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,

“NO SLAVE TO GO OUT OF DOORS EXCEPT BY THE
MASTER’S ORDERS. PENALTY, ONE HUNDRED LASHES”
 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.’

 

Cena Trimalchionis

Following our chat with Trimalchio, my uncle and I watch a most unusual event during our exercise.

Trimalchio had begun his game. It was strange to see a gleeful, bald man playing among long-haired boys. This ‘pater familiae,’ for that’s what he appeared to be, the head of this energetic household, kept tossing a prasina (green) ball back and forth with the boys. This soleatus (sandalled) man, despite his athletic-looking footwear, hardly moved from his spot in the center of the commotion. If a ball was dropped, he did not chase after it. Nor did he send one of the boys after it. A slave with a bag full of balls simply threw another one into the mix. Nearby, I noted one eunuch who appeared to be keeping track of the balls, dropped, not in play, and another holding an argenteam matellam (silver chamber-pot).

Across the room stood the trio of men from outside the gym, gazing at the lautitias (luxuries) of this man.  Another man ran up to them and said something, though I could only make out a few words – eavesdropping was an unfortunate habit of mine – I heard “cenae” (dinner) and “ponitis” (ponere – to give), so I could only assume they were invited to dinner as well. I thought they would make interesting company, especially the third one; he always trailed behind and never seemed to talk.

Anyway, the three friends were just as amused as I was. This amusement quickly turned to bewilderment, then disgust, when Trimalchio called over the eunuch with the chamber pot.  And, well, Trimalchio exonerata (having been eased) never had to stop his game. A basin was brought to him, and he wiped his hands on a slave boy’s head. Talk about ‘filthy rich.’

Tired of that sight, I walked off to see if anyone would challenge me in a wrestling match.

Palaestra

This whole spectacle starts with an innocent trip to the baths with my uncle, Traianus, and a party invitation engineered by the Fates. I am certain these events cost me no small length of Lachesis’ string.

I decided to enjoy my time back in Rome with my dear uncle, Traianus. We were not so far apart in age as most belonging to the same relationship, so we enjoyed each others’ company. He took me to the baths one day so I might make use of the gymnasium – I prefer to keep my body strong even while off-duty – and to visit some friend of his. On our way inside, I noticed, by chance, a group of friends mid-argument entering behind us.

In the middle of the gym, my uncle introduced me to an old man by the name of Trimalchio. We exchanged a few pleasantries, and he shocked me with the knowledge that he had heard my name. My uncle gave Trimalchio a joking shove, prompting disapproving grunts from his attendants, and asked since when Trimalchio took notice of military affiars.The old man replied that he ‘spared his attention from time to time to observe the progress of the country, in non-economical matters,’ and had heard my name in conversation discussing the recent campaign in Gaul. Trimalchio insisted that I attend his dinner with my uncle, and I happily complied.

Surely ignorance is the bane of all men, disguised as a path to good times.

Trimalchio began some game with a horde of young boys, and my uncle and I found a space to perform our stretches. The old man seemed pleasant enough, and well informed too. At the time, I looked forward to the evening, and carried on with my morning exercise.

Mane

SALVETE! My inspiration is found. I have quite the tale to tell to you. The party my uncle invited me to last night was more than I could have dreamed of. Oh, mehercule! What a wretched yet wonderful night. I must write about everything I witnessed – or is it ‘endured’ – before my anima banishes it forever from my waking thoughts. The training of a Roman officer is no preparation for the extravagance of Trimalchio.

Yet I must place these accounts on paper. Even this morning’s retributions from last evening’s indulgences may not prevent me from putting pen to paper. Oh, curse that ever-flowing wine! Make yourselves comfortable, amicis, and listen well…

Initii

SALVETE! My name is Agrippa Fulgurtus Modicitus. I am Optio to Centurion Valedictus in the Roman military, under the current Caesar, Emperor Nero. Concluding a cold, hard campaign in Gaul, I am exceedingly happy to be back here, in Rome. I have decided to take up writing in my free time. I do hope my ‘little book,’ as the poets would say, will entertain you all.

I believe that’s enough about me for now. I can recall glorious stories of combat some other time, but I feel the need to start my writings with a different muse. I am attending a party tonight with my uncle; hopefully I shall find some inspiration there.

USQUE AD TEMPUS!– MODICITUS