1. Death Chambers
It is Caesar that brought me here. And it is Caesar that must pay the price of my release. Caesar lurks in the back-alleys of my dreams. I am a prisoner in the death-chambers ofCairo. Dead kings and princes sleep here to smell my armpits. I am alive,Caesar, I am alive. A slave of the dead. But also the life-force of the dead.What people do not understand is that the dead have no powers. None. Their earthly spirit has left them. They are literally the scaffolding of bygone spirits. They are trapped in this overly embellished death-chamber in the basement.
The Christ-followers have come. Crusade fires are lit across Alexandria. They know my powers work only under the sun. So they keep me locked in this chamber of darkness. I feed the dead just as I had fed my two lions – Usman and Augusta. They hope I will die here if kept here for centuries.
Death is a mysterious name for fatigue. A rest period to prepare for the next round of battle. A rest period to prepare for the next round of action. Hence, they create all kinds of fake theory, about afterlife, sin, salvation – whatever else their partial affinity for guns might require.
The Nile cries out at the strangest hour of dawn. They have turned my river into a blood bath. I wakeup to the call of the sun. I must look at him in the eye to renew my powers.Renew my vow to take back the throne of Egypt. Zeus the son-god is tired, so humans think he is a ball of fire.
Let us call him Firefox. And let us call me Madwoman (you know, in the attic). In theLevant, our enemies had a secret name for me – Isaiah.
The humans don’t know that he charges the universe with the spot of helium, that is located just above my left eye. It is this pivot in the chamber of my body that Christians call celestial stars. How foolish of them to not recognize that stars were a train of reflection of a little ball of helium.
I am further amused that they know not how to locate and recognize their god,their gift hamper – when it is hidden in plain sight. I procreate only by Zeus at sunrise, so they block all windows that surround me. I only have to access a mirror to find the laterally inverted image of the universe. The universe is a dark compartment of splintering pieces of meteor set to perfect rhythm. These are shards of Zeus. Zeus is not human.Neither is he particularly concerned with the human condition. Zeus is the master of the universe, and we are playthings in his workshop.
And the New Testament Christians drug themselves with the manna of love and forgiveness. Jesus is probablyAbraham’s son by Maria. He declared himself son of god. And he got carried away by the drug of immortality. This is ridiculous since gods are by definition immortal.The length of life hardly a barometer of divinity.
Anyway, Jesus is a pretty boy. He may have resurrected through his four brothers – also sons of Maria. Totally controlled by Maria, the Mother of Roman Slaves. Maria was a favourite in Caesar’s harem. She bore Jesus in the hope of gaining prestige in the Roman court. Octavian, in the meantime, starts chasing me. Ostensibly for love. But mostly for Egyptian ecological and female fertility. Evidently, Maria was displeased. I indulged Octavian’s vulgarity for a while. Until it turned into sexual violence.
This was the grand Roman sovereign. For whom, blood, soil and sword are ever ready. He had purple streaks of anger running across his forehead and jawbones. His masculinity and charisma were confined within the prism of war. Aye, there’s the rub.
War requires strategy.It’s something Caesar, my biological father, manages effortlessly. ButOctavian, the successor, deludes himself into thinking strength is enough to win a war. As a child, I trained in strategy, deception and cruelty. These are the most significant tools of war. Only sovereigns can handle these skills.Subjects, even courtiers cannot. Not even advisors like Lady Hypatia. She knows big things, she knows classic politics. She doesn’t the organic cruelty that makes rule possible. Little Hypatia and her quaint mathematics.
The sovereign is equipped to take cruel decisions in the milieu of realpolitik and broad frames of justice. Sovereigns are king-gods, as well as commanders of the military outfits. Courtiers were given administrative tasks, especially that of assessment and levy of taxes. Little did they understand that those jobs carry the least skill in statecraft. Statecraft is about attack and defence. And repair in between.We domesticated a large number of artists and critics in our court partly for amusement and partly to test who among these had a stronger will to climb towards sovereignty. We appreciate their audacity and we eliminate them brutally. Courtiers, entertainers, courtesans, wives, horse carts are not kings and queens. Kings and queens are born of the sacred bloodline.
So war,I learnt as a child, was about breaking the enemy. Fighting is the last chapter of a war. Wars begin in the minds of kings. War is also about slavery – a word that makes the modern world cringe. Slaves live like parasites. We work them into our will and power. We kill them once they stop being productive on the farm and in bed.
Their only goal is survival – an individualised battle with powerful adversaries. The conquest in war is towards the sole end – inculcation of slaved bodies – stripped on social and political personae. Bare lives. Docile minds. Mere legs and arms, faintly ticking hearts.For Octavian, war was about pride, celebratory dances and banquets, wagging tails atop towers, watch the kill of the day being hung out to dry in the public square. And then, there I was in Octavian’s arms like a common whore. Itis that memory that obstructs my road to freedom.
Perhaps this is why public squares are so important. For rebellions, executions, riots and brawls.I never understood it. Maybe Zeus did not think it an important subject in my training toward occupying the throne and ruling Macedonia in the north,Damascus in the east and Cairo across the blue sea. Ottomans are beginning to appear on the middle eastern sands. They might be Romans by a different name. I need to hatch a plan. I need to speak with Mark Anthony. Now.
2. Mothers of War
Athena, my mother, is actually the mother of war. The mother of rule. The mother of beauty. It is in her womb thatI learnt the art of rule. I carry her spirit and the flesh of Caesar and aMediterranean dancer. Rule requires two ingredients: king-god conjunction, and the combination of extreme love and extreme cruelty.
My mother is busy with statecraft as the Romans were approaching our kingdom. It is on her counsel that Zeus takes military decisions. The Romans called her a diva and a horse cart. In hushed tones of course. Her aggression was so attractive that I grew up wanting to be exactly like her. Perhaps, a bit gentler. She was the most revered priestess, artist and advisor to the Greek military complex. She looks like me, but in an ethereal package. She had olive skin, a perfectly angular face, shining collarbones and a mass of brown hair with tendrils falling across her temples. She was unattainable in the simplest sense of the word. She cleaned her own palatial chamber, gardened, picked fruit and spices for dinner, played the harp. Other than Zeus and the closest handmaidens, no one had access to her. Motherhood was the last thing on her mind.
This was the beginning of the experience of rejection and neglect in my early life. Athena, on rare occasions, would meet with kings, courtiers and priests of other kingdoms. She seldom met the generals or courtiers of our court. I began life thinking that I was less significant than few grains falling out of a heavy sack. I didn’t get to be cooked. My journey from raw to cooked was never finished. I grew up to be a woman, a princess – but significantly a wild one.
Mark Antony had won my heart. At least a bit of it. But the kingdoms would not allow it. He was a man of soldierly birth. We were trying to flee and marry, but enemies were all around. Mark Anthony’s most deadly war strategy is that of disguise in plain sight of the enemy. The Romans, the Ottomans and now the new cult of Ali amidst the Arabian deserts were hovering around us. Crucially, the disruptive Bedouins. I was fertile since I was eleven, and they wanted to get into our bloodline.
The line of the Nords are cousins of mine, through Athena. We share aesthetic and luxury preferences; we don’t fully share political preferences. They raid smaller kingdoms for grain, silk and spice. We wage war to defend our sacred land. We are already blessed by the Mediterranean and do not lack for resources. There is always venison, apples, clementines, apricots. There were crates of wine. There was an echo-chamber of nervous laughter. The nervous laughter came from djinns who had sneaked into the banquet. It was a bit late before they realized that their only power was to migrate into their own young kin in order that their earthly may continue.
What the djinns took time to figure out is that longevity through multiplication of bodies was in no way a demonstration of divinity. The Macedonian gods took their work in the realm of governance, creation and judgment. Essentially their job was to consolidate the legal machinery, soothe pain and announce punishment. Their fundamental work is architectural. Their mindscape conjures the universe. The djinns had not been told that they were living inside the collective terrain of godly minds. Zeus has given us clues about how to proceed with the work of universe-building.Using these clues and codes, we walk along the shores and mountains of theMediterranean region looking for good seeds that would bear our truth. Djinns are messengers in our dream cabinet. The seed-sowing of possibility and concomitant sapling-nurture is the work of god that royals must carry out.
All other work was done by the cleric peoples – religion, birth and death, marriage, revenue, flood relief, money management. These activities and their officers are known in the modern time as bureaucracy. They had to disciplined and used for efficiency of governance. They could not be trusted with secrets. They would sell our secrets for a nickel and a dime to the enemies.
Hence, my father hid me in plain sight, in the locked chambers beneath the Hagia Sophia in the enemy territory. I did not get to speak words of love to Mark Antony. I believe he completed his human tenure as Alexander, the great general of Macedon. I was to awaken at the cusp of this millennium and the next. But in my sleep, I heard centuries of war-cry, needless machinic use, abuse of our land and rivers and aeons of nervous cackle. The cackle is particular to the Bedouin. It is with this cackle that the breasts and belly fat begins to sway. Major wars amongArabs and Bedouins and Zeus-followers (now called Jews) and the wretched desert mirage of Maria and her daughters begging for love and forgiveness everywhere.Hollow bodies hungry for blood were roaming all over the desert. These were our most abhorrent enemies.
Ali was a smart strategist, but he lacked the absolute faith of his army. They were good with horses on sand, but not at sea. Zeus had entered Jerusalem. His next target was Damascus. I dream-called him to say that he must take rest within me, I would fight for Damascus at the end of my epochal sleep. Damascus, our temple town. Which had to be conquered if Cairo were to remain our reigning fortress.
Athena thought I would be a version of her – beautiful and cunning, well-versed in statecraft. An ideal recruit into the court. Athena took me to be a harmless cherub. She could never imagine that the task of fighting for Damascus would be reserved for me.And that the decision would be finalised without seeking her counsel. She was enraged.
I looked like a miniature version of her. But none of that enigma in me. Enigma,I learnt is a life-force. A super energy. A form of electricity that animates machines and brings together episteme and techne. It charms and seduces like no djinn can. Its blessing brings rain, health, fertility, happiness, faith. And the most intriguing thing – love. Love and war are escape routes from the rule of law. And law creates Love and War.
Athena was criticised by our priestly class for not being a loving mother. I believed that for a while. As I grew to be twelve years of age, I was being prepared for conjugal life. For which a lot of gold and silver trinkets were bought. Athena did not demand such decoration.She gave me a white crepe dress, tiny diamonds and a palace in Crete. That was going to be a studio. My muse room. This was the invitation to join the legacy of Greek-Macedonian gods. I was now the crown-princess of our sacred kingdom.They now calculated time before and after the crucifixion of Christ. Christ’s words were documented and decorated by Maria’s four sons.
John and Mark were sensible boys. Athena sent John to the Isles of England to preach our authority and glory to the Nords. The Nords are very good fighters, we could use them as allies. The line of Athena began in the words of John, thus, in England. Rumors spread that Athena was looking for new male companions because of gods’ strong faith in Madwoman. The rage of Athena is not to be taken lightly.
Royalty is obsolete these days as courtiers, slaves and other subjects have colluded to demand equality in the eyes of the law, and equal protection of secular (not linked to god) state.They assume strength from large numbers of sick bodies and minds, who can neither fight nor think. They only have to be fed and clothed are likely to switch loyalty at the slightest hint of trouble.
The idea of training for rule from the day of birth doesn’t seem to occur to them. Apparently,this era would be about rule and government of the people by the people themselves. Hogwash! I must prepare for my release and escape at the service of Mark Antony. Lover, friend and prime minister.
Atreyee is an anthropologist and writer. Her anthropological research on time and space in the milieu of industrial decline has been published in various academic journals and in her book Time, Space, and Capital in India (Routledge, 2018). She has written book and film reviews in popular venues like Scroll, EPW and The Ladiesfinger, and is now learning to write fiction.