Parable of the Bones

Olive Trees, 1889
(Oil on canvas, 51 x 65.2 cm)
BY Vincent Van Gogh
National Galleries of Scotland

One day on Crete a man planting an olive tree broke through the same rocky soil as always and struck a heavy globe: some not-quite-real, inexplicable skull. Way too thick for a horse or a bull, anyway; and as he pried it loose, scraped dirt away, he found the hollow place — That’s how I knew, he’d tell neighbors, the giant had one eye. Villagers rushed in with shovels and ailments, probing the grove for miraculous bones. Some found the ribs and cracked teeth of the cyclops, hooves of the centaur, horns of the last faun. No one alive could remember the creatures men had once hunted until they were gone. No one remembered the tusks of the elephant; now they were medicines, oracles, holy bowls. But when the sickness came later that season, just as the good wells began to run dry, many worried if they’d angered the gods. They re-gathered the bones, rearranged them as best they could, offered up prayers as they would for their own.

Printed from Cerise Press:

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