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The Tenth Muse 8

Supper had helped Sam’s spirits. He still wondered about his mental state, but at least it wasn’t affecting his appetite. He had given up on the idea that he was in some remote part of the Aegean as yet untouched by modern life or that one of his colleagues was playing a joke on him. He was definitely delusional, no doubt the result of some kind of massive head trauma. For some reason, he thought he was in ancient Anatolia as the guest of an old man and his daughter. There was no running water, no electricity, no phone service, and no modern medicine. No, and there wouldn’t be any for maybe another three thousand years.

Eating with Pihas and Ashtinamas in the courtyard of their house seemed almost like other meals he had shared with generous hosts on his visits to Greece.

He wondered where Taras and Tuwatis were, but as best as he could make out, they were off doing other things. He had assumed they were also Pihas’s children, but apparently they were not. Were they friends of Ashtinamas? Servants? Either way, after supper, Pihas examined Sam’s head wound again, changed the dressing, and gestured for him to follow.

Sam eyed his own clothes at the foot of his bed and moved as if to put them on, but Pihas objected. He didn’t understand why until he and his host stepped onto the street that ran in front of the house. Apparently, the entire village was aware of his presence. No sooner had he stepped outside than two or three small children swarmed to see him-until their mothers called them home. The suspicious looks they shot Sam told him how strange he seemed to them all.

I guess it’s best I try to blend in as well as I can, he thought.

Pihas walked Sam through some kind of small park adjacent to his house. The park was located atop a hill, probably the highest point in the tiny village. At the center was an enclosure of some kind. It had a colonnaded porch all around, with a small central building. In front of the porch was a large stone altar, neatly swept, although the stone bore the unmistakable brownish stains of blood. Sam recognized he was at a religious shrine much like those he had visited many times in Greece and Italy. This shrine, however, was not in ruins. It was still in use.

Pihas gestured toward the building and said something. Sam caught the word, “Apaliunas.”

“Apaliunas,” he repeated. “I know that word somehow.” Pihas mimed his incomprehension for what seemed like the millionth time. “Yes, that’s the local word for Apollo, right? Apollo wasn’t originally a Greek god. He was Anatolian. I remember: it’s in the Alaksandu Treaty, between the king of Wilusa and the Hittite king. Muwatallis I think, but I don’t remember his number. Apaliunas was one of the gods the treaty invoked.”

Pihas seemed energized. He repeated the name Alaksandu in some kind of question, but of course Sam was clueless what he was trying to say.

“Pihas, my friend, I don’t know if you’re really a doctor in some Lemnian hospital or if my mind has created you from whole cloth, but either way we could sure use a translator. Funny thing is, you’d think if I were going to hallucinate all this I’d at least have the foresight to imagine that all of you could speak English.”

The old man said something else-an apology maybe?-and led Sam past the shrine to the other side of the hill, and there he saw the sea. Sam had known he was close to the beach because he could hear it even in his room back in Pihas’s house. Now his view of the Aegean took his breath away. It was nearly sunset, and the water was bathed in gold. On the shore, the crew of a fishing boat was hauling its catch to shore.

“Pretty warsa,” he said.

Alassammis,” Pihas said, smiling broadly.

Is that the word for ‘pretty’ or ‘good’ or ‘big’—or the local name for the Aegean? Sam thought.

Sam and his host walked back through the park to the street that seemed to be the main thoroughfare through town. Rather than heading back to Pihas’s house, however, they turned the other way so Sam could see more of the village. By now there was hardly any activity on the street. From one house he could hear some kind of musical instrument playing. From another, a man and a woman arguing over something.

Some things are universal after all.

“Sam,” Pihas said, and then added a sentence Sam couldn’t follow, although he tried. “Something about a parna zarpiyaasi? Let’s see. I’ve already learned that parna Pihaasi means ‘house of Pihas,’ So I’m going to guess that parna zarpiyaasi is going to be ‘house of…Zarpiyas’? Who is Zarpiyas?”

Pihas slowed, scratched his chin, then stopped and bowed, saying, “Zarpiyas.” Sam frowned, so the old man repeated the gesture and the name.

“Zarpiyas is…someone you bow to? A leader of some kind? Is that where we’re going now?” He pointed at the ground. “Now? Now parna Zarpiyaasi?” Sam wasn’t sure he was ready to meet the village chief or whoever this Zarpiyas turned out to be. Thankfully, Pihas waved off his question. Amid a flood of gibberish, he pointed to the setting sun, then to a spot on the eastern horizon, then traced a path upward until he was pointing straight up.

“Oh, tomorrow. I guess I can handle that.” Sam sighed. “I guess I’ll have to.”

The two men wound their way through the village until they came at last to the house of Pihas. At the door to his room, Sam thanked Pihas for the company, smiled, and turned away. Someone had lit an oil lamp on a stand at the head of his bed. He stopped to admire the craftsmanship. Even his untrained eye could appreciate the work that went into making this and every other bit of furnishing in the house. By modern standards, Pihas’s house, with no electricity or running water and only straw-stuffed mattresses, was primitive. By any other standard, Sam realized, his host must be a very wealthy man.

If I were an archeologist, I’d probably recognize the pottery style and figure out precisely what era I’m hallucinating, he thought.

But something was wrong. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something didn’t add up. As he lay on his bed, he tried to sort it out. At last he realized it had to do with language.

I don’t read Luwian, much less speak it. So, when I learn some new piece of ‘Luwian’ vocabulary…what is my brain up to? Am I making up a complete, coherent language, with vocabulary, case forms, and everything? Obviously, in real Luwian you don’t form a possessive by adding -asi. There’s no way I would know that!

So what am I doing? Am I stringing together bits of other languages and terms I’ve picked up over the years and imagining that they somehow fit together? I’m not sure that would fool even me. I would find too many Greek or Latin words, or German or whatever, but instead all I find is a cognate word here or there, and they all seem to obey the same internal rules. I’m sure of that. I still know that Latin is Latin. Amo, amas, amat. I still know that Greek is Greek. Pauô, paueis, pauei. But what is ‘Luwian’?

And all this to talk to a bunch of people who don’t even exist? Who, since they only exist in my own fevered imagination, might just as easily speak English?

This doesn’t make sense!

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