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"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Thais of Athens preview - Chapter III: Escape to the south

Thais and her friend set off to Egypt, making a stop at the legendary island of Crete along the way.

Eositeus, held out his arms to Egesikhora. She declined Eositeus' assistance and pointed at the bow of the ship where four horses were waiting impatiently under a reed tent. The Spartans were as delighted, as at the sight of the women, when solders and two stablemen started carefully leading forward the stallions, who rolled their eyes and twitched their airs. The shaft pair was of that rare snow-white color called leukophaes by the Athenians, while the outrunners were leukopyrrian or reddish-gold to match their mistress. Combination of white and gold was considered particularly lucky since the ancient Cretans initiated the art of making chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statues of gods.

The gangway was lowered from the pier. One of the shaft stallions who was the first in line suddenly refused to step on the bowing wood and jumped straight across to the pier. The ship tilted from the powerful push, and the second white stallion, who tried following his brother, failed to jump off the deck and was now stuck reared up with his front hooves hooked on the edge of the pier. The ship started pushing away from the pier. The gap between the pier and the side of the ship widened. Egesikhora saw that in the effort to hang on, all of the stallion's muscles were becoming strained, and a large vein swelled on the side of his belly. The Spartan dashed to her horse, but was beaten to it by a soldier who jumped down from the pier. The ship tilted again and the horse's hooves started slipping off the log, but the warrior shoved the stallion from behind with incredible courage and force, literally tossing the animal to the pier. He couldn't avoid the hind hooves and fell to the unsteady deck, but immediately got up unharmed.


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A band of stone tiles – sunk into the soil and half overgrown with dry grass and lichen – stretched from the ruins across a gently rolling plateau. At the end of that ancient road where it vanished into a valley, stood an enormous boulder with tall bull horns carved into it, as if one of Poseidon’s underground bulls tried climbing to the surface, reminding people that they were but temporary dwellers of Gaya and walked over the shifting soil, under which invisible forces nested, strengthened and prepared for terrible cataclysms.

Long shadows fell from the horns and stretched toward Thais, as if trying to grab her between their tips. This was probably how the sacred spotted bulls of Crete aimed their horns and the young girls – performance of the ritual dance. The hetaera quickly walked between the two strips of shadow to the sunlit top of the second hill, halted, looked around and suddenly realized with her entire being that the land of her ancestors was the world of the dead, souls wiped away by time, who took their knowledge, skill, feeling of beauty, faith in gods, songs and dances, myths and fairy tales into the dark kingdom of Hades. They didn’t leave behind a single tombstone, the way Helenians would have – asking the best sculptors to capture the life-like enchantment, dignity and nobility of the departed. Looking at them, their descendants attempted to be like their ancestors or even surpass them. Thais could never forget the marvelous tombstones of Ceramic, dedicated to young women, much like herself, like a hundred-year old monument of Gegeso, capturing the image of the young woman and her slave. But there were no Necropoli hear. Closed in on their island inaccessible to anyone in those days, Cretans did not pass their spiritual treasures on to other people.

God-like children of the sea, they hid their island behind the curtain of naval might, never fearing the attack of barbaric nomads. Thais did not see any reinforcements, and none were ever described by travelers. Beautiful palaces built right near the harbors, rich cities and warehouses wide open to the sea and unprotected from land spoke clearly of the power of the sea people.
The impossibly beautiful Cretan art never portrayed military heroics. Images of victorious kings, tortured victims, tied and humiliated prisoners of war were absent from palaces and temples.

Nature – animals, flowers, sea waves, trees, and people walking among them, primarily women; ritual sacrifices and bull games, strange animals never seen either in Hellas or on the shores of Finikia were portrayed in these frescoes. The sophistication of their taste and perception of beauty amazed Helenians, who considered themselves above all people in the Ecumene.

Delicate paintings were full of joy, light and purity of color. There were statues of women, animals and domestic pets, amazing seashells made of ceramic, and… no mighty heroes, swinging their swords or raising their heavy shields and spears.
Where else in the world was another country that dedicated all of its art to the harmonious connection between people and nature and, above all to women? Powerful, ancient, existing for millennia? Did they not know of the simple law of gods and destiny, who ought not to have been tempted with a lengthy period of flourishing, for it was to be followed by retribution, the terrible interference of underground gods? So, the gods punished the children of Minos for forgetting what sort of world they were living in. The splendid palaces crumbled, the writing remained unread, the delicately painted frescoes lost their meaning… Alien tribes moved to the island, warring among themselves and all others, who felt the same toward the true dwellers of Crete, as the barbarians from Hyperborean woods felt toward Helenians and their ancestors pelasgae.

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