The day had come for Simon’s funeral society meeting, his game, his evangelic show, call it what you will. S. Cornelius had not decreed it a club, had avoided doing that for the sake of Helen so that she might have her day, in spite of all misgivings. In not forbidding the Simon assembly, S. Cornelius tastes his own bile. I myself, a nastier sort, would not have been so kind, or perhaps it was but stupid on his part. As directed by him, I had gone, observed, returned with my report, which, most unusually, he asked me to read to him. Fact is, he was sad and would be until Helen could admit to the need for his company. If there was ever an enteraining report worth the giving. this was it. I was almost vibrating in its telling.
“ Simon set up this tent fair like Syrian merchants’ opening a market, eager to extract gold from a thousand purses. Fanfare, rah rah, a retail religious equivalent of festival games. Posters around the city, barkers on street corners, buskers outside beating tambourines and drums, playing pipes, all of them dressed up for the show. Inside the tent more musicians playing their cithers, flutes, drums, trumpets, castanets, while others and sing. Folks come by the droves; it’s a holiday between holidays. It’s in that tent south of those Cherubim gates the Jews dislike so much; after all, those cherubim once adorned Jerusalem until Titus placed them as spoils here.
It’s entertainment, boss, its religion, it’s Simon casting the spell, and I write it down as I hear it. Now he’s up to shouting Christ came to him on the road to Ephesus, said Christ told him he Simon was his apostle to all Syria and Asia, tells the women that in the eyes of Christ they are equal to men, companions to the high god who rules above the devil god whom, Simon says, the Jewish line of Christians worship. Simon puts the blade to both their Peter and Paul boys here, calls the bishops here who followed them ‘devil worshippers’ and ‘flesh merchants’, that’s what he calls them. Hear him go at it:
‘Think about this, Brothers and Sisters, the Christian God made the world. The world is evil, nobody who’s lived for a week doubts that for a minutes. Disease, murder, earthquake, fire, starvation, wars, it’s their god made all that. How evil can he get? So, don’t turn away, Brothers and Sisters, so how evil do you get? Plenty, eh? ‘ He got a big chuckled and a few boos out of the crowed with that line, but he said it with a snicker and smiles. Of course their god is Satan, some call the Devil. “Bishops” are just smaller versions, homunculi. One or the other, Satan’s salesmen, they capture people who believe for Satan’s sake. They all go straight to hell, bishops leading the way. Well, maybe not one fellow, if he makes it, called “Eros”, The crowed whooped and roared, “No, no not the little spirit who gets you all fired up between your legs, that’s spelled, no capitol, ‘eros’ oh yes, you have felt his tongue doing that, his lips, his fire, down there you’re his furnace! No, this guy named Eros owns the whore houses hereabouts, he used to be my friend, but now he wants to be the Ignatian Bishop as well as sex entrepreneur, together, altogether. He is playing both sides of the street, no, both sides of the bed and the cash box too, how’s that, eh. That’s their kind of bishop, isn’t it? Let me hear you shout it! Let me hear you!”
The mob cheered, slapped their thighs, had their thumbs up in the air, the ‘all okay’, oh yes, and a cheer to it, Simon has them in his hand. He went on, loud and clear, saying,
“It’s okay, he was once my friend, a priest like me has to have all kinds of friends, our God is the world’s friend, if only people take the trouble to know him. As for the merchant named ‘Eros” There’s still hope for him, if he just sticks to whore mongering, what the hell, we all appreciate a first-class whoremonger and those willing, thrusting, moaning wares he sells, of course we do” Simon ordered up an, I’m-with-you-there, grin, and went on, “But the God-business, no, he doesn’t get it, not at all. Bishop of bumble-heads, that’s what he’d be. No! Our way gives you all of it. Just you listen up now, and be glad you did for forever after. Right? Right!”
They were eating this Simon up, pigs swilling his slop. He goes on, shouting all the time, “Be evil just like you were made, enjoy yourselves folks, have a good time, not your fault at all. Be my guest. My big surprise, you Greeks here know the ‘evangelium’, you with good Latin know ‘bona adnuntiato’, well let’s call it what it is, Simon’s Good News, Simon’s Gospel. My news for you is that the High God will see to it that life comes out all right after all. Sweet Jesus, his son, came to earth to tell us that. Tell us he’s going to take you hand in hand on the heavenly path so high above Evil we put all ugly creation behind us. The God whom I will tell you how to reach is the boss god over that earthly friend of yours, oh yes he can be your easy friend, but you pay the price to Satan. Hear me well, our High God is boss I tell you, and he doesn’t care what you do down here as long as you take time to prepare for the real sweets after your mortal, anything-goes-down-here. Nothing down here tastes as good as it will hereafter, lick your lips on that, boys and girls, your taste buds are waiting. Our boss God is your sweet forever and I do mean forever. Listen to me, just listen up and I’m gonna tell you how to have it both ways, as much as you can get here plus all you’ve always wanted when you die. Got that?”
Oh my how that crowd got that. They were pounding their feet on the floor demanding to be told. ‘Okay, the big thing is you don’t belong to the Devil forever, just while you are down here having the best time you can have, which for most of us is not much. That time down here is, as all of you know, mostly misery. That’s what the creator god whom I call the Devil did for you. He hates you but likes your misery. No wonder we all want to get out of that misery if we can be guaranteed eternal spiritual life in Heaven, yes, each of you individually conscious, sentient, living forever and without pain, without punishment. My job? To prepare you for those better times afterward. How? Do I hear your shouting out, ‘how?’ Let me hear it loud and clear; sing it out, you want to know, right? Right’! They wanted it. They wanted to know badly. The place was his engineered pandemonium, and, Boss, I do make that pun”
Then Simon asks, “Do you folks want to belong forever to the Devil? To be the devil’s dinner every night through eternity? Never meet the true god? No, I don’t think so. Let me hear it you sing it out, clear, sing out, ‘no no, no’ “
It’s a roar again, like a favorite gladiator his sword in up to the hilt in the other’s guy’s gizzard. A roar of a roar sweating, shouting, spit dribbling out of some of their mouths, up in front I see a couple of guys getting hard-ons if noise drives the devils away, they’re all fled to far Ectabana by now. Simon times it right, holds down his hands, soft, soft, quiet, quiet, oh he knows how to play them, he does. They’re ready to quiet down, waiting for the next act, Simon flicks his fingers, an old sleight-of-hand trick, silver coins spew out of his fingers—I know the game, its from sprung bags in his cuffs really, and from a pop-up trapdoor in front of the stage. Coins shower the crowd. A few pieces of silver to glint, but mostly pennies, numerous nummi so to speak, but it’s free money and they’re grabbing for it, one and all. While their attention is on that, white smoke envelopes Simon and, poof, he’s gone. Vanished like a spirit into the air. A show, boss, a real show”
“Then music again, slave girls go through the crowd throwing them sweet dates, raisins, dried fruit, apples, not enough to go around, mind you, oh no, but to attract, excite and bring on a grabbing scramble. The girls wear silk, as see- through as Pliny complained, not that this crowed was any proper prudish Consul Pliny. The girls have been choreographed to do bumps and grinds, rubbing themselves up to a few of the men seated conveniently along the aisles. It’s predictable as taxes, some rowdy grabs for a girl’s breasts, ass, hand up to the crotch, she shrieks of course, and, well, Simon’s hired bullyboys have been waiting for it. They’re on the poor fool like elephants on eggs. There were a couple who got the full treatment, beat them to a pulp, drag the carcasses or more off the floor. It’s not quite feeding the lions at the arena, but the mob likes it. The girlie action has made them all a little hot anyway; sex in the air, now violence, once it’s in the nostrils it’s an heady mix. With that many people, the odors are tangible, pungent and animal and it gets to you, blood to the tiger, bitch to the dog. Any arena manager knows you can use it, or let it loose and its rampant destruction. Sheer arousal, ready to do something, ready to do anything. Floods looking for a channel, fires looking for something to burn. An excited crowd, more dangerous than any ten tigers. An excited mob, all of it power in the hands of the man who can play them right. Win a lot; lose a lot, that’s the game of the man who plays the crowd.
The bully boys, big and all muscle, unmistakable red turbans on their heads, move around now, stand out so that the crowd knows what those bully boys are for, a ‘cautioning effect’ There’s no doubt the crowd is aroused, god, the devil, music, a struggle for the free sweets, money showering, watching those professional bumps and grinds, Simon disappearing, the show beatings. They’re hot, they’re hooked, that’s the way Simon wants it. The bullyboys are keeping the lid on, there’s no question the slick magician is in charge even, if at the moment, the crowd thinks he’s risen to the clouds. I feel the tension build. The entertainment as it unfolds is as good as watching beasts eating Christians in the Coliseum.
Thump, boom, ‘rattatatta’, the drum roll, more smoke and suddenly there Simon is, descending from the near-sky, as Greek dramatists have always shown the entrance of the gods. (He is being dropped by the crane hidden in the wooden stage building behind the stage itself, the stage is about one meter above the audience level) He stands sideways, arms sweeping a greeting toward the center door of the stage building. There is another poof of billowing smoke, and here we have a new treat worthy of the ooohs and ahhhhhs. She stands still but is being pulled on a wheeled sled from the doorway center stage and forward. There, on a pedestal, like a marble Venus draped in modest white linen, is Helen. Her face is painted so her lovely features can be seen from far out rows. Unmoving but moved, an Aristotelian concept, there is Helen, aloof, exquisite, the legend of her, immortal and in the crowd’s imaginings, eternally unattainably, a regal near-deity. “Princess of Troy and the Magdalene,” as the large sign carried on stage by a slave and propped near her states. She carries a large copper shield strapped on her arm with the sun emblazoned on it, inscribed “Sol et Christus Invictus. ” No one can miss the pose, it is Pallas Athena herself.
Simon, loathe him as I do, gets a master’s credit for the tableau . Set out before the crowd, none of whom would be here if they had no interest in these matters—not that any Antiochean doesn’t-, the old gods they know and the new god, now a near- goddess too to whom they’re being introduced. As on stage, so in history, myth and worship, all merging just as in a man’s mind they do. Simon has put it all together as telling entertainment, religion and, still the smell of sex and violence in the air, so just as he wishes, the animal is there. The aroused animal, the anticipating animal ready to eat what Simon feeds them. Unfed they will devour their keeper. Right now, just he as planned it, their leader and hero is Simon the magician from out of the sky
Four slaves, all costumed in yellow but their feet are bare, their long hair braided with yellow rope intertwined, come running out from the side doors of the behind-the-stage building. They carry large urns into which they dip small baskets that come up with small pottery shards in them, the sort used in voting in Athens. Simon announces a lottery. The slaves move down the aisles casting, showering the shards about. Simon shouts,
“Choose a number, any number. Get the right number and you win gold or jewels. I’ll read out the winning numbers which come to me.” There it is, the crane above the stage again, a pale yellow- gowned cherubim, wings on his back, is hovering above Simon, lowering a small basket into his arms. “Hear it” Simon shouts out, reading a shard he has pulled from the angel’s lowered line. “Here are the winning numbers if you have the number take it to one of the ushering slaves moving out among you. (I could count about 30 ushers in yellow pantaloons, light blue tunics hanging down over their waists.) A few in the crowd are shouting, they have the winning numbers. What a press is on to get an ushering ear. Those winners begin to move down their rows but all hands near them reach up try to grab their winning shards, the wrestling and flailing out begins. In another few seconds the place would erupt into one giant brawl, but the bullyboys are fast, very fast. They spotted the winners as they shouted, were on the move toward them in teams of four. They move down those rows toward the fighting like war horses, knocking people every which way if they must. This time there’s not gratuitous violence, just enough to get the winners safe, restore order.
They lift the winners up in their arms, put them on their shoulders, and march down their respective aisles to the stage. A magnificent near-battlefield execution. There are some bloodied heads now in the crowd, but no one else cares; all eyes are on the stage and the perhaps ten winners being carried toward it. Once again, the crowd has been tamed. Simon is gladiator by proxy, this Coliseum Maximus under an Antioch marquee. I hadn’t counted how many until now out there of his convincing ex legionnaire bullyboys parading their power and Simon Impresario’s command. They are his own Praetorian guard. I know the type he’s selected, always trouble in a legion, rough-necks, bully-boys, kill you as soon as look at you. All-smiles Simon, but deft, he controls them like lions on a leash. Once the bullyboys put their loads on the stage, they turn toward the crowd. There are about thirty of these brutes, they turn, arms folded, staring out over the seats, staring like executioners sizing up necks for the slicing. This Simon has obviously done this before, trained his people well.
He plans, and he executes well. He attracts, excites and controls the mob. I mark him as a potentially dangerous man to the Empire. I have decided to send an aide for more troops to stand by here lest Simon’s grip slip, or lest he purposely turn this mob on the city to riot. It is not unknown in Rome to buy a mob and use them to seize power. It is not unknown to turn a mob loose to loot, using them as violent distractions, while one does some other dark business under their cover. Assassinations have been done this way, targeted theft of treasures, kidnappings. Once an envious patrician commissioned a rabble-rouser to divert while he sent his thugs to steal a basement full of the finest Falernian wine of which he had been long been covetous. Mobs in the great cities when spontaneous, add some irritant such as starvation, stoke them with the rumours, they are dangerous enough. Even an emperor can be torn to pieces, especially when his guard is disloyal, especially when someone else who wants to be emperor, pays the guard, pays the mob. You and I know, Boss, the street mob used as tools can, have, pried open the Empire.
The several legions quartered near the palace, beyond the Mars Field, are at leisure today. The may be sleeping, in town at play, tending their vegetable gardens, with their women in their houses not far away. Tens of thousands of Rome’s best soldiers are near at hand, but none at the ready but my few here and the stand-by guard I’ve sent for. I cannot image Simon is so rash, for his end would be a terrible one. He must know that. I myself must not speculate too much because so much of my view of him is out of despise. Most probable, the play is the plan, recruiting to loyalty and income. I will take the days’ play to be the thing. It is yet unmistakable that Simon aims for power and self-glory. What is to be evaluated as we surveil him, it was initially for Helen’s sake but now it may be all Syria’s, whether his ambition is primarily in religious realms where Rome is tolerant, or alternatively, sheer self-show and income. On the other hand, if he is political and allowed to fester, if he would see Syria his own rather than a Roman province, this would be one troublesome magician.
In the meantime, I watched the showman mastermind the mob. Simon greeted the winners now on stage, asked each to clasp his—of 20 there were 4 women- hands together in the Buddha prayer greeting, had them kneel before them, laid his hands on their heads in blessing, gave each a small parchment which, he announced to the crowed, were the beginning words of the secret incantation for Heaven’s gate, then gave a bowl to each in which he said might be found gold jewelry, silver plate, ruby rings, and myrrh sacred to the high god, blessed by Sophia.
One lucky fellow examined his treasure as he left the stage, lifting it in the air where the silver of it reflected brightly. It looked to be old plate, valuable, and the sort Roman families collected. S. Cornelius had, in some disgust, told me of the burglary of his great house by Menander. I, of course, have set my investigators out to find the weasel-eyed, pimply faced, slouch- shouldered, long and leaning necked, jagged toothed, ill-smelling so-called acolyte of Simon’s. Eros’ words about Simon came to me, how Simon was an high-class thief by compulsion. What a fool of an investigator, for me from the start not to suspect Simon was employing Menander as his sneak thief, setting up for inside access, all the while, well at least in S. Cornelius case, his victims sat with the Simon giving him the perfect alibi. Yes, but no, it was all too obvious and stupidly risky to be so, not even Simon was brazen enough for that one. Or? Would he give away so recently stolen silver, letting everyone in the crowed see it” Was it possible, could this silver be the stolen Cornelii family treasure?
I gave the high sign to one of my spies in the crowd. I had brought them here eyes, ears, and if need be for discrete endings, knives. Noisier, more impressive intervention waited outside as the trooper squad that had been protecting Helen. I had but moments ago called for more troopers when I saw to what a pitch Simon moved the mob. My summoned spy sidled up to, playing the beggar; whining, sniveling, dirty faced, stinking only enough for the part. I pointed to the silver plate winner, set my lad after him to keep the man in sight, but warning not to take action here inside the tent. Let Simon be unaware, let the Mule’s Athena/Sophia/Sun goddess/Magdalene-and bitch- enjoy her day. Once this show was over, I would have a look at the plate; see if there were the Cornelii seal engraved on the back, or incised on the front.
Another winner, rising from his knees more slowly and taking time to cover Simon’s bestowing hands with kisses—I could almost hear the slobber of it form where I sat- held aloft what appeared to be a sapphire ring and, in the new be ringed hand, a small silver statue. A beaming Simon told the winner and the crowd it was the god Jesus, made of the same ethereal substance as his Father, but appearing to be flesh as well. The statue he said was originally made of wood but had, overnight in a shrine near Biblos, been turned to silver by a miracle. This statue, if rubbed on its belly, would bring luck. Simon, who obviously speaks extemporaneously and in doing it is a splendid rhetor, rather casually went on to tell that crowed that earlier, ‘before Jesus’ conversion’, Jesus had taken the likeness of many great gods- he rattled off a list including Marduk, Buddha, Mithra, Seth- but on deciding there was hope for mankind, he had committed himself to their elevation upon death to immorality. Jesus, in concert with his father the high god, had planned his crucifixion to show that he had power over death. Seeing that resurrection, all mankind would understand that was his gift to them. Power over death is the greatest power of all. In the meantime, the lucky fellow who had won the silver figurine---I say it was paint not the precious metal- were he to rub the belly and say the sacred words, would receive the special attention of the god in heaven. Jesus himself, Simon went on to speak, had once himself been a magician, but, devoting himself now to mankind, had left all such manipulation of the spirits behind, although first bestowing some of his powers on Simon.
I know little of Christian doctrine, changeable as it seems to be, but this “conversion” of Jesus from earlier and protean god-forms was new to even the most outlandish Gnosticism. I strongly suspected Simon had made it up today. Why not? Religious mergers seemed to be his business, syncretism his trade, all ever-empowered spirits under whatever name and of any place were now his Jesus High God, with more than a hint that the relationship between Jesus and Simon was intimate. This was indeed the Magi of all magi.
It was a good thing each prize winner has two bully boys accompany him, or her, as treasure-guards back to where they had been sitting, for the mob is a greedy beast, and will otherwise plunder the winners, and then turn on one another. As it is, since Simon has told them there is more to come, “on earth as it is in Heaven”, their attention is on the stage again. The air feels like it does as a storm gathers, before the lightening bolts are thrown from Zeus’ hands down to earth, sometimes landing hereabouts as Celts, proof after the storm of what Zeus has done. Crudely carved and heavy, I bought just such a celt in the market place sometime ago. “From the hand of Zeus’ is inscribed on it in old Greek. “Lucky” the market merchant said. In this world, who can say what will work for luck? I bought it, it was cheap enough, and so far my luck is running well.
Now comes the pitch. The bright colors mark the ushers fanning out in the crowd, baskets in hand. Simon is shouting that the high god will remember them today for their donations to the building fund for the temple Simon intends to build , a temple to the true god and his goddess wife Sofia, so he says. I take a look at Sophia on earth, Helen, yes, Boss, I agree she is astonishingly beauty. She is up there reigning as queen; immobile, silent. She is regal enough to be consort to any deity. Simon has cast her as his priesting equal, but he is silly potato compared to her. Showy and magnificent, , haughty and gorgeous, and any goddess’ model for how to play the earthly bumpkins.
Ah, here Simon is again, front and center stage, Simon shouting in an evangelical tenor trained to a strident flat, with sine waves of sing song rising and ebbing in it.
“Give, folks, all you can and more. It paves your own road to good times in Heaven and good times, good luck on our dirty old earth. Mind you I’m’ going to build that temple right there in Daphne “, he pointed westward, saying, “ Yes, indeed, right next to the temple of Apollo himself. I tell you all the world will come to it, come to worship the true high god with Sophia by his side. We chase out the devils, all those false gods, Attis, Mithra, the Hebrew one, the wrong Jesus. all those representatives of the evil god who made this earth, who’s caused us all such misery. Think of it, friends, and, yes, I call you my Children of Salvation” Think of it; you will have built that temple yourselves, all of you! Some of you can be priests and priestesses there. I guarantee that. Close to the earlier gods, in the hearth and light of all the gods who are and ever were, all invited, all present in the temple all of you have built. There’s power for you, my children, there is power. Let there be no doubt about it” Simon was shouting now, using a ring of megaphones to project his voice, “Believe you me, my children, as you sew, so shall yea reap, build this temple, and, ‘your pay will be good on earth as it is in heaven. Don’t you fool yourselves, Simon’s deities, the only true ones, reward those who love them, believe you me! The gods love you, Children, I love you. Let me hear you say, ‘Hallelujah’, shout it out, all of you now, come on, sing it out, let the high god himself hear you, come on, folks, after me now, yea, that’s it, I hear you, god hears you”, Simon led the crowd in singing, ’”We are Simon’s children, god loves us all the way to Heaven, God loves us right here to reap plenty and pleasure here on earth. Sing it out, Children, sing it out”
They, the thousands of them, sang it out, feet stomping, hands clapping, bodies swaying, --Simon’s musicians were back on stage with heavy tympani and big with the brass, the high god’s very own marching band, I shouted it out myself, “Hallelujah”
He’s all excited now, jumping about, shouting, the music strikes up marching music, ‘do you hear me’ he demands, do you hear this good news? Shout it out, “We are Simon’s children, grandchildren of god himself. We are salvation’s child, and earth and heaven will be ours!” There were ocean waves of shouting, as noisy a set for roars as I have ever heard for a really good kill in the Coliseum. Thumbs are popping up everywhere. Simon has his own thumb up. The singsong cadence again, something in it is captivating. I admit it, I am shouting too, but then, I tell myself, I have go with the crowd or be found at as a spy. In the mood they are in, they’d shred me in a second and, like Dionysius’/Bacchus’ Maenads, slurp down my bloody lumps for appetizers.
Simon is swinging his prayer bead necklace now, took it off his neck, a ruby the size of a pyramid on it, along with all that gold he wears. He’s swinging the ruby slowly and they are all watching. The music is with him, a background drum beat, strong rhythm with a haunting flute background, the sort I heard from a Scythian dancing troop who’d made it as far west as the Danube. There he is, swinging the ruby Back and forth, back and forth, and the ushers are with him, the bully boys with him, all ‘yes, yes, yes” in the soothing sing song sleepifying, ‘I’ve got you “ cadence. Heads in the audience are moving back and forth with the rhythmic rosary. Softly now, “You are Simon’s children, nod your heads with me that you are” The audience was a synchronized wave of slowly bobbing heads. As for me, I’d been here before, thank you, and thank you, “no”. From noise to quiet, from appetites to obedience, he plays them like string on his lute. And yes, they are all vibrating. I have to hand it to him; the Magus is good, very good indeed.
He breaks the cadence, but not with a shout, rather a loud, loud cat’s purr, the easier heard because his crew of ushers and bullyboys are in chorus with him. They are well rehearsed this lot, I wonder what he pays and what he promises them?
‘Do you love the True High God and his Sophia? Do you love them? Are you all their lovers, yes, tell me you are” The bullyboys, the ushers are his shills, in rhythm as he leads it, and that is what he’s doing now. This took some rehearsing. The crowd is one voice, all shouting, “yes, yes” Be my ocean, my Children, by my sea, roar for me, my Children, roar for Rome, for God, and best of all, shout it out, “For me!” It was deafening. I must say, they liked the “me” part indeed.
Again, changing pace, his, hands patting down the air to quiet them then suddenly ‘whoooshing’ up in the air, that now understood as the signal for noise. The bully boys are alert in the aisles, as threat and reassurance, displayed are those wrestler’s torsos, massive arms, oversized hands of theirs. Their eyes sweep the mob, looking for signs of trouble. These bully boys are ready to strangle anyone out of line. No need, the crowd is now a unity, as legions battle-ordered in sets of phalanxes are. He has welded them with words into his own, Lord Simon’s Jesus army. Again, the evangelical shout, megaphones amplifying, but he has a bullier voice than his build suggests, the shout now, “I love you, Now, do you love me? Yell it out, how much you love your Simon” Sing it out! Let all the gods hear you”!
Strophe, antistrophe, a Greek chorus gone utterly wild, shouting, “We love you too, oh yes, oh yes, we love you’ the crowd go nuts. They’re hugging each other, stranger to stranger, red faced and sweating, their bodies a-bob. Call and response, no antithesis at all (but mine), synthesis in shouting, a crowd under a spell, the dialectic of the leader-hungry mob, the philosophy of the beast.
“Show your love,” he commands waving his hands towards the ushers, ‘show your love” Some in the crowd, I suspect they are planted shills, begin to throw money at the ushers and the stage, others soon join in. Now more bullyboys pour in from the side and rear entrances/exists. They come in formation, trotting, kilts only, tops bare, yellow sweatband ropes tied around their foreheads. These fellows are wearing short swords. That’s a message the crowd will understand; anyone who goes for the money flying through the air, the cash landing near Simon, the coins picked up by the ushers, go for that and be dead meat. One fellow who has stood up to grab for a coin has two bullyboys on him in a second. He mounts a terrible cry; using an elbow- cracking hold they have broken his grabbing arm for his trouble. They haul him outside wailing, the arm disjointed at the shoulder. It hangs behind itself, backwards. They hoist the screaming fellow for all to see. Gulps, ‘oh my’s’, deep breaths taken, the crowd is instructed. A salutary scene. The pain of others is also entertaining
I saw gold flying through the air. I saw jewels. One woman took off her tunic blouse and threw it at Simon, nice breast she had too, Simon is king this moment, and if he’d moved on her he could have had those breasts and all the rest. . What a scene. Oh sweet Jupiter, how the money flowed it. Sweet, sweet Jupiter, oh how the money flowed in. Here and there another tunic top came off, bodies swayed to the rhythm of the invited, tangible enough these invitations, these intentions, these opportunities that their female substance was spreading odor in itself, pheromonic. Had we but wings we could all be moths on the scent, were we but stags these readying does would command us. Sweet Satyricon, sweet lascivious authoring Petronius slobber over this mood with envy, you could never do as well
My notes state: “I halt my writing. I have gotten worked up myself.”
I was in the office with S. Cornelius reading this to him. He had a disapproving look, that old Roman decorum had been offended, as if my reading the report put me at fault. Well, some truth in it, as I read I couldn’t help think of what I saw when all those girls’ blouses started coming off. I expected other than the response I got from him, after all, any who has served with the troops and has learned to tell a good story, dramatizes it up a bit in the telling. That’s stories well told are about. Not for him, it was harsh the way he put it,
“I’m not interested in Simon and a few thousand other fools, what was Helen doing?”
I sobered my tone, put on a subaltern’s face and, much of the wind in my sails now deflected, read it out tonelessly. “Helen was simply there, but as a presence. She seemed much bigger than Simon, she was somehow magnified. I could imagine her being herself as the giant Athena in the Parthenon treasury, or, if she had had her archer’s bow, being bow-bearing Artemis of Ephesus. Were it a statue of Helen that had been in Ephesus, Herostratos would not have burned her temple.”
S. Cornelius looked at me puzzled. I had thought the knew the story but maybe not, “You remember, The Artemis temple at Ephesus, like the Colossus of Rhodes or the Sphinx, was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Artemis was carved, jointed, carpentered to be 80 feet high, all brightly painted, but then, one day about 500 years ago, a man named Herostratos burned it down. He didn’t run away at all. He wanted to be caught. ( I know I have told this story before) When they asked Herostratos how he could destroy the most beautiful thing in the world, he answered, ‘that’s the reason. I want the world to remember me’. Well, terrible man, tragic fool, it certainly does. And will. Anyway Artemis could not have been as beautiful as your Helen, Boss, because no one would want to harm such a creature, unless another woman, of course.
Helen up there on that stage comes across as a goddess, not one needing to please, but demanding she be pleased. She had the crowd aw -struck, Simon, for all his showmanship, was her foil, not that he could see that. He was but a cricket chirping outside this Athena’s Parthenon. I heard some of the comments of the mob around me, awe struck, worshipful, as admiring as can be of an immortal at a near distance. I heard some saying they could understand how it was Aphrodite chose her of all women for Paris, how Homer imagined her in his poem, or how, yes, the man Jesus himself, must have, as anyone might …well, you have heard that gossip as well. I tell you, Boss, at a distance she is impressive, which for my sake and yours, is how I’d like her to stay, but hardly with Simon and his crowd.
Cornelius raised his eyebrows; purse his lips, frowned, then smiled a bit. I don’t know what he was smiling about, but perhaps for imagining how she had looked. Nothing I could do about it. Some men are beyond help .I got back, unenthusiastically, to reading my report.
“Boss, I’m not finished with the so- called funeral society meeting I haven’t even come to the games yet. I’ll tell you this up front; Simon can be a threat to stability here in Syria. If Rome worries about the quiet Christians, we here can’t take our eyes away from these noisy ones. I call your attention to the novelty of it, this ‘funeral society’ of his, which, truth be told, when they really believe there’s life after death, rather than a burial and dust, it’s a new kind of funeral, like putting on a dress toga for a party. In putting all this together, getting away with it as just a funeral society, Simon has invented a new kind of public gathering. I call it ‘religious games’ or a ‘god-circus’. He’s got it all in one package; sex, show, gods, money and the excuse everyone wants to hear; do anything you want on earth, it’s god’s fault, and you can still get to heaven; for a price. He calls it “good news only ” evangelism. Anyway, back to my present-tense transcript, minute by minute as best I could get it all down,
“ The music builds up to another fanfare, the players with trumpets, the drummers, I think more musicians than at the beginning. They make it sound like an emperor is coming or a general marching to the arch given to him as his triumph. Then guess what? Some roustabouts have moved a platform on to the stage, a dais, two fancy chairs on it, thrones, I’d say. Trumpets blast away, out from the stage- building doors dance in more see-through half- dressed slave girls. They’re wearing turbans, blue and red and yellow turbans. They’re holding up pitch torches all aflame.
Helen moves off her pedestal. About time, I’d say, I should think she’d be painfully stiff, having held that statue pose. She and Simon mount their separate stairs to the platform, the torches surround them with light, their faces glisten-I think they slopped some reflecting oil on their skin when all of us in the crowd were watching the other action. Anyway, their faces gleam luminescent. The thrones are ready. Two costumed slaves bring up big gold suns, I suspect cut out of wood. They set these bright-painted suns behind the thrones. With the torch light shining on the two of them, it’s spectacular. The ushers have put on turbans too, and with the slave girls, they make two semi circles on the side of the, now, Sun Magus and his Sun Queen, There’s more drum fanfare, torches are at a ‘present lances’ drill angle to throw more light on these suns. Out of somewhere center stage comes this stentorian deep voice,
‘All hail our forever Helen, Mary Magdalene, consort of Christ, surrogate to Sophia, wisdom and wife of God. All hail Simon, high priest of the sun, keeper of the secret way to the High God, Simon, God’s chosen, God’s miracle-maker, the high god’s spokesman to all mankind. You are his children, he is your father. All hail! All hail!
The trumpets, the drums, the tambourines, the flutes rise to crescendo. The crowd is aroused of course, but they’re all getting tired. Simon Sun God beams. Helen is impassive. She doesn’t need to smile in order to shine. Simon is shouting something about triumph and revelation. The ushers, the roustabouts, the sexy slave girls, all of them, believe you me well rehearsed, choreographed, are kicking up a dancing storm. The chorus sings out to the crowd, some of the singers below the stage, some now having come up on stage to the side of Simon and Helen enthroned. The crescendo is over, it’s a slow drum beat, a slow somber roll, the singers drop to baritone and base, some women singers are soft melody humming as background, for now comes the chant, deep, reverberating, a bit scary it’s so solemn,
‘Death is conquered. Funerals become festivals, for the funeral celebrates where death is not. The secret, the secret, the secret, learn it so it can be yours. Come to us, be ours, in God’s binding by Simon be bound. Learn the secret of being forever. Learn the secret of all pleasures now. You must believe, you must believe You must know, you must know.’
Women in the crowd are falling to the floor; the men are shouting pledges, prayers, and petitions. It was quite unseemly, after all there were some women with their tunics off . Nothing Roman about this, Boss, but maybe at private parties. Egyptian perhaps, as with the slave girls see-through silk. Simon has really set this mob up. It’s steamy, the younger audience, catching the direction of the excitement are venturing the scandalous. I’ve seen that happen in mobs, a fever takes them, no rules hold. The beast comes out, Here it is an invited beast told, ‘come feed’ Simon is beaming. Helen, this surprises me, she is not looking happy. A couple of the bravos in the crowd are grabbing their women, pushing them to the floor, and doing what animals- and very drunken Romans- do in public The bully boys move closer, ready to intervene, but, enjoying some acrobatic coupling, oh quite a spectacle, so far do nothing.
The we’re-only-watching stance of those bullyboys tells me that Simon’s script for this last act is that anyone can climax with the show. More bodies are a-humping, the rear mounting position, dog style, easiest so most popular, but here on a dirt floor that’s hard on a woman’s palms and knees. At the moment nobody cares. Even so only a few rowdies are having a it. Some of the audience are appalled, but for the rougher others, it is turning into an orgy. I expect next for the bullyboys themselves to go for it, they can make this a sequel to the Sabine affair. But no, these had been legionnaires after all. They have their orders. I daresay those of them who look Syrian seem more tempted, I would say the European stock seem disgusted, some just amused
It’s a matter of taste and breeding. A Roman public’s entertainment, the excitement, comes from watching blood flow. Antioch here is living up to its own reputation; debauchery, license, depravity, a spreading orgy. Here it is, Antioch the erotic, simultaneously religious, salvation- ready and orgasm-pitched. The Gnostic high god who denounced flesh, the honest Gnostics who are ascetics, how this ridicules that. It’s a wanton Janus-faced, parody. Syzgy Gnostic opposites coupling. Simon has tempted, pleased, played and captured, and then unleashed the pleasuring beast. This is all about feeding. I have not until this moment realized what a righteous, outraged, sorry prude I am. I look at Helen. Her eyes are closed. She’s toughing it out. I don’t feel sorry for her. She wants to be high priestess, well, she is one now, reigning. She rules over beasts titillated by the holy. For some, by no means all in the mob, here is a revel fit for satyrs, pleasing to a long -pronged Pan thrusting himself in obscene play, here indeed Saturnalia to make Rome itself look modest, make Petronius a prude, and embarrass Bacchus, Apollo of the middle way must be in tears.
I confess as I write this, if I hadn’t had to go outside to piss, in that frenzy I’d have grabbed a girl or two myself. Or been grabbed, for Antioch woman know what they want as well as a man does. And here they’re taking it, and giving it, and so indeed Antioch is at play. Jupiter knows there are enough of them willing, as Juvenal said of our more staid, by comparison, Roman girls. I never thought Rome would seem so conservative in comparison.
I was disappointed, for I rather liked my account. Had a flare to it, caught the spirit, me as Petronius, the Second. But no, I had the wrong audience. S. Cornelius was by no means a turned-on voyeur. His voice was flat when he said, no, it was an order,
“Tell me more about Helen”
I turned some pages, didn’t read at first, but said, “She’s quite a piece of work, she is, Boss. She is above it all. Nowhere else in Empire but here would they let a woman on stage, but for maybe Cleopatra in Egypt. Helen, as it turned out, chose, to bring back some decency before the entire arena gave way. She got up from her throne, gestured to the bully boys with a disapproving nod toward those flagrant, and in flagantre delicto. Here’s what happened:
The heavies moved in, stomped on thrashing bodies, pulled others apart and kicked them rolling over, flailing, bouncing, now yelling in outrage over the interruption. I must say, I would have felt the same way. Helen, standing queen-like, gestured to the musicians for a solemn slow beat, a somber rhythm moving into a slow drum roll, then a drum roar, and a trumpeted announcement that their priestess-goddess here was going to speak. The mob, rowdies, beggars, merchants, sailors, the pious and the vulgar, the peasants, shopkeepers, money lenders, craftsmen, thieves, that mob of them grew quiet. The bullyboys clubbed those heads that had not seen the wisdom of silence. Those bodies lay where they were dumped, a message in that, on the floor.
Simon took the quiet moment for what turned out to be his last intervention.
“There will be ushers standing outside as you leave through the roped lanes. Take your time please. There will be sweets for your children, and for those of you who can read, inscribed shards showing the time and place of our next meetings. Don’t ever forget that today, having come a step closer to good luck on earth and eternity in heaven, is your beginning new life. Every day, at dawn until work, afternoon to dusk, you will find me waiting to initiate and instruct you, waiting on those holy ground at the southeast edge of the city, low on Mt Silpius, where the old shrines are, where is the old cavern sacred over millennia but which the other Christians, those wrong-headed Peter and Ignatius ones, claim for their own services on Sundays. They call it ‘the Grotto of Peter and Paul’. I say that sacred land belonged to the gods before humankind came here to the Valley of the Orontes. You know the holy ground of which I speak. Many of you go there already to sacrifice, consult the soothsayers, buy charms, and have spells cast. It is said there is an entrance to Hades there, that even now at night, chained gangs of the damned can be seen filing by silently entering the earth to their eternal doom. You know the place; there are dozens of shrines, clefts, and earth’s man-made caves out there. Holy ground unquestionably, long before Antiochus built the modern city. By our presence now we shall re sanctify it in the name of Simon and his God. You will see our victory immediately, for as long as I am there, my staff will provide you protection. When the hour grows late, I guarantee no file of the dead will pass close to us. We will seal the entrance to Hades with our own holiness, the ground we touch will be sacred. God is already within you. His bounty for you will grow.
We must cherish it and god as I cherish you, all of you becoming sacred children of the new-come Lord. I may prevail on Pythia to give you prophecies. If not, then I will begin the wisdom teaching myself. Be sure to bring your money. The work of the Lord on earth requires the tribute earth exacts. Be assured, you will reap in gains far more than you sow. Your god prizes you; the prize he awards for your faith is success, pleasure on earth. Be his, my children, and you will own eternity”.
Simon gestured, the drum beat roll, torchbearers gathered round the woman I know as Helen, but was not that Helen this day at all. It was Athena they saw rise from the throne, sternly stand commanding there. She was there, this Athena of wisdom and of war, Athena protector, Athena mother to cities and heroes, Athena magnificent, fierce Athena, Athena who guards the Parthenon treasury of Athens. This great goddess everyone knew, the greatest goddess ever known. When Athena rises, imposingly gestures, “hush’ , the crowd becomes silent and respectful.
For the better ones of them here, enough had gone on by now that they must have been desperate for the change to order, propriety, decency. Some had not come here for games and prizes; some had really come for news of hope, making sense of the pain of life, and of this distant but reachable, supreme god. There are serious people in Antioch. Theirs is not an easy life. The way Helen stood, however surrounded by costumes, frippery and obscenities of the show to which she had lent herself, as she stood there, thee was about her the aura of a serious, unquestionably outstanding, powerful-in-herself, woman. Were I of the mob, not one who knew, disliked, only grudgingly admired her as Helen, were I not angry at her over S. Cornelius’ pain and her demeaning me, I would be thrilled, be under her command, I say with admiration and annoyance, again, she does seem a goddess.
I looked up from my notes of the tent meeting, turned to my boss, saying, “yes, Boss, as your friend I am angry at her for what she has shown herself. She is an ambitious woman, she has no scruple in to what she lends herself, as long as there is audience in it for her. And yes, I know, she has the right. As with you, she is nobly born and free. She will rule whom she will. I hope first herself, but never you, Boss, never you”. I went back to my notes, read to him what at the time I wrote, ‘Had I been ordinary Antiochean folk, I would easily believe she might well be an immortal. Indeed I want her to be.” There’s a confession for you, and I was ashamed of myself admitting it out loud. I went on from my notes,
I had no idea her voice, strong but melodious, , rich but deeply feminine, could fill the tent. ( I recalled that S. Cornelius, telling me what little he would of his encounter with Pythia, had been much taken with the sound of her.) What I was hearing now was not the same as when she and had been in conversation. No, this Sophia, this Pythia, once perhaps after all, that Helen, performs. . In performing, she gives of her excellence to her audience. I looked in S. Cornelius eyes directly, saying, and in this my voice could not hide that I had been moved by her, surprised. She was one with religious understandings. Sophia was not all a pose.
“ Boss, I’m sure you will be so impressed by her speech that I had scribes stay up late last night to make copies. You might want others to read her. Here is what she said,”
Helen, as Sophia, her talk transcribed:
“You know me for what I seem to you, may be to you, but have not been to you, nor am to you. I come from elsewhere. I come from other understandings. All understandings are incomplete. Those who do not appreciate mystery know least. Those who acknowledge mystery know where wonders dwell, what the mist may hold and reveal when we pierce it. I cannot show you wonders, nor do I traffic in them. We can be told of wonders, but only we ourselves can see them. We see them with visions that are in front and behind our eyes. Only with that depth of vision can wonders emerge from the mists. I do not know whether today you may yet see matters holy made clear, or whether, as I fear, more mists have been imposed.
I am here for my own, not your purposes. If there is any harmony in these so that we both gain, so be it and good be in it. The Magus here speaks for his vision of a Jesus, his notion of the high god, and much of it about. himself. About all on the gods there is much mystery, much promise, and unquestionably great gifts yielded although their nature and best use must be studied, practiced, prayed for, but not assumed. Insofar as we are soul and spirit, we do not see these in ourselves in any mirror, but as a distant perfection to be obtained.. The Magus here has words which he believes are signposts to that path. I am no keeper of secret words; indeed insofar as any of us may teach others of us clarity, not secrets, that is the path better seen. It is our common path. It is not a road that abides only one woman or man on private journey.
I know little of Jesus. I know best of other gods for whom promises are less. Say of me at best I am yet come to him and he is yet come to me. My arms are open to his embrace. Who moves into those spaces between our open, even beckoning arms, is not entirely our own to determine. We may choose and yet not receive, although the greater the wonder of it, then the likelier the chosen arrives, is embraced.
You have been told that Jesus comprises the powers and spirit of all great gods that have gone before him, but is now magnified, enriched, much more generous in bestowings as we are become more capable of deserving. The news, I am told, is that all of the finest gifts available from any one god or goddess and their worship, are gathered now about the Christ. He is a concentration of the best history of the gods; all that was good among them is concentrated in his hand as his gift arising from his Father. Great news and good counsel was generated by Jesus and those who heard, best understood him, although full understandings are not possible.
I hear all about me momentous words reflecting mighty acts and potential achievements: incarnation, transcendence, sacrifice, resurrection, redemption, salvation, purification, revelation, prophecy, the soul, the covenant and grace, and more. All of these words, even if you have not formed them so clearly with your own tongue, provide the stuff of your own awe, hopes and possibilities. Within you, inchoate perhaps, their sound and teaching yields them as yourself in realization over time.
But I say to you that women who keep that house of ours where all immediate of life and caring begins, deserve words that are not formed only in the minds of men. Jesus was not simply a man, but god, and here most important about gnosis, knowing, he also partook of being a woman, and, many believe, being with his woman, in all things intimately. Jesus, yes, more than a man, just as those coming after him who pondered, interpreted, wrote of t their thoughts and visions, are more than men, able thereby to partake of him. Realize my words; a woman was with him and was his, as he was hers, women follow and also partake of that quite earthy mystery, all equal as well in all things spiritual. That woman is you, of him and his, as he is yours, and that woman is here, no mystery, all mystery in her.
I ask you, where are women’s words? I ask you to name your woman’s words, those practical ones, those here-and-now sounds inextricably bound with the energy, the act, the thing, the result of them, all being the work and gift of woman doing her womanhood, that bearing, birthing, caring, healing, feeding, consoling, forgiving, generating, caressing, smiling, crying, yes and teaching, worrying, being exemplars of the labor of it all, and yes the pain and the dying from the deed and burden of it all which we too casually summarize as “love”. I speak to each woman of you here, and each man of you here who loves a woman, loves the child she has brought forth for you, eats the food from fire she lays, grown in fields she plants and tills, and wears the clothes from the loom she pedals, each man who, bears the scars from the wounds she has cured, is the character that her guidance has taught and her wisdom counseled. You know, woman and those fewer men who know the many-layered depths of what love is. I ask of you the easiest of tasks; embrace the words for the love you feel and can be, do so before any more earnest wind carries them away. Do that and you embrace the woman in Jesus, the gentleness of him, the woman who is his and is also him? Do that and you understand the woman who is also god. The Magdalene is in him, with him, of him. They intertwine in offering those great and high achievements, sacred and profane, that may allow us the good forever. In doing the work of love and forgiveness, which constitutes seeing the path to beauty already potent within us. In doing that daily work of woman, which love and forgiveness is comprised all eligibility for Heaven. In being the work of woman we show ourselves to be of the stuff of which goodness is made, that stuff of which Abraham prophetic before him, then our Jesus, his father, and all our heavens are made.
See you then the possibility for fundamental error. Any advocacy of faith, which is, conceives of spirit absent the daily doing of love, which itself must be every high god’s model for the cosmos, is empty the stuff of beauty. Any advocacy of faith which does not comprehend the elemental fact of us, that a god’s energy in us is constituted of our matter and its expressions, the rock of us and its weightiness, the fact of flesh and as well as mind and, conceived not met, our housed spirit. It is elemental, this creation and love and work, which we daily are and do. This is woman. Any advocacy not mindful of woman, is not mindful of creation, which when Good, we have done with Jesus, in each other’s arms. We are all Magdalenes, blessed and blessing. Transcendent and with himself, ourselves in the other world, it is in this way we are constituted with and as Sophia. She is our name for the knowing and it must be, the being of these realities. It is that simple and that compelling. I have described only what you are, or if you are yet not, what you can become. You understand it now.
The Magus here has told you I am the Magdalene. I must ponder fully the poetry immanent within that compliment. Let us look at the value in woman it implies, not as history. Let all of us, as women, think of us, being such a bride as is claimed, as poetry. Poetry, not history, essences. If the spirit of love prevails, all women will know themselves as capable of being brides of the best of gods. I know deity can occupy a woman, how much depends on the spread of her embrace of love, nurturance, how flows her sweetness. Anyone of us as Magdalene to Jesus, insofar as we truly know the scope of him, will be within him as he is within us as we are together bound in the greater spirit. It is under a divine cover we lay, make love, are love, endow with love. Remember, it is the woman who is the house of love, our men come feast at our table. We are equals in the joy of it, and when there is pain, that must be apportioned fairly. I say ‘must” which, as command, rests on morality, as must all of our lives.
I have known much of the gods and, as with all of us, the flesh. I am unable to tell you the apportioning over time, in a place, at a moment of spirit and of flesh, of god within or ourselves extended there, but to say we are, as in all real love, interpenetrating, enduring, and never fixed, for our magnitude grows. Even in old age, as we appear to shrink, conceive the better, that we are closer to final expansions nigh great and infinite. As the poetry of Magdalenes then, accept love as both flesh and spirit, as now and future, as our own and private and yet god’s as well, thereby as vast as heaven, as joyful to hear and be as the laughter of a child, as deep as the depths of night where love dwells amongst, binding the very stars. Be Magdalene then you women, be Athena, be Sophia, for it is so, that for Heaven to be realized, one does on earth as it is intended in Heaven.
S. Cornelius finished reading. He nodded, sighed. There was moisture come to his eyes.
After her talk, Helen stood silent, as silent were the woman in the seat rows who heard her. A few men began to whistle, laugh, hoot, ridicule, make vulgar gestures. Helen, who was solemn, magnified and commanding, gestured as leaders do, signally to the bully boys who, responsive as they would be to an Amazon queen, moved in on the seated crowd, here and there covered those disrespectful mouths with their near-smothering rough, large hands, or, when that seemed insufficient, simply, with no emotion, bashed their skulls, letting the bodies slump and fall, no hint of mercy done. The audience returned to a respectful quiet.
A rope from the stage house crane was now suspended above her, a sling in it ready for her to seat herself and ascend, then be conveyed back stage. Any play-goer knows this is intended as more than the dramatist scripting the pretense of gods, for acts which are symbols in enacting the thing may realize it, as poetry does or music, as Greek drama does.. Art and the gods inscribe themselves independently. Athena/Sophia/Magdalene/the all-woman this moment, this- only I in the audience knew her as Helen- waved the machine away. This woman needed no props to raise her. Even in my harshness, I was taken with the moment, understood what was here to be realized. She needed no machinery of pretend, not this woman, not this moment, not here in the possession of her that was herself. The real goddess is as she is, where she is, now having spoken, such a goddess exits as she wills it. She is present, present now as over time before, as will be hence. Powers present need neither props nor symbolizing machines. Powers present are realized as they are. She was Sophia, or Athena, or a glorious Magdalene, she was Apollo’s priestess, and the power she was was woman, and radiant, and she ruled.
So the seekers, those capable of awe, those rowdies once mob now tamed, so many of them pilgrims in fact, even if earlier unintended, had come, and now had come to believe. There was silence as Helen disappeared through the center stage door rear; no drums, no flutes, no huckstering Simon. Slowly, respectfully, murmuring only, the crowd moved out of their seats, down the aisles, out the tent flap exits to file between the shepherding ropes where Simon and his reaping crews were awaiting their harvest.
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