Athens' Darling: Love, Lust and War in Ancient Athens

Athens' Darling: Love, Lust and War in Ancient Athens

by Joanne Summers


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781467073219
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 04/03/2012
Pages: 342
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.76(d)

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"Athens' Darling"

Love, Lust and War in Ancient Athens
By Joanne Summers


Copyright © 2012 Joanne Summers
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4670-7321-9

Chapter One

An Athenian dockhand working on the wharves in the harbor of Piraeus was the first to spot the ships. "Our soldiers are coming home from the battle of Potidaea! I saw the sails of the triremes on the horizon," he shouted to those working in the harbor, and the news flew from person to person up through the Long Walls to the city of Athens. Then the city's people poured into Piraeus harbor to find out if their sons or fathers were safe and to welcome the men home from the first major battle between Athens and her enemies, the city-states of the Peloponnesus. The crowds on the docks and wharves shouted and waved as the ships glided toward shore, their sails now furled, their only motive power the three banks of oars moving in unison, rising, catching the glint of the autumn sun, then sweeping back, deftly guiding the ships up to the docks.

One after another the long warships drew alongside the piers that jutted out into the bay, and in the shade of the slanting roofs covering each pier, the ships discharged their cargo of men. Rank after rank of the city's finest soldiers filed through the cheering crowds, magnificent in their crested helmets and polished breastplates, their bronze circular shields slung over their shoulder, marching tall, proud, and invincible.

In the throng making its way from the docks to the Long Walls was a handsome young blond-haired soldier named Alcibiades, striking in a brilliant purple cloak and gold crested helmet. He was surrounded by a group of young men listening to his account of the battle. Then several women pushed through the crowd to reach him. "Lydia, Thetis," he said, embracing them and giving them each a kiss. "This is what a soldier wans on his return from battle—women." Then he saw another woman nearby, a beautiful slave with dark hair and brown eyes watching him. There was something about her that drew him and excited him, and he put his arms around her and gave her a long, lingering kiss. She was flushed and breathless when he released her. He smiled. "That's so you will remember Alcibiades."

He walked up the road between the Long Walls jubilant, glorying in the power of his city, which not long ago had held the whole Persian empire at bay. Sparta too would soon feel the might of Athens. I will lead armies and rule this city one day, he thought. Potidaea is only the beginning of the battle.

In the marketplace he left his companions and hurried past the Altar of the Twelve Gods down a narrow street until he came finally to a house that was obviously finer than those surrounding it.

Although the wall fronting on the street was bare except for the doorway and several small windows set high in the second story, the façade of the building was made of fine marble. Graceful carved pillars and a sculpted pediment adorned the doorway.

Alcibiades knocked, and a porter admitted him into a large, open courtyard, flanked on three sides by columned porticoes. Nearly a dozen people were in the courtyard, most of them clustered in the shade of the small trees and flowering shrubs that shielded them from the afternoon sun. Alcibiades recognized the old generals Lamachus, Tolmides, and Nicias, and near the Altar of Zeus was his uncle Pericles with his mistress Aspasia. It was rare that an Athenian woman appeared in the outer courtyard. But he knew Aspasia was not an Athenian, and not an ordinary woman.

Alcibiades approached his uncle. "We almost have Potidaea, Pericles. With a few more garrisons and another strong attack on their walls, we could take the city."

"Welcome home, Alcibiades." Pericles clapped his nephew on the shoulder. "I hear from Lamachus that you disported yourself with honor on the battlefield, and even won a suit of armor." Tall and well-proportioned, the bearded, high-browed Pericles was an imposing figure, and a man that commanded the respect of all Athens.

Aspasia held out her hand to him. She was still lovely, although past forty, her luminous golden hair piled high, the beauty of her features enhanced by skillfully applied rouge and mascara. Congratulations, Alcibiades," she said. "Your bravery would have made your father proud if he yet lived. You do honor to his memory."

He smiled. She had known the words that would please him most. He told them of the battle—how the Potidaean army, with the Corinthians that had come to the aid of their colony, had routed one wing of the Athenian army early in the battle. "But our line held fast," he said. "I thought one time I was going to be killed. I was holding off four Corinthians who came at me all at once, when one of them caught me with his sword and cut my left arm." He showed them the barely healed wound. "I lost my balance and fell, but I still held my sword and fought them off. Yet I would have been killed for sure if not for Socrates."

"Socrates? The philosopher?" Aspasia asked.

"You know him?"

"He comes here occasionally, he says to learn discourse from me," she laughed.

"He was fighting on my right, and when he saw me go down and my arm bleeding, he charged in like a bull, plunged his sword into one Corinthian and held off the others long enough for me to retreat behind our lines. They wanted to give the prize for valor to Socrates that day, but he insisted the suit of armor be given to me."

"So the victory was yours," Aspasia said.

"Mine, yes, but not Athens'. The Potidaeans managed to escape behind their walls." Lamachus and Nicias had come up to listen to Alcibiades' account of the battle. Flattered at having generals as his audience, Alcibiades began discussing military strategy. "If you send two more garrisons with engines of battery, uncle, we could storm the walls and take the town. Or perhaps catapults to hurl fiery coals. If the town is set afire, the people will have to open the gates to flee. But we must act now. Their general Aristeus has already escaped from the city because we waited and did nothing!"

"Sometimes it is best to wait and be ruled by time, the wisest counselor of all," Pericles said.

"Then are you going to do nothing?"

"It is not for you to dictate military policy. For that I have summoned the generals."

"But a long siege will only waste time and money, and will cost more lives."

Pericles frowned. "There is food awaiting you. Summon the servants to serve you when you have changed." He turned and walked away with the generals.

Angry at his uncle's curt dismissal, he turned to Aspasia. "I know I'm right!"

"You'll have time enough to dictate policy, Alcibiades," she smiled. "You are still young. Pericles rules now, remember."

"And is deaf to good advice."

"Perhaps, but why concern yourself with it today? You should be celebrating your homecoming with your friends."

The mention of celebrating dispelled his dark mood and he said excitedly, "Aspasia, can I bring them here tonight for a banquet? Let's make it a magnificent one, with Samian wine, and flute girls."

"I'm sorry," she said. "Not tonight. Pericles had Evangelus order only enough food for our household and the generals. You know how careful he is of household finances. Besides, a party would be distracting to him when he intends to spend the night discussing war policy with the generals. "Perhaps another night."

But there would be no other night, he knew. Although he had lived six years in Pericles' household, he was still but his uncle's ward, not a member of the family. Pericles' sons could entertain, but there was not room for his friends. He went to his room, removed his armor, and called for some bread and wine. Then changing into a white linen chiton and tossing a purple himation over his shoulder, he left without speaking to Aspasia or Pericles again.

Alcibiades headed for the palaestra of Taurus for a shower and some exercise, but instead of going the way he had come, he took a longer route back to the center of town. On a narrow, winding side street he stopped before a small but rich-looking house. It was here that he had lived with his mother until her brother Pericles took him into his household. His mother had lived here until her death two years ago, and he wanted to see the house again. He sat down on the stone threshold, thinking of his mother and his father.

He had not thought of his father in a long time, but Aspasia's words had brought back memories from his childhood. His father would have been proud of him, she had said. He remembered the day he last saw his father Clinias. He was but a boy of five then, and they lived on the large family estate outside the city walls. Clinias had been dressed in full armor that day, his bronze corselet covering his short, red tunic, bronze greaves on his legs, his high, crested helmet hiding his thick blonde hair. He had not been able to find his son that morning, and had finally sent a servant to search for him. When the servant brought him to his father, Alcibiades could see Clinias was angry.

"Where have you been all morning?"

"Ou – ou –out in the m –m –meadow with th- the horthis."

"Speak up. Out with the horses, wasting time? Why haven't you been practicing with the javelin as I showed you?"

"I-I-I did it yethterday."

Clinias turned to his wife. "See that he practices and exercises daily while I am away. We can at least make him into a warrior or an athlete. He will be no leader, that's for certain, when he can't even speak properly." Clinias looked at him. "My only son. I expected great things from him. With my family's wealth and your heritage he could have risen to power and high position in Athens, if not for his speech affliction."

Clinias was wealthy enough to have outfitted a warship at his own expense, and it awaited him. He kissed his wife goodbye and tousled his son's fair hair. Then he was off to fight the Boetians. He never returned.

He and his mother Dinomache moved into town then, and although their house was small, Alcibiades never wanted for anything. At school he was always the boy with the most silver drachmas in his purse. But only his mother knew the long hours he spent alone in his room reading Homer aloud, delivering speeches to the empty walls, struggling to overcome his speech defect. He did finally over come it, except for the trace of a tendency to pause at intervals as he spoke, a habit which seemed to make people listen more attentively to him.

Alcibiades had spent a free and undisciplined boyhood, and Dinomache's laxness served to increase his boldness and independence. He smiled as he remembered the day he and Phaedrus had given their paedagogi the slip on the way to school one day. They spent a blissful day wandering about the barrels and packing cases on the quays, climbing on the decks of the merchant ships, and imagining themselves sailors traveling to far ports. Phaedrus had been soundly thrashed when he got home, but Alcibiades had not been punished. Whatever he wanted, Dinomache allowed. If she were here today, there would be a welcome awaiting him and a celebration. She would have applauded his bravery, praised his keen mind and determination, listened to his ambitions and encouraged him.

He remembered the day she had told him he would be ruler of Athens. It was the day she had first taken him to his uncle Pericles. He was freshly bathed and combed and clothed in a new white linen chiton. It was a hot sultry day in August, and he was impatiently waiting for his mother outside the door when two boys sauntered down the street toward him—Androcles and Autolychus, two bullies who terrorized the school. Both of them were dirty and unkempt, dressed in the rough woolen tunics of the working class. Seeing Alcibiades so finely dressed, they began to mock him.

"Look at the little aristocrat in his fancy clothes," Androcles sneered.

Autolychus laughed. "He must think he is some king's son."

"Daughter, rather. He looks like a girl with his pretty face and his clothes."

Alcibiades grabbed the front of Androcles' tunic. Take that back or I'll show you how much of a girl I am."

Then Androcles scooped up a handful of dust from the dry street and threw it in Alcibiades' face and on the front of his white chiton. Furious, Alcibiades began pummeling Androcles fiercely. It was a foolish move, he realized a moment later, for Androcles was twenty pounds heavier than he, and at twelve already showed promise of being one of Athens' top athletes. Androcles punched him in the face and in a few minutes had him on the ground. They rolled and struggled in the dust, but the heavier boy soon had Alcibiades pinned down. Seeing him defenseless, Autolychus kicked him in the face, then in the side.

The pain of the blows only incensed Alcibiades more, and he kicked and twisted and struggled to get free. But even though he exerted his greatest strength he could not get out from under the heavy body of Androcles. Then suddenly Alcibiades lifted his head and turned and sunk his teeth into his opponent's arm. With a cry of pain, Androcles saw the blood running from his arm and sprang to his feet.

"You fight like a woman, Alcibiades."

"No, rather like a lion," and Alcibiades leaped up and sent a blow crashing into his adversary's right eye. Crying and cursing, his hand over his bruised eye, Androcles stumbled away.

Alcibiades turned to Autolychus. "Shall I show you now how much like a girl I fight?" Autolychus didn't stop to answer, but ran off after his companion without even a backward look. That boyhood encounter began what became a lifelong enmity between Androcles and me, Alcibiades thought.. Over the years he has taken every opportunity he could to belittle me and damage my reputation.

When he and his mother reached Pericles' house that day, although Alcibiades had washed and changed, the bruises on his face and arms did not escape his uncle's notice. Pericles questioned him about them. Alcibiades was not shy or hesitant, but gave him a full and honest account of the fight.

Pericles rarely smiled, but as Alcibiades narrated his escapade, a grin spread across his face. When Alcibiades told of how he bit Androcles, Pericles laughed and put his arm across the boy's shoulder.

"With determination like that, you'll go far one day," he said. "If you were not so young, I would fear being outstripped and unseated one day by my own nephew. Now listen to me. Winning is not enough, Alcibiades. You must win fairly—or at least give the appearance of it—if you hope to gain the affection and the support of others. And I think you could use some lessons in boxing."

He turned to Dinomache. "Send the boy to me each day after school. I will see that he learns not only boxing, but horsemanship, wrestling, and armed combat from my sons' trainers. He is not too young to start learning the arts all men must know. And if he is to be a leader one day, he must begin his training early to surpass others."

Alcibiades smiled as he remembered how elated Dinomache was when they left Pericles' house. "The gods must have provided you with that black eye and those bruises today," she laughed. "You are in their favor, for nothing could have impressed Pericles more." Then she grew serious. "This is the beginning, son. Learn well what Pericles teaches you, and you will be ruler of Athens one day. It is your birthright."

For more than a year Alcibiades went daily to Pericles' house or to his stables for training in fighting and horsemanship. He did so well that Pericles finally asked that Dinomache allow him to become part of his household so that his training could be more extensive and he could instruct him in the arts of government as well. He recognized the boy's intelligence, his courage, his perseverance. Always cognizant of the problems of transition of power and aware that his own sons had not capabilities to rule Athens alone, he thought that Alcibiades might form a triumvirate with them, he had said. Together they would be strong enough to rule Athens competently and keep it secure from enemies without and her demagogues within. Although Dinomache grieved at losing her son, she realized Pericles' offer assured son's future.

He visited her often after he went to live with Pericles, and they were closer in those years than ever before, especially after Dinomache became ill. The sickness had begun as just a simple cough, but then it grew worse and Dinomache became feverish. None of the physicians Pericles sent could find a remedy. Finally Dinomache began to cough up blood and was confined to her bed. As she grew weaker, Alcibiades was at her side every day, although Dinomache had servants enough to tend her. He would administer her medicines, not trusting the servants to measure dosages accurately, and he had her favorite dishes prepared in the hope of stimulating her waning appetite. His lessons in horsemanship, government, and self-defense were forgotten, as Alcibiades spent days and even nights at his mother's bedside. But Pericles understood, and even came several times to visit Dinomache and offer what assistance he could.


Excerpted from "Athens' Darling" by Joanne Summers Copyright © 2012 by Joanne Summers. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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