CHAPTER VIII: ANTIOCH
The Stench of It, and the Holy
I, Tyche, would like to tell you only good of this city, but I regret that cannot be. I do claim, with more justification than most mortals can summon, that faults are not my responsibility. You already know that Antioch is exceeding populated by powers, dominions, named and unnamed energies whereas for sheer noise the origins are human: market place clattering, shouts, hums and everywhere the vibration of gossip, the where of bargains, rumours of dangers, and intensity of loathing.
Too immediately evident is that this place, away from palace, temples and colonnaded avenues, has a terrible stench. It is a stew of not always known ingredients but it takes no chef to recognize some; sewage, garbage, the abandoned sick typically rotting, leprous, fulminating and suppurating yellow and green- and, a bit ahead of the sick by the clock’s measure, the decaying dead. Waste and rotting flesh make special contributions to the fragrance of the streets. As does matter carried or exhaled, for the walking on their breaths; onion, garlic, clove, cheap opium, cabbage, vast amounts of the favorite which is fish pickle, and last night’s dried dribble of semen. What can be added are decaying teeth, rotting gums, fetid unwashed private parts, some foul with putrid sores. Only the rich can cover odors of which, thanks to the baths, they have fewer thanks to water, scrubs and expensive soap and sweet oils When walking in the winding alleys which are like mischievously dumped intestines coiling to subvert the grids of Hippodamus, take caution, do not step in the dumped feces of man and beast, note paving stones awash with urine which, if of which, if you watch, you will see that camels on journey’s end unleash tremendously more than donkeys.
The wealthy few are glad to live on the grid-laid avenues which, close to their fine houses, are cleaned by slaves. These are privileged precincts, guarded, where officials and others rich live safe outside in the daytime, comfortable inside at night. Outside? The night outside belongs to robbers, violence, malevolent demons, and, when she is full, to Selene the moon, that maiden, mother, crone, that gorgeous, jealous moon. There is here, as in every city sprung from earth, a cult to her.
You now know that mine is a city of tribes, languages, religions, shades of people, each kind in its own quarter, and but for not usually more than weekly rioting, they do as Rome requires and most of them would seem to wish, abide with apparent indifference and much distrust along side one another. They are prompted to attend to their lawful business, or such games, drunkenness, whoring, marriages, other gambling and always certain funerals, only a bit of the business of latter comes from family-claimed corpses delivered by the work of the many well-beamed crosses standing strong away from the promenade itself but on a parallel brick road. t
Crosses, solid laborers for Rome they are, always ready for further employment, their new post holes dug and waiting as soon as the nails hammered into the crumpled dead heap are pulled. There are always crucifixions going on, for example those of a cell of Parthians spied out plotting rebellion, an emperor-cursing Jew indiscrete and much too trusting of his new, and spy-planted friends, some greedy Egyptian slut whose too careless dripping her fat breasts over her snoring client who was not content with what she’s earned at one orifice or another and so uses her pick pocketing razor on his inside pocket to get more coins. In doing so she carelessly slices flesh so that even this satisfied snoring customer awakens yipping, yipping loudly enough as he stands, naked and bleeding brightly from his blubbery fat tummy where his money pouch had hung. Women are not ordinarily crucified, but this ample Egyptian slut was a piquant exception worth fully naked hoisting. As expected, she drew a wagging crowd. The looming crosses of the cities of Rome, last stop for thieves and hopeless rowdies, are urban ornaments near any esplanade to remind the rabble to be good. or be grateful because they are lucky. Note; no Roman citizen dies officially in such an undignified way. The work of the crosses marks the non-citizen, lower, subject and slave classes. Citizen, do not despair, there are undignified devices also reserved for you as well, should you be troublesome, as well.
As for the condemned but newly hung on the crosses, and thus still capable of breath and regret, hearing their moans, seeing their grimacing contortions, hearing the wheezing as breath dribbles out, passersby’s can be indifferent, whereas others may thoroughly enjoy it. The pain and misfortune of others is widely converted into an entertainment of Empire, the wild beast attending martyrs, the gladiators, the torturer and the cross all play their part.
For the observer torture can be spicier than cloves or chili. A connoisseur was Emperor Caligula who, among many others so empowered, ordered up torture of his entertainment. Not entirely selfish, he might invite friends and high clients to share the occasion. His torturers were not trained to be subtle, but timing was important. An imperial dinner party, when hosted by the most beastly of them would last hours, and since the worst of emperors knew no bounds to indulgence, all pleasures flowed, the screams and sight of those being tortured included. Wine cups were never empty, slightly clad lascivious dancing girls were present who as soon as group sex began need not be clad at all but yes, in a way, were still dancing.
If for Caligula there was to be, of an evening, the delectable of torture as well the task of the torturer, his skills, professionalism greatly relied upon was to produce an excruciating totality of pain enduring, that is the victim enduring, for the whole of what might be an entire night. A young woman being tortured, or likely several sequential, was to be choreographed to please all the senses, but perhaps for smell if, by accident, entrails burst. A torturer was a trained vocation in Rome, a desirable calling since the pay was good, one might get extravagant tips from a particularly pleased official, and the work was inside. Some complain Romans were without imagination but this one trade was at least innovative. An esteemed torturer had carte blanche to order new instruments of his own design from Praetorian armorers or palace ironmongers. Of Caligula is was said he enjoy sex best while being simultaneously entertained by several ravishings of his own writhing female mounts, to which were added the pleasure he took in his grunting, hooting guests and the torturers simultaenous expert work. It was good to hear the victims shriek, moan, whereas their pleas were particularly welcome while their tongues were still in their mouth and before the teeth were pulled. Orgasm and sheer overriding happiness could be so nicely enhanced by the expert torturer’s mechanical work itself; those sounds of the grinding, pulling, plucking, crushing, penetrating machinery, human and inhuman.
Caligula was known to giggle as he ate and, when orgasm was near, yelling to encourage the torturer, or sometimes several of them who might all be at work with Caligula ravaging major orifices, a chorus then of which the girls, his victims, in their scream arrived at a mutual crescendo. Again, well-orchestrated and quite Roman, more is better. Boys were sometimes used as well, but as Caligula said with an almost moral pride, he was not at heart a sodomite, even at remove, for such anal penetrations were most often done by torturing tools and priapetic proxy.
As for the facts of these special occasions, invitations to which were prized by Caliguans, such an event was at least a “delectamentum”, delicious and delectable indeed. The orgies were unabashedly group enterprises, advantageous since widely wanton stimulation, indeed exchanges and some learning to it, was, say, facilitating. As for the girls available these were pre selected, prepaid from the better class of whores or invited from among many sporting Roman matrons. These might be wives of the great but whose independent lives and private parts were eager for whatever was more and uttermost. A spectacularly licentious party might be the talk of town nobility, envious hearers regaled by –there was no need to exaggerate- novelty of positions, durations, frequency, exquisite satisfactions, finally at dawn all bleary, sweaty, sticky from other fluids all over, throats hoarse from frequent vomiting so that food and wine could be consumed to achieve the ingesting drunken goal of ad infinitum. What a shame one’s organs finally failed one.
If a sporting high class matron’s husband was there spurting, sporting as well, so be it and maybe a wave to him, for this was, after all, having a good time, for a very few, in imperial Rome. None of the women as or at sport were at risk from some wandering torturer widening his implements’ horizon, for again, this was Rome, the rules were strong, the classes finely discriminated among who might play, who might be played upon. These matters were eminently clear, at least until plot, poison or the knife, redrew the geometry of the ruling circle. As for those sporting at a mad emperor’s party, their stomachs had best be strong, for no matter how plunging partners might howl, whoop about and shout, the cacophonic alto and soprano of the tortured girls had its own riveting quality. Absolutely riveting. Sometimes, above it all, for his was a special wave, could be heard Caligula’s reedy, squirting giggle.
I, Tyche, am speaking to you. I know where you who hear or read me are now, your place ever so far from here, but we are together nevertheless. Our shared intent and communication binds us, we are aware of one another. We are then met. We travel over the duality of our times allowing ourselves to be bound, as occurs when dreams and dreamers meet, or even two dreamers meet in their same dream. Working minds also meet and can mirror across time as minds understood and understanding. They share learning and respect over which time is dissolved.
Be assured, as the Muse of Music which is my sophisticated and entirely good aspect, clear and composed together as we both are now, I detest what I have told you of debauchery, cruelty, madness as it is centered in Rome. Although there is a statue of me there, by my choice it is not enlivened but for sacred days when I must appear. Other than when my duty I refuse to inhabit it. An old goddess has that right to refuse summons. I look young enough here in pleasure-ridden Antioch where youth is too important, but I was born when mind and wonder first came to consider what fertility is and how its powers, fearful when present or absent, might be channeled. Consider, the menses smeared on ancient altars, including hereabouts out near where the Christian cavern is, those were mine when all of us pretended less sophistication, were more immediately in touch with powers not abstracted. And now, with come modernity, taboo becomes delicacy, nothing now about me shameful, I much occupy myself with music as Muse.
Enough of that! Antioch is, for these moments, my true city; in my eyes it is not the Third but the finest city of all Empire. Rome has brought us much by way of wealth, diversity with some order, protection yet with considerable costs in levies and in taxes and protection .I have told that the best and worst of Empire is in the city of Rome. In promising you an introduction, and as you proceed along the roads of lives laid out here, and you will learn more, more of our worst, and our better side as well. First know our reputation, at least among the rich and safe travelers. I am patroness of a city, which would devote itself to laughter, love, fragrances, fountains, and, particularly, after music, indolence. You, as do those women in black, notice that I am here comfortably sitting these several hundreds of years. I am no bronze Minerva like her over there who must stay standing as long as years and earthquakes allow. Beyond our delights, our minds try to work, so that we do employ as teachers Greek philosophers and mathematicians. I regret none of them are great, but for the traditions they honor.
All of us honor the arts, music first but our mosaics in houses, temples courtyards are uncontested as the greatest anywhere. You certainly see here how fine our architects, stone masons, and city planners whereas, as in Rome, our sculptors copy the Greek originals as best they can. Our engineers and craftsman must reach the Roman standard which is the highest in the world, that seen in our viaducts, bridges, tunnels, plumbing more extensive than any city in the world. Why even the brickwork in our cloacae represent the finest, although I must say I’m glad my nose is bronze because on a warm day the lower reaches of the Orontes, where the sewers empty, raise a stench to drive Satan himself away. Shatan is that new demon here, groomed to the status of a major god and, I swear, far less modest than any of us and, become now by what he is held to be, an overwhelmingly concentrated will and energy quite overwhelming. He is one instrument greatly altering the spherical geometry, which engineers how powers are placed hereabouts. I say ‘spherical” yes, for Shatan reaches to deep as well as broad dimensions, although those most important as gifts, powers, qualities are denied him. It is not for me to tell you these, by now you in your time, your person will know.
The Muse is artiste. It is her duty and joy to concentrate beauty with truth, illuminating its essences by focused imaginings, gifts of talent and much work in discipline, all in gratitude to masters and forms, and then, as aim and consequence, once presented then their recipient’s expansion to joy and profundity, to those trained, fortunate, deep or mystical to the apprehension an in-filling of Beauty. It is right then that deity and Beauty be understood as one. One arrives at this conclusion from many paths, I may sing it, an artist creates its templates, priests versed in the mysteries instruct to it, or minds subjective contemplation- achieves a creative revelation as to essence and imagination. The paths to Beauty are many.,
In telling you of these, allow your Tyche your compliment to her of the gift of some understanding. A goddess surviving this long cannot be entirely a fool. Ask those around me. Here I am by the Forum, by the pools, this old woman of a goddess once representing life itself and its lesser places, now made over as by the art of Eutychides sculpture-as well as the elbow grease of her priest’s daily buffing. But, see those on their knees before me right now, I am here and am. However named renamed, from Halstadt Venus of stone to shapely bronze, from blood sacrifice and menstrual taboo to melody personified thence abstracted, become now object of both art and worship, (happily not yet of ridicule,) I am here. If in this world 852 UC, 117 AD then I am also in the other world as well.
I have told you earlier that if you would understand us I am a portion of what you must understand. In your mind you are extending back in time - its arrow does reverse- to come to me. When that occurs I become a portion of your immediate world as well. Your capacities create me, but since I am, was really, a creating goddess only for wombs and soil, I can claim no initial creation. A greater God by far than I was Creator, but for you to comprehend the least of me, here in my “now” and yours, you must be in your mind and deeper parts be a creator. When you do that, we have momentarily joined in time. In both our times the several worlds, this and other, subject, object and beyond, seek to join. It is a cosmic as well as animal tropism. In a much grander way, essence and imagination, creators and Creator may be joined. There you have heard me. Let my echoes and renderings be with you, let my spirit be with you.
Breathe in the fragrance of the daphne bush itself, of our jasmine, mock orange, flowering lemon, lilies near the river, These too are your, as is the miracle of our being joined over time. These are the fragrances of the gods that man may enjoy. These god fragrances, no other fragrance in an Antioch evening here by the fountains and the forum, near pools and lotus, is Antioch so permeating or appealing, There is one particular fragrance, it is new but I smell it here among the other gods and flowers, it is of Christ. I am neither advocate nor foe, I but observe that he is new among us, unusual in ways that escape me. There is certain acridness to his scent, like attar of roses touched by a candle. It is the scent of many winds, for the smell of the Christ fire has been distilled by the breath of myriad gods before him, by a thousand priests, five thousand sages, add charlatans, magicians ,add ten thousand healers, altar tenders and acolytes, and everywhere demons, angels, exotika, nymphs, spirits, who are all as real as energy, beliefs, epiphanies, apparitions, furies, their mimics and mummers. Real then in our lives, their stories, sacred tales and fore-tellings, their legends, myths, texts, attestations, swearings, sacred oaths, standing temples, haunting caves, real too their sounds under the earth and in the sky. All of this which has gone before and is become this our Antioch, our city beloved and bewildered by the swirling mists and continuing pageants of the gods.
These our gods are as real as any doubt, certainty, idea, imagination, and knowing, observing, sentient self can be. Gods of the sky, gods in caves, gods of shrines, gods who visit in dreams, gods who speak through oracles, heal in Asclepions, gods who anoint, cure, curse, destroy, bless, grant, disappear, cheat, make miracles, employ priests, hire priestess whores in their sacred name, gods who entice supplicants, slavering devour sacrifices, missing the old days when they came to our mouths alive, demand worship, dispense beneficences, inhabit statues, gods who at their best inspire the art of a Parthenon, its friezes, inspire Praxelites, the painters of vases and walls, dancers drunk with our grace and passion, the musicians who fill and enthrall, composers whose music becomes us and, heard, joins the listener wholly with us, but also gods who terrify and, by whimsy or rage, are all-destroyers.
All of these are the past and inherited present of the Orontes, its valley of fruitfulness, of ancient habitation, places so sacred that we knows gods have hereabouts been born and died. Here then revenants of gods unburied, their songs still sung, as is my own music. I pronounce it so: they were, we are, and I am the ancient Orontes, its fertile valley, and its course to the sea. I am the spirit of its newest city, Antioch. I pronounce it so: you however distant are also here with us. Know, worship, laugh. cry as best befits you. At best, be glorified.
We, the gods, most grown old, some enfeebled, are yet the inundation of the fearful and the holy. If you live here you know that all of this, the overwhelming and inescapable, this of the other world and yours of gods. You know me now only by my music, but once when I was earth and mother, men trembled before my fertile powers, and women prayed to me for them. Know me now, reformed by civilizing art, built by man into beauty, but I linger in the taproots of minds as awesome power not to be denied supplication. Know that I am, that this magical, terrifying holy, magnificent, frightful invisible world is, as long as minds behold us, real.
This is the Syrian ground, Palestine its province, on which Jesus to become Christ has appeared. Our is the sky from which the highest god fathered him, of whom some say that He of Him always was and will be. There is dispute about that, for those wise over time suspect every eternity is time and place- bound, and thus its inhabitants must all pass away. As once all-mother I have seen the progress, by no means regular or assured, of my children. As they have grown, their minds matured, what they have builded is become civilization which generates more of itself, and in so doing ever more enriches. My children are growing and are become able to receive and recognize greater gifts, then fashion these ever more worthy. And so now, and I do not myself intuit or self realize it, for I am limited by my age and defining, now I am myself taught as I listen to the new priests in my city. The minds of men and women, my children out of my primeval, for the primeval is what I was, are grown. They are grown sufficiently to receive what the priests say, for their understanding is greater now than mine. What is claimed is unbinding knowledge itself of their originating and guiding God, how they are in some image of Him, how they are joined and, so they are told, a new elect, which, if they choose, become the chosen.
This is good news for them, of which I, , am not jealous. I shall inspire to the greater music this now cosmic perception compels. I shall sing with them of love and hope, of goodness and purpose, of new meanings, of infinity and eternity and its mathematics, architecture, and celestial music, of its energies and forms. Now their minds can be confident, inspired to build upon themselves, using their God-guided gifts so that, even should the very cosmos expand or multiply, so may their reach for its nature and their God. The priests tell them of glory given, now and to come. For me it would be sad were they to forget us deities of their earlier understandings, for in and by us was also the grand and terrible, that awe primeval. I am a careful observer, whatever its new clothes and forms, new names in prayer and inscriptions, the primitive, the awesome remains.
These are the beginnings of Antioch, its present, and its end. They bespeak mankind. Antioch herself, in her more searching parts, is, as am I these days, in a listening, learning, and story -elaborating mood. You and I have observed a story in its early telling. Look carefully and you will see a lesson, you have already seen it, but perhaps not understood. That is an instance of why gods, now of the highest, must come among you, in shapes you recognize, using words you can understand, to explain a bit and foretell. Their work arouses your energies for the quest. Understand that even an high god’s gift is yet a mystery, as indeed is such a god himself. I have heard the new priests give assurances that you have been given gifts to allow you a successful quest, the work of which remains yours. . I have told you I am a listener, so now, worker, you hear me; I have heard lies too many as the twine that binds such gifts. And no gift, while you are an ordinary mortal, reveals all the mysteries.
You and I watched the charitable woman calling herself “Christian” as she gave bread and meat to the hungry dark- dressed four. I know something about the charitable woman; for I see what happens in my city. I have seen her attending her lessons, meeting, and, yes, singing with her assembly (the Greek, ecclesia, assembly, later "Lord's House’ later "church'). She has learned well and is changed, for she was once, quite a thief hereabouts. The charitable woman has come to believe that of all the lessons for which my lovely, difficult city will be known, one and hers personal and cosmic will be energized here for the benefit of all mankind. Syhria is the teacher of lessons: for example, don’t go to war in Parthia or in central Asia, don’t trust the Orontes not to flood, do not build a weak house which an earthquake can tumble, don’t expect great cities not to die, do not expect silt and changing sea levels not to obliterate ports, and yes, enjoy the immense wealth which comes from trade with the East but be wary of the traders and know their goods may be counterfeit. Be wary of nature, man and treacherous gods. Around us past and present, so many lessons, whether for the spirit or quotidian. You, like Antocheans, are likely to ignore most lessons, for your own house or heart are not libraries of historiwa.. Be that so, what you most need is a forgiving god, or me, Tyche whose name and skill is also Luck. ,
The charitable woman’s lesson, already modified in the telling, comes from Yeshua, Jesus through her own teacher, the priest Ignatius whom they call “Bishop”. She has learned the Hebrews called Jesus the Teacher and they were right, but the bishop’s vision allows more than that. The subject matter of her lessons, I do not dwell on them here for they are beyond me, is of morals, love, forgiveness, purifications, eternal life, the high God and, you saw her at it, charity. My vision is that her bishop’s, now her conviction, will be nourished and passed along over the ages. I rail against skepticism, so believe with me prophecy and visions may provide understanding. The trick is to separate out those which lead to catastroph disappointment or simply being swindled. Discriminate Cassandra’s accurate sort which truly foreast catastrophe which was fated. Let reason enter here; any mortal preaching and in prophecy is calculating trajectories of the seen and unseen worlds impinging, and the result. Test yourself; what will be your forecast?
You are with me in Antioch, my world, and my city, with people here for you to come to know. My reality and theirs now, urba condita 852 and AD 117 and following, is not any choice of yours. The story of Cornelius, or Ignatius preceding him, is not mine to shape or much to tell. I play little role in it. I am but an herald aware of two worlds inter-penetrative.
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