The Beginning of a Classical Tragedy

Part 1 – The Journey to ETS

The old captain and his crew had been retired. They had sailed many journeys and brought back great tribute. But he had been succeeded by Maximus Rudderless the young-faced commander so popular with the people. The citizens waited in great expectation. This commander had a new crew, although many had been recycled from previous campaigns. They also had new maps that they believed would lead them to new sources of bounty to benefit the people. Off they set in their trireme anxious to begin their adventures.

To begin with things went reasonably well, though of course they were still in well-charted waters. But even the new captain knew they would soon be in unknown territory as they set sail for the fabled land of ETS. He was loyally supported by his able lieutenant Julius Feminus and whilst the captain plotted his course Julius walked among the oarsmen to keep their spirits up.

The oarsmen at first appreciated her attention but when they started asking about their destination there were murmurs of discontent.

“No one has ever been there before,” one cautioned.

“Then we will attract great acclaim by being first,” Julius responded.

“I have heard,” ventured another, “that ETS is so far away and the waters so dangerous that it is unlikely that it will be worth the effort.”

“Have faith in the great Maximus. He knows what he is doing.”

But as Julius walked away the rowers shook their heads and the despair in their minds caused them to slacken off their efforts and to murmur quietly to each other. Discontent was brewing in the crew.

Julius worked hard in support of the captain. And the job was quite difficult. You see there was an imbalance between the rowers on the left side and the rowers on the right side. This imbalance made it difficult to steer the boat in a straight line. Julius often had to cajole a rower into taking a turn on their least preferred side and whilst it was initially manageable it seemed to aggravate the discontent. And in the meantime the ship meandered aimlessly across the ocean.

What’s more many of the oarsmen weren’t experienced rowers at all. As a result they got blisters on their hands and often tired quickly. They had managed to be selected for their positions because they had been members of the Rower’s Benevolent Society and some had attended to the affairs of previous generations of oarsmen or they had been related to an oarsman of the past.

Loyally, Julius reported to the captain that there seemed to be some dissension in the ranks. His response was to abuse his lieutenant and accuse Julius of distracting him from more important things. “This trireme,” he ranted, “under my stewardship will bring us a glorious future founded on our journey to ETS (expletives deleted). Now don’t distract me. My cabin attendants and I are busy plotting the path to glory.”

Julius was dismayed. The captain always seemed to be in the thrall of his cabin attendants. “But with respect, captain, how do your cabin attendants know how to get to ETS?”

This unleashed another furious tirade. “How dare you question my advisers? Some of them have heard of ETS, some of them have read treatises on ETS and some of them have seen copies of ancient maps showing its location. What more do you want? (expletives deleted again).”

As Julius walked the decks of the trireme it was obvious that disgruntlement was on the increase. Some of the more experienced oarsmen were saying, “Why is the captain taking so much instruction from his cabin attendants. They are so inexperienced and know little of the world. We might not have gone to ETS, but we have been on long journeys and know something of the travails and how to cope with them.”

Some of the oarsmen with meritorious service put down their oars and went to talk to the captain. But the cabin attendants wouldn’t let them in. This caused great consternation among the oarsmen.

The next day when Julius again went to see the captain, Julius was accused of insubordination and disloyalty (expletives deleted). Dismayed, the captain’s lieutenant did the rounds of the deck again. The experienced oarsmen were muttering and growling.

“What is your concern,” she asked.

“We know more than his cabin attendants about how to go somewhere useful. Why doesn’t he listen to us?”

Julius could find no way to answer this question.

Finally the experienced oarsmen came to Julius and said, “Enough – this has to stop. The captain disputes your loyalty and he has no inclination to heed our advice. Let us be rid of him!”

Julius Feminus was greatly disconcerted by this prospect. The second-in-command went again to the captain.

“The crew are disgruntled,” Julius ventured. The captain was furious.

“They are only disgruntled because you are disloyal and feeding them misinformation (expletives deleted).”

Julius protested that this was not the case. But her protestations went unheeded.

When Julius returned again to the deck the senior oarsmen said, “Enough is enough is enough!. We must be done with this surly commander who won’t take advice and treats us like fools.”

And so it was that Julius Feminus, with the crew supporting her, mutinied. Maximus protested but could not withstand the concerted efforts of his lieutenant and the crew. In an act of grace, after successfully implementing the coup, Julius Feminus allowed him to take a position as an oarsman on the upper deck in deference to his high status.

Even though the trireme had not really got very far (probably due to the fact that the left leaning rowers and the right leaning rowers had successively dominated, resulting in the ship going round in circles) they were forced to go back home to reprovision.

The people were dismayed to see that Maximus was no longer captain.

“Why has this occurred they asked.”

“It was because a good ship had lost its way. There needed to be a change of leadership.”

“If we reprovision you, where will you go? We heard on that last journey you set off for ETS. We are not in favour of such a risky journey.”

“No ship that I command will ever go to ETS unless the people agree,” the captain replied.

Somewhat reassured, the people said, “Very well. We will agree to reprovision you, but as a precaution we want you change some of your oarsmen. We will replace them with others. You and your new crew will need to agree on your journey and where you want to take the ship before you leave the harbour.”

“Who are these new rowers?”

“Well the first group is a handful of provincial fellows who are popular in some of the outer districts.”

Julius protested, “But they won’t be able to row. Their only experience is with small boats.”

“Never mind. You must take them. That is part of your contract now.”

“And who are the other group?”

“Well, they are something like pirates. They have been harassing ships and preventing them from doing commerce for some time. They know a bit about rowing and their leader is particularly skilled.”

“I suppose I have no choice.”

Thus the die was cast.

Before leaving harbour Julius hammered out agreements with the new crewmen.

Firstly they had to deliver gold to some of the remote coastal islands to satisfy the provincial fellows. But Julius and the pirate captain would not initially reveal the outcomes of their discussions.

After the gold was distributed the ship made for the ocean. Julius’s new lieutenant, Cygnus, went to seek the captain out. There she was in the bow of the ship with the pirate captain alongside.

Cygnus approached and said to Julius, “Now we have delivered the gold, the crew wants to know where we are headed.”

Julius gritted his teeth and said determinedly, “We sail for ETS!”

The pirate captain laughed uproariously.

6 Replies to “The Beginning of a Classical Tragedy”

  1. Are no decisions better than the occasional wrong decision? The system where the rowers choose the captain and the citizens choose the rowers and the citizens have no idea what makes a good rower is clearly flawed. Ignorance and fear rule the day. It is hard to beat a good dictatorship run by a benevolent dictator. I have heard you add to this Ted, “As long as I am the benevolent dictator”, and that is the real problem with this model, finding the right dictator. So I guess we are left with our current slow and cumbersome monster of “people power”. Let’s all pray we never have to make a truly critical decision in a hurry.

Comments are closed.