Here we are again, friends! I promised you a hunt, and Thrake is the place to hunt. The game is better here than it ever was in my boyhood on Kitheron, or in the hills of Attika. By Hera, there are still lions and bears here, and we’ll not be clubbing rabbits for our meals!
And since you’ve been kind enough to fill this two-handled cup to brimful with unwatered wine, and to have my pais bring it to me, I feel that you honour me. And what can I give you in return but a story?
Well. I am well-known for my stories, I think. So set your hunting spears aside, fill your cups and place them by you, stretch out by the fire, and let’s have a tale. Indeed, we’ll have a circle of tales, will we not? For I am not the only voice speaking at our fire circle, and others will tell you of far off places and other wars, other ships, other men and women, heroes and cowards and victory and defeat.
There are some new faces here, so I’ll remind you of how we got here. You may recall that at my daughter’s wedding, I told you of the Long War, from my boyhood on the slopes of Mount Kitheron, where my father was a great bronze smith and my mother was a hard-drinking aristocrat, to the greatest events of the modern age; the great defeat of the Greeks at Lade, the stunning victory of the Battle of Marathon, the tragedy of Thermopylae, the wasted victory of Artemesium and the desperate victory of Salamis. And finally I told you of the day of the Rage of Ares, the greatest battle of our time, fought in my home town of Plataea between Mardonius and the Great King of Persia’s mighty army, and the coalition of all the Greeks.
Well, almost all. Thebes joined the Medes, and a few other states, and some stood aside and took no part. But enough of us stood our ground and fought, and in the end, the Spartans and the Athenians defeated the Persians.
At my daughter’s wedding feast, I ended my story by talking about the rebuilding, and that, my friends, is where I’ll take up the tale tonight. I’ll miss my daughter’s friend with hair of fire, who blushes so freely and so brightly, and I’ll miss my wife’s soft hands reminding me to keep the story within the bounds of social acceptance. And perhaps I’ll drink too much. These are times for wine, and friends.
And tomorrow we can run off our wine fumes and kill a boar.
But, as is so often the case, I’ve left my course.
It was the year after the end of the Long War to free Greece. It was the year that Timosthenes was Archon Basileus in Athens. It was the year my friend Astylos of Croton won every running event at Nemea and established himself as the greatest athlete of my generation. It was the year that I was Archon in Plataea. It was the year in which the Spartan Strategos, Pausanias, the victor of Plataea and Greece’s greatest commander, betrayed us to the Great King of Persia.
This is the story of that year.
My story begins, as it so often has, with the spring trading fleets coming in from Sicily. By the spring of the year after Plataea, I owned four warships, all laid up in my own boat-sheds just over the mountain from Plataea, and six round ships, varying in size from a small tub that could just carry a few hundred big amphorae of wine or olive oil to the new ‘Poseidon,’ a slab-sided monster that could carry almost six thousand methimnoi of grain. I’d paid for her to be built to keep the shipwrights in business over the winter, but I’d imagined that she might play a role in the grain trade with Aegypt, because I could guess that it would be a few years before the farmers of Attika and Boeotia had recovered.
I also had Leto, who’d been all but rebuilt over the winter, so that she had shining new wood, golden in the spring sunlight, stark against the grey-brown of the older wood in her hull, and Io. Hector, my adopted son, took Leto, as he had in the year of Plataea, and Hipponax, my son by Gaia, took Io, and they were away in the first blush of spring.
If you’re not a sailor, listen. Greece is a country made by the gods for sailors, and not least because the land trails away into the sea in many directions, allowing a good captain to get off a beach in almost any wind. My sons were not taking such a foolish risk so early in the year; they could run down the Gulf of Corinth past Naupactus, all the way out into the Italian Sea, and never be so far from land that a man couldn’t swim ashore. And then, a single day’s sail, and they were in Croton, or one of the other Greek colony cities in Magna Greca, and they could stay in with the coast around the toe of the boot and then for Syracusa on the first good wind.
They were joined by Leukes, who came from Piraeus to take the big grain ship. He was the best of my captains, in any weather, now that Megakles and Moire had their own ships and their own business.
We laded all three ships with whatever we could find to trade; hides, mostly, and some salt, and linen from the year before, and some loot; I remember loading one of the great tents that the Persians had left behind, and some Persian bows. It was an oddly jumbled cargo, but Leukes also had gold and silver to buy things we needed, and a long order list made up by half the citizens of Green Plataea; roof tiles and fabrics and statues and ironware.
My sons were right sailormen, and Leukes was the toughest helmsman afloat for all that he was a wild-haired Briton from the other end of the world. And the weather was surprisingly mild; indeed, we were in for one of the best summers any of us could remember.
And none of that kept me from worry, so that, every two or three days, I’d ride down to Prosili, out little port on the Gulf of Corinth, and look out over the flat blue sea and wonder where they were. And I made a dozen sacrifices to Poseidon in the first week alone, and more as the month grew on.
It was the new moon of Elaphabolion, as we reckon it in Boeotia, when they came sailing back across the Gulf; a west wind wafted them all the way from Patrae and Hector bragged as he landed and kissed the beach that they hadn’t touched the steering oars for two hundred stades.
And there was Megakles, in a new built trireme. It was the heavy Phoenician type, and had clearly been built to carry cargo, but his rowers filled the beach and he himself was proud of his ship.
He was full of news from the west; news of Sicily and Massalia, where Doola and Sekla had their warehouses. Why were a couple of Africans running a small trading empire in Gaul? That’s another story you’ll have to hear another night, my friends. Although, if you stay with me, you’ll hear why it matters to this tale.
‘In Patrae they say the Spartans don’t want to fight Persia any more,’ Megakles said, and Hector, my adopted son, stopped embracing his own friends and came across the sand to me.
‘It’s true, Pater,’ Hector said. ‘I heard the same in Syracusa. They say the ephors want to send all the Ionians to colonize Italy.’
I’m sorry to keep playing old tunes, but of course, this was what the ‘Sparta First’ faction had wanted in the year of Plataea. What they always wanted; Ionia removed. I thought of what my wife, Briseis, who had once been queen of Ionia, might say.
I thought of what my brother in law and life long friend and enemy Archilogos might say.
And for the first time in many months, I wondered if the war with Persia was actually over.
Again, I have to digress.
At the same time that the Allied Greeks faced Mardonius and the Persian army at Plataea, the Allied Greek fleet, led by the King of Sparta, pressed eastwards into the maritime heart of the Persian empire; Ionia. Based first from Delos and then farther east, the Allied fleet was cautious at first, but in the end, at Mycale, we caught the Persian fleet and routed it at sea and then captured and burned the Persian camp on land, and the Ionians, for the most part, liberated themselves on the spot.
Remember, friends, that Ionia is where the revolt against the Persians began. remember that the Ionians lost, and were defeated, and had satraps placed over their cities, so that they were forced to send contingents to fight us, the western Greeks; at Salamis, most of the best ships came from the Greek cities of Asia Minor.
And while I’d never say this to a crowd of Spartiates, the truth is that Mycale hurt the Great King a good deal more than Plataea. At Plataea he lost a great army; most of it was made up of his own fractious subjects, Medes and Indians and Aegyptians and Africans, and they were losses he could make up in an afternoon.
But at Salamis and Mycale, the Phoenicians were hammered, and the Ionians, in the end, changed sides, and suddenly the Great King had no fleet. Let me add that Sicily was not a different world, and the Tyrant, Gelon, had just defeated the ships of Carthage, robbing the Phoenicians of their greatest allies and their most likely source of reinforcements.
In the aftermath of Mycale, the Spartan King, Leotychides, kept most of the fleet together and went to the Dardanelles to cut the cables for the great pontoon bridge by which Xerxes, the Great King, kept sending reinforcements to Europe. But after that, he sailed home with the Spartan contingent, declaring the war to be over, while the Athenians attacked Chersonesos and took it, more by luck, if the truth be told, than by skill.
I wasn’t there, but Moire was, in Black Raven, with my sons. I’d gone home to be a Plataean.
Enough of the world and war.
I left the beach with Megakles and Hector and Hipponax, and we rode back to my farm over the shoulders of the mountain on mules, far more sure-footed than horses on the steep trails, and we were in the old tower by nightfall. Achilles, my nephew, had given me back the farm after the battle; so many Plataeans fell in the great contest, the Agon as we called it, that there was better farmland and to spare all down the valley, available to any man with a strong stomach for burying the dead, or burning them. So we rode up the hill as we might have twenty years before, and into the yard of what had been my father’s house, and Briseis came down to the yard dressed in a long, flowing Ionian-style chiton of transparent wool with a narrow edging of gold and purple.
She welcomed my guests with wine and barley and cheese, and I was proud to see that although neither Hector nor Hipponax were the sons of her body, she embraced each before she kissed Megakles on the lips, which caused him to squirm in a way that made the rest of us laugh.
‘You bring my sons home,’ she said to me. “What reward can I give you?’
I thought of my mother, drunk in her rooms, and my father, taking out his anger on his bronze, and I pondered how I, the Killer of Men, had come to have so much happiness in my life. ‘I need no reward,’ I said.
‘Get a room!’ Leukes leered. ‘Enough domestic bliss.’
Briseis smiled her Ionian Aphrodite smile and led us into the hearth, where she made the matron’s prayers before we set to a meal.
Leukes, Megakles, and my sons took turns giving her the news from Sicily and the Peloponnese, and she nodded. Listen, friends; most Greek women are superb at managing a house or making a kykeon, but my wife had been a queen and could be again; and she was as good at politics as Aristides or Miltiades, and so she listened with a different ear.
That being said, we’d arrived at ways and means, you might say, and so she waited until they were all gone to our newly built guest quarters before she lay back on a kline and waved her hand.
‘The Spartans don’t want Ionia to thrive,’ she said.
She poured herself a little wine and watered it. ‘Do you know what they fear?’ she asked me.
I shrugged. ‘The modern world?’ I asked. There had been a time when I’d hated Sparta, but Gorgo and Sparthius had changed that for me. I now admired almost everything about Sparta, except their treatment of their Helots and their cowardly, cautious ephors.
She smiled the smile women use when they see that men are not entirely fools.
‘Exactly, my husband,’ she said. ‘They fear that Athens will rally the Ionians and make them strong.’
‘Athens?’ I asked. ‘Athens is a burned husk of itself without a working temple.’
‘Now you sound like a Spartan,’ she said. ‘Athens has the mightiest fleet on Ocean, and she can dictate almost any course she wants. Athens is also the last state standing with a merchant fleet, so she’s going to control trade. Athens is about to be the richest city in the world.’
I nodded. I admit, when I recall these conversations, I’m probably adding together many such; certainly, Briseis and I discussed the future of our world, the world of Hipponax and Hector and her sons too. So, allow me to misremember.
Regardless, what I do remember from that day was her view of the Spartans.
‘They cannot allow Athens to lead,’ she said. ‘And as they see the phoenix rise from the ash,’ she predicted, ‘they will fear her more and more.’ She looked out over our farm sadly. ‘Come, husband. Sit by me. I am sad, because what I foresee is the diminution of my people. Athens will steal the art for Ionia and make herself great, and what will become of Miletus and Mytilene and Samos? Will we Aeolians and Ionians become satellites of Great Athens?’
I thought of her brother, my rival and friend Archilogos. ‘Somehow I doubt that.’
‘And yet Ionia is vulnerable,’ she said. ‘We need to be sure that Athens at least does not abandon the Ionians.’
‘Do we?’ I asked. I was probably running a hand over her thigh at that point.
She brushed my hand away. ‘Yes, husband. We do. And let me remind you that we are in an open room with slaves and ten guests and that perhaps your thoughts should be on packing for your trip to Athens.’
‘Athens?’ I asked.
‘My dear,’ she said. ‘Did I forget to mention? Aristides has sent for you.’
# # #
It might have been simpler to mount a horse and ride to Athens. In the spring of the year after Plataea, I owned more horses than I’d ever owned; the Persians left Boeotia rich in their abandoned horseflesh and I had a big Nissean, several fine Arabs, and a variety of decent small horses useful for work, as well as a dozen mules.
But Megakles wanted to get back to sea, and he was taking his cargo around to Piraeus via the Diolkos, the stone road for ships. I chose to sail with him, and so, instead of riding a fine horse for Athens over Mount Kitheron, I packed my best himation and some carefully chosen gifts on mules and went back to Prosili. I kissed my wife and we made sacrifices, and I was away without any more ceremony. I did stop at Simonalkes’ new farm to ask him to look after my vines, and I mention this to show that in the year after the great battle, the Corvaxae were once again a single family. We’d made the spring sacrifices together, for the first time in a generation.
I’m glad I stopped ot visit him, because my mood was light riding over Kitheron’s seaward shoulder, and I was ready, if anyone is ready, to receive the bad news that was waiting for me there.
When I’d ridden down two days before, I’d ordered old Poseidonos, often my lead oarsman on Lydia and now retired to the honourable post of watchman on my ship-sheds, to haul out my warships for a spring drying. I had a mind to put Lydia in the water. The old pirate in me suggested that, as we were still in a state of war against Persia, the whole Carian coast and the Aegyptian delta might be fruitful sources of income, and I need ot remind you, my friends, that in the aftermath of the Persian invasion, despite the loot of their camp, two campaigns of burning and looting by the Great King’s army had left us poor and hungry. People died in the winter after we defeated Mardonius. We needed grain and we needed treasure.
When I returned from Plataea on that fine spring day, it was to find that one of my greatest loves had died over the winter.
Lydia was too full of rot to be saved. Poor Poseidonos felt responsible, and he was drunk when I arrived, and a huddle of slaves, mostly Indians and Medes, cowered near the boat sheds, expecting my wrath.
I was too sad to be angry. I stood for a long time, looking at her upturned hull; the finest ship I’d ever sailed or rowed, the most perfect lines, produced by a genius shipwright at the very low-ebb of my fortunes. The ship I’d had under my feet at Artemesium and Salamis and Mycale; the ship that I’d sailed right into the harbour of Carthage and out again.
When Lydia, bright paint and vermilion sails, ran at her enemies, they panicked and fled. Her hull strakes and sail were known from Gades to Tyre.
And now, she’d rotted in twenty places. It was Tenedos worm, and poor drying technique, and I had only myself to blame, because after Mycale, in the hurry of trying to rebuild Plataea and work the soil, I’d allowed her to be badly stowed.
Leukes and Megakles came and stood with me, and after a while, I admit that I wept.
The next morning, as Megakles sailed for the Diolkos, I decided to try and rebuild her. The Diolkos was only a day’s ride away, if that, and I knew that Megakles would be three days unloading his cargo, moving it across the isthmus, and getting his crew and hired slaves to drag the vessel. If you haven’t seen the Diolkos, it’s a stone roadbed across the isthmus with deep grooves cut in it that match exactly the wheel spacing of the great trucks that the slaves put under the bow, amidships, and stern of your ship. And then they haul it three miles across to the Aegean from the Gulf of Corinth. It’s a miracle of good engineering, and very handy for rapid movement between two points that otherwise are ten to twelve days sailing or rowing apart.
At any rate, I spent the morning, stripped naked in the good spring sunshine, with twenty slaves and Leukes and Hector, prying away loose boards and looking at rotten tree nails. But the more we stripped her, the more damage we found, and not all of it was new.
The truth is that my beautiful Lydia had seen three oceans and put her beak in twenty foes, and she was too tired and old to do it again. Indeed, I began, looking at her timbers, to wonder how we’d survived Mycale, and I thought that it might have been lucky that we’d spent most of the summer hauled up on beaches, or carrying messages.
But here’s the point, and I’ve strayed along road around, as is my wont. Lydia‘s death hit me like the death fo a person. And it made me feel old. Her timbers were my timbers. She had made my fame; she was the basis of my reputation. Her rotten timbers were mine; the deep old cracks in her frame represented the aging of my old bones.
I would soon reach my fortieth year. In Aegypt, men are accounted old at forty, and by all the Gods and my ancestor Herakles, I had no reason to expect to live so long, as I’d thrown my body into every battle-rage in the Inner Sea and the Long War.
But tears and anger and sorrow accomplished nothing. So that night, I ordered a good salmon from the local fishermen; I gathered all my old crewmen who lived hard by, and sent to Plataea for my wife and any friends and former crew who happened to be about. And the next night, with Brasidas and Leukes and Megakles as my fellow priests of the cult of the good ship Lydia, with Poseidonos and Kineas and Briseis and Styges and Achilles and fifty others, we ate a feast, and then Megakles and I set her afire on the beach.
Just before I set her alight, Briseis stepped into the middle of the circle we’d made, and took the decorative panel from the front of the marine box over the bow. We’d already stripped the ram, cast in far off Massalia from tin we traded ourselves, but Briseis took the beautifully carved timber, and she and Penelope carried it off the side.
Then we all watched her burn, drank are wine, and cried our tears.
Afterwards, I hugged Briseis. She was very gentle, and she held me in the darkness by the embers of my smouldering youth.
‘You and Penelope kept a souvenirs?’ I asked.
She laughed her throaty laugh. ‘I wanted you to have something of her, when you build your new warship,’ she said.
She laughed, and now her laugh said I was a fool. ‘I may be a house wife in Plataea,’ she said. ‘But I do not think that I will remain so forever. Eh?’ She smiled. ‘And you, my lord and husband, are the very king of pirates. You will want a ship.’
I smiled at her in the darkness, because I knew she was right. I was not dead yet.
‘I’ll call her Briseis,’ I said. This, to a woman who’d never bridled at my going ot war in a ship named for another woman.
‘I think you should call her ‘Apollo’s Raven,’ she said. ‘Briseis is my name, not a ship’s name.’
# # #
Five days later, I was lying on a kline in the beautiful sympositastic space of Aristides’ andron. A Persian slave served me wine, and Cleitus, once my dire foe, and Olympiodoros, who had commanded the Epiliktoi with me at Plataea, and Perikles, the young savant and competent spearman, and a half a dozen other rich and powerful Athenians lay around me, and Cimon, Militiade’s son and almost my brother, lay beside me. Jocasta had joined us for a single cup of wine, something that would have been unseemly before the Persian invasion.
Aristides was very plainly dressed. Indeed, one of the many changes that war and siege had brought to Athens was a visible change in signs of wealth. I was the only man there wearing an embroidered himation of the old style. Once, we had worn the best of our wives production, and aristocratic women had nothing better to do that weave a beautiful length of butter-soft wool and then spend a hundred evenings embroidering the surface with stars and dots and in my case, ravens.
The war had ended that. Every man present wore white, or off white; undecorated in most cases except for a single stripe above the selvedge edge.
Now, this may seem unimportant to you, but it spoke a great deal for the Athenians, that their riches men and women had decided not to flaunt their surviving wealth. They dressed more simply than Spartans, and their simple white clothes said ‘Our temples are burned and our people are fighting to survive, and women have other tasks than adorning the clothes of the very rich.’
Clothing can speak very loud. I was ashamed of my elaborate himation, although no one taxed me in any way.
Aristides rose to speak and first he mixed us a bowl of wine, three waters to one wine, because we were going to discuss serious business. And then he poured a libation, and we all rose and sang a hymn to Demeter, because it was spring, and never before had any Greeks so valued the fecundity of the earth as we did that spring.
And then we settled, and Aristides raised the beautiful black kylix. ‘We are meeting tonight to speak about the future of Athens,’ he said. ‘And with Athens, the future of Ionia.’
There was a low rumble of assent.
# # #
In moments, I wished I had Briseis on the couch by me, and not Cimon, although not for the usual reasons. She thought deeply and long about Ionia, and the truth was that the Athenians, like many good men, tended to see the world in ways defined by their own experience. Put another way, they wanted what was best for Athens, and they tended to define what was best for Ionia as what Ionia could do to benefit Athens.
Cimon and I were the closest the Ionians had to speakers at that meeting. Even Aristides seemed ot believe the Ionians incapable of governing themselves, as if they had not been rich, independent cities for hundreds of years when Athens and Sparta were both smaller and weaker.
But the essential element of the symposium was a discussion of the role of Sparta. Let me remind you once again that not only had Sparta claimed the right to command by land, with her veteran warriors, but at sea, so that while Athens furnished the more than half of the hulls for the Allied Fleet, Sparta almost always furnished the commander. Such remained the case that spring; Pausanias, the Spartan regent who’d led us at Plataea and whom I knew to be a member of the ‘Sparta First’ party, nonetheless had been proposed to command the Allied effort that year. Sparta intended to furnish eight ships and the commander, while Athens was expected to furnish sixty ships at least.
‘And the worst of it,’ Aristides said, ‘Is that while we would like to pursue an active war until Persia had neither fleet nor allies within reach of salt water, the Spartans intend to take a little action as possible.’
He looked around. We’d been at it long enough that all of us had consumed some wine, and most of us were both more relaxed and more garrulous. Cimon, who was the proxenos or representative of Sparta in Athens, wanted to speak, but it was not his turn.
Aristides looked at the wall hangings, which depicted Odysseus’ return to his home, and Penelope weaving.
‘Sparta does not want to further injure Persia,’ he said quietly, as if he feared to be overheard, even here, in his own home on the slopes of the acropolis in Athens. ‘Sparta fear Athens more than she desires the freedom of Greece.’
I shrugged. ‘That was true last year,’ I said, and Aristides frowned, because I was speaking out of order.
Cimon took the wine, and stood. ‘As the proxenos of Sparta, it is my duty to remind you that Sparta has contributed as much as Athens.’ He shrugged. ‘As an Athenian, I admit that we had to drag them to fight at Plataea like old bullocks pulling a broken plough.’
I took the wine cup from his hand and drank some. ‘My sons tell me that it’s openly discussed in the Peloponnese that Sparta will require the Ionians to move to the west if Sparta is to remain part of the Coalition.’
Aristides smiled. ‘We’ll hear more of this when Themistokles returns from Sparta.’
I had wondered where the wily and sometimes dangerous Themistokles was. The architect of victory at Salamis, he was also perfectly capable of carrying on a conspiracy with three sides at the same time, and I didn’t trust him. Aristides was a prig, and sometimes a prude, but he was also one of the best spear fighters in the world, and his sense of honesty and honour were as great or greater than the most punctilious Spartan. It was a matter of bitter irony to me that Themistokles, the epitome of the ‘wily Athenian,’ was well-beloved in Sparta, whereas Aristides, the nobles Athenian, was more feared than loved there.
Perhaps men are more comfortable seeing their rivals and foes as caricatures then as men; perhaps it suited the ephors in Lacedaemon to negotiate with a man whop reinforced their views of ‘Decadent Athens.’
‘Is Themistokles working on a new Coalition agreement?’ I asked.
Pericles smiled, as if I was a charming bumpkin. ‘Not exactly,’ he said.
Even Aristides looked… tolerably duplicitous.
Cimon took the wine cup, drank, and handed it to the wine slave for more.
‘Themistokles is in Sparta reassuring the ephors that we will on no account rebuild our long walls,’ he said.
His words would have carried absolute conviction, except that when we’d landed at Piraeus from Megakles well-found ship, I’d seen tens of thousands of Athenians of every class carrying stone, even column drums from the destroyed temples, and rubble from destroyed houses. Indeed, the hands of almost every aristocrat present betrayed the kind of dirt and wear and tear that men, even tough men, only experience moving stone. I had reason to know; I’d moved enough of it just clearing the floor of the old temple of Hera in Plataea.
‘But you are rebuilding the long walls.,’ I said.
Cimon grinned. ‘Annnd that’s why we didn’t send Aristides,’ he said.
Cimon scratched his nose and looked at me. ‘Once the long walls are complete we’ll be safe from the Spartans. Only four weeks ago they threatened us; it’s the night before Salamis all over again. They claim that our city is destroyed, that we should ‘relocate’ ourselves. Indeed, there’s rumour that one of their fears is that we’ll relocated and force the Ionians to sail with us.’
‘How can any people so aqbsolutely brave in the face of the storm of spears be so full of fear about issues of statesmanship and diplomacy?’ I asked.
Cimon, who genuinely loved Sparta, was silent.
Aristides nodded slowly. ‘Every system has flaws. Their ephors are both a strength and a weakness. In an emergency, the Spartans have the most conservative, and in some cases the least competent, leadership. Steady in normal times. Terrible when everything is change.’
I thought of my teacher, the philosopher Herakleitus. ‘Everything is always change,’ I said. ‘Nothing ever stays the same.’
Aristides held his hands wide, like a priest. ‘I hear Herakleitus in you, my friend. And while everything may always be in a state of change, it is not therefore absolutely evil that some old men try to keep things the same. Change for the sake of change is as inane as utter inaction.’ He closed his hands. ‘Despite which, in this instance, and for the last three years, I confess that I have found the views of the ephors duplicitous and cautious to the point of insanity.’
Aristides took the cup back from his slave with a slight nod of appreciation. ‘Listen, friends. The long walls make us strong and safe from all our foes. And will, I think, dissuade Sparta from making any grave errors about us. This is why I agreed to their rebuilding as the first priority, before even our houses and temples.’
He looked at Cimon. ‘But when we are secure, we intend to prosecute the war. It is not over. They burned our temples and our homes. They enslaved half the women of Ionia as sex slaves. We have defended ourselves nobly,’ he said, and Cimon began pounding our kline. ‘Hear, hear!’ he shouted, and all the rest of us joined in.
The effect of ten or twelve bowls of wine, eh? But listen, friends. Some of you were there. We defeated the Great King .Sometimes it was still hard for us to believe.
Pericles almost fell off his couch he was clapping so hard, but he was young and so was Olympiadorus.
Aristides held up the kylix for silence. ‘Now we will take the war to them,’ he said. ‘We will begin with the liberation of the Ionian cities. We will fight to liberate those who want us; not, perhaps, every city, but we are not tyrants. If Halicarnassus wishes to remain subjects of the Great King, we will not attack them unless they furnish ships to fight us.’
Music to my ears. My wife and brother-in-law would be delighted. ‘I pledge three ships for that fleet,’ I said.
Cimon shook his head. ‘Best days work my pater ever did, getting you the citizenship,’ he said. ‘I’m to have the command.’
‘And what of Pausanias?’ I asked.
Cimon nodded. ‘He’s a great man and an able commander,’ Cimon said. ‘As long as he is willing to fight, we’ll be fine.’
I sat back. ‘My friends, let me make sure I have this aright. The war with the Medes is not over; we pledge ourselves to carry the war to them. But we’re prepared to also fight the Spartans. We’ll carry on this holy war under Spartan leadership, unless we find it unsatisfactory, in which case we’ll do what? Sail off and make our own war?’
Cimon nodded. ‘You know how much we can do,’ he said.
‘I know how much we could do as pirates,’ I said. ‘And like you and Aristides, I’ve fought alongside Ionians. We need more of a strategy than you’ve proposed.’
Cimon nodded, and Perikles spoke up; the youngest, but already a voice in the councils of Athens.
‘First we take the Bosporus,’ he said. ‘It’s a little like an extension of the Long Walls,’ he said, waving one hand. He’d had a little too much wine, and he was slurring. ‘We need the grain from the Euxine to feed all our people until Attika is fit to be farmed again. If we have the grain trade from the Euxine and we have long walls ot our port, we’re absolutely secure, and we can use our fleet wherever we want to help Lesvos or Chios.’
It made sense; the same sort of twisted sense that the Spartan Ephors made. ‘I suppose that to an Athenian, that’s the appropriate way to proceed,’ I said.
That shocked them.
‘But if you are a man of Mytilene or Chios or Samos,’ I said, ‘It looks amazingly like Athens fortifying herself and then building an overseas empire for her own benefit.’
‘If we aren’t secure, no one is,’ Aristides said.
‘So might any Spartan Ephor prate,’ I said.
‘I thought you just offered us three ships?’ Cimon said.
‘I did. I just want you to understand that I don’t fully agree. Athens is safe. Why the Bosporus?’
‘Because we have a democracy,’ Aristides said. ‘Because our people have been burned out of their homes and starved on Salamis Island twice in two summers, and they want to know that they are secure and so is the food supply, or we will be voted no money to proceed.’
How soon one forgets.
# # #
Watered wine never gives me a hangover, so the next morning I was up early, riding down to Piraeus in search of a shipwright and a yard that would build be a beautiful trireme. Athens was building eight that spring, in eight different yards, and they were all fine vessels, but I was looking for something perfect.
It was a damn good day, wandering from yard to yard, talking to workers and watching them cut and shape the timbers and the planks. Athenian ships–most ships, really–were build by laying planks to a form, or even a hole dug to shape in t he ground, fitting them with biscuits, or billets, between the planks, just the way an aspis is made, really. When the planks are woven and pegged together, only then does the master builder put in an internal frame to strengthen the hull. Very small boats have almost no frame and the triremes need a huge internal cable, the hypozomata, kept taut by wedges, to keep them stiff and manoeuvrable, especially in a cross sea that can make a ship flex and its seams open.
When Themistokles used the money from the silver mines ot build Athens a great war fleet, the shipwright and designers of Athens had worked hard, and they had cut a great many corners. this might have made inferior ships, and indeed, the first ships of Athens new fleet, copied from Phoenician models, were too heavy, designed ot carry big marine contingents. But as they build more ships, faster, than any other yards in the world, they came up with new construction techniques and they began to experiment with designs intended to compliment Athenian naval doctrine and the talents of their best captains. In effect, they began to build for speed, not strength, and manoeuvrability, not marine capacity.
I do go on, do I not? But the trireme is in my life’s blood, and I love them, and I love to watch them built.
Sometimes, patience is rewarded. The last yard we visited that day was well over towards the old naval port of Phaleron, due south of Athens. Phaleron was more important before Themistokles rebuilt Piraeus; most of the Persian fleet sheltered there in the days before Salamis, and when they left, they burned all the yards and naval stores, but two small yards had reopened in the rubble of the Persian destruction. The first was producing fishing boats and stout small boats that would survive a night at sea.
The second yard was idle. But on the stocks, about half completed, sat a magnificent trireme, long and low and beautiful.