“The House of Asterion”
—Jorge Luis Borges
(From Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, ed. Donald A. Yates
and James E. Irby)
And the queen gave birth to a child who was called Asterion.
—Apollodorus Bibliotecha III, I
I know they accuse me of arrogance, and perhaps misanthropy, and perhaps of
madness Such accusations (for which I shall exact punishment in due time) are
derisory. It is true that I never leave my house, but it is also true that its doors
(whose numbers are infinite) are open day and night to men and to animals as
well. Anyone may enter. He will find here no female pomp nor gallant court
formality, but he will find quiet and solitude. And he will also find a house like no
other on the face of this earth. (There are those who declare there is a similar one
in Egypt, but they lie.) Even my detractors admit there is not one single piece of
furniture in the house. Another ridiculous falsehood has it that I, Asterion, am a
prisoner. Shall I repeat that there are no locked doors, shall I add that there are
no locks? Besides, one afternoon I did step into the street; If I returned before
night, I did so because of the fear that the faces of the common people inspired in
me, faces as discolored and flat as the palm of one’s hand. the sun had already set
,but the helpless crying of a child and the rude supplications of the faithful told
me I had been recognized. The people prayed, fled, prostrated themselves; some
climbed onto the stylobate of the temple of the axes, others gathered stones. One
of them, I believe, hid himself beneath the sea. Not for nothing was my mother a
queen; I cannot be confused with the populace, though my modesty might so
desire. The fact is that that I am unique. I am not interested in what one man may
transmit to other men; like the philosopher I think that nothing is communicable
by the art of writing. Bothersome and trivial details have no place in my spirit,
which is prepared for all that is vast and grand; I have never retained the
difference between one letter and another. A certain generous impatience has not
permitted that I learn to read. Sometimes I deplore this, for the nights and days
Of course, I am not without distractions. Like the ram about to charge, I run
through the stone galleries until I fall dizzy to the floor. I crouch in the shadow of
a pool or around a corner and pretend I am being followed. There are roofs from
which I let myself fall until I am bloody. At any time I can pretend to be asleep,
with my eyes closed and my breathing heavy. (Sometimes I really sleep,
sometimes the color of day has changed when I open my eyes.) But of all the
games, I prefer the one about the other Asterion. I pretend that he comes to visit
me and that I show him my house. With great obeisance I say to him “Now we
shall return to the first intersection ” or “Now we shall come out into another
courtyard ” Or “I knew you would like the drain ” or “Now you will see a pool that
was filled with sand” or “You will soon see how the cellar branches out”.
Sometimes I make a mistake and the two of us laugh heartily.
Not only have I imagined these games, I have also meditated on the house. All
parts of the house are repeated many times, any place is another place. There is
no one pool, courtyard, drinking trough, manger; the mangers, drinking troughs,
courtyards pools are infinite in number. The house is the same size as the world;
or rather it is the world. However, by dint of exhausting the courtyards with pools
and dusty gray stone galleries I have reached the street and seen the temple of the
Axes and the sea. I did not understand this until a night vision revealed to me
that the seas and temples are also infinite in number. Everything is repeated
many times, fourteen times, but two things in the world seem to be repeated only
once: above, the intricate sun; below Asterion. Perhaps I have created the stars
and the sun and this enormous house, but I no longer remember.
Every nine years nine men enter the house so that I may deliver them from evil. I
hear their steps or their voices in the depths of the stone galleries and I run
joyfully to find them. The ceremony lasts a few minutes. They fall one after
another without my having to bloody my hands. They remain where they fell and
their bodies help distinguish one gallery from another. I do not know who they
are, but I know that one of them prophesied, at the moment of his death, that
some day my redeemer would come. Since then my loneliness does not pain me,
because I know my redeemer lives and he will finally rise above the dust. If my
ear could capture all the sounds of the world, I should hear his steps. I hope he
will take me to a place with fewer galleries fewer doors. What will my redeemer
be like? I ask myself. Will he be a bull or a man? Will he perhaps be a bull with
the face of a man? Or will he be like me?
The morning sun reverberated from the bronze sword. There was no longer even
a vestige of blood. “Would you believe it, Ariadne?” said Theseus “The Minotaur
scarcely defended himself.”
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