Glory and the lightning, p.1
Glory and the Lightning, page 1
First published by
Doubleday and Company, Inc.
Other books by Taylor Caldwell:
THE ARM AND THE DARKNESS
THE FINAL HOUR
GRANDMOTHER AND THE PRIESTS
THE LATE CLARA BEAME
A PILLAR OF IRON
NO ONE HEARS BUT HIM
DIALOGUES WITH THE DEVIL
TESTIMONY OF TWO MEN
GREAT LION OF GOD
ON GROWING UP TOUGH
CAPTAINS AND THE KINGS
TO LOOK AND PASS
GLORY AND THE LIGHTNING
Pericles went to Aspasia and took her gently in his arms and kissed her brow and her lips. She rested against his breast, but she was still afraid. She clung to Pericles, and for the first time in this day of horrors she wept. He held her tenderly.
“I will have Pheidias design a giant wasp in marble, for your gardens,” he said, “with eyes of turquoise. It will be a warning to you, my sweetest one, never to trust a stranger. In truth, never trust anyone absolutely.”
“Not even you, lord?” she asked, smiling through her tears.
Aspasia was born to danger. Before her birth, her father had announced his intention of abandoning the child to die, should it be a girl. Hidden away and trained as a courtesan, Aspasia was educated in the arts of seduction in the exotic world of Persian harems. But when fate and her own sensuous beauty brought her to the bed of Pericles, ruler of Athens, Aspasia became not only his lover, but his confidant—a woman whose brilliance placed her in the precarious center of Athenian life at the height of the glory that was Greece.
Taylor Caldwell’s most extraordinary heroine—a woman fighting for her right to be fully human in the “man’s world” of ancient Greece…“Will equal her earlier works in popularity.”
“Fascinating…A masterpiece fashioned by an artist who deserves the attention of thoughtful and sensitive people of both sexes.”
—The Jackson Sun
“It doubtless will delight her thousands of loyal readers.”
—UPI Broadcast Newswire
“The novel is one of Taylor Caldwell’s best.”
—Delaware Morning News
“Seeing an ancient world through a woman’s eyes is handled with intelligence and style by Miss Caldwell.”
“Puts you right into the classic picture.”
—New York Times Book Review
For My Dear Friends,
WILLIAM EVERETT STANCELL,
and “BOB” CURRAN,
of The Buffalo Evening News.
“THE GLORY THAT WAS GREECE—”
“The genius of a nation strikes but once in its history. It is its glory and its immortality in the annals of men. It is aristocratic, discriminating, radiant and selective, and abjures all that is mediocre, plebeian and mundane. It is regnant. It is spiritual. It is the flame emanating from the core of the Universe, which is the generation of life. It is the lightning which sets fire to the small spirits of men, and raises them above the field and the plow, the house and the hayfield, in a sudden revelation of grandeur. It is, above all, masculine, for the aristocracy of the soul is purely masculine and never feminine, which is concerned only with petty matters and insistent trivialities. It transcends the humbleness of daily living and stands even the least important of men upon Olympus for a brief hour. It is never democratic, for democracy is a destructive thing, conspired in the inferior minds of envious men.
“If that nation which would survive in glory would cultivate only the masculine principle, its name in history will be written in gold and blaze through the centuries.”
ZENO OF ELEA
I am refraining in this book from giving a complete bibliography, for all the students of Greece and Pericles know them too well, and have read them as carefully as I have read them.
From childhood, I have been fascinated by Greece, and particularly Athens, but not by the endless wars and skirmishes of the period of Pericles. Wars, though sometimes interesting, especially when they are fought for freedom and the dignity of man, tend to repeat themselves throughout history, and not always for virtuous reasons.
The glory that was Greece was not the glory of the people of Athens but of their few sons, who, against the most terrible opposition and persecution, fought to make her the wonder of the world. It was in Greece that the first movement was made to control and limit the power of government, to give the people a voice in that government and to encourage them to vote and express their opinions. That later they were only too happy, for a little security, to surrender their right to free speech and inhibit their government when it became oppressive is the sad lesson of history which has repeated itself over and over since the days of Pericles.
As Aristotle said, “That nation which will not learn from the past is doomed to repeat it.” We have seen that over and over in history, and again are about to repeat the doom.
This is the story of men who made Athens glorious and who made her history, rather than the story of tedious wars and oppressive government, though, to make the heroes relevant and in context, it is necessary to show how their own government, conceived under the noble laws of Solon, became despotic, and how the heroes fought that government and sometimes—but rarely—succeeded.
If the story sounds familiar, it is because it is indeed familiar. A little study of present history will also show how ominous and pervasive of tyranny our present world is at this exact moment. If we do not learn from the past we will be doomed to repeat it.
“She was not only the most beautiful of women but a woman of mind and character and charm and tenderness, and the women of Athens owe much to her.”
The beautiful young mother came weeping to look upon her child, Aspasia.
“She is like Aphrodite, newly risen in pearl from the sea,” she said to the older woman, Thargelia. “Who knows her fate, mysteriously woven by the direful Sisters? Her father desired to expose her. I am glad that I rescued her and brought her to you. Is not her hair like gold, my child, and her eyes like autumn leaves and her flesh like nacre? Who could destroy such? Alas, her father would kill her even now if he knew she lived, for what man is proud of begetting a female?”
“She is extremely intelligent,” said Thargelia in a tone of consolation. “She has a mind that scintillates, throwing off myriad lights like a prism. She will become a magnificent courtesan, even more than you were, my little one.”
The mother moved restively. “I should prefer her to be married to a distinguished man.”
The older woman smiled with an ironic twist of her mouth. “And to be relegated to the women’s quarters while her husband amuses himself and converses with exciting women?”
“She would be safe,” murmured the mother, Acilia.
“No woman is ever safe with a man,” said Thargelia. “Wife, mistress or courtesan—women are never safe with men. Therefore, we must protect ourselves with a thousand wiles and nuances and stratagems.”
“But a wife has safety under the law,” said the mother, stroking her child’s head.
“A law which can be broken at a man’s will, dear little one.”
The lovely mother smiled and all at once she was a girl again. “Women are more powerful than the law. For we know no law but our natures and nature is above law.” She wiped her tea
“I have always said,” Thargelia remarked, “that you should have been a philosopher.”
“Alas, I loved,” said the mother. “When a woman loves she is not a philosopher.”
“Nor is a man,” said Thargelia. “Love is the great destroyer of logic and intelligence. The genitals rule us all—until the day our genitals fail us. Then we become wise. But wisdom is a cold fire which enlightens but does not warm.”
The mother gazed at the absolute blueness of the Asia Minor sky and then at the gulf which was no deeper in color, so that water and the heavens appeared to be one vast curtain hanging and palpitating adjacent to the earth. Acilia was tumultuous with her distressed thoughts. “If my child’s father, Axtochus, my lover, could but see her now and her beauty and hear her converse, young as she is, he might take her into his house with me and his other concubines. But I do not wish her to become a courtesan.”
Thargelia pondered. She had assumed her name because it had once belonged to one of the most beautiful and intellectual courtesans of Miletus. But she, herself, was not beautiful, though possessing a fascinating and changeful countenance. However, intelligence was like a glow on her face, and her eyes, though cynical—having known too many men—were brilliant with the liquid she used to enhance them. They were also hard and amused. Kohl blackened her eyelids, and red unguents, which glistened, were smoothly spread on her cheeks and lips. This gave her a debauched appearance which men found tantalizing. She led the fashion among the ladies of Miletus, even among virtuous matrons and maidens, for her taste was exquisite. She talked with the young mother at her side, stroking her peplos of mingled crimson and green; her dyed golden hair, vivid as the sunlight, was entwined with green ribbons. Her figure was the figure of a virgin, fluid and youthfully graceful. Only her hands betrayed her age, and not all the oils of Asia could drown the protruding veins or silken away the wrinkles. But they were eloquent, her hands, and she wore many rings of rich gems which helped to conceal the harsh knuckles. A lover had once said that she created music in the air with her hands, so fluent they were of gesture, with never an abrupt movement or awkward pose. She had trained them in the dance.
“You brought Aspasia to me,” she said, “when she was but a few days old, fleeing with her from the house of your lover, at night, after you had concealed her from the sight of her father. It was from my house that Axtochus chose you for his own, and he has been faithful to you, in his fashion, more than he has been faithful to his wives and other concubines. You are happy, Acilia, for I see happiness in the sleekness of your skin, the shimmer of your hair, and in the glitter of your jewels. Would you be so happy as an immured wife, under the law, neglected by your husband, relegated to the women’s quarters, sighing alone, while some concubine lay with your husband?”
Acilia thought. “No,” she admitted. “But every mother desires safety and honor for her daughters, and where can safety and honor be assured for a woman except in a distinguished marriage?”
“Bah,” said Thargelia with a shrug. “It is only fools who yearn for safety. I disagree that marriage is the only haven for women. Property and education and jewelry and power over a man are much more to be desired. Men rarely tire of an engaging concubine, but they inevitably tire of their wives. Concubines know how to amuse a man, and, at the end, that is a woman’s true function. We teach our maidens here that a woman’s destiny is to amuse, entertain, serve, console and love a man, and for these lovely gifts any man will pay a fortune, and even lay down his life. How many men in history have died for their wives? But our poets sing of men who sacrificed all for a mistress.”
“Men are very strange,” said Acilia.
“That is the first lesson we teach our maidens,” said Thargelia. “It is impossible for a woman to understand a man, who is very primitive, while women are born Sophists. I have argued with many noble philosophers in this house, and they have declared that they worshipped my conversation and my mental endowments, and that I was as subtle as themselves, which I did not consider a great compliment. But inevitably they slipped their hands under my peplos or onto my breasts and we ended our learned dissertations in my bed. Does that make men incomprehensible? Men never forget that they are first of all men, and that they love women—despite their intelligence. That is both flattering and irritating. But, did we make this world?”
They sat in the outdoor portico of the beautiful pillared house of courtesans, overlooking the Gulf of Latmic, near the mouth of the Meander river. The scent of jasmine was rising, and the sweet effluvium of roses. Women were singing joyously in the house and strumming lutes and harps, and for an instant Acilia’s fair face was filled with memories and longings. She looked down at her child, Aspasia, and mused. Would it not indeed be better for Aspasia to be trained as an accomplished courtesan, courted and honored and loved and gifted by eminent men, than to be an imprisoned wife in dreary quarters, seeing her husband only at his indifferent command when he needed children, and having for her company only unlettered slaves and looms and kitchen servants and women as ignorant as herself?
Acilia and Thargelia sipped the best of wines imported from Pylos where the delectable wine-grapes grew on dry and sunny slopes, and they ate dainty pastries as they sat in the outdoor portico and listened to the music and the distant rustle of the sea and the laughter of fountains in the gardens which surrounded them. Two female slaves waved feathered fans over their heads, and a breeze was rising from the waters, which had begun to blaze as sunset approached. It was very peaceful and languorous, and Acilia sighed again, remembering her happiness and mirth in this house as a child and a young maiden.
Aspasia was leaning against her mother’s knee and contentedly eating a pastry stuffed with poppy seeds and honey and citron peel. Acilia smiled down into her daughter’s large light brown eyes, which were filled with mysterious liquid lights and shifting sparkles and shadowed and starred with golden lashes of enormous sweep and length. The child’s hair hung far down her back and seemed to be a mass of soft gilt threads. Her features were delicate and hinted of increasing maturity, though she was but six years old. When she smiled, as she did now, dimples raced over her cheeks—softly colored—and flew in and out around her full scarlet lips. There was an endearing charm about her, a certain enthrallment. She is far more beautiful than I was, thought Acilia with pride. Alas, the destiny of woman is very sorrowful, whether mistress or wife or concubine or slave. Should we not have a higher destiny than this?
Thargelia saw the mother’s changing and melancholy expression, and she said, “I have trained many children and maidens, but Aspasia is more than them all. Though very young she is already a philosopher. Her appearance is enchanting. Her mind will command the attention and the respect of even the most dissolute men. I predict a marvelous future for her. She has fate in her eyes, profound and immeasurable.”
“Women must change this world of men,” said Acilia, suddenly, and put her hand in protection on her child’s shining head.
Thargelia shrugged. “Would it be to our advantage? Men are now our adorers and our slaves. Let us not long for equality with them! We would lose our privileges and gain nothing but coarseness, anxiety, toil and disrespect.”
She laughed. “Let men continue to protect us and we will continue to rule them from our beds and with our blandishments. He who sits on a throne is never at peace or at rest. But she who is the voice behind the throne, however concealed, has all the advantages of power, and all the prerogatives, and can sleep tranquilly of a night.”
“So long as she is young and beautiful,” said Acilia, sighing.
Thargelia was vexed. “It was one of your faults, dear little one, that you were always sighing even when most happy. Youth? Clever and noble men may proclaim that they prefer green fruit. But they a
The young Aspasia was sipping her own small goblet of wine, but she looked up at her mother over the rim and her eyes were wise and merry and full of understanding. She is six years old, thought Acilia with some uneasiness, but she was never young!
Thargelia, watching with her astute eyes, said, “I have had a soothsayer for Aspasia. He predicts that she will glow like the moon over her country and have great men in her power, and everywhere she will be the inspiration of poets.”
“Soothsayers!” said Acilia with indulgence. Nevertheless, she was flattered and pleased. She laid a purse of gold coins on the ivory and lemonwood table. “Nothing must be denied my daughter. I trust you, Thargelia, for I have had reason to trust you. You are wiser than I. Do with Aspasia as you will, for I see you love her.”
Thargelia drew the child to her and kissed her milky brow and ran her fingers through the bright cobweb of her golden hair, which was airy and fine. “Aspasia and I understand each other,” she said, with affection, “for all we have our moments of rebellion. There are no uncertainties in her mind, no doubts, no hesitations. She will have what she wills, as a woman, and her will is already formidable.”
Acilia rose, seeing that her litter with four Nubian male slaves—gleaming blackly and naked to the waist and with crimson turbans on their heads—had arrived at the gates. Their ebony faces were carved and impassive and full of secret dignity. They had drawn aside the crimson embroidered curtains for their mistress, and Acilia entered the litter and reclined on the yellow silk of the cushions. She did not close the curtains as she was borne away. There was a sad premonition in her, as if she knew that never again would she see her daughter, who was on the steps of the portico and waving to her with the easy indifference of a child. Even as Acilia watched, Aspasia turned and ran swiftly into the house, forgetting her mother. Acilia sighed, and a tear fell from her lashes, which had been dusted with gold powder. She found her small silver mirror in her purse and carefully wiped it away. Axtochus, she recalled, detested reddened eyes in a woman, and fled from them impatiently. She arranged a beguiling smile on her face, careful not to wrinkle the skin about her pretty mouth. She opened a little alabaster pot, also from her purse, and smoothed a perfumed attar over her lips. In a moment she was thinking of the gilded cloth from the Orient and her dressmaker.
by Taylor Caldwell / Literature & Fiction / Historical Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes