That was the hard part of being ill—being confined to bed. After all, she had always been a woman of "lively parts" who knew her duty and did it, without fuss or fanfare.
Born in Dresden, Germany’s cultural capital, she had not resided there. Her family had emigrated and she had been raised in America’s rough and tumble heartland, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and then seeking greater expression for her abilities migrated to America’s intellectual capitals, graduating from Bryn Mawr where she received her B.A. and M.A. degrees.
A lifetime of scholarship and teaching had gained her renown many of her colleagues envied, she knew.
For her accomplishments were admirable—she had made herself, a mere woman to begin with, into a world-renowned classicist, a recognized authority, especially since her best-selling book, Golden Tales, was published in 1940, the first edition of many to come. How many classicists would a town like Ft. Wayne ever produce? Not many, that is for certain! So she had, truly, come a long way. Only now…the way was ending, as it ended for all mortals, man, beast, and earthworm.
Well? Did it really matter? Edyth thought. Old women like herself died every day. It was now her time. She felt very, very weak, yet it pleased her to think she was going just when the pink-flowered cherry trees outside her window, and all along the major boulevards and lining the various memorials and Capitol buildings, were blooming.
The nurse, seeing her move, needed no doctor for help. She was experienced, and made the necessary adjustments in her patient’s position, and also put the pillow in a better postion behind her patient’s head. After giving her patient a sip of water to help keep her kidneys function a bit longer, she went out for a few minutes, taking the stairway to the first floor of the house. There she met the doctor just coming in, and they had a talk about the patient’s “progress,” the nurse nodding gravely, though she knew everything the doctor would say beforehand as to the care of a terminal patient.
Edyth slept, awoke, then dozed again. She hardly knew when she was awake, consciousness was so dim and fading. But she still had moments of sharp, bright lucidity. Then she made motions as if she were about to climb out of bed, but the nurse, always present, gently pushed her back, and Edyth resigned herself and made no further fuss—-until the next time, that is.
How many days had this gone on? This tedious but necessary business of dying. She had lost track, she knew. It had been a hard winter, she recalled. A bad case of flu set her back, then something else, then something else—forcing her to bed, and in bed she stayed this time. This time there would be no revival—no renaissance, as she called it. How did she know? She felt it in her old bones—that this time it was her turn—like birds and animals seemed to know.
She felt something was missing as she lay in the bed awaiting her last great caller, death. But would D & D come again before he, the death angel of annihilation, wrote the last sentence on her life story? They had already visited her, and arrangements had been made and confirmed that they would execute her will (an important item now, to be sure, since her big success with Golden Tales!). She had saved quite a bit too, in her day.
Her salary had been more than enough for her to save up a bundle, for she had taught her whole professional career. Aside from some trips, she had lived thriftily, and so she could make her family and relatives relatively happy with various bequests.
But the book—-that was another matter. It was her intellectual property, and needed safeguarding. Who would do that best? Of course, Doris and Dorian could be trusted.
So she had signed it over to them, and she could rest now, knowing her crowning achievement was in good hands.
Aside from her savings, and her book, what else? Had she forgotten anything? She had willed her fine, old house and furnishings and the silver and all the rest-—including various gifts from this and that personage down through the years of her professional career—to family and a few valued friends. But was there something else? Her memory was failing her, she thought.
It took her a while, and her nurse was back at her bedside watching her with a book in hand, when she recalled with a start that made her eyes shoot open and blink several times. It was those same eyes, she had rued, that had been too bright, with high arching eyebrows to set them off, that had kept her unmarried. Perhaps her high temples, thin lips, and Roman nose (some would cruelly say, Hapsburgian) had also turned away suitors. At any rate, she had met no one of the opposite sex in her youth who could stand the piercing looks her eyes could give a man. They were admirable eyes, to be sure, but would have looked better in a man’s face, or even an eagle’s, to put it another way.
Her striking eyes closed slowly, and the nurse looked back into her book, after glancing at the clock. It wasn’t yet time for feeding her patient dinner, or a little tea if she couldn’t take dinner this time. The room was pleasant enough, with a fire to take away any evening chill, and servants to tend it and also bring her tea to drink when she wanted it. With her book set in a book cover borrowed from Thoreau’s Walden Pond, she could finish another chapter of her book, a specimen of nurses’ romance that she knew her patient heartily disapproved of, and rightly so, since no classicist would allow “potboilers” of that type on the premises if she had had anything to say about it!
Edyth’s raptorian eyes hadn’t quite closed shut when she recalled what it was. For a moment a fierce gleam shot out from them, then slowly cooled. She had just recalled the one thing she wouldn’t give up to anyone. Her greatest prize, the Golden Cross!
But she could accept being a Benefactress of Greece, as the medal proclaimed her—-after all, she had championed Greece and the Greek spirit all her life, hadn’t she? She had had to wait a long time for such a high award as this—she had had only six more years to live.
But those last six years, she reflected, had been like a glorious sunset for her—thanks to the Golden Cross. She would never, never forget receiving it from the hands of King Paul of Greece. But it was impossible to say, what meant more to her, the Golden Cross, or the Honorary Citizenship that King Paul, in the name of all Greece, conferred upon her at the award ceremony in Athens in 1957.
Imagine, a girl from Ft. Wayne becoming a honorary Athenian! It was a wonderful thing.
She could think about all the illustrious leaders and poets and scientists and event the worst scoundrels that Athens produced over its many years of supremacy in the Greek world, and count herself one, at least tardily, of that splendid procession into the halls of immortal glory.
Her gift of story telling, first put to telling effect in Ft. Wayne schools and in English literature papers she wrote, had stood her in good stead. Joined with her scholarship, she used story telling to recreate the charm, excitement, adventure, and glory of Greece by retelling all the great, old myths. She didn’t write like a stodgy professor!
Enthusiasm for the subject of mythology, for the Greek civilization itself, brimmed over in her accounts. Her lectures had been popular enough, but not as popular as the book-—where no one had to deal with her sharp examinations, by test or by a glance of her eagle eyes.
She could spot a fool, or a sloppy, lazy, imprecise phrase or unsubstantiated opinion, in a flash. And she corrected people on such things too—not bearing such things gladly. But her book—everyone loved it, and because of it they loved her!
They had admired and esteemed her as a classicist teacher, but had not loved her! No, it took the book to gain her real love.
Love? But where were the people now who thronged her lectures after her book was published and receiving rave reviews.
She had told the stories from Greek, Roman, and Norse literature, bringing the gods and heroes of Olympus and Valhalla alive in the most exciting way, thanks to her Hoosier state story-telling gift, coupled with her deep scholarship.
Book of the Month Club praised her rather extravagantly, saying she had written mythology as it long needed to be written, proving she had the ability to penetrate to modes of thinking “not our own,” and was able to “transcribe the spirit of another age.”
The New York Times had been just as favorable in its reviews. Even the Christian Herald (which surprised her a bit, since she had given no credit whatsoever to Christianity in her volume for preserving the treasures of antiquity—and mythology’s written works—across the ages to the present) had chimed in with, “The greatest volume ever written in a field that can never be exhausted.”
The adulation, the reviews, the admiration of her colleagues, they were all nice. But the Golden Cross, together with Athenian citizenship, in a grand royal ceremony in Athens itself, where Sophocles, Pindar, Aeschylus, Socrates, and others of like genius had been born and bred? How could they be compared with that? No, love had come to her rather too late to really mean much to her. Rather, her work had gained her the Golden Cross and Athenian citizenship, a dual honor no one could take away from her.
She settled back with the thought she would expire gracefully amidst the laurels of her signal honors. She was ready, then, to quit Earth’s “mortal coil,” which meant to her nothing but dissolution back into her constituent elements—no more, and no less than what happened to every living creature and every fallen leaf. No one would take her Golden Cross medal. She clutched it in her hand even now, and it would be there when she was laid in her coffin. To make sure of that, she had precisely stipulated her will on the matter.
Moments more passed, and no one took any notice to them particularly, for the nurse was deep into her chapter, where a particular young nurse without much social standing was gaining on her rivals in pulling the promising, handsome intern at Mercy General Hospital her way.
But while the nurse was lost in Nurse Dorothy’s dawning triumph at Mercy General, her patient was about to slip over the edge, to discover herself if there really was a Hades—-where the shades, or souls, of dead men and women (including this world-renowned mythologist's?) go after death.
Only a few stray thoughts lingered on the edge of her consciousness, enough to keep her from finding out. It was strange to her that she couldn’t resolve them or dismiss them. Insistently, they kept calling to her. Turning back, she began thinking again on the old subjects, which she thought she had put away weeks previously, when she had her staff commit all her lecture notes and personal letters burned.
She shouldn’t be so surprised, she chided herself. Hadn’t she dealt all her life with “timeless legends”? They wouldn’t let her go now so easily, after all. They had given her much, and she had given too much of herself to them in return, for them to relinquish all claim to her now, even on her deathbed.
It was as if they had become real people—for they were speaking to her!
What they said now to her began to shock her.
“You said some things about us that were not true,” she was told, hardly believing her inner ear. “Oh, how you loved the charm and beauty of our old tales, but they weren’t mere tales to us-—they were real life. They were not even our life exclusively, they were much older than us! Before us came Enoch, the great prophet of the Most High God, and seventh from Adam, who began telling these stories, as he described the signs in the heavens that God put there to teach mankind—but you had no idea, did you, that he was our true forefather?”
Imagine a mythologist hearing such a thing at this late date! But the voice speaking to her from the realm of “timeless legends” wouldn’t spare her feelings. It continued in this vein.
“…Perseus, Herakles, even the Ram that produced the Golden Fleece for Jason and the Argonauts, were all originally accounts of the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the one called Christ by the Christians. You knew quite well these accounts predated the classical Greeks and even the Hebrews, and flowed from a source far more ancient than the Egyptian civilization of the Old Kingdom…”
Edyth nearly turned over, and groaned so loud the nurse dropped her potboiler on the floor.
Her nurse began fussing over her but Edyth didn’t notice, she was so upset by the things being said to her—a captive audience in her own bed!
“…Jesus, if you must be told his name, is the One behind Greek and Roman mythology, when it comes to heroes and champions and fighting the beasts, or monsters, which are all types of Satan…”
Edyth groaned in protest once again, for her philosophy had always been thoroughly and consistently humanist, ever since, in fact, leaving Ft. Wayne’s highly moral and evangelical Christian environment. To be told that she was so misleading as this voice said she was, well, it was an insult to a woman of high intellectual accomplishment!
This second groan brought the nurse to her feet. She tried to take the patient’s pulse, but Edyth’s wrist pulled free, and both hands thrashed about, as if trying to fend off a male attacker. This was too much. A mental seizure, perhaps? Drugs were needed! The nurse hurried out to call the doctor.
But the voice wasn’t finished with Edyth at this point. She wasn’t going to die yet.
“…-you spoke, Edyth, of the ‘Greek miracle,’ then taking the verse from the Bible out of context to describe it, ‘Old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.” That was about the New Birth, being born again by the Spirit of God. True, there was a Greek miracle-—an explosion of Greek genius that birthed Western science, philosophy, and literature and the foundations for them. Yet you described the Greek miracle without realizing or learning why it took place. Didn’t you write, ‘Why it happened, or when, we have no idea at all.’? But don’t you want to know the truth, before you die?”
That question really got Edyth’s attention. She stopped fighting, and became very quiet as she thought most soberly about it. Why not? She finally decided. What had she got to lose? She had made her point about Greece and mythology being an advance for humanity, from abstract and superhuman divinity to an intellectual and humanist deism, and the world had accepted it, so how could she be called a liar and an ignorant person now? Yes, she was confident no one could call her those things with any evidence to back them up.
So she waited for the response—-the voice to rebut her propositions about mythology and their meanings. And she did not have to wait long. Even before the doctor and the worried nurse reached her bedside, the voice returned in her mind, challenging the thesis of humanism undergirding her whole philosophical system.
“The reason why the Greeks were raised up as they were above the barbarians of their time, why the Greeks saw so clearly, without all the nonsense of primitive, superstitious cultures surrounding them in the ancient world, was that God Almighty designed the miracle—-He alone planned Greek civilization, and gave them the means and spirit to raise humanity to another level, a level where the magnificent tool of the Greek language was created that would transcribe the Word of God to all succeeding generations…It wasn’t their world-view He approved of, which you think is so superior to Christianity, it was the language that He meant to convey His evangel. That was His express reason for creating the Greek miracle.”
Edyth was struck as if by Zeus's lightning bolt. She had thought it, yet rejected the idea long, long ago. It wasn’t considered any longer legitimate scholarship to hold a Christian world-view, however watered down, in literature, not since the Higher Criticism of German theological schools invaded every department of academia in America’s ivy-covered halls. Who would have dared espouse it? Not she! No, she had preferred to treat the whole subject of mythology outside Christianity, that is, without Christ bearing any relation to its meaning. Now she was being told just the opposite, that mythology only meant something lasting and valuable insofar as it spoke, as in a glass darkly, of Christ! In other words, she was being accused of not telling the true story, and evading the truth at the heart of the whole study of mythology.
Her whole foundation was fatally flawed? She had evaded the truth? Her mythology as, at best, a misrepresentation of the original accounts? The thought was intolerable to her, particularly at this time, when she was taking leave of life and all her accomplishments with as much dignity as she could. But what was she to do? She was too weak to go back to the podium, and set the record straight. She was dying! Dying! Didn’t anyone care about that? Why was she being forced to listen to these inane, unsubstantiated statements with which she could never, never agree.
Just then, as if in affirmation of that fact, the voice died away, and though she waited, she knew in her heart that it would never speak again to her unless she changed her mind. But how could she do that now—at this late date? She had staked everything on the premise she found most agreeable to her—that the events of the Argo quest and voyage, though they probably predated the classical Greeks, were of the same order of mythology as the Greeks’ and, taken together, represented an advance to a kinder, more scientific, and certainly more intellectual civilization that gained autonomy and freedom at the expense of religious life (a life that wasn’t at all predominant in Greek society but subservient to the political/social system).
Though she had fought the contrary premise with all her remaining strength—the premise that supported a righteous, holy, absolute, Christian Godhead with unshakable claims on mankind--she felt strangely at a loss. “Don’t go—no yet!” she thought. “Not yet! We haven’t resolved the specious charge against me and my work, have we?”
Now it may have been a rhetorical gesture on her part at this stage, but it was necessary, like duty, to at least acknowledge a challenge to legitimate scholarship’s findings. Unfortunately, even rhetorical gestures take time to entertain, and there wasn’t quite enough remaining to her.
The next minute or two was a bit frantic and ugly, as the doctor tried to restore his rapidly fading patient with nitroglycerin. A lung must have collapsed too, to complicate things. A death rattle set in, despite his best efforts. There was no more to be done.
At last there was stillness in the room, the patient was no longer breathing, for something vital, the soul perhaps, passed from life’s brightness to darkness.
“What’s this?” he said, finding Miss Hamilton’s hand had flexed in the beginning stage of rigor mortis and opened enough to reveal a golden cross. He removed it, and put it aside in a drawer of a bedside cabinet. He hadn’t guessed that Miss Hamilton was a religious person, but, then, he considered that dying patients often, to his experience, grasped pathetically at straws of that kind. He thought it odd that her hand could be so icy cold and the cross so warm—-but deaths always carried with them odd happenstances like that, he had learned in his long practice. It was best, he had found, to overlook such things and go about his real business.
“Negative,” the doctor declared, after a wait and taking a final check of Edyth Hamilton’s vanished pulse.
Perhaps remembering the somewhat auspicious aspect of this particular patient's leave-taking of human existence, the doctor waxed a bit philosophical and otiose.
“Of course, it was a mercy and kindness of the gods shown toward Miss Hamilton to send Phoebus Apollo's shining chariot to whisk her up to the golden halls of Olympus just now. She just couldn’t tolerate becoming so useless toward the end of so very active and illustrious an academic career.”
“Oh, give me a break!” the realist in nursing white would have liked to have replied to the doctor’s flowery tribute.
Instead, she looked away diplomatically, wondering where her Dorothy Wall romance—-just now remembered--had fallen.
How glad she was—-it wouldn’t be proper to say—-it was finally over! “These old women can be so difficult,” the worldly-wise and liberated nurse reflected. “I do prefer old men on their deathbeds to these inhibited, university-trained spinsters. They think far too much for their own good!”