Still Drunk in Daphne, but Learning …

BALTHUS HERE STILL  I was sick to my stomach for too long. My hands shook. I was bleary eyed, I’m sure.  My tunic was covered with puke, mostly wine and greenish-bilious yellow stomach juices, but also with islands of meat and sweets I had been eating through the evening. Eros, had not had a sip of wine. The Empire accepts drunkenness as normal, no shame to it, but North Germans are a stiffer sort.  I was ashamed, disgusted and disabled. Eros,had he wished could have humiliated me even more, not calling the slave to clean me up, for instance, or telling some slave to push the tottering spectacle of me over, for standing or seated. I was too far gone to resist. 

 There was a strategy in Eros.  In his business he’d seen thousands of ranking Romans drunk, but in this instance he wanted something from me.  First he proved his superiority, including erudition, then humiliation, and then some kind of generous spirit.  I could see it happening. By Hecate how I’d like to slit him colon right t to the jaw.  It is true, I know it, that I am not a nice man. Tonight I was not a proud one either. 

Eros breathed in the night air, making a show of not taking  air from my direction. Once again he was launching his grand ship of self down the rhetor’s ways into the great sea of talk, the winds of pomposity driving it, self-importance at the helm. I know, metaphors are best killed by drowning now, but for us drunks pleased to have any words at all at hand, I say the navigator went by the name of “Calculation” 

“I mentioned the turncoat Jew, Paul, I spoke of the Christian sect.  It will surprise, you that I could be a religious man.  I was tutored in Aristotle,  learned the value of virtue.  Other Greek philosophers lead one to that as well.  I have often thought of being virtuous as an adjunct career.   Our Simon shows devout, but not with virtue in mind, no, I don’t think so.  Heaven yes, in his mouth and many futures, to bring happiness yes, insofar as it pays him, but he will be judged insincere of he speaks of valuing any cynic’s virtue, any morality such as Cato, There is an untouched market there, old sport, giving the good of mankind as a retail product  Let me put it in my merchant’s way.  I think of becoming a high priest of ascetic, good willed virtue, the Jesus sort, for he beyond anyone understood its value.    Poor pious Jew, he wasn’t clever enough to make money from it, persuasive as he was.  He needed a sensible manager, right there on the spot. I say this anticipating when you sober up,  mutual respect,  watch me turn the Jesus trick.   Virtue properly marketed,  and not too strictly required, will pay off. A parade of righteousness, given music and banners, and an occasional wink to the knowing. attracts. 

I’ve had my eye on Simon Magus; he’s a friend of sorts, insofar his sort are capable of friendship. In business you use the word loosely.  Mind you, I am the sort who can be a friend, a true friend, and you’ll do well to keep it in mind.  One day you and I are likely to find us trusting one another, best of friends, keep that in mind.   As for our Simon Magus, you’ve heard of him, for he is famous this end of Our Sea  He’s turned himself into an high priest for the Christians, and oh how they love it.  He’s on to a good idea, one the other Gnostics have entirely missed.  Listen carefully.

He preaches that the body doesn’t matter, so, do what you want with it, anything goes. Since the Gnostic doctrine is that the god who made this world is evil, which is easy enough to agree with, so that you, all men, are evil by design, means none of it is our fault. Your evil then, whatever you do, is, I repeat, not your fault. Virtue is a foreign import.  Be as evil as your creator is, and love every minute.  But the evil deputy god does not command Heaven, nor is there any hell, since earth is enough of that.  Die without Simon and go to emptiness, be nothing for eternity.  Hades, as the Greeks saw it, was at least darkness and thirst to experience, where at least your self-aware spirit felt something, eternal hopelessness as it was.  You could talk to people at least. If a Greek can talk, it’s not all that bad. Heaven on the other hand, well, that has everything.  I repeat,  everything!  And it’s all there for the taking, for eternity.  Jesus, who was part of the God higher than the evil deputy, tells them so. Talk of mining the silver of Lavrion?  Nothing much, but mining Heaven here on earth and then again once you get there, that’s the ticket to bliss.

So Simon asks his followers, “Do you want to get to Heaven, have everything, I do mean sex, gold, wine, slaves, happiness, and have it forever?  No problem, Simon- he follows some Thomas in this- has got another higher god hidden in a closet upstairs That’s the true God who has disowned his evil deputy but can’t get rid of him, his spirit powers only work in Heaven, not here.  You have to pay Simon a considerable fee to get him to recite over you the magic incantations that gets you into that god- closet. The Gnostic ticket, and he sell them. Simon understandably calls it a wonder, a marvel, the highest truth, and, as tickets go, for him Heaven is the finest meal ticket there can be . I’m sure of it, Simon is on to something big.  People come to him down where he’s been working in Biblos and even Caesarea, closer in Sidon and Tyre They come to him in droves.  Simon the drover, oh yes, all his sheep are feeding well, feeding him well.

Simon is a working magician. Not at all stupid, he senses something happening, something in the air here in Syria, thinks maybe the whole Mediterranean will be ripe.   I don’t sense it, not in the places I run, but he says people are dissatisfied, restless, caught up in the idea of new a golden age, believe they can have it right close by now, in Heaven.  All you have to do is die, which is easy enough, and pay him to say the magic words. He even believes some of the stuff himself, that adds to the sincerity of his pitch.  

All and good and good for him, but I’ve got a better idea, copycat sure, but okay, Simon’s pitch won’t please as much as the other Christian one, the old Ignatius and Jesus one.  Followers go to Heaven in their real bodies, not as Gnostic spirits, who, as you see are too much like the thirsty shades in Hades.  All right, so they are happier, but it’s entirely ascetic, no body so no drinking, no sex, not even hands with which to play board games. Flesh in Heaven, flesh is heaven, that’s the ticket.  That’s the smart Christian angle and mine.  I’m going to beat Simon at his own game. What do you think, friend “B” ?, how’s that for a virtuous Eros, moving from turning priestesses into whores, which of course we will certainly do when you come aboard, adding a new line of business, virtue itself, the whoremonger becoming high priest?  

I had to hand it to him, Eros extraordinary.  I was not so drunk he didn’t amaze me. A real bastard but artful.  And a realist, a very rich realist who could afford a priestly career. Would the Christians have him?  Some group somewhere would,, he’d buy and sweet-talk his way in. 

“Dominus Balthus, Second Secretary, I thank you for being attentive even though full of wine and such virtue it teaches.  I will tell you a bit about religion and the good life.  Simon who has declared himself a Gnostic high Priest, says he doesn’t have to die to go to Heaven, he’s got it right now.  The early Christians said the Christ would come in their lifetimes, Heaven on earth once Judgment had fallen, Parousia they called it, and as I said earlier, they waited and all that happened was they had to wiggle out of their promises.  Didn’t teach them a thing.  Simons way means no one has to wait. Simon, full of devotion and faith, adored by faithful followers, has got their happy ship’s tickets ready.

Gnosticism fits perfectly with Simon’s magic, for the incantations one has to know are complicated, secret and highly saleable.  The believer says them himself, but they must also be changed by the priest so the believer, when his time comes, may swim the ocean of the sky to the distant true High God.  That is the same one the Jews and other Christians worship.  Imagine, the only way to heaven is secret, and Simon holds it.  He is a generous man in putting it all up for sale, not cheap ,you understand, but heaven, whether at the tavern, a bordello or in one’s convictions deserves to be costly. Simon loves gold.  I don’t believe I told you he’s obsessed with it, so much so that he is also, no need at all for it but compulsion, a thief.    

Gnostics borrow some of their lore from the Egyptians who were also intent safely to reach the Land of the Dead. They do it still, intone all manner of chants, elaborately prepare the bodies, and invoke the gods.  Some of theirs are crocodiles and birds.   Simon has simplified it so the average man, paying the price for the magic scrolls and ways, the words to be said during this life and over the body for the swim to the next, can purify the spirit so it can rise to Christian Heaven to sit next to the spirit of God herself, himself.  Yes, a two sexed god, hermaphroditic and all the more holy in his, her, strangeness for it.  A lover, body and soul,  for men and women,  all equal before the altar and in bed.  I hear there are bi-sexed frogs as well.  Simon croaks over a larger pond.  Amusing, a frog god, I’ll remind Simon, who is likely bisexual, what adaptability, eh? My girls know him. He requires the best.  As for boys, he finds his own. He’s possessive about the boys. Now that Pythia is out of a job, I’ m not sure you know she is a princess, according to Greek honors accorded the oracle. There’s advertising in that, and she is out of a job.  I suspect he will go sniffing her up. He lies elegantly to women, has more angry wives than I can count. Anyway, my friend Simon has carved out his claim on the Gnostic high priesthood.  He will do well, a silver tongue and gold receipts.

As for my own priesting pastime, Balthus, I do count you friend, you might even speed up my accession to the local Ignatian assembly. Kill Heron, no one will miss him. I know your earlier reputation, Centurion, and your knife’s.  Have it done, I don’t care, but it’s worth your months’ salary to me, and you can bargain for me.  I am a generous man.  Heron will die soon enough, I am told he is ill.  Hurry him to Heaven.  I’m eager for the virtue of it. Those simple souls preaching the loving High God who lives inside the flesh, If ever a man understood flesh I am the one.  If it’s proportionate to a combination of understanding, practice and provision, why, there’s more God in me than anyone else in Syria. I’ll Jesus great nephew. if that’s the key to kinship and their very valuable building. When the day comes they need a high priest, I’ll be there, a bishop, yes, I rather like that. I like adding this other line of work”  He began rubbing has hands again.  He felt the coin in them. 

I held myself no friend of the Christians, but I could hardly wish this baggage on them.  I protested, and damn, it was done sitting down because my head was still woozy and my legs to match, my stomach was miserable, my mouth was the inside of a donkey’s bladder, oh I had really done myself up this time, So it was a twisty this tongue of mine, and much embarrassment to it, but drink pulls out the stopper on stupidity, as mine now.  I launched my  own boat, listing.

“Eros, I have met some of those people.  The Christians are good and simple folk who, like their Paul whom you mock, want nothing to do with murderers, fornicators, drunks, adulterers, thieves, cheats and the rest of your kind.  They will welcome you in their assembly, hope you will confess what they call ‘sins’ but out of kindness, trusting you’ll be purified so you can go to their Heaven.  Not that I believe in any Heaven but what we do by way of our selfish best here on this planet of blood, booze and dirt, but they’re sincere enough to die for it.  You’re ridiculous, there’s no more chance you could be their priest than you’ll turn into a Cynic philosopher.  And kill Heron, hardly”

He was patronizing,  “Oh, Balthus, I do hate it so to see you this way, drunkenness simply doesn’t become you, dear fellow.  You go on like a child, poor thing.  I’ll tell you what, I’ll wager you your month’s salary against my profits equal to that, I’d guess that to be about 10% of one night’s take from not even my best bordello in Antioch.  The bet?  If there’s an opening for high priest in Ignatius assembly,  “bishop’ they call him, I’ll get the job.  A little luck, immense donations, great speeches on repentance, the good work of greasing some palms, the ordinary politics of conspiring with the discontented while inveighing against them with the others, and ever so much piety, repentance, oh yes, who could be better at it than Eros, the master observer of sin?  Killing Heron speeds up the happy inevitable, that’s all,  and we are both the better off for it.  You see before you,  my dear ‘B”,  the next Bishop of all Syria, and much beyond”. 

I’ll do it well, study up on the theater of it. I will ask Simon Magus who is a great teacher of acting- and sincerity- to help.  I will fake sincerity better than you can imagine, to the point I believe it myself.   Don’t take me wrong, poor fellow, I grant I need reform, sometimes I disgust even myself, and what do I need with any more money  As for girls, I’ m almost sick of love- making, I’m getting too old for the athletics of it. Sometimes it bores me.  Believe me, dear boy, Christianity might be the best thing ever to happen to me, yes…” he was rubbing his hands together again, licking his thick lips, even took to rolling his eyes for the effect of it…”Yes, much better than worrying about a few more Apollo priestesses turning tricks, a couple of girls giving their godly all to tourists who want Zeus and Apollo spiced.  They’ll be like all the rest of them, cheating the house by holding back tips, oh, these tarts are such trouble, have to watch them every minute. I won’t give them up, oh, no, but being Bishop will be good for my soul, and diverting”.

You’d be surprised, your good word for the Christians has done me a world of good, confidence in the right endeavour, so to speak. I thank you, yes, sincerely.  I’ll be talking to Simon about it, he’s ever so devout, all and all a good man that Simon, but for a few careless habits that he seems driven to, particularly the thieving.  I’ve told him that will get him in trouble someday, but he’s so egotistical, you know, full of himself, whereas, I will say this for the both of us, once centurion, now soggy tippler, you and I are more modest, nothing stupid about either of us, indeed when you sober up, old sot, you’ll see that in some ways we’re quite alike, eh?  As I said, brothers.  Now, , here your horse is ready for you, don’t forget our bet”

I swore at him but he couldn’t hear it, the words were born deformed, nor did my flopping limbs go where I wanted them. By the cold tits of Hecate, I really had had too much. My voice was hoarse from the puke. It was a whisper when I tried to argue.  “There’s no bet, you bastard, I don’t bet.”

Two husky slaves were hoisting me on my horse. My arms at least gripped his neck and slowly I wove myself upright in the saddle.   One slave held up some rope, indicating he could tie me on if I felt I was going to fall off.   Oh Hecate darling, once a cavalryman, and I had come to this.  I shook my head, no rope to tie me on, thank you, I had tied one on myself, so to speak, nor would I stoop to hold the horses’ mane. Good horse, he was probably as disgusted with me as I was.

Eros was grinning, an insult in itself. He said casually,  “By the way, friend, Simon Magus is coming by my place tomorrow morning. He’s come up from Sidon where he’s run a “God gala” to introduce the Gnostic Christ, his version of it all, “a salvation extravaganza” he calls it. “revelations of the secret path”  Oh yes, this high priest is quite the impressario, but as emperors themselves know, to get the interest of the plebs you have to put on shows.  Nothing bloody here, you understand, Simon is positively fastidious, hates blood, I think it is his Greek mother.  In any event, since I haven’t given up on your coming around to be sensible, and sober, you’re invited.  It will be early, just after sunrise. Anybody in town can tell you where my house is.  Next to Apollodorus’ place,  it ‘s the most palatial.  I’d invite you to stay over, to show you what a peach of a fellow I am, but I can’t stand the stink of you.  So, old B, do be sure you really clean up before you come by.”

I glared at him, I was weaving in the saddle, but at last my eyes could focus. They had stopped rolling around in my head like balls spun in a bowl.  He was the most patronizing bastard I had ever me.  If I had thought I could bring it off, I would have charged him with my horse and trampled him.  With my luck tonight, I would have fallen under his hooves myself. I brought myself to civil speech, simply to see if I could.

“No thanks, , I’m due in the palace first thing.” 

“Maybe it will change your mind when I tell you I’m going to invite Helen, the perhaps immortal of Troy. I know where she’s staying with the lesser priestesses, you remember I told you. In any event Simon has already heard the rumour that this Helen might have been the oracle herself. He has big ears that Simon and employs a goodly set of listeners to be them, he has heard that Helen is, beautiful, well connected, and as lordly as a queen, but then she is a princess ,beyond the Greek honorific, if there is a ‘beyond’ to it, princess of what I have no idea. If real, she might be spawn out of some provincial tribe, or entirely foreign, a Goth or Caucasus girl maybe.  Simon, to be sure a ladies man as I told you, will sniff up this Helen.  He’s a handsome devil himself. They’d make quite a pair. Any Pythia is in theater, any woman who allows the claim she is the original Helen of Troy is either immortal in fact or a magnificent piece of acting herself.  I never petitioned to have an audience with Pythia.  Frankly I know they wouldn’t have let me in her sanctuary, but now, well Apollo gone, a very smart Helen has to be looking for opportunities, and with her looks and connections, she can choose the best.  Simon’s might be her stage. I’m writing that to her in the invitation. 

I wasn’t so entirely stewed that I couldn’t catch the inconsistency, “This is the Pythia you were bad-mouthing a few minutes ago?  The, murdering, bribing, untrustworthy, young sacred priestess-defiling lesbian, the great whore of Tyre, the bloody- hands- defiled Helen?  Now you invite her, praise her to me, set up Simon for a partnership? “  

He nodded, smiled, rubbed his hands together.’ “Well, I didn’t say I knew those things were true, just that some people might be saying them, if not today, well someday if the gossip pump is primed.  None are inconsistent with Helen being superbly skilled, endowed, and impressive which Pythia must be in any event.  If all that is gossip is true, so much the better.  I admire a magnificent talent, She’s made her way before, and of course she’ll stay at the top.  Simon, who comes from a squalid background, mud- blooded so to speak, he’s the one who coated his tongue with silver, would be lucky to get her in any position, standing, preaching, or lying down. Besides as Pythia and priestess she ‘s used to women being treated as worthy. Pride, power and dignity I’ll wager. Spoiled rotten, in other words.  That the Gnostic god is man and woman joined, that his female part is Sophia, wisdom, a symbolic epiphany of Athena, might well appeal to now Helen. Consider:, Apollo’s oracle is chosen by one of the greatest Greek gods.  She was joined to him in his wisdom and words. That woman is herself a spiritual person, god-driven perhaps.  Who knows, the tempo of the time is change, the Greek gods are dying, no one who feared or honored them would commit the sacrilege of burning Apollo’s temple, there’s proof for you. Antioch is filling up with Jews, Christians, all sorts of well, call it God-fire or lunacy, I don’t care.  But any Helen, who’s watched time from Troy to now, knows change and is ready for it.  To survive she’s ahead of as well as behind it.  Even if she’s not an immortal, I’ll wager she is one smart woman. If she comes, I do myself a favor to meet her.  Who knows, if she and Simon don’t click, I may think of a better offer for I am, after all, much more clever than he is.

And if that doesn’t work, well, Dominus, secretary and serving boy to the great hero and powerful junior governor, S. Cornelius, you all may work something out with her, eh?  After all, if your Quaestor is interested in a new woman, she might be just right.  He could offer the palace, nobility, wealth, respectability, an assured future.   What more glorious opportunity, if you can arrange it. A life in the palace, or with Simon as a religious huckster, or working for me, getting rich as Eastern queen of her trade ? If she is what I suspect, she will know the sensible thing.  If you have the smarts to set it up, Dominus, you owe me.”  He leered, rubbed his hands together slowly, slowly, masturbating a piece of living gold. “Yes, Dominus, I will have put you together. What happens after that, well let’s see how clever you are. and that admirably honest S. Cornelius.   So do come tomorrow morning, will you not?

He paused, content, calculating a grateful Simon if that is what emerged,   his having Helen of Troy ruling his poshiest whore house, or some agent’s  price for Helen,  he had  no idea whatsoever of S. Cornelius interest and my mission, if she were installed in Antioch as a Cornelius. 

“Dominus, let me remind you, regarding the sacred Pythia and the Trojan perhaps Princess Helen, simply because I pay no heed to scurrilous remarks, people hereabouts in Daphne know that some Helen, who says she is of Troy, is, as the great whore of Tyre, the most sought-after courtesan between Dacia, the Pontus and Alexandria. Helen leaving Menelaus in Argos to warm Paris’ bed is history’s most known example of palace couch hopping, “capitol exchange” perhaps, female fungible kinds. Were any of it true, and there is no one to prove it is not, our Helen still has some skip in her. If it is that Helen, she might go for my offer which is already in what was once her line of work. 

Now, realize I am her defender. I tell you the rumour only so that the palace is warned, so that if Helen later engages in something untoward, character will out and that sort of thing. I have been forthcoming, for I will have told you of, well you measure, it, the risk.  For myself, I hardly believe a word of the rumour. If the Helen you claim to have brought into town today- I confess I have not met anyone who saw you riding in, but the story is about that you did,  was as gossip told me,  you certainly have been mum about it, was Apollo’s Pythia yesterday, that Pythia was above reproach, She was dutiful and secret as required. She was never seen and never an ill word said of her.  A difficulty here, who will say who Pythia was?  Who will identify her?  Apollonius is gone, oh yes, the young priestesses should  know, but since I know they can be bribed, having done it myself, how can one trust them the untrustworthy?   So, yes, Pythia was a priestess of the sacred, and a blood princess as well. But now that she is just one more Helen out of work, well we shall see how needy she’s become.  

I trust, Dominus, you will make that judgment of risks.. If you want to sell this Helen to the Quaestor as a wife, best you know the Tyre account; you’d be selling him a woman whose business it is to be bought. I suspect a crusty aristocrat of S. Cornelius sort, would not be grateful for your introducing him to damaged goods.   I myself look forward to meeting Helen,.a woman who might have caused the world’s most famous war is an exciting piece. Bed her at my place and we are talking real money, big money.  If she is Pythia without her Apollo, footloose then, she will be looking for a new berth.

Simon is a stylish fellow, whatever his bad habits. If there is still a heated woman in that Helen, he might turn her head.  She has been a long time without a bed partner. Were Simon persuasive, were she to become Gnostic Sophia’s incarnation’s as female half of “God”,  that will sell well to the public. If the Gnostic line sells,  the argument can be made that when Jesus was on earth as God and mortal, no surprise to any Olymbian or Titan in that,  he would have had a female half as well. On earth that means a wife.  Some say Mary Madalene was that. All the Olympians save Artemis were hotly sexed,  Jesus is as much god as any of them, and in the form of a man. I’ll believe no story of him that doesn’t admit he was getting some…

As to Helen playing earthly counterpart to Sophia, why not?’  If she really is the Helen Paris stole, living that long she must be half immortal. we can put out the story that she was earlier known as Mary Magdalene. What a sales pitch that could be, this triple nature’d woman, Troy, now Sophia, and there in between, Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ honey. No, a four part women. More, maybe if we bring in the loose woman part,  Magdalene was whore but redeemed by the god, maybe, if we can clean it up bit, the repentant and famous Whore of Tyre. Repentant but still willing to turn a trick or two! Even better, repentant but vulnerable, oh sweet girl, the customer gets an introduction but no guarantee. Men like that kind of challenge, and Helen can bargan for more to sweeten her remorse!  All this makes me go nuts over the possibilities.  I would bankroll it and take a suitable profit, Simon does his huckstering part, Helen front and center, drums, trumpets and all. We set up, retail trade, stalls outside the tent selling Helen-blessed charms, incantations done by a her hand,, goddess figurines, sexual aids and for Gnostics who go for that, “redemption” coupons. What marketing potential, Gnostics, the Troy and Homer buffs, the strictly Jesus crowd, Apollo devotees, old folks who miss the Olympians,  and any other pagan local yokels we can suck into the show.   Helen gets her share of the take of course  And if she’ll turn tricks, only the richest men in Syria and Asia, hell, the playboy crowd will come over from Rome to lay a legend like that, oh my, oh my, how the money will roll in. I’ll tell you how good this is, I’ll take a night or two of the little lady myself, no charge!

I have to get Helen’s ear on this, and Simon’s of course as god-himself impresario. Lee’s see if she can  remember herself as the Magdalene, the woman of Jesus, partner of the very soon Christ to come. Maybe we should let’s see how the idea of children plays; a fertile Magdalene then, earth mother goddess touch..  We hire some brats, dress them up,maybe gold dust their hair,teach them some devotional lines, and trot the little turds out on stage as entre act entertainment.  We can even sell the ones with the cutest rears. So we had pedophils to our market, that’s half of Syria!.  I dislike children, but this Sophia-Magdalene and Earth Mother might well go over. So we sell fertility charms.  That old bat Hecate will be furious, won’t she?

As for the sweet complexity of it, oh how I wish you were sober enough, dear B, to see what it can do for us if we manage her ourselves.  Simon is all show and impulse, no great planner there, nor brain either, We don’t have to share the whole purse with him., I am the brains, Simon is the showman, Helen is the draw, maybe we try out Helen dominatrix whipping Simon into pleas and wimpers. No one has ever staged that before, risky but we test it out on a small crowd of women to see how it flies.  I’d say it would be a girls-only side show.  We can also hustle Simon to the rich ones, he has an untiring cock”  

Eros turned to me, still sitting there on my horse, the animal happy to take it easy. Saying

“And, Balthus baby, where to you fit in?  Palace sponsorship no less, first show a legal holiday, and maybe the Governor in the front row, or a box in a balcony we could build.  And, some soldiers as an honor guard,  and protection if rowdies want to take over. You, now drooping Knife, assure governmental favor, and protection from any sect protesting.  Those crazy religious bastards, you never know what bug crawls up inside them. Protests are a good thing, publicity,  but we have to keep them small, and out of the way.  So, think about it partner. Get the taste of real money in your mouth”  

Balthus, Centurian,   what do you say? This one tops the palace and your Quaestor for best Helen’s use. But this idea is brilliant. I’m brilliant. With my marketing,  I just think about the Helen-as-Sophia angle, all the women in the Syria, will flock to their new patroness goddess. The Peter Christian women will go for it too, the Magdalene bit, oh yes, as the man said, ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’  and there will be, generations of them. Right now it’s our turn.

Now, a more confidential angle.  Think on it, Centurion, the palace no doubt prizes its secret ears. Syria, its Palestine province, these parts are always potentially unstable.  Think of the Jewish revolts. Were I a Roman governor, wouldn’t it be useful to have Helen, Sophia, and Magdalene reporting directly to me, eh? And I throw in my girls of course. it’s the patriotic thing to do. The one to whom this reporting is done, the one who runs the political script of such an asset, is in a position to win and sell favors, to forecast the course of religion.  You, my friend, are the one who can will place your boss above the Governor in importanc, if you can get to our Emperor Hadrian for direct intelligence reporting. Your boss will be very grateful.. You can count on me as quiet partner,  especially with that grinning idiot Simon. I’ll handle him. He will never realize what’s going on, but that he'll be on stage, where Helen off stage can be idolized over the Empire. Brilliant. You've got to see that, Balthus, and on the side we can run a new flesh trade be with the priestesses, not just for men, but we can run a specialty business for the Shapho, Lesbos girls, those lesbians who so far have no professionals serving them.  Balthus, with your palace influence we can own flesh markets from here to anywhere, and run the religious hucksters as well.  Think big, my friend, think money”

I revised my opinion of Eros. One smart and imaginative man. Not good at assessing people, me for example, or S Cornelius, or too likely, Helen. Much of his proposition passed me by, I had no interest in any event, but I realized I had to meet Helen.  I summoned my brew-gnarled puke- marinated tongue, an acid-bathed voice box,  to tell him  I’d be at his house in the early morning. I was turning my horse toward the soldier’s camp, my much needed bed, when he spoke again.  Damn him, he never stopped talking.

 “I am a sincere man, Centurion and Secretary. Think on it when I tell you your owing me will be less important than my owing you, which, given our positions, is what I propose.  That will be a partnership in which I will be the more appreciative one. Partnerships are about trust, without which no business, let alone friendship, can survive.  Trust, Secretary and Centurion, trust must underlie our lives. I don’t demean your intelligence by meaning the stupid kind where we expect each other to be virtuous, honest, to be like Cato, your S. Cornelius or the morals Christians talk about, no, real trust is predictability, where the one doing the trusting does so because he knows exactly what the other fellow will do.. I have told you a great deal about myself, telling you what you need to know about me so that you can understand and thereby trust me.   I gave you that same information about Simon, very little about Helen because I have only rumours..  By morning you will understand that I can be your best business partner, perhaps at least a good route to your gaining the full confidence of your superior, whose other kind of trust, the silly sort, we can both play.  I think we can already say about each other, the way the wise man does, ‘we trust one another’  Right?, Right.”

Eros’ look was almost solicitous in being satisfied I was safely seated. . He raised his voice to be sure I could continue to hear, for my horse was beginning to walk away, not yet out of the torchlight.  

“Think well of me, Junior Secretary and forgive yourself.  You and I are two sides, Janus, of one coin.  You are in the public service; I am in the pleasure service.  We serve the people, do you and I. Give my regards to your superior.  I hold out no hope for him at all, no, everyone ends up hating an honest man. Remember Cato helped destroy the Republic with his virtue.  Another Gracchii, another Cato, another paragon for some Plutarch to praise, another Christ, those fools.  Save us from worthy fools, We are realists, you and I, good and decent men.  We want to make people happy. 

So saying, Eros turned his back, walked away, the silks of his pantaloons swaying, his slippers- he wore this Eastern footwear not the Hellenic/Roman sandal, hissing a bit as he moved over the grass with a grace belied by his portliness.  He was soon out of the torches’ light, moving into darkness.  That grace was the least of surprises, for this plump fellow given much advantage by my own wine-born stupidity and clumsiness, was someone to be reckoned with.  Master of his moods and artful words, so much brighter and more educated than I had ever conceived, his nature puzzled me. As I swayed on my horse’s back on the gentle walk toward the encampment, I reviewed myself.  My pride and his contempt had built a fierce score in me, which required his blood, at least until now that had been the level of my vengefulness. But the further my horse walked, restful in his slow hoof tempo on a smooth road this windless night, owls hooting, a night songbird serenading in the distance, the more my head cleared. I was not sick any more. It was a fine night,  even my self –loathing was dissipating. 

I had learned a great deal. Eros was brilliant. No doubt he would become bishop if he wanted. In the Helen as Magdalene as goddess scenario, he was quite right, the intelligencer who ran the woman, to whom she reported, would have achieved a coup;  Rome there inside god’s, ‘God’s” camp, writing the political script.  Let Christianity flow over the Empire as I had already considered it might,  it would be Rome’s channel down which it flowed. Whether it would be Gnostic depended on the woman power of it, and whether it was enough to have the spirit without flesh, accept the world as totally evil,  a distant and secret god, “God” most people could never know or approach, priests who had complete power over the secret knowledge, and dismissal of the flesh now and for eternity.  My bet was that the brilliant Eros had been smelling the fumes of my wine.  It made no sense. Simon who was its king for the day, would go for it, Helen might just,  but if she had any brains at all, she would see it would not compete with the bachelor Jesus, resurrected flesh, daily love enacted of the Ignatius’ camp. Nor are women are powerful enough to direct that river.

It was in my better mood, that I realized Eros had, been kinder to me than I deserved. He had been tolerant of my worst,  had confided unflattering truths about himself, and was quite a useful informant. There was good will in him of a sort, for his comments about Simon Magus were useful to me officially, his provocative remarks about Helen were warnings as well as praise, whereas his invitation to me to join them in the morning was more useful for me than for him, however he hoped to exploit it. In all of it then, there was the good will as a calculating man wished to invest, but no evident rancor.  As for insults, I deserved disdain. As for “trust”, yes it was there in a way as he defined it.  I would be there in the morning, see what transpired, come to some clearer views, but I had lost my rancor. 

I gave my horse an heel dig, lay the reins on his neck to direct him toward the camp. Eros had bested me this evening, Helen this morning. I had some recouping to do. I would see Eros, meet Simon and try to get Helen aside for S. Cornelius, and then be off as quickly as I could to Antioch, the palace.  I’d report the whole thing to S. Cornelius, my stupidity most of all.  As for  Helen of today. I owed her an apology, and to S. Cornelius as well. If Helen of tomorrow morning proved high priced prostitute not Pythia, I’d guide myself accordingly.  If she showed up I would at least be able to tell the Mule what she looked like.  Beautiful” Eros had reported; all the more trouble if true.

The horse found his way back to the trooper’s camp, the campfires were in sight as the road came around the cypress grove.  The sentries nodded me past.   I found my tent-marking torches; an orderly came up to stable the animal.  I fell into bed.  What a day!  What a night!  Child Balthus, at this old age, was still learning about the world. One is never as clever as one thinks.  In Rome the costs of self-delusion are serious, whether for oneself, or those who trust you.  Balthus, old Knife, you are a fool.


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