What If... (01-03)
Interlude, First (04-05)
Time Travel (06-08)
Interlude, Second (09-10)
The Stageplay (11-18)
Interlude, Third (19-23)
Bard in the Xenaverse (24-28)
Interlude, Fourth (29-31)
Dirty Tricks (32-37)
Interlude, Fifth (38-39)
The Gods (40-43)
Interlude, Terminus (44-52)
Gabrielle does the bard thing.
What If... What happens when an optimistic pilgrim, searching for the good in each person she meets, encounters someone with no goodness inside? In CRUSADER (76/408), a fourth season episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, Xena and Gabrielle encounter Najara, a blonde and beautiful warrior as skilled in combat as Xena, who talks of leading evil people to the light. Because people are rarely that simple, in reality or in well-written fantasy, Najara has her own dark side. Gabrielle's sense of fairness, of justice, leads her away from this golden Crusader and back to Xena, who is stalked by her own shadows and secrets.
 In an earlier fourth-season episode, Gabrielle brought comfort to the mutilated Thalassa [LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407)], a victim of Xena's former madness. Gabrielle's kindness and gentle touch nurtured a spark in Thalassa's frozen soul. The episode ended with a hint that Thalassa might be able to rebuild her life without hate.
 Yet, what if Gabrielle met a person whose soul was irretrievably lost? It could be a tale of wealth, betrayal, politics, and military might.
Interlude, First No bard, I. Cynic, rather. When the world I disdain calls me by name, Apemantus, I respond with fair criticism of its failings, which are great and many. The world worships Bards, who glorify these failings.
 Yet, there is a memorable bard whose talent is beyond criticism, whose skill defeats cynicism. When we first met, I knew already of her work. Her stories trace the deeds of villains, fools and kings, warriors and princesses, but her actions -- if she had met Lord Timon sooner, before madness pulled him into the vortex of hatred. If only...
Gabrielle has a heart-to-heart with Homer.
 We journey through the Xenaverse to Athens at the time of the Peloponnesian War, 431-404 BCE. Our destination is eight centuries after the Trojan War, the momentous conflict that is the core of Greek mythology and its tradition of storytelling bards.
 The Iliad, by Homer [ATHENS CITY ACADEMY OF THE PERFORMING BARDS (13/113)], is the epic history of this conflict. Homer omitted the Xenaverse fact of Helen of Troy's survival. Perhaps his friend, Gabrielle, asked him to protect the queen's privacy?
 Xena: Warrior Princess habitually makes long time jumps. For instance, the Biblical Israelite-Philistine feud of David vs. Goliath dates to 1010 BCE or so [GIANT KILLER (27/203)]. The civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great [A GOOD DAY (73/405)] lasted from 49 to 45 BCE, continuing even after Pompey's assassination in 48 BCE (Pompey had some hang-tough allies). Xena and Gabrielle cover a lot of territory, physically and chronologically.
Interlude, Second My reputation as the coldest of cynics is in danger, for I have been to the theater, and smiled. Let me assure you, never before have I found anything there worthy of a smile. Theater is a temple for society's peacocks, who are entertained while Emotion is feigned, Love worshipped, and Honor disgraced. Lord Timon, who is also a generous patron of the Athens City Academy of the Performing Bards, subsidizes this troupe. The true source of my enchantment, however, sat next to him as his guest of honor. Her joy -- no, rapture -- enthralled me, while the play captivated her. She wept when the Hero's family was killed by the jealous Goddess, cheered when the Hero saved his Best Friend from the She-Demon Who Turns People To Stone, and blushed when the actor playing the Hero winked at her from behind his mask.
 A servant tells me that she is Gabrielle, bard of Poteidaia, who travels with Xena. The warrior princess is in Athens because of the political trouble swirling around General Alcibiades. The infamous Xena escaped the evening at the theater but she cannot avoid the social grasp of Timon indefinitely.
An engraving of the 18th century actor John Philip Kemble, in the role of Timon of Athens.
 In our time travel visit to Athens in the last quarter of the fifth century BCE, we meet Lord Timon, "famed among his contemporaries as a loner who professed to hate mankind and to detest human society", according to Asimov's Guide To Shakespeare (New York: Wings Books, 1970).
 Lord Timon is mentioned (1) in the writings of Plutarch, a Greek biographer and author, who lived in the first century CE; (2) in a Greek dialogue by Lucian, a rhetorician and satirist, who wrote during the second century CE; and (3) in the play, "The Life of Timon of Athens", written by William Shakespeare, between 1605-08. The Complete Oxford Shakespeare (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), credits a co-author, Thomas Middleton, for portions of the play. BCE or CE, bards still struggle over fair writing credits.
 We are in a fantasy Greece. Add a waterfall and a fishing hole and Xena will feel right at home. The Athenian politicians behave like the Romans of other Shakespearean plays. Only the major characters have names, while a job title or position in society identifies the supporting players.
 The Bard of Avon introduces Timon, a benevolent nobleman abandoned by his false friends, who is bankrupted by his extravagant hospitality and gift giving. Charles Boyce, in Shakespeare A To Z (New York: Facts on File, 1990), says Timon, "sinks into rage and despair, withdraws to the wilderness where he rages against humanity and dies in abject misery, an apparent suicide, victim of his own excesses of both goodness and hatred". How he is buried, and who wrote his epitaph, is unexplained.
 As the play begins, Timon is the perfect host, staging lavish banquets, and passing out gifts, money, and jewels. The philosopher/cynic Apemantus warns him that his generosity is misplaced. By the end of the play, Timon is a greater cynic than Apemantus, spewing venom over all humanity. In a stroke of bardly irony, Timon finds gold buried in the wilderness, yet too late to save his sanity.
 Timon uses money to control people and glorify himself, then uses gold to promote the destruction of his ungrateful home, the city-state Athens. Nevertheless, the general whose army menaces Athens makes a political deal instead. All is denied to Timon, including his wish of disaster for his hated home.
 "Timon" is "the sparsest, nastiest, most repellent play in the canon", Norrie Epstein writes in The Friendly Shakespeare (New York: Viking, 1993). The play is considered an unfinished work or rough draft, with none of Shakespeare's depth of character or story. "[T]he play's scenario sticks through its sometimes inadequate flesh and blood like the skeleton of an emaciated body", writes Stanley Wells in Shakespeare: A Life In Drama (New York: Norton, 1995).
 Not surprisingly, the play was rarely performed, even at the height of Shakespeare's popularity in the 19th century. However, it is being staged more frequently as the millennium approaches, speaking with a fresh voice to audiences grown familiar with wealth, greed, and betrayal.
One of many Timon of Athens editions available today.
 I fear that Lord Timon has been struck mad by the Fates, though his offense is not clear. His madness manifested in an argument over money, and exploded into violence. The evening began with a typically lavish dinner.
 In honor of military officers in attendance, Gabrielle spun for us the story of the savage battles between valiant Athenian soldiers and The Horde, ruthless barbarians who slaughter and pillage in the hinterlands. Her words made us blink the blinding dust from our eyes, weep over the pitiful wounded, and cringe at the rotting-flesh stench rising over the besieged fort. Timon cheered and applauded the Athenians' victory, as did we all, and led a "kaltaka" toast to the Bard.
 As is his custom, he had a gift for the entertainer. But when he examined the contents of the jeweled box brought forth by his steward, he called Flavius a cur, and threw the box across the room. Flavius tried to apologize, saying that there was no more gold in the house. Timon slapped him across the face, so hard my eyes teared in sympathy.
 As Timon raised his hand to strike again, Gabrielle thrust herself between master and servant. Seized by a frenzy of anger, Timon did not stay his hand. He hit her so hard she fell to her knees. Half a hundred people froze in place as Lord and Bard stared deep into each other's eyes.
 Then came the most amazing event of the night. Timon began to sob, like a lost child. Gabrielle and Flavius guided him out of the room, gently, as if he were a wounded soldier. The only unforgiving eyes among his guests belonged to the warrior princess.
Bard in the Xenaverse
Gabrielle inspires her fellow bards.
 The general works of Shakespeare dramatizes the lives of several people who inhabit the Xenaverse, including Julius Caesar [DESTINY (36/212)], Cleopatra [KING OF ASSASSINS (54/308)], Helen of Troy [BEWARE GREEKS BEARING GIFTS (12/112)], and Ulysses [ULYSSES (43/219). Caesar and Cleopatra get their names in the title of their respective plays, while Helen and Ulysses take supporting roles in "Troilus and Cressida", Shakespeare's account of bravery, love, and betrayal during the siege of Troy.
 Obviously, Xena and Gabrielle encounter Very Important People in the Mediterranean world. A Shakespearean VIP yet to appear in Xena: Warrior Princess is Alcibiades of Athens [Editor's note: A character by the name of Alcibiades appeared in the episode WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), however, it is doubtful that this character had any relationship to the Shakespearean Alcibiades, other than sharing the same name]. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Alcibiades was an unscrupulous politician and military commander who provoked the sharp political antagonisms that were the main causes of Athens' defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War.
 Since Xena and Gabrielle were willing to die to protect Athens from the invading Persians [ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313), another time-slip], we might assume the warrior princess would be among the general's supporters, at least in the beginning. Since Xena's support must be eventually earned, that assumption cannot be supported. Xena judges people by what they do, not what they say.
 On the other hand, we know Xena had dealings with the Spartans. She met Helen of Troy in Sparta, probably during her days as a pirate. We do not have enough evidence to decide where Xena's loyalty lies, and which city-state would receive her support in a conflict. It is difficult to predict Xena's political alliances. For example, during the last part of the Trojan War, Xena fought on the side of the Trojans against her own countrymen, the Greeks.
 In Shakespeare's play, Timon praises Alcibiades for the harm he will do against Athens. Alcibiades is banished by the Athenian Senate because he insists on fair treatment for an unnamed soldier sentenced to death for murder. The general argues that it was an honorable duel fought in anger. Shakespeare quickly abandons recorded history in favor of dramatic storytelling.
Another Timon of Athens edition.
 I watch as the general packs for exile, neither of us lamenting his fate. His personal guard waits outside the tent, ready still to follow him into the den of the Hydra. Could Sparta be a worse fate for Athenian soldiers? My duty as a cynic demands that I ask him, but taunting a general is the pathway to a shortened life.
 I am not his only guest, though the others do not partake of the cold meat and warm wine his steward prepared. Xena reasons with him, arguing that defecting to Sparta is not his only option. She pleads with fervor, but I see no expectation of success on her face.
 Gabrielle sits in a shadowy corner, bright eyes alert, committing each word, every action, to memory. Someday, the scene I now witness will be within a story she will tell to amaze and entertain. In lesser hands, it could become an insult to the general, but I trust that she will mix emotion with logic. He feels his honor is at stake. Xena knows the fate of Athens is in greater jeopardy.
Dirty Tricks In the history books, Alcibiades was banished after a botched military campaign. In 415 BCE, he proposed the invasion of Sicily, which supported Sparta. However, the man named as his co-commander was incompetent.
 Asimov's Guide To Shakespeare states, "To make matters worse, just before the expedition was to set sail, certain religious statues in the city were blasphemously mutilated, and suspicion fell upon Alcibiades, who was a known agnostic. To be sure, Alcibiades would scarcely have been so insane as to have chosen this time to play the scoffer in so ostentatious a manner. Although the mystery of who mutilated the statues has never been solved, most historians feel it must have been Alcibiades' enemies who did it, and that Alcibiades was framed."
 Perhaps the general's enemies took a page from The Book of Xena, playing a political dirty trick the Evil Xena would appreciate, even without immediate bloodshed.
 The mutilated religious statues were herms, "sacred objects of stone connected with the cult of Hermes, the fertility god. Also serving as milestones or boundary markers, each stone suggested the human figure and had a phallus. They were treated with respect, if not actually worshipped", Encyclopedia Britannica says.
 Guess which portion of Athens' herms were mutilated. Shakespeare omitted this nasty plot twist. Maybe he did not need the hassle with Elizabethan censors.
 History records that the military expedition failed. Many men and ships were lost, a defeat Athens never fully recovered from. To make matters worse, the banished general went to work for the Spartan military. In 407 BCE, he changed sides yet again, but the Athenians never trusted him and soon he was exiled once more, permanently.
Interlude, Fifth Carrion-gulping creditors have devoured Lord Timon's life, and he has fled, cursing, into the wilderness. No one mourns his departure except the bard, Gabrielle. What she saw in him, I cannot guess. The folk-stories told about the adventures of the warrior princess and the bard say they battle all manner of evil creatures, god and mortal. Timon may be the most mortal of us all.
 The end of Timon's time in Athens came in a typically theatrical manner. He summoned his erstwhile friends, all of whom refused to repay his generosity or lend him money, to dinner. He served us steaming water and rocks, with a side dish of calumny. Raging at our "reeking villainy", he threw water in our faces. He beat a lord who tried to flee, and might have done worse had not Gabrielle intervened, risking injury to divert his fury. He would not let her speak. Turning his back on her, he glowered at us, shouting, "Burn house! Sink Athens! Henceforth hated be of Timon, man and all humanity!" And he vanished into the darkness. A toast in "kaltaka", indeed.
The Gods Considering the power plays practiced by the Olympian gods, it is possible that General Alcibiades was a pawn in a battle between Pallas Athena, war goddess and protector of her namesake city-state, and Ares, god of war.
 In the Iliad, Zeus assigns the sphere of war to Ares and to Athena. "Athena's moral and military superiority to Ares derived in part from the fact that she represented the intellectual and civilized side of war and the virtues of justice and skill, while Ares represented mere blood lust", Encyclopedia Britannica says.
 Athena has yet to appear on camera in Xena: Warrior Princess, but she did show up in an episode of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys [THE APPLE (H30/217)], competing with Artemis and Aphrodite in a beauty contest. Aphrodite cheated and won. Athena had little dialogue and less clothing. Off stage in LOST MARINER (45/221), Athena gave Cecrops the power to overturn Poseidon's curse.
 Since Athens is the loser in the war with Sparta, we can imagine Ares celebrating his victory and congratulating himself, if one of his sycophants does not, for fighting dirty, in the style of the Evil Xena.
Yet another Timon of Athens.
 I trade bitter words with Lord Timon. "The middle of humanity thou never knewest, but the extremity of both ends," I say. "Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon," he replies. I shall waste no more of my wisdom on this fool.
 Timon lives in a cave, dresses in rags, and eats raw roots. He vilifies his visitors, including General Alcibiades, women of dubious reputation, and bandits hoping to pick his bones. He throws gold at them, challenging the whores to spread disease among their customers, and ordering the thieves to redouble their efforts to do harm.
 Later, I see the general and the warrior princess again in conference, walking apart from his soldiers. Their discussion is heated, frustration on her face, and determination on his. Soon, the general rides out. Shoulders drooping in defeat, Xena watches the troops march away.
 Near a trickle that believes itself a creek, Gabrielle sits with Flavius, Timon's household steward. He weeps and she comforts him. I long to talk to her, but Flavius needs her attention and her kindness, more than I.
 Still later, a delegation from the Athenian Senate begs Lord Timon to dissuade Alcibiades, whose army now marches toward the city. Timon tells them, in essence, to go hang themselves. "Graves only be men's works, and death their gain. Sun, hide thy beams. Timon hath done his reign," he says.
 The warrior princess and the bard exchange an anguished look and follow Timon into the cave. Milksop that I am, I can but wait outside, worrying. The senators depart and Flavius sobs, falling to his knees at the cave's mouth.
 After a wretchedly long time, Xena emerges into the sunlight, removes a shovel from her horse's saddle pack, and returns to the cave. My curiosity defeats my cowardice and I follow her into the shadows, watch as she digs a grave, and lowers Lord Timon's body into it.
 As Xena buries my old companion and philosophical sparring partner, Gabrielle shapes a headstone from a piece of bark and writes on it with charcoal from the campfire. Xena sees me, watching. Under her hard, accusing gaze, I leave, finding the sunlight colder than the shadows of the cave. They have seen Death more than I. They do not turn away.
 At sunset, they depart, riding toward Athens. I wonder what Gabrielle wrote on the headstone, but I fear the darkness too much to enter it again. The Golden One has taken the light with her, to illuminate the path of the Dark One. I am alone in the cold, but not as cold as Lord Timon.
J.R. Rasmussen: college drop-out; newspaper reporter, editor, movie reviewer and television columnist; current day job: library administrator of the Reno (Nevada) Gazette-Journal's electronic archive. In real life, theater buff, Trekker and free-lance writer.
Favorite episode: XENA SCROLLS (34/210) or whichever one I watched yesterday.
Favorite line: Gabrielle to Salmoneus: "You know, you wouldn't be in here in the first place if you'd kept your hands off my tomatoes." THE BLACK WOLF (11/111).
First episode seen: I can't remember beyond last week and you want me to recall something from four years ago?
Least favorite episode: DEATH MASK (23/123)