Shadow of an Image, The
An answer to the Maglor-in-History challenge
All the Greeks are historical, except Melas, who is mine. 'Makalor' is most definitely Tolkien's
Macedon, 341 BC
The young men were lounging on the steps of the gymnasium. They had wrestled, bathed and dressed. Now, they were basking in the awareness of their own youth and vigour, their muscles pleasantly heavy with the exhaustion that was the fruit of hard physical excercise. Slaves had brought food and wine, and wisdom was at their command in the shape of a genuine Athenian philosopher. One, moreover, who had known Plato, who in his turn had known Socrates, dead by hemlock and bigotry, and no less immortalised by it than by Plato's philosophical dialogues. In short, with Aristotle they had three great minds residing in one, and who among the princes of Greeks and barbarians alike could say the same?
At the moment, though, they were not discussing Philosopy, but Story.
'So you say it was all a figment of Plato's imagination?' asked Alexander. 'A phantasma?'
'A fantasy, rather,' said Aristotle.
'Or a description in phenomenal terms of images, seen by his soul in Plato's famous cave of ideas?' ventured Hephaistion. To judge by his smirk he was not entirely serious. Alexander, sitting shoulder to shoulder with his friend, punched him softly in the side, a gesture that could denote criticism as well as approval.
'Isn't that ultimately one and the same?' said Melas, the grave one. 'Do not both phantasia and phenomenon spring from one and the same phainoo(1), perceive, the way a soul does in the cave?
'A good attempt, though not quite correct,' said their philosophy teacher with a measured smile, stroking his carefully trimmed beard. 'In this fantasy of Plato's, the Idea of the Republic(2) takes the phenomenal form of a ideal, victorious Athens prevaling against the hybris of all who would defy the Gods by attacking her. In the fantasy of a Sicilian, such an Idea would most likely take the form of Syracuse. However, as it happens, the founder of the Academy(3) was a citizen of Athens, though he spent part of his days in Syracuse.'
Melas thought about this for a moment and then nodded as if he understood.
Alexander and Hephaistion shared a smile. 'Yet the ideal Athens existed only in Plato's fantasy,' concluded the former.
'So, in other words,' the latter added, 'Plato made up a story to make a point.' He popped an olive into his mouth.
Aristotle frowned, perhaps at the pedestrian way of speaking, perhaps because he did not quite trust Hephaistion when his eyes sparkled like that.
Close by, something shifted: a shadowy figure disengaging itself from the thicker shadow of a column of the gymnasium. 'But, good master,' intoned a musical voice, 'do you not argue away the historical reality behind Plato's account with the help of Plato's own philosophy now - a philosophy that you do not share?'
The philosopher and his pupils looked from the shadow to the shape that cast it, and they saw that it was the slave waiting on them who had stepped forward to speak. His task was to tend to their needs, filling their cups with unmixed wine in the Macedonian fashion(4) and presenting them the tray of olives, fruits and sweetmeats before they would ask for it. He did not truly exist, save as a set of subservient hands and feet. That there was a tongue attached to these extremities was almost an outrage.
Four pairs of eyes that had not truly registered the slave before this moment were turned his way. What they saw was a slender figure clad in a roughspun tunic that left half of his chest bare, with the beardless face and smooth limbs of an ephebe(5), yet too tall and muscled to be anything but a grown man. Though his black hair was longer than a slave's should be, for some reason no one had seen fit to cut it. The colour of his eyes was difficult to make out: a kind of veil had been drawn across them. If they had a colour, it was grey rather than brown or blue.
'Who gave you permission to speak?' asked Hephaistion haughtily, as if he was the son of King Philip of Macedon instead of Alexander.
'No one, young master,' the slave replied softly, though without discernible fear or awe. 'I humbly beg your forgiveness.'
'Ah, leave him be, Hephaistion,' said Alexander. 'He spoke unthinkingly.'
'He did not,' said Aristotle. He was observing the slave, his expression by no means displeased. Alexander and Hephaistion exchanged a meaningful look. The philosopher's interest, whether or not of the Platonic kind, was very obvious. The slave was undeniably fair of face and form, more attractive than Alexander, more handsome than Hephaistion even. His beauty was of an unusual, elusive kind, as if he had a nymph or a dryad for a grandmother.
Alexander and Hephaistion exchanged a look. It would be nice to catch their teacher, who was known to be a family man and a believer in measure and propriety, making eyes at a pretty face, though it was to early yet to tempt the gullible Melas into any kind of bet. And though it could be rewarding for a slave to draw the attention of a man of Aristotle's status, to judge by the detached way in which he underwent the philosopher's close scrutiny, this one was not particularly bent on advancement.
'He did not speak unthinkingly, my young friends.' Aristotle tore his gaze from the slave. 'On the contrary.' He turned to Alexander. 'Does this slave have your permission to let his tongue wag a little more?'
Alexander pushed a stray lock of brown hair back from his forehead. 'Why not?'
Hephaistion eyed their teacher shrewdly. 'Was he right in questioning your words?'
'I do not see how asking a question could be wrong in itself, even if the person who asks it seems to take it for a rhetorical one.' Aristotle smiled at the slave, daring him to smile back.
He did, faintly, waiting for the invitation to loosen his tong again.
'What is your name?' inquired Aristotle. 'Where are you from?'
'I am called Makalor,' the slave told him. 'I am from the black Mountains.' This came as a surprise to all of them. It was impossible to detect any barbarian accent in his speech, despite the fact that he sounded slightly old-fashioned .
'How did you come to be a slave?' the philosopher inquired. 'You have the look of one who was born free.'
'I was captured during a Macedonian raid,' Makalor replied. 'And while it is true that I was born free, I enslaved myself long before I was brought here as a captive of war, and my current state does not diminish me more than I had already diminished myself.' And in truth, though he was beautiful to behold, it was clear now that he was so in a slightly faded way, like a gaily painted picture or a colourful garment that has been exposed too long to the rays of the sun. If Plato was right about the correspondence between the beauty of the body and that of the soul, this slave had to be tainted in some way.
'Who would enslave himself?' Melas cried, wide-eyed.
'A fool,' Makalor replied immediately.
'A fool?' repeated Aristotle, his voice betraying his vivid interest. 'Can he be a fool, who asks a clever question?'
'As much as he can be wrong, who argues correctly,' the slave said.
After a short silence, Aristotle chuckled. 'Do you recognise this?' he asked his pupils.
'Wasn't it something...' Melas began hesitantly.
'... Plato said?' Alexander and Hephaistion finished in unison. When their teacher nodded, the two slapped each other's backs.
'Autos ephè!' crowed Hephaistion. 'He said so himself!'
'But that's what they said about Pythagoras, not Plato,' Melas objected.
'You don't say so!' Alexander remarked mockingly. Melas scowled. Of the three, he was the least bright, though compared to most mortals he was still fairly clever.
'Boys!' Aristotle said, for all of a sudden his charges had turned from philosophy students into their fourteen- and fifteen-year old, usual selves. 'Boys, shall we call it a day?'
'But Plato's story?' Melas sounded disappointed.
'Tomorrow. History can change overnight. Stories usually don't,' Aristotle said. He looked at the King's son. 'Alexander, can I borrow this slave for a while?'
'But of course!' Alexander replied.
'Are you sure?' his friend asked, all wide-eyed innocence except for his irrepressible smirk.
'Perfectly,' Alexander answered in a conspiratory voice.
They stood simultaneously, Hephaistion a hand taller than Alexander. Throwing their teacher an ambiguous grin they left the gymnasium together, arms across each other's shoulders, their locks, deep brown and coppery red (6), mingling where their heads all but touched.
The slave Makalor gazed at their receding backs until the boys had disappeared, his expression wistful, even sorrowful. The philosopher observed him and grudgingly admitted to himself that, though he definitely wasn't Greek, it would be an error to call this man a barbarian.
'They think that your interest in me is somewhat less than scholarly,' the object of his musings observed, in that agreeable voice of his. 'More wine, master?'
Aristotle held out his cup. 'Join me,' he said amiably. 'Yes, I know that's what Alexander and Hephaistion think, most likely because they are in the process of discovering that their interest in each other is a lot more than scholarly. They are mistaken about me, though: I'm more likely to look at a comely hetaire(7) in that particular manner. Though I'm actually seeking a new wife, as my good Pythias died an untimely death, some years ago.' He paused. 'But what about you?'
The slave filled the cup. 'You mean: do I look at them in a certain way, master?'
Aristotle nodded. 'Well, I can see that you do - though I wonder about the exact nature of your interest.'
'They remind me of my eldest brother and his beloved.' After a brief hesitation, Makalor picked up Melas' wine cup and filled it, before seating himself one step below the philosopher.
'A sad memory?'
The slave nodded slowly, emotion rippling across his fair face. 'Like your spouse, they are both dead.' He seemed about to say more, but took a sip of wine instead.
Makalor did not look to be older than twenty-five, although his eyes had probably seen more than most other eyes of that age. 'Whom the gods love, die young,'(8) mused Aristotle. 'Or was your brother many years your senior? A half-brother perhaps?'
The slave chuckled mirthlessly, as if the philsopher's words were in some grim way funny. He shook his head. 'I do not think that you borrowed me to discuss either my kin or my memories, wheter gay or not.'
'Indeed, no.' Aristotle put down his wine, though his cup wasn't empty yet. 'You rebuked me on behalf of my good teacher and fellow philosopher Plato, Makalor. Were you prompted by reason, because of what you took to be the inconsistency of my approach, or by ulterior motives?'
The slave took an from the tray and raised it to his face. 'Knowing myself, master, my motives were entirely ulterior. Maybe I was hoping to draw your attention to my inferior person in order to lay hands on this delicious fruit of the Tree of Wisdom and Peace.' He popped the olive into his mouth.
'Gnothi seauton - know thyself(9). But I won't accept more than one evasive answer,' said the philosopher sternly. 'So?'
Makalor swallowed the olive, and his face became very serious. 'I must tell you that the tale from Plato's dialogues that you discussed with your young pupils is more than mere fantasy, more than a story with a moral and a purpose. That is why I drew your attention.'
'The tale of the island swallowed by the waves?' Aristotle's frown clearly betrayed his opinion of that story, or of the slave's bold claim, or both. A potentially rewarding dialogue was in danger of dying an untimely death.
'The very same.'
Aristotle snorted. 'So Atlantis did exist?'
'It did,' Makalor said.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.