Dear readers, tonight with us is a Roman citizen from the time of Trajan. He’s here to talk about the why Antioch is a better city than Rome or Alexandria, about cultural diversity, and about winnowing truth from lies when a crime has been committed.
It’s not often that we have a guest from Antioch in Syria. Tell us about your city.
Antioch is the finest and most beautiful city in the free world, the one, true beacon of civilisation.
Many people in our audience believe that description fits Rome and Alexandria better.
I said, the greatest city in the FREE world. In Rome, no one is free. Without the imports of grain from the East, the city would starve. To walk in the streets is to contract infection unless you can avoid the contents of latrine pots that people throw out the window. You cannot speak the truth for fear of offending the Emperor, who has spies everywhere. As for Alexandria, you cannot even set foot there without written permission from the Emperor. No, freedom is neither in Rome or in Alexandria. But in Antioch, it is everyone’s birthright.
Besides freedom, what else does Antioch have to offer?
The first daughter of freedom is creativity. The city is full of poets, philosophers, musicians, actors, sculptors, painters, architects, writers. Artists beautify not only the city itself with monuments, porticoes and gardens, they beautify the mind. The second daughter of freedom is truth. In Antioch, no one needs to pretend they are someone they are not. We are who we are, in harmony with ourselves from the moment of birth. To be forced to be someone we are not is the greatest crime.
Speaking of crime, your brother Antonius Sabas is famous in the whole Roman Empire for solving them. Especially murder.
My brother is the best discoverer of crime in our city’s history, if I do say so myself. You see, a murderer kills someone, and then proceeds to live a lie. He or she must pretend they did not do what they did, and take care to deceive everyone around them. Sabas exposes the pretence. He reveals what the murderer actually did, which in all cases is very different from what the murderer says he did.
You assist him in his inquiries. Do you enjoy looking for criminals?
I enjoy separating the facts from the fiction. To pretend to be someone you are not, or to love something you actually hate, or not to have done something you actually did, is to attack not only the truth, but the harmony of the cosmos. I enjoy helping Sabas to restore that harmony.
Your latest inquiry concerned the murder of a rich, unmarried heiress. How did you and your brother solve that crime?
As I said, it’s a matter of separating fact from fiction. Our first rule: collect eye-witness reports. Not second-hand versions. Let each person tell you what they saw or heard. The second rule: believe nothing of what eye-witnesses have to say until you have tested their testimony against your own observations.
Can you give us an example?
Certainly. Early in the inquiry, we heard that someone, I will call him Solon to preserve his anonymity, threatened violence against another person. Shortly afterwards, that other person was almost killed, and Solon vanished from Antioch. Solon’s threats were made in public. Many people jumped to the conclusion that Solon was the instigator of the crime. But our own observations told us that Solon’s family and the victim’s family were on the best of terms. The discrepancy was plain. A disharmony, if you will. It was not difficult to re-establish the truth.
You had other assistants. In particular an unusual woman of Jewish origin.
I cannot praise Haeste highly enough for her help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with her unorthodox methods. Alas, not everyone in Antioch is perfect. People have prejudices. If they are from Antioch, they might disdain anyone who is not Antioch-born: Syrians, Romans, Cypriots, Alexandrians, Jews, Phoenicians – in other words, seven eighths of the city’s population. Which means that they live with one eighth of the truth, the rest is a figment of their imagination. Sabas and I refuse to live with anything less than eight eighths of the universe. Haeste is our link to a significant portion of the cosmos that other citizens ignore.
This last inquiry also left you with… um… some regrettable consequences. Will these in any way affect your participation in further murder investigations?
Where I come from, forgive me for speaking plainly, it is considered indelicate, nosy and rude to mention a person’s “regrettable” circumstances.
I withdraw the question. What can you tell us about Sabas’ father? You two are not blood brothers. Sabas was adopted. His father is a war hero, but Sabas refuses to talk about him.
His father was Pedanius Dromeios. It is not common knowledge, but it was many years ago. The man served with the Roman legions under the command of Titus, son of the Emperor Vespasian. He distinguished himself in the siege of Jerusalem. It was later that controversy stained his honour.
A cache of sapphires went missing. Part of a treasure belonging to King Herod Agrippa of Judaea. More precisely, to Queen Berenike, the king’s sister.
Sabas’ father stole them?
I don’t believe so. But the fact is… Sabas doesn’t know this. Not yet. The fact is, Sabas is in possession of a part of that missing cache.
Sabas has a cache of stolen sapphires in his possession and he doesn’t know it? How is that possible?
All will be revealed. After we have solved a more pressing mystery: why is someone trying to murder my brother?
Theo Faurez is the pseudonym of Paul-Dominique Masiclat who loves ancient history, the Eastern Roman Empire and murder. He’s lived in various parts of Asia, America and Europe, currently resides in Oslo, Norway. Favourite authors include John LeCarré, Mark Tedesco, Mick Herron, Nicky Holmes, Colleen McCoullough. Favourite cities: Antioch, Paris, Istanbul, Rome.
You can find Antonius on the pages of An Evil Planned.
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