Friday, 10 December 2010
Great Horse Stories - Apollo's story.
They call me Apollo after the sun god, and (as you can probably tell from my portrait) I was not born to be a warhorse.
It’s obvious King Philip bought me for my beauty. When the sun shines, my coat glows gold and my mane gleams pale as ripe flax. When the grooms comb it out properly, my tail ripples like a banner AND I can carry it just as high as any silly Persian gelding! I should have been Prince Alexander’s royal horse. We should all have stayed at home in Pella and taken part in parades, where everyone would have thrown rose petals over us and cheered, without us having to fight any bloody battles in the wilds of Asia.
But then Bucephalas turned up, and the silly boy decided he’d rather ride a battle-scarred old warhorse than a handsome parade horse like me. Of course Bucephalas made himself huge and pranced about like an overgrown colt, which went to Alexander’s head. Pretty soon all his friends started talking about war, and before I knew it I was part of the Royal Guard with Perdiccas riding on my cloth armed with a nasty sharp spear.
It was an absolute nightmare, I can tell you. Overnight, perfectly sensible boys turned into heroes when Alexander asked them to follow him. Even my rider Perdiccas got the bug, and volunteered to sneak through a side gate into Thebes and open the main gates for the rest of the army, nearly getting us both killed in the process. I just hoped Perdiccas wouldn’t die, because you know what they do to you if you lose your rider? It makes me shudder even to think of it… they cut off your mane!
Fortunately, Perdiccas recovered so I kept my mane at Thebes. But not for long. Almost as soon as we set foot on Asian soil Bucephalas got himself swept downriver fighting the Persians, and we were left to follow a MARE into battle. Psylla had just lost her own rider and was brave enough to carry Alexander, but she was hardly a war horse, and the silly thing got herself killed in the first charge. There's not much point cutting off a dead horse's mane, so instead Alexander ordered all of ours cut off in mourning for Hector and Psylla… the entire Guard shorn like foals for an unimportant man-colt and a mousy little mare!
The other horses stood quietly while the grooms set to work with their blades, but I fought them more wildly than Bucephalas had fought the Persians. With me rearing and squealing and biting, it took three men to get a muzzle on me. Bucephalas gave me a painful nip on the withers, and then the grooms got a rope around my hind leg and tied it to my neck, so in the end I had to stand on three legs while my beautiful flaxen locks – still frizzy from the River Granicus – fell into the mud.
It half broke my heart to see them go, I can tell you. But I suppose it didn’t kill me, and it’s better than losing your rider like poor Psylla did. When it was all over, Perdiccas came to feed me an apple and patted my sweaty neck. “Don’t worry, boy,” he whispered. “It’ll grow again. You’re such a handsome horse, you don’t need a long mane to make you beautiful.”
In the morning I noticed Bucephalas still had every single long black hair of his mane, so I knew this must be true. Some of us are just born more beautiful than others… only don’t tell Bucephalas I said that, will you? I do so hate violence.
NOTE: The Greeks used to cut off their horses' manes in mourning when a cavalryman died. Poor Apollo tells how this happened to him at the River Granicus, even though his rider survived the battle. Needless to say, nobody dared touch Bucephalas' mane!