Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Baby Emperor Tells Us Things... the occulus .. 2/23/13

They built The Pantheon when I was a boy. A place for all the gods. A stone and marble ewer for the blending of divinities. Never before had there been such a place. Some say it came in answer to the Jews,  both 'The Temple' crowd and 'The Joshua contingent' (they did not call him Jesus much back then, you know). More pensive elements of our better classes questioned things. The gods of Olympus seemed small and constrained, tied only to the Earth and those who crawled upon it. So we refurbished them in that great, domed space and gave them room to fly. 

Since we were of imperial-senatorial stock, my father arranged a visit to the rooftop, crowned by an intricate head-dress of light weight scaffolding. Many local worthies made the climb to look down through the occulus, high above the city, and see the ceramicists toiling down below, creating patterns on the vast, cold floor. Such a structure... such a dome... The very vault of heaven, held up by dreams and kisses. A place without columns. Some peered through polished lenses, the better to study the developments within, like little Jupiters gazing down from The Mountain.

Some slaves toiled 'round the edge of the circular opening, a great empty teat upon the breast of Rome, installing  alabaster molding meant to frame the lofty skylight. How they scampered about, ignoring the danger. Goats upon the heights, such as one might see in The Alps, or The Atlas Mountains, where the Berbers lived. 

Their foreman, a freedman (I could tell by the cap) harried them, not so much due to any real sense of impatience, but more in homage to 'betters,' like us. 

Now at first the dome was dry, bathed in the orange light of a Roman afternoon. But then it began to rain. Oh, the clouds were already in place. you know how the sun comes in low at that time of day. And my mother did not want us to go because of it, however, Aristobolus, my pedagogue, a highly educated and pampered slave from Syracusa, well versed in the natural philosophies (sciences), guaranteed the weather would be appropriate for such an outting, so we went. And now we were stuck, clinging to the rickety up-rights, in a chill, fall, windy rain. 

Some of the slave laborers did likewise, but the foreman insisted the molding be finished. His patron had something to do with the construction of the place and I suppose he had his orders. But the footing was treacherous and my father and I watched wide-eyed, as a young man, squinting against the rain, crawled toward a precarious perch along the edge. Now any other time a slave would be dispatched to hold his girdle (belt), so that he would not fall. But the foreman was distracted by the stupid questions of a provincial land owner from Umbria and so no guardian was sent out.

The young man tried. He bowed. He gestured. He cleared his throat, but no one noticed. Being a slave and a lowly one at that (why else would he do such dangerous work?) he dared not speak out of turn. Blindings and mutings were commonplace... maimings too. So he brushed the wet hair from his eyes and inched toward the windy precipice, quietly bemoaning his fate (Roman cement dried under all conditions. Our engineering was superb). 

How he grasped the edge. There was nothing else to hold on to. And he fought not to look down to the floor, so far below. The first length of molding, drawn from a pouch over his shoulder fit nicely and the second went in just as well. One more and he'd be finished. But a gull, blown in from the coast at Ostia, swooped low, searching for shelter amidst the intricate scaffolding (you know how little they fear humans). And it hit the frightened, young man, just hard enough to make him flinch, raise his hand and lurch over the edge.

Most people up there with us never noticed,semi- secure beneath a flimsy wooden  barrier. But I did. I heard him call out in a rather choked and quiet moan, lost amidst the wind and rain, as he disappeared through the hole. Some said he tried to grab on. Those below saw it all too. The molding was such that had his fingers been strong enough he could have. There were groves. There were places. But these stones were not dry. The 'batter' had not set. And so he tumbled down through the vault, into this house of gods.

I heard the smack. I heard the crunch. I heard the people scream. The foreman did too. He made a face. Slaves cost money you know. Equipment is not cheap. But then he went back to his conversation, unwilling to offend his guest. I couldn't look at him after that. 

That's when I became ' Marcus Aurelius.' That's when I became 'the good emperor.' 

I know I have digressed. Vampires often do. We have so much to remember, after all.

But I thought I'd share a bit of my youth. 

Tomorrow we'll return to the house on Hoxton Street.

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