Cicero was now sixty-three, prematurely old, discouraged, and heart-broken. And yet he braced himself up for one more grand effort,–for a life and death struggle with Antony, one of the ablest of Caesar’s generals; a demagogue, eloquent and popular, but outrageously cruel and unscrupulous, and with unbridled passions. Had it not been for his infatuated love of Cleopatra, he probably would have succeeded to the imperial sceptre, for it was by the sword that he too sought to suppress the liberties of the Senate and people. Against him, as the enemy of his country, Cicero did not scruple to launch forth the most terrible of his invectives. In thirteen immortal philippics–some of which, however, were merely written and never delivered, after the fashion of Demosthenes, with whom as an orator and a patriot he can alone be compared–he denounced the unprincipled demagogue and general with every offensive epithet the language afforded,–unveiling his designs, exposing his forgeries, and proving his crimes. Nobler eloquence was never uttered, and wasted, than that with which Cicero pursued, in passionate vengeance, the most powerful and the most unscrupulous man in the Roman Empire. And Cicero must have anticipated the fate which impended over him if Antony were not decreed a public enemy. But the protests of the orator were in vain. He lived to utter them, as a witness of truth; and nothing was left to him but to die.
Of course Antony, when he became Triumvir,–when he made a bargain that he never meant to keep with Octavius and Lepidus for a division of the Empire between them,–would not spare such an enemy as Cicero. The broken-hearted patriot fled mechanically, with a vacillating mind, when his proscription became known to him,–now more ready to die than live, since all hope in his country’s liberties was utterly crushed. Perhaps he might have escaped to some remote corner of the Empire. But he did not wish for life, any more than did Socrates when summoned before his judges. Desponding, uncertain, pursued, he met his fate with the heroism of an ancient philosopher. He surrendered his wearied and exhausted body to the hand of the executioner, and his lofty soul to the keeping of that personal and supreme God in whom he believed as firmly as any man, perhaps, of Pagan antiquity. And surely of him, more than of any other Roman, could it be said,–as Sir Walter Scott said of Pitt, and as Gladstone quoted, and applied to Sir Robert Peel,–
“Now is the stately column broke,
The _beacon light_ is quenched in smoke; The trumpet’s silver voice is still,
The warder silent on the hill.”
With the death–so sad–of the most illustrious of the Romans whose fame was not earned on the battlefield, I should perhaps close my lecture. Yet it would be incomplete without a short notice of those services which–as statesman, orator, and essayist–he rendered to his country and to future ages and nations.
In regard to his services as a statesman, they were rendered chiefly to his day and generation, for he elaborated no system of political wisdom like Burke, which bears (except casually and indirectly) on modern governments and institutions. It was his aim, as a statesman, to continue the Roman Constitution and keep the people from civil war. Nor does he seem to have held, like Rousseau, the _vox populi_ as the voice of God. He could find no language sufficiently strong to express his abhorrence of those who led the people for their own individual advancement. He was equally severe on corrupt governors and venal judges. He upheld morality and justice as the only guides in public affairs. He loved popularity, but he loved his country better. He hated anarchy as much as did Burke. Like Bright, he looked upon civil war as the greatest of national calamities. He advocated the most enlightened views, based on the principles of immutable justice. He wished to preserve his country equally from unscrupulous generals and unprincipled politicians.
As for his orations, they also were chiefly designed for his own contemporaries. They are not particularly valuable to us, except as models of rhetorical composition and transcendent beauty and grace of style. They are not so luminous with fundamental principles as they are vivid with invective, sarcasm, wit, and telling exaggeration,–sometimes persuasive and working on the sensibilities, and at other times full of withering scorn. They are more like the pleadings of an advocate than an appeal to universal reason. He lays down no laws of political philosophy, nor does he soar into the region of abstract truth, evolving great deductions in morals. But as an orator he was transcendently effective, like Demosthenes, though not equal to the Greek in force. His sentences are perhaps too involved for our taste; yet he always swayed an audience, whether the people from the rostrum, or the judges at the bar, or the senators in the Curia. He seldom lost a case; no one could contend with him successfully. He called out the admiration of critics, and even of actors. He had a wonderful electrical influence; his very tones and gestures carried everything before him; his action was superb; and his whole frame quivered from real (or affected) emotion, like Edward Everett in his happiest efforts. He was vehement in gesture, like Brougham and Mirabeau. He was intensely earnest and impressive, like Savonarola. He had exceeding tact, and was master of the passions of his audience. There was an irresistible music in his tones of voice, like that of St. Bernard when he fanned crusades. He was withering in his denunciations, like Wendell Phillips, whom in person he somewhat resembled. He was a fascination like Pericles, and the people could not long spare him from the excitement he produced. It was their desire to hear him speak which had no small share in producing his recall from banishment. They crowded around him as the people did around Chrysostom in Antioch. He amused like an actor, and instructed like a sage. His sentences are not short, terse, epigrammatic, and direct, but elaborate and artificial. Yet with all his arts of eloquence his soul, fired with great sentiments, rose in its inspired fervor above even the melody of voice, the rhythm of language, and the vehemence of action. A listener, who was not a critic, might fancy it was gesture, voice, and language combined; but, after all, it was the _man_ communicating his soul to those who hung upon his lips, and securing conviction by his sincerity and appeals to conscience. He must have had a natural gift for oratory, aside from his learning and accomplishments and rhetorical arts,–a talent very rare and approaching to creative genius. But to his natural gifts–like Luther, or Henry Clay, born an orator–he added marvellous attainments. He had a most retentive memory. He was versed in the whole history of the world. He was always ready with apt illustrations, which gave interest and finish to his discourses. He was the most industrious and studious man of his age. His attainments were prodigious. He was master of all the knowledge then known, like Gladstone of our day. He was not so learned a man as Varro; but Varro’s works have perished, as the great monuments of German scholars are perhaps destined to perish, for lack of style. Cicero’s style embalmed his thoughts and made them imperishable. No writer is immortal who is not an artist; Cicero was a consummate artist, and studied the arrangement of sentences, like the historian Tacitus and the Grecian Thucydides.
But greater than as an artist was he in the loftiness of his mind. He appealed to what is noblest in the soul. Transcendent eloquence ever “raises mortals to the skies” and never “pulls angels down.” Love of country, love of home, love of friends, love of nature, love of law, love of God, is brought out in all his discourses, exalting the noblest sentiments which move the human soul. He was the first to give to the Latin language beauty and artistic finish. He added to its richness, copiousness, and strength; he gave it music. For style alone he would be valued as one of the immortal classics. All men of culture have admired it, from Augustine to Bossuet, and acknowledged their obligations to him. We accord to the great poets the formation of languages,–Homer, Dante, Chaucer, Shakspeare; but I doubt if either Virgil or Horace contributed to the formation of the Latin language more than Cicero. Certainly they have not been more studied and admired. In every succeeding age the Orations of Cicero have been one of the first books which have been used as textbooks in colleges. Is it not something to have been one of the acknowledged masters of human composition? What a great service did Cicero render to the education of the Teutonic races! Whatever the Latin language has done for the modern world, Cicero comes in for a large share of the glory. More is preserved of his writings than of any other writer of antiquity.
But not for style alone–seen equally in his essays and in his orations–is he admirable. His most enduring claim on the gratitude of the world is the noble tribute he rendered to those truths which save the world. His testimony, considering he was a pagan, is remarkable in reference to what is sound in philosophy and morals. His learning, too, is seen to most advantage in his ethical and philosophical writings. It is true he did not originate, like Socrates and Plato; but he condensed and sifted the writings of the Greeks, and is the best expounder of their philosophy. Who has added substantially to what the Greeks worked out of their creative brain? I know that no Roman ever added to the domain of speculative thought, yet what Roman ever showed such a comprehension and appreciation of Greek philosophy as did Cicero? He was profoundly versed in all the learning the Grecians ever taught. Like Socrates, he had a contempt for physical science, because science in his day was based on imperfect inductions. There were not facts enough known of the material world to construct sound theories. Physical science at that time was the most uncertain of all knowledge, although there were great pretenders then, as now, who maintained it was the only certainty. But the speculations of scientists disgusted him, for he saw nothing in them upon which to base incontrovertible truth. They were mere dreams and baseless theories on the origin of the universe. They were even puerile; and they were then, as now, atheistic in their tendency. They mocked the consciousness of mankind. They annihilated faith and Providence. At best, they made all things subject to necessity, to an immutable fate, not to an intelligent and ever-present Creator. But Cicero, like Socrates, believed in God and in providential interference,–in striking contrast with Caesar, who believed nothing. He taught moral obligation, on the basis of accountability to God. He repudiated expediency as the guide in life, and fell back on the principles of eternal right. As an ethical writer he was profounder and more enlightened than Paley. He did not seek to overturn the popular religion, like Grecian Sophists, only (like Socrates) to overturn ignorance, before a sound foundation could be laid for any system of truth. Nor did he ridicule religion, as Lucian did in after-times, but soared to comprehend it, like the esoteric priests of Egypt in the time of Moses or Pythagoras. He cherished as lofty views of God and his moral government as any moralist of antiquity. And all these lofty views he taught in matchless language,–principles of government, principles of law, of ethics, of theology, giving consolation not only to the men of his day, but to Christian sages in after-times. And there is nothing puerile or dreamy or demoralizing in his teachings; they all are luminous for learning as well as genius. He rivalled Bacon in the variety and profundity of his attainments. He gloried in the certitudes which consciousness reveals, as well as in the facts which experience and history demonstrate. With these he consoled himself in trouble; on these he reposed in the hour of danger. Like Pascal he meditated on the highest truths which task the intellect of man, but, unlike him, did not disdain those weapons which _reason_ forged, and which no one used more triumphantly than Pascal himself. And these great meditations he transmitted for all ages to ponder, as among the most precious of the legacies of antiquity.
Thus did he live, a shining light in a corrupt and godless age, in spite of all the faults which modern critics have enlarged upon in their ambitious desire for novelties, or in their thoughtless or malignant desire? to show up human frailties. He was a patriot, taking the side of his country’s highest interests; a statesman, seeking to conserve the wisdom of his ancestors; an orator, exposing vices and defending the innocent; a philosopher, unfolding the wisdom of the Greeks; a moralist, laying down the principles of immutable justice; a sage, pondering the mysteries of life; ever active, studious, dignified; the charm and fascination of cultivated circles; as courteous and polished as the ornaments of modern society; revered by friends, feared by enemies, adored by all good people; a kind father, an indulgent husband, a generous friend; hospitable, witty, magnificent,–a most accomplished gentleman, one of the best men of all antiquity. What if he was vain and egotistical and vacillating, and occasionally weak? Can you expect perfection in him who “is born of a woman”? We palliate the backslidings of Christians; we excuse the crimes of a Constantine, a Theodosius, a Cromwell: shall we have no toleration for the frailties of a Pagan, in one of the worst periods of history? I have no patience with those critics who would hurl him from the pedestal on which he has stood for two thousand years. Contrast him with other illustrious men. How few Romans or Greeks were better than he! How few have rendered such exalted services! And even if he has not perpetuated a faultless character, he has yet bequeathed a noble example; and, more, has transmitted a legacy in the richness of which we forget the faults of the testator,–a legacy of imperishable thought, clothed in the language of imperishable art,–a legacy so valuable that it is the treasured inheritance of all civilized nations, and one which no nation can afford to lose.
* * * * *
Plutarch’s Life of Cicero, Appian, Dion Cassius, Villeius Paterculus, are the original authorities,–next to the writings of Cicero himself, especially his Letters and Orations. Middleton’s Life is full, but one-sided. Forsyth takes the opposite side in his Life. The last work in English is that of Anthony Trollope. In Smith’s Biographical Dictionary is an able article. Dr. Vaughan has written an interesting lecture. Merivale has elaborately treated this great man in his valuable History of the Romans. Colley Cibber’s Character and Conduct of Cicero, Drumann’s Roman History, Rollin’s Ancient History, Biographic Universelle. Mr. Froude alludes to Cicero in his Life of Caesar, taking nearly the same view as Forsyth.
THE WOMAN OF PAGANISM.
It is my object in this lecture to present the condition of woman under the influences of Paganism, before Christianity enfranchised and elevated her. As a type of the Pagan woman I select Cleopatra, partly because she was famous, and partly because she possessed traits and accomplishments which made her interesting in spite of the vices which degraded her. She was a queen, the heir of a long line of kings, and ruled over an ancient and highly civilized country. She was intellectual, accomplished, beautiful, and fascinating. She lived in one of the most interesting capitals of the ancient world, and by birth she was more Greek than she was African or Oriental. She lived, too, in a great age, when Rome had nearly conquered the world; when Roman senators and generals had more power than kings; when Grecian arts and literature were copied by the imperial Romans; when the rich and fortunate were luxurious and ostentatious beyond all precedent; when life had reached the highest point of material splendor, and yet when luxury had not destroyed military virtues or undermined the strength of the empire. The “eternal city” then numbered millions of people, and was the grandest capital ever seen on this earth, since everything was there concentrated,–the spoils of the world, riches immeasurable, literature and art, palaces and temples, power unlimited,–the proudest centre of civilization which then existed, and a civilization which in its material aspects has not since been surpassed. The civilized world was then most emphatically Pagan, in both spirit and forms. Religion as a controlling influence was dead. Only a very few among speculative philosophers believed in any god, except in a degrading sense,–as a blind inexorable fate, or an impersonation of the powers of Nature. The future state was a most perplexing uncertainty. Epicurean self-indulgence and material prosperity were regarded as the greatest good; and as doubt of the darkest kind hung over the future, the body was necessarily regarded as of more value than the soul. In fact, it was only the body which Paganism recognized as a reality; the soul, God, and immortality were virtually everywhere ignored.
It was in this godless, yet brilliant, age that Cleopatra appears upon the stage, having been born sixty-nine years before Christ,–about a century before the new revolutionary religion was proclaimed in Judea. Her father was a Ptolemy, and she succeeded him on the throne of Egypt when quite young,–the last of a famous dynasty that had reigned nearly three hundred years. The Ptolemies, descended from one of Alexander’s generals, reigned in great magnificence at Alexandria, which was the commercial centre of the world, whose ships whitened the Mediterranean,–that great inland lake, as it were, in the centre of the Roman Empire, around whose shores were countless cities and villas and works of art. Alexandria was a city of schools, of libraries and museums, of temples and of palaces, as well as a mart of commerce. Its famous library was the largest in the world, and was the pride of the age and of the empire. Learned men from all countries came to this capital to study science, philosophy, and art. It was virtually a Grecian city, and the language of the leading people was Greek. It was rivalled in provincial magnificence only by Antioch, the seat of the old Syrian civilization, also a Greek capital, so far as the governing classes could make it one. Greece, politically ruined, still sent forth those influences which made her civilization potent in every land.
Cleopatra, the last of the line of Grecian sovereigns in Egypt, was essentially Greek in her features, her language, and her manners. There was nothing African about her, as we understand the term African, except that her complexion may have been darkened by the intermarriage of the Ptolemies; and I have often wondered why so learned and classical a man as Story should have given to this queen, in his famous statue, such thick lips and African features, which no more marked her than Indian features mark the family of the Braganzas on the throne of Brazil. She was not even Coptic, like Athanasius and Saint Augustine. On the ancient coins and medals her features are severely classical.
Nor is it probable that any of the peculiarities of the ancient Egyptian kings marked the dynasty of the Ptolemies. No purely Egyptian customs lingered in the palaces of Alexandria. The old deities of Isis and Osiris gave place to the worship of Jupiter, Minerva, and Venus. The wonders of pristine Egypt were confined to Memphis and Thebes and the dilapidated cities of the Nile. The mysteries of the antique Egyptian temples were no more known to the learned and mercantile citizen of Alexandria than they are to us. The pyramids were as much a wonder then as now. The priests and jugglers alike mingled in the crowd of Jews, Syrians, Romans, Greeks, Parthians, Arabs, who congregated in this learned and mercantile city.
So we have a right to presume that Cleopatra, when she first appeared upon the stage of history as a girl of fourteen, was simply a very beautiful and accomplished Greek princess, who could speak several languages with fluency, as precocious as Elizabeth of England, skilled in music, conversant with history, and surrounded with eminent masters. She was only twenty-one when she was an object of attraction to Caesar, then in the midst of his triumphs. How remarkable must have been her fascinations if at that age she could have diverted, even for a time, the great captain from his conquests, and chained him to her side! That refined, intellectual old veteran of fifty, with the whole world at his feet, loaded down with the cares of government, as temperate as he was ambitious, and bent on new conquests, would not have been chained and enthralled by a girl of twenty-one, however beautiful, had she not been as remarkable for intellect and culture as she was for beauty. Nor is it likely that Cleopatra would have devoted herself to this weather-beaten old general, had she not hoped to gain something from him besides caresses,–namely, the confirmation of her authority as queen. She also may have had some patriotic motives touching the political independence of her country. Left by her father’s will at the age of eighteen joint heir of the Egyptian throne with her brother Ptolemy, she soon found herself expelled from the capital by him and the leading generals of the army, because they did not relish her precocious activity in government. Her gathered adherents had made but little advance towards regaining her rights when, in August, 48, Caesar landed in pursuit of Pompey, whom he had defeated at Pharsalia. Pompey’s assassination left Caesar free, and he proceeded to Alexandria to establish himself for the winter. Here the wily and beautiful young exile sought him, and won his interest and his affection. After some months of revelry and luxury, Caesar left Egypt in 47 to chastise an Eastern rebel, and was in 46 followed to Rome by Cleopatra, who remained there in splendid state until the assassination of Caesar drove her back to Egypt. Her whole subsequent life showed her to be as cunning and politic as she was luxurious and pleasure-seeking. Possibly she may have loved so interesting and brilliant a man as the great Caesar, aside from the admiration of his position; but he never became her slave, although it was believed, a hundred years after his death, that she was actually living in his house when he was assassinated, and was the mother of his son Caesarion. But Froude doubts this; and the probabilities are that he is correct, for, like Macaulay, he is not apt to be wrong in facts, but only in the way he puts them.
Cleopatra was twenty-eight years of age when she first met Antony,–“a period of life,” says Plutarch, “when woman’s beauty is most splendid, and her intellect is in full maturity.” We have no account of the style of her beauty, except that it was transcendent,–absolutely irresistible, with such a variety of expression as to be called infinite. As already remarked, from the long residence of her family in Egypt and intermarriages with foreigners, her complexion may have been darker than that of either Persians or Greeks. It probably resembled that of Queen Esther more than that of Aspasia, in that dark richness and voluptuousness which to some have such attractions; but in grace and vivacity she was purely Grecian,–not like a “blooming Eastern bride,” languid and passive and effeminate, but bright, witty, and intellectual. Shakspeare paints her as full of lively sallies, with the power of adapting herself to circumstances with tact and good nature, like a Madame Recamier or a Maintenon, rather than like a Montespan or a Pompadour, although her nature was passionate, her manner enticing, and her habits luxurious. She did not weary or satiate, like a mere sensual beauty.
“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety.”
She certainly had the power of retaining the conquests she had won,–which rarely happens except with those who are gifted with intellectual radiance and freshness. She held her hold on Antony for eleven years, when he was burdened with great public cares and duties, and when he was forty-two years of age. Such a superior man as he was intellectually, and, after Caesar, the leading man of the empire,–a statesman as well as soldier,–would not have been enslaved so long by Cleopatra had she not possessed remarkable gifts and attainments, like those famous women who reigned in the courts of the Bourbons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and who, by their wit and social fascinations, gathered around their thrones the most distinguished men of France, and made them friends as well as admirers. The Pompadours of the world have only a brief reign, and at last become repulsive. But Cleopatra, like Maintenon, was always attractive, although she, could not lay claim to the virtues of the latter. She was as politic as the French beauty, and as full of expedients to please her lord. She may have revelled in the banquets she prepared for Antony, as Esther did in those she prepared for Xerxes; but with the same intent, to please him rather than herself, and win, from his weakness, those political favors which in his calmer hours he might have shrunk from granting. Cleopatra was a politician as well as a luxurious beauty, and it may have been her supreme aim to secure the independence of Egypt. She wished to beguile Antony as she had sought to beguile Caesar, since they were the masters of the world, and had it in their power to crush her sovereignty and reduce her realm to a mere province of the empire. Nor is there evidence that in the magnificent banquets she gave to the Roman general she ever lost her self-control. She drank, and made him drink, but retained her wits, “laughing him out of patience and laughing him into patience,” ascendant over him by raillery, irony, and wit.
And Antony, again, although fond of banquets and ostentation, like other Roman nobles, and utterly unscrupulous and unprincipled, as Roman libertines were, was also general, statesman, and orator. He grew up amid the dangers and toils and privations of Caesar’s camp. He was as greedy of honors as was his imperial master. He was a sunburnt and experienced commander, obliged to be on his guard, and ready for emergencies. No such man feels that he can afford to indulge his appetites, except on rare occasions. One of the leading peculiarities of all great generals has been their temperance. It marked Caesar, Charlemagne, Gustavus Adolphus, Frederic the Great, Cromwell, and Napoleon. When Alexander gave himself up to banquets, his conquests ended. Even such a self-indulgent, pleasure-seeking man as Louis XIV. always maintained the decencies of society amid his dissipated courtiers. We feel that a man who could discourse so eloquently as Antony did over the dead body of Caesar was something more than a sensualist or a demagogue. He was also the finest-looking man in Rome, reminding the people, it is said, of the busts of Hercules. He was lavish, like Caesar, but, like him, sought popularity, and cared but little what it cost. It is probable that Cicero painted him, in his famous philippics, in darker colors than he deserved, because he aimed to be Caesar’s successor, as he probably would have been but for his infatuation for Cleopatra. Caesar sent him to Rome as master of the horse,–a position next in power to that of dictator. When Caesar was assassinated, Antony was the most powerful man of the empire. He was greater than any existing king; he was almost supreme. And after Caesar’s death, when he divided his sovereignty of the world with Octavius and Lepidus, he had the fairest chance of becoming imperator. He had great military experience, the broad Orient as his domain, and half the legions of Rome under his control.
It was when this great man was Triumvir, sharing with only two others the empire of the world, and likely to overpower them, when he was in Asia consolidating and arranging the affairs of his vast department, that he met the woman who was the cause of all his calamities. He was then in Cilicia, and, with all the arrogance of a Roman general, had sent for the Queen of Egypt to appear before him and answer to an accusation of having rendered assistance to Cassius before the fatal battle of Philippi. He had already known and admired Cleopatra in Rome, and it is not improbable that she divined the secret of his judicial summons. His envoy, struck with her beauty and intelligence, advised her to appear in her best attire. Such a woman scarcely needed such a hint. So, making every preparation for her journey,–money, ornaments, gifts,–a kind of Queen of Sheba, a Zenobia in her pride and glory, a Queen Esther when she had invited the king and his minister to a banquet,–she came to the Cydnus, and ascended the river in a magnificent barge, such as had never been seen before, and prepared to meet her judge, not as a criminal, but as a conqueror, armed with those weapons that few mortals can resist.
“The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne, Burn’d on the water; the poop was beaten gold; Purple the sails, and so perfumed that The winds were love-sick with them: the oars were silver, Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made The water, which they beat, to follow faster, As amorous of their strokes. For her own person, It beggar’d all description: she did lie In her pavilion (cloth-of-gold of tissue) O’er-picturing that Venus, where we see The fancy outwork nature: on each side her Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids, With diverse-color’d fans….
Her gentlewomen, like the Nereides, So many mermaids, tended her i’ the eyes. … At the helm
A seeming mermaid steers….
… From the barge
A strange invisible perfume hits the sense Of the adjacent wharves. The city cast Her people out upon her; and Antony,
Enthroned i’ the market-place, did sit alone, Whistling to th’ air; which, but for vacancy, Had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too,
And made a gap in nature.”
On the arrival of this siren queen, Antony had invited her to supper,–the dinner of the Romans,–but she, with woman’s instinct, had declined, till he should come to her; and he, with the urbanity of a polished noble,–for such he probably was,–complied, and found a banquet which astonished even him, accustomed as he was to senatorial magnificence, and which, with all the treasures of the East, he could not rival. From that fatal hour he was enslaved. She conquered him, not merely by her display and her dazzling beauty, but by her wit. Her very tones were music. So accomplished was she in languages, that without interpreters she conversed not only with Greeks and Latins, but with Ethiopians, Jews, Arabians, Syrians, Medes, and Parthians. So dazzled and bewitched was Antony, that, instead of continuing the duties of his great position, he returned with Cleopatra to Alexandria, there to keep holiday and squander riches, and, still worse, his precious time, to the shame and scandal of Rome, inglorious and without excuse,–a Samson at the feet of Delilah, or a Hercules throwing away his club to seize the distaff of Omphale, confessing to the potency of that mysterious charm which the sage at the court of an Eastern prince pronounced the strongest power on earth. Never was a strong man more enthralled than was Antony by this bewitching woman, who exhausted every art to please him. She played at dice with him, drank with him, hunted with him, rambled with him, jested with him, angled with him, flattering and reproving him by turn, always having some new device of pleasure to gratify his senses or stimulate his curiosity. Thus passed the winter of 41-40, and in the spring he was recalled to Borne by political dissensions there.
At this stage, however, it would seem that ambition was paramount with him, not love; for his wife Fulvia having died, he did not marry Cleopatra, but Octavia, sister of Octavius, his fellow-triumvir and general rival. It was evidently from political considerations that he married Octavia, who was a stately and noble woman, but tedious in her dignity, and unattractive in her person. And what a commentary on Roman rank! The sister of a Roman grandee seemed to the ambitious general a greater match than the Queen of Egypt. How this must have piqued the proud daughter of the Ptolemies,–that she, a queen, with all her charms, was not the equal in the eyes of Antony to the sister of Caesar’s heir! But she knew her power, and stifled her resentment, and waited for her time. She, too, had a political end to gain, and was too politic to give way to anger and reproaches. She was anything but the impulsive woman that some suppose,–but a great actress and artist, as some women are when they would conquer, even in their loves, which, if they do not feign, at least they know how to make appear greater than they are. For about three years Antony cut loose from Cleopatra, and pursued his military career in the East, as the rival of Octavius might, having in view the sovereignty that Caesar had bequeathed to the strongest man.
But his passion for Cleopatra could not long be suppressed, neither from reasons of state nor from the respect he must have felt for the admirable conduct of Octavia, who was devoted to him, and who was one of the most magnanimous and reproachless women of antiquity. And surely he must have had some great qualities to call out the love of the noblest and proudest woman of the age, in spite of his many vices and his abandonment to a mad passion, forgetful alike both of fame and duty. He had not been two years in Athens, the headquarters of his Eastern Department, before he was called upon to chastise the Parthians, who had thrown off the Roman yoke and invaded other Roman provinces. But hardly had he left Octavia, and set foot again in Asia, before he sent for his Egyptian mistress, and loaded her with presents; not gold, and silver, and precious stones, and silks, and curious works of art merely, but whole provinces even,–Phoenicia, Syria, Cilicia, and a part of Judea and Arabia,–provinces which belonged not to him, but to the Roman Empire. How indignant must have been the Roman people when they heard of such lavish presents, and presents which he had no right to give! And when the artful Cleopatra feigned illness on the approach of Octavia, pretending to be dying of love, and wasting her body by fasting and weeping by turns, and perhaps tearing her hair in a seeming paroxysm of grief,–for an actress can do even this,–Antony was totally disarmed, and gave up his Parthian expedition altogether, which was treason to the State, and returned to Alexandria more submissive than ever. This abandonment of duty and official trust disgusted and incensed the Romans, so that his cause was weakened. Octavius became stronger every day, and now resolved on reigning alone. This meant another civil war. How strong the party of Antony must have been to keep together and sustain him amid such scandals, treasons, and disgrace!
Antony, perceiving a desperate contest before him, ending in his supremacy or ruin, put forth all his energies, assisted by the contributions of Cleopatra, who furnished two hundred ships and twenty thousand talents,–about twenty million dollars. He had five hundred war-vessels, beside galleys, one hundred thousand foot and twelve thousand horse,–one of the largest armies that any Roman general had ever commanded,–and he was attended by vassal kings from the East. The forces of Octavius were not so large, though better disciplined; nor was he a match for Antony in military experience. Antony with his superior forces wished to fight upon the land, but against his better judgment was overruled by Cleopatra, who, having reinforced him with sixty galleys, urged him to contend upon the sea. The rivals met at Actium, where was fought one of the great decisive battles of the world. For a while the fortunes of the day were doubtful, when Cleopatra, from some unexplained motive, or from panic, or possibly from a calculating policy, was seen sailing away with her ships for Egypt. And what was still more extraordinary, Antony abandoned his fleet and followed her. Had he been defeated on the sea, he still had superior forces on the land, and was a match for Octavius. His infatuation ended in a weakness difficult to comprehend in a successful Roman general. And never was infatuation followed by more tragic consequences. Was this madness sent upon him by that awful Power who controls the fate of war and the destinies of nations? Who sent madness upon Nebuchadnezzar? Who blinded Napoleon at the very summit of his greatness? May not that memorable defeat have been ordered by Providence to give consolidation and peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire, so long groaning under the complicated miseries of anarchy and civil war? If an imperial government was necessary for the existing political and social condition of the Roman world,–and this is maintained by most historians,–how fortunate it was that the empire fell into the hands of a man whose subsequent policy was peace, the development of resources of nations, and a vigorous administration of government!
It is generally conceded that the reign of Octavius–or, as he is more generally known, Augustus Caesar–was able, enlightened, and efficient. He laid down the policy which succeeding emperors pursued, and which resulted in the peace and prosperity of the Roman world until vices prepared the way for violence. Augustus was a great organizer, and the machinery of government which he and his ministers perfected kept the empire together until it was overrun by the New Germanic races. Had Antony conquered at Actium, the destinies of the empire might have been far different. But for two hundred years the world never saw a more efficient central power than that exercised by the Roman emperors or by their ministers. Imperialism at last proved fatal to genius and the higher interests of mankind; but imperialism was the creation of Julius Caesar, as a real or supposed necessity; it was efficiently and beneficently continued by his grand-nephew Augustus; and its consolidated strength became an established institution which the civilized world quietly accepted.
The battle of Actium virtually settled the civil war and the fortunes of Antony, although he afterwards fought bravely and energetically; but all to no purpose. And then, at last, his eyes were opened, and Shakspeare makes him bitterly exclaim,–
“All is lost!
This foul Egyptian hath betrayed me. … Betray’d I am:
O this false soul of Egypt!”
And with his ruin the ruin of his paramour was also settled; yet her resources were not utterly exhausted. She retired into a castle or mausoleum she had prepared for herself in case of necessity, with her most valuable treasures, and sent messengers to Antony, who reported to him that she was dead,–that she had killed herself in despair. He believed it all. His wrath now vanished in his grief. He could not live, or did not wish to live, without her; and he fell upon his own sword. The wound was mortal, but death did not immediately follow. He lived to learn that Cleopatra had again deceived him,–that she was still alive. Even amid the agonies of the shadow of death, and in view of this last fatal lie of hers, he did not upbraid her, but ordered his servants to bear him to her retreat. Covered with blood, the dying general was drawn up by ropes and through a window–the only entrance to the queen’s retreat that was left unbarred–into her presence, and soon expired. Shakspeare has Antony greet Cleopatra with the words, “I am dying, Egypt, dying!” This suggestive theme has been enlarged in a modern song of pathetic eloquence:–
I am dying, Egypt, dying,
Ebbs the crimson life-tide fast, And the dark Plutonian shadows
Gather on the evening blast;
Let thine arms, O Queen, enfold me, Hush thy sobs and bow thine ear,
Listen to the great heart-secrets _Thou_, and thou _alone_, must hear.
* * * * *
Should the base plebeian rabble
Dare assail my name at Rome,
Where my noble spouse Octavia
Weeps within her widow’d home,
Seek her; say the gods bear witness– Altars, augurs, circling wings–
That her blood, with mine commingled, Yet shall mount the throne of kings.
As for thee, star-ey’d Egyptian!
Glorious sorceress of the Nile! Light the path to Stygian horrors
With the splendors of thy smile I can scorn the Senate’s triumphs,
Triumphing in love like thine.
* * * * *
Ah! no more amid the battle
Shall my heart exulting swell:
Isis and Osiris guard thee!
Thus perished the great Triumvir, dying like a Roman, whose blinded but persistent love, whatever were its elements, ever shall make his name memorable. All the ages will point to him as a man who gave the world away for the caresses of a woman, and a woman who deceived and ruined him.
As for her,–this selfish, heartless sorceress, gifted and beautiful as she was,–what does she do when she sees her lover dead,–dying for her? Does she share his fate? Not she. What selfish woman ever killed herself for love?
“Some natural tears she shed, but wiped them soon.”
She may have torn her clothes, and beaten her breast, and disfigured her face, and given vent to mourning and lamentations. But she does not seek death, nor surrender herself to grief, nor court despair. She renews her strength. She reserves her arts for another victim. She hopes to win Octavius as she had won Julius and Antony; for she was only thirty-nine, and still a queen. And for what? That she might retain her own sovereignty, or the independence of Egypt,–still the most fertile of countries, rich, splendid, and with grand traditions which went back thousands of years; the oldest, and once the most powerful of monarchies. _Her_ love was ever subservient to her interests. Antony gave up ambition for love,–whatever that love was. It took possession of his whole being, not pure and tender, but powerful, strange; doubtless a mad infatuation, and perhaps something more, since it never passed away,–admiration allied with desire, the worship of dazzling gifts, though not of moral virtues. Would such a love have been permanent? Probably not, since the object of it did not shine in the beauty of the soul, but rather in the graces and adornments of the body, intensified indeed by the lustre of bewitching social qualities and the brightness of a cultivated intellect. It is hard to analyze a passionate love between highly gifted people who have an intense development of both the higher and the lower natures, and still more difficult when the idol is a Venus Polyhymnia rather than a Venus Urania. But the love of Antony, whether unwise, or mysterious, or unfortunate, was not feigned or forced: it was real, and it was irresistible; he could not help it. He was enslaved, bound hand and foot. His reason may have rallied to his support, but his will was fettered. He may have had at times dark and gloomy suspicions,–that he was played with, that he was cheated, that he would be deserted, that Cleopatra was false and treacherous. And yet she reigned over him; he could not live without her. She was all in all to him, so long as the infatuation lasted; and it had lasted fourteen years, with increasing force, in spite of duty and pressing labors, the calls of ambition and the lust of power. In this consuming and abandoned passion, for fourteen years,–so strange and inglorious, and for a woman so unworthy, even if he were no better than she,–we see one of the great mysteries of our complex nature, not uncommon, but insoluble.
I have no respect for Antony, and but little admiration. I speak of such mad infatuation as a humiliating exhibition of human weakness. Any one under its fearful spell is an object of pity. But I have more sympathy for him than for Cleopatra, although she was doubtless a very gifted woman. He was her victim; she was not his. If extravagant and reckless and sensual, he was frank, generous, eloquent, brave, and true to her. She was artful, designing, and selfish, and used him for her own ends, although we do not know that she was perfidious and false to him. But for her he would have ruled the world. He showed himself capable of an enormous sacrifice. She made no sacrifices for him. She could even have transferred her affections, since she afterwards sought to play her blandishments upon his rival. Conceive of Antony, if you can, as loving any one else than her who led him on to ruin. In the very degradation of love we see its sacredness. In his fidelity we find some palliation. Nor does it seem that Octavia, the slighted wife of Antony, gave way to vengeance. Her sense of injury was overshadowed by her pity. This lofty and dignified matron even took his six surviving children, three of whom were Cleopatra’s, and brought them up in her own house as her own. Can Paganism show a greater magnanimity?
The fate of Cleopatra was tragic also. She too destroyed herself, not probably by the bite of asps, as is the popular opinion, but by some potent and subtile poison that she ever carried with her, and which had the effect of benumbing the body and making her insensible to pain. Yet she does not kill herself because she cannot survive the death of Antony, but because she is too proud to be carried to Rome to grace the triumph of the new Caesar. She will not be led a captive princess up the Capitoline Hill. She has an overbearing pride. “Know, sir,” says she to Proculeius, “that I
“Will not wait pinion’d at your master’s court, Nor once be chastis’d with the sober eye Of dull Octavia….
… Rather a ditch in Egypt
Be gentle grave to me!”
But whether pride or whether shame was the more powerful motive in committing suicide, I do not read that she was a victim of remorse. She had no moral sense. Nor did she give way to sentimental grief on the death of Antony. Her grief was blended with disappointment and rage. Nor did she hide her head, but wore a face of brass. She used all her arts to win Octavius. Her resources did not fail her; but she expended them on one of the coldest, most politic, and most astute men that ever lived. And the disappointment that followed her defeat–that she could not enslave another conqueror–was greater than the grief for Antony. Nor during her whole career do we see any signs of that sorrow and humility which, it would seem, should mark a woman who has made so great and fatal a mistake,–cut off hopelessly from the respect of the world and the peace of her own soul. We see grief, rage, despair, in her miserable end, as we see pride and shamefacedness in her gilded life, but not remorse or shame. And when she dies by her own hand, it is not in madness, but to escape humiliation. Suicide was one of the worst features of Pagan antiquity. It was a base and cowardly reluctance to meet the evils of life, as much as indifference to the future and a blunted moral sense.
So much for the woman herself, her selfish spirit, her vile career; but as Cleopatra is one of the best known and most striking examples of a Pagan woman, with qualities and in circumstances peculiarly characteristic of Paganism, I must make a few remarks on these points.
One of the most noticeable of these is that immorality seems to have been no bar to social position. Some of those who were most attractive and sought after were notoriously immoral. Aspasia, whom Socrates and Pericles equally admired, and whose house was the resort of poets, philosophers, statesmen, and artists, and who is said to have been one of the most cultivated women of antiquity, bore a sullied name. Sappho, who was ever exalted by Grecian poets for the sweetness of her verses, attempted to reconcile a life of pleasure with a life of letters, and threw herself into the sea because of a disappointed passion. Lais, a professional courtesan, was the associate of kings and sages as well as the idol of poets and priests. Agrippina, whose very name is infamy, was the admiration of courtiers and statesmen. Lucilla, who armed her assassins against her own brother, seems to have ruled the court of Marcus Aurelius.
And all these women, and more who could be mentioned, were–like Cleopatra–cultivated, intellectual, and brilliant. They seem to have reigned for their social fascinations as much as by their physical beauty. Hence, that class of women who with us are shunned and excluded from society were not only flattered and honored, but the class itself seems to have been recruited by those who were the most attractive for their intellectual gifts as well as for physical beauty. No woman, if bright, witty, and beautiful, was avoided because she was immoral. It was the immoral women who often aspired to the highest culture. They sought to reign by making their homes attractive to distinguished men. Their houses seem to have been what the _salons_ of noble and fascinating duchesses were in France in the last two centuries. The homes of virtuous and domestic women were dull and wearisome. In fact, the modest wives and daughters of most men were confined to monotonous domestic duties; they were household slaves; they saw but little of what we now call society. I do not say that virtue was not held in honor. I know of no age, however corrupt, when it was not prized by husbands and fathers. I know of no age when virtuous women did not shine at home, and exert a healthful influence upon men, and secure the proud regard of their husbands. But these were not the women whose society was most sought. The drudgeries and slaveries of domestic life among the ancients made women unattractive to the world. The women who were most attractive were those who gave or attended sumptuous banquets, and indulged in pleasures that were demoralizing. Not domestic women, but bright women, carried away those prizes which turned the brain. Those who shone were those that attached themselves to men through their senses, and possibly through their intellects, and who were themselves strong in proportion as men were weak. For a woman to appear in public assemblies with braided and decorated hair and ostentatious dress, and especially if she displayed any gifts of eloquence or culture, was to proclaim herself one of the immoral, leisurely, educated, dissolute class. This gives point to Saint Paul’s strict injunctions to the women of Corinth to dress soberly, to keep silence in the assemblies, etc. The modest woman was to “be in subjection.” Those Pagan converts to the “New Way” were to avoid even the appearance of evil.
Thus under Paganism the general influence of women was to pull men down rather than to elevate them, especially those who were attractive in society. Virtuous and domestic women were not sufficiently educated to have much influence except in a narrow circle. Even they, in a social point of view, were slaves. They could be given in marriage without their consent; they were restricted in their intercourse with men; they were confined to their homes; they had but few privileges; they had no books; they led a life of terror from the caprices of their lords and masters, and hence inspired no veneration. The wives and daughters of the rich tyrannized over their servants, decked themselves with costly ornaments, and were merely gilded toys, whose society was vapid and uninteresting. The wives and daughters of the poor were drudges and menials, without attraction or influence; noisy, quarrelsome, garrulous women, who said the least when they talked the most.
Hence under Paganism home had none of those attractions which, in Christian countries, invest it with such charms. The home of the poor was squalid and repulsive; the home of the rich was gaudy and tinselled enough, but was dull and uninspiring. What is home when women are ignorant, stupid, and slavish? What glitter or artistic splendor can make home attractive when women are mere butterflies or slaves with gilded fetters? Deprive women of education, and especially of that respect which Christian chivalry inspires, and they cannot rise to be the equal companions of men. They are simply their victims or their slaves. What is a home where women are treated as inferiors? Paganism never recognized their equality with men; and if they ever ruled men, it was by appealing to their lower qualities, or resorting to arts and devices which are subversive of all dignity of character. When their personal beauty fled, their power also departed. A faded or homely woman, without intelligence or wit, was a forlorn object in a Pagan home,–to be avoided, derided, despised,–a melancholy object of pity or neglect, so far as companionship goes. She may have been valued as a cook or drudge, but she was only a menial. Of all those sins of omission of which Paganism is accused, the worst was that it gave to women no mental resources to assist them in poverty, or neglect, or isolation, when beauty or fortune deserted them. No home can be attractive where women have no resources; and women can have no resources outside of domestic duties, unless educated to some art or something calculated to draw out their energies and higher faculties by which they win the respect and admiration, not of men only, but of their own sex.
It was this lack of education which Paganism withheld from women which not only destroyed the radiance of home, but which really made women inferior to men. All writers, poets, and satirists alike speak of the inferiority of women to men,–not physically only, but even intellectually; and some authors made them more vicious than men in natural inclination. And when the mind was both neglected and undervalued, how could respect and admiration be kindled, or continue after sensual charms had passed away? Paganism taught the inequality of the sexes, and produced it; and when this inequality is taught, or believed in, or insisted upon, then farewell to the glory of homes, to all unbought charms, to the graces of domestic life, to everything that gilds our brief existence with the radiance of imperishable joy.
Nor did Paganism offer any consolations to the down-trodden, injured, neglected, uninteresting woman of antiquity. She could not rise above the condition in which she was born. No sympathetic priest directed her thoughts to another and higher and endless life. Nobody wiped away her tears; nobody gave encouragement to those visions of beauty and serenity for which the burdened spirit will, under any oppressions, sometimes aspire to enjoy. No one told her of immortality and a God of forgiveness, who binds up the bleeding heart and promises a future peace and bliss. Paganism was merciful only in this,–that it did not open wounds it could not heal; that it did not hold out hopes and promises it could not fulfil; that it did not remind the afflicted of miseries from which they could not rise; that it did not let in a vision of glories which could never be enjoyed; that it did not provoke the soul to indulge in a bitterness in view of evils for which there was no remedy; that it did not educate the mind for enjoyments which could never be reached; that it did not kindle a discontent with a condition from which there is no escape. If one cannot rise above debasement or misery, there is no use in pointing it out. If the Pagan woman was not seemingly aware of the degradation which kept her down, and from which it was impossible to rise, Paganism did not add stings to her misery by presenting it as an accident which it was easy to surmount. There would be no contentment or submission among animals if they were endowed with the reason of men. Give to a healthy, but ignorant, coarse, uncultivated country girl, surrounded only with pigs and chickens, almost without neighbors, a glimpse of the glories of cities, the wonders of art, the charms of social life, the triumphs of mind, the capacities of the soul, and would she be any happier, if obliged to remain for life in her rustic obscurity and labor, and with no possible chance of improving her condition? Such was woman under Paganism. She could rise only so far as men lifted her up; and they lifted her up only further to consummate her degradation.
But there was another thing which kept women in degradation. Paganism did not recognize the immaterial and immortal soul: it only had regard to the wants of the body. Of course there were exceptions. There were sages and philosophers among the men who speculated on the grandest subjects which can elevate the mind to the regions of immortal truth,–like Socrates, Plato, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius,–even as there were women who rose above all the vile temptations which surrounded them, and were poets, heroines, and benefactors,–like Telessa, who saved Argos by her courage; and Volumnia, who screened Rome from the vengeance of her angry son; and Lucretia, who destroyed herself rather than survive the dishonor of her house. There are some people who rise and triumph over every kind of oppression and injury. Under Paganism there was the possibility of the emancipation of the soul, but not the probability. Its genius was directed to the welfare of the body,–to utilitarian ends of life, to ornaments and riches, to luxury and voluptuousness, to the pleasures which are brief, to the charms of physical beauty and grace. It could stimulate ambition and inculcate patriotism and sing of love, if it coupled the praises of Venus with the praises of wine. But everything it praised or honored had reference to this life and to the mortal body. It may have recognized the mind, but not the soul, which is greater than the mind. It had no aspirations for future happiness; it had no fears of future misery. Hence the frequency of suicide under disappointment, or ennui, or satiated desire, or fear of poverty, or disgrace, or pain.
And thus, as Paganism did not take cognizance of the soul in its future existence, it disregarded man’s highest aspirations. It did not cultivate his graces; it set but a slight value on moral beauty; it thought little of affections; it spurned gentleness and passive virtues; it saw no lustre in the tender eye; it heard no music in the tones of sympathy; it was hard and cold. That which constitutes the richest beatitudes of love it could not see, and did not care for. Ethereal blessedness it despised. That which raises woman highest, it was indifferent to. The cold atmosphere of Paganism froze her soul, and made her callous to wrongs and sufferings. It destroyed enthusiasm and poetic ardor and the graces which shine in misfortune. Woman was not kindled by lofty sentiments, since no one believed in them. The harmonies of home had no poetry and no inspiration, and they disappeared. The face of woman was not lighted by supernatural smiles. Her caresses had no spiritual fervor, and her benedictions were unmeaning platitudes. Take away the soul of woman, and what is she? Rob her of her divine enthusiasm, and how vapid and commonplace she becomes! Destroy her yearnings to be a spiritual solace, and how limited is her sphere! Take away the holy dignity of the soul, and how impossible is a lofty friendship! Without the amenities of the soul there can be no real society. Crush the soul of a woman, and you extinguish her life, and shed darkness on all who surround her. She cannot rally from pain, or labor, or misfortune, if her higher nature is ignored. Paganism ignored what is grandest and truest in a woman, and she withered like a stricken tree. She succumbed before the cold blasts that froze her noblest impulses, and sunk sullenly into obscurity. Oh, what a fool a man is to make woman a slave! He forgets that though he may succeed in keeping her down, chained and fettered by drudgeries, she will be revenged; that though powerless, she will instinctively learn to hate him; and if she cannot defy him she will scorn him,–for not even a brute animal will patiently submit to cruelty, still less a human soul become reconciled to injustice. And what is the possession of a human body without the sympathy of a living soul?
And hence women, under Paganism,–having no hopes of future joy, no recognition of their diviner attributes, no true scope for energies, no field of usefulness but in a dreary home, no ennobling friendships, no high encouragements, no education, no lofty companionship; utterly unappreciated in what most distinguishes them, and valued only as household slaves or victims of guilty pleasure; adorned and bedecked with trinkets, all to show off the graces of the body alone, and with nothing to show their proud equality with men in influence, if not in power, in mind as well as heart,–took no interest in what truly elevates society. What schools did they teach or even visit? What hospitals did they enrich? What miseries did they relieve? What charities did they contribute to? What churches did they attend? What social gatherings did they enliven? What missions of benevolence did they embark in? What were these to women who did not know what was the most precious thing they had, or when this precious thing was allowed to run to waste? What was there for a woman to do with an unrecognized soul but gird herself with ornaments, and curiously braid her hair, and ransack shops for new cosmetics, and hunt for new perfumes, and recline on luxurious couches, and issue orders to attendant slaves, and join in seductive dances, and indulge in frivolous gossip, and entice by the display of sensual charms? Her highest aspiration was to adorn a perishable body, and vanity became the spring of life.
And the men,–without the true sanctities and beatitudes of married life, without the tender companionship which cultivated women give, without the hallowed friendships which the soul alone can keep alive, despising women who were either toys or slaves,–fled from their dull, monotonous, and dreary homes to the circus and the theatre and the banqueting hall for excitement or self-forgetfulness. They did not seek society, for there can be no high society where women do not preside and inspire and guide. Society is a Christian institution. It was born among our German ancestors, amid the inspiring glories of chivalry. It was made for women as well as men of social cravings and aspirations, which have their seat in what Paganism ignored. Society, under Paganism, was confined to men, at banquets or symposia, where women seldom entered, unless for the amusement of men,–never for their improvement, and still less for their restraint.
It was not until Christianity permeated the old Pagan civilization and destroyed its idols, that the noble Paulas and Marcellas and Fabiolas arose to dignify human friendships, and give fascination to reunions of cultivated women and gifted men; that the seeds of society were sown. It was not until the natural veneration which the Gothic nations seem to have had for women, even in their native forests, had ripened into devotion and gallantry under the teachings of Christian priests, that the true position of women was understood. And after their equality was recognized in the feudal castles of the Middle Ages, the _salons_ of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries established their claims as the inspiring geniuses of what we call society. Then, and not till then, did physical beauty pale before the brilliancy of the mind and the radiance of the soul,–at last recognized as the highest charm of woman. The leaders of society became, not the ornamented and painted _heterae_ which had attracted Grecian generals and statesmen and men of letters, but the witty and the genial and the dignified matrons who were capable of instructing and inspiring men superior to themselves, with eyes beaming with intellectual radiance, and features changing with perpetual variety. Modern society, created by Christianity,–since only Christianity recognizes what is most truly attractive and ennobling among women–is a great advance over the banquets of imperial Romans and the symposia of gifted Greeks.
But even this does not satisfy woman in her loftiest aspirations. The soul which animates and inspires her is boundless. Its wants cannot be fully met even in an assemblage of wits and beauties. The soul of Madame de Stael pined amid all her social triumphs. The soul craves friendships, intellectual banquetings, and religious aspirations. And unless the emancipated soul of woman can have these wants gratified, she droops even amid the glories of society. She is killed, not as a hero perishes on a battle-field; but she dies, as Madame de Maintenon said that she died, amid the imposing splendors of Versailles. It is only the teachings and influences of that divine religion which made Bethany the centre of true social banquetings to the wandering and isolated Man of Sorrows, which can keep the soul alive amid the cares, the burdens, and the duties which bend down every son and daughter of Adam, however gilded may be the outward life. How grateful, then, should women be to that influence which has snatched them from the pollutions and heartless slaveries of Paganism, and given dignity to their higher nature! It is to them that it has brought the greatest boon, and made them triumphant over the evils of life. And how thoughtless, how misguided, how ungrateful is that woman who would exchange the priceless blessings which Christianity has brought to her for those ornaments, those excitements, and those pleasures which ancient Paganism gave as the only solace fox the loss and degradation of her immortal soul!
* * * * *
Plutarch’s Lives; Froude’s Caesar; Shakspeare’s Antony and Cleopatra; Plato’s Dialogues; Horace, Martial, and Juvenal, especially among the poets; Lord’s Old Roman World; Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars; Dion Cassius; Rollin’s Ancient History; Merivale’s History of the Romans; Biographic Universelle; Rees’s Encyclopedia has a good article.
GLORY AND SHAME.
We have now surveyed what was most glorious in the States of antiquity. We have seen a civilization which in many respects rivals all that modern nations have to show. In art, in literature, in philosophy, in laws, in the mechanism of government, in the cultivated face of Nature, in military strength, in aesthetic culture, the Greeks and Romans were our equals. And this high civilization was reached by the native and unaided strength of man; by the power of will, by courage, by perseverance, by genius, by fortunate circumstances. We are filled with admiration by all these trophies of genius, and cannot but feel that only superior races could have accomplished such mighty triumphs.
Yet all this splendid exterior was deceptive; for the deeper we penetrate the social condition of the people, the more we feel disgust and pity supplanting all feelings of admiration and wonder. The Roman empire especially, which had gathered into its strong embrace the whole world, and was the natural inheritor of all the achievements of all the nations, in its shame and degradation suggests melancholy feelings in reference to the destiny of man, so far as his happiness and welfare depend upon his own unaided efforts.
It is a sad picture of oppression, injustice, crime, and wretchedness which I have now to present. Glory is succeeded by shame, strength by weakness, and virtue by vice. The condition of the mass is deplorable, and even the great and fortunate shine in a false and fictitious light. We see laws, theoretically good, practically perverted, and selfishness and egotism the mainsprings of life; we see energies misdirected, and art corrupted. All noble aspirations have fled, and the good and the wise retire from active life in despair and misanthropy. Poets flatter the tyrants who trample on human rights, while sensuality and luxurious pleasure absorb the depraved thoughts of a perverse generation.
The first thing which arrests our attention as we survey the civilized countries of the old world, is the imperial despotism of Rome. The empire indeed enjoyed quietude, and society was no longer rent by factions and parties. Demagogues no longer disturbed the public peace, nor were the provinces ransacked and devastated to provide for the means of carrying on war. So long as men did not oppose the government they were safe from molestation, and were left to pursue their business and pleasure in their own way. Imperial cruelty was not often visited on the humble classes. It was the policy of the emperors to amuse and flatter the people, while depriving them of political rights. Hence social life was free. All were at liberty to seek their pleasures and gains; all were proud of their metropolis, with its gilded glories and its fascinating pleasures. Outrages, extortions, and disturbances were punished. Order reigned, and all classes felt secure; they could sleep without fear of robbery or assassination. In short, all the arguments which can be adduced in favor of despotism in contrast with civil war and violence, show that it was beneficial in its immediate effects.
Nevertheless, it was a most lamentable change from that condition of things which existed before the civil wars. Roman liberties were prostrated forever; noble sentiments and aspirations were rebuked. Under the Emperors we read of no more great orators like Cicero, battling for human rights and defending the public weal. Eloquence was suppressed. Nor was there liberty of speech even in the Senate. It was treason to find fault with any public acts. From the Pillars of Hercules to the Caspian Sea one stern will ruled all classes and orders. No one could fly from the agents and ministers of the Emperor; he controlled the army, the Senate, the judiciary, the internal administration of the empire, and the religious worship of the people; all offices, honors, and emoluments emanated from him. All influences conspired to elevate the man whom no one could hope successfully to rival. Revolt was madness, and treason absurdity. Nor did the Emperors attempt to check the gigantic social evils of the empire. They did not seek to prevent irreligion, luxury, slavery, and usury, the encroachments of the rich upon the poor, the tyranny of foolish fashions, demoralizing sports and pleasures, money-making, and all the follies which lax principles of morality allowed; they fed the rabble with corn, oil, and wine, and thus encouraged idleness and dissipation. The world never saw a more rapid retrogression in human rights, or a greater prostration of liberties. Taxes were imposed according to the pleasure or necessities of the government. Provincial governors became still more rapacious and cruel; judges hesitated to decide against the government. Patriotism, in its most enlarged sense, became an impossibility; all lofty spirits were crushed. Corruption in all forms of administration fearfully increased, for there was no safeguard against it.
Theoretically, absolutism may be the best government, if rulers are wise and just; but practically, as men are, despotisms are generally cruel and revengeful. Despotism implies slavery, and slavery is the worst condition of mankind.
It cannot be questioned that many virtuous princes reigned at Rome, who would have ornamented any age or country. Titus, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Antoninus Pius, Alexander Severus, Tacitus, Probus, Carus, Constantine, Theodosius, were all men of remarkable virtues as well as talents. They did what they could to promote public prosperity. Marcus Aurelius was one of the purest and noblest characters of antiquity. Theodosius for genius and virtue ranks with the most illustrious sovereigns that ever wore a crown,–with Charlemagne, with Alfred, with William III., with Gustavus Adolphus.
But it matters not whether the Emperors were good or bad, if the regime to which they consecrated their energies was exerted to crush the liberties of mankind. The imperial despotism, whether brilliant or disgraceful, was a mournful retrograde step in civilization; it implied the extinction of patriotism and the general degradation of the people, and would have been impossible in the days of Cato, Scipio, or Metellus.
If we turn from the Emperors to the class which before the dictatorship of Julius Caesar had the ascendency in the State, and for several centuries the supreme power, we shall find but little that is flattering to a nation or to humanity. Under the Emperors the aristocracy had degenerated in morals as well as influence. They still retained their enormous fortunes, originally acquired as governors of provinces, and continually increased by fortunate marriages and speculations. Indeed, nothing was more marked and melancholy at Rome than the vast disproportion in fortunes. In the better days of the republic, property was more equally divided; the citizens were not ambitious for more land than they could conveniently cultivate. But the lands, obtained by conquest, gradually fell into the possession of powerful families. The classes of society widened as great fortunes were accumulated; pride of wealth kept pace with pride of ancestry; and when plebeian families had obtained great estates, they were amalgamated with the old aristocracy. The equestrian order, founded substantially on wealth, grew daily in importance. Knights ultimately rivalled senatorial families. Even freedmen in an age of commercial speculation became powerful for their riches. The pursuit of money became a passion, and the rich assumed all the importance and consideration which had once been bestowed upon those who had rendered great public services.
As the wealth of the world flowed naturally to the capital, Rome became a city of princes, whose fortunes were almost incredible. It took eighty thousand dollars a year to support the ordinary senatorial dignity. Some senators owned whole provinces. Trimalchio, a rich freedman whom Petronius ridiculed, could afford to lose thirty millions of sesterces in a single voyage without sensibly diminishing his fortune. Pallas, a freedman of the Emperor Claudius, possessed a fortune of three hundred millions of sesterces. Seneca, the philosopher, amassed an enormous fortune.
As the Romans were a sensual, ostentatious, and luxurious people, they accordingly wasted their fortunes by an extravagance in their living which has had no parallel. The pleasures of the table and the cares of the kitchen were the most serious avocation of the aristocracy in the days of the greatest corruption. They had around them regular courts of parasites and flatterers, and they employed even persons of high rank as their chamberlains and stewards. Carving was taught in celebrated schools, and the masters of this sublime art were held in higher estimation than philosophers or poets. Says Juvenal,–
“To such perfection now is carving brought, That different gestures by our curious men Are used for different dishes, hare or hen.”
Their entertainments were accompanied with everything which could flatter vanity or excite the passions; musicians, male and female dancers, players of farce and pantomime, jesters, buffoons, and gladiators exhibited, while the guests reclined at table after the fashion of the Orientals. The tables were made of Thuja-root, with claws of ivory or Delian bronze. Even Cicero, in an economical age, paid six hundred and fifty pounds for his banqueting-table. Gluttony was carried to such a point that the sea and earth scarcely sufficed to set off their tables; they ate as delicacies water-rats and white worms. Fish were the chief object of the Roman epicures, of which the _mullus_, the _rhombus_, and the _asellus_ were the most valued; it is recorded that a mullus (sea barbel), weighing but eight pounds, sold for eight thousand sesterces. Oysters from the Lucrine Lake were in great demand; snails were fattened in ponds for cooking, while the villas of the rich had their piscinae filled with fresh or salt-water fish. Peacocks and pheasants were the most highly esteemed among poultry, although the absurdity prevailed of eating singing-birds. Of quadrupeds, the greatest favorite was the wild boar,–the chief dish of a grand _coena_,–coming whole upon the table; and the practised gourmand pretended to distinguish by the taste from what part of Italy it came. Dishes, the very names of which excite disgust, were used at fashionable banquets, and held in high esteem. Martial devotes two entire books of his “Epigrams” to the various dishes and ornaments of a Roman banquet.
The extravagance of that period almost surpasses belief. Cicero and Pompey one day surprised Lucullus at one of his ordinary banquets, when he expected no guests, and even that cost fifty thousand drachmas,–about four thousand dollars; his table-couches were of purple, and his vessels glittered with jewels. The halls of Heliogabalus were hung with cloth of gold, enriched with jewels; his table and plate were of pure gold; his couches were of massive silver, and his mattresses, covered with carpets of cloth of gold, were stuffed with down found only under the wings of partridges. His suppers never cost less than one hundred thousand sesterces. Crassus paid one hundred thousand sesterces for a golden cup. Banqueting-rooms were strewed with lilies and roses. Apicius, in the time of Trajan, spent one hundred millions of sesterces in debauchery and gluttony; having only ten millions left, he ended his life with poison, thinking he might die of hunger. Things were valued for their cost and rarity rather than their real value. Enormous prices were paid for carp, the favorite dish of the Romans as of the Chinese. Drusillus, a freedman of Claudius, caused a dish to be made of five hundred pounds weight of silver. Vitellius had one made of such prodigious size that he was obliged to build a furnace on purpose for it; and at a feast which he gave in honor of this dish, it was filled with the livers of the scarrus (fish), the brains of peacocks, the tongues of parrots, and the roes of lampreys caught in the Carpathian Sea.
The nobles squandered money equally on their banquets, their stables, and their dress; and it was to their crimes, says Juvenal, that they were indebted for their gardens, their palaces, their tables, and their fine old plate.
Unbounded pride, insolence, inhumanity, selfishness, and scorn marked this noble class. Of course there were exceptions, but the historians and satirists give the saddest pictures of their cold-hearted depravity. The sole result of friendship with a great man was a meal, at which flattery and sycophancy were expected; but the best wine was drunk by the host, instead of by the guest. Provinces were ransacked for fish and fowl and game for the tables of the great, and sensualism was thought to be no reproach. They violated the laws of chastity and decorum; they scourged to death their slaves; they degraded their wives and sisters; they patronized the most demoralizing sports; they enriched themselves by usury and monopolies; they practised no generosity, except at their banquets, when ostentation balanced their avarice; they measured everything by the money-standard; they had no taste for literature, but they rewarded sculptors and painters who prostituted art to their vanity or passions; they had no reverence for religion, and ridiculed the gods. Their distinguishing vices were meanness and servility, the pursuit of money by every artifice, the absence of honor, and unblushing sensuality.
Gibbon has eloquently abridged the remarks of Ammianus Marcellinus respecting these people:–
“They contend with each other in the empty vanity of titles and surnames. They affect to multiply their likenesses in statues of bronze or marble; nor are they satisfied unless these statues are covered with plates of gold. They boast of the rent-rolls of their estates; they measure their rank and consequence by the loftiness of their chariots and the weighty magnificence of their dress; their long robes of silk and purple float in the wind, and as they are agitated by art or accident they discover the under garments, the rich tunics embroidered with the figures of various animals. Followed by a train of fifty servants, and tearing up the pavement, they move along the streets as if they travelled with post-horses; and the example of the senators is boldly imitated by the matrons and ladies, whose covered carriages are continually driving round the immense space of the city and suburbs. Whenever they condescend to enter the public baths, they assume, on their entrance, a tone of loud and insolent command, and maintain a haughty demeanor, which perhaps might have been excused in the great Marcellus after the conquest of Syracuse. Sometimes these heroes undertake more arduous achievements: they visit their estates in Italy, and procure themselves, by servile hands, the amusements of the chase. And if at any time, especially on a hot day, they have the courage to sail in their gilded galleys from the Lucrine Lake to their elegant villas on the sea-coast of Puteoli and Cargeta, they compare these expeditions to the marches of Caesar and Alexander; yet should a fly presume to settle on the silken folds of their gilded umbrellas, should a sunbeam penetrate through some unguarded chink, they deplore their intolerable hardships, and lament, in affected language, that they were not born in the regions of eternal darkness. In the exercise of domestic jurisdiction they express an exquisite sensibility for any personal injury, and a contemptuous indifference for the rest of mankind. When they have called for warm water, should a slave be tardy in his obedience, he is chastised with a hundred lashes; should he commit a wilful murder, his master will mildly observe that he is a worthless fellow, and shall be punished if he repeat the offence. If a foreigner of no contemptible rank be introduced to these senators, he is welcomed with such warm professions that he retires charmed with their affability; but when he repeats his visit, he is surprised and mortified to find that his name, his person, and his country are forgotten. The modest, the sober, and the learned are rarely invited to their sumptuous banquets, only the most worthless of mankind,–parasites who applaud every look and gesture, who gaze with rapture on marble columns and variegated pavements, and strenuously praise the pomp and elegance which he is taught to consider as a part of his personal merit. At the Roman table the birds, the squirrels, the fish, which appear of uncommon size, are contemplated with curious attention, and notaries are summoned to attest, by authentic record, their real weight. Another method of introduction into the houses of the great is skill in games, which is a sure road to wealth and reputation. A master of this sublime art, if placed at a supper below a magistrate, displays in his countenance a surprise and indignation which Cato might be supposed to feel when refused the praetorship. The acquisition of knowledge seldom engages the attention of the nobles, who abhor the fatigue and disdain the advantages of study; and the only books they peruse are the ‘Satires of Juvenal,’ or the fabulous histories of Marius Maximus. The libraries they have inherited from their fathers are secluded, like dreary sepulchres, from the light of day; but the costly instruments of the theatre–flutes and hydraulic organs–are constructed for their use. In their palaces sound is preferred to sense, and the care of the body to that of the mind. The suspicion of a malady is of sufficient weight to excuse the visits of the most intimate friends. The prospect of gain will urge a rich and gouty senator as far as Spoleta; every sentiment of arrogance and dignity is suppressed in the hope of an inheritance or legacy, and a wealthy, childless citizen is the most powerful of the Romans. The distress which follows and chastises extravagant luxury often reduces the great to use the most humiliating expedients. When they wish to borrow, they employ the base and supplicating style of the slaves in the comedy; but when they are called upon to pay, they assume the royal and tragic declamations of the grandsons of Hercules. If the demand is repeated, they readily procure some trusty sycophant to maintain a charge of poison or magic against the insolent creditor, who is seldom released from prison until he has signed a discharge of the whole debt. And these vices are mixed with a puerile superstition which disgraces their understanding. They listen with confidence to the productions of haruspices, who pretend to read in the entrails of victims the signs of future greatness and prosperity; and this superstition is observed among those very sceptics who impiously deny or doubt the existence of a celestial power.”
Such, in the latter days of the empire, was the leading class at Rome, and probably also in the cities which aped the fashions of the capital. Frivolity and luxury loosened all the ties of society. They were bound up in themselves, and had no care for the people except as they might extract more money from them.
As for the miserable class whom the patricians oppressed, their condition became worse every day from the accession of the Emperors. The plebeians had ever disdained those arts which now occupied the middle classes; these were intrusted to slaves. Originally, they employed themselves upon the lands which had been obtained by conquest; but these lands were gradually absorbed or usurped by the large proprietors. The small farmers, oppressed with debt and usury, parted with their lands to their wealthy creditors. Even in the time of Cicero, it was computed that there were only about two thousand citizens possessed of independent property. These two thousand persons owned the world; the rest were dependent and powerless, and would have perished but for largesses. Monthly distributions of corn were converted into daily allowance for bread. The people were amused with games and festivals, fed like slaves, and of course lost at last even the semblance of manliness and independence. They loitered in the public streets, and dissipated in gaming their miserable pittance; they spent the hours of the night in the lowest resorts of crime and misery; they expired in wretched apartments without attracting the attention of government; pestilence, famine, and squalid misery thinned their ranks, and they would have been annihilated but for constant accession to their numbers from the provinces.
In the busy streets of Rome might be seen adventurers from all parts of the world, disgraced by all the various vices of their respective countries. They had no education, and but small religious advantages; they were held in terror by both priests and nobles,–the priest terrifying them with Egyptian sorceries, the nobles crushing them by iron weight; like lazzaroni, they lived in the streets, or were crowded into filthy tenements; a gladiatorial show delighted them, but the circus was their peculiar joy,–here they sought to drown the consciousness of their squalid degradation; they were sold into slavery for trifling debts; they had no homes. The poor man had no ambition or hope; his wife was a slave; his children were precocious demons, whose prattle was the cry for bread, whose laughter was the howl of pandemonium, whose sports were the tricks of premature iniquity, whose beauty was the squalor of disease and filth; he fled from a wife in whom he had no trust, from children in whom he had no hope, from brothers for whom he felt no sympathy, from parents for whom he felt no reverence; the circus was his home, the fights of wild beasts were his consolation; the future was a blank, death was the release from suffering. There were no hospitals for the sick and the old, except one on an island in the Tiber; the old and helpless were left to die, unpitied and unconsoled. Suicide was so common that it attracted no attention.
Superstition culminated at Rome, for there were seen the priests and devotees of all the countries that it governed,–“the dark-skinned daughters of Isis, with drum and timbrel and wanton mien; devotees of the Persian Mithras; emasculated Asiatics; priests of Cybele, with their wild dances and discordant cries; worshippers of the great goddess Diana; barbarian captives with the rites of Teuton priests; Syrians, Jews, Chaldaean astrologers, and Thessalian sorcerers…. The crowds which flocked to Rome from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean brought with them practices extremely demoralizing. The awful rites of initiation, the tricks of magicians, the pretended virtues of amulets and charms, the riddles of emblematical idolatry with which the superstition of the East abounded, amused the languid voluptuaries who had neither the energy for a moral belief nor the boldness requisite for logical scepticism.”
We cannot pass by, in this enumeration of the different classes of Roman society, the number and condition of slaves. A large part of the population belonged to this servile class. Originally brought in by foreign conquest, it was increased by those who could not pay their debts. The single campaign of Regulus introduced as many captives as made up a fifth part of the whole population. Four hundred were maintained in a single palace, at a comparatively early period; a freedman in the time of Augustus left behind him forty-one hundred and sixteen; Horace regarded two hundred as the suitable establishment for a gentleman; some senators owned twenty thousand. Gibbon estimates the number of slaves at about sixty millions,–one-half of the whole population. One hundred thousand captives were taken in the Jewish war, who were sold as slaves, and sold as cheap as horses. William Blair supposes that there were three slaves to one freeman, from the conquest of Greece to the reign of Alexander Severus. Slaves often cost two hundred thousand sesterces, yet everybody was eager to possess a slave. At one time the slave’s life was at the absolute control of his master; he could be treated at all times with brutal severity. Fettered and branded, he toiled to cultivate the lands of an imperious master, and at night was shut up in a subterranean cell. The laws hardly recognized his claim to be considered a moral agent,–he was _secundum hominum genus_; he could acquire no rights, social or political,–he was incapable of inheriting property, or making a will, or contracting a legal marriage; his value was estimated like that of a brute; he was a thing and not a person, “a piece of furniture possessed of life;” he was his master’s property, to be scourged, or tortured, or crucified. If a wealthy proprietor died under circumstances which excited suspicion of foul play, his whole household was put to torture. It is recorded that on the murder of a man of consular dignity by a slave, every slave in his possession was condemned to death. Slaves swelled the useless rabbles of the cities, and devoured the revenues of the State. All manual labor was done by slaves, in towns as well as the country; they were used in the navy to propel the galleys. Even the mechanical arts were cultivated by the slaves. Nay more, slaves were schoolmasters, secretaries, actors, musicians, and physicians, for in intelligence they were often on an equality with their masters. Slaves were procured from Greece and Asia Minor and Syria, as well as from Gaul and the African deserts; they were white as well as black. All captives in war were made slaves, also unfortunate debtors; sometimes they could regain their freedom, but generally their condition became more and more deplorable. What a state of society when a refined and cultivated Greek could be made to obey the most offensive orders of a capricious and sensual Roman, without remuneration, without thanks, without favor, without redress! What was to be expected of a class who had no object to live for? They became the most degraded of mortals, ready for pillage, and justly to be feared in the hour of danger.
Slavery undoubtedly proved the most destructive canker of the Roman State. It was this social evil, more than political misrule, which undermined the empire. Slavery proved at Rome a monstrous curse, destroying all manliness of character, creating contempt of honest labor, making men timorous yet cruel, idle, frivolous, weak, dependent, powerless. The empire might have lasted centuries longer but for this incubus, the standing disgrace of the Pagan world. Paganism never recognized what is most noble and glorious in man; never recognized his equality, his common brotherhood, his natural rights. It had no compunction, no remorse in depriving human beings of their highest privileges; its whole tendency was to degrade the soul, and to cause forgetfulness of immortality. Slavery thrives best when the generous instincts are suppressed, when egotism, sensuality, and pride are the dominant springs of human action.
The same influences which tended to rob man of the rights which God has given him, and produce cruelty and heartlessness in the general intercourse of life, also tended to degrade the female sex. In the earlier age of the republic, when the people were poor, and life was simple and primitive, and heroism and patriotism were characteristic, woman was comparatively virtuous and respected; she asserted her natural equality, and led a life of domestic tranquillity, employed upon the training of her children, and inspiring her husband to noble deeds. But under the Emperors these virtues had fled. Woman was miserably educated, being taught by a slave, or some Greek chambermaid, accustomed to ribald conversation, and fed with idle tales and silly superstitions; she was regarded as more vicious in natural inclination than man, and was chiefly valued for household labors; she was reduced to dependence; she saw but little of her brothers or relatives; she was confined to her home as if it were a prison; she was guarded by eunuchs and female slaves; she was given in marriage without her consent; she could be easily divorced; she was valued only as a domestic servant, or as an animal to prevent the extinction of families; she was regarded as the inferior of her husband, to whom she was a victim, a toy, or a slave. Love after marriage was not frequent, since woman did not shine in the virtues by which love is kept alive. She became timorous or frivolous, without dignity or public esteem; her happiness was in extravagant attire, in elaborate hair-dressings, in rings and bracelets, in a retinue of servants, in gilded apartments, in luxurious couches, in voluptuous dances, in exciting banquets, in demoralizing spectacles, in frivolous gossip, in inglorious idleness. If virtuous, it was not so much from principle as from fear. Hence she resorted to all sorts of arts to deceive her husband; her genius was sharpened by perpetual devices, and cunning was her great resource. She cultivated no lofty friendships; she engaged in no philanthropic mission; she cherished no ennobling sentiments; she kindled no chivalrous admiration. Her amusements were frivolous, her taste vitiated, her education neglected, her rights violated, her sympathy despised, her aspirations scorned. And here I do not allude to great and infamous examples that history has handed down in the sober pages of Suetonius and Tacitus, or that unblushing depravity which stands out in the bitter satires of those times; I speak not of the adultery, the poisoning, the infanticide, the debauchery, the cruelty of which history accuses the Messalinas and Agrippinas of imperial Rome; I allude not to the orgies of the Palatine Hill, or the abominations which are inferred from the paintings of Pompeii,–I mean the general frivolity and extravagance and demoralization of the women of the Roman empire. Marriage was considered inexpedient unless large dowries were brought to the husband. Numerous were the efforts of Emperors to promote honorable marriages, but the relation was shunned. Courtesans usurped the privileges of wives, and with unblushing effrontery. A man was derided who contemplated matrimony, for there was but little confidence in female virtue or capacity, and woman lost all her fascination when age had destroyed her beauty; even her very virtues were distasteful to her self-indulgent husband. When, as sometimes happened, the wife gained the ascendency by her charms, she was tyrannical; her relatives incited her to despoil her husband; she lived amid incessant broils; she had no care for the future, and exceeded man in prodigality. “The government of her house is no more merciful,” says Juvenal, “than the court of a Sicilian tyrant.” In order to render herself attractive, she exhausted all the arts of cosmetics and elaborate hair-dressing; she delighted in magical incantations and love-potions. In the bitter satire of Juvenal we get an impression most melancholy and loathsome:–
“‘T were long to tell what philters they provide, What drugs to set a son-in-law aside,– Women, in judgment weak, in feeling strong, By every gust of passion borne along. To a fond spouse a wife no mercy shows; Though warmed with equal fires, she mocks his woes, And triumphs in his spoils; her wayward will Defeats his bliss and turns his good to ill. Women support the bar; they love the law, And raise litigious questions for a straw. Nay, more, they fence! who has not marked their oil, Their purple rigs, for this preposterous toil! A woman stops at nothing; when she wears Rich emeralds round her neck, and in her ears Pearls of enormous size,–these justify Her faults, and make all lawful in her eye. More shame to Rome! in every street are found The essenced Lypanti, with roses crowned; The gay Miletan and the Tarentine,
Lewd, petulant, and reeling ripe with wine!”
In the sixth satire of Juvenal is found the most severe delineation of woman that ever mortal penned. Doubtless he is libellous and extravagant, for only infamous women can stoop to such arts and degradations as would seem to have been common in his time. But with all his probable exaggeration, we are forced to feel that but few women, even in the highest class, except those converted to Christianity, showed the virtues of a Lucretia, a Volumnia, a Cornelia, or an Octavia. The lofty virtues of a Perpetua, a Felicitas, an Agnes, a Paula, a Blessilla, a Fabiola, would have adorned any civilization; but the great mass were, what they were in Greece even in the days of Pericles, what they have ever been under the influence of Paganism, what they ever will be without Christianity to guide them,–victims or slaves of man, revenging themselves by squandering his wealth, stealing his secrets, betraying his interests, and deserting his home.
Another essential but demoralizing feature of Roman society was to be found in the games and festivals and gladiatorial shows, which accustomed the people to unnatural excitement and familiarity with cruelty and suffering. They made all ordinary pleasures insipid; they ended in making homicide an institution. The butcheries of the amphitheatre exerted a fascination which diverted the mind from literature, art, and the enjoyments of domestic life. Very early they were the favorite sport of the Romans. Marcus and Decimus Brutus employed gladiators in celebrating the obsequies of their fathers, nearly three centuries before Christ. “The wealth and ingenuity of the aristocracy were taxed to the utmost to content the populace and provide food for the indiscriminate slaughter of the circus, where brute fought with brute, and man again with man, or where the skill and weapons of the latter were matched against the strength and ferocity of the first.” Pompey let loose six hundred lions in the arena in one day; Augustus delighted the people with four hundred and twenty panthers. The games of Trajan lasted one hundred and twenty days, when ten thousand gladiators fought, and ten thousand beasts were slain. Titus slaughtered five thousand animals at a time; twenty elephants contended, according to Pliny, against a band of six hundred captives. Probus reserved six hundred gladiators for one of his festivals, and slaughtered on another two hundred lions, twenty leopards, and three hundred bears; Gordian let loose three hundred African hyenas and ten Indian tigers in the arena. Every corner of the earth was ransacked for these wild animals, which were so highly valued that in the time of Theodosius it was forbidden by law to destroy a Getulian lion. No one can contemplate the statue of the Dying Gladiator which now ornaments the capitol at Rome, without emotions of pity and admiration. If a marble statue can thus move us, what was it to see the Christian gladiators contending with the fierce lions of Africa! “The Christians to the lions!” was the cry of the brutal populace. What a sight was the old amphitheatre of Titus, five hundred and sixty feet long and four hundred and seventy feet wide, built on eighty arches and rising one hundred and forty feet into the air, with its four successive orders of architecture, and enclosing its eighty thousand seated spectators, arranged according to rank, from the Emperor to the lowest of the populace, all seated on marble benches covered with cushions, and protected from the sun and rain by ample canopies! What an excitement, when men strove not with wild beasts alone, but with one another; and when all that human skill and strength, increased by elaborate treatment, and taxed to the uttermost, were put forth in needless slaughter, until the thirsty soil was wet and saturated with human gore! Familiarity with such sights must have hardened the heart and rendered the mind insensible to refined pleasures. What theatres are to the French, what bull-fights are to the Spaniards, what horse-races are to the English, these gladiatorial shows were to the ancient Romans. The ruins of hundreds of amphitheatres attest the universality of the custom, not in Rome alone, but in the provinces.
Probably no people abandoned themselves to pleasures more universally than the Romans, after war had ceased to be their master passion. All classes alike pursued them with restless eagerness. Amusements were the fashion and the business of life. At the theatre, at the great gladiatorial shows, at the chariot races, emperors and senators and generals were always present in conspicuous and reserved seats of honor; behind them were the patricians, and then the ordinary citizens, and in the rear of these the people fed at the public expense. The Circus Maximus, the Theatre of Pompey, the Amphitheatre of Titus, would collectively accommodate over four hundred thousand spectators. We may presume that over five hundred thousand persons were in the habit of constant attendance on these demoralizing sports; and the fashion spread throughout all the great cities of the empire, so that there was scarcely a city of twenty thousand inhabitants which had not its theatres, amphitheatres, or circus. And when we remember the heavy bets on favorite horses, and the universal passion for gambling in every shape, we can form some idea of the effect of these amusements on the common mind,–destroying the taste for home pleasures, and for all that was intellectual and simple.
What are we to think of a state of society where all classes had continual leisure for these sports! Habits of industry were destroyed, and all respect for employments that required labor. The rich were supported by contributions from the provinces, since they were the great proprietors of conquered lands; the poor had no solicitude for a living, since they were supported at the public expense. All therefore gave themselves up to pleasure. Even the baths, designed for sanatory purposes, became places of resort and idleness, and ultimately of intrigue and vice. In the time of Julius Caesar we find no less a personage than the mother of Augustus making use of the public establishments; and in process of time the Emperors themselves bathed in public with the meanest of their subjects. The baths in the time of Alexander Severus were not only kept open from sunrise to sunset, but even during the whole night. The luxurious classes almost lived in the baths. Commodus took his meals in the bath. Gordian bathed seven times in the day, and Gallienus as often. They bathed before they took their meals, and after meals to provoke a new appetite; they did not content themselves with a single bath, but went through a course of baths in succession, in which the agency of air as well as of water was applied; and the bathers were attended by an army of slaves given over to every sort of roguery and theft. Nor were water and air baths alone used; the people made use of scented oils to anoint their persons, and perfumed the water itself with the most precious essences. Bodily health and cleanliness were only secondary considerations; voluptuous pleasure was the main object. The ruins of the baths of Titus, Caracalla, and Diocletian in Rome show that they were decorated with prodigal magnificence, and with everything that could excite the passions,–pictures, statues, ornaments, and mirrors. The baths were scenes of orgies consecrated to Bacchus, and the frescos on the excavated baths of Pompeii still raise a blush on the face of every spectator who visits them. I speak not of the elaborate ornaments, the Numidian marbles, the precious stones, the exquisite sculptures that formed part of the decorations of the Roman baths, but of the demoralizing pleasures with which they were connected, and which they tended to promote. The baths ultimately became, according to the ancient writers, places of excessive and degrading debauchery.
“Balnea, vina, Venus corrumpunt corpora nostra.”
If it were possible to allude to an evil more revolting than the sports of the amphitheatre and circus, or the extravagant luxuries of the table, I would say that the universal abandonment to money-making, for the enjoyment of the factitious pleasures it purchased, was even still more melancholy, since it struck deeper into the foundations which supported society. The leading spring of life was money. Boys were bred from early youth to all the mysteries of unscrupulous gains. Usury was practised to such an incredible extent that the interest on loans in some instances equalled, in a few months, the whole capital; this was the more aristocratic mode of making money, which not even senators disdained. The pages of the poets show how profoundly money was prized, and how miserable were people without it. Rich old bachelors, without heirs, were held in the supremest honor. Money was the first object in all matrimonial alliances; and provided that women were only wealthy, neither bridegroom nor parent was fastidious as to age, or deformity, or meanness of family, or vulgarity of person. The needy descendants of the old patricians yoked themselves with fortunate plebeians, and the blooming maidens of a comfortable obscurity sold themselves, without shame or reluctance, to the bloated sensualists who could give them what they supremely valued,–chariots and diamonds. The giddy women in love with ornaments and dress, and the godless men seeking what they should eat, could only be satisfied with what purchased their pleasures. The haughtiest aristocracy ever known on earth, tracing their lineage to the times of Cato and boasting of their descent from the Scipios and the Pompeys, accustomed themselves at last to regard money as the only test of their own social position. The great Augustine found himself utterly neglected at Rome because of his poverty,–being dependent on his pupils, and they being mean enough to run away without paying him. Literature languished and died, since it brought neither honor nor emolument. No dignitary was respected for his office, only for his gains; nor was any office prized which did not bring rich emoluments. Corruption was so universal that an official in an important post was sure of making a fortune in a short time. With such an idolatry of money, all trades and professions which were not favorable to its accumulation fell into disrepute, while those who administered to the pleasures of a rich man were held in honor. Cooks, buffoons, and dancers received the consideration which artists and philosophers enjoyed at Athens in the days of Pericles. But artists and scholars were very few indeed in the more degenerate days of the empire; nor would they have had influence. The wit of a Petronius, the ridicule of a Martial, the bitter sarcasm of a Juvenal were lost on a people abandoned to frivolous gossip and demoralizing excesses. The haughty scorn with which a sensual beauty, living on the smiles and purse of a fortunate glutton, would pass in her gilded chariot some of the impoverished descendants of the great Camillus might have provoked a smile, had any one been found, even a neglected poet, to give them countenance and sympathy. But, alas! everybody worshipped at the shrine of Mammon; everybody was valued for what he _had_, rather than for what he _was_; and life was prized, not for those pleasures which are cheap and free as heaven, not for quiet tastes and rich affections and generous sympathies,–the glorious certitudes of love, esteem, and friendship, which, “be they what they may, are yet the fountain-life of all our day,”–but for the gratification of depraved and expensive tastes, of those short-lived enjoyments which ended with the decay of appetite and the _ennui_ of realized expectation,–all of the earth, earthy; making a wreck of the divine image which was made for God and heaven, preparing the way for a most fearful retribution, and producing on contemplative minds a sadness allied with despair, driving them to caves and solitudes, and making death the relief from sorrow.
The fourteenth satire of Juvenal is directed mainly to the universal passion for gain and the demoralizing vices it brings in its train, which made Rome a Vanity Fair and even a Pandemonium.
The old Greek philosophers gloried in their poverty; but poverty was the greatest reproach to a Roman. “In exact proportion to the sum of money a man keeps in his chest,” says Juvenal, “is the credit given to his oath. And the first question ever asked of a man is in reference to his income, rather than his character. How many slaves does he keep; how many acres does he own; what dishes are his table spread with?–these are the universal inquiries. Poverty, bitter though it be, has no sharper sting than this,–that it makes men ridiculous. Who was ever allowed at Borne to become a son-in-law, if his estate was inferior? What poor man’s name appears in any will?”
And with this reproach of poverty there were no means to escape from it. Nor was there alleviation. A man was regarded as a fool who gave anything except to the rich. Charity and benevolence were unknown virtues. The sick and the miserable were left to die unlamented and unknown. Prosperity and success, no matter by what means they were purchased, secured reverence and influence.
Such was imperial Rome, in all the internal relations of life, and amid all the trophies and praises which resulted from universal conquest,–a sad, gloomy, dismal picture, which fills us with disgust as well as melancholy. If any one deems it an exaggeration, he has only to read Saint Paul’s first chapter in his epistle to the Romans. I cannot understand the enthusiasm of Gibbon for such a people, or for such an empire,–a grinding and resistless imperial despotism, a sensual and proud aristocracy, a debased and ignorant populace, enormously disproportionate conditions of fortune, slavery flourishing to a state unprecedented in the world’s history, women the victims and the toys of men, lax sentiments of public and private morality, a whole people given over to demoralizing sports and spectacles, pleasure the master passion of the people, money the mainspring of society, a universal indulgence in all the vices which lead to violence and prepare the way for the total eclipse of the glory of man. Of what value was the cultivation of Nature, or a splendid material civilization, or great armies, or an unrivalled jurisprudence, or the triumph of energy and skill, when the moral health was completely undermined? A world therefore as fair and glorious as our own must needs crumble away. There were no powerful conservative forces; the poison had descended to the extremities of the social system. A corrupt body must die when vitality has fled. The soul was gone; principle, patriotism, virtue, had all passed away. The barbarians were advancing to conquer and desolate; there was no power to resist them but enervated and timid legions, with the accumulated vices of all the nations of the earth, which they had been learning for four hundred years. Society must needs resolve itself into its original elements when men would not make sacrifices, and so few belonged to their country. The machine was sure to break up at the first great shock. No State could stand with such an accumulation of wrongs, with such complicated and fatal diseases eating out the vitals of the empire. No form of civilization, however brilliant and lauded, could arrest decay and ruin when public and private virtue had fled. The house was built upon the sand.
The army might rally under able generals, in view of the approaching catastrophe; philosophy might console the days of a few indignant citizens; good Emperors might attempt to raise barriers against corruption,–still, nothing, according to natural laws, could save the empire. Even Christianity could not arrest the ruin. It had converted thousands, and had sowed the seeds of future and better civilizations. It was sent, however, not to save a decayed and demoralized empire, but the world itself. Not until the Germanic barbarians, with their nobler elements of character, had taken possession of the seats of the old civilization, were the real triumphs of Christianity seen. Had the Roman empire continued longer, Christianity might have become still more corrupted; in the prevailing degeneracy it certainly could not save what was not worth preserving. The strong grasp which Rome had laid upon the splendors of all the ancient Pagan Civilizations was to be relaxed. Antiquity had lived out its life. The empire of the Caesars was doomed. Retributive justice must march on in its majestic course. The empire had accomplished its mission; the time came for it to die. The Sibylline oracle must needs be fulfilled: “O haughty Rome, the divine chastisement shall come upon thee; fire shall consume thee; thy wealth shall perish; foxes and wolves shall dwell among thy ruins: and then what land that thou hast enslaved shall be thy ally, and which of thy gods shall save thee? For there shall be confusion over the face of the whole earth, and the fall of cities shall come.”
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Mr. Merivale has written fully on the condition of the empire. Gibbon has occasional paragraphs which show the condition of Roman society. Lyman’s Life of the Emperors should be read, and also DeQuincey’s Lives of the Caesars. See also Niebuhr, Arnold, Mommsen, and Curtius, though these writers have chiefly confined themselves to republican Rome. But if one would get the truest and most vivid description, he must read the Roman poets, especially Juvenal and Martial. The work of Petronius is too indecent to be read. Ammianus Marcellinus gives us some striking pictures of the later Romans. Suetonius, in his lives of the Caesars, furnishes many facts. Becker’s Gallus is a fine description of Roman habits and customs. Lucian does not describe Roman manners, but he aims his sarcasm at the hollowness of Roman life, as do the great satirists generally. These can all be had in translations.