Visit Ancient Persia, Greece, and North Cyprus with Clearchus of Soli

by Jessica I. Jones - Date: 2006-11-05 - Word Count: 1128 Share This!

Tour the Hellenistic remains of Soli in North Cyprus with Clearchus, a student of Aristotle. As he will tell you, he had a most interesting life.

â€"Greetings, friends. I am Clearchus of Soli. I was born about twenty years before Alexander the Great defeated King Darius of Persia.

As we walk along the colonnade, imagine the agora as it was, filled with vendors of goods from all across the eastern Mediterranean and from the farthest reaches of the Persian Empire. You would see Greeks in white tunics, Phoenicians and Jews in their brightly dyed wool, Persians in embroidered garments. You would hear Greek and Punic, Aramaic and Persian, and old farmers chatting in the ancient Cypriot tongue.

Turquoise and gold jewelry came from Egypt, fine pottery from Greece and Ionia, places I could learn about from my tutors. But, silk from China, and cotton from India were sold here, and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. How I longed to see those places!

Cyprus was then a Persian property. Wealthy families, like my own, taught their children to speak Persian. I learned to speak it well, because I knew in my inmost soul that I would travel there some day.

Do you see the remains of the fountain? Our elders would sit there, shaded with umbrellas, and offer advice to those who asked. One of the elders was a Jew, named Hyperochides. He spoke good Greek, but never ate from the market place because his diet had religious restrictions.

I was very young when I went to Athens to study under Aristotle. Alexander of Macedon was conquering the world. Aristotle had been his tutor, and some of Aristotle’s older students went with the army to record the history of Alexander’s campaign and to send back reports of the plants, animals, and people they encountered. I cannot tell you how much I longed to be with them!

All too soon, Alexander died. Athens turned on Aristotle, as a symbol of Alexander. Rather than drink hemlock, he left Athens, but he died very soon.

I left Athens, too. Alexander’s generals were already quarreling, and it seemed to me that our dreams of a better world had died with him. The great visions we young scholars had entertained, of a single world, ruled by philosophy, where all men and women lived in peace and harmony, where science flourishedâ€"these dreams were being swept away by jealousy and greed. The world was plunging into chaos, and I despaired.

Philosophy saved me. I went to Delphi, to ask what to do. While I was there, I copied all the maxims wise men had written in that holy place. I carried them with me until I died.

When the generals divided Alexander’s empire among them, Stasanor of Soli got Sogdia and Bactriaâ€"these are now in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan. Because he wanted people around him he could trust, Stasanor sent to Cyprus for clerks and administrators.

What a proud day that was when we young scholars and scribes of Soli gathered to board ship for Syria and points east! Garlanded with flowers, we walked through this agora to the waiting ship. Imagine the sceneâ€"the bright sun shining, the rich colors of festival clothes, the scent of the flowers.

You have not time to hear of all the marvels I saw in the east. The Persians built towns and irrigation systems. The land you see now as arid and inhospitable was, in my day, fertile and welcoming.

Stasanor had his capital at Bactra, which is now Balkh in Afghanistan, near Mazar-e Sharif. Bactra was an old town even then and was the home of the Persian prophet Zoroaster. Bactria also had many Buddhists, as well as followers of other gods from India.

I served Stasanor well and went on many embassies on his behalf. Stasanor asked me to help Kineas found a city, Alexandria on the Oxus, which is now Ai Khanum on the Amu Darya River, in Afghanistan.

I helped Kineas lay out the city where the Amu Darya meets the Kokcha River. The rivers protected two sides of the city, which extended for nearly a mile. On the east side was a natural mound nearly two hundred feet high, which we capped with a citadel. On the northeast, we built a moat and rampart.

Kineas ruled the people firmly but justly, both Greek and non-Greek, just as Stasanor did. He admitted non-Greeks into his administration, and was fair to the farmers and merchants. Often he and I wondered how we colonists would maintain our Greek identity, since there were only native women to marry.

Kineas died too soon, and was much lamented. Greek and non-Greek joined to build him a hero shrine. When he died, I was in India. King Seleucus was campaigning against Chandragupta there, and I was with him, trying to safeguard Stasanor’s interests.

Finally, I returned to Alexandria on Oxus. I put up a stele in Kineas’ shrine with all the maxims I had copied in Delphi. It would honor Kineas and remind our descendants what it meant to be Greek. You can still read part of my stele.

In childhood, keep order In youth, learn self-control In maturity, be just In old age, give good counsel In dying, have no sorrow

When Seleucus took Bactria I came home to a war-torn Cyprus. Ptolemy, who had taken Egypt when Alexander died, and the other generals, had torn it like an oxhide in a pack of snarling dogs. My father was dead and our fortune with him.

Stasanor’s old friend Thais had taken up with Ptolemy, and their daughter was married to Soli’s King, Eunostus. She got me an appointment to Ptolemy’s great Library in Alexandria in Egypt.

All went well until I defended the persecuted Jews. I wrote a dialogue between Aristotle and my friend Hyperochides, in which I had Aristotle do the learning. In other works, I claimed the Jews were an offshoot of the Magi or the naked philosophers of India. Everyone was fascinated by the eastern religions, and I wanted to give the Jews the same glamour.

By now I was seventy years old, and longing to die at home. In Soli, I found a quickly changing world. Women and common folk were learning to read. I had not yet died, so I needed to eat. A friend’s son was in the new business of publishing. His slave scribes made hundreds of copies of books. But, he needed works that non-scholars would read.

I wrote nine books of biography and two books of love stories. I wrote other popular books as well, on dreams, on flattery, on my travels and things I had seen, even on riddles.

Every day I came to this agora, and sat near that fountain, with my umbrella over my head, and told my stories, and gave good advice, until, in my ninetieth year, I died with no regret.

Jessica I. Jones is a free lance writer working with Cyprus Seaterra. If you have any North Cyprus questions feel free to visit the site at

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