The Ballad of Yeoman
As Rome thrived there lived a Roman who thrived naught. Yeoman spent his days not in the battlefield or war camps protecting the citizens of Rome, for he despised war. He would not step foot on the senate floor debating Rome’s values and virtues, for he did not agree with Rome’s values and closed his eyes to its virtues. His scruffy beard was never seen amongst the smooth-shaven men in the bustling marketplace selling produce, livestock and spices, for people were sold there as well. His slender frame was not built for the Olympics, his sensitive skin not suited for the life of a sailor, fisherman, or farmer, nor were his unsullied hands and feet found amongst the course ones of hunters, bakers, and craftsman. He strayed from the schools of painters, poets, philosophers, sculptors, builders, dancers, musicians, and playwrights, for he saw no beauty in the world worth sharing. Instead, Yeoman was the only man within the vast reaches of the Roman Empire stretching half the known world who dedicated himself solely to complaining.
Yeoman lived with his parents in a house in a clearing near the Tiber river. The house was built of imported marble that remained cool in the scorching suns of the summer and retained a bit of heat during the chilly winter months. Murals of surpassing beauty and color covered the walls of the inner chambers from the entrance to the dining quarters. The house was near the public baths, but had their own private latrines. Winds carried towards him the scent of baked flatbreads and pressed olive oil, which he’d purchase fresh every morning, and waft away the putrid stench of the nearby tanning-shop. Honey was delivered daily, as was fresh goat’s milk and some fruit. Without giving thanks, he would eat quickly then shuffle out the door and into the splendid day. When the artists were working on their art and the craftsmen on their craft, Yeoman picked up his broken Corinthian column and carried it to a different location every day. He would ascend the pillar, one left over from better times, and yell his complaints upon the bustling crowd. This would continue until he was chased away or was tired and desired a nap.
Upon coming home, his parents would corner him. First, his mother would beg him to marry a girl and raise a family, hoping that doing so would bring him joy. He’d decline, for no Roman woman was good enough. “Learn a profession and excel in it,” his father would say. This Yeoman would decline as well, for no profession was good enough for him either. To Yeoman, all of Rome was a disease and he alone carried the cure.
If only other citizens would heed his words.
One day, Yeoman stood atop the broken Corinthian pillar in the middle of the market. Shops full of spices, herbs, produce, and the like lined the street on either side. His face was wet with perspiration, the market was loud and dirty. Yeoman watched in disgust at the people of Rome who went to the largest shop of all, and he cried “Slavery is an abomination! Set free your slaves and live life free of moral sin!” The slave owners jeered and cursed him angrily, but did not heed Yeoman for he was not respected. They bought their slaves and went on their way.
The Gods saw what Yeoman was doing and it was also not good in their eyes. Mercury, God of Thievery, said to Jupiter “Make him stop! For how may they build us great temples without slaves?”
Jupiter saw that this argument was just, so he called down from the heavens and the ground shook with his thunderous voice. “Yeoman, son of Popularous! It is I, Jupiter. Heed now my call -- do not continue your admonitions, for it is evil in our eyes. What say thee?”
And Yeoman responded, “If thou ceases to enslave, I shall never preach again.” Before Jupiter could agree, he saw a fair maiden walk past Yeoman and flew down to Earth disguised as a stunning prized ox. In the blink of an eye and with a great roar he carried the maiden away for his own. As he sat back down upon his throne, Yeoman cried up to heaven:“Thou art not worthy of respect.” And Yeoman returned to the house of his parents.
His mother said unto Yeoman, “You shall marry the neighbor-maiden Echo and fill her with children. What say thee?”
“I wish not to marry Echo.”
“She is pretty, is she not?” asked his mother.
“Aye. she is pretty,” agreed Yeoman.
“She is rich, is she not?” asked his mother.
“Aye, she is rich,” agreed Yeoman.
“She is kind, is she not?” asked his mother.
“Aye, she is kind,” agreed Yeoman.
“Then why do thou not wish to marry her?”
“She owns a slave.”
“Could she not be convinced to free her slave?” asked his mother but Yeoman had already turned his back on her. He went to sleep alone.
The next day, Yeoman stood once more upon the broken pillar in the hot sun, this time near the soldier’s encampments. From atop his pillar he called out, “Conquering nations is wrong!”
Mars, God of War, begged Jupiter to stop Yeoman, “For how can they serve us if not conquering those who do not?” Jupiter saw that this argument was just, and called down from the heavens and the ground shook once more. “Yeoman, son of Popularous!” he cried. “It is I, Jupiter. Heed now my call -- do not continue this admonition, for it is evil in our eyes. Choose a profession and fittith in amongst your fellow men or I shall smite thee down with lightning hotter than the surface of the sun. What say thee?”
And Yeoman responded, “If thou ceases to conquer, so too shall I cease to cause trouble.”
Before Jupiter could agree, he saw a Temple in Jerusalem serving a God other than he. In a terrible wrath he flew down in a chariot of fire and destroyed the Temple and conquered the land for his own. As he sat down upon his throne, he once more heard Yeoman’s cry greet his return to heaven: “Thou art not worthy of my respect.”
That night as Yeoman was supping, his father approached him with an apprenticeship offer. “You will become a shipbuilder! We have received an offer to take you on as early as tomorrow. What say thee, son?”
“I wish not to become a shipbuilder,” said he.
“It is a respected profession, is it not?”
“Aye, it is.”
“It does not employ slaves, am I correct?”
“Aye, you are correct,” said Yeoman.
“It contributes to the improvement of Roman society , does it not?”
“Aye, that is true as well.”
“Then why not become a shipbuilder?” asked Populares.
“Ships are used in war.”
“Would it not be worthy if your ships were used to defend Rome?” But Yeoman had already turned his back on his father and went to sleep alone.
Meanwhile, Jupiter was furious. He pulled out a bolt of lightning from his magical quiver and aimed to smite down Yeoman. He raised a powerful arm, took aim at Yeoman’s sleeping figure -- but was stopped by Pluto, God of Death.
“Do not smite Yeoman, for I do not yet wish his soul.”
“Did he not disobey me twice?” asked Jupiter.
“Aye, he disobeyed you twice,” admitted Pluto.
“Did he not disobey his parents twice?” asked Jupiter.
“Aye,” said Pluto nodding, “he disobeyed his parents twice.”
“Then he must be smitten.”
“Pray, let me talk to him first. Perhaps I can convince him to repent -- for is repentance not desire above punishment?”
And Jupiter agreed.
On the third day, Yeoman was once again standing upon his pillar, this time outside the Gladiator arena, when Pluto appeared as a ugly old-woman, her nose long and her face covered with warts. She approached Yeoman and said, “A moment of your time?”
Responded Yeoman, with contempt for her ugly form, “Why should I listen to thee?”
“Because I knoweth the truth,” responded the woman.
“And what truth is that, woman?”
“Thou art not as moral as thee say/”
“I do not own a slave, nor do I participate in war. In which ways am I not the most moral man in Rome?”
“You live in a respectable house, do you not?”
“Have you ever given thought to by whom it was built?”
Pluto, disguised as the woman, opened Yeoman’s eyes and he saw back in time to the construction of the house. With horror, he saw that it was built not by men of free-birth, but by slaves bought from distant lands.
“I have not profited off war,” responded Yeoman, shaken. “In that area, I am the most moral man in Rome.”
“You are granted protection as a citizen of Rome, are you not?”
“Who do you expect to uphold your protection? And what if a siege was laid upon this city -- would you take up arms to ensure its defense? A nation unprepared for war is equally unprepared to defend against it, is it not?”
And Yeoman was silent for a while.
Then, he said unto the ugly woman, his voice quivering, “I shall build my own house.”
“Thou doth not know how.”
“Then I shall learn.”
“Who will teach you?”
“I shall accept my job as a shipbuilder and live on a boat if need be.”
“That apprenticeship has filled. Who would want to train a man who refuses to learn? Besides, you would be lonely living on your own.”
“Than I shall marry Echo.”
“She hath already married another. For who would want to marry a man without skill?”
“But slavery, war … they create violence and pain and destroy families! What say thee of that?”
“So does disrespecting your parents. If thee wishes to atone for thy sins, beg pardon first from thy parents,” said Pluto disguised as the woman.
“What do thou knowest of these things? Thou are but a hideous woman who is surely lonely and hath never learned a profession either.”
“It taketh one to knoweth one.”
Yeoman tore his tunic and called up to the heavens for forgiveness for he saw now that truths spoken by respected citizens carry more weight than truths spoken by those who do not.
Pluto turned to leave, and Yeoman cried out, “Doth thou expect me to ignore the evils that I see?”
“If thou wishes to improve Rome, learn to see the faults in thyself before attacking the faults of another.”
And Yeoman lived out the rest of his days doing just that.