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Scene VII: TUESDAY’S SUNRISE
The scene in the poem: After spending her first night in the Kingdom of Bithynia alone in the carriage, Mother Anh is awoken on a Tuesday morning by Master Elpidius who’s come to collect his newly purchased slave. Master Elpidius, a former Roman soldier, is a renowned metalworker and artisan of military implements. Along with his team of 20 slaves, he produces prized hardware that is sought after even by local royalty. It’s significant in this story that Mother Anh begins her new life on this Tuesday morning – it is hereafter the spiritual day of the week that marks the beginning of her freedom from abuse.
The image: Lit with a warm glow at sunrise, the scene in the forest seems a bit mysterious yet inviting, a place where Mother Anh’s new life begins. Master Elpidius looms over Mother Anh in a commanding pose; his grasp of her arm is secure but not harsh.
Master Elpidius is a somewhat mysterious character, and his wardrobe gives some clues (and raises some questions) about the man. Some elements of Master Elpidius’ attire are typical of Roman citizens’ dress during the late Republic period (from about 200 BC to 27 BC) like his off-white woollen tunic worn under his toga. However, his toga’s crimson colour is unusual (togas were normally white). It’s true that crimson is a colour famously associated with ancient Rome, used mostly on military clothing, shields, flags etc. But on tunics and togas it was used sparingly, in thin strips, which identified the wearer as a Roman senator. Master Elpidius’ completely crimson-coloured toga signifies that he did not adhere to common Roman practices – indeed he did not even live within the boundaries of the Roman Republic at the time, but rather he was just outside the border in the Kingdom of Bithynia (present day Turkey, near Istanbul). It raises the question: why was he living outside the Roman Republic? Was it by choice? Bithynia was a neighbouring region with a similar culture whose population admired Rome. Bithynia’s monarchy was friendly with Rome and relied on her military assistance to repel attacking forces from surrounding tribes and empires. Bithynia was a safe and convenient enclave for an independent or even expelled former Roman soldier to live in. Another clue to Master Elpidius’ contrarian mind-set is his red Phrygian cap. This style of hat originated in the ancient country of Phrygia in Anatolia, adjacent to Bithynia. It was commonly worn in the region, and is similar and easily confused with the pileus, a cap worn by emancipated Roman slaves. Thus, Master Elipdius’ cap may signify his sympathy with slaves although he utilized a team of 20 in his workshop.
As a side note, the Phrygian cap continued to be used for centuries in Europe to signify liberty. It was strongly revived in 1787 during the French Revolution. The famous cap also adorns the top of the seal of the U.S. Senate. Click here for more information on the history of the famous Phrygian cap.
The making of the photograph: Shot in the Emilia-Romagna Region of northern Italy, this photo was taken during late afternoon amongst the trees where there was indirect and diffused sunlight all around. The camera position was low, nearly at ground level, to provide a “from below” perspective of actor Angelo Luca Barilaro (“Master Elpidius”) which gives a more heroic perspective of the character. I initially had actress Ysabel Loh (“Mother Anh”) lay her head down on the deck of the carriage. But while shooting, she spontaneously lifted her head to look at Angelo, and I think we caught the perfect pose – it provides a powerful connection between the two characters!