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Sunday, November 30, 2008

PROGRESS REPORT #45: PROMISES



ME, ON MY WEDDING DAY

What do you remember about your wedding day? Do you remember feeling scared, nervous, excited, overwhelmed? Did you have any questions lurking in your mind whether you were doing the right thing or not? What do you remember about your wedding ceremony and the reception afterwards? I remember mine was beautiful. My father married me which was an honor and thrill. And the reception was at the church, with all the church ladies helping with the catering. My new husband's family planned a reception of their own afterwards. Ukranian style. None of my wedding party were invited and to this day I don't know why and should have insisted they come. It was a party where whiskey flowed freely and it carried on for 3 days. (Not that I was there. We had headed down to the States for a brief honeymoon.)

I've been thinking about this as I worked on this recent segment of Shadow of the Lion. I know what Thessaloniki is getting herself into. What I didn't know, when I was a young bride, all starry-eyed and 'in love', was that my future wouldn't exactly turn out as I'd hoped with a fairy-tale ending. How many people's do? Did yours?

What did I, a preacher's daughter from a Christian home, only a kid and very innocent, know about disfunctional families? What did I know about families from other cultures? Nothing.
Maybe if I had, I'd have been cautious. But back then, girls really were geared into marriage at an early age and my parents were very anxious to have me marry this man who they thought very much of. How could we know what would happen less than 10 years later?

There are so many customs attached to marriage. This was another interesting aspect of writing this short piece about preparations for a wedding in ancient Greece. Today we of the Western culture are aghast at 'arranged' marriages, but they go on in quite a few cultures just as they did back in the old times. And actually, even when I was getting married, if the parents disapproved, no way would permission be given. So in some respects, in a lot of places times haven't changed. Our traditional 'white' weddings only started with Queen Victoria and became part of our British culture after that. In other countries brides don't dress in white. And lately I've seen brides even wearing black!

I wonder if other cultures they have the 'something borrowed, something blue' custom? In ancient Greece the brides wore either yellow or red veils to signify 'fire' (the flame of passion, I guess) and a tear-drop diamond reflected that fire.

My wedding dress was made by my mother. (I still have it!) She very lovely sewed it and stiched on the lacy trim and tiny seed pearls. It was a beautiful dress and still is. I bring it out now and then to admire it. Today it seems brides are spending extravagant amounts of wedding dresses.

The girls were usually married very young (at 18 you'd be a has-been) and the father chose the groom. Poor Thessaloniki got gyped out of that ritual and got to make her own choice. But did she make a good one? I wonder, that day when Thessaloniki was marrying Kassandros if she had any idea of what the future held for her. She was marrying to 'escape', and because she was frightened of Olympias and by then was considered to be an 'old' spinster, overlooked and abused. Her father Philip had been assassinated before he ever found a groom for her; her half-brother Alexander, took off on his quest to conquer the world and never gave her a thought. She was the off-spring of one of Philip's many campaign wives, and because she was a girl, she was inconsequential. Can you blame her for jumping at the chance to marry a man, the son of the deceased Regeant, from the most powerful clan in Macedon. Little did she know what she was in for, or that she had made a bargain with the devil.



A BRIDE PREPARES FOR HER WEDDING

Thessaloniki stood before the tall copper mirror and carefully inspected herself. It was her wedding day, a day of despair for some women, but for her a day of rebirth. Today she would marry Kassandros, a man who had promised her freedom and a name.

Months had gone by since she had last seen him. There had been no formal pledge as tradition dictated because she had no male family member who would swear before the groom to guarantee she would produce children. Nor did she bring to her marriage a dowry other than, as heiress, her family’s estate.

It was a full moon night, not the favorable month of Gamelion, sacred to Hera the marriage guardian. Even so the seers had boded good fortune. The preparations had been made as Kassandros had ordered, the great Hall garlanded and couches set out for a grand feast. On a dais, chairs of honour for the women attendants flanked a flower-decked throne for the bride. She had invited all her courtiers, ladies of high standing, wives of senior officers, ambassadors and envoys. It had been many years since she could remember such a celebration had been held in the palace.

She stood in front of the gilded mirror and drew in a slow breath. She wore a veil of yellow silk and a simple gown of fine white byssus edged with gold threads; on the shoulder was clasped the ornate brooch Kassandros had given her and at her throat a single tear-drop diamond that had once belonged to her mother.

She had never taken pride in her body, but now she saw its usefulness: the full hips well formed and right for child-bearing, the breasts large, voluptuous; she would bear royal children. Critically, she surveyed her face: her straight nose, high brow, large sorrowful dark eyes. She looked always as she were sulking, her face ravaged by grief. Now though, she felt a quiet dignity, a certain triumph. She smiled, and her image softened, her mouth turned up becomingly, her eyes brightened with hope. Her new husband’s prospects would guarantee her a life of ease, free from all the every day concerns that had, in the past, confronted her. Olympias had thought her inconsequential; the Soghdian had scorned and threatened her. She had little recollection of her own mother; even her father, Philip, had paid her little heed. She had always been lost in the shadow of her remarkable half-brother, Alexander, who had not even cared enough to arrange a marriage for her before he left on his conquests. She had been the forgotten princess, but now Kassandros offered her a chance for fame and good fortune. Kassandros promised to protect her and even name a city after her. No other Macedonian princess could claim that honour. He had already begun clearing out the villages along the gulf, laying the plans for the new metropolis, one he said that would outshine Pella. And if things went his way, Kassandros would soon become the Regent and she would help him rule Macedon.

She went to the altar and lit the incense in its censor. Sweet smoke curled up permeating the room with it’s fragrance. She called upon her father’s Shade to ask his blessing, but did not utter the name of Alexander. She poured a libation of costly myrrh from a golden cup into a bejewelled bowl, speaking aloud the name of the godess in reverence as decreed.

“Golden-throned Hera, wife of almighty Zeus, immortal queen, protector of brides, give me a sign!” Motionless, she waited long for the goddess to speak but silence
was her only answer.

Down in the courtyard the torches blazed and she could hear the sound of flutes and kitheras mingled with the joyous cries of the wedding guests.. The wedding processional was gathering. She heard the maidens singing the refrain of the sacred marriage song. “Ho, Hymen! Ho, Hymen! Hymenaeos! Io!” Soon they would come to lead her to the nuptials. She felt her midriff clutch with nervous tension, then she threw back her shoulders and gave a deep sigh of satisfaction. She had waited all her life for this day.





NOTE: Well Kassandros did keep one promise to her. The city of Thessaloniki is named for her and of all the memorials to Alexander's time, it still exists and thrives as the second biggest city in Greece.

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4 comments:

Adrian Swift said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adrian Swift said...

Wynn,

what a lovely bride you were! And that dress is gorgeous, a real treasure since it was made especially for you.

I posted a comment and deleted it due to typos, and then tried to re-paste it and fix the typos, but it disappeared, so I'll write it again! I just wanted to share a few reactions to your posting, which I found very thought-provoking!

Perhaps it's for the best that we don't know what the future holds. Our ignorance allows us hope and a positive vision of the future, one we can try to create. Of course, it would be nice if we did see what's ahead, at least on occasion, so we could rethink our decisions and plot a better course. I don't think "evil" is a guaranteed outcome. Self-fulfilling prophecies can work for us as well as against us. Hindsight is always so much clearer, but doesn't free us of the necessity of making a decision at the moment when it must be made, even though we can't know everything at that time. I wonder if the ancient Greeks had a quote about the gods causing us to stumble about like blind fools. It feels like that sometimes.

In our writing, especially with a tragic hero, calamity is assured, but in life we have the opportunity to create happy endings, or make our dreams come true. "Vor dem Spiel ist nach dem Spiel" ("Before the game is after the game", meaning the conditions that exist at the start determine the ending). Nonetheless, maybe we can change things, find a way to make things work. The difference between real life and fiction is that fiction must have calamity (conflict). We write it to drive the stories forward. We can choose the ending, and what it means. In real life we endure conflict or hardship, but we can find joy, we can agree, we don't have to fight all the time. Maybe we can also chose the outcomes, or at least what they will mean to us. Or, maybe everything really is pre-determined and we don't have nearly the say in things that we think we do. Hmm....

Anyway, your posting really made me think about fate, choices, and all that stuff. Intriguing!

Glad you're back to work on your novel!

Adrian

Wynn Bexton said...

This is very true, Adrian. Choices. Yes, I could have gone a different direction...but then I would not have had my two beautiful children. And there were some points of my 'married' life that were memorable in a good way. It was unfortunate the way things turned out, but in a way it was also fortunate because I have done so much since then and lived the kind of life I really always wanted to live, and was restricted before. So...it all turned out for the best in the end, except for my ex's tragic ending which, in many ways, was also self-willed.

Anonymous said...

Hi dear friend , remembering my wedding day . I've had such heartache but then I have also had much love . Dear to me are my three children . Husband I love as I understand his pain also . We were both brought up by people who thought they owned us . They believed in battery back then.
I am happy that today I have a voice and I have choices . Bella (From Rememory)