PART IV

"Secrets"

Sitting facing each other, the Gymnasiarch listens closely to my words, pondering over each statement. A long silence follows, during which he seems to be absorbed in contemplation. I can’t say that I didn’t get a fair hearing. He speaks softly now, choosing his words carefully, even kindly:

“Valerius sends his regards, and asks that you return to Colophon immediately. He is an old friend, from my early merchant trading days.”

Epicurus: “But I’m facing several charges, including murder.”

Gymnasiarch: “The partisan Aristotelians are a problem for me also, as they are closely affiliated with our Macedonian overlords. They are watching you at every moment, even as you entered my chambers today. In my position, the separation between justice and politics becomes opaque.”

“I know that the charges against you are unfounded, apart from a few minor breaches, but when political forces come into play, they bear down upon me, no less than you. Besides, Valerius speaks highly of you and I was curious to see how you would handle yourself when backed into a nasty corner.”

I am befuddled, comforted, and elated, a torrent of emotion all at once, as my mind struggles to catch up with the avalanche of events and their implications. How will I return to Colophon? How can I elude the scrutiny of my waiting adversaries?

I am still shocked at the egregious depths to which these particular Aristotelians would stoop, as well as the omnipotent reach of their power. The Gymnasiarch assures me, much to my relief, that their power is more localized, having to do with the personalities involved, and not nearly as potent in Athens.

My newfound guardian describes the details of my ‘escape’: I am to remain safe within the gymnasium chambers until late evening. My watchers will assume that I am manacled in a prison cell, and will likely relax their vigilance and depart. After changing into slave clothing, I will then slip out a rear door along with two other servants in similar dress and make for the north harbor. There, I will board Valerius’ galley Antigonus and remain below decks, until the early morning flood tide, thence set sail for Notium.

“If you are detected,” says my host, “I will say that you escaped, and then there is nothing further that I can do for you.”

After my departure from Mytilene, the Gymnasiarch will provide a short explanation that I had reacted badly to the duress of a ‘long searching interview’, otherwise known as torture. I had died unexpectedly from latent medical issues of the heart, and will be cremated without ceremony befitting such an impious criminal. The Gymnasiarch is adamant that I am to have no contact with any of my Mytilene followers whatsoever, even trustworthy Hermarchus. I am to advise him confidentially only when I have arrived safely in Colophon.

It appears that Valerius planned all the details, as he became concerned for my welfare after receiving my last message. Knowing that Mytilene is a ‘frontier’ trading cross-roads with a tumultuous history, he wisely suspected that matters may be fomenting against a flagrant interloper such as myself. The Gymniasarch, aware of the growing resentment of the Aristotelians, was able to confirm Valerius’ prescient fears and offer his cooperation for my return, even though this could put himself at risk.

The Gymnasiarch fabricated the showpiece of my trial as a convenient cover for himself. At the same time, he used it as a compelling means of demonstrating the bitter enmity of the forces lined up against me. Judicial murder means nothing to them! I had no idea, contentedly teaching away in my little cocoon, blissfully ignorant among the olive branches, expecting no more than a mere rap on the knuckles, if at all.

“I won’t always have a worldly Valerius,” I think to myself ruefully, still grappling with the shock that I was the target of such infamy, “nor a cultivated Gymnasiarch to snatch me out of trouble. I need another plan”

I thank my erstwhile host, and signal my agreement and compliance. While it is not my style to sneak out the back-door, I’m willing, even anxious, to make an exception on this occasion. I feel for poor Hermarchus, a collateral victim of the deceit, who will mourn ‘my passing’. I hope that he will forgive me when we are reunited.

But the Gymnasiarch is not through with me yet.

“There still remains another pressing matter, and this time, you can assist me”

“Yes, of course”, I quickly reply, mystified that the honorable Gymnasiarch of Mytilene would ever request the assistance of a fresh-faced, wandering philosopher.

“It’s a straightforward matter that can help the grateful Mytilene community which in turn, will make my premature release of you all the more palatable in some quarters, if needed”

Taking my silence as tacit agreement, the Gymnasiarch continues.

“At some risk to yourself, you performed a great civil service and came forward to the authorities, implicating a certain resident, Agesilaus, a common nuisance at the agora, who you may know by the distinction that he has only one intact ear. Acting upon your information, he was apprehended but not without putting up a struggle. He was unwilling to divulge any information at first, though it took only a whiff of torture before he was pleading for his life. We needed to ascertain the movements of an infamous pirate, known locally by his moniker, “The Red Devil”, who I believe, is familiar to you. Said individual maintained a nondescript residence in one of the squalid dockside regions, which he used from time to time as a city base, enabling him to spy on shipping arrivals and departures, so that he could scout and select only the richest prizes for his piracy”

“He goes shopping for shipping” I quip puckishly, flushed that I am no longer the object of judicial scrutiny, but rather the agent of justice, in some yet indeterminate way. I also notice interestingly, that he refers to Red’s base in the past tense.

The Gymnasiarch shoots me a contemptuous look of censure, unsure of proceeding in a grave matter with one who is given to such flippancy.

“Sorry,” I quickly add, embarrassed, “I’m still recovering from the indictments. It won’t happen again”

Eyes trained on me, he continues.

“The alleged piratical individual was eventually confronted as he left the said residence whereupon he immediately took to the sword, though he was surrounded. A savage fight then ensued, in which several of our brave men went down, though not without wounding said individual”

“Unfortunately, he would not surrender, despite calls for him to do so, and was finally struck down fatally. Though the officials instructed that he should be taken alive, such was the ferocity of his defense, with no quarter given, that there was little option but to run him through, rather than risk further lives”

The Gymnasiarch speaks in elongated, weighty sentences bursting with legalese phrasing which passes for cultivated speech in such provincial centers. If it wasn’t for the inherent nobility of the man, and his lofty position, I would find him pretentious.

“The unfortunate event of his death created a further problem: no citizen of this community has encountered ‘The Red Devil’ and lived, so that we can’t be sure that we have our man beyond a reasonable doubt. His immediate resort to the sword defensively, and the skill in its deadly use, argues for a positive match. On the other hand, he was not wearing the signature red tunic that you described in your original statement to the city officials. Of course, we know him to be exceedingly cunning so that he may have relinquished the tunic after it enabled your ready identification of him.”

“But ‘One-Ear’, I mean Agesilaus, could surely identify him for you?”

“That ruffian for hire resides in a dungeon under our feet, and will do so for a very long while. He has no credibility however, and will say anything to have his shackles removed. He did identify the body, but I need to have that confirmed, for my own peace of mind. You might be able to provide me with some identifying bodily feature, apart from his obvious reddish hair, which we can then corroborate independently by examining the body, presently soaking in a vat of vinegar for preserving purposes.”

“Yes, I may be able to do that,” I say, remembering back to our vivid confrontation, eyes-locked, imprinted in my memory, when the Hector was inbound to Mytilene.

“He has a tattooed face, with pitch-black eyes, but most significantly, my sling-shot grazed his right cheek, though it left a noticeable scar: I saw the scar when he ambushed me here in Mytilene. I had my chance with the slinger and I came so close to getting him, which would have saved so many lives, including Master Panyotis. It’s a great pity.”

The Gymnasiarch became suddenly animated, jumping from his chair impulsively, so much out of character, that I recoiled, alarmed that I had said something that offended him.

“Then we have him, at last!”

The Gymnasiarch shouts in jubilation, then turns to me.

“You have put the matter to rest, much to the relief of all shipping plying the Ionian trade routes. You have performed a meritorious service. We will still have to smuggle you out at this stage however, though we now have some insurance if the Aristotelians kick up a stink. Good work, slinger!”

I notice that his phrasing has assumed a brevity and homely vernacular tone, at least for the moment.

And so it is over, Master Panyotis is avenged if that is any solace, and the scourge of piracy is lifted for a time. I feel gratified, yet deflated by the whole hellish experience, which almost cost me my life, but rebounded back on ‘Red’. I can’t feel sorry for him, yet I remain sad for all the lives that have been lost unnecessarily, dead or enslaved, but changed in some way forever, including in a small way, my own.

Nothing will bring back Master Panyotis, one of my fatherly mentors. He taught me, more by example than by affirmation, to stand firm and believe in my own courage. A most noble legacy.

The Gymnasiarch has returned to his somewhat reserved self, but considers that the occasion deserves libations as a celebration. A factotum brings a tray of cheeses, exotic fruits, and sumptuous wine. I have time to spare before my closeted departure, and a friendly exchange occurs, so different from my first experience. I take the opportunity to ask him about my torrid agora experience, still troubling for me.

“Let me give you some sage advice,” the Gymnasiarch says, which if I’m not mistaken, comes with a tinge of affection, “Your teachings are certainly not orthodox, and will always be threatening for some people. The other schools, your ‘competitors’, will take advantage of that to shut you down. You may even forfeit your life, which is why you should pay attention to the context of what you do and say.”

“For example, you can’t teach in public places, like the Agora or Palaestra, either here or anywhere else. You need to learn from this experience — it’s not so much what you do, but where you do it”

Epicurus: “You mean that I should give up teaching?”

The Gymniasarch grows impatient:

“No, that’s not what I said. You take a risk if you present your ideas in public forums, and may be summoned before officials like myself who will not be so forgiving. That’s another reason why I gave you a foretaste of what could happen, though it was shocking for you, should you continue on your present course.”

“Otherwise, you may teach whatever you wish so long as you do so on private property. It might be your own house and garden, or that of a friend or patron like Valerius.”

“That’s the politics of philosophy!”

Colophon, Ionia

307 BC

 

My father’s house, where I arrived yesterday afternoon, lies outside the city gates of Colophon, at the foot of a conspicuous basalt hill. We refer to it possessively as “our black hill”.

Epicurus’ Father’s House (Colophon)

My father is glad to see me, though reserved, in his usual flat, taciturn way. His emotional vocabulary does not extend beyond a few punctilious words, and I have learnt not to expect anything more. It had taken me a long time as a child to arrive at the realization than this was his problem, and not something wrong with me. While this was certainly helpful, it was also disturbing nevertheless since his problem represented a wistful loss for what could have been. Instead, I accept him without asking anything more.

He is not in one of his chronic dark moods at least, which is a welcome relief. During my absence, Marius has assumed my caretaker role, becoming more a friend to him, rather than a household servant. I’m relieved that he has a companion now, since his isolated, curmudgeonly temperament was always a concern. Marius has learnt to navigate his mood swings.

The black hill is ‘conspicuous’ for me especially, for its significance in my personal life. Servilia and I had many lively discussions on that mound, looking down from its heights. She would critique my nascent philosophies, looking for a debate, or else, huddled close together, we would share our future plans amid intimate whispers and furtive kisses.

I am surprised now, even hurt a little, that there was no message from her upon my arrival, which she and Valerius must surely have expected! Is Valerius up to his old tricks: leaving me waiting in suspense? I let it go, without brooding on it: a wiser, happier man for doing that! I am slowly gaining on this wasteful habit.

I had climbed up the hill before dawn this morning, along the familiar rocky path to the crest, with a magnificent view of Colophon spread out before me. Nearby, lies a copse of gnarled old olive-trees, bent over, almost kneeling, as if in supplication to the prevailing north wind.

Under their shade, a cairn of rocks marks the solitary burial site of my teenage companion. There lies Melanchaetes, the black-coated dog who was my sole comfort during those lonely, dark years following my mother’s disappearance on Samos. I was 16 years of age at the time.

I sit down on the bench I had built upon my return to Colophon, under the same ancient olive grove whose ample shadow was my retreat for personal reflection — once more, the weathered bench comes into service, now encrusted with lichen. I look back over my past life, taking stock, combining the old with the recent, gathering together the scattered shards, half-forgotten cameos and colorful characters, before I visit Valerius tomorrow. At the caldera.

At 18 years, I was called upon to complete my military service of two years in the Athenian ephebate. I deeply resented leaving my childhood home on Samos, though in retrospect, it was probably the tough therapy and structure that I needed. Formidable and soulless perhaps, but it pulled me out of the morass of grief in which I was firmly stuck. During my absence in Athens, my father (and Melanchaetes!), along with other Athenian settlers on Samos, were forcibly relocated to Colophon by Perdiccas, the Macedonian.

Melanchaetes, crippled and failing by this time, his scampering days finished, had patiently waited for me. Assured that I was safe and reunited with him, he let go soon afterwards, taking his final breath at peace. I had previously taken him outside in my arms, rolled up snug in a blanket, clasping him close to me so that I could feel his labored heartbeat. He lifted his head from the blanket, and with his eyes still vibrant and alive, turned towards me for a last lingering look at the trees, sky, the hill of bright, red poppies, ……and me, then ever so gently, lowered his big, black head, lapsing into an endless sleep. I stood frozen, timeless, our two hearts beating together, until there was only one. I was 20 years of age.

Lovingly, tenderly, I carried him alone, up the hillside, stopping for breaks, whether it be for tears or fatigue. The loyal friend of my youth had gone, a marker in so many ways, of the shortness of life, yes, but even more, of the invisible bonds of love that all of us crave in our hearts, whether dogs or people.

With shovel, blanket, trinkets, and a ceremony of gratitude, I put my faithful companion to rest on the summit, with a familiar view for eternity: swathes of tilled land in the foreground, turned umber-colored by recent ploughing. Beyond the rustic village, fields of golden cornstalks, dried and ready to be scythed, stretch away to the horizon. Melanchaetes knew the pattern of the seasons, and often capered with the village dogs among the cornstalks.

“Epicurus…I was 20 years…and put my faithful companion to rest on the summit”

Finally, I gathered a cairn of heavy rocks, a sacred labor of love, so that no animals would disturb his resting place. It was the ritual parting I had needed. Trundling back down the hill at sunset, tired and aching, I went straight to bed. In the space of four years, I had lost my beloved mother, my homeland of Samos, and my very best friend. Canine or not, Melanchaetes and I were a tight little family, my only real family for many years. As for my father, he had retreated even further into his private prison of sadness, regret, and anger, often beyond reach.

Not least of all, this leaves my beloved Servilia. We had played together as children do, then grown apart imperceptibly with the passage of time, catching occasional glimpses of each other, or swopping snatches of teenage gossip. Ever since my return from Athens, Servilia has been a more frequent presence in my life, and surely in my heart.

I am no longer a callow youth however, while she is several years older than I. In the meantime, we have both taken deep draughts from life’s experiences, each in our own way. In my case, nothing clarifies one’s priorities like the imminent prospect of death, which I faced on several occasions. I still get flashes of that sadistic pirate in a dark alleyway, with the sun glittering on his blade, about to slit my throat. Moreover, these terrifying episodes, with mortality hanging in the balance, have sharpened my sense of the fragility of existence.

With this enhanced appetite for life comes the need to grasp love while I can. Any juvenile ambivalence has gone forever! Following my fortuitous escape from Mytilene, Servilia has become everything to me, grown ever more feisty and irresistible in my fervent recollection.

Tomorrow can’t come soon enough for me!

I have a quiet dinner with my father and Marius in our cluttered culina, comforting and reassuring, as if I had never left on my ‘adventure’. I am so grateful to be back home at last…..in Colophon.

Sited on five hills, along a ridge line, overlooking the Maeandrian plain, Colophon is an ancient walled city-state and birthplace of Homer, as well as the most prestigious member of the twelve cities comprising the Ionian League. A sophisticated city, in every way that Mytilene was not.

Rising in artfully tiered terraces from the fertile valley of the Menderes river, dotted with luxurious villas, Colophon is also famous for its cavalry and breeding of horses. It is equally well known for its seminal history of philosophical thinking. Long before that upstart Socrates, and the rise of classical Athens, the ‘Ionian School’ of philosophers laid the foundations of Greek abstract thought.

These first philosophers were often wandering sages, of which the most celebrated was Xenophanes of Colophon. His ancient writings were a staple of my adolescent years, especially his pithy quips, brief but potent, from which I acquired my love of aphorisms. Along with Socrates, Xenophanes’ radical thinking inspired me to become a philosopher. In particular, his ideas drew upon direct observation and evidence from Nature, a remarkable innovation for that time, which interestingly, inspired Aristotle’s later observations.

Xenophanes ultimately concluded however, that human knowledge must always be limited by our senses, such as vision, touch, taste, and so on. This is where I disagree with Xenophanes’ conservative viewpoint. Most people never doubt these sensory impressions and rely upon them to draw conclusions about the ‘real’ world. Yet such impressions can be notoriously unreliable. They depend upon which vicarious impressions I have stumbled across, whereas another person may be exposed to different sensory impressions, and draw vastly different conclusions.

Take a simple example that we all share. If I was to take my sensory impressions as ‘truth’, then I would conclude with Aristotle, that the sun ‘rises’ at dawn, as it revolves around the earth (though my personal belief is opposed to that conclusion).

I would then believe that I know something (because my senses tell me so), yet I don’t really know it whatsoever (if I am right, and Aristotle is wrong!). While I can be certain on simple matters, such as the musty smell of ripe cheese, I must settle for problematic beliefs when it comes to important questions, such as the movements of the earth or sun. The sun is even turned into a god, Helios, such is the power of wishful imagination built upon false sensory impressions, or so it seems to me.

It was Xenophanes’ skepticism however, that we can never be assured of absolute truth, which impressed me mightily, despite his conservative position. I would have enjoyed exchanging views with him, albeit he was several generations before my time.

As a budding teacher from Colophon, my association with the rich philosophical heritage of Xenophanes may serve as a respected credential in Athens. On the other hand, it obviously carried little weight in the Aristotelian stronghold of Mytilene, where philosophers set upon each other like rival packs of savage dogs. While that experience taught me so much about the political realities of teaching in the agora, the traumata of it linger still, and my naivety almost cost me my life.

My deliverance was twofold: I escaped pirate capture and slavery by rebelling against Valerius’ plans. Thence, I faced murder charges by Mytilene officialdom, only to be saved, as irony would have it, by following Valerius’ plans. But for Valerius, one way or another, I would not be here, safe and sound in Colophon. A residual however, still casts its long shadow.

The fate of good master Panyotis and memories of his crew, all their faces, laughs, and many kindnesses to me, haunt my daydreams in unguarded moments.

Hardened by my adversities, when once I called them ‘adventures’, I have returned to the Villa of the ‘Domos Solis Domina’. Somehow, it seems smaller.

While I remain the same person by name, when I last passed this ornate portal, yet ineffably, I am not the same, nor can I ever be that person again. Innocence is its own refuge, and I’m not sure whether the change in me is a loss or a gain, or both. That’s the trouble with philosophers: they can’t stop asking improbable questions.

Home of Valerius and Servilia, the villa is otherwise known locally as The Caldera, Nature’s volcanic cauldron, whence the derivation. It is also prophetic, in that I had escaped, just barely, from another varietal of cauldron, fraught with emotion and politics, hopefully a somewhat wiser man for surviving that ordeal. I have come to think of it now in positive terms, as my professional ‘rite of passage’ that was always fated to happen, my ‘coming of age’ as a philosopher.

Once again, I am ushered into the tablinum of the master, overflowing with the blandishments of wealth and power. Valerius sees me, rushing forward and hugging me, breathless, expressing an uninhibited, contagious joy. My previous ambivalence towards him evaporates, replaced by my own florid response that surprises even myself. Servilia must be waiting for a private audience, very apt, which further increases my overwrought desire.

Valerius and I settle into our couches, half-reclining, both of us brimming over with good fellowship. Much has changed between us, mostly unspoken. We both realize that my presence is due gratuitously, to a tenuous thread of good fortune. He asks many questions, about the Hector, Hermarchus, the Gymniasarch, and so on, until my throat runs dry.

I jest with him: “Do you have any more of that fermented grape juice that you offload on unwary guests, to get rid of them?”

He apologizes, and upon his signal, electrum goblets appear, matched by his best imported Samian wine. Attentive servants pour more wine into my goblet every time that I take a sip. Finally, oil-lamps are lit, with their flickering shadows dancing lifelike on the kaleidoscopic wall frescoes.

As for Servilia, I had been patiently biding my time. I value my privacy in matters of personal intimacy, especially if it involves my lover’s father. Instead, I wait for Valerius to introduce Servilia in the normal course of our conversation. I thought perhaps that she would make a grand entrance once the menfolk had progressed with their libations.

Much to my dismay, neither has happened, nor has he even mentioned her by name. Since twilight is now upon us, expediency finally drives me to ask after Servilia. Valerius’ mood at once becomes somber, while his countenance takes on a sad, lanquid pallor. For the first time today, the changes in his appearance catch my full attention, though not even a year has passed since our last meeting. I am appalled at his sagging jowls, watery eyes, and splenic complexion. His posture is noticeably stooped. He also has a pronounced limp, which causes him to grimace as he walks, with the aid of a cane.

“Valerius…his posture is noticeably stooped”

I realize with alarm, that he has been avoiding the matter of Servilia’s absence. He had probably been waiting for me to ask, while I was waiting for him to tell me. I lean forward in response, beads of sweat instantly forming on my brow, my heart seeming to beat out of my chest.

“I don’t know how long I have to live, but nevertheless, I must tell you now about matters that have long being withheld from you,” says Valerius, “since you are now a grown man of the world, and must take full account of them. I can see you that you are concerned about Servilia’s absence, so I will start there to allay your anxiety. First, she is alive and well, so put your mind at rest. It’s also a relief to me that she is so loved by you, as revealed by your obvious concern.”

I think that we are both close to tears, sharing our love for her, which also feeds the mutual bond between us. Valerius continues.

“Now that I have reassured you, I must start at the beginning. As you know, the Antigonus is one of my trading galleys. There was a single crewman of the Hector who escaped from the pirates using the ship’s pinnace, and promptly returned to his home village, somewhere past the Hellespont. Before doing so however, he met up with the Antigonus, and described the fate of the Hector and Master Panyotis to the master of the Antigonus.”

“The crewman was clear that all on board the Hector were enslaved, and bound for the Assyrian markets. After discharging his cargo at Mytilene, the master of the Antigonus returned to Notium and promptly reported the loss to me. Servilia and I naturally assumed that you also were irredeemably lost to us, bound for faraway slave markets.”

“Many months passed before I finally received your message from Mytilene that you had disembarked earlier from the Hector, and were alive and well in Mytilene. At that stage, I enlisted the help of my old friend, the Gymnasiarch, to monitor your activities as I knew only too well that Mytilene was a dangerous place. This is why I had originally planned for you to begin your teaching at Lampsacus.”

“Meanwhile, poor Servilia was heart-broken, stricken down beyond reach. She grieved for many weeks, not leaving her room, hardly eating, until one day, she finally emerged, haggard but determined. She had concluded that if you weren’t dead already, you should be considered to be so, as there was no hope of your salvation from such a grisly fate. In the process of her grief, she had reached a state where you had to die beyond all hope, in order for her to live.”

“I was afraid for her life, but in the depths of her solitude, she had devised a plan, to which I finally agreed. I would agree to anything if it would keep her alive.”

“She has dedicated herself in your memory, to the sacred rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries in honor of Demeter and Persephone. She resides in the sanctuary of Eleusis near Athens, where she is at present. She seems to have adjusted to your ‘death’, though I suspect that adjustment is one of appearance, rather than substance. On the other hand, I don’t doubt her faith and vocation. Only women are permitted as residents —- she has enrolled to be a priestess, taking vows of celibacy and solitude. I am allowed to see her twice every year, outside the sacred site…..”

I feel suddenly flushed, and interject.

“We must leave immediately for Eleusis,” I demand, in a pressured, strident voice, that I would otherwise never dare to use with Valerius, “and save her before she takes her vows.”

He startles, wagging his finger, but is not offended, remaining calm and compassionate. I can appreciate that it is his loss also, as much as it is mine. He shakes his head in such a profound, heart-wrenching gesture of hopelessness that it touches my heart.

“The Eleusinian sanctuary would certainly never be my first choice for my only daughter,” says Valerius, “Servilia has risen from a very deep grief, when I had despaired for her recovery. Now, she has found her own refuge of peace that works for her, and we both need to respect her choice. Though this may not be what she had planned for her life, she has matured in ways I previously couldn’t imagine. I hardly recognize her.”

“She seems to be tranquil and serene, transforming her grief into helping others with their losses, adopting that as her special duty of care. I suspect your past talks with her may have had something to do with that choice. If you truly love her, then I beg you not to undo that very adjustment by which she has finally come to terms with your dreadful fate.”

Valerius sighs deeply, dejected and downcast. The lengthy explanation is clearly a struggle for him, emotionally and medically. He pauses, takes several breaths, and continues unabated. The irrepressible businessman, pragmatic as ever, rises to the occasion.

“I think her level of grief was of such intensity that she ‘died’ to herself, the person who she once was, which was the only way she could survive your ‘death’. She had to let go of everything from the past, you and I included, and become someone else, reborn at the sanctuary. She couldn’t survive if she was to go through that again, waiting on the sidelines, for you to ‘die’ a second time. Besides,….she has already taken early vows.”

I fall silent, crushed, thinking over all that Valerius has said. I run through his words, over and over, in my mind. If only I had known about the Hector sooner, I could have written from Mytilene, so that this disastrous web of events would not have occurred. Putting excuses aside, the folly is mine alone. I feel that I must be cursed. Wild thoughts surge across my febrile mind: that I should have offered my throat to ‘Red’ when I had the chance! I know that I’m angry, and try not to take it out on poor Valerius.

The loss of the Hector, Master Panyotis, and his crew continue to play out in my life, in unexpected ways, like the expanding ripples in a pond, when a stone is thrown. And now, another ripple, another loss. In a very real sense, Servilia is the custodian of my history, who carries memories of myself as a child; who can bear witness to the crises and triumphs of my existence, as I can also for her. I had so looked forward to returning to Colophon, and living out the shared life together that we had planned.

Without Servilia in my life is akin to losing a part of my own self, my right arm. It feels as if all those worldly experiences that have differentiated me as an individual, which she shared with me, are erased. I feel ‘lesser’ for her absence.

As I ruminate over Valerius’ ponderous words, I remember the enigmatic manner in which he had begun his tale of woe, dashing all that I care about in one foul blow. It caught my attention at that time, but my concern for Servilia had distracted me, and the moment passed. Now it has resurfaced, first as a anxious fusillade of rapid-fire questions.

“Let us both visit Servilia, and then she will be overjoyed to see me, and drop all her plans! Will you join me? What about if I just speak with her, without asking her to leave Eleusis? And also….what is all this about your health?”

Finally, I spit out the question that has been sitting on the tip of my tongue throughout our long discussion, that could wait no longer, that surely begs to be asked.

“You were also referring to something else, apart from Servilia. What did you mean when you started speaking of matters that had long been withheld from me?”

The time has come for me to lay aside that primal fear that comes with a sense of something monstrous, lurking on the fringes of awareness: the known unknown!

 

(To be continued next week)