Born in the Greek city of Miletus, Aspasia was destined for a life of tragedy. Her wealthy father vowed to abandon any female child, so Aspasia was secreted away, educated independently of her family, and raised as a courtesan. She discovered at an early age how to use her powers of intellect as ingeniously as those of the flesh.
Ensconced in the Persian harems of Al Taliph, she meets the man who will change her fate: Pericles, the formidable political leader, statesman, ruler of Athens, and Aspasia’s most cherished lover. She becomes his trusted confidante, his equal through scandal, war, and revolt.
From the eruption of the Peloponnesian War to violent political and family rivalries to a devastating plague, author Taylor Caldwell plunges the reader into the heart of ancient Athens. In bringing to life the tumultuous love affairs and gripping power struggles of one of history’s most complicated and fascinating women, Glory and the Lightning is thrilling proof that “Caldwell never falters when it comes to storytelling” (Publishers Weekly).
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Taylor Caldwell including rare images from the author’s estate.
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The beautiful young mother came weeping to look upon her child, Aspasia.
"She is like Aphrodite, newly risen in pearl from the sea," she said to the older woman, Thargelia. "Who knows her fate, mysteriously woven by the direful Sisters? Her father desired to expose her. I am glad that I rescued her and brought her to you. Is not her hair like gold, my child, and her eyes like autumn leaves and her flesh like nacre? Who could destroy such? Alas, her father would kill her even now if he knew she lived, for what man is proud of begetting a female?"
"She is extremely intelligent," said Thargelia in a tone of consolation. "She has a mind that scintillates, throwing off myriad lights like a prism. She will become a magnificent courtesan, even more than you were, my little one."
The mother moved restively. "I should prefer her to be married to a distinguished man."
The older woman smiled with an ironic twist of her mouth. "And to be relegated to the women's quarters while her husband amuses himself and converses with exciting women?"
"She would be safe," murmured the mother, Acilia.
"No woman is ever safe with a man," said Thargelia. "Wife, mistress or courtesan — women are never safe with men. Therefore, we must protect ourselves with a thousand wiles and nuances and stratagems."
"But a wife has safety under the law," said the mother, stroking her child's head.
"A law which can be broken at a man's will, dear little one."
The lovely mother smiled and all at once she was a girl again. "Women are more powerful than the law. For we know no law but our natures and nature is above law." She wiped her tears on a silken kerchief which flowed with an exotic perfume. She looked upon her child again. "Yes," she said, "women are superior to the law, though we are not lawless by nature. In truth, we are the law, itself."
"I have always said," Thargelia remarked, "that you should have been a philosopher."
"Alas, I loved," said the mother. "When a woman loves she is not a philosopher."
"Nor is a man," said Thargelia. "Love is the great destroyer of logic and intelligence. The genitals rule us all — until the day our genitals fail us. Then we become wise. But wisdom is a cold fire which enlightens but does not warm."
The mother gazed at the absolute blueness of the Asia Minor sky and then at the gulf which was no deeper in color, so that water and the heavens appeared to be one vast curtain hanging and palpitating adjacent to the earth. Acilia was tumultuous with her distressed thoughts. "If my child's father, Axtochus, my lover, could but see her now and her beauty and hear her converse, young as she is, he might take her into his house with me and his other concubines. But I do not wish her to become a courtesan."
Thargelia pondered. She had assumed her name because it had once belonged to one of the most beautiful and intellectual courtesans of Miletus. But she, herself, was not beautiful, though possessing a fascinating and changeful countenance. However, intelligence was like a glow on her face, and her eyes, though cynical — having known too many men — were brilliant with the liquid she used to enhance them. They were also hard and amused. Kohl blackened her eyelids, and red unguents, which glistened, were smoothly spread on her cheeks and lips. This gave her a debauched appearance which men found tantalizing. She led the fashion among the ladies of Miletus, even among virtuous matrons and maidens, for her taste was exquisite. She talked with the young mother at her side, stroking her peplos of mingled crimson and green; her dyed golden hair, vivid as the sunlight, was entwined with green ribbons. Her figure was the figure of a virgin, fluid and youthfully graceful. Only her hands betrayed her age, and not all the oils of Asia could drown the protruding veins or silken away the wrinkles. But they were eloquent, her hands, and she wore many rings of rich gems which helped to conceal the harsh knuckles. A lover had once said that she created music in the air with her hands, so fluent they were of gesture, with never an abrupt movement or awkward pose. She had trained them in the dance.
"You brought Aspasia to me," she said, "when she was but a few days old, fleeing with her from the house of your lover, at night, after you had concealed her from the sight of her father. It was from my house that Axtochus chose you for his own, and he has been faithful to you, in his fashion, more than he has been faithful to his wives and other concubines. You are happy, Acilia, for I see happiness in the sleekness of your skin, the shimmer of your hair, and in the glitter of your jewels. Would you be so happy as an immured wife, under the law, neglected by your husband, relegated to the women's quarters, sighing alone, while some concubine lay with your husband?"
Acilia thought. "No," she admitted. "But every mother desires safety and honor for her daughters, and where can safety and honor be assured for a woman except in a distinguished marriage?"
"Bah," said Thargelia with a shrug. "It is only fools who yearn for safety. I disagree that marriage is the only haven for women. Property and education and jewelry and power over a man are much more to be desired. Men rarely tire of an engaging concubine, but they inevitably tire of their wives. Concubines know how to amuse a man, and, at the end, that is a woman's true function. We teach our maidens here that a woman's destiny is to amuse, entertain, serve, console and love a man, and for these lovely gifts any man will pay a fortune, and even lay down his life. How many men in history have died for their wives? But our poets sing of men who sacrificed all for a mistress."
"Men are very strange," said Acilia.
"That is the first lesson we teach our maidens," said Thargelia. "It is impossible for a woman to understand a man, who is very primitive, while women are born Sophists. I have argued with many noble philosophers in this house, and they have declared that they worshipped my conversation and my mental endowments, and that I was as subtle as themselves, which I did not consider a great compliment. But inevitably they slipped their hands under my peplos or onto my breasts and we ended our learned dissertations in my bed. Does that make men incomprehensible? Men never forget that they are first of all men, and that they love women — despite their intelligence. That is both flattering and irritating. But, did we make this world?"
They sat in the outdoor portico of the beautiful pillared house of courtesans, overlooking the Gulf of Latmic, near the mouth of the Meander river. The scent of jasmine was rising, and the sweet effluvium of roses. Women were singing joyously in the house and strumming lutes and harps, and for an instant Acilia's fair face was filled with memories and longings. She looked down at her child, Aspasia, and mused. Would it not indeed be better for Aspasia to be trained as an accomplished courtesan, courted and honored and loved and gifted by eminent men, than to be an imprisoned wife in dreary quarters, seeing her husband only at his indifferent command when he needed children, and having for her company only unlettered slaves and looms and kitchen servants and women as ignorant as herself?
Acilia and Thargelia sipped the best of wines imported from Pylos where the delectable wine-grapes grew on dry and sunny slopes, and they ate dainty pastries as they sat in the outdoor portico and listened to the music and the distant rustle of the sea and the laughter of fountains in the gardens which surrounded them. Two female slaves waved feathered fans over their heads, and a breeze was rising from the waters, which had begun to blaze as sunset approached. It was very peaceful and languorous, and Acilia sighed again, remembering her happiness and mirth in this house as a child and a young maiden.
Aspasia was leaning against her mother's knee and contentedly eating a pastry stuffed with poppy seeds and honey and citron peel. Acilia smiled down into her daughter's large light brown eyes, which were filled with mysterious liquid lights and shifting sparkles and shadowed and starred with golden lashes of enormous sweep and length. The child's hair hung far down her back and seemed to be a mass of soft gilt threads. Her features were delicate and hinted of increasing maturity, though she was but six years old. When she smiled, as she did now, dimples raced over her cheeks — softly colored — and flew in and out around her full scarlet lips. There was an endearing charm about her, a certain enthrallment. She is far more beautiful than I was, thought Acilia with pride. Alas, the destiny of woman is very sorrowful, whether mistress or wife or concubine or slave. Should we not have a higher destiny than this?
Thargelia saw the mother's changing and melancholy expression, and she said, "I have trained many children and maidens, but Aspasia is more than them all. Though very young she is already a philosopher. Her appearance is enchanting. Her mind will command the attention and the respect of even the most dissolute men. I predict a marvelous future for her. She has fate in her eyes, profound and immeasurable."
"Women must change this world of men," said Acilia, suddenly, and put her hand in protection on her child's shining head.
Thargelia shrugged. "Would it be to our advantage? Men are now our adorers and our slaves. Let us not long for equality with them! We would lose our privileges and gain nothing but coarseness, anxiety, toil and disrespect."
She laughed. "Let men continue to protect us and we will continue to rule them from our beds and with our blandishments. He who sits on a throne is never at peace or at rest. But she who is the voice behind the throne, however concealed, has all the advantages of power, and all the prerogatives, and can sleep tranquilly of a night."
"So long as she is young and beautiful," said Acilia, sighing.
Thargelia was vexed. "It was one of your faults, dear little one, that you were always sighing even when most happy. Youth? Clever and noble men may proclaim that they prefer green fruit. But they are ruled by women who are not young but remain dazzling, as any woman can remain if she desires. It is only the dull failed man who seeks his own futile youth in the youth of a woman, and thinks of a woman as merely a thing, like a slave."
The young Aspasia was sipping her own small goblet of wine, but she looked up at her mother over the rim and her eyes were wise and merry and full of understanding. She is six years old, thought Acilia with some uneasiness, but she was never young!
Thargelia, watching with her astute eyes, said, "I have had a soothsayer for Aspasia. He predicts that she will glow like the moon over her country and have great men in her power, and everywhere she will be the inspiration of poets."
"Soothsayers!" said Acilia with indulgence. Nevertheless, she was flattered and pleased. She laid a purse of gold coins on the ivory and lemonwood table. "Nothing must be denied my daughter. I trust you, Thargelia, for I have had reason to trust you. You are wiser than I. Do with Aspasia as you will, for I see you love her."
Thargelia drew the child to her and kissed her milky brow and ran her fingers through the bright cobweb of her golden hair, which was airy and fine. "Aspasia and I understand each other," she said, with affection, "for all we have our moments of rebellion. There are no uncertainties in her mind, no doubts, no hesitations. She will have what she wills, as a woman, and her will is already formidable."
Acilia rose, seeing that her litter with four Nubian male slaves — gleaming blackly and naked to the waist and with crimson turbans on their heads — had arrived at the gates. Their ebony faces were carved and impassive and full of secret dignity. They had drawn aside the crimson embroidered curtains for their mistress, and Acilia entered the litter and reclined on the yellow silk of the cushions. She did not close the curtains as she was borne away. There was a sad premonition in her, as if she knew that never again would she see her daughter, who was on the steps of the portico and waving to her with the easy indifference of a child. Even as Acilia watched, Aspasia turned and ran swiftly into the house, forgetting her mother. Acilia sighed, and a tear fell from her lashes, which had been dusted with gold powder. She found her small silver mirror in her purse and carefully wiped it away. Axtochus, she recalled, detested reddened eyes in a woman, and fled from them impatiently. She arranged a beguiling smile on her face, careful not to wrinkle the skin about her pretty mouth. She opened a little alabaster pot, also from her purse, and smoothed a perfumed attar over her lips. In a moment she was thinking of the gilded cloth from the Orient and her dressmaker.CHAPTER 2
Thargelia sat with her choicest maidens — all chosen for both their beauty and their intelligence — in the outdoor portico facing the west. It was her favorite hour, before dining, for she did not care for the day during which she slept after a night of festivity. But bathed in scented water, oiled with fragrance, painted delicately and powdered, her hair arranged artistically, her peplos draped to her satisfaction, her pins sparkling and a necklace of jewels about her neck to hide the sallow wrinkles, she felt capable of facing life again. "The night was made for love, reflection, philosophy and laughter," she would say. "But the day is made for wars, peasants, arduous workers, muscles, men of activity, and farmers and goats and sheep. In other words, for those who care little about the delights of living and know nothing of them, being engrossed with labor and sweat. From this, we hetairai have been mercifully delivered; while the laborious wives sleep we rejoice in the company of their eminent husbands. Truly, our lives are enviable, and that is why we are hated by the stupid and lightless matrons of energetic households."
She had aged but little over the fourteen years since Aspasia had been delivered by her mother to this house. "A woman must not frown; it creates wrinkles on the brow and between the eyes, and gentlemen detest wrinkles. Nor must she laugh too much; that induces furrows about her mouth. A merry face, yes, always. But never one which resembles the masks of the theatre, with too much emotion and emphasis. A soft smile, with a regard to curvature, a twinkling of the eyes, as you have been taught, a gentle inclination of the head — these are desirable and do not age a woman. They enhance her charm. Gestures, too, must never be too emphatic. It annoys gentlemen, for they do not like vigorous women, except in their kitchens and in their beds. A woman must always imply; she must never assert. I repeat these admonitions, my treasures, so that you will be successful and rich and endlessly amusing and seductive."
There were eight among her choice maidens, and among them was her favorite, Aspasia, of incredible beauty and incredible intelligence, which she had been taught must never be aggressive among men. "Compliance, always. Entertainment, always. But never without elegance."
She controlled the diet of her maidens sedulously, and as vigilantly as she preserved their virginity, which would be delivered to the richest and most eminent bidder, and for a very high price to Thargelia herself. But the maidens were not virginal in their minds and their hearts. "Even green fruit must prophesy ripeness and deliciousness, my treasures." She wished a sheen on her maidens, so she encouraged love among them — with discretion so that they would later be lovers of men and not lovers of women. In truth, if a maiden became too ardent over a sister neophyte Thargelia would remove her to another building where she could be trained to be a pleasure to some rich widow or dissatisfied wealthy matron.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Glory and the Lightning"
Copyright © 1974 Taylor Caldwell.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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