Roman Identity (Book 2)

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Chapter 3: Lessons to Learn

Off to the Grammaticus.

While I was continuing my education at the Grammaticus, Barbarius' schooling was coming to an end. The last year of his formal schooling consisted mostly of Greek philosophy. He was at the crossroads of his education. Anias told my father that if he desired he could travel abroad to Greece to attend the best universities in Athens. But father would not approve of the idea; not that Barbarius was that thrilled to attend anyways. Today he would study under the guidance of father who was also with the diplomat. Apollus was off to the oratory better known as the rhetoric school where he received training in public speaking and the art of debating. I was sent to the Grammaticus. Anias assured me that the classroom shouldn't be too crowded. Only ones of means were able to attend.

My former Greek tutor Anias and my new slave travelled with me on my first day. That morning as we were running late due to traffic, he turned in his seat and said, "Tell me what you learn at the Grammaticus, I would love to hear it. And teaching someone is the best way to absorb what we learn. I am so proud of you for taking this step in your education," he said plopping a hand on my shoulder.

"Thanks," I said in a half-hearted voice. Even though it was not my decision, father felt I needed to be around other boys my age which would give me a competitive edge.

"I will miss giving you primary instruction, but you can always come to me if you need additional help. I doubt you will need my help," he said, smiling. I nodded.

"I will miss you too," I said; my voice heavy with nostalgia. I will miss his patience as he took the time to answer my questions. I learned from an early age not to interrupt him. He hated that. He was not bashful about discipline either so I learned to keep my mouth shut until I was directed to speak and sit still. Even though my brothers and I feared him at first I learned to respect him. Even admire him.

Then I felt my body jolt forward, before falling back against my seat in the chariot. We were outside the shop where the lessons would be held. I was helped off the chariot by my slave boy, Alexander. I thanked him and trotted towards the building with Alexander clutching my wax tablet and stylus.

"Make sure you have your lunch with you," Anias called out.

"I do," I exclaimed, pointing to Alexander's other hand which held a sack of bread and other eatables.

"Have a good day at school."

"I will try." Once I arrived, the teacher was already in front of the class gesturing, yet there were barely any seats left except for one in the front. With his back to the class, I scurried to the empty seat.

"So good you could join us, Troy. I have heard some things about you." I sat in my seat. A lump jumped in my throat at his glare. What things? Anias had warned me that the teachers in a classroom setting were even stricter than him. Stricter? I thought about the times my brother and I had private sessions with my tutor before Apollus and Barbarius were sent to higher schooling. Barbarius dreaded lessons the most as a child. His pent up vigor was restless for excitement. After several beatings he eventually obliged to the long tiring sessions and even did well especially in mathematics. I cringed, conjuring the image of me being flogged in front of the class for being late. I was already off to a horrid start.

"Next time come a little earlier for my class," he whispered in my face. I was so overwhelmed by the scent of garlic to absorb the full weight of his warning. I almost shrank in my seat.

"Class, we have a new member; Troy, so get acquainted with your new pupil," he continued in an upbeat tone. I was spared the rod. Thank the gods above I am the King's son! "Now we will begin our lesson discussing the structure of language. It is careful that we observe the rules of grammar that govern our language in every facet of our writings including literature. For instance, what is the case of the Greek work Aeneid for instance?" I had just studied that last week, but the answer eluded me briefly. I quickly jotted down what came to mind in my wax tablet that Alexander handed to me. Some other boys eagerly raised their hand in the back while I covered my tablet with my hands.

"Troy do you have an answer?" I froze. "Surely you must have an answer for such an easy question."

"I think it was in the genitive case."

"You are right. Well done." I sighed in relief.

"See you knew the answer. Do not be afraid to say it." I could feel my face flushing as my lips parted into a grin. I was lucky on that one!

"Does anyone remember the rhyme scheme of the poem we discussed the other day?" The teacher indiscriminately called on a round-face pupil, who looked no older than thirteen to recite the poem. Before he could finish reciting the verses, I immediately recalled the answer. A few hands went up. I thought about it and inscribed it on the tablet. I raised my hand.

"Yes, Troy."

"What is the heroic hexameter?"

"Correct, what is the proper name for it?" I scratched my head. What is he talking about? That was the answer.

"Silus."

"The dactylic hexameter."

"Very well." I looked back at Silus who had a complacent look on his face. After a couple of hours of rigorous lectures and memorization assignments, we were dismissed for the lunch break. As I was heading out the doorway I seen Romeos and his brother linger to talk to Silus in the classroom as the rest filed out the dingy room. Curious I approached the trio.

"Do you mind if I have lunch with you and Julius?"

"Oh, um… We were already going to be eating with Silus. But maybe you could join us," Romeos replied with a smile. Silus who was already talking to Julius stopped to stare at me with annoyance.

"We were going to find local vendors by the market and see what fresh-cooked food we could find. Did you already have your lunch?" Julius asked.

"Yes, I already brought a lunch to eat."

"Well I suppose you would not want to wait around until we found something," Silus said. The twins excused themselves by the doorway, debating about what place to go.

"Maybe we could meet somewhere later," I suggested to Silus.

"Yes you could meet us at the steps of the Forum where the statue of your father is."

"Certainly that will do. It is nice meeting you Silus. I hope maybe we could be good acquaintances."

"I suppose. Nice meeting you again; prince Troy. Hopefully you do not get lost." With that he walked off with Romeos and Julius to the street vendors across the street. I decided to start heading to the Forum courtyard with my slave tagging along. Once I arrived, I sat at the steps circling the public square and began eating my lunch. The slave sat down next to me as I began eating. At the corner of my eye I could see the slave stealing glances at me as I ate.

"What do you want? Did I spill something?" He shook his head. I kept on eating while scoping for the twins' faces amongst the growing throng that spilled into the open space before me. I then heard a gurgling noise. It was not coming from me. I put my slab of bread down as it dawned on me that my slave had not eaten today. It was the sound of hunger, something I knew very little about. How rude of me to eat in his face!

"I am sorry; you could have a piece of my bread and the rest of my pomegranates." I extended my hand to him as he devoured the food in a few bites. As the last crumb was gulped down he quietly said, "Thanks Master."

"You are welcome," I said with a smile. I insisted that he buy something from the vendors, but he said he was satisfied for now and that he was not given any allowance to buy anything. I offered to buy him something and his eyes lit up for the first time. I was a bit surprised though; was he not always well-fed? Perhaps he was so busy trying to get me ready in the morning he wasn't allowed to eat. I quickly dismissed the thought and meandered through the Forum as the crowds ebbed and flowed between the marble buildings. Where are Romeos, Julius, and Silus? I looked at the sundial situated at the center of the public square, it was getting late. I decided that they had made other plans; without me.

"How was school Troy?" asked Anias.

"It was informative, nothing much," I said with a sigh.

"Oh," Anias said softly.

"Did you make any friends?" Apollus inquired.

"I did not come to make friends. I came because father wants me to get a taste of the world around me and to learn from my peers around me," I replied.

"What did you learn?" Anias probed. I thought long and hard. I had really learned that instructors will expect highly from you if you are the son of a king. I also learned that there is a proper answer for everything, and that you cannot always tell who your friends are; at least in the beginning.

"Oh we studied the importance of precision of language in Greek poems and structure of their stanzas, which we are to memorize. What did you learn Apollus?"

"We debated whether certain reading materials should be banned or accessible to all. I believe it is a foolish thing to let the masses be aware of everything. Some knowledge if put in the wrong hands can be very dangerous. Would you not agree?" I just sat there with a blank look. I did not know what to say. Surely it was good that there were divisions amongst the classes and that only selected reading material that passed censorship was allowed. But what if that information was something everyone needed to be known, should it still be deprived?

"Yes, I could see the danger, but…" Father had just walked in the room. I cleared my throat.

"What are you boys discussing amongst yourselves?" Father inquired.

"Oh discussions we have had at school," Apollus said with a smile.

"Very well. Perhaps we can discuss it over dinner along with some news I need to share." Before dinner started later that evening, I washed up in our indoor latrine basin before joining everyone at the table. Dinner was delicious as usual with our choice of cooked veal, pomegranates, oysters and citrus fruits. Grandfather had also joined us at dinner along with the diplomat and his aid. Neither of us really wanted to bring up the subject we had discussed earlier. We thought it was best to leave it alone. I could not help but notice Barbarius' body tense as the diplomat would reach over near his dish to grab the goblet of wine. It was the natural distrust of what we called "outsiders." But since father seemed to trust him, I began to reason I should trust him too. It was not long though before the diplomat dismissed himself; his aid following at his heels. After dessert was served by the slaves, father tapped his metal goblet to signal his announcement for us.

"As everyone is well aware, I am a busy man with many obligations. I realized it is time for one of my sons, the future successor to assume the management of the villa, in which he will soon inherit along with the private practice of the family. I am leaving you boys in charge of the villa. Barbarius as the oldest I entrust you with the utmost responsibility as head over the estate. I officially hand it over to you." With that father opened his closed fist to reveal a gold bone-shaped key.

"It is yours," father said extending his hand to Barbarius so could receive it. It was official that Barbarius was the "favored" one. I looked over at Apollus, who was staring at the key with wishful eyes.

"You are in charge, and your brothers are to answer to you." Father wrapped his arms around Barbarius, as he whispered, "I am counting on you to prove you are a strong leader. Let me know if there is anyone not in their proper place," he emphasized. As father got up from the couch, Barbarius held the key to the natural light of the room before securing it in his palm. I turned to Apollus. His eyes, a mixture of green and brown, glinted with envy.

"Can I see the key?" Apollus asked in an innocent voice.

"No."

"It is not like I am going to take it. I just want to see it."

"I said no Apollus. You can see it from a distance," he said dangling the key from his fingertips.

Apollus rolled his eyes as he muttered, "Very well."

"We are finally treated like men from father and I am not going to give up my privileges for anyone." As Apollus and I left the table to begin packing, I heard Barbarius say, "I cannot wait for the holiday!"

It was the holiday dedicated to the deities so all students were off school. It was nice to have a momentary day of rest, where you could break away from the everyday routine. However at the same time I was not certain if father was sending us off so as not to be bothered by us. Whatever the reason, I was not complaining. I had my personal slave pack my belongings for the coming holiday break.

"Bring along my flute as well in case I get a chance to practice it," I ordered one of the slaves who came to help Alexander. Then there was a knock on the doorway paneling. I asked one of the female slaves to see who it was. It was only Barbarius' slave. Nobody important.

"Barbarius is about to start loading the chariot. You must leave at once your Excellency."

"Very well," I nodded. "Hurry now and take these burlap sacks outside where they are stationed," I said, turning to Alexander. With that the slaves and I hurried out my room. I barely had time to eat some honey and figs before I stepped outside where the chariot was waiting for me. Apollus and Barbarius were already waiting beside it as the last few belongings were being loaded. I noticed though that Apollus had several bags, some which were quite heavy.

"Why are you carrying so much of a load? We are only residing for a few days."

"Because I want to look good and to see if I could have some of those fabrics tailored for new togas. Is that a problem?"

"Never mind," I mumbled. You are so vain!

Once everything was loaded we said our farewells to grandfather as well as father even though he would come later to see how everything was going. As the horses trudged down the winding road, the trip was filled with an uncomfortable silence.

"So father sent us on a vacation?" Apollus asked.

"This is not a vacation," Barbarius answered in a brisk tone.

"Maybe not for you since you are not going to enjoy it much with your responsibilities and inspecting the vineyard. However as for me this is a time to relax, like the good times of the past." Whatever the real reason for the trip was, it was going to be a time to relax! Before long I could see the villa looming ahead, as the road dipped. This place brought back bittersweet memories. After the quake ten years ago we stayed here for about a year since it suffered little damage while our home was repaired. Once we arrived to the path leading to the entrance, Barbarius and I were the first ones out with our belongings being carried to our quarters.

"Can you carry my burlap bags over there?" Apollus ordered my slave.

"All of these?" The slave said looking at the 5 huge bags in bewilderment.

"Yes all of them. Is that a problem?" He shook his head as he struggled to carry the first three. I watched in the corner of my eyes as I saw Apollus snickering at the slave.

"Can you not carry three at a time?" The slave did not respond. He merely grabbed two, as he swung them over the shoulders while Apollus' slave grabbed the other ones.

"Wait there is hole…" Apollus reached out to grab it…

The slave scrambled but missed as the clay vessel shattered into thousands of pieces flying and hitting him in the foot.

"You are so clumsy and stupid!" Apollus snapped. I rushed in to see the commotion with Barbarius trudging behind.

"I am so sorry."

"It is too late! It is already broken. I told you there was a hole. Now Barbarius and I will have to put a hole in your face!"

"Please, I am so sorry. I will clean it for you Master." As he stooped down to scoop the pieces in a pile, Apollus pushed him towards the shards of broken clay. He tipped over, spreading his hands out to brace his fall. The clay shards penetrated his skin upon impact, stabbing him dozens of times in his palms. Apollus laughed as he saw the slave, wincing. His hand was covered in blood. He staggered to his feet, dazed and frightened. Apollus motioned again to push him down again when I stepped in.

"Stop! I believe he learned his lesson already."

"Get out the way Troy. Since when did you become his guardian?" he hissed.

"I am not his guardian. You were being way too harsh."

"Since when did you care about his 'rights?' "

"Slaves do not have rights Troy," Barbarius chimed in.

"Legally they do not, but that was still mean." Apollus rolled his eyes while Barbarius grunted.

"We have the right to punish them for misconduct," Apollus said raising his voice.

"So he made a mistake. He will clean it up."

"Are you really taking sides with the slave?" Apollus asked in disbelief.

"It looks like he already did. I suppose Troy can clean the mess with him," Barbarius said. His dark glaring eyes matched the coldness in his voice.

"He does not have to. I can…"

"Quiet slave! No one asked you to speak!" Barbarius barked. Barbarius then pushed me into the slave causing him to fall into the scattered shards again. This time his kneecaps bore the brunt of the shards.

"Why do you have to act like that?" I asked, scowling at Barbarius.

"If you want to defend a slave we will treat you like a slave," Barbarius retorted. With that they both walked off into the villa. I held the bag as the two slaves helped to sweep up the pieces.

"You do not have to do this, other slaves can help me," my slave said.

"No I want to help you. It is the least I could do." I held the bag opened on the ground as he gently swept them in with a husk broom he found. With that he walked off without saying a word. I was left stunned and confused. Could he not say at least "thank you." After all I got in trouble because I was defending him so he should have been thankful I intervened. Maybe he was a waste of my time. Maybe I should have let Apollus flog him. He was just another slave. Nobody that really mattered. Somebody I wasted time defending. Irritated, I stormed into the villa and escaped to my room I would be spending the next three days in. I looked out the window where I saw Barbarius ordering a group of slaves. I could not quite make out the conversation. I decided it was no use listening in. Before long it was dinner time.

It was quiet yet tense at dinner. What I thought would be a dinner celebrating freedom that came with growing up was rather somber. Then word came from the porter that a guest was arriving. It was father and he was eager to know how things were going.

"So how was everything thus far?" he asked plopping onto the cushioned couch.

"It went well. I had some of the slaves fix the broken gate and tend the vineyard. I hope that we can have a greater yield this year," Barbarius said

"Good. Were the slaves being obedient?"

"Most of them," Barbarius said.

"So I assume everything went smoothly." Barbarius looked straight at me.

"Except for a little incident earlier, but the slaves finally complied," he said, wiping his mouth.

"What happened? Father asked.

"Well," Apollus began, "the slave was unloading my belongings when he ripped a hole in my sack. I tried to tell him there was a hole but he just stood there stupidly as the vessel fell and broke. I was angry and I made him pick it up but he fell and cut himself. Then Troy tried to defend the actions of the slave, saying he had 'rights.'"

"Is this true Barbarius?" Father asked. He nodded.

"I am not angry at neither of you, but I expect each of you to handle the situation like men in authority, and most of you have done that," Father said sipping a goblet a slave handed to him.

"Can I speak to Troy alone?" Barbarius and Apollus both were dismissed from the table. Father sat across me with a crossed look.

"Troy you are my youngest son. I know things have not been easy but I would think by now you would be well-adjusted. You come from a line of strong, brave men who know no weakness. Your Roman mother and the Greek heritage from my father run in your blood; but remember you still hold title to your Roman identity in this world not matter if you are a resident of Aegea. Embrace your role as mediator. But you need to be aware of the decisions you make. I wish you could be a strong leader too, capable of making good choices," he said wishfully. "But that is not the case….I was disappointed in hearing what Apollus said," he said in a stern voice.

"But he is not telling the whole truth of what really happened and how he pushed him."

"Never mind what you think happened. Why can you be more assertive like your brothers? Barbarius knows not to show weakness and show leadership. Apollus too demonstrates great speaking ability and can wield authority too."

"But I am not them father and never will be."

Father let out a sigh.

"Sometimes I wonder if you are really are my son," he said, giving his head a shake. "Look Troy, the last thing a father wants as a son is a weakling, someone incompetent, lacks good judgment, and bases his decisions on emotions." His words punched me in the gut. I hated to admit it but everything was correct.

"Promise me you will not fail me."

"I will not," I said softly.

"Good then. Study Barbarius; he is your guide to look at. You will also resume your physical training sessions with your instructor Cornelius." He patted me on the crown and quickly turned to greet Barbarius who was standing outside the curtains that screened the dining room. I stared at them, envying Barbarius. He was the oldest, the strongest, and tallest. And here I was the very opposite. It was one of the few times where I felt something was wrong with me; that I was somehow deficient. No matter what I do, I would never gain the approval of father. But maybe tomorrow I could prove him wrong.

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