Aedon's face clouded in confusion and then in disappointment, as he found himself at a complete loss for words.
"You don't know?" said the man. "Pity, a smart lad like you. Come with me, and I will show you."
That afternoon, the old tutor sat fuming in Gryllus' house, waiting in the gathering darkness for a student who did not arrive. Aedon and I had trudged to the agora with the strange old man, and spent the rest of the day there with him and his followers. The boy's education as a disciple of Socrates had begun.
ANTINOUS WAS A hulking youth, shoulders as broad as a temple column and as solid. Legs like tree trunks supported a thick torso quite unlike the artistic ideal, but the effect was not uncomely: His abdomen was the same circumference as his chest, lending him a stolid, almost sinister aspect considerably more unnerving than that of the sculptor's favored triangle-shaped taper. Though he was by no means tall, his girth seemed to lend him height beyond his actual endowment. This was complemented by a head and face in keeping and proportion with the rest of his build: a heavily ridged brow and jutting jaw, though not to exaggerated effect; and a nose of a surprising length and evenness, surprising, I say, because of his profession, which more often yielded a proboscis laying crazily to the bias, or one with odd bumps of cartilage skewing its balance.
The twenty-two-year-old athlete's expertise was pancration, the all-in, no-holds-barred wrestling that combined kicking, boxing, and strangling. The sport was fanatically popular in Athens, though of an incredible brutality-favorite maneuvers included breaking the fingers, kneeing the groin, or twisting a knee out of its socket. There was a whole series of moves devoted to strategic thumb insertions. Biting and eye-gouging were forbidden, but this rule was only sporadically enforced. Antinous' skill at the sport was such as to have once earned him a temporary exemption from military training, during which he had worked with the city's most renowned athletic trainers in a bid to win the laurel crown in this event at the Olympic games. Unfortunately, he had been disabled only days before the event when a clumsy servant girl spilled a pan of sizzling oil on the back of his right shoulder, disabling him for months and leaving a profoundly ugly, puckered pink scar, as broad as a man's hand. Despite a daily application of salves and poultices, the skin had never healed properly; the scar tissue had thickened and periodically cracked, like a horny callus on a foot, seemingly stretched too tight for the area it covered. Its extreme sensitivity precluded him from ever again becoming a champion wrestler, and this blow to his aspirations hastened his return to common barracks life-but not before catching the expert eye of Gryllus.
If Aedon was the son that Gryllus was surprised to have begotten, Antinous was the one he felt he deserved, and shortly after the wrestler's return, Gryllus, a former pancration athlete himself, hired him at a stupendous fee to visit the house thrice weekly to supplement Aedon's regular gymnasium training. A makeshift sandpit was constructed in a little-used back courtyard separated from the rear alley by a crumbling stone wall, and this became Aedon's small circle of torture whenever Antinous visited. Stark naked, they practiced, wearing only stout leather thongs wrapped around their fists to protect the thin skin of the knuckles, the boy's pale, hairless body contrasting harshly with Antinous' scarred, heavily muscled torso.
At first the athlete's training methods stunned Aedon-the conditioning exercises alone were enough to crush any mortal. Antinous stretched the boy's tendons and muscles to a point that left him gasping in pain, to just short of actually tearing the tissue, his vision blurring as he struggled to keep from fainting; Aedon felt as if his skin were being ripped like poorly woven cloth. Weight training left his triceps and pectorals quivering spasmodically, as Antinous taunted and cursed him.
"One more, you sniveling ass-wipe! My nine-year-old sister could press more than that. Push!"
Aedon would collapse on his belly during push-ups, the dust from the pit mixing with his spittle to form a dirty ring around his anguished mouth. Antinous would stand straddling him, lifting him from above by the chest, forcing him to do yet more push-ups with only three-quarters of his body weight, then with one-half as Aedon's arms weakened further until finally, at the point of complete muscular failure, the boy dropped flat again. Three minutes' rest, then another set of the same, and another, until he was unable even to rise, but lay panting and drenched with sweat, glaring at his trainer with hate-filled eyes while Antinous leaned against the wall, absent-mindedly scratching his bearish chest.
I performed the exercises with him, both in a show of solidarity and to strengthen my own limbs, but Antinous ignored me, a mere slave, and Aedon did too-this was a battle he preferred to endure alone. At night, after Antinous had left and Aedon had recovered somewhat through my careful massage of his tortured muscles, he would rail at his father's cruelty, to my calm protests as to Gryllus' genuinely good intentions. Aedon swore he would stay in the house not a day longer, that he would run away as soon as he was able to stand again-but the next day, as his burning muscles began to heal, he relaxed his determination to defy his father and simply set his face grimly to survive the next session.
Several months of such efforts left little visible effect on his body-he was still the slight, somewhat pretty youth he always had been-but considerably improved his tolerance for pain. When Antinous was convinced that the conditioning was beginning to have the desired effect, he advanced to the next stage: actual training in pancration.
For this he brought a helper, his younger brother, two years older than Aedon. This boy was much thinner than Antinous, and though strong and rangy, he lacked his sibling's rugged handsomeness. More simian in appearance, already showing a coating of dark body hair and a coarseness about the jaw line, he had long, swinging arms that draped almost to his knees when relaxed. The boy's brain was addled-his eyes stared dully, he spoke only with great effort, and he was forever sporting a foolish grin, despite the quantities of loathsome epithets his brother would rain down on him for his slowness and stupidity. Antinous refused even to call the lad by name, as if he considered him too stupid and animal-like to deserve one-he referred to him simply as Boy, seemingly unwilling even to acknowledge the blood relationship. At heart, Boy was a peaceful enough sort, believing his sole mission in life was to please Antinous, whom he followed like a puppy. He had little talent in the more refined techniques of the martial art; still, he was fast and strong and had assimilated enough to be dangerous, and he was useful for humbling beginners. As Boy pummeled Aedon unmercifully, Antinous watched with a critical eye, flogging them indiscriminately with his "donkey-beater," the stout rod used by referees to separate clinching opponents. On one of Gryllus' short leaves from his duties, he asked to view a session to gauge his son's progress. He instructed Antinous to do nothing special, but to conduct the training in the usual fashion, while Gryllus sat quietly on a stool in the corner of the courtyard. Aedon glanced once at his father, then glowered and pawed the sand, bracing himself for the signal to begin sparring.
At the clap, Aedon stepped gingerly toward his opponent, and after two swift feints dove quickly in at Boy's knees in a two-legged take-down. The bigger boy sprawled, throwing his feet out behind him to deny Aedon a grip on his thighs, then leaned the weight of his torso on Aedon's shoulders, flattening him on his face into the sand. Antinous flogged Boy on the back to stop the match and disgustedly motioned for them to get up. Gryllus watched impassively.