Rumours that they made
Humans into soap
Are no more than that.
Let me be more precise:
The legend is of Mount Sapo,
A Roman shrine to an unknown God,
Where it’s said that at some point
The making of animal sacrifices
Became so frequent as to be excessive,
One goat-kid was barely off the altar
Than the next ewe or ram was
Being put to the knife.
It would seem that the God of the Temple
Was a punishing God, who had inflicted a terrible
Punishment on the local people.
Or else, the area around Mount Sapo,
Which is supposed to stand above the Tiber River,
Had been blessed with a sudden abundance
And rather than enjoy it, as a boon of nature
Or as the fruit of their honest toil,
The people suspected a trick,
A caprice on the part of the God or a test,
Which they would refuse to profit from and
By which they would not be demoralised.
Then again, the priest of the shrine
Would have seen the people grow prideful,
The stockyards full, the granaries overflowing;
He’d see his own trade in sacrifice dwindle
While those he looked down on,
From his height on Mount Sapo, grew rich;
On behalf of the God whom he served,
Whom he’d represent sitting in judgement,
He’d demand the God’s due, or else;
He’d exaggerate the God’s features
And, like a jealous landlord, he’d demand more,
To clear the people of their crime of pride
And, once it was pointed out to them,
To wash away their guilt,
He’d demand an orgy of sacrifice.
Such a priest could not be satisfied
By half measures and such ignorant people
Could not be converted by logical arguments,
No, first fear and then guilt,
Sustained by the spectacle
Of an almost sexual intensity:
A blood orgy,
In which each individual
Took part, played a role.
At the foot of Mount Sapo,
According to legend,
Runs the Tiber,
Wherever it was, because you won’t find it
On any map, or whatever the cause,
Which the legend doesn’t relate,
There, on its banks, while the men
Led their animals to slaughter, and the children
Looked on, the women were washing.
Perhaps they washed the bloody robes of the priest
Or those of their husbands and sons,
Who were called on to assist,
And, as the sacrifice went on, perhaps the demand for
Clean clothes increased and the women
Tried to keep up and perhaps their daughters ran,
Carrying wet garments to dry and dry ones
To replace those that were stained, the legend
Doesn’t say, it says only that it rained.
The rain sent down a mixture of blood, fat
And wood ash from the Temple above,
It mingled in the clay soil of the riverbank below;
The wild thyme, growing on the slopes of Mount
Sapo, and the olive groves, might even have perfumed
The “soap” that the women eventually found there.
About this the legend couldn’t be clearer:
As if the people and the priest, the Temple, the
Town, fear, God, guilt and Mount Sapo itself,
The whole process of rain, fat and sacrifice
Even to the burning of the bodies afterwards,
As if all this was simply a machine for making soap.