Twenty years have elapsed since the events of The Just City. The City, founded by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, organized on the principles espoused in Plato’s Republic and populated by people from all eras of human history, has now split into five cities, and low-level armed conflict between them is not unheard-of.
The god Apollo, living (by his own choice) a human life as “Pythias” in the City, his true identity known only to a few, is now married and the father of several children. But a tragic loss causes him to become consumed with the desire for revenge. Being Apollo, he goes handling it in a seemingly rational and systematic way, but it’s evident, particularly to his precocious daughter Arete, that he is unhinged with grief.
Along with Arete and several of his sons, plus a boatload of other volunteers—including the now fantastically aged Marsilio Ficino, the great humanist of Renaissance Florence—Pythias/Apollo goes sailing into the mysterious Eastern Mediterranean of pre-antiquity to see what they can find—possibly the man who may have caused his great grief, possibly communities of the earliest people to call themselves “Greek.” What Apollo, his daughter, and the rest of the expedition will discover…will change everything.
From acclaimed, award-winning author Jo Walton comes The Philosopher Kings, a tale of gods and humans, and the surprising things they have to learn from one another. The Philosopher Kings is available June 30th from Tor Books.
Possible spoilers for The Just City—read ahead at your own risk!
Very few people know that Pico della Mirandola stole the head of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. In fact he stole it twice. The first time he stole it from Samothrace, before the rest of it was rediscovered. That time he had the help of my sister Athene. The second time was thirty years later, when he stole it from the Temple of Nike in Plato’s Republic. One of Plato’s Republics, that is; the original, called by some the Just City, by others the Remnant, and by still others the City of Workers, although by then we only had two. In addition to our Republic, there were four others scattered about the island of Kallisti, an island itself known at different times as Atlantis, Thera, and Santorini. Almost everyone who had been influenced by living in the original Republic wanted to found, or amend, their own ideal city. None of them were content to get on with living their lives; all of them wanted to shape the Good Life, according to their own ideas.
As for me, I suppose I wanted that too, but with rather less urgency. I was a god, after all—a god in mortal form, for the time being. I had become incarnate to learn some lessons I felt I needed to learn, and although I had learned them I had stayed because the Republic was interesting, and because there were people there that I cared about. That was primarily my friend Simmea and our Young Ones. When we’d first come here we’d been doing Plato’s Republic according to Plato, as interpreted by Athene and the Masters: three hundred fanatical Platonists from times ranging from the fourth century b.c. to the late twenty-first century A.D. From the time we Children were sixteen, we’d held Festivals of Hera every four months in which people were randomly matched with partners. There were six such festivals before the Last Debate, and all six such matings I’d participated in had produced sons. Simmea had one son from that time, Neleus. And between us we had a daughter, Arete, born after the revisions that made it possible for us to be a family.
Making the Republic work had been harder since Athene stalked off at the end of the Last Debate. She had taken with her both her divine power, and all the robots except two. In the twenty years since the Last Debate a lot of things had changed. Worst was the constant warfare with the other cities.
The art raids had started because we had all the art, and the other cities wanted a share of it, and we didn’t want to give any of it up. The real problem was that Plato had imagined his Republic existing in a context where there would be wars, and so training everyone for warfare was a big part of the way he had imagined his city. The guardians, golds, and auxiliaries, silvers, had been training to fight since they were ten, and yet had never fought anyone except in practice until the art raids started. The raids provided a pretext for the warfare it seemed a large number of people had been wanting. While many of us felt they were futile, they were popular, especially with the Young Ones. A city would raid us and take away some statue or painting. Then we’d raid them back and try to recapture it. They began as something like games of capture the flag, lots of fun for everyone involved, but of course the weapons and training were real. By the time it came to real wounds and death, everyone was committed to them. People who had read Plato on war and bravery and the shame of turning your back on the enemy couldn’t see any way to back down. So the five cities of Kallisti existed in a constant state of raids and shifting alliances.
The Temple of Nike stood on a little knoll just outside the south gate of the original city. By the time I got there, summoned urgently, the raiders had fled, taking the head with them. I didn’t know or care about the head until afterward. Right then I was entirely focused on Simmea. She was still alive, but just barely—the arrow was in her lung, and frothy blood was coming out with every breath. “We thought it best not to move her,” Klymene said. I barely heard her, although she was right, of course—moving her would have been fatal. They hadn’t even drawn out the arrow.
Simmea’s eyes met mine, and they were full of love and trust—and even better, that edge they had that said she loved the truth even more than she loved me. She tried to speak with what breath she had. She said my name, “Pytheas,” and then something I couldn’t make out.
I made a plan immediately, almost as fast as I would have made it normally. In mortal form, I didn’t have access to my powers, and as things were, there weren’t any gods who were going to pay attention to me or help, at least not in time. So I drew my dagger. If I slit my wrists it would take minutes for me to bleed to death, but if I slit my throat only seconds. As soon as I was dead I’d have plenty of time—all the time I wanted, once I was safely outside it. I’d go down to Hades, take up all my powers again, and manifest back here a heartbeat after I’d left. Then I could heal her. Indeed, healing her would be fast and easy. I would have lost this incarnation, but I’d been mortal and incarnate for almost forty years now. It had been fascinating and wonderful and terrible, and I’d be sorry to stop, but Simmea was going to be dead if I didn’t save her.
“Pytheas, no!” Klymene said, and grabbed for the knife. It wasn’t that that stopped me.
“Pytheas, don’t be an idiot!” Simmea said, perfectly distinctly. And as she said it, or immediately thereafter, she took hold of the shaft sticking out of her chest and pulled the arrow out.
Before I could so much as cut my throat, she was dead, and not only dead but vanished. One second she was there, blood, arrow, and dear ugly face. The next the arrow was lying in blood on the mosaic floor of the temple. Her body had gone back to the time Athene had snatched her from—back, I believe, to the waters outside Smyrna, at the spot where the ship that brought her here had moved through time. Her body would have appeared there, somewhere in the eastern Aegean, and sunk between one wave and the next. She loved to swim, she was a swimming champion, she had taught me and all our Young Ones to swim; but she wouldn’t be swimming among the wine-dark billows, she’d just sink down in their embrace. (I’ve often tried to find her since, to see her for just that one moment more, but it’s like looking for one particular helium atom in the sun, trying to find an instant like that without knowing either the exact place or time. I keep on looking now and then.)
Death is a Mystery. The gods can’t undo it. Her wound would have been a trivial thing for me to fix if I’d had my powers, but once she was dead, that was the end of it.
Klymene had my knife, and I was prone on the ground clutching the arrow. Simmea’s soul too would have gone back to the time she left, and from there it would have gone down to Hades. Unlike most human souls, she knew precisely what to expect. We’d talked about it a great deal. She knew how to negotiate the underworld, and she knew how to choose her next incarnation to maximize her excellence. I wasn’t at all worried about any of that. But after choosing her next life, she’d pass through the river Lethe, she had to. Once in Lethe she’d have to at least wet her lips, and once she drank from Lethe she’d forget this life, and me. Souls are immortal, but souls are not personality. So much of personality is memory. When mortal souls pass through Hades they go on to new life, and they become new people with fresh beginnings. I suspect that may be the whole purpose of death. No doubt it is a splendid way for the universe to be arranged. Her soul will continue to pursue excellence for life after life, becoming more and more excellent and making the universe better. But she wouldn’t be Simmea anymore, she wouldn’t remember this life. She wouldn’t remember me and all the things we’d shared.
Once I was back in my real form I’d be able to find her, watch all her different lives if I wanted to, and I did want to. But none of them would be my Simmea. Death of mortals I love is always hard for me to deal with. But this one was worse than the others. Since I was incarnate, I’d been there the whole time. There were no moments of Simmea’s life left for me to experience. I had been in time for all of them. I’m bound by Necessity. I can’t go back to times I’ve already visited, none of us can. I’ll never be able to speak with her again, or see her rolling her eyes at me, or hear her calling me an idiot. She knew I was the god Apollo. She’d known for years. It just didn’t make any difference. When she found out, practically the first thing she said was that it must be why I was so hopeless at being a human being.
It’s easy to be adored when you’re a god. Worship comes naturally to people. What I’d had with Simmea was a decades-long conversation.
I briefly considered killing myself and going back to Olympos anyway. But her last words and deed had been to stop me—she’d have figured out exactly what I was doing and why. She was extremely smart, and she knew me very well. She probably had some really good reason why I shouldn’t do that, which she’d have explained at length and with truly Socratic clarity, if only she’d had time. I might even have agreed. I tried to think what it might have been. My mind was completely blank.
As I couldn’t imagine why she’d stopped me killing myself and saving her life, I naturally began to think about vengeance.
“Who was it?” I asked Klymene. “Did we get any of them?”
Klymene has never liked me, and for extremely good reasons. Nevertheless, she is the mother of my son Kallikles. Her expression now was unreadable. Pity? Or did she perhaps despise me? Plato did not approve of giving way to strong emotion, especially grief, and at that moment I was rolling on the ground, clutching an arrow and weeping.
“I don’t know,” she said. “They came by boat. It could have been anyone. These art raids have been getting worse and worse. They got away—the rest of the troop went after them, except that I sent young Sophoniba for you and stayed with Simmea myself.”
“She always liked you,” I said. I could hardly get the words out past the lump in my throat.
“She did.” Klymene put her hand on my shoulder. “Pytheas, you should get up and go home. Will there be anybody there?”
The thought of going home was impossible. Some of the Young Ones might be there, but Simmea would never be there again. Her things would be everywhere, and the reminder would be intolerable. “I want to find out who they were and avenge her.”
Klymene’s expression was easier to read now; it was worry. “We all want that. But you’re not being rational.”
“Are there any bodies?” I asked.
“No, thank Athene,” she said. “No Young Ones killed.” “Wounded?”
“Simmea was the only one.”
“Then unless the troop catches them, this arrow is the only evidence,” I said, examining it. It was unquestionably an arrow, made of strong straight wood, stained with blood now. It was barbed and fletched exactly like all the arrows. We had all learned the same skills from the same teachers. It made war between us both better and worse. I turned it over in my hands and wished I’d never invented the things.
“The Goodness has been seen,” Klymene said, tentatively. “That doesn’t mean it was Kebes. It could have been anyone. But it was sighted yesterday by the lookouts.”
The Goodness was the schooner Kebes had stolen when he fled from the island after the Last Debate. “You think it was Kebes?”
“It could have been. I didn’t recognize anyone,” Klymene said. “And you’d think I would have. But if they were all Young Ones… well, maybe somebody else in the troop did. I’ll check when they get back. Whatever happens we’ll be retaliating, as soon as we know who and where. And if you want revenge, I’ll do my best to see that the Delphi troop is included in that expedition.”
“Thank you,” I said, and meant it. The arrowhead was steel, which meant it was robot-forged, which meant it was old. There were still plenty of robot-forged arrowheads around, because people tended to reuse them when they could. Steel really is a lot better than iron. Of course, we were living in the Bronze Age. Nobody else in this time period actually knew how to smelt iron, unless maybe off in Anatolia somewhere the Hittites were just figuring it out. There was no use thinking it might have been pirates or raiders. This was one of our arrows, and the expedition had clearly been an art raid, and that meant one of the other republics.
“Did they take anything?” I asked.
“The head of Victory,” Klymene said, indicating the empty plinth where it had stood.
I expect you’re familiar with the Nike, or Winged Victory of Samothrace—it stands in the Louvre in Paris, where it has stood since its rediscovery in the eighteen-sixties. There’s also a good copy of it actually in Samothrace. The swept-back wings, the blown draperies—she was sculpted landing on a ship, and you can almost feel the wind. It’s the contrast between the stillness of the stone and the motion of what is sculpted that makes her such a treasure. But she’s headless in the Louvre, because Pico and Athene stole the head, the head which had for a time rested in our Temple of Nike. Her hair is swept back by the wind too, but her eyes and her smile are completely still. Her eyes seem to focus on you wherever you are. The head reminds me a little of the head of the Charioteer at Delphi, although it’s completely different, of course, and marble not bronze. But there’s something about the expression that’s the same. I suppose Athene and I are the only ones who have seen her with the head, at Samothrace, and without, in the Louvre, and then seen just the head, in the City. Nobody else in the City had ever seen any part of her but the head. I tried to comfort myself that in some future incarnation Simmea, who loved the head and had died defending it, would be sure to see the rest of her. It only made me cry harder.
“We’ll get it back,” I said, choking out the words.
“Yes.” Klymene hesitated. “I know I’m the worst person to be with you now, and I would leave you in peace, but I don’t think you ought to be alone.”
I sat up and looked at her. She was the same physical age as all of us Children, almost forty now. She had been pretty once, lithe and graceful, with shining hair. She was still trim from working with the auxiliaries, but her face had sagged, and her hair been cut off at the jaw to fit under a helmet. She looked weary. I had known her for a long time. We’d both been brought to the Republic when we were ten. When we were fourteen she’d been a coward and I’d said it was all right because she was a girl, and she’d never forgiven me. When we were sixteen we’d shared the single worst sexual experience of my life, then had a son together. When we were nineteen and Athene had turned Sokrates into a fly and everything had subsequently fallen apart, we’d both stayed and tried to make the revised original Republic work, instead of going off to start fresh somewhere else.
“You’re not any worse to be with right now than anyone else who isn’t Simmea,” I said.
“How are you going to manage without her?” she asked.
“I don’t have the faintest idea,” I said.
“I wouldn’t have thought you’d have tried to kill yourself,” she said, tentatively. “It isn’t what Simmea would have wanted. Your Young Ones will need you.”
“They need both of us,” I said, which was entirely true. The difference was that they could have had both of us. If I’d killed myself it would have been temporary. Oh, it would have been different being here as a god with all my abilities. Being incarnate made everything so vivid and immediate and inexorable. But I’d have been here and so would Simmea, and she knew that. Why would it have been being an idiot to kill myself to save her? She understood how temporary death would have been for me, how easy resurrection. If she’d let me do it we could have been having a conversation about it right now. There would even be advantages to being here as a god—there were all kinds of things I could use my powers for. For a start I could get us some more robots, unintelligent ones this time, and make everyone’s life easier.
Naturally, I couldn’t share these thoughts with Klymene. She didn’t know I was Apollo. Nobody did except Simmea and our Young Ones, and Sokrates and Athene. Sokrates had flown off after the Last Debate and never been seen again. We assumed he was dead—flies don’t live very long. Simmea was definitely dead. And deathless Athene was back on Olympos, and after twenty years probably still furious with me. If I’d killed myself and saved Simmea in front of her, Klymene would have been bound to notice. As things were, there was no need to tell her. Even without that she had no reason to like me.
“The Young Ones will need you all the more without Simmea,” Klymene said.
“They’re nearly grown,” I said. It was almost true. The boys were nineteen or twenty, and Arete was fifteen.
“They’ll still need you,” Klymene said.
Before I could answer, she saw somebody coming and stiffened, reaching for her bow. I leaped to my feet and spun around. Then I relaxed. It was the Delphi troop coming out. I bent down and picked up the arrow, which I’d dropped. It wasn’t much of a memento, but it was all I had. “I’ll go home,” I said.
“You won’t… you won’t do anything stupid?” Klymene asked.
“Not after Simmea’s last request,” I said. “You heard her. She specifically asked me not to be an idiot.”
“Yes…” she said. She was frowning.
“I won’t kill myself,” I specified. “At least, not immediately.”
Klymene looked at me in incomprehension, and I’m sure I looked at her the same way. “You shouldn’t kill yourself because you don’t know that you’ve finished what you’re supposed to do in this life,” she said.
Not even Necessity knows all ends.
You don’t exist, of course. It’s natural to write with an eye to posterity, to want to record what has happened for the edification not of one’s friends, but of later ages. But there will be no later ages. All this has happened and is, by design, to leave no trace but legend. The volcano will erupt and the Platonic Cities will be extinguished. The legend of Atlantis will survive to inspire Plato, which is especially ironic as it was Plato who inspired the Masters to set up the City in the first place.
The more I think about this, the more I think that Sokrates was right in the Last Debate. It was fundamentally wrong of them to found the City at all. The story of humanity is one of growth and change and the accumulation of experience. We of the cities are a branch cut off to wither—not a lost branch, but a branch deliberately cut away. We are like figures sculpted of wax and cast into the fire to melt. When I asked Father why Athene had done this he said that he had never asked her, but he supposed that it seemed interesting, and she had wanted to see what would happen. In my opinion that’s an irresponsible way for a god to behave. I intend to do better if I ever have the opportunity.
It may seem like hubris, but it really is possible that I might. Others of Father’s children have become heroes, and Asklepius is a god. I am the daughter of Apollo, and Father says I have the soul of a hero. Sometimes I really feel as if I do, as if I could do anything. Other times I feel all too human and vulnerable and useless. It doesn’t help that I have seven brothers. That’s too many. They try to squash me, naturally, and naturally I hate being squashed and resist it as much as possible.
People talk all the time about pursuing excellence, and when I was younger my brothers made a game of this where they chased me. My mother was a philosopher and my father is an extremely philosophical god, and so of course they named me Arete, which means excellence. Maia, who comes from the nineteenth century, says that in her day it used to be translated as virtue, and Ficino worries that this is his fault for translating it into Latin as virtus. Maia and Ficino are my teachers. Ficino comes from Renaissance Florence, where it was considered the duty of everyone to write an autobiography, and since Renaissance Florence is almost as popular here as Socratic Athens, many people do. I, as you can see, am no exception.
I’m starting this all wrong, with my thoughts all over the place. Ficino would say it lacks discipline, and make me write a plan and then write it again to the plan, but I’m not going to. This isn’t for Ficino, it isn’t for anyone but myself and you, dear nonexistent Posterity, and I intend to set down my thoughts as they come to me. My brothers chased me and called it pursuing excellence, but I also pursue excellence, and Father told me that it can only ever be pursued, never caught—though my brothers caught me often enough, and turned me upside-down when they did.
I call them brothers, but they’re all half-brothers, really. Kallikles is the oldest. He’s Father’s son by Klymene, conceived at the first Festival of Hera. Father and Klymene don’t like each other much. But Klymene doesn’t have any other children, and she and Kallikles have this odd relationship where they’re not quite mother and son, but they’re not quite not either. Maia says I should think of her like an aunt, and I suppose I do, insofar as I know what aunts are. We don’t have any proper ones yet. When my brothers start to have children I’ll be an aunt, and my little nieces and nephews will be overwhelmed by how many uncles they have.
Kallikles is the bravest of us. I used to call him “Bold Kallikles” as a kind of Homeric epithet—I have Homeric epithets for all my brothers, which I made up as a kind of revenge for the way they used to chase me. Kallikles fell and broke his arm climbing the tower on Florentia when he was twelve. His arm healed just fine, and when it was completely better he climbed the tower again, and didn’t fall off that time. He has a girlfriend called Rhea who is a blacksmith, which means she’s a bronze, which is a bit of a scandal as he’s a gold. We don’t actually have laws about that, the way they do in Athenia and Psyche, but it’s definitely frowned on. He lives with her, but they’re not married, and so nobody takes official notice of their relationship. Even so, it’s awkward, and kind of embarrassing for me.
Next after him comes Alkibiades, whose Homeric epithet is “Plato-loving.” His mother is the runner Kryseis. Alkibiades lives in Athenia, and he didn’t leave quietly—the rows must have shaken the city. He said he thought Plato’s original system was the best—and he said it at great length and with no originality whatsoever. Mother and Father both argued with him. Almost everything I know about how the Festivals of Hera actually worked when we had them here comes from those arguments, as I won’t be able to read the Republic until I’m an ephebe. Alkibiades thought it was a wonderful arrangement to have a simple sanctioned sexual union with a different girl every four months forever. Mother’s question of what happens if you fall in love and Father’s question of what happens if you don’t fancy some particular girl you’re drawn with didn’t give him any pause at all. He answered every problem they mentioned by saying that if they’d kept doing it properly, the way Plato wanted, it would have been all right. I had only been thirteen at the time, and about as uninterested in love and sex as anyone could be, but I could see both sides. Having it all arranged without any fuss had advantages. But people did just naturally fall in love. Look at Mother and Father. It would have been cruel to stop them being together.
After Alkibiades left, our house got a lot quieter. I was sorry because he had always been my favorite brother—he was more generally prepared to put up with me than any of the others. He even took the trouble to say goodbye, though I didn’t realize it until afterward—he took me to Sparta for a meal with some of his friends, and bade me joy afterward as I ran off to work in the fields. I didn’t know until I got home late that night that he had left. He had left on my bed a copy of Euripides he had won as a school prize—they don’t allow drama at all in Athenia, or even Homer.
Next in age come Phaedrus and Neleus, who both still live at home in Thessaly. Phaedrus is Father’s son by Hermia, who lives in Sokratea. I’ve never met her, but she once sent Phaedrus an amazing skin drum which we still have. He looks a lot like a darker jollier version of Father. He excels at wrestling—he has won a number of prizes. He also sings beautifully—we sing together sometimes. He’s a gold. Phaedrus’s epithet is “Merry,” because he is—he’s the most fun of all my brothers, the readiest to laugh, the fastest to make a joke. It’s not that he can’t be serious, but his natural expression is a grin.
Neleus is his complete opposite. He’s Mother’s son by somebody called Nikias, whom I’ve also never met because he left with Kebes. He must have been dark-skinned, because Neleus is darker than Mother. He unfortunately inherited Mother’s jaw and flattish face, so his Homeric epithet could have been “Ugly,” but in fact it’s “Wrathful” because he’s so quick to anger and he bears grudges so well. He never forgets anything. He’s a swimming champion, again like Mother, and he can’t sing at all. He’s a gold. He had a close friendship with a boy from Olympia called Agathon, and since that broke up a few months ago he has been worsetempered than ever.
I have three more brothers, but I don’t know them very well. Euklides and his mother Lasthenia live in Psyche. He visits for a few days every summer. Porphyry and his mother Euridike live in the City of Amazons. He’s been here to visit twice. I always feel shy with both of them. I know Euklides better than Porphyry. He is a silver. Porphyry is a gold, and I don’t know all that much about him. And I have another brother, somewhere, whose name I don’t know and who I’ve never met at all. His mother Ismene went off with Kebes before he was born.
It’s a complicated family, when I write it down like this, but most of the time in Thessaly we’ve just been five Young Ones with Mother and Father.
To begin again, I was born in the Remnant City fourteen years after it was founded, and I am now fifteen years old. If you consider that is too young to write an autobiography (Ficino does), then consider this an early draft for one, a journal or commonplace book in which I shall record what will become an autobiography in due course when I have more life to record. Though it seems to me that my life has been quite eventful so far, and that there is a lot that has already happened to me that is worthy of note.
I was born four years after the Last Debate. The cities had already divided themselves by then, though they were not in the state of almost constant skirmishing that they are now, and relations between them were generally cordial. Everyone knew each other in all the cities. About a hundred and fifty people had gone off with Kebes and left the island. We don’t know what they did, though speculations about it are a favorite topic of conversation. Sometimes people call them the Lost City, or the Goodness Group, after the name of the ship they stole. There keep being rumors that people have seen the Goodness, but the truth is that Kebes left the island and nobody knows where he is or what he’s doing or anything about his group.
Everyone else stayed on the island, and they all wanted to create Plato’s Republic only to do it right this time. This was the case whether they stayed, or left the original city to set up their own. I believe there were fierce debates before everyone sorted themselves out. My parents stayed. By the time I was born, everything was more or less organized again, the new cities were well on the way to being built, and people seldom changed their minds about which city they wanted to live in, because the cities collected people by philosophical temperament, and people’s temperaments don’t tend to change all that much.
Psyche, the Shining City, was set up by the Neoplatonists, who wanted their city to reflect the mind, and the magic of numerology. It attracted those with a melancholic disposition. Sokratea, which was begun by those who believed that Sokrates was right in the Last Debate, that the City shouldn’t have been founded, and that every point needed much more examination, attracted the choleric, though Sokrates himself was nothing like that from all I have read and heard. Athenia, founded by those who believed the opposite, that Athene had been right, and who tried to live even more strictly according to their interpretation of Plato, attracted the phlegmatic. That left the sanguine, who all wound up in the City of Amazons, founded on the principle of absolute gender equality.
Those who stayed in the Remnant were those whose humors were mixed. The other cities characterized us as lazy and indecisive and luxury-loving. At first, because we were the mother city, they came to us frequently to use the libraries and other facilities, but later this happened less and less often. We had a higher proportion of Young Ones than most of the other cities, because many people didn’t take their babies with them when they left. This isn’t as callous as it may sound, because they didn’t know which babies were theirs. Some people could recognize their own babies, or thought they could. Many just couldn’t. And none of the Children had been educated to expect that they’d bring up their own children; they’d had them on the understanding that the City knew how to do it best. So there are plenty of people here, like my good friend Erinna, who have no idea who their parents are. Now that we have families there won’t be any more people like that, though of course they’re still doing that in Athenia, and maybe in the City of Amazons too, I’m not sure.
People did change cities sometimes, as indeed they still do. As young people come of age and find themselves in a city that doesn’t suit their temperament, they often leave it for another, the way Alkibiades did. And one of the first things I remember is Maia coming back. My earlier memories are muddled and confused with the cute baby stories Mother told about me—my first word was “beauty” and my second word “logos.” (It might sound conceited of me to record that, but honestly, anyone living in this house whose second word wasn’t “logos” would have to be deaf.)
I must have been about four years old when Maia came back, so it was probably in the eighteenth year of the City, eight years or so after the Last Debate. My parents lived in the house called Thessaly that had once belonged to Sokrates. It was an extremely inconvenient house for a family, as are all the houses of the Remnant. There are enormous eating halls and public buildings, and little sleeping houses designed for seven people to sleep in. There were eight of us, but that wasn’t the problem; the problem was that there wasn’t room for anything but sleeping and washing and sitting in the garden debating philosophy. Mother had built a partition down the middle so that she and Father and I slept on one side and the boys slept on the other. I remember our three little beds all in a row, mine under the window.
One night, long after I had fallen asleep, I was wakened by a scratch at the door. Father went and opened it, and there was Maia, carrying a big book. I didn’t know Maia then, of course. Mother was awake, and she went at once to Maia and hugged her, so I knew it was all right. The three of them went out into the garden, so as not to wake the boys, and as I was awake and curious I followed after. We all sat on the grass. I don’t really remember the conversation, though I do remember Mother looking at the Botticelli book Maia had brought, and which I later came to know and love. I probably couldn’t understand all the words they used, but I knew that Maia had left some other city and come back to ours, and she had just arrived that night. It shows how peaceful everything was then that she could do that. She was probably about forty at the time, and she had come alone, unarmed and unchallenged, halfway across the island, arriving after dark. The gates were guarded, but she had come in simply by saying she wanted to. The guards knew her, of course, because pretty much everyone knew everyone. That was before the art raids started, and it was the art raids that spoiled everything and led to the present lamentable state of affairs.
I remember sitting on the rough grass in the moonlight, looking at Maia as she talked to my parents. They knew her well, but I found her fascinating because she was a complete stranger. There were very few complete strangers in my world in those days. I remember noticing how white her skin was in the moonlight, whiter even than Father’s. Her pale hair was braided and the braid was pinned up around her head.
“I thought you were all for women’s rights,” Mother said.
“And don’t women have rights here these days, Simmea?” Maia asked. “Or have I come to Psyche by mistake? Women’s rights are certainly why I went there. But I couldn’t stay in the City of Amazons.”
I don’t remember if she explained why she had come, if they discussed the New Concordance or Ikaros. I only remember the colors and shapes of the three of them under the lemon tree in the moonlight, and the smell of the autumn night with rain coming on the wind.
Maia had been one of the Masters of Florentia, with Ficino, and with Ficino she became one of my teachers. There are three distinct generations in the city. The Masters were those who prayed to Athene to let them help set up Plato’s Republic. They were all grown up when they came here, and some of them were old. Ficino was old—sixty-six when he came, he says, and he’s ninety-eight now, though he’s in better condition than a lot of the younger Masters. He says it’s from eating a good diet and not letting his mind atrophy. Maia was only about twenty, so she’s about fifty now. (I dared Kallikles to ask her exact age once, and she offered to box his ears for the impertinence.) Most of the Masters are somewhere in between, though a number of the older ones have died, of course.
Then there’s my parents’ generation, known as the Children. They are all the same age, with very little variation. They were all about ten years old when they came, though some of them were nine or eleven. They’re all thirty-eight now, with that same slight range of variation.
Last comes my generation, the Children’s children, whom we call the Young Ones. Our ages range between twenty-one and newborn, though far more of us are between twenty-one and nineteen—when they were holding Festivals of Hera three times a year, a lot of babies were born. After that, it wasn’t organized, and people had to sort things out for themselves. There are other Young Ones my age and younger, but there aren’t great cohorts of us, as there are of my brothers’ age and the Children. I suppose the babies starting to be born now to the oldest of the Young Ones are a fourth generation. I don’t know what they’ll be called. Do they name generations, elsewhere? I haven’t run across it in my reading. Cicero was older than Caelius and Milo and Clodius, but there wasn’t a hard line. It would be like us younger Young Ones, I suppose, with overlap and people of all ages. Odd.
I don’t plan to have children myself. Partly it’s because the whole sex thing seems so awkward and complicated, and partly it’s because I am Apollo’s daughter, and what would my children be? Quarter-deities? But mostly it’s because there isn’t any posterity for us. They, or their descendants, would only be born to die when the volcano destroys us all. I suppose I could flee to the mainland like Kebes, and have children there whose genes could join the human mainstream, but there doesn’t seem to be much point. What kind of a life would it be, without books or debate, at a Bronze-Age tech level? It’s bad enough here when things break down and we have to do everything by hand. Maia says the Workers gave them freedom they didn’t appreciate at the time, and that philosophy is harder when you’re cold and hungry. What kind of life would it be for children in Mycenaean Greece? Especially as half of them would, statistically, be girls? I’m looking forward to seeing it, but I wouldn’t like to live there. So I don’t plan on having children. That doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily lead a celibate life, though I have so far, because there’s a plant called silphium that prevents conception, and Mother told me all about it when my menses started.
I suppose it’s unusual that my father is a god, and I should write about that. I don’t know what to say though, because I’ve known about it all my life, and take it for granted. I don’t know what it would be like to have any other kind of father. It’s a secret from most people in the City, though. I used to wonder how it was they didn’t guess, but it isn’t all that obvious really. Father doesn’t have his divine abilities, and while everyone can see how intelligent and musical and athletic he is, they tend to see him as just an exceptional success of Plato’s methods. Some people don’t like him and think that he’s arrogant, but in general, everyone recognizes and admires his excellence. I think it helps that they see Father and Mother together—people have a tendency to see them and speak about them as Pytheas-and-Simmea, as if they were one thing. So they wouldn’t think about Father’s excellences without thinking about Mother’s too. Lots of people in the City, and especially the Masters, tend to see my parents as the closest thing we yet have to Philosopher Kings, as the proof of the success of Plato’s methods. It’s a lot for me to live up to. Sometimes I feel squeezed by the pressure of expectations.
Ficino’s wrong. I’ve written all of this already and I haven’t even got up to where I thought I’d really start, with the day my mother died.
Excerpted from The Philosopher Kings © Jo Walton, 2015