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In 2000 more than a hundred poets from 43 European countries spent six weeks travelling across the continent – a working trip and reading tour through the whole of Europe. Now, twenty years on, thirteen of the poets who took part in the project have been invited to write an essayistic, poetic reworking of the myth of the “Rape of Europa”.

bull run, ribatejo, late 90s

time was counting way before it started
in the faulty clock in the living room
where you could see
a scene featuring
europa and the bull

where I grew up
men would take pride
in grabbing the bull by the horns


as most metaphors inspired them
with great terror
and its use was discouraged

early one morning they arrived
at the beginning of summer
from every village within twenty miles

they would wear white shirts and jeans and parade
through the streets
they would change clothes
in the cafes and the billiard halls

time was counting

later they were to be found everywhere
bare-chested and in shorts
sweating along the main roads
their torsos hunched over the pavement
like a procession of defeated gods
brought down to earth
in the friezes of ancient greek temples
their obscure death and mythology a matter of time

they would build wooden walls
to enclose the roads
where the bull run would take place
hammering posts into the sidewalks
they would nail endless layers
of vertical wooden boards
they would paint the wood reddish brown

it was only many years later
that those barricades would
make you think of orwell in barcelona
and the bitterness of civil war
of protests and rifles strategically placed
around the local hotel and all the cafés

of every entrance watched
of the oppression of war as a form of loss
one day out of nowhere you noticed
that all along you carried fear and suspicion
out of these memories
into everyday gestures

as time almost ran out
all the main roads were covered
in red sand which would turn the streets
into never ending tennis courts

the red dust would stick to everything
a reminder of the blood that
is final and must go into human ties
of red atmospheres of eyes met
and unmet with a sign of recognition
unspoken knots binding a community to its codes
with its mad centre
in which defeated gods were required
to go crazy once a year

by the time they were done
scorching heat would filter through
the white curtains of the bedroom
where you slept next to your sisters
and where you were used to counting time
but voices and hammering could not
be muffled by the radio
they would shatter through
britney spears the spice girls
and your quiet reading afternoons
you could not even hear yourself thinking

and for entire afternoons
all the way through the evenings
the women in your family
and the wives of your neighbours and their daughters
would spend hours on end trapped in the kitchen
in a spider work that smelled of flour, wine, oil, vinegar

they never asked why or what for
they knew the rules
they thought that was what needed to happen

they had come to learn about war
and they expected to be kept comfortable

thera, santorini, ca. 1700-1400 b.C.

if you look close enough
you can almost see the moment
when memory recedes away from history
spinning itself into a yarn of intricated myth
that mixes the threads
that bind brothers and sisters
where difficult poets sing
about bulls and horses
fragments of myths
for the cyclical construction
and destruction of states

but in the interval of all that
how carefully they painted them
these girls who are not
exceptional mythological creatures
and who can be seen picking saffron in santorini

how it wounds you now
unrelated as they are to anything you have seen before
that you feel their energy like a presence
travelling from thousands of years away
the blind arrow hitting the target in the dark

it makes you want to learn all about
these nameless painters who practiced
a distant calligraphy of rites of passage
which rhymes with your yellow
t-shirt like sunshine and dissidence
saffron making you think of the dresses
that girls were tricked into dressing in in greek tragedy

iphigenia’s dress is saffron yellow in aeschylus
it is a motive that returns like a hallucination
before she realizes that what will stain it
are not marriage rites
that her life is about to be turned into a thing
to be traded by something
that will not carry her forward

who will come and revenge your death
if you happen to die in a yellow summer dress
which still belongs to the world of distant boats
that can be seen in minoan frescoes
where women do not dress to perish
or to go to war but seem prosperous in their palaces

other things can be found there
other plants and trees and octopuses and horses
and boys with their narrow shoulders and narrow waists
carrying fish in the merciless sun
their skin almost red
all their songs lyric with no darkness
almost another possible version of the world

but the mycenaeans won in the end
and they were nothing like the minoans
the archaeological records suggest
that they were truly willing to kill their daughters
in their best yellow dresses
just so that they could go to war

they were exactly the kind of men
who would not account for vengeful wives

so years later
on the shores of return they would complain
about their duties and the gods
about how their hands were always forced
how torn they were by lack of choice

every time they did have a choice
they expanded through conquest
they made sure they were buried with all their weapons
they made life miserable for their neighbours
and they had to live high up on the hilltops
so that they could watch their enemies coming from afar
they would paint themselves in all their war attire
looking good in all the vases
marching in straight lines

what is the difference exactly
between the words through which myths are narrated
and those through which history is told

the mycenaeans could not tell the difference
history was yet to be invented
all their songs are funeral songs
all their poems include games of war
all the records in their palaces
are accounts of things owned

light filters through the slabs in the tombs they built
the dust flickers in the air
and then as you walk away memory
which is made of dark glass blacks out

the unspoken agreements
we live through are very solid

rescued many centuries later
you realize that they can shatter
at the faintest touch
that it requires great effort
to keep on telling the same stories

heraklio, crete

it is far easier to be a bull in a greek myth
than a bull in real life

especially if you don’t like to bleed

real life bulls often find themselves
fatally wounded in the bullfighting arenas of spain
let lose in the streets of pamplona
fought with ropes in the azores
or being leapt over by minoan boys in crete

frescoes and statues of which can still be found today
in the national archaeology museum in heraklio, crete
where you will see the same image over and over

arms outstretched
the torsos of boys and men
swelling as they fill with air
wide gestures incising the distance
you still wonder why
there is no trace of this in epic poems

but there it is
in this small
wooden statue of a boy found in knossos
he is preparing to leap
he looks like he is waiting his turn
this thing half-destroyed that now rests
in one of these rooms no one visits in heraklio

the wood looks half burned
his body is half gone
he lies behind a glass case
decay defiance and death resting on his shoulders

this is what resistance is made of
that distant flickering point
of gathering and parting
in which you get to see
something that it is not there
the speed it takes to race towards
the irresistible push and pull of movement
you do not know how not to love that speed

in crete in all these minoan frescoes
they are sometimes drawn approaching the bull by the horns
as if some kind of negotiation went on
so that bulls who understood nothing of acrobatics
were not too offended by being leapt over

how does happiness work in a brief animal life?

europa, somewhere

the persistence of these frescoes
in minoan culture begs the question
of the relationship between bulls
and the island of crete
and how things touched
through faded memories buried in layers of time
keep touching us back even after they died

lengthy discussions of the myth of europa
include austere examinations
of whether zeus turned himself into a bull
or if he sent a bull to carry the girl away
but versions agree that they end up in crete
and that this was the first of many bulls to come

at first ovid is not interested in beginnings
he starts telling his version of the myth
with a conclusion
an ending before he starts

ovid says that the myth shows
that majesty is always incompatible
with love
that it brings down even zeus
who turns himself into a bull
and goes around the fields
twisting himself here and there
like a cat in heat

no one bothers to utter a word
about the dignity of europa
she is just tricked

we are told she almost
faints with terror
and is carried away
her eyes glance back
she grips one horn with her right hand
and with the other the torso
the breeze billows her clothes

that that description
conjures up an image of picasso in shorts
wearing a bull mask in a beach in france

is unrelated to
europa’s terror
which bears no relation
to how some men
sometimes want to be sown
into the soil to spring back up again
armed to the teeth

it has nothing to do with how
they like to talk about seeds and starts

the long tables set in the gardens

I remember their white shirts
stained with blood
their bloody foreheads and noses
I remember the heavy silence before they walked in
carrying their false starts and false promises

I kept the pictures of some of them standing
in front of the bull before they leaped
their shirts billowing in the wind
under the scorching sun

I remember some in their dark blue shorts
the red and green caps
the carefully embroidered white socks
how the smell of dust and blood filled the air
how you could feel it lodging in your lungs
memory sometimes keeps
its sharpest knives for later

I sometimes wonder if this world
still exists and if in late june
they are still returning by evening
after the bulls were let loose on the streets
tiny bowls filled with olives
and clay jars with dark red wine

europa drowning somewhere
in the adrenaline still animating their faces
still marking them as belonging to a world
we did not understand
and to which we could not cross

I remember the violent gestures
and the loud voices as the meal went on
and the shyest among them
afraid of falling below the standards
of athletic prowess and stupid courage
how this too was meant to define their side of the world

how it was intended to show
how hard it is to break away from
ideas that are waiting for us long before we are born

they all seemed to have learned to love early enough
those definitions imposed without explanations
they thought they had seen war
and yet like most men who really went to war
they were not worldly

sometimes as the voices died down
at the long tables set in the gardens
I would notice the faint signs
of fright kindling in the women’s eyes
as they crossed from the courtyards back into the kitchens
and their right hands would touch
the old horns filled with herbs and flowers
hung from the door frames

they would make this gesture
and then they faded back
into the shades of minotaurs
sent back to their labyrinths

I barely remember their faces now
they would not remember mine either
and I do not remember them speaking up
not a word
not for restraint
not for madness

that is perhaps because
in the myths all of europa’s children were men:
minos rhadamanthys sarpedon

time is counting

as the world tilts to one side
all my myths are starting to die

how many things need to end
before we can begin?

Tatiana Faia
June 2021

You can find the German translation here.