I, Sempronius Scipio Cornelius, some add “Gracchus,” nicknamed “Mulus”, the mule, write this near the Ides, this Roman year 862, (Christian year 127, editor). Balthus, Balteus, his sinister nickname, brought me the great news yesterday, that I will see Helen tomorrow. He also was facing news about himself that gave him little enough pleasure. He is quite sensitive, although he has yet to understand this advantage in himself. He does not understand how highly I regard him, including these revealed dissatisfactions with himself, whether drink or Helen induced. In my experience external sources are just the beginnings of self-dismay. Honest self-examination will yield pain and, in brave folk, improvement. “Know yourself” as the wise Greek said, knowledge begins with that. Balthus is one of the few people I know who. appreciating that, may yet be in formation. There is an unstated companionship in that, since I am in that process as well, although with a great deal more contemplative fuss, than that earthy Suebian.
It is my 52nd year. I reflect on the oddity of it, for I yet await wisdom, cannot define satisfaction, am experiencing the love flutters of a youth, and I know of my future only that it will come upon me, and I actively on it, as something quite different than the now of me. By my age others of like blood and class, if fortune and ambition have favored them, have made their long marches, have long ago seen clearly what lies before them, understood that it is much like that which is behind. All of this, acknowledging perturbations, is a sameness over their generations. There is boredom in this Roman pattern, ambition, display, cruelty and, for most, the press for ever more heightened gratification. Generation over generation bored, for they do not move beyond themselves, the Roman idea of expansion through conquest is of borders and bounty, not of selves. In conquests we have seized the beauty created Greeks, we display it, we copy it, we cannot create anything like it. One conquest copies another, we think that in slaughtering and enslaving we are generative, hardly, in inflicting horrors we are relieved of boredom. We are at the base of us, mostly dull fellows. In rejecting it all, without any creativity within me, knowing no artists who can make me what I am not, I am become an even duller fellow.
These generations of bored Romans, staring at the busts of sour-faced ancestors, faces like mine has already become. They stare at the painted walls of their enclosed beings, adding new colors from time to time, but everything is copying, so little created, nothing beautiful felt inside us; we have no art to living However Dionysion, Bacchanalian, in the storm of us, even drunken orgies, pleasure sometimes, but no transcending joy. . We can never feel how Praxelites felt in his chisel’s developing conversation with the life within the marble. Our unfolding, favored Roman generations have built their great houses. These provide much comfort. Those walls secure, they allow ease but with too much of that as appetites fulfilled, they stupefy. Romans praise their luxurious prisons, and would elect, not to leave, certainly not to die, for they comprehend no possible liberation beyond the grave. That I now conceive of that demonstrates my treason to common sense. I am yet the fool.
The great, that uneducated mob, will be even more certain of their place, for others have built their lifelong prisons for them. Whatever hope may have been seen in their childhood eyes, that, they learned early and too well was infantile illusion. There are no sweets on their table. .Only their despair is guaranteed. As for their deaths, while the best of poets may speak of its being release, there is further terror in it, that infinity of nothingness following lifelong pain. The poor, then, are utterly betrayed, the now of them and their later decaying bones, for there is never joy, never hope, not even ever a good meal. The constant sound they hear is grinding; poverty, their ruined teeth, events against them.not even the slightest confidence in the good will of the gods, for there is little good will in them, and when any, reserved for the lucky. The pantheon is one of snobs.
Oh yes, let the mob take some satisfaction in the not-me-there of lion-feed martyrs, the awful groans of the crucified, the screams of those being tortured in palace basements, the debasing of war prisoners marched by the Forum, bloody footed, in chains, orthe squish of the victors sword in the defeated gladiator’s gut. Such satisfactions grow into appetites, are warped into a kind of pleasure, emerge monstrously into the art of cruelty, and become, beyond other pestilences and plagues, added to; the contagious diseases of Rome. Are any, including the rulers who have learned to hold the mob at bay by means of such delights, immune? Hardly, for they have originated the disease. Credit then to philosophers who, remembering the Greeks, retain their visions but not their powers. Credit then such poets who can write of love, not that the illiterate mob can read to imagine it. Credit possibly the Christians, as I have heard of their beliefs, for, since philosophers have been no cure for our consuming Roman disease, they might know of cures.
I am more fortunate than most, although often feeling myself, it is an egotistical thing, miserable. I cannot clearly say why it is so. Consider this curiosity: I am not where I am or was, whatever I will become cannot be in my being, for so far its becoming has been nothing, for any such becoming lies ahead, and until that I cannot know it, not reasonably anticipate that condition. I am more eccentric even than others around me must think. I was born to eccentricity.I do not need to become it, indeed, I hope to escape it, for what I would like to be is “with” and not “apart” for only the former might experience being loved. In the meantime I am glued here to discomfort in self opinion and only imagined spirit. This material “here’ of me each day enjoys what most in Empire deem is great privilege and luxury, and yes, possibly available, should I reach for it, power, which is the most sweetly poisoned fruit.
So: this “Mule” is stubborn in his certainty that what is, is not what is to be, that any live being in its process, active formation, negates nothingness. I am as confident about this as I am of the weight of air, for even though it is invisible and impalpable, in breathing it, it brings life which fact argues that it is an element not only vital, but material, and thus weighty.No one I have met agrees with me about the :thingness”, the weight of air. How typical, even in calculationor metaphor, I am the odd one.
We may use that as analogy for other things, I speak not of spirits, which impact or react or attract or maintain. All of these “realities” we know, if as careful as Greek scientists, we can infer. The work of mind over time is designed to comprehend. As for the gods, I suggest now possibly only an high god is of concern, after all Romans do focus on power, not its diffusion, our task is the same. In this god-matter, weightiness is differently measured, but generates a narrowing focus on god-weight impact on human lives, and here allow also Cosmos. If god-weighted then, ourselves and cosmos, we accept that we must be, literally, sensitive to its force, impression. Otherwise we are but the river bed which feels no weight of water upon it, or a rock which knows nothing at all, but perhaps in extremis when it is falling. So then, I believe in possibilities, I sense god-weight not upon me, but within me. so what I may term beyond “spirit’ which is vague for Roman, but, for no one wiser helps me to name it, I borrow the term, “soul”.
I will see Helen soon, am eager to exchange thoughts with her, learn if at last, as I felt was the case with her in her sanctuary as Pythia, we did reverberate, heightening and sharing essences. At first, I must restrain myself, my thoughts might seem to her bizarre, I cannot let loose any storm of words seeking potentiating responses. Too much of the marrow of me exposed will frighten or offend her, as indeed my reason for my now seasoned silence. I havw built my own high walls lest my thoughts let loose cause consternation. There will be in Helen, I sensed the energies of them just as I feel sun rays warming me, responsive generativity. I have seen those in the smiles of children, absorbed them in the aura of temple, even felt tears when I was privy to one person being kind to another. Yes, I confess, this stern and dignified Quaestor has cried, to be sure never publicly, when alone after hearing simple kind words, or watching one person solicitous of a needy other. What a strange warrior I have been, killing hundreds and not a thought about it.
I will counsel myself silent for a little while, even though I knew in the sanctuary of her Helen is a person who is also walled in, listening for an echo of herself. Once heard, the loving storm of her will be let loose.. But silence at first, for Balthus says she presents an hard shell, a fixed nature, although all else by name and speculation that swirls about her is hardly fixed, indeed these seem a vortex of adventuresome uncertainties. Such a woman will take time to feel safe, allow her own honesty and decide which of uncertainties is at her core.
I have been so stolid; she can take heart form this apparently stable fulcrum, one that I hope, as with Archimedes, allows leverage to lift the world. Balthus has a sympathetic nature, is in fact brighter than I am and on much we would call “classical” he is better informed, He ventures in an unassuming way, prolix at times, serious speculation that is philosophical, and about the gods. In that he ventures a freedom of critical thought beyond my own, for he is uncommitted, no teacher but himself having formed him. I have had too many teachers. Rejecting some of them, I rely on intuition, or its confounding partners which are longing and rebellion. Of these I trust only intuition, for however intuition masks wishes, redefines fantasy, and carries vanity, or is ignorance pretending to know, it can provides directions clearer than itself. With Balthus too, I am restrained, not recently about my Helen excitation, but about some religious thoughts forming. I must wait until my intuitions become conclusions before I trouble him. And, yes, Balthus, the simple rock of him, might, when over -stressed, fracture to no good end..
This morning, as I wait for Helen, I have been contemplative. Insofar as the idea of love resides there, it is but a mood, a promise without its realization. Toward realization, I have begun to pray. One dare not be demanding as to naming the “to whom’ of it, after all, my Latin or Greek are but parochial sounds, the lips form words but may not be informed. It is a convenience to assume I pray to “Him”. d Since the Good is a general thing, one can be sure such matters as gratitude, devotion, love, hope, virtue are embraced by the to whom the Christians and the Hebrews address their god, God, words. What is consequential are less the autonomous traits than the binding relationships, as in our Latin word.”religo” for that, “to bind” or derived, “religio” as scrupulousness, or expanding, respect for the sacred, “awe” or “worship”, and yet cautionary, “supersition” or even “curse”. There is humanlearning over time in that: use and believe with honesty, respect and feeling, but be careful, the sword of it has two edges..
I have no texts nor priest to advise me, but, however named, the reality of relationship defines us together. As it will be with Helen as well, for the ‘her” of her is also uncertain, but inconsequential when love defines us. My passionate optimism rules out “curse” I pray then that “God, gives some instruction.. I allow the possibility it is my overarching need which imagines it all, thus delusion in fact. I am reassured, however, that we are so large a company who walk with me down this road. Think of all those Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, pagans who respect and believe, those children of other prophets in far lands unknown to me Their hands hold mine.
I have not yet built my god, but for those portions which would meet my wishes. Perhaps a good god does not respond to this architecture of selfishness. Christians claim a kinder God who understands and may, if properly pleased and propitiated, forgive our vanity. The self of me inhabits an empty place, but that complaint is proof that my eyes focus on my within, and not yet others, or the Other. Allow then I am hungry for another, Helen and this Other, so two kind of want, emotion and soul to be filled. It is said by geographers, perhaps it was Strabo, that in Arabia, north of the sea-bordering lands rich in fruit, sheep, and some say, jeweled mountains, over which the Queen, Sheba, ruled, there are lands so dry and vast that no man has ever crossed them, all attempting that dying. Merciless, they say, is the sand, the wind, and the sun. It is called “The Empty Quarter”. Insofar as something of the sort inhabits me, I would not traverse it, but I would escape it, or have some fructifying rain bless it into being..
One does well to name emptiness according to the geography of surfaces, or climates, or even winds, for when there is little within, externalities, appearances are defining. But what can grow within? I think a soul, awe. If so, then the loving rain has fallen to nourish the roots of a man, these deep reaching enough to a humble, “religio” counsels “conscientious” reach to the sky. I will not be satisfied with The Idea of it, only words, as would be Helen imagined but absent. Absolutely not.. I am Roman. I want t my bricks tangible, my road paved, my water real enough to slake that particular thirst. My prayer is my quivering hand reaching out to ask that some greater, that relating hand, will grasp mine, pull me to some soul -sentient shore. And yes, fill me so I am strong with love, its receiving and its giving. I demand the real of it,
I am not at peace. I have told “Him” of my dissatisfaction, my loneliness, my pain. A true Roman would not speak of such matters even to his god. I have told him of my regrets bordering on despair that Livia Drusilla, in leaving me took our son to Rome to be forever lost to me. I am not indifferent, as a Roman noble should be, to her becoming mistress to the Governor, my boss. I am humiliated. No Roman noble, not enslaved, allows another the power of that destruction. I am insulted. In entertaining these reactions I am weak and even spiteful. I am not sure, is it my heart or ego that is wounded? I pray that Helen will have regard for both. It is her hands and heart then, as to what she will be, and my confession is to my vulnerability, a sensitivity treasonous to Roman character. Balthus says she is aggressive haughty, opportunistic. I ask a good deal of a woman with these qualities, and others derived from what she may have earlier been, and at the very least now harbors in a mixed reputation. She has lived for some while as Apollo’s oracular isolate, serving priestesses excepted. . Did she flee to this honorable refuge, seeking sanctuary in fact? If so, she will be fearful, distrustful, armored, flight-ready She will require nurturing to feel safe.
I dare not appear so needy. No woman wants a sick and hungry dog constantly around. . I must begin with strengths and pretenses, build her confidence for both our sakes. I have been strict in my duties to Rome, have conducted myself by the standards of honor, gravity, loyalty and discipline. Apollo’s own archer cannot fault me that I have been a commander and slayer of many men, yet neither of us can offer mujch evidence of a better world brought about by bloody hands. Happily, Apollodorus is such evidence. Helen will realize I cannot be loyal to that of Rome I abhor. Nor can I be disloyal to Rome, not ever. Rome must then be made less abhorrent. Today, insufficient good opposes prosperous evil, insufficient vision denies Rome its own future. I will tell Helen I believe this. A good test of compatibility is whether or not after the first dinner she reports me for treason. Should she do so, suicide will not only be the emperor’s requirement, but my own solution.
On some occasions it has been Will, discipline which has kept me from that welcoming warm bath where sliced wrists bleed red and salty, returning to the mother sea, ebbing me into sleep, I have been told that Hebrews hold suicide evil. How can it be when they have invited so many of their own to die in hopeless rebellions? I have myself put untold numbers to the sword, but I had invited none of those to the suicide of facing me in war. The time spent killing might better be spent learning how to turn warriors into friends, or turning warring kings into old women harmless at the loom. I have not lied to myself about death. Nothing about the hero given Pluto’s/ Dis’ dispensation to avoid Hades, instead as one of the Heroes Elect to awaken in Elysian fields. Until recently I too looked at the afterward as total dissolution. I now give myself hints of optimism, a relief from the weight of my long -worn the armor of despair.I do not accept the faeries story that death is the sleep from which, one day, a god awakens you. As for ordinary sleep, Morpheus and I are no longer the friends we once were; he comes most easily when have strong wine by my bedside. His friend, Oneiros, the dream-bringer, does not come at all. I miss Oneiros; he was the one to take my soul a-wandering, traveling easy roads, visiting glories. It is a bit of heresy to dismantle such a memorable god as Oneiros, but what if there is no visiting god there? That we ourselves have dream power, that some part of us goes forth at nightt to romp or cower, so that the dream, and acknowledge genuine terrors. What is within? Let me be a miner in the ore-bearing caverns of my being.
Sleep came last night only as a politician visits an unimportant supporter, briefly, insincerely, with false promises, quick departures, leaving only a bad taste. How could I sleep? I confess I am not only hungry in spirit; to say “flesh” is not to demean what the too-long abstinent man of me hopes for some day with Helen. Balthus distrusts her, counsels my caution. I am a man caught up in a thunderstorm, no reasonable words about the need to study climate can help. It is to be endured, “weathered”, so to speak. After the storm we will be blessed with fragrances, our wells filled with sweet water. And yes, I like being in the violence of this, my imagined Helen. mytical Mistress of wind and rain, fire and water, and oh the terror of that were it so. As for her being earth mother, Chthonic, all reproducing women are that. I can play with being her lightening entering her cave. That climatologist of women, Balthus, himself far more experienced than I, but less venturesome respecting intensities, takes care not to tell me I am a fool. I am of course, and deny it heatedly. This excitement is magnificent. I truly believe it to prodromal. Yes, prescient as to the road my footsteps wish to take.
I know the Furies beset us so there will be pain, but the sense of immanent joy is palpable. I told you I have begun to pray. My prayer is that joy be realized, selfish yes but it must expand so others are brought it too. Yes, indeed a fool, but I aim to be a loving fool, the Mule, yes “ass” having balked too long, addled by anxieties, pulling the baggage of himself behind him, is moving now, for there is a trail before him which will take him out of dark valleys, over his steep ridges toward a new world to be seen at last Perhaps what awaits, is already being felt inside, is but that old world experienced differently, with added dimensions possible, even for us mules.
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