PERICLES AND ASPASIA

(Previously “The Adventures of Pericles, Greek Hero”)




by


MICHELLE BURGESS




















THIRD DRAFT

NOVEMBER 2009

© MICHELLE BURGESS, NOVEMBER 2009

2221/178 Grey Street, South Bank

Brisbane, QLD 4101, Australia

Ph: 0405 565 838

Email: michelle.burgess@uqconnect.edu.au



1. INT. HALLWAY. DUSK.


Two female slaves whisper in shadowy hallway.


SLAVE 1

He’s even weaker today. Eaten nothing since his son Paralus died. 

SLAVE 2

He has no agonies, gangrenous limbs…? the thirst…?


SLAVE 1

This disease takes master

differently. Settles on him like an evil mist.  She said that it was his final most-wretched calm.


         SLAVE 2

            Well she’s always at him…


Another slave carries a water-jug past them. A brightly-clad messenger rushes past him.  Bedchamber door swings open.


2. INT. BEDCHAMBER. DUSK.


Curtains sway at window, revealing acropolis in distance.  Pericles’ robed friends, who have been moving about, freeze. Folds of their gowns bounce against ankles, taking interminable seconds to come to rest.


                      MESSENGER:

(He clears throat, addresses curtained bed)

            Message for General Pericles:

            The assembly has voted. Your

remaining son is granted citizenship!


Murmurs of relief among friends.


OPTIMISTIC FRIEND:

            Did he hear?

 

PESSIMISTIC FRIEND:

            Is he still conscious?


Behind bed-curtains, Pericles(60) lies gaunt, stiff.  Beads of sweat run down his nose to lips.  His smile becomes a grimace. He licks the sweat, pokes out an arm.



PERICLES:

Water.

 

Slave fills his cup. Another slave raises cup to his lips. 


PERICLES:

            Lift me up. 


They fuss, trying to help him into sitting position. Frustrated, he waves them away then stares through window at acropolis.


3. EXT. ACROPOLIS AND VICINITY. DUSK.


Brightly-painted Parthenon. People seem tiny praying far below the stern face of Athena’s statue. The Erechtheion’s gentler females-as-columns (Caryatids) overlook city.


Optimistic Friend (O.S.):

A good omen. To the greatness of Athens, add one more son! 


On doorstep far below acropolis, a mother comforts her crying son.  Parched men shove each other out of way to drink at public fountains, pushing corpses away to make room around the fountain-mouth.  Skinny cats scamper from the fountain down an alleyway past more piles of corpses.


        Optimistic Friend (O.S.):

Pericles, you’ve spread democracy.  More voting gave us more choice.


Pessimistic Friend (O.S.):

You chose the best time for war.


Optimistic Friend (O.S.):

The Spartan slaves may yet revolt. You’ll surely recover.


Pessimistic Friend (O.S.):

Don’t leave us with a war half-done.


Optimistic Friend (O.S.):

You rebuilt this city. Led the way

in so many battles… 


4. INT. BEDCHAMBER. SUNSET.


PERICLES:

Phidias built it. Cimon won more war-trophies. Why talk of the deeds of others or deeds which owe so much to fortune, and leave my greatest achievement unsaid?


FRIENDS (together):

            What’s that? What does he mean?


Pericles’ eyes search room until they rest on a woman.  She’s not dressed in the customary white.


PERICLES:

No Athenian ever wore mourning clothes because of me…  


ASPASIA gasps, rushes to him.

ASPASIA

            Enough!  Are you mad?


He whispers something inaudible in her ear then falls back.

ASPASIA (V.O.) credits run

They called Pericles ‘Olympian, first citizen of Athens’ and many called me ‘First whore’. His name means ‘Surrounded by glory’. Mine means ‘Embracer’. I can squeeze like a snake. (beat) Let me tease out our story.(beat) His was an auspicious birth.

            

5. INT. SAME BEDCHAMBER. NIGHT. 


Pregnant woman stirs. Wind wrestles curtains. Through window, acropolis is in ruins. Woman dreams…


6. EXT. FIELD. NIGHT.  (DREAM SEQUENCE)


Curling branches of olive trees amid wheat become dark strands of hair which shorten, lighten, thicken lion-like. 

  Child: (O.S.)

             Mummy!


Lion runs off, its haunches morphing into an actor’s mangy cloak. 


7. INT. ACTORS’ DRESSING ROOM. NIGHT. (DREAM SEQUENCE)


Actors prepare for a play, strapping on high shoes and masks.

Child: (O.S.)

             Mummy, Mummy wake up!


8. INT. BEDCHAMBER. NIGHT. 


Pregnant woman gasps awake.


9. INT. SAME BEDCHAMBER. (30 YEARS LATER) DAY.


PERICLES:

Mother, are you ready?  It’s time.


AGARISTE:

Pericles here - for your first production. Put this on.


She offers a lion-shaped amulet.


           AGARISTE:

It belonged your great-uncle. ‘The royal one’. Go on. No-one will see.


PERICLES:

Get away from me! The gods have already seen.  Mother, don’t!


10. EXT. THEATRE. DAY.

         

Pericles(30) stages a play: The Persians. Principal characters attend.  Agariste, seated in audience, surveys crowd. Beside her is Pericles’ wife PHAEDRA(18). She looks shyly at Pericles. He sits up front with playwright AESCHYLUS(70), who shakes head, scowls at actors’ overacting and goofing off.  Crowd is boisterous.


Aeschylus

Damn it, Pericles, it’s a tragedy, not a comedy!

Pericles

Enemies’ tragedies will always amuse.

Aeschylus

Laughter won’t save our friend.  If we want to save Themistocles from exile, we must remind them of his courage. 

PERICLES

Why not let me dedicate this performance to him, praise him then?


AESCHYLLUS

The gods would be angry. They’re our true audience. 


PERICLES

            But gods don’t vote.


AESCYLLUS

Gods don’t need to vote.  They simply fix elections.




Agariste stiffens when she sees Aspasia(20) in audience. Wearing chipped queen-mask as necklace, Aspasia chats with PHIDIAS. CIMON and CALIAS yawn, smirk. Crowd periodically whoops, boos.

CIMON:

            Is everything in place?


CALIAS:

Yes, brother.  It’s high time we educated this voting rabble.  Free honey-cakes’ll sweeten the lesson.


Agariste shushes them and the crowd. 


Onstage:           Persian Queen-mother:

Say, where in all the world is a city men call Athens? Why did my son crave to have it?


PERSIAN ELDER:

Because, Queen, if Athens were his, then all Greece would obey!


QUEEN-MOTHER:

Has Athens such men, military, such wealth? What master holds them together?  What shepherd’s rod drives the herd?


ELDER:

            To no man living are they slaves.


QUEEN-MOTHER:

Un-kinged, unmastered, how can they endure our attack?


LEADER:
      Methinks our King and his armies know how.


MESSENGER enters:

O Pain!  Salamis is crowded with dead Persians. Salamis, hateful name! I groan remembering Athens.  Thirty to one we were, yet some dark demon weighed us down. Those gods protect their own Athena’s land. And help their generals.


Off-stage, Aeschylus winks at Pericles. 


Onstage:              QUEEN-MOTHER:

            How first began the battle?



Messenger:

Some fiend, Greek-seeming, drew near to Xerxes and whispered in his ear…


11. EXT. HILLTOP OVERLOOKING SALAMIS BAY. DUSK.


Persian King Xerxes sits atop a throne, watching the bay.

Guards approach, dragging a bruised, cowering figure.


XERXES:

            Another Greek turn-coat?  Speak!


GREEK:

            The Greeks will flee tonight.


Xerxes:

Tell all captains to man the boats! Now! Guard the narrow-ways. They’ll not rob me of glorious victory by slinking off!


12. EXT. PERSIAN BOATS ON SEA. NIGHT.


Overseer cracks whip; rowers pick up pace. Oars churn the water. The sea’s lapping rocks boats. Overseer cracks whip, momentarily waking dozing rowers.  Overseer yawns. Sea laps. Rower wakes to see overseer snoring at helm.


13. EXT. SALAMIS BAY. SUNRISE.


Greek navy embarks with a deafening clamour, attacks, ramming ships, setting fire to others. Themistocles(30) leads charge. Persians, including overseer, drown or are killed clambering ashore.  Beach-tide froths blood-red. Greek women laugh, taking Persian oars as souvenirs, baking bread on them.


14. EXT. HILLTOP OVERLOOKING SALAMIS BAY. DAY.


Watching, Xerxes tears at his robes, his hair.


15. EXT. THEATRE. DAY.


Onstage:                 Xerxes:

Incompetence! Execute all captains! Let’s go. Quick! Bring the caravan.


A dog runs onstage, disrupting scene.





16. EXT. OUTSKIRTS OF ATHENS. DUSK. (Flashback)


Pericles(10) watches workmen rebuild city walls using stone-scraps: tombstones, statues, potshards. Pericles helps find stone, carrying more than he can easily manage. He wanders home with stick, dog, humming tune. Houses, Acropolis in ruins (no Parthenon yet). Reaching home, he hears parents arguing indoors.


17. EXT. OUTSIDE PERICLES’ HOUSE. DUSK.


AGARISTE: (O.S.)

Ten years exile! Hopeless, useless man, no husband, you… dog!


Pericles sits on doorstep, scratching dog’s chin. His father, XANTHIPPUS, exits.


XANTHIPPUS

SonI have to leave now.  Watch over your mother. Don’t be too harsh but don’t let her… You’re too young. I’ll return soon. Study hard, son. Listen to Themistocles. 


He stalks off. 


18. INT. PERICLES’ HOUSE. DUSK.


Son runs inside, crying.  Mother glares at small queen-mask on wall, whole body clenched.  She throws her cup at mask which falls to floor.


19. EXT. GARDEN, PERICLES’ HOUSE. DAY.


ASPASIA (V.O.)

All agree he was a brave child…


Pericles(15) kills snake (which has scared his tutor DAMON) with wax tablet, breaking tablet.


ASPASIA (V.O.)

And studious.  With many uncles…


Tutors Damon, SOCRATES fluff about. Damon takes books from Pericles, gives him a flute. Socrates takes flute, blows making rude noises, gives Pericles back book. Another ‘uncle’, THEMISTOCLES enters, frowning.


THEMISTOCLES

Time for your history lesson.  From the horse’s mouth, not its arse!



ASPASIA (V.O.)

Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis. We all knew these stories. They were our oil: for cooking, washing, for rubbing in. They ended well.                        


Themistocles:

(sonorous like John Kerry)

Pericles, evacuating Athens was hard.


20. EXT. ATHENS’ HARBOUR. DAY.


Shore is thick with people crowding onto boats.  A mother can’t find her child. A man has to leave behind his father’s chariot. Hasty farewells as boats embark leaving behind the old, the sick, animals. Two old codgers check out the chariot.


21. EXT. ON THE SEA. DAY.


Someone notices a dog swimming alongside the boats.


SOMEONE:

Heyisn’t that Xanthippus’ dog?


Xanthippus comes forward, recognises him.


         XANTHIPPUS:

There boy! Good boy! You can make it.


Boats arrive on beach. Dog swims onto land, shakes water off then shudders and dies.


22. EXT. GARDEN, PERICLES’ HOUSE. DAY.


Themistocles shows Pericles, Phidias the Salamis battle with wooden model-ships on a mapped-mosaic floor.


THEMISTOCLES:

Delphi said wooden walls would save us. I thought those charlatans wanted to sell timber or false hope then it struck me --ships! Our glorious wooden ships!


Themistocles and Pericles sail off Athens’ coast. Pericles laughs with pleasure. Themistocles shows how to navigate using landmarks. They look back at city.


Themistocles:

We must rebuild Athens. But if we do, how could we desert her again? We’ll need another strategy.


ASPASIA (V.O.)

He had many uncles, plus one fast friend… 


Having carved wooden statuettes, Phidias and Pericles(12) want to show Agariste. Running to her rooms, they’re told to wait but don’t, and find another ‘uncle’, Calias, dressing. Pericles faints, his first episode of ‘falling sickness’ (epilepsy).

ASPASIA (V.O.)

Back then, most thought Delphi could be trusted…


23. EXT. DELPHI’S MOUNTAIN-TOP LAIR. NIGHT.


Torchlight reveals inscription above entrance-arch: ‘Know thyself’.  Cloaked traveler enters lair. Inside, another inscription: ‘Nothing in excess’. Caged children, animals doze, shriek, whimper, growl.


PRIEST:

(Dick Cheney look-alike)

Greetings, Calias. Nothing in excess eh? Including moderation.


Calias:

From a moderately reliable source… Athenian settlers will arrive soon for advice.

PRIEST:

We’ll know just where to send them.

To Megara!


24. EXT. ATHENS’ MAIN GATE. DAY.


Man and granddaughter, Aspasia(10) enter city. Wide-eyed girl runs ahead, pointing at builders, scaffolding.  Man gestures for her to come back, behave.


ASPASIA (O.S.)

We also came to love Athens, her new hopes. Exiled fathers returned…


25. INT. Pericles’ house. DUSK.


Xanthippus returns, enters wife’s bedroom. Shouting.


ASPASIA (O.S.)

and some went off again to easier victories”.


26. EXT. ATHENS’ BACKSTREET. DAY.


Pericles(20) meets Phidias.


PHIDIAS:

Your father’s victory in Mycale’s the buzz all over town.  We’re invited to a party at Agathon’s.  Yes,that Agathon won the prize last year. No, you can’t refuse. I’ve already accepted for us both.


They walk there, kicking stones to each other. Knock. Door opens.


27. INT. AGATHON’S HOUSE. DUSK.


Inside, Aristophanes(40), Socrates(50), Aeschylus(60), Ephialtes(50), AGATHON(30) converse, reclining on couches.


AGATHON:

But you never step in the same

river twice.

EPHIALTES:

  Bah! how can water change?

Either a river is made of water,

or not-water. It can’t be both.


AGATHON:

Proving only that our senses

  are unreliable.


EPHIALTES:

Bah! So this can’t be Pericles and Phidias, as my senses comprehend, but a lion and a peacock. I’d rather talk politics.  That we can change!


Peacock is presented on a platter by a naked boy. More strange food follows, including purple eggs; wine is ceremoniously diluted, then skulled. They play drinking games, trying to hit targets by flicking wine dregs from cup. Music. Aspasia(16) dances Salome/Salma-style, blowing a double-flute. Pericles is entranced.  Although others talk, laugh, the music and her twisting body, her full lips saturate Pericles’ senses. Phidias elbows him.  A new game’s proposed: who can best explain Eros god of desire.

ARISTOPHANES:

(recovering from hiccups)

I’ll start. [To boy:] Bring pen and papyrus! First, (hic) you must learn about human nature what’s happened to it.  Long ago, our nature wasn’t same as now, but quite different. Look.


He starts to draw two stick-figures on papyrus. Listeners huddle closer to watch.


ARISTOPHANES:

Humans were spherical, with back and sides forming a circle. Each had four hands, four legs. Each head had two faces looking in opposite directions; four ears; two sets of genitals.


His stick-figures become animated on the page, rolling, brandishing daggers etc as story requires.






























                    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4paSMqKYXtY






ARISTOPHANES:

They walked upright but when they ran fast they rolled like tumblers doing cartwheels.[laughter] These early humans were remarkable for their strength and violence. Ambition led them to attack the gods. Zeus and others discussed what to do: couldn’t kill them all like they had the giants the worship and sacrifices

gods get from men would disappear.

Zeus had a plan: cut them all in two. They’d be weaker and twice as useful, walking on two legs. If they still misbehaved, he’d lop them in half again let them rattle sabres hopping on one leg! So Zeus bisected humans like someone slicing eggs with a wire…


He demonstrates with egg, offering half to Agathon to eat. Aspasia listens at door. Return to animated stick-figures.


    ARISTOPHANES:

After each cut, Apollo turned each

face towards its cut-side so it’d see the split-part and be less cheeky. He also gathered the loose skin around what’s now called stomach, and like purse-strings, he tied it with a knot. Voila - the navel! Since their original nature had been cut in two, each one longed for its own other half, and to unite with it, they would embrace, wanting to reform a single thing, so they died from hunger and general inactivity because they didn’t want to do anything apart. Zeus took pity and modified his plan. Until now their genitals were at the back. No sexual reproduction had occurred…


He points to back of naked serving boy.  Phidias exclaims, raises hand to query… but Aristophanes puts finger to lips, silencing him.


ARISTOPHANES:

Before they had sprung up from the earth like cicadas.


Phidias settles back on couch, satisfied, bemused. Aristophanes returns pen to his stick-figures.


ARISTOPHANES:

Zeus moved the genitals to the front to be used for reproduction: the male in the female. Idea was that if in embracing, a man chanced upon a woman, they might reproduce and the human race would continue. If man chanced upon man, they would at least have the satisfaction of sexual intercourse then relax, turn to their work, think about other things. That’s how, long ago, the innate desire of humans for each other began. Eros draws the two halves of our original nature back together, tries to make one out of two, to heal the wound in our nature.


AGATHON, PERICLES, ET AL:

Bravo! Socrates must go next.


Socrates response is interrupted when Cimon arrives late, drunk. Aspasia rushes off to help bring more wine.  Cimon surprises her in back-alleyway, throws his cloak over her, tries to embrace her.  She escapes his grasp, scratching his forearm. He kicks her shin. She says Oww!


28. EXT. POTTER’S QUARTER. NIGHT.


Calias and henchmen stand behind a table, offering voting-lessons. Table is stacked with cakes shaped like letter ‘Theta’. 

CALIAS:

Athenians nothing to be ashamed of, not being able to write. Here, have a honey-cake. See their shape? If you want to exile Lyppus, this is his letter. Practise scratching it. More cake? Let’s see your letter? Be sure to show your friends.


Citizen 1:

What if I wanna exile Themistocles?


CALIAS:

Why would you do that?  He’s such a fine, proud Athenian.


Citizen 2:

What if I don’t wanna exile anyone?


Calias:

Then you should have voted that way last month. Give back those cakes!  Not exile? It’s your god-given right! 


Citizen 3:

He slept in. Here gimme two cakes ‘case I forget by morning.


Citizen 4:

Another for my wife, ‘case she eats mine.


Ephailtes’ servant watches, grabs two cakes, runs off. He is seen.


29. INT. EPHIALTES’ HOUSE. NIGHT.


Servant shows Ephialtes the honey-cakes.


             EPHIALTES:
Go at once to Themistocles and Pericles!  Show them, tell what you saw.  We’ll meet in the agora, early before first cock crows.


Servant nods, departs. (Kind) Ephialtes goes to bed. Figure with dagger creeps into room, stabs him. He takes a theta-honey-cake from bedside table, eats it on his way out.


ASSASSIN:

Two honey-cakes in one evening. I’ll grow fat from this work.


30. EXT. ALLEYWAY. NIGHT.


In alleyway, he wipes then slides dagger under Ephialtes’ servant’s corpse.


31. EXT.ATHENS.DAY.(Chronological from here on.(I promise)


Donkey-cart hauling fruit, jars, clothing lumbers through city-gate along Panathenaic Way into Agora, passing graffiti praising (or defaming) Themistocles, Tyrant-slayers’ statue,  Laws inscriptions, colonnaded Stoa. Cart stops behind market stalls. Aspasia emerges from under clothes, springs down, hides under stall-table. She has view of agora.

Aspasia: (V.O.)

Being foreign, it’s easier to be out of doors. But, being female, often one has to make special arrangements.


Vermillion rope held by slaves rounds up citizens to vote. It’s stain on clothes is a source of shame. One man, stained while tying sandal, curses. Others dodge rope.


Pericles:

Come Athenians! If you are not concerned with the business of the city, then you have no business here.  Hey have you seen Ephialtes?


Many shrug him off.  Some shake hands, congratulating him on his new marriage. Under table, Aspasia eyes him greedily, watches him talking with Themistocles.  Both look around, agitated. Phidias runs up, shares his bad news, they stagger, shocked. Standing by water-clock, Herald blows trumpet.

HERALD:

Voting for the ostracism begins on the new hour: Themistocles or Lyppus? Come. Take an ostracon.  Scratch the name then deposit in a voting funnel.


Stall-holder is banging table-top above Aspasia’s head.  He’s ready for ‘payment’. Aspasia sighs, reaches inside his robes.  A customer arrives when he’s near orgasm.


CUSTOMER:

Are you sure these figs are fresh?

 

Vendor nods furiously, taking short breaths. Cimon and Calias walk by the stall. Calias fingers fabric.


Cimon:

You explained the mix-up to Ephialtes?


Calias:

He got the point.


32. EXT. DIFFERENT PART OF AGORA. DAY.


Pericles:

You speak to the people in Ephialtes’ stead.

Themistocles:

Pleading for myself would be shameful.


Phidias:

Pericles you do it!


Pericles:

(gulps)

Alright.  Let me gather my thoughts.


Pacing, heart thumping, Pericles mutters to himself.


PERICLES:

“Friends, Athenians, countrymenNo.  Unaccustomed as I am toNo…”


Themistocles confers with herald. Herald steps forward, blows trumpet.

HERALD:

In Ephialtes’ stead, Pericles, son of Xanthippus, wishes to speak.


Aspasia looks up.  Customers, stall-holders look. Citizens turn to see Pericles step onto rostrum.


PERICLES:

Athens needs Themistocles. He fought for us at Thermopylae, Marathon, Salamis. What more should I say? That should be enough. His strategy evacuating Athens, fighting at sea with our mighty wooden walls saved us!  We trusted him. Many here rowed with him when we walloped those Persians!  Now as we rebuild, perhaps we recall what we lost when Persians overran our city. Well that’s just stuff.  Athens is made up of its men! Let’s look forward to a golden age… Perhaps Themistocles’ presence reminds us of a time we were afraid, more than we wish to admit. Some say he’s out-of-touch, arrogant, proud. Athenians, he has cause to be proud. You should not exile but honour him!  I won’t say much about Lyppus. He’s another friend of my father’s… Listen, I’m against this practice of ostracism.  I know, years ago it might’ve been useful to get rid of tyrants or leaders of warring factions but there’s no war here, no tyrants here.  Let’s ostracise no-one today.  Athenians, I ask you to vote by leaving your ballot blank!


Crowd murmurs.


HERALD:

Does anyone else wish to speak? [Silence] Let voting begin!


Voting begins.

Citizen 5:

Pericles, write Themistocles on my ostracon. My eyesight ain’t so good.


PERICLES:

I will if you say why you want to exile Themistocles.


Citizen:

I’m sick of hearing him praised.


Pericles scratches ostracon, tosses it into voting funnel.  Inside vessel, this theta falls on top of many other thetas. Cimon taps Pericles on shoulder…


CIMON:

             Nice speech…