Would you choose to forget your pain? One needn't ask if you actually have pain. If you don't, you haven't lived long enough to be reading this anyway. If you could let it drain out of you like a slow trickle of water, would you? Or do you need it? Imagine if you had an eidetic memory - would that be a blessing or a curse?
This is myth, in a classical setting, about the settlements we make in order to live with one another and ourselves. That is the subject; the vehicle is the stuff of gods.
Marriage is death. Don't ask anyone to accept this until they've been married long enough to understand it, and not to fear it. There is a part of the self that is free, and a part that is bound. The horizon of the self is no longer a fixed line between dark and light, but a grey expanse, in marriage. Those who do not grow into this do not last, in one way or another.
Vardas weaves an intricate series of plots against the current emperor Nicephorus I, the spies of Charlemagne, King of the Franks, and Pope Leo III who are in a stand-off over rival missions to Bulgaria which will eventually locate in the Frankish Church's alteration of the Nicene creed the defining point of contention. In so doing, he plots also against Theodora to have her lover emasculated, to dominate her son Michael III, and to somehow dismiss the Patriarch Ignatius.
Theodora reacts to Vardas' designs after the emasculation of her lover.
Charlemagne fumes hatred for Pope Leo for betraying him by crowning him not "Emperor of Rome" as agreed but the ineffectual "Emperor of the Romans", assigning him rulership over a people (his own, according to Frankish rhetoric) rather than a place (essentially the Roman world). He speaks to Smaragdus, a Frankish monk who kept the minutes of conversations between Charlemagne's apocrisari and Pope Leo.
Speaking to the reposed Pope St. Benedict II, Pope Leo ruminates on his position, caught between "two emperors", Christ and Charlemagne, as Pope of Rome and exile to Charlemagne's court. He discusses the Frankish alterations to the Creed and his betrayal of Charlemagne during the coronation.
To the Frankish delegation, including the monk Smaragdus who is keeping the minutes, Pope Leo criticizes the Frankish use of dialectic to alter the Church's theology, and says that his answer to Charlemagne must be a refusal to alter the Creed confirmed by the infallible ecumenical councils of the Church.
Vardas rages against Theodora who has publicly punished him for his debauchery. He makes plans to regain power and punish his enemies at court. He accuses Theodora of hypocrisy over the iconoclastic controversy. He plots to steal Theodora's son, the emperor Michael, from her influence, and turn him into a debauched youth. He mocks the Donation of Constantine, a forged document used to justify the development of doctrine and so eventually the alteration to the Creed.
The philosopher speaks to the Council of Bishops in Rheims who are inventing new doctrines, and vows fidelity to the tradition as received from the East ("The Greeks").
Basil I plots the murder of Vardas.
The epitaph to the murdered Vardas, ruling once over the glorious Empire, now ruling worms and decay.