As agreed, Anaxamenos and I arrived yesterday evening at the doorstep
of Maltinus, who lives in a very modest house in the Subura district,
which is north of Flavian’s crown upon the Oppian hill. On
our way there, I told Anaxamenos of the passages I have read in
both Martialis and Juvenalis, who have both described the area in
less than flattering terms. We laughed at that, for in truth the
neighbourhood seems to us to be no different than many of the other
places we have walked. That being said, Subura does possess a great
many artisan and merchant shops (including a large proportion of
booksellers – no wonder Maltinus likes it so much!), and,
as far as I can tell, is home to a thick community of Jews who maintain
their synagogue near the Esquiline Gate with a very laudable dedication.
Furthermore, I mustn’t omit as a particularly endearing feature
the forwardness of the prostitutes who hang from the windows of
Subura’s brothels. Perhaps this is the reason my favourite
moralist believes the district to be so depraved. But the fact of
his disapproval is enough to make me appreciate it all the more
as a place that brims with the authenticity of human endeavour,
and I daresay that both Anaxamenos and I very much appreciate it
as a place of good cheer.
We were greeted upon our arrival by Stolo, who is Maltinus’
third daughter, aged six. She was followed only moments later by
her mother, Brocca, who smiled widely and warmly, and then ushered
us inside. Into the atrium ran Corda, their second daughter (aged
ten and one), to greet us very enthusiastically. And then Maltinus
entered with his first-born, Palmetta, who is ten and four.
I watched as Anaxamenos was introduced to her, and could tell instantly
that he was smitten (something for which you can be assured I mercilessly
teased him about on our walk home later that night). Maltinus and
Brocca were obviously very pleased by the success of their daughter’s
initial meeting with the handsome Anaxamenos, and it soon became
clear to both he and I that Palmetta is very much her father’s
daughter, for she evinces an intelligent and thoughtful demeanour.
She possesses a very delicate face and a great volume of rich, black
hair which flows like a waterfall down her back. To observe her
head next to the fiery red curls of Anaxamenos is a delightful contrast
As we were shown to our sofas, I asked after the infant Merula.
“But she is sleeping,” said the earnest Stolo. No sooner,
however, had she delivered this disappointing news, did she turn
to her mother and plead with Brocca to allow her to show off the
baby. Brocca agreed, and thus Stolo took me by the hand and led
me into the infant’s little room. I peered into the cradle
to see her – and I was dazzled, Lysicles! Not simply at this
tiny creature who slept so peacefully before me, but at the thought
that soon there would be another one – very much her size
– who was of my own blood. I gazed with reverence upon the
peaceful face, and Stolo took great pride in my softly cooing delight.
Until she determined that I had had my fill, and signaled that it
was time for us to leave. Once again she took my hand and led me
back out into the atrium, where I thanked her for her thoughtfulness
at convincing her mother on my behalf. Stolo must have then decided
that I was a very worthy fellow, for she did not leave my side for
the rest of the supper.
As dinner progressed, Anaxamenos took a very keen and unabashed
interest in Palmetta. It got to the point, I think, that Corda was
becoming quite jealous of her elder sister and looked to me to provide
a complimentary set of attentions. I obliged her as best I could,
much to the amusement of Maltinus, who later confided in me that
he felt she was still much too young to make a good wife. I felt
a considerable relief at that, for Corda, despite her fire and her
zeal, struck me still as remarkably immature of heart.
After dinner the women left us and Maltinus, Anaxamenos and I spoke
of many things. Maltinus inquired after my soldier pupil, Decentius,
and I told him that the man was an avid learner. “I foresee
some very quick progress with him,” I said. And then I asked
him if I might borrow a small selection of his most elementary books
that I could use as practice material for Decentius. Maltinus readily
agreed, and sent me home with two volumes (the LXIInd and LXIIIrd)
of Titus Livius, From the Founding of the City.
And that was the evening – passed very enjoyably in the company
of Maltinus and his delightful family. Had there been drama and
intrigue afoot, I suspect this letter would have been much longer.
But as it is, it stands as a testament to the beauty of a very uncomplicated
man and his remarkably sincere family. Thus, for all my teasing
of Anaxamenos and the sudden hardening of his loins at the thought
of Palmetta, I have no doubts that, should they pursue a courtship,
she shall make him a very fine wife and he to their family shall
prove a magnificent son. Perhaps if Corda discovers what it is to
be a woman, I shall be just as happy to marry her, and then, by
the gods, I shall make Anaxamenos a brother!
I am tired now, and there is little else to say on this matter.
I have written in deference to my friend, Anaxamenos, who no doubt
at this very moment is frigging himself with the image of Palmetta
carved upon the inside of his skull.
And need I say, Lysicles, whose face it shall be that sits upon
mine, when I, but moments from now, put myself to bed and take with
me into my sleep a modicum of pleasure? Of course not – for
something so obvious needs hardly be said, correct? A.