Dear Auntie Ora

Did they have cheerleaders in classical times? Like, on the walls of Troy, there could have been rows of girls in short skirts, waving big red and yellow pom-poms and chanting, "Go Hector!" I think it would have added a touch of glamour to the proceedings, don't you?


At my signal, the barman brought another jug of raki to our table. It was dark and smoky in the taverna. All the other customers were swarthy, moustachio'ed locals, talking in quiet undertones. In the background, a lone bouzouki player strummed some mournful tune; I was only grateful he hadn't yet regaled us with renditions of "Zorba the Greek" and "Never on Sunday", though it was probably only a matter of time before he did. At least the windows were open, ushering in a little fresh night air and the comforting susurrus of crickets advertising their mating potential.

A split second after the jug hit the table, my companion was refilling his greasy glass with it. He was hunched over, breathing heavily, his white beard stained with the remains of dinner and earlier helpings of the potent local spirit which had narrowly missed his mouth.

"Think, Herodotus," I urged him. "Troy. You know, the war."

"A great war," he agreed.

"That's it. Achilles, Helen, Agamemnon, the wooden horse - you remember."

"It was all such a long time ago..." He took a hefty swig from his glass, and followed it with a fierce bout of coughing and spluttering as the fiery liquid went down the wrong way. It took him fully two minutes to recover his breath.

"You were saying..." I prompted.

"Did I ever tell you about Etearchus the Ammonian?" he asked. "I met him once, you know. He was the king who sent an expedition to explore the Libyan desert. Do you know they found an ant the size of a cocker spaniel? And a..."

"Never mind about the Libyan desert!" I snapped. "We were talking about the Trojan War."

"Before my time," he muttered, reaching for the jug. I grabbed his hand and slammed it down on the table.

"I know that! But you studied it. You read all the manuscripts. People told you what their fathers and grandfathers had told them about it. You know what happened!"

"I used to know so many things..." he mumbled querulously. "It's all so long ago..."

"Think, man! The walls of Troy. Picture the walls in your mind!"

"Ah, mighty Ilium! Fabled, unconquerable city! Her Cyclopean walls, thicker than 12 spans of a man's hand..."

"Yes, but on top of the walls! Were there any girls in short skirts?"

He momentarily raised his head to look at me in a fuddled manner, before drooping down again.

"Short skirts?" he muttered into his glass, confused.

"Short skirts and big pom-poms."

He considered a while.

"Big pom-poms," he mused. "Is that some of your modern slang?"

"No!" I resisted the temptation to shake the old fool senseless. "They're big, round, fluffy... Never mind! Were there rows of girls on the walls of Troy cheering on the home team? Did they bounce and jiggle around in a synchronised manner? It's very important, Herodotus! I have to know the answer!"

"I knew a girl with big pom-poms once," he crooned. "Casseiopea, her name was. I think... or was it Calliope? I forget, it was so long ago. The way she bounced and jiggled, hee, hee, hee, hee..."

He'd helped himself to more raki before I could stop him.

"Did I ever tell you about Etearchus the Ammonian?" he asked. "I met him once, you know. He..."

It was hopeless. I'd told Sibyl beforehand that this old fart wasn't going to be any help, but she insisted I talk to the so-called "Father of History" first, and it's a waste of time arguing when she gets a bee in her bonnet about these things. But I'd known all along that there was only one person that was going to be able to solve this one for us. Mister Trojan War himself: Homer.

I took out my mobile and called up the international flight desk as Herodotus rambled on.

"This is Pythia DiStefano. Get me a seat on the next flight to Springfield."

The bouzouki player launched into the painfully overfamiliar "Zorba the Greek".