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three pairs of lovers with space



The following story was submitted for publication to the NAMBLA Journal by Robert Meriwether Wren, then Professor of English at the University of Houston, under the pen name Robert Campbell. However, following his death just afterwards in a plane crash of 11 June 1989, it was instead published in the NAMBLA Bulletins of that month (Volume X No. 6, pp. 12-16) and October 1989 (Volume X No. 8, pp. 6-12). Several misprints have been corrected in what follows.

The prefaratory note confused some readers into supposing that the story really had been written for “Campbell” by his father (implicitly in about 1942), leading the editor of the Bulletin to clarify:

the notion that this was a story written by Campbell’s father for his fourteen-year-old son is part of the fiction, not an author’s note or autobiographical information separate from the story.[1]

As stated in the opening sentence, the story is taken from a true one recounted by Xenophon in his book about “The Persian Expedition” (Anabasis VII 4 vii-viii). However, liberties have been taken with that story, which took place in 399 BC. Though one of the protagonists was indeed a boy-loving Olynthian mercenary captain called Episthenes, Xenophon did not record the boy’s name, and the scene has been transposed from Thrace to Samos.



My Father’s Story by Robert Campbell, Sr.

Note: I was at a loss for a story that would meet the theme of this NAMBLA Journal. Musing, I recalled that among my father’s papers was a manuscript which he wrote for me after learning of my enthusiasm for boys younger than myself. Little did I imagine at the time - I was only about fourteen - that he assumed my activities would go beyond sharing play with my younger friends. Simply speaking I did not understand that story (though it moved me), nor did I remember it in any detail. In deciding to look for the manuscript, I expected only that it would reflect the prejudices of an earlier generation. What I found, instead, was a remarkable invocation of the classic Greek civilization that he so much loved and devoted his life to. I now know that my father understood me better than, at the time, I understood myself And I think he wrote this story, based upon a true incident (see his odd title), as an ethical guide to me.

I made several attempts to modernize the style in which the story is written. I wanted, for example, to change the undifferentiated word “lover” to the more exact Greek – “erastes” for the man in the relationship and “eromenos” for the boy, as K.J. Dover has taught us we should. But I found that the story and its style were inseparable. So I offer the story just as I found it – Bob Campbell.

Taken from Xenophon The Persian Expedition, Book VII, Chapter 4 

“In Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Detective I moved Uncle John Quarles’s farm to Arkansas. It was all of six hundred miles, but it was no trouble” - Mark Twain, Autobiography 

And this is why a boy must not, according to our code, yield too quickly when a man solicits his favors; time is the most effective test of love. Secondly, the boy is immoral if he surrenders for money, or political advantage, or because he is cowardly and fears some injury. The boy is, to be brief about it, wrong if he does not, contemptuously, reject as a lover any man who offers to enrich him in exchange for love, or otherwise give him some sort of advantage over others in exchange for affection. - Pausanias on Love, in Plato, Symposium.

 *   *   *   *

The Aegean in the 4th century BC, with Samos just to the east of the centre and the Ionian lands bordered in pink

Young Kallias awoke from an uneasy sleep. His face bore a distressed frown because of a dream he'd been threatened in some vague way, perhaps by an unspeakable god, and given no avenue of escape. His dreams were not usually fearful; his sleep was the usual sleep of a citizen’s son, an athlete admired for his prowess on the field, where, in spite of his age and size, he could compete with the best of the boys, and even the least of the youths, at the gymnasium. Although not given to fear, he was, like his fellows, infected by the news that had shaken all the citizens, had sent strangers to their ships, and led slaves to certify their servitude, lest they be taken for citizens in the terrible days ahead. For Kallias, as for the other boys, the decision to abandon the alliance with Persia and align Samos with Athens had meant little at the time. But their fathers heard that Khios had revolted against Athens, then all realized that Samos might be alone, for what could Athens do when her alliances were in such question? Then bad had become worse! Samian worry changed to that intense sense of danger, understood by every citizen and called rational fear, when news came that the Persians were assembling ships and hiring mercenaries. In all haste the people sent their appeal to Athens, dutifully carried by Kallias’s father Timaios. The answer was no more than the expected promises. Urgent pleas elicited only more promises. Desperate, Timaios (with diplomatic tentativeness) made an inquiry among the Persians at Sardis, and found (as he feared) that Artaxerxes was implacable. True, he could be brought around – but only for the right price. If Samos could bring back with her any other Athenian colony - She could not. Samian credit in and of itself was bankrupt. So back to Athens again, where Timaios learned that his seeking advice at Sardis was known, it had been an error in itself. Athenian promises now were even more faintly made. The question had become, not if the Persian’s mercenaries would strike, but only when. In the making of Kallias’s dream was the knowledge, too, that, already, wealthy and cowardly Samians had fled to Rhodes. Those too poor, or, like Timaios, too honorable, to escape had accumulated supplies against the siege, which might begin any day. No one, not even his father (who told him against the day he would be a citizen, all things that were his duties as a citizen) thought it necessary to tell Kallias what to expect if the siege were successful. He understood, too well, the question in the marketplace: would the Persians be merciful? On the other hand, he was too young to calculate the common answer. It was, of course, “no.” Samos would resist, would drive the Persians off. That was the plan - as much as there was a plan at all.

Tridrachm of Samos, ca. 399 BC (a lion's scalp on the obverse; the infant Herakles on the reverse)

Being the only surviving son of such a citizen as Timaios was a burden Kallias was proud to bear. It inspired him in his lessons and even more in the gymnasium. He did not dwell on matters of state, and if Samian danger haunted his sleep, it did not arouse his mind to awaken in the night. Strangely perhaps (to the unthinking mind) Kallias had another, much greater reason for unease. The wise will recognize that when the boy woke from his quiet bed at home in the night, it was not to think of Death, however remote or near, for Death does not inspire thought. No. Kallias awoke and stirred from his bed naked, not caring about the chill, and, passing the open doorway to the courtyard, found himself caught in the moonlight, and, looking at his bare arm, he saw it painted a pale, pale blue, like the sky at the edge of Mount Kerkis an hour before dawn. He stood a moment in the moonlight, as if vanity stirred, as if he imagined that his beauty challenged the chastity of the moon goddess. But in fact it was no such thing, for Kallias did not know he was beautiful. He had never seen a mirror, and, never narcissistic, neither had he sought out a pool of water in which he could have seen his face. Had he looked, he might have thought himself ugly, for he did not have the profile he saw on sculptures of the gods: straight from the hairline down the forehead to the tip of the nose. Unformed as his bone structure was,  Kallias had the beginnings of a bridge across the brows, rather higher cheekbones than usual, a very slight convexity of the nose, a moderate forehead over which his brown curls fell blackly in the moonlight, and a generous mouth over a rounded jaw. When he looked to the goddess, he smiled, and his perfect teeth would indeed have seduced Selene/Artemis had she been susceptible to the charms of pubescence or he attracted by virginal breasts. No, he was not lustful. But his troubled thoughts were indeed about a human lust, and he was ashamed. 

His shame had been caused by Arkhias.   

Arkhias was, like Timaios, a great citizen of Samos. He had been, on occasion, a visitor to Timaios’s house, though never an intimate there. Kallias dutifully trusted him, even though he was an arrogant, proud man. He was, Timaios said, brave, so all must forgive his pride, and Timaios ordered Kallias to treat Arkhias with respect, just as if he were (though he was not) his father’s good friend. Arkhias was rich enough to escape to Rhodes, but, like Timaios, Arkhias stayed to fight and to withstand the siege. It was right, Kallias knew, for all good reasons, to honor him. To do less would dishonor his father - and Kallias had, all his short life, believed he could never do such a thing. He had not reckoned on what a man like Arkhias might be capable of.  

In the moonlight, Kallias could find, even now, no reason to think of Arkhias as a lover. Searching his soul, he could not recall even imagining that man’s body pressed against his. Yet during the day just past, the matter had been put beyond imagining into shameful reality. In a single hour everything in Kallias’s life had changed, and Kallias was humiliated, angry and afraid - all at the same time - with feelings so strong that they drove the impending attack by the Persians out of his mind, if not from his dreams. 

Boy in the gymnasium

Kallias had told himself often enough that he was, as Timaios had said, too young to take a lover. He continued to think so, even though he know that some boys his age had let themselves be seduced. Of them, some had their father's consent, or, if the lover was rich, and the father poor, his encouragement. Out-weighing that consideration was the simple fact that his father did not wish him to think of such things. Kallias, though he never saw himself as beautiful, was not so stupid as to think no one found him attractive. Men had always, as long as he could remember, watched him at the gymnasium. He knew too that in the recent past, the number of observers always seemed to grow when it was known that Kallias was going to perform. The cheers and calls of the men when he danced excited him, moving him to deserve the praise. But he believed that it was his skill, and not his nude body, that excited the youths who touched him as he finished and vied for the privilege of scraping him down. For that was what they said. And if the remarks of bad men when he wrestled were crude, they only inspired him to prove that he was stronger than his opponent, and deserving of the praise that the better sort of men gave him. Such bad remarks did not convince him that he was, as they said, made for love alone. He was not moved to conceit because men, good and bad, attempted to speak to him in the gymnasium, and in the market. All the boys got such attentions, and Kallias rated the sincerity as nothing; he never responded. Several men, even some that he thought worthy, had sent gifts. Kallias always, without delay, gave them to his father, who returned them with thanks, for neither he nor his son must ever be seen to be discourteous, unless to those who might seek by bad means to seduce him. Until now, none ever had. 

The odd thing, Kallias thought, while Selene tenderly washed his firm chest and wide shoulders in her pale light, was that Arkhias had sent him no gift nor had he watched him more than others had. Besides, if Kallias had thought of choosing a lover, Arkhias was not even the sort of man -- aside from his wealth and honor -- that the boy might have chosen. Not that Arkhias was not handsome enough. Among the boys it was said that the noble youth Eucrates had been courted and won by Arkhias -- but there was some obscure gossip about that. There was something shameful to Eucrates in it, perhaps, but that was not clear. It was, Kallias thought with despair, not the sort of thing he could ask his father about. When the boys talked of possible lovers, Kallias refused to speculate, although he listened. Among the boys, the name Arkhias was often heard; he was tall and well formed, with a silky black beard and a high brow. But he had, Kallias thought, an unpleasant mouth, which always looked as if it were about to spit. Inspired by the thought, which she sensed, Selene touched with her lips the boy’s lips just then, lips so sweet that, even when he felt shame, they seemed about to smile. And then a touch of chill wind blew across his nakedness, his newly growing sex, his narrow , neat buttocks, firm thighs, strong calves, for even Boreas, the wind that came south from beyond even Thrace, could not resist the opportunity to kiss and embrace such perfect flesh. The wind remembered his love for Pelops’ son, Khrysippos, who enflamed Laios, and thought perhaps Khrysippos was born again. 

Retreating into the warmer darkness, not knowing that in doing so he saddened two gods, Kallias was inwardly chilled, remembering his encounter with Arkhias. It had begun in the marketplace. Kallias had - thinking no harm - let young Eucrates accompany him from the gymnasium, explaining a point about putting a larger opponent, like himself, off balance in wrestling. The youth at last offered to demonstrate at the gymnasium, and, accepting Kallias’s agreement, had departed. Only a moment after, Arkhias had appeared, his mouth even more than usually severe. “Does your father know you allow such youths as that to walk you through the market?” he had said, bringing a deep flush to the boy’s suntanned cheeks. The sight inflamed the man, or so it might seem to a more acute observer then Kallias, for he added, even more harshly, “You will be thought little better than a slave boy at the market brothel!” Brutally stunned, the boy was silent, motionless. “Come with me,” the man said. “I need you. You must carry a thing to your father.” 

Kallias had been relieved - how foolish he was! how innocent! A change of subject diverted the humiliation, and made it seem that the man had already forgiven the crime of speaking in public to Eucrates. (But that was no crime! Yet such is the insecurity of a child, that he is so easily played upon.) Arkhias’s request seemed innocent at the moment, though it was unusual. In a less troubled hour, Kallias would have refused, full of justified suspicion. Men did not commonly invite boys for innocent reasons. If it were one of the men who had offered gifts - that would have been a different matter. But not Arkhias, who was like Timaios great in responsibility for defending the walls against the expected Persian siege. As they walked through the narrow streets, Kallias thought only of how pleased his father would be that his son could fulfill the role of youth when still, in age, only a boy. 

Herm (Naples Archaeo-logical Museum)

They walked in silence, unbroken even when they reached Arkhias’s great house. There a fine herm displayed a huge erect penis, warning criminals what they might expect if they invaded this house. Kallias touched the phallos in propitiation, by implication saying that he came to do no harm. Oddly, the herm seemed the only protection, for no servant admitted them. “They have fled to the mountains,” Arkhias said, in answer to an unspoken question. Kallias wondered why Arkhias had allowed his slaves to go their own way; it was not so at his father’s house. Arkhias urged the boy inside, beyond the courtyard to the andron. 

Expectant, the boy held back, thinking it best to go no farther than the court. Arkhias, after a shake of his head, seemed to go to the gynaeceum - but perhaps his house was not laid out like Timaiso’s. Then, instead of fetching something for the boy to take away, Arkhias, returning, offered Kallias fruit. 

“No, sir,” Kallias said, with reserve appropriate to a boy, but not with any fear or suspicion, “I must go home.” 

“You are welcome here,” the man said, advancing with precious apples in his hand, “so beautiful a boy will be always welcome to stay as long has he likes, and enjoy what I have to give him.” 

Now Kallias was alert to danger; he showed nothing, as his father had taught him. “Only give me the thing I am to carry to my father, and I will go.” 

“Stay,” said Arkhias, pressing the fruit upon him. “Do not go home at all.” Seeming not to realize that he had just confirmed the boy’s worst fears, Arkhias went on. “You will be glad,” Arkhias said, putting aside the apples, “when you have me as your lover.” 

Kallias turned to go. His good manners were, at this crisis, a fault because Arkhias moved far more quickly, putting himself between the boy and the door from the house. “Wait,” he said, “you haven’t heard me.” 

What, Kallias wondered could he hear worse than he’d heard already? Kallias looked about. Strong as he was, he could not hope to overcome his tormentor. 

The spitting mouth did not change its shape, but its owner’s tones were sweet. “I mean only your good. I have watched you for these months, and I have chosen you!” He spoke as if Kallias should feel delighted. “You are – I have decided it! – the most beautiful boy in Samos. I choose you for my own best, my only love.” The boy only remained helplessly without words to speak. “You are the luckiest boy in the world this moment!” With those mad words, Arkhias stretched out his arms to Kallias. 

The boy attempted to duck under and rush past toward the doorway, but Arkhias was too quick. He seized one wrist, drew the boy close, and spoke through madly smiling tight lips. “Don’t be troublesome, boy.” 

Kallias, desperate, beat with his free hand on Arkhias’s grasping fist, crying, “No, no!” 

Arkhias clutched the free hand, and whispered passionately. “Good boy! You are right to resist, to defend your honor, but listen boy, listen. I am your only hope. I know that the Persians will attack tomorrow; your father knows this too. But you won’t be safe at home. You must stay with me.”

An unwilling boy, here depicted with with the god Pan by Pieriono da Vinci, ca. 1555 (Bargello, Florence)

Kallias struggled silently, but Arkhias’s hold was too tight. Then the man raised both hands, thrusting the boy back into the courtyard, releasing him only as he fell to the ground. But the boy did not lie there, as apparently Arkhias thought he would. Instead, he climbed to his feet, prepared to rush to the doorway again. Again, Arkhias foiled him, saying fiercely, “I must do this out of love for you. You are too beautiful to die for nothing.” Now he dragged him from the court off into the andron, into a narrow room in which stood only a couch. Making himself an impassable barrier through the narrow doorway, Arkhias smiled as if to show his great love – but to the boy it was a smile of expectoration, as the man’s lips curled, repulsively, within his handsome beard. “Now you shall see,” Arkhias said, “what my lover has to enjoy.” With a careful movement of his hands, he loosened his free flowing chlamys and undid the girdle on his chiton. He posed a moment, showing his muscular arms and the right side of his powerful chest. Then he undid the shoulder clasp of his chiton, letting it fall. He stood naked, his penis erect. “I am such a lover as you must have dreamed of.” The man advanced, his right hand low, until he was near enough to put aside the boy’s chiton and touch the flaccid lips of the boy’s foreskin. With the other hand, he caught the boy’s neck and began to draw him closer so that his erect penis touched the boy’s stomach. “No, boy,” the man murmured, his voice catching in his growing passion, “you won’t refuse me.” But the boy did just that, giving his body a half turn to escape the shameful touch of impatient hand and swollen organ. 

“You turn, do you? you want me to use you there?” the tumid man, frustrated by the boy’s renewed twisting, revealed himself in even more vicious language, language that confirmed Kallias in his determination forever to refuse. [some words evidently missing …] you as I would a slave.” He grasped both the boy’s shoulders to force him farther around so that his rear opening would be open to penetration. “When I do, you will be ashamed to go home, ever again, and afterwards I’ll cast you on the Persian dung heap.”

Horrified, Kallias at first crouched to escape the possessing hands, only to realize, to his horror, that Arkhias interpreted that as an opportunity to thrust his manhood into the boy’s mouth. At that moment a cold desperation seized him, as Death himself might have, silent, by the throat. Rising, he smiled up into the man's eyes, and reached out a hand as if to touch the stiffened sex. Triumphant, Arkhias let his member lie in the boy’s gentle hand. In only a moment the boy released the organ and squeezed the rapist's testicles violently. In that instant of the man's terrible pain and dismay, the boy rushed past and through the entrance door into the street, he ran, not stopping until he was safely home, while Arkhias’s cries echoed in his ears. At home, he spoke to no one, and set himself to be alone, hating himself, and hating his hand that had held tenderly, even for a moment, the hated penis. 

For the rest of the day, and now, as he stood far from sleep, Arkhias‘s attack made him feel deeply guilty. How could that be? To him, there could be no question. Had he not incited that passion? He was unknowing, it is true, but somehow, in thoughtless moments, he had. Had he not seemed to accept the attentions of the youth Eucrates? Upon reflection the evil connection between Arkhias and Eucrates recurred to his mind. The man had seen Kallias with a depraved youth. It was only reasonable to suppose that Kallias was depraved as well. Kallias wept silently, wishing he had not behaved so disgracefully. He had not dared to seek out his father and tell him. 

So deeply was he affected by the wrongs he had himself committed that he could not blame Arkhias, nor could he, for he was very young, reflect on Arkhias’s words about the Persians. 

He would remember them later, when he knew more, and it would be too late.

*   *   *   * 

A Persian war-ship

On board a Persian warship that lurked in the night waters off Samos, two captains, mercenaries in the pay of Persia (though Episthenes was Olynthian and Charminus Spartan), disguised with frivolous talk their anxiety before battle. In the morning, they would besiege the Athenian colony at Samos. The first attack would not be easy. Although the poor Greeks of Samos were doomed, they would fight bravely, hoping for time, for relief from Athens. They had no real hope unless the Athenians were already preparing to send relief. The Samians could survive only until they starved, or the walls were breached. Then they were doomed. 

For Episthenes, a rugged man, skin bronzed and hair yellowed by exposure in long campaigns and service, there was no joy in this task, no longer even any joy in war. He was not now leader of the warrior youths he’d collected ten years earlier, the few survivors older now, and all but a handful had dispersed, with commands of their own, or gone crippled home. The troops he presently commanded were worthy men, excellent warriors, but not so pleasing to the eye. He was himself not the beauty he’d been ten years ago (and beauty responds to beauty, which had made his task easy), but his look was still as open and honest as the great sea itself on a sunlit day in early spring, and that look still attracted good men to him. His co-captain Charminus was yet another ten years older, his features not so fine (he’d never been a beauty), nor his stock figure so elegant, but he had made himself worthy of Episthenes’ friendship and loyalty, they had been friends, and before that more than friends, for twenty-five years. 

The two were, at the moment, having a modest quarrel, growing out of an anecdote from the years when they’d been apart. 

“An Egyptian boy! Why?” 

Episthenes thought Charminus overly scornful; Episthenes did not need to defend an exotic taste, common enough among men who served the Persians. And as for the rest, if Charminus could raise a company of beautiful youths, then a friend could suffer his taunts with indifference. Episthenes remembered his band with joy and pride. But he would not let that show now, in the case of an irritation so petty. He’d not had his company beside him as models of Greek manhood when he’d bought Akon. 

Hoplite mercenary of the early 5th century BC

“Come,” said the older soldier, gripping him familiarly, "don’t be offended. Tell my why.” 

Episthenes was comforted by the rough hand on his shoulder, once so tender. He could not be angry with Charminus long. “He didn’t cost much, and he was beautiful.” 

“With a bright red knob at the end of his penis? Tell me you never looked at it!” 

That stung. Charminus was right, the boy’s organ was ugly, but he’d kept it covered, out of deference, and one did not need to look. “A small imperfection.” Episthenes, remembering the Egyptian justification for removing foreskins, allowed himself a subversive grin. “Clean too.” 

“Like a bit of intestine growing out of his anus, or like a Lybian monkey’s rear?” Charminus laughed rudely. “No, I don’t mind a circumcised boy when there’s nothing else - one slave’s anus is as good as another’s - but I’d never buy one.” He added a lewd look, “Egyptian girls, ah, I could perhaps. With dark, silky black skin!” 

The image of a female organ, stripped of its sex in the Egyptian fashion, repelled Episthenes, but he would not stoop to Charminus’s crude level and call attention to that mutilation, worse in its way than merely cutting a foreskin. He said only, excusing his closest friend’s emphatic preference for females, “That is Aphrodite’s doing. l won't expect you to understand.”   

“Ha,” said Charminus, with his gruff laugh, and a lewd wink, “you didn’t question my taste once!” The reaction came immediately, and he threw an arm around Episthenes’s shoulder and kissed his mouth, pleased that, so many years later, he could still make Episthenes blush. 

Episthenes wanted to talk on, but he had to be silent, deferent to old affection. Besides, his thought was unworthy. It was in his mind to say that almost any penis erect, even Charminus’s - indeed, especially Charminus’s, as Episthenes knew well enough to blush about it - showed some sort of a knob. But that could not be said, because an erect penis, other than his own, was beneath Charminus’s notice. 

Bored with the silence, Charminus asked. “What did you do with your Egyptian? He was whoring around, wasn’t he? They all do.” 

“Egyptian boys?”    

“Boys! Egyptian, Greek, Syrian, Nubian. They are like prostitutes, except - " he laughed with great good humor at what he thought would give his friend pause - "boys are truthful!” 

Episthenes, as expected, waited, with a half smile. Charminus’s philosophy, which underlay his humor, was often obscure. 

"The whore says she loves you tonight,” said Charminus delighted with himself, “because tonight you pay her. Tomorrow night she swears she loves me because I pay her. So much for the whore. Now, listen. Little Nikon says he adores me and nothing will do. I must make love to him. But what if I want his lovely buttocks tomorrow? Ah hah! his passion is all for your penis between his thighs. And if you ask to put it up his anus, he vows you to secrecy, and gives you what he refused me! And to both of us, he is perfectly truthful, completely sincere! But his truth, his sincerity, they never last the night!” 

The analogy was worthless. Episthenes wondered what experience, on what expedition, had led to the cynicism. 

“You are a fool if you believe the whore,” Charminus concluded warmly, “and worse than a fool if you put your faith in a boy.” 

Reluctant, but always fair, Episthenes granted his friend’s point - but only about the Egyptian boy. “You are right about Akon, but I believe,” and the captain's heart was in the words, “I shall find a faithful boy.” 

“You dream,” said Charminus kindly. “Dream on.” He paused for thought, then continued with, no doubt, the best intentions in the world. “A woman will be faithful because you will kill her if she is not. It should be the same with a slave boy, but, as you know best, all boys are fools. Did you kill your Egyptian?” 

“I was not such a fool, as you should know,” Episthenes, “when I was a boy. And, to your question, no, I sold him.” 

“To the lead mines, I hope.” 

“I told his new lover to pay my price for him, and he did.” 

Incredulous, Charminus asked, “A Greek bought him? Another fool like you.” 

“No. A Lybian sea captain.” 

“So you got your money but let the boy off unpunished.”A thought struck him. “Ha! He’ll end a galley slave, for all your goodness to him. A Lybian is not so kind as a Greek.” 

“Perhaps the boy came to his senses. I took care to warn him.” 

“A waste of breath. The boy was a fool to betray a lover like you. As bad, Charminus said bitterly, "as the Samians.” 

He had said the word they both had been avoiding. It did not pain Episthenes that, a Greek himself, he was prepared to attack Greeks, for the Samians were Ionian pirates. He was conscious only that he had to risk his life because the pirates were fools too. Charminus was right. “They’ve brought this on themselves,” he said, and the other nodded.

*   *   *   *

One might pause before accepting Episthenes’s verdict, but if one did, one did not understand the politics of the Aegean Sea. The Persians long ago had overthrown the great Samian tyrant Polycrates, and though their demands on the Samians were light - submission and easy tribute – the ungrateful Samians allied themselves with Athens. But more time passed, and Persia needed the protection that Samos offered from Greek control of the sea. Again they set their easy terms, and again they were betrayed. Now loyal Greeks in Asia were waiting, ready to replace the citizens of rich Samos. Nothing could be done with those citizens alive - though small children and women might be made slaves - and if they lived they’d threaten Persian power again, so the economical course must be extermination.  

In the earliest light, the Persian ships discharged their cargo of death. Through the morning, Episthenes led the Persian force attacking the city gates. There they met valiant defenders. Timaios was their general, and the gate held. By midday it seemed that the gate would be safe. If it held until nightfall, the Persians would be forced to lay siege against a prepared city. The hope of help from Athens kept up the spirits of Timaios and his citizen warriors.

But, in the event, there was no siege. Treason made it unnecessary, and Samos fell in a day. 

In early afternoon, the defenders of the gate found themselves attacked from behind. All died in the first assault, caught between Episthenes in front and, astonishingly, Arkhias behind. For Arkhias had slipped out of the city in the night, in the same hour when Kallias was washed and kissed by the moon. When the defenders were concentrated in holding Episthenes back, Arkhias led the major Persian force to a weakness in the wall that had been undermined by his own slaves. There, soldiers made quick work, creating a break which was swiftly breached. In the ensuing sack, some alert people, high in the acropolis, escaped to the Mount Kerkis, but for others, though they surrendered, Death waited patiently. When the flushed soldiers had finished the hot killing, the cold began. 

The survivors were herded into the market, from which, one at a time, they were forced to the gate and thence to the shore between the walls and the sea, opposite the freshly set Persian camp. There Asidates, commander of the Persians, watched within a palisade, with Arkhias at his side, while the survivors were put to the sword. It was a cruelty imitated from the Athenians. The remains would be left there as a warning to the oriental Greeks who would claim the city vacated for them. 

Arkhias expected to be their leader, but, for no reason he could understand, he had not been named. Perhaps he would never be. Asidates did not trust him. But the Persian was obliged to Arkhias. He had shown him great courtesy, for it was not enough to pay him in gold for his treason. Arkhias had already listed his expectations, and one of them was due now. He spoke of it, and he and Asidates, who was tired of blood and the cries of the doomed and the dying, walked forth. 

“There’s the boy,” Arkhias said, seeing Kallias near the town gate. 

Asidates was not much given to the love of boys, but he was man enough to recognize, as worthy of Arkhias’s love or hate, the one astonishing boy in the line. Inwardly moved by the boy‘s beauty, Asidates watched as the boy discarded his chiton onto the pile of clothing that had grown as the citizens stripped for death. The imperfectly godlike face now was proud, and his body was the body of a child Apollo. Averting his eyes, Asidates only said, lightly, as if making a humorous comparison unfavorable to Arkhias, “He would do for a king” and, as if indifferent, turned to a captain who stood nearby - one of the Greeks. “Charminus," he called. “Have two soldiers bring that boy - the one where Lykon is standing, you see? - yes. Bring him. But do not treat him roughly.” He smiled, enjoying an irony. “He has a great lover here to protect him.”

A Greek mercenary (on the left) in a Persian attack on Greek light infantry (on the right), early 4th century BC sarcophagus (Çanakkale Archaeological Museum)

Charminus instructed the soldiers. In a few moments they had brought the naked boy, who was both perplexed and, resolving perplexity, possessed of a double fear, of humiliation as well as death, before Asidates and Arkhias. His father's teaching held him erect, showing a defiance he did not feel, for he expected a disgraceful death for the crime of being his valiant father’s son. In the mixture of emotions there was yet another, a regret, instantly crushed, that he had misunderstood, and ignored, Arkhias. He felt the truth of what Arkhias had said: surely he would have been safe if he had yielded to Arkhias's passion. What is worse, he might have saved his father.  

He could not see himself, so he was only half aware that he was dirty. He was smudged with dust and smoke from the destruction of the city, indeed of his house. It had been burned to force him out after the servants had abandoned him - as was right for them to do at the end, for what had they to gain, having no honor to defend? Yet through the dirt he was lovelier than before, for Helios was as enchanted with his body as Selene had been, and bathed him in his warmest light. And Zephyr, too, like Boreas in the night, by day came to kiss his lips and loins; the wind’s touches gave the boy strength, as the god intended. 

“Now,” Arkhias said, “you are going to die. Yesterday, I offered to save you. Do you think you should have refused me?” 

Questioned so directly, he could only think now more of his guilt than his death, for he was not yet so fully prepared to die as he might have been after a few more years experience of the fatal world. As it was, the boy could only be silent. 

“Answer,” Asidates said, his heart ruling his head, for he let the boy’s physical charm have momentary sway. “You may yet be spared. Your lover, Arkhias, has asked me to give you to him, alive. Are you not grateful?” 

The boy’s eyes flared, remembering shame, not hope. “No, no. It is not true!” 

“What?” asked Asidates in sudden anger. “Do you think I would lie to a Samian boy about to die?” 

"No," cried the boy in confusion. “But he is not - he is not my lover.” 

Asidates, appeased, now raised his brows in astonishment. Then he smiled, as if to win the boy for himself. “If he is not your lover, you will die.” 

Kallias was frightened. Somehow the general’s threat was more real than when, as he was casting off his chiton, a solder had told him to be indifferent as he would never wear clothing again. But the image of his father was before him, stern and brave. “I will die then,“ the boy said, as bravely as he could, though his treble voice cracked on “die,” intensifying his shame. 

Arkhias let out a cry of anger, and in an instant his hand was on his sword. Asidates, wonderfully pleased by the boy, was equally swift. “No, Arkhias,” he said, unmistakably stern. “No, not you. You will not kill the boy.” For a moment, Kallias felt hope. But he had not heard all. “Charminus, return the boy to his place. Let him die with the others.” Then, at last, most clearly, death became real, and what comforted the boy was one sure knowledge: when his father saw him, as he would surely do - though both would be shades - when asked why he died, he could say he had refused Arkhias. 

Charminus did as he was ordered. He spoke to the soldiers quietly, adding a sentence to his orders (that they would not hasten the boy’s death), and they took Kallias away. Then he turned to Asidates, and said, “I have an errand. I will return shortly.” 

“Go,” said Asidates, indifferent. The war was over.    

Charminus, full of excitement, quickly searched out the exhausted Episthenes who was with his men, tiredly cleaning their armor. The bare bodies of the captain and his men gleamed in the afternoon sun, wet from old sweat and new. “I have seen the boy for you,” the older captain exclaimed, adding, all in a rush, “if he will have you and if Asidates will spare him.” 

“A Samian?” Episthenes asked, not interrupting his stroking of the metal. “If he is a citizen he will not be spared. If he is not, then he is not the boy for me.” 

“A citizen boy! Citizen and boy both! Ah well, what is it to me? Choose for yourself, come or not,” he said, more than a little impatient. “But the boy is not ordinary. And there is something about him, something he has done, that makes me think your seeing him may prove you right and me wrong. I would not have come otherwise.” 

Episthenes continued stroking his cuirass. “No, friend. I won’t have your jokes. The boy is a whore relic of a Samian brothel, and you want to laugh at me.” 

“Yes, I joke with you.” Charminus ran his rough hand over the sweat on the younger man’s shoulder, in the old affectionate way. “But there was a time when my jokes made you laugh, and I thought of nothing but your happiness. Remember that now.”  

Catching his seriousness but perplexed, Episthenes only said, “You did not stay then. You forgot me.” 

“I had a war to fight. I loved you, my dearest friend, as much as I could love a boy. You know that well enough. Have I ever had another? Come. You may be too late already. In fact, there may not be any hope at all. I don’t know. But out of the love I once felt -” 

His friend looked a moment at the hand, still on his shoulder. “How could you, a lover of women, judge the character of a Samian boy?” 

Charminus pulled his hand away impatiently. “He will be dead if you do not come. I’ve done explaining. Aphrodite curse me if I’m misleading you.” 

“How if the boy refuse me?”  

“He may. He has refused Arkhias.”   

Now that was news. “No!” But not a cause for hope. “Then why do you come to me?” 

“Aphrodite may prefer you, if you are not too much a fool Come now, if you don’t want to see a spear in his guts.” 

“Because you say you loved me?”  

“And still do, for all your hairy face!”     

Episthenes quickly donned his corselet and sword, and would have done more but his friend’s impatience told him he had enough clothing for the purpose. Then the two made all haste to the slaughter field. A perfect boy, Episthenes immediately saw, was nearing the edge of the palisade. Episthenes stopped, caught his breath, and agreed. “He is very beautiful. What must we do?” 

Charminus, saying, “Come, man,” brought his friend before Asidates. “You know the captain of the left flank?” he asked with unnecessary formality; the Persian was long used to Greek ways. 

“I know him very well. Episthenes led the attack on the gate,” Asidates said. Then he added, with a look at Arkhias, “From the brave side.” 

“I ask a favor,” Episthenes said. 

“I will grant it, if you do not ask foolishly.” 

“Spare the boy, there. The young one, near death now.”

Arkhias startled, snarled angrily. “The boy is doubly condemned. Noting can save him.” 

“Nothing?” asked Asidates archly.

“Nothing!” Then Arkhias added, through clenched teeth, “You would not!” 

“Perhaps I would,” Asidates said calmly. “I shall set myself to trial. Come,” he said with a collective gesture. “Come with me.” 

The two Greek captains and the Persian general approached the palisade. Arkhias, seething, followed. Over his shoulder, the Persian said, “You Greeks have a story of a dog, a horse, hay and a manger. Surely you would not be a dog, would you, my faithful Arkhias?” 

A few steps away from the boy, the general spoke softly, so that only his companions might hear. “Episthenes,” the general said, watching the boy, who welcomed the new attention, amid the cries of the dying, with apprehension and hope – but heard nothing. “Will you die in the boy’s place?” 

“Yes,” Episthenes answered instantly. 

“Take time to think, captain.” 

“I need none.”   

“You there,” the general said to a soldier holding Kallias, “bring the boy here.” 

Surprised, the boy came bravely, even though his guilt was renewed, for he knew it was lust that shamed him, and he wore defiance too, for Arkhias was still near, and the boy had no other clothing to protect him from the hated eyes. 

“Have you changed you mind?” Asidates asked. “Death is very near, and so is Arkhias.” 

“No, the boy said, and his treacherous voice cracked on the word. 

“Arkhias,” the general said, turning to the Samian traitor, and speaking loudly, “will you die in place of this boy?” 

Stunned by the absurdity, Arkhias did not speak for a moment, then, fearing he might have seemed hesitant, he cried out, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I? Ridiculous Arkhias, you may go too far.” Still in the loud voice, the Persian turned to the younger captain. “But you, Episthenes, you will take the boy’s place? You will die so that he can live?” 

Thankful that the general had spoken so long, Episthenes could manage another swift reply though he could but wonder if his passion was not taking him too far. “Yes, if the boy will be grateful to me when I am dead.” He looked to the boy for confirmation that the sacrifice, if it came to that, would be worthwhile. 

“Now, child. What do you say? You have heard both these men. Can you feel grateful if my brave captain Episthenes dies in your place?” To the boy it seemed a kind of madness. What had he done to incite such a man - a man who looked worthy of all good - to say “yes” to such a question? The man’s muscled torso shone, and it compelled the boy further to realize that the Persian had called this strange brave man “captain.” “I do not wish to die,” Kallias said, speaking very carefully, disguising his confusion. “But no. I cannot wish any one to die in my place.” A thought had already struck him, and he hastened to express it. “But cannot we both live? I would be just as grateful!” 

Episthenes looked to the general; at a nod, the captain spoke. “It has been said to me that you would rather die than take a lover.” 

“No.” The boy looked at the ground. He could not bear the liquid blue of the man’s eyes; they were like the sea. “That is not true. I would take a lover if he would not dishonor me, or my father, Timaios.” 

A cloud passed over Episthenes’s face before he spoke, saying, “You may take me as your lover. I will use you better than your father could wish. In a few minutes, I will die for you. Your father would not wish more. I have asked, in payment, only that you be grateful to me for your life.” 

Kallias studied Episthenes’s grizzled face earnestly. Their eyes met and locked together. “I could not ask more." But then his father seemed to speak through him. “No. I do not choose to live at such a price.” 

Episthenes was shocked, not understanding. “Is gratitude too much to pay?"

Dismayed, the boy blurted out, his arms extended. "No, no! I’ve said I would be grateful. But I will not buy my own life with the life of my lover.” 

At that Episthenes sprang forward and seized the boy, whose arms held him too. Finding the embrace firm, the young hands warm and invigorating on his flesh, he pulled an arm free, drew his sword and faced Asidates. “Now I am settled in my mind. You will - all of you – have to fight me for him. I will never give him up, or while he lives, consent to die except defending him.”

Asidates laughed and turned aside, for the game was over.   

Arkhias like a rabid dog snarled, “I will tell of this in Sardis!” 

Without a look, Asidates replied, “So shall I, ah yes, so shall I, my dear Arkhias." 

Episthenes put up his sword and took the boy once again in both his arms. Now he could, for the first time, contemplate his prize without haste. Yet he was too near. The captain could see only the sootsmudged cheek and a joyous, exquisite smile. But he could feel the muscular back and the arms that still held him as he held them. "Who are you, boy,“ he asked in a whisper. "Which Timaios is your father?” 

“He is no one now,” the boy said. “He died at the gate.”

Dread filled Episthenes. “He was the leader of the Samians?” 

“Yes,” said Kallias. He felt his lover leaving him, and he held more tightly for a moment. Then realizing how indecorous such an act was, he let the captain go, and stood, disappointed and perplexed. How could he even understand. And would he be killed now? It did not matter minutes ago. “Am I now to die?” 

Episthenes turned back, distressed “No, you are spared, you are safe. But I? I do not know.” And he walked away, the boy following at a distance. 

When they were beyond the view of either the general or the slaughter, Episthenes called to Charminus. “I want you to witness, for I release the boy from even gratitude to me.” He turned and found the boy already beside him. He said to Kallias, “Boy, I set you free. I must, because I killed your father. You could not face him in death knowing you accepted his murderer.”

“Murderer?” asked the boy, moving back in dismay. How many shocks must he suffer.

“Wait,” said Charminus, interceding angrily, “tell the boy; did you attack from the front or the rear?” 

“What does it matter?”  

“Let him decide. He, not you, knows his father.” 

“The front then, as you know.” 

“It was not murder then!” cried the boy. 

“So, boy, you have no cause to fear your father’s displeasure.” Inwardly, Charminus thought his friend, as often before, a fool.

The ruins of Samos

Late that night Greek soldiers drank the fine Samian wine, to forget blood. They told stories while they rested, and played with dice, and as the wine took hold, they called out flute and drum and began to dance, boisterously and obscenely. Meanwhile Episthenes and Kallias heard their revels, intoxicated on the wine of their own bodies. Though he wished to be as chaste a boy as ever took a lover, Kallias found he could neither restrain nor hide his excitement, nor his pleasure in his tumid organ. For Episthenes had taught him the mad joy of Aphrodite, and the boy had been possessed. 

“Forgive me,” he whispered.   

Laughing, his lover replied, “I was not better with my lover.” He kissed the boy and added, “I wonder if any boy ever is.” 

They did not reappear to the Greek camp fire until the dancers were exhausted. It was not that their loving took so long (though Episthenes, long celibate, was not content as soon as his young lover expected); rather the captain did not want to see his beloved importuned to dance naked, as, earlier, he surely would have been, and could not have refused so reasonable a request. 

Each accepted a cup of wine from Charminus, whose ribald mouth was not ready to rest. “So now you know a lover’s penis,” he said to the boy loudly, for all to hear. “Did you find it beautiful?” 

“In the dawn,” said the boy, “I will look and tell you.”  

Both captains and all the soldiers sober enough to hear roared their applause. They had not expected so perfect an answer. Decency in response to obscenity showed the boy’s virtue, a scarce commodity in a military camp. 

“And am I still a sentimental fool?” Episthenes asked Charminus, when all were quiet again. 

“Yes, by Aphrodite,” the other said, as if his honor had been challenged. “And you are a lucky fool as well. You are lucky to have the boy, and you are lucky to have me, the friend who loved you enough to choose him for you.” The wine put him into his philosophical mode, and he became an historian impromptu. “It is the first time, in all the history of the world, that a boy has proven his honor and faith for all time – and he did it even before he chose a lover. And,” Charminus went on, in the emphatic manner that is common after heavy drinking, “it will never happen again?” He leaned over and grasped his friend’s shoulder in the old gesture, and kissed his lips. He sat back. “Imagine. Would you have been faithful to me, if I had stayed with you?” 

“More faithful,” Episthenes said with a laugh, “than you to me.”

Again the soldiers (still awake) applauded. They knew their captains, and knew that Charminus would never be faithful, neither to a boy nor a woman, and they knew too that Episthenes was beloved of Aphrodite, and had the blessings of all the gods this day. 

Kallias was too warm, and life was too sweet, in the shelter of Episthenes’s cloak, to mourn for his people or even his father. They were in the past. In his life and his lover he honored them.


[1] NAMBLA Bulletin Vol. X, No. 9 (November 1989) p. 4.




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