They have arrived, my audience. The last ship has just put in bringing tents and slaves, draperies and wine, all that is required for a festival of fourteen days – a day of feasting to start it all – twelve days of singing – the final feast and preparations for return.
They have come from all the islands, the coastal cities and beyond.
Good weather, they tell me, all the way; we’ll have no latecomers.
Now – you can smell it in the air – they prepare the first feast – thanksgiving to Poseidon for a safe journey; prayers that at the end they will safely return.
Tomorrow I start the singing; a performance in the afternoon; another in the evening, twelve days of singing, twenty four performances in all. They will gather from camps around the island, to listen to tales of heroes, Agamemnon, king of all the assembled forcers, his greatest warrior, Achilles, and the terrors of a city that will fall, the city of King Priam and his sons.
My first delegation – of complaint.
Rather early in the game. But then, in these shared songs we sing, everyone’s an expert. Or can regard themselves as such.
Not one delegation. Two. But only one that counts.
The others, that crowd from Boeotia. The complaint? I failed to mention Iphigeneia, sacrificed by her father Agamemnon, so that the winds might change and the fleet set out for Troy. At Aulis, they reminded me, this happened – as if I need reminding – which as on their territory, which I also know full well, and proves, they say, that the origins of the Trojan war belong to them.
Now every island, as we know, wants to claim this honour – though why, I’ve no idea – or, if not, that they’re where Paris and Helen spent their first night of love on their guilty flight to Troy. If I try to satisfy them all, we’ll have chaos – worse, fighting between delegations who’ve smuggled arms on board their boats.
So I did a deal. “I’ll sing the song your way when next I come to Aulis, if you feed me and pay the usual fee. On this island, I’ll sing it my way. If you’re not happy, go home and wait till I turn up.”
That’s the trouble, Paris, when you start things off, you can never tell where they will end. This was more than you had in mind when you issued that challenge; a light-armed charioteer from Lokria would have been better to your taste. Too late now! Here’s Menelaos lumbering towards you, glaring through the sockets of his helmet, armed to the teeth.
What will you do now? What you’ve always done? Make yourself scarce.
But… strange how events carry us where we do not want to go. Hector will have heard your challenge, seen you and Menelaos out there in the middle of things and will have got this new idea – to use this single combat to settle the war for good. It will be between the war’s two main protagonists; it will show who is at fault, who is wronging and who the wronged. Solve it this way and we’ll no longer need a war and will have instead a tale to tell wives and farmhands surprised to see us back so soon, “Don’t worry, dear, it’s all fixed up!! But you should have seen the duel between…”
We have taken, recently, to building temples for the gods in islands, cities, sacred sites, places in which they have often in the past appeared without the need of such accommodation. Where did we get this idea? From Phrygia? Brought here by traders? Wherever I go to sing, I see these new structures springing up. “You might like to notice, singer, our new temple to Hephaistos.” “Very impressive”, I say, diplomatically, as I peer at inscrutable foundations. Once one place has a temple, it seems, everyone has to have one.
Why should we want the gods to live amongst us in this way? Is it so they will protect us when our city is besieged?
If so, it seems that it does not always seem to work. Look what happened at Imbros last year. They had scarcely completed their grand temple to Artemis, complete with new-fangled reliefs and pediments when the fleet arrived from Megara and wiped the city out. Where was Artemis then? Distracted by some business in Aithiopia?
Some clarification might be required.
And, for that, I suggest we go to Olympos, visit the gods in their own abode where they can relax and be themselves, unconstrained by the formalities of our architecture, the expectations arising from our rites and sacrifices.
We’ll go this evening, at the very beginning of our tale.