A long, long time ago, CoralDawn posted a challenge: to write a story based on the following line from the Alexander Romance: And one day when Alexander was 15 years old . . . sailing with Hephaistion, his friend, he easily reached Pisa, and went off to stroll with Hephaestion.
These would be the Olympics of 340 BC - the same year that Philip went off to war and left Alexander as Regent.
Another line linking Alexander with Olympics is from Plutarch's "Sayings of Alexander": Being nimble and swift of foot, he was urged by his father to run in the foot-race at the Olympics. "I would run," said he, "if I were to have kings as competitors."
Anyway, this is what I came up with. The chapters are much shorter than my other stories' - it's more episodic - but like Showtime, it's a "young adult"-level sort of story, not meant to be Serious.
Thanks: to Coral for posting the challenge and prodding me to answer it. If by some chance you see this and have any further suggestions/comments, please let me know!
Chapter 1: A Long-Awaited Holiday
The final lesson was, of course, an exercise in futility. In the midst of the tranquil little garden, Aristotle's pupils seemed all the more impatient, like kettles with limbs, bubbling away, about to boil over.
Aristotle suppressed a sigh of exasperation. The supremacy of the mind was a common theme in his teachings, and today's lesson was but a corollary to it: that since the mind cannot imagine infinity, space must be limited. It should not have been such a difficult lesson, neither for him to teach nor for the young men to learn. Only Alexander sat still, but Aristotle discerned that even the prince was not really listening.
If any of his students might yet pay attention to the lecture today, it was Alexander – though, of course, Aristotle had never expected him to embrace the concept itself. Limits were something the prince had yet to truly grasp. But Aristotle had anticipated countering arguments or brash, amused little smiles – not this brooding preoccupation, as if he were lecturing about Alexander's personal limits instead of the limits of space.
Well, space was not the only thing that was limited. Patience, for example, was a highly limited commodity.
Right in the middle of a key phrase, Aristotle stopped lecturing. It was difficult enough to make these young men, especially Alexander, understand limits of any sort on the cloudiest, gloomiest, and rainiest of miserable mornings. Never mind now, with the sky so brilliantly blue and freedom just a turn of the sun-dial away.
"Perhaps we can continue this discussion later," he conceded dryly to his fidgeting students. "After all, you'll be in a much more appropriate state of mind to discuss limits, I think, when you return at the end of your leave."
Instantly the youths sprang up. Cheering, laughing, and caring nothing for Aristotle's hint that even their fiercely coveted holiday had its limits, they shouted their thanks and tumbled hastily out the gate.
Aristotle chuckled. He was looking forward to the holiday also. With his pupils, he had to focus on matters that would mold the future leaders of Macedon: history, politics, rhetoric, philosophy. In the coming weeks, he could pursue other interests. Why, after seeing his students off tomorrow, he might even start working on a classification system for all the specimens of flora that they had gathered for him. In addition to complementing their studies, the botany searches gave Aristotle very welcome (though brief) interludes of calm, and he was only too happy to send them on more such assignments. However, now the room next to his study was cluttered with dried plants, a towering shambles as disorderly as any wrought by the goddess Chaos, demanding his attention with every flaking branch and crinkling leaf. Besides, if he did not clear the space soon, where was he supposed to keep all the specimens he planned to collect over summer?
As usual, Alexander and Hephaestion were the last to leave, just now slipping out the gate, calling out their wishes for his good health. Aristotle nodded back affectionately – and with satisfaction. Alexander did not seem nearly as excited as his peers about the holiday, but he no longer looked quite so gloomy. And Hephaestion was with him, outwardly unperturbed by Alexander's downcast mood.
Aristotle headed back toward the building, wryly shaking his head. In regards to limits, those two were the worst.
Hephaestion was quite possibly Aristotle's quietest pupil, rarely volunteered answers and took a good long while to consider things. Yet within a few months Aristotle had discovered that he was exceptionally observant, able to soak everything in. Given time, he could link different concepts in ways that none of the other boys could – or cared to – and his conclusions were truly his own.
As for Alexander, Aristotle had never dreamed of a pupil so brilliant, with such an extraordinary capacity to take everything in at once. Quick to understand, eager to learn, Alexander was never afraid to speak his mind – or to ask questions, questions that were pointed and complex and sometimes odd, but which often revealed perspectives that even Aristotle had not considered deeply. And he seemed born to the art of strategy, possessing intuition that could never be taught in any lecture.
Moreover, in matters of philosophy, history, and science, both Alexander and Hephaestion went far beyond anything Aristotle had ever hoped for in a bunch of wild boys raised in the rocky northern hills of Macedon. Indeed, his students could be loud, unruly, too fond of drink and too quick to scorn the rest of Hellas, but Aristotle was much more impressed with his young students than he had expected to be – the brothers Erygius and Laomedon, and Alexander's cousins Leonnatus and Perdiccas, already showing early flairs for command; Cassander, who knew backwards and forwards the lineages of Macedon's powerful families and could tell you the political ramifications of every marriage within the last hundred years. Nearchus with his fascination in seafaring, an interest that surely would come in handy as Macedon expanded its reach; and Ptolemy, who was not only clever and ambitious, but wily enough to hide it from the others, never striving to do better than his fellows – at least, not in front of them.
Their growing abilities were both a comfort and a warning to Aristotle – a comfort, because he had come here at Philip's request only after losing the leadership of his teacher's Academy in Athens to Speusippus. (Really, Aristotle had to wonder how much Plato's decision was influenced by the fact that Speusippus was his nephew!) And a warning – because their potential made Aristotle think, even now, of young lions crouching hidden amid tall grasses.
But perhaps Aristotle's fondest memory so far of his time in Mieza was that first day when the class's discussion had boiled down to a debate between just Alexander and Hepahestion. The few who tried to follow along gave up quickly, while most of them just lounged about, amused by the earnestness of the pair. Yet Aristotle's initial irritation at having the session commandeered by only two students soon gave way to delight. He was not sure who had started it or which had happened first – whether Alexander had drawn Hephaestion out of his usual reserve, or Hephaestion had persuaded Alexander to consider the topic anew, from a different angle. It was as if they were holding their own little symposium discussion, and Aristotle could not have wished for better from his pupils. (Except, of course, if all of them would participate like that – but again, there were limits to what was possible in the world.)
And that had happened when Alexander and Hephaestion disagreed, when they were merely fellow students. Now that they had become friends, whenever their thoughts coincided it was even more uncanny; what they could not solve individually, they never failed to conquer once they pooled their abilities. There might – there should – be limits to what those two could do, but as yet, Aristotle had not seen any.
And he was not sure he wanted to.
He stepped into his study, eyeing the towering mess of shrubs in the adjoining room, and smiled. He had been right to let the boys go early. All those plants needed classification, and that lecture on limits could definitely wait.
to be continued
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