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Slaves have absolutely no control over their lives nor over what those who own them do with them. his chapter from Taylor Caldwell’s novel DEAR AND GLORIOUS PHYSICIAN wonderfully illustrates that.

Chapter Six

“One of our great priests in Babylonia, or Chaldea, once declared that if a man deprive himself of the good things of the world, which are permitted by the world and by God, he will be called sternly to account,” said Keptah. “This is something which the long-faced and ascetic moralists, and the intellectual Jewish Pharisees, would deny, and possibly this would be denied also by our good master, the tribune. Nevertheless, it is true. This philosophy is not to be challenged by the statement of Socrates that to want as little as possible is to make the nearest approach to God. It comes down, as I have always told you, my young Annulus, to individual interpretation, and what is happiness to one man, and good and morality, is hateful to others.”

Lucanus laughed. “it is no wonder, Keptah, that Diodorus is always complaining that you are a Sophist, and that you qualify one pleasing statement with one that is displeasing, both equally true.”

“My Greeklet,” said Keptah, with indulgence, “I have told you: I am a tolerant man, and that is why I appear complex to the simple, and devious, and not one to be trusted. To be a man of learning, one must know not only his own argument but the arguments of others. It pleases me that you can understand that a statement that is repugnant to one’s beliefs can be as true as one that is pleasurable. All this, of a certainty, pertains only to the affairs of the world, which I find endlessly amusing.”

They were sitting in Keptah’s favorite wineshop, much patronized by the men of business, students and scholars and merchants, of the many races in Antioch. The street outside, cobbled in black stones, blazed with hurting light, its narrowness blowing with sharp white clouds of hot dust, and clamorous with the complaints of camels and donkeys, the voices of rude men, and the shuffling of multitudes of hurrying feet, and the clatter of wheels. On the opposite side the whitish-yellow buildings threw back the heat and light like palpitating mirrors, before which passed men and women in garments of red, blue, black, yellow, green, and scarlet. But in the wineshop it was cool and quiet and shadowed, filled with the odors of wine, good cheeses, and excellent small hot pastries. Wooden bowls, heaped with the briny and very small black olives of Judea, and grapes from local arbors—purple and opalescent and shining even in the dimness—and pomegranates like globes of red fire, and other fruit, and clusters of golden dates oozing their drops of honey, lay upon the scrubbed white tables. The rough walls of the wineshop had been decorated by a local artist who, though he exhibited crudeness and lack of training in composition and delicacy, compensated for these in a creation of vivid color and innocent lewdness. The red-tiled floor was gratefully cool to the hot feet of Keptah and his pupil, as were the goblets of chilled wine to their lips.

The head of Lucanus was a halo of brightness in the refreshing gloom of the wineshop, and attracted the notice of the dark men at other tables. One tall man, swarthy and turbaned in the Eastern manner, was especially enchanted. His narrow face, cunning but vital, and illuminated by a pair of extraordinary brilliant eyes and tapering to a thin short beard, finally could not turn away from the contemplation of the young Greek. His clothing, dim crimson and pale green, assured any spectator that here was a man of posit ion, as did the many flashing rings on his fingers. His servants stood near the open door, drinking small goblets of wine, and all were armed with daggers and had a purposeful look, their strong dark legs revealed sturdily from beneath their colorful tunics.

The stranger finally leaned towards Keptah in his long robe of pale linen and spoke in Greek with an execrable accent: “I have been listening to your discourse, Master, with much interest. Permit me to introduce myself: I am Linus, the merchant, from Caesarea, in Judea, and I deal with the silks and jades and ivories of Cathay. My caravan is on the way to Rome.” He spoke to Keptah, but his restless eyes were fixed in delight on Lucanus, who, becoming aware of him for the first time, unaccountably blushed under that intent and roving regard. The boy moved uneasily.

Keptah studied Linus coolly and with deliberation, marking in particular the hypnotized stare at Lucanus. He pondered. It was not too soon, he finally decided, to permit Lucanus to learn something of the darker and more pungent aspects of life. He said, with politeness, “And I am Keptah, physician to the Tribune Diodorus, Proconsul of Syria.” He hesitated. “From Judea, you say. Are you a Jew, Master?”

Linus’ face had changed momentarily when he had learned Keptah’s position. The proconsul had a reputation much disliked among the merchants along the Great Sea, and this Keptah was his physician. Linus composed his features into an expression of respect, which was not entirely assumed. Moreover, he was pleased. This boy with the hair like the sun was most evidently the slave of the esteemed physician, and so matters very likely could be negotiated, as he had suspected. “May I be permitted to offer you a bottle of wine, Master Keptah?” asked Linus. “With my compliments.”

“If you join us,” said Keptah, gravely.

Linus rose with alacrity, and he was a man of grace and height and swiftness. As his garments parted a little, Keptah saw that he wore a broad necklace of intricately engraved gold, in the Egyptian manner, but which was now being affected by some of the young fashionable bloods among the Romans. Lucanus, still flushed and uneasy without understanding why, moved his chair a little to make place for the merchant, and while doing so he felt a slight pinch on his knee which he comprehended as a message from Keptah.

The physician also gave him a swift glance, which, interpreted, was a command for him to hold his tongue under all circumstances.

It was not odd, to Linus, that a slave should sit so familiarly with his master, when this boy was evidently the darling and beloved of that master, the pampered and coddled one, used for certain purposes. Now that he was closer to the boy Linus was more and more entranced. He knew just the Roman senator who would find this lad a joy, and who would not cavil at the price. A thousand sesterces would not be too much. Linus smiled, and the canine whiteness of his teeth was a blaze against the brown darkness of his crafty and intelligent face.

“No, Master Keptah, I am not a Jew,” he said. “May Baal forbid! I am of an older race, a Babylonian, though equally splendid races of the East have contributed to my blood.”
Lucanus looked at Keptah, who again pinched him under the table. “Most interesting,” said Keptah, imperturbably. The shopkeeper came to the table and Linus in a lordly fashion ordered the best wine, and Keptah nodded approvingly. Keptah said, “Abraham of the Jews was a Babylonian. Perhaps you have heard of him, Master Linus?”

“Ah, yes,” said Linus, carelessly. He grinned again. “When I am in Judea I am a Jew, when in Syria I am a Syrian, when I am in Rome I am a Roman, and when I am in Greece I am a Greek.” He laughed lightly.

Keptah helped himself to a few tiny black olives, and said, “And when you are in Africa, doubtless, you are a Negro.”

Linus’ smile faded abruptly. His jeweled hand flashed to his dagger. Keptah serenely spat out the pits of the olives into his dusky palm, then threw them on the floor. “A clever man is a chameleon,” he said, with excessive admiration.

“All things to all men. I see you are a philosopher, as I am, when I am not distilling potions and attending to the family of the illustrious Diodorus.” He looked up, and his enigmatic eyes fastened themselves on the merchant, whose hand was slowly withdrawing from the dagger. “I believe I mentioned that I am the physician in the house of the Proconsul of Syria, a Roman of great virtue and influence? And particularly ready with discipline, and the sword.”

Linus, whose less lawful activities had brought him twice to the attention of Diodorus, smiled winningly. “I trust he pays you well,” he said, with insinuation. Keptah made his face inscrutable. “Ah, yes. As well as a thrifty gentleman will permit himself, and my master is famous for his thrift.

One of the ‘old’ Romans. I remain with him because of my attachment to the family, though I have received excellent offers from others.”

Linus relaxed, leaning back in his chair with a graceful posture. He stared again at Lucanus, who had found this conversation bewildering. The shopkeeper arrived with the bottle of fine old wine, holding its dustiness reverently in his hands, and bowing. Keptah and Linus critically inspected it, nodded their acceptance, and the wine was poured into silver goblets befitting its importance and rarity. Keptah poured a small amount into Lucanus’ goblet, and the boy could smell the fine and delicate fragrance. “You will not meet wine like this in the house of Diodorus, may the gods bless his penurious purse and his barbarian tongue,” said Keptah.

Linus, who had smarting and memorable recollections of the proconsul, thought he detected contempt and derision in Keptah’s voice, and was more at ease than ever.

“Nevertheless,” said Keptah, with a furtive and quelling glance at  Lucanus, “he is careful of those who serve him well, especially his physician. We have a mutual respect for each other, and appreciate the value of each other. That is why he has assigned me four well-armed slaves for my protection. They await within the sound of my voice, in the street yonder, guarding my litter.”

Lucanus’ pink lips parted in astonishment at this falsehood, but Keptah was now sipping his wine with the air of a pleased epicure. Linus’ black eyebrows flew up in surprise, but he did not doubt Keptah’s word for an instant. Here, he thought, is a man of consequence, and he has an elegant and assured air, an air worn only by those much esteemed. The shopkeeper, in honor of the wine, brought a brazen bowl to the table, and a plate. “Ah,” said Keptah, in appreciation, “artichoke hearts in vinegar and oil, with a discreet touch of capers and leeks. There are a few Roman dishes to which I am partial.” He dipped a piece of bread into the bowl and daintily ate of what he had fished up. “It is true that the Romans are not civilized, but occasionally they have inspirations.”

Linus was becoming impatient. He was a merchant, and therefore a man of decisions. He flicked a finger in the direction of Lucanus, and said, “Master Keptah, this boy is no doubt a Greek? That golden hair, that white flesh, those blue eyes, the contour of his features—they are charming and Grecian.”

“Have you seen many of him in Greece?” asked Keptah, affecting surprise. “No. The Greeks are a race of small stature and of a dark complexion. They worshiped fairness, because of these things, and have immortalized them in their statues. Be certain that the ideal of men does not resemble themselves, but only their dreams. Nevertheless, this boy is a Greek, though without doubt his ancestors ranged into Greece from the cold regions of the North, or Gaul, where the men wear skins of beasts and the horns of animals, and live in the primeval forests. Is he not of considerable beauty, but of a childish manliness also?”

Lucanus could not understand his mentor and teacher, and was indignant and humiliated. He now not only feared and disliked Linus, but he detested him.

Keptah’s manner of speaking, as if Lucanus were not human and could he discussed as one discussed horses or fine dogs, assured Linus that the boy was indeed a slave, and the servant of Keptah. “A beautiful boy,” he said, with hushed fondness. “And what is his name, Master Keptah, and his age?”

Keptah sipped at his wine, closing his eyes in reverence. Linus waited. His jewels glistened in the blue shadows of the wineshop. “His age,” said Keptah, “is thirteen, though he is large of stature, as all the heathen are large. But he is graceful, is he not?”
Linus was more pleased than ever. The boy was thirteen years old, therefore he had not reached puberty. The old senator in Rome was forgotten. There were patrician ladies, jaded with their husbands and lovers, ladies of great wealth, who would find it piquant to bring this boy to puberty and then to their beds, there to initiate his innocence into the arts of love. It was not impossible that they would pay two thousand sesterces for such a treasure to beguile their ennui. A dissolute wife of a most distinguished Augustale, for ins tance, now in her forties, who had a penchant for such boys! She would be fascinated with his beauty, and would not be able to resist his purchase. Linus leaned confidentially tow ards Keptah and said in a low voice which did not escape the ears of Lucanus:
“The noble tribune is a man notable, as you have said, for his thrift. You remain with him for virtuous reasons, such as loyalty and devotion to his family. This boy is not one of his slaves?”

“No,” said Keptah. “In a way of speaking, he belongs to me. The tribune has assigned him into my hands, as a reward for what you have kindly called my virtues.”

Lucanus’ lips parted again with fresh indignation, then winced at Keptah’s pinch. Linus was beaming. “Perhaps, Keptah, we can come to a certain agreement. I have clients in Rome who would cherish this boy.”

“Truly?” said Keptah. “A senator, perhaps, or a lady who has explored many delights and is bored.” He turned to Lucanus and said affectionately, “Would you like to go to Rome, Lucanus?”

“No,” said Lucanus. But Linus was saying to him peremptorily, snapping his fingers, “Rise, boy! I wish to examine you further.” Lucanus, incredulous at a tone never directed it him before, and outraged, clutched the side of his chair and glared at Keptah. And Keptah, elusive and unreadable as only he could be, returned the glare with dark somberness and said nothing. It was that expression which confused Lucanus completely, and made him stand up less in obedience to Linus’ command than in the first movement of flight. The lace of Keptah did not change; he flung one long and emaciated arm over the back of his chair, and the folds of the pale gray linen fell from that arm like cloth falling over the outlines of bone.

Linus approached Lucanus, and the other merchants, including the students and scholars in the inn, gave their frank attention and curiosity to the boy. By Venus! thought a Roman dealer in oils and perfumes, there is truly the young Adonis himself, with hair like the sun and eyes as blue as the northern winter sky! He is like a statue, with the sweet / sternness of youth in his face and the delicate severity of innocence in his mouth. And what a brow that is, like massive marble, and his feet are arched like small bridges, and his height surely comes from the gods.

Linus himself was surprised at Lucanus’ stature, and a little suspicious. But the boy’s short white tunic was bordered with the pale purple of preadolescence, and it was evident to Linus’ shrewd eyes, after a moment’s scrutiny, that, in spite of the stature and the breadth of the shoulders, the j boy was truly very young. Lucanus started violently when Linus stretched out his swarthy hand and lifted his tunic, and then felt of his buttocks. The blue eyes flashed in rage, yet a new pride kept him still now and as rigid as stone. “Ah,” murmured Linus, thoughtfully. “I had a caliph in mind, rich as Croesus—if the buttocks were softer and more rounded. But this is evidently the fetus of a man, not a plaything for a gentleman of Persia.” He handled Lucanus with the rough interest of a man inspecting a fine animal offered for sale.

Lucanus, in spite of the confusion and rage which roared in his mind, became aware, for the first time in his life, of profound and unspeakable evil and all loathsomeness. He heard Linus’ murmurous words as the inspection continued, and his white flesh prickled and became cold, and he could not have moved, any more than the marble he resembled could have moved of its own volition. But his heart quivered and his spirit sickened with this horror. He perceived depths never known to him before, and abysses, and the hot black obscenities of the human spirit. These he had never encountered in the home of the virtuous tribune, nor had dreamt of them. Nor was he fully aware of the implications, nor did he understand them completely. He was like a child who, running laughing to a green and hidden grotto, comes upon a scene of licentiousness and, while not fully comprehending, is impressed that here is something wanton and shameful, and is terrified.

The searching, pinching and pushing hands of Linus had a monstrous hypnotic effect on the young boy. He felt himself degraded, and helpless to repel the degradation; he felt his humanity insulted, his integrity assaulted. Yet, like a voiceless victim, he had no power to resist. He could only stare sightlessly at Keptah and feel nausea at this incredible betrayal, and the fire of ignominy and furious anger in his breast.

Linus, smiling whitely, flung himself back into his chair. “Five hundred gold pieces,” he said to Keptah. He removed a purse from the big gold disks that formed the girdle about his narrow waist. He poured out a shining mound of coins. “Let us be brief. You will understand, Master, that I cannot escort this boy through the streets in the daylight.” He coughed, and grinned at the cryptic physician. “There has been some slight trouble before with the accursed soldiers of the proconsul, and I do not wish to encounter them again. Here are one hundred sesterces. Deliver the boy to me tonight at the inn on the Road of the Maidens, and you shall receive the remaining four hundred pieces.”

All of the flesh of Lucanus was stinging as though it had been seared with flame, and the pulses in his temples throbbed visibly. One of the merchants cried, “Five hundred sesterces! It is robbery, Master. I myself offer one thousand.” He half rose from his chair, eagerly.

Then Keptah spoke quietly. “The boy is not for sale.” Linus colored darkly, and leaned towards him. “Not for sale?” he repeated. “This slave is not for sale—for a fortune? Are you mad?”

“One thousand sesterces!” shouted the other merchant, approaching the table.
The others in the wineshop applauded, whistled, protested, laughed. Hearing the commotion, the shopkeeper ran into the room, carrying a tray of fresh hot pastries. Keptah crooked a finger at him, and said, “My good Sura, you will please go to the next street, at once, and tell the young captain, Sextus, that Keptah, physician to the noble tribune, Diodorus, requests his presence immediately.”

The shopkeeper bowed, and ran into the street. Linus sprang to his feet, swearing. He shook his fist under Keptah’s immovable nose. The others fell silent, gaping. “You accursed Egyptian!” shouted Linus. “I shall have your throat cut!” He shook with fury, and his servants came to him at once, their knives in their hands.

Keptah was not disturbed. “I am not an Egyptian, my good man of many abominable and unknown bloods. Nor am I a man who desires the blood of another. Hasten, and leave at once, before the captain arrives with his men. YOU have not understood. This boy is the apple of the proconsul’s eye, and he is as a son, and born free in the household of Diodorus.”

The others rushed out of the wineshop in trepidation, not wishing to be present when the soldiers arrived, and fearful of brutality. Linus was left alone with his servants. He looked at Lucanus, and his lean hands made unconscious grasping movements, as if he would seize him and bear him away at once. His breath came harshly. Then he whirled, and his rich garments of crimson and green blew about him. He left the inn like the wind, his servants racing after him. Keptah and Lucanus were alone. The boy sat down slowly, and his white face streamed with beads of sweat, and his eyes were bitter-cold and filled his eye sockets with wrathful color.

Keptah unconcernedly picked up a bunch of dates and chewed them with appreciation. The pile of gold coins lay on the table, and twinkled in the blue gloom. Keptah’s attention came to them, and he smiled. “The rascally merchant did not stay to pay his bill,” he remarked. “Nevertheless, he generously left this money, and I shall pay his bill from it and keep the rest. No doubt he graciously intended it so, and I am not a man to refuse such a gift.”

“How dared you!” cried Lucanus, and now he was very young again, and close to tears. “You are not only a liar, Keptah, but you are a thief and a scoundrel!” He wept, and rubbed away the tears with the backs of his hands. Keptah studied him thoughtfully. Finally he put down the bunch of dates, and his face changed sternly and his enigmatic eyes were chill and remote.

“You betrayed me!” sobbed .the boy. “You shamed and degraded me! And I thought you were my friend as well as my teacher.”

“Listen to me, Lucanus,” said Keptah, in a hard and quiet tone, and Lucanus dropped his hands from his eyes and stared at the physician.

“You are no longer a child, for you have seen and heard and felt evil,” said the Physician. “It is good that you have known, it, for a knowledge of evil brings manhood, and aversion. You are now armed.” He moved a few of the coins with a thin finger.

“You were born into freedom in a virtuous household, where the slaves are treated with kindness. Never have you seen them treated cruelly, but only with justice. This is most unusual; the household of Diodorus is not the normal household.”

A fierce cold flash darted from under his hooded lids. “You were shamed, your humanity treated ignominiously, your dignity as a man insulted. You have seen the scars on the hands of your father, who was once a slave, and, like a child, you have accepted them serenely, as a child, and commonplace. Have you ever asked your father what it means to be a slave, to be treated as less than a man, less, even, than a valuable horse or a good dog? Have you asked him of his own young ignominy, his own shame, his own bitterness, when his humanness was debased? Do you know what it is like to be a slave?”

Lucanus was very still. A glistening tear or two remained on his pale cheeks. Then he said in a low voice, “No. No. Forgive me. I did not understand. I was a child, and I did not understand. You have taught me.”

Keptah smiled sadly. “Learning comes with tears and grief and pain. That is just, for man cannot understand God when he is young and happy and ignorant. He can only know God through sorrow, his own sorrow and the agony and sorrows of others.”

“No man henceforth will be a slave in my eyes, but a man of dignity, and I shall hate slavery with all my heart and soul,” said Lucanus, in a trembling voice.

Keptah put his hand on the boy’s shoulder gently. “I exposed you to evil so that you would no longer be defenseless. I exposed you to the vile air of slavery so that never again will you countenance it. And now here is our good Sextus, with his two good soldiers. Ah, Sextus, please wait for a moment and drink some of this excellent wine with us. We have been annoyed by a despicable person, and we are in some danger. We desire your escort. Our asses are tied up at a little distance, and are no doubt somewhat impatient, the poor beasts.”

“What rascality have you blown up now?” asked the young captain, with good humor, and some cynicism. He poured himself a goblet of wine and drank it down quickly, and




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