Life in modern-day America is objectively worse than life in ancient Athens. This backwater place doesn’t even have public bathhouses. Where am I supposed to join my fellow athletes in anointing our naked selves with cleansing oils? The sorry excuse for gymnasiums you have here? Gods help me.
People also say so many strange things nowadays. “Buying that car cost me an arm and a leg.” Why is the economy based upon selling human appendages? Where do all those body parts go? Can someone please send me some of those extra arms and legs? I could really use them. Thanks in advance.
Early Years (1257 BC to 1250 BC):
In my opinion, humanity has lost touch with its ancient roots in present times. No historian today could give you an accurate account of my home city during its prime. I was born in an era of myth, before the Argonauts roamed the sea and before Icarus fell from the sky. My father, Euphranor, was a painter of modest skill. At age 20, upon returning from his mandatory military training, he set down the sword and took up the brush like his father and his father before him. He profited little from his artwork, but he held hopes for greater success in the future.
Maybe his hopes were a bit stupid. To be honest, I never thought his paintings were particularly good. But his humble hopes caught the eye of Elpis, who graced him with attention, affection, and artistic inspiration--for all of a week before she left again. Her final gift to him, delivered several months after her departure, was a child of their union. That would be me, of course. I get the feeling he wasn’t too happy with Elpis for leaving him, a starving artist, alone to raise a son he never asked for. All things considered, he treated me quite decently, though. Time may have blurred my earliest memories, but I fondly remember my carefree days of childhood under his care. I would run barefoot along the sunny vineyards, fertile soil sifting between my toes, the mild Mediterranean wind tousling my hair and ruffling my tunic. Although I never knew my father well, I was happy during the limited years I lived with him.
A month before I started school at age 7, my father was conscripted into the military. I never saw him again--not because he died, but because my loving countrymen decided to feed me to a giant man-cow when I was 16. More on that later. I’m told my father returned safely after a decade at war, eloped with a politician’s daughter, started a new family, found patrons for his artwork, and passed away at a ripe old age surrounded by dozens of his great-grandchildren. It’s been so long that I no longer remember what he looked like, but I’m kinda proud of my old man. He made the best of his fresh start. I hope I’ll be able to do the same with mine.
Stable Boy (1250 BC to 1242 BC):
One of my late grandfather’s noble patrons, Melampos of the Neleides, took me in as a stable boy following my father’s departure. His household treated me as fairly as could be expected during that time. I attended school, tended the horses, and stayed out of trouble. In return, he fed, clothed, and sheltered me--nothing more, nothing less. I received no parental love or guidance during my formative years, but I’d like to think I turned out alright, albeit missing a few limbs.
In school I struggled with reading and mathematics and, contrary to my ancestors’ abilities, showed no talent for the arts. Academic study frustrated me, but I enjoyed athletics to no small extent. Running, wrestling, swimming, and sword-fighting came naturally to me, and my experience with horses as a stable boy helped me excel at charioteering. It was on the athletic field where I bonded with my closest friend and fellow stable boy, Kallias, the only one of my peers able to match my speed in a foot race. In our youth we could race from dawn to dusk without running out of breath. Kallias claimed to be a son of Tyche, abandoned by a merchant father who had fled to Corinth once his luck in Athens had run dry. Though at the time I was not aware of my godly ancestry, I felt a strong kinship with my self-professed demigod friend. Together we grew and trained under the vast Athenian sky, aspiring to rise to such greatness that even the heavens would admire us.
The Panathenaic Games (1242 BC):
At age 15 I participated in the Panathenaic Games, competing in the boys’ foot race and pankration on the second day. I performed respectably in the latter, but the foot race was my pride and joy. Since we had a shortage of precise timers in the 13th century BC, we had no quantitative way to compare winning times from one year to another, but the crowds whispered that I had run faster than any other boy in the past ten Games.
Kallias, being two years older than me, ran in the youth division later that afternoon and likewise swept the competition. The dumb lug never knew his own limits, though. By refusing to surrender to an opponent far too skilled for him in pankration, he received a broken ankle for his efforts. Though he bitterly kept practicing for the torch relay, which would be held on the sixth day, his injury only grew worse until the healers ordered him to stop running lest he lose the ability ever to run again. Upset but determined to ensure his relay team’s victory despite his absence, he nominated me to run in his place. On the grounds of my impressive performance in the boys’ foot race, the tournament officials cleared me to run in the torch relay, which was traditionally available only to youths and older.
On a stormy summer night, I ran the anchor leg of the relay. Though the wind and rain threatened to extinguish the fire and disqualify my team, I fervently hoped for the torch to remain aflame. Against all odds, it clung to life throughout the storm, securing my team’s triumphant victory. I felt unusually drained yet strangely elevated after the race, as if I had drawn upon a higher power during the competition. It was at this point I began to suspect my demigod origins. Perhaps I had received a momentary blessing from the gods as I ran, or perhaps it was power from my own bloodline that enabled me to keep the torch alight. As we were crowned victors of the race, this line of questioning distracted me from my moment of glory. What were my true origins? Was there something connecting me, the stable boy turned champion, to the spirits above?
Demigod (1242 BC to 1241 BC):
I didn’t have to wait long for an answer. On a moonlight night hardly a week after the Games, Kallias and I were returning from a horseshoe cobbler at the outskirts of Athens when we were attacked by a pack of hellhounds. In the past Kallias had survived solo monster attacks by running away, but with an injured leg and against three hellhounds at once, he had no chance of escape. Wielding a crutch in one hand and a celestial bronze shortsword in the other, he bravely prepared to fight them. Although Kallias screamed for me to leave, I grabbed an armful of river rocks and stood stubbornly by his injured side. The hellhounds were snarling at me too, whereas Kallias had always said that monsters would leave mortals alone. In that moment I doubted that my companion was the monsters’ only target.
As I hefted a rock at the advancing hellhounds, it transformed into a pithos mid-air before shattering at their feet and exploding outwards with a loud “BOOM.” Kallias and I wore mirror expressions of surprise. He glanced incredulously at me, opening his mouth to ask me what I had done, before one monster recovered its senses and charged at us. All hell broke loose, and for several minutes I wore down a hellhound with repeated explosions until it disintegrated. Panting and covered in claw wounds, I turned to an equally wounded Kallias, who was landing the finishing blow on the second hellhound. Quick as a fleeting shadow, the third monster lunged at his exposed back, crushing his ribs into the ground. My best friend was dead before I could take another breath.
Numb from shock, my body acted on instinct alone for the remainder of the fight as I struggled to comprehend Kallias’ death. I grappled at the hellhound with the furious form of a pankratiast, prying Kallias’ sword from beneath his crushed body once the monster rolled away. Although the hellhound inflicted its fair share of injuries upon me, I returned the favor. After a painful and exhausting battle, the last hellhound finally disintegrated. I collapsed beside my dead friend’s corpse, grasping his blood-mottled hands between my own before passing out.
The attack was written off as a feral dog attack. I returned to my athletic training after a week of recovery and mourning. In those days the deaths of youths, especially demigod youths, were commonplace occurrences, and fellow children received little time to grieve. Although I was not unaffected by the loss of my best friend, I was expected to maintain a composure in public befitting of an athletic champion. For the following year I trained with Kallias’ celestial bronze sword, honoring him through combat rather than tears. Certain that I was a demigod but unsure of my specific godly parent, I prayed to Nike for victory against future monsters.
Enter the Labyrinth (1241 BC):
Starting nine years after my birth and reoccurring every seven years, the people of Athens selected seven exemplary youths and seven beautiful maidens as “ambassadors of goodwill” to Crete. Everyone knew this was a softer version of saying “unwilling sacrifices to a giant man-cow,” though. My athletic fame worked against me in the selection process, and I was chosen to die at the ripe age of 16. With both grim awareness and hopeful determination, I faced my fate in the same unwavering way I had seen Kallias face his demise.
On the boat ride to Crete, I did my best to reassure and inspire the more fearful members of our crew. Through shared moments of confinement and the exhausting media parade, we bonded in our twilight hours. The comforts of companionship and a surprising undercurrent of hope softened the harshness of the situation. Together we discussed escape plans, laughed about our captors, and commiserated over the cruelty of fate. We shared a last meal, myself choosing quail eggs for energy and watered-down wine for good spirits. What was supposed to be my last day on Earth turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable time.
We were released into the Labyrinth at separate times and locations to prevent us from working together. My initial plan had been to run, run, run and hope for the best, which seemed to work more often than not. However, for the past few months a dull pain in my right knee had been making running an agonizing ordeal. The healers could discover no broken bones or sprains, so my source of ailment was entirely a mystery. I strived to keep running despite the pain, but it slowed me down considerably.
As I jogged painfully through the slimy stone passageways, I channeled all of my mental energy into hoping that I could find a way out of the Labyrinth. I had noticed that if I hoped strongly enough for a certain outcome, I would feel that same rush of power that I had experienced in the torch relay, and more often than not, the outcome would be what I had hoped for. Could this have been one of my demigod powers? I’d reckon it was; something I did drew the attention of monsters in the Labyrinth, who pursued me for what felt like a marathon.
Although I couldn’t find the exit before they reached me, I managed to navigate to one of the Labyrinth’s outermost walls. There I made my last stand against a giant scorpion and a myrmeke. Using Kallias’ sword, pankration, and my own mysterious powers, I slew the scorpion and pinned the myrmeke under rubble from a weakened part of the Labyrinth walls. However, I received critical injuries during the fight. Acid burns covered my torso and limbs, my left leg had been mauled and lacerated, and my shoulders and a fair number of ribs had been crushed. The blood seeping out of my ruined leg was drawing the attention of the Minotaur itself, whose growls reverberated louder and louder through the passages. Staying still was certain death.
Desperate, I drew upon my remaining energy and summoned a concentrated beam of light that burned through the outer Labyrinth wall and into the soil beyond it. Using only the right side of my body, I clawed my way up to the surface in a haze of agony and hope. My injuries were grave, and I had little energy to breathe, let alone find help. For several days I clung to life in the Cretian wilderness, contracting blood poisoning in all of my limbs but still stupidly, irrationally refusing to give up hope of survival. Finally, as I lay dying on the third day, a goddess visited me in a fever dream. Nike, the goddess whom I had so dearly worshiped all my life, congratulated me for my resilience and commended my earlier victories in the Panathenaic Games. She offered me immortality if I would serve as a stable boy for the gods. Delirious and with nothing to lose, I accepted her offer.
Mount Olympus (1241 BC to AD 2013):
For my first 300 years on Mount Olympus, I tended the gods’ horses and observed the world from afar. Theseus defeated the Minotaur, Troy fell into ruin, and Odysseus reclaimed Ithaca after years at sea. I met Ganymede, another mortal-turned-heavenly-assistant, and many deities who I had never even heard of before. I learned that my mother was Elpis, daimona of hope, and watched her exhaustingly project herself outside of her jar-turned-prison in an effort to spread hope around the world. Over time I grew unbearably fond of my mother’s noble mission. Hope had carried me through my father’s absence, through my years of athletic training, and through the bleak and horrifying Labyrinth. It was essential to my victory, my survival. As grateful as I was to the gods for my second chance at life, how could I sit back and feed horses when I could be inspiring the world?
Around 900 BC, I asked Nike to let me roam the world as a mortal once more. In Olympus my spirit was eternally young and restored to full health, but I could not leave without explicit orders from the gods. Nike would not free me so easily, but she liked the idea of having a mortal champion to enact the gods’ will on Earth. She struck a hard bargain: she would heal one of my limbs for every 1000 years I served as an agent of the gods. In-between duties I had permission to help my mother spread hope across the world. Once I chose mortality, I would be free to live the rest of my natural life without restrictions imposed by fickle deities.
I flitted across the world as a spirit for nearly 3000 years, supervising questing demigods sent to retrieve godly items, transplanting dryads’ host trees into safer areas, and more. Between assignments I visited stadiums and battlefields alike. I watched Olympus move from Greece to Rome to America and learned countless languages in between. From the dawn of the Olympics to the fall of the Berlin Wall, I brought hope to those who needed it most.
Upon the conclusion of the Second Titan War, I realized that my chance at freedom had nearly been lost forever and that the world needed hope more than ever. Being just a few years shy of 3000 years of service, Nike agreed to return me with my third limb, my formerly ruined left leg, mostly intact. She would not heal my fourth limb, my right leg, but I had hope that I could find a modern doctor to treat my wounds. In a final gesture of clemency, she fabricated an identity for me to help me succeed in the contemporary world. Simon Zografios, 16, a Greek-American foster child from Queens who had hopes of becoming an Olympic champion. With a bittersweet farewell, Zosimos boarded the elevator down from Olympus one last time and walked out of the Empire State Building as Simon.
Survivor (AD 2013 to AD 2016):
I floated between various homeless and youth shelters during my first week acclimating to New York City. An alarming red rash was developing on my legs, and my right knee still ached. A supervisor at a youth hostel noticed my symptoms and immediately delivered me to the emergency room. The blood poisoning in my limbs turned out to be my lesser concern--for years, cancer had festered in right leg.
For half a year I underwent countless cycles of chemotherapy to keep the tumor from metastasizing to other parts of my body. Finally, in 2015, oncologists surgically removed my right leg above the knee when all other treatment had failed. What cruel fate had brought me back to Earth after these long millennia, only to rob me of my freedom once again?
My embattered yet enduring hope for a chance to run freely again fueled me throughout the strenuous post-amputation rehabilitation process. Despite doctor’s orders not to overwork myself during physical therapy, I snuck in extra workouts to regain the strength which I had lost during chemo. During one of these late-night sessions, the director of physical therapy found me. Sensing the abnormally hopeful aura of the room and noticing my Greek surname, he hazarded a wild guess that I might be a demigod. The director, Dr. Andreas Papoulias, was himself a son of Apollo who had once attended Camp Half-Blood. He, a widower in his 50s who had lost his only child in the same accident which took his wife, adopted me, a crippled boy in his 3000s who no longer remembered his own father’s face.
Dr. Papoulias suggested that I train for the Paralympic Games, providing me with a concrete goal on this world and also encouraging me to keep up my hopes of being an athlete once again. With him as my sponsor, I trained intensely for two years and qualified to run in the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
The Paralympic Games (AD 2016):
I competed under the T42 division of field and track events, which pitted me against fellow athletes with above-the-knee amputations like mine. In the Men’s 100m and 200m races I ran personal bests to bring home silver and bronze medals, respectively. However, the 4x100m relay was my best event. Like thousands of years ago, I ran the anchor leg of the race, setting a world record for my leg and for my team overall. Praising Nike and Elpis for their blessings, I took home Paralympic gold to my proud father and mentor.
Camper (AD 2016 to AD 2018):
The media circus following the Paralympics lasted several weeks before it died down. In an amusing twist of fate, I was offered a Nike sponsorship and appeared in several advertisements throughout the fall. Paralympians tend to receive less attention than Olympians, though, so soon enough I was back to my own life with my adopted father. I planned to compete again in four years, but in the meantime I set my sights elsewhere.
Now that my personal hopes had been realized, I yearned to return to my mother’s mission to spread hope to the hopeless. I brought my experiences and powers to shelters and hospitals across New York City, and with Dr. Papoulias’ assistance I prepared to travel the world as a motivational speaker. He brought me into contact with the Hephaestus friend who had designed my prosthetics and helped me modernize Kallias’ sword. Instead of transforming into a bronze armband, it now became a functioning Fitbit on my wrist when not in sword form. Armored and armed, I shared my hope with refugees, soldiers, and victims, and survivors.
Dr. Papoulias and I had handled monster attacks together during my Paralympic training years. However, as I had learned from bitter experience, two demigods living together would draw stronger monsters than one. The doctor accompanied me on a visit to troops in Afghanistan in 2017 to assist with physical therapy at a military hospital nearby. Along the way we were attacked by three hellhounds, a painful parallel of how I had lost Kallias many years ago. Although as two trained adults we fared much better than two unprepared children, I realized that my presence was endangering my father, and I still had much to learn about my demigod powers in this new body before I could safely travel on my own.
In 2018 I returned to New York City and traveled eastward to Camp Half-Blood at last. I had watched Camp evolve for millennia, but this would be my first time attending as an actual camper. There I hoped to hone my powers without putting Dr. Papoulias’ life at risk. I boarded in the Hermes cabin for a week, wondering if Camp would accept me despite my non-cabin godparent. It took longer than usual for my mother to claim me, probably because she could only claim me after projecting her consciousness outside of her pithos. At last, as I was brushing my teeth one January morning, a glowing golden jar appeared above my head. My status in Camp was uncertain, but after thousands of years, my mother had finally claimed me as her own.
Now that I think about it, the modern world isn’t half-bad for a half-blood. Though your customs may be strange and your attitudes bewildering, this world is a far more hopeful place than my world 3000 years ago.