- I like my women in a few wisps of drapery: then I can hope for a chance to remove the wisps. If they start out with nothing I tend to get depressed because either they have just stripped off for someone else or, in my line of work, they are usually dead.”
- “Some men are born lucky. Others are born Marcus Didius Falco.”
- “Popular men who laugh at your jokes pose a threat which blatant villains can never command.”
- “In my experience, men who sit in corners are the ones to watch.”
- “It struck me there might be a reason why Helena Justina whipped along at such a cracking pace: she did not want to be stuck in the wilderness with my corpse. I thanked Jove for her ruthless good sense. I did not want my corpse to be stuck with her in any case.”
- 'How old now?'
'Thirty. Downhill to the dark boat across the Styx. Probably be sick over the side in Charon's ferry too…'
- Emperors must make their own rules.
- Senator, don't let your judgement be warped by one heady moment.
- “I would rather see Rome ruled by a man who once had to ask his accountant tricky questions before his steward could pay the butcher’s bill than by some mad limb like Nero, who was brought up believing himself the son and the grandson of gods, and who thought wearing the purple gave him free rein to indulge his personal vanities, execute real talent, bankrupt the Treasury, burn half of Rome – and bore the living daylights out of paying customers in theatres!”
- “You could tell those two had been married by the way that she ignored him.”
- “The plumber plodded along in silence, like a man who has learned to be polite to lunatics through dealing with civil engineers.”
- “He listened with the mild demeanour of a man who had waited eight years for his town council to draw up a specification for emergency repairs.”
- “She called me a rat.’ ‘Oh yes, I gathered you two were very close!”
- “We marched him to the turfy shack where he lived with his parents and while the youth sulked Petronius Longus put the whole moral issue in succinct terms to them: Ollia’s father was a legionary veteran who had served in Egypt and Syria for over twenty years until he left with double pay, three medals, and a diploma that made Ollia legitimate; he now ran a boxers’ training school where he was famous for his high-minded attitude and his fighters were notorious for their loyalty to him… The old fisherman was a toothless, hapless, faithless cove you would not trust too near you with a filleting knife, but whether from fear or simple cunning he co-operated eagerly. The lad agreed to marry the girl and since Silvia would never abandon Ollia here, we decided that the fisherboy had to come back with us to Rome. His relations looked impressed by this result. We accepted it as the best we could achieve.”
- “Petronius would take his free bread buns and run. I happened to know that since Petro had been elected to the watch he had never cast a vote. He believed a man on a public salary should be impartial. I didn’t agree but I admired him being so stubborn in his eccentricities. Aufidius Crispus would be an unusual politician if he had allowed for such morality in the voters he was courting.”
- “I had been right in the first place. Getting involved with politicians is complete stupidity.”
- "Marcus! I thought you must have been developing other interests, but I never expected to find you with your arms locked round a fish —"
Then the lull sank to a silence.
- Justice never paid a poor man's bills.
- Stick with it, Xanthus. There are fortunes to be made out of bristle for a man with deft hands.
- But mere technical details can be worked out any time. All a hero needs is grit.
- The world is full of people slandering their birthplaces, as if they really believe that small-town life is different elsewhere.
- You're not bloody Aristophanes, and the people who are paying for tickets are not educated Athenians. We're acting for turnips who only come to talk to their cousins and fart. We have to give them a lot of action and low-level jokes, but you can leave all that to us on stage. We know what's required. Your job is to hone the basic framework and remember the simple motto: short speeches, short lines, short words.
- Communicating wit is a lonely art. It demands an independent soul.
- I asked why Grumio had had to turn to lesser things.
'No call. In my father or grandfather's day all I would have needed in life were my cloak and shoes, my flask and strigil, a cup and knife to take to dinner, and a small wallet for my earnings. Everyone who could find the wherewithal would eagerly ask a wandering jokesmith in.'
'Sounds just like being a vagrant philosopher!'
'A cynic,' he agreed readily. 'Exactly. Most cynics are witty and all clowns are cynical. Meet us on the road, and who could tell the difference?’
'Me, I hope! I'm a good Roman. I'd take a five-mile detour to avoid a philosopher.'
- The new "humour", if you can call it that, is pure malicious gossip. Instead of making a genuine point, it's now good enough to repeat any ribald story without a thought for whether it's even true.
- In fact, making up a spiteful lie has become respectable. Today's "jesters" are outright public nuisances.
- In an ideal world I ought to have gone with him to observe their reactions, but in an ideal world heroes never get tired or depressed; what's more, heroes are paid more than me.
- Love and death are gritty subjects. Their appropriate handling by poets does not require myrtle petals and violets.
- He wore the purple; it was his entitlement. With it he had neither wreath nor jewels. For him the best adornment of rank was acute native intelligence.
- Smartness always helps in gaining access to the houses of the wealthy. Anyone with a clean face is acceptable to thugs.
- Not all the fine civic building programmes in the world would ever displace the raw forces that drive most of humankind. This was the true city: greed, corruption and violence.
- 'Do you kill people?'
'Not regularly. It's too much trouble making my peace with the gods afterwards.'
- Luck is a wonderful luxury. What could better prove that some are born under a star of good fortune than the career (and the large, comfortable home) of the Great King?
- That's the trouble with foreign travel. You spend half your time trying to find edible food, and the rest fighting off men who profess extravagant love to your female companions. I'm amazed how many women believe outright lies from foreigners.
- Architectural drawings may look beautiful and be admired by critics but to be good, they have to work in daily use.
- Discovering that a fraud exists is only the first step. It has to be proved and the proof has to be absolutely watertight.
- “Even the impetuous Helena Justina was an advocate of traditional family councils. However, every Roman matron knows that domestic councils were devised by our foremothers purely so the views of the matron of a household may prevail.”
- Intimidation and awe are how our rulers keep us respectful.
- Never stop to breathe the pretty flower scents. The graves of the poor still stink.
- This was no more cynical than most lying lozenge-pushers, but when he thought it mattered, Rhoemetalces had been honest. We cannot have that. Rome is a complex, sophisticated society. Truth is distrusted as much as Greek philosophy.
- 'Do you want a cretin or a meddler?'
'Which is better for us?'
'Whoever gets the larger backhander.'
'We won't pay. We are going for probity.'
'Can't afford true justice, eh?'
- When I hear the words 'social order', I start looking around for somebody to pick a fight with.
- To know another person's fortune smacks of wanting to control their fate for the wrong reasons.
- To be born with nothing was grim. But to be born with everything, then to lose it, was far more cruel.
- We are Romans. We despise thought.
- “This was a solitary walk where the sun and the scents of wild flowers would act on a tortured mind like a soothing drug.”
- Words are real if other people think they understand their meaning.
- “Have any sheep been seen walking out of the Library with seagoing adventurers clinging to their wool?”
- Petronius once told me that pathological murderers tend to start their killing sprees while they are children. Find a man who takes prostitutes off the streets as a personal vocation, and he'll probably have a set of neat jars with his childhood collection of dissected rats.
- If being hit on the head by a falling flower tub could be worth cash to the victim, what price a child’s life under civil law?
- “Sometimes you run away by yourself purely so someone who cares will come to find you. Half the time nobody does. That's the tragedy of life.”
- “He had the kind of personality that makes you think a boy will grow up to be a public torturer.”
Enemies at Home
- “I despise women who rely on men entirely for their own existence.”
- A wise partner does not come between her man and his best friend.
- “No woman who builds a career on hard work and talent will ever compliment a much younger one who uses the shallow gift of her looks.”
- “Curiosity is a terrible inducement.”
- “They were not beggars; well, not in the usual sense. They were Christians, who wanted not just my nephews' money but their souls.”
- “Their work was undercover—yet their existence unconcealed. That is how fear works.”
- “Sometimes information you barely noticed consciously comes back to you of its own accord.”
- Never lend if you need repayment; never give where you want a return.”
Master and God
- “Afterwards, sometimes she dared to remember being in his arms. How, after only clumsy couplings with others, she and this man had straightaway come together as a perfect fit. How they moved together, in effortless synchronicity and with such deep pleasure. How when their exercise left them exhausted, she cried a little, so Vinius wiped her eye with his index finger, murmuring kindly, 'No tears!' before they both fell into profound sleep.
How her troubled mind had drowned in peace, her body melting against his...
- He was dead. No point speculating. Cherish the past for what it was, an ideal, a signal that human happiness might be a possibility. Raise your standards. Make a decent life, Lucilla. Life is all there is. If it's only once, it must be good... He had been right. If perfection only happened once, that was better than never. Now nothing for her would ever again entail complete despair. So thank you, Gaius Vinius Clodianus, son of Marcus, thank you for your good deed, a deed that brightened somebody's dark world.”