Untold Lives of Ancient Greece; Tide Pools
Untold Lives of Ancient Greece
Lasthenia of Mantinea
was Plato’s brightest lady student.
A cross-dresser, she rode upon
a dappled horse to each morning’s
Academy symposium and
wore her linen tunic short,
fastening it with a bull-head brooch,
as was men’s fashion in Athens,
so she could dismount freely.
Her woolen cloak was purple, her broad-
brimmed hat yellow, her earrings
beaten from Egyptian gold.
A papyrus fragment from Oxyrhynchus
states: “in her teens, Lasthenia was
lovely and full of unstudied grace.”
It fails to describe her acerbic wit,
her analyses of ethical treatises,
her lyric rhyming couplets.
After Plato died, Lasthenia studied
with Plato’s nephew, Speussipus,
with whom she’d linger after class,
exchanging kisses in a scroll closet
after the other students left.
They enjoyed a long romance,
often exchanging clothes,
since Speussipus fancied ladies’
silk chitons that draped down to
his ankles and other artifices,
like the sleeved robes that actors
wore or adder-skin belts.
Lasthenia of Mantinea co-
wrote her teacher’s famed treatise,
On Pythagorean Numbers,
but never received credit for it,
nor for their “mathematics of reality”
she organized into spiritual spheres.
Lasthenia bore three dutiful daughters
who disdained learning,
as well as horseback riding, who stayed home
and dressed as proper ladies.
Her only son, Timaeus, enjoyed pederasty
with his young slaves,
one of whom grandfathered
Aesop, Greek fabulist and slave
of African descent, advisor to
kings, writer of six hundred fables
with apt morals. For stealing a gold cup,
Aesop was thrown off a cliff.
Barefoot all summer, our callused feet flick
the sunlight resting in rocky crevices:
swift ripples ignite a trough of sea diamonds
that spin and triangulate a dazzling display.
My sister squats nearby, watching silver-
flecked greens and opalescent blues bleed into
translucent pools. And look: a baby octopus,
pink as putty, unfurls its small arms, reaching
one tentacle up to touch my finger, tiny suckers
latching onto my knuckle. Now I feel myself
yielding to its tightening grip, and I remember
God’s forefinger stretched out to Adam above
my head in the Sistine Chapel: I’m six again,
giddy from staring at heaven’s oceanic ceiling—
its chambered frescos clamoring with people,
the chapel’s air turbulent with sacred ghosts.
Under a sky billowing with cherubs, cloud-
clad, the glowing giant flows across the sky,
his grey-white hair and beard blown back,
his finger poised in midair—his reach
towards Adam like this soft touch
of another alien being.