The sun was already high in the sky when Megakles unsteadily emerged from his quarters, clad only in a short, wine-stained and sleep-wrinkled khitôn. He blinked in the sunlight and slowly shuffled over to the cistern in the guesthouse courtyard. His servant hurried over to him, filled a pitcher with water and poured its contents slowly over his master’s head. A number of the company was sitting at a table set nearby under the shade of a large oak, drinking some (very well-watered) wine and nibbling on light refreshments (olives, goat cheese, fried fish, bread and olive oil) set out upon the table. Not bothering to dry himself, Megakles slowly made his way over to the table, and still dripping water, sat heavily on a stool with a groan. Most of those at the table looked little better than he felt, only Smindyrides had bothered to pay much attention to his appearance – he was always the best dressed among them, determined to uphold the reputation of his polis.
“So my friend,” grinned Smindyrides, “have you recovered from last night’s exertions? It looks like she tired you out!” Megakles smiled weakly at the chuckles of his companions. Only after a short moment did it occur to him who “she” was. He was betrothed to Agaristê! He had wondered if it had been only a dream, but now the events of the previous evening filled his thoughts. Megakles sat for a long while in silence, his head propped on his left hand as his other picked at some food, until wakened as from a trance by the scrape of a stool being pulled to his side.
“Now what might you be thinking about?” someone clapped him on the shoulder. Megakles squinted at the figure standing next to him until Hippokleides came into focus. He grunted a response and reached for a bowl which his friend set before him. Hippokleides waited while Megakles took a long draught, grimaced and set the bowl back on the table.
“You can’t sit like this all day, you know, unless you want to make our host regret his choice of you. Come – I’ll help you get dressed. Don’t you want to see Agaristê? Or do you plan to marry her memory?”
“Why marry her at all?” Diaktorides spoke with a spite-filled voice. “He’s already had her! Either that, or the little bitch gave herself to Hippokleides; or was she used by the time you got to her, son of Teisandros?” The silence which followed was complete. Even the birds seemed to have stopped singing.
“Shut your filthy mouth, you horse-fucker, or I’ll knock your teeth down your throat!” Hippokleides growled and took a step towards the Thessalian.
“Maybe both of you Athenians shared her among yourselves? I wouldn’t doubt it!” Diaktorides turned towards Megakles and continued. “Or did you buy her? Why else would he give her to any man of your womanish polis!”
Megakles, finally recovered from the shock of accusation, rose from his seat and silently walked around an end of the table with murder on his face while Diaktorides reached for a knife. The rest of the company, now completely awake, leaped from their seats and restrained both men while they rained insults at each other.
“What nonsense is this, Diaktorides?” Smindyrides stood and placed himself between the two men. “What god has put such madness on your tongue? Or have you always had such a mean character? There is no one here who believes that evil rumor! Or can’t you accept that our host preferred Megakles to you? Even if you are determined to ruin your mood, there is no need to afflict us! Leave us until you remember your manners!”
“Let me go!” Diaktorides grunted, “I won’t pollute the ground with his blood… not today!”
Once he was released he pointed his finger at Megakles. “You’ve been playing at something, you and that little whore! You tricked me! You…,” he paused, as if something amazing has just occurred to him. “That bitch-slave of Agaristê’s told me that she and Hippokleides were meeting in secret and if Hippokleides were disgraced, that Kleisthenes would choose me! It was all just to draw my attention away from you!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Megakles hissed. “But it’s now plain who spread that evil story – it was you! If you fell for some trick, as you claim, it was only because of your own willingness to do treachery!”
Diaktorides glanced around him and saw the spectators’ scorn filled looks. He then grabbed his wine cup and threw it, smashing it on the table and scattering clay shards and red wine all over the food.
“That’s my libation to the gods for the oath I now make,” Diaktorides sneered and then addressed the company. “By the Twelve Gods of Olympos, I swear that Megakles and his bitch will never have pleasure from their marriage and I pray that he will die at my hands!
“I’m leaving now, I won’t stay in your company a moment longer. I can only say I’m happy that this whole farce has ended: a year spending my time with men not fit to shovel my horse’s shit is long enough!”
As he made off for his quarters, Smindyrides asked, “Who’ll bet me that he doesn’t forget to take his talanton of silver with him?”
Once Diaktorides was gone Megakles silently followed Hippokleides back to the cistern where he stripped off his khitôn and stood leaning against the cistern clad only in a perizôma. Neither man said anything, as if they had agreed not to speak of Diaktorides’ accusations. Hippokleides drenched him with several pitchers full of water and rubbed him down with a sponge. Megakles’ servant brought olive oil and Hippokleides worked it into his friend’s skin. Feeling better, Megakles now took the bronze stlengis which his friend handed him and used it to scrape the oil from his skin. The tingle this produced stimulated him, and by the time he was done, he almost felt normal again.
His friend and servant then followed him to his quarters. Megakles sat on a stool in front of a bronze mirror while his servant dressed his long hair, braiding them carefully while Hippokleides looked on. Now for the clothes.
“Should I dress in my finest, or simply? I still am not sure what pleases the Well-Born women here.” Megakles asked.
“Well, it isn’t the first time she’s seen you, you know,” Hippokleides grinned. “I think you should dress so as to display your figure at its best, so I say: keep it simple. Forget a khitôn underneath - it’s warm enough - and wear just a plain himation. No jewelry. And the pedila you wear should be laced about you ankle plainly. Your attire should enhance rather than distract; you want her eyes on you. She should not wonder at your clothes, rather at what they conceal!” Megakles was soon finished and Hippokleides shoved him out the door, “Don’t keep her waiting – it’s not polite, and she’ll think you never wake before noon!”
Megakles walked quickly up the slope to the akropolis. The house of the tyrannos stood inside the gate to the fortress; it had been built by Orthagoras shortly after driving his rivals out of Sikyon, and the style showed its age. The socle was of dressed limestone, but the rest of the walls were of mud brick with thick timber posts at the corners, plastered-over and colored. Still, it was well-kept and its size was impressive. The roof – which had been originally thatched – was tiled and even boasted limestone rain gutters.
Megakles stopped before the open entrance to the house’s courtyard and waited for the door servant to ask his name (which he already knew) and lead him to a bench before departing to announce him. He expected Kleisthenes to appear and welcome him and almost jumped when he heard a female voice.
“Welcome, son of Alkmaion,” the voice came from behind him. Megakles turned and looked upon Agaristê. She wore an amused smile. “I was beginning to think you were displeased with me and had fled back to Athenai!”
“No indeed dear lady,” Megakles tried to gather his wits. “It simply took the entire morning for the others to convince me that the last evening had not been a dream. I hope you slept well.”
“Please, agapête, call me Agaristê,” Kleisthenes daughter said hopefully, “and let’s not speak so formally. I want us to know each other and be comfortable.”
Megakles rose from the bench and thought, “darling? She called me that?” Only then did it truly dawn on him that the beautiful woman standing before him would soon become his wife and be subject to his word. “Ma Athênan!” he realized, “I will wake to her face mornings, receive her kisses when I return home evenings, feel her near me at night, eat food she prepares and wear clothes she makes.”
Determined not to make a fool of himself, he made an effort to relax, stepped towards her, took her hands and smiled gently, “You are truly pleased with your father’s decision?”
She stepped closer to him, and gripping his hands tightly, looked into his eyes and smiled broadly. “I have already told you that I wanted no one else, dear Megakles!”
The betrothed couple walked together for most of the afternoon, talking of any subject which came to mind. Although Megakles wanted to ask what Agaristê knew of the rumor about Hippokleides and her, he decided to leave that subject for another time. He did not want anything to spoil the day. They wandered down onto the fields between the two rivers north of the akropolis and then found a place to sit beneath a plane tree surrounded by long, fragrant grass on the banks of the Helisson. Megakles soon confirmed his first impression of Agaristê: she was unlike any other women he knew. She showed interest in events beyond the borders of her polis, already knew something about affairs at Athenai and revealed some understanding of relations between the major poleis of Hellas. As he spoke of his family and its status, she expressed encouragement and showed confidence in his future.
The afternoon was beginning to decline to evening when they returned to her father’s house. Agaristê retired to her rooms immediately on their arrival, but Kleisthenes bade his future son-in-law to remain for the evening and showed him through the private areas of the house. For the first time, Megakles took time to notice the rich, yet tasteful, decorations. Bright and luxurious colors – blues, reds and gold – adorned frescoes and architectural elements, but did not overwhelm the pale creamy plasters and natural wood colors. The furnishings were of the best craftsmanship yet not gaudy or showy. Megakles noted also with some pride several samples of the vibrant black-figure style of pottery from Attika which competed for space with those of the renowned Korinthos-style.
That evening he dined alone with Kleisthenes in his private andrôn furnished with couches and side-tables and meant for smaller dining companies. He remembered next to nothing of their conversation and did not see his betrothed again until after meal’s end. As he made to take his leave, Kleisthenes called for his daughter and asked her to see him to the door. They stood for a few moments at the courtyard gate and after a few meaningless words and meaningful looks, they kissed chastely. On his way back to his lodgings, Megakles wondered if he would ever live to feel happier.
On the next day, the second after the betrothal, Kleisthenes invited his guests to a dinner to farewell Megakles and Agaristê, who would leave for Athenai the following morning. The erstwhile suitors dressed formally and arrived at their host’s house just as the sun set. The evening was warm and the guests (less the departed Diaktorides) were received in the courtyard where they were seated on chairs set at a long table intercepted by a shorter table at one end. Kleisthenes greeted them with kind words for each of them and bade Megakles to join him at the head table. Servants brought them wine and they chatted until Agaristê appeared suddenly in the door leading to the private chambers. All the guests rose while Kleisthenes led her to a seat between himself and Megakles.
The company now saw Agaristê and Megakles together as betrothed and not a few pictured themselves in Megakles’ place and wondered by how much they had failed. The lucky man seemed different than their companion of one year; he could not keep himself from frequent smiles and his bearing betrayed a new confidence. He seemed to have become a formidable man overnight. Agaristê’s beauty was also different that evening. The virginal maiden was gone, replaced by a beautiful woman conscious of her new status and responsibilities.
The feast was the most elaborate yet served. Baskets of bread still warm from the oven were passed among the diners for them to dip into fragrant olive oil: “from Athenai, of course!” Kleisthenes smiled at Megakles. Fishes fresh from the gulf, roasted with garlic, deep-fried and baked were heaped in mounds. Grilled chicken followed. Dishes of tart, briny olives, pickled onions, tangy goat cheese and lightly fried vegetables augmented the repast.
The drinking was moderate, as the guests were determined to behave and bring honor upon themselves on this last occasion in full company. They toasted the betrothed couple again and again, made short speeches and dropped the occasional witty remark. Megakles had shed all his discomfort and encountered all jests in good nature while Agaristê often leaned lightly upon him. She had never before been allowed to sit to dinner with male guests, and though somewhat nervous, she seemed to enjoy the unrestrained attention of so many men together.
At first, conversation among the diners centered on the betrothed. As the evening drew on, however, thoughts began to turn to the journeys home and to general news. Changes were in the wind. The hold of the tyrannoi at Korinthos had weakened: Periandros, son of Kypselos, had recently died. Korinthos had been the center of commerce in Hellas since Kypselos seized control there, and no one knew what would happen if his family were driven out. The Lakedaimonians were still at war with the Tegeatai, seeking to exert control outside their homelands and into the central Peloponnesos. “They are insatiable,” Leokedes the Argive remarked. “The Lakedaimonians are a menace to all our freedoms. Look at what they’ve done to the Messanians! Treated worse than any slave in Argos! If they conquer the Tegeatai they’ll move further north. Sikyon won’t be safe either. It will be up to us to stop them, just like in the days of my great-grandsire Pheidon when we whipped them at Hysiai! Little help we’ll get from anyone, I imagine!” Some men nodded in concern, while others glanced at each other. The Argives had been hardly less aggressive in the recent past and were not very popular among their neighbors.
Once the tables were cleared, each man came forward and presented the couple with wedding gifts, among them a bolt of fine linen cloth from Aigyptos, a large wine kratêr from Korinthos adorned with various animals real and unreal (griffins, sphinxes, lions and dolphins), for Megakles a fashionable khlamys from Thessalia (a nice cape for riding), for Agaristê a colorful peplos from Argos, and for the couple Smindyrides gifted an exquisite set of bed clothes shot through with gold thread.
Late the next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, the guests gathered at the akropolis gate to bid farewell to the bride and her party departing for Athenai. Megakles, with Hippokleides and Lysanias of Eretria, accepted the best wishes from their erstwhile companions as they waited for Agaristê. After some time she appeared with her father for the last time – who knew if they would ever see each other again? – and with tears in their eyes they kissed and embraced one last time.
“Go with my blessings, dear daughter,” the old tyrannos said, “and be happy!”
“But wherever is Xanthippa? I haven’t seen her all morning!”
“Your departing is too painful for her, my dear. But do not be concerned. I will keep her in my household so that she will not be without a home.”
At last, father and daughter parted, the men mounted their horses and Agaristê climbed onto a carriage pulled by a mule. With much waving and a last series of farewell shouts, the wedding company set off down the slope leading from the akropolis and through the astu filled with cheering onlookers and made for the road to Korinthos. It was the first day of the new year according to the calendar of the Athenians.
No one noticed when a small group of horsemen set out to follow their track.