Love Stories

Two Women, One King and Belonging

A week ago, I went to see Disobedience at my local cinema. Directed by Sebastián Lelio, the film stars Rachel Weisz as Ronit Krushka, a British born photographer working in New York who returns home following the death of her father, Rav Krushka.

The Rav* was an Orthodox Jew, much loved and very influential within his community. Ronit, however, is almost persona non grata. Several years earlier her father caught her in flagrante with another woman – her friend, Esti. As a result, Ronit left the community. When she returns, she is barely welcomed, though not spurned. Tolerated about sums it up.

One of the themes of the film is that of belonging. We could ask of Ronit, where does she belong? To whom? Why? But I think the questions apply more to Esti. For her, finding answers is of the uttermost importance: they will define her life, health and happiness. Esti is a lesbian. Her husband Dovid is a good man but she only married him because she had to. She is not happy – it’s why she contacted Ronit to let her know that her father had died (no one else in the community chose to do so). If she doesn’t find answers to the questions that are within her, the rest of her life will potentially be a long defeat to a way of living she does not believe in.

As soon as I started thinking about the idea of belonging, I started thinking about Alexander.

As an Argead prince, Alexander lived at the centre of Macedonian society. He did not, however, enjoy a stable life. He could have been killed in battle at the age of sixteen; his mother, Olympias, loved him, but had things turned out differently, he could have fallen victim to her schemes at any time up until becoming king – and after; he was a target for assassination from others as well; he was for a time forced into exile by his father. Alexander lived in a palace, but that palace was built on a cliff edge. He lived at the centre of Macedonian society, but it ran along a fault line that could have killed him in an instant.

Nothing changed when Alexander became king. For though he was now the most powerful man in Macedonian society, his power depended upon the support of the army. He was now under increased threat from assassination and death in combat. He had to be careful about how he treated people lest he alienate not just individuals but whole sections of his empire.

As Crown Prince no one except the king belonged to Macedon more deeply than Alexander. Thus, when Alexander succeeded to the throne, he – in his very person – became its centre.

However, thanks to the type of society that he belonged to, no one belonged to it less than him. Those under Alexander could afford to be fully themselves. He could not. He tried to be, but failed; he kept trying, and suffered two revolts by his army as a result.

Of course, Alexander didn’t help matters by encouraging people not to see him as one of them. I refer here to his ‘claim’ of divinity. But in a way, that was the most heroic thing he ever did. He could have not gone to Siwah. He could have used any number of other – far safer – methods to keep the support of those under him. Instead, he chose the most dangerous option of all. There is a certain heroism in that even if Alexander was acting cynically.

By and by, I think it is this same desire – to be (herself) rather than to simply belong – that causes Esti to pick up the telephone and call Ronit at the start of Disobedience. It would have been the easiest and safest decision not to call the only person she ever loved. After all, she enjoys teaching, has a good husband, and is a faithful Jew. But as it turns out, these are only roles; they are not her. What is she? As mentioned, she is a lesbian. To be herself, to know herself, she needs the freedom to explore what that means. At the end of the film, and to his immense credit, Dovid gives her that freedom.

In modern terms, Esti is a far nobler person than Alexander. Hers is a spirit of generosity; of giving: to Ronit in their first (and second) affair; to her community, and to her husband, despite the pain it causes her; to her unborn child: the ability to decide where they belong. By contrast, Alexander’s spirit was dominated by a selfish desire for glory. He wanted to be the noblest person alive, the strongest and greatest; true this led him to do good things as well as bad but to want glory for oneself is still essentially a selfish desire. God, however, had the last laugh. After Alexander died, his desire for glory led to a coming together of cultures and civilisations that might never have joined otherwise, causing them to bear new fruit. Think of Greek art in the Indian sub-continent and the spread of the Greek language and the way it helped disseminate Greek ideas (and, of course, Jewish/Christian ones).

Disobedience has a similarly unexpected ending. Orthodox Judaism does not come across very well in the film. While not treated as the bad guy, so’s to speak, it is still what exiled Ronit and wants to keep her and Esti apart. However, at the end of the film, when Dovid gives Esti her freedom (i.e. divorces her), he does so in the synagogue while continuing the homily that the Rav started before his death. Esti’s future ability to be herself, therefore, and her child’s ability to decide where it belongs, comes from within the faith rather than from outside it. Granted that the film is a work of fiction, but unless Dovid’s homily is completely heretical, it shows that even a religion so seemingly set in its ways can bear new fruit. God is certainly not daunted by difficult situations!

*After watching the film I looked up ‘Rav’ on the internet and found that it is a title, meaning teacher, rather than a name. We don’t learn the Rav’s first name during the course of the film

***

WordPress tells me that this post is my 500th for The Second Achilles. I’m very happy that I’ve been able to spend it writing about Alexander and a very thought provoking film

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Eurylochus <3 Telesippa – Plutarch Life of Alexander 41

Stories of war and derring-do are what first attracted me to Alexander the Great, but there is so much more to him than that. He was loved, and loved in return. This applies not only him, but his men, too. In this series, I shall take a creative look where love struck amongst the Macedonians. 

Storge……………….. Philia……………….. Eros……………….. Agape

In the summer of 324 B.C., Alexander called an assembly of his men to inform them that he was discharging those of their number who were ‘unfit through age or disablement for further service’*.

The assembly took place in the Babylonian city of Opis and as you may know, it lead to the second revolt of the Macedonian army against its king.

The first had taken place on the Hyphasis River two years earlier when the army, exhausted by eight years of warfare, had refused to march any further. Now, the men believed that the veterans were being sent home, not for the reasons that Alexander gave, but because he no longer valued their service to him. Hecklers berated the king as he spoke and the mutiny began.

A three day stand-off between the two sides ensued. Eventually, however, they were reconciled. Alexander still got his way though and ten thousand men were chosen to return to Macedon**.

Roman_mosaic-_Love_Scene_-_Centocelle_-_Rome_-_KHM_-_Vienna_2

Before leaving, the ten thousand lined up to receive their outstanding wages and ‘a gratuity of one talent’ each***.

Bearing in mind Alexander had already paid the entire army’s debts in Susa† this money represented pure profit for the veterans. Their mood, therefore, was good. There was lots of laughing and bold talk about what the men would do in their retirement. Drinking, hunting and sex were all high on the agenda.

One man, however, remained quiet. And as he drew nearer and nearer to the financial officer’s table, he grew correspondingly more anxious.

Eurylochus had good reason to be afraid for he was neither too old nor unfit for service. To join this queue he had claimed that his limp was the result of an arrow wound in India. In fact, he had invented it last night. The scar on his leg that ‘proved’ he had been shot had been there since childhood.

Was it Eurylochus’ trembling voice or shifty eyes that made the financial officer look at him a second time? Probably both. But he might have dismissed them as coming from the shaken nerves of a man who had seen too much fighting had he not, in those few seconds, recognised Eurylochus.

Where was it now? Oh yes, Susa… At that party after the king settled our debts… He had had no limp that night.

The officer called over the guards.

Arrest him. He is liar and a fraud. He is attempting to cheat the king out of his money.

Euylochus opened his mouth to protest. But he was an honest man, as well as a liar and a fraud, and could not bring himself to speak. Instead, he simply blushed with shame as the guards laid their hands upon him and pulled him away. He didn’t bother to maintain his limp.

Ancient_Greek_Symposium._Museum_of_Nicopolis

What had led Eurylochus to try and cheat his way out of the army? The answer was currently in his tent, waiting for him to return with his money so that they could begin their journey to the Mediterranean Sea. Her name was Telesippa and she was a courtesan.

The two had met on the eve of the Macedonian army’s departure for Asia Minor and formed an instant attachment. Come with us, Eurylochus said, Alexander is going to make us rich; richer than the richest man in Athens.

Telesippa didn’t believe him. Alexander was just another warrior-king to her. He would probably grow rich; his men would probably get dead. But she had debts, and in Eurylochus, a protector. All that needed to happen was for him to stay alive long enough for her to find a richer client.

It was on those terms, then, that Telesippa agreed to become Eurylochus’ mistress. The expedition got underway. She never did find a richer client – at least, not one who would keep her – and as time passed, she did what she promised herself she would never do and fell in love.

Telesippa could never quite work out how that happened. It shouldn’t have. As the expedition progressed, Eurylochus collected many scars and she liked unblemished things. He also collected plunder and loot, and Telesippa’s life dream had always been to get rich then go her own way. One day, however, as she made love to him in his tent she realised that she no longer cared what he looked like, or how rich he was; she loved him. Just him. She loved him and that was that.

That was that… This feeling had lasted until the incessant rains of India. Telesippa’s health had suffered under the permanently iron-grey clouds and never recovered, thereafter. Gedrosia nearly killed her. I can’t go on, she told him in Carmania, I want to go home. I need to go home. Eurylochus didn’t argue. Not that he would have, for he too had had enough. Long before India, he had had enough.

***

Upon a moment, the door of the tent was flung open.
The king summons you. the gruff voice said.
Eurylochus…
My king…
You lied. Why?
I lied. I confess it. But not for money, my lord; not even for freedom. For my beloved. She is ill…
Name her.
Telesippa. I met her in Aegae ere we left for Asia Minor and have loved her with all my heart every day since. I love her more than life.
Would you die for her?
Yes.
Not today… Not at my hands. I have been speaking to your commanding officer. He tells me of a soldier good and true. One who has been brave many times, and complained never. Tell me, what is Telesippa’s rank?
She is a free-born woman, my king. A hetaira.
She wants to leave?
She… she wants whatever is best for me.
Would you stay if she wished it?

We will try to win her over! Whether with presents or by courtship – but by those means alone! Nothing else will do for lovers. Speak to my secretary – I will pay for whatever you decide. Do not use a penny of your own money. That is for another day. You are dismissed.

*** 

Perdiccas watches Eurylochus leave the throne room before turning to Alexander.
“She wants to leave,” he says, “And so does he.”
“Hmm?” Alexander replied. He had forgotten the man named Eurylochus already. Soldiers were his priority at the moment, soldiers who would do his bidding. This one had said nothing against his wishes so was clearly for them. The woman had to be persuaded but everyone could be persuaded, eventually.

***

History does not record what happened next. If the truth be told, it doesn’t even recall Eurylochus’ name properly – Plutarch calls him Eurylochus in his Life of Alexander and Antigenes in his Moralia.

In his Life Plutarch has Eurylochus say he wants to leave simply to accompany Telesippa ‘to the coast’. In the Moralia, the impression is giving that Telesippa was leaving (for undisclosed reasons) and Antigenes/Eurylochus could not bear to behind without her.

Whatever Eurylochus’ exact motives, it is clear he loved her, and for that reason he and Telesippa – who, sadly, is a silent character in the narratives – are included here on my list of lovers.

* Arrian VII.8
** Arrian VII.12
*** ibid. The wages also covered the period of the journey home
† Arrian VII.5

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