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A Narrative of the Time of Nero
by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Translated from the Polish by Jeremiah Curtin
TO AUGUSTE COMTE,
Of San Francisco, Cal.,
MY DEAR FRIEND AND CLASSMATE, I BEG TO DEDICATE THIS VOLUME.
IN the trilogy "With Fire and Sword," "The Deluge," and "Pan Michael,"
Sienkiewicz has given pictures of a great and decisive epoch in modern
history. The results of the struggle begun under Bogdan Hmelnitski have
been felt for more than two centuries, and they are growing daily in
importance. The Russia which rose out of that struggle has become a
power not only of European but of world-wide significance, and, to all
human seeming, she is yet in an early stage of her career.
In "Quo Vadis" the author gives us pictures of opening scenes in the
conflict of moral ideas with the Roman Empire,--a conflict from which
Christianity issued as the leading force in history.
The Slays are not so well known to Western Europe or to us as they are
sure to be in the near future; hence the trilogy, with all its
popularity and merit, is not appreciated yet as it will be.
The conflict described in "Quo Vadis" is of supreme interest to a vast
number of persons reading English; and this book will rouse, I think,
more attention at first than anything written by Sienkiewicz hitherto.
ILOM, NORTHERN GUATEMALA,
Quo Vadis A Narrative of the Time of Nero
by Henryk Sienkiewicz
Translated from the Polish by Jeremiah Cuurtin
PETRONIUS woke only about midday, and as usual greatly wearied. The
evening before he had been at one of Nero's feasts, which was prolonged
till late at night. For some time his health had been failing. He said
himself that he woke up benumbed, as it were, and without power of
collecting his thoughts. But the morning bath and careful kneading of
the body by trained slaves hastened gradually the course of his slothful
blood, roused him, quickened him, restored his strength, so that he
issued from the elęothesium, that is, the last division of the bath, as
if he had risen from the dead, with eyes gleaming from wit and gladness,
rejuvenated, filled with life, exquisite, so unapproachable that Otho
himself could not compare with him, and was really that which he had
been called,--arbiter elegantiarum.
He visited the public baths rarely, only when some rhetor happened there
who roused admiration and who was spoken of in the city, or when in the
ephebias there were combats of exceptional interest. Moreover, he had
in his own "insula" private baths which Celer, the famous contemporary
of Severus, had extended for him, reconstructed and arranged with such
uncommon taste that Nero himself acknowledged their excellence over
those of the Emperor, though the imperial baths were more extensive and
finished with incomparably greater luxury.
After that feast, at which he was bored by the jesting of Vatinius with
Nero, Lucan, and Seneca, he took part in a diatribe as to whether woman
has a soul. Rising late, he used, as was his custom, the baths. Two
enormous balneatores laid him on a cypress table covered with snow-white
Egyptian byssus, and with hands dipped in perfumed olive oil began to
rub his shapely body; and he waited with closed eyes till the heat of
the laconicum and the heat of their hands passed through him and
But after a certain time he spoke, and opened his eyes; he inquired
about the weather, and then about gems which the jeweller Idomeneus had
promised to send him for examination that day. It appeared that the
weather was beautiful, with a light breeze from the Alban hills, and
that the gems had not been brought. Petronius closed his eyes again,
and had given command to bear him to the tepidarium, when from behind
the curtain the nomenclator looked in, announcing that young Marcus
Vinicius, recently returned from Asia Minor, had come to visit him.
Petronius ordered to admit the guest to the tepidarium, to which he was
borne himself. Vinicius was the son of his oldest sister, who years
before had married Marcus Vinicius, a man of consular dignity from the
time of Tiberius. The young man was serving then under Corbulo against
the Parthians, and at the close of the war had returned to the city.
Petronius had for him a certain weakness bordering on attachment, for
Marcus was beautiful and athletic, a young man who knew how to preserve
a certain aesthetic measure in his profligacy; this, Petronius prized
"A greeting to Petronius," said the young man, entering the tepidarium
with a springy step. "May all the gods grant thee success, but
especially Asklepios and Kypris, for under their double protection
nothing evil can meet one."
"I greet thee in Rome, and may thy rest be sweet after war," replied
Petronius, extending his hand from between the folds of soft karbas
stuff in which he was wrapped. "What's to be heard in Armenia; or since
thou wert in Asia, didst thou not stumble into Bithynia?"
Petronius on a time had been proconsul in Bithynia, and, what is more,
he had governed with energy and justice. This was a marvellous contrast
in the character of a man noted for effeminacy and love of luxury; hence
he was fond of mentioning those times, as they were a proof of what he
had been, and of what he might have become had it pleased him.
"I happened to visit Heraklea," answered Vinicius. "Corbulo sent me
there with an order to assemble reinforcements."
"Ah, Heraklea! I knew at Heraklea a certain maiden from Colchis, for
whom I would have given all the divorced women of this city, not
excluding Poppęa. But these are old stories. Tell me now, rather, what
is to be heard from the Parthian boundary. It is true that they weary
me every Vologeses of them, and Tiridates and Tigranes,--those
barbarians who, as young Arulenus insists, walk on all fours at home,
and pretend to be human only when in our presence. But now people in
Rome speak much of them, if only for the reason that it is dangerous to
speak of aught else."
"The war is going badly, and but for Corbulo might be turned to defeat."
"Corbulo! by Bacchus! a real god of war, a genuine Mars, a great leader,
at the same time quick-tempered, honest, and dull. I love him, even for
this,--that Nero is afraid of him."
"Corbulo is not a dull man."
"Perhaps thou art right, but for that matter it is all one. Dulness, as
Pyrrho says, is in no way worse than wisdom, and differs from it in
Vinicius began to talk of the war; but when Petronius closed his eyes
again, the young man, seeing his uncle's tired and somewhat emaciated
face, changed the conversation, and inquired with a certain interest
about his health.
Petronius opened his eyes again.
Health!--No. He did not feel well. He had not gone so far yet, it is
true, as young Sissena, who had lost sensation to such a degree that
when he was brought to the bath in the morning he inquired, "Am I
sitting?" But he was not well. Vinicius had just committed him to the
care of Asklepios and Kypris. But he, Petronius, did not believe in
Asklepios. It was not known even whose son that Asklepios was, the son
of Arsinoe or Koronis; and if the mother was doubtful, what was to be
said of the father? Who, in that time, could be sure who his own father
Hereupon Petronius began to laugh; then he continued,--"Two years ago,
it is true, I sent to Epidaurus three dozen live blackbirds and a goblet
of gold; but dost thou know why? I said to myself, 'Whether this helps
or not, it will do me no harm.' Though people make offerings to the gods
yet, I believe that all think as I do,--all, with the exception,
perhaps, of muledrivers hired at the Porta Capena by travellers.
Besides Asklepios, I have had dealings with sons of Asklepios. When I
was troubled a little last year in the bladder, they performed an
incubation for me. I saw that they were tricksters, but I said to
myself: 'What harm! The world stands on deceit, and life is an
illusion. The soul is an illusion too. But one must have reason enough
to distinguish pleasant from painful illusions.' I shall give command to
burn in my hypocaustum, cedar-wood sprinkled with ambergris, for during
life I prefer perfumes to stenches. As to Kypris, to whom thou hast
also confided me, I have known her guardianship to the extent that I
have twinges in my right foot. But as to the rest she is a good
goddess! I suppose that thou wilt bear sooner or later white doves to
"True," answered Vinicius. "The arrows of the Parthians have not
reached my body, but a dart of Amor has struck me--unexpectedly, a few
stadia from a gate of this city."
"By the white knees of the Graces! thou wilt tell me of this at a
"I have come purposely to get thy advice," answered Marcus.
But at that moment the epilatores came, and occupied themselves with
Petronius. Marcus, throwing aside his tunic, entered a bath of tepid
water, for Petronius invited him to a plunge bath.
"Ah, I have not even asked whether thy feeling is reciprocated," said
Petronius, looking at the youthful body of Marcus, which was as if cut
out of marble. "Had Lysippos seen thee, thou wouldst be ornamenting now
the gate leading to the Palatine, as a statue of Hercules in youth."
The young man smiled with satisfaction, and began to sink in the bath,
splashing warm water abundantly on the mosaic which represented Hera at
the moment when she was imploring Sleep to lull Zeus to rest. Petronius
looked at him with the satisfied eye of an artist.
When Vinicius had finished and yielded himself in turn to the
epilatores, a lector came in with a bronze tube at his breast and rolls
of paper in the tube.
"Dost wish to listen?" asked Petronius.
"If it is thy creation, gladly!" answered the young tribune; "if not, I
prefer conversation. Poets seize people at present on every street
"Of course they do. Thou wilt not pass any basilica, bath, library, or
book-shop without seeing a poet gesticulating like a monkey. Agrippa, on
coming here from the East, mistook them for madmen. And it is just such
a time now. Cęsar writes verses; hence all follow in his steps. Only
it is not permitted to write better verses than Cęsar, and for that
reason I fear a little for Lucan. But I write prose, with which,
however, I do not honor myself or others. What the lector has to read
are codicilli of that poor Fabricius Veiento."
"Because it has been communicated to him that he must dwell in Odyssa
and not return to his domestic hearth till he receives a new command.
That Odyssey will be easier for him than for Ulysses, since his wife is
no Penelope. I need not tell thee, for that matter, that he acted
stupidly. But here no one takes things otherwise than superficially.
His is rather a wretched and dull little book, which people have begun
to read passionately only when the author is banished. Now one hears on
every side, 'Scandala! scandala!' and it may be that Veiento invented
some things; but I, who know the city, know our patres and our women,
assure thee that it is all paler than reality. Meanwhile every man is
searching in the book,--for himself with alarm, for his acquaintances
with delight. At the book-shop of Avirnus a hundred copyists are
writing at dictation, and its success is assured."
"Are not thy affairs in it?"
"They are; but the author is mistaken, for I am at once worse and less
flat than he represents me. Seest thou we have lost long since the
feeling of what is worthy or unworthy,--and to me even it seems that in
real truth there is no difference between them, though Seneca, Musonius,
and Trasca pretend that they see it. To me it is all one! By Hercules,
I say what I think! I have preserved loftiness, however, because I know
what is deformed and what is beautiful; but our poet, Bronzebeard, for
example, the charioteer, the singer, the actor, does not understand
"I am sorry, however, for Fabricius! He is a good companion."
"Vanity ruined the man. Every one suspected him, no one knew certainly;
but he could not contain himself, and told the secret on all sides in
confidence. Hast heard the history of Rufinus?"
"Then come to the frigidarium to cool; there I will tell thee."
They passed to the frigidarium, in the middle of which played a fountain
of bright rose-color, emitting the odor of violets. There they sat in
niches which were covered with velvet, and began to cool themselves.
Silence reigned for a time. Vinicius looked awhile thoughtfully at a
bronze faun which, bending over the arm of a nymph, was seeking her lips
eagerly with his lips.
"He is right," said the young man. "That is what is best in life."
"More or less! But besides this thou lovest war, for which I have no
liking, since under tents one's finger-nails break and cease to be rosy.
For that matter, every man has his preferences. Bronzebeard loves song,
especially his own; and old Scaurus his Corinthian vase, which stands
near his bed at night, and which he kisses when he cannot sleep. He has
kissed the edge off already. Tell me, dost thou not write verses?"
"No; I have never composed a single hexameter."
"And dost thou not play on the lute and sing?"
"And dost thou drive a chariot?"
"I tried once in Antioch, but unsuccessfully."
"Then I am at rest concerning thee. And to what party in the hippodrome
dost thou belong?"
"To the Greens."
"Now I am perfectly at rest, especially since thou hast a large property
indeed, though thou art not so rich as Pallas or Seneca. For seest thou,
with us at present it is well to write verses, to sing to a lute, to
declaim, and to compete in the Circus; but better, and especially safer,
not to write verses, not to play, not to sing, and not to compete in the
Circus. Best of all, is it to know how to admire when Bronzebeard
admires. Thou art a comely young man; hence Poppęa may fall in love
with thee. This is thy only peril. But no, she is too experienced; she
cares for something else. She has had enough of love with her two
husbands; with the third she has other views. Dost thou know that that
stupid Otho loves her yet to distraction? He walks on the cliffs of
Spain, and sighs; he has so lost his former habits, and so ceased to
care for his person, that three hours each day suffice him to dress his
hair. Who could have expected this of Otho?"
"I understand him," answered Vinicius; "but in his place I should have
done something else."
"I should have enrolled faithful legions of mountaineers of that
country. They are good soldiers,--those Iberians."
"Vinicius! Vinicius! I almost wish to tell thee that thou wouldst not
have been capable of that. And knowest why? Such things are done, but
they are not mentioned even conditionally. As to me, in his place, I
should have laughed at Poppęa, laughed at Bronzebeard, and formed for
myself legions, not of Iberian men, however, but Iberian women. And
what is more, I should have written epigrams which I should not have
read to any one,--not like that poor Rufinus."
"Thou wert to tell me his history."
"I will tell it in the unctorium."
But in the unctorium the attention of Vinicius was turned to other
objects; namely, to wonderful slave women who were waiting for the
bathers. Two of them, Africans, resembling noble statues of ebony,
began to anoint their bodies with delicate perfumes from Arabia; others,
Phrygians, skilled in hairdressing, held in their hands, which were
bending and flexible as serpents, combs and mirrors of polished steel;
two Grecian maidens from Kos, who were simply like deities, waited as
vestiplicę, till the moment should come to put statuesque folds in the
togas of the lords.
"By the cloud-scattering Zeus!" said Marcus Vinicius, "what a choice
"I prefer choice to numbers," answered Petronius. "My whole 'familia'
[household servants] in Rome does not exceed four hundred, and I judge
that for personal attendance only upstarts need a greater number of
"More beautiful bodies even Bronzebeard does not possess," said
Vinicius, distending his nostrils.
"Thou art my relative," answered Petronius, with a certain friendly
indifference, "and I am neither so misanthropic as Barsus nor such a
pedant as Aulus Plautius."
When Vinicius heard this last name, he forgot the maidens from Kos for a
moment, and, raising his head vivaciously, inquired,--"Whence did Aulus
Plautius come to thy mind? Dost thou know that after I had disjointed
my arm outside the city, I passed a number of days in his house? It
happened that Plautius came up at the moment when the accident happened,
and, seeing that I was suffering greatly, he took me to his house; there
a slave of his, the physician Merion, restored me to health. I wished
to speak with thee touching this very matter."
"Why? Is it because thou hast fallen in love with Pomponia perchance?
In that case I pity thee; she is not young, and she is virtuous! I
cannot imagine a worse combination. Brr!"
"Not with Pomponia--eheu!" answered Vinicius.
"With whom, then?"
"If I knew myself with whom? But I do not know to a certainty her name
even,--Lygia or Callina? They call her Lygia in the house, for she
comes of the Lygian nation; but she has her own barbarian name, Callina.
It is a wonderful house,--that of those Plautiuses. There are many
people in it; but it is quiet there as in the groves of Subiacum. For a
number of days I did not know that a divinity dwelt in the house. Once
about daybreak I saw her bathing in the garden fountain; and I swear to
thee by that foam from which Aphrodite rose, that the rays of the dawn
passed right through her body. I thought that when the sun rose she
would vanish before me in the light, as the twilight of morning does.
Since then, I have seen her twice; and since then, too, I know not what
rest is, I know not what other desires are, I have no wish to know what
the city can give me. I want neither women, nor gold, nor Corinthian
bronze, nor amber, nor pearls, nor wine, nor feasts; I want only Lygia.
I am yearning for her, in sincerity I tell thee, Petronius, as that
Dream who is imaged on the Mosaic of thy tepidarium yearned for
Paisythea,--whole days and night do I yearn."
"If she is a slave, then purchase her."
"She is not a slave."
"What is she? A freed woman of Plautius?"
"Never having been a slave, she could not be a freed woman."
"Who is she?"
"I know not,--a king's daughter, or something of that sort."
"Thou dost rouse my curiosity, Vinicius."
"But if thou wish to listen, I will satisfy thy curiosity straightway.
Her story is not a long one. Thou art acquainted, perhaps personally,
with Vannius, king of the Suevi, who, expelled from his country, spent a
long time here in Rome, and became even famous for his skilful play with
dice, and his good driving of chariots. Drusus put him on the throne
again. Vannius, who was really a strong man, ruled well at first, and
warred with success; afterward, however, he began to skin not only his
neighbors, but his own Suevi, too much. Thereupon Vangio and Sido, two
sister's sons of his, and the sons of Vibilius, king of the Hermunduri,
determined to force him to Rome again--to try his luck there at dice."
"I remember; that is of recent Claudian times."
"Yes! War broke out. Vannius summoned to his aid the Yazygi; his dear
nephews called in the Lygians, who, hearing of the riches of Vannius,
and enticed by the hope of booty, came in such numbers that Cęsar
himself, Claudius, began to fear for the safety of the boundary.
Claudius did not wish to interfere in a war among barbarians, but he
wrote to Atelius Hister, who commanded the legions of the Danube, to
turn a watchful eye on the course of the war, and not permit them to
disturb our peace. Hister required, then, of the Lygians a promise not
to cross the boundary; to this they not only agreed, but gave hostages,
among whom were the wife and daughter of their leader. It is known to
thee that barbarians take their wives and children to war with them. My
Lygia is the daughter of that leader."
"Whence dost thou know all this?"
"Aulus Plautius told it himself. The Lygians did not cross the
boundary, indeed; but barbarians come and go like a tempest. So did the
Lygians vanish with their wild-ox horns on their heads. They killed
Vannius's Suevi and Yazygi; but their own king fell. They disappeared
with their booty then, and the hostages remained in Hister's hands. The
mother died soon after, and Hister, not knowing what to do with the
daughter, sent her to Pomponius, the governor of all Germany. He, at
the close of the war with the Catti, returned to Rome, where Claudius,
as is known to thee, permitted him to have a triumph. The maiden on
that occasion walked after the car of the conqueror; but, at the end of
the solemnity,--since hostages cannot be considered captives, and since
Pomponius did not know what to do with her definitely--he gave her to
his sister Pomponia Gręcina, the wife of Plautius. In that house where
all--beginning with the masters and ending with the poultry in the
hen-house--are virtuous, that maiden grew up as virtuous, alas! as Gręcina
herself, and so beautiful that even Poppęa, if near her, would seem like
an autumn fig near an apple of the Hesperides."
"And I repeat to thee that from the moment when I saw how the sun-rays
at that fountain passed through her body, I fell in love to
"She is as transparent as a lamprey eel, then, or a youthful sardine?"
"Jest not, Petronius; but if the freedom with which I speak of my desire
misleads thee, know this,--that bright garments frequently cover deep
wounds. I must tell thee, too, that, while returning from Asia, I slept
one night in the temple of Mopsus to have a prophetic dream. Well,
Mopsus appeared in a dream to me, and declared that, through love, a
great change in my life would take place."
"Pliny declares, as I hear, that he does not believe in the gods, but he
believes in dreams; and perhaps he is right. My jests do not prevent me
from thinking at times that in truth there is only one deity, eternal,
creative, all-powerful, Venus Genetrix. She brings souls together; she
unites bodies and things. Eros called the world out of chaos. Whether
he did well is another question; but, since he did so, we should
recognize his might, though we are free not to bless it."
"Alas! Petronius, it is easier to find philosophy in the world than
"Tell me, what is thy wish specially?"
"I wish to have Lygia. I wish that these arms of mine, which now
embrace only air, might embrace Lygia and press her to my bosom. I wish
to breathe with her breath. Were she a slave, I would give Aulus for
her one hundred maidens with feet whitened with lime as a sign that they
were exhibited on sale for the first time. I wish to have her in my
house till my head is as white as the top of Soracte in winter."
"She is not a slave, but she belongs to the 'family' of Plautius; and
since she is a deserted maiden, she may be considered an 'alumna.'
Plautius might yield her to thee if he wished."
"Then it seems that thou knowest not Pomponia Gręcina. Both have become
as much attached to her as if she were their own daughter."
"Pomponia I know,--a real cypress. If she were not the wife of Aulus,
she might be engaged as a mourner. Since the death of Julius she has
not thrown aside dark robes; and in general she looks as if, while still
alive, she were walking on the asphodel meadow. She is, moreover, a
'one-man woman'; hence, among our ladies of four and five divorces, she
is straighrway a phoenix. But! hast thou heard that in Upper Egypt the
phoenix has just been hatched out, as 'tis said?--an event which happens
not oftener than once in five centuries."
"Petronius! Petronius! Let us talk of the phoenix some other time."
"What shall I tell thee, my Marcus? I know Aulus Plautius, who, though
he blames my mode of life, has for me a certain weakness, and even
respects me, perhaps, more than others, for he knows that I have never
been an informer like Domitius Afer, Tigellinus, and a whole rabble of
Ahenobarbus's intimates [Nero's name was originally L. Domitius
Ahenobarbus]. Without pretending to be a stoic, I have been offended
more than once at acts of Nero, which Seneca and Burrus looked at
through their fingers. If it isthy thought that I might do something
for thee with Aulus, I am at thy command."
"I judge that thou hast the power. Thou hast influence over him; and,
besides, thy mind possesses inexhaustible resources. If thou wert to
survey the position and speak with Plautius."
"Thou hast too great an idea of my influence and wit; but if that is the
only question, I will talk with Plautius as soon as they return to the
"They returned two days since."
"In that case let us go to the triclinium, where a meal is now ready,
and when we have refreshed ourselves, let us give command to bear us to
"Thou hast ever been kind to me," answered Vinicius, with vivacity; "but
now I shall give command to rear thy statue among my lares,--just such a
beauty as this one,--and I will place offerings before it."
Then he turned toward the statues which ornamented one entire wall of
the perfumed chamber, and pointing to the one which represented
Petronius as Hermes with a staff in his hand, he added,--"By the light
of Helios! if the 'godlike' Alexander resembled thee, I do not wonder at
And in that exclamation there was as much sincerity as flattery; for
Petronius, though older and less athletic, was more beautiful than even
Vinicius. The women of Rome admired not only his pliant mind and his
taste, which gained for him the title Arbiter elegantię, but also his
body. This admiration was evident even on the faces of those maidens
from Kos who were arranging the folds of his toga; and one of whom,
whose name was Eunice, loving him in secret, looked him in the eyes with
submission and rapture. But he did not even notice this; and, smiling
at Vinicius, he quoted in answer an expression of Seneca about woman,--
Animal impudens, etc. And then, placing an arm on the shoulders of his
nephew, he conducted him to the triclinium.
In the unctorium the two Grecian maidens, the Phrygians, and the two
Ethiopians began to put away the vessels with perfumes. But at that
moment, and beyond the curtain of the frigidarium, appeared the heads of
the balneatores, and a low "Psst!" was heard. At that call one of the
Grecians, the Phrygians, and the Ethiopians sprang up quickly, and
vanished in a twinkle behind the curtain. In the baths began a moment
of license which the inspector did not prevent, for he took frequent
part in such frolics himself. Petronius suspected that they took place;
but, as a prudent man, and one who did not like to punish, he looked at
them through his fingers.
In the unctorium only Eunice remained. She listened for a short time to
the voices and laughter which retreated in the direction of the
laconicum. At last she took the stool inlaid with amber and ivory, on
which Petronius had been sitting a short time before, and put it
carefully at his statue. The unctorium was full of sunlight and the
hues which came from the manycolored marbles with which the wall was
faced. Eunice stood on the stool, and, finding herself at the level of
the statue, cast her arms suddenly around its neck; then, throwing back
her golden hair, and pressing her rosy body to the white marble, she
pressed her lips with ecstasy to the cold lips of Petronius.
After a refreshment, which was called the morning meal and to which the
two friends sat down at an hour when common mortals were abeady long
past their midday prandium, Petronius proposed a light doze. According
to him, it was too early for visits yet. "There are, it is true," said
he, "people who begin to visit their acquaintances about sunrise,
thinking that custom an old Roman one, but I look on this as barbarous.
The afternoon hours are most proper,--not earlier, however, than that
one when the sun passes to the side of Jove's temple on the Capitol and
begins to look slantwise on the Forum. In autumn it is still hot, and
people are glad to sleep after eating. At the same time it is pleasant
to hear the noise of the fountain in the atrium, and, after the
obligatory thousand steps, to doze in the red light which filters in
through the purple half-drawn velarium."
Vinicius recognized the justice of these words; and the two men began to
walk, speaking in a careless manner of what was to be heard on the
Palatine and in the city, and philosophizing a little upon life.
Petronius withdrew then to the cubiculum, but did not sleep long. In
half an hour he came out, and, having given command to bring verbena, he
inhaled the perfume and rubbed his hands and temples with it.
"Thou wilt not believe," said he, "how it enlivens and freshens one. Now
I am ready."
The litter was waiting long since; hence they took their places, and
Petronius gave command to bear them to the Vicus Patricius, to the house
of Aulus. Petronius's "insula" lay on the southern slope of the
Palatine, near the so-called Carinę; their nearest way, therefore, was
below the Forum; but since Petronius wished to step in on the way to see
the jeweller Idomeneus, he gave the direction to carry them along the
Vicus Apollinis and the Forum in the direction of the Vicus Sceleratus,
on the corner of which were many tabernę of every kind.
Gigantic Africans bore the litter and moved on, preceded by slaves
called pedisequii. Petronius, after some time, raised to his nostrils
in silence his palm odorous with verbena, and seemed to be meditating on
"It occurs to me," said he after a while, "that if thy forest goddess is
not a slave she might leave the house of Plautius, and transfer herself
to thine. Thou wouldst surround her with love and cover her with
wealth, as I do my adored Chrysothemis, of whom, speaking between us, I
have quite as nearly enough as she has of me."
Marcus shook his head.
"No?" inquired Petronius. "In the worst event, the case would be left
with Cęsar, and thou mayst be certain that, thanks even to my influence,
our Bronzebeard would be on thy side."
"Thou knowest not Lygia," replied Vinicius.
"Then permit me to ask if thou know her otherwise than by sight? Hast
spoken with her? hast confessed thy love to her?"
"I saw her first at the fountain; since then I have met her twice.
Remember that during my stay in the house of Aulus, I dwelt in a
separate villa, intended for guests, and, having a disjointed arm, I
could not sit at the common table. Only on the eve of the day for which
I announced my departure did I meet Lygia at supper, but I could not say
a word to her. I had to listen to Aulus and his account of victories
gained by him in Britain, and then of the fall of small states in Italy,
which Licinius Stolo strove to prevent. In general I do not know
whether Aulus will be able to speak of aught else, and do not think that
we shall escape this history unless it be thy wish to hear about the
effeminacy of these days. They have pheasants in their preserves, but
they do not eat them, setting out from the principle that every pheasant
eaten brings nearer the end of Roman power. I met her a second time at
the garden cistern, with a freshly plucked reed in her hand, the top of
which she dipped in the water and sprinkled the irises growing around.
Look at my knees. By the shield of Hercules, I tell thee that they did
not tremble when clouds of Parthians advanced on our maniples with
howls, but they trembled before the cistern. And, confused as a youth
who still wears a bulla on his neck, I merely begged pity with my eyes,
not being able to utter a word for a long time."
Petronius looked at him, as if with a certain envy. "Happy man," said
he, "though the world and life were the worst possible, one thing in
them will remain eternally good,--youth!"
After a while he inquired: "And hast thou not spoken to her?"
"When I had recovered somewhat, I told her that I was returning from
Asia, that I had disjointed my arm near the city, and had suffered
severely, but at the moment of leaving that hospitable house I saw that
suffering in it was more to be wished for than delight in another place,
that sickness there was better than health somewhere else. Confused too
on her part, she listened to my words with bent head while drawing
something with the reed on the saffron-colored sand. Afterward she
raised her eyes, then looked down at the marks drawn already; once more
she looked at me, as if to ask about something, and then fled on a
sudden like a hamadryad before a dull faun."
"She must have beautiful eyes."
"As the sea--and I was drowned in them, as in the sea. Believe me that
the archipelago is less blue. After a while a little son of Plautius
ran up with a question. But I did not understand what he wanted."
"O Athene!" exclaimed Petronius, "remove from the eyes of this youth the
bandage with which Eros has bound them; if not, he will break his head
against the columns of Venus's temple.
"O thou spring bud on the tree of life," said he, turning to Vinicius,
"thou first green shoot of the vine! Instead of taking thee to the
Plautiuses, I ought to give command to bear thee to the house of
Gelocius, where there is a school for youths unacquainted with life."
"What dost thou wish in particular?"
"But what did she write on the sand? Was it not the name of Amor, or a
heart pierced with his dart, or something of such sort, that one might
know from it that the satyrs had whispered to the ear of that nymph
various secrets of life? How couldst thou help looking on those marks?"
"It is longer since I have put on the toga than seems to thee," said
Vinicius, "and before little Aulus ran up, I looked carefully at those
marks, for I know that frequently maidens in Greece and in Rome draw on
the sand a confession which their lips will not utter. But guess what
"If it is other than I supposed, I shall not guess."
"What dost thou say?"
"I say, a fish. What did that mean,--that cold blood is flowing in her
veins? So far I do not know; but thou, who hast called me a spring bud
on the tree of life, wilt be able to understand the sign certainly."
"Carissime! ask such a thing of Pliny. He knows fish. If old Apicius
were alive, he could tell thee something, for in the course of his life
he ate more fish than could find place at one time in the bay of
Further conversation was interrupted, since they were borne into crowded
streets where the noise of people hindered them.
From the Vicus Apollinis they turned to the Boarium, and then entered
the Forum Romanum, where on clear days, before sunset, crowds of idle
people assembled to stroll among the columns, to tell and hear news, to
see noted people borne past in litters, and finally to look in at the
jewellery-shops, the book-shops, the arches where coin was changed,
shops for silk, bronze, and all other articles with which the buildings
covering that part of the market placed opposite the Capitol were
One-half of the Forum, immediately under the rock of the Capitol, was
buried already in shade; but the columns of the temples, placed higher,
seemed golden in the sunshine and the blue. Those lying lower cast
lengthened shadows on marble slabs. The place was so filled with
columns everywhere that the eye was lost in them as in a forest.
Those buildings and columns seemed huddled together. They towered some
above others, they stretched toward the right and the left, they climbed
toward the height, and they clung to the wall of the Capitol, or some of
them clung to others, like greater and smaller, thicker and thinner,
white or gold colored tree-trunks, now blooming under architraves,
flowers of the acanthus, now surrounded with Ionic corners, now finished
with a simple Doric quadrangle. Above that forest gleamed colored
triglyphs; from tympans stood forth the sculptured forms of gods; from
the summits winged golden quadrigę seemed ready to fly away through
space into the blue dome, fixed serenely above that crowded place of
temples. Through the middle of the market and along the edges of it
flowed a river of people; crowds passed under the arches of the basilica
of Julius Cęsar; crowds were sitting on the steps of Castor and Pollux,
or walking around the temple of Vesta, resembling on that great marble
background many-colored swarms of butterflies or beetles. Down immense
steps, from the side of the temple on the Capitol dedicated to Jupiter
Optimus Maximus, came new waves; at the rostra people listened to chance
orators; in one place and another rose the shouts of hawkers selling
fruit, wine, or water mixed with fig-juice; of tricksters; of venders of
marvellous medicines; of soothsayers; of discoverers of hidden
treasures; of interpreters of dreams. Here and there, in the tumult of
conversations and cries, were mingled sounds of the Egyptian sistra, of
the sambuké, or of Grecian flutes. Here and there the sick, the pious,
or the afflicted were bearing offerings to the temples. In the midst of
the people, on the stone flags, gathered flocks of doves, eager for the
grain given them, and like movable many-colored and dark spots, now
rising for a moment with a loud sound of wings, now dropping down again
to places left vacant by people. From time to time the crowds opened
before litters in which were visible the affected faces of women, or the
heads of senators and knights, with features, as it were, rigid and
exhausted from living. The many-tongued population repeated aloud their
names, with the addition of some term of praise or ridicule. Among the
unordered groups pushed from time to time, advancing with measured
tread, parties of soldiers, or watchers, preserving order on the
streets. Around about, the Greek language was heard as often as Latin.
Vinicius, who had not been in the city for a long time, looked with a
certain curiosity on that swarm of people and on that Forum Romanum,
which both dominated the sea of the world and was flooded by it, so that
Petronius, who divined the thoughts of his companion, called it "the
nest of the Quirites--without the Quirites." In truth, the local
element was well-nigh lost in that crowd, composed of all races and
nations. There appeared Ethiopians, gigantic light-haired people from
the distant north, Britons, Gauls, Germans, sloping-eyed dwellers of
Lericum; people from the Euphrates and from the Indus, with beards dyed
brick color; Syrians from the banks of the Orontes, with black and mild
eyes; dwellers in the deserts of Arabia, dried up as a bone; Jews, with
their flat breasts; Egyptians, with the eternal, indifferent smile on
their faces; Numidians and Africans; Greeks from Hellas, who equally
with the Romans commanded the city, but commanded through science, art,
wisdom, and deceit; Greeks from the islands, from Asia Minor, from
Egypt, from Italy, from Narbonic Gaul. In the throng of slaves, with
pierced ears, were not lacking also freemen,--an idle population, which
Cęsar amused, supported, even clothed,--and free visitors, whom the ease
of life and the prospects of fortune enticed to the gigantic city; there
was no lack of venal persons. There were priests of Serapis, with palm
branches in their hands; priests of Isis, to whose altar more offerings
were brought than to the temple of the Capitoline Jove; priests of
Cybele, bearing in their hands golden ears of rice; and priests of nomad
divinities; and dancers of the East with bright head-dresses, and
dealers in amulets, and snake-tamers, and Chaldean seers; and, finally,
people without any occupation whatever, who applied for grain every week
at the storehouses on the Tiber, who fought for lottery-tickets to the
Circus, who spent their nights in rickety houses of districts beyond the
Tiber, and sunny and warm days under covered porticos, and in foul
eating-houses of the Subura, on the Milvian bridge, or before the
"insulę" of the great, where from time to time remnants from the tables
of slaves were thrown out to them.
Petronius was well known to those crowds. Vinicius's ears were struck
continually by "Hic est!" (Here he is). They loved him for his
munificence; and his peculiar popularity increased from the time when
they learned that he had spoken before Cęsar in opposition to the
sentence of death issued against the whole "familia," that is, against
all the slaves of the prefect Pedanius Secundus, without distinction of
sex or age, because one of them had killed that monster in a moment of
despair. Petronius repeated in public, it is true, that it was all one
to him, and that he had spoken to Cęsar only privately, as the arbiter
elegantiarum whose ęsthetic taste was offended by a barbarous slaughter
befitting Scythians and not Romans. Nevertheless, people who were
indignant because of the slaughter loved Petronius from that moment
forth. But he did not care for their love. He remembered that that
crowd of people had loved also Britannicus, poisoned by Nero; and
Agrippina, killed at his command; and Octavia, smothered in hot steam at
the Pandataria, after her veins had been opened previously; and Rubelius
Plautus, who had been banished; and Thrasea, to whom any morning might
bring a death sentence. The love of the mob might be considered rather
of ill omen; and the sceptical Petronius was superstitious also. He had
a twofold contempt for the multitude,--as an aristocrat and an ęsthetic
person. Men with the odor of roast beans, which they carried in their
bosoms, and who besides were eternally hoarse and sweating from playing
mora on the street-corners and peristyles, did not in his eyes deserve
the term "human." Hence he gave no answer whatever to the applause, or
the kisses sent from lips here and there to him. He was relating to
Marcus the case of Pedanius, reviling meanwhile the fickleness of that
rabble which, next morning after the terrible butchery, applauded Nero
on his way to the temple of Jupiter Stator. But he gave command to halt
before the book-shop of Avirnus, and, descending from the litter,
purchased an ornamented manuscript, which he gave to Vinicius.
"Here is a gift for thee," said he.
"Thanks!" answered Vinicius. Then, looking at the title, he inquired,
"'Satyricon'? Is this something new? Whose is it?"
"Mine. But I do not wish to go in the road of Rufinus, whose history I
was to tell thee, nor of Fabricius Veiento; hence no one knows of this,
and do thou mention it to no man."
"Thou hast said that thou art no writer of verses," said Vinicius,
looking at the middle of tile manuscript; "but here I see prose thickly
interwoven with them."
"When thou art reading, turn attention to Trimalchion's feast. As to
verses, they have disgusted me, since Nero is writing an epic. Vitelius,
when he wishes to relieve himself, uses ivory fingers to thrust down his
throat; others serve themselves with flamingo feathers steeped in olive
oil or in a decoction of wild thyme. I read Nero's poetry, and the
result is immediate. Straight-way I am able to praise it, if not with a
clear conscience, at least with a clear stomach."
When he had said this, he stopped the litter again before the shop of
Idomeneus the goldsmith, and, having settled the affair of the gems,
gave command to bear the litter directly to Aulus's mansion.
"On the road I will tell thee the story of Rufinus," said he, "as proof
of what vanity in an author may be."
But before he had begun, they turned in to the Vicus Patricius, and soon
found themselves before the dwelling of Aulus. A young and sturdy
"janitor" opened the door leading to the ostium, over which a magpie
confined in a cage greeted them noisily with the word, "Salve!"
On the way from the second antechamber, called the ostium, to the atrium
itself, Vinicius said,--"Hast noticed that thee doorkeepers are without
chains?" "This is a wonderful house," answered Petronius, in an
undertone. "Of course it is known to thee that Pomponia Gręcina is
suspected of entertaining that Eastern superstition which consists in
honoring a certain Chrestos. It seems that Crispinilla rendered her
this service,--she who cannot forgive Pomponia because one husband has
sufficed her for a lifetime. A one-man Woman! To-day, in Rome, it is
easier to get a half-plate of fresh mushrooms from Noricum than to find
such. They tried her before a domestic court--"
"To thy judgment this is a wonderful house. Later on I will tell thee
what I heard and saw in it."
Meanwhile they had entered the atrium. The slave appointed to it,
called atriensis, sent a nomenclator to announce the guests; and
Petronius, who, imagining that eternal sadness reigned in this severe
house, had never been in it, looked around with astonishment, and as it
were with a feeling of disappointment, for the atrium produced rather an
impression of cheerfulness. A sheaf of bright light falling from above
through a large opening broke into a thousand sparks on a fountain in a
quadrangular little basin, called the impluvium, which was in the middle
to receive rain falling through the opening during bad weather; this was
surrounded by anemones and lilies. In that house a special love for
lilies was evident, for there were whole clumps of them, both white and
red; and, finally, sapphire irises, whose delicate leaves were as if
silvered from the spray of the fountain. Among the moist mosses, in
which lily-pots were hidden, and among the bunches of lilies were little
bronze statues representing children and water-birds. In one corner a
bronze fawn, as if wishing to drink, was inclining its greenish head,
grizzled, too, by dampness. The floor of the atrium was of mosaic; the
walls, faced partly with red marble and partly with wood, on which were
painted fish, birds, and griffins, attracted the eye by the play of
colors. From the door to the side chamber they were ornamented with
tortoise-shell or even ivory; at the walls between the doors were
statues of Aulus's ancestors. Everywhere calm plenty was evident,
remote from excess, but noble and self-trusting.
Petronius, who lived with incomparably greater show and elegance, could
find nothing which offended his taste; and had just turned to Vinicius
with that remark, when a slave, the velarius, pushed aside the curtain
separating the atrium from the tablinum, and in the depth of the
building appeared Aulus Plautius approaching hurriedly.
He was a man nearing the evening of life, with a head whitened by hoar
frost, but fresh, with an energetic face, a trifle too short, but still
somewhat eagle-like. This time there was expressed on it a certain
astonishment, and even alarm, because of the unexpected arrival of
Nero's friend, companion, and suggester.
Petronius was too much a man of the world and too quick not to notice
this; hence, after the first greetings, he announced with all the
eloquence and ease at his command that he had come to give thanks for
the care which his sister's son had found in that house, and that
gratitude alone was the cause of the visit, to which, moreover, he was
emboldened by his old acquaintance with Aulus.
Aulus assured him that he was a welcome guest; and as to gratitude, he
declared that he had that feeling himself, though surely Petronius did
not divine the cause of it.
In fact, Petronius did not divine it. In vain did he raise his hazel
eyes, endeavoring to remember the least service rendered to Aulus or to
any one. He recalled none, unless it might be that which he intended to
show Vinicius. Some such thing, it is true, might have happened
involuntarily, but only involuntarily.
"I have great love and esteem for Vespasian, whose life thou didst
save," said Aulus, "when he had the misfortune to doze while listening
to Nero's verses."
"He was fortunate," replied Petronius, "for he did not hear them; but I
will not deny that the matter might have ended with misfortune.
Bronzebeard wished absolutely to send a centurion to him with the
friendly advice to open his veins."
"But thou, Petronius, laughed him out of it."
"That is true, or rather it is not true. I told Nero that if Orpheus
put wild beasts to sleep with song, his triumph was equal, since he had
put Vespasian to sleep. Ahenobarbus may be blamed on condition that to
a small criticism a great flattery be added. Our gracious Augusta,
Poppęa, understands this to perfection."
"Alas! such are the times," answered Aulus. "I lack two front teeth,
knocked out by a stone from the hand of a Briton, I speak with a hiss;
still my happiest days were passed in Britain."
"Because they were days of victory," added Vinicius.
But Petronius, alarmed lest the old general might begin a narrative of
his former wars, changed the conversation.
"See," said he, "in the neighborhood of Pręneste country people found a
dead wolf whelp with two heads; and during a storm about that time
lightning struck off an angle of the temple of Luna,--a thing
unparalleled, because of the late autumn. A certain Cotta, too, who had
told this, added, while telling it, that the priests of that temple
prophesied the fall of the city or, at least, the ruin of a great
house,--ruin to be averted only by uncommon sacrifices."
Aulus, when he had heard the narrative, expressed the opinion that such
signs should not be neglected; that the gods might be angered by an
over-measure of wickedness. In this there was nothing wonderful; and in
such an event expiatory sacrifices were perfectly in order.
"Thy house, Plautius, is not too large," answered Petronius, "though a
great man lives in it. Mine is indeed too large for such a wretched
owner, though equally small. But if it is a question of the ruin of
something as great, for example, as the domus transitoria, would it be
worth while for us to bring offerings to avert that ruin?"
Plautius did not answer that question,--a carefulness which touched even
Petronius somewhat, for, with all his inability to feel the difference
between good and evil, he had never been an informer; and it was
possible to talk with him in perfect safety. He changed the
conversation again, therefore, and began to praise Plautius's dwelling
and the good taste which reigned in the house.
"It is an ancient seat," said Plautius, "in which nothing has been
changed since I inherited it."
After the curtain was pushed aside which divided the atrium from the
tablinum, the house was open from end to end, so that through the
tablinum and the following peristyle and the hall lying beyond it which
was called the cus, the glance extended to the garden, which seemed
from a distance like a bright image set in a dark frame. Joyous,
childlike laughter came from it to the atrium.
"Oh, general!" said Petronius, "permit us to listen from near by to that
glad laughter which is of a kind heard so rarely in these days."
"Willingly," answered Plautius, rising; "that is my little Aulus and
Lygia, playing ball. But as to laughter, I think, Petronius, that our
whole life is spent in it."
"Life deserves laughter, hence people laugh at it," answered Petronius,
"but laughter here has another sound."
"Petronius does not laugh for days in succession," said Vinicius; "but
then he laughs entire nights."
Thus conversing, they passed through the length of the house and reached
the garden, where Lygia and little Aulus were playing with balls, which
slaves, appointed to that game exclusively and called spheristę, picked
up and placed in their hands. Petronius cast a quick passing glance at
Lygia; little Aulus, seeing Vinicius, ran to greet him; but the young
tribune, going forward, bent his head before the beautiful maiden, who
stood with a ball in her hand, her hair blown apart a little. She was
somewhat out of breath, and flushed.
In the garden triclinium, shaded by ivy, grapes, and woodbine, sat
Pomponia Gręcina; hence they went to salute her. She was known to
Petronius, though he did not visit Plautius, for he had seen her at the
house of Antistia, the daughter of Rubelius Plautus, and besides at the
house of Seneca and Polion. He could not resist a certain admiration
with which he was filled by her face, pensive but mild, by the dignity
of her bearing, by her movements, by her words. Pomponia disturbed his
understanding of women to such a degree that that man, corrupted to the
marrow of his bones, and self-confident as no one in Rome, not only felt
for her a kind of esteem, but even lost his previous self-confidence.
And now, thanking her for her care of Vinicius, he thrust in, as it were
involuntarily, "domina," which never occurred to him when speaking, for
example, to Calvia Crispinilla, Scribonia, Veleria, Solina, and other
women of high society. After he had greeted her and returned thanks, he
began to complain that he saw her so rarely, that it was not possible to
meet her either in the Circus or the Amphitheatre; to which she answered
calmly, laying her hand on the hand of her husband:
"We are growing old, and love our domestic quiet more and more, both of
Petronius wished to oppose; but Aulus Plautius added in his hissing
voice,--"And we feel stranger and stranger among people who give Greek
names to our Roman divinities."
"The gods have become for some time mere figures of rhetoric," replied
Petronius, carelessly. "But since Greek rhetoricians taught us, it is
easier for me even to say Hera than Juno."
He turned his eyes then to Pomponia, as if to signify that in presence
of her no other divinity could come to his mind: and then he began to
contradict what she had said touching old age.
"People grow old quickly, it is true; but there are some who live
another life entirely, and there are faces moreover which Saturn seems
Petronius said this with a certain sincerity even, for Pomponia Gręcina,
though descending from the midday of life, had preserved an uncommon
freshness of face; and since she had a small head and delicate features,
she produced at times, despite her dark robes, despite her solemnity and
sadness, the impression of a woman quite young.
Meanwhile little Aulus, who had become uncommonly friendly with Vinicius
during his former stay in the house, approached the young man and
entreated him to play ball. Lygia herself entered the triclinium after
the little boy. Under the climbing ivy, with the light quivering on her
face, she seemed to Petronius more beautiful than at the first glance,
and really like some nymph. As he had not spoken to her thus far, he
rose, inclined his head, and, instead of the usual expressions of
greeting, quoted the words with which Ulysses greeted Nausikaa,--
"I supplicate thee, O queen, whether thou art some goddess or a mortal!
If thou art one of the daughters of men who dwell on earth, thrice
blessed are thy father and thy lady mother, and thrice blessed thy
The exquisite politeness of this man of the world pleased even Pomponia.
As to Lygia, she listened, confused and flushed, without boldness to
raise her eyes. But a wayward smile began to quiver at the corners of
her lips, and on her face a struggle was evident between the timidity of
a maiden and the wish to answer; but clearly the wish was victorious,
for, looking quickly at Petronius, she answered him all at once with the
words of that same Nausikaa, quoting them at one breath, and a little
like a lesson learned,--
"Stranger, thou seemest no evil man nor foolish."
Then she turned and ran out as a frightened bird runs.
This time the turn for astonishment came to Petronius, for he had not
expected to hear verses of Homer from the lips of a maiden of whose
barbarian extraction he had heard previously from Vinicius. Hence he
looked with an inquiring glance at Pomponia; but she could not give him
an answer, for she was looking at that moment, with a smile, at the
pride reflected on the face of her husband.
He was not able to conceal that pride. First, he had become attached to
Lygia as to his own daughter; and second, in spite of his old Roman
prejudices, which commanded him to thunder against Greek and the spread
of the language, he considered it as the summit of social polish. He
himself had never been able to learn it well; over this he suffered in
secret. He was glad, therefore, that an answer was given in the
language and poetry of Homer to this exquisite man both of fashion and
letters, who was ready to consider Plautius's house as barbarian.
"We have in the house a pedagogue, a Greek," said he, turning to
Petronius, "who teaches our boy, and the maiden overhears the lessons.
She is a wagtail yet, but a dear one, to which we have both grown
Petronius looked through the branches of woodbine into the garden, and
at the three persons who were playing there. Vinicius had thrown aside
his toga, and, wearing only his tunic, was striking the ball, which
Lygia, standing opposite, with raised arms was trying to catch. The
maiden did not make a great impression on Petronius at the first glance;
she seemed to him too slender. But from the moment when he saw her more
nearly in the triclinium he thought to himself that Aurora might look
like her; and as a judge he understood that in her there was something
uncommon. He considered everything and estimated everything; hence her
face, rosy and clear, her fresh lips, as if set for a kiss, her eyes
blue as the azure of the sea, the alabaster whiteness of her forehead,
the wealth of her dark hair, with the reflection of amber or Corinthian
bronze gleaming in its folds, her slender neck, the divine slope of her
shoulders, the whole posture, flexible, slender, young with the youth of
May and of freshly opened flowers. The artist was roused in him, and
the worshipper of beauty, who felt that beneath a statue of that maiden
one might write "Spring." All at once he remembered Chrysothemis, and
pure laughter seized him. Chrysothemis seemed to him, with golden powder
on her hair and darkened brows, to be fabulously faded,--something in
the nature of a yellowed rose-tree shedding its leaves. But still Rome
envied him that Chrysothemis. Then he recalled Poppęa; and that most
famous Poppęa also seemed to him soulless, a waxen mask. In that maiden
with Tanagrian outlines there was not only spring, but a radiant soul,
which shone through her rosy body as a flame through a lamp.
"Vinicius is right," thought he, "and my Chrysothemis is old, old!--as
Then he turned to Pomponia Gręcina, and, pointing to the garden, said,--
"I understand now, domina, why thou and thy husband prefer this house to
the Circus and to feasts on the Palatine."
"Yes," answered she, turning her eyes in the direction of little Aulus
But the old general began to relate the history of the maiden, and what
he had heard years before from Atelius Hister about the Lygian people
who lived in the gloom of the North.
The three outside had finished playing ball, and for some time had been
walking along the sand of the garden, appearing against the dark
background of myrtles and cypresses like three white statues. Lygia held
little Aulus by the hand. After they had walked a while they sat on a
bench near the fishpond, which occupied the middle of the garden. After
a time Aulus sprang up to frighten the fish in the transparent water,
but Vinicius continued the conversation begun during the walk.
"Yes," said he, in a low, quivering voice, scarcely audible; "barely had
I cast aside the pretexta, when I was sent to the legions in Asia. I
had not become acquainted with the city, nor with life, nor with love.
I know a small bit of Anacreon by heart, and Horace; but I cannot like
Petronius quote verses, when reason is dumb from admiration and unable
to find its own words. While a youth I went to school to Musonius, who
told me that happiness consists in wishing what the gods wish, and
therefore depends on our will. I think, however, that it is something
else,--something greater and more precious, which depends not on the
will, for love only can give it. The gods themselves seek that
happiness; hence I too, O Lygia, who have not known love thus far,
follow in their footsteps. I also seek her who would give me happiness--"
He was silent--and for a time there was nothing to be heard save the
light plash of the water into which little Aulus was throwing pebbles to
frighten the fish; but after a while Vinicius began again in a voice
still softer and lower,--"But thou knowest of Vespasian's son Titus?
They say that he had scarcely ceased to be a youth when he so loved
Berenice that grief almost drew the life out of him. So could I too
love, O Lygia! Riches, glory, power are mere smoke, vanity! The rich
man will find a richer than himself; the greater glory of another will
eclipse a man who is famous; a strong man will be conquered by a
stronger. But can Cęsar himself, can any god even, experience greater
delight or be happier than a simple mortal at the moment when at his
breast there is breathing another dear breast, or when he kisses beloved
lips? Hence love makes us equal to the gods, O Lygia."
And she listened with alarm, with astonishment, and at the same time as
if she were listening to the sound of a Grecian flute or a cithara. It
seemed to her at moments that Vinicius was singing a kind of wonderful
song, which was instilling itself into her ears, moving the blood in
her, and penetrating her heart with a faintness, a fear, and a kind of
uncomprehended delight. It seemed to her also that he was telling
something which was in her before, but of which she could not give
account to herself. She felt that he was rousing in her something which
had been sleeping hitherto, and that in that moment a hazy dream was
changing into a form more and more definite, more pleasing, more
Meanwhile the sun had passed the Tiber long since, and had sunk low over
the Janiculum. On the motionless cypresses ruddy light was falling, and
the whole atmosphere was filled with it. Lygia raised on Vinicius her
blue eyes as if roused from sleep; and he, bending over her with a
prayer quivering in his eyes, seemed on a sudden, in the reflections of
evening, more beautiful than all men, than all Greek and Roman gods
whose statues she had seen on the faēades of temples. And with his
fingers he clasped her arm lightly just above the wrist and asked,--
"Dost thou not divine what I say to thee, Lygia?"
"No," whispered she as answer, in a voice so low that Vinicius barely
But he did not believe her, and, drawing her hand toward him more
vigorously, he would have drawn it to his heart, which, under the
influence of desire roused by the marvellous maiden, was beating like a
hammer, and would have addressed burning words to her directly had not
old Aulus appeared on a path set in a frame of myrtles, who said, while
approaching them,--"The sun is setting; so beware of the evening
coolness, and do not trifle with Libitina."
"No," answered Vinicius; "I have not put on my toga yet, and I do not
feel the cold."
"But see, barely half the sun's shield is looking from behind the hill.
That is a sweet climate of Sicily, where people gather on the square
before sunset and take farewell of disappearing Phbus with a choral
And, forgetting that a moment earlier he had warned them against
Libitina, he began to tell about Sicily, where he had estates and large
cultivated fields which he loved. He stated also that it had come to
his mind more than once to remove to Sicily, and live out his life there
in quietness. "He whose head winters have whitened has bad enough of
hoar frost. Leaves are not falling from the trees yet, and the sky
smiles on the city lovingly; but when the grapevines grow yellow-leaved,
when snow falls on the Alban hills, and the gods visit the Campania with
piercing wind, who knows but I may remove with my entire household to my
"Wouldst thou leave Rome?" inquired Vinicius, with sudden alarm.
"I have wished to do so this long time, for it is quieter in Sicily and
And again he fell to praising his gardens, his herds, his house hidden
in green, and the hills grown over with thyme and savory, among which
were swarms of buzzing bees. But Vinicius paid no heed to that bucolic
note; and from thinking only of this, that he might lose Lygia, he
looked toward Petronius as if expecting salvation from him alone.
Meanwhile Petronius, sitting near Pomponia, was admiring the view of the
setting sun, the garden, and the people standing near the fish-pond.
Their white garments on the dark background of the myrtles gleamed like
gold from the evening rays. On the sky the evening light had begun to
assume purple and violet hues, and to change like an opal. A strip of
the sky became lily-colored. The dark silhouettes of the cypresses grew
still more pronounced than during bright daylight. In the people, in
the trees, in the whole garden there reigned an evening calm.
That calm struck Petronius, and it struck him especially in the people.
In the faces of Pomponia, old Aulus, their son, and Lygia there was
something such as he did not see in the faces which surrounded him every
day, or rather every night. There was a certain light, a certain
repose, a certain serenity, flowing directly from the life which all
lived there. And with a species of astonishment he thought that a
beauty and sweetness might exist which he, who chased after beauty and
sweetness continually, had not known. He could not hide the thought in
himself, and said, turning to Pomponia,--"I am considering in my soul
how different this world of yours is from the world which our Nero
She raised her delicate face toward the evening light, and said with
simplicity,--"Not Nero, but God, rules the world."
A moment of silence followed. Near the triclinium were heard in the
alley, the steps of the old general, Vinicius, Lygia, and little Aulus;
but before they arrived, Petronius had put another question--"But
believest thou in the gods, then, Pomponia?"
"I believe in God, who is one, just, and all-powerful," answered the
wife of Aulus Plautius.
"SHE believes in God who is one, all-powerful, and just," said
Petronius, when he found himself again in the litter with Vinicius. "If
her God is all-powerful, He controls life and death; and if He is just,
He sends death justly. Why, then, does Pomponia wear mourning for
Julius? In mourning for Julius she blames her God. I must repeat this
reasoning to our Bronzebeard, the monkey, since I consider that in
dialectics I am the equal of Socrates. As to women, I agree that each
has three or four souls, but none of them a reasoning one. Let Pomponia
meditate with Seneca or Cornutus over the question of what their great
Logos is. Let them summon at once the shades of Xenophanes, Parmenides,
Zeno, and Plato, who are as much wearied there in Cimmerian regions as a
finch in a cage. I wished to talk with her and with Plautius about
something else. By the holy stomach of the Egyptian Isis! If I had
told them right out directly why we came, I suppose that their virtue
would have made as much noise as a bronze shield under the blow of a
club. And I did not dare to tell! Wilt thou believe, Vinicius, I did
not dare! Peacocks are beautiful birds, but they have too shrill a cry.
I feared an outburst. But I must praise thy choice. A real 'rosy-
fingered Aurora.' And knowest thou what she reminded me of too?--Spring!
not our spring in Italy, where an apple-tree merely puts forth a blossom
here and there, and olive groves grow gray, just as they were gray
before, but the spring which I saw once in Helvetia,--young, fresh,
bright green. By that pale moon, I do not wonder at thee, Marcus; but
know that thou art loving Diana, because Aulus and Pomponia are ready to
tear thee to pieces, as the dogs once tore Actęon."
Vinicius was silent a time without raising his head; then he began to
speak with a voice broken by passion,--"I desired her before, but now I
desire her still more. When I caught her arm, flame embraced me. I
must have her. Were I Zeus, I would surround her with a cloud, as he
surrounded Io, or I would fall on her in rain, as he fell on Danaė; I
would kiss her lips till it pained! I would hear her scream in my arms.
I would kill Aulus and Pomponia, and bear her home in my arms. I will
not sleep to-night. I will give command to flog one of my slaves, and
listen to his groans--"
"Calm thyself," said Petronius. "Thou hast the longing of a carpenter
from the Subura."
"All one to me what thou sayst. I must have her. I have turned to thee
for aid; but if thou wilt not find it, I shall find it myself. Aulus
considers Lygia as a daughter; why should I look on her as a slave? And
since there is no other way, let her ornament the door of my house, let
her anoint it with wolf's fat, and let her sit at my hearth as wife."
"Calm thyself, mad descendant of consuls. We do not lead in barbarians
bound behind our cars, to make wives of their daughters. Beware of
extremes. Exhaust simple, honorable methods, and give thyself and me
time for meditation. Chrysothemis seemed to me too a daughter of Jove,
and still I did not marry her, just as Nero did not marry Acte, though
they called her a daughter of King Attalus. Calm thyself! Think that
if she wishes to leave Aulus for thee, he will have no right to detain
her. Know also that thou art not burning alone, for Eros has roused in
her the flame too. I saw that, and it is well to believe me. Have
patience. There is a way to do everything, but to-day I have thought
too much already, and it tires me. But I promise that to-morrow I will
think of thy love, and unless Petronius is not Petronius, he will
discover some method."
They were both silent again.
"I thank thee," said Vinicius at last. "May Fortune be bountiful to
"Whither hast thou given command to bear us?"
"Thou art happy in possessing her whom thou lovest."
"I? Dost thou know what amuses me yet in Chrysothemis? This, that she
is false to me with my freedman Theokles, and thinks that I do not
notice it. Once I loved her, but now she amuses me with her lying and
stupidity. Come with me to her. Should she begin to flirt with thee,
and write letters on the table with her fingers steeped in wine, know
that I shall not be jealous."
And he gave command to bear them both to Chrysothemis.
But in the entrance Petronius put his hand on Vinicius's shoulder, and
said,--"Wait; it seems to me that I have discovered a plan."
"May all the gods reward thee!"
"I have it! I judge that this plan is infallible. Knowest what,
"I listen to thee, my wisdom."
"Well, in a few days the divine Lygia will partake of Demeter's grain in
"Thou art greater than Cęsar!" exclaimed Vinicius with enthusiasm.
IN fact, Petronius kept his promise. He slept all the day following his
visit to Chrysothemis, it is true; but in the evening he gave command to
bear him to the Palatine, where he had a confidential conversation with
Nero; in consequence of this, on the third day a centurion, at the head
of some tens of pretorian soldiers, appeared before the house of
The period was uncertain and terrible. Messengers of this kind were
more frequently heralds of death. So when the centurion struck the
hammer at Aulus's door, and when the guard of the atrium announced that
there were soldiers in the anteroom, terror rose through the whole
house. The family surrounded the old general at once, for no one
doubted that danger hung over him above all. Pomponia, embracing his
neck with her arms, clung to him with all her strength, and her blue
lips moved quickly while uttering some whispered phrase. Lygia, with a
face pale as linen, kissed his hand; little Aulus clung to his toga.
From the corridor, from chambers in the lower story intended for
servant-women and attendants, from the bath, from the arches of lower
dwellings, from the whole house, crowds of slaves began to hurry out,
and the cries of "Heu! heu, me miserum!" were heard. The women broke
into great weeping; some scratched their cheeks, or covered their heads
Only the old general himself, accustomed for years to look death
straight in the eye, remained calm, and his short eagle face became as
rigid as if chiselled from stone. After a while, when he had silenced
the uproar, and commanded the attendants to disappear, he said,--"Let me
go, Pomponia. If my end has come, we shall have time to take leave."
And he pushed her aside gently; but she said,--"God grant thy fate and
mine to be one, O Aulus!"
Then, failing on her knees, she began to pray with that force which fear
for some dear one alone can give.
Aulus passed out to the atrium, where the centurion was waiting for him.
It was old Caius Hasta, his former subordinate and companion in British
"I greet thee, general," said he. "I bring a command, and the greeting
of Cęsar; here are the tablets and the signet to show that I come in his
"I am thankful to Cęsar for the greeting, and I shall obey the command,"
answered Aulus. "Be welcome, Hasta, and say what command thou hast
"Aulus Plautius," began Hasta, "Cęsar has learned that in thy house is
dwelling the daughter of the king of the Lygians, whom that king during
the life of the divine Claudius gave into the hands of the Romans as a
pledge that the boundaries of the empire would never be violated by the
Lygians. The divine Nero is grateful to thee, O general, because thou
hast given her hospitality in thy house for so many years; but, not
wishing to burden thee longer, and considering also that the maiden as a
hostage should be under the guardianship of Cęsar and the senate, he
commands thee to give her into my hands."
Aulus was too much a soldier and too much a veteran to permit himself
regret in view of an order, or vain words, or complaint. A slight
wrinkle of sudden anger and pain, however, appeared on his forehead.
Before that frown legions in Britain had trembled on a time, and even at
that moment fear was evident on the face of Hasta. But in view of the
order, Aulus Plautius felt defenceless. He looked for some time at the
tablets and the signet; then raising his eyes to the old centurion, he
said calmly,--"Wait, Hasta, in the atrium till the hostage is delivered
After these words he passed to the other end of the house, to the hall
called cus, where Pomponia Gręcina, Lygia, and little Aulus were
waiting for him in fear and alarm.
"Death threatens no one, nor banishment to distant islands," said he;
"still Cęsar's messenger is a herald of misfortune. It is a question of
"Of Lygia?" exclaimed Pomponia, with astonishment.
"Yes," answered Aulus.
And turning to the maiden, he began: "Lygia, thou wert reared in our
house as our own child; I and Pomponia love thee as our daughter. But
know this, that thou art not our daughter. Thou art a hostage, given by
thy people to Rome, and guardianship over thee belongs to Cęsar. Now
Cęsar takes thee from our house."
The general spoke calmly, but with a certain strange, unusual voice.
Lygia listened to his words, blinking, as if not understanding what the
question was. Pomponia's cheeks became pallid. In the doors leading
from the corridor to the cus, terrified faces of slaves began to show
themselves a second time.
"The will of Cęsar must be accomplished," said Aulus.
"Aulus!" exclaimed Pomponia, embracing the maiden with her arms, as if
wishing to defend her, "it would be better for her to die."
Lygia, nestling up to her breast, repeated, "Mother, mother!" unable in
her sobbing to find other words.
On Aulus's face anger and pain were reflected again. "If I were alone
in the world," said he, gloomily, "I would not surrender her alive, and
my relatives might give offerings this day to 'Jupiter Liberator.' But I
have not the right to kill thee and our child, who may live to happier
times. I will go to Cęsar this day, and implore him to change his
command. Whether he will hear me, I know not. Meanwhile, farewell,
Lygia, and know that I and Pomponia ever bless the day in which thou
didst take thy seat at our hearth."
Thus speaking, he placed his hand on her head; but though he strove to
preserve his calmness, when Lygia turned to him eyes filled with tears,
and seizing his hand pressed it to her lips, his voice was filled with
deep fatherly sorrow.
"Farewell, our joy, and the light of our eyes," said he.
And he went to the atrium quickly, so as not to let himself be conquered
by emotion unworthy of a Roman and a general.
Meanwhile Pomponia, when she had conducted Lygia to the cubiculum, began
to comfort, console, and encourage her, uttering words meanwhile which
sounded strangely in that house, where near them in an adjoining chamber
the lararium remained yet, and where the hearth was on which Aulus
Plautius, faithful to ancient usage, made offerings to the household
divinities. Now the hour of trial had come. On a time Virginius had
pierced the bosom of his own daughter to save her from the hands of
Appius; still earlier Lucretia had redeemed her shame with her life.
The house of Cęsar is a den of infamy, of evil, of crime. But we,
Lygia, know why we have not the right to raise hands on ourselves! Yes!
The law under which we both live is another, a greater, a holier, but it
gives permission to defend oneself from evil and shame even should it
happen to pay for that defence with life and torment. Whoso goes forth
pure from the dwelling of corruption has the greater merit thereby. The
earth is that dwelling; but fortunately life is one twinkle of the eye,
and resurrection is only from the grave; beyond that not Nero, but Mercy
bears rule, and there instead of pain is delight, there instead of tears
Next she began to speak of herself. Yes! she was calm; but in her
breast there was no lack of painful wounds. For example, Aulus was a
cataract on her eye; the fountain of light had not flowed to him yet.
Neither was it permitted her to rear her son in Truth. When she thought,
therefore, that it might be thus to the end of her life, and that for
them a moment of separation might come which would be a hundred times
more grievous and terrible than that temporary one over which they were
both suffering then, she could not so much as understand how she might
be happy even in heaven without them. And she had wept many nights
through already, she had passed many nights in prayer, imploring grace
and mercy. But she offered her suffering to God, and waited and
trusted. And now, when a new blow struck her, when the tyrant's command
took from her a dear one,--the one whom Aulus had called the light of
their eyes,--she trusted yet, believing that there was a power greater
than Nero's and a mercy mightier than his anger.
And she pressed the maiden's head to her bosom still more firmly. Lygia
dropped to her knees after a while, and, covering her eyes in the folds
of Pomponia's peplus, she remained thus a long time in silence; but when
she stood up again, some calmness was evident on her face.
"I grieve for thee, mother, and for father and for my brother; but I
know that resistance is useless, and would destroy all of us. I promise
thee that in the house of Cęsar I will never forget thy words."
Once more she threw her arms around Pomponia's neck; then both went out
to the cus, and she took farewell of little Aulus, of the old Greek
their teacher, of the dressing-maid who had been her nurse, and of all
the slaves. One of these, a tall and broad-shouldered Lygian, called
Ursus in the house, who with other servants had in his time gone with
Lygia's mother and her to the camp of the Romans, fell now at her feet,
and then bent down to the knees of Pomponia, saying,--"O domina! permit
me to go with my lady, to serve her and watch over her in the house of
"Thou art not our servant, but Lygia's," answered Pomponia; "but if they
admit thee through Cęsar's doors, in what way wilt thou be able to watch
"I know not, domina; I know only that iron breaks in my hands just as
When Aulus, who came up at that moment, had heard what the question was,
not only did he not oppose the wishes of Ursus, but he declared that he
had not even the right to detain him. They were sending away Lygia as a
hostage whom Cęsar had claimed, and they were obliged in the same way to
send her retinue, which passed with her to the control of Cęsar. Here
he whispered to Pomponia that under the form of an escort she could add
as many slaves as she thought proper, for the centurion could not refuse
to receive them.
There was a certain comfort for Lygia in this. Pomponia also was glad
that she could surround her with servants of her own choice. Therefore,
besides Ursus, she appointed to her the old tire-woman, two maidens from
Cyprus well skilled in hair-dressing, and two German maidens for the
bath. Her choice fell exclusively on adherents of the new faith; Ursus,
too, had professed it for a number of years. Pomponia could count on
the faithfulness of those servants, and at the same time consoled
herself with the thought that soon grains of truth would be in Cęsar's
She wrote a few words also, committing care over Lygia to Nero's
freedwoman, Acte. Pomponia had not seen her, it is true, at meetings of
confessors of the new faith; but she had heard from them that Acte had
never refused them a service, and that she read the letters of Paul of
Tarsus eagerly. It was known to her also that the young freedwoman
lived in melancholy, that she was a person different from all other
women of Nero's house, and that in general she was the good spirit of
Hasta engaged to deliver the letter himself to Acte. Considering it
natural that the daughter of a king should have a retinue of her own
servants, he did not raise the least difficulty in taking them to the
palace, but wondered rather that there should be so few. He begged
haste, however, fearing lest he might be suspected of want of zeal in
carrying out orders.
The moment of parting came. The eyes of Pomponia and Lygia were filled
with fresh tears; Aulus placed his hand on her head again, and after a
while the soldiers, followed by the cry of little Aulus, who in defence
of his sister threatened the centurion with his small fists, conducted
Lygia to Cęsar's house.
The old general gave command to prepare his litter at once; meanwhile,
shutting himself up with Pomponia in the pinacotheca adjoining the cus,
he said to her,--"Listen to me, Pomponia. I will go to Cęsar, though I
judge that my visit will be useless; and though Seneca's word means
nothing with Nero now, I will go also to Seneca. To-day Sophonius,
Tigellinus, Petronius, or Vatinius have more influence. As to Cęsar,
perhaps he has never even heard of the Lygian people; and if he has
demanded the delivery of Lygia, the hostage, he has done so because some
one persuaded him to it,--it is easy to guess who could do that."
She raised her eyes to him quickly.
"Is it Petronius?"
A moment of silence followed; then the general continued,--"See what it
is to admit over the threshold any of those people without conscience or
honor. Cursed be the moment in which Vinicius entered our house, for he
brought Petronius. Woe to Lygia, since those men are not seeking a
hostage, but a concubine."
And his speech became more hissing than usual, because of helpless rage
and of sorrow for his adopted daughter. He struggled with himself some
time, and only his clenched fists showed how severe was the struggle
"I have revered the gods so far," said he; "but at this moment I think
that not they are over the world, but one mad, malicious monster named
"Aulus," said Pomponia. "Nero is only a handful of rotten dust before
But Aulus began to walk with long steps over the mosaic of the
pinacotheca. In his life there had been great deeds, but no great
misfortunes; hence he was unused to them. The old soldier had grown
more attached to Lygia than he himself had been aware of, and now he
could not be reconciled to the thought that he had lost her. Besides,
he felt humiliated. A hand was weighing on him which he despised, and
at the same time he felt that before its power his power was as nothing.
But when at last he stifled in himself the anger which disturbed his
thoughts, he said,--"I judge that Petronius has not taken her from us
for Cęsar, since he would not offend Poppan. Therefore he took her
either for himself or Vinicius. Today I will discover this."
And after a while the litter bore him in the direction of the Palatine.
Pomponia, when left alone, went to little Aulus, who did not cease
crying for his sister, or threatening Cęsar.
AULUS had judged rightly that he would not be admitted to Nero's
presence. They told him that Cęsar was occupied in singing with the
lute-player, Terpnos, and that in general he did not receive those whom
he himself had not summoned. In other words, that Aulus must not
attempt in future to see him.
Seneca, though ill with a fever, received the old general with due
honor; but when he had heard what the question was, he laughed bitterly,
and said,--"I can render thee only one service, noble Plautius, not to
show Cęsar at any time that my heart feels thy pain, or that I should
like to aid thee; for should Cęsar have the least suspicion on this
head, know that he would not give thee back Lygia, though for no other
reason than to spite me."
He did not advise him, either, to go to Tigellinus or Vatinius or
Vitelius. It might be possible to do something with them through money;
perhaps, also, they would like to do evil to Petronius, whose influence
they were trying to undermine, but most likely they would disclose
before Nero how dear Lygia was to Plautius, and then Nero would all the
more resolve not to yield her to him. Here the old sage began to speak
with a biting irony, which he turned against himself: "Thou hast been
silent, Plautius, thou hast been silent for whole years, and Cęsar does
not like those who are silent. How couldst thou help being carried away
by his beauty, his virtue, his singing, his declamation, his chariot-
driving, and his verses? Why didst thou not glorify the death of
Britannicus, and repeat panegyrics in honor of the mother-slayer, and
not offer congratulations after the stifling of Octavia? Thou art
lacking in foresight, Aulus, which we who live happily at the court
possess in proper measure."
Thus speaking, he raised a goblet which he carried at his belt, took
water from a fountain at the impluvium, freshened his burning lips, and
continued,--"Ah, Nero has a grateful heart. He loves thee because thou
hast served Rome and glorified its name at the ends of the earth; he
loves me because I was his master in youth. Therefore, seest thou, I
know that this water is not poisoned, and I drink it in peace. Wine in
my own house would be less reliable. If thou art thirsty, drink boldly
of this water. The aqueducts bring it from beyond the Alban hills, and
any one wishing to poison it would have to poison every fountain in
Rome. As thou seest, it is possible yet to be safe in this world and to
have a quiet old age. I am sick, it is true, but rather in soul than in
This was true. Seneca lacked the strength of soul which Cornutus
possessed, for example, or Thrasea; hence his life was a series of
concessions to crime. He felt this himself; he understood that an
adherent of the principles of Zeno, of Citium, should go by another
road, and he suffered more from that cause than from the fear of death
But the general interrupted these reflections full of grief.
"Noble Annęus," said he, "I know how Cęsar rewarded thee for the care
with which thou didst surround his years of youth. But the author of
the removal of Lygia is Petronius. Indicate to me a method against him,
indicate the influences to which he yields, and use besides with him all
the eloquence with which friendship for me of long standing can inspire
"Petronius and I," answered Seneca, "are men of two opposite camps; I
know of no method against him, he yields to no man's influence. Perhaps
with all his corruption he is worthier than those scoundrels with whom
Nero surrounds himself at present. But to show him that he has done an
evil deed is to lose time simply. Petronius has lost long since that
faculty which distinguishes good from evil. Show him that his act is
ugly, he will be ashamed of it. When I see him, I will say, 'Thy act is
worthy of a freedman.' If that will not help thee, nothing can."
"Thanks for that, even," answered the general.
Then he gave command to carry him to the house of Vinicius, whom he
found at sword practice with his domestic trainer. Aulus was borne away
by terrible anger at sight of the young man occupied calmly with fencing
during the attack on Lygia; and barely had the curtain dropped behind
the trainer when this anger burst forth in a torrent of bitter
reproaches and injuries. But Vinicius, when he learned that Lygia had
been carried away, grew so terribly pale that Aulus could not for even
an instant suspect him of sharing in the deed. The young man's forehead
was covered with sweat; the blood, which had rushed to his heart for a
moment, returned to his face in a burning wave; his eyes began to shoot
sparks, his mouth to hurl disconnected questions. Jealousy and rage
tossed him in turn, like a tempest. It seemed to him that Lygia, once
she had crossed the threshold of Cęsar's house, was lost to him
absolutely. When Aulus pronounced the name of Petronius, suspicion flew
like a lightning flash through the young soldier's mind, that Petronius
had made sport of him, and either wanted to win new favor from Nero by
the gift of Lygia, or keep her for himself. That any one who had seen
Lygia would not desire her at once, did not find a place in his head.
Impetuousness, inherited in his family, carried him away like a wild
horse, and took from him presence of mind.
"General," said he, with a broken voice, "return home and wait for me.
Know that if Petronius were my own father, I would avenge on him the
wrong done to Lygia. Return home and wait for me. Neither Petronius nor
Cęsar will have her."
Then he went with clinched fists to the waxed masks standing clothed in
the atrium, and burst out,--"By those mortal masks! I would rather kill
her and myself." When he had said this, he sent another "Wait for me"
after Aulus, then ran forth like a madman from the atrium, and flew to
Petronius's house, thrusting pedestrians aside on the way.
Aulus returned home with a certain encouragement. He judged that if
Petronius had persuaded Cęsar to take Lygia to give her to Vinicius,
Vinicius would bring her to their house. Finally, the thought was no
little consolation to him, that should Lygia not be rescued she would be
avenged and protected by death from disgrace. He believed that Vinicius
would do everything that he had promised. He had seen his rage, and he
knew the excitability innate in the whole family. He himself, though he
loved Lygia as her own father, would rather kill her than give her to
Cęsar; and had he not regarded his son, the last descendant of his
stock, he would doubtless have done so. Aulus was a soldier; he had
hardly heard of the Stoics, but in character he was not far from their
ideas,--death was more acceptable to his pride than disgrace.
When he returned home, he pacified Pomponia, gave her the consolation
that he had, and both began to await news from Vinicius. At moments
when the steps of some of the slaves were heard in the atrium, they
thought that perhaps Vinicius was bringing their beloved child to them,
and they were ready in the depth of their souls to bless both. Time
passed, however, and no news came. Only in the evening was the hammer
heard on the gate.
After a while a slave entered and handed Aulus a letter. The old
general, though he liked to show command over himself, took it with a
somewhat trembling hand, and began to read as hastily as if it were a
question of his whole house.
All at once his face darkened, as if a shadow from a passing cloud had
fallen on it.
"Read," said he, turning to Pomponia.
Pomponia took the letter and read as follows:--
"Marcus Vinicius to Aulus Plautius greeting. What has happened, has
happened by the will of Cęsar, before which incline your heads, as I and
Petronius incline ours."
A long silence followed.
PETRONIUS was at home. The doorkeeper did not dare to stop Vinicius,
who burst into the atrium like a storm, and, learning that the master of
the house was in the library, he rushed into the library with the same
impetus. Finding Petronius writing, he snatched the reed from his hand,
broke it, trampled the reed on the floor, then fixed his fingers into
his shoulder, and, approaching his face to that of his uncle, asked,
with a hoarse voice,--"What hast thou done with her? Where is she?"
Suddenly an amazing thing happened. That slender and effeminate
Petronius seized the hand of the youthful athlete, which was grasping
his shoulder, then seized the other, and, holding them both in his one
hand with the grip of an iron vice, he said,--"I am incapable only in
the morning; in the evening I regain my former strength. Try to escape.
A weaver must have taught thee gymnastics, and a blacksmith thy
On his face not even anger was evident, but in his eyes there was a
certain pale reflection of energy and daring. After a while he let the
hands of Vinicius drop. Vinicius stood before him shamefaced and
"Thou hast a steel hand," said he; "but if thou hast betrayed me, I
swear, by all the infernal gods, that I will thrust a knife into thy
body, though thou be in the chambers of Cęsar."
"Let us talk calmly," said Petronius. "Steel is stronger, as thou
seest, than iron; hence, though out of one of thy arms two as large as
mine might be made, I have no need to fear thee. On the contrary, I
grieve over thy rudeness, and if the ingratitude of men could astonish
me yet, I should be astonished at thy ingratitude."
"Where is Lygia?"
"In a brothel,--that is, in the house of Cęsar."
"Calm thyself, and be seated. I asked Cęsar for two things, which he
promised me,--first, to take Lygia from the house of Aulus, and second
to give her to thee. Hast thou not a knife there under the folds of thy
toga? Perhaps thou wilt stab me! But I advise thee to wait a couple of
days, for thou wouldst be taken to prison, and meanwhile Lygia would be
wearied in thy house."
Silence followed. Vinicius looked for some time with astonished eyes on
Petronius; then he said,--"Pardon me; I love her, and love is disturbing
"Look at me, Marcus. The day before yesterday I spoke to Cęsar as
follows: 'My sister's son, Vinicius, has so fallen in love with a lean
little girl who is being reared with the Auluses that his house is
turned into a steambath from sighs. Neither thou, O Cęsar, nor I--we who
know, each of us, what true beauty is--would give a thousand sesterces
for her; but that lad has ever been as dull as a tripod, and now he has
lost all the wit that was in him.'"
"If thou understand not that I said this to insure Lygia's safety, I am
ready to believe that I told the truth. I persuaded Bronzebeard that a
man of his ęsthetic nature could not consider such a girl beautiful; and
Nero, who so far has not dared to look otherwise than through my eyes,
will not find in her beauty, and, not finding it, will not desire her.
It was necessary to insure ourselves against the monkey and take him on
a rope. Not he, but Poppęa, will value Lygia now; and Poppęa will
strive, of course, to send the girl out of the palace at the earliest.
I said further to Bronzebeard, in passing: 'Take Lygia and give her to
Vinicius! Thou hast the right to do so, for she is a hostage; and if
thou take her, thou wilt inflict pain on Aulus.' He agreed; he had not
the least reason not to agree, all the more since I gave him a chance to
annoy decent people. They will make thee official guardian of the
hostage, and give into thy hands that Lygian treasure; thou, as a friend
of the valiant Lygians, and also a faithful servant of Cęsar, wilt not
waste any of the treasure, but wilt strive to increase it. Cęsar, to
preserve appearances, will keep her a few days in his house, and then
send her to thy insula. Lucky man!"
"Is this true? Does nothing threaten her there in Cęsar's house?"
"If she had to live there permanently, Poppęa would talk about her to
Locusta, but for a few days there is no danger. Ten thousand people
live in it. Nero will not see her, perhaps, all the more since he left
everything to me, to the degree that just now the centurion was here
with information that he had conducted the maiden to the palace and
committed her to Acte. She is a good soul, that Acte; hence I gave
command to deliver Lygia to her. Clearly Pomponia Gręcina is of that
opinion too, for she wrote to Acte. To-morrow there is a feast at
Nero's. I have requested a place for thee at the side of Lygia."
"Pardon me, Caius, my hastiness. I judged that thou hadst given command
to take her for thyself or for Cęsar."
"I can forgive thy hastiness; but it is more difficult to forgive rude
gestures, vulgar shouts, and a voice reminding one of players at mora.
I do not like that style, Marcus, and do thou guard against it. Know
that Tigellinus is Cęsar's pander; but know also that if I wanted the
girl for myself now, looking thee straight in the eyes, I would say,
'Vinicius! I take Lygia from thee and I will keep her till I am tired
Thus speaking, he began to look with his hazel eyes straight into the
eyes of Vinicius with a cold and insolent stare. The young man lost
"The fault is mine," said he. "Thou art kind and worthy. I thank thee
from my whole soul. Permit me only to put one more question: Why didst
thou not have Lygia sent directly to my house?"
"Because Cęsar wishes to preserve appearances. People in Rome will talk
about this,--that we removed Lygia as a hostage. While they are
talking, she will remain in Cęsar's palace. Afterward she will be
removed quietly to thy house, and that will be the end. Bronzebeard is a
cowardly cur. He knows that his power is unlimited, and still he tries
to give specious appearances to every act. Hast thou recovered to the
degree of being able to philosophize a little? More than once have I
thought, Why does crime, even when as powerful as Cęsar, and assured of
being beyond punishment, strive always for the appearances of truth,
justice, and virtue? Why does it take the trouble? I consider that to
murder a brother, a mother, a wife, is a thing worthy of some petty
Asiatic king, not a Roman Cęsar; but if that position were mine, I
should not write justifying letters to the Senate. But Nero writes.
Nero is looking for appearances, for Nero is a coward. But Tiberius was
not a coward; still he justified every step he took. Why is this? What
a marvellous, involuntary homage paid to virtue by evil! And knowest
thou what strikes me? This, that it is done because transgression is
ugly and virtue is beautiful. Therefore a man of genuine ęsthetic
feeling is also a virtuous man. Hence I am virtuous. To-day I must
pour out a little wine to the shades of Protagoras, Prodicus, and
Gorgias. It seems that sophists too can be of service. Listen, for I
am speaking yet. I took Lygia from Aulus to give her to thee. Well.
But Lysippus would have made wonderful groups of her and thee. Ye are
both beautiful; therefore my act is beautiful, and being beautiful it
cannot be bad. Marcus, here sitting before thee is virtue incarnate in
Caius Petronius! If Aristides were living, it would be his duty to come
to me and offer a hundred minę for a short treatise on virtue."
But Vinicius, as a man more concerned with reality than with treatises
on virtue, replied,--"To-morrow I shall see Lygia, and then have her in
my house daily, always, and till death."
"Thou wilt have Lygia, and I shall have Aulus on my head. He will
summon the vengeance of all the infernal gods against me. And if the
beast would take at least a preliminary lesson in good declamation! He
will blame me, however, as my former doorkeeper blamed my clients but
him I sent to prison in the country."
"Aulus has been at my house. I promised to give him news of Lygia."
"Write to him that the will of the 'divine' Cęsar is the highest law,
and that thy first son will bear the name Aulus. It is necessary that
the old man should have some consolation. I am ready to pray
Bronzebeard to invite him to-morrow to the feast. Let him see thee in
the triclinium next to Lygia."
"Do not do that. I am sorry for them, especially for Pomponia."
And he sat down to write that letter which took from the old general the
remnant of his hope.
ONCE the highest heads in Rome inclined before Acte, the former favorite
of Nero. But even at that period she showed no desire to interfere in
public questions, and if on any occasion she used her influence over the
young ruler, it was only to implore mercy for some one. Quiet and
unassuming, she won the gratitude of many, and made no one her enemy.
Even Octavia was unable to hate her. To those who envied her she seemed
exceedingly harmless. It was known that she continued to love Nero with
a sad and pained love, which lived not in hope, but only in memories of
the time in which that Nero was not only younger and loving, but better.
It was known that she could not tear her thoughts and soul from those
memories, but expected nothing; since there was no real fear that Nero
would return to her, she was looked upon as a person wholly inoffensive,
and hence was left in peace. Poppęa considered her merely as a quiet
servant, so harmless that she did not even try to drive her from the
But since Cęsar had loved her once and dropped her without offence in a
quiet and to some extent friendly manner, a certain respect was retained
for her. Nero, when he had freed her, let her live in the palace, and
gave her special apartments with a few servants. And as in their time
Pallas and Narcissus, though freedmen of Claudius, not only sat at
feasts with Claudius, but also held places of honor as powerful
ministers, so she too was invited at times to Cęsar's table. This was