Voice in the Wind, pp. 467-472
This section opens with the birth of Julia’s baby. Julia tells Hadassah to “take hi mot the temple steps and leave him there” so that he can “grow up a temple prostitute, or a slave just like his father. Then she changes her mind and tells Hadassah to “put him on the rocks to die.” Hadassah is aghast, and so is the midwife.
The midwife protested. “But there’s no flaw in this child. He’s perfect.”
“And who are you to say? It’s for the mother to decide what happens to the child, not you.” Calabah came from the shadows of the room, where she had been waiting for the ordeal to end. “If Lady Julia doesn’t want a man’s issue, so be it. It’s hers to discard or keep as she wishes.” The midwife shrank back at her advance. Calabah turned her cool, soulless eyes on Hadassah.
Hadassah begs Julia to change her mind and tries to convince her to look at the baby, but she refuses, covering her face.
It absolutely was the Roman practice to expose infants, but this generally happened if the child was deformed (hence the midwife’s comment that the child had no flaw) or if the parents were unable financially to care for it. But here’s the thing—this would have been up to the paterfamilias, not the child’s mother. In other words, this would have been Primus’ call (as the presumptive father), and everyone involved here would have know that.
Rivers, through Calabah’s language about “a man’s issue,” is almost certainly trying to connect Julia’s decision to expose the child with abortion. I do have a question, though. Does Calabah literally not have a soul? I mean come on. Unless she is actually a vampire, this is just sloppy writing. Actually. Hmm. Waiting in the shadows of the room, soulless eyes—has Rivers also described Calabah as especially pale? Because honestly, Calabah as a conniving vampire would make this a tremendously better book.
Oh look, more abortion parallels:
“If Atretes didn’t want him, neither do I! What is he to me that I should be made miserable every time I have to look at him? It’s not my fault I got pregnant. Must I suffer forever for a mistake? Get rid of him!”
With that, Calabah pushes Hadassah toward the door; Hadassah hugs the baby tight and runs. It takes a while for her to figure out what to do, because first she has to determine whether she is bound by God to obey Julia. Um hmm. When this is where your morality takes you—to wondering whether God wants you to murder a baby just because your mistress told you too—I have some questions about your ethical system. I have other questions too, though.
She closed her eyes tightly, searching her mind for words that would instruct her, and the Word came. “Slaves, be obedient to those who are you masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eye service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart…”
But did that mean she must obey Julia? Did that mean she must put Atretes’ son on the rocks to die?
The will of God from the heart. Her mind stayed firmly on that beacon of light. God’s will, not Julia’s. Not the dark will of Calabah Shiva Fontaneus. Not even her own will. God’s will.
Hadassah is quoting from Ephesians, which most scholars believe wasn’t written until 80-100 AD. Even if it has been ten years (and it hasn’t quite), it’s only just now 80 AD. Of course, it’s quite possible that the unknown author of this piece (not Paul) wrote down sayings that were already circulating. Still, Hadassah is quoting word for word from Ephesians. Rivers likely assumes that Paul wrote that letter. Does she believe that Hadassah would have had access to that letter?
The only reason I ask is that reading about Christian history is something of a hobby of mine. There would have been a variety of letters and gospels circulating at this time, not merely the ones that made it into the New Testament (as Rivers seems to assume). Doctrine wasn’t all worked out yet, and groups that would later be labeled heresies abounded. And yet Rivers gives us a modern evangelical transplanted into the period quoting from a New Testament canon that wasn’t finalized for hundreds of years.
With that, Hadassah heads to find John. You know, the Apostle John. Hadassah has resolved her ethical dilemma. As Rivers explains:
Romans believed they had the right of life and death over their children. But Hadassah answered to God, not to Rome.
Romans believed that fathers had the right of life and death over their children. Fathers.
When Hadassah arrives, she finds that John is with Rizpah, a young widow “whose husband and infant son had succumbed to one of the many illnesses plugging the Empire.” This is all extremely convenient, of course.
“I’m sorry to intrude, my lord,” Hadassah whispered in grave respect. “She wanted him left on the rocks to die. I couldn’t do it, John. It’s not God’s will that a child be left to die, but I didn’t know where else to bring him.”
“You came where God led you,” John said and took the child from her arms. Rizpah stood slowly and came to him. Her eyes rested tenderly on the child. “A mother without her child, and ac hold without a mother,” John said.
Rizpah held her arms out and John placed Atretes’ son in them.
So that’s that, all easily settled and worked out.
At this point, we return to Julia’s villa. It is now some time after Julia gave birth. Marcus comes to visit. Primus tells him that the child is dead by “the will of the gods.” I am suddenly uncertain whether he knows and is lying, or whether Julia and Calabah simply told him the baby died. That could have been an interesting detail to add—Calabah telling Julia that they’ll tell Primus that the baby died, so they don’t have to worry about him thinking he has some say over what happens to it, say. I suppose we can imagine such collusion.
Julia spends an hour telling Marcus some of Primus’ stories and gossip. Rivers tells us, through Marcus’ eyes, that while Julia pretended everything was normal, “something had gone from her … some spark, some part of her life.”
All he knew was that some of the light had gone out of her eyes, and a hardness had taken its place.
That really is what this whole story is about, right? Julia going from an bubbly young girl, interested in the better things life had to offer but still innocent and full of life, to a hardened, course, self-absorbed, cruel woman. I’m curious what Rivers thinks made her this way.
After asking Julia whether she was okay—she assured him that she was, that he was the only one who understood her, and that while Hadassah no longer understood her she was sure things would soon go back to the way the way they were—Marcus left without speaking to Hadassah, not wanting to give Primus “more fuel for his rumor mill.”
But Marcus came back. This time he found Julia laughing at Primus’ stories. Honestly, this match doesn’t seem near as dysfunctional as Marcus seems to think—Julia seems to genuinely enjoy Primus’ stories, and he enjoys telling them to her. But all is not well with Julia.
Marcus ignored [Primus] and directed his attention to his sister. “How are you feeling, Julia?”
“I’m well,” she said lazily. Ever since Calabah had introduced her to eating lotus, she had stopped having bad dreams and drifted on a calm sea of cloudy sensations. She giggled at his frowning look.
“Poor Marcus. You used to be so much fun. What’s happened to you? Is it because you’ve been worried about me? Don’t be. I feel better than I’ve ever felt before.”
Um. Lotus eating. No. Probably not. Opium, maybe. Lotus eating was a myth. No really—the lotus eaters were a fictional group in Greek mythology. Still, you get the idea—Calabah has Julia taking drugs now. You can already imagine where this is going to go.
At this point in the conversation, Primus pipes up. “Give him what he wants, Julia,” he says. “Give him your little Jewess.” This part of Primus has always been disturbing. There’s antisemitism in play, but something else too. Rivers tells us, through Julia’s eyes, that Primus “said it was as though there was a fragrance” about Hadassah that was sweet to some, “but to him it was a stench in his nostrils.” Besides, Rivers tells us through Julia’s eyes, Primus said that “if [Hadassah] were gone, Prometheus would act more like himself again.”
Primus wants Julia to get rid of Hadassah—she’s cramping his style—and Rivers tells us that Julia hesitates, saying “I don’t know if I can part with her,” specifically to toy with Primus. Maybe this relationship isn’t so functional after all.
“Julia,” Marcus said, his voice taut with annoyance. He didn’t have to remind her that she had already agreed to relinquish Hadassah.
WTF? No, no she did not. I flipped back to verify, and no—Rivers is gaslighting us. Hadassah never said Marcus could have Julia. Never. When Marcus asked for Hadassah, Julia freaked out and then said “I need her,” which prompted Marcus to say “then I’ll wait until after the baby comes.” Julia did not respond to him. Marcus is an entitled, gaslighting prick.
Still, at Marcus’ annoyed voice, Julia demurs and tells him that he can indeed have Hadassah. “Just promise you’ll send her back to me when you tire of her,” Julia says. Marcus jumps up immediately and goes looking for Hadassah. Primus begins mocking Marcus, but Julia shuts that down post haste. “No one laughs at Marcus,” she says. “No one!”
I’ll leave you to imagine what Hadssay says when Marcus finds her.