XXIV

You might know this one: A leonine Greek boy - before an Egyptian oracle called him the son of a god, before he conquered an army that was conservatively three times the size of his own - marched his army across a bridge to conquer the island stronghold of Tyre. This bridge, extending nearly 1 mile off-shore into the choppy Mediterranean, was the real wonder, not their victory. I’ve never been one to enjoy the History Channel, but this is the stuff that over-wrought and under-funded specials are made of.

Many of you will have read the myths; a reader tastes the salt and iron of Actaeon’s bitter terror as he is torn apart by his own hunting dogs. A great many may have studied the histories, trembling with anticipation at the antics of the politician whose passional speeches were more suited to a Pentecostal megachurch than the Roman Senate (“How much longer, Cataline, will you abuse our patience?”).  And for the precious few who have spent the better third of their life to-date studying Latin, these people, real and imagined, take on the psychic proportions of the characters of fable and Mother Goose rhymes.  So when I tell you that I have a man crush on Alexander the Great, I ask for you to reserve judgement.

What I really mean to say is this: As a Classicist, I never imagined India would be the first part of his empire that I’d set foot in.

* * *

A day is not so long, and in twenty-four hours I will be seeing a new night sky, vaulting over the billion souls who call India home.  I remember a certain illusion I broke five years ago when I went to Ecuador, the lie that somehow in a foreign country the air will be different, or the colors more cinematic; it had been years since I had travelled farther than the Iowan homestead, and so even my memories of a foreign country - that is, any foreign country - had taken on the slightly rosy hue more appropriate for lover’s musings than Polaroids. But the air is just as flat, and the colors perhaps even more monochrome, eradicated by the ubiquitous Ecuadorian dust and thin equatorial sunlight.

I have two images of India, and only one with me in-frame.  The first is built from years of movies and National Geographic, of brilliant colors and imagined spice markets.  The second may be humorous to the reader, but it’s quite terrifying to me; the popular term would be “too real.”  In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a scene cuts to the elderly curator Marcus Brody wandering in a three-piece suit in some anonymous Middle Eastern marketplace, asking passers-by, “Does anyone here speak Ancient Greek?”

Unfortunately, where I’m going, the last people to speak Ancient Greek died with that narcissistic Greek boy.

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