The king squatted on his folded legs in the usual manner of nomads. His leather trousers were tightly drawn against his sharp knees. The bracelets, ear-rings, and chest ornaments that he wore, sparkled in the light of the torches. Thick carpets covered the earthen floor. They also hung down from the walls, leaving free only a bit of sky in the opening above the hearth.
The newcomer, dressed in modest loose-fitting garments looked lost amid this barbarian magnificence of ornaments and clothes. His long hair, barely touched by grey, was tied with a linen band. His widely-placed eyes looked round him in dismay.
"Who are you?" the king asked. The words had the sharpness of a whiplash. But Anacharsis did not start or lower his eyes. Indifference gripped him. His memory carried him back to the marble city on the shore of a warm and tender sea. There, too, they had not understood him at first. His voice was like that of a wounded animal or the babbling of a brook. Someone in the crowd that had stood round the platform on which slaves were sold, listened to the sounds of his foreign speech. Someone examined his clothes curiously, and commented on his appearance. Never before had Anacharsis encountered such insulting indifference, such undisguised dislike — not even among the Greeks, for whom he had no name, for whom he was simply the Scythian.
The Scythian — that was how he was called for years, until Cleomenes, son of Alcaeus, who had come as a guest from another Greek town, entered his slave quarters one day.
Anacharsis had helped him carry baskets filled with objects that looked like pieces of birchbark. Those were scrolls of papyrus, the existence of which he had not even suspected before.
"Take care," the talkative Greek fussed. "Don't spill my Pittacus (Pittacus, ancient Greek philosopher of the 6th century B. C. He rose from the midst of the people. He is known for his laws and his ten years' rule in the city of Mytilene in Lesbos). Before he circulated among the sages, Pittacus had been turning the wheels of a mill. His laws were born in the grinding of millstones, and are, indeed, no less necessary than bread. Put him here beside Thales (Thales, ancient Greek philosopher of the 6th century B. C. Born in the rich city of Miletus. Thales believed that all things originated from water). Thales's scrolls are a little moist and touched by worms, but wisdom does not fear time. Yes, yes! Wisdom fills this basket." "How can wisdom fill baskets?" Anacharsis asked.
"What did you say?" the guest asked in surprise, for he had not counted on co- herent speech from the moody barbarian.
"I said that wisdom cannot be locked up. It wants air, the flight of birds, the smells of grasses."
"Very interesting!" the Greek mumbled. "And who do you think has the greatest wisdom?"
"Wild beasts," Anacharsis replied. "Because they live as nature willed."
"And who are the most just?" the Greek asked. "Wild beasts," Anacharsis repeated. "They prefer nature to law."
"And who are the bravest?"
"Wild beasts," Anacharsis exclaimed unruffled. "They are the only ones who die bravely for freedom. And second to them I would name my own people — the nomads who inhabit the steppeland north of the Black Sea."
"What did I hear you say? Are you Scythian?" Cleomenes asked.
He knew people in Athens employed Scythians in place of wild dogs. They figured them useless for any other job. Yet the barbarian destroyed this opinion.
The acquaintanceship between the Greek and the Scythian could have ended right there, as thousands of other accidental encounters. But the immortal gods wished to tie Cleomenes and Anacharsis with a bond of friendship.
Cleomenes for- got all about the purpose of his trip, and sat for hours in the slave's hot little chamber, where he learned of a world whose existence the Greeks did not even suspect.
The barbarians, it turned out, had their own Homers who spoke of combat with monsters, and their own Aesops, who created parables about animals. As for Anacharsis, to Cleomenes he was the Scythian Thales.
Cleomenes bought the slave Anacharsis and took him to Cyzicus on the Propontis (Cyzicus, an ancient Greek city on the Sea of Marmara (the Propontis). Trade with the Black Sea coast was the source of its wealth). The people of Cyzicus took pride in the fact that a certain Aristeas, believed to have been the teacher of Homer and writer of the poem about the Arimaspeans, a mysterious northern people, was born in their city. Having read Aristeas, they were accustomed to all sorts of incredible things, like the parables about the gryphons guarding gold, and about travellers who turn into wolves.
In the beginning, the Scythian and his philosophy astonished the people in Cyzicus more than Aristeas had ever done. They questioned him intensively about his father, his grandfather, and his tribe, and mistrustfully examined the tatoos covering his chest and shoulders. Then, after making sure he was a Scythian, not a Greek in Scythian disguise, they permitted him to come before their citizens' assembly.
By that time, Anacharsis had understood what the Greeks, those who were thoughtful, were troubled about: they were disappointed in the possibilities of a sensible arrangement in life, because every man thought of his own advantage rather than the good of the state.
That was why they questioned him: perhaps, they thought, other peoples, those who had no large cities, no temples and theatres, no gymnasia and no prisons, were different?
"Yes," Anacharsis had replied. He told the Greeks about the ingenuous nomads who took pride not in w ealth but in archery, for whom the soles of their feet served as footwear, the earth as bed, and the dome of the sky as temple.
He had told them of those who were content to eat cheese and meat, to drink running water and milk. He had censured the lust for luxury that was the mark of the Greeks. He had said luxury enslaved people and stripped the wisest of laws of its sense because the rich tore up the laws like a spider's web, while the weak and poor were caught in them like flies, and died.
That day was long remembered in Cyzicus. By a special decision, the citizens' assembly made Anacharsis one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece. He was awarded a wreath made of the branches of the wild olive tree said to have been planted by Aristeas himself.
But for Cleomenes this had not been enough. He took down the parables and utterances of Anacharsis. The thoughts of Anacharsis, laced with Cleomenes's own reflections on the nature of wisdom and the wisdom of nature, spread to other Greek towns.
That was how fame came to Anacharsis. A short while before he had no name, now his name was ranked alongside those of Pittacus and Thales. People did not believe he had recently been a slave, and said he was the brother of a Scythian kingcome to the Greeks to teach them his laws. There were those who used the name of Anacharsis as a shield, peddling their own thoughts for his. In Corinthia, a potter called on people to divide the wealth of the rich among themselves and establish a "kingdom of Anacharsis". He was stoned to death.
Soon there were more people wanting to see the Scything sage than visitors of the Kysik temples. Among them were men from Cyrene, Tarentum, and Massa. all craving for wisdom.
The grateful populace elected Cleomenes to the city council. Also, honours unheard-of for a barbarian were showered upon Anacharsis. A bronze plaque beside the town hall announced that the Great Scythian, as Anacharsis was officially named, would be awarded a statue of honour.
Soon, crossing the town Square, Anacharsis saw his double made of Procon- nesus marble. The sculptor had portrayed him in loose-fitting trousers and a robe, which Anacharsis had long since slopped wearing. The folds on the forehead and the expression of the eyes conveyed the breadth of thought that so delighted the Greeks, a breadth that was akin to the wide-open steppes, and his love of Nature, ihat source of reason and justice.
Anacharsis had not enjoyed his popularity. He had been tired of the admiring whispers, and the reverent obedience of his students. He had begun to believe that justice did exist among Scythians as he depicted in his addresses. He yearned for the steppe...
"Who are you?" the king asked once more.
Anacharsis squared his shoulders.
"A Scythian like you," he said proudly. "I have not forgotten the speech of my fathers and am still a good archer."
"And what is that?" the king pointed at the clothes of Anacharsis.
"Yes. I am wearing a Greek tunic," the sage said. "But even birds change their feathers in a foreign land, and the land they return to gives them shelter and food."
"We Scythians have no wings," the king retorted. "Papai did not teach us to fly. Papai gave us the steppe and showed us how to walk and ride horses." (Papai, a Scythian deity, father of gods and people).
"I climbed mountains," Anacharsis said dreamily. "From up there you feel equal to the gods."
A murmur of resentment arose among the Scythians. They waved their hands in terror. Not to hear the sacrilege, someone put the palms of his hands to his ears.
"The mountain gods, like the people who live there, love freedom," Anacharsis forced himself to say.
"What freedom are you talking about?" the king said contemptuously.
"The freedom that bears wisdom. Could I have been a wise man here? Does anvone here need wisdom?"
"You are right," the king nodded. "We need no Greek wisdom. Ever since alien stone encampments appeared in the estuaries of our rivers, we are sold wine and the golden cups we wear on our belt. But cross our land from the Ister (Ister, ancient name of the Danube) to the Tanais (Tanais, ancient name of the Don) and you will find no Scythian who would agree to give the point of an ar- row for any alien wisdom."
A mutter of approval filled the tent.
"We live by our own wisdom," the king continued. "It bids loyalty to the laws that the gods have given us."
He emphasised the words "our own". And Anacharsis understood that he could not expect forgiveness for having come from an alien land and having sacrificed to alien gods.
The trial continued all night. Anacharsis could no longer distinguish the faces about him. All he felt was the hostile glitter of the men's eyes. He heard voices that were as creaky as the wheels of an old bullock cart. He could not breathe owing to the stench of sweat. His Scythians were no less of a fraud than the Arimaspeans of Aristeas — a fraud born from his yearning for justice and hatred of deceit.
At dawn. Anacharsis was led out of the tent. Tall, broadshouldered, he stepped into the open, raising his long arms. He was followed by two of the warriors who had drawn lots. They were to carry out the sentence. This seemed to bother them. It is an honour and joy to kill an enemy in battle, but not when you took an unarmed man's life. Anacharsis inhaled the fresh morning air greedily. Dragonflies flew about amid the grass. Golden eagles soared high up in the sky.
Anacharsis felt like a fledgling that had just fallen out of the nest. He had come back to his native land like birds return to their old nests. But the steppe had rejected him. That moment he realised that the law by which he was sentenced to death was created by the steppe itself, boundless and changeless. The steppe was accustomed to a continuous change of grass and of human generations. Laws created under other skies were alien and hostile to it. And anyone who found meaning in them was an alien too.
He saw hills in the distance. They stood clearly outlined against the morning sky. They were man-made hills — burial mounds of Scythian kings. Only the dead enjoyed recognition and glory in this land. That, too, was a law of the steppe.
Ukraine & Crimea Private Tour Guide Sergey Tsarapora