on paris and persia

I’ve always sympathised with the Persians more than the Greeks in the Greco-Persian Wars, a titanic showdown that started around 490 BC and lasted for half a century. From the Persian point of view you have a large, sophisticated and wealthy imperial power, struck by an unprovoked(ish) Greek attack; it responds with a retaliatory invasion, gets mired in the ensuing faraway war, and finally pulls out in ignominy. It all smacks of high tragedy, there are lessons in hubris, triumph and fall; that side of the story appeals much more to me than the Greek story, that of the scruffy underdogs who took on the bad guys and won through sheer gutsiness. That’s probably also why I’m an Empire man and not Rebel Alliance. And don’t even get me started on films like 300 (fun though they may be). Continue reading “on paris and persia”

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sacrifice pt 2: …and a hand

Porsena’s men never did take our city, but they did surround her. After the stand at the Sublician Bridge, the bronze-clad ogres decided to surround us with siege works.

Now as you remember a siege camp is a dreadful place. Men sit around, waiting for the enemy to starve, while themselves starving in boredom. On the other side of the camp, in Rome herself, the men were also bored and not a little desperate. So one young man, Gaius Mucius, hatched a daring plan: to steal into the Clusian camp alone and murder dread Porsena. But fearing that the City Fathers would charge him with desertion were he found beyond the Roman lines, he informed them of the plan. With the City Fathers’ blessing he tucked a knife inside his robe and sneaked into the Clusian camp. Continue reading “sacrifice pt 2: …and a hand”

sacrifice pt 1: a buttock for Rome…

[This is the first of four parts in the penultimate chapter, titled Sacrifice.]

Now laws and oaths, as I have said, are hungry. Some gave their lives to uphold them, others gave slightly less. But laws and oaths are hungry.

Tarquin’s shadow came to Rome for the third and final time just one year after Brutus was slain. After his defeat at the forest of Arsia the old tyrant fled to Clusium. There he begged King Porsena to help him retake the seven hills. Now in your day King Porsena’s name is but a memory, but at that time it was a fearful name. King Porsena’s wisdom and military power were the stuff of legend. So you can imagine the fear which gripped our city! Finally Tarquin, through much effort, persuaded Porsena to march on Rome. The fearful Clusian army marched out, thousands in their gleaming armour, rumbling toward our city. Continue reading “sacrifice pt 1: a buttock for Rome…”

law pt 3: the oath of Brutus

Now this Brutus who had accompanied Collatinus to his house was a strange one. He became a great man, yet his early life had been one of trouble. His real name was Lucius Junius, and not many remember that he was King Tarquin’s nephew.

Now the proud King had a vicious streak in him, and among the many people he murdered was a brother of young Lucius. So Lucius, not wanting to draw unwanted attention, pretended from then on to be a harmless idiot – so gaining the nickname Brutus. Continue reading “law pt 3: the oath of Brutus”

law pt 1: the wolves’ law

[This is the beginning of the next chapter, called Law, containing three parts]

In the rocky land of Greece, men loved to quarrel: farmers, heroes, kings, cities. No two cities hated each other more than Argos and Sparta.

Proud Argos bred farmers and traders. The land was rough, but food came in from beyond the sea and from the sweat of good men working the soil. They ruled the plains of southern Greece. Continue reading “law pt 1: the wolves’ law”

fate pt 6: the ruin of Samos

When Polycrates, ruler of Samos died, a victim of his own greed, his power and riches passed to his steward Maeandrius.

Now Maeandrius was a good man, who wanted nothing more than justice for the Samians. He assembled them and said to them, “People of Samos, you know that all the authority held by Polycrates has passed on to me. If I wanted to, I could rule all of you as he has done. But I do not wish to, for I refuse to lord it over people equal to myself. I will proclaim everyone equal before the law. All I ask in return is a share in Polycrates’ riches, and the right for my family and I to serve as priests.” Continue reading “fate pt 6: the ruin of Samos”

fate pt 4: the death of King Cyrus

When King Cyrus the Great was approaching the end of his days, he was consumed with desire to conquer the wild horsemen of the north. Queen Tomyris of the sun-worshipping Massagetae was his next target. Her husband had died and now she was the sole ruler of her people. So King Cyrus asked for her hand in marriage. But she refused, for Tomyris was wise as she was fair. She knew that it was not her, but her people, that Cyrus wanted. “King of the Persians,” she wrote to him, “I know that you are a great and powerful man. Do not covet my land, for it will end badly for you. Rule your own people, and let me rule mine.” Now the lands of the Massagetae were wide and empty; a man could ride for days and not see a single tree, lake or mountain. Entire armies could be swallowed up by the wilderness. Yet such was the desire of King Cyrus, that he gathered his army and marched to conquer Tomyris and her people. Continue reading “fate pt 4: the death of King Cyrus”

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