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.