Armbands everywhere, worn proudly, boasting loyalties. Men, young and old, children,
grandfathers, slaves even. Four symbols--Lion, Bull, Gorgon and Owl--each owing allegiance
to a faction, each faction supporting a ship.
My faction was the Bull, my ship the Theseus. I was a thranite, a deck-rower, a prestigious
position placing me on the uppermost level of our trireme, a position requiring strength
It was the morning of the grand race, the final competition of the Panathenaic Games,
and the people of Athens were abuzz with anticipation. The Games were part of the
yearly Panathenia Festival, though the games themselves were held every fourth year.
They culminated several days of ceremonies and athletic events, with the trireme
race taking place on the final day of the festival, its prestige matched only by
The weather was warm, the sky cloudy. A stiff breeze carried the scent of the sea
as I descended on the port town of Piraeus with my wife Thais and eight year old
daughter Ophira. The walk from our home in Athens was long, but made enjoyable by
the mingling crowd of spectators and well-wishers. Young girls circled me, hoping
for a word, old men offered advice and younger men showered me with questions. My
wife, bless her heart, took this in stride, while my daughter beamed at the attention
her father received.
Of course there were the naysayers, those members of the opposing factions who hurled
insults or boasted of their team’s chances. I ignored them, a matter of principle,
unless an insult was directed at my family. A head knocked, even an arm broken, generally
silenced their ilk.
Then there were the gossip mongers, out in full force, weaving lies and flinging
outlandish claims, spouting nonsense about what oarsman was doing what courtesan,
which teammates had fallen out over what perceived slight, a certain helmsman going
blind, or another who had accumulated massive debt. They talked also of race fixing,
how a team received bribes to help another achieve victory. It was all nonsense,
of course. In all my years of rowing I was never approached to take a bribe, nor
do I know of anyone who was. And if it had been me, my path would have taken me straight
to the authorities. So, ignoring these troublemakers was easy, though many a citizen
hung on their every word. The odds makers capitalized, seeing advantage in the rumors,
accepting side bets from gullible citizens in addition to collecting the massive
amount of monies wagered on the outcome of the race itself.
The crowd proved thickest as we reached the main harbor of Piraeus. Above the throng
of heads the thick masts of the four competing triremes jutted like proud monuments.