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The Stench of Rome

In “The Brothers”, a story in The Deadliest Deceptions, Miriam meets the brother hired to work in Bion’s bookshop:

Rare for me, I had to look up to meet the deep-set dark eyes of the trim, immaculately dressed man before me. Cleanshaven, baldheaded, and with the immovable face and bearing of a military officer, Varius exuded the somewhat sweet leathery scent of the labdanum that oiled his body.

“Welcome to Alexandria,” I said. He seemed pleasant enough. When I asked him how he happened to come here, he answered that he and his brother were eager to escape the stench of Nero’s Rome. “It hovers over the city like a fog, enough to make even the dogs sneeze.”

When Varius said smelly, he meant eye-tearing, nose-running, and throat-scratching smelly. Consider the reek of the open-air markets. There was no refrigeration for the displays of shellfish, fish, and slabs of meat. All they had were the flies to infest the fish and meat and quickly spoil them.

And then, to add to the stench were the quantities of animal dung, vomit, pee, detritus, garbage, and filthy water that filled the streets. And don’t forget the latrines, heavy with the smell of excrement, urine, and disease.

Me? I would have been suspicious of Varius given the streets in Alexandria stink too. But like Miriam, you won’t know the real reason for his coming. At first. You’ll have an advantage though. You’ll know the title of the book: The Deadliest Deceptions. To find out the real reason Varius came to Alexandria, click here.


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