And here we are already—at Julia’s second wedding.
Hadassah is worried.
…though Hadassah had no facts or foundation for what she felt, she was convinced something dark and sinister was beneath the man’s smooth facade. Whenever Caius looked at her, she felt chilled by that dark, unblinking stare.
I don’t want to discount this. I’ve gotten weird vibes from people before, only to learn later that they were busted for child molesting. I don’t discount vibes. However, I worry that stories like this—where the good Christian correctly senses that something is off while others don’t—may suggest to evangelical readers that they will recognize an abuser when they meet one. As we know from many many many cases, that is frequently not the case. Christians don’t come equipped with potential-abuser detectors.
Note, too, that Hadassah never had a problem with Claudius. In fact, she urged Julia to give Claudius a chance, and she viewed Claudius as a good, honorable man. Never mind that Claudius, at 50, had married a 15-year-old girl, thinking she might be the reincarnation of his dead wife. Never mind that Claudius forced himself on a 15-year-old child even though she found his sexual advances repulsive, and shuddered when she thought of it. Never mind that Claudius didn’t care a whit about Julia’s happiness.
Both of these men approached Julia with only their own interests in mind. Both of them treated her as an object placed on earth to fulfill their needs. Neither of these men cared what Julia wanted. True, Claudius never laid a hand to Julia (as Caius will), but then, he was angry enough the day he went after her on his horse that he might well have done so had he found her—and if he had, who would Hadassah have blamed? Julia. If Julia hadn’t run off to the ludus alone … and after all, Claudius was just trying to protect her.
The double standard in how Rivers treats Claudius and Caius is disgusting.
Hadassah wishes she had someone she could talk with about her concerns about Caius, but alas, Marcus is (apparently) her only confidant and he is conveniently still away on business. Phoebe is charmed by Caius, but Rivers keeps coming back to Hadassah’s spider senses.
…it was as though Hadassah’s soul caught a glimpse of something malevolent and dangerous hidden beneath the polished manners and good looks.
I’m grinding my teeth here. Seriously, Rivers? Seriously? Caius is malevolent and dangerous … but Claudius was good and upstanding and honorable. Caius may be a horrible abusive shit, but he’s not an old man marrying a child for his own gratification, and he’s going to give Julia the life she wanted—parties and games and shows. He’s not smothering her the way Claudius did. Don’t get me wrong—I am absolutely on team Caius is the worst. What’s grating is that Hadassah has picked this up but thought Claudius was the best.
Also, Rivers is engaging in some not-so-subtle signaling to her evangelical audience in her word choice here. She is using the sort of words Frank Peretti uses when writing about people with demons whispering in their ears. There is something spiritual going on here. Caius isn’t just an abusive narcissistic shit, he’s malevolent. Claudius, meanwhile, was upstanding and kind and gentle and so forth. Hadassah’s greatest regret regarding Claudius was that she never witnessed to him—he was, we are to believe, open to the gospel.
Do you know what’s getting me? All of the men in Julia’s life so far have been abusive, but Rivers does not know that.
I could clearly spend my entire post on this, so let me move on…
Everyone is happy happy happy at the wedding. Julia is radiant, wearing a white plus and orange shoes. Phoebe is proud of how beautiful her daughter looks. A pig is sacrificed, and Hadassah feels nauseous at the blood—I’m curious whether she would have been exposed to animal sacrifice while in Judea. Perhaps even if she was, all of the blood she saw in the sack of Jerusalem changed her reaction? It doesn’t read that way, though—Rivers seems to be emphasizing that animal sacrifice was pagan and barbaric, and that good Christians were properly horrified at the sight.
We do learn this of the wedding guests:
Most of those attending the wedding were there purely out of social obligation to Decimus Valerian, their patron. Few who knew Julia had any fondness for her.
Rivers seems to think she is emphasizing how selfish and horrid Julia is with this comment—I mean no one likes her—but somehow it only makes me feel more sorry for her. Did she have no friends growing up? Were there no adults outside of the family that invested in her? What happened that made her friendless? And just as important—why does Marcus seemingly have lots of friends? Isn’t Marcus already as hedonistic as Julia wants to be? Is the problem that Julia was born female, making these traits unattractive?
Also, what is it with the Hadassah kitchen scenes at Julia’s weddings?
Summoned to the kitchen, Hadassah was handed a silver tray of goose liver molded into a horrific beast with exaggerated genitals. Mortified at the obscene offering, she clanged the tray back onto the counter and drew back from it with revulsion. “What’s the matter with you? If you’ve done damage to my work, I’ll have the hide flogged off of you. The master asked expressly for that dish. Now take it out and serve it to your mistress.”“No!” she said without thinking, horrified at the very idea of offering something so grotesque to Julia. The blow the cook gave her sent her back agains the cupboard.
This time the wedding feast is at Caius’ villa, not the Valerians’, so this cook is not Sejanus. At the feast celebrating Julia’s marriage to Claudius, as you may remember, Sejanus, the cook, asked Hadassah to carry dishes that were considered unclean under Jewish law. Hadassah gushed over the dishes and congratulated Sejanus over them, but when Sejanus offered her a taste, Enoch, the Jewish slave who was responsible for purchasing her, objected. I suspect we’re meant to see this exchange as contrast—Hadassah has no problem with food considered unclean under Jewish law, but she does have a problem with food shaped like a penis. Priorities.
As the feast ends and Caius and Julia leave for bed, Phoebe tells Hadassah that she will be returning to the Valerians’ villa. “Caius told us he’s arranged for servants for Julia already and has released you from your duties to her,” Phoebe tells her. But before I close, I want to make two more points.
In this section we are told that Phoebe is completely taken in by Caius, but we aren’t told until much later that Decimus was not. Here is an excerpt from a conversation between Decimus and Marcus much later, on page 351-352:
“I know Caius beat [Hadassah],” Decimus said.
“Did you know the beating was meant for Julia?”
“Yes. Your sister and mother were blinded by Caius’ charm. I was not.”
“Then why didn’t you prevent the marriage?”
“Because I didn’t want to lose my daughter completely! I forced her into an unwanted marriage, and that turned out to be a disaster. I couldn’t interfere with one she chose for herself. … Sometimes, no matter how much you want to protect your children, you have to let them make their own mistakes.”
Now yes, Roman women often had more freedom in a second marriage, and yes, Julia likely wouldn’t have listened if Decimus had aired his concerns. But I find I’m still bothered. Decimus let this marriage go forward with nary a word of caution. For Julia to make her own informed decisions, she needed information. She didn’t have that. Decimus tells Marcus that “All you can do is hold on to the hope that they’ll turn to you when they need you.” But—spoiler!—Julia doesn’t turn to Decimus when she ultimately recognizes Caius as abusive. Surprise!
I get that Julia wasn’t in a listening mood, and I get that Decimus has forfeited any right he may have had to be listened to. But this still feels wrong.
Next, Rivers tells us that this time Julia is married coemptio.
I am by no means an expert on Roman marriage law, but from what I’ve read, both conferreatio (Julia’s marriage to Caludius) and coemptio (Julia’s marriage to Caius) were “cum manu” forms of marriage. This meant that the bride transferred to her husband. However, it is my understanding that by 70 AD, cum manu marriage was rare. Most women preferred sine manu marriage, which allowed them and their property to remain with their family rather than transferring to their husband’s possession.
Rivers appears to only be aware of “cum manu” marriage. Julia’s third marriage (not to look too far ahead here) is by usus, which is the third and final form of “cum manu” marriage, and which had become obsolete during this period. If Decimus was as concerned about Caius as we’re told he was, he could have had Julia married “sine manu” which would have allowed for easy divorce and would have protected Julia’s property from speculation by Caius (Julia’s money would have remained with her family). But again—I’m not sure that Rivers is aware of “sine manu” marriage, despite its being the most common form of marriage used by women of Julia’s status.
Whew. We’ve covered a lot this week—from Hadassah’s selective abuser detecting spidey sense to Hadassah’s revulsion for penis cakes to Decimus silence on Caius’ true nature to Rivers’ selective knowledge of Roman marriage laws. Next week we find out how Marcus reacts when he returns from business to find his sister married. If only they’d sent a raven.
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