The Carthaginians Say No To Cato:
Cato and the rest of the senators poured into the Senate House in the Forum early the next day to send their decree to the Carthaginians. They were anxious to send their final demands to the errant city state of Carthage in North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea. For the sake of the few senators who had not made it to his latifundia the day before for the grand banquet and for the sake of the plebeians outside gathered around the Senate House, Cato again rose and made his speech.
He explained to the assembled mobs why Rome had to take the step of asking Carthage to vacate its city state location on the Mediterranean, which was after all to each Roman “Our Sea” and not to be shared with enemies. He explained how the Roman soldiers would burn down what remained and tear apart the very walls and ramparts, leaving only the cemeteries for the pagan gods. And they would establish a permanent patrol tower on the coast to make sure that the Carthaginians did not sneak back and start rebuilding their troublesome city state once more.
The plebs in the Forum shouted out their agreement with Cato’s words. After all, they had been the foot soldiers in the ranks during the last war with Carthage and the Carthaginians. They also had cherished family memories.
“My grandfather lived to tell about Cannae!” one of the plebs called. “The last thing he did before he went to bed every night was to curse the Carthaginians. He used to have a new imprecation every time we listened to him. I have a whole list of them.” The pleb was standing right outside the main Senate House door. He shouted straight into it.
Cato left his seat from which he had been speaking to the assembled body of senators. He brushed past the others down the aisle out to the door. He took the unprecedented step of inviting the plebeian from the streets of Rome to enter the august chamber. He led him to his place from which he had been speaking.
“Speak to the Senate,” Cato urged him. “Tell them what you are telling your confederates about the damned Carthaginians.”
The commoner was astounded. He gaped around in amazement at the most important men in Rome. He looked as if he never imagined to find himself in such a place and had to find his own sense of gravity. He finally managed to find his tongue.
“My grandfather survived Cannae only to serve under Scipio Africanus. He came home to Rome to celebrate the triumph over the Carthaginians. It was the greatest day of his life. He would not want us Romans to lose what we achieved that day. That is all I wanted to say. And if it were up to me I would do as this senator asks you to do. He knows what he is talking about.”
The senators cheered the plebeian in their midst. Gaius thought it was probably just as well. If it came to war, these men would be the recruits and the foot soldiers who would serve in the army. They had to feel that it was their city state as well.
The plebs outside broke into such a cheer that it continued for the rest of the afternoon without any intermission at all. In the meantime the senators voted to send messengers to Carthage and the Carthaginians with the demands of the Roman Senate. No one really expected them to accept the terms, but there was always the chance. They had already sent hostages, though the hostages had escaped, and not every city state would have done that. They had even sent weapons, though they had probably been taken from somebody else. And they had finished paying their reparations which showed their wealth. Other states would have been bogged down forever with a burden like that. Perhaps they would seem to accept this demand too so that secretly they could go about building up weapons and ships to defy the Romans. No one would be surprised if the Carthaginians were not honest.
It did not take more than a couple weeks before the news arrived back from the African side of the Mediterranean. The messengers had been murdered. All the Roman merchants who had the bad luck to be trading with Carthage that day had been massacred. Captured Romans had been dragged out on top of the walls of the city. In full view of the messenger ship in the harbor as well as all the other ships from other lands Roman victims had been openly tortured, killed, and thrown over the walls into the sea. Carthage’s answer had been no they would not leave their city state behind and move ten miles inland. And to prove what they said, they were declaring war on Rome.
Cato once again assembled the senators in the Senate House. He invited inside what was left of the team of messengers that Rome had sent to Carthage several weeks ago. They told their tale in vivid words about what they had seen.
“Gentlemen,” Cato finally spoke out. “I think we have lived to see it. The Third Punic War has begun.”
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Gaius Takes The Drawing Back To Rome:
Right in front of Gaius Antonius’s eyes was an elaborate, detailed drawing of the latest Carthaginian warship which had obviously been constructed since the last war. Its giant wooden hull was massive and impressive and unlike anything else the Carthaginians had sailed into battle up to this point in either the First or Second Punic Wars. In fact, it looked better than anything that the Roman navy had access to at this moment.
It led to the question about how many more of these ships did the Carthaginians possess and where were they hiding them? Perhaps in harbors of cities friendly to them? Perhaps even here in New Carthage? New Carthage had a large, impressive harbor. He had not had a chance to examine every square corner of it.
Gaius quickly got up to lock the door to the room. At least he had that much presence of mind. He did not want anyone barging in on him and attacking him when he was carefully examining the drawing and surprising him. If any of those watchmen had followed him back to the apartment building they might try something like that when they thought he was otherwise distracted.
He sat down again and spread the papers out on the table before him. The prow of the Carthaginian ship was painted bright blue with the drawing of an eye of their chief god, Baal, guiding them into battle. The rest of the hull was bright red and rather fiercesome looking. Together they constituted the chief colors of the Phoenician city state in northern Africa, blue and red. The golden oars shot out from the red hull so numerous that they could not be counted. They were like the legs of a spider. The big white sails had giant golden lions drawn on them.
Cato had been impressed with Gaius’s discovery, too, and they had planned to analyze the drawing in detail and discuss it with various members of the Roman Senate when the time came. Cato thought that now that the Carthaginians had finished paying their reparations to Rome for the last war they were using their money to improve their naval fleet.
He wanted Gaius to show off his drawing to the full, assembled Senate to make them angry, indignant, and fearful and eventually to call for war. As Cato had said many, many times, “Carthago delenda est”, or “Carthage must be destroyed.” He must complete what he had set out to accomplish.
Gaius Antonius was all too aware that Cato could not accomplish his aim without his assistance. He had to have the visual proof to shove right in front of the noses of the Roman senators. Gaius had to make it seem as if the senators were there with them in the harbor of Carthage on the Mediterranean shore of North Africa. They had to have nightmares about ships that looked like this two-toned monster with the sails flaunting golden lions sailing through their sleep to get them disturbed enough to act.
It was up to him to get this all important drawing back to Rome in short order. He folded it up and stuck the drawing into a fold in his robes. He looked tensely to both sides. Should he wait until tomorrow? Or should he try to take ship right now? It was already early afternoon, but ships left the harbor right up until sunset.
He had no business here in New Carthage otherwise. He had what he had come here to find. Lingering could only cause trouble big time.
He left money for the apartment owner in the center of the table, threw his cloak over his shoulders and head to disguise his identity, and made his way down the stairs to the ground level. Before emerging onto the street, he looked carefully in every possible direction. He did not see anyone lingering about looking towards him as he started on foot towards the harbor. He stopped at every street corner to study the scene about him. Only ordinary housewives and businessmen going about their daily business were in evidence anywhere he looked.
As luck would have it Gaius found a Roman merchantmen in the harbor. It had just unloaded a shipment of fine wines from Italian latafundia outside Rome. Cato ran such an operation on his estate and had just written a book about it called On Agriculture, which was noted to be the first such work using fine Latin prose. One of his wines could have been aboard.
Gaius Antonius boarded just before the ship cast off. It was sailing along the coast of Spain and planned to make landfall a few cities hence before darkness stopped the ship at port for the night before continuing on back to Rome across the Mediterranean Sea, or Our Sea as Romans liked to call it.
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Gaius Antonius’s Ship Heads to New Carthage:
After all the good-byes and farewells at the dock, Gaius stood on the deck next to the crew as the ship headed out into the Mediterranean. He waved good-bye and wondered if he would return successfully after locating those maps. Or would he be killed in the line of duty and never return again.
About three days later his ship came ashore in a well-protected harbor with waves crashing on shore from the aquamarine sea. The city wall rose in front of him put there by the Carthaginians to protect their settlement. Behind it in the distance rose black hills made mostly of rock with very few green plants growing on them. They looked imposing and rather threatening.
He entered the city through an arched gateway. He took an apartment just as Cato had suggested and watched people come and go all day in the square outside the window.
He spent several days doing this, trying to detect any unusual movement. He also wanted to pick up the visages of any peculiar people coming and going from the city. if someone looked suspicious or in a hurry he might decide to follow them. Otherwise he did not know how to begin his search for those maps which by now must be somewhere inside those looming walls.
He could hardly get caught asking people about them. They might grow suspicious. Word might get to the Carthaginians. They might have somebody in the city looking for a sign of a Roman spy.
He watched the men who manned the walls arrive to go to work and leave every day. A stairway led up into the thick walls made of brick that had defended the city fifty years ago during an assault in the Second Punic War. The watchman closed the door behind him. Gaius could imagine the thing slamming behind him and echoing with a boom.
He ate watching the walls. Sometimes he slept doing the same thing. Certainly they were not going to open their mouths and speak. Besides he did not know the language of walls.
Suddenly one afternoon only a few days after he arrived, he caught sight of a figure about one hundred feet away down in the square approaching the walls from inside the city. It was not at the time when the watchmen arrived or the watchmen departed for the day. Besides, the figure did not look like the right height. The person seemed rather slight for the task. And even more suspiciously, whoever it was wore a dark robe that covered him from head to foot and left absolutely nothing exposed to the daylight. The unknown person was clutching the dark robe right beneath the chin to exaggerate the same effect and probably to ensure that the robe did not slip off his head and reveal his identity to the world.
He stood up and went to the window. He peered out without revealing himself in case anyone was watching.
The figure he was watching darted toward the walls and stopped. The figure looked both ways and darted every closing, stopping every few steps. At one point the figure stopped, turned around, and glanced behind him to see if anybody was following or as if he heard footsteps. Once he satisfied himself that nobody was in pursuit, he continued on his way once more.
A wind was blowing inland from the harbor. The figure was so absorbed worrying if somebody was following him that he forgot temporarily to clutch his hood. The wind caught him by surprise and blew it back ever so quickly revealing his head to the elements before he quickly clutched it and drew it quickly over his head once again.
Why, he knew that face anywhere! The silver dark hair blew in the breeze if for ever so brief an instant. Those pearl like eyes had shown with fright. Those molded cheeks had been revealed along with the narrow, sylph-like lips. Why, that had been Tanit! She could be here for only one reason. He had to follow her.
Quickly he threw on his own robe to conceal his visage and hurled himself down the stairs from his apartment and out onto the street. He fixed his eyes on the figure who had been out of his sight for only a few seconds and headed towards her inch by slow inch very carefully. It would ruin everything if she recognized him.
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Cato Calls Upon Carthage To Make Peace With The Samnites:
The next day Cato packed up his household and transported it back to his city house in Rome. He left the hostages in place at his country estate under full military guard which he could command from a distance and took his niece, Lavinia, and Gaius Antonius with him.
Lavinia seemed to brighten up when she got away from Tanit. Gaius could tell. She looked forward to playing hostess to her uncle in Rome and forgetting all about the hostages. She brought him a hot cup of mulsum sweetened with honey. He immediately retired to his cozy study in Cato’s house and started to reconstruct his own maps from memory. He lay down Tanit’s maps, the one her friend drew as a replacement, face down on the desk beside him to use as a contrast/comparison guide.
Lavinia was hanging over his shoulder quietly watching him draw. She even took a seat beside him. When he paused she said, “Those drawings really do look different, don’t they?” She sipped her own honeyed mulsum.
So even Lavinia noticed it!
He nodded. “That is what I thought too. Why do you think I am going to all the trouble of drawing these maps again from memory? Cato won’t have a guide to what is actually there otherwise. He might miss some important detail.”
She nodded, following his train of thought. “Do you think one of the Carthaginians stole the map and then drew a fake map to replace it?” She stated the doubt that had been tormenting him all along since he had discovered the differences in the drawings.
“It is hard to say. They seemed to be quite willing to help us. The differences could be innocent enough, just a matter of emphasis and memory. Maybe some of the sailors do still dress the way they did fifty years ago for all we know. I only know what I happened to see myself. Then again there could be a mass conspiracy to prevent us from seeing something. I just cannot tell.”
“It is better to be prudent,” she agreed.
It was his private secret with Lavinia. Cato did not know about it. Gaius had not wanted to inform him. Who knew what Cato might not do if he found out? And Cato was on the war path anyway.
The next day Gaius accompanied Cato to the Senate House. He sat beside his father who was proud that his son had a role in the current proceedings.
Cato looked around at his audience one by one taking them in and forcing them to look into his eyes as he began to speak. He made it seem as if he were addressing each one of them individually.
“Carthage must make peace with its neighbors, the Samnites,” he began. “It must take instant measures before war breaks out. He must not permit that. For what if war breaks out and Carthage wins starting with the Samnites?” he started pacing around the Senate Chamber as he was wont to do when he was orating.
The Senators began to nod gravely as if appreciating the gravity of the problem facing them today.
“Carthage will once again be a power in the Mediterranean, Our Sea, the Roman Sea, and competition to us. This is the situation that occurred before the last war when they were defeated by Scipio Africanus.”
He stopped before Scipio Aemilianus, the adopted heir of Scipio Africanus. “This is what led to the elephants and the nightmare of invasion, the nightmare that Rome was to be invaded by Hannibal.”
Cato awoke the nightmares and the fears of the whole city state. All eyes were riveted on him.
“Before this nightmare can again become reality, we must send an emissary to Carthage, or rather a team, perhaps an armed contingent, to insist on peace negotiations. Our contingent must guide and direct them and report back to us.”
Everyone nodded again.
“We should set up a time schedule. Every few months Carthage must meet a new deadline for progress, or we should take something away from them. For one thing, they have finally finished their reparations. Maybe we should threaten to start them again.”
The chamber started to cheer. They rose to their feet clapping. A group of the senators approached Cato and lifted him up on their shoulders. They paraded around the chamber with this man of the hour. The acclamations were so loud that when they burst out of the Senate House into the Forum, citizens were gathered in a crowd listening and cheering, too.
Gaius felt certain that Cato could handle the Carthaginians and the Samnites if any man could. But when he thought of his missing maps, he remembered that the devil was in the details.
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Gaius Visits Lavinia Before He Goes To Carthage:
During the next few weeks in Rome Gaius spent nearly all his waking hours at Cato’s house on the Palatine keeping company with Lavinia. He did everything except sleep there. Lavinia, Cato’s niece, was always present. Gaius learned that she was his ward. He was responsible for her education and her upbringing.
Cato would lecture to Gaius and give him assignments to do sketching this building and that on the property and around Rome itself. He would study each sketch and comment on it critically, making suggestions for details to include in the future. Above all he wanted buildings arranged in such a way in the sketch that they could later easily be mapped by the army.
Lavinia was his constant companion. He found himself sketching to please her even more than Cato. She would admire the drawings and ooh and aah over them. She kissed him on the cheek when she was especially pleased. The kissing behind closed doors soon led to other things. He found himself making love to her shamelessly in one of the bedrooms in the big house.
She came to the Senate House and stood outside it where she might be able to hear the proceedings when her uncle was to speak. Everybody in Rome was there who was anybody at all. But they had to remember the prohibition about women in the Senate House.
All eyes turned to Cato as he again began to speak. Again Gaius sat beside his father. He took careful note as Cato turned to this senator and that, calling upon him by name to say if he thought there was any other way to proceed than by making Carthage the number one enemy of Rome. No one dared to contradict the statement, though in each case Cato carefully waited for a response.
Cato launched into a detailed history of the relationship between Rome and Carthage over the past century. Carthage used to be the great power in the Mediterranean. Now Rome had gained the advantage. Was it about to lose it once more? This time the gods might not be as sympathetic of the homeland of Romulus and Remus after they proved themselves to be so stupid.
Now was the time to crack down on Carthage before the worst happened again. Cato proposed sending a mission to Carthage. They would escort back one hundred select youths as hostages for Carthage’s good behavior with its neighbors in Africa.
All the senators voted aye and yeah for the measure. They called out for Cato to be the mission’s leader. Who else would be sterner and more suited?
“I propose taking Gaius Antonius with me as my aide and assistant,” Cato announced.
Gaius’s father beamed with pride.
All the senators indicated their approval. The date was set for sailing.
Gaius escaped into the hills surrounding Rome for the last time before his sailing. This was where he used to meet the Etruscan girl. She did not come to join him, though he imagined that he felt eyes on him in all directions watching him.
Instead Lavinia joined him.
“I will miss you in Africa!” she embraced him.
He kissed her back. “I am doing this for you and for our future together. What would it be if Carthage takes over the Mediterranean again? Our sons might not live to see adulthood.”
She nodded sadly, having been raised by her famous uncle.
Soon the date was set to depart with Cato for Africa. Lavinia came to Ostia. He waved. She blew kisses. He wondered what the future held as that fateful expedition set off from the Italian shore and what he would be thinking the next time he saw it again —- if the gods granted him such a boon.
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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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Cato The Elder Speaks To The Senate House:
While Gaius sat beside his father and listened, the revered Senator, perhaps the most revered in the entire Senate House, rose to his full height to speak. Everyone else immediately fell silent. Gaius Antonius sitting there beside his father the Senator could hear “Sh-h-h-h-h-h-h!” followed by a great hush over the entire Senate. When not a sound could be heard the elderly Senator who hardly even showed his age though he was now in his seventies looked around at everyone and took them in seemingly one by one before he began to speak.
Gaius could not turn away after Cato’s eyes passed over him and seemed to touch him though he had not come near him physically. The lines in his face and forehead were deep and seemingly carved there as if in marble. His eyes missed nothing and felt as if they had turned Gaius’s very soul inside out. His craggy appearance only set the atmosphere for what was to come.
He held his head erect and stiffened his spine looking down his long, pointed nose that stuck out from his face as if to warn the unwary that Marcus Porcius Cato was about to descend upon them. With a look so serious and grave he could have frightened Jupiter himself, Cato began to speak.
He traced the history of the Roman involvement with the city state on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, or “Our Sea” as the Romans liked to call it. He announced that it had now been going on for a century and needed to come to an end very soon.
Gaius whispered to his father, “But I thought it was at an end after the last war!” he objected. “That was now over fifty years ago. He was only twenty. Fifty years seemed like a long time to him, half a century in fact.
“Sh-h-h-h-h!” his father hissed at him, frowning.
“We defeated Carthage during two very costly wars!” Cato declared. “One war our grandfathers fought. The one before our great-grandfathers fought. I has cast a pall over our Republic ever since. We don’t know what the enemy may be up to next.”
All the Senators looked at each appalled.
“We tried to give Carthage a chance. We even tried to make friends with them after the last war and take them into our orbit of sister cities fronting Our Sea. But now they are abusing our trust again, trying to make war against their sister city. How do we know that this is not a first step in a planned rise to power and then hegemony over the Mediterranean?” Cato exclaimed flinging out his arms.
The Senators shook their heads and shuddered.
“They give us specious reasons about how their neighbor Numidia is trying to impinge upon their state. But this could be the beginning of the end for our republic which has grown tired of warfare and no longer wants to expend the effort to defend itself.”
Cato made sure to eye each Senator individually as if this senator and that senator might be individually responsible for that infringement upon honor and duty. Gaius shivered. He was too young to remember much. But the censorious, no-nonsense expression on Cato’s face reminded him of his pedagogues in the classroom.
“So soon does Rome forget the horrors of the last Punic War. When has there ever been a battle like Cannae? When have we ever lost so many men in one day? Who here did not lose a near and dear ancestor on that day?”
Cato moved from his seat and came around the room confronting each senator individually until many a man broke down weeping.
“Hear me, oh Rome,” Cato returned to his seat and waved his arms about in the air as if he were trying to attract the attention of the gods themselves. “Hear me when I say that Carthage must be destroyed!”
If he ever lived beyond today, Gaius knew he would never forget those words.
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Hitler’s Agent Visits Paris, France:
In the wake of Trump’s visit to Paris for Bastille Day we have been discussing France. I have used France occasionally as a setting for my novels. I did use the French part of Belgium, Wallonia, as the setting for Inn at the Crossroads, my novel about Napoleon. But France itself has managed to wedge its way in there once in a blue moon. For instance Dora and Edward meet Churchill at the Ritz Hotel for a long luncheon right after they escape Hitler’s clutches in the novel Hitler’s Agent, which I am about to publish on October 15. They have just escaped Mussolini in Venice and sailed through the Mediterranean out past the Rock of Gibraltar to Paris going in that direction. Dora has Thomasina with her and is surrounded by guards that she has hired for the occasion to protect her from the Nazis. Helga, who is Hitler’s Agent, and Herr von Wessel make an entrance into the dining room. They send Dora notes about the Lawrence maps, key to world domination, with the cooperation of the waiters. Helga is seated by a statue of Venus. But Dora puts an end to that, too. It is one of the few occasions where Helga is in the same room with Churchill. The two don’t mix well as characters, mind you. But at least on that occasion Dora and Edward managed to escape back to Ware Hall in the south of England for more adventures. For the historical thriller, Hitler’s Agent, does not end there.
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