The Bull Slayer
Versus quidem meos cantat etiam formatque
cithara non artifice alio docenteque,
sed amore, qui magister est optimus.
She even puts my verses to music and sings them, accompanying herself on the lyre, with no instruction from a music teacher but only love, which is the best teacher of all.
(in order of appearance)
Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny), Governor of the province of Bithynia-Pontus
Zosimus, Pliny’s secretary
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, a member of Pliny’s staff
Pancrates, a fortune-teller
Calpurnia, Pliny’s wife
Ione, Calpurnia’s maid
Atilia, the wife of a Roman businessman
Marcus Vibius Balbus, the Fiscal Procurator of the province
Fabia, Balbus’ wife
Silvanus, Balbus’ chief accountant
Diocles the Golden Mouth, a wealthy provincial, famous as an orator
Rufus, the young son of Zosimus and Ione
Timotheus, a Greek tutor
Faustilla, Memmia, Fannia, Cassia: the wives of Pliny’s staff officers
Nymphidius, a member of Pliny’s staff
Marinus, Pliny’s physician
Caelianus, Pliny’s chief clerk
Aquila, senior centurion on Pliny’s staff
Aulus, Balbus’ son
Baucis, Agathon’s housekeeper.
Sophronia, owner of a brothel
Argyrus, Sophronia’s half-brother
Glaucon, a wealthy provincial
Theron, Glaucon’s brother
Didymus, a banker
Barzanes, high priest of Mithras
Lurco, Balbus’ freedman
Through long weeks of instruction, the Father had taught him the rituals, the star-lore, and the incantations that he must pronounce when the moment came. All that study had made his head hurt; but he had a purpose that drove him. For the past week he had abstained from sex, meat, and bathing. And now at last he was drawing near to the cosmic cave, to a confrontation with the beautiful young god in his fiery splendor. He would see the mystery of the bull’s death, he would be baptized with water from a living spring, his soul would soar up through the seven planetary spheres to the starry firmament where one day it would dwell forever. He would share bread and wine- the flesh and life-giving blood of the bull-with his brethren and be born again for eternity.
They emerged finally from the dark woods at the foot of a craggy upthrust of bare rock and, just as they did so, the sun broke over its top and bathed them in its rays. The Unconquered Sun. All-powerful Mithras. Lord and Savior.
No casual traveler could have stumbled upon the entrance to the cave; it was low and only some six paces wide and well concealed by brush. While the
Following the Father, he ducked under the rocky overhang and descended the seven stone steps, worn smooth by the feet of the blessed, down into the earth’s dark womb. The damp subterranean chill made him shiver. The stale air smelled of dripping stone and burnt pine. Now the
Bells chimed and the hollow eyes of the god blazed with sudden fire. The
Now hands removed his clothes, blindfolded him, and guided him down the nave toward the altar. Hands on his shoulders forced him down, pressing his forehead painfully against the cold stone. Other hands pulled his arms behind him and bound them with the hot guts of a chicken. The sharp point of an arrow pricked his neck.
“Take three deep breaths,” spoke the Father close to his face. “You will rise into the air, you will look upon the face of our god, you will taste immortality.”
And so he did, or thought he did at any rate, for a brief moment. And then it was over. His new brothers raised him up, removed his blindfold, clothed him. They pressed around him, shaking his hand. The Father beamed. The Sun-Runner, second in rank to the Father, hailed him in his rich baritone.