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Friday, April 22, 2005

DIALOGUES

"What is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"
Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) 1832-1898
("Alice's Adventures In Wonderland" 1865)

I was born with the gift of the gab, inherited from my Welsh father. Dad was also, like me, often a silent, meditative person. I still have fond memories of walking along beside him, he with his hands clasped behind his back, head down, humming as he walked. He did this when he was planning a new sermon or thinking about things. I do the same. Dad started out his oratory career by speaking at union meetings for the mines and in miner's chapels in Wales, when he was 17. Later on, after he'd lost his mining card and immigrated to Canada, he became a preacher.

I started writing dialogues when I was about 8, and wrote little plays for my class at school.
Later on, I expanded and began writing stories, and now I write novels too. I, like my Dad, don't mind speaking publicly. I've always done this, even though I do have a shy streak, and once imagined becoming an actor. And of course, there's nothing finer than good conversations with friends.

Dialogue is an important part of a story. It helps keep the pace going and is also a vehicle in which to develop your characters. Characters have to talk to one another, just like in real life. The trick is, to make those conversations meaningful so that they are not just 'empty words' but provide information and forward the plot.

For the past week I've been writing important dialogues, political debates between the Macedonian Assembly members in one chapter and the Athenian City Council in another. It's been tricky. I've had to keep rereading my research notes (most notably Plutarch) and hope that I have untangle the web of intrigue enough to make it clear to the reader because this is crucial to the plot. Would I rather be writing erotica? Yes! I'm not particularly a politically hep person but I can tell you, I've learned a lot about this particular historical time in having to put myself into the heads of these ancient diplomats. And the interesting thing is, things weren't so different then as they are now!

Here's some samples of what I've been writing: Setting: The Council Hall in Athens, Sept 319 B.C. PHOKION is the military governor of Athens. POLYPERCHON is the Regent of Macedon. Three years before, after the Lamian War, the Macedonians had placed a military garrison in Munychia, near the port of Pireaus, in order to control the city and put down insurrections against Macedon.

When Athens received Polyperchon's edict, the City Councillors were enjoying their noon meal at the Council Hall. The envoy handed the documents to Phokion. He scanned them, and looked around with a mixture of worry and anger.

"Polyperchon of Tymphaeia, Regent of Macedon, has issued this edict to the citizens of Athens on behalf of King Philip Arridaios."

He was interrupted by a few jubilant cries of "Democracy! Democracy!" Then, the question: "Has he agreed to remove the garrison from Munychia?"

Phokion stood, silent a moment, to gather his thoughts. He read aloud from the document. "Democratic government will be restored...all citizens are called upon to exercise their political rights according to their original constitution. All those dispossessed or exiled shall be given back their property and reinstated as citizens. Let all Greeks pass a resolution not to wage war or do anything against us under penalty of exile or confiscation of property."

Here and there men jumped up waving their fists. Far back in the room he heard a shouted curse. "Bird lime! What about the garrison? Must we live forever under the yoke of Macedon?"

Phokion continued. "All citizens' rights will be defended in return for loyalty to the Kings."

The Council Hall erupted in cries of disbelief. "Their imbecile king, Phlip Arridiaos? And that other one, Alexander's foreign by-blow? Never will we swear loyalty to them!"

"Polyperchon's edict is a further insult to us. He wants us to hand over the city to him, promising us democratic rule, but he refuses to remove the garrison. We will not accept this!"

Phokion responded firmly. "As much as you resist and may hate the Macedonians, their presence here has kept the city peaceful these past three years. We have lived in prosperity since Philip established the League of Corinth, and during his reign, Alexander was fair to us and respected our intellecutal achievements. I know that to you, fellow Athenians, all things foreign are a threat. You have refused to accept Macedonians as brothers. For you, they will always be backward hill people. However, I fear that if we accept Polyperchon's terms and allow the trouble-makers and demagogues to return, Athens will once again fall into decline. So we must find a diplomatic solution."

Do they find one? The debate goes on, as debates to in any senate meeting, with arguments between the pros and antis. Finally:

Amid continued grumbling, the Council dismissed and the City Counsellors left the Bouletarion. Outside, the air was hot and heavy. Heat radiated from the paving stones and beat down relentless from the cloudless sky. The agora was already clambering with the news. From the narrow alleys lined with potters sheds in the Kerameikos to the broad paved avenues below the high embankments of the Acropolis and the Hill of Ares where state and legal buisness was transacted, swarms of people had gathered.

The steps of the Bouletarion were crowded with people. They hung back, making a wide path for Phokion, as if he might inflict them with some deadly disease. Many of the throng of bystanders booed him as he passed. He could read in their faces what they thought and the words he heard were alarming.

"He's become Macedon's sycophant. Before you know it, the Macednians will be in control of everything."

From the back of the crowd, a lone voice argued plaintively, "Phokion is our greatest Archon!"

Once he had been saluted by all of Athens, now they scorned him and he was sobered by their harsh judgement. Had they been planted there by his enemies, he wondered, or had the citizens truly turned against him?

He walks along, contemplating the days events and his own life.

He looked up from his reverie and found himself walking beside General Dercyllus. Neither man spoke, both were grim-faced.

Finally Derycllus said, "Out of respect for you, Sir, I will stand by whatever decision you make."

The sky was brilliant blue, the sun dazzling. Phokion shaded his eyes and looked back toward the Sacred Rock where the great statue of Athena of the Vanguard stood on her pedestal before the Parthenon. A glimmer of light radiated from the Goddess' spear point.

"The Goddess will decide," he said.

Dercyllus raised a brow. "Is that a prophecy?"

Phokion stood a moment in thought, rubbing his chin. "A feeling in my bones," he said. "I know my countrymen."

He grasped Dercyllus' hand and bade him farewell, then turned wearily up the cobble path to his house.


"Conversation is the socializing instrument par excellence, and in its style one can see reflected the capacities of a race." Jose Ortega y Garcia 1883-1955





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