Cato Demands Carthaginian Hostages At The Banquet:
Gaius Antonius landed in Carthage a week later and came ashore with Lavinia’s Uncle Cato. The colorful buildings were crowded together in the harbor touching side to side with hardly a space in between. Around them flourished small gardens. He could pick out brightly colored red hisbiscus and flaming pink bougainvillea.
They were taken to one of the most opulent houses. The head of the city received their all Roman delegation in high style. Servants raced around them to serve them an impromptu banquet.
As they were seated at a banquet he heard strange music and the sound of mourning people. Cato gave him the eye as they watched the citizens parade in a group towards a religious temple not far away. It rose over the harbor. He had been tutoring Gaius before they set out in the customs of the Carthaginian people and their history.
He had informed Gaius that they practiced a horrible, primitive religion that demanded sacrifices of baby infants to the God Cronus. Cato had showed Gaius ugly images of this repulsive God with his hands extended palms up and sloping towards the ground. The children were placed in those arms. They fell into a gaping, fiery pit. Then they were buried in a special cemetery devoted to that purpose.
If Gaius had any qualms about coming down hard on the Carthaginians he lost it after experiencing this horror. These people were not worthy to survive. Their customs, their religion, their culture seemed blackened because of this crime.
The leader of the Carthaginians pleaded as they progressed with the banquet, “I don’t understand what the problem is.” And he addressed Cato in good Latin, abandoning the Phoenician language out of deference, for the Carthaginians had always been a seafaring people. “Our neighbors attacked us. I assume we have the right to defend ourselves.”
Cato slapped down a copy of the treaty that had ended the last war against Carthage. It had almost ended with the destruction of Rome except for the generalship of Scipio Africanus.
“You agreed not to move your armies outside your city state without our express permission,” Cato pointed to the exact provision.
Everyone at the banquet cast him alarmed expressions.
“Very good, sir,” the leader of the Carthaginians tried to wax diplomatic as he wrung his hands. “But we thought that meant major wars of aggression. We did not think it had to do with raiding and more minor infractions of our neighbors. Rome is too far away to consult about matters of the moment like that.”
“The provision is literal,” Cato glowered at him worse than he glowered at senators in the Senate House. Gaius could see all the men in the room cringing. “We must consent to every act of aggression no matter how small or insignificant. How else can we protect ourselves? We don’t know what you might try next.”
The leader threw up his arms. “From now on we will try to obey your wishes in the matter. But you must excuse us this time. If we had not acted, we would not now have a fishing fleet. Then we would starve.”
Cato shook his head. “I must demand more. As a surety of your good behavior over the next year, we want as hostages one hundred of your noble youths to take with us back to Rome.”
Silence descended upon the banquet hall as the Carthaginian leaders exchanged haunted looks. They retired from the banquet into an adjoining chamber to discuss the matter of the hostages in detail and in privacy.
Cato nodded at Gaius. He took advantage of the opportunity to sketch the meeting place in detail just as he had already sketched the harbor works, the houses grouped together, and the flowering plants placed just so. It was a way to relieve the tension of waiting.
Cato did not look tense. He did not think the Carthaginians had any choice but to placate Rome with hostages. And he intended to exploit his position for everything that it was worth.
There was a commotion and a stir in the banquet room. Whisperings could be heard. Suddenly the leaders of the community burst through doors in the back of the room. Gaius gazed into their eyes the way Cato had taught him. The answer concerning the hostages was on their lips.
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Cato Sends Gaius to Carthage To Make Drawings:
Gaius Antonius sat there in amazement as the senators crowded around Cato at the conclusion of the Senate session. They were all gossipping about the last war and all their family memories that Gaius did not share because he was too young to remember. His father directed attention to him by telling another senator that he had brought Gaius along just in case there was a declaration of war today and he could volunteer his son as a recruit.
Gaius hung back until he was all alone in the Forum. He took a new way home and instead of returning to his house on the Palatine Hill in Rome he saddled up and took off for his country house outside town near the port of Ostia.
He sat there sketching the scenery to quiet his mind. He was joined by the daughter of the local mayor whom he had befriended recently. She questioned him what brought him here today. He spilled out his troubles to her.
She seemed disturbed. “Rome won’t quit until there is no other power in the Mediterranean,” she lamented. “They want to wipe out the Carthaginians just like they wiped us out too a while back.”
The girl who was descended from a local Etruscan family. The Etruscans had preceded the Romans in this area of Italy. Now hardly anyone spoke the original language which had practically died out during the past several generations.
“The Romans want the Carthaginians to speak Latin,” she said.
“But I guess there is a certain danger letting the Carthaginians make war against a neighboring city state,” Gaius lamented.
She shook her head sadly and disappeared. “You are just a Roman like the rest of them. And here I thought you were different!”
Gaius tried to follow her. But a messenger arrived from his father. He directed Gaius to follow the messenger back to Rome. Cato wanted to speak to him.
Marcus Porcius Cato? That was enough to wipe the memory of the Etruscan girl from his mind. Feeling very nervous he followed the messenger back to Rome to the imposing house of Cato not far from his own on Palatine Hill.
He entered the great man’s study in trepidation. He was amazed that the great man had even paid attention to his lowly presence in the Senate Chamber. But then Cato had seemed to pay attention to everyone great and small. That was part of his genius as he put down his pen and stopped working on his history of Roman customs and the life of a Roman country gentleman, the first prose work anyone had ever attempted to write in Latin before.
Cato smiled at Gaius, which surprised him even more. Given his stern face with all the lines, he was surprised if the older man could smile at all. He seemed to scowl at everyone all the time.
“Do you know why I didn’t call for a vote for war today?” Cato asked.
Gaius shook his head “no”.
“Because I wanted you to precede that vote. You must go to Carthage for us and make drawings of the buildings there in the harbor and around town so we know what we are confronting. We will find a pretext for you to leave Rome during our next session of the Senate.”
Gaius nodded nervously, not knowing how to say no to Cato.
“Perhaps we will ask them to send hostages as a show of good faith, that they are not making war against our interests,” Cato suggested to him.
He could not believe what was happening when Cato then invited him to lunch with him in his garden. Even more amazing, he introduced him to his granddaughter, who expressed a great interest in his drawings and examined them one by one very carefully.
“I like knowing you,” she smiled. “You seem like the man of the moment.” She gazed into his eyes.
Gaius was so overcome with her scintillating smile that at once he thought he would do anything to please her. He knew what his mission would be.
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Latin Lessons Up For Free Promotions On Amazon:
Latin Lessons will be free on Amazon starting tomorrow. Get your copy of this young adult thirller by Dora Benley, published by Cheops Books LLC, before Christmas. This is your last chance before the holidays.
Vincentia had just returned from a summer at Bryn Mawr College where she was studying Latin to keep up with her boyfriend, Lyle, the class valedictorian. But when she lands herself at the train station the night she arrives home again Lyle isn’t there as promised to pick her up. He sends her messages on her cell phone about how she should mind the ablative case. It will do her in every time if she doesn’t watch it when she is translating Cicero. But at the same time he keeps telling her he is being mobbed by his father’s legal clients. They are massing on his office in downtown Tucson with complaints and dark looks. Lyle’s father is bogged down in court. Lyle cannot reach him. And somehow Vincentia can’t reach her boyfriend as the shadows deepen at the train station and everyone else leaves. She is left all alone waiting for Lyle. And when she finally sees his car and runs for it, it starts up. And it isn’t Lyle at all. It is some strange boy driving his car taking her somewhere other than home.
Latin Lessons is brought to you by Edward Ware Thrillers YA, an imprint of Cheops Books, LLC. If you liked this young adult thriller by Dora Benley you will also like Mary’s Gone, Rose Red, Murder on Spirit Island, Murder in Jasper, and Silver Wolf Moon.
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