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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pleasures - An Excerpt from "A Peerless Peer"

An Athenian symposium was a very different place from a Spartan syssitia. Undoubtedly, many symposia were venues for philosophical discourse and political intrigue. Many more were simply orgies of excess in both sex and wine. A Spartan would have found himself a fish out of water in an Athenian symposium as Leonidas does here in this excerpt from “A Peerless Peer.”

An eruption of exclamations distracted them. In the doorway was a female figure completely swathed in a sober, dark gown and shrouded in heavy black shawls. She paused dramatically for a moment, then let these outer garments drop to reveal a sky-blue silk himation with red trim. On her arms were gold bracelets, while her throat was completely encased in the metal, and a gold tiara glittered against her black hair. Even her sandals appeared to be of gold—at least they glittered with gold decorations. As she stepped deeper into the room, she shed her himation, revealing a golden gauze gown so transparent that it revealed more than covered the body underneath. It was the kind of body to inflame any man’s loins: heavy on top, slender in the waist, and gently rounded at the belly and hips over long, graceful legs. She stood in the middle of the room, smiling from one man to the next, and they cheered and clapped and toasted her. “Incomparable Therapne!” “Aphrodite’s rival!” “Helen’s reincarnation!”

When her painted eyes fell on Leonidas, she stopped and cocked her head. Leonidas felt his pulse race. She walked straight toward him, and his mouth went dry. But then she reached out to stroke his head like a hound, and Leonidas instinctively pulled back sharply.

The room hooted in derision. Therapne silenced them with an imperative gesture of her hand as she addressed Leonidas. “You are no puppy, Spartan. What is your name?”


“And well it suits you! A lion among the pampered lap dogs.” She tossed the insult casually over her shoulder, and the others groaned or protested, but she ignored them. “May I join you?” She prepared to recline upon his couch.

Leonidas shook his head. “I don’t think that would be in your master’s interests.”

“Sorry?” She raised her well-traced eyebrows. 

“As I am a stranger, your owner will have no particular benefit from my friendship.” Leonidas was testing her. He was hoping she had chosen him for himself, but he was very wary of being used. He was also aware that sexual desire could be as enslaving and as humiliating as drunkenness.

“On the contrary: to a man intent on war, no ally could be of greater value than Sparta.”

It was not the answer he had hoped for but now that he knew she was only acting on the orders of her master, he found it easier to resist. “I am only a Spartan Peer.”

“Funny. I was told you were a Spartan prince, the brother of Cleomenes, whom my master would be most interested in befriending.”

“Then I am the last man you wish to please, for my brother heeds me not at all.”

“Why ever should he ignore such a splendid brother?” she teased, smiling at him intimately.

Leonidas laughed but retorted, “It is a long story. Do your master’s bidding with someone else.”

Several others at once started clamoring for her to come to them, and Therapne shrugged and turned to smile at them; but Kallixenos said for all to hear, “You are a fool or a coward, Leonidas. You could have enjoyed her first and then told her she was barking up the wrong tree. What true man turns away pleasure like that when it comes crawling to him!”

“What is the pleasure in being another man’s pawn?”

“Don’t be so puritanical! What pleasure is more basic or universal than sexual satisfaction?” Kallixenos challenged him.

“Satisfaction of the loins is animal, while the joys of love cannot be purchased.”

Kallixenos looked at him, uncomprehending; but Therapne spun around and, clapping her hands slowly, declared: “And the lion has claws! Well said, Leonidas!” She went toward him again, her hips swaying provocatively and her eyes fixed on him. “But tell me, if you scorn the pleasure I offer you, where do you take your pleasure? Have you a mistress to whom you have sworn fidelity? Or is there some boy who has turned your head?” Her lips curled in a sneer and her eyes fell contemptuously on the little boy, who sat naked on his lover’s couch, blushing bright red with natural shame.

“Mine is the pleasure of the sun breaking over Taygetos after a long, chilly night on watch; the pleasure of diving into the cool waters of the Eurotas after a morning in the dust and sweat of the drill fields; the taste of my helot’s apple tarts; or the sight of my dog, bursting with pride, when she brings me a stolen duck.”

Kallixenos broke out laughing. “You are going to give your countrymen a reputation for garrulousness with answers like that.”

Leonidas looked down, embarrassed and ashamed of himself. He had indeed said too much.

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