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The Reading Experience


An occasional blog on beautiful and wise books,  book writing,

book translation, and the reading experience.

How perverse of Krawczuk to end his story here without giving us the conclusion of the love of Titus and Berenice. Perhaps he wanted us to pick up Cassius Dio and find it for ourselves? But Cassius gives us very little. Four years after Vespasian seized the throne, Berenice and her brother, King Herod Agrippa II, came to Rome:

Berenice was at the very height of her power and consequently came to Rome along with her brother Agrippa. The latter was given the rank of praetor while she dwelt in the palace, cohabiting with Titus. She expected to marry him and was already behaving in every respect as if she were his wife, but when he perceived that the Romans were displeased with the situation, he sent her away. (Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXV 15).

That’s it.

Racine gives us more, imagining their good bye:


N’accablez point, Madame, un prince malheureux ;

Il ne faut point ici nous attendrir tous deux.

Un trouble assez cruel m'agite et me dévore,

Sans que des pleurs si chers me déchirent encore.

Rappelez bien plutôt ce coeur, qui tant de fois

M'a fait de mon devoir reconnaître la voix.

Il en est temps. Forcez votre amour à se taire,

Et d'un oeil que la gloire et la raison éclaire,

Contemplez mon devoir dans toute sa rigueur.

Vous-même contre vous fortifiez mon coeur.

Aidez-moi, s'il se peut, à vaincre sa faiblesse,

À retenir des pleurs qui m'échappent sans cesse.

Ou si nous ne pouvons commander à nos pleurs,

Que la gloire du moins soutienne nos douleurs,

Et que tout l'univers reconnaisse sans peine

Les pleurs d'un empereur, et les pleurs d'une reine.

Car enfin, ma Princesse, il faut nous séparer.


Ah cruel ! Est-il temps de me le déclarer ?

Qu'avez-vous fait ? Hélas ! Je me suis crue aimée.

Au plaisir de vous voir mon âme accoutumée

Ne vit plus que pour vous. Ignoriez-vous vos lois,

Quand je vous l'avouai pour la première fois ?

À quel excès d'amour m'avez-vous amenée ?

Que ne me disiez-vous : Princesse infortunée,

Où vas-tu t'engager, et quel est ton espoir ?

Ne donne point un coeur, qu'on ne peut recevoir.

Ne l'avez-vous reçu, cruel, que pour le render

Quand de vos seules mains ce coeur voudrait dépendre?

Which we might translate along these lines:


Do not kick, Madame, a man when he is down.

Let us not wallow in self-pity.

It is cruel enough that this pain devours me

And robs of my strength.

Please, rather, remember that I have always

Obeyed the call of duty.

Now, such a time has come, and our love must yield.

Let us see with the eye of reason

My duty in all its god-damned harshness.

Set your own grievance aside and try to help me.

Strengthen my heart, drive away its weakness,

Stem the tears which, once they begin to flow, may never stop.

Or if we cannot stop them, then at least

May our pride of our own virtue sustain us in our grief.

Let all the world intuit unseen

These tears of an emperor and of his queen.

My Princess, we must part.


Oh, cruel man! How you wound my heart!

What have you done? I believed you.

I believed that I was loved! My soul, delighted in

Your sweet presence and lived only for you.

Where were your Roman laws then

When you first told me of your love?

Did you say: “Oh, unfortunate Princess,

How naïve are your hopes! Do not be deceived,

Do not give a heart that cannot be received.”

Did you receive it only to throw it away so

Without warning me?

Photo: Anne-Marie Duff in Berenice at the Donmar Warehouse, London. Photograph: Johan Persson

The Book (Rome and Jerusalem) is here:

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Titus, engraving by unknown, after Aegidius Sadeler II, after Titian

To illustrate "Rome and Jerusalem" we decided to use "The Eleven Caesars" series of engravings by hand unknown, published in London by Thomas Bakewell, between 1700 and 1799 and placed in the public domain by the Wellcome Trust.

These engravings were themselves copies of the engravings by Aegidius Sadeler II’s (1570–1629), a Flemish engraver principally active at the Prague court of Rudolf II. They in turn were based on a series of painted half-length portraits of eleven Roman emperors made by Titian in 1536-1540 for Federico II, Duke of Mantua.

The imaginary portraits, inspired by the Lives of Caesars by Suetonius, were among Titian’s best-known works. The paintings were originally housed in a purpose-built room inside the Palazzo Ducale di Mantova. Bernardino Campi added a twelfth portrait in 1562. Between 1627 and 1628 the paintings were sold to Charles I of England by Vincenzo II Gonzaga in perhaps the single most famous collection acquisition in European history, and when the Royal Collection of Charles I was broken up and sold after his execution by the English Commonwealth, the Eleven Caesars passed in 1651 into the collection of Philip IV of Spain. They were all destroyed in a catastrophic fire at the Royal Alcazar of Madrid in 1734, and are now only known from copies and engravings.

Vespasian, engraving by unknown, after Aegidius Sadeler II, after Titian

Book goes live on March 15, 2024 preorder here

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[Vespasian] was welcomed with great solemnity and enthusiasm. After all, he was the first emperor in history to visit the proud capital of Egypt. Yes, in August of 30 BC, Octavian entered its gates, by then the absolute ruler of the entire Empire, but he was not yet an Emperor: he was to receive the title of Augustus only three years later. Moreover, Octavian appeared on Egyptian soil not as a welcome guest but as a conqueror and victor over Cleopatra, the last rightful ruler of the country.

Thereafter, for almost a hundred years, no emperor appeared in Alexandria. It is true that Nero had had such an intention. Some preparations were even made, and a special bathhouse was built in which Caecinus Tuscus dared to bathe, paying for it with dismissal from office. However, political disturbances thwarted Nero’s plans for the historical journey up the Nile. And although in the last days of his reign, he hoped to escape to Egypt, and even went to Ostia and spent the night of June 8-9 in the Servilian Gardens, it was all too late. Neither did the self-proclaimed Nero from the island of Kythnos ever reach the shores of the Nile.

But Vespasian arrived in Alexandria also as the first Roman Emperor hailed here. The inhabitants were well aware of the importance of the act that had taken place in their city just six months earlier, on July 1, 69. They proudly proclaimed that they had done the right thing then and that both Fate and the gods had since favored their decision. The recent victory at Bedriacum clearly proved this.

News about the wonderful victory caused genuine joy among the masses. Everyone knew well what terrible revenge Vitellius would have taken on Alexandria if he had won: he would have crushed the city that had initiated the rebellion mercilessly! There were many reasons for sincere joy. This one was the most important among them: their emperor, who owed so much to Alexandria, was expected to shower the city with privileges and favors—and many of its representatives especially. Therefore, huge crowds gathered in front of the eastern gate and at the hippodrome to see their chosen as soon as possible and give him a stormy ovation. It was the same hippodrome in which, several months earlier, their Prefect Tiberius Alexander announced their new emperor to the people. And now here they stood: city aldermen, councilors and advisors, priests of all legally recognized cults, scholars of the Museon, representatives of guilds and charitable associations, as well as delegations from all the administrative districts across the country.

We have already mentioned the preserved fragments of the papyrus describing the ceremony. The Prefect, turning to the people, thundered:

“All power and might to our emperor!”

And to the people, he presented him as a deity who finally deigned to reveal himself:

“Here is Vespasian, our savior and benefactor, the emerging sun!”[1]

Of course, all these Greek terms: soter—savior, euergetes— benefactor, helios anatellon—the rising sun, had their own ancient tradition in the Hellenistic religion. They were generously and easily showered on almost every ruler because… they cost nothing. Fifty years earlier, the residents of Alexandria welcomed with those same monickers someone who was only a member of the ruling family.

He was Germanicus, appointed by Emperor Tiberius as the governor of the East. Terrified by these exaggerated titles, which could arouse suspicion on the part of the always distrustful emperor, Germanicus immediately reprimanded the flatterers with a threatening edict:

I accept the kindness you show me at every meeting. However, I firmly reject such epithets. They arouse envy by putting me on equal standing with the gods. They befit only the benefactor of all mankind, my father, and his mother (Tiberius and Livia). Your acclamations are an insult to their divinity. I forbid them. And if you are disobedient in this matter, I will never visit you again![2]

These terms—savior, benefactor, rising sun—were soon to be appropriated by Christianity. They would enter the liturgical language of the Church and remain part of it down to the present. Few, beyond a handful of researchers, are aware of their lineage, the circumstances and political implications of their original meaning, and what factors contributed to their widespread dissemination in the Greco-Roman world.

Vespasian, as emperor, was fully entitled to these divine names, and for the reasons already indicated, the Prefect’s invocation met with a lively response from the people. Tens of thousands of citizens of the metropolis filling the huge hippodrome responded with loud cheers and applause, loudly chanting and repeating over and over the Greek words:

Kyrie hemon, Euerget, Sebaste, Serapis!

That is:

“Our Lord, Our Benefactor, Augustus, Serapis!”

And Serapis was the most revered deity of Alexandria. There were also cries here and there calling Vespasian the son of the god Ammon or simply—a god.

Next, various important guests delivered short speeches, probably in Latin, since protocol contains the Latin words of the Prefect: “The Emperor says that he wishes you health!”

This line, too, was greeted with a storm of applause.

[1] Papyrus Fouad, 1, 8

[2] A.S. Hunt, C.C. Edgar, Select Papyri, v I,  II no. 211

FROM Aleksander Krawczuk "Rome and Jerusalem" Out March 15, 2024

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