Shadow of an Image, The
Obediently, the slave picked up the copy of the Platonic dialogue that had been the subject of discussion until the moment of his intervention. As with the wine, he seemed to favour his left hand, though not in the natural way most left-handed people did.
'What happened to your right hand?' the philosopher wanted to know. But shaking his head in a rather forbidding manner the slave handed him the scroll, and Aristotle had no choice but to let it rest. He searched the scroll until he found what he sought. 'Look, Makalor. And don't tell me you never learned your letters; you're too well informed. What does it say here?'
Makalor smiled faintly: 'That Plato had the tale from Kritias,' he replied, though he cast only the briefest of glances at the writing, and from a distance that would have defeated younger eyes than Aristotle's. This feat was all the more remarkable as the scroll was crawling with tiny letters resembling an army of ants frozen in mid-march.
'You know who Kritias was?'
'A kinsman of Plato's.'
Though it was unusual that a slave from the wild tribes of the Black Mountains should know such a thing, Makalor was so obviously more than he appeared or pretended to be, that Aristotle was hardly surprised. 'Indeed he was,' he said appreciatively. 'Kritias was Plato's mother's first cousin, and one of the Thirty Tyrants of Athens. A full-blooded politician, if ever there was one in Plato's writings. Remember that Plato wrote about Atlantis to hammer home some of his ideas regarding ideal government. But though he sketched the entire history of the island from rise to fall in an earlier dialogue, his longer and more detailed account remained an unfinished tale(10), and for a reason. When his pupil, friend and lover Dion of Sicily ended up a rebel and an outlaw, instead of the great philosopher-king he had hoped to turn him into, Plato discovered from close by that ideals do not always translate well into realities. Though regrettably, I have to add that he never fully learned to accept the harshness of the world even when it hit him squarely in the face.'
'I know,' replied Makalor, 'and who shall blame a prisoner of this marred world if he attempts to escape into the realm of his visions? Still, all this neither supports nor undermines my claim that the tale of Atlantis is a true one, by which I mean a tale firmly rooted in the history of this kosmos - which is the only one you acknowledge.'
The philosopher stroked his beard, releasing some of the perfume he must have sprinkled across it before he left home that day. 'Read on,' was all he said, 'until you come to the ultimate source for the story.'
Makalor's gaze brushed the scroll as if to sweep up all the letters in one grand movement. It was obvious that he was not reading at all. 'Kritias had the tale from his own grandfather, who had it from the famous Solon the Lawgiver.' Again a little smile. 'Yes, master, I can see the connection with politics and good government.' He put the scroll down. 'Solon, in his turn, had it from some Egyptian priests. Beyond them, you will no doubt say, the trail loses itself in the mists of history.'
'Myth,' the philosopher corrected him. 'Myth, not history. History is that, which happens. Myth is one of man's tools to make it happen. Once it does not, or no longer, serve its purpose, it can be discarded, as in the case of Atlantis. Plato dreamed it up and then he made it vanish into the ever-moving waters.(11) And Egyptian priests are conveniently mysterious, enough so to make very suspect sources. If you get too close or ask too many questions the scrolls are always secret, or the hieroglyphs on their columns don't say what they seem to say - if you are able to read them at all. Also, the Egyptians call us Greeks children without a proper sense of history, as if embalming the past in order to preserve it is the surest proof of maturity.'
Now the slave looked pensive. 'My people have been called both children and embalmers of the past.(11)' He shook his head. 'I have been to Egypt, master. Please believe me if I assure you that some of their scrolls and columns do preserve reminiscences of a mighty island destroyed by fires and earthquakes, and swallowed by the great sea. Shadows of a reality that once was, you could say.'
'You claim to have been to Egypt?' The philosopher frowned. 'Makalor, I must warn you, I'm not a credulous man. I dislike liars, whether they be free men or slaves, or even women, though their inferior brains place them somewhere between men and trained dogs and they can't be exp-'
'I have known both women and dogs who had more sense than many men!' Makalor interrupted him. For the first time, his voice held a hint of passion.
The philosopher's frown deepened, and ignoring the slave's last remark he snapped: 'If you abide by this claim, the end of this discussion is near. You may be as knowledgeable as any student of Plato's Academy, but you are not old enough to have visited Egypt and learned to read the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.'
'Yet I will abide by it,' the slave replied calmly. 'No, I will go further by saying that I know there was such an island in the past. My very eyes have seen it. And according to your Greek way of thinking, what the eyes have seen the mind knows - is not your word for knowing derived from an old word for seeing(13)?' He turned his face fully towards Aristotle. And observing it as if for the first time the philosopher, who had been about to object again, was suddenly left breathless, and the mask of anger melted from his face.
'I can show you the island as I remember it in its full glory,' the slave went on. 'I can show you its darkest days, when the black smoke of human sacrifice arose from the great Temple in its heart. I can show you its downfall and the millions perishing with it. Do you wish to see any of these things, master?'
Aristotle was silent for a moment. 'Perhaps you should stop calling me master,' he spoke at last, swallowing. 'It sounds deferential, but I do not believe you mean it, Makalor. I was never your master in the sense of owner, and I doubt if I am your master in any other sense. But yes, I would like to see what you have to show me - if you please.'
'Very well.' And Makalor, the slave who was more than a slave, raised his fair voice in song. The melody was neither in the cheerful Dorian nor in the melancholy Aeolian, nor in any of the other five scales, nor even the wild and mystical Phrygian scale, though the vision he conjured up was mysterious indeed. Aristotle saw a pair of twins - one pair only, and not five as in Plato's story - say farewell to one another, wondering why Makalor's eyes grew moist when he sang of them.
One of the twins embarked and sailed away with many people to a large island in the wine-dark waters - though unlike Plato's Atlantis, smaller than Asia and Europe together - raised by a sea-god(14). It was not round like the winding circles of time and history, but it had five points like a starfish. In its heartland were grassy downs, with a tall mountain rising heavenward like a pillar, and there was a stream running west and one running south, spreading fingers that grasped for the sea, just like the river Nile did in Egypt. Cliffs there were, too, and here eagles nested as well as a multitude of other birds; their piping and squeaking, their cawing and screeching mingled with Makalor's song, and the philosopher marvelled, for how could he possibly hear birds so close by when there were none in the gymnasium?
The people disembarking from the ships populated the island, and they raised a great city near the mountain and smaller ones on the coast and a high tower to gaze at the stars. They loved horses - indeed like the Atlanteans did in Plato's account - and became great mariners, again like Plato's Atlanteans, whose kings were the sons of Poseidon, the god of the Sea. Everywhere they sailed, except west, for as Makalor sang there was a ban on it. In the West dwelled the immortal powers on their mountain like the Gods of Greece on Mount Olympos.
The people of the island grew mightier than any other mortals on the face of the earth, and they could master everything except the doom of death. They even captured a demon in fair guise and made him high priest in a great temple they built to an evil god in their chief city. There, many who rejected the priest and refused to worship in the temple were sacrificed to darkness of this cruel god, and much that was good and true and beautiful turned evil, false and ugly. (Barbarians! the philosopher said to himself, for all their great achievements! And then he remembered how the people of Athens had sacrificed Socrates to the darkness of their own ignorance.)
After a while, the high priest told the men of the island they should defy the ban on sailing west to wrest immortality from those who dwelled there/, for they were weak, and no true gods, and it was Man's right to live forever. These false gods lied when they claimed that man was not made to be immortal and that the soul should cling to the body instead of flying to its true eternal home on the wings of love.
The king of the island listened to the words of the demon-priest. He built a large fleet and sailed to the land of the Gods to invade it - not Athens; that city played no role in this story, but being a Macedonian, Aristotle did not mourn this fact overmuch. The gods called on the Eternal One to come to their aid, and the blasphemous king and his fleet were destroyed. The mountain in the heart of the island erupted, the earth shook and the sea rose in wrath to engulf it with all that was in it; a mere nine ships escaped. Afterwards, only the summit of the mountain rose above the waves as a reminder. From that day onward the name of the island was Atalantë, the Downfallen.
Now, Makalor's song turned into a lament for a people, once great, but come to grief for their pride and their lack of wisdom. And while it lasted, and while Makalor's voice rose and fell, the philosopher saw nothing of the gymnasium with its columns and its palaestra and the sun slanting through the windows. But no sooner did the singer fall silent, or the images that were more than images disappeared, and Aristotle noticed that nothing about him had changed; everything was the same, except the shadows that had shifted to indicate the passing of time.
He stared at the slave who could not possibly be a slave. At last he said, resignedly: 'You are no mortal singer.' Searching Makalor's face he could see that it was true, and he went on, in a voice that almost didn't tremble: 'Are you a god descended to us? One of the immortals? Then do not hold my doubts about your existence against me, for how could my mind know that you are, if I my senses never perceived you? Or should I have believed the fantasies the poets have told about you? Those tales that Plato detested so, believing as he did that they were dark distortions of an ideal reality?'
The other shook his head. 'I do not die while the world lasts, and I have lived long enough to see and learn everything. Hand me a hoe and I will till your field - for a time. Hand me a staff and I will tend to your flocks - for a time. Give me a lyra and I will play you a hymn. Give me a chisel and I will carve you a freeze. Give me hammer and anvil and I will forge you a blade. Give me a weapon and I will wield it for -'
'Makalor,' the philosopher interrupted him, 'I am, among other things, a physician, and as such a great deal more interested in the welfare of people than in their deaths. If I showed you a patient, could you heal him for me?'
Now, Makalor averted his eyes. When he spoke, after a long silence, his voice was very soft. 'If ever I possessed any healing abilities, I lost them sword stroke by sword stroke, death by death. Long as my life is, I cannot give an ounce of it to others, though the stars know that I would, if I could. No, do not touch me!' he cried when Aristotle reached out for him. 'My blood-guilt would contaminate you, and you would need to purify yourself. I am a murderer many times over, and I remain unforgiven.'
Aristotle looked slightly apprehensive. 'Is that why you do not die?' he asked.
Makalor stared at him as if he had said something very odd. Then he sighed, shaking his head. 'I am created - and fated - to live while the world lasts. I have seen innumerable generations of men fall like leaves, as your poet Homer sang in his Iliad before his own leaf fluttered down from the tree of Life. But a god I am not. I have seen and met the gods, though, and I assure you that Plato would have been glad to find that all those stories about divine debauchery and licence are just so many lies.'
His gaze grew distant, and he went on: 'He would have recognised the gods, I think: Light, Wind and Water, Growth and Craft, Pity and Justice, Sleep and Dream, Strength and Speed, and many others still. But he would also have seen that they are more than ideas.'
Aristotle shook his head. 'I do not even believe in Plato's ideas. And,' he added shrewdly, 'if you are no god, it is not incumbent on me that I do, is it? Can you make me believe in Atlantis?'
'You do not believe what I have shown you?
'You are only one... person.' The philosopher raised his hand. 'Yes, I have seen what you called up with your singing, and while it was there I was sorely tempted to believe in the idea of a true Atlantis, of which the image found in Plato's tale is but one shadow. But how could it be? How could a large island like Atlantis fit inside this gymnasium? Can the greater vessel be contained in the lesser? It cannot have been here, so it must have been a fantasy.'
He was silent for a while before he resumed: 'You are a great conjurer; Orpheus himself would be envious of the power of your voice(15). But I cannot see the tale of Atlantis, whether told by you or Plato or anyone else, other than as a story. A good one, admittedly, one that causes wonder and does not strain belief. A drama that contains the divine element of recognition, accompanying a katharsis. A purifying tale about human hybris and folly.'
Finishing his wine, he went on: 'The world abounds with it, as has always been and will always be the case, like the world itself has always been and will always be. What a man sees and hears enters his mind - we see foolish deeds, and so our minds form the concept of folly, with a tale to warn against it. We see just deeds, and our minds form the idea of justice, with a god to embody it. We fear death; in our yearning for life eternal we mortals tell tales about immortality and the escape from death. But while you can show truth by telling a tale, you cannot turn it into fact. I shall not call you a liar, Makalor, for it is obvious that you believe your eyes have seen what you sang - just like Plato believed that the soul sees the eternal Ideas before it is born, and therefore recognises them in the flesh after birth. But you have proved nothing.'
'No man can possibly do more than decide what to believe(16),' Makalor commented. He seemed hardly disappointed, as if Aristotle's reaction was what he had expected, though he might have hoped for more. 'Both you and Plato say that you know what you have seen, as your tongue wills it, but while he looked with the eyes of desire, gazing out of this world, you do so with the eyes of curiosity, looking into it. Therefore, your knowledge is of a different kind. You shall no doubt achieve much, but there are things that you will miss.' Suddenly, he snorted. 'I doubt whether you would have believed me if I had lied and claimed I were a god.'
'I would have challenged you to punish me for my disbelief.' Aristotle refilled both cups, thereby acknowledging that he considered the other a free man, and perhaps his equal. 'But no, I would not have believed you. There is one god only, the Unmoved Mover, the prime cause that sets the heavens into motion, and they in their turn influence all movement on earth.'
'There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought(17),' chanted Makalor, staring into his wine cup without drinking, as if he saw some vision in its depths.
'Thoughts, or ideas? You do not easily give up, do you?' the philosopher said. 'Trying to reconcile my way of thinking and Plato's now?'
'Actually, I was singing an ancient song that I learned in my youth, about how the world came to be. If I sang it in its entirety, your mortal life would not be long enough to measure its length and width and height. It would also teach you that the Mover is not unmoved.'
Aristotle seemed about to say something, but then he shook his head. 'Do they sing such songs in the Black Mountains, then?'
Makalor smiled, though his smile was tinged with sadness. 'To be honest, I do not know.'
'Ah!' Aristotle exclaimed, but before he could announce that he had always known that Makalor's origins did not lie there, Melas re-entered the gymnasium. 'I'm afraid I forgot my stylos here,' he apologised, looking from the philosopher to the slave and back, disappointment briefly flashing across his face. He made no move to look for the writing utensil.
Aristotle and Makalor exchanged a look that made clear they thought the same. Melas was sent by Alexander and Hephaistion to check whether the philosopher had made any advances on the slave. Pulling his face straight, Makalor rose and went towards one of the columns to pick up the stylos from the shadows into which it had rolled. With a deferential gesture he handed it to the boy. Before he left, Melas cast one last depreciating glance at the fool who had enslaved himself and did not even know how to use a perfect opportunity.
'What people do you really spring from, Makalor?' asked Aristotle.
'My people are called the Noldor, or "those who know", came the reply. 'In your tongue, though, our kind of knowledge would translate as gnosis, not sophia(18).
Aristotle frowned slightly at this second-best of possibilities, but the frown disappeared as quickly as it had appeared . 'Where do they live?'
'Nowhere in this world. I am the last who remains here, and but a shadow of my former self. Still, I am trapped,' the slave said with a sadness beyond mortal sorrow.
Aristotle took a few moments to digest this. 'Trapped - but never captured and sold, is it not?' he said finally. 'You just came here one day, taking care to be as inconspicuous as a servant ought to be. I think you can leave whenever you wish. So, when you say "trapped", you do not mean this court, or Greece, or the inhabited world, do you? You mean this very planet earth. It is almost as if you are the soul as Plato imagined it, yearning to fly home - but alas, your wings are clipped.'
Blinking for a moment Makalor countered: 'I thought you did not believe in Plato's theories?'
'It remains a striking image, though it fails to do justice to the beauties of this world.' Aristotle chuckled softly. 'What do you seek here that you have not seen yet, Makalor, if you are as old as you claim to be?'
'If I am to remain in the world until it ends, I may just as well seek the company of one who is as enamoured of it as any of my race ever were, even if it is but for a short while. Let us say that you have your own shards of wisdom to offer - the love of which is worth some slaving.'
The philosopher nodded gravely. 'I see.'
Makalor turned back towards him. Maybe you actually do, his eyes 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.