Pietros Maneos

Pietros Maneos

Pietros Maneos, a graduate of The University of Miami, is the author of the poetry collections, The Soul of a Young Man and Poems of Blood and Passion. His novella, The Italian Pleasures of Gabriele Paterkallos, is forthcoming from Aesthete Press. When Pietros is not reading or writing, he can generally be found in the gymnasia, weight-lifting and boxing.

The Forgotten Thermopylae

Achates in 191 B.C.

Achates spent his free evenings in Athens
reading Grecian tragedy
for he had a proclivity for the Melancholy.
His clan claimed descent from the celebrated, Choerilus,
contemporary of the Immortal Aeschylus.

Our Achates even wrote some minor verse.
Nothing of consequence, of course.
Nothing that would win him wild-blooming garlands
in the festival of Dionysus,
but it was passable poetry,
written in the manner of the Lesbian, Alcaeus.

And let us not forget his Beauty,
renowned in Athens,
lest we do injustice to his story.
The old men, philosophers and commoners alike,
And sometimes even the idle young women
would gather around the gymnasia
and the palaestra
just to glimpse his sun-blushed skin
just to observe his well-limned limbs,
glimmering in action as they caught gleams
of Apollonian sun-beams.
Some said he was the very son of Apollo,
of the shimmering bow.
How they yearned for him.
How they suffered for him.

‘It is the Greeks
who must rule the barbarians,
Not the barbarians the Greeks.
They are born to be slaves; we
to be free.’

It was this very passage from Iphigenia in Aulis
that inspired Achates to volunteer for Antiochus’s expedition
against the invading Latins.
His family, as can be expected, pleaded with him
to remain in Athens.
Yet, he was resolved to defend
Greece : to finally put an end
to foreign meddling in the affairs of his polis.

He marched straightaway in much haste
to Thermopylae.
Begging all-beautiful Aeolus, Divinity of the Winds,
for his blessing
during his treacherous traveling.
As he trekked through Boeotia
he fancied himself as one of Leonidas’ chosen men.

Achates dreamed that Antiochus might be
the Alexander of his Time
restoring Greece to its apogee
halting its steady decline
into irrelevancy.
Yet, as we now know,
this was not to be so.
Just another pretender
to Alexander’s
great legacy.
More of a sensualist
than a strategist.

The details of Achates actual demise are quite murky;
they were never noted by any intellectual of note:
Historians did not feel him worthy of a single line.
The poets did not sing a single simile on his behalf.
Even the orators of Attica deemed him an unworthy theme.

And so let us now today
in our own way
honor our obscure Hero, Achates,
Who against the wishes of his family
And the indifference of his city
Did indeed march to Thermopylae
And fought for Justice, in defense of The Free.
He will never have the acclaimed name
Nor the everlasting fame
of revered Dieneces, the fallen Spartan Hero,
who so long ago
fought gallantly in the shade
until beastly Charon ferried him into Hades.

But nevertheless, our Achates,
Deserves his just accolades.
For he did brave the brave centurions
of the fearsome Roman Legions.
Never once contemplating submission.
And so let us now say, ‘Here lies Achates,
Son of Pericles, a warrior-philosopher,
Who left the comforts of his ancestral home
To fight against the Lions of Rome.’

Grecian Dreams

In Corinth – 144 B.C. –

As he looked out towards the Aegean horizon,
towards the towering sea,
He thought for just a moment that he could see
wave-loving Poseidon
weeping upon the quavering waves.
He then closed his eyes, and gave
himself completely
to his dreams, to his imagination.

‘If only the Hellenes would grant me
supreme command of her fighting-men.
Certainly, we’d achieve everlasting Freedom
from the occupying Roman.
Either on the coast of Thermopylae
or in the storied mountains of Thessaly,
I would assemble the best Pankration
teachers in all of the Greater Greek world
teaching my army the deft intricacies
of single combat –
transforming each beardless boy into a grizzled Olympian:
Prepared to send every single Roman Legion
into the unknown Oblivion!

The greatest generals of Asia and Hellas
would gather to instruct us
in the finer points of military strategy:
Blending the tactics of the Macedonians, the Romans
and the Hellenes
into a new breed of war-machine.

We’d emerge from the hidden shadows in less than a year –
a ferocious Army of Heroes, of Gladiators, of Gods!
Instilling Fear into the Heart of every single Roman Senator,
And engendering trembling in the knees of every single Italian citizen:
Knowing that the armed Heroes of Greece
are on the march again
against The Barbarian,
having no interest in a convenient peace,
in a bloodless submission.

For it is past time for the resurgence of the greater Greek World
Heir to the glories of the Athenians, the Spartans
The Seleucids, the Ptolemies,
And most importantly,
to the dying dream of the full beautiful Macedonian.’

And so he sat for a long while, lost in his imagination
imagining the glimmering garlands of Victory
The temples dedicated to far-famed Nike
And The Immortal Fame attained by his superbly trained army:
forever to be immortalized in Epic Attic-Poetry.

But then as his wild Sensations subsided
with the ebbing Tide
he set his herculean ambitions aside
and returned from his personal dreams
to the deep-souled dreams
of deep-browed Homer.
He allowed his mind to drift from the Romans
to the final Fall of the fallen Trojans;
from one fantasy to another.
For if Reality would not conform to his Heroic Sensibility
than he would confine himself to the Aesthetic Glory
of Homeric Poetry:
Content to give himself completely
to the clear-sounding, renowned Beauty
of the Chian’s Epic Similes.

Megali Idea

“Cavafy’s friend, Polis Modinos recalled how,
a few days after the Smyrna disaster, he found the poet
alone at home, sitting grief-stricken in his usual chair.
Presently Cavafy exclaimed, “Smyrna is lost! Ionia is lost!
The Gods are lost! . . .’ Unable to go on, he simply
wept in silence.”

“Smyrna is lost! Ionia is lost! The Gods are lost!”
And so wept the divine Poet,
the son of the Pierian Muses,
when he heard that the Hellenes
and more importantly
their ‘Great Idea,’ their ‘Beautiful Dream’
had been soundly defeated by the Turkish army.

“Smyrna is lost! Ionia is lost! The Gods are lost!”
He said once again
to his friend
who at this dire moment
could think of no comforting phrases –
no apropos aphorism culled from the philosophers
to console the soul of the weeping writer.
The best he could muster
was ‘aman,’ ‘aman.’

“Smyrna is lost! Ionia is lost! The Gods are lost!”
Ah, it was a beautiful dream, nonetheless.
And we Greeks have always been dreamers,
A people of Great Ideas:
intrepid explorers
Romantic wanderers:
Always ready for a new journey,
an unwritten Odyssey.

“Smyrna is lost! Ionia is lost! The Gods are lost!”
As Turkish flames lashed Smyrna
so died the beautiful dream of Magna Grecia,
the neo-Hellenistic reality.
Surely, a humiliating peace-treaty
would soon follow
allowing the Turks to wallow
in their complete Victory.

“Smyrna is lost! Ionia is lost! The Gods are lost!”
Though we are humbled presently
there will come a day
when we will free Grecian lands
from barbarian hands.
A new Achilles will arise in Phthia
to free Smyrna:
To stand against the sons of Kemal
To liberate Mehmet’s Istanbul.
(Or so the poet could at least dream)
And alas, was it not a Beautiful Dream,
A Great Idea?

A Neo-Platonist In The Year 361 A.D.

He lived in impoverished squalor in Byzantium
(He adamantly refused to refer to the city as Constantinople)
For he cursed the memory of Constantine, the radical Apostate,
The enemy of Hellenism.

He eked out a living
Translating and teaching –
Instructing the children of Byzantine noblemen
in the grand ways of classical philosophy.
He barely managed to remain in the bearable realm
of relative poverty:
always on the verge of total bankruptcy.

He was one of the last of the pagans,
A word that he despised, for he thought it barbarous and crass –
He preferred to be known as one of the last of the Hellenes.
Yes, that was much more dignified, much more apropos
for a man of his intellectual distinction.

Though the majority of his students had converted
to the cultish tyranny,
He could not bring himself to submit to Christianity.
That sort of thing was just not fitting
for a well-read, well-bred Hellene:
A man schooled in the tenets of Platonic philosophy.
A student of Aristippus, Epicurus and Heraclitus.
A beauty-loving, reason-loving child of Zeus.

This new God, this Galilean, this Jewish carpenter’s son,
was certainly suitable for the rabble, the demos,
but not for him.
Of this, he was certain.
He would not betray The Logos
For some fantastical, oriental excess.

Yet, despite his fervent convictions,
he knew that the Galileans would indeed win –
One could simply sense
the inevitability
of their complete victory.
The world was theirs
And his defiant existence
was merely a stubborn anachronism.

Though he had heard that Julian
was attempting
to restore the venerable Pantheon
to its rightful position.
A Romantic, Hellenic action, surely,
But could one man reverse, or even slightly revise,
And besides, wasn’t Julian busy campaigning against
The Sassanids, or the Saracens?

He sheepishly conceded
that Civilization
had been seduced by this new
breed of barbarism.
And he could very well understand barbarians,
Medes, Dacians, Phrygians,
Being attracted to this Asiatic creed
but the Athenians?
The very school of Hellas –
How could they abandon The Symposium
The primacy of Reason,
The valor of Marathon
for such a shoddy divinity?

Had we defeated the mighty Persians
to be enslaved by an emaciated naïf,
to be at the mercy
of these marauding hooligans?

The impending reality
was a mere triviality
in his psyche
for every evening
he swore to the Olympians
that even if there were only three hundred
of his kind left, Hellenes or Barbarians,
He would resist until the bitter end.
For resistance, even resistance destined for failure,
was the proper course of action
for this proud Grecian philosopher.

Poetry in this post: © Pietros Maneos
Published with the permission of Pietros Maneos