Marcus Tinctius Glaber lived in a modest vineyard homestead 35 miles southeast of Rome and 3 miles off the Via Appia, far enough in any event to be freed of the clanking, screeching and baying rising from that chief of all roads that led to Rome. He enjoyed there a frugal but comfortable life, its comfortable frugality supported by the sale of an acceptable grade of Apian –Glaber himself drank nothing but top-slope Falernian– produced by his vineyard and marketed in some of the less fashionable quarters of Rome. But he was not in commerce, he explained to his friends; the vineyard was more like an avocation, a leisurely recreation. He called his holding Villa Vinifera; his neighbors, who knew very well he was in commerce, called it Domus Glaber, “Glaber’s place.”
Glaber was 47 years old and unmarried in the traditional Roman fashion. His age was subtly etched in gray tracings amidst the curly brown hair that circled stylishly around a slightly balding pate. He had the pale complexion and soft hands of a man who had spent a good part of his life indoors, all set, however, within a robust frame inherited from earlier, more active generations of Tinctii. He smiled slowly and mildly, not from an innate dourness of spirit but because he had spent a lifetime practicing the art of a measured response to circumstances and to life itself. Marcus Tinctius Glaber had a carefully constructed persona which, with the passage of time, fit ever more comfortably over the man within.
Glaber’s life was resolutely tranquil, but it was also quietly sad. He was in his heart –he kept a safe distance from all actual politics, which terrified him— a republican, an admirer and, generally, a practitioner of the virtues of sobriety, thrift and a devotion to the soil associated with the late departed Roman Republic. The new world of the imperium of Octavian –he scorned to call him by his title of Augustus— rarely penetrated the limits of the Villa Vinifera, but it was nonetheless held in horror and despite by Glaber and, in fact, most of his neighbors, though they were not perhaps so deeply affected by Glaber’s mellow nostalgia for the Respublica.
If he was no Cincinnatus ready to drop his plow and take up arms, Glaber, whose hands had never touched either plow or arms, was a fairly authentic, albeit self-wrought, simulacrum of a gentleman farmer of the early Empire. “Gentleman” might in fact pass some scant muster in the refined confines of Villa Vinifera, but “farmer” was more obviously a courtesy title. Yes, he lived in what could be called a farmhouse, though a rather well appointed one, and yes, he was responsible for what was clearly an agricultural enterprise, but his connection to that enterprise was by ownership alone. Glaber was an absentee landlord who lived on the premises; the actual viticulture, and its attendant marketing, was done by a Greek slave named Hipponax.
Glaber owned two slaves, a Greek couple from the south: Hipponax tended the vineyard; Chloe tended the house. Husband and wife had lived in Nea Kome, a small Sicilian seaside town near Syracuse, he a schoolteacher, she a locally notable embroiderer. They had been carried off into sudden slavery by a rather random Roman galley raid. The main Roman battle fleet was at anchor in Tarentum, but, absent hostile engagement, the galley commanders were encouraged to do whatever freebooting they might, to keep the rowers fit, the dux chuckled, but, more practically, to keep the on-board marines happy.
The richest and most available plunder was undoubtedly to be found not in the cities, where there would be resistance, but in the ill-defended coastal Greek towns of eastern Sicily. Not in the towns themselves, of course, but in their temple treasuries. Nea Kome had just such a low-hanging temple and so there was an almost inevitable Roman galley visit, followed by looting and whatever mayhem the troops needed or wanted. A centurion named Cestius had come away from the temple empty-handed and was heading back to the galley when he encountered
Hipponax and Chloe inadvisably standing outside their house watching the proceedings. “Venite,” he said wearily at sword point, and they did as he said.
A marine centurion, an at-sea lifer, had little need for slaves, and so he promptly exchanged them on the Tarentum slave market for a very full wholesaler’s purse of shiny denarii. And that’s where Glaber found them, in another slave mart in Ostia. They were sold as a pair and they were expensive, $2000 in the current coin, but they were literate, both spoke Greek and were in fine physical shape –he in his mid-thirties, she somewhat younger, 25 or 27 perhaps– which is why they were expensive and why Glaber bought them.
“Sold to the gentleman farmer,” said the auctioneer with a touch, a discernible touch, of mockery. He knew a Greek-fancying gentleman farmer when he saw one.
“I think I shall call you Daphnis,” Glaber said in the carriage on the way back to the villa.
“Master, my name is Hipponax, given me by my father. I know the temptation to call me Daphnis to match that pleasant myth must be very powerful for you, but I’m afraid I cannot permit that. I shall answer only to Hipponax.”
Hipponax was being neither rude nor defiant. He simply did not know how to be a slave. No one had instructed him or his wife on the protocols of servitude.
Glaber slowly digested this new information for which he was ill prepared. Baffled, he turned his eyes toward the silent Chloe, who was carefully studying the passing landscape of Latium.
“Umm,” was all Glaber could muster, and the subject was never raised again.
Hipponax, formerly and briefly Daphnis, knew little about viticulture. He’s a Greek, he’ll pick it up quickly, thought Glaber. And, of course, there’s Hesiod! Assuredly there was Hesiod, stacked in neat rolls in the volumina cabinet in Glaber’s library, and so, for Hipponax’s instruction and Glaber’s pleasure, in the warm hours after prandium, the slave read to his master from Hesiod’s Works and Days, an 800 line and 800 year old poetical treatise on the cultivation of crops in the Greece of long ago. But if Hesiod was scant on practical instruction for Hipponax, the Works and Days was an infallible soporific for Glaber who drifted into siesta well within the hour and thus unwittingly gave Hipponax the rest of the afternoon off.
Keeping a small house for an unmarried gentleman farmer inclined toward Stoicism was not a demanding task, and so Chloe too could retire in the afternoon, not to the tiny hut behind Domus Glaber where she and her purple-stained husband lived and which Glaber referred to, but only in the secret recesses of his own mind, as the “Parthenon,” but rather to the portico of the villa where the bees bumbled amidst the flowers and the shade was deep.
Glaber had read a little of the Stoics, and the little he had read pleased him; but his inclination toward the Stoa was chiefly of the literary sort. And though his frugality was imposed by circumstance rather than embraced on principle, it gained both plausibility and respectability when he found in his copy of Selections from Chrysippus what he thought was a fitting description of his own condition, a moderate and socially appropriate –none of that disreputable Cynic nonsense– self-control.
Similarly with agriculture. Glaber learned it not in the furrows, as he advised his slave to do – Hipponax quietly sought out the advice of the laborers in other vineyards– but from his own shelves where the often opened rolls of Cato’s On Agriculture and Varro’s recent On Country Matters were prominently displayed, and whose large identifying tags appended to the end of each volumen could be read by a visitor from across the room. Literary agriculture was much to his taste, and he often counseled Hipponax on seasons, winds and soils, sometimes in the very words that his slave had just read to him from Hesiod.
But Hesiod, for all his Greek allure, was the sand and straw of agricultura. For a more refined treatment of the matter, Glaber knew, one had to turn to Vergil. Glaber had once seen Vergil in the city and was not impressed by either the man or his politics. The Aeneid he regarded as “political claptrap,” and the Eclogues smelled in his nostrils more of the stacks, whatever remained of them, of the Alexandrian Library than of sheepfolds and actual shepherds. But ah, the Georgics, the incomparable Georgics, Rome’s answer to Hesiod. If one wanted truly to understand agriculture, one had only to unroll the Georgics.
“Hipponax, have you read the Georgics?”
“Can’t say I have. Is it in Latin?”
“My good fellow, you must. It catches the heart and soul of what I am trying to do here at Villa Vinifera.”
“You, we, are growing grapes and selling wine, are we not?”
“Yes, yes, to be sure, though it is by no means commerce. But beneath the vine lies the nourishing earth and above are the ruling heavens, and no one understands the soil and the sky like the author of the Georgics.”
Glaber had intermittent problems saying that author’s name, but Hipponax knew of whom he was speaking and he knew, he thought, pretty much everything worth knowing about the Georgics. The Aeneid, he was convinced, was some sort of pretentious Latin joke. Descended from the Trojans! He was moreover growing weary of this particular catechetical exercise.
“Perhaps I’ll read it when it appears in Greek.”
Glaber caught the tone of the reply and pursued the matter no further. He was, quite frankly, intimidated by his Greek-speaking and Greek-educated slave, and though neither man quite yet understood it, Hipponax, the legally bound property of Glaber, floated on unfettered wing high above his master’s head.
Since the Daphnis discussion Glaber thought it the better course not to attend too closely to either the tone or the contents of his slave’s remarks but merely to be somewhat cautious in his own. But one element of Hipponax’s retort lodged in his mind. The Georgics in Greek! What a capital idea, he thought. His own Greek was a trifle rusty, true, but he could rough out a translation, line by line, and smooth it out with Hipponax. The slave’s everyday Greek, which Glaber tried to piece together, not entirely successfully, from overheard conversations with Chloe, was somewhat demotic, of course, but he knew the Attic and that was all that mattered. Excellent!
Glaber went into his library and unrolled the first volumen of the Georgics.
What gladdens the grain fields; beneath what star,
Maecenas, it is right to turn the soil
Or splice elm onto the vine; how tend the ox;
What is the appropriate care for cattle keeping;
Or how much patient trial one should devote
To the care of the thrifty bees.
Such are my themes…
Lovely, thought Glaber, lovely till his eye fell upon the name of Maecenas, the political master-mind behind Octavian’s destruction of the Republic, as all republicans were convinced, and who was promptly repaid by Rome’s new master, who made his mentor a millionaire. And now the reprehensible Maecenas was pouring steams of denarii into the purses of the “Augustan” poets whose chief task it was to inflate the imperator. Revolting!
But more to the point, he would need his own Maecenas, someone rich to support his endeavors, but not overbearingly demanding; preferably a republican like himself, with a taste for agriculture. Old Cilla might do. He has 30 acres, 10 slaves and no heirs. There must be money there, though he does seem a little too taken by Octavian.
No matter. He would deal with the patronage issue in due course. Perhaps Cornelius Odifax, the lawyer who made a fortune in the Catiline trials and who might well be ready for the opportunity to enhance his station by buying space for his name in the dedication of the translation –a Greek translation!—of an agricultural classic. Wait! Mimex! Of course, Mimex.
Problem solved; problem waiting: Hipponax.
Glaber had sensed almost from their first encounter that his new slave was somewhat sensitive, how to say it, on cultural matters. He seemed a docile, hard-working man, and Chloe was no different, but Latin, which they both spoke very well, though with a somewhat unfortunate tinge of the vulgar southern tongue, or, more specifically, the works of Latin authors, seemed to put him off. You can take the Greek out of Greece, as the saying went, but you can never shake Greek out of the Greek.
“Hipponax, a moment.”
They were in the vineyard. Hipponax paused and put down his pruning hook. Glaber settled himself comfortably under a trellis.
“I have been thinking. It really is a scandal, as you yourself pointed out, that the Georgics are not available in Greek. I’m minded to try my own hand” –his own hand was already rhetorically raised against objection— “No, no, I do understand I’m probably not ready for this– at turning the Georgics into your own noble language. What do you think?”
“I think it is a very bad idea, master. Greek does not do well in Latin. Your authors, or at least your poets, are hopelessly devoted to the stilus mollis, the soft style, Vergil writes so softly you could make your bed in the Aeneid, as many do.”
“Yes, of course, Ennius,” Hipponax smiled wearily. “Always Ennius to the rescue of Latin virility. Who reads Ennius now? He might have been better off writing in Etruscan.”
Glaber was in no mood to discuss the Etruscans; the Greeks so loved bringing up the departed glories of the Etruscans. But Hipponax was not finished; the schoolmaster had merely caught his breath.
“It’s probably our copious particles and conjunctions that give Greek works their characteristic texture. There is so much surface strength in the Works that one might de-scale a tuna with the text of Hesiod; while your Georgics are, umm, yes, as smooth and slippery as an eel. To change the figure, it is impossible to rebuild a granite monument with sandstone, not even by someone as clever as yourself.”
Hipponax took up his pruning hook and turned back to the vines.
“Well,” Glaber said. “I’ll be getting back to the villa so you can get on with your work.”
The Georgics translation plan appeared to founder that morning on the intransigent rocks of Hellenic self-esteem. But not so. It was simply elbowed aside by a far better idea.
A few days later Glaber found Chloe in the library inspecting the tags at the ends his scrolls. A gentle reproof was certainly appropriate, something on the order of, “Shouldn’t you be in the cucina preparing prandium?” Or, “If you really have nothing better to do than this, you can always sweep the portico.”
“Do you read Latin, then?”
Chloe turned quickly from the scrolls. She had in fact been thinking of sweeping the portico, but the cool and quiet library was too seductive an alternative. The library was not out of bounds, but for her access was for cleaning, not for the indulgence of idle curiosity.
“I know you speak Latin well,” Glaber continued, “as well as Hipponax.” He always referred to Hipponax by name, never as “your husband” and never to Chloe as “your wife,” as if slavery had liquidated the contract. “But reading it is a quite different matter.”
“Yes, I do read it,” Chloe replied, reassured that Glaber was not angry; rather, he seemed interested. “We were given Livy to read in school. We even had a copy of some of the books at home.”
“To see what the Romans were up to?”, Glaber smiled.
“If that was the object,” she smiled back, “I don’t think I’d turn to Livy.”
“Really? Who then?”
A pause. There was a line somewhere on this social landscape, though Chloe was not sure exactly where it was drawn. Like her husband, she was learning slavery as she went along.
Glaber sat down at his desk and fiddled distractedly with his stylus.
“Just so,” he said at last. “Were you looking for the Catullus scroll?? It’s on your right, the upper right corner of the cabinet.”
Glaber was well aware that she was not looking for the Catullus but merely curiously scanning his collection.
“Please understand that you may borrow any of the scrolls in the cabinet. The ones I am reading I keep at my bedside, yes,” chuckling, “as I am sure you know since you have to sort out that mess every forenoon.”
“You are reading Propertius,” she said, turning back toward the cabinet so he should not see the flush on her cheek. “I am surprised.”
“And why is that, Chloe?”
“He seems rather too modern for your taste. You prefer the classics, I think. Why else, by heaven, would someone have fusty old Hesiod read to him? As turgid as the Tiber.”
Glaber laughed, or rather emitted a cackle that was distorted by desuetude but was nonetheless an unmistakable signal of amusement.
“As turgid as the Tiber? Where ‘by heaven’ did you pick that up?”
“Every Sicilian Greek says it, mostly about the Latins, of course, the speech, the writing, the food, the philosophy.”
“But not of Catullus?”
She did not answer. The conversation that was so natural in its unfolding now, upon sudden reflection, turned awkward and incongruous, to both master and slave, but marbled through its incongruity was an unmistakable excitement, and so inevitably, it continued.
“Yes, you are right, Chloe. You have caught me out there. I do fancy old-fashioned pastorals and what I am sure you consider hopelessly stodgy agricultural manuals. But I will confess, confess to you alone since you see the evidence by my bed, that I find the new poets, in Latin, I fear,” with a wink, “audacious and interesting, and, yes, provocative.”
There was a silence between them.
“Perhaps,” she said, now more quietly and still facing the cabinet and nervously fingering the end-tags, “I might read some to you. I know you have ended your afternoon sessions with my husband, and it would give me a wonderful opportunity to improve my Latin. I am sure you would correct me as we went along.”
Glaber said nothing and Chloe quietly left the room, but each knew that it would be so. And it was. On the very next day, while Chloe cleared the remains of prandium, Glaber went to his library and settled himself among the linen covered pillows on his favorite lectulus. Chloe entered shortly after. Without a word, she went to the scroll cabinet, took down and unrolled the first volumen marked Catulli Carmina, found her place and, without looking at her attentive audience of one, she began to recite:
Let us live, Lesbia, and let us love.
And the whispering of censorious old men
Let us dismiss, all of it, as small change.
The sun rises and sets forever,
But our brief light, once it is quenched,
Leaves us to sleep in an endless night.
So give me a thousand kisses, plus a hundred.
Then another thousand, and yes, another hundred…
Later that evening there was a conversation in the “Parthenon.”
“What were you doing reading that Roman filth to that foolish Roman?”
“I love Catullus,” she said quietly. “It is a voice we do not hear in Greek.”
“Sappho? What of Sappho? I recall that once you heard the voice of Sappho very clearly.”
“I was sixteen and I was brave enough to seize the adventure when it came.”
“Is this to be another adventure then, Lesbia?”
“Perhaps,” she smiled, and then suddenly sobered. “This foolish Roman, as you call him, is our only way out of here, husband, out of Latium and back to Sicily. Unless of course you propose we walk over to the Appian Way, after you’ve washed the grapes out of your hair, that is, and find ourselves a kind carter who will carry us to Tarentum, where perhaps the very Roman war galley that took us from Nea Kome will ferry us back, gratis, as the Latins say.”
Hipponax studied his wife for some moments.
“Let me understand this. Marcus Tinctius Glaber will be so grateful for your reading Catullus to him that he will manumit both of us, take us in his carriage to Ostia and put us aboard ship for Syracuse, gratis, as the Latins say.”
“No,” she said. “I do not know how it will unfold, but I feel I’ve uncovered something in him, a flaw, a fault, a hole just wide enough to allow us to escape this place and find our way home. As Sappho says, ‘In longing there is hope.’ Now come to bed.”
Glaber’s thoughts were quite other that evening as he sat in the descending darkness with a cup of Falernian. The words had been Catullus’, he knew, but the voice was Chloe’s and the two had mingled there in the library and were mingling even now here on the portico. Vivemus et amemus,
“Let us live, Lesbia, and let us love.”…\
There was no “Lesbia,” as everyone knew. There was only Clodia, the wife of another man whose heart and body the dissolute Catullus had taken for his own and from whom he now begged basia mille and much, much more. The literary Lesbia and the flesh and blood Clodia became one in the poem, and now they were coalescing once again, confusedly, distressingly, with a third dark-haired, dark-eyed figure in the veiling darkness of the Villa Vinifera.
“Go to bed,” Glaber told himself.
She read on, day after day, working slowly through the Lesbia poems, but apparently not slow enough for Glaber, who had her repeat entire poems, an encore intended more for his own pleasure at the readings than for the sake of correcting her. In fact, he did not interrupt her very often though her metrics occasionally wobbled and her quantities were at times uncertain. Indeed, he enjoyed the sounds of Chloe’s musical Greek vowels popping up here and there in the Latin line, like spring blossoms after a sudden shower, as he later expressed it to himself.
And when she finished, she sat on a stool at his side and they discussed the poetry, at least at first, though as the days passed the conversation slid quietly from the prosody to the people, to Catullus and, briefly, Lesbia, but then inevitably to Clodia. And the change in subject was accompanied by a change in tone. The talk became softer, more confidential and, at last, familiar. In the end, the only sound that could be heard in the library of Domus Glaber was that of the crumbling of the columns of the Stoa.
Three months later, Marcus Tinctius Glaber stood before a judge in Rome and formally granted manumission to his mistress, who stood at his side. He touched her head and the deed was done. The papers were signed by the principals and sealed by the judge, who did not attempt to conceal his distaste for the entire business. The seal, Glaber could not help but notice, was of the new Augustan imperial type.
Glaber thought it best, if his new freedwoman agreed, to keep the matter private for the moment. He had a lawyer in Rome exploring the legal consequences of the manumission of the wife of a slave; more, he was uncertain how Hipponax, whom he had no intention of manumitting, might react to this development. He had been uncertain of the supercilious and increasingly condescending Hipponax from the beginning. Chloe readily agreed; she had even more reason to fear Hipponax’s reaction.
Domus Glaber was not a large house and so it was impossible to conceal the fact that the master was sleeping with his slave, particularly when the only other member of the household was the slave’s husband. At first Hipponax professed not to notice; indeed, not to care. But gradually this was replaced with something more authentic. He grew surly, then rough with his wife. She attempted to avoid him –she had early on moved out of their hut into the main house—but when they chanced to cross paths, he was curt and cutting and, if there was no one to witness it, began striking his wife. They were passing blows –an outcry would have brought grave
consequences upon him– but she could feel the roiling anger behind them.
Perhaps the best solution, Chloe thought, was to tell Hipponax the truth of the matter. It would buy her some legal protection: it was one thing for a slave to strike a slave; quite another for a slave to strike a Roman freedwoman. But she would not tell Glaber or anyone else what she had done. The shame of a public revelation of her freedom and his continued indenture might drive him to something dangerous to both of them.
She found Hipponax seated on a cask in the storage shed, bent intently over the tablet on his knees, stylus in hand.
“Where did you get those?” he asked.
“The tablet, and the stylus.”
“You know you are not supposed to be in there, much less steal things from the room. You idiot! Are you trying to get yourself scourged and branded?”
“You spend half your day in there,” he said angrily, “and I see no brand marks on your body. Or maybe I just have not looked in the right places. But never mind that. I’ve been working this out. My days as a schoolteacher are over. There’s money in wine, a great deal of money. But not on a plot like this. You need maybe 50 acres. By my reckoning, there must be a slave for every ten acres. So a Carthaginian as manager –they’re very clever, those people—and five inexpensive Spanish slaves…”
She laughed to his face, something she had never done before.
“A Carthaginian manager! Where do you get these ideas? While you’re standing in some vat up to your knees in grape juice? You’re not under a straw hat surveying your terrain on the slopes of Etna; you’re a field slave in some Roman’s three acre vineyard in Latium.”
“Not for long,” he said calmly. “Not for long.”
“What are you plotting now?’
“I have a plan, an excellent plan. I shall be free of this place very soon, and you will be free to rut in that fool’s bed forever, or rather, until he tires of this slave and takes another.”
Hipponax turned abruptly back to his tablet. The conversation was over. Chloe left in silence and attempted to recalculate her intention. What exactly was Hipponax up to? How did he intend to set in train his miraculous passage from his current life as a field slave at the Villa Vinifera to his career as a millionaire Sicilian vintner?
“Marcus,” she said as she lay that night in his arms, her body touching his from cheek to toe, “there is trouble ahead.”
They were in Glaber’s bedroom. The room, which was once a quite perfect reflection of what he imagined as republican simplicity, was now an Arcadian bower of flowers. There was a new Smyrnean carpet on the floor; pillows in red ad gold were stuffed carelessly into the cupboard. And there were no scrolls on the bedside table, just a large polished mirror. An Augustan courtier would have felt quite at home in Glaber’s bedroom.
“What trouble is that, my love?” he murmured, gently stroking her forehead.
“Hipponax in planning on escaping,” she said. Chloe had long since stopped referring to him as “my husband.”
The stroking abruptly ended.
“What did you say?”
“Running off. Hipponax is planning on running off.”
Glaber was now sitting upright in bed.
“How do you know this?’
“He told me. He’s going back to Sicily.”
“That’s not terrible likely,” Glaber said soberly. “Before he is 20 miles from here the slave-hunters will have him, and within a week he’ll be hanging on a cross in the forum.”
Glaber could feel Chloe’s body stiffen beside his own.
A few days later Glaber was dozing peacefully at midday in the arbor at the edge of his vineyard when a shadow fell upon him. It was the shadow of Hipponax,
“Wake up, master. It is time to talk.”
Hipponax seated himself on an overturned grape basket at the side of Glaber’s couch.
Glaber struggled into a sitting position.
“Talk about what?”
“Poetry, the poetry of love. It has come to my attention that you fancy my wife.”
“Yes, Chloe is a good and careful worker. She takes good care of the house and of me.”
“I’m sure she does. And everyone between here and the Alban hills knows that she is also in your bed at night. She is certainly not in mine.”
Glaber, the late Stoic, discovered one surviving sliver of Stoicism within: he held his tongue.
“We can discuss this like two rational males,” Hipponax said quietly, “like two gentlemen.”
In the thick anthology of slave talk, this was assuredly a new and disturbing entry. But Glaber was not drawn.
“I have decided to make the best of a bad situation,” Hipponax continued, “I will give Chloe to you…”
This was going too far. This was about property.
“How can you give her to me? I already own Chloe, as I own you.”
Best not to reveal the truth just yet, Glaber thought.
“True, master” –the expression was becoming increasingly difficult for Hipponax to pronounce— “ but there is another contract involved: she is my wife. I am willing to dissolve that contract, to divorce your chattel Lesbia, for certain considerations. First among them, of course, is manumission. I want my freedom.”
The ground had now grown firmer under the feet of Glaber, who had risen from his couch and now stood looking down at Hipponax.
“And, I presume, passage back to Sicily so that you can begin your wine business? I have heard about your commercial plans. An acre on the sun slope of Etna must be quite expensive. And I would be careful of the Carthaginians. They’re a mischievous people…”
“How do you…?”
“How do you imagine, you foolish fellow? Now listen to me, and closely. I am offering you a solution for what is for you a very, very bad situation. You were surely not serious about my manumitting you. I know that in fact that you intend to slip your legal bonds and flee the estate.”
“I have no intention of running off,” Hipponax protested. “I am no fool.”
“I have a Roman witness who will swear under oath that you intend exactly that. And you know the consequences. But I am enough of a Stoic, even a library Stoic, to believe that you and I are equals in humanity, if not in status. So I am offering you this humane choice. Either I will inform the authorities of your intent to flee, and they will be here before sunset to collect you. Or I will sell you to another, handsomely, to be sure, since I will praise you to the heights of Olympus, your Greek learning and your love of Latin letters.”
He paused and Hipponax waited. There was a slight tremor in his hands.
“There is a condition, of course, somewhat more practical than the one you offered me. Mine is that you divorce Chloe, immediately and unconditionally.”
A week later Villa Vinifera welcomed two guests who arrived scarcely an hour apart. The first was a notary with the papers of divorce, not really necessary, Glaber knew, but safer to have it documented, particularly since they recorded Hipponax’s indebtedness to return the whole of Chloe’s dowry. It was not a lordly sum, to be sure, but it was just large enough to test Hipponax’s supplementary earning power. Perhaps he could accumulate the sum, Chloe said, by doing translations from Greek into Latin. The suggestion, born of malice, turned out to be prescient.
The other guest who came to Domus Glaber that day arrived somewhat more ostentatiously in a carriage and four, accompanied on foot by four male slaves in the whitest and scantest of chitons. Handed down from the carriage was Ascanius Minucius Charax, known, for reasons no one knew and the gentleman in question was loath to reveal, as Mimex.
“Welcome Mimex!” shouted Glaber from the villa doorway, with Chloe at his side and a scant step in arrears. The two men were old friends, though their friendship was mediated through a
complex tangle of family relationships rather than shared interests or lifestyle. Mimex, who had no politics at all, republican or imperial, was an aesthete. His fortune was inherited, his living expansive and expensive, his passions literary and theatrical. He patronized, some said pursued, poets and supported a small troupe of players who sometimes lodged at his villa. And he had purchased Hipponax, the much praised Greek aficionado of things both Hellenic and Roman, with a special aptitude, Glaber had assured him, for translating Greek drama into Latin.
“Why then are you selling this paragon to me?” asked Mimex in friendly fashion, ”And for an outrageous sum, I might add.”
“The truth is, my dear friend, I am finally about to take a wife, the lovely Chloe here…” –a demure bow from Chloe; “Exquisite, just exquisite,” from Mimex– and I have it in mind to sell the Villa Vinifera –Ah, here is Hipponax now— and do a bit of travelling with my new spouse. We plan to go to Sicily, and maybe even invest in some property there. I am told that prospects for viticulture are excellent in the Etna region. And you know how it is with us old farmers; can’t get our hands out of the soil.”
Glaber paused to allow the words to open and enlarge in the bright afternoon air.
“But where are my manners? Hipponax, give greetings to your new master, Ascanius Minucius.”
“Hail and prosper, Ascanius Minucius.”
“Delighted. Yes, most delighted. And you may call me Mimex.”
The property auction was scheduled for the following week and so Villa Vinifera was almost empty of its furnishings. There were no flowers in the bedroom. The Smyrnean carpet was rolled and stored, the pillows carefully packed for transport. And on the bedside table lay not Chloe’s mirror but an odd papyrus book.
“What is that?” Glaber asked. “I haven’t seen that before.”
“It’s a codex,” Chloe said. “Look. The papyri are not rolled but cut and bound at the left edge. You turn the leaves, right to left as you read. Most convenient, don’t you think, Marcus?”
“I think I prefer my scroll,” Glaber said indulgently.
“Of course you would, you stodgy old satyr. But you can never find your place in a scroll, can you? And you cannot tuck it into your purse.”
“I suppose not. What’s the work in your new codex?”
“They’re the letters of a Greek of Tarsus named Paul –very odd style. They’re about someone called Christos.”
“You must read them to me sometime,” as he drew her to himself. “But not tonight.”