Ariston


“Ariston – The Pride of Athens” by Alan Smith and Alexis Mantheakis. A stone box containing two perfectly preserved sculptures, a smaller box and a parchment from the classical period of Greece are unearthed by an excavator during installation of new cables in modern day Athens. When the chief archaeologist of the Greek Ministry of Culture is called to the site she is stunned to see that one of the marble sculptures is a perfect model of the Parthenon Sculptures River God, located in the Duveen Room of the British Museum. The ancient parchment unravels a millennia-old mystery regarding the Parthenon.

 

 

The story is set in Classical Greece in the years between 480 and 430BC.  Manos, and then his son Ariston, both Athenians, grow up in a time of ongoing warfare with the Persians and subsequently with the Spartans.

 

The tide of history takes Ariston in its wake, first drawing his father Manos into the war with the Persian invaders of Xerxes, and later, when Ariston becomes a young man and joins the Athenian navy, he is sent overseas to fight the Persian armies in Cyprus and Egypt.

 

The story begins with Manos and his family escaping Athens as Persian invaders sweep across Greece, having defeated Leonidas’ 300 Spartans and supporting Greek troops at the Thermopylae Pass. Athens is evacuated as the Persian army approaches the city. Only a small group of volunteers has stayed behind in order to defend the sacred site of the Parthenon.  

 

Manos fights in an Athenian trireme warship at the decisive Battle of Salamis before finally returning to a sacked Athens and his ruined home. He sets about rebuilding his house and gets into a dispute with a disreputable stone merchant, whose belligerent assistant Taras kills one of Manos’s house servants. Manos wins a court case against the stone merchant who is fined heavily. Taras who has committed the murder is exiled. From then on, the stone merchant and his family swear vengeance on Manos’s family. 

 

Later, Ariston - Manos’s son - finds his life changes drastically when his father is captured by pirates. After years of absence, Ariston’s father is located in the southern Peloponnese, where he is held prisoner by a pirate and slave trader. Ariston sets out to find his father, and brings him back home, but the return trip is followed by sadness and bereavement.

 

Ariston aspires to become a sculptor and to produce great works to match those of the famous sculptors of his time such as Phidias, Myron and Polyclitus.  He becomes a student under the supervision of Phidias, the best known sculptor of them all. Ariston aims to help with the decoration of the new Parthenon that is about to be built under the direction of the Athenian statesman Pericles, and designed by Phidias. Before Ariston can achieve his life’s ambition he and his family are beset with various misfortunes.

 

Ariston’s young love Xanthe is promised to be betrothed to Ariston when he comes of age. It is a promise that has been given to him by her father, but fate takes a hold. Xanthe’s mother dies and her father re-marries an avaricious and cruel woman, who is the only child of the stone merchant. A scheming priest, who is also a spy for the Spartans, finds out that Phidias has contracted Xanthe to be his model for the new statue of Athena, the Virgin Goddess. The priest considers this sacrilegious. He decides that Xanthe must be taken away from public gaze to a remote temple. Xanthe’s stepmother conspires with the priest to allow him to abduct her. When the priest comes to take Xanthe away, Manos’s mother and sister try to intervene, but they too are kidnapped with her and taken in secret by the priest to Delphi.  

 

Ariston continues to search for Xanthe and his mother, but his efforts are interrupted when he is sent away on naval duties. Shortly after he returns he is asked by Pericles to once again travel overseas, this time to take a crew of fellow Athenians on a merchant ship to the Tin Isles - as the Ancient Greeks call Britain – to buy tin for making bronze since Athenian supplies for armaments are badly depleted.

 

While Ariston is away, Xanthe’s father realises the truth about his second wife and that she was responsible for the disappearance of his daughter. She, however, controls his house in Athens and so he goes to live at Piraeus near to his shipping enterprises. His wife sells off all his house servants and rules the replacement ones with cruelty. Before long one of the servants takes vengeance on her, before running away, by lacing her food with poison.

 

Eventually Ariston finds clues in his search for Xanthe and his mother that point to the Oracle at Delphi. The opportunity for Ariston to go there presents itself when Pericles commands an army of Athenians to free Delphi of the Spartan army that has occupied it for six months. Ariston joins the army as a scout and frees Xanthe and his mother, also taking revenge on the priest and his mercenary soldiers. He brings his mother and Xanthe back to Athens. 

 

Now Ariston has the opportunity to fulfill his life’s dream to be a sculptor. He goes back to Phidias who employs him to work on statues for the frieze and pediments of the Parthenon, intended by the elders of Athens and Pericles to be the most beautiful temple in the Ancient world. Phidias, a friend of Pericles, becomes embroiled in political disputes with Pericles’ opponents who accuse him of misappropriating the gold used for decorating the Goddess Athena statue in the Parthenon, and then of sacrilege by depicting his and Pericles’ face on Athena’s shield. Phidias is about to flee to Olympus where he is planning to sculpt the new massive status of Zeus. He arranges for Ariston to take his place in supervising the final decorative work on the Parthenon frieze. Phidias hands Ariston a box containing something very valuable that he has crafted himself, asking Ariston to smuggle it away from the Acropolis and to bury it in a safe location. Phidias intends to return and collect it in the near future, but subsequent events prevent him from doing so.  

 

Finally, in modern-day Greece again, everything points towards an amazing discovery. A wave of excitement passes through the antiquities community throughout the world when the contents of the box handed to Ariston by Phidias unlock a millennia-old mystery regarding the Parthenon and Classical Greece.