“A vine grew from her privy parts”

Meet Mandane.

First, her father, Astyages, dreamt that she “[made] water so greatly that she filled all his city,” drowning everyone, and eventually drowning all of Asia. (“Is she still pissing in the river now? Heard she’s gone, moved into a trailer park.”)

(I’m quoting a version of Herodotus because I’m Very Handsome and Very Smart.)

(Well, I’m quoting Herodotus AND also Tori Amos because I’m also Very Too Much.)

(This whole essay got away from me.)

Second, he dreamt that a giant vine grew out of Mandane’s “privy parts,” entangling the city of Media, in what is now northwestern Iran. (Ear-rahn, is how you should say the name of that country, not Eye-ran, by the way. Christiane Amanpour taught me that in a series of CNN advertisements where Lou Dobbs was funny.)

The magi whom Astyages consulted to get a handle on these dreams told him the meaning was simple: his daughter was going to give birth to a man who would take the kingdom away from Astyages. This son would destroy Astyages’ empire.

And in the way fairy tales and fables work, Astyages sent a huntsman, in the form of his general, a man named Harpagus, to kill his daughter’s child. And in the way of fairy tales and fables, Harpagus couldn’t. Like most widow’s sons, luck was with him, and he found a shepherd named Mithridates whose son was still-born and a swap was made because one baby looks like any other in that they all look like tiny sweet Abe Vigodas.

Years pass as years do and Astyages meets, one day, the swapped son of a shepherd, notes the family resemblance, sorts the whole jig out, and asks Harpagus to explain what happened. Astyages nodded, put on his best “I’m listening compassionately” face, mild-eyeing Harpagus the whole time he explained how impossible it was to kill a baby. “Of course how awful for you,” Astyages said. “Maybe I asked too much, went too far,” he said. “Maybe, to show how bygones are bygones and how little necessity we need pay the words of a king what if I host a dinner, tonight, for you, and you have a son, no? Is that something I know correctly? I’m sure it is and he’s invited, too. Send him early. He can help with the set-up.”

And Harpagus did. Sent his son as easily as one sends a casserole to a funeral. And Astyages did. Slaughtered Harpagus’ son as meat for the feast. Astyages had the boy carved into beautiful cuts, but saved the hands, and the feet, and the boy’s head, put them in a basket, a different kind of Moses.

While the other guests at table ate mutton, Harpagus, unknowingly, ate his son, gladly and accidentally because it was unknowingly, right up until Astyages said, “But what could be in this basket?”

(Once upon a time later, and to revenge himself, Harpagus joined with Astyages’ grandson, Cyrus, against the wicked king, sending a message to Cyrus in the belly of a hare.)

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