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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.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thais of Athens preview - Chapter XII: The Heirs of Crete

I know I have been severely delinquent in my translation work lately and I REALLY owe to my readers. So, here it is - the next Thais teaser.

A few years had passed since we last saw her. She is married, a mother and safely settled in Ecbatana. Yet, she is still a beauty and a muse to inspire many.

“Thais, help us. We started a dispute about a new statue with our guests,” – the sculptor pointed at a group of four men with very thick beards and strange head wraps, standing separately from the regular visitors, ”They are Indian sculptors, and we disagree in the key criteria of feminine beauty. They reject the outstanding charm of the statue by Agesander, and believe that the modern fashionable sculptures represent a wrong trend, is that so?” He turned to the Indian and one of them, apparently an interpreter, quickly said something in a lovely fluid language.

One of the guests who had the thickest beard nodded energetically and said through the interpreter, “Our impression is that the Helenian artists no longer love women and love men more.”

“That is an odd impression!” – Lysippus shrugged, while Cleophrades grinned broadly and with a hint of menace.

“I don’t know anything!” – Thais said, “Who is Agesander and what is this statue?”
“He is a new sculptor and a great master,” – Lysippus explained, “His statue of Aphrodite for a temple in Melos became very famous among other sculptors, although I find her more similar to Hera.”

“The model was not a Helenian woman, but more likely a Syrian. These women have beautiful breasts and shoulder, but lack waist and have a flat flabby bottom. Their legs are always disproportionately thin,” – Cleophrades interrupted.

“Agesander had skillfully draped all that,” – Diophosus said, who was also a sculptor and Thais’s acquaintance.

“But he failed to hide the awkward lower body,” – Lysippus objected, “and a poorly developed lower belly.”

“I do not understand all the praises,” – Cleophrades said calmly, “I do not deny Agesander’s skill and have no envy of his great ability, I only dislike his choice of a model. Does his goddess have a Helenian face? He gave her a classic profile, but the bones of her head appear fragile and narrow, as is common for a Syrian or any other woman from the eastern shores. Had no one noticed how closely set are her eyes and how narrow her jaws?”

“What is so bad about that?” – Stemlos chuckled.

“It is bad even for your horses,” – Cleophrades retorted, “Remember Bucefal’s broad forehead. And for us, Helenians, ancient Cretans and Egyptians the favorite image is Europa. You can translate this ancient name as you wish: euryopis – wide-eyed or europis – wide-faced, and it is more likely to be both. Europa’s bones are still carried around in a huge myrtle wreath during the Ellotia celebration on Crete. We, artists, should pay more attention to our women and foremothers, instead of flaunting the foreign models who are quite lovely, except ours are more beautiful.”

“Good health to you, Cleophrades!” – Lysippus exclaimed, One of the many nicknames of my friend Thais is ‘wide-eyed one’. Have you noticed, how similar she is to Athena Parthenos by Phidias? You know the one that was the model for several copies – in a crown and with eyes made of chrysolite.”

Much to the surprise of all present, the Indians started bowing with their hands folded and exclaiming something in approval.

“Good for you, euryopis,” – Lysippus smiled at Thais, then glanced at Eris and added, “We asked you here to serve as a model for our debate. You and Eris will have to pose nude. We want to see in you the combination of the ancient Cretan and our Helenian blood. Eris too combines two lines – ancient Nubian and another one, possibly Libyan.” He pointed at the broad heavy stool for modeling. Thais obligingly dropped her clothes into the arms of the patient Eris. The sigh of admiration rushed through the studio. Everyone here adored feminine beauty and valued it as the greatest natural treasure.

“Morphe teliteres goetis! Oh, the enchanting, thrilling feminine form!” – one of the young poets exclaimed. Cleophrades froze with his left palm pressed to his temple and his eyes leveled on the copper tanned figure, standing as easily as if she were alone with her mirror and not on a stand before a group of strangers. Calm certainty in her own perfection and in the fact that she inspired nothing but admiration among the artists, surrounded the young woman with an almost tangible aura of the immortal gods.

“Have you found what you were looking for?” – Lysippus asked.

“Yes!” – Cleophrades almost shouted.

The Indians were startled and looked with surprise at this Helenian, suddenly consumed by inspiration.

“This is the most ancient image of a woman,” – Lysippus said triumphantly, “Strong, not very tall, broad-hipped, round-faced and wide-eyed – is she not beautiful? Who can object to that?” – he addressed his students.

Leptines, a sculptor from Ethes, said that this was the exact image created by the artists of Ionia two centuries ago, Exekias and Psyacs for example.

“It is as if they copied her face and body,” – the sculptor pointed at Thais.


The Lydian with five strong slaves waited for Eris, having spied on her during prior trips. They grabbed her so that she couldn’t break free and started dragging her under the portico. The Lydian knocked. The at the back of the portico opened. Apparently, they intended to drag Eris inside and tie her up. Unfortunately, the Lydian was too quick to celebrate and decided to rip off the black priestess’s clothes right there and then.

“In the case of rape we carry this in our sandals…” – Eris lifted her right foot. There was a small roll of leather on the sole, in front of the strap that went between the toes. Shifting the big toe to the side, Eris tapped her toes on the floor, and a razor-sharp blade that looked like a leopard claw popped out of the leather roll. One swipe of such terrible talon could inflict a huge wound. The Lydian’s exposed intestines were a good example of that.

Thais finished tending to Eris, gave her some poppy broth and put her do bed, despite the protests. Roykos arrived with a note from the doctor, who was already informed of what took place.

“I sewed up the scoundrel’s stomach with a coarse thread,” – Alkander wrote, “He’ll live if his fat doesn’t interfere.” The Lydian did survive. Three weeks ago he showed up at Lysippus’s house complaining about Thais and showing the ugly scar slicing through his delicate body. Thais decided it necessary to convey it all to the city chief. The Lydian was exiled and prohibited from ever showing up in Ecbatana, Susa and Babylon.

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