Sepulchrum Trimalchionis

Now the story draws to a close, in probably the most extravagant and most unusual way. In fact, the next display is so extravagant, that even Trimalchio himself does not posses it; it is in his plan to have things this way.

As the dinner was drawing to a close, and I shall always thank whichever god was responsible for that, Trimalchio decided to read to us a portion of his testamentum (will). So that his slaves may love him now as if he were dead, all of his slaves shall be set free upon his death. Fortunata will be Trimalchio’s heres (heir), and he ‘recommends’ her to all of his friends. He goes on to read more of the gifts he gives to others in the event of his demise. All of his slaves cheered and groaned at the reading of his will. Then Trimalchio said to Habinnas, “Quid dicis amice carissime? Aedificas monumentum meum quemadmodum te iussi?” (Now tell me, my dear friend: will you erect my monument as I have ordered?).

And this monument was a vast order. Its dimensions confuse the mind, as well as all of its aspects. I am convinced Trimalchio forgot the earlier requests as he made up the later ones, and I do not know how his mind did not go in a circle requesting what he forgot.

In short, the tomb of the master was to include: a statue of his little dog, some wreaths, and bottles of perfume, and all the fights of Petraites, with dimensions of 100 feet wide and 200 feet deep. Trimalchio ordered fruit trees to grow around his ashes, along with vines. He requested the inscription, “HOC MONVMENTVM HEREDEM NON SEQUATVR” (this monument is not to descend to the heir). A freedman was to be appointed to prevent commoners from defiling his grave, a precaution I was certain would be necessary. Trimalchio wanted ships in full sail on the monument, as well as a carving of the master himself in his official robes sitting on his official seat, wearing 5 golden rings and throwing money to the masses from a small sack. He wanted a dining room depicting guests enjoying themselves at Trimalchio’s table. On his right hand Fortunata will be carved, holding a dove in one hand, and leading a dog on a leash with the other. He wanted his son carved there, weeping over a broken urn, and wine jars sealed with gypsum. In the middle of it all, there must be a sundial with Trimalchio’s name carved on it, so that none may see the time without reading his name.

Trimalchio requested a large transcription on the front of the tomb.

I invite you to read it for yourself, but I shall not copy it here. I would not want to rob that master of his vanity, nor would I subject you to it either.

Then the old man began to weep, and I did not doubt those tears could make any man drunk. Then Fortunata began to weep, and Habinnas, and all the slaves, as if we were at Trimalchio’s funeral. The master then felt inspired, and decreed that we should all go to the baths. Habinnas seconded the idea, for making two days out of one delights him.

I looked at my uncle, and he understood my opinion. While everyone followed Trimalchio to the baths, uncle Traianus and I slipped outside. I had seen the trio of friends attempt to leave the way we had come in, with Giton still trailing behind. Once we were outside, I spilled most of the evening’s contents onto the street. My uncle, supporting me, led me back to his house. In slurred speech, I asked my uncle how he handled Trimalchio’s parties.

“Wine spilt and wine drunk are no different to Trimalchio. You must learn to do more of one than the other.”

Interveniens – 6

Trimalchio, as the master of ceremonies, told his own horror story, following Niceros. In his youth, a fellow slave had died. Witches then came into the area and began to screech. A strong slave took a sword and dashed out to confront the hags. However, he came back in all blue and looking like he had been flogged, for the witch’s hand touched him. Then, the witches somehow took the dead body of the fellow slave, and replaced it with a heartless changeling. The heroic, wounded slave died raving mad a few days later.

All of us prayed that the night-riders would stay home as we make our way back to ours this night.

And this, meus amicis, is where I fail you. I cannot tell if what I viewed from this point on is truth or not, for sleep was almost my master. Nevertheless, it is in my memory, so I shall tell it to you.

Trimalchio had the defender of the household, a large dog, Scylax, led in on a chain. He commented that no one loved Trimalchio more than the dear guard dog. Nearby, Trimalchio’s favorite slave, as I was told, by the name of Croesus, was jealous and set down his little obese black puppy and encouraged it to attack Scylax. In the ensuing commotion, a lamp was knocked over, and hot oil struck some of the guests, including my uncle. I attended to Traianus at once, but he insisted it was only a surprising injury, and not a serious one. Trimalchio then proceeded to give Croesus a piggy-back ride, as the favored slave slapped the master’s shoulders saying “how many are we, blind man’s cheek?” I did not like that slave.

Fabula Umbrae

Even after that commotion, I was still not fully alert again, and continued to sip wine, against my better judgement. It must have been the atmosphere of the party that encouraged me to do so, as if the habits of the other guests sought to become my own.

It is this part of the night that is the foggiest in my memory. I recall a tale, of no credit whatsoever, that will hopefully make just as little sense now as it did then, and not more nor less.

Trimalchio looked back at another man, Niceros, and said “Solebas suavius esse in convictu” (You used to be more charming at a party). He insited that Niceros share the story of his adventure, much to Nic’s delight. I knew what sort of story this would be, when Niceros said, “timeo istos scolasticos ne me rideant” (I am afraid that scholars might laugh at me), and that he hopes no profit is gained from telling his tale.

I will tell you now, that the moral of this story can be pulled from the storyteller himself, without the story having been told. For Niceros said, before beginning his tale, “statius est rideri quam derideri” (it is better to be laughed at than mocked).

We all leaned in to listen to the story of Niceros. Back when he was still a slave, he lived in a narrow street. He fell in love with the wife of an innkeeper and, upon learning her husband died, and Niceros’s master was away on business, he readied himself to set off for her town to visit her that night.

With the setup established, I am afraid I must only give you small pieces of this story. I had had much wine at this point in the night, and I admit it rearranged certain events in my mind, while omitting others. Please forgive me, readers. If the details somehow find me in the middle of my dreams, I will be sure to write it here for you. But for now, please enjoy what I can salvage of my thoughts.

Niceros took a soldier staying at his master’s place with him on the trek. As they were passing through the graveyard, the soldier takes a detour towards some tombs. Thinking nothing of it, Niceros sits down and begins to count tombstones. The soldier returns, naked, and places his clothes in a neat pile next to the road. He then proceeds to… circumminxit (urinate around) the clothes, after which he immediately transforms into a werewolf and runs into the woods. Frightened Niceros approaches the clothes, meaning to pick them up, and finds that they have turned to stone. Alarmed by this, Niceros runs around swinging his sword at shadows all the way to his girlfriend’s inn. Upon arrival, he finds that a wolf has been there and ripped the flocks to shreds. A slave managed to wound its neck with a spear. In the morning, Niceros arrives back at his home, and finds his master’s guest, the soldier, being attended to by a doctor. He has a wound in his neck.

Trimalchio assured us that Niceros never talks nonsense, and that this tale was truly terrifying.

 

 

Interveniens – 5

Trimalchio stated that he preferred silver to both gold and glass, seeing as how inconvenient they are to him in their current states. He described all his various goblets and the depictions on them.

I must admit sleep began to take me again. Uncle Traianus noticed this time and would nudge me when he saw me start to drift. “Is this the fortitude of Rome’s finest?” he asked. I grinned, took another sip of wine, and answered, “Rome has no enemies on this couch.”

Another slave boy made the mistake of dropping some chalice or another in the master’s presence, which warranted Trimalchio to order the boy’s head to be chopped off. We guests managed to spare another one of Trimalchio’s slaves, lest he run out. With the slave having been forgotten, always clever Trimalchio said, “Out with water! In with wine!” We all applauded, especially Agamemnon, who knew how to get another invitation to dinner. The old man then began to dance, to the dismay of his wife, the amusement of the slaves… and I don’t know what it did for us.

Some other slave came forth to read the master’s accounts, another display organized by Trimalchio, I am certain. He made the excuse that he must hear of all purchases and accounts within six months. We were sparred more accounts by some acrobats. Here things took an interesting turn. A young boy balancing on a ladder fell and grazed Trimalchio’s arm whilst he was speaking, and everything seemed to happen at once. The guests all yelped at once, Fortunata cried out what an unhappy woman she was, multiple doctors bandaged Trimalchio’s arm in white cloth, then were beaten because they had not used purple, and the whole time, the poor acrobat groveled on the ground, begging for mercy. Surprisingly, this was not an act, and more surprisingly, Trimalchio declared the acrobat a free man, so that no one could say Trimalchio was wounded by a slave.

 

Aper

The long wine-fueled conversations held less and less interest for me, as time went on, leaving me eager for more food by which to occupy myself. I was thankful for the time with my uncle, who seemed to be enjoying himself, but the place in which we spent it prevented us from talking much.

Suddenly, as was the manner of this party, the table was filled by a tray containing an enormous roast sus (boar). The beast seemed to have been more impressive in size than the one taken into the kitchen. We were all astonished at the speed with which this boar was cooked, which would not have been enough to cook a fowl.

I am still not sure if Trimalchio expected us to believe that the boar he chose on our behalf was cooked in roughly 5 minutes, and grew larger as a result.

In his own surprise, Trimalchio stated, “Quid? quid? Porcus hic non est exinteratus?” (What? what? Is this pig not gutted?). The poor cook was called up at once. I did not give credit to the events unfolding before me. The only cook who forgets to gut a dish is one who would prefer not to be called ‘cook.’ Outraged at the cook’s failure, Trimalchio ordered him stripped and two torturer slaves appeared by his side. We all begged Trimalchio to spare the whip this time. Saying things like “solet fieri” (it happens), we got Trimalchio to let the cook be. Trimalchio made the cook gut the pig in front of us, but as he made the first deep cut, blood pudding and sausages spilled out before us.

Oh, Trimalchio, how you had us all guessing! The pig was gutted all along!

 

Cenae Sermo

I believed the greatest part of the evening had passed with the last couple of tricks. I knew not where Trimalchio went, but to me, it seemed like the party was drawing to a close. However, nobody left, and the guests continued their conversation.

My attention was roped back into the conversation with the line “Ego non cotidie lavor” (I do not wash daily). I looked and saw the man who was speaking, named ‘Seleucus,’ my neighbor informed me, and listened to this odd statement with the crowd. Seleucus continued on. “Nec sane lavare potui; fui enim hodie in funus” (besides, I could not wash; I was at a funeral today). He went on about a fellow named Chrysanthus, who had died. Seleucus ranted about how meaningless our lives are, calling mankind bullae (bubbles). Then he campaigned, in speech, against doctors. Apparently Chrysanthus died using the fasting cure. He concluded his wine-driven speech with the warning that women are not worth the time it takes to be kind to them.

My uncle recognized the next man to shout out, Phileros, who said “Vivorum meminerimus” (let us remember the living). I agreed with this Phileros, until the conversation immediately belonged to the dead man again. I have nothing against the majority, and I believe they would not wish to be mentioned at a party such as this. It did not matter that I refused to hide the displeasure on my face, for no one was sober enough to notice it, had they been looking. Phileros continued to talk, and in his opinion, Chrysanthus would have gotten a 1/4 coin from dung with his teeth, if that is what it took to make a profit. I amused myself with the notion that Chrysanthus made his money from a ‘dirty business.’

When the old man returned, we all gave our attention to him once more. Yet our attention was not to be rewarded with any important news or a fantastic trick; Trimalchio informed us of his bowel problems. I agreed with one part of his speech, that even “Jupiter himself cannot deny us relief.”

After that, three pigs were brought in with little bells. The pigs were of varying ages, and Trimalchio asked us which one we wished to eat. Trimalchio kept talking and at the end of his speech, chose the oldest boar for us.

After the boar was taken into the kitchen, Trimalchio continued to talk, to no one’s surprise. As a man of action, I grew bored with all this chit chat. Perhaps if it had been conversation on important matters, or those that challenge the mind, I would have stayed more engaged. But with the wine in my head, and the words in the air, I felt myself drifting off. I caught something about Trimalchio’s numerous slaves, and scolding the cook, and all the properties under Trimalchio. He asked Agamemnon, a student of law, to discuss what case he had made earlier that day. I roused myself, eager for a true discussion, when Trimalchio kept on talking. Fortunately, I was awake enough to catch what was perhaps the evening’s most intriguing aspect: Trimalchio has three libraries; one in Greek, the other in Latin.

Interveniens – 4

I wondered why the boar had a cap of freedom on, but I simply assumed that it was because of Trimalchio’s status as a freedman. Although, I did not see the sense in him comparing a boar to his own self. Somehow sensing my confusion, Traianus leaned over to me and revealed the truth. “I have learned,” he said, “that the boar was present at last night’s dinner. The guests dismissed it, and so it comes back tonight, wearing a freedman’s cap.” I was glad we were not eating that boar.

Just then, a young boy with ivy leaves in his hair pranced around the room with a basket of grapes. He impersonated Bacchus, prompting the master to say, “Dionysus, rise and be free.” The boy took the boar’s cap and placed it on his own head. We cheered the boy on as he went around the room. Then, Trimalchio retired, and the guests were alone in the dining room.

Conversation erupted at once. One man, Dama, made some comment or another that had no bearing for me.

Malus Vinum

All the guests are settled for dinner. Following Trimalchio’s entrance came a neat trick. Now, we move on to a fouler treat.

The old man halted his game and asked for his appetizers. All the guests were invited to a second glass of mead. With the change of the music, singing slaves came and swept up our dishes. One boy picked up an entree dish that had fallen. Trimalchio ordered that the boy be boxed on the ear and made to drop the platter again. Then another man swept up the silver platter with the garbage and tossed it out. Personally, the display was a bit much. Next, two long-haired Ethiopians dispersed wine, not for drinking, of course, but for washing our hands.

Several guests complimented Trimalchio on the spacious seating arrangement. “Mars amat aequum,” (Mars likes an equal playing field) he said. The master did not want us to get too hot from the sweaty slaves leaning between us. Just then, glass jars were brought in with labels reading “FALERNVUM OPIMIANVM ANNORVM CENTVM” (Falernian in the Consulship of Opimius, 100 years). As the guests looked at the labels, the master said “Eheu, ergo diutius vivit vinum quam homuncio. Quare tangomenas faciamus” (Alas, therefore wine lives longer than poor little man. For this reason, let us make to whet the lungs with wine).

I turned to gauge Traianus’ reaction: His face sported a pleasant look, but I knew my uncle’s eyes well; he was not excited. The reason for his displeasure was the same for my discomfort. Falernian wine is best after 1 year.

Trimalchio’s love of all things vintage had us drinking vinegar

Trimalchio announced, “Vita vinum est” (life is wine / wine is life), and we drank. The other guests were better actors than I, for some small cringe escaped me, which another regular diner took note of, and scowled in my direction.

Hardly given a chance to savor the vinegar, a slave brought in a silver skeleton. He threw it on the tables a couple of times, so that we might see its several poses. The master gave some exclamation about “miserabile mortale” (poor mortals), yet he had lost my regard, if not my attention.

silver_skeleton_bracelet

Hors D’Oeuvres

Following a conversation with my uncle, an education on the Zodiac by Trimalchio, and some light appetizers, we were astounded by another impossible dish.

In the wake of the hounds came a massive tray with a large wild boar atop it. The boar wore a pilleus (freedman’s cap) and had two¬†sportellae palmulis textae (little palm-woven baskets) hanging from its tusks; one held dry dates, the other held fresh ones. I was amazed at the little piglets made from simnel cake surrounding the boar, showing that we had a scrofa (sow) before us.

Carver was not called for this dish, since he mangled the fowls, and instead a large, bearded man came forth. He had gold bands and a hunting coat and he drew his hunting knife to open the boar. After a few slashes, birds flew out of the boar and fluttered around the room, before being caught by slaves. “Etiam videte,” Trimalchio said, “quam porcus ille silvaticus lotam comederit glandem” (Now we see what fine acorns the woodland boar has been eating). It was a most impressive trick, and I laughed and clapped with the rest, but I had an unpleasant feeling about how those birds were put in there. I also worried about how long those birds were in there, and decided I did not want to eat from that boar. Next, some slave boys brought the dates around to the guests.

Interveniens – 3

I welcomed the next dish as a distraction from the wine. It wasn’t as big as expected, but it certainly drew attention. It was a Zodiac wheel with a fitting food over each sign. Thank the gods that a boy brought bread around for the guests. Meanwhile, Trimalchio attempted to sing a tune from “Assafoetida.”

Another dish was brought in, and as the master called for us to have dinner, four dancers took off the top of the dish. Fat fowls, sow’s bellies, and a hare were in the middle, with figures of Marsyas adorning the corners. Each figure poured a spiced sauce from a wine-skin.

We clapped to the slaves’ rhythm as we enjoyed the delicacies. Trimalchio called in a man named “Carver” who proceeded to slice up the dish in time with the music. Uncle Traianus leaned over to me and said, “I suppose it is fitting of Trimalchio to order a man with his name.”

Throughout the evening, I caught sight of a woman dashing about the room. I was not comfortable asking another guest about her, so as not to show my ignorance, and leaned toward my uncle. He informed me that the woman was Fortunata, Trimalchio’s wife. Apparently she was a lowly slave before her marriage, and now she rules by Trimalchio’s side. Traianus warned me not to talk with her. She has a nasty tongue, and planning eyes. “As for his fortunes,” my uncle continued, “he owns more square feet of land than there are homeless people. He imported bees from Athens and rams from Tarentum. Mark the pillows around you, Agrippa; they are all of purple or scarlet stuffing.”

I asked about the other guests. Who they were, and how they knew Trimalchio. My uncle answered, “Some of these are freedman who were lucky or clever enough to build their fortunes. Each of them has his own secret, or rather, what he thinks is secret. The rest are those who met Trimalchio by chance, and friends of friends. But do not mistake any of these guests for those who have important matters in the day.” With that new knowledge, I saw each guest in a new way. I turned my attention to the trio I met at the baths, and wondered about their connection to Trimalchio. Then I asked my uncle how he knew the old man. “The same way dear Balbus does; I’m an orator Trimalchio took note of. He had me recite a speech I had made earlier in the forum at his dinner one night, and I have been coming back now and then.”

This whole time, Trimalchio was explaining the Zodiac dish. He was born under the Crab, and so he has “many legs to stand on.” His explanations were… interesting, to say the least. I was impressed by the demonstration of such knowledge, for I did not know much of the signs, but something in me doubted his credibility. When the master had finished, men came in with hunting spears and nets. We all looked around for the next attraction when some Spartan hounds barreled into the room.