Chapter XI - Fama et Prophetiae

Please note that this chapter contains sexually explicit and violent images and text. If you strongly object to any of these images please contact the blog author at and the offending material can be removed. Equally please do not view this chapter if such material may offend.

                                                                                                   The Cumaean Sibyl


'After the Munera' - The day after the Munera, a furious Gracchus had Terentius in his study, 'tearing a strip' off the unfortunate freedman for allowing Atticus to get away with swapping over the swords, which had resulted in the killing of young Ferox.
Ferox's Ashes
Gracchus had tried to arrange for Ferox to win the fight, as he was a good lad, tall and well muscled, who had responded well to his training.
Now all that was left of Ferox was a pile of ashes, sealed in a grey marble funeral urn - the boy's corpse had been cremated the previous night.
But, there was little to be done.
Gracchus had his plans for taking his revenge on Atticus, but to begin with he would give the stupid boy some time the believe that he had got away with his crime.
The main task for the immediate future was to replace the slaves who had been killed, as Patronius needed to keep up the numbers of his fighters.
For this reason Terentius, partly as a penance, was sent off to Brundisium.
It was quite along journey, and it would give Terentius some time to consider how he could keep a more careful eye on his young charges.
And why Brunsidium, when there were slave markets in Neapolis, yet alone Rome ?
Well Brundisium was the port were most of the slaves destined for Italy arrived, so the best choice of slaves was to be found in that bustling, if rather disreputable port (it was where Terentius had bought Markos).
And Gracchus wanted three handsome, muscular, reasonably intelligent young slave-boys.
They would be expensive, but that was not really a problem for Gracchus.
Once the new boys had arrived at the Villa, and before they were transferred to the Amphitheatre, they would get the collars last worn by the three defeated 'bustuarii' the previous evening.
At the same time they would be given the names of those same boys - Durus,Valentius (Valens) and Ferox.
To Romans, names were vitally important, often encapsulating an individuals status, or a family's history. Few slaves were allowed to retain their original names. Renaming them took away their individuality, and their connection with their previous life - and that 'break' was in the interests of their masters. Marcus was an unusual case, as he was simply given the Greek version of his Roman name - Markos - which effectively sounds very similar. Performers (including gladiators) who appeared in the arena almost always had 'stage names', usually indicating something about their character - rather like modern film and 'pop' stars.
And so the meanest looking of the three boys that Terentius brought back from Brundisium would be called 'Durus' - which indicates harshness. The most ferocious looking lad would be called 'Ferox', which indicates ferocity, and the strongest looking boy would be called 'Valentius' or 'Valens' for short, which indicates strength or power.
Who they originally were was immaterial, as they each had been given fine Roman name, and were to begin their first arduous months of training.


In the Roman world an 'oracle' was a person or agency considered to provide wise counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future, inspired by the gods.
As such it is a form of 'divination'.
The word 'oracle' comes from the Latin verb 'orare' "to speak", and properly refers to the priest or priestess uttering the prediction.
In extended use, 'oracle' may also refer to the site of the oracle, and to the oracular utterances themselves, called 'khresmoi' (χρησμοί) in Greek.
Oracle of Delphi
John W Godward
On of the most famous, and oldest of the the oracles was at Δωδώνα,- Dodona, in Epirus.
This was the oracle of Zeus, (the Roman Jupiter), and the oracular utterances were made known by the rustling of the oak leaves (the oak was sacred to Zeus - and to Jupiter) in a sacred grove.
The pre-eminent oracle was, of course, at  Δελφοί - Delphi, in Greece.
Python, offspring of Gaia (the Earth Goddess), was the earth dragon of Delphi, represented as a serpent, and became the chthonic deity, enemy of the God Apollo, who slew her, and possessed the oracle.
The oracle at Delphi, was said to be infallible, and only gave prophecies the seventh day of each month, seven being the number most associated with Apollo, during the nine warmer months of the year; thus, Delphi was the major source of divination for the ancient Greeks.
Apollo - Ἀπόλλων, Apollōn is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in classical Greek and Roman religion and Greek and Roman mythology. The ideal of the kouros (a beardless, athletic youth), Apollo has been variously recognized as a god of music, truth and prophecy, healing, the sun and light, plague, poetry, and more. Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, and has a twin sister, the chaste huntress Artemis. Apollo is known in Greek-influenced Etruscan mythology as Apulu. Apollo was the patron god of Octavian Augustus.
The oracle spoke through a priestess, known as the Πυθία - Pythia, who sat on a bronze tripod set over a crack in the floor of a cave.
Fumes arose from the crevice, and the priestess became intoxicated, and gave frenzied and incoherent utterances, which were interpreted by priests.
Other temples of Apollo were located at Didyma on the coast of Asia Minor, at Corinth and Bassae in the Peloponnese, and at the islands of Delos and Aegina in the Aegean Sea.
Oracles were thought to be 'portals' through which the gods spoke directly to people.
In this sense they were different from seers ('manteis' - μάντεις) who interpreted signs sent by the gods through bird signs, animal entrails, and other various methods.
For the Romans, however, the most influential oracle was the Sibylline Oracle, and the Sibylline Books.
The Books are a collection of oracular utterances written in Greek hexameters, ascribed to the Sibyls.
In the ancient world, 'sibyls' were prophetesses associated with a particular location.
Many of their prophecies played key roles in determining the direction of important events.
Though there were variations based on the Sibyl of Cumae, the sibyls all seem to share some characteristics.
They gave their prophecies in an ecstatic state, under the power of a particular deity (often Apollo), and they were usually associated with a specific ancient oracle, or a temple.
The Cave of the Sybil
The Cumaean Sibyl is probably the best known of sibyls.
Her cave was located near the town of Cumae, close to Gracchus' villa, on the western coast of Italy, in the same location as a temple of Apollo.
While most often known as the Cumaean Sibyl or the Sibyl of Cumae, she is also variously referred to as: Herophile, Demo, Phemonë, Deiphobe, Demophile, and Amalthea.
Virgil famously described her cave as having a hundred openings.
It was said this oracle, or Sibyl, dwelt in the mouth of this cave in Cumae, (originally an ancient Greek settlement near what is now Naples).
"A spacious cave, within its far most part, Was hew'd and fashion'd by laborious art Thro' the hill's hollow sides: before the place, A hundred doors a hundred entries grace; As many voices issue, and the sound Of Sybil's words as many times rebound. -Virgil (The Aeneid)
Written in 19 BC, the 'Aeneid', which Markos was studying, with the help of his Latin tutor, Lucius, chronicles the adventures of Trojan warrior Aeneas, including his encounter with a mysterious ancient oracle.
In Book III of the Aeneid, Aeneas visits a priest/prophet who tells him to visit the Cumaean Sibyl.
“And when, thither borne, thou drawest near to the town of Cumae, the haunted lakes, and Avernus with its rustling woods, thou shalt look on an inspired prophetess, who deep in a rocky cave sings the Fates and entrusts to leaves signs and symbols.” -Virgil (The Aeneid)
The Sibyl had important news for Aeneas:
The nations of Italy, the wars to come, the mode whereby thou art to flee or face each toil, she will unfold to thee; and, reverently besought, she will grant thee a prosperous voyage.” -Virgil (The Aeneid)
In other words, the fate of the founding of Rome rests on the prophecy she gives Aeneas.
In Book VI, Aeneas finally visits Cumae, and finds the Sibyl.
She tells him that though he has survived the troubles of Troy, and the dangers of his sea voyage, he has further troubles ahead.
O thou that at last hast fulfilled the great perils of the sea - yet by land more grievous woes await thee…. Wars, grim wars I see, and Tiber foaming with streams of blood…. Even now another Achilles is raised up in Latium, he, too, goddess-born; nor shall Juno anywhere fail to dog the Trojans, whilst thou, a suppliant in thy need, what races, what cities of Italy shalt thou not implore ! The cause of all this Trojan woe is again an alien bride, again a foreign marriage !”-Virgil (The Aeneid)
She says, however, that Aeneas should not fear this fate, that he has the ability to rise above it.
As it happens, there is a portal to the underworld nearby.
As he wanted to go there anyway, Aeneas asks the Sibyl if she will take him there to see his dead father.
She says that he must first find a 'golden bough' in the forest.
On that bough will be a fruit.
If he is able to pick the fruit, he will be worthy to visit the underworld.
Having completed the task, Aeneas returns to the Sibyl, who escorts him into the underworld.
There, Aeneas meets his father, Anchises.
After discussing some of the particulars of the underworld, Anchises shows Aeneas his future and the future of his descendants.
Come now, what glory shall hereafter attend the Dardan line, what children of Italian stock await thee, souls illustrious and heirs of our name - this will I set forth, and teach thee thy destiny.” -Virgil (The Aeneid)
Anchises recounts the destiny of all of Aeneas’ descendants.
Anchises tells Aeneas that among his descendants are Romulus, founder of Rome and, significantly, Octavian Augustus (the first Princeps).
According to Anchises, Octavian will:
“… again set up the Golden Age amid the fields where Saturn once reigned, and shall spread his empire to a land that lies beyond the stars, beyond the paths of the year and the sun, where heaven-bearing Atlas turns on his shoulders the sphere, inset with gleaming stars.” -Virgil (The Aeneid)
And so the oracle of the Cumaean Sibyl, who Markos has been studying with his tutor, Lucius, spirals back into our story, which has just recounted the Munera that Gracchus held for the Divine Augustus.
Apart from the Sibyl's involvement with Aeneas, the most famous story concerning the Sibyl dates to the time of the last Roman King, Tarquinius Superbus, around 500 BC.
Tarquinius Superbus
According to the story, the Sibyl approached the king with nine books of prophesy, collected from the wisest seers, available to the king for a very dear price.
The king haughtily refused her price. In response, the Sibyl burned three of the books, then offered the remaining six books at the original high price.
Again he refused.
Of the remaining six books, she threw three more onto the fire, and repeated her offer of the final three books, at the original price
Again he refused.
Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus
Of the remaining six books, she threw three more onto the fire, and repeated her offer of the final three books, at the original price.
Afraid of seeing all the prophesy destroyed, he finally accepted.
These books, which foretold the future of Rome, became a famous source of power and knowledge, and were stored on the Capitoline Hill in the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, in Rome.
In 82 BC, the books were destroyed in the burning of the Temple of Jupiter, and in 76 BC envoys were sent around the known world to rebuild the books of prophesy.
The new books managed to survive until 405 AD, near the end of the Roman Empire.
The Cumaean Sibyl would later appear in the works of Ovid.
The Sibylline Books (sometimes called the Cumaean Books) became crucial in the ongoing decisions of Rome.
The Lecti Viri - a group of two (Duumviri) men that grew to 10 (Decemviri) and eventually 15 (Quindecimviri) - guarded the books.
When the senate’s seers could not divine the meaning of extraordinary events, or when Rome needed direction in times of crisis, they would order these men to consult the Sibylline Books.
The books often clarified the meaning of certain divine events, or ordered particular sacrifices and oblations to avoid a disaster.
Livy reports that, while preparing for war:
The state was at this time suddenly occupied with a question of a religious nature, in consequence of the discovery of a prediction in the Sibylline books, which had been inspected on account of there having been so many showers of stones this year. It ran thus: When-soever a foreign enemy should bring war into the land of Italy, he may be driven out of Italy and conquered, if the Idaean Mother should be brought from Pessinus to Rome.”
The Romans took these books so seriously that, according to Dionysius, dereliction of one’s duty to care for the books could have disastrous results.
When someone reported that one of the guardians of the books had allowed someone else to borrow one of them, King Tarquinius “ordered him to be sewed up in a leather bag and thrown into the sea….
Harsh, but perhaps not too harsh, given the role they played in the fate of Rome.
According to tradition, the Sibyl would have sung her prophecies, or written them on oak leaves which she would leave at the mouth of the cave.
Clearly, the Cumaean Sibyl plays a crucial role in the founding and ongoing fortune of Rome.
If it were not for her, the Romans would not have had the guidance of the Sibylline Books.
If it were not for her prophecy, Aeneas would not have been prepared to rise above his fate in his journey towards Italy.
So what has all this - interesting though it may be - to do with our Markos and Gracchus ?

Well, it is not surprising that Gracchus, being a devotee of Virgil, and steeped in the legend of Aeneas, would be prepared to question the Cumaean Sibyl with regard to his own future - and as we have seen, Markos' future seems to be, in many ways, bound up with that of Gracchus.


Since the evening of the 'convivium' young Markos had become a 'hot' topic of conversation among some of the slaves at the villa.
As has been previously explained, Roman society was concious of status to a fanatical degree - and this applied to slaves to the same degree as it applied to the most fastidious patrician.
The 'lower class' slaves - those involved in menial work - kitchen boys, gardeners workmen of various kinds, and the like, took little interest in those slaves who were what might be described as the 'slave aristocracy' - of which Markos now seemed to be a member..
The young men who had been trained as wrestlers and gladiators, and who were used as security guards for the villa, and its vastly extensive grounds, and were used as bodyguards for Gracchus and some of his senior freedmen, existed in their own, close-knit group, and were little concerned with other matters, except where it might impinge on their concerns regarding security.
There were, however, numerous slaves in the intermediate levels, who had either seen Markos in his role of 'cup-bearer', at the 'convivium', or had been told of the matter, and among them speculation was rife.
The initial rumour was, not surprisingly, that Gracchus was having an 'affair' - in other words, having sex - with Markos.
Equally, it was suggested that Gracchus was planning to have Markos castrated, in the same manner that Nero had his 'Puer Delicatus', called Sporus, (σπόριο) castrated.
It was then added that Gracchus might, like the Emperor Nero, marry his castrated 'Ganymede'.
Sporus was a boy to whom Nero took a liking. He was a 'Puer delicatus', who were sometimes castrated, (the surgical removal of the testicles), in an effort to preserve their youthful qualities. The 'puer delicatus' generally was a slave-boy, chosen by his master for his beauty as a 'toy boy'. It was suggested by Cassius Dio (AD 155–235) that Sporus was a freedman, but this is highly unlikely, and is undoubtedly a slur on Nero's character. While it was just acceptable to castrate a slave-boy, the castration of freedmen was not permitted. Nero's wife, Poppaea Sabina, was probably killed by Nero in 65. In the beginning of 66, he married Statilia Messalina. Later that year or in 67 he married Sporus. Nero had earlier married Pythagoras, who played the role of Nero's husband, as Sporus played the role of Nero's wife. 
Nymphidius Sabinus
Soon after Nero's death, in 68AD, Sporus was taken by the Praetorian prefect Nymphidius Sabinus, who took part in the final conspiracy against Nero, persuading the Praetorian Guard to desert the emperor, but when he attempted to have himself declared emperor, he was killed by his own soldiers. Nymphidius treated Sporus as though they were married, and called him "Poppaea". After Nymphidius' death, Sporus, in the year 69, become involved with emperor Otho, who was also killed by his enemies later that year. Sporus was then taken by the new emperor, Vitellius, who planned for Sporus to play the title role in the 'Rape of Persephone' for the viewing enjoyment of the crowds during a gladiatorial Ludi. Sporus then committed suicide to avoid being raped in public.
Like most rumours, this rumour had little basis in fact.
Gracchus had very many slave-boys, from the age of ten years, to boys who were just leaving adolescence, as they reached their final 'teen' years, - and a number in their early twenties.
None of Gracchus' slave-boys had ever been castrated, and in fact Gracchus had no taste for effeminate boys, and forbade Terentius from buying any boy who might be in the slightest way be described as a Cinaedus.
Cinaedus is a derogatory Latin word denoting a male who was 'gender-deviant'; his choice of sex acts, or preference in sexual partner, was secondary to his perceived effeminacy and deficiencies as a "male" (vir).

'Cinaedus' is not equivalent to the English vulgarism "faggot," except that both words can be used to deride a male considered deficient in manhood, or with androgynous characteristics. The clothing, use of cosmetics, and mannerisms of a 'cinaedus' would also marked him as effeminate, The 'cinaedus' thus represented the absence of what Romans considered true maleness, and the word is virtually untranslatable into English.

Originally, a 'cinaedu's (Greek 'kinaidos') was a professional dancer, characterized as non-Roman or "Eastern"; the word itself may come from a language of Asia Minor.

His performance featured tambourine-playing and movements of the buttocks that suggested anal intercourse.
In addition, strange as it may seem, it did not appear that Gracchus 'used' his slave-boys sexually.
Perhaps, as young Cleon had suggested, Gracchus just liked to 'watch'
In consideration of this, the possibility of Gracchus 'marrying' Markos, whether castrated or not, was obviously absurd.
And so, like most rumours, these rumour had no basis in fact.
Gracchus, of course, had been appalled at much of Nero's behaviour.
The emperor, it appeared, had murdered his mother, killed his wife and unborn child, and had then gone on to indulge in numerous perverted sexual practices, which, as has been described, included his marriage to a castrated slave-boy, and his indulging in sexual practices where he permitted himself to be 'penetrated' by one of his freedmen.
To Gracchus all this was totally unacceptable, but prudently he kept his condemnation and disgust to himself, and remained, to all who knew him, bafflingly inscrutable.
In this he shared a quality - inscrutability and mystery - that many also saw, to some extent, in Markos.
The mere existence of such rumours after the Munera tended to isolate Markos from the other slaves to an even greater extent.
He still had the friendship of Cleon and Glykon, and there was still his friendship with Servius and, since the Munera, he had become friendly with the teenage gladiator Petronius.
As an aside - shortly after the 'convivium', Markos heard from Servius that Gracchus' wife had died.
Markos had never seen, or met her, (and nor had Servius), as she lived in another of Gracchus' villas, in Tibur, just outside Rome.
Nothing occurred at the Villa Auream to indicate that anything had happened, and Markos would never had known if Servius hadn't told him.
Apparently, Gracchus had no children and, as far as anyone knew, he had no brothers or sisters - so perhaps now he was alone.
Gracchus himself, however, remained as inscrutable as ever, pursuing his business interests, regularly meeting with his numerous 'clients', and keeping a watchful eye over his many freedmen and slaves.
His only relaxation, it seemed was the time he spent at the Amphitheatre, and his evenings spent with his old friend Novius.


'Prohecy' - But what about the 'prophecy', you may ask - well read on.......
Since the 'convivium' Gracchus had become more and more concerned about the political situation in Rome.
As we have said, Gracchus tried hard to be outwardly apolitical, but the reports that he had recently received from Rome, and some reports from the provinces indicated to him that the Imperial administration was approaching a state of complete collapse, with varying groups vying for power as the fall of the current emperor, Nero, seemed inevitable.

'Politics' - Just before the 'convivium' for the birthday of the Divine Augustus, in 65AD, the conspiracy of Gaius Calpurnius Piso had rocked the empire, or at least the upper classes in Rome.
Praetorian Guard
The plot reflected the growing discontent among the ruling class of the Roman state with Nero's increasingly despotic leadership, and as a result it is a significant event on the road towards Nero's eventual suicide, and the chaos which followed that event.
Gaius Calpurnius Piso, a leading Roman statesman, benefactor of literature, and orator, intended to have Nero assassinated, with the goal of having himself declared Emperor of Rome by the imperial bodyguard, known as the Praetorian Guard.
He enlisted the aid of several prominent senators, equestrians, and soldiers.
According to Tacitus, the ringleaders included Subrius Flavus, a tribune of the Praetorian court, and the centurion Sulpicius Asper.
On April 19, CE 65, a freedman named Milichus discovered the conspiracy and reported it to Nero's secretary Epaphroditos.
After the conspiracy was revealed, Nero ordered Piso, and the other leaders of the conspiracy, to commit suicide.
The philosopher Seneca, his nephew Lucan, and the satirist Petronius (probable author of the 'Satyricon') were also implicated in the plot, and dealt with in a similar fashion.
At least 41 individuals were accused of being part of the conspiracy.
Of the known 41, there were 19 Senators, 7 Equites, 11 soldiers, and 4 women.
In late 67, Caius Julius Vindex, governor of Gallia Lugdunensis, rebelled against Nero's tax policy, with the purpose of substituting Servius Sulpicius Galba, governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, for Nero.
Gaius Julius Vindex was a member of the former royal family of Aquitania, which had lost its throne when Julius Caesar had subdued their country. However, it was still an influential family, and the father of Julius Vindex became a Roman senator after the emperor Claudius had permitted noblemen from Gaul to enter the august college. Vindex subsequently committed suicide.
Servius Sulpicius Galba
Vindex's revolt in Gaul was unsuccessful,  and Galba was declared a 'public enemy' by the Senate.
Servius Sulpicius Galba was born into an aristocratic family on December 24, 3 BCE to Gaius Sulpicius Galba and Mummia Achaica. An older brother, Gaius, (ten years his senior) would later commit suicide in 36 CE, due to “financial embarrassment,” after incurring the ire of Emperor Tiberius. It was reported that the Emperor Augustus singled Galba out of a group of young boys and said, “You too will taste a little of my glory, boy,” suggesting that Galba would one day be emperor. Galba is almost unique in Roman accounts as being described as, what we would term today, a 'homosexual', being solely attracted to mature, muscular men.
In June 68, the Praetorian Guard prefect, Nymphidius Sabinus (who later became the 'husband' of the boy Sporus - see above), as part of a plot to become emperor himself, incited his men to transfer their loyalty from Nero to Galba.


'At the Villa' - It was after the revolt in Gaul that, back at the villa, Gracchus decided to consult the oracle of the God Phoebus Apollo at Cumae.
Now to the average reader, seeking the advice of what in 'modern' times would be considered to be a 'fortune teller' appears to be the height of ignorant superstition.
Gracchus, however, was by no means an ignorant man.
Well educated, and well read, - a student of philosophy, and in many ways a sceptic, he was, however, as we all are, 'a man of his times'.
Throughout the ancient world, as we have already explained, from the most ignorant peasant to the most learned, and the most powerful, people sought the advice of, and believed in the great oracles, and one of the greatest was the Cumaean Sibyl.
Of course Markos, along with the other slaves in the villa, had no knowledge of the disturbing events in Gaul and Rome, and for Markos life continued as usual, with lessons, training, and the occasional amorous interlude, mainly with Cleon.
(It should be borne in mind that this was a world without newspapers, radio, television, internet etc, and so most of the servile inhabitants of the Villa Auream were effectively completely cut off from the outside world.)
One morning, however, while he was performing his usual duty helping Glykon at the entrance hall, Terentius, (who was once again if favour - having brought some excellent slaves from Brundisium)  called him over.
"The Dominus wants you to accompany him on a short trip.
I will be coming as well.
Dress well, and be sure to bring your cloak, as we may be away for more than one day."
Markos was shocked and surprised.
It was to be the first time, since the precipitous carriage ride with Terentius from Brundisium, that he had left the villa.

and the story continues - 
Gracchus - accompanied by Markos and Terentius - goes to Cumae to consult the Sibyl -
only to receive a mysterious and baffling answer to his question....
(The Oracle)

Please note that this chapter contains sexually explicit and violent images and text. If you strongly object to any of these images please contact the blog author at and the offending material can be removed. Equally please do not view this chapter if such material may offend.

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