After introducing us to all things lovely and refined about ancient Athens, Ivan Yefremov takes a sharp turn and reminds us that this was still the city at the hear of a sharply striated society, in the midst of a war...
Thais started asking her new slave girl about the terrible days of the siege of Thebes and of her capture, trying to hide her puzzlement: why didn’t this proud and well-bred girl kill herself, but opted for the pitiful fate of a slave?
Hesiona quickly understood exactly what Thais was interested in.
“Yes, I remained alive, mistress. At first, from sheer shock and the sudden fall of the great city, when our house, open and defenseless was invaded by the insane hordes, trampling, robbing and murdering. When unarmed people, who were well-respected citizens only moments prior, having grown up in honor and glory, are pushed together into a crowd, like a herd, beaten mercilessly if they lag behind or are being stubborn, knocked out with blunt ends of spears and shoved behind the fence with shields like sheep, a strange paralysis overcomes them from such sudden turn of fate…”
Hesiona shivered and sniffed, but forced herself to continue. The place where they were held really was a livestock market. Before her very eyes, Hesiona’s mother – a still young and beautiful woman – was dragged off by two shield bearers, despite desperate resistance, and vanished forever. Then somebody took away her little sister, while Hesiona, having hidden under the troth, decided to make her way to the walls and look for her father and brother – to her own detriment. She wasn’t even two plethors away from the fence, when she was grabbed by some soldier who only just dismounted from his horse. He wished to have her right there and then, at the door of some empty house. Anger and desperation gave Hesiona such strength, that the Macedonian couldn’t subdue her at first. He, however, must have raped and pillaged in many an invaded city, and had soon tied up Hesiona and even put a horse’s harness on her, so that she couldn’t even bite back, after which the Macedonian and one his companion took turns raping the girl till late night. At dawn the dishonored and exhausted Hesiona was taken to the slave traders who followed the Macedonian army like vultures. One of them sold her to a Brauron noble, who in his turn sent her to the Pyrean market after unsuccessful attempts to get her to obey and a concern that the girl might lose value from the constant beating.
“I was dedicated to the goddess Biris and was not to be with a man before I was twenty-two.”
“I do not know this goddess,” – Thais said, “Does she rule in Beotia?”
“Everywhere. There is her temple, her in Athens, but I no longer have access to it. The Minians, our ancestors – a sea shore people before the Doric invasion – considered her a goddess of peace. Those who serve her are against war, and I was already a wife to two soldiers and didn’t kill either of them. I would have killed myself sooner, had I not felt obligated to find out what happened to my father and brother. If they are alive and in slavery, I shall become a port prostitute and will rob scoundrels until I have enough money to buy out my father – the wisest and kindest man in all of Hellas. That was the only reason I stayed alive…”
“How old are you Hesiona?”
“Eighteen, almost nineteen, mistress.”
“You have a long way to go to Anaxagoras and Antiphontus, Stagirit!” – Hesiona shouted beside herself, “You are simply jealous of Astiochus’ glory, the singer of peace and beauty! Peace and beauty are alien to you, philosopher, and you know it!”
Aristotle turned around angrily. One of his students standing nearby and listening to the conversation slapped Hesiona in the face. She shrieked and wanted to attack the muscular bearded offender, but Thais grabbed her by the hand.
“Scum, slave girl, how dare you!..” – the student exclaimed, “Get out, pornodions!”
“Philosophers are dropping all pretense,” – Thais said mischievously, “let’s leave quickly this abode of wisdom!”
With these words, Thais quickly snatched the chrysolite from the dismayed Aristotle, picked up the hem of her himation and sprinted down the wide path between the pines toward the main road, followed by Hesiona. Several men – either overly devoted students or servant – rushed after them. Thais and Hesiona hopped into the waiting carriage, but the boy driver didn’t have time to start the horses, before they were grabbed by the bridle, and three huge middle-aged men dashed toward the open back of the carriage to drag both women out of it.
“You won’t escape, whores! We got you, you sluts!” – a man with a broad untrimmed beard yelled, reaching for Thais.
At that moment Hesiona grabbed the whip from the driver and shoved it into the man’s wide open, screaming mouth as hard as she could. The attacker collapsed on the ground.
Thais, now free, opened her bag hanging on the side of the carriage and snatching a box of powder tossed into another man’s eyes. A short delay didn’t give them much. The carriage could not move and they could not get out of it.
Matters were turning serious. There were no other travelers on the road, and angry philosophers could easily overwhelm the helpless girls. The boy driver, who Thais took with her instead of her elderly stableman, gazed around helplessly, not knowing what to do with the people blocking their way.
But Aphrodite was merciful toward Thais. A thunder of wheels and hooves sounded from the road. A foursome of madly running horses harnessed into a racing carriage appeared from around the corner. They were driven by a woman. Golden hair flew in the wind like a cape – Egesikhora!
“Thais, malakion (little friend), hold on!”