Reflections - Part VI - Story of Gracchus - Themes and Plot and Characters

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© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2017


'The Story of Gracchus' is not about one individual called Gracchus, but is rather the story of the 'House of Gracchus' during a period starting towards the end of the reign of the Emperor Nero.
The story itself, however, does not begin with the House of Gracchus, but rather with events that befall a young teenage boy.
He is a Roman citizen, and is on his way from Athens to Rome, via Brundisium.
Marcus, we subsequently find out, is considered, particularly by his strict and ambitious father, to be a 'bad boy',
Although he is a Roman citizen (but not yet come of age'), he hangs around the gymnasion in Athens, showing off his youthful, lithe physique, and consorting with other 'street boys' - who are, by and large, Greek.
He is poor at his studies, and his Latin is spoken ungrammatically, and with a distinct Greek accent.
His father, who is a minor Roman official, is deeply concerned for his only son, and is relieved when he is recalled to Rome, as he believes that this can provide a new - and truly Roman - start for his wayward boy.

for a continuation and more details see:
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From inscriptions on buildings and monuments, graffiti, wall paintings, and those documents that have survived, we know that the Romans spoke Latin.
Latin, however, like all languages, changed over the centuries.
Educated Romans - such as Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus spoke the Latin of the 'Augustan Age'.
Many of those around him, - mainly his slaves, spoke a bastardized Latin, liberally sprinkled with Greek vocabulary and grammatical forms, and usually with a Greek accent.
The lower orders in Baiae and Neapolis, and the surrounding towns, spoke Greek as their daily language, (this area of Italy having been colonised by Greek settlers in the preceding centuries), and their talk also contained many words derived from Oscan, the ancient tongue of the area.
Markos (later Marcus Octavianus Gracchus - see below) initially spoke Latin with a strong Greek accent, but his Latin tutor, Lucius, soon had him speaking with a more refined, 'patrician' accent - which was essential if one was to be respected by the upper echelons of Roman society
Latin is now considered to be a 'dead language', as it is no longer in daily use, however a debased form of Latin continued to be used after the dissolution of the Roman Empire, and notoriously became the 'official' language of the 'Christian - that is Western - Church'.
Interest in Latin was renewed from the Renaissance onwards, and became the basis of upper class education until very recently, and was also the language of scientific discourse and nomenclature.
Because of its 'dead language status' there has been a long running dispute over the pronunciation of classical Latin as - obviously, - no one has ever heard the Latin of the Roman Empire actually spoken.
Another odd aspect of Latin (which became apparent in the television series 'Spartacus'), is the fact that it does not contain regular 'definite and indefinite articles'.
When translating a sentence from Latin to English, the Latin student must provide them him/herself using only context and logic to determine whether a definite or indefinite article is more appropriate.
Unfortunately, the script writers of the said television series, in an oddly inappropriate attempt to be authentic, simply stripped the English script of definite and indefinite articles, giving much of the dialogue an almost incomprehensible, staccato, 'Pidgin English', quality.
In the 'Story of Gracchus', the characters speak normal English, without any attempt to mimic accent or grammatical oddities.
Certain Latin terms are used - particularly where there is no exact English equivalent, and normally and explanation is provided (usually at the first instance of the use of such a term - which should be an encouragement to read the story in the order in which it was written).
Where the characters normally speak Greek (Koine), initially their speech is rendered in Greek characters and language - followed by a translation - and after a few sentences is then translated into English.

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In ancient literature, characters often appear with little or no explanation - and equally disappear - the 'Satyricon' is a good example.
Films, of course, being of relatively short duration, have little time to dwell on biographical information, although the dubious invention of the 'flashback', with it's 'liquid' dissolve, does often allow for the insertion of some biographical information into the narrative.
'Modern' literature, however, allows for exhaustive explanations regarding characters, their origins, previous actions, and motivations - the sort of explanations that are not normally available in 'real life'.
Robert Graves' 'I Claudius' (and to an extent, 'Claudius the God'), is a good example of the 'modern' obsession with excessive explanation.
To begin with, 'I Claudius' is simply a massively extended 'flashback'.
One problem with such a technique is that the reader never doubts that the main protagonist, Claudius, will ever die as a result of the machinations, of for example - Livia, Tiberius, or Caligula - as, if he were to, he would be unable to provide the 'flashback' that is the main substance of the story - and so we are deprived of a certain tension, as the safety of our 'hero' is always assured.
In addition the endless biographical details (in which Graves shows off his apparent knowledge of Roman history) clutters up the narrative - and in the end very little of what occurs comes as a surprise.
In less exalted literature, such as the ubiquitous 'crime novel' - epitomised initially by Agatha Christie, every aspect of the story (plot), is neatly resolved, dovetailed, explained and formalised.
All the characters have incredibly complex motivations for almost everything that occurs in the story, and, in the end, - there are no 'loose ends'.
For example nothing ever escapes the 'little grey cells' of Hercule Poirot, and he always makes sure that we know that,
Undoubtedly the reason that Agatha Christie is described as the 'best-selling novelist of all time' (? does that include the future) is because she reassures her readers that life can be understood - which is basically a 'lie' - a deception.
This, of course, is not how life works.
In the course of the average life, characters come and go and, for their most part, their motives are inscrutable, and their actions apparently arbitrary.
That is the fascination of life.
In the 'Story of Gracchus' - partly to add realism to the narrative - much is left unsaid.
With regard to Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus, one of the main characters in the story, (and not, incidentally the 'Gracchus' of the title), we know very little about him, and he remains a mystery, right up to his death.
As to his friend, Novius, we are told nothing about how they met, - were they boyhood friends, were their families related ?
The only thing that we do know is that they share an interest in Greek, Etruscan and Roman religion and mythology.
This section, however, does give some biographical details, and explains some motivations - but not to excess.
Much is - satisfyingly - left as a mystery......

in this section many of the events of the plot and the fates of the main characters are revealed so, if you wish to maintain the tension it may be better to read the story chapter by title - in consecutive order.

Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus
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Confusingly there is more that one character with the name Gracchus.
The original 'Gracchus', Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus, is an immensely rich patrician aristocrat, living in the small seaside town of Baiae (from where we get the English word 'bay' - as at the seaside) - close to Neapolis (modern Naples), and (the now better known) Pompeii.
He lives in a magnificent villa, situated near the beach and the cliffs.
Gracchus is an aparently childless, middle aged man, separated from his wife.
He is, however, fabulously wealthy, being reputed to be one of the richest men in the Empire.
Where his wealth comes from is not clear, although his freedmen are involved in numerous financial affairs, including the importation of fine art, building materials, wine and olive oil, food stuffs, and most importantly - slaves, (Gracchus, being a Senator, is not permitted, by law, to be involved in any economic activity, and his Freedmen perform this function on his behalf.).
At the time of the story Gracchus lives surrounded by handsome and attractive slave-boys.
We are told that he has had 'favourites' (Terntius, when he was young, Petronius etc) - but we are not told if he has romatic and physical relationships with these boys and young men.
We are told nothing of his parentage, or background, or how he became so fabulously wealthy, but we later learn that he is a senator, although he rarely takes his seat in the Senate in Rome.
He has at least two other houses in Italy - the 'Domus Gracchi' in Rome, and a beautiful country villa at Tibur, where his wife lived before her untimely death.
He has many other houses and villas in other parts of the Empire.


Marcus Gaius Aelius
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This character was originally called Marcus Gaius Aelius - and after he was captured by pirates, and sold as a slave, he was called Markos - by his Roman master, Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus (see above).
Marcus Gaius Aelius (later to be known as 'Markos') was the son of Gaius Agrippa Aelius - a lower ranking Roman official - (see Chapter One)
Gaius Agrippa Aelius had been sent to Athens for a number of years, on Imperial business.
During that time his wife had given birth to his only son, Marcus Gaius Aelius.
Young Marcus, being brought up in Athens, spoke Greek as his first language, despite the disapproval of his father, and unfortunately Marcus, as it later turned out, spoke Lain with a decidedly Greek accent - which proved not to be to his advantage - or maybe.......
Regardless, inevitably, orders came from Rome, and Gaius was required to return to the city to take a more responsible post in the great metropolis.
On the sea voyage the ship they were travelling in was attached by pirates, and Marcus' parents were killed, and Marcus (or Markos the slave-boy) was taken to Crete, to be sold as a slave.
Eventually, Markos is freed and adopted by Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus, and takes the name Marcus Octavianus Gracchus.


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Demetrius (or Δημήτριος - Demetrios - [Greek]), as he is initially known, is the only son of Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus - however, the child is a bastard, born to a slave girl at a time when Gracchus was already married to a noble, patrician woman.
Unable to bear having the child 'disposed' of, and fearful of having him adopted, in case his original identity was ever revealed, Gracchus, unwisely, hid the boy away in the 'Domus Gracchi', his vast palace in Rome, where he was 'brought up' by the rapacious and ambitious freedman Menelaus.
Later Demetrios, unwittingly, becomes involved in a plot to gain control of the huge wealth and influence of the House of Gracchus, and becomes the unwilling focus of the erotic attentions of Servius Juvenalis (see below).


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Adonios is a handsome blonde Greek slave-boy belonging to Gracchus.
We first meet him in Chapter Nine, during a banquet at Gracchus' villa.
Later, when Marcus is given his freedom by Gracchus, he is given Adonios a a personal slave.
Adonios becomes devoted to Marcus, carefully nursing him during the time that Marcus appears too be in a 'coma' - and later he spends much of his time looking after 'Glaux'.
Later, because of some unexpected revelation regarding the relationship between Aurarius and Petronius, Adonios becomes the slave (and lover) of Petronius.


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Aurarius (originally called Αγόρι - 'Boy' because he had forgotten his true name) is a handsome slave-boy, bought on the off-chance, by Terentius, shortly after the attack on Marcus. Boy was bought to 'cheer up' Gnaeus Gracchus, but he has had enough of 'cute' blond slave-boys, and gives 'Boy' to Marcus.
Later Gracchus receives a second prophecy from the Sibyl at Cumae, which seems to refer to 'Boy', and names him Aurarius (because of the colour of his hair). Aurarius later becomes the personal slave-boy of Marcus, and his lover.


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Aelius (originally called Mikkos) is a handsome Greek slave-boy, bought by Marcus for Demetrius (see above) on the occasion of Marcus' first trip to Rome, where he meets with Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus (the Roman Emperor.
The acquisition of  Aelius establishes Demetrius as an 'adult male' as, prior to this happening, his status in the House of Gracchus had been somewhat unclear.
From this this point onward Demetrius is always respectfully referred to as 'Iuvenes Dominum' (young master), on the insistence of Marcus.
Interestingly, Demetrius unknowingly gives his new slave one of the names of Marcus' real father - Gaius Agrippa Aelius - a Latin name that is also associated with the God Apollo - who plays an important part in the story.


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This character is the senior freedman of the House of Gracchus - and bears his previous master's name - as was the custom with freed slaves.
Terentius is an immensely loyal slave, and later client of - firstly Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus, and after the death of his original master, he is equally loyal towards his heir, the new Dominus, Marcus Octavianus Gracchus.
As a youth, Terentius was one of Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus' 'favourites' and possibly his 'bed boy'.
Terentius is one of the first characterers that we meet in the 'Story of Gracchus', as he is responsible for purchasing Markos from the Greek slave trader Arion at Brundisium - Chapter Two.
Significantly, it is Terentius who invests Marcus with the seal ring of the House of Gracchus, on the death of Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus, thus confirming that Marcus is the new Dominus

Petronius Octavianus Gracchus
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The fourth character in the story bearing the name Gracchus, is Petronius, who is a slave, originally belonging to Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus, who is subsequently given to Marcus Octavianus Gracchus.
Marcus Octavianus Gracchus, on inheriting the title of Dominus, on the death of Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus, frees Petronius, who then takes the name of his benefactor, Marcus, becoming Petronius Octavianus Gracchus.
The name Octavian is retained throughout in deference to Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus' admiration for Octavian Caesar - later known as Augustus - the first Roman Emperor.
This is complicated, but Romans had an obsession about names and status.
In the story the full names are rarely used, so Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus is usually referred to as 'Gracchus', Marcus is referred to as 'Marcus', Terentius as 'Terentius', and Petronius as 'Petronius'.
Patronius later becomes 'Magister Harena' (Master of the Arena), and Tribune to Marcus (taking the place of the disgraced - and later executed, Servius Juvenalis).


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Novius is a mysterious character.
Novius is first mentioned in Chapter 12, and is referred to as 'a very old friend' - and 'a client' of Oscan origins, who was well known for his knowledge of the auspices, oracles and Etruscan ritual'.
Finally Novius appears at the villa - meeting Markos in the main Atrium, (towards the end of Chapter 12), and Novius subsequently helps Gracchus to interpret the scroll containing the Sibyl's prophecy.
Later Novius usues his 'magical' skills to elicit the nature of the plot against Marcus and Gracchus from the conspiritors.
It is Gracchus who encourages Marcus to keep 'Glaux', the owl.

After the death of Gnaeus Octavian Gracchus, Marcus appoints Novius as his 'Consiliarius' - chief adviser.

The Cumæan Sibyl

Although we never see her, the Cumæan Sibyl is a key character in the story of Gracchus.
She was the priestess presiding over the Apollonian oracle at Cumæ, a Greek colony located near  Baiae.
The word sibyl comes (via Latin) from the ancient Greek word sibylla, meaning prophetess.
Because of the importance of the Cumæan Sibyl in the legends of early Rome, as codified in Virgil's Aeneid VI, and because of her proximity to Rome, the Cumæan Sibyl became the most famous among the Romans.
The Sibyl is responsible for granting the House of Gracchs various prophecies that refer not only to the historical events of the period, but also to the lives of the main characters.




We meet Lucius early on in the Story.
He is an an middle aged, and very well educated Roman slave.
He is bought by Terentius, on behalf of Gracchus, to be a Latin tutor for the slave Markos.
He is dull and pedantic, but manages to inspire in Markos a love of the poetry of Virgil - much to the approval and satisfaction of Gracchus.
Virgil was the favourite poet of Octavian Caesar - later known as 'Augustus'.
Lucius is also employed to compose odes and choruses for use in the amphitheater, and formal speeches for the Dominus (master).


Aristarchos is a middle aged, and very well educated Greek slave.
He is bought by Terentius, on behalf of Gracchus, to be a Greek tutor for the slave Markos.
He is more to Markos' taste, and inspires the boy with a love of Homer, the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey'.


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Agathon is a slave, owned by Gracchus, and retained as his personal physician ('medicus' in Latin).
In the early Roman Empire (the period of our story) physicians were mainly imports from Greece, at first through Greek-influenced Etruscan society and Greek colonies placed directly in Italy (such as Neapolis and nearby Cumea, Baiae, Pompeii and Herculaneum), and then through Greeks enslaved during the Roman conquest of Greece, Greeks invited to Rome, or Greek knowledge imparted to Roman citizens visiting or being educated in Greece.
A perusal of the names of Roman physicians will show that the majority are wholly or partly Greek, and that many of the physicians were of 'servile' (slave) origin.
One of the cultural ironies of these circumstances is that free men sometimes found themselves in service to the enslaved professional.
In Greek society, physicians tended to be regarded as 'noble'. - Asclepius in the Iliad is noble.
On the death of G.Octavian Gracchus Agathon becomes the physician to Marcus.


Silver Slave Collar
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We meet Vulcan, a smith, (humoursly named 'Vulcan' - the smith to the gods, by Gnaeus Gracchus), in the Third Chapter of the Story of Gracchus, when he fits a silver 'slave collar' round Markos' neck.
Slave collars, (usually made of iron, with a tag bearing the slave's name, the name of his master, and often the reward offered for the slaves return), were a means of hopefully preventing slaves from running away.
Runnaway slaves were often punished by being crucified, or condemned to die in the arena.
Gnaeus Gracchus fits his slaves with opulent, heavy silver collars - easily recognized, and therefore guarateeed to cause the offender to be quickly returned for a substantial reward.
Vulcan also manufactures all the metal implements used in the arena, including arms and various devices used for torturing and executing condemned prosoners.


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The Death of Ariston© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2017
Ariston is a serious, dark-haired Greek slave-boy belonging to Gracchus.
We first meet him in Chapter IX, during a banquet at Gracchus' villa.
He has little part in the story until the death of Gracchus.
The day after Gracchus' death Ariston is found hung in his room - a presumed suicide.
Ariston is posthumously given his freedom, and can therefore be given a lavish funeral by Marcus.
This incident points up the affection which slaves could have for their master, and the guilt that masters (in this case Marcus) could feel for not caring sufficiently for loyal slaves.




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Cleon is a very attractive young slave-boy - who we meet early on in the story - in Chapter VI.
He is sent, on the orders of Gracchus to be a 'night-time companion' for Markos.
While Markos has had sexual experiences with his teenage friends in the gymnasion in Atherns, his contact with Cleon is his first realy 'romantic' and intense physical exparience with anothe boy.
Cleon was a close friend osf Glykon (the slave who - with Markos' help - managed the mainentrance to the villa).
Death of Cleon
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When Cleon was given the task of 'befriending' Markos, Glykon became annoyed that he was losing the friendship of both Cleon and Markos..
More to the point, Glykon was insanely jealois of Markos, particularly when Markos became a friend of Petronius.
When Glykon became involved in the conspiracy agaist Markos, he involved Cleon, paying him in gold to steal Markos' new pugio (dagger).
When Markos was attacked by Glykon, Cleon ran away from the villa, (with the substantial sum of gold Glykon had given him).
Terentius and the villa guards, however, quickly tracked down Cleon in the woods near Neapolis, brutally tortured him to get information - and then killed the boy.


Glykon - Doorkeeper
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We first meet Glykon in Chapter III
He is the young slave-boy who opens the doors to Gracchus' villa when Markos and Terentius arrive from Brundisium.
Terentius initially puts Markos in the care of Glykon, and Markos spends his mornings helping Glykon at the main entrance to the villa.
Glykon - Executed
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In this way Markos learns from Glykon about the various individuals working at, and visiting the villa.
Later, when Graccus brings Markos and Clwon together, Glykon become a little jealous, but that is nothing compared to Glykon's anger when Markos becomes friends with Petronius, and becomes Petronius' assistant in the arena.
Eventually, when Markos becomes 'Marcus', Graccus heir, Glykon allows himself to be drawn into a conspiracy against Marcus.
After his apparent attempt on Marcus' life, Glykon is tortured in the Ludus and is eventually publicly executed in the arena.


Servius Juvenalis
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Servius Juvenalis is a handsome young Centurion who is a favourite of a Tribunus (Marcellus) of the XIII Legio (Thirteenth Legion).
Marcellus is a 'client' of Gracchus (although we are not told how this came about).
Marcellus arranges for Servius to have extended leave from the legion so that he can be employed as a coach for the slave-boy Markos - teaching the boy wrestling, swordsmanship, swimming, and generally building up the boy.
It can probably be assumed that Marcellus, being a tribune, and Servius being very young for a centurion, have a sexual relationship.
Servius is Executed
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Servius, unusually for a Roman man, appears to be almost wholly fixated on same-sex relationships - and behaves, in this context, inappropriately with Markos, and much later with Demetrius, and is a regular client of male brothels in Baiae and Neapolis - which is a reason, along with his gambling, why he is always short of money, and therefore open to corruption.
(It should be remembered that, while having sex with boys [as long as they were slaves] was considered quite normal for a male Roman citizen, it was not permitted to do so with slaves whom one did not own.
That was considered to be 'abuse' of another's property, and the injured party [the owner of the slave] would be entitled to compensation.)
Servius substantial debts and sexual obsessions end with his involvement in a foolish 'conspiracy which culminates in his untimely and extremely unpleasant death.


What differentiates 'The Story of Gracchus', from many relatively recent 'Roman tales' (apart from the fact that it appears on the internet), is its attempt to follow the thematic contents of ancient literature, - the Greek and Roman 'proto-novels' (see Part I).

Like all good stories - (and we hope the 'Story of Gracchus' is a good story) - 'The Story of Gracchus' is a love story - as you shall see........

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The main themes of the story are:
  • Piracy
  • Loss
  • Slavery
  • The Wealthy Benefactor
  • Catamite or Concubinus
  • The Oracle
  • Intervention of the God
  • Adoption
  • Inheritance
  • Thwarted or Repressed love
  • A new Beginning
These themes. derived, for the most part, from ancient literature, do not appear chronologically, but occur at various points, and in various forms throughout the story.
While such themes do appear in some relatively recent historical fiction, (Lew Wallace's 'Ben Hur'), they rarely occur in the form found in ancient literature.


The story opens with a piece of historical background - the problem of piracy in the late Republic.
Piracy is a standard theme in ancient literature - for two definite reasons.
Firstly there was great concern throughout the empire, particularly in times when political unrest was not a major problem, with regard to piracy and brigandage.
As far as brigandage was concerned, this was, as already stated, because the forces of law and order were inadequate in many parts of the empire.
 Pompey Magnus
Piracy was a problem, even after Pompey's attempt to rid the Mediterranean of pirates, because the Roman navy had two major tasks.
The first was to protect the grain supplies (mainly coming from Egypt) to Rome, and the second was to support the Roman Army in its numerous campaigns.
As a result, they were unable to patrol the coastal waters efficiently. let alone the broader sweep of the sea.
So people were rightly nervous about travelling.
The second cause for concern was that if one was captured by pirates - or brigands on the road, it was almost certain that one would be sold into slavery, regardless of one's rank or status.
In ancient times it was difficult to prove one's identity, and it was a simple matter to be transported to another part of the empire, where one was unknown, and live out the rest of one's life as a slave.
This very nearly happened to Julius Caesar, when he was a young man.
When telling a story, such a theme is useful, as it can rapidly (and for no logical reason), completely change a character's fortunes, often taking him to a distant location, in a new, and unknown environment.
This, of course, is what happens to young Marcus in the Chapter I of the 'Story of Gracchus'.
So, the story of Gracchus follows the classical tradition with the theme of pirates - most well known from the story of 'Daphnis and Chloe'.


Loss is an essential aspect of almost every drama or story - and always in ancient dramas and stories.

Although we do not like to accept it, death, our own or that of those we love, is inevitable - and that may be seen as the ultimate loss.
But there are many forms of loss - there is the loss of our youth, maybe our abilities or talents, our reputation, or perhaps our home or possessions.
There is no life, and no story that does not involve loss, and in this way, every story is, to some extent, a tragedy.
The Death of Marcus' Father
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Pirate Ship Docked at Crete
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The theme of loss appears early in the story of Gracchus.
When the pirates attack, Marcus' mother and father are cruelly killed.
Marcus has already lost the place where he spent (or misspent) his childhood - Athens.
Then Marcus loses his freedom, locked naked, cold and hungry, in a cold slave-pen on the island of Crete.
Later - and this might seem strnge - he loses his 'security and peace of mind' as a slave.
Catapulted into freedom, and all the responsibilities and decisions that it entails, as a result of the oracle of Apollo, and events occurring in the outside world (the four emperors), Gracchus feels that his time might be drawing to a close, and is eager to see Marcus take his place (young though the boy is) as a free Roman citizen, and heir to the vast wealth and estates of the House of Gracchus.


Of course, before Marcus can be given his freedom, he must first become a slave, and this involves his strange couple of days  with the young Greek slave trader, Arion.
Here we come to the theme of thwarted love.
Marcus is beautiful, and presumed to be already a slave-boy.
All the time he is in Arion's presence, Marcus is naked, and by the way that Arion treats Marcus, having him bathed, washed, and fed good food, it's obvious that the young slave trader is preparing the way to fuck Marcus before he sells him.
This would not be at all unusual.
But something prevents him.
The God Apollo
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Marcus is Sold as a Slave
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A matter of 'thwarted love' - for the story of Gracchus is a love story, and almost everyone who comes into close contact with Marcus falls for him - either love or lust.
There is something about Marcus, however, that holds Arion back - an 'aura' - perhaps it is something that prefigures the oracle of Apollo - 'the intervention of the God'.
So Marcus is simply sold as a very valuable, attractive and well educated slave-boy, by a buyer who has 'money to burn'.
We are never told what instructions Gracchus gave to Terentius with regard to the purchase of a slave, but Gracchus' devoted freedman seem to know his master's deepest, and probably most secret needs, and bought just the right boy.

The Wealthy Benefactor

This theme is found in most ancient fictional literature, and is very prominent in Lew Wallace's Ben Hur, where the hero rescues the Roman Legate (general), Quintus Arrius during a naval battle.

Quintus Arrius 
In return, Quintus adopts Ben Hur, gives him his name, makes him his heir and a Roman citizen, and tries to make him a 'good Roman' son.
Being a Jew, of course, and a proto-Christian, Ben Hur takes the money and the status, but rejects becoming a Roman.
Hadrian's 'boy' Antinuous
Marcus, however, in the 'Story of Gracchus', accepts his good fortune, being a Roman boy, and untainted by any weird religious ideas, repays his benefactor, Gracchus, by becoming an ideal, and in the end a loving 'son'.
Equally the theme of 'thwarted love' arises here, as Gracchus, who is married, but not living with his wife (they have no children), is a man, not unlike many patrician males, and a number of Emperors (Trajan and Hadrian are good examples) who is besotted with adolescent boys.
Marriage for Gracchus was just a 'marriage of convenience', as his first love was his 'catamitus', given to him by his father, when he was still an adolescent.
Servius Juvenalis
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Gracchus'  'Catamitus'
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Like Arion, Gracchus is physically attracted to Marcus, but sublimates his lust through his apparent 'paternal' interest in the young slave's education and physical development (which is where Servius enters the story).
Equally Servius Juvenalis, a Roman Centurion, hired by Gracchus (through the offices of one of his 'clients', Tribune Marcellus), as a coach and trainer for Marcus, becomes obsessed with Marcus, eventually succumbing to his sexual desires on two occasions, but later renouncing his physical relationship with the boy, when Marcus is adopted by Gracchus, and Servius is given the opportunity to serve Marcus as bodyguard and Tribune.

The Catamite or Concubinus

Asciltos and Giton
Asciltos and Giton
The catamite or concubinus is a theme found in the 'Satyricon' by Petronius.
Giton acts as a concubinus for Encolpius and Asciltos
Gracchus' past history may help us understand this situation.
Gracchus, who is married, but not living with his wife (they have no children), is a man, not unlike many patrician males, and a number of Emperors (Trajan and Hadrian are good examples) who is besotted with adolescent boys.
Marriage for Gracchus was just a 'marriage of convenience', as his first love was his 'catamitus', given to him by his father, when he was still an adolescent.
'Catamite (Latin 'catamitus') was a pubescent boy who was the intimate companion of a young man in ancient Rome, usually in a pederastic relationship.
It was usually a term of affection, and literally means "Ganymede" in Latin.
It was also used as a term of insult when directed toward a grown man.
The word derives from the proper noun 'Catamitus', the Latinized form of Ganymede, the beautiful Trojan youth abducted by Zeus to be his companion and cupbearer.
The Etruscan form of the name was 'Catmite', from an alternate Greek form of the name, Gadymedes.
The word appears widely, but not necessarily frequently, in the Latin literature of antiquity, from Plautus to Ausonius.
It is sometimes a synonym for 'puer delicatus', "beautiful boy".
Cicero uses the term as an insult.
The word became a general term for a boy groomed for sexual purposes.
Also appears in Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.'
from 'The Roman Principate' - Homosexuality in Ancient Rome - reproduced with permission
© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016
In the 'Story of Gracchus' the theme is introduced in Chapter VI - 'Amor invenit Markos' - (Love Finds Markos', where Gracchus sends a beautiful slave-boy, Cleon, to Markos (Marcus' slave name) cublicum to be his catamitus.
This is very unusual, and could be quoted as an historical inaccuracy.
It was normal only for freeborn boys to have a catamitus - who would always be a slave.
The purpose of the catamitus was to discourage masturbation, and to encourage the freeborn boy to practice the active role of 'penetration'.
It was essential that the catamitus took the passive role.
In the 'Story of Gracchus' it appears that Gracchus is grooming Marcus for a dominant role (despite the fact that he is still a slave - prefiguring the role to be revealed in the Apollonian predictions of the Cumean Sybil yet to come).
Adonios                                                    Petronius
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From then on, Marcus regularly uses Cleon as his catamitus or concubinus , and when Marcus is given his freedom he is subsequently given Cleon as his personal slave, and 'bed-boy', along with Adonios.
Although he is also given Petronius as his personal slave, Petronius is too old to be classed as a concubinus for Marcus (even though he is a slave).
Marcus and Petronius are deeply in love, but this is an example of the theme of 'repressed love', as initially they are unable to express that love physically because of Roman conventions.


Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας
Alexander the Great
It is noticeable that the involvement of an Oracle is a theme that is rarely encountered in recent historical fiction, except in Robert Graves 'I Claudius' (the Cumean Sybil - also forming part of the 'Story of Gracchus'), and in Mary Renault's treatment of  Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας - (Alexander the Great - Alexander III of Macedon ), when the Oracle of Zeus-Ammon at the Siwa Oasis in referred to.
The theme of the oracle also appears in Ancient fictional  literature, as in the 'Satyricon', when Oenothea uses the liver of a goose to foretell Encolpius' future.
The theme of the oracle is, however, pivotal in the 'Story of Gracchus'.
Not only does it relate to the complex political changes that overtake the empire after the death of the Emperor Nero, but it binds various characters together in the plot.
Petronius Posing for the Statue of Apollo
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The oracle derives from the God Apollo, through the Cumean Sybil (Cumea is a town close to Baiae, where Gracchus' main villa is situated).
The oracle was famous, as it was mentioned by Virgil in the 'Aeneid' (one of Gracchus' favourite pieces of literature).
Until this time, Gracchus' patron deity had been Mercury (the Greek Hermes), but after the oracle, he favoured the God Apollo (who was also the patron of the Divine Augustus - Octavian).
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Subsequently, Gracchus had a statue carved of Apollo (for the temple of Apollo in Cumea) - the model being his slave Petronius (supervisor of the amphitheater, and later the slave of Marcus) - and a copy was made, and placed in a shrine in the main Atrium of Gracchus' villa in Baiae.
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Later, statues of Apollo (copies of the statue modelled on Petronius) were carried in the 'Pompa' of the Ludi celebrating the accession of Vespasian.
The oracle in the 'Story of Gracchus' not only predicts the rise - and fall - of the Emperors in the year 69, and the eventual accession of Vespasianus, but also indicates that Gracchus will die shortly after Vespasian's accession, and that Marcus, a mere slave-boy, (identified as 'aurea puer ad mare' - the golden boy from the sea) will become his heir, and the new Dominus.
Like all ancient prophecies, this is couched in obscure language (in an ancient form of Latin, derived from Oscan), and Gracchus requires the assistance of his old friend Novius, an expert on Etruscan religion and auspices, to interpret the scroll, provided by the priests of Apollo.
Significantly, Marcus is not told, at this stage, the full contents of the scroll, and Gracchus only reveals it to him at a much later date, when the prophecy is shown to be genuine, as the events foretold come to pass.

Intervention of the God

This is a theme not found in recent historical fiction - with the possible exception of Clash of the Titans (1981), which is not strictly speaking 'historical fiction', but rather 'historical fantasy'.

Clash of the Titans - 1981
Clash of the Titans is a 1981 British-American heroic fantasy adventure film directed by Desmond Davis which retells the Greek mythological story of Perseus. It stars Harry Hamlin, Judi Bowker, Burgess Meredith, Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier.  It was released on June 12, 1981 and grossed $41 million at the North American box office, which made it the 11th highest grossing film of the year. A novelization of the film by Alan Dean Foster was published in 1981. Warner Bros. released a very inferior remake in 3D on April 2, 2010.
The best possible example, in ancient literature, is the intervention of the God Pan, in the story of 'Daphnis and Chloe'.
The intervention of the God in the 'Story of Gracchus' is less dramatic, but equally effective and significant, and may be subsumed under the theme of the 'Oracle'.


The theme of adoption is a common theme in Ancient literature because in ancient Rome, adoption of boys was a fairly common procedure, particularly in the upper senatorial class.

The need for a male heir and the expense of raising children, and the Roman inheritance rules (Falcidia lex) strictly demanding legitimes were strong incentives to have at least one son, but not too many children.
Gracchus and Marcus at the Amphitheater
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Adoption, the obvious solution, also served to cement ties between families, thus fostering and reinforcing alliances.
Adoption of girls, however, was much less common.
In the Imperial period, the system also acted as a mechanism for ensuring a smooth succession, the emperor taking his chosen successor as his adopted son.
In the case of Gracchus, it would not be thought unusual or strange for him to adopt a teenage boy, as he had (as far as most people knew) no son, and was unlikely to remarry, (Gracchus' wife dies in the early part of the story).
What might be considered somewhat historically inaccurate is the fact that he adopts a boy who is a slave, and not a patrician.
Gracchus, however, is careful to pass off Marcus, initially as his nephew, and subsequently grants him his freedom, and enables him to become a Roman citizen. (subsequently, on the death of Gracchus, when Marcus inherits Gracchus' estates and family name, he is not legally classed as a freedman, as he has no patron (Gracchus being dead), and in fact he inherits Gracchus' position as patron, and inherits all of Gracchus' many clients.
Marcus' adoption is also made that much easier because there are strong suspicions that Marcus, before he was captured by pirates, was, in fact, the son of a patrician, and therefore free born (which, in fact, he was).
The theme of adoption is significant in Lew Wallace's 'Ben Hur'.
Adoption also features in the historically inaccurate film 'The Fall of the Roman Empire', and also in Robert Graves' novel 'I Claudius' and the BBC TV adaptation.
(One could be adopted by a man younger than oneself  - which is in fact not a case of 'adoptio', but an 'adrogatio').

© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2017

'The Story of Gracchus is primarily a love story'

'So true love triumphs once again,
It always makes it in the end
And if you let the heart run free
It will return faithfully'

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