The Seconds Speak
So shrouded onto Epimenides
The mournful weight of his patron’s failure,
For Ox and Sceptre ‘gainst Xanthias
Were, by arrogant display, united.
So came to it by grave formality
The endorsement of the household seconds,
Given by tradition to bind the clans.
Themis! Now each Patriarch hath spoken.
So opens out debate to the Second
Of his Ruling House, to vex or approve.
Yet, if to object, ensure his reason
Shall win the day, else by his lord and clan
Be banished from Athens for to a year.
Dolon, my son, speak to this Assembly.
I gaze with my father’s far-seeing eyes,
And stand with him to see peace for Athens.
Let men of Athena’s Owl share our sights,
And so endorse for us this bold construct.
Tantheon, second of of thy father’s Ox.
The Owl’s vision sees no reality
Beyond the instant scurry of a mouse,
Timid and small, forever foraging
In the desperate whimper of modesty!
Yet how much more vast and dangerous is
The steady march of night across the world,
Where creatures of marauding design lurk,
And men, to survive, must forge weaponry?
The dream of peace is a furry fieldmouse
Crackling with brash, oblivious ruckus
‘Neath the drooling, famished jaws of Lupus.
So has our survival been encrypted
‘Round the boss’d shield of a hungry Ares!
Friends, we must apply our healthy quarrels
In the constant call of men to arms,
And by our cleansing exercise of war
Declare ancestral tensions attractive!
Clansmen of the Ox, my father is strong,
And I with his judgment stand united.
Let us all most famously endorse him,
And banish from our minds such reckless peace.
Nyanthes, thus: Second of thy brother’s
Vaunted Scepter, thy words shall conclude us.
Cliarchus, esteemed leader, forgive me
If that I should presume to contradict
Thee before this dignified Assembly.
Be assured ‘tis not for want of reverence,
Nor from disrespect to our departed.
‘Tis but for their timeworn honour I speak,
For surely, we remind ourselves, they must
Hold in their hearts a powerful preference
For the broadest of possible debate
‘Ere any vote that would bind be taken.
At thy patient indulgence, Xanthias,
And for promised fulfillment to Themis,
I would address mine Athenian friends
Not with a voice from among the Scepter,
But merely as a man enthralled by that
Bewitching potential before us placed.
By my leave, Nyanthes, ennoble us.
Gifted Pythodorus, thou hast ably
Drawn our attention to the looming threat
Of hostile cities that would encircle us
And their horde of barbarians beyond.
These are fine and true arguments by which
To advocate a staunch preparedness
For battle rooted firmly in a lean,
Fleet, canted, and war-conscious polity.
Yet I entreat thee to consider Love –
Eros himself – who from the wispy stream
Of his private purview we may summon
To our campaign, groom for public service,
And deliver to the walls of Athens,
There to ensure ever effective
The defense of our state from marauders.
We are intrigued, Nyanthes, and indulge.
Athenians! Cast with me your eyes upon
The Peloponnesus, that region ruled
By Sparta – a proud and pulsing nation
Whose Archon may any day march on us.
Theirs is a force of fearsome quality,
Made bold and brazen not merely by brawn,
But by the flames in which they forge its bonds.
For truly they are to their service bound –
These mad and majestic Laconians –
Yet bonded not, friends, in iron or bronze,
In twine or sinew, in chattel or debt,
In prison or penance. No, my fellows.
They are, I do avow, bonded in love.
(Hadrian murmurs assent…)
Cull me an army comprised of lovers,
And to untold victories I’ll lead it;
Take from it a boy, trained in arms by day,
And drilled by night in other arms less grim,
And find him set to face the dread of war.
For if he loves his man, the Spartan youth
Must banish by necessity his fear,
Else by his lover be called a coward,
Which, as all warriors know, is disgrace
Far worse than any failure in the fray.
And think too of his elder beside him –
Worn and wearied by the crush of combat:
To what other trust could he be made more
Valorous but for the rapture to win
His young hero’s awe and admiration?
For what fat survival scoffs he the fame
Of a vigorous death in the witness
Of his tenderfoot and wide-eyed tyro?
That, good sirs, is the Spartan advantage;
The means by which they pluck their each success,
And wring from their bested decades of slaves!
So emerges this shining paradox:
Love makes warriors more perfect in war.
For Love upon Ares’ dreaded turf binds
His lovers’ twin souls, each whose heart craves
Above all else for the other’s honour,
Then for his good safety, then his glory,
And then – O so distantly then! – his own.
(Hadrian murmurs assent…)
I can hear it argued for other loves –
Other winds that drive the warrior on:
Love for Athens; for the goddess; for home;
For plunder and spoils; for justice; for clan;
Revenge; adventure; promotion to rank;
The mercenary’s gold; the unborn child;
The dearth of slaves; family pride; lust; greed;
Hunger; boredom; tourism; Helen of Troy!
Abundant reasons to bound into war –
All perchance to inspire a fine effort.
Yet which of these loves shall vigil for you?
Which of these loves might rend thy heart faster
Than the spear-point of a galloping foe?
Which of these loves could bend for you a god?
No other, save one: thy favourite love.
That gorgeous love with whom you share your soul,
Your laughter and fears, your honour. Your flesh.
Love makes warriors more perfect in war.
Friends, how oft have our forefathers squabbled?
How well have they taught us the craft of it?
In mine own modest lifetime, severally
Can I recall skirmishes, heady brawls,
And hazards of greater escalation –
None more prescient than of recent days.
Yet what have we solved? What’s been accomplished?
Still more disagreement, more bickering,
More volleyed claims of mortal injustice
And evermore skirmishes, heady brawls,
And hazards of greater escalation.
(Hadrian murmurs agreement…)
Lo, our children doth approach fast their youth.
They are eager to assemble with us;
To shave the fuzzy cheek of their childhood.
Yet they, not even inaugurated,
Be, at the perch, still perfectly attuned
To our churlish, chalky disparages;
Prejudiced against the nobler practice
Of formal debate by a graceful mind!
Methinks they are perchance too typical.
Methinks they might mature to seek mischief,
Skirmishes, street brawls, and escalation,
So to Hades perchance too soon venture
‘Ere master’d enough to forge their men’s art.
I must wonder if their untimely death,
Buttressed in the squander of their fellows,
Could so diminish our city’s future
Store of wisdom, passion, power and hope
As to further compromise our stature
Among the burgeoning states of Hellas.
How long must await our Acropolis
Her more substantial temples, public works,
And processionals to the eager gods?
Indeed, when shall our future architects,
Engineers, planners, foremen and builders
Dodge their death long enough to imagine,
Calculate, plan, draft, and duly construct
The emblems of Athenian glory?!
How much longer can we hope to constrain
Our civic life with clumsy civil strife?
Are we not at last exhausted by it?!
Indeed, friend, and gloriously argued!
Pythodorus, I should be a fool to
Deny the value of a martial mind;
To suppose the darkest roads of the world
Forgiving of they that know not their sword,
Yet shall I be faulted for demanding
Of mine own Agora a place at peace?
Already are there not enough battles
To busy our bronze-bashing boys abroad,
Such that we may slake this senseless spiral
To civil war? Humbly, Sir, I wonder.
Cliarchus, my brother of the Scepter,
I unreservedly agree that love –
Conscripted love – is a curious beast
On which to caravan our progeny
O’er the rocky wilds of a hostile world,
But might we not, at the least, attempt it?
(Favorinus as Nyanthes addresses these
next lines explicitly toward Antinous:)
Mightn’t we for a breadth oblige ourselves
Openly to legislate our loving;
Compelled by law to more peaceful intent,
And be stirred by the delicate prospect
Of this infant legal architecture?
Friends! Stout men and supple youth of Athens,
Fathers all of brimming, imminent boys,
Let us, for the dream of what’s possible,
Consider well this absurd proposal,
Absorb and embrace its absurdity
As must the gods embrace ever our wiles,
That we might before long become blind to
Such a vast and glaring absurdity,
And wizen to weigh it completely sound
By virtue its absurd ubiquity.
By Themis, I am spoken, so retire.