CHAPTER XXV

Religion in Antioch:  Concerning Potentials

        

IT IS I, BALTHUS,  I consider whether to whisper in small print..  Why? In the first place, it is unlikely any one would approve what I say here, whereas when I become suspicious that others will be suspicious,  conspiratorial, well. a whisper is the way we all try to keep secrets which we are not, in fact, keeping, otherwise we wouldn’t be whispering them at all. I am different. I keep secrets, although not perhaps here, but the disclosures forthcoming in this parchment areto be kept concealed with it, that for reasons perhaps of state, certainly of discretion. 


The great thing about knowing a secret,  or as I do here in generating a worry, creating a secret,  is that one must tell somebody!  We are all born to tell secrets and thus to hatch conspiracies. As you know by now, among Romans particularly,  since there is in most of them secret ambition, hardly secret envy, insufficient secret shame,  the arithmetic of this is public honor and enacted evil. The whisper pleases by giving more importance to words than are deserved. The whisper is also the signal of slander. Of course these unpopular thoughts of mine may be boring to you. If they are, skip over them. No alibi of small print this time. Skip away, you will save time but you will lose the god-busy vibrations of my mind, and an instructive view of cunning  So, you there so far away in time, if you already know everything there is to be said about Antioch, the gods, conspiracy, exploitation,  run along. Hurry.  Don’t look back. Did your world began with you, no history at all? If so, will you contribute nothing to the future? Polybius was wrong about you, eh?   All right, if time’s events jump erratically about, worse than grasshoppers, unpredictable, you cannot  look forward either!’ The extending links of your life can’t sensibly uncoil for anyone without history, they can only kink!


Tacitus calls attention to racially implicit social attractiveness when he describes the loyalty and generosity of Jews to one another---and its reciprocal which is a generous hatred for all who are not Jews. It leads to the repeated accusation, since they are confident of their god’s special love, Tacitus an authority not known for tolerant relativism, of “arrogance”. Men delight in speaking unkindly of others not like them, especially when they are weaker, as the Jews now are by virtue of defeat.  For myself if I believed the high god loved others better than me, I would insult those favored out of sheer envy.  On the other hand, Tacitus looks to money.  Tacitus attributes their growing wealth (for the Jews seem richer than races other than Roman elites to whom they cannot compare, for ruling Romans are obscenely rich) to these elements as well.  Let me specify the motive why underclass Romans and other gentiles likewise poor will become Jews: I have described their close relations, protectiveness, pride, certainty about Yahweh having chosen them. Now add for the convert,  to acquire wealth, either as other Jews share it out of brotherhood, or one is favored by one’s adopted race in business they control, or one learns better from them the “how” wealth’s acquisition.  The “how” I strongly suspect, is hard work and exceptional, concentrated  intelligence. Except for slaves who are hardly emulated, work is not a Roman habit. Think of those 150 or holidays a year!  Others work for Rome, not Romans themselves, but for the exceptional leader, and of course the legions. As for particular  intelligence,  Romans nowhere, but for engineers, stand accused of that.


It is inevitable that a few philosophers of radical reform will see generalized betterment in such expanded Athenian cum Jewish virtue, consonant with Roman law with its universal sway intended for ruling and encouraging a self- regulating empire.  It is also practical because membership does grow wealth, necessarily valuing work, not luxury and indolence.   Cynics and Stoics will approve. . Since men need their gods, here they have one, literally one, a simple high god whose tablets make sense for more than Jews.  A moral god is indeed a novelty, as is a loyal one. There are also the adornments one finds these days in the popular mystery religions, although I am told the Jews are stiff necked so there is nothing of the grander entertainments such as orgies, sacred temple whores, and blood sacrifices particularly pleasing to soldiers and the ceremonially debauched.   But there are consistent reports of wine, propitiations, priests, costumes, incense and ceremonies, prayers, sacrifices, miracles, the dead risen, the sick healed, rewards and punishments after death, and of course donations to pay for it all.  


In sum, however novel the theology, morality, charity, tribal sociology, there is also the usual panoply of ritual, magic, supernatural theater, and promises of things not testable which play to credulity, key into our longings, advertise to convictions, the super sense most folks seem to have that compels grand and fearful knowing that there are other worlds, other powers, other understandings quite beyond our reliable description. I think these are inborn, we are born to know something of the geometry of the gods, or as its being refined now as a spiritual Euclid might, first sketches of architecture of the One and of the engineering of roads to and fro humans and the Other. Beneath the diverting trappings of religion, even I confess there must be solid roots. 


In Antioch religion is the talk of the marketplace.  Some days it is the wash of waves on our ears, sometimes it is the howling wind of rants and raves, occasionally the winds rise to storming intensity as followers fall into fights which, when bystanders join, become riots become calls for the policing troops who, as you already know, are not delicate in their dealings with arguing heads of angry fists, and certainly not with the wielded stave or dagger. On any and every day, the priestly advocates, rabbis as well, harangue, argue, speechify, pretend to scholarly debate and the citation of histories, remind of miracles great and small, sometimes as necromancers summon one or another god to, poof, appear---and sure enough some in the crowd will see the apparition, shout or moan, fall, froth at the mouth, roll their eyes in a trance, prostate themselves, swear fealty, all of this testifying to their own quite special chosen Antiochean experience. These will be entertainments.  It is special since so many will be involved so nosily in the late afternoons in one or another plaza, forum. They sometimes become little armies of witness led through the street by a priest or three, storming the citadels of disbelief or contradiction.  I see it all as a kind of favorite city sport, cure for boredom, need for exercise in irrational shouting, or sometimes if the military police come and they are still fighting, an angry idiocy which makes curbstone martyrs out of those never sentenced who intend no more than amusing violence and looting,  or a passionate embrace of a that wild god who the spirit of a mob.  


No intelligent person can live here without observing and reflecting upon it, without paying some attention to what is going on religiously, for just as one cannot be in the arena during a chariot race without getting caught up and so finds oneself cheering, even if one has no bet on any charioteer, so it is here.   I am surprised how much time I give over to thinking about the claims of gods, their origins, substance, value.  I trust I am sensible enough to place no bets on any chariot wearing the colors of a god.  But yes, I think on these matters, for there is contagion here.  Whether it will prove but dust in the eyes, or curse or blessing, should one or another charioteer win for his god’s colors, I cannot be sure, but I have a hunch to guide me.


Well and good, I confess there are deep things rightly generating awe and wonder interspersed with nonsense. fraud, passion and riot.   For most ready to make allowances, any current religion will play well, as long as minds are not put to its examination, and the spirit, if there is one, does not test it for durability.    For myself, I consider the Jewish better for the moment, since they have set their minds on religion for millennia longer than others, are astute in argument, and certainly in killing and being killed by Romans, indeed there are lakes of tears and hectares of cemeteries as their witness.   Other than that grotesque, savage circumcision which is repulsive, and accounts for why there are so many more women becoming Jews than men (it may be they have greater religious and moral gifts) my rejection of it all comes in Yahweh’s violent nature.  I am told he is devoted to mass punishments of his own tribe, which, however necessary for teaching lessons, I find entirely unattractive. To prize one’s bad traits is to assure a healthy mind in a gratified, indulged body.  


I was myself beaten quite sufficiently as a child, so that hearing what they say of Yahweh bringing down storm, pestilence, draught, defeat, exile, I would never bind myself to this grim promise of further punishments.  I am become a serious, dignified, stern Roman, at least in public, which even for a German can be difficult to sustain.  There is self-punishment enough in the respectable discipline of it.  And the world brings troubles enough, without courting the vengeance of a punitive god who must somewhere enjoy his work. He is like a real German farther there, impatient love and a brutality enough to poison a lifetime. Far worse though, for the German father takes no pleasure in beating his child, it is only a bothersome duty Instead consider the pleasure Romans take in torture.  When a Roman kills a slave he may do it for amusement.  It is almost as bad when he kills his slave, or his child—illegal now it is – with sheer indifference.   A German child harshly whipped at least knows his father is not indifferent.   There is a kind of salvation in that.   Perhaps that is what the Jews feel.   It is a word the Christians have come to use often when describing how their god killed his own son, a but had the gift of not his really dying from it.   The Christians make much of this conundrum, Romans a charade, but it is one they set for themselves, like a chess game with rules dictating stalemate, at least for my mind. For me a proper religion would be a distillation, as with fragrances, of the good in both the god and the man, one not expecting a perfect perfume, but understanding that there is good in the process of attempting perfection, each stage rewarding, in my ruffian’s view, for I prize refinements, civilizing.


I keep in mind, I am after all now become officially political and attentive to Antiochean religious fervor and ubiquity, that with so many to be converted, I am obliged in my intelligent duty to anticipate outcomes.  As I said,  the wise general wins his war before the battle. His spies learn all, counsel bribery, division, points of negotiation.  Even those as strong as Romans gain from negotiating with the weak if that avoids expense.  It saves energy, troopers and the treasury that can be used when intelligence fails.     Those vulnerable in Antioch, as I estimate them, and have had my spies as false priests test gullibility, readiness, are those weak, poor\or ambitious but so far without success, those needy of kindness in a brotherly community, those a bit foolish who believe that by choosing they become almighty chosen, those compelled by other unfulfilled hopes such as healing, restoration, consolation.  


 A most curious type, one spy encountered one such and was himself respectfully puzzled, so it is rare, is the person genuinely struck by the overwhelming visitation of a spiritual force. Not even the experience let alone the god can be named.  I am mindful of the temple on the sacred island of Delos dedicated to the anonymous god.  I suspect one I might believe in would have no name but what I inexpertly call him as some kind of distillation of personal experience.  A “god” name then is a man’s convenience. As for the spiritual force, I would trust its reality only if all experiencing it reported about the same impact, which impact I would expect to see in their bettered lives and, perhaps, deeper religious teaching   An intelligencer tells me of a meeting where Christians sought out such blinding immersions in non-self, a few pretending took to talking incoherent nonsense and bragged themselves fine for it, a few successful becoming silently sublimely mad.  That spy of mine is an old soldier turned whoremonger turned dispenser of drugs which altar minds.  He is sometimes an assistant torturer, says the Romans pay well for his silence and the terrible noises his victims make. He tells me he has seen such death, horror and ecstasy that he can believe in only one thing; man’s blood and sex lust, capacity to inflict and enjoy  horrors.  I know this spy well; he is in fact a romantic, an idealist who could, if I am not careful where I send him, become religious


No matter, whatsoever brings them in that new god’s door, when not opportunistic and thus already cleverly connected, will be uneducated, lowly, plebeians and more women. Since we cannot deny them emotions, I grant they are closer as mothers to the powers of life, and can avoid the idiocy of philosopher’s words without meaning.   I grant there are serious philosophers, and honest priests from other sects, or scattered about those shamans and the ‘light shadowed” whose second sight yields them access across boundaries the rest of us cannot cross.  They can see, communicate with; be struck down if they are not cautious, with the presence of the god everywhere and inside. I have met one or two of this sort I trust.   I am told there are more among “Christ” followers who pray for such remarkable gifts that are also in more danger than they may realize, for the light-shadowed who move  easily to the other world may not return. 


Since the Jewish structure is of long standing, its routes to the priesthood rigidly governed, newcomers will be appreciative audience, not officers.  It is of the much newer Christians off shoot separating itself from Jews that I now make forecast.  I do know a bit, otherwise why pay spies, solicit conversations, or do a bit of sect text reading as homework?  They began quite informally, a group following one historical man, Jesus, a teaching rabbi, himself as ascetic Cynic eschewing this world and its riches, but. The informants, all of whom tell of him in stories, only a few of these are being written so far, all insist, he was a man of profound gifts, understandings, the capacity to foretell.  Not bad at magic either, although some of the whopper stories are obviously advertisements.  It has been a hundred years now since his execution, with the destiny -determining Jewish wars intervening.   Many stories are told of this master, a bard or two become devoted to singing tales over the kithara’s four strings tune.  The singing of tales is Homeric but here limited to what a Palestinian peasant can comprehend thus short, exaggerated and unlikely great poetry.  The old Hebrew love poems, I own a Greek translation of the Song of Solomon, magnificent, but hardly the stuff of proselytizing, but for a lover.  When there is little written, when few can read, what better way to relate events than to tell them well?  As with Solomon’s songs, as with what Jesus is said to have said, these are intended as from the lips of the lover god, where stories are told to enthralled ears whose owners are learning to be awed, glad and faithful.


To my poor farmer’s mind now overstuffed with elegant but unguided reading, thoughts too private to discuss because I know I am an idiot, the wisdom kernel of the Christian approach is so excellent, well -designed by way of appeal, solution, that I regret I was not their god conceiving it.  I take it as a given that man cannot understand the gods, nor his own soul as Plato understood it, for to say, as Greeks did,  “breath” or “psyche” is not enough One exception, one understands Olympians who are magnified mortals now degenerated who, prancing and temperamental, live forever which is far too long. One might also comprehend Yahweh since he is like us in being bad tempered, vengeful, unfair and egotistical.  The excellence is the new route the Christians claim for understanding,  is the idea of Jesus, who appeared as a simple man easy to talk to, particularly easy to understand, and no petulance, pettiness, in him at all. There he was, or so they say, given the gift of teaching about himself and the rest of us,  teaching the best ways for man, and the route through himself in his other godly nature. So they say.


It is a brilliant scheme. It guarantees access to power and the Good, and a fine appeal to vanity. Of course he was said to throw in some charms,  healing, miracles, to prove he was the real thing. Here was this modest fellow,  well not quite if it is true as they claim he was also a god,  the story tellers say he even capitalized it, “God” so they say, “He”. They make all this the work of a modest fellow who turns water into wine, returns the dead, walks on waves,  that sort of thing.  No deadly earthquakes, mind you,  just friendly miracles.  The trouble nowadays is that every story teller and priest who wants a greater show tells of miracles. That is fine for the superstitious,  but for my dollar (dinarius), a man with a deep religious mind doesn’t want the essence cluttered with the nonsensical.   Hannibal didn’t need to put bells on his elephants to be sure the Romans knew they were charging!


The Christians need leaders if they are to attract more than the needy, the dreamers, and perfectly sensible good people who as a social force will do them little good.  In the army I selected junior centurions for my auxiliaries. One wins no battles however good your troops unless there are commanders to organize, inspire, plan, learn warfare as a kind of bloody branch of mathematics.  Ignatius had potential, but across the Empire the ideal leader would himself be a Roman, renegade to be sure, but if he commanded no legions to lead in revolt, if he could recruit widely, even to pacifism, their very numbers would give him a power base.  The wise renegade would not threaten war against trained legions and the resources of Empire, but if he really commanded the loyalties of some millions, as the Hebrews almost achieved with their conversions, he could negotiate for himself some preferential imperial appointment, a client prince so to speak, a satrap of sorts, praefect or even provincial proconsul.  An emperor recognizing a man of such talent would hold no grudge, or if the fellow, say a bishop-prefect to invent him a title, became an annoyance, one has him assassinated.   But using this new religion as a device to negotiate for advancement is a good strategy for an ambitious man of good family and few other hopes. 


He would be much more practical than Ignatius who, if one set of stories are true, allowed one of his own factions to do him in,  He was an utter was a fool not to cut their hearts out before they had that chance, Ignatius did not understand he was too important to his cause to indulge himself in that frenzy of delight which I read in his martyrdom letters.  He went too soon and willingly to the lesson lions teach in the coliseum.  As I noted, there are no records so it may well have been a conspiracy, including a magistrate quietly paid off with gold.  It has been done before in the provinces; a trial seeming official enough to a provincial like Ignatius, but in fact sham and theater, with the sergeant of the soldiers also paid not to make too much of a show when escorting their prisoner out of town.  A contented prisoner, allowed a leisurely trip, visits to his friends, letters as he wishes, especially one who is eager for martyrdom, is unlikely to make a fuss.  Ignatius played to the game of his lazy assassins.   A clever bishop, aware of his assembly’s needs and demanding full documentation as to accusations and evidence, would not have been duped,  nor lent himself to doubt about his martyrdom, for real martyrdom to those people, is a simply capital thing.  On the other hand, he might have been thrown overboard one night, feeding fish, not fraternizing with tigers. Humiliating. 


One of the features of Roman life at higher levels is that the murkiness of events leaves a great deal to speculation to political men and gossips. I am not one of those. My speculations have very few degrees of freedom, for they are bound by what little I know and can most easily suspect.  I know that Ignatius did not need to die.  I suspect that the Christians will one day find a potent leader, one timing his moves and rhetoric, who might one day make quite a change in Rome.  


As for other potential leaders for the Christians, the sort I worry about officially, ones wiser and more widely appealing than Ignatius, there are none in sight, at least hereabouts in Syria, Palestine, and what I hear of Egypt.  These are lands of more ferment, inherent instability, but so far only from Jews. Roman Asia, all those earlier Greek cities, have their churches but these are under the watch of Proconsuls there, none of whom sense danger.   Since these lands are all far from Rome there are few of the ruling elite about, and with Hadrian’s rule benign,  there should be few candidates for serious disaffection, unless of course those over-taxed,  enslaved, subjugated, abused, helpless, hungry- thus most of our population- are quite unrealistic and expect the real world to cater to their fancies. It  is the work of my spies to be on the watch for such trouble-makers.   As for existing Christian leaders hereabouts, Heron is nothing but well-intentioned dullness.  It is a good thing his assembly are tolerant folk. It is clear he is not even worth his fellow Christians conspiring his death. .  


I am a thinking man, even if rude and stupid. My simple good sense tells me were some potential general for the Christian army of faith to arise, he must be of the Roman elite, which includes those born of families now recognized great coming from the oldest provinces such as Spain. Provincia,  Lydia/Bithynia, Macedonia, coastal Illyricium,  Greece, and yes. all the Rhine, even to Belgae and my father’s farm.   The right man, the right time, now is much too soon, I believe, but then no one expected Pompey to hurl the dice for a war against Caesar either.   The rule of Empire is always to assume there are enemies posing as friends and allies. Even so, the Christians would have to multiply like flies from maggots on a battlefield to be numerous enough to be a power demanding an emperor negotiate the terms of their bishop-praefect’s Roman promotion and betrayal of his so skillfully manipulated followers.   These are unstable times. Religious fervor grips many. A few of them are also worldly, ambitious and clever.  A spiritual path may also be temporal.  A mob being led does not look at signposts. My spies will be attentive


Since any one ambitious must, by his nature, be distrusted, since any one among the higher classes who is disaffected must be assumed capable of all treachery, since these combined would make a formidable rebel general, imagine then if he led this quiet massive army of Christians ready not to fight, but to pray and die.  A river of virtue, a river of sacrifice. I wonder if some softer-not a true Roman but auxiliary legionnaire- might have qualms about slaughtering them?   Pillaging, killing, raping after a long siege is a soldier’s release, vengeance and reward, but to tire one’s sword arm slaughtering good people, women and children the majority, is repelling, neither sport nor honor nor appetite served. No enemies these, no rebellious Jews, simply a river of goodness self-declared to be bringing love where there was too little of it.  Whole legions might be rendered impotent to kill simply because the foe were waiting with kind words and gentle embraces, calling them “brothers” I could imagine the conversion of whole legions if some priests were there under the standard of the Christ to explain the advantages of that faith. I can also imagine I am dead wrong as to limits on Roman slaughter. 


I do say, more assuredly, that any high class Roman who chooses to lead Christians, that potential army, had best be mindful of his other heritage; the nobility of death, for he is quite likely to experience it. Suicide directly, or invited by opposition or folly, seems to be a favorite form of departing among aristocrats. Dying nobly, that’s the thing. Pliny writing on C. Rufus implying how fine a thing, that crystallization of the meaning of an entire life.  It must be done grandly and publicly of course,  that Roman preoccupation with “show” again.  Caesar Augustus, otherwise sensible, asked those around his death bed to clap in applause for how well he was doing the theater of it.  Cicero, Seneca, always eyes on the show,  make those participating deaths of gladiators into the style a good Roman should follow; manfully, by all means guide the victor’s sword to you neck.  Ever so gracious, eh?  So be it, the first general of any Christian army at this stage had best be some grand aristocrat thinking Cicero, or even better, Cato. That general had best keep  in mind that  that dying gladiator whose triumph is the theater of defeat. What a nonsense these Romans have made of living! No wonder the barbarians watching them are interested in different nonsense.

 

It is out of my growing interest in the ideas of these religions that brings me to forecast their potentials.  That in turn means I may be the only man in this palace who sees the real threat of them, which is not the idiotic business of stubborn refusals to give offerings to dead Roman gods.  In that concern Rome has been obsessed with a minor symptom and fails to appreciate the disease.    With my prescience, in this one matter I think I am not stupid, I must consider my duty.  Do I warn?  Do I lay precautionary plans?  Should such a moment come, do I act to nip any such venture in the bud?  Consider a rebel general who commands martyrs not legions, who commands a faith promising heaven, who reveals there is a bit of the high god in each of us, who promises salvation which requires no circumcisions nor onerous rules about food and wives, where the gift is a kindly life on earth, where all of this is a promise to the multitudes, to them equally and at no cost, oh my, there is a general with promises that appeal!  That general and his believing army are remarkably armed indeed.  In contrast, Rome cannot offer such promise to anyone.. At some point an emperor will comprehend this.  At an earlier point someone ambitious to become emperor will comprehend it. As with Caesar at the Rubicon, the dice will be cast for an irrevocable crossing.


An ambitious general who has personal qualities and reputation that appeal, who is competent in politics and can wear at least the mask of loyalty, is, for Rome’s sake, best smothered in his crib.   There are thousands of such Romans as knights (Equis), many moving to higher rank. The good luck is that few of them are here in Syria, or perhaps Egypt to see the potentials, and to mine them. The Jews, if imperial rather than tribal, could attempt such conquests, but their interest is within their temple, not beyond the boundaries of Judea. By that disinterest, that abdication,  I daresay they guarantee future disasters for themselves.  And so, some day, some praetor, proconsul, general. tribune or governor will comprehend.   Indeed the man best served by such a constellation of faith and force, would be a competing imperial candidate.  I have heard of none in the offing, although conspiracies for the throne are best done when fewest ears hear of them


As for precautionary murder, it is the basic tool of any emperor, Trajan before him and Hadrian now included.  Again be reminded of Cornelius Palma Frontanius Aulus, deceased, who sat in this very palace not long ago.   The quiet assassination is delicacy in action, a tool used discretely.  No emperor want s to set tongues, other loyalties, mimicking ambitions, wavering legions, against himself.  After all, whomever the man eliminated, he will have friends and admirers, possibly legions he once commanded,  largesse, the distribution of which he once oversaw.  Everywhere are potential co conspirators. I am here in Antioch where the fire of religious talk and excitement is.  I see the Christian potential. However nascent, it is immense.


Consider the Christian claims, that “kingdom of god” or “Christ the King”.  These are political words, even if the Christians are too naïve to understand that, and politically far more worrisome now than when the idiot Pilatus gave the Christians a cause, a real martyr, an event their propaganda turned on its head, all by pointlessly crucifying what all agree was a mild mannered, exceptionally other-worldly rabbi. Consider the basic personal condition of those who know the Other world.   The light-shadowed move from this life to the other world through a highly permeable boundary.  So far no human, I except mythical travelers such as Gilgamesh, storied shamans such as Teriasis, has returned the same way, from the Other world to this.  But it is exactly that which Christians claim their Christus did.  And yet he was, Gnostic views excepted, a man, a simple, kindly, ordinary extraordinary man! Or so some others say.


When that Other world comes as a man in the flesh entering this one; it is, beyond the miracle and appeal of it, inevitably a political journey. It is an open frontier being probed.  This Christ moved the Other world here.  That is the reverse of the light-shadowed moving to the Other world!  The Other enters our world, and not in spirit but as material force since it has become, they say, flesh. Once the idea of “ kingdom” in the mind of a man and it cannot help but translate into real property.   Property indeed! All lands belong to Rome. Everyone else wants them. The worst case would be that a rogue Roman, another Pompey, exploits the idea of one kingdom, spiritual, to seize another, temporal.  How clever to combine them.  Now there is ambition!  It will attract some any ambitious high class Roman caught up with a Christian romance.  It will be worth the war of it for the chance of it.


It will be an unnecessary war if the enemy’s potential general can be murdered in his bed.  I will not speak of this to anyone. I am a rough, smooth, and sometimes honest man. I am  much given to educating books and complicated thoughts, including pondering religions.   I like these parts of me.   Yet I am also charged with being cunning in the service of Empire. I like this job in the palace, the pleasures of Antioch. I am a happy man when few around me can say they are that. To arrange, indeed to see to the removal of any rising enemy of Rome, even if it is only the shadow of menace we detect?  Mark me, that is my duty, , and my certain reward.


Caution then. Be silent.  Ask and watch, be moved to inquiries open and secret, for who knows if somewhere hereabouts some future Pompey lies abed thinking new thoughts of the One, Jesus, the Good?  Any high Roman has thoughts of enjoying more as his, this Empire. That defines ambition. Most lack the courage and cunning to go for it..  The best forecast is that such a man will, given current fervor, sense the opportunity to join the empire spiritual and the empire temporal. The religious  fervor is greatest in Syria. We crawl with excited seekers. Their leader will connive his opportunity here. If he is a man of depth one desire will be innate in him and the other his natural career  If so, and so I believe, a new Pompey will be drawn to contemplating an emperor for God and one for Rome, himself both of these.   Here are two destinies, this and the Other world,  joined for the here-and-now.  The earthly emperor as the Christian’s high priest, Proconsul for God makes the two empires one. Consider the egregious, delicious bravado of it, two empires, faith and flesh, made one imperative. It is imagination’s compulsion. Some Roman will pursue that destiny.

. 

Success depends on timing,  a crisis, some immense disaster, vicious division in the Empire, these always presents opportunity  Even then the pursuit is always  perilous even when done with exceeding cunning and wide persuasion. One must not alienate ones’ fellows in the ruling class, nor the men of legions. Hold out promises, deny one’s own ambition, one moves on behalf of Rome.  Best if our man has a hold on the legions, even then they must be bribed encouraged to anticipate honor and treasure.  As for idealistic fools, they are a bother and a risk. Once in power of course one destroys the most competent of ones allies.  The fools of course must go. Yes, the Roman way, tried and absolutely untrue (to one another) requires calculation and conspiracy. Woe to the fool who believes himself in fact god-chosen for the role. Gods are poor politicians, and as we saw with Yahweh, terrible generals.  The man who would be emperor must master the arithmetic of power.  


If such a fellow emerges soon, is seen to threaten emperors in our time, a wily executive serving Rome might well use the Christians themselves to solve our problem.   As with Jesus, as perhaps with Ignatius, there are unscrupulousness competitors in faith, these “yoke brothers” some call them but of the sort that yoke lies and poisons.   Since we must be obedient to the wishes of first Trajan and now Hadrian that there be no harassment of Christians for being that, no celebrated cause to rouse to further unseemly, regrettably to much admired  martyrdoms, and all that is good. We encourage the Christians with tolerance, let the flower in them bloom, no buds nipped but one day that the gardener who would trellis them.  Some flowers are deadly,  think of the nightshade.  Rome will not be implicated.  If the gardener emerges, he will be buried in his own garden, a quiet ceremony. 


Rome is an industry of death. The art of its workers, I have been one myself, requires, for delicate assassinations, a silent enthusiasm and slyness. This would be no noisy case of festive lions, nor dare it be another Jesus crucifixion fiasco. Be ever careful of work hazards.  Be a producer, not a product!  Emperors are grateful for careful interventions on their behalf. Emperors who survive are, however mad in their pleasures,  decisive realists.  Hadrian, an exemplar,  saw to the quick execution of P. Frontonanius Aulis, that recent Governor of Syria.  He was, you will recall, our S. Cornelius own, distant, cousin. 


I have been amusing myself with speculation.  There is no speculation in stating that Rome

wants no more trouble with the Jews, or their “Christian” offshoots, certainly none arising from our own Roman stupidity. As for the Jew’s capability to defy the empire, that and its consequences are evident, continuing and costly Jerusalem in its rebellion 70-72, Cyprus, Egypt, elsewhere in 215, spies’ reports of Antioch today, all make it clear that their troubles, and ours with them are not over.  Yet the trouble they make for one another, perhaps as with Ignatius himself however obnoxious, when it leads us to needless lion feeding, is embarrassing and reflects poorly on Roman thoroughness in foresight, in forestalling rebellions with our own sufficient information and cunning.  Active precautions then, incumbent upon us lower servants, given and with an emperor who abhors unnecessary bloodletting but wisely in self-protection, who has quietly expressed himself as no fan of gladiatorial combat, who would wish that coliseum lions be put on a diet excluding religious zealots—there are criminals enough for their nourishment, we must be proactive. I happily consider myself that, should the prophylactic need arise.

 

I will visit the Christians to make assessments, offer the pleasing appearance of bridges built from church to palace, and once I identify disputatious factions, then the ordinary political business of weakening, dividing,  pitting one faction against another, offering dividing alliances, but knowing that it is our own manipulation and so, as we listen we know the deadly accusations coming forward are our own process underway. We have set the vipers to hissing. Essential, I will plant spies and learn who among the sects and assemblies is not above informing.  The palace purse will fertilize an emerging  gardeners soil. We will also oversee the harvest.  My speculation may well have been premature, but the duties of intelligence and strategic, contingent  plans are never so. I am old enough to be fatigued. By Jupiter, these religious sects are time consuming!  At times I can imagine myself indulging in proto- Euclidian theorems and proofs of a God who would forgive my becoming lazy, abandoning spying and the occasional assassination, one day perhaps allowing the indulgence of becoming a peaceful man.  Perhaps I should allow this future man to listen to the Christians.   


I would be bored with an Heaven made of couches and amicability. If angels are like cherubim, they are unsexed. I have enough amusement here below. It is a good thing for my positive view of Christians that I put little store in promises of eternity.  Indeed astronomers say even the cosmos may not be eternal, stars too may have lives and deaths. So be it.   My own good fortune is rare.  I understand how most people living a life of suffering feel cheated envy those of us healthy, happy, a bit debauched at no cost, sitting here in fine digs in a grand palace. Their taste of life is bitter.  They glimpse what lies in the gardens, but they are in the gutter.  Of course they want heaven and forever!  I am sure they conceive it in terms of envy; of course their evil eye is jealous.  Heaven is the cure for the ever malicious, envious, desiring evil eye.  At last, what a glimpse of life promised and did not deliver, this Christian god awards them!   What poor devil wouldn’t expend a bit of prayer and mumbo jumbo, turn himself into the immediate reward of being good in the company of others likewise wanting, to retrieve his failed life?   But for an occasional unpleasantness such as martyrdom, itself a guarantee of quick exit from disappointment and a quick reward  for finding the exit,  the price of heaven is paid to the Christian, an admirable economics. Absolutely splendid.  So they say. It is a clever gardener, intent on being dual imperator, who can feed his army’s recruits with sustenance for the soul. 


As to my introduction to this chapter, to consider the future of religions in Antioch,  appreciate  that if I myself am of several minds, many more if you allow idle ramblings to constitute my “mind’ as well.  My good sense restrains the dreamier mind inside me which allows my babble about a Platonic One and the new Euclid who does this better geometry and architecture of the One,  or  “God” as the Christians call him.  A second view, you see I am disconnected with myself, would follow Epicurus, both with respect to good taste, and good sense. All there is only nature as we see her, no gods, no soul, no after life and, follow through on that, no meaning to us beyond what we make of ourselves. Make the best of what we have, don’t waste energy or money on priests, accept and enjoy as best we can.  Utterly sensible.  If one’s trembling, those odd pricks of something else around,  allow it. 


The sensible fellow here, you know well by now.  His, mine own, is well-connected to my flesh.  Women, wine, practicality, wars and conniving, such quiet assassinations as are required, a show of fealty to empty Roman gods, all in loyalty to Rome which has treated me well. Syria is a good posting,  I am healthy and not without ambition, and there is something pleasureable to pluck out of each day and, of course those girls and the wine, night. I have a good boss, that S Cornelius, terse, deep I think, modest to be sure,  and quite well-reputed man, the best type of Roman.  I don’t care that he’s eccentric, after all he shares his fruit and nut bowl treats with me. I like my governing work here in the palace. There’s enough power in it to inflate me a bit, indulge in some abuse, so no day is too dull.  It is of the everyday sort of colonial work, but has taught me what no soldier learns of patient, priorities, and what few Romans ever want to learn, but what S. Cornelius insists upon; honesty. I do not regret that I have not the full capacity for it.  He is in every way a better man than I,  but for what I see as foolish self demands, and those visions, dreams of his.  The test?  I like me the way I am and will be more so.  I think he does not like who he is, and would be other.  Not for me, thank you. 

----------

Previous Chapter    Next Chapter