“I must have Megakles! I don’t know what I’ll do if patêr chooses another!”
Agaristê and Xanthippa were walking below the slopes of the akropolis during the mid-afternoon, supposedly gathering herbs for the kitchen or for freshening her room. Kleisthenes rarely allowed her to roam outside the citadel for fear of her tempting some suitor to imprudence, but he could rarely resist her when she was determined and reasonable, and the promise of Xanthippa’s company usually succeeded in assuring him.
As for her part, Xanthippa wondered at her charge’s behavior. Ever since her brief meeting with Megakles, Agaristê had been subject to swings of mood: at times she was sober, especially when giving thought to how she could influence her father’s choice; at other times she would behave like a typical girl of her age, torn between hopeful exuberance and nagging doubt. Xanthippa spent every waking hour advising Agaristê in her calmer periods and cheering her when she despaired. The latter moments increasingly dominated.
“Well, you mustn’t go on so, dear child; you’ll drive yourself madder than Aias!” The older woman shushed. “We’ve done what we can. Now it’s up to Megakles and the gods!”
“Did you see how he wrestled?” Agaristê asked for at least the tenth time that day.
“Indeed, dear, I saw it. It would seem that you have inspired him! He dreams of you each night, I’m sure.”
“He seemed like Odysseus, strong and crafty!”
“And you: are you Athena, or Penelopê, or both?” Xanthippa smiled indulgently.
“Do you think the gods plan it so, that episodes from the old songs repeat themselves?” Agaristê wondered. What mortal does not like to think himself a hero of legends or believe that the gods pay him special attention?
As the two women continued their aimless stroll a rider approached them from the river Asopos: it was Diaktorides of Krannon, one of the lords of the horse-taming Thessaloi. The women stopped as he neared, and when he halted in front of them, Xanthippa stood between him and her charge.
“Khairete, ladies,” The man from Thessalia smiled. “What surer sign of the gods’ favor than to meet you here, daughter of Kleisthenes!” Although neither woman responded, he urged his mount a step closer to them.
“Are speaking of your future husband, Agaristê?” Diaktorides spoke again. His manner seemed polite, but there was an disturbing undertone in his voice.
“Kyrie, with all respect due, your attentions are ill-advised!” Xanthippa stated with a firmness no one should have ignored. The Thessalian did.
“I am sure your father would like to know who fills your thoughts, beautiful lady,” Diaktorides now revealed a hint of contempt. “And I’m sure that he would be grateful to know how shamelessly you show your feelings, though he is blind to it. He may show his gratitude by choosing a much more fitting man as son-in-law.”
Agaristê’s first reaction was alarm. The few moments she had seen him previously had not endeared the man to her. She thought him arrogant and a bit backward: typical of a master from Thessalia who regarded horsemanship above all other skills and continuously vied with each other for dominion. They still lived, so people said, like the lords of legend, ranging about their large estates, living in no polis nor recognizing any laws save those they themselves were pleased to enforce. Only the wild men of Makedonia were less civilized! She suspected that Diaktorides desired her only to enhance his prestige among the Thessalians, much as a prized horse would. Before Agaristê could recover enough to respond, Xanthippa spoke.
“Whom do you fear as rival, then, kyrie?”
“I saw how she looked at Alkmaion’s son, slave!”
Xanthippa glanced a warning at Agaristê. The young woman thanked Athena for her servant’s quick thinking and played along. Xanthippa then stepped closer to the Thessalian and spoke softly while her face made a promise of confidence.
“I am sure that you are wrong, kyrie!”
Diaktorides observed her for a moment before deciding to take the offered hint. “Very well,” he announced formally, yet betrayed a slight grin. “Perhaps I am mistaken,” he turned towards Agaristê, “but if I am not satisfied of your innocence, I will speak!” He turned his horse abruptly and galloped off.
Once Diaktorides was gone, Agaristê asked, “What do you have in mind, Xanthippa?”
The servant winked. “I mean to pay the fine lord a visit, child. I want to explain what’s really going on. I must tell him how confused you are, dear thing, hardly old enough to make a wise choice as you are! I am sure he would be very grateful for any help I could give his suit. He’ll doubtless regard me just as he would any slave – a venal creature thinking only of herself and hoping for a reward!”
“And what do you mean to tell him?” Agaristê smiled at Xanthippa’s cleverness.
“I need to think about it a bit. Whatever I say will let him know how your shameless behavior was meant only to make Hippokleides jealous. I’ll be sure to tell him how Hippokleides’ chances could be harmed!”
“And what will you take as a reward?” Agaristê bit her lip.
“Ah, my dear child, you have not yet known how it is to be with a man!” Xanthippa sighed and her hands glided down her sides. “As for me, it has been a long time since a lord as fine as Diaktorides has worshipped at my altar!”
When Xanthippa entered her mistress’ bedroom early the next morning, Agaristê leaped from her bed and took her hand.
“So, what happened? And what did you say to him?”
“Well, it was quite an…umm… strenuous affair! Xanthippa smiled, then bit her lip, “I believe that I have distracted Diaktorides’ attention from Megakles. I told him that you had been making eyes at Megakles only to draw attention away from you true heart’s desire, and that your father had already decided against Megakles…”
As Xanthippa finished her account Agaristê grew very concerned.
“Well, I supposed you did the best you could. But I suspect Diaktorides will be enraged in the end, and I fear him.”
A few days later, while exercising his horses, Hippokleides noticed a small group of his fellows looking at him and talking among themselves. When he finished and had seen his horses back to their stalls, Megakles met him at the stable door. Hippokleides smiled a welcome.
“Is it true? Have you seen her?” Megakles asked with a dark expression. Hippokleides’ smile faded and his brow furrowed.
“What are you asking?”
“Have you been meeting Agaristê?” Megakles insisted.
“What would give you such an idea?” Hippokleides answered. His confusion was obvious. Megakles remained silent a moment and regarded his countryman before responding.
“Diaktorides told me that you’ve been meeting Agaristê; that you’ve had… umm… knowledge of her.” Megakles was very uncomfortable.
“Ma Dia, it’s not true!” Confusion became shock. “How could he say such a thing?”
“He says he heard it from one of Kleisthenes’ house slaves in the market.” Megakles replied. “He won’t say who told him; he says he won’t betray a confidence.”
“That rumormonger! I’ll wager it’s his own invention to ruin my reputation!” Hippokleides spat. “I’ll have to leave. It will shame Kleisthenes if I remain.”
“No, don’t!” Megakles pleaded. “If you go everyone will regard it as admission of guilt!”
“But phile mou, you should be pleased for me to leave, my friend,” Hippokleides raised an eyebrow. “Your prospects will improve!”
“No, not this way,” Megakles shook his head with insistence. “I won’t have it, son of Teisandros!”
“But, why?” Hippokleides asked.
“For two reasons,” Megakles spoke softly now. “On one hand, it would be disgraceful for me to profit from your undeserved shame, and were I indeed be chosen, people may even suspect that I put Diaktorides up to it. On the other hand, if you go, everyone will believe this story; Agaristê’s reputation will be ruined as well. How could I press my suit for a disgraced woman without bringing shame upon myself? Kleisthenes might even decide not to give her to any man and send us all home.”
Hippokleides nodded grimly and gave the matter sober thought before speaking. “What should we do?”
“We must fight this rumor,” Megakles answered. “You must continue to behave as normal. If anyone addresses the rumor, laugh it off. I will also speak against it. The fact that I, a rival, speak in your support will make an impression.”
“So far, so good, phile mou, but no matter how we act or speak my reputation is tarnished.” Hippokleides sighed. “When Kleisthenes chooses another, and there can be no doubt that he will now, everyone will think his choice was influenced by this slander.”
Megakles nodded, “Yes, you’re right I’m afraid. What can we do?”
Hippokleides thought for a moment. “I’ll have to give Kleisthenes another reason for rejecting me.”
Kleisthenes walked into his daughter’s spacious quarters and caught her sitting at her make-up table while Xanthippa attended her. The room was sparely but tastefully furnished. His daughter did not care for the multitude of statuettes, amulets and other various useless items which typically crowded other women’s quarters. Her dressing table had a plain but impeccably burnished bronze mirror and just a few, well made vases for her unguents. Her chair and bed were constructed of solid oak and her bed was adorned with bedclothes she had woven herself. The chest she used to store her clothes had been given her by her mother when she had grown old enough to have her own bedchamber. The only other decoration was a tapestry she had woven with a scene from the homecoming of Odysseus and a tall, exquisitely decorated vase once filled with olive oil which her father had received from the priests at Delphoi as a reward for his services.
The old man noticed how the morning sunlight streaming through the chamber window cast a warm glow upon her pale milky arms and enhanced her long blond tresses. A princess, that’s what she is, he thought. Nobler than any among the old families. He imagined he could even see gold flecks in her blue eyes. There can be no truth to the rumor!
Agaristê asked Xanthippa to leave them alone. She then turned to her father and looked at him expectantly.
“Well girl, I have to make a decision about you pretty soon. What do you think about that?” Kleisthenes smiled, yet his eyes regarded her carefully.
“Pater, why are you asking me? I’m sure whomever you choose will be more than satisfactory.”
“My dear thygatrion,” despite her maturity, Kleisthenes still called her his ‘little daughter’. “I am fond of you and would prefer to see you happy. I also respect your judgment and wondered what you thought of your admirers.”
Agaristê paused and thought. I know whom he favors… what should I say? He’ll mention Hippokleides for sure. It’s best if I bring up the whole subject first.
“I doubt that most of them admire me father, at least no more than they would admire a racehorse or beautiful sculpture. However, there are two men who have made some impression on me…”
“And who might these fortunate men be?”
“Well, Hippokleides has struck me from the beginning and seems a fine as well as modest man…”
“Your brother Aiskhines quite admires him,” Kleisthenes replied with just a little hesitation. “But his reputation has suffered lately, I’m afraid.”
“Do you mean that ridiculous rumor?” Agaristê asked incredulously. Her father nodded again and looked at her closely. He then took a deep breath before speaking.
“Thygater, I must know…”
“There is nothing, pater, absolutely nothing to it!” Agaristê said with an iron in her voice her father had never before heard. “If you ask me, it was Diaktorides himself who started this slander: to ruin Hippokleides’ standing!”
“Possibly…” Kleisthenes sighed. “Yet the rumor has gained some credence and it puts me in a difficult spot. If I choose another man, everyone including Hippokleides will think I believe the story. If I choose Hippokleides, many will suspect that I did so only to protect your reputation. As for me, I believe you, my dear; and I do not want to insult Hippokleides. He doesn’t deserve it.”
Agaristê nodded, “I know, pater. He has an honorable character, I think, but I do wonder sometimes whether he would be the best choice...for me.”
“How do you mean?” her father raised an eyebrow.
“I am used to being the daughter of a great, famous and ambitious man, and I have always envied my mother because she enjoyed your confidences and shared your concerns. If I must leave this house and spend the rest of my life in a foreign country, I would prefer as my husband the same kind of man.”
“And Hippokleides is not that kind of man?” Kleisthenes asked with sudden respect.
“I think not,” his daughter answered. “Everything seems to come easily to him and although his demeanor reflects confidence, he does not show any passion. He appears perfectly content with himself, his family and his position. I am certain I would have a very comfortable life with him and that he would honor me as any wife deserves. But I wonder whether he will become a great man, or whether he will have great sons.”
“Ah thygater emê, if you think the Athenians will not produce great men, I think you misjudge them.” Kleisthenes pulled up a stool and drew near. “I have come to know many of them during the last war. The Athenians are talented and ambitious. Any people who can produce men like Solon and Alkmaion has much potential. I think they have a great future.”
“And yet,” Agaristê smiled, “Hippokleides is not the only Athenian here.”
“You mean Megakles?”
“Think about it, pater, and you will know.”
Kleisthenes had been somewhat surprised by his daughter’s assessment of Teisandros’ son. His family had an irreproachable reputation, its descent was noble, and Kleisthenes liked the fact that Hippokleides was related to the family of the Kypselos of Korinthos. Had she really seen something he had not? He decided to speak with his son. Aiskhines was still young but had good sense and spoke his mind.
“Megakles, eh?” Aiskhines pursed his lips. “Alkmaion’s son wouldn’t be a bad choice at all. He has behaved well, and yet he has never overly impressed me. He seems rather quiet, and maybe a bit too serious. Why are you considering him? Is it that rumor?”
“Not entirely,” Kleisthenes shook his head, “although it does present difficulties. No, it’s something Agaristê said. It seems she sees something of my quality in him. I never knew she had so much sense.”
He began pacing about the courtyard and considered his daughter’s words. “Yes, a fine man to be sure, and his family is certainly not the run-of-the-mill. Noble without doubt, but very different, always causing some sensation or another, although I haven’t seen signs of that in Megakles.”
“Well, the Alkmaionidai have produced more than one arkhon at Athenai, haven’t they?” Aiskhines commented. “And his father Alkmaion won the tethrippon twenty years before you did, pater, and you if anyone knows his quality. You’ve told me many stories of the war and you’ve always spoken well of Alkmaion.”
Hippokleides or Megakles?
Hippokleides seemed the ideal man: beautiful, athletic, well-spoken, admired by virtually all who met him. And as impressive as they were, his personal qualities were not his most recommending quality. Hippokleides’ family was among the noblest and oldest among the Athenians. He was great grandson of Kypselos, tyrannos of Korinthos and also related to several other noble families, including the powerful Philaidai. He was destined to become eponymous arkhon: the greatest mark of honor among the Athenians– the paramount office at Athenai – an object for which the nobles of the Athenians schemed each year. It meant prestige and was as hotly contested as the stadion race at Olympia. No wonder: the year in which the arkhon held office was named after him.
Kleisthenes did not doubt that one day the Athenians would refer to some year as Hippokleidous arkhontos – “when Hippokleides was arkhon.”
The two rivals did have much in common. Megakles was also from Athenai and his family, the Alkmaionidai, claimed a nobility equal to Hippokleides’. But it was no typical eupatris family. Its members were both famous and notorious: admired by many and despised by the “real” eupatridai as upstarts, newcomers from Pylos, if such a term could be used of a family which had immigrated to Athenai centuries ago. They were always good for controversy. Megakles’ father Alkmaion had distinguished himself as a commander in the ten-year war against Krisa and won fame for his prestigious victory at Olympia over twenty years ago when his four-horse chariot team won the race there. Alkmaion had also come to great wealth from his services to Alyattes, the tyrannos of the Lydians. When he visited Alyattes in Asia, the grateful lord hosted him and rewarded him with as much gold as he could carry out of his treasury. It was a tribute to his cleverness that Alkmaion, as the story went, dressed in oversized garments and boots and stuffed them full with gold. The imagined sight of him waddling out of the treasury, his clothes bulging and hair sprinkled with gold-dust, dragging one gold-stuffed boot after another never failed to cause laughter. Ever since then the Alkmaionidai were famous throughout Hellas.
“But you’ve heard of the curse, my son!” Kleisthenes whispered. “Everybody who knows anything of them has heard about it.” The family had been cursed when Megakles, the suitor’s grandfather, was arkhon at Athenai and had prevented Kylon from establishing himself as tyrannos there. The elder Megakles had given an oath to him and his followers guaranteeing safe passage to the borders of Attika, but most of them were cut down while leaving the high city. Whether Megakles had ordered it or not, no one knew for sure, but since he had sworn the oath of safety, he was blamed.
“I know the story, and you know what I’ve always thought?” Aiskhines smiled. “I think you would have done the same thing in his stead!”
Kleisthenes nodded and smiled. “Yes, I suspect you’re right! And even though the Pythia of Delphoi judged him and his family accursed and they were driven from Attika, they somehow managed to return. Not only that, they’ve been helped to quite an amount of wealth by the king of Lydia. Yes, they are survivors. Not a bad family at all. Rather impressive actually.
“But everyone knows I’ve favored Hippokleides until very recently, huie mou.” Kleisthenes sighed. “Unless I have some good excuse, I’ll risk offending him in front of the entire company.”
“Well, pater, sometimes you have to trust the gods.”