"I write because by writing i find beauty.
To speak about terror or human cruelty is
to seek a way for beauty and justice.
To write is to go against.
All my novels, historical or not, are the way:
From the soul to the soul."

Monday, 28 April 2014


Cover page:
“And nobody can know what today’s world would be like, if Persian imperialism, with its immense riches and its servile spirit, had prevailed. It was the clash between two different civilizations, two different worlds, in which the “few” free ones predominated.”

The Wooden Wall is the oracle that the god of Delphi gave to the Athenians before the battle of Salamis in 480 B.C.

The novel animates the epic of the ancient world through the eyes of a child from Lemnos, Alkamenis, who was taken slave by Persians. He managed to go to Sparta and know that unique city. There he became the witness of the greatest military conflicts in human history. As helot, as moribund and as observer he is becoming the mythic axis for all the cruelty and the charm of a world one might call up-to-date.

The Wooden Wall is, above all, the human adventure, the human being. The epic of man’s struggles, but also, his conception about life and Moira, about Hades, about the soul. And only the decision of those “few” to oppose the hybris of Persian imperialism gives the measure of that era.
With a vivid and perceptive language, with the events running in their archetypal ritual, the novel animates that time. It annuls the millenniums, becomes an adventure of today’s human being on the same earth.
A novel which searches, in the depths of the soul, the collective memory and the lost self-knowledge.
that time. It annuls the millenniums, becomes an adventure of today’s human being on the same earth.

"Centuries from now, I reflect, when time will have traced its endless cycles over us, this morning, in the last part of the month Boedromion, only one day before the new moon, I will be here again, wandering here, dead or alive, attempting to detach from oblivion this terrifying but also magnificent theater of history. Because witnesses do not die. Witnesses keep vigil in the solitude of time, keep vigil with eyes open. And I, the insignificant child from Lemnos, the Helot, the wandering dreamer, I, the owner of time am here today, I say, the witness of history".

A best selling novel
All translated into English


Like a summary  

One day the enemy went to conquer Sparta. At that time, the Spartans could not protect their town because they had not yet built the wall. And, when they saw the enemy, they did this strange thing:

They gathered all the citizens, bonded by the shoulder and surrounded their town as if they were a strong human wall.

The men of the enemy army stood up surprised and looked for some hours at the phenomenon.

Then they left.

Sparta has been a unique town of human history, a closed society, with a philosophy of life based on hard discipline and deprivation. They believed that only in that way could be the absolute virtue as an honor of the Spartan.

It was prohibited by the laws to have the citizens money. It was this a part of their philosophy of life. And the citizens so deeply respected their laws that they did not need the money.

When Athenians asked them what could corrupt them, they answered: Only the sound of money.

Their male children, from the age of seven, were given at the Military Schools to educate them according to their laws, to make them worthy warriors, to initiate them at the virtue of honor.

It was a hard military society with absolute values.

It was prohibited for the warrior to come back alive at his town if his army did not win at the battle.

The hero of my novel, Aristodemos, was blinded on the third day of battle of the Leonidas 300, at Thermopylae, and he left. Leonidas told him to leave. But when he returned in Sparta, he was held in disgrace by his compatriots, because he was not killed in the battle with his comrades.

Through Aristodemos tragedy, through his deep humiliation, the novel gives all the philosophy of the society of Sparta. A society which until today is the big enigma of human history.

The Athenians:

Athenians had a completely different philosophy of life. It was then (about 480 p. X) that democracy was born. The sense of nation, also. The freedom of speech and thought was the principal value of democracy. It was exactly the moment that blossomed the spirit, the dramatic poetry as education of the citizen, with Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. All the three great poets are present in the novel and participate in it. Aeschylus, about 45 years old, fought in all the big battles, Marathon, Salamis. Sophocles was a very young poet at that moment. And Euripides was a child of 5 years old who saw the naval battle of Salamis from the rocks of the island where he lived.

When the giant army of Xerxes (the Persians) came to conquer Greece, all the Greek cities were merged for the first time in order to refute them.

These battles the novel tries to describe. How the few Greeks, with their genius, won the huge volume of the Persian army.

Nobody can know what today’s world would be like, if Persian imperialism, with its immense riches and its servile spirit, had prevailed at that moment.

Certainly the world today would be different.

Europe, which was born in the following years, the Nations which composed them, was based on the Athenians values, on democracy and the freedom of thought and, also, on the sense of civilization, as they had developed it.

To understand the difference between the Athenians and Persians (who if they had won, then, would dominate all the known at that time world) I will refer to a dialogue between Xerxes and one of his generals.

When their gigantic army reached the place near Thermopylae, they found there only some Greek soldiers who did not fight. Then Xerxes asked what happened. And they answered that at that moment were taking place the Olympic Games and the Greeks had “ekeheiria” (which means: I keep your hand and not my arms) and any war stops.

Xerxes asked again: What is the reward for the Olympic winners. And they answered: A branch of olive tree.

And then Xerxes shouted: “Papai Mardonie, against who you have brought me to fight! That people gives to the winners a branch of olive tree and not gold”.

That was the difference.

And on these values would be based the civilization of the Europe nations which were born at the following years.

{That is why there exist so many great writers who loved deeply the Greek History and they dedicated their life writing for its spirit and history. Like sir Steven Runciman, George Thomson, George Steiner and many others. Steiner, one of the best contemporary philosophers, Prof in Cambridge, said: “There is indeed a motion of 'homecoming to ancient Greece' in western thought and speech. To articulate experience grammatically, to relate discourse and meaning as we do, is to 'be Greek''' .

George Steiner, ANTIGONES – The Antigone myth in Western literature, art and thought, Oxford University Press, 1984, p. 135.}

The plot of the novel :

Alcamenis, a ten years old boy from the island of Lemnos, who was taken slave by the Persian ships, is becoming the witness of all events which follow. With him the Persians take, also, his teacher and a little girl, Hipolyte, who will become his unique love.

These three persons are the axis of the myth I created to give the charm but also the cruelty of a world one might call up-to-date.

Hipolyte will become priestess at the Elefsinia Mysteries. Alcamenis, charmed by the narrations of his teacher for Sparta, manages to arrive at the town and to know this famous city. But Spartans do not want the strangers.

As a child and as a young man he will be experienced by all the hard approvals but, also, he will be initiated in the spirit of their absolute military virtue.

He will be a helot for Aristodemos. As a helot, as a moribund, as a fanatic warrior, he will be experienced by all the aspects of their life. He will fight for his beloved Hipolyte. He will win the respect of Spartans. He will participate in all the big battles.

As helot of Aristodemos, Alcamenis will live with him all the martyrdom of his smashing after his disgrace.

He will be friend of an aristocrat Athenian, Dexileo, and this friendship will help him to experience, also, the secrets of Athenians conception of life. And when the very handsome Dexileo will be wounded at the naval battle of Salamis and will be invalid, Alcamenis leaves Sparta (just at the moment that they decided to make him a real citizen) in order to help his friend.

The Spartan, who more than the others tortured Alkamenis in the first years, will save his son, four years old, a child of his love with Hipolyte.

The novel ends with the battle of Plataea (final horrible defeat of Persians) where Aristodemos ran first to the battle, ran as if he was dancing in order to die for his town and in that way to be expiated for the shame that he was returned alive from the battle of Three Hundred.

The end of the novel takes place seven years after the wars, when at the theater of Acropolis is playing (“is taught” they said then) the Aeschylus tragedy “Persians” which gives the naval battle of Salamis where he fought. And from all the cities the people ran, since the early morning, to take places at the theater. They believed that they would live again the triumph of their victory. But the tragedy was written to evoke awe. The awe of the defeated. The Poet gave it with all the splendor and compassion that every great calamity has.

This is the novel.

I tried to portray the human side, to find the daily way of life in the ancient world, so that the events unfold at a time abolished but also magically present, a time alive.

I believe that “SPARTAN” is a contemporary novel. Not only because it brings that distant age to our days, but because it contains, prophetically, everything that glorifies or plagues contemporary times.”


Aristodemos is a real historic person.

And all historic events are verified from the historic sources.

At the end of the novel I put the maps which show the genius strategy of Themistocles, all the movements of his ships, to make it clear how the few Greeks managed to win the colossal fleet of Xerxes.

The moment when the sea breeze blows

The month of Boedromion is ending, I reflect. This waning of the moon has brought us so much suffering, so many ashes. Endless bloodletting and pain. On the third night after today, the new moon will rise, a new cycle of life. It will rise over the ruins of Athens and Eleusis, over the ruins of the unfortunate cities that came to know the savagery of the enemy’s advance. A new moon, I reflect, that will illuminate the solitude of the dead, centuries from now.

We are all at our stations. No one goes about in small boats now, no one moves, the gangways were left on shore. Our triremes are drawn up in battle formation. Face to face with the triremes of the enemy along the entire front. From the peninsula of Cynosura to the islet that is joined to the shore near Amphiale.

Face to face. Along a front line over fifteen stades long.

Soon they will clash, bow against bow, breast against breast.

Bronze will strike bronze and the ships will fall on one another with unrestrained hatred.

As far as my eye can see, I look at the deep rows of enemy triremes that have taken a position before our ships. They appear huge, most of them with high-roofed decks, powerful. They are not moving yet. They wait. I look at our ships, lower, with a thin keel. “But more maneuverable in a narrow space, Menoitos whispers to me, as he divines my thoughts, and in more experienced naval hands...”

We are standing at our stations. The four archers at the prow, on the front side of the cabin. Directly behind us, on the cabin, are the look-out man, facing the oarsmen. The boatswain and the flute-player are positioned amidships. We the archers are the most exposed to the arrows and spears of the enemy. Menoitos, Lysippos, Pylades, and I. Nearby are three hoplites: Rhexibios, Damon, and Damaratos. The remaining hoplites are along the two sides of the deck, the entire length of the trireme. They are wearing breastplates of double-layered ox hide, fastened on both sides, and helmets also made of ox or buffalo hide. No bronze except for the shield and weapons.

We await the trumpet-call. At any moment we will hear the trumpet. The waiting seems eternal. Menoitos feels the need to speak. He, whose speech was always laconic. From the anguish, I think, or the tension. “That is why Themistocles insisted that the naval battle be fought here, he says, inside the strait of Salamis, so that we could fight with an equal number of vessels, as he explained, since their fleet cannot all fit here, and so that their ships, being heavy and slow-moving, would strike and damage one another...”

We see Xerxes’ golden throne, which flashes in the morning light. It is on the side of the mountain called Aigaleos, behind his triremes, on the side that comes down to the narrowest part of the strait, near Amphiale. “He has his son Rhiodonis with him, Menoitos whispers, I hear that he is positioned on Psyttaleia with the infantry landing-party; many of his royal relatives went there...” I do not respond; I do not care about Rhiodonis, but Menoitos continues: “He wanted to be stationed near his ships, he whispers, so that they will see him and be afraid, so that they will fight better than they did at Artemision. Can you make out the crowd that is beside him?” I turn to look. Yes, I can see them. They have something like a lectern in front of them, and a little further away, some strange-looking huge piles. “What are they doing?” He smiles through his blond beard. “Those are his chroniclers, who are making notes to write their history... and those are piles of papyrus sheets.”

I try to make him out. Distance blurs the view. Over his throne I see a huge parasol. And I try to imagine him, as Dexileos described him to me. Tall and unapproachable, a golden idol of worship, with trousers and the long robe the color of saffron and purple, a tall tiara on his head.

And behind him, facing the entire length of his deployed fleet, the countless tribes of his infantry, his army, ready, armed, to support the fleet as necessary.

Everything is ready, I reflect. Even the chroniclers with pens in hand. While we are focusing entirely on the coming battle. To prevail so that we can live as free men.

The moments are dense, unmoving. Drawn out like a thin rope. Time has become an unmoving mass; nothing stirs. And our souls are drawn as well, like a bow. I see the bodies of our hoplites that shudder, ready to face death and blood. What can each of them be thinking, secretly, at this hour, I wonder. And how many of us are living through our last morning...Perhaps I will not see the sun again, I say, and my thought goes to my son and to Hippolyte. I want to live, to know my son, I tell myself, I want to live for him...

I turn to look at the shores of Salamis. Filled with Athenian hoplites. They are there, in formation, ready to support us, if necessary.

Menoitos sees my glance. “Themistocles has organized everything to the last detail,” he whispers.

The moments are still unmoving. Nor does the enemy attack us. His triremes do not move. They are waiting perhaps for us to surrender without a fight. Or perhaps they are expecting to see us flee in disorder.

I look at our battle line. We, the sixteen Spartan triremes of Eurybiades, are on the edge of the right wing, on the Piraeus side, and we are facing the Ionian and Carian triremes. “Will the messages that Themistocles carved on the cliffs, not to fight well, have any effect on them?” I whisper to Menoitos.

“Don’t expect it, he says to me, most of them are extremely devoted to Xerxes, because, as I have learned, he rewarded them with enticing riches...they don’t want to give up their easy life...”

My heart sinks and I try not to think about the Ionians. “Let them remember that they are the cause of our being here this morning...” I say. “Yes, when they asked for assistance at the time of the revolt, they called us blood brothers...Now they will fight with the enemy against us...”

I look at our triremes that are motionless, at the calm sea. A smooth surface whose waves lap voluptuously on the lace-like beaches of Salamis. And the day is bright now. But there is no movement. None yet.

On the left wing, to the west, facing the Phoenician vessels of Tyre and Sidon, are about one hundred eighty Athenian triremes under the command of the “wily” Themistocles, as I hear him called. And in the middle, opposite the triremes of Egypt and Cilicia, Cyprus, Lycia, Paphlagonia, and other small nations, are our triremes from Aegina, Corinth, the islands, Megara, and Chalcis; they are the small fleets of our allied cities. Here, somewhere here, a few stades further on must be the Anemoessa, I tell myself. And I am sad that whenever I took a little time to look for her, I did not find her.

Next to Eurybiades are the thirty Aeginetan triremes, which together with the Spartan triremes constitute the right wing. Next to them are the Corinthian triremes, and then all of the small fleets.

“Themistocles wanted to reinforce the wings, Menoitos continues, as Miltiades did at Marathon. He is envisaging encirclement...”

Still no wind. Not even the slightest breeze breaks the calm surface of the sea. Even the countless triremes do not cause the water to ripple. And the sun rises slowly. The blue becomes bluer and the white becomes more deathly. The light is blinding. Yet their triremes are still motionless—those that had the time to deploy. We see the rear guard of Caria, whose triremes are still approaching to take their position beside the Ionian fleet.

They wait. Surrender, yes, that is what they are waiting for, just as Datis and Artaphernes waited at Marathon. And when they saw the Greeks charging at a run, singing, they thought that they had lost their minds and were running to surrender. That is the revenge that Xerxes is seeking. He wants to expunge the humiliation suffered by his father Darius. Or they are waiting for us to flee in disorder, as Themistocles had told them. I know about that, I thought, Dexileos and I know. “Was he so naive as to believe it?” “The goddess of delusion, Ate, blinds the man that she wishes to destroy...”

Suddenly a whisper from mouth to mouth.

“The charge begins...,” we hear Phrygias’ deep voice.

All eyes turn to the front, we see them; they advance slowly and steadily, straight toward the front line.

They sail together.

Their oars now rhythmically strike the calm water. And each one of us tightens his grip on the weapon he is holding. You can sense the excitement, the impatience. We cannot wait to join battle. Each one of us hides seven lions inside himself; such is our passion.

And, suddenly, we hear the sound of our oars.

Without further orders, our triremes, too, begin to advance. They knew at what moment they should move. And they advance with the same slow and steady rhythm. We reach somewhat more open water, and we wonder; we are almost upon them. We look at each other, to understand what is happening; Themistocles had said that we would engage them in the narrowest point of the strait, near the shore. What has happened? The open water is to their advantage.

The flute-player and the boatswain of the Spartan are calm, as is the look-out man.

Their faces show that they know very well what they are doing.

And suddenly something else happens.

Again without an order, or the order was given in such a way that no one perceived it; our triremes now are now slowly backing water. And from mouth to mouth we again hear “backing water...”

They are still sailing forward, wanting to approach us, while we are continuously moving away from them. Our triremes are backing water almost motionlessly on the calm sea—without the enemy sensing our imperceptible movement backward.

We feel like shouting with excitement. But a curious silence falls on us. Awe. We only look at the oars that are rowing backward with infinite skill, backing water.

“We are bringing them close to the shore, Menoitos whispers, to the strait, outside the gulf, see?” My heart is bursting. “That, too, is undoubtedly part of Themistocles’ strategy...” we are talking in whispers, as if the enemy might overhear, so close do we feel him to be. Or perhaps so as not to break the utter silence. And the tension is unbearable.


With bated breath we wait for the morning wind to come up. As it does each day. But today it is late—or it seems to us that it is late. And our hearts are bursting.

You would think that time had stopped.

And suddenly we feel the first gentle breeze on our faces.

A moment longer...

Half a moment...

The sea breeze begins to rise. It arrives with vigor from the Saronic Gulf and raises sudden waves.

The sea breeze is on our side, I tell myself, and I recall the words of Aeschylos at Cynosura, “this land is our ally...”

We see their ships beginning to toss and we wait for the trumpet call. With the tension invigorating our souls, we wait...

Half, half a moment...

They are storm-tossed. Just as Themistocles said. They are turning sideways.

And we hold our breath.

The trumpet-call, the trumpet-call... why is it not sounding... something is wrong.

Something unheard of...

In that half breath, that slight fragment of time, the moment when our trumpeters are raising the trumpet to their lips to sound the war-cry, in the absolute silence, the absolute anticipation, a trireme moves forward from the Athenian fleet, and immediately a thunderous voice is heard from her, a stentorian voice, which may have been many voices together, like a tragic chorus:

Descendants of the Greeks, advance,

Free your homeland, free

Your children, wives, the abode of your ancestral gods,

And the tombs of your ancestors; everything is at stake in this struggle.

We look on in silence. Each of us standing at his station.

And the voice echoes quickly over the water and from the hills of Salamis, circles over our startled triremes, spreads threateningly over the enemy’s ships and now our entire force pulses with the words moving from mouth to mouth, “everything is at stake in this struggle...”

Everything is at stake in this struggle.

And we all know that this divine voice, arising from a thousand lips, is that of Aeschylos, the poet of the battle, because some men recognized the trireme of his brother, Ameinias. That was the vessel that led the charge, with Aeschylos on board.

We all know that it was he who gave the signal for battle, with soul and poetry.

The poet.

He was the first to charge, with soul and poetry.

And his thundering, divine voice, echoes still, to carry beyond the morning, to be heard in the meadows of the gods, to carry to the other side of time, to the end of history.

There is excitement from trireme to trireme.

And the trumpets sound now.

The place is ablaze with their triumphant sound.

The sound, the sound of the war-cry inundates the sea.

And our souls rise up, take flight, unrestrained.

We see Ameinias’ trireme which has already rammed a Phoenician trireme. With such force that she has pierced the enemy ship with her bronze beak; all eyes turn toward her. 

She fell on the enemy ship like a lightning bolt, quickly ceased her forward motion, smashed all the bronze ornaments at the stern and rammed the enemy ship below the water-line with unbelievable force.

Suddenly, the oars all move in rhythm, churn the water, and a shout emerges from all breasts, a coarse, stentorian shout.

The battle has begun.

Chapter 14
                                   The naval battle

“Ship dashed against ship its bronze-sheathed beak...”

Aeschylos, Persians

Immediately, ships strike one another with their bronze beaks. And a roar spreads throughout the fleet. We now hear the coarse cries of the barbarians who are charging with unbelievable savagery.

I call on my gods, call on the spirits of Klytoneos and Megistias, and fire my first arrow. Their triremes are tall and as they toss, they are not an easy target.

I glance quickly at the sight of the huge front that is angrily advancing toward us, and I shudder. I try to remember the words of Aristodemos: “When you throw yourself into battle, think that the enemy is foolish, otherwise he would not have come to fight on your land...” and the words of Aeschylos, which he spoke on the way to the wine-shop, come again into my mind: “for this land is our ally...”

I approach Menoitos. “Our war-hymn startled them, at the moment when they expected to see us fleeing in terror, and they are charging with fury...,” I whisper to him, and he wonders, “why would they expect us to flee in terror?” he does not know about the incident with Sikkinos, I reflect quickly, no one knows about the “unruly flight” that Themistocles had promised them, except for Dexileos and the two trusted bodyguards, and I try to rectify my words, “just as at Marathon, when they saw the Greeks charging and singing, they thought that they were running to surrender...” He stifles a laugh in his beard. “They were also startled by the breeze that came up, tossing their high ships, you see? Their arrows and their spears are missing their target... all falling into the sea...”

The moments are spacious; contain a thousand images at the same time, a thousand thoughts. And before one image or thought can succeed another, our arrows are whistling through the air, finding their targets, with motions both rapid and precise. The double strings of our bows give off sparks.

“What disconcerted them most of all was Ameinias’ trireme, which charged like a specter and rammed the tall Sidonian vessel...”

“Instead of them surprising us, we surprised them...”

The sea is foaming. And their triremes, as they charge all together with incredible force, and tall as they are—most of them roofed, resemble a moving, wooden Hades that has released all its grandeur to terrify us.

We hear the orders shouted by our helmsmen, “charge”...or, “in single file”... or, even, “drag oars...” and in the tumult we see our triremes attacking with the same, unrestrained fury, like sea monsters roaring and churning the water—the beat of the boatswain striking the disk of elm-wood, the sound of the flute-player quickening the rhythm of the oars, the one hundred seventy oars that strike furiously and deep in the water, to open a passage.

We see them charging, through the rain of arrows and spears, stately and disciplined, with the two hundred men in the crew ready to give their lives to the struggle. A scene of grandeur before me. Our three hundred eighty triremes along a front more than fifteen stades long, and the wheeling lines that are charging in single file, seven or eight of them, determined to break the front line of the enemy.

At the same moment, on the other, right, wing, a trireme has moved beyond the front line and with great force, similar to that of Ameinias’ trireme, charges an Ionian trireme and smashes her oars and stern, shatters the bronze bow and maneuvering swiftly with precise movements, turns and rams the Ionian vessel squarely, piercing it below the water-line with her bronze beak, that lightning-like trident. The Ionian trireme was unlucky, for the sea breeze and the wave, after the smashing of her oars, turned her sideways, and the ramming was immediate and direct on her keel.

We too are cheering now, because we recognize the trireme that moved in front of the right wing.

It is the Aeginetan trireme that brought the Aeacidae this morning.

Time moves so slowly—at least that is my sense—that it allows my vision to function with incredible speed, separately from my mind, separately from my hands on the bow, to seize the images, both fragmented and whole, and to retain them. It is the slowness of the moments, I reflect, or the energy that my body develops, the tension that brings out all of my hidden powers. And I can even read the names of the Ionian triremes that are in from of us, at a distance of less than two stades, Iolkia, Artemis, Gygia, Miletos.

Miletos...and her ensign is a bronze griffon, I reflect.

My thoughts go to Protolaos of Miletos, whom I met at the port of Ephesos, when I went there with the legation of Aristodemos. His trireme was called Miletos and had the same bronze griffon—that mythical beast with the body of a lion and the wings of a bird—between the eyes on the bow. I wonder whether it was the same man who had deserted during the battle of Marathon and informed Miltiades that the enemy cavalry had withdrawn. My thoughts soar. Could it be the same trireme? With Protolaos as helmsman?

The tumult of the clash widens now across the entire front. The sea is covered with moving wooden beasts vomiting thousands of arrows and spears; their bronze prows drawing closer and closer. Blood has not yet started to flow, to color the sea red. What is visible of the water is blue. Nor are there any drowning men yet, no arms calling for help, no cries of pain. Only a few men fall now and then, struck by arrows and spears.

Suddenly we hear shouts from the left wing of Themistocles.

We try to comprehend what has happened and see Ameinias’ trireme unable to withdraw its ram from the Sidonian vessel; other triremes are rushing to help her.

With swift maneuvers, discipline, and most of all with naval skill, the withdrawal of Ameinas’ trireme was effected, between two heartbeats, while at the same moment the well-made Sidonian trireme was sinking, filling with water through the huge hole that the bronze trident had opened in its side.

My glance is there, on the high Sidonian trireme that is sinking with all her crew. I am here, on the deck of the Spartan, beside Menoitos and Lysippos, and am hurriedly shooting my arrows at the enemy ships that are approaching. But out of the corner of my eye, I try to watch the Sidonian vessel that is disappearing slowly below the water with its entire crew, oarsmen and auxiliary troops, archers, naval hoplites all drowning at this moment, struggling a little with the waves, calling the name of their god, Ahura Mazda, others calling on the spirit of evil, Ariman, sinking into the wet silence of the deep.

“So it’s true then that they don’t know how to swim—see? I am surprised that they were selected to fight a naval battle...,” I hear Menoitos, who is also watching the sinking trireme. “Xerxes leaped up from his throne, he saw them...,” Lysippos says; he too was watching what had happened. It is the first vessel to sink. The sea is suddenly filled with drowned men. It becomes the Acheron River for the two hundred hapless men who find a gruesome death. And at the same moment we hear similar cries from the Ionian trireme, the one rammed by the Aeginetan trireme Aiakis. She, too, sinks quickly, because the water she took on through the hole made by the ram draws her into the depths. In vain, the crews try to leap onto adjoining triremes to save themselves, or to swim. It is clear that some of the Ionians know how to swim, but they do not escape. The whirlpool drags them into the depths. Nothing is visible now; they are lost. Two triremes, with their entire crews, lost in the dark water.

The event upsets me. It awakens nightmarish images within me of other triremes that were sinking with their crews off Mount Athos, thirteen winters ago. When rough seas were dashing them against the cliffs. That thirteen-year-old boy is here, I tell myself, as I draw my bow; here—and he has not forgotten.

The daylight of this slow-moving day is here now. Gold and bronze flash under the sun. Thousands of armed men are watching us from the opposite hillsides. An endless flood of bronze and moving flesh behind the throne of Xerxes, on the slopes of Mount Aigaleo and in Attica, down to the shore of Phaleron. Their panoplies shine and the breeze that is blowing brings us the noise of the endless human sea. Xerxes is standing now, watching the two triremes that are sinking. Watching them panic-stricken, perhaps. The scarlet-clothed men of his bodyguard stand around him, saying something to him. He stands tall among them. The king dressed in gold. He awaits the next movement of his ships; the great clash is imminent, the prows of the two lines are only a few breaths apart.

But something has happened. The columns of our fleet—those triremes in single file that slip through the enemy line—have broken through the enemy’s front line, wreaking as much damage as they can; they are smashing oars and sterns and with skillful maneuvers driving their rams below the water line. Crashing sounds and shouts are heard now, clashing of bronze that gives way and of splintering wood, iron-tipped spears that land with force; tumult.

The battle becomes savage. One Aeginetan trireme has been rammed, and another of Eurybiades’ triremes, is about to overturn. From the little I can make out, I see the crews swimming quickly to avoid the stray arrows, to reach land, where the Athenian hoplites await them, along with the priests and those skilled in the medical arts and the knowledge of herbs, who have gathered from all our allied fleets and have set up a makeshift operating room, because the wounded are many in number. Others are being picked up by the six rescue boats, which are stationed at the rear to transport the wounded to shore.

We have nowhere to stand. The hoplites from the enemy triremes, the archers, our spear-men are firing repeatedly. A few men jump onto our ships; the battle is man to man. A harsh, rabid battle.

I no longer see anything around me. A dark cloud has covered everything. A dense, impenetrable cloud. Arrows and spears are raining from the sky; broken sterns, fragments of bodies on the water, bronze striking bronze, shouts, moans.

The sea is red. The Acherousian sea. Bloated, shining pitiable corpses floating.

“I didn’t expect the Ionians to strike us with such hatred...,” Menoitos shouts beside me, above the din. “They are our brothers, of the same blood...,” I shout back. “I am afraid they may break through our lines, he continues; they have sunk two of our ships...”

I, too, am afraid. Because here, on the right wing, the sea is more open, about seven stades, and that is to their advantage, as they are more numerous. “We’re holding, I say to him; our line is holding well for the moment...”

I see Phrygias and Nikomedes who are fighting like beasts; I see Damon and Pytheas, Damaratos, the charioteer Apellaios. Tall and fierce, muscles tense and eyes flashing. All the hoplites aboard the Spartan are fighting fiercely, striking however they can. They quickly disposed of a few men who jumped onto our deck from an enemy trireme, cut them to pieces. Telemachos and Iolaidas, huge Spartans both, are covering the port-side outrigger, while Rhexibios and Milo, equally tall and strong, cover the starboard outrigger. We run from one end of the ship to the other, helping where needed.

“Keep up the defense...” I hear Eurybiades’ hoarse voice.

“Defense...,” shouts Phrygias, as well, as he strikes three Ionians who dared to leap onto the flagship.

At one moment, I see Nikomedes, who is fighting alone with superhuman strength to stop an Egyptian trireme that is charging our ship, to ram us.

Cold fear seizes me. The question of whether our line is bending, here on the right wing, flashes through my mind, where the triremes of Sparta and Aegina are positioned, because the attack of the Ionian ships, coming from more open water and with a deeper front line backed by the Carian vessels, are falling on us like a cloudburst. Also, the Egyptian ships, which were at the center of the enemy’s front line, are now moving eastward, toward us, and we do not know yet why that is; we do not know what is happening on the left wing, where Themistocles is. Eurybiades frantically shouts to his helmsmen to maintain discipline, not to lose control of the ships.

Polycritos, commander of the Aeginetan fleet, who is on our left, shouts the same orders, “follow the battle strategy...maintain not lost control of the battle...”

I become more frantic, angrier. I shout along with them and strike, you, you want to make me a slave... you, you, my blood brother, the burned our temples... you would make a slave of my son... Twice my bow broke and I took a replacement from our spare weapons.

Suddenly, in the din, I see Nikomedes positioning his body to stop the approaching black Egyptian ship from ramming the Spartan, and my heart is in my throat. One more moment, half a moment, and our flagship will be hit; the bronze ram of the Egyptian vessel is already taking aim. I quickly grab my quiver with the poisoned arrows. Klytoneos had told me that Artemis coated her arrows with the sap of amarangos, which is also called hemlock, and of [ITAMOS?], which country people call taxos, when she wanted to slay someone. And from as much sap as I could find, I coated thirteen arrows for use in moments of great need. This is one. I quickly place the poisoned arrow in my bow and aim at the helmsman of the enemy trireme that is charging us. The sea is still choppy and the tossing makes aiming difficult.

I move as close as I can to Nikomedes, who is hanging from the Spartan, to be crushed by the enemy ship, so that its ram will not be able to penetrate deep into our vessel.

“What are you doing...move back...” he calls out to me.

“Wait and see what I am doing...” I reply and release four arrows one after the other. I release them with the speed of lightning, swift and accurate. Before I could hear two anguished heartbeats in my breast they had found their target.

Three of them; the fourth had struck a plank, but the three struck swiftly. One was struck in his shoulder, the others in an arm and a leg. The injuries were slight, but the poisons did their work well. The helm suddenly was free of the helmsman, and two other men fell down, unconscious. The oarsmen are terrified. They turn their trireme aside, to slip away and flee. I see some men running to assist the wounded, but they touch the arrows with the poison and begin to flail.

Nikomedes is still hanging from the ship. In two leaps, Lysippos and Apellaios are there and we pull him aboard.

“What did you do?” he asks me. Sweat and blood roll of him and the anguish has distorted his face.

I told him about the arrows of Artemis. He laughed. The others, too, laughed; they needed to. And we again take our positions, defensive positions, because the enemy is closing in on us, trying to break our resistance.

As Nikomedes is standing next to me, in the rain of aimless arrows, I see the wound on his shoulder. “It’s nothing, he says, a scratch...” Then I see another, gaping, wound on his leg, “nothing...,” he repeats, and tries to obstruct several gigantic Asians who are pulling our trireme toward theirs and preparing to jump onto our deck.

We all run to that spot, panic-stricken; we slash hands and feet, to stop them, but others follow them, indifferent to the axe that awaits them. Some men must be sacrificed in order to achieve the enemy’s goal, and they know that. Xerxes sees them from the hillside. He watches, his body bending forward. And, as each man believes that Xerxes is watching him, he fights rabidly. All of them are fighting with unbelievable savagery. And they shove some men forward, sacrificing them. They send them first to leap aboard, to distract the men on our trireme, and to find the opportunity to board our ship.

The shouts of our men are angrier now.

Shouts emerging from the depths of time, from the struggle of the gods with the titans.

And I, for a moment, feel that I am moving in a mysterious abstraction, outside of blood and tumult. And I wonder whether I am losing consciousness, whether what I am experiencing is real or a frightful nightmare. I try to bend my bow, but a vision immobilizes me. Vision and strange voices, “Iacche...Iacche...”

It is the same vision that appeared also at the burning of Eleusis, on the last day of the Sacred Mysteries, and they said that it was the initiated dead who were on their way to Salamis, singing the hymn to the god of the Mysteries, Iacchos. Are others seeing this vision? Are others hearing the mysterious voices? I exert a superhuman effort to come out of this abstraction, and draw my bow. Enoitos approaches me, “did you, too, hear the hymns to Iacchos?” he asks me. But something else is on my mind now. Phrygias and Nikomedes are still fighting with the enemy trireme, and I can read her name, Hyampole. She is tall and beautiful, and could have been on our side.

At the same moment I see the ship with the bronze griffin, the Miletos, which is coming up on our other, leeward, side, and the men ready to leap onto our ship. We are mad with rage. Half of our men stay on the leeward side with the Hyampole and the others run to the right, toward the Miletos. Menoitos is beside and pulls me in that direction to aid in the skirmish with the men from the Miletos. Our men are trying desperately to fend off the ramming. They roar like lions, fight tooth and nail, fight with bows and curved daggers.

The Miletos takes position to sink our ship by overturning it, or perhaps by ramming it, and we are distraught. A moment longer, half a moment...She does not do it. For some reasons that we do not have time to think of, she does not do it. The huge trireme remains motionless. And with swift maneuvers, our trireme manages to slip away. The deck is covered with blood, severed hands and feed obstruct our movement, we stumble over them and slip, our anguish reaches its peak, as the men from the Hyampole, now, on our leeward side, board us like demons and the battle is waged man to man, an infantry battle. I see nothing, I only strike; we strike with force, desperately. Milo is hit and falls; someone rushes to pick him up. Phrygias is covered with blood; he is wounded somewhere, but continues to fight with the same passion.

At some moment, we realize that there are no more enemy soldiers on our trireme; we had cut them all down. And we saw the Hyampole pulling away quickly, while the Miletos was still beside us, besieging us in whatever way she could. She could, even at this point have rammed us; she has turned her bow toward our sides. But once again, she does not do it. And several our men leap quickly aboard to take her hostage. I am beside Telemachos, and Nikomedes is pushing both of us to leap aboard with him. A savage, relentless battle follows. Our blood brothers, together with the dark-skinned Asians and the wild, mountain-dwelling Scythians, who perhaps jumped from other sinking triremes, fall on us, shrieking. I see Rhexibios fall, his head cut to pieces. And soon Daman rolls into the sea with his belly open. A huge-bodied hoplite raises his curved sword to strike Damaratos, but fortunately, Phrygias cuts him off. With a well-timed blow to his neck, he fells him. But the huge-bodied man rises up again, and Phrygias, his wound hemorrhaging beneath his breastplate, again fights vigorously. Both of them are covered with blood, slipping on the sea of blood and urine, fighting like enraged beasts.

Our shouts are the roar of Hades. And all the tumult around us is a roaring Hades. Vomiting blood. I am at the stern with Telemachos and Pylades, and Pytheas. Suddenly we hear cheers from the skirmish at the bow. They have cut them all down; the huge man is lying on the slime. And we are called back to our own trireme, which was about to ram and sink the Ionian vessel, ungovernable as it was.

At that moment, a man with a grey beard, covered with blood, comes out of the luxurious cabin and stands before us, about to collapse. Nikomedes runs to attack him, but he raises a weaponless hand. We approach him. He looks familiar, and his eyes are fixed on me. “Protolaos of Miletos,” he says in his loud voice, and waits. “And the other man?” I ask him. He looks at me, insistently and with a barely discernible smile, “Herakleides of Ephesos, he says, they have withdrawn the cavalry tonight...”

It is the second time I am meeting the same individual, I reflect quickly; soon perhaps I will see the map-maker, Lygdamis of Phoenicia...

Nikomedes gives me an angry look. “Who is he?”

I explain to him as laconically as I can. There is incredulity in his expression. For a moment he looks at the purple clothing Protolaos is wearing. He looks like the helmsman of the ship; he could have rammed us. “I could have, he says, but I did not give the order...I saw the messages Themistocles had carved on the cliffs...”

Nikomedes’ curved dagger is at his throat, but he looks at us calmly.

“What else can you say to convince me?” he asks him roughly.

“Aristodemos...” he says.

Nikomedes is shaken. Even here, at this wild moment of battle, the name of Aristodemos torments him...

“Take him, he shouts, and see that he receives the best medical care...”

I was the last to board our trireme. As I was pushing aside the corpses, to pass through, I bumped into a body that was still breathing. I look down.

It was Lysippos. With a deep chest wound. Soaked in blood. Unconscious.

I instantly place him over my shoulder and try to leave the trireme. But I do not succeed. The ungoverned Ionian vessel is swept away by the waves, as the oarsmen jump panic-stricken into the sea to save themselves.

I look at the distance to the water, see the bloodied water, no I cannot jump into the sea with Lysippos on my shoulder, I reflect quickly, and I shout as loudly as I can to the crew on our trireme.

How can a man in such critical moments, only one centimeter from the death swirling around him, possess such clarity of mind, comprehend some unbelievable details from the terrifying event taking place, comprehend totality and detail together, enter into the chaotic fissures that deepen and are lost in time, in that slight space of time. As I did not know whether I would fall into the water with Lysippos on my shoulder, or whether some help might arrive, my eyes seized the image of the battle. A quick glance seized the destruction and the blood, the curiously shining corpses, the cries of drowning men, the fragments from the splintered triremes, the death that sang sarcastically over the works of man. Swiftly flowing streams of blood shone on the water, forming red blossoms of a moving flame, terror in the embrace of a macabre beauty—and I shuddered.

Centuries from now, I reflect, when time will have traced its endless cycles over us, this morning, in the last part of the month Boedromion, only one day before the new moon, I will be here again, wandering here, dead or alive, attempting to detach from oblivion this terrifying but also magnificent theater of history. Because witnesses do not die. Witnesses keep vigil in the solitude of time, keep vigil with eyes open. And I, the insignificant child from Lemnos, the Helot, the wandering dreamer, I, the owner of time am here today, I say, the witness of history.

I felt that I was talking nonsense. In the midst of the tumult, surrounded by death, touched by it, I was slipping into abstraction, losing myself in strange visions, in babbling and emotion, and I realized that I could not bear what I was living through, that I was not worthy to confront it in all its appalling reality. So small did I feel, so minute, beside those demigods who, disciplined and fearless, most of them wounded, never stopped for a moment to struggle valiantly, to retain control of the battle, in their self-sacrifice.

And with Lysippos on my shoulder I jump into the sea.

“Alkames, come quickly, who are you carrying?”

I hear Nikomedes voice, who is frantically waiting for me to return to our trireme, so that the Ionian trireme can be rammed and sunk quickly.

The weight of Lysippos is dragging me down, and I try to stay afloat; I sense that I will not be able to, and the drowned corpses keep me from moving ahead. The sea water has become bloody, the red streams that shone a while ago are astringent blood, saltier than even the sea, disgusting as I swallow them, madness pounds my brain as the arrows whistle around me.

“Did you find another Ionian to rescue, Alkamenes...Who is it that you are carrying?”

I raise my head with difficulty, choking in the spilled blood.

“Your son...”

Chapter 17

Iridescent fragments

I wandered all night. I listened to the shouts of triumph, the cheers, the hero’s reception of Themistocles, the acclamations. I was alone. I went down to the end of Cynosura, to the isolated sea-cliffs, where the wave was washing up the corpses of unfortunate drowned men and fragments of ships. The beaches were full of gold objects, pitiful, royal emblems and ornaments, idols of gods, iridescent in the torchlight.

I am still wearing the bloodied jerkin of battle, damp with the night dew, and watch our triremes leaving Psyttaleia with Aristides’ hoplites. The task of blood is completed. The princes and nobles of Persia, the flower of the palaces, are now dead. There will be mourning in Susa and Ecbatana.

My feet encounter a body that appears to be alive, and I bend over. A man who is dying. He stretches out his hand to me; wants something. I run and bring a lighted torch, from the many torches around us.

The man who handed me the torch also placed a cup of wine in my hand. And I return to the dying man. I want to see him. A strange obsession to see him has overcome me. And I bring the light close to his face. His clothing is purple with gold worked like fish scales. And there is blood in his eyes. He appears well-born, a prince perhaps.

An enemy.

The word “enemy” chills me.

A man.

Persian or Mede or Lydian, from the royal family, who has a palace in Ecbatana. And he came to die alone on this deserted shore of Salamis. His ship was destroyed by the tridents of our triremes, or it is being pursued without him. In the torchlight, I see his look. He has children perhaps, a beautiful wife, wealth. And he left it all to wage war against us in this sea strait, in this Acheron.

I could kick him in anger. Kill him. He may have been the one who struck Thoas, may have been present at Xerxes’ decisions. He, he... I bend over him and give him wine to drink from the wine cup. He sips it insatiably. And he falls back; his glance fades, and his lips pronounce a name:

“Ariabignes, son of Darius, king of the Achaemenidae...”

I remembered that I had heard his name from Dexileos. And then I learned that he was commander of the Ionian fleet.

Ariabignes, son of Darius, king of the Achaemenidae...

Names taken up by the sea breeze of the Saronic Gulf and scattered into oblivion, to make them into silence, moist, merciless silence, asphodels of Hades.

I take a bit of sand, moistened by the cold, and sprinkle it over his body to cover him.

The dawn finds me wandering still.

I look at the iridescent fragments.

As far as my eye can see, bronze and gold and wood-carved sterns and bows with broken grappling hooks and oars, countless oars that the wave drives rhythmically toward the shore. And among the fragments, pitiful corpses, disrobed by the sea, their whitened flesh shining strangely, bodies that will not see the light of today. I look around at the dawn. A moist half-light, like dull crystal. I am alive, I say. And I am me, still me. Now I must live for Thoas, too, see everything twice, feel it twice. Once for life, and once for death. Now I belong to both worlds, I tell myself, and I sense that this enlarges me. The other half of me, which was Thoas, has now become dim knowledge slowly illuminated by my love for him.

The other face of death is love, I say.

Only love can nullify death.

Thoas will remain alive, as long as I love him.

From far off, I see little Euripides, sitting in the sea cave, in the same position, hands on his chin. He does not turn to look at me. Perhaps he does not even hear my footsteps. He looks at the fragments of ships, at the corpses washed up by the sea. There are tears in his eyes, his large bright eyes.

“Euripides, do you remember me?”

He turns his head. Looks at the bloodied clothing I am wearing, the torn jerkin.

“You, too, fought...,” he says.

I do not speak. It is as if he is accusing me.

“Do all those men have mothers?” he asks, pointing to the drowned bodies.

“They do...”

“And what are they called?”

“Phoenicians, or Persians...”

“Phoenicians...” His voice is shaking.

His mother, who came to fetch him, saw me bloodied, sleepless, and offered me hospitality. I threw away my blood-covered clothes and washed in running water. A servant, Histiaios, brought me a clean tunic and a warm piece of barley-cake, with salted pork. And he brought me a jug of wine. I was hungry. And in that magical hour, with the countless fragments still iridescent in the morning light, I felt that I was being re-born.

Opposite me, little Euripides, silent, was perhaps thinking about the Phoenician mothers. And I was accosted by the same vision: the gods crowning him in the depths of time.

I see that a crowd is gathering in the large square of Silenia, people running to find a place where the statues of Ajax and Telamon were once again raised. Honors will be distributed, speeches will be made, I learn. And I approach. Antidoros is there, among those to be honored, Panaitios son of Sisimenes, Ameinias with Aeschylos, Eumenes, an Athenian from the deme of Anagyrous, Democritos of Naxos, Polykritos of Aegina. And among the dead, the first name was that of Thoas; Antidoros said he was looking for me all night to take me to the stone-carver who was preparing his tombstone. Because immediately after the distribution of honors, our dead would be buried. And I ran to find the stone-carver. The tombstone was ready; his name was already engraved on it.

When I returned, the official libations and sacrifice were being made. And I stood to one side. Soon I see Telemachos approach. With him were Pylades and Lysippos, whose wounds were still serious, but he insisted on participating in the official libations. Then Alkimedon came; he too was wounded and stood nearby. Lastly I see Menoitos, bandages on his head, who is pushing his way through. My heart skipped a beat. I embrace him on both sides.

“Are you all right?”

“Artemodoros wouldn’t let me come, but I would not miss this...”

Excitement and cheers. Cries of joy. The ground is shaking. Themistocles is given a hero’s welcome once again. One by one, the captains of the allied ships speak; they thank the gods and Themistocles. They all know that the victory was his doing. Then they read the names of the dead. Joy and mourning at the same time. A dull mourning, drowned in the triumph of victory. I hear Eurybiades speaking now. He says that our victory was the most illustrious, that never had such a victory occurred “either among Greeks or barbarians,” and he ends his speech with the generous confession “by the courage and common will of those fighting the naval battle, and by the strategy and genius of Themistocles....” And he promises to invite Themistocles to Lacedaemon, to honor him.

The entire island of Ajax is now reverberating from end to end with cries of triumph and the deification of Themistocles. And he goes up to the platform, a true demigod. He is wearing his hoplite’s uniform, and stands, majestic, before the thousands of soldiers and non-combatants who fill the square up to the surrounding hills.

I leave the wounded Menoitos, Lysippos, and Alkimedon, and with Pylades we make our way close to the platform of libations. There I find Antidoros, together with the other helmsmen of the triremes that are to be honored. And I wait. I want to hear the name of Thoas pronounced by the lips of Themistocles. That human vanity overwhelms me. And there is nothing else around me now. I am in the midst of a huge abstraction, and I hear his thunderous voice. He is reading the names of those who were deemed worthy of special honor. First the names of the dead, then those of the living.

My heart is breaking.

“Thoas of Lemnos, of the Euneid clan, esteemed veteran of Salamis, for courage and virtue.”

And I do not want to hear anything else now. Only to preserve this slight fragment of time, so that his name will not be forgotten, so that two or two and a half thousand years from now I will remember it.

The anonymous Thoas, I will say, the anonymous me.

And I start to leave. I want to be alone. To weep alone. To see the tombstone of Thoas, two and one-half thousand years from now, black from the moisture, broken perhaps, moldy. Antidoros sees me and calls for me to wait. But I am far away now. I am at the other end of time, where the seer Artemodoros saw the living memory of the naval battle in unknown times. Pylades comes with me. We make our way through the crowds and go on. I want to go to Artemodoros now and to Melampous, to thank them for making Thoas happy during his last moments. To tell them about the honor bestowed on him by Themistocles himself. Vanity again. But that is what I want. I leave Pylades and the others and go away from the crowd. It was then that, passing by next to Aeschylos, I overheard him say:

“When I die, I want them to write on my tombstone that I fought at Salamis and at Marathon, rather than “poet”....

I slip out of the crowd, and distance myself.

As I pass by the place where the wounded lie, I hear someone calling me in a weak voice. I turn around, and what do I see.


His entire leg is wrapped with thick bandages, after surgery, and his face is pale. Sweat stands in beads on his body from the raw pain and the fever. An unrecognizable Dexileos. And I am panic-stricken. How could I forget him... All night I was wandering like a madman alone and not even for a moment did I think of him. Even though I knew the words of the goddess in his vision, “do not fear pain; let the knife do its work...”

“What...what happened?”

“They sewed the thigh bone with bronze thread...,” he says with difficulty.


He nods. And I run to find him, to learn the details.

I asked Nikomedes for permission to remain a few days in the surgery of the army, to look after Dexileos the Athenian, who had been operated on.

“I will remain until I can hand him over to his family, I said, to his home...”

He was not angry, nor did he forbid me to stay. He remained thoughtful for a few moments. Then he asked that Menoitos and his own son Lysippos should remain with me, as their injuries were both still at a critical stage he said, and required special care: Menoitos, whose head was open on the left side, was losing his sight in one eye; and Lysippos, who was continually hemorrhaging from the wound in his lung, and could not travel.

“Hieron and Amphiaraos will give you directions, he went on. Our other wounded will also be in that room...”

I bowed my head. Nikomedes himself was wounded, and Phrygias even more so. But never a thought about staying to be treated. They had quickly bound up their tattered flesh and were trying to confront the following moments, the decisions that they must make. Their primary fear was that Xerxes, angry as he was, might lead his army and fleet to the Peloponnesos. But it was still too early to see his movements. For the moment, he is mourning his dead. Thousands of dead, covered in the liquid grave of Salamis. He is mourning the flower of Persia, which is buried here, in his name.

The thought that I would remain to care for the wounded, and especially Dexileos, filled me with gratitude. I would not abandon him in his condition. But I was also pleased by the thought that I would be working, even for a little while, beside Artemodoros and Melampous and the other seer-priests. From the time that Klytoneos was teaching me the knowledge of herbs, their power over the body, I dreamed of becoming the assistant of some healer. And now luck had brought me next to the most famous healers, who possessed not only wisdom but also the hidden secrets of the gods.

Nikomedes said that I was to return to Lacedaemon with all our wounded and with our priests, that they would send wagons for us. And from Lysippos I learned that immediately after the speeches and the honors, a council was held on Eurybiades’ flagship, to decide what their subsequent moves would be.

Suddenly, I see Derkylidas coming, along with about ten Spartans. They are all wearing the red Spartan cloak and carrying their baggage. His eyes are on me. He wants to say something to me, but pride keeps him silent. He passes by me and approaches Nikomedes.

“The swift boat awaits us, he says, to take us to Peiraeus; tomorrow we will be in Sparta...”

I learn that he is head of the delegation that will bring news of the victory to Lacedaemon.

I return to the military hospital. There I find Menoitos and Lysippos in great pain. Dexileos is burning with fever. The huge room is full of wounded men lying on straw mattresses. There were many wounded in this battle, I learn, because the clashes were numerous, in many places at once. Further away I see Diodoros, the Athenian ambassador, whose face was wrapped in bandages, and Eleusos, wounded in the neck and speechless. And in a corner, on the last mattress in the room I see Protolaos of Miletos, his body covered with bandages.

He looks at me with the same piercing glance.

“The gods will never forgive the Ionians for the evil they did to their “blood brothers...” I say to him.

“Greece has been victorious... its civilization will not be lost; that is significant, he replied, the continuity will not be lost. Now we will chase them from our cities, no matter how much some may want them; we will not allow Ionia to be lost...”

A young man next to him looks at me insistently.

“The revolt has begun, he says, and his eyes are shining, our band has already left for Ionia. I only hope that Themistocles will pursue Xerxes’ ships to there...”

I am amazed. “You are part of the band?”

He nods.

“Anaximenes, he goes on, we met at the temple of Artemis, in Ephesos...”

In my giddiness, I take a better look at him. I make out the scar on his neck.

“The day I met Heraclitus,” I say to him, and my memory is jolted.

“I am his servant and pupil...”

So distant did that moment seem. As if I had experienced it in another life.

“When your men came to carry away the wounded Protolaos from our sinking trireme, he pulled me with him...”

The brightness in his eyes makes an impression on me. My teacher said that foolish men, even though they hear, are like deaf men, and Xerxes was foolish... and that is why he must now lose Ionia; the time has come... We are preparing a revolt... You can be certain that you did not save our lives in vain...”

The moments are leaden. Unbearable.

Time has become a damaged trireme that is sinking in events.

Nothing is the same any more.

Acheron is flowing and taking us with it.

From the window I look at the calm sea of Salamis; only the drowned men rise every so often from the sunken triremes, nightmarish bodies, disfigured, that are washed ashore along with oars and broken sterns. A wounded landscape moving to soften the savage memory of the storm.

The burial of the dead took place with piety and ceremony. A choir of marine hoplites chanted dirges, in order to render all the grandeur of the sacred rite, the “trophy to the fallen.” And the priest chanted: Do not abandon me unlamented and unburied....

And he poured over the graves the libations of milk, wine, honey, half-cooked and raw wheat.

The dead were buried in separate graves, by city and region. The fleet of the islands had a common grave. But Thoas, and those who had received honors, were in a separate grave.

At the end of Cynosura. That is where his grave is. And on the tombstone is written:

 Thoas of Lemnos
Honored veteran of Salamis
Lies in this tomb, honored for courage.

Tomorrow a new moon rises. The month of Boedromion is now over, I reflect, the harsh month that brought so much blood and so many ashes into our lives.


Dexileos’ home has turned to ashes.

Where will I take him?


                                      "...for the land itself will be their ally”

Aeschylos, Persians, 786


Between the End and Eternity

Seven years later

Today Aeschylos’ tragedy “Persians” will be performed at the Acropolis theater, with Pericles son of Xanthippos as choregos. And I remember that he had promised, then, on the eve of the naval battle, in the wine-shop of Salamis. Since morning the Athenians have been coming to take a seat, while old warriors, men who lived the events, are arriving in Athens from all the Greek cities.

There is emotion in the air, a strange enthusiasm mixed with anger, as memories awake of the triumph of that victory, and also memories of the destruction of Athens by the barbarian.

Dexileos and I arrived early at the theater and were given seats in the third row. From there we can see the fifty-two year old Aeschylos, the veteran of Salamis, on the marble seats in front of us, along with his brother Ameinias and his elderly father Euphorion. We see the twenty-two year old Pericles, who, as they say, has political ideas that are popular among both the popular and aristocratic parties. We see Kimon, of the aristocratic party, who was the political adversary of Themistocles. We also see the young poet Sophocles, who is twenty-four and is already rivaling Aeschylos, and beside him the now elderly Simonides and the youthful Pindar, whose poetry is filled with lamentation and futility, but who, as a Boeotian, accepted with deep pain the just punishment of the Thebans after the battle of Plataea.

Suddenly my heart is beating powerfully. A tall twelve-year-old boy enters the theater, accompanied by a mature man wearing priestly garb. His black curly hair on the broad forehead and his serious face awaken in me the memory of the five-year-old Euripides, who watched the naval battle, seated in the sea-cave of Salamis. Some call the man accompanying him Mnesarchos, and I know now that he is that silent boy with the shining eyes, whom I envisaged crowned by the gods in the depths of time.

They go to the seats that are set aside for the leaders of Athens, on the right side, and I slip among the seats to approach him. I want to see him up close one more time, to see his big eyes that enclose a dark and rending knowledge.

His father looks at me curiously.

“A long time ago you gave me clean clothes, when I found myself at your home, bloodied, after the naval battle, I said. Euripides was five years old...”

The boy turns and looks at me. That was what I wanted—for him to look at me one more time with those intelligent eyes of his, that enclose all human anguish, an eternity fragmented by mortal pain. The same vision, I reflect. His head crowned by the gods, but this time, also bloodied. How painfully will he achieve that unknown eternity, I wonder.

And I thought, two or two and a half thousand years from now, I will meet you here.

Because two and a half thousand years are as yesterday.

There is a slight smile on his face.

Did he read my thoughts?

 Dexileos wonders. “Who is he?”

“A boy I met on Salamis...”

“And how did a child enter the theater?”

“I heard that his father received special permission, because this particular boy witnessed the entire naval battle...”

The theater is packed. The performance will begin soon. Hearts are moved. The eating and drinking ceases and everyone waits in silence.

“And imagine that at this significant hour when the Athenians will remember their burned homes and the triumph of Salamis, Themistocles is in exile...,” I hear Dexileos whisper.

“The Athenians forget, Erichthion said about Miltiades, remember? They are doing the same now to Themistocles. They despise the man who has been their benefactor. He himself told them, just before he escaped to Argos: ‘You cannot bear to benefit too many times from the same benefactor,’ he said to them...”

“He made enemies, many enemies. His democracy was the power of the people, which he reinforced with his policies. He made the people a naval power that turned against the aristocratic party. Kimon and his political faction took advantage of every slander to get rid of him.”

“From the first moment he started the rebuilding of Athens, his enemies were rabid with envy. They could not bear to see him transform Athens into a new power; they even envied his walling of the city, linking it with the Piraeus.”

“But he was a visionary. He looked into the future, envisaged a city with more human laws and a more powerful, robust populace, master of the seas...”

“He is the one who has opened the door to Athens’ future glory, remember that...

When he dies, with a price on his head and despised by the very people he loved, then they will build him a grandiose monument...”

“He has been reduced to seeking asylum from the barbarian, can you imagine? From Artabanos. Themistocles, of all men.”

“Now they are saying that his ostracism was not a punishment but the satisfaction and release of the envy that rejoices when the mighty are laid low, the consolation of envy—deafness, as they said...”

“Such pusillanimity...”

“I learned that the Persian king, when he learned that the Athenian suppliant was Themistocles, shouted for joy and prayed to Ariman, the god of evil, that he always give such a mind to the enemies of Persia, so that they always send away the best men from their countries....”

“I see that the history you are writing is enriched with all the captivating details...”

“That is why the public treasury is paying me, to gather information and to write the history of events in a captivating way. Besides, you sponsored me to become an Athenian citizen and made it possible for me to enter my son into the register of male Athenians...”

There is pain in his eyes. The same pain that always causes him to become silent. It is as if he is saying to me: without you I could not have lived. Without your feet I would not be able to run mentally beside the Eurotas on moonlit nights. Nor to remember how happy was my youth, when I did not know what the fates had in store for me. Without you I could not drink the wine or travel mentally on the moldy footpaths of Hades that haunt my nights.

He is trembling. Thin and pale. Only the fire in his eyes and the curly hair are reminders of the old Dexileos.

“Without you, my friend, I would not be here this evening, with my crutches, he says. It is only with you that I do not fear my incapacity. Next to you, I will not fear even death...”

His face is humble and tormented from all he has suffered. Dark from all the darkness that has destroyed his handsome body. And I am silent now. During the times we are together we argue for three hours and make up for two. But that is what keeps him alive. He wants to dispute whatever I say and do, to find the balance of his soul, he says. The peace he has lost.

He needs to hate me because I have both my legs, and then he forgives me with tears. I know that he feels closer to me than to his wife, his son, or his father. Because he needs me. And I pretend not to notice that. I try not to become angry when he torments me. It is thanks to him that I have my son today, I tell myself. It is thanks to him that my life had a few happy moments.

He helped me, with the intervention of Mnesiphilos, to become an Athenian citizen, a very difficult thing, because Athenian laws do not allow any stranger to become a citizen of their city. But Mnesiphilos invoked the bravery of Thoas, who had defected with his trireme at Artemision. And also the fact that my son was born of an Athenian mother, who was the daughter of Athenian cleruchs on Lemnos. Then he helped me to obtain a state subvention to build a small house near the house of Hippolyte’s grandmother, which is still in ruins. I will live here, I told myself, to remember Hippolyte and to look after Dexileos on his wooden invalid’s chair. I stayed in Athens because of him, but he does not know that. I like to find the best wines and to visit him every night, to sip wine and to remember the past. I will wait here for my Hippolyte to come. Because she will come. I hear her calling me, as Thoas used to call me, at the hour when the silence of night touches the mystery of the world. Her voice emerges from that cosmic zone of mystery and silence.

After the death of Aristodemos, Sparta was finished for me. On the day they notified me that they were offering me property so that I could live with my son in their city as an equal citizen of Sparta, I told them that I had decided to leave. I would search for my Hippolyte in all the cities, all the temples. Then I would go to Dexileos; nothing would keep me away from him. And I secretly dreamed that my son would realize my lost dream of becoming a sculptor. I took him from his eighth year to the workshop of Pheidias, to initiate him into the beauty of sculpture.

Derkylidas and Nikomedes had come to the basement of Mistress Eunike’s home, where I was still living, to bring me the notice. I had already packed my few belongings, my medicines and the parchments that the seer Megistias had left me. I had also obtained a warm tunic for my son. We would leave the following morning.

I thanked them as laconically as I could. Then I bid them farewell.

I have kept Sparta in my heart as something most sacred. I have kept the memory of Aristodemos and the love of Menoitos and Alkimachos. I have never forgotten them. Nor have I forgotten Pylades and Telemachos, or Lysippos, my fellow soldiers, nor Mistress Kallinike. I have an infinite affection in my heart for all of them. And even for the places.

For the crystalline waters of the Eurotas, for Parnon, for the Great Ring and the Small Ring, even for the altar of whipping, for the Menelaeion Road where I walked barefoot every day from my thirteenth year. For every moment I lived there, I have infinite affection within me. In the seven years since I left, I have returned twice. Everything was as I had left it. Except for their unstable politics after the exile of Pausanias.

The Spartans, too, had begun to be ungrateful toward those who benefited them. They were the ones who kindled the Athenians’ hatred of Themistocles, out of fear that he would fortify Athens. For my part, both times I had the same thought: that I could not have lived the rest of my life there. That I was never able to become a Spartan.

Even now, in the theater of the Acropolis, awaiting the opening of Aeschylos’ tragedy, I feel an enormous nostalgia for everything I lived through in Sparta, enormous gratitude. Because Sparta made me what I am.

Time strangely distorts the moments, such as the moments of battle. I am here, seated in the marble row. The tragedy of Aeshylos will begin at any moment. Anguish overcomes me. In this minimal time I see the path of my life. For years I have been troubled by the mist that shrouded my days. And at this supreme moment, between the sound that will mark the beginning and the silence that suddenly occurs, my life quickly unfolds with swift, clear images, firm, giving me to understand what the gods have given me, what they have taken away.

I lived a few happy moments with Hippolyte, I reflect, there in the forbidden adyton of the temple. And a few more when I found Thoas on the deck of a sinking ship and held him in my arms. And one night by the Eurotas with Dexileos, both of us naked, bathed in the moist moonlight. And then, when Derkylidas brought me my son.

Those were my moments of happiness, I tell myself. Lived in that purity of happiness that brings the soul to ecstasy.

I count the moments and find that they are unbelievably numerous. As if they grow more numerous in their isolation.

Behold us...the Persians who set out for

the land of Greece...

The chorus of elders has entered the palace of the king in Susa, and their deep voice falls on total silence. Not even a breath is heard now. Weighty and evocative, the words of Aeschylos immobilize time, charm it into taking this night along with it in its long journey.

Bit by bit, those terrifying images come to life, the drowned men with faces like white marble, the cries, the triremes with rams pinned in their innards, the wooden Hades. Atossa, the mother of Xerxes, comes on the stage, and appears to carry the entire human race in her pain. What Aeschylos wanted was for us to relive events, not from the transport of our triumph, but from the pain of the defeated. To realize our insignificance before what the gods ordain, and to be terrified at our actions when they do not respect the boundaries of restraint.

I am amazed that Atossa speaks of the prophetic dream. Aeschylos, too, believes in dreams, I reflect, and that comforts me. All of my life was marked with strange dreams, symbols of the soul out of its unerring, mantic knowledge. So completed is our life in the gods’ time, I tell myself. And Dexileos catches my thought, “dream or vision, he whispers, remember when I came looking for you on the eve of the battle? I needed to tell you that I had seen the calamity that was awaiting me...”

Such is the silence, that I cannot answer. With my eyes, I tell him that we will talk about that. This night and all the others when the soul is awake, we will talk about them over and over. You will prepare the drink of the gods, the ambrosia of the Mysteries, from water, barley, and pennyroyal leaves, or the other magic potion, kykeon, of barley-meal, grated cheese, wine, and wild honey, and I will remind you of our happy days. But now I want to hear the thundering voice that pronounces the divine word, the play. To hear every verse that contains pieces of our souls.

Some verses astound me, because they are the same words of Aeschylos, as I heard them then, at Cynosura.

They are neither slaves nor subjects of anyone

I remember that he said those words on the eve of the naval battle, and impressed Sohocles, who was an ephebe then. And when the ghost of Darius appeared we all shuddered.

For the land itself is their ally

He had said the same words. And he put them in the mouth of the dead man.

Because the dead man knows. And instead of triumph, we felt awe.

Later, I found the words of Aeschylos again, in the last scene, when Xerxes, in tatters and pitiful, enters the palace.

I will cry out a lamentation of tears

And we are weeping now. Because catastrophes are not only ours or those of others; they belong to all men. And that was Aeschylos’ intent: to evoke within us the man who suffers with and has compassion even for his enemy. To evoke awe.

Alas, alas

Ply your oars and groan for me

Xerxes tears his already tattered clothing and the Chorus laments.

The play ends, and on no face is there the transport of victory.

Only awe. And a deep sympathy for the mourning of the enemy. For his suffering.

At the moment the line “Come, children of the Greeks...,” was heard, the entire audience stood to cheer with tears in their eyes. And all together, they completed the verse:

 Free your homeland, free...

The marble wept. The age wept, which inscribed shudder in its depths.

“Themistocles’ name is nowhere...” I hear Dexileos whisper as we descend the steps.

I help him to walk on his crutches.

“Wherever he is, his soul is here...,” he goes on.

I see him move ahead to embrace Aeschylos. He is holding his crutch and advancing proudly among the Athenian aristocrats. It is the first time he has done that. The first time he is not ashamed of his handicap. And the thought crosses my mind: the words of Aeschylos have freed him; he no longer feels unfortunate. On the contrary, perhaps from this moment a different kind of happiness begins for him.

I, too, move toward the spot where Aeschylos stands. To touch him only, that is what I would like. His words freed my soul, as well. For seven years I have been plagued by the thought of going to the Oracle of the Dead, the Nekyomanteion, to talk with my brother, Thoas, and with my mother and Klytoneos. But I always put it off. To talk with Aristodemos who comes to me in my sleep, because he is expecting something from me.

In the morning I leave for the Nekyomanteion...” I say to Dexileos as we are mounting the carriage.

He looks at me in surprise.

“I’ll come with you.”

“On the way back, I will stop in Tegea...”

“What will you do in Tegea? Have you been there before...”

“It’s a matter involving Aristodemos...”

On the road to the Nekyomanteion
(The last chapter)

My life moves along two paths.

As if its sources meet somewhere with the sources of the Acheron.

One-half of me is there, in Hades.

My soul wanders in those moldy footpaths.

For years now I planned to go there barefoot. My roughened feet to touch the roughness of the earth, to take from it the mystery it hides. I thought that only in that way would I be able to communicate with the souls.

Dexileos insisted that he could ride a horse. Suddenly, yesterday, after seeing Aeschylos’ tragedy, he said that could ride.

I do not recognize him.

Since yesterday I have found the old Dexileos again.

His handicap will become the source of a different type of happiness, I am certain, of a shattering knowledge. Of that singular knowledge that is both an initiation and also liberation of the soul. Since yesterday he asks me to recite to him the hymns of Orpheus, “I am a child of the earth and of the starry heavens,” and he repeats them endlessly:

Rejoice, having suffered,

From man, you have become a god

At the Nekyomanteion we will hear the song of Orpheus, he says, and he believes that. We will also see his tortoise-shell lyre.

He has been initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries; he knows.

Melampous is there also, as altar priest, he continues.

And I reflect that perhaps he will tell me where I will find my Hippolyte.

We both feel a strange enthusiasm, which is also a fear.

I see him galloping beside me.

His broken thigh certain pains him, but he does not show it.

So intent is he on galloping that I am afraid.

He is shouting to the wilderness; I hear him shouting with all his strength.

And I remember that I, too, had shouted, when we were going to Elis.

At that time I needed to liberate my own soul

Now it is his turn.

I no longer envy him.

That was my dream, to be initiated into the mysteries of the Underworld.

I am overcome by uneasiness.

Until today I believed that the meadow of the dead was beside me, in my life, in the plain of my sleep.

I no longer know what awaits me.

The Wooden Wall is written in Athens, in Amfiarraon, and in the islan of Lemnos

A best selling novel
All translated into English

by Theony Condos and Minoas Pothos