“Alas, my Child! That which saves the lives of others, proves thy destruction, even thy sire’s love; to thee thy father’s nobility has proved no boon”
—Euripides, Trojan Women
The first man he had brought death to was his father. He brought it to him in a dirty golden goblet, stained purple with the earthy poison it often held. His mother had forfeited the (not insubstantial) silver for the mixture, and the People had been kind enough to provide the goblet itself. Thus was Lamprocles, the fittest of his family, reduced to Death’s delivery-boy.
Despite years of similar service for his mother, he was not a very fast courier: he moved towards his destination in a cautious stabilizing tread. This was somewhat necessary, as he had to overcome the city’s most recent scars- scattered mounds of splintered stone and shredded wood. As he climbed over these remains of the Athenians’ once grand wall, he kept his goblet-hand locked and extended, so as not to spill the mixture. Were he one year younger, he would have engineered such a spill rather than avoid it. He would have run in quiet tears to his mother and claimed there was an accident on the road or an incident at the herbalist’s store. She would have consoled and lightly scolded him, then turned to her father for another loan to pay for the second dose. She would have gone herself the second time, to beg the storekeeper for another mixture at a reduced price so that her children would not be hungry while they mourned. All the shame, dishonesty, and poverty, he would have endured- if only it bought his father the time it took to deliver a second mixture.
But Lamprocles was thirteen years of age, and though not yet a man, he had begun to understand what it was that would make him so. Honor and Duty obligated him to guard the goblet with his life. He was more than willing to lay down his life- he had, in fact, planned to do so, to drink the hemlock himself as soon as he acquired it and thereby save his father’s life. But, in time, he recognized this childish plan for what it was: his lifeless body would do little to prevent his father’s execution. Now, his body’s only use was to safely deliver the contents he had been entrusted with. Virtue, however, did not obligate him to make the delivery quickly. Accordingly, he carefully steadied his leg prior to every footfall, without exception or haste.
It was late morning, the first assembly of the day had come to an end, and the marketplace was laced with sunlight and citizens. Lamprocles avoided the animated crowds, following the zig-zag of the southern sea breeze to the edge of the marketplace. The surrounding hills and looming citadel restrained the sun’s light, leaving the colonnades of the jail in shadowy relief and obscuring the entrance and its guard. Lamprocles approached the entrance, greeted the guard with a low nod, and walked towards the distinctive blue of his mother’s only dyed tunic.
Xanthippe’s head was erect, casting her red-eyed glance on Lamprocles while her embrace muffled the sobs of Sophroniscos, Lamprocles’ younger brother. Leaving the poison on the guard’s dais, Lamprocles moved to join his mother but did not sit down.
“Greetings mother. My task is complete- How are you?” he asked.
“Tired,” she sighed. “We have been waiting a long while and your poor brother is inconsolable. I’ve done my best to comfort him but,” she stroked Sophroniscos’ matted hair, “he’s been like this since our talk yesterday.”
Lamprocles nodded. “I can stay here. Why don’t you go and try to find father? His presence may calm Sophroniscos some.”
Xanthippe nodded to Lamprocles and picked up Sophroniscos, holding his head until he stopped his tears. “I hate to leave you little-lamb, but your brother is right- I don’t think your father will budge until I get him myself. I love you- stay with your brother.”
Xanthippe stood and walked from the room while Lamprocles took her place beside Sophroniscos. Sophroniscos was only four years younger than Lamprocles, but still he had to look up to meet his brother’s face.
“She’ll find him right?” asked Sophroniscos “He’s not… he wouldn’t be gone already…”
“Don’t worry, she will” assured Lamprocles listening down the hall. He heard nothing. When she found him, he would certainly hear something.
“It’s not fair!” Sophroniscos was crying again. “How can they just take him away from us? Who will teach us our letters now? How will-?”
“Calm down. Being upset helps no one, and you’re being foolish: I finished my letters years ago and you’re nearly done with yours. We’re losing our father, that is enough.” Lamprocles stopped, hearing voices down the hall. Even down a granite hallway he recognized these exasperated voices; in one way or another he was always listening for them. Sophroniscos mirrored his brother and stopped his crying to listen.
“Oh, what new foolishness is this?” asked a voice that sounded like their father. “Crito my friend, are you responsible for this? Do you think that by calling my family you will move my heart to cowardice? Surely…”
They could make out little else until Xanthippe spoke: her words they had no difficulty in hearing. “Crito called no one! I am here to speak with the departed mind of an old man who prefers the embrace of death to that of his family. Now, will you at least come and speak with your own children?”
“Of course, my dear, of course. I always welcome your company, even if you must be angry with me. Even if you cannot understand, don’t I deserve at least a little bit of your esteem? I am still your husband, should that not count for something?”
“My husband would not abandon his family on a whim! You have not been my husband since you left your family at home to play rhetorical games at your own trial!” The beginnings of a reply, then Xanthippe “No! I have no interest in your excuses or explanations; will you see your children or not?”
“Why are they arguing?? Mother should be yelling at the guards, they’re the ones who will.. will…” Sophroniscos began crying again, preventing Lamprocles from hearing his father’s answer.
“It’s his choice that they’re arguing over!” said Lamprocles wheeling on Sophroniscos, “It’s father’s principles that are causing this, our mother is objecting. Vehemently.”
Sophroniscos just kept crying, as if he hadn’t heard a word.
“Look,” said Lamprocles bringing his brother closer, “think of it this way: mother doesn’t want father to die today, but father thinks that not resisting today would avoid the worst of things.”
“You mean, father might not die after all if he plays along?” asked Sophroniscos finally pausing his crying.
“Something like that; but we’ll still have to miss him,” said Lamprocles nodding rhythmically.
Lamprocles stood, and admired the silence. It broke only when Sophroniscos saw their parents walking down the hall towards him. As quickly as it had quieted, the hall was ringing with clamor once again. Lamprocles stayed seated and watched his mother, father, and brother exchange their last words.
Eventually Crito motioned to their father from the other room, and Xanthippe took Sophroniscos’ hand as the family was disassembled. Sophroniscos complained loudly and fought the pull, but some stern words from their father soon convinced him to go. They exited the jail, Xanthippe her head downcast, her eyes on the child holding her hand, and Sophroniscos crying himself quiet beside her. Finally, Lamprocles rose, but did not follow them.
Instead, he went to his father. “Father, may I join you and your companions as you…” his throat clutched dry air “farewell life?”
Lamprocles always had difficulty reading his father, but he looked almost bemused. “Your interest is appreciated my son, but the deathbed is no place for a child. Crying and grieving, it would be inappropriate.”
“Please father, you know I won’t behave like that. I comprehend the gravity and necessity of the situation, I… I just want to be there.”
His father silenced his pleas with a kneeling motion and a sudden focus. Lamprocles found he was looking straight into his father’s eyes. “You behave beyond your years Lamprocles. Come with me, promise to keep your reason about you and you can stay.”
Lamprocles made good on his word. Later, in a room full of his father’s friends (mostly young men Lamprocles had never met), as his father drank the poison in libation, all collapsed into tears. Men twice the age of Lamprocles wept openly, Crito sobbed for his doomed friend, and another man at his father’s bed wailed loudly into the pages of a manuscript, but Lamprocles shed not a tear. He could not match the confidence of his father, but he sat close and held his father’s eyes.
“What is this, you strange fellows?” cried his father. “It is mainly for this reason that I sent the woman away, to avoid such unseemliness. One should die in a good omened silence. Control yourselves!” Suddenly, his voice faded to a whisper and he reclined onto his bed. “But ah, now the numbness crawls to my chest. We owe a favor to the gods, Crito.”
As he died with these words on his lips, Lamprocles imagined his father looked directly at him. Lamprocles held his father’s gaze, even as the hemlock turned the body’s veins white in front of him. Nothing, save an annoying and constant need to blink, could draw his attention away.
Eventually, men began to move around Lamprocles, but the boy himself did not move until a flutter of parchment shuddered his back. Lamprocles turned to look at the man who had just passed him. He was a younger man with barely a beard on his face and parchment falling from his left hand as grief and emotion confused his movement. Like a faulty argument, the man seemed unable to stand and walked out of the room like a drunk or a child. Lamprocles turned his back on the mourners and returned his eyes to his father’s face, where they would stay until his was the only warm body in the cell.
Lamprocles climbed the rocky mountain path as his father had shown him years ago, jumping over small elevations and following a zig-zag pattern to the top. Though few now used it, this path was, in fact, the quickest way to the top of Assembly Hill, and it had the added benefit of being mostly secluded. The path led in from the south, while most citizens came to the hill from the lively marketplace in the north. He could not see this mass exodus, but he could hear the hundreds of footfall, conversations and gruff commands echoing around the hill. The clamor was increasingly loud: it seemed each time he began a new formulation, a new mock-recital of his speech, another shrill laugh would divide his thoughts. He abandoned his preparations and focused on the hike, reaching the hill’s grey summit well before the rest of the crowds. He chose a spot near enough to the speaker’s platform, but also hidden by the shadow of a nearby boulder. Lamprocles scanned the crowds as they eventually wandered onto the summit. He recognized none of them, which was unsurprising since no one well-off enough to frequent Academy would have need to come to a public political meeting (though Lamprocles liked to believe that his father would have come, were he still alive). Surprisingly, a small flicker of recognition- his neighbor Gorgias approached him.
“Is that you Lamprocles? I’ve never seen you here before. Finally decide to embrace your community spirit eh?” Gorgias asked chuckling.
“Not quite. I heard there’s an issue of particular interest to be discussed today…”
“Oh?” asked Gorgias intrigued, “Well let’s hope not, every time I hear the words ‘discuss’ and ‘interest’ in the same sentence on this rock it somehow always ends with us losing money. I swear, at this point they spend more time talking about taxing the rich than managing the poor. Frankly, I was surprised they let you inherit your grandfather’s farm without taking a pretty piece of it.”
“Oh some words were certainly exchanged, but I figured things out. They came to me talking about inheritance and land like it’s a business deal and I outright refused to deal or negotiate. Eventually they just gave up.”
“Haha, you tell ’em off boy. Wish I could do that sometimes; just kick out the traders and bureaucrats like in that Acharnians play. Sadly, its more complicated when you do business outside the city, sometimes you need those leeches if you want to turn a profit. Anyway, I need to find a friend, say hi to your brother for me when he comes up.”
“Comes up?” asked Lamprocles, looking around.
“Yeah, I saw him, he was towards the back of the crowd. Gotta go,” Gorgias said departing.
Lamprocles, confused, looked at the tail ends of the growing crowd. Certainly enough, Sophroniscos was there, talking excitedly within a group of similarly aged youths. Lamprocles stared at his brother in confusion for a time, then resetting his head, called his brother’s name. Sophroniscos heard, excused himself from his group, and walked to his brother.
“Older brother! I didn’t know you would be here. Don’t you usually tend the fields this hour?” asked his brother innocently.
“I do. I had some business here. But what about you? You didn’t tell me you had been coming to the Assembly.”
“Oh yes! I’ve been coming for nearly a month now- the father of one of my friends has been bringing the entire school here. He says it’s vital to our ‘national education’. It’s quite enjoyable. We can’t participate of course, but we get to hear speeches and applaud when we hear something we like.”
“Hm” answered Lamprocles examining his brother. Seeing a man take the speaking platform, Lamprocles added “we should talk more, but later. I promise I’ll come by to check on mother and you tomorrow. Go back to your group now, I need to look.”
Sophroniscos made some reply before he walked back, but Lamprocles’ attention was entirely on the speaker. After calling the crowds to silence and making some introductory remarks, the speaker, Demotis was his name, began his speech in earnest.
“Athenian soldiers, farmers, laborers, citizens all. Today we have a great many things to discuss. Agaros, I know you wish your land’s boundaries reexamined. Phitharos, Krion, your arguments too we will come to. But before we begin such divisive talk, let us begin not with prayer, but with a matter of national importance. Though only an old few remain who were there for the maiming of our fair city thirty years ago, it is a tragedy close to all of us. Not only do we miss those who would still be with us, but who here has not been inspired by those long ago tales of glory? But, my friends, that Athens died long ago, and we must accept this! Our minds are fresh, our arms are strong, and our will is one: we must begin again. And what better a beginning than to mend the scar that still disfigures our city, our old and ruined wall. We have this year, received a windfall in trade profits which, with your help, can be used to fully restore our city walls. The need is obvious and the price is intangible. I believe the proper option is clear.” Demotis stepped down.
There was some light applause and the arbiter asked for responses from the crowd. Lamprocles, closest to the stand, was recognized first. “Pride aside, I fail to understand the reasoning behind such a project. Certainly there are more productive public projects that would yield some tangible benefit, and is not reconstruction of our walls expressly forbidden by peace treaty? Only 25 years ago, a time apparently so well remembered, we swore to never again raise armies, never again go to war and never again raise our walls in defense. That was the price of peace with Sparta. Rebuilding our walls would break that vow and dishonor us all.”
Murmuring among the crowd. Demotis returned to speak. “If any were to doubt the Athenian political system, let them look at this, for a new voice gives us all new perspective. It is indeed true that rebuilding the wall would breach terms that brought us much needed peace. Yet we have nothing to fear- we are not going to war, we are not raising armies, we have nothing but goodwill for the Spartans and they pay us no mind either. This is merely a matter of restoring beauty to the most beautiful city in the world. Caution is wise, but we must not let cowardice prevent us from benefit.” More applause this time.
“Voting may begin then,” cried the arbiter after a surprisingly brief interlude, “all ballots here please.”
Lamprocles had more arguments, but he sighed and silenced himself, standing still while others moved about him to cast their votes. Disturbed from thought again, Lamprocles noticed Sophroniscos tugging at him from behind again.
“What is it?” asked Lamprocles, pre-occupied.
“That was low! Don’t you get it? He called you a coward! That’s what he was implying.”
“It’s a common little rhetorical trick, called a direct attack, you make the position seem weaker by falsely associating it with a person and a label, I’ll teach you about it sometime. Anyway, reacting personally would only worsen matters. The best thing to do is ignore it.”
“But you let him have the last word! Now everyone will think he was right.”
“There’s a lot more to being right than saying the last thing. I had the stronger argument, that’s what counts.”
“How do you know? You’ve only been here once! Every time I’ve come here the person who gets the most applause wins. What good is your argument if no one cares about it?”
“You know, I wonder that myself sometimes. You’re right, I don’t know if it will matter. But it feels right to try.”
“Well I’m not going to let him get away with it, I’m going up there and voting against that idiot.” Sophroniscos was already walking away.
“Calm down, you’re getting carried away again little brother; you’re too young to go up there!” Lamprocles grabbed his brother’s cloak to restrain him but Sophroniscos was already retreating; he dropped his head and kicked the stones at their feet.
“And besides,” Lamprocles continued, “you should vote for what you think is right, not for petty personal reasons. Come on, let’s go and see if the Athenians know what’s good for them.”
“No, that’s alright brother. I’ll go back to my school group.”
“Alright, go ahead, I’ll see you.” Lamprocles began to wave goodbye, but his brother had already taken off. After a minute, Lamprocles realized he had kept his eyes on his fading brother longer than he should have, and quickly returned his attention to the ballots to ensure he hadn’t missed the decision.
He had not, but only barely; they were announcing it now. “Voting is concluded,” said the arbiter, “the project is approved. Reconstruction of the wall will begin within the month.”
Lamprocles sighed and walked away as the cheering was quieted and politicians put forward new business. He had much to consider.
His eyes were closing. He was still walking forward, but his eyes were definitely closing. His legs followed their path by habit, but his mind, wherever it was, was not here. Lamprocles found each morning more and more difficult; waking was easy enough, in fact it was invigorating, but the long walk in the morning darkness and the final ascent into Academy, it left him drowsy for hours. Still fighting sleep, Lamprocles took his eyes from the path and to the white circular building that was his destination. The sun had fully risen now and the wide but low buildings of Academy provided little in way of shadow. This, and the building’s coat of ivory white, made Lamprocles unable to bear staring forward. He entered, still partially blinded, and homed in on the sound of conversation (there were few talking this early in the morning, and even fewer rooms for them to do it in). Within the primary room he recognized a few faces and ducked through the archway to enter. The First Room (there was no Second Room, Plato had said that it was a symbolic promise that one day there would be an entire tower of discussion rooms) was spacious and most of those present sat on reclining couches or mats lining the border of the room. Lamprocles took a basket weave chair across from Archytas , the day’s discussion leader.
“Ah, welcome Lamprocles,” said Archytas with a smile “always happy to see you here, join us.”
Lamprocles nodded and oriented himself. There were fifteen others beside himself and Archytas. Most he knew, but not all; despite his father’s execution, his former social circle continued to grow and new faces were becoming commonplace in Academy. The dialogue proceeded as usual, with constant low murmuring and speakers taking their turns.
Some time later, all became suddenly quiet. Lamprocles remained passive until, looking round and seeing the entire company looking in one direction, he realized someone had actually asked him a question.
“Well… Uh, I’m not so sure how to respond…” spat out Lamprocles.
“Oh just give us any old thing, any thoughts you might have on accessing true knowledge. To be honest Lamprocles I merely noticed that you’ve not brought up a point since last week’s ethics conversation, I just wanted to make we weren’t speaking over you.”
“Ah, well that’s very kind of you Archytas, but I am fine. The only thoughts I have might derail us, please continue.”
“No, No, dear boy, let’s hear from you. We are here to hear any and all thoughts are we not? Speak your thought.”
“Well, Archytas, we have been talking about this ‘knowledge’, how to attain it, how to analyze it, how to express it, but what does it really matter if the knowledge is self-limited? Especially for the more abstract objects, even verification of truth seems to do no good if one cannot demonstrate it or convince others of its truth.”
“Hm, good, a provocative question Lamprocles,” said Archytas tilting his head upward “Well since I’ve already ceded the floor, who else would like to answer or supplement?”
Eventually, Spessipus, a newer member, spoke. “To venture an answer: the knowledge still matters because one now has a solid basis upon which to found corollaries that could shape other aspects of knowledge. Even if the information is, as you say, self-limited, one could still be productive.”
“Well yes,” answered Lamprocles, “productive in the sense of generating more knowledge. But then you just have more knowledge with the same problem: its self-limited. To what end are you generating the knowledge in the first place?”
Spessipus shrugged. No others spoke up.
Eventually Archytas retook the floor. “That word ‘end’; I think it points us to the true problem here. The inability of such knowledge to propagate would limit its utility, and this could indeed be a problem- it all depends on what the purpose of knowledge is. But this does bring us back to ethics of a sort. It’s an interesting question, but it requires a small topic change. We’ve talked enough about knowledge, let’s adjourn for today and when we talk about the verifiability of reality tomorrow we can tackle this question from an unexpected flank. Pending of course that you will be joining us tomorrow Lamprocles?”
“Huh? Oh, yes. Of course. You know me: I’ll be there.”
“Excellent, let’s all go greet the noon sun together then.”
Everyone rose and proceeded outside, but Lamprocles lagged behind, and when the archway and entrance were finally clear, he faced south and set a quick pace.
“Lamprocles! Slow down my fellow!” cried a familiar voice.
Lamprocles turned around. “Plato, always a pleasure. Sorry to be off so soon but I have some urgent family business to attend to.”
“Oh don’t give it a thought; I myself spend far too much time taking care of personal business. Come, I’ll walk with you- that way we can talk and you won’t waste time.”
Lamprocles hesitated, but seeing Plato already outpace him to his own objective decided he might as well. “Alright, what is it you wanted to talk about?”
“Ah, well, straight to the point. I overheard your ‘question’ in discussion today from my work alcove.”
“You did?” Lamprocles slowed his pace “Oh, look I’m sorry, it was just a thought and I-”
“No, No, don’t apologize! Least of all to me! We all meant it when we promised to address any and all positions. In fact, I wish those boundaries were tested more often.”
“Oh, well, um, thank you sir, I suppose.”
“You’re welcome! But I didn’t come to insult you or to compliment you, I just wanted to hear more about your skepticism.”
“My skepticism?” asked Lamprocles, walking nearly like a drunk now from the many turns this conversation seemed to keep making.
“Yes, your skepticism. Come now, I didn’t spend 6 years with your father to not be able to identify a position when I see one. You’re skeptical that the intellectual work we engage in has any real value. Yet, you’re far from a simpleton, you speak like your father once did and you come to our meetings regularly. I’m curious how you came to be both of these things.”
“Well I suppose it has a natural attraction.” Plato shot him a questioning look. “What I mean is, I like our meetings and what we discuss. It’s sort of personally important. But, sometimes I worry about how important it really is, whether I have any business dwelling on it or if it is all just a game I play within my own mind to distract myself from other, more real problems. I suppose, in this respect, it was easy for my father: he had a divine command to investigate and question. I have no such external motivator, so sometimes I feel nearly irresponsible being here. I mean what am I really doing?”
“You’re doing what we are all doing: seeking wisdom. Sometimes that means pushing old, fake wisdom out of the way- like your father did. But all that effort, all the back and forth and questioning and cross-examining: it’s all for that original objective. To become wise.”
“But most of the time the cross-examining, the discussion, it only confirms or complicates things I already knew. I don’t feel like I’m gaining new answers, just explicating or denying old ones. And the worst of it is that even with that little, I get massive resistance from anyone who isn’t on the same track. In fact, maybe because my father made such a spectacle of challenging all these notions (not that this is his fault in any way), it seems like people become more radical and set in their ways the minute a challenge is presented.”
“Yes, I see what you mean. Many Greeks can be that way. But you are not, and isn’t that the important thing? That you gain depth to your opinions? Many, I think, would consider that the very definition of wisdom.”
“I guess it could be, but then I don’t really see what its purpose is. To do what? Clearly not to change anything. Look, look,” Lamprocles raised his voice to cut off the objection he knew was coming, “I know what you’re going to say. That the knowledge has intrinsic worth, that it matters on a different level so we shouldn’t question it and it doesn’t matter what the practical side is like. I’ve run around this question a dozen times in ethics discussions and it never seems to get anywhere. Maybe we should give up while we’re ahead; I’m sure you have places to be.”
Plato continued walking without responding for a minute. Lamprocles was about to say his goodbyes and branch off to an alternate path when Plato drew breath to respond. “Well I do think that truth matters on a different level, but I think you might find my opinion on the intrinsic value of truth and its forms surprisingly controversial. So, I’m not willing to let you get away so easily, I will not cede the point about knowledge lacking practical value. If I understand correctly, you say now, as you said before, that wisdom cannot reach others and thus lacks utility. Concerning some ‘others’ you may be right, but I think it is not the knowledge which has deficiency but your requirement which is unreasonable. Even the sophists, who specifically advertised the practicality of their techniques, never dared to claim that they had some secret key which could convince anyone of their truth. No-” Plato chuckled, “-I’m afraid that’s a key jealously guarded by the rich and attractive. So, to bring us back to your point, I think it’s unfair for you to demand of knowledge that it suddenly make you universally convincing like some great demagogue. If you lower your standard, I think you’ll find that it does indeed have utility. Think about it, who inside that discussion room of ours would not be convinced by a more developed opinion? Who among your friends would not value the superior depth of your strategies and opinions? That’s where you look for the power of knowledge Lamprocles, in the people who will listen. And if you take just those people, with the right knowledge, you could do anything: from understanding the heavens, to founding your own republic.”
“I think I’m beginning to understand you’re approach, but still I have a counter-example and, forgive me, but it’s very close to home: my father. He didn’t start with his friends did he? He immediately went after those whose wisdom he would end up tearing down. He certainly didn’t start with those who would listen. Far from contemplating the heavens or founding governments- he went to war. ”
“Absolutely incorrect! You should know this, you were there (sometimes). Then again, I suppose you were quite young at the time. Your father had many friends, and many people who listened to him, myself included. He didn’t question Anytus, Ion, or Protagoras for their sake- he did it for ours. He did it so our eyes could be opened and we could follow him to wisdom.”
“And yet, he died alone, didn’t he? None of us followed him there. Maybe it was never for us.”
“He died because he wanted to prove it was the wisest action. Would it not have just been proving their point if he died because his opponents refused to listen and he was getting old and tired? No, that makes no sense. Your father kept his personal opinions to himself, but I don’t think he had any great love for his interlocutors. He certainly didn’t die on their account, and if not us, his friends and family, who else would have been worth dying to teach?”
“I don’t know…”
They had taken a shortcut by way of the unpopulated mountain path and walked along in silence. Birds and the distant rhythm of waves defined the quiet score of the rocky crags around them. It seemed almost an affront when Plato sliced into it by speaking. “It’s been a productive conversation Lamprocles, though I do not think we have settled our original question. We shall return to it, I promise! Not soon I’m afraid, I sail tomorrow for Syracuse, I’ve been requested by the king there. But, I’m sure I will not be gone long. Until then,” he said waving off onto another path and disappearing behind a wall of rock.
Lamprocles’ childhood home was just on the southern bend of this path, and with his early departure and Plato’s fast walking speed, he hoped to arrive in time to see his mother before she departed for the marketplace. The southern part of the path was unusually crowded, normally it was only used by those who lived nearby or Athenians who wanted to avoid a crowd. Lamprocles guessed that these people might be foreigners who had lost their way in the city, but he had no time to offer help or be inquisitive. He guessed they were mostly Boeotian Greeks, maybe Thebans or Locrians, probably in Athens for trading or sea travel. Nothing too interesting. There were also a certain few surprisingly wealthy Ionian Greeks who had arrived from the eastern islands. He had seen these men before in the city center, but only briefly. They stayed mostly out of the way, which was fine because Lamprocles and more than a few others didn’t trust these “traders” and their Persian-stamped money… but that was a consideration for another time; he had finally saw his home directly ahead.
Sadly, even with his early start, he was unable to see his mother: he could see from the closed entranceway that she was already gone, and he would need to leave for the farm before she returned. This state of affairs was ongoing, and Lamprocles hoped that he could relieve the problem by teaching Sophroniscos to take over some of these household duties. Perhaps they could speak of it today.
As always, Lamprocles checked round the house before entering, inspecting the square border for cracks or faults in the underlying rocks. He entered, moved a few items into place and sought his brother. He found him in bed.
“Sophroniscos, come now, too late to be napping. Time to wake, I need your help.”
Sophroniscos yawned. “I, I wasn’t sleeping, I was just laying back and thinking. What is it? What could you need help with?”
“You’ll see, just come along, we’ll talk while we do a little work.”
“If I must.” Sophroniscos stretched himself out and swayed off the bed. “Where first?”
“Just follow me, and tell me how was your day?”
Sophroniscos followed Lamprocles to the front of the house. “Oh, pretty normal. I went to school, walked the long way for some reason. Class was fine…. oh, one of my classmates managed to find what we think was a fragment of buried gold, but, of course, he wouldn’t share. One of the other guys then-”
“Interesting. Here hold this shovel would you,” Lamprocles handed Sophroniscos a shovel and began kicking away dirt from the front of their house, “what about your classes? Anything notable?”
“Not really, we did go to the Assembly again, but I know you have no interest in that. You want me to follow with the shovel?”
“Yep, just make straight lines. Now what’s this nonsense about me not being interested. I’m interested in everything, we all should be. I just think it’s a waste of your time.”
“Talk about a waste of time…” said Sophroniscos using the shovel to scrape the dirt his brother had just leveled.
“Heh, come on, you know if we don’t do this the walls will get dusty and crack. Now all I’m saying is that observing politics is a useless activity. You know the old saying ‘A 20 year old politician is no politician at all’. They probably just bring you because they think its prestigious or some nonsense. None of you can vote or speak, and the issues are complex.”
“We can still discuss amongst ourselves, and the issues aren’t that complex, we can still make progress in discussing them.”
“Good job here. Leave the shovel, we need to walk up to that hill.” Lamprocles continued once his brother was in step behind him, “and what progress would that be? Come on Sophroniscos, you know very well no real progress is ever made on that hill. It’s all done at night beforehand between a popular few, and even if you could influence them, what would really be the point?”
“Well it’s not easy, but what else should we do? We have to watch out for the city, and this is the only legitimate platform to do it with. If we try to go around it you get tyranny, abandon it and you abandon Athens.”
“Do you? And what is really so bad about that? It’s just a city, it’s just a collection of houses and people, what makes it worthy of loyalty. I’ve sworn no oath I can recall, nor has the city ever supported me in a crucial way. In fact, it has done me serious disservice.”
“That’s exactly why it needs to change, to get better and be of service.”
“But why? Why is it so important for the city to get better? Why does it need to be improved? Why is the city so important to begin with?”
“Because it’s the only Greek city that starts with an A!” Lamprocles gave his brother a frown. “What? What do you want from me? Why is the city important? Because it’s Athens, its where all these people we work and live with are. They’re our people, we have to look out for each other.”
“‘Our’ people? In what sense exactly? I’m pretty sure I don’t own them, if that’s what you mean.”
“You know perfectly well I don’t mean it that way. Don’t do that sweet sarcasm thing with me. I mean it like they’re our extra family. They’re people we have a bond with. Like our parents or you and me.”
“Well, I don’t know about that. What obligation and link do these bonds really establish? What’s the real reason we need to care about and support these people?”
“That’s a stupid question: do you really need a reason? It’s your family, you should just care by default. Reasoning it out just cheapens it.”
Lamprocles shook his head. Still too young. “Here, help me lift this bucket, we have to carry it back.”
Sophroniscos heaved the bucket on his shoulders, and they carried it back in silence. Eventually halfway into another task, Sophroniscos spoke as if continuing “anyway, after someone took the gold, I couldn’t get a good look. I still think it was an old coin. Which reminds me, how come the coins look different and duller these days?”
“Hm, I don’t know…”
“I think it has to do with the available minerals, easier to make more coins if there’s less value in each one right? And technically they’re still worth the same.”
“I suppose it’s possible… In any case, I’m sorry I can’t stay longer but I must begin my walk back to the farm.”
“Aw, brother. You never stay long enough for us to really talk, and mom hasn’t seen you in ages either.”
“I know, but my days and evenings are busy, I have no choice. Hey,” Lamprocles winked at his brother “maybe if you start doing some of these chores yourself we can all spend some time talking.”
Sophroniscos laughed lightly and waved his brother away. “Go home, brother.”
“We have to strike at the backbone of their rhetoric.” Lamprocles stood at the center of a dimly lit room, addressing a row of a dozen seated, well-dressed men. “We can’t waste time or resources on the small issues. Not on the agrarian tax, not on the political “reforms”, not even on the military spending. All that saber-rattling is Patroclus holding his spear against Hector: they’re emboldened by the false armor of blind patriotism. That’s where we have to hit them, that’s what we make the issues about: blind patriotism. It’s what all their arguments rest on and it’s where they’re most vulnerable. All we need do is show where that mindset gets us. Think of the last war. The plague, the poverty, the unnecessary death on both sides. They can’t just pretend none of that happened.” Lamprocles relaxed his stance and scanned the faces around him for apprehension. Despite their proximity (the smaller the room they took, the fewer eyes and ears would be around), Lamprocles could not read their faces.
“Lamprocles,” began Gorgias, rising from the right half of the group “they can pretend anything they want to if they have the votes and the money. Look my friend, we appreciate you bringing this group together, we’ve all profited by voting together against Demotis and the council, but if we go out there today and tell the People that they shouldn’t tax us because the city isn’t all it’s built up to be, they’ll exile us all there and then.”
Lamprocles sighed. “My argument is good, but if you feel it’s too much risk for the group, we can present separately. I’ll take the stand after Demotis gives his speech, and then all of you can follow with the standard pacifist line. Either way we’ll rally support against him once the time comes.”
“The anti-military stance isn’t working either.” This time it was Hippotias, from the center of the group. “We haven’t won a vote in months with that position and every time Demotis uses his somehow unlimited funds to deliver a military project, he gains even more support. We don’t have enough popular support to keep playing these rhetorical slugging matches. We have to compromise Lamprocles, even if that means taking your hardline off the table.”
Lamprocles bristled, as he always did when his supposed allies insinuated that he was an obstacle. He swallowed the emotion. “And the rest of you? What are your thoughts?”
There was a general murmur of half-hearted agreement. Gorgias took it upon himself to speak for the group. “No one wants to back down Lamprocles but we can’t keep doing this. We all joined this group to stand up for ourselves, to make sure Demotis and his Persian friends don’t tax and embargo our farm products into oblivion. But this politicking, it’s made us targets, its worse than it was before! Maybe if we had some more support, maybe some of your contacts in Academy, we could do this. Otherwise, we just can’t compete.”
“No, it’ll be just us. Academics aren’t exactly into politics, and if you want me to go find Plato, I’ll need a boat and a rescue party,” Lamprocles joked. No one laughed. Too early in the morning. He continued. “I understand your concerns, but short of full surrender I don’t see what else we can do. You all know that’s the only thing that Demotis would accept: we’re a threat so long as we vote together. So let’s hold the line and if Demotis wants to pressure us, we pressure right back. In the end, they might have Persian money and Theban spears but they still need good old Athenian food. Now, let’s adjourn for the day, I hope to see you all at Assembly later.”
Lamprocles left the meeting quickly, putting a good distance between himself and the other group members before slowing. He saw no one leave the meeting after him, perhaps they were equally tired. Lamprocles hoped that the Assembly today would finally mark a turn in their fortunes, but soon put politics out of mind: he needed to see his mother. The route to her home was by now familiar, for Sophroniscos had finally taken over upkeep of the house, and he was able to visit his mother often.
Once he arrived he found not only his mother, but his brother as well. This was unexpected, as Sophroniscos usually did his work in the north and spent most of his other time in the city center (Lamprocles suspected this was because his brother had memorized the times that he chose to visit, but was uncertain). Lamprocles greeted his brother at the door.
“Hail brother, stay and talk for a while?” asked Lamprocles, attempting to appear comedic.
“Since when do you talk? Lecture, I know you can do, and I’ve got better places to be,” Sophroniscos said increasing his pace towards the exit. “Mother is inside on the recliner, I was just leaving.” Sophroniscos tried to step past Lamprocles.
“Wait,” Lamprocles said restraining him, “what are you doing here anyway?”
“Same thing you are. Checking on mom, brought her some things. Spending time, talking to her. You know, that thing you don’t do.”
“Come on now, that’s unfair, I visit every day.”
“Caring is more than just commitment brother. All your intellectual conversations and somehow you still don’t get that.”
“You’re being selective Sophroniscos, you know that. I’m a lot more than just committed. And you’re right about commitment, but it’s an important part of caring, one I don’ t think you appreciate. You know when father was alive-”
“Yeah, I know. He came home everyday even when everyone wanted him to stay over at someplace much nicer. I was there too. And you know what? I was also there when he stopped coming back.”
“That’s enough! Angry at me as you might be, you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead or let such stupidity pass your tongue. You know very well there was no choice in the matter.”
“All I know is I’m here in our family’s house and he’s not. And for all your polite little visits neither are you, get out of my way.” Sophroniscos shoved his brother aside and walked off.
As Lamprocles picked himself up, he heard his brother’s voice yelling from lower down the hill. “Oh! And good news, I took your advice and turned down the Persian diplomat position from Timocrates. Don’t worry though, I’ll still be well-employed. I’m going to be the new Arbiter of Assembly, and guess who got me the position. Demotis! Nice guy really. More helpful than you people have ever been.”
Lamprocles knew it was inappropriate, but he could not help but shout back, “Accepting a pity position. That’s low, even for you brother!”
“I got it because I’m the most experienced graduate you ignorant jackass!” Lamprocles flinched as Sophroniscos kicked an empty bucket in his direction, but the wind carried it off towards the sea. By the time Lamprocles looked back, his brother was already nearly out of view. He covered his eyes with his hand. Too young, still too immature even at this age.
“I heard you two arguing again,” his mother said as Lamprocles walked into the house proper, “I thought you promised me you would stop that.”
“Apologies mother, I try not to fight him but he never listens. It’s those people he spends his time with, they corrupt his-”
“Enough, enough. Don’t talk badly about your brother when he isn’t here. It’s improper. Tell me about your mood son, how are you?”
“I am neutral, but disappointed. Sophroniscos isn’t the only one who won’t listen. Even my ‘friends’ prove stubborn. Sometimes I feel like the only rational man in Athens. Well, outside of Academy anyway…”
His mother laughed, “maybe you should go back. It has been a while.”
“Maybe I will, I didn’t think I’d miss it, but I do. But only once all this city politicking is over, if I start going back there, even for a little, who knows what it would be like. And it would take too much time, I couldn’t come and see you again. No, it just wouldn’t be right.”
The rest of Lamprocles’ visit was uneventful. His mother comforted him as she always did, and Lamprocles was happy to see that she was still doing well in her older age. At midday, Lamprocles set out for his home, to gather his thoughts and clothes for the Assembly now only an hour away. As he approached his home, he espied five figures moving about in front of his manor. He was not expecting anyone today.
“Is there some trouble here?” asked Lamprocles.
The group finally noticed him. One of the men nodded in Lamprocles’ direction and then went back to strapping a pack onto their mule. Two of the men moved towards Lamprocles, the other two went into his home.
“Are you Lamprocles, son of Socrates, owner of the 6th manor in the Horse district?” asked the taller of the two men in a disinterested tone.
“Yes. Is there something needed of me?” Lamprocles asked politely. The man had the accent of a policeman, so Lamprocles was certain to be delicate. All the same, these men were breaking into his house…
“Yes,” the tall guard responded and began reciting something clearly memorized, “by the authority of the Athenian grand Assembly, approved by the 82nd court of Archons and willed by the gods, you Lamprocles are ostracized from the city of Athens and her territories for the period of 20 years. Your belongings are forfeited to the city, your debts are forgiven and your land will be repossessed until such time that you are allowed to return and regain possession. The punishment for disobeying this decree is death. You have until dawn to remove yourself.”
Lamprocles stared at the guard and felt something deep within him beat, like a nausea forcing its way up into his face and eyes. It took him a minute to master this feeling and to consider what he was hearing.
“That’s impossible,” Lamprocles began, thinking quickly. “There cannot be an ostracism without a vote, and the Assembly has not yet met today. You have been misinformed.”
“Looked like it was meeting when I left: everybody was there. Well, except you,” responded the guard. “Doesn’t matter to me anyway, my master told me to move you and I ain’t risking the lash because you think there’s a mix-up.”
The guard turned away from Lamprocles and began helping the others to, Lamprocles now realized, strip his home bare. Lamprocles did what he little could to stop them. “You can’t do this! It’s your duty to make sure order is enforced, you need to go back and-” the guard shoved Lamprocles aside. They were ignoring him. Lamprocles looked away from the guards and clenched his walking stick tightly. Standing as tall as he could, he darted to the mule where they were loading his belongings and ripped the packs off. Wheeling to face the guards he raised his stick to fight them off, but before he could even bring it down he felt a blunt force on his ribs and a falling sensation. Then he felt a warm wetness around his head, then nothing.
The pitter-patter of building rain on his closed eyes stirred Lamprocles awake. Turning toward his long dead fire, Lamprocles sat up and blinked at his surroundings. The looming conifers slowly became familiar as Lamprocles’ memory escaped the soot of sleep; he took a long breath.
Standing up, Lamprocles readied himself to continue. He gathered his small pack and checked his belt for his rope and knife. Wrapping his cloak tightly around his shoulders, Lamprocles left the clearing that had sheltered him during the night and began his march up the mountain trail.
The sky grew darker and the rain increased its intensity, but Lamprocles made good progress regardless. By midday (this was a guess, the sky was the same grey-black patchwork it had been in the morning) he had overcome the incline and the roughest terrain. He had even caught dinner- two conies had been sheltering from the rain in the hollow of a tree he had leaned against. Pre-occupied with the other side of the hollow (probably waiting for their mother to come back with food, he had guessed), they hadn’t noticed him approach. Reacting quickly, he pinned one with his knife and crushed the other with his hand. They struggled, but all it took was two casual twists of his thumb, and their necks snapped apart, ending their twitches of life. He ate well.
Lamprocles was concerned to find his steps surer and the path becoming clearer. His fears were realized when, smelling traces of smoke, Lamprocles looked ahead and espied a small fortified settlement. Low walls, fourty-some buildings, and a small garrison made Lamprocles hope he was off-course south, rather than north. If he had strayed too far north, it would be an Athenian garrison awaiting him, and fresh from battle too. But in disputed territory it was unlikely the Athenians would leave such a small number of guards, so keeping his head and hood down, Lamprocles risked approaching the doors.
“Who are you?” the guard stopped him, “I don’t recognize you- show me your face.”
“Just a nobody,” replied Lamprocles, raising his hood to his eyes.
“And what does ‘nobody’ want here in Philos?” asked the guard.
“Nothing,” said Lamprocles with a small smile, “except maybe to make some purchases.”
The guard reclined against the gate doors. “If you’re here to shop, then you’ll have money. Let me see it and you can go through.”
A bribe, thought Lamprocles. Men slaughtered in their sleep not 20 miles away and this idiot wants a bribe. Regardless, this posed a problem.
“I think you’ll find it doesn’t matter, my currency is not accepted locally. I was going to go to the money-changer as soon as-”
“Yeah, I’m sure you were,” said the guard. “Just let me see your currency.”
Lamprocles looked at the guard. He was young, and had a short sword on his right hip. He blocked the entrance squarely and there was no commotion of travelers to blend into. Another risk then. Lamprocles reached for his pack.
The guard looked at the ovals of gold that Lamprocles pulled from his pack. Seeing the Athenian press on the coins, the guard looked up at Lamprocles and simply laughed.
“Ha! Another deserter eh? Been getting more and more of you as the days go by. Well, I hope you didn’t hurt yourself running here, heh… Anyway, go on in. The last one like you is still around I think. In the east marketplace. Maybe between the two of you, you can actually form a backbone. Ha!” The guard continued laughing as Lamprocles left him behind.
Lamprocles walked further into the heart of the city, but hesitated once he reached the marketplace. Rather than walk north to the blacksmith’s immediately, Lamprocles decided to go to the east quarter. It was a significant digression, but information on happenings in Athens was hard to come by, and even the smallest hints could be unpacked and extrapolated from. Lamprocles tightened his pack around himself, loosened the catch on his knife, and walked east to find this other Athenian.
While the entrances had been mostly empty, this part of the city was much more crowded. People walked about in groups of three or four, and the whole clearing was permeated with low murmurs. Lamprocles looked for his man, and eventually found him sitting at an empty storefront, focused on eating his meal: the silver ring epaulette gave him away- any Athenian would know it as the mark of a high-ranking official. Coming up behind the man, he caught a glimpse of his face, and, once he had placed it, nearly dropped his knife in surprise. He sheathed his weapon and strode to the seat beside the man.
“Hello Sophroniscos, what are you doing here?” Lamprocles asked.
Sophroniscos turned to look at him, blinked for what seemed like a minute, and eventually recognized his brother.
“Brother! It’s good to see you! I have been trying to track you down for a month now. You’re a difficult man to find.”
“Yes. Being homeless will do that,” responded Lamprocles without mirth.
Sophroniscos nodded wordlessly and took a drink.
“Well,” continued Lamprocles after enough quiet had passed between them, “if you have been searching for me, there must be something pressing. What is it? Have the Athenians finally returned to sanity and kicked Demotis and your lot out? Or, oh! is this about my ‘departure’? Some attempt at apology or justification?”
“No,” Sophroniscos smiled tightly, “I wouldn’t be here for either of those things.” His smile faded. “I have much more serious news, news I could only deliver in person. I would say to brace yourself, but you already look braced enough to tackle a boar.”
Lamprocles did not laugh.
“Lamprocles,” Sophroniscos continued, “I’m afraid our mother has passed on. She died two months ago. It was not unexpected, she had been ill for some time before that. I tried to get you a message earlier, but I failed. I’m sorry.”
“What?? Xanthippe is dead? How could you let this happen? I leave things to you and you-”
“I let nothing happen! How did I know you were going to blame me for this? I’m not the one who alienated every single family friend who could have been there for us and I’m not the one who left without warning three years ago!”
“I didn’t leave, I was forced out. An action, I’m told, you had no small part in!”
“Oh, and what was I supposed to do? ‘Dear council, I realize the vote is unanimous, but I would like to veto the process as my big brother is really a nice guy once you get to know him’. I wouldn’t have said that even if I meant it. The only reason you weren’t there when mother was ill, was because of your own stubborn ego. Because you make compromise and discussion impossible and you only care about yourself!”
Lamprocles sighed and let his shoulders fall beside him. “Sometimes doing the right thing has a high price, maybe that’s not something you can understand.”
“I can understand perfectly, and the fact is you’re a…” Sophroniscos caught his words in his throat. “Look, we’re not going to resolve anything, right here, right now. I came because I thought you should know and that you might want to be there for the funeral.”
“Even if I could, why would I want to?”
“I’ve asked to have the funeral outside city grounds, and convinced the council to make an exception, so you can. As for why, well I would assume to say goodbye to our mother, whom, despite your feelings towards me, you loved.”
“I have no feelings towards you, Sophroniscos, we’re brothers, it wouldn’t be right to hold something against you. But I will pass on the funeral. I have no desire to see Athens again, especially not now. And if I wanted to say goodbye to mother, it would have had to have been while she was alive. You can’t farewell a corpse.”
Sophroniscos lay his face in his hands. “You would really do this? Miss our mother’s funeral to spite whom? Me? Athens? Demotis? Why do I ask, of course you would… This was a massive waste of time.”
“I have no spite for you, Sophroniscos. And it was not a waste, it was good to see you again. It’s been too long since our days back home.”
“Not long enough.” Sophroniscos pushed his food away and marched from the table. Lamprocles watched him go, but didn’t follow or track him. He poked at the leftover food and then, standing up, shoved his seat back into place. He had business in the north quarter. For what was coming, he would need a sword.
Like an Athenian commander, well armed and light armored, Lamprocles rode, towering over the columns of marching men; he had been summoned. The horse kept a good pace, but shimmied and turned whenever Lamprocles fidgeted in his ill-fitting armor. In the Athenian army, all eyes would have been on the cavalry and this clumsiness would have been mocked. Here, the Spartan infantry barely recognized his existence, and Lamprocles was unconcerned with appearance.
Lamprocles caught up with the head of the infantry and its front-runner: Agesilaus, general-king of Sparta. Lamprocles trotted beside the general, unable to see the man’s face inside his red-gold helm.
“Lambroclis,” Agesilaus spoke, not missing a single step in his march, “you told me this valley would be empty, did you not?”
“I did, sir.”
“What do you call that then?” Agesilaus pointed at a swarm of bronze armor in the valley below them.
Lamprocles looked, but maintained his confidence.
“Ah, just a small Athenian garrison my lord,” he explained. “No more than 60 or 70. I assure you, my information remains good. The Theban army is leagues away and if these men are here, the city must be totally unguarded.”
The king grunted. He raised his spear and pointed it left. As if tethered to the weapon, the army began marching left immediately, nearly running over Lamprocles and his steed as they did so. Lamprocles left the king and returned to the rear of the army. Meeting him there was the small squadron of other cavalrymen, a ragtag group of sell-swords and deserters from Attica (no Spartans: they considered riding a horse into battle “unbecoming of a warrior”).
Spying his return from horseback, another exile he knew only as Pontus, questioned “Trouble?”
“I don’t think so. Maybe?” responded Lamprocles, “I can never read the Laconians. Agesilaus wasn’t expecting any resistance, but we have superiority. It shouldn’t be a problem.”
“So long as we don’t have to charge anyone, I’m happy. Things get messy, you know we’re the first ones they’re going to leave behind.”
“Unlikely. We’re not even in the real battle. We can’t get ‘left behind’ if all we’re doing is killing stragglers 50 yards away from the fighting. Besides, you know Laconians never turn their backs to begin with.”
“You know I never believed that until Boetia. Five minutes in, I was already running the hell away and they just kept pushing on straight into a massacre. Like they didn’t even give a damn. Crazy bastards…”
“Well it’s different for them. Not about life. Not even about victory. Just honor…”
“Hey! Honor. I remember when I had that, it was nice. Don’t get me wrong, money is nice too. It’s just what they don’t tell you is that you can never buy your honor back…”
“You shouldn’t regret so much Pontus, especially not before battle. Don’t worry, we get through this and you’ll survive with your honor intact.”
“Oh yeah? Because everybody loves a sell-sword who fights for the opposite side right? Even if we survive and win this war, it will never be the same. If we’re lucky, we’ll get dirty looks and whispers behind our backs for the rest of our lives. If we’re not, they’ll wait three years and just execute us like they did with the Thirty Tyrants.”
“They won’t execute us. The Spartans won’t make the same mistake twice. Sad as it is, I don’t think Athens will survive if we win this. And you shouldn’t care how other’s regard you. My father used to say that there was only one judge of honorable conduct, virtue itself. So long as you follow that, you will always be an honorable man.”
Pontus laughed. “I can’t believe this, you must be the only mercenary in existence who does it out of principle.”
“I never said I was a mercenary. I never accepted any payment.”
Pontus paused, staring at Lamprocles. “You’re not joking? Gods be with you, you must have one hell of a vendetta to be out here killing people you used to know for free. What did they do to you?”
“They exiled me, stole my land, killed my mother. But I’m not here for revenge. I would feel nothing but intense regret killing someone I used to know (which, luckily, hasn’t happened yet). It’s necessary though, maybe you’re not old enough to remember, but I would do anything to prevent Athens from reclaiming its tyranny. It was a bad time for Greece back then, destroying cities wholesale, desecrating bodies, executing anyone and everyone in their way- that was the old Athens and it’s already starting again.”
“Maybe, since I’ve been with the Spartans I’ve definitely heard some ghastly stories. But, then again, when I was in Athens when I was younger, I remember how big everything seemed. And it wasn’t because I was little, it’s because the city was grander and more beautiful than any human could be. If you’ve only been gone for 10 years, you can’t tell me you don’t remember that. You can’t tell me you won’t regret the moment when the world loses such a city.”
“Sometimes, in order to do right thing, you need to give up beautiful and wonderful things, even if they mean the world to you. An old friend of mine, he loved poetry. And song. And theater. He loved it all, but eventually he realized it just got in the way of his work, so he gave it all up. Never entertained again. Wrote some short little transcripts in his spare time, but otherwise, nothing. It’s not a big leap between that, and destroying a wonderful thing because, at its core, its immoral.”
“I don’t know, that sounds like kind of a big leap. You know we’re not out here torching buildings, were ending lives and they’re ending ours. It’s a little different than just things.”
“Not really. But… let’s stop: this is too melancholy a discussion for before battle. They say when you wield a spear, you must throw your mind and body into it without regret or hesitation. Let us consider that! We do what we must, because we can!” said Lamprocles raising his weapon in the air.
“Yes!” reciprocated Pontus. “If I had a wine goblet and my ludicrous amounts of money with me, I would drink to that!”
Lamprocles and Pontus halted the company as they heard the marching of the infantry slow. Ragged shouting they were too far away to hear: likely orders from Agesilaus. Nothing Lamprocles bothered to hear, there were too few of them to mount any sort of strategic assault.
The repetitive tune of flutes signaled the beginning of battle. The cavalry began to disperse to the sides and entrances of the valley.
“Have fun!” shouted Pontus, splitting off and waving away.
Lamprocles galloped past the Spartan army. Athenian descriptions of their coordination fell far short, for their phalanx did not move as a single object or tool but as one animal. Organically, the way every muscle in a lion’s leg aligns perfectly for a pounce. And the Athenians, they were the day’s prey.
As the cavalry mounted the elevated ridge, Lamprocles could see only a moving crop of spear points. Eventually, he lost sight of them altogether, and only the united yelling of hundreds of men informed him that battle had been joined. The route would not take long. Lamprocles readied sword and spear for the first Athenian cowards to run from battle. They would be panicked and looking only forward. Even if they did look back, Lamprocles bare armor, with neither color nor crest, would make it difficult to know him as friend or foe.
Lamprocles soon spotted the first deserters. Charging in from a ridge to the valley entrance, Lamprocles caught most of the soldiers with a stab in the back. One man finally looked back, and got Lamprocles’ lance through his heart for the trouble.
More came. Less could be taken unawares now. A pair ran together. Lamprocles trampled one underfoot, but the other turned to fight. He managed to keep Lamprocles at a distance with his spear point, until, yelling, he charged in for the kill. Lamprocles kicked his horse, startling it out of the way of the weapon. The man fell over his own momentum, and Lamprocles turned to grind his spear into the back of the man’s helmet.
Lamprocles could hear the infantry battle nearing as the Athenians retreated from the overwhelming Spartan force. He couldn’t risk getting too close with his horse already tired, and so he moved back to the valley entrance where early deserters would now be approaching safety. He found two, as he expected, running close but not together.
With a heavy throw from horseback his missile skewered the slower one, but alerted the other. The Athenian, braced in blue on white armor, immediately brought up his shield- a rare possession, most deserters threw away their shields when they ran in panic. Lamprocles’ charge was easily deflected, and as he passed, he felt the impact of a tackle to his left side. His horse fell, but Lamprocles leaned forward, avoiding the crushing weight of his collapsing stallion. The enemy recovered from his effort, withdrew a sword, and approached the downed backside of Lamprocles. Lamprocles rolled with his own lance as quickly as he could- stabbing into the area he expected his enemy’s heart to be.
Lamprocles was surprised to strike lower torso, and surprised to strike at all- the man had barely advanced on him. As the man slid backwards from the bite of the spear, his lifeblood ran from his back, forming a muddy puddle on the dirt underneath. Lamprocles guessed that the man must have been unable to find him quickly- whereas he, without the obstruction of a heavy, fully encompassing helm, could ascertain and move more swiftly.
Lamprocles withdrew his knife, and moved to the dead man’s body. When they had engaged, he had recognized the shield: it was his own. Like any responsible citizen, Lamprocles had commissioned a set of armor and weaponry, though he had been exiled and they had been “repossessed” before he could use them. Lamprocles approached the body’s arm and searched for the leather loops tying the shield down. He hesitated before cutting, and looked to see if anyone was around. They would not know or not believe that the shield was truly his, marking him as a desecrator of the fallen. Lamprocles could see no one, so he removed the shield and fitted it onto his own arm.
As he rose, Lamprocles looked at the body. It lay sprawled in grey mud, limbs ascatter, pathetically hunched face down. He began turning the body to a more respectful posture, but found himself staring at the helm, and then taking it off.
Lamprocles found his breath stolen by shock, his reflexive outcry muted by surprise. Yet, he reflected that what he saw could not have been more obvious. An Athenian lay dead before him: Sophroniscos, son of Socrates, Arbiter of the council and citizen of Athens to the very end. Thus, with sword in hand and righteousness on his side, Lamprocles brought two last men to death, and ended the line of Socrates.