This Etext was prepared by John T. Horner, email@example.com.
THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII
by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
BOOK THE FIRST
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF POMPEII.
‘HO, Diomed, well met! Do you sup with Glaucus to-night?’ said a young man of small stature, who wore his tunic in those loose and effeminate folds which proved him to be a gentleman and a coxcomb.
‘Alas, no! dear Clodius; he has not invited me,’ replied Diomed, a man of portly frame and of middle age. ‘By Pollux, a scurvy trick! for they say his suppers are the best in Pompeii’.
‘Pretty well–though there is never enough of wine for me. It is not the old Greek blood that flows in his veins, for he pretends that wine makes him dull the next morning.’
‘There may be another reason for that thrift,’ said Diomed, raising his brows. ‘With all his conceit and extravagance he is not so rich, I fancy, as he affects to be, and perhaps loves to save his amphorae better than his wit.’
‘An additional reason for supping with him while the sesterces last. Next year, Diomed, we must find another Glaucus.’
‘He is fond of the dice, too, I hear.’
‘He is fond of every pleasure; and while he likes the pleasure of giving suppers, we are all fond of him.’
‘Ha, ha, Clodius, that is well said! Have you ever seen my wine-cellars, by-the-by?’
‘I think not, my good Diomed.’
‘Well, you must sup with me some evening; I have tolerable muraenae in my reservoir, and I ask Pansa the aedile to meet you.’
‘O, no state with me!–Persicos odi apparatus, I am easily contented. Well, the day wanes; I am for the baths–and you…’
‘To the quaestor–business of state–afterwards to the temple of Isis. Vale!’
‘An ostentatious, bustling, ill-bred fellow,’ muttered Clodius to himself, as he sauntered slowly away. ‘He thinks with his feasts and his wine-cellars to make us forget that he is the son of a freedman–and so we will, when we do him the honour of winning his money; these rich plebeians are a harvest for us spendthrift nobles.’
Thus soliloquising, Clodius arrived in the Via Domitiana, which was crowded with passengers and chariots, and exhibited all that gay and animated exuberance of life and motion which we find at this day in the streets of Naples.
The bells of the cars as they rapidly glided by each other jingled merrily on the ear, and Clodius with smiles or nods claimed familiar acquaintance with whatever equipage was most elegant or fantastic: in fact, no idler was better known in Pompeii.
‘What, Clodius! and how have you slept on your good fortune?’ cried, in a pleasant and musical voice, a young man, in a chariot of the most fastidious and graceful fashion. Upon its surface of bronze were elaborately wrought, in the still exquisite workmanship of Greece, reliefs of the Olympian games; the two horses that drew the car were of the rarest breed of Parthia; their slender limbs seemed to disdain the ground and court the air, and yet at the slightest touch of the charioteer, who stood behind the young owner of the equipage, they paused motionless, as if suddenly transformed into stone–lifeless, but lifelike, as one of the breathing wonders of Praxiteles. The owner himself was of that slender and beautiful symmetry from which the sculptors of Athens drew their models; his Grecian origin betrayed itself in his light but clustering locks, and the perfect harmony of his features. He wore no toga, which in the time of the emperors had indeed ceased to be the general distinction of the Romans, and was especially ridiculed by the pretenders to fashion; but his tunic glowed in the richest hues of the Tyrian dye, and the fibulae, or buckles, by which it was fastened, sparkled with emeralds: around his neck was a chain of gold, which in the middle of his breast twisted itself into the form of a serpent’s head, from the mouth of which hung pendent a large signet ring of elaborate and most exquisite workmanship; the sleeves of the tunic were loose, and fringed at the hand with gold: and across the waist a girdle wrought in arabesque designs, and of the same material as the fringe, served in lieu of pockets for the receptacle of the handkerchief and the purse, the stilus and the tablets.
‘My dear Glaucus!’ said Clodius, ‘I rejoice to see that your losses have so little affected your mien. Why, you seem as if you had been inspired by Apollo, and your face shines with happiness like a glory; any one might take you for the winner, and me for the loser.’
‘And what is there in the loss or gain of those dull pieces of metal that should change our spirit, my Clodius? By Venus, while yet young, we can cover our full locks with chaplets–while yet the cithara sounds on unsated ears–while yet the smile of Lydia or of Chloe flashes over our veins in which the blood runs so swiftly, so long shall we find delight in the sunny air, and make bald time itself but the treasurer of our joys. You sup with me to-night, you know.’
‘Who ever forgets the invitation of Glaucus!’
‘But which way go you now?’
‘Why, I thought of visiting the baths: but it wants yet an hour to the usual time.’
‘Well, I will dismiss my chariot, and go with you. So, so, my Phylias,’ stroking the horse nearest to him, which by a low neigh and with backward ears playfully acknowledged the courtesy: ‘a holiday for you to-day. Is he not handsome, Clodius?’
‘Worthy of Phoebus,’ returned the noble parasite–‘or of Glaucus.’
THE BLIND FLOWER-GIRL, AND THE BEAUTY OF FASHION. THE ATHENIAN’S CONFESSION. THE READER’S INTRODUCTION TO ARBACES OF EGYPT.
TALKING lightly on a thousand matters, the two young men sauntered through the streets; they were now in that quarter which was filled with the gayest shops, their open interiors all and each radiant with the gaudy yet harmonious colors of frescoes, inconceivably varied in fancy and design. The sparkling fountains, that at every vista threw upwards their grateful spray in the summer air; the crowd of passengers, or rather loiterers, mostly clad in robes of the Tyrian dye; the gay groups collected round each more attractive shop; the slaves passing to and fro with buckets of bronze, cast in the most graceful shapes, and borne upon their heads; the country girls stationed at frequent intervals with baskets of blushing fruit, and flowers more alluring to the ancient Italians than to their descendants (with whom, indeed, “latet anguis in herba,” a disease seems lurking in every violet and rose); the numerous haunts which fulfilled with that idle people the office of cafes and clubs at this day; the shops, where on shelves of marble were ranged the vases of wine and oil, and before whose thresholds, seats, protected from the sun by a purple awning, invited the weary to rest and the indolent to lounge–made a scene of such glowing and vivacious excitement, as might well give the Athenian spirit of Glaucus an excuse for its susceptibility to joy.
‘Talk to me no more of Rome,’ said he to Clodius. ‘Pleasure is too stately and ponderous in those mighty walls: even in the precincts of the court–even in the Golden House of Nero, and the incipient glories of the palace of Titus, there is a certain dulness of magnificence–the eye aches–the spirit is wearied; besides, my Clodius, we are discontented when we compare the enormous luxury and wealth of others with the mediocrity of our own state. But here we surrender ourselves easily to pleasure, and we have the brilliancy of luxury without the lassitude of its pomp.’
‘It was from that feeling that you chose your summer retreat at Pompeii?’
‘It was. I prefer it to Baiae: I grant the charms of the latter, but I love not the pedants who resort there, and who seem to weigh out their pleasures by the drachm.’
‘Yet you are fond of the learned, too; and as for poetry, why, your house is literally eloquent with AEschylus and Homer, the epic and the drama.’
‘Yes, but those Romans who mimic my Athenian ancestors do everything so heavily. Even in the chase they make their slaves carry Plato with them; and whenever the boar is lost, out they take their books and their papyrus, in order not to lose their time too. When the dancing-girls swim before them in all the blandishment of Persian manners, some drone of a freedman, with a face of stone, reads them a section of Cicero “De Officiis”. Unskilful pharmacists! pleasure and study are not elements to be thus mixed together, they must be enjoyed separately: the Romans lose both by this pragmatical affectation of refinement, and prove that they have no souls for either. Oh, my Clodius, how little your countrymen know of the true versatility of a Pericles, of the true witcheries of an Aspasia! It was but the other day that I paid a visit to Pliny: he was sitting in his summer-house writing, while an unfortunate slave played on the tibia. His nephew (oh! whip me such philosophical coxcombs!) was reading Thucydides’ description of the plague, and nodding his conceited little head in time to the music, while his lips were repeating all the loathsome details of that terrible delineation. The puppy saw nothing incongruous in learning at the same time a ditty of love and a description of the plague.’
‘Why, they are much the same thing,’ said Clodius.
‘So I told him, in excuse for his coxcombry–but my youth stared me rebukingly in the face, without taking the jest, and answered, that it was only the insensate ear that the music pleased, whereas the book (the description of the plague, mind you!) elevated the heart. “Ah!” quoth the fat uncle, wheezing, “my boy is quite an Athenian, always mixing the utile with the dulce.” O Minerva, how I laughed in my sleeve! While I was there, they came to tell the boy-sophist that his favorite freedman was just dead of a fever. “Inexorable death!” cried he; “get me my Horace. How beautifully the sweet poet consoles us for these misfortunes!” Oh, can these men love, my Clodius? Scarcely even with the senses. How rarely a Roman has a heart! He is but the mechanism of genius–he wants its bones and flesh.’
Though Clodius was secretly a little sore at these remarks on his countrymen, he affected to sympathize with his friend, partly because he was by nature a parasite, and partly because it was the fashion among the dissolute young Romans to affect a little contempt for the very birth which, in reality, made them so arrogant; it was the mode to imitate the Greeks, and yet to laugh at their own clumsy imitation.
Thus conversing, their steps were arrested by a crowd gathered round an open space where three streets met; and, just where the porticoes of a light and graceful temple threw their shade, there stood a young girl, with a flower-basket on her right arm, and a small three-stringed instrument of music in the left hand, to whose low and soft tones she was modulating a wild and half-barbaric air. At every pause in the music she gracefully waved her flower-basket round, inviting the loiterers to buy; and many a sesterce was showered into the basket, either in compliment to the music or in compassion to the songstress–for she was blind.
‘It is my poor Thessalian,’ said Glaucus, stopping; ‘I have not seen her since my return to Pompeii. Hush! her voice is sweet; let us listen.’
THE BLIND FLOWER-GIRL’S SONG
Buy my flowers–O buy–I pray!
The blind girl comes from afar; If the earth be as fair as I hear them say, These flowers her children are!
Do they her beauty keep?
They are fresh from her lap, I know; For I caught them fast asleep
In her arms an hour ago.
With the air which is her breath– Her soft and delicate breath–
Over them murmuring low!
On their lips her sweet kiss lingers yet, And their cheeks with her tender tears are wet. For she weeps–that gentle mother weeps– (As morn and night her watch she keeps, With a yearning heart and a passionate care) To see the young things grow so fair; She weeps–for love she weeps;
And the dews are the tears she weeps From the well of a mother’s love!
Ye have a world of light,
Where love in the loved rejoices; But the blind girl’s home is the House of Night, And its beings are empty voices.
As one in the realm below,
I stand by the streams of woe! I hear the vain shadows glide,
I feel their soft breath at my side. And I thirst the loved forms to see, And I stretch my fond arms around, And I catch but a shapeless sound, For the living are ghosts to me.
Come buy–come buy?–
Hark! how the sweet things sigh For they have a voice like ours),
`The breath of the blind girl closes The leaves of the saddening roses– We are tender, we sons of light,
We shrink from this child of night; From the grasp of the blind girl free us– We yearn for the eyes that see us– We are for night too gay,
In your eyes we behold the day– O buy–O buy the flowers!’
‘I must have yon bunch of violets, sweet Nydia,’ said Glaucus, pressing through the crowd, and dropping a handful of small coins into the basket; ‘your voice is more charming than ever.’
The blind girl started forward as she heard the Athenian’s voice; then as suddenly paused, while the blood rushed violently over neck, cheek, and temples.
‘So you are returned!’ said she, in a low voice; and then repeated half to herself, ‘Glaucus is returned!’
‘Yes, child, I have not been at Pompeii above a few days. My garden wants your care, as before; you will visit it, I trust, to-morrow. And mind, no garlands at my house shall be woven by any hands but those of the pretty Nydia.’
Nydia smiled joyously, but did not answer; and Glaucus, placing in his breast the violets he had selected, turned gaily and carelessly from the crowd.
‘So she is a sort of client of yours, this child?’ said Clodius.
‘Ay–does she not sing prettily? She interests me, the poor slave! Besides, she is from the land of the Gods’ hill–Olympus frowned upon her cradle–she is of Thessaly.’
‘The witches’ country.’
‘True: but for my part I find every woman a witch; and at Pompeii, by Venus! the very air seems to have taken a love-philtre, so handsome does every face without a beard seem in my eyes.’
‘And lo! one of the handsomest in Pompeii, old Diomed’s daughter, the rich Julia!’ said Clodius, as a young lady, her face covered by her veil, and attended by two female slaves, approached them, in her way to the baths.
‘Fair Julia, we salute thee!’ said Clodius.
Julia partly raised her veil, so as with some coquetry to display a bold Roman profile, a full dark bright eye, and a cheek over whose natural olive art shed a fairer and softer rose.
‘And Glaucus, too, is returned!’ said she, glancing meaningly at the Athenian. ‘Has he forgotten,’ she added, in a half-whisper, ‘his friends of the last year?’
‘Beautiful Julia! even Lethe itself, if it disappear in one part of the earth, rises again in another. Jupiter does not allow us ever to forget for more than a moment: but Venus, more harsh still, vouchsafes not even a moment’s oblivion.’
‘Glaucus is never at a loss for fair words.’
‘Who is, when the object of them is so fair?’
‘We shall see you both at my father’s villa soon,’ said Julia, turning to Clodius.
‘We will mark the day in which we visit you with a white stone,’ answered the gamester.
Julia dropped her veil, but slowly, so that her last glance rested on the Athenian with affected timidity and real boldness; the glance bespoke tenderness and reproach.
The friends passed on.
‘Julia is certainly handsome,’ said Glaucus.
‘And last year you would have made that confession in a warmer tone.’
‘True; I was dazzled at the first sight, and mistook for a gem that which was but an artful imitation.’
‘Nay,’ returned Clodius, ‘all women are the same at heart. Happy he who weds a handsome face and a large dower. What more can he desire?’
They were now in a street less crowded than the rest, at the end of which they beheld that broad and most lovely sea, which upon those delicious coasts seems to have renounced its prerogative of terror–so soft are the crisping winds that hover around its bosom, so glowing and so various are the hues which it takes from the rosy clouds, so fragrant are the perfumes which the breezes from the land scatter over its depths. From such a sea might you well believe that Aphrodite rose to take the empire of the earth.
‘It is still early for the bath,’ said the Greek, who was the creature of every poetical impulse; ‘let us wander from the crowded city, and look upon the sea while the noon yet laughs along its billows.’
‘With all my heart,’ said Clodius; ‘and the bay, too, is always the most animated part of the city.’
Pompeii was the miniature of the civilization of that age. Within the narrow compass of its walls was contained, as it were, a specimen of every gift which luxury offered to power. In its minute but glittering shops, its tiny palaces, its baths, its forum, its theatre, its circus–in the energy yet corruption, in the refinement yet the vice, of its people, you beheld a model of the whole empire. It was a toy, a plaything, a showbox, in which the gods seemed pleased to keep the representation of the great monarchy of earth, and which they afterwards hid from time, to give to the wonder of posterity–the moral of the maxim, that under the sun there is nothing new.
Crowded in the glassy bay were the vessels of commerce and the gilded galleys for the pleasures of the rich citizens. The boats of the fishermen glided rapidly to and fro; and afar off you saw the tall masts of the fleet under the command of Pliny. Upon the shore sat a Sicilian who, with vehement gestures and flexile features, was narrating to a group of fishermen and peasants a strange tale of shipwrecked mariners and friendly dolphins–just as at this day, in the modern neighborhood, you may hear upon the Mole of Naples.
Drawing his comrade from the crowd, the Greek bent his steps towards a solitary part of the beach, and the two friends, seated on a small crag which rose amidst the smooth pebbles, inhaled the voluptuous and cooling breeze, which dancing over the waters, kept music with its invisible feet. There was, perhaps, something in the scene that invited them to silence and reverie. Clodius, shading his eyes from the burning sky, was calculating the gains of the last week; and the Greek, leaning upon his hand, and shrinking not from that sun–his nation’s tutelary deity–with whose fluent light of poesy, and joy, and love, his own veins were filled, gazed upon the broad expanse, and envied, perhaps, every wind that bent its pinions towards the shores of Greece.
‘Tell me, Clodius,’ said the Greek at last, ‘hast thou ever been in love?’
‘Yes, very often.’
‘He who has loved often,’ answered Glaucus, ‘has loved never. There is but one Eros, though there are many counterfeits of him.’
‘The counterfeits are not bad little gods, upon the whole,’ answered Clodius.
‘I agree with you,’ returned the Greek. ‘I adore even the shadow of Love; but I adore himself yet more.’
‘Art thou, then, soberly and honestly in love? Hast thou that feeling which the poets describe–a feeling that makes us neglect our suppers, forswear the theatre, and write elegies? I should never have thought it. You dissemble well.’
‘I am not far gone enough for that,’ returned Glaucus, smiling, ‘or rather I say with Tibullus–
He whom love rules, where’er his path may be, Walks safe and sacred.
In fact, I am not in love; but I could be if there were but occasion to see the object. Eros would light his torch, but the priests have given him no oil.’
‘Shall I guess the object?–Is it not Diomed’s daughter? She adores you, and does not affect to conceal it; and, by Hercules, I say again and again, she is both handsome and rich. She will bind the door-posts of her husband with golden fillets.’
‘No, I do not desire to sell myself. Diomed’s daughter is handsome, I grant: and at one time, had she not been the grandchild of a freedman, I might have… Yet no–she carries all her beauty in her face; her manners are not maiden-like, and her mind knows no culture save that of pleasure.’
‘You are ungrateful. Tell me, then, who is the fortunate virgin?’
‘You shall hear, my Clodius. Several months ago I was sojourning at Neapolis, a city utterly to my own heart, for it still retains the manners and stamp of its Grecian origin–and it yet merits the name of Parthenope, from its delicious air and its beautiful shores. One day I entered the temple of Minerva, to offer up my prayers, not for myself more than for the city on which Pallas smiles no longer. The temple was empty and deserted. The recollections of Athens crowded fast and meltingly upon me: imagining myself still alone in the temple, and absorbed in the earnestness of my devotion, my prayer gushed from my heart to my lips, and I wept as I prayed. I was startled in the midst of my devotions, however, by a deep sigh; I turned suddenly round, and just behind me was a female. She had raised her veil also in prayer: and when our eyes met, methought a celestial ray shot from those dark and smiling orbs at once into my soul. Never, my Clodius, have I seen mortal face more exquisitely molded: a certain melancholy softened and yet elevated its expression: that unutterable something, which springs from the soul, and which our sculptors have imparted to the aspect of Psyche, gave her beauty I know not what of divine and noble; tears were rolling down her eyes. I guessed at once that she was also of Athenian lineage; and that in my prayer for Athens her heart had responded to mine. I spoke to her, though with a faltering voice–“Art thou not, too, Athenian?” said I, “O beautiful virgin!” At the sound of my voice she blushed, and half drew her veil across her face.–“My forefathers’ ashes,” said she, “repose by the waters of Ilissus: my birth is of Neapolis; but my heart, as my lineage, is Athenian.”–“Let us, then,” said I, “make our offerings together”: and, as the priest now appeared, we stood side by side, while we followed the priest in his ceremonial prayer; together we touched the knees of the goddess–together we laid our olive garlands on the altar. I felt a strange emotion of almost sacred tenderness at this companionship. We, strangers from a far and fallen land, stood together and alone in that temple of our country’s deity: was it not natural that my heart should yearn to my countrywoman, for so I might surely call her? I felt as if I had known her for years; and that simple rite seemed, as by a miracle, to operate on the sympathies and ties of time. Silently we left the temple, and I was about to ask her where she dwelt, and if I might be permitted to visit her, when a youth, in whose features there was some kindred resemblance to her own, and who stood upon the steps of the fane, took her by the hand. She turned round and bade me farewell. The crowd separated us: I saw her no more. On reaching my home I found letters, which obliged me to set out for Athens, for my relations threatened me with litigation concerning my inheritance. When that suit was happily over, I repaired once more to Neapolis; I instituted inquiries throughout the whole city, I could discover no clue of my lost countrywoman, and, hoping to lose in gaiety all remembrance of that beautiful apparition, I hastened to plunge myself amidst the luxuries of Pompeii. This is all my history. I do not love; but I remember and regret.’
As Clodius was about to reply, a slow and stately step approached them, and at the sound it made amongst the pebbles, each turned, and each recognized the new-comer.
It was a man who had scarcely reached his fortieth year, of tall stature, and of a thin but nervous and sinewy frame. His skin, dark and bronzed, betrayed his Eastern origin; and his features had something Greek in their outline (especially in the chin, the lip, and the brow), save that the nose was somewhat raised and aquiline; and the bones, hard and visible, forbade that fleshy and waving contour which on the Grecian physiognomy preserved even in manhood the round and beautiful curves of youth. His eyes, large and black as the deepest night, shone with no varying and uncertain lustre. A deep, thoughtful, and half-melancholy calm seemed unalterably fixed in their majestic and commanding gaze. His step and mien were peculiarly sedate and lofty, and something foreign in the fashion and the sober hues of his sweeping garments added to the impressive effect of his quiet countenance and stately form. Each of the young men, in saluting the new-comer, made mechanically, and with care to conceal it from him, a slight gesture or sign with their fingers; for Arbaces, the Egyptian, was supposed to possess the fatal gift of the evil eye.
‘The scene must, indeed, be beautiful,’ said Arbaces, with a cold though courteous smile, ‘which draws the gay Clodius, and Glaucus the all admired, from the crowded thoroughfares of the city.’
‘Is Nature ordinarily so unattractive?’ asked the Greek.
‘To the dissipated–yes.’
‘An austere reply, but scarcely a wise one. Pleasure delights in contrasts; it is from dissipation that we learn to enjoy solitude, and from solitude dissipation.’
‘So think the young philosophers of the Garden,’ replied the Egyptian; ‘they mistake lassitude for meditation, and imagine that, because they are sated with others, they know the delight of loneliness. But not in such jaded bosoms can Nature awaken that enthusiasm which alone draws from her chaste reserve all her unspeakable beauty: she demands from you, not the exhaustion of passion, but all that fervor, from which you only seek, in adoring her, a release. When, young Athenian, the moon revealed herself in visions of light to Endymion, it was after a day passed, not amongst the feverish haunts of men, but on the still mountains and in the solitary valleys of the hunter.’
‘Beautiful simile!’ cried Glaucus; ‘most unjust application! Exhaustion! that word is for age, not youth. By me, at least, one moment of satiety has never been known!’
Again the Egyptian smiled, but his smile was cold and blighting, and even the unimaginative Clodius froze beneath its light. He did not, however, reply to the passionate exclamation of Glaucus; but, after a pause, he said, in a soft and melancholy voice:
‘After all, you do right to enjoy the hour while it smiles for you; the rose soon withers, the perfume soon exhales. And we, O Glaucus! strangers in the land and far from our fathers’ ashes, what is there left for us but pleasure or regret!–for you the first, perhaps for me the last.’
The bright eyes of the Greek were suddenly suffused with tears. ‘Ah, speak not, Arbaces,’ he cried–‘speak not of our ancestors. Let us forget that there were ever other liberties than those of Rome! And Glory!–oh, vainly would we call her ghost from the fields of Marathon and Thermopylae!’
‘Thy heart rebukes thee while thou speakest,’ said the Egyptian; ‘and in thy gaieties this night, thou wilt be more mindful of Leoena than of Lais. Vale!’
Thus saying, he gathered his robe around him, and slowly swept away.
‘I breathe more freely,’ said Clodius. ‘Imitating the Egyptians, we sometimes introduce a skeleton at our feasts. In truth, the presence of such an Egyptian as yon gliding shadow were spectre enough to sour the richest grape of the Falernian.’
‘Strange man! said Glaucus, musingly; ‘yet dead though he seem to pleasure, and cold to the objects of the world, scandal belies him, or his house and his heart could tell a different tale.’
‘Ah! there are whispers of other orgies than those of Osiris in his gloomy mansion. He is rich, too, they say. Can we not get him amongst us, and teach him the charms of dice? Pleasure of pleasures! hot fever of hope and fear! inexpressible unjaded passion! how fiercely beautiful thou art, O Gaming!’
‘Inspired–inspired!’ cried Glaucus, laughing; ‘the oracle speaks poetry in Clodius. What miracle next!’
PARENTAGE OF GLAUCUS. DESCRIPTION OF THE HOUSES OF POMPEII. CLASSIC REVEL.
HEAVEN had given to Glaucus every blessing but one: it had given him beauty, health, fortune, genius, illustrious descent, a heart of fire, a mind of poetry; but it had denied him the heritage of freedom. He was born in Athens, the subject of Rome. Succeeding early to an ample inheritance, he had indulged that inclination for travel so natural to the young, and had drunk deep of the intoxicating draught of pleasure amidst the gorgeous luxuries of the imperial court.
He was an Alcibiades without ambition. He was what a man of imagination, youth, fortune, and talents, readily becomes when you deprive him of the inspiration of glory. His house at Rome was the theme of the debauchees, but also of the lovers of art; and the sculptors of Greece delighted to task their skill in adorning the porticoes and exedrae of an Athenian. His retreat in Pompeii–alas! the colors are faded now, the walls stripped of their paintings!–its main beauty, its elaborate finish of grace and ornament, is gone; yet when first given once more to the day, what eulogies, what wonder, did its minute and glowing decorations create–its paintings–its mosaics! Passionately enamoured of poetry and the drama, which recalled to Glaucus the wit and the heroism of his race, that fairy mansion was adorned with representations of AEschylus and Homer. And antiquaries, who resolve taste to a trade, have turned the patron to the professor, and still (though the error is now acknowledged) they style in custom, as they first named in mistake, the disburied house of the Athenian Glaucus ‘THE HOUSE OF THE DRAMATIC POET’.
Previous to our description of this house, it may be as well to convey to the reader a general notion of the houses of Pompeii, which he will find to resemble strongly the plans of Vitruvius; but with all those differences in detail, of caprice and taste, which being natural to mankind, have always puzzled antiquaries. We shall endeavor to make this description as clear and unpedantic as possible.
You enter then, usually, by a small entrance-passage (called cestibulum), into a hall, sometimes with (but more frequently without) the ornament of columns; around three sides of this hall are doors communicating with several bedchambers (among which is the porter’s), the best of these being usually appropriated to country visitors. At the extremity of the hall, on either side to the right and left, if the house is large, there are two small recesses, rather than chambers, generally devoted to the ladies of the mansion; and in the centre of the tessellated pavement of the hall is invariably a square, shallow reservoir for rain water (classically termed impluvium), which was admitted by an aperture in the roof above; the said aperture being covered at will by an awning. Near this impluvium, which had a peculiar sanctity in the eyes of the ancients, were sometimes (but at Pompeii more rarely than at Rome) placed images of the household gods–the hospitable hearth, often mentioned by the Roman poets, and consecrated to the Lares, was at Pompeii almost invariably formed by a movable brazier; while in some corner, often the most ostentatious place, was deposited a huge wooden chest, ornamented and strengthened by bands of bronze or iron, and secured by strong hooks upon a stone pedestal so firmly as to defy the attempts of any robber to detach it from its position. It is supposed that this chest was the money-box, or coffer, of the master of the house; though as no money has been found in any of the chests discovered at Pompeii, it is probable that it was sometimes rather designed for ornament than use.
In this hall (or atrium, to speak classically) the clients and visitors of inferior rank were usually received. In the houses of the more ‘respectable’, an atriensis, or slave peculiarly devoted to the service of the hall, was invariably retained, and his rank among his fellow-slaves was high and important. The reservoir in the centre must have been rather a dangerous ornament, but the centre of the hall was like the grass-plot of a college, and interdicted to the passers to and fro, who found ample space in the margin. Right opposite the entrance, at the other end of the hall, was an apartment (tablinum), in which the pavement was usually adorned with rich mosaics, and the walls covered with elaborate paintings. Here were usually kept the records of the family, or those of any public office that had been filled by the owner: on one side of this saloon, if we may so call it, was often a dining-room, or triclinium; on the other side, perhaps, what we should now term a cabinet of gems, containing whatever curiosities were deemed most rare and costly; and invariably a small passage for the slaves to cross to the further parts of the house, without passing the apartments thus mentioned. These rooms all opened on a square or oblong colonnade, technically termed peristyle. If the house was small, its boundary ceased with this colonnade; and in that case its centre, however diminutive, was ordinarily appropriated to the purpose of a garden, and adorned with vases of flowers, placed upon pedestals: while, under the colonnade, to the right and left, were doors admitting to bedrooms, to a second triclinium, or eating-room (for the ancients generally appropriated two rooms at least to that purpose, one for summer, and one for winter–or, perhaps, one for ordinary, the other for festive, occasions); and if the owner affected letters, a cabinet, dignified by the name of library–for a very small room was sufficient to contain the few rolls of papyrus which the ancients deemed a notable collection of books.
At the end of the peristyle was generally the kitchen. Supposing the house was large, it did not end with the peristyle, and the centre thereof was not in that case a garden, but might be, perhaps, adorned with a fountain, or basin for fish; and at its end, exactly opposite to the tablinum, was generally another eating-room, on either side of which were bedrooms, and, perhaps, a picture-saloon, or pinacotheca. These apartments communicated again with a square or oblong space, usually adorned on three sides with a colonnade like the peristyle, and very much resembling the peristyle, only usually longer. This was the proper viridarium, or garden, being commonly adorned with a fountain, or statues, and a profusion of gay flowers: at its extreme end was the gardener’s house; on either side, beneath the colonnade, were sometimes, if the size of the family required it, additional rooms.
At Pompeii, a second or third story was rarely of importance, being built only above a small part of the house, and containing rooms for the slaves; differing in this respect from the more magnificent edifices of Rome, which generally contained the principal eating-room (or caenaculum) on the second floor. The apartments themselves were ordinarily of small size; for in those delightful climes they received any extraordinary number of visitors in the peristyle (or portico), the hall, or the garden; and even their banquet-rooms, however elaborately adorned and carefully selected in point of aspect, were of diminutive proportions; for the intellectual ancients, being fond of society, not of crowds, rarely feasted more than nine at a time, so that large dinner-rooms were not so necessary with them as with us. But the suite of rooms seen at once from the entrance, must have had a very imposing effect: you beheld at once the hall richly paved and painted–the tablinum–the graceful peristyle, and (if the house extended farther) the opposite banquet-room and the garden, which closed the view with some gushing fount or marble statue.
The reader will now have a tolerable notion of the Pompeian houses, which resembled in some respects the Grecian, but mostly the Roman fashion of domestic architecture. In almost every house there is some difference in detail from the rest, but the principal outline is the same in all. In all you find the hall, the tablinum, and the peristyle, communicating with each other; in all you find the walls richly painted; and all the evidence of a people fond of the refining elegancies of life. The purity of the taste of the Pompeians in decoration is, however, questionable: they were fond of the gaudiest colors, of fantastic designs; they often painted the lower half of their columns a bright red, leaving the rest uncolored; and where the garden was small, its wall was frequently tinted to deceive the eye as to its extent, imitating trees, birds, temples, etc., in perspective–a meretricious delusion which the graceful pedantry of Pliny himself adopted, with a complacent pride in its ingenuity.
But the house of Glaucus was at once one of the smallest, and yet one of the most adorned and finished of all the private mansions of Pompeii: it would be a model at this day for the house of ‘a single man in Mayfair’–the envy and despair of the coelibian purchasers of buhl and marquetry.
You enter by a long and narrow vestibule, on the floor of which is the image of a dog in mosaic, with the well-known ‘Cave canem’–or ‘Beware the dog’. On either side is a chamber of some size; for the interior part of the house not being large enough to contain the two great divisions of private and public apartments, these two rooms were set apart for the reception of visitors who neither by rank nor familiarity were entitled to admission in the penetralia of the mansion.
Advancing up the vestibule you enter an atrium, that when first discovered was rich in paintings, which in point of expression would scarcely disgrace a Rafaele. You may see them now transplanted to the Neapolitan Museum: they are still the admiration of connoisseurs–they depict the parting of Achilles and Briseis. Who does not acknowledge the force, the vigour, the beauty, employed in delineating the forms and faces of Achilles and the immortal slave!
On one side the atrium, a small staircase admitted to the apartments for the slaves on the second floor; there also were two or three small bedrooms, the walls of which portrayed the rape of Europa, the battle of the Amazons, etc.
You now enter the tablinum, across which, at either end, hung rich draperies of Tyrian purple, half withdrawn. On the walls was depicted a poet reading his verses to his friends; and in the pavement was inserted a small and most exquisite mosaic, typical of the instructions given by the director of the stage to his comedians.
You passed through this saloon and entered the peristyle; and here (as I have said before was usually the case with the smaller houses of Pompeii) the mansion ended. From each of the seven columns that adorned this court hung festoons of garlands: the centre, supplying the place of a garden, bloomed with the rarest flowers placed in vases of white marble, that were supported on pedestals. At the left hand of this small garden was a diminutive fane, resembling one of those small chapels placed at the side of roads in Catholic countries, and dedicated to the Penates; before it stood a bronzed tripod: to the left of the colonnade were two small cubicula, or bedrooms; to the right was the triclinium, in which the guests were now assembled.
This room is usually termed by the antiquaries of Naples ‘The Chamber of Leda’; and in the beautiful work of Sir William Gell, the reader will find an engraving from that most delicate and graceful painting of Leda presenting her newborn to her husband, from which the room derives its name. This charming apartment opened upon the fragrant garden. Round the table of citrean wood, highly polished and delicately wrought with silver arabesques, were placed the three couches, which were yet more common at Pompeii than the semicircular seat that had grown lately into fashion at Rome: and on these couches of bronze, studded with richer metals, were laid thick quiltings covered with elaborate broidery, and yielding luxuriously to the pressure.
‘Well, I must own,’ said the aedile Pansa, ‘that your house, though scarcely larger than a case for one’s fibulae, is a gem of its kind. How beautifully painted is that parting of Achilles and Briseis!–what a style!–what heads!–what a-hem!’
‘Praise from Pansa is indeed valuable on such subjects,’ said Clodius, gravely. ‘Why, the paintings on his walls!–Ah! there is, indeed, the hand of a Zeuxis!’
‘You flatter me, my Clodius; indeed you do,’ quoth the aedile, who was celebrated through Pompeii for having the worst paintings in the world; for he was patriotic, and patronized none but Pompeians. ‘You flatter me; but there is something pretty–AEdepol, yes–in the colors, to say nothing of the design–and then for the kitchen, my friends–ah! that was all my fancy.’
‘What is the design?’ said Glaucus. ‘I have not yet seen your kitchen, though I have often witnessed the excellence of its cheer.’
‘A cook, my Athenian–a cook sacrificing the trophies of his skill on the altar of Vesta, with a beautiful muraena (taken from the life) on a spit at a distance–there is some invention there!’
At that instant the slaves appeared, bearing a tray covered with the first preparative initia of the feast. Amidst delicious figs, fresh herbs strewed with snow, anchovies, and eggs, were ranged small cups of diluted wine sparingly mixed with honey. As these were placed on the table, young slaves bore round to each of the five guests (for there were no more) the silver basin of perfumed water, and napkins edged with a purple fringe. But the aedile ostentatiously drew forth his own napkin, which was not, indeed, of so fine a linen, but in which the fringe was twice as broad, and wiped his hands with the parade of a man who felt he was calling for admiration.
‘A splendid nappa that of yours,’ said Clodius; ‘why, the fringe is as broad as a girdle!’
‘A trifle, my Clodius: a trifle! They tell me this stripe is the latest fashion at Rome; but Glaucus attends to these things more than I.’
‘Be propitious, O Bacchus!’ said Glaucus, inclining reverentially to a beautiful image of the god placed in the centre of the table, at the corners of which stood the Lares and the salt-holders. The guests followed the prayer, and then, sprinkling the wine on the table, they performed the wonted libation.
This over, the convivialists reclined themselves on the couches, and the business of the hour commenced.
‘May this cup be my last!’ said the young Sallust, as the table, cleared of its first stimulants, was now loaded with the substantial part of the entertainment, and the ministering slave poured forth to him a brimming cyathus–‘May this cup be my last, but it is the best wine I have drunk at Pompeii!’
‘Bring hither the amphora,’ said Glaucus, ‘and read its date and its character.’
The slave hastened to inform the party that the scroll fastened to the cork betokened its birth from Chios, and its age a ripe fifty years.
‘How deliciously the snow has cooled it!’ said Pansa. ‘It is just enough.’
‘It is like the experience of a man who has cooled his pleasures sufficiently to give them a double zest,’ exclaimed Sallust.
‘It is like a woman’s “No”,’ added Glaucus: ‘it cools, but to inflame the more.’
‘When is our next wild-beast fight?’ said Clodius to Pansa.
‘It stands fixed for the ninth ide of August,’ answered Pansa: ‘on the day after the Vulcanalia–we have a most lovely young lion for the occasion.’
‘Whom shall we get for him to eat?’ asked Clodius. ‘Alas! there is a great scarcity of criminals. You must positively find some innocent or other to condemn to the lion, Pansa!’
‘Indeed I have thought very seriously about it of late,’ replied the aedile, gravely. ‘It was a most infamous law that which forbade us to send our own slaves to the wild beasts. Not to let us do what we like with our own, that’s what I call an infringement on property itself.’
‘Not so in the good old days of the Republic,’ sighed Sallust.
‘And then this pretended mercy to the slaves is such a disappointment to the poor people. How they do love to see a good tough battle between a man and a lion; and all this innocent pleasure they may lose (if the gods don’t send us a good criminal soon) from this cursed law!’
‘What can be worse policy,’ said Clodius, sententiously, ‘than to interfere with the manly amusements of the people?’
‘Well thank Jupiter and the Fates! we have no Nero at present,’ said Sallust.
‘He was, indeed, a tyrant; he shut up our amphitheatre for ten years.’
‘I wonder it did not create a rebellion,’ said Sallust.
‘It very nearly did,’ returned Pansa, with his mouth full of wild boar.
Here the conversation was interrupted for a moment by a flourish of flutes, and two slaves entered with a single dish.
‘Ah, what delicacy hast thou in store for us now, my Glaucus?’ cried the young Sallust, with sparkling eyes.
Sallust was only twenty-four, but he had no pleasure in life like eating–perhaps he had exhausted all the others: yet had he some talent, and an excellent heart–as far as it went.
‘I know its face, by Pollux!’ cried Pansa. ‘It is an Ambracian Kid. Ho (snapping his fingers, a usual signal to the slaves) we must prepare a new libation in honour to the new-comer.’
‘I had hoped said Glaucus, in a melancholy tone, ‘to have procured you some oysters from Britain; but the winds that were so cruel to Caesar have forbid us the oysters.’
‘Are they in truth so delicious?’ asked Lepidus, loosening to a yet more luxurious ease his ungirdled tunic.
‘Why, in truth, I suspect it is the distance that gives the flavor; they want the richness of the Brundusium oyster. But, at Rome, no supper is complete without them.’
‘The poor Britons! There is some good in them after all,’ said Sallust. ‘They produce an oyster.’
‘I wish they would produce us a gladiator,’ said the aedile, whose provident mind was musing over the wants of the amphitheatre.
‘By Pallas!’ cried Glaucus, as his favorite slave crowned his streaming locks with a new chaplet, ‘I love these wild spectacles well enough when beast fights beast; but when a man, one with bones and blood like ours, is coldly put on the arena, and torn limb from limb, the interest is too horrid: I sicken–I gasp for breath–I long to rush and defend him. The yells of the populace seem to me more dire than the voices of the Furies chasing Orestes. I rejoice that there is so little chance of that bloody exhibition for our next show!’
The aedile shrugged his shoulders. The young Sallust, who was thought the best-natured man in Pompeii, stared in surprise. The graceful Lepidus, who rarely spoke for fear of disturbing his features, ejaculated ‘Hercle!’ The parasite Clodius muttered ‘AEdepol!’ and the sixth banqueter, who was the umbra of Clodius, and whose duty it was to echo his richer friend, when he could not praise him–the parasite of a parasite–muttered also ‘AEdepol!’
‘Well, you Italians are used to these spectacles; we Greeks are more merciful. Ah, shade of Pindar!–the rapture of a true Grecian game–the emulation of man against man–the generous strife–the half-mournful triumph–so proud to contend with a noble foe, so sad to see him overcome! But ye understand me not.’
‘The kid is excellent,’ said Sallust. The slave, whose duty it was to carve, and who valued himself on his science, had just performed that office on the kid to the sound of music, his knife keeping time, beginning with a low tenor and accomplishing the arduous feat amidst a magnificent diapason.
‘Your cook is, of course, from Sicily?’ said Pansa.
‘Yes, of Syracuse.’
‘I will play you for him,’ said Clodius. ‘We will have a game between the courses.’
‘Better that sort of game, certainly, than a beast fight; but I cannot stake my Sicilian–you have nothing so precious to stake me in return.’
‘My Phillida–my beautiful dancing-girl!’
‘I never buy women,’ said the Greek, carelessly rearranging his chaplet.
The musicians, who were stationed in the portico without, had commenced their office with the kid; they now directed the melody into a more soft, a more gay, yet it may be a more intellectual strain; and they chanted that song of Horace beginning ‘Persicos odi’, etc., so impossible to translate, and which they imagined applicable to a feast that, effeminate as it seems to us, was simple enough for the gorgeous revelry of the time. We are witnessing the domestic, and not the princely feast–the entertainment of a gentleman, not an emperor or a senator.
‘Ah, good old Horace!’ said Sallust, compassionately; ‘he sang well of feasts and girls, but not like our modern poets.’
‘The immortal Fulvius, for instance,’ said Clodius.
‘Ah, Fulvius, the immortal!’ said the umbra.
‘And Spuraena; and Caius Mutius, who wrote three epics in a year–could Horace do that, or Virgil either said Lepidus. ‘Those old poets all fell into the mistake of copying sculpture instead of painting. Simplicity and repose–that was their notion; but we moderns have fire, and passion, and energy–we never sleep, we imitate the colors of painting, its life, and its action. Immortal Fulvius!’
‘By the way,’ said Sallust, ‘have you seen the new ode by Spuraena, in honour of our Egyptian Isis? It is magnificent–the true religious fervor.’
‘Isis seems a favorite divinity at Pompeii,’ said Glaucus.
‘Yes!’ said Pansa, ‘she is exceedingly in repute just at this moment; her statue has been uttering the most remarkable oracles. I am not superstitious, but I must confess that she has more than once assisted me materially in my magistracy with her advice. Her priests are so pious, too! none of your gay, none of your proud, ministers of Jupiter and Fortune: they walk barefoot, eat no meat, and pass the greater part of the night in solitary devotion!’
‘An example to our other priesthoods, indeed!–Jupiter’s temple wants reforming sadly,’ said Lepidus, who was a great reformer for all but himself.
‘They say that Arbaces the Egyptian has imparted some most solemn mysteries to the priests of Isis,’ observed Sallust. ‘He boasts his descent from the race of Rameses, and declares that in his family the secrets of remotest antiquity are treasured.’
‘He certainly possesses the gift of the evil eye,’ said Clodius. ‘If I ever come upon that Medusa front without the previous charm, I am sure to lose a favorite horse, or throw the canes nine times running.’
‘The last would be indeed a miracle!’ said Sallust, gravely.
‘How mean you, Sallust?’ returned the gamester, with a flushed brow.
‘I mean, what you would leave me if I played often with you; and that is–nothing.’
Clodius answered only by a smile of disdain.
‘If Arbaces were not so rich,’ said Pansa, with a stately air, ‘I should stretch my authority a little, and inquire into the truth of the report which calls him an astrologer and a sorcerer. Agrippa, when aedile of Rome, banished all such terrible citizens. But a rich man–it is the duty of an aedile to protect the rich!’
‘What think you of this new sect, which I am told has even a few proselytes in Pompeii, these followers of the Hebrew God–Christus?’
‘Oh, mere speculative visionaries,’ said Clodius; ‘they have not a single gentleman amongst them; their proselytes are poor, insignificant, ignorant people!’
‘Who ought, however, to be crucified for their blasphemy,’ said Pansa, with vehemence; ‘they deny Venus and Jove! Nazarene is but another name for atheist. Let me catch them–that’s all.’
The second course was gone–the feasters fell back on their couches–there was a pause while they listened to the soft voices of the South, and the music of the Arcadian reed. Glaucus was the most rapt and the least inclined to break the silence, but Clodius began already to think that they wasted time.
‘Bene vobis! (Your health!) my Glaucus,’ said he, quaffing a cup to each letter of the Greek’s name, with the ease of the practised drinker. ‘Will you not be avenged on your ill-fortune of yesterday? See, the dice court us.’
‘As you will,’ said Glaucus.
‘The dice in summer, and I an aedile!’ said Pansa, magisterially; ‘it is against all law.’
‘Not in your presence, grave Pansa,’ returned Clodius, rattling the dice in a long box; ‘your presence restrains all license: it is not the thing, but the excess of the thing, that hurts.’
‘What wisdom!’ muttered the umbra.
‘Well, I will look another way,’ said the aedile.
‘Not yet, good Pansa; let us wait till we have supped,’ said Glaucus.
Clodius reluctantly yielded, concealing his vexation with a yawn.
‘He gapes to devour the gold,’ whispered Lepidus to Sallust, in a quotation from the Aulularia of Plautus.
‘Ah! how well I know these polypi, who hold all they touch,’ answered Sallust, in the same tone, and out of the same play.
The third course, consisting of a variety of fruits, pistachio nuts, sweetmeats, tarts, and confectionery tortured into a thousand fantastic and airy shapes, was now placed upon the table; and the ministri, or attendants, also set there the wine (which had hitherto been handed round to the guests) in large jugs of glass, each bearing upon it the schedule of its age and quality.
‘Taste this Lesbian, my Pansa,’ said Sallust; ‘it is excellent.’
‘It is not very old,’ said Glaucus, ‘but it has been made precocious, like ourselves, by being put to the fire:–the wine to the flames of Vulcan–we to those of his wife–to whose honour I pour this cup.’
‘It is delicate,’ said Pansa, ‘but there is perhaps the least particle too much of rosin in its flavor.’
‘What a beautiful cup!’ cried Clodius, taking up one of transparent crystal, the handles of which were wrought with gems, and twisted in the shape of serpents, the favorite fashion at Pompeii.
‘This ring,’ said Glaucus, taking a costly jewel from the first joint of his finger and hanging it on the handle, ‘gives it a richer show, and renders it less unworthy of thy acceptance, my Clodius, on whom may the gods bestow health and fortune, long and oft to crown it to the brim!’
‘You are too generous, Glaucus,’ said the gamester, handing the cup to his slave; ‘but your love gives it a double value.’
‘This cup to the Graces!’ said Pansa, and he thrice emptied his calix. The guests followed his example.
‘We have appointed no director to the feast,’ cried Sallust.
‘Let us throw for him, then,’ said Clodius, rattling the dice-box.
‘Nay,’ cried Glaucus, ‘no cold and trite director for us: no dictator of the banquet; no rex convivii. Have not the Romans sworn never to obey a king? Shall we be less free than your ancestors? Ho! musicians, let us have the song I composed the other night: it has a verse on this subject, “The Bacchic hymn of the Hours”.’
The musicians struck their instruments to a wild Ionic air, while the youngest voice in the band chanted forth, in Greek words, as numbers, the following strain:-
THE EVENING HYMN OF THE HOURS
“Through the summer day, through the weary day, We have glided long;
Ere we speed to the Night through her portals grey, Hail us with song!–
With song, with song,
With a bright and joyous song;
Such as the Cretan maid,
While the twilight made her bolder, Woke, high through the ivy shade,
When the wine-god first consoled her. From the hush’d, low-breathing skies, Half-shut look’d their starry eyes,
And all around,
With a loving sound,
The AEgean waves were creeping: On her lap lay the lynx’s head;
Wild thyme was her bridal bed;
And aye through each tiny space, In the green vine’s green embrace
The Fauns were slily peeping–
The Fauns, the prying Fauns–
The arch, the laughing Fauns–
The Fauns were slily peeping!
Flagging and faint are we
With our ceaseless flight,
And dull shall our journey be
Through the realm of night,
Bathe us, O bathe our weary wings In the purple wave, as it freshly springs To your cups from the fount of light– From the fount of light–from the fount of light,
For there, when the sun has gone down in night, There in the bowl we find him.
The grape is the well of that summer sun, Or rather the stream that he gazed upon, Till he left in truth, like the Thespian youth, His soul, as he gazed, behind him.
A cup to Jove, and a cup to Love,
And a cup to the son of Maia;
And honour with three, the band zone-free, The band of the bright Aglaia.
But since every bud in the wreath of pleasure Ye owe to the sister Hours,
No stinted cups, in a formal measure, The Bromian law makes ours.
He honors us most who gives us most, And boasts, with a Bacchanal’s honest boast, He never will count the treasure.
Fastly we fleet, then seize our wings, And plunge us deep in the sparkling springs; And aye, as we rise with a dripping plume, We’ll scatter the spray round the garland’s bloom; We glow–we glow,
Behold, as the girls of the Eastern wave Bore once with a shout to the crystal cave The prize of the Mysian Hylas,
Even so–even so,
We have caught the young god in our warm embrace We hurry him on in our laughing race; We hurry him on, with a whoop and song, The cloudy rivers of night along–
Ho, ho!–we have caught thee, Psilas!
The guests applauded loudly. When the poet is your host, his verses are sure to charm.
‘Thoroughly Greek,’ said Lepidus: ‘the wildness, force, and energy of that tongue, it is impossible to imitate in the Roman poetry.’
‘It is, indeed, a great contrast,’ said Clodius, ironically at heart, though not in appearance, ‘to the old-fashioned and tame simplicity of that ode of Horace which we heard before. The air is beautifully Ionic: the word puts me in mind of a toast–Companions, I give you the beautiful Ione.’
‘Ione!–the name is Greek,’ said Glaucus, in a soft voice. ‘I drink the health with delight. But who is Ione?’
‘Ah! you have but just come to Pompeii, or you would deserve ostracism for your ignorance,’ said Lepidus, conceitedly; ‘not to know Ione, is not to know the chief charm of our city.’
‘She is of the most rare beauty,’ said Pansa; ‘and what a voice!’
‘She can feed only on nightingales’ tongues,’ said Clodius.
‘Nightingales’ tongues!–beautiful thought!’ sighed the umbra.
‘Enlighten me, I beseech you,’ said Glaucus.
‘Know then…’ began Lepidus.
‘Let me speak,’ cried Clodius; ‘you drawl out your words as if you spoke tortoises.’
‘And you speak stones,’ muttered the coxcomb to himself, as he fell back disdainfully on his couch.
‘Know then, my Glaucus,’ said Clodius, ‘that Ione is a stranger who has but lately come to Pompeii. She sings like Sappho, and her songs are her own composing; and as for the tibia, and the cithara, and the lyre, I know not in which she most outdoes the Muses. Her beauty is most dazzling. Her house is perfect; such taste–such gems–such bronzes! She is rich, and generous as she is rich.’
‘Her lovers, of course,’ said Glaucus, ‘take care that she does not starve; and money lightly won is always lavishly spent.’
‘Her lovers–ah, there is the enigma!–Ione has but one vice–she is chaste. She has all Pompeii at her feet, and she has no lovers: she will not even marry.’
‘No lovers!’ echoed Glaucus.
‘No; she has the soul of Vestal with the girdle of Venus.’
‘What refined expressions!’ said the umbra.
‘A miracle!’ cried Glaucus. ‘Can we not see her?’
‘I will take you there this evening, said Clodius; ‘meanwhile…’ added he, once more rattling the dice.
‘I am yours!’ said the complaisant Glaucus. ‘Pansa, turn your face!’
Lepidus and Sallust played at odd and even, and the umbra looked on, while Glaucus and Clodius became gradually absorbed in the chances of the dice.
‘By Pollux!’ cried Glaucus, ‘this is the second time I have thrown the caniculae’ (the lowest throw).
‘Now Venus befriend me!’ said Clodius, rattling the box for several moments. ‘O Alma Venus–it is Venus herself!’ as he threw the highest cast, named from that goddess–whom he who wins money, indeed, usually propitiates!
‘Venus is ungrateful to me,’ said Glaucus, gaily; ‘I have always sacrificed on her altar.’
‘He who plays with Clodius,’ whispered Lepidus, ‘will soon, like Plautus’s Curculio, put his pallium for the stakes.’
‘Poor Glaucus!–he is as blind as Fortune herself,’ replied Sallust, in the same tone.
‘I will play no more,’ said Glaucus; ‘I have lost thirty sestertia.’
‘I am sorry…’ began Clodius.
‘Amiable man!’ groaned the umbra.
‘Not at all!’ exclaimed Glaucus; ‘the pleasure I take in your gain compensates the pain of my loss.’
The conversation now grew general and animated; the wine circulated more freely; and Ione once more became the subject of eulogy to the guests of Glaucus.
‘Instead of outwatching the stars, let us visit one at whose beauty the stars grow pale,’ said Lepidus.
Clodius, who saw no chance of renewing the dice, seconded the proposal; and Glaucus, though he civilly pressed his guests to continue the banquet, could not but let them see that his curiosity had been excited by the praises of Ione: they therefore resolved to adjourn (all, at least, but Pansa and the umbra) to the house of the fair Greek. They drank, therefore, to the health of Glaucus and of Titus–they performed their last libation–they resumed their slippers–they descended the stairs–passed the illumined atrium–and walking unbitten over the fierce dog painted on the threshold, found themselves beneath the light of the moon just risen, in the lively and still crowded streets of Pompeii.
They passed the jewellers’ quarter, sparkling with lights, caught and reflected by the gems displayed in the shops, and arrived at last at the door of Ione. The vestibule blazed with rows of lamps; curtains of embroidered purple hung on either aperture of the tablinum, whose walls and mosaic pavement glowed with the richest colors of the artist; and under the portico which surrounded the odorous viridarium they found Ione, already surrounded by adoring and applauding guests!
‘Did you say she was Athenian?’ whispered Glaucus, ere he passed into the peristyle.
‘No, she is from Neapolis.’
‘Neapolis!’ echoed Glaucus; and at that moment the group, dividing on either side of Ione, gave to his view that bright, that nymph-like beauty, which for months had shone down upon the waters of his memory.
THE TEMPLE OF ISIS. ITS PRIEST. THE CHARACTER OF ARBACES DEVELOPS ITSELF.
THE story returns to the Egyptian. We left Arbaces upon the shores of the noonday sea, after he had parted from Glaucus and his companion. As he approached to the more crowded part of the bay, he paused and gazed upon that animated scene with folded arms, and a bitter smile upon his dark features.
‘Gulls, dupes, fools, that ye are!’ muttered he to himself; ‘whether business or pleasure, trade or religion, be your pursuit, you are equally cheated by the passions that ye should rule! How I could loathe you, if I did not hate–yes, hate! Greek or Roman, it is from us, from the dark lore of Egypt, that ye have stolen the fire that gives you souls. Your knowledge–your poesy–your laws–your arts–your barbarous mastery of war (all how tame and mutilated, when compared with the vast original!)–ye have filched, as a slave filches the fragments of the feast, from us! And now, ye mimics of a mimic!–Romans, forsooth! the mushroom herd of robbers! ye are our masters! the pyramids look down no more on the race of Rameses–the eagle cowers over the serpent of the Nile. Our masters–no, not mine. My soul, by the power of its wisdom, controls and chains you, though the fetters are unseen. So long as craft can master force, so long as religion has a cave from which oracles can dupe mankind, the wise hold an empire over earth. Even from your vices Arbaces distills his pleasures–pleasures unprofaned by vulgar eyes–pleasures vast, wealthy, inexhaustible, of which your enervate minds, in their unimaginative sensuality, cannot conceive or dream! Plod on, plod on, fools of ambition and of avarice! your petty thirst for fasces and quaestorships, and all the mummery of servile power, provokes my laughter and my scorn. My power can extend wherever man believes. I ride over the souls that the purple veils. Thebes may fall, Egypt be a name; the world itself furnishes the subjects of Arbaces.’
Thus saying, the Egyptian moved slowly on; and, entering the town, his tall figure towered above the crowded throng of the forum, and swept towards the small but graceful temple consecrated to Isis.
That edifice was then but of recent erection; the ancient temple had been thrown down in the earthquake sixteen years before, and the new building had become as much in vogue with the versatile Pompeians as a new church or a new preacher may be with us. The oracles of the goddess at Pompeii were indeed remarkable, not more for the mysterious language in which they were clothed, than for the credit which was attached to their mandates and predictions. If they were not dictated by a divinity, they were framed at least by a profound knowledge of mankind; they applied themselves exactly to the circumstances of individuals, and made a notable contrast to the vague and loose generalities of their rival temples. As Arbaces now arrived at the rails which separated the profane from the sacred place, a crowd, composed of all classes, but especially of the commercial, collected, breathless and reverential, before the many altars which rose in the open court. In the walls of the cella, elevated on seven steps of Parian marble, various statues stood in niches, and those walls were ornamented with the pomegranate consecrated to Isis. An oblong pedestal occupied the interior building, on which stood two statues, one of Isis, and its companion represented the silent and mystic Orus. But the building contained many other deities to grace the court of the Egyptian deity: her kindred and many-titled Bacchus, and the Cyprian Venus, a Grecian disguise for herself, rising from her bath, and the dog-headed Anubis, and the ox Apis, and various Egyptian idols of uncouth form and unknown appellations.
But we must not suppose that among the cities of Magna Graecia, Isis was worshipped with those forms and ceremonies which were of right her own. The mongrel and modern nations of the South, with a mingled arrogance and ignorance, confounded the worships of all climes and ages. And the profound mysteries of the Nile were degraded by a hundred meretricious and frivolous admixtures from the creeds of Cephisus and of Tibur. The temple of Isis in Pompeii was served by Roman and Greek priests, ignorant alike of the language and the customs of her ancient votaries; and the descendant of the dread Egyptian kings, beneath the appearance of reverential awe, secretly laughed to scorn the puny mummeries which imitated the solemn and typical worship of his burning clime.
Ranged now on either side the steps was the sacrificial crowd, arrayed in white garments, while at the summit stood two of the inferior priests, the one holding a palm branch, the other a slender sheaf of corn. In the narrow passage in front thronged the bystanders.
‘And what,’ whispered Arbaces to one of the bystanders, who was a merchant engaged in the Alexandrian trade, which trade had probably first introduced in Pompeii the worship of the Egyptian goddess–‘what occasion now assembles you before the altars of the venerable Isis? It seems, by the white robes of the group before me, that a sacrifice is to be rendered; and by the assembly of the priests, that ye are prepared for some oracle. To what question is it to vouchsafe a reply?’
‘We are merchants,’ replied the bystander (who was no other than Diomed) in the same voice, ‘who seek to know the fate of our vessels, which sail for Alexandria to-morrow. We are about to offer up a sacrifice and implore an answer from the goddess. I am not one of those who have petitioned the priest to sacrifice, as you may see by my dress, but I have some interest in the success of the fleet–by Jupiter! yes. I have a pretty trade, else how could I live in these hard times?
The Egyptian replied gravely–‘That though Isis was properly the goddess of agriculture, she was no less the patron of commerce.’ Then turning his head towards the east, Arbaces seemed absorbed in silent prayer.
And now in the centre of the steps appeared a priest robed in white from head to foot, the veil parting over the crown; two new priests relieved those hitherto stationed at either corner, being naked half-way down to the breast, and covered, for the rest, in white and loose robes. At the same time, seated at the bottom of the steps, a priest commenced a solemn air upon a long wind-instrument of music. Half-way down the steps stood another flamen, holding in one hand the votive wreath, in the other a white wand; while, adding to the picturesque scene of that eastern ceremony, the stately ibis (bird sacred to the Egyptian worship) looked mutely down from the wall upon the rite, or stalked beside the altar at the base of the steps.
At that altar now stood the sacrificial flamen.
The countenance of Arbaces seemed to lose all its rigid calm while the aruspices inspected the entrails, and to be intent in pious anxiety–to rejoice and brighten as the signs were declared favorable, and the fire began bright and clearly to consume the sacred portion of the victim amidst odorous of myrrh and frankincense. It was then that a dead silence fell over the whispering crowd, and the priests gathering round the cella, another priest, naked save by a cincture round the middle, rushed forward, and dancing with wild gestures, implored an answer from the goddess. He ceased at last in exhaustion, and a low murmuring noise was heard within the body of the statue: thrice the head moved, and the lips parted, and then a hollow voice uttered these mystic words:
There are waves like chargers that meet and glow, There are graves ready wrought in the rocks below, On the brow of the future the dangers lour, But blest are your barks in the fearful hour.
The voice ceased–the crowd breathed more freely–the merchants looked at each other. ‘Nothing can be more plain,’ murmured Diomed; ‘there is to be a storm at sea, as there very often is at the beginning of autumn, but our vessels are to be saved. O beneficent Isis!’
‘Lauded eternally be the goddess!’ said the merchants: ‘what can be less equivocal than her prediction?’
Raising one hand in sign of silence to the people, for the rites of Isis enjoined what to the lively Pompeians was an impossible suspense from the use of the vocal organs, the chief priest poured his libation on the altar, and after a short concluding prayer the ceremony was over, and the congregation dismissed. Still, however, as the crowd dispersed themselves here and there, the Egyptian lingered by the railing, and when the space became tolerably cleared, one of the priests, approaching it, saluted him with great appearance of friendly familiarity.
The countenance of the priest was remarkably unprepossessing–his shaven skull was so low and narrow in the front as nearly to approach to the conformation of that of an African savage, save only towards the temples, where, in that organ styled acquisitiveness by the pupils of a science modern in name, but best practically known (as their sculpture teaches us) amongst the ancients, two huge and almost preternatural protuberances yet more distorted the unshapely head–around the brows the skin was puckered into a web of deep and intricate wrinkles–the eyes, dark and small, rolled in a muddy and yellow orbit–the nose, short yet coarse, was distended at the nostrils like a satyr’s–and the thick but pallid lips, the high cheek-bones, the livid and motley hues that struggled through the parchment skin, completed a countenance which none could behold without repugnance, and few without terror and distrust: whatever the wishes of the mind, the animal frame was well fitted to execute them; the wiry muscles of the throat, the broad chest, the nervous hands and lean gaunt arms, which were bared above the elbow, betokened a form capable alike of great active exertion and passive endurance.
‘Calenus,’ said the Egyptian to this fascinating flamen, ‘you have improved the voice of the statue much by attending to my suggestion; and your verses are excellent. Always prophesy good fortune, unless there is an absolute impossibility of its fulfilment.’
‘Besides,’ added Calenus, ‘if the storm does come, and if it does overwhelm the accursed ships, have we not prophesied it? and are the barks not blest to be at rest?–for rest prays the mariner in the AEgean sea, or at least so says Horace–can the mariner be more at rest in the sea than when he is at the bottom of it?’
‘Right, my Calenus; I wish Apaecides would take a lesson from your wisdom. But I desire to confer with you relative to him and to other matters: you can admit me into one of your less sacred apartments?’
‘Assuredly,’ replied the priest, leading the way to one of the small chambers which surrounded the open gate. Here they seated themselves before a small table spread with dishes containing fruit and eggs, and various cold meats, with vases of excellent wine, of which while the companions partook, a curtain, drawn across the entrance opening to the court, concealed them from view, but admonished them by the thinness of the partition to speak low, or to speak no secrets: they chose the former alternative.
‘Thou knowest,’ said Arbaces, in a voice that scarcely stirred the air, so soft and inward was its sound, ‘that it has ever been my maxim to attach myself to the young. From their flexile and unformed minds I can carve out my fittest tools. I weave–I warp–I mould them at my will. Of the men I make merely followers or servants; of the women…’
‘Mistresses,’ said Calenus, as a livid grin distorted his ungainly features.
‘Yes, I do not disguise it: woman is the main object, the great appetite, of my soul. As you feed the victim for the slaughter, I love to rear the votaries of my pleasure. I love to train, to ripen their minds–to unfold the sweet blossom of their hidden passions, in order to prepare the fruit to my taste. I loathe your ready-made and ripened courtesans; it is in the soft and unconscious progress of innocence to desire that I find the true charm of love; it is thus that I defy satiety; and by contemplating the freshness of others, I sustain the freshness of my own sensations. From the young hearts of my victims I draw the ingredients of the caldron in which I re-youth myself. But enough of this: to the subject before us. You know, then, that in Neapolis some time since I encountered Ione and Apaecides, brother and sister, the children of Athenians who had settled at Neapolis. The death of their parents, who knew and esteemed me, constituted me their guardian. I was not unmindful of the trust. The youth, docile and mild, yielded readily to the impression I sought to stamp upon him. Next to woman, I love the old recollections of my ancestral land; I love to keep alive–to propagate on distant shores (which her colonies perchance yet people) her dark and mystic creeds. It may be, that it pleases me to delude mankind, while I thus serve the deities. To Apaecides I taught the solemn faith of Isis. I unfolded to him something of those sublime allegories which are couched beneath her worship. I excited in a soul peculiarly alive to religious fervor that enthusiasm which imagination begets on faith. I have placed him amongst you: he is one of you.’
‘He is so,’ said Calenus: ‘but in thus stimulating his faith, you have robbed him of wisdom. He is horror-struck that he is no longer duped: our sage delusions, our speaking statues and secret staircases dismay and revolt him; he pines; he wastes away; he mutters to himself; he refuses to share our ceremonies. He has been known to frequent the company of men suspected of adherence to that new and atheistical creed which denies all our gods, and terms our oracles the inspirations of that malevolent spirit of which eastern tradition speaks. Our oracles–alas! we know well whose inspirations they are!’
‘This is what I feared,’ said Arbaces, musingly, ‘from various reproaches he made me when I last saw him. Of late he hath shunned my steps. I must find him: I must continue my lessons: I must lead him into the adytum of Wisdom. I must teach him that there are two stages of sanctity–the first, FAITH–the next, DELUSION; the one for the vulgar, the second for the sage.’
‘I never passed through the first, I said Calenus; ‘nor you either, I think, my Arbaces.’
‘You err,’ replied the Egyptian, gravely. ‘I believe at this day (not indeed that which I teach, but that which I teach not). Nature has a sanctity against which I cannot (nor would I) steel conviction. I believe in mine own knowledge, and that has revealed to me–but no matter. Now to earthlier and more inviting themes. If I thus fulfilled my object with Apaecides, what was my design for Ione? Thou knowest already I intend her for my queen–my bride–my heart’s Isis. Never till I saw her knew I all the love of which my nature is capable.’
‘I hear from a thousand lips that she is a second Helen,’ said Calenus; and he smacked his own lips, but whether at the wine or at the notion it is not easy to decide.
‘Yes, she has a beauty that Greece itself never excelled,’ resumed Arbaces. ‘But that is not all: she has a soul worthy to match with mine. She has a genius beyond that of woman–keen–dazzling–bold. Poetry flows spontaneous to her lips: utter but a truth, and, however intricate and profound, her mind seizes and commands it. Her imagination and her reason are not at war with each other; they harmonize and direct her course as the winds and the waves direct some lofty bark. With this she unites a daring independence of thought; she can stand alone in the world; she can be brave as she is gentle; this is the nature I have sought all my life in woman, and never found till now. Ione must be mine! In her I have a double passion; I wish to enjoy a beauty of spirit as of form.’
‘She is not yours yet, then?’ said the priest.
‘No; she loves me–but as a friend–she loves me with her mind only. She fancies in me the paltry virtues which I have only the profounder virtue to disdain. But you must pursue with me her history. The brother and sister were young and rich: Ione is proud and ambitious–proud of her genius–the magic of her poetry–the charm of her conversation. When her brother left me, and entered your temple, in order to be near him she removed also to Pompeii. She has suffered her talents to be known. She summons crowds to her feasts; her voice enchants them; her poetry subdues. She delights in being thought the successor of Erinna.’
‘Or of Sappho?’
‘But Sappho without love! I encouraged her in this boldness of career–in this indulgence of vanity and of pleasure. I loved to steep her amidst the dissipations and luxury of this abandoned city. Mark me, Calenus! I desired to enervate her mind!–it has been too pure to receive yet the breath which I wish not to pass, but burningly to eat into, the mirror. I wished her to be surrounded by lovers, hollow, vain, and frivolous (lovers that her nature must despise), in order to feel the want of love. Then, in those soft intervals of lassitude that succeed to excitement–I can weave my spells–excite her interest–attract her passions–possess myself of her heart. For it is not the young, nor the beautiful, nor the gay, that should fascinate Ione; her imagination must be won, and the life of Arbaces has been one scene of triumph over the imaginations of his kind.’
‘And hast thou no fear, then, of thy rivals? The gallants of Italy are skilled in the art to please.’
‘None! Her Greek soul despises the barbarian Romans, and would scorn itself if it admitted a thought of love for one of that upstart race.’
‘But thou art an Egyptian, not a Greek!’
‘Egypt,’ replied Arbaces, ‘is the mother of Athens. Her tutelary Minerva is our deity; and her founder, Cecrops, was the fugitive of Egyptian Sais. This have I already taught to her; and in my blood she venerates the eldest dynasties of earth. But yet I will own that of late some uneasy suspicions have crossed my mind. She is more silent than she used to be; she loves melancholy and subduing music; she sighs without an outward cause. This may be the beginning of love–it may be the want of love. In either case it is time for me to begin my operations on her fancies and her heart: in the one case, to divert the source of love to me; in the other, in me to awaken it. It is for this that I have sought you.’
‘And how can I assist you?’
‘I am about to invite her to a feast in my house: I wish to dazzle–to bewilder–to inflame her senses. Our arts–the arts by which Egypt trained her young novitiates–must be employed; and, under veil of the mysteries of religion, I will open to her the secrets of love.’
‘Ah! now I understand:–one of those voluptuous banquets that, despite our dull vows of mortified coldness, we, the priests of Isis, have shared at thy house.’
‘No, no! Thinkest thou her chaste eyes are ripe for such scenes? No; but first we must ensnare the brother–an easier task. Listen to me, while I give you my instructions.’
MORE OF THE FLOWER-GIRL. THE PROGRESS OF LOVE.
THE sun shone gaily into that beautiful chamber in the house of Glaucus, which I have before said is now called the ‘Room of Leda’. The morning rays entered through rows of small casements at the higher part of the room, and through the door which opened on the garden, that answered to the inhabitants of the southern cities the same purpose that a greenhouse or conservatory does to us. The size of the garden did not adapt it for exercise, but the various and fragrant plants with which it was filled gave a luxury to that indolence so dear to the dwellers in a sunny clime. And now the odorous, fanned by a gentle wind creeping from the adjacent sea, scattered themselves over that chamber, whose walls vied with the richest colors of the most glowing flowers. Besides the gem of the room–the painting of Leda and Tyndarus–in the centre of each compartment of the walls were set other pictures of exquisite beauty. In one you saw Cupid leaning on the knees of Venus; in another Ariadne sleeping on the beach, unconscious of the perfidy of Theseus. Merrily the sunbeams played to and fro on the tessellated floor and the brilliant walls–far more happily came the rays of joy to the heart of the young Glaucus.
‘I have seen her, then,’ said he, as he paced that narrow chamber–‘I have heard her–nay, I have spoken to her again–I have listened to the music of her song, and she sung of glory and of Greece. I have discovered the long-sought idol of my dreams; and like the Cyprian sculptor, I have breathed life into my own imaginings.’
Longer, perhaps, had been the enamoured soliloquy of Glaucus, but at that moment a shadow darkened the threshold of the chamber, and a young female, still half a child in years, broke upon his solitude. She was dressed simply in a white tunic, which reached from the neck to the ankles; under her arm she bore a basket of flowers, and in the other hand she held a bronze water-vase; her features were more formed than exactly became her years, yet they were soft and feminine in their outline, and without being beautiful in themselves, they were almost made so by their beauty of expression; there was something ineffably gentle, and you would say patient, in her aspect. A look of resigned sorrow, of tranquil endurance, had banished the smile, but not the sweetness, from her lips; something timid and cautious in her step–something wandering in her eyes, led you to suspect the affliction which she had suffered from her birth–she was blind; but in the orbs themselves there was no visible defect–their melancholy and subdued light was clear, cloudless, and serene. ‘They tell me that Glaucus is here,’ said she; ‘may I come in?’
‘Ah, my Nydia,’ said the Greek, ‘is that you I knew you would not neglect my invitation.’
‘Glaucus did but justice to himself,’ answered Nydia, with a blush; ‘for he has always been kind to the poor blind girl.’
‘Who could be otherwise?’ said Glaucus, tenderly, and in the voice of a compassionate brother.
Nydia sighed and paused before she resumed, without replying to his remark. ‘You have but lately returned?’
‘This is the sixth sun that hath shone upon me at Pompeii.’
‘And you are well? Ah, I need not ask–for who that sees the earth, which they tell me is so beautiful, can be ill?’
‘I am well. And you, Nydia–how you have grown! Next year you will be thinking what answer to make your lovers.’
A second blush passed over the cheek of Nydia, but this time she frowned as she blushed. ‘I have brought you some flowers,’ said she, without replying to a remark that she seemed to resent; and feeling about the room till she found the table that stood by Glaucus, she laid the basket upon it: ‘they are poor, but they are fresh-gathered.’
‘They might come from Flora herself,’ said he, kindly; ‘and I renew again my vow to the Graces, that I will wear no other garlands while thy hands can weave me such as these.’
‘And how find you the flowers in your viridarium?–are they thriving?’
‘Wonderfully so–the Lares themselves must have tended them.’
‘Ah, now you give me pleasure; for I came, as often as I could steal the leisure, to water and tend them in your absence.’
‘How shall I thank thee, fair Nydia?’ said the Greek. ‘Glaucus little dreamed that he left one memory so watchful over his favorites at Pompeii.’
The hand of the child trembled, and her breast heaved beneath her tunic. She turned round in embarrassment. ‘The sun is hot for the poor flowers,’ said she, ‘to-day and they will miss me; for I have been ill lately, and it is nine days since I visited them.’
‘Ill, Nydia!–yet your cheek has more color than it had last year.’
‘I am often ailing,’ said the blind girl, touchingly; ‘and as I grow up I grieve more that I am blind. But now to the flowers!’ So saying, she made a slight reverence with her head, and passing into the viridarium, busied herself with watering the flowers.
‘Poor Nydia,’ thought Glaucus, gazing on her; ‘thine is a hard doom! Thou seest not the earth–nor the sun–nor the ocean–nor the stars–above all, thou canst not behold Ione.’
At that last thought his mind flew back to the past evening, and was a second time disturbed in its reveries by the entrance of Clodius. It was a proof how much a single evening had sufficed to increase and to refine the love of the Athenian for Ione, that whereas he had confided to Clodius the secret of his first interview with her, and the effect it had produced on him, he now felt an invincible aversion even to mention to him her name. He had seen Ione, bright, pure, unsullied, in the midst of the gayest and most profligate gallants of Pompeii, charming rather than awing the boldest into respect, and changing the very nature of the most sensual and the least ideal–as by her intellectual and refining spells she reversed the fable of Circe, and converted the animals into men. They who could not understand her soul were made spiritual, as it were, by the magic of her beauty–they who had no heart for poetry had ears, at least, for the melody of her voice. Seeing her thus surrounded, purifying and brightening all things with her presence, Glaucus almost for the first time felt the nobleness of his own nature–he felt how unworthy of the goddess of his dreams had been his companions and his pursuits. A veil seemed lifted from his eyes; he saw that immeasurable distance between himself and his associates which the deceiving mists of pleasure had hitherto concealed; he was refined by a sense of his courage in aspiring to Ione. He felt that henceforth it was his destiny to look upward and to soar. He could no longer breathe that name, which sounded to the sense of his ardent fancy as something sacred and divine, to lewd and vulgar ears. She was no longer the beautiful girl once seen and passionately remembered–she was already the mistress, the divinity of his soul. This feeling who has not experienced?–If thou hast not, then thou hast never loved.
When Clodius therefore spoke to him in affected transport of the beauty of Ione, Glaucus felt only resentment and disgust that such lips should dare to praise her; he answered coldly, and the Roman imagined that his passion was cured instead of heightened. Clodius scarcely regretted it, for he was anxious that Glaucus should marry an heiress yet more richly endowed–Julia, the daughter of the wealthy Diomed, whose gold the gamester imagined he could readily divert into his own coffers. Their conversation did not flow with its usual ease; and no sooner had Clodius left him than Glaucus bent his way to the house of Ione. In passing by the threshold he again encountered Nydia, who had finished her graceful task. She knew his step on the instant.
‘You are early abroad?’ said she.
‘Yes; for the skies of Campania rebuke the sluggard who neglects them.’
‘Ah, would I could see them!’ murmured the blind girl, but so low that Glaucus did not overhear the complaint.
The Thessalian lingered on the threshold a few moments, and then guiding her steps by a long staff, which she used with great dexterity, she took her way homeward. She soon turned from the more gaudy streets, and entered a quarter of the town but little loved by the decorous and the sober. But from the low and rude evidences of vice around her she was saved by her misfortune. And at that hour the streets were quiet and silent, nor was her youthful ear shocked by the sounds which too often broke along the obscene and obscure haunts she patiently and sadly traversed.
She knocked at the back-door of a sort of tavern; it opened, and a rude voice bade her give an account of the sesterces. Ere she could reply, another voice, less vulgarly accented, said:
‘Never mind those petty profits, my Burbo. The girl’s voice will be wanted again soon at our rich friend’s revels; and he pays, as thou knowest, pretty high for his nightingales’ tongues.
‘Oh, I hope not–I trust not,’ cried Nydia, trembling. ‘I will beg from sunrise to sunset, but send me not there.’
‘And why?’ asked the same voice.
‘Because–because I am young, and delicately born, and the female companions I meet there are not fit associates for one who–who…’
‘Is a slave in the house of Burbo,’ returned the voice ironically, and with a coarse laugh.
The Thessalian put down the flowers, and, leaning her face on her hands, wept silently.
Meanwhile, Glaucus sought the house of the beautiful Neapolitan. He found Ione sitting amidst her attendants, who were at work around her. Her harp stood at her side, for Ione herself was unusually idle, perhaps unusually thoughtful, that day. He thought her even more beautiful by the morning light and in her simple robe, than amidst the blazing lamps, and decorated with the costly jewels of the previous night: not the less so from a certain paleness that overspread her transparent hues–not the less so from the blush that mounted over them when he approached. Accustomed to flatter, flattery died upon his lips when he addressed Ione. He felt it beneath her to utter the homage which every look conveyed. They spoke of Greece; this was a theme on which Ione loved rather to listen than to converse: it was a theme on which the Greek could have been eloquent for ever. He described to her the silver olive groves that yet clad the banks of Ilyssus, and the temples, already despoiled of half their glories–but how beautiful in decay! He looked back on the melancholy city of Harmodius the free, and Pericles the magnificent, from the height of that distant memory, which mellowed into one hazy light all the ruder and darker shades. He had seen the land of poetry chiefly in the poetical age of early youth; and the associations of patriotism were blended with those of the flush and spring of life. And Ione listened to him, absorbed and mute; dearer were those accents, and those descriptions, than all the prodigal adulation of her numberless adorers. Was it a sin to love her countryman? she loved Athens in him–the gods of her race, the land of her dreams, spoke to her in his voice! From that time they daily saw each other. At the cool of the evening they made excursions on the placid sea. By night they met again in Ione’s porticoes and halls. Their love was sudden, but it was strong; it filled all the sources of their life. Heart–brain–sense–imagination, all were its ministers and priests. As you take some obstacle from two objects that have a mutual attraction, they met, and united at once; their wonder was, that they had lived separate so long. And it was natural that they should so love. Young, beautiful, and gifted–of the same birth, and the same soul–there was poetry in their very union. They imagined the heavens smiled upon their affection. As the persecuted seek refuge at the shrine, so they recognized in the altar of their love an asylum from the sorrows of earth; they covered it with flowers–they knew not of the serpents that lay coiled behind.
One evening, the fifth after their first meeting at Pompeii, Glaucus and Ione, with a small party of chosen friends, were returning from an excursion round the bay; their vessel skimmed lightly over the twilight waters, whose lucid mirror was only broken by the dripping oars. As the rest of the party conversed gaily with each other, Glaucus lay at the feet of Ione, and he would have looked up in her face, but he did not dare. Ione broke the pause between them.
‘My poor brother,’ said she, sighing, ‘how once he would have enjoyed this hour!’
‘Your brother!’ said Glaucus; ‘I have not seen him. Occupied with you, I have thought of nothing else, or I should have asked if that was not your brother for whose companionship you left me at the Temple of Minerva, in Neapolis?’
‘And is he here?’
‘At Pompeii! and not constantly with you? Impossible!’
‘He has other duties,’ answered Ione, sadly; ‘he is a priest of Isis.’
‘So young, too; and that priesthood, in its laws at least, so severe!’ said the warm and bright-hearted Greek, in surprise and pity. ‘What could have been his inducement?’
‘He was always enthusiastic and fervent in religious devotion: and the eloquence of an Egyptian–our friend and guardian–kindled in him the pious desire to consecrate his life to the most mystic of our deities. Perhaps in the intenseness of his zeal, he found in the severity of that peculiar priesthood its peculiar attraction.’
‘And he does not repent his choice?–I trust he is happy.’
Ione sighed deeply, and lowered her veil over her eyes.
‘I wish,’ said she, after a pause, ‘that he had not been so hasty. Perhaps, like all who expect too much, he is revolted too easily!’
‘Then he is not happy in his new condition. And this Egyptian, was he a priest himself? was he interested in recruits to the sacred band?
‘No. His main interest was in our happiness. He thought he promoted that of my brother. We were left orphans.’
‘Like myself,’ said Glaucus, with a deep meaning in his voice.
Ione cast down her eyes as she resumed:
‘And Arbaces sought to supply the place of our parent. You must know him. He loves genius.’
‘Arbaces! I know him already; at least, we speak when we meet. But for your praise I would not seek to know more of him. My heart inclines readily to most of my kind. But that dark Egyptian, with his gloomy brow and icy smiles, seems to me to sadden the very sun. One would think that, like Epimenides, the Cretan, he had spent forty years in a cave, and had found something unnatural in the daylight ever afterwards.’
‘Yet, like Epimenides, he is kind, and wise, and gentle,’ answered Ione.
‘Oh, happy that he has thy praise! He needs no other virtues to make him dear to me.’
‘His calm, his coldness,’ said Ione, evasively pursuing the subject, ‘are perhaps but the exhaustion of past sufferings; as yonder mountain (and she pointed to Vesuvius), which we see dark and tranquil in the distance, once nursed the fires for ever quenched.’
They both gazed on the mountain as Ione said these words; the rest of the sky was bathed in rosy and tender hues, but over that grey summit, rising amidst the woods and vineyards that then clomb half-way up the ascent, there hung a black and ominous cloud, the single frown of the landscape. A sudden and unaccountable gloom came over each as they thus gazed; and in that sympathy which love had already taught them, and which bade them, in the slightest shadows of emotion, the faintest presentiment of evil, turn for refuge to each other, their gaze at the same moment left the mountain, and full of unimaginable tenderness, met. What need had they of words to say they loved?
THE FOWLER SNARES AGAIN THE BIRD THAT HAD JUST ESCAPED, AND SETS HIS NETS FOR A NEW VICTIM.
IN the history I relate, the events are crowded and rapid as those of the drama. I write of an epoch in which days sufficed to ripen the ordinary fruits of years.
Meanwhile, Arbaces had not of late much frequented the house of Ione; and when he had visited her he had not encountered Glaucus, nor knew he, as yet, of that love which had so suddenly sprung up between himself and his designs. In his interest for the brother of Ione, he had been forced, too, a little while, to suspend his interest in Ione herself. His pride and his selfishness were aroused and alarmed at the sudden change which had come over the spirit of the youth. He trembled lest he himself should lose a docile pupil, and Isis an enthusiastic servant. Apaecides had ceased to seek or to consult him. He was rarely to be found; he turned sullenly from the Egyptian–nay, he fled when he perceived him in the distance. Arbaces was one of those haughty and powerful spirits accustomed to master others; he chafed at the notion that one once his own should ever elude his grasp. He swore inly that Apaecides should not escape him.
It was with this resolution that he passed through a thick grove in the city, which lay between his house and that of Ione, in his way to the latter; and there, leaning against a tree, and gazing on the ground, he came unawares on the young priest of Isis.
‘Apaecides!’ said he–and he laid his hand affectionately on the young man’s shoulder.
The priest started; and his first instinct seemed to be that of flight. ‘My son,’ said the Egyptian, ‘what has chanced that you desire to shun me?’
Apaecides remained silent and sullen, looking down on the earth, as his lips quivered, and his breast heaved with emotion.
‘Speak to me, my friend,’ continued the Egyptian. ‘Speak. Something burdens thy spirit. What hast thou to reveal?’
‘And why is it to me thou art thus unconfidential?’
‘Because thou hast been my enemy.’
‘Let us confer,’ said Arbaces, in a low voice; and drawing the reluctant arm of the priest in his own, he led him to one of the seats which were scattered within the grove. They sat down–and in those gloomy forms there was something congenial to the shade and solitude of the place.
Apaecides was in the spring of his years, yet he seemed to have exhausted even more of life than the Egyptian; his delicate and regular features were worn and colorless; his eyes were hollow, and shone with a brilliant and feverish glare: his frame bowed prematurely, and in his hands, which were small to effeminacy, the blue and swollen veins indicated the lassitude and weakness of the relaxed fibres. You saw in his face a strong resemblance to Ione, but the expression was altogether different from that majestic and spiritual calm which breathed so divine and classical a repose over his sister’s beauty. In her, enthusiasm was visible, but it seemed always suppressed and restrained; this made the charm and sentiment of her countenance; you longed to awaken a spirit which reposed, but evidently did not sleep. In Apaecides the whole aspect betokened the fervor and passion of his temperament, and the intellectual portion of his nature seemed, by the wild fire of the eyes, the great breadth of the temples when compared with the height of the brow, the trembling restlessness of the lips, to be swayed and tyrannized over by the imaginative and ideal. Fancy, with the sister, had stopped short at the golden goal of poetry; with the brother, less happy and less restrained, it had wandered into visions more intangible and unembodied; and the faculties which gave genius to the one threatened madness to the other.
‘You say I have been your enemy,’ said Arbaces, ‘I know the cause of that unjust accusation: I have placed you amidst the priests of Isis–you are revolted at their trickeries and imposture–you think that I too have deceived you–the purity of your mind is offended–you imagine that I am one