Turning away from the direction of the
and the acropolis, he started deeper into the town. Instead
the nubile maidens, however, he encountered his first gaggle of shaved
and near-naked boys of the agoge. They came running down the
street at him, and he tripped and nearly fell as he tried to get out of
their way. The boys, who he judged to be somewhere between 10
12, squealed in laughter at his ineptitude. "What's the matter, old
you see where you're going?" one of the boys mocked.
"Maybe you should shave off the rest of
your hair to clear your eyes!" Another suggested.
Look!" Another corrected. "His right leg's shorter than
that a war-wound?" For
the first time there was a trace of respect, but when Tyrtaios shook
his head, the respect vanished.
Look at him! He's just a
cripple!" Suddenly they were closing in like a
wild dogs. "Come
on! Let us
see your leg!"
Tyrtaios tried to back
away, shaking his head, but there were seven of them and they had him
hedged in. His backward step hit the side of something solid
he could feel the wall behind him. He tried to retreat in
direction, but they had him surrounded. He sidled along the
of the house, hoping the wall would give way to an alley into which he
could flee. Abruptly he slipped on something. They were upon
at once. He pleaded with them, "Please,
leave me alone. I'm just an old cripple-"
know that. We want to see your
leg. Come on!" The boy, who appeared
to be the
ring-leader, grabbed roughly at his chiton while two other boys grasped
Tyrtaios and held him still.
"WOW! Look at
exposed his leg.
At the same instant
there was a crack and then another and before Tyrtaios realised what
had happened, the boys were flung apart roughly. Two men in
leather training armour were dealing blows to the boys that made
Tyrtaios wince just watching. They back-handed and punched
boy after another, with hard unsparing blows. Only after they
were finished did one of the men reach down and offer Tyrtaios a
you alright, my
Tyrtaios, more dazed
than ever, tried to assure his rescuers that no harm had been done, but
- as usual - no one really listened to him. "Your chiton's filthy, my lord.
you sure you aren't hurt? Let me take you back to the palace.
You can be assured these boys will be flogged."
The boys meanwhile had
lined up and were standing with
bleeding noses, burst lips and scraped knees at rough attention, while
the second of the two citizens prowled up and down the line pouring
abuse at them. Never had Sparta been so disgraced by the
behaviour of her boys. Their fathers would disown them, their
sisters deny them and their mothers would wish they had been killed at
you lot all go to the pits this
afternoon!" His companion told the boys in a
one of you!"
Whatever "the pits"
were, the boys swallowed and squirmed and darted unhappy looks at one
The elder of the two
citizens was again at Tyrtaios' side. "Let me see you back to the
my lord. I will have to report this to the Paidonomos, the
Master, in any case."
Behind them the other
citizen was enlightening the already chastised boys on the magnitude of
their misdemeanour. "That
so-called cripple that you shoved into the gutter, you stupid
shit-heads, is Apollo's own representative and Supreme Polemarch of
Tyrtaios wished he
could have turned around and seen their faces. The silence
him seemed laden with horror - not just at what they'd done, but at
what a horrid joke Apollo (and Athens) had played upon their City.
knew he had won men's minds, but
not their hearts. That, he said, was my mission."
Terpander smiled, his eyes blind to the balding man opposite him as
they focused on memories of his own days of glory.
win Spartan hearts?"
Tyrtaios asked, unable to keep the scepticism out of his
Terpander laughed and
brought his attention back to the present. "You think that is a difficult
be honest, I haven't seen any evidence
that they have hearts. They are so polite, so disciplined, so
restrained and distant. They even turn their own children out
the age of seven, making them run about in wild packs! And
they behave like normal boys, they beat them unconscious - or at least
bloody!" Tyrtaios felt guilty for insulting his hosts, but
Terpander wasn't one of them. He came from Lesbos, an island
renowned for its love of music and love of love itself - and he was
still shaken by what he had witnessed this afternoon.
that. I heard there was some
incident. Some of the younger boys insulted you?"
were just being normal. Seeing
a cripple, hobbling about, they ringed me in and taunted me.
suppose I'm even more of an oddity here than in Attica, since the
Spartiates kill all their own cripples."
Terpander held his
hands with the finger tips touching as he considered
don't think the boys should have been
like that! There was one of
them - a delicate little boy who was only tagging along - and they beat
him until he wept and wet himself!"
Terpander raised his
is very bad
for him. He will be an outcast - if he doesn't do something
soon and very impressive to regain the respect of his peers and the
it's barbaric!" Tyrtaios
insisted, his outrage at the floggings returning with renewed
just children! Why should they stand and take a beating on
naked backs until they break down?"
"To teach them to endure hardship and
pain, so they will be better soldiers?"
"From the time they are born."
"Not if you have spent the better part
of the last
25 Olympiads at war."
The light of the
hearth spilled out onto the terrace from behind her and lit up the
figure of his mother in silhouette. She was bent over double
supported herself on a cane. The sight of her filled
with rage. His mother was barely 50 years old, no older than
of the Spartiate matrons and widows he saw daily on the running circuit
or teaching the maidens of the agoge the use of javelin or
But his mother hadn't had the benefit of Lycurgus' laws on nutrition,
exercise and late marriage. She had been born of
parents and raised in poverty. More damaging still, she had
married at 14, suffered two miscarriages and been brought to childbed 6
times. Only 3 of her children had survived the first weeks of
infancy, and one of them had been murdered by her husband at eight
months. Thus only two of her children had survived into
adulthood. And even that had almost been too many for
To feed those two surviving children, she had been forced to do almost
anything to earn the money her husband didn't - or wasted on wine.
double over her cane, Agesandros was reminded of the many times he'd
seen her laden with river reeds strapped to her back. She had
carried these bent double for 15 or 20 miles up to the villages in the
mountains where she could sell them for a scrawny hare or for goat's
cheese and milk. When they were very little, she had not
going too often, because she had to be gone for two to three days at a
time on these trips. Only after his sister Eudora got to be
eight or nine, and so old enough to look after Agesandros, did she
start making the trip once a week. The older her children
the further she travelled in her search for decent food, a thrown-off
blanket, or a pair of discarded shoes for her growing children.
It was a wonder he had
grown as tall and strong as he had, Agesandros realised with a pang of
guilt for visiting so seldom. But this house always depressed
him, and he had little in common with his mother except his hated past.
She was an illiterate, completely uneducated woman whose
life had consisted of struggling to survive and help her children
survive. Only in the last nine years since her husband's
had she started to have a little "life" of her own. Yet this
consisted mainly of "providing for" her five grandchildren, Eudora's
This was another difficult subject for Agesandros. Because of
father's domestic brutality, Eudora had fled into an early
marriage. Before her father had been enfranchised, she had
married a helot by the name of Kolotes. In consequence, she
not benefited from the Reforms - at least not in terms of her
status. She and her children were all legally helots.
When he said no more,
Eudora began to sense that something was wrong. "Has something
Again he shrugged, "not as far as the City is
"What is it then?"
"They've taken it all away from me!"
His tone was so bitter it stung the inside of his mouth.
"What? What have they taken away?"
"My command, my rank, even my
"For taking Phigalia."
"But the City went wild with
triumph! The boys
ran through the streets hooting and chanting victory songs.
Elders made huge sacrifices to Athena, and -"
Agesandros waved her
silent, scowling furiously. "That
was yesterday! Today I am in disgrace. We have been
to restore Phigalia to its citizens by the Oracle at Delphi - and we
will. I -" Agesandros cut himself off, but with
he was pounding the earth beside him.
Aggie! I'm so sorry." Eudora
leaned her head against his shoulder. Just like when he was a
little boy, she knew he was hurting, and the only way he knew to
express pain was to hit at something. He was, after all,
her little brother, despite all his scarlet and bronze and his good
Doric. They sat like that for a moment, and then Agesandros
pulled away, shaking off the comfort, trying to repress the
me your news."
heard about the raids? A bunch
of kleros on the foot of Taygetos got sacked and burned this spring."
Agesandros only nodded
stiffly. He'd heard. The Army in Messenia had been
that Aristomenes had dared strike inside Laconia - behind their backs,
so to speak. They had at once renewed efforts to try to lure
Aristomenes back into Messenia, out of Laconia. That was when
he'd led his battalion into the trap....
"We could see the fires from here for
She was interrupted by the appearance of her eldest son, Timon.
He had not been swimming, but came up behind them.
sight of his uncle, his eyes narrowed and his lips twisted.
Eudora turned to him smiling, "you
remember your Uncle Agesandros, Timon."
sixteen-year-old asked sullenly. "I ain't hardly never seen him -
not 'round here!"
Dora cried out in
tongue! Now welcome your uncle like a good boy."
the f*** should I? I don't want
him around here! It's bad enough to have to grovel to that
fart Ainetos. I don't want another Spartiate trying to lord
over me in my own home!"
"Don't talk like that!
Agesandros is your
uncle come to visit," Eudora argued.
I wonder why? He
didn't give f*** about us before! He wishes we weren't never
His mother turned her
attention back to Agesandros, "Now
are you going to explain yourself, young man?" Her
was sharply reprimanding, majestic and absolutely cool.
her, her son's mouth dropped.
have three seriously wounded men, and a
storm is about to break. I thought to provide them with
"It is customary to request the
permission of the
landlord and not just barge in on people in the middle of the night."
"Ma'am, I've said once already that we
kleros was abandoned - like the others that were attacked in the
spring. There was no light visible from outside, and the
the mill indicated that there would be no one here."
The barking of the
dogs was getting wilder and louder. As if they were now just
outside the door.
you were very much mistaken, but
since you have wounded --"
"Look what I found, sir!" One
Agesandros' men, Episthenes, came in by the far door, shoving a
terrified Leon in front of him with a knife held at the slave's
throat. Two furious dogs flanked him barking but apparently
not dare attack. "It's
bath slave, who ran away last spring. Shall I kill him--?"
"DON'T YOU LAY A HAND ON THAT BOY!"
The command was so
imperative, so uncompromising, and so furious, that Episthenes sprang
back, releasing his prisoner instantly. Leon dropped to the
like a sack of grain. Episthenes next looked with confused
at his commander, who had a sour expression on his face, and then
raised his eyebrows at the lady, who had given that imperative command.
He pointed contemptuously at Leon, still collapsed on the
unable to get his legs under him from sheer terror. "That is a runaway slave!"
is not! He came here with my son
and he has been helping me ever since. I've only got four men
this kleros, and three of them were wounded in the raid, and one of
them is 60 years old and I have a fifteen-year-old daughter.
I don't need anyone barging in here and trying to kill one of the only
healthy, young helots I do have! Do you understand?!
get your wounded men in here. I'll make up beds for them and
everything I can to help them, but keep your hands and knives away from
"Yes, ma'am!" Both
Behind him Agesandros
heard the youth exclaim, "By
Gods, Mom! Don't you realise who that is?!" There
was no mistaking the awe in his voice, and for a moment it did
In the next instant
came the withering retort, "No,
young man was too rude to introduce himself."
Agesandros felt like a
school-boy again, and it was only a small comfort that the woman's son
insisted, evidently still awe-struck, "But,
Mom, that's Agesandros! The Captor of Phigalia!"
Apparently the youths
of the agoge still remembered his short moment of glory, he told
himself, but the tone of absolute hero-worship failed to impress his
mother. She answered regally, "That
may well be, but it does not give him the right to come in here without
asking permission first. Now would you get the dogs back into
A shout went up, and
Alethea rushed back out into the courtyard. One of
men, who had gone into the city during the night, was standing there.
He had evidently seen some fighting. There was
blood on his
shield and arm, but not in the same way as the men who had brought
Euryanax's body. And yet his face was grey and he stared at
"What happened? Where did they
"Ma'am. They - " One
helots brought him water, which he gulped down gratefully, but it did
not restore him. When he had stilled his thirst, he faced her
They struck the agoge."
"What? But how? In the centre
of the city-- Were there casualties?" It was a
question. One look at the man was enough. Alethea
stomach start to twist up. "The
The man nodded.
"I don't know, ma'am. It was
look for individuals. We - we're just starting to collect the
dead. The Messenians, they must have crept silently into the
after curfew and struck all across the city. Like foxes in a
chicken-coop, ma'am. They - they got into the agoge barracks
many of the children never knew what happened. The Messenians
slit their throats in the dark while they slept. Before the
even sounded, whole classes had been slaughtered in their beds.
Some of the children fled into the corners or tried to climb
the windows. We found heaps of little corpses like piles of
discarded dolls." The man was in shock.
could see that now. He kept talking with his eyes staring at
of the boys
still had their little training swords - wooden swords and straw
shields - in their hands! One little boy had made it to the
window-sill and they gored him there with a flung spear - pinioning him
in place with his lifeless limbs hanging down on the wall."
Alethea closed her
eyes and turned away - but only to fetch her himation and sandals.
When she came out again, Sybil and Kassia were at her heels.
The decision had taken
so long, Leobotas told him confidentially, because the Kings had been
deadlocked. They had had to seek the opinion of the Supreme
Polemarch himself. Tyrtaios had backed Agesandros.
"Tyrtaios? He must want me dead."
"Why do you say that?"
"Why else would he back me?"
"Maybe because he thought it was a good
that you had a chance of success?" Leobotas
wouldn't know what military
success looked like, if it leapt up and bit him! He's on
side anyway, and that means on Aristomenes' side. If he
of me going through the caves, it's probably a trap. Can we
sure he hasn't sent word--"