Face ClaimMarina Sirtis
There was no reason to lie or ignore the question. It wasn't an unusual thing, either. So she answered honestly, despite the pain. It had been a few years now, anyway.
"Yes. Well, she had no more need for me. She's dead, you see. She'd only been married three months. She died giving birth to her first child. Stillbirth. Her father realised my status as a curiosity would likely make me more use to him as an entertainer than a body slave. I spoke at all his dinner parties. He lent me out to some friends, too. Well, he hosted one of the Imperial family - which, I'm no longer sure - and this guest decided he wanted me for Claudia's tutor."
She hoped she'd managed to tell that story with her usual equanimity. Honestly, it didn't hurt as much as she thought it might. Maybe she really was moving on.
"What about you? Did you serve someone else before consul Calpurnius?"
At the mention of the library, Antheia immediately brightened.
"Sounds wonderful, Volusa, thank you."
Well, things did sound pretty good here. She'd feared it would all be faceless anonymity, discomfort and being run off one's feet trying not to get on the wrong side of the Imperial family. A pretty easy-going mistress. Well, she'd have to see for herself, but Volusa's words were a comfort to her.
There was a pause. Antheia's hands drifted down to her sack of belongings, carefully undoing the bindings and letting the piece of cloth fall open. She unconsciously moved her body round a fraction as if shielding the pile of possessions, as she had learnt to do. She'd packed the cithara-cleaning cloths, bags of herbs and odd rags in closely around the oil lamp, the one with the panther she'd always used to bring in for her mistress' cubicula in the evening, to cushion it on the long journey. Ever so carefully, she lifted it up and set it down on the small ledge next to her bed. And then she picked up in two fingers her most precious possession of all, that tiny, misty vial of cheap glass filled with lavender oil. Tenderly, almost ritualistically, she released the stopper and carefully tipped the vial a fraction so that two drops of the liquid formed at the rim and dropped down onto her pillow.
She realised Volusa was still watching her.
"It helps me sleep," she said to the girl by way of explanation, although there was a lot more to it than that. She'd tell Volusa at some point, probably, once they'd got to know each other better.
Antheia smiled widely. "To be perfectly honest," she said, casting her eyes quickly around the garden then leaning towards Felix (not that there was much room left on the bench by his large frame to get any closer), "if I'd learnt philosophy from a book, I'd probably feel the same. But it's not about winning arguments against fictional characters. Aristo taught me that. It's about making people think about how they live their lives. Not that I felt I did a whole lot of that performing as a novelty at dinner parties," she said darkly but without any kind of resentment (she buried that deep).
The genuinely impressed face (as far as she could tell - but he seemed a genuine sort of fellow) Felix made as she mentioned her musical exploits gave Antheia a strangely conflicted feeling. "Well, I wouldn't say I'm a musician, as such, I'm an amateur really, I just used to play sometimes for my old mistress at dinner." One of the things she hated most was receiving praise when it was not due, despite the fact she rarely received it when it was either. "Yes, I think… she grew to think of me as a friend." She pushed away the swell of memories and put on a smile, but she avoided Felix's eyes nonetheless, in case a hint of her sadness gave itself away.
"Tranquillus… thank you. That would probably be a good idea," she said breathlessly, feeling rather stupid. When he laid a hand on her shoulder, she had at first flinched, but now she was glad of its supportive presence as he lead her slowly along the street, making sure she didn't trip again on the pavement edge. There'd surely be someone patrolling this stretch: the close buildings of the Subura made it a particular fire and crime risk.
Sure enough, leaning boredly against a tavern wall bearing the scrawled slogan 'Aulus sucks, where are our thermae?' in angry letters was a helmeted figure swinging a bucket in his right hand and holding a wine cup in the other.
Antheia nudged Tranquillus and pointed him out.
"Sounds you have a lot to teach her, whether it's philosophy or not."
Perhaps, but whether she wanted to be taught was a different matter. The mistress was quick-witted, an actually quite interesting intellectual sparring partner, but a marble statue would have been easier to shift from its position.
"There's a lot she... could be taught, yes," Antheia said after a while, trusting he was quick enough to pick up her meaning.
Felix didn't seem at all fazed by her inquiry into his literacy, answering candidly.
"I'm not exactly a scholar, though. Greek or otherwise."
She smiled. "No, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy reading. What do you like? Poetry? Oratory? Philosophy?" She paused, looking at her lap and then at his face for encouragement before deciding whether to confess this or not. She smiled slightly bashfully. "As for me, I'm not just a philosopha. I wouldn't say I'm any good at it, not really, but I... well, I can find my way around a cithara, and I used to play Sappho for my old Domina."
"I see," nodded Antheia, making a concious effort not a place a protective hand on the coin purse she kept round her neck under her chiton. She'd definitely be keeping as much of her savings as possible there until she'd sussed out the other girls and their trustworthiness.
When Volusa asked if the place was to her liking, Antheia answered truthfully: "Yes, thanks. It's lovely." Some privacy, a comfortable pallet, a room away from the Mistress' constant gaze.
"If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them."
She had about a thousand, but most things were best worked out for oneself. Nevertheless, she decided to give it a go anyway with her most pressing question.
"What am I actually... well, supposed to do all day? Wait here until she wants to discuss philosophy or literature?" Being a body slave and entertainer had been very different to this role.
"Oh, I... well, everybody seems to be going that way for food." The crowd had already disappeared out of sight, and Antheia realised she was lost again.
Cynane seemed happy enough to direct her, so she fell into step with her, glancing curiously at her now and then.
"So," began Antheia, "how... how is it, working for... Claudia? Is she..." she paused, not wishing to be too obvious, but she did want to know what to expect when meeting the mistress. Eventually she settled with the word, "nice?", allowing Cynane to infer what she liked. She wasn't exactly sure Cynane was the person to ask for an honest opinion on the domina - that was more likely from Volusa - but Claudia was really the only think she seemed to have in common with the woman striding along beside her.
"Ah, I see." She bent forward confidentially, "what I didn't tell them is I hadn't really had any experience of philosophy before I came to Italia. I learnt it all from Aristo - he was a bona fide philosopher from the school of Anthens - while he was serving as my old mistress' tutor. But I count as Greek, and I sound Greek, and that seems to be enough for them."
She watched his face eagerly, trying to pin down all the expressions that registered there as they came.
Her next question was one which she hoped wouldn't cause offence. He was clearly smart, but as a simple body slave, one never knew whether or not he'd had the training in literacy.
"Can you... can you read?" she decided to ask anyway, waiting anxiously for a response.
"Do you mind if I ask... are you Greek?"
Antheia couldn't help a small, pleased chuckle.
"Oh, didn't the accent give it away? Well, I am pleased. Aristo - an old friend of mine - was always correction my Latin intonation, so I'm glad to see I've made some progress. Yes, I suppose I am Greek. I spent my early years there, anyway, and grew up with the language. My formative years I spent in Rome - I was enslaved in the sacking of Athens, you see. I suppose I think of those people as my real family." Antheia wasn't quite sure why she was telling this man all of this when she was usually so reluctant. A pause. She looked sideways at him shyly, trying to figure him out. "Why do you ask?"
"They also didn't tell him he should pay more attention to the woman who saved him."
Aha, he wasn't dim at all! She had the feeling many people got that impression, but she knew better. She had seen in him a kindred spirit. His mind was clearly just as quick to the mark as hers. And something about the implications of his continuation of the analogy made her feel strangely flattered. If she was to be Ariadne, then she was someone who deserved to be paid attention to. Though his tone was light and friendly, perhaps it was indeed an acknowledgement of his reciprocated respect.
"Dominus is a good man, and he does good things. But his days are definitely longer now that he's consul."
Again, Felix's words were simple as could be, but revealed a certain intelligence. So concise, straight-talking. Good. There were too many obfuscators and yarn-spinners in this city. This man was not one of them.
She would have preferred him to continue talking about himself, but then again, she reminded herself, she would have answered in a similar fashion.
"How is life as an imperial tutor?"
How was it indeed?
"I... enjoy a lot of privileges I didn't get before," she started cautiously, racking her brains for something suitable to say. "And I've gelled quite well with the rest of Claudia's girls. I enjoy discussing philosophy with her, getting a perspective so..." - she was careful to rid her voice entirely of bitterness, one of Antheia's main skills - "different to my own."
Topics I Participated In
There used to be a time when Felix would have never, in a million years, dreamed about one day visiting the imperial palace. It was simply not something a household slave ever thought about, and even after becoming Aulus' body slave and confidante, he still did not set his sights that high. And yet, now his dominus was consul, and Felix suddenly had access to the most elevated place in Rome. Well, as much as a slave had access to anything... But he was physically present in the palace, and while Aulus was discussing important matters behind closed doors, he was given a little bit of time to himself.
The Palatine was a stunning place. Felix was used to the Calpurnius household, but the imperial palace was above and beyond anything he had seen in his life. This was not his first visit, but it was the first one when he did not have to stand at attention behind Aulus the entire time, and honestly, he was not sure what to do with his time off. He stood by the door for long minutes, thinking his dominus might ask for something or send him on an errand, but other than some slaves moving in and out of the room with cups and plates, nothing happened. The other body slaves meandered off to the coolness of the porticus nearby, or the corner of the gardens. Eventually Felix grew thirsty and moved away from the door, heading down the hallway he'd seen the household slaves go, hoping to find one of them to give him a drink. Any maybe food. But as he took turns and walked down corridors, Felix had an increasing sense of being... a little lost. Or maybe more than a little?
The Romans were used to seeing Greeks wearing masks. Antheia's, however, wasn't twisted into the tragic visage of some stock character; in fact, it was the picture of perfect neutrality. Beneath, she could be a vicious Medea, a grieving Persephone, a powerless Helen, or any other figure from myth. But one doesn't often try to look behind the mask, peer through the eyeholes into the actor's soul. The façade presented to them is all the audience sees. So it was with Antheia. Her soul was strictly off limits.
There was only one person on this earth (at least, one person she knew the fate of, one person she knew she could go to) who wasn't deceived by this cunning guise. Antheia had left behind the gilt columns and clean air of the Domus Augustorum, at least for a few hours, and had descended to the Subura. Here, slaves were dirty and scowling, citizens forewent the ceremony of a toga in the street, and life seemed real. Here, among all the unrepressed humanity, was her old friend Aristo.
As she hopped across the stones connecting the pavement on either side of the street, the anticipation filled Antheia's mind with glorious recollections. When she went through the door, there he'd be, shrivelled like a tree root in his old rocking chair, his hands dry and papery as the scrolls spilling out across his knees, scratching the few tufts of white beard he had left as he mumbled to himself in the beautiful language of Plato and Socrates, punctuated by the odd curse. She'd dash to help tidy up the scrolls, his hands swatting at her in protest to stop fussing as she pulled the blanket back up over his bony legs. After he settled down, he would read to her in Greek, the language of her mind, the language her mother sung to her in, his voice rasping over every 'chi' and 'kappa', lapsing into a wheezing fit every time he'd aspirate a vowel. She'd cry, then, and he'd smile a bit, but he'd keep on reading, because crying would be OK. And then before she left she'd bend over and squeeze his skeletal frame to her, and the fragile breath and papery skin would make her cry again, and he'd just shake his head and say something wise.
As her eyes adjusted to the dim interior of the little house their master had given him when he was freed, Antheia felt the squirming in her stomach change suddenly. The physical feelings of excitement and panic were strikingly, horribly similar, and one melted into the other like scalding wax dripping into the wine cup of its inattentive owner.
The first thing she saw was the rocking chair, fallen forward on the floor. The entirety of the woven backrest had come undone, and one of the front legs was missing. Underneath it lay a scroll, completely unrolled. It was a beautifully written thing, bearing the name of Aristotle in huge letters. And it was torn clean apart through the middle. Not a single piece of wooden furniture seemed to have survived the raid untouched. Sherds of glass and pottery were strewn over the floor along with their former contents, huge pools of watery wine, their edges creeping outwards as she watched, grapes trampled and burst by sandal-studs. The tiny strongbox which she knew Aristo kept under the bed was gone, too, and so, she quickly realised, was Aristo. The stubborn old fool would never leave the house, particularly not in a raid. She had a feeling he'd rather try and whack any thieving scamps to death with the end of a scroll than let them take his peculia, hard earned cash accumulated by hours of honourable service.
As Antheia backed out into the street, she failed to notice the raised doorstep. A misplaced foot sent her tumbling over backwards. Thankfully, though, somebody caught her.
Turning her eyes upwards, she saw a bronzed, bearded face and a pair of eyes wide with surprise.
@Chevi enter Tranquillus!
All the other slaves had been milling about in chaos before, but now they seemed to be gravitating towards one corridor. For the first time, the invisible defensive barrier of non-recognition seemed to fall away from their eyes and they laid down their arms, marking the dinnertime armistice in the battle to keep the Imperial household running smoothly.
Not wanting to be left behind, Antheia swung her legs off her wooden crib and hurried to follow the flock.
While her mind was focused on working out what was going on, Antheia's already muddled recollections of the unfamiliar passages of the slave's quarters slipped away: rounding a corner, she clean forgot that this was where she had nearly been decapitated by a pole-arm when Volusa had brought her here earlier that day. The other slaves hung left by force of habit, and Antheia, seeing the gap in the crowd as an opportunity to get ahead in the queue, decided to hang right. If Fate was watching from above, she must have been splitting her sides at the cruel inevitably of her handiwork. Smack!
The pole-arm collided with her shoulder, knocking Antheia sideways into a ratty-looking slave who gave her an evil glare.
Muttering hasty apologies, Antheia spun to accost - or at least look at (she wasn't really one to reprimand) - whoever was responsible for the rapidly swelling bruise on her arm.
The first thing she noticed about the woman was that she was tall, taller than a lot of men she knew. She didn't look Mediterranean, with blonde hair drawn up messily in braids on her head. Her expression was neutral, but her eyes were weapons in themselves, sharpened by being lined with kohl.
Antheia realised she was gawping.
March 76 CE, the slaves' quarters in the Domus Augustorum
Antheia lingered in the passageway as she'd been told. Though she was pretending to inspect the striped pattern on the walls, her attention was focused on her surroundings like a sunbeam bouncing off the inside of a shield. Her previous mistress had been a rich patrician, but even now she could tell that this household was a great deal larger than that one - all variety of people came scuttling about around her, heaving heavy arms behind them, carrying trays, having urgent conversations in low voices and numerous different languages. Not one of them seemed to spare her more than a cursory glance. Antheia tried to catch a passer's eye sometimes, smiling, but everyone seemed so very wrapped up in their own heads. She hoped life wouldn't always be this frantic - she had at least had time to build up a rapport with the other slave members of her previous familia - but she suspected life would still be a lot calmer for her than for these frantic attendants, fetching and carrying all day. All Antheia had to do was attempt to teach the young Claudia Caesaris. She hoped that her new domina wouldn't try to make that task any more difficult than it had to be.
The sullen porter had told her to wait here for someone called Volusa, then had dashed off again with a scowl on his face. And so Antheia leant against the wall, readjusted her chiton on her shoulders, retraced the pattern of the mural with her eyes, and waited.
Born 41 AD | Slave | Tutor of Claudia Caesaris | Greek | Unknown Orientation | Wanted | Face claim: Marina Sirtis
Now awaiting approval by @Gothic. Is this name change OK?
Antheia is the type of person who has her head both set firmly on her shoulders and high in the clouds. On practical matters, as well as matters of the heart, she is a reliable source of judgement-free advice, a quality which allows her to establish close bonds with those she serves, if they're willing to confide in her. She views the world with a certain detachment, however, preferring to spend time in her own head, dealing in ideals and abstract concepts. At heart, she is a poet, a philosopher - a thinker. Though her disposition is always friendly, one gets the sense that one never really knows Antheia, or what goes on in her head. She has no close friends, no family in Rome, her former mistress is dead and, despite no shortage of male attention, she has never shown any interest in men. Though she speaks well about philosophy, she never claims to follow any particular school of thought or expresses her own view, instead preferring to play devil's advocate in all discussions.
Antheia is of average height, with an olive complexion and dark brown eyes. Her hair is dark, a very dark brown, and naturally thick and curly.
Antheia has never spoken to anybody about her true family back in Greece. The only connection she has to speak of is Aristo, the old Greek tutor of her former mistress, who is now absolutely ancient. She goes to visit him once in a while but never discusses these meetings with anyone.
Antheia was only ten years old when Athens was sacked. Not much is known about her life back in Greece - she doesn't like to speak about it - but she was taken into slavery and sold in Rome to a renowned philosopher and poet. She served as a personal maid and eventual friend and confidante to the man's daughter, a girl of a similar age to herself. It was during her time here that she was privileged to share in the tutelage of her mistress' own Greek teacher, Aristo. The older Greek took her under his wing somewhat, and she would sit with the wizened old man for hours in the garden, talking in their native tongue about life, the world, literature and philosophy.
After the unfortunate death of her young mistress giving birth to her first child, Antheia's services were no longer required. When, therefore, she was brought by the mistress' father to entertain at a dinner party with members of the imperial family (as a female philosopher, she was met with a mixture of wonder and amusement) and attracted the attention of one of its members, she was taken on to the imperial staff as tutor to Claudia, daughter of Caesar in early 76 CE.