After their fight, Julia works out that Atretes is going to fight in the elimination match. That sets her to worrying, struck by the sudden fear that he could die. Calabah is there, though, and Calabah does what Calabah does best. She starts by asking Julia whether she’s thought about what would happen if Atretes lives, and gains his freedom.
“I’d marry him if he wanted.”
“You would be so foolish?” she said disdainfully. “He’s worse than Caius, Julia.”
“He’s not. He’s nothing like Caius. He was angry with me because I left him standing in the hallway.”
Oh, Julia, no, honey, no.
“I’m not speaking of his violence, though there is that to consider.”
“I’m speaking of the way he controls you. His pride gets a little bruised and he leaves. And what do you do? Do you bide your time and what for him to come to his senses and apologize? You should have seen yourself, Julia, running after him. It was embarrassing to see you behave so badly.”
Julia blushed. “I wanted him to stay.”
“Anyone in Ephesus could’ve seen how much you wanted him to stay,” Calabah said. “Just who is it that controls this relationship?”
I actually find this really interesting. Evangelicals often talk about the importance of male headship by asking what would happen without it, and suggesting that the result would be the woman being in charge. There is no space within conservative evangelicalism for marriages where no one is in charge—marriages that are egalitarian and cooperative. In focusing on who “controls” the relationship Rivers plays into this framework, but in putting these words in Calabah’s mouth, she suggests that feminists use the same framework.
Calabah is a straw feminist. The thing is, an actual feminist would respond to situations like Julia’s far differently. The issue isn’t who is in control. The issue is that Atretes is abusive. In contrast to the words Rivers puts in Calabah’s mouth, the problem is not that Atretes is in charge or even that he controls the relationship. The problem is that he’s controlling, manipulative, and violent.
There’s lots more conversation between the two, of course. Calabah tells Julia that she is allowing Atretes to treat her “like a woman of convenience.” Julia insists that it’s not like that. Calabah tells her she’s underestimating her worth—that she is rich and well connected and he is nothing but a slave, and that he should be “honored” that she has chosen him as his lover—“and grateful for every moment you spare him.” She tells Julia that she needs to “put him in his proper place.”
Julia shook her head. “I’m not like you. I love him. I can’t help myself. I can’t give him up because of what I’m afraid might happen.”
Julia needs an intervention. Badly. And Calabah is giving her an intervention, but it’s twisted though both Rivers’ misperception of what such an intervention might look like and Calabah’s hatred for gladiators.
Calabah says that Julia doesn’t have to give Atretes up at all, and begins outlining a plan. She tells Julia that she should marry a man she trusts “implicitly,” a man who will “allow you complete freedom to do as you please.” That way Atretes could remain Julia’s lover, and she would retain control of her property and life—and, Calabah says, when she tires of Atretes Julia can simply send him on his way.
I hope I’m not spoiling too much when I say that Calabah is being disingenuous. She knows Atretes would never agree to such a thing. Remember what I said about this intervention being twisted? Calabah’s purpose is to drive Atretes away from Julia, but without driving Julia away in the process—she needs to make Julia think she’s on her side, with her best interests in mind, trying to help.
Julia is not all that interested in marrying again. She points out that she has been married before “and hated it” and that she doesn’t trust anyone but Marcus. Calabah changes the subject, asking whether Marucs as “loosened the reins or rightened them” during her father’s illness. And here we learn more about how Marcus has been treating Julia.
Julia pressed her lips together. She couldn’t deny Marcus was becoming difficult. In fact, he was becoming all too much like Father. At the last feast she had attended, Marcus had almost dragged her from the room by the arm. He’d swung her into a private chamber where he had accused her of being excessive. When she demanded to know what he meant, he said her behavior among the guests reminded him of Arria. Clearly, he hadn’t meant it as a compliment.
But Calabah is ready for Julia’s objection to marriage.
“You’ve heard of marriage by usus, haven’t you?”
“Simply move in with a man?”
This is the third type of “cum manu” marriage practiced in Rome—Julia has already tried the other two—but as I have pointed out repeatedly, “cum manu” marriage had fallen out of use by this period in favor of “sine manu” marriage. Rivers throws these terms around to make it sound like she really did her research, but if she had, she would know that “cum manu” marriage had fallen out of practice by the 70s AD, and she does not. This form of marriage would not have been an option for Julia.
Calabah tells Julia that marriage by usus would allow her to marry without permission her father or brother’s permission, and that she could dissolve the marriage by walking out of the door if her new husband became difficult.
Calabah leaves some things out. Marriage by uses came with manus. That means that Julia would have ended up under the full control of her husband—but only after a year. A woman could avoid manus by moving out for three consecutive nights once per year, and thus not have her property pass to her husband—but in such a case, her property would still be under the control of her father (or brother, or other male relative), so that is not what Calabah intends. She intends Julia and her property to pass into the control of her new husband. What she doesn’t mention is that this would take a year of cohabitation before this would go into affect (and Marcus would control her money until then), and that if she were under manus to her new husband (in other words, after that first year), she could not simply leave. In addition, marriage by usus was something only plebeians did, not status conscious Roman women like Julia.
Calabah suggests that Julia marry Primus, via usus of course.
“I don’t find him attractive.”
Calabah laughed softly. “It’s highly unlikely he’d be attracted to you either, my dear. Primus is in love with his catamite.”
Julia blanched. “You’re suggesting I marry a homosexual?”
The word “homosexual” did not exist in Julia’s language and culture. The concept did not exist. The Romans understood sexuality differently. For them, the important part was not the gender of the person one had sexual relations with, but rather the position one took—men were expected to be in the dominant (penetrative) position. To be treated “as a woman” was considered shameful. Remember what I said about reading things from today onto Ancient Rome? Yep. That’s happening.
While Rivers has botched historical accuracy completely by using the word, she did get at least one thing accurate—Primus’ catamite (whom we will meet later) is an adolescent slave boy.
But Calabah isn’t having any of Julia’s objections.
Calabah looked impatient. “As usual, you think as a child, or one so mired in traditional thinking that you fail to see the benefit of anything else. I’m merely presenting you with an acceptable alternative lifestyle.”
“Alternative livestyle” is a modern evangelical buzz word, but that really seems like the least of our worries at this point. Calabah promises that Primus is “very easily managed” and that he would simply except some financial support—she says he doesn’t gamble and would merely likely a nice villa to live in, in place of the small one he’s currently renting.
Yup, this plan is going to go great.
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