If today I am known for being the Aegis bearer (shield beared by Zeus in the war against the Titans) there must be a reason and it begins in the fall of the eighty-fifth Olympic games (440 BC).
It was in the port region of Piraeus, 45 stades (8.5Km) from the acropolis of Athens.
I had just came from a trip escorting a ship from Aegina with a load of grains.
Sea trips are not my forte, I felt very sick and can feel it by just imagining it.
Fortunately it went well and we were not attacked.
The thirst for a good wine took me to Kapeleia, from the beloved Aegidius.
– Greetings misthios.
– Chaire Aegidius.
– What brings you here?
– Aegina, I came from the Eidoteia.
– Aegina? I thought we were at war. I think they got tired, at least for a little while.
– A man needs to breathe once in a while. See me something for nausea, please. Poseidon always plays me some tricks on the high seas.
– Here, mountain tea from sideritis, it will make you feel better.
– I haven’t been in Attica for a long time, what’s news?
– Sophocles debuted his new play, Antigone.
– I asked of something important Aegidius.
– Come one, Kassandra, art is important.
– You Athenians and your “arts”. I heard the story, but I’m not a theater fan.
– Well, you should, when we see the world in the eyes of the characters, we can better understand ourselves. What is the limit of a monarch’s power? To what extent should we force ourselves to make the wrong choice out of sheer stubbornness? Fortunately, we don’t have a Creon in Athens, not anymore.
– Anyway, do you have Chios’ wine?
– Why wouldn’t I have? Take it. With a extra drachma I get you bread, figs and sardines.
– Deal. Do you know anyone looking for a misthios?
– I was at Pnyx yesterday, Pericles managed to convince the assembly to send aid to Miletus against Samos. Maybe they need backup on some ships. Take a look at the port.
– Miletus? Shit. If I travel that far I’ll need a bag of sideritis. It seems I don’t have much choice, my money is short.
– I know you don’t like the sea, but it’s a good opportunity. Two drachmas a day plus food.
– Maláka! I’ve already earned much more with less effort. I don’t like serving at wars, sometimes they last for months and the cost-benefit is not good, especially if I choose the wrong side.
– Don’t say that misthios, our fleet has grown and improved a lot. In Themistocles’ time we had few boats, not all of them had a deck and had only fifty oarsmen. Despite that, we managed to expel the Persians in Salamina (September 480 BC), a great achievement. Today our ships support triple oars and they are much more robust, with bronze battering rams. I still recommend you to go to the port. It is better than nothing. Look for Diókles, captain of the Cephalopod, an old friend of mine. Its sail is red octopus, easy to spot. If you have luck you’ll be able to find Sophocles, he will also go to Miletus.
– Thank you Aegidius.
After the quick meal I went to the market to buy some offering. Piraeus had changed a lot since the last time I visited it and the effect of the money that Athens raised from its allies could be seen all over the city. Leaving Kapeleia I passed the sculptors’ neighborhood, full of the huge marble blocks of Mount Pentelicus ready to be transformed into some statue or column of some new temple. The chink of the chisels on the rocks was mesmerizing. I could spend the whole day watching the work of those artists.
Unfortunately for me, the agora was full, very full. Accents from all corners of Hellas could be heard and when there are many customers the prices go up. Next to the pottery stalls, I find an old saleswoman.
– Kalimera my lady.
– Chaire my young lady with beautiful brown hair. You are here because you needs the gods’ forgiveness, don’t you? Who does not need? We are all imperfect in the eyes of the immortals. Frankincense, lavender, wheat, wine and holy water. Everything you need to redeem yourself from your sins. Tell me, young lady, what god are you indebted to?
– Take it easy old lady. I haven’t committed any crime, not yet. I come to purchase an offering to thank for my last job.
– Oh yes, I see. Smart of you. For two drachmas you take this bag of frankincense and a bouquet of lavender, it will be suffice for your needs.
– Two drachmas? Are you crazy? Do I look like an aristocrat? It is not because the city is full of foreigners that everyone is rich.
– Who are you?
– Kassandra, daughter of Xenocrates and Kallíope, I’m from Plataea.
– Ah! Boeotia. Your avarice is notable.
– Not avarice, I do value my money, which I earn with a lot of effort. Half a drachma.
– What an insult!
– Insult? If I go for a walk in the fields outside I can find more beautiful branches.
– So do it, it’s simple.
– One drachma.
– Do you know anything about the Mileto expedition?
– I only know enough to replenish my stock, I’m having good sales.
What a rude, isn’t it? So I went to the temple of Zeus. Magnificent. It is said that Phidias himself coordinated its construction and personally sculpted the statue of the god. The omnipotent figure was at the back of the room, sitting in his golden garments and a large staff in his left hand. The slightly tilted face gives us the feeling that he is constantly watching and judging us. After making my offering, I went for a walk around the port. The smell of salty fish was everywhere and it made me feel a bit sick. People coming and going carrying supplies, food to ships, soldiers presenting and enlisting. One of the last ships at the pier, the Cephalopod was indeed easy to spot.
– Chaire soldier. I’m looking for Diókles.
– If you are going to deliver the sardines, leave them with me.
– And do I look like a fisherwoman? I came to enlist.
– Enlist? A misthios then. With his pale face you look more like shark bait.
– Watch out how you speak maláka. I can cut off your head before I …
– What is this discussion? – Said a hoarse voice.
– This misthios wants to enlist, captain.
– Stop screaming like two seagulls and come up here misthios.
– Good morning Captain. I’m Kassandra, Aegidius from Kapeleia recommended me to come here. I came to offer my services.
– Right. So I have the last position filled. Two drachmas a day plus food. One third of the payment now and the rest when we return.
– Three drachmas.
– Two drachmas! Everyone here earns the same. Oarsmen get three obols (1 drachma = 6 obol), soldiers two drachmas. You get two. Unless you want to row and fight.
– Three drachmas and kill half of the enemies this ship will send to Hades.
– Two drachmas and if you continue to piss off me you will have to look for another ship. This is a sea battle and not in an open field.
– Alright. How long do you think this mission will last?
– Only the gods know. If we achieve a naval victory, the mercenaries will be dismissed and the siege will rely only on our army. Your work starts now. I need to finish loading food and fresh water. Hey! Aegidius told me about you. If you are as extraordinary as your stories, I’ll think about your extra drachma.
Upon arriving at the warehouse I see a familiar face. Isocrates of Aegina who had been in the Eidoteia. He was a young blacksmith just married to Alexandra, who would become an excellent weaver. He also went to Cephalopod to earn some money and he was very nervous. He was not used to the war arts and we made a deal, I would stay by his side and in exchange he would fix my equipment.
After loading was finished we were free to rest. The next day, before the birds even started to sing, I was already awake. Although I was in Attica, fed up with products from the east, it was not time for gastronomic adventures, so I had to settle for bread, olives and salted fish. In my bag had a small stock of sideritis leaves to make mountain tea if necessary. I thought I would be the first to arrive at the pier, but Isocrates was already there.
– Chaire Isocrates, fell out of bed?
– Hello Kassandra, I didn’t because I didn’t even sleep properly.
– Relax, you are still twenty years old, you have a long life ahead. As long as I’m on my side, there’s nothing to worry about.
– I am very anxious misthios, Alexandra is pregnant, I cannot die, but I need this service to be able to set up my own workshop in Aegina.
– Hey! What good news. What is the child’s name?
– If it’s a man, Lykos, if it’s a woman, Tauranis.
– Tauranis? It is not a very common name, but it is beautiful, it sounds strong. If we get back alive I’ll buy you a drink to celebrate.
By mid-morning the port was already full, as if all of Athens had marched out from the Acropolis. Everyone gathered in front of the sanctuary of Athena where a priest made offerings and addressed prayers to the goddess for protection:
Only-begotten Pallas, born of the revered lineage of mighty Zeus;
Heavenly happy Goddess, warlike, indomitable;
Nameable with great name, inhabitant of the dens;
Delighting in arms, you drive man’s soul to madness;
Athletic Maiden. Having a soul of dreadful nature;
Slayer of the Gorgon, virginal, abundant mother of the arts;
Advocate, you love to inspire frenzy in the wicked, but prudence in the good;
You are male and female, oh shrewd one who generates war;
Mutant form of splendid honors, friend of divine inspiration;
Tritogeneia, deliverer from sorrows, victorious divinity;
Gleaming, inventor of crafts, queen besought by many prayers;
Day and night even into the final hours;
Hear our prayers, give us peace on our journey;