“Slave Market,” Jean-Leon Gerome, 1886, WikiArt.

Part 1: Marble and Ebony

Marble statue was my father, Dorieus,
My Libyan mother sun-burnished ebony,
I was their daughter, Irta, war-spoil slave
Girl, victim of Spartan failed invasions,
Shackled and enchained on Greek sailing
Ship to Athens, my home of Kyrene now
Distant by separation of rolling waves.

Such fates, preference was being traded
For string of camels, lost on desert sands,
Torrid dune-sea traversing, servant girl,
Tending well at tree-ringed oasis. Plights
Worse, men’s condemning eyes, stripped
Naked and mast-bound, seized property
For Megakles, archon of Athens.

Bonds of slavery extend beyond riveted
Iron bands on wrists, ankles, but shame,
Servitude of body and soul, surviving by
Strength and wit, my purpose I foretold,
Pleasuring men and women, wine and oil,
My body raw and weeping, curse worse
Than seasickness in twist-tangled chains.

More than I imagined, Athens, unexpected
Port and city-state, rose from fringes of
The sea, sun-radiant Akropolis, gods and
Mortals, markets and squares, rich and
Street poor, slaves and owners, serpents
Mating, writhing and entwined, powerful
And fettered, privileged and obedient.

"Akropolis," Leo von Klenze, 1846, Wikimedia photo.
“Akropolis,” Leo von Klenze, 1846, Wikimedia photo.

Music to adolescent ears, languages I knew
And understood, none foreign or difficult,
Peristyle flowing, races mingling, beggars
And merchants, soldiers and aristocrats,
Tongues coarse and articulate, voices
Blending like cloud and sky, in shackled
Silence, I listened, their customs I learnt.

For more on the historical figure, Dorieus, and his exploits
in Libya, read this article. His daughter, Irta, is historical
fiction, as is Kratos, who will be introduced in Part 2. 

Next is “Part 2: Shackles and Papyri.”

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