By Charlene Cat with Dan Wild
Phidias: My dear Proclivia, the state of the empire is not looking good. But we have only started our walk. Why am I already bringing up the decline and fall of the empire? Oh, and I hope you don’t mind me calling you Proclivia?
Proclivia: You can call me anything. I can be anyone. Now I am Proclivia. Which empire are you talking about? Why is it not looking good? Each empire has its own fate and glories. To grow, to bloom, to fall to lose. We put that “it is the best of the time, and it is the worse of the time” for every time. Who knows what the best and worse is?
Phidias: Good that you can be anyone, Proclivia. One of my problems is that I have tried hard to be myself but it hasn’t worked. And I put some of the blame firmly on the shoulders of the empire, although obviously I have to take some responsibility, chiefly for my ignorance. The empire I refer to is the Western Empire, which now encompasses Britainnia, Africa and Asia Minor, or the Middle East. What business do we have there? Soon we’ll be taking on Asian Major!
It seems the empire can expand no further, unless it hopes to conquer Atlantis. But we all know Atlantis was a mere fable by old Plato, who departed this globe at least a millennium ago.
Proclivia: Whether or not you have failed comes down to how you perceive yourself.
Phidias: And I shouldn’t try to see myself through other’s eyes then? Easy to say and hard to do. But maybe you want to hear why I blame the empire for my own failings? The first – having reached middle age with not much to show for it. No family and a failure in that which I prize the most – the arts. I suppose I struggle to come to terms with the relentless propaganda against us immigrants, in particular us males. We are consistently portrayed as troublemakers, misogynists, or worse. Yet female immigrants are elevated, almost fetishised. How do you feel about this? Perhaps you have the opposite reaction to me. Do you benefit? Surely you must consistently turn down the advances of Roman plebeians, equestrians, even senators!
Proclivia: I don’t know how to answer that question! I will have to think on it.
Phidias: I am keen to know the honest answer. Myself then? I hope to find a way out of this mess and return to the East, where I would feel more comfortable and less patronised.
Proclivia: Knowing oneself is a lifelong journey. The empire does offer plenty of options. You can be anyone in look but not soul, you can change gender, you can be single or married, religious, non-religious. Doors are open but the hard part is which way you want to go. You are free to blame the shoulders of the empire, however, wherever you go, you are standing on the shoulders of the empire.
Phidias: The shoulders of the empire are too narrow for all of us. I feel I’m slipping off. If there’s anything I’d like to change, it is my race. But that is impossible! My race is from very far south – only Alexander the Great has gone so far. We are the perennial underachievers, content to look back at history but not move forward with the present. I hope our time comes again, but that would show remarkable maturity from a population that lives on past glories. There is a certain lack of trust too in my culture. Family honour is placed above everything else. Hence society does not progress, and love does not flourish. That must be why I’m here.
Proclivia: If you come from those lands as far south as I am from the East, then your original name must not be Phidias.
Phidias: I wanted to be a sculptor when I was young. Instead I became a scribe. So I call myself Phidias here and pretend we are on a promenade past ancient pillars, maybe in Heliopolis, Thebes, Alexandria, Carthage or even Rome itself. I have always been obsessed with those places, with travel and history. It allows us to seek that elusive primal essence of human nature as it manifests in different cultures. It also demonstrates that everywhere we find happy souls and struggling souls, and that not everyone wants to come here, as Endigenes vociferously attested the other day. I almost threw an apple at him! The empire is not the centre of the universe. Are there other places you wish to see, Proclivia, or are you content with your lot here?
Proclivia: l travelled around the world in my time but have not done any space travel. My soul is free to wander around.
Phidias: You have the luxury of viewing both our decadence and innate sense of superiority. And isn’t the hypocrisy on full display now with the fall of Kabulus? It may well be a distant province, practically a frontier, but is this the beginning of the end for our rulers? Will they draw curtains on their self-absorbed policy of the pax Romanus, instead allowing other provinces to govern on their own terms? We fomented the rebellions there, and forty years later the chickens come home to roost. But our media of course does not let the populace in on these subtleties.
Proclivia: You are free to comment as you see fit.
Phidias: Perhaps I shouldn’t be poking my nose into your political and personal views. But having read the occasional etching on your Facetablet wall (forgive me), am I right in believing your civic and moral outlook is similar to mine – that is, you are not a slave to empire morality?
Proclivia: Slave, who can say that they are free and be their own master? We are falling leaves caught by wind and stream, floating in the air and sea. How can each leaf determine its own way? No, not possible.
Phidias: These are interesting ideas, practically fatalistic. I imagine you acquired them from your home provinces as I haven’t heard the like, not in Ovid, Lucan or even Sophocles. But then I am not well read in the Greek classics! “Leaves caught by wind.” I would like to be caught by a breeze. But I either feel buffeted by a storm, or cast adrift into a vast ocean where I must float for many decades, until the rock appears upon which I can rest.