(a Greek folktale)
Once upon a time a woman named Anastasia lived on the Greek island Crete. She owned a magnificent home with a view of the sea. She had always traveled and was a collector of fine things, so her house brimmed with treasures. She had ancient pottery and antique instruments, hand-woven rugs and jewel-encrusted lamps, glassware and gold, hand-carved furniture and rare vases. Visitors gasped with delight at the sight, and some were envious.
But Anastasia was a generous woman. She loved to share her home. She often held weddings and other celebrations on her veranda overlooking the sea. She always gave splendid gifts. She had no family, and as time passed people wondered who would inherit her belongings. Her doctor, a man named Costa, hoped it might be him. As she grew older, she called upon Costa more and more often.
Over time Anastasia feared she was losing her sight, and this terrified her. “What if I cannot see the rocky coast and the beautiful sea?” she worried to her friends. “What if I can no longer gaze upon my treasures?”
When Costa came to the house, she showed him one of those treasures. It was a copy of the Hippocratic Collection, an ancient collection of 60 books of medical knowledge. “You see this?” Anastasia said, “This is the sort of thing I love. Perhaps I will leave this to you, dear Costa, but for now I wish only to know you can cure my sight.”
“I shall try,” Costa said.
That evening Anastasia threw a dinner party for her friends, and at the party she announced, “Costa says he will try to cure my sight!”
Her friends applauded.
Then Anastasia had an idea. She turned to Costa and loudly proclaimed: “Costa, if you promise you will help me keep my sight, I will make sure you are richly rewarded.”
Costa looked at her and saw her cloudy eyes, and he looked down at the table. “And if I cannot cure you, Anastasia?” he asked softly.
She laughed. “If you do not cure me, Costa, I will pay you nothing for your services!”
The others laughed along with Anastasia. They knew she would reward Costa no matter what. But Costa was not amused. He was afraid he might inherit nothing after all, and what if she didn’t pay him?
“Will you take this challenge?” Anastasia asked.
Everyone looked at Costa, and he only nodded.
“It is agreed then!” Anastasia announced. “If the doctor cures my blindness, he shall be rewarded handsomely, and if he does not, I will owe him nothing,” and she shook his hand.
Costa was worried. He could do nothing to save Anastasia’s eyesight, but he hadn’t the courage to tell her that, and he could not bear the thought of leaving her home empty-handed. He loved Anastasia’s treasures, too.
As time passed, Anastasia’s sight grew worse, and one day Costa had an idea. “She’ll never notice if I take this,” he said to himself as he picked up an embroidered pillow and carried it away with him.
The next day he took a blanket; the next day a lamp; the next day an ancient leather-bound book. The day after that, he took a bowl of blown glass. The trouble was, the more he took, the more he wanted to have. His greed expanded with each treasure.
“My eyes are no better,” Anastasia complained. “I no longer can see the view from my windows, Costa. Please, help me.”
“I shall, I shall,” Costa promised, but by now he was stalling to give himself more time to take more treasures. Each day he came, offering drops and salves, words of comfort and pills. And each day he departed with another box of treasures.
Finally, in the dead of winter, Costa decided he had taken enough. The house was nearly bare. “Anastasia,” he announced, sitting before her, “I have fulfilled my side of the bargain. I have restored your sight.”
Anastasia nearly fainted. She could see nothing but shadows, but she was beginning to understand. When she walked into her living room, it felt empty; when she spoke in the hallways, her voice echoed. She knew Costa had betrayed her.
“You did not fulfill your part of the bargain,” she said.
“What?” Costa asked indignantly. “I have, and you must pay me.”
“I shall not,” Anastasia said. She had always intended to pay him, but this betrayal turned her against him, and so she refused to pay the doctor’s bill.
Finally Costa took her to court, and the judges called Anastasia before them.
Costa announced in his most commanding voice, “I have pronounced her cured, but she refuses to pay me for my months of work.”
“Explain yourself,” the judges said to Anastasia. “Why will you not pay his fee?”
Anastasia smiled. “It is true that I promised to pay the doctor if he restored my sight, and now he says that I am cured. But I say this is nonsense. When I first began to lose my sight, I could see and feel all the treasures in my house. Now that he says he has restored my sight, I see nothing at all.”
She invited the judges to come and look for themselves, and when they saw the empty house, they understood. Their judgment and everyone else’s turned against the thief who had once been a doctor.