Beautus Ille

"Happy is he who, far from being busy
Like the ancient race of mortals
Cultivates his ancestral farm with his cattle
Freed from all debt
Neither to be roused to fierce battle by a trumpet
Nor dread the angry sea
And who spurns the forum and the proud thresholds of powerful men..."
...So spoke Alfius the moneylender
Now, even now about to become a country dweller
He withdraws all his funds on the Ides
And lends them out again on the Kalends.

— Horace, Epodes

   “Publius? Are you awake?”
   “Awake enough.”
   “...Let’s stay here forever. What do you think?”
   “What, in bed?”
   “No, you ass. Out here — in the country.”
   “Quintus —”
   “Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Perhaps we could keep bees. Honey whenever we want it, and all we’d have to worry about would be stings.”
   “Quintus, we’re going back to Rome in two days.”
   “I know. Gods save me, how I know.”
   “You’re being morose. Honestly, it’s spring and you have this brand new farm.”
   “Forgive me. I was thinking about the one I grew up on.”
   “It’s nothing.”
   “Things are better now. Peaceful.”
   “So’s a tomb.”
   “Now, now, ocelle, that’s unfair.”
   “I know it’s unfair. Unfairness is one of the many little indulgences I allow myself once in a while.”
   “Things are better now.”
   “You keep saying that.”
   “Because it’s true.”
   “Perhaps. The wars are on our borders now, instead of in Italy.”
   “Why are you so preoccupied with war and gloom this morning? It’s really not like you.”
   “...I had a dream. About the battle.”
   “Do you dream of it often?”
   “Not often. Only once or twice in my life, actually.”
   “You’ve never spoken of it. I don’t even know how you got this awful scar.”
   “’s a shameful thing for a soldier to have a scar on his back. It means you were either ambushed or running away.”
   “...which was it?”
   “You fled?”
   “Like a deer pursued by a wolf. Threw down my shield and didn’t even look back. It’s a wonder no one cut me down or pinned me with a javelin while I was in such a rush to get away...I suppose some god must have been watching out for me.”
   “Undoubtedly. They protect their own.”
   “When they remember to. Why all the questions? You’ve never asked about the war before.”
   “I’ve never been in a battle. I don’t know what it’s like.”
   “Thank the gods for that. It’s horrible, Publius...You’re told to stand in line and keep your formation, and you do — as long as you’re winning. Then someone breaks through the line, the tide turns against you, and in moments everything’s in chaos. Blood and screaming no matter which way you turn...and the looks on the faces of the victors. More like beasts than men.”
   “I don’t know how you survived.”
   “I barely did. You, little thing, would have certainly been butchered.”
   “But just the other day you wrote —”
   “I know. Dulce et decorum what-have-you. Dying is seldom seemly and never sweet. Sounds nice, though, doesn’t it? Very clever, I thought.”
   “Why’d you write it, then? If it’s not true.”
   “Out of some desire to convince myself, I suppose.”
   “...doesn’t seem to have worked altogether well.”
   “Once again, your powers of perception are staggering. You should consider a career in augury — don’t make that face at me. I’m not mocking you.”
   “You are.”
   “Well, I don’t mean anything by it. I never do.”
   “I know.”
   “Let me guess -- your little epic has been written up to the fall of Troy, and you need to know what a real battle is like, and that’s the source of all these questions, hm?”
   “...It’s not just that.”
   “Hah! I was right. Let me hear a bit.”
   “I’d have to get the manuscripts —”
   “Eh, don’t bother, then. And it’s not a proper subject for the circumstances anyway. If we’re going to read anything right now, it should be love lyrics or charming little verses about the country.”
   “I miss writing pastorals.”
   “I know you do. You were always happier when you were writing about sheep.”
   “You’re teasing me again.”
   “A little. But I do prefer it when you’re happy, even if it does involve sheep. Your cough is better, I notice.”
   “Is it? Probably the fresh air. But I suppose it won’t matter, seeing as we’re going back to Rome tomorrow.”
   “Yes, don’t remind me.”
   “What time is it?”
   “Almost noon, I think.”
   “May I propose that we get up?”
   “I expressly forbid it.”
   “Oh? Are you tribune now, then?”
   “Only aspiration I can have, considering.”
   “Well, then, the senate passes an edict on the subject of breakfast.”
   “Tribune makes...a motion to postpone.”
   “Senate —ahn! — makes a ch-ch-charge of improper conduct in a debate!”
   “Does the senate wish to pursue the motion...?”
   “Ah! Senate drops charges!”
   “Well, then.”
   “Don’t look so smug!”
   “Why not? I won an argument.”
   “You don’t win arguments like —”
   “Do you want to keep arguing, then?”
   “Then let’s stop arguing and...have breakfast later.”
   “No arguments there, ocelle. None at all.”
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