Marcus is still at Antigonus’ house, with Patronus and the rest. As Marcus is musing about the actions of Christians in the arena (at least half a century earlier than he should be), Arria enters the room. Arria seems to be Marcus’ girlfriend, though the term is not used (perhaps Rivers could not find an equivalent term used at the time) and Marcus has begun to tire of her (though he has not told her that).
Aria came in from the gardens, laughing with two other young women. Her white stole was elegantly wrapped around her slender body, her narrow waist encircled by a wide gold and jewel-studded belt fashioned after one she had seen a gladiator wearing in the arena. She had taken to bleaching her dark hair with Batvian foam, and her now-blond tresses were braided and ringed intricately on her proud head. Purity and fragile womanhood. How many men had been fooled by that sweet image when beneath lay a voracious and sometimes bizarre appetite?
We’ve already been told that Marcus is a womanizer, happy to bed any woman willing, slave or free, but it’s Arria—a woman—who is described as having a “bizarre appetite.” And that is frequently how it is in Christian fiction, isn’t it? This is a particular trope, the unsaved woman with a voracious sexual appetite.
She glanced around until she saw him. She smiled. He knew that look very well, but he no longer responded to it as he had in the beginning of their affair. Though he smiled back at her, he almost wished that she were absent. The freedom he had felt a moment before dissolved as she crossed the room.
That is, in fact, the term Rivers uses throughout—affair.
We’re told, by the way, that:
It seemed apparent to all but the lady involved that Marcus was growing weary of her.
So. Is Marcus going to tell his not-girlfriend that he’s no longer interested? The tension mounts. Actually, it really doesn’t, because this section is fairly dry. I’m going to do a lot of summarizing here to get at a few points of interest. Marcus and Aria go to the garden to walk. We learn that Antigonus employs Greek stone carvers to make statues, which he then sells to noble Roman families to put in their gardens. But Marcus isn’t overly impressed with Antigonus’ taste.
This morning, though, he is impressed, though unexpectedly. There’s a new statue that Marcus finds unlike the rest. This would seem just filler, except that this statue is a sort of presage of the main conflict of the book.
Set in a bed of flowers near the high marble wall was a statue of a man standing behind a beautiful young girl with long, flowing hair. her head was tilted to one side, her eyes downcast. The man’s hands were on her shoulder and hip. The sculptor had put strength into those hands so that it seemed the man was trying to turn the girl and embrace her. Her youthfully delicate body emanated resistance and innocence. Yet, there was restrained passion in her as well. Her eyes were hooded and her lips parted as though trying to draw breath. The conflict seemed to be less with the man than within herself.
Arria can tell that Marcus likes the statue even though he tries to pretend he does not, because “he knew that whatever he said now would be repeated to Antigonus and would serve to drive his price up.” But Arria knows Marcus.
As Marcus trash-talks Antigonus’ typical statuary work, the conversation becomes sidetracked. Marcus has mentioned that he does not like “corpulent women” and Arria objects that Antigonus’ carves “voluptuous” women and that—well—“Fannia is corpulent.” Fannia is Patronus wife; as you may remember, Marcus had had a “brief encounter” with her. Marcus objects that Fannia is “generously curved” and Arria becomes angry. A fight breaks out between them.
“She’s a sow.”
Marcus gritted his teeth. “And you, my dear Arria, are a bore.”
Stunned by the unexpected attack, she froze for a brief instant before her pride erupted and she tried to slap him. Marcus caught her wrists easily and laughed at her fit of temper.
As I read the back and forth that followed this I assumed that Marcus had prevented Arria from slapping her but otherwise let her go. It wasn’t until, further down the page, Rivers tells us that Marcus let her go that I realized that Marcus had been holding onto Arria’s wrists the entire time. Arria should not have tried to slap Marcus, but if, during a fight, my husband were to hold my wrists like that and not let go of them as the fight continued, I would be really upset. I don’t like feeling caged in.
In trying to slap Marcus, and in Rivers’ statement later on that Arria began to cry intentionally, in an attempt to move him, Arria is definitely not handling this situation perfectly. But Arria does have an objective—to find out how things stand between her and Marcus—and it is Marcus who does the evading and dancing around the issue. Arria is far more direct than Marcus.
“What’s happening to us, Marcus?” Arria asks at one point. “There was a time when you couldn’t bear to be away from me.” Marcus refuses to give a direct answer. When he tells her she’s already “captured” him, she objects: “But I don’t have you anymore, do I, Marcus?” This is where Marcus should say “I’m sorry Arria, I really am, and I’ve enjoyed our time together, but my interests have moved on.” Or something like that. But he doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say anything at all, so Arria tries again:
“I thought I meant something to you.”
And then this happens:
“You do,” he said and drew her into his arms. He tipped her chin up and kissed her. She turned her face away and he felt her tremble. He turned her face back and kissed her again, feeling her grow less resistant.
Great, now I want to slap Marcus.
I mean seriously, this has got to be the worst breakup attempt ever. Arria is giving Marcus every moment he needs to own up to no longer being interested, and he’s not only refusing to answer, he’s doing this. It’s also kind of rapey. It suggests that Marcus’ mother, Phoebe, may have been an unreliable narrator when she earlier mused that Marcus would have any woman who was “willing.”
“I’ve always admired you, Arria. Your beauty, your passion, your free spirit. You want to feast on life, and that’s the way it should be. You want to try everything. So do I.”
This is also not an effective breakup speech, my god.
Arria tells Marcus she loves him and he throws all the men she’s been involved with before him in her face. Arria brings up Fannia again. But ultimately, Arria is still interested in getting her question answered. She wants to know where things stand. Arria has pictured a future with Marcus, but she has felt him growing more distant. She isn’t just playing around here—she wants to know.
“So you don’t love me?”
“I find you a pleasing distraction.” Seeing her displeasure, he bent his head and brushed his lips against hers. “At times, more than distracting.”
For god’s sake, Marcus!
During this encounter, Marcus is trying to figure out why Arria had “always missed the mark of his heart” despite their seeming compatibility. He finally concludes that the problem must be that there “was no mystery anymore, no great passion on his part.” The inclusion of mystery here is interesting—evangelicals frequently insist that if couples have sex before marriage the mystery will be gone and their relationship will fall apart. If that were true, though, how would any marriage ever stay together?
We do get something more substantive from his musings: “All Arria really wanted to talk about was Arria,” he thinks. The problem, in other words, is that she is self-centered. But isn’t Marcus also self-centered—or so we have been given to believe? At issue here is another pattern in Christian fiction—Marcus is unsaved, yes, and he is self-centered, but he’s also unsatisfied. He’s vaguely aware that he wants something more, but he doesn’t know what. As Marcus muses, he is caressing and kissing Arria.
“I’m not ready for it to end,” she said breathlessly, tilting her head back.
“I didn’t say it had to.”
That’s the problem, Marcus—you didn’t really say anything. Relieved, Arria says that “no one will be as exciting as I am” and prepares to do her utmost to recapture his interest. She offers to do something she learned at the temple of Astarte to him, but this disgusts Marcus and he puts her off, telling her “this is hardly the place.” As Marcus studies the statute again, Rivers tells us that Arria was attracted to ” a restlessness and deep passion” in Marcus, which, again, is what I noted above.
The couple returns to the others, with their music and their wine, and Marcus convinces Antigonus to give him his new statue. He does this by pointing out that Antigonus’ political fortunes were to be funded by Valerian coin, which leaves Antigonus feeling like he has no option but to have the statue transported straight to the Valerian gardens. Throughout this, Arria is trying very very hard to seem interesting and lively and whatever Marcus wants.
“You are generous, Antigonus,” Arria said. “Especially to Marcus, who has so little regard for true beauty.”
Leaning back indolently, Marcus smiled at her mockingly. “True beauty is rare, and seldom recognized by the one who possesses it.”
This relationship is an absolute mess, and I refuse to blame it on Arria. Marcus could end this charade immediately if he wanted to, but after complaining repeatedly about Arria, he’s refused to do so. Instead he demeans her, both privately and publicly, and yet she keeps coming back. There’s a fundamental difference in the way each is approaching this relationship—Arria would like to marry Marcus, but Marcus appears to be only keeping Arria around for the temporary convenience of it.
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