Far below, she watched the aristocrats and patricians swarm in, out and around the centre of Rome. Their white tunics and red sandals differed them from the drabber toga colours of ordinary people, but their actions and words distinguished them even more and these were what attracted her to them. Or them to her. She could never decide though she would pretend to know if anyone ever asked her.
“You see, my sister, Veritas,” she spoke over her shoulder, her gaze never leaving the bustle below her, “believes in truth, is truth and all it represents. How very noble, and ignorant of her,” she chuckled under her breath–Veritas was actually her cousin–and continued speaking, “How little she understands the human condition. Human society does not exist despite falsehoods, but because of them. We have happy relationships because we hide nasty truths from each other and ourselves. We have peaceful societies because we lie about royalty, class and privilege to each other. Truth is a prison–immobile, unmalleable and impersonal–while lying is the key that frees us from it and allows us to be who we want to be.”
Far below, aristocrats spoke quietly together, every second word a lie, half-truth or omission. Patricians exchanged falsehoods and insincerities below to gain position and power. Everyone with every breath in every moment and with every word added to the body of lies underwriting society.
“I, on the other hand,” she eventually broke her gaze from her ignorant worshipers and turned to the listener, “I see society’s true character: untruths and lies. Not a big lie, not a horrendous one, just countless little lies all stacked up precariously on one and another.”
“You are Parum Vera, Goddess of Half-truths and Little Lies, Patrician of the Patricians, Whisperer of Greyness and Mistress of Makeup.”
The being that stood before her was hard to look at; not ugly or hideous, but physically hard for you to make your eyes focus on it. If you did not actively concentrate, your eyes slid off its image and your mind wandered. With immense effort, though, if you did manage to focus on it for even a few seconds, whatever you saw was fleeting and left your mind the moment you looked away, leaving you only with a strange sense of hollow vastness.
Parum Vera smiled, a strangely insincere act on her somewhat round and pouty face, and nodded, “Yes, just call me Vera, brother. And what can I do for Ignotus , the Being of Distraction?”
Ignotus smiled, or at least Vera got the feeling that he smiled. Even for a goddess–albeit one of the minor goddesses–she visually struggled with Ignotus. She only called him ‘brother’ because she had to call It something and they were related. Truth be told, she had no idea what It was, but, truth had never been her strong point, so she kept to her story that It was her brother.
“I have an idea for something glorious and I need you to convince the mortals to build it.”
His joints hurt and no amount of wine seemed to dull the ache. Vast splendour surrounded him but, in his early seventies, it had also cost him a lot. First, subtly, and then in open civil war, he had worked his way up from equestrian to senator and, finally, to Emperor, but all things came at a price and he now was in the sunset of his life.
A lifetime to get here, but what did he want to do with it? His joints ached and he felt tired. All the power in the world and all he wanted was wine, a hot bath and a good night’s sleep.
Emperor Vespasian sighed and took a long sip of his wine as the man before him droned on. The Rationibus or royal accountant of Rome was a strange, balding little man with slightly bulbous eyes who had served under at least three of the four emperors during the Year of Four Emperors. A dubious track record, at best.
He did not like him but he did need him. The Empire was large and needed to be organized.
The numbers droned on and the wine slid down his throat. He rubbed his knees and leaned back in his gilded chair. What should he now do with his power? What legacy could he leave–beyond this position–for his two sons? How would history remember him?
Suddenly, he realized that the Accountant had stopped talking and was looking carefully at him. He cleared his throat and nodded, and the Accountant smiled.
“Perhaps, Emperor, could I step beyond my duties and make a suggestion?” the Accountant continued without waiting for his agreement, “Following your successful siege and subjugation of the rebel city, Jerusalem, we have a plentiful supply of slaves and your treasury is well endowed, yet the people grow increasingly irritable and restless. The late Nero had embraced them on his estate and, while however despicable and dangerous such an act is, it has left a vacuum that could be useful. Too many slaves collapse the price of slavery, too much gold creates unhealthy desire, and the peoples’ restlessness combines with these to make for a dangerous civil union…”
The Accountant paused here and narrowed his bulbous eyes, obviously trying to see if Emperor Vespasian was following his hints. Whatever he saw satisfied him, and he pushed onwards eagerly.
“What if we were to turn Nero’s old estate–where he let the common people walk–into a vast entertainment building? When built, we could stage entertainment for the masses and, as it is being built, it would draw on many thousands of slaves–keeping this market healthily tight–while also obliterating Nero’s toxic legacy with your own improved one….”
Emperor Vespasian smiled! His mind was suddenly racing.
“Yes!” he said slamming his wine down and a grin spreading across his face, “We will build the Flavian Amphitheater! We will tear down that stain on the city, the Colossus, and make mine in its place! A great idea!”
Of all the ideas from all the aristocrats and patricians, it was his accountant that had solved his legacy for him. He would build!
In the moments that followed, Emperor Vespasian did not stop to think where his accountant could have come up with such an idea or what–or who–had been the inspiration for it…
“Six thousand slaves, ten years and much more gold later,” Ignotus growled, smiling, “and we have the Colosseum. I would ask you how you influenced the mortals to build it but I am not sure you would tell me the truth, sister.”
At midnight beneath a full moon, they both stood on the top of the concrete stands looking down on the eerie circular stage far below them. Soft snoring, growls and an occasional roar could be heard from the cells below it but the stage stood empty and awaiting tomorrow’s show. Empty seats with rigid class order cascaded down from their perch until the floor of the amphitheatre was reached. Here, surrounded by screaming blood-thirsty crowds, gladiators, slaves and animals fought to the death for little more than the onlookers’ entertainment.
“A beautiful plan, brother,” Vera smiled, “and one that I benefit from. This building is built from a lie to a little man, to hide another’s lie and it perpetuates so many of society’s current lies. Even the name, the Colosseum, is a lie, as Emperor Vespasian actually named it the Flavian Amphitheater, yet people and history will forget that, perpetuating the lie. What I do not understand, brother, is what you get from this structure?”
Once again, Vera got a distinct impression that Ignotus was smiling–even grinning–but she had long ago given up trying to see–or remember–any detail of the creature.
“Future poets will call it ‘bread and circuses‘, emperors and kings of civilizations yet-to-come will replicate its model and build copies of it all over the world to host games that people everywhere will faithfully watch, talk about, write about and discuss to the exclusion of all else,” and then Ignotus, the Being of Distraction, the Demon of Diversion, and the Blur of History laughed–a strange, deep, growling static that made Vera’s pale skin crawl–“You, Vera, have tricked the mortals into building the greatest of mass distractions ever invented; years from now they will build stadiums and beam it into people’s very houses and pockets and they will call it: Sport.”