This a short story about curiosity, obsession, and one of the greatest cover-ups of all time. Also, Greek gods.
Okay… scroll on!
This is the true story of the East Wind.
It’s important that you hear it because right now, at this very moment, in Ithaca, New York, the blinds are rattling in Emily van Mire’s tiny office. She’s sitting up straight. Her t-shirt says CORNELL PHYSICS in red. She has narrow black glasses and behind them, pale eyes — her best feature.
Maybe nobody can stop what’s about to happen to Emily van Mire. But we can try.
It starts with this book:
That’s d’Aulaire’s. As a kid, it was my favorite. I checked it out literally every week in the fourth grade. The colors were bright, almost hyperreal, as befits gods and titans. The language was descriptive and direct. D’Aulaire’s told it like it was.
It’s because of this book that I’m a classics major. It’s a little ridiculous; there are three of us. Sensible people study computer science or business administration. But I’ve always felt more comfortable in the old world — the world of gods and titans — and it’s all because of this book.
The important thing is that in d’Aulaire’s, there’s a two-page spread about the Four Winds. It goes like this:
“ZEUS chose AEOLUS to be the keeper of the winds and sent him to live with them and guard them in a hollow cliff, far out at sea.”
(The book explains that Aeolus could let the Four Winds out into the sky through a hole in the cliff.)
“When BOREAS, the North Wind, was called for, he rushed out, icy and wild, tearing up trees and piling up waves in front of him.”
“When NOTUS, the South Wind, was let out, he pressed himself groaning through the hole in the cliff. He was so heavy with moisture that water dripped from his tangled beard, and he spread a leaden fog over land and sea.”
“ZEPHYR, the West Wind, was gentler than his brothers. When he blew, he swept the sky clear of clouds and all nature smiled.”
“EURUS, the East Wind, was the least important of the brothers. He wasn’t called for often.”
Now, I have to say, even in the fourth grade, this story seemed strangely truncated. But back then, I believed it. For ten years, I believed it!
But now I know it’s a lie and a cover-up. It’s one of the greatest cover-ups of all time. There was no Aeolus. There was no cave. And Eurus, the East Wind? Well, Hermes — who was, among other things, the god of PR — did a number on this one. The real story was almost lost for good.
First, the truth about the Four Winds.
In the purple-shadowed Garden of the Hesperides, where it was always dusk, Atlas carried the sky on his shoulders. He was not alone there. Beneath the boughs of Hera’s apple tree, there were four shapes hidden in the earth. Hercules didn’t notice them when he came and played Atlas for a fool. No one ever noticed them: four bodies in shallow graves in the shadow of the tree. Humans, just like you and me.
You think they put a hundred-headed dragon there to guard some gilded fruit? Come on. It was guarding the bodies.
It was watching the Four Winds.
They lived long ago, long before Prometheus: four princes of the First City. They flew around in shining ampule-crafts and hunted pterodactyls with needle-guns. They had bright, open houses with green vegetable gardens on top and cool flickering story-caves down below, all of it powered by ambrosia reactors. They were bold, bright-souled brothers. Two of them had wives and small children; their sons would be princes, too.
When the flood came, they were ready. They had an ark. I mean, of course they had an ark. They were rich.
But Zeus, newly-crowned king of the gods, wanted no survivors, man or giant, rich or poor. He wanted a clean slate. So he ran the ark against the rocks and drowned everyone aboard. All except the four princes, who he plucked from the waves.
He split their souls from their bodies, and their bodies he buried in the garden beneath the golden apples. There they lay, trapped and hidden, while their souls ranged and raced the skies, desperately searching. Clouds swirled and storms blew.
Talk about renewable energy. Boreas ran on pure rage; Notus’s grief pulled him stumbling forward; and Zephyr was forever fleeing death. All of them were fervent, frantic, and really quite insane.
All except Eurus.
He had been the youngest and shrewdest of the brothers. Now, as the East Wind, he quietly sized up his situation. He knew the First City was gone forever, and he suspected his body was gone with it. But... that was an opportunity, wasn’t it?
"Eurus, the East Wind, was the least important of the brothers."
Who dictated that to Ingri d’Aulaire? Who watched over her shoulder as she wrote it down?
“He wasn’t called for often.” Please.
The East Wind’s phone was ringing off the hook.
Eurus was the draft from the door silently opened. Eurus was the rustle of the curtains pulled to one side. He was the creak in the attic and the scratch at the window. The East Wind was the assassin wind.
While his brothers went mad, Eurus went to work. He became a mercenary hunter-killer serving man and god alike. He was the original smart bomb. He was the invisible hand. He was the plague a la carte.
This is why I can’t commit this to paper. Paper rustles the air. It gives you away. And I probably should have said this in the beginning: scroll slowly. The less breeze now, the better.
The gods, as you know, did not live in harmony. They seethed with spite and wrath, and they were not above dispatching Eurus into their own midst. Let me give you an example:
Once, the sun-god Apollo grew jealous when romance bloomed between his sister Artemis and the half-mortal Orion. No one but Orion could keep up with Artemis on the hunt, and so it was to Orion that she slowly opened her heart. They spent a lot of time together out in the woods.
So Apollo went to the East Wind’s fortress.
Eurus didn’t hide in a cave; he was a wind of the world, and he had a tall octagonal tower right in the middle of Athens.
There Apollo found the East Wind’s harem: women, young and old, a whole society of them — mortals and demigoddesses, peasants and princesses, from every nation of the Mediterranean and some beyond. Eurus was, after all, an international businessman.
“Eurus,” Apollo called out, “I would have you kill the half-mortal Orion.” (Gods never gave reasons.) A breeze stirred his robes, and a voice, or something like a voice, whispered:
“As payment, I offer a sweet melody, never heard by mortal ears.”
Apollo frowned. “A golden arrow, then. One that I used to slay the dragon Python.”
He scowled. “Very well. A priestess of Delphi shall be yours.”
The East Wind gusted forth from his fortress and curled out through the streets of Athens. He was carrying cargo. It was a drop of anti-ambrosia: exotic matter from the First City and deadly poison to the gods.
He raced across the sea — captains cursing their luck as their ships bent off-course — and came quickly to Crete. There, in the deep forest, he found Orion. Eurus swooped in close, barely stirring the leaves, and released his payload. The anti-ambrosia went like a tiny bullet through the hunter’s body. It burned a channel straight to his heart and Orion was dead before he fell.
Bereft, Artemis went to Apollo, and their bond was restored.
So, I want to be clear: Eurus killed Orion the Hunter. That’s basically like killing Superman and Batman combined. And it was effortless. Who couldn’t Eurus kill?
The gods were about to find out.
The myths aren’t all lies.
The goddess Athena did, in fact, spring fully-formed from the forehead of Zeus. This much you’ve heard, and this much is true. But why such a strange birth?
It happened because Zeus had a chat in a cow-pasture with a mortal philosopher and, get this, it struck the first spark of curiosity in the god-king’s mind — ever. For the first time, a thought that was not ambition, lust, or calculation took up residence in his cavernous cosmic skull.
Zeus was not used to feeling curious, and frankly, it was a major distraction. So he gripped the arms of his throne and grimaced in pain as his son, the forge-god Hephaestus, pried the curiosity out of his head. Zeus formed it into a girl and set her free to walk the earth. This was Athena. Pure curiosity. The spark made flesh.
From the day she was formed, Athena was an omnivorous observer, a kind of super Galileo/Darwin long before either was born. She made measurements and formed hypotheses. She classified plants and bent down to watch bugs up close. She counted the seconds between her father’s lightning strikes and the thunder that followed.
Zeus had formed her well: her eyes were like microscopes, her feet like seismographs. She could taste numbers (even, sweet; odd, sour; prime, umami). She could smell questions. She could hear gravity.
Athena was the nerd god.
Zeus cherished her, but he wanted nothing to do with her. (And he steered clear of all mortal philosophers thereafter.) So instead she grew close to Hephaestus, who had helped her into the world.
Hephaestus taught her about gears, levers, springs, and circuits. He built her the world’s first laboratory. She, in turn, wrote new software for the golden robots that helped him at his forge. They were quite a team, those two: the scientist and the engineer, the idea and the execution. They were the Jobs and Wozniak of Olympus. And — get this — they had a startup.
The gods of Olympus were not without limit. They were bound to this world, and to tell the truth, they didn’t know much about it. They definitely didn’t know anything about the universe beyond.
So Athena and Hephaestus decided to build a telescope.
They called it the Gray Eye, and its construction pushed them to new heights. Hephaestus had never ground lenses so vast; Athena had never worked equations so complicated. It was going to be a mountain-top observatory with a clear view of the stars — a telescope even taller than Olympus.
You can see where this is going.
I don’t have much time now, because the hair has risen on the back of Emily van Mire’s neck, and she is sure there’s someone in that tiny office with her. She’s not wrong.
But all is not lost — not yet.
This is where sex comes into it.
No one hated Athena’s telescope more than Helios, the sun-god, whose domain defined the upper bound of the gods’ world. With the Gray Eye, Athena would see past him — and then what? Would she discover that Helios was just one among many? And a dim one at that? These were things that Helios already suspected; these were things that he was not eager to have confirmed.
And besides, Hephaestus was supposed to be designing deadly sunbeams that Helios could fling at mortals (just like Zeus and his thunderbolts) — not working on a telescope.
Athena had to be stopped.
The East Wind was about to get a call from an angry star.
This was touchy. Although Eurus had accepted foul assignments from everyone on Olympus — well, everyone except Athena — he had never actually killed a god. Overreaching demigods, yes. Hated mortals, of course. But a full-blooded Olympian?
It’s not that he wouldn’t do it, and it’s certainly not that he couldn’t do it. He would just have to be enticed.
It was Selene who did the enticing.
Selene, the moon-goddess, obedient sister to Helios. She was an enchantress of the old school; glamour was her bread and butter. She showed up at the East Wind’s fortress one night, hand on canted hip, draped in a glossy gray gown that fell in shimmering folds. Her eyes were silver and her lashes were very, very long.
“Oh, I don’t want anything,” she said, stepping catlike into his lair, “other than to meet you, Eurus. I’ve heard stories.”
As she passed the East Wind’s concubines, Selene raked each girl with her eyes. None were as beautiful as the moon-goddess. “You don’t spend much time with gods, do you,” she whispered into the air. “Or goddesses.”
Eurus was silent. Selene’s hair rustled. She smiled, eyelids low.
Oh man; in a different world, a different life, what a pair they might have made. Selene and the East Wind. You could make a movie out of that. Angelina Jolie as Selene, pale and slinky. Eurus would be computer-generated, of course, but George Clooney would do the voice and the motion capture. There would be a heist.
But in the real world, Eurus wasn’t the con artist; he was the mark.
So while Athena and Hephaestus built the Gray Eye on their mountain-top, Selene seduced the East Wind. He sent his harem away and spent his nights with her. She lounged in a bed of gray and gold cushions and whispered gossip about the gods. Eurus curled around her, tickled her, stroked her. This might sound a little freaky, but remember, Eurus wasn’t just some elemental spirit; he was a man. And, it was also a little freaky.
“Do you know who the most beautiful of all the goddesses is?” Selene whispered one night. She was arched back, looking up at the golden octagon of the ceiling.
“No,” she laughed, “but you’re sweet. It’s Aphrodite. She’s as fair as I am dark. And Eurus”—Selene lowered her voice; this was the voice she used for telling secrets—“she’s lonely. Her husband Hephaestus spends all his time with Athena.”
Eurus was silent. Listening.
“They’re close, those two. Very close. They’re working on something called a telescope.” She paused and pursed her lips. “They hate me, you know.”
“Oh yes. They say the moon is too bright. It blots out the stars.” Selene frowned, pouting. “They’d get rid of me if they could.”
She waved her hand. “But don’t worry. We’ll work something out.”
We’re coming to the crux of it now, and it’s a good thing, because Emily van Mire is standing up and she’s pulling on the door handle. But every time she does, something presses it shut. She pulls, and cold air gusts against her, pushes past her bare ankles and elbows. She wants to scream but the breath catches in her throat.
Behind her, something sharp is rising from her desk.
The next morning, Selene was gone, off to wherever Selene went during the day, and Eurus was alone in his fortress, wisping around in curlicues and dwelling in memories of the night before.
Then Eros, Hermes’ winged intern, fluttered in; he carried a message. “From Athena,” he said with a short bow.
Eurus curled low around the tablet, picked it up and held it aloft. He felt it with fingers of air; it was marked with Athena’s seal, an owl in golden wax. He traced the grooves in the tablet.
EURUS, it said. I WOULD HAVE YOU KILL SELENE.
And it was signed ATHENA.
Eurus was the rational wind, the calculating wind — but here he lost it. He crushed the tablet to dust in mid-air and spun it around like a tornado. Cushions bounced and flew; the walls vibrated.
The East Wind streaked out of his fortress, straight towards the peak where the Gray Eye was just coming online.
From high above the earth, Helios watched a line of dust rise across the countryside, marking the East Wind’s screaming passage. Beneath his blazing mask of fire, he smiled.
Athena was bent into her telescope’s giant equatorial mount, snapping wires into servo-motors. Hephaestus was down below, peering into a row of thick glass monitors above a wide matrix of switches. There was a gang of mortals helping, too — some with Hephaestus at the monitors, but most polishing lenses and mirrors with soft pads of golden fleece.
"We’re close," Athena called out. Her eyes danced. She looked across to the mortal who was helping her, a fuzzy-chinned natural philosopher from Mycenae named Triogenes who couldn’t meet her gaze. "We’re so close!"
Any other god — even Zeus — would be dead. It was Athena’s gifts that saved her — her microscope eyes and microphone ears. She heard the East Wind coming, felt his fast angry vibration, and leapt back just in time to see a bead of anti-ambrosia, shining dark and heavy, punch through the telescope and burn a hole straight down into the mountain-top. Triogenes gaped, Hephaestus looked up, and Athena’s owl hooted: “Hoo-rus!”
In a flash, Athena sized up her situation. Your choices aren’t great when you’ve been targeted by an invisible hunter-killer with deicidal intent. She acted.
The East Wind raged around the observatory, knocking mortals off their feet and shattering lenses on the tiles.
“Eurus!” Hephaestus roared. “Stop!” But by the time the words had left his lips, Eurus was already gone. The sky above the Aegean was pulled into loops and spirals; the clouds traced the path of his superhuman search.
Eurus was in every nook and cranny that day. He blew down every door and lifted every rug. But he could not find her.
In the ruins of the Gray Eye, everyone assumed that the Mycenaean doubled over on the floor, moaning and clutching his head, had been struck down by grief. They assumed Eurus had succeeded, because Athena was gone.
In fact, Triogenes was clutching his head because it felt like his brain was going to explode. But that feeling would pass.
Athena was never seen on Olympus again.
So then came the cover-up. Zeus had loved Athena, but he was embarrassed by this whole chain of events. At his command, Hermes invented a new Athena and talked her up all around the Mediterranean. Athena the goddess of war. Athena the patron of the Greeks. There was no reason not to believe him, because the real Athena — curious Athena — was gone.
Without her, the Gray Eye was never rebuilt. In time it crumbled, and no trace remained.
Which brings us to now, and to Ithaca, where Eurus the East Wind, after long searching, has found Athena at last.
Selene is long gone, and Helios too. Even Zeus. All of us mortals forgot about them (all except mortal fourth-graders with a certain book) and they faded away, replaced by new gods — things like scientific theories and securitized mortgages.
But not Eurus. Eurus never gave up. How scary is that? Like the Terminator. The T-1000 B.C.
His persistence paid off. Finally, he felt a familiar ripple in the air from far away. He caught a trace of her, and he hunted her down.
But I found her, too. I was a step ahead of the East Wind. This summer, we found this whole story in a cache near Troy. It was scratched in haste, with strokes short and shallow. My professor said it was, at best, ancient satire; at worst, and more likely, a big hoax. So I guess Hermes got to him, too.
Why did I believe it? Because of d’Aulaire’s, of course. Because the East Wind seemed sketchy when I was nine years old. Because Athena never seemed like much of a warrior to me.
Then, at a reception for scholarship winners at Cornell, I met her.
She is called Professor Emily van Mire, and she has a girlfriend and a small house and a dog named Titan, but it is her, unmistakably. It’s her curiosity, her intellect, her pale dancing eyes. It’s her telescope, too; the mountain’s in Puerto Rico, not Greece.
I did some snooping. She was a scholarship student like me. Her Ph.D took an extra year because her dissertation was too broad; she just kept adding more.
Then I did some real snooping. Her family on her mother’s side is full-blooded Greek. If you could trace it all the way back, I’m sure you’d find Triogenes, in whose head the goddess of curiosity curled up small and silent.
The East Wind still hunts, but his power is diminished. His anti-ambrosia has all dried into dust, so he’ll have to make do.
There’s a pair of scissors, the big black-handled kind, floating now in the air above Emily van Mire’s desk. They’re pointed at her neck.
But Athena still has mortals on her side.
The door is bursting open and we’re there just in time — the classics majors, all three of us. We’ve got fans — a desk fan and fold-out paper fans, two in each hand — and I’ve got a blow-dryer on a fifty-foot extension cord and we’re huffing and puffing. Our hearts are pounding.
The myths aren’t all lies, but this is our world now, and Athena is ours, too. This is the Athena we need, the one hiding in Emily van Mire’s head.
We can blow those scissors back into the wall and we can blow Eurus the East Wind — Eurus the killer-for-hire, Eurus the fool, Eurus the enemy of curiosity — we can blow him away forever.
Except he’s such an old spirit, and he’s stronger than I thought, and there are only three of us —
We need your help. You need to blow! Blow like the wind!