All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
“Do I hear two hundred-fifty drachmas? Two hundred-seventy? You there, the gentleman in the back. Yes, you, in the red tunic. Two hundred-seventy? Anyone else? No? Going once, twice, and SOLD, to the man in the red tunic.”
The slave auctioneer looked positively delighted as he collected the money for yet another human being. The slave was led off the platform, the sign around his neck glowing white in the early afternoon sunshine, his well-formed muscles bulging from the hard labor he’d done over the years. For a split second, time stopped as I made eye-contact with him. His eyes were a strange shade of green, and I could read only one thing in them: fear. They seemed to say You’re next. I swallowed hard.
The auctioneer's assistant grabbed my roped together hands and dragged me roughly to the platform. A sign was dropped on my neck, stating that I was sixteen years old. Apparently this was the only important factor to consider. The men below stared at me with hungry expressions, like they couldn’t wait to get their hands on me.
“Gentlemen,” the auctioneer said, “Now here is a true prize. This lovely lady…” he paused and touched my cheek. I shied away from his touch. “… is a jewel from the island of Thantaka. Who will receive this beauty? Whose wife will be fortunate enough to get a new slave girl? Then again… maybe you’ll just keep her for yourself. I know I would…” He guffawed. Laughter and nods of agreement circulated among the buyers.
“Now, starting price is one hundred-fifty drachmas.” There was a moment of silence as the men contemplated how much they were willing to pay for the gorgeous Eurykleia. Several raised their hands. “Do I hear one-seventy? Two hundred? Two-ten?” An absolutely massive man in the front raised his fat, purple hand.
“Two-fifty,” he said. He smiled at me, showing yellowed broken teeth. I shuddered.
“Do I hear two-sixty? Anyone...no? Alright then, going, going—”
“—Wait. Three hundred.”
“Ah, now we’re going somewhere. Anyone else? No… going once, twice, and SOLD to the man in the back with the nice blue cloak.”
Time slowed as I was led off the platform. The assistant dragged me to the blue-cloaked man, and then I realized what had just happened. My flesh had been purchased with three hundred golden drachmas. I was a slave.
The man was pleasant looking, probably about twenty-five or thirty years old. He had the air of someone with authority about him. Perhaps he was a sea captain or a nobleman.
“I am Laertes,” he said, “King of Ithaka.” I said nothing, and looked at the ground. Tears came into my eyes. I just couldn’t believe this was happening. I didn’t want to be a slave. Thoughts raced through my mind, all of them terrible. I started to cry. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said warmly, and patted me on the head, like a small child. “Come, we set sail for Ithaka in an hour.” I had no choice but to follow him.
The ship he had was grand, not at all like the miserable excuse for a boat I had come on to the island. King Laertes let me sit at the front of the boat so I could see the ocean around me. The journey back to Ithaka took about five days, and when I wasn’t belowdecks crying my eyes out I stood on the deck of the ship and watched the birds fly overhead, the salty air blowing my hair. I thought about my family a lot in those five days. How the army had come and killed everything and everyone in sight. My seven younger siblings and caring mother and father. I never saw their deaths, but it’s unlikely they survived. The enemy had spared me because I was beautiful. Because I would fetch a good price, they told me. Maybe, I thought bitterly, if I wasn’t so beautiful, I would still be with my family. Or maybe with my family in the underworld. At least we’d be together.
When we finally reached Ithaka I could cry no more tears. Although looking at the desolate rock that it was I almost started up again. There was no beauty here. Why couldn’t I have been bought by some rich aristocrat who lived in beautiful farmlands with fruit trees and forests? At least I could have embraced my work. But here, there was no way.
Laertes and I left the busy harbor and a carriage picked us up to take us to his palace. I wasn’t feeling so well. “You look pale,” Laertes said. “I need to make sure you’re in good shape when we arrive at my hall.”
“I’m fine,” I said weakly.
“So, how do you like Ithaka?” he asked.
“It’s...nice.” I said. And rocky, I thought. I don’t think I sounded very convincing, because he raised an eyebrow at me.
“Well, I’m glad you like it.” He wasn’t very convincing either. Perhaps I looked so terrible that he took pity on me.
We arrived at the front gate of the palace and Laertes led me inside. His wife was waiting for him at the door. She looked hardly older than me. Immediately her eyes were drawn to me and she said sharply “Who is this?”
“Calm yourself Antikleia,” he said to his wife. “This is Eurykleia, my new slave.”
“Your new slave?”
“Umm… yes? But I bought her for you darling. I thought you might like a companion, and, she could help you with the baby when he is born.” I don’t know how I didn’t see it when I walked in, but Antikleia was heavy with child. It looked like the baby was going to be born any day now. Antikleia gave him a look so acidic it could have burned a hole in a metal shield.
“Anyway, I’m going to go take care of some things, darling. I hope you like your present.” With that Laertes walked away. I sighed again. I was a present. A possession.
“So… your name is Eurykleia.” She pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Yes my lady,” she corrected.
“Sorry, my lady.”
She told me to go fetch her some tea to cure her headache. I somehow found my way to the kitchen and luckily I knew what to make her. My mother had been a healer, so I knew all sorts of herbal remedies. I brought her the healing drink to her bed chamber. “Here you are, my lady,” I said. “Do you know when the baby is to be born?”
“I hope soon,” she grumbled.
“Ah, well… Do you need a midwife?”
“What? You can’t be a day older than fourteen!” I clenched my teeth. I was sixteen, but I guess my shorter stature made me seem younger than I was.
“My lady. I had seven younger siblings. I helped deliver the last three. My mother was a midwife and I was her apprentice. I don’t think there is anyone here more qualified.”
“All right,” she said. I left her then and let her rest in peace.
A week later the baby was born. A beautiful baby boy named Odysseus. I think Antikleia was just cranky before she had the baby, because afterwards we seemed to bond. We both loved that boy more than anything. He was the one thing we had in common. As soon as he was cleaned off and wrapped in a cloth she handed him to me and said “You take him for now. I’m too tired and you know what to do more than me.”
So I took that baby and rocked him in my arms until he was calm. Little did I know I would end up raising him. I was his mother more than Antikleia. Once he was about six or seven Antikleia was ready to take care of him more, but I still did most of the work. I think she just found babies daunting. Once they knew when and where to do their business, how to talk, and how to eat, she was happy.
Antikleia had a pet dove in her room. A sweet, soft, little, white bird that would chirp and sing. It was a beautiful thing, but I always felt a little sorry for it, like it should be flying around outside instead of sitting in a cage indoors all day. One day Antikleia and Laertes went to visit Neleus, another king from a neighboring island. While they were gone I told Odysseus about the dove.
“Your mommy has a sweet little birdy in her room, Odysseus. A little dove, white like a cloud. Do you want to see it?” I said.
His eyes grew large at the prospect. He nodded. “ I wanna see it! I want to!”
I grabbed his soft hand and led him up the stairs to his mother’s room. He looked inside and gasped, shrieking with childish delight at the pretty creature. “BIRDY!” he yelled.
“Shhh, Odysseus, you mustn't scare it.”
“Oh,” he said quietly, putting a pink finger to his lips. “Why is it in a cage?” he asked.
He was so adorable. “It…so it doesn’t fly away, Odysseus.”
“Oh,” he said again. “It should fly. Can we let it fly?”
I thought for a second. Antikleia was gone, as was Laertes. How would I explain it to her if her pet dove was suddenly gone? But I didn’t think, I just spoke. “Yes. Of course we can.”
We walked outside to the cliff above the sea. I let Odysseus open the cage door. Almost immediately the bird shot out of the cage, a blur of white against the grey Ithakan sky. In that moment, as the bird flew away, I felt free. Like I could still change something in this world. Like I was more than just a queen’s slave. Like I was worth more than three hundred golden drachmas.
“I’m hungry,” Odysseus said.
I laughed. “You always are. Come little one, let’s go inside.”
With that I took Odysseus’s hand and we walked back to the palace. I thought of the dove again and felt like a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. As if I was Atlas, and someone had finally taken the earth off my back. I was the dove, and by setting it free I had found my own freedom, even though I was still a slave. Birds all fly eventually. Maybe, just maybe, I am a bird. Odysseus turned me into one.