In the first century Roman Empire at fourteen, the legal age of manhood, Jacobus’ father contracted him to relatives in Sicily as an apprentice learning his Jewish family’s shipping business. Being what the Greeks called a “natural eunuch,” he found himself living with two “cut eunuch” Carthaginian slaves who eventually became his lovers. As his apprenticeship progressed, the family recognized his natural leadership abilities surpassed his age. By sixteen he developed a strategy to enter the India trade which succeeded beyond expectations. He also become the second “spouse” of his cousin, the director of Aetna Shipping.
Everything in his life changed when his brother-in-law, Simon from Cyrene, was awoken one night by a frightening vision causing some of the family, with their Judeo-Indian partners to take Simon to Jerusalem for Passover.
Preparing for another Indian voyage, in the city of Alexandria, Jacobus encountered the apostle Thomas entering a synagogue. Thomas decided to join them sailing up the Nile and then by ship to India where he served as a missionary for the rest of his life. In his senior years Jacobus traveled by elephant, with his faithful Carthaginian friend, from India to Jerusalem, witnessing the terror there.
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The wind that cold, dark day was blowing violently down out of Gallia as the weak morning light began to f licker through the cracks in the shuttered windows facing the atrium. It was the third day of the last month of winter in the year of Emperor Tiberius' ascension to the Principate in Rome, which we now call the year AD14. It was a time when darkness retreated into daylight. The sudden clap of thunder in a rainless morning was "a portent of sorrow," declared the Judean midwife whom my father had summoned the day before.
After an hour of struggles and screams I, Jacobus BarAbraham, was finally introduced to this chaotic and cruel world. To everyone's dismay, the battle was not over. After another hour of screams my identical twin, Josephus, joined me in that frightful introduction. Exhausted, our parents were overwhelmed with joy as their two sons slept peacefully in our mother's arms.
The next morning our father quickly procured a Greek wet nurse to mitigate the effects of our physically weakened mother's inability to nurse the two of us. As the months progressed our mother grew even weaker and became unable to nurse even one of her sons. Both of Valentia's Greek and Judean doctors were summoned to do whatever they could for her. They failed.
Six days later our father was left alone with my fourteen year old brother, Marcus, and ten year old sister, Adriana, accompanied by his two new sons.
My father, Abraham BarJacob, was a wealthy and resourceful ship owner and maritime trader. His Jewish ancestors f led Judea centuries earlier, during the bloody purges of the Jews by Judea's Greek King, Antiochus IV. They sailed to the island of Sicilia and found asylum in Syracuse's Jewish Quarter where they quickly learned the art of maritime trading in that tolerant Greek city. Several generations later my grandfather, Jacob, and his bride settled in Valentia in the Roman province of Hispania. This was a new Roman city recently rebuilt after its destruction as a result of the bloody Roman Civil War fifty years earlier.
Grandfather's plan was to open an extension of the family's trans-Mare Internum trading business in this new city on the east coast of Hispania. His brilliant move quickly produced vast profits generated in the western Mare Internum world. In ever increasing numbers, the ships sailing out from Hispania on their way to Sicilia and beyond to Rome, Greece, and Asia, were making his family's Aetna Shipping in Syracuse ever richer.
Twenty-six years after grandfather's move to Valentia and his eventual painful death, Father decided to expand the family markets even further. He approached a very successful elderly Greek trader with an offer he couldn't refuse in his old age. Father agreed to marry the Greek's only child, a recently widowed and seemingly barren daughter, consolidating their two houses. Two years after he married my mother, Hygiaea, Father learned he had truly gotten the better part of the agreement. Mother was pregnant with my older brother, Marcus. Of course the old Greek was happy as well, for his seed would now be perpetuated through her child who would eventually control their business.
As the years passed, this strategic marriage made the new maritime trading house the most expansive on the coast of Hispania. My mother and father had a loving and successful marriage because Father's love of wealth was greater than his love for his family's Jewish god. Like he had done with our older brother, he again agreed with our mother not to take Josephus and me to the rabbi in Valentia's only synagogue to be circumcised. This simple decision not only allowed me to look like all my friends, but it saved my life in later years.
At two, Josephus and I began to develop our own distinctive personalities and character traits despite the fact that we were visually identical. The greatest problem we faced in those early years was the absence of maternal nurturing, which significantly affected the development of our socialization skills. Even with our nurses there seemed to be no true emotional link. As a result of this unalterable situation, Josephus and I grew increasingly inseparable, bonded, and dependent upon one another. We truly grew to love each other, and each other only, crying desperately whenever we were forced to be apart. The nurses who Father periodically purchased for us were driven to the brink of desperation by the demands we placed upon them. Based upon what our older siblings have later told us, nurses eventually concluded that it was best to raise us as though we were one person in two bodies. This deferment to the convention of convenience created a greater social interdependency than would have happened otherwise. When faced with this creative solution, Father apparently agreed and even encouraged it, if for no other reason than to keep peace and a reasonable form of tranquility in his home.
I really don't think we were evil, just very strong willed. Our older brother, Marcus, reminded us continually through the years, how evil he thought we had been to our nurses by removing our soiled diapers and throwing our feces across the room. He and our older sister, Adriana, nearly grew to hate us as Father not only increased their duties with us, but blamed them for many of our misbehaviors.
By the time we were five, Marcus and Adriana had learned to avoid us like the Carthaginian plague that followed Hannibal's vast army and elephants as they marched through Hispania two hundred and thirtytwo years earlier on their way to Rome. This resulted in us finding ourselves totally alone and isolated from anyone under fifteen. Our natural response was to cling to each other even more than ever. From our toddler years we had begun to invent our own language which developed quickly, based upon Greek grammar. It was created quickly over the next three years of self-induced isolation. Also, during that period, we discovered another consolation to our loneliness. We each were in the possession of a wonderful toy, which we quickly perceived to be a gift from the gods.
Our Greek nurses never objected to our frequent and peaceful playtime with these special toys. But one day when Father saw us playing with them he became strangely aggravated, shouting at us in Aramaic. We quickly learned the rules. Never play with our little penises when Father was home. Otherwise, these toys were one of our greatest consolations to the lonely isolation caused by our own tantrums and rejection of the people who loved us. By our sixth birthday we discovered the unimaginable excitement of orally stimulating each other's penis. Unfortunately, we also learned the danger of doing so. This pleasure had to remain a very private expression of the bond between us. No one, not even our nurses, could ever know.
Soon after these discoveries, it became obvious to Father and the entire household that it was probable that we had grown too close to one another. Using our private language we were able to conceal our secret fears, angers, and, most importantly, our desires. By this time in our seventh year Josephus and I also began to develop distinct personalities. He was much quieter and passive than I. He often enjoyed his time alone in our home's atrium garden where he could play with his pet rabbit or the fish in the pond which our kitchen slave caught up the Turia River beyond Father's docks. During his entire childhood Josephus also uniquely placed his intellectual pursuits at the same level as his playtime. He was continuously intrigued by how things worked and how they were made. He even asked Father to explain how water got into the well next to the fish pond. By the time we were five our nurses had started teaching us to read and write Greek and Josephus grasped the concept of visual words revealed through an alphabet much quicker than I did.
At the same time I was becoming much more boisterous and dominant, even assertive. To help expend my boundless energy Father gave me a puppy which soon became the only one in the house that could instantly tell Josephus and me apart visually. I was intent on learning Carthaginian from one of the slaves in the warehouse. I also tried to persuade one of our nurses to teach me Latin, but I had great difficulty catching the rhythm of the words. I told Josephus that one day we would sail to Rome together and really learn to speak Latin properly. I even wanted to go on one of Father's ships to Caesarea on the eastern shore of the Mare Internum near Judea, and really learn to read and write Aramaic.
Now, as I look back at the expedient moves everyone adopted to maintain tranquility in our home, I see the creation of two monsters which become more evident to everyone by the time of our puberty. This occurred a few weeks apart, in the middle of our eleventh year. Within weeks of puberty came our greatest discovery of all, the desire to "make love" to each other as a man does with his woman. Not only was this a new source of sexual pleasure and desire between us, it intensified our unique bond even more. This increased bonding mystified everyone in the house. Through it all we knew that our secret lives truly had to be kept guardedly private.
Several months before this, on our eleventh birthday, we were removed from the care and inf luence of our sexually tolerant Greek nurses. Our brother, Marcus, was no longer living at home, but in a new house just a ten minute walk up the river. Father had it built for him as a wedding present. A year later Adriana went off to live with her new husband who was learning the wine merchant trade from his father, a prosperous vintner whose wine Father exported throughout the Mare Internum. The house seemed so empty with just three in the family and the natural reduction of servants. We thought life would be a holiday and we would have nearly complete freedom. We even planned to walk down the river to the beach every day, or maybe fish in the surf or even up the river from Father's docks.
The night after Father hired out our nurses to two other families, we were reclining at dinner in the atrium admiring the warm sky of a Hispanic sunset, when Father totally surprised us, changing everything. While chewing on a lamb shank he announced that in two days our new tutors would move in and take Marcus' former room next to ours. We stopped eating and, like Persian archers, began to shower him with questions.
When our Greek and Carthaginian tutors arrived we were shocked that they were men at least as old as Father. We could think of nothing worse that could have happened to us. Within a week we realized what Father had really done. He enjoyed answering our questions, but enough was enough. He needed help and so did we. Our tutors began opening new worlds to us through the teaching of our lessons in Latin as well as Greek. Within a month our formal lessons began in the study of Carthaginian grammar and a few days later came our introduction to Greek and Aegyptian theories of geometry. In a few short months our tutors saw that Josephus was a genius with mathematics and science while I was enamored with languages, philosophy, and geography. I knew that each of these diverse interests of ours were brought about by our exposure to Father's expertise in maritime trade. By the time I was twelve I had become f luent in Aramaic, Carthaginian, and Latin, and with a working knowledge of Carthaginian's mother tongue, Phoenician.
On our thirteenth birthday, rather than giving us a banquet or a birthday party to celebrate his sons early manhood, our non-traditional father turned our world upside down. After the final course at dinner that evening, he announced that it was time for us to begin working in the business and learning maritime trading first hand. He was now shipping to ports all around the Mare Internum with cargos consisting of not only Hispanic olives, olive oil, wine, sheep, wool, leather, and salted beef, but also ingots of lead, iron, tin, copper, silver, and even gold. He also transshipped many products from up the coast in Gallia and the Roman provinces along the southern coast of the Mare Internum. On their return voyages the ships would bring wheat from nearby Mauretania and distant Aegyptus, manufactured goods from Rome and Greece, and perfume, fine silks, and wonderful spices from India. One ship even brought Josephus and me a pet monkey from the southern tip of Hispania.
Since Marcus was already being trained to take over the operations of the business, and Adriana was married to the son of a local vintner, we wondered what Father had in mind for us. We didn't have long to wait and find out. We were set back with feelings of panic as Josephus and I did our best to conceal our growing fear that we would be separated. Then he told us that Josephus was to work in the warehouses as an accountant's apprentice and I was to work in Father's dry docks as a shipbuilder's apprentice to learn better ways to repair, build, and navigate "Father's f leet." At least we weren't separated at night.
One year later, at the dinner of our fourteenth birthday when by Roman law I was considered a man but still under my father's rule, I learned Father had totally different plans for me beyond being a shipbuilder. I was sick at heart to learn that I was to join the crew of the Dolphin, which was scheduled to dock in port in five weeks and then three weeks later depart for Ostia on the Tiberis River, the city of Rome's home port. How could I survive without Josephus?
The more I realized what was going on in Father's patriarchal mind, the more I knew that I could never be successful if I confronted him directly about how Josephus and I felt about each other. In fact my haunting fear was that his knowledge of our love would only kindle his rage and cause a much greater tragedy to befall Josephus and me.
I was not sure whether Father's decision to separate us was purely a business decision based on our different academic gifts or if it was because he knew about the sexual bond between us. Either way, I was sure he didn't want his twin sons, his last gift received from his beloved Hygiaea, to remain childless eunuchs as adults. He already had several cut eunuch slaves working in his warehouses, docks, and some of his ships. It was obvious to me that he didn't want his two sons to increase their number by "choosing to be eunuchs because of their personal disdain for girls." His prejudices would never allow him to understand that at a very early age, Josephus and I knew we would never have any interest in the opposite sex.
But the question of the day was, could Josephus and I make the best of our remaining time together without incurring the suspicion and subsequent wrath of our father?
After dinner, when Father told each of us our fate, we sat as stoic as Athenian philosophers. We were afraid to believe what we knew we had just heard. All we could do was wonder, "Why?"
Later, standing in our room, my arms wrapped around Josephus, I was overtaken by crescendos of confusion and sobs. I tried to understand what had happened. Did Father hate me so much that he felt compelled by some perverse, twisted desire to send me away from my Josephus? Even away from himself? How could he? I thought he loved me like he did Josephus.
The night was empty and lonely as we held each other tightly. Our hearts were broken as rage quickly turned to sorrow. How could this happen? Our tears fell upon the other's neck. How could we survive apart from one another? Josephus was the only source of love I had ever known, and now Father was ripping us apart.
I had never traveled more than twenty miles from home, and now I was being sent to Rome. It was too much to comprehend. Should I slip quietly into the calling sea when the Dolphin sails three days out? Should I plunge a cold blade deeply into my gut before sunrise while weeping in our own room? There was no way I could live without my Josephus. Since the morning of our birth he has been the other half of me. I was nothing without him!
For us that night was without sleep. Void of our usual playful sex, it was a rare night, but it was still a night full of intense passion. Each tender kiss was accompanied by a bitter tear. Sometime in the middle of the night, lying quietly in Josephus' clenching arms, I realized that it was he, not me who would be faced with the greater terror. I would not be the one facing Father day after day, month after month. I would not be the one staring into the same fish pond morning after morning, talking to the same dog, or chasing the same monkey. Everything would be dreadfully the same, with one exception ... my absence. It became clear that my dear Josephus would be the greater sufferer through this cursed ordeal. He would be exiled alone in his own home. Marcus and Adriana had already detached themselves from us long ago, and now Father was doing the same to us. How could Josephus survive?
Excerpted from "Jacobus"
Copyright © 2017 Paul Trittin.
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