Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Attican & The Ionian

This brief chapter will probably not make it into the final version of the novel, but I thought it was a cute idea to have a famous philosopher and a famous general meet. I know it's weird to give Anaxagoras an accent, but for some strange reason it just fit. This is the first half of the chapter. Enjoy!

*Themistocles asks his friend Mnesiphilus to find someone credible person to prove that a recent eclipse is not a bad omen for Athens and that they should continue to make preperations for war with Persia. Who Mnes finds is not who Themis expects...

A small breeze from the Aegean whispered through the distant olive groves, cutting the oven-like heat that hung over the city like a heavy cloak. Riding the wind was the faint tang of fish and salt, making a man hungry for charcoled tuna and fried mackerel. Above the polis the twinkling constellations floated in the cool black pool of night. Themistocles was lying on a stone bench looking up at them, fanning himself with one hand. He wondered if the deities of the sky looked down on humans and pitied them. They probably laughed. He would.

Taking a sip of Rhodes, he listened to the sounds of the city in his empty courtyard. Athens was never truly silent. Men stumbled home drunk from parties, married couples argued loud enough so everyone could hear, dogs barked in back alleys and goats bleated high atop the hills. The noises were signs that life went on, no matter how many times the Boeotians raided the northern frontier, or how many earthquakes there were, or how many volcanoes erupted, or how many eclipses happened, or even how many stories of the Persians marching west were heard. The sounds were comforting, a reminder that no matter how terrifying Night's presence Helios would never fail to rise up and chase her off. Even if it was an endless chase. Themistocles grimaced. I shouldn't think such things. Night is night and day is day. He rose up from the bench with a yawn. Tomorrow would be a brand new day, and he would begin his own chase.

He was just about to retire when there was a knock at the gate. It was late, and he was expecting no visitors. “Xenos.” Silence. "Xenos! No Sic, not you." He waved the servant away. As usual Sicinnus refused to retire until Themistocles was safely in bed. "Xenos!" The boy finally appeared from the servant quarters, bleary-eyed and yawning, his tunic inside out. "We have a visitor." Blinking away sleep, Xenos stumbled across the courtyard and unlatched the gate, swinging it outward slowly so as not to hit the visitor in the face. It was Mnesiphilus.

“Oh good you're up,” he chirped as he handed Xenos his hat and bent down to unlace his sandals. “Go on, boy! I don't need my feet washed and I'm not so old I can't unlace my own shoes." He grinned up at Themistocles. "Forgive the hour but I just had to come and see you." “Been drinking, have we?” His friend laughed as he threw his sandles against the wall and strolled over to clasp Themis on the shoulder. “Only a little. I was making my way home from a tavern in the Ceramicus and decided to take a walk to clear my head. I ended up on the Acropolis. And I met someone there." Themistocles gave a sly smile. "Oh?" His friend nodded. "Today's council meeting bothered me quite a bit so I went up their to comtemplate things. I mean, for those damn aristocrats to suggest making a peace offering with the Satrap in Lydia? And now trying to contact the grandson of Croesus, who may not even be alive for all we know.” “Like it would do any good anyway,” Thems said dryly. They had cut their ties forever with Lydia when the Alcmaeonidae had convinced Athens to help in the Ionian Rebellion fifteen years ago. The capital of Sardis had burned and the Persian king had been wroth.

“I suppose even more men are saying the eclipse means we should capitulate?” “Yes,” Mnes admitted. Then he grinned. “But that’s where this lad comes in.” Behind them a youth was just handing his dirt-stained boots over to Xenos, a freckled-face boy of no more than twenty with frizzy copper hair and large dark eyes. His beard was as gangly and scant as the rest of him, split by crooked-teeth that grinned out at his host. That was not what Themistocles had been expecting.

“How do you do, General!” the lad said in excited tones. He rushed over and grabbed Themis' hand and shook it vigorously. “It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Sir! I’ve 'eard all about you Marathon men! General Mnesiphilus 'ere was kind enough to talk to me and now I get to meet another brave soul such as yourself!” “Oof!” The boy's handshake was so enthusiastic Themistocles felt his teeth rattle. In the shadows Sic shifted as though ready to charge. It was an effort to shake hands and wave the slave away at the same time. When the boy let him go the world was spinning quite nicely.

“Do you have a name to go with that handshake?” “Anaxagoras of Clazomenae,” the boy announced proudly. Themisotcles frowned. “Clazo…?” “Between Sardis and Halicarnassus,” Mnes explained. “They speak a form of Attic dialect there.” “That they do, General that they do.” The boy's grin managed to widen. “No Dorian blood in this skinny ol’ body, if that’s what you’re wonderin’.” Mnes laughed. “It seems the Doric dialect isn't popular in that area of Ionia. At any rate, I remembered what you said about finding someone who thought the eclipse a good omen so we could convince the council to go to war with Persia, and found this boy right in the middle of market traffic today. Everyone was looking up and frowning as though another eclipse was coming. This one was was staring up at the sun and grinning. I saved him from getting his teeth knocked out by a farmer trying to get his wagon by.” It would have been an improvement, Themis thought. The boy’s teeth were truly ugly. It was an effort not to stare while the youth talked. “Me and the general 'here met again tonight when I was studyin' the stars. I just turned around and saw my 'ero nearby, standin' all by 'imself on the other side of the Acropolis. We got to talkin', and I told the General 'ere that the 'eavens are truly a blessin’ with many miracles, and that’s why I was smilin' at the sun earlier today'. That's when General Mnesiphilus said I should come with 'im. Meet the brains behind the great new fleet o' Athens.” His grin threatened to split his face in half. Themistocles had to struggle to keep his own smile. I wanted a scholar, not a vagabond!

"Great. Xenos, go mix up a bowl of wine for our guests.” The youth was lighting more torches in the yard but now put down his flint and oil and skittered off towards the kitchen. “Should I bring out the couches as well, Master?” he called over his shoulder. "I'd rather not have my guests sit on the ground, yes.” Meanwhile Sicinnus still had loomed in the shadows, glowering at the strangers. Themis sighed. He was going to have to keep an eye on Sic tonight. The man had not taken the eclipse as a good sign, and seemed to think it might be personally dangerous to Themistocles and his family. Lectures about who and who not to trust did not penetrate the man’s skull.

Once they were settled he was able to learn more about the strange youth from Ionia. The boy was as happy as a blind bard to tell his story...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Things We Learn

While looking up how the Ancient Greeks used the pillory (as mentioned in Herodotus), I stumbled across a totally unrelated fact: "In Ancient Greece, bankruptcy laws forced the debtor to sit in the market place and place a basket over his head." I had never read that anywhere, so I thought it was interesting.

It's always interesting how while looking for one thing, we find another. I didn't find anything on the use of pillories in Ancient Greece though. I wanted to know since King Cleomenes of Sparta gets thrown in one by his relatives. Did it look like the ones used in Europe 1000 years later? It would be interesting to know for my novel.