Stilicho’s Son – Episode 3

Copyright © 2015 Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Historical fiction

Arsace left me before we reached the Pantheon. He was a Christian and feared temples as if the sacrificial smoke might pollute him. Since he avoided the shows and executions, too, I had a few places in the City I could enjoy without him.

The rest of my retinue accompanied me to the building restored by that philhellene whose life often filled my thoughts. I visited it often, as I visited all of Hadrian’s monuments.

The divine Hadrian was the last true emperor of Rome. He loved the gods of every land. In his time, the ancient marble shone, and men moved through the cool shadows of glistening pediments. On show days, they left their palaces and tenements, traveling from all over the world to our celebrations. We welcomed them as joyously as we welcomed their gods.

Hadrian rebuilt the ancient Field of Mars, refacing those temples raised in the time of the Republic and connecting them to the baths built by Nero. We knew it was that hated emperor who built the magnificent red-granite complex, despite that the Senate had his name sanded off everything.

Beside the baths, Antoninus Pius built the Temple to the Deified Hadrian. Antoninus didn’t care for his boy-loving predecessor, but he honored tradition like great men do, acquiring the “pious” for it. It seemed a suitable place for Hadrian’s final rest, there near the great dome of the Pantheon that vaulted above the other temples like Olympus itself. Beyond the forest of gray marble pillars stood bronze doors that sealed the sanctuary of seven gods, patrons of the Caesars and builders of Rome.

Farther east was a small temple dedicated to Isis. Not many years before Hadrian wore the purple, the emperor Vespasian spent a night there with the goddess, celebrating his sack of Jerusalem. After stopping the Jewish rebellion, he took their treasure and built a temple to hold it. That temple took damage when tremors shook the City just that summer. The ominous event aroused the superstitious Christians, who associated it with the ancient emperor and then his oriental gods, so they began beating anyone they found near a statue.

Like all the gods, Isis has many faces. She’s Venus and the Great Mother, too. Some men shave their heads for Isis, while others castrate themselves in devotion to the Great Mother. I wear the mark of Mithra and was baptized for the Nazarene.

If, as some men said, the divinities are faces of a single god, then a sacrifice to one is a sacrifice to all. On the other hand, if the gods filled the world like the stars fill the sky, then it is unwise to choose among them.

Despite my uncle’s laws, I visit their temples, oil their statues, even sacrifice to them because I believe in all of them. Sometimes I believe in none of them. I never believe in only one. That I leave for slaves, since only a man with the heart of a slave would rely on hope more than truth, paring away what failed to comfort. Only a slave would say that in the entire world and among all possibilities there exists but one destiny for man, a destiny we have no control over.

Gallus is like that. Like all slaves, he would rather be obedient than accountable.

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