Robert Langdon stole an anxious glance at his wristwatch: 7:58 P.M. The smiling face ofMickey Mouse did little to cheer him up. Ive got to find Peter. Were wasting time.
Sato had stepped aside for a moment to take a phone call, but now she returned to Langdon. Professor, am I keeping you from something?
No, maam, Langdon said, pulling his sleeve down over his watch. Im just extremely concerned about Peter.
I can understand, but I assure you the best thing you can do to help Peter is to help me understand the mind-set of his captor.
Langdon was not so sure, but he sensed he was not going anywhere until the OS director got the information she desired.
A moment ago, Sato said, you suggested this Rotunda is somehow sacred to the idea of these Ancient Mysteries?
Explain that to me.
Langdon knew he would have to choose his words sparingly. He had taught for entire semesters on the mystical symbolism of Washington, D.C., and there was an almost inexhaustible list of mystical references in this building alone.
America has a hidden past.
Every time Langdon lectured on the symbology of America, his students were confounded to learn that the true intentions of our nations forefathers had absolutely nothing to do with what so many politicians now claimed.
Americas intended destiny has been lost to history.
The forefathers who founded this capital city first named her Rome. They had named her river the Tiber and erected a classical capital of pantheons and temples, all adorned with images of historys great gods and goddessesApollo, Minerva, Venus, Helios, Vulcan, Jupiter. In her center, as in many of the great classical cities, the founders had erected an enduring tribute to the ancientsthe Egyptian obelisk. This obelisk, larger even than Cairos or Alexandrias, rose 555 feet into the sky, more than thirty stories, proclaiming thanks and honor to the demigod forefather for whom this capital city took its newer name.
Now, centuries later, despite Americas separation of church and state, this state-sponsored Rotunda glistened with ancient religious symbolism. There were over a dozen different gods in the Rotundamore than the original Pantheon in Rome. Of course, the Roman Pantheon had been converted to Christianity in 609 . . . but this pantheon was never converted; vestiges of its true history still remained in plain view.
As you may know, Langdon said, this Rotunda was designed as a tribute to one of Romes most venerated mystical shrines. The Temple of Vesta.
As in the vestal virgins? Sato looked doubtful that Romes virginal guardians of the flame had anything to do with the U.S. Capitol Building.
The Temple of Vesta in Rome, Langdon said, was circular, with a gaping hole in the floor, through which the sacred fire of enlightenment could be tended by a sisterhood of virgins whose job it was to ensure the flame never went out.
Sato shrugged. This Rotunda is a circle, but I see no gaping hole in this floor.
No, not anymore, but for years the center of this room had a large opening precisely where Peters hand is now. Langdon motioned to the floor. In fact, you can still see the marks in the floor from the railing that kept people from falling in.
What? Sato demanded, scrutinizing the floor. Ive never heard that.
Looks like hes right. Anderson pointed out the circle of iron nubs where the posts had once been. Ive seen these before, but I never had any idea why they were there.
Youre not alone, Langdon thought, imagining the thousands of people every day, including famous lawmakers, who strode across the center of the Rotunda having no idea there was once a day when they would have plunged down into the Capitol Cryptthe level beneath the Rotunda floor.
The hole in the floor, Langdon told them, was eventually covered, but for a good while, those who visited the Rotunda could see straight down to the fire that burned below.
Sato turned. Fire? In the U.S. Capitol?
More of a large torch, actuallyan eternal flame that burned in the crypt directly beneath us. It was supposed to be visible through the hole in the floor, making this room a modern Temple of Vesta. This building even had its own vestal virgina federal employee called the Keeper of the Cryptwho successfully kept the flame burning for fifty years, until politics, religion, and smoke damage snuffed out the idea.
Both Anderson and Sato looked surprised.
Nowadays, the only reminder that a flame once burned here was the four-pointed star compass embedded in the crypt floor one story below thema symbol of Americas eternal flame, which once shed illumination toward the four corners of the New World.
So, Professor, Sato said, your contention is that the man who left Peters hand here knew all this?
Clearly. And much, much more. There are symbols all over this room that reflect a belief in the Ancient Mysteries.
Secret wisdom, Sato said with more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice. Knowledge that lets men acquire godlike powers?
That hardly fits with the Christian underpinnings of this country.
So it would seem, but its true. This transformation of man into God is called apotheosis. Whether or not youre aware of it, this themetransforming man into godis the core element in this Rotundas symbolism.
Apotheosis? Anderson spun with a startled look of recognition.
Yes. Anderson works here. He knows. The word apotheosis literally means divine transformationthat of man becoming God. Its from the ancient Greek: apoto become, theosgod.
Anderson looked amazed. Apotheosis means to become God? I had no idea.
What am I missing? Sato demanded.
Maam, Langdon said, the largest painting in this building is called The Apotheosis of Washington. And it clearly depicts George Washington being transformed into a god.
Sato looked doubtful. Ive never seen anything of the sort.
Actually, Im sure you have. Langdon raised his index finger, pointing straight up. Its directly over your head.