CHAPTER LXIX

On Being Remembered, the Means of It,


The Princess Helen addresses you. Attend!. 


This section might well have been Preface, a more immediate introduction to these journals and memoirs. I trust you are the readers the Bishop anticipated, some far place and time from Antioch and Empire. There are reasons as to why what you are now reading is not that livelier Preface. I cannot fault Balthus for the fact of that. Tyche, goddess of this city, earlier its protector but now, with Rome protecting and the sway of the old gods much diminished, she, now Muse of music, demanded there be no change from the Books’ organization which had and heard Tyche introduce our time and place. It is rare these days for a Muse like Tyche to be foremost, but she knows the heart of this city and its past. She indulged us by singing it. I insisted we respect her place here. And not ever to be forgotten, there is  power yet in the old deities, for their natures endure, and, since I speak affectionately of Tyche, the female of her, never ever you who are men, know that women’s powers are underestimated only at great great risk. Be glad then, and be warned. 


Tyche came to me in the find house in which we live, came privately as an old woman wearing ordinary black wool, those long dresses rarely washed and loose enough to expand for pregnancy, still hang during lean, starving times. Tyche knows everything that goes on in this city, for her ear for music is more than that. Hers is an everywhere ear.  She listens to those contributing to this Book, as indeed she heard my husband’s sermons.  She heard Balthus read this section, his intended Preface, much of which he himself had written. It began as another one of those, “I, Balthus”  pronouncements, designed, not stupidly, to get the reader off to a faster start than Tyche does, for she sings in the old way, slowly. To visit me here  at home.she took the form of one of those old women.  My domo slaves were reluctant to let a poor old woman in, but Tyche has her ways. She can cast a spell with song, and so she did. Glazed-eyed, the butlering senior slave brought her to me. Here was no poor barrio woman. 


She said to me.


“Your Royal Highness, Do you know me?”


“Of course. No one who has been Apollo’s priestess and oracle would not recognize other immortals. You are Tyche who now sings, but once was much more. As I myself was once much more”


“Yes, I know. Neither of us complain, there’s no use in it..  I have come to you because I introduce the Book of your husband, a much honored man.  I sing in it. I reveal much in its pages. I am its first page and many thereafter”


“Yes, and I thank you for your participation. You are generous”


“I am also proud, and am still an immortal. I will not be replaced as first in this Book by a conceited, ill mannered, Swabian peasant egotist. He trumpets himself everywhere.  His trumpet is not music to my ears”


“I understand. I don’t like him myself:


“Good. Then we agree, for I insist on it, that this section, the right now of it where we are talking, will not be Balthus’ lectern fare,  where he is his usual noisy, I grant also learned, ‘I, Balthus’ self.


“Agreed”


“And you have the power to see to that?


“You know I do. I’m happy to to see Balthus relegated to the far seats in this Circus.

Tyche smiled, for a moment became the beautiful woman of herself, truly, as only goddesses can, a transformation. She said, 


“I shall sing for you Princess. At an event which I do not identify, for it is for immortals to know its coming, , I will sing for you and your husband. All Antioch will hear me, and know I sing of and for you. So then, goodbye, Your Highness, may your longer path ahead bring you wisdom, even if not joy. Of the two, wisdom is the greater value”


“I know, yet I sorrow for it”


“You know then?”


“I do”


“Ah, some gifts are mixed, at times entirely unwelcome. How well I know that myself.”  A pause as they exchanged understandings not given to most mortals. She ignored the slave who was ready to accompany her to the door. A brisk woman this Tyche, bidding,


“Again goodbye Your Highness, and thank you” The Princess Helen heard her humming her way out. 


And so she had left. Now I will tell you more as to why Balthus’ plan for this chapter as Preface is denied?  Even if Tyche had not come to me, my despise for that Swabian frees is strong enough to free me of whatever gratitude I owe him for his hard work on this Book, and for his friendship to my husband. So then, gratitude must wait. Perhaps some future time I will be in a better mood for it. As it is and stands,  even had Tyche not come to me. I would order him, tell the others working on the Book that we honor Tyche first. They can make the noise of their own quills speaking of ourselves on  egoist’s parchment come later.I am, after all a princess, Apollo’s appreciated priestess, otherwise well placed here and in legend. My Mule loves and indulges me. No wonder I will have my own way.  


And so,  on the Mule’s and my terms, we write of the work of making a memoir in this time and place, and of this man, this S. Cornelius, this nobly born Senior Centurian,  Quaestor, sometimes Praetor -with further high honors from the Emperor himself who has made him Tribune of Trajan’s own legion,  this S. Cornelius who, instead of becoming Consul which was within his grasp, instead t converted Christian and wasimmedatly consecrated as Bishop. I withhold my opinion of the wisdom of that, but he was called by his god, his sense of what would be best for Rome, and, I suspect, the challenge, the novel opportunity of it. He did, after all, intend to be a force, peacefully insofar as that is ever possible, in remaking the world. That is entirely harmonious with his character!


You know he started his journal for you, you whom his vision conceived as his far-reading kin. In that service have been the gods allowing and facilitating, initially Tyche herself narrating, singing, just as we heard a moment ago.


Now, regarding this Book, it is my great honor, privilege, to acknowledge the gracious permission of Hadrianus Imperator to allow his private correspondence with us to be included.  The Emperor’s good will is the rock upon which we stand, Our “Petrus’ so to, borrowingly, say. We are blessed with that imperial trust and approval.  That will never be betrayed.. 

I, Princess Helen of Galatia and Gaul, now allow here, inclusion of the Preface material that Balthus wrote. Listen to the self -satisfied noise of him.  That German farts through his mouth. 


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I, Balthus, editor of this Book, admit that there is much in it of the dull historical sort that teachers present, and speeches where for audience or reader who prefer to watch chariots race, much patience in the service of deeper understanding is required. Since I myself am a chariot sort, you have my sympathy. There are no chariot races visited here, and as I recall only one Roman circus to gratify the likely orgiastic  beast of you. But, since our lives here in Roman Syria cannot escape it, and my own pleasures demand it,  I find excitement and temptations enough.  I admit I have sometimes included such adventures, beyond their illustrative value, as entertainments. I am confident that any material presenting itself that is pertinent to our task of telling the man, his times, his foresight, is here. You also know I am only the compiler, sworn not to censor or revise other’s contributions.  I cannot helpt but indulge myself however in comments, or shrinking instructions to scribes.


A chariot sort of man, I find it droll that I emerge to face myself as not just the whoring, reading, reflecting, drinking cunning sort but also the teaching sort, that  herein perhaps a bore to all but me. As with any engaged in educating work, I have no sympathy for dullards or the ne’er-do-wells who will not attend to what they need to know to understand- for that is what Cornelius offers- how you there across those seas and years, are constituted of this history, worldly and unworldly, the prosaic, the exotic, the spiritual and its leveler, the pragmatic.  Hecate, the witch of the crossroads, whom all of us will now and then meet—I caution you be wary—is, like much else,  in none of these categories, so allow some play of the infinite here.


Contributors to his Book have agreed amongst ourselves not to pass along overly revealing content of one of us reporting another. For example, I restrict my comments about Helen, an haughty and acerbic woman who has just interfered with my plan for organizing the Preface that I worked so hard on. But observe; I respect her role, rank and privilege, will not say how much I regret her doing so little work on any of this, and further regret her loyalty to Tyche who does nothing but sing, It is us mortals who have done the damn work here. I will not call Helen an intolerable, arrogant, spoiled, imperious bitch, no, I am as generous in my writing of her as a man in her debt, and inferior to her in power and connections,  is sensibly obliged to be. I might better say, careful enough to be.


Nor do I, editing, promise complete honesty in other matters. This is, be reminded, Rome, where honesty can be deadly. The all of us are honest about S. Cornelius, or what he experienced, what we see of this changing, crisis-ridden storied stream of Christianity hereabouts, is, however, a given.  As for gossip I have served up only a little.  Much that amused me but was inconsequential, making no difference in lives,  I have omitted. As example, when Simon Magus was crucified,  from time to time I went by to taunt him, taking care never to stand beneath him, for Simon, like most others crucified, could not help but soil himself. One wants no brown rain of stinking, albeit increasingly rock-like faeces to wreck the pleasure of taunting. So, heed me and remember to stand back.


It was reported, a slave who spied for me, that when Simon was hauled down,  the Princess Helen ordered a soldier to cut off his head (the rest of him was dumped in a pit) The slave was told to take the head to S. Cornelius’, and Helen’s grand house, where servants wer told to clean the stinking mess of it out, then rinse the skull, successively,  in lime, vinegar,  acid, then have a glass blower summoned to as artfully as possible make of the skull a ruby-colored glass goblet. An artisan fitted it with copper stirrup handles, eyes were painted in a woeful stare, and lo, a drinking vessel (rhytium) was ready for use. Now   Simon Magus would have his fill of drink. The report to me was that Princess Helen and S. Cornelius would chuckle while passing the goblet to one another, toasting Simon, “at last useful” with his own skull made even generous, his mouth at last quiet, and no skullduggery, I pun, remaining.


And those Romans become effete, sybaritic at their future risk,  call us North Germans, “peasants” or “barbarians” . As soldiers for Rome, we provide the material for goblets, those skulls of our tribal kinsmen across the Rhine who are foolish enough to fight Rome—but for their glorious Teutoburger Wald massacre of two legions. We are saved from the art of glassblowers, we bury our enemies, not turn their bones into decadent amenities. I am a soldier. You know I respect the men I fight. These aristocratic Romans, hardly, they can be always arrogantly disdainful ofe us on whichever side we fight. 



I make a forecast. As Rome loses its heroes, men of character, courage, such as S. Cornelius, as it loses its solid Italian farmers to luxury and ever-increasing reliance on slaves, the legions will become  increasingly composed of those who were once barbarians beyond the frontiers. The frontiers will be permeable, trade compels that, and so, as with myself, Rome’s benefits and trinkets will attract.  S. Cornelius, this dreamy warrior of him, too ambitious, fancies Rome become Christian, and as you know, I agree that risk is possible. But Rome, no matter how encompassing some future emperor will grant citizenship, I conceive even to the blue painted Picts near Hadrian’s wall, Rome will cease to be a property of those of Latin blood. Assimiliation? Of course.  Conquerred, the very walls of Rome pierced, perhaps even its gates freely opened by a final generation of cowards?  I think so. And so? Rome will not only become Christian, but it will become barbarian.  Will the barbarians turn Christian? Of course, for they will loot, take on everything by then Roman, and sowhy not this faith for fools,  which, yes, superior I agree,  promises an embodied forever of, well, I preume,  wine, sweets, peace, cherubim,  and, as with the foolishness of emperors, becoming like gods themselvs.    

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Nothing said so far is marked as evidence, but when one tells lives, or reads them, one must be wary. There is no more trust in a book than in those who write it. Most lives confessed will overlook the owner’s unpleasant side. Lives told as biography may also be suspect, either as to sources or the writer’spurpse.  We have told you S. Cornelius and our group’s intent.. We are not professional historians or biographers whose duty is to make an whole out of but pieces, amalgamating to provide credible, even reassuring designs. I, at least, have no theory of meaning to prove. Purposeful professionals look for meanings, causes, great conclusions and so may color events.. We, none of us, tolerate the sound of one sandal only dropping, so we acknowledge an urge for completion, but we admit we don’t know where endings are, but be assured we make no more of S.Cornelius than he was, and becoming did, point, guide, illuminate and so foreshadow.


Let me speak a little grandly now. We here  are too narrowly situated, too local perhaps, to insist that S. Cornelius life might be any but a minor epic,  afterwards repressed rather than reported, all parties to that seeming to agree that evil, any news of it can be extinguished by denying it.  The same with sorrows of others, they can be contagious, so by all means turn away. Beyond telling  S. Cornelius own sensitivity and vision, his importance here, we cannot contribute linking surveys of breadth of lands, or depths of history beyond our provincial boundaries. There is no grand sweep to us, for, as with most folk we focus on what we closely know, and may be wrong about some of that.  Since this is the Book of the Bishop, we must keep sight of the Christians, give them their due.  Their faith is that what they know from what they are told of Jesus,  told of their God and eternity, given right laws for living and salvation, and something passing on the ways of demons and angels. For those few who are Visited, for you see I trust what S. Cornelius said of himself, one who experienced ecstacy not in madness, the Christian message powers them, overpowers them.. That is, as we are seeing in S. Cornelius, at least impressive, a muted ecstasy, a gift he says, and I say, worrisome.


Fine. The better part of me, this Balthus at his best, says I am glad it is so, that any man might envy of their gifts: contentment, being God’s elect to be “saved,  and so, some certainty as to eternally good no life’s ending at all.   However as a rational, and well read man philosophically, still farmer enough to know grain from chaff and to recognize Syrian fanciful stories for what they are, I must decline the Christian story, its complicated Hebrew history, the too pleasing imagination gone heavenly wild, so, briefly put, the regulating, promising, demanding nonsense of it.

 

I am a bit grand still. Provincials then, we offer no story as great as how Gilgamesh lived and did royal labors by the sides of  enriching river Euphrates, nor would we speculate about the Jews in Babylone close to that same river. Those histories intermixed with religions exist and are written by greater pens than ours.  The Nile and the Tiber have their own stories, as with our Orontes flowing here, but of those ordinary folk who lived and died next to the great rivers, drank from them, were freighted on them, died in the floods of them, those who were but ordinary subjects not emperors, these stories are lost or never were,  even as unto our Orontes.  Even so then, unto bishops and tribunes themselves. Their moments are great, afterwards there is the expiring rattle and wheeze,. An exception, lives resurrected foe the biographer’s show of them, the biographer’s agenda in every gulling scene and sentence.


For this Book, we have no grand design, rather giving you a perhaps ordinary story, consider it, I speak for S. Cornelius’ intent now,  to be of your own ancestor, for he, this Antioch, are just that. Here then a man of your own family whom we all considered great, but of whom no other quills have written, nor will they, since ink is withheld, for in his time when the memory of him was scrutinized, he was deemed foolish by those with lesser understanding, deemed dangerous by those who foundered on change. However great his efforts, as noble these were as his Cornelius blood come down from the Gracchi tribunes and Scipio Africanus, he was judged an enemy by those who, I think rightly, anticipated his efforts dangerous to their own situations and purposes. Oblivion, but perhaps for a line or two in some record, is the punishment.  History tells of such censors  who, despicably shortsighted, have momentary victory. We propose the longer view as we tell of this man, and those about him—by no means always an agreeable crowd—whose vision proved the clearer, this truly foreshadowing man.  


As to his mission, central and due our respect, and here I deserve a great deal of respect for crediting another man’s view, a new sect’s myth and, yes, decency, and however begrudgingly allowing there are gods and mysteries and worlds beyond us. I will be picqued if you do not credit me with fairly representing that which I do not believe or trust. I am then your almost dispassionate reporter. I am that good!  And so I do report that the convert  Bishop Cornelius and his Assembly  Elders Joseph and Luke are full of God,  here, and everywhere. I report theirs is beyond “belief”or ‘faith,  not just children who learn a story well, for they know. (although they are told it).  This Bishop was careful to venture no arrogance in that knowledge, no explanations, hermeunetics, abstruse theologizing. There is no divine architecture drafted,  no measured dimensions insisted upon, but the Presence yes and the Visitor yes, and the compelling words, also yes. I am a disinterested, even objecting pagan, but on behalf of the Bishop and that Christian Assembly I assure you of enlightenment as their experience, God, not “god” or simply ill-defined Platonic as “the One” He is as as present here as their faith can guarantee.


Again I speak for this group working, ( I am pleased the Princess has not recently interrupted) It is out of respect for S. Cornelius, his prescience as prophecy, the history he, we, bespeak, that we have compiled these biographing materials. I remind you again, here is a story of an important life from which major lessons may be learned. What they are when not spelled out, well, that is yours to search out and comprehend.  Nor are own lives, as we have entered them here, inconsequential, so we, the “us” of us here in this Antiochean theater present ourselves as we sometimes were and would be seen.


If you open yourself to your preceding origins, you will read of yourself here as well. Commended then, this place, these times, this Empire, this Bishop’s life and journey, whatever mysteries are to be made of it. Look you to the light from his candle, that candle for the Way. 


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