THE SEGESTAN BOY BY EDMUND MARLOWE
The Segestan Boy was written in 2016 by Edmund Marlowe, the author of Alexander’s Choice (a love story set at Eton College in 1983-4 and published in 2012), and is published exclusively on this website with his permission.
The setting is the Sicilian city of Segesta late in 307 BC. The Syracusan tyrant Agathokles has returned to Sicily from a disastrous attempt to conquer Carthage, desperate to arrest the collapse of his power. Arriving in Segesta and finding it reluctant to give him the money he demanded, he ordered extreme measures to be taken.
Charikles son of Menippos, better known as Charikles the Beautiful, was thirteen when his life suddenly changed beyond anything he had imagined in his worst nightmares.
He had been brought up to consider himself a Hellene, though his mother was an Elymian, the race that founded Segesta long before any Greeks came to Sicily. His father, like many Greeks, was enrolled among the nobles who alone governed the city, had already served as Archon and was widely respected.
Their house was one of the largest, built around a colonnaded courtyard and on its own terrace among the many cut out of the steep hill-top city, with the city wall forming its lower boundary. Though some way below the theatre at the top, if one clambered up its tile roof, one could see the sea far away to the north.
They were well off, as well as noble. His father had three horses, one of them a magnificent Thessalian thorough-bred, and they had thirteen slaves: his tutor, a steward, a doorman, a porter, a cook, a cook’s assistant, a groom, a page boy for his father, a nurse for his younger sister, two girls to help his mother and elder sister make the family clothes, and another to keep the house clean. They had a large farm in the countryside too, with more slaves and livestock.
The last day before disaster struck was the happiest of his life. Afterwards men spoke of bad omens, but he had not noticed any. Perhaps it was because he was in love and blind to all else.
He had reached the age at which boys start to be wooed a year earlier, and, as his popular epithet of “the Beautiful” suggested, he had not lacked for suitors. Indeed, he felt eyes on him almost wherever he went. At first he was a little alarmed, and relieved his father increased his tutor Syrios’s supervision. For over a year, it had grown steadily worse until for the last months he had no longer been able to go to the market-place without attracting openly lustful stares from the ill-bred. Once, Syrios had had to raise his staff at a man who touched him.
It was most obvious though at the gymnasium. The city had demarcated the area for boys’ sports from the men’s, but that did not stop the young men from gathering in the colonnade along its edge, watching their favourite boys naked at their exercises. Soon he was established as the most popular of them all. Whenever he threw another boy wrestling, for example, a loud cheer would go up from the men out of all proportion to what he had done. He knew they were competing to win his notice. He found it mortifyingly embarrassing, and made worse by the teasing of his friends. All the same, he could not help feeling some pride he was considered so attractive, though of course he was careful to hide it. Under no circumstances would he ever allow vanity or immodesty to bring shame on his adored father.
Watching the boys a year or two older, most of whom already had lovers, he did wonder what it would be like. Like any boy his age, he engaged in secret manual play with his friends, his orgasms still dry, but he realised that was very different to having a lover. Soon, the odd boy he knew well began to have one and he found himself contemplating whether he would like to be in their shoes. Often he was sure he would not; it was beyond his understanding how a few boys could be willing to go off with an ageing man or one who had begun to lose his hair or teeth, however kind, good or rich. The thought of caressing wrinkled skin or a bald pate, or meeting lips hiding missing teeth almost made him retch. He found his feelings were more mixed when his friends accepted lovers who were comely young men, as was thankfully far more usual, but on the whole he did not much regret Syrios shooing off whatever man tried to approach him.
Then Hermias son of Eudamos came home.
He had been away for two years, fighting for their Syracusan allies in Libya, and Charikles only just knew who he was. He remembered though that he had won the city’s annual foot-race before he left. He knew too that he came from the noblest family of all in Segesta, the Akestidai, descended from the King who had founded their city shortly before the Trojan War.
They noticed one another the first afternoon Hermias reappeared at the palaistra. Charikles could tell it was the first from the pleased surprise with which the other young men greeted and hugged him. Aged about twenty, he was so good-looking, and looked so friendly and charming as he flashed warm smiles at his old friends, that Charikles, exercising under the gymnasiarch’s barked instructions, could not help stealing glimpses. Then suddenly Hermias turned and caught him doing so. He stared with an expression of surprise and wonder, then gave him a heart-melting smile. He could not stop himself smiling back before he blushed and looked down. Syrios would give him a sound thrashing at home if he thought he had been flirting, even though he had not meant to.
Later that afternoon, Hermias appeared among the young men who were his regular admirers and he reappeared there every day without fail. As they all watched him run, jump, wrestle and throw, Charikles noticed differences between him and them. Though the same warm smile flashed when he was spoken to, he otherwise seemed not to share their fun; his longing gaze was almost sad. Slightly to Charikles’s disappointment, he also did not join their embarrassing applause at every faintly laudable thing he did, but when on the fourth day Charikles won a foot race, he cheered loudly and looked genuinely thrilled, and when he got thrownover wrestling on the next, he looked deeply disappointed. After that, Charikles found himself trying a lot harder.
For the first time, Syrios’s presence irked him. If only he would go away just long enough for Hermias to talk to me. What harm could it do? I’m sure he wouldn’t do anything dishonourable, and Syrios ought to know I wouldn’t either.
Soon it was no secret amongst either the boys there or the young men who came to woo them that Hermias was in love with him. Syrios seemed not to have caught on though. He dreaded it happening because then he would be even more alert. Anxious he might soon lose the opportunity to do so, he took to catching Hermias’s gaze when confident his tutor was preoccupied, and returning his smiles.
On the sixth day of Hermias’s attendance, the gymnasiarch chanced to ask Charikles to fetch a piece of rope from the store room behind the colonnade. He looked down blushing as he passed by the young men, knowing eyes were upon him and hoping they included Hermias’s. Unable to find the rope, he came back out into the colonnade and paused, now severely embarrassed by the men’s interest, wondering which other room to try.
“What are you looking for?” asked Hermias cheerfully.
“The gymnasiarch’s rope for starting races,” said Charikles, reddening even more.
“Let me help you find it.” Charikles was initially too shy to respond to the young man’s friendly chatter, but then he made a joke about the ageing gymnasiarch’s forgetfulness and the boy giggled. They found the rope only too soon and had come out of the room in which they found it, when an anxious Syrios spotted them and bustling over, grabbed the boy’s arm and escorted him back.
Going home, Charikles could tell Syrios was seething and expected him to tell his father. He knew he was lucky to have such a gentle father, one who almost never thrashed him or shouted, but he dreaded their encounter that evening. In the event, nothing was said, but he still suspected from the wondering way his father looked at him that Syrios had not kept silent, and he was called aside the next day.
“Charikles, I doubt it is your fault, as you never do anything to shame us, but I understand there is talk about you and Hermias son of Eudamos. Are you not aware of it?” asked Menippos, leaving no doubt in Charikles’s mind that he had already made enquiries.
“Yes, father,” he blushed, “but I’ve done nothing to provoke it.”
“I do not doubt that, but sometimes doing nothing is not enough. Men draw conclusions about you from what you don’t do as much as from what you do. I’m sure you have always been well thought of until now, and I am only anxious to keep things that way.”
“Have Hermias’s attentions to you offended you? Do you wish he would go away?”
Charikles flinched and looked down blushing, unable to reply. He guessed that if he were to say Hermias’s attentions were unwelcome, his father would say that in that case he must quash both the gossip and Hermias’s hopes by publicly showing his annoyance. That though would be a lie he had not the slightest wish to tell. On the other hand, to admit that being wooed by a man excited him was unthinkable for a well-brought up boy. He had no choice but to look down in silence knowing what his father would infer. His face grew scalding hot.
Menippos smiled indulgently. He is so young still, though he thinks he is ready for love. I was thirteen too, but surely I was more mature than he is. His heart looks set on it nonetheless and I couldn’t bear to see it broken. ... Besides, it could be risky to wait when his beauty is attracting so much attention and the ideal suitor has already presented himself.
“I am assured he is sincere in his devotion to you” he said after a pause. “His family is the noblest here. They say he’s an honourable man, a fine athlete and fought bravely in Libya. From what you’ve seen, would you say he deserves his high repute?”
“So far as I know, yes, father,” said Charikles, still blushing, but his embarrassment mingling with relief and excitement as he realised his father was not unpleased by his silent answer.
“Good. In that case, there is no harm in talking to him.”
As soon as Charikles saw Hermias gazing at him from the colonnade the next afternoon, he exchanged smiles with him openly and repeatedly, having understood from his father’s words that Syrios would have been told to let them alone. Hermias, hitherto worried he had got the boy into trouble through his indiscretion, realised his fortune had changed dramatically for the better.
When Charikles came out of the boy’s area of the gymnasium, he was waiting, and they talked for over an hour, while Syrios sat discreetly with the other pedagogues. At first they were both shy, but their pent up longing to know each other better soon overcame it. It was a new and exciting experience for the boy to talk to someone so much more knowledgeable than him and yet so open-minded and fresh.
The next day, Hermias shyly brought out a fine set of knucklebones as a gift. With a soaring joy he could not disguise, Charikles accepted it, knowing full well this was tacitly to accept Hermias as his suitor. When he got home, he made a point of playing with them in his father’s sight.
“Did Hermias give those to you?” asked Menippos.
“Yes, father,” he answered proudly, and his father said nothing, implying his own acceptance of the young noble as his son’s suitor. Charikles knew that thenceforth it would be entirely up to him whether or not to accept him as his lover, though of course it was improper to be hasty.
A few days afterwards the tyrant of Syracuse encamped outside the city with his army. At first, this caused little alarm, as he was their ally, but two days later Menippos came back from the Assembly looking shocked and furious. The tyrant had told them they must contribute twenty-seven talents of silver to his war chest. It was a sum so large that every noble would have to part with half his valuables and he gave them only until the evening of the next day to hand it over. There was no choice. Most of Segesta’s fighting men were still in Libya helping their supposed ally, and even if they had not been, they could not have withstood an army the size of Agathokles’s, a cohort of it menacingly patrolling Segesta’s streets.
While the slaves slept, Menippos’s chest of silver coin was brought out from its hiding place under the courtyard flagstones, then the dining-room was stripped of its silver vessels. Still there was not enough if they were to pay up and yet survive the coming months, until his mother offered some of her gold jewellery and his father sadly agreed to sell it.
All the next day, small gatherings of nobles could be seen in the streets. They muttered angrily and only fell silent when the Syracusan soldiers passed by.
Charikles was torn apart. He was upset for his parents and partook of their indignation with the thieving tyrant, but he was too young to take their reduced circumstances much to heart, especially when the same was happening to all their friends. And more to the point, his life was too full of promises of happiness. A point had been reached where he felt confident Hermias was about to declare his love, and he to reciprocate.
After their midday meal, while his father dozed in his chair, Charikles got ready to go out for what promised to be the most exciting afternoon of his life. He put on a new tunic and, unusually for him, combed his thick chestnut hair. Coming downstairs, he glanced at his father to make sure he was still asleep before looking down over their large ceramic water-container to catch his reflection. He knew he ought not to be vain, but he could not help feeling an exhilarating self-confidence when he beheld his own dazzling smile.
Hermias took part in a wrestling-match that day, and knowing his beloved was watching played no small part in his victory. Afterwards, Charikles offered to draw water from the well for him to wash. When old Syrios saw them go off, he knew himself entirely forgotten and made his own way back to his master’s house.
As the naked young man raised the pitcher over himself, Charikles found himself unable to resist letting his eyes stray. Taking in the muscles rippling in his lean, muscular body, he felt suddenly overwhelmed by the physical differences between them. He knew it was shameful to do so, but he also glanced briefly at Hermias’s virile member. So much man. It made him feel childish, but gave him a fuller sense than he had hitherto had of how comforting and exciting it would be to lie in Hermias’s arms, accepting his protection and trustingly submitting to whatever his will might be. Ashamed at his own immodest thought, he blushed deeply. Then Hermias looked at him and both of them suddenly knew with certainty that they understood and welcomed one another’s feelings. Words were superfluous.
As soon as he had dressed, the triumphant lover put his arm around the beautiful boy and they wandered off together through the city streets, knowing that everywhere they went, their love was seen and recognised.
When he got back home, having arranged to meet again early the next morning, it was already growing dark and his father was sitting in the almost bare dining hall, reflecting gloomily on which of their horses he would have to sell.
“I am glad to see you look happy,” he said wistfully. “Your afternoon has gone well then?”
“Yes, father,” said Charikles, blushing and feeling guilty to be exultant when his father was distraught.
“Would you mind me inviting the son of Eudamos to dine with us tomorrow?”
Then Charikles could no longer pretend nonchalance. He threw himself into his father’s arms and hugged him tightly.
“But you are not to go to school tomorrow,” said Menippos, his thoughts returning to their woes. “In the morning, I have to attend the Assembly so we can decide what is to be done, and I want you to look after your mother and sisters until I return. It’s possible there could be trouble.”
The next morning, Charikles rose at the second cock-crow, knowing he had little time. As he clambered down the hillside towards the shrine of Eros, the sky was already lightening. On the nearest hillock below to the west, Charikles could see the silhouette of the great, unfinished Temple of Aphrodite built four generations earlier. Raised to deceive the Athenian ambassadors sent to see if Segesta was prosperous enough to be an ally worth protecting against the Syracusans, it had been abandoned without a roof as soon as its purpose was served. Ironically, the Syracusan tyrant was now encamped within its columns, his army all around.
As promised, Hermias was waiting for him. For a moment, they looked at each other shyly, then Hermias held out a sack in which something living moved. Charikles took it and opening the top saw that it was a fighting-cock, the traditional gift of a lover to his boy. Sitting on the ground, he took it out. From both its size and its poise as it strutted about, he realised it was a magnificent specimen and must have cost Hermias dearly. The young man sat beside him and they chatted animatedly about its finer points and its training.
Though Helios was still hidden behind the hills, it was light enough that the camp fires of the Syracusans had been extinguished and Charikles knew he must go soon if he were not to risk missing his father. He put the cock back in its sack and smiled at his lover. He saw Hermias looking at him as if mustering up courage, and his heart fluttered. Then Hermias leant forward and their lips met for the first time, gently at first, then more passionately, their tongues communing together.
“This afternoon” said Hermias, reluctantly withdrawing at last, “when we’ve finished at the gymnasium ...” He paused. The boy said nothing, but Hermias could read his assent in his eyes and his excitement soared.
Charikles got home in time to catch his father preparing to set off up the street towards the theatre where the nobles were assembling. How magnificent he looked in his best gold-bordered mantle, so tall and strong, his thick golden hair and beard without a trace of grey, though he was well into his forties.
He looked immensely relieved to see Charikles returned, and mustered an indulgent smile despite his obvious anxiety. “You’ve been up early,” he said with a knowing twinkle in his eye. “Stay at home now and keep the door bolted.” It was almost unheard of for Charikles to spend more than one daylight hour in the confines of their house, and when two had passed, he grew bored, though proud of the responsibility his father had accorded him. He took out the new set of knucklebones Hermias had given him, an exciting reminder of the afternoon to come. He had occasionally played with Cheops, his father’s Egyptian page, when he had no friends around, but Cheops was naturally waiting on his father. All he could do was practise on his own.
Suddenly, he heard a piercing scream in the distance. In just a few moments it grew into a blood-curdling din. Anxiously, he went to the front of the house where their wildly-barking hound Argos was jumping up and pawing at the door. It was frightening not knowing what was going on outside and he longed to go and see, but his father had ordered otherwise. Abandoning propriety in their terror, his mother and sisters came out of the women’s quarters, and remembering his responsibility, he forced himself to be calm. Then they smelt smoke.
“Fire! We must leave at once!” said his mother, and she gave hurried instructions to the slaves to gather their most precious belongings.
“Father said not to go out,” said Charikles. Syrios and the doorman, who remained near them, looked uncertain, torn between their duty to their mistress and the newly asserted authority of their too young master, their inclination to use their own judgement growing with the apparent collapse of order. But the smoke grew worse, drifting in from the courtyard behind them.
“Open the door carefully,” Charikles told the burly doorman, who tried to subdue the ensuing rattle of bolts and bars. As soon as it opened, the terrifying noise was much worse, and they could hear the distant crackling of fire. Charikles stepped out and was at once knocked to the ground by a fleeing man. Looking up, he saw flames in every direction, though still far away, and he heard harsh male commands mixed with the screams of women.
“The courtyard,” said Charikles. “Surely we shall be safe enough there even if the house does catch fire?” No one challenged his suggestion; there was no time. The doorman quickly rebolted the door and together with the slaves who had brought their chests of valuables, they all withdrew to the courtyard, where they huddled around the statue of Zeus the Protector in its middle, coughing as the smoke thickened.
Charikles was looking up at the surrounding building, wondering if they were safe from burning beams falling onto them if the house caught fire, as now seemed likely from the growing heat, when there was a thundering on the door, the sound not of someone seeking admission, but of men breaking it down. They heard Argos bark furiously. The steady thud grew shriller as the bolts creaked and the wood splintered, then they heard the boom of its collapse followed by the agonised howl of an animal, and soon four soldiers came into the courtyard, their swords drawn.
Charikles stood bravely in front of his mother. His sisters and the slave-girls huddled behind her. The older slaves stood to the side, their hands slightly raised to show they were unarmed; presumably they were hoping that, as slaves, they would be spared whatever terrible fate had overcome their absent master. Charikles’s mother stood firmly erect, her arms stretched back, protectively covering the petrified girls.
“What do you ...” she began, as one of the soldiers stepped forward, knocked Charikles flat onto the ground with his left hand and slashed her throat with the sword in his other. For a brief moment she was still, a shocked expression frozen onto her face, blood spurting out fast. Then she fell. The slaves’ hopes proved delusive, for the four soldiers lost no time going up to them, stabbing and slashing viciously until they all lay dead, the women as well as the men.
Only Charikles and the four girls were left. They stood frozen with horror until the soldiers hustled them roughly over the bloody, mangled remains of their faithful hound, and out of the house. There they were pushed into the growing throng of young captives being driven at spear-point up the steep street towards the theatre. Occasionally someone shrieked with pain from being pushed onto the burning debris from surrounding houses which littered their way.
On a terrace above the street, Charikles saw fire suddenly surge up within a large, still-bolted house, followed by screams. It could not have caught fire from another house. He guessed then that it was not the soldiers who had started the fires, but those of his own people who preferred to burn in their homes than become Agathokles’s captives. As they approached the plateau at the top, he saw far below them an enormous crowd of men and women, poor to judge from their clothes, being herded towards the ravine at the bottom of the hill.
As they were forced into the theatre and their column widened out into a large crowd including boys taller than him, Charikles could no longer see what was going on around him, but then they were forced up the tiers of seats until they were high enough to be able to look down on the stage, as if to watch a play. What he then saw exceeded in horror anything he had imagined possible. Nor were his ears spared, for the theatre’s acoustic design ensured that quite ordinary sounds were audible at its top.
Seated in an armchair to the right side of the entrance and facing them was a heavily-built man in his fifties in well-polished armour embellished with gold ornaments. Charikles had little doubt he was their leader and none other than Agathokles, the dreaded tyrant himself. Everything about him exuded masculinity and power from his imperious demeanour, large, straight nose, bull neck, hairy arms and legs, to his muscular frame. Standing beside him stood Leontidas, his Segestan guest-friend well-known as a spokesman for his interests, and behind them others Charikles could not identify.
In the far right corner, the two hundred nobles who made up Segesta’s Assembly stood surrounded by soldiers with levelled spears. A few corpses were already strewn across the left hand corner, for one by one the nobles were all being killed. Each was first frog-marched to stand in front of the seated man, who then conferred with Leontidas, though Charikles could only catch the words spoken in anger. Some were led straight off towards the corpses, where they were forced to kneel and their heads were struck off with a long sword-stroke. Others were questioned at length, as a scribe seated at small table nearby scratched away at his tablets, apparently making notes of what they said. This done, half of them were taken off for immediate execution. Mostly these were also beheaded, but every now and again one would be bound and pushed into a siege catapult which had been brought into the arena and shot out high over the theatre wall, much to the evident entertainment of the tyrant and his cronies. The immediately executed were in any case the luckier half of the captive nobles, as the remainder were led to one of three instruments of torture.
Nearest to the tyrant was a wagon-wheel to which were tied some of the prisoners whom he evidently wanted to say more. It was turned very slowly, crushing their limbs and paused only when a prisoner screamed his willingness to speak. Their words were clearly audible and from them Charikles soon gathered the purpose of the torture, to discover the whereabouts of their treasures.
Some of the prisoners assigned for torture while the wheel was occupied were bound to a post and lashed with a studded whip for the same purpose.
In the middle, like the centrepiece of some stage scenery, was a sheet of bronze on legs with low bars around it. It had been cut the shape of the human form and hammered out so that it roughly followed the rear contours of a man’s body. A fire was being kindled underneath.
It took only too little imagination to realise its inspiration and purpose. Every Sicilian knew the story of the bronze bull inside which Phalaris, the tyrant of Akragas, had roasted his prisoners.
This device appeared reserved for a few who had attracted Agathokles’s special opprobrium, and a man whom Charikles recognised as his father’s friend Diomedon was the first he saw dragged towards and onto it. Three cross bars were inserted locking his body into place at the neck, waist and ankles. The growing fire was stoked until it suddenly flared up, its flames mushrooming along the underside of the bronze bed. In only a few moments, the man’s screams rent the air.
In cruelty, though not perhaps in inventiveness, the Syracusan tyrant was outdoing the Akragan one, for in the bull an ingenious system of tubes and stops had converted the prisoners’ screams into melodious bellowings befitting the beast from which they came. The screams of Diomedon were only too undisguised. Moreover, the roasting of Phalaris’s prisoners had mercifully been hidden from sight inside the bull. As Diomedon’s screams subsided, foul-smelling smoke could be seen rising from his sizzling body until at last he was charred black.
The maidens in the group of captives around Charikles mostly turned round or hid their sobbing faces in their hands, as did some of the boys, but Charikles could not tear his gaze away from the remainder of the group of standing nobles, knowing the two men he loved must be among them. The prisoners were so crowded together that at first he could see neither.
Then Hermias suddenly appeared in front. Being twenty, he had only just been enrolled among the nobles who attended the Assembly. He was too far away to discern his expression, but he held his head high as he was brought before the tyrant and swiftly consigned to beheading.
Of all the horrors that were sometimes to wake Charikles up screaming in the years to follow, the worst soon ensued. He saw his father walk proudly forward as if the soldiers grasping his arms at either side were animals beneath his notice. Then, after several exchanges between the tyrant and Leontidas, he was taken towards the wheel. Charikles could bear it no longer. He crouched down below his companions, closed his eyes and put his hands over his ears, but even so his father’s screams were too loud to be entirely muffled. When he was sure they were over, he got up, suddenly anxious to see his father’s face one more time, but it was too late.
While this was going on, a group of twenty or so women had been brought in by the soldiers, some quite young and others decrepit. Those Charikles recognised were all wealthy widows, so it was easy to guess why. In macabre imitation of the way he had seen the stage props changed between scenes in a play, the used instruments of torture were pushed to the side and new ones brought forward. These were much simpler, consisting of two rough tables, to one of which each woman was tied. On one the ankles were squeezed with iron pincers until they broke. On the other, a saw was used to cut off their breasts. Those alone who told the tyrant what he wanted were finished off quickly. Perhaps most horrifyingly, when one heavily-pregnant young woman was being dragged towards the table with the pincers, Agathokles called a halt and gave special instructions. She was then placed face-down on the table and bricks were steadily piled up on her lower back until her foetus was expelled.
The sun was already low in the sky when the last of the women emitted her final screams, the tyrant withdrew, and his slaves packed up their instruments of cruelty. The only Syracusans remaining were a group of soldiers guarding the entrance and lower part of the theatre.
There were well over a thousand Segestans left, all young. There were a few young women who seemed to have been spared because they were exceptionally beautiful, but otherwise none were older than about sixteen. They stood frozen in horror, most of the girls and younger children weeping uncontrollably, and the boys Charikles’s age mute with shock.
As it sunk in that they were being spared and he realised slavery was almost certain to be his destiny, Charikles’s terror subsided into dazed disbelief. Somebody kept telling him that what he had witnessed was only a nightmare, from which he would soon awaken. When he did, he would rush to the women’s quarters and hug his mother. He hadn’t done that recently, feeling himself too grown up, but now he was overcome with longing for the comfort of her arms. She could not really be gone forever, nor his father. A voice reassured him it was impossible they could have so gravely offended the gods without knowing it. And why would the gods have just given him Hermias’s love, only to snatch it away? But every now and again he came out of his stupor, heard the sobbing children crowded around him, saw the soldiers down below, some of them sitting round a fire, playing dice and laughing, and realised that the one so falsely reassuring him had merely been himself.
Dark and with winter approaching, it soon grew too cold for standing alone in stupor. Everyone sat on the tiered rows of seats, Charikles and his sisters huddled closely together all through the long night. After several hours they began fitfully to sleep with their heads in one another’s laps until the cold grew too sharp even for that.
Soon after dawn, their night guard was relieved by a much larger one whose commander stepped out before them, while his men encircled the inside wall of the theatre, their spears pointed towards the terrified crowd. The shivering youngsters fell silent, expecting to hear their fate.
“Lord Agathokles has graciously decided to spare all your lives, provided you offer no resistance to his will,” he boomed. “You will be escorted down to the harbour, where ships are waiting to transport you to Italy for sale. First, you will all strip naked. At once!” Some of the girls wailed, but no one dared disobey. A wagon drew up inside the entrance to the theatre and Charikles saw it was piled high with rope.
“Now come forward,” shouted the officer and the surrounding soldiers stepped menacingly forward on all sides.
As they clambered down the rows of seats, the soldiers guarding the entrance to the theatre parted to allow four men to come through from behind, led by the man Charikles now knew to be Agathokles. He guessed the others were the other Syracusan generals, their importance apparent from their swagger before the soldiers standing to attention. The captives maintained a terrified silence as they crowded in front of the newcomers.
“Make them file slowly past me,” he told the commander of the guard. “Those not chosen can be led straight off.” A long line of guards spaced themselves out in front of him and the guards surrounding the young crowd parted in front to allow the captives to walk past the four men, one by one. Most were left to walk straight on towards the entrance, where their hands were tied behind their backs, and then were prodded roughly on down the long road leading through the broken city gates to the distant harbour. Very occasionally, however, Agathokles or one of his friends would say “stop!” Then there would be a short pause, sometimes leading to a child being directed with the point of a spear to join the small group forming to their left and also having their hands bound.
As the number of the chosen grew, and Charikles noticed, first that there were no little children amongst them, and then, on further reflection, that they were all unusually beautiful, both boys and maidens, the grounds for selection dawned on him and, remembering his popular epithet, his fear grew. For the first time in his life, he regretted not being plainer. Such little hope as he could muster that he would be passed over proved delusive: Agathokles chose him himself the moment he caught sight of him.
In the end about fifty were chosen, surely too many for the four men’s personal use, so perhaps he might at least not end up belonging to one of these mass murderers of his people. The maidens among them wailed loudly, and he wept too as he saw his sisters and most of his playmates disappear from sight among the endless stream of unwanted youngsters being herded down the road.
The only one left whom he knew well was Cheops, his father’s page, whom he was not remotely surprised to find one of the chosen. When Cheops had first appeared in their household, he had been a little surprised that both his parents treated him so much as a pet, then he had come to understand from the banter of their other slaves that Cheops sometimes served his father in bed as well as acting as his page. Presumably, therefore, he had been chosen for his looks and, at fifteen, his beauty was still in full bloom, but there was more to his appeal than that. His curiosity in Cheops piqued by the feelings and insight recently come with pubescence, he had compared him to the fondly-treated young slaves he noticed in other homes who looked likely to be kept for a similar purpose. Cheops had that look peculiar to them of satisfaction with his proven power to excite men. He also subtly exuded a sexual knowingness which a free boy would have been at pains to hide if he had it, and was unimaginable in a decent maiden. Not having such knowledge himself, Charikles had been secretly in awe of him, even though he was only a slave, and especially so after sensing how excited men were by the aura he diffused.
He saw in sidelong glances that Cheops was looking at him with unabashed curiosity, but despite knowing him so well and liking him, he avoided catching his eye, too deeply humiliated they were now equals.
They were so much closer to Agathokles than before that it was easy now to hear everything he said. “Bring them back!” he commanded, then turned smiling to his companions and said “I offer you one each.”
One of the guards shoved the maiden in front towards the waiting men and the rest shuffled along behind, but more slowly and with frequent stops, as a new and far more careful selection was evidently underway. This time the tyrant’s friends held back until Agathokles indicated his own interest or lack of it. He waved the first girl past, but one of his friends stopped her and turned her round before sending her off in the direction of the departing crowd. The same happened with the second, though it was a different friend who stopped her and he took longer, squeezing her bottom and groping her all over. Agathokles laughed and the four men’s mood turned jocular. The next was a boy and Agathokles himself stopped him and fondled his genitals to the guffaws of his cronies. They were clearly enjoying themselves, making increasingly obscene jokes, and even the guards standing to attention were grinning.
Not long afterwards a maiden was finally chosen after receiving more prolonged and serious attention, and then Cheops was picked by the youngest general. As the Egyptian turned obediently round and round, so that his body could be admired from every angle, Charikles saw from his expression that he was amused rather than perturbed by the attention.
So few were being chosen that Charikles began to hope he might after all escape selection and join his sisters in a less degrading form of slavery, but when it was finally his turn, he could tell Agathokles remembered him from the earlier inspection. He took hold of his chin to indicate he should open his mouth. “Mine!” he said, evidently relieved the boy’s teeth were as perfect as the rest of him, and fondled his genitals appreciatively. Charikles, his hands bound behind him, stood passively, but went bright red and looked down, causing the generals to chuckle.
The remaining general chose a girl, and in the end there were five of them, for Agathokles treated himself to a maiden in addition to Charikles. They stood around, Cheops looking calm, the others too mortified and ashamed to look at one another, until two guards were assigned to take them to the Syracusan camp.
They were marched briskly down the hill through the smouldering ruins of their city. When they passed above the ravine of the meandering River Skamandros, they could make out heaps of corpses, presumably those of the poor people they had seen herded that way the day before. It took most of an hour to reach the camp, where the rope binding their hands was cut and the four of them were taken off in different directions, Charikles to a large, empty tent with a guard outside, where he waited in dread.
Another two long hours later, a grey-haired short-bearded man in his fifties, not much taller than Charikles, came in and looked at him with the sort of interest a man might give a new work of art, glancing briefly over his body, then perusing his face thoughtfully.
A much younger man appeared and sat down at a small table in the corner. The elder then completely ignored Charikles for half an hour while he paced about thoughtfully, dictating to the other, evidently a scribe. The young man scratched away busily with his stylus, trying to keep up with the spoken words, but the still naked boy soon noticed him giving him the sort of surreptitious glances of longing that had become only too familiar to him in the palaistra. Tired from standing in silent stillness so very long, Charikles longed to sit or move about, but was much too frightened. Finally the greybeard stopped and, as the scribe scurried away with his tablets, seated himself languorously in his chair and looked straight at him.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“Charikles son of Menippos, sir,” answered Charikles sullenly.
“And who was Menippos?”
“A noble and recent Archon of this city, sir,” answered Charikles, his pride in his father showing unmistakeably.
The greybeard frowned at the boy’s expression. “That was your name. It remains to be seen what it is now,” he observed. “You are a slave and that and everything else about you is at the whim of your master. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” He knew of course that slaves were always given new names. No one wanted their personal possessions bearing names given by a stranger. Besides, the newly-enslaved had often had strange barbarian names or Greek ones quite unsuited to their new status.
“Do you know who your master is?”
“No, sir,” Charikles decided it was safer to reply.
“In him, you are fortunate indeed. He is none other than Agathokles, lord of Sicily, whom you will look up to as the greatest man in the world. You are honoured to be allowed to serve him.”
“Yes, sir,” said Charikles, his heart sinking and his body beginning to tremble again.
“I am Hieron and I am the lord Agathokles’s steward. That means I ensure the smooth running of his household, including his slaves. Whoever disrupts it incurs my wrath and whoever does his duty assiduously wins my favour. I believe you will find me just.”
Hieron paused, feeling a pang of sympathy for the boy’s terrible change of fortune, while reminding himself that being too gentle now would do no one any good. His duty, in which he took great pride as an old and trusted friend of the great man, was to secure efficiency and harmony in a large household and help its master to his heart’s desires, whether for food, wine, women, boys, furniture or anything else in the domestic sphere. He knew Agathokles well enough to perceive this new acquisition excited him considerably and so merited careful preparation.
“The gods alone know why you have lost their favour. All we mortals can be sure of is that some are fated to be masters and others slaves and they have decided you are to be a slave. What has happened to your parents?”
“They were killed, sir,” said Charikles, yet again on the verge of tears.
“I can of course understand your grief. Everything must seem very bleak to you now. However, it will gradually get better on condition you accept your lot. Honour your parents with grief, but, if you are wise, do so only in your heart. Anger you must cast aside altogether. Your master did no wrong in Segesta yesterday. Do you understand why that is so?”
“Everything he does has to be right as far as you are concerned simply because he is your master. It is never for you to judge him, only to obey. From today, the only purpose of your life is to please him and your only value lies in how well you do it. Do you accept this is your fate?”
Charikles’s head swam. He wondered curiously what Hieron would say if he said “no”. There was a newly severe tone of warning in his voice and demeanour, and he guessed his reaction would be harsh indeed. “Yes, sir,” he forced himself to say at last, the taste of his own words fouler than he had imagined any could be.
Relieved by this submission, Hieron paused and relaxed his demeanour before continuing. “You are old enough to have surmised why the lord of this great island would choose for his household a beautiful boy with few if any practical skills out of all the women and children of Segesta. So, in your own interest, I shall be plain with you. He has chosen you for his bed, and easily your greatest hope of winning his favour is to please him there. Be enthusiastic, tender and imaginative, always well-groomed and clean. Think only of his pleasure, do everything he wants, try to guess and anticipate his wishes both in bed and out of it and you will win his affection and perhaps one day even your freedom. You have already witnessed that my lord Agathokles makes an enemy worth avoiding, but, if you try hard, you will find he can also be a generous benefactor.”
Hieron felt a tiny pang of guilt over his last remarks as he knew it was almost unheard of for Agathokles to free a slave, but he reminded himself it was the wise and noble-minded Aristotle who reputedly recommended saying this even when it was not true. The only purpose of slaves was to serve their masters, so anything was justified which encouraged them to do so better.
“Fail to do so, irritate him or even just bore him and he may decide he would rather have the money you would fetch in an auction. Most likely you would be bought by a brothel; I can assure you that would be an incomparably worse fate.”
Charikles wondered if this could be true; no brothel-keeper had murdered his family, but he was not stupid enough to say so.
A host of small questions ensued which established that Charikles’s modest accomplishments in singing and playing the lyre were the typically amateur ones of a boy of his class, and that he had never danced. He was advised that now he was a man’s pleasure-boy, he would be well-advised to learn to excel in all three. He promised to do his best.
“Have you ever served at table?”
“Yes, sir, at my father’s club suppers.”
“Good. That will be your most important duty aside from what I have already alluded to. Try hard to do so gracefully and to anticipate the needs of everyone there. I should be pleased not to have to spend any more time than necessary on your training.”
“Enough for now,” concluded Hieron. “You will learn your other duties in due course, mostly from the other slaves.” He had said what was necessary and could afford now to assuage the child’s obvious terror. He smiled and getting up, put his arm round the boy’s shoulders.
“I feel sure you will do well here. Let us get you outfitted,” he said, leading him out of the room. “Most evenings your master will want his boys naked, but sometimes you will wear a tunic, and in cold weather may also be permitted a cloak. Modesty you must now forget, but no one will want you getting a chill.” He ruffled the lad’s silky chestnut hair affably.
It was the first kindness Charikles had been shown that day after unspeakable terrors and helped to calm his desperately fraught nerves. Hieron took him to another tent and handed him over to the care of a staggeringly beautiful blond Gaul of sixteen called Xanthias, who looked at him a little ruefully, but proved willing to give him thorough instruction.
Any doubt as to Xanthias’s place in the household was removed by his tunic, a smaller version of which was produced a little later for Charikles. It was made of the finest white wool with a hem dyed deep blue, and in the Doric style without sleeves, but where the only ones he had known were made body length and drawn up to just above the knees by pulling the material up through one’s belt, this one was shockingly short, an unequivocal statement of its wearer’s role. The belt was designed merely to delineate the boy’s fine figure, for even pulled straight down through it, the tunic barely covered his most intimate parts. With its implied invitation to admire Xanthias’s shapely legs, it was actually more immodest than simple nudity. Charikles knew his father would have had a fit if he saw his son wearing such a thing, as indeed would any respectable father of a freeborn boy.
At noon, Xanthias took Charikles into Agathokles’s tent and showed him how to mix the wine and water according to their master’s preference. Then they waited briefly until he appeared for his midday meal, at which Xanthias served his wine. He glanced over Charikles approvingly, but otherwise took no notice of him, absorbed in swiftly eating his modest repast. He had taken off his armour, but, strangely, instead of going bareheaded, he wore the sort of wreath usually used by priests.
Over the course of the afternoon, Xanthias warmed towards the younger boy, won over by his good nature and reflecting that he could do with an ally against the intrigues of their master’s other boys waiting in Syracuse. So he tried hard to forewarn him against every possible mistake. Not least, he told him that if either of them was required for the night, as Agathokles rose from his chair to bid his guests sweet repose, he would direct no more than a meaningful glance at the chosen one, who would be ill-advised not to take prompt notice. When Charikles shuddered in response, fear and revulsion unmistakable in his expression, Xanthias re-iterated Hieron’s advice.
“There’s no need to be frightened. You’ll get used to it. Better this than hard manual labour any day. Concentrate on pleasing him and you’ll find he’s a generous master,” he said, but Charikles, who dared not talk about what the tyrant had just done to his family and city for fear it would be reported, did not look greatly reassured.
That evening Agathokles held a celebratory feast in his magnificent dining tent with a dozen of his most favoured friends and the Segestan traitor Leontidas. Other slaves brought the food in from the kitchens, but only the two naked boys were on duty to serve and they were kept busy indeed. Nevertheless Charikles had plenty of opportunities to look at his new master in horrified wonder. He was bare-headed now, and Charikles guessed the reason he had earlier been wearing a wreath was to obscure his nearly total baldness.
The nobility of Segesta were too few not to be familiar with one another and their sons, and Leontidas did not pretend not to know who Charikles was. Far from showing any sign of embarrassment, he shamelessly congratulated Agathokles on acquiring one of his city’s most sought-after prizes, one he had heard many young men had yearned for in vain.
“May he honour the memory of an older and better Segesta by being as loving and faithful as her Menon was to his master!”
The sycophant must know these Syracusans are unlikely to have heard of Menon, thought Charikles. No doubt it’s a ploy to get further favourable attention from the man he has betrayed us to.
“Menon,” replied Leontidas to the inevitable question, “was a beautiful slave-boy loved by Polymenes, the best of all Segesta’s rulers, given to rule over us by your predecessor Dionysios after he too had destroyed Segesta for siding with the Carthaginians. Like you, Polymenes was a champion of the people and the oligarchs who had ruled before plotted to kill him.”
Charikles stared down at the ground so Leontidas could not see his anger at this traitorously twisted account. He knew Polymenes had really been a blood-thirsty tyrant not much better than Agathokles. His own great-grandfather had been one of the nobles who bravely tried to rid Segesta of him, and had been tortured to death when the attempt failed.
“Four of them came in the middle of the night to murder him,” continued Leontidas. “They fought and killed the guard outside his bedchamber. Polymenes was a heavy sleeper, but Menon was woken by the commotion. He rushed to bolt the bedchamber door, shook his master awake and helped him climb outside through a small window. He had already rebolted its wooden shutter by the time the killers broke the door down, and he bravely stood in front of it, holding his master’s sword. He was untrained to arms of course, so it only took moments to dispatch him, but by the time they unbolted the shutter, Polymenes had disappeared to rally his soldiers. He was so touched by what Menon had done that he gave him a tomb with an inscription recording his deed, though sadly the oligarchs defaced it when they later recovered power.”
“Thank you, Leontidas,” said Agathokles. “You’ve solved a quandary for me. I was wondering what to call this boy. He shall indeed be my Menon.”
The conversation turned to war and for the next hour Charikles was relieved to find himself ignored. He was too absorbed with dread to listen to what they said. After the last dish was brought in, the two boys had no more to do than keep filling the drinking-cups. Xanthias had told him their master liked his guests’ cups kept always full, though he himself drank moderately. Though the talk became steadily more boisterous, it was only much later that it became bawdy, perhaps in recognition that they would soon be off to bed. Then the two slave-boys were noticed again and Agathokles’s companions became openly appreciative of their beauty, in both words and lustful glances. Charikles saw that the tyrant noticed and was pleased. Evidently he liked to be envied. The next time Charikles bent down to serve him wine, he put his hand on the boy’s pert little bottom and lovingly stroked it, languorously relishing the cool smoothness of its cheeks. It was an open gesture evidently meant to be seen, and Agathokles’s friends smiled approvingly. The boy’s intense embarrassment only amused them.
“If only one’s pleasure-boys could retain such charming modesty,” said Leontidas.
“I disagree,” said Agathokles. “Obviously one appreciates it in free boys if one has the time to woo them, but the sooner it’s forgotten by a slave-boy the better.” All the men laughed.
“I stand corrected,” gushed Leontidas. “May Menon loose his modesty fast!”
With mounting terror, Charikles realised no one there doubted he would shortly be in his master’s bed. He was already trembling when Agathokles, who apparently took this as a suitable moment to bring the banquet to a close, drew back his chair to stand and glanced unmistakeably at him before bidding the company good sleep.
As instructed, Charikles went past the guard into the tyrant’s sleeping-tent, already lit with an oil lamp, and stood in the shadows, his heart pounding with dread. He did not have long to wait before he heard Agathokles outside telling the guard he was going to bed and need no further attendance.
The tyrant came in, cast him a satisfied glance, then took off his clothes and stood naked before him, his throbbing organ already standing fully stiff in long anticipation, hideously big like a satyr's. His body exceeded Charikles’s worst imaginings in its frightfulness, above all because it was almost entirely covered with coarse curly black hair, through which showed some ugly, jagged scars. His chest and upper arms were massively muscular and well-padded in flesh. His masculinity was overdone until it was brutal and repellent rather than something to admire.
Taking the boy’s slender hands in his own, Agathokles sat down on the bed, and drew him close. Charikles began shaking. He fought desperately to control himself, but could not help giving a start when his genitals were taken firmly in the callous palm of one of the huge hands, their smooth hairlessness contrasting harshly with the hoariness of the hand.
“Shhh, Menon,” said the tyrant with quite unexpected gentleness, as if soothing a frightened colt. “Do you know what is going to happen?” he asked, and moving his hand round to the boy’s bottom, meaningfully drew a finger firmly along the crevice between its firm cheeks.
Charikles nodded, his eyes cast down.
“Have you been fucked before?” Agathokles was coarse deliberately and not simply because he was always keen to dispel reticence from his bed-chamber. He relished shocking this boy’s aristocratic sensibilities. Hieron had told him of the boy’s high birth, of which he had had no idea when he chose him, and Leontidas had filled in the details. He should have guessed from his soft hands, grace of posture and the breeding evident in his every gesture. The knowledge had much increased his already considerable excitement. He had never had a noble boy before. As one who had risen from humble origins to supreme power purely through his own efforts, it thrilled him that a scion of the haughty aristocracy was about to submit to penetration by his plebeian organ, not, like the noble women he had had in his youth, for his own pleasure or by his own will, but because he had to.
Charikles shook his head vigorously and could tell his answer was the one guessed and hoped for.
“Don’t be afraid, Menon. I shall be gentle. Even if it hurts at first, you will learn to like it well enough. You must; it is my wish.” Returning to the boy’s genitals, he stroked and cupped the silky-soft little balls and brought his other hand to play with the shaft, continuing for so long the boy inevitably calmed down, then still longer until his organ stiffened despite his disgust with the tyrant’s body and fear of what was to come.
“Anoint the palm of your hand!” said Agathokles next, indicating a pot beside the lamp, which Charikles found to contain olive oil. On his return, Agathokles dipped into his cupped palm with his own finger, slipped it into the child’s crevice and rubbed the oil against his tight little orifice, causing Charikles to give another start and Agathokles to chuckle. Then he placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder to indicate he should kneel, and thrust his organ out a little to signify the task to be performed.
Charikles obediently wrapped his hand round the ugly, rock-hard thing standing like a Cyclops in its hairy bush, and tried to hide his revulsion as he moved it gently up and down.
“Firmer!” said the tyrant and grunted with pleasure as the obedient boy tightened his grip on the now well-oiled shaft. Soon it gave off a faintly pungent odour Charikles tried to ignore, a little drop glistened at its top and Agathokles stayed his hand.
“Now go down on all fours on the bed!” he commanded and, this done, he knelt behind him and pulled his shoulders slightly back and down until his silky-smooth bottom was raised towards him, perfectly posed for defloration.
Charikles felt his buttocks firmly parted by coarse thumbs and blushed harder still. Then something warm and hard began pressing against his orifice and he began again to tremble. It was surely impossible for the enormous thing to enter him without splitting him apart.
“Shhh,” crooned Agathokles again.
Though not averse to humiliating him, he didn’t want to frighten or hurt him more than the circumstances made inevitable. He liked his boys enthusiastic as soon as possible.
It was not as if he had never raped anyone, most men did while at war, and he would have raped Charikles in the theatre if it had been going to be his only chance to fuck him, but he was his to keep and a little patience would be repaid. A slave-boy is like a horse; break him in gently mounting him the first time and he’ll do more for his master in the end. This one was exquisite, perhaps the most beautiful he had had. He looked forward to years of fun with him. So within the limits reasonable with a slave, he would try to enter him slowly.
Charikles felt the pressure against him slowly increase until quite suddenly something gave way and he felt the monstrous poker slide into him. The pain was so sharp he could not help crying out loudly.
“Shhh,” Agathokles crooned a third time, and stilled himself for a while, relishing the moment of conquest. Then Charikles felt him moving slowly further in and began to gasp. He kept thinking his impalement must end any moment since he was already filled up, only to find it went on and on, deeper and deeper, squeezing the breath out of him. He tried with increasing difficulty not to panic. At last the tyrant stopped. He had taken full possession of him and was in up to the hilt, his large hairy balls lying against the cool of the boy’s buttocks.
After a short pause, he felt him steadily withdraw and began to breathe more easily, but only too soon the conquering shaft was invading him again. It was faster this time and he yelped, but Agathokles took no more notice. Like rusty gates, some boys squeak however well oiled. Usually, as in this case, it was an exciting affirmation of virginity. He had shown patience enough and now gave himself over to the pleasure, thrusting steadily in and out of his almost consummated catamite, whose gasps were soon mixed with tears.
Finally the man seemed to shudder. Charikles thought he sensed a new kind of pulsing coming with the now slowing thrusts, but it might have been his imagination, for he anyway guessed his parents’ murderer was pumping his seed deep into him, making him his property in the core of his being.
He heard a grunt and loud, satisfied exhalation, then at last felt him withdrawing.
“Extinguish the lamp and sleep!” said Agathokles, lying down on his back. Charikles lay exhausted at his side, weeping silently, relieved at last to be able to do so unseen.
In barely the time it would take to walk across the tent, the man began to snore loudly. Then he farted twice at such length and volume that Charikles felt sure it must be heard far away. He wondered if he had woken himself up, but the snoring resumed immediately only to be punctuated a little later by another thunderous fart. And so it continued indefinitely, like a discordant tune in hideous mockery of the Muses. The boy soon deduced it must be the way his owner always slept.
Charikles’s tears flowed fast and freely now. As it became clear that Agathokles was beyond easy waking, he no longer felt too frightened to let his sobbing become gently audible.
He wept above all for the father he had worshipped and adored and the ever-gentle mother who had always been there to comfort him, both not only lost to him forever but left unburied. He wept for his sisters and his home and his city. He wept too for gentle, smiling Hermias, who would never now love him as he had expected.
No one will ever love me again. With that thought, he began to weep for his own ruined life. The physical hurt from what had been done to him by the lecherous brute lying beside him had almost dissipated, but the total desecration and loss of hope he felt was far worse than the pain had been. What should have been the most precious thing a boy could give the man he was in love with, the consummation and proof of love he had quietly resolved to give Hermias if asked, so private to the two individuals it concerned that no gentleman would ever speak of it, had been taken from him against his will. Instead of being loving, it had been brutal, disgusting and painful. Worse than that, he had been robbed of the last vestiges of his honour; everyone knew he was nothing more than a submissive receptacle for the selfish lust of a mass murderer, a bloody tyrant’s whore.
Though nothing could stem his grief, he had at first found cogent thought impossible due to the revolting cacophony coming from the slumbering beast. Eventually though, he got accustomed enough to it to wonder if there was truly no more hope. Should I die? He surely should have taken his own life if he had been offered the chance before his sudden captivity, certainly if he had known how shameful it would be, but now it was too late to save his honour.
What would his father want him to do now? Avenge him of course, if only it were possible. No thought was required to understand that only thus could any of his honour be recovered, but it was surely impossible. Since the feast, he had toyed with the idea of picking up a knife and trying to stab the tyrant to death, but he knew it wouldn’t work. He had only a thirteen-year-old’s strength, had never used a knife on anyone and could never drive one home through all that muscle and fat, whereas Agathokles was grotesquely strong and could snuff out his life with one bare hand. He could try poisoning him, but where would he obtain the poison without suspicion and how would he administer it without discovery?
He thought then about getting caught, whether he had been successful or not. It would not simply be a matter of death. He would be seized before he could end his own life and the horror that could be inflicted on the innocent was already seared into his memory for ever. What would they do to him for trying to kill the great tyrant?
Shuddering, he considered the alternative. What if he accepted his fate? Xanthias had and he did not appear to be miserable. He remembered Hieron’s advice which seemed sincerely meant; if he did everything possible to please Agathokles, he would be well-treated, rewarded and one day even free. Xanthias said he had his own horse, expensive clothes for the rare occasions he was allowed to dress fully, and precious jewellery for every occasion; he was treated to fine food, a far cry from the slaves’ usual fare, and in Syracuse he even had his own little bedchamber. And Xanthias had shown no sign of hoping he would not be summoned to serve their master in bed. Had he got used to it? Had he even learned to like it as Agathokles had just told him he should himself?
A particularly loud fart interrupted his thoughts. It reminded him of the sordid reality he had just endured and how much he hated the monster who had destroyed all he loved. Xanthias was different. He had been born into slavery and later bought second-hand by Agathokles; he was a barbarian, naturally suited to servility; and Agathokles had not murdered his family. It was easy for him.
Nevertheless, the fact remained that he could not or dared not try to defy, run away from or kill the tyrant, and only pleasing him could better his position. There was no real choice but to do so, while secretly nursing his hatred. Once he had Agathokles’s trust and affection, as Xanthias had, all sorts of possibilities might arise, including perhaps ones for vengeance. In the meantime, there would be satisfaction to be had in deceiving him, fooling him into thinking he had accepted his fate and longed for nothing but to please him. Supposing he went further than Xanthias, made himself indispensable, won his full trust and such love as the brute was capable of? After all, he was a Hellene, educated and well brought-up, and, compared to Xanthias, he had time on his side. Imagine the day Agathokles, having given him freedom, perhaps even wealth and power, found them used to destroy him and discovered too late he had been fooled!
It was the only solution. Outwardly, he would henceforth be Menon, the faithful and adoring slave. He would bury his hatred and revulsion so deep in his heart that he would be able to act without consciousness of them. He would learn to pander to every whim of the tyrant with such convincing enthusiasm that it was impossible to doubt his devotion and loyalty. He would wait patiently for him to leave himself vulnerable to utter destruction, then he would strike and Charikles would be reborn.
He started feeling better. His future was unquestionably daunting, but there was hope too. “Father, Mother, Hermias,” he whispered into the darkness, “forgive me that I serve our enemy. I have no choice if I am ever to avenge you, but I swear I shall.”
This story was intended to be one chapter in one of an intended series of novels about the struggle for power over Alexander the Great’s empire in the forty years following his death. The project was abandoned as over-ambitious.
Agathokles and his slave-boy catamite Menon are both historical characters. All that is known about the latter comes from Diodoros’s Library of History XXI 16 ii-vi and 18 i, which describes him as:
a Segestan by birth, who was taken captive on the seizure of his native city, and became the king's slave because of the beauty of his person. For a while he pretended to be content, being reckoned among the king's beloveds and friends; but the disaster to his city and the outrage to his person produced a rankling enmity to the king, and he seized an opportunity to take his revenge.
In 289 BC, eighteen years after the destruction of Segesta, Agathokles’s own grandson “persuaded him to poison the king,” which he accomplished thus:
Now it was the king's habit after dinner always to clean his teeth with a quill. Having finished his wine, therefore, he asked Menon for the quill, and Menon gave him one that he had smeared with a putrefactive drug. The king, unaware of this, applied it rather vigorously and so brought it into contact with the gums all about his teeth. The first effect was a continuous pain, which grew daily more excruciating, and this was followed by an incurable gangrene everywhere near the teeth.
As soon as Agathokles was dead, Menon tried to seize power in Syracuse for himself. His subsequent fate is unknown, as what survives of Diodoros’s account breaks off.
The Segestan Boy was intended to explain in detail why Agathokles’s eromenos murdered him. My account of Agathokles’s incredibly brutal destruction of Segesta and her people is also based on that of Diodoros (XX 71).
If you would like to leave a comment on this webpage, please e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org, mentioning either the title or the url of the page so that the editor can add it. You could also indicate the name by which you wish to be known.