Alexandria, 400 AD. A clash of faiths has erupted. The old Gods, still popular with the Roman nobility, have lost favour among the unwashed masses. Rejecting their overlords, people turn to the monotheistic teachings of a dead Judean carpenter they call The Christ. Christian desert monks live a life of extreme poverty and have fast become religious celebrities.
In opposition, the ancient Jewish community have run out of patience with the heretical Christian sect.
Alexandria also remains a centre for classical learning, despite the turmoil. Neo Platonists like Hypatia spearhead this movement. They safeguard knowledge contained within the world’s most extensive library in the city. They believe it is their mission to use science and philosophy to discover the mind of the creator.
Riots are imminent. They will destroy churches, synagogues and even the Great Library. But even in this partisan time individuals were in search of their own truth.
The Glass Key
“It is him, I’m sure of it,” she muttered as she weaved about the mass of bodies that had surrounded the preacher. He had disappeared without a word when she was a child. Lost for five years.
“Brother!” Junia yelled as she burst through the crowd.
Junia’s throat swelled and her head shook with the effort to keep her face presentable.
The man looked up at her from where he sat. He had a long bushy beard and a bald head but underneath all that he was unmistakably her brother, Loukios.
“Sister,” Loukios answered.
His voice brought back memories of growing up together in their father’s workshop. Her eyes, unable to hold back the weight of the moment, burst with tears.
“We have to go home, you have to see mother and papa.”
She reached out to grab her brother by the arm but he resisted.
“No, Junia. My heart wishes to see them but I have vowed to sit here in the public square, minister to the people, and pray.”
“When will you come home?”
“So, you will sit here through the winter and the rain?” Junia said, her voice raw with pain.
“We must all submit to Gods will,” her brother pronounced. “My place is here, and your place is at home.”
Junia nodded, she knew he was right, despite her feelings.
“But sister I do have one thing to ask of you,” her brother said sounding aloof. “A wise man I spoke to this morning is in need of a glazier.”
Loukios handed over a scrolled-up papyrus.
“Give this to papa with haste.”
Within the papyrus was a message from a philosopher describing plans for a curiously shaped glass vial. Junia hadn’t had the heart to tell her brother that their father was bedridden. She returned home and set about glazing the object herself.
Junia dipped her iron blowpipe into the furnace pulling out a glob of molten orange sand. The pipe was almost as long her whole body length but years of helping her father had made her strong. As it cooled Junia took a breath and blew through the pipe. The glowing orange began to inflate at the other end of the iron. It was almost spiritual. As if her breath brought the glass to life.
She had found the delivery address with ease but the man who met her at the door did not look like a philosopher. He couldn’t be much older than she was.
“Oh, I wasn’t expecting this so soon,” The man said as he took the vial from her and studied it. “Who made this?”
“Ah, well, ah, it was me,” Junia said dropping her eyes in embarrassment. “I understand if it is not good enough, obviously, I am not a master glazier.”
Junia felt the all too familiar cloud of disappointment begin to consume her but she kept her face brave and impatiently waited to be rebuked.
“I have sent measurements to many glass makers and every time the glass has come back almost exactly as I had asked.” The man mused without taking his eyes from her craftwork. “But this time, for the very first time, the glass cylinder is exactly what I ordered.”
The man looked down directly at Junia. “Young lady this is the work of a master.”
Junia stared blankly in shock
“I’d like you to make all my orders from now on,” He extended out his free hand towards her. “My name is Synesius, it’s an honour to meet someone so adept at her craft.”
Junia felt a rush of nerves. Was it even proper to shake a man’s hand? And was his proposal serious? She could detect no ridicule in his voice.
Junia felt her hand move towards him almost without her own permission. Regaining her composure, she quickly withdrew it. “I’m sorry sir but I cannot accept.”
“Why on earth not?”
“Well sir, if you must ask, I am a Christian. And my father says god gave men the talent to perform their craft and women responsibility of children.”
“I’m afraid your father is mistaken, God has bequeathed many women these talents.”
“Well in Christian writings there’s Lydia the dyer and Priscilla the tentmaker. There’s you.”
“I make simple things, but a woman could never be as capable as man in important things like governing or philosophy.” Junia stated with some certainty.
“They can, and are,” Synesius replied curtly.
Junia paused. “Why haven’t I heard of them?”
“I’m sure you have heard of Hypatia.”
“Witch? No.” Synesius contradicted. “Hypatia is just a woman, though an incredible one. I travelled across the sea to study under her. Hypatia’s only magic is her ability to count, add and subtract numbers faster than any man I’ve seen. She built a device that can predict where the sun, moon and stars will be at any time. In fact, the glass you moulded so elegantly will help create another design of hers.”
Junia paused in thought. Could a woman truly be the match for men? Could this have been the way god made us? She sensed an honesty in Synesius. Her own brother had called this man wise. She peered at her glass creation in the grasp of philosopher. She noticed its beauty for the first time. It really was perfect. More pristine than anything she had seen her father craft.
“Thank you, sir,” Junia grinned before turning to run in excitement. She galloped along the stone streets of Alexandria, dodging around people, horses and wagons. A dozen plans swirled around her head of what she would make next. She smiled. So, this is what it felt like to be a man.