Chapter II

Arsace left Eucher before they reached the Pantheon. Eucher knew his Adjutant feared temples as if the sacrificial smoke might pollute him. Since Arsace avoided the shows and executions, too, Eucher was free of scrutiny for much of his day.

Eucher arrived at the building restored by that philhellene whose life sometimes filled his thoughts more than his own. Eucher imagined Hadrian had been the truest of all the emperors, for he honored the gods of every land. In his time, the ancient marble was unchipped, and men moved through the cool shadows of glistening pediments. On show days, they left their palaces and tenements, traveling from all over the world to Rome’s celebrations, and Rome welcomed them as joyously as she welcomed their gods.

Three-hundred years before, Hadrian had rebuilt the ancient Field of Mars, refacing those temples raised in the time of the Republic and connecting them to the baths built by Nero. Romans knew it was that hated emperor who built the magnificent red-granite complex, despite that the Senate tried to erase his memory by sanding his name off everything.

Beside the baths, Antoninus Pius built the Temple to the Deified Hadrian. Antoninus didn’t care for his boy-loving predecessor, but he honored tradition like great men do, acquiring the “pious” for it. It seemed a suitable place for Hadrian’s final rest, there near the great dome of the Pantheon that vaulted above the other temples like Olympus itself. Beyond the forest of gray marble pillars stood bronze doors that sealed the sanctuary of seven gods, patrons of the Caesars and builders of Rome.

Farther east was a small temple dedicated to Isis. Not many years before Hadrian wore the purple, the emperor Vespasian spent a night there with the goddess, celebrating his sack of Jerusalem. After stopping the Jewish rebellion, he took their treasure and built a temple to hold it. Only that temple took damage when tremors recently shook the city. The ominous event aroused the superstitious Christians, who associated it with the ancient emperor and his oriental gods, so they began beating anyone they found near a pagan statue.

Like all the gods, Isis had many faces. Eucher knew she was Venus and the Great Mother, too. Some men shaved their heads for Isis, while others castrated themselves in devotion to the Great Mother. Eucher had no preference. If, as some men said, the divinities were faces of a single god, it seemed to Eucher a sacrifice to one was a sacrifice to all. On the other hand, if the gods filled the world like the stars fill the sky, then it was unwise to choose among them. Eucher wore the mark of Mithra and was baptized for the Nazarene.

So, despite the emperor’s laws, Eucher visited the temples, oiled the statues, even sacrificed to them. He believed in all of them. Sometimes believed in none of them. But he never believed in only one. He left that for slaves, since only a man with the heart of a slave would rely on hope more than truth, paring away what failed to comfort. Only a slave would say that in all the world and among all possibilities there existed but one god and one destiny for men, a destiny he had no control over.

Gallus was like that. Like any slave, he would rather be obedient than accountable.