The Hippomanes

11 Jan

Marius Quinctius was one of Rome’s golden young men in the reign of Emperor Hadrian. He lived for the pleasures of risk-taking at the chariot races of the world capital. Why not? His father was a leading argentarium, a banker with fingers in all the great enterprises of the eternal city. Marius, an only child, received an allowance that permitted him to become an aleator able to make the running of chariots both his hobby and profession.

The tall, handsome youth never lacked enthusiasm for watching and betting on the curri in contention. Whether a two-horse bigae or a four-horse quadrigae, he followed the sporting event with rapt interest. The peak of each season was the Equiria, the imperial races run on the Campus Martius in honor of the war-god, Mars.

Marius dreamed at night of becoming an auriga, a recognized charioteer. What could be more sublime than that? But he realized that he lacked the strength or athletic dexterity. Horsemanship, the ars equitandi, was something he was deficient in. But with the money his father granted him monthly, there was another possibility.

The playboy decided that he had to become the owner and sponsor of a chariot that raced. So, a driver and horses would have to be found and acquired. That was not something that could be accomplished there in Rome, he soon understood. Marius knew that he had to go into the countryside, and his choice of a particular location was determined by the best local breeds available in different places.

To the northeast of the Imperial capital lay the territory of the ancient Sabines, a people whom the Romans had conquered and attempted to assimilate. These stubborn uplanders had always been masters of the horse, and the top breeders had come from the particular region known as Rosea.

It was there that Marius Quinctius traveled to find an auriga and a pair of celeripas, race-horses that could bring him victory and fame.

Arriving in the ancient Sabine town of Cures late in the evening, the young Roman found a stabulum for his horse and a room for himself in a public hospitium.

As he ate in the taberna of the inn, Marius struck up a conversation with a man from the country who happened to be in Cures on a purchasing trip.

“I am a blacksmith here to buy tools and supplies,” said the stranger who had identified himself as Carus. “There are many horse-owners waiting for my return so that I can give them service. They are all completely dependent upon me.”

“That is interesting,” smiled Marius at the sinewy, swarthy ferrarius. “You must have an extensive knowledge of the horses in this part of the Rosea.”

The other lifted his dark eyes and his square head as if in pride. “That is, indeed, the truth,” he muttered lowly.

“Let me tell you my purpose for being here: I am seeking the best possible team for chariot-racing, along with a highly talented and qualified auriga to drive them. Expense is not a consideration. I aim to purchase the best horse available, regardless of cost to me.”

Carus bit his thick lower lip. “I can give you some good advice,” he said in almost a whisper. “You will need a guide in such a difficult enterprise. But there is a certain individual who knows our region thoroughly, because he is engaged in constant travel over it in all directions. I am thinking of my favorite veterinarius for the treatment of the ills and diseases of horses. This man has had many decades of experience and can tell you where the best runners are to be found. His name is Annaeus and he will not be difficult for you to find. His praedium and domicilius are only a short distance beyond this town, to the north.”

The blacksmith gave Marius precise directions to the farm of the veterinary. In a short while, the stranger finished eating and excused himself. “I hope you find what you are looking for,” said the dark Sabine with a warm smile on his rough face.

Marius ordered some honey-flavored mulsum wine and made his plans for the morrow.

Thick stands of silver fir surrounded the veterinarian’s property on all sides. It was extremely difficult to locate the path leading to the residence. Marius approached the small tectum, no larger than a peasant’s tugurium with growing concern and trepidation.

Would this healer of horses be willing to assist him in his quest?

All of a sudden, a short man emerged out of the front door of the structure.

Marius signaled his horse to halt and stand still. He watched as the owner of the farm, dressed in ordinary country braccae, came toward him. Large corylus eyes of greenish hazel stared at the intruder with unblinking attention. The veterinary stopped and spoke.

“Who are you? What is your business here on my land?”

The Roman had to think fast.

“I have come from the capital with a special purpose that you can help me with. Let me introduce myself. My name is Marius Quinctius. I belong to a leading Roman gens, as you can tell by my name. Our family possesses prominence and influence in the capital.”

“What is it that you are seeking my assistance for?” impatiently asked Annaeus.

“I want to purchase the most promising pair of race-horses in Rosea for the purpose of running them in races in Rome. An appropriate Sabine auriga will also be needed to go with them.”

“That will surely be a difficult scheme to fulfill. Tell me this: why should I help you do that?”

Marius groped for a response.

“I might tell you that my efforts in this will be for the future glory of Sabine Rosea. But also for the monetary rewards that I will be able to bestow on those who become my partners in this inceptum.”

The pair stared intently at each other, judging and evaluating one another.

“Tie up your horse at the front palus, please,” softly said the small man with hazel eyes.

“We shall eat inside. I have no domestic servants and must do all the cooking here myself. You and I can talk over your proposition over laganum cakes that I prepared for my supper.”

It was at that moment that Marius knew that he had won his case with the country veterinary.


“You came to Rosea over the Via Salaria?” inquired Annaeus.

“Yes. The ancient Salt Road brought me over the Tiber at Eretum. Then I proceeded on to Cures and here I am.”

“Do you Romans know much about the breeding of different kinds of horses?”

“Much of that has been lost since we became an urban people, I fear,” replied Marius.

“That can be no great loss, since much of what is believed elsewhere about horse breeding is very mistaken. For example, all of the neighboring peoples around the Sabines tend to place the highest store upon keeping blood stirps perfectly pure, as if nothing else at all mattered. The quest for a thoroughbred generosus has grown obsessive everywhere, except right here in Rosea. Our breeders are interested in successful interbreeding, the multiplex conjunction of traits from all over, from everywhere.

“That is why our horse breeders are the best anywhere. They are not in any way limited by the past and what was done on praeterita times.”

“I never knew any of that,” confessed Marius. “What you say is completely new to me.”

The veterinary sent him a broad, knowing smile.

“We Sabines have preserved much of the knowledge of how to breed that was possessed by the earliest inhabitants of Italy, the Ausones. Our methods are closest to those of the ancient race from whom we are descended. Yes, only here in Rosea do we yet keep the oldest of ways. Do you know that even our domitors and tamers of horses adhere to skills and knowledge that are ages old?”

“I have never heard that,” admitted the confused young Roman. “Please go on.”

A sudden idea came to mind for Annaeus.

“There is a way that you can see for yourself all that I have described. Tomorrow I begin a tour of the northwestern area around the old town of Cutillae. This will take me to many praedia and estates to examine and treat sick horses. Why not accompany me on my round? I can introduce you to breeders and tamers. There is much that can be learned that way. It will help you in choosing and buying chariot runners.”

Marius felt an unfamiliar joy rising within him.

“Yes, I accept,” he breathlessly responded. “That is the way to advance my purpose here in your region.”

In the following days, the new partners covered a large area devoted to farming and pasturing.

Marius accompanied his advisor into many equili where ailing animals suffered illnesses.

He watched as Annaeus administered medicaments and remedia. Natural herbae from field and forest were the main sources of what he gave the horses that he treated.

The wealthy youth from Rome witnessed the recoveries of the sorrel badius, the bay spadix, and the tawny gray ravus horses that the veterinary provided cures for.

His healing ability is extraordinary, concluded Marius. This little man is an expert on the horses of the Rosea, and I can learn from him how to make my choices of what animals to purchase for myself.

The two travelers stopped at numerous farms, until they arrived at a large fundus where Annaeus was asked to act as obstetrix in the birth of a foal.

The pregnant equa suffered torturing pain that the veterinary had difficulty in alleviating. Slowly the eculeus dropped out of its mother, a small reflection of the large horse. With unsteady steps, the diminutive mannulus attempted to test its legs.

Marius noted that a thick, cloudy cucullus still covered the head of the colt.

Suddenly Annaeus grabbed hold of the newborn animal. Using a knife he had brought with him into the equile, the veterinary began to peel off the membrane. In seconds, the cowl covering the colt’s upper head was removed and placed in a pail.

Annaeus motioned with his hand to a figure who had been standing and watching the birth of the colt. This man, large and muscular, entered the stall and picked up the pail in which the membrane had been deposited.

In seconds, the stranger was gone, disappearing into the night.

Marius, puzzled and curious, decided to inquire about what he had seen as soon as opportunity presented itself.

The owner of the farm invited the veterinarius and his companion into the triclinium of his residence for a late repast. Both of the guests were hungry and ate with ravenous appetentia. Since the happy propriator had excused himself and retired to his bed, Marius took up the question that had come to dominate his mind.

“The one thing I cannot understand is why that man took the situla with the cowl in it. What is the importance of the cucullus? Why would anyone wish to possess it?”

The older man gave him a placid, confident look.

“I planned to make an explanation before we left the praedium. It might as well be given to you tonight though. The matter is very simple, once one understands the nature of the hippomanes.”

“Hippomanes?” said the Roman in surprise. “What can that be?”

Annaeus lowered his voice.

“There are special, uncanny powers in the head cowl of particular colts, those of gifted parents. Once the inherited superiority of such an animal is determined, then there are aurigae who are eager to gain control of its cowl.”

“I do not understand,” said Marius as he grew more frustrated.

“The one who took this particular hippomanes is a trainer of racers. His name is Lucanus, and he asked me ahead of time whether he could take the cowl. I told him that you will have the matter explained to you. Do not be concerned, none of it will be kept secret from you.”

No more was said at this point.

Marius realized he would have to wait until the following day.

The bluish gray eyes of Lucanus seemed to search and penetrate wherever they looked. There is a potent intelligence here, Marius realized when the two were introduced.

Annaeus stood behind the Roman as the large Sabine presented a proposition to Marius.

“I must confess what it is I am after. My ambition is to become the foremost auriga in the capital. That will become possible once I have trained this colt. Once it becomes an admissarius, it will be able to entrance all its rivals. My plan is to join with it a partner horse that will be able to keep up with it.

“My ambitious dream is to become the auriga to that special racing team.”

Marius gazed with unconcealed curiosity at him.

“What will the colt’s cowl do fo you?” he asked point blank.

Lucanus took his time before giving an answer.

“It is one of our Sabine traditional beliefs that the lemures of a new-born colt is hidden in its head cowl. If one takes this hippomanes and brews it into a liquid, then swallows it, the lemures will be transferred to that person.

“He will be able to control the horse that grows and develops. This uncanny power can make that racer into a winning chariot runner, when coupled with another controllable horse.

“If you accept my plan, sir, then you will accept the colt to be trained by me. In a short time, when the mannus grows into a runner, I wish to become your auriga. We will be able to win all the races that are held in Rome.”

Marius sensed a rising aestus of joy within himself.

He had come to Rosea searching for horses. Now the Sabine domitor was offering him something he could never have foreseen: a way to use the unseen, unknown force of the horse lemures for the fulfillment of his ambitions in chariot racing.

How could he turn that down?

“Yes, I will purchase the colt and appoint you its trainer,” he told Lucanus.

The pair shook hands on that.

Within a month, a second foal of outstanding parentage was born on the same fundus. Marius bought that one too. The veterinary, Annaeus, granted the birth cowl once more to Lucanus. It was agreed that the rich young Roman was to stay there to watch the two horses grow up and receive their training as racers from the auriga who would be their driver. Annaeus continued with his circular tour through Rosea and then returned to his farm.

Marius realized that he had a new socius, a partner capable of driving a winning chariot. He witnessed the incrementum of the two colts and the way that Lucanus educated them in obeying his inaudible, invisible orders. Aestas turned into autumnus, hibernum into spring, three times. The ponies grew into three-year olds, under the eye of their trainer and the Roman who owned them. Lucanus tied them together with habena and trained them to run as a coordinated hegum. When he had the two connected to an antique chariot, they took to racing smoothly and efficiently.

All of this was viewed by Marius with approval. He felt joy at how the horses were developing.

His propositum was coming close to completion, he told himself with glee.

Marius and Lucanus took their racers to Rome in the spring, planning to participate in the early races of the season. With plenty of personal funds available, the owner of the horses was able to furnish the best of public stables for the two runners and comfortable quarters for the trainer.

Lucanus was vertiginesus with the population, motion, and commerce of the great city.

“I shall show you the major racing stadia of Rome in the next several days,” said Marius to the auriga. “We must decide where to begin the curriculum of our two cursori. I believe the start should not be in a major circus, but in some secondary racing location. That seems the most rational and prudent course to me.”

The Sabine gave his positive adsensus. Marius took on the task of scheduling participation with enthusiasm and completed that with speed. He made a visit to the tabularium where chariots for racing were registered.

The scriba in charge of the contestant list demanded a bribe from the rich Roman owner.

Of course, Marius understood as he paid a generous pretium. This is Rome and such illegal commerce is customary.

He returned to the hospitium where Lucanus was staying and informed him that their first race was to take place in the Circus Maritimus in three weeks.

At last, they would have what they had brought the horses to Rome for.

The morning of the first race, the two men ate breakfast together in a popino cook shop, a cheap eating-house. Over bowls of barley ptisana, they began to discuss the event scheduled that day. All of a sudden, Lucanus frowned with worry.

“Last night I had a somnium,” he announced. “It was a strange, disturbing dream that disturbed me.”

Marius perked up. “What made it that way?” he asked.

The eyes of the driver took on a distant look.

“The two horses were prepared for the race. Connected to the chariot with reins, they should have started forward on signal. But that did not happen. Again and again, I threw the frena forth, but without result. No, the pair refused to race or even run.”

“Why would they become so torpid?” inquired Marius.

Lucanus unconsciously made a grimace.

“I am not certain, but can make a conjecture.”

“And what would that be?”

Lucanus frowned. “There is something happening between the lemures that I have harnessed through the hippomanes of the two horses. The impedimentum arises there, I believe.”

The two looked questioningly at each other.

Neither spoke again that day about the vision seen by Lucanus. Their minds were focused on the initial race of the two horses and the chariot in Rome.

The noisy turba of the crowd filling the circus grew louder and louder.

Only three of the speeding chariots were really serious contenders, and one of them was the team of horses driven by Lucanus.

The chariots hurled themselves toward the unmarked finish line.

Animal frenzy held the horses of Marius in a mad trance.

The multitude of thousands cheered as a pair of cantherii from Apulia won the race. Closely behind that triumphant chariot came the one driven by Lucanus.

We have lost, but not by much, thought Marius as he rushed down to his partner. As they took the horses to the stable they rented, the Roman tried to act as a solator providing hope and consolation.

“Do not be disappointed, Lucanus. This was only our first public race. Being second is no shame. I predict that we are going to win in the near future.”

Lucanus made no reply as he followed Marius to a caupona for undiluted merum wine. The two drank in silence for a time, till the auriga voiced what was in the back of his mind.

“I am troubled by a dream that came to me last night,” he muttered. “My fear is that what I witnessed in sleep was a form of praedictum. It foretold of an awful end.”

Marius placed his right hand on top of his companion’s.

“We cannot determine our actions by what visions may come at night,” he told the driver. “Men are not the ludibria of invisible powers and forces. Let us behave like beings free of shadowy umbra and lemures.”

“But it is now late,” retorted Lucanus. “I have already compromised myself through making everything dependent on the cowls.”

“Do not despair,” gasped Marius. “I still have hope.”

In ten days, the chariot with Rosean horses was set to run at the Circus Flaminins.

Once again, Lucanus had a nightmare on the eve of the event.

He accompanied Marius into a pistrinum to purchase some breakfast crustula. The two sat down at a monopodium to eat.

“I saw a terrible spectaculum in my sleep last night. The horses that I drive were engaged in a furious proelium. Their fight did not end quickly, but continued on and on. The two bit and shoved into each other. They struck with their front legs and their heads. The blows were vicious and merciless. Each of them suffered painful plagae. Their excitement rose till their mouths overflowed with bubbling, boiling spuma. It was horrible to watch.”

“How did all of it end?” asked Marius.

“I did not see the end of the certamen, for dawn awakened me before that point.”

“These dreams of yours are not true vaticinia, for they do not prophecy what must occur in times to come. No, the will of a man can overcome even the direst prediction. That is what I and many of those who are enlightened believe.”

The auriga made no reply. The two then left together for that day’s race.

Throughout the course of the race, there was no question who the winner was going to be.

The two horses from Rosea took the lead from the first and kept it until the end.

Marius, in blissful ecstasy, ran forward to congratulate the auriga. “You have achieved a great triumph today, my good man. Come with me, as soon as the horses are stabled. We are going to celebrate as neither of us has before.”

They began a drinking spree that went on for three days. The pair visited scores of tabernae, cauponae, and oenopolia. They poured gallons of intoxicating temeta down their throats. Neither man slept until the revelry came to an end.

Marius was first to awaken in a sober state. He set to work at once, making arrangements for running the chariot in a new environment. Because of the recent victory, he found it easy to enter his team at the Circus Maximus.

This, the summit of Roman racing, seated over a hundred thousand spectators.

He found it possible to place his chariot in the final, most important race. It would be a high festival day, when ghosts and spirits were to be expelled out of the city of Rome.

Marius smiled to himself. He realized how vital the horses’ lemuriae were to victory and success.

As the two men ate praedium on the morning of the great contest, neither one of them spoke of any dreams they might have had. Lucanus, especially, avoided any mention of such visions.

It was as if he had never experienced the previous nightmares.

An unusually large frequentia of Romans entered the stands, many having heard of the extraordinary speed of the chariot from Rosea.

Marius and Lucanus arrived early, a hired agaso seeing to the two horses.

The noisy turba of the spectators rose higher and higher as the chariots drew up to the starting line.

Marius voiced a final “good fortune” to Lucanus and the horses, then made his way into the stands where the pubic was shouting and cheering.

The signum went down and the aurigae drove their teams forward.

It was evident to everyone that the chariot to beat was the new one from Rosea.

Thundering sounds of falling ungulae filled the Circus Maximus.

Marius recognized that his horses were in the lead and most apt to win.

Velocitas increased to unprecedented speeds.

No one present in the circus had ever seen such impulsus and impetus before.

But then the completely unforeseeable occurred before a hundred thousand pairs of eyes.

Simultaneously, both Sabine horses exploded, up and down, in all directions, sending pieces of viscera about in a circle.

Marius could see carunculae from the explosions strike the astounded, unprepared auriga.

The chariot veered off the straight line of its course, into the path of a rival.

A first, then a second collision resulted.

Madness seized hold of the gigantic crowd as it spilled onto the racing track.

The contest was over, for no chariot could continue.

Marius was certain of one thing: both the horses and the auriga he had brought to Rome were now dead. The nightmare vision had come to be real.

Was the disaster a fatal vindicta by the lemures tied to the hippomanes brought with the horses from the Sabine country?

The young Roman was never able to determine with certitude how much of what he had heard of the legend was true.

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