|Acis and Galatea (Minas Basin Lovers), oil on masonite, 24" x 36", Steven Rhude|
Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS
Once upon a time, long ago, on the rocky coast of Sicily lived a Cyclops named Polyphemus. Son of the sea god Poseidon, he was a monstrous creature. In the center of his giant forehead was one great eye, but that was not the worst of his traits. He was a hairy brute, and his manner was even rougher than his looks. No men and no gods chose to keep his company, and so his loneliness and fury increased.
He wandered the cliffs along the sea, leading his flocks of sheep and goats, and became the terror of the shores. No stranger could escape his harm. He attacked every ship that passed those shores.
And then one day something astonishing happened. Polyphemus caught sight of the lovely sea nymph Galatea, and the moment he saw her, he fell madly in love. His love was as passionate and huge as was his fury and beastliness. From that day on, he became consumed with seeking the love of the nymph.
But Galatea's heart belonged to another, a handsome young shepherd called Acis, son of Pan. He was a sweet and humble young man, loved by his father and mother, by his flocks and by all who knew him. But no one loved him as deeply as did Galatea. And as much as Galatea loved this youth, she hated the Cyclops, Polyphemus.
But Polyphemus was determined to win Galatea's love, and to this end, he forgot all his hatred and hunger for blood. He ignored his flocks and paid little attention to the caverns he had for so long haunted. He disdained the great hunks of cheese and vats of milk he once had hoarded. He began, for the first time in his life, to attend to his looks. With a rake, he combed his coarse hair, and he cut his beard with a sickle. Then he looked at his reflection in the sea and studied his features. He smiled. "I am not so horrible," he said.
Now the coast of Sicily was different, for no longer did the Cyclops attack every ship that dared to land. Polyphemus did not dream of plunder and blood, but only of his beloved. His one eye glazed over and looked dreamy as he wandered the shore, leaving gigantic footprints in the sand.
One day he climbed a high promontory that jutted out into the sea. Gazing out to sea, he laid down the staff he carried, a staff that once had been the mast of a giant sailing ship. His sheep and goats wandered the hillsides, no longer subject to his guidance. He stared dreamily for a long while, and then he began to play upon his pipes, which he had made out of a hundred reeds.
The music echoed off the cliffs surrounding him and off the surface of the placid sea. Everywhere people heard the mournful sound of those pipes. Everyone heard, including Galatea and Acis, who sat together hidden in a shallow cave.
When Galatea heard the sound, she froze. "It is the giant. He will never give up," she said to her sweet Acis.
And then, a moment later, it was her name she heard echoing everywhere.
"Galatea," the Cyclops called to the great emptiness stretching before him, "you are lovelier than any flower that blooms in this whole land. You are as smooth as the seashells polished by ocean waves. Galatea, you are as bright and gentle as the moon, as warm as the sunshine that bears down on the world. You are sweeter than grapes, softer than the fleece of my lambs. I love you, Galatea, and for you I will do anything, just to see your face, fresh as the autumn apples."
Galatea hid her face against her beloved's neck. And Acis held her close and said, "The giant has become a poet."
She shook her head as the voice carried on. "Galatea, listen to me. You are as stubborn as my goats. You are tougher than the oaks that rise in our forests. You, my beloved, are sharper than the sickle I carry. You must not run from me, no matter how hard and cruel you may be. Come to me, and I will make you happy. I will keep you in my caves, protected from any harm. There you will feast upon any delicacy you wish, and everyone will bow down to you, for I will make you queen of the world."
Then Polyphemus stood, and as he did, the surrounding cliffs shuddered under his mighty weight, and the mountain known as Aetna began to tremble.
"Galatea," he cried, and every leaf fluttered in the violent wind of his breath. "My heart will burst wide open if you do not come to me!"
Angry at the silence that answered his words, and furious that his beloved hid from him, he wandered along the shore. And then he spotted them.
"You!" he roared, and the earth shook, and the waves at sea rose to great heights.
Terrified, Galatea dived into the sea, and Acis turned to run away, but the Cyclops ripped off a piece of the mountainside and hurled it at the fleeing shepherd. Part of the rock caught the young man. He fell, and as he did, the rock buried him.
Galatea watched from a distance, her heart broken. "No," she cried as she watched blood rise up from the earth that had buried her love. And with all her strength and will, she called on the power of the gods to bless that spot.
Immediately the liquid that rose from the earth turned the color of tea, the color of a stream. Moments later, a tall, green reed appeared through a crack in the earth, and next, through this crack, a stream of water shot up. While Polyphemus watched, stunned by the sight, a river gushed from that crack and began to flow toward the sea.
Forever afterward Galatea mourned her love, and always she told the tale of the giant who would later be blinded.
And as for Acis, he became the river that flowed from the foot of Aetna to the sea, in tribute to the power of love.