Infomotions, Inc.Imperial Purple / Saltus, Edgar, 1858-1921



Author: Saltus, Edgar, 1858-1921
Title: Imperial Purple
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): nero; rome; caligula; domitian; caesar; emperor; purple
Contributor(s): Brinton, Daniel Garrison, 1837-1899 [Editor]
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Title: Imperial Purple

Author: Edgar Saltus

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Robert Rowe, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

IMPERIAL PURPLE

By EDGAR SALTUS





CONTENTS

   I. That Woman
  II. Conjectural Rome
 III. Fabulous Fields
  IV. The Pursuit of the Impossible
   V. Nero
  VI. The House of Flavia
 VII. The Poison in the Purple
VIII. Faustine
  IX. The Agony





I

THAT WOMAN


When the murder was done and the heralds shouted through the thick
streets the passing of Caesar, it was the passing of the republic
they announced, the foundation of Imperial Rome.

There was a hush, then a riot which frightened a senate that
frightened the world. Caesar was adored. A man who could give
millions away and sup on dry bread was apt to conquer, not
provinces alone, but hearts. Besides, he had begun well and his
people had done their best. The House of Julia, to which he
belonged, descended, he declared, from Venus. The ancestry was
less legendary than typical. Cinna drafted a law giving him the
right to marry as often as he chose. His mistresses were queens.
After the episodes in Gaul, when he entered Rome his legions
warned the citizens to have an eye on their wives. At seventeen he
fascinated pirates. A shipload of the latter had caught him and
demanded twenty talents ransom. "Too little," said the lad; "I
will give you fifty, and impale you too," which he did, jesting
with them meanwhile, reciting verses of his own composition,
calling them barbarians when they did not applaud, ordering them
to be quiet when he wished to sleep, captivating them by the
effrontery of his assurance, and, the ransom paid, slaughtering
them as he had promised.

Tall, slender, not handsome, but superb and therewith so perfectly
sent out that Cicero mistook him for a fop from whom the republic
had nothing to fear; splendidly lavish, exquisitely gracious, he
was born to charm, and his charm was such that it still subsists.
Cato alone was unenthralled. But Cato was never pleased; he
laughed but once, and all Rome turned out to see him; he belonged
to an earlier day, to an austerer, perhaps to a better one, and it
may be that in "that woman," as he called Cassar, his clearer
vision discerned beneath the plumage of the peacock, the beak and
talons of the bird of prey. For they were there, and needed only a
vote of the senate to batten on nations of which the senate had
never heard. Loan him an army, and "that woman" was to give
geography such a twist that today whoso says Caesar says history.

Was it this that Cato saw, or may it be that one of the oracles
which had not ceased to speak had told him of that coming night
when he was to take his own life, fearful lest "that woman" should
overwhelm him with the magnificence of his forgiveness? Cato walks
through history, as he walked through the Forum, bare of foot--too
severe to be simple, too obstinate to be generous--the image of
ancient Rome.

In Caesar there was nothing of this. He was wholly modern;
dissolute enough for any epoch, but possessed of virtues that his
contemporaries could not spell. A slave tried to poison him.
Suetonius says he merely put the slave to death. The "merely" is
to the point. Cato would have tortured him first. After Pharsalus
he forgave everyone. When severe, it was to himself. It is true he
turned over two million people into so many dead flies, their legs
in the air, creating, as Tacitus has it, a solitude which he
described as Peace; but what antitheses may not be expected in a
man who, before the first century was begun, divined the fifth,
and who in the Suevians--that terrible people beside whom no
nation could live--foresaw Attila!

Save in battle his health was poor. He was epileptic, his strength
undermined by incessant debauches; yet let a nation fancying him
months away put on insurgent airs, and on that nation he descended
as the thunder does. In his campaigns time and again he overtook
his own messengers. A phantom in a ballad was not swifter than he.
Simultaneously his sword flashed in Germany, on the banks of the
Adriatic, in that Ultima Thule where the Britons lived. From the
depths of Gaul he dominated Rome, and therewith he was penetrating
impenetrable forests, trailing legions as a torch trails smoke,
erecting walls that a nation could not cross, turning soldiers
into marines, infantry into cavalry, building roads that are roads
to-day, fighting with one hand and writing an epic with the other,
dictating love-letters, chronicles, dramas; finding time to make a
collection of witticisms; overturning thrones while he decorated
Greece; mingling initiate into orgies of the Druids, and, as the
cymbals clashed, coquetting with those terrible virgins who awoke
the tempest; not only conquering, but captivating, transforming
barbarians into soldiers and those soldiers into senators,
submitting three hundred nations and ransacking Britannia for
pearls for his mistresses' ears.

Each epoch has its secret, and each epoch-maker his own. Caesar's
secret lay in the power he had of projecting a soul into the ranks
of an army, of making legions and their leader one. Disobedience
only he punished; anything else he forgave. After a victory his
soldiery did what they liked. He gave them arms, slaves to burnish
them, women, feasts, sleep. They were his comrades; he called them
so; he wept at the death of any of them, and when they were
frightened, as they were in Gaul before they met the Germans, and
in Africa before they encountered Juba, Caesar frightened them
still more. He permitted no questions, no making of wills. The
cowards could hide where they liked; his old guard, the Tenth,
would do the work alone; or, threat still more sinister, he would
command a retreat. Ah, that, never! Fanaticism returned, the
legions begged to be punished.

Michelet says he would like to have seen him crossing Gaul,
bareheaded, in the rain. It would have been as interesting,
perhaps, to have watched him beneath the shade of the velarium
pleading the cause of Masintha against the Numidian king. Before
him was a crowd that covered not the Forum alone, but the steps of
the adjacent temples, the roofs of the basilicas, the arches of
Janus, one that extended remotely to the black walls of the Curia
Hostilia beyond. And there, on the rostrum, a musician behind him
supplying the la from a flute, the air filled with gold motes,
Caesar, his toga becomingly adjusted, a jewelled hand extended,
opened for the defence. Presently, when through the exercise of
that art of his which Cicero pronounced incomparable, he felt that
the sympathy of the audience was won, it would have been
interesting, indeed, to have heard him argue point after point--
clearly, brilliantly, wittily; insulting the plaintiff in poetic
terms; consigning him gracefully to the infernal regions;
accentuating a fictitious and harmonious anger; drying his
forehead without disarranging his hair; suffocating with the
emotions he evoked; displaying real tears, and with them a
knowledge, not only of law, rhetoric, philosophy, but of geometry,
astronomy, ethics and the fine arts; blinding his hearers with the
coruscations of his erudition; stirring them with his tongue, as
with the point of a sword, until, as though abruptly possessed by
an access of fury, he seized the plaintiff by the beard and sent
him spinning like a leaf which the wind had caught.

It would have bored no one either to have assisted at his triumph
when he returned from Gaul, when he returned after Spain, after
Pharsalus, when he returned from Cleopatra's arms.

On that day the Via Sacra was curtained with silk. To the blare of
twisted bugles there descended to it from the turning at the hill
a troop of musicians garmented in leather tunics, bonneted with
lions' heads. Behind them a hundred bulls, too fat to be
troublesome, and decked for death, bellowed musingly at the
sacrifants, who, naked to the waist, a long-handled hammer on the
shoulder, maintained them with colored cords. To the rumble of
wide wheels and the thunder of spectators the prodigious booty
passed, and with it triumphs of war, vistas of conquered
countries, pictures of battles, lists of the vanquished, symbols
of cities that no longer were; a stretch of ivory on which shone
three words, each beginning with a V; images of gods disturbed,
the Rhine, the Rhone, the captive Ocean in massive gold; the
glitter of three thousand crowns offered to the dictator by the
army and allies of Rome. Then came the standards of the republic,
a swarm of eagles, the size of pigeons, in polished silver upheld
by lances which ensigns bore, preceding the six hundred senators
who marched in a body, their togas bordered with red, while to the
din of incessant insults, interminable files of prisoners passed,
their wrists chained to iron collars, which held their heads very
straight, and to the rear a litter, in which crouched the
Vercingetorix of Gaul, a great moody giant, his menacing eyes
nearly hidden in the tangles of his tawny hair.

When they had gone the street was alive with explosions of brass,
aflame with the burning red cloaks of laureled lictors making way
for the coming of Caesar. Four horses, harnessed abreast, their
manes dyed, their forelocks puffed, drew a high and wonderfully
jewelled car; and there, in the attributes and attitude of Jupiter
Capitolinus, Caesar sat, blinking his tired eyes. His face and
arms were painted vermilion; above the Tyrian purple of his toga,
above the gold work and palms of his tunic, there oscillated a
little ball in which there were charms against Envy. On his head a
wreath concealed his increasing baldness; along his left arm the
sceptre lay; behind him a boy admonished him noisily to remember
he was man, while to the rear for miles and miles there rang the
laugh of trumpets, the click of castanets, the shouts of dancers,
the roar of the multitude, the tramp of legions, and the cry,
caught up and repeated, "Io! Triomphe!"

Presently, in the temple of the god of gods, side by side with the
statue of Jupiter, Caesar found his own statue with "Caesar, demi-
god," at its base. The captive chiefs disappeared in the
Tullianum, and a herald called, "They have lived!" Through the
squares jesters circulated, polyglot and obscene; across the
Tiber, in an artificial lake, the flotilla of Egypt fought against
that of Tyr; in the amphitheatre there was a combat of soldiers,
infantry against cavalry, one that indemnified those that had not
seen the massacres in Thessaly and in Spain. There were public
feasts, gifts to everyone. Tables were set in the Forum, in the
circuses and theatres. Falernian circulated in amphorae, Chios in
barrels. When the populace was gorged there were the red feathers
to enable it to gorge again. Of the Rome of Romulus there was
nothing left save the gaunt she-wolf, her wide lips curled at the
descendants of her nursling.

Later, when in slippered feet Caesar wandered through those lovely
gardens of his that lay beyond the Tiber, it may be that he
recalled a dream which had come to him as a lad; one which
concerned the submission of his mother; one which had disturbed
him until the sooth-sayers said: "The mother you saw is the earth,
and you will be her master." And as the memory of the dream
returned, perhaps with it came the memory of the hour when as
simple quaestor he had wept at Gaddir before a statue that was
there. Demi-god, yes; he was that. More, even; he was dictator,
but the dream was unfulfilled. There were the depths of Hither
Asia, the mysteries that lay beyond; there were the glimmering
plains of the Caucasus; there were the Vistula and the Baltic; the
diadems of Cyrus and of Alexander defying his ambition yet, and
what were triumphs and divinity to one who would own the world!

It was this that preoccupied him. The immensity of his successes
seemed petty and Rome very small. Heretofore he had forgiven those
who had opposed him. Presently his attitude changed, and so subtly
that it was the more humiliating; it was not that he no longer
forgave, he disdained to punish. His contempt was absolute. The
senate made his office of pontifix maximus hereditary and accorded
the title of Imperator to his heirs. He snubbed the senate and the
honors that it brought. The senate was shocked. Composed of men
whose fortunes he had made, the senate was not only shocked, its
education in ingratitude was complete. Already there had been
murmurs. Not content with disarranging the calendar, outlining an
empire, drafting a code while planning fresh beauties, new
theatres, bilingual libraries, larger temples, grander gods,
Caesar was at work in the markets, in the kitchens of the
gourmets, in the jewel-boxes of the virgins. Liberty, visibly, was
taking flight. Besides, the power concentrated in him might be so
pleasantly distributed. It was decided that Caesar was in the way.
To put him out of it a pretext was necessary.

One day the senate assembled at his command. They were to sign a
decree creating him king. In order not to, Suetonius says, they
killed him, wounding each other in the effort, for Caesar fought
like the demon that he was, desisting only when he recognized
Brutus, to whom, in Greek, he muttered a reproach, and, draping
his toga that he might fall with decency, sank backward, his head
covered, a few feet from the bronze wolf that stood, its ears
pointed at the letters S. P. Q. R. which decorated a frieze of the
Curia.

Brutus turned to harangue the senate; it had fled. He went to the
Forum to address the people; there was no one. Rome was strangely
empty. Doors were barricaded, windows closed. Through the silent
streets gladiators prowled. Night came, and with it whispering
groups. The groups thickened, voices mounted. Caesar's will had
been read. He had left his gardens to the people, a gift to every
citizen, his wealth and power to his butchers. The body, which two
slaves had removed, an arm hanging from the litter, had never been
as powerfully alive. Caesar reigned then as never before. A mummer
mouthed:

    "I brought them life, they gave me death."

And willingly would the mob have made Rome the funeral pyre of
their idol. In the sky a comet appeared. It was his soul on its
way to Olympus.





II

CONJECTURAL ROME


"I received Rome in brick; I shall leave it in marble," said
Augustus, who was fond of fine phrases, a trick he had caught from
Vergil. And when he looked from his home on the Palatine over the
glitter of the Forum and the glare of the Capitol to the new and
wonderful precinct which extended to the Field of Mars, there was
a stretch of splendor which sanctioned the boast. The city then
was very vast. The tourist might walk in it, as in the London of
to-day, mile after mile, and at whatever point he placed himself,
Rome still lay beyond; a Rome quite like London--one that was
choked with mystery, with gold and curious crime.

But it was not all marble. There were green terraces and porphyry
porticoes that leaned to a river on which red galleys passed;
there were theatres in which a multitude could jeer at an emperor,
and arenas in which an emperor could watch a multitude die; there
were bronze doors and garden roofs, glancing villas and temples
that defied the sun; there were spacious streets, a Forum
curtained with silk, the glint and evocations of triumphal war,
the splendor of a host of gods, but it was not all marble; there
were rents in the magnificence and tatters in the laticlave of
state.

In the Subura, where at night women sat in high chairs, ogling the
passer with painted eyes, there was still plenty of brick; tall
tenements, soiled linen, the odor of Whitechapel and St. Giles.
The streets were noisy with match-peddlers, with vendors of cake
and tripe and coke; there were touts there too, altars to
unimportant divinities, lying Jews who dealt in old clothes, in
obscene pictures and unmentionable wares; at the crossings there
were thimbleriggers, clowns and jugglers, who made glass balls
appear and disappear surprisingly; there were doorways decorated
with curious invitations, gossipy barber shops, where, through the
liberality of politicians, the scum of a great city was shaved,
curled and painted free; and there were public houses, where
vagabond slaves and sexless priests drank the mulled wine of
Crete, supped on the flesh of beasts slaughtered in the arena, or
watched the Syrian women twist to the click of castanets.

Beyond were gray quadrangular buildings, the stomach of Rome,
through which, each noon, ediles passed, verifying the prices, the
weights and measures of the market men, examining the fish and
meats, the enormous cauliflowers that came from the suburbs,
Veronese carrots, Arician pears, stout thrushes, suckling pigs,
eggs embedded in grass, oysters from Baiae, boxes of onions and
garlic mixed, mountains of poppies, beans and fennel, destroying
whatever had ceased to be fresh and taxing that which was.

On the Via Sacra were the shops frequented by ladies; bazaars
where silks and xylons were to be had, essences and unguents,
travelling boxes of scented wood, switches of yellow hair, useful
drugs such as hemlock, aconite, mandragora and cantharides; the
last thing of Ovid's and the improper little novels that came from
Greece.

On the Appian Way, through green afternoons and pink arcades,
fashion strolled. There wealth passed in its chariots, smart young
men that smelt of cinnamon instead of war, nobles, matrons,
cocottes.

At the other end of the city, beyond the menagerie of the
Pantheon, was the Field of Mars, an open-air gymnasium, where
every form of exercise was to be had, even to that simple
promenade in which the Romans delighted, and which in Caesar's
camp so astonished the Verronians that they thought the
promenaders crazy and offered to lead them to their tents. There
was tennis for those who liked it; racquets, polo, football,
quoits, wrestling, everything apt to induce perspiration and
prepare for the hour when a gong of bronze announced the opening
of the baths--those wonderful baths, where the Roman, his slaves
about him, after pasing through steam and water and the hands of
the masseur, had every hair plucked from his arms, legs and
armpits; his flesh rubbed down with nard, his limbs polished with
pumice; and then, wrapped in a scarlet robe, lined with fur, was
sent home in a litter. "Strike them in the face!" cried Caesar at
Pharsalus, when the young patricians made their charge; and the
young patricians, who cared more for their looks than they did for
victory, turned and fled.

It was to the Field of Mars that Agrippa came, to whom Rome owed
the Pantheon and the demand for a law which should inhibit the
private ownership of a masterpiece. There, too, his eunuchs about
him, Mecaenas lounged, companioned by Varus, by Horace and the
mime Bathylle, all of whom he was accustomed to invite to that
lovely villa of his which overlooked the blue Sabinian hills, and
where suppers were given such as those which Petronius has
described so alertly and so well.

In the hall like that of Mecaenas', one divided against itself,
the upper half containing the couches and tables, the other
reserved for the service and the entertainments that follow, the
ceiling was met by columns, the walls hidden by panels of gems. On
a frieze twelve pictures, surmounted by the signs of the zodiac,
represented the dishes of the different months. Beneath the bronze
beds and silver tables mosaics were set in imitation of food that
had fallen and had not been swept away. And there, in white
ungirdled tunics, the head and neck circled with coils of
amaranth--the perfume of which in opening the pores neutralizes
the fumes of wine--the guests lay, fanned by boys, whose curly
hair they used for napkins. Under the supervision of butlers the
courses were served on platters so large that they covered the
tables; sows' breasts with Lybian truffles; dormice baked in
poppies and honey, peacock-tongues flavored with cinnamon; oysters
stewed in garum--a sauce made of the intestines of fish--sea-
wolves from the Baltic; sturgeons from Rhodes; fig-peckers from
Samos; African snails; pale beans in pink lard; and a yellow pig
cooked after the Troan fashion, from which, when carved, hot
sausages fell and live thrushes flew. Therewith was the mulsum, a
cup made of white wine, nard, roses, absinthe and honey; the
delicate sweet wines of Greece; and crusty Falernian of the year
six hundred and thirty-two. As the cups circulated, choirs
entered, chanting sedately the last erotic song; a clown danced on
the top of a ladder, which he maintained upright as he danced,
telling meanwhile untellable stories to the frieze; and host and
guests, unvociferously, as good breeding dictates, chatted through
the pauses of the service; discussed the disadvantages of death,
the value of Noevian iambics, the disgrace of Ovid, banished
because of Livia's eyes.

Such was the Rome of Augustus. "Caesar," cried a mime to him one
day, "do you know that it is important for you that the people
should be interested in Bathylle and in myself?"

The mime was right. The sovereign of Rome was not the Caesar, nor
yet the aristocracy. The latter was dead. It had been banished by
barbarian senators, by barbarian gods; it had died twice, at
Pharsalus, at Philippi; it was the people that was sovereign, and
it was important that that sovereign should be amused--flattered,
too, and fed. For thirty years not a Roman of note had died in his
bed; not one but had kept by him a slave who should kill him when
his hour had come; anarchy had been continuous; but now Rome was
at rest and its sovereign wished to laugh. Made up of every nation
and every vice, the universe was ransacked for its entertainment.
The mountain sent its lions, the desert giraffes; there were boas
from the jungles, bulls from the plains, and hippopotami from the
waters of the Nile. Into the arenas patricians descended; in the
amphitheatre there were criminals from Gaul; in the Forum
philosophers from Greece. On the stage, there were tragedies,
pantomimes and farce; there were races in the circus, and in the
sacred groves girls with the Orient in their eyes and slim waists
that swayed to the crotals. For the thirst of the sovereign there
were aqueducts, and for its hunger Africa, Egypt, Sicily
contributed grain. Syria unveiled her altars, Persia the mystery
and magnificence of her gods.

Such was Rome. Augustus was less noteworthy; so unnecessary even
that every student must regret Actium, Antony's defeat, the
passing of Caesar's dream. For Antony was made for conquests; it
was he who, fortune favoring, might have given the world to Rome.
A splendid, an impudent bandit, first and foremost a soldier,
calling himself a descendant of Hercules whom he resembled; hailed
at Ephesus as Bacchus, in Egypt as Osiris; Asiatic in lavishness,
and Teuton in his capacity for drink; vomiting in the open Forum,
and making and unmaking kings; weaving with that viper of the Nile
a romance which is history; passing initiate into the inimitable
life, it would have been curious to have watched him that last
night when the silence was stirred by the hum of harps, the cries
of bacchantes bearing his tutelary god back to the Roman camp,
while he said farewell to love, to empire and to life.

Augustus resembled him not at all. He was a colorless monarch; an
emperor in everything but dignity, a prince in everything but
grace; a tactician, not a soldier; a superstitious braggart,
afraid of nothing but danger; seducing women to learn their
husband's secrets; exiling his daughter, not because she had
lovers, but because she had other lovers than himself; exiling
Ovid because of Livia, who in the end poisoned her prince, and
adroitly, too; illiterate, blundering of speech, and coarse of
manner--a hypocrite and a comedian in one--so guileful and yet so
stupid that while a credulous moribund ordered the gods to be
thanked that Augustus survived him, the people publicly applied to
him an epithet which does not look well in print.

After Philippi and the suicide of Brutus; after Actium and
Antony's death, for the first time in ages, the gates of the
Temple of Janus were closed. There was peace in the world; but it
was the sword of Caesar, not of Augustus, that brought the
insurgents to book. At each of the victories he was either asleep
or ill. At the time of battle there was always some god warning
him to be careful. The battle won, he was brave enough,
considerate even. A father and son begged for mercy. He promised
forgiveness to the son on condition that he killed his father. The
son accepted and did the work; then he had the son despatched. A
prisoner begged but for a grave. "The vultures will see to it," he
answered. When at the head of Caesar's legions, he entered Rome to
avenge the latter's death, he announced beforehand that he would
imitate neither Caesar's moderation nor Sylla's cruelty. There
would be only a few proscriptions, and a price--and what a price,
liberty!--was placed on the heads of hundreds of senators and
thousands of knights. And these people, who had more slaves than
they knew by sight, slaves whom they tossed alive to fatten fish,
slaves to whom they affected never to speak, and who were
crucified did they so much as sneeze in their presence--at the
feet of these slaves they rolled, imploring them not to deliver
them up. Now and then a slave was merciful; Augustus never.

Successes such as these made him ambitious. Having vanquished with
the sword, he tried the pen. "You may grant the freedom of the
city to your barbarians," said a wit to him one day, "but not to
your solecisms." Undeterred he began a tragedy entitled "Ajax,"
and discovering his incompetence, gave it up. "And what has become
of Ajax?" a parasite asked. "Ajax threw himself on a sponge,"
replied Augustus, whose father, it is to be regretted, did not do
likewise. Nevertheless, it were pleasant to have assisted at his
funeral.

A couch of ivory and gold, ten feet high, draped with purple,
stood for a week in the atrium of the palace. Within the couch,
hidden from view, the body of the emperor lay, ravaged by poison.
Above was a statue, recumbent, in wax, made after his image and
dressed in imperial robes. Near by a little slave with a big fan
protected the statue from flies. Each day physicians came, gazed
at the closed wax mouth, and murmured, "He is worse." In the
vestibule was a pot of burning ilex, and stretching out through
the portals a branch of cypress warned the pontiffs from the
contamination of the sight of death.

At high noon on the seventh day the funeral crossed the city.
First were the flaming torches; the statues of the House of
Octavia; senators in blue; knights in scarlet; magistrates;
lictors; the pick of the praetorian guard. Then, to the
alternating choruses of boys and girls, the rotting body passed
down the Sacred Way. Behind it Tiberius in a travelling-cloak, his
hands unringed, marched meditating on the curiosities of life,
while to the rear there straggled a troop of dancing satyrs, led
by a mime dressed in resemblance of Augustus, whose defects he
caricatured, whose vices he parodied and on whom the surging crowd
closed in.

On the Field of Mars the pyre had been erected, a great square
structure of resinous wood, the interior filled with coke and
sawdust, the exterior covered with illuminated cloths, on which,
for base, a tower rose, three storeys high. Into the first storey
flowers and perfumes were thrown, into the second the couch was
raised, then a torch was applied.

As the smoke ascended an eagle shot from the summit, circled a
moment, and disappeared. For the sum of a million sesterces a
senator swore that with the eagle he had seen the emperor's soul.





III

FABULOUS FIELDS


Mention Tiberius, and the name evokes a taciturn tyrant, devising
in the crypts of a palace infamies so monstrous that to describe
them new words were coined.

In the Borghese collection Tiberius is rather good-looking than
otherwise, not an Antinous certainly, but manifestly a dreamer;
one whose eyes must have been almost feline in their abstraction,
and in the corners of whose mouth you detect pride, no doubt, but
melancholy as well. The pride was congenital, the melancholy was
not.

Under Tiberius there was quiet, a romancer wrote, and the phrase
in its significance passed into legend. During the dozen or more
years that he ruled in Rome, his common sense was obvious. The
Tiber overflowed, the senate looked for a remedy in the Sibyline
Books. Tiberius set some engineers to work. A citizen swore by
Augustus and swore falsely. The senate sought to punish him, not
for perjury but for sacrilege. It is for Augustus to punish, said
Tiberius. The senate wanted to name a month after him. Tiberius
declined. "Supposing I were the thirteenth Caesar, what would you
do?" For years he reigned, popular and acclaimed, caring the while
nothing for popularity and less for pomp. Sagacious, witty even,
believing perhaps in little else than fate and mathematics, yet
maintaining the institutions of the land, striving resolutely for
the best, outwardly impassable and inwardly mobile, he was a man
and his patience had bounds. There were conspirators in the
atrium, there was death in the courtier's smile; and finding his
favorites false, his life threatened, danger at every turn, his
conception of rulership changed. Where moderation had been
suddenly there gleamed the axe.

Tacitus, always dramatic, states that at the time terror
devastated the city. It so happened that under the republic there
was a law against whomso diminished the majesty of the people. The
republic was a god, one that had its temple, its priests, its
altars. When the republic succumbed, its divinity passed to the
emperor; he became Jupiter's peer, and, as such, possessed of a
majesty which it was sacrilege to slight. Consulted on the
subject, Tiberius replied that the law must be observed.
Originally instituted in prevention of offences against the public
good, it was found to change into a crime, a word, a gesture or a
look. It was a crime to undress before a statue of Augustus, to
mention his name in the latrinae, to carry a coin with his image
into a lupanar. The punishment was death. Of the property of the
accused, a third went to the informer, the rest to the state. Then
abruptly terror stalked abroad. No one was safe except the
obscure, and it was the obscure that accused. Once an accused
accused his accuser; the latter went mad. There was but one
refuge--the tomb. If the accused had time to kill himself before
he was tried, his property was safe from seizure and his corpse
from disgrace. Suicide became endemic in Rome. Never among the
rich were orgies as frenetic as then. There was a breathless chase
after delights, which the summons, "It is time to die," might at
any moment interrupt.

Tiberius meanwhile had gone from Rome. It was then his legend
began. He was represented living at Capri in a collection of
twelve villas, each of which was dedicated to a particular form of
lust, and there with the paintings of Parrhasius for stimulant the
satyr lounged. He was then an old man; his life had been passed in
public, his conduct unreproved. If no one becomes suddenly base,
it is rare for a man of seventy to become abruptly vile. "Whoso,"
Sakya Muni announced--"whoso discovers that grief comes from
affection, will retire into the jungles and there remain."
Tiberius had made the discovery. The jungles he selected were the
gardens by the sea. And in those gardens, gossip represented him
devising new forms of old vice. On the subject every doubt is
permissible, and even otherwise, morality then existed in but one
form, one which the entire nation observed, wholly, absolutely;
that form was patriotism. Chastity was expected of the vestal, but
of no one else. The matrons had certain traditions to maintain,
certain appearances to preserve, but otherwise morality was
unimagined and matrimony unpopular.

When matrimony occurred, divorce was its natural consequence.
Incompatibility was sufficient cause. Cicero, who has given it to
history that the best women counted the years not numerically, but
by their different husbands, obtained a divorce on the ground that
his wife did not idolize him.

Divorce was not obligatory. Matrimony was. According to a recent
law whoso at twenty-five was not married, whoso, divorced or
widowed, did not remarry, whoso, though married, was without
children, was regarded as a public enemy and declared incapable of
inheriting or of serving the state. To this law, one of Augustus'
stupidities which presently fell into disuse, only a technical
observance was paid. Men married just enough to gain a position or
inherit a legacy; next day they got a divorce. At the moment of
need a child was adopted; the moment passed, the child was
disowned. But if the law had little value, at least it shows the
condition of things. Moreover, if in that condition Tiberius
participated, it was not because he did not differ from other men.

"Ho sempre amato la solitaria vita," Petrarch, referring to
himself, declared, and Tiberius might have said the same thing. He
was in love with solitude; ill with efforts for the unattained;
sick with the ingratitude of man. Presently it was decided that he
had lived long enough. He was suffocated--beneath a mattress at
that. Caesar had dreamed of a universal monarchy of which he
should be king; he was murdered. That dream was also Antony's; he
killed himself. Cato had sought the restoration of the republic,
and Brutus the attainment of virtue; both committed suicide. Under
the empire dreamers fared ill. Tiberius was a dreamer.

In a palace where a curious conception of the love of Atalanta and
Meleager was said to figure on the walls, there was a door on
which was a sign, imitated from one that overhung the Theban
library of Osymandias--Pharmacy of the Soul. It was there Tiberius
dreamed.

On the ivory shelves were the philtres of Parthenius, labelled De
Amatoriis Affectionibus, the Sybaris of Clitonymus, the
Erotopaegnia of Laevius, the maxims and instructions of
Elephantis, the nine books of Sappho. There also were the pathetic
adventures of Odatis and Zariadres, which Chares of Mitylene had
given to the world; the astonishing tales of that early
Cinderella, Rhodopis; and with them those romances of Ionian
nights by Aristides of Milet, which Crassus took with him when he
set out to subdue the Parthians, and which; found in the booty,
were read aloud to the people that they might judge the morals of
a nation that pretended to rule the world.

Whether such medicaments are serviceable to the soul is
problematic. Tiberius had other drugs on the ivory shelves--magic
preparations that transported him to fabulous fields. There was a
work by Hecataesus, with which he could visit Hyperborea, that
land where happiness was a birthright, inalienable at that; yet a
happiness so sweet that it must have been cloying; for the people
who enjoyed it, and with it the appanage of limitless life, killed
themselves from sheer ennui. Theopompus disclosed to him a
stranger vista--a continent beyond the ocean--one where there were
immense cities, and where two rivers flowed--the River of Pleasure
and the River of Pain. With Iambulus he discovered the Fortunate
Isles, where there were men with elastic bones, bifurcated
tongues; men who never married, who worshipped the sun, whose life
was an uninterrupted delight, and who, when overtaken by age, lay
on a perfumed grass that produced a voluptuous death. Evhemerus, a
terrible atheist, whose Sacred History the early bishops wielded
against polytheism until they discovered it was double-edged, took
him to Panchaia, an island where incense grew; where property was
held in common; where there was but one law--Justice, yet a
justice different from our own, one which Hugo must have
intercepted when he made an entrancing yet enigmatical apparition
exclaim:

    "Tu me crois la Justice, je suis la Pitie."

And in this paradise there was a temple, and before it a column,
about which, in Panchaian characters, ran a history of ancient
kings, who, to the astonishment of the tourist, were found to be
none other than the gods whom the universe worshipped, and who in
earlier days had announced themselves divinities, the better to
rule the hearts and minds of man.

With other guides Tiberius journeyed through lands where dreams
come true. Aristeas of Proconnesus led him among the Arimaspi, a
curious people who passed their lives fighting for gold with
griffons in the dark. With Isogonus he descended the valley of
Ismaus, where wild men were, whose feet turned inwards. In Albania
he found a race with pink eyes and white hair; in Sarmatia another
that ate only on alternate days. Agatharcides took him to Libya,
and there introduced him to the Psyllians, in whose bodies was a
poison deadly to serpents, and who, to test the fidelity of their
wives, placed their children in the presence of snakes; if the
snakes fled they knew their wives were pure. Callias took him
further yet, to the home of the hermaphrodites; Nymphodorus showed
him a race of fascinators who used enchanted words. With
Apollonides he encountered women who killed with their eyes those
on whom they looked too long. Megasthenes guided him to the
Astomians, whose garments were the down of feathers, and who lived
on the scent of the rose.

In his cups they all passed, confusedly, before him; the
hermaphrodites whispered to the rose-breathers the secrets of
impossible love; the griffons bore to him women with magical eyes;
the Albanians danced with elastic feet; he heard the shrill call
of the Psyllians, luring the serpents to death; the column of
Panchaia unveiled its mysteries; the Hyperboreans the reason of
their fear of life, and on the wings of the chimera he set out
again in search of that continent which haunted antiquity and
which lay beyond the sea.





IV

THE PURSUIT OF THE IMPOSSIBLE


"Another Phaethon for the universe," Tiberius is reported to have
muttered, as he gazed at his nephew Caius, nicknamed Caligula, who
was to suffocate him with a mattress and rule in his stead.

To rule is hardly the expression. There is no term in English to
convey that dominion over sea and sky which a Caesar possessed,
and which Caligula was the earliest to understand. Augustus was
the first magistrate of Rome, Tiberius the first citizen. Caligula
was the first emperor, but an emperor hallucinated by the enigma
of his own grandeur, a prince for whose sovereignty the world was
too small.

Each epoch has its secret, sometimes puerile, often perplexing;
but in its maker there is another and a more interesting one yet.
Eliminate Caligula, and Nero, Domitian, Commodus, Caracalla and
Heliogabalus would never have been. It was he who gave them both
raison d'etre and incentive. The lives of all of them are
horrible, yet analyze the horrible and you find the sublime.

Fancy a peak piercing the heavens, shadowing the earth. It was on
a peak such as that the young emperors of old Rome balanced
themselves, a precipice on either side. Did they look below, a
vertigo rose to meet them; from above delirium came, while the
horizon, though it hemmed the limits of vision, could not mark the
frontiers of their dream. In addition there was the exaltation
that altitudes produce. The valleys have their imbeciles; it is
from mountains the poet and madman come. Caligula was both,
sceptred at that; and with what a sceptre! One that stretched from
the Rhine to the Euphrates, dominated a hundred and fifty million
people; one that a mattress had given and a knife was to take
away; a sceptre that lashed the earth, threatened the sky,
beckoned planets and ravished the divinity of the divine.

To wield such a sceptre securely requires grace, no doubt, majesty
too, but certainly strength; the latter Caligula possessed, but it
was the feverish strength of one who had fathomed the
unfathomable, and who sought to make its depths his own. Caligula
was haunted by the intangible. His sleep was a communion with
Nature, with whom he believed himself one. At times the Ocean
talked to him; at others the Earth had secrets which it wished to
tell. Again there was some matter of moment which he must mention
to the day, and he would wander out in the vast galleries of the
palace and invoke the Dawn, bidding it come and listen to his
speech. The day was deaf, but there was the moon, and he prayed
her to descend and share his couch. Luna declined to be the
mistress of a mortal; to seduce her Caligula determined to become
a god.

Nothing was easier. An emperor had but to open his veins, and in
an hour he was a divinity. But the divinity which Caligula desired
was not of that kind. He wished to be a god, not on Olympus alone,
but on earth as well. He wished to be a palpable, tangible, living
god; one that mortals could see, which was more, he knew, than
could be said of the others. The mere wish was sufficient--Rome
fell at his feet. The patent of divinity was in the genuflections
of a nation. At once he had a temple, priests and flamens.
Inexhaustible Greece was sacked again. The statues of her gods,
disembarked at Rome, were decapitated, and on them the head of
Caius shone.

Heretofore his dress had not been Roman, nor, for that matter, the
dress of a man. On his wrists were bracelets; about his shoulders
was a mantle sewn with gems; beneath was a tunic, and on his feet
were the high white slippers that women wore. But when the god
came the costume changed. One day he was Apollo, the nimbus on his
curls, the Graces at his side; the next he was Mercury, wings at
his heels, the caduceus in his hand; again he was Venus. But it
was as Jupiter Latialis, armed with the thunderbolt and decorated
with a great gold beard, that he appeared at his best.

The role was very real to him. After the fashion of Olympians he
became frankly incestuous, seducing vestals, his sisters too, and
gaining in boldness with each metamorphosis, he menaced the
Capitoline Jove. "Prove your power," he cried to him, "or fear my
own!" He thundered at him with machine-made thunder, with
lightning that flashed from a pan. "Kill me," he shouted, "or I
will kill you!" Jove, unmoved, must have moved his assailant, for
presently Caligula lowered his voice, whispered in the old god's
ear, questioned him, meditated on his answer, grew perplexed,
violent again, and threatened to send him home.

These interviews humanized him. He forgot the moon and mingled
with men, inviting them to die. The invitation being invariably
accepted, he became a connoisseur in death, an artist in blood, a
ruler to whom cruelty was not merely an aid to government but an
individual pleasure, and therewith such a perfect lover, such a
charming host!

"Dear heart," he murmured to his mistress Pryallis, as she lay one
night in his arms, "I think I will have you tortured that you may
tell me why I love you so." But of that the girl saw no need. She
either knew the reason or invented one, for presently he added:
"And to think that I have but a sign to make and that beautiful
head of yours is off!" Musings of this description were so
humorous that one evening he explained to guests whom he had
startled with his laughter, that it was amusing to reflect how
easily he could have all of them killed.

But even to a god life is not an unmixed delight. Caligula had his
troubles. About him there had settled a disturbing quiet. Rome was
hushed, the world was very still. There was not so much as an
earthquake. The reign of Augustus had been marked by the defeat of
Varus. Under Tiberius a falling amphitheatre had killed a
multitude. Caligula felt that through sheer felicity his own reign
might be forgot. A famine, a pest, an absolute defeat, a terrific
conflagration--any prodigious calamity that should sweep millions
away and stamp his own memory immutably on the chronicles of time,
how desirable it were! But there was nothing. The crops had never
been more abundant; apart from the arenas and the prisons, the
health of the empire was excellent; on the frontiers not so much
as the rumor of an insurrection could be heard, and Nero was yet
to come.

Perplexed, Caligula reflected, and presently from Baiae to
Puzzoli, over the waters of the bay, he galloped on horseback, the
cuirass of Alexander glittering on his breast. The intervening
miles had been spanned by a bridge of ships and on them a road had
been built, one of those roads for which the Romans were famous, a
road like the Appian Way, in earth and stone, bordered by inns, by
pink arcades, green retreats, forest reaches, the murmur of
trickling streams. So many ships were anchored there that through
the unrepleted granaries the fear of famine stalked. Caligula,
meanwhile, his guests behind him, made cavalry charges across the
sea, or in a circus-chariot held the ribbons, while four white
horses, maddened by swaying lights, bore him to the other shore.
At night the entire coast was illuminated; the bridge was one
great festival, brilliant but brief. Caligula had wearied of it
all. At a signal the multitude of guests he had assembled there
were tossed into the sea.

By way of a souvenir, Tiberius, whom he murdered, had left him the
immensity of his treasure. "I must be economical or Caesar,"
Caligula reflected, and tipped a coachman a million, rained on the
people a hail of coin, bathed in essences, set before his guests
loaves of silver, gold omelettes, sausages of gems; sailed to the
hum of harps on a ship that had porticoes, gardens, baths, bowers,
spangled sails and a jewelled prow; removed a mountain, and put a
palace where it had been; filled in a valley and erected a temple
on the top; supplied a horse with a marble home, with ivory
stalls, with furniture and slaves; contemplated making him consul;
made him a host instead, one that in his own equine name invited
the fashion of Rome to sup with Incitatus.

In one year Tiberius' legacy, a sum that amounted to four hundred
million of our money, was spent. Caligula had achieved the
impossible; he was a bankrupt god, an emperor without a copper.
But the very splendor of that triumph demanded a climax. If
Caligula hesitated, no one knew it. On the morrow the palace of
the Caesars was turned into a lupanar, a little larger, a little
handsomer than the others, but still a brothel, one of which the
inmates were matrons of Rome and the keeper Jupiter Latialis.

After that, seemingly, there was nothing save apotheosis. But
Caligula, in the nick of time, remembered the ocean. At the head
of an army he crossed Gaul, attacked it, and returned refreshed.
Decidedly he had not exhausted everything yet. He recalled
Tiberius' policy, and abruptly the world was filled again with
accusers and accused. Gold poured in on him, the earth paid him
tribute. In a vast hall he danced naked on the wealth of nations.
Once more he was rich, richer than ever; there were still
illusions to be looted, other dreams to be pierced; yet, even as
he mused, conspirators were abroad. He loosed his pretorians. "Had
Rome but one head!" he muttered. "Let them FEEL themselves die,"
he cried to his officers. "Let me be hated, but let me be feared."

One day, as he was returning from the theatre, the dagger did its
usual work. Rome had lost a genius; in his place there came an
ass.

There is a verse in Greek to the effect that the blessed have
children in three months. Livia and Augustus were blessed in this
pleasant fashion. Three months after their marriage a child was
born--a miracle which surprised no one aware of their previous
intimacy. The child became a man, and the father of Claud, an
imbecile whom the pretorians, after Caligula's death, found in a
closet, shaking with fright, and whom for their own protection
they made emperor in his stead.

Caligula had been frankly adored; there was in him an originality,
and with it a grandeur and a mad magnificence that enthralled.
Then, too, he was young, and at his hours what the French call
charmeur. If at times he frightened, always he dazzled. Of course
he was adored; the prodigal emperors always were; so were their
successors, the wicked popes. Man was still too near to nature to
be aware of shame, and infantile enough to care to be surprised.
In that was Caligula's charm; he petted his people and surprised
them too. Claud wearied. Between them they assimilate every
contradiction, and in their incoherences explain that
incomprehensible chaos which was Rome. Caligula jeered at
everybody; everybody jeered at Claud.

The latter was a fantastic, vacillating, abstracted, cowardly
tyrant, issuing edicts in regard to the proper tarring of barrels,
and rendering absurd decrees; declaring himself to be of the
opinion of those who were right; falling asleep on the bench, and
on awakening announcing that he gave judgment in favor of those
whose reasons were the best; slapped in the face by an irritable
plaintiff; held down by main force when he wanted to leave;
inviting to supper those whom he had killed before breakfast;
answering the mournful salute of the gladiators with a grotesque
Avete vos--"Be it well too with you," a response, parenthetically,
which the gladiators construed as a pardon and refused to fight;
dowering the alphabet with three new letters which lasted no
longer than he did; asserting that he would give centennial games
as often as he saw fit; an emperor whom no one obeyed, whose
eunuchs ruled in his stead, whose lackeys dispensed exiles, death,
consulates and crucifixions; whose valets insulted the senate,
insulted Rome, insulted the sovereign that ruled the world, whose
people shared his consort's couch; a slipshod drunkard in a
tattered gown--such was the imbecile that succeeded Caligula and
had Messalina for wife.

It were curious to have seen that woman as Juvenal did, a veil
over her yellow wig, hunting adventures through the streets of
Rome, while her husband in the Forum censured the dissoluteness of
citizens. And it were curious, too, to understand whether it was
her audacity or his stupidity which left him the only man in Rome
unacquainted with the prodigious multiplicity and variety of her
lovers. History has its secrets, yet, in connection with
Messalina, there is one that historians have not taken the trouble
to probe; to them she has been an imperial strumpet. Messalina was
not that. At heart she was probably no better and no worse than
any other lady of the land, but pathologically she was an
unbalanced person, who to-day would be put through a course of
treatment, instead of being put to death. When Claud at last
learned, not the truth, but that some of her lovers were
conspiring to get rid of him, he was not indignant; he was
frightened. The conspirators were promptly disposed of, Messalina
with them. Suetonius says that, a few days later, as he went in to
supper, he asked why the empress did not appear.

Apart from the neurosis from which she suffered, were it possible
to find an excuse for her conduct, the excuse would be Claud. The
purple which made Caligula mad, made him an idiot; and when in
course of time he was served with a succulent poison, there must
have been many conjectures in Rome as to what the empire would
next produce.

The empire was extremely fecund, enormously vast. About Rome
extended an immense circle of provinces and cities that were
wholly hers. Without that circle was another, the sovereignty
exercised over vassals and allies; beyond that, beyond the Rhine
on one side, were the silenced Teutons; beyond the Euphrates on
the other, the hazardous Parthians, while remotely to the north
there extended the enigmas of barbarism; to the south, those semi-
fabulous regions where geography ceased to be.

Little by little, through the patience of a people that felt
itself eternal, this immensity had been assimilated and fused. A
few fortresses and legions on the frontiers, a stretch of soldiery
at any spot an invasion might be feared; a little tact, a maternal
solicitude, and that was all. Rome governed unarmed, or perhaps it
might be more exact to say she did not govern at all; she was the
mistress of a federation of realms and republics that governed
themselves, in whose government she was content, and from whom she
exacted little, tribute merely, and obeisance to herself. Her
strength was not in the sword; the lioness roared rarely, often
slept; it was the fear smaller beasts had of her awakening that
made them docile; once aroused those indolent paws could do
terrible work, and it was well not to excite them. When the Jews
threatened to revolt, Agrippa warned them: "Look at Rome; look at
her well; her arms are invisible, her troops are afar; she rules,
not by them, but by the certainty of her power. If you rebel, the
invisible sword will flash, and what can you do against Rome
armed, when Rome unarmed frightens the world?"

The argument was pertinent and suggestive, but the secret of
Rome's ascendency consisted in the fact that where she conquered
she dwelt. Wherever the eagles pounced, Rome multiplied herself in
miniature. In the army was the nation, in the legion the city.
Where it camped, presto! a judgment seat and an altar. On the
morrow there was a forum; in a week there were paved avenues; in a
fortnight, temples, porticoes; in a month you felt yourself at
home. Rome built with a magic that startled as surely as the glint
of her sword. Time and again the nations whom Caesar encountered
planned to eliminate his camp. When they reached it the camp had
vanished; in its place was a walled, impregnable town.

As the standards lowered before that town, the pomoerium was
traced. Within it the veteran found a home, without it a wife; and
the family established, the legion that had conquered the soil
with the sword, subsisted on it with the plow. Presently there
were priests there, aqueducts, baths, theatres and games, all the
marvel of imperial elegance and vice. When the aborigine wandered
that way, his seduction was swift.

The enemy that submitted became a subject, not a slave. Rome
commanded only the free. If his goods were taxed, his goods
remained his own, his personal liberty untrammelled. His land had
become part of a new province, it is true, but provided he did not
interest himself in such matters as peace and war, not only was he
free to manage his own affairs, but that land, were it at the
uttermost end of the earth, might, in recompense of his fidelity,
come to be regarded as within the Italian territory; as such,
sacred, inviolate, free from taxes, and he a citizen of Rome,
senator even, emperor!

Conquest once solidified, the rest was easy. Tattered furs were
replaced by the tunic and uncouth idioms by the niceties of Latin
speech. In some cases, where the speech had been beaten in with
the hilt of the sword, the accent was apt to be rough, but a
generation, two at most, and there were sweethearts and swains
quoting Horace in the moonlight, naively unaware that only the
verse of the Greeks could pleasure the Roman ear.

The principalities and kingdoms that of their own wish [a wish
often suggested, and not always amicably either] became allies of
Rome and mingled their freedom with hers, entered into an alliance
whereby in return for Rome's patronage and protection they agreed
to have a proper regard for the dignity of the Roman people and to
have no other friends or enemies than those that were Rome's--a
formula exquisite in the civility with which it exacted the
renunciation of every inherent right. A king wrote to the senate:
"I have obeyed your deputy as I would have obeyed a god." "And you
have done wisely," the senate answered, a reply which, in its
terseness, tells all.

Diplomacy and the plow, such were Rome's methods. As for herself
she fought, she did not till. Italy, devastated by the civil wars,
was uncultivated, cut up into vast unproductive estates. From one
end to the other there was barely a trace of agriculture, not a
sign of traffic. You met soldiers, cooks, petty tradesmen,
gladiators, philosophers, patricians, market gardeners, lazzaroni
and millionaires; the merchant and the farmer, never. Rome's
resources were in distant commercial centres, in taxes and
tribute; her wealth had come of pillage and exaction. Save her
strength, she had nothing of her own. Her religion, literature,
art, philosophy, luxury and corruption, everything had come from
abroad. In Greece were her artists; in Africa, Gaul and Spain, her
agriculturists; in Asia her artisans. Her own breasts were
sterile. When she gave birth it was to a litter of monsters,
sometimes to a genius, by accident to a poet. She consumed, she
did not produce. It was because of that she fell.





V

NERO


"Save a monster, what can you expect from Agrippina and myself?"

It was Domitius, Nero's father, who made this ingenious remark. He
was not a good man; he was not even good-looking, merely vicious
and rich. But his viciousness was benign beside that of Agrippina,
who poisoned him when Nero's birth ensured the heritage of his
wealth.

In all its galleries history has no other portrait such as hers.
Caligula's sister, his mistress as well, exiled by him and
threatened with death, her eyes dazzled and her nerves unstrung by
the impossibilities of that fabulous reign, it was not until
Claud, her uncle, recalled her and Messalina disappeared, that the
empress awoke. She too, she determined, would rule, and the jus
osculi aiding, she married out of hand that imbecile uncle of
hers, on whose knee she had played as a child.

The day of the wedding a young patrician, expelled from the
senate, killed himself. Agrippina had accused him of something not
nice, not because he was guilty, nor yet because the possibility
of the thing shocked her, but because he was betrothed to Octavia,
Claud's daughter, who, Agrippina determined, should be Nero's
wife. Presently Caligula's widow, an old rival of her own, a lady
who had thought she would like to be empress twice, and whom Claud
had eyed grotesquely, was disencumbered of three million worth of
emeralds, with which she heightened her beauty, and told very
civilly that it was time to die. So, too, disappeared a Calpurina,
a Lepida; women young, rich, handsome, impure, and as such
dangerous to Agrippina's peace of mind. The legality of her crimes
was so absolute that the mere ownership of an enviable object was
a cause for death. A senator had a villa which pleased her; he was
invited to die. Another had a pair of those odorous murrhine
vases, which Pompey had found in Armenia, and which on their first
appearance set Rome wild; he, too, was invited to die.

But, though Agrippina dealt in death, she dealt in seductions too.
Rome, that had adored Caligula, promptly fell under his sister's
sway. There was a splendor in her eyes, which so many crimes had
lit; in her carriage there was such majesty, the pomp with which
she surrounded herself was so magnificent, that Rome, enthralled,
applauded. Beyond, on the Rhine, a city which is today Cologne,
rose in honor of her sovereignty. To her wishes the senate was
subservient, to her indiscretions blind. Claud, who meanwhile had
been wholly sightless, suddenly showed signs of discernment. A
woman, charged with illicit commerce, was brought to his tribunal.
He condemned her, of course. "In my case," he explained,
"matrimony has not been successful, but the fate that destined me
to marry impure women destined me also to punish them." It was
then that Agrippina ordered of Locusta that famous stew of poison
and mushrooms, which Nero, in allusion to Claud's apotheosis,
called the food of the gods. The fate that destined Claud to marry
Agrippina destined her to kill him.

It was under her care, between a barber and a ballerine, amid the
shamelessness of his stepfather's palace, where any day he could
have seen his mother beckon indolently to a centurion and pointing
to some lover who had ceased to please, make the gesture which
signified Death, that the young Enobarbus--Nero, as he
subsequently called himself--was trained for the throne.

He had entered the world like a tiger cub, feet first; a
circumstance which is said to have disturbed his mother, and well
it might. During his adolescence that lady made herself feared. He
was but seventeen when the pretorians called upon him to rule the
world; and at the time an ingenuous lad, one who blushed like
Lalage, very readily, particularly at the title of Father of the
Country, which the senate was anxious to give him; endowed with
excellent instincts, which he had got no one knew whence; a trifle
petit maitre, perhaps, perfuming the soles of his feet, and
careful about the arrangement of his yellow curls, but withal
generous, modest, sympathetic--in short, a flower in a cesspool, a
youth not over well-fitted to reign. But his mother was there; as
he developed so did his fear of her, to such proportions even that
he gave certain orders, and his mother was killed. That duel
between mother and son, terrible in its intensity and unnameable
horror, even the Borgias could not surpass. Tacitus has told it,
dramatically, as was his wont, but he told it in Latin, in which
tongue it had best remain.

At that time the ingenuous lad had disappeared. The cub was full-
grown. Besides, he had tasted blood. Octavia, who with her
brother, Britannicus, and her sister, Antonia, had been his
playmates; who was almost his own sister; whose earliest memories
interlinked with his, and who had become his wife, had been put to
death; not that she had failed to please, but because a lady,
Sabina Poppoea, who, Tacitus says, lacked nothing except virtue,
had declined to be his mistress. At the time Sabina was married.
But divorce was easy. Sabina got one at the bar; Nero with the
axe. The twain were then united. Nero seems to have loved her
greatly, a fact, as Suetonius puts it, which did not prevent him
from kicking her to death. Already he had poisoned Britannicus,
and with Octavia decapitated and Agrippina gone, of the imperial
house there remained but Antonia and himself. The latter he
invited to marry him; she declined. He invited her to die. He was
then alone, the last of his race. Monsters never engender. A
thinker who passed that way thought him right to have killed his
mother; her crime was in giving him birth.

Therewith he was popular; more so even than Caligula, who was a
poet, and as such apart from the crowd, while Nero was frankly
canaille--well-meaning at that--which Caligula never was. During
the early years of his reign he could not do good enough. The
gladiators were not permitted to die; he would have no shedding of
blood; the smell of it was distasteful. He would listen to no
denunciations; when a decree of death was brought to him to sign,
he regretted that he knew how to write. Rome had never seen a
gentler prince, nor yet one more splendidly lavish. The people had
not only the necessities of life, but the luxuries, the
superfluities, too. For days and days in the Forum there was an
incessant shower of tickets that were exchangeable, not for bread
or trivial sums, but for gems, pictures, slaves, fortunes, ships,
villas and estates. The creator of that shower was bound to be
adored.

It was that, no doubt, which awoke him. A city like Rome, one that
had over a million inhabitants, could make a terrific noise, and
when that noise was applause, the recipient found it heady. Nero
got drunk on popularity, and heredity aiding where the prince had
been emerged the cad, a poseur that bored, a beast that disgusted,
a caricature of the impossible in a crimson frame.

"What an artist the world is to lose!" he exclaimed as he died;
and artist he was, but in the Roman sense; one that enveloped in
the same contempt the musician, acrobat and actor. It was the
artist that played the flute while gladiators died and lovers
embraced; it was the artist that entertained the vulgar.

As an artist Nero might have been a card. Fancy the attraction--an
emperor before the footlights; but fancy the boredom also. The joy
at the announcement of his first appearance was so great that
thanks were offered to the gods; and the verses he was to sing,
graven in gold, were dedicated to the Capitoline Jove. The joy was
brief. The exits of the theatre were closed. It was treason to
attempt to leave. People pretended to be dead in order to be
carried out, and well they might. The star was a fat man with a
husky tenorino voice, who sang drunk and half-naked to a
protecting claque of ten thousand hands.

But it was in the circus that Nero was at his best; there, no
matter though he were last in the race, it was to him the palm was
awarded, or rather it was he that awarded the palm to himself, and
then quite magnificently shouted, "Nero, Caesar, victor in the
race, gives his crown to the People of Rome!"

On the stage he had no rivals, and by chance did one appear, he
was invited to die. In that respect he was artistically
susceptible. When he turned acrobat, the statues of former victors
were tossed in the latrinae. Yet, as competitors were needed, and
moreover as he, singly, could fill neither a stage nor a track, it
was the nobility of Rome that he ordered to appear with him. For
that the nobility never forgave him. On the other hand, the
proletariat loved him the better. What greater salve could it have
than the sight of the conquerors of the world entertaining the
conquered, lords amusing their lackeys?

Greece meanwhile sent him crowns and prayers; crowns for
anticipated victories, prayers that he would come and win them.
Homage so delicate was not to be disdained. Nero set forth, an
army at his heels; a legion of claquers, a phalanx of musicians,
cohorts of comedians, and with these for retinue, through sacred
groves that Homer knew, through intervales which Hesiod sang,
through a year of festivals he wandered, always victorious. It was
he who conquered at Olympia; it was he who conquered at Corinth.
No one could withstand him. Alone in history he won in every game,
and with eighteen hundred crowns as trophies of war he repeated
Caesar's triumph. In a robe immaterial as a moonbeam, the Olympian
wreath on his curls, the Isthmian laurel in his hand, his army
behind him, the clown that was emperor entered Rome. Victims were
immolated as he passed, the Via Sacra was strewn with saffron, the
day was rent with acclaiming shouts. Throughout the empire
sacrifices were ordered. Old people that lived in the country
fancied him, Philostratus says, the conqueror of new nations, and
sacrificed with delight.

But if as artist he bored everybody, he was yet an admirable
impresario. The spectacles he gave were unique. At one which was
held in the Taurian amphitheatre it must have been delightful to
assist. Fancy eighty thousand people on ascending galleries,
protected from the sun by a canopy of spangled silk; an arena
three acres large carpeted with sand, cinnabar and borax, and in
that arena death in every form, on those galleries colossal
delight.

The lowest gallery, immediately above the arena, was a wide
terrace where the senate sat. There were the dignitaries of the
empire, and with them priests in their sacerdotal robes; vestals
in linen, their hair arranged in the six braids that were symbolic
of virginity; swarms of Oriental princes, rainbows of foreign
ambassadors; and in the centre, the imperial pulvinar, an enclosed
pavilion, in which Nero lounged, a mignon at his feet.

In the gallery above were the necklaced knights, their tunics
bordered with the augusticlave, their deep-blue cloaks fastened to
the shoulder; and there, too, in their wide white togas, were the
citizens of Rome.

Still higher the people sat. In the topmost gallery were the
women, and in a separate enclosure a thousand musicians answered
the cries of the multitude with the blare and the laugh of brass.

Beneath the terraces, behind the barred doors that punctuated the
marble wall which circled the arena, were Mauritian panthers that
had been entrapped with rotten meat; hippopotami from Sais, lured
by the smell of carrots into pits; the rhinoceros of Gaul, taken
with the net; lions, lassoed in the deserts; Lucanian bears,
Spanish bulls; and, in remoter dens, men, unarmed, that waited.

By way of foretaste for better things, a handful of criminals,
local desperadoes, an impertinent slave, a machinist, who in a
theatre the night before had missed an effect--these, together
with a negligent usher, were tossed one after the other naked into
the ring, and bound to a scaffold that surmounted a miniature
hill. At a signal the scaffold fell, the hill crumbled, and from
it a few hyenas issued, who indolently devoured their prey.

With this for prelude, the gods avenged and justice appeased, a
rhinoceros ambled that way, stimulated from behind by the point of
a spear; and in a moment the hyenas were disembowelled, their legs
quivering in the air. Throughout the arena other beasts, tied
together with long cords, quarrelled in couples; there was the
bellow of bulls, and the moan of leopards tearing at their flesh,
a flight of stags, and the long, clean spring of the panther.

Presently the arena was cleared, the sand reraked and the
Bestiarii advanced--Sarmatians, nourished on mares' milk;
Sicambrians, their hair done up in chignons; horsemen from
Thessaly, Ethiopian warriors, Parthian archers, huntsmen from the
steppes, their different idioms uniting in a single cry--"Caesar,
we salute you." The sunlight, filtering through the spangled
canopy, chequered their tunics with burning spots, danced on their
spears and helmets, dazzled the spectators' eyes. From above
descended the caresses of flutes; the air was sweet with perfumes,
alive with multicolored motes; the terraces were parterres of
blending hues, and into that splendor a hundred lions, their
tasselled tails sweeping the sand, entered obliquely.

The mob of the Bestiarii had gone. In the middle of the arena, a
band of Ethiopians, armed with arrows, knives and spears, knelt,
their oiled black breasts uncovered.

Leisurely the lions turned their huge, intrepid heads; to their
jowls wide creases came. There was a glitter of fangs, a shiver
that moved the mane, a flight of arrows, mounting murmurs; the
crouch of beasts preparing to spring, a deafening roar, and,
abruptly, a tumultuous mass, the suddenness of knives, the snap of
bones, the cry of the agonized, the fury of beasts transfixed, the
shrieks of the mangled, a combat hand to fang, from which lions
fell back, their jaws torn asunder, while others retreated, a
black body swaying between their terrible teeth, and, insensibly,
a descending quiet.

At once there was an eruption of bellowing elephants, painted and
trained for slaughter, that trampled on wounded and dead. At a
call from a keeper the elephants disappeared. There was a rush of
mules and slaves; the carcasses and corpses vanished, the toilet
of the ring was made; then came a plunge of bulls, mists of vapor
about their long, straight horns, their anxious eyes dilated.
Beyond was a troop of Thessalians. For a moment the bulls snorted,
pawing the sand with their fore-feet, as though trying to realize
what they were doing there. Yet instantly they seemed to know, and
with lowered heads, they plunged on the point of spears. But no
matter, horses went down by the hundred; and as the bulls tired of
gorging the dead, they fought each other; fought rancorously,
fought until weariness overtook them, and the surviving
Thessalians leaped on their backs, twisted their horns, and threw
them down, a sword through their throbbing throats.

Successively the arena was occupied by bears, by panthers, by dogs
trained for the chase, by hunters and hunted. But the episode of
the morning was a dash of wild elephants, attacked on either side;
a moment of sheer delight, in which the hunters were tossed up on
the terraces, tossed back again by the spectators, and trampled to
death.

With that for bouquet the first part of the performance was at an
end. By way of interlude, the ring was peopled with acrobats, who
flew up in the air like birds, formed pyramids together, on the
top of which little boys swung and smiled. There was a troop of
trained lions, their manes gilded, that walked on tight-ropes,
wrote obscenities in Greek, and danced to cymbals which one of
them played. There were geese-fights, wonderful combats between
dwarfs and women; a chariot race, in which bulls, painted white,
held the reins, standing upright while drawn at full speed; a
chase of ostriches, and feats of haute ecole on zebras from
Madagascar.

The interlude at an end, the sand was reraked, and preceded by the
pomp of lictors, interminable files of gladiators entered, holding
their knives to Nero that he might see that they were sharp. It
was then the eyes of the vestals lighted; artistic death was their
chiefest joy, and in a moment, when the spectacle began and the
first gladiator fell, above the din you could hear their cry "Hic
habet!" and watch their delicate thumbs reverse.

There was no cowardice in that arena. If by chance any hesitation
were discernible, instantly there were hot irons, the sear of
which revivified courage at once. But that was rare. The
gladiators fought for applause, for liberty, for death; fought
manfully, skilfully, terribly, too, and received the point of the
sword or the palm of the victor, their expression unchanged, the
face unmoved. Among them, some provided with a net and
prodigiously agile, pursued their adversaries hither and thither,
trying to entangle them first and kill them later. Others,
protected by oblong shields and armed with short, sharp swords,
fought hand-to-hand. There were still others, mailed horsemen, who
fought with the lance, and charioteers that dealt death from high
Briton cars.

As a spectacle it was unique; one that the Romans, or more
exactly, their predecessors, the Etruscans, had devised to train
their children for war and allay the fear of blood. It had been
serviceable, indeed, and though the need of it had gone, still the
institution endured, and in enduring constituted the chief delight
of the vestals and of Rome. By means of it a bankrupt became
consul and an emperor beloved. It had stayed revolutions, it was
the tax of the proletariat on the rich. Silver and bread were for
the individual, but these things were for the crowd.

During the pauses of the combats the dead were removed by men
masked as Mercury, god of hell; red irons, that others, masked as
Charon, bore, being first applied as safeguard against swoon or
fraud. And when, to the kisses of flutes, the last palm had been
awarded, the last death acclaimed, a ballet was given; that of
Paris and Venus, which Apuleius has described so well, and for
afterpiece the romance of Pasipha? and the bull. Then, as night
descended, so did torches, too; the arena was strewn with
vermilion; tables were set, and to the incitement of crotals,
Lydians danced before the multitude, toasting the last act of that
wonderful day.

It was with such magnificence that Nero showed the impresario's
skill, the politician's adroitness. Where the artist, which he
claimed to be, really appeared, was in the refurbishing of Rome.

In spite of Augustus' boast, the city was not by any means of
marble. It was filled with crooked little streets, with the
atrocities of the Tarquins, with houses unsightly and perilous,
with the moss and dust of ages; it compared with Alexandria as
London compares with Paris; it had a splendor of its own, but a
splendor that could be heightened.

Whether the conflagration which occurred at that time was the
result of accident or design is uncertain and in any event
immaterial. Tacitus says that when it began Nero was at Antium, in
which case he must have hastened to return, for admitting that he
did not originate the fire, it is a matter of agreement that he
collaborated in it. In quarters where it showed symptoms of
weakness it was by his orders coaxed to new strength; colossal
stone buildings, on which it had little effect, were battered down
with catapults.

Fire is a perfect poet. No designer ever imagined the surprises it
creates, and when, at the end of the week, three-fourths of the
city was in ruins, the beauty that reigned there must have been
sublime. That it inspired Nero is presumable. The palace on the
Palatine, which Tiberius embellished and Caligula enlarged, had
gone; in its place rose another, aflame with gold. Before it
Neropolis extended, a city of triumphal arches, enchanted temples,
royal dwellings, shimmering porticoes, glittering roofs, and wide,
hospitable streets. It was fair to the eye, purely Greek; and on
its heart, from the Circus Maximus to the Forum's edge, the new
and gigantic palace shone. Before it was a lake, a part of which
Vespasian drained and replaced with an amphitheatre that covered
eight acres. About that lake were separate edifices that formed a
city in themselves; between them and the palace, a statue of Nero
in gold and silver mounted precipitately a hundred and twenty
feet--a statue which it took twenty-four elephants to move. About
it were green savannahs, forest reaches, the call of bird and
deer, while in the distance, fronted by a stretch of columns a
mile in length, the palace stood--a palace so ineffably charming
that on the day of reckoning may it outbalance a few of his sins.
Even the cellars were frescoed. The baths were quite comfortable;
you had waters salt or sulphurous at will. The dining halls had
ivory ceilings from which flowers fell, and wainscots that changed
at each service. The walls were alive with the glisten of gems,
with marbles rarer than jewels. In one hall was a dome of
sapphire, a floor of malachite, crystal columns and red-gold
walls.

"At last," Nero murmured, "I am lodged like a man."

No doubt. Yet in a mirror he would have seen a bloated beast in a
flowered gown, the hair done up in a chignon, the skin covered
with eruptions, the eyes circled and yellow; a woman who had hours
when she imitated a virgin at bay, others when she was wife, still
others when she expected to be a mother, and that woman, a
senatorial patent of divinity aiding, was god--Apollo's peer,
imperator, chief of the army, pontifix maximus, master of the
world, with the incontestable right of life and death over every
being in the dominions.

It had taken the fresh-faced lad who blushed so readily, just
fourteen years to effect that change. Did he regret it? And what
should Nero regret? Nothing, perhaps, save that at the moment when
he declared himself to be lodged like a man, he had not killed
himself like one. But of that he was incapable. Had he known what
the future held, possibly he might have imitated that apotheosis
of vulgarity in which Sardanapalus eclipsed himself, but never
could he have died with the good breeding and philosophy of Cato,
for neither good breeding nor philosophy was in him. Nero killed
himself like a coward, yet that he did kill himself, in no matter
what fashion, is one of the few things that can be said in his
favor.

Those days differed from ours. There were circumstances in which
suicide was regarded as the simplest of duties. Nero did his duty,
but not until he was forced to it, and even then not until he had
been asked several times whether it was so hard to die. The empire
had wearied of him. In Neropolis his popularity had gone as
popularity ever does; the conflagration had killed it.

Even as he wandered, lyre in hand, a train of Lesbians and
pederasts at his heels, through those halls which had risen on the
ruins, and which inexhaustible Greece had furnished with a fresh
crop of white immortals, the world rebelled. Afar on the outskirts
of civilization a vassal, ashamed of his vassalage, declared war,
not against Rome, but against an emperor that played the flute. In
Spain, in Gaul, the legions were choosing other chiefs. The
provinces, depleted by imperial exactions, outwearied by the
increasing number of accusers, whose accusations impoverishing
them served only to multiply the prodigalities of their Caesar,
revolted.

Suddenly Nero found himself alone. As the advancing rumor of
rebellion reached him, he thought of flight; there was no one that
would accompany him. He called to the pretorians; they would not
hear. Through the immensity of his palace he sought one friend.
The doors would not open. He returned to his apartment; the guards
had gone. Then terror seized him. He was afraid to die, afraid to
live, afraid of his solitude, afraid of Rome, afraid of himself;
but what frightened him most was that everyone had lost their fear
of him. It was time to go, and a slave aiding, he escaped in
disguise from Rome, and killed himself, reluctantly, in a hovel.

"Qualis artifex pereo!" he is reported to have muttered. Say
rather, qualis maechus.





VI

THE HOUSE OF FLAVIA


It was in those days that the nebulous figure of Apollonius of
Tyana appeared and disappeared in Rome. His speech, a commingling
of puerility and charm, Philostratus has preserved. Rumor had
preceded him. It was said that he knew everything, save the
caresses of women; that he was familiar with all languages; with
the speech of bird and beast; with that of silence, for silence is
a language too; that he had prayed in the Temple of Jupiter
Lycoeus, where men lost their shadows, their lives as well; that
he had undergone eighty initiations of Mithra; that he had
perplexed the magi; confuted the gymnosophists; that he foretold
the future, healed the sick, raised the dead; that beyond the
Himalayas he had encountered every species of ferocious beast,
except the tyrant, and that it was to see one that he had come to
Rome.

Nero was quite free from prejudice. Apart from a doll which he
worshipped he had no superstitions. He had the plain man's dislike
of philosophy; Seneca had sickened him of it, perhaps; but he was
sensitive, not that he troubled himself particularly about any
lies that were told of him, but he did object to people who went
about telling the truth. In that respect he was not unique; we are
all like him, but he had ways of stilling the truth which were
imperial and his own.

Promptly on Apollonius he loosed his bull-dog, Tigellin, prefect
of police.

Tigellin caught him. "What have you with you?" he asked.

"Continence, Justice, Temperance, Strength and Patience,"
Apollonius answered.

"Your slaves, I suppose. Make out a list of them."

Apollonius shook his head. "They are not my slaves; they are my
masters."

"There is but one," Tigellin retorted--"Nero. Why do you not fear
him?"

"Because the god that made him terrible made me without fear."

"I will leave you your liberty," muttered the startled Tigellin,
"but you must give bail."

"And who," asked Apollonius superbly, "would bail a man whom no
one can enchain?" Therewith he turned and disappeared.

At that time Nero was in training to suffocate a lion in the
arena. A few days later he killed himself. Simultaneously there
came news from Syracuse. A woman of rank had given birth to a
child with three heads. Apollonius examined it.

"There will be three emperors at once," he announced. "But their
reign will be shorter than that of kings on the stage."

Within that year Galba, who was emperor for an instant, died at
the gates of Rome. Vitellius, after being emperor in little else
than dream, was butchered in the Forum; and Otho, in that fine
antique fashion, killed himself in Gaul. Apollonius meanwhile was
in Alexandria, predicting the purple to Vespasian, the rise of the
House of Flavia; invoking Jupiter in his protege's behalf; and
presently, the prediction accomplished, he was back in Rome,
threatening Domitian, warning him that the House of Flavia would
fall.

The atmosphere was then charged with the marvellous; the world was
filled with prodigies, with strange gods, beckoning chimeras and
credulous crowds. Belief in the supernatural was absolute; the
occult sciences, astrology, magic, divination, all had their
adepts. In Greece there were oracles at every turn, and with them
prophets who taught the art of adultery and how to construe the
past. On the banks of the Rhine there were girls who were regarded
as divinities, and in Gaul were men who were held wholly divine.

Jerusalem too had her follies. There was Simon the Magician,
founder of gnosticism, father of every heresy, Messiah to the
Jews, Jupiter to the Gentiles--an impudent self-made god, who
pretended to float in the air, and called his mistress Minerva--a
deification, parenthetically, which was accepted by Nicholas, his
successor, a deacon of the church, who raised her to the eighth
heaven as patron saint of lust. To him, as to Simon, she was
Ennoia, Prunikos, Helen of Troy. She had been Delilah, Lucretia.
She had prostituted herself to every nation; she had sung in the
by-ways, and hidden robbers in the vermin of her bed. But by Simon
she was rehabilitated. It was she, no doubt, of whom Caligula
thought when he beckoned to the moon. In Rome she had her statue,
and near it was one to Simon, the holy god.

But of all manifestations of divinity the most patent was that
which haloed Vespasian. He expected it, Suetonius says, but it is
doubtful if any one else did. One night he dreamed that an era of
prosperity was to dawn for him and his when Nero lost a tooth. The
next day he was shown one which had been drawn from the emperor's
mouth. But that was nothing. Presently at Carmel the Syrian oracle
assured him that he would be successful in whatever he undertook.
From Rome word came that, while the armies of Vitellius and Otho
were fighting, two eagles had fought above them, and that the
victor had been despatched by a third eagle that had come from the
East. In Alexandria Serapis whispered to him. The entire menagerie
of Egypt proclaimed him king. Apis bellowed, Anubis barked. Isis
visited him unveiled. The lame and the blind pressed about him; he
cured them with a touch. There could be no reasonable doubt now;
surely he was a god. On his shoulders Apollonius threw the purple,
and Vespasian set out for Rome.

His antecedents were less propitious. The descendant of an obscure
centurion, he had been a veterinary surgeon; then, having got
Caligula's ear, he flattered it abominably. Caligula disposed of,
he flattered Claud, or what amounted to the same thing, Narcissus,
Claud's chamberlain. Through the influence of the latter he became
a lieutenant, fought on remote frontiers--fought well, too--so
well even that, Narcissus gone, he felt Agrippina watching him,
and knowing the jealousy of her eyes, prudently kept quiet until
that lady did.

With Nero he promenaded through Greece--sat at the Olympian games
and fell asleep when his emperor sang. Treason of that high
nature--sacrilege, rather, for Nero was then a god--might have
been overlooked, had it occurred but once, for Nero could be
magnanimous when he chose. But it always occurred. To Nero's
tremolo invariably came the accompaniment of Vespasian's snore. He
was dreaming of that tooth, no doubt. "I am not a soporific, am
I?" Nero gnashed at him, and sent the blasphemer away.

For a while Vespasian lived in constant expectation of some civil
message inviting him to die. Finally it came, only he was invited
to die at the head of an army which Nero had projected against
seditious Jews. When he returned, leaving his son Titus to attend
to Jerusalem, it was as emperor.

Only a moment before Vitellius had been disposed of. That curious
glutton, whom the Rhenish legions had chosen because of his coarse
familiarity, would willingly have fled had the soldiery let him.
But not at all; they wanted a prince of their own manufacture.
They knew nothing of Vespasian, cared less; and into the Capitol
they chased the latter's partisans, his son Domitian as well. The
besieged defended themselves with masterpieces, with sacred urns,
the statues of gods, the pedestals of divinities. Suddenly the
Capitol was aflame. Simultaneously Vespasian's advance guard beat
at the gates. The besiegers turned, the mob was with them, and
together they fought, first at the gates, then in the streets, in
the Forum, retreating always, but like lions, their face to the
foe. The volatile mob, noting the retreat, turned from combatant
into spectator. Let the soldiers fight; it was their duty, not
theirs; and, as the struggle continued, from roof and window they
eyed it with that artistic delight which the arena had developed,
applauding the clever thrusts, abusing the vanquished, robbing the
dead, and therewith pillaging the wineshops, crowding the
lupanars. During the orgy, Vitellius was stabbed. The Flavians had
won the day, the empire was Vespasian's.

The use he made of it was very modest. In spite of his manifest
divinity he had nothing in common with the Caesars that had gone
before; he had no dreams of the impossible, no desire to frighten
Jupiter or seduce the moon. He was a plain man, tall and ruddy,
very coarse in speech and thought, open-armed and close-fisted,
slapping senators on the back and keeping a sharp eye on the
coppers; taxing the latrinae, and declaring that money had no
smell; yet still, in comparison with Claud and Nero, almost the
ideal; absolutely uninteresting also, yet doing what good he
could; effacing at once the traces of the civil war, rebuilding
the Capitol, calming the people, protecting the provinces,
restoring to Rome the gardens of Nero, clipping the wings of the
Palace of Gold, throwing open again the Via Sacra, over which the
Palace had spread; draining the lake that had shimmered before it,
and erecting the Colosseum in its place.

In spite of Serapsis, Anubis and Isis, he had not the faintest
odor of myth about him; absolutely bourgeois, he lacked even that
atmosphere of burlesque that surrounded Claud; he was not even
vicious. But he was a soldier, a brave one; and if, with the
acquired economy of a subaltern who has been obliged to live on
his pay, he kept his purse-strings tight, they were loose enough
if a friend were in need, and he paid no one the compliment of a
lie. He was projected sheer out of the republic. The better part
of his life had been passed under arms; the delicate sensuality of
Rome was foreign to him. It was there that Domitian had lived.

It were interesting to have watched that young man killing flies
by the hour, while he meditated on the atrocities he was to
commit--atrocities so numberless and needless that in the red
halls of the Caesars he has left a portrait which is unique.
Slender, graceful, handsome, as were all the young emperors of old
Rome, his blue, troubled eyes took pleasure, if at all, only in
the sight of blood.

In accordance with the fashion which Caligula and Nero had set,
Domitian's earliest manners were those of an urbane and gentle
prince. Later, when he made it his turn to rule, informers begged
their bread in exile. Where they are not punished, he announced,
they are encouraged. The sacrifices were so distressing to him
that he forbade the immolation of oxen. He was disinterested, too,
refusing legacies when the testator left nearer heirs, and
therewith royally generous, covering his suite with presents, and
declaring that to him avarice of all vices was the lowest and most
vile. In short, you would have said another adolescent Nero come
to Rome; there was the same silken sweetness of demeanor, the same
ready blush, in addition to a zeal for justice and equity which
other young emperors had been too thoughtless to show.

His boyhood, too, had not been above reproach. The same things
were whispered about him that had been shouted at Augustus.
Manifestly he lacked not one of the qualities which go to the
making of a model prince. Vespasian alone had his doubts.

"Mushrooms won't hurt you," he cried one day, as Domitian started
at the sight of a ragout a la Sardanapale, which he fancied,
possibly, was a la Locuste, "It is steel you should fear."

At that time, with a father for emperor and a brother who was
sacking Jerusalem, Domitian had but one cause for anxiety, to wit
--that the empire might escape him. It was then he began his
meditations over holocausts of flies. For hours he secluded
himself, occupied solely with their slaughter. He treated them
precisely as Titus treated the Jews, enjoying the quiver of their
legs, the little agonies of their silent death.

Tiberius had been in love with solitude, but never as he. Night
after night he wandered on the terraces of the palace, watching
the red moon wane white, companioned only by his dreams, those
waking dreams that poets and madmen share, that Pallas had him in
her charge, that Psyche was amorous of his eyes.

Meanwhile he was a nobody, a young gentleman merely, who might
have moved in the best society, and who preferred the worst--his
own. The sudden elevation of Vespasian preoccupied him, and while
he knew that in the natural course of events his father would move
to Olympus, yet there was his brother Titus, on whose broad
shoulders the mantle of purple would fall. If the seditious Jews
only knew their business! But no. Forty years before a white
apparition on the way to Golgotha had cried to a handful of women,
"The days are coming in which they shall say to the mountains,
'Fall on us'; to the hills, 'Cover us.'" And the days had come. A
million of them had been butchered. From the country they had fled
to the city; from Acra they had climbed to Zion. When the city
burst into flames their blood put it out. Decidedly they did not
know their business. Titus, instead of being stabbed before
Jerusalem's walls, was marching in triumph to Rome.

The procession that presently entered the gates was a stream of
splendor; crowns of rubies and gold; garments that glistened with
gems; gods on their sacred pedestals; prisoners; curious beasts;
Jerusalem in miniature; pictures of war; booty from the Temple,
the veil, the candelabra, the cups of gold and the Book of the
Law. To the rear rumbled the triumphal car, in which laurelled and
mantled Titus stood, Vespasian at his side; while, in the
distance, on horseback, came Domitian--a supernumerary, ignored by
the crowd.

When the prisoners disappeared in the Tullianum and a herald
shouted, "They have lived!" Domitian returned to the palace and
hunted morosely for flies. The excesses of the festival in which
Rome was swooning then had no delights for him. Presently the moon
would rise, and then on the deserted terrace perhaps he would
bathe a little in her light, and dream again of Pallas and of the
possibilities of an emperor's sway, but meanwhile those blue
troubled eyes that Psyche was amorous of were filled with envy and
with hate. It was not that he begrudged Titus the triumph. The man
who had disposed of a million Jews deserved not one triumph, but
ten. It was the purple that haunted him.

Domitian was then in the early twenties. The Temple of Peace was
ascending; the Temple of Janus was closed; the empire was at rest.
Side by side with Vespasian, Titus ruled. From the Euphrates came
the rumor of some vague revolt. Domitian thought he would like to
quell it. He was requested to keep quiet. It occurred to him that
his father ought to be ashamed of himself to reign so long. He was
requested to vacate his apartment. There were dumb plots in dark
cellars, of which only the echo of a whisper has descended to us,
but which at the time were quite loud enough to reach Vespasian's
ears. Titus interceded. Domitian was requested to behave.

For a while he prowled in the moonlight. He had been too
precipitate, he decided, and to allay suspicion presently he went
about in society, mingling his hours with those of married women.
Manifestly his ways had mended. But Vespasian was uneasy. A comet
had appeared. The doors of the imperial mausoleum had opened of
themselves, besides, he was not well. The robust and hardy
soldier, suddenly without tangible cause, felt his strength give
way. "It is nothing," his physician said; "a slight attack of
fever." Vespasian shook his head; he knew things of which the
physician was ignorant. "It is death," he answered, "and an
emperor should meet it standing."

Titus' turn came next. A violent, headstrong, handsome, rapacious
prince, terribly prodigal, thoroughly Oriental, surrounded by
dancers and mignons, living in state with a queen for mistress,
startling even Rome with the uproar of his debauches--no sooner
was Vespasian gone than presto! the queen went home, the dancers
disappeared, the debauches ceased, and a ruler appeared who
declared he had lost a day that a good action had not marked; a
ruler who could announce that no one should leave his presence
depressed.

Though Vespasian had gone, his reign continued. Not long, it is
true, and punctuated by a spectacle of which Caligula, for all his
poetry, had not dreamed--the burial of Pompeii. But a reign which,
while it lasted, was fastidious and refined, and during which,
again and again, Titus, who commanded death and whom death obeyed,
besought Domitian to be to him a brother.

Domitian had no such intention. He had a party behind him, one
made up of old Neronians, the army of the discontented, who wanted
a change, and greatly admired this charming young prince whose
hours were passed in killing flies and making love to married
women. The pretorians too had been seduced. Domitian could make
captivating promises when he chose.

As a consequence Titus, like Vespasian, was uneasy, and with
cause. Dion Cassius, or rather that brute Xiphilin, his
abbreviator, mentions the fever that overtook him, the same his
father had met. It was mortal, of course, and the purple was
Domitian's.

For a year and a day thereafter you would have thought Titus still
at the helm. There was the same clemency, the same regard for
justice, the same refinement and fastidiousness. The morose young
poet had developed into a model monarch. The old Neronians were
perplexed, irritated too; they had expected other things. Domitian
was merely feeling the way; the hand that held the sceptre was not
quite sure of its strength, and, tentatively almost, this Prince
of Virtue began to scrutinize the morals of Rome. For the first
time he noticed that the cocottes took their airing in litters.
But litters were not for them! That abuse he put a stop to at
once. A senator manifested an interest in ballet-girls; he was
disgraced. The vestals, to whose indiscretions no one had paid
much attention, learned the statutes of an archaic law, and were
buried alive. The early distaste for blood was diminishing.
Domitian had the purple, but it was not bright enough; he wanted
it red, and what Domitian wanted he got. Your god and master
orders it, was the formula he began to use when addressing the
Senate and People of Rome.

To that the people were indifferent. The spectacles he gave in the
Flavian amphitheatre were too magnificently atrocious not to be a
compensation in full for any eccentricity in which he might
indulge. Besides, under Nero, Claud, Caligula, on en avait vu bien
d'autres. And at those spectacles where he presided, crowned with
a tiara, on which were the images of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva,
while grouped about him the college of Flavian flamens wore tiaras
that differed therefrom merely in this, that they bore his image
too, the people right royally applauded their master and their
god.

And it was just as well they did; Domitian was quite capable of
ordering everybody into the arena. As yet, however, he had
appeared little different from any other prince. That Rome might
understand that there was a difference, and also in what that
difference consisted, he gave a supper. Everyone worth knowing was
bidden, and, as is usual in state functions, everyone that was
bidden came. The supper hall was draped with black; the ceiling,
the walls, the floor, everything was basaltic. The couches were
black, the linen was black, the slaves were black. Behind each
guest was a broken column with his name on it. The food was such
as is prepared when death has come. The silence was that of the
tomb. The only audible voice was Domitian's. He was talking very
wittily and charmingly about murder, about proscriptions, the good
informers do, the utility of the headsman, the majesty of the law.
The guests, a trifle ill at ease, wished their host sweet dreams.
"The same to you," he answered, and deplored that they must go.

On the morrow informers and headsmen were at work. Any pretext was
sufficient. Birth, wealth, fame, or the lack of them--anything
whatever--and there the culprit stood, charged not with treason to
an emperor, but with impiety to a god. On the judgment seat
Domitian sat. Before him the accused passed, and under his eyes
they were questioned, tortured, condemned and killed. At once
their property passed into the keeping of the prince.

Of that he had need. The arena was expensive, but the drain was
elsewhere. A little before, a quarrelsome people, the Dacians,
whom it took a Trajan to subdue, had overrun the Danube, and were
marching down to Rome. Domitian set out to meet them. The Dacians
retreated, not at all because they were repulsed, but because
Domitian thought it better warfare to pay them to do so. On his
return after that victory he enjoyed a triumph as fair as that of
Caesar. And each year since then the emperor of Rome had paid
tribute to a nation of mongrel oafs.

Of course he needed money. The informers were there and he got it,
and with it that spectacle of torture and of blood which he needed
too. Curiously, his melancholy increased; his good looks had gone;
Psyche was no longer amorous of his eyes. Something else haunted
him, something he could not define; the past, perhaps, perhaps the
future. To his ears came strange sounds, the murmur of his own
name, and suddenly silence. Then, too, there always seemed to be
something behind him; something that when he turned disappeared.
The room in which he slept he had covered with a polished metal
that reflected everything, yet still the intangible was there.
Once Pallas came in her chariot, waved him farewell, and
disappeared, borne by black horses across the black night.

The astrologers consulted had nothing pleasant to say. They knew,
as Domitian knew, that the end was near. So was theirs. To one of
them, who predicted his immediate death, he inquired, "What will
your end be?" "I," answered the astrologer--"I shall be torn by
dogs." "To the stake with him!" cried Domitian; "let him be burned
alive!" Suetonius says that a storm put out the flames, and dogs
devoured the corpse. Another astrologer predicted that Domitian
would die before noon on the morrow. In order to convince him of
his error, Domitian ordered him to be executed the subsequent
night. Before noon on the morrow Domitian was dead.

Philostratus and Dion Cassius both unite in saying that at that
hour Apollonius was at Ephesus, preaching to the multitude. In the
middle of the sermon he hesitated, but in a moment he began anew.
Again he hesitated, his eyes half closed; then, suddenly he
shouted, "Strike him! Strike him once more!" And immediately to
his startled audience he related a scene that was occurring at
Rome, the attack on Domitian, his struggle with an assailant, his
effort to tear out his eyes, the rush of conspirators, and finally
the fall of the emperor, pierced by seven knives.

The story may not be true, and yet if it were!





VII

THE POISON IN THE PURPLE


Rome never was healthy. The tramontana visited it then as now,
fever, too, and sudden death. To emperors it was fatal. Since
Caesar a malaria had battened on them all. Nerva escaped, but only
through abdication. The mantle that fell from Domitian's shoulders
on to his was so dangerous in its splendor, that, fearing the
infection, he passed it to Ulpius Trajanus, the lustre undimmed.

Ulpius Trajanus, Trajan for brevity, a Spaniard by birth, a
soldier by choice; one who had fought against Parthian and Jew,
who had triumphed through Pannonia and made it his own; a general
whose hair had whitened on the field; a consul who had frightened
nations, was afraid of the sheen of that purple which dazzled,
corroded and killed. He bore it, indeed, but at arm's-length. He
kept himself free from the subtlety of its poison, from the
microbes of Rome as well.

He was in Cologne when Domitian died and Nerva accepted and
renounced the throne. It was a year before he ventured among the
seven hills. When he arrived you would have said another Augustus,
not the real Augustus, but the Augustus of legend, and the late
Mr. Gibbon. When he girt the new prefect of the pretorium with the
immemorial sword, he addressed him in copy-book phrases--"If I
rule wisely, use it for me; unwisely, against me."

Rome listened open-mouthed. The change from Domitian's formula,
"Your god and master orders it," was too abrupt to be immediately
understood. Before it was grasped Trajan was off again; this time
to the Danube and beyond it, to Dacia and her fens.

Many years later--a century or two, to be exact--a Persian satrap
loitered in a forum of Rome. "It is here," he declared, "I am
tempted to forget that man is mortal."

He had passed beneath a triumphal arch; before him was a
glittering square, grandiose, yet severe; a stretch of temples and
basilicas, in which masterpieces felt at home--the Forum of
Trajan, the compliment of a nation to a prince. Dominating it was
a column, in whose thick spirals you read to-day the one reliable
chronicle of the Dacian campaign. Was not Gautier well advised
when he said only art endures?

There were other chronicles in plenty; there were the histories of
AElius Maurus, of Marius Maximus, and that of Spartian, but they
are lost. There is a page or two in the abbreviation which
Xiphilin made of Dion; Aurelius Victor has a little to add, so
also has Eutropus, but, practically speaking, there is, apart from
that column, nothing save conjecture.

Campaigns are wearisome reading, but not the one that is pictured
there. You ask a curve a question, and in the next you find the
reply. There is a point, however, on which it is dumb--the origin
of the war. But if you wish to know the result, not the momentary
and transient result, but the sequel which futurity held, look at
the ruins at that column's base.

The origin of the war was Domitian's diplomacy. The chieftain whom
he had made king, and who had been surprised enough at receiving a
diadem instead of the point of a sword, fancied, and not
unreasonably, that the annuity which Rome paid him was to continue
forever. But Domitian, though a god, was not otherwise immortal.
When he died abruptly the annuity ceased. The Dacian king sent
word that he was surprised at the delay, but he must have been far
more so at the promptness with which he got Trajan's reply. It was
a blare of bugles, which he thought forever dumb; a flight of
eagles, which he thought were winged.

In the spirals of the column you see the advancing army, the
retreating foe; then the Dacian dragon saluting the standards of
Rome; peace declared, and an army, whose very repose is menacing,
standing there to see that peace is kept. And was it? In the
ascending spiral is the new revolt, the attempt to assassinate
Trajan, the capture of the conspirators, the advance of the
legions, the retreat of the Dacians, burning their cities as they
go, carrying their wounded and their women with them, and at last
pressing about a huge cauldron that is filled with poison,
fighting among themselves for a cup of the brew, and rolling on
the ground in the convulsions of death. Farther on is the treasure
of the king. To hide it he had turned a river from its source,
sunk the gold in a vault beneath, and killed the workmen that had
labored there. Beyond is the capture of the capital, the suicide
of the chief, a troop of soldiers driving captives and cattle
before them, the death of a nation and the end of war.

The subsequent triumph does not appear on the column. It is said
that ten thousand beasts were slaughtered in the arenas,
slaughtering, as they fell, a thousand of their slaughterers. But
the spectacle, however fair, was not of a nature to detain Trajan
long in Rome. The air there had not improved in the least, and
presently he was off again, this time on the banks of the
Euphrates, arguing with the Parthians, avoiding danger in the only
way he knew, by facing it.

It was then that the sheen of the purple glowed. If lustreless at
home, it was royally red abroad. In a campaign that was little
more than a triumphant promenade he doubled the empire. To the
world of Caesar he added that of Alexander. Allies he turned into
subjects, vassals into slaves. Armenia, Mesopotamia, Assyria, were
added to the realm. Trajan's footstools were diadems. He had moved
back one frontier, he moved another. From Britain to the Indus,
Rome was mistress of the earth. Had Trajan been younger, China,
whose very name was unknown, would have yielded to him her
corruption, her printing press, her powder and her tea.

That he would have enjoyed these things is not at all conjectural.
He was then an old man, but he was not a good one--at least not in
the sense we use the term to-day. He had habits which are regarded
now less as vices than perversions, but which at that time were
taken as a matter of course and accepted by everyone, even by the
stoics, very calmly, with a grain of Attic salt at that. Men were
regarded as virtuous when they were brave, when they were honest;
the idea of using the expression in its later sense occurred, if
at all, in jest merely, as a synonym for the eunuch. It was the
matron and the vestal who were supposed to be straight, and their
straightness was wholly supposititious. The ceremonies connected
with the phallus, and those observed in the worship of the Bona
Dea, were of a nature that no virtue could withstand. Every altar,
Juvenal said, had its Clodius, and even in Clodius' absence there
were always those breaths of Sapphic song that blew through
Mitylene.

It is just that absence of a quality which we regard as an added
grace; one, parenthetically, which dowered the world with a new
conception of beauty that makes it difficult to picture Rome.
Modern ink has acquired Nero's blush; it comes very readily, yet,
however sensitive a writer may be, once Roman history is before
him, he may violate it if he choose; he may even give it a child,
but never can he make it immaculate. He may skip, indeed, if he
wish; and it is because he has skipped so often that one fancies
that Augustus was all right. The rain of fire which fell on the
cities that mirrored their towers in the Bitter Sea, might just as
well have fallen on him, on Vergil, too, on Caligula, Claud, Nero,
Otho, Vitellius, Titus, Domitian, and particularly on Trajan.

As lieutenant in the latter's triumphant promenade, was a nephew,
AElius Hadrianus, a young man for whom Trajan's wife is rumored to
have had more than a platonic affection, and who in younger days
was numbered among Trajan's mignons. During the progress of that
promenade Trajan fell ill. The command of the troops was left to
Hadrian, and Trajan started for Rome. On the way he died. In what
manner is not known; his wife, however, was with him, and it was
in her hand that a letter went to the senate stating that Trajan
had adopted Hadrian as his heir. Trajan had done nothing of the
sort. The idea had indeed occurred to him, but long since it had
been abandoned. He had even formally selected someone else, but
his wife was with him, and her lover commanded the troops. The
lustre of the purple, always dazzling, had fascinated Hadrian's
eyes. Did he steal it? One may conjecture, yet never know. In any
event it was his, and he folded it very magnificently about him.
Still young, a trifle over thirty, handsome, unusually
accomplished, grand seigneur to his finger-tips, endowed with a
manner which is rumored to have been one of great charm, possessed
of the amplest appreciation of the elegancies of life, he had
precisely the figure which purple adorns. But, though the lustre
had fascinated, he too knew its spell; and presently he started
off on a journey about the world, which lasted fifteen years, and
which, when ended, left the world the richer for his passing,
decorated with the monuments he had strewn. Before that journey
began, at the earliest rumor of Trajan's death, the Euphrates and
Tigris awoke, the cinders of Nineveh flamed. The rivers and land
that lay between knew that their conqueror had gone. Hadrian knew
it also, and knew too that, though he might occupy the warrior's
throne, he never could fill the warrior's place. To Armenia,
Mesopotamia, Assyria, freedom was restored. Dacia could have had
it for the asking. But over Dacia the toga had been thrown; it was
as Roman as Gaul. A corner of it is Roman still; the Roumanians
are there. But though Dacia was quiet, in its neighborhood the
restless Sarmatians prowled and threatened. Hadrian, who had
already written a book on tactics, knew at once how to act.
Domitian's policy was before him; he followed the precedent, and
paid the Sarmatians to be still. It requires little acumen to see
that when Rome permitted herself to be blackmailed the end was
near.

For the time being, however, there was peace, and in its interest
Hadrian set out on that unequalled journey over a land that was
his. Had fate relented, Trajan could have made a wider one still.
But in Trajan was the soldier merely, when he journeyed it was
with the sword. In Hadrian was the dilettante, the erudite too; he
travelled not to conquer, but to learn, to satisfy an insatiable
curiosity, for self-improvement, for glory too. Behind him was an
army, not of soldiers, but of masons, captained by architects,
artists and engineers. Did a site please him, there was a temple
at once, or if not that, then a bridge, an aqueduct, a library, a
new fashion, sovereignty even, but everywhere the spectacle of an
emperor in flesh and blood. For the first time the provinces were
able to understand that a Caesar was not necessarily a brute, a
phantom and a god.

It would have been interesting to have made one of that court of
poets and savants that surrounded him; to have dined with him in
Paris, eaten oysters in London; sat with him while he watched that
wall go up before the Scots, and then to have passed down again
through a world still young--a world beautiful, ornate,
unutilitarian; a world to which trams, advertisements and
telegraph poles had not yet come; a world that still had
illusions, myths and mysteries; one in which religion and poetry
went hand in hand--a world without newspapers, hypocrisy and cant.

Hadrian, doubtless, enjoyed it. He was young enough to have
enthusiasms and to show them; he was one of the best read men of
the day; he was poet, painter, sculptor, musician, erudite and
emperor in one. Of course he enjoyed it. The world, over which he
travelled, was his, not by virtue of the purple alone, but because
of his knowledge of it. The prince is not necessarily
cosmopolitan; the historian and antiquarian are. Hadrian was an
early Quinet, an earlier Champollion; always the thinker,
sometimes the cook. And to those in his suite it must have been a
sight very unique to see a Caesar who had published his volume of
erotic verse, just as any other young man might do; who had hunted
lions, not in the arena, but in Africa, make researches on the
plain where Troy had been, and a supreme of sow's breast, peacock,
pheasant, ham and boar, which he called Pentapharmarch, and which
he offered as he had his Catacriani--the erotic verse--as
something original and nice.

Insatiably inquisitive, verifying a history that he was preparing
in the lands which gave that history birth, he passed through
Egypt and Asia, questioning sphinxes, the cerements of kings, the
arcana of the temples; deciphering the sacred books, arguing with
magi, interrogating the stars. For the thinker, after the fashion
of the hour, was astrologer too, and one of the few anecdotes
current concerning him is in regard to a habit he had of drawing
up on the 31st of December the events of the coming year. After
consulting the stars on that 31st of December which occurred in
the twenty-second year of his reign, he prepared a calendar which
extended only to the 10th of July. On that day he died.

The calendar does not seem to have been otherwise serviceable. It
was in Bithynia he found a shepherd whose appearance which, in its
perfection, was quite earthly, suggested neither heaven nor hell,
but some planet where the atmosphere differs from ours; where it
is pink, perhaps, or faintly ochre; where birth and death have
forms higher than here.

Hadrian, captivated, led the lad in leash. The facts concerning
that episode have been so frequently given that the repetition is
needless here. Besides, the point is elsewhere. Presently the lad
fell overboard. Hadrian lost a valet, Rome an emperor, and Olympus
a god. But in attempting to deify the lost lackey, the grief of
Hadrian was so immediate, that it is permissible to fancy that the
lad's death was not one of those events which the emperor-
astrologer noted beforehand on his calendar. The lad was decently
buried, the Nile gave up her dead, and on the banks a fair city
rose, one that had its temples, priests, altars and shrines; a
city that worshipped a star, and called that star Antinous.
Hadrian then could have congratulated himself. Even Caligula would
have envied him. He had done his worst; he had deified not a lad,
but a lust. And not for the moment alone. A half century later
Tertullian noted that the worship still endured, and subsequently
the Alexandrine Clement discovered consciences that Antinous had
reproached.

Antinous, deified, was presently forgot. A young Roman,
wonderfully beautiful, Dion says, yet singularly effeminate; a
youth who could barely carry a shield; who slept between rose-
leaves and lilies; who was an artist withal; a poet who had
written lines that Martial might have mistaken for his own,
Cejonius Verus by name, succeeded the Bithynian shepherd. Hadrian,
who would have adopted Antinous, adopted Verus in his stead. But
Hadrian was not happy in his choice. Verus died, and singularly
enough, Hadrian selected as future emperor the one ruler against
whom history has not a reproach, Pius Antonin.

Meanwhile the journey continued. The Thousand and One Nights were
realized then if ever. The beauty of the world was at its apogee,
the glory of Rome as well; and through secrets and marvels Hadrian
strolled, note-book in hand, his eyes unwearied, his curiosity
unsatiated still. To pleasure him the intervales took on a fairer
glow; cities decked themselves anew, the temples unveiled their
mysteries; and when he passed to the intervales liberty came; to
the cities, sovereignty; to the temples, shrines. The world rose
to him as a woman greets her lover. His travels were not fatigues;
they were delights, in which nations participated, and of which
the memories endure as though enchanted still.

It would have been interesting, no doubt, to have dined with him
in Paris; to have quarried lions in their African fens; to have
heard archaic hymns ripple through the rushes of the Nile; to have
lounged in the Academe, to have scaled Parnassus, and sailed the
AEgean Sea; but, a history and an arm-chair aiding, the traveller
has but to close his eyes and the past returns. Without disturbing
so much as a shirt-box, he may repeat that promenade. Triremes
have foundered; litters are out of date; painted elephants are no
more; the sky has changed, climates with it; there are colors, as
there are arts, that have gone from us forever; there are desolate
plains, where green and yellow was; the shriek of steam where gods
have strayed; advertisements in sacred groves; Baedekers in ruins
that never heard an atheist's voice; solitudes where there were
splendors; the snarl of jackals where once were birds and bees--
yet, history and the arm-chair aiding, it all returns. Any
traveller may follow in Hadrian's steps; he is stayed but once--
on the threshold of the Temple of Eleusis. It is there history
gropes, impotent and blind, and it is there the interest of that
journey culminated.

Beyond the episode connected with Antinous, Hadrian's journey was
marked by another, one which occurred in Judaea. Both were
infamous, no doubt, but, what is more to the point, both mark the
working of the poison in the purple that he bore.

Since Titus had gone, despairful Judaea had taken heart again.
Hope in that land was inextinguishable. The walls of Jerusalem
were still standing; in the Temple the offices continued. Though
Rome remained, there was Israel too. Passing that way one
afternoon, Hadrian mused. The city affected him; the site was
superb. And as he mused it occurred to him that Jerusalem was less
harmonious to the ear than Hadrianopolis; that the Temple occupied
a position on which a Capitol would look far better; in brief,
that Jehovah might be advantageously replaced by Jove. The army of
masons that were ever at his heels were set to work at once. They
had received similar orders and performed similar tasks so often
that they could not fancy anyone would object. The Jews did. They
fought as they had never fought before; they fought for three
years against a Nebuchadnezzar who created torrents of blood so
abundant that stones were carried for miles, and who left corpses
enough to fertilize the land for a decade. The survivors were
sold. Those for whom no purchasers could be found had their heads
amputated. Jerusalem was razed to the ground. The site of the
Temple was furrowed by the plow, sown with salt, and in place of
the City of David rose AElia Capitolina, a miniature Rome, whose
gates, save on one day in the year, Jews were forbidden under
penalty of death to pass, were forbidden to look at, and over
which were images of swine, pigs with scornful snouts, the feet
turned inward, the tail twisted like a lie.

It was not honorable warfare, but it was effective; then, too, it
was Hadrianesque, the mad insult of a madman to a race as mad as
he. The purple had done its work. History has left the rise of
this emperor conjectural; his fall is written in blood. As he
began he ended, a poet and a beast.

Presently he was in Rome. It was not homesickness that took him
there; he was far too cosmopolitan to suffer from any such malady
as that. It was the accumulations of a fifteen-year excursion
through the metropoles of art which demanded a gallery of their
own. Another with similar tastes and similar power might have
ordered everything which pleasured his eye to be carted to Rome,
but in his quality of artifex omnipotens Hadrian embellished and
never sacked. There were painters and sculptors enough in that
army at his heels, and whatever appealed to him was copied on the
spot. So much was copied that a park of ten square miles was just
large enough to form the open-air museum which he had designed,
one which centuries of excavation have not exhausted yet.

The museum became a mad-house. Hadrian was ill; tired in mind and
body, smitten with imperialia. It was then the young Verus died,
leaving for a wonder a child behind, and more wonderful still,
Antonin was adopted. Through Rome, meanwhile, terror stalked.
Hadrian, in search of a remedy against his increasing confusion of
mind, his visible weakness of body, turned from physicians to
oracles; from them to magic, and then to blood. He decimated the
senate. Soldiers, freemen, citizens, anybody and everybody were
ordered off to death. He tried to kill himself and failed; he
tried again, wondering, no doubt, why he who commanded death for
others could not command it for himself. Presently he succeeded,
and Antonin--the pious Antonin, as the senate called him--
marshalled from cellars and crypts the senators and citizens whom
Hadrian had ordered to be destroyed.





VIII

FAUSTINE


Anyone who has loitered a moment among the statues in the Salle
des Antonins at the Louvre will recall the bust of the Empress
Faustina. It stands near the entrance, coercing the idler to
remove his hat; to stop a moment, to gaze and dream. The face
differs from that which Mr. Swinburne has described. In the poise
of the head, in the expression of the lips, particularly in the
features which, save the low brow, are not of the Roman type,
there is a commingling of just that loveliness and melancholy
which must have come to Psyche when she lost her god. In the
corners of the mouth, in the droop of the eyelids, in the moulding
of the chin, you may see that rarity--beauty and intellect in one
--and with it the heightening shadow of an eternal regret. Before
her Marcus Aurelius, her husband, stands, decked with the purple,
with all the splendor of the imperator, his beard in overlapping
curls, his questioning eyes dilated. Beyond is her daughter,
Lucille, less fair than the mother, a healthy girl of the
dairymaid type. Near by is the son, Commodus. Across the hall is
Lucius Verus, the husband of Lucille; in a corner, Antonin,
Faustine's father, and, more remotely, his wife. Together they
form quite a family group, and to the average tourist they must
seem a thoroughly respectable lot. Antonin certainly was
respectable. He was the first emperor who declined to be a brute.
Referring to his wife he said that he would rather be with her in
a desert than without her in a palace; the speech,
parenthetically, of a man who, though he could have cited that
little Greek princess, Nausicaa, as a precedent, was too well-bred
to permit so much as a fringe of his household linen to flutter in
public. Besides, at his hours, he was a poet, and it is said that
if a poet tell a lie twice he will believe it. Antonin so often
declared his wife to be a charming person that in the end no doubt
he thought so. She was not charming, however, or if she were, her
charm was not that of exclusiveness.

It was in full sight of this lady's inconsequences that Faustine
was educated. Wherever she looked, the candors of her girlhood
were violated. The phallus then was omnipresent. Iamblicus, not
the novelist, but the philosopher, has much to say on the subject;
as has Arnobius in the Adversus gentes, and Lactance in the De
falsa religione. If Juvenal, Martial, Petronius, are more
reticent, it is because they were not Fathers of the Church, nor
yet antiquarians. No one among us exacts a description of a spire.
The phallus was as common to them, commoner even. It was on the
coins, on the doors, in the gardens. As a preservative against
Envy it hung from children's necks. On sun-dials and water clocks
it marked the flight of time. The vestals worshipped it. At
weddings it was used in a manner which need not be described.

It was from such surroundings that Faustine stepped into the arms
of the severe and stately prince whom her father had chosen. That
Marcus Aurelius adored her is certain. His notebook shows it. A
more tender-hearted and perfect lover romance may show, but
history cannot. He must have been the quintessence of refinement,
a thoroughbred to his finger-tips; one for whom that purple mantle
was too gaudy, and yet who bore it, as he bore everything else, in
that self-abnegatory spirit which the higher reaches of philosophy
bring.

He was of that rare type that never complains and always consoles.

After Antonin's death, his hours ceased to be his own. On the
Euphrates there was the wildest disorder. To the north new races
were pushing nations over the Danube and the Rhine. From the
catacombs Christ was emerging; from the Nile, Serapis. The empire
was in disarray. Antonin had provided his son-in-law with a
coadjutor, Lucius Verus, the son of Hadrian's mignon, a
magnificent scoundrel; a tall, broad-shouldered athlete, with a
skin as fresh as a girl's and thick curly hair, which he covered
with a powder of gold; a viveur, whose suppers are famous still;
whose guests were given the slaves that served them, the plate off
which they had eaten, the cups from which they had drunk--cups of
gold, cups of silver, jewelled cups, cups from Alexandria,
murrhine vases filled with nard--cars and litters to go home with,
mules with silver trappings and negro muleteers. Capitolinus says
that, while the guests feasted, sometimes the magnificent Verus
got drunk, and was carried to bed in a coverlid, or else, the red
feather aiding, turned out and fought the watch.

It was this splendid individual to whom Marcus Aurelius entrusted
the Euphrates. They had been brought up together, sharing each
others tutors, writing themes for the same instructor, both
meanwhile adolescently enamored of the fair Faustine. It was to
Marcus she was given, the empire as a dower; and when that dower
passed into his hands, he could think of nothing more equitable
than to ask Verus to share it with him. Verus was not stupid
enough to refuse, and at the hour when the Parthians turned ugly,
he needed little urging to set out for the East, dreaming, as he
did so, of creating there an empire that should be wholly his.

At that time Faustine must have been at least twenty-eight,
possibly thirty. There were matrons who had not seen their
fifteenth year, and Faustine had been married young. Her daughter,
Lucille, was nubile. Presently Verus, or rather his lieutenants,
succeeded, and the girl was betrothed to him. There was a
festival, of course, games in abundance, and plenty of blood.

It would have been interesting to have seen her that day, the iron
ring of betrothal on her finger, her brother, Commodus, staring at
the arrangement of her hair, her mother prettily perplexed, her
father signing orders which messengers brought and despatched
while the sand took on a deeper red, and Rome shrieked its
delight. Yes, it would have been interesting and typical of the
hour. Her hair in the ten tresses which were symbolic of a
fiancee's innocence, must have amused that brute of a brother of
hers, and the iron ring on the fourth finger of her left hand must
have given Faustine food for thought; the vestals, in their
immaculate robes, must have gazed at her in curious, sisterly
ways, and because of her fresh beauty surely there were undertones
of applause. Should her father disappear she would make a gracious
imperatrix indeed.

But, meanwhile, there was Faustine, and at sight of her legends of
old imperial days returned. She was not Messalina yet, but in the
stables there were jockeys whose sudden wealth surprised no one;
in the arenas there were gladiators that fought, not for liberty,
nor for death, but for the caresses of her eyes; in the side-
scenes there were mimes who spoke of her; there were senators who
boasted in their cups, and in the theatre Rome laughed colossally
at the catchword of her amours.

Marcus Aurelius then was occupied with affairs of state. In
similar circumstances so was Claud--Messalina's husband--so, too,
was Antonin. But Claud was an imbecile, Antonin a man of the
world, while Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher. When fate links a
woman to any one of these varieties of the husband, she is blessed
indeed. Faustine was particularly favored.

The stately prince was not alone a philosopher--a calling, by the
way, which was common enough then, and has become commoner since--
he was a philosopher who believed in philosophy, a rarity then as
now. The exact trend of his thought is difficult to define. His
note-book is filled with hesitations; materialism had its
allurements, so also had pantheism; the advantages of the
Pyrrhonic suspension of judgment were clear to him too; according
to the frame of mind in which he wrote, you might fancy him an
agnostic, again an akosmist, sometimes both, but always the
ethical result is the same.

"Revenge yourself on your enemy by not resembling him. Forgive;
forgive always; die forgiving. Be indulgent to the wrong-doer; be
compassionate to him; tell him how he should act; speak to him
without anger, without sarcasm; speak to him affectionately.
Besides, what do you know of his wrong-doing? Are all his thoughts
familiar to you? May there not be something that justifies him?
And you, are you entirely free from reproach? Have you never done
wrong? And if not, was it fear that restrained you? Was it pride,
or what?"

In the synoptic gospels similar recommendations appear. Charity is
the New Testament told in a word. Christians read and forget it.
But Christians are not philosophers. The latter are charitable
because they regard evil as a part of the universal order of
things, one which it is idle to blame, yet permissible to rectify.

From whatever source such a tenet springs, whether from
materialism, stoicism, pyrrhonism, epicureanism, atheism even, is
of small matter; it is a tenet which is honorable to the holder.
This sceptred misanthrope possessed it, and it was in that his
wife was blessed. Years later he died, forgiving her in silence,
praising her aloud. Claud, referring to Messalina, shouted through
the Forum that the fate which destined him to marry impure women
destined him to punish them. Marcus Aurelius said nothing. He did
not know what fate destined him to do, but he did know that
philosophy taught him to forgive.

It was this philosophy that first perplexed Faustine. She was
restless, frivolous, perhaps also a trifle depraved. Frivolous
because all women were, depraved because her mother was, and
restless because of the curiosity that inflammable imaginations
share--in brief, a Roman princess. Her husband differed from the
Roman prince. His youth had not been entirely circumspect; he,
too, had his curiosities, but they were satisfied, he had found
that they stained. When he married he was already the thinker;
doubtless, he was tiresome; he could have had little small-talk,
and his hours of love-making must have been rare. Presently the
affairs of state engrossed him. Faustine was left to herself; save
a friend of her own sex, a woman can have no worse companion. She,
too, discovered she had curiosities. A gladiator passed that way--
then Rome; then Lesbos; then the Lampsacene. "You are my husband's
mistress," her daughter cried at her. "And you," the mother
answered, "are your brother's." Even in the aridity of a chronicle
the accusation and rejoinder are dramatic. Fancy what they must
have been when mother and daughter hissed them in each other's
teeth. Whether the argument continued is immaterial. Both could
have claimed the sanction of religion. In those days a sin was a
prayer. Religion was then, as it always had been, purely
political. With the individual, with his happiness or aspirations,
it concerned itself not at all. It was the prosperity of the
empire, its peace and immortality, for which sacrifices were made,
and libations offered. The god of Rome was Rome, and religion was
patriotism. The antique virtues, courage in war, moderation in
peace, and honor at all times, were civic, not personal. It was
the state that had a soul, not the individual. Man was ephemeral;
it was the nation that endured. It was the permanence of its
grandeur that was important, nothing else.

To ensure that permanence each citizen labored. As for the
citizen, death was near, and he hastened to live; before the roses
could fade he wreathed himself with them. Immortality to him was
in his descendants, the continuation of his name, respect to his
ashes. Any other form of future life was a speculation, infrequent
at that. In anterior epochs Fright had peopled Tartarus, but
Fright had gone. The Elysian Fields were vague, wearisome to
contemplate; even metempsychosis had no adherents. "After death,"
said Caesar, "there is nothing," and all the world agreed with
him. The hour, too, in which three thousand gods had not a single
atheist, had gone, never to return. Old faiths had crumbled. None
the less was Rome the abridgment of every superstition. The gods
of the conquered had always been part of her spoils. The Pantheon
had become a lupanar of divinities that presided over birth, and
whose rites were obscene; an abattoir of gods that presided over
death, and whose worship was gore. To please them was easy. Blood
and debauchery was all that was required. That the upper classes
had no faith in them at all goes without the need of telling; the
atmosphere of their atriums dripped with metaphysics. But of the
atheism of the upper classes the people knew nothing; they clung
piously to a faith which held a theological justification of every
sin, and in the temples fervent prayers were murmured, not for
future happiness, for that was unobtainable, nor yet for wisdom or
virtue, for those things the gods neither granted nor possessed;
the prayers were that the gods would favor the suppliant in his
hatreds and in his lusts.

Such was Rome when Verus returned to wed Lucille. Before his car
the phallus swung; behind it was the pest. A little before, the
Tiber overflowed. Presently, in addition to the pest, famine came.
It was patent to everyone that the gods were vexed. There was
blasphemy somewhere, and the Christians were tossed to the beasts.
Faustine watched them die. At first they were to her as other
criminals, but immediately a difference was discerned. They met
death, not with grace, perhaps, but with exaltation. They entered
the arena as though it were an enchanted garden, the color of the
emerald, where dreams came true. Faustine questioned. They were
enemies of state, she was told. The reply left her perplexed, and
she questioned again. It was then her eyes became inhabited by
regret. The past she tried to put from her, but remorse is
physical; it declines to be dismissed. She would have killed
herself, but she no longer dared. Besides, in the future there was
light. In some ray of it she must have walked, for when at the
foot of Mount Taurus, in a little Cappadocian village, years
later, she died, it was at the sign of the cross.





IX

THE AGONY


The high virtues are not complaisant, it is the cad the canaille
adore. In spite of everything, Nero had been beloved by the
masses. For years there were roses on his tomb. Under Vespasian
there was an impostor whom Greece and Asia acclaimed in his name.
The memory of his festivals was unforgetable; regret for him
refused to be stilled. He was more than a god; he was a tradition.
His second advent was confidently expected; the Jews believed in
his resurrection; to the Christian he had never died, and suddenly
he reappeared.

Rome had declined to accept the old world tenet that the soul has
its avatars, yet, when Commodus sauntered from that distant
sepulchre, into which, poison aiding, he had placed his putative
father, Rome felt that the Egyptians were wiser than they looked;
that the soul did migrate, and that in the blue eyes of the young
emperor Nero's spirit shone.

Herodian, who has written very agreeably on the subject, describes
him as another Prince Charming. His hair, which was very fair,
glistened like gold in the sun; he was slender, not at all
effeminate, exceedingly graceful, exceedingly gracious; endowed
with the promptest blush, with the best intentions; studious of
the interests of his people; glad of advice, seeking it even;
courteous and deferential to the senate and his father's friends--
in short, an adolescent Nero--a trifle more guileful, however;
already a parricide, a comedian as well; one who in a moment would
toss the mask aside and disclose the mongrel; the offspring, not
of an empress and an emperor, but the tiger-cub that Faustine had
got by a gladiator.

The tender-hearted philosopher, who in a campaign against some
fretful Teutons, had taken Commodus with him, knew that he was not
his son; knew, too, when the agony seized him, from whose hand the
agony came; but in earlier life he had jotted in his notebook,
"Forgive, forgive always; die forgiving"; and, as he forgave the
mother, so he forgave the child, recommending him with his last
breath to the army and to Rome.

As the people had loved Nero, so did the aristocracy love Marcus
Aurelius; his foster-father Antonin excepted, he was the only
gentleman that had sat on the throne. No wonder they loved him;
and seeing this early edition of the prince in the fairy tale
emerge from the bogs of Germany, his fair face haloed by the
glisten and gold of his hair, hearts went out to him; the wish of
his putative father was ratified, and the son of a gladiator was
emperor of Rome.

Lampridus--or Spartian was it? The title-page bears Lampridus'
name, but there is some doubt as to the authorship. However,
whoever made the abridgment of the life of Commodus which appears
among the chronicles of the Scriptores Historiae Augustae, says
that before his birth Faustine dreamed she had engendered a
serpent. It is not impossible that Faustine had been reading
Ctzias, and had stumbled over his account of the Martichoras, a
serpent with a woman's face and the talons of a bird of prey. For
it was that she conceived.

It would have been interesting to have seen that young man, the
mask removed, frightening the senate into calling Rome Commodia,
and then in a linen robe promenading in the attributes of a priest
of Anubis through a seraglio of six hundred girls and mignons
embracing as he passed. There was a spectacle, which Nero had not
imagined. But Nero was vieux jeu. Commodus outdid him, first in
debauchery, then in the arena. Nero had died while in training to
kill a lion; Commodus did not take the trouble to train. It was
the lions that were trained, not he. A skin on his shoulders, a
club in his hand, he descended naked into the ring, and there
felled beasts and men. Then, acclaimed as Hercules, he returned to
the pulvina, and a mignon on one side, a mistress on the other,
ordered the guard to massacre the spectators and set fire to Rome.
After entering the arena six or seven hundred times, and there
vanquishing men whose eyes had been put out and whose legs were
tied, the colossal statue which Nero had made after his own image
was altered; to the top came the bust of Commodus, to the base
this legend: THE VICTOR OF TEN THOUSAND GLADIATORS, COMMODUS-
HERCULES, IMPERATOR.

Meanwhile conspirators were at work. Like Nero, Commodus could
have sought in vain for a friend. His life was attempted again and
again; he escaped, but never the plotters; only when they had gone
there were more. He knew he was doomed. There was the usual comet;
the statue of Hercules had perspired visibly; an owl had been
caught above his bedroom, and once he had wiped in his hair the
hand which he had plunged in the warm wound of a gladiator, dead
at his feet. These omens could mean but one thing. None the less,
if he were doomed, so were others. One day one of those miserable
children that the emperors kept about them found a tablet. It was
as good as anything else to play with; and, as the child tossed it
through the hall, the one woman that had loved Commodus caught it
and read on it that she and all the household were to die. Within
an hour Commodus was killed.

There is a page in Lampridus, which he quotes as coming from the
lost chronicles of Marius Maximus, and which contains the joy of
the senate at the news. It is too long for transcription, but as a
bit of realism it is unique. There is a shiver in every line. You
hear the voices of hundreds, drunk with fury, frenzied with
delight; the fierce welcome that greeted Pertinax--a slave's
grandson, who was emperor for a minute--the joy of hate assuaged.

The delight of the senate was not shared by the pretorians.
Pertinax was promptly massacred; the throne was put up at auction;
there were two or three emperors at once, and presently the purple
was seized by Septimus Severus, a rigid, white-haired
disciplinarian, who, in his admiration for Marcus Aurelius,
founded that second dynasty of the Antonins with which antiquity
may be said to end.

When he had gone, his elder son, Bastian, renamed Aurelius
Antonin, and because of a cloak he had invented nicknamed
Caracalla, bounded like a panther on the throne. In a moment he
was gnawing at his brother's throat, and immediately there
occurred a massacre such as Rome had never seen. Xiphilin says the
nights were not long enough to kill all of the condemned. Twenty
thousand people were slaughtered in twenty hours. The streets were
emptied, the theatres closed.

The blood that ran then must have been in rillets too thin to
slake Caracalla's thirst, for simultaneously almost, he was in
Gaul, in Dacia--wherever there was prey. African by his father,
Syrian on his mother's side, Caracalla was not a panther merely;
he was a herd of them. He had the cruelty, the treachery and guile
of a wilderness of tiger-cats. No man, said a thinker, is wholly
base. Caracalla was. He had not a taste, not a vice, even, which
was not washed and rewashed in blood. In a moment of excitement
Commodus set his guards on the spectators in the amphitheatre; the
damage was slight, for the Colosseum was so constructed that in
two minutes the eighty or ninety thousand people which it held
could escape. Caracalla had the exits closed. Those who escaped
were naked; to bribe the guards they were forced to strip
themselves to the skin. In the circus a vestal caught his eye. He
tried to violate her, and failing impotently, had her buried
alive. "Caracalla knows that I am a virgin, and knows why," the
girl cried as the earth swallowed her, but there was no one there
to aid.

Such things show the trend of a temperament, though not, perhaps,
its force. Presently the latter was displayed. For years those
arch-enemies of Rome, the unconquerable Parthians, had been quiet;
bound, too, by treaties which held Rome's honor. Not Caracalla's,
however; he had none. An embassy went out to Artobane, the king.
Caracalla wished a bride, and what fairer one could he have than
the child of the Parthian monarch? Then, too, the embassy was
charged to explain, the marriage of Rome and Parthia would be the
union of the Orient and the Occident, peace by land and sea.
Artobane hesitated, and with cause; but Caracalla wooed so
ardently that finally the king said yes. The news went abroad. The
Parthians, delighted, prepared to receive the emperor. When
Caracalla crossed the Tigris, the highroad that led to the capital
was strewn with sacrifices, with altars covered with flowers, with
welcomings of every kind. Caracalla was visibly pleased. Beyond
the gates of the capital, there was the king; he had advanced to
greet his son-in-law, and that the greeting might be effective, he
had assembled his nobles and his troops. The latter were armed
with cymbals, with hautbois, and with flutes; and as Caracalla and
his army approached, there was music, dancing and song; there were
libations too, and as the day was practically the wedding of East
and West, there was not a weapon to be seen--gala robes merely,
brilliant and long. Caracalla saluted the king, gave an order to
an adjutant, and on the smiling defenceless Parthians the Roman
eagles pounced. Those who were not killed were made prisoners of
war. The next day Caracalla withdrew, charged with booty, firing
cities as he went.

A little before, rumor reached him that a group of the citizens of
Alexandria had referred to him as a fratricide. After the
adventure in Parthia he bethought him of the city which Alexander
had founded, and of the temple of Serapis that was there. He
wished to honor both, he declared, and presently he was at the
gates. The people were enchanted; the avenues were strewn with
flowers, lined with musicians. There were illuminations,
festivals, sacrifices, torrents of perfumes, and through it all
Caracalla passed, a legion at his heels. To see him, to
participate in the succession of prodigalities, the surrounding
country flocked there too. In recognition of the courtesy with
which he was received, Caracalla gave a banquet to the magnates
and the clergy. Before his guests could leave him they were
killed. Through the streets the legion was at work. Alexandria was
turned into a cemetery. Herodian states that the carnage was so
great that the Nile was red to its mouth.

In Rome at that time was a prefect, Macrin by name, who had
dreamed the purple would be his. He was a swarthy liar, and his
promises were such that the pretorians were willing that the dream
should come true. Emissaries were despatched, and Caracalla was
stabbed. In his luggage poison was found to the value of five
million five hundred thousand drachmae. What fresh turpitude he
was devising no one knew, and the discovery might serve as an
epitaph, were it not that by his legions he was adored. No one had
abandoned to the army such booty as he.

Meanwhile, in a chapel at Emissa, a boy was dancing indolently to
the kiss of flutes. A handful of Caracalla's soldiers passed that
way, and thought him Bacchus. In his face was the enigmatic beauty
of gods and girls--the charm of the dissolute and the wayward
heightened by the divine. On his head was a diadem; his frail
tunic was of purple and gold, but the sleeves, after the
Phoenician fashion, were wide, and he was shod with a thin white
leather that reached to the thighs. He was fourteen, and priest of
the Sun. The chapel was roomy and rich. There was no statue--a
black phallus merely, which had fallen from above, and on which,
if you looked closely, you could see the image of Elagabal, the
Sun.

The rumor of his beauty brought other soldiers that way, and the
lad, feeling that Rome was there, ceased to dance, strolling
through pauses of the worship, a troop of galli at his heels,
surveying the intruders with querulous, feminine eyes.

Presently a whisper filtered that the lad was Caracalla's son.
There were centurions there that remembered Semiamire, the lad's
mother, very well; they had often seen her, a superb creature with
scorching eyes, before whom fire had been carried as though she
were empress. It was she who had put it beyond Caracalla's power
to violate that vestal when he tried. She was his cousin; her life
had been passed at court; it was Macrin who had exiled her. And
with the whisper filtered another--that she was rich; that she had
lumps of gold, which she would give gladly to whomso aided in
placing her Antonin on the throne. There were gossips who said
ill-natured things of this lady; who insinuated that she had so
many lovers that she herself could not tell who was the father of
her child; but the lumps of gold had a language of their own. The
disbanded army espoused the young priest's cause; there was a
skirmish, Macrin was killed, and Heliogabalus was emperor of Rome.

"I would never have written the life of this Antonin
Impurissimus," said Lampridus, "were it not that he had
predecessors." Even in Latin the task was difficult. In English it
is impossible. There are subjects that permit of a hint,
particularly if it be masked to the teeth, but there are others
that no art can drape. "The inexpressible does not exist," Gautier
remarked, when he finished a notorious romance, nor does it; but
even his pen would have balked had he tried it on Heliogabalus.

In his work on the Caesars, Suetonius drew breath but once--he
called Nero a monster. Subsequently he must have regretted having
done so, not because Nero was not a monster, but because it was
sufficient to display the beast without adding a descriptive
placard. In that was Suetonius' advantage; he could describe.
Nowadays a writer may not, or at least not Heliogabalus. It is not
merely that he was depraved, for all of that lot were; it was that
he made depravity a pursuit; and, the purple favoring, carried it
not only beyond the limits of the imaginable, but beyond the
limits of the real. At the feet of that painted boy, Elephantis
and Parrhasius could have sat and learned a lesson. Apart from
that phase of his sovereignty, he was a little Sardanapalus, an
Asiatic mignon, who found himself great.

It would have been curious to have seen him in that wonderful
palace, clothed like a Persian queen, insisting that he should be
addressed as Imperatrix, and quite living up to the title. It
would not only be interesting, it would give one an insight into
just how much the Romans could stand. It would have been curious,
also, to have assisted at that superb and poetic ceremonial, in
which, having got Tanit from Carthage as consort for Elagabal, he
presided, girt with the pomp of church and state, over the
nuptials of the Sun and Moon.

He had read Suetonius, and not an eccentricity of the Caesars
escaped him. He would not hunt flies by the hour, as Domitian had
done, for that would be mere imitation; but he could collect
cobwebs, and he did, by the ton. Caligula and Vitellius had been
famous as hosts, but the feasts that Heliogabalus gave outranked
them for sheer splendor. From panels in the ceiling such masses of
flowers fell that guests were smothered. Those that survived had
set before them glass game and sweets of crystal. The menu was
embroidered on the table-cloth--not the mere list of dishes, but
pictures drawn with the needle of the dishes themselves. And
presently, after the little jest in glass had been enjoyed, you
were served with camel's heels; combs torn from living cocks;
platters of nightingale tongues; ostrich brains, prepared with
that garum sauce which the Sybarites invented, and of which the
secret is lost; therewith were peas and grains of gold; beans and
amber peppered with pearl dust; lentils and rubies; spiders in
jelly; lion's dung, served in pastry. The guests that wine
overcame were carried to bedrooms. When they awoke, there staring
at them were tigers and leopards--tame, of course; but some of the
guests were stupid enough not to know it, and died of fright.

All this was of a nature to amuse a lad who had made the phallus
the chief object of worship; who had banished Jupiter, dismissed
Isis; who, over paths that were strewn with lilies, had himself,
in the attributes of Bacchus, drawn by tigers; by lions as Mother
of the Gods; again, by naked women, as Heliogabalus on his way to
wed a vestal, and procure for the empire a child that should be
wholly divine.

It amused Rome, too, and his prodigalities in the circus were such
that Lampridus admits that the people were glad he was emperor.
Neither Caligula nor Nero had been as lavish, and neither Caligula
nor Nero as cruel. The atrocities he committed, if less vast than
those of Caracalla's, were more acute. Domitian even was surpassed
in the tortures invented by a boy, so dainty that he never used
the same garments, the same shoes, the same jewels, the same woman
twice.

In spite of this, or perhaps precisely on that account, the usual
conspirators were at work, and one day this little painted girl,
who had prepared several devices for a unique and splendid
suicide, was taken unawares and tossed in the latrinae.

In him the glow of the purple reached its apogee. Rome had been
watching a crescendo that had mounted with the years. Its
culmination was in that hermaphrodite. But the tension had been
too great--something snapped; there was nothing left--a procession
of colorless bandits merely, Thracians, Gauls, Pannonians,
Dalmatians, Goths, women even, with Attila for a climax and the
refurbishing of the world.

Rome was still mistress, but she was growing very old. She had
conquered step by step. When one nation had fallen, she garrotted
another. To vanquish her, the earth had to produce not only new
races, but new creeds. The parturitions, as we know, were
successful. Already the blue, victorious eyes of Vandal and of
Goth were peering down at Rome; already they had whispered
together, and over the hydromel had drunk to her fall. The earth's
new children fell upon her, not one by one, but all at once, and
presently the colossus tottered, startling the universe with the
uproar of her agony; calling to gods that had vacated the skies;
calling to Jupiter; calling to Isis; calling in vain. Where the
thunderbolt had gleamed, a crucifix stood. On the shoulders of a
prelate was the purple that had dazzled the world.


End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of Imperial Purple
by Edgar Saltus


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