Jan 10, 2017

How The Journeys Of Democritus Began

“Who built the pyramids father?” asked the 13 year old Democritus.

“We don't know yet” replied his father.

Father and son were sitting in their cabin next to the window looking out onto Eygpt, where, on the horizon, the triangular monuments were like mountains sticking out from the countryside. This was the first time Democritus's father had brought him along on a trading expedition.

“How can we not know yet?” asked Democritus

“Well, the Egyptians say it was built by the God Kings of Egypt back when Gods ruled Egypt.” Said his father with a grin. Democritus gave a little snort. The 'gods as real' was just a primitive belief. It was understood in Abderan high society that anyone who believed that the Gods walked among them or did at some time, rather than seeing Gods & Goddess as the product of mankind's fertile imagination, was living as the primitive hunter gatherers who one could observe in the wilderness if they went deep enough inland.

His father continued, “Maybe one day you will be the one to find someone in Egypt who really knows who built those pyramids and why” with a smile on his face.

“One day I will go to the Egypt and learn everything there is to learn about the pyramids. Al it's secrets.” said Democritus with a passion.

“Sure you will” said his father with a snort. “Now get back to your lessons”.

The next day young Democritus went to the market in the city square, a short ride by ox cart from the port. Like Greek ports this one was also made of stone with round stone anchors offshore to anchor one's ships. Yet nearby was a primitive fishing village using nets made from river bed reeds to catch fish. Small wooden boats that could barely hold 4 people off the shore stuffed with 6 to 7 young fisherman and one older man who was probably their leader or teacher. In Egypt the primitive and civilized (those with advanced technology) lived side by side. So while the Egyptian Pharaohs and Egyptian merchants, trading with the approval of the pharaoh, had properly rigged ships with sails and oars to speed a boat along, the regular Egyptians seemed to live on a bare subsistence level with boats that looked like a child made them and were just barely afloat with their top edge just a few inches from the water. Clearly the Greek city system was better and the wealth difference between citizens was not so desperate to create such a visible peasant and ruler class. On the other hand, there was no concept of Citizenship in Egypt. Everyone was a vassal of the State. Of the Pharaoh in particular, as the Son of a line of Gods who were said to rule Egypt since time immemorial. This Democritus knew from his lessons but to see it in real life was stunning.

The market stalls were made with wooden poles and straw thatched roofs. None were of stone or mud brick so they weren't meant to last, not like the ones in the Greek cities. The houses of people themselves were small dwellings made of mud bricks with a portion of the home uncovered. Each home had a section that had a straw thatched roof which probably kept the home cool and people seemed to sleep right on the roofs of their homes or in other open spaces where there was no roof. They had colored their walls a bright red and some had designs or other such artwork on their walls. It was a striking sight in the Egyptian sun to seek red mud brick houses stretching out from one end of the nile basin to the other. Clearly, the Egyptian peasants had developed a way of life that revolved around the intense Egyptian heat, being right next to a desert.

They worked all day in the fields with the oxen doing the heavy lifting. Ate bread the size and thickness of Democritus's thigh and slept under the night sky. Democritus could imagine that this really had been the way of life of the Egyptians for thousands of years just like their guide had told them. The best part was that no matter how far back they went, or so they were told, the Nile flowed the opposite way than rivers in Greece! Rather than North to South, the Nile flowed from the South to the North with no slope to speak of. It was a mind numbing sight where everything they knew about how the world worked from childhood had been turned on its head. Democritus couldn't help wondering where the Nile went and what secrets it held. By evening they were back on the ship with the sights and smells of Egypt swirling around Democritus mind like he had just witnessed a dream first hand. That was Democritus's first visit to Egypt.


The voyage lasted for months. Democritus visited many ports. He learned about coins and trade and measurements to make trade fair (where applicable). He learned the basics of 4 languages. Phoenician, Egyptian and Persian. His basic education in trading almost complete, he and his father and two brothers began to make their way home. This trip was for the males of the family as they were expected to take up the family trade. When Democritus hit 13, and his brothers Heraclitus and Xenophane, 11 and 15 respectively, their father had decided it was time to train them in the ways of life. That's why this year-long voyage had been taken.

When they got back from their trip the house was empty. Apparently his mother had taken his sisters and gone to the little village in the mountains where she had come from. So his father packed off his sons to their mother's village for the summer and went off into the city to spend his money the way men of his status were used to spending their wealth... in the pleasure houses designed specifically for men.

Democritus and his brothers then spent an idyllic summer in the small town of Unbara which was uneventful except for one incident.

It happened the night of the full moon. His mother and sisters had been acting mysterious all week and while his brothers were satisfied with the explanations they were given young Democritus was curious. Thus it happened that in the dead of night, when he was supposed to be fast asleep, Democritus heard the front door open and close. He looked from the window and saw his mother and sisters going off into the forest. Democritus woke up his brothers, told them what he saw and they snuck out behind them.

It was a night Democritus would never forget. They had followed his mother and sisters into the forest where they, and a bunch of other women from the village, were dancing around a fire. He and his brothers stared shocked from the bushes out of sight and out of range of the firelight. They saw his mother, who was apparently a high priestess of the group, sacrifice a male goat on an altar made of stone. Thereafter his saintly mother and sisters, with a few dozen other women from the village tore apart the male goat limb from limb and literally ate him piece by piece while he thrashed around on the ground. The covered themselves with it's blood and danced some more round the fire. Then his mother declared “we have eaten of the flesh of Dionysus and drunk of their blood. Now we have awakened the Divine Light within us and are part Divine as well”. Then everyone fell on the ground trembling as if seized by a mighty force.

The sight scared the brother so badly they ran home as silently as they could and never spoke of it again. They knew just one thing. This mother was a part of the primitive religion so derided by the male rulers of their city that if they said anything they might get in trouble or worse, they would get their mother and sisters in trouble. The Cult Of Dionysus, the dead & resurrected God who his followers could become one with by eating his flesh and drinking his blood, mostly represented by an animal but some said included humans as well. Not only was this considered to be a primitive cult it was also very embarrassing to be related to anyone who believed such things. So they stayed silent. But from this experience a desire to explore other cultures and discover what they believe was born in young Democritus. Clearly there was a side of Abderan society that lived in secret and if there was one in Abdera then there was one everywhere that shaped society o\in some way. Democritus already knew in what way this cult had shaped his own society based on his observation of his brothers and father and uncles when they were scared and worried... they got overly emotional just like their mother and raved nonsense just like his grandmother. This emotionality must be the other side of man's psyche since he was brought up by the females, thought Democritus. Did every society have it's secret cults influencing it's men and thus the destiny of civilization?

He was to get that opportunity soon enough under the saddest of circumstances. When Democritus returned from playing a game of Aprrhaxis (a game consisting of keeping a ball made of a pigs bladder continuously bouncing for as long as they can) he was called to the inner chambers of his mother.

“Democritus”, said his mother with tears rolling down her face,” your father's ship has failed to return. We fear he is lost at sea.”

“I'm sure he'll be fine” Said Democritus feeling a little fearful, “he probably just caught held up in some port.” this made his mother cry harder.

“Democritus”, said his uncle Crosus, “two men from your father's ship returned this morning. They said they had been attacked at night by pirates. They barely escaped with their lives.”

Democritus’s heart fell. Then he felt like a huge vacuum opened up within him and he felt lost and helpless. “No, he will surely make it back” Democritus exclaimed.

His father didn't make it back. Democritus didn't remember crying before as much as he did now. The hole his father's death had torn within him simply got bigger with time. The family mourned for two weeks and then began dividing up the property amongst the eldest sons. Democritus being 14 at this time qualified as a man and got his share. He put some money in the family business, some into an olive farm his brother has taken over as his livelihood, took the rest of it and left Abdera for Egypt the next morning. he just couldn't bear to look at anyone in Abdera anymore. Everywhere he looked he saw his father or some memory they shared. He had to leave. Thus began the journeys of Democritus.

[Note: Democritus was a noted Greek philosopher who is said to have written over 60 books, none of which survive today. It is said Plato so disliked Democritus that he wished he could burn all his books but that would be impossible given how common his books were. Democritus is more commonly seen as one of the inventors of the concept of "the atom" (though our modern concept is a little different in specificity) and is generally called an "Atomist" when referring to Ancient Greek philosophers]

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