I thought I would post one of the chapters from my historical #novel, #Archimedes of Syracuse. It’s a little long for a blog so I’ve broken it down in parts. Enjoy.
Archimedes is visiting Alexandria in #Egypt. His best friend is Conon of Samos. After a night of drinking and talking, Conon takes Archimedes to the chariot races. One of the teams is driven by the beautiful Helena daughter of King #Ptolemy, King of #Alexandria and Egypt. Archimedes has fallen in love with her.
CHAPTER 9—THE RACES (Part 1) (247 BCE in Alexandria)
The next day, after breakfast, Archimedes and Conon follow the crowd to the Hippodrome for the chariot races.
“How many races today?” asks Archimedes.
“I believe there are only four,” says Conon. “There are thirty-six teams, but only twelve race at a time. After the first three races, the top four from each race will race in the fourth and final race after lunch.”
Archimedes and Conon sit in the section reserved for members of the Museum. It is centered on the racing track and half way up the tiered seats of the Hippodrome. Cushions are provided. Their seats are behind the King and Queen, the Royal Family, and members of their court. The track is wide with two straight-a ways and a semi-circle at both ends. In the middle is a low wall or a spine that divides the two straight-a ways. On top of the spine are lap counters in the shape of dolphins.
Archimedes looks for Helena but doesn’t see her. The members of the Museum begin talking among themselves, usually discussing their work but also some of the earlier sporting events. Conon buys some wine to share with Archimedes. They talk as they watch slaves preparing the track; leveling the ground, filling in holes, and sprinkling water on the track to settle the dust. The Hippodrome quickly fills with spectators.
“Did you know Barnacle’s wife before?” asks Archimedes.
“Of course, we were lovers. Didn’t that old sea dog tell you?”
“No, he did not, but it explains why he is uncomfortable around you.”
“Is he? He shouldn’t be.”
“Interesting! Why didn’t you marry her?”
“Archimedes, I am already married. My wife and children live in Samos. I didn’t want to marry her. I was just having fun. Barnacle came along, and offered her a partnership in his business. They made a deal, were married, and that was that.”
At the sound of a trumpet, a roar goes up from the crowd, signaling the beginning of the opening procession. King Ptolemy leads the pageantry dressed as a pharaoh, wearing the same white tunic he had worn the first time Archimedes met him. Today he carries a small crooked scepter instead of the flail. The scepter is gold plated and reinforced with blue copper bands.
At first, Archimedes is impressed by how straight and steady King Ptolemy looks in his chariot. Then he realizes that the King has tied himself into the center of the chariot with ropes. He is riding in a decorated war chariot driven by a bodyguard, followed by musicians and dancers. Behind them are chariots carrying statues of gods who will watch the races. There are statues of Zeus, Isis, Poseidon, and others. There is even a statue of Ptolemy’s father. Archimedes wonders what the gods do when two competing charioteers pray to the same deity for victory. The statues are followed by all the officials for the race: the umpires, assistants, and medical staff.
The crowd cheers as everyone climbs to their designated seats, and the statues are placed on pedestals in the center spine. The chariot teams follow next. Leading the chariots is Berenice. She is wearing a silver helmet which designates her as last year’s winner. She is also wearing a tunic covered by leather cuirass and trousers re-enforced with leather and greases. The reins of the four horses are wrapped around her waist. She moves and twists her hips as well as using her hands to steer the horses.
Archimedes is surprised to see Helena following Berenice. She is dressed the same as Berenice except without the helmet.
“Are both Berenice and Helena racing today?” he asks.
“Usually they do not race each other,” says Conon. “They are both in the royal stable from Cyrene, and, therefore, on the same team. I presume that Helena needs more experience, and that is why she is racing. It is unusual to have two teams from the same stable.”
Helena’s chariot is one of four in the line abreast behind Berenice. The rest of the competitors follow four abreast. In addition to Alexandria and Cyrene, there are chariots teams from Namibia, Samos, Antioch, Crete, and Sparta. There is even one from Syracuse. The crowd cheers their favorite team.
The chariots for the first race enter their assigned stalls, which had been chosen by lot before the race. Each stall has a hinged bar placed across the stall to keep the horses inside. Berenice enters the first stall reserved for the defending champion. Another trumpet sounds, and the crowd becomes quiet. All eyes are on King Ptolemy as he raises his arm. In his hand is a white cloth. Ptolemy holds it at arm’s length for a minute, and then lets it fall. Immediately, an assistant on top of the stalls pulls a lever that opens all the stalls at the same time. The race is on!
END of Part 1
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