“Non ego sum laudi; non natus idoneus armis:
Hanc me militiam fata subire volunt.”
I am not for glory: I was not born fit for arms:
The fates wish me to undergo this service.
-Sextus Propertius, Monobiblos 1.6
“Remind me again of the name of this fellow,” Garak said as he sat down, deft hands folding a napkin in his lap. Bashir had to smile as he sat-- the man was always just so, always prim. It always made him feel a little inadequate, dressed as he was in slightly shoddy clothes. Garak was always trying to get him to clean up, trying to give him clothes that weren’t “quite so offensive to the eyes”. Maybe, one day, he’d let him.
“Ovid,” Bashir replied, sliding the PADD over to him, “Publius Ovidius Naso, in the original Latin, but most people just call him Ovid.”
“I was attempting to do some research on your Roman Empire last night. My, they certainly were savages, weren’t they?” Garak picked up the PADD, something like a smile flitting around his mouth as he looked up at Bashir.
“I’m surprised you’d say that,” he replied, taking a sip of his coffee. “I thought you’d be all for an empire which encourages duty to one’s family and duty to the state over all else.”
“Now, Doctor, that’s simplistic and you know it. Cardassia is nothing like the Roman Empire. For one, there are no slaves on Cardassia.”
“Not in name, perhaps, but you certainly can’t be trying to tell me that Cardassia isn’t a highly stratified society.”
Garak raised one eyebrow ridge, a look which Bashir had thought he’d never be able to pull off. “Your insistence that stratification is inherently negative only proves how limited your view is, my dear. As it stands, Cardassians do not keep our women like chattel, and we certainly do not let mad despots who attempt to promote beasts of burden to positions of political power gain any influence.” he set down the PADD and leaned back.
“I’m not even going to pretend to entertain the idea that each of Cardassia’s rulers has been utterly perfect and immune to corruption,” Bashir said, not even bothering to hide his smile. “Frankly, that’s not the argument I want to have today, Garak. I want to know what you think of the poems.”
“Ah, the poems.” Garak glanced at the PADD and then at Bashir, his hands starting into motion at his lunch like clockwork, precise. “I fear even my research hasn’t given me quite enough context. The whole thing seems rather saccharine.”
Bashir took a breath. “These poems are from the Amores, Ovid’s book of elegiac love poems. They were quite subversive at the time, you know. They were all about casting off the binds the state placed on you, and going after your own desires; namely, love. That their destiny wasn’t to be found in the battlefields of traditional masculinity, but in their own ‘battlefield’-- the bedroom.”
“Sounds rather. . . idealistic of them.” Garak’s voice was dry, unimpressed. “I presume there were plenty of other young souls ready to go out and fight wars, to give them the luxury of writing trite poetry.”
“Mmm. Indeed. There were six main elegists, all well-to-do, five of them men.” He held up a hand, eyes drifting as he counted. “Propertius, Gallus, Tibullus, Catullus, Ovid, and Sulpicia. Ovid was fairly unique in that he wrote epic poetry, too, which is the style elegy most often mocked.”
Garak huffed and swallowed a mouthful of what looked like soup. In truth, Julian was hardly paying attention to his partner’s (or his own) meal as he again took up the pad, scanning over the lines.
“Perhaps, my dear, you should have given me an epic to read.”
“Please,” Bashir snorted, “just so you can decide that the Aeneid is a poor mirror of The Never-Ending Sacrifice? Not very likely. Besides, elegy’s the far more interesting genre. The sheer amount of wordplay and allusion in just the first poem in the Amores can and has filled whole books.”
Garak seemed profoundly unimpressed. “I got the impression that something was lost in the translation from Latin. I assume the meter is relevant to the poem?”
“Yes!” Bashir’s eyes lit up, leaning forward onto his elbows. “You see, in Rome, epic poems and histories were written in a particular meter. They were in dactylic hexameter, where every line had six metrical feet. But Propertius’ Monobiblos, the first book of Roman elegy, and the other books of elegy like the Amores were written in elegiac couplets, so every other line is pentameter, with only five feet. He’s purposefully distancing himself from the language people used to discuss politics and battle. He’s making a firm statement that the idea of love is just as worthy of literature as warfare and death, and it doesn’t have to get the same exact treatment in literature to be intriguing and complex. What it is--” he cut himself off, leaning back a little. Enough time with Garak certainly had taught him the look on the man’s face when he was babbling. He coughed into a hand, trying to adopt a suitably sheepish expression.
“It’s unsurprising,” Garak said, in a tone which implied Bashir was failing miserably, “that you like it so much, then. Not only are you a hopeless romantic, But you strike as one who will stop at nothing to distance yourself from politics. Perhaps you and this Ovid have more than one thing in common.”
Bashir coughed again, this time in surprise. He hadn’t expected blatant sarcasm about his profession in the middle of the Replimat, of all places, but he supposed it was inevitable. Garak loved to toy with him. That it was such an indelicate pass either meant he was condescending towards Julian’s conversational abilities or looking to get a rise out of him, and he didn’t really care to find out.
“You mistake my distance for distaste,” he replied, scrambling to find his conversational footing. “Just because I, ah, avoid getting involved doesn’t mean I don’t keep a finger on the pulse.”
“Once a medical student, always a medical student, eh?”
Bashir swallowed thickly. “Is the poem so bad, Garak, that you can’t bear to talk about it any longer?”
Garak’s laughed, and there was something in it that did nothing at all to loosen the knot in Bashir’s stomach. “Oh, really, if you insist. I was rather hoping you could explain the mythological allusions. Is the whole genre really so thick with references?”
“Most of it,” Bashir admitted. “Though that’s not really exclusive to elegy. Lots of Latin literature had references to stories that would have been common knowledge at the time, but require a lot of study today. Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t look up the gods yourself. There’s been lots written on them, too.”
“Ah, but then I would be denied the pleasure of hearing your storytelling talents, wouldn’t I?”
Julian just smiled at him, shaking his head slightly. “You are utterly incorrigible. Indefatigable.”
“You’re stalling, my dear.”
“I am not stalling!” Bashir picked up the PADD again, reading over the lines. “Well, there’s Cupid. He was the son of the goddess of love, Venus, often portrayed as either a child or a beautiful young man. Here, obviously, he’s taking the form of a capricious young man, whom Ovid thinks is overstepping his bounds.”
“And why him, not his mother?” Garak was eating again, his delicacy belying the intense look in his eyes. He was listening, and Bashir had the distinct feeling this particular line of questioning was less than innocent.
“Well, Cupid was the mischievous, chaotic aspect of love. He was the aspect of it that the gods themselves feared. He wasn’t devoted, married love, he was a god who went around shooting people with enchanted arrows to make them fall in love. He ruined people’s lives, and that’s how the elegists portrayed him: as a little boy, carelessly casting people at each other. He’s almost cruel.”
Garak merely hummed, sipping his rokassa juice. “Humans certainly do have violent ideas of love, no?”
Bashir fought off a blush. Could he not get through two minutes of conversation without something Garak said rendering him entirely speechless? Though he was fairly certain no one was listening in on their little conversation, he could hardly reply the way he wanted (that is, to remind Garak of the bruise which now felt like it was burning its way through the collar of his shirt) without committing a faux pas.
“I’d say we enjoy a broad spectrum of loves,” he replied, quelling the urge to bite his lip. “It’s a sign of our versatility, I think. We’re capable of handling the rougher side of things, but that doesn’t mean we disregard the softer side. The elegists love to curse love’s ravages in one line and praise its caresses in the next.”
“How positively. . . Cardassian,” Garak said with a smile. “And the rest of them?”
Bashir had to smile back. “They’re all variations on the same theme. Ovid complains about Cupid butting in on his poetry, because poetry is supposed to come from the Muses, which were nine goddesses of the arts. If one wanted to write an epic poem, they would get inspiration from the Muse Calliope, and would invoke her when they began the poem. Instead of one of the Muses, though, he’s just got Cupid, forcing him to write about love.
“The rest of them are him wondering what would happen if other ‘serious’ gods like the Muses got their own realms taken over by the ‘softer’ gods. Wouldn’t it be chaotic if the goddess of love tried to take up the spear of a goddess of war and wisdom busy trying to keep loves in check? If a harvest goddess ruled over the wilds, and the hunter goddess tried to keep the field, or if the god of the sun and song went to war while the god of war plucked uselessly at his lyre?” He grinned a little broader and picked up his cup. “Cats and dogs living together! Mass hysteria!”
Garak, to his credit, limited his puzzled look to one quirk of an eyebrow ridge. “I seem to have forgotten the point in the elegy where the poet complained about how people kept their pets.”
“Don’t be difficult, Garak, it suits you too well,” Bashir muttered, taking a defiant sip of coffee. “Anyway, he just uses it to complain that he’s not got anyone to write about. No pretty boy or girl to fill poems with.”
“Seems like he’s asking for trouble, with your capricious love-god.”
“Exactly,” he set down his cup with a little clink, and found himself shocked at the sight of his still-full plate. Perhaps he’d been talking more than he’d realised. What was even more shocking was Garak’s willingness to listen. “So there it is. Ovid is struck by Cupid’s arrow, and falls in love with a girl, and he’s completely lost. No military career, no political career. Just love.”
“I imagine this man would have been completely destitute if it were not for his family, then?” Garak asked, taking his napkin from his lap and gesturing for them to stand. Heedless of his full tray, Bashir complied, following him to return their meals to the replicator.
“Of course. He lived off his inheritance and his poetry for a long time. That was the ideal for an elegist, you know. To be able to shirk military service and risk public condemnation.” He followed Garak from the Replimat, shoving his hands into his pockets. He figured they would be going back to Garak’s shop, which was if nothing else a quieter place for literary discussion.
“I’m almost surprised these elegists had any respect in society at all. The resources I found seemed to suggest that for well-off young men, not entering the military was something approaching social suicide. The Romans seemed to have little idea of what to do with their young men if they weren’t instructing them to kill or to make decisions for other people.” His voice was still light, teasing, showing no signs that this day’s slow back-and-forth was slowing to a stop.
“That was the idea. They were counter-culturalists, really. In his Monobiblos, Propertius often makes sly insults to men who followed the ‘traditional path’, implying that what they had was easy. The real hardship, he said, was trying to survive a life of love.”
Garak made soft huffing sound and smiled at nothing in particular. “I can imagine his rhetoric. Service to the state means acting with the powers that be, means living up to everybody’s expectations and being lauded for it.”
Bashir shot him a look. “Tragically predictable, I suppose?” he asked, careful.
“Oh, it’s not hard to figure.” Garak’s voice stayed level, but when he looked back at Bashir, he could see his eyes still flashing. Not too close to home. They drew up to the door of Garak’s shop, its windows dark.
“Perhaps that just means you’re recognizing more similarities between the Romans and the Cardassians than you’d care to admit, eh?” Bashir grinned, stepping aside to let him unlock the door.
“That’s patently ridiculous, my dear,” Garak replied. “Besides, what did those elegists know? If what you’ve told me is true, then they never even served their governments in any real way. They could only see the faces their more conventional friends chose to show them, and revel in what was doubtless utter depravity with their poet friends. There really is nothing like a charmed life to make a man write of agonies.”
“It’s not as if they never experienced any hardships.” Bashir followed Garak into his shop, carefully shutting the door behind them. He knew Garak heard the sound, but still he went up to the blinds as though to draw them up. Julian followed him, gently took his hands and pulled him away, past the counter and to one of the low couches beside the fitting rooms. “Ovid was exiled, you know.”
“Was he?” Garak asked, voice softer now. Julian’s fingers were entwined with his, holding him close yet purposefully not pressing their palms together. It seemed he was capable of learning, after all. “Whatever for?”
“We don’t know,” Bashir said, his eyes seeming larger in the half-light. “He never spoke directly of it. When he did, all he said was that it was ‘carmen et error’. A song and a mistake. He wrote a whole book of poems from his exile that he called Tristia. Lamentations.”
“Lamentations, indeed. Seems as though his love didn’t treat him so well, after all. Were I a lesser man, I might point out that had he pursued a more acceptable career, he would have few songs with which to damn him.”
Bashir laughed, the sound like a dagger through the barest chink in his armor, whisper-soft and devastating. He pressed their foreheads together, letting his eyes slide shut. “It would appear he wasn’t as lucky as you. You decided to switch up the order and find love after your exile.”
“Love, Doctor?” Garak found himself smiling something true without noticing the change. “My, how precocious.”
“I can’t be blamed,” Julian breathed, shifting so his palm was pressed against Garak’s. “It appears Cupid has struck us both.”