The King and the Sage

Kedros 2022 (in Greek)

Plato is the sixteen-year-old son of the Athenian storyteller, poet and engineer Megacles. He lives with his father in Sangàla, the capital of Menander’s Indo-Greek kingdom that spreads from the foothills of the Himalayas to the Arab Sea. He is a scrawny and sickly child with a limp and a slur, subject to constant mockery by his peers at the city’s gymnasium. But his mind is bright and endowed with a unique gift: he can almost instantly comprehend any language he turns his ear to and is able to speak it within minutes. For his talent he is hired by the dean of the Sangàla Academy, the stoic philosopher Demetrius, as an interpreter – and ostensibly a spy – during the conversations that Menander is about to have with the Buddhist monk Nagasena.


Meanwhile, war rages on the western borders of the kingdom while in the capital a group of disgruntled aristocrats conspire against the king. In the novel we meet several characters that make Sangàla tick; Memnon, the much-feared chief of police; Kimon, the richest man in the kingdom and his obnoxious son Nikodemus; and Calliope, the owner of the most renowned brothel in the city. We follow Megacles as he embarks on writing the “true story” of his fantastic voyage to the Moon where he took part in a war between the king of the Sun and the king of Moon; and his dream of building a ship that can get him up there again. And we listen to the conversations between Menander and Nagasena, while Plato falls in love with a mysterious woman, half human, and half ghost….

Plato will discover a dark secret about his birth and will have to let his one true love return to her world of shadows, but not before saving the kingdom and helping his father realize his impossible dream…


Historical background

Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC leaving behind one of the greatest empires ever known, a vast expanse of people and lands stretching from Macedonia to India. Soon after his untimely death, the empire split into separate kingdoms ruled by Alexander’s top generals: the Seleucids taking over most of Asia, the Ptolemies ruling over Egypt, and the Antigonids holding onto Macedonia and central Greece. This period is called the Hellenistic period and lasts until the naval battle of Actium in 31 BC, where Roman emperor Octavian vanquished the joint navies of Queen Cleopatra (the last of the Ptolemies) and her lover Mark Anthony.

The Hellenistic era is perhaps one of the least known and appreciated periods in world history. Yet, its significance could not be overstated. It was the first period of globalization, where the West and the East formed a geopolitical and economic continuum that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to China and the Gulf of Bengal. There were incredible advances in science and technology. Steam engines and astrolabes (like the famous Antikythira mechanism) were invented, to be subsequently lost from memory and reemerge many centuries later. It was also a period of profound political turmoil, where the democratic experiments of Athens and Rome ended in violence, to be replaced by absolute monarchism – a legacy that persisted in Europe till World War I. Religious syncretism – the direct result of a global cultural melting pot – created new religions, such as the cults of Mithras and Serapis, and prepared the ground for the emergence of Christianity.

Perhaps the least studied part of the Hellenistic era is the obscure Indo-Greek kingdom of India. Alexander crossed the Indus around 327 BC but had to retreat despite his victories due to an uprising of his army. His successors, the Seleucids, remained confined on the western side of the Hindu Kush till the late 2nd century BC, when an ambitious general called Demetrius attacked the declining Maurya Empire and conquered most of northwestern India. The Greeks were to remain rulers of northwestern India till 40 AD. During these centuries Greeks and Indians exchanged ideas and forged new concepts that are still with us today. It was the first time that Europe met – and coexisted- with India, predating the British Raj by several centuries.

The most prominent of Indo-Greek kings was Menander, also known as Menandros I Soter (155-130BC). His name is the most mentioned in the very scant historical records of the time; Plutarch and Strabo refer to him as the most powerful king of India, “the king who conquered more tribes than Alexander”. He was certainly a very capable general that expanded his realm from the foothills of the Himalayas to the coastal towns of the Arabian Sea, winning victorious battles against the powerful Sunga Empire in the east as well as the ferocious Parthians of the west.

Menander became a Buddhist, and so did the thousands of his Greek subjects, the first Europeans to become Buddhists. Stoicism, the dominant Hellenistic philosophical school at the time, blended with Buddhism and influenced what later would become Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddhism of China, Korea, and Japan. Greek art fused with Buddhist narratives and produced a novel iconography of “Greek Buddhas”, a unique style called “Gandhara Art” that survived the demise of the Greeks in India and spread to many other peoples as far as modern Afghanistan and Central Asia.

But Menander’s most persistent legacy lies in the pages of an ancient holy text. One of the most important books of Buddhism from this era is called “Milinda Panha” (“The questions of king Milinda”). It recounts the dialogue between King Menander (Milinda in the Pali language) and the Buddhist sage Nagasena. It was this ancient text that provided the inspiration for “The King and the Sage”.