(Fear of flowers)
The legions traveling with the Emperor Hadrian and his lover, Antinous, were beginning to despise this trip that the Emperor insisted making. The sun of Greece was, like the embodiment of the god Apollo, shooting his arrows of heat and causing the vision of the Romans to blur. One soldier in particular, Flavius Claudius Tibero, however did not mind the heat at all. He was a large man who never complained but always sought to encourage his fellow soldiers by telling them jokes or leading them in a song. It was due to these qualities that the Emperor kept Tibero around him while on his various journeys throughout the Empire. The Emperor raised his head from the scroll that he was reading at that moment and, noticing that some of his men were slowing down, called for a rest stop near an olive grove. The men cheered the decision and rested where ever they could find a bit of shade.
It was at this moment that Tibero removed his helmet and wandered into the grove to look for a place to relieve himself. He had just found a place 100 feet away in order to relieve himself. He was halfway through this process, when a breeze came up and suddenly Tibero found himself in a terrible bout of sneezing. His eyes began to turn red and his nose began to run, all the while trying to control the stream from his manhood. Finally, sensing that he was losing the battle, he started to run back towards the road, but just as he came in sight of his fellow soldiers, and the Emperor, he fell over a root from one of the olive trees and fell face first with his bare buttocks exposed to all. Several soldiers had heard the commotion coming from the grove, but when Tibero fell to the ground in such an embarrassing condition, all the birds in the surrounding trees flew away, frightened by the loud roar of laughter coming from all who saw Tibero.
Tibero, however, did not get angry at the laughter of his fellow soldiers, but rose from the ground, and with a sheepish grin, said
“Who among you has not at one time or another been rudely interrupted when Nature has called? Sadly for me, Zephyrus decided to play me for a fool this time.” Having said this, Tibero looked up and shook his fist at the invisible deity and called out, “I’ll return such insult in kind, you mark my words!”
The soldiers only laughed louder. When the laughter started to die down, the Emperor called out to Tibero,
“And how shall you seek your revenge on a god, my dear Tibero? Shall you hold your breathe and seek to outdo him in your loosening of hot air?”
“No, your Majesty, but I shall wait until we get to Delphi, find his temple and go fart in his stony face!”
“I, for one, would never dare to insult a god, my friend. Maybe you should seek his help instead of his anger.”
“But, your Majesty…”
“No buts, my dear Tibero. While we are in Delphi, all of you shall honor all of the gods. Understood?”
All of the soldiers, including Tibero, nodded their assent, but under his breathe, Tibero muttered, “We shall see who makes who a fool, godling.”
After having their midday meal, the Imperial party resumed their journey to the holy site of Delphi where the Emperor wished to consult with the Pythia. The Emperor and his group were returning to Rome after traveling through the rest of the Empire on what would be considered as a goodwill tour. Before returning to Rome, however, the Emperor, who was an enthusiastic traveler and lover of all things Greek, wished to visit all of the sacred sites of the Empire with the final, and in his eyes, the most Holy of Holy Sites, Delphi. The countryside in this part of the Hellenes was very beautiful and the Emperor’s lover insisted on this route from Athens, where they had landed in Greece, as the most scenic and safest road. Three hours after Tibero’s “unfortunate accident”, the Imperial entourage arrived at the Holy Site. The streets were crowded with vendors and other tourists, some of regal lineage and some who were representatives for such personages who were of such a distrusting nature that they refused to leave their countries in other people’s hands. There were even peasants among the crowds, leading sheep or goats to various temples as offerings to the gods that they had come to seek answers from, or to be more precise, from the god’s priest. The crowd, of course, made way for the Imperial parade, mouths gossiping or gaping as the Emperor rode past them. On occasion, a cheer would go up from some of them and the Emperor would give them a smile and wave. Most of the people in the crowd wished the Emperor well, especially after having gone through the reigns of some not so likeable Emperors. The last Emperor who had made a visit to the Hellenes, without having martial ambitions, had been Nero and he had been barely tolerated.
When the Imperial entourage arrived at an estate on the west side of the complex, the soldiers took their positions while the Emperor’s servants brought in all of the baggage. Tibero and nine other soldiers were on the first shift at the entrance to the estate, which belonged to a Greek olive oil merchant who had done very well since he had a monopoly of his product throughout all of western and southern Greece. The merchant, his family and servants were not at the estate since the merchant had decided that he would conduct some business in Sparta while the Emperor was in Delphi. The merchant had no problem lending his estate to the Imperial party since he had been well paid for the privilege. In the meantime, the Emperor and Antinous staked out their personal quarters. Once settled in, the Emperor sat in the merchant’s office and spent his time going over petitions and other business which related to the running of the Empire.
Tibero was standing at the front gates of the estate, growing bored, when an old woman walked up to him. Tibero instantly became alert and commanded the old woman to stay where she was and inquired what she wanted.
“I am the High Priestess Xenia and I have been summoned by the Emperor to make an appointment for his meeting with the Pythia.”
Hearing this, Tibero called for another guard to stand in for him while he escorted the High Priestess into the Emperor’s presence. The fact that the woman had come alone surprised Tibero and he asked the woman about this. She told him that everyone who came to Delphi recognized her and that it would be sacrilege if any person laid a hand on her.
“If everyone who comes here recognizes you, why did we not?”
The old woman looked at Tibero, gave him a slight smile and said,
“You Romans may be rulers of the world, but you never see the people you rule as people. You see them as commodities.”
Tibero thought about this as they walked towards the steps leading into the mansion, but, having thought it through, simply shrugged his shoulders. He did, though, think of another question that he wanted to ask the old woman while she was there.
“If I may ask one other question, Holy Mother? Is there a temple dedicated to the Anemoi in Delphi?”
“Yes, there is, but why would a soldier be interested in a Temple dedicated to the wind gods?”
Tibero, who had been thinking about how he would repay Zephyrus for playing such an embarrassing trick on him, especially in front of the Emperor, told the Priestess that he was inquiring on behalf of his family who were farmers. Tibero felt no guilt in lying to such a holy personage, but his desire for revenge was stronger than his sense of piety. The priestess accepted Tibero’s explanation and told him where he would be able to find the temple. She also told him that it would also be a good idea to make offerings to the goddess Chloris, who was the goddess of flowers and the wife of Zephyrus. Tibero stiffened slightly when he heard this since he had always had an aversion to flowers since he would go into violent sneezing fits whenever he was around them. Finally, they arrived at the door of the mansion and Tibero told the guard who the woman was and why she was there. The guard saluted the old woman and escorted her inside. Tibero then returned to his post, waiting for the end of his shift so that he could put his plan in action. An hour later, the old priestess made her way out of the house and, as she came up to Tibero, she turned to him, smiled and told him to remember to make the proper offerings to the god and goddess. Tibero thanked the priestess for her advice and directions and when she was out of his sight, said in a low voice, “Oh, don’t worry old crone, I’ll be sure to give them all that they deserve.”
Tibero was finally finished with his shift and he went into a building set aside for the soldiers as a barracks and dining hall. Some of his friends saw him and invited him to go out with them; they had directions to a wine shop which was attached to the temple of Bacchus. Tibero asked them where it was and when he heard that it was close to the sanctuary of the wind gods, he agreed to go with them. After finishing his meal, and having not received any commands from the Emperor, Tibero and his friends headed for the wine shop. When they arrived, they were met by a priest, who was also the proprietor of the shop, who greeted them waving an ivory wand over each man’s head as he entered and a girl who placed a crown of ivy leaves on their heads.
“Welcome, glorious soldiers of the divine Hadrian! Come and drink! Enjoy the beauty of the maenads who are here to entertain you! May the god bless you with his insight! Welcome, welcome!!”
Laughing at the sight of the so-called ‘maenads’, each of the soldiers took the hand of a girl who walked up to them with jugs of wine and sat at a table. Tibero enjoyed himself, but did not let himself get too drunk, so that he could find a way of slipping out of the shop discretely and making his way to the sanctuary of Zephyrus. After drinking two small jugs of wine, Tibero got up from his couch and started to make his way to the door of the wine shop. One of his friends called out to ask him where he was going, so he turned around, smiled and roared, “Out to piss so that I may pray more to the god!” His friends, on hearing this, returned his quip with shouts of laughter and “Aye, to the god!”
When Tibero got out to the street, he leaned against the wall of the wine shop for a moment in order to get his bearings straight. Once the fresh air revived him, Tibero walked down the street towards the sanctuary that the priestess had told him about. It didn’t take him long to find the temple that he was looking for. There was only two torches lighting the fairly small temple, but Tibero managed to find the statue of the god that he was seeking. To the side of the statue of Zephyrus, there was a niche which held the statue of the god’s wive, Chloris. At first, Tibero was a bit reluctant to get too near the statue when he noticed that there were some flowers lying on the goddess’ altar, but he took one of the torches and noticed that the flowers had dried up, so he put the torch back into its holder and advanced a few steps towards the god’s statue.
“So, you find my malady a source of amusement, do you? Well, let me be the first to return the favor.” Having said this, Tibero turned his back to the statue, lifted his robe and let loose with a loud and long fart. Completing his mission, he lowered his robe and, looking over his shoulder, laughed at the statue of the god and took a step towards the temple door. He was almost out of the building when he heard the sound of a wind blowing and, suddenly, a loud voice echoed from the statue.
“Beware, o little man, for your sacrilege! Know that when you return to the land of your birth, I shall revenge myself upon you by using your biggest fear for my weapon!”
Tibero was shaken to the core when he heard this and ran out of the temple as fast as he could. He ran all the way back to the wine shop and grabbed a goblet from one of the women dressed as a maenad. He found an empty couch and, with trembling hands, gulped down the wine. One of his fellow soldier’s noticed Tibero when he ran back into the shop and staggered over to his couch,
“What, o Tibero, has happened? Surely you can not be frightened of the night? Or did some Greek boy try to bugger you while you pissed?” The soldier and his friends laughed out loud when he said this, but Tibero was not listening to them. He took up a nearby jar of wine and drank it, but his hands were shaking so much, that he spilled most of it. Tibero decided that it was a waste of his time trying to get so drunk that he would be able to forget the god’s curse on him, that he got off of the couch, said farewell to his friends and went back to the barracks. Tibero had some difficulty getting to sleep, but eventually, the wine worked its magic, and Tibero fell asleep. The wine had also the additional benefit of making sure that Tibero suffered no ill dreams. The next morning, Tibero was rudely awakened by the captain of the guards, who pushed Tibero off of his cot and unto the floor, telling Tibero that he had ten minutes to report to his post. Tibero looked up at the captain with blurry eyes and throbbing head and slowly rose from the floor and went outside to dip his head in a barrel full of cold water. The horrifying scene from last night was forgotten for the moment and Tibero quickly dressed and ran to relief the guard at the gate. Later in the morning, he was chosen to be one of the soldiers who would accompany the Emperor and Antinous to their meeting with the Pythia.
Two days after Hadrian’s meeting with the Pythia, it was decided that the journey would continue and head back to Rome. At the docks of Delphi, men were loading up triremes with stores and souvenirs for the short trip across the Ionian Sea towards Rome. The Emperor had also decided that since their voyage would bring them close to the isle of Ithaka, that they would make a short pilgrimage to see the sights of the land of the hero Odysseus, who the Emperor and Antinous admired for his wisdom. Tibero was of two minds about returning to Italy since he remembered, after the wine’s fumes cleared from his mind, the words that the statue of Zephyrus had spoken to him. The side trip to Ithaka was, in a way, a relief to Tibero since it meant that his life would be prolonged a while longer. As the ship left the port, Tibero stood at the rail and looked out at the blue waters and then checked the sails to see what direction the wind was blowing. Since the wind was blowing towards the West, Tibero started to sweat since Zephyrus was the god of the west wind. Tibero’s fear was abated when the isle of Ithaka was sighted and the party made land without incident.
Three days later, the imperial flotilla set sail from Ithaka and headed for the port of Brindisium. The sea was relatively calm, the sky was a bright blue with an occasional cloud, and the wind was perfect for this time of year. Tibero tried to keep his mind occupied by shining his armor and sharpening his sword. The Emperor and Antinous stood at the prow of the ship soaking in the fresh sea breeze and chatted. As Tibero stood up to buckle his sword back on, a seagull flew over head and screeched. The seagull had been carrying something in his bill but when he called out, it fell down and landed at Tibero’s feet. Tibero might not have noticed the object since it made no sound when it hit the deck of the ship, but Tibero had looked up, for some unknown reason to himself, and saw the object gently floating down and was a little surprised when the object landed at his feet. It was a single poppy. Tibero stooped down and picked it up gingerly and shivered. A soldier who had been standing nearby at the ship’s rail saw Tibero pick up the flower and noticed that his comrade had turned deathly white.
“What is it Tibero that causes you such fear? Surely, one flower will do you no harm?”
Tibero looked at the soldier, recognized him as one of the men who he had been at the wine shop with, and said,
“Don’t mock me! While in Delphi, I…” but he was reluctant to tell his friend what he had done at the god’s temple and what the god had said to him.
“What? What happened in Delphi?”
“Never mind. All that I will tell you is that a god told me that I would be slain by my biggest fear, and flowers have always been a torment to me. This poppy is no mere flower and this was no mere chance that it landed at my feet. Poppies, as you may know, are the flower of the god Morpheus, the god of sleep and dreams. I see this as an omen.”
“Oh, do you now? And how could you have offended Morpheus?”
“It was not Morpheus who I offended,” Tibero said quietly. “Morpheus is usually, like Mercury, a messenger of the gods and I see this as a fatal reminder.” Having said this, Tibero walked over to the railing, and waiting for a favorable breeze, dropped the flower in the sea. He watched the poppy drop on the top of a wavelet which carried it away, back towards Greece. Ten minutes later, the sound of the military trumpet called out “Assembly” and the soldiers proceeded towards the prow of the ship where the Emperor and his entourage were standing.
“My friends and fellow soldiers, I have called you all to thank you for your loyalty and patience while we have been on this pilgrimage throughout the Empire. I know that it has been over a year since many of you have seen your families. I know that it has been a while since many of you have yearned for the pleasures of Rome (loud cheers). Our journey is nearing its end and I, your Emperor, wish to let you know that this time together has been a great joy to me. The captain has told me that we shall be arriving in Brindisium within the hour. When we arrive, we shall make a slight detour to my villa outside of the city and you all are to be my guests at a feast which I have made arrangements. The day after, we shall head for Rome and when we arrive, it is hoped that the Senate will arrange a triumph for you all. I have sent orders that this is to be done and that there shall be games arranged for a full month. Each man of you shall also receive ten gold denarii as a bonus for your loyal service.” When the soldiers heard this, all throats let out a loud roar of joy and the men turned to each other and clapped each other on their backs. This caused Tibero to forget about the poppy and he joined his friends in a toast to the Emperor. The soldiers dispersed and gathered all of their armaments and other possessions. The captain of the guards walked up to each decurion and let them know what order of debarkation their groups would be in. Tibero’s group would be the last group to debark from the ship once the Emperor’s ship docked.
When the Emperor’s ship docked at the pier of Brindisium, there were people rushing up and tossing rose petals at a path that they thought that the Emperor would walk. The people were held back by soldiers from the local garrison while a welcoming committee waited at the foot of the gangplank. The leader of the welcoming committee had brought his young daughter with him; she had been brought so that she could present the Emperor and Antinous with crowning wreaths of olive leaves. The first rank of the soldiers who had traveled with the Emperor walked down the gangplank and the committee members stepped back a few paces so that the soldiers could keep in formation. The Emperor and Antinous came down the gangplank side by side after the second platoon had disembarked. The Emperor and Antinous stopped a few paces in front of the welcoming committee and, with some nudging from her father, the girl stepped up to the Emperor, who, with a smile on his face, lowered himself so that the girl could place the wreath on his head. Antinous did the same thing and the girl curtsied and ran back to her father. After this, the man gave his welcoming speech which Hadrian listened to very patiently. Some of the soldiers, however, were not as patient and they started to cough softly, lift a leg as if trying to get the blood to flow back into it, or to swat at an imaginary fly.
As a soldier himself, the Emperor was aware of his men’s unease but politeness dictated that he give this official his attention. Fortunately, the man’s speech did not last too long and the Emperor thanked the man, told him that they would be going to the Imperial villa outside of town, and be on the road to Rome on the following day. The party then proceeded to march through the crowd which had gathered, which delighted Tibero and his group who had had to wait on or at the foot of the gangplank while the Emperor was greeted by the local dignitaries.
With eyes straight ahead after his group of soldiers were in their formation, Tibero did not notice the rose petals which had been strewn by the town’s inhabitants. When he did see them, he clenched his teeth and managed to stay in formation. He was glad when the Imperial party had left the boundaries of Brindisium and were on the Via Appia heading for Hadrian’s villa. He breathed easier when he decided that maybe Zephyrus was preoccupied and had forgot about him since he was still alive. Even when marching through the rose petals, he had not been affected which was a relief. When the party arrived at the villa, Tibero stored his belongings and was ready to go see if he could get something to eat from the kitchen, but he was stopped from his goal by the captain of the guard.
“Tibero! You are to report to the Emperor immediately!”
Tibero was shocked by this command and so he asked the captain why the Emperor asked for him.
“I do not know and I would never dare to ask! Now, quickly, man!”
Tibero started to jog towards the villa with more than the heat of the day causing him to sweat heavily. He stopped at the doorway of the courtyard and told the guard that he had been summoned by the Emperor. The man said “follow me” and led Tibero through the courtyard and into a wing of the house where the Emperor met with officials. When Tibero entered the room, he saw the Emperor and Antinous laying on a couch sipping some wine which had been made on the grounds of the villa.
“So, Tibero, I have been informed that you may have insulted one of the gods. Is this true?”
“Yes…but, your Majesty, he started it!” Tibero felt foolish using such a childish excuse but it was the only thing that he could think of at that moment.
“And, if I may ask, which god did you dare to insult? Jupiter? Mars? Who was it man!”
“Zephyrus, your Majesty.”
“Zephyrus? What has the wind god done to you that you dare to commit sacrilege?”
Tibero then proceeded to remind the Emperor of the incident at the olive grove while they were on their way to Delphi. The Emperor looked over at Antinous and, at the same time, they both laughed out loud. “And by what means did you commit this sacrilege,” the Emperor said while trying to look at Tibero with a stern face.
“Well, your Majesty, when the High Priestess came to see you at Delphi, I asked her if there was a temple dedicated to the Anemoi and she told me. That night I went with some of the men to a wine shop which happened to be near this temple. After being at the shop for an hour, I got up to pretend that I needed a pissorium and, instead I went to the temple. While there I gave the god some of my own wind. However, when I was leaving the temple, the god spoke to me.”
When Hadrian heard this, he sat up from his couch and asked Tibero what the god had said to him. Tibero told him and the Emperor sat for a moment thinking over what Tibero had said. While waiting for the Emperor to decide his fate, Tibero shuffled his feet and stared down at the ground. Finally, the Emperor spoke.
“Since our party was able to cross the sea to Brindisium safely, I shall not inflict any lashes on you for your misdeed. However, you are to take a horse from my stable and ride down to the town where there is, I know, a small temple dedicated to the Anemoi and pray for the god’s forgiveness. As an additional punishment, you are also to take a bundle of flowers and put them on the altar of the god’s wife, Chloris.”
“But, my lord,…”
“I will not hear any buts from you Tibero. I shall have my dear friend Antinous here accompany you and make sure that you perform everything that I have commanded. You leave in fifteen minutes.”
“Yes, Majesty.” Tibero then left the room and headed to the stables reserved for the members of the Emperor’s cavalry to choose a horse. Tibero had had some experience riding horses, but it had been a while. He chose a brown filly with a white star between her eyes. Antinous met him at the front gate of the villa with a smile on his face.
“Come, Tibero, try not to be so gloomy. We should only be gone for an hour and it is, after all, your own fault for provoking a god, no matter how minor.”
“I know, my lord, but this would not even have happened if the gods had not afflicted me.”
“Now, are you railing against the other gods too, Tibero?”
Realizing what he had said, Tibero told Antinous that he had learned his lesson and that he would never complain about his lot in life again. Satisfied with Tibero’s answer, Antinous tried to cheer the soldier up.
“Perhaps after you have made your amends, we shall be able to find you a woman to bring you some relief from your dark mood. I’m sure that the Emperor would not object if you brought her back to the villa.”
“Thank you, my lord. That would be nice.”
The trip back to Brindisium flew by quickly as Tibero found that the Emperor’s “boy”, as he was referred to by the soldiers, was a very good companion. Tibero, for a quick second, thought that if he had had the same leanings as Hadrian, that he would have hoped to find a comrade just as amiable as Antinous. The smell of the sea eventually reached the men’s noses and Tibero fell slightly behind Antinous since he knew where the temple to Zephyrus and Chloris was located. They went through the small town square and then turned their horses up a side street for about a half mile. Antinous halted his horse when they reached the site and he looked at Tibero, waved him to get off of his horse, and pointed to a small stall situated at the right hand side of the entrance. At the stall, a young priestess sat on a stool and sold flowers to incoming worshippers.
Antinous said to Tibero: “Remember, don’t be stingy with your offering; the Emperor wishes to know that all of the gods favor him.” Tibero blanched when he saw the priestess, who had heard what Antinous said, get up off of her stool and present him with a large bouquet of roses with some irises interlaced in between each rose. Tibero took a cautious step towards the priestess, then stopped to test the wind, to see if it was blowing from the direction of the flowers. Since he did not start having a sneezing fit, Tibero held the flowers at arms length and asked the priestess how much they cost.
“Three dinarii, kind sir.”
Tibero reluctantly handed the priestess the coins and walked into the temple. Once inside, he stopped for a moment so that his eyes could get adjusted to the weak light coming through the slits carved in each direction which represented each of the four Anemoi. He turned to the left, which represented Zephyrus, the West Wind, and saw the statue of the god and that of his wife. He quickly stepped over to the altar in front of Chloris, placed the flowers in front of her statue, and made a quick bow of obeyance to her. Then, the moment that Tibero had not really been looking forward to; asking Zephyrus’ forgiveness. Tibero was not the sort of man who forgave an insult, no matter who it came from. He looked up at the statue’s eyes and was about to reluctantly ask for the god’s forgiveness, when throughout the temple, a small earthquake shook the building and which was followed by a strong wind. Tibero fell to his knees in fear and was about to pray for the god’s forgiveness when he heard that terrible voice echo around the stones again.
“So you think to avoid your fate when I still see pride in your heart. Go, little man, and accept your destiny.” Hearing this, Tibero leapt up from the cold stone floor and ran out of the temple. Once outside, he jumped on the horse that was waiting for him, which was a bit difficult since the earthquake had caused the horse to become skittish. Tibero whipped the hindquarters of the horse without waiting for his companion to join him. The horse flew down the cobbled street and was in the square in little time. At that exact moment, a strong gust of wind came out of the west and the horse rose up on his hind quarters and Tibero fell off of his back and hit the street. The horse skittered and also fell to the street and landed on Tibero’s body. Tibero had been knocked on the head when he fell and was starting to stand up when the horse knocked him back down and, due to the horse’s weight, killed Tibero. When Antinous arrived on the scene, he found the horse wandering around the square and Tibero’s body lying in a field of rose petals, which the people who had greeted the Emperor and his party, had tossed in his path. Antinous sighed, got down off of his horse, captured the other horse and placed Tibero’s body on the horse’s back.
An hour later, Antinous returned with Tibero’s body at the villa. When the Emperor was informed about what had happened, he ran out to make sure that Antinous was not injured. Satisfied that Antinous was not harmed, the Emperor asked him for more details as they walked back into the building. After hearing Antinous’ story, the Emperor sighed, looked at his lover and said,
“I guess that your little joke in Delphi back-fired.”
A year later, while the Emperor and Antinous were traveling through Egypt, Antinous fell into the Nile River and drowned.