Last week, several readers noted that women and men sat separately at the Roman games, and that patricians and plebeians sat separately. I can confirm that yes, Marcus and Julia are sitting together, and no, they are not sitting in the sections received for patricians. Marcus tells Julia earlier in this chapter that he has a “box” but states that it is in use. He later states that Antigonus will be in the sponsor’s box, but that he decided not to sit there with Antigonus because (and this part he doesn’t tell Julia) he doesn’t want Antigonus coming onto his kid sister. Who is using Marcus’ box is unclear.
I’m not even clear on who all had access to their own boxes. From what others said last week, it would seem that most patricians would sit in seats in the patrician section, not in private boxes. However, I have just found a book by Mary Beard on the Colosseum that I intend to check out over the weekend, to bring myself up to speed on all of this. Of course, the Colosseum itself was just beginning to be built in 70 AD; hopefully Beard’s book will cover where the games were held before the Colosseum was completed as well.
Anyway, back to the games!
The stands were filling up with men, women, and children.
Did children typically come to the games? I suppose I’ll have to wait on Beard’s book—or your comments—to answer that. Julia is excited by her surroundings—she mentions that a woman is staring at Marcus, but Marcus is uninterested and closes his eyes to wait for the games to begin. Julia notices that men are staring at her, too, and is unsure how to react. She asks herself what Arria would do, but she’s blushing too hard to pull anything off effectively.
We do get this bit, which is interesting:
The Valerians could claim no royal Roman bloodlines, but Marcus was very handsome had he had an air of masculine confidence about him.
I’m reminded of Peter Barron, the hero and author avatar of Michael Farris’ book, Anonymous Tip. Everyone notices Marcus, just as everyone noticed Peter. He is handsome, and very masculine. Heads turn. People stare. I feel like there must be a literary term for this, but it is escaping me at the moment.
I am also increasingly confused about the status of the Valerians. Back on page 52:
Decimus supposed he was to blame for Marcus’ preoccupation with money. Most of his own life had been spent in building the Valerian fortune through various enterprises. He had begun in Ephesus, part owner of one small ship. Now he made his home in Rome itself, overseer of an entire merchant fleet.
This makes it sound as though the Valerians are ordinary merchants, rather than patricians. However, Decimus wants Marcus to take a seat in the senate. On page 45 he says:
“One million sesterces will buy you a place in the equestrian order and a seat in the senate.”
Marcus is only 22 and does not appear to have served in any magistrate position. We later learn that Decimus was born in Ephesus, which is described as his “homeland.” Decimus’ story is one of rags to riches—he made his fortune in shipping and later moved to Rome, where Marcus and Julia were born.
Decimus mentions buying a place in the equestrian order, which suggests that Marcus does not currently belong to the equestrian order, the lower of the two Roman aristocratic classes, and that he is not a patrician. However, what I’m reading suggests that equestrians could become senators by the late first century, and that individuals from the provinces could become senators, so perhaps the process Rivers suggests—buying into the equestrian order and then pursuing a seat in the senate—would have been realistic. (I plan to do more reading.)
This does leave me with a question. Would an individual whose father made his money as a common merchant sit in the patrician section at the games, or in the plebeian section? Or would they sit in the equestrian section? Presumably not, because Marcus is not at this time an equestrian. Does this mean he would sit in the plebeian section? Would a wealthy plebeian have access to a box, as Marcus is described as having? The Mary Beard book I plan to check out from the library this weekend will hopefully answer these questions.
But enough with these attempts to ferret out Marcus’ position! There’s a bigger issue at hand. After all the talk of protecting his sister’s virtue, Marcus leaves her alone. At the games.
“I’m going to purchase a wineskin,” he said, worried that she’d fait from the heat. … “Stay here and don’t talk to anyone.”
Within minutes, the young Roman who had stared at her took Marcus’ seat. “Your lover has deserted you,” he said in Greek, his accent common.
“My brother has not deserted me,” she said stiffly, her cheeks burning. “He’s gone to purchase wine and will return shortly.”
“Your brother,” he said, pleased. “I am Nicanor of Capua. And you are … ?”
“Julia,” she said slowly, remembering what Marcus and said, but wanting to have something to tell Octavia.
“I love you eyes. Eyes like that could make a man lose his head.”
She blushed, her heart racing. Her whole body felt hot with embarrassment. He was not dressed suitably for her class, but there was an earthiness about him that excited her. His eyes were brown and thickly lashed, his mouth full and sensuous.
The games themselves are decidedly less interesting. It is difficult to describe gladiatorial matches in book form—or perhaps it is simply not Rivers’ forte. We learn a bit about the different kinds of gladiators, and Celerus shows his stuff to the frenzied women screaming his name—which royally flustered Julia, who was expecting to see blood and death at the games, not naked man parts. Blood and death she does see as well, and she’s not unaffected by that either.
Marcus glanced at Julia and saw that her eyes were shut, her teeth clenched. “Your first kill,” Marcus said. “Did you even watch it?”
“I watched.” Her hand clutched the front of her tunic.
I wonder, do we know anything about the typical Roman reaction, the first time watching the games?
Julia was pale and trembling. Her brother brushed his fingertips across her damp forehead and found it cool. “Maybe we should leave.”
“No. I don’t want to leave. I was only queasy for a moment, Marcus. It’s passed now.” Her dark eyes were bright and dilated. “I want to stay.”
Marcus assessed her and then nodded, proud of her. Father had said she was too weak for the games. He was wrong.
Julia was a true daughter of Rome.
I’ll note one other thing before calling this section to a close. Both Rivers and Phoebe have told us that Marcus and Julia are devoted to each other, that they are very close, and that they understand each other. However, they spend much of this section fighting. When Julia is embarrassed about seeing Celerus’ naked man parts, Marcus laughs at her suggests that perhaps she’s not ready for the games. Julia becomes angry and accuses him of mocking her. Marcus then accuses her of acting “like a spoiled child” and threatens to take him home where she belongs.
She saw he meant it. Her lips parted, and tears welled and pooled in her dark eyes.
Marcus swore beneath his breath. He had seen that crushed look before and knew her capable of bursting into tempestuous tears and making him look the abusive lout. He clamped his hand around her wrist. “If you cry now, you’ll humiliate us both before the entire Roman populace, and I swear I’ll never attend the games with you again.”
Julia swallowed her tears and protest. Turning her head away, she grew rigid with the effort to regain control of her emotions. Marcus could be so cruel at times. It was fine for him to tease her, but if she defended herself he threatened to take her home. She clenched her hands.
Now to be fair, when Julia grew angry with Marcus for mocking her shock at seeing Celerus’ you-know-what, she threatened to “tell Father and Mother you brought me to the games against my will” if he continued to mock her. Neither of them come off well here, but to be honest, Marcus comes off worse. He needs to remember that Julia is only 14, and he needs to chill out. He also needs to stop making fun of her. Of course everything is new to her.
Marcus worries that Julia might make him look like “an abusive lout” if she bursts into tears—but his solution is to physically restrain her and threaten her? That is just gross. As for Julia, threatening to accuse Marcus of forcing her to go to the games in order to get him to stop mocking her is not cool, not cool at all. That she felt the need to resort to such a threat—that she knew that simply telling Marcus to knock it off would not be enough—is also not cool.
This is not a functional relationship.
Also, Marcus is a sexist pig.
Marcus watched [Julia] for a moment and frowned. He’d looked forward to introducing her to Rome’s favorite recreation. Julia was high-strung and easily excited, but surely she wasn’t like some of these women who became so overwrought they fell into wanton hysteria.
Gross, Marcus, just gross. Now sure, this thinking is likely historically accurate. But also, the author of this book is an evangelical Christian who ascribes to particular outdated ideas about men and women and gender roles. How much of this is a historically researched and period accurate portrayal of male ideas of the time, and how much of this is simply Rivers repeating evangelical ideas about emotional women? I’m honestly not sure.
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