -- this marriage with you!' There, I have said it out loud at last.

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