Athens; Fear and Second Thoughts

As the day of Medousa’s investiture as a priestess of Athena drew near; Cynisca’s brother Agesilaus began insisting on their return. He was eager to have his sister back home, and had bought for her a stable of horses for her to groom and train for the Olympic Games. And both Agesilaus and Cynisca were ready for Medousa to be presented for service to the cult of Athena Khalkioikos at Athena’s temple in Sparta. And Helen’s family- Castor, Polydeuces, and Clytemnestra-  as well as the house of Atreus, were all insisting on her swift return, that she might make preparations to wed Menelaus as soon as possible, not wanting to wait until her twentieth birthday. Their sojourn in Athens was drawing to a close.

Ajax, realizing that the Spartans would soon be finished with Athens, became more and more anxious as the days went by. He began ‘finding’ Medousa in secluded and semi-secluded places. And as Ajax’s discretion faltered, Cynisca began seeing more clearly what was going on. She tried to stay close to her friend and lover, protective of her. But Medousa was often about her duties for the temple cult, and Ajax always seemed to know her comings and goings. Cynisca was worried, and looked forward to a swift return to Sparta.



Medousa and Cynisca went for a walk in one of the public gardens in the suburbs near their lodgings.  They strolled along aimlessly, holding hands, but not speaking.

“Medousa? You seem distracted. Is something wrong?”

Medousa kept her eyes down, hardly hearing her friend. Cynisca nudged her. “Medousa?”

Finally, she looked up and smiled. “I’m sorry, Little Puppy.” She took her hand and sighed as they walked.

“It’s Ajax, isn’t it?” Cynisca prodded. Medousa looked at her, not wanting to confirm her friend’s suspicions, but unable to deny them. Medousa’s eyes grew large and moist. Cynisca now looked down, hurt. “You’re falling in love with him, aren’t you?” she asked, with only the faintest hint of accusation edging her voice.

“I don’t know, Cynisca,” Medousa replied. “I love you best of all… It’s just that….”

“What?” Cynisca demanded. “What do you mean ‘best?’ I’m not the only one in your heart, am I?”

The two halted by a bench and sat down together. They were no longer holding hands, but Medousa was wringing hers in an agony of indecision and longing.  The two young women both seemed to be struggling to speak.

“I’m going to lose you, aren’t I?” Cynisca said quietly.

Medousa, her head bowed in sadness, replied “But I’m losing you….” Both girls were on the edge of tears.

“What do you mean?” Cynisca asked, her voice rising. “I’m not the one chasing after that boy!”

“I am not ‘chasing after that boy!’ And anyway, you are going to be leaving me soon enough!”

“Oh, don’t be stupid, Medousa! I’m not leaving you! I would never–”

“But you’re going to be married soon, aren’t you?”

“Well, yes, but–”

“And then what happens to me-?”

Medousa stood, heaving a trembling sigh.

“What do you mean ‘What happens to you?'” Cynisca asked, alarmed.

“You’ll leave me,” Medousa moaned. “You’re going to marry that handsome young noble, Lykourgos. You’ll go to live in his family’s home. You’ll have your own household. You’ll bear his children and have a family of your own. What will I have…?”


“I will spend my days locked away in the Goddess’ Bronze-Roofed House, chanting hymns to Athena Polioukhos. When will I ever see you again?”

“But- I would come to do my devotions to Athena. We could still see each other, then! And when my husband is away, I would come to you–”

“Your personal hetaera? Kept in secret? Hidden away, until you desire my company? Or should I enslave myself to you again?”

Cynisca trembled. “But…But…. Medousa, we planned–”

“I want a life, too, Little Puppy!” Medousa cried out. “I want a home! I want children to love in my old age! Is that so abhorrent to you?”

Medousa was now pacing up and down in nervous agitation before Cynisca.

“Ajax is wealthy, and he’s kind to me. He-”

“But he couldn’t marry you, Medousa!”

“Who in Sparta would?” Medousa shouted in retort. “I have been a slave! What respectable man of Sparta would have me?”

“But Ajax would take you away!” Cynisca also shouted. “We’d still be apart! If we have children, we should raise them together, like cousins! You–”

“And my alternatives, Cynisca? Ajax would take me away! A knave from down the hill would take me away! Athena will take me away! Your husband will take you away!” Medousa began sobbing. “Ajax wouldn’t even be able to marry me, anyway– I’m fit for no one!”

“Medousa,” Cynisca tried to plead.

Medousa cried freely now.

“Why do you have to leave me? I don’t want to be alone!

She abruptly ran off, leaving Cynisca alone with her tears, heading for the Parthenon.



Cynisca returned to her rooms, crying, striving mightily to suppress her sobs. Only the Helots and servants were there, and after dismissing them, she sank down on her couch and wept loudly for a long time. After calming down some, she pulled out of her bags a very old and worn, but well-kept stuffed wolf cub. She curled up, hugging it to herself. And so Helen found her, an hour later as she lay there, eyes red, as she lay there clutching Alexina.

“I’m back from the market,” Helen began. “We got–” She trailed off as she noticed Cynisca’s condition. Concerned, she sat down on the edge of her couch and laid a hand on her brow gently. “Cynisca? What’s wrong?”

Cynisca started crying again as she turned toward her friend. “It’s Medousa,” she whined. “She doesn’t love me anymore.”

“What-? Oh, don’t be stupid…!”

“It’s true! She wants Ajax. Not me.”

“Oh, no,” Helen thought. “It’s come out.” She cast about desperately for the right words to speak to her friend.

“That’s ridiculous, Cynisca,” Helen remonstrated. “You two have been together and closer than sisters since before we even started our Agoge! Why would you think such a thing?”

“She’s been spending a lot of time with him,” Cynisca sighed. “Alone, together. Just the two of them. You can see it in her eyes when she talks about him.”

“I can’t say I’ve noticed,” Helen lied as Cynisca buried her face in her stuffed toy, trying not to cry again.

Helen sat down by her side and put a hand on her shoulder. “But how can you be so sure, Cynisca? What did Medousa say?”

But Cynisca seemed not to hear. “Everything she is, everything she has, is all because of me,” she whined, now becoming angry. “She was a slave! She was my Helot! Instead of keeping her, I gave her her freedom! My brother adopted her into our family! And now she wants to leave me!”

“Cynisca. You cannot command love. Medousa loves you; you and I both know she does. But– I think that she wants her own life as well. Like you, and I, and everyone else she knows, will.”

“You’re taking her side!”

Helen sighed. “Look at it from her perspective,” she said. “Medousa’s been completely dependent upon you and your brother all her life. But when you marry, you will leave your father’s house to set up a home of your own. Medousa is no longer your Helot to take with you. Neither can she stay with your brother, for he is a prince, and he’ll have a family of his own. What is left to Medousa?”

“But– She would serve the Goddess, and live in Athena’s House….”

“All alone. Separated from everyone she grew up with. Separated from everyone she knows and loves.”

“It was your idea, Helen-!”

Helen blinked, momentarily struck silent. This was not going well.

“I would have gone to visit her. We would still have been together. We could have–” She trailed off. Helen pressed on.

“Have you taken thought for her, Cynisca? How frightened she must be? Ajax is handsome, noble, wealthy, and kind. Of course Medousa might be attracted to him. With him, she has the promise of family, a home, a place of her own.”

“But he would take her away!” Cynisca moaned. “Ajax is not Spartan!”

“And Medousa realizes this, Cynisca! How do you think she must feel?”

“But why should she feel so upset? If she–”

“Because she loves you, you stupid child! Not him!”

Helen stood up, exasperated. She glared down at Cynisca, her expression gradually softening as Cynisca tried again to stop her tears.

“You had a fight, didn’t you?” she asked.

Cynisca nodded dumbly. Helen sighed again.

“So, you’re traveling a rough patch of road, now. Did you really expect the threads of your lives to smoothly intertwine? Especially given your circumstances?” She sat down beside Cynisca again. “Where is Medousa?”

“I don’t know. She ran off. I don’t know where. Maybe she went to Ajax.”

Helen shot her a stern look, and stood. “I’ll go look for her,” she said. “You two need to settle this.”


About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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