*AUTHOR NOTE* Hey all! I recently wrote this for my Ancient Greek Archaeology class. Because it was a mandatory ten page maximum, there are many aspects of the story that I wish I could have delved more into but for the sake of completion, I'll keep it the way it is. I quite like it and I ended up getting a 97% on it (I mislabeled a picture at the end of my story - oops). There is a lot of vocabulary in here that everyday readers might not know, but nothing that quick Google won't fix. Just for FYI, Nikandre's name comes from the Nikandre Kore, which was inscribed with the dedication to Artemis and mentions that the woman who commissioned it, Nikandre, had a sister named Deinomenes.
The Kore Traveler
They say that the bond between sisters is inseparable.
Yet, as Nikandre gazed down at her sister's death bed, she felt as if the entire universe wedged itself between them. Indeed, one could reason that it had. Deinomenes's soul, although her wan and weak body still lay limp on the bed piled with cushions, was no doubt beginning its - her - long journey to the Underworld. So far removed from the mortal world, it truly was another universe. Nikandre, wiping away tears with the back of her hand, hoped that Hermes would be a reliable escort.
A chill had since settled over the house, the sound of laughter and gossip absent from the normally vibrant chambers. If it were any other day, Nikandre's father would be conducting business with other important men in the andron, her mother would be overseeing the daily tasks of the several house slaves. The family was by no means extraordinarily wealthy, but they were better off than most. Instead of the usual commotion of the house, all was somber and silent. While her mother and younger brothers wept, her father sat stiffly in the corner on an ornate chair, his emotions hidden behind a mask of cool stone.
After an indeterminate stretch of time, the women in the room, family and friends alike, began the funeral preparations. The entire night must have passed because Nikandre's limbs were stiff and she couldn't understand how an entire group of people suddenly appeared before her. It was as if she turned invisible; the women flitted around, undressing Deinomenes and carefully cleaning her body, taking great care around her face while others helped carry the bedding and clothes to the hallway where slaves transported the cloth to be burned to ash. Deinomenes's best chiton, brightly embroidered with intricate floral designs, was carefully placed on her now clean body as her limp hair was curled into tight ringlets and her eyelids carefully painted. Nikandre felt sick to her stomach, but she couldn't bear to turn away. This was her sister, her best friend. She had to honor her.
"No," Nikandre spoke out, her voice wavering from sorrow and disuse. "No, not that himation." The woman carrying the mantle, her Aunt Artemisia, paused and looked at her for direction. "Use the darker blue. It was her favorite." Aunt Artemisia left to find the other garment and Nikandre felt a small spark of satisfaction. Her sister was to be honored. She would make sure of it.
After some silent encouragement, Nikandre took over the gentle detangling of her sister's hair, the ivory-toothed comb heavy in her hand. Every so often, she would get a whiff of a light rose scent, left over from the oil dotted behind Deinomenes's ears. She took the heated iron from a slave and wrapped strands of hair around it, steaming the hair into curls. When Artemisia finally returned with the dark blue himation, Deinomenes's hair was perfectly styled and her sister was once more beautiful.
The funeral passed without much unusual incident; all somberly commemorated the young girl, placing food, statuettes, and flowers upon her small marble monument. Following Greek tradition, the women openly wept and tore at their hair to mourn Deinomenes and the family eventually settled into a ritual of a new normal life. Still, despite the elaborate grave and intense feeling of love for Deinomenes, Nikandre felt as if her sister still wasn't being completely honored. Something was off. There was no release of sadness, no closure. Her sister was bound to be lonely despite all of the commemoration. Something had to be done.
Early one morning, Nikandre dressed quickly and grabbed a purse of coins to tie around her neck. She managed to slip out of the cold and silent house, making her way toward the shoreline of Delos without seeing more than a few souls wandering the streets, no doubt preparing for market later that day. Drawing a veil around her face, she walked briskly across the town to a small, earthen building directly on the beach.
Salty air filled her lungs as she took a deep, steadying breath before knocking lightly on the door. She had heard about this local potter, that he was quite skilled in his rendering of small sculptures and charged a decent price. Knocking again, she drew her clothing against the chilly morning breeze and begged the man to answer the door. Just as she was about to impatiently pound on the entryway, the door opened a crack to revel a sleepy old Greek man, clay dried in his wiry white hair and his clothes stained. "I was told you could sculpt?" Nikandre asked timidly, feeling guilty that she woke him up.
"Yes," he answered, eyeing her warily. "What do you need?"
"I want something to honor my sister with so she won't be alone when I can't visit her."
After a few moments consideration, the old man harrumphed and let her into his workshop. "I can do many things out of many different materials. What do you want? I also have a few pieces here already done. Take a look at them." Nikandre wandered over to the wall he indicated and perused the statues, but none specifically caught her eye. They were all too...generic.
Although the man wasn't impolite, Nikandre remained hesitant to approach him fear of being a bother. "Sir? I was wondering if you could sculpt a kore for my sister. She frequently turned to Artemis and Athena for help and-"
"You got money?"
She held up her small purse. "Yes, I'll pay whatever you charge. Within reason, of course," she added quickly, asserting that she would not be taken advantage of.
"Alright, alright. Come over here. Take off your veil. No, just put it on the chair there. Now stand with your feet together. Arms to your side. Yes, just like that. Wait, pull your hair forward. Hmm...yes, like that. Now stand still. Stop fidgeting, I'm trying to sketch you."
"Will this take long?" Nikandre asked, resisting the urge to scratch her nose.
"Not if you stay still," the old man growled, his charcoal scraping against the papyrus.
She stood, knees wobbling, for very nearly half an hour before he beckoned her over with a knobby finger. "I'll take half the payment now and another half at completion."
"How long do you think it will take?"
"Eh...at least a few months. I'll let you know when I'm finished."
After giving the man additional information and half the payment for the kore, Nikandre left the cottage feeling ill at ease. The man hadn't been particularly kind or sympathetic...but he was all she had. Nobody else on Delos sculpted as well as he, and she certainly couldn't travel to the mainland to search for a sculptor.
Nikandre quickly made it back to the house, her purse considerably lighter as she untied it from around her neck. The house was quiet, the slaves only just stirring to light fires and prepare for the day. Nobody had noticed her absence.
More than three months later, Nikandre finally received word that her kore was completed. A letter waited for her at the front door, an invitation to view the sculpture scribbled in chicken scratch by none other than the old man. Absolutely giddy with excitement, she flew down to the beach house and rapped on the door. She practically knocked the old man over in her haste to get inside. Her glee, however, quickly faded when she saw the kore.
It stood about five feet in front of her, a block of marble hinting at human features. Although the man sketched her portrait, the kore looked nothing like Nikandre; instead, its body was flat and lifeless, the badly rendered clothing just...there. The tubular hair held no semblance to her curly tresses. All in all, Nikandre was extremely dissatisfied but she refused to say anything to the man, feeling guilty that all of his hard work was a disappointment. She paid the man the rest of his installment and walked home, dwelling over her predicament.
Her father ordered the massive kore to be installed at the local sanctuary of Artemis and for a time, Nikandre was satisfied. The kore was the best the man could do, she recognized that. However, after one visit to lay flowers at the base of the kore, she broke down in tears. She feared her sister hated the gift, that Athena wasn't pleased either. If Athena was unpleased, would she not stand by Deinomenes? Would Hermes abandon his duty to help her cross the River? Would Deinomenes forever be wandering before the gates of the underworld, miserable and unloved?
She sat crying, her back against the cool marble, as a breeze began to blow. At first she didn't mind it, but then her hair began to tickle her face and her chiton flapped against her legs. She looked up, her face streaked by tiny rivers, as the breeze turned into a gale that ripped through the temple, blowing in leaves and dirt. Standing up was difficult, walking even more so. Clinging to the wall, Nikandre made it to the edge of the temple as a blinding flash of light knocked her down once again.
All was quiet.
Huddled with her face tucked into her chest, Nikandre waited for several minutes before looking up. The wind was gone, the bright light gone as well.
And so was Delos...
She abruptly stood up, extraordinarily confused. Where was she? Nikandre stepped off of the temple and turned in a circle, absorbing the scene of a sprawling metropolis. The elevation was so high she could see in every direction for miles. It certainly wasn't Delos.
Movement to her left caught her eye. A small, tawny owl perched before her gave a trill and hopped off down a path to the left, looking back as if to beckon Nikandre to follow. Intrigued, she did.
The owl led her down a wandering stone path, down the acropolis to the city where the streets burst with life. Thousands of people passed by in all sorts of dress, young and old. Nikandre suddenly noticed that everything, from the newer homes to the fashion style, was different than Delos. In fact, the city almost looked like Athens. But no, that was preposterous.
The owl cooed and nudged her, breaking her out of her reverie. To her surprise, three purses lay at her feet along with a beautifully written scroll, the ink gold and shining. To the wandering soul: you will find your kore. During your travels, inspect each and decide which is to your liking. Stunned, Nikandre turned the scroll over but could find no signature. She picked up the purses and tied them snugly around her neck for safe keeping, tucking the scroll into her peplos.
Seeing this, the owl by her feet screeched and flapped its wings to head off towards a different part of the city. Hurried, Nikandre followed in fear of getting lost. After half an hour of dodging crowds to keep the owl in sight, they finally stopped at the edge of town at a small house. A man, about middle aged, sat outside smoking wistfully.
"Could you tell me what year it is?" She asked timidly, probably sounding idiotic.
"Somewhere around 540. I stopped keeping track awhile ago.
"Right..." her faint voice trailed off in disbelief. Somehow, she had jumped both the sea and 100 years into the future.
The man peered at her. "Something wrong?"
"Oh, no," she quickly recovered. "But...I think...I'm supposed to be inspecting a kore?"
"Ah, yes. The odd young woman with three purses full. I was alerted of your coming. Here, come. I spent a great deal of time on this one." The man showed her to the shop, pulling aside a curtain to reveal a large woman carved out of marble, six feet high. This kore was considerably nicer than the first, but Nikandre took in the attempt at rendering draped cloth, the bulging eyes, the primate-looking feet. While she appreciated the effort, Nikandre couldn't bear to agree to dedicating the kore to her sister.
"I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "I...it...something about it isn't right. It's too...stiff. I'm looking for-"
"Say no more, say no more," the man interrupted, unperturbed. "I was warned you might say no. That's alright. I've already got another potential buyer in Attica."
"Oh. Well, here." She held out one of the purses. "Please, take it. For your trouble."
"Thank you kindly," he replied, sifting through the coins. "My, my. Someone has blessed you dearly, my darling. You stay safe. You and that owl of yours."
Nikandre nodded with a polite smile and sadly left the shop. Immediately, the owl began pecking at her and suddenly she was thrust again into a bright light, her clothing whipping her legs so badly it stung. Unlike last time, when the spell ended, she fell roughly to her knees feeling dizzy. "Are you alright?!" Someone, a young man, exclaimed. He helped her up as she brushed off her clothing, the owl sitting by patiently. "Wait...you're...you're not the Owl Girl are you?"
"You're here for the kore, right?"
"The kore...we received an order for a large monumental kore a number of months ago. We were told a young Grecian woman in outdated dress with an owl would inspect it?"
Nikandre blushed. "I, um...yes, I suppose so. Yes."
"Great." He flashed her a grin. "My name is Hilarion, by the way. Just for future reference. Right this way." Hilarion led her through a curtained doorway to the workshop where a tall, elegant figure gazed down upon her, a slender arm extended. Her clothing and face was brightly painted and she even had tiny metal accents, little earrings that glimmered in the light. She was beautiful. Something still was off. She was almost perfect. Almost. "Thank you very much," Nikandre said politely, handing over the second purse of gold coins. "It may suit my sister very well. I'll be back to let you know if I wish to keep it."
"I'm glad to hear it. And thank you!" He held up the purse. "Life hasn't been as generous as you are."
Nikandre exited the workshop, feeling disheartened. Would she ever find the perfect kore? Did it even exist? The owl pecked at her ankles before flying up to perch on her shoulder.
"What, again?" She moaned, hating the feeling of time travel. "Fine. But this is the last one, you can tell your mistress that." She doubted the owl could actually understand her, but it cocked its head and a whirl of colors, sounds, bright light, bottomless black, desert, islands, cities, farms ensued. Just as soon as they began, the world righted itself.
Nikandre, lightheaded and slightly nauseous, looked around the new setting. She was still in Athens, but it was clear the date had once again changed. It was maybe twenty years later, around 520. The owl excitedly chattered, flying in circles towards yet another workshop. Wearily, Nikandre entered and immediately sunk into a chair.
"Miss? May I help you?" An attendant poked his head out from the side room.
"I'm here to inspect a kore," she recited, the words no longer foreign.
"Ah, Nikandre? Yes, we have a wonderful one for you. Antenor spent months just on this piece alone. Some of his best work. Come, come! Look! I do believe you will be satisfied with the result."
Indeed she was.
This kore was like none of the others she had seen before. Of course, being over a hundred years after her time also helped. The kore was beautiful; the hair was perfectly rendered into tender curls, the chiton and himation the most realistic out all she had seen. She was considerably less blocky than her predecessors and featured delicate detail work on the arms, clothing, and was even inscribed to the beloved Athena. It was perfect.
Elated, Nikandre thanked the man over and over, practically shoving the money into his hands as she wept with joy. She knew her sister and Athena would feel honored with this dedication. As they arranged for the transportation of the kore to the acropolis, the owl, forgotten, nipped at her heels and pushed her to go outside. She obeyed, stepping over the threshold of the workshop in Athens...
...into her room, year 650, on the island of Delos.
She spun around, looking for the workshop. No trace could be found. Had that been real? Surely time travel was impossible, even if by godly intervention. No, it must have been her imagination running amok. She was in mourning. It was said that the mind invents fanatical stories while overly stressed. Still, even though the entire situation was imagined, Nikandre felt extremely calm and at peace. Somehow she knew that her sister was finally at peace, no longer alone in the afterlife.
With a sigh, Nikandre turned to crawl back into bed, feeling as if she could sleep a thousand years.
There, upon her bed, lay a single tawny owl feather.