The Story of Gracchus - Chapter 1

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The Story of Gracchus

by vittoriocarvelli

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This section attempts to be an informative preface to 'The story of Gracchus' - the story of a boy whom 'Fate' raises through the ranks of Roman society - with a bit of help from Glaux and Apollo.......

The Story of Gracchus
'Now is the last age of the song of Cumæ - and the great line of the centuries begins anew.
now a new generation descends from heaven on high.
 
and a little owl shall watch over the golden boy from the sea....
as the Sybil weaves her endless magic spell....
Vigil - 'Eclogue'
 
Our story is an attempt to bring just a small part of the world of that great empire to life - without the fantasy and unreality that has dogged so many tales set in that time,
After the collapse of the Republic, the Empire, under the leadership of Gaius Octavian Augustus - the Princeps (emperor), - had enjoyed a sustained period of peace, prosperity and growth, (the \'Pax Romana\'), and this continued under his adopted heir Tiberius.
This period - from Augustus to the death of Nero - is usually referred to as the \'Principate of the early Empire\', to distinguish it from the Republic, and the even earlier Kingdom of Rome.
 
ROMAN SLAVERY
 
Our story begins with a young freeborn Roman boy setting off on his first journey from Athens (where he has been living with his parents), to Rome.
After a long and detailed interview with the slave dealer Arion, in which Marcus unsuccessfully pleads that he is a free-born Roman citizen, he is auctioned the following morning, and sold to the representative (Terentius) of a fabulously wealthy aristocrat called Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus.
After being sold as a slave, however, he is known as \'Markos\' - the Greek version of his first name - and the Story of Gracchus is his story.
 
The general Latin word for slave was \'servus\'.
 
Besides manual labour, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions.
Agathon appears in the \'Story of Gracchus\' as a Greek slave, employed as a physician by Gracchus.
Unskilled slaves, or those sentenced to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills, or were used in the arena.
 
LEGAL STATUS of SLAVES
 
Unlike Roman citizens, slaves could be subjected to corporal punishment (whipping and beating), sexual exploitation (both female and male prostitutes were often slaves), torture, and summary execution.
Therefore, highly skilled, or educated slaves were allowed to earn their own money, and might hope to save enough, eventually, to buy their freedom.
After 'manumission', a male slave, who had belonged to a Roman citizen, enjoyed not only passive freedom from ownership, but active political freedom (libertas), including the right to vote.
Terentius appears in 'The Story of Gracchus' as a slave who has undergone manumission.
A major source of slaves had been Roman military expansion during the Republic.
During the \'Pax Romana\' (see above) of the early Roman Empire (1st–2nd century CE), emphasis was placed on maintaining stability, and the lack of new territorial conquests dried up this supply line of human trafficking.
One of the problems regarding the re-capture of slaves was the fact that slaves were not immediately identifiable in the general population.
The slave collars used by Gracchus, however, (in \'The Story of Gracchus\'), were unique, in being very heavy, and made of silver, with a distinctive medallion.
Many people who bought slaves wanted strong slaves, mostly men.
Within the empire, slaves were sold at public auction or sometimes in shops, or by private sale in the case of more valuable slaves.
Usually, around the neck of each slave for sale hung a small plaque or scroll, describing his or her origin, health, character, intelligence, education, and other information pertinent to purchasers.
Because the Romans wanted to know exactly what they were buying, regardless of age or sex, slaves were presented naked.
Sexuality (see below) was a \"core feature\" of ancient Roman slavery.
The letters of Cicero have suggested that he had a long-term sexual relationship with his male slave Tiro.
In this situation there was no reason why he should he refrain having sexual relations his houseboys.
In describing the ideal partner in \'pederasty\' (sex with boys), Martial prefers a slave-boy who \"acts more like a free man than his master,\" that is, one who can frame the affair as a stimulating game of courtship.
Unlike the freeborn Greek eromenos (\"beloved\"), who was protected by social custom, the Roman \'delicatus\' was in a physically and morally vulnerable position.
The boy was sometimes castrated in an effort to preserve his youthful qualities; the emperor Nero had a \'puer\' named Sporus, whom he castrated and \'married\'.
The beauty of the Pueri was measured by Apollonian standards, - not too muscular, with smooth, pale skin, and absolutely no body-hair, with relatively small (uncircumcised) genitalia, but with beautiful wavy hair, if possible fair in colour.
(In Chapter VIII of \'The Story of Gracchus\', Markos is given the title of \'cup-bearer\' by Gracchus).
A slave\'s sexuality was closely controlled, and normally slaves were no permitted to engage in sexual activity without their master\'s permission or knowledge.
This device, however, is regularly removed so that Markos can have sex with another slave, Cleon, who has been specially selected to \'service\' him at regular intervals.
An owner usually restricted the heterosexual activities of his male slaves to females he also owned; any children born from these unions added to his wealth.
Despite the external controls and restrictions placed on a slave\'s sexuality, Roman art and literature perversely often portray slaves as lascivious, voyeuristic, and even sexually knowing.
 
Interestingly, at the root of this virile \'master morality\' was the Greco-Roman concept of sexuality.
'Virtus', "virtue", was an active masculine ideal of self-discipline, related to the Latin word for "man", 'vir'.
Roman religion promoted sexuality as an aspect of prosperity for the state - prostitution, both male and female, was legal, public, and widespread - and what we today would consider to be 'pornographic' art was featured among the art collections in respectable upper-class households.
"Homosexual" and "heterosexual" did not form a part of Roman thinking about sexuality, particularly as no Latin words for these concepts exist.
Most significantly, Roman attitudes towards sexuality were grounded in the terms \'penetrator\' and \'penetrated\'.
The impetus toward action might express itself most intensely in an ideal of \'dominance\', that reflects the hierarchy of Roman patriarchal society, and the aggression that was responsible for the creation of the Empire.
It is no accident that one of the most common slang terms for the penis was \'gladius\' - the name given to the Roman sword carried by legionaries, and used by gladiators, and male sexual activity was seen as essentially aggressive.
Allowing himself to be penetrated threatened his liberty as a free citizen, as well as his sexual integrity.
 
THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN THE MEDIA
 
It pervades our lives today: its legacy is everywhere to be seen.
Its reputation was successively foretold, celebrated and mourned in classical antiquity.
Because of this, the Roman Empire has become the focus of many fantasies, and much that is imagined and unreal.
Rome began as a small town on the Tiber river, and grew into a powerful force for civilization, law, and order in the ancient world.
Its much lauded but only apparent peace and prosperity - the legendary \'Pax Romanum\' - were safeguarded by the powerful legions, that held back the barbarian hordes.
The Empire eventually fell into darkness, but its ghost haunted the Middle Ages, and inspired the Renaissance - and still haunts us today.
The film industries of France and Germany have rarely upon their countries\' distant histories as province or adversary, respectively, of the Roman Empire for filmic themes.
Of course, the major factor is economics, because historical spectaculars that require the recreation of ancient buildings and cities, and the clothing of thousands of extras in period costumes, have always been extremely expensive.
The Roman Empire at its peak of power and territorial extent also coincided with the pivotal event of the formation of European culture - the establishment and expansion of Christianity
The \'Satyricon\', however, avoids any mention of Christianity, doubtless because it is based on a \'fantasy novel\' actually written by a \'pagan\' Roman.
\'Fellini Satyricon\', or simply \'Satyricon\', is a 1969 Italian fantasy drama film written and directed by Federico Fellini and somewhat loosely based on Petronius\'s work \'Satyricon\', written during the reign of the emperor Nero and set in imperial Rome. The \'Satyricon Liber\' (\"The Book of Satyrlike Adventures), is a Latin work of fiction believed to have been written by Gaius Petronius, though the manuscript tradition identifies the author as a certain Titus Petronius. The Satyricon is an example of Menippean satire, which is very different from the formal verse satire of Juvenal or Horace. The work contains a mixture of prose and verse (commonly known as prosimetrum); serious and comic elements; and erotic and homo-erotic passages. As with the \'Metamorphoses\' (also called \'The Golden Ass\') of Apuleius, classical scholars often describe it as a \"Roman novel\", without necessarily implying continuity with the modern literary form.
Although its chronology was not quite right, and some of the events were, on occasions, invented, its general depiction of ancient Roman culture and society, particularly the aspects of Roman politics, sexuality and violence, was far more accurate than any previous depiction of Ancient Rome.
 
CHRISTIANITY AND THE EARLY EMPIRE
 
These were mainly of two kinds - the Jewish Christians, whom most people today would not recognize as Christians.
The other Christians, that could be found in small numbers in Rome, some towns in Italy, and some of the cities of Asia Minor would be equally unrecognisable to today\'s Christians.
Their religious writings (those surviving are among the writings of the Hellenized Jew, Paul of Tarsus) made no reference to Nazareth, Bethlehem, \'wise men\' from the East, Shepherds, or the long and involved \'passion narrative\'.
When they painted his likeness, they did not depict a Jewish rabbi, with long hair and a beard, but a young, cleanly shaved, short-haired god, looking suspiciously like \'Sol Invictus\', or the Hellenistic Helios, or they represented him as an equally young, Hellenistic looking god tending his sheep, like the Phrygian god, Attis - and they did not use the symbol of the cross.
The very first work of art portraying the crucifixion dates to the 5th century CE.
So ..... during the period covered by the \'Story of Gracchus\', the Empire is a pre-Christian, \'pagan\' society and, as such, is very different from our own society.
 
RECONSTRUCTING ROMAN SOCIETY
 
This, however, is a task fraught with difficulty.
The Roman Senate was, initially the council of the republic, and at first consisted only of one hundred Senators chosen from the Patricians. They were called \'Patres\', either on account of their age or the paternal care they had of the state. The word senate derives from the Latin word \'senex\', which means \"old man\". Therefore, senate literally means \"board of old men.\"  
Roman magistrates were elected officials in Ancient Rome. Each vicus (city or town neighborhood) elected four local magistrates (vicomagistri) who commanded a sort of local police force chosen from among the people of the vicus by lot. Occasionally the officers of the vicomagistri would feature in certain celebrations (primarily the Compitalia) in which they were accompanied by two lictors 
To qualify as part of this elite a person had to be worth more than 400,000 sesterces.
An average of 100 adult males in each of the 300 or so cities or major towns in the empire would provide another 30,000 odd very wealthy individuals.
As has been said, it was these individuals who wrote Roman history, either as literature, or in the form of architecture and art - and it is from them that we gain our (possibly distorted) image of ancient Roman civilization.
There is some information about such people, and with some research we can, to a reasonable extent, reconstruct the lives, hopes and fears of such individuals.
A lot of rules govern how the Romans take their names.
Most of the praenomens are very common, (the Romans were very unimaginative when creating first names), and so few, that  Romans tended to write the praenomen as simple initials (so, for example, Quintus Horatius would write his name “Q. Horatius” and Sextus Pompeius would write his “Sex. Pompeius” and Marcus Octavianus Gracchus would be written \"M. Octavianus Gracchus\").
After a while, these can become hereditary names in their own right, and sons adopted as heirs to famous families would often take the nomens and cognomens of their own families and their adoptive families as cognomens in their own right. P. Cornelius, for example, had the family cognomen “Scipio.”
At some point in the past, Marcus Aurelius Claudius’s family married into the Claudii, which is why he had the nomen Claudius as his cognomen.
\'Plebeian\' (plebs - the common people) cognomens tended to be more prosaic, and sometimes obscene.
Cognomens and nomens came in different versions.
A name that ended in - ns - such as Florens or Constans - could change in the same way, only changing the “s” for a “t,” so Florens becomes Florentius, Florentinus, Florentianus and Florentinianus.
Women’s names could have the same variations, but always ended in -a rather than -us.
This can be their own given name (relatively rare), which could be anything from Athalamer to Joseph to Xystus, depending on where the slave originally came from.
In the \'Story of Gracchus\' Terentius buys a young slave boy for Gracchus.
\'Boy\' is later given the name \'Aurarius\' (meaning golden one - because of the color of his hair), as required in a prophecy from the Cumaean Sibyl.
In the end, most Romans knew each other by only one or two of their names, whether praenomen, nomen or cognomen, no matter how many names they actually had.
Thascius Egnatianus Hostilinus Numida Pestilens is, to his contemporaries, Thascius Hostilinus, or sometimes just Pestilens.
However, he could legally use Marcus Gaius Agrippa Aelianus Octavianus Gracchus - as he was also entitled to his natural father\'s names.
 
THE MOTIVATIONS OF EMPIRE
 
As the years passed, the sheer aggression and drive of the original settlers forged a vast Empire (which in the end they were completely unable to control or direct).
‘Bad’ means ‘lowly’, ‘despicable’, and refers to people who are petty, cowardly, or concerned with what is useful, rather than what is grand or great.
The noble person only recognizes moral duties towards their equals; how they treat people below them is not a matter of morality at all - and this, of course lies at the basis of slavery - a key theme in the \'Story of Gracchus\'.
From the ‘overflowing’ of these qualities, not from pity, they will help other people, including people below them.
‘Good’ originates in self-affirmation, a celebration of one’s own greatness and power.
But this is not self-indulgence: any signs of weakness are despised, and harshness and severity are respected.
Friendship involves mutual respect, and a rejection of over-familiarity, while enemies are necessary, in order to vent feelings of envy, aggression and arrogance.
This struggle between masters and slaves recurs historically.
The Homeric hero is the strong-willed man, and the classical roots of the Iliad and Odyssey exemplified Nietzsche\'s master morality.
 
 ROMANS and RELIGION
 
Roman religion was basically \'syncretic\', deriving many features from the cults of Latium, Eturia and Alba Longa - the precursor of Rome.
From a range of deities adopted from the Greeks, the Romans altered the gods\' identities, but left their characters unchanged.
The Romans believed that Jupiter granted them supremacy because they had honoured him more than any other people had. Jupiter was \"the fount of the auspices upon which the relationship of the city with the gods rested.\" He personified the divine authority of Rome\'s highest offices, internal organization, and external relations. The cult of \'Iuppiter Latiaris\' was the most ancient known cult of the god: it was practised since very remote times near the top of the Mons Albanus on which the god was venerated as the high protector of the Latin League under the hegemony of Alba Longa.
Most of the Greek gods could be found in Rome: going through the same drama, the same complications and conflicts.
Gods and goddesses were just as likely to fall into temptation as mortals, in fact, Roman gods were even prone to sexual liaisons, both heterosexual and homosexual, as their Greek counterparts.
In the absence of rational explanations for what the people of these cultures witnessed around them, it seemed as if everything that happened, good or bad, was due to the intervention of the gods.
Defeats were seen as an example of divine retribution, and an indication that certain gods demanded to be appeased.
However, instead of leaving it to happen naturally, Aeneas\' mother, the goddess Venus, intervenes.
 
To the Romans, religion was less a spiritual experience than a contractual relationship between mankind and the forces which were believed to control people\'s existence and well-being.
As has been stated, to the Roman mind, there was a sacred contract between the gods and the mortals. As part of this agreement each side would provide, as well as receive, services.
The Romans had many gods of Etruscan origin - one being the goddess Furrina.
Even Cicero could but vaguely guess that she might have been a \'Fury\', and yet she had her own flamen (priest), her own priesthood, as befit one who had been one of the first 13 gods of Rome.
The three first gods of Rome were bloody Mars (to whom the victorious horse in the Campus Martius chariot races was sacrificed every October 15), death-dealing Jupiter (see above), and Quirinus, a fertility god of sanguinary aspect. (Quirinus’s plant was the myrtle, which prophetically runs with blood when Aeneas plucks it in Book III of Virgil\'s \'Aeneid\'.)
Older even than those gods was Terminus, the god of boundaries.
By 500 BCE, the stone stood in the middle of a temple of Jupiter (Jupiter\'s Stone).
His lesser Termini were everywhere that a boundary or cornerstone was needed.
The Termini remind us of the baetyls, sacred stones inhabited by gods, and perhaps also that Augustus’s first obelisk was made of blood-colored crystalline Imperial porphyry, the same as a pharaoh’s sarcophagus.
According to Pausanias, the children of Medea returned from the dead and prowled Corinth - until the city fathers erected a statue of a Lamia.
Ovid writes that that “the ancient ritual” of \'Lemuria\' “must be performed at night; these dark hours will present due oblations to the silent Shades.”
Lemuria took place over three nights in May, which the Etruscans named Amphire.
The Romans made the same connection: the Flamen Dialis, the priest of Jupiter, could not drink blood, or eat raw meat or pass under an arbour-vine.
The Greeks called him Dionysus, with epithets such as Omadius (“Eater of Raw Flesh”), Nyctelius (“God of Night”) and Anthroporraestus (“Man-Slayer”), and knew him also as the god of frenzy and possession, hence as the god of drama.
They impaled a human sacrifice every five years to carry him messages.
Almost too fervently at times; the Senate rounded up 7,000 Bacchantes for treason, illicit rites and gross immorality in 186 BCE.
They survived and flourished; Julius Caesar’s third wife, Calpurnia, was a Piso.
 
SACRIFICE
 
To perform these ritual correctly was of paramount importance.
The very nature of Roman religion itself, with its numerous gods, many of which had multiple roles, was cause for problems.
Hence the phrase \'whether you be god or goddess\' was a widespread in the worship of certain deities.
So, for example Juno was \'Juno Lucina\', in her role of goddess of childbirth, but as goddess of the mint she was known as \'Juno Moneta\', (this curious role came about because for a long time the Roman state mint was housed in her temple on the Capitoline hill).
For Janus one sacrificed a ram - for Jupiter it was a heifer (a heifer is a young cow which has not yet had more than one calf).
Such animal sacrifices were by their mere nature very elaborate and bloody affairs.
It was also disembowelled, for inspection of its internal organs for omens.
The rest of the animal was then either moved away, or later eaten as part of a feast.
This too was a closely guarded ritual, by which the priest himself would be wearing some form of mask or blindfold to protect his eyes from seeing any evil, and a flute would be played to drown out any evil sounds.
For this purpose one would usually sacrifice a pig.
Roman religion did not as such really practice human sacrifice.
Also the gladiatorial Munera were a form of sacrifice to the dead.
In \'Naturales Quaestiones\'  (Natural Questions), Seneca writes, “Some say that they themselves suspect that there is actually in blood a certain force potent to avert and repel a rain cloud.”
High on the hilltops priests of the gods raise their faces to the heavens, waiting for the fat red drops to hit.
From that time, rains of blood seem to have been regular, though never normal, occurrences, a portent recorded when such things could be spoken of aloud.
(\'I am quite aware that the spirit of indifference which in these days makes men refuse to believe that the gods warn us through portents, also prevents any portents whatever from being either made public or recorded in the annals. But as I narrate the events of ancient times I find myself possessed by the ancient spirit.… Two distinct portents had appeared in the Temple of Fortuna Primigenia on the Quirinal Hill: a palm tree sprang up in the temple precinct and a rain of blood had fallen in the daytime. — Livy, History of Rome - date of such a rain as 181 BCE.)
At his approach, the sacred shields of Fortuna in Praeneste sweated blood.
Perhaps they had become too gruesome, or too frequent for even Imperial historians to dare mention.
They poured their blood offerings out to the spirits of their ancestors, and to certain of their gods.
They might offer the blood libation into a lake that was known to communicate with the underworld, if they had country estates where such things were situated.
 
ORACLES & AUGURY
 
According to ancient sources the use of auspices as a means to decipher the will of the gods was more ancient than Rome itself.
Cicero describes in \'De Divinatione\' several differences between the auspicial of the Romans and the Etruscan system of interpreting the will of the gods.
Stoics, for instance, maintained that if there are gods, they care for men, and that if they care for men they must send them signs of their will.
These were numerous, and in some cases renowned in Greece, and included the famous oracle of Apollo at Delphi.
Cumae, of course, is very close to Baiae, where, in \'The Story of Gracchus\', the Villa Auri is situated and, in the story, Gnaeus Gracchus visits Cumae twice, and receives a significant oracular messages from the Sibyl.
So ..... when reading the full version of the \'Story of Gracchus\', it is wise to take into consideration the great differences between Roman society in the early empire, and current European and American society.
This story, therefore, makes no attempt to criticize, condemn or ignore Greco-Roman mores and values, and the narrative accepts, and presents unreservedly the cultural \'status quo\' of the times.
if not... then go to the raunchy, realistic and, a far as possible, an historically accurate serial novel, featuring the adventures of young Markos.

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