DeMaria takes a sensational subject and mines it with literary skill. The subject is the efflorescent decadence of the Roman Empire during Caesar's heyday, which the narrator, the poet Catullus, describes as ""a golden nightmare."" Clodia is the Theda Bara of the city, a temptress whose intimate circle consists of the most brilliant intellectuals and hedonists in Rome. She is seven years the mistress of Catullus's soul (and ten years his senior). She is incapable of sustained love. He goes back home neurasthenic, with his youth wasted, and bitterly tells his story though sick near death. Clodia has incest with her brother; turns some tricks as a prostitute; gets sex kicks from watching dying gladiators in the area; has a great time at the fertility rites with young girls: and so on. As for Catullus, he remains a romantic idealist. He also seems much more analytical and serious than the real Catullus, who would never have stuffed a poem with the Victorian diction ascribed to him here.