I wandered all night. I listened to the shouts of triumph, the cheers, the hero’s reception of Themistocles, the acclamations. I was alone. I went down to the end of Cynosura, to the isolated sea-cliffs, where the wave was washing up the corpses of unfortunate drowned men and fragments of ships. The beaches were full of gold objects, pitiful, royal emblems and ornaments, idols of gods, iridescent in the torchlight.
I am still wearing the bloodied jerkin of battle, damp with the night dew, and watch our triremes leaving Psyttaleia with Aristides’ hoplites. The task of blood is completed. The princes and nobles of Persia, the flower of the palaces, are now dead. There will be mourning in Susa and Ecbatana.
My feet encounter a body that appears to be alive, and I bend over. A man who is dying. He stretches out his hand to me; wants something. I run and bring a lighted torch, from the many torches around us.
The man who handed me the torch also placed a cup of wine in my hand. And I return to the dying man. I want to see him. A strange obsession to see him has overcome me. And I bring the light close to his face. His clothing is purple with gold worked like fish scales. And there is blood in his eyes. He appears well-born, a prince perhaps.
The word “enemy” chills me.
Persian or Mede or Lydian, from the royal family, who has a palace in Ecbatana. And he came to die alone on this deserted shore of Salamis. His ship was destroyed by the tridents of our triremes, or it is being pursued without him. In the torchlight, I see his look. He has children perhaps, a beautiful wife, wealth. And he left it all to wage war against us in this sea strait, in this Acheron.
I could kick him in anger. Kill him. He may have been the one who struck Thoas, may have been present at Xerxes’ decisions. He, he… I bend over him and give him wine to drink from the wine cup. He sips it insatiably. And he falls back; his glance fades, and his lips pronounce a name:
“Ariabignes, son of Darius, king of the Achaemenidae…”
I remembered that I had heard his name from Dexileos. And then I learned that he was commander of the Ionian fleet.
Ariabignes, son of Darius, king of the Achaemenidae…
Names taken up by the sea breeze of the Saronic Gulf and scattered into oblivion, to make them into silence, moist, merciless silence, asphodels of Hades.
I take a bit of sand, moistened by the cold, and sprinkle it over his body to cover him.
The dawn finds me wandering still.
I look at the iridescent fragments.
As far as my eye can see, bronze and gold and wood-carved sterns and bows with broken grappling hooks and oars, countless oars that the wave drives rhythmically toward the shore. And among the fragments, pitiful corpses, disrobed by the sea, their whitened flesh shining strangely, bodies that will not see the light of today. I look around at the dawn. A moist half-light, like dull crystal. I am alive, I say. And I am me, still me. Now I must live for Thoas, too, see everything twice, feel it twice. Once for life, and once for death. Now I belong to both worlds, I tell myself, and I sense that this enlarges me. The other half of me, which was Thoas, has now become dim knowledge slowly illuminated by my love for him.
The other face of death is love, I say.
Only love can nullify death.
Thoas will remain alive, as long as I love him.
From far off, I see little Euripides, sitting in the sea cave, in the same position, hands on his chin. He does not turn to look at me. Perhaps he does not even hear my footsteps. He looks at the fragments of ships, at the corpses washed up by the sea. There are tears in his eyes, his large bright eyes.
“Euripides, do you remember me?”
He turns his head. Looks at the bloodied clothing I am wearing, the torn jerkin.
“You, too, fought…,” he says.
I do not speak. It is as if he is accusing me.
“Do all those men have mothers?” he asks, pointing to the drowned bodies.
“And what are they called?”
“Phoenicians, or Persians…”
“Phoenicians…” His voice is shaking.
His mother, who came to fetch him, saw me bloodied, sleepless, and offered me hospitality. I threw away my blood-covered clothes and washed in running water. A servant, Histiaios, brought me a clean tunic and a warm piece of barley-cake, with salted pork. And he brought me a jug of wine. I was hungry. And in that magical hour, with the countless fragments still iridescent in the morning light, I felt that I was being re-born.
Opposite me, little Euripides, silent, was perhaps thinking about the Phoenician mothers. And I was accosted by the same vision: the gods crowning him in the depths of time.
I see that a crowd is gathering in the large square of Silenia, people running to find a place where the statues of Ajax and Telamon were once again raised. Honors will be distributed, speeches will be made, I learn. And I approach. Antidoros is there, among those to be honored, Panaitios son of Sisimenes, Ameinias with Aeschylos, Eumenes, an Athenian from the deme of Anagyrous, Democritos of Naxos, Polykritos of Aegina. And among the dead, the first name was that of Thoas; Antidoros said he was looking for me all night to take me to the stone-carver who was preparing his tombstone. Because immediately after the distribution of honors, our dead would be buried. And I ran to find the stone-carver. The tombstone was ready; his name was already engraved on it.
When I returned, the official libations and sacrifice were being made. And I stood to one side. Soon I see Telemachos approach. With him were Pylades and Lysippos, whose wounds were still serious, but he insisted on participating in the official libations. Then Alkimedon came; he too was wounded and stood nearby. Lastly I see Menoitos, bandages on his head, who is pushing his way through. My heart skipped a beat. I embrace him on both sides.
“Are you all right?”
“Artemodoros wouldn’t let me come, but I would not miss this…”
Excitement and cheers. Cries of joy. The ground is shaking. Themistocles is given a hero’s welcome once again. One by one, the captains of the allied ships speak; they thank the gods and Themistocles. They all know that the victory was his doing. Then they read the names of the dead. Joy and mourning at the same time. A dull mourning, drowned in the triumph of victory. I hear Eurybiades speaking now. He says that our victory was the most illustrious, that never had such a victory occurred “either among Greeks or barbarians,” and he ends his speech with the generous confession “by the courage and common will of those fighting the naval battle, and by the strategy and genius of Themistocles….” And he promises to invite Themistocles to Lacedaemon, to honor him.
The entire island of Ajax is now reverberating from end to end with cries of triumph and the deification of Themistocles. And he goes up to the platform, a true demigod. He is wearing his hoplite’s uniform, and stands, majestic, before the thousands of soldiers and non-combatants who fill the square up to the surrounding hills.
I leave the wounded Menoitos, Lysippos, and Alkimedon, and with Pylades we make our way close to the platform of libations. There I find Antidoros, together with the other helmsmen of the triremes that are to be honored. And I wait. I want to hear the name of Thoas pronounced by the lips of Themistocles. That human vanity overwhelms me. And there is nothing else around me now. I am in the midst of a huge abstraction, and I hear his thunderous voice. He is reading the names of those who were deemed worthy of special honor. First the names of the dead, then those of the living.
My heart is breaking.
“Thoas of Lemnos, of the Euneid clan, esteemed veteran of Salamis, for courage and virtue.”
And I do not want to hear anything else now. Only to preserve this slight fragment of time, so that his name will not be forgotten, so that two or two and a half thousand years from now I will remember it.
The anonymous Thoas, I will say, the anonymous me.
And I start to leave. I want to be alone. To weep alone. To see the tombstone of Thoas, two and one-half thousand years from now, black from the moisture, broken perhaps, moldy. Antidoros sees me and calls for me to wait. But I am far away now. I am at the other end of time, where the seer Artemodoros saw the living memory of the naval battle in unknown times. Pylades comes with me. We make our way through the crowds and go on. I want to go to Artemodoros now and to Melampous, to thank them for making Thoas happy during his last moments. To tell them about the honor bestowed on him by Themistocles himself. Vanity again. But that is what I want. I leave Pylades and the others and go away from the crowd. It was then that, passing by next to Aeschylos, I overheard him say:
“When I die, I want them to write on my tombstone that I fought at Salamis and at Marathon, rather than “poet”….
I slip out of the crowd, and distance myself.
As I pass by the place where the wounded lie, I hear someone calling me in a weak voice. I turn around, and what do I see.
His entire leg is wrapped with thick bandages, after surgery, and his face is pale. Sweat stands in beads on his body from the raw pain and the fever. An unrecognizable Dexileos. And I am panic-stricken. How could I forget him… All night I was wandering like a madman alone and not even for a moment did I think of him. Even though I knew the words of the goddess in his vision, “do not fear pain; let the knife do its work…”
“They sewed the thigh bone with bronze thread…,” he says with difficulty.“Artemodoros?”
He nods. And I run to find him, to learn the details.
I asked Nikomedes for permission to remain a few days in the surgery of the army, to look after Dexileos the Athenian, who had been operated on.
“I will remain until I can hand him over to his family, I said, to his home…”
He was not angry, nor did he forbid me to stay. He remained thoughtful for a few moments. Then he asked that Menoitos and his own son Lysippos should remain with me, as their injuries were both still at a critical stage he said, and required special care: Menoitos, whose head was open on the left side, was losing his sight in one eye; and Lysippos, who was continually hemorrhaging from the wound in his lung, and could not travel.
“Hieron and Amphiaraos will give you directions, he went on. Our other wounded will also be in that room…”
I bowed my head. Nikomedes himself was wounded, and Phrygias even more so. But never a thought about staying to be treated. They had quickly bound up their tattered flesh and were trying to confront the following moments, the decisions that they must make. Their primary fear was that Xerxes, angry as he was, might lead his army and fleet to the Peloponnesos. But it was still too early to see his movements. For the moment, he is mourning his dead. Thousands of dead, covered in the liquid grave of Salamis. He is mourning the flower of Persia, which is buried here, in his name.
The thought that I would remain to care for the wounded, and especially Dexileos, filled me with gratitude. I would not abandon him in his condition. But I was also pleased by the thought that I would be working, even for a little while, beside Artemodoros and Melampous and the other seer-priests. From the time that Klytoneos was teaching me the knowledge of herbs, their power over the body, I dreamed of becoming the assistant of some healer. And now luck had brought me next to the most famous healers, who possessed not only wisdom but also the hidden secrets of the gods.
Nikomedes said that I was to return to Lacedaemon with all our wounded and with our priests, that they would send wagons for us. And from Lysippos I learned that immediately after the speeches and the honors, a council was held on Eurybiades’ flagship, to decide what their subsequent moves would be.
Suddenly, I see Derkylidas coming, along with about ten Spartans. They are all wearing the red Spartan cloak and carrying their baggage. His eyes are on me. He wants to say something to me, but pride keeps him silent. He passes by me and approaches Nikomedes.
“The swift boat awaits us, he says, to take us to Peiraeus; tomorrow we will be in Sparta…”
I learn that he is head of the delegation that will bring news of the victory to Lacedaemon.
I return to the military hospital. There I find Menoitos and Lysippos in great pain. Dexileos is burning with fever. The huge room is full of wounded men lying on straw mattresses. There were many wounded in this battle, I learn, because the clashes were numerous, in many places at once. Further away I see Diodoros, the Athenian ambassador, whose face was wrapped in bandages, and Eleusos, wounded in the neck and speechless. And in a corner, on the last mattress in the room I see Protolaos of Miletos, his body covered with bandages.
He looks at me with the same piercing glance.
“The gods will never forgive the Ionians for the evil they did to their “blood brothers…” I say to him.
“Greece has been victorious… its civilization will not be lost; that is significant, he replied, the continuity will not be lost. Now we will chase them from our cities, no matter how much some may want them; we will not allow Ionia to be lost…”
A young man next to him looks at me insistently.
“The revolt has begun, he says, and his eyes are shining, our band has already left for Ionia. I only hope that Themistocles will pursue Xerxes’ ships to there…”
I am amazed. “You are part of the band?”
“Anaximenes, he goes on, we met at the temple of Artemis, in Ephesos…”
In my giddiness, I take a better look at him. I make out the scar on his neck.
“The day I met Heraclitus,” I say to him, and my memory is jolted.
“I am his servant and pupil…”
So distant did that moment seem. As if I had experienced it in another life.
“When your men came to carry away the wounded Protolaos from our sinking trireme, he pulled me with him…”
The brightness in his eyes makes an impression on me. My teacher said that foolish men, even though they hear, are like deaf men, and Xerxes was foolish… and that is why he must now lose Ionia; the time has come… We are preparing a revolt… You can be certain that you did not save our lives in vain…”
The moments are leaden. Unbearable.
Time has become a damaged trireme that is sinking in events.
Nothing is the same any more.
Acheron is flowing and taking us with it.
From the window I look at the calm sea of Salamis; only the drowned men rise every so often from the sunken triremes, nightmarish bodies, disfigured, that are washed ashore along with oars and broken sterns. A wounded landscape moving to soften the savage memory of the storm.
The burial of the dead took place with piety and ceremony. A choir of marine hoplites chanted dirges, in order to render all the grandeur of the sacred rite, the “trophy to the fallen.” And the priest chanted: Do not abandon me unlamented and unburied….
And he poured over the graves the libations of milk, wine, honey, half-cooked and raw wheat.
The dead were buried in separate graves, by city and region. The fleet of the islands had a common grave. But Thoas, and those who had received honors, were in a separate grave.
At the end of Cynosura. That is where his grave is. And on the tombstone is written:
Thoas of Lemnos
Honored veteran of Salamis
Lies in this tomb, honored for courage.
Tomorrow a new moon rises. The month of Boedromion is now over, I reflect, the harsh month that brought so much blood and so many ashes into our lives.
Dexileos’ home has turned to ashes.
Where will I take him?