It was the wolves that did it. To this day I am convinced that, if the wolves had not been abroad that night, then Phaedo would have remained a slave. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps he would have contrived to find some other way to free himself. Citizens take the loss of freedom very hard, and a nobleman thus reduced must feel more shame than any other.
Loss was a topic that weighed heavily on my mind that night, and for once it was not in any comedic sense that I thought of it. Comedy was far from me as I walked, huddled into my cloak, wrapped too in memories I was unable - or unwilling - to let go.
I thought of Xenophon first, for his exile troubled me. He had gone voluntarily, but there were moves afoot to make it legal and permanent. And Thoukydides, that dreadful pretentious bore, or inspired genius, whichever way one was inclined to think of him - he had not long returned from exile, and now he was dead. I wondered if he should not have stayed in exile. It is surely better to die with the memory of one's homeland still perfect and untarnished than to return to a city so damaged and changed that even the very stones beneath one's feet seem different.
And Alkibiades. Ah, Alkibiades! Four years' dead and yet still his ghost lingered over our group. I should have been able to make of this circumstance a riotously funny satyr play, but for once I was not inclined to do so. Politics held little interest for me any more, save to watch it with a wary eye. Oligarchic sympathisers were looked upon as suspect, even by old friends; and although I had no real leanings in that direction save for the company I kept that night, far too many people remembered my very public hatred of Kleon for me to be anything but circumspect.
That night there were three of us, one for each age of man, or so it seemed. Sokrates was the oldest, but he had no need of the stick that he carried. Instead he used it to probe the surface of the road, and warned us peremptorily of any ruts or puddles ahead of us in the darkness. Next in age came myself, although I could easily have passed as the oldest member of our party, so muffled against the cold was I that I appeared hunched and bent. Our youngest was Eukleides, a student of Sokrates' and, through no fault of his own, a former Eleatic. Sokrates teased him about this oversight from time to time, and as a result, Eukleides had become ridiculously eager to please.
It had been Eukleides' idea to come out here. Only a young man of little experience but great book-learning would think to invite his teacher on an evening stroll beyond the city gates in the month of Pyanopsion. I suppose Eukleides thought he was being very daring. He probably thought that Sokrates - and I, for that matter - were unaware of what went on outside of the agora or the precincts of Dionysos. Childish, childlike thought! The older a man, the greater is his capacity for wisdom and pleasure and memory and sin. It is strange how the young seem to forget that: how they seem to believe that they invented pleasure and sin, if little else.
In any case, Sokrates indulged his student, and I chanced across them as they walked, and decided to join them. An apolitical playwright must look for comedy where he can, and there was precious little of it in my household. Perhaps I would find it on a philosophical ramble to Mount Lykabettos.
We had not gone far from the city when Eukleides said loudly, "You are very quiet, Aristophanes!"
I jumped, startled out of my reverie, and summoned an answer. "I was thinking," I said, "of how diminished we have become, and in so short a space of time."
Sokrates gave me an unreadable look, but Eukleides nodded as if he understood. "You miss Agathon, do you not?"
I snorted. "Why should I miss that old fairy?"
"Answering a question with another question is a sure sign that a man wishes to evade an honest answer," Sokrates said lightly.
"That is, after all, the basis of your philosophy," I replied, waspish. "Zeus's arse! Why must you insist on picking at everything a man says? Some of us can give honest answers even when we give no answer at all."
"Just like Aeschylus's Niobe, eh?" Eukleides said, elbowing me in a friendly gesture.
I sighed inwardly, glad of the darkness that prevented Eukleides from seeing the irritation in my expression. For it did irritate me, the references to my plays and the repetition of lines that sometimes I had thought half-baked when I wrote them. There's only one thing worse than having your own work quoted at you, and that's having someone else's work quoted at you in the mistaken belief that it was yours. Agathon always preened whenever a sycophantic fool quoted one of my lines at him, thinking it was his, and praised it for its originality. Whenever a man lauded one of Agathon's lines as mine, I would become incensed and incoherent with disappointment. Perhaps Agathon dealt better with fame than did I; and perhaps that was another of the reasons why I had disliked the man so much.
"I do not miss Agathon," I said at length, realising that Eukleides wanted to continue the conversation. "When two men are rivals, and one of them dies, the other does not always mourn his passing. There will be another comic playwright to challenge me soon enough. Agathon is dead, and I am content - and that is an honest answer."
Sokrates laughed. "You are funny even when you do not intend to be so."
"It is my curse that men should think that of me."
It was Eukleides' turn to laugh, then; and so I gave up hope for a sensible discussion and returned to my thoughts.
The sun had set by the time we reached the slope of the hill, and already we had attracted a certain amount of attention. There are few decent buildings so far from the city walls, and at Lykabettos they are all of a certain type: small wooden shelters with half-doors, so that the passer-by can examine at leisure the goods on display. Here and there one could see the shadow of a pimp, pushing forwards his boys so that their pale, bright faces peered out at us from the torch-lit doorways like so many moons vying to rise in the sky.
Eukleides moved close to Sokrates and began to list the attributes and charms of various whores. I wondered what he was trying to prove. For all the ribald jokes that I and others of my profession had declared at Sokrates' expense, it was a fact well known that he had never physically consummated a love affair with another male. I myself had heard Alkibiades - beautiful, dangerous Alkibiades - complain at length of how he had tried every way possible to seduce Sokrates, and how he had failed most miserably. I myself knew how much Sokrates had loved Alkibiades, and how deep went the hurt at his fall and murder. So it was that I wondered at Eukleides' reasons for bringing his master out to the Lykabettan brothels. Was it a test of self-control, or did the young pup genuinely think to be kind to an old man, to show him Beauty in the faces and bodies of the pretty little whores?
We were not the only men out that night. As we walked, we saw cloaked figures slip in and out of the brothels. Some of the customers, when they saw us walking so openly, turned away lest we discover their identity. I liked to think that my reputation preceded me. If I had recognised any of those cloaked men, then certainly I would not have hesitated to lampoon them in my next play. Buying a boy - or even a man, as there are plenty for sale at Lykabettos for those whose tastes run that way - is not a shameful business, but it can be a litigious one.
Sokrates responded to Eukleides' comments, but in an idle, disinterested fashion. I have heard men speak of racehorses with more passion than Sokrates discussed the whores. He was, I think, careful to keep his remarks low-voiced. The same could not be said for Eukleides, and it was with some relief that we took the track that wends around to the northeast of Lykabettos. The brothels were less numerous there, and the noises of lust now came from outside, upon the pine-wooded slopes, as well as from within the houses.
The older, cheaper whores often disported themselves amongst the woods, as shameless as Pan and his satyrs. It seemed too base for me to bother thinking of even one joke, although the image of men scuffling and struggling with their cloaks and loincloths, stuck with dozens of pine needles as tiny goads to lust, did strike me as funny. I must have been smiling, for when Sokrates turned on the path and saw me, he raised his heavy brows and began to speak.
Whatever he was about to say was lost in the sudden, mournful howl of a wolf.
We all three stood still, struck dumb by fear. It was a very primal fear, different to the kind that one expects and embraces in war, and we were not the only ones to be so affected. Out of the bushes and from behind the trees there tumbled pairs of men and boys, hastily winding their cloaks around them, trailing clusters of pine needles and cones that bounced across the track in their wake.
The sight was so ridiculous that I burst into laughter. Eukleides stared at me, aghast, and then grasped Sokrates by the arm and made as if to hurry him back towards the comparative safety of the brothels.
"The wolves are fiercer in town than they are out here in the country," Sokrates said, shaking himself free. "We will not be attacked."
Eukleides sounded uncertain when he said, "Master, of course you are right, but there have been reports of the wolves coming down from the mountains and roaming the district, looking for food."
"Or looking for a mate," I said. This time I didn't get a laugh. I looked up at the craggy darkness of Lykabettos and shivered as the wolf howled again. It was answered by another cry, one that seemed much closer, and my feet began to itch with the desire to run.
"It is not yet winter," Sokrates said, "and hardly cold, for all that Aristophanes insists on his winter cloak. Food is plentiful. The wolves will not attack us."
Another howl brought us closer together. I could see the whites of Eukleides' eyes, and realised that he was very frightened. "Well, now," I muttered to him, "you came out here for an adventure, did you not?"
He gave me an evil look, and when the wolf howled a fourth time, we all set off at a brisk walk back towards the habitations. The lovers from the pinewoods had gone before us and reported that the wolves were coming down from the mountain, and so trade had almost ceased by the time we arrived. The selfsame pimps who had tried to capture our attention earlier were now engaged in locking up their houses, securing the upper half of the door or keeping watch with a fiery torch.
It was as we passed by one such house that we noticed him. Indeed, it was hard not to notice him, for although many of the whores we had seen that night had been young and comely, this youth was superb - a very flower of beauty, perfect in form and with a proud bearing that one did not see often amongst this class of people.
Sokrates saw him first, of course. Sokrates stopped stock-still in the road and stared at the youth as he went through the motions of closing the shutters to the lower windows of the residence, and then the door.
"Sokrates?" Eukleides sounded puzzled, but then he could not have seen what I had seen; and even I was not certain that what I had seen was what I believed that I had seen. Sophistry aside, I found myself drawn towards the house beside Sokrates, while Eukleides, still confused, bleated questions behind us.
Sokrates banged on the door with his staff, and a disreputable-looking individual opened it. He looked us up and down, and then scowled. "We're closed."
"Eukleides, your purse," Sokrates said.
I was always amazed when grown men just handed over their money at some whim of Sokrates. He never wanted any money for himself, but some of his whims could be expensive. Nobody ever refused him, though. Apart from me, but then he had never asked anything of me. I could never decide whether this was a blessing or an insult.
Eukleides held up his purse and the pimp poked at it with avaricious fingers. "How much?"
"Enough for us to spend the evening with your doorman."
The pimp narrowed his eyes. "All three of you?"
Sokrates waved a dismissive hand. "Our interest is not base. We just ask an hour or so of his time, with wine and pleasant conversation."
The pimp stared at him, and then slid his gaze first to Eukleides and then to me, before he looked again at Sokrates. "You must be philosophers, to pay so readily for nothing. Come in, and be welcome."
The house was rude inside, with a floor of beaten earth and a scattering of dirty straw. A couple of three-legged stools and a table joined the pallet-bed to make up the furnishings of the room into which we were shown, and a brazier with a few slumberous coals upon it gave out only a moderate heat. The pimp brought a chair, out of deference for Sokrates' age, and then he shouted for Phaedo to attend upon us.
"Phaedo," Sokrates said, musing.
Eukleides sat down on one of the stools and tried to make sure that his cloak didn't drag on the floor. He looked very uncomfortable, and his fine nose sniffed continuously as if he were trying to recognise every one of the odours that lingered in the room. His blank expression told me that he was not always successful. I think he was probably fortunate in this failure.
I went to stand by the shuttered window, where the smoke from the brazier was less irritating to the eyes. I peered through the cracks in the wood, looking for the shape of the slinking wolves, but could see nothing save for darkness and the occasional leap of flame from nearby torches.
The door opened and I turned to see the youth, Phaedo, enter the room bearing a tray. Quite solemnly he handed each of us a cup, and then another slave, skinnier and quite plain in comparison, brought in a krater of wine and another of water. These he set on the table, and then he left, closing the door firmly behind him.
A silence fell as we all examined Phaedo, and he examined us. He did so with curiosity - a pleasing change to the bold looks one associates with such a profession - and it was this more than anything else about his person that suggested that he had not been born to this life.
He was older than I had first thought. The fresh bloom of youth was fading; his cheeks and jaw carried the marks of shaving, though his skin was still flawless and pale, like that of a much younger boy. His mouth was full and sulky as we looked at him, but I had no doubt that an instant's amusement would yield a wide smile. His eyes were dark, but his hair was a light brown, fired by glints of red.
He was dressed in a tunic more suitable for a boy than for a young man, although even I could see the appeal of it. The short garment revealed more of his lithe body, and the laces of his sandals, wrapped around his calves, seemed to accentuate the length and grace of his legs.
"Phaedo," Sokrates said again, and this time his voice was admiring rather than assessing.
"Yes, sir." Phaedo took him to be the leader of our group, and so ventured towards the wine-krater with his own cup ready to act as a dipper. "Would you care for some wine, sir?"
"You're not Athenian," I said. "Your accent is..." I hesitated to say 'rustic', and so left my sentence dangling, a question rather than a remark.
"I'm from Elis," Phaedo said, much too briefly, and then he looked again to Sokrates, seeking permission to serve him wine.
"Oh, not I, boy," Sokrates said. "Water will suffice."
Phaedo filled the cup that he held out. "The - owner of this place said you just wished for conversation. Lykabettos seems an unlikely place to go in search of conversation. Most men who come here have no use for words at all."
"There are some who meditate upon the body through the pleasures of the flesh," Sokrates said sombrely. "Personally, I have always believed that a man enslaved to his body risks losing his soul. Pleasure can be beneficial, but only in moderation."
Phaedo gave him an anxious glance. "You sound like a philosopher."
"He is!" Eukleides said, almost rising from his stool in outrage that the youth had not recognised his teacher. "This is Sokrates, the greatest of orators and wisest of mentors -"
Sokrates grimaced, and spoke over the top of the panegyric: "And this is Eukleides, a reformed Eleatic, who knows little or no moderation when it comes to singing the praises of others."
"An Eleatic. Of course." Phaedo covered his ignorance by filling Eukleides' cup, mixing equal portions of wine and water. After he had handed over the cup, it was my turn to be fixed by those big, dark eyes. "And you, sir - do you find my company so displeasing that you need to stand by the window?"
I held out my cup. "I was watching for the wolves," I said. "As for your company, I have no opinion one way or the other. You have not yet said enough for me to be able to judge you on your merits."
"Purely on looks alone, how would you rate him?" Sokrates asked, a gleam in his eye.
"A veritable Ganymede," Eukleides said knowledgeably, as if assessing beautiful young men was natural to him.
"Yes," I said, "but a flawed Ganymede, for perfection always comes at a price. Better to be flawed in body than in mind."
Phaedo looked a little downcast at this. I met Sokrates' gaze and hid my smile. Vanity is almost a sport amongst the young, and we had known the most dazzling player of all. Alkibiades had been perfect. Too perfect. We were still paying the price of that perfection, and so I wanted no part in the discovery of another ideal Beauty.
"Aristophanes finds flaws in everybody," Eukleides said. "Do you not?"
I waggled my cup beseechingly. "Especially in myself. Come, boy: fill it to the brim. If drunkenness is the worse charge that can be levelled against me these days, then I shall be content."
Phaedo did as I asked, and I inhaled the dark scent of the wine as he poured it. He stared at me. "You do not seem to be particularly funny."
"For all his jests and witticism on stage, Aristophanes is a very serious playwright," Sokrates said as he pushed aside his own cup. "His is... an accidental humour, shall we say?"
"Comedy is for the masses, tragedy for the wise." I turned myself away from the window and towards the brazier, and raised my drink in salute. "That at least is what they claim. But it is a foolish man who underestimates the power of the masses."
Eukleides snuffled with amusement. "It seems that you are a democrat once more!"
"For my sins." I drank down the wine in three swift gulps, and held out the cup for more. "This stuff is dreadful. But it would be worse if it were watered down."
Sokrates ignored my grumbling complaints, and focused his attention purely on Phaedo. The youth, who was surely used to being the object of a man's admiring gaze, nevertheless blushed at such scrutiny.
"Elis, you said?" Sokrates frowned. "You cannot have been in Athens long."
Phaedo inclined his head. "Less than half a year."
"I would be the last to assume anything about a man, and yet I will risk chastisement for this," Sokrates said, his voice unusually gentle: "Did you lose your liberty in the war with Sparta?"
Phaedo held his gaze. "Yes." He hesitated, as if uncertain that we would want to hear his story, but at an encouraging gesture from Sokrates, he continued: "I was sixteen when they came. Old enough to fight, old enough to defend my honour... We didn't stand a chance. Sparta is not like Athens. The Spartans go to war believing that they will win, rather than knowing it. A man fights harder for belief than he does for knowledge already given to him."
Sokrates sat back in his chair and tugged at his beard. "An interesting argument. And what of you? Did you fight with belief, or with certainty?"
Phaedo looked away. "Neither. I fought from obligation."
"As should all men!" exclaimed Eukleides. He had only sipped at his drink, and now he tucked it beneath his stool and gave his attention to the conversation. "Doing one's duty is the mark of a civilised man."
"And of the uncivilised," Sokrates said. "And neither am I certain that a man should carry out all duties imposed upon him. Duty may be beneficial to the state, but not to the individual: and it is with the individual that I am chiefly concerned."
He glanced over at me as I helped myself to more unwatered wine. We had fought so many times over the issues of individualism that I thought it best to ignore him, and so I looked instead at Phaedo. The youth sat curled up on a stool close beside Sokrates, just as if he were a citizen lad listening to his teacher in the agora. I was moved to ask, "What class did you belong to, at Elis?"
Phaedo tipped his head towards me. "I am noble-born."
"Then, the Eupatridae lost a fine son when you were taken and reduced to this low status," Eukleides said.
I suppose it was meant as a compliment, but Phaedo paled visibly at the reminder of his new place in society.
I took a sip of the horrible wine, and wiped my mouth with my fingers. "I always thought that it must be quite pleasant to have the burden of public speculation lifted from one's shoulders. A man of noble blood has less chance of escaping his illustrious ancestry, and more chance of looking like a fool because of it."
"So you are saying that my capture and enslavement is a good thing?" Phaedo asked, his voice neutral even though his fists clenched in his lap.
"Not in so many words, no," I said. "But from a certain point of view, then there are some that would envy you your... enslaved freedom."
Eukleides pounced on my words as a cat jumps upon a mouse. "Again, you return to democracy! For is that not the opinion that you presented so recently with The Frogs? You long for Athens' empire to be held intact, but with a liberal attitude to her allies and dependants. 'Enslaved freedom' is a good way of describing the Delian League -"
"Please don't mention The Frogs again," I interrupted him. "It really is a frightful bore."
"But..." Phaedo frowned, a charming gesture. "You were acclaimed for it! You received civic honours for writing a play that brought Athenians together in harmony!"
"And nearly thirty years ago I was prosecuted for writing a play that divided us, even though I still think it was very funny."
"Not for Kleon," Sokrates said.
I shrugged, and stared at the dregs in my cup. "He should not have punished Mytilene so harshly. Arrogance of that kind is hubris. You see where it has led us: a crippling war, two revolutions, and the loss of our sons. Perhaps it was hubris of my own to believe that I could act as Teiresias to Oedipus; but alas, I still have my eyes, and can see all too clearly. Prophets do not always have to be blind."
"And playwrights do not always need to be drunk," Sokrates said, wagging a finger at me. He rose to his feet and asked Phaedo where he might go to relieve himself. The youth went with him as far as the corridor, then shouted to another slave to guide the old man outside.
Phaedo returned to the room and resumed his place on the stool, and continued to look at me with curiosity. Eukleides shifted his seat, too, more to direct spiteful looks in my direction than from any other reason.
"I apologise," said Phaedo, "but I want to ask you about The Frogs. People still talk about it, you know, as the greatest comedy ever written. I did not see it, of course, but I have heard it recited, many times. What was it that you said? That 'it was better not to sit beside Sokrates and chatter, sacrificing the finest traits of Tragedy and abandoning the art of the Muses...' Do you really believe that?"
I sighed. "I say a lot of things in my plays that I do not always mean."
"Then your plays are untruthful."
"They are not intended to be either true or false. They are a mirror of society as I see it. You, the audience, may look into the mirror and see whatsoever you choose. It is entirely up to you whether you see a thing of beauty or of great ugliness."
Phaedo frowned at me, and this time he did not look as charming as he had done before. "I disagree. A mirror is a blameless thing: it cannot help but reflect an image of whoever looks into it. But you - yes, you have an opinion, you can distort the surface of the mirror, and thus the image reflected. You, through the power of comedy, can manipulate your audience."
"You make me sound like the meanest rhetorician," I said lightly, holding my cup in a toast to his argument.
"He makes you sound like Gorgias," Sokrates said from the doorway.
"Now that is not a compliment."
Sokrates seated himself upon his chair, instantly commanding the entire room once more. He smiled at me and said, "I do not think I have ever given you a compliment, Aristophanes. Certainly you have never given one to me."
"I wrote an entire play ridiculing sophistry, and placed you at the head of it. That, in some men's eyes, could be construed as a compliment."
"It was not a compliment, but an attack," Eukleides said with a sniff, but nobody paid him the slightest attention.
"If you hate Sokrates and all that he stands for, then why are you here in his company?" Phaedo asked.
I blinked at the question. "Hate? I don't hate him. The only man I hate is Kleon, and I think I have reason enough for such passion."
"And what about love?" Sokrates asked swiftly. "Everybody knows of your enmity with Kleon. But whom does Aristophanes love?"
That was harder to answer. "He," I said, nodding at Sokrates, "will tell you of a dinner-party some years ago, where we all discussed Love. My speech - which everyone laughed at, thinking that I was being funny - concerned the search a man has to find his other half. A man is vulnerable without his other half; he is incomplete. True happiness can only come when the two halves are united as one."
Phaedo nodded, absorbing my clumsy rhetoric. "And have you found your other half?"
I hesitated for a moment; aware of the weight of their gazes, and of Sokrates' gaze most of all. "Yes," I said, "although I should state that I have revised my thesis since that time when it was first discussed. Back then I said that the Gods separated mankind into three types of people: those men who desired women, those women who desired other women, and those men who desired other men. I would now add a fourth category - those men who desire an ideal."
Sokrates drew in his breath and then nodded his head. "Perhaps you should add a fifth category: those men who desire both other men, and an ideal."
"Yes," I agreed, "because that would describe you well enough, would it not? You have described yourself often enough in the past as the lover of both Alkibiades and Philosophy."
There. The name was out, and although I had not said it to be cruel, Sokrates still reacted badly to it. He drew himself upright in the chair and pulled at the folds of his cloak with trembling hands. Eukleides and Phaedo watched this display of uncertainty with interest. I had no doubt that neither of them would see such a thing ever again.
"Your pardon, Sokrates," I said softly.
He lifted his head and gave me his satyr's smile. "It is well. But come, answer the question - whom is it that you love?"
"An ideal, for I can never hope to find happiness amongst my fellow men." I gestured towards the wine-krater on the table and said, "I would like to say that I am in love with wine, but that has always been an empty relationship. No, I fear that I am in love with Poetry, in all its forms. She is my mistress and my slave; and for all that Phaedo claimed that I manipulate Poetry to achieve my ends, I have to admit that at times I am very much in thrall to Poetry. So you see, there is a balance in this relationship; and while I am sometimes lonely, I am never alone."
Sokrates nodded. "Yes. Well said. It is exactly like that."
"What about your family?" Eukleides asked.
I shrugged. "I love my children. Although that is a kind of obligation."
Phaedo smiled at that, his eyes glistening. "And do you see yourself as a civilised man, as Eukleides claims, or an uncivilised man?"
"Oh, but naturally I am uncivilised, despite my citizenship and all the lauds of the masses," I said carelessly. "The true test of civilisation, Phaedo, is not duty or obligation, but how one takes one's wine."
He laughed as I poured myself another cup, right full to the brim. The effect of the alcohol was only just beginning to make its presence felt. Cheap wine does not get a man as drunk as quickly as expensive wine, but it does leave a ferocious hangover. I knew I would regret this in the morning.
"Only a barbarian would drink unwatered wine," Eukleides said, censorious.
"Exactly." I lifted the cup to my lips and took a long draught. "I am an uncivilised wretch, and thus I am quite at liberty to poke fun at the constitutions that govern polite, civilised society. This, my dear Phaedo, is why I said earlier that your position, although not admirable, actually leaves you quite free."
"But only inasmuch as that it relieves me of responsibility," Phaedo said. "In all other aspects, my slavery is far from the ideal that you speak of."
"That is the problem with philosophy," I said. "It is like a piece of art in the agora. From one angle, the argument makes perfect sense, just as the painting or statue is pleasing to the eye. But if you walk around it and look from a different angle, then you can see that it is unfinished."
Eukleides shook his head. "I disagree. That is the beauty of philosophy. It is an organic thing that can adapt to each fresh argument. It is not unfinished, but merely in its infancy."
"And yet fine talk does not absolve me of being a captured slave," Phaedo said, and his quiet voice silenced us all for a moment.
The coals in the brazier were completely white, and glowed only faintly. Smoke hung suspended in the centre of the room, just below the ceiling: a cloud of wispy grey like a nimbus wreathing Sokrates' head. I wondered whether he was Zeus, or Strepsiades.
He caught me looking at him, and then said to Phaedo, "Go, boy, and fetch some more wine for Aristophanes."
I was about to say that I did not want any more of the dreadful stuff when I realised that Sokrates wanted the youth out of the room for a moment, so that we might talk about him.
Eukleides got up from his stool to open the door as Phaedo carried out the wine-krater, and then he stood with his back against the doorframe, glancing between us. "What are you planning to do?" he asked. "The city is full of slaves, noble and base-born. You cannot free them all. How can you? The archon will not want to know. A slave cannot bring a lawsuit against his master, not even if he was one of the Eupatridae."
Sokrates raised his eyebrows. "Really, Eukleides, and I thought you suggested a walk to Lykabettos for a reason. What better reason can there be than to alleviate the suffering of the unjustly-enslaved?"
"It was just," Eukleides said. "He was taken in war."
"And war is just?" I asked. "I have no wish to start Sokrates on a discourse as to what is right or wrong about war, but I will admit to being uneasy at the reduction of Phaedo's status. Certainly he should not be in a place such as this."
Eukleides sniffed. "There are many who should not be in places such as this. But you cannot deny that some of the whores enjoy their life. Perhaps -"
"Perhaps this is a discussion we might save for another time," Sokrates said loudly; and then, lowering his voice again, he said, "Aristophanes, you know why I am troubled. The boy looks so much like Alkibiades!"
Eukleides stared at his teacher in astonishment. "He does?"
"Yes, he does," I said. "And yet, he does not. At times I see Alkibiades so clearly in him, and then he is his own man again."
"Well," said Eukleides, "you have said that the soul is immortal. Perhaps it can transfer from one body to another after death. Although, it would not be feasible in this instance: Phaedo is too old to contain the soul of Alkibiades."
Sokrates seemed not to hear him. "I made a mistake with Alkibiades," he murmured. "I was too indulgent: granted him too much, denied him too much. But I had never seen such beauty before, or had such affection freely given. I should have had greater self-control. It was not enough that I refused to be his lover. I was rash in believing that I could harness him and teach him anything. If I had acted differently, the world could have been... less complicated."
"For all your wisdom, you are not the Pythia," I warned. "And neither are you Pygmalion."
"I do not intend to be. I cannot make him what he is not already." Sokrates shuddered, shaking off the memories. "I do not want to be Pygmalion with Phaedo. I would rather be Pheidias, freeing him from a block of stone. Or even like you, Aristophanes, using words as a mirror of truth."
Eukleides continued to protest: "He is not a citizen. That limits him. Even if you free him, he will become a metic, and thus not entirely at liberty."
"But he can be a free man again, if he chooses to leave Athens."
"Listening to your teachings is enough to free a man," Eukleides said.
"With all respect," I said, "I think I would rather reclaim my patrimony than listen to endless spouting of sophistry."
There was a kick at the door, and Eukleides opened it hurriedly, allowing Phaedo to enter with the krater filled with wine. It took him all of a moment to realise that we must have been speaking of him in his absence, for when he had set down the krater he straightened up and looked around at us, quite seriously.
"We have been discussing your future," Sokrates began.
Phaedo tried not to show any emotion. "I have no future while I remain a slave. The offer has been made before - rich men have come here on hearing of my looks and nobility, and they say they will buy my freedom, so long as I will love them forever afterwards. But how can I countenance such an offer? I would simply be exchanging one enslavement for another."
Sokrates and I exchanged a glance.
Eukleides asked, "How long have you been a whore?"
"As long as I have been in Athens."
"Do you... enjoy it?"
The look he gave Eukleides was one of freezing contempt. "How can a free man bear any kind of slavery? It is like a living death. There may be pleasure to be found in this debasement, but pleasure is not always good, and very often it is evil, as Sokrates has taught. Pleasure, like rhetoric, is a means of leading men astray. It is not my choice to submit, but I have become a vessel for other men's lusts. I am as blameless as a coin, gambled rather than invested, or a knife, used for evil purpose rather than for good. There can be no talk of enjoyment for a man in my circumstances."
I applauded him, but silently.
Eukleides turned to Sokrates. "I am sure he speaks the truth, but his nature of even half a year will follow him wherever he goes. If you free him, then people will gossip as to his virtue. A whore can ignore idle speculation. A free man - even a metic - cannot."
"One method of acquiring virtue is to frequent the society of good men," Phaedo said boldly.
Sokrates laughed, a loud open laugh of the kind I had not seen since Alkibiades' death. "I think my reputation can withstand a few more dents," he said, and Phaedo smiled at him even as Eukleides scowled.
"Aristophanes," said Sokrates, "do you have your purse?"
I nodded. "Yes."
"Phaedo's price is four hundred drachmai. Will you free him?"
I could hardly afford such a cost; but then, I could hardly refuse the request. I had only a fraction of Phaedo's price in my purse, but the pimp took it as surety until I returned the following morning with the remainder.
Sokrates accompanied me out to Lykabettos, where I witnessed a touching reunion between Phaedo and the old man. One would have thought to look at them that they had known one another for a long time. And perhaps, somehow, they had.
It was the first and the last time that Sokrates ever asked anything of me.
-- Aristophanes, son of Philippos, of the deme Kydathenaeus, wrote this in the year that Demostratos was archon, and Thrasybalos and Ergokles strategoi.