Come, friends, to fly with me and Father Time,
Back o’er sun-splashed plains of recent record
To misty hills of distant memory.
‘Tis there, in the shade of forbidding mounts
What bar forever our recollection,
We come to an age younger than heroes,
Yet elder still than restless Pericles,
Who shouldered up that gloried Parthenon
Beneath which Plato anon would dazzle.
Into the Assembly Hall we hover,
There to ascertain the state of affairs.
Three ancient clans – respected, tho’ rivaled –
Have come together this day in crisis.
Here, to our left, the crest of the Scepter;
Centred, Athena’s Owl; To right, the Ox.
Territories of jealous allegiance
About which now each statesman takes his place.
Drums! The bellow of broad skins toned and taut –
Heartbeat of a tensed, anxious polity.
See here Cliarchus – portly and pushy,
Of grumbling throat and surly, skeptic brow –
Proud, pounding leader of the Scepter’d clan
Who shifts beneath his oblivious flag.
Beside him, his good brother, Nyanthes:
A blade of keen and calibrated looks;
Attractive, intelligent, and tailored.
Together they lead the ancient Sceptre,
First and second man of its foremost House.
See here Pythodorus – tall and slender,
Of aquiline face and following eyes –
Who speaks for the Ox with a silky tongue.
With him, his sons: a brace of burgeoned boys
Who still by Assembly’s aura be awed.
Older, three and twice ten, is Tantheon:
He is brash and impatient for power,
Eager for the day he lifts up the reigns
Of the lumbering Ox from his father.
Younger, but ten and eight, is Timarchus:
A fresh-skinned and most beauteous fellow
Whose looks find contemporary echoes here –
In the awesome face of Antinous.
Hail, the mighty clan of Pythodorus.
Hail, the distinguished clan of Cliarchus.
How now, sir? Is all aright?
‘Tis well, sir.
Drums again! Another entrance – the third:
Here comes Xanthias, the current archon,
A man of thoughtful and attentive aims.
He’s attended by his good son, Dolon,
Well and to his father’s faith instructed.
Together they assume their rightful place
In the sheltered crest of Athena’s Owl.
Hail, king Xanthias.
Hail, king Xanthias.
And thou, Cliarchus.
Are we attended?
My men are counted.
As are mine, my liege.
Therefore by Themis –
Goddess of Laws and Summoned Assembly;
Her province the Order of Honest Men,
High Process and Brave Debate – we begin.
Nobles, in our state there dwells a demon:
One that between us wants ruinous wars,
So makes amorphous those once touchable
Stones of honour cast among opponents.
My son, Dolon, looks to me with questions:
Why, wonders he, must Athenians seek
To scatter the seeds of Athens away?
Wherefore must these friends of the farming earth
Plant but self-destruction in their own minds?
Should they not instead announce a mighty
Phalanx against their common enemy,
And march as a single clan toward it?
Mine answer is a shameful indictment
Of Athens, an embarrassment of man:
But for the fame to slay the savage beast
Alone do the clans for advantage vie,
And by this too competitive chaos
Make invincible the creature of doom.
Being therefore the cause of its power,
We know not the agency of its death;
And want instead a hunter – sensing, wise –
Whose objective eyes may stake our terrain
More perfectly than we that know it blind.
Behold, then, Epimenides of Crete,
By mine own grave hand summoned from Phaestus,
And brought for benefit of our counsel.
Mark well his words: their wisdom compels us.
Enters the sophist Epimenides,
(One, we may imagine, speaks as do I):
Beleaguered and weary Athenians,
I stand before thy solemn assembly
On appeal of its Archon, Xanthias,
That bid me here to make sense of thy state.
I came by sails and Poseidon’s blessing;
Swift o’er seas made calm in consider’d gloss
Of thy tall, tempestuous tragedies.
Yet the journey was not a soundless one:
‘Bove decks by dark I gazed upon Ursa,
Creeping the belly of a belted sky.
Straining mine ear to descry her lament,
Tho’ heard instead the Southern wind, Notus,
Herald and warm servant of Aeolus,
Whose doleful sigh did drape round my neck,
Whispering of thy baneful affliction.
Of these things was I told: At odds, a triad –
Xanthias, Cliarchus, Pythodorus –
Lords each of proud and prosperous estates,
With loyal allies apiece numbering
Well over eighty or ninety Houses.
Yet despite the consonance of colours
Among thy affiliate families,
I understand their estates unhappy.
Wherefore this discontented throng of men?
What circle of civil trust has broken?
Imminent boys and beardless youth alike,
Discerning the despair of their fathers,
Believe their future bereft of fortune,
And greet therefore with callous indifference
Their duty to state and society.
They are wanton and disrespectful,
For the sanctity of their birthright is
Invariably made sacrifice to
The many brothers that crowd the altar
Of ever-divided inheritance.
Thus with num’bring fathers to bequeath it,
And shrinking shares of land they may divide,
Think how quick thy troubles shall multiply!