Cautionary Tales
Thomas Warburton

Short stories from Förklädnader. Sagor, parabler ('Disguises. Stories, allegories', Schildts, 2001; Valepukuja. Satuja, vertauksia, WSOY, 2002)

1. Assistance
by Thomas Warburton. Translated by Hildi Hawkins.

All over Hellas, even in the barbarian lands, the lyre-players competed with one another. Odes, paeans, dithyrambs echoed endlessly. Phoebus Apollo himself generously oversaw these productions.

A certain promising singer, Deinarchos by name, who hoped to participate in the upcoming Pythian contest, sat in his study-cave in the mountains of Thessaly waiting for inspiration. He prayed repeatedly to Phoebus for help, but did not detect any response.

The fact was that Apollo was pretty fed up with the many calls for help he received from various quarters and did not wish to spend his days improving limping lines of verse, let alone more radical rescue operations. A lyre-tuner's work, too, was fairly dull. But they simply would not leave him in peace, and so in his mercy he decided to do something for Deinarchos too.

Apollo took the form of a shepherd and appeared at the mouth of the cave. 'Well, what do you want? Can't you see I'm composing poetry?' said Deinarchos, setting his lyre down beside him. 'Composing poetry, eh?' said the shepherd. 'Do you mean you're trying to invent something?' 'Yes, what else,' said Deinarchos. 'I have the inclination, even if the talent is absent at this moment'. 'Do you know what all is involved in shepherding,' said the shepherd in his familiar and slightly uncouth way. 'Here I have my flock of sheep, and I have to keep it together and move it along all day, and I know each animal so well that I could identify it even at a distance. But as I care for them and am always looking at them, almost every day I look at each one of them individually, and I always see something new, generally in their coats. Well. Sometimes I have to pick thorns or rubbish from their fleeces. Some of them always try to escape, and sometimes go a long way. Yes. The adventurous ones are pretty jolly fellows, sometimes irritatingly so. They can get into trouble. Then I have to leave the dog to guard the flock alone and set out after them, and when I find them they're like new ones. And then in the autumn there's the slaughtering. And, always, the cheese-making'.

'Of course, of course,' said Deinarchos. 'But leave me in peace to compose my poems. You go on looking after your sheep.' The shepherd went on his way. 'O Apollo,' said Deinarchos after a moment, picking up his lyre again. 'Apollo! O Apollo!' But the shepherd did not look back.

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