Gaius Loses His Maps After The Banquet:
Lavinia waved at Gaius from the docks at Ostia as soon as their ship started to disembark. She raced up to meet him and threw her arms around his neck. He hugged her to him. They had not seen each other for several weeks.
“I knew you would return!” she enthused, jumping up and down. “I have been waiting for you every single day.” She kissed him on the cheek.
Gaius felt obliged to introduce Lavinia to Tanit who stood there calmly taking in the scene. “This is one of Cato’s hostages. There are one hundred of them all told. They are to spend the next year at Cato’s house while the Carthaginians make peace with their neighbors.”
“Hello, I am Tanit, only daughter of Hamilcar II,” Lavinia introduced herself.
Lavinia paused to take in the foreign princess in her midst. She examined her from head to toe. Gaius could tell she was not pleased.
“Indeed, how unusual!” Lavina exclaimed.
“I feel that I am an emissary for Carthage to tell Rome about our civilization,” Tanit continued.
“Well, you are welcome to our banquet,” Lavinia invited her and her other friends to Cato’s house in the country on his estate outside Rome.
Gaius could tell that Lavinia was only being polite. She did not like Tanit. Tanit was about her age but looked far more elegant in her attire. Gaius wished that he could assure Lavinia that proper Roman women did not have to ape foreign princesses and royalty. Rome had done away with that sort of thing ages ago. They did not have kings. They had consuls and senators instead.
They embarked in horse drawn carriages headed for Cato’s country villa in the Etruscan hills. Gaius figured it must be his imagination to see the Etruscan girl eyeing him from behind a tree as they turned up the road into the woods. He seemed to see her and many of her other Etruscan friends and confederates.
Cato’s servants had the welcoming banquet ready. Several senators had been invited for today’s welcoming reception. The hostages came forward one by one and introduced themselves, giving their name and family and said a little bit about themselves. Tanit went last. She held her audience spellbound for many minutes. The Senators started to clap.
Cato then called on Gaius to show the senators the maps he had drawn of the city and all its many buildings and harbor works.
Lavinia frowned as she sat beside Gaius at the banquet. It was as if she could somehow sense the impression the Carthaginian princess had made on her betrothed as well as the other men in the room other than say Cato himself who was indifferent to such feminine wiles. Lavinia and Gaius were engaged to be married at the first opportunity. Lavinia felt responsible for him as well as possessive.
Wine and foods of various sorts flowed freely until a very late hour. Gaius finally said good-night to everyone including his fiancee and retired to the room that had become his bedchamber at Cato’s estate. He feel asleep quickly, having been thoroughly exhausted by the trip and then the big banquet. He woke only partially in the middle of the night thinking he heard a sound. He dismissed it as a dream. But when he woke up the next morning he found his leather waist pack open on top of his dresser. He reached inside and found that the maps he had drawn in Carthage were gone —- mysteriously vanished into morning’s first light.
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Tanit Haunts Gaius All The Way Back To Rome:
Tanit haunted Gaius on the return trip to Rome. She was never more than a few feet away. She was always at his elbow. She was frequently playing an instrument that resembled a lyre, holding it to her cheek and singing in the Carthaginian language which seemed mysterious to him and which he could not understand. But her lilting melodies haunted him throughout the day and even the night.
Cato was deaf and dumb to such things and went about his business on the deck commanding the ship’s officers and the captain all the way back to Italy.
In the meantime Gaius was afraid that they had taken aboard some pagan goddess, the one named Tanit herself, the Moon Goddess. He was wondering what the Carthaginians had sent to Rome. Could it be more powerful than Hannibal and all his elephants?
When Tanit put away her lyre she was even more remarkable and enchanting. She conversed in both Greek and Latin fluently at the captain’s dinner table aboard the ship. Though a girl, apparently great care had been lavished on her education. She was well-grounded in all the classics and could carry on a Platonic dialogue with great skill.
“In Rome,” Cato growled, “we would never educate a young lady like that.” He stuffed his face with a stew made from octapus and squid. “Who are you anyway?”
Gaius Antonius had been dying to find that out. But he had not had the courage to ask himself.
She smiled radiantly. “I am the only daughter of Hamilcar II, the ruler of Carthage. In fact, I am his only child. He lavished on me all the attention he would have loved to lavish on his heir.” She spoke with astonishing frankness.
“Why were you of all people sent as a hostage to Rome?” Cato shot another question at her. “You would think that someone else would have gone in your place.”
She laughed. Her laugh was like pearls bubbling out of her mouth and popping. “I volunteered,” she explained.
Cato traded looks with Gaius. “And why would you volunteer for such a mission?”
Tanit shrugged in a casual fashion. “Simply because I always wanted to travel to Rome. I didn’t see it happening in any other way. Soon I would be married off. Then I certainly would not get to go.”
“Why would you want to visit Rome so much?” Gaius finally got over being flustered and managed to get the words out of his mouth. He was playing with his food and had a hard time concentrating on eating it.
“Better art, better books,” she said. “For instance, I have heard that you are writing a book on Roman agriculture,” she addressed Cato. “No one has ever done that before. Certainly not in Carthage.”
“The Greek poet Hesoid wrote Works and Days,” Cato informed her.
“Yes, but he was a poet, not a prose writer,” she objected. “You are supposed to be developing Latin prose as you go along.” She acted very well informed about what was happening beyond the borders of her homeland.
But Gaius assumed that Cato’s fame was spread far and wide in the region.
Gaius had never heard a woman discourse like her before, certainly not Lavinia who was quiet and minded her own business.
He was beginning to think that the ship returning to Rome was like a floating enchanted isle controlled by a Circe-like creature. But he wished it would never end.
“Do you think the Carthaginians sent her because she is a kind of ambassador for their city?” Gaius asked Cato on the day before they were to land in Ostia.
“Let’s hope so,” he said cynically. “Let’s hope it is not some trick we cannot yet guess at.”
Gaius was later to remember those all too fateful words. But for now the only alarm he felt was when they started to disembark. Tanit had taken his arm. Lavinia was standing there on the shore waiting for him, smiling at him, and not suspecting anything.
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Reconstruction of Carthage by L. Aucler.