"Who knows what women can do when they are finally free to become themselves? Who knows what women's intelligence will contribute when it can be nourished without denying love?....The time is at hand when the voices of the feminine mystique can no longer drown out the inner voice that is driving women on to become complete."
Betty Naomi Friedan "The Feminine Mystique" (1963)
One month from today my friend Ingrid and I will be on our way to Venezia and from there, we'll be heading for Greece to meet up with several of my other women friends. One of the stops we'll make is at Parga, to visit the Rock of Zalonga where the Souliote women lept to the deaths to avoid being captured by the Ali Pasha's men. The other is to Cape Doukas on the island of Lefkda where the poet Sappho lept to her death after being rejected by a young lover.
My visit to Athens this time is going to be extra-special. My friend Anna Britt is coming down from Norway for a reunion with me and our Finnish friend Vesa and his wife and son. Anna Britt is a classical scholar, writing her doctorate on Aristophanes.
Vesa is an architect. I met them both in Athens in 1996 when they were studying there. At that time there was a group of us who used to hang out at the To Kati Allo taverna. Some were classical scholars from the Norwegian and Finnish Institutes, some were artists and writers and musicologists. This will be a special reunion and we have named it The Assembly of 2007, as in the ancient Assembly. And the big event will be my birthday party June 3 to be held just behind the Pnyx Hill where the ancient Assembly used to meet.
Another friend, Deborah, is arriving from Canada that weekend too. Patrick is coming from Germany. And of course there are my Athens friends: Dinaz, the Persian princess, and Christina, my good friend from Sweden and her daughter Dani who I used to babysit when she was very small. There are others too, who I am really looking forward to meeting once again. It's going to be quite an exciting time. We plan on making a few trips around together to see the sights and share the fun. I'm lucky to have such great friends, and to have kept the friendships I made all those years I've spent in Greece.
I was hoping to celebrate finishing my novel Shadow of the Lion by the time I got there, but there's still a lot to do although I'm close to the end now. Part of this trip will be to get more ideas for travel writing. But I'm really looking forward to the rich, inspiring talks I will have with my scholar friends and the others who are always so encouraging and know the history that I'm writing so well. Just being back in Greece is sure to give me the inspiration I need to finish.
I've just been writing about the meeting between two other remarkable women. Olympias and Roxana. Alexander the Great's mother and Soghdian wife. These were two very powerful individuals, and dangerous too, both of them capable of murderous deeds and viciously protective of their sons. What happens in this meeting is my ficitional version, but having studied as much as I could about them, I think I know them well. So here's an introduction:
Olympias’ room was on the ground floor, in a suite that had once been occupied by her brother, the deceased king. The door stood open and a gust of perfumed air wafted out to greet Roxana as she entered. The scent of myrrh, lotus and unnameable essences was overpowering and made her feel dizzy. An air of sinister magic imbued the room. It was well known that Alexander's mother knew magic, dark magic that could sap will and spirit. In the small alcove above the bed a votive lamp flickered. Beside it, a gold statue of Osiris stared with agate eyes. A cabinet, full of oddities stood against one wall full of clay tablets and seal stones of sandy chalcedony incised with peculiar signs. She remembered the inscribed scarab she had found wedged in the stones of the Queen's chamber in Aigai.
Olympias was lounging on her sleeping couch, banked in cushions of silk. She was wearing a robe the colour of purple cyclamen, its hems trimmed with a geometric pattern of gold.
For a moment the two women eyed warily each other like two bright serpents.
Olympias raised a hand inviting her to come closer. When she hestitated, Olympias’ brows drew together in a scowl and she clucked her tongue.
“Come child, are you afraid of me? What have they told you about me? That I murder my rivals?”
She moved cautiously to the bedside and bent to kiss Olympias’ cheek “My mother, how happy and honoured we are to be here in Dodona.” Now she was closer, she
could see that Olympias’ lustrous chestnut hair was streaked with grey. She was thin, her face lined and gaunt. Her pale skin exuded translucent glow, like a lamp in a dim room.
She must have been beautiful before she got old, Roxana thought.
“Sit, sit!” Olympias commanded, motioning to the tall carved chair near her bedside.
Roxana obeyed and settled herself. Her eyes strayed around the room taking in the elaborately carved furnishings of gilded olive wood, the painted walls with nymphs dancing about Aphrodite, the floor patterned with a mosaic of vine leaves and clusters of grapes surrounding Dionysos astride a leopard wielding his rod of ivy. She knew she was in the presence of a mystai who ran wild with the Bacchants through the forest to celebrate the rites of the god of wine and debauchery.Polyperchon had told her that Olympias was a priestess of the cult and held Dionysos in as much esteem as she did her god-gifted son.
“I trust you have recovered from your arduous journey.” Olympias’ painted mouth curved into a slight smile. “Washed and rested. Good. It is my wish that you are made comfortable here.”
“We appreciate your generosity, my mother.“ Roxana was aware of the
tremor in her voice and felt her cheeks flush. Olympias must see her as bold and self-assured. In truth, she was in a state of terror.
There was a rustling sound. On the floor beside her was a winnowing basket containing a tangle of burnished copper cords. Something stirred and she heard a faint hissing. The bronze cord unfolded and a snake lifted its narrow head, swaying slightly, its tongue flickered like a tiny flame.
Roxana let out a gasp and cringed with revulsion.
Olympias gave a throaty chuckled. “Don’t be frightened, my dear. It’s only the house snake.” She reached out her arm and let the serpent coil around it. “His name is Wadjet, after the Egyptian protector of the divine Isis and her son Horus.”
Roxana’s eyes opened wide. She could scarcely breathe she felt so frightened.
“Why are you afraid? He will not hurt you.” Olympias stroked the back of the creature's
scaly head. “Perhaps you have heard the story? How the golden snake of Ammon visited me the night I conceived my son? Yes. It’s true. My son Alexander was Ammon’s gift to me.” The snake wriggled free and poured itself down to the floor, slithering away into the shadows. “Its from the old religion, snake worship,” Olympias said. “I worship Zeus-Ammon. Snakes are my luck daimons.”
"There is no animal more invincible than a woman, nor fire either, nor any wildcat so ruthless." Aristophanes 450-385 BC "Lysistrata" 411 BC
"A woman always has her revenge ready."
Moliere 1622 - 1673 "Tartuffe" 1664 Act II, ii.