EPIDAVROS – A Poem by Gareth Jones

Ode to Catharsis

We came to Epidaurus and we thought of you,

Where laurels bend from amphitheatre’s marbled height

To grace the priestly masque below, and olives grow

To shade the goatherd godhead whispering dark delight.


We heard the groans, the laughter, fleetingly we saw you

In the crowd, the hungry thousands seeking nous

Who left here cured, by tragedy and satire, true

Catharsis, purging fire. All tourists. Then. Now us.


A healing tree, but golden bough, proscenium screen

Disguise a ritual mystery: scarce pilgrim walk

Through soothing pine is lodged Asklepios’ nursing shrine,

Resort to make insurers blanch and lawyers balk.


Inscribed in stone, upon the wall, a votive word:

‘Oría came here, barren, childless, near abandoned.

Dionysos rose, a dream youth. Prayers were heard.

Expectant mother left in peace with aged husband.’


Anaesthesis fine, the black root ground to powder

Turned her head and other grieved anatomies

In faith intoxicant as opium clam chowder.

Who thus served by Medicare or NHS’s?


Yes, on Epidaurus plain we thought of you, sir.

Who treads wiser, truer that Socratic line,

The tightrope act past sage and quack and film producer?

Give the gods a hand, aren’t miracles divine!


Few thousand years and cinema does much the same.

We make ‘em laugh and make ‘em love, but let ‘em dream.

We fake it, not too like it is, but like it may be,

Send’em home in tears, well healed, expecting baby.


Purged, fulfilled, desires spent and blessed with offspring

Dionysos’ dance confirms Asklepios’ blessing.

Broadway kid night, midnight subway, sleep untroubled,

Medicine and theatre merge, their gifts redoubled.


Aristotle told us but we thought it philosophic

Holy Freud had deemed the meaning of catharsis metaphoric.

But now Epidaurus spoke to us, we know it, categoric,

That the purging of the urging is all things except symbolic.


© Gareth Jones, 18th October 2014

For Professor Andrew S. Horton on the auspicious occasion of his 70th birthday

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