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The Tenth Muse 17

[A few of you keep asking, so I’ll play with this exercise a little bit longer.]

Sam held Tuwatis in his arms. Both of them were exhausted, and Tuwatis was terrified. Sam was frightened too, though more for the fates of Tuwatis and Ashtinamas than for himself. He remembered a study he had read not too long ago about references to Trojan women in the slave lists discovered at several Mycenaean cities. The Mycenaean Greeks were the Vikings of the Late Bronze Age, and there seemed to be a bustling trade in male and female slaves captured from the coast of Anatolia.

He also knew that carrying off a people’s women was often used as a pretext for wars. Ancient kings made their wars personal. They didn’t fight for truth, justice, and the Mycenaean way. Whatever the actual grievances against their enemies, they almost always couched the conflict in terms of avenging a slight to their honor. And honor meant at a minimum being able to protect-and control-one’s women.

Tuwatis shuddered again, trying to hold back tears. Sam wasn’t thrilled about her prospects as a slave of the Greeks-or his own.

When will this nightmare end? He thought. I’m ready to wake up now. I’m ready to pay my hospital bill and catch the next flight back to the States. Because this isn’t happening. I’m not a captive of the Greek forces laying siege to Troy. That would be ridiculous. I’m from the twenty-first century. This whole thing is a dream: a twisted delusion brought on by a head wound that, hopefully, is even now receiving proper attention.

There was talking outside the tent. He recognized the voice of Wiphitos; the other voice was asking about ho xenos, the foreigner. A soldier pulled back the tent flap and scanned the tent. Seeing Sam and Tuwatis huddled on the ground, he pointed to Sam and commanded him to go with him..

Nai, kyrie,” Sam answered. Yes sir, I’ll go with you. He lifted up Tuwatis’s head to give her a reassuring look. “Don’t worry,” he told her, knowing she couldn’t understand but hoping his tone of voice would put her at ease. “I’ll be back.” He took a deep breath and stood up. The soldier steered him out of the tent of Wiphitos and through the maze of tents and makeshift shelters, past cooking fires and scores of men hauling wood or tending to horses and weapons.

He was taken to a tent much larger and grander than that of Wiphitos. Inside he could see that a canvas partition divided the tent into two sections, an anteroom with a table, chairs, and a stand for the inhabitant’s armor and weapons. The back section was no doubt given over to sleeping quarters.

Around the table sat three men. At the head of the table was the man who had laid claim to Ashtinamas. To his right was a shorter, broad-shouldered man in a pilos, a circular, pointed cap. To his left was a much older, white-haired man, balding in the front.

It took Sam all of two seconds to put the pieces together. Then he felt his knees buckling under him.

This is insane! he thought. Homer’s stories of the Trojan War were most likely based on some kernel of historical truth, but nobody gives them more credence than that!

Even so, Sam knew in whose presence he stood: figures he would have dismissed as pure fiction three days ago.

The Great King spoke first. Sam struggled to keep up. He was gesturing to Sam’s wax tablets, which lay on the table in front of him. Yes, he thought, I suppose I have some explaining to do. He wracked his brain for the proper words, second-guessing whether he even knew the vocabulary he needed in the Homeric dialect or whether he only knew much later synonyms.

“My name is Sam,” he began, hoping they could follow his simple Greek sentences. “I am a foreigner. I was shipwrecked.”

They puzzled over the last word.

“Did I say that right?” Sam said to himself in English. “Nauagos.” Something was wrong with his pronunciation—or did that word even exist in Mycenaean times? He said the word for ship, then made hand motions to indicate it sinking. The short, broad-shouldered man grasped his meaning and explained it to the others.

Fitting he should figure out I was talking about a shipwreck!

Sam felt as though he was back in college taking an oral final in one of Dr. Holoka’s advanced Greek electives. He stood braced as if he were about to be tackled, waiting for the next question or comment. His ability to translate on the fly might be his only hope.

Now the old man pointed to the tablets. He wanted to know what kind of writing was on them. What they meant.

“My language,” he said. “I’m an American. Amerikanos.” He figured he might as well use the modern Greek word for his nationality. It’s not like there was a handy Mycenaean equivalent!

The old man said something to the Great King, several somethings, in fact. He waxed eloquent on some point or other that Sam struggled to follow. Even so, his familiarity with the Iliad told him everything he needed to know: the old man was no doubt spinning a yarn about how something similar had happened to him in his younger days, and how he solved the mystery to the acclaim of everyone.

He turned back to Sam and asked a question. Something about a promise? No, a message. Is this a message for the Wilioi?

“No, my lords. The words are for me.” He’s fairly sure some of the men in Pihas’s village thought he was an Greek spy, now it looked like the Greeks were afraid he was working for the Trojans!

It just keeps getting better!

There was a rustle at the flap that separated the two halves of the tent. Sam glanced and saw Ashtinamas peering into the anteroom.

“Samparpar!” she pleaded, and unleashed a barrage of Luwian.

Sam wanted to run to her, but he didn’t know how the three men would react. Before he could move, however, Ashtinamas ran to him and threw her arms around his waist. The Great King bolted up. It didn’t take a Ph.D. to know he was insulted that his prize would run to Sam’s arms. Now he let loose a torrent of Greek, too fast and heated for Sam to follow until the last sentence. “Is this your woman?”

“No, King Agamemnôn. Not mine. A friend.”

Ashtinamas sobbed on his shoulder. He wanted to ask if the king had mistreated her and wished he knew the words in her language. At the table, the three men spoke to one another. At last, the king spoke again.

“You know my name, foreigner?”

Sam furrowed his eyebrows. Only then did he realize that he had never technically been introduced to the men at the table, nor had they asked his name. Had he made a mistake? Would they have expected the average Wilusan to know the name Agamemnon, or is that the kind of information only a spy would have? Sam pondered what it was like to live in a world with no television or newspapers to spread this kind of information widely. He knew who Osama bin Laden was and had even seen pictures of him, but what did someone like Ashtinamas or Pihas know about the Achaians?

He would have to tell them something, and it might as well be the truth-at least, as much as Sam thought they could handle.

“Poets sing the undying fame of wide-ruling Agamemnôn.” Well, at least they would.

Sam was proud of himself for remembering the Homeric verbiage, and he was fairly sure he had nailed the correct case forms.



  1. Craig says:

    I’m still reading too. Just got behind during the Holidays. I’m caught up again. Please keep it coming.


  2. SingingOwl says:

    You have to finish it, you know. 🙂


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