In the dying days of the Republic, Horatius Largus was still shoveling excrement out of roads and paying drunk plebs to pull the same out of sewers. Empires rose and fell, he reflected, but the volume of shit remained constant.
He had been made aedile some time during Gaius Julius’ pro-consulship in Gaul, appointed in the days of the triumvirate, when Crassus and Pompey kept a competitive but adequate peace. Cato saw through them, them and the man who would be Caesar, but he was one ascetic in a sea of colorful scoundrels. Then Crassus died and Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Then came the war, and the peace, and Octavian, and the war, and the peace, the second triumvirate, the war, and the present peace. It was a long peace and one for building and rebuilding. And through it all Horatius had remained an aedile.
It could have been that the wars and the peaces interrupted natural elections of so bureaucratic a post or it may have been that Horatius’ district kept electing him past his term limit, he did not know.
He knew that he decided where to put the shit and where to build the roads and at the end of the month he collected his sestertii from the office, made his offerings to the gods, and paid his rent. He knew that Caesar had removed a good many men from public life, as had Marc Antony. And some men had joined Brutus and Cassius in their fracas far away. And Octavian – or Augustus, as he now preferred – had also plucked several big names from polite conversation.
During the whole Egyptian ordeal Horatius had to do with grain instead of sestertii and he counted himself very lucky for that. It was worth far more at the time and Horatius had always considered himself a man who knew the worth of things.
He did wonder often at the millet in his hands, and when it might end up inside of him, and where it would eventually go. He wondered if he had ever shoveled or directed his own used millet from one place to another, and he wondered why he wondered. But he never reached any illuminating conclusion.
His life was a series of roads and sewers and he ordered them the best he could. He never aimed higher, he never aimed lower, and no one ever tried to kill him for his efforts.
It was an unfulfilling career for a Roman, but it was steady work for a man.