High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

Pieter Van de Walle: Boys Will Be Boys
© Marianne Hommersom / Rijksmuseum
© Marianne Hommersom / Rijksmuseum © Marianne Hommersom / Rijksmuseum

Pieter Van de Walle: Boys Will Be Boys

Eighteen young Flemish and Dutch authors have taken inspiration from seventeenth-century artefacts from the Rijksmuseum. Looking at these objects, what eureka moments do they see? In his short story, inspired by Pieter Lastman’s painting Orestes and Pylades Disputing at the Altar, Pieter Van de Walle introduces us to Orestes. It was only a joke, right? Nicking a statue, killing some of aunt Artemis’s sacred cows.’

Pieter Van de Walle: Boys Will Be Boys

It has really backfired, Pylades, I admit that, but we’ve found ourselves in deeper waters, so we’ll get away with it again. Remember when I murdered my mother and the judges let me off? This is nothing in comparison. This is mischief, this is stealing a grain of sand from the banks of the Lethe. It was only a joke, right? Nicking a statue, killing some of aunt Artemis’s sacred cows. How was I to know that Tauris is notorious for its human sacrifices.

We’re simply not good lads. Good lads never grow up to be real men. They die old and impotent in the clutches of their wives, mothers, daughters. We won’t. If you live as fast as we do, you’re bound to break a few things: a law, a statue, a skull, whatever. I’ve been sleeping badly of late, Pylades. Since my mother’s death the Furies keep visiting me in the night.

Let’s face it, we didn’t really do anything wrong. Nobody has been injured, murdered or raped. We’ve got up to worse things, literally: injury, murder, rape. People of our class will understand how trivial this is, but I fear that we won’t be tried by our own. Hear them shouting outside the temple, bunch of religious fanatics. Who are they? Vigilantes, armchair activists, people taking the law into their own hands. Who’s in charge of them? A drugged-up bitch who calls herself the priestess of Artemis. What was it they saw? Nothing. I barely even remember what happened, and nor do you. Give me your hand, Pylades, let mine find your chest, so I can feel you’re not afraid.

They won’t really put us to death, will they? Two boys from a good family – they’re not simply thrown to the wolves, right? The world expects me to follow in my father’s footsteps but won’t give me a chance. Dad once tried to sacrifice my sister in exchange for a breath of wind, what a man; haven’t heard from her since. Family, Pylades, that’s all that matters. If I survive this, they’ll be writing hexameters about me too. Surely you can’t deprive the people of such poetry? Or maybe you can. Perhaps we really did go too far this time. Nobody cares about poetry these days. When dead at least I’ll be free from my mother’s spectre. Hush, Pylades, someone’s coming. Is it the mob, carrying clubs and spears? Or the executioners?

Did you see that? Did you see the priestess as she walked past? The way she looked at us? There’s a system, Pylades, and it hasn’t changed in ten thousand years and ten thousand years from now it will still be the same. I’m not talking about laws or democracy or any of those new-fangled ideas, but about family. I’ve found my sister again and she recognised me. I know it. Our blood is old. Justice will be done, as always.

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