The Gift of Ostrakes

By , Ann Arbor, MI
Of the plethora of Olympian Gods, one Goddess in particular is worthy of the most credit for the creation of this Earth: she is Athena, goddess of wisdom. For during the time before time had yet begun, with her wisdom Athena cooled the boiling waters and soothed the writhing lands, shaping them and molding them and intertwining them together in her own soft palms, into that ball of Life which she named Earth. When her construction was complete, each immortal occupant of a grand Olympian throne descended from his chair to contribute his own gifts to the world Athena had created.

The first God to descend to Earth was Apollo. Apollo walked from North to South over the surface of Athena’s creation. The Earth was beautiful in his eyes, but there was no light to shine upon it. So Apollo gave to the Earth the gift of the sun. The second God to visit Earth was Zeus. Zeus walked from East to West over the surface of Athena’s creation. Looking down, Zeus saw land. Looking ahead of him, he saw water. But when he gazed upwards, his eyes met nothing but the blinding white brightness of the sun. Hence Zeus gave to the Earth the gift of the sky, which housed the sun. The sky blanketed the earth in a soft blue light, and would be a source of wonder and inspiration for all time. Demeter gave the world green vegetables and abundant fruits and brilliant flowers and towering trees; Artemis contributed the birds and the bees and all variety of creatures. Many more Gods here unmentioned visited this world – including Athena once more, who created man – bestowing upon it their gifts, until it reached that state when all creatures of the Earth lived in contentment and harmony; when spring warmed the plentiful earth without pause; when people lived together in peace, and all manner of being – man and beast and fowl and fish and tree and herb – were well provided for and cared for by the Earth. And the golden sun shone upon the golden Earth.

There was one God who sat upon a throne on Mount Olympus who did not give to Athena’s world. His name was Ostrakes. Ostrakes thought and thought about what to give to the world that it did not possess. Prometheus had given fire; woman had already arrived in the world; everything Earth needed it seemed already to have. What more was there to give? He mused to himself for a thousand years. At last, all at once, a brilliant idea struck him like a lightning bolt thrown from Zeus’ fast hand: he would give the people of the world writing. Men already had oral language, he reflected, but they possessed no method of recording their innovations that might fuel other people’s ideas. By giving humans writing, Ostrakes would change the way the people of the world conveyed information. He would influence the world more than any other God. His gift would surpass all others.

Ostrakes’ gift did surpass all others. The God, excited at the thought of this new plan, sent word to Hephaestus, God of fire and forge, bidding him make from earthen clay a great pot. Hephaestus did as he was asked, and carried the pot himself on his limping shoulders to Ostrakes’ throne. After Hephaestus had left, Ostrakes stood and, with his vast strength, threw down the enormous clay pot from the sky onto the jagged slopes of Mount Olympus. With a resounding crash, the great pot shattered into a thousand pieces. Ostrakes then ordered Hermes, the messenger god, to gather the pieces into his arms. When this was done, Ostrakes bid Zephyr, the West Wind, to sweep off with the breath of his powerful lungs the stray twigs of every mighty oak living on the Earth into the arms of Hermes. Zephyr did as he was bidden, and Hermes set off to Earth carrying the fragments of the great pot, named ostraka, and the wooden twigs which were styli. These he distributed throughout the Earth to every man in every home in every town. And as men everywhere raised a stylus over an ostrakon, writing came into their hearts and their minds and their souls and filled them with letters and words and new thoughts. Logic and lists and records came into the world, and made it orderly. Men wrote their thoughts on ostraka and exchanged their ideas with other wise men who did not live near them. From writing sprang the desire to travel, to see other regions of the world of which other men had written. From writing came politics and economics and organizations and schools and accurate history. The technology of the written word, as Ostrakes had predicted, forever altered life on Earth.

But as men used writing more and more, their oral traditions faded from their minds. From their minds faded the memory of gathering around leaping fires at night to recite poetry in that magical ancient meter that can only be truly expressed directly from the soul of one person to that of another. Epic tales of adventures that had been orally told and retold from parent to child and had developed new and wonderful details every time were written down and made into hard and immovable stone: no longer did the words flow and change from generation to generation; no longer were the stories reserved only for a proud father to tell them in his own way to his little son.

With writing, the world was changed: men learned from each other the feeling of discontent and unrest. Peace was no longer felt in every person. Men were unkind to the Earth, and the Earth hardened its soils and did not produce. And the hard iron sun shone upon the unyielding iron Earth.





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