Books Letters from Elsewhere

Letters from Elsewhere: Diocles

I have had some help from Manes the scribe, who is very rude about my spelling and made me write it several times before I got it right.

Letters from ElsewhereIt’s been seven months since I interviewed Tim Taylor. Today I’m delighted to welcome him back to introduce a special guest, who has travelled all the way from Messenia. Not to mention the number of years he has traversed to get here. Hello Tim!

Tim TaylorHello Miriam!

Many thanks for inviting my character Diocles, from the novel Zeus of Ithome, onto your blog today.  Before I let him get on with it, I should give your readers a bit of context.  Diocles is a runaway ‘helot’ slave from Messenia, a country conquered by Sparta centuries before.  He took up with Aristomenes, an old Messenian rebel who still dreams of throwing off the Spartan yoke, and travelled with him towards Delphi to consult the oracle.  Aristomenes was injured on the journey and had to rest at the house of a friend, so Diocles continued to Delphi alone.  Here he met the (historical) Theban general Epaminondas and, after agonising over what to do, became convinced that the cryptic advice he had received from the oracle meant that he should go to Thebes with Epaminondas.  This is a letter he later writes to Aristomenes.

To Aristomenes, in the house of Nicomedes in the town of Naupactus, from Diocles son of Dotades, in the house of Epaminondas in the city of Thebes.

Aristomenes, I hope you can read this letter.  It is the first one I have ever written in my own hand – Epaminondas is teaching me to read and write!  I have had some help from Manes the scribe, who is very rude about my spelling and made me write it several times before I got it right.

I hope you are well and that your wound has healed.  Please give my greetings to Nicomedes and Ianthe – I shall always remember their kindness. Thank you for sending me your sword.  I was very glad to see it, because I thought you would be angry that I had not come back to Naupactus after I left Delphi.  I still feel bad that after you entrusted me with the task of going to consult the oracle, I did not return in person to give you her advice. 

As I said in the letter Manes wrote for me before, I believe the oracle’s advice meant that I was fated to meet Epaminondas in Delphi and to travel with him to Thebes.  And now that I have been here for a while, I am sure that I did the right thing.  Epaminondas is the cleverest man I have ever met, and he is an important person in this city.  The Thebans hate Sparta as much as we do and Epaminondas has plans to break their power over Greece.  And there are soldiers here who are as good as – no, better than – even the Spartiates themselves.  The Sacred Band, they are called, and they have already beaten a Spartan force in battle!  Their leader, Pelopidas, is a friend of Epaminondas and he has agreed that when I have finished my basic hoplite military training, I will be allowed to drill with his men.  So I shall learn the arts of strategy from the wisest man in Greece and those of combat with its best soldiers! 

Zeus of IthomeThat is not all, Aristomenes.  War is coming between Thebes and Sparta.  Everyone knows it.  I shall be needing that sword of yours quite soon.  I believe that these Thebans will win this war, and when they do, that will be the moment for Messenia to rise up.  I have told them all about our struggle and they will help us, when that time comes.  Epaminondas has given me his promise, and he is a man I trust. 

So I shall return to Naupactus and to Messenia.  When I do, I shall no longer be the runaway helot you took under your wing, but a trained warrior.  And you and I shall complete the task to which you have devoted your life.

Until then, my friend, fare well.


You can read more about Zeus of Ithome (e-book currently on special offer at 99p/99c for one week only!) here.

Tim’s Other Links

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Tim was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford (and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London). After a couple of years playing in a rock band, he joined the Civil Service, eventually leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing.

Tim now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and daughter and divides his time between creative writing, academic research and part-time teaching and other work for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities.

Tim’s first novel, Zeus of Ithome, a historical novel about the struggle of the ancient Messenians to free themselves from Sparta, was published by Crooked Cat in November 2013; his second, Revolution Day in June 2015.  Tim also writes poetry and the occasional short story, plays guitar, and likes to walk up hills.


Thank you, Tim and Diocles.

In the meantime, I have been interviewed by Margaret K Johnson about challenges I’ve had to overcome in order to write.

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life. Social anxiety warrior. Cultivating a Fuji, edition 3, a poignant, humorous and uplifting tale, published with Ocelot Press, January 2023.

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