A Roadhouse Tavern at night. The tavernkeeper,
Marsyas, sits at a table with his son. Decentius sits alone at another
table, eating quietly. Enter Gryllus.
GRYLLUS Tavernkeeper! Your finest.
MARSYAS My lord.
GRYLLUS See here: I have about me a single aureus,
and I set it down before you. I command you to take up this golden
coin, and liquefy it unto a golden ale at a pace just beyond what
is for a moderate drinker manageable.
MARSYAS Indeed, my lord. And it shall afford you
a meal as well, if that you desire it.
GRYLLUS Methinks I desire it. Ply me thus with
food as well as with drink!
MARSYAS Helvius, tell your mother for a generous
serving of the roast.
GRYLLUS A roast of what?
HELVIUS Of mutton, my lord!
GRYLLUS Good! Very good! Away with you and fetch
it. (Exit Helvius.) A fine-looking
MARSYAS That he is, my lord.
GRYLLUS How old is he?
MARSYAS He is one and ten, my lord.
GRYLLUS Eleven! The perfect age for which to be
MARSYAS How so, my lord? (Delivering
the ale:) Are you well, my lord?
GRYLLUS What is well?
MARSYAS Art hungry, my lord?
GRYLLUS Pangs of despair that wail to me from within.
MARSYAS My lord?
GRYLLUS Aye, tavernkeeper. I am hungry.
MARSYAS ‘Twill be a hearty plate before thee,
lord, and all thy pangs shall be forgotten.
GRYLLUS Very good. A toast to Hadrian then.
DECENTIUS To Hadrian.
GRYLLUS Long may he live and prosper in the company
of young Antinous.
DECENTIUS I know not the name, sir.
GRYLLUS You shall. You shall.
DECENTIUS Are you well, sir?
GRYLLUS What is well?
DECENTIUS Well is to be in good spirit; healthy;
with means to a regular meal and a warm bed.
GRYLLUS I am not in good spirit, friend. Yet I
am reasonably healthy. And though I have excessive means to a regular
meal and a warm bed – I regret that it sleeps not so warm
as it should if that by some proper companionship ‘twere more
artfully heated. Therefore I am two parts well and two parts not,
which makes me more unwell methinks than middled.
DECENTIUS Shall you tell us her name?
GRYLLUS Whose name?
DECENTIUS The name of she that once in your bed
slumbered beside you, who now is no longer there.
GRYLLUS Alas, friend, she was never in my bed though
enough was to it invited. And what’s more, she was a boy.
A boy what has been taken from me by none other than the long-lived
DECENTIUS Take heart, sir. There shall be others
to comfort you.
GRYLLUS There are others to comfort me. There are
many to choose from and all are eager to be chosen. The abundance
of boys is not what despairs: ‘tis the rarity of that one
who is gone.
Enter Lucilla and Helvius.
LUCILLA A plate of roast for our guest.
GRYLLUS I thank you, madam.
LUCILLA And for an aureus paid, my lord, consider
it a plate that shall never empty. You may call for more as you
please, and ‘twill please me to deliver it.
GRYLLUS I thank you, madam.
LUCILLA Shall you spend the night with us? We have
a room with a large mattress, and shall bring you fresh milk in
GRYLLUS I have made no plans, madam, beyond this
food and drink.
LUCILLA Then I must entreat your lordship to stay
with us and find in our house good company and a warm bed.
GRYLLUS How warm?
LUCILLA Warm, my lord.
MARSYAS Allow him his peace, woman! He hath made
LUCILLA We can provide the best company, my lord,
if that we are given ample notice to thy preferences.
GRYLLUS I thank you, madam.
MARSYAS Begone, wife.
LUCILLA I am gone, husband! (Exit.)
MARSYAS Helvius, come away.
GRYLLUS Forbear, tavernkeeper. I am not so in need
of thy protection. Thy wife is charming and thy son is keen. He
may sit with me at my table, that I may admire him. How now, boy?
HELVIUS Well, my lord.
GRYLLUS Excellent. What enraptures you?
HELVIUS Thine ornaments, my lord!
GRYLLUS Indeed, they are shiny and useless. Shall
you rob me of them?
HELVIUS Never, my lord!
GRYLLUS What of him, that man over there?
HELVIUS Nor he neither, my lord.
GRYLLUS What assurance have you of that?
HELVIUS For he is a soldier, noble and upright.
GRYLLUS What’s his name?
GRYLLUS And thou?
GRYLLUS I am Gryllus.
HELVIUS Are you at court, my lord?
GRYLLUS I have on occasion been admitted there.
MARSYAS Helvius! Enough!
GRYLLUS Peace, friend. He is welcome to pester
HELVIUS Are you well, my lord?
GRYLLUS Helvius, I am not.
HELVIUS What ails you?
GRYLLUS Absence. Loss. Betrayal.
HELVIUS Of what, sir?
GRYLLUS Did you know this mutton?
HELVIUS My lord?
GRYLLUS Had it a name ere thy father butchered
HELVIUS No, my lord.
GRYLLUS What spake thy mind, tavernkeeper, when
you butchered this lamb?
MARSYAS Nothing, my lord. ‘Twas a mundane
affair, save thanks to the gods that gave it.
LUCILLA What says my lord of his mutton?
GRYLLUS A very good mutton, my lady.
LUCILLA A very good mutton. A very good mutton.
MARSYAS Begone wife!
LUCILLA A very good mutton. (Exit).
GRYLLUS Thy father is a man of yellow bile, boy.
MARSYAS So says her mother, my lord.
GRYLLUS Her mother is wise.
DECENTIUS And what art thou, sir, to proclaim it
so quickly on the edge of a cursory acquaintance?
GRYLLUS I am perceptive, soldier. I have an eye
for it. ‘Tis my blessing and my damnation.
HELVIUS What sees your eye of me, my lord?
GRYLLUS A fellow most precocious. A boy at times
capricious, yet built for obedience and servitude.
DECENTIUS ‘Tis not inaccurate, Sir.
DECENTIUS Not inconsequentially have I known this
lad and thy portrait of him speaks very true.
GRYLLUS Old women squint at those that shall outlive
them and in but an instant know much of their subject’s character
and calling. Slaves too, of either sex, have such a skill, though
it be limited to the universe of their master. ‘Tis, I believe,
a general rule that those whose lives are lived to attend on the
lives of others that possess this particular sensitivity and, in
the exercise of it, throw to stark relief the lack of perception
among their patrician rulers – fat fellows that strut the
streets and think they know of all what transpires in the bustling
world, yet are, with an obvious nakedness, the very men least endowed
with such a knowledge, for they are consummate in their self-attendance
and thus have little need to discern the nuance of others much less
hone an eye for it. The only occasion, ‘twould seem to me,
wherein a man of means has in him that rare tendency to know with
certainty the innermost mind of another is when he hath a stake
in the skill and its outcome, as when he relies on it for his livelihood.
Such a man is me.
MARSYAS And what’s thy livelihood, my lord?
GRYLLUS Lives. The lives of aspiring boys. And
their fathers too, no doubt. ‘Tis my career to seek out faces
for the limited number of places in the Imperial Paedagogium. ‘Tis
my work to scour the Empire in a quest for singular boys whose breadth
and variety may yield a tantalizing rack of exotic spices to flavour
the Meats of Rome. I am the scout that seeks for his master Zeus
an endless supply of what’s Ganymede. ‘Tis therefore
in my interest to know a fellow fast, and know of him if he shall
be for his calling famous.
MARSYAS What think you, then, of Helvius?
GRYLLUS I have said so already: A fellow most precocious.
A boy at times capricious, yet built for obedience and servitude.
MARSYAS Is it not the description of a page, my
GRYLLUS ‘Tis very possible.
MARSYAS What think you, boy? Should you like to
serve at court?
HELVIUS Assuredly, sir!
MARSYAS Shall you have him, my lord?
GRYLLUS More ale.
MARSYAS Aye, my lord.
GRYLLUS (Sotto, to
HELVIUS Aye, my lord.
GRYLLUS Thou art a just man, Decentius.
DECENTIUS Am I?
GRYLLUS Dutiful. Vigilant. Quick to rectify a wrong.
(Marsyas pours his ale.) I thank you.
DECENTIUS How know you this of me, Sir?
GRYLLUS You have signaled it. I have observed.
END OF EXCERPT