THE ATLANTIS PAPYRUS
FRIENDS & FINDERS
“...the madness of love is the greatest of heaven's blessings...” –Plato
Twelve armed men surrounded us in the wet courtyard. Apollonia stood weeping with our frightened baby, their sobs drowned by the steady sound of rain on the cracked brick roof.
“Tell her, Deon, tell her about your glorious business,” Krokinos said, pointing at my wife. I said nothing. My face burned with shame, and blood dripped from my nose to the rainwater that swirled around my bruised knuckles.
“A bright young man, a scholar even, but all that means nothing because I need to know how you will repay me,” he said.
“What is he talking about?” my wife screamed, and I had no courage to answer her. Instead, I addressed Krokinos. “I will find a way Krokinos,” I said, struggling back to my feet.
“How many times have I heard that before, Deon? You think tutoring little rich brats will make the money you owe me? You should have stayed in your world of Plato and Aristotle, and left the world of whores to us,” he said, and I dared not look at my wife.
She had no idea what I had done. Krokinos nodded at his men, and two rushed to seize my wife and daughter. “Leave them out of this!” I screamed and lunged forward. Three others blocked my path, and another man kicked the legs under me. I fell, and the men placed their feet on my back, preventing me from standing. I gasped and spat out the mud and water that enveloped my face.
My wife’s screams and my daughter’s wails mingled with rhythmic music of the raindrops.
Krokinos’ goons lifted me to my feet again. He then ordered his men to bring us all into our living room. I begged Krokinos, “Let them go, Krokinos! I will repay you!”
“Your house smells of piss,” he said, drawing laughter. “I will have to teach your wife to do a better job at cleaning.” Krokinos wiped his face with his wet tunic and loomed over me. I watched him with intense hatred.
I could break his bony body like a twig.
Break his bird nose and crush his skull like a crow’s egg.
Push a dagger up his—
One of the burly men grabbed my daughter and began to carry her away. My wife fought him, and I struggled fruitlessly. Krokinos forced his palm on her mouth and shouted, “He is not going to kill your little girl, so shut up! I need to talk to you both.”
We quietened, and as if by cue the thrashing on the roof reduced in intensity. “I am an honorable man, Deon. And this is what will happen,” Krokinos said, as I strained to look at his face.
“Your wife and daughter will remain my hostage and as servants—”
“No,” I struggled against the restraints. Blood rushed into my head like a roaring river through a gorge. He looked on nonchalantly.
“—And you have time until my son turns of marriageable age. If you do not repay me by then, I will sell them to the mines.”
I walked quietly, one among the many soldiers in a column that stretched as far as the eye could see. Somewhere at the head of the vast body of soldiers was King Alexander who planned to take on the Persian empire by marching directly into the Lion’s den.
I hoped that the military conquests would help me earn a handsome salary and make large bonuses. The generals promised plunder, and I would regain my wealth and reunite with my wife and daughter—now in servitude.
A few years, I had promised her, I would be back. I would free them, and we would all live a comfortable retired life. Apollonia had nodded with those lifeless, sunken eyes. I held her hand and enveloped little Athena’s, knowing that if I did not return, those hands would be digging unforgiving earth in terrible gold mines in Ethiopia until they died. And they would never know what it was that I did to condemn them to such a life.
A FEW YEARS LATER, BACTRIA
Royal Secretary Eumenes shivered in the cold morning wind of the desolate, brown-yellow Bactrian landscape. His leather cuirass and military helmet were useless against the miserable chill. He cursed under his breath—at thirty-six his body was beginning to feel the effects of the harsh climate and the relentless pace of the campaign. Unlike many of his peers, Eumenes had none of the layers of fat and muscle that protected the larger men. His small stature and wiry frame was the joke of many a Macedonian General, and his Greek heritage did him no favors in the royal court.
Eumenes watched as the guards bought the frail creature out of his wheeled cage. He wondered how they ignored the foul stench that emanated from the man, whose skin was covered with abrasions and pus oozed from many wounds. What a fall from glory, Eumenes thought, for the condemned man was Callisthenes of Olynthus—Alexander the Great's court historian, and grandnephew of the famous philosopher Aristotle.
Even though he struggled to walk, Callisthenes seemed to smile and bask in the soft morning sun, ignoring the cold. A dirty mop of hair covered his face, and his visible ribs shook violently as he coughed. He looked up at the sky, muttered something, and then stretched his back. He then slowly reached down to touch the ground and collected the gray dry grass and dust, looked at it for a while, and slapped his palms together dispersing the contents on his palm into the air. The guards led him up a grassy, rocky mound before a wooden platform. They removed his shackles, and he shuffled around. The Pezhetairoi encircled the wooden platform and waited for their commander. General Ptolemy would arrive and proclaim royal orders.
But Eumenes did not want to be here.
A week ago, Callisthenes had begged Eumenes for his life, clutching the rusted iron bars of his cage.
Tell me, Eumenes, what fool would die with a magnificent secret if he could barter it for his life?
Take it to the King!
Tell him to spare my life in return for what will make him invincible now and forever!
I may look mad, but my mind has not lost its fidelity, Eumenes, see beyond my wretched state and consider what I have to say!
I promise that you will gain too, Eumenes, believe me!
What Callisthenes had said was astonishing. Whether it came off a fertile or delirious mind was unclear. If what he said was true, there was a strategic advantage in holding it close to the chest. It caused him distress to see Callisthenes this way, for they shared a similar station. Eumenes too had come far from his scholarly origins. At an early age, Eumenes had been the private secretary of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander's father. He had seen the intrigues of the royal court and the growth of Alexander. After Philip's death, he continued to work by Alexander's side. It was as if Callisthenes was like a brother.
Poor Callisthenes. His role was to chronicle the King’s conquests and create a royal diary that would live on through the ages. But some time ago, he fell out of favor with the King because Alexander began to adopt Persian customs. The mutual dislike had grown, and eventually, Callisthenes was implicated in a conspiracy to kill Alexander. Ever since then the historian’s life was in a cage, wheeled behind the army like an animal.
Ptolemy arrived, resplendent in his polished metal and leather cuirass and yellow-plumed helmet. He looked at Eumenes and nodded, acknowledging his presence. With dramatic flair he shook his red cape, and then walked up to Callisthenes.
As everyone watched, Ptolemy pulled out the order roll from its cover. Callisthenes looked at the men around him. Eumenes felt their eyes connect—it was as if Callisthenes searched for hope.
“Callisthenes,” said Ptolemy sternly, “For your role in the conspiracy against the King, the council sentences you to death. In recognition of your service, we grant you a merciful end.”
Callisthenes shook. His lips curled as he tried to speak, but the words died in his throat. The guards had denied water to him the last two days, so no doubt his tongue was swollen. Two men seized him from behind, and one placed a noose around his neck. Callisthenes’ eyes bulged from his sockets. The men dragged him on rocky ground, and flesh ripped off his feet. For a fleeting moment, Callisthenes’ terrified eyes connected with Eumenes. It was as if they screamed 'coward!' The historian tried once more to open his mouth and say something, but the noose choked his words. Eumenes lowered his head.
Callisthenes was hauled up a platform to higher ground. Soldiers stared at the noble who struggled to preserve dignity in his last moments. Giving Callisthenes no time to speak or say his prayers, the executioner stepped behind, swung a thick rope around Callisthenes' neck, and began strangling him. The historian’s face turned purple as the noose tightened around his neck and frantic hands grasped and fought hopelessly with the tightening snare. Callisthenes’ eyes bulged bloodshot and frantic, his tongue protruded between the bloody lips, his tunic soiled from a discharge of urine, and finally his frail body shuddered one last time.
Eumenes begged Callisthenes in his mind. But some secrets were too valuable to share.