Aeacus

In his time, the man was renowned for his stalwart probity. He was a just administrator of the island of Aegina, settling disputes without falling prey to the corruptions of power and privilege that gnaw at lesser men. He was a real mensch, and so the gods called upon him.

Aeacus was sipping tea in his garden, having finished a simple meal of apple slices and cheese. His young son Telamon sat at his feet, tying the cats’ tail together and ignoring the slashes of their claws in his chubby flesh. There was a flash, a rush of sea spray, and Aeacus went knees over head into a pot of oregano.

“Honored Aeacus!” roared Poseidon.

“Noble Aeacus!” sang Apollo.

The cats yowled and Telamon threw them against the wall. Fearing the lad’s rambunctious nature might displease the gods or, worse, land one or both of them in holy trouble, Aeacus told Telamon to go frighten his mother. The boy went, picking up the tethered cats and dragging them hissing down the hall.

Aeacus removed himself from the oregano pot and dusted the brown soil off his bottom. “My gods, you honor me. How may I serve you?”

Poseidon spoke first. “We are going to build a wall, Aeacus.” His gills flapped imperiously.

“The grandest wall the Earth has seen, or will ever see,” said Apollo.

“The wall of Ilium,” said Poseidon.

“The wall of Troy,” said Apollo.

“That’s very nice,” said Aeacus. “Walls forged by gods do not fall.”

“Just so,” said Poseidon. “And you shall help us.”

Had Aeacus still a teacup in his hand and his tea not splattered across his toga, he might have spat it out right then. As it happened, he drooled a bit and emitted a shrill, “Hmm?”

“I shall craft the east face,” exclaimed Apollo, “and Poseidon shall build the west. You, Aeacus, shall build the south wall.”

There was a quiet, awkward moment in the garden. Aeacus felt with every pious part of his being that he should go to his knees and thank the gods for their blessing. Instead he swayed on his feet and said, meekly, “I don’t know how to build walls.”

“It’s just one wall,” said Poseidon.

“The ‘grandest wall,’ though,” said Aeacus. “I don’t think you’d want someone like me to-”

“Do you presume to know the thoughts of Olympians, O mortal man?” shouted Apollo. His voice rang so loud that several clay pots broke and then fell screaming from their alcoves. On impact they exploded into tiny, sobbing fires.

“No,” said Aeacus quickly, getting on his knees and doing obeisance to the gods. “No,” he repeated, his nose in the dirt, his hands splayed over his exposed neck. “No, sirs, not at all, nope.”

It was several years before the walls of Troy were complete. Aeacus spent the first year journeying throughout Greece to study under the finest stonemasons and architects. Then it was another year in the planning and financing stages. Aeacus secured loans from Thebes and the eastern isles for the mortar and slaves. Poor weather and a slave revolt in the third year stalled the construction. The fourth year was wracked by plagues of varying mortality. In the fifth year, Aeacus fell from a scaffolding and nearly died. He broke both legs and most of his fingers and it hurt him to say the word “No” for many months, resulting in another year of rebuilding when he regained the ability to disagree with the corner-cutting slave union. Finally, in the seventh year, the wall was nearly finished.

However, one night Apollo and Poseidon got into a drunken argument over whose wall was better and released three dragons to settle the debate.

The dragon sent against Poseidon’s wall died on impact.

The dragon sent against Apollo’s wall burst into flames.

The dragon sent against Aeacus’ wall crashed through the bricks, stomped over the sleeping masons, and destroyed the city on the other side.

Apollo and Poseidon could not decide which of their walls was greatest but they both agreed that the third dragon was a clear omen that Aeacus’ descendants would be the ruin of Troy. The old man was asked to gather his things and return to Aegina, to acknowledge his immutable fate, and to leave his gods’ blessing at the front desk of Troy – the only structure still standing after the dragon had torn the city to bloody, flaming pieces.

And – not because he was pious, not because he was ashamed or fearful or baffled or contrite, but rather because he had expected this handful of years to end in (more or less) this exact fashion – he did.

This is why Aeacus is today immortalized in the constellation of ‘the good sport.’

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