(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Aelius Lamia, who is sixty-two years of age and afflicted by a discomforting illness, has left Rome to take the waters at Baiae, a seaside resort. One day, having tired of his fellows, he climbs the hill above the town to read De rerum natura (c. 60 b.c.e.; On the Nature of Things, 1682), Lucretius’s celebrated treatise on the philosophy of Epicurus. While making way for the passage of a litter bearing a gloomy aristocrat he is astonished and delighted to recognize a man whom he has not seen for twenty years—a man whom he met during an eighteen-year period when he was exiled from Rome by the emperor Tiberius. Although the man in question, Pontius Pilate, does not immediately recognize his old friend, he is quick to embrace him on hearing his name.

Both men have fond memories of the time they spent together while Pilate was procurator of the Syrian province of Judea. In those days, Pilate entertained the exile generously and introduced him to Herod Antipas. On his eventual return to Rome—sanctioned by Tiberius’s successor Caius—Lamia had repaid Pilate’s generosity with a gift of money but completely lost track of his friend thereafter. Pilate, who is now in his seventies, explains that he retired long ago to his estate in Sicily, from which he has now emerged in search of palliative treatment for his gout.

Lamia asks Pilate why he took early retirement from public service and became a virtual recluse. Pilate explains that he was driven from his former...

(The entire section is 630 words.)