Narcissus Turncoatius, new ruler of Rome and the Patrician Party, was working late in the Imperial Library, assisted by a brace of his favourite temple prostitutes, the Fair Faxes, and several eunuchs from the Manningus Clarkus Historical Academy. They were engaged in finding and destroying certain inconvenient scrolls dealing with Turncoatius’ colourful past and his predecessor’s policies.
Here was a recent comment by one of the Fair Faxes, copied from a graffito on the walls of one of Rome’s more prestigious brothels: “He told a Fair Fax he wants to, as the Fair Fax put it, ‘change the culture; the culture of government, the culture of politics, the culture of business. Even the way Rome presents itself to the world’.”
Part One: The Turncoatius Chronicles
Who might his role-model and inspiration in this positive orgy of change be? His eye fell on a scroll labelled “Cathay.” Something stirred in his memory, and he opened it. It was an account of a visit he had made to that distant land some years previously, and of an oration before the local mandarins in praise of their deceased tyrant, the warlord Mousey Dung.
He cites the founder of modern Cathay, Mousey Dung, in a famous declaration attributed to him in the creation of the People’s Republic of Cathay when he said: ‘The people of Cathay have stood up!’
And Our Narcissus Turncoatius adapts it for Rome: ‘Modern Cathay is built upon an assertion of national sovereignty. And that is why we say to Cathay, ‘The Roman people stand up!’ repeating it in the Language of Cathay.
The people of Cathay had not all been standing up, he remembered. About 50 million of them had been lying down quite flat. When he asked indignantly why they were not making the kow-tow to him, he was informed that they were dead: Mousey Dung had killed them.
As for the Roman people, an impudent philosopher had muttered that they had been standing up perfectly well for themselves before Narcissus Turncoatius appeared on the scene to offer the blessings of his vision, that they already had national sovereignty and didn’t need more slogans about it. He hadn’t lasted long. His shattered bones bleached at the foot of the Tarpian Rock.
Narcissus Turncoatius rolled the scroll up, and tossed it onto a pile of documents that would feed the fires of the hypocaust. Adjusting his nose-peg, a eunuch pointed to another scroll. It was an account of an oration Turncoatius had made in Londonium when visiting rainy Britannia (where, he heard, today the Plebian Party was revolting – even more revolting than usual in fact – and the wild Caledonians were rampaging north of Hadrian’s Wall and massacring the Patricians). What had he said of Mousey Dung then? Ah, yes:
The economic success of modern Cathay, whether manifested in gleaming new cities, fast chariots and hippodromes, or in new legions and weapons of war, is the fulfillment of Mousey Dung’s proud boast in 1949 from the top of Tien An Men. ‘’Zhong guo ren min zanqilai le’ – the people of Cathay have stood up. And so they have – and we are now all taking notice.
Tien An Men … It stirred a thought. Hadn’t something happened there more recently than Mousey Dung’s speech? That’s right, scholars and intellectuals had demonstrated for “democracy,” one of the forms of government that Aristotle had condemned. Narcissus Turncoatius had become leader of millions by 55 votes. No point in making a fuss about “democracy”, a euphemism for mob-rule. As he remembered the reports, the rulers of Cathay had dealt with the matter. His predecessor, The Hawk, had wept over it.
Well, to return to his oration, some of the people of Cathay had stood up. But that awkward 50 million-or-so were still lying down. They were starting to smell bad, too, but he, of all Romans, was inured to that.
There had been a derisory comment at the time from a seditious scribe, one Gregorious Sheridanius, chiselling on the Roman tablet of the day. This dared to claim that his statesmanlike oration, and another to Asialink, rather than being in the tradition of Pericles or Caesar, helped explain “why he was such a disastrous Patrician leader and why he should never be considered for the leadership again.”
Well, time brought its revenges, he thought. And as he thought it, he shuddered at a sudden icy feeling between his shoulder-blades.
To be continued …
Cato Seotonius is a spiritual forebear of Hal G.P. Colebatch, who translated this account to modern English