There’s a story about death and rebirth you probably haven’t heard.
It comes from a rarely-remembered Greek myth about a soldier named Auxentius and the trickster goddess Eris, who, after instigating the Trojan War, was upset that nobody remembered to honor her once it was over.
War is a gift, Eris believed, because it brings opportunity. But as the newly famous Odysseus, Menelaus, and Diomedes packed up to leave Troy, none of the heroes bothered to thank her. Everyone was rebuilding temples to the other gods, thanking them for their wartime assistance. But like all wars, nobody could remember its exact cause. And thus, Eris was forgotten.
She decided she wouldn’t be.
As she sat with her hands in her lap on a ship heading back across the Aegean Sea, Eris decided she would force the first man she saw pray to build her a grand temple.
The next morning, Auxentius rose early to honor Helios, the god of the sun. At heart, Auxentius was a farmer, and the Greeks were getting back just in time to plant. He would need Helios to be on his side once the rainy season ended.
As Auxentius held his hands up to the sky, Eris took one and followed him home. On the first night on his farm, Eris crawled into bed with the bachelor farmer and revealed herself.
Just before the sun rose, she whispered a curse in his ear:
Now plainly I speak, since both, I have seen;
unfaithful is a man to the maid;
Not reft of all is he who is ill,
for some are blessed in their brains
In a sly disguise I worked my will;
little is lacking to the wise,
For until I have a shrine built in my name,
You are destined to work at sunrise
In the day’s heat and the day’s hours,
Herds know the hour of their going home
But you must work far past these hours,
Until I have a grand temple of my own
“But how will I eat if I am building your temple all day?!” Auxentius cried, leaping out of bed.
On his bedstand, Eris placed one piece of silver. “Every morning, when you wake up, there will be one piece of silver so you will not die.”
“But I will not live,” Auxentius replied while looking out longingly at his desolate fields. Still, knowing his curse, Auxentius got to work.
Years passed, and Auxentius worked from sunrise to past sundown, never taking a day off. His farmland turned to sand, and the temple barely rose, as Eris was never pleased with it.
One night, after a particularly hard day, Auxentius walked home and was spotted by the goddess Pandia, who took pity on him.
Fearful of Eris’ wrath, Pandia disguised herself as a plantswoman selling seeds.
“But what kind of seeds are they?” Auxentius asked her, intrigued. He longed to grow even a small something of his own.
“Seeds that can be grown to fruit more than can fill your belly,” Pandia said, placing them in Auxentius’ palm and taking his silver.
In the distance, Eris appeared, and Pandia took flight.
The next morning, Auxentius forced himself out of bed an hour early so that he could plant the mysterious seeds. Not knowing what they were, (and with what hopes he had in them), he decided to plant the seeds in pots so he could protect them from bad weather and animals.
Every morning, Auxentius would drag the pots outside and leave them in the sun. At night, he brought them back in and watered them. But nothing grew.
It was another disappointment added to Auxentius’s life.
Finally, one night, Auxentius gave up. He decided to get extra sleep and left the pots of dirt outside for the night.
When Auxentius woke up the next morning, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
The most beautiful, silver sprouts had grown overnight.
An idea germinated in his head, and he brought the plants inside for the day.
He raced off to the temple site with a hop in his step and raced home that night when the day was coming to a close. He brought the plants farther into the moonlight, so that they got more of its direct light, and watered them.
He went to bed. The next morning, the plants had tripled in size.
Auxentius couldn’t believe it. The plants were even more beautiful, and buds had started to appear. But he noticed that they looked constrained, so he made a note to move them out of the pots that night.
He worked all day for Eris, but, for the first time, his mind yearned less, and his muscles did not get sore.
That night, after sundown, Auxentius raced home and got to work. He removed the plants from their pots, put them in the ground, and watered them. Fearful of the sun’s effect on them, he built a sun shelter that could be removed at night.
With that, Auxentius went to bed with what few hours were left, and rose to work for Eris the next day, not noticing that the silver on his bedstand was collecting dust.
This went on for some time until Auxentius’ night garden began to expand, turning the sandy fields fertile. He spent all moonlight tending to the beautiful, silver plants that multiplied on their own. Soon, he was not afraid to let them be in direct sunlight.
Neighbors and passersby stopped and stared, even though the flowers still had not yet bloomed. The plants were that beautiful.
Eris grew jealous and threatening. Auxentius’ night garden was drawing crowds before her uncompleted grand temple.
“We have a deal,” she growled.
“A curse is not a deal,” Auxentius reminded her. “But I abide by it. I work only for myself at night.”
“Then I want you then, too.”
“Fine, but my garden will still bloom. I have given it enough effort that it’s just a matter of time. And it will draw more crowds than your misery ever could.”
Incensed, Eris grabbed a torch and ran to burn Auxentius’ night garden, but before she could, Helios struck her with a firebolt.
Auxentius covered his eyes at the brightness. When the light finally died down, he uncovered them to see that all the bulbs of the silver plants had blossomed into the most beautiful, white flowers he had ever seen.
“How?!” Auxentius asked Helios.
“To harvest what you want from the day, sometimes you have to garden at night,” Helios said.
And Auxentius did.
If this piece inspired you, please, kindly give it a share. I intend to use it to remind me, whenever I feel lost, what I’m working for—especially when the days and nights seem long.
And that is also not always about the money.
With that said, I made up and wrote this fake Greek fable as an explanation of why I intend to publish what I do on my website for the foreseeable future: short stories inspired by history, AKA historical fiction, and maybe a Roman à clef or two.
I hope you’ll check them out from time to time.