A white swan, its feathers smooth as cream, its face a black mask, stepped from a bag held nearby by a beast-fighter. It fluttered toward her as she sprinkled seeds onto the depilated pink slit between her legs. Her inner thighs and labia were golden with honey and the seed stuck where it touched her skin. As the swan descended and fed, she gyrated and bucked as if being pleasured, her rhythm matching the plucking of the lyre.
In the body of a swan the lustful Jupiter had ravished the mortal Leda. Helen was one of the immortal children born from the union, the woman for whom the Greeks fought ten years before the walls of Troy. Love for the boy Patroclus lured Achilles to his death there. The Trojan prince, Aeneas, fled the burning towers and found Rome. Jupiter’s intemperance had led to war, then to Rome, and finally, to an inelegant erotic show that played long after his temples were shattered.
Only a man of great wit could have created this vignette. Eucher smiled, quite aware of whom that magnificent man was.
The slave that carried the placard announcing the event walked some distance away. Eucher squinted and read:
“The one I loved was stolen, he’s left,
And you bid me not to sew seeds of distress.
There are no enemies harsher than those we love.
Kill me and make my anger less.”
Volusian knew well Eucher’s fondness for the poetry of Propertius. Eucher laughed aloud, marveling at his creation, knowing the altered verse and event were his friend’s—wheedled, no doubt, from his resistant uncle, the editor who sponsored the show. Volusian’s vanity was fiercer than any woman’s and his humor was unworthy of a senator. He often dwelt fondly on what he claimed to hate and was joyously animated by an unclean spirit.
Eucher had met him the year they became men. Volusian spent days in the public baths observing each man who entered and quietly insulting him with quotes. After weeks of watching the effeminate commentator surrounded by more and more giggling boys, Eucher dropped his towel and confronted him. Drawing on Aristophanes, he demanded, “Wondrous medley of lyre and silk, what are you to dangle both sword and mirror? Man or woman, show me.”
Holding tightly to his towel, Volusian replied like the nimble Agathon, “Where nature fails, I confess to imitate, matching my manner to my poetry.”
Most friendships were made by a mutual disinterest, so Eucher had many friends, and even so, it was only Volusian who held affection for him. He hadn’t seen Volusian in a year and no longer received letters from him. As a son of the Ceionii, his position relied more on family alliances than his wit, forcing a politically-prudent distance. Eucher often imagined him at the imperial palace in Ravenna, listening in on the Sacred Consistory and commenting on the members in his witty way. He missed him and had no doubt the purpose of the show was to remind him how much so.
Some of the crowd seemed stunned by the prostitute’s display. As with the rest of the show, they nonetheless encouraged her with shouts and howls.
After stirring up the sand for a time as the god fed, she raised a wooden dagger and “stabbed” herself in the heart, committing suicide. Slaves hauled her still body from the arena.
The heat brought the show to an early end. The editor’s litter led the procession from the stands, every man following by rank. Slaves were clearing the expanse, using hooks to drag away corpses and shovels to gather their erupted entrails.
“Quo Fata vocant,” Eucher muttered, repeating more of Gallus’s damning appraisal of Romans. “Where the Fates call us, don’t we go, Gallus? Why isn’t Jesus a hungry god? Mithra wouldn’t leave warm meat untouched.” He spread his arms toward the arena floor. “Jupiter didn’t.”