criminal whom no one cared to claim? Or simply some ancient citizen of the Subura without family or friends to mourn him? Whoever he was, he had died at the right time and in such a manner that he could be passed off as Antipater. In a way, my father had done the poor fellow a favor; the dead man had been mourned by the best people in Rome and was about to receive funeral rites far above his station.

“How sad,” said Catulus, “that Antipater should have died on his birthday—the one day of the year that he allowed himself to get completely, blindingly drunk. ‘My annual birthday fever,’ he called it—as if such a malady actually existed!—and would have none of his friends around him, pretending to be confined to his bed all day by illness. I presume his drunkenness led to his death?”

“It appears that Antipater was indeed quite drunk,” said my father. “The body still exudes an odor of wine. If you put your nose to the flesh—”

“That will not be necessary,” snapped Catulus, who still looked a bit green. “Is it true that he was visiting a prostitute?”

“It seems likely. The room from which he fell is known to be used for such assignations.”

“At his age!” Catulus shook his head but smiled faintly. “But there was no indication of foul play?”

“None that I could find,” said my father.

“And finding foul things is your profession, I understand. Male or female?”

“I beg your pardon, Consul?”

“The prostitute Antipater was visiting—male or female?”

No one else had asked this particular question, and I could see that my father was having to make up an answer on the spot. Catulus, I recalled, was known to favor young men, and had even composed poems in Greek to flatter his lovers—something rather daring for a Roman aristocrat of the older generation.

My father pursed his lips. “Antipater’s companion apparently fled after the fatal accident, leaving nothing behind, but I believe a patron in the tavern downstairs saw a handsome young man in Antipater’s company earlier that evening.” My father could lie shamelessly, a skill he was never able to satisfactorily pass on to me. Inside the wall, I heard more plaster falling. Did Antipater shake with laughter, or had he kicked the wall in indignation?

“Ah!” Catulus nodded knowingly. “Antipater was discreet about his love life—so quiet about such matters, in fact, that I presumed the old fellow was past all that, freed from the chains of Eros like boy-crazy Sophocles in his dotage. But I always suspected he had it in him to appreciate a beautiful youth. How else could he have composed that lovely epitaph for Anacreon?”

The consul put a hand over his heart and declaimed:

“Here lies Anacreon—poet, singer, player of the lyre.

Hear now his song about love’s unquenchable fire—

The mad, unfettered love of Anacreon for Bathyllus the dancer,

To whom he posed this question, desperately seeking an answer.…”

Catulus sighed and wiped a tear from his eye. Up to this point, he had scarcely acknowledged my presence, but now his gaze fell on me. “So this boy is your namesake, eh, Finder? The young Gordianus.”

“Yes. But as you can see by his manly toga, my son is no longer a boy. Today is his eighteenth birthday, in fact.”

“Is it, indeed?” Catulus raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Well, I must counsel you not to follow Antipater’s example when it comes to celebrating your birthday, but in all other things you would do well to emulate him. You were his pupil, were you not?”

“I was proud to call him Teacher,” I said.

“So you should be. He was very selective about whom he would take on as a pupil. He must have seen something very special in you, young man,” said Catulus.

I shrugged, a bit unnerved by the consul’s steady gaze. In fact, it was a bit presumptuous of me to present myself as a pupil of the great Antipater of Sidon; my father could never have afforded to hire such a distinguished poet to be my tutor. Our relationship as teacher and student had always been informal; nonetheless, on his regular visits to my father’s house over the years, Antipater never left without drilling into my head a few lines of Greek poetry, or the names of Alexander’s generals, or some other bit of knowledge. From my father I had learned to pick any lock, ten ways to tell if a woman is lying, and how to follow someone without being seen; but whatever I knew of literature, history, mathematics, and especially the language of the Greeks, Antipater had taught me.

“Perhaps you’d like to see the funeral stele?” offered my father.

“It’s already been carved?” said Catulus.

“It was delivered not an hour ago. Since Antipater was so very proud of his Greek heritage, I thought it would be appropriate to follow Greek customs. According to the ancient rule set down by Solon of Athens, no monument should be so extravagant that it cannot be carved by a workshop of ten men in three days. The marble tablet was delivered this morning; the paint is barely dry. Follow me, Consul.”

My father led the way to the sunlit garden. I heard a faint rustle from the wall where Antipater was hiding; he would have to stay there, unable to observe whatever transpired in the garden.

“As you can see, Consul, the monument is in the style so fashionable nowadays among the learned Greeks. The tablet is of modest size, meant to be set atop the plain stone sepulcher that will receive his ashes. The design is what in Latin we call a rebus; the images tell a story, but only to those who can decipher their meaning.”

“Ah, yes,” said Catulus, “Antipater himself wrote a number of poems about such tombstones. How appropriate that his own should be rendered in this cryptic style. Let me see if I can puzzle it out.”

An elaborately decorated pediment with columns on either side—this part of the tablet was readymade—served as a frame for the images that had been carved in shallow relief to memorialize Antipater. Catulus furrowed his brow as he studied the picture-puzzle.

“A rooster!” he exclaimed. “Why a rooster? To be sure, the cock is finely rendered. The eyes are quite fierce,

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