John Maddox Roberts
The Statuette Of Rhodes
Rhodes is the most beautiful place in the world. Above its gemlike harbor the houses and public buildings ascend the encircling hills in blinding whiteness and the flowers bloom the year round. The whole city is adorned with the most fabulous works of art, for, unlike mainland Greece and the other islands, Rhodes has remained unplundered by foreigners since the days of its greatest glory, and the citizens have made every effort to prevent great works of art from leaving the island, no matter how high the bids and bribes of collectors.
The populace are as civilized as the island is beautiful, the Rhodians having cultivated good manners the way others cultivate war, and their legal and governmental institutions are models for others to follow, the laws extending even to the protection of slaves and foreigners. For centuries artists, authors, philosophers and rhetoricians have chosen Rhodes as their home and the noble youth from the whole world are sent there for the final polish on their education.
It is, in short, an unutterably boring place. When a nation, however small and insignificant, has no better claim to prominence than beauty, scholarship, education, art and culture, it is in the terminal stages of decadence. Where would we Romans be if we'd sat around making pretty pictures and being polite to one another? We'd all be hauling plows for Gauls and polishing chamberpots for Carthaginians, that's where.
Actually, I was about ready for a little boredom the day I was thrown off the ship onto the mole at Rhodes. My last port of call, Alexandria, had furnished an overabundance of excitement, culminating in my being carried, bound and gagged, from the palace of Ptolemy and hurled aboard the first departing Roman warship. Thus, when the immense, spike-bristling harbor chain was lowered to let the galleys Swan, Neptune and Triton pass, I was not entirely displeased to see the place, even if it wasn't Rome.
The captain of the Swan, one Lichas, directed his men to toss my chests and bags ashore. Last of all came my slave, Hermes. The boy dropped to all fours and dry-heaved, an activity he had been pursuing nonstop since we had struck open water upon passing Pharos.
'You are a sore loser, Captain,' I said, standing and gathering up the shreds of my dignity. I had whiled away the voyage winning most of the money on the ship at dice.
A little delegation of town dignitaries had hurried down to the harbor to greet the three-ship flotilla. They seemed puzzled upon beholding my convict treatment. Rogues, persons of bad character and those who draw bad luck are often cast unceremoniously ashore by mariners, but such persons rarely wear the red-striped tunic of a Roman senator. An important-looking fellow stepped forward, looking back and forth between me and the captain, his expression more than a little bemused.
'Welcome, Captain Lichas. How comes it about that you thus manhandle a Roman senator?' The man spoke beautifully cultured Greek.
Lichas hopped ashore and handed the man a scroll. 'King Ptolemy and Metellus Creticus, Roman ambassador to his court, would esteem it a great favor if you will keep this troublemaker confined to the island until he is sent for.'
The man scanned the scroll and raised his eyebrows. 'My, my. Senator, you do seem to have earned yourself some enemies.'
'I saved the Republic and Egypt from a disastrous war and this is the thanks I get.'
Lichas snorted. 'Alexandria was in a state of riot when we left. You could see the smoke for miles out at sea.' Like most mariners in the Roman service, Lichas was actually a Greek. We don't take to the water naturally.
'Then, Senator,' said an older fellow, 'I extend to you the hospitality of our island. I am Dionysus, president of the city council. This,' he gestured gracefully toward the one who had spoken first, 'is Cleomenes, the harbormaster.' That worthy bowed, and the others were introduced. These Greeks knew how to treat a senator, however irregular his arrival. They also knew that today's rebel, exile or reprobate could well be tomorrow's proconsul.
For a while they chattered on and on about the city's many cultural attractions. Having just come from Alexandria, whose Museum held the greatest collection of books and scholars in the world, my interest in such matters was less than minimal. I was nonetheless extravagant in my praise of their beautiful city and their distinguished selves. If I was to be stuck here for a while, I wanted as much local good will as possible.
After accepting a number of invitations to dinner, Hermes and I made our way up the slope into the city in search of an inn. Until I could find a congenial resident Roman bound to me by hospitium, I preferred public lodgings. Many of the local Greeks would have readily extended me hospitality, thrilled to entertain a genuine senator, but then I would run the risk of having to listen to a lot of talk about philosophy.
'This could turn out to be a pleasant stay, Hermes,' I said, fondling the merrily clicking purse tucked into my tunic.
'Anything's better than a ship,' he said, already much recovered from having his feet on dry land. 'Still, we're in exile among foreigners.'
'But the natives are civilized, the city is famous, we're flush with money and, for the first time in years, I've no official duties. It's vacation time, Hermes. From now until I'm summoned to Rome, we can take it easy and live as we please.'
It is with such statements as these that we furnish the gods with endless amusement.
The first days passed exactly as I had anticipated. I dined with local dignitaries, attended some athletic contests, saw the sights and generally lived a life of pleasant dissipation. My hosts were attentive, but when they weren't talking about cultural matters the subject was always the petty politics of their little republic. In Rome, men of my station lived and breathed genuine power politics, played on a world stage. Compared to the life-and-death stakes of games played for rule of provinces and command of armies, the little political feuds of Rhodes seemed piddling affairs. Nonetheless, these were matters of import to the locals and I paid diligent attention. After all, I might someday be given the task of conquering Rhodes, and a knowledge of regional affairs could come in handy.
'It's the Populars behind all this, no doubt of it,' said Eudemus, whose hospitality I was enjoying that afternoon. Some seven or eight of us reclined upon the spacious terrace of his beautiful villa overlooking the harbor.
'Populars, eh?' I said, listening with only half an ear while I held out my cup for more wine. Greek drinking cups are almost as shallow as saucers, and it takes a steady hand to avoid spillage. I was most accomplished at this art. 'We've had them in Rome for generations. I didn't know they were expanding their operations.' This was an alarming prospect. Leave it to Clodius to export Roman street politics to the foreigners.
Dionysus set my fears at ease. 'This is not your party, Senator. They've been here for centuries, too: malcontents and rogues always demanding privileges to which they are not entitled by birth. I suppose they are an inevitable consequence of a republican form of government.' I had learned that, like Rome, Rhodes had a severely limited democracy, in which real power was restricted to a handful of noble families.
'No doubt,' I mumbled around a mouthful of olives. I spat the pits over my shoulder. 'What are they up to here?'
'In the old wars between the Greek states,' said Gylippus, a prominent shipping magnate, 'the Populars were always trying to set one or another of the allies or visiting navies against the best people. Fortunately, Sparta had a wise policy of intervening in such cases.'
My admittedly spotty reading of history told me that the Spartans had made a practice of installing vicious tyrannies wherever they had influence, but I long ago learned the futility of arguing over other people's version of their own history.
'They're up to the same old tricks again,' said Dionysus.
'How?' I asked. 'Old Mithridates is finally gone and the power of the pirates is smashed for good. This part of the world is finally at peace, thanks to Rome.'
'For which our gratitude is immense,' Gylippus said dryly. 'But, that being the case, the common scum have switched their intriguing to Rome itself.'
'Passing a few bribes in the Senate, are they?' I said, looking around for yet another refill. 'No harm in that. The Senate's full of men who'll promise to send out an army, slaughter the lot of you and put the beggars in power. They'll just pocket the money and do nothing. It's done all the time.'
'A few years ago,' said a landowner named Aristander, 'your Julius Caesar was here and the Populars made much of him, entertained him lavishly.'
'They did the same last year when Pompey was here,' said Dionysus.
This, for me, cast a pall over the convivial gathering. I had hoped that here, at last, I could be free of those two names. 'They'll have accomplished nothing with Pompey,' I said. 'He's far too conservative to take the popular side in anything. Caesar is famous for his popular sympathies at home, despite his patrician birth, but that's no more than practical politics. He's been elected one of next year's consuls. Once he's back in Rome after his time as a proconsul, he'll forget it was the mob that put him in power.'
Needless to say, I knew little about Caesar at that time.
'I fear that our Populars believe otherwise,' said Cleomenes, the harbormaster. 'They're agitating for the right to put some of their own on the city council. They claim it's so that the common people will have representation, but we know that they intend to betray our ancient independence and sell Rhodes to the highest bidder.'
'And who might that be?' I asked. 'Mithridates is gone. Egypt amounts to nothing. Pompey destroyed the pirates. Parthia has no ships, and therefore no use for an island. Only Rome is left, and we just conquer what we want.'
'Very true,' Gylippus acknowledged. 'But baseborn traitors practice treachery out of pure habit.'
'Maybe,' I said. 'But I suppose they can't be blamed for sucking up to Pompey. Everybody does, these days.'
'Speaking of outsized persons,' said Dionysus, 'have you visited our Colossus, Senator?'
'I thought it toppled ages ago,' I said.
'So it did, during an earthquake almost two hundred years ago. It stood only fifty-six years.' He sighed for the loss of the island's most famous attraction. 'But even the shattered fragments are a wonder. The head alone is larger by far than most other sculptures.'
'I must have a look at it,' I murmured, not terribly excited. My stay in Egypt had likewise inured me to huge monuments. With all its immense pyramids, temples and statues, there were places in Egypt where you could stand in one spot and just glancing around see more masonry and statuary than was possessed by the rest of the world combined. The prospect of a heap of scrap bronze failed to stir my interest.
Nonetheless, a day or two later, my steps led me to the spacious plaza where once the towering statue of Helios stood in splendor. Hermes accompanied me as usual, packing along a satchel that held my bath items, some snacks I'd purchased at a market, and a skin of decent local wine, all basic supplies for a day of idling and sightseeing.
'Are those feet up there?' Hermes exclaimed, gawking.
'I believe so.' The pedestal, itself as large as a good-sized temple, was still tolerably intact. Atop it stood a pair of bronze feet the size of triremes, the nail of the smallest toe larger than a legionary's shield. Having beheld this odd spectacle, it took a few moments to realize that the green hillocks strewn all over the plaza were actually the rest of the statue.
The torso was almost shapeless, collapsed from its own weight, but the lesser members were quite recognizable once the eye and mind adjusted to their size and whimsical juxtapositions. Here the extended finger of a vast hand pointed portentously toward the shop of an oil merchant. There, a well-shaped knee seemed to grow from the crook of an elbow. The long points of the god's solar crown had once been highly polished, their gleam visible to ships far out at sea. Now, the laundry of local housewives dried on lines stretched between them.
Abruptly, the quiet of the day was shattered by an unearthly howl. I imagined that Cerberus might make such a noise to greet a particularly distinguished visitor to the underworld. Then, on second thought, it occurred to me that Cerberus would howl with three voices. Whatever, it was a most impressive noise.
'It's a ghost!' Hermes cried. He had picked up a good many local superstitions during our stay in Egypt.
'They shun daylight,' I told him. 'Come along. I think it came from the god's laundry rack.'
'Are you sure about this?' he asked, taking a surreptitious pull at the wineskin.
'No, but this is the closest thing to excitement that's happened since we got here.'
The head of Helios, bigger than my house in the Subura, lay tilted so that the right cheek and jaw lay against the pavement, the spikes of the crown on that side bent at odd angles. The sound, which had diminished to a series of low moans, seemed to emanate from the neck.
We found a woman standing before the cavernous opening, hands clasped to her mouth, a basket of damp tunics forgotten at her feet. It had been her scream, echoing about within the god's cranium, that had made the unearthly sound.
'I knew it had to be something like that,' Hermes muttered.
Next to the basket, a small, brown dog was placidly lapping from a dark pool. Flies buzzed busily around the dog's head. A crowd gathered rapidly, attracted by the singular shriek.
'What's happened?' I asked the woman. Wordlessly, she pointed into the god's hollow head. Hermes and I stepped inside. A dark trickle led from the pool within. Holes and cracks in the bronze skin admitted a dim light, enough to see that a body lay about five paces within, head toward the opening, which was now crowded with gawkers. Hermes crouched by the corpse.
'Looks like someone smashed this one's head in,' he reported. 'Blood and brains all over.'
Outside, a wail went up, from the men as well as the women. 'Murder! Murder!' and so forth.
Hermes looked up in annoyance. 'What's all the fuss about? It's just a body.'
'Perhaps this is an uncommon occurrence here,' I hazarded. In Rome, the corpse of a murder victim scarcely rated a glance from passersby. I'd known less uproar to be raised over a murdered praetor than these Greeks were showing for someone whose identity they couldn't yet know.
Careful not to touch the body, I took a fold of the man's tunic between thumb and fingers and rubbed it back and forth. 'First-class material,' I commented.
'He's wearing a silk diadem with spangles on it,' Hermes reported. Then, a moment later: 'The spangles are real gold, not gilded tin.' Trust the little thief to discern that in the dimness, by touch alone.
I went to the neck opening and beckoned toward a broom-wielding municipal slave. 'Go to the home of Dionysus, president of the city council. Inform him that someone of importance has been murdered.' The man dashed off and I summoned another. 'Get a priest qualified to purify the body. I want a look at him in the light.'
I was just a visitor, but I was accustomed to taking charge in situations like this and no one else seemed to know what to do. I turned to an idler. 'Is there such a thing as a city watch here?' Unlike Rome, many Greek cities have police forces.
He shrugged. 'Only at night. They're usually down by the docks, where the sailors stay.'
Dionysus arrived shortly, bustling up with a few other town notables in tow. A very sizable crowd had gathered by this time, of all ages, sexes and conditions. There was much babbling, the gist of it being that extraordinary bad luck had to be in the offing, what with a murder taking place inside the head of the island's tutelary deity. I was wondering about that myself. But then, if the locals used his crown to support clotheslines, he couldn't be all that sacrosanct.
'Senator,' Dionysus puffed, 'what has happened here?'
'I think we're about to find out,' I said, nodding toward a priest whose slaves cleared him a way through the crowd. One slave carried a box that doubtless contained religious paraphernalia. Another shouldered a litter of poles and woven leather straps.
While the priest and his staff went within, I pointed to the dark-brown, congealed puddle. Someone had taken the dog away but the flies still swarmed merrily.
'That's been here several hours, at least. I've investigated enough murders and gathered up enough Roman dead from battlefields to know.'
'I believe you are correct,' said the president, 'but this seems a strange place to commit murder. A person of importance, you say?'
'Well-dressed, at any rate.' The crowd roundabout seemed to be turning ugly. I had seen the phenomenon before. All it takes is a rumor, an omen, some unexpected happening like an eclipse of the sun, and a happy crowd can become a murderous mob in minutes. But these people had no target upon whom to vent their unease. Or did they?
After a brief purification, far less complex than the Roman variety, the slaves loaded the body onto the litter and carried it into the daylight. There came a gasp from the watchers, including Dionysus and the other officials.
'It's Telemachus, the high priest of Helios!' Dionysus said. Now the women of the crowd set up a lamentation worthy of a chorus from Euripides.
'Was he such a popular man?' I asked, astonished at the display.
'Not just popular,' said Dionysus, 'but a Popular.' This made a very neat word play in Greek, but I could tell that he wasn't just coining a witticism for our mutual amusement.
'Your high priest was a Popular?' I said, amazed. 'I might expect that in Rome. Most of our high priesthoods are held as a part of Public office. I thought yours were hereditary.'
'They are. But even priests are not immune from the degrading attractions of politics.' I had heard that sort of talk before. All my life, in fact. Any place where power has through long tradition been wielded by a handful of families, anyone else who tries to enter the charmed circle is doing something improper if not downright depraved.
'Here's the murder weapon,' said Hermes, emerging from inside the giant's head. He had been my servant long enough to fancy himself an expert investigator. He held up his trophy with pride. It was a bronze statuette about as long as a man's forearm, its base covered with a ghastly mess of blood, brains and hair. I took it from him and examined it. It depicted a nude, standing man wearing a solar crown and had a decidedly familiar look.
'Is this a miniature of the Colossus?' I asked Dionysus.
'Why, yes, it is. The local artisans make them by the hundreds. Visitors buy them as keepsakes. People here send them as gifts to friends, as pledge-tokens and so forth.'
I looked the thing over. 'It's an odd choice of weapon. If I were planning to kill someone, I think I'd choose something better designed for the task.'
'Perhaps in Rome you are more conversant with these activities,' he sniffed.
'It goes without saying. Is there any way to determine who made this?'
'I've no idea. Why do you ask?'
'It could be significant.'
'Significant in what sense? Our respect for Rome is very great, Senator, but you are not an official here,' he reminded me.
'Just curious,' I said, not wishing to tell him that I was already bored half out of my mind and eager for something to engage my faculties.
'Please, Senator,' he said, 'leave this to us. And now, if I may take my leave, I must see to the arrangements for Telemachus' funeral.' He and some other dignitaries bowed politely and followed the train of wailing mourners toward the temple of Helios where, presumably, Telemachus would be cremated.
I detained the priest for a moment. 'Does murder in this spot constitute a sacrilege?' I asked him.
'No. This is not a temenos; a place set aside as sacred to a deity or to the shades of the dead. There are no priests, and sacrifices were never performed here. The Colossus was an image of the god, but even when it was whole it was just a statue.' With a bow he rejoined the procession.
I handed the statuette back to Hermes. 'Wash this off.' He ambled off toward one of the city's many fine public fountains and returned a few minutes later, our trophy now free of the sticky evidence of its misuse.
'Why brain him with a statue?' I mused, examining the base.
'It certainly got the job done,' Hermes pointed out.
'But, if I was planning to kill someone, looking about my lodgings for the proper tool, I can hardly imagine thinking, "My sword? No, too cumbersome. My dagger? No, too common. Aha! The miniature copy of the Colossus of Rhodes! Just the thing!"'
'We've seen people murdered by roof-tiles,' Hermes said. 'I knew a slave once, was killed with a kitchen pestle. Bricks, candlesticks, anything handy will do.'
'Yes,' I said, waxing philosophical. Philosophical for me, anyway. 'Yes, when passions flare abruptly, anything that comes readily to hand may serve. Had Telemachus been found murdered in a house, with this lying close by, I would think no more of it. But he was killed in a lonely spot late at night.'
'Someone might have debrained him at home, then lugged him over there to hide the body.'
'I think not. That sort of head wound bleeds very freely. There should have been a huge trail of blood leading to the hiding place. And why carry along the murder weapon? No, it looks to me as if he was killed on the spot. Moreover, I think it unlikely that the killer had homicide in mind.'
He shrugged. 'What's one more dead Greek, anyway?'
'Relief, Hermes. Relief. Come along.'
As he walked, I examined the extempore weapon more closely. It was finely cast, the figure of the god being made in one piece with the pedestal. I could find no name, initial, or other maker's mark. The bottom of the pedestal was sealed with a nicely cut and polished piece of green marble, also unmarked.
Asking directions as we went, we soon came to the Sculptor's Market, a spacious forum where the musical chime of chisel against stone went on nonstop. The sculptors worked outdoors, with no more than an awning to protect them from the sun, inclement weather being a rarity on idyllic Rhodes.
'Now,' I said, 'all we need to do is locate the artist who made this statue.'
'It could be a sizable job,' Hermes said, looking round.
Everywhere in the market we could see copies of the Colossus. There were images done in fine marble, in cheap terracotta, in fired ceramic, in wood, in bronze like the murder weapon and in mixed media. Some were miniatures six inches high, others more substantial, and a few were man-sized. Some were painted, others left in the natural color of the medium.
I walked over to a life-sized specimen. He was of bronze, standing upon a base of Parian marble, and he had been given the full Greek treatment. Most of the flesh part was left in the mellow sheen of polished bronze. The hair and crown were brilliantly gilded. The lips and nipples were sheathed in slightly darker copper and the teeth, barely visible behind the lips, were silver-gilt. The eyes were inlaid with white shell and lapis lazuli. The thing had to cost as much as a good estate in Campania.
'May I help you, ah, Senator?' The dealer knew how to spot the insignia. I knew he wasn't the sculptor, with his fine tunic and his soft hands. 'I can make you a very favorable price for this sculpture. It was made by the sculptor Archelaus more than two hundred years ago, while the Colossus still stood, a very faithful copy.'
'Actually, I was interested in something more recent.'
'Oh?' he said, disappointed, 'what might that be?'
I held up my statuette. 'I need to find out who made this.' Just my luck if it was two hundred years old, too.
He pursed his lips. 'A common piece. I can think of more than two or three dozen artisans who might have made it. The founder might know.'
'Yes. The bronze sculptors make their images in wax, then all of them take the wax images to the bronze foundry to be cast. There is only one on the island.'
I thanked him and made a mental vow that, should I ever get a chance to conquer Rhodes, I was going to claim that statue as my first piece of loot.
Like all the smokier businesses, the bronze foundry was located on a spit of land downwind of the city, where the whoosh of bellows vied with the clamor of the smiths' hammers and the roar of the fires to determine what could make the most noise. The foreman of the foundry was a sooty Greek with singed eyebrows. He turned the statuette over in hands so covered with burns that they shone like glazed ceramic.
'This is Myron's work. I cast it for him no more than a month ago. I can tell by the color. We'd just got in a shipment of Spanish copper. It's a little darker than the Syrian metal we'd been using.'
Now I was getting someplace. 'Did he say if it was a special commission?'
He shook his head and cinders sprinkled his shoulders. 'No, it was one of maybe ten pieces he brought in. He comes by three or four times a year, and it's almost always the Helios images.'
'Do you supply this base plug?' I tapped the marble on the bottom.
'No, it's all specialist work. The sculptor makes the wax image. We do the casting. A polisher does the polishing and if the base is marble it's cut by a lapidary.'
'Why isn't the base just cast in place?' I asked.
'Sculpture is always cast hollow. It saves weight and it saves bronze, which is an expensive metal.'
I thanked him and we headed back into the city proper. 'Now we find Myron?' Hermes asked.
'No, now we look for a lapidary.'
The quarter of the lapidaries was somewhat quieter than those of the sculptors and metal workers. The tools are much smaller. A little asking around brought us to a stall where five or six slaves worked industriously at a bench, overseen by an elderly craftsman.
'Yes, this is my shop's work,' he acknowledged with a glance at the statuette's base. 'I have the only stock of green Italian marble on the island just now.' He nodded toward a big block of greenish stone which a pair of slaves were patiently sawing into inch-thick slabs, the saw moving slowly back and forth while a small boy trickled water into the cut.
'When was this?'
He scratched his head. 'Myron came to pick them up about ten days ago.'
'Did he say who had commissioned them?'
'Copies like this are seldom made to commission. I do remember that he wanted special treatment for one.'
'Ordinarily, the bases are glued in with pitch. He wanted one base left unglued.'
'Did he say why?' The Greek just shrugged.
'Now we return to the Sculptor's Market to look for Myron?' Hermes asked wearily.
'No,' I told him. 'Now we find a nice, shady spot and have lunch. Then we go find Myron.'
Back in the Sculptor's Market, after a little side trip to the harbor mole, we found Myron before his shop, molding wax. Everyone has heard of the famous Myron, the sculptor who created the Discus-Thrower. This, needless to say, was another Myron. The original has been dead for about four hundred years. Like charioteers, sculptors like to use the names of old champions.
'That's mine, all right,' he said, not interrupting the rhythm of his hands on the wax.
'Who bought it?' I asked.
'I've made and sold hundreds of those. Most of the buyers are foreign travelers like you.'
'Who asked for one with the base left unattached?'
Now the busy hands paused. 'Oh, that one. It was Cleomenes, the harbormaster.'
'I see. Did he say why he desired this eccentric treatment?'
Again, that Greek shrug. 'No. Why should he?'
As we walked back toward our digs, I said to Hermes, 'I don't understand how the Greeks got their reputation as a curious, inquiring people. Most of them are utter dullards.'
'Maybe,' he opined, 'they know some questions are better left unasked.'
When we got to the temple of Helios, things were in full swing. In the balmy climate of Rhodes, they waste no time in getting the dead disposed of. Telemachus lay on a bier atop a great heap of timber that reeked of oil. The mourners had quieted down so that the eulogies could be delivered. Rhodes had the world's most illustrious teachers of rhetoric, and I think it was the famous Molon, teacher of Cicero, who was speaking as we arrived. A whole crowd of students from many lands stood around while the old man showed them how a real expert dispatches a dead nonentity to the netherworld.
'The heavens weep,' intoned the orator, 'and the sun hides its face in mourning for the peerless Telemachus, priest of Helios.' Actually, it had been perfectly clear all day, and the sun was merely getting ready to go down the way it does every day. I suppose it's the sentiment that counts. 'Surely, the god cannot permit this perfect servant to descend, a mere bodiless shade, to the Stygian shore. Rather, he now attends his deity with his own hands, perhaps grooming the fiery steeds of the sun, or pouring the nectar to soothe the god's thirst after his daily ride in the solar chariot:' and so forth in this vein for some time. I've heard the same sort of eulogy for innumerable dead priests. If they were all true, every god would have more servants than Crassus and there wouldn't be enough work for most of them to do.
'Do you see Cleomenes among the mob?' I asked Hermes. 'He must be here. Everyone of importance is.'
'Over there, with all the men in gilded wreaths. I guess that's the rest of the city council.'
'Right. They're looking a little uncomfortable.' The council members, dressed in their best robes, were trying to maintain their dignity. The surrounding crowd were clearly in a dark mood, muttering and glowering. A Roman mob would have been in full riot by now, but as I have said, the Rhodians are rather more easy-going.
'Well,' I said, 'time to liven things up.'
'Maybe you'd better wait until tomorrow,' Hermes cautioned. He held up the wineskin and examined it. The thing had gone flat during the course of the day.
'Nonsense. No time like the present. We have an audience now.' I pushed my way through the mob of mourners, into the cleared zone just before the temple steps, where the pyre had been erected. 'May I have your attention, please!' I shouted in my best Forum voice, which had considerable volume.
The speaker, Molon or whoever it was, broke off in mid-praise. 'Sir, do you wish to deliver a eulogy for the departed? If so, you shall have your turn.' The fellow had tremendous, almost Roman dignitas, for a Greek.
'Not a bit of it,' I said. 'I've come to make an accusation of murder.' At this there was an uproar from the crowd.
'Senator!' cried Dionysus, outraged. 'This is not the place for such an action! You have no right to:'
'Nonsense!' I interrupted grandly. 'I'm a Roman senator and I can do anything I want to.' I really had been hitting the wine too hard that day. 'I accuse the harbormaster, Cleomenes, of braining the late Telemachus, high priest of Helios, with this statuette of his own deity!' I held up the bronze figure for everyone's edification.
'Death to the Aristocrats!' shouted some idiot, safely anonymous within the midst of the crowd.
'Oh, pipe down, moron! That fool,' I jerked a thumb over my shoulder, indicating the body on the pyre, 'and Cleomenes were conspiring to sell out your republic.'
'Be silent, you interloping barbarian!' Cleomenes shouted, gone quite red in the face. 'Not only is your charge absurd, but Rome has no business meddling in the affairs of the ancient Republic of Rhodes!'
'Hah!' I said, wittily. 'That's not what you said when you entertained Pompey last year, was it?' Actually, I wasn't certain that it had been Pompey the traitors had been conspiring with, but in those years he was certainly the best candidate. His red face whitened and I knew my dart had struck home.
'Senator,' Dionysus said, this time in a lower voice and casting nervous glances in the direction of the restive crowd, 'are you telling us that General Pompey, that glorious conqueror, while enjoying our hospitality, was plotting against us?'
'Not directly and with no immediate designs upon your republic,' I assured him. 'But Pompey, like any good general, no sooner wraps up a successful war than he makes preparations for the next. His recent campaign against the pirates taught him the importance of naval power, a thing long neglected by Rome. He knew that a big eastern war would necessitate a strong base with a good harbor, and what finer harbor, what stronger island than Rhodes exists in the eastern part of the sea? Was it not in celebration of your defeat of Demetrius, that theretofore unconquered besieger, that you erected your Colossus?' I just thought I would show these Greeks that they were not the only ones who knew how to give a rousing public speech. This even roused a mild cheer from the mob, remembering their island's greatest moment of military glory.
'You, yourself,' Cleomenes protested, 'have said that Rome has no enemies left!'
'I mentioned Parthia and Egypt. Alone, either is a negligible quantity. But together, remembering that Cyprus, too, belongs to Egypt, they could prove troublesome.' I did not think it wise to point out the greatest danger: that a future war in the east would most likely be a civil war, between Pompey and one of our other successful, trouble-making generals, someone like Lucullus, Crassus, Gabinius, or even Caesar, whose star was ascendant at the time.
'Pompey wanted assurances of cooperation from both camps, the Aristocrats and the Populars, so he suborned promises of aid from two prominent members of those parties. You recall, noble Dionysus, how you told me just this morning that these statues of Helios are often given as pledge-tokens?'
'So I did,' he admitted.
'This statuette,' I waved the thing aloft, really warming up to my denunciation, 'was to symbolize their pledge to Pompey. As good conspirators always do, they divided the incriminating activity between them. Cleomenes bought the token. Telemachus, high priest of Helios, was to send it to Pompey, supposedly in fond remembrance of his visit here. The two, political rivals that they publicly were, could not meet publicly so that the statuette could be handed over, nor could they trust a go-between. So they met late at night, in a conveniently deserted spot, the Place of the Colossus.' I had their rapt attention now. Even the muttering had stopped.
'But,' I cried, pausing dramatically for effect, 'the two had a falling out. Perhaps one of them wanted a bigger slice of the spoils to be divided when Pompey should take the island, perhaps Telemachus, with a last-minute attack of conscience or cowardice, wanted out of the arrangement entirely. Whichever it was, Cleomenes, in a thwarted rage, bashed him over the head with the only weapon available-this statuette!' I brandished it like a sword and everyone gasped.
'And just how did you come up with this fabrication of blatant lies?' Cleomenes said with contemptuous indignation, his shifting eyes betraying him.
'I admit,' I said, preening, 'that when I learned from Myron the sculptor that Cleomenes had requested a statuette with its hollow base left unsealed, I expected to find incriminating documents within. Naturally, even an amateur conspirator and assassin like Cleomenes would never leave anything so incriminating right next to the corpse of his victim. The token contained nothing so blatant.'
'What, then?' Dionysus urged, torn between indignation at the plot, resentment of me and fear of the crowd.
'Something he thought no one in on the plot would ever notice. But, Cleomenes was not expecting the arrival on the scene of Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger.' Here I popped loose the marble base, something I had done earlier, while Hermes and I had been enjoying lunch in one of the many delightful little parks that dot the city. 'Here,' I held up the nicely crafted piece of green marble, 'scratched into the base, are words not in Greek but in Latin. They say, simply, 'It is cut.'
'And what does this mean?' Dionysus asked.
'It would mean nothing to anyone who did not know exactly who had made the inscription. But, knowing that it was Cleomenes the harbormaster, I took a little walk down to the mole to examine the one thing in his charge that might be of interest to Pompey: the great chain that blocks the entrance to the harbor. If you will send officers to examine it you will find that some of the links have been cleverly sawn halfway through. The tampering is well disguised, and it does not affect the regular raising and lowering of the chain. But one Roman trireme would snap it like a string and Pompey's troops would be quartered in your houses before you knew he had arrived.'
'Cleomenes,' Dionysus shouted, white-faced, 'you are under arrest pending investigation of the Senator's charges.' The guilty man opened his mouth to speak, but a traitor's death was already upon his face and no sound emerged.
As the crowd broke up in disappointment and confusion I congratulated myself. Personally, I didn't care who controlled Rhodes, but our warmongering generals had already come near to destroying the Republic, and in those days I considered Pompey the most dangerous of the lot. I was pleased to have done him a bad turn.
'Shall we go ahead and burn him?' asked a torch-bearing slave, nodding toward the heap of oily wood. At the president's nod he tossed his torch into the pile which began to crackle merrily.
'It seems, Senator,' said Dionysus as if the words left a foul taste in his mouth, 'that Rhodes owes you thanks. Not that Pompey or any other general would have found us so easy to take, with or without our harbor chain. How may we express our gratitude?' He was used to Roman envoys, a greedy lot back then.
'I care only for justice,' I told him. Then I draped an arm over his shoulders. 'My father, however, is a great fancier of Greek sculpture. Down in the Sculptor's Market there is a statue of Helios that would be perfect for his country estate:'
These things happened in Rhodes in the year 692 of the City of Rome, the consulship of Metellus Celer and Lucius Afranius.