Aug 20 2011
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Lucius Sentius Camillianus, Camillianus to his friends, Lucius to his family, armed with urgent news, marched across the city with the determination of a legionnaire. One of his father’s secretaries lagged behind him, wood-bound note tablet in hand, a pen case bumping on his hip. Lucius glared back at the secretary, a wan older man, who shrugged.
“You should have an entourage now,” the servant said without a trace of sympathy or apology. “Your father insists. You can’t wander about like a low-class truant.”
Lucius brushed a flop of damp black hair off his forehead. Summer had begun with a full-out assault on the city of Rome. The pavement radiated a fierce heat back onto legs and under tunics. He was wearing one of his better tunics, a blue thing with lots of pleats and extra fabric which, like Pollux the secretary, had been put on at his father’s insistence. He could feel the perspiration pooling at his waist. He would not impress anyone if his clothing became an unfashionably sodden mass of sweat. And he itched.
He made a turn onto the narrow thoroughfare of the Street of the Lampmakers and was pulled into the flow of pedestrians like water drawn down a funnel. Tall buildings, four and five stories high, rose on either side above a clotted mass of the carefully coiffed and the belligerently unwashed. Perfumes mingled with armpit stink, dusty dogs, dustier slaves, the smell of frying sausages in greasy waves from the recesses of shops, and, every now and then, a tease of pungent incense from some altar. Citizens poured toward the law courts and the auction houses, the taverns and the temples, and all of them were in his way. He ducked onto the less crowded Old Temple Street and breathed a sigh of relief, which turned to a sigh of disappointment when he saw he had not managed to scrape off the secretary in the crowd.
With Pollux right at his heels, he reached the mansio, the front of the large city house an imposingly blank face to the outer world. The porter who opened the door was a new boy Lucius did not recognize, but the Lucretius household was always rotating slaves. The boy wore a perfunctory chain around his ankle to show that, technically, he was not yet trusted not to walk right out and escape. But he was polite and efficient. The chain was not even attached to anything; the matching ring on the wall had fallen out a generation before, and no one had bothered to replace it.
“The master and mistress are out visiting, sir,” the porter said with a well-turned accent as he helped them change from their street shoes into indoor slippers. “I’ll announce you to the young master.” He led them into the atrium and ambled off, chain and all.
The atrium was almost as busy as the street. Its frescoed walls were obscured by wooden racks holding huge supine amphorae of wine, and servants bustled to and from the workrooms sprouting off either side. The atrium was also almost as hot as the street. Neither its height nor its skylight relieved the dense air. Lucius hoped the amphorae were empty, or the wine would be cooked, which would be a shame, considering that any wine in the Lucretius house would be of the best quality. He knocked on one decorated vessel, and the clay container gave a hollow, empty sound.
A metaphor for how he felt. Lucius looked at the secretary speculatively, wondering if his father would tease him for recording poetic inspirations. Probably.