The Pythagoreans: Chapter 10

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Chapter 10

Damo was in the midst of leading a discussion on the application of mathematics to commerce between city states when she heard excited shouting from the courtyard. Her father was late, and she had begun to grow worried. He was far too old to be travelling so widely. She brushed a strand of hair from her forehead and dismissed the discussion. She and the other scholars began heading towards the stairs that led down to the courtyard from the third-floor classrooms. Instead of heading directly down, however, she headed to her family’s apartment in the wall to collect her relatives and make sure that they were presentable. It would not do for Pythagoras’ own family to look slovenly when he returned. Of course, Pythagoras himself would probably care little for such trivialities, but appearances had to be maintained.

She opened the door to Pythagoras’ personal apartments to find two thirds of its occupants already in the midst of preparation. Theano was her father’s second wife and was in the midst of dressing Telauges, her young son. All in all, her father could have done far worse in his selection of a new wife. Damo’s own mother refused to flee Samos with her father, and Pythagoras had spent more than a decade pining for her. Theano was a very smart woman, and while she was not particularly good looking, she provided excellent companionship to her father. Best of all, she positively doted on Telauges. Damo knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that the fact that her father finally had a son made him a very happy man. The two women smiled at one another as Theano picked Telauges up and began heading to the door.

She turned her attention to a pile of blankets haphazardly arrayed across a bed. She poked the pile of blankets and elicited a pained groan from within their folds.

“Bitale, wake up.” The pile of blankets stirred, and an arm came out of one of the folds to make a shooing motion. Damo was not deterred. She grabbed the blankets and pulled them off the bed, revealing her recalcitrant daughter. “Your grandfather is back,” she said as Bitale struggled vainly to locate one of the blankets. “Too much wine will do that to you,” Damo admonished, trying to keep a note of amusement to trickle into her voice.

Her daughter was remarkably intelligent, even by the high standards set by the school’s residents. Unfortunately, she lacked common sense. That lack of common sense was what caused her to stay late in town, carousing in inns until the sun came back up. Even if the community of learners did not pay very much attention to gender, some lines should not be crossed, thought Damo. Besides, it was only a matter of time before one of the boys she was constantly running around with got the wrong idea. Still, keeping Bitale from wandering was about as easy as stopping the tide from coming in.

As she sat up, still wearing her clothes from the day before, Damo could see a good deal of the girl’s father in her. The man had been a scholar from the newly-formed empire of Persia, who paid Pythagoras a visit while they still lived on Samos to discuss astronomy. Damo had been even younger than Bitale at the time, and was having a difficult time sorting out her body’s newfound…urges. The Persian astronomer had been more than happy to spend the summer assisting her in that regard, and Bitale was born the following spring. Of course, at that point, Bitale’s father was already well on his way back to Persepolis. She had inherited her father’s dark, curly hair and light brown skin, and seemed just as willing as he was to wander abroad in search of knowledge. Though she was barely twenty, Bitale was already one of the best artists and mapmakers at the school. She would have a bright future if she could only apply herself.

Satisfied that her daughter was finally awake and moving, Damo gathered up the dirty blankets and pushed them down a chute that had been cunningly built into the wall for just such a purpose. That should remove any temptation to return to bed, she thought as she exited the apartment. Two of her fellow Mathematikoi were already waiting for her when she stepped onto the wooden scaffolding that allowed access to the apartments and classrooms above ground level. They murmured a greeting to her and the three headed down the stairs to the courtyard, their footsteps causing the thick wooden planks to creak softly as they walked.

As she glanced between the two of them, she could not help but notice how different they were, both physically and philosophically. Oxander was shorter, older, and constantly seemed ill at ease. He was an excellent mathematician, and frequently collaborated with Pythagoras on geometric proofs and other numerically-based experiments. Though he did not appear to be much more than an irritable, middle-aged man on the surface, Damo knew that he was easily one of the five most intelligent men currently residing at the school. Nomidedes, on the other hand, was in his mid-thirties like Damo. He had dark hair that he kept fastidiously combed back over his small bald spot, and bright, calculating eyes. He was a sculptor without peer in Southern Italia, and his works were sought throughout both mainland Greece and the colonies. He had come to the school only a few years ago, and was already making a name for himself, having easily passed the examination to become a junior mathematikos and selecting, of course, to study sculpture as his artistic pursuit. He had failed his first attempt at the examination to become a senior mathematikos, but only by a slim margin, and was planning on trying again soon.

Oxander was the most probable successors to Pythagoras’ mantle of leadership, and as such were both eager to speak with the man as quickly as possible. Nomidedes enjoyed taking part in the internal politics of the school more than just about anyone else and even though his opinions carried little  She did not envy her father the decision ahead of him; each man would take the school in a very different direction. Oxander would probably seek to return the school to its roots and focus exclusively on esoteric subjects like mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy.

Nomidedes on the other hand, would most likely keep the composition of the school as it was, but would seek to increase its political influence and involvement in the affairs of the surrounding towns. He often argued against the long standing tradition that residents of the school not seek membership within the Council of One Thousand in nearby Croton, and instead rely on citizens of the town itself to agitate on the schools behalf. Pythagoras and the other mathematikoi were not lacking in friends within the city walls, such as Democedes and Calliphon the physicians and of course, Milos, her sister’s husband. Nevertheless, Nomidedes felt that the school would be a much better source of leadership than a shortsighted, greedy assembly of councilmen, and would seek more political power for the school by any means necessary were he to take charge.

Of the two, Damo trusted Nomidedes far less even though she did not necessarily agree in full with hidebound old Oxander. It did not help Nomidedes’ case that she constantly had to fend off his advances despite the fact that she was ten years his senior. The man was good looking enough to have his pick of any of the young maidens in town, and Damo was unwilling to flatter herself into thinking that Nomidedes was looking for anything more than a chance to count Pythagoras as a father-in-law and increase his chances of eventually becoming the school’s leader. From his body language and swagger, it appeared that Nomidedes was already trying his best to impress her this morning, as if they were still both teenagers. Not for the first time, Damo thanked Athena that for once, her headstrong daughter Bitale agreed with her and found Nomidedes as repugnant as she did.

The courtyard was full of activity. Servants bustled about while member of the school hurried down from classrooms and apartments. Looking out from the main gate, she could see the craftsmen and their families doing the same in the small village that had grown up around the compound. The entire community was filled with a festive atmosphere. The sight filled her with pride. With the exception of perhaps Nomidedes, it was not mere sycophancy that drew all these people from their homes. Her father was truly the beating heart of a community like none other.

Her good mood was slightly dampened when she spotted the Hebrew smuggler standing beside Epigeus and Antaros just outside the gate. Her instincts told her that the man spelled trouble for the school, though she had to admit that she had heard nothing but good things about him from those scholars that had taken the time to make his acquaintance over the last few days. Apparently, despite his unsavory background, the man was not only literate and multilingual, but also quite perceptive and interested in the inner workings of the school. She would see what her father had to say about it when he arrived.

Her father rode in a cart of his own design. Two horses pulled the four wheeled cart that utilized several thin pieces of Antaros’ bendable alloy for a smoother ride. A few of the younger scholars had accompanied him to Metapontum to keep the old man out of trouble on the road, and rode their own horses beside the coach. Damo knew that they would probably have done little good if any real trouble broke out; they all looked extremely uncomfortable after two days on horseback. However, the prospect of being selected to accompany the Sage himself on one of his many excursions was a powerful incentive that kept most of the younger students diligent in their studies.

Based on the other members of the party, it was clear that he had stopped in Croton before returning to the school. Milos and her sister Myia, were there along with the two physicians Democedes and Calliphon. Pythagoras kept many friends in the city, and the more learned and cultured of Croton’s citizens would often come to consult with him on matters ranging from philosophy to agriculture. While no one from the school was a part of the Council of One Thousand, Pythagoras was never short of advocates within the council.

Damo knew that all was not sunshine and roses, however. One councilman in particular, Cleon, was amassing a heretofore unprecedented amount of influence in the council, and using that influence to solidify his control of the city. Cleon had held a grudge against her father ever since Pythagoras’ arrival shortly before the Sybarite war. Milos had foreseen the Sybarites’ ambition and asked Pythagoras to help him devise a way to defend his beloved city. Cleon had argued that the Sybarites posed no threat, and was soon proven wrong when the Sybarites began marching for Croton with a massive, well-drilled army.

When the Sybarites did end up attacking, Cleon advocated for a suicidal preemptive strike that would have left Croton undefended and its army trapped. Again, her father had devised a better idea, and even though Milos was relatively inexperienced in military strategy, the former Olympic wrestler was able to lead the hodgepodge army of Croton to victory in the shadow of the city wall thanks to Pythagoras’ clever tactical innovations. Shortly thereafter, Milos had married her sister, and the two men’s fates were intertwined. Pythagoras founded his school, and the city had been more than happy to donate land and financial support to the man that had spared them from destruction.

Milos dismounted before helping her sister from her own horse. He was a good man, but not for the first time, Damo wished that he would do more in the Council chamber to check Cleon’s power grabs. She knew that it was a lost cause. The man was, at heart, an honest competitor and Cleon’s underhanded tricks never occurred to him until it was too late. Damo could see that Milos was carrying himself with a certain degree of tension, and guessed that the monthly council meeting had not gone well. What a pity.

The door to the carriage opened, and at long last her father emerged. A small step ladder unfolded, doubtless another ingenious innovation courtesy of Antaros, and Pythagoras made his way down the narrow steps with a small degree of difficulty. The man was more than sixty years old, and his age was beginning to show. His long beard was almost pure white now, though he still carried himself like a much younger man. His eyes sparkled as he saw Damo and Calliphon and he briskly made his way over to them, only stopping twice to embrace a few of the more exuberant scholars. Nomidedes and Oxander both opened their mouths to greet him, but Pythagoras swept by them to embrace Theano and ruffle Telauges’ hair. The young boy raised both of his arms and bounced on the balls of his feet. Pythagoras picked him up and Telauges promptly began tugging on his father’s beard. The old man and his young son both laughed. After a moment, he returned the boy to Theano and made his way over to Damo and Bitale who had only just made her way down to the courtyard.

As he approached, Damo could see that he was still keeping up with his silly custom of wearing trousers like a barbarian. He had picked up the habit during a trip to Dacia when she was still young, and continued to maintain that they were both comfortable and practical. Unlike many of his other personal habits, such as his refusal to eat any animal that lived on land, very few of his contemporaries seemed interested in mimicking him in that regard.

“Daughter!” he exclaimed, wrapping her in a surprisingly strong embrace. “You have done very well in my absence, I see. Everything looks excellent.”

Damo felt herself blush, “Father, you know as well as I that I had plenty of help from the esteemed scholars beside me. Perhaps you would like us to review the progress we have made while you have been gone once you have had some rest.”

“Nonsense,” responded Pythagoras. “Thanks to those ingenious springs that Antaros put in my covered cart, I slept like little Telauges for most of the morning. Let us get to it immediately!” Nomidedes and Oxander both looked a little nervous. Like her, they had probably been expecting that they would have most of the morning to prepare. Nevertheless, after Pythagoras gave a short speech to the assembled crowd in which he praised them for their hard work, and made sure that they understood that each person present played a role that was crucial to the school’s overall success, the senior scholars and men of note from the city all headed into the dining hall for refreshments and conversation.

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1 thought on “The Pythagoreans: Chapter 10

  1. Pingback: The Pythagoreans: Chapter 9 | abouttogetreal

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