Mountain of the Gods
by Joe DiMino who retains all rights.
Bill Murphy and I, friends for many years, often took our summer vacations together, and would spend our well-earned leisure at one of the usual resorts. Murphy, a middle-age gym teacher, accustomed to the stuffy confines of a sweaty gymnasium, and myself, a slightly balding bookkeeper for the New York Museum of Natural History, decided on Greece. I, for one, wanted to see firsthand some of the places where history was made, places I had read about but never had an opportunity to visit. And Murphy decided it was time for him to stop chasing the younger women of the faculty. Though still a handsome, well-proportioned man, his seasonal forages to the Catskill Mountains were becoming far less rewarding than in the past. In fact, he confided to me, his affinity with youth was rapidly fading. His attempts to score with attractive females far more youthful than himself ended in frequent disappointment. His negative reward the following morning was a monumental hangover, creaking back, contorted legs unsuccessfully reeducated to the latest dance steps. Generally he tired long before last call, leaving at the bar the night before several young ladies who, though amused and sympathetic, allowed him to hobble back to his room by himself where his only erotic company was in Dreamland. So it happened, we ended up in the Ancient City of C.............., located at the foot of the 'Mountain of the Gods.'
Intrigued by the myth associated with the mountain and not wanting to waste a minute of our vacation, shortly after arriving we planned a climb.
Prior to making our ascent, we stood yet some distance from the base of the mountain and marveled at the ancient monarch's odd topography. Now that I look back, that ominous portrait should have given us some forewarning as to what was in store. But we observed through the eyes of novice. With hired guides from the village, we tarried to scrutinize the mountain's unusual tampered base: appearing remarkably like the talons of a vulture, a creature long associated with its vigilance for suffering flesh. Upon the talons sat a pregnant torso, pierced by numerous appendages that protruded and took on the appearance of swords whose dark shadows beneath gave the illusion of running blood. As for the peak, there were two-pointed, horn like steeples, that shot up and out at 45 degree angles from an oblong base resembling the head of a charging bull which rested upon the belly.
Between the talons at the base of the mountain we came to a long deserted temple. We were nothing short of amazed when admiring the giant, granite stones, stacked atop one and another, creating an enormous structure. The temple stood perhaps three hundred feet tall. And halfway up, the granite walls were covered by marble veneer-and carved into the marvel was an intricate relief depicting ancient and mysterious rites. They were human figures, mingled with those of strange gods-an enticing heaven confounded with a torturous hell. Above the archway was an inscription. Our guide translated: "He who profanes the 'Mountain of the Gods.' will incur its merciless wrath!"
Entrance to the temple was by way of the archway, which was large enough for our entire party of twenty to pass through, shoulder length apart. None of the guides seemed anxious to take the lead. The archway ran the entire interior of the temple, some several hundred feet long. Immediately upon entering we experienced a strong wind at our backs, pushing us in. Apparently the mountain's narrow base gave birth to some fantastic howl of current. The wind remained constant-and more severe with each ensuing step. Upon completion of a step, we were forced to dig ourselves in so as not to be pushed flat on our faces. To my chagrin, the guides and porters began to exhibit grave faces, combined with nervous outbursts in their native tongue as we proceeded, passing statues of gargoyles and tall sacrificial platforms. There arose a persistent hum, that grew incessantly louder, giving vibrating life to each dark nook and stone creature we encountered. At times it sounded like speech, though the language was recognizable to none of us. But soon we were through, and exited the temple into an isolated valley. Though daylight entered from above, there seemed darkness all about us. Bill was quick to draw my attention to the fact that not a single blade of grass or weed, not even lichen could be seen near or upon the maze of boulders. We continued to the other side, shortly arriving at a winding path that our guide, Nikolai, informed us led up and at times through the mountain, and eventually to the double peaked summit. He insisted upon leading the way, cautioning us to follow his instructions and footsteps implicitly, for the way at times grew very hazardous.
Soon we came to the underside of the belly. Now the wind was of gale force. Nikolai told us that the gods were growing angry. A short time after, he informed us that the porters were refusing to go on. He further suggested that we also should turn back for it was far too perilous for just the three of us to continue on our own. However, having come this far, and not knowing if we could ever gather enough resources to attempt such a venture again, after chastising Nikolai for his own cowardice and for not having gotten us stout hearted porters, we pressed on.
Navigating the underside of the belly we were forced to travel on our backs. Parallel to the horizon was a wooden scaffold, suspended by ropes. We made our way along the scaffolding by pulling ourselves, hand over hand, in holds chiseled in the stone above. And after several more hours of treacherous climbing, around the waist and then over the bull's face, we arrived at another temple between the two horned peaks.
Unlike the first temple, as opposed to the ornate archway that ran the length of the interior, the inside of this structure was square and unadorned. To give it some scale, it appeared about half the size of the Parthenon-and like the Parthenon, having no roof. And there were no elegant statues, which we found exceptionally disappointing-especially after having completed such an arduous climb. And there was none of the fancy marble relief. In fact, so bleak, so dismal, so unappealing was this structure as compared to the first, overcome with emotion we began shouting our objections:
"What second rate god fashioned this tasteless pillar?" I protested.
"What pauper of a god could not afford a roof to protect his guests?" criticized Bill.
Then what I perceived my most crowning insult: "What obvious offspring to the rear ends of jackasses dared to call themselves gods, and this travesty to art their home?"
Which was answered by a rumbling in the earth....
And soon came another tremor...accompanied by sounds of cracking stone and shifting soil.
The mountain had gotten our attention. A chilling tingling ran up our shaky legs and spine.
"Perhaps we have offended them?" Bill asked in a soft, more respecting tone.
"Who? Who?" I asked, which drew the attention of an owl perched high on a pillar, the critter soon making a hasty departure.
"You know..." and he raised his eyes, motioning with his head skyward. Now the trembling and cracking became constant. It was indeed an earthquake. We looked for Nikolai, but he was no where to be found, apparently having resigned his position without notice. We could scarce remain on our feet as pieces of stone structure began tumbling down around us. Reasoning flight our only prudent reply we raced from the temple to the path and started a mad descent. Let me be understood when using the term-'Mad.' I mean just that! Near insane with terror! Frothing at the mouth. Groping through clouds of dust and debris...stepping and grabbing onto whatever seemed solid, hoping not to loose footing and plunge into the abyss below. At times I caught the tortured expressions on Bill's face, and realized the same contortions on my own. After rounding the perimeter of the belly, we quickly slid onto the scaffolding. The wind was a frightful howl in our ears. Due to the shaking mountain and assaulting current of wind, the scaffolding pulled loose and began to fall.
We dropped toward the valley below. However, the scaffolding lowered at a less than hazardous pace. Not a free-fall at all! Instead, caught in the twirling air spiraling up from beneath us, gently the scaffolding settled, till depositing us at the bottom softly as a feather from a shedding wing.
Amidst falling boulders and earth we hurried from the scaffolding. Ran as if Zeus, himself, were chasing us-and didn't stop until we were out of the valley, through the arch of the temple and some safe distance away from the mountain.
As we stared back, overjoyed by our narrow escape, in time the excitement subsided; and the dust cleared; and the mountain once again became visible. But gazing upon the ancient monarch, we were struck with nothing less than awe-time after time rubbing dust from our eyes so as not to doubt what we saw.
The fact that an earthquake can totally devastate a land, and at the least cause some minor changes in its topography was knowledge to all. And indeed the belly had collapsed leaving the mountain a somewhat more traditional shape. However, to our complete amazement, a smaller mountain now appeared alongside the larger one. And to our astonishment-we chuckled in unison-it was an exact replica of its parent, horns and all.