Part 9 out of 12
spears, arrows, shields, helmets, breast-plates, corselets, kilts,
greaves, boots, cloaks, tunics, poles, rope, pulleys, winches, jack-
screws, derricks, wagons, carts, and the like.
The jumble of buildings was without any sort of general plan. Apparently a
courtyard and the structures about it had been found necessary for housing
the beasts and their attendants and had been bought by the management of
the Colosseum. When it was overtaxed, as the number of animals exhibited
increased, an adjacent property had been acquired and annexed. So the
Choragium had been created and extended till it now covered many acres and
had many courtyards, all arcaded on all sides. Under the arcades were set
as many cages as they could accommodate; when the beasts were too numerous
for their cages to be all under the arcades some were stood out in the
I was comfortably housed in light, airy, roomy, clean and well-furnished
quarters on one of the biggest courtyards. From dawn after my first
night's sleep there I was busy quelling vicious beasts so their cages
could be cleaned; keeping others quiet while the beast-surgeons dressed
wounds inflicted by their captors or keepers or sores caused by their
confinement; inducing others to swallow the remedies the animal-doctors
thought good for them; leading beasts out of their cages into others; and
* * * * *
Before I had been a full day at my duties the procurator of the Beast-
Barracks complimented me, declared that I was his very ideal of just the
kind of man he had always needed and wanted, averred that I was already
indispensable and vowed that he could not conceive how he or the Choragium
had ever gotten on without me. Within a very few days he came to my
quarters and said:
"I want you to be contented here. I won't listen to a word hinting at your
leaving. Otherwise I'll do all I can to gratify every wish of yours not
inconsistent with your continuing here and keeping up as you have begun.
Of course, within a few days now, you'll have no such rush of all-day toil
as you have been having. You have been doing in the past few days all the
left-over jobs which should have been attended to since warm weather
began. Once you get clear of legacies from the past you'll find a day's
work can be done in much less than a day and will neither exhaust nor
weary you. Now what can I do to make you as comfortable as possible?"
He had sat down and had motioned me to be seated also. I ruminated.
"In the first place," I said, "I do not want to be made to show off in the
arena before audiences. I am willing to tame animals and to keep on taming
animals, but I do not want to be forced to display my powers before the
populace and the nobility, Senate and court. I have the most powerful
antipathy to being compelled to become a performer as part of a public
"Set your mind at rest," he said. "I give my pledge that, unless my
authority is overridden, you shall not take part in public spectacles
except that you may often have to enter the arena to lead out ferocious
beasts which are not to be killed or which the Emperor, or some of the
courtiers, senators, nobles or populace have taken a fancy to for some
display of courage or craft and have ordered spared. The driving into a
cage or out of a postern of such a beast is generally an irritating
matter, delaying the spectacle and often calling for the use of as many as
a hundred muscular, agile and bold attendants. I perceive that you can do
alone, quickly and easily, what a large gang of eager men has often taken
a long time to accomplish. Often they have to kill a recalcitrant beast. I
feel that I need you for this and I trust that you are willing."
"Entirely," I answered.
"Good!" said he, and resumed:
"Now, what is your next point?"
"In the second place," I said, "I do not want to be pestered with
visitors; nobles or wealthy idlers who take a fancy to me and think they
are conferring a favor on me by intruding on me and wasting my time with
their inquisitive questions and patronizing remarks. In particular I have
a horror of the kind of women who have a fad for molesting with their
attentions singers, actors, gladiators, beast-fighters, charioteers and so
on; if one of them gets after me and the infection spreads to more I shall
find life here in Rome altogether unendurable.
"I speak feelingly (I thought it proper to lie like a Greek, if necessary,
in a situation like mine). Where I was before I suffered from the
attentions of enthusiastic admirers and I have had all I want of it and
far more; enough to last half a dozen lifetimes."
"Festus," said the procurator, "where were you before?"
"If you had seen my back," I said, "you wouldn't expect me to tell you."
"I don't expect you to tell me," he laughed, "but I could not help asking;
you are such a wonder that I am tormented with the desire to know all
about you, not merely where you came from and how you got into the
_ergastulum_ at Nuceria. But I shall not press you for any information
about yourself. Keep your own secrets as long as you are willing to work
miracles for me.
"I don't want to see your back; without seeing it I may say that if anyone
ill-treated you he was an amazing fool. You shall not be flogged here, nor
ill-used in any way. I'll take all the measures in my power to ensure that
no visitors bother you and that you are protected not only from genuine
sporting nobles but still more from the silly loungers who think it adds
to their importance to make the acquaintance of all persons of public
reputation. Especially I'll have you guarded from intrusive fine ladies."
"I want plenty of the best fruit," I said boldly.
"You'll get all you can eat of whatever the markets afford," he said, "and
understand right here that I'll indulge you to any extent in anything
relating to your food or wine, as long as you keep sober. Similarly you
can have anything you ask for in the way of extra clothing or bedding or
furnishings for your quarters. If you don't like the slave detailed to
wait on you I'll have another put in his place and keep on changing till
you get one to suit you.
"You are to be indulged and pampered in every way in my power, except that
I mean to keep you hard at work, long hours each day, at the cages,
whenever it is necessary."
I thanked him and agreed to do my best to please him.
Not many days later, as he had foretold, my work became less continuous
and less burdensome. Soon afterwards I settled into a sort of daily
routine which occupied me, but did not wear me out and which often left me
not a little free time.
I found that I was entirely free to go and come as I pleased, when not
occupied. I did go to the Temple of Mercury and offer two white hens
bought in the Forum Boarium, as I had done when in the City with Maternus.
Otherwise I kept pretty close for more than a month. I feared to be
recognized as myself by some secret-service agent; I feared almost as much
to be identified as Felix the Horse-Tamer by some henchman of the King of
the Highwaymen. I wanted to try to communicate with Vedia, but the more I
pondered on how to do so the more I saw only betrayal, recognition and
death as the probable results of every plan I devised.
Domiciled in the Choragium and busy there and in the Colosseum I spent
almost a year. Until the approach of winter put a stop to spectacles in
the arena and after the outset of spring permitted their resumption, I was
not only continuously busy, but entirely contented. Of the dreary and
tedious winter between, which was intensely dispiriting and appeared
interminable, the less I say the better. I do not want to remind myself of
I was of course free from the bodily miseries which had made my winters at
Placentia and Nuceria so terrible: I did not suffer from cold, hunger,
vermin, sleeplessness, overwork, exhaustion, weakness, blows and abuse. I
was, on the contrary, comfortably lodged and clothed, well attended,
lavishly and excellently fed and humored by the procurator.
But at Placentia and Nuceria I had solaced myself amid the horror of my
situation by reminding myself that I was, at least, alive, and, as long as
I was in an _ergastulum_, entirely safe from any danger of being
recognized and executed. Here, in Rome, often in the arena, under the eyes
of sixty thousand Romans, thousands of whom had known me in my prosperity
and hundreds of whom had known me familiarly from my childhood, I was,
every instant, in peril of recognition and of betrayal to the secret
service. While I was actually in the arena I was so busy or so exhilarated
by my participation in the most magnificent spectacle on earth that I
never worried a moment. I seldom worried while I was occupied with any of
my duties in the Colosseum or Choragium, although I knew I was very liable
to recognition, for the passages and vaults of the Colosseum and the
courtyards of the Choragium were habitually visited by men of sporting
tastes; gentlemen, wealthy idlers, noblemen, senators, courtiers, even the
Emperor himself. I was, in my intellect, conscious of my danger; but,
while I was occupied, it did not perturb my feelings.
During the idleness of the long winter my peril did rob me of sleep, of
appetite and of peace of mind. I had continually to devise excuses for
remaining in my lodgings, for declining invitations to banquets, for
keeping to myself. I dreaded that the procurator himself was growing
suspicious of me. He had, in the kindness of his heart, thrown in my way
offers of opportunities for outings, for diversions, for entertainments,
which any man in my situation might have been expected to accept with
alacrity. My refusals, I felt, might set him to thinking. He was entirely
loyal to the Emperor and the government. If the idea ever crossed his mind
he would, at once, have reported to the secret service that it would be
well to take a look at Festus the Beast-Tamer; he might be other than he
appeared. The anxiety caused by these thoughts preyed upon my mind.
Without reason, apparently. The procurator, as I look back on that deadly
winter, seems to have accepted all my peculiarities without question. If I
would remain content and quell obstreperous beasts when spring opened as I
had until autumn ushered in winter, I might do and be anything I pleased.
If I pleased to mope in my quarters, pace under the arcades of the
courtyard, lie abed from early dusk till after sunrise, what mattered that
to him? Such, apparently, was his attitude of mind. He gave orders that I
was to have my meals alone in my quarters, as I requested. He had brought
to me, from the libraries of the Basilica Ulpia, most of the books I asked
for. I had read all the books on catching, caring for, curing, managing,
taming and fighting beasts which formed the library of the Choragium.
After they were exhausted I asked the procurator for more. As he had a
cousin among the assistant curators at the Ulpian Library he was able to
gratify me. After I could learn of no more books on beasts I took to
comedies and read Naevius, all of Menander and Caecilius, and most of the
best plays of other writers of comedies; then. I turned to histories,
which I thought safe, and spent my days for the remainder of the winter
sleeping early, long and late, eating abundant meals of good food, walking
miles round and round the big courtyard under the empty arcades,
exercising in the gymnasium of the Choragium, steaming and parboiling and
half-roasting myself in its small but very well-appointed and well-served
baths, and, otherwise, reading every bit of my daylight. I kept well and I
remained safe, ignored and unnoticed. The procurator kept his word as to
shielding me from visitors, and he said he had much ado to succeed, for
the ease and certitude with which, in the open arena, before all Rome, I
approached a lion or tiger which had just slaughtered a criminal and
lapped his blood, seized the beast by the mane or scruff of the neck, as
if he had been a tame dog, and led him to a postern or into his cage,
roused much interest, much curiosity, many enquiries and not a little
desire to see me closer, question me, talk with me, get acquainted with me
and learn the secret of my power.
I thanked the procurator for his resolution and success in rebuffing
would-be patrons eager to pamper me. Also, all winter, I dreaded that he
would he less lucky or less adamantine when spring came.
Thus passed my fourth winter since my disaster.
I might have been spared much of my anxiety during the winter if I had
learned sooner that such aloofness as mine was no novelty to the
procurator, that he had, among his most valued subordinates, a man even
more unsociable than I, and even more highly esteemed and more sedulously
pampered. This was the celebrated and regretted Spaniard, Mercablis, who,
for more than thirty years, was accorded by the Choragium a home of his.
own, a retinue of servants and the fulfillment of every whim, of which the
chief was his determination to have as little as possible to do with any
human being except his wife and their three children, for he was not a
slave, but a freeman. In his way Mercablis was as celebrated as Felix
Bulla the brigand or Agyllius Septentrio the actor of mimes, and the
memory of his fame yet lingers in the recollections of the aged and in the
talk of their children and grandchildren. For it was Mercablis who, for
half a life-time, invented, rehearsed, and kept secret till the moment of
its display the noon-hour sensational surprise for each day of games in
I have, in my later years, met many persons who congratulated me on my
luck in having personally known and frequently talked with Mercablis, just
as many have similarly envied me my encounters with Felix Bulla. For
myself I have never plumed myself on such features of my adventures,
though they are not unpleasing to recall.
When, in the spring of the next year, while Fuscianus and Silanus were
consuls, I came to know Mercablis and to consider him, I arrived at the
conclusion that his inclination for solitude and his aloofness were not
the result of any dread of strangers or of any need for seclusion, like
mine, but the product of a disposition naturally churlish, crabbed, and
Habituated as the procurator had been to Mercablis and his loathing for
strangers, my desire for privacy had seemed to him as a matter of course.
Resolute as Mercablis was to be let alone, he was enormously vain and
self-conceited and puffed up with his conviction of his own importance. He
never smiled, but some subtle alteration in his countenance betrayed that
any flattery pleased him.
He was a tall, spare, bony man, with a dry, brown, leathery skin, lean
legs and arms, a stringy neck, almost no chin, a hooked nose, deep set
little greeny-gray eyes and intensely black, harsh, stiff, curly hair and
very bushy eyebrows. He wore old, worn, faded garments and stalked about
as if the fate of the universe depended on him.
Certainly he never failed to surprise all Rome when the time came for his
novelty to be displayed. Every one which I saw, either earlier when I was
myself or while in the Choragium as Festus the Beast-Wizard or later,
justified the claim of Mercablis to being the most original-minded
sensation-deviser ever known in the Colosseum or elsewhere.
One of his utterly unpredictable surprises recurs often to my
It was a hot July day and, during the noon pause, the vendors of cooling
drinks did a good business among the spectators of the upper tiers. To the
ring-rope round the opening in the awning, over the middle of the arena,
had been fastened a big, strong, pulley block. One of the lightest and
most agile of the awning-boys hung by his hands from the radial rope
stretched from nearest that pulley, worked out to it, sat on it, rove
through it a light cord which he carried coiled at his waist, and worked
back along the radial rope, leaving the cord trailing from the pulley-
wheel to the sand of the arena. By means of the cord the arena-slaves rove
through the pulley first a light rope, then a very strong one.
The end of this rope they fastened to an iron ring, from which hung four
stout chains, three of them of equal length, each about thirty feet, whose
lower ends, at points precisely equidistant from each other, were fastened
to a big iron hoop all of twenty-four feet across. From the hoop hung six
lighter chains, like the fourth chain which hung from the ring. As the six
were fastened to the hoop either where one of the upper chains ended or
exactly between two of them each of the six was precisely twelve feet from
those on either side of it and from the center chain hanging from the
ring. The hoop hung perfectly level and each of the seven chains, about
thirty feet below the level of the hoop, had hung to it an iron disk, a
yard or more across, hanging by a ring-bolt in its center and perfectly
level. From a second ring-bolt in the underside of each disk depended more
of the same light, strong chain, to a length of some thirty feet below the
I, like all the arena-slaves and Choragium-slaves, like all the
spectators, knew that this apparatus portended some unpredictable
surprise; but I, like the others, like the audience, gaped at it,
incredulous and unable to conjecture what it could be for.
Then arena-slaves carried in and set down on the sand a full hundred feet
from the hoop and chains, a dozen or more wicker crates full of quacking
white ducks with yellow bills. They and the noise they made recalled
unpleasantly to me my sensations as I clung to the alder bush immersed in
Bran Brook, after Agathemer and I had crawled through the drain at Villa
Then there was a delay and I was called out to assist the mahout of the
Choragium's best trick elephant, the smallest full-grown elephant I ever
saw and the worst-dispositioned elephant of any age or size which ever I
encountered. When I and the _mahout_ had put him in a good humor he
entered the arena and stationed himself by the crates of quacking ducks.
Then there marched out into the arena a procession of arena-slaves, four
by four, each four carrying by two poles a strong cage housing a big
African ape. These cages they set down each under one of the chains
depending from the hoop. Then I was called to deal with the baboons.
Now I fear no beast, but of all beasts I most dislike an African ape.
These creatures, inhabiting the mountains of Mauretania, Gaetulia and the
Province of Africa, are big as a big dog and have teeth as long and cruel
as any big dog. They are violent and treacherous. Whereas any wild bear or
wolf I ever approached would permit me to handle him without snarling or
growling, every baboon I ever had to handle made some sort of threatening
noise inside him. Although none ever bit me or attempted any attack on me
yet the hideousness of such apes and their vile odor always made me timid
in dealing with them.
Each of these seven had around his middle an iron hoop-belt, with a strong
ring-bolt in the back. It was my task to affix the end of each pendant
chain to the ring-bolt in the belt of one of the baboons. This was easy to
do, as each cage, in addition to a door in one side, had a trap-door in
its top; and each chain had a snap-hook ringed to its last link. More
difficult was managing so that the apes should be hauled up out of their
cages without any two swinging sideways enough to clutch each, other; for,
while baboons in their native haunts hunt in packs, male baboons not of
the same pack always fight venomously and members of the same pack, if
separated for a time, are as hostile to each other as males of different
By care and caution, the slaves at the rope obeying my signals promptly, I
at last had all seven apes clear of their cages, and not swinging too
much. Then the cages were removed and the hoop lowered somewhat. Then I
steadied each chain till none had any side-ways swing. Each ape finally
hung on a level with every other ape, and about two yards above the sand
of the arena.
I say finally, for it was at once manifest why the disks were hung to the
chains; each baboon swarmed up his chain; each got no higher than the
disk, for it was too broad for his arm to reach the chain above it, so
that each failed to climb past it, and, after some chattering, and
hesitation, each climbed down his chain again and hung by his belt, every
one mewing and chattering at his neighbors, frantic with hostility and
eager for a fight.
When all seven were quiet the herald proclaimed that wagers might now be
laid on the apes, the survivor of the seven to be the winner. Each had a
different color painted on his iron ring: blue, green, red, yellow and so
on. The spectators appeared to make bets.
Then when the arena was clear between the elephant and the baboons and
beyond them, the mahout spoke to his charge, the elephant inserted his
trunk through the opened lid of a crate of ducks, grasped a duck by the
neck, lifted it out, swung it, and hurled it at the hanging apes. It
hurtled through the air, napping its wings in vain, and passed between the
baboons, they grabbing for it as it shot by, it falling far beyond them on
A roar of appreciative yells rose from the spectators.
The elephant threw another duck and another. The third came within reach
of one ape. He seized it and bit it savagely, tearing it to pieces with
vicious glee. Its impact set him swinging.
Duck after duck was hurled till another baboon caught and rent another.
This went on till two of the swinging apes came within grasping distance
of each other. At once they grappled, bit each other and fought till one
It made a queer spectacle; the crates of quacking ducks, the thin-legged,
blackskinned, turbaned _mahout_, the wickedly comprehending little
elephant, the chattering baboons, the ducks hurtling through the air, and
running about the sand all over the arena, for many of them fell and
escaped alive, the yelling spectators of the upper tiers, the mildly
amused parties in the Imperial and senatorial boxes, the blaze of sun over
The duck-throwing was continued till only one ape remained alive.
It was all very exciting and so whimsically odd that it was acclaimed a
most successful surprise. It is yet remembered by those who saw it or
heard of it from them as the most spectacular and peculiar of all the
inventions of the lamented Mercablis.
Of my experiences while in the Choragium and about the amphitheater the
most notable were my opportunities for observing Commodus as a beast-
fighter, the passion for the sport which possessed him, his absorption in
it, even rage for it, his unflagging interest in it, his untiring pursuit
of it, and his amazing strength and astounding skill in the use of arrows,
spears, swords, and even clubs as weapons for killing beasts.
Keen as was his enjoyment of his own dexterity and fond as he was of
displaying it to admiring and applauding onlookers, infatuated as he was
with the intoxication of butchery, proficiency and adulation, he retained
sufficient vestiges of decency and self-respect to restrain him from
exhibiting himself as a beast-fighter in public spectacles before all
Rome. Of late years I have heard not a few persons declare and maintain
that they had seen and recognized him in the arena during the mornings of
public festivals; that his outline, attitudes, movements and his manner of
handling a sword, a club, a spear or a bow were unmistakable. I asseverate
that these persons were and are self-deceived, or talking idly or
repeating what they have heard from others or merely lying. Commodus never
so far debased himself as to take his stand in the arena of the Colosseum
on the morning of a public spectacle with all Rome looking on; still less
did he ever disgrace himself by actually killing beasts in full sight of
the whole populace. I speak from full knowledge. I know.
I may remark here that, taking the other extreme from these detractors or
gossips, there exist persons who maintain that Commodus never drove a
chariot in public, let alone as a competing jockey in a succession of
races in the Circus Maximus on a regular festival day in full view of all
Rome; likewise that he not only never, as a gladiator, killed an adversary
in public combat, but never so much as shed blood in any of his fights;
asserting that he merely practised with lath foils inside the Palace.
These latter persons are of the class who are horrified that a Prince of
the Republic should have debased himself as did Commodus, who feel that it
is discreditable to Imperial Majesty in general that such shameful
occurrences took place and who are foolish enough to fancy that harm done
may be undone by forgetting what happened, by whispering about it, by
keeping silent, by hushing up as much as possible all reports of it, by
expunging all mention of it from the public records, by garbling histories
and annals so as to make it appear that Commodus merely longed to do and
practiced or played at doing what he actually did.
These wiseacres are as far from the truth as his libellers and slanderers.
If anything in addition to my solemn assertion is needful to convince any
reader of this chronicle that I am right, let me remind him that all Rome
knew or knew of Palus the Gladiator, afterwards of Palus the Charioteer,
later yet again of Palus the Gladiator; of Palus, the unsurpassable, the
inimitable, the incomparable: incomparable in his ease, his grace, his
litheness, his agility, his quickness, his amazing capacity for seeing the
one right thing to do, the one thing which no other man could have thought
of, and for doing it without a sign of perturbation, haste or effort, yet
swift as lightning, with the effectiveness of Jove's thunderbolts and with
the joyousness of a happy lad; always the same Palus and always in every
dimension, attitude and movement the picture, the image, the double of
Commodus: whereas no one ever heard or saw Palus the Beast-Fighter.
I think the chief reason why Commodus could not resist the temptation to
degrade himself to the level of a public character and a public gladiator,
yet, despite his infatuation for beast-killing, shrank from dishonoring
himself by appearing at a public festival as a beast-fighter, was that
beast-fighters are not merely more despised than charioteers or gladiators
but the contempt felt for them has in it quite a different quality from
that felt for gladiators and charioteers. Everybody sees criminals killed
by beasts and there are all sorts of variations in the manner in which
criminals are exposed to death by wild animals. Some are turned naked and
weaponless into the arena to be mangled by lions or bears or other huge
beasts: others are left clad in their tunics; some of these are allowed
the semblance of a weapon; a club, knife, dagger or light javelin; so that
their appearance of having some chance may make their destruction more
diverting to the spectators: others, in order to prolong their agonies,
are furnished with real weapons, as a sword, a pike, a trident, even a
hunting spear with a full-sized triangular head, its edges honed sharp as
razors; others are left completely clad, with or without sham weapons or
actual arms, yet others are protected by armor, corselets, kilts, greaves,
or even hip-boots and helmets, and wear swords and carry shields as well
as pikes or spears: these last differ in appearance in no respect from
This produces, in the minds of persons of all classes a sort of confusion
between beast-fighters and criminals and brings it about that there
attaches to those persons of noble-birth or free-birth who, whether from
hope of gain, from poverty, or from infatuation with the sport or from
mere bravado, abase themselves as beast-fighters, an obloquy far intenser
than that which attaches to freemen or nobles who dishonor themselves by
becoming gladiators or charioteers. Such self-abasements have been known
ever since the reign of Nero, began to become more common under Domitian
and have ceased to be regarded as anything unusual; in fact, so many men
of good birth or even of high birth have become gladiators or charioteers,
so many of these have acquired popularity, so many, even if actually few,
have won wealth and fame, that professional charioteering or swordsmanship
has almost ceased to be regarded as a degradation. Not so beast-fighting.
No one can point to a record of any freeman or noble having appeared in
the arena as a beast-fighter and afterwards having regained by any
acquisition whether of reputation or fortune the position in society which
he had forfeited by his dishonor.
At any rate, Commodus gratified his enthusiasm, for beast-killing in two
entirely different ways. One was by regaling the people with spectacles of
unheard-of, even of incredible magnificence, at which not only the noon-
hour was filled with ingenious and novel feats of trick-riding, tightrope-
walking, jugglery, acrobatics and the like, and one of the surprises
invented by Mercablis and the afternoons ennobled by hosts of gladiators,
paired or fighting by fours, sixes or tens, twenties or in battalions, as
if soldiers in actual battles; but the mornings were exciting with the
slaughter of hordes of animals of all kinds; with fights of ferocious
beasts, and with, the fighting and killing of fierce animals by the most
expert and venturesome beast-fighters. At these spectacles Commodus
participated as a spectator, in the Imperial Pavilion, surrounded by his
officials and the great officers of his household, clad in his princely
robes, seated on his gold-mounted ivory throne.
His other method of gratifying his infatuation was by himself killing all
sorts of beasts, either from the coping of the arena, or from platforms
constructed out on the arena or from the level of the sand itself, for
which feats he had as spectators the whole Senate and the entire body of
our nobility, summoned by special invitation and most of them by no means
reluctant to enjoy the spectacle of the superlative prowess possessed by
When any of the Vestals were present at these eccentric exhibitions they
occupied their front-row box and Marcia usually sat with them, generally
accompanied by as many of her intimates among the wives of senators as the
box would accommodate. The Vestals, as the only human beings in Rome who
did not fear Commodus, were often entirely independent in their behavior
and refused his invitations; but they did it politely, alleging that the
regulations of their cult forbade any Vestal absenting herself from the
Temple and Atrium on that particular day. When no Vestal was present
Marcia occupied their box, by their invitation, and filled it with her
noblest and wealthiest favorites among the senatorial matrons, often wives
On these occasions Commodus wore fulldress boots of a shape precisely as
with his official robes but not of the usual color: they had indeed the
Imperial eagles embroidered on them in gold thread, but, instead of being
of sky-blue dull-finished leather, they were of a shiny, glaze-surfaced
leather as white as milk, their soles gilded along the edges. Gold
embroidery set off his tunic, which was of the purest white silk,
shimmering brilliantly. He always wore many gold rings, set with rubies
and emeralds; also an elaborate necklace matching his rings. His bright,
soft, curly, yellow hair haloed his face as did his almost as bright and
fully as yellow and curly beard. His eyes were very bright blue, his
cheeks very red. He was very handsome. The expression of vacuous
miscomprehension like that on the face of a country bumpkin, which was so
usual with Commodus when dealing with official business or social duties,
never appeared on his countenance when revelling in his favorite sport:
then his expression was intelligent, lively and even charming.
He was at this time in his twenty-sixth year and in the very prime of his
life. Before his death, instead of the rosiness of health on his face and
the glow of youth on his cheeks, his entire countenance was unbecomingly
flushed and florid, like that of a drunkard.
His weapons were as exquisitely designed and finished as his costume. When
he used a club it was of the wood of some Egyptian palm or of cornel-wood,
heavily gilded; a heap of such clubs was always in readiness when he
entered the arena. Similarly there was ready for him an arsenal of swords,
of every style, shape and size, from short Oscan swords not much longer
than daggers to Gallic swords with blades a full yard long and thin as
kitchen spits. All were gold-hilted, sheathed in colored, tooled,
embroidered, gilded or even bejewelled leather; many had their blades
gilded except the edges and points. There was piled up ready for his
choice a mountain of spears, of patterns as various as the swords. All had
their shafts whitened with some novel sort of paint which produced a
gleaming effect like the sheen of the white portions of the finer sorts of
decorated Greek vases. This glaze effect was over all of each shaft except
at the grip, where the natural wood always appeared, roughened like the
surface of a file with criss-cross lines to afford him a surer grasp. His
bows were all gilded, his quivers gilded or of gem-studded, brightly
tinted leather, in many colored patterns; his arrows gilded all over,
points, shafts and feathers; or with feathers dyed red, blue, green or
violet. Every detail of his get-up and equipment was to the last degree
perfect, reliable, beautiful, unusual and costly.
I pondered a great deal over his infatuation and its consequences.
In the first place, as when contemplating the torrent of beast-wagons
flowing down the Flaminian Highroad, I was, being still inwardly a Roman
noble, overwhelmed with shame that the enormous, but even so insufficient,
revenues of the Republic should be diverted from their proper uses for the
maintenance of our prosperity and the defence of the frontiers of the
Empire and squandered on the silly amusements of a great, hulking, empty-
Then I was almost equally ashamed that a man who could, on occasion, if
sufficiently roused, be, for a space, as completely Prince and Emperor as
Commodus had repeatedly shown himself in my sight, could, on the other
hand, waste his time and energies on displaying his dexterity in feats of
archery, javelin-throwing, swordsmanship, agility and mere strength. It
appeared to me not only shameful but incredible that a man who was capable
of such complete adequacy in his proper station in life as Commodus had
shown himself to be, for instance, when berating Satronius and Vedius or,
still more, when facing the mutineers and dooming Perennis, should be
willing to leave the management of the Republic and the ruling of the
Empire to an ex-slave and ex-street porter like Cleander, and occupy his
time with spearing bears, shooting with arrows lions, tigers, or elephants
and what not, burying his sword-blade in bulls, even with clubbing
I oscillated or vacillated between these two lines of thought. The sight
of Commodus dodging the lightning rush of an infuriated ostrich and neatly
despatching him with a single blow on the head from a palm-wood club no
longer and no thicker than his own forearm not only stirred my wonder that
any man could possess such accuracy of eyesight, such power of judging
distances and time, such perfect cooerdination of his faculties of
observation, of his will and of his muscles; but also roused my disgust
that a man capable of ruling the world and with the opportunity to show
his capabilities should degrade himself to wasting time on tricks of
agility and feats of strength and skill.
On the other hand the sight of Commodus using a full-grown male Indian
elephant as a target for his arrows enraged me. Next to a man an Indian
elephant is the most intelligent creature existing on this earth of ours,
as far as we know. An elephant lives far longer than a man. His life of
useful labor is longer than the total life of a long-lived man. And his
labor can be very useful to mankind. An elephant can travel, day after
day, as fast and far as a horse, he can accomplish easily tasks to which
no team of horses, not even of sixteen horses, is adequate, he can outdo
any gang of men at loading or unloading a ship with massive timbers or
with many other kinds of cargo in heavy and bulky units. It can only be a
shame to kill, for mere sport, so noble a creature. It is bad enough to
exhibit in the arena fights of elephants, which kill each other for our
diversion, when we might utilize their courage and prowess in battle, as
the Indians do. But to use an elephant as a mere target for arrows is far
Then again, while I watched Commodus killing an elephant with his arrows I
could not but think of the hundreds of men who had been employed in
tracking his herd, building a stockade, driving into it what elephants
they could, fettering them, taming them, caring for this one after he had
been tamed, tending him on his journey of many thousand miles from India,
across Gadrosia, Carmania, Susiana, Mesopotamia and Syria to Antioch and
from there to Rome; on getting food for him on his journey and at
different cities; on the vast expense of all this; and for what? That a
silly and vainglorious overgrown child should shoot him full of arrows
till he bled to death!
I raged inwardly.
I quite agree that Commodus enjoyed killing for killing's sake; it gave
him a sort of sense of triumph to behold any animal succumb to his
weapons. But I think his sense of triumph was also far more for his
repeated self-congratulation on his accuracy of aim for shot or blow, on
the perfection of his really amazing dexterity.
When he shot at elephants the procedure was always the same; two elephants
were turned into the arena, and Commodus was matched against some archer
of superlative reputation, whose prowess had been repeatedly demonstrated
before the audiences of the Colosseum, a Parthian, Scythian, or
Mauretanian. A prize was offered to him if he won and wagers were laid,
mostly of ten to one or more on Commodus; he, of course, betting on
himself with at least one senator at any odds his taker chose. Then the
contest began, Commodus shooting from the Imperial Pavilion, his
competitor from any part of the _podium_ which he might choose, so that
both archers were on an equality, being placed on the coping of the arena
at spots they had chosen. The prize went to whichever killed his elephant
with the fewest arrows. Commodus always won. Not that his competitors did
not do their best. They did. But he was, in fact, the best archer alive.
His accuracy of aim was uncanny and his strength really terrific. He could
himself string a hundred and sixty pound bow and he shot a bow even
stiffer than that without apparent effort and with fascinating and
indescribable grace. He never missed, not only not the animal, but not
even the vital part aimed at. I was told that, when he first practiced on
an elephant, he killed it with arrows in the liver, of which eleven were
required to finish the beast. He then had it cut open under Galen's
supervision, he watching. He thereafter never failed to reach an
elephant's heart with his third arrow, killed most with his second, and
not a few with his first, a feat never equaled or approached by any other
archer, for the killing of an elephant with five arrows by Tilla the Goth
remains the best record ever made in the Colosseum by any other bowman.
The impact of his arrows was so weighty that I have beheld one go entirely
through the paunch of a full-grown male elephant and protrude a foot on
the other side.
With rhinoceroses and hippopotami the procedure was similar. Neither of
these animals could be had as plentifully as elephants, of which I saw
Commodus and his competitors kill more than thirty; mostly Mauretanian
elephants, but some Indian and a few Nubian. I saw killed for his
amusements in similar contests in which he participated four rhinoceroses
and six hippopotami. In these matches lie killed one rhinoceros with two
arrows and the rest with one; so of the hippopotami. As with the
elephants, after he had seen a rhinoceros and a hippopotamus cut open
under Galen's direction, he retained so vivid an impression of the
location of its heart that, from any direction, whether the beast was
moving or still, he sent his arrow so as to reach the heart. This sounds
incredible, but it is exactly the truth.
As I watched I kept imagining the baking deserts of Libya or the steaming
swamps of Nubia, the shouting hordes of negroes, the many killed by the
beast, its capture, and the infinite and expensive care necessary to bring
one alive to Rome.
Besides these enormous animals he practiced archery on the huge long-
horned bulls from the forests of Dacia and Germany; on the bisons from the
same regions, beasts with heavy shoulders, low rumps and small horns,
parallel to each other, curving downwards over the brows; on the big stags
from these far-off forests, or any sort of stags! And on two varieties of
African antelope not much inferior in size to stags or bulls. He very
seldom needed a third arrow to put an end to any beast of these kinds, not
often a second arrow, and, actually, killed hundreds, even thousands,
neatly and infallibly with his first shot. All these animals he shot from
the _podium_, often leaning on the coping, his right knee on it, generally
standing, his feet wide apart, the toes of his right foot against the
coping wall; for, as with sword or spear or club, he also shot left-
Prom the arena itself, standing on the sand on which they scampered about,
he shot multitudes of smaller animals: wild ponies, wild asses, striped
African zebras, gazelles, and at least a dozen varieties of small African
antelopes, for which there are no special names in Latin or even in Greek.
The antelopes and gazelles, although they ran quicker than hares, he never
missed and seldom did he fail to kill with one arrow whatever animal he
aimed at. He never, to my knowledge, missed even the incredibly speedy
Nor did he ever miss an ostrich, though he shot both from the _podium_ and
the sand these birds, which are swifter than even the wild asses. He shot
at them with arrows made specially after a pattern of his own, with
crescent-shaped heads set on the shaft with the two horns of the crescent
pointing forward, the inner curve sharpened to a razor edge. Shooting at
an ostrich racing at top speed he never failed to decapitate it with one
shot, invariably severing its neck about a hands-breadth below its head.
He also killed with javelins or arrows wolves, hyenas, bears, lynxes,
leopards, panthers, tigers and lions. But when killing such dangerous and
ferocious animals he took his stand on a platform, the floor of which was
about three yards square and elevated about that distance above the sand,
constructed well out in the arena so that he could shoot down in any
direction on beasts rushing towards or past the platform or driven past it
or towards it. He slaughtered incredible multitudes of these creatures and
certainly displayed amazing strength and skill, habitually killing a lion
with one javelin, almost as often with one arrow, and the like for tigers;
and oftener for panthers and leopards. He never needed a second arrow to
finish a wolf or hyena or even a lynx. The marvellous accuracy of his aim,
the way he planted his arrow unerringly in the heart of a galloping wolf
scudding across the sand far from him; the way he drove a broad-bladed
hunting-spear clear through a huge shaggy bear, never failed to rouse my
wonder, even my admiration. [Footnote: See Note J.]
I do not recall any special feat of the Imperial beast-killer during the
summer and autumn of the year in which I had fooled Bulla and been
transferred from the stud-farm to the Choragium, which was the year in
which Crispinus and Aelian were consuls, the nine hundred and fortieth
year of the City, [Footnote: 187 A.D.] and the eighth of the Principate of
Commodus. But, when the season for spectacles in the arena opened with the
first warm, fair weather of the following spring, he returned to his
favorite sport with redoubled zest, amounting to a craze.
It was during the spring and early summer of this year that he began to
make huge wagers with wealthy senators, betting that he could kill a
specified number of a specified variety of animal with a specified number
of spears or arrows; always proposing so to limit himself as to number of
weapons that the exploit appeared impossible. The result was that
avaricious Midases were eager to wager, as they felt certain of winning.
Yet he never lost, not once.
And, after each wager made, or won, he made the next on a narrower margin
at smaller odds, until he struck the whole nobility numb by offering to
wager even money that he could kill one hundred full-grown male bears from
his usual platform with one hundred hunting spears, covenanting that he
was to lose if he needed one hundred and one spear-casts to lay out those
hundred bears limp, flabby and utterly dead. This appeared so utterly an
impossibility that Aufidius Fronto offered to put up two million sesterces
against him. The pompous sham philosopher, who feigned the profoundest
contempt for riches, could not resist what looked like enormous gains. He
made the wager, and Commodus won.
Now I cannot insist too positively on the amazing, the incredible strength
and skill and nerve required for this fatiguing and taxing feat. Any other
man I ever knew or heard of would have shown evidences of weariness long
before he had despatched his hundredth bear; would certainly have betrayed
the terrific strain on his nerves. Commodus was, apparently, as fresh, as
jaunty, as full of reserve strength, as far from being unsure of himself
when he finished the hundredth bear as when he drove his first spear into
Now it requires altogether exceptional strength so to cast even the best
design of hunting-spear, as keen as possible, as to drive it through the
matted pelt, thick hide and big bones of a bear; in so driving it, to aim
it so that it will pierce his heart calls for superhuman skill. And to
reiterate this feat ninety-nine times in succession argues a perfection of
eye, hand and nerve never possessed by any man save Commodus. Any other
man would have felt the strain, most men would have become so anxious
towards the end as to become agitated. He kept calm and cool.
I thoroughly enjoyed the discomfiture of Aufidius Fronto and relished his
futile efforts to appear indifferent to his money loss.
Not many days later Commodus made a similar and still more hazardous wager
with Didius Julianus, the most opulent and ostentatious of the senators,
who was afterwards nominally Emperor for two months and five days. This
wager covenanted that Commodus, from his platform in the arena, would
despatch one hundred full-grown male lions, in their prime and vigorous,
with one hundred javelins. On this arduous frivolity they wagered ten
million sesterces and had the actual gold, fifty thousand big, broad, gold
pieces, carried into the arena and piled up in a gleaming mound on a
monster crimson rug for all to behold. This bit of ostentation was like
Didius Julianus and not unnatural for Commodus. I have never seen any man
perform so easily so difficult a feat. Killing a lion with three javelins
requires very unusual strength and skill. To kill ten lions with forty
casts would tax the muscles, dexterity and nerves of the best spearman the
world ever knew. To kill a hundred lions with, barely one javelin apiece
was bravado to propose and miraculous to accomplish. Accomplish it he did
and without any visible effort or strain. Eighty-nine of the hundred lie
shot through the heart; the remaining eleven with difficult fancy shots
which he was, against all reason, tempted to essay, and which, against all
probability, uniformly were fully successful.
Didius Julianus paid his wager without any show of chagrin, as he could
well afford to do.
At once Commodus offered to bet that he could kill a hundred similar lions
with a bare hundred arrows. Didius at once wagered the same sum he had
just lost and the bet was made. The exhibition was delayed more than a
month until it had been possible to accumulate at Rome a full hundred
full-grown male lions. Then Commodus again shot in sight of a pile of gold
pieces on an expanse of crimson velvet spread on the sand of the arena.
Commodus won as before, with exactly the same number of heart shots and
fancy shots. If one miracle can be greater than another this feat
surpassed its predecessor. For a lion takes a great deal of killing before
he dies, and each of these hundred lions died as quickly as any lion ever
does. Instant killing of a lion with a javelin is a miracle, even more
miraculous is instant killing of a lion with one arrow. Commodus so killed
the full hundred.
I know of no more astounding demonstration of his infallible and
tremendous muscle power than the fact that, shooting at a lion fully
twenty yards away, and in the act of rearing rampantly at the beginning of
a bound, he sent his arrow into the roof of its mouth, through the brain,
the entire length of the spinal cord and so far that its point protruded
from the dead beast's rump above the root of its tail. Galen, who, as
often, was in the amphitheater in case of injury to the Prince, and who
was in the habit of dissecting such dead beasts as interested him, cut
along the path followed by the missile, cleaving the dead lion in two
lengthwise and laying the two halves hide downward on the sand, so as to
demonstrate to a bevy of curious and awed spectators the incredible path
of that arrow.
Commodus lived on miracles. Of all the thousands of darts, javelins and
spears which I saw him throw, of all the countless arrows I saw him shoot,
not one ever missed its mark, not one merely hit the beast aimed at,
everyone, even if launched at an ostrich skimming the sand or a gazelle,
struck deep and true precisely where he had aimed it.
As I am about to narrate the occurrence which put an end to the insensate
indulgence in beast-killing in which Commodus had revelled, I am reminded
that, besides his vilifiers, who assert that he publicly exhibited himself
as an ordinary beast-fighter, and his apologists, who maintain that he not
only did not do so, but never so much as drove a chariot in public or
spilt human blood with an edged weapon, there are others who, while not
retailing or inventing any fictions or attempting to blink or suppress any
facts, yet inveigh against Commodus as absurdly assuming the attributes of
Hercules while really a weakling and as pretending to powers which he
never possessed, as having been largely or wholly a counterfeit spearman,
a make-believe archer, a sham swordsman and a mock athlete.
Among other alleged proofs of these baseless contentions they cite the
ecstatic joy with which, to the limit of the supply gathered from all
parts of the African deserts, he day after day, on the sands of the arena,
delightedly clubbed ostriches, alleging that killing an ostrich with a
sword or club is child's play and no feat of skill. As to this particular
citation of vaunted evidence, as in their contentions at large, they are
egregiously mistaken and far from the facts and the truth.
Actually, for a lone man, on level ground, far from any shelter, an angry
full-grown young male ostrich is a formidable assailant and a dangerous
antagonist. No living creature that roves the surface of our earth moves
faster than a healthy ostrich. When running it skims the arena, when
attacking it darts. It kicks forward, raising its long and powerful leg
high in the air and bringing it down with a blow so swift that the eye
cannot follow it and so forcible that I have seen one such stroke smash
all together the collar-bone, shoulder-blade, upper arm-bone and half the
ribs on that side of its unfortunate victim, a big, agile, vigorous
Nubian, habituated to ostriches in their haunts. And, if the leg misses
its mark, as it very seldom does, the bird, as it hurls past its enemy,
pecks viciously at his face, its sturdy beak being capable of inflicting a
serious wound wherever it strikes, and often destroying an eye, its usual
To stand alone, far out in the arena, bare-headed, clad only in a
diaphanous silken tunic, armed only with a club no longer or thicker than
his forearm; so habited and armed to await the assault of an infuriated
bird so bulky, so swift, so agile and so powerful; to dodge jauntily, but
infallibly, both the stroke of the leg and the stab of the beak, and
invariably to bring his club down on the darting head and finish the bird
neatly with that one blow; this was equally a feat of self-confidence, of
dexterity, of agility and of strength. I hold no man justified in
condemning Commodus because he gloried in clubbing ostriches.
The incident I recall occurred when spring had already waned and was
merging into summer. The lower tiers of the Colosseum were well filled
with senators, nobles and other persons of sufficient importance to be
invited. None of the Vestals were present and their box was occupied by
Marcia and her intimates. There were enough spectators seated to give the
amphitheater an appearance of gaiety and vivacity almost as great as if it
had been filled by all classes of the populace. The weather was clear,
warm and sunny, with a light, soft breeze.
Commodus had exhibited his dexterity as an archer by shooting a great
number and great variety of small antelopes, each one of which he had
killed with a single arrow. Next he began clubbing ostriches and disposed
of a dozen or more. Altogether there were about fifty. It was
characteristic of Commodus that he was impatient of any delay between
different exhibitions when he was thus displaying his prowess. After the
ostriches he intended to mount his platform and shoot fifty or sixty
lions. In order to have them handy to begin on as soon as the last ostrich
was despatched he had commanded that those which were to be let out of
posterns should be disposed behind the doors and that some of the cages of
those which were to be liberated from cages should be hoisted from the
crypt and set ready in the arena. A full dozen of such cages had been set
out. I was not with the gang hoisting these cages and marshalling other
lions behind posterns, but was at the opposite end of the arena with a
smaller gang which was engaged in getting ready a score or more of tigers
which were to be let out after the lions and which were giving a great
deal of trouble.
Commodus was facing my end of the arena and so had his back to the lions
in their cages, which were about thirty yards from him. The liberated
ostriches did not seem to pay any attention to the caged lions and each,
as he was driven back towards Commodus by men with long hayforks, with
which they caught the birds' necks and held them off, turned furiously on
Commodus and charged him viciously. Each bird Commodus dodged with one
slight instantaneous and effortless movement; each bird fell dead at once,
neatly clubbed on the head.
As he clubbed the last ostrich I saw a lion step dazedly and tentatively
out of one of the cages. Of course, it was not intended that any of the
lions should be liberated until the Emperor had mounted his platform,
approved the bow selected for him or chosen one for himself, and similarly
inspected and approved as many arrows as he expected to need. It was
hardly possible that any cage-door came open by accident. I conjectured a
plot similar to that which I had seen fail when the piebald horse threw
himself and his fall and the wreck of the chariot he helped to draw failed
to cause the death of Palus the Charioteer.
The lion, once he was wholly out of his cage, sneaked forward his length
or more, crouched, and bounded towards Commodus. A shout of dismay, horror
and warning went up from the audience. Marcia shrieked and leapt to her
feet. Most of the spectators also stood up, the audience rising in a sort
of wave as it emitted its yell of consternation.
Commodus whirled round, saw the lion, stood and eyed him precisely as if
he had been a charging ostrich; appeared to measure the diminishing
distance, showed no sign of perturbation, crouched slightly, dodged as the
lion sprang at him; dodged so slightly that I was sure the lion had him,
but so effectively that no claw touched him; straightened up as the lion,
wholly in the air, shot past him; swung his short club and brought it down
on the lion's neck; and stood there, triumphant, by a lion stretched out
motionless on the sand, totally limp and unmistakably dead.
So did half her guests.
So did some of the older senators.
Commodus, not so much as noticing the perturbation of his guests, not even
Marcia, called out to the overseer in charge of the cages:
"Not a man of you dare move. Stand where you are."
The guards, a batch of whom were stationed at each postern by which the
attendants entered and left the arena, ran towards the Emperor. He ordered
them to summon all their fellows from all through the Colosseum and when
their chief officer approached him gave orders that they form a cordon
behind the cages and see to it that no man of those who had been getting
out the cages should escape.
While this was being done the spectators had reseated themselves, the
inanimate had been revived and even Marcia had recovered consciousness and
composure and, with her guests was as before their fright.
When all were in order Commodus ordered:
"Let out another lion!"
The overseer in charge of the cages and the officer of the guards
"Do as I tell you!" Commodus browbeat the overseer. To the officer he
"If I, with only a tunic and club, am not afraid of a lion charging me,
you and your men, in armor and with shields and swords ought not to be
afraid." "We are not," the officer declared, "we are concerned for you,
not for ourselves."
"Pooh!" said Commodus. "If I could kill the first handily when I was not
expecting him, I can kill all the rest the same way when I know what is
coming. A lion, by that sample, is as easy to dodge and club dead as an
ostrich or easier. Send me another."
Another was let out amid the dead silence of the dazed and astounded
spectators. Commodus killed the second as handily as the first.
Now I must say that no exploit recorded of any human being or traditional
of any legendary hero, outclasses as a feat of strength, coolness, courage
and perfect coordination of all the mental and physical faculties, this
act of Commodus' in killing two successive lions with a palm-wood club. A
charging lion is an object so terrifying as to chill the blood of a
distant onlooker. Very unusually good nerves and very exceptional self-
confidence are required to face with composure a portent which appears so
irresistible. And when the lion emits his tremendous roar and rises,
bodily, into the air in his mortal spring, mouth wide open, its crimson
cavern glaring, teeth gleaming, eyes blazing, mane erect, paws spread,
claws wide, the stoutest heart might well quail. Yet, after barely
escaping one lion, this foolhardy coxcomb, this vainglorious madcap,
joyously called for another and jauntily despatched him: whatever may be
said against Commodus as a man and an Emperor, as an athlete he believed
in himself and justified his belief.
He called for a third, in spite of Marcia's shrieks, gesturing to her to
sit down and keep still, and laughing up at her. But by this time Aemilus
Laetus, who was afterwards the last Prefect of the Praetorium to Commodus
and who was then an officer of the Guards, superior to the officer who had
protested, approached, saluted and spoke to the Emperor. Their conference
was conducted in tones too low to be overheard, but it was afterwards
reported, both by those who claimed to learn of it from Commodus and by
those who claimed to have been informed by Laetus, that he had urged upon
the Emperor that his personal importance to the Republic was too great for
him to risk himself so needlessly, and that Commodus had yielded to his
At any rate Commodus ordered arrested and bound the entire gang who had
been handling the lions' cages. He then walked up to them and enquired who
had let out that lion. When no one confessed to having been responsible
and several were accused by their fellows, the Emperor gave orders to lead
off all concerned, hale them not before the Palace court, nor the
commission in charge of prosecutions for offences against Imperial
Majesty, but before the regular public magistrate in charge of trials for
murder, assassination, poisoning, homicidal conspiracy and the like.
"Let him put the entire gang to the torture," the Emperor was reported as
ordering. "Let him prosecute his enquiry until he gets a confession
plainly naming the man who bribed the poor wretch who left that cage half-
fastened, or the man who bribed the man who forced him to do it, or the
whole chain of scoundrels, from the noble millionaire conspirators who
hatched the idea, through their rabble of go-betweens down to the fool who
hocussed that door-snap."
After the prisoners were marched off Commodus had the herald apologize for
the interruption of the entertainment, proclaim that it would now proceed
and request everyone to remain to enjoy it. Then he mounted his platform.
Yet this was his last exhibition of himself in the role of beast-slayer. I
conjecture that as the episode of the piebald horse enlightened him as to
the facilities for unobtrusive assassination afforded his enemies by his
public appearances as a charioteer, so this episode of the accidentally
liberated lion awakened him to the ease with which it might be arranged,
whenever he entered the arena as a beast-slayer, that some monster might
be loosed at him rather than for him. At any rate he never again took his
stand in the arena for his long idolized sport. Beast-slaying he
Of course it was not by any means at once that we in the Choragium
realized that the Emperor had abandoned his vagary. We knew only that we
were suddenly unemployed and were merely glad of the respite and then
uneasy at the change. I had time to reflect how marvellous had been my
luck. Commodus himself had three several times asked me questions about my
ability to control beasts; Galen had many times stood by me or passed near
me, often with his eyes apparently meeting mine. Satronius Satro had stood
and gazed at me, not three yards away. A score of other senators, all of
whom had known me in the days of my prosperity, had been as near me, and
noblemen to the number of something like a hundred. Not one of these had
If I escaped recognition it was, I conjectured, because of the deep-seated
habit of mind of noblemen and more exalted personages and of men, like
Galen, who have risen to a station in life which places them on an
equality with nobles; the habit of mind which makes them regard a slave
not as a human being, to be looked at as an individual, as they look at an
equal or any freeman, but as a mere object like a door, or gate or piece
of statuary or of furniture or a sort of utensil. Such men look full at a
slave, if unknown to them, without really perceiving him. From this cause,
I conceive, I escaped recognition, detection, and annihilation.
Much less than a month after the episode of Commodus and the two lions I
was reading in my quarters, when the slave detailed as my personal servant
entered and, cringing, said that there was a gentleman who wanted to see
me. I gazed at him severely and said:
"I think you are mistaken. Please remember what the procurator told you
about persons desiring to intrude on me."
The fellow fairly cowered, visibly sweating and trembling, but insisted:
"I really think that you really will be glad to see this gentleman."
I perceived that some unusual enticement must have been offered the
pitiful wretch to induce him to brave the terrors of the punishments with
which the procurator had threatened him if he allowed any would-be
visitors to reach me. It also appeared to me that the fellow was fond of
me and had the best of intentions.
"Show the gentleman up," I finally said.
He had been gone but a very short time when the door opened and in
He shut the door fast and, without a word, we were clasped in a close
When our emotions quieted sufficiently I pressed Tanno into a chair and
resumed mine. We gazed at each other some time before either mastered
himself enough for words. Tanno spoke first, veiling his feelings beneath
his habitual jocularity. He said:
"Caius, you are certainly unkillable or bear a charmed life. You have been
officially certified as dead two several times. First you were butchered
by the Praetorians at Ortona, then you were assassinated by a disgruntled
public-slave in the Umbrian Mountains: after two demises here you are, as
alive as possible. Please explain."
"I feel faint," I said, "and, illogically, both thirsty and hungry."
I signalled for my servitor and, almost at once, he brought plenty of the
Choragium's more than passable wine, fresh bread and a variety of cold
viands. A draught of wine and a mouthful of bread and ham made me feel
myself. Then I told about my close shaves when I three several times
barely escaped assassination at the hands of partizans of Bulla, about the
kindness of the _Villicus_ and procurator and why I had changed my name.
"Why didn't you send at least a tiny note to Vedia and let her know you
were alive after all?" he queried.
"I have lain awake night after night," I replied, "composing letters to
Vedia and to you, letters which would tell you what I wanted if, by good
luck, they came into your hands, but which, if they fell into the hands of
secret-service agents, would tell nothing and not so much as arouse enough
suspicion to cause them to investigate me and take a look at me. I could
not frame, to my satisfaction, even one such letter. I knew that any
messenger I employed would most likely post off to some Imperial spy and
show him my letter before he took it to its destination or instead of
delivering it. I canvassed every possible messenger, from my personal
servitor here in the Choragium, through all the slaves I knew here or in
the Colosseum who are free to run about the city, up to every sort of
street-gamin, idler, loafer, sycophant and what not. I could not think of
any kind of messenger who would be safe, nor of any letter which would not
be dangerous. Much as I wanted to apprise Vedia of my survival I could not
but feel that any attempt on my part to communicate with her or with you
would lead straight to betrayal, detection, recognition and the death from
which Agathemer saved me."
"I believe you were right," Tanno agreed. "It has all come out for the
best. You are alive and unsuspected and I have found you."
"How did you find me?" I queried.
"Galen," he said, to my astonishment, "told me that you were sheltered in
the Choragium, cloaked under the style and title of Festus the Beast-
Tamer. He said he recognized you last fall, but did not judge it wise to
give me or Vedia so much as a hint as long as you were busy in the arena
in full view of all Rome on festival days and under the eyes of our entire
nobility during our Prince's exhibitions of himself as Hercules Delirans.
When Commodus abruptly realized that beast-killing might not suit his
health because of the opportunities it gave for accidentally letting lions
or tigers or what not out of their cages at unexpected moments, since he
was not likely to revert to his renounced sport and you were not likely to
be so much in demand and therefore less likely to be much under
observation, Galen thought it safe to tell me. He says he has always
believed that you had nothing to do with Egnatius Capito's conspiracy, had
merely been seen by some secret-service agent while talking to Capito,
never were a member of his conspiracy, never conspired against Commodus,
never were disloyal, have never been and are not any danger to our Prince,
and therefore are a man to be shielded rather than informed on. So he kept
his face when he recognized you in the arena masquerading as Festus and
kept his counsel till he judged the time ripe to tell me.
"I at once told Vedia, in person and privately. She is overjoyed, and,
just as her encounter with you on the Flaminian Road not only stopped her
proposed marriage to Orensius Pacullus, but made her feel she never wanted
to hear of him again, so your resurrection and reappearance now has
spoiled an apparently prosperous wooing of her by Flavius Clemens, who is
as good a fellow as lives; noble, rich, handsome, charming and just such a
suitor as Vedia might and should have married if you were really dead, and
one she could not, in any case, help flirting with. She must have
admiration, attention and admirers. With all her love of gaiety she loves
"I infer," I said, "that she told you of our encounter on the Flaminian
"She did," he answered, "and gave me a full report of your story of your
adventures from Plosurnia's Tavern till she saw you. As soon as we
conferred we both started to use all our influence and any amount of cash
necessary (we both have cash to spare, hoards of it) to arrange for your
legal manumission by the _fiscus_, your disappearance, and your comfort in
some secure shelter until it might be safe for you to reappear as yourself
in your proper station in society.
"We found we should have no difficulty in arranging for your manumission.
It has already been favorably reported on the recommendation of the
authorities of Nuceria. We had only to slip a small bribe or two to
expedite matters. But when we sent off a dependable agent, armed with all
the necessary papers, to set you free from your captivity on the Imperial
estate, and provide you with plenty of cash to make everything smooth for
your disappearance, he was confronted with a most circumstantial story of
your assassination and burial, with the official reports of both and the
affirmation of an upper inspector who had investigated the matter.
"We could not but think you dead in fact and Vedia was as heartbroken as
five years ago, if not more so, for the glamour of that romantic encounter
with you was magical. I believed you dead and was astounded when Galen
gave me his information. Vedia is as amazed as I."
After some mutual desultory chat he fell to questioning me about my
adventures and, drinking and eating when the humor took us, we spent most
of the day together, I rehearsing for him all that I had told Vedia and
much more in detail and also telling of all which had befallen me since
When Tanno left, it was as late as he could possibly remain and yet reach
the Baths of Titus in time for the briefest bath there.
Next day he came again.
By this time both he and I had had time to think over the situation and to
arrive at definite conclusions as to what was best to do. I was delighted
to find that his ideas and mine agreed as to all essentials.
When he first came in he said:
"I had mighty little sleep last night. I could hardly close my eyes for
thinking over your marvellous adventures. The more I ponder over them the
more wonderful they seem; especially your involvement with Maternus; your
encounter with Pescennius Niger; your presence in the Circus Maximus when
Commodus:--I mean Palus:--drove his car over the axles of the stalled
chariots and escaped between them out of the smash and wreckage; your
involvement with the mutineers, and your safety in Rome all these months,
even in the arena of the amphitheater. I congratulate you."
Then he told me his plan which he had already talked over with Vedia and
which she approved. There happened to be in Rome a distinguished and
wealthy provincial of senatorial rank, about to leave for Africa, where
his estates were situated and where he owned vast properties near
Carthage, Hippo Regius, Hadrumetum, Lambaesis and Thysdrus, in all of
which places he had residences of palatial proportions and luxury. He had
been making enquiries among his acquaintances for a slave much of the sort
Agathemer had been to me. He had not found one to suit him. Tanno thought
that I would suit him and could easily pass myself off as the sort of man
he wanted. Then I would get out of Rome unsuspected and be comfortable and
well treated in the most Italian of all our out-provinces, in a delightful
climate, amid abundance of all the good things of life.
I agreed with him.
Then he disclosed his plan for bringing this about. By influence or
bribing or both he would arrange to have me sold out of the Choragium,
ostensibly as now superfluous there, and to have me bought from the
_fiscus_ by a dependable and close-mouthed go-between buyer, who would
agree to hold me for quick resale to a purchaser designated by Tanno. Thus
Nonius Libo, the wealthy provincial who was to be induced to purchase me,
would know nothing of my identity with Festus the Animal Tamer or of my
connection with the Choragium.
I acclaimed this project, as far more promising than Vedia's plan to
seclude me in the dreary wilds of Bruttium.
Tanno gave me a letter and went off. I found the missive a long and loving
letter from Vedia: one to soothe and transport any lover.
Tanno had said that he would not visit me again except as was absolutely
needful, considering it reckless and venturesome to run the risk of some
Imperial spy noticing his visits to the Choragium and making
investigations. Though he remarked that no man in Rome seemed less likely
than he to be suspected of disloyalty, intrigue or of being a danger to
Within a very few days he paid me one more visit to inform me that
everything had gone well, that all necessary arrangements had been made
for my sale by the _fiscus_ out of the Choragium, and all necessary
preparations made to take full advantage of it.
A few days later I was formally sold for cash to a provincial slave-
dealer, named Olynthides. In a slave-barrack which he had hired for the
month only I found myself with a motley crew, but kept apart from them and
comfortably lodged, well fed and considerately treated, as valuable
The day after Olynthides had bought me Nonius Libo came to inspect me. He
talked to me in Latin and in Greek, commended my fluency and polish in the
use of both, had me write out a letter in each at his dictation, read both
and commended my accuracy, script and speed; questioned me about the
history of music, painting, and sculpture and as to my opinions on the
works of various sculptors, painters, architects and composers; asked
about my tastes along these lines and as to jewelry, fine furniture,
tapestries, carpets and the like; also as to my personal tastes concerning
lodging, bathing, hunting, food and clothing and was I a good sailor and
fond of the sea; and stated that I suited him.
I was not present at his chaffering with Olynthides but, after no long
interval I was summoned into the courtyard and Olynthides handed me over
to Nonius Libo, along with a bill of sale.
Olynthides had said to me:
"I make it a point always to forget the names of the slaves I buy for cash
without any guarantees and resell the same way. I have as bad a memory for
names as any man alive and I help my bad memory to be as much worse as I
can. I'll forget your name in a few days. I am not sure I remember it now.
What is it?"
I was ready for him, for I had made up my mind to change my name again and
had selected my new name.
"Phorbas" I answered.
"Oh, yes!" he ruminated, "Phorbas, to be sure. I should have said Florus
or Foslius or something like that. Phorbas! I'll remember Phorbas till
after you are sold and the cash in my hands and you and your new master
out of sight. Then I'll forget that too, like all the rest."
As Phorbas, Phorbas the Art Connoisseur, I began my life with Nonius. He
was domiciled in a palace of a residence on the Carinae, which he had
leased for the short term of his proposed stay in Rome. There I was lodged
in a really magnificent apartment, with a private bath, a luxurious
bedroom, a smaller bedroom for the slave detailed to wait on me, a tiny
_triclinium_ and a jewel of a sitting-room, gorgeous with statuettes and
paintings, crammed with objects of art and walled with a virtuoso's
selection of the best books of the best possible materials and
There I spent some happy days. Nonius had told me I might go out all I
pleased. I had replied that I preferred to remain indoors until we set out
for Carthage. He smiled, nodded and said:
"I understand: do as you like."
I passed my time most agreeably, except for several intrusions by Libo's
wife, Rufia Clatenna. She was a tall, raw-boned, lean woman, with
unmanageable hair which would not stay crimped, a hatchet face, too much
nose and too little chin, a stringy neck, very large, red, knuckly hands
and big flat feet. She had a mania for economy and close bargains, seemed
to regard her husband as an easy mark for swindlers and to be certain that
he had been cheated when he bought me. She thought herself an art-expert,
whereas she had no sound knowledge of any branch of art, no memory for
what she had heard and seen, and no taste whatever. To demonstrate that
her husband had made a bad bargain when he bought me she bored me with
endless questions concerning the contents of her domicile, of which she
understood almost nothing, and concerning famous composers, painters,
sculptors and architects, as to whom she confused the few names, dates and
works she thought she knew about.
Nonius came on us in his atrium while she was putting me through a
questionnaire on every statue, painting and carving in it. The first time
he saw me alone he said, smiling:
"You mustn't mind her; I put up with her, you can, too."
When he came into my apartment and told me he meant to set off from Rome
next day, I ventured to express my puzzlement that he had bought me and
never mentioned to me, since I came into his possession, any of the
subjects on which he had questioned me and for knowledge of which he had,
presumably, wanted me.
"Oh," he said, "I didn't buy you for myself. I know very little about art
and music and am no connoisseur at all. I bought you for my cousin
Pomponius Falco. He is as much interested in such matters as any man in
Africa. He is richer than I and you'll find him the best possible master.
He'll be at Carthage when we get there and I'll resell you to him soon
after we land."
Nonius and Clatenna had no children, but doted on her sister's son, a lad
of not much over twenty, lean as his aunt, but small boned and not
unshapely. He was not, however, handsome, for he had a pasty, grayish
complexion, thin lank hair, almost no beard, and a long nose suggesting a
proboscis. His name was Rufius Libo, and he was Nonius Libo's heir. In his
favor Nonius made a will a few days before we left Rome, leaving him his
entire estate except a jointure to Clatenna, endowments to some municipal
institutions in his home towns, legacies to various friends and
manumission to faithful slaves. Of this will he had several duplicates
made and properly witnessed and sealed. One of these he left on deposit in
Rome; another he despatched to Carthage by a special messenger by way of
Rhegium, Messana, the length of Sicily to Lilybaeum and thence by sea to
Carthage; and he gave one each to Clatenna and to Rufius.
When he gave orders for the despatch of the copy of his will by the
special messenger I was astonished, as I assumed that we were to travel by
the same route. But I found that he meant to sail all the way from the
Tiberside water-front of Rome to Carthage. This amazed me. And not
unnaturally. For we Romans generally dislike or even abhor the sea and
sail it as little as possible, making our journeys as much as we can by
land and as little as may be by water, choosing any detour by land which
will shorten what crossings of the sea cannot be avoided.
Among the few Romans whom I have known who enjoy sea voyages I count
myself. Of all of them Nonius outclassed the rest. He worshiped the water
and was happiest when afloat and well out to sea. He told me that he had
spent more money on his private yacht than on any of his residences, and,
when I saw her, I believed him. A larger, better designed, better
equipped, better manned, better supplied, better appointed private yacht I
never beheld. His rowers kept perfect time and made top speed all down the
Tiber, her crew set sail like man-of-warsmen, her officers were pattern
seamen and got the very most speed on their way from every condition of
wind and weather. Rufius and Clatenna, while not as good sailors as Nonius
and I, were notably good sailors and we had a very pleasant voyage until
we were almost in sight of Carthage. Then we encountered a really terrific
Now I am not going into any details of our disaster. I do not know whether
all writers of memoirs get shipwrecked or all survivors of shipwrecks
write reminiscences, but I am certain that of all the countless memoirs I
have read in the course of my life, ninety-nine out of every hundred
contained one or more accounts of shipwrecks, narrated with the minutest
detail and dwelling on the horrors, agonies, miseries, fears, discomforts
and uncertainties of the survivors and narrators with every circumstance
calculated to harrow up their readers' feelings. I could write a similar
meticulous narrative of my only shipwreck, and it was sufficiently
uncomfortable, terrifying, ghastly and hideous to glut a reader as greedy
of horrors as could be, but I am going to pass over it as lightly as
possible and summarize it as briefly as I may.
Suffice it to set down here that we were not driven on any rock or reef or
shoal nor did we collide with any other ship. Laboring heavily in the open
sea, straining on the crests and wallowing in the troughs of the
stupendous billows, the yacht, even as carefully built a yacht as Libo's,
began to leak appallingly, the inrush of the water surpassed the utmost
capacity of the pumps and the most frantic efforts of the men at them; the
vessel settled lower and lower, labored more and more heavily and was
manifestly about to founder.
The officers were capable men, the small boats sturdy and their crews and
steersmen skillful and confident. Clatenna was brave and Libo magnificent.
He kept his head, dominated his officers, and insisted that Rufius and I
should embark in a different boat from that to which he and Clatenna
trusted themselves. He personally saw to it that Clatenna and Rufius had,
on their persons, each their copy of his will.
Both boats were successfully launched, and, as we drew away from the
doomed ship, we saw a third and fourth put off with other valued members
of his household. While a fifth and sixth were being swung overboard we
saw, from the top of a huge swell, the yacht go under and vanish; saw,
when we next rose on the chine of a billow, the water dotted with spars,
wreckage and swimmers; saw, five or six times more, the three other boats:
and then many times, high on a vast wave, beheld only the waste of
lifeless waters, without boat or swimmer.
All night we floated and, not long after sunrise, we were seen and rescued
by a trading ship from Carales in Sardinia, bound for Carthage.
At Carthage we were soon in the palace formerly Libo's and now the
property of Rufius. He, on succeeding to his uncle's estate, at once
rewarded with a huge donation the steersman of the boat in which we had
been saved, saying that the other steersmen did their best, but that, if
the others had been as dexterous as he, his aunt and uncle would not have
perished by so deplorable and so untimely a death.
Within a few days he, now my owner by inheritance, sold me to Pomponius
Falco, as Nonius had intended to do himself.
Falco liked me at first sight and I him. He was a man between thirty-five
and forty years of age, a natural born bachelor and art connoisseur. He
was of medium height, of stout build, with curly black hair and a curly
black beard, a swarthy complexion, a bullet head, a bull neck, a huge
chest and plump arms and legs. He was by no means unhandsome in appearance
and very jovial, good-humored, and good-natured; manifestly fond of ail
the good things of life and able to discriminate and appreciate the best.
For several days after I came into his possession I was his dearest toy.
He spent most of his waking hours conversing with me about music and
musicians, poetry and poets, literature and authors, paintings and
painters, statuary and sculptors, architecture and architects, gems,
ivories, embroideries, textiles, furniture, pottery and even autographs
and autograph collecting. He seemed to appraise me an expert on all such
lines and to be well pleased with his purchase.
Certainly I was as well clothed, fed, lodged and attended as if I had been
Before he had owned me many days Falco said to me:
"Phorbas, I've been puzzling about you. You are a slave and you were sold
to poor Libo and by Rufius to me as a Greek. Yet you have none of the
appearance nor behavior of a Greek nor yet of a slave. You look and act
and talk like a freeman born and a full-blooded Roman, and a noble at
that. Please explain."
Now, of course, in imagining all the forms in which I might be assaulted
by the perils which beset me, I had foreseen just such a query as this
utterance of Falco's involved and I had pondered and rehearsed my answer.
I realized that I must be ready with a reply wholly plausible because
entirely consonant with the facts of our social life, as they existed, so
that no one could take any exception to it. I thought I had framed such a
"You know how it is," I answered easily. "A Roman master buys a young and
comely Greek handmaid. In due course she has a daughter, legally also a
slave and nominally a Greek, yet half Roman. When she is grown, if she
happens to be comely and the property of a master like most masters, she
has a daughter, a slave and spoken of as a Greek, yet only a quarter
Greek. If she has a similar daughter, that daughter, a slave and called a
Greek, is only one-eighth Greek. I conceive, from all I know, that my
great grandmother, grandmother and mother were such slave women. I, a
slave and ostensibly a Greek, am fifteen-sixteenths Roman noble, by
ancestry, according to my reckoning. No wonder my descent shows in my
bearing, manner and conversation."
This answer was, actually, not so far from the facts, my mother,
grandmother and great-grandmother had, certainly, been Roman noblewomen,
daughters indeed, each of one of the oldest and longest-lineaged houses of
our nobility; and, like my father, grandfather and great-grandfather, my
great-great-grandfather had been a Roman nobleman. But his father, my
great-great-great-grandfather, had been a freed-man, manumitted in the
days of Nero, acquiring great wealth, attaining equestrian rank during the
last years of Nero's reign, and vastly enriched during the confusion of
the civil wars, marrying a young and wealthy widow after Vespasian was
firmly established at Rome by the crushing of the insurrection of Claudius
Probably the general consonance of my answer with the facts made my
utterance of it more convincing. Certainly it appealed to Falco.
"Just about what I conjectured," he said, smiling. "And will you tell me
in what part of Italy and on what estate you were born and how you came by
your air of aristocratic culture and by your marvellous dilettantism?"
"I know what I know and am what I am," I replied, "because I was, from
childhood, treated just as if a son instead of a slave; pampered, indulged
and made much of. That lasted till I was more than full-grown.
"The misfortunes of the family to which I belonged came so suddenly that I
was not manumitted, as I should have been had my master had so much as a
day's warning of his downfall. I was sold to a fool and a brute, as you
have probably inferred from my back. The marks of his barbarity which I
bear, and my lasting grief for the calamity of the household in which I
was born, make me unwilling to tell you anything of my past previous to my
purchase from Olynthides by Nonius Libo."
"Well," he said, "your feeling is natural and I shall not urge my
curiosity on you. I mean to indulge you and even pamper you; mean to
endeavor to indulge you and pamper you so you will feel more indulged and
pampered than ever in your life, I'll make a new will, at once, leaving
you your freedom and a handsome property. I expect to live out a long
life, all my kin have been healthy and long-lived. But one can never be
certain of living and I mean to run no risks of your having any more
troubles. You deserve ease and comfort. And you shall have them if I can
arrange it. I love you like a born brother and mean to treat you as well
as if you were my twin."
The year in which Commodus killed the two lions, each with one blow of his
trifling-looking little palm-wood club, in which year I was sold out of
the Choragium, and purchased by Nonius, in which I crossed the sea, was
wrecked and saved and resold to Falco, was the nine hundred and forty-
first year of the City [Footnote: 188 A.D.] and the ninth of the reign of
Commodus, the year in which the consuls were Allius Fuscianus and Duillius
Silanus, each for the second time. In Africa, with Falco, I spent that and
the following year very comfortably and happily, for I was as well
clothed, fed, lodged and tended as Falco himself. I liked him, even loved
him, and I felt perfectly safe.
The climate of Africa agreed with me, and I liked the fare, especially the
many kinds of fruit which we seldom see in Rome and then not in their best
condition, and some of which we never see in Italy at all. I admired the
scenery, and I delighted in the cities, not only Carthage and Utica, but
both Hippo Regius and Hippo Diarrhytus, and also Hadrumetum, Tacape, Cirta
and Theveste, and even such mere towns as Lambaesis and Thysdrus, which
last has an amphitheater second only to the Colosseum itself. They all had
fine amphitheaters, magnificent circuses, gorgeous theaters and sumptuous
public hot baths. Not one but had a fine library, a creditable public
picture-gallery, and many noble groups of statuary, with countless fine
statues adorning the public buildings, streets and parks. The society of
all these places was delightfully cultured, easy and unaffected. I
revelled in it and could not have been happier except that I never heard
from Vedia or Tanno, let alone had a letter from either. And I wrote to
both and sent off letter after letter to one or the other. For it seemed
to me that a letter in this form could not excite any suspicion.
"Phorbas gives greeting to Opsitius, and informs him that after he had
been sold by Olynthides to Nonius Libo, he survived the sinking of his
owner's yacht and was sold by Libo's heir to Pomponius Falco, in whose
retinue he now is. Farewell."
I sent off, at least once a season, a letter like this to both Tanno and
Vedia. No word from either ever reached me. I could but conjecture that
all my letters had miscarried.
Meanwhile, besides being reminded of it each time I wrote to Tanno or
Vedia, I did not forget that I was a proscribed fugitive, my life forfeit
if I were detected. I conceived that my best disguise was to dress, act
and talk as much as possible in the character of dilettante art expert and
music-lover, which I had assumed. Falco treated me, as he had prophesied,
almost as a brother. I had a luxurious apartment in each of his town
residences and country villas, and a retinue of servants: valet, bath-
attendant, room-keeper, masseur, reader, messenger, runner and a litter
with three shifts of powerful bearers. Everything Falco could think of in
the way of clothing, furniture and art objects was showered on me and my
slightest hint of a wish was quickly gratified. Also Falco supplied me a
lavish allowance of cash. Therefore I could gratify any whim. Besides, my
amulet-bag was intact and had in it all the gems which Agathemer had
originally placed there, except only the emerald Bulla had sold for me.
I thought up everything I could do to make myself look completely a Greek
virtuoso and as un-Roman-looking as possible. I patronized every
complexion-specialist, friseur, perukier, manicurist and fashionable
barber in that part of the world. I bought every hair tonic for sale in
the colony. Between lotions and expert manipulation I succeeded in growing
a thick curly beard, covering my chest as far as the lower end of my
breast-bone and a thick head of hair so long that, even when elaborately
frizzed and curled, my oiled and scented locks fell as far down my back as
my beard spread on my bosom. Nothing could have made me look more
Corinthian and less Roman.
I wore the gaudiest clothing I could find; tunics and cloaks of pure silk
and of the brightest or most effeminate hues; crimson, emerald-green,
peacock-green, grass-green, apple-green, sea-green, sapphire-blue, sky-
blue, turquoise-blue, saffron, orange, amethystine, violet and any and
every unusual tint; boots of glazed kidskin or of dull finish soft skin,
of hues like my silk garments, always with the edges of the soles heavily
gilded. And, for my shoes as well as for my garments, I chose particolored
materials with the most startling or languorous combinations of unusual
dyes. All my boots and shoes were embroidered in silver thread or gold
thread, all my outer garments embroidered in crimson, deep green, deep
blue, gold or silver, in big, striking, conspicuous patterns. I had
elephants, lions, antelopes, horses, cattle, sheep, stags, goats, storks,
cranes, even fish embroidered on my outer garments amid trees, vines, and
flowers; roses, lilies, violets, poppies and others uncountable. I spent
on such gewgaws a considerable part of my allowance, yet never exhausted
Falco's lavish provision for me.
I also went in for jewelry, loading my fingers with flashy rings, wearing
bracelets on both wrists, two or three on each, always two necklaces and
even earrings, for which I had my ears pierced, like a Lydian.
When I conned myself in my dressing-room mirror, arrayed in such a
superfluity of decorations and fripperies, I felt sure that no one would
take me for a Roman.
In these apparently natural vanities and vagaries Falco humored me,
enquiring of his friends concerning friseurs of acclaimed reputation,
buying me any gaudy fabrics he saw, also presenting me with caskets of
necklaces, amulets, bracelets, finger-rings and earrings. He rallied me on
my oriental tastes, but aided me to gratify them.
He even came to feel his interest in jewelry and gems enhanced by my fad
for them. He took to purchasing antiques in jewelry and rare and unusual
gems and his hoard grew into a notable collection.
By the end of my second winter with Falco I had come to know intimately
all his town and country palaces and all his dilettanti friends and had
enjoyed to the full the many delights of the colony, not only its climate
and fruits, its scenery and cities, its statuary and pictures, its
libraries and public-baths, but its excellent performances of tragedies
and comedies, and its spectacles creditable, not only as to chariot-racing
but also as to beast-fights and exhibitions of gladiators. I found life in
Africa extremely agreeable and looked forward to any length of it with
I may remark that during this time Cleander came to the end of his period
of unlimited wealth, power and misrule. I was thus out of Rome at the time
of his downfall and death and while the Praetorium had a score of Prefects
in rapid succession.
In the spring of the nine hundred and forty-third year of the city,
[Footnote: A.D. 190.] and the eleventh of the reign of Commodus, the year
in which he was nominally consul for the sixth time, along with Petronius
Septimianus, Falco startled me, while we were dining alone together, as
Agathemer and I had used to dine together, by saying:
"Phorbas, you talk of Rome differently from any other man I ever heard
talk of it. I have meditated over the quality of what you say of Rome, but
I cannot analyze it or describe it accurately. Yet I may say that others
talk of Rome as holy ground, but you alone make me feel that the soil
inside the Pomoerium is holy ground: others talk of the grandeur of Rome;
you make me realize its grandeur: others prate of their love for Rome:
you, saying little, make me tingle with a subtly communicated sense of how
you love Rome: others babble of how life away from Rome is not life, but
merely existence; of how any dwelling out of Rome is exile, of how they
long for Rome; you, by some sorcery, make me not only feel how you long
for Rome, but have awakened in me a longing for Rome. I have never been
out of this colony of Africa, not even into Mauretania. A man as rich as I
and of equestrian rank can afford to travel, to visit all the interesting
parts of the Empire, to live where he likes, anywhere in Italy or even in
"I have never wanted to leave this colony: I love every bit of it and
especially my residences and estates. I have been satisfied here. When my
friends argued with me and tried to persuade me to travel and especially
to visit Rome, I never was convinced by their arguments. I have a dread of
sea-voyaging, a dread accentuated by the death of poor Libo. who was an
enthusiastic voyager and had a yacht as staunch and a crew as capable as
skill could produce, money buy and judgment collect. Yet he perished. I
did not need the warning of his fate to keep me ashore. Then again, I
prefer to be a big frog in a small pond to being a small frog in a big
pond, I am one of the most important men in this colony and, here in
Africa, I am always somebody. In Rome I should be nobody.
"Yet, without my realizing it and later against my will, your
conversation, in some subtle way, has so infected me with the desire to
see Rome that I am going to brave the terrors of the seas, am going to
sink myself into insignificance among the scores of richer and more
influential men who cluster about Caesar. I am even going to put at the
mercy of the sea my precious collection of gems, which I now value more
than you and myself together and twice over.
"I have made all my arrangements. I have put my affairs in order, made
sure that my estates will be properly managed in my absence, bought the
best yacht to be had in the harbor of Carthage, and that is saying a great
deal for its excellence, and I have ordered coffers in which to pack my
"Prepare to accompany me; within ten days we set off for Rome."
I knew Falco. Easy-going as he was, when he had taken a notion to buy and
indulge a connoisseur-slave, collect gems or visit Rome, opposition,
arguments, artfulness or stratagems were alike useless. I resigned myself
to my fate.
I meditated over this fifth fulfillment of the prophecy of the Aemilian
Since I had been with Falco and practically a free and rich man, I had
made handsome sacrifices at Mercury's Temples in all the cities we visited
which had temples to Mercury. The morning after Falco announced his
intentions to go to Rome I went out alone and unattended; myself, in the
market place of Carthage, bought two white hens; myself carried them to
the Temple of Mercury and myself had them offered to the god.
We had no bad weather on our voyage to Rome nor any adventure. The day
before we sailed I had conned my image in the mirror in my dressing-room
and had comforted myself with the decision that no human creature could
conceivably suspect of being a Roman this full-bearded, longhaired, long-
nailed, frizzed, curled, oiled, perfumed, gaudy, tawdry, bedizened,
bejeweled, powdered, rouged, painted popinjay.
I laid in an extra supply of nail-polish, nail-tint, rouge, face-paint,
blackening for painting eyebrows and eyelashes, and of perfumery,
cosmetics, unguents and such like. If I were sufficiently whitened,
reddened, rouged, and painted I hoped I should be well enough disguised to
face Gratillus or even Flavius Clemens without a qualm. Actually my
bizarre and fantastic appearance was an almost complete protection to me.
And I needed protection. For Falco was related to many prominent families
and men in Rome; for instance, he was a cousin of Senator Sosius Falco,
who was consul two years later. He was introduced widely and at once and
invited everywhere. I was constantly in attendance on him.
My experiences during my long stay at Rome with Falco were, in truth,
amazing. He bought a fine palace on the Esquiline, near the Baths of
Titus, furnished it lavishly, entertained magnificently and revelled in
the life of Rome. At first I was busy showing him the chief sights of the
City, then the minor sights, then coaching him in the niceties of social
usages, then convoying him on the round of all notable sculptures, picture
galleries, private collections of pictures or statuary, famous museums,
repositories of all kinds of art objects and, especially, the gem
collections, both private and public, particularly the large exhibit in
the temple of Venus Genetrix, placed there by the Divine Julius, and the
smaller exhibit in the temple of Apollo on the Palatine, donated by
Octavia's son, Marcellus.
Later he divided his time between giving dinners and going out to dinners
and haunting the houses of gem collectors and the shops of jewelers.
He began visiting jewelers' shops, to be sure, within a few days of our
arrival in Rome. We had not been there ten days, in fact, when he made me
conduct him to the Porticus Margaritaria, on the Via Sacra, near the great
Forum, which was and is the focus of pearl dealers and gem dealers in
general in Rome.
There we entered several shops and, at last, I could not keep him out of
that of Orontides, who had known me perfectly. His was unique among shops
in Rome and probably was the largest and most splendid jewelry shop in all
the world: more like a small temple of Hercules or a temple-treasury than
a shop. It was not in the Pearl-Dealers' Arcade, where only small, square,
usual shops were possible, but adjacent to it and entered from the Via
Sacra. It was circular, with a door of cast bronze, beautifully ornamented
with reliefs of pearl-divers, tritons, nereids and other marine subjects.
Inside its dome-shaped roof was lined with an intricate mosaic of bits of
glass as brilliant as rubies, emeralds and sapphires, or as gold and
silver. The roof rested on a circular entablature with a very ornate
cornice, under which was a frieze ornamented with reliefs, representing
winged cupids working as gem-cutters and polishers, as chasers of salvers
and goblets, and as goldsmiths and silversmiths. The architrave was as
ornate as the cornice. The entablature was supported by eight Ionic
columns of the slenderest and most delicate type, of dark yellow Numidian
marble, while the lining of the wall-spaces was of the lighter yellow
Mauretanian marble. Of the eight wall-spaces one was occupied by the
doorway, over which was a bronze group representing a combat of two
centaurs. On either side of the door was a wall-space ennobled by a niche
with a life-size, bronze statue, one of Orontides' father, the other of
his grandfather, both of whom had been distinguished gem-dealers at
Antioch. Two more wall-spaces were occupied by ample windows, not of open
lattices, but glazed with almost crystalline glass set in bronze, a form
of window seldom seen except in great temples, the Imperial Palace, and
the residences of the most opulent senators and noblemen.
The three wall-spaces behind the counter were filled from column to column
with tiers of superposed recesses, in size like the urn niches of a burial
columbarium, but each closed with a door of cornel-wood carved and
polished, behind which doors Orontides kept his precious merchandise.
The counter divided the shop across from window to window. It had in the
middle a narrow wicket through which Orontides and his assistants could
crawl in and out. Otherwise the outer face of the counter was of two
blocks of Numidian marble, carved in patterns of twining vines; its top
was of one long slab of the exquisitely delicate white marble from Luna.
On it lay always squares of velvet, in color dark blue, black, dark green,
and crimson, on which were admirably displayed his goldsmith work and
Below the panels about each statued niche was a curved seat of Numidian
marble amply large for four persons at once, so that eight prospective
customers could sit and wait while as many stood at the counter; and,
according to my recollection of the shop in the days of my prosperity, a
shop crowded with customers was the rule rather than the exception with
It was crowded when we entered. I, endeavoring to conserve a natural
demeanor, felt my sight blur. I saw, as we entered, only a row of backs of
customers standing at the counter: three in noblemen's togas, one in the
toga of a senator, their fulldress boots conspicuously red beneath their
robes; four in the silken garments of wealthy ladies, all in pale soft
hues of exquisite Coan dyes.
Of these eight backs two, one of the lady midway of the counter, the other
of her escort, appeared terrifyingly familiar.
In fact, when we entered I had three distinct shocks in quick succession.
Flashy, painted and rouged as I was I dreaded Orontides' eyes. There he
was behind his counter, visible through a rift in the press of handsomely
dressed customers of both sexes.
Instinctively I glanced at the only other interval in the line of absorbed
Through it I recognized Agathemer smiling at me!
I saw that _he_, at least, recognized me at once and my dread of Orontides
intensified tenfold. I knew Agathemer would be discreet, loyal and trusty.
I dreaded to lose countenance if I kept my eyes on his face and I looked
I recognized the back of Flavius Clemens!
If he turned round I felt I was lost. Yet I could not flee. Falco was
certain to linger in the shop. I must keep my self-control and prepare to
brazen out anything.
The next instant I recognized the back of the lady next Flavius Clemens.
As I recognized her she turned, saw me, knew me through my disguise,
flushed, and turned back.
I should not have been surprised if she had fainted and crumpled up on the
white and brown mosaic floor in front of the counter. She kept her feet
and her outward self-possession.
Clemens spoke to her in an undertone.
"No," she answered him, in a choked voice, "I have changed my mind. I
won't take these."
She was handling an unsurpassable necklace of big pearls.
He whispered to her.
"No," she said, curtly. "I won't look at any others. I think I'll go
He was so amazed that he never saw me or, I think, anything or anybody
else in that shop just then. He escorted her out.
When I regained my self-possession enough to feel that I appeared at ease
and could trust myself to glance at the other customers as I should have
done had I been in fact what I was trying to appear, I was relieved to
find that not one of them was more than distantly known to me.
The idlers on the benches showed no inclination to rise and approach the
counter. Falco and I occupied the interval vacated by Clemens and Vedia.
Agathemer, of all men on earth, asked what he could do for us. Falco stood
there a long time, saw a goodly fraction of the finest jewels in
Orontides' possession and, manifestly, made as favorable impression of
connoisseurship on Agathemer as Agathemer made on him. They eyed each
other as fellow-adepts. Falco asked that he reserve an antique Babylonian
seal cut in sardonyx and promised to send a messenger with its price
before dark. Agathemer, who was passing under the name of Eucleides,
blandly replied that Orontides would prefer to send the seal to Falco's
residence. Falco agreed, of course, and to my unutterable relief we
Agathemer--Eucleides--brought the seal; and timed his arrival neatly as
Falco returned from the Baths of Titus just before dinner time. He was
giving a big formal dinner and my dinner was to be served in my apartment,
which had a tiny _triclinium_; being as lavishly appointed, and one in
which I was as luxuriously lodged and served, as those I had had in
Carthage and Utica.
I asked Agathemer if he could stay and dine with me and he accepted. We
had a wonderful dinner. The food, of course, was unsurpassable and our
appetites keyed up by our mutual emotions. When the dessert and wine were
brought in I dismissed the waiters, made sure that no man or boy of my
retinue was in my apartment and bolted its door.
Then we fell into each other's arms.
After we had expressed our mutual affection I told him my story from the
morning after the massacre and he told me his, which was commonplace.
He had easily escaped from the slave-convoy between Narnia and Interamnia,
had made his way to Ameria and found shelter there with slaves as an
ordinary runaway slave. After a discreet interval he had travelled to
Rome. There he had found old acquaintances to protect and shield him. I
was presumed to be dead and any fellow-slave would help him in his
situation, he being presumed to be legally a slave of the _fiscus_. He had
no difficulty in disposing of a gem out of his amulet-bag and then rented
lodgings, passed as a freedman, by the name of Eucleides, and gradually
made himself known to various gem-experts who gave him as much protection
as had his fellow-slaves, his former acquaintances. Orontides perfectly
knew who he was, yet engaged him as an assistant by the name of Eucleides
and as being a freedman. Ever since then he had lived safe in his
lodgings, and spent his days at Orontides' shop or about Rome at gem-
dealers. He declared that he was, if possible, more of a gem-expert than
before our adventures began, which was saying a great deal.
He laughed heartily and often at my disguise, acclaimed it a work of art
in every detail and in its total effect and vowed that he believed that I
could spend years in Rome in Falco's retinue and encounter all my old
acquaintances and be in little danger from any and in no danger except
from such professional physiognomists as Galen and Gratillus.
I told him of what Galen had said to Tanno. Agathemer said he had had only
two interviews with Tanno, at which they had deplored my death, I having
been believed to have perished with Nonius Libo. They had also agreed to
avoid each other, for fear of attracting the notice of some secret-service
agent or volunteer spy. Tanno had not mentioned Galen.
We agreed that we, also, must avoid each other and not meet oftener than
say four times a year, for fear of leading to my detection.
He told me of Marcia's unlimited power over Commodus, the whole Palace and
the entire social and governmental world of Rome. He also said that he was
convinced that Ducconius Furfur was domiciled in the Palace and that
Commodus used him as dummy ceremonial Emperor, when he himself was
masquerading as Palus, the Gladiator, for he was now developing for public
exhibitions of his swordsmanship a mania as insensate as those he had had
for charioteering and beast-fighting.
Next day, naturally, I had a visit from Tanno, who even sacrificed his
afternoon bath and came to see me while Falco was at the Baths of Titus.
He embraced me heartily, when we were alone, and talked with his habitual
mask of jocularity.
"Three times dead, Caius," he said, "and still alive and fit. Dying seems
to agree with you, whether it is military execution, rural assassination,
or drowning at sea. I am still incredulous that you are really alive; we
had the most circumstantial accounts of the loss of poor Libo's yacht with
all on board."
"That is odd," I said, "Rufius Libo survived and succeeded to his uncle's
"I knew he inherited all Nonius left," Tanno stated, "but I had no idea
that Nonius had Rufius with him here in Rome and that he was on the yacht;
I thought he was in Carthage all the while. Certainly every account we had
specified that no one was rescued from that yacht."
I told him that Rufius had promised me to write him of my survival and
that I had despatched at least a score of letters to him and as many to
Vedia. He was as puzzled as I that not one had reached either of them.
I gave him an account of my life since he had seen me and he approved of
my disguise as much as had Agathemer and laughed at it even more heartily.
"Poor Flavius Clemens is in a daze. He cannot conjecture what has gone
wrong with his wooing again a second time. He behaved very tactfully after