The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Lituma’s inability to understand Dionisio’s and Adriana’s involvement in the three disappearances may be the result of his lack of knowledge of Incan mountain lore and Western mythology. Dionisio’s name recalls that of the Greek Dionysus, or Bacchus, who was the leader at many great festivals (Dionysia or Bacchanalia) that included not only the worship of wine but also frenzied orgiastic and ecstatic rites performed by his group of young women (maenads), sometimes even leading to variations of cannibalism.

Adriana’s name recalls that of Ariadne of Naxos; as a young woman, Adriana assisted in the slaying of a powerful pishtaco devil, an episode that parallels Ariadne’s role in the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur. When she was abandoned by the giant-killer, it was Dionisio (Bacchus and Ariadne) who rescued and wed her. Once married to this powerful mythological figure, she perpetuated the native witchcraft, including the superstitions about the pishtaco, vampires that kill their subjects by leaching the fat from their bodies, about the mukis, devils that inhabit the mines, and about the apus, mountain spirits that require human sacrifices before a temple or road can be constructed successfully.

Once Lituma recognizes that the surface Christianity of the native serruchos is profoundly interwoven with the idolatrous cults of their forefathers and with the fundamental myths that influence all societies, he too can understand how and why the three men vanished. He comes to this realization, however, only after he has participated in the ritual drinking at the cantina on his last evening in Naccos. Afterward, he greatly regrets having learned the truth.