Achilles had all the luck. A hero for a father, a goddess for a mother, Patroklos at his side, and Homer to immortalise his exploits. Well. I suppose, technically, not all the luck, but I’m sure, all things considered, he’d agree he got the best of the bargain. No one ever locked him in his own bedchamber and told him to write a thousand words on the evils of temper. Oh, no. When he retreated to his tent, everyone was sorry.
Well, Leonidas will be sorry too, when he reads this. I don’t know what Father was thinking when he hired him as my school-master, unless it was an attempt to get back in Mother’s good graces by complimenting a relative of hers, in which case I don’t see why I should have to suffer for the fact that Samothrace’s fires have well and truly burned out. He’s an incompetent dolt; he thinks the fact that he has perfect Attic diction and occasionally catches me using Macedonian words for things when I get excited is proof positive of his superiority. The Iliad isn’t even written in Attic; he stumbles over some of the Ionian forms as badly as I do!
He thinks I’m spoilt – me! – and as if the way he behaves in lessons isn’t bad enough, he also goes through my things searching for any treats that Mother might have given me! He thinks I should live on porridge and chickpeas, just because the Spartans did. I bet they didn’t in any case, I bet the real Leonidas ate steak every day, but the fake one’s so totally obsessed with them – as if changing his name as a tribute wasn’t bad enough – that he imagines he’s recreating the agoge right here in Pella. I should count myself lucky that Mother would have had him poisoned if he’d sent me out to the wilds of Olympos itself as a seven year old, to dodge the wolves as I might.
(I’d be a hypocrite – and as Achilles said, I hate him as I hate the gates of hell, that man who says one thing while keeping in his heart another – if I didn’t admit that Phoenix, my pedagogue, changed his name as well, but he did it to amuse me, rather than to show off, and besides, he’s right, if I am Achilles come again, then Phoenix he must be. It certainly trips off the tongue more pleasantly than Lysimachos.)
So, here I am, eight years old, locked in my room, and for what? Punching that cry-baby Cassander in the face? He deserved it. I listened to his argument that Agamemnon was in the right, and then I explained that sometimes wealth and power is given to men that don’t deserve it, and that men with great spirit chafe under the domination of such, and I was going to draw an analogy with Persia and Macedon, which should have been obvious enough, even to someone of his limited intellectual capacities.
Instead, he started raving that it was treason to speak that way about the King, and that I had obviously let the Queen poison my mind, which speaks volumes about where Antipater’s loyalties lie. And naturally, Philotas, that sneak, went racing off to tell Parmenio, who gave him a clip round the ear and told him he’d come to a bad end, which was divine justice, so he cried too. They both got sent to bed without any supper, but I’m the only one who got given lines. Next time I am going to start crying, since it seems to be a sure route to getting sympathy and your own way.
Anyway, I reckon I could probably last three days in here without food or water, but apparently I exit either with a thousand words or as a shrivelled corpse – I could tell he was just dying to say with your shield or on it – so I have decided to make a virtue of necessity. They may not be quite the thousand words Leonidas is expecting, however. The bards who visited Pella this year were execrable, and I think the odds that I will find a Homer of my own to record and fete my accomplishments are slim. To that end, I have resolved to be my own scribe. (When I’m King I will also establish competitions in tragedy, lyric and epic poetry, and music, to run alongside the athletics, boxing and wrestling, thus reuniting brain and brawn, but first I’d best live to fight another day.)
So. Where to begin? The beginning, obviously.
The first signs of my fated greatness were blazoned to the Heavens the very day of my birth. Father had just managed to capture Potidaea, and before sacking it and handing the territory over to Olynthos he stopped to read the Royal Mail. Probably also to have dinner, a bath, and a woman, not necessarily in that order. In any case, Parmenio had defeated the Illyrians, which must have been a big deal at the time, given they had managed to kill my uncle Perdikkas a year or two earlier, and that they used to steal even the sheep skins which the Macedonian people used to wear, or so Father likes to say when he’s drunk and feeling annoyed at their ingratitude and/or laziness.
Father’s race horse had also won at Olympia. Now, personally, I don’t set particularly great store by Olympic victories; I’d never compete myself, for example, despite the fact I could probably win the foot race – swift footed Achilles – unless I had kings to run against. That said, it was important to Father, because it proves once and for all that we are Greek, and that the Athenians, whose best days are already long behind them, ought to just sit down and be quiet. (Truly, Father should know that the chances of that ever happening are slim and none, but he’s always been a triumph of hope over experience.)
It’s obvious to anyone with a brain, of course, that however much Illyrian raider and/or Thracian bandit might be in the general populace, the royal family has an unimpeachable pedigree. My father is, of course, descended from Zeus through Heracles, thanks to Karanos, the founder of the line, and my mother, it goes without saying, from Achilles via Neoptolemos. Anyone who cares to point out that that means I’m half Epirote can a) remember that the Molossian kings must have been half-Trojan through Andromache and it never did them any harm, and b) bite me. I digress.
The last piece of news was that I’d been born, which I can only assume was good news, given Father had sired one bastard and a slew of daughters by then, and all the more given a son accompanied by three victories must prove invincible. It turned out that the temple of Artemis at Ephesos burnt down the same day too, prompting at least one wag to say it was because she was supervising my birth personally, which is a pretty lame joke. Apparently the Magi, over in Babylon, interpreted it as a sign that a great scourge and calamity for Asia had been brought forth, which I think sounds like a much better omen.
And that’s a thousand words, plus a hundred more for interest, so I will summon the old tyrant and demand release. I should have just enough time while he’s reading this to steal some fruit and bread from the kitchen and make a run for it.
God’s legs, what a brat I was when I started writing this. I thoroughly deserved the thrashing Leonidas gave me when he read it. There is no time now for editing, though, and still no one at court capable of writing a decent history, so it will have to suffice until I come across someone worthy of wielding Xenophon’s pen. I have just finished reading his Upbringing of Cyrus, and it is truly a great work. The March of the Ten Thousand is brilliant too, and just as well, because envoys arrived from Persia today while Father was out, and there was no one in the palace to greet them. It was very embarrassing, and it is no wonder the Athenians speak of us as boors and bumpkins.
I had them served tea and honey cakes, and made conversation until Father returned from his business. They were somewhat evasive, I think, when I asked them about the character of the Great King, and what manner of warrior he was, but they were happy to tell me all about the Royal Road, and the way the mail travels along it by means of staging post, so that a letter can reach from Babylon to Sardis in three days, which is certainly impressive, and the distance from Susa to the coast.
Father complimented me on my behaviour, which he thinks is much improved, and thanked me for my help. He is in a very good mood at the moment, and I think it has something to do with the new bodyguard, Pausanias. They were making eyes at each other all through dinner. Mother affected not to notice, but she drank almost as much wine as Father did, and not, I think, as a tribute to Dionysos. They have been fighting a lot recently, and I will be very happy to go away to school.
The new master is called Aristotle, and he is apparently the smartest man in Athens, though Plato didn’t leave the Academy to him, which I’m sure had a lot to do with his decision to follow in Euripides’ footsteps and brave the wilds of Macedon. He’s certainly not cheap – Father has promised to rebuild his hometown of Stageira, which he sacked five years ago, and buy all the people back out of slavery. I’m going to ask him to annotate my Iliad, and then I’m going to test him and ask him what he thinks of the Myrmidons. (Leonidas hated it, which only made me love it more. When will I meet my own Patroklos??? Father has dozens of lovers, and six wives to boot. I only want one! Well, I suppose I’ll need a Queen someday, as well, but one of those will be quite enough, too.)
Anyway, as a reward for my assistance, Father is going to take me to the horse fair tomorrow. I must say that as a motivator to good conduct, rewards are much more effective than punishments. I will remember that for the future.
I have the best horse in the world! He is as black as pitch, except for a white blaze on his forehead, and I am going to call him Bucephalos. I could tell as soon as I saw him that he was the finest horse at the fair, but no one wanted to buy him. They all thought he was over-priced, and none of the grooms could even mount him. They were all as blind as bats, flailing about as he kicked and bit, and unable to see the nose in front of their own faces, or, as it happened, the shade in front of his. The poor thing was shying at his own shadow, and the more they struck at him with their whips the worse it got.
Well, I couldn’t sit still for that, so I told Father they were all useless and he should sack the lot of them. He laughed out loud at that, instead of telling me to mind my elders – I think Pausanias might actually be good for him – and dared me to do better. Well, I knew that I could, so I challenged him to a wager, namely that if I could ride the horse he would buy him for me. He counter-wagered that if I failed I would have to pay for the horse myself, which would have taken about ten years on my current allowance, but I knew that I could do it, so I accepted, and the rest is history. Father was so impressed he actually said I should find another kingdom, because Macedon is too small for me. I certainly do plan to make the realm bigger, but it’s nice to know that I’m definitely first in line, and not that half-wit Arrhidaios.
I have to go now; I’m going for a long ride ON MY MAGNIFICENT HORSE!!!
Still no Patroklos. Father, on the other hand, has a new boy. His name is also Pausanias, which I suppose will avoid awkward mistakes in the bedroom, like the one that alerted Mother to Philinna’s existence. Mother certainly got the better of that exchange, though arranging for your rival’s baby to be dropped on his head is cruel I think. She is the Queen, and she should have more confidence in her position. Instead, she worries constantly about mine. Can she not see that, Epirote though she is, she is by far the most highly ranked of all the Royal Wives, and I the only worthy son? Until the day Father marries a Macedonian noblewoman, there is absolutely nothing to worry about!
Poor Pausanias, on the other hand, the first one, I mean, has to stand by Father’s chair at dinner, and pretend that nothing has happened. New Pausanias, meanwhile, minces around the palace, giving himself airs and graces. It’s outrageous. I asked Old Pausanias to take me hunting, to show him that some people still have loyalty and dignity, and he started quoting Euripides, I think it was Medea, and asked to be excused. I can’t help thinking this will not end well. At least it wasn’t the Bacchae.
This is the best day of my life! The absolute best! Bucephalos has been pushed back into second place in my affections, and Peritas, my dog, into third. I don’t think they will mind, because unlike certain others I could name – Philip and Olympias!!! – they actually love me and want me to be happy. And I am!!! I have met the love of my life. I have found my Patroklos!
His name is Hephaistion, and he is the most beautiful boy in the world. He has curly hair the colour of burnished wheat, and golden skin, and eyes as blue as Pieria itself. Speaking of Pieria, I think I’d better drink from the spring and then read some love poetry – would Sappho do? – because I’m not sure you actually can burnish wheat, and Homer, for once, is letting me down. It’s all well and good for Achilles to call Patroklos his very best beloved, but for the most part he lets actions speak louder than words, and I am at a loss for where to begin.
If Hephaistion was in exile as a kin-slayer I would certainly take him in as a suppliant and give him sanctuary, and then embrace him as a philos and a hetairos and even an er… Well, no, I’d better not write that down. But he’s just the ordinary – not remotely ordinary! – son of ordinary – perfectly ordinary – Amyntor, and a new boy at school, so I can’t be magnanimous; I have to be clever, and gallant, and woo him, and I have no idea what to do. I am beginning to see the attraction in conquering territories and taking brides as part of the peace settlement, I must say.
WHY IS THIS SO HARD???
It’s not hard at all, it’s easy, and it is brilliant. Hephaistion took my part in an argument about whether succumbing to the pleasures of the flesh is somehow less than maintaining Plato’s friendship of the mind – and in and of itself that is a very good sign for the future – and Cassander called him a suck up, and HE PUNCHED HIM IN THE FACE! He rebroke his nose, right below where I broke it the first time, so Cassander is certainly not going to be anyone’s best beloved. HIS TEMPER IS AS BAD AS MINE!!! We are made for each other!
MY FATHER IS GOING TO FORESTALL ME IN EVERYTHING! THERE WILL BE NOTHING GREAT LEFT FOR ME TO DO! NOTHING! WHAT IS THE POINT OF INHERITING A KINGDOM WHEN THERE ARE NO ENEMIES LEFT TO DEFEAT AND NO CITIES LEFT TO CONQUER?
Father has captured and renamed the Thracian capital Philippopolis, which has no ring to it at all. Alexandropolis would sound much better. Or better yet, Alexandria. Yes, now that would be a city worth building, a capital for all the world instead of a town of mud huts for a tattooed hill tribe. Hephaistion says I am over-reacting and need to calm down. I would have thought he’d be flattered when I said I didn’t care if the whole world burned, as long as we two were together, but he doesn’t seem to think Achilles and Patroklos sacking Troy alone together is romantic. I switched to Sappho and the wedding of Hector and Andromache instead, but then he complained that they didn’t wind up much happier in the end. I promised to make sure that I died first, before him, like Achilles originally planned, but he didn’t find that a comfort either. I think it’s just nerves about going into battle for the first time.
I sacked a town today and put its people to flight. It’s pretty small, so when I refound it I’m going to stick with Alexandropolis after all, and save Alexandria for somewhere more fitting. I wouldn’t want to double up. Also, having defeated the Illyrians at sixteen, I now think Parmenio is not such a great general as he claims to be. I’ll have to keep my eye on him. I’ve really enjoyed being out on campaign though; it is infinitely preferable to life at court. God’s teeth, I’d never go home if I could help it. What is there at Pella but weddings and babies and whore-mongery and one sordid intrigue after another? Father has taught me a lot about the hammer and anvil, and the oblique advance, and how to rally men before battle, but I wish he could learn to keep his chiton pins fastened. And Mother is trying to marry me off now. Surely thirty-three is too young to be a grandmother? I can’t imagine ever being that old, but she has some time yet.
Old Pausanias came out on top in his battle with New Pausanias, though at a pretty high price. I’m not sure exactly what happened – everyone changes the subject or stops talking whenever I enter the room – but he is always sullen now, even though he has been promoted to Captain of the Bodyguard. Father has turned his eye to a girl, which is probably wise for a change. Her name is Cleopatra, which makes things very awkward for my poor sister Cleopatra, especially because they are the same age. Surely he won’t marry Cleopatra though? My father, I mean, and Cleopatra of the Attalids. My sister Cleopatra is probably going to marry our uncle Alexander, the King of Epiros. It really would be helpful if people were more imaginative with the names they give their children.
Anyway, I’m sure Mother’s ranting about weddings and heirs and disaster on the horizon is all just so much womanly hysteria. I’m going to take Hephaistion and go hunting in the mountains for a few days. I’m thinking it would be a fantastic way to celebrate his birthday, by presenting him with a LION! Yes, seventeen is going to be a great year!