When Falco was but a tyke, his family consisted of his father Marcus Didius Favonius (aka Geminus), his mother Junilla Tacita, and seven children: Festus, Vittorina, Maia, Falco, Junia, Allia and Galla. At the time of this novel his older brother Festus, late of the Legio XV Appolinaris, has been dead three years. We may hear more of how Festus came to his end in the Judean War. His older sister Vittorina died during December of AD71 whilst Falco was in Free Germany, serving the Emperor. Vittorina died of ‘womens troubles’; the remainder of his sisters are alive.
His father, Favonius (called Geminus), eloped with a red-haired scarf maker many years ago when Falco was aged 7; he is an auctioneer by trade, and resides in the trade part of Rome. Junilla Tacita (called Ma) brought the children up on her own, independently. Unknown to Falco, Geminus was sending funds for child support through a relative.
Falco himself is in love with Helena Justina; she, in returns that love, freely and chooses to be with him, instead of residing in her family home. Of their relationship, Falco has reflected:
Women are supposed to behave demurely. They can be manipulating tyrants in private, so long as the good Roman myth of female subservience is maintained. The trouble with Helena Justina was they she refused to compromise. She said what she wanted, and did it too. That sort of perverse behaviour makes it extremely difficult for a man who has been brought up expecting deceit and inconsistency, to be sure of where he stands.
I liked it. I liked to be kept jumping, I liked to be shocked and astonished at every turn, even though it was hard work.
Her father, who had no choice in the matter, often looked amazed that I had volunteered to take her on. And there was no doubt, he enjoyed seeing some other victim on the jump.
Yet, Falco is out of his class; he cannot marry and make a decent woman of Helena Justina due her breeding; she is daughter of a senator, the millionaire Verus Camillus. Falco is desperate to raise his social position so that no shame accrues to anyone on account of their relationship and pending marriage. He needs 400,000 sesterces to raise his social position to equestrian, whereby he may marry the daughter of a senator. Falco is desperate for those sesterces, as we shall see in this narrative.
Festus had a partner also; a lass by name of Marina who has a child, born after Festus left Rome. Problem is, no one is really sure of this child’s provenance, for on Festus’s last night in Rome, he encouraged his brother to escort the lady home from the Circus Maximius, where they had a roll in the hay. A child ensued nine months later, and out of sheer integrity or loyalty to his late brother, Falco pays for the support of this child, never mind the true parentage.
Or has Marina successfully shamed Falco? You be the judge of Falco’s character … read on
My sister seem to have no idea why I wanted to setter clear. That was unusual, because the scandal was no secret. My brother’s girlfriend had made sure the entire family knew that she and I had a sordid connection. The last time Festus was home on leave in Rome, in fact the night before he departed back to Judea, he had left her and me together with results I preferred to forget.
So Falco has not had a happy family history; his father eloped, his mother ran him down forever and a day (there is a surprise here; Ma took lunch to her ex-husband daily, for many years. (They never obtained a divorce). Simply separated? The narrative does not make this point clear.
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.
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