It's not that late, but I have to be on the road again in the morning, early, so it's late for me. The kiddos have both been packed off to bed and the front room is a mess from a day forced indoors by the autumn's cold and wet. I'm too tired to try and pick up the litter.
My legs ache with the steady ache I've learned to live with for the past year. My neck and shoulders ache with too little exercise and the hard graft of entertaining small children over a long weekend. The back of my skull aches with the unpleasant knowledge that in less than six hours I will have to rise and drive 200 miles north and then walk a mile through the wet woods to work.
And over all of that I am soaked in a sort of quiet despair. I look around at my country and my world and realize that what I'm seeing isn't really new and it isn't really terrible. It's the same old tiresome horseshit that human beings have been doing to themselves and each other since Cain ambushed Abel out in the cuna grass; lying and pretending not to lie, grabbing everything around them regardless of what the long-term destruction they are causing. Indulging in every hate and stupidity and lust and whatever other evil toxic fucktardry they can think up.
Sejanus. He was, perhaps the "original" Praetorian; one of the Emperor Tiberias' cronies who took the piss-ant garrison troop that had hung about the Forum for centuries and made them into the chooser and slayer of Emperors.
Anyway, you can follow the link if you want to learn more about ol' Lucius. Suffice to say that he was probably an evil little man who was brought down by others probably just as vicious and ambitious as he was. He got the chop, too, for his pains.
But I'm not thinking about an ambitious soldier now, sitting in the window seat looking out on a drizzly night. I'm thinking about a young girl.
Her name was Junilla, and she was the daughter of Lucius Aelius. Her right name was probably something like Junilla Aelia, and I have no idea who she was or what she was, down to her age at the time of her father's sudden encounter with the public executioner in 31AD.
We know nothing about her; not her age, or her looks, not how she walked, or talked, or stood up, or sat down. Being Roman she was probably dark-avised, and being young - at least, young enough that she was not considered a woman but a girl by the ancient chroniclers - probably slender and gracile. Based on the description of her arrest she sounds like a very young woman or little girl. Tacitus says of her:
"...the little girl, who was so unconscious that she continually asked what was her offence, and whither she was being dragged, saying that she would do so no more, and a childish chastisement was enough for her correction."
But we have no idea whether she was a silly or serious girl. Whether she was cheerful or solemn, light-hearted or glum, friendly or standoffish. Did she like to read, was she an indoorsy sort of girl, or one who liked to play outside and exercise with her friends, a sort of 1st Century tomgirl?
And of her last moments we only know this, as written by Cassius Dio some two hundred years after she died:
"His children also were put to death by decree, the girl (whom he had betrothed to the son of Claudius) having been first outraged by the public executioner on the principle that it was unlawful for a virgin to be put to death in the prison."
First, let me say this: I find this tale of prison rape, which is recounted only in Tacitus and Cassius Dio, to be hard to believe. There is no record of any such "law" in the Roman legal codes, while the punishment for rape (stuprum, that is, forcible intercourse) of a freeborn citizen was death.
But then let me add that regardless of the letter of Roman law the story is effective as horror. It strikes home because of the act itself and the young age of the victim.
Perhaps thinking about the recent awful clamor about abortion and rape got me thinking about what a fucking awful horror rape is.
Perhaps most of all because it takes the moment we are most intimate and defenceless and turns it into a waking nightmare. It takes what should be the most tender act of lovingkindness we can perform and turns it into the ultimate moment of powerlessness, hate, and fear.
So though I don't really think that one of the jailers of the Tullianum went and raped a little girl before he murdered her, I think that the ancient storytellers thought that story was the most awful thing they could think of to add to the horror of the end of the tale of Sejanus and his fall.
Something more frightful than the bald fact of her child-body cast down the Gemonian Stairs in a tangle of dirty clothing, her still-unformed arms and legs asprawl in the gross indignity not just of death but of careless cruelty. Something more awful than the thought of the vengeful citizens of Rome stepping casually over this sad little corpse, of the cold winds of December skirling the ragged clothes around her stiff limbs and the pale sun unreflected in the flat stare of her sightless eyes.