Andreas Karkavitsas: The Gorgon




Andreas Karkavitsas


The Gorgon


02-Iota WAS SAILING amidst sea with the brig of captain Farasis that night. What an exquisite night! The first and last, I think, in my life. What did we have loaded in the hold? What else but wheat. Where were we going? Where else but the port of Piraeus. These two things, I had already done at least twenty times. That very night, though, I was feeling such a burden on my soul, that I thought I was going to faint. I didn’t know what was wrong with me; perhaps it was the serene seas, perhaps the unclouded sky, perhaps the biting sun; I could not tell. But my soul was so heavy and I found life so pointless, that if someone grabbed me and threw me in the water, I wouldn’t say no.

      The sun had already set now. The gold and crimson little clouds, accompanying the sunset, were stopped on their tracks and turned black, like the big black-rust. The evening star looked as shiny as the crystal snow in the dark. The constellations appeared high up in the sky one by one. The waters had acquired that dark white colour, the cold but desirable of the steel. The young sailor turned the lanterns on; the captain went downstairs to sleep; Bulberis sat on the wheel. Brahamis, our dog, crawled up at the base of capstan to get some sleep.

      I couldn’t rest at all. Neither sleep nor stay awake. I tried to make small talk with the helmsman; but the talk was so tasteless, that it was extinguished like fire lit with green wood. I tried to play with Brahamis; but the dog stuck its muzzle between its feet even more and it growled as if it was bored, as if it was saying: Leave me alone! I don’t want your games! Then, bored as I was myself, I went and lay with my face down in the middle of the deck and covered my eyes with my hand. I wanted to see nothing, to lose the feeling of life. And gradually I succeeded. I felt a spark of life inside me, like a dim lampion and my body started becoming one and get embedded in the lifeless wooden boards of the deck.

     I do not know how long I stayed in this position. I cannot remember whether I had any thoughts. All of a sudden, though, I started shivering; as if some kind of magnet was stimulating my nerves, like the humidity which forces the birds into twittering. And immediately a crimson wave poured all over me. I thought I was drowning in blood. And as the sleeping man in a dark room immediately awakes in the bright light of day, I too opened my eyes. I opened or closed them, I can’t remember. I only remember that I stayed still. My first thought was that I had woken up in the belly of a fish, which swallowed our boat. But it wasn’t a fish. The sky was still above and the sea below. Everything, though, above and below were covered with a bright red wavy garment, painting with a pleasant light even the kelson of our boat. Somewhere at the edge of the world, a fire was exploding its heat high up in the sky and was spreading its horrible crying around. But, where was the crying and where was its smoke? Both were missing.

      In the depths of northern wind, an amaranthine cloud reached and covered the stars in light blue colour and hidden them inside its thick head cover. And an arch spread white and yellow and poured dark and green rivers amidst the sky, and also golden red and blue, as if it wanted to paint the firmament. The arch, moving like a windblown curtain, was blowing the fringes forward, spreading its gossamery lace and proceeding, just like the flood proceeds and covers a sandy beach with foam and tongues of water. The airy rivers were running fast, swelling and flowing always dark or green, golden red or blue, glowing like electricity in fat and unexpended rays. The sea was still, reflecting all those colours that looked surprised within the bright glow. But I myself was more surprised. I did not know what to do and what to think. It is the end of the world, I said to myself. Such an end, though, could satisfy everyone. The Earth is willing to die in the rosy waves!

      I was suddenly startled. Deep down, from within the violet-coloured cloud, I saw a gigantic shadow appearing. A big body and the towering head looked like the Holy Mountain. Its two eyes were throwing bright circles and gazed proudly at the World before they kick it into doom. There he is, I said, the God-sent angel, the destroyer and saviour! I was watching him and my soul was trembling. I was anticipating the terrible blow to fall like a hammer on the world. There goes the Earth with its fruit, there also goes the sea with its wood! No more songs, no more travels, no more kisses!

      But I did not hear the blow. The shadow was walking the waters with fiery leaps. And the faster it walked, the smaller its body got. And suddenly the terrible huge body was turned into a woman of immense beauty standing before me. She was wearing a diamond crown on her head and her lush hair was falling blue on her back and touching the waves. The wide forehead, the almond shaped eyes, the coral lips were sending forth an immortality glow and a regal pride. From her crystal neck a golden scaly armour was hung and in her left hand she was holding a shield and in her right, a Macedonian sarisa spear.

       I had not recovered from my scare and I heard a voice sweet, soft and calm asking:

       — Sailor, oh good sailor, is King Alexander alive?

      King Alexander! I whispered even more surprised. How is it possible for king Alexander to be alive? I didn’t know what kind of question it was and what to reply, when the voice asked again:

       — Sailor, oh good sailor, is King Alexander alive?

      — Now, my lady! I replied without even thinking. Now, King Alexander! Not even the soil that covered him is on this earth anymore.

        Alas! What disaster befell upon me!


      The gorgeous woman turned immediately into an abomination. A cyclops emerged from the water showing its scaly half body. The silky hair turned into live snakes, which rose in the air, stuck out their tongues and their poisonous stings and started hissing terribly. The armoured chest and the virgin face changed right away and she looked like the One-breast monster woman from the fairy tale. Now I realized who was standing before me! It was the Great Ripper of the Earth, the destroyer and saviour angel. It was the Gorgon, Alexander’s sister, who stole the water of immortality and was scouring the seas alive and almighty. She was the Glory of the great conqueror and emperor, untouched by time and eternal in both land and sea. And only for her coming, did the Pole poured its glow, so as to fill her ether with colour purple. She wasn’t of course asking about the mortal body, but about the memory of her master. And now, in my uninformed reply she furiously darted a bushy and heavy hand on the railing, she waved her tail and showed the ocean.


       — No, my lady, I lied! I cried with shaking knees.

       She gave me a stern look and she asked again with a shaky voice:

       — Sailor, oh good sailor, is King Alexander alive?

       — He lives, he is lord, and dominates the whole world.


       She heard my kind words. As if my voice became the water of immortality and poured through her veins, she was immediately transformed into a gorgeous virgin. She raised her lily white hand from the railing and smiled, spreading rose petals through her lips. And suddenly in the purple air a war song started booming, as if the Macedonian army was returning from the lands of the Ganges and the Euphrates river.

       I lifted my eyes and I saw the airy rivers, the dark and green, the golden red and blue, meet high up in the sky and form a gigantic crown. Was it a weather phenomenon or was it a reply to the question of the immortal? Who knows? But slowly the rays started dimming and fade away one after another, as if the Gorgon was taking their beauty into the abyss with her.

        Now, neither crown nor arch could be seen anywhere. Some scattered clouds only, ash grey and pale, and inside my soul, dim and faded, the blood red of my homeland.

       I was sailing amidst sea with the brig of captain Farasis that night.


Source: From the short story collection Words from the Bow, Nefeli editions, 1991. 1st edition: Athens, 1899.

Andreas Karkavitsas (Lechaina 1865-Marousi 1922). Fiction and travel writer. He studied in the Medical School of the university of Athens and served as a military doctor. He was one of the pioneers of ethography. His first book was titled Short Stories (Athens, 1892). Other works: The Lissom Girl (1896), The Beggar (1897), Old loves (1900), The Archaeologist (1904).


Translated from the greek by

Vassilis Manoussakis (Athens, 1972). Poet, short-story writer, translator. He holds a Ph.D. in Contemporary American Poetry. He currently teaches at the Hellenic American University in Athens.