Monday, June 20, 2016

Enemy of the Gods 3

Later that day, Nicholas rode with his parents in the family carriage to the forum. From the front, Epiphanius and Johanna seemed youthful, but from the back, their hair revealed that they had waited some years to have Nicholas as their only son. Johanna wore her hair back in a simple bun, more as an older woman would do, and Epiphanius ignored the military crew cut that was most fashionable for men, letting his hair grow in bushy curls instead. Both heads showed streaks of gray. Nicholas happily crowded in the back between baskets of figs and bags of barley. He always enjoyed the forum. There were so many things to see between the two rows of columns running up this street. Metal workers flashed sparks as they clanged their hammers. Sellers of togas and musical instruments called out for customers between prancing horses on sale from Egypt. Orators gave speeches about the big topics of the day. Wealthy benefactors announced their gifts to the poor. A long swath of the street was lined with amphorae jars of wheat and olive oil. Merchant tables held cages of chickens and hares, spices from the east, fishes and figs, wines and cheeses, onions and chick-peas, and fresh-roasted beef and pork. These last two his parents always avoided since they came from sacrifices to the god Apollo. Often, Nicholas had smelled the meat and asked if they could buy just a little bit, but his parents always said no. It made no sense to him. They weren’t buying Apollo, they were buying meat. Still, they wanted nothing to do with Apollo and his temple.

Making their way along the stalls, his father murmured as he often did, “It’s not what it used to be.”

Nicholas had heard this many a time, but this time he questioned, “Did the merchants really fill the whole street?”

“Yes,” said Epiphanius. “Your grandfather said that when he was young, the merchants even spilled over into the surrounding streets.”

“What happened?” asked Nicholas.

His father pulled out a gray coin. He said, “The denarius used to be all silver. Bit by bit, the emperors took the silver and replaced it with metal of lesser value. Now, they are half copper or some other metal. The empire is much like this coin, only appearing to be the thing it once was.”

His parents went about trading their figs and barley for other goods. Very little did they buy with money. Nicholas had grown accustomed to this. Many merchants preferred barter over the fake silver coins, and paying in gold would be calling attention to their wealth. Rich families had learned not to show off their wealth or they might find the tax collector knocking at the door demanding a little more to make up for what was lacking in local tax collections.

No comments: