[Author's Note: There are some Latin phrases (in bold); the translations and pronunciations are at the bottom]
[Author's Note: There are some Latin phrases (in bold); the translations and pronunciations are at the bottom]
My life is changing rapidly. Perhaps that is just the way of things, but Rome is evolving in ways I never even imagined. My life as a plebian is shifting with it. I have gleaned that this is for the better, but I fear that it will not last long…
I scrawled a hurried signature and closed the little tablet. I would have to erase it later, of course, but it was nice to confide my thoughts in the wax for a time. I had found that my fears and hopes didn’t well up inside of me so much when I did. I started to leave my little cubiculum– morning was nearly upon me- but then paused and returned to my bed and removed the tablet from it’s hiding place. I erased the scrawl and began again.
I am to be married soon. I don’t know who my groom will be, but Pater says that I’ll like him. I doubt that I will; Pater and I don’t generally see eye to eye on many matters, including suitable husbands. Avus and I are even less agreeable on such matters and I know that it was really him who chose. I suppose I can’t really do anything about it; Avus has power of life and death over me; he is the pater familias. He has such power over my entire family. Sometimes I wonder why the gods did not deem me worthy of the freedom that men possess. Maybe it is as Avus says; maybe I am just too weak and stupid to make important choices.
I carefully stashed the little tablet under my mattress- I wasn’t supposed to know the art of writing, and Pater would be furious if ever he found out- and, after making sure that the mass of hair piled atop my head was still in place, I left the small, dark room in which I slept.
I reflected upon the small journal I had taken to keeping. I could never save any of it; it would be a waste of wax to harden it, and I only had so much. Besides, I barely had enough space to hide the tablet; let alone a stack of baked ones. Not to mention that someone would surely find it if I dared to leave it out in the sun.
Still, it was a comfort to know that my secrets did not have to build up inside of me. My brother, Tullius Aurelius Gaius Tertius, had taught me to write. We were a somewhat wealthy family for our class, and my brother had been able to attend school for a few years. He had passed on some of his knowledge to me in secret, knowing full well that he risked the wrath of Avus– he risked even his life- in doing so. I was very fond of my brother, but he, too, would be married soon and would have scarcely any time for his little sister.
I knew that Pater was also quite proud of him. I was always a burden to him. I knew it, as did everyone else in my family, though we never spoke this knowledge aloud. Pater had wanted another son. I had disappointed him from birth. In my thirteen years, I had learned not to mind too much. I couldn’t, after all, help the fact that I was a girl. I supposed that if I could help it, I would have done so long ago; I often wondered what that freedom was like.
Of course, as plebeians we didn’t have too much freedom, I mused. Although I had gathered that this was changing rapidly; I had heard Pater Avusque talking several weeks ago, and I had gleaned something about a tribune. I did not know what this term meant, but I knew from the sincerity of their voices that it was very important for the plebeians and possibly positive. In fact, I was almost certain that this was a positive development. I didn’t see why it affected me; even if the men were freed from the tyranny of patricians, I would always be under the thumb of a vir.
My thoughts continued in such a manner for the rest of the day.
I asked Tullius if he knew what a tribune was. He seemed surprised that I even knew the term, but far less so to learn that I had been eavesdropping. My brother knows me far too well.
He told me what he knew- which was more than what I did. Apparently two tribunes will be elected annually by the plebeians and have more power even than the patrician consuls. Although they won’t have any governmental power, Tullius says that they are untouchable. Not even a consul can lay a hand on them or anyone under a tribune’s protection. This means that the patricians cannot dispense of plebeian lives as they wish any longer. I guess that the plebeian succession really did do something, despite Pateris’s belief that it was a pointless thing to do, a thing that would only further enrage the patricians. I do not really understand politics, but I think I can figure out why this is; despite our mistreatment at the patricians’ hands, they rely on us for quite a lot- they rely upon us for food, clothing, and many other necessities. If we left Rome, they would be forced to actually work…I don’t think that they know how, so they would suffer greatly. Despite our low status, we may be more important to Rome than the patricians…
I wonder if a tribune would protect me the next time Pater gets angry…I don’t s-
I cut off and shoved it under my pillow at the sound of soft footsteps just outside my bedroom. I lay down quickly, hoping that no one had seen the movement. It was too late; a figure appeared in my doorway, barely visible in the near-complete darkness. I lay very still and prayed to any god that cared to listen that I hadn’t been caught.
“Tullia Aurelia?” a voice hissed questioningly. It was not Pateris’s voice, nor was it Avi’s. In fact, I knew instantly that my secret was safe; it was meum frateris’s voice.
“Tulius?” I returned hopefully.
“Celeriter veni!” he whispered urgently.
“Cur? Quid est?”
“Mihi crede! Celeriter veni!”
Cedi. Without another word I dressed quickly, knowing that Tullius would not have asked this of me if it wasn’t urgent. I grabbed my palla and hurriedly joined my brother in the doorway. After an expectant pause I asked again, “Quid est?”
“All in good time, Tullia. Come with me,” he turned and hurried from my room. I followed, marveling at how quiet he was, and reflecting that this must be where I had gotten so skilled at sneaking around.
“Quid est, Tullius?” I asked as we entered the garden. The night was warm, and I sighed as the cool breeze swept through the trees, bringing fresh, clean air from the Alps. It was a beautiful night. But I was kept from fully enjoying it by my curiosity and the sense of urgency that surrounded my brother.
He sat down heavily and cradled his head in his hands, “I don’t want to…” he whispered, his voice barely audible.
“What don’t you want to do?” I asked as a chill swept over me. I pulled my palla tighter around me and looked down at him.
“I don’t want to…Get married. Not yet. Not to her.”
“What do you mean? You know who your uxor will be? How?”
“I overheard a conversation between Pater Avusque. I heard them discussing the identity of my…Wife,” he said the last word with distaste.
“Who?” I demanded.
He sighed, “Livia Antonia,” he breathed, sounding afraid of the very name.
I gasped, “You can’t be serious, Tullius!”
My brother looked up suddenly, “Listen, you can’t breathe a word of this to anyone, Tullia. I’m not supposed to know, and if anyone learns I found out…” He closed his eyes, barely suppressing a shudder. He didn’t have to finish the sentence; I knew what would happen. If Pater or Avus found out, Tullius could lose his very life.
“I won’t tell a soul,” I promised solemnly. “So, let me get this straight. So you’re being forced into marrying someone that everyone knows we both hate. You can’t protest this decision because then everyone will find out that you know, and that…Wouldn’t end well. To say the least. They probably don’t intend to tell you until the very day of the wedding, and that way you won’t have any time…” I trailed off, thinking.
“That’s pretty much it. Do you have any suggestions, because I’m all out of ideas?”
I didn’t speak for a while and then looked up and studied his face, “Are you completely sure that they’ve decided on Livia? I can’t believe that even Avus would be as cruel as that.”
He shrugged, “I heard my name, so I stopped and listened. They were discussing my marriage. Pater said something so quietly I couldn’t hear it. Then Avus said, quite loudly, “Livia Antonia?” Pater said yes. I didn’t stay to hear any more, I ran for it before I got caught.”
“So Avus might have said ‘no.’” I reasoned.
He shrugged, “Maybe.”
I don’t believe that Avus would curse my brother with marriage to Livia Antonia. Maybe I am simply a foolish optimist, but I cannot believe that even Avus would not be so cruel. Everyone knows that Livia Antonia has an old feud with my brother and me. And everyone knows that it is justified.
I was prepared to forgive her when she pushed me into the river when I was small. After she told my father that I had stolen her mother’s heirloom necklace- the only thing that her grandmother had left to Livia’s mother- when she had come over to borrow something (I was not guilty of this, though my father has never believed me on this matter), however, she became my sworn enemy, as well as my brother’s. I still have scars from the whipping I received, and the filthy little liar was made to look like the hero for rescuing it! Not only would it be worse torture than any to marry Tullius to this complete ninnyhammer, but it would be dishonorable! Avus would not stand for anything as dishonorable as that in this family, and so, logically, there is no possible way that he would consent to this arrangement. Still, I intend to find out for myself.
I closed the little tablet and slid it under my pillow, a grim and cunning smile spreading over my face. It was well past midnight by now, but I did not feel remotely tired. I was completely prepared to make a sacrifice and risk a beating or two to ensure that my suspicions were correct. My brother was terrified, and with good reason. Livia Antonia was a poor excuse for any man to give up his bulla, and I simply would not tolerate it if that man turned out to be my brother. I wasn’t entirely sure exactly what I would do to stand up to Avus, but I would figure something out if it came to that. I prayed to Jupiter that it wouldn’t before I fell asleep.
I pressed my back against a pillar in the courtyard. I willed my breathing to soften, and it was not long before my breath became shallow and measured. I carried a basket of fruit in my hands; I did not intend to get caught.
“So, you think that Livia Antonia would be a suitable wife for your son?” Avus asked in that calm-but-somehow-always-stern voice of his. My breath caught in my throat.
“It crossed my mind,” Pater returned.
I could almost hear Avus purse his lips disapprovingly, “Have you forgotten that little incident with Livia and your daughter three years ago, Tullius?” I rarely heard Avus use my father’s first name. This was a serious matter indeed. It was a comfort, at least, to know that they took the matter of our marriage seriously.
“Of course I haven’t, but they were barely ten years old when it happened. Things can change, and I have faith that they have, Pater. Besides, we’ve determined that it was my daughter that was the guilty one; Livia acted like a hero,” I bristled at this statement, but maintained my silence. It would not do to get caught simply because my pater was being unjust.
“I’ve already told you my opinions on the matter, and we’ve determined to agree to disagree. That is beside the point. I’ll agree that things can change, but that doesn’t mean they will. As I’m sure you have noticed, your children and Livia Antonia have maintained a strict enmity.”
“They’ll learn to live with it. If you’ll remember, I did.”
“That may be, but there is one thing that doesn’t change, Tullius, and that is honor. Our family was disgraced by that girl, whether your daughter did it or not! I will not have my grandson marry that girl, and that is final, Tullius!”
I was sure my father would protest, but he didn’t. I did, however, hear a chair scoot back and angry footsteps- my father’s- walking towards me. I froze, and for one heart-stopping moment I forgot everything that I had done to prepare for such a case. And then I remembered my plan. I started to emerge from my place of hiding when I heard Avus sternly command my father to sit back down. He obeyed.
“We still have to discuss the matter of your daughter’s marriage, Tullius. We may as well get this over with.”
There was silence for a moment, then, “Before we switch topics, I have one more argument that you may want to consider.”
Avus sighed, “I know that you aren’t going to rest until you tell me, so be quick about it.”
“If Tullius and Livia were married it would be a sign of forgiveness. It would show everyone that we don’t hold grudges, and that things have changed. Whether or not they have changed is irrelevant, it’s just showing people they have that counts. We could completely regain our honor with this one simple act.”
I wished that Avus would point out that this “one simple act” involved completely ruining my brother’s life, but he failed to do so. Instead, I suspected that he was considering.
After a pause he said, “I’ll consider it.”
Without waiting to hear the rest, I fled the courtyard on silent, sneaking feet.
When I told my brother, he was devastated. We both knew that when Avus “considered” something, he generally agreed. I could only hope that this time would be different. Not only could I not bear to see my brother wed to that absolute pig, but I didn’t think I could survive the knowledge that Livia Antonia was my sister-in-law.
The next day I crept back to the courtyard to listen to their decision.
“Have you decided, Pater?” my father asked.
“Yes,” said Avus, and I imagined his curt nod. I held my breath, “Your son will marry Livia Antonia.”
My heart skipped a beat. I thought I might faint at the very prospect, even as Pateris’s triumph hung thick in the air, but I had to hear what came next.
“And your daughter will marry Lucius Julius.”
I thought for a moment. I had only met him once, in passing, but he had seemed nice enough. He certainly couldn’t be worse than Livia Antonia.
“Well?” Tullius asked me, looking up expectantly, hopefully. He needed me to give him good news…News that didn’t exist. I couldn’t bring myself to speak the dreaded words, so I just shook my head sadly.
“I…I…I have to…To marry…Her?” he choked out. I nodded numbly.
He closed his eyes in utter despair and it was all I could do not to run from the room. There were hundreds of girls in Rome, and Avus had to pick the one that we both hated with a passion. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t bear it. I looked up and saw my brother clutching the pillar as if for support, his eyes still closed. My heart broke for him, but I didn’t know what I could do to make this right, “Maybe she isn’t as bad as we think. Maybe…Maybe she’s changed.”
He shook his head, “She hasn’t. We both know it, Tullia.”
I said nothing for a time. I could do nothing so I turned and slipped from the room on leaden feet.
This cannot be happening. What has my poor brother done to be condemned to spend his life with this awful girl! I can’t stand it!
I couldn’t bring myself to write any more, and I shoved the tablet roughly under my pillow.
Two months later, I was married at the age of 13. Lucius Julius was kind, and I had faith that he would make a good husband. I was relieved to know that Avus had made one good decision. My brother had accepted his fate, though he still seemed much quieter than normal.
The time seemed to fly past. Another month passed in what seemed like an hour, and my brother was wed to Livia Antonia. I seethed quietly at the sight of her. She still had that same simpering smirk she had worn when she lied to my father about my crimes. I caught my brother’s eye- he looked petrified- and I forced a smile to my face for his benefit. He returned it.
I reflected on the conversation that had taken place before the ceremony. What he had meant by, “I couldn’t ask for a better sister and thank you for that. You’ve kept my every secret, and you’re my best friend. I’m sorry Tullia. I’m sorry I have to do this,” remained a mystery.
At first I thought he had meant marrying Livia, but the more I thought about it the less likely it seemed. I had a growing sense of dread and I prayed he wasn’t about to do anything stupid.
An hour later, my worst enemy and my brother were wed. I cursed Juno with every ounce of my being, but pretended to be happy for my brother’s sake. Then the bulla came off and my world shattered with a single blow.
Avus cut the leather that bound the charm around my brother’s neck. It fell into his hand and as he turned to throw it into the fire, my brother snatched the knife in one fluid motion and, flickering a glance in my direction that seemed to express his hope that I would understand, Tullius Aurelius Gaius Tertius plunged the weapon into his heart and fell to the ground, motionless.
There was a stunned silence for a time. My scream was the first to split the air. Others followed suit and there was much shouting and commotion. I ignored all of it and pushed my way through the crowd to my brother’s side. There were a thousand things at once that I wished I had told him. His unseeing eyes stared straight up and, even as my tears blurred my vision, I thought he looked remarkably peaceful. I knew he had kept his honor this way. I knew that this was better than marrying the girl that stood over him, shocked. I knew many things, but I cared for none of them. My brain said many things of comfort, but my heart ignored them all and screamed that it was not fair.
I felt Pateris’s hand on my arms and I clutched at my brother’s blood-stained body. Gently but firmly he pried me away from Tullius. I wrestled away from him and stood; my eyes met his.
He, too, was crying. I did not care. “You said he would live through it!” I screamed. Even as I knew he was wondering how I knew about that conversation, so too did I know that my words had stung. This brought me a kind of horrible satisfaction, and I raced away from him, from the place that my brother had taken his own life.
I knew that my father would soon come to the conclusion of my eavesdropping, and I knew I would greatly suffer for it. I could only hope that the tribune would protect me.
Latin Pronunciation, Phrases, and Translations
-Avi ~ [AH-wee] “grandfather’s”
-Avus ~ [AH-wus] “grandfather”
-bulla ~ [BOOL-uh] a charm worn by Roman boys for good luck that was removed when the boy wed
-cedi ~ [CEY-dee] “I yielded”
-Celeriter veni! ~ [kel-EH-ree-ter WEH-nee] “Come quickly!”
-Cubiculum ~ [ku-BEEK-u-luum] “bedroom”
-Cur ~ [CUR] “why”
-Meum frateris ~ [ME-wum frah-TER-ees] “my brother’s”
-Mihi crede ~ [MEE-hee CREH-deh] “trust me;” literally, “give trust to me”
-palla ~ [PAHL-uh] a shawl worn by Roman women when they went out in public
-Pater ~ [PAH-tehr] “father”
-Pater Avusque ~ [PAH-tehr ah-WUS-kay] “father and grandfather”
-pater familias ~ [PAH-ter fahm-EEL-ee-ahs] head of a Roman family; usually the oldest male in a family. Had the power of life and death over the rest of the family
-Pateris ~ [PAH-tehr-ees] “father’s”
-Tullia Aurelia ~ [TOOL-ee-ah ar-EHL-ee-ah]
-Tullius Aurelius Gaius Tertius ~ [TOOL-ee-oos ar-EHL-ee-oos GAI-yoos ter-SHEE-oos]
-uxor ~ [UKS-or] “wife”
-Vir ~ [WEER] “man”
-Quid est? ~ [KEED EHST] “What is it?”