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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.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thais of Athens preview - Chapter VI: The thread of the Laconian fate

Thais emerges after her nine-day initiation at the Neit temple, only to be plunged into the whirlpool of struggle between love, friendship, politics and war. She escapes barely alive and heartbroken, swept by the tides of history along with the great city of Memphis and the rest of Egypt in anticipation of Alexander's arrival.

“I was loitering around the temple. Today is the tenth day and the end of your captivity. I didn't guess right away that you would go across the ponds. I missed you so. I didn't even have a chance to say good bye: the damn sorcerer clouded all of our brains during the symposium. Thank gods for your Theban – she explained everything to me, or else I would have broken that Mitilenian's every bone.”
“Don't be jealous!” - Thais placed her hand on the warrior's huge shoulder.
“Oh no, not at all! I know now, who you are mistress!”

Thais stopped walking.

“Yes, yes!” - the Spartan continued, “Here!” - he took her hand, bowed and kissed the ring with the triangular symbol on her finger.
“You are an Orphic?” - Thais exclaimed in surprise, “Have you been initiated too?”
“Oh no. My elder brother is a priest of Rhea. From him I learned mysteries I am unable to comprehend. But they draw me, the way the curtain between life and death does, between love and beauty. And I can feel too, even though I do not understand, because I am but a simple soldier brought up for battles and death. A true Orphic doesn't even kill animals and birds and doesn't eat meat...”

Thais suddenly felt a surge of incredible tenderness toward this mighty man, who was as sensitive and gentle as a boy in the matters of gods and love.

“Come with me,” - Menedem said, “I want to celebrate your initiation.”
“Very well,” - Thais agreed, “I am glad you came to meet me!”

For his meetings with Thais Menedem rented a small adobe house on the western edge of the city, surrounded by scarce palm trees and vegetable gardens. The river valley narrowed here and the house stood not far from the third main alley. Thais was always touched at the sight of Menedem's home, furnished plainly even for a Spartan. She kept forgetting that from the Laconian standpoint, Menedem was still not of age, was not an andros – that is thirty years old. He still obeyed the army discipline, which was far more severe than even the society rules applied to the free Spartan women.
Two or three lovely vases and several animal skins – that was all the decoration the modest soldier could afford. During Thais' absence, a bronze tripod of ancient workmanship appeared in the house.

Menedem offered Thais to take of her long linostolia, then lifted her up and set her on the tripod, like an oracle priestess or a goddess. The surprised Athenian obeyed, curious as to what would happen next.

The Spartan brought some burning coals from the kitchen and poured them into two incense burners standing to the sites, and the fragrance of precious Arabian resins rose next to Thais in two smoky streams.

Menedem took her hand again, pressed his lips to the ring with the triangle again, and bowing his head, knelt slowly. He remained in this position for so long that Thais started feeling awkward – both from his solemnity and from the uncomfortable seat on the tall tripod. She moved carefully, afraid to offend Menedem. The Spartan spoke, “You are so intelligent and beautiful! I believe that you are not a mere mortal. Thank you for the divine joy! I cannot express my great happiness, my tongue does not obey me, but even in my sleep I see the gentle smile of Aphrodite. I have nothing to give you except my life – but it is so little – the life of a soldier, destined for death!”

“Oh, you are the best for me, my Soter (savior)! I rejoice under the wing of your strength and love you.”

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“What if Nearchus have long since forgotten you? Then what?”
“Then,” - the Lacedemonian smiled mysteriously, hopped off the bed and returned with a small basket, woven from the leaves of a date palm.

Wealthy shoppers usually took such baskets to buy cosmetics. Egesikhora sat down on the edge of the bed, with one leg curled under her (the leg celebrated by the Memphis poets as a “silver-sculpted” one), and pulled out a box made of wood Thais was unfamiliar with. Interested, she too sat up and touched the smooth grayish cover with her fingertips.

“This is narthex wood, in whose trunk Prometheus brought fire from heaven to the people of earth. Alexander has an entire chest made of narthex. He keeps a copy of the Iliad in it, corrected by your friend Aristotle,” - and Egesikhora burst out laughing.

“And who ran away from Athens because of this friend?” - Thais replied, “But how do you know such details about Alexander?”

The Spartan silently opened the box and pulled out a sheet of papyrus, covered on both sides with Nearchus' small tidy handwriting.

“Nearchus, the son of Merion, sends wishes of health to Egesikhora and encloses all this,” - the Spartan poured a handful of precious stones onto the bed, as well as two bottles of sparkly tiger's eye set in gold.


High class hetaerae knew as much about precious stones as a professional jeweler would. Thais pulled one of the lanterns out of the onyx shade and the friends leaned over the gift. There were fiery red pyropes (“flaming eyes”), a huge ruby with a six-point star inside, deep-blue “royal” beryllium, several bright violet hyacinths, two large pink pearls, a strange flat pale-purple stone with metallic sheen, which the hetaerae were not familiar with, and the golden chrysolites of the Eritrean Sea. Nearchus knew his gems well and made a truly royal gift to the lover, from whom he was separated for so long.

Egesikhora, flushed with pride, lifted the jewels in her hand, reveling in their sparkle. Thais hugged and kissed her with congratulations.

“Oh, I almost forgot, forgive me, I lose myself at the sight of the gift.”
The Spartan unrolled a piece of red leather and handed Thais a tiny statuette of Anaitis or Anahita skillfully carved out of a large sapphire, approximately the size of a pinky finger. The goddess stood in a life-like pose, very different from the usual solemnly motionless one, with one arm behind her head and the other arm supporting a heavy spherical breast. The dark blue stone shimmered like silk around her curves.

“Nearchus sent this to you and asked to remember him.”

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