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Marius the Epicurean, Volume One by Walter Horatio Pater

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In fifty years of peace, broken only by that conflict in the East
from which Lucius Verus, among other curiosities, brought back the
plague, war had come to seem a merely romantic, superannuated
incident of bygone history. And now it was almost upon Italian soil.
Terrible were the reports of the numbers and audacity of the
assailants. Aurelius, as yet untried in war, and understood by a few
only in the whole scope of a really great character, was known to the
majority of his subjects as but a careful administrator, though a
student of philosophy, perhaps, as we say, a dilettante. But he was
also the visible centre of government, towards whom the hearts of a
whole people turned, grateful for fifty years of public happiness--
its good genius, its "Antonine"--whose fragile person might be
foreseen speedily giving way under the trials of military life, with
a disaster like that of the slaughter of the legions by Arminius.
Prophecies of the world's impending conflagration were easily
credited: "the secular fire" would descend from [179] heaven:
superstitious fear had even demanded the sacrifice of a human victim.

Marcus Aurelius, always philosophically considerate of the humours of
other people, exercising also that devout appreciation of every
religious claim which was one of his characteristic habits, had
invoked, in aid of the commonwealth, not only all native gods, but
all foreign deities as well, however strange.--"Help! Help! in the
ocean space!" A multitude of foreign priests had been welcomed to
Rome, with their various peculiar religious rites. The sacrifices
made on this occasion were remembered for centuries; and the starving
poor, at least, found some satisfaction in the flesh of those herds
of "white bulls," which came into the city, day after day, to yield
the savour of their blood to the gods.

In spite of all this, the legions had but followed their standards
despondently. But prestige, personal prestige, the name of
"Emperor," still had its magic power over the nations. The mere
approach of the Roman army made an impression on the barbarians.
Aurelius and his colleague had scarcely reached Aquileia when a
deputation arrived to ask for peace. And now the two imperial
"brothers" were returning home at leisure; were waiting, indeed, at a
villa outside the walls, till the capital had made ready to receive
them. But although Rome was thus in genial reaction, with much
relief, [180] and hopefulness against the winter, facing itself
industriously in damask of red and gold, those two enemies were still
unmistakably extant: the barbarian army of the Danube was but over-
awed for a season; and the plague, as we saw when Marius was on his
way to Rome, was not to depart till it had done a large part in the
formation of the melancholy picturesque of modern Italy--till it had
made, or prepared for the making of the Roman Campagna. The old,
unaffected, really pagan, peace or gaiety, of Antoninus Pius--that
genuine though unconscious humanist--was gone for ever. And again
and again, throughout this day of varied observation, Marius had been
reminded, above all else, that he was not merely in "the most
religious city of the world," as one had said, but that Rome was
become the romantic home of the wildest superstition. Such
superstition presented itself almost as religious mania in many an
incident of his long ramble,--incidents to which he gave his full
attention, though contending in some measure with a reluctance on the
part of his companion, the motive of which he did not understand till
long afterwards. Marius certainly did not allow this reluctance to
deter his own curiosity. Had he not come to Rome partly under poetic
vocation, to receive all those things, the very impress of life
itself, upon the visual, the imaginative, organ, as upon a mirror; to
reflect them; to transmute them [181] into golden words? He must
observe that strange medley of superstition, that centuries' growth,
layer upon layer, of the curiosities of religion (one faith jostling
another out of place) at least for its picturesque interest, and as
an indifferent outsider might, not too deeply concerned in the
question which, if any of them, was to be the survivor.

Superficially, at least, the Roman religion, allying itself with much
diplomatic economy to possible rivals, was in possession, as a vast
and complex system of usage, intertwining itself with every detail of
public and private life, attractively enough for those who had but
"the historic temper," and a taste for the past, however much a
Lucian might depreciate it. Roman religion, as Marius knew, had,
indeed, been always something to be done, rather than something to be
thought, or believed, or loved; something to be done in minutely
detailed manner, at a particular time and place, correctness in which
had long been a matter of laborious learning with a whole school of
ritualists--as also, now and again, a matter of heroic sacrifice with
certain exceptionally devout souls, as when Caius Fabius Dorso, with
his life in his hand, succeeded in passing the sentinels of the
invading Gauls to perform a sacrifice on the Quirinal, and, thanks to
the divine protection, had returned in safety. So jealous was the
distinction between sacred and profane, that, in the matter [182] of
the "regarding of days," it had made more than half the year a
holiday. Aurelius had, indeed, ordained that there should be no more
than a hundred and thirty-five festival days in the year; but in
other respects he had followed in the steps of his predecessor,
Antoninus Pius--commended especially for his "religion," his
conspicuous devotion to its public ceremonies--and whose coins are
remarkable for their reference to the oldest and most hieratic types
of Roman mythology. Aurelius had succeeded in more than healing the
old feud between philosophy and religion, displaying himself, in
singular combination, as at once the most zealous of philosophers and
the most devout of polytheists, and lending himself, with an air of
conviction, to all the pageantries of public worship. To his pious
recognition of that one orderly spirit, which, according to the
doctrine of the Stoics, diffuses itself through the world, and
animates it--a recognition taking the form, with him, of a constant
effort towards inward likeness thereto, in the harmonious order of
his own soul--he had added a warm personal devotion towards the whole
multitude of the old national gods, and a great many new foreign ones
besides, by him, at least, not ignobly conceived. If the comparison
may be reverently made, there was something here of the method by
which the catholic church has added the cultus of the saints to its
worship of the one Divine Being.

[183] And to the view of the majority, though the emperor, as the
personal centre of religion, entertained the hope of converting his
people to philosophic faith, and had even pronounced certain public
discourses for their instruction in it, that polytheistic devotion
was his most striking feature. Philosophers, indeed, had, for the
most part, thought with Seneca, "that a man need not lift his hands
to heaven, nor ask the sacristan's leave to put his mouth to the ear
of an image, that his prayers might be heard the better."--Marcus
Aurelius, "a master in Israel," knew all that well enough. Yet his
outward devotion was much more than a concession to popular
sentiment, or a mere result of that sense of fellow-citizenship with
others, which had made him again and again, under most difficult
circumstances, an excellent comrade. Those others, too!--amid all
their ignorances, what were they but instruments in the
administration of the Divine Reason, "from end to end sweetly and
strongly disposing all things"? Meantime "Philosophy" itself had
assumed much of what we conceive to be the religious character. It
had even cultivated the habit, the power, of "spiritual direction";
the troubled soul making recourse in its hour of destitution, or amid
the distractions of the world, to this or that director--philosopho
suo--who could really best understand it.

And it had been in vain that the old, grave [184] and discreet
religion of Rome had set itself, according to its proper genius, to
prevent or subdue all trouble and disturbance in men's souls. In
religion, as in other matters, plebeians, as such, had a taste for
movement, for revolution; and it had been ever in the most populous
quarters that religious changes began. To the apparatus of foreign
religion, above all, recourse had been made in times of public
disquietude or sudden terror; and in those great religious
celebrations, before his proceeding against the barbarians, Aurelius
had even restored the solemnities of Isis, prohibited in the capital
since the time of Augustus, making no secret of his worship of that
goddess, though her temple had been actually destroyed by authority
in the reign of Tiberius. Her singular and in many ways beautiful
ritual was now popular in Rome. And then--what the enthusiasm of the
swarming plebeian quarters had initiated, was sure to be adopted,
sooner or later, by women of fashion. A blending of all the
religions of the ancient world had been accomplished. The new gods
had arrived, had been welcomed, and found their places; though,
certainly, with no real security, in any adequate ideal of the divine
nature itself in the background of men's minds, that the presence of
the new-comer should be edifying, or even refining. High and low
addressed themselves to all deities alike without scruple; confusing
them together when they prayed, and in the old, [185] authorised,
threefold veneration of their visible images, by flowers, incense,
and ceremonial lights--those beautiful usages, which the church, in
her way through the world, ever making spoil of the world's goods for
the better uses of the human spirit, took up and sanctified in her

And certainly "the most religious city in the world" took no care to
veil its devotion, however fantastic. The humblest house had its
little chapel or shrine, its image and lamp; while almost every one
seemed to exercise some religious function and responsibility.
Colleges, composed for the most part of slaves and of the poor,
provided for the service of the Compitalian Lares--the gods who
presided, respectively, over the several quarters of the city. In
one street, Marius witnessed an incident of the festival of the
patron deity of that neighbourhood, the way being strewn with box,
the houses tricked out gaily in such poor finery as they possessed,
while the ancient idol was borne through it in procession, arrayed in
gaudy attire the worse for wear. Numerous religious clubs had their
stated anniversaries, on which the members issued with much ceremony
from their guild-hall, or schola, and traversed the thoroughfares of
Rome, preceded, like the confraternities of the present day, by their
sacred banners, to offer sacrifice before some famous image. Black
with the perpetual smoke of lamps and incense, oftenest old and [186]
ugly, perhaps on that account the more likely to listen to the
desires of the suffering--had not those sacred effigies sometimes
given sensible tokens that they were aware? The image of the Fortune
of Women--Fortuna Muliebris, in the Latin Way, had spoken (not once
only) and declared; Bene me, Matronae! vidistis riteque dedicastis!
The Apollo of Cumae had wept during three whole nights and days. The
images in the temple of Juno Sospita had been seen to sweat. Nay!
there was blood--divine blood--in the hearts of some of them: the
images in the Grove of Feronia had sweated blood!

From one and all Cornelius had turned away: like the "atheist" of
whom Apuleius tells he had never once raised hand to lip in passing
image or sanctuary, and had parted from Marius finally when the
latter determined to enter the crowded doorway of a temple, on their
return into the Forum, below the Palatine hill, where the mothers
were pressing in, with a multitude of every sort of children, to
touch the lightning-struck image of the wolf-nurse of Romulus--so
tender to little ones!--just discernible in its dark shrine, amid a
blaze of lights. Marius gazed after his companion of the day, as he
mounted the steps to his lodging, singing to himself, as it seemed.
Marius failed precisely to catch the words.

And, as the rich, fresh evening came on, there was heard all over
Rome, far above a whisper, [187] the whole town seeming hushed to
catch it distinctly, the lively, reckless call to "play," from the
sons and daughters of foolishness, to those in whom their life was
still green--Donec virenti canities abest!--Donec virenti canities
abest!+ Marius could hardly doubt how Cornelius would have taken the
call. And as for himself, slight as was the burden of positive moral
obligation with which he had entered Rome, it was to no wasteful and
vagrant affections, such as these, that his Epicureanism had
committed him.


187. +Horace, Odes I.ix.17. Translation: "So long as youth is fresh
and age is far away."


But ah! Maecenas is yclad in claye,
And great Augustus long ygoe is dead,
And all the worthies liggen wrapt in lead,
That matter made for poets on to playe.+

[188] MARCUS AURELIUS who, though he had little relish for them
himself, had ever been willing to humour the taste of his people for
magnificent spectacles, was received back to Rome with the lesser
honours of the Ovation, conceded by the Senate (so great was the
public sense of deliverance) with even more than the laxity which had
become its habit under imperial rule, for there had been no actual
bloodshed in the late achievement. Clad in the civic dress of the
chief Roman magistrate, and with a crown of myrtle upon his head, his
colleague similarly attired walking beside him, he passed up to the
Capitol on foot, though in solemn procession along the Sacred Way, to
offer sacrifice to the national gods. The victim, a goodly sheep,
whose image we may still see between the pig and the ox of the [189]
Suovetaurilia, filleted and stoled almost like some ancient canon of
the church, on a sculptured fragment in the Forum, was conducted by
the priests, clad in rich white vestments, and bearing their sacred
utensils of massive gold, immediately behind a company of flute-
players, led by the great choir-master, or conductor, of the day,
visibly tetchy or delighted, according as the instruments he ruled
with his tuning-rod, rose, more or less adequately amid the
difficulties of the way, to the dream of perfect music in the soul
within him. The vast crowd, including the soldiers of the triumphant
army, now restored to wives and children, all alike in holiday
whiteness, had left their houses early in the fine, dry morning, in a
real affection for "the father of his country," to await the
procession, the two princes having spent the preceding night outside
the walls, at the old Villa of the Republic. Marius, full of
curiosity, had taken his position with much care; and stood to see
the world's masters pass by, at an angle from which he could command
the view of a great part of the processional route, sprinkled with
fine yellow sand, and punctiliously guarded from profane footsteps.

The coming of the pageant was announced by the clear sound of the
flutes, heard at length above the acclamations of the people--Salve
Imperator!--Dii te servent!--shouted in regular time, over the hills.
It was on the central [190] figure, of course, that the whole
attention of Marius was fixed from the moment when the procession
came in sight, preceded by the lictors with gilded fasces, the
imperial image-bearers, and the pages carrying lighted torches; a
band of knights, among whom was Cornelius in complete military,
array, following. Amply swathed about in the folds of a richly
worked toga, after a manner now long since become obsolete with
meaner persons, Marius beheld a man of about five-and-forty years of
age, with prominent eyes--eyes, which although demurely downcast
during this essentially religious ceremony, were by nature broadly
and benignantly observant. He was still, in the main, as we see him
in the busts which represent his gracious and courtly youth, when
Hadrian had playfully called him, not Verus, after the name of his
father, but Verissimus, for his candour of gaze, and the bland
capacity of the brow, which, below the brown hair, clustering thickly
as of old, shone out low, broad, and clear, and still without a trace
of the trouble of his lips. You saw the brow of one who, amid the
blindness or perplexity of the people about him, understood all
things clearly; the dilemma, to which his experience so far had
brought him, between Chance with meek resignation, and a Providence
with boundless possibilities and hope, being for him at least
distinctly defined.

That outward serenity, which he valued so [191] highly as a point of
manner or expression not unworthy the care of a public minister--
outward symbol, it might be thought, of the inward religious serenity
it had been his constant purpose to maintain--was increased to-day by
his sense of the gratitude of his people; that his life had been one
of such gifts and blessings as made his person seem in very deed
divine to them. Yet the cloud of some reserved internal sorrow,
passing from time to time into an expression of fatigue and effort,
of loneliness amid the shouting multitude, might have been detected
there by the more observant--as if the sagacious hint of one of his
officers, "The soldiers can't understand you, they don't know Greek,"
were applicable always to his relationships with other people. The
nostrils and mouth seemed capable almost of peevishness; and Marius
noted in them, as in the hands, and in the spare body generally, what
was new to his experience--something of asceticism, as we say, of a
bodily gymnastic, by which, although it told pleasantly in the clear
blue humours of the eye, the flesh had scarcely been an equal gainer
with the spirit. It was hardly the expression of "the healthy mind
in the healthy body," but rather of a sacrifice of the body to the
soul, its needs and aspirations, that Marius seemed to divine in this
assiduous student of the Greek sages--a sacrifice, in truth, far
beyond the demands of their very saddest philosophy of life.

[192] Dignify thyself with modesty and simplicity for thine
ornaments!--had been ever a maxim with this dainty and high-bred
Stoic, who still thought manners a true part of morals, according to
the old sense of the term, and who regrets now and again that he
cannot control his thoughts equally well with his countenance. That
outward composure was deepened during the solemnities of this day by
an air of pontifical abstraction; which, though very far from being
pride--nay, a sort of humility rather--yet gave, to himself, an air
of unapproachableness, and to his whole proceeding, in which every
minutest act was considered, the character of a ritual. Certainly,
there was no haughtiness, social, moral, or even philosophic, in
Aurelius, who had realised, under more trying conditions perhaps than
any one before, that no element of humanity could be alien from him.
Yet, as he walked to-day, the centre of ten thousand observers, with
eyes discreetly fixed on the ground, veiling his head at times and
muttering very rapidly the words of the "supplications," there was
something many spectators may have noted as a thing new in their
experience, for Aurelius, unlike his predecessors, took all this with
absolute seriousness. The doctrine of the sanctity of kings, that,
in the words of Tacitus, Princes are as Gods--Principes instar deorum
esse--seemed to have taken a novel, because a literal, sense. For
Aurelius, indeed, the old legend of his descent from Numa, from [193]
Numa who had talked with the gods, meant much. Attached in very
early years to the service of the altars, like many another noble
youth, he was "observed to perform all his sacerdotal functions with
a constancy and exactness unusual at that age; was soon a master of
the sacred music; and had all the forms and ceremonies by heart."
And now, as the emperor, who had not only a vague divinity about his
person, but was actually the chief religious functionary of the
state, recited from time to time the forms of invocation, he needed
not the help of the prompter, or ceremoniarius, who then approached,
to assist him by whispering the appointed words in his ear. It was
that pontifical abstraction which then impressed itself on Marius as
the leading outward characteristic of Aurelius; though to him alone,
perhaps, in that vast crowd of observers, it was no strange thing,
but a matter he had understood from of old.

Some fanciful writers have assigned the origin of these triumphal
processions to the mythic pomps of Dionysus, after his conquests in
the East; the very word Triumph being, according to this supposition,
only Thriambos-the Dionysiac Hymn. And certainly the younger of the
two imperial "brothers," who, with the effect of a strong contrast,
walked beside Aurelius, and shared the honours of the day, might well
have reminded people of the delicate Greek god of flowers and wine.
This [194] new conqueror of the East was now about thirty-six years
old, but with his scrupulous care for all the advantages of his
person, and a soft curling beard powdered with gold, looked many
years younger. One result of the more genial element in the wisdom
of Aurelius had been that, amid most difficult circumstances, he had
known throughout life how to act in union with persons of character
very alien from his own; to be more than loyal to the colleague, the
younger brother in empire, he had too lightly taken to himself, five
years before, then an uncorrupt youth, "skilled in manly exercises
and fitted for war." When Aurelius thanks the gods that a brother
had fallen to his lot, whose character was a stimulus to the proper
care of his own, one sees that this could only have happened in the
way of an example, putting him on his guard against insidious faults.
But it is with sincere amiability that the imperial writer, who was
indeed little used to be ironical, adds that the lively respect and
affection of the junior had often "gladdened" him. To be able to
make his use of the flower, when the fruit perhaps was useless or
poisonous:--that was one of the practical successes of his
philosophy; and his people noted, with a blessing, "the concord of
the two Augusti."

The younger, certainly, possessed in full measure that charm of a
constitutional freshness of aspect which may defy for a long time
extravagant or erring habits of life; a physiognomy, [195] healthy-
looking, cleanly, and firm, which seemed unassociable with any form
of self-torment, and made one think of the muzzle of some young hound
or roe, such as human beings invariably like to stroke--a
physiognomy, in effect, with all the goodliness of animalism of the
finer sort, though still wholly animal. The charm was that of the
blond head, the unshrinking gaze, the warm tints: neither more nor
less than one may see every English summer, in youth, manly enough,
and with the stuff which makes brave soldiers, in spite of the
natural kinship it seems to have with playthings and gay flowers.
But innate in Lucius Verus there was that more than womanly fondness
for fond things, which had made the atmosphere of the old city of
Antioch, heavy with centuries of voluptuousness, a poison to him: he
had come to love his delicacies best out of season, and would have
gilded the very flowers. But with a wonderful power of self-
obliteration, the elder brother at the capital had directed his
procedure successfully, and allowed him, become now also the husband
of his daughter Lucilla, the credit of a "Conquest," though Verus had
certainly not returned a conqueror over himself. He had returned, as
we know, with the plague in his company, along with many another
strange creature of his folly; and when the people saw him publicly
feeding his favourite horse Fleet with almonds and sweet grapes,
wearing the animal's image in gold, and [196] finally building it a
tomb, they felt, with some un-sentimental misgiving, that he might
revive the manners of Nero.--What if, in the chances of war, he
should survive the protecting genius of that elder brother?

He was all himself to-day: and it was with much wistful curiosity
that Marius regarded him. For Lucius Verus was, indeed, but the
highly expressive type of a class,--the true son of his father,
adopted by Hadrian. Lucius Verus the elder, also, had had the like
strange capacity for misusing the adornments of life, with a masterly
grace; as if such misusing were, in truth, the quite adequate
occupation of an intelligence, powerful, but distorted by cynical
philosophy or some disappointment of the heart. It was almost a sort
of genius, of which there had been instances in the imperial purple:
it was to ascend the throne, a few years later, in the person of one,
now a hopeful little lad at home in the palace; and it had its
following, of course, among the wealthy youth at Rome, who
concentrated no inconsiderable force of shrewdness and tact upon
minute details of attire and manner, as upon the one thing needful.
Certainly, flowers were pleasant to the eye. Such things had even
their sober use, as making the outside of human life superficially
attractive, and thereby promoting the first steps towards friendship
and social amity. But what precise place could there be for Verus
and his peculiar charm, [197] in that Wisdom, that Order of divine
Reason "reaching from end to end, strongly and sweetly disposing all
things," from the vision of which Aurelius came down, so tolerant of
persons like him? Into such vision Marius too was certainly well-
fitted to enter, yet, noting the actual perfection of Lucius Verus
after his kind, his undeniable achievement of the select, in all
minor things, felt, though with some suspicion of himself, that he
entered into, and could understand, this other so dubious sort of
character also. There was a voice in the theory he had brought to
Rome with him which whispered "nothing is either great nor small;" as
there were times when he could have thought that, as the
"grammarian's" or the artist's ardour of soul may be satisfied by the
perfecting of the theory of a sentence, or the adjustment of two
colours, so his own life also might have been fulfilled by an
enthusiastic quest after perfection--say, in the flowering and
folding of a toga.

The emperors had burned incense before the image of Jupiter, arrayed
in its most gorgeous apparel, amid sudden shouts from the people of
Salve Imperator! turned now from the living princes to the deity, as
they discerned his countenance through the great open doors. The
imperial brothers had deposited their crowns of myrtle on the richly
embroidered lapcloth of the god; and, with their chosen guests, sat
down to a public feast in the temple [198] itself. There followed
what was, after all, the great event of the day:--an appropriate
discourse, a discourse almost wholly de contemptu mundi, delivered in
the presence of the assembled Senate, by the emperor Aurelius, who
had thus, on certain rare occasions, condescended to instruct his
people, with the double authority of a chief pontiff and a laborious
student of philosophy. In those lesser honours of the ovation, there
had been no attendant slave behind the emperors, to make mock of
their effulgence as they went; and it was as if with the discretion
proper to a philosopher, and in fear of a jealous Nemesis, he had
determined himself to protest in time against the vanity of all
outward success.

The Senate was assembled to hear the emperor's discourse in the vast
hall of the Curia Julia. A crowd of high-bred youths idled around,
or on the steps before the doors, with the marvellous toilets Marius
had noticed in the Via Nova; in attendance, as usual, to learn by
observation the minute points of senatorial procedure. Marius had
already some acquaintance with them, and passing on found himself
suddenly in the presence of what was still the most august assembly
the world had seen. Under Aurelius, ever full of veneration for this
ancient traditional guardian of public religion, the Senate had
recovered all its old dignity and independence. Among its members
many [199] hundreds in number, visibly the most distinguished of them
all, Marius noted the great sophists or rhetoricians of the day, in
all their magnificence. The antique character of their attire, and
the ancient mode of wearing it, still surviving with them, added to
the imposing character of their persons, while they sat, with their
staves of ivory in their hands, on their curule chairs--almost the
exact pattern of the chair still in use in the Roman church when a
Bishop pontificates at the divine offices--"tranquil and unmoved,
with a majesty that seemed divine," as Marius thought, like the old
Gaul of the Invasion. The rays of the early November sunset slanted
full upon the audience, and made it necessary for the officers of the
Court to draw the purple curtains over the windows, adding to the
solemnity of the scene. In the depth of those warm shadows,
surrounded by her ladies, the empress Faustina was seated to listen.
The beautiful Greek statue of Victory, which since the days of
Augustus had presided over the assemblies of the Senate, had been
brought into the hall, and placed near the chair of the emperor; who,
after rising to perform a brief sacrificial service in its honour,
bowing reverently to the assembled fathers left and right, took his
seat and began to speak.

There was a certain melancholy grandeur in the very simplicity or
triteness of the theme: as it were the very quintessence of all the
old [200] Roman epitaphs, of all that was monumental in that city of
tombs, layer upon layer of dead things and people. As if in the very
fervour of disillusion, he seemed to be composing--Hôsper epigraphas
chronôn kai holôn ethnôn+--the sepulchral titles of ages and whole
peoples; nay! the very epitaph of the living Rome itself. The
grandeur of the ruins of Rome,--heroism in ruin: it was under the
influence of an imaginative anticipation of this, that he appeared to
be speaking. And though the impression of the actual greatness of
Rome on that day was but enhanced by the strain of contempt, falling
with an accent of pathetic conviction from the emperor himself, and
gaining from his pontifical pretensions the authority of a religious
intimation, yet the curious interest of the discourse lay in this,
that Marius, for one, as he listened, seemed to forsee a grass-grown
Forum, the broken ways of the Capitol, and the Palatine hill itself
in humble occupation. That impression connected itself with what he
had already noted of an actual change even then coming over Italian
scenery. Throughout, he could trace something of a humour into which
Stoicism at all times tends to fall, the tendency to cry, Abase
yourselves! There was here the almost inhuman impassibility of one
who had thought too closely on the paradoxical aspect of the love of
posthumous fame. With the ascetic pride which lurks under all
Platonism, [201] resultant from its opposition of the seen to the
unseen, as falsehood to truth--the imperial Stoic, like his true
descendant, the hermit of the middle age, was ready, in no friendly
humour, to mock, there in its narrow bed, the corpse which had made
so much of itself in life. Marius could but contrast all that with
his own Cyrenaic eagerness, just then, to taste and see and touch;
reflecting on the opposite issues deducible from the same text. "The
world, within me and without, flows away like a river," he had said;
"therefore let me make the most of what is here and now."--"The world
and the thinker upon it, are consumed like a flame," said Aurelius,
"therefore will I turn away my eyes from vanity: renounce: withdraw
myself alike from all affections." He seemed tacitly to claim as a
sort of personal dignity, that he was very familiarly versed in this
view of things, and could discern a death's-head everywhere. Now and
again Marius was reminded of the saying that "with the Stoics all
people are the vulgar save themselves;" and at times the orator
seemed to have forgotten his audience, and to be speaking only to

"Art thou in love with men's praises, get thee into the very soul of
them, and see!--see what judges they be, even in those matters which
concern themselves. Wouldst thou have their praise after death,
bethink thee, that they who shall come hereafter, and with whom thou
[202] wouldst survive by thy great name, will be but as these, whom
here thou hast found so hard to live with. For of a truth, the soul
of him who is aflutter upon renown after death, presents not this
aright to itself, that of all whose memory he would have each one
will likewise very quickly depart, until memory herself be put out,
as she journeys on by means of such as are themselves on the wing but
for a while, and are extinguished in their turn.--Making so much of
those thou wilt never see! It is as if thou wouldst have had those
who were before thee discourse fair things concerning thee.

"To him, indeed, whose wit hath been whetted by true doctrine, that
well-worn sentence of Homer sufficeth, to guard him against regret
and fear.--

Like the race of leaves
The race of man is:--

The wind in autumn strows
The earth with old leaves: then the spring
the woods with new endows.+

Leaves! little leaves!--thy children, thy flatterers, thine enemies!
Leaves in the wind, those who would devote thee to darkness, who
scorn or miscall thee here, even as they also whose great fame shall
outlast them. For all these, and the like of them, are born indeed
in the spring season--Earos epigignetai hôrê+: and soon a wind hath
scattered them, and thereafter the [203] wood peopleth itself again
with another generation of leaves. And what is common to all of them
is but the littleness of their lives: and yet wouldst thou love and
hate, as if these things should continue for ever. In a little while
thine eyes also will be closed, and he on whom thou perchance hast
leaned thyself be himself a burden upon another.

"Bethink thee often of the swiftness with which the things that are,
or are even now coming to be, are swept past thee: that the very
substance of them is but the perpetual motion of water: that there is
almost nothing which continueth: of that bottomless depth of time, so
close at thy side. Folly! to be lifted up, or sorrowful, or anxious,
by reason of things like these! Think of infinite matter, and thy
portion--how tiny a particle, of it! of infinite time, and thine own
brief point there; of destiny, and the jot thou art in it; and yield
thyself readily to the wheel of Clotho, to spin of thee what web she

"As one casting a ball from his hand, the nature of things hath had
its aim with every man, not as to the ending only, but the first
beginning of his course, and passage thither. And hath the ball any
profit of its rising, or loss as it descendeth again, or in its fall?
or the bubble, as it groweth or breaketh on the air? or the flame of
the lamp, from the beginning to the end of its brief story?

[204] "All but at this present that future is, in which nature, who
disposeth all things in order, will transform whatsoever thou now
seest, fashioning from its substance somewhat else, and therefrom
somewhat else in its turn, lest the world grow old. We are such
stuff as dreams are made of--disturbing dreams. Awake, then! and see
thy dream as it is, in comparison with that erewhile it seemed to

"And for me, especially, it were well to mind those many mutations of
empire in time past; therein peeping also upon the future, which must
needs be of like species with what hath been, continuing ever within
the rhythm and number of things which really are; so that in forty
years one may note of man and of his ways little less than in a
thousand. Ah! from this higher place, look we down upon the ship-
wrecks and the calm! Consider, for example, how the world went,
under the emperor Vespasian. They are married and given in marriage,
they breed children; love hath its way with them; they heap up riches
for others or for themselves; they are murmuring at things as then
they are; they are seeking for great place; crafty, flattering,
suspicious, waiting upon the death of others:--festivals, business,
war, sickness, dissolution: and now their whole life is no longer
anywhere at all. Pass on to the reign of Trajan: all things continue
the same: and that life also is no longer anywhere at all. [205] Ah!
but look again, and consider, one after another, as it were the
sepulchral inscriptions of all peoples and times, according to one
pattern.--What multitudes, after their utmost striving--a little
afterwards! were dissolved again into their dust.

"Think again of life as it was far off in the ancient world; as it
must be when we shall be gone; as it is now among the wild heathen.
How many have never heard your names and mine, or will soon forget
them! How soon may those who shout my name to-day begin to revile
it, because glory, and the memory of men, and all things beside, are
but vanity--a sand-heap under the senseless wind, the barking of
dogs, the quarrelling of children, weeping incontinently upon their

"This hasteth to be; that other to have been: of that which now
cometh to be, even now somewhat hath been extinguished. And wilt
thou make thy treasure of any one of these things? It were as if one
set his love upon the swallow, as it passeth out of sight through the

"Bethink thee often, in all contentions public and private, of those
whom men have remembered by reason of their anger and vehement
spirit--those famous rages, and the occasions of them--the great
fortunes, and misfortunes, of men's strife of old. What are they all
now, and the dust of their battles? Dust [206] and ashes indeed; a
fable, a mythus, or not so much as that. Yes! keep those before
thine eyes who took this or that, the like of which happeneth to
thee, so hardly; were so querulous, so agitated. And where again are
they? Wouldst thou have it not otherwise with thee?

Consider how quickly all things vanish away--their bodily structure
into the general substance; the very memory of them into that great
gulf and abysm of past thoughts. Ah! 'tis on a tiny space of earth
thou art creeping through life--a pigmy soul carrying a dead body to
its grave.

"Let death put thee upon the consideration both of thy body and thy
soul: what an atom of all matter hath been distributed to thee; what
a little particle of the universal mind. Turn thy body about, and
consider what thing it is, and that which old age, and lust, and the
languor of disease can make of it. Or come to its substantial and
causal qualities, its very type: contemplate that in itself, apart
from the accidents of matter, and then measure also the span of time
for which the nature of things, at the longest, will maintain that
special type. Nay! in the very principles and first constituents of
things corruption hath its part--so much dust, humour, stench, and
scraps of bone! Consider that thy marbles are but the earth's
callosities, thy gold and silver its faeces; this silken robe but a
worm's bedding, and thy [207] purple an unclean fish. Ah! and thy
life's breath is not otherwise, as it passeth out of matters like
these, into the like of them again.

"For the one soul in things, taking matter like wax in the hands,
moulds and remoulds--how hastily!--beast, and plant, and the babe, in
turn: and that which dieth hath not slipped out of the order of
nature, but, remaining therein, hath also its changes there,
disparting into those elements of which nature herself, and thou too,
art compacted. She changes without murmuring. The oaken chest falls
to pieces with no more complaining than when the carpenter fitted it
together. If one told thee certainly that on the morrow thou
shouldst die, or at the furthest on the day after, it would be no
great matter to thee to die on the day after to-morrow, rather than
to-morrow. Strive to think it a thing no greater that thou wilt die-
-not to-morrow, but a year, or two years, or ten years from to-day.

"I find that all things are now as they were in the days of our
buried ancestors--all things sordid in their elements, trite by long
usage, and yet ephemeral. How ridiculous, then, how like a
countryman in town, is he, who wonders at aught. Doth the sameness,
the repetition of the public shows, weary thee? Even so doth that
likeness of events in the spectacle of the world. And so must it be
with thee to the end. For the wheel of the world hath ever the same
[208] motion, upward and downward, from generation to generation.
When, when, shall time give place to eternity?

"If there be things which trouble thee thou canst put them away,
inasmuch as they have their being but in thine own notion concerning
them. Consider what death is, and how, if one does but detach from
it the appearances, the notions, that hang about it, resting the eye
upon it as in itself it really is, it must be thought of but as an
effect of nature, and that man but a child whom an effect of nature
shall affright. Nay! not function and effect of nature, only; but a
thing profitable also to herself.

"To cease from action--the ending of thine effort to think and do:
there is no evil in that. Turn thy thought to the ages of man's
life, boyhood, youth, maturity, old age: the change in every one of
these also is a dying, but evil nowhere. Thou climbedst into the
ship, thou hast made thy voyage and touched the shore. Go forth now!
Be it into some other life: the divine breath is everywhere, even
there. Be it into forgetfulness for ever; at least thou wilt rest
from the beating of sensible images upon thee, from the passions
which pluck thee this way and that like an unfeeling toy, from those
long marches of the intellect, from thy toilsome ministry to the

"Art thou yet more than dust and ashes and bare bone--a name only, or
not so much as [209] that, which, also, is but whispering and a
resonance, kept alive from mouth to mouth of dying abjects who have
hardly known themselves; how much less thee, dead so long ago!

"When thou lookest upon a wise man, a lawyer, a captain of war, think
upon another gone. When thou seest thine own face in the glass, call
up there before thee one of thine ancestors--one of those old
Caesars. Lo! everywhere, thy double before thee! Thereon, let the
thought occur to thee: And where are they? anywhere at all, for ever?
And thou, thyself--how long? Art thou blind to that thou art--thy
matter, how temporal; and thy function, the nature of thy business?
Yet tarry, at least, till thou hast assimilated even these things to
thine own proper essence, as a quick fire turneth into heat and light
whatsoever be cast upon it.

"As words once in use are antiquated to us, so is it with the names
that were once on all men's lips: Camillus, Volesus, Leonnatus: then,
in a little while, Scipio and Cato, and then Augustus, and then
Hadrian, and then Antoninus Pius. How many great physicians who
lifted wise brows at other men's sick-beds, have sickened and died!
Those wise Chaldeans, who foretold, as a great matter, another man's
last hour, have themselves been taken by surprise. Ay! and all those
others, in their pleasant places: those who doated on a Capreae like
[210] Tiberius, on their gardens, on the baths: Pythagoras and
Socrates, who reasoned so closely upon immortality: Alexander, who
used the lives of others as though his own should last for ever--he
and his mule-driver alike now!--one upon another. Well-nigh the
whole court of Antoninus is extinct. Panthea and Pergamus sit no
longer beside the sepulchre of their lord. The watchers over
Hadrian's dust have slipped from his sepulchre.--It were jesting to
stay longer. Did they sit there still, would the dead feel it? or
feeling it, be glad? or glad, hold those watchers for ever? The time
must come when they too shall be aged men and aged women, and
decease, and fail from their places; and what shift were there then
for imperial service? This too is but the breath of the tomb, and a
skinful of dead men's blood.

"Think again of those inscriptions, which belong not to one soul
only, but to whole families: Eschatos tou idiou genous:+ He was the last
of his race. Nay! of the burial of whole cities: Helice, Pompeii: of
others, whose very burial place is unknown.

"Thou hast been a citizen in this wide city. Count not for how long,
nor repine; since that which sends thee hence is no unrighteous
judge, no tyrant, but Nature, who brought thee hither; as when a
player leaves the stage at the bidding of the conductor who hired
him. Sayest thou, 'I have not played five acts'? True! but in [211]
human life, three acts only make sometimes an entire play. That is
the composer's business, not thine. Withdraw thyself with a good
will; for that too hath, perchance, a good will which dismisseth thee
from thy part."

The discourse ended almost in darkness, the evening having set in
somewhat suddenly, with a heavy fall of snow. The torches, made
ready to do him a useless honour, were of real service now, as the
emperor was solemnly conducted home; one man rapidly catching light
from another--a long stream of moving lights across the white Forum,
up the great stairs, to the palace. And, in effect, that night
winter began, the hardest that had been known for a lifetime. The
wolves came from the mountains; and, led by the carrion scent,
devoured the dead bodies which had been hastily buried during the
plague, and, emboldened by their meal, crept, before the short day
was well past, over the walls of the farmyards of the Campagna. The
eagles were seen driving the flocks of smaller birds across the dusky
sky. Only, in the city itself the winter was all the brighter for
the contrast, among those who could pay for light and warmth. The
habit-makers made a great sale of the spoil of all such furry
creatures as had escaped wolves and eagles, for presents at the
Saturnalia; and at no time had the winter roses from Carthage seemed
more lustrously yellow and red.


188. +Spenser, Shepheardes Calendar, October, 61-66.

200. +Transliteration: Hôsper epigraphas chronôn kai holôn ethnôn.
Pater's Translation: "the sepulchral titles of ages and whole

202. +Homer, Iliad VI.146-48.

202. +Transliteration: Earos epigignetai hôrê. Translation: "born in
springtime." Homer, Iliad VI.147.

210. +Transliteration: Eschatos tou idiou genous. Translation: "He
was the last of his race."


AFTER that sharp, brief winter, the sun was already at work,
softening leaf and bud, as you might feel by a faint sweetness in the
air; but he did his work behind an evenly white sky, against which
the abode of the Caesars, its cypresses and bronze roofs, seemed like
a picture in beautiful but melancholy colour, as Marius climbed the
long flights of steps to be introduced to the emperor Aurelius.
Attired in the newest mode, his legs wound in dainty fasciae of white
leather, with the heavy gold ring of the ingenuus, and in his toga
of ceremony, he still retained all his country freshness of
complexion. The eyes of the "golden youth" of Rome were upon him as
the chosen friend of Cornelius, and the destined servant of the
emperor; but not jealously. In spite of, perhaps partly because of,
his habitual reserve of manner, he had become "the fashion," even
among those who felt instinctively the irony which lay beneath that
remarkable self-possession, as of one taking all things with a [213]
difference from other people, perceptible in voice, in expression,
and even in his dress. It was, in truth, the air of one who,
entering vividly into life, and relishing to the full the delicacies
of its intercourse, yet feels all the while, from the point of view
of an ideal philosophy, that he is but conceding reality to
suppositions, choosing of his own will to walk in a day-dream, of the
illusiveness of which he at least is aware.

In the house of the chief chamberlain Marius waited for the due
moment of admission to the emperor's presence. He was admiring the
peculiar decoration of the walls, coloured like rich old red leather.
In the midst of one of them was depicted, under a trellis of fruit
you might have gathered, the figure of a woman knocking at a door
with wonderful reality of perspective. Then the summons came; and in
a few minutes, the etiquette of the imperial household being still a
simple matter, he had passed the curtains which divided the central
hall of the palace into three parts--three degrees of approach to the
sacred person--and was speaking to Aurelius himself; not in Greek, in
which the emperor oftenest conversed with the learned, but, more
familiarly, in Latin, adorned however, or disfigured, by many a Greek
phrase, as now and again French phrases have made the adornment of
fashionable English. It was with real kindliness that Marcus
Aurelius looked upon Marius, as [214] a youth of great attainments in
Greek letters and philosophy; and he liked also his serious
expression, being, as we know, a believer in the doctrine of
physiognomy--that, as he puts it, not love only, but every other
affection of man's soul, looks out very plainly from the window of
the eyes.

The apartment in which Marius found himself was of ancient aspect,
and richly decorated with the favourite toys of two or three
generations of imperial collectors, now finally revised by the high
connoisseurship of the Stoic emperor himself, though destined not
much longer to remain together there. It is the repeated boast of
Aurelius that he had learned from old Antoninus Pius to maintain
authority without the constant use of guards, in a robe woven by the
handmaids of his own consort, with no processional lights or images,
and "that a prince may shrink himself almost into the figure of a
private gentleman." And yet, again as at his first sight of him,
Marius was struck by the profound religiousness of the surroundings
of the imperial presence. The effect might have been due in part to
the very simplicity, the discreet and scrupulous simplicity, of the
central figure in this splendid abode; but Marius could not forget
that he saw before him not only the head of the Roman religion, but
one who might actually have claimed something like divine worship,
had he cared to do so. Though the fantastic pretensions of Caligula
had brought some contempt [215] on that claim, which had become
almost a jest under the ungainly Claudius, yet, from Augustus
downwards, a vague divinity had seemed to surround the Caesars even
in this life; and the peculiar character of Aurelius, at once a
ceremonious polytheist never forgetful of his pontifical calling, and
a philosopher whose mystic speculation encircled him with a sort of
saintly halo, had restored to his person, without his intending it,
something of that divine prerogative, or prestige. Though he would
never allow the immediate dedication of altars to himself, yet the
image of his Genius--his spirituality or celestial counterpart--was
placed among those of the deified princes of the past; and his
family, including Faustina and the young Commodus, was spoken of as
the "holy" or "divine" house. Many a Roman courtier agreed with the
barbarian chief, who, after contemplating a predecessor of Aurelius,
withdrew from his presence with the exclamation:--"I have seen a god
to-day!" The very roof of his house, rising into a pediment or
gable, like that of the sanctuary of a god, the laurels on either
side its doorway, the chaplet of oak-leaves above, seemed to
designate the place for religious veneration. And notwithstanding
all this, the household of Aurelius was singularly modest, with none
of the wasteful expense of palaces after the fashion of Lewis the
Fourteenth; the palatial dignity being felt only in a peculiar sense
of order, the absence [216] of all that was casual, of vulgarity and
discomfort. A merely official residence of his predecessors, the
Palatine had become the favourite dwelling-place of Aurelius; its
many-coloured memories suiting, perhaps, his pensive character, and
the crude splendours of Nero and Hadrian being now subdued by time.
The window-less Roman abode must have had much of what to a modern
would be gloom. How did the children, one wonders, endure houses
with so little escape for the eye into the world outside? Aurelius,
who had altered little else, choosing to live there, in a genuine
homeliness, had shifted and made the most of the level lights, and
broken out a quite medieval window here and there, and the clear
daylight, fully appreciated by his youthful visitor, made pleasant
shadows among the objects of the imperial collection. Some of these,
indeed, by reason of their Greek simplicity and grace, themselves
shone out like spaces of a purer, early light, amid the splendours of
the Roman manufacture.

Though he looked, thought Marius, like a man who did not sleep
enough, he was abounding and bright to-day, after one of those
pitiless headaches, which since boyhood had been the "thorn in his
side," challenging the pretensions of his philosophy to fortify one
in humble endurances. At the first moment, to Marius, remembering
the spectacle of the emperor in ceremony, it was almost bewildering
to be in [217] private conversation with him. There was much in the
philosophy of Aurelius--much consideration of mankind at large, of
great bodies, aggregates and generalities, after the Stoic manner--
which, on a nature less rich than his, might have acted as an
inducement to care for people in inverse proportion to their nearness
to him. That has sometimes been the result of the Stoic
cosmopolitanism. Aurelius, however, determined to beautify by all
means, great or little, a doctrine which had in it some potential
sourness, had brought all the quickness of his intelligence, and long
years of observation, to bear on the conditions of social
intercourse. He had early determined "not to make business an excuse
to decline the offices of humanity--not to pretend to be too much
occupied with important affairs to concede what life with others may
hourly demand;" and with such success, that, in an age which made
much of the finer points of that intercourse, it was felt that the
mere honesty of his conversation was more pleasing than other men's
flattery. His agreeableness to his young visitor to-day was, in
truth, a blossom of the same wisdom which had made of Lucius Verus
really a brother--the wisdom of not being exigent with men, any more
than with fruit-trees (it is his own favourite figure) beyond their
nature. And there was another person, still nearer to him, regarding
whom this wisdom became a marvel, of equity--of charity.

[218] The centre of a group of princely children, in the same
apartment with Aurelius, amid all the refined intimacies of a modern
home, sat the empress Faustina, warming her hands over a fire. With
her long fingers lighted up red by the glowing coals of the brazier
Marius looked close upon the most beautiful woman in the world, who
was also the great paradox of the age, among her boys and girls. As
has been truly said of the numerous representations of her in art, so
in life, she had the air of one curious, restless, to enter into
conversation with the first comer. She had certainly the power of
stimulating a very ambiguous sort of curiosity about herself. And
Marius found this enigmatic point in her expression, that even after
seeing her many times he could never precisely recall her features in
absence. The lad of six years, looking older, who stood beside her,
impatiently plucking a rose to pieces over the hearth, was, in
outward appearance, his father--the young Verissimus--over again; but
with a certain feminine length of feature, and with all his mother's
alertness, or license, of gaze.

Yet rumour knocked at every door and window of the imperial house
regarding the adulterers who knocked at them, or quietly left their
lovers' garlands there. Was not that likeness of the husband, in the
boy beside her, really the effect of a shameful magic, in which the
blood of the murdered gladiator, his true father, had been an
ingredient? Were the tricks for [219] deceiving husbands which the
Roman poet describes, really hers, and her household an efficient
school of all the arts of furtive love? Or, was the husband too
aware, like every one beside? Were certain sudden deaths which
happened there, really the work of apoplexy, or the plague?

The man whose ears, whose soul, those rumours were meant to
penetrate, was, however, faithful to his sanguine and optimist
philosophy, to his determination that the world should be to him
simply what the higher reason preferred to conceive it; and the
life's journey Aurelius had made so far, though involving much moral
and intellectual loneliness, had been ever in affectionate and
helpful contact with other wayfarers, very unlike himself. Since his
days of earliest childhood in the Lateran gardens, he seemed to
himself, blessing the gods for it after deliberate survey, to have
been always surrounded by kinsmen, friends, servants, of exceptional
virtue. From the great Stoic idea, that we are all fellow-citizens
of one city, he had derived a tenderer, a more equitable estimate
than was common among Stoics, of the eternal shortcomings of men and
women. Considerations that might tend to the sweetening of his
temper it was his daily care to store away, with a kind of
philosophic pride in the thought that no one took more good-naturedly
than he the "oversights" of his neighbours. For had not Plato taught
(it was not [220] paradox, but simple truth of experience) that if
people sin, it is because they know no better, and are "under the
necessity of their own ignorance"? Hard to himself, he seemed at
times, doubtless, to decline too softly upon unworthy persons.
Actually, he came thereby upon many a useful instrument. The empress
Faustina he would seem at least to have kept, by a constraining
affection, from becoming altogether what most people have believed
her, and won in her (we must take him at his word in the "Thoughts,"
abundantly confirmed by letters, on both sides, in his correspondence
with Cornelius Fronto) a consolation, the more secure, perhaps,
because misknown of others. Was the secret of her actual
blamelessness, after all, with him who has at least screened her
name? At all events, the one thing quite certain about her, besides
her extraordinary beauty, is her sweetness to himself.

No! The wise, who had made due observation on the trees of the
garden, would not expect to gather grapes of thorns or fig-trees: and
he was the vine, putting forth his genial fruit, by natural law,
again and again, after his kind, whatever use people might make of
it. Certainly, his actual presence never lost its power, and
Faustina was glad in it to-day, the birthday of one of her children,
a boy who stood at her knee holding in his fingers tenderly a tiny
silver trumpet, one of his birthday gifts.--"For my [221] part,
unless I conceive my hurt to be such, I have no hurt at all,"--boasts
the would-be apathetic emperor:--"and how I care to conceive of the
thing rests with me." Yet when his children fall sick or die, this
pretence breaks down, and he is broken-hearted: and one of the charms
of certain of his letters still extant, is his reference to those
childish sicknesses.--"On my return to Lorium," he writes, "I found
my little lady--domnulam meam--in a fever;" and again, in a letter to
one of the most serious of men, "You will be glad to hear that our
little one is better, and running about the room--parvolam nostram
melius valere et intra cubiculum discurrere."

The young Commodus had departed from the chamber, anxious to witness
the exercises of certain gladiators, having a native taste for such
company, inherited, according to popular rumour, from his true
father--anxious also to escape from the too impressive company of the
gravest and sweetest specimen of old age Marius had ever seen, the
tutor of the imperial children, who had arrived to offer his birthday
congratulations, and now, very familiarly and affectionately, made a
part of the group, falling on the shoulders of the emperor, kissing
the empress Faustina on the face, the little ones on the face and
hands. Marcus Cornelius Fronto, the "Orator," favourite teacher of
the emperor's youth, afterwards his most trusted counsellor, and now
the undisputed occupant of the sophistic throne, whose equipage,
[222] elegantly mounted with silver, Marius had seen in the streets
of Rome, had certainly turned his many personal gifts to account with
a good fortune, remarkable even in that age, so indulgent to
professors or rhetoricians. The gratitude of the emperor Aurelius,
always generous to his teachers, arranging their very quarrels
sometimes, for they were not always fair to one another, had helped
him to a really great place in the world. But his sumptuous
appendages, including the villa and gardens of Maecenas, had been
borne with an air perfectly becoming, by the professor of a
philosophy which, even in its most accomplished and elegant phase,
presupposed a gentle contempt for such things. With an intimate
practical knowledge of manners, physiognomies, smiles, disguises,
flatteries, and courtly tricks of every kind--a whole accomplished
rhetoric of daily life--he applied them all to the promotion of
humanity, and especially of men's family affection. Through a long
life of now eighty years, he had been, as it were, surrounded by the
gracious and soothing air of his own eloquence--the fame, the echoes,
of it--like warbling birds, or murmuring bees. Setting forth in that
fine medium the best ideas of matured pagan philosophy, he had become
the favourite "director" of noble youth

Yes! it was the one instance Marius, always eagerly on the look-out
for such, had yet seen of [223] a perfectly tolerable, perfectly
beautiful, old age--an old age in which there seemed, to one who
perhaps habitually over-valued the expression of youth, nothing to be
regretted, nothing really lost, in what years had taken away. The
wise old man, whose blue eyes and fair skin were so delicate,
uncontaminate and clear, would seem to have replaced carefully and
consciously each natural trait of youth, as it departed from him, by
an equivalent grace of culture; and had the blitheness, the placid
cheerfulness, as he had also the infirmity, the claim on stronger
people, of a delightful child. And yet he seemed to be but awaiting
his exit from life--that moment with which the Stoics were almost as
much preoccupied as the Christians, however differently--and set
Marius pondering on the contrast between a placidity like this, at
eighty years, and the sort of desperateness he was aware of in his
own manner of entertaining that thought. His infirmities
nevertheless had been painful and long-continued, with losses of
children, of pet grandchildren. What with the crowd, and the
wretched streets, it was a sign of affection which had cost him
something, for the old man to leave his own house at all that day;
and he was glad of the emperor's support, as he moved from place to
place among the children he protests so often to have loved as his

For a strange piece of literary good fortune, at the beginning of the
present century, has set [224] free the long-buried fragrance of this
famous friendship of the old world, from below a valueless later
manuscript, in a series of letters, wherein the two writers exchange,
for the most part their evening thoughts, especially at family
anniversaries, and with entire intimacy, on their children, on the
art of speech, on all the various subtleties of the "science of
images"--rhetorical images--above all, of course, on sleep and
matters of health. They are full of mutual admiration of each
other's eloquence, restless in absence till they see one another
again, noting, characteristically, their very dreams of each other,
expecting the day which will terminate the office, the business or
duty, which separates them--"as superstitious people watch for the
star, at the rising of which they may break their fast." To one of
the writers, to Aurelius, the correspondence was sincerely of value.
We see him once reading his letters with genuine delight on going to
rest. Fronto seeks to deter his pupil from writing in Greek.--Why
buy, at great cost, a foreign wine, inferior to that from one's own
vineyard? Aurelius, on the other hand, with an extraordinary innate
susceptibility to words--la parole pour la parole, as the French say-
-despairs, in presence of Fronto's rhetorical perfection.

Like the modern visitor to the Capitoline and some other museums,
Fronto had been struck, pleasantly struck, by the family likeness
[225] among the Antonines; and it was part of his friendship to make
much of it, in the case of the children of Faustina. "Well! I have
seen the little ones," he writes to Aurelius, then, apparently,
absent from them: "I have seen the little ones--the pleasantest sight
of my life; for they are as like yourself as could possibly be. It
has well repaid me for my journey over that slippery road, and up
those steep rocks; for I beheld you, not simply face to face before
me, but, more generously, whichever way I turned, to my right and my
left. For the rest, I found them, Heaven be thanked! with healthy
cheeks and lusty voices. One was holding a slice of white bread,
like a king's son; the other a crust of brown bread, as becomes the
offspring of a philosopher. I pray the gods to have both the sower
and the seed in their keeping; to watch over this field wherein the
ears of corn are so kindly alike. Ah! I heard too their pretty
voices, so sweet that in the childish prattle of one and the other I
seemed somehow to be listening--yes! in that chirping of your pretty
chickens--to the limpid+ and harmonious notes of your own oratory.
Take care! you will find me growing independent, having those I could
love in your place:--love, on the surety of my eyes and ears."

"Magistro meo salutem!" replies the Emperor, "I too have seen my
little ones in your sight of them; as, also, I saw yourself in
reading your [226] letter. It is that charming letter forces me to
write thus:" with reiterations of affection, that is, which are
continual in these letters, on both sides, and which may strike a
modern reader perhaps as fulsome; or, again, as having something in
common with the old Judaic unction of friendship. They were
certainly sincere.

To one of those children Fronto had now brought the birthday gift of
the silver trumpet, upon which he ventured to blow softly now and
again, turning away with eyes delighted at the sound, when he thought
the old man was not listening. It was the well-worn, valetudinarian
subject of sleep, on which Fronto and Aurelius were talking together;
Aurelius always feeling it a burden, Fronto a thing of magic
capacities, so that he had written an encomium in its praise, and
often by ingenious arguments recommends his imperial pupil not to be
sparing of it. To-day, with his younger listeners in mind, he had a
story to tell about it:--

"They say that our father Jupiter, when he ordered the world at the
beginning, divided time into two parts exactly equal: the one part he
clothed with light, the other with darkness: he called them Day and
Night; and he assigned rest to the night and to day the work of life.
At that time Sleep was not yet born and men passed the whole of their
lives awake: only, the quiet of the night was ordained for them,
instead of sleep. But it came to pass, little by little, [227] being
that the minds of men are restless, that they carried on their
business alike by night as by day, and gave no part at all to repose.
And Jupiter, when he perceived that even in the night-time they
ceased not from trouble and disputation, and that even the courts of
law remained open (it was the pride of Aurelius, as Fronto knew, to
be assiduous in those courts till far into the night) resolved to
appoint one of his brothers to be the overseer of the night and have
authority over man's rest. But Neptune pleaded in excuse the gravity
of his constant charge of the seas, and Father Dis the difficulty of
keeping in subjection the spirits below; and Jupiter, having taken
counsel with the other gods, perceived that the practice of nightly
vigils was somewhat in favour. It was then, for the most part, that
Juno gave birth to her children: Minerva, the mistress of all art and
craft, loved the midnight lamp: Mars delighted in the darkness for
his plots and sallies; and the favour of Venus and Bacchus was with
those who roused by night. Then it was that Jupiter formed the
design of creating Sleep; and he added him to the number of the gods,
and gave him the charge over night and rest, putting into his hands
the keys of human eyes. With his own hands he mingled the juices
wherewith Sleep should soothe the hearts of mortals--herb of
Enjoyment and herb of Safety, gathered from a grove in Heaven; and,
from the meadows of [228] Acheron, the herb of Death; expressing from
it one single drop only, no bigger than a tear one might hide. 'With
this juice,' he said, 'pour slumber upon the eyelids of mortals. So
soon as it hath touched them they will lay themselves down
motionless, under thy power. But be not afraid: they shall revive,
and in a while stand up again upon their feet.' Thereafter, Jupiter
gave wings to Sleep, attached, not, like Mercury's, to his heels, but
to his shoulders, like the wings of Love. For he said, 'It becomes
thee not to approach men's eyes as with the noise of chariots, and
the rushing of a swift courser, but in placid and merciful flight, as
upon the wings of a swallow--nay! with not so much as the flutter of
the dove.' Besides all this, that he might be yet pleasanter to men,
he committed to him also a multitude of blissful dreams, according to
every man's desire. One watched his favourite actor; another
listened to the flute, or guided a charioteer in the race: in his
dream, the soldier was victorious, the general was borne in triumph,
the wanderer returned home. Yes!--and sometimes those dreams come

Just then Aurelius was summoned to make the birthday offerings to his
household gods. A heavy curtain of tapestry was drawn back; and
beyond it Marius gazed for a few moments into the Lararium, or
imperial chapel. A patrician youth, in white habit, was in waiting,
with a little chest in his hand containing incense for the [229] use
of the altar. On richly carved consoles, or side boards, around this
narrow chamber, were arranged the rich apparatus of worship and the
golden or gilded images, adorned to-day with fresh flowers, among
them that image of Fortune from the apartment of Antoninus Pius, and
such of the emperor's own teachers as were gone to their rest. A dim
fresco on the wall commemorated the ancient piety of Lucius Albinius,
who in flight from Rome on the morrow of a great disaster, overtaking
certain priests on foot with their sacred utensils, descended from
the wagon in which he rode and yielded it to the ministers of the
gods. As he ascended into the chapel the emperor paused, and with a
grave but friendly look at his young visitor, delivered a parting
sentence, audible to him alone: Imitation is the most acceptable--
Make sure that those to whom you come nearest be the happier by your*

It was the very spirit of the scene and the hour--the hour Marius had
spent in the imperial house. How temperate, how tranquillising! what
humanity! Yet, as he left the eminent company concerning whose ways
of life at home he had been so youthfully curious, and sought, after
his manner, to determine the main trait in all this, he had to
confess that it was a sentiment of mediocrity, though of a mediocrity
for once really golden.


225. +"Limpid" is misprinted "Limped."


DURING the Eastern war there came a moment when schism in the empire
had seemed possible through the defection of Lucius Verus; when to
Aurelius it had also seemed possible to confirm his allegiance by no
less a gift than his beautiful daughter Lucilla, the eldest of his
children--the domnula, probably, of those letters. The little lady,
grown now to strong and stately maidenhood, had been ever something
of the good genius, the better soul, to Lucius Verus, by the law of
contraries, her somewhat cold and apathetic modesty acting as
counterfoil to the young man's tigrish fervour. Conducted to
Ephesus, she had become his wife by form of civil marriage, the more
solemn wedding rites being deferred till their return to Rome.

The ceremony of the Confarreation, or religious marriage, in which
bride and bridegroom partook together of a certain mystic bread, was
celebrated accordingly, with due pomp, early in the spring; Aurelius
himself [231] assisting, with much domestic feeling. A crowd of
fashionable people filled the space before the entrance to the
apartments of Lucius on the Palatine hill, richly decorated for the
occasion, commenting, not always quite delicately, on the various
details of the rite, which only a favoured few succeeded in actually
witnessing. "She comes!" Marius could hear them say, "escorted by
her young brothers: it is the young Commodus who carries the torch of
white-thornwood, the little basket of work-things, the toys for the
children:"--and then, after a watchful pause, "she is winding the
woollen thread round the doorposts. Ah! I see the marriage-cake:
the bridegroom presents the fire and water." Then, in a longer
pause, was heard the chorus, Thalassie! Thalassie! and for just a
few moments, in the strange light of many wax tapers at noonday,
Marius could see them both, side by side, while the bride was lifted
over the doorstep: Lucius Verus heated and handsome--the pale,
impassive Lucilla looking very long and slender, in her closely
folded yellow veil, and high nuptial crown.

As Marius turned away, glad to escape from the pressure of the crowd,
he found himself face to face with Cornelius, an infrequent spectator
on occasions such as this. It was a relief to depart with him--so
fresh and quiet he looked, though in all his splendid equestrian
array in honour of the ceremony--from the garish heat [232] of the
marriage scene. The reserve which had puzzled Marius so much on his
first day in Rome, was but an instance of many, to him wholly
unaccountable, avoidances alike of things and persons, which must
certainly mean that an intimate companionship would cost him
something in the way of seemingly indifferent amusements. Some
inward standard Marius seemed to detect there (though wholly unable
to estimate its nature) of distinction, selection, refusal, amid the
various elements of the fervid and corrupt life across which they
were moving together:--some secret, constraining motive, ever on the
alert at eye and ear, which carried him through Rome as under a
charm, so that Marius could not but think of that figure of the white
bird in the market-place as undoubtedly made true of him. And Marius
was still full of admiration for this companion, who had known how to
make himself very pleasant to him. Here was the clear, cold
corrective, which the fever of his present life demanded. Without
it, he would have felt alternately suffocated and exhausted by an
existence, at once so gaudy and overdone, and yet so intolerably
empty; in which people, even at their best, seemed only to be
brooding, like the wise emperor himself, over a world's
disillusion. For with all the severity of Cornelius, there was such
a breeze of hopefulness--freshness and hopefulness, as of new
morning, about him. [233] For the most part, as I said, those
refusals, that reserve of his, seemed unaccountable. But there were
cases where the unknown monitor acted in a direction with which the
judgment, or instinct, of Marius himself wholly concurred; the
effective decision of Cornelius strengthening him further therein, as
by a kind of outwardly embodied conscience. And the entire drift of
his education determined him, on one point at least, to be wholly of
the same mind with this peculiar friend (they two, it might be,
together, against the world!) when, alone of a whole company of
brilliant youth, he had withdrawn from his appointed place in the
amphitheatre, at a grand public show, which after an interval of many
months, was presented there, in honour of the nuptials of Lucius
Verus and Lucilla.

And it was still to the eye, through visible movement and aspect,
that the character, or genius of Cornelius made itself felt by
Marius; even as on that afternoon when he had girt on his armour,
among the expressive lights and shades of the dim old villa at the
roadside, and every object of his knightly array had seemed to be but
sign or symbol of some other thing far beyond it. For, consistently
with his really poetic temper, all influence reached Marius, even
more exclusively than he was aware, through the medium of sense.
From Flavian in that brief early summer of his existence, he had
derived a powerful impression of the [234] "perpetual flux": he had
caught there, as in cipher or symbol, or low whispers more effective
than any definite language, his own Cyrenaic philosophy, presented
thus, for the first time, in an image or person, with much
attractiveness, touched also, consequently, with a pathetic sense of
personal sorrow:--a concrete image, the abstract equivalent of which
he could recognise afterwards, when the agitating personal influence
had settled down for him, clearly enough, into a theory of practice.
But of what possible intellectual formula could this mystic Cornelius
be the sensible exponent; seeming, as he did, to live ever in close
relationship with, and recognition of, a mental view, a source of
discernment, a light upon his way, which had certainly not yet sprung
up for Marius? Meantime, the discretion of Cornelius, his energetic
clearness and purity, were a charm, rather physical than moral: his
exquisite correctness of spirit, at all events, accorded so perfectly
with the regular beauty of his person, as to seem to depend upon it.
And wholly different as was this later friendship, with its exigency,
its warnings, its restraints, from the feverish attachment to
Flavian, which had made him at times like an uneasy slave, still,
like that, it was a reconciliation to the world of sense, the visible
world. From the hopefulness of this gracious presence, all visible
things around him, even the commonest objects of everyday life--if
they but [235] stood together to warm their hands at the same fire--
took for him a new poetry, a delicate fresh bloom, and interest. It
was as if his bodily eyes had been indeed mystically washed, renewed,

And how eagerly, with what a light heart, would Flavian have taken
his place in the amphitheatre, among the youth of his own age! with
what an appetite for every detail of the entertainment, and its
various accessories:--the sunshine, filtered into soft gold by the
vela, with their serpentine patterning, spread over the more select
part of the company; the Vestal virgins, taking their privilege of
seats near the empress Faustina, who sat there in a maze of double-
coloured gems, changing, as she moved, like the waves of the sea; the
cool circle of shadow, in which the wonderful toilets of the
fashionable told so effectively around the blazing arena, covered
again and again during the many hours' show, with clean sand for the
absorption of certain great red patches there, by troops of white-
shirted boys, for whom the good-natured audience provided a scramble
of nuts and small coin, flung to them over a trellis-work of silver-
gilt and amber, precious gift of Nero, while a rain of flowers and
perfume fell over themselves, as they paused between the parts of
their long feast upon the spectacle of animal suffering.

During his sojourn at Ephesus, Lucius Verus had readily become a
patron, patron or protégé, [236] of the great goddess of Ephesus, the
goddess of hunters; and the show, celebrated by way of a compliment
to him to-day, was to present some incidents of her story, where she
figures almost as the genius of madness, in animals, or in the
humanity which comes in contact with them. The entertainment would
have an element of old Greek revival in it, welcome to the taste of a
learned and Hellenising society; and, as Lucius Verus was in some
sense a lover of animals, was to be a display of animals mainly.
There would be real wild and domestic creatures, all of rare species;
and a real slaughter. On so happy an occasion, it was hoped, the
elder emperor might even concede a point, and a living criminal fall
into the jaws of the wild beasts. And the spectacle was, certainly,
to end in the destruction, by one mighty shower of arrows, of a
hundred lions, "nobly" provided by Aurelius himself for the amusement
of his people.--Tam magnanimus fuit!

The arena, decked and in order for the first scene, looked
delightfully fresh, re-inforcing on the spirits of the audience the
actual freshness of the morning, which at this season still brought
the dew. Along the subterranean ways that led up to it, the sound of
an advancing chorus was heard at last, chanting the words of a sacred
song, or hymn to Diana; for the spectacle of the amphitheatre was,
after all, a [237] religious occasion. To its grim acts of blood-
shedding a kind of sacrificial character still belonged in the view
of certain religious casuists, tending conveniently to soothe the
humane sensibilities of so pious an emperor as Aurelius, who, in his
fraternal complacency, had consented to preside over the shows.

Artemis or Diana, as she may be understood in the actual development
of her worship, was, indeed, the symbolical expression of two allied
yet contrasted elements of human temper and experience--man's amity,
and also his enmity, towards the wild creatures, when they were
still, in a certain sense, his brothers. She is the complete, and
therefore highly complex, representative of a state, in which man was
still much occupied with animals, not as his flock, or as his
servants after the pastoral relationship of our later, orderly world,
but rather as his equals, on friendly terms or the reverse,--a state
full of primeval sympathies and antipathies, of rivalries and common
wants--while he watched, and could enter into, the humours of those
"younger brothers," with an intimacy, the "survivals" of which in a
later age seem often to have had a kind of madness about them. Diana
represents alike the bright and the dark side of such relationship.
But the humanities of that relationship were all forgotten to-day in
the excitement of a show, in which mere cruelty to animals, their
useless suffering and death, formed [238] the main point of interest.
People watched their destruction, batch after batch, in a not
particularly inventive fashion; though it was expected that the
animals themselves, as living creatures are apt to do when hard put
to it, would become inventive, and make up, by the fantastic
accidents of their agony, for the deficiencies of an age fallen
behind in this matter of manly amusement. It was as a Deity of
Slaughter--the Taurian goddess who demands the sacrifice of the
shipwrecked sailors thrown on her coasts--the cruel, moonstruck
huntress, who brings not only sudden death, but rabies, among the
wild creatures that Diana was to be presented, in the person of a
famous courtesan. The aim at an actual theatrical illusion, after
the first introductory scene, was frankly surrendered to the display
of the animals, artificially stimulated and maddened to attack each
other. And as Diana was also a special protectress of new-born
creatures, there would be a certain curious interest in the
dexterously contrived escape of the young from their mother's torn
bosoms; as many pregnant animals as possible being carefully selected
for the purpose.

The time had been, and was to come again, when the pleasures of the
amphitheatre centered in a similar practical joking upon human
beings. What more ingenious diversion had stage manager ever
contrived than that incident, itself a practical epigram never to be
forgottten, [239] when a criminal, who, like slaves and animals, had
no rights, was compelled to present the part of Icarus; and, the
wings failing him in due course, had fallen into a pack of hungry
bears? For the long shows of the amphitheatre were, so to speak, the
novel-reading of that age--a current help provided for sluggish
imaginations, in regard, for instance, to grisly accidents, such as
might happen to one's self; but with every facility for comfortable
inspection. Scaevola might watch his own hand, consuming, crackling,
in the fire, in the person of a culprit, willing to redeem his life
by an act so delightful to the eyes, the very ears, of a curious
public. If the part of Marsyas was called for, there was a criminal
condemned to lose his skin. It might be almost edifying to study
minutely the expression of his face, while the assistants corded and
pegged him to the bench, cunningly; the servant of the law waiting
by, who, after one short cut with his knife, would slip the man's leg
from his skin, as neatly as if it were a stocking--a finesse in
providing the due amount of suffering for wrong-doers only brought to
its height in Nero's living bonfires. But then, by making his
suffering ridiculous, you enlist against the sufferer, some real, and
all would-be manliness, and do much to stifle any false sentiment of
compassion. The philosophic emperor, having no great taste for
sport, and asserting here a personal scruple, had greatly changed all
[240] that; had provided that nets should be spread under the dancers
on the tight-rope, and buttons for the swords of the gladiators. But
the gladiators were still there. Their bloody contests had, under
the form of a popular amusement, the efficacy of a human sacrifice;
as, indeed, the whole system of the public shows was understood to
possess a religious import. Just at this point, certainly, the
judgment of Lucretius on pagan religion is without reproach--

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

And Marius, weary and indignant, feeling isolated in the great
slaughter-house, could not but observe that, in his habitual
complaisance to Lucius Verus, who, with loud shouts of applause from
time to time, lounged beside him, Aurelius had sat impassibly through
all the hours Marius himself had remained there. For the most part
indeed, the emperor had actually averted his eyes from the show,
reading, or writing on matters of public business, but had seemed,
after all, indifferent. He was revolving, perhaps, that old Stoic
paradox of the Imperceptibility of pain; which might serve as an
excuse, should those savage popular humours ever again turn against
men and women. Marius remembered well his very attitude and
expression on this day, when, a few years later, certain things came
to pass in Gaul, under his full authority; and that attitude and
expression [241] defined already, even thus early in their so
friendly intercourse, and though he was still full of gratitude for
his interest, a permanent point of difference between the emperor and
himself--between himself, with all the convictions of his life taking
centre to-day in his merciful, angry heart, and Aurelius, as
representing all the light, all the apprehensive power there might be
in pagan intellect. There was something in a tolerance such as this,
in the bare fact that he could sit patiently through a scene like
this, which seemed to Marius to mark Aurelius as his inferior now and
for ever on the question of righteousness; to set them on opposite
sides, in some great conflict, of which that difference was but a
single presentment. Due, in whatever proportions, to the abstract
principles he had formulated for himself, or in spite of them, there
was the loyal conscience within him, deciding, judging himself and
every one else, with a wonderful sort of authority:--You ought,
methinks, to be something quite different from what you are; here!
and here! Surely Aurelius must be lacking in that decisive
conscience at first sight, of the intimations of which Marius could
entertain no doubt--which he looked for in others. He at least, the
humble follower of the bodily eye, was aware of a crisis in life, in
this brief, obscure existence, a fierce opposition of real good and
real evil around him, the issues of which he must by no [242] means
compromise or confuse; of the antagonisms of which the "wise" Marcus
Aurelius was unaware.

That long chapter of the cruelty of the Roman public shows may,
perhaps, leave with the children of the modern world a feeling of
self-complacency. Yet it might seem well to ask ourselves--it is
always well to do so, when we read of the slave-trade, for instance,
or of great religious persecutions on this side or on that, or of
anything else which raises in us the question, "Is thy servant a dog,
that he should do this thing?"--not merely, what germs of feeling we
may entertain which, under fitting circumstances, would induce us to
the like; but, even more practically, what thoughts, what sort of
considerations, may be actually present to our minds such as might
have furnished us, living in another age, and in the midst of those
legal crimes, with plausible excuses for them: each age in turn,
perhaps, having its own peculiar point of blindness, with its
consequent peculiar sin--the touch-stone of an unfailing conscience
in the select few.

Those cruel amusements were, certainly, the sin of blindness, of
deadness and stupidity, in the age of Marius; and his light had not
failed him regarding it. Yes! what was needed was the heart that
would make it impossible to witness all this; and the future would be
with the forces that could beget a heart like that. [243] His chosen
philosophy had said,--Trust the eye: Strive to be right always in
regard to the concrete experience: Beware of falsifying your impressions.
And its sanction had at least been effective here, in protesting--"This,
and this, is what you may not look upon!" Surely evil was a real thing,
and the wise man wanting in the sense of it, where, not to have been,
by instinctive election, on the right side, was to have failed in life.


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