Well. I’m still feeling exhausted after last week’s installment. This week we return to Julia, though, after a fairly long absence. What’s up with Julia, these days? Gladiators, of course.
Julia sees Atretes while visiting the Artemision (Temple of Artemis) with her mother. Julia, remember, has been obsessed with Atretes since she first saw him when she was living in Capua, married to Claudius, but she has never managed to get too close to him. Seeing him at the temple is not enough for Julia, of course—she has to find a way to meet him. When Julia arrives home, she hurries to her room and begins digging through her things.
“What are you looking for my lady? Let me help you find it.”
“The red carnelian. Remember it? Not the simple one, but the big one with the heavy gold claw. Look for it. Hurry! Chakras said it enhances the imagination, and I’m going to need all the imagination I can get if I’m going to figure a way to meet Atretes.”
Hadassah found the pendant and held it out to her. For all the pure natural beauty of the carnelian itself, the gruesome claw made it a loathsome piece of jewelry, a talisman meant to perform magic. “Don’t put faith in a stone, my lady,” she said, obediently handing it to her mistress.
Julia laughed at her and put it on. She clutched the carnelian. “Why not? If it’s worked for others, why not for me?” She held the carnelian tightly in both hands between her breasts and closed her eyes. “I must center my thoughts and meditate. Leave me until I call you.”
The carnelian seemed to work for Julia. Within an hour, she knew exactly how she would meet Atretes. It wasn’t an idea she could share with Hadassah, nor anyone else in the household. Even Marcus would make objection to her methods, but she didn’t care. Her eyes glittered with excitement. No, she didn’t care what anyone thought. Besides, no one had to know … it would be a secret known only to herself—and Atretes.
Hadassah had said not to put her faith in a stone, but the carnelian had worked! Julia knew she’d never have been able to imagine an idea so outrageous ands so thrilling without it.
I’m assuming we’re supposed to read this as some sort of demonic thing, especially given that earlier moment where Marcus called on Venus and then felt a spirit of darkness and decided on the spot to go rape Hadassah. However, this is one of those moments where I don’t feel like Francine Rivers is as good of a writer as she’s often made out to be, because it also reads as though Julia actually did think of the plan herself, but (being slightly silly) credited the crystal. I should know on reading this whether we’re to think Julia is being vapid or silly, or whether we’re to believe some demonic power put a thought in her mind, and I don’t.
Julia knows that Atretes worships at the Artemision. She decides to dress up as a temple prostitute and approach him that way. There are, of course, some holes in this plan—how is she going to make sure to be there at the same time he is? Still, it apparently works. Rivers later tells us that Julia waited “for hours, warding off the propositions of a dozen others, wondering if he would come at all” before he finally appeared. But as the scene opens, we switch to Atretes point of view.
When Atretes saw Julia with Octavia at the ludus in Rome, some while back, he asked about her, because of his mother’s prophesy about a beautiful woman with dark hair. He remembered her from the road in Capua, too. He asked about her, then, and was told her name, and given the basic sketch of her life circumstances. All of this comes to him when he sees Julia in the Artemision.
Wearing a gauzy red palus that was trimmed with gold embroidery and floated around her slender body, she walked toward him. He heard the soft tinkle of bells and saw the anklets she wore.
A palla was similar to a man’s toga and would have been worn over a stola. This is not, however, how Roman prostitutes are described as dressing. One possible response might be that the prostitutes at the Artemision wore a specific uniform, but then, there is reason to believe that there was no cult prostitution in Ephesus. Basically, this comes straight out of Rivers’ imagination.
Atretes knows who Julia is and has no idea why she’s here, but he figures it must be Artemis’ way of bringing them together, in fulfillment of his mother’s prophesy. Atretes, by the way, is a jerk. This has been discussed at length already in the comment sections on various posts in this series—Rivers portrays Atretes as completely willing to rape any slave sent to him to fulfill his sexual needs. As readers have pointed out, in the movie Gladiator, Spartacus refuses to do this, recognizing their humanity. Atretes does not.
It is unsurprising, then, that part of what Atretes feels is disgust.
Was this the woman whom his mother had prophesied? A woman who dressed up and sold herself as a harlot?
Atretes propositions her anyway, and rather than taking him to a brothel like the other temple prostitutes, she takes him to “an inn that catered to wealthy foreign visitors.” They have sex.
When it was over, Atretes felt a disquieting repugnance at what had passed between them.
Because of course he did. Jeez, Rivers, why you gotta do this?
Atretes announces that he knows who she is. Julia is shocked.
“You came once to the Roman ludus. With that Roman whore, Octavia.”
Such a gentleman. Atretes and Julia have a back and forth that includes him mentioning that time he saw her on the road near Capua.
“You had a little Jewess with you.”
Lovely. Just, lovely. Julia concludes that it’s destiny.
With surprising strength, she pulled his head down.
Atretes fed her hunger. He savored it, wanton got stretch it out and make it last. Julia Valerian wasn’t a slave sent to his cell in the ludus as a reward, nor was she a prostitute he had paid on the temple steps. She came to him of her own free will, the daughter of a powerful Roman citizen, a captive of her own passions.
And Atretes used her as a balm for the scars inflicted on his soul. Or he thought he did.
This sounds like the start of a very healthy relationship.
Because I love you all, I’m going to keep going. Marcus now has his own new villa, and is making friends among the better sort of people of Ephesus. Julia acts as hostess at his various feasts.
Thus Marcus accomplished two ends with the arrangement: he gave his sister some of the freedom she had lost with Caius’ death, and he saw Hadassah.
I am really curious which of these two motivations is Marcus’ primary one. I’m very much guessing it’s the later. Julia will later accuse Marcus of caring only about Hadassah, of having essentially thrown her over for his obsession with her slave girl. When I read the above passage, I get the feeling that Marcus may say he’s having Julia host because he wants to give her some freedom, but that’s just what he tells himself to make himself feel better about what he’s actually doing.
Oh by the way, the proconsul’s daughter, Eunice, has set her cap for Marcus. Julia tries to nudge Marcus toward Eunice, but Marcus puts her off.
“If I ever marry, Julia, it will be for reasons other than gaining political influence.”
That’s … kind of the whole point of marrying, among the monied class.
Julia laughs at him and tells him he doesn’t actually have to marry Eunice.
“Wasn’t your reason for leaving Father’s villa so you could entertain and gain influence among the elite? So, garner it where it comes.”
Is Julia completely unaware of what was going on between Marcus and Hadassah? Because that is not the reason he left to get his own villa.
Here’s the bit that I find most bothersome, though:
Marcus watched Julia thoughtfully. Her year with Caius had changed her. She worked a room, talking with various men, laughing , lightly touching, moving away with a teasing glance over her shoulder. It disturbed him. He had always thought of her as his naive, lovely little sister, whom he pampered and adored.
He remembered Arria as he watched his sister turn heads and leave broken hearts in her wake. She was hunting, and no one in the room seemed to be the breed of animal she wanted.
Of everything about Marcus, this is one of the things I like the least. He’s fine being a playboy, and playing crowds. But if his sister does the same thing, he’s suddenly disgusted. He’s a sexist pig who holds his sister to a different standard than he holds himself to. He can’t accept that she has grown up—and that’s unfortunate, because if he could, it seems like they ought to be able to be great friends, and a great power team too, helping each other climb the ladder of power. But he can’t. Instead he wants her to be his naive kid sister for, well, forever.
As the feast comes to a close, Julia sends Hadassah to fetch Atretes. Marcus tries to go after her, but Eunice thankfully gets in the way. Leave Hadassah alone, Marcus. Hadassah obtains Atretes and stows him in a storage room to wait for Julia.
He leaned against a barrel and looked around with growing distaste. Julia had undoubtedly stroked Sertes’ palms with gold in order to have him brought to her. Brought like a whore to serve the rich girl’s passions.
Yup, this is going to go great.
As the chapter closes, Hadassah goes to see John, tortured again by her inability to effectively and outwardly evangelize the Valerian family. And again I have to ask—why isn’t she trying to evangelize her fellow slaves? Or anyone else she has contact with? Her focus on her owners and her owners alone seems misplaced. John doesn’t tell her that, of course. Instead, he tells her how afraid he was when Jesus died.
As I read this section, I actually felt fairly happy for Julia. She has been through a lot, and it is nice to see her looking forward, finding something to occupy her time and interest, and learning the ropes of her social class. I find myself rooting for her—and being pleased to see her blossom! Of course, I don’t think I’m supposed to feel that way. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to see all of this as Julia being frivolous and vain and self-centered, walking her way to yet more destruction, which she’ll most surely meet.
Lovely book, this.
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