Excerpt from my novel, Proper Parenting in Ancient Rome: A Time-Travel Novel of Love as Growth of Consciousness & Peace in the Home...A Time-Travel Novel of Love as Growth of Consciousness & Peace in the Home, paperback, by Anne Hart, published in 2007.
Too Roman To Handle
2nd Century BCE
The plot of the novel features the leading character, a young patrician Roman named Petronius Fabius Candius searching for his father and two brothers. His father ends up in chains on Scipio's galley, but then escapes.
Petronius Fabius Candius has been told that his two younger brothers, Lucius and Marcus, have been carried away by slave traders, their memories wiped clean by a potent herbal plant. And Cato, the Elder had his nephew, Antonius taken with the same story. Three men are missing. So is Petronius's famous father, a physician and man of a thousand disguises, but were the two patricians told the truth? The praetor says Petronius’s father has been hired to spy on the Carthaginian prisoner of war slave revolt in Setia, near Rome.
Petronious lands in the third Punic War between Carthage and Rome along with his best family friend, Cato, the Elder, who hires him as a ransomer or locator of missing patricians. The praetor and others in high places have sequestered Petronius's father, a physician, as a spy because he is a master of a thousand disguises and speaks eight languages.
Cato, the Elder is a prominent figure, and as an older widower, finally takes a second wife, Aurora, the daughter of his scribe, Salonius, but she's "too Roman to handle," and a learned precocious spitfire, even at fifteen, whom he leaves behind to work on her research on herbs and medicinal plants for her "encyclopedia." She soon becomes more of a private eye in her villa when her husband leaves her under the guard of his eldest son's pregnant wife...but there's trouble brewing in Rome.
Thousands of Carthaginian prisoners of war in Setia, near Rome have now banded with their former Carthaginian slaves, and falsely promising their slaves freedom if they revolt and aid them in their return to Carthage. Only the slave and foreign master uprising is wreaking terror all over the Roman countryside and is headed for Rome with wanton destruction of Romans all along the roads between Setia and Rome.
Just when Cato convinces the senate to destroy Carthage, the king of Numidia in Africa (modern Algeria) pays a visit to Cato's home at his wedding dinner, and suddenly, after Cato convinces the senate to make a third Punic War with Carthage (modern Tunisia) and destroy it forever, all of a sudden Cato, Masinissa, king of Numidia, Petronius and the Roman Army are off to Numidia to destroy Carthage.
Meanwhile, the praetor tells Petronius that he's hired his father to spy on the Carthaginians in Setia. Two Carthaginian slaves in Rome who didn't like their Carthaginian master, now a Roman prisoner of war, have revealed to the Roman praetor that a slave uprising the likes of which has never before seen will begin in Setia the day of the games. Torrents of slaves have run away when the leaders of the ring were caught. Now they threaten Rome itself, but Petronius and Cato are on their way to Numidia with the Roman Army, leaving Rome itself more or less unprotected.....
What will happen next in the series, "Too Roman to Handle?"
A Time-Travel Historical Adventure-Intrigue Novel of Ancient Rome
Rome, The Republic, Second Century BCE
My client, Cato intervened once more on my behalf. Another beating had spared my father's life for today. Scipio's guard laughed at my father, mocking as he crashed a bucket of water across the floor boards.
"What are you complaining about? We told you that you'd earn money working the oars. Instead, youre protecting barbarous refugees fleeing into our lands like thirsty rats."
"More often, Im a physician healing soldiers in their own lands. Where are my wife and sons?"
The guard again laughed. "Now what business would we have in Rome or Neapolis with your wife? He waved his torch before my father's eyes. But if she were blind, what need would she have of eyes to share the captain's table? Now your sons, that's another matter."
Marius struggled in pain, filling his lungs with the dark mold that steamed the air. My father didnt scream out. Instead, he listened to the squealing rats fighting in the darkness. His guard let fly the plug of musty water from a public slop bucket, and it slimed my father with fish guts, blood, and seaweed.
Before he left him in darkness, the guard dipped his torch made of twisted reeds in pitch and waved the burning smoke in my father's face, forcing him to crawl even lower in the black space as the smoke burned his nostrils. Are you an animal or a man, Marius of Rome? Do I see a wolf's tail on you? By the bite of the wolf you were born, and like the wild manwolf you are, you shall die here, very slowly, unless you tell me where I can find your pirate son. Has he returned to Rome? Is he here in Neapolis?"
Scipio paced back and forth. "So you spread the word I misuse public property, eh, Cato?" His hooded eyes blazed. "You severed the pipes for the public water supply because one person drew water illegally. You demolished my familys home because it overlapped onto public land. You tax the rich way beyond what reason or conscience allows."
"I won't stand for excessive luxuries," Cato replied. You won't make of Rome an Egyptian temple."
"So you regulated luxuries so severely, there isn't any because youve turned Rome into a military camp."
"That's the idea," Cato said sharply. "What Rome needs is harder mattresses." The cold dampness allowed all of us to think. I moved closer to my father, but Marius refused to struggle and contained his fury as Cato seized his chains from the guard's fists.
Tell me again about the day you taxed the rich blind, I asked Cato, mapping out a plan in my mind of how we would free my father from Scipio's chains and prove he wasn't the pirate Scipio was after.
Except for one distraction: My father mastered a thousand disguises and many dialects. Which one did he use with Scipio now? Of all the men who ever hired me as a ransomer, the one who could save my father and brother enjoyed publicly playing the role of a miser.
Cato's new young bride worked hard for balance in her life, but all her choices led to paradoxical twists. Used to putting out family wildfires by working behind the scenes, she chose from among distinct cultures and deities as if they were trays at the feast of Saturnalia.
Gossip among the senators' wives blasted her as a social climber, and she would finally reach the top if Cato didn't mind that her new sandals cost more than her dowry. Her father, Cato's scribe, Salonius, described her as too Roman to handle, and he signed the marriage contract witnessed by a handful of Cato's bodyguards. Poor Salonius had worked as a scribe for Cato when he was a magistrate, and now remained loyal to him still as his client.
Cato beckoned Salonius, waving his emerald ring, and the old scribe hurried to Cato's side wondering why Cato needed all those escorts, those bodyguards with him here in the forum.
"Did you perchance find a husband yet for your daughter?" The old Cato snapped, and then grinned widely, wheezing as Salonius approached.
"No. I wait to ask your opinion first," Salonius replied bowing his head in respect to honor his famous client.
"Heh, heh. It seems I've already found the most worthy match in Rome for your daughter, unless you find his advanced age an obstacle. He is very old."
"Who? Age is of no importance," Salonius added softly, glancing sideways at Cato's escorts.
"I will be the fiancé of your young daughter," Cato cackled.
"I'm honored," Salonius replied, lowering his head and at the same time thinking to himself, "Oh no."
A few moments later, Salonius hurried his shaking hand to sign Cato's marriage contract. "She'd better give me a son quickly," Cato whispered. "A son who will assume the surname of his maternal grandfather, Salonius, no doubt."
"How come a widower like you with that Egyptian slave girl who comes to visit you nightly wants all of a sudden to marry a Roman girl so young she barely has entered her teen years?" Asked Salonious.
Cato winced. "It's my elder son and his new bride. Personally I think men in love are a joke. I laugh at them. My work is producing encyclopedias," Cato said curtly. "My son is hounding me ever since my wife died. His wife is mortified by the visits of the slave girl to my room nightly. It's probably the orange cat she brings with her that troubles him. The cat pollutes my food."
Salonius looked at Cato slyly. "Believe me, it's not the scent of the cat that bothers your son's new bride."
"Yes, it makes her wheeze."
"A morality-centric man such as you, Cato, knows it's not the cat. And it's not your scornful attitude about women who insist on owning property either that has upset your son's wife. After all, she's a new bride and living in your house. Your son is trying to protect her from your shocking behavior. Your reputation as the moral protector of Rome hardly befits the single life when your son and his young bride are trying to start a family in your home."
My son's bride and your daughter will find much in common with their friendship. They're the same age," Cato sighed.
"Two fifteen year old brides will have much to say to each other," Salonius replied, bowing his head. "I'm honored but astonished you asked me, a mere scribe."
Ah, but its my work to make sure the scribe in Rome holds a place he deserves. I, too have produced a work on medicine, and with your help, wrote my History of Rome, and a text on farming, an encyclopedia, and..."
"Cato, you'll find my daughter is more of a scribe than I. She's a young girl, true, but she has written an encyclopedia on herbs within the last two years. This is no ordinary fifteen-year old Roman bride. She is a practical inventor, and you might find her well, too Roman to handle."
"No, I don't track slaves," I, Petronius Fabius Candius told Cato's new bride, Aurora. Cato's eldest sons wife, Livia, sat silently spinning in the spinning room at the west wing, pleading her newly pregnant belly and disdain for the wafting scents of Auroras wedding breakfast.
"I'm looking for several prominent men: Antonius, your husband's youngest nephew, for one, and my two brothers, Lucius and Marcus. Several young men have been missing lately, the wealthiest men in Rome, all from first families, their memories wiped clean, and then taken by slave traders."
"Yes, I've heard. You're here to ask me which potions wipe the memory, and your physician father couldnt tell you because hes being held by Scipio. Oh, I can tell you all right. The plants came from the King of Numidia."
"I've tracked the plants to Scipio's galley," I informed Aurora. "Does your herb collection tell you whether the memory erasure is permanent?" Her lids half closed as if in a deep well of thought.
Aurora tilted her chin and moved her knuckles to her lips. "No plant permanently erases the mind." She looked older than her fifteen and three quarter years. I can tell you one thing, Petronius. Roman friendship is hard to gain. Ask the King of Numidia. Ill bring you to him this evening at dinner."
Dark olive-complexioned Aurora was suddenly talkative, which drew attention to her exquisitely rare beauty--eyes azure as blue-green seaweed, and long but tightly curled hair of a light brown hue streaked with sun-kissed golden strands all done up in peach-colored ribbons. That particular combination of darkly tanned skin and golden brown hair reminded me of the fishermen of Sicily. She wrapped herself in her palla and ordered the braziers to be brought closer to her, walking like a newlywed.
"You must meet Masinissa, king of Numidia. Aurora's full, pouting lips expanded in a smile. "I've had a special Numidian feast prepared, and tonight we will all dine in the African fashion. Have you ever eaten their richly spiced ground nut soup with roots and millet dumplings?"
"No, but I've heard in the forum that Numidia is now a close Roman ally."
"Yes," she sighed. We've all suffered with Carthage's woes. It seems like yesterday we made peace with Carthage, and now Masinissa is clawing away land, menacing the borders, and demanding that Rome do something. It seems he's here to convince everyone at our house that the territories under his peace treaty with Carthage belong to Numidia and to him and not to Carthage any longer. Imagine what would happen if another war breaks out after weve worked so long for the peace."
"You mean for Scipio's defeat of Carthage," I laughed. "Masinissa signed a peace treaty after the Roman defeat of Carthage at Zama. A defeat by Scipio," I emphasized.
Just than Marcus Porcius Cato, the elder Cato, entered the well-lit atrium where his wife and I were chatting while his elder son was taking the baths at the east wing of the villa. "So I've heard you two speaking of what I've just bellowed about in the forum." Cato made a face, and I could see my reflection in his watery eyes as he pulled away tersely. I observed a great tide of worry in his body gestures, and a salty cold pool of sanity in his gaze. Cato had the furrowed forehead of a man who owed the whole world land or gold.
"With Masinissa coming here tonight, there's danger," Cato insisted gruffly. "The red dust his horsemen kicked up is within striking distance of the southward caravan routes of Carthage. Do you know what that means to Rome?"
"The bottom line payment for the Roman army and food for the Republic, naturally. The trade routes between Carthage and Rome will be halted as usual again." I answered Cato's look of quizzical exasperation. "Yes, Ive heard you at the forum each time Carthage has increased its complaints to Rome."
"So you want to find your brothers, Lucius and Marcus and my nephew, Antonius? I'll show you how to find them. Slave traders? No. The last secret word to me from your father, again in disguise, was that the all three of these young men were taken months ago by a Roman commission of inquiry. And now another commission is to be sent to Africa to find a solution to the problem between Carthage and Numidia."
"Where is my father now?"
"He was sent with the first Roman commission of inquiry to Africa to sort matters out."
"And your nephew and my two brothers?"
"I've just been asked to lead the second commission. You and I are going to Numidia with Masinissatonight."
"Why are you being sent to Africa?"
Cato's eyes lit up. "My hatred and fear of Carthage is known well in Numidia."
"And in Rome," Aurora added as she arranged deeply scented long-stemmed red roses around a wafting blue cloud of myrrh in a vase of lapis. "Petronius, have you noticed how the tight noose of sanctions and conditions imposed on Carthage by Rome is causing slave revolts? Carthage is rising again with blood in its eye, poised to unleash its mad dogs on Rome."
"My wife is right, Cato nodded. I'm probably the only man in Rome who swears to this. Do you know how many Carthaginians and their slaves are being held hostage here in Rome as prisoners of war? I've seen the slaves of the Carthaginian prisoners being sold off to Romans, thousands of them, mostly near here in Setia.
"Those Carthaginian slaves plotted to free themselves and have entwined their former slaves in their scheme, promising them freedom if they band together as Carthaginian prisoners of war. The slaves are rioting against their masters because their former Carthaginian slave owners need their help to return to Carthage. If we go off to Africa to search for our loved ones, I have heard from my own loyal slave that at the games in a few days, the Carthaginian prisoners of war and their own Carthaginian slaves, now in the hands of new Roman owners will rise up and slaughter the townspeople of Setia."
"What should we do?" I shuddered. "Rome is losing more men from sickness by camping out in the stagnant, fetid, insect-infested marshes than it will ever lose by fighting the Carthaginians in the clean, sun-baked desert."
Cato pulled out a huge Carthaginian fig from under his cloak. "That's one big piece of fruit," I said. "You won't find figs this plump in Rome."
Cato twisted the fig by its stem and threw it across the flagstone floor of the atrium. "I did the same to the floor of the senate, and I'll warn you, too Petronius. If you don't join my commission to Numidia tonight, the land where that big fig came from is only three days from Rome by Sea. In order for you to find your brothers and my nephew and your father, Carthage must be destroyed! Delenda Carthago!"
But my father's favorite disguise is of a Carthaginian when he's not imitating a Syrian from Antiochus. He might have used one of these disguises to escape from Scipio. Hes a man of a thousand disguises and speaks eight languages.
"The way to your father is to find favor in Masinissa. If Numidia's horsemen continue to attack Carthage, your father will be out of luck. There's no way he can disguise himself as a Numidian. Carthaginians are remnants of the Phoenician colonies. What we deal with now is Carthaginian impatience. They are fighting us on their own territory."
"And their prisoners of war and slaves will be fighting in Rome soon," I added.
It's what I hoped for," Cato said sternly--Rome's embarrassment. The raiding horsemen have breached the contract signed by Carthage after its defeat in the last war. The terms stated that Carthage was not to take up arms unless it asked the permission of Rome first to carry weapons of destruction. The other reason why I'm here is to inform you that the senate voted for war."
"No," I said. "Not a third war with Carthage."
"What are you going to do about it?" Cato ranted. "Trail a Greek chlamys over your shoulders and march carrying a sign outside the steps of the senate ranting we will not be Carthagized?"
Cato arched one bushy black eyebrow and stared me down hotly, cocking his lips in a crooked grin. "March with me, Petronius. I'll have 80,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry to rescue our loved ones and raze Carthage to the virgin soil beneath its structures."
"I thought you wanted a son right away," Aurora interrupted. "Rome wasn't populated in a day, and you leave tonight without consummating our wedding. The wedding guests are arriving for the last supper before my metamorphosis from a girl to a matrona. I must emerge from my cocoon as a butterfly, but you are walking out on a caterpillar, you worm. After one day of marriage, its hardly appropriate to take your leave without even carrying me over the threshold."
"Quite a spitfire, isn't she--the way she talks to old Cato as if she too belongs in the senate? Coincidentally, she showed me her precocious classification of herbs right after I insisted that women should be barred from owning property. Salonius was right. She is too Roman to handle. But I leave her in good hands."
Cato turned to his wife, winking. "So, adopt one, like some of Rome's best matronae." Cato stifled a yawn. "I don't have time to even limp near the torus of the marriage bed, let alone carry her tiny frame over the room's threshold. I should have wed one of Apollodorus's statues. Let's go. I must save my strength for Carthage and Numidia. Please, no argument before a meal," insisted Cato. "It curdles the dream of hunger."
"Wait," Aurora shouted. "You haven't even untied the knot of Hercules. The only person who can untie the knot is my husband. She lifted her skirt in front of all of us to reveal an under-tunic of thick, dark wool with a frayed rope tied around her narrow waist of a fancy-laced girdle. Don't you even have a moment for the marriage to be recognized under Roman law?"
Cato steeled himself to look at Aurora's smiling face. She receded with stunning speed, and he followed her, drew his jeweled dagger, and swiftly cut the complex knot in an instant. I'm an impatient man," he said. I know I'm supposed to spend hours untying that knot, but I don't think like a woman."
"It's not how a woman thinks," Aurora argued with precision. "Taking time to untie the knot reveals the virtues of Rome, the first one being patience and the second dexterity, and in the Roman household it shows the groom is slow to anger and does not grow weak and infantile under pressure. To a new bride, the knot of Hercules reveals a groom's inner strength and maturity, and his love for his home and family. What need I of a fortune teller, when the knot rewards me with the character of a man when he cannot profit by the way he treats another? It tells me how he treats others when he is pushed to his limits, whether he will be weak or strong, and whether he is in love."
Cato began to laugh. "A man in love is a joke," he cackled. "Yet, look at me, married in my oldest age--me, a widower for years with a grown, married son who rides on my victories. Tell me, Petronius. Are these the words of a fifteen-year old wife?"
"Her father, Salonius, is your favorite scribe," I said. No doubt he put the words in her ears.
A freshly bathed, but simply clothed table slave slinked in with his blond head bowed. He gazed at the floor announcing the soldiers had given him word that the praetor finally had arrived to speak with Cato.
Two guards preceded the praetor. Even the guards had bodyguards just to walk in the street. One guard whispered in Cato's ear. "Two of the Carthaginian slaves betrayed the conspiracy to the praetor here in Rome."
"What conspiracy?" Cato began to sneeze, one right after the other.
The praetor walked in with his entourage for the wedding breakfast. "The Carthaginian prisoners of war and their own slaves banded together to rise up against their new Roman masters and help the Carthaginians sail back home. The plot was to rise up and slaughter everyone in Setia as soon as the games started there next week. The two slaves who betrayed their masters and came to me were freed and rewarded with twenty-five thousand pieces of bronze."
"And what happened to all the Carthaginian prisoners of war and their own slaves who banded with their masters?" I asked.
"I'm a generous praetor and a river to the Romans. The rebellious leaders were slaughtered. Many of the slaves were recaptured, but many were not. There was a flight of slaves out of Setia like a storm of thunder the likes you have never seen. Most are headed now for Rome and spreading destruction in their path and murder all the way between Setia and Rome.
"Those with Roman masters have stolen their clothing and property and disguised themselves as Romans or other foreigners on our shores as merchants. The trouble is not over yet. Even though I had only a few days to gather my force and storm Setia, with two thousand Romans, I couldn't stop all those slaves from unleashing the bowels of Hades on our Republic. What we have on our hands is a large body of organized slaves forming sleeper cells in Rome waiting for the right time to pounce, spreading terror among us.
"These Carthaginian slaves have had Roman masters for years. They can mix with us, live among us, and we'd never be able to track them down and tell them from foreign merchants on our shores or from the old Greek cultures in Italia or our own peoples to the south in Sorrentum or Herculaneum. And their old masters, the Carthaginian prisoners of war should have never been brought to Rome in such large numbers and with their slaves. Banded together, they are a torrent, an army of terror right here in Rome."
Cato paced back and forth. He led the praetor and his guards to the upper floor of his villa, near the southeast wing as we followed, all but Aurora who retired to her scrolls. Windows opened onto views of the Palatine. Cato's well-scrubbed coterie of table slaves rushed out of the room like a ribbon of fire. The lamp bearers whose dwindling oil flames in clay lamps shone perched on yesterday's silver platters trembled as they cleared the room for the wedding breakfast.
The praetor knew me from childhood. He looked skeptical. "Your father has taken the wrong disguise to help us. Yes, he was on an errand for me, and so were your brothers. Something went wrong. I tried to throw up a smoking curtain to make everyone think they were taken by slave traders. No, he's mixed in among the Carthaginian slaves on their rampage, dressed as one of their kind, and they've disguised themselves as Romans. What a mixup. I shouldn't have started the rumor burning that memories were erased by certain plants from Numidia. Now their king is here to march against Carthage once more, to incite a war.and the slaves are wreaking havoc between Setia and Rome. Why did we bring so many captured Carthaginians to Rome?"
"Booty is booty," I interjected. "Up for sale to the senate and the Roman people. I guess you have to convince the former slaves of the Carthaginian prisoners of war that once they help their former masters get back to Carthage that they won't be freed after all, but will end up slaves as they were before, and not with Roman masters, but Carthaginian ones."
"Isn't that what they prefer?" Aurora asked, entering the room briefly to pass through and remove her materials from one of the tables as the men moved into the library of scrolls in the next room for privacy. The door was gently closed.
"Thanks to Minerva, we have these scrolls," Cato added with a grimace. A ginger cat entered the balcony and strode across the library, curling up in the corner to leap at a flying insect. "Speak of Minerva, here she is," Cato smiled, lifting the cat. "This is Minerva." He waved the cat away, and it leapt back onto the sunny balcony to chase a bird that flew away.
"The remaining slaves that are loose will undoubtedly set upon the games in Setia that start in a few days," said the praetor. You're to sail to Numidia with its king tomorrow, Cato, with the best of the Roman army. And you, Petronius.I don't know what to do with you. That situation about your father and brothers."
"My nephew, Antonius, we must not forget," Cato looked at the praetor dubiously. What's the big secret that you couldn't have told me these men weren't taken by slave traders with their memories vanished? Why were we told that rumor? Where are they? What has Scipio done with Petronius's father all tied up in that galley?"
"Spies, my friend. Three Roman spies," the praetor smiled, tapping me emphatically three times on the chin. "Your father escaped Scipio again, this time in the garb and manner of Carthaginian masters on the loose, the young ones placed strategically by me in Setia like ivory pieces on a fancy board. Let the games begin."
And my father? I insisted. "Where is he now?"
"Physician in disguise somewhere among the Carthaginians," I suppose. I've lost track, I'm afraid. Only he's not here in Italia. He's in Numidia. That's why you're all going to Africa. I've arranged to have my family care for your new bride, Cato, until you return. My summer villa in Misenum is a good choice. Or she might prefer the larger one my wife will help her run in Cumae." The praetor thought for a moment. "I trust the volcano nearby as a better protector of Roman women than a slave rebellion on the loose."