Early autumn in Sparta, just before daybreak. The full moon in Taurus looms low and large in the western sky, followed, at a distance to the south, by Orion’s bright dog, Sirius. Beneath the moon, almost invisible in its nimbus, the Pleiades and fainter Hyades can just be discerned as they make their cosmic exits, signaling once again the onset of the rainy season and the time to sharpen the plowshares. (The rain falls due to the Hyades’ grief for their brother Hyas, killed on a hunting expedition.) Perhaps Greece is peaceful at the moment, or perhaps there is a war on, as usual, or an invasion from the east. In any case, it can wait. Now is a time for song.

All night along the little tributary of the Eurotas called Mousga, the Spartiates have eaten and drunk among the soughing of the plane trees and the shadows of the tombs, hero-shrines to the sons of Hippocoön. The tomb...


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