Character and Values

Book Cover, Venus in CopperWe have looked at the basic plot and the landlord’s fiddles which Lindsey Davis raised in Venus in Copper, and examined some of the characters, albeit with a quick glance. We take the opportunity to look at some of the actions of the main characters as the narrative unfolds. On page 290, Falco makes a broad conclusion that all landlords are bullies. Why does he say this, and what bears the weight of Falco’s comment in the narrative?

Values in Venus in Copper

There are several landlords mentioned in Venus in Copper:

  • – Smaractus, who owns the six story dwelling on the Aventine Hill;
  • – The Hortensii, who have a large property portfolio;
  • – Appius Priscillus, who has a larger property porfolio;
  • – The Legendary Crassus, who made millions from his property holdings.

As we have seen previously, Smaractus engages some of his bully-boys from his gladiator barracks to enforce payment of rent, and generally keep the tenants in a state of fear. Note that the bully boys know that Falco’s rent is paid in advance, so they thump him for the last time he forgot, and the next time…

The Hortensii, through their mouthpiece Novus, say “you cannot be sentimental about debt”. At the climax of their hypothetical fiddle, (multiple mortgages on property) they arrange “demolition” (accidental collapse) of their hypothetical leaseholds to avoid payments…

Appius Priscillus engages in arson, burning select properties and their freehold buildings, and then preying on the tenants immediately after the fires .. (they are still in shock) purchasing the freehold land from the shocked, destabilised owners and rebuilding when the ashes cool. He has rent-enforcers (see the “reminder” handed out to the the fruit seller on the Pincian Hill) and also engages in “demolition” practices.

We can safely conclude that these fictional landlords represent some of the reprehensible practices of the landlords of Ancient Rome to collect rents, acquire property, and make money from properties, and in the case of mortgaged properties, avoid payment of debts owed to creditors. These are utterly reprehensible business practices, and the landlords are portrayed as embodiments of demonic nature. What is demonic nature?

Sathya Sai Baba teaches there are six enemies of man:

The six enemies of man are eating into his vitals, embedded in his own inner consciousness. They are the demons to be killed. They are Lust (Kama), Anger (Krodha), Greed (Lobha), Attachment (Moha), Pride (Mada) and Malice (Matsarya). They reduce man to the level of a demon.

There is human life, the highest form of life; however, humans can and do behave with lesser dignity. True humanness is when man acts with good character; character is observable as integrity, that is, unity of thought, word and deed. Lack of integrity is seen when a person says one thing, and does another. Demonic behaviour occurs when a person knows what the right thing to do is, and does not follow that.

Lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride and malice. These are certainly characteristics displayed by the landlords. Lets take a look:

Qualities of Characters

Landlord Lust Anger Greed Attachment Pride Malice
Smaractus for money * uses enforcers to collect rentals to flats? * Asiacus, Rodan, bully boys
Hortensii for respectability * money Hire Falco to preserve status Station in Life (freed slaves) removal of the Cake Seller
Appius Priscillus Money Angered by Falco
– dumps him with Phrygians
Continually acquiring properties; “demolitions”
burns houses down to acquire property
Attached to riches Pride in cash and assets? Has Falco beaten by Phrygians;
Zotica for property and money Is angry with Falco for following her; uncovering motives; for husband’s assets to dowry;
widows keep their husband’s dowry
Station in life;
uses slaves to rough up Falco

So we can see that greed, pride and attachment are both the motives and the undoing of the main characters in many respects. Novus dies, his letting agent Cossus is crucified, Zotica is exposed, and Priscillus has to flee Rome. The sisters Pollia and Atila are urged to repair their reputation and character by engaging in noble civic projects for the benefit of the community. The tyranny of the ego, “I, Me, Mine” is certainly evident. How can a person manage life, work, possessions, income, without being overcome by greed, aggression, lust and stupidity? There are some inherent qualities which can be elicited, brought forth: Human Values.

On another location in this site we displayed a grid of values. Here it is again; you may click the grid to see a larger version in a new window.

Human Values and Sub Values

Truth takes a solid battering in the behaviour depicted by the landlords. Truth is primarily known in speech, we speak the truth. There are other behaviours and qualities which express truth. In the listing above, we see that Truth scopes to include truthfulness, creativity, honesty, determination, fairness, trust and reflection.

Novus expresses a value, when, as was cited earlier,

At a lunch, Novus shares his response to Falco’s run in at the fruit-seller’s stall: “The tenant must have been owing; you cannot be sentimental about debt”.

This is protection of the income base at all costs. It disregards the humanity of the lessee, or tenant. There is no regard for their basic humanness, their personal circumstances, their needs, their financial situation or their previous record and regularity as a tenant paying rent. The human person is disregarded, and the income base, the rent from the property is the sole value under consideration. Such business values eventually become the undoing any landlord.

Sub values of truth which might be taken into consideration are obviously fairness in considering the situation of the tenant, reflection on their circumstances and the viability of future rents, the honesty of the tenants as shown in the past, trust in their promise and ability to pay future rents, and determination to use the property to earn rent in a righteous manner.

So we can see that the value of Truth, if taken into consideration where human beings are concerned, can lead to a totally different and positive outcome, ensuring a higher quality of life and humanness for all concerned in the business and its activities and generation of income. Human values, as we have said, benefit the giver and the recipient. They are these highest essences, inherent within the human person, and can be made present and known by all when they are practised with integrity.

The practice of Truth and all the other human values expand and add capacity to human life. Good character and integrity are found in practising unity of thought, word and deed. This is what adds that touch of nobility to life, and and ineffable quality of peace to life. Ineffable, in that others perceive it in one’s presence, and are caused to aspire towards this, for all men and women are seeking peace. It is a full, lively existence with being, awareness and bliss.

Truth  is what we speak,

Right Conduct  is what we practise,

Love  is what we live,

Peace  is what we give,

Non-violence  is the fruit.