Under the uneasy light of oil-lamps you take cover while you draw undying characters in ancient glyphs, and when come morning in the main square you hear the gossip about those you know so much about, and those you yet do not.
It’s such a small place, Chaeronea, and you have been around a lot, learning to listen, think and hold your tongue and now to keep opinions to your glyphs, careful so you don’t tread on people’s fantasies, but most of all you don’t offend their gods.
There’s some commotion lately, much talk among the savvy about some news that reached their ears of a philosopher around some province in the east, a teacher, prophet, some say god, who promised life ever after.
He had defeated death, the rumours went, and afterwards stood and walked like Romulus amongst the living, offering consolation and assurance. “A Hebrew escaping Hades like Sisyphus? What does the oracle have to say?”
You have so many rituals to observe, so many ceremonies and social demands you barely have time for those you’ve learned details and facts, let alone lives of persons people dream and have them feed on their illusions.
Then comes this man from far away –a Greek from Antiochia who now lived in Troas, dressed in pure white and well to do, calm mannered and soft-spoken, staying for a day on his way to Corinth– and naturally finds in your house shelter.
His bones are old but his eyes shine; and he’s much learned –a doctor. You both sit next to the fire at night, drinking some properly watered-down wine, starting to talk about this and that but soon find yourselves talking about the divine.
He talks of life immaculate of a man, son and creator of the heavens, a god, the only god no less –born of a virgin, living for the lowly, dying for us all, then raising triumphant from the dead– the brightest beacon to the clearest path to follow.
You start by drawing parallels at first –Dionysus, Mithras, Osiris, what have you– but soon you’d rather listen to the stories of miracles and parables and teachings; and when he puts man in the centre of divine love you really don’t know what to say.
You like the man and it’s been years since you have heard a juicy story. He’s also inerested in you and all you’ve got to say this night –the shortest of your nights– but just one night is not enough for friendship such as this, so you make vows to meet again.
He stays again on his return, then comes again in winter; but he feels poorly and he’s tired and sad, for murder is afoot and persecution. No need to ask Apollo for advise; you gladly take the man under your wing.
There’s this estate your father owned in Thebes, a lovely place up on a hill –a house, few servants, olive and fig and cypress trees– with good air and safe, for this town is already full with history of its own: the last place where the gods dined along with mortals.
It’s there you forge a friendship so profound –strolling the vineyards and eating fruit and fish, debating, confessing, reminiscing; in-between Plato and Zeno finding understanding– until one day he says he’ll soon be gone and has a last, but very important, favour to ask.
Under the uneasy light of oil-lamps you try to keep a steady hand when drafting the stories that your clandestine friend has told you –his acts and testament of faith to his god– giving them voice in a language for all, without comfort of a cover –Apollo will be watching.
You hand the manuscripts to your friend and they’re received like god’s own blessing. “That will be all they’ll ever know of me”, he says, kissing your forhead. “I wrote them true and they are yours”, you say, “but never tell who wrote your stories”.
You sit now dressed in the consul’s robe –so much respected, so much older– and look at the hands that wrote stories of lives, myths and philosophies and ethics, but all you feel is that last touch of hands with your beloved friend before he died.
(Completed 28/01/10. Please check the comments section for context and relevant links)