The Immortality Trade
It was Kastor’s day to be dead, so Polydeukes
stood with Antinous on the shores of the celestial Nile.
Though Antinous’ constellation was smaller,
Polydeukes felt that somehow Antinous was better off–
a beautiful flower named for him, and a spider, too,
whereas he and his brother had their sign in the night,
and thus a month of the Zodiac, but apart from that,
anything twinned though nothing distinctive.
“Tell me, Antinous,” the son of Zeus began,
“was it easy to give up your mortality that day?”
“It was over before I realized it, to be honest–
no easier or harder than taking a step, and no less uncertain.”
“But surely you had some notion that it would happen?”
“None, really; I’d read Herodotus, but that was far from my mind
when I found myself falling, struggling, and then sinking.”
Polydeukes ran his finger back and forth across his jaw.
“It was that simple, then? One moment you were alive,
the next you were dead, but a god?” He spoke with resentment.
“I wish there were more to say than that, but yes,
you have it accurately, Dioskouros.” Antinous tried to be encouraging.
“But think of what you gave up, Polydeukes–
you gave up not mortality, but immortality,
because of your brother and your great love for him.”
That he had done so was not the problem.
“Yes, I did–and it was a matter of agonizing
for almost a full day that brought me to the decision.
Not a fleeting moment, not a quick decision,
but a full day, after I had carried out the rites
to ensure my brother’s proper burial.”
“But were you not initiates of Eleusis?”
“Yes, we share that with you, Antinous.”
“Was that not enough of a reassurance for you?”
“Immortality’s certainty is another matter entirely.
It’s the difference between walking around veiled and bound
and being able to run nude and free and unfettered.
How could I leave my brother to that?”
“So, instead, you traded your own mortality
for a shared mortality and a shared immortality…
and you walk veiled and bound half the year
so that your brother could taste its opposite.”
“Indeed–and yet, I feel it not a great sacrifice.”
“I would have made the same sacrifice, if given the chance,
for my beloved Hadrian, but there was not time enough
for thought, for deliberation, for such an agonizing decision.”
“And yet, it almost seems to me, Antinous,
your sacrifice was a greater one, even if unintentional.”
“How so, Dioskouros?” At last, a smile cracked Polydeukes’ face.
“In mortality, there is no certainty of continuation.
From the womb, I have known my father and my destiny,
but chose to change it, for it was within my power to do so.
From the womb, mortals remember nothing divine.
Another moment is all you have until moments run dry.
You did not cry out to the gods, even though water choked your throat,
in those last moments, but instead embraced death as it came upon you.
I walk amongst the dead, but I have never died,
and knew in making my sacrifice that I would not have to die.”
“You are courageous, Polydeukes, for your sacrifice,
for walking amongst the shades in Hades every other day.”
“And you, Antinous, are braver still than I,
for you died, but yet never had to see those shades.”
Khaire Polydeuke! Khaire Khaire Antinoe!
Ave Pollux! Ave Ave Antinoe!