Part 7 out of 12
Then he departed quickly, for Cæsar's whole retinue had pushed forward
considerably. The Apostle Peter blessed him with a slight sign of the
cross; but the kindly Ursus began at once to glorify him, glad that his
young mistress listened eagerly and was grateful to him for those
The retinue moved on and hid itself in clouds of golden dust; they gazed
long after it, however, till Demas the miller approached, he for whom
Ursus worked in the night-time. When he had kissed the Apostle's hand,
he entreated them to enter his dwelling for refreshment, saying that it
was near the Emporium, that they must be hungry and wearied since they
had spent the greater part of the day at the gate.
They went with him, and, after rest and refreshment in his house,
returned to the Trans-Tiber only toward evening. Intending to cross the
river by the Æmilian bridge, they passed through the Clivus Publicus,
going over the Aventine, between the temples of Diana and Mercury. From
that height the Apostle looked on the edifices about him, and on those
vanishing in the distance. Sunk in silence he meditated on the
immensity and dominion of that city, to which he had come to announce
the word of God. Hitherto he had seen the rule of Rome and its legions
in various lands through which he had wandered, but they were single
members as it were of the power, which that day for the first time he
had seen impersonated in the form of Nero. That city, immense,
predatory, ravenous, unrestrained, rotten to the marrow of its bones,
and unassailable in its preterhuman power; that Cæsar, a fratricide, a
matricide, a wife-slayer, after him dragged a retinue of bloody spectres
no less in number than his court. That profligate, that buffoon, but
also lord of thirty legions, and through them of the whole earth; those
courtiers covered with gold and scarlet, uncertain of the morrow, but
mightier meanwhile than kings,--all this together seemed a species of
hellish kingdom of wrong and evil. In his simple heart he marvelled
that God could give such inconceivable almightiness to Satan, that He
could yield the earth to him to knead, overturn, and trample it, to
squeeze blood and tears from it, to twist it like a whirlwind, to storm
it like a tempest, to consume it like a flame. And his Apostle-heart
was alarmed by those thoughts, and in spirit he spoke to the Master: "O
Lord, how shall I begin in this city, to which Thou hast sent me? To it
belong seas and lands, the beasts of the field, and the creatures of the
water; it owns other kingdoms and cities, and thirty legions which guard
them; but I, O Lord, am a fisherman from a lake! How shall I begin, and
how shall I conquer its malice?"
Thus speaking he raised his gray, trembling head toward heaven, praying
and exclaiming from the depth of his heart to his Divine Master, himself
full of sadness and fear.
Meanwhile his prayer was interrupted by Lygia.
"The whole city is as if on fire," said she.
In fact the sun went down that day in a marvellous manner. Its immense
shield had sunk half-way behind the Janiculum, the whole expanse of
heaven was filled with a red gleam. From the place on which they were
standing, Peter's glance embraced large expanses. Somewhat to the right
they saw the long extending walls of the Circus Maximus; above it the
towering palaces of the Palatine; and directly in front of them, beyond
the Forum Boarium and the Velabrum, the summit of the Capitol, with the
temple of Jupiter. But the walls and the columns and the summits of the
temples were as if sunk in that golden and purple gleam. The parts of
the river visible from afar flowed as if in blood; arid as the sun sank
moment after moment behind the mountain, the gleam became redder and
redder, more and more like a conflagration, and it increased and
extended till finally it embraced the seven hills, from which it
extended to the whole region about.
"The whole city seems on fire!" repeated Lygia.
Peter shaded his eyes with his hand, and said--
"The wrath of God is upon it."
VINCIUS to LYGIA:
"The slave Phlegon, by whom I send this letter, is a Christian; hence he
will be one of those to receive freedom from thy hands, my dearest. He
is an old servant of our house; so I can write to thee with full
confidence, and without fear that the letter will fall into other hands
than thine. I write from Laurentum, where we have halted because of
heat. Otho owned here a lordly villa, which on a time he presented to
Poppæa; and she, though divorced from him, saw fit to retain the
magnificent present. When I think of the women who surround me now and
of thee, it seems to me that from the stones hurled by Deucalion there
must have risen people of various kinds, altogether unlike one another,
and that thou art of those born of crystal.
"I admire and love thee from my whole soul, and wish to speak only of
thee; hence I am forced to constrain myself to write of our journey, of
that which happens to me, and of news of the court. Well, Cæsar was the
guest of Poppæa, who prepared for him secretly a magnificent reception.
She invited only a few of his favorites, but Petronius and I were among
them. After dinner we sailed in golden boats over the sea, which was as
calm as if it had been sleeping, and as blue as thy eyes, O divine one.
We ourselves rowed, for evidently it flattered the Augusta that men of
consular dignity, or their sons, were rowing for her. Cæsar, sitting at
the rudder in a purple toga, sang a hymn in honor of the sea; this hymn
he had composed the night before, and with Diodorus had arranged music
to it. In other boats he was accompanied by slaves from India who knew
how to play on sea-shells while round about appeared numerous dolphins,
as if really enticed from Amphitrite's depths by music. Dost thou know
what I was doing? I was thinking of thee, and yearning. I wanted to
gather in that sea, that calm, and that music, and give the whole to
"Dost thou wish that we should live in some place at the seashore far
from Rome, my Augusta? I have land in Sicily, on which there is an
almond forest which has rose-colored blossoms in spring, and this forest
goes down so near the sea that the tips of the branches almost touch the
water. There I will love thee and magnify Paul's teaching, for I know
now that it will not be opposed to love and happiness. Dost thou wish?
--But before I hear thy answer I will write further of what happened on
"Soon the shore was far behind. We saw a sail before us in the
distance, and all at once a dispute rose as to whether it was a common
fishing-boat or a great ship from Ostia. I was the first to discover
what it was, and then the Augusta said that for my eyes evidently
nothing was hidden, and, dropping the veil over her face on a sudden,
she inquired if I could recognize her thus. Petronius answered
immediately that it was not possible to see even the sun behind a cloud;
but she said, as if in jest, that love alone could blind such a piercing
glance as mine, and, naming various women of the court, she fell to
inquiring and guessing which one I loved. I answered calmly, but at
last she mentioned thy name. Speaking of thee, she uncovered her face
again, and looked at me with evil and inquiring eyes.
"I feel real gratitude to Petronius, who turned the boat at that moment,
through which general attention was taken from me; for had I heard
hostile or sneering words touching thee, I should not have been able to
hide my anger, and should have had to struggle with the wish to break
the head of that wicked, malicious woman with my oar. Thou rememberest
the incident at the pond of Agrippa about which I told thee at the house
of Linus on the eve of my departure. Petronius is alarmed on my
account, and to-day again he implored me not to offend the Augusta's
vanity. But Petronius does not understand me, and does not realize
that, apart from thee, I know no pleasure or beauty or love, and that
for Poppæa I feel only disgust and contempt. Thou hast changed my soul
greatly,--so greatly that I should not wish now to return to my former
life. But have no fear that harm may reach me here. Poppæa does not
love me, for she cannot love any one, and her desires arise only from
anger at Cæsar, who is under her influence yet, and who is even capable
of loving her yet; still, he does not spare her, and does not hide from
her his transgressions and shamelessness.
"I will tell thee, besides, something which should pacify thee. Peter
told me in parting not to fear Cæsar, since a hair would not fall from
my head; and I believe him. Some voice in my soul says that every word
of his must be accomplished; that since he blessed our love, neither
Cæsar, nor all the powers of Hades, nor predestination itself, could
take thee from me, O Lygia. When I think of this I am as happy as if I
were in heaven, which alone is calm and happy. But what I say of heaven
and predestination may offend thee, a Christian. Christ has not washed
me yet, but my heart is like an empty chalice, which Paul of Tarsus is
to fill with the sweet doctrine professed by thee,--the sweeter for me
that it is thine. Thou, divine one, count even this as a merit to me
that I have emptied it of the liquid with which I had filled it before,
and that I do not withdraw it, but hold it forth as a thirsty man
standing at a pure spring. Let me find favor in thy eyes.
"In Antium my days and nights will pass in listening to Paul, who
acquired such influence among my people on the first day that they
surround him continually, seeing in him not only a wonder-worker, but a
being almost supernatural. Yesterday I saw gladness on his face, and
when I asked what he was doing, he answered, 'I am sowing!' Petronius
knows that he is among my people, and wishes to see him, as does Seneca
also, who heard of him from Gallo.
"But the stars are growing pale, O Lygia, and 'Lucifer' of the morning
is bright with growing force. Soon the dawn will make the sea ruddy;
all is sleeping round about, but I am thinking of thee and loving thee.
Be greeted together with the morning dawn, sponsa mea!"
VINICIUS to LYGIA:
"Hast thou ever been in Antium, my dear one, with Aulus and Pomponia?
If not, I shall be happy when I show this place to thee. All the way
from Laurentum there is a line of villas along the seashore; and Antium
itself is an endless succession of palaces and porticos, whose columns
in fair weather see themselves in the water. I, too, have a residence
here right over the sea, with an olive garden and a forest of cypresses
behind the villa, and when I think that the place will sometime be
thine, its marble seems whiter to me, its groves more shady, and the sea
bluer. Oh, Lygia, how good it is to live and love! Old Menikles, who
manages the villa, planted irises on the ground under myrtles, and at
sight of them the house of Aulus, the impluvium, and the garden in which
I sat near thee, came to my mind. The irises will remind thee, too, of
thy childhood's home; therefore I am certain that thou wilt love Antium
and this villa.
"Immediately after our arrival I talked long with Paul at dinner. We
spoke of thee, and afterward he taught. I listened long, and I say only
this, that even could I write like Petronius, I should not have power to
explain everything which passed through my soul and my mind. I had not
supposed that there could be such happiness in this world, such beauty
and peace of which hitherto people had no knowledge. But I retain all
this for conversation with thee, for at the first free moment I shall be
"How could the earth find place at once for the Apostle Peter, Paul of
Tarsus, and Cæsar? Tell me this. I ask because I passed the evening
after Paul's teaching with Nero, and dost thou know what I heard there?
Well, to begin with, he read his poem on the destruction of Troy, and
complained that never had he seen a burning city. He envied Priam, and
called him happy just for this, that he saw the conflagration and ruin
of his birthplace. Whereupon Tigellinus said, 'Speak a word, O divinity,
I will take a torch, and before the night passes thou shalt see blazing
Antium.' But Cæsar called him a fool. 'Where,' asked he, 'should I go to
breathe the sea air, and preserve the voice with which the gods have
gifted me, and which men say I should preserve for the benefit of
mankind? Is it not Rome that injures me; is it not the exhalations of
the Subura and the Esquiline which add to my hoarseness? Would not the
palaces of Rome present a spectacle a hundredfold more tragic and
magnificent than Antium?' Here all began to talk, and to say what an
unheard tragedy the picture of a city like that would be, a city which
had conquered the world turned now into a heap of gray ashes. Cæsar
declared that then his poem would surpass the songs of Homer, and he
began to describe how he would rebuild the city, and how coming ages
would admire his achievensents, in presence of which all other human
works would be petty. 'Do that! do that!' exclaimed the drunken company.
'I must have more faithful and more devoted friends,' answered he.
"I confess that I was alarmed at once when I heard this, for thou art in
Rome, carissima. I laugh now at that alarm, and I think that Cæsar and
his friends, though mad, would not dare to permit such insanity. Still,
see how a man fears for his love; I should prefer that the house of
Linus were not in that narrow Trans-Tiber alley, and in a part occupied
by common people, who are less considered in such a case. For me, the
very palaces on the Palatine would not be a residence fit for thee;
hence I should wish also that nothing were lacking thee of those
ornaments and comforts to which thou art accustomed from childhood.
"Go to the house of Aulus, my Lygia. I have thought much here over this
matter. If Cæsar were in Rome, news of thy return might reach the
Palatine through slaves, turn attention to thee, and bring persecution,
because thou didst dare to act against the will of Cæsar. But he will
remain long in Antium, and before he returns slaves will have ceased to
speak of thee. Linus and Ursus can be with thee. Besides, I live in
hope that before Palatine sees Cæsar, thou, my goddess, shalt be
dwelling in thy own house on the Carinæ. Blessed be the day, hour, and
moment in which thou shalt cross my threshold; and if Christ, whom I am
learning to accept, effects this, may His name be blessed also. I shall
serve Him, and give life and blood for Him. I speak incorrectly; we
shall serve Him, both of us, as long as the threads of life hold.
"I love thee and salute thee with my whole soul."
Unsus was taking water from a cistern, and while drawing up a double
amphora, with a rope, was singing a strange Lygian song in an undertone,
looking meanwhile with delighted eyes at Lygia and Vinicius, who, among
the cypresses in Linus's garden, seemed as white as two statues. Their
clothing was not moved by the least breeze. A golden and lily-colored
twilight was sinking on the world while they were conversing in the calm
of evening, each holding the other by the hand.
"May not some evil meet thee, Marcus, because thou hast left Antium
without Cæsar's knowledge?" asked Lygia.
"No, my dear," answered Vincius. "Cæsar announced that he would shut
himself in for two days with Terpnos, and compose new songs. He acts
thus frequently, and at such times neither knows nor remembers aught
else. Moreover, what is Cæsar to me since I am near thee and am looking
at thee? I have yearned too much already, and these last nights sleep
has left me. More than once, when I dozed from weariness, I woke on a
sudden, with a feeling that danger was hanging over thee; at times I
dreamed that the relays of horses which were to bear me from Antium to
Rome were stolen,--horses with which I passed that road more swiftly
than any of Cæsar's couriers. Besides, I could not live longer without
thee; I love thee too much for that, my dearest."
"I knew that thou wert coming. Twice Ursus ran out, at my request, to
the Carinæ, and inquired for thee at thy house. Linus laughed at me,
and Ursus also."
It was, indeed, evident that she had expected him; for instead of her
usual dark dress, she wore a soft white stola, out of whose beautiful
folds her arms and head emerged like primroses out of snow. A few ruddy
anemones ornamented her hair.
Vinicius pressed his lips to her hands; then they sat on the stone bench
amidst wild grape-vines, and inclining toward each other, were silent,
looking at the twilight whose last gleams were reflected in their eyes.
The charm of the quiet evening mastered them completely.
"How calm it is here, and how beautiful the world is," said Vinicius, in
a lowered voice. "The night is wonderfully still. I feel happier than
ever in life before. Tell me, Lygia, what is this? Never have I
thought that there could be such love. I thought that love was merely
fire in the blood and desire; but now for the first time I see that it
is possible to love with every drop of one's blood and every breath, and
feel therewith such sweet and immeasurable calm as if Sleep and Death
had put the soul to rest. For me this is something new. I look on this
calmness of the trees, and it seems to be within me. Now I understand
for the first time that there may be happiness of which people have not
known thus far. Now I begin to understand why thou and Pomponia Græcina
have such peace. Yes! Christ gives it."
At that moment Lygia placed her beautiful face on his shoulder and
said,--"My dear Marcus--" But she was unable to continue. Joy,
gratitude, and the feeling that at last she was free to love deprived
her of voice, and her eyes were filled with tears of emotion.
Vinicius, embracing her slender form with his arm, drew her toward him
and said,--"Lygia! May the moment be blessed in which I heard His name
for the first time."
"I love thee, Marcus," said she then in a low voice.
Both were silent again, unable to bring words from their overcharged
breasts. The last lily reflections had died on the cypresses, and the
garden began to be silver-like from the crescent of the moon. After a
while Vinicius said,-
"I know. Barely had I entered here, barely had I kissed thy dear hands,
when I read in thy eyes the question whether I had received the divine
doctrine to which thou art attached, and whether I was baptized. No, I
am not baptized yet; but knowest thou, my flower, why? Paul said to me:
'I have convinced thee that God came into the world and gave Himself to
be crucified for its salvation; but let Peter wash thee in the fountain
of grace, he who first stretched his hands over thee and blessed thee.'
And I, my dearest, wish thee to witness mybaptism, and I wish Pomponia
to be my godmother. This is why I am not baptized yet, though I believe
in the Saviour and in his teaching. Paul has convinced me, has
converted me; and could it be otherwise? How was I not to believe that
Christ came into the world, since he, who was His disciple, says so, and
Paul, to whom He appeared? How was I not to believe that He was God,
since He rose from the dead? Others saw Him in the city and on the lake
and on the mountain; people saw Him whose lips have not known a lie. I
began to believe this the first time I heard Peter in Ostrianum, for I
said to myself even then: In the whole world any other man might lie
rather than this one who says, 'I saw.' But I feared thy religion. It
seemed to me that thy religion would take thee from me. I thought that
there was neither wisdom nor beauty nor happiness in it. But to-day,
when I know it, what kind of man should I be were I not to wish truth to
rule the world instead of fahehood, love instead of hatred, virtue
instead of crime, faithfulness instead of unfaithfulness, mercy instead
of vengeance? What sort of man would he be who would not choose and wish
the same? But your religion teaches this. Others desire justice also;
but thy religion is the only one which makes man's heart just, and
besides makes it pure, like thine and Pomponia's, makes it faithful,
like thine and Pomponia's. I should be blind were I not to see this.
But if in addition Christ God has promised eternal life, and has
promised happiness as immeasurable as the all-might of God can give,
what more can one wish? Were I to ask Seneca why he enjoins virtue, if
wickedness brings more happiness, he would not be able to say anything
sensible. But I know now that I ought to be virtuous, because virtue
and love flow from Christ, and because, when death closes my eyes, I
shall find life and happiness, I shall find myself and thee. Why not
love and accept a religion which both speaks the truth and destroys
death? Who would not prefer good to evil? I thought thy religion
opposed to happiness; meanwhile Paul has convinced me that not only does
it not take away, but that it gives. All this hardly finds a place in
my head; but I feel that it is true, for I have never been so happy,
neither could I be, had I taken thee by force and possessed thee in my
house. Just see, thou hast said a moment since, 'I love thee,' and I
could not have won these words from thy lips with all the might of Rome.
O Lygia! Reason declares this religion divine, and the best; the heart
feels it, and who can resist two such forces?"
Lygia listened, fixing on him her blue eyes, which in the light of the
moon were like mystic flowers, and bedewed like flowers.
"Yes, Marcus, that is true!" said she, nestling her head more closely to
And at that moment they felt immensely happy, for they understood that
besides love they were united by another power, at once sweet and
irresistible, by which love itself becomes endless, not subject to
change, deceit, treason, or even death. Their hearts were filled with
perfect certainty that, no matter what might happen, they would not
cease to love and belong to each other. For that reason an unspeakable
repose flowed in on their souls. Vinicius felt, besides, that that love
was not merely profound and pure, but altogether new,--such as the world
had not known and could not give. In his head all was combined in this
love,--Lygia, the teaching of Christ, the light of the moon resting
calmly on the cypresses, and the still night,--so that to him the whole
universe seemed filled with it.
After a while he said with a lowered and quivering voice: "Thou wilt be
the soul of my soul, and the dearest in the world to me. Our hearts
will beat together, we shall have one prayer and one gratitude to
Christ. O my dear! To live together, to honor together the sweet God,
and to know that when death comes our eyes will open again, as after a
pleasant sleep, to a new light,--what better could be imagined? I only
marvel that I did not understand this at first. And knowest thou what
occurs to me now? That no one can resist this religion. In two hundred
or three hundred years the whole world will accept it. People will
forget Jupiter, and there will be no God except Christ, and no other
temples but Christian. Who would not wish his own happiness? Ah! but I
heard Paul's conversation with Petronius and dost thou know what
Petronius said at the end? 'That is not for me'; but he could give no
"Repeat Paul's words to me," said Lygia.
"It was at my house one evening. Petronius began to speak playfully and
to banter, as he does usually, whereupon Paul said to him: 'How canst
thou deny, O wise Petronius, that Christ existed and rose from the dead,
since thou wert not in the world at that time, but Peter and John saw
Him, and I saw Him on the road to Damascus? Let thy wisdom show, first
of all, then, that we are liars, and then only deny our testimony.'
Petronius answered that he had no thought of denying, for he knew that
many incomprehensible things were done, which trustworthy people
affirmed. 'But the discovery of some new foreign god is one thing,' said
he, 'and the reception of his teaching another. I have no wish to know
anything which may deform life and mar its beauty. Never mind whether
our gods are true or not; they are beautiful, their rule is pleasant for
us, and we live without care.' 'Thou art willing to reject the religion
of love, justice, and mercy through dread of the cares of life,' replied
Paul; 'but think, Petronius, is thy life really free from anxieties?
Behold, neither thou nor any man among the richest and most powerful
knows when he falls asleep at night that he may not wake to a death
sentence. But tell me, if Cæsar professed this religion, which enjoins
love and justice, would not thy happiness be more assured? Thou art
alarmed about thy delight, but would not life be more joyous then? As
to life's beauty and ornaments, if ye have reared so many beautiful
temples and statues to evil, revengeful, adulterous, and faithless
divinities, what would ye not do in honor of one God of truth and mercy?
Thou art ready to praise thy lot, because thou art wealthy and living in
luxury; but it was possible even in thy case to be poor and deserted,
though coming of a great house, and then in truth it would have been
better for thee if people confessed Christ. In Rome even wealthy
parents, unwilling to toil at rearing children, cast them out of the
house frequently; those children are called alumni. And chance might
have made thee an alumnus, like one of those. But if parents live
according to our religion, this cannot happen. And hadst thou, at
manhood's years, married a woman of thy love, thy wish would be to see
her faithful till death. Meanwhile look around, what happens among you,
what vileness, what shame, what bartering in the faith of wives! Nay,
ye yourselves are astonished when a woman appears whom ye call "univira"
(of one husband). But I tell thee that those women who carry Christ in
their hearts will not break faith with their husbands, just as Christian
husbands will keep faith with their wives. But ye are neither sure of
rulers nor fathers nor wives nor children nor servants. The whole world
is trembling before you, and ye are trembling before your own slaves,
for ye know that any hour may raise an awful war against your
oppression, such a war as has been raised more than once. Though rich,
thou art not sure that the command may not come to thee to-morrow to
leave thy wealth; thou art young, but to-morrow it may be necessary for
thee to die. Thou lovest, but treason is in wait for thee; thou art
enamoured of villas and statues, but to-morrow power may thrust thee
forth into the empty places of the Pandataria; thou hast thousands of
servants, but to-morrow these servants may let thy blood flow. And if
that be the case, how canst thou be calm and happy, how canst thou live
in delight? But I proclaim love, and I proclaim a religion which
commands rulers to love their subjects, masters their slaves, slaves to
serve with love, to do justice and be merciful; and at last it promises
happiness boundless as a sea without end. How, then, Petronius, canst
thou say that that religion spoils life, since it corrects, and since
thou thyself wouldst be a hundred times happier and more secure were it
to embrace the world as Rome's dominion has embraced it?'
"Thus discussed Paul, and then Petronius said, 'That is not for me.'
Feigning drowsiness, he went out, and when going added: 'I prefer my
Eunice, O little Jew, but I should not wish to struggle with thee on the
platform.' I listened to Paul's words with my whole soul, and when he
spoke of our women, I magnified with all my heart that religion from
which thou hast sprung as a lily from a rich field in springtime. And I
thought then: There is Poppæa, who cast aside two husbands for Nero,
there is Calvia Crispinilla, there is Nigidia, there are almost all whom
I know, save only Pomponia; they trafficked with faith and with oaths,
but she and my own one will not desert, will not deceive, and will not
quench the fire, even though all in whom I place trust should desert and
deceive me. Hence I said to thee in my soul, How can I show gratitude to
thee, if not with love and honor? Didst thou feel that in Antium I
spoke and conversed with thee all the time as if thou hadst been at my
side? I love thee a hundred times more for having escaped me from
Cæsar's house. Neither do I care for Cæsar's house any longer; I wish
not its luxury and music, I wish only thee. Say a word, we will leave
Rome to settle somewhere at a distance."
Without removing her head from his shouldcr, Lygia, as if meditating,
raised her eyes to the silver tops of the cypresses, and answered,--
"Very well, Marcus. Thou hast written to me of Sicily, where Aulus
wishes to settle in old age." And Vinieius interrupted her with
"True, my dear! Our lands are adjacent. That is a wonderful coast,
where the climate is sweeter and the nights still brighter than in Rome,
odoriferous and transparent. There life and happiness are almost one
and the same."
And he began then to dream of the future.
"There we may forget anxieties. In groves, among olive-trees, we shall
walk and rest in the shade. O Lygia! what a life to love and cherish
each other, to look at the sea together, to look at the sky together, to
honor together a kind God, to do in peace what is just and true."
Both were silent, looking into the future; only he drew her more firmly
toward him, and the knight's ring on his finger glittered meanwhile in
the rays of the moon. In the part occupied by the poor toiling people,
all were sleeping; no murmur broke the silence.
"Wilt thou permit me to see Pomponia?" asked Lygia.
"Yes, dear one. We will invite them to our house, or go to them
ourselves. If thou wish, we can take Peter the Apostle. He is bowed
down with age and work. Paul will visit us also,--he will convert Aulus
Plautius; and as soldiers found colonies in distant lands, so we will
found a colony of Christians."
Lygia raised her hand and, taking his palm, wished to press it to her
lips; but he whispered, as if fearing to frighten happiness,--"No,
Lygia, no! It is I who honor thee and exalt thee; give me thy hands."
"I love thee."
He had pressed his lips to her hands, white as jessamine, and for a time
they heard only the beating of their own hearts. There was not the
slightest movement in the air; the cypresses stood as motionless as if
they too were holding breath in their breasts.
All at once the silence was broken by an unexpected thunder, deep, and
as if coming from under the earth. A shiver ran through Lygia's body.
Vinicius stood up, and said,--"Lions are roaring in the vivarium."
Both began to listen. Now the first thunder was answered by a second, a
third, a tenth, from all sides and divisions of the city. In Rome
several thousand lions were quartered at times in various arenas, and
frequently in the night-time they approached the grating, and, leaning
their gigantic heads against it, gave utterance to their yearning for
freedom and the desert. Thus they began on this occasion, and,
answering one another in the stillness of night, they filled the whole
city with roaring. There was something so indescribably gloomy and
terrible in those roars that Lygia, whose bright and calm visions of the
future were scattered, listened with a straitened heart and with
wonderful fear and sadness.
But Vinicius encircled her with his arm, and said,--"Fear not, dear one.
The games are at hand, and all the vivaria are crowded."
Then both entered the house of Linus, accompanied by the thunder of
lions, growing louder and louder.
IN Antium, meanwhile, Petronius gained new victories almost daily over
courtiers vying with him for the favor of Cæsar. The influence of
Tigellinus had fallen completely. In Rome, when there was occasion to
set aside men who seemed dangerous, to plunder their property or to
settle political cases, to give spectacles astounding by their luxury
and bad taste, or finally to satisty the monstrous whims of Cæsar,
Tigellinus, as adroit, as he was ready for anything, became
indispensable. But in Antium, among palaces reflected in the azure of
the sea, Cæsar led a Hellenic existence. From morning till evening Nero
and his attendants read verses, discoursed on their structure and
finish, were delighted with happy turns of expression, were occupied
with music, the theatre,--in a word, exclusively with that which Grecian
genius had invented, and with which it had beautified life. Under these
conditions Petronius, incomparably more refined than Tigellinus and the
other courtiers,--witty, eloquent, full of subtile feelings and tastes,
--obtained pre-eminence of necessity. Cæsar sought his society, took his
opinion, asked for advice when he composed, and showed a more lively
friendship than at any other time whatever. It seemed to courtiers that
his influence had won a supreme triumph at last, that friendship between
him and Cæsar had entered on a period of certainty which would last for
years. Even those who had shown dislike previously to the exquisite
Epicurean, began now to crowd around him and vie for his favor. More
than one was even sincerely glad in his soul that preponderance had come
to a man who knew really what to think of a given person, who received
with a sceptical smile the flattery of his enemies of yesterday, but
who, either through indolence or culture, was not vengeful, and did not
use his power to the detriment or destruction of others. There were
moments when he might have destroyed even Tigellinus, but he preferred
to ridicule him, and expose his vulgarity and want of refinement. In
Rome the Senate drew breath, for no death sentence had been issued for a
month and a half. It is true that in Antium and the city people told
wonders of the refinement which the profligacy of Cæsar and his favorite
had reached, but every one preferred a refined Cæsar to one brutalized
in the hands of Tigellinus. Tigellinus himself lost his head, and
hesitated whether or not to yield as conquered, for Cæsar had said
repeatedly that in all Rome and in his court there were only two spirits
capable of understanding each other, two real Hellenes,--he and
The amazing dexterity of Petronius confirmed people in the conviction
that his influence would outlive every other. They did not see how
Cæsar could dispense with him,--with whom could he converse touching
poetry, music, and comparative excellence; in whose eyes could he look
to learn whether his creation was indeed perfect? Petronius, with his
habitual indifference, seemed to attach no importance to his position.
As usual, he was remiss, slothful, sceptical, and witty. He produced on
people frequently the impression of a man who made light of them, of
himself, of Cæsar, of the whole world. At moments he ventured to
criticise Cæsar to his face, and when others judged that he was going
too far, or simply preparing his own ruin, he was able to turn the
criticism suddenly in such a way that it came out to his profit; he
roused amazement in those present, and the conviction that there was no
position from which he could not issue in triumph.
About a week after the return of Vinicius from Rome, Cæsar read in a
small circle an extract from his Troyad; when he had finished and the
shouts of rapture had ended, Petronius, interrogated by a glance from
"Common verses, fit for the fire."
The hearts of those present stopped beating from terror. Since the
years of his childhood Nero had never heard such a sentence from any
man. The face of Tigellinus was radiant with delight. But Vinicius
grew pale, thinking that Petronius, who thus far had never been drunk,
was drunk this time.
Nero, however, inquired in a honeyed voice, in which more or less deeply
wounded vanity was quivering,--
"What defect dost thou find in them?"
"Do not believe them," said Petronius, attacking him, and pointing to
those present; "they understand nothing. Thou hast asked what defect
there is in thy verses. If thou desire truth, I will tell thee. Thy
verses would be worthy of Virgil, of Ovid, even of Homer, but they are
not worthy of thee. Thou art not free to write such. The conflagration
described by thee does not blaze enough; thy fire is not hot enough.
Listen not to Lucan's flatteries. Had he written those verses, I should
acknowledge him a genius, but thy case is different. And knowest thou
why? Thou art greater than they. From him who is gifted of the gods as
thou art, more is demanded. But thou art slothful,--thou wouldst rather
sleep after dinner than sit to wrinkles. Thou canst create a work such
as the world has not heard of to this day; hence I tell thee to thy
eyes, write better!"
And he said this carelessly, as if bantering and also chiding; but
Cæsar's eyes were mist-covered from delight.
"The gods have given me a little talent," said he, "but they have given
me something greater, a true judge and friend, the only man able to
speak the truth to my eyes."
Then he stretched his fat hand, grown over with reddish hair, to a
golden candelabrum plundered from Delphi, to burn the verses. But
Petronius seized them before the flame touched the paper.
"No, no!" said he; "even thus they belong to mankind. Leave them to
"In such case let me send them to thee in a cylinder of my own
invention," answered Nero, embracing Petroriius.
"True; thou art right," said he, after a while. "My conflagration of
Troy does not blaze enough; my fire is not hot enough. But I thought it
sufficient to equal Homer. A certain timidity and low estimate of my
power have fettered me always. Thou hast opened my eyes. But knowest
why it is, as thou sayest? When a sculptor makes the statue of a god,
he seeks a model; but never have I had a model. I never have seen a
burning city; hence there is a lack of truth in my description."
"Then I will say that only a great artist understands this."
Nero grew thoughtful, and after a while he said,--"Answer one question,
Petronius. Dost thou regret the burning of Troy?"
"Do I regret? By the lame consort of Venus, not in the least! And I
will tell thee the reason. Troy would not have been consumed if
Prometheus had not given fire to man, and the Greeks made war on Priam.
Æschylus would not have written his Prometheus had there been no fire,
just as Homer would not have written the Iliad had there been no Trojan
war. I think it better to have Prometheus and the Iliad than a small
and shabby city, which was unclean, I think, and wretched, and in which
at best there would be now some procurator annoying thee through
quarrels with the local areopagus."
"That is what we call speaking with sound reason," said Nero. "For art
and poetry it is permitted, and it is right, to sacrifice everything.
Happy were the Achæans who furnished Homer with the substance of the
Iliad, and happy Priam who beheld the ruin of his birthplace. As to me,
I have never seen a burning city."
A time of silence followed, which was broken at last by Tigellinus-
"But I have said to thee, Cæsar, already, command and I will burn
Antium; or dost thou know what? If thou art sorry for these villas and
palaces, give command to burn the ships in Ostia; or I will build a
wooden city on the Alban Hills, into which thou shalt hurl the fire
thyself. Dost thou wish?"
"Am I to gaze on the burning of wooden sheds?" asked Nero, casting a
look of contempt on him. "Thy mind has grown utterly barren,
Tigellinus. And I see, besides, that thou dost set no great value on my
talent or my Troyad, since thou judgest that any sacrifice would be too
great for it."
Tigellinus was confused; but Nero, as if wishing to change the
conversation, added after a while,--
"Summer is passing. Oh, what a stench there must be in that Rome now!
And still we must return for the summer games."
"When thou dismissest the Augustians, O Cæsar, permit me to remain with
thee a moment," said Tigellinus.
An hour later Vinicius, returning with Petronius from Cæsar's villa,
said,--"I was a trifle alarmed for thee. I judged that while drunk thou
hadst ruined thyself beyond redemption. Remember that thou art playing
"That is my arena," answered Petronius, carelessly; "and the feeling
that I am the best gladiator in it amuses me. See how it ended. My
influence has increased this evening. He will send me his verses in a
cylinder which--dost wish to lay a wager?--will be immensely rich and in
immensely bad taste. I shall command my physician to keep physic in it.
I did this for another reason,--because Tigellinus, seeing how such
things succeed, will wish surely to imitate me, and I imagine what will
happen. The moment he starts a witticism, it will be as if a bear of
the Pyrenees were rope-walking. I shall laugh like Democritus. If I
wished I could destroy Tigellinus perhaps, and become pretorian prefect
in his place, and have Ahenobarbus himself in my hands. But I am
indolent; I prefer my present life and even Cæsar's verses to trouble."
"What dexterity to be able to turn even blame into flattery! But are
those verses really so bad? I am no judge in those matters."
"The verses are not worse than others. Lucan has more talent in one
finger, but in Bronzebeard too there is something. He has, above all,
an immense love for poetry and music. In two days we are to be with him
to hear the music of his hymn to Aphrodite, which he will finish to-day
or to-morrow. We shall be in a small circle,--only I, thou, Tullius
Senecio, and young Nerva. But as to what I said touching Nero's verses,
that I use them after feasting as Vitelius does flamingo feathers, is
not true. At times they are eloquent. Hecuba's words are touching. She
complains of the pangs of birth, and Nero was able to find happy
expressions,--for this reason, perhaps, that he gives birth to every
verse in torment. At times I am sorry for him. By Pollux, what a
marvellous mixture! The fifth stave was lacking in Caligula, but still
he never did such strange things."
"Who can foresee to what the madness of Ahenobarbus will go?" asked
"No man whatever. Such things may happen yet that the hair will stand
on men's heads for whole centuries at thought of them. But it is that
precisely which interests me; and though I am bored more than once, like
Jupiter Ammon in the desert, I believe that under another Cæsar I should
be bored a hundred times more. Paul, thy little Jew, is eloquent,--that
I accord to him; and if people like him proclaim that religion, our gods
must defend themselves seriously, lest in time they be led away captive.
It is true that if Cæsar, for example, were a Christian, all would feel
safer. But thy prophet of Tarsus, in applying proofs to me, did not
think, seest thou, that for me this uncertainty becomes the charm of
life. Whoso does not play at dice will not lose property, but still
people play at dice. There is in that a certain delight and destruction
of the present. I have known sons of knights and senators to become
gladiators of their own will. I play with life, thou sayest, and that
is true, but I play because it pleases me; while Christian virtues would
bore me in a day, as do the discourses of Seneca. Because of this,
Paul's eloquence is exerted in vain. He should understand that people
like me will never accept his religion. With thy disposition thou
mightst either hate the name Christian, or become a Christian
immediately. I recognize, while yawning, the truth of what they say.
We are mad. We are hastening to the precipice, something unknown is
coming toward us out of the future, something is breaking beneath us,
something is dying around us,--agreed! But we shall succeed in dying;
meanwhile we have no wish to burden life, and serve death before it
takes us. Life exists for itself alone, not for death."
"But I pity thee, Perronius."
"Do not pity me more than I pity myself. Formerly thou wert glad among
us; while campaigning in Armenia, thou wert longing for Rome."
"And now I am longing for Rome."
"True; for thou art in love with a Christian vestal, who sits in the
Trans-Tiber. I neither wonder at this, nor do I blame thee. I wonder
more, that in spite of a religion described by thee as a sea of
happiness, and in spite of a love which is soon to be crowned, sadness
has not left thy face. Pomponia Græcina is eternally pensive; from the
time of thy becoming a Christian thou hast ceased to laugh. Do not try
to persuade me that this religion is cheerful. Thou hast returned from
Rome sadder than ever. If Christians love in this way, by the bright
curls of Bacchus! I shall not imitate them!"
"That is another thing," answered Vinicius. "I swear to thee, not by
the curls of Bacehus, but by the soul of my father, that never in times
past have I experienced even a foretaste of such happiness as I breathe
to-day. But I yearn greatly; and what is stranger, when I am far from
Lygia, I think that danger is threatening her. I know not what danger,
nor whence it may come; but I feel it, as one feels a coming tempest."
"In two days I will try to obtain for thee permission to leave Antium,
for as long a time as may please thee. Poppæa is somewhat more quiet;
and, as far as I know, no danger from her threatens thee or Lygia."
"This very day she asked me what I was doing in Rome, though my
departure was secret."
"Perhaps she gave command to set spies on thee. Now, however, even she
must count with me."
"Paul told me," said Vinicius, "that God forewarns sometimes, but does
not permit us to believe in omens; hence I guard myself against this
belief, but I cannot ward it off. I will tell thee what happened, so as
to cast the weight from my heart. Lygia and I were sitting side by side
on a night as calm as this, and planning our future. I cannot tell thee
how happy and calm we were. All at once lions began to roar. That is
common in Rome, but since then I have no rest. It seems to me that in
that roaring there was a threat, an announcement as it were of
misfortune. Thou knowest that I am not frightened easily; that night,
however, something happened which filled all the darkness with terror.
It came so strangely and unexpectedly that I have those sounds in my
ears yet, and unbroken fear in my heart, as if Lygia were asking my
protection from something dreadful,--even from those same lions. I am
in torture. Obtain for me permission to leave Antium, or I shall go
without it. I cannot remain. I repeat to thee, I cannot!"
"Sons of consuls or their wives are not given to lions yet in the
arenas," said Petronius, laughing. "Any other death may meet thee but
that. Who knows, besides, that they were lions? German bisons roar
with no less gentleness than lions. As to me, I ridicule omens and
fates. Last night was warm and I saw stars falling like rain. Many a
man has an evil foreboding at such a sight; but I thought, 'If among
these is my star too, I shall not lack society at least!'" Then he was
silent, but added after a moment's thought,--"If your Christ has risen
from the dead, He may perhaps protect you both from death."
"He may," answered Vinicius, looking at the heavens filled with stars.
NERO played and sang, in honor of the "Lady of Cyprus," a hymn the
verses and music of which were composed by himself. That day he was in
voice, and felt that his music really captivated those present. That
feeling added such power to the sounds produced and roused his own soul
so much that he seemed inspired. At last he grew pale from genuine
emotion. This was surely the first time that he had no desire to hear
praises from others. He sat for a time with his hands on the cithara
and with bowed head; then, rising suddenly, he said,--
"I am tired and need air, Meanwhile ye will tune the citharæ."
He covered his throat then with a silk kerchief.
"Ye will go with me," said he, turning to Petronius and Vinicius, who
were sitting in a corner of the hall. "Give me thy arm, Vinicius, for
strength fails me; Petronius will talk to me of music."
They went out on the terrace, which was paved with alabaster and
sprinkled with saffron.
"Here one can breathe more freely," said Nero. "My soul is moved and
sad, though I see that with what I have sung to thee on trial just now I
may appear in public, and my triumph will be such as no Roman has ever
"Thou mayst appear here, in Rome, in Achæa. I admire thee with my whole
heart and mind, divinity," answered Petronius.
"I know. Thou art too slothful to force thyself to flattery, and thou
art as sincere as Tullius Senecio, but thou hast more knowledge than he.
Tell me, what is thy judgment on music?"
"When I listen to poetry, when I look at a quadriga directed by thee in
the Circus, when I look at a beautiful statue, temple, or picture, I
feel that I comprehend perfectly what I see, that my enthusiasm takes in
all that these can give. But when I listen to music, especially thy
music, new delights and beauties open before me every instant. I pursue
them, I try to seize them; but before I can take them to myself, new and
newer ones flow in, just like waves of the sea, which roll on from
infinity. Hence I tell thee that music is like the sea. We stand on
one shore and gaze at remoteness, but we cannot see the other shore."
"Ah, what deep knowledge thou hast!" said Nero; and they walked on for a
moment, only the slight sound of the saffron leaves under their feet
"Thou hast expressed my idea," said Nero at last; "hence I say now, as
ever, in all Rome thou art the only man able to understand me. Thus it
is, my judgment of music is the same as thine. When I play and sing, I
see things which I did not know as existing in my dominions or in the
world. I am Cæsar, and the world is mine. I can do everything. But
music opens new kingdoms to me, new mountains, new seas, new delights
unknown before. Most frequently I cannot name them or grasp them; I
only feel them. I feel the gods, I see Olympus. Some kind of breeze
from beyond the earth blows in on me; I behold, as in a mist, certain
immeasurable greatnesses, but calm and bright as sunshine. The whole
Spheros plays around me; and I declare to thee" (here Nero's voice
quivered with genuine wonder) "that I, Cæsar and god, feel at such times
as diminutive as dust. Wilt thou believe this?"
"I will. Only great artists have power to feel small in the presence of
"This is a night of sincerity; hence I open my soul to thee as to a
friend, and I will say more: dost thou consider that I am blind or
deprived of reason? Dost thou think that I am ignorant of this, that
people in Rome write insults on the walls against me, call me a
matricide, a wife-murderer, hold me a monster and a tyrant, because
Tigellinus obtained a few sentences of death against my enemies? Yes,
my dear, they hold me a monster, and I know it. They have talked cruelty
on me to that degree that at times I put the question to myself, 'Am I
not cruel?' But they do not understand this, that a man's deeds may be
cruel at times while he himself is not cruel. Ah, no one will believe,
and perhaps even thou, my dear, wilt not believe, that at moments when
music caresses my soul I feel as kind as a child in the cradle. I swear
by those stars which shine above us, that I speak the pure truth to
thee. People do not know how much goodness lies in this heart, and what
treasures I see in it when music opens the door to them."
Petronius, who had not the least doubt that Nero was speaking sincerely
at that moment, and that music might bring out various more noble
inclinations of his soul, which were overwhelmed by mountains of
egotism, profligacy, and crime, said,--"Men should know thee as nearly
as I do; Rome has never been able to appreciate thee."
Cæsar leaned more heavily on Vinicius's arm, as if he were bending under
the weight of injustice, and answered,--
"Tigellinus has told me that in the Senate they whisper into one
another's ears that Diodorus and Terpnos play on the cithara better than
I. They refuse me even that! But tell me, thou who art truthful
always, do they play better, or as well?"
"By no means. Thy touch is finer, and has greater power. In thee the
artist is evident, in them the expert. The man who hears their music
first understands better what thou art."
"If that be true, let them live. They will never imagine what a service
thou hast rendered them in this moment. For that matter, if I had
condemned those two, I should have had to take others in place of them."
"And people would say, besides, that out of love for music thou
destroyest music in thy dominions. Never kill art for art's sake, O
"How different thou art from Tigellinus!" answered Nero. "But seest
thou, I am an artist in everything; and since music opens for me spaces
the existence of which I had not divined, regions which I do not
possess, delight and happiness which I do not know, I cannot live a
common life. Music tells me that the uncommon exists, so I seek it with
all the power of dominion which the gods have placed in my hands. At
times it seems to me that to reach those Olympian worlds I must do
something which no man has done hitherto,--I must surpass the stature of
man in good or evil. I know that people declare me mad. But I am not
mad, I am only seeking. And if I am going mad, it is out of disgust and
impatience that I cannot find. I am seeking! Dost understand me? And
therefore I wish to be greater than man, for only in that way can I be
the greatest as an artist."
Here he lowered his voice so that Vinicius could not hear him, and,
putting his mouth to the ear of Petronius, he whispered,--"Dost know
that I condemned my mother and wife to death mainly because I wished to
lay at the gate of an unknown world the greatest sacrifice that man
could put there? I thought that afterward something would happen, that
doors would be opened beyond which I should see something unknown. Let
it be wonderful or awful, surpassing human conception, if only great and
uncommon. But that sacrifice was not sufficient. To open the empyrean
doors it is evident that something greater is needed, and let it be
given as the Fates desire."
"What dost thou intend to do?"
"Thou shalt see sooner than thou thinkest. Meanwhile be assured that
there are two Neros,--one such as people know, the other an artist, whom
thou alone knowest, and if he slays as does death, or is in frenzy like
Bacchus, it is only because the flatness and misery of common life
stifle him; and I should like to destroy them, though I had to use fire
or iron. Oh, how flat this world will be when I am gone from it! No
man has suspected yet, not thou even, what an artist I am. But
precisely because of this I suffer, and sincerely do I tell thee that
the soul in me is as gloomy as those cypresses which stand dark there in
front of us. It is grievous for a man to bear at once the weight of
supreme power and the highest talents."
"I sympathize with thee, O Cæsar; and with me earth and sea, not
counting Vinicius, who deifies thee in his soul."
"He, too, has always been dear to me," said Cæsar, "though he serves
Mars, not the Muses."
"He serves Aphrodite first of all," answered Petronius. And suddenly he
determined to settle the affair of his nephew at a blow, and at the same
time to eliminate every danger which might threaten him. "He is in
love, as was Troilus with Cressida. Permit him, lord, to visit Rome,
for he is dying on my hands. Dost thou know that that Lygian hostage
whom thou gavest him has been found, and Vinicius, when leaving for
Antium, left her in care of a certain Linus? I did not mention this to
thee, for thou wert composing thy hymn, and that was more important than
all besides. Vinicius wanted her as a mistress; but when she turned out
to be as virtuous as Lucretia, he fell in love with her virtue, and now
his desire is to marry her. She is a king's daughter, hence she will
cause him no detriment; but he is a real soldier: he sighs and withers
and groans, but he is waiting for the permission of his Imperator."
"The Imperator does not choose wives for his soldiers. What good is my
permission to Vinicius?"
"I have told thee, O lord, that he deifies thee."
"All the more may he be certain of permission. That is a comely maiden,
but too narrow in the hips. The Augusta Poppæa has complained to me
that she enchanted our child in the gardens of the Palatine."
"But I told Tigellinus that the gods are not subject to evil charms.
Thou rememberest, divinity, his confusion and thy exclamation, 'Habet!'"
Here he turned to Vinicius,--"Dost thou love her, as Petronius says?"
"I love her, lord," replied Vinicius.
"Then I command thee to set out for Rome to-morrow, and marry her.
Appear not again before my eyes without the marriage ring."
"Thanks to thee, lord, from my heart and soul."
"Oh, how pleasant it is to make people happy!" said Nero. "Would that I
might do nothing else all my life!"
"Grant us one favor more, O divinity," said Petronius: "declare thy will
in this matter before the Augusta. Vinicius would never venture to wed
a woman displeasing to the Augusta; thou wilt dissipate her prejudice, O
lord, with a word, by declaring that thou hast commanded this marriage."
"I am willing," said Cæsar. "I could refuse nothing to thee or
He turned toward the villa, and they followed. Their hearts were filled
with delight over the victory; and Vinicius had to use self-restraint to
avoid throwing himself on the neck of Petronius, for it seemed now that
all dangers and obstacles were removed.
In the atrium of the villa young Nerva and Tullius Senecio were
entertaining the Augusta with conversation. Terpnos and Diodorus were
Nero entered, sat in an armchair inlaid with tortoise-shell, whispered
something in the ear of a Greek slave near his side, and waited.
The page returned soon with a golden casket. Nero opened it and took
out a necklace of great opals.
"These are jewels worthy of this evening," said he.
"The light of Aurora is playing in them," answered Poppæa, convinced
that the necklace was for her.
Cæsar, now raising, now lowering the rosy stones, said at last,--
"Vinicius, thou wilt give, from me, this necklace to her whom I command
thee to marry, the youthful daughter of the Lygian king."
Poppæa's glance, filled with anger and sudden amazement, passed from
Cæsar to Vinicius. At last it rested on Petronius. But he, leaning
carelessly over the arm of the chair, passed his hand along the back of
the harp as if to fix its form firmly in his mind.
Vinicius gave thanks for the gift, approached Petronius, and asked,--
"How shall I thank thee for what thou hast done this day for me?"
"Sacrifice a pair of swans to Euterpe," replied Petronius, "praise
Cæsar's songs, and laugh at omens. Henceforth the roaring of lions will
not disturb thy sleep, I trust, nor that of thy Lygian lily."
"No," said Vinicius; "now I am perfectly at rest."
"May Fortune favor thee! But be careful, for Cæsar is taking his lute
again. Hold thy breath, listen, and shed tears."
In fact Casar had taken the lute and raised his eyes. In the hall
conversation had stopped, and people were as still as if petrified.
Terpnos and Diodorus, who had to accompany Cæsar, were on the alert,
looking now at each other and now at his lips, waiting for the first
tones of the song.
Just then a movement and noise began in the entrance; and after a moment
Cæsar's freedman, Phaon, appeared from beyond the curtain. Close behind
him was the consul Lecanius.
"Pardon, divine Imperator," said Phaon, with panting voice, "there is a
conflagration in Rome! The greater part of the city is in flames!"
At this news all sprang from their seats.
"O gods! I shall see a burning city and finish the Troyad," said Nero,
setting aside his lute.
Then he turned to the consul,--"If I go at once, shall I see the fire?"
"Lord," answered Lecanius, as pale as a wall, "the whole city is one sea
of flame; smoke is suffocating the inhabitants, and people faint, or
cast themselves into the fire from delirium. Rome is perishing, lord."
A moment of silence followed, which was broken by the cry of Vinicius,--
"Væ misero mihi!"
And the young man, casting his toga aside, rushed forth in his tunic.
Nero raised his hands and exclaimed,--
"Woe to thee, sacred city of Priam!"
VINICIUS had barely time to command a few slaves to follow him; then,
springing on his horse, he rushed forth in the deep night along the
empty streets toward Laurentum. Through the influence of the dreadful
news he had fallen as it were into frenzy and mental distraction. At
moments he did not know clearly what was happening in his mind; he had
merely the feeling that misfortune was on the horse with him, sitting
behind his shoulders, and shouting in his ears, "Rome is burning!" that
it was lashing his horse and him, urging them toward the fire. Laying
his bare head on the beast's neck, he rushed on, in his single tunic,
alone, at random, not looking ahead, and taking no note of obstacles
against which he might perchance dash himself.
In silence and in that calm night, the rider and the horse, covered with
gleams of the moon, seemed like dream visions. The Idumean stallion,
dropping his ears and stretching his neck, shot on like an arrow past
the motionless cypresses and the white villas hidden among them. The
sound of hoofs on the stone flags roused dogs here and there; these
followed the strange vision with their barking; afterward, excited by
its suddenness, they fell to howling, and raised their jaws toward the
moon. The slaves hastening after Vinicius soon dropped behind, as their
horses were greatly inferior. When he had rushed like a storm through
sleeping Laurentum, he turned toward Ardea, in which, as in Aricia,
Bovillæ, and Ustrinum, he had kept relays of horses from the day of his
coming to Antium, so as to pass in the shortest time possible the
interval between Rome and him. Remembering these relays, he forced all
the strength from his horse.
Beyond Ardea it seemed to him that the sky on the northeast was covered
with a rosy reflection. That might be the dawn, for the hour was late,
and in July daybreak came early. But Vinicius could not keep down a cry
of rage and despair, for it seemed to him that that was the glare of the
conflagration. He remembered the consul's words, "The whole city is one
sea of flame," and for a while he felt that madness was threatening him
really, for he had lost utterly all hope that he could save Lygia, or
even reach the city before it was turned into one heap of ashes. His
thoughts were quicker now than the rush of the stallion, they flew on
ahead like a flock of birds, black, monstrous, and rousing despair. He
knew not, it is true, in what part of the city the fire had begun; but
he supposed that the Trans-Tiber division, as it was packed with
tenements, timber-yards, storehouses, and wooden sheds serving as slave
marts, might have become the first food of the flames.
In Rome fires happened frequently enough; during these fires, as
frequently, deeds of violence and robbery were committed, especially in
the parts occupied by a needy and half-barbarous population. What might
happen, therefore, in a place like the Trans-Tiber, which was the
retreat of a rabble collected from all parts of the earth? Here the
thought of Ursus with his preterhuman power flashed into Vinicius's
head; but what could be done by a man, even were he a Titan, against the
destructive force of fire?
The fear of servile rebellion was like a nightmare, which had stifled
Rome for whole years. It was said that hundreds of thousands of those
people were thinking of the times of Spartacus, and merely waiting for a
favorable moment to seize arms against their oppressors and Rome. Now
the moment had come! Perhaps war and slaughter were raging in the city
together with fire. It was possible even that the pretorians had hurled
themselves on the city, and were slaughtering at command of Cæsar.
And that moment the hair rose from terror on his head. He recalled all
the conversations about burning cities, which for some time had been
repeated at Cæsar's court with wonderful persistence; he recalled
Cæsar's complaints that he was forced to describe a burning city without
having seen a real fire; his contemptuous answer to Tigellinus, who
offered to burn Antium or an artificial wooden city; finally, his
complaints against Rome, and the pestilential alleys of the Subura.
Yes; Cæsar has commanded the burning of the city! He alone could give
such a command, as Tigellinus alone could accomplish it. But if Rome is
burning at command of Cæsar, who can be sure that the population will
not be slaughtered at his command also? The monster is capable even of
such a deed. Conflagration, a servile revolt, and slaughter! What a
horrible chaos, what a letting loose of destructive elements and popular
frenzy! And in all this is Lygia.
The groans of Vinicius were mingled with the snorting and groans of his
horse; the beast, running on a road which rose continually toward
Aricia, was using the last of its breath. Who will snatch her from the
burning city; who can save her? Here Vinicius, stretching himself
entirely on the horse, thrust his fingers into his own hair, ready to
gnaw the beast's neck from pain.
At that moment a horseman, rushing also like a whirlwind, but in the
opposite direction, toward Antium, shouted as he raced past, "Rome is
perishing!" and on he went. To the ears of Vinicius came only one more
expression: "Gods!" the rest was drowned by the thunder of hoofs. But
that expression sobered him,--"Gods!"
Vinicius raised his head suddenly, and, stretching his arms toward the
sky filled with stars, began to pray.
"Not to you do I call whose temples are burning, but to Thee! Thou
Thyself hast suffered. Thou alone art merciful! Thou alone hast
understood people's pain; Thou didst come to this world to teach pity to
mankind; then show it now. If Thou art what Peter and Paul declare,
save for me Lygia, take her in Thy arms, bear her out of the flames.
Thou hast the power to do that! Give her to me, and I will give Thee my
blood. But if Thou art unwilling to do this for me, do it for her. She
loves Thee and trusts in Thee. Thou dost promise life and happiness
after death, but happiness after death will not pass away, and she does
not wish to die yet. Let her live. Take her in Thy arms, bear her out
of Rome. Thou canst do so, unless Thou art unwilling."
And he stopped, for he felt that further prayer might turn to a threat;
he feared to offend Divinity at the moment when he needed favor and
mercy most. He was terrified at the very thought of that, and, so as
not to admit to his head a shade even of threat, he began to lash his
horse again, especially since the white walls of Aricia, which lay
midway to Rome, gleained up before him in the moonlight.
After a time he rushed at full speed past the temple of Mercury, which
stood in a grove before the city. Evidently people knew of the
catastrophe, for there was an uncommon movement in front of the temple.
While passing, Vinicius saw crowds on the steps and between the columns.
These people holding torches were hastening to put themselves under
protection of the deity. Moreover the road was not so empty or free as
beyond Ardea. Crowds were hurrying, it is true, to the grove by side-
paths, but on the main road were groups which pushed aside hurriedly
before the on-rushing horseman. From the town came the sound of voices.
Vinicius rode into Aricia like a whirlwind, overturning and trampling a
number of persons on the way. He was surrounded by shouts of "Rome is
burning!" "Rome is on fire!" "May the gods rescue Rome!"
The horse stumbled, but, reined in by a powerful hand, rose on his
haunches before the inn, where Vinicius had another beast in relay.
Slaves, as if waiting for the arrival of their master, stood before the
inn, and at his command ran one before the other to lead out a fresh
horse. Vinicius, seeing a detachment of ten mounted pretorians, going
evidently with news from the city to Antium, sprang toward them.
"What part of the city is on fire?" inquired he.
"Who art thou?" asked the decurion.
"Vinicius, a tribune of the army, an Augustian. Answer on thy head!"
"The fire broke out in the shops near the Circus Maximus. When we were
despatched, the centre of the city was on fire."
"And the Trans-Tiber?"
"The fire has not reached the Trans-Tiber yet, but it is seizing new
parts every moment with a force which nothing can stop. People are
perishing from heat and smoke; all rescue is impossible."
At this moment they brought the fresh horse. The young tribune sprang
to his back and rushed on. He was riding now toward Albanum, leaving
Alba Longa and its splendid lake on the right. The road from Aricia lay
at the foot of the mountain, which hid the horizon completely, and
Albanum lying on the other side of it. But Vinicius knew that on
reaching the top he should see, not only Bovillæ and Ustrinum, where
fresh horses were ready for him, but Rome as well: for beyond Albanum
the low level Campania stretched on both sides of the Appian Way, along
which only the arches of the aqueducts ran toward the city, and nothing
obstructed the view.
"From the top I shall see the flames," said he; and he began to lash his
horse anew. But before he had reached the top of the mountain he felt
the wind on his face, and with it came the odor of smoke to his
nostrils. At the same time the summit of the height was becoming
"The fire!" thought Vinicius.
The night had paled long since, the dawn had passed into light, and on
all the nearer summits golden and rosy gleams were shining, which might
come either from burning Rome or the rising daylight. Vinicius touched
the summit at last, and then a terrible sight struck his eyes.
The whole lower region was covered with smoke, forming as it were one
gigantic cloud lying close to the earth. In this cloud towns,
aqueducts, villas, trees, disappeared; but beyond this gray ghastly
plain the city was burning on the hills.
The conflagration had not the form of a pillar of fire, as happens when
a single building is burning, even when of the greatest size. That was a
long belt, rather, shaped like the belt of dawn. Above this belt rose a
wave of smoke, in places entirely black, in places looking rose-colored,
in places like blood, in places turning in on itself, in some places
inflated, in others squeezed and squirming, like a serpent which is
unwinding and extending. That monstrous wave seemed at times to cover
even the belt of fire, which became then as narrow as a ribbon; but
later this ribbon illuminated the smoke from beneath, changing its lower
rolls into waves of flame. The two extended from one side of the sky to
the other, hiding its lower part, as at times a stretch of forest hides
the horizon. The Sabine hills were not visible in the least.
To Vinicius it seemed at the first glance of the eye that not only the
city was burning, but the whole world, and that no living being could
save itself from that ocean of flame and smoke.
The wind blew with growing strength from the region of the fire,
bringing the smell of burnt things and of smoke, which began to hide
even nearer objects. Clear daylight had come, and the sun lighted up
the summits surrounding the Alban Lake. But the bright golden rays of
the morning appeared as it were reddish and sickly through the haze.
Vinicius, while descending toward Albanum, entered smoke which was
denser, less and less transparent. The town itself was buried in it
thoroughly. The alarmed citizens had moved out to the street. It was a
terror to think of what might be in Rome, when it was difficult to
breathe in Albanum.
Despair seized Vinicius anew, and terror began to raise the hair on his
head. But he tried to fortify himself as best he might. "It is
impossible," thought he, "that a city should begin to burn in all places
at once. The wind is blowing from the north and bears smoke in this
direction only. On the other side there is none. But in every case it
will be enough for Ursus to go through the Janiculum gate with Lygia, to
save himself and her. It is equally impossible that a whole population
should perish, and the world-ruling city be swept from the face of the
earth with its inhabitants. Even in captured places, where fire and
slaughter rage together, some people survive in all cases; why, then,
should Lygia perish of a certainty? On the contrary, God watches over
her, He who Himself, conquered death." Thus reasoning, he began to pray
again, and, yielding to fixed habit, he made great vows to Christ, with
promises of gifts and sacrifices. After he had hurried through Albanum,
nearly all of whose inhabitants were on roofs and on trees to look at
Rome, he grew somewhat calm, and regained his cool blood. He
remembered, too, that Lygia was protected not only by Ursus and Linus,
but by the Apostle Peter. At the mere remembrance of this, fresh solace
entered his heart. For him Peter was an incomprehensible, an almost
superhuman being. From the time when he heard him at Ostrianum, a
wonderful impression clung to him, touching which he had written to
Lygia at the beginning of his stay in Antium,--that every word of the
old man was true, or would show its truth hereafter. The nearer
acquaintance which during his illness he had formed with the Apostle
heightened the impression, which was turned afterward into fixed faith.
Since Peter had blessed his love and promised him Lygia, Lygia could not
perish in the flames. The city might burn, but no spark from the fire
would fall on her garments. Under the influence of a sleepless night,
mad riding, and impressions, a wonderful exaltation possessed the young
tribune; in this exaltation all things seemed possible: Peter speaks to
the flame, opens it with a word, and they pass uninjured through an
alley of fire. Moreover, Peter saw future events; hence, beyond doubt,
he foresaw the fire, and in that ease how could he fail to warn and lead
forth the Christians from the city, and among others Lygia, whom he
loved, as he might his own child? And a hope, which was strengthening
every moment, entered the heart of Vinicius. If they were fleeing from
the city, he might find them in Bovillæ, or meet them on the road. The
beloved face might appear any moment from out the smoke, which was
stretching more widely over all the Campania.
This seemed to him more likely, since he met increasing numbers of
people, who had deserted the city and were going to the Alban Hills;
they had escaped the fire, and wished to go beyond the line of smoke.
Before he had reached Ustrinum he had to slacken his pace because of the
throng. Besides pedestrians with bundles on their backs, he met horses
with packs, mules and vehicles laden with effects, and finally litters
in which slaves were bearing the wealthier citizens. Ustrinum was so
thronged with fugitives from Rome that it was difficult to push through
the crowd. On the market square, under temple porticos, and on the
streets were swarms of fugitives. Here and there people were erecting
tents under which whole families were to find shelter. Others settled
down under the naked sky, shouting, calling on the gods, or cursing the
fates. In the general terror it was difficult to inquire about
anything. People to whom Vinicius applied either did not answer, or
with eyes half bewildered from terror answered that the city and the
world were perishing. New crowds of men, women, and children arrived
from the direction of Rome every moment; these increased the disorder
and outcry. Some, gone astray in the throng, sought desperately those
whom they had lost; others fought for a camping-place. Half-wild
shepherds from the Campania crowded to the town to hear news, or find
profit in plunder made easy by the uproar. Here and there crowds of
slaves of every nationality and gladiators fell to robbing houses and
villas in the town, and to fighting with the soldiers who appeared in
defence of the citizens.
Junius, a senator, whom Vinicius saw at the inn surrounded by a
detachment of Batavian slaves, was the first to give more detailed news
of the conflagration. The fire had begun at the Circus Maximus, in the
part which touches the Palatine and the Cælian Hill, but extended with
incomprehensible rapidity and seized the whole centre of the city.
Never since the time of Brennus had such an awful catastrophe come upon
Rome. "The entire Circus has burnt, as well as the shops and houses
surrounding it," said Junius; "the Aventine and Cælian Hills are on
fire. The flames surrounding the Palatine have reached the Carinæ."
Here Junius, who possessed on the Carinæ a magnificent "insula," filled
with works of art which he loved, seized a handful of foul dust, and,
scattering it on his head, began to groan despairingly.
But Vinicius shook him by the shoulder: "My house too is on the Carinæ,"
said he; "but when everything is perishing, let it perish also."
Then recollecting that at his advice Lygia might have gone to the house
of Aulus, he inquired,--
"But the Vicus Patricius?"
"On fire!" replied Junius.
Junius looked at him with amazement.
"Never mind the Trans-Tiber," said he, pressing his aching temples with
"The Trans-Tiber is more important to me than all other parts of Rome,"
cried Vinicius, with vehemence.
"The way is through the Via Portuensis, near the Aventine; but the heat
will stifle thee. The Trans-Tiber? I know not. The fire had not
reached it; but whether it is not there at this moment the gods alone
know." Here Junius hesitated a moment, then said in a low voice: "I
know that thou wilt not betray me, so I will tell thee that this is no
common fire. People were not permitted to save the Circus. When houses
began to burn in every direction, I myself heard thousands of voices
exclaiming, 'Death to those who save!' Certain people ran through the
city and hurled burning torches into buildings. On the other hand
people are revolting, and crying that the city is burning at command. I
can say nothing more. Woe to the city, woe to us all, and to me! The
tongue of man cannot tell what is happening there. People are perishing
in flames or slaying one another in the throng. This is the end of
And again he fell to repeating, "Woe! Woe to the city and to us!"
Vinicius sprang to his horse, and hurried forward along the Appian Way.
But now it was rather a struggling through the midst of a river of
people and vehicles, which was flowing from the city. The city,
embraced by a monstrous conflagration, lay before Vinicius as a thing on
the palm of his hand. From the sea of fire and smoke came a terrible
heat, and the uproar of people could not drown the roar and the hissing
As Vinicius approached the walls, he found it easier to reach Rome than
penetrate to the middle of the city. It was difficult to push along the
Appian Way, because of the throng of people. Houses, fields, cemeteries,
gardens, and temples, lying on both sides of it, were turned into
camping places. In the temple of Mars, which stood near the Porta
Appia, the crowd had thrown down the doors, so as to find a refuge
within during night-hours. In the cemeteries the larger monuments were
seized, and battles fought in defence of them, which were carried to
bloodshed. Ustrinum with its disorder gave barely a slight foretaste of
that which was happening beneath the walls of the capital. All regard
for the dignity of law, for family ties, for difference of position, had
ceased. Gladiators drunk with wine seized in the Emporium gathered in
crowds, ran with wild shouts through the neighboring squares,
scattering, trampling, and robbing the people. A multitude of
barbarians, exposed for sale in the city, escaped from the booths. For
them the burning and ruin of Rome was at once the end of slavery and the
hour of revenge; so that when the permanent inhabitants, who had lost
all they owned in the fire, stretched their hands to the gods in
despair, calling for rescue, these slaves with howls of delight
scattered the crowds, dragged clothing from people's backs, and bore
away the younger women. They were joined by slaves serving in the city
from of old, wretches who had nothing on their bodies save woollen
girdles around their hips, dreadful figures from the alleys, who were
hardly ever seen on the streets in the daytime, and whose existence in
Rome it was difficult to suspect. Men of this wild and unrestrained
crowd, Asiatics, Africans, Greeks, Thracians, Germans, Britons, howling
in every language of the earth, raged, thinking that the hour had come
in which they were free to reward themselves for years of misery and
suffering. In the midst of that surging throng of humanity, in the
glitter of day and of fire, shone the helmets of pretorians, under whose
protection the more peaceable population had taken refuge, and who in
hand-to-hand battle had to meet the raging multitude in many places.
Vinicius had seen captured cities, but never had his eyes beheld a
spectacle in which despair, tears, pain, groans, wild delight, madness,
rage, and license were mingled together in such immeasurable chaos.
Above this heaving, mad human multitude roared the fire, surging up to
the hill-tops of the greatest city on earth, sending into the whirling
throng its fiery breath, and covering it with smoke, through which it
was impossible to see the blue sky. The young tribune with supreme
effort, and exposing his life every moment, forced his way at last to
the Appian Gate; but there he saw that he could not reach the city
through the division of the Porta Capena, not merely because of the
throng, but also because of the terrible heat from which the whole
atmosphere was quivering inside the gate. Besides, the bridge at the
Porta Trigenia, opposite the temple of the Bona Dea, did not exist yet,
hence whoso wished to go beyond the Tiber had to push through to the
Pons Sublicius, that is, to pass around the Aventine through a part of
the city covered now with one sea of flame. That was an impossibility.
Vinicius understood that he must return toward Ustrinum, turn from the
Appian Way, cross the river below the city, and go to the Via
Portuensis, which led straight to the Trans-Tiber. That was not easy
because of the increasing disorder on the Appian Way. He must open a
passage for himself there, even with the sword. Vinicius had no
weapons; he had left Antium just as the news of the fire had reached him
in Cæsar's villa. At the fountain of Mercury, however, he saw a
centurion who was known to him. This man, at the head of a few tens of
soldiers, was defending the precinct of the temple; he commanded him to
follow. Recognizing a tribune and an Augustian, the centurion did not
dare to disobey the order.
Vinicius took command of the detachment himself, and, forgetting for
that moment the teaching of Paul touching love for one's neighbor, he
pressed and cut the throng in front with a haste that was fatal to many
who could not push aside in season. He and his men were followed by
curses and a shower of stones; but to these he gave no heed, caring only
to reach freer spaces at the earliest. Still he advanced with the
greatest effort. People who had encamped would not move, and heaped
loud curses on Cæsar and the pretorians. The throng assumed in places a
threatening aspect. Vinicius heard voices accusing Nero of burning the
city. He and Poppæa were threatened with death. Shouts of "Sanio,"
"Histrio" (buffoon, actor), "Matricide!" were heard round about. Some
shouted to drag him to the Tiber; others that Rome had shown patience
enough. It was clear that were a leader found, these threats could be
changed into open rebellion which might break out any moment. Meanwhile
the rage and despair of the crowd turned against the pretorians, who for
another reason could not make their way out of the crowd: the road was
blocked by piles of goods, borne from the fire previously, boxes,
barrels of provisions, furniture the most costly, vessels, infants'
cradles, beds, carts, hand-packs. Here and there they fought hand to
hand; but the pretorians conquered the weaponless multitude easily.
After they had ridden with difficulty across the Viæ Latina, Numitia,
Ardea, Lavinia, and Ostia, and passed around villas, gardens,
cemeteries, and temples, Vinicius reached at last a village called Vicus
Alexandri, beyond which he crossed the Tiber. There was more open space
at this spot, and less smoke. From fugitives, of whom there was no lack
even there, he learned that only certain alleys of the Trans-Tiber were
burning, but that surely nothing could resist the fury of the
conflagration, since people were spreading the fire purposely, and
permitted no one to quench it, declaring that they acted at command.
The young tribune had not the least doubt then that Cæsar had given
command to burn Rome; and the vengeance which people demanded seemed to
him just and proper. What more could Mithridates or any of Rome's most
inveterate enemies have done? The measure had been exceeded; his
madness had grown to be too enormous, and the existence of people too
difficult because of him. Vinicius believed that Nero's hour had
struck, that those ruins into which the city was falling should and must
overwhelm the monstrous buffoon together with all those crimes of his.
Should a man be found of courage sufficient to stand at the head of the
despairing people, that might happen in a few hours. Here vengeful and
daring thoughts began to fly through his head. But if he should do
that? The house of Vinicius, which till recent times counted a whole
series of consuls, was known throughout Rome. The crowds needed only a
name. Once, when four hundred slaves of the prefect Pedanius Secundus
were sentenced, Rome reached the verge of rebellion and civil war. What
would happen to-day in view of a dreadful calamity surpassing almost
everything which Rome had undergone in the course of eight centuries?
Whoso calls the Quirites to arms, thought Vinicius, will overthrow Nero
undoubtedly, and clothe himself in purple. And why should he not do
this? He was firmer, more active, younger than other Augustians. True,
Nero commanded thirty legions stationed on the borders of the Empire;
but would not those legions and their leaders rise up at news of the
burning of Rome and its temples? And in that case Vinicius might become
Cæsar. It was even whispered among the Augustians that a soothsayer had
predicted the purple to Otho. In what way was he inferior to Otho?
Perhaps Christ Himself would assist him with His divine power; maybe
that inspiration was His? "Oh, would that it were!" exclaimed Vinicius,
in spirit. He would take vengeance on Nero for the danger of Lygia and
his own fear; he would begin the reign of truth and justice, he would
extend Christ's religion from the Euphrates to the misty shores of
Britain; he would array Lygia in the purple, and make her mistress of
But these thoughts which had burst forth in his head like a bunch of
sparks from a blazing house, died away like sparks. First of all was
the need to save Lygia. He looked now on the catastrophe from near by;
hence fear seized him again, and before that sea of flame and smoke,
before the touch of dreadful reality, that confidence with which he
believed that Peter would rescue Lygia died in his heart altogether.
Despair seized him a second time when he had come out on the Via
Portuensis, which led directly to the Trans-Tiber. He did not recover
till he came to the gate, where people repeated what fugitives had said
before, that the greater part of that division of the city was not
seized by the flames yet, but that fire had crossed the river in a
number of places.
Still the Trans-Tiber was full of smoke, and crowds of fugitives made it
more difficult to reach the interior of the place, since people, having
more time there, had saved greater quantities of goods. The main street
itself was in many parts filled completely, and around the Naumachia
Augusta great heaps were piled up. Narrow alleys, in which smoke had
collected more densely, were simply impassable. The inhabitants were
fleeing in thousands. On the way Vinicius saw wonderful sights. More
than once two rivers of people, flowing in opposite directions, met in a
narrow passage, stopped each other, men fought hand to hand, struck and
trampled one another. Families lost one another in the uproar; mothers
called on their children despairingly. The young tribune's hair stood
on end at thought of what must happen nearer the fire. Amid shouts and
howls it was difficult to inquire about anything or understand what was
said. At times new columns of smoke from beyond the river rolled toward
them, smoke black and so heavy that it moved near the ground, hiding
houses, people, and every object, just as night does. But the wind
caused by the conflagration blew it away again, and then Vinicius pushed
forward farther toward the alley in which stood the house of Linus. The
fervor of a July day, increased by the heat of the burning parts of the
city, became unendurable. Smoke pained the eyes; breath failed in men's
breasts. Even the inhabitants who, hoping that the fire would not cross
the river, had remained in their houses so far, began to leave them; and
the throng increased hourly. The pretorians accompanying Vinicius
remained in the rear. In the crush some one wounded his horse with a
hammer; the beast threw up its bloody head, reared, and refused
obedience. The crowd recognized in Vinicius an Augustian by his rich
tunic, and at once cries were raised round about: "Death to Nero and his
incendiaries!" This was a moment of terrible danger; hundreds of hands
were stretched toward Vinicius; but his frightened horse bore him away,
trampling people as he went, and the next moment a new wave of black
smoke rolled in and filled the street with darkness. Vinicius, seeing
that he could not ride past, sprang to the earth and rushed forward on
foot, slipping along walls, and at times waiting till the fleeing
multitude passed him. He said to himself in spirit that these were vain
efforts. Lygia might not be in the city; she might have saved herself
by flight. It was easier to find a pin on the seashore than her in that
crowd and chaos. Still he wished to reach the house of Linus, even at
the cost of his own life. At times he stopped and rubbed his eyes.
Tearing off the edge of his tunic, he covered his nose and mouth with it
and ran on. As he approached the river, the heat increased terribly.
Vinicius, knowing that the fire had begun at the Circus Maximus, thought
at first that that heat came from its cinders and from the Forum Boarium
and the Velabrum, which, situated near by, must be also in flames. But
the heat was growing unendurable. One old man on crutches and fleeing,
the last whom Vinicius noticed, cried: "Go not near the bridge of
Cestius! The whole island is on fire!" It was, indeed, impossible to
be deceived any longer. At the turn toward the Vicus Judæorum, on which
stood the house of Linus, vhae young tribune saw flames amid clouds of
smoke. Not only the island was burning, but the Trans-Tiber, or at
least the other end of the street on which Lygia dwelt.
Vinicius remembered that the house of Linus was surrounded by a garden;
between the garden and the Tiber was an unoccupied field of no great
size. This thought consoled him. The fire might stop at the vacant
place. In that hope he ran forward, though every breeze brought not
only smoke, but sparks in thousands, which might raise a fire at the
other end of the alley and cut off his return.
At last he saw through the smoky curtain the cypresses in Linus's
The houses beyond the unoccupied field were burning already like piles
of fuel, but Linus's little "insula" stood untouched yet. Vinicius
glanced heavenward with thankfulness, and sprang toward the house though
the very air began to burn him. The door was closed, but he pushed it
open and rushed in.
There was not a living soul in the gardrn, and the house seemed quite
empty. "Perhaps they have fainted from smoke and heat," thought
Vinicius. He began to call,--
Silence answered him. Nothing could be heard in the stillness there
save the roar of the distant fire.
Suddenly his ear was struck by that gloomy sound which he had heard
before in that garden. Evidently the vivarium near the temple of
Esculapius, on the neighboring island, had caught fire. In this
vivarium every kind of wild beast, and among others lions, began to roar
from affright. A shiver ran through Vinicius from foot to head. Now, a
second time, at a moment when his whole being was concentrated in Lygia,
these terrible voices answered, as a herald of misfortune, as a
marvellous prophecy of an ominous future.
But this was a brief impression, for the thunder of the flames, more
terrible yet than the roaring of wild beasts, commanded him to think of
something else. Lygia did not answer his calls; but she might be in a
faint or stifled in that threatened building. Vinicius sprang to the
interior. The little atrium was empty, and dark with smoke. Feeling
for the door which led to the sleeping-rooms, he saw the gleaming flame
of a small lamp, and approaching it saw the lararium in which was a
cross instead of lares. Under the cross a taper was burning. Through
the head of the young catechumen, the thought passed with lightning
speed that that cross sent him the taper with which he could find Lygia;
hence he took the taper and searched for the sleeping-rooms. He found
one, pushed aside the curtains, and, holding the taper, looked around.
There was no one there, either. Vinicius was sure that he had found
Lygia's sleeping-room, for her clothing was on nails in the wall, and on
the bed lay a capitium, or close garment worn by women next the body.
Vinicius seized that, pressed it to his lips, and taking it on his arm
went farther. The house was small, so that he examined every room, and
even the cellar quickly. Nowhere could he find a living soul. It was
evident that Lygia, Linus, and Ursus, with other inhabitants of that
part, must have sought safety in flight.
"I must seek them among the crowd beyond the gates of the city," thought
He was not astonished greatly at not meeting them on the Via Portuensis,
for they might have left the Trans-Tiber through the opposite side along
the Vatican Hill. In every case they were safe from fire at least. A
stone fell from his breast. He saw, it is true, the terrible danger
with which the flight was connected, but he was comforted at thought of
the preterhuman strength of Ursus. "I must flee now," said he, "and
reach the gardens of Agrippina through the gardens of Domitius, where I
shall find them. The smoke is not so terrible there, since the wind
blows from the Sabine Hill."
The hour had come now in which he must think of his own safety, for the
river of fire was flowing nearer and nearer from the direction of the
island, and rolls of smoke covered the alley almost completely. The
taper, which had lighted him in the house, was quenched from the current
of air. Vinicius rushed to the street, and ran at full speed toward the
Via Portuensis, whence he had come; the fire seemed to pursue him with
burning breath, now surrounding him with fresh clouds of smoke, now
covering him with sparks, which fell on his hair, neck, and clothing.
The tunic began to smoulder on him in places; he cared not, but ran
forward lest he might be stifled from smoke. He had the taste of soot
and burning in his mouth; his throat and lungs were as if on fire. The
blood rushed to his head, and at moments all things, even the smoke
itself, seemed red to him. Then he thought: "This is living fire!
Better cast myself on the ground and perish." The running tortured him
more and more. His head, neck, and shoulders were streaming with sweat,
which scalded like boiling water. Had it not been for Lygia's name,
repeated by him in thought, had it not been for her capitium, which he
wound across his mouth, he would have fallen. Some moments later he
failed to recognize the street along which he ran. Consciousness was
leaving him gradually; he remembered only that he must flee, for in the
open field beyond waited Lygia, whom Peter had promised him. And all at
once he was seized by a certain wonderful conviction, half feverish,
like a vision before death, that he must see her, marry her, and then
But he ran on as if drunk, staggering from one side of the street to the
other. Meanwhile something changed in that monstrous conflagration
which had embraced the giant city. Everything which till then had only
glimmered, burst forth visibly into one sea of flame; the wind had
ceased to bring smoke. That smoke which had collected in the streets
was borne away by a mad whirl of heated air. That whirl drove with it
millions of sparks, so that Vinicius was running in a fiery cloud as it
were. But he was able to see before him all the better, and in a
moment, almost when he was ready to fall, he saw the end of the street.
That sight gave him fresh strength. Passing the corner, he found
himself in a street which led to the Via Portuensis and the Codetan
Field. The sparks ceased to drive him. He understood that if he could
run to the Via Portuensis he was safe, even were he to faint on it.
At the end of the street he saw again a cloud, as it seemed, which
stopped the exit. "If that is smoke," thought he, "I cannot pass." He
ran with the remnant of his strength. On the way he threw off his
tunic, which, on fire from the sparks, was burning him like the shirt of
Nessus, having only Lygia's capitium around his head and before his
mouth. When he had run farther, he saw that what he had taken for smoke
was dust, from which rose a multitude of cries and voices.
"The rabble are plundering houses," thought Vinicius. But he ran toward
the voices. In every case people were there; they might assist him. In
this hope he shouted for aid with all his might before he reached them.
But this was his last effort. It grew redder still in his eyes, breath
failed his lungs, strength failed his bones; he fell.
They heard him, however, or rather saw him. Two men ran with gourds
full of water. Vinicius, who had fallen from exhaustion but had not
lost consciousness, seized a gourd with both hands, and emptied one-half
"Thanks," said he; "place me on my feet, I can walk on alone."
The other laborer poured water on his head; the two not only placed him
on his feet, but raised him from the ground, and carried him to the
others, who surrounded him and asked if he had suffered seriously. This
tenderness astonished Vinicius.
"People, who are ye?" asked he.
"We are breaking down houses, so that the fire may not reach the Via
Portuensis," answered one of the laborers.
"Ye came to my aid when I had fallen. Thanks to you."
"We are not permitted to refuse aid," answered a number of voices.
Vinicius, who from early morning had seen brutal crowds, slaying and
robbing, looked with more attention on the faces around him, and said,--
"May Christ reward you."
"Praise to His name!" exclaimed a whole chorus of voices.
"Linus?" inquired Vinicius.
But he could not finish the question or hear the answer, for he fainted
from emotion and over-exertion. He recovered only in the Codetan Field
in a garden, surrounded by a number of men and women. The first words
which he uttered were,--
"Where is Linus?"
For a while there was no answer; then some voice, known to Vinicius,
said all at once,--
"He went out by the Nomentan Gate to Ostrianum two days ago. Peace be
with thee, O king of Persia!"
Vinicius rose to a sitting posture, and saw Chilo before him.
"Thy house is burned surely, O lord," said the Greek, "for the Carinæ is
in flames; but thou wilt be always as rich as Midas. Oh, what a
misfortune! The Christians, O son of Serapis, have predicted this long
time that fire would destroy the city. But Linus, with the daughter of
Jove, is in Ostrianum. Oh, what a misfortune for the city!"
Vinicius became weak again.
"Hast thou seen them?" he inquired.
"I saw them, O lord. May Christ and all the gods be thanked that I am
able to pay for thy benefactions with good news. But, O Cyrus, I shall
pay thee still more, I swear by this burning Rome."
It was evening, but in the garden one could see as in daylight, for the
conflagration had increased. It seemed that not single parts of the
city were burning, but the whole city through the length and the breadth
of it. The sky was red as far as the eye could see it, and that night
in the world was a red night.
Light from the burning city filled the sky as far as human eye could
reach. The moon rose large and full from behind the mountains, and
inflamed at once by the glare took on the color of heated brass. It
seemed to look with amazement on the world-ruling city which was
perishing. In the rose-colored abysses of heaven rose-colored stars
were glittering; but in distinction from usual nights the earth was
brighter than the heavens. Rome, like a giant pile, illuminated the
whole Campania. In the bloody light were seen distant mountains, towns,
villas, temples, mountains, and the aqueducts stretching toward the city
from all the adjacent hills; on the aqueducts were swarms of people, who
had gathered there for safety or to gaze at the burning.
Meanwhile the dreadful element was embracing new divisions of the city.
It was impossible to doubt that criminal hands were spreading the fire,
since new conflagrations were breaking out all the time in places remote
from the principal fire. From the heights on which Rome was founded the
flames flowed like waves of the sea into the valleys densely occupied by
houses,--houses of five and six stories, full of shops, booths, movable
wooden amphitheatres, built to accommodate various spectacles; and
finally storehouses of wood, olives, grain, nuts, pine cones, the
kernels of which nourishcd the more needy population, and clothing,
which through Cæsar's favor was distributed from time to time among the
rabble huddled into narrow alleys. In those places the fire, finding
abundance of inflammable materials, became almost a series of
explosions, and took possession of whole streets with unheard-of
rapidity. People encamping outside the city, or standing on the
aqueducts knew from the color of the flame what was burning. The
furious power of the wind carried forth from the fiery gulf thousands
and millions of burning shells of walnuts and almonds, which, shooting
suddenly into the sky, like countless flocks of bright butterflies,
burst with a crackling, or, driven by the wind, fell in other parts of
the city, on aqueducts, and fields beyond Rome. All thought of rescue
seemed out of place; confusion increased every moment, for on one side
the population of the city was fleeing through every gate to places
outside; on the other the fire had lured in thousands of people from the
neighborhood, such as dwellers in small towns, peasants, and half-wild
shepherds of the Campania, brought in by hope of plunder. The shout,
"Rome is perishing!" did not leave the lips of the crowd; the ruin of
the city seemed at that time to end every rule, and loosen all bonds
which hitherto had joined people in a single integrity. The mob, in
which slaves were more numerous, cared nothing for the lordship of Rome.
Destruction of the city could only free them; hence here and there they
assumed a threatening attitude. Violence and robbery were extending.
It seemed that only the spectacle of the perishing city arrested
attention, and restrained for the moment an outburst of slaughter, which
would begin as soon as the city was turned into ruins. Hundreds of
thousands of slaves, forgetting that Rome, besides temples and walls,
possessed some tens of legions in all parts of the world, appeared
merely waiting for a watchword and a leader. People began to mention the
name of Spartacus, but Spartacus was not alive. Meanwhile citizens
assembled, and armed themselves each with what he could. The most
monstrous reports were current at all the gates. Some declared that
Vulcan, commanded by Jupiter, was destroying the city with fire from
beneath the earth; others that Vesta was taking vengeance for Rubria.
People with these convictions did not care to save anything, but,
besieging the temples, implored mercy of the gods. It was repeated most
generally, however, that Cæsar had given command to burn Rome, so as to
free himself from odors which rose from the Subura, and build a new city
under the name of Neronia. Rage seized the populace at thought of this;
and if, as Vinicius believed, a leader had taken advantage of that
outburst of hatred, Nero's hour would have struck whole years before it
It was said also that Cæsar had gone mad, that he would command
pretorians and gladiators to fall upon the people and make a general
slaughter. Others swore by the gods that wild beasts had been let out
of all the vivaria at Bronzebeard's command. Men had seen on the
streets lions with burning manes, and mad elephants and bisons,
trampling down people in crowds. There was even some truth in this; for
in certain places elephants, at sight of the approaching fire, had burst
the vivaria, and, gaining their freedom, rushed away from the fire in
wild fright, destroying everything before them like a tempest. Public
report estimated at tens of thousands the number of persons who had
perished in the conflagration. In truth a great number had perished.
There were people who, losing all their property, or those dearest their
hearts, threw themselves willingly into the flames, from despair.
Others were suffocated by smoke. In the middle of the city, between the
Capitol, on one side, and the Quirinal, the Viminal, and the Esquiline
on the other, as also between the Palatine and the Cælian Hill, where
the streets were most densely occupied, the fire began in so many places
at once that whole crowds of people, while fleeing in one direction,
struck unexpectedly on a new wall of fire in front of them, and died a
dreadful death in a deluge of flame.
In terror, in distraction, and bewilderment, people knew not where to
flee. The streets were obstructed with goods, and in many narrow places
were simply closed. Those who took refuge in those markets and squares
of the city, where the Flavian Amphitheatre stood afterward, near the
temple of the Earth, near the Portico of Silvia, and higher up, at the
temples of Juno and Lucinia, between the Clivus Virbius and the old
Esquiline Gate, perished from heat, surrounded by a sea of fire. In
places not reached by the flames were found afterward hundreds of bodies
burned to a crisp, though here and there unfortunates tore up flat
stones and half buried themselves in defence against the heat. Hardly a
family inhabiting the centre of the city survived in full; hence along
the walls, at the gates, on all roads were heard howls of despairing
women, calling on the dear names of those who had perished in the throng
or the fire.
And so, while some were imploring the gods, others blasphemed them
because of this awful catastrophe. Old men were seen coming from the
temple of Jupiter Liberator, stretching forth their hands, and crying,
"If thou be a liberator, save thy altars and the city!" But despair
turned mainly against the old Roman gods, who, in the minds of the
populace, were bound to watch over the city more carefully than others.
They had proved themselves powerless; hence were insulted. On the other
hand it happened on the Via Asinaria that when a company of Egyptian
priests appeared conducting a statue of Isis, which they had saved from
the temple near the Porta Cælimontana, a crowd of people rushed among
the priests, attached themselves to the chariot, which they drew to the
Appian Gate, and seizing the statue placed it in the temple of Mars,
overwhelming the priests of that deity who dared to resist them. In
other places people invoked Serapis, Baal, or Jehovah, whose adherents,
swarming out of the alleys in the neighborhood of the Subura and the
Trans-Tiber, filled with shouts and uproar the fields near the walls.
In their cries were heard tones as if of triumph; when, therefore, some
of the citizens joined the chorus and glorified "the Lord of the World,"
others, indignant at this glad shouting, strove to repress it by
violence. Here and there hymns were heard, sung by men in the bloom of
life, by old men, by women and children,--hymns wonderful and solemn,
whose meaning they understood not, but in which were repeated from
moment to moment the words, "Behold the Judge cometh in the day of wrath
and disaster." Thus this deluge of restless and sleepless people
encircled the burning city, like a tempest-driven sea.
But neither despair nor blasphemy nor hymn helped in any way. The
destruction seemed as irresistible, perfect, and pitiless as
Predestination itself. Around Pompey's Amphitheatre stores of hemp
caught fire, and ropes used in circuses, arenas, and every kind of
machine at the games, and with them the adjoining buildings containing
barrels of pitch with which ropes were smeared. In a few hours all that
part of the city, beyond which lay the Campus Martius, was so lighted by
bright yellow flames that for a time it seemed to the spectators, only
half conscious from terror, that in the general ruin the order of night
and day had been lost, and that they were looking at sunshine. But
later a monstrous bloody gleam extinguished all other colors of flame.
From the sea of fire shot up to the heated sky gigantic fountains, and
pillars of flame spreading at their summits into fiery branches and
feathers; then the wind bore them away, turned them into golden threads,
into hair, into sparks, and swept them on over the Campania toward the
Alban Hills. The night became brighter; the air itself seemed
penetrated, not only with light, but with flame. The Tiber flowed on as
living fire. The hapless city was turned into one pandemonium. The
conflagration seized more and more space, took hills by storm, flooded
level places, drowned valleys, raged, roared, and thundered.
MACRINUS, a weaver, to whose house Vinicius was carried, washed him, and
gave him clothing and food. When the young tribune had recovered his
strength altogether, he declared that he would search further for Linus
that very night. Macrinus, who was a Christian, confirmed Chilo's
report, that Linus, with Clement the chief priest, had gone to
Ostrianum, where Peter was to baptize a whole company of confessors of
the new faith. In that division of the city it was known to Christians
that Linus had confided the care of his house two days before to a
certain Gaius. For Vinicius this was a proof that neither Lygia nor
Ursus had remained in the house, and that they also must have gone to
This thought gave him great comfort. Linus was an old man, for whom it
would be difficult to walk daily to the distant Nomentan Gate, and back
to the Trans-Tiber; hence it was likely that he lodged those few days
with some co-religionist beyond the walls, and with him also Lygia and
Ursus. Thus they escaped the fire, which in general had not reached the