In the century before the Common Era, the ancient Greeks discovered that the fixed stars are not fixed after all; instead, they move, as if marching at a steady pace in a circle across the sky. This knowledge was considered too dangerous for the average man to possess.
Paramanos, in the name of Zeus, and of Mithras Helios and Selene whose rites we observe, greetings.
Your letter brought me great joy, not only your detailed account of the news from Athens, even the most mundane of which reveals men’s intentions, but also the gossip, so fascinating to you, so dull and detestable to me, which I nevertheless read with amusement, imagining your excitement, your gestures, your whispered wonder at the extremes of human behavior, from the exalted to the execrable. I’m afraid that even you would find the gossip on Delos to be inconsequential. Delos has its own politics, of course, but of a different nature. The priests on Delos speak for the gods but only men have real power.
Delos has not changed nor will it ever. There is nothing to see here besides the temples. The hillsides are barren, not green with vines and fruit trees like the ones we wandered on summer evenings, where we slept in each other’s arms and woke to the sound of birds and goats. I take walks but it’s not the same. The Dionysian priests think I am pious because I visit the temple at Stoivedeion daily. They don’t suspect that the phallus reminds me of you.
I am alone with only my observations and my thoughts—the dark nights and long days afford ample time for both. What my instruments tell me and my mind has revealed I cannot write to you. My man Miltiades who carries this letter to you will explain all. You will not believe it. I could not believe it myself. Yet the proof lies spread out before me as I write to you.
Whatever questions you have do not write them down. It will be safer if we share our thoughts through Miltiades. He is trustworthy and his memory is excellent. He will be our intermediary until we can be together again. I envy him.
Hypatos, my beloved, whose memory sustains me, greetings.
Though Delos may never change, Athens changes constantly. Yet men’s motives are as steady as the stars. Or so I thought until I received your message. (I hope I haven’t revealed too much.)
Yes, you’re right: we must be cautious. You said I would not believe you and I would not but for rumors I’ve heard of your old rival Hipparchus, who never fears to call attention to himself. Yet he has confided in trusted friends the same discovery you have revealed. He swore them all to secrecy. If we did not share some friends in common I might not have heard.
Hypatos, forgive me what I wrote—of course I believe you. I would believe you even if Hipparchus denied the truth of it and showed me his proofs. Not that I could follow them. I am slow and my mind seems feeble in your presence. You answer my many foolish questions with patient explanations. It must torture you. Why do you put up with me?
I told Miltiades of the rumors. Please don’t be discouraged if you must share your discovery with another philosopher. I know you. It is knowledge you seek, not fame. We are lovers of knowledge, are we not? Besides, if we are prudent, what you have found will remain secret, whispered among philosophers in closed rooms. I have also shared with Miltiades my thoughts on how this news would be received if it were ever to come to light, pray the gods it does not.
Paramonos, in the name of Zeus, Mithras & the rest, greetings.
You know how angry you make me when you disparage yourself. You think me the infallible cipher, the master philosopher, but I tell you that I am always uncertain, full of fear that I have misrecorded some measurement or miscalculated a sum, never sure of anything. I answer your questions with certainty but that is a show. You never see me when we’re apart, checking my figures to know whether my answers are true or if I’ve lied.
But you—you, dear Paramonos, who see into the souls of men, who know their feelings and wants, it is you who amaze me. You predict men’s actions—mine included—as accurately as any tables of planetary motions I could calculate with my poor arithmetic. And you do it with such ease. What gift have the gods given you that you should know me better than I know myself?
Which is why I don’t doubt your belief that the Council of Athens would suppress this news. Surely Hipparchus knows this too—it must be the only reason he doesn’t shout it from the Acropolis. I’m not disappointed that he has duplicated my discovery—the last of my doubts have evaporated.
Please get word to Hipparchus of my findings. I’ve given the details to Miltiades. It’s not right that he and I should strive separately. And keep your ears open. Tell me all, even the gossip I find so tedious, and which you relate so colorfully.
Hypatos, my love, whom the gods favor, greetings.
Your letter cheered me when I needed cheering. I read it late in the evening, at the time we would have gone to bed had you been here, when you forget your studies and I have you to myself. The words you wrote sounded in my head with your voice and I imagined you lying beside me. My longing was so great I asked Miltiades to stay but he was a poor substitute
Hipparchus is dismayed that he is not the only discoverer of this great truth. I didn’t speak to him directly but our mutual friends told me of his anger, laughing as they did so! We are not the only ones who take pleasure in seeing pride punctured.
How can you share your discovery without burdening the simple and the prejudiced with this terrible knowledge? I have an idea. Miltiades will tell you.
Paramonos, by Zeus, etc., greetings.
I could not have thought of it in sixty years, or in six times sixty years. Nothing compels obedience like religion. What the heavens have revealed we will cloak in dogma and teach in ritual. Will the stars fall? No, they turn in the hand of Mithras, who commands your worship—and your silence. Paramonos, my light, fixed and steady and true, you are brilliant.
(You are right. Miltiades is a poor substitute.)
© 2017 by Charles O’Donnell, All Rights Reserved