Under the midday sun in the marketplace, people were bustling, merchants were competing, and the elegant marble fountain was bubbling. So Cyntisthenes, sitting alone on the stone steps with his chin resting on folded hands, looked decidedly out of place. To Mardysseus, he seemed outright dejected.
Mardysseus approached him. "My good friend Cyntisthenes, why the grave expression?" he asked, sitting down beside him. "Are you deep in thought?"
"I suppose," Cyntisthenes sighed. "No matter how deep I dig, I find no answers. Only a heavier burden of impenetrable darkness."
"Perhaps what you are seeking is not a light in the darkness, Cyntisthenes, but rather something that must be revealed by bringing illumination to the darkness. Shall I not try to shed some light on your dilemma?" Mardysseus smiled.
"If you seek to waste your time, I won't make you waste any more than you have to," Cyntisthenes replied. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a moment before continuing. "What is love, Mardysseus?"
"There are several kinds," Mardysseus responded. "Is it my love for you as a friend? Is it the love of a mother and her child? The love between two brothers?"
"And why do you ask, dear friend?"
"I feel like I am broken, or some curse of bad luck has fallen upon me, and I am either incapable of feeling love or forbidden from receiving it. My parents do not love each other. My friends speak of women only in terms of keeping score and physical attraction. In turn, the thread-spinning women, and the women washing clothes at the river, speak of men only in terms of their material possessions and social status. I'm starting to believe that there's nothing metaphysical or transcendent about love at all."
"Hmmm... well, before we continue, we must get one thing straight: do you not feel sadness over the loss of a good friend? Over a family member? Do you not care deeply for their well being, as they do yours?"
"I do," Cyntisthenes responded with a nod.
"Then you are not incapable of feeling love, as it were. You are not a psychopath, or sociopath, and you are not broken, lest you would not be so distraught over your present situation," Mardysseus patted him on the back. "So what would you rather be the focus of the discussions; the people you overhear speaking about relationships?"
"Well, it was my understanding, Mardysseus, that romantic love wasn't just about appearance, or money, or power, but about appreciating the morals and virtues and talents that somebody possesses. Having beliefs in common. Obviously there is no perfect match for anybody, but these aspects are completely forgotten it would seem in today's society. It's all so shallow and superficial. Even artificial."
"Have you any evidence, Cyntisthenes?"
"In fact, Mardysseus, you must know about the epidemic of women marrying just so they can be divorced, and in an ill-gotten fashion they take half of their ex-husband's wealth and property? And custody of any children? And you must know that the number of men committing adultery is at a height never before seen in our State, do you not?"
"I am aware of both these things, Cyntisthenes," Mardysseus said frowning. His voice dropped very low. "It troubles me greatly."
"If love is such a strong and integral bond, then certainly people who say they were in love could not be so flippant? The ultimatum my wife delivered me last night is that if we don't start seeing each other more often then she will cheat on me. How does one say something like that, after years of saying that she loves me? How does one see his wife more often, and at the same time work to provide her the wealth and status she desires?"
"I am sorry, Cyntisthenes. It appears to me that you fall in love with the person, of which beauty is only a part of. I cannot answer for your wife, as I do not know her, and it is right to stay out of your private affairs. However, do you not grasp the rarity of what you're asking?"
"Cyntisthenes, beauty - if we're talking of the natural blessing - is unearned. In a society of undisciplined boys who want only sex, they will give up whatever it takes to get it. And so a woman of fortunate looks can go through life on them alone until their age catches up. At which point the woman, who is not spiritually developed, is uneducated, and has a bad personality, will be doomed."
"That would explain why most of the young women I know are an absolute bore outside of the bedroom," Cyntisthenes remarked, and Mardysseus laughed.
"There's that sense of humor."
Cyntisthenes smiled weakly, but was still obviously pre-occupied and depressed. "What is one to do, Mardysseus, but give up?"
"I cannot blame you for losing hope, my friend. You are young. These negative experiences are all you have known for your whole life, starting with your parents, and reflected in your friends and romantic interests. Even in media. It comes as no surprise to me. But it may come as a surprise to you that, when I was your age, things were very different. People were initially attracted by beauty, and status, it is true. They fell in love with the person, though. Their qualities, in spite of their flaws."
Mardysseus got up.
"Before I go, I will leave you with this. Romance is partly chemical. It has its shallows. Those who know not how to swim, will never go and explore for deeper meaning. You seek beauty not only externally, but also internally. But those who know they are beautiful on the outside, will rarely ever have to improve their minds and souls until it is too late. You do not ask for too much, Cyntisthenes. Every man deserves a woman beautiful at every level, just as every woman deserves a man who is not only of high wealth and status, but who has attained that wealth and status by living rightly, and greatly. You do not ask for too much. You ask for what is, unfortunately, becoming less and less common, to the detriment of us all. And your options are to either search to the end of the earth like the last Barbary lion looking for a worthy dame, or to throw away your chances and set your current situation in stone. Your fate may very well be the same, regardless of which you choose."
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