Here it is – the second of my two pieces concerning historical women. I learned about Olympias during my Ancient History GCSE; she was a fascinating woman who had a lot of influence over the way in which Alexander perceived himself and others. She was part of the Cult of Dionysus and associated herself strongly with magic and religion.
Olympias sits alone tonight, with only the tame serpents entwined around her calves for company. The chariot of Apollo races beyond the horizon until she is bathed in the fading twilight. Torches flicker below, flaming brightly as Philip weds Cleopatra Eurydice.
She has not shared a bed with the king for weeks. It gives her a rebellious thrill to discover that she no longer wants to. Philip can rot in the Underworld, she thinks with vehemence, along with his new bride. Let them kiss and caress and copulate there. They do not matter, have never truly mattered. It is only Alexander who matters, the child conceived of a thunderbolt, born in the name of Zeus.
Oh, how she adores him! He is a beautiful boy – a man now, truly. Although he shares his father’s strong build and sandy hair, she sees enough of herself in his melting gaze and soft features that this is counterbalanced. He has the heart of a lion and the keen eyes of a hawk, but his temper is that of a man. He is like the oceans of Poseidon, deceptively calm on the surface, yet a violent churning vortex lies beneath. Perhaps this is how he draws so many men to him, soldiers and poets alike. He is magnetic, charismatic, and he makes her so proud. He is destined for greatness; barely a day goes by that she does not tell him so.
She remembers the expression on his face as it was after Chaeronea, the defeat of Thebes and Athens. She could see his triumph in his eyes and in the determined smile on his lips. His cocky confidence was marred only by a twinge of relief. His reputation had been validated. He was extraordinary.
Of course Philip ruined it, in his own special manner. She could have slayed him where he stood for belittling her precious, precious son. How dare he resent Alexander, how dare he presume himself to be her son’s equal. Philip loved glory in all its forms; Alexander earned only the highest, purest victories. Philip refused to accept that Alexander was learning, that he was adapting Philip’s strategies and tactics. He refused to accept it because he was afraid.
Nothing gives her more pleasure than making Philip frightened and uneasy. She surrounds herself with magic and partakes in the most powerful rites. He cannot touch her. At her command, serpents attack, women dominate beyond their status and, soon, a prince will become a king.
She settles back in her chair, eyes closed, finally at ease and deep in thought. She hears the echo of footsteps along the passage outside her room, like the rhythmic beat of war drums. If it is one of the drunken revellers from the wedding, she will set her snakes upon him. Disgruntled, she opens her eyes.
Alexander stands in the doorway. There is none of his usual bright demeanour. His fists are clenched, his jaw is set and a vein is throbbing at his temple.
“Your Majesty,” he says, head bowed and voice surprisingly even. She sits up straighter and offers her outstretched arms, and her son flees to her. Disregarding the serpents, he rests his head against her leg with a sigh of: “Mother.” She places her hand upon his head soothingly.
“What is it that troubles you?”
“He has… he has betrayed me, Mother.” She does not have to ask. She knows precisely who he means.
“He has betrayed us both, my child.”
“Attalus asked the gods that Philip and Cleopatra might bear a son to inherit the throne,” Alexander tells her bitterly, “He thinks me a b*****d and I accused him as such, and-”
“And?” To her chagrin, Alexander blushes.
“I threw a cup at him and called him a villain.”
“What did Philip say?”
“He took Attalus’ side over mine. The way he looked at me… Mother, he would have run me through.” Her hand, smoothing his ruffled locks, pauses. Her long, slender fingers curl, scratching over his scalp. Alexander continues with his tale, “He made to lunge for me, but he fell. I said it was a shame that the man who makes preparations to pass out of Europe into Asia is overturned in passing from one seat to another.” Her grip on his hair tightens with every word.
“Mother, you are hurting me,” he mutters reproachfully. She releases him sharply, his head rocking forwards with the force of the action.
“We cannot stay here,” she murmurs, as though in a trance.
“What do you mean? Where would we go?”
“Alexander, it matters not. I long to see you become king. I long to see you rule over a mighty empire. None of this will happen if Cleopatra bears a son.” She sees how his eyes smoulder with ambition and desire. Her son has always preferred the conquering of lands over that of maidens.
“Hush, my child. I will see to it. Do not concern yourself. Now return to the festivities. Are your companions there?”
“Then behave as you naturally would. Drink with your future generals.” He smiles. He has the most prepossessing smile, she marvels. No wonder he is accompanied by so many of these companions.
“Thank you, Mother.” He gets to his feet, adjusting his robes, as immaculate as ever. Then he bends down to kiss her cheek.
“I love you, my child.”