Forum. Senators and magistrates attired in togas swept by me, followed by their retinues of scribes and sycophants, looking like little Caesars with their noses in the air, their posture and gait projecting an attitude that the world would come to an end if anyone dared to prevent them from reaching whatever meeting they were headed for. Their self-importance seemed all the more absurd, considering that Caesar's victory had rendered them irrelevant. The Senate had reconvened, but everyone knew that all power flowed from Caesar. His approval was needed for all important decisions. He held the key to the Treasury. He had bypassed elections to personally appoint the magistrates. He had parceled out the provincial governorships to his friends and supporters, and was busily filling the scores of vacancies in the Senate with creatures of his choosing. Some of these new senators, to the shock of old-timers like myself, were not even Romans but Gauls, men who had betrayed their own people to join Caesar and who were now receiving their rewards.

Yet the business of the Forum carried on as if the civil war had never occurred. Or at least it appeared to be so; for the Forum was suffering from the same invisible malady that plagued the populace of Rome. On the surface, everything seemed to be back to normal. Priests made sacrifices on temple steps, Vestals tended the eternal hearth fire, and ordinary citizens sought redress from the magistrates. But below the surface, everything was askew. People were simply going through the motions, knowing that nothing was quite right, and might never be so again.

I listened to snatches of conversation from men passing by. Everyone was talking about Caesar:

'… may yet step down. That's the rumor I heard.'

'Return to private life, as Sulla did? Never! His supporters wouldn't allow it.'

'Nor would his enemies. They'd kill him!'

'He has no enemies left, or none worth considering.'

'Not true! Pompey's son is said to be in Spain right now, rallying a force to take on Caesar.'

My son Meto was in Spain, serving in Caesar's forces, so my ears pricked up at this.

'If that's true,' came the response, 'Caesar will squash young Pompey like an insect! Just wait and see…'

'… and Caesar may even name a new month after himself-the month of Julius! There's to be a complete revision of the calendar, done with the help of astronomers from Alexandria.'

'Well, it's about time-no pun intended!'

'… and the whole thing will go on for four straight days, I heard.'

'Not four days in a row, you silly man! Four triumphs, yes, but each with a day between. We'll need those days of rest, to recover from so much drinking and feasting.'

'Imagine it! Four full-scale processions, plus public banquets for everyone in Rome, followed by plays and chariot races and gladiator games-I don't see how Caesar can afford to put on such a spectacle.'

'He can't afford not to. After all we've put up with, the people of Rome deserve a celebration! Besides, he has all the money in the world-literally. His conquests have made him the richest man in history. Why shouldn't he lavish some of the booty on us?'

'I'm not sure it's right, celebrating with triumphs to mark the end of a civil war. So much Roman blood was spilled.'

'It's not just about the civil war. Have you forgotten his victory over Vercingetorix and the Gauls? The triumph for that is long overdue. And another triumph will be for putting down the revolt of Pharnaces in Asia, and that's certainly well deserved.'

'Granted, as may be the triumph for defeating King Ptolemy in Egypt, although that wasn't exactly a Roman conquest, was it? More like settling a family feud. The king's sister Cleopatra kept her throne.'

'Because she conquered Caesar!'

'They say the queen is in Rome right now, here to watch her rebel sister, Arsinoe, paraded in chains and put to death to cap the Egyptian Triumph.'

'Yes, yes, triumphs for Caesar's victories in Gaul and Asia and Egypt-no one can complain about those. But what about this triumph that's planned for his victory in Africa? It was fellow Romans he fought there. Poor Cato! Who could raise a cheer about the way he died?'

'Oh, you might be surprised. The Roman mob loves to see a big man brought down, especially by a bigger man. And if Cato was the best general the opposition could put up after Pompey was killed, then they deserved to lose.'

'You! You, there! What's that you're saying? My brother fought for Cato, you piece of scum, and died at Thapsus. He was a better Roman than the likes of you, you slandering pig!'

From the corner of my eye I saw the beginnings of a scuffle, and hurried on.

Passing beyond the public buildings of the Forum, I entered a maze of streets crowded with shops offering every sort of merchandise and service. Closest to the Forum were the more respectable eateries, tailor shops, fullers, craftsmen, and jewel merchants. Further on, the atmosphere grew progressively seedier and the clientele less affluent. I saw fewer togas and more tunics. This was the Subura district, notorious for its rough taverns and brothels. Nowadays it was thronged by Caesar's veterans, many of them maimed or bearing hideous scars. Under the midday sun they gathered outside taverns, drinking wine, and gambled in the streets, casting dice made from bones.

I saw a group of street performers putting on a show for a little crowd that had gathered. Unlike their colleagues in the theater, such troupes sometimes include female performers; the ones in this company were notable for their ample breasts, barely contained in tight, sheer gowns. The sketch was more pantomime than play, featuring a balding letch dressed as a Roman commander (his armor was made of tin) and the most buxom of the actresses, who wore a cheap imitation of the tall Egyptian headdress called an atef crown, and very little else. The performers were obviously meant to be Caesar and Cleopatra, and their buffoonish interaction grew progressively more suggestive. After a few obscene puns, including a comparison of Caesar's intimate anatomy to that of a Nile river-horse (the creature Herodotus called a hippos potamios), Cleopatra extended her arms, planted her feet well apart, and broke into a ribald dance. Every part of her body jiggled wildly, while her towering headdress remained rigidly upright and perfectly motionless; I suddenly realized it looked more like a phallus than an atef crown.

I found the dance both arousing and hilarious, all the more so because I had dealt with the real queen in Alexandria, who was nothing like her imitator. A more self-possessed young woman than Cleopatra I had never met; believing herself to be the living incarnation of the goddess Isis, she tended to take herself quite seriously, and the idea that she would ever perform such a lurid dance was as delightful as it was ludicrous. An alms collector for the troupe saw me laughing and quickly hurried over, extending a cup. I contributed a small coin.

I moved on, looking for the street where Calpurnia had told me I would find Hieronymus's apartment.

Years ago, when I lived in a ramshackle house on the Esquiline Hill above the Subura, I had walked through this neighborhood almost every day. I had known its meandering alleys like the veins on the back of my hand. Nowadays I visited the Subura less often, and much had changed over the years. The tall, crowded tenements, some of them soaring to six stories, were so cheaply constructed that they frequently collapsed and almost as frequently burned down. New buildings were quickly thrown up to take their place. Entire streets had become unrecognizable to me, and for a while I became lost.

Then, in the blink of an eye, I found myself in front of the very building I was searching for. It was unmistakable. 'Brandnew and six stories tall,' Calpurnia had told me, 'with a fresh yellow wash on the walls, a pubic fountain at the corner, and an eatery on the ground floor.' She owned the building. A part of her arrangement with Hieronymus had been to supply him with free lodging.

Calpurnia had told me I would find a slave posted in the tiny vestibule. He was there partly for the security of the tenants but also to make sure they didn't start cooking fires in their rooms or carry on any business that was too dangerous or too illegal. I encountered an unshaven young man so scruffily dressed that he might have been a beggar who had wandered in off the street, but the suspicious look he gave me was definitely that of a watchman.

'You must be Agapios,' I said. 'My name is Gordianus. Your mistress sent me.' For proof I showed him a bit of sealing wax into which Calpurnia had pressed her signet ring. For a symbol she used the profile of King Numa, with his flowing beard and priest's mantle. The Calpurnii could trace their descent from Calpus; he was one of the four sons of pious King Numa, who lived more than hundred years ago and was the founder of many religious rites and priesthoods.

He bowed obsequiously. 'What can I do for you, citizen?'

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