Athens; Arrival

As before, their journey was long, but uneventful. Arriving at Athens, the Spartans again sought lodgings. Although they needed to acquire a place in the Agora for the year, so they could sell their goods, they rented a house in the suburbs of the city. They didn’t like the idea of being cooped up in such a narrow, noisy, and dirty place as Athens, and preferred having ready access to the open land outside the city proper.

When they had refreshed themselves and settled in, Chionis sought out Epicurus again, to teach the girls for the year. Cynisca went with Medousa as she presented herself to Lysimache and the board of regents at the Parthenon. And Helen took her Helots and secured a shop in the marketplace for them to use. Several of the servants made their dwelling in the back, so they could also guard their stock, and Helen then made arrangements for supplies to be sent regularly from Sparta.

 

#

“Now,” said Cynisca before they set off for the Acropolis. “Come here, Medousa. Let’s get you presentable.” Helen glanced over at them and smiled as she also prepared herself for the Agora.

Medousa sat in a backless chair, as Cynisca buzzed about happily, scrutinizing Medousa’s features and checking what cosmetics she wanted to use on her.

“Here, let’s get this dress off of you,” she told her former Helot. “You’ll wear one of mine.”

“But Little Puppy! It’ll be too short!” Medousa protested.

But Cynisca hardly seemed to hear. She had already started to rouge Medousa’s cheeks, and then applied some to her chest, giving her a flushed look.

“Helen,” Cynisca called over to her other friend who was on her way out. “What about her hair? Is it long enough yet? It isn’t long enough yet, is it? What about ringlets?”

Helen shook her head. “Cynisca, she’s not a doll, you know….”

“Yes, she is,” Cynisca replied as she worked. “She’s my doll, and she loves it.” Cynisca gave Medousa a peck on the nose. “Don’t you?”

Medousa giggled and tried to respond.

“Don’t talk!” Cynisca ordered as she next painted Medousa’s lips. She paused a moment and stood back to admire her work.

“Ah!” Cynisca cried. “Eyebrows!” She bent down and started mixing eye shadow for Medousa.

“You’re going to make her late,” Helen called over her shoulder as she swept out of the room to her duties.

“Come on, Little Puppy,” Medousa said as she stood. “I can’t be late on my first day!” She took one of her plain formal dresses, and put it on. Cynisca eyed her critically. “I still think you’d look better in something of mine,” she told Medousa.

“I’ve told you,” Medousa said, bending down to kiss Cynisca’s forehead. “I’m too tall for your dresses.” She pinned up her gown with an elegant bronze brooch borrowed from Cynisca.

“And now, let’s go!”

 

#

Lysimache greeted Medousa on the small plaza before the Parthenon, by the image of Athena Polias. She smiled warmly at her. “Welcome, Medousa! We are pleased you have come to us to study the Goddess’ service.” Medousa did her reverence.

“Thank you Lady,” she said.

The high priestess turned to Cynisca.

“And welcome to you, too, my dear. Have you settled in yet? Have you found accommodations to your liking?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Cynisca replied. “We rented a small house near to the entrance of the city, just outside the main walls.”

“So far from the heart of things?”

Cynisca and Medousa laughed nervously.

“We are unaccustomed to city life as lively as Athens, ma’am,” Cynisca told her. “We prefer to be closer to the fields and trees.”

Lysimache laughed gently and then introduced her companions.

“Medousa, this is Trapezophoros, and this is Kosmo. They once served under me as associate priestesses. But now they are in charge of the cults of Athena Nike and Athena Hygieia, respectively. And this is Thaleia–she is one of the virgins who serve me at the Parthenon. She will be your guide regarding customs and ritual.”

Medousa and Cynisca greeted the priestesses. Lysimache turned to Cynisca.

“And now, my dear, I must take your Medousa away for a few hours. I will give her a tour of the temple district, and then we will present her to the board of regents and the temple guardians. I’ll return her to you at this afternoon, before supper.”

 

The high priestess and Thaleia took Medousa on a walking tour of the Acropolis. “There are several cults dedicated to the Goddess, here,” Lysimache told Medousa as they strolled along. “There’s the cult of Athena Parthenos, of course…There’s Athena Nike, and Athena Hygieia, as I mentioned… And there’re the cults of Athena Ergane, and Athena Polias….”

She paused, waving a hand at the buildings and shrines around them. “There are also shrines to Artemis, and Zeus, and a few others. But most of the temple district here is dedicated to Athena.”

Medousa was shown the residences of the various priestesses and their acolytes and servants. There were the treasury houses, full of gold and silver, and the offices of the many different officers and governors who administered the temples and their assets, and there were the barracks of the cultic guards who patrolled the Acropolis, ever vigilant against the ritually unfit, foreigners, and undesirables. To these, Lysimache made it a special point to introduce Medousa. “It wouldn’t do to have you prevented from your duties, now would it?” Lysimache said.

“Ah!” Thaleia said, pointing at one of the older, smaller buildings there. “That’s the Khalkiotheke,” she told Medousa. “It’s kept sealed almost all the time.”

“Why?”

Lysimache answered, “All the oldest and most sacred bronze vessels used in the worship of Athena are stored there. No one–not the high priestess, nor the lowliest initiate–may open the doors, nor go in, nor tamper with the contents in any way. Only the chief treasurer may do so, and then, only under watch.”

They ended their walking tour by the statue of Athena Polias again, on the square. Thaleia turned to Medousa.

“You really should move into apartments here,” she advised.  “Are you sure you want to remain outside the city walls, so far from your duties here?”

“If you please,” Medousa replied. “I don’t mind the distance. Honestly.”

Lysimache regarded her. “Well,” she sighed, “I suppose we’ll overlook it for now. Spartan custom is different, I don’t doubt.” She brightened again.  “Come–Let’s introduce you to the board of regents. Afterward, I’ll let you go home.” She put a hand on Medousa’s shoulder and smiled.

“Tomorrow, your service begins. It will be a long first day, I think.”

 

#

When Medousa returned home late that afternoon, the girls had innumerable questions and tales for one another. They talked all through their evening meal, and would have talked until late at night, but Chionis reminded them that they would have an early start the next morning. Medousa would have to run to the Parthenon, while Cynisca and Helen would go to the Agora to mind the shop.  Chionis would look around to see where and when he might take his charges for their Agoge.

 

Medousa’s mind was awhirl. Virtually unknown in Athens, and as long as she kept her past secret, she would not have the stigma of being a freedwoman. Both terror and excitement flowed through her veins at the thought of a new start.

On the one hand, she longed for the safe familiarity she had as Cynisca’s Helot. She had had a home, food, clothing, a small allowance, and duties with which to keep occupied. It had been a comfortable routine. And of course, she had also had Cynisca’s pleasant attentions.

On the other hand, Medousa knew that now, as a freedwoman, she had to have some sort of position, a home, and an income. Things that had been provided for her, Medousa now had to obtain herself; for one day soon, Cynisca would be married, and she wouldn’t be able to go with her.

Medousa was plagued by fear and uncertainty. But she knew that this was the best of limited options. And, for the time being, she did, after all, have the support and help of her friends. Ultimately, this was the only way to ensure that she could stay close to her lover.

Helen was right. For one so young, Medousa thought, she had extraordinarily deep wells of wisdom.

“I am a Spartan woman,” Medousa thought to herself. “Time to learn how to stand on my own two feet.”

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a faceless drone in a corporate call center, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in my dead grandparents’ house, alone, with an impressive collection of martial arts weapons, where I practice and train daily. I am not currently on any medications.
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