Sunday, February 04, 2007

O&E: Ostracism

Hello everyone! Here is another snippet from my novel "The Owl & The Eagle." It's still a WIP but I thought it would be fun to put up. Enjoy!

Athens, 481 BC (E)

The man shook with fear and fury. "I swear I did nothing wrong!" His dark beard was neatly trimmed and his robes the best he had, a Phoenician-dyed purple himation over a muted green chiton, but his eyes burned like a thief caught with a fist full of gold. Six thousand men stood back and watched his performance. "I would never betray Athens to Aegina. Never!” He gestured wildly with one hand , the other gripping his himation to keep a coil of it from flying off his arm. Themistocles watched from the front row with the other nine members of the Board of Generals. The men of Attica were tightly packed in the city's marketplace, jostling each other to get a look at the three men standing trial before them. They had watched men splutter and make excuses for near half the day; this was the last of them, and by far the most guilty.

Themistocles began to scratch out a theta on the black terracotta shard that had been placed in his hands as soon as he entered through his demes' designated gate. The sound of each chisel was like the call of a hissing fury to most men, jarring to the ears. To Themistocles it was like the plucking of lyre’s string. He hummed as he worked.

"I demand a trial! I demand my accusers stand before all men and declare my so-called crimes to the men of Attica and the gods above and below!" The man was soundly booed. One heckler even launched something at him which bounced off his head. Themistocles guessed it was a sandal. He added a rho to the shard's surface and changed his hum to a whistle. "There's the man you should be ostracizing! Right THERE! Themistocles of Phrearrioi. He’s the one with too much power! Kick HIM out!" Themistocles looked up from his work just long enough to favor the man with a smile, then added an alpha to the arching letters with cherry vigor. "For the love of all the gods don't DO this to me!" My father died at Marathon! My great uncle sat in council with Cleisthenes, who was my ancestor. This is a slight to their memories!" "Enough!" the archon bellowed. He was a large man with large facial hair to make up for the lack of hair on his head. "Take your place among the other candidates, Thrasylaus. Then men will decide which of you villains is to be ostracized. The majority of shards with the person's name on it will be the one."

By the time the archon had finished this proclamation Themistocles had finished writing out the name, ending with a flourished sigma. Not the best hand-writing, but at least it was legible. There was no mistaking the name. Themistocles waited for the servants to make their rounds with wicker baskets and added his shard to the pile. The process took quite some time, but it was always worth it, even as the sun blazed down on their heads. It was agony for the three men standing on display, however. Themistocles knew how hard it was to stand there; he had done so twice before and narrowly escaped. He admired the two men who faced the crowd calmly, their faces dignified and betraying none of their fear. They were Boetian sympathizers, or so their enemies claimed, but their crimes were far outstripped by the Alcmaeonid, who was accused of being an Aegian sympathizer. Thrasylaus looked ready to leap through the crowd and make his escape, as if there were not 6000 men ready to stop him. The whole affair was far more entertaining than any drama. Themistocles wondered if his playwright friends were taking notes.

When the name Thrasylaus was announced as having the majority of votes, the Alcmaeonid began to shriek louder than ever. "It's the merchant's vile son! He's the one who did this! Rid Athens of him!" Ignoring him the archon explained the rules: that the man must leave Athens within 10 days, that he could not return for 10 years, and that upon his return his citizenship and property would be retained. The man stood slouched in defeat. He did manage to spare Thems a chilly look though. Don't blame me. Thank your wonderful ancestor. It was Cleisthenes who created the new 10 demes of Athens and with it the delightful concept of ostracism. No doubt it was meant to help rid the Alcmaeonid prince of his enemies. The irony of it being used on his relatives thirty years later was rather amusing. Thrasylaus did not appear to see it that way. "You'll pay for this, Themistocles!" He glared around the agora. "All of you! Athens will pay for this!" He was dragged off between Scythian guards dressed in furs despite the abhorrent heat of late summer.

2 comments:

Gabriele C. said...

That's a nice scene. I like Themistocles' sense for the humour hidden in it.

Wynn Bexton said...

Have you been to Athens? (it's my second home.) In the Agora museum there are the pottery shards with the names of ostracized citizens on them, including, I believe, Themistocles. I hang out in the Agora whenever possible when I'm there. This year's birthday party June 3 will be a sunset picnic on the Pnyx. I hope I'm also going to celebrate the finale of my own historical fiction novel.