Tertius, encouraged by what he recognised was his own spiritual genius, thought he would interpose a few spiritual ideas of his own into the room, as a sort of afterword to ‘Paul’s’ epistle. Unfortunately, when his words were not attributed to Paul, Tertius talked like unto one whose lips were full of garbage. The whole room, who had been extravagantly praising the spiritual excellent of Paul from the moment Tertius began speaking, now told Tertius to shut up so they could think in peace about Paul.
– Why God, Tertius prayed silently, is Paul to be credited with what is mine?
– Foolish Fool, answered the Lord. Were those words yours? Do you think, just because your mouth formed them, and your brain concocted them, that you deserve to be praised for them? Oh most foolish fool! Whence, verily, did their meaning come, if not from me? Were they not mine, from beginning to end? Oh Tertius, better for a man to speak the immortal words of the Lord, and have his name erased from history, than for him to speak the mortal words of men, and have his name lauded for millennia. Are not the piled millennia as passing nights to your God? How worthless is thine own name, Tertius, or the name of Paul, next to the precious is the name of the Lord?
– But why must anyone’s name be lauded? Tertius said. Why allow these people to go on praising Paul if he was not the author? Why rely on the brains, mouths and pens of men to relate your divine word? Why not send us ready-written scrolls of your word, attributed to you – ‘by God’ – that we may find in their solid changelessness some antidote to the ‘It is so!’ ‘It is not so! madness of our own miserable discourse. While the pens of the wisest men can be ignored, who will ignore the unmediated words of the Lord?
– I speak through men because man, in his corruption, listens more readily to the words of men than the words of God. Man’s ears, plugged with the grime of human idiocy, prefer the base shouts of mortal creatures, to the pure whisperings of an immortal creator.
Tertius took this answer with some resentment. Though God was probably right, it was still frustrating that, to all the congregated company, he, Tertius, was still an idiot, incapable of understanding, in their minds, any of the ideas which were passing through his lips. ‘Paul Paul Paul!’ they cried, like blind pagans. Tertius looked down at Paul’s real letter, which remained illegible in his hands. He wondered what it said.
The next morning Tertius took Paul’s Epistle with him to work, hoping his employer, Seneca the Younger, would be able to translate it for him. After reading it through once in silence, Seneca asked Tertius where he procured this scroll.
– On the body of a dead convict sir. I saw the text, and, knowing you are interested in Greek civilisation, thought you would like to read it.
– It is certainly unusual.
– Would you recite it to me?
– Not right now. We must attend to the day’s business. I have been appointed special advisor to the new boy Emperor, Nero, who waits for me in the palace.
– My Lord, this is excellent and enormous news.
– It is news Tertius.
Seneca and Tertius walked on foot to the Imperial Palace where they were met by a consort and escorted into the throne room, where a curly-haired teenager was staring at grapes and whispering, with tears in his eyes.
– Hail Caesar! Seneca said.
– Woof! Nero replied furiously. Can’t you see I am whispering noble grape poems?
– Forgive me your worship, I…
– O grapes, oh grapes, thou juicy juicy fruit/ Thou remindest me of something like an orange, or other similar fruits exceeding in juice, thou ist so juicy/ Yum! Thou comest from vineyards/ If I squash you you makest wine, yum yum!/ Oh I thinketh I shall have a nice lovely grape about now, yum in my tum!
– Your majesty, this is the worst poetry I have ever heard. I recommend you read no more works by this…
– Woof! Nero said, angered that his poetry was being insulted, but not willing to admit to its authorship. Is this the respect you show all great poets?
– My Lord I should hope I show the Emperor of Rome more respect than that which I show to even the greatest poet, let alone the author of that tenth rate bile you were just…
– Woof! Do not grovel and lie, silly man. I am not foolish enough to think that my imperial power matters as much as poetry. While empires fall, poetry lives on. I care not a jot for your opinion of me as an emperor. It is as a poet, and not as a king, that I shall come closest to immorality.
– I feel duty bound, your highness, to point out that the role of emperor is a very demanding, multi-faceted…
– Woof! said Nero.
– The study of poetry, through edifying to a Roman citizen, is hardly…
– Consider the early reign of Augustus, when…
– What on earth is that scroll poking out of your servant’s satchel.
– A Greek scroll my Lord.
– Is it poetry?
– Natural philosophy my Lord.
– May I see it?
– It is both extravagant and obscure my Lord. I do not doubt it would waste both our time to…
– Give it to me.
– There is truly nothing on this scroll which I, as an honest man, could reccom…
– Woof! Give it to me!
Seneca handed Paul’s Epistle to the Romans over to Emperor Nero, studying the adolescent’s reaction and expecting prompt death.
– Woof! Translate it for me. The boy Emperor said, handing it back.
– Certainly my Lord, Seneca said, speedily arranging in his mind a plausible cover for the content which was actually on the scroll.
The version of the letter Seneca proceeded to adlib detailed, with faultless and unprecedented accuracy, all the technical developments necessary for the invention of motion pictures, over 18 centuries before Louis le Prince recorded his ‘Rounday Garden Scene’.
Despite not being conceptually prepared for photographs, let alone moving ones, Nero understood enough about the bizarre and impossible process being described to realise it gave him the power to make his own image – his animate, yawning, sniffling, crying, laughing image -survive past his death. The boring advisory meeting he had feared, full of maters of state and personal development, had turned into a lesson in wizardry.
– The writer of this scroll was evidently a genius, he cried, after hearing Seneca recite it in full. He must be brought to Rome to help us make moving pictures of ourselves, that we may live forever. You there! Nero pointed at Tertius. Go immediately, at the head of one of my legions, to bring this man back to Rome.
The ensuing decade of Nero’s reign was devoted solely to the invention of movies. He hired the finest alchemists and philosophers from across Roman territory, and told them to ignore their learning entirely, but to follow ‘St. Paul’s’ instructions (which Seneca had reproduced, hiding the original) to the letter. Seneca, whose random guesswork was liable to get him executed the moment it was proven faulty, was as amazed as everyone else when the random instructions which had leapt into his brain were proven, one by one, to be precise and true descriptions of how to create film.
The necessary prior technological advancements to film – gelatine emulsion containing silver halide crystals, polythene, celluloid, cellulose acetate, iodine, etc. – were invented or discovered one by one at a staggering rate. As long as absolute faith was kept in the scroll, which Seneca himself came to believe was Divine Word, a 1st century Roman was able to achieve things that they not only couldn’t possibly achieve, but couldn’t possibly understand.
By 62AD, the Emperor had overseen the development of all he needed to set up his own film studio. Seneca, being of no further use, was made to retire to the country. The Domus Transitoria film studio began its contributions to cinema with experimental adaptations of Greek Tragedies, in which Nero inevitably played the lead. Innovations in shot type, editing, special effects, made progress much in the same way they would in the 1890s, only a little slower. Due largely to the fact that no technology of a remotely equivalent sophistication existed anywhere else in the world, when anything broke, it broke for something very like no reason. The meaningless misery which machines alone are capable of unleashing upon humankind, stirred the Emperor’s soul with paranoia and agony, and were responsible for a lot of the political turmoil in this period.
Finding himself quickly bored, beyond the technical side, with the artificiality of the films he was making – mere ‘pretend stories’ – Nero began searching for realer, more visceral images to capture with his machines. He filmed animals copulating and being mutilated. He filmed humans copulating and being mutilated. He filmed himself cutting off a tiger’s head and rubbing his face in its innards. He filmed himself beating, stabbing, raping and murdering people in extravagant sets. He filmed slaves fighting to the death in reconstructions of true Alexandrian battles. He did, in short, what the Emperor Nero would do with a movie camera, which, as it happens, corresponds with what a lot of what is done with movie cameras.
His perverse visions, once they were manifested once, became greedier and greedier; they grew and grew in grandeur. Watching one lion eat one person was a poor substitute for watching 80 lions eat 80 people, but how to get 80 lions into his studio? It was clear that the Domus Transitoria was an insufficient size. Though it spanned 2 of the hills of Rome, the projects of his imagination demanded at least 3. What he needed to film was a genuine cataclysm. He believed the eternal eye would be a disgrace to its own existence unless it was pointed at disasters. But what disasters could he film in this meagre studio? He wanted to see the toppling towers of Illiom, but the only towers he could film were those of Rome, seen from the palace balcony.
What Nero did next has been written about enough, occupied enough paintings and films to need no further description. I will not contribute to the account of the Great Fire of Rome in any way that has not been done already. I will merely add that Nero filmed it. Like a budding press-reel man the Emperor pointed his machine at the burning city, capturing perhaps the most unbelievable footage in existence. The canisters on which he burned their memory were his most treasured possession and he would watch them daily for the rest of his life with tears of awe.
Many historians laugh off Nero’s comments about his own artistic genius, but they all neglect to mention the exceptional films he made after the Great Fire, when his new studio, the Domus Aurea was built. The imagery this emperor captured in that building equals that captured by Fritz Lang or Sergei Eisenstein centuries later. My own personal favourite is his biography of God entitled ‘A Biography of Me’. For his full filmography, consult IMDB.