Interveniens – 2

At the table, slave boys washed our hands with cool water, while others cared for our feet. They sang with their work, despite the unpleasant duty, much to my delight. I even heard a drink order sung across the room. All the guests were gathered, excluding the master, and a display to pique our appetites was brought forth. It was a bronze donkey with platters of olives. The dishes were inscribed with Trimalchio’s name and their weight in silver. There were also dormice dipped in honey and poppy-seed, a favorite of my uncle, as well as a tray of sausages. I spotted pomegranate seeds and felt my mouth water.

With things as they were, I expected a good evening. Now if only the host would show for us to begin.

We were engaged in the display when Trimalchio was carried in to the sound of music. He was propped up on the tiniest of pillows and dressed in a most extravagant manner. His appearance brought up a chuckle in me, but my uncle quickly turned his head to me and made a silencing motion.

Picking his teeth with a silver quill, Trimalchio told us he came against his own convenience because he did not want to make us wait much longer. A boy ran in with a board game Trimalchio was in the middle of playing. I marveled at the crystal pieces, and the use of gold and silver coins as counters.

Trimalchio talked as he played, but the room’s attention was divided until a wooden hen was brought in on a bed of straw. Two slaves hunted through the straw to bring out many peahen (peafowl – think ‘peacock’) eggs that were given to the guests. Trimalchio suggested we see if they were still fresh enough to suck. We hammered at the eggs with our spoons, and I heard another diner say “What treasure have we here?” Inside, I saw a fat songbird rolled up in a spice yoke.


Ante Cenam

Following the afternoon at the baths, my uncle Traianus brought me into the house of Trimalchio for dinner.

In the entryway was an impressive picture of a dog. Above it was inscribed “CAVE CANEM” (beware of dog). Behind us entered the group of friends. One of them slipped when he caught sight of the picture. Instead of helping him up, his friends just laughed.

The rest of the wall contained Trimalchio’s life. He was there, holding Mercury’s staff, being led by Athena. Trimalchio, while not classically educated, knows how to keep accounts. At the end of the wall, Mercury takes Trimalchio by the chin and leads him to his throne, with Fortune by his side. There was a silver box said to contain Trimalchio’s first beard. I doubted this, considering his past as a slave, and carried on to the triclinium (dining room). The man who fell earlier conversed with a porter.

We passed a steward collecting sums owed to the master. I was relieved when my uncle passed him by with no regard. Rods and axes adorned the door post of the dinning room, and there was the beak of a ship, inscribed, “C. POMPEIO TRIMALCHIONI SEVIRO AVGVSTALI CINNAMVS DISPENSATOR” (to Gaius Pompeius Trimalchio, Priest of Augustus, from Cinnamus the Steward). I must admit this impressed me. Below it hung a lamp and two calendars. One of which marked the days the master was out to dinner.

At the threshold to the dining room, a slave shouted “dextro pede!” (right foot first). My uncle, caught between the commands from his mind and from the slave, stumbled. Fortunately, I caught him before his head passed below my elbow. With the boy watching us intently, we stepped into the dining room with our right feet.

Before us lay a massive dining room, with many tables and couches, and a place saved for Trimalchio near the middle, of course. “Traiano!“a man said. My uncle walked over to the man and embraced him. It was Balbus Fabius, whom my uncle called ‘Marcus,’ an orator I met in my youth. We joined him at his table.

As I reclined, I watched that peculiar trio enter. Before they had planted a single foot in the room, a naked slave threw himself down before them. As we were not far from the door, I heard the slave beg the group to spare him from a flogging. Apparently, the boy had lost a steward’s clothing at the baths. The men talked to a steward, and when that conversation concluded, walked away with the slave in tow.

Now, amicis, I must seek something for this headache. I will return shortly to tell of the true treats of Trimalchio’s triclinium

Interveniens – 1

After wrestling, I went through the bath cycle, with my uncle having gone ahead of me. I caught up to that certain trio in the Tepidarium. We conversed as we swam, yet I’m embarrassed to say only one of their names stuck with me. It was that of a sixteen-year-old boy, Giton, who was pretending to be a slave. When I got out of the last bath, I saw Trimalchio again. This time, he was being rubbed down by several slaves using the softest towels. I was shocked to see three masseurs drinking Falernian wine, and spilling most of it on the floor. According to Trimalchio, they were drinking his health. I, for one, was offended. You do not pour wine to the ground for mortals.

This was only a taste of what would come.

In the evening, my uncle led me to the home of Trimalchio. On the door read,

 We passed a slave dressed in green shelling peas into a silver dish, while a bird chirped greetings to guests.

Schola in Historiae

While his character had not impressed me, the sum of all the tricks until this point provided a certain respect for Trimalchio’s style. Or perhaps it is his audacity.

All of the master’s slaves shouted, as if trained, “Gaio feliciter!” (may it be lucky for Gaius). The cook was honored with a drink, and given an argentea corona (silver crown) on a lance Corinthea (dish of Corinthian bronze).

I myself appreciate puns and the higher comedies, but I could not forgive Trimalchio for this following transgression.

Solus sum qui vera Corinthea habeam,” (I am the only one who has the true Corinthian bronze) Trimalchio said. He explained that “quia scilicet aerarius, a quo emo, Corinthus vocatur” (because of course the bronze-maker from whom I bought it, is called Corinthus).

Very clever, Trimalchio, but you should have stopped there. We did not all of us believe you were a fool, but in trying to prove yourself educated, completed just the opposite.

So that we would not think him a fool, the old man decided to tell us the origin of the Corinthian bronze:

‘When Troy was captured, Hannibal, a clever man and a great rogue, gathered up all the bronze, gold, and silver statues in the city and burned them. In this way, the Corinthian bronze was born, and craftsmen made little plates and entree dishes out of it.’

In the conclusion of the tale, Trimalchio’s audience remained silent, thought not much of a conclusion was observed before he began talking again. Vitrum (glass) is Trimalchio’s favorite material. Would it not shatter, he would prefer it to gold. This prompted Trimalchio to tell us a story about a glass goblet.

‘There was a craftsman who came to Caesar with his cup made of glass that would not break. He dropped in on the ground and dented it, then picked the goblet up again and, using a little hammer, fixed the dents. The craftsman expected to receive the throne of Jupiter for his marvelous creation, and Caesar asked him if he was the only one who knew about this art. The craftsman proudly answered “yes,” and was beheaded. That goblet would have ruined the Roman economy, which was built on gold.’