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Settled and friendly


PapadiamantisThere is a short story by Alexander Papadiamantis named "A Dream by the Wave". It is about men who failed to love their women and how they lived inside and despite of this failure, avoiding marriage or having destroyed their marriage - far away from town, in caves beside the sea, meeting each other from time to time for idle talk. We can not think of it as a social or psychological state - at least I can not. It is a comment on the Bible and it has to be seen like such.

Sometime living in town, not just because they were born and raised in one, but because their dreams targeted such kind of a life, they were harmless and even agreeable persons, caring for each other to some degree, caring for a stranger to some degree - nothing to be feared, nothing devilish - not in the way medieval/current imagination usually depicts the devilish. Yet my first impression was that the story was about the possessed. Maybe because one of them felt his condition as a result of witchcraft, maybe because all of them were obsessed by some pointless habit or idea, maybe because they were living outside the town without any reason.

And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters. (Matt. 8.28-32)

I was thinking why swine had to die, while the possessed had managed to live despite their sickness. It is characteristic that they lived in tombs, something swine can not do. Is this, then, the difference, that a man can live his death while swine just die? If demons were satisfied by the way they killed those men, then their living the death, should be a perfect death while their body had to remain alive. 

What happens in Papadiamantis' story, with each man being a moderate devil and each woman a powerless Christ, seems to be the biblical fact cut down to a mediocre level, to what we call "every day life".

Those who have read the Catcher in the Rye probably remember that Holden's favorite persons were the possessed of the Bible. However, he preferred to devote his best metaphor not to them, but to the Apostles, saying that they were as useful to Christ, when He lived, as a hole in the head! I don't know if this can be said of the Apostles, but Papadiamantis' women would fit to Holden's metaphor, if there existed anyone indeed who had their need.

Perhaps their men - settled and friendly, in caves and not in graves, with no future to come or be thrown to the sea - had some other disease. Maybe they were not possessed after all. There are many ways of being, said Aristotle, and there are also many ways of non-being.Add a note!

Wanderer, December 2001

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