Over the Wine-Dark Sea
H. N. Turteltaub
A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.
OVER THE WINE-DARK SEA
Copyright 2001 by H. N. Turteltaub
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Map by Mark Stein Studios
A Forge Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Forge is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
First Edition: July 2001
By H. N. Turteltaub from Tom Doherty Associates
Over the Wine-Dark Sea
This book is for Professor Stanley Burstein of California State University, Los Angeles, and for Noreen Doyle, with many thanks for their friendship and for their help with my research.
A NOTE ON WEIGHTS, MEASURES, AND MONEY
I have, as best I could, used in this novel the weights, measures, and coinages my characters would have used and encountered in their journey. Here are some approximate equivalents (precise values would have varied from city to city, further complicating things):
1 digit = 3/4 inch
4 digits = 1 palm
6 palms = 1 cubit
1 cubit = 1 1/2 feet
1 plethron = 100 feet
1 stadion = 600 feet
12 khalkoi = 1 obolos
6 oboloi = 1 drakhma
100 drakhmai = 1 mina
(about 1 pound of silver)
60 minai = 1 talent
As noted, these are all approximate. As a measure of how widely they could vary, the talent in Athens was about 57 pounds, while that of Aigina, less than thirty miles away, was about 83 pounds.
Menedemos and his cousin Sostratos walked down toward the Aphrodite in the main harbor of Rhodes. Both young men wore thigh-length wool chitons. Sostratos had a wool chlamys on over his tunic. He didn't really need the cloak, though; it was still late in the month of Anthesterion, before the vernal equinox, but the sun shone warm out of a clear blue sky. Like any men who often went to sea, the two cousins went barefoot even on dry land.
A mild breeze blew down from the north. Tasting it, Menedemos dipped his head in anticipation. "Good sailing weather coming soon," he said. He was little and lithe and very handsome, his face clean-shaven in the style Alexander the Great had made popular twenty years before.
"Sure enough," Sostratos agreed. He'd spent enough years studying in Athens to have a sharper accent than the Doric drawl usual in Rhodes. Careless of fashion, he'd let his beard grow out. He towered more than half a head above his cousin. "Some traders have already put to sea, I hear."
"I've heard the same, but Father says it's too early," Menedemos answered.
"He's probably right." Sostratos, as far as Menedemos was concerned, showed altogether too much self-restraint for someone only a few months older than he was.
"I want to be out there," Menedemos said. "I want to be doing things. Whenever we sit idle over the winter, I feel like a hare caught in a net."
"Plenty to do during the winter," Sostratos said. "It's what you do then that lets you succeed when you can sail."
"Yes, Grandfather," Menedemos said. "No wonder I command the Aphrodite and you keep track of what goes aboard her."
Sostratos shrugged. "The gods give one man one thing, another man another. You're always ready to seize the moment. You always have been, as long as I can remember. As for me . . ." He shrugged again. Even though slightly the older and much the larger of the two of them, he'd had to get used to living in Menedemos' shadow. "As you said, I keep track of things. I'm good at it."
"Well, nobody can quarrel with you there," Menedemos said generously. He raised his voice to a shout and hailed the akatos ahead: "Ahoy, the Aphrodite!"
Carpenters in chitons and naked sailors aboard the merchant galley waved to Menedemos and Sostratos. "When do we go out, skipper?" one of the sailors called. "We've been stuck in port so long, my hands have got soft."
"We'll fix that, don't you worry," Menedemos said with a laugh. "It won't be long now, I promise." His sharp, dark-eyed gaze swung to a carpenter at the poop of the forty-cubit vessel. "Hail, Khremes. How are those new steering oars coming?"
"They're just about ready, captain," the carpenter answered. "I think they'll be even smoother than the pair you had before. A little old bald man sitting in a chair with a cushion under his backside could swing your ship any way you wanted her to go." He waved in invitation. "Come on up and get the feel of 'em for yourself."
Menedemos tossed his head to show he declined. "Can't really do that till she's in the water, not hauled out to keep her timbers dry." Sostratos following him, he walked toward the bow of the ship. The Aphrodite had twenty oars on either side, giving her almost as many rowers as a pentekonter, but she was beamier than the fifty-oared galleys so beloved by pirates: unlike them, she had to carry cargo.
Sostratos tapped the lead sheathing the Aphrodite below the waterline with a fingernail. "Still good and sound."
"It had better be," Menedemos said. "We just replaced it year before last." He tapped, too, at one of the copper nails holding the lead and the tarred wool fabric below it to the oak planking of the hull.
Up at the bow, another carpenter was replacing a lost nail that helped hold the three-finned bronze ram to the bow timbers inside it. He must have heard Menedemos' remark, for he looked up and said, "And I'll bet you were glad you finally could do it year before last, too."
"He's got you there," Sostratos said.
"No, we finally got him and his pals back," Menedemos answered. "For a while there, ordinary Rhodians had a cursed hard time getting carpenters to work for them - everybody was building ships for Antigonos to use against Ptolemaios."
"That was a mistake - helping Antigonos, I mean," Sostratos said. "Rhodes does too much business with Egypt for us to get on Ptolemaios' wrong side."
"You can say that - you were studying up in Athens. You don't know what things were like here." Menedemos scowled at the memory. "Nobody had the nerve to try crossing One-Eyed Antigonos, believe you me."
As terns screeched overhead, Sostratos made a placating gesture. "All right. I wouldn't want to try crossing him myself, since you put it that way." Another screech rang out, this one louder, more raucous, and much closer than the high-flying sea birds. Sostratos jumped. "By the dog of Egypt, what was that?"
"I don't know." Menedemos trotted away from the Aphrodite. "Come on. Let's go find out."
Sostratos flipped his hands in protest. "Our fathers sent us down here to see if the ship is ready to take out."
"We'll do that," Menedemos said over his shoulder. "But whatever's making that noise may be something the Hellenes in Italy haven't seen before. I know I've never heard it before."
The horrible screech rang out again. It sounded more like a bugle than anything else, but it didn't really sound like a bugle, either. "I hope I never hear it again," Sostratos said, but, as he did so often, he followed where Menedemos led.
Since the screeches, once begun, resounded at pretty regular intervals, tracking them didn't require dogs. They came from a ramshackle pierside warehouse about a plethron from the Aphrodite. The owner of the building, a fat Phoenician named Himilkon, came running out, hands clapped over his ears, just as Menedemos and Sostratos trotted up.
"Hail," Menedemos said. "Is that the noise a leopard makes?"
"Or has some Egyptian wizard summoned up a kakodaimon from the depths of Tartaros?" Sostratos added.
Himilkon shook his head from side to side, as Phoenicians did when they meant no. "Neither, my masters," he answered in gutturally accented Greek. Gold gleamed from hoops that pierced his ears. He plucked at his curled black beard, much longer and thicker than Sostratos', to show distress. "That accursed fowl is pretty, but it will drive me mad."
"Fowl?" Menedemos raised an eyebrow at yet another screech. "What kind of fowl? A pigeon with a brazen throat?"
"A fowl," Himilkon repeated. "I do not recall the name in Greek." He shouted back into the warehouse: "Hyssaldomos! Bring out the cage, to show the miserable creature to these fine gentlemen."
"He wants you to buy it, whatever it is," Sostratos whispered to Menedemos. The captain of the Aphrodite dipped his head in impatient agreement.
Hyssaldomos' voice came from within: "Be right there, boss." Grunting under the weight, the Karian slave carried out a large, heavy wooden cage and set it down on the ground by Himilkon. "Here you go."
Menedemos and Sostratos crouched to peer through the slats of the cage. A very large bird with shiny blue feathers and a curious crest or topknot stared back at them with beady black eyes. It opened its pale beak and gave forth with another screech, all the more appalling for coming from closer range.
Rubbing his ear, Menedemos looked up at Himilkon. "Whatever it is, I've never seen one before."
Hyssaldomos supplied the Greek word: "It's a peacock."
"That's right, a peacock," Himilkon said with pride that would have been greater if he hadn't had to talk around a screech.
"A peacock!" Menedemos and Sostratos exclaimed, in excitement and disbelief. Menedemos wagged a finger at the creature and quoted Aristophanes, his favorite playwright: " 'Which are you, bird or peacock?' "
"My slave and I told you it was a peacock," said the Phoenician merchant, who'd probably never heard of the Birds. "And be careful with your hands around it. It bites."
"Where does it come from?" Sostratos asked.
"India," Himilkon replied. "Since the divine Alexander went there with an army of you Hellenes, more of these birds have come back to the Inner Sea than ever before. I have the peacock here, and five peahens still caged in the warehouse. They're quieter than he is, Baal be praised."
"From India?" Sostratos scratched his head in bewilderment. "But Herodotos doesn't talk about peafowl in India in his history. He talks about the clothes made from tree-wool, and the enormous ants that mine gold, and the Indians themselves, with their black hides and their black semen. But not a word about peacocks. If they came from India, you'd think he'd say so."
Himilkon shrugged. "I don't know anything about this Hellene, whoever he is. But I know where peacocks come from. And if he didn't talk about them, my bet is he didn't know about them."
With a chuckle, Menedemos said, "You can't argue with that, Sostratos." He enjoyed teasing his cousin, who, he sometimes thought, would sooner read about life than live it. He took another look at the peacock, then asked Himilkon, "What are those feathers piled up on top of it? They don't look like they're growing out of its back."
"No, no, no." The Phoenician made little pushing motions, as if to deny the very idea. "Those are tail feathers. The cage is too small, too crowded."
"All that mess? Its tail?" Menedemos raised that eyebrow again. "You're having me on."
"No such thing." Himilkon drew himself up, the picture of affronted dignity. "I'll show you." He turned to Hyssaldomos. "Open the door and let it out, to show the gentlemen. They may be customers, eh?"
His slave plainly didn't care whether Menedemos and Sostratos were customers or not. "Oh, boss, have a heart!" the Karian wailed. "I'm the one who'll have to herd it back in there afterwards."
"And what else have you got to do?" Himilkon retorted. "It's not going to fly away; its wing is clipped. Go on, you lazy good-for-nothing."
Muttering under his breath, Hyssaldomos squatted and undid the two bronze hooks and eyes that held the cage door closed. Even after he opened the door, the peacock didn't come out right away. "He's stupid," Hyssaldomos said, looking up at the two Hellenes. "I mean to tell you, he's really stupid."
But then, with another screech, the peacock finally seemed to realize what had happened and rushed out of the cage. Menedemos exclaimed in astonishment. He'd seen it was big, but hadn't realized just how big: its body was almost swan-sized, and the tail - Himilkon hadn't lied - at least doubled its apparent size.
"He's beautiful," Sostratos breathed. The sun gleamed metallically from the blue and green feathers of the peacock's body and tail.
Menedemos dipped his head in agreement. "He certainly is. They've never - " He'd started to say they'd never seen the like in Italy, but bit down on the words before they escaped. If Himilkon knew he badly wanted the bird, the price was bound to go up.
"Oh, there he goes!" Hyssaldomos wailed as the peacock started to run. "Get in front of him, young sirs, and head him off!"
Both Menedemos and Sostratos tried to get in front of the peacock, but it dodged them like a flutegirl dodging a drunken, groping reveler at a symposion. And then it was off, running like a racehorse and screeching as it ran. Its legs weren't goose- or swanlike; they put Menedemos more in mind of those of a bustard or pheasant. He and Sostratos pounded after it. Urged on by Himilkon's curses, Hyssaldomos ran after them.
The peacock kept trying to take to the air. It couldn't fly; as Himilkon had said, its wings were clipped. But every flapping, fluttering burst lent it extra speed. "It's - faster - than we are," Sostratos panted.
"I know." Menedemos was panting, too. "We could enter it at the next Olympics, and it'd win the dash." He raised his voice to a shout: "Two oboloi to whoever catches the bird unhurt!"
Sailors and workmen and passersby were already staring at the peacock, or perhaps at the spectacle of three men chasing a peacock. The prospect of a reward sent a double handful of them after the bird, too, converging on it from every angle at once.
A naked sailor grabbed for the peacock. "I've got you!" he cried in triumph. A moment later, he cried out once more, this time in dismay: "Oimoi! Help!" The peacock kicked and raked him with its big clawed feet. It buffeted him with its wings. And it pecked, hard. "Oimoi!" he yelled again, and let go.
"Himilkon told you it could bite off a finger," Sostratos said to Menedemos.
"That wasn't his finger," Menedemos answered. "And he's lucky it didn't bite it off."
From then on, nobody seemed nearly so eager to close with the peacock. From the doorway to his warehouse, Himilkon shouted, "Herd it back over here." People were more willing to try that. Yelling and waving their arms and shying pebbles - and staying at a respectful distance - they managed to turn the peacock so it was running toward the Phoenician merchant instead of away from him.
"It'll trample him if he tries to catch it by himself," Menedemos said, still running after the bird.
"He's brought something else out of the building," Sostratos said. "Looks like another cage."
When they got a little closer, Menedemos asked, "Is that another peacock in there?"
"Not a peacock." Sostratos replied. "See how much plainer it is?"
The peacock had seen the same thing as Sostratos, and more quickly, too. It skidded to a stop, sand and gravel flying up from between its toes. All at once, it might have forgotten the mob of men pursuing it. Noting as much, Menedemos slowed down, too, and waved his comrades to a halt with him.
"What's it doing?" somebody asked.
"Showing off for the peahen," Sostratos answered.
And then everyone, even Himilkon, said, "Ahhh!" as the peacock raised its long tail and spread it wide. The blue spots on the green and yellow plumes caught and held the light. The peacock slowly backed toward the caged peahen, then turned to give her the full magnificent display.
"Argos' eyes," Sostratos said softly.
"There's no myth about Argos and the peacock," Menedemos said.
"Of course not," Sostratos said. "Back in the days when the myths were made, who'd ever seen a peacock? But if people had, that's the myth they would have made."
While they spoke, Himilkon, a practical man, tossed a net over the distracted peacock. It let out a horrified squawk and tried to get away again, but couldn't. Despite its struggles, Himilkon and Hyssaldomos wrestled it back into its cage without incurring more than minor flesh wounds.
"Please don't let it out again any time soon, boss," the Karian slave pleaded, fastening the hooks and eyes that kept the peacock imprisoned.
"Oh, shut up." The merchant drew back his foot as if to kick Hyssaldomos, but relented. "If I have a customer, I'll put the bird through his paces."
"And me through mine, by Zeus Labraundeus," Hyssaldomos grumbled. He scowled at Menedemos and Sostratos. "Besides, who says they're customers? Just a couple of gawkers, if you ask me."
"Oh, we might be interested . . . if the price is right," Menedemos allowed.
In the fight with Himilkon and Hyssaldomos, the peacock had shed one of those astonishing tail feathers. Menedemos plucked it off the ground and admired it. "Three oboloi if you want to keep it," Himilkon said briskly.
"Half a drakhma?" Menedemos yelped. "For a feather?" A drakhma a day could feed and house a man and his family - not in any style, but it would put a roof over their heads and keep them from starving. "That's robbery!"
Himilkon smiled. "I'll deduct it from the price of the bird . . . if you're a customer."
Like any Hellene going out where he might spend some money, Menedemos had a couple of oboloi tucked between his cheek and his teeth. He spat the little silver coins into the palm of his hand and dried them on his tunic. Then he nudged his cousin, who produced another one. Menedemos handed Himilkon the coins. The Phoenician popped them into his own mouth. Menedemos asked, "Well, what do you want for him - and for the peahens, too?"
Some of the men who'd chased the peacock went back to what they had been doing now that it was back in its cage. Others hung around to watch the haggling, which might also prove entertaining.
Himilkon plucked at his fancy curled beard, considering. He put so much into it, he might have been an actor in a comedy using his body to get across what his mask couldn't. At last, elaborately artless, he said, "Oh, I don't know. A mina a bird sounds about right."
"A pound of silver? A hundred drakhmai?" As Himilkon had worked to sound casual, Menedemos worked to sound horrified. Actually, he'd been braced for worse. Peafowl were obviously for the luxury trade. Nobody would raise them in the courtyard like ducks. Like any merchant galley, the Aphrodite specialized in carrying luxuries. She didn't have the capacity to make a profit hauling wheat or cheap wine, the way a tubby sailing ship could.
Menedemos shot Sostratos a glance. A little slower than he should have, his cousin chimed in, "It's an outrage, Himilkon - pure hubris. Half that much would be an outrage, and you know it."
Himilkon shook his head back and forth again, then tossed it as a Hellene would to show disagreement. "No such thing, O best ones. I know you both. I know your fathers. If you buy my birds, you'll take them somewhere far away, and you'll sell them for plenty more than you pay. Tell me I'm wrong." He set his hands on his hips and looked defiantly at the younger men.
"We'll try to do that, no doubt," Menedemos said. "But what if the peacock dies while we're at sea? What do we sell then? I saw the peahen in her cage; she's not pretty enough to bring much by herself."
"Breed her to the cock. Breed all the hens you buy - if you buy any; if you don't go on trying to cheat me - to the cock," Himilkon replied. "Once they lay, you'll have plenty of birds to sell."
Sostratos said, "But only the one peacock shows what anyone who buys a bird from us would want."
Himilkon's smile might have shown off a shark's teeth, not his own, which were square and rather yellow. "In that case, you should pay me more for him, eh, not less."
The hangers-on laughed and clapped their hands at that. Menedemos shot Sostratos another glance, an angry one this time. But Sostratos tossed his head as calmly as if his opponent hadn't landed a telling blow. "Not at all," he said. "A mina is too much for the peacock, and much too much for the peahens."
"Without the peahens, you'll get no more peacocks," Himilkon said. "That's the value in them."
"We'll give you a mina and a half for the peacock and the five peahens," Menedemos said, wondering how loudly his father - and Sostratos' father, too - would scream at him for plunging into this dicker.
No louder than Himilkon screamed now; he was sure of that. "Twenty-five drakhmai a bird?" the Phoenician merchant bellowed. "You're no trader - you're a pirate, robbing honest men. I'd sooner roast the fowl myself than sell them for that."
"Invite us to the banquet," Sostratos said coolly. "A white wine from Thasos would go well with them, don't you think? Come on, cousin." He set a hand on Menedemos' shoulder.
Menedemos didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay and haggle with Himilkon, or possibly punch the Phoenician in the face. But when he angrily rounded on Sostratos, he saw something in his cousin's eyes that gave him pause. He dipped his head in agreement. Sometimes the only way to get a better bargain was to pretend one didn't matter. "Let's go," he said.
They started to walk away. If Himilkon kept quiet, they would have to keep walking. Menedemos didn't want that. What would the rich Hellenes in Taras or Syracuse pay for a peacock? A lot more than a mina, or he wildly missed his guess.
From behind them, Himilkon said, "Because I've dealt with your families before, I might - just might, mind you - let you have six birds for five minai, though I'd not do it for any other men born of woman."
With the best appearance of reluctance they could manage, Menedemos and Sostratos turned back. The little crowd of hangers-on sighed and shifted their feet and made themselves comfortable, ready to enjoy a long, vituperative dicker.
They got one, too. After much shouting and many invocations of gods both Greek and Phoenician, the two cousins settled with Himilkon on fifty drakhmai for each of the peahens and seventy-five for the peacock. Just when everything seemed agreed, Menedemos suddenly tossed his head and said, "No, it won't do."
Himilkon eyed him apprehensively. "What now?"
Holding up the fancy tail feather he'd bought, Menedemos said, "Seventy-four drakhmai, three oboloi for the peacock."
The Phoenician dug his tongue into his cheek, feeling for the silver coins he'd already got from Menedemos. "All right," he said. "Seventy-four drakhmai, three oboloi it is."
"We'll have ourselves an interesting cargo when the Aphrodite sails," Sostratos said, as he and Menedemos walked back from the harbor to their homes, which sat side by side near Demeter's temple in the northern part of the city.
"Father's got those jars of ink in the warehouse," Menedemos agreed, "and the rolls of papyrus with them, and the vials of Egyptian poppy-juice, too. And we'll put in at Khios and pick up some wine." He ran his tongue over his lips. "Nothing finer than Khian. It's thick as honey, and even sweeter."
"Khian's a lot stronger than honey, too," Sostratos observed. "Those are vintages you need to drink well-watered."
With a snort, Menedemos said, "Those are vintages you can drink well-watered, my dear cousin. Me, I like to have some fun every so often."
Sostratos sighed. "I like drinking wine. I don't like swilling it down neat like a barbarian. I don't like getting drunk and breaking things and getting into fights." He was, or at least tried to be, moderate. All the philosophers maintained that moderation was a virtue. By the look on Menedemos' face, he reckoned it not only a vice but a nasty vice at that. Sostratos sighed again. His cousin had all the noteworthy good traits: he was handsome, outgoing, strong, nimble. He could as easily sing a song as guide a ship through a gale without showing fear.
And what about you? Sostratos asked himself. He shrugged. Nobody'd ever written Sostratos is beautiful on the walls when he was a youth. He wasn't a bad haggler, but he got what bargains he got with reason and patience, not by making people like him and go easy or by persuading them black was white. He towered over Menedemos, but his cousin always threw him when they stripped off their clothes and wrestled in the gymnasion.
I have a good prose style. Theophrastos told me that himself, up in Athens, and he doles out even less praise than Aristoteles did when he headed the Lykeion. Everyone says so. I remember what I read, too. And I've always been clever - better than clever, really - with numbers.
It didn't seem enough. Even with moderation and reliability thrown in, it didn't seem enough. Sostratos shrugged again. I can't be Menedemos. I am what the gods made me. I have to make the most of what they gave me.
His cousin laughed and pointed. "Look, Sostratos. It really is getting on toward spring. There's a gecko on a wall."
Sure enough, a gray-brown lizard clung to the gray-brown mud brick of a poor man's house. It walked up the wall as easily as a fly might have done, and snapped up a bug before the insect knew it was there.
Half a block past the house with the gecko, they turned right so as to go north. That was the only turn they'd have to make till they got to their homes. Sostratos said, "Gods be praised, Rhodes is laid out on a grid, the way Peiraieus is up in Attica. Anyone can find his way around here or in Athens' harbor. Athens itself?" He tossed his head. "You have to be born there to know where you're going, and even the Athenians aren't sure half the time. Hippodamos of Miletos was a man of godlike wit."
"I never much thought about it," Menedemos confessed. "But most towns are pretty bad, aren't they? You can't get from the harbor to an inn a bowshot away without asking directions three different times, on account of the streets go wherever they please, not where you need 'em to."
"Of course," Sostratos said musingly, "Peiraieus and Rhodes are new cities; they could be planned. It's what, two years shy of a century since Rhodes was founded? A town that's been there since before the fall of Troy, the streets probably follow the way the cows used to wander."
"Homer doesn't say anything about whether Troy was laid out in a grid," Menedemos said. He paused to eye a slave woman carrying a jar of water back to her house. "Hello, sweetheart!" he called. The slave kept walking, but she smiled back at Menedemos.
Sostratos sighed. If he'd done that, the slave woman might have ignored him - if he was lucky. If he wasn't lucky, she'd have showered him with curses. That had happened to him once, up in Athens. Like a puppy that once stuck its nose into the fire, he hadn't taken the chance of its happening again.
Potters and jewelers and shoemakers and smiths and millers and tavernkeepers and all the other artisans whose work helped keep Rhodes prosperous had their shops in the front part of the buildings in which they and their households also lived. Some of them steadily kept whatever they did for a living. Others made periodic forays out into the street in search of customers.
"Here - look at my fine terracottas!" cried a potter - or would he think of himself as a sculptor? Sostratos didn't know. He didn't much care, either. He hoped the fellow made better pots than burnt-clay images. If he didn't, his wife and children would starve.
"Coming out!" somebody else shouted, this time from a second-story window. Sostratos and Menedemos sprang back in a hurry. So did everyone else close by. The odorous contents of a slops jar splashed down in the middle of the street. Somebody who didn't spring back fast enough - and who got his mantle splattered as a result - shook his fist at the window, whose wooden shutters were now closed again.
More men than women strode the streets. Respectable wives and maidens spent most of the time in the women's quarters of their houses. They sent slaves out to shop and run errands for them. Poor men's wives - the women in families that had no slaves of their own - had to go out by and for themselves. Some were brazen, or simply resigned to it. Others wore shawls and veils to protect themselves from prying eyes.
"Don't you wonder what they look like? - under all that stuff, I mean," Menedemos said after such a woman walked past. "Puts charcoal on my brazier just thinking about it."
"If you did see her, you'd probably think she was ugly," Sostratos said. "For all you know, she's a grandmother."
"Maybe," his cousin admitted. "But for all I know, she could be Helen of Troy come back to earth again, or Aphrodite slumming among us poor mortals. In my imagination, she is."
"Your imagination needs cold water poured on it, like a couple of dogs mating in the street," Sostratos said. Menedemos mimed taking an arrow in the chest. He staggered around so convincingly, he alarmed a donkey with four big amphorai of olive oil lashed onto its back with a web of leather straps. The fellow leading the donkey had several pointed things to say about that. Menedemos took no notice of him.
And Sostratos felt a little guilty, for he too sometimes tried to imagine what women looked like under their wraps and tunics, under their shawls and veils. What man didn't, every now and then? Why did women conceal themselves, if not to spur men's imaginings?
Musing thus, he almost walked past his own doorway. Menedemos laughed and said, "Don't come along with me yet. You need to go in and let your father know what we've done, while I tell mine. Merchants' supper at our house tonight, you know."
Sostratos dipped his head to show he remembered. "I expect we'll have plenty to talk about, too - if our fathers haven't skinned us by then and sold our hides to the tanners."
"We'll make money with those birds," Menedemos said stoutly.
"We'd better," Sostratos said. His cousin winced, then waved and went on to his own house. Nothing got Menedemos down for long. Sostratos wished he could say the same. He knocked on the door and waited for his father or a house slave to let him in.
Gyges, the majordomo, unbarred the doors and threw the two panels wide. "Hail, young master," the Lydian slave said. "How is the Aphrodite shaping?" He knew almost as much about the business as Sostratos and his father.
"Well enough," Sostratos answered. "Is Father home? Menedemos and I bought some goods to take west when we sail, and I want to tell him about them."
"Yes, he's here," Gyges said. "He'll be glad to see you; Xanthos just left."
"He'd be glad to see anybody else, if Xanthos just left," Sostratos said with a laugh. The other merchant was honest and reliable, but deadly dull.
Sostratos walked through the courtyard on the way to the andron - the men's room - where he expected to find his father. His sister Erinna was out there, watering some of the plants in the herb garden with a jar. "Hail," she said. "What's the news out in the city? I think Xanthos had some, but I stayed in till he left."
"Some business I want to tell Father first," Sostratos said. "Other than that, I didn't hear much. The Aphrodite will be ready to sail whenever we decide the weather's good enough."
Erinna sighed. "And then you and Menedemos will be gone till fall." She was eighteen; she'd been married for three years, but had returned to her father's household after her husband died. The dark, curly hair she'd cut short in mourning had finally grown out to close to its proper length.
With a sly smile, Sostratos said, "You know we're only leaving to annoy you."
"I believe it," Erinna said, and went back to watering the herbs. "Well, go on and tell Father whatever you've got to tell him. I suppose I'll hear about it eventually." She made a point of looking put-upon.
If Father reacts the way I'm afraid he will, you'll hear about it right away, when he starts bellowing, Sostratos thought. Taking a deep breath, he went into the andron.
Lysistratos was sitting in a chair, flicking pebbles back and forth on a counting board and muttering to himself. Sostratos' father looked up when the light changed as the younger man came in. Lysistratos was more than a palm shorter than his gangling son, but otherwise looked much like him. His hair had been darker brown than Sostratos' - almost black, in fact - but gray streaked it these days, for he'd seen more than fifty years.
He smiled. His teeth were still good, which helped give him the appearance of a younger man despite the gray. "Hail, son," he said, and waved Sostratos to another chair. "I have news."
"Erinna said you might," Sostratos answered. "So do I, as a matter of fact."
"You go first." They said it together, and both laughed.
"Go on, Father," Sostratos insisted. That was both respect for his father's years and genuine liking; Lysistratos hadn't beaten him more than he deserved when he was a boy, and more than once hadn't beaten him at all when he knew he deserved it.
His father dipped his head in assent. "Xanthos was here a little while ago," he began.
"Yes, I know - Gyges told me when I came in," Sostratos said.
"All right, then. You know how Xanthos is. You have to hear about the state of his bowels, and the speech he made in the last Assembly meeting - which must have been as boring as all the rest he's ever made - and how much worse we are these days than the heroes of the Trojan War." Lysistratos rolled his eyes. "But there's usually a little wheat mixed in with all the chaff, and there was today, too."
"Tell me," Sostratos urged.
"I will. You know the town of Amphipolis, next door to Macedonia?"
"Oh, yes." Sostratos dipped his head. "The historian Thoukydides talks about the place in his fifth book. Brasidas the Spartan beat Kleon of Athens there, though they both died in the battle."
His father looked impatient. "I don't mean Amphipolis in the old days, son. I'm talking about now. You know how Kassandros, the commander in Europe, has been holding Roxane and Alexandros, her son by Alexander the Great, in the fortress there."
"Oh, yes," Sostratos repeated. "Alexandros would be - what, twelve now? I know he was born after Alexander died. He'll be old enough to make a proper king of Macedonia before too long."
Lysistratos tossed his head. "Oh, no, he won't. That was Xanthos' news: some time this past winter, when word would travel slow, Kassandros killed Alexandros - and Roxane, too, for good measure."
Sostratos whistled softly and shivered, as if the andron had suddenly got colder. "Then it's just the generals now, to quarrel over the bones of Alexander's empire. Kassandros in Macedonia, Lysimakhos in Thrace, Antigonos in Anatolia and farther Asia, and Ptolemaios down in Egypt."
"And Polyperkhon over in the Pelopennesos, and that Seleukos fellow who's squabbling with Antigonos in inner Asia," Lysistratos said. "I wonder how long the peace your four made last summer will last. No longer than one of them sees an advantage in breaking it, or I miss my guess."
"You're bound to be right." Sostratos shivered again. He wondered what Thoukydides would have thought of the world as it was nowadays. Nothing good; he was sure of that. In the historian's day, each polis in Hellas had been free to go its own way. Now almost all the Greek city-states danced to the tune of one Macedonian warlord or another. Rhodes remained free and independent, but even his own polis had had to throw out a Macedonian garrison after Alexander died.
Lysistratos might have been thinking along similar lines, for he said, "Being a polis these days is a lot like being a sardine in a school of tunny. But what's your news, son? I hope it's cheerier than mine."
"So do I," Sostratos said, wondering how his father would react. Well, he'd soon know. He brought it out in a rush: "Menedemos and I bought a peacock and five peahens from Himilkon the Phoenician, to take to Italy in the Aphrodite."
"A peacock!" Lysistratos exclaimed. "Do you know, I've never seen a peacock in all my life. I don't blame you and your cousin one bit. If I haven't seen a peacock, you can bet none of the Hellenes in Italy has, either. They'll pay through the nose." His gaze sharpened. "And what did you pay?"
Sostratos told him. He waited for his father to burst like a lidded pot left too long on the fire, to thunder like Zeus of the aegis.
But Lysistratos only stroked his gray beard, a gesture Sostratos had copied from him. "Truth to tell, I haven't the faintest idea what a peacock's worth, or a peahen, either," he confessed. "I suspect nobody else does, either. What you lads paid doesn't sound too bad, not unless the birds die on the way and you have to throw them into the sea - the peacock especially."
"That's what we thought, too," Sostratos said. "It's one of the reasons we were able to beat Himilkon down as far as we did."
"He's a man to be reckoned with in a dicker." Lysistratos stroked his beard again. "Tell me . . . Is the peacock as splendid as everyone imagines?"
"He's more splendid than I imagined," Sostratos answered, almost stammering in his relief that things had gone so much smoother than he'd expected. "When he spread his tail to show off for the peahen, I'd never seen anything like it."
"All right," his father said. "When we go next door to supper tonight, we'll find out what your uncle Philodemos has to say about it."
"Yes, that will tell the tale," Sostratos agreed. Philodemos was Lysistratos' older brother, and the senior partner in their trading operation. He was also a man of less certain temper than Lysistratos, just as Menedemos was touchier than Sostratos. Now Sostratos dipped his head to his father. "If you'll excuse me . . ."
He went up the wooden stairs to his bedroom on the second story. One of the house slaves, a redheaded girl about Erinna's age called Threissa, was coming downstairs. By her looks and the name she'd been given - it simply meant the Thracian - she'd probably been captured not too far from Amphipolis. Sostratos smiled at her. He'd summoned her to his bed a couple of times. As a bachelor, he could get away with such things, where his father would have had trouble: keeping a wife and a mistress under the same roof was a recipe for trouble and scandal.
Threissa nodded back, polite but no more than that. She'd pleased him; he feared the reverse wasn't so true. Of course, he had to worry about her opinion only if he chose to.
The bedroom was sparsely furnished: a bedstead with a woolstuffed mattress, a chamber pot under it, a chair beside it, and two cypresswood chests, a smaller atop a larger. The larger one held Sostratos' tunics and mantles. The smaller held his books. While in Athens, he'd had complete sets of Herodotos and Thoukydides copied out for him.
When he opened the smaller chest, he smiled at the spicy scent of cypress. Like the more expensive cedar, it helped keep insects away from wool and linen and papyrus. He went through the rolls of papyrus till he found the one that held the fifth book of Thoukydides' masterful narrative of the Peloponnesian War. The battle of Amphipolis began the book.
Like most literate Hellenes, Sostratos murmured the words on the papyrus to himself as he read. Halfway through the account of the battle, he paused, shaking his head in wonder. No matter how often he read Thoukydides, his admiration never flagged. Father Zeus, if you are kind, one day let me write half as well as that man did. Let me think half as well as that man did. It was, he supposed, a peculiar sort of prayer, but no less sincere for that.
Menedemos hurried into the kitchen. "I trust we'll have something specially luscious tonight, Sikon," he said.
"Well, I hope so, young master," the cook answered. "I do my best, no matter how hard things are." He complained all the time.
From everything Menedemos had seen, that and petty thievery were diseases of cooks. Even the comic poets agreed with him. Trying to soothe Sikon's ruffled feathers, he said, "I know the sitos will be splendid. It always is. Nobody in Rhodes bakes better bread with wheat or barley than you do. But what have you got for the opson?" The relish course of a supper wasn't so thoroughly under the cook's control as the staple. If the fishermen had had an unlucky day, the opson would suffer.
"Well, there's always salt-fish. We've got plenty of that, on account of it keeps," Sikon said. "And I did manage to get my hands on some sprats - a few, anyhow. I'll fry 'em in olive oil and serve 'em slathered with cheese. Add in some pickled olives, and it shouldn't be too bad."
"Salt-fish? Sprats? Olives?" Menedemos' voice grew more horrified at every word. "For opson? For a proper supper? With guests?" He clapped a hand to his forehead. "We're ruined. Father will kill me, and then I'll kill you." Sostratos would have pointed out the logical flaw in that; Menedemos was sure of it. He didn't care. This was disaster, nothing less.
Only when the cook brought a hand up to his mouth to try to stifle laugher did Menedemos realize he'd been had. Sikon said, "Well, maybe these will do better, then," and swept the damp cloth off the seafood lying on the slate countertop.
"What have we here?" Menedemos murmured, and then answered his own question: "Prawns. Some lovely squid. Eels. And . . . a Rhodian dogfish. Oh, lovely, lovely!" He might almost have been talking about a hetaira who'd finally doffed her undertunic of silk from Kos and let him see her naked. "The gods will envy us tonight. All we feed them is thighbones wrapped in fat - and there's no telling what sort of meat people will bring home from a sacrifice, either. But fish, now - with fish, you know what you're getting ahead of time."
"And you pay for it, too," Sikon grumbled, for all the world as if he'd spent his own money and not the household's. Menedemos also had no doubt that he'd squirreled away for his own enjoyment some of the seafood he'd bought. Who in the history of the world had ever seen a skinny cook?
But all that was by the way. Menedemos clapped Sikon on the shoulder. "You have what you need. I know you'll do us proud tonight."
"I'll do me proud tonight," Sikon said. "Maybe somebody won't be happy with his own cook, and he'll hire me to do up some feast of his. Every obolos I stick in my mouth brings me that much closer to buying back my freedom."
"If you ever should, I'm afraid everyone in the house would starve," Menedemos said. He let it go at that; like most slaves, Sikon worked better in the hope of eventual liberty.
Satisfied the supper wouldn't suffer on account of the food, Menedemos went back to the andron to let his father know. "A dogfish?" Philodemos said once he'd heard the report. "Out to bankrupt us, is he? You can eat it once and die happy, but who could afford to eat it twice?" Still, he didn't sound altogether displeased. He wasn't an opsophagos, someone who ate the relish at a feast as if it were bread, but he enjoyed a fine opson as well as any man.
So did Menedemos. "And the eels . . ." His mouth watered in anticipation.
"Out to bankrupt us," Philodemos repeated. Like his son, he'd been a handsome youth, but the years had left his mouth narrow, his nose sharp, and his eyes cool and hard. When he turned that embittered gaze on Menedemos, his son braced himself for a beating, though it had been several years since his father hit him. "Sikon won't get the chance to bankrupt us," Philodemos said. "You and your cousin will beat him to the punch. Peafowl!"
"If they live, we'll make a good profit," Menedemos said.
"And if they don't, you might as well have pissed away better than three minai of silver on wine and women and . . . and dogfish," his father said. "You act as if we were made of money, not as if we had to go out and make it."
"Shall I go tell Himilkon he can keep the miserable birds, then?" Menedemos asked.
As he'd known his father would, Philodemos tossed his head. "No, no. You made the bargain. You can't go back on it." He was a canny merchant, but one of stern rectitude. "You made the bargain. I only wish you hadn't."
"Wait till you see the peacock, Father," Menedemos said. "Wait till you see him fan his tail out. Then you'll understand."
"I saw the feather you brought home. I can imagine the bird," Philodemos said. His attitude was so cut-and-dried, Menedemos was convinced he missed a lot of the juice of life. For his part, Philodemos was at least half convinced he'd raised a wastrel. He went on. "I wonder how the birds would do boiled and stuffed with olives."
"I don't know," Menedemos said. "I'll tell you this, though, sir: finding out would make dogfish look cheap."
"Heh." His father got to his feet. He was lean and leathery and still strong for a man of his years. "We'd best clear out and let the slaves get the andron ready for tonight."
Sure enough, the slaves started bringing in the couches on which Lysistratos, Sostratos, and the other guests would recline, two to a couch. They set them up around the edge of the andron. Philodemos didn't clear out; he fussed at them till they got the couches exactly as he wanted them. Menedemos had to work to keep from scowling as he listened to those orders. His father had treated him just the same way till he finally grew to manhood - and still did, in absentminded moments or when he thought he could get away with it.
Once all seven couches were placed, Philodemos rounded on Menedemos. "You did arrange for the flutegirls and the acrobat?" he said anxiously. "It wouldn't be much of a symposion after the feast if we had no entertainers."
"Yes, Father," Menedemos assured him. "Gyllis is sending over Eunoa and Artemeis. They both play well, and they're both supposed to be lively in bed."
His father sniffed. "That's why I left those details to you. I was sure you would know all about them."
"And why not?" Menedemos said with a smile. "I'd rather laugh at Aristophanes and drink some wine and boff a flutegirl than sit around moping and wishing I'd get sent into exile so I could have the time to write history, the way my cousin does." He snapped his fingers. "Where was I? Oh, the acrobat. Her name is Phylainis, and I saw her perform before I told Gyllis to send her. She can twist herself up like a braided loaf of bread. You could probably find ways to do it with her that'd break a regular woman in half."
"Gods preserve an estate from a cockproud son," Philodemos said. "You'll spend it all on flutegirls and acrobats, and leave your son nothing but debts to call his own."
"May you live many years, Father," Menedemos said. "I'm in no hurry to inherit anything. And I'm still years younger than you were when you married the first time, so I'm going to enjoy myself a little."
Philodemos raised his eyes to the heavens. "What is this new generation coming to? It's not worth half of mine."
His generation included Alexander the Great. He was, no doubt, about to say as much. Menedemos forestalled him: "Nestor complained about the new generation in the Iliad, too, but they were heroes even so."
"The older I get, the more sense I think Nestor makes," his father answered. "And as for you, it's a wonder you're not singing the praises of Thersites."
"Homer makes Thersites a loudmouthed fool," Menedemos said. Then, seeing the gleam in his father's eye, he retreated in a hurry.
Sostratos wrapped his himation around himself and over his left shoulder. He peered down, trying to study the effect. He was hoping for philosophical; his beard would help there. But a true philosopher wouldn't have worn a tunic under the himation, or else wouldn't have put the wrap on over a chiton. Sokrates had gone about in nothing but his tunic in all kinds of weather. Sostratos shrugged. He wasn't Sokrates. He felt the chill.
Someone knocked on the door. His father: Lysistratos said, "Are you ready?"
"Yes, Father." Sostratos opened the door. His father inspected him like an officer looking over a soldier in his phalanx. Sostratos flushed. "I won't disgrace us."
"No, of course not," Lysistratos said, though he didn't sound completely convinced. "Come on, it's sundown. Let's grab a torch and go on over to my brother's."
They needed the torch; this late in the month, the moon wouldn't rise until a little before sunup. More guests, also carrying torches, were rapping on Philodemos' door as they walked up. One of the men turned to Sostratos and Lysistratos and said, "Hail, best ones. Is it you that bought peafowl from Himilkon the Phoenician?"
"I didn't, Lykon," Lysistratos answered. "My son made the bargain, along with his cousin Menedemos."
Lykon shot questions at Sostratos as if he were a slinger shooting lead bullets. As Sostratos was answering them, another merchant, a plump fellow named Telephos, came up to the doorway and started asking some of the same ones over again.
To Sostratos' relief, he didn't have to answer them twice, for the door opened and Philodemos said, "Welcome, my friends. Hail, Lysistratos. Hail, Sostratos. Come in, all of you." He sniffed. "By all means, come in. You can already smell the opson cooking, and it will be ready soon."
The odor of frying seafood came wafting out through the doorway. The guests jostled one another, each more eager than the next to get inside. Sostratos dipped his head in greeting to Philodemos. "Hail, Uncle," he said.
"Hail," Philodemos said again, his voice more sour than not. "I thought, when you went down to the Aphrodite, you would keep Menedemos out of mischief. Instead, I find you joining in. Three hundred twenty-five drakhmai. Pheu!"
"Three hundred twenty-four and three oboloi, actually," Sostratos replied. "And we'll bring back more from Italy. I truly think we will." He was also truly annoyed Philodemos should reckon him hardly better than a pedagogue, a slave who took a boy to and from his teacher's and kept an eye on him to make sure he stayed out of mischief on the way.
"I hope you do." By the way his uncle said it, he might hope, but he didn't expect.
Menedemos stood in the entranceway to the andron, silhouetted by the torches and lamps within. "Hail," he said as Sostratos came up.
Sostratos sniffed again. The ambrosial aromas from the kitchen weren't all he smelled. "Roses?" he asked.
"And why not?" Menedemos replied. He'd always been something of a dandy. "Rhodes is the city of the rose. There's a rose stamped onto the port side of the Aphrodite's ram, along with far-shooting Apollo on the other. I thought I'd deck myself out with scented oil tonight." He lowered his voice: "I hoped it would help sweeten Father, too, but no luck there. What did he say to you on the way in?"
"Nothing too good," Sostratos said, and his cousin winced. He went on, "But the bargain stands. We still have the chance for the last laugh - as long as the birds don't take sick." Menedemos spat into the bosom of his chiton to avert the evil omen. Sostratos asked, "Where will you have us reclining?"
"Almost all the way over to the right, of course, on the couch next to Father and me," Menedemos said. "Why? Did you think we would slight you?"
"Not really," Sostratos said.
He must have sounded hesitant. His cousin said, "Father may be angry at you and me, but he'd never insult Uncle Lysistratos by moving him, and he can't very well move you alone and give your father a new couchmate. As far as the outside world knows, all's well - mm, well enough - among us."
"The outside world certainly knows about the peafowl," Sostratos said. "I hope Himilkon hasn't been going through the wineshops boasting of getting the better of us. That'd be all we need."
Menedemos made as if to spit into his bosom again, but refrained. "Go on in," he said. "We'll eat, then we'll drink, and we'll have fun with the flutegirls and the acrobat. And tomorrow is another day, and we'll drink our morning wine fast and eat raw cabbage to ease our sore heads."
To Sostratos' way of thinking, the best way to ease back into things after a night of excess was to drink well-watered wine the next day. That didn't seem to cross Menedemos' mind. Sostratos' cousin had never been one to do things by halves.
"Go on in, boys, go on in," Telephos said. "If you stand in the doorway, a hefty fellow like me can't squeeze by." He patted his paunch and wheezed laughter.
If you spent more time at the gymnasion and less with a bowl of sweetmeats beside you, you'd have no trouble fitting through a doorway, Sostratos thought. But he and Menedemos went into the andron, and Telephos followed. Menedemos' father, bustling about like a goose trying to keep track of all her goslings at once, escorted the plump merchant to the couch he'd chosen for him.
Cushions rested on all the couches. Sostratos took his place beside his father on the couch next to that of their hosts. Lysistratos, being the elder, leaned on his elbow at the head of the couch. Sostratos reclined farther down, so that his feet hung off the edge.
He prodded his cushion, trying to get comfortable. It wasn't easy. In a low voice, he told his father, "I'm not what you'd call fond of fancy dinners. My arm goes to sleep, and I always spill food on my clothes."
Lysistratos shrugged. "It's the custom, and custom - "
"Is king of all," Sostratos finished, quoting Herodotos quoting Pindaros. His father dipped his head in agreement.
"All right, where's Kleagoras?" Menedemos said when only one space on one of the seven couches remained unfilled. "Late again, I see."
"Kleagoras would be late to his own funeral," Philodemos said sourly.
"Well, there are worse things," Sostratos' father remarked. "I wouldn't mind being late to mine, to tell you the truth." That drew chuckles from the three sides of the open-frontect rectangle in which the couches were arranged.
"Yes, Uncle, but at your funeral you wouldn't be waiting to eat Sikon's good fish and hoping it didn't burn," Menedemos said.
Kleagoras came bustling in just then. He always moved as if in a hurry, but somehow never got anywhere on time. "A thousand pardons, best ones," he said, wiping sweat from his forehead. "Very good to be here, very good indeed." He was panting as he slid down onto his couch. He might have run all the way from his house to this one, but running hadn't done him much good.
"You made it at last, Kleagoras, and I'm glad you did." Philodemos sounded welcoming and annoyed at the same time. Kleagoras' answering smile was sheepish. Philodemos turned to a slave who hovered by his couch. "Go to the kitchen and tell Sikon we can begin." The young man trotted away.
A moment later, more slaves came into the andron, setting a low, small table in front of each couch. They brought out bowls of pickled olives and onions to start the meal. Sostratos took an olive with his right hand and popped it into his mouth. When he'd worked off all the tart flesh, he spat the pit on the floor. After the feast was over and before the symposion began, the house slaves would clear away the debris.
Bread came next, with olive oil for dipping. Like everyone else, Sostratos ate the bread with his left hand. From his couch over on the far side of the andron, the long-winded merchant named Xanthos said, "Did you know - I have it for a fact, certain sure - that Kassandros murdered Alexandros and Roxane? Killed them both, I tell you, sent their souls down to the house of Hades. They're dead. Both of them are dead, dead as salt-fish, no doubt about it."
That got exclamations from everyone who hadn't already heard it. The exclamations got Xanthos to tell the news over again. He took longer the second time through, but, as far as Sostratos could see, he added no new details. The other feasters seemed to notice the same thing, for they quickly stopped asking him questions. That, of course, didn't stop him from starting to give the news a third time.
Lysistratos leaned over toward Philodemos and asked, "Did you have to invite him?" He yawned behind his hand.
But Menedemos' father dipped his head. "Unfortunately, I did. I heard from someone who ought to know that he's got some new perfumes we ought to have aboard the Aphrodite. I think he'll let me have them, because his ships stick to the Aegean and don't risk the longer trips west."
"All right." Sostratos' father sighed. "The things we do in search of profit."
A moment later, though, Xanthos fell silent: the slaves brought in baskets of rolls dusted with poppy seeds and plates of shrimp fried in their shells. "The opson!" someone said reverently.
Sostratos and his father, like Menedemos and his, had no trouble sharing from the plate set before their couch. Sostratos took each shrimp with his right thumb and index finger; had he been eating salt-fish, he would have used his middle finger, too. He couldn't remember when he'd learned the rules - sitos with the left hand, opson with the right; one finger for fresh fish, two for salt. But, like anyone with manners, he had. He wondered if some of the feasters did have manners. Where the two men on a couch were just acquaintances, they seemed to race to see who could eat the shrimp faster.
Sostratos savored the garlic and pungent silphium from Kyrene that flavored the shrimp. "Sikon's done it again," he told Menedemos, tossing an empty shell to the plastered floor after getting the last of the meat from the tail.
Out came more rolls, with squid to accompany them. Then the slaves brought in flat sheets of barley bread, and chunks of eel cooked in cheese with leeks to serve as their relish.
"Truly our host is a prince of generosity!" said portly Telephos. He plainly thought the eel the last course of opson. So did Sostratos, who joined in the applause when the dogfish came in afterwards. "A king of generosity!" Telephos cried, and no one contradicted him.
Some of the feasters left their bread all but untouched to concentrate on the opson. Not Sostratos; to him, the relish was relish, and the sitos the staple. Sokrates would have approved, he thought, even if he got rather less fish than some others.
Honey cakes and dried fruit finished the meal. Slaves brought in little bowls of water so the guests could wash their fingers, then carried the tables out of the andron. They returned to sweep away the shells and fish bones and scraps of bread that littered the floor.
When they came back, they brought garlands and ribbons for the feasters to put on their heads. And they brought shallow, long-handled, two-eared drinking cups, along with jars of wine, jars of water, a great mixing bowl, a pouring jug, and a ladle. Sostratos eyed the preparations for the symposion with an odd mixture of anticipation and dread. Dionysos' ocean of wine could be as stormy as Poseidon's watery sea.
The first cup of wine at a symposion was always drunk neat, and the last bit of it poured out as a libation for Dionysos. Menedemos savored the sweet, rich, potent goodness of the golden Khian vintage. Letting the god have any seemed a shame and a waste, but he poured his libation onto the floor along with everyone else and sang Dionysos' hymn.
"Now," his father said, "we'll need a symposiarch, to guide us through our night together. Who will lead us over the wine-dark sea?"
Everybody smiled at the allusion to the Iliad. Xanthos promptly put up his hand. Everyone pretended not to see him; he was even less interesting drunk than sober. Sostratos also raised his hand. That was what made Menedemos decide to put up his. He liked his cousin, but he felt like getting properly drunk tonight, and he knew Sostratos would order the wine well-watered and drunk from shallow cups all night long.
"Let it be Menedemos," Telephos said. "We've all seen he knows how to have a good time." Amid laughter and clapping, he was elected.
Sostratos leaned toward him and said, "My father and I are close enough to get home clinging to the wall like that gecko we saw this morning, but the gods help our friends who live farther away."
Before Menedemos could answer that, his father tapped him on the shoulder. "There are better reputations to have than that of a roisterer," Philodemos said.
"Everything in its place," Menedemos replied, as philosophically as if he were Sostratos. "When it's time for business, business. When it's time for a symposion, wine." He waved to a slave. "Are the flutegirls and the acrobat here?"
"Yes, sir," the man answered. "They got here a little while ago."
"All right, good. We can bring them on after we've had a couple of rounds." Menedemos felt like a general arraying his army as he reckoned best. He clapped his hands together. All the feasters - the symposiasts, now - and the slaves looked his way. "Let the wine be mixed." Everybody leaned forward. As symposiarch, he set the strength. "Let it be . . . three parts water and two of wine."
"I thought you were going to say even measures, and have us as drunk as Macedonians in nothing flat," his father said. "Even three to two is a strong mix."
Menedemos grinned. "The symposiarch has spoken." No one but Philodemos was complaining. Even Sostratos just leaned on his elbow, watching a slave mix wine and water in the big krater in the center of the andron. Maybe he'd expected Menedemos to order equal measures, too.
I should have called for neat wine, Menedemos thought. But he tossed his head, rejecting the idea. That would make everyone fall asleep too soon. He wanted to feel the wine, yes, but he wanted to enjoy himself other ways while he was doing it, too.
When the wine was mixed, the slave filled the oinokhoe from the krater and used it to fill the symposiasts' cups. He started at the couch farthest from Menedemos and his father and worked his way toward them.
When Menedemos' cup was full, he lifted it by the handles. Even watered, the wine was sweet and strong. Everyone drank along with him. Where he led, they would follow. When he'd emptied the cup, he pointed to the slave, who filled the oinokhoe from the krater and then refilled the cups.
Before drinking this time, Menedemos said, "Let's have a bit of a song or a speech from everyone." The speeches ran in the same direction the wine had. As soon as Xanthos began to declaim, Menedemos knew he'd made a mistake: the merchant delivered, word for word - and there were a great many words - the speech he'd presented to the Assembly not long before.
"I've heard it today twice now," Lysistratos said, draining his own cup faster than was required of him.
"I'm sorry, Uncle," Menedemos said. "I didn't expect - that."
Sostratos gave Brasidas' speech at Amphipolis, explaining, "Great things happened there before Kassandros' day."
Lykon said, "That's an Athenian writer putting words in a Spartan's mouth, or I'm an Egyptian. Spartans aren't used to speaking in the Assembly, and they grunt and stammer instead of coming out with everything just so."
"It could be." Sostratos courteously dipped his head to the older man. "No one but Thoukydides ever knew how much of what was really said went into his speeches, and how much of what he thought men should have said."
"And what will you say, Uncle?" Menedemos asked Lysistratos.
Sostratos' father took a lyre down from the wall and accompanied himself as he sang a poem of Arkilokhos', in which he promised the girl he was seducing that he would spend himself on her belly and pubic patch, not inside her. The symposiasts loudly clapped their hands. "Sure, you always tell 'em that beforehand," somebody called, and everyone laughed.
Lysistratos waved to Menedemos. "Your turn now."
"So it is." Menedemos got to his feet. "I'll give you the Iliad, the section where Patroklos kills Sarpedon." The Greek he recited was even older, and more old-fashioned, than that which Arkilokhos used:
\t"Then Sarpedon missed with his shining spear.
The spearpoint passed over Patroklos' left shoulder,
But did not strike him. Patroklos made his
Second attack with the bronze. No vain cast left his hand,
But it struck just where the heart throbbed in his chest.
He fell, as an oak or a white poplar
Or a stately pine falls when men - carpenters - fell it
In the mountains with newly sharpened axes to make ship timber.
So he fell in front of his horses and chariot and lay outstretched,
Shrieking, clutching at the bloody dust,
As when a lion attacks a herd and kills
A great-hearted brown bull among the shambling oxen.
The bull bellows as it is slain by the lion's jaws.
So the warlike Lykians' commander raged after taking his death Wound
From Patroklos, and addressed his friend and companion - "\t
Menedemos didn't get the chance to say what Sarpedon had told Glaukos, for Xanthos burst out, "By Zeus of the aegis, the Argives didn't kill enough Lykians during the Trojan War. We've still got too many of the stinking pirates no more than a stone's throw from Rhodes."
"Not even Herakles could throw a stone from here to Lykia," the literal-minded Sostratos said, but heads all around the andron dipped in agreement with Xanthos. Lykia lay less than eight hundred stadia to the east, and every Lykian headland was liable to have a pirate crew's swift pentekonter or even swifter hemiolia lurking behind it, waiting to swoop down on an honest merchantman.
Instead of going on, Menedemos dipped his head to his father, who also chose Homer: the passage in the Odyssey where Odysseus, with his comrades, blinded Polyphemos the Cyclops after first cleverly giving his name as Nobody. When the other Cyclopes asked him what was wrong, he blamed Nobody - Outis, not Odysseus. The symposiasts smiled at the wordplay.
"Another round," Menedemos told the slave tending the krater. "Deeper cups this time, and then bring on the flutegirls and the acrobat." He raised his voice: "Drink, my friends! We've plenty of wine still ahead of us."
The deeper cups were businesslike mugs. They weren't nearly so pretty as the shallow, high-footed cups with which the symposion had begun, but they held more than twice as much. Menedemos poured the wine down his throat. Since he was the symposiarch, the rest of the men had to follow his lead.
In danced Eunoa and Artemeis, both playing a drinking song from Athens on their double flutes. The flutegirls wore silk chitons filmy enough to show they'd singed away the hair from between their legs with a lampflame. The symposiasts whooped and cheered. A moment later, those cheers redoubled, for Phylainis the acrobat followed the flutegirls into the andron walking on her hands. She was naked; her oiled skin gleamed in the lamplight.
Philodemos nudged Menedemos as the symposiasts' cheers got louder yet. "The girls are pretty enough," the older man said. "I can't very well deny that."
"I'm glad you're pleased," Menedemos answered. His father was a hard man, but fair. "I hope the racket won't bother your wife, up in the women's quarters." Menedemos' mother was dead; his father had married a young bride a couple of years before, and was hoping for more children.
"We've had symposia here before," Philodemos said with a shrug. "She can put wax in her ears if the noise gets too bad, as Odysseus' men did sailing past the Sirens." He cocked his head to one side, listening to the music. "They don't play the flute badly, either."
"One of them can play my flute in a while," Menedemos said. "They're good at that, too." His father chuckled. Then they both laughed out loud. After a series of cartwheels across the andron, Phylainis had ended up in Sostratos' lap. Instead of feeling her up or starting the lovemaking then and there, Menedemos' cousin dumped her off as if she were on fire.
"She doesn't bite, Sostratos," Menedemos said. "Not unless you want her to." He threw back his head and laughed; he could feel the wine, all right.
Sostratos shrugged. "She picked me because I'm young, and she hoped I'd fall head over heels for her." He shrugged again. "I'm afraid not."
"All right - someone else will put his mortise in her tenon before long," Menedemos answered, as if talking of the shipwright's business rather than Aphrodite's. Sostratos seemed to stay sober even when drunk. Poor fellow, Menedemos thought.
Sure enough, Phylainis soon pressed herself against Xanthos, who started talking a great deal. Are you going to bore her or bore her? Menedemos wondered. With wine in him, that seemed very funny. He ordered the slave to go round and fill the symposiasts' cups again. Telephos let Artemeis drink from his mug. As she gulped wine, the merchant ran his hand up under her tunic. "What a smooth little piggy you've got," he said, fondling her.
"It's even smoother inside," she said, and took hold of the side of the couch and stuck her backside in the air. Telephos got behind her and put her words to the test.
Menedemos waved to Eunoa. He was the host's son. He'd hired her and the other girls. She hurried to him. "What would you like?" she asked. He sat up on the couch. She squatted in front of him on the floor, her head bobbing up and down, then, at his gesture, got up onto the couch and squatted on him. Her breath was sweet with wine fumes. And she was smooth inside, too.
Waving a cloth, Erinna ran at a peahen. "Get out of my herbs, you nasty thing!" Sostratos' sister shouted. "Shoo!"
"What's it got in its beak?" Sostratos asked from the edge of the courtyard as the peahen beat a reluctant retreat.
"A wall lizard," Erinna answered. Sure enough, the tail disappeared down the peahen's gullet. Erinna went on, "I don't mind when the peafowl eat lizards and mice. But they eat the cumin and the fennel, too. I don't think you feed them enough."
"I do so." Sostratos indignantly pointed to the barley set out in a broad bowl, from which two other peahens were eating. "They get almost as much as a slave does. I just think they like some opson with their sitos, the same as we do."
Erinna rolled her eyes. "Well, they can get it somewhere besides my herb garden."
"It could be worse," Sostratos said. A horrible, vaguely hornlike noise from next door showed how it could be worse. "Menedemos has the peacock at his house. It does everything the peahens do, and squawks four times as much besides."
"I can't wait till you've bred all the peahens to it," his sister said. "I can't wait till you take them to the Aphrodite and sail far, far away with them."
"It won't be long," Sostratos said. "Now that ships are starting to put in to our harbor, Menedemos grudges every day the galley stays here."
"I'll miss you," Erinna told him. "But I won't miss these miserable, obnoxious birds at all." The peafowl she'd chased from the herb garden sidled back toward the plants, undoubtedly hoping she'd forgotten about it. Forgetting about a bird that big wasn't easy, though. Erinna flapped the cloth again, and the peafowl drew back.
Sostratos would have taken oath he saw anger in the bird's beady black eyes. He said, "You don't have to watch the garden yourself, you know. You could set a slave woman to doing it."
"I tried that yesterday," Erinna said darkly. "She paid more attention to her mug of wine than to the peahens, and we'll go short of garlic for a while - either that or get some from people whose gardens just have snails or caterpillars, not these, these - goats with feathers, that's what they are."
Before Sostratos could answer, the peacock next door let out its blatting cry again. Dogs in the neighborhood started barking. They'd been yapping their heads off every since the peafowl came to Sostratos and Menedemos' houses. The birds probably smelled like a banquet to them, and the peacock especially made enough noise to remind them he was around even when the wind blew from the wrong quarter.
Another horrible noise came from next door, followed by some equally horrible curses. "Hades stuff you with olives and boil you in a saucepan!" Menedemos shouted. "Roast you over a low fire! May your peahens give you the bird clap, so you can't pee through your peacock cock!"
Erinna giggled. Sostratos felt more inclined to applaud. That wasn't Aristophanes, but it almost could have been. Then Menedemos shouted again, this time in pain. Sostratos didn't need to be able to see through the walls between them to be sure the peacock had had its revenge. He wondered whether it had kicked or pecked. Peafowl were formidable at both ends - and with their buffeting wings - as the luckless sailor who'd chased the peacock had discovered to his sorrow.
Erinna said, "You really should have kept Menedemos from buying these pestilential birds."
Sostratos tossed his head. "Once Menedemos sets his heart on doing something, the twelve Olympians couldn't stop him. He'll go far - you mark my words. Of course, he may have to go pretty fast, too, to stay in front of all the husbands he's outraged."
"Oh." Erinna had to flap her cloth at the peahen yet again. Sostratos hoped that would distract her, but it didn't. After forcing the bird to retreat, she said, "Is that really true? About Menedemos, I mean."
"Some of it is, anyhow," Sostratos answered.
His sister clicked her tongue between her teeth. "Respectable women have to make do with a leather sausage if their husbands don't please them. Men can have all the women they want. It hardly seems fair for them to go after wives when they could dip their wicks with slaves and whores."
"I suppose so." Sostratos thought of the redheaded Thracian slave girl. But Erinna hadn't been talking about him; she'd been talking about Menedemos. He said, "You know how our cousin is. For him, sometimes, half the reason for doing something is knowing he shouldn't."
"It could be." Erinna considered. "It probably is, in fact. But what would he say of you if he had the chance?"
"Of me?" Sostratos echoed in surprise. "Probably that I'm too boring to say anything much about." He yawned to emphasize the point.
"Xanthos is boring - or at least that's what everybody says," Erinna answered. "You just don't care to talk about fighting and drinking and women all the time, that's all."
Sostratos went over and gave her a brotherly hug. The peahen, seeing the protector of the herb garden distracted, darted forward. Sostratos and Erinna shooed it off again together. The trouble is, most people like to hear about fighting and drinking and women, Sostratos thought. He did himself, sometimes. And Menedemos could indeed go on most entertainingly about any or all of them.
I'd better give it up, Sostratos thought, or I'll convince myself that I am boring after all. He took a warning step toward the peahen. It backed away, looking as if it hated him.
Getting a ship ready to sail was always a tricky business. Menedemos was convinced he had a harder time with the Aphrodite than he would have had with a round ship, a sailing ship. The reason was simple: with forty oars to man, he needed far more sailors than the master of a sailing ship did.
"We're still a couple of men short," he said to Diokles, his keleustes.
The oarmaster dipped his head in agreement, but didn't seem particularly upset. "We'll hire harbor rats, that's all," he answered, "and if they drink up their wages the first good-sized port we come to, well, to the crows with 'em. Plenty more of that kind to be picked up in any harbor of the Inner Sea."
"I want as good a crew as I can get." Menedemos pointed toward the Aphrodite's bow. "That ram isn't there just for show. Crete breeds pirates the way a dog breeds fleas, and Italy's the same way. And the war between Syracuse and Carthage goes on and on, so the Punic navy's liable to be prowling around, too."
Diokles shrugged. He was about halfway between Menedemos and his father in age, burnt brown by the sun, with the massive shoulders and heavy arms of a man who'd spent a lot of years working an oar himself. "The way I look at it is like this," he said "if a Carthaginian galley with four or five men to a bank of oars comes after us, it won't matter whether a couple of our rowers aren't everything they might be, because we'll get sunk any which way."
Since he was probably - no, almost certainly - right, Menedemos didn't argue with him. Instead, he turned to Sostratos and asked, "How's the cargo shaping?"
His cousin held out a three-leafed wooden tablet faced with wax, on which he'd written the manifest with the sharp end of his bronze stylus. As items came aboard, he'd either erased them with the blunt end or drawn a line through them, depending on how harried he was at any given moment. "We've still got some papyrus to take on board," he answered, showing Menedemos the tablet, "and the peafowl, and their feed, and wine and water and oil and bread for the men."
"We don't need that much," Menedemos said, "for we'll be putting in to real ports most nights."
"I know, but we do need some, and we haven't got it yet," Sostratos replied. "There will be nights when we just haul the ship up onto the beach wherever we happen to end up, and there may be storms."
Menedemos spat into the bosom of his tunic. Diokles had on only a loincloth, so he couldn't turn aside the omen that way. But he wore a ring with the image of Herakles Alexikakos, the Averter of Evil. He rubbed it and muttered a charm under his breath.
"On land, I'm not particularly superstitious," Menedemos remarked. "When I'm about to go to sea . . . That's a different business."
"You'd best believe it," Diokles agreed. "You never can tell with the sea. You can't trust it." He stopped - and started. "What's that dreadful noise?"
"Oh, good." Menedemos spoke with considerable relief. "Here come the peafowl."
Slaves from his father and uncle's houses carried the caged birds down to the Aphrodite. They'd managed to attract a fair-sized crowd of curious onlookers; men didn't carry half a dozen big, raucous birds through the streets of Rhodes every day. And a good thing, too, Menedemos thought. The peacock wasn't the only one screaming its head off. The peahens were squawking, too, though less often and not quite so loud.
"Where are you going to want these miserable things stowed, sir?" one of the slaves asked Menedemos.
He looked to Sostratos. Menedemos was captain; his cousin didn't tell him how to command the akatos. As toikharkhos, Sostratos had charge of the cargo. Since Sostratos was good at what he did, Menedemos didn't want to joggle his elbow.
"We have to keep them as safe as we can," Sostratos said. "They're the most delicate cargo we've got, and the most valuable, too. I want them as far away from the water in the bilges as I can get them. We'd better put them up on the little stretch of foredeck we've got."
That made Menedemos frown, regardless of whether he wanted to joggle his cousin's elbow or not. "Can we stow them there and still have room for the lookout to get up to the bow and do his job?" he asked. "If he can't see rocks ahead or a pirate pentekonter, a whole shipload of peafowl won't do us any good. If you could stack the cages . . ."
"I don't want to do that," Sostratos said unhappily. "The birds above would befoul the ones below, and they could peck at one another, too."
"Will you make up your mind?" asked the slave at the head of the procession. "This stinking cage is heavy."
"Take them up and put them on the foredeck," Sostratos said, speaking with more decision than he usually showed. "We'll just have to find out whether there's room up there for them and the lookout, too."
Down the gangplank and into the Aphrodite trudged the slaves. The peafowl screamed bloody murder; they liked descending at an angle even less than they liked being carried on level ground. By the way the slaves let the cages thud to the pine timbers of the foredeck, they'd got very sick of the birds.
Menedemos came up behind them. "Put those cages in two rows, with a lane in the middle," he said. When the slaves were done, he surveyed the result and reluctantly dipped his head. "I suppose it will do," he called to Sostratos. "But we'll have to warn the lookouts to steer the middle path. If they come too close to the birds on either side, they'll get their legs pecked." He laughed. "We've got Skylle and Kharybdis right here aboard the Aphrodite."
"Homer never saw a peacock - I'm sure of that." Sostratos pointed. "Here comes the last of the papyrus . . . and here comes something else, too. What's in those jars, Menedemos? They aren't on my list here."
"Oh, I know about those," Menedemos answered. "They're crimson dye from Byblos. Father just got them yesterday, from a ship that just came in from Phoenicia."
"Crimson dye . . . from Byblos." Menedemos' cousin spoke with exaggerated patience: "How many jars did Uncle Philodemos get? Why didn't anyone bother to tell me about them till now?" He looked daggers at Menedemos.
"Sorry," Menedemos said, more contritely than he'd thought he would. "It's two hundred jars, by the way."
"Two hundred jars." Sostratos still sounded furious. "This had better not happen again. How am I supposed to do my job if nobody tells me what I'm supposed to be doing?" He pointed to the men who were loading oiled-leather sacks of papyrus beneath the rowers' benches. "Shift those farther astern. We've got to make room for the crimson dye."
Menedemos gave his attention back to Diokles. "Go get us those rowers. I want to be at sea before noon. We probably won't make Knidos even so. No help for it; we'll just have to beach ourselves on Syme."
"Right, skipper." The keleustes dipped his head. "I'll take care of it." He went up the gangplank to the quay at which the Aphrodite was tied up, and shouted for rowers in a great voice.
"Have we got all our cargo aboard?" Menedemos asked Sostratos.
"Unless there's more you haven't told me about, yes," his cousin answered tartly. Menedemos tossed his head, denying even the possibility. Sostratos didn't look appeased, but said, "In that case, everything's loaded." He peered down the quay, though he, unlike Menedemos, wasn't following Diokles with his eyes. "I was wondering if we'd get any passengers."
"I was hoping we would - they're pure profit," Menedemos said. "But it's still early in the sailing season, so some lubbers won't care to put to sea so soon. We'll probably get some in Hellas. There are always people who want to go across to Italy." He clapped his hands together. "Here comes Diokles. That was fast."
"I wonder what'll be wrong with the rowers," Sostratos said.
"We'll find out. At least they aren't falling-down drunk in the morning: a little something, anyhow," Menedemos said. "Get their names, tell 'em it's a drakhma a day, and it'll go up to a drakhma and a half when they show they're worth it. And then . . ." He clapped again, hard this time. "Then we're off."
He hurried past the mast and back to the raised poop deck at the stern of the Aphrodite, slapping rowers on the back as he went and also making sure the jars and sacks that held the cargo were securely stowed under their benches. He'd watched Sostratos attend to that, but he checked it anyhow. The Aphrodite was his ship; if anything went wrong, it was his fault.
He took the tiller bars to the new steering oars in his hands and tugged experimentally. He'd done the same thing every time he came aboard after the Aphrodite went into the sea: the steering oars pleased him that much. Khremes the carpenter had been right - a little old man could handle them all day and never get tired. He'd never felt a pair that pivoted so smoothly.
Diokles came up onto the poop beside Menedemos. Sostratos joined them a moment later, tying his tablet closed with a thin strip of leather. "Let's have a lookout forward," Menedemos called. He pointed to a sailor naked but for a knifebelt round his middle. "Aristeidas, take the first turn there. You've sailed with me before - I know you've got sharp eyes. Mind the peafowl, now."
"Right, captain." Aristeidas hurried up onto the foredeck. The peacock tried to peck him, but he darted past and took hold of the forepost. He waved back to Menedemos.
"Bring in the gangplank," Menedemos commanded. At his shouted order, a couple of longshoremen undid the lines that held the Aphrodite to the quay and tossed the coarse flax ropes into the akatos. With what was almost a bow to Diokles, Menedemos asked, "You have your mallet and your bronze square?"
"I'm not likely to be without 'em," the keleustes answered. "My voice'd give out if I had to call the stroke all day." He stooped and picked up the little mallet and the bronze square, which dangled from a chain so as to give the best tone when he struck it. The stern-facing rowers poised themselves at their oars. Diokles dipped his head to Menedemos. "When you're ready."
"I've been ready for months," Menedemos said. "Now the ship is, too. Let's go."
The keleustes smote the bronze with the mallet. The rowers took their first stroke. To leave the harbor, Menedemos had every oar manned - as much for show as for any other reason. The quay shifted. No: the Aphrodite began to move. Diokles used the mallet again. Another stroke. Again. "Rhyppapai!" the oarmaster called, using his voice to help give the men their rhythm.
"Rhyppapai!" the rowers echoed: the old chant of the Athenian navy, used these days by Hellenes in galleys all over the Inner Sea. "Rhyppapai!! Rhyppapai!"
"You can tell they haven't had oars in their hands for a while," Sostratos remarked.
"They're pretty ragged, aren't they?" Menedemos agreed. Even as he spoke, two rowers on the port side almost fouled each other, and one on the starboard dug the blade of his oar into the water as he brought it back for a new stroke. Menedemos shouted at him. "Nikasion, if you're going to catch a crab, make it the kind you can cook next time!"
"Sorry, skipper," the rower called back, dropping the chant for a moment.
Clang! Clang! After a while, Menedemos knew, he would hardly hear the keleustes' mallet striking the bronze square. At the beginning of every voyage, though, he had to get used to it all over again. A tern plunged into the water of Rhodes' Great Harbor less than a bowshot from the Aphrodite and came out with a fish in its beak. A screeching gull chased it, but the smaller bird got away with the prize.
A sailing ship was coming into the harbor as the akatos neared the narrow outlet between the two moles that protected it from bad weather. Menedemos tugged on the tillers to steer the Aphrodite a little to starboard and give the clumsy, beamy round ship a wider berth. Under the forward-pointing, goose-headed sternpost, the fellow at the sailing ship's steering oars lifted a hand to wave and thank him for the courtesy.
"Where are you from?" Menedemos called across a plethron of blue water.
"Paphos, in Cyprus," the other ship's officer answered. "I've got copper and olive oil and some shaped cedar boards. Where are you away to?"
"I'm bound for Italy, with papyrus and ink and perfume and crimson dye - and peafowl," Menedemos added with no small pride.
"Peafowl?" the fellow on the sailing ship said. "Good luck to you, friend. The peacocks are pretty, sure enough, but I've seen 'em - they're mean. I wouldn't have 'em on my ship, and that's the truth."
"Well, to the crows with you," Menedemos said, but not loud enough for the fellow on the beamy merchantman to hear. He turned to Sostratos. "Fat lot he knows about it."
Only about three plethra separated the tips of the two moles from each other. Inside, the waters of the Great Harbor were glassy smooth. As soon as the Aphrodite passed out into the Aegean proper, the light chop made the motion of the ship change. Diokles smiled. "Your rowing may get a little rusty over the winter," he said, never missing a beat with the mallet, "but you never forget how to stand when she rolls and pitches a little."
"No," said Menedemos, who'd made the adjustment so automatically, he hadn't even noticed he'd done it. He scratched his chin, then shot Sostratos an amused glance: his cousin's beard was a handy thing to be thoughtful with. "I'll keep them all at the oars till we round the nose of the island. Then, if the wind holds, we'll lower the sail and let it do the work."
The keleustes dipped his head. "That seems good to me." Diokles paused, then asked, "You'll want to drill them, though, on the way out, won't you? If we have to fight, the practice'll come in handy. It always does."
"Of course." Menedemos dipped his head. "Yes, of course. But let's give ourselves a couple of days to shake off the cobwebs and rub oil on our blisters. There'll be time for sprints and time for ramming practice, believe me there will."
"Good enough," the oarmaster said. "I just wanted to make sure it was in your mind, skipper, that's all. I think we'll have a pretty fair crew once we do shake down. A lot of the men at the oars have rowed in triremes or in fours or fives. Nothing like serving in the polis' fleet to turn out a solid rower."
As if on cue in a comic play, Aristeidas sang out from his post at the bow: "Trireme off to starboard, captain!"
Menedemos shaded his eyes from the sun with the palm of his hand. So did Diokles and Sostratos. Menedemos saw the ship first. "There she is," he said, pointing. The trireme, twice the length of the Aphrodite but hardly beamier, glided along southeast under sail, the rowers resting easy at the oars. As the lean, deadly shape drew nearer, he made out Rhodes' rose in red on the white linen of the sail.
"Pirate patrol," Sostratos remarked.
"Nothing else but," Menedemos agreed. "Unless a pentekonter or a hemiolia can run away, it's got even less chance against a trireme than we do in the Aphrodite against a pirate ship. But the other side of the coin is, you wouldn't want to take a trireme up against a bigger war galley these days."
"By Poseidon the earthshaker, I should hope not," Diokles said. "Anything from a four on up will have extra timbers at the waterline to make ramming tougher, and it'll have a deck swarming with marines. I wouldn't want to fight a big old mean spur-thighed tortoise like that in a trireme, and I don't know anybody who would, either."
"When we Hellenes fought Persia - even when Athens fought Sparta less than a hundred years ago - all the warships were triremes," Sostratos said. "No one knew how to build anything bigger."
"When the Argives sailed to Troy, they all went in pentekonters," Menedemos said. "Nobody back then even knew how to build triremes." He laughed at how surprised Sostratos looked to find himself topped. Menedemos grinned. "You can keep your fancy historians. Give me Homer any day."
"That's right," Diokles said, though Menedemos didn't think the keleustes could read or write. But everyone, literate or not, had heard the Iliad and Odyssey countless times.
Stubborn as usual, Sostratos tossed his head. "Homer is where you start. No one would argue with that. But Homer shouldn't be where you stop."
There were times - at supper, say, or in a symposion with his cousin leading the drinking and keeping things moderate - when. Menedemos would have been glad to argue that. Now he had the Aphrodite to run, and the ship came first. She'd traveled past the northernmost spit of land on the island of Rhodes. Looking south, Menedemos could see into the city of Rhodes' small western harbor.
"Lower the sail!" he called, and sailors leaped to obey. Down it came from the main yard, canvas flapping till the wind took it and filled it. Like any sail, it was made from oblong blocks of cloth sewn together; the light horizontal lines and the vertical brails gave it the appearance of a gameboard.
Even before Menedemos could give the orders, the men swung the great square sail to take best advantage of the wind coming down from the north. They brailed up the leeward half so as to get the precise portion and amount of sail needed.
"They're good," Sostratos said.
"Diokles said it," Menedemos answered. "They know what they're supposed to do, because they've done it before. The Aphrodite's not so big as a trireme, let alone a four or a five or those new ships the generals are making with six or seven men to a bank of oars, but we do things the same way the bigger ships do. And a sail's a sail, no matter what kind of ship you're in. Only difference between us and a proper warship there is that we're not big enough to need a foresail."
His cousin grinned a sly grin. "You make me feel as if I were back at the Lykeion in Athens. Here, though, it's not Theophrastos lecturing on botany; it's Menedemos on seamanship."
Menedemos shrugged. "If your fancy philosophers would want to listen, I'd fill their ears for them. This is what I know, and I'm good at it." Like any Hellene, he was justly proud of the things he was good at, and wanted everyone else to know about them, too.
"And because you know these things so well, do you think you know others every bit as well?" Sostratos asked.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Menedemos gave him a suspicious stare. "When you start asking that kind of question, you're trying to lure me into philosophy myself, and I don't care to play."
"All right, I'll stop," Sostratos said agreeably. "But when Sokrates was defending himself in Athens, he talked about artisans who knew their own trade and thought they knew everything on account of that."
"And the Athenians fed him hemlock, too - even I know that much," Menedemos said. "So maybe he should have found something else to talk about."
For some reason - Menedemos couldn't fathom why - that seemed to wound his cousin, who subsided into sulky silence. Menedemos gave his full attention back to the Aphrodite. Getting the most from both sails and oars was a subtle art, one most merchant captains with their tubby roundships didn't have to worry about. He let the wind on the quarter drive the akatos westward, while using half the rowers - the others rested at their oars - to head the ram at her bow north as well, toward the little island of Syme.
As the island seemed to rise up out of the sea. Diokles pointed toward it and said, "Miserable little place. Not enough water, not enough decent land for it to amount to anything."
"Well, you're not wrong," Menedemos said. "If it weren't for sponges, nobody would remember the place was here."
That brought Sostratos out of his funk. He tossed his head, saying, "Thoukydides talks about the sea-fight between the Athenians and the Spartans off Syme and the trophy the Spartans set up there in the last book of his history. That makes the island, like the history itself, a possession for all time." He slid from Doric to old-fashioned Attic for the last few words; Menedemos presumed he was quoting his pet historian.
Hearing Sostratos quote Thoukydides, though, jogged his own memory, and he quoted, too, from Homer:
\t" 'Nireus led three ships from Syme -
Nireus son of King Kharopoios by Aglaie,
Nireus, who was the handsomest man who came under Ilion
Of the other Danaans except the illustrious son of Peleus,
But he was not a powerful man, and only a small host followed him.'\t
So even in those days, Syme was nothing much."
"You know the Iliad even better than I thought you did, if you can recite from the Catalogue of Ships in Book Two," Sostratos said.
"Homer to sink my teeth into, Aristophanes to laugh at," Menedemos replied. "To the crows with everybody else."
Before Sostratos could come back with something indignant, Diokles asked, "Whereabouts on the island will you want to beach her tonight?"
"You know the gnarled finger of land that sticks out to the south, the one that points to the islet called Tetlousa?" Menedemos said. "There's a small inlet there, on the western side of it, with the best and softest beach on Syme. That's where I want to put us."
"I do know that inlet, captain, and I do know that beach." The oarmaster dipped his head. "I asked because I was going to speak of them if you didn't."
"And the town on the island is at the north end, isn't it?" Sostratos said. "We'll be as far away from a lot of people as we can - though on Syme, that's not very far."
If Sostratos was talking about practical matters again, and not about literature, that suited Menedemos fine. He said, "You're right. We haven't got that many choices on Syme, anyhow, not when most of the coast is rocky cliffs."
Before long, he ordered the sail brailed up again, for the Aphrodite swung almost due north once it got past Tetlousa - straight into the teeth of the breeze. He put more men back on the oars. The sun was sinking in the west, and he didn't want to have to feel his way into that inlet in the dark. He was all too liable to misjudge things and run the Aphrodite up against the rocks. Sooner than risking that, he would have spent a night anchored at sea, with the rowers sleeping on their benches. They wouldn't be happy about that. They'd have to do it a few times, especially on the journey across the Ionian Sea from Hellas to Italy, but it would be a bad omen the first night out.
But he had plenty of daylight left when Aristeidas sang out from the bow. "There's the inlet, captain!" The lookout pointed to starboard. A moment later, he let out a yelp. "Papail! That stinking peacock got me on the leg!"
Now you've got to watch yourself," Menedemos said. He leaned on the tillers to the steering oars and swung the akatos into the tiny bay.
At the bow, Aristeidas cast a lead-weighted line into the sea to gauge its depth. "Ten cubits," he called. Menedemos waved to show he'd heard. That was enough water and to spare.
At Diokles' shouted orders, the portside rowers backed water while those to starboard pulled with the usual stroke, so that the Aphrodite spun through half a circle in very little more than her own length. When her stern faced the beach, the keleustes cried, "Oö!" and the rowers rested at their oars. "Now," Diokles said, "back water all - at the beat, mind - and bring her up onto the sand." He smote the bronze square with his mallet.
After a few strokes, the Aphrodite's false keel - of sturdy beech, to protect the true keel beneath it - scraped sand as the rowers grounded her. "Oöp!" the oarmaster cried again. Sailors sprang out onto the beach to drag the galley farther from the sea.
Menedemos dipped his head, more than a little pleased with the way things had gone. "This was a good first day," he said to anyone who would listen.
Fires crackled on the beach. Sailors sat around them, eating bread and olives and oil and drinking rough wine. Some of them rubbed their bodies, and especially their sore hands, with more olive oil. A few small fish from the bay and a couple of rabbits sailors had knocked over with rocks sizzled above the flames, adding savory smells to the air and a little opson to the sitos and wine.
Sostratos spotted his cousin over by the biggest, brightest fire. Menedemos spat out an olive pit and drank wine from the same sort of mug he'd called for at the symposion. Sitting there on the sand among the rowers, Menedemos seemed as much in his element as in the fanciest andron. Sostratos sighed. Save perhaps for the Lykeion, he'd never found anywhere he truly felt he belonged.
But he had to do what he had to do. "Hail, cousin," Menedemos called as he came over. "What have you been up to?"
"Checking on the peafowl," Sostratos answered. "I have to tell you, I don't like what I'm seeing."
"What's wrong?" Menedemos asked sharply. Then he checked himself and asked the question a different way. "What do you think is wrong?"
The change angered Sostratos. If his cousin didn't like what he heard, he'd just given himself an excuse to do nothing about it. Trying to keep the ire out of his voice, Sostratos said, "They're looking peaked. I don't think they like staying cooped up in those cages. I don't think it's healthy for them."
Sure enough, Menedemos tossed his head. "Tell it to Aristeidas," he answered. "The peacock drew blood when it pecked him there a little before we landed."
"I don't care," Sostratos said. "Remember how unhappy the birds were when we brought them from Himilkon's warehouse to our houses? Remember how they perked up when they got to run around the courtyards? They like to run around. My sister ran herself ragged trying to keep them out of her herb garden. Now they're caged up again, and they're starting to droop again, too."
"They'll be fine." But Menedemos spoke without so much conviction.
"Three minai, twenty-four drakhmai, three oboloi," Sostratos said. "We want to keep them healthy, you know."
Talking about the birds hadn't got through to his cousin. Reminding Menedemos how much the peafowl had cost did. Wincing, Sostratos' cousin said, "What do you think we ought to do?"
Serious as usual, Sostratos began, "Well, my prescription would be - "
Menedemos burst out laughing. "What have we got here, Hippokrates for peafowl? You've already come halfway toward talking Attic. Will you start spouting Ionian dialect when you go on about doctoring them? ' 'E 'opped on 'is 'orse and 'ammered the 'ide off it with 'is whip.' " He dropped the rough breathings at the beginnings of words, as Ionian Hellenes were wont to do.
The sailors sitting around the fire laughed and poked one another in the ribs; Menedemos had laid on the dialect with a shovel. Sostratos fought to hold on to his patience. "My prescription would be," he repeated in tones threatening enough to make his cousin keep quiet and hear him out, "to let the birds run free whenever we possibly can."
"What? Now?" Menedemos' eyebrows flew upwards. "They'd run off and get away, and a fox would never know what an expensive supper it had."
"You ask me, any fox that tried to catch a peafowl would be sorry a heartbeat later." Sostratos kicked at the golden sand. Now he was annoyed at himself. Theophrastos would have had something sharp to say about irrelevance. Of course, Theophrastos had something sharp to say about almost everything. Sostratos went on, "I don't mean here, especially not at night. But they ought to have the chance to get some exercise while we're at sea, where they couldn't possibly escape."
"No, they can't escape at sea, that's true - not unless they jump into the drink," Menedemos allowed. "But they're pretty stupid, so they might do just that. And I'll tell you something else they'd do: they'd drive the rowers mad. Or do you think I'm wrong; O best one?"
His withering sarcasm failed to wither Sostratos, who answered, "Most of the time, we haven't got a full crew on the oars, nor anything close to one. The men who aren't at the benches could fend them off the ones who are."
"Maybe." But Menedemos sounded anything but convinced.
Sostratos shrugged. "You're the captain. It's up to you. But if the birds do come down sick, that's in your lap, too."
"No. That's in the lap of the gods." Menedemos gulped his wine and glowered at Sostratos. "Are you sure about all this?"
"No, of course I'm not sure," Sostratos answered, more than a little exasperated. "Unless you break your leg or something, a proper physician isn't sure what's wrong with you nine times out of ten. But I'm telling you what I've noticed."
If Menedemos was drunk enough or cruel enough to tell him where to head in, he could walk across Syme to the little town at the north end of the island and hire a fishing boat to take him back to Rhodes. He could . . . but he couldn't. The Aphrodite carried his family's wealth no less than Menedemos'. If he abandoned that investment while fearing Menedemos would make a hash of things with it, neither his own father nor Uncle Philodemos would ever forgive him. And how could he blame them for that? He couldn't.
But how could he stand Menedemos' berating him for doing what he was supposed to be doing and doing it as well as he could? He was every bit as much a free Hellene as his cousin. Slaves had to take abuse; that was one of the reasons no man wanted to be a slave. He waited, grinding his teeth from nerves.
By the look on Menedemos' face, he was about to let fly. But then, eyeing Sostratos, he choked back whatever he'd been on the point of saying. He took another swig of wine from his mug instead. When he did speak, he had himself under control again: "All right. I suppose we can try it, at least when the weather's good and we're in waters where we don't have to worry about pirates. But the birds go back in their cages the instant anything even starts to smell like trouble."
"A bargain," Sostratos said - a great gust of relief. "Thank you."
His cousin shrugged. "Every now and then, I'm tempted to forget why you come along when I take a ship out." His grin was on the nasty side. He'd given Sostratos what he wanted; now he would try to make Sostratos pay for it. And Sostratos, having won the point he had to win, was willing to put up with more than he would have otherwise. Then Menedemos surprised him by adding, "Even if I am tempted, I'd make a mistake if I did it."
Sostratos stared, Menedemos usually amused himself by giving him a hard time, not by paying him compliments. He did that so seldom, in fact, that Sostratos concluded he had to mean this one. He bowed. "Thank you, cousin."
"You're welcome." Menedemos' eyes glinted. Maybe it was just the firelight, but Sostratos didn't think so. And, sure enough, his cousin went on, "See how much you thank me when you're trying to round up the peafowl in a hurry because it's starting to blow a gale."
That didn't sound like anything Sostratos much wanted to do. Still . . . "I'd sooner chase them than throw them over the side with rocks tied to their feet so they'll sink."
"Oh, you're right, no doubt about it." But that glint remained in Menedemos' eyes. "Remember what you just said. It's the sort of thing the gods like to listen for."
Several sailors dipped their heads in agreement. Sostratos thought of himself as a modern, well-educated man. Unlike the sailors - even unlike his own cousin - he didn't get most of his ideas about the gods from the Iliad and the Odyssey. But what Menedemos said had a horrid feeling of probability to him, too. He spat in the bosom of his tunic to turn aside the omen.
"You don't do that very often," Menedemos remarked.
Sostratos answered with a shrug: "We're on the sea now. Diokles said it - things are different here."
"I know that," Menedemos said. "I'm surprised you're willing to admit it."
"We're on the sea," Sostratos repeated. "And we're on the sea with peafowl. If that doesn't make things different, I don't know what would." He plucked at his beard. Since he'd got what he wanted from his cousin, changing the subject looked like a good idea. And so he did, asking, "Do you plan on putting in at Knidos tomorrow?"
"I planned to, yes," Menedemos answered. "It's a good harbor, and a good day's journey from here, too. A couple of hundred stadia - we'll be able to use the sail some, I expect, as long as the breeze holds, but the boys will do some rowing, too. We can put some fresh water aboard, buy some food . . .. Why? Did you have some different scheme in mind?"
"No." Sostratos tossed his head. "I was just wondering if you intended to lay over for a day and do some business there."
"Not unless you find something that drives you wild," Menedemos said. "My thinking is, it's too close to home. What's the point to taking all our expensive goods for a short haul when we're bound to get a lot more for them farther west?"
"Good. We're sailing in the same direction," Sostratos said.
One of the sailors by the fire, a skinny bald man named Alexion, nudged Menedemos and said, "Once we're in the harbor at Knidos, skipper, you ought to charge folks a khalkos apiece, say, to watch master Sostratos here go chasing after all those peafowl." He laughed. So did the other sailors in earshot. So did Menedemos.
And so did Sostratos: if he found the joke funny, they weren't laughing at him . . . were they? But then he grew thoughtful. "Himilkon got half a drakhma from you for just a tail feather, cousin. If we charged people a khalkos or two to come to the edge of the quay and look down into the Aphrodite while the peacock was out of his cage - well, we wouldn't get rich doing it, but I bet we'd make a drakhma, maybe a couple of drakhmai, whenever we did it."
Menedemos looked thoughtful, too. "You're right. We probably would." He turned and slapped Alexion on the back. "Whatever we bring in the first day we try it, it's yours, for having the idea."
The rower's grin showed a broken front tooth. "Thanks, skipper. You treat a fellow right, no two ways about it."
"Fair's fair," Menedemos said. Sostratos dipped his head, wondering if he would have thought of the same thing himself. He hoped so, but he wasn't altogether sure.
The fires died down to embers. Sostratos wrapped himself in his mantle and lay down on the beach with his cloak under his head for a pillow. A nightjar's froglike call came from not far away. The sky was clear, a blue almost black. Only a faint gleam from the Milky Way lightened it near the southern horizon. Zeus' wandering star blazed brilliant, high in the southern sky; that of Ares, duller and redder, hung farther west. Sostratos stared up at them for a little while, then yawned, rolled over on his side, and fell asleep.
"Rosy-fingered dawn!" Menedemos shouted to wake the Aphrodite's crew. The tag from Homer had never seemed more apt. He wondered how the blind poet had been able to describe things so exactly. Beams of pinkish light in the east foretold the arrival of the sun, which couldn't be more than a quarter of an hour away. Even as he watched, the pink began to turn gold.
Sailors groaned and grunted and sat up, rubbing their eyes. Some of them kept right on snoring. Sostratos often did that. To Menedemos' disappointment, his cousin's eyes were open. Sostratos got to his feet and went off behind a bush to piss.
"Get some bread. Get some oil. Get some wine," Menedemos called as the men woke their sleepy comrades. "No slaves here - we've all got to work once we eat."
"What other cheery news have you got for us?" Sostratos asked around a yawn as he came back from behind that bush.
"Once we get the Aphrodite in the water, you can let the peafowl out - one or two at a time, mind, and the peacock by himself - to get whatever exercise they can," Menedemos answered. "Tell off as many sailors as you need to keep them from fouling the men who stay at the oars and mind the sail."
His cousin dipped his head. "Thanks again," he said. "I really do think the birds will be better for it."
"I hope so," Menedemos said, which was true; he didn't want to have to explain to his father that he hadn't been able to sell the peafowl because they'd all died before he got to Italy. "But there's one thing even more important," he added, and watched Sostratos raise a dubious eyebrow. But that was also true: "I hope the ship will be better for it."
"It will be all right," Sostratos said confidently. Menedemos clicked his tongue between his teeth and didn't answer. His cousin was a clever fellow - cleverer than I am, Menedemos thought, without rancor or envy - and a first-rate toikharkhos. But Sostratos had never had to give orders to a crew; he'd never been responsible for a whole ship and everybody in it. He could say things would turn out all right, but Menedemos was the one who had to make them turn out all right.
Just getting that akatos back into the sea was harder work than it would have been with a trireme or even a piratical pentekonter. The Aphrodite had fewer men and, because of the cargo she carried, was heavier in proportion to her size than a vessel meant solely for fighting. Menedemos put half a dozen oarsmen into the ship's boat, and ran a line from its stern to the Aphrodite's stempost. While they rowed with all their might to help pull the beached ship forward, he and the rest of the crew pushed against her stern and sides.
She didn't want to move. Wiping sweat from his forehead with his hand, Diokles said, "We may have to lighten her before she'll get back where she belongs."
"To the crows with that," Menedemos said, though he'd been thinking the same thing. "Taking jars and sacks off, putting them back aboard - we'd never make Knidos by nightfall. The hours aren't so long as they will be come summertime." In the winter, a day's twelve hours were cramped, while a night's twelve stretched. In summer, the reverse held true. At this season of the year, daylight hours and those of the nighttime roughly matched.
"Shall we give it another try, then?" the keleustes asked.
"Unless you feel like swimming home," Menedemos answered. Diokles tossed his head. Menedemos raised his voice to a shout: "Come on! Put your backs into it this time! One more good heave and we'll be off!"
He was anything but sure he was telling the truth, but it was what the sailors needed to hear. He heaved with them, his bare feet digging into the golden sand. At first, he thought this try would prove as fruitless as the last. But then the false keel grated as the ship lurched forward: not much, only a digit's worth or not even that, but some.
Everyone felt the tiny motion. "We can do it!" Menedemos cried. "At my count . . . one, two, three!"
Another scrape of timber on sand. The men grunted and cursed as they shoved. Out in the little bay, the rowers in the boat pulled as if they had a five full of Carthaginians on their tail. The Aphrodite moved a little more, and then a little more - and then, more than a little to Menedemos surprise, slid into the Aegean. The sailors raised a cheer.
"We'll spend the night tied up to a pier in Knidos," Sostratos said, "but the next time we have to go aground on a sandy shore, let's not beach ourselves so hard."
"Well, that isn't the worst idea I've ever heard," Menedemos answered. "Still and all, though, we do want to let the timbers dry whenever we get the chance. Rowing's harder work when you have to shove along the extra weight that goes into a waterlogged ship."
He waded out into the cool water of the bay and, agile as a monkey, swarmed up a rope and over the side of the Aphrodite. Rather less gracefully, Sostratos followed. Before long, all the men were in the Aphrodite and the akatos' boat tied to the sternpost once more for towing.
"Out of the inlet," Menedemos said, "then around the southern coast of Syme, and then west and a little north to Knidos." Still dripping, his hair wet and slick, he took his place at the steering oars and dipped his head to Diokles. "If you'd be so kind, keleustes."
"Right you are, skipper." The oarmaster clanged his mallet against the bronze square. "Rhyppapai! Rhyppapai!"
"Rhyppapai!" the rowers echoed, taking their beat from him. Menedemos had only ten men a side at the oars. He would work the men in shifts, the way any captain not in a desperate hurry did.
Sostratos asked, "May I let a couple of peahens out now?"
"Wait till we're well away from Syme and in more open water," Menedemos answered. "We don't want the miserable birds trying to fly to land and going into the sea instead."
"You're right. I hadn't thought of that," Sostratos said. Menedemos couldn't imagine himself making an admission like that, even if it was true. If he hadn't thought of something, he didn't want anybody but himself knowing it. His cousin went on, "Tell me when the time is right, then."
"I will," Menedemos said, somewhat abstractedly: the bulk of the island was shielding him from some of the wind he wanted to use. He ordered the big square mainsail lowered from the yard, but it flapped and fluttered and didn't want to fill. Even after the sailors used the brails to haul up most of the canvas on the leeward side, he wondered if he should have bothered using it at all; it hardly seemed to add anything to the Aphrodite's turn of speed. Then he shrugged. The men would think it helped, even if it didn't really do much. Keeping them happy counted for something, too.
After an hour or so, the Aphrodite glided between the narrow spit of land at Syme's southwestern corner and the closest of the three tiny islets that straggled out from the spit. Once the ship got free of Syme's wind shadow, the sail bellied out and went taut. "That's more like it," Menedemos exclaimed, and ordered more of the sail lowered to take advantage of the breeze.
"Now?" Sostratos asked: so much for waiting for Menedemos to give him the word.
Menedemos considered. Now that Syme no longer blocked his view, he could see the long, narrow Karian peninsula at whose end Knidos sat. But the peninsula lay perhaps forty stadia to the north: far enough away for it to seem a little misty, a little indistinct. He didn't suppose the peafowl would try to fly to it. "Go ahead," he said. "Let's see what happens. Pick your sailors first, though, and tell them what they're going to have to do."
His cousin dipped his head. Menedemos gave him no more specific instructions; he wanted to see how Sostratos would handle the business. Most of the sailors Sostratos chose were men Menedemos would have picked, too, men he reckoned sensible and reliable. But his cousin also pointed to the two rowers Diokles had plucked off the wharf as the Aphrodite was about to sail. Maybe he wanted to work them in with the rest of the crew. Maybe he just reckoned them expendable. Either way, Menedemos didn't think he would have wanted them for this work.
"Just keep the birds away from people who are doing things that need doing," Sostratos said. "Except for that, let them run around and eat whatever they can catch. We'll have fewer lizards and mice and cockroaches aboard the Aphrodite after a while."
He was probably right. Menedemos hadn't looked at that side of things. No man born of woman could keep down the vermin that inevitably traveled with men and cargo. Vermin were part of life; Menedemos suspected mice and roaches ate scraps of ambrosia on Olympos. Some ship captains took along Egyptian cats to try to keep down the mice, though he'd never been convinced the nasty little yowlers caught enough to be worthwhile.
His cousin stooped on the little foredeck to unlatch a peahen's cage. A moment later, Sostratos hopped back with a yelp of "Oimoi!" He wrung his hand.
"Still have all your fingers?" Menedemos called from the steering oars at the poop.
By the way Sostratos looked down, Menedemos guessed he was checking to make sure of that himself. His cousin dipped his head. "I do," he said, "though no thanks to this monstrous fowl." He shook one of the fingers he still had at the peahen. "You hateful bird, don't you know I'm doing you a favor?"
Maybe the peahen heeded him. At any rate, it didn't try to peck him again. He swung the cage door open. The bird emerged. A heartbeat later, so did another one. Menedemos and Sostratos called that second peahen Helen, because the peacock mated with her more enthusiastically than with the other peahens. When she walked past his cage now, he started screeching loud enough to make Menedemos wince even though he stood at the Aphrodite's stern.
With a flutter of wings, the two peahens went down the wooden stairway and into the undecked bottom of the akatos. One of them pecked at something. "That was a centipede!" a sailor said. "Good riddance to the horrible thing."
The bird called Helen pecked at something else. A rower let out a howl: "That was my leg! You lefthanded idiot, you're supposed to keep the miserable creature away from me."
"I'm sorry, I'm sure," said the fellow called an idiot: one of Diokles' new men, a chap named Teleutas. He flapped the little net he was holding at the peahen, which didn't peck the rower twice. All the same, Menedemos didn't judge this the best way to blend the newcomers with the rest of the crew.
Another rower yelped. The sailor who hadn't kept the peahen from nipping at him had been rowing for Menedemos and Sostratos' families since they were both little boys. Maybe nobody could stop the peafowl from making nuisances of themselves. In that case, maybe Sostratos hadn't made such a bad choice with Teleutas and the other new sailor - whose name Menedemos kept forgetting - after all.
Helen the peahen hopped up onto an empty rower's bench and stretched her neck so she could peer over the gunwale at the Karian coastline in the distance. Would she know it lay in the distance? Or would she forget she had clipped wings and try to strike out for the land she saw?
Before anyone could find out, Sostratos threw a net over her. He didn't want fifty drakhmai of silver splashing into the Aegean. It was a fit home for dolphins - Menedemos saw three or four leaping out of the water off to port - but not for expensive birds.
Helen gave a screech the peacock might have envied and lashed out with feet and beak through the mesh of the net. Sostratos cursed, but didn't let her escape till he got her down where she couldn't do herself mischief.
"This is supposed to keep the birds healthy?" Menedemos called. "Looks like you'll just run them ragged."
Sostratos shot him a harried look. "I'm doing my best," he answered. "If you've got any better ideas - if you've got any ideas at all, Menedemos - suppose you tell me about them."
Menedemos went back to steering the akatos. His cheeks felt on fire; he hoped the flush didn't show. His cousin looked down his nose at him for preferring Homer and bawdy Aristophanes to Herodotos and Thoukydides, and for preferring wine and flutegirls to philosophical discussion at a symposion. But Sostratos didn't usually come right out and call him a fool, especially not when the whole crew of the Aphrodite could hear him. Of course, Sostratos wasn't usually so harassed as he was while trying to shepherd bad-tempered birds that didn't feel like being herded.
Occupied with the peafowl, Sostratos didn't even seem to notice what he'd done. He let Helen out of the net and gave her and the other peahen some more time to run around loose. If either one of them presumed to climb up to the poop deck, Menedemos told himself he'd kick it off no matter how expensive it was. But his cousin and the sailors kept the peafowl away. That left Menedemos disappointed. He was so angry, he wanted to kick something.
After Sostratos got the peahens back in their cages, he let out the peacock. All the sailors exclaimed: they hadn't seen the male bird uncaged. "Be careful of those tail feathers," Sostratos warned. "They're what makes the bird worth what he's worth. If anything happens to them - if anything happens to him - it'll come out of your hides."
Menedemos wouldn't have put it that way. Putting it that way, he thought, meant the sailors wouldn't dare do anything much to or with the peacock. And he proved a good prophet. The peacock ran around staring and pecking and kicking and screeching, and Sostratos had to take care of it and recapture it almost completely by himself. Irked at his cousin, Menedemos gave no orders to make life easier for him, as he might have otherwise. Had Sostratos complained, Menedemos would have told him where to head in. But Sostratos didn't complain. He netted the peacock as neatly as a fisherman might have netted some anchovies, and returned him to his cage without taking any wounds. Even Menedemos had to admit to himself it was a job well done.
As the Aphrodite made her way toward Knidos, Sostratos gave the other three peafowl some exercise time in turn. One of them drew blood from a rower. His friends had to grab him to keep him from bringing the bird to an untimely end.
Once the last peahen was back in its cage, Sostratos mounted the steps to the poop deck. He looked haggard. "I hope that's done the peafowl some good," he said. "It's certainly kept me on my toes."
"This is what you asked for," Menedemos reminded him. "If the birds do look perkier, you'll be doing it every day."
"Gods," Sostratos muttered. Menedemos, still feeling heartless, affected not to notice. His cousin spoke a bit louder: "They're liable to be more trouble than they're worth."
"Not when they're worth at least three and a quarter minai," Menedemos said. Sostratos groaned, not loudly but unmistakably. Again, Menedemos pretended not to hear.
Knidos had a fine harbor. A little island sat just off the Karian coast. Part of the town was on the mainland, the rest on the island. Stone moles connected the two, dividing the harbor in twain. Sostratos breathed a sigh of relief as longshoremen tied the Aphrodite up to a pier. He looked forward to sleeping in a bed at an inn. It wouldn't match the bed he had at home, but it would have to be an improvement on wrapping himself in his himation and lying down on the sand.
A bald man with a gray-streaked bird pointed to the cages on the foredeck and asked, "What have you got in there?"
"Peafowl," Sostratos answered.
"Peafowl," Menedemos echoed, in an altogether brighter tone: he remembered Alexion's moneymaking scheme, which had slipped Sostratos' mind. He went on, "Peafowl from the steaming jungles of India. You can see them up close for only two khalkoi - the sixth part of an obolos." The man with the gray beard paid out the two little bronze coins without hesitation. He came aboard the Aphrodite and stared at the birds through the slats of the cages.
They gave him a good show. Two of them tried to peck him, and the peacock screeched loud enough to make him jam his fingers in his ears. "Nasty things, aren't they?" he said to Sostratos, who'd stayed by the birds. By worrying about the way they looked after staying in their cages all the time, he'd apparently appointed himself chief peafowl-keeper along with all his other duties.
Those screeches drew more people to the pier. With his usual eye for the main chance, Menedemos went up the gangplank and talked rapidly, fluently, and perhaps even truthfully about peafowl. His patter was plenty to send more curious Knidians down to the Aphrodite to take a look for themselves. He collected the khalkoi on the pier; nobody set foot on the galley without having paid. Sostratos remained by the peafowl to make sure nobody tried to poke them with a stick or yank out one of the peacock's tail feathers or do anything else he shouldn't have. He told what he knew about the birds and listened to the locals' news, not all of which he'd heard before.
Men and boys and even a few women kept coming aboard till the sun sank in the Aegean. By then, most of the sailors - everyone, in fact, except for six or eight guards Diokles chose - had gone into Knidos to sample the harborside taverns and brothels. Sostratos reluctantly resigned himself to spending the night on the Aphrodite: only a fool would wander through a strange town at night by himself with nothing but a torch to light his way.
Some of the akatos' crew brought back bread and oil and olives and wine for the men who stayed behind. It wasn't much of a supper, but better than nothing. Alexion happily counted the pile of small change Menedemos gave him. "Better than a drakhma here, sure enough," he said. "Thank you kindly, skipper."
"Thank you," Menedemos told him. "You earned it. The birds will make us money the rest of the trip."
"I heard a couple of interesting things," Sostratos said, dipping a chunk of bread into some oil as he sat on the timbers of the poop deck. "I think we can forget about the peace the four generals signed last summer."
"I don't suppose anyone expected it to last long." Menedemos spat an olive pit into the palm of his hand, then tossed it over the side. Sostratos heard the tiny splash as it went into the water. Colors faded out of the world as twilight deepened and more stars came out. Menedemos asked, "What happened?"
"They say here that Ptolemaios has sent an army up into Kilikia to attack Antigonos there," Sostratos answered. "The excuse he's using is that Antigonos broke the treaty by putting garrisons in free and independent Hellenic cities."
Menedemos snorted. Sostratos didn't blame him. Knidos, for instance, called itself a free and independent Hellenic city, but it did Antigonos' bidding, as did most Hellenic cities in Asia Minor - including those of Kilikia in the southeast. Rhodes, now, Rhodes truly was free and independent . . . since expelling Alexander's garrison. That didn't mean any of the squabbling Macedonian generals wouldn't be delighted to bring the city to heel again.
After another snort, Menedemos asked, "What else did you hear?"
"You know Polemaios, Antigonos' nephew?" Sostratos said.
"Not personally, no," his cousin answered, which made him snort in turn. Menedemos went on, "What about him?"
"A fisherman told me that a ship came into Knidos from Eretria on the island of Euboia," Sostratos said.
Menedemos impatiently dipped his head. "He's been holding the island - and Boiotia, too: all that country north of Athens - for Antigonos for the past couple of years."
"Not any more," Sostratos said. "He's gone over to Kassandros with his whole army."
"Has he?" Menedemos whistled softly. "I'll bet old One-Eye is fit to be tied. Why on earth would he do a thing like that?"
"Who can say?" Sostratos answered with a shrug. "But Antigonos' sons are grown men - Demetrios especially, though Philippos can't be more than a few years younger than we are. With two sons in the family, how much inheritance can a nephew hope for?"
"Something to that, I shouldn't wonder," Menedemos said. "If Antigonos gets his hands on Polemaios now, though, he'll give him his inheritance, all right: one funeral pyre's worth."
"I wouldn't want Antigonos holding that kind of grudge against me." Sostratos agreed. "And, of course, he'll be at war with Kassandros over this, because it really weakens him in Hellas. I wonder why the generals bothered making their treaty at all."
"It must have seemed like a good idea at the time," Menedemos said. "More often than not, that's why people do things."
There in the twilight - almost the dark, now - Sostratos eyed his cousin. Menedemos might well have been describing himself and his own reasons for doing this or that . . . which didn't mean he was wrong about the generals. Sostratos tried to take a longer view of things. He knew he often failed, but he did try.
"It shouldn't have anything to do with us, not directly," he said. "We won't be heading to the northern parts of Hellas or up to Macedonia, either."
"Not directly, no," Menedemos said. "But if Kassandros sends out a fleet and Antigonos sends out a fleet - they aren't pirates, but they'd both think we made tasty pickings. They aren't pirates, but they're liable to be worse than pirates. The Aphrodite's got some chance of beating a pentekonter, but we'd need a miracle against a trireme, let alone anything bigger."
"Maybe it's a good time to get out of the Aegean and head west," Sostratos said, and then, before Menedemos could answer. "Of course, it would be even better if Syracuse and Carthage weren't fighting over there."
"No such thing as good times for traders," Menedemos said. "No such thing as safe times, anyway. My father would say that, anyway, and I think yours would, too."
"Probably." Sostratos yawned, then sighed. "I was hoping for a real bed tonight, and what do I get? Wood." He wrapped his himation around himself.
His cousin laughed. "I was hoping for a real bed with somebody warm and friendly in it, and what do I get? Wood and you." He too stretched out on the poop deck and made himself as comfortable as he could. "Good night."
"Good night." The planks were hard, but Sostratos had had a long, wearing day. He fell asleep almost at once.
He woke a little before sunup. The peacock, punctual as a rooster, announced the coming day with a squawk that probably shook half of Knidos out of bed. Sostratos yawned and stretched and rolled over so that he faced Menedemos. His cousin's eyes were also open. "Do you think Diokles is awake?" Menedemos asked.
"Yes, unless that horrible screech frightened him to death," Sostratos answered.
"Ha! If only that were a joke." Menedemos got to his feet. With his himation a blanket and his chiton a pillow, he was as naked as the day he was born: nothing out of the ordinary on a ship, in port or on the sea. He raised his voice: "Diokles."
The keleustes had slept on a rower's bench, leaning up against the planking of the Aphrodite. He waved back toward the poop. "Good day, captain," he said. "Gods, that's a sweet-voiced fowl we're carrying, isn't it?"
"Sweet as vinegar," Menedemos answered. "Sweet as rancid oil. How many rowers went into town yesterday and still haven't come back?"
Diokles didn't even have to look around to answer: "Five. Not too bad, all things considered."
"No, not too," Menedemos said. "But tell off some men and start scouring the wineshops and the whorehouses. I want a full crew when we sail, and I want to leave inside an hour's time. The wind'll be in our teeth all the way to Kos, so I don't want to head up there with any empty benches - we'll row every cubit of the trip."
"I'll see to it," Diokles promised. "Most of the dives are close by the harbor, so we shouldn't need long to sift through 'em. And if we're still a man or two short, there's bound to be somebody who'll want to ship with us."
"Let's try to round up our own first," Menedemos said, and the oarmaster dipped his head. He chose large, well-made men to come with him. They all had knives on their belts, and some of them carried belaying pins, too. "He's smart," Menedemos remarked to Sostratos. "The best way not to run into trouble is to show that you're ready for it."
"You're bound to be right." Naked as Menedemos, Sostratos strode to the gunwale and pissed over the side into the harbor water. Then he went up to the little foredeck to see how the peafowl were doing. The peacock greeted him with another raucous screech.
"How do they look?" Menedemos called from the stern.
"All right, I suppose," Sostratos answered. "We're still finding out how they're supposed to look. Nothing wrong with their voices, that's certain. I'm going to give them something to eat while the ship's still tied up to the quay."
He waited for his cousin to wave agreement, then undid a leather sack of barley and piled grain onto half a dozen plates, one of which he set in front of each cage. The slats in the doors were wide enough to let the birds stick their heads out and eat. That made anyone who walked by step lively, but it meant he didn't have to open the cages to feed the peafowl.
"Are they eating all right?" Menedemos asked. On land, he did as he pleased, indulging his passions far more than Sostratos chose to do. Aboard ship, nothing escaped his notice. The peacock had Argos' eyes in its tail; Sostratos' cousin seemed to have them in his head.
Sostratos watched the birds pecking away like so many outsized chickens, then dipped his head. Menedemos waved again to show he'd seen the answer. No, nothing got past him.
A couple of the missing rowers returned by themselves, one hung over and the other so drunk he almost fell off the pier before he got to the Aphrodite. "Are you going to dock his pay?" Sostratos asked.
His cousin tossed his head. "No, he's here on time - and he's here all by himself, too." An evil smile spread over Menedemos' face. "I'll do something worse - I'll wait till he's really starting to hurt, and then I'll put him on the oars. If that doesn't cure him, gods only know what will."
"Not a bad notion," Sostratos said, admiring the rough justice of it. He paused thoughtfully. "The exercise may help ease the confusion in his humors and cure him quicker than sitting idle would."
"Maybe." Menedemos chuckled. "Even if it does, though, he won't be happy while it's going on." Sostratos could hardly disagree with that.
One of the rowers came running up the pier toward the Aphrodite. "Diokles says to tell you we've got three of them, captain," he called. "No sign of the other two."
"They came back on their own," Menedemos answered. "Diokles can bring in the rest of the lost sheep, and then we'll be off."
The sailors had to carry one of their comrades, who'd guzzled himself into a stupor. By the glint in Menedemos' eye, Sostratos knew what his cousin had in mind for that fellow once he revived. Fair enough, Sostratos thought. Drinking yourself blind is excessive. Diokles giving the beat, the Aphrodite left the harbor of Knidos and headed for Kos.
"Rhyppapai! Rhyppapai!" Diokeles used the oarmaster's chant along with the rhythm of mallet on bronze. As Menedemos had thought it would, the wind blew straight out of the north, straight into his face, as the merchant galley he commanded made for Kos. A sailing ship bound for Kos from Knidos would have had to stay in port; it could have made no headway against the contrary breeze. He just left the sail brailed up tight, so that the akatos proceeded on oars alone.
Waves driven by the headwind splashed against the Aphrodite's ram and pointed cutwater. Striking the ship head-on, they gave her an unpleasant pitching motion. Menedemos, who stood on the raised poop deck handling the steering oars, didn't mind it so much, but he'd spent the night aboard ship. Some of the rowers who were rather the worse for wear leaned out over the gunwales and fed the fish of the Aegean.
"Keep an eye peeled," Menedemos called to the lookout at the bow. "The mainland of Asia belongs to Antigonos." He took his right hand off the steering-oar tiller to wave toward the misty mainland. "Kos, though, Kos is under Ptolemaios' thumb. And if the treaty the generals signed last summer is just a broken pot, the way it seems, they're liable to go at each other any time."
He kept a wary eye out for warships and pirate galleys himself. All he saw, though, were a few little fishing boats bobbing in the chop. A couple of them spread their sails and scooted away from him as fast as they could go. He laughed at that: the akatos looked too much like a piratical pentekonter for them to want to let it get close.
"You're the one who's been hearing most of the news lately, cousin," he said to Sostratos. "Do you have any idea what sort of fleet Ptolemaios has at Kos?"
But Sostratos tossed his head. "Sorry - haven't heard that. It had better be a good-sized one, though, because Antigonos has a lot of ports on the mainland and the islands farther north." He grimaced. "The same holds for Rhodes, you know."
"We have got a good-sized fleet, and a good thing, too," Menedemos said. "Antigonos knows better than to quarrel with us, the same as a dog knows better than to bite a hedgehog. Now, where have you got those perfumes stowed?"
"To port, a little aft of amidships," Sostratos answered. "Are you thinking of trading them for silk?"
"That's just what I'm thinking," Menedemos told him. "The Hellenes in Italy can make their own perfume. You can't get silk anywhere but Kos."
"If we can make a good bargain with the silk merchants, that's fine," Sostratos said. "If not . . ." He shrugged. "If not, we'd do better spending silver on silk and saving the perfumes for a market where they'll bring us more."
"You'll be the judge of that," Menedemos said. "That's why you're along."
"Nice to know you think I have some use," Sostratos said dryly.
"Some," Menedemos agreed, to make his cousin squirm. He pointed. "And you'd better keep an eye on that peahen, too, before she goes into the drink."
As one had done on the first day it was let out of its cage, a peahen had hopped up onto a vacant rower's bench and was peering over the side. Menedemos didn't know if the bird would try to fly off and fall into the sea, but he didn't want to find out the hard way, either. Sostratos was of like mind. He netted the bird before it could do anything the young men who'd bought it would regret.
The peahen pecked Sostratos through the mesh of the net. "Down to the house of Hades with you, you accursed, abominable thing!" he shouted, rubbing at his ribs through his chiton. He turned to Menedemos. "If it weren't for what we paid for them, I'd like to watch them drown."
"So would I," Menedemos said. "I'd hold them under myself, in fact."
"I never imagined sailing with a valuable cargo I hated," Sostratos said, releasing the peafowl by the socket that fixed the mast to the keel. He pointed a warning finger at the bird. "Stay down here where you belong, Furies take you!" To Menedemos, he added, "I don't much care for cargo that won't stay where I stow it, either."
"The birds would, if you left them in their cages," Menedemos said.
His cousin tossed his head. "We've been over that. I think they'll be better for getting out, though they may drive me mad by the time we make Italy."
Menedemos laughed. Sostratos rolled his eyes. That made Menedemos laugh more. But before he could twit his cousin any further, the watchman on the foredeck sang out: "Sail ho, off the starboard bow!" A moment later he amended that: "Sails ho! She's got a foresail, captain!"
"A big one," Menedemos muttered, peering in the direction the lookout's pointing finger gave. He had sharp eyes; he needed only a moment to spot the ship. When he did, he cursed. He'd hoped to see a big merchantman, bound perhaps for Rhodes and then Alexandria. No such luck: that low, lean shape could belong only to a war galley.
"He's seen us, too," the lookout called. "He's turning this way."
His voice held alarm. Menedemos didn't blame him. He was alarmed, too. "What do we do, skipper?" Diokles asked.
"Hold course," Menedemos answered. "Best thing we can do is put up a bold front. If we were in a pentekonter or a hemiolia, we might have hoped to turn and outrun him downwind, but we haven't got a prayer of that in this akatos - she's too beamy. We have every right to be here, and a proper warship won't give us any trouble, because nobody wants any trouble with Rhodes."
I hope. He'd spoken brashly to hearten his men - and to hearten himself, too. But brashness didn't come easy, not as the galley approached, now under sails and oars. "Eagles on the sails," the lookout called.
"He's one of Ptolemaios', then," Sostratos said.
Menedemos dipped his head in agreement. "Patrolling out of Kos, I suppose."
"Too big and broad to be a trireme," his cousin observed. "A four or a five."
"A five," Menedemos answered. "Three banks of rowers, see? One man on each thalamite oar down low, two on each zygite, and two on each thranite oar on top. If it were a four, it'd be two-banked, with two men on each oar."
"You're right of course." Sostratos thumped his forehead with the heel of his hand, as he often did when he thought he'd been foolish. "Whatever it is, it's big enough to eat us for opson and still be hungry for sitos afterwards."
"And isn't that the truth?" Menedemos said unhappily. "Got to be a hundred cubits long, if it's even a digit." For a merchant galley, the forty-cubit Aphrodite was of respectable size. Compared to the war galley, it was a sprat set beside a shark. The five was fully decked, too; armored marines with spears and bows strode this way and that, their red cloaks blowing in the breeze. The outrigger through which the thranite oarsmen rowed was enclosed with timber, making the ship all but invulnerable to archery.
"Catapult at the bow," Sostratos remarked. "From what Father says, they were just starting to mount them on ships when we were little."
"Yes, I've heard my father say the same thing," Menedemos agreed. He hadn't been paying the dart-thrower any mind; he'd been looking at the eyes painted on either side of the five's prow. The Aphrodite had them, too, as did almost every ship in the Middle Sea, but these seemed particularly fierce and menacing - not least because, at the moment, they were glaring straight at his ship.
One of the men on the war galley's deck cupped his hands in front of his mouth and shouted: "Heave to!"
"What do we do, skipper?" Diokles asked again.
"What he says," Menedemos answered, watching seawater foam white over the topmost fin of the five's ram. The green bronze fins had to be a cubit wide; they could smash a hole in the Aphrodite's side that would fill her with water faster than he cared to think about. Even if he were mad enough to try to use his much smaller ram against her timbers, she had extra planking at the waterline to ward against such attacks.
"Oöp!" the keleustes shouted, and the akatos' rowers rested at their oars.
Up came the five to lie alongside the Aphrodite. Men brailed up the sails to keep the great ship from gliding away to the south. The war galley's deck rose six or seven cubits out of the water; the archers there could shoot down into the akatos' waist, while Menedemos' men could do next to nothing to reply.
A fellow in a scarlet-dyed tunic looked the Aphrodite over. By the way he put his hands on his hips, what he saw didn't much impress him. "What ship is this?" he demanded.
"The Aphrodite, out of Rhodes," Menedemos said. And then, deliberately mocking, he gave the galley the same sort of once-over her officer had given the akatos. It wasn't so easy for him, because he had to crane his neck upwards to do a proper job of it, but he managed. And, looking up his nose because he couldn't look down it, he asked, "And what ship are you?"
Perhaps taken by surprise, the war galley's officer replied, "The Eutykhes. General Ptolemaios' ship, out of Kos." Then he glared at Menedemos, who smiled back. He snapped, "I don't have to answer your questions, and you do have to answer mine. If you're lucky " - he played on the meaning of his ship's name - "you'll be able to."
"Ask away," Menedemos said cheerfully. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sostratos looking worried. Sostratos would never have baited the Eutykhes' officer. Because he was rational and sensible, he thought everybody else was, too. Menedemos had a different opinion. Insulting an arrogant ass was often the only way to get him to acknowledge you.
Of course, it also had its risks. With a scowl, the officer said, "You look like a gods-detested pirate to me, is what you look like. Rhodes? Tell me another one. Give me the name of the man you serve and give me your cargo and do it fast, or you'll never get the chance to do anything else."
"I serve two men: my father Philodemos and Lysistratos, his younger brother," Menedemos answered, all business now. "If you don't know of them, ask your crew; someone will."
And, to his relief, one of the marines aboard the Eutykhes came up to the officer. Menedemos couldn't make out what the fellow said, but the sour look on the officer's face argued that the other man did know of Philodemos and Lysistratos. A snap in his voice, the officer said, "Any rogue may hear a name or two, and put them in his own mouth when he finds them handy. I am not convinced you are what you claim to be. Your cargo, and be quick about it."
"Quick as you please," Menedemos answered. "We carry ink and papyrus and crimson dye and fine perfumes and . . ." He grinned slyly. "Five peahens and a peacock."
As he'd hoped, that rocked the Eutykhes' officer back on his heels. "A peacock?" he growled. "I don't believe you. If you had a peacock on board, I'd see it. And if you're lying to me, you'll be sorry."
"Sostratos!" Menedemos called. His cousin waved. "Show the gentleman the peacock, if you please."
"Right." Sostratos hurried up to the foredeck. He undid the latches on the peacock's cage and opened the door. The bird, which would have bolted out screeching at any other time, stayed where it was and kept quiet. Menedemos flicked a glance to the officer aboard Ptolemaios' five. The man stood on the deck with his arms folded across his chest. He wasn't about to believe anything Menedemos said, not till he saw it with his own eyes.
There had been times when Menedemos faulted Sostratos for dithering when he should have been doing. This wasn't one of those times. When the peacock refused to come out of its cage, Sostratos picked up the cage and dumped the bird out onto the foredeck. It squawked then, squawked and ran down into the waist of the Aphrodite.
"A peacock," Menedemos said smugly. "Tied up at anchor, we'd charge you a khalkos or two to see it, but here on the sea I give you the sight for nothing."
He was, perhaps, lucky: the Eutykhes' officer paid no attention to his patter. The fellow stared down at the bird and its magnificent tail. Marines and other officers hurried over to have a look, too. So many men rushing to starboard might have capsized the Aphrodite, but they gave the far bigger war galley only a slight list.
"A peacock," Menedemos repeated softly.
"A peacock," the officer agreed. Because the Aphrodite's sailors weren't watching the bird so closely as they might have been, it pecked a rower in the leg. He sprang up from his bench, howling curses. The men on the Eutykhes howled laughter.
"May we cage it up again now?" Menedemos asked. "It's pretty, no doubt about it, but it's a cursed nuisance."
"Go ahead." The Eutykhes' officer absently dipped his head in assent. His eyes remained fixed on the bird. He had to gather himself before finding a question of his own: "You'll be putting in at Kos today?"
"That's right," Menedemos answered. "We're bound for Italy, and we'll want to take some silk with us if we can get a decent price."
"Good trading, then," the officer said. He turned away from Menedemos and shouted orders to his own crew. The five's mainsail and foresail descended from their yards. The keleustes clanged on something louder and less melodious than the bronze Diokles used. The oars began to work. Eyeing the Eutykhes, Menedemos judged the crew had been together for a while. Their rowing was very smooth. The war galley resumed its southbound course, picking up speed quickly despite its massive bulk.
Once it had got out of arrow range, Menedemos allowed himself the luxury of a long sigh of relief. Diokles dipped his head to show he understood why. "That could have been sticky," the oarmaster said.
"That was sticky," Menedemos said. "But you're right. It could have been even stickier. He might not have stopped to ask questions. He might have just lowered his masts and charged right at us." He paused, imagining the Eutykhes' ram bearing down on the Aphrodite, driven toward her by three hundred rowers pulling like madmen. The mental picture was vivid enough to make him shudder. He tried to drive it from his mind: "Maybe we could have dodged."
"Maybe," Diokles said. "Once, maybe." He didn't sound as if he believed even that. And Menedemos didn't argue with him, because he didn't believe it, either.
Having wrestled the peacock into its cage once more, Sostratos made his way back to the stern. "Ptolemaios' men must be jumpy now that they're fighting Antigonos again," he said, and waved toward the mainland of Asia off to starboard. "Plenty of towns where old One-Eye could put a fleet together for the invasion of Kos. And the channel between the island and the mainland can't be more than twenty-five stadia wide. You can almost spit across it."
"You're right, and I'm an idiot," Menedemos said. Sostratos gaped at him, not used to hearing such things: Menedemos was more likely to call him an idiot. Not now, though. Menedemos went on, "I didn't see the connection between Kilikia and here till you rubbed my nose in it. I probably wouldn't have, either."
"All the pieces fit together," his cousin answered seriously. "That's what history is all about - showing how the pieces fit together, I mean."
"Well, maybe it's good for something after all, then," Menedemos said. "Maybe." He didn't quite know it, but he sounded as dubious as Diokles had when talking about the Aphrodite's chances of escaping the Eutykhes had the five chosen to attack. He didn't worry about that, though. He had more important things to worry about: "On to Kos, and let's see if we can get some silk."
Kos, the main city on the island of Kos, was a new town, even newer than Rhodes. The Spartans, Sostratos knew, had sacked Meropis, the former center, during the Peloponnesian War after an earthquake left it half wrecked. Meropis had stood in southwestern Kos, looking back toward Hellas. The new city of Kos was at the northeastern end of the island, and looked across the narrow strait to Halikarnassos on the Asian mainland.
Like Rhodes', the new city's harbor boasted all the modern improvements: moles to moderate the force of the waves, and stone quays at which merchantmen and war galleys could tie up (though the galleys usually stayed out of the water in shipsheds to keep their timbers from getting heavy and waterlogged). "It's a pretty sight, isn't it?" Sostratos said as the Aphrodite eased up to a quay. "The red tile roofs of the city against the green of the hills farther inland, I mean."
"When I get a chance to look, I'll tell you," Menedemos answered, making a minute turn with the port steering oar. All his attention was on the quay, none on the scenery. He turned to Diokles. "I think that will do it. Bring us to a stop just as we come alongside here."
"Right you are, skipper." The keleustes raised his voice: "Back oars!" A couple of strokes killed the akatos' forward motion. "Oöp!" Diokles shouted, and the men rested at the oars with the Aphrodite motionless in the water only a short jump from the quay.
Sailors tossed lines to men on the quay, who made the akatos fast. "Who are you?" one of the Koans asked. "Where are you from?" another asked. "What's your news?" a third said.
Sostratos wasn't surprised that they already knew about the murders of Alexandros and Roxane, and of course they knew Ptolemaios had gone back to war with Antigonos. They hadn't heard that Antigonos' nephew had gone over to Kassandros, and one of them clapped his hands when Menedemos mentioned it. "Anything that keeps the Cyclops busy somewhere else is good for us here," the fellow said, and his friends chimed in with loud agreement.
"Remind me how I get to the shop of Xenophanes the silk merchant," Sostratos said.
"It's simple, sir," one of the harbor workers answered, and then paused expectantly. With a mental sigh, Sostratos tossed him an obolos. He popped it into his mouth, saying, "Many thanks, best one. Go up three streets " - he pointed - "then turn right and go over two. You can't miss it: there's a bawdy house full of pretty boys across the street."
"That's right." Sostratos dipped his head and turned to Menedemos. "Remember the fellows who were brawling in the street over that one boy when we were here last spring?"
"I certainly do," his cousin said. "That little chap with the gray hair was going for his knife when a couple of people sat on him."
"Foolishness," Sostratos said. "A brothel boy's not worth quarreling over. He wouldn't have cared a fig for either one of them, except for what he could squeeze out of them. Hetairai are the same way, most of the time: more trouble than they're worth, and more expensive, too."
"You sound like my father." By the way Menedemos said that, he didn't mean it as a compliment. He raised an eyebrow. "Besides, what do you know about hetairai?"
Ears burning, Sostratos hurried up the gangplank to the quay. Menedemos stayed aboard the Aphrodite for a little while, setting up a watch schedule that would keep enough men on the ship at all times to deter robbers. The delay let Sostratos recover his composure. Unlike Menedemos - unlike most young men of his wealth - he wasn't in the habit of keeping a mistress. His cousin made it sound as if there were something wrong with him. But I've never met a hetaira who made me believe she cared about me more than she cared about my silver. He didn't bother saying it aloud. Letting it drop seemed better than enduring whatever snide comeback his cousin would surely find.
Menedemos pranced up the gangplank, almost as if he were about to start dancing the kordax. He had one of the little pots of perfume in his left hand. "Let's go," he said cheerfully, and slapped Sostratos on the shoulder. He'd already forgotten he'd been teasing his cousin. Sostratos hadn't. Menedemos continued, "With any luck at all, we'll be able to make a deal before sundown and get back to the ship without having to hire torchbearers."
"Now who's fretting about every khalkos?" Sostratos said, and savored the dirty look Menedemos gave him.
Being a new city, Kos was laid out in a grid, as Rhodes was. Once they got directions, Sostratos and Menedemos had no trouble finding Xenophanes' establishment. A man came out of the establishment across the street with his tunic rumpled and a lazy smile on his face. Other than that, the bawdy house seemed as peaceful as if the proprietor sold wool.
A plump Karian slave bowed when Sostratos and Menedemos walked into Xenophanes' shop. "The gentlemen from Rhodes!" he said in excellent Greek.
"Hail, Pixodaros," Sostratos said.
"My master will be as pleased to see you as I am, best ones," Pixodaros said. "Let me go get him." He bowed again, beamed at Sostratos, and hurried into a back room.
"How did you remember his name?" Menedemos whispered. "You could set a vulture tearing at my liver, the way Zeus did with Prometheus, and I couldn't have come up with it."
"Isn't that why you bring me along?" Sostratos answered. "To keep track of details, I mean?"
"He's just a slave," Menedemos said, as if Pixodaros weren't important enough to be even a detail.
But Sostratos tossed his head. "He's more than just a slave. He's Xenophanes' right-hand man. If he's happy with us, his master will be, too. That can't hurt, and it might help."
Pixodaros returned, Xenophanes following him and leaning on a stick like the last part of the answer to the riddle of the Sphinx. The silk merchant's white beard spilled down over half his chest. A cataract clouded his right eye, but the left remained clear. He shifted the stick to his left hand and held out his right. "Good day, gents," he said, his Doric drawl more pronounced than that of the Rhodians.
Menedemos and Sostratos clasped his hand in turn. His grip was still warm and firm. "Hail," Menedemos said.
"What's that?" Xenophanes cupped a hand behind his ear. "Speak up, young fellow. My hearing isn't quite what it used to be."
It hadn't been good the year before, Sostratos remembered. Now, evidently, it was worse. "Hail," Menedemos repeated, louder this time.
Xenophanes dipped his head. "Of course I'm hale. If a man my age ain't hale, he's dead." He laughed at his own wit. So did his slave. And so, dutifully, did Sostratos and Menedemos. Xenophanes turned to Pixodaros. "Fetch us some stools from the back, why don't you? And a jar of wine, too. I reckon we'll chat for a spell before we commence to dickering."
Pixodaros made two trips, one for the stools, the other for the wine, some cool water to mix with it, and cups. He served Xenophanes and the two Rhodians.
"Thanks," the silk merchant said. He waved toward the stools. "Set a spell," he told Sostratos and Menedemos as he perched on the one Pixodaros had brought for him. The Karian had also brought one for himself, and sat down beside his master.
They sipped wine and swapped news. Like the rest of the Koans, Xenophanes hadn't heard about Polemaios' defection from Antigonos. "The nephew will have seen that the sons are rising men," Pixodaros remarked.
"My thought exactly," Sostratos agreed.
Xenophanes ran a hand through his beard. "I'd be just about of an age with One-Eye," he said. "Still a few old mulberry trees the wind hasn't blown down."
"Mulberry trees?" Sostratos said; he hadn't heard that figure of speech before.
"Mulberry trees," Xenophanes repeated, and dipped his head for emphasis. "Call it a silk-seller's joke if you care to, sir." He took another pull from his cup and declined to explain further.
After a while - a little sooner than Sostratos would have - Menedemos said, "I've got some fine perfumes with me, made from the best Rhodian roses."
Xenophanes' smile showed teeth worn down nearly to the gums. "My friend, no matter how fine your perfumes are - and I'm sure they're very fine; your father and I have been doing business longer than you've lived, and I know he handles the best - I doubt the maidens would beat a path to my door if I wore them."
"But they might beat a path to your door if you sold them," Menedemos said. "For that matter, the pretty boys across the street might, too."
That made the silk merchant laugh, but he tossed his head even so. "Making silk, selling silk - those I know. Selling perfumes? I reckon I'm too old to start picking up things I didn't learn when I was younger."
Pixodaros leaned forward on his stool. "Master, perhaps I could - "
"No," Xenophanes broke in. "I said it once, and I'll say it twice. You don't know a single thing more about perfume than I do. As long as I'm breathing, we'll do it my way."
Being a slave, the Karian had no choice but to accept that. Sostratos thought of the character types Theophrastos had discussed at the Lykeion in Athens. One of them was the later learner: the old man who was always trying something new and making a botch of it. Xenophanes was not an old man of that sort; he clung like a limpet to what he understood.
Then Sostratos had another thought. He snapped his fingers and said, "We've also got crimson dye from Byblos. If you like, we can trade you that for silk. Dye, sir, I'm sure you do know."
He and Menedemos would have got more for the dye in Italy, far from Phoenicia, than they could hope to here. But they would get still more for silk. He was sure of that. Menedemos murmured, "See? It comes in handy even if you didn't know about it till the last moment."
Sostratos only half heard him; his attention was aimed at Xenophanes. The old man's good eye lit up. "Dye? I should hope I know dye," he said. "Tyre, now, Tyre made the best crimson, back in the days before Alexander sacked it. It hasn't been the same since; the men who knew the most got killed or sold for slaves. Arados, I reckon, turns out the best nowadays, with Byblos down a notch."
"I wouldn't say that." Sostratos knew a negotiating ploy when he heard one. "Arados makes more dye than Byblos, true. But better? I don't think so, and I don't think you'll find many who do."
"Which of us dyes silk?" Xenophanes returned.
"Which of us sells dye all around the Inner Sea?" Sostratos asked. They smiled at each other. Their moves were as formal, as stylized, as those of a dance.
Pixodaros said, "My master is right." That was an inevitable response, too. He went on, "The crimson of Byblos may be brighter, but that of Arados holds its color better." Sostratos tossed his head to show he disagreed.
Again, Menedemos moved faster than Sostratos would have, saying, "Each jar of dye holds about a kotyle. That may not be very much wine, but it's a whole great whacking lot of boiled-down murex juice. How much silk might you trade for a jar?"
"And of what quality?" Sostratos added. "There's dye and then there's dye, and there's silk and then there's silk."
They haggled till the light in Xenophanes' shop faded. Pixodaros lit lamps that nibbled at the edges of oncoming night without really pushing it back. The familiar smell of burning olive oil filled the air. Xenophanes began to yawn. "I'm an old man," he said. "I need my sleep. Shall we go on come morning? We're pretty close, I reckon."
"Is there an inn close by?" Sostratos asked. "My cousin and I slept on the poop deck last night. We'd sooner have something a little softer tonight."
"That there is, just a couple of blocks over," Xenophanes answered. "I'll have a couple of slaves get torches and light your way there. And I'll give you some bread to eat for your suppers - Skylax will sell you wine till you're too drunk to walk, but you have to bring in your own food. He will cook meat or fish if you pay him."
The slaves were a couple of fair-haired Thracians. They chattered in their incomprehensible language while guiding Sostratos and Menedemos to the inn. Their torches didn't shed much light; Sostratos stepped in something nasty, and kept trying to scrape it off his foot till he got to Skylax's place. He and Menedemos each gave Xenophanes' slaves a couple of khalkoi. The torchbearers hurried back toward the silk merchant's house.
More torches blazed inside the inn. Not all the smoke escaped through the hole in the roof; a lot of it hung in the main room in a choking cloud. The odor of hot oil fought with it: Skylax kept a vat bubbling over a fire. By the smell, Xenophanes lit his home with better oil than the innkeeper used for cooking.
His wine wasn't bad, though, and he didn't seem put out to see Sostratos and Menedemos eating bread and not giving him anything to throw into that bubbling vat. When Sostratos asked about his rooms, he said, "Two oboloi for the pair of you." He wouldn't haggle. When Sostratos tried, he just tossed his head. "If you don't like it, strangers, go somewhere else."
The two Rhodians couldn't very well do that, not in a strange city after dark. Sostratos thought he could have found his way back to the Aphrodite, but he didn't want to sleep on planking again. After a glance at his cousin, he paid Skylax the little silver coins. A slave carrying a lamp guided Sostratos and Menedemos to the room. It held only one bed. The slave set down the lamp and dragged in another one from across the hall. Then he departed, taking the lamp with him and plunging the room into Stygian darkness.
With a sigh, Sostratos said, "We might as well go to sleep. Nothing else we could possibly do in here."
"Oh, there's one other thing," Menedemos said. "If you were a cute little flutegirl . . ."
"Me?" Sostratos said. "What about you?" They both laughed. Sostratos groped his way to a bed, took off his tunic, and draped it over himself. He wished he'd thought to bring his mantle, too; that would have made a better blanket. But the little room was too cramped and stuffy to get very cold. He twisted, trying to make himself comfortable. Creaks from the other bed said Menedemos was doing the same. Just as he heard the first snore from Menedemos, he fell asleep, too.
His cousin shook him awake. A little gray light was sneaking through the closed shutters over the narrow window. "You sound like a saw working through hard wood," Menedemos said.
"I'm not the only one," Sostratos answered. "Did they bother giving us a chamber pot? If they didn't, I'm going to piss in the corner." He looked under the bed. To his relief, both metaphorical and literal, he found one.
After buying more wine from Skylax to open their eyes, the Rhodians went back to Xenophanes'. "Good day, my masters," Pixodaros told them. "My master still sleeps. He told me to bring you food if you came before he rose." With a bow, the Karian slave went into the back of the house. He returned with bread and cheese.
"Thank you," Sostratos said, and then, "This business will be yours one of these days, won't it?"
"It could be." Pixodaros' voice was carefully neutral. "The gods gave my master no children who lived, so it could be."
Even if Xenophanes liberated Pixodaros on his deathbed, the Karian would never be a full citizen of Kos. His children might, though, depending on whom he married. Life is a changeable business, Sostratos thought - not original, but true.
He and Menedemos and Pixodaros made small talk till Xenophanes came out about half an hour later. "I still say you're asking too much for a jar of dye," the silk merchant began without preamble.
Menedemos put on his most winning smile. "But, my dear fellow . . ." he said. He could charm birds out of trees and wives into bed when he worked at it.
But he couldn't charm Xenophanes, who said, "No. It's too much, I tell you. I spent a deal of time thinking on it last night in bed, and my mind's made up."
"All right, then," Sostratos said before Menedemos could speak. Sostratos was the one who used bluntness, not charm, as his main weapon. He got to his feet. "I guess we'll go see Theagenes" - Xenophanes' chief rival - "if you won't see reason. And if Theagenes is stubborn, too, I guarantee we can get a better price for the dye in Taras or one of the other Italian cities than we can here."
That was likely true, though silk would bring more profit still. Mentioning Theagenes' name had the desired effect. Xenophanes looked as if he'd taken a big bite of bad fish. "He'll cheat you," he spluttered. "His silk is full of slubs. It's not nearly so thin and transparent as mine."
"No doubt you're right, O best one." Sostratos didn't sit down. "But he usually knows better than to price himself out of a bargain, and at least we'll have something to show the Italiotes. Come on, cousin." Menedemos rose, too. They both started for the door, though Sostratos was anything but eager to throw away most of a day's haggling.
"Wait." That wasn't Xenophanes - it was Pixodaros. He put his head together with his master. Sostratos stayed where he was. Menedemos started to get closer to try to hear what they were saying, but checked himself at Sostratos' small gesture.
"It's robbery, that's what it is!" Xenophanes spoke loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear. Pixodaros didn't. The slave - the slave who might be a master himself one day - kept his voice low, but he kept talking, too. At last, Xenophanes threw his hands in the air and dipped his head to Sostratos and Menedemos. "All right," he said grudgingly. "A bargain. The Karian is right - we do need the dye. A hundred jars, for the bolts of silk you proposed last night."
Slaves carried the silk to the Aphrodite and took the dye back to Xenophanes' shop. Watching them go with the last of the jars, Menedemos said, "Gods be praised, our fathers don't have to worry about passing on what they've spent a lifetime building up to a barbarian slave."
"And here's hoping we never have to worry about it ourselves," Sostratos said, at which his cousin gave him a very peculiar look.
Menedemos decided not to stop in Halikarnassos, even though it lay close by Kos. For one thing, he wanted to press north to Khios, to get some of the island's famous wine to take west. And, for another, he'd left an outraged husband behind on his last visit to the former capital of Karia, and he didn't care to appear there before things had more of a chance to settle down.
Instead, traveling under oars into the breeze, the Aphrodite went up the channel between the mainland and the island of Kalymnos, and beached itself for the night on Leros, the next island farther north. Sostratos quoted a fragment of verse:
\t" 'The Lerians are wicked - not just one, but every one
Except Proklees - and Proklees is a Lerian, too.' "\t
"Who said that?" Menedemos asked.
"Phokylides," his cousin answered. "Is it true?"
"I hope not," Menedemos told him. "Leros and Kalymnos are supposed to be the Kalydian isles Homer speaks of in the Iliad."
"If they are, they've changed hands since," Sostratos said, "for the Lerians nowadays are Ionians, colonists from Miletos on the Asian mainland."
The peacock started screeching. Menedemos winced. "You don't know how sick I am of that polluted bird," he said.
"Oh, I think I may," Sostratos replied. "I may even be sicker of it than you are, because you get to stay back at the steering oars most of the day, while I have to play peacockherd."
Before Menedemos could point out that his staying at the steering oars did have a certain importance to the journey, someone hailed them from the brush beyond the beach. " 'Ere, what's making that 'orrible noise?"
"Ionians, you see," Sostratos said smugly. "No rough breathings."
He didn't say it very loud. In similarly soft tones, Menedemos answered, "Oh, shut up." He raised his voice and called, "Come and see for yourself," to the stranger.
"You'll not seize me for a slave and 'aul me off to foreign parts?" the Lerian asked anxiously.
"No, by the gods," Menedemos promised. "We're traders from Rhodes, not pirates." In another soft aside to Sostratos, he added, "Some withered old herdsman wouldn't be worth our while grabbing, anyhow."
"True enough," Sostratos said. "And it wouldn't be sporting, not after you've promised to leave him alone."
Menedemos cared little for what was sporting and what wasn't. But the rustic who emerged from the scrubby brush was middle-aged and scrawny. He wore only a goatskin tunic, hairy side out. That by itself made Menedemos' lip curl; country bumpkins were the only ones who preferred leather to cloth. And, when the Lerian got closer, Menedemos' nostrils curled, too: the fellow hadn't bathed in a long time, if ever.
"All right," he said. " 'Ere I am. What was that screeching like it was being turned into a eunuch?"
"A peacock," Menedemos answered. "For a khalkos, you can go aboard and see it for yourself." He didn't think he would be able to get two bronze coins out of the local; even one might be pushing it.
As things were, the fellow in goatskins made no move to produce a khalkos. He just stared at Menedemos. "A what?" he said. "You're 'aving me on. You think because I live on a little no-account island you can tell me anything and I'll swallow it. Can't fool me, though. I know there's no such beasts, not for true. Next thing is, you'll be telling me you've got 'Ades' three-'eaded dog Kerberos on your ship, or else a tree nymph out of 'er tree. Well, you must think I'm out of mine, and I'm 'ere to tell you I ain't." He stomped off, his nose in the air.
"No, you can't fool him," Sostratos said gravely. As if to prove the Lerian couldn't be fooled, the peacock let out another screech.
"Sure can't," Menedemos agreed. "He knows what's what, and he's not about to let anybody tell him anything different."
"He would have voted to make Sokrates drink the hemlock," Sostratos said.
"How does that follow?" Menedemos asked.
"You said it yourself," his cousin answered. "He already knows everything he wants to know. That means anyone who tries to tell him anything else must be wrong - and must be dangerous, too, for wanting to tell him wrong things."
"I suppose so," Menedemos said with a shrug. "Sounds like philosophy to me, though."
"Maybe you don't want to know anything more, either," Sostratos said, which left Menedemos feeling obscurely punctured.
When the sun rose the next morning, he shouted his men awake. "Let's get the Aphrodite back into the sea," he called. "If we push hard, we make Samos tonight. Wouldn't you sooner do that than sleep on the sand again?"
"After that Koan inn, I think I'd just as soon stay on the beach," Sostratos said. "Fewer bugs."
"Don't think about bugs," Menedemos said. "Think about wineshops. Think about pretty girls." He lowered his voice. "Think about making the men want to work hard, not about giving them reasons to take it easy."
"Oh." Sostratos had the grace to sound abashed. "I'm sorry." He made a splendid toikharkhos. He always knew where everything was and what everything was worth. He'd done well in the dicker with Xenophanes. When the old coot got mulish, he'd picked the right time to get mulish in return. But ask him to be a man among men, to understand how an ordinary fellow thought . . . Menedemos tossed his head. His cousin didn't have it in him, any more than a team of donkeys had it in them to win the chariot race at Olympos.
With men in the boat pulling and men on land pushing, the Aphrodite went back into the Aegean more readily than she had after beaching on Syme. Menedemos steered the akatos north and a little east, toward Samos. He wished the wind would swing round and come out of the south so he could lower the sail, but it didn't. Through most of the sailing season, winds in the Aegean would stay boreal.
"Rhyppapai! Rhyppapai!" Diokles called, amplifying the stroke he gave with mallet and bronze. Menedemos had ten men on the oars on each side of the galley. He planned on shifting rowers when the sun swung past noon, and on putting the whole crew on the oars if he was close to making Samos in the late afternoon. If not . . .
Sostratos asked, "What will you do if we come up short?"
"We have choices," Menedemos replied. "We could head for Priene, on the mainland. Or we could beach ourselves again. Or I might spend a night at sea, just to remind the men there will be times when they need to work hard."
"You didn't want to do that before," Sostratos remarked.
Patiently, Menedemos explained, "Before, it would have just annoyed them. If I can turn it into a lesson, though, that would be worthwhile."
"Ah," his cousin said, and stepped over to the rail: not to ease himself but to think about what Menedemos had told him. Sostratos was anything but stupid; Menedemos knew that. But he had a lot less feel for what made people work than Menedemos did. Once things were set out before him, though, as if at the highfalutin Lykeion at Athens, he could grasp them and figure out how to use them.
After a bit, Menedemos interrupted his musing, saying, "Why don't you give the peafowl some exercise?"
"Oh." Sostratos blinked his way out of contemplation and back to the real world. "I'll do that. I'm sorry. I forgot."
"The ship won't sink," Menedemos said as his cousin headed for the bow. And you'll be too busy to do any philosophizing for a while.
Except when Sostratos' antics were funny or his curses got frantic, Menedemos put him out of his mind for a while. He took in the Aphrodite's motion through the soles of his feet and through the steering-oar tillers in the palms of his hands. It was almost as if he were peering out through the eyes painted at the merchant galley's bow, so much did he feel himself a part of the ship.
More ships were on the sea than had been true even when the Aphrodite set out from Rhodes a few days before. Fishing boats bobbed in the light chop. Some were hardly bigger than the akatos' boat. Others, with many more men dangling lines over the side or trailing nets behind them, were almost half the size of the Aphrodite herself. Menedemos saw most of them at a rapidly increasing distance, as he had the day before. The merchant galley really was beamier and slower than any proper pirate ship, but few skippers conning fishing boats cared to wait around till such details grew obvious.
Larger merchantmen - merchantmen big enough to dwarf the akatos - also spread their sails and scudded away, sometimes fast enough to kick up a creamy white wake at the bow. Their captains commanded bigger ships than Menedemos did, but he had more men aboard his. Like the men in charge of the more numerous fishing boats, they weren't inclined to take chances.
And then, not long before midday, Menedemos felt like scurrying aside himself when he spotted a five majestically making its way south under sails and oars. Instead of Ptolemaios' eagle, this war galley bore the Macedonian royal sunburst on foresail and mainsail both. "Ptolemaios and Antigonos are liable to start going nose to nose here along with their squabbles in Kilikia," Menedemos said.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Diokles answered. "And what can a free polis like Rhodes do if they start?"
"Duck," Menedemos said, which startled a laugh out of the keleustes.
Unlike the Eutykhes, Antigonos' five didn't change course to look over the Aphrodite. Menedemos watched the big ship glide over the waves in the direction of Kos with nothing but relief. Ptolemaios' crew hadn't turned robber. Maybe Antigonos' wouldn't have, either. Maybe. Menedemos was just as well pleased not to have to find out.
Little by little, the mountains of Samos and of Ikaria slightly to the southwest rose up out of the sea. Those of Samos, especially Mount Kerkis in the western part of the island, were taller than their Ikarian neighbors. Menedemos had noticed that every time he approached Samos - Ikaria, inhabited mostly by herdsmen, was hardly worth visiting - but hadn't wondered about it till now.
Diokles just gave him a blank look when he mentioned it. "Why, skipper?" the oarmaster said. "Because that's how the gods made 'em, that's why."
He might well have been right. Right or not, though, the answer wasn't interesting. Menedemos waited till Sostratos came up onto the poop deck and asked the question again. He might joke about philosophy, but it did sometimes lead to lively conversation.
"They are, aren't they?" Sostratos said, looking from the peaks of Samos over to those of Ikaria and back again. Then he did something Menedemos hadn't done: he looked to the Asian mainland east of Samos. "There's Mount Latmos, back of Miletos, and I'd say it's taller than anything on Samos."
"I . . . think you're right," Menedemos said; Mount Latmos was also farther away, which made its height hard to judge. "Even if you are, though, so what?"
"I don't know for certain, but it looks to me as if the islands carry the mountains of the mainland out into the sea," his cousin answered. "If that's so, it would stand to reason that the peaks would get lower the farther out into the sea the islands went. After a while, no more peaks - and no more islands, either."
Menedemos considered, dipped his head, and sent Sostratos an admiring glance. "That would make sense, wouldn't it?"
"It seems to me that it would," Sostratos answered. "I don't know whether it's true, mind you - that isn't the same as being logical."
"Close enough for me," Menedemos said. His cousin raised an eyebrow, but didn't rise to the bait.
Samos rose ever higher out of the sea, while the sun sank ever closer to the water. "Looks to me like we'll make it, skipper," Diokles said.
"We will if the boys put their backs into it," Menedemos replied. Actually, he was pretty sure the keleustes was right, but he wanted to get the rowers working as a team. "Call everyone to the oars and give them a sprint, why don't you? Let's pretend we've got a hemiolia full of Tyrrhenians on our trail."
Diokles stroked the ring with the image of Herakles Alexikakos on it to turn aside the evil omen. "That could happen, you know, even here in the Aegean. Those polluted whoresons don't stay in the Adriatic any more. They're like cockroaches or mice - they're all over the stinking place."
Like any merchant sailor, Menedemos knew that entirely too well. He dipped his head, but said, "They've got more teeth than mice, worse luck. Come on - get the men to the oars and up the stroke. We'll see what kind of crew we've got."
"Right you are." The oarmaster shouted the whole crew to their benches and kept right on shouting once they were in their places: "We're going to push it to get to port before sundown - and so we know what we can do if pirates come after us. Give it everything you've got, boys. Rhyppapai! Rhyppai!"
Mallet met bronze in an ever-quicker rhythm. Diokles hit the bronze harder, too, so each clang seemed more urgent. The rowers didn't spare themselves. Panting, their bodies glistening with oil and sweat, their muscular arms working as if belonging to Hephaistos' automata from the Iliad, they worked like men possessed.
And the Aphrodite fairly seemed to leap ahead. She arrowed through the deep-blue water; a creamy wake streamed from her bow. After a very short time, Menedemos grew sure they would make Samos.
Diokles held the oarsmen to the sprint as long as he could, and eased off as slowly as he could. "Not too bad, captain," he said. "No, not too bad at all. And the rowing's smooth as that silk you bought. We knew we had some good men here, and this proves it."
"You're right," Menedemos answered. "I wouldn't quarrel with a single word you said. But tell me, would we have got away from a pirate ship?"
"Well . . ." The keleustes looked unhappy. "We'd've needed some luck, wouldn't we? They did get her up as fast as she'll go."
"I know they did," Menedemos said. "The trouble is, she won't quite go fast enough." The Aphrodite carried cargo, not just rowers who doubled as fighting men. She was beamier than a hemiolia or a pentekonter, too, which meant there was more of her to resist the sea than held true for their lean, deadly shapes. And she rode deeper in the water, because of her cargo and because her timbers were more waterlogged and heavier than those of pampered pirate ships, which dried out on the beach every night. Because of all that, odds were a ship full of pirates could overhaul them from behind.
"We're all right if we've got a friendly port we can run for," Diokles said.
"Of course we are. But if we don't, we're going to have to fight." Menedemos drummed his fingers on the steering-oar tiller. "I'd sooner do it ship against ship, not man against man. They'll have bigger crews than we do."
"Pirate crews mostly aren't disciplined," the keleustes observed. "They don't want to fight unless they have to. They're out to rob and kidnap, either for ransom or for slaves."
"We've got a lot of men who've put in time aboard war galleys," Menedemos said. "Once we sail west from Khios - maybe even sooner - we will work hard."
"Good," Diokles replied.
Though the sun was not far from setting when the Aphrodite glided into Samos' harbor, Menedemos had enough light to reach the quays and tie up without any trouble. A temple dedicated to Hera lay to the left, where the Imbrasos River ran down into the sea from the mountains in the island's interior. To the right was a shrine for Poseidon that looked across a seven-stadia strait to the mainland.
As longshoremen made the akatos fast to the wharf, the rowers rested at their oars, still worn with the effort they'd put forth in the sprint. One of them said the worst thing he could think of: "I'm liable to be too tired to want to go into town and screw."
"Well, if you are, I hear there are girls up in Khios, too," Menedemos said.
"Likely there are," the sailor agreed, "but I hate to waste a chance." Since Menedemos hated to waste a chance, too, he just laughed and dipped his head.
As kos lay under Ptolemaios' thumb, so Samos belonged to Antigonos. Sostratos wasn't surprised when a couple of officers in gleaming armor tramped up to the quay to inquire about the Aphrodite and where she'd been before coming to Samos. He was surprised when they started asking their questions: he could hardly follow a word they said.
"What is that gibberish?" Menedemos asked out of the side of his mouth.
"Macedonian dialect, thick enough to slice," Sostratos replied, also in a whisper. He raised his voice: "Please speak slowly, O best ones. I will gladly answer all I can understand." That might have been a lie, but the Macedonians didn't have to know it.
"Who . . . art tha?" one of them asked, his brow furrowed in concentration, his accent both rustic and archaic. Homer might have spoken like that, had he been an ignorant peasant and not a poet, Sostratos thought. The Macedonian went on, "Whence . . . art tha from?"
"This is the Aphrodite, owned by Philodemos and Lysistratos of Rhodes," Sostratos said. The officer dipped his head; he could follow good Greek even if he couldn't speak it himself. Sostratos continued, "We're for Khios, and we've stopped at Syme, at Knidos, and at Kos."
"Did you have to tell him that?" Menedemos murmured.
"I think so," Sostratos said. "Someone else may come in who saw us in port or rowing up from the island."
Mentioning Kos got the Macedonians' attention. "What be there?" demanded the one who could make a stab at real Greek. "Ships? Ptolemaios' ships? How many of Ptolemaios' ships?"
"How gross?" the other one added, and then corrected himself: "How big?"
"I wasn't watching all that closely," Sostratos answered, and proceeded to exaggerate what he had seen. No one gave him the lie; though Rhodes' shipwrights had built war galleys for Antigonos, the island inclined more toward Ptolemaios. Rhodes shipped a lot of Egyptian grain all over the Hellenic world.
Sostratos didn't exaggerate enough to make the Macedonians serving Antigonos suspect him - only enough to give them long faces. They spoke back and forth between themselves; he understood not a word. Then, to his relief, they left.
Beside him, Menedemos let out a glad sigh to match his own. "I thought they were going to jump out of their corselets when you started talking about Ptolemaios' sixes and sevens at Kos," Sostratos' cousin said.
"So did I," Sostratos said. "I wanted to give them something to think about - something that wasn't quite true, but sounded as if it could be."
"Well, you hit the nail on the head," Menedemos told him. "If that doesn't set Antigonos' carpenters building like maniacs, to the crows with me if I know what would."
"I wouldn't mind - but where will it stop?" Sostratos wondered. "If you can build sevens, are nine better? What about thirteens, or maybe seventeens?"
Menedemos shrugged. "Not my worry. Not Rhodes' worry, either, I shouldn't think. How many rowers would you need in a seventeen?" He held up a warning hand. "No, don't go trying to figure it out, by the gods. I don't want to know, not exactly. However many it is, Rhodes might be able to man one or two of them. No more, I'm sure."
He was stretching things; but not by that much. He did persuade Sostratos not to finish the calculation he had indeed started. Instead, Sostratos asked, "You don't intend to do much in the way of trading here, do you?"
His cousin tossed his head. "Not much point to it: ordinary wine and plain pottery. I mostly wanted the anchorage." Menedemos hesitated. "If we could get our hands on those statues in Hera's temple, though, they'd bring a pretty price in Italy, don't you think?"
"Myron's Zeus and Athena and Herakles?" Sostratos laughed. "I'm sure they would. But remember, Ikaria's close by, and it got its name because Ikaros fell to earth there after flying too close to the sun. You'd fall and fail if you tried to get those statues, too."
Menedemos laughed. "I know. Had you worried there, didn't I?" Before Sostratos could answer, the peacock screeched. Menedemos snapped his fingers. "That reminds me - time to make ourselves a little money. Do you want to show people the peafowl?"
"I'm dying to," Sostratos replied.
He might as well have saved his breath; Menedemos paid no attention to him. Menedemos paid attention to him only when that suited his purposes. Sostratos' cousin hurried up the gangplank to the wharf and started singing the praises of peafowl. In short order, he started collecting khalkoi. Nobody got to look at the birds without handing over a couple of the little bronze coins. Sostratos showed off the peafowl till it got too dark for spectators to see them.
"What's the take today?" he asked when Menedemos gave up on luring any more spectators aboard the Aphrodite.
Khalkoi clinked as Menedemos built them into shaky piles. "Half an obolos, an obolos, an obolos and a half . . ." When he was through reckoning piles, he said, "A drakhma, four oboloi, six khalkoi. Nothing that'll make us rich, but not bad, either."
"Sixty-three people," Sostratos said after a moment's thought.
"No, that isn't bad at all. Peafowl are interesting birds - it'll be interesting to see if we can get them to Italy without tossing them overboard, for instance."
For once, his cousin didn't rise to the bait of the joke. Instead, Menedemos gave him an odd look. "Without a counting board, I couldn't have figured out how many people saw the birds to save my life."
"It wasn't hard." Sostratos changed the subject: "Will you look for an inn?"
Menedemos tossed his head. "Too late now. I'll just sleep on the deck. I've done it before. I can do it again." He waved a hand. "If you want to go into town, though, don't let me stop you. Plenty of sailors heading in for a good time."
"No, thanks," Sostratos said. His cousin was the one who was fond of luxury. If Menedemos could stand another night wrapped in his himation on the poop deck, Sostratos could, too. A man of philosophical bent was supposed to be indifferent to bodily pleasures . . . wasn't he?
Sostratos wondered about that as he lay with his chiton bundled up under his head for a pillow. Even though he was wrapped in his mantle, he couldn't get comfortable on the planks. He'd had an easier time drifting off on the beach on Leros.
As Menedemos had said, some of the rowers went into Samos to roister. The rest dozed on their benches. Some of them snored. Others, probably even more uncomfortable than Sostratos, talked in low voices so as not to disturb their shipmates. Sostratos tried to eavesdrop on them till he finally fell asleep.
He woke once in the middle of the night, pissed into the water of the harbor, and fell asleep again almost at once. The next time he woke, it was daybreak. Menedemos was already sitting up, an almost wolfishly intent look on his face. He dipped his head to Sostratos. "A lot to do today," he said. "We won't make Khios in one day from here, not rowing all the way. A good two-day pull. Since we didn't pass the night at sea coming to Samos, I intend to do that, to give the men a taste of what it's like."
"Whatever seems good to you," Sostratos agreed. "Our fathers trust you to command the ship. I haven't seen anything that makes me think they're wrong." Saying that didn't come easy to him; Menedemos often wore on his nerves. But his cousin did know what to do with the Aphrodite and how to lead her crew. However much Sostratos might have wanted to deny that, he couldn't.
Menedemos jumped to his feet. He paused just long enough to ease himself over the akatos' side. Then, still naked, he shouted the sailors awake. They yawned and grunted and rubbed their eyes, much less enthusiastic about facing the new day than he was.
He laughed at them. "We're heading toward the finest wine in the world, and you whipworthy catamites complain? I thought I'd signed up a crew of real men." His scorn lashed them to their feet and into action. Sostratos wondered how they would have acted had he exhorted them like that. Actually, he didn't wonder. He knew. They would have flung him into the Aegean. Had they been feeling kindly, they might have fished him out again afterwards.
He had his own morning duties to attend to. He gave the peafowl barley and water for their breakfast. The birds ate with good appetite. He'd seen they ate better in harbor than while the Aphrodite moved across the open sea. That was nothing remarkable. A lot of people went off their feed on the open sea, too.
"How many men are we missing, Diokles?" Menedemos asked.
"Not a one, captain, if you can believe it." The keleustes shook his head in amazement. "I wonder about these fellows, I truly do. You're hardly a man at all if you can't go out and make a night of it."
"They want the Khian, too," Menedemos said. "Even a sailor can afford it when he buys it where they make it."
Sostratos said, "The dealers won't be so generous as the tavernkeepers will. They'll be selling their best, not the cheap stuff you get in taverns, and they'll squeeze us till our eyes pop."
Menedemos grinned at him. "That's why you're along. You're not supposed to let them squeeze us."
"Ha," Sostratos said. "Ha, ha." He brought out the syllables just like that, as if they were dialogue in a comedy. "I can't keep them from squeezing us, and you'd better know it. With a little luck, I can keep them from squeezing us quite so much."
"All right." Menedemos dipped his head. He seemed in a good mood this morning, likely because the Aphrodite wouldn't have to sit in the harbor while Diokles hunted down men who gave more thought to roistering than to how they earned the money to roister. He pointed to Sostratos. "Grab yourself some bread and oil and wine. I want to get out into the open sea as soon as I can."
"All right." Sostratos drummed his fingers on the gunwale. "We'll have to lay in some more supplies when we got to Khios. We're using them faster than I thought we would."
"Take care of it." Menedemos was already eating and spoke with his mouth full. Sostratos tried to resent his cousin's peremptory tone, but couldn't quite. He was the toikharkhos; taking care of such things was his job. As he came back to the poop, Menedemos added, "The sooner I can get out of this port, the better I'll like it."
"Those Macedonians?" Sostratos asked.
"Sure enough," Menedemos agreed. "I didn't like the way they asked questions - like they were demigods looking down their noses at ordinary mortals." He dipped a piece of bread into olive oil and took a big bite. As he swallowed, his lip curled. "Demigods would speak better Greek, though."
"Khios won't be any better when it comes to that," Sostratos predicted. "It bends the knee to Antigonos, too."
"Well, yes, but it's not sitting over Kos, the way Samos is," his cousin answered. "The officers up there won't be so . . . eager to squeeze everything we know out of us. I can hope they won't, anyhow."
"It makes sense," Sostratos said. "You have a pretty good idea of the way the politics work."
"For which I thank you." Menedemos sounded as if he meant it. Then he added, "I may not know everything that's happened everywhere since before the Trojan War, but I do all right."
"I don't pretend to know everything that's happened everywhere since before the Trojan War," Sostratos spluttered. Only after he was done spluttering did he realize Menedemos had been hoping he would. He shut up with a snap. That also amused his cousin, which only annoyed him more.
"Come on!" Menedemos called to his men. "Let's cast off and get going. Like I told you, we're two days away from the best wine in the world." That got the men working. It got the Aphrodite away from the harbor ahead of many of the little fishing boats that sailed out of Kos. And it got the akatos through the narrow channel between the island and the mainland of Asia in fine fashion.
Sostratos hadn't really thought about just how narrow the channel was. "If you had stone-throwers on both sides of it," he remarked to Menedemos, "you could make this passage very hard and dangerous."
"I daresay you're right," Menedemos answered. "It may happen one of these days, too, though I hope none of Antigonos' generals is as sneaky as you are."
Half her oars manned, the Aphrodite fought her way north. The broad stretch of sea between Samos and Ikaria on the one hand and Khios on the other was one of the roughest parts of the Aegean: neither the mainland nor any islands shielded the water from the wind blowing out of the north. The merchant galley pitched choppily as wave after wave slammed into her bow.
The motion gave Sostratos a headache. A couple of sailors reacted more strongly than that, leaning out over the gunwale to puke into the Aegean. Maybe they'd taken on too much wine the night before. Maybe they just had weak stomachs, as some men did.
As some men did, Menedemos had a quotation from Homer for everything:
\t" 'The assembly was stirred like great waves of the sea,
The open sea by Ikaria, which the east wind and the south wind
Stir up from Father Zeus' clouds.' "\t
"What about the north wind?" Sostratos asked. "That's the one troubling us now."
His cousin shrugged. "You can't expect the poet to be perfect all the time. Isn't it marvel enough that he's so good so much of the time?"
"I suppose so," Sostratos said. "But it's not good to lean on him the way an old man like Xenophanes leans on a stick. That keeps you from thinking for yourself."
"If Homer's already said it as well as it can be said, what's the point to trying to say it better?" Menedemos asked.
"If you're quoting him for the sake of poetry, that's one thing," Sostratos said. "If you're quoting him to settle what's right and wrong, the way too many people do, that's something else."
"Well, maybe," Menedemos said, with the air of a man making a great concession. At least he's not sneering at using philosophers' ideas to judge what's right and wrong, the way he sometimes does, Sostratos thought. That is something.
He soon discovered why Menedemos showed no interest in twitting him: his cousin's thought turned in a different direction. Setting a hand on Diokles' shoulder, Menedemos said, "It's two days to Khios no matter what we do. Shall we start putting them through their paces?"
"Not a bad notion," the keleustes replied. "The more work we get in, the better the odds it'll pay off when we really need it."
"With luck, we won't need it at all," Sostratos said. Both Diokles and Menedemos looked at him. He felt he had to add, "Of course, we'd better not take the chance."
His cousin and the oarmaster relaxed. "Enough trouble comes all by itself, even when you don't borrow any," Menedemos said. He raised his voice. "All rowers to the oars. We're going to practice fighting pirates - or whatever else we happen to run into on the western seas."
Sostratos had wondered if the men would grumble at having to work harder than they would have done if they'd rowed straight for Khios. A few of them did, but it was grumbling for the sake of grumbling, not real anger. And so, on the rough sea north of Samos and Ikaria, the akatos practiced darting to the right and to the left, spinning in her own length, and suddenly bringing inboard all the oars now on one side of the ship, now on the other. They worked on that last maneuver over and over again.
"This is our best chance against a trireme, isn't it?" Sostratos said.
"It's our best chance against any galley bigger than we are - best besides running away, I mean," Menedemos answered. "It's our only chance against a trireme: if we can use our hull to break most of the oars on one side of his ship, that lets us get away. Otherwise, we haven't got a chance."
"I suppose not." Sostratos sighed. "I wish someone would keep pirates down all over the Inner Sea, the way Rhodes tries to do in the Aegean."
"While you're at it, wish navies didn't hunt merchantmen when they saw the chance, too," Menedemos said. "Here close to home, we're fairly safe, because Ptolemaios and Antigonos both care about keeping Rhodes happy. Farther west . . ." He tossed his head. Sostratos sighed again. One more thing to worry about, he thought. As if I didn't have enough already.
Menedemos woke in darkness, the Aphrodite tossing not too gently under him. A couple of cubits away, Sostratos lay on his back on the poop deck, snoring like a saw grinding through stone. Menedemos tried to slide straight back into sleep, but his cousin's racket and his own full bladder wouldn't let him.
Short of kicking Sostratos and waking him up, Menedemos couldn't do anything about his snoring. And Sostratos wasn't the only offender, only the nearest one; a good many rowers buzzed away, making the night anything but serene. I can ease myself, though, Menedemos thought, and got to his feet to do just that.
As he stood at the rail, the Aphrodite might have been alone on the sea, alone in all the world. Zeus' wandering star was about to set in the west, which put the hour somewhere close to midnight. The moon, a waxing crescent, had already vanished. All he could see was the star-flecked dome of the sky, and the blacker black of the night-time sea. Khios to the north, the Asian mainland to the east . . . He knew they were there, but he couldn't prove it, not by what his eyes told him.
One after another in endless succession, waves lifted the merchant galley's hull. The swell was bigger than it had been during the day. Menedemos hoped that didn't mean a storm would be blowing down out of the north. This early in the sailing season, it might.
"Bring me safe to Khios, Father Poseidon, and I'll give you something," he murmured; the sea god had a temple on the island, not far from the city. Praying for good weather was as much as he could do. Having done it, he lay down again, wrapped himself in his himation, and tried to go back to sleep. He wondered if he would succeed with Sostratos making horrible noises almost in his ear. He yawned and pulled the thick wool of the himation up over his head and aimed several unkind thoughts at his cousin.
The next thing he knew, the sun was rising over the distant mainland to the east. He rolled over to wake Sostratos, only to discover that Sostratos was already among those present - was, in fact, fixing him with a reproachful stare. "I hardly slept a wink last night, you were snoring so loud," Sostratos said.
"I was?" The injustice of that all but paralyzed Menedemos. "You're the one who kept making the horrible racket."
"Nonsense," Sostratos said. "I never snore."
"Oh, no, of course not." Menedemos savored sarcasm. "And a dog never howls at the moon, either."
"I don't," Sostratos insisted. Menedemos laughed in his face. Sostratos turned red. He waved toward Diokles, who was stretching on the rower's bench where he'd passed the night. "He'll tell us the truth. Which of us was snoring last night, O Diokles?"
"I don't know," the keleustes answered around a yawn. "Once I closed my eyes, I didn't hear a thing till I woke up at dawn."
"I did." That was Aristeidas, the sharp-eyed sailor who often served as lookout. "You get right down to it, both of you gents were pretty noisy."
Sostratos looked offended. Menedemos felt offended. Then they happened to glance toward each other. They both started to laugh. "Well, so much for that," Sostratos said.
"I'm going to sleep on the foredeck from now on," Menedemos said. "Then I can blame it on the peafowl." He peered north. No clouds gathered on the horizon, though the breeze had freshened. "I hope the weather holds till we make Khios. What do you think, Diokles?"
If anyone aboard the akatos was weatherwise, the oarmaster was the man. Menedemos watched him not just turn to the north but scan the whole horizon. He smacked his lips, tasting the air as he might have tasted fine Khian wine. At last, after due deliberation, he said, "I expect we'll be all right, skipper."
"Good." Menedemos had made the same guess, but felt better to have someone else confirm it. He grinned at the keleustes. "If you're wrong, you know I'll blame you."
Diokles shrugged. "As long as the ship comes through all right, I won't worry about it." He shrugged again. "And if she doesn't come through, if I drown, I won't worry about it then, either, will I?"
Several sailors caressed amulets or muttered charms to avert the evil omen. Sostratos, thought, looked intrigued. "So you think a man's spirit dies with him, do you?" he asked Diokles.
Menedemos recognized a question like that as an invitation to philosophical discussion. Diokles responded as matter-of-factly as he had to the query about the weather: "Well, sir, folks say a lot of things: this one says this, and that one says that. All I know is, nobody who went down with his ship ever came back to tell me what it was like."
That touched off a lively argument among the sailors as they hauled in the anchors and slung them from the catheads at the bow: one more bit of ship's business that the peafowl cages on the foredeck made more awkward. By Sostratos' expression, though, it wasn't the sort of discussion he would have heard at his precious Lykeion. A lot of the men were loudly certain they'd seen, or sometimes talked with, ghosts.
After a while, Menedemos' cousin turned to him, frustration on his face. In a low voice, Sostratos said, "I don't want to offend anyone or make anyone angry, but I don't think I've ever heard so much nonsense all at once in my whole life."
"On land, I'm sure I would agree with you," Menedemos replied. "Out here . . ." As Diokles had done, he shrugged. "Out here, half the things I'd laugh at on land feel true." His chuckle held less mirth than he would have liked. "Out here, especially after we spend the night at sea, I don't even know exactly where I am. If I can't be sure of that, how can I be sure of anything else?"
If nothing else, he'd succeeded in distracting Sostratos. His cousin pointed toward the Asian mainland in the distance. "The shape of the coastline will tell you where you are."
"Well, so it will," Menedemos admitted, "though it wouldn't mean anything to a landlubber. But we'll spend some time out of sight of land when we sail west toward Hellas, and then again when we cross the Ionian Sea to Italy. No way to tell for certain where you are then. I wish there were."
Sostratos frowned. "There ought to be."
"There ought to be all sorts of things," Menedemos said. "That doesn't mean there are." Diokles struck his bronze square with the mallet. The rowers began to pull. The Aphrodite glided north, toward Khios. With the steering oars to tend to, Menedemos didn't have to worry about splitting hairs with his cousin.
Like Samos, Khios lay close to the mainland. The channel between the island and Asia was wider than that separating Samos from the shore, but also longer. Waves built in it, built and rolled toward the galley one after another. Even without a real storm, the going was heavier than it had been since the Aphrodite set out from Rhodes. Menedemos thought it wise to repeat his promise to Poseidon, this time so the whole crew could hear.
Coming up toward the city of Khios - which lay on the eastern coast of the island, looking at the mainland across about forty stadia of water - the Aphrodite fought her way past a temple to Apollo hard by a grove of palm trees, then past the small harbor of Phanai, and at last by a colonnaded building close to the shore. Pointing toward it, Diokles said, "There's the sea god's shrine, skipper."
"I knew where it was. I've been here before," Menedemos answered. The keleustes dipped his head, unashamed at having nagged him. Like any sailor, he wanted to make sure a vow to Poseidon got fulfilled.
Khios the city boasted a very respectable harbor. "How many war galleys do you suppose could shelter here?" Menedemos asked.
"If we're talking about triremes, I'd say eighty, easy," Diokles answered. "Fewer of the bigger ships they're turning out nowadays, though."
Sostratos came up onto the poop deck and pointed toward the sun, which still hung high in the west. "We made good time," he remarked. "We'll have the chance to do some business today."
"We'd have done better still without waves smacking us in the teeth all the way up from Samos," Menedemos answered, "but that's the kind of weather you're likely to run into this time of year. As for the business, you'll have to start without me. First thing I'm going to do is go down to Poseidon's temple and make that offering to thank him for getting us here safe."
"What did you have in mind?" his cousin asked warily.
"I was thinking of a lamb," Menedemos said, and Sostratos relaxed. Along with being the sea god and the earthshaker, Poseidon was also the god of horses, which were sometimes sacrificed to him. Horses, though, were beyond the means of any but the very rich. Menedemos might have thought about giving Poseidon one after coming through a true storm, but the god hadn't earned so great a reward for helping the merchant galley through seas that were rough but weren't really dangerous.
Sostratos said, "Go make your sacrifice, then, and meet me at Aristagoras the wine merchant's. I'll see him first. We can decide later whether to go to an inn or spend another night listening to each other snoring on deck."
"That seems good to me," Menedemos said.
No Macedonian officers came down the wharf to interrogate the men of the Aphrodite, as they had back at Samos. With the more southerly island shielding Khios from Ptolemaios' base on Kos, the local garrison didn't worry about raiders descending on them. Menedemos walked up the pier and into the city without drawing more than a couple of nods from longshoremen and fishermen.
He walked out through the southern gate just as casually. The countryside between the city of Khios and Poseidon's shrine was given over to olive groves and ripening grain; the grapes that yielded the famous Khian wine grew on the higher ground in the northwestern part of the island. Channels brought water from Khios' many springs to the fields and groves, for the island had no rivers worthy of the name.
Poseidon's temple was flanked by neatly trimmed laurel trees. A priest in a spotless white himation came up to Menedemos as he entered the sacred precinct. "Good day. 'Ow may I 'elp you?" he asked: like Samos, Khios was an island settled by Ionians.
"I just got into port. I want to give the god a lamb for letting me come in safe." Menedemos was much more conscious of his own Doric accent here than he would have been back on Rhodes, where everyone spoke as he did.
"I'd be 'appy to oblige you, sir," the priest replied. "Come with me, and you can pick out a beast for yourself."
"I thank you," Menedemos said. He chose a newborn lamb nursing at its mother's udder; the ewe let out a bleat of anger and dismay when the priest took the little white animal from her.
"Let me examine it to make sure it 'as no blemish." The priest looked at its eyes and ears and hooves. He dipped his head when he was through. "It is acceptable." His tone went from pious to businesslike in the blink of an eye. "That will be two drakhmai, sir."
Menedemos gave him two Rhodian coins. He accepted them without a murmur; Khios and Rhodes coined to the same standard, somewhat lighter than that of Athens and a good deal lighter than that of Aigina. Briskly, the priest tied a length of rope around the lamb's neck and led it to the altar.
An attendant brought up a bowl of water. Menedemos and the priest both washed their hands. Once the priest was ritually clean, he also sprinkled water on the lamb. Then the priest, Menedemos, and the attendant all lowered their heads and spent a moment in silent prayer. The lamb let out a bleat, not liking the fire that crackled on the altar or the odor of blood that clung to it.
The attendant sprinkled unground barley over the lamb, the altar, and the priest and Menedemos. The priest took a knife from his belt, cut a tight curl of soft wool from the lamb's head, and threw it into the flames on the altar.
A man with a flute and another with a lyre began to play, to help drown out the victim's death cry. The attendant handed the priest an axe. He killed the lamb with one swift blow, then used the knife to cut its throat. The attendant caught its blood in a silver bowl and splashed it on the altar.
Together, the priest and Menedemos chanted the Homeric hymn to Poseidon:
\t" 'I begin to sing about Poseidon, great god,
Mover of earth and of the unfruitful sea.
Deep-sea lord who also holds Helikon and broad Aigai.
The gods divided your rule in two, Earthshaker:
To be both tamer of horses and savior of ships.
Hail, dark-haired Poseidon,Earth-holder.
And, blessed one, have a kind heart and help those who go sailing.' "\t
"He's done that for me," Menedemos added. "I thank him for it."
While they were reciting the Homeric hymn, the attendant began butchering the lamb's little carcass. He gave the god his portion: the thighbones wrapped in fat. As he set them on the fire, the scent of the burning fat sent spit rushing into Menedemos' mouth. Like most Hellenes, he seldom ate meat except after a sacrifice.
With ease born of long practice, the attendant cut up the carcass into chunks of meat of roughly the same size. Butchery after a sacrifice got no fancier than that. The attendant skewered one piece of meat for Menedemos, one for the priest, and one for himself. The two musicians came forward to get their share.
They all roasted the tender bits of lamb over the fire on the altar. After he'd wolfed down his share, Menedemos asked, "Is it permitted to take the rest of the carcass out of the sacred precinct?" Some temples allowed that, some didn't.
The priest tossed his head. "I am sorry, but no - it is not permitted."
"All right, then," Menedemos said. "The god has his fair share of my thanks-offering; the people here are welcome to the rest."
"Many men would argue more," the priest said. When he smiled, he looked years younger. "Many men 'ave argued more. Good fortune go with you, Rhodian, and may the Earthshaker always smile on you."
"My thanks," Menedemos said, and started back toward the city of Khios.
Aristagoras the wine seller dipped his head to his slave. As the Lydian scraped away the pitch around the stopper so he could open a new jar of wine, Aristagoras told Sostratos, "Truly, O best one, you must sample the vintages so you know what you are getting."
"I thank you for your generosity," replied Sostratos, "but if you keep feeding me even little cups of neat wine, pretty soon I'll be too drunk to tell one from another. My head's already starting to spin."
Aristagoras laughed heartily, just as if Sostratos were joking. "Oh, you are the funniest fellow," he said. The broken veins in his nose said he'd had a lot of practice pouring down wine, and it certainly didn't seem to affect him. He turned to the slave. " 'Aven't you got that yet, Alyattes?"
"Just now, master," the Lydian replied in his singsong accent. He pried the stopper out with the knifeblade, then lifted the jar and poured some of its golden contents into what were indeed small cups.
" 'Ere you are," Aristagoras said to Sostratos, and handed him one of the cups. "Now, this jar was laid down in the year Alexander died, which makes it" - he counted on his fingers - "thirteen years old now." He smiled the easy, friendly smile of a man who bought and sold things for a living. "It's getting close to a man's years on it. Go ahead and taste - don't be shy."
Sostratos sipped the sweet, fragrant wine. He smacked his lips and made polite appreciative noises. Had he not been trying to buy the stuff at something close to a reasonable price, he would have burst into cheers. "Very nice indeed," he murmured.
"Nice?" Aristagoras said. "Nice?" He donned indignation as readily as he'd put on friendship. "My dear fellow, that is the authentic Ariousian, the best wine on Khios - which is to say, the best wine in the world."
"I said it was good." Sostratos sipped again, determined to be as moderate as he could. It wasn't easy. The wine was so splendid, he wanted to guzzle like a Skythian. "But whether I can afford it is apt to be a different question. How much for a jar would you ask?"
"For one of the usual size, of a little more than half a metretes?" Aristagoras asked. Sostratos dipped his head. The wine merchant plucked at his beard, which had a couple of reddish streaks that were going gray. At last, voice elaborately casual, he answered, "Oh, twenty drakhmai sounds about right."
Sostratos jerked as if stung by a wasp. "I know I'm young," he said, "but I hope you won't take me for a fool. When I was in Athens, I could get a khous of Khian for two drakhmai, and one of those jars won't hold above seven khoes. So you're asking more - half again as much - wholesale as an Athenian tavernkeeper charged at retail. If that's not robbery, what is?"
"There's Khian, and then there's fine Khian, and then there's Ariousian," Aristagoras said. "Any Khian is worth three times as much as the cheap slop they make most places. I say nothing about Thasos or Lesbos, mind: they turn out pretty good wine, too. But most places?" He wrinkled his nose and tossed his head before continuing, "And Ariousian is to regular Khian what Khian is to regular wine."
"At twenty drakhmai the jar, the gods on Olympos couldn't afford to drink it, let alone mere mortals," Sostratos said.
"You're bound for Italy, you said." Aristagoras looked sly. " 'Ow much can you charge for it there?"
"That's not the point," Sostratos answered. "The point is, how much would you charge for it if I weren't going to Italy?"
"Not an obolos less," Aristagoras insisted. He looked so very sincere, Sostratos didn't believe him for even a moment.
"Are you going to tell me that a tavernkeeper here in Khios city pays you twenty drakhmai for a jar of Ariousian?" Sostratos rolled his eyes to show how likely he thought that was.
"No, I can't tell you that," Aristagoras said, but he held up a hand before Sostratos could pounce on him. "The reason I can't tell you that is, not many tavernkeepers will 'ave anything so fancy around, because there isn't much call for it from the sort of men who drink in taverns. But I've got twenty drakhmai the jar a good many times from people who wanted to put on a proper symposion and make their friends 'appy."
People who wanted to put on an expensive symposion and make their friends jealous, Sostratos thought. But Aristagoras didn't sound as if he were lying this time. A few rich Khians - and, very likely, some of Antigonos' officers here, too - wouldn't count the cost when they bought wine. Still . . . "If you've got twenty drakhmai a good many times," Sostratos said slowly, "that must mean there are times when you've got less, too."
Aristagoras bared his teeth in what only looked like a smile. "Aren't you a clever young chap?" he murmured, making it sound more like accusation than praise.
"And," Sostratos pressed, "they would be buying only a few amphorai at a time. You're bound to have a discount for quantity. Even twelve drakhmai a jar is outrageous, but I'm willing to talk about it for the sake of argument, provided we're talking about enough jars."
"Such generosity," Aristagoras said, and his expression didn't even resemble a smile any more. "Kindly remember who owns the wine you're generous enough to talk of buying."
Oh, a pestilence, Sostratos thought. Now I've gone and put his back up. He couldn't so much as look as if he knew he'd made a mistake: that would only give Aristagoras a greater edge. He wondered how to go about repairing the error.
Before he could say anything, Alyattes the slave came in and announced, "Master, the other trader, the one called Menedemos, is here."
"Bring 'im in. Maybe 'e'll be more reasonable," Aristagoras said. "And if not . . ." The wine seller shrugged. "Many good-byes to them both. They can do business somewhere else."
"Hail," Menedemos said when the Lydian slave led him back to the room where Sostratos and Aristagoras were dickering.
"Hail," Sostratos answered in a distinctly hollow voice.
If Menedemos noticed that, he didn't let it show. He clasped hands with Aristagoras, then slapped Sostratos on the back almost hard enough to knock him off the stool Alyattes had given him. "By the dog of Egypt, cousin, you're the lucky one. I went down to Poseidon's temple and made my offering, and here you've been guzzling away at the nectar of the gods."
Remembering his own comment about the gods' being unable to afford Aristagoras' wine, Sostratos kept his mouth shut. Aristagoras said, "If you'd care to taste this for yourself . . .?" When Menedemos dipped his head, Alyattes poured him a cup. Aristagoras went on, "Your - cousin, is it? - your cousin, yes, 'as been doing 'is best to persuade me the wine isn't worth what I say it is."
Menedemos shot Sostratos a hooded glance, but one so swift, it was gone almost before Sostratos was sure he saw it. With a laugh, Menedemos said, "Well, that's a merchant's job, after all, O best one." He sipped the Ariousian. His eyes widened. "We won't get this cheap, will we?"
"Your cousin was trying 'is best," the wine seller said dryly. "But no, my friend, you won't. I know what I've got, and I know what it's worth."
"I'm sure you do." Menedemos dipped his head. He sipped again. His eyes closed, as if a flutegirl at a symposion had started doing something extraordinarily pleasurable. "Oh, my. That is the real stuff. No one could mistake it, not even for a heartbeat. And what they'll pay in Italy!" His eyes closed again, this time contemplating a different sort of ecstasy.
"I should say it is, and I should say they will." Aristagoras dipped his head, too, and then looked daggers at Sostratos.
Sostratos, for his part, felt like looking daggers at Menedemos. The only reason he didn't was to keep Aristagoras from getting even more of the upper hand in the dicker. But, from everything Sostratos could see, the wine merchant already had a sizable edge, and Menedemos seemed intent on giving him more.
Menedemos drained the little cup Alyattes had given him and sighed. At Aristagoras' gesture, the Lydian slave filled it again. "I thank you," Menedemos told him. He gave Aristagoras a seated bow. "And I thank you." He took another sip. "Exquisite, just exquisite. I wouldn't be surprised if you were getting twelve drakhmai for an amphora, maybe even thirteen."
"I'm getting twenty," Aristagoras said. But he didn't get angry, as he had with Sostratos. Menedemos' charm had softened him a little; he no longer glared like a blunt-nosed viper about to bite. Sostratos saw what he'd done wrong - saw it, as one usually does in such affairs, too late.
"I can well believe that you'd ask twenty." Menedemos' smile remained easy, ingratiating. "But it's a long haul from Khios to Italy, and I have expenses, too - and the Italiotes, in spite of what people say, aren't quite made of money. What do you say to fourteen drakhmai a jar?"
He'd come up twice now, and without even being asked. Would Aristagoras move at all? If he didn't, would Menedemos give him every obolos he demanded? Sostratos had the dreadful feeling his cousin would. If they bought wine, even Ariousian, at twenty drakhmai the amphora, could they sell enough of it in Italy at a high enough price to make it worthwhile? He doubted it.
"Your expenses aren't my worry," Aristagoras said, and Sostratos' heart sank.
"I know that, sir," Menedemos said. Suddenly, Sostratos' hopes began to rise. Whenever his cousin sounded that earnest, good things followed - good things for Menedemos, that is. This was the tone he used to sweet-talk other men's wives into bed with him. He went on, "I do so want to do business with you, but twenty seems the tiniest bit high. You'll have met my father, I expect. You know what he's like. Old-fashioned? I should say so!" He rolled his eyes. "I just don't think he could stay reasonable if he heard a number like that."
Sostratos waited. Had he haggled like that, Aristagoras would have thrown him out onto the street on his backside. He was sure of it. With Menedemos . . . With Menedemos, the wine seller said, "Well, you've gone up a couple of drakhmai. I don't suppose the Persian Empire will come back to life if I drop one."
They settled at sixteen drakhmai the amphora. Sostratos would have been happier at fifteen, but he hadn't been able to make Aristagoras move at all. Menedemos, now, Menedemos had Aristagoras eating out of the palm of his hand. "Have the slaves bring the jars to my ship tomorrow morning," he said.
"I'll do that," Aristagoras said. "Meanwhile, you and your cousin are welcome to take supper with me and to spend the night here if you care to."
"We'll do that, and thank you kindly for it," Menedemos said.
Sostratos added, "Would you send one of your slaves by the Aphrodite now, to let our men know where we'll be in case of trouble?"
"I suppose so, though you seem to worry about every little thing," the wine merchant said. The comment made Sostratos feel like breaking an amphora over Aristagoras' head, but he refrained.
As Aristagoras was instructing the slave, Sostratos managed to murmur a few words to Menedemos. "I'm glad you came along when you did. I managed to get him angry at me, and we wouldn't have had a bargain."
"Don't let it trouble you," Menedemos replied. "I almost queered the deal with Xenophanes, down on Kos. As long as things work out one way or another, who cares how?"
More often than not, Menedemos wouldn't say any such thing. More often than not, he would grab all the credit and leave all the blame for Sostratos. He might do that yet, on this very journey. For now, maybe the thanks-offering to Poseidon had left him feeling more charitable than usual. Sostratos could think of nothing else to account for it. Whatever the reason, he was glad his cousin answered lightly.
Supper included some splendid tuna steaks, enough to warm the heart of the most jaded opsophagos. Supper also included a very pretty serving-girl, with whom Menedemos wasted no time in coming to an arrangement. Aristagoras chuckled. "I'll make sure the two of you have separate rooms. Do you want a girl for yourself tonight, Master Sostratos?"
"No, thank you," Sostratos said. Menedemos looked at him as if he were daft. Aristagoras shrugged. Sostratos didn't regret his choice. The wine seller probably wouldn't have another girl as good-looking as this one, and a slave ordered to go to bed with him wouldn't show much enthusiasm, while the serving-girl seemed about ready to climb up onto the couch with Menedemos and ravish him on the spot.
That all made good sense to Sostratos till he and Menedemos went to bed. Whether from efficiency or cruelty, Aristagoras put them in adjoining rooms. The wall wasn't very thick. Sostratos got to listen to the fun Menedemos was having next door. By the noises he and the girl made, they were having lots of fun. Sostratos wrapped his chiton around his head. That did next to nothing to block the amorous racket. Eventually, he fell asleep in spite of it.
The clear poo-poo-poo call of a hoopoe woke Menedemos somewhere around sunrise. He started to sit up, and discovered he couldn't: the serving-girl's warm, bare body was draped over his. He smiled to himself as he patted her backside. It had been quite a night.
Her eyes came open. "Good day, Leuke," Menedemos said.
For a moment, she looked confused. He wondered how many of Aristagoras' guests she'd slept with. Better not to wonder something like that, he thought. Leuke didn't stay confused long. "Good day," she purred, and stretched languorously.
"One more before I have to go?" Menedemos asked. She hesitated. Menedemos gave her a silver coin, a half-drakhma. "For you either which way," he said, "whether you decide to or not."
"Not just a sweet lover but a generous lover, too," Leuke exclaimed, and rode him as if she were a jockey. He would have had to pay a lot more than three oboloi for that at a brothel; courtesans charged more for it than any other way. After the sweaty exertions of the night before, being ridden suited him fine.
He was whistling when he ate barley porridge and drank wine for breakfast. Sostratos wasn't whistling; he looked glum. "It's your own fault," Menedemos told him. "You could have had a good time, too."
"Maybe another time," Sostratos said, as he usually did when Menedemos asked him why he wasn't enjoying himself now. He ate porridge and drank wine with a concentration that said he didn't want to be disturbed.
But Menedemos said, "Don't spend all day over breakfast. I want us back at the Aphrodite before Aristagoras' slaves fetch the wine. I don't think he'd try to palm off anything but what we agreed to on us, but I don't want to find out I'm wrong the hard way, either."
"You won't really be able to tell unless you open an amphora or two and taste what's in them," Sostratos said.
"Don't remind me." Menedemos got down to the bottom of his bowl of porridge in a hurry. He sat there drumming his fingers till his cousin finished, too. They said their good-byes to Alyattes - Aristagoras was sleeping late, since the sun was well up - and hurried down toward the harbor.
"Where shall we head next?" Sostratos asked as they threaded their way along Khios' narrow, winding, grimy streets.
"West," Menedemos answered.
His cousin paused to give him a mocking bow. "Many thanks, O best one. I never should have guessed. I expected we'd go on to Italy by sailing north."
"I was afraid you might have," Menedemos said with a chuckle.
"Let me ask you some different questions, then." Sostratos was at his most formal, which meant at his most irritating. "Do you plan to put in at Athens? If you do, it's a good market for our papyrus and ink; they probably do more writing there than anywhere else in the world, except maybe Alexandria."
"I hadn't intended to, no," Menedemos said. "The more we sell in the far west, the better the prices we'll get for it. Or do you think I'm wrong?"