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´╗┐Title: Imperial Purple
Author: Saltus, Edgar, 1855-1921
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Imperial Purple" ***

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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 Caesar, 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 passing 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.





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