of his presence.

The bearers lifted the bier. Antipater, keeping his mask raised, strode before them as they carried the body over the threshold and into the street. At the sight of the deceased, the hired mourners broke into a lament.

I looked up the street, and was startled by the size of the crowd that had gathered for Antipater’s funeral. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised; he was one of the most famous poets in the world, after all.

The musicians commenced a plaintive dirge. The procession slowly wended its way up the narrow streets of the Esquiline Hill until we passed through a gate in the city wall and arrived in the necropolis, the city of the dead. The bier was placed upon a pile of wood. Many speeches were made, extolling the virtues of the dead man, including a memorable one by Catulus. Antipater’s poems were recited at great length. Then, at last, the bonfire was lit.

The remains were reduced to ashes, and the ashes were gathered in an urn. The urn was placed in a simple stone tomb, and atop the tomb was placed the marble tablet with its image of a cock clutching a palm branch and a scepter, with a knucklebone precariously balanced at the edge of the base.

Throughout the proceedings, watching all, and watched by all, the archmime wore the death mask and performed an uncanny imitation of the way that Antipater had been known to walk or stand or tilt his head just so.

As the old Etruscan adage goes, every man attends his own funeral—but Antipater was the first man I knew to walk away from his.

*   *   *

“Did you hear what Catulus called me? ‘The greatest poet of his generation’!” Antipater grinned. “But he misquoted my epitaph for Homer. ‘Herald of heroes, spokesman of gods, glory of the Muses,’ he said, but what I actually wrote was ‘light of the Muses.’ Still, it was flattering to hear my own humble efforts compared to those of Homer—”

“I hardly heard a word,” said my father. “The whole time I was waiting for someone to realize your deception and expose the hoax. I’d have been ruined. No longer the Finder they’d call me, but the Fraudster!”

“But no one suspected a thing. It went off brilliantly! Though I must say it’s a bit unnerving to see yourself consumed by flames, then scooped up like so much dust and gravel and poured into an urn.” Antipater took a long sip of wine. Night had fallen, and we had returned to the house on the Esquiline to share a hastily gathered dinner of scraps from the pantry. There was not much food in the house; my father had expected us to be gone by now.

“To be candid, Antipater, this makes me doubt your judgment,” he said. “I’m having second thoughts about entrusting my son to your care on such a long journey. Who knows what mad risks you’re likely to take, if today is any example?”

“If it’s danger you fear, will the boy be any safer if he stays here with you? One of the reasons for him to accompany me was to get him out of Rome while—”

“I’m not a boy,” I felt obliged to point out. I would have done better to keep my mouth shut and listen to the rest of what Antipater had to say. How young I was, and how blissfully unaware of all that was going on in the world around me! I looked to my father to deal with all that; he was my shield against the winds of war and upheaval. The law might call me a man, but truly I was still what Antipater had just called me, a boy.

Why was Antipater leaving Rome, and in such a secretive way? I was vaguely aware that toleration for Greek intellectuals like Antipater was at a low ebb in the city. Some among the Roman elite, like Catulus, admired all things Greek—Greek art, Greek literature and learning, even Greek philosophies of how to live and love. But others remained suspicious of the Greeks, considering them nothing more than a conquered people whose inferior, foreign ways were likely to corrupt Roman youth. That Rome was the master of Greece, no one disputed; all Greek resistance had ended a generation before I was born when the Roman general Lucius Mummius annihilated the city of Corinth, a terrifying example that cowed all the other Greek cities into submission. But as the wily Greeks had stolen into Troy by the ruse of a giant horse, so there were those in Rome who thought that Greek poets and teachers were a sort of Trojan horse, insidiously undermining the Roman way of life. Antipater had fervent supporters in the city, like Catulus, but he had enemies as well, and at the moment they were ascendant.

Other changes were afoot. The long-simmering discontent of Rome’s subjects in Italy—conquered territories whose people had been granted only a portion of our own rights and privileges—was rapidly coming to a boil. If open revolt broke out, there could be violence on a scale that had not been seen in the Italian peninsula in a very long time. More trouble was brewing abroad, where Rome’s imperial ambitions were about to collide with those of King Mithridates of Pontus, who fancied that he, not the Romans, should dominate the wealthy city-states, provinces, and petty kingdoms of the East.

All these concerns seemed very distant to me. I had only a nebulous sense that something dangerous loomed over Antipater and my father, and by extension myself. Any worries about this were relegated to the background of my mind. In the foreground was the immediate distress I felt at my father’s threat to keep me from going with Antipater.

“I’m not a boy,” I repeated. “I’m a man now. It should be my decision whether I go with Antipater or not.”

My father sighed. “I won’t stop you. I only feel a need to express my displeasure with the irresponsible way he behaved today. I hope it won’t happen again, in some circumstance that may cause you both to lose your heads!”

“Finder, you worry too much,” said Antipater. “Young Gordianus and I will be among friends in many of the cities we visit, and when we venture to new places, we shall make new friends.”

My father shook his head, then gave a shrug of resignation. “Have you finally settled on a name to use while traveling incognito?”

“I have,” said Antipater. “It came to me in a flash of inspiration while I was watching myself burn on the funeral pyre. Allow me to introduce myself.” He cleared his throat, gave a flourish, and bowed deeply, which cause his joints to creak. “I am Zoticus of Zeugma, the humble tutor and traveling companion of young Gordianus, citizen of Rome.”

My father laughed. I summoned up my spotty Greek, and caught the joke.

“Zoticus,” I said, “Greek for ‘full of life.’”

“What better name for a man supposedly dead?” said Antipater with a smile.

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