Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Part 3 out of 13
word means master. How long has he been away?"
She raised her head, and looked off into the night.
"The airs of the Via Sacra are well enough in the streets of the
Egyptian and in Babylon; but in Jerusalem--our Jerusalem--the
And, full of the thought, she settled back into her easy place.
He was first to speak.
"What Messala said, my mother, was sharp enough in itself; but,
taken with the manner, some of the sayings were intolerable."
"I think I understand you. Rome, her poets, orators, senators,
courtiers, are mad with affectation of what they call satire."
"I suppose all great peoples are proud," he went on, scarcely
noticing the interruption; "but the pride of that people is
unlike all others; in these latter days it is so grown the
gods barely escape it."
"The gods escape!" said the mother, quickly. "More than one Roman
has accepted worship as his divine right."
"Well, Messala always had his share of the disagreeable quality.
When he was a child, I have seen him mock strangers whom even Herod
condescended to receive with honors; yet he always spared Judea.
For the first time, in conversation with me to-day, he trifled
with our customs and God. As you would have had me do, I parted
with him finally. And now, O my dear mother, I would know with more
certainty if there be just ground for the Roman's contempt. In what
am I his inferior? Is ours a lower order of people? Why should I,
even in Caesar's presence; feel the shrinking of a slave? Tell me
especially why, if I have the soul, and so choose, I may not hunt
the honors of the world in all its fields? Why may not I take sword
and indulge the passion of war? As a poet, why may not I sing of all
themes? I can be a worker in metals, a keeper of flocks, a merchant,
why not an artist like the Greek? Tell me, O my mother--and this is
the sum of my trouble--why may not a son of Israel do all a Roman
The reader will refer these questions back to the conversation in
the Market-place; the mother, listening with all her faculties
awake, from something which would have been lost upon one less
interested in him--from the connections of the subject, the pointing
of the questions, possibly his accent and tone--was not less swift
in making the same reference. She sat up, and in a voice quick and
sharp as his own, replied, "I see, I see! From association Messala,
in boyhood, was almost a Jew; had he remained here, he might have
become a proselyte, so much do we all borrow from the influences
that ripen our lives; but the years in Rome have been too much for
him. I do not wonder at the change; yet"--her voice fell--"he might
have dealt tenderly at least with you. It is a hard, cruel nature
which in youth can forget its first loves."
Her hand dropped lightly upon his forehead, and the fingers caught
in his hair and lingered there lovingly, while her eyes sought
the highest stars in view. Her pride responded to his, not merely
in echo, but in the unison of perfect sympathy. She would answer
him; at the same time, not for the world would she have had the
answer unsatisfactory: an admission of inferiority might weaken
his spirit for life. She faltered with misgivings of her own powers.
"What you propose, O my Judah, is not a subject for treatment by
a woman. Let me put its consideration off till to-morrow, and I
will have the wise Simeon--"
"Do not send me to the Rector," he said, abruptly.
"I will have him come to us."
"No, I seek more than information; while he might give me that
better than you, O my mother, you can do better by giving me
what he cannot--the resolution which is the soul of a man's soul."
She swept the heavens with a rapid glance, trying to compass all
the meaning of his questions.
"While craving justice for ourselves, it is never wise to be
unjust to others. To deny valor in the enemy we have conquered is
to underrate our victory; and if the enemy be strong enough to hold
us at bay, much more to conquer us"--she hesitated-- "self-respect
bids us seek some other explanation of our misfortunes than accusing
him of qualities inferior to our own."
Thus, speaking to herself rather than to him, she began:
"Take heart, O my son. The Messala is nobly descended; his family
has been illustrious through many generations. In the days of
Republican Rome--how far back I cannot tell--they were famous,
some as soldiers, some as civilians. I can recall but one consul of
the name; their rank was senatorial, and their patronage always sought
because they were always rich. Yet if to-day your friend boasted
of his ancestry, you might have shamed him by recounting yours.
If he referred to the ages through which the line is traceable,
or to deeds, rank, or wealth--such allusions, except when great
occasion demands them, are tokens of small minds--if he mentioned
them in proof of his superiority, then without dread, and standing
on each particular, you might have challenged him to a comparison
Taking a moment's thought, the mother proceeded:
"One of the ideas of fast hold now is that time has much to do with
the nobility of races and families. A Roman boasting his superiority
on that account over a son of Israel will always fail when put to
the proof. The founding of Rome was his beginning; the very best
of them cannot trace their descent beyond that period; few of them
pretend to do so; and of such as do, I say not one could make good
his claim except by resort to tradition. Messala certainly could
not. Let us look now to ourselves. Could we better?"
A little more light would have enabled him to see the pride that
diffused itself over her face.
"Let us imagine the Roman putting us to the challenge. I would
answer him, neither doubting nor boastful."
Her voice faltered; a tender thought changed the form of the argument.
"Your father, O my Judah, is at rest with his fathers; yet I
remember, as though it were this evening, the day he and I,
with many rejoicing friends, went up into the Temple to present
you to the Lord. We sacrificed the doves, and to the priest I gave
your name, which he wrote in my presence--'Judah, son of Ithamar,
of the House of Hur.' The name was then carried away, and written
in a book of the division of records devoted to the saintly family.
"I cannot tell you when the custom of registration in this mode
began. We know it prevailed before the flight from Egypt. I have
heard Hillel say Abraham caused the record to be first opened with
his own name, and the names of his sons, moved by the promises
of the Lord which separated him and them from all other races,
and made them the highest and noblest, the very chosen of the
earth. The covenant with Jacob was of like effect. 'In thy seed
shall all the nations of the earth be blessed'--so said the angel to
Abraham in the place Jehovah-jireh. 'And the land whereon thou liest,
to thee will I give it, and to thy seed'--so the Lord himself said
to Jacob asleep at Bethel on the way to Haran. Afterwards the wise
men looked forward to a just division of the land of promise; and,
that it might be known in the day of partition who were entitled
to portions, the Book of Generations was begun. But not for that
alone. The promise of a blessing to all the earth through the
patriarch reached far into the future. One name was mentioned in
connection with the blessing--the benefactor might be the humblest
of the chosen family, for the Lord our God knows no distinctions
of rank or riches. So, to make the performance clear to men of
the generation who were to witness it, and that they might give
the glory to whom it belonged, the record was required to be kept
with absolute certainty. Has it been so kept?"
The fan played to and fro, until, becoming impatient, he repeated
the question, "Is the record absolutely true?"
"Hillel said it was, and of all who have lived no one was so
well-informed upon the subject. Our people have at times been
heedless of some parts of the law, but never of this part. The good
rector himself has followed the Books of Generations through three
periods--from the promises to the opening of the Temple; thence to
the Captivity; thence, again, to the present. Once only were the
records disturbed, and that was at the end of the second period;
but when the nation returned from the long exile, as a first
duty to God, Zerubbabel restored the Books, enabling us once
more to carry the lines of Jewish descent back unbroken fully
two thousand years. And now--"
She paused as if to allow the hearer to measure the time comprehended
in the statement.
"And now," she continued, "what becomes of the Roman boast of
blood enriched by ages? By that test, the sons of Israel watching
the herds on old Rephaim yonder are nobler than the noblest of
"And I, mother--by the Books, who am I?"
"What I have said thus far, my son, had reference to your question.
I will answer you. If Messala were here, he might say, as others have
said, that the exact trace of your lineage stopped when the Assyrian
took Jerusalem, and razed the Temple, with all its precious stores;
but you might plead the pious action of Zerubbabel, and retort that
all verity in Roman genealogy ended when the barbarians from the
West took Rome, and camped six months upon her desolated site.
Did the government keep family histories? If so, what became of
them in those dreadful days? No, no; there is verity in our Books
of Generations; and, following them back to the Captivity, back to
the foundation of the first Temple, back to the march from Egypt,
we have absolute assurance that you are lineally sprung from Hur,
the associate of Joshua. In the matter of descent sanctified by
time, is not the honor perfect? Do you care to pursue further?
if so, take the Torah, and search the Book of Numbers, and of
the seventy-two generations after Adam, you can find the very
progenitor of your house."
There was silence for a time in the chamber on the roof.
"I thank you, O my mother," Judah next said, clasping both her
hands in his; "I thank you with all my heart. I was right in not
having the good rector called in; he could not have satisfied me
more than you have. Yet to make a family truly noble, is time
"Ah, you forget, you forget; our claim rests not merely upon time;
the Lord's preference is our especial glory."
"You are speaking of the race, and I, mother, of the family--our
family. In the years since Father Abraham, what have they achieved?
What have they done? What great things to lift them above the level
of their fellows?"
She hesitated, thinking she might all this time have mistaken his
object. The information he sought might have been for more than
satisfaction of wounded vanity. Youth is but the painted shell
within which, continually growing, lives that wondrous thing the
spirit of man, biding its moment of apparition, earlier in some
than in others. She trembled under a perception that this might be
the supreme moment come to him; that as children at birth reach out
their untried hands grasping for shadows, and crying the while, so his
spirit might, in temporary blindness, be struggling to take hold of
its impalpable future. They to whom a boy comes asking, Who am I,
and what am I to be? have need of ever so much care. Each word in
answer may prove to the after-life what each finger-touch of the
artist is to the clay he is modelling.
"I have a feeling, O my Judah," she said, patting his cheek with
the hand he had been caressing--"I have the feeling that all I
have said has been in strife with an antagonist more real than
imaginary. If Messala is the enemy, do not leave me to fight him
in the dark. Tell me all he said."
The young Israelite proceeded then, and rehearsed his conversation
with Messala, dwelling with particularity upon the latter's speeches
in contempt of the Jews, their customs, and much pent round of life.
Afraid to speak the while, the mother listened, discerning the
matter plainly. Judah had gone to the palace on the Market-place,
allured by love of a playmate whom he thought to find exactly as he
had been at the parting years before; a man met him, and, in place
of laughter and references to the sports of the past, the man had
been full of the future, and talked of glory to be won, and of
riches and power. Unconscious of the effect, the visitor had come
away hurt in pride, yet touched with a natural ambition; but she,
the jealous mother, saw it, and, not knowing the turn the aspiration
might take, became at once Jewish in her fear. What if it lured him
away from the patriarchal faith? In her view, that consequence was
more dreadful than any or all others. She could discover but one way
to avert it, and she set about the task, her native power reinforced
by love to such degree that her speech took a masculine strength and
at times a poet's fervor.
"There never has been a people," she began, "who did not think
themselves at least equal to any other; never a great nation,
my son, that did not believe itself the very superior. When the
Roman looks down upon Israel and laughs, he merely repeats the
folly of the Egyptian, the Assyrian, and the Macedonian; and as the
laugh is against God, the result will be the same."
Her voice became firmer.
"There is no law by which to determine the superiority of nations;
hence the vanity of the claim, and the idleness of disputes about
it. A people risen, run their race, and die either of themselves
or at the hands of another, who, succeeding to their power,
take possession of their place, and upon their monuments write
new names; such is history. If I were called upon to symbolize
God and man in the simplest form, I would draw a straight line
and a circle, and of the line I would say, 'This is God, for he alone
moves forever straightforward,' and of the circle, 'This is man--such
is his progress.' I do not mean that there is no difference between
the careers of nations; no two are alike. The difference, however,
is not, as some say, in the extent of the circle they describe or
the space of earth they cover, but in the sphere of their movement,
the highest being nearest God.
"To stop here, my son, would be to leave the subject where we began.
Let us go on. There are signs by which to measure the height of the
circle each nation runs while in its course. By them let us compare
the Hebrew and the Roman.
"The simplest of all the signs is the daily life of the people.
Of this I will only say, Israel has at times forgotten God,
while the Roman never knew him; consequently comparison is
"Your friend--or your former friend--charged, if I understood you
rightly, that we have had no poets, artists, or warriors; by which
he meant, I suppose, to deny that we have had great men, the next most
certain of the signs. A just consideration of this charge requires a
definition at the commencement. A great man, O my boy, is one whose
life proves him to have been recognized, if not called, by God.
A Persian was used to punish our recreant fathers, and he carried
them into captivity; another Persian was selected to restore their
children to the Holy Land; greater than either of them, however,
was the Macedonian through whom the desolation of Judea and the
Temple was avenged. The special distinction of the men was that
they were chosen by the Lord, each for a divine purpose; and that
they were Gentiles does not lessen their glory. Do not lose sight
of this definition while I proceed.
"There is an idea that war is the most noble occupation of men,
and that the most exalted greatness is the growth of battle-fields.
Because the world has adopted the idea, be not you deceived. That we
must worship something is a law which will continue as long as there
is anything we cannot understand. The prayer of the barbarian is
a wail of fear addressed to Strength, the only divine quality he
can clearly conceive; hence his faith in heroes. What is Jove but
a Roman hero? The Greeks have their great glory because they were
the first to set Mind above Strength. In Athens the orator and
philosopher were more revered than the warrior. The charioteer
and the swiftest runner are still idols of the arena; yet the
immortelles are reserved for the sweetest singer. The birthplace
of one poet was contested by seven cities. But was the Hellene the
first to deny the old barbaric faith? No. My son, that glory is
ours; against brutalism our fathers erected God; in our worship,
the wail of fear gave place to the Hosanna and the Psalm. So the
Hebrew and the Greek would have carried all humanity forward and
upward. But, alas! the government of the world presumes war as an
eternal condition; wherefore, over Mind and above God, the Roman
has enthroned his Caesar, the absorbent of all attainable power,
the prohibition of any other greatness.
"The sway of the Greek was a flowering time for genius. In return
for the liberty it then enjoyed, what a company of thinkers the
Mind led forth? There was a glory for every excellence, and a
perfection so absolute that in everything but war even the Roman
has stooped to imitation. A Greek is now the model of the orators
in the Forum; listen, and in every Roman song you will hear the
rhythm of the Greek; if a Roman opens his mouth speaking wisely
of moralities, or abstractions, or of the mysteries of nature,
he is either a plagiarist or the disciple of some school which had
a Greek for its founder. In nothing but war, I say again, has Rome
a claim to originality. Her games and spectacles are Greek inventions,
dashed with blood to gratify the ferocity of her rabble; her religion,
if such it may be called, is made up of contributions from the
faiths of all other peoples; her most venerated gods are from
Olympus--even her Mars, and, for that matter, the Jove she much
magnifies. So it happens, O my son, that of the whole world our
Israel alone can dispute the superiority of the Greek, and with
him contest the palm of original genius.
"To the excellences of other peoples the egotism of a Roman is
a blindfold, impenetrable as his breastplate. Oh, the ruthless
robbers! Under their trampling the earth trembles like a floor
beaten with flails. Along with the rest we are fallen--alas that
I should say it to you, my son! They have our highest places, and
the holiest, and the end no man can tell; but this I know--they
may reduce Judea as an almond broken with hammers, and devour
Jerusalem, which is the oil and sweetness thereof; yet the glory
of the men of Israel will remain a light in the heavens overhead
out of reach: for their history is the history of God, who wrote
with their hands, spake with their tongues, and was himself in all
the good they did, even the least; who dwelt with them, a Lawgiver
on Sinai, a Guide in the wilderness, in war a Captain, in government
a King; who once and again pushed back the curtains of the
pavilion which is his resting-place, intolerably bright, and,
as a man speaking to men, showed them the right, and the way
to happiness, and how they should live, and made them promises
binding the strength of his Almightiness with covenants sworn to
everlastingly. O my son, could it be that they with whom Jehovah
thus dwelt, an awful familiar, derived nothing from him?--that
in their lives and deeds the common human qualities should not
in some degree have been mixed and colored with the divine? that
their genius should not have in it, even after the lapse of ages,
some little of heaven?"
For a time the rustling of the fan was all the sound heard in the
"In the sense which limits art to sculpture and painting, it is
true," she next said, "Israel has had no artists."
The admission was made regretfully, for it must be remembered
she was a Sadducee, whose faith, unlike that of the Pharisees,
permitted a love of the beautiful in every form, and without
reference to its origin.
"Still he who would do justice," she proceeded, "will not forget that
the cunning of our hands was bound by the prohibition, 'Thou shalt
not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything;'
which the Sopherim wickedly extended beyond its purpose and time.
Nor should it be forgotten that long before Daedalus appeared in
Attica and with his wooden statues so transformed sculpture as
to make possible the schools of Corinth and AEgina, and their
ultimate triumphs the Poecile and Capitolium--long before the
age of Daedalus, I say, two Israelites, Bezaleel and Aholiab,
the master-builders of the first tabernacle, said to have been
skilled 'in all manner of workmanship,' wrought the cherubim of the
mercy-seat above the ark. Of gold beaten, not chiseled, were they;
and they were statues in form both human and divine. 'And they
shall stretch forth their wings on high, . . . . and their faces
shall look one to another.' Who will say they were not beautiful?
or that they were not the first statues?"
"Oh, I see now why the Greek outstripped us," said Judah, intensely
interested. "And the ark; accursed be the Babylonians who destroyed
"Nay, Judah, be of faith. It was not destroyed, only lost, hidden
away too safely in some cavern of the mountains. One day--Hillel
and Shammai both say so--one day, in the Lord's good time, it will
be found and brought forth, and Israel dance before it, singing as
of old. And they who look upon the faces of the cherubim then,
though they have seen the face of the ivory Minerva, will be ready
to kiss the hand of the Jew from love of his genius, asleep through
all the thousands of years."
The mother, in her eagerness, had risen into something like the
rapidity and vehemence of a speech-maker; but now, to recover
herself, or to pick up the thread of her thought, she rested
"You are so good, my mother," he said, in a grateful way. "And I
will never be done saying so. Shammai could not have talked better,
nor Hillel. I am a true son of Israel again."
"Flatterer!" she said. "You do not know that I am but repeating
what I heard Hillel say in an argument he had one day in my
presence with a sophist from Rome."
"Well, the hearty words are yours."
Directly all her earnestness returned.
"Where was I? Oh yes, I was claiming for our Hebrew fathers the
first statues. The trick of the sculptor, Judah, is not all there
is of art, any more than art is all there is of greatness. I always
think of great men marching down the centuries in groups and goodly
companies, separable according to nationalities; here the Indian,
there the Egyptian, yonder the Assyrian; above them the music of
trumpets and the beauty of banners; and on their right hand and
left, as reverent spectators, the generations from the beginning,
numberless. As they go, I think of the Greek, saying, 'Lo! The
Hellene leads the way.' Then the Roman replies, 'Silence! what
was your place is ours now; we have left you behind as dust
trodden on.' And all the time, from the far front back over
the line of march, as well as forward into the farthest future,
streams a light of which the wranglers know nothing, except that
it is forever leading them on--the Light of Revelation! Who are
they that carry it? Ah, the old Judean blood! How it leaps at the
thought! By the light we know them. Thrice blessed, O our fathers,
servants of God, keepers of the covenants! Ye are the leaders of
men, the living and the dead. The front is thine; and though every
Roman were a Caesar, ye shall not lose it!"
Judah was deeply stirred.
"Do not stop, I pray you," he cried. "You give me to hear the
sound of timbrels. I wait for Miriam and the women who went
after her dancing and singing."
She caught his feeling, and, with ready wit, wove it into her speech.
"Very well, my son. If you can hear the timbrel of the prophetess,
you can do what I was about to ask; you can use your fancy, and stand
with me, as if by the wayside, while the chosen of Israel pass us at
the head of the procession. Now they come--the patriarchs first;
next the fathers of the tribes. I almost hear the bells of their
camels and the lowing of their herds. Who is he that walks alone
between the companies? An old man, yet his eye is not dim, nor his
natural force abated. He knew the Lord face to face! Warrior, poet,
orator, lawgiver, prophet, his greatness is as the sun at morning,
its flood of splendor quenching all other lights, even that of the
first and noblest of the Caesars. After him the judges. And then
the kings--the son of Jesse, a hero in war, and a singer of songs
eternal as that of the sea; and his son, who, passing all other
kings in riches and wisdom, and while making the Desert habitable,
and in its waste places planting cities, forgot not Jerusalem which
the Lord had chosen for his seat on earth. Bend lower, my son!
These that come next are the first of their kind, and the last.
Their faces are raised, as if they heard a voice in the sky and
were listening. Their lives were full of sorrows. Their garments
smell of tombs and caverns. Hearken to a woman among them--'Sing
ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously!' Nay, put your
forehead in the dust before them! They were tongues of God, his
servants, who looked through heaven, and, seeing all the future,
wrote what they saw, and left the writing to be proven by time.
Kings turned pale as they approached them, and nations trembled at
the sound of their voices. The elements waited upon them. In their
hands they carried every bounty and every plague. See the Tishbite
and his servant Elisha! See the sad son of Hilkiah, and him, the seer
of visions, by the river of Chebar! And of the three children of
Judah who refused the image of the Babylonian, lo! that one who,
in the feast to the thousand lords, so confounded the astrologers.
And yonder--O my son, kiss the dust again!--yonder the gentle son
of Amoz, from whom the world has its promise of the Messiah to
In this passage the fan had been kept in rapid play; it stopped
now, and her voice sank low.
"You are tired," she said.
"No," he replied, "I was listening to a new song of Israel."
The mother was still intent upon her purpose, and passed the
"In such light as I could, my Judah, I have set our great men
before you--patriarchs, legislators, warriors, singers, prophets.
Turn we to the best of Rome. Against Moses place Caesar, and Tarquin
against David; Sylla against either of the Maccabees; the best
of the consuls against the judges; Augustus against Solomon,
and you are done: comparison ends there. But think then of the
prophets--greatest of the great."
She laughed scornfully.
"Pardon me. I was thinking of the soothsayer who warned Caius Julius
against the Ides of March, and fancied him looking for the omens
of evil which his master despised in the entrails of a chicken.
From that picture turn to Elijah sitting on the hill-top on the
way to Samaria, amid the smoking bodies of the captains and their
fifties, warning the son of Ahab of the wrath of our God. Finally,
O my Judah--if such speech be reverent--how shall we judge Jehovah
and Jupiter unless it be by what their servants have done in their
names? And as for what you shall do--"
She spoke the latter words slowly, and with a tremulous utterance.
"As for what you shall do, my boy--serve the Lord, the Lord God of
Israel, not Rome. For a child of Abraham there is no glory except
in the Lord's ways, and in them there is much glory."
"I may be a soldier then?" Judah asked.
"Why not? Did not Moses call God a man of war?"
There was then a long silence in the summer chamber.
"You have my permission," she said, finally; "if only you serve
the Lord instead of Caesar."
He was content with the condition, and by-and-by fell asleep. She
arose then, and put the cushion under his head, and, throwing a
shawl over him and kissing him tenderly, went away.
The good man, like the bad, must die; but, remembering the lesson
of our faith, we say of him and the event, "No matter, he will
open his eyes in heaven." Nearest this in life is the waking
from healthful sleep to a quick consciousness of happy sights
When Judah awoke, the sun was up over the mountains; the pigeons
were abroad in flocks, filling the air with the gleams of their
white wings; and off southeast he beheld the Temple, an apparition
of gold in the blue of the sky. These, however, were familiar
objects, and they received but a glance; upon the edge of the
divan, close by him, a girl scarcely fifteen sat singing to
the accompaniment of a nebel, which she rested upon her knee,
and touched gracefully. To her he turned listening; and this
was what she sang:
"Wake not, but hear me, love!
Adrift, adrift on slumber's sea,
Thy spirit call to list to me.
Wake not, but hear me, love!
A gift from Sleep, the restful king,
All happy, happy dreams I bring.
"Wake not, but hear me, love!
Of all the world of dreams 'tis thine
This once to choose the most divine.
So choose, and sleep, my love!
But ne'er again in choice be free,
Unless, unless--thou dream'st of me."
She put the instrument down, and, resting her hands in her lap,
waited for him to speak. And as it has become necessary to tell
somewhat of her, we will avail ourselves of the chance, and add
such particulars of the family into whose privacy we are brought
as the reader may wish to know.
The favors of Herod had left surviving him many persons of vast
estate. Where this fortune was joined to undoubted lineal descent
from some famous son of one of the tribes, especially Judah, the happy
individual was accounted a Prince of Jerusalem--a distinction which
sufficed to bring him the homage of his less favored countrymen,
and the respect, if nothing more, of the Gentiles with whom business
and social circumstance brought him into dealing. Of this class none
had won in private or public life a higher regard than the father
of the lad whom we have been following. With a remembrance of his
nationality which never failed him, he had yet been true to the
king, and served him faithfully at home and abroad. Some offices
had taken him to Rome, where his conduct attracted the notice of
Augustus, who strove without reserve to engage his friendship.
In his house, accordingly, were many presents, such as had
gratified the vanity of kings--purple togas, ivory chairs,
golden pateroe--chiefly valuable on account of the imperial
hand which had honorably conferred them. Such a man could not
fail to be rich; yet his wealth was not altogether the largess
of royal patrons. He had welcomed the law that bound him to some
pursuit; and, instead of one, he entered into many. Of the herdsmen
watching flocks on the plains and hill-sides, far as old Lebanon,
numbers reported to him as their employer; in the cities by the sea,
and in those inland, he founded houses of traffic; his ships brought
him silver from Spain, whose mines were then the richest known;
while his caravans came twice a year from the East, laden with
silks and spices. In faith he was a Hebrew, observant of the law
and every essential rite; his place in the synagogue and Temple
knew him well; he was thoroughly learned in the Scriptures;
he delighted in the society of the college-masters, and carried
his reverence for Hillel almost to the point of worship. Yet he
was in no sense a Separatist; his hospitality took in strangers
from every land; the carping Pharisees even accused him of having
more than once entertained Samaritans at his table. Had he been a
Gentile, and lived, the world might have heard of him as the rival of
Herodes Atticus: as it was, he perished at sea some ten years before
this second period of our story, in the prime of life, and lamented
everywhere in Judea. We are already acquainted with two members of
his family--his widow and son; the only other was a daughter--she
whom we have seen singing to her brother.
Tirzah was her name, and as the two looked at each other, their
resemblance was plain. Her features had the regularity of his, and
were of the same Jewish type; they had also the charm of childish
innocency of expression. Home-life and its trustful love permitted
the negligent attire in which she appeared. A chemise buttoned upon
the right shoulder, and passing loosely over the breast and back and
under the left arm, but half concealed her person above the waist,
while it left the arms entirely nude. A girdle caught the folds of
the garment, marking the commencement of the skirt. The coiffure
was very simple and becoming--a silken cap, Tyrian-dyed; and over
that a striped scarf of the same material, beautifully embroidered,
and wound about in thin folds so as to show the shape of the head
without enlarging it; the whole finished by a tassel dropping
from the crown point of the cap. She had rings, ear and finger;
anklets and bracelets, all of gold; and around her neck there was
a collar of gold, curiously garnished with a network of delicate
chains, to which were pendants of pearl. The edges of her eyelids
were painted, and the tips of her fingers stained. Her hair fell
in two long plaits down her back. A curled lock rested upon each
cheek in front of the ear. Altogether it would have been impossible
to deny her grace, refinement, and beauty.
"Very pretty, my Tirzah, very pretty!" he said, with animation.
"The song?" she asked.
"Yes--and the singer, too. It has the conceit of a Greek. Where did
you get it?"
"You remember the Greek who sang in the theatre last month? They
said he used to be a singer at the court for Herod and his sister
Salome. He came out just after an exhibition of wrestlers, when the
house was full of noise. At his first note everything became so quiet
that I heard every word. I got the song from him."
"But he sang in Greek."
"And I in Hebrew."
"Ah, yes. I am proud of my little sister. Have you another as
"Very many. But let them go now. Amrah sent me to tell you she will
bring you your breakfast, and that you need not come down. She should
be here by this time. She thinks you sick--that a dreadful accident
happened you yesterday. What was it? Tell me, and I will help Amrah
doctor you. She knows the cures of the Egyptians, who were always
a stupid set; but I have a great many recipes of the Arabs who--"
"Are even more stupid than the Egyptians," he said, shaking his
"Do you think so? Very well, then," she replied, almost without
pause, and putting her hands to her left ear. "We will have
nothing to do with any of them. I have here what is much surer
and better--the amulet which was given to some of our people--I
cannot tell when, it was so far back--by a Persian magician. See,
the inscription is almost worn out."
She offered him the earring, which he took, looked at, and handed
"If I were dying, Tirzah, I could not use the charm. It is a relic
of idolatry, forbidden every believing son and daughter of Abraham.
Take it, but do not wear it any more."
"Forbidden! Not so," she said. "Our father's mother wore it I do
not know how many Sabbaths in her life. It has cured I do not know
how many people--more than three anyhow. It is approved-- look,
here is the mark of the rabbis."
"I have no faith in amulets."
She raised her eyes to his in astonishment.
"What would Amrah say?"
"Amrah's father and mother tended sakiyeh for a garden on the Nile."
"He says they are godless inventions of unbelievers and Shechemites."
Tirzah looked at the ring doubtfully.
"What shall I do with it?"
"Wear it, my little sister. It becomes you--it helps make you
beautiful, though I think you that without help."
Satisfied, she returned the amulet to her ear just as Amrah entered
the summer chamber, bearing a platter, with wash-bowl, water,
Not being a Pharisee, the ablution was short and simple with
Judah. The servant then went out, leaving Tirzah to dress his
hair. When a lock was disposed to her satisfaction, she would
unloose the small metallic mirror which, as was the fashion
among her fair countrywomen, she wore at her girdle, and gave
it to him, that he might see the triumph, and how handsome it
made him. Meanwhile they kept up their conversation.
"What do you think, Tirzah?--I am going away."
She dropped her hands with amazement.
"Going away! When? Where? For what?"
"Three questions, all in a breath! What a body you are!" Next
instant he became serious. "You know the law requires me to follow
some occupation. Our good father set me an example. Even you would
despise me if I spent in idleness the results of his industry and
knowledge. I am going to Rome."
"Oh, I will go with you."
"You must stay with mother. If both of us leave her she will die."
The brightness faded from her face.
"Ah, yes, yes! But--must you go? Here in Jerusalem you can learn
all that is needed to be a merchant--if that is what you are
"But that is not what I am thinking of. The law does not require
the son to be what the father was."
"What else can you be?"
"A soldier," he replied, with a certain pride of voice.
Tears came into her eyes.
"You will be killed."
"If God's will, be it so. But, Tirzah, the soldiers are not all
She threw her arms around his neck, as if to hold him back.
"We are so happy! Stay at home, my brother."
"Home cannot always be what it is. You yourself will be going away
He smiled at her earnestness.
"A prince of Judah, or some other of one of the tribes, will come
soon and claim my Tirzah, and ride away with her, to be the light
of another house. What will then become of me?"
She answered with sobs.
"War is a trade," he continued, more soberly. "To learn it thoroughly,
one must go to school, and there is no school like a Roman camp."
"You would not fight for Rome?" she asked, holding her breath.
"And you--even you hate her. The whole world hates her. In that,
O Tirzah, find the reason of the answer I give you-- Yes, I will
fight for her, if, in return, she will teach me how one day to
fight against her."
"When will you go?"
Amrah's steps were then heard returning.
"Hist!" he said. "Do not let her know of what I am thinking."
The faithful slave came in with breakfast, and placed the waiter
holding it upon a stool before them; then, with white napkins upon
her arm, she remained to serve them. They dipped their fingers
in a bowl of water, and were rinsing them, when a noise arrested
their attention. They listened, and distinguished martial music
in the street on the north side of the house.
"Soldiers from the Praetorium! I must see them," he cried,
springing from the divan, and running out.
In a moment more he was leaning over the parapet of tiles which
guarded the roof at the extreme northeast corner, so absorbed
that he did not notice Tirzah by his side, resting one hand upon
Their position--the roof being the highest one in the locality--
commanded the house-tops eastward as far as the huge irregular
Tower of Antonia, which has been already mentioned as a citadel for
the garrison and military headquarters for the governor. The street,
not more than ten feet wide, was spanned here and there by bridges,
open and covered, which, like the roofs along the way, were beginning
to be occupied by men, women, and children, called out by the music.
The word is used, though it is hardly fitting; what the people heard
when they came forth was rather an uproar of trumpets and the shriller
litui so delightful to the soldiers.
The array after a while came into view of the two upon the house
of the Hurs. First, a vanguard of the light-armed--mostly slingers
and bowmen--marching with wide intervals between their ranks and
files; next a body of heavy-armed infantry, bearing large shields,
and hastoe longoe, or spears identical with those used in the duels
before Ilium; then the musicians; and then an officer riding alone,
but followed closely by a guard of cavalry; after them again,
a column of infantry also heavy-armed, which, moving in close
order, crowded the streets from wall to wall, and appeared to
be without end.
The brawny limbs of the men; the cadenced motion from right to left
of the shields; the sparkle of scales, buckles, and breastplates
and helms, all perfectly burnished; the plumes nodding above the
tall crests; the sway of ensigns and iron-shod spears; the bold,
confident step, exactly timed and measured; the demeanor, so grave,
yet so watchful; the machine-like unity of the whole moving mass--made
an impression upon Judah, but as something felt rather than seen.
Two objects fixed his attention--the eagle of the legion first--a
gilded effigy perched on a tall shaft, with wings outspread until
they met above its head. He knew that, when brought from its chamber
in the Tower, it had been received with divine honors.
The officer riding alone in the midst of the column was the other
attraction. His head was bare; otherwise he was in full armor. At his
left hip he wore a short sword; in his hand, however, he carried
a truncheon, which looked like a roll of white paper. He sat upon
a purple cloth instead of a saddle, and that, and a bridle with a
forestall of gold and reins of yellow silk broadly fringed at the
lower edge, completed the housings of the horse.
While the man was yet in the distance, Judah observed that his
presence was sufficient to throw the people looking at him into
angry excitement. They would lean over the parapets or stand boldly
out, and shake their fists at him; they followed him with loud cries,
and spit at him as he passed under the bridges; the women even flung
their sandals, sometimes with such good effect as to hit him. When he
was nearer, the yells became distinguishable--"Robber, tyrant, dog of
a Roman! Away with Ishmael! Give us back our Hannas!"
When quite near, Judah could see that, as was but natural, the man
did not share the indifference so superbly shown by the soldiers;
his face was dark and sullen, and the glances he occasionally cast
at his persecutors were full of menace; the very timid shrank from
Now the lad had heard of the custom, borrowed from a habit of the
first Caesar, by which chief commanders, to indicate their rank,
appeared in public with only a laurel vine upon their heads.
By that sign he knew this officer--VALERIUS GRATUS, THE NEW
PROCURATOR OF JUDEA!
To say truth now, the Roman under the unprovoked storm had the
young Jew's sympathy; so that when he reached the corner of the
house, the latter leaned yet farther over the parapet to see him
go by, and in the act rested a hand upon a tile which had been a
long time cracked and allowed to go unnoticed. The pressure was
strong enough to displace the outer piece, which started to fall.
A thrill of horror shot through the youth. He reached out to catch
the missile. In appearance the motion was exactly that of one
pitching something from him. The effort failed--nay, it served to
push the descending fragment farther out over the wall. He shouted
with all his might. The soldiers of the guard looked up; so did the
great man, and that moment the missile struck him, and he fell from
his seat as dead.
The cohort halted; the guards leaped from their horses, and hastened
to cover the chief with their shields. On the other hand, the people
who witnessed the affair, never doubting that the blow had been
purposely dealt, cheered the lad as he yet stooped in full view
over the parapet, transfixed by what he beheld, and by anticipation
of the consequences flashed all too plainly upon him.
A mischievous spirit flew with incredible speed from roof to
roof along the line of march, seizing the people, and urging
them all alike. They laid hands upon the parapets and tore up
the tiling and the sunburnt mud of which the house-tops were for
the most part made, and with blind fury began to fling them upon
the legionaries halted below. A battle then ensued. Discipline,
of course, prevailed. The struggle, the slaughter, the skill of
one side, the desperation of the other, are alike unnecessary to
our story. Let us look rather to the wretched author of it all.
He arose from the parapet, his face very pale.
"O Tirzah, Tirzah! What will become of us?"
She had not seen the occurrence below, but was listening to the
shouting and watching the mad activity of the people in view on
the houses. Something terrible was going on, she knew; but what
it was, or the cause, or that she or any of those dear to her
were in danger, she did not know.
"What has happened? What does it all mean?" she asked, in sudden
"I have killed the Roman governor. The tile fell upon him."
An unseen hand appeared to sprinkle her face with the dust of
ashes--it grew white so instantly. She put her arm around him,
and looked wistfully, but without a word, into his eyes.
His fears had passed to her, and the sight of them gave
"I did not do it purposely, Tirzah--it was an accident," he said,
"What will they do?" she asked.
He looked off over the tumult momentarily deepening in the street
and on the roofs, and thought of the sullen countenance of Gratus.
If he were not dead, where would his vengeance stop? And if he
were dead, to what height of fury would not the violence of the
people lash the legionaries? To evade an answer, he peered over
the parapet again, just as the guard were assisting the Roman to
remount his horse.
"He lives, he lives, Tirzah! Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers!"
With that outcry, and a brightened countenance, he drew back and
replied to her question.
"Be not afraid, Tirzah. I will explain how it happened, and they
will remember our father and his services, and not hurt us."
He was leading her to the summer-house, when the roof jarred
under their feet, and a crash of strong timbers being burst away,
followed by a cry of surprise and agony, arose apparently from the
court-yard below. He stopped and listened. The cry was repeated;
then came a rush of many feet, and voices lifted in rage blent
with voices in prayer; and then the screams of women in mortal
terror. The soldiers had beaten in the north gate, and were in
possession of the house. The terrible sense of being hunted smote
him. His first impulse was to fly; but where? Nothing but wings
would serve him. Tirzah, her eyes wild with fear, caught his arm.
"O Judah, what does it mean?"
The servants were being butchered--and his mother! Was not one
of the voices he heard hers? With all the will left him, he said,
"Stay here, and wait for me, Tirzah. I will go down and see what
is the matter, and come back to you."
His voice was not steady as he wished. She clung closer to him.
Clearer, shriller, no longer a fancy, his mother's cry arose.
He hesitated no longer.
"Come, then, let us go."
The terrace or gallery at the foot of the steps was crowded with
soldiers. Other soldiers with drawn swords ran in and out of the
chambers. At one place a number of women on their knees clung to each
other or prayed for mercy. Apart from them, one with torn garments,
and long hair streaming over her face, struggled to tear loose from
a man all whose strength was tasked to keep his hold. Her cries
were shrillest of all; cutting through the clamor, they had risen
distinguishably to the roof. To her Judah sprang--his steps were
long and swift, almost a winged flight-- "Mother, mother!" he
shouted. She stretched her hands towards him; but when almost
touching them he was seized and forced aside. Then he heard some
one say, speaking loudly,
"That is he!"
Judah looked, and saw--Messala.
"What, the assassin--that?" said a tall man, in legionary armor
of beautiful finish. "Why, he is but a boy."
"Gods!" replied Messala, not forgetting his drawl. "A new philosophy!
What would Seneca say to the proposition that a man must be old before
he can hate enough to kill? You have him; and that is his mother;
yonder his sister. You have the whole family."
For love of them, Judah forgot his quarrel.
"Help them, O my Messala! Remember our childhood and help them.
Messala affected not to hear.
"I cannot be of further use to you," he said to the officer.
"There is richer entertainment in the street. Down Eros, up Mars!"
With the last words he disappeared. Judah understood him, and,
in the bitterness of his soul, prayed to Heaven.
"In the hour of thy vengeance, O Lord," he said, "be mine the hand
to put it upon him!"
By great exertion, he drew nearer the officer.
"O sir, the woman you hear is my mother. Spare her, spare my
sister yonder. God is just, he will give you mercy for mercy."
The man appeared to be moved.
"To the Tower with the women!" he shouted, "but do them no harm.
I will demand them of you." Then to those holding Judah, he said,
"Get cords, and bind his hands, and take him to the street.
His punishment is reserved."
The mother was carried away. The little Tirzah, in her home attire,
stupefied with fear, went passively with her keepers. Judah gave
each of them a last look, and covered his face with his hands,
as if to possess himself of the scene fadelessly. He may have
shed tears, though no one saw them.
There took place in him then what may be justly called the wonder
of life. The thoughtful reader of these pages has ere this discerned
enough to know that the young Jew in disposition was gentle even
to womanliness--a result that seldom fails the habit of loving and
being loved. The circumstances through which he had come had made
no call upon the harsher elements of his nature, if such he had.
At times he had felt the stir and impulses of ambition, but they
had been like the formless dreams of a child walking by the sea
and gazing at the coming and going of stately ships. But now, if we
can imagine an idol, sensible of the worship it was accustomed to,
dashed suddenly from its altar, and lying amidst the wreck of its
little world of love, an idea may be had of what had befallen the
young Ben-Hur, and of its effect upon his being. Yet there was no
sign, nothing to indicate that he had undergone a change, except
that when he raised his head, and held his arms out to be bound,
the bend of the Cupid's bow had vanished from his lips. In that
instant he had put off childhood and become a man.
A trumpet sounded in the court-yard. With the cessation of the
call, the gallery was cleared of the soldiery; many of whom,
as they dared not appear in the ranks with visible plunder in
their hands, flung what they had upon the floor, until it was
strewn with articles of richest virtu. When Judah descended,
the formation was complete, and the officer waiting to see his
last order executed.
The mother, daughter, and entire household were led out of the
north gate, the ruins of which choked the passageway. The cries
of the domestics, some of whom had been born in the house, were most
pitiable. When, finally, the horses and all the dumb tenantry of the
place were driven past him, Judah began to comprehend the scope of
the procurator's vengeance. The very structure was devoted. Far as
the order was possible of execution, nothing living was to be left
within its walls. If in Judea there were others desperate enough to
think of assassinating a Roman governor, the story of what befell
the princely family of Hur would be a warning to them, while the
ruin of the habitation would keep the story alive.
The officer waited outside while a detail of men temporarily
restored the gate.
In the street the fighting had almost ceased. Upon the houses
here and there clouds of dust told where the struggle was yet
prolonged. The cohort was, for the most part, standing at rest,
its splendor, like its ranks, in nowise diminished. Borne past
the point of care for himself, Judah had heart for nothing in
view but the prisoners, among whom he looked in vain for his
mother and Tirzah.
Suddenly, from the earth where she had been lying, a woman arose
and started swiftly back to the gate. Some of the guards reached
out to seize her, and a great shout followed their failure. She ran
to Judah, and, dropping down, clasped his knees, the coarse black
hair powdered with dust veiling her eyes.
"O Amrah, good Amrah," he said to her, "God help you; I cannot."
She could not speak.
He bent down, and whispered, "Live, Amrah, for Tirzah and my mother.
They will come back, and--"
A soldier drew her away; whereupon she sprang up and rushed through
the gateway and passage into the vacant court-yard.
"Let her go," the officer shouted. "We will seal the house, and she
The men resumed their work, and, when it was finished there,
passed round to the west side. That gate was also secured,
after which the palace of the Hurs was lost to use.
The cohort at length marched back to the Tower, where the procurator
stayed to recover from his hurts and dispose of his prisoners. On the
tenth day following, he visited the Market-place.
Next day a detachment of legionaries went to the desolated palace,
and, closing the gates permanently, plastered the corners with wax,
and at the sides nailed a notice in Latin:
"THIS IS THE PROPERTY OF THE EMPEROR."
In the haughty Roman idea, the sententious announcement was thought
sufficient for the purpose--and it was.
The day after that again, about noon, a decurion with his command of
ten horsemen approached Nazareth from the south--that is, from the
direction of Jerusalem. The place was then a straggling village,
perched on a hill-side, and so insignificant that its one street
was little more than a path well beaten by the coming and going of
flocks and herds. The great plain of Esdraelon crept close to it
on the south, and from the height on the west a view could be had
of the shores of the Mediterranean, the region beyond the Jordan,
and Hermon. The valley below, and the country on every side, were
given to gardens, vineyards, orchards, and pasturage. Groves of
palm-trees Orientalized the landscape. The houses, in irregular
assemblage, were of the humbler class--square, one-story, flat-roofed,
and covered with bright-green vines. The drought that had burned
the hills of Judea to a crisp, brown and lifeless, stopped at the
boundary-line of Galilee.
A trumpet, sounded when the cavalcade drew near the village, had
a magical effect upon the inhabitants. The gates and front doors
cast forth groups eager to be the first to catch the meaning of
a visitation so unusual.
Nazareth, it must be remembered, was not only aside from any great
highway, but within the sway of Judas of Gamala; wherefore it should
not be hard to imagine the feelings with which the legionaries were
received. But when they were up and traversing the street, the duty
that occupied them became apparent, and then fear and hatred were lost
in curiosity, under the impulse of which the people, knowing there must
be a halt at the well in the northeastern part of the town, quit their
gates and doors, and closed in after the procession.
A prisoner whom the horsemen were guarding was the object of curiosity.
He was afoot, bareheaded, half naked, his hands bound behind him. A thong
fixed to his wrists was looped over the neck of a horse. The dust
went with the party when in movement, wrapping him in yellow fog,
sometimes in a dense cloud. He drooped forward, footsore and faint.
The villagers could see he was young.
At the well the decurion halted, and, with most of the men,
dismounted. The prisoner sank down in the dust of the road,
stupefied, and asking nothing: apparently he was in the last
stage of exhaustion. Seeing, when they came near, that he was
but a boy, the villagers would have helped him had they dared.
In the midst of their perplexity, and while the pitchers were
passing among the soldiers, a man was descried coming down the road
from Sepphoris. At sight of him a woman cried out, "Look! Yonder
comes the carpenter. Now we will hear something."
The person spoken of was quite venerable in appearance. Thin white
locks fell below the edge of his full turban, and a mass of still
whiter beard flowed down the front of his coarse gray gown. He came
slowly, for, in addition to his age, he carried some tools--an axe,
a saw, and a drawing-knife, all very rude and heavy--and had evidently
travelled some distance without rest.
He stopped close by to survey the assemblage.
"O Rabbi, good Rabbi Joseph!" cried a woman, running to him.
"Here is a prisoner; come ask the soldiers about him, that we may
know who he is, and what he has done, and what they are going to
do with him."
The rabbi's face remained stolid; he glanced at the prisoner,
however, and presently went to the officer.
"The peace of the Lord be with you!" he said, with unbending gravity.
"And that of the gods with you," the decurion replied.
"Are you from Jerusalem?"
"Your prisoner is young."
"In years, yes."
"May I ask what he has done?"
"He is an assassin."
The people repeated the word in astonishment, but Rabbi Joseph
pursued his inquest.
"Is he a son of Israel?"
"He is a Jew," said the Roman, dryly.
The wavering pity of the bystanders came back.
"I know nothing of your tribes, but can speak of his family," the
speaker continued. "You may have heard of a prince of Jerusalem
named Hur--Ben-Hur, they called him. He lived in Herod's day."
"I have seen him," Joseph said.
"Well, this is his son."
Exclamations became general, and the decurion hastened to stop them.
"In the streets of Jerusalem, day before yesterday, he nearly
killed the noble Gratus by flinging a tile upon his head from
the roof of a palace--his father's, I believe."
There was a pause in the conversation during which the Nazarenes
gazed at the young Ben-Hur as at a wild beast.
"Did he kill him?" asked the rabbi.
"He is under sentence."
"Yes--the galleys for life."
"The Lord help him!" said Joseph, for once moved out of his stolidity.
Thereupon a youth who came up with Joseph, but had stood behind
him unobserved, laid down an axe he had been carrying, and,
going to the great stone standing by the well, took from it a
pitcher of water. The action was so quiet that before the guard
could interfere, had they been disposed to do so, he was stooping
over the prisoner, and offering him drink.
The hand laid kindly upon his shoulder awoke the unfortunate
Judah, and, looking up, he saw a face he never forgot--the face
of a boy about his own age, shaded by locks of yellowish bright
chestnut hair; a face lighted by dark-blue eyes, at the time so
soft, so appealing, so full of love and holy purpose, that they
had all the power of command and will. The spirit of the Jew,
hardened though it was by days and nights of suffering, and so
embittered by wrong that its dreams of revenge took in all the
world, melted under the stranger's look, and became as a child's.
He put his lips to the pitcher, and drank long and deep. Not a word
was said to him, nor did he say a word.
When the draught was finished, the hand that had been resting upon
the sufferer's shoulder was placed upon his head, and stayed there
in the dusty locks time enough to say a blessing; the stranger then
returned the pitcher to its place on the stone, and, taking his
axe again, went back to Rabbi Joseph. All eyes went with him,
the decurion's as well as those of the villagers.
This was the end of the scene at the well. When the men had drunk,
and the horses, the march was resumed. But the temper of the decurion
was not as it had been; he himself raised the prisoner from the dust,
and helped him on a horse behind a soldier. The Nazarenes went to their
houses--among them Rabbi Joseph and his apprentice.
And so, for the first time, Judah and the son of Mary met and parted.
"Cleopatra. . . . Our size of sorrow,
Proportion'd to our cause, must be as great
As that which makes it.--
Enter, below, DIOMEDES.
How now? is he dead?
Diomedes. His death's upon him, but not dead."
Antony and Cleopatra (act iv., sc. xiii.).
The city of Misenum gave name to the promontory which it crowned,
a few miles southwest of Naples. An account of ruins is all that
remains of it now; yet in the year of our Lord 24--to which it is
desirable to advance the reader--the place was one of the most
important on the western coast of Italy.*
* The Roman government, it will be remembered, had two harbors in
which great fleets were constantly kept--Ravenna and Misenum.
In the year mentioned, a traveller coming to the promontory to
regale himself with the view there offered, would have mounted
a wall, and, with the city at his back, looked over the bay of
Neapolis, as charming then as now; and then, as now, he would
have seen the matchless shore, the smoking cone, the sky and
waves so softly, deeply blue, Ischia here and Capri yonder;
from one to the other and back again, through the purpled air,
his gaze would have sported; at last--for the eyes do weary of the
beautiful as the palate with sweets--at last it would have dropped
upon a spectacle which the modern tourist cannot see-- half the
reserve navy of Rome astir or at anchor below him. Thus regarded,
Misenum was a very proper place for three masters to meet, and at
leisure parcel the world among them.
In the old time, moreover, there was a gateway in the wall at a
certain point fronting the sea--an empty gateway forming the outlet
of a street which, after the exit, stretched itself, in the form of
a broad mole, out many stadia into the waves.
The watchman on the wall above the gateway was disturbed, one cool
September morning, by a party coming down the street in noisy
conversation. He gave one look, then settled into his drowse
There were twenty or thirty persons in the party, of whom the
greater number were slaves with torches, which flamed little
and smoked much, leaving on the air the perfume of the Indian
nard. The masters walked in advance arm-in-arm. One of them,
apparently fifty years old, slightly bald, and wearing over his
scant locks a crown of laurel, seemed, from the attentions paid
him, the central object of some affectionate ceremony. They all
sported ample togas of white wool broadly bordered with purple.
A glance had sufficed the watchman. He knew, without question,
they were of high rank, and escorting a friend to ship after a
night of festivity. Further explanation will be found in the
conversation they carried on.
"No, my Quintus," said one, speaking to him with the crown, "it is
ill of Fortune to take thee from us so soon. Only yesterday thou
didst return from the seas beyond the Pillars. Why, thou hast not
even got back thy land legs."
"By Castor! if a man may swear a woman's oath," said another,
somewhat worse of wine, "let us not lament. Our Quintus is but
going to find what he lost last night. Dice on a rolling ship is
not dice on shore--eh, Quintus?"
"Abuse not Fortune!" exclaimed a third. "She is not blind or
fickle. At Antium, where our Arrius questions her, she answers
him with nods, and at sea she abides with him holding the rudder.
She takes him from us, but does she not always give him back with
a new victory?"
"The Greeks are taking him away," another broke in. "Let us abuse
them, not the gods. In learning to trade they forgot how to fight."
With these words, the party passed the gateway, and came upon the
mole, with the bay before them beautiful in the morning light.
To the veteran sailor the plash of the waves was like a greeting.
He drew a long breath, as if the perfume of the water were sweeter
than that of the nard, and held his hand aloft.
"My gifts were at Praeneste, not Antium--and see! Wind from
the west. Thanks, O Fortune, my mother!" he said, earnestly.
The friends all repeated the exclamation, and the slaves waved
"She comes--yonder!" he continued, pointing to a galley outside
the mole. "What need has a sailor for other mistress? Is your
Lucrece more graceful, my Caius?"
He gazed at the coming ship, and justified his pride. A white
sail was bent to the low mast, and the oars dipped, arose,
poised a moment, then dipped again, with wing-like action,
and in perfect time.
"Yes, spare the gods," he said, soberly, his eyes fixed upon the
vessel. "They send us opportunities. Ours the fault if we fail.
And as for the Greeks, you forget, O my Lentulus, the pirates I
am going to punish are Greeks. One victory over them is of more
account than a hundred over the Africans."
"Then thy way is to the Aegean?"
The sailor's eyes were full of his ship.
"What grace, what freedom! A bird hath not less care for the
fretting of the waves. See!" he said, but almost immediately
added, "Thy pardon, my Lentulus. I am going to the Aegean;
and as my departure is so near, I will tell the occasion--only
keep it under the rose. I would not that you abuse the duumvir
when next you meet him. He is my friend. The trade between Greece
and Alexandria, as ye may have heard, is hardly inferior to that
between Alexandria and Rome. The people in that part of the world
forgot to celebrate the Cerealia, and Triptolemus paid them with
a harvest not worth the gathering. At all events, the trade is so
grown that it will not brook interruption a day. Ye may also have
heard of the Chersonesan pirates, nested up in the Euxine; none
bolder, by the Bacchae! Yesterday word came to Rome that, with a
fleet, they had rowed down the Bosphorus, sunk the galleys off
Byzantium and Chalcedon, swept the Propontis, and, still unsated,
burst through into the Aegean. The corn-merchants who have ships
in the East Mediterranean are frightened. They had audience with
the Emperor himself, and from Ravenna there go to-day a hundred
galleys, and from Misenum"--he paused as if to pique the curiosity
of his friends, and ended with an emphatic--"one."
"Happy Quintus! We congratulate thee!"
"The preferment forerunneth promotion. We salute thee duumvir;
"Quintus Arrius, the duumvir, hath a better sound than Quintus
Arrius, the tribune."
In such manner they showered him with congratulations.
"I am glad with the rest," said the bibulous friend, "very glad;
but I must be practical, O my duumvir; and not until I know if
promotion will help thee to knowledge of the tesserae will I have
an opinion as to whether the gods mean thee ill or good in this--
"Thanks, many thanks!" Arrius replied, speaking to them collectively.
"Had ye but lanterns, I would say ye were augurs. Perpol! I will
go further, and show what master diviners ye are! See--and read."
From the folds of his toga he drew a roll of paper, and passed it
to them, saying, "Received while at table last night from--Sejanus."
The name was already a great one in the Roman world; great, and not
so infamous as it afterwards became.
"Sejanus!" they exclaimed, with one voice, closing in to read what
the minister had written.
"Sejanus to C. Coecilius Rufus, Duumvir.
"ROME, XIX. Kal. Sept.
"Caesar hath good report of Quintus Arrius, the tribune. In particular
he bath heard of his valor, manifested in the western seas, insomuch that
it is his will that the said Quintus be transferred instantly to the East.
"It is our Caesar's will, further, that you cause a hundred triremes,
of the first class, and full appointment, to be despatched without
delay against the pirates who have appeared in the Aegean, and that
Quintus be sent to command the fleet so despatched.
"Details are thine, my Caecilius.
"The necessity is urgent, as thou will be advised by the reports
enclosed for thy perusal and the information of the said Quintus.
Arrius gave little heed to the reading. As the ship drew more plainly
out of the perspective, she became more and more an attraction to him.
The look with which he watched her was that of an enthusiast. At length
he tossed the loosened folds of his toga in the air; in reply to
the signal, over the aplustre, or fan-like fixture at the stern
of the vessel, a scarlet flag was displayed; while several sailors
appeared upon the bulwarks, and swung themselves hand over hand up
the ropes to the antenna, or yard, and furled the sail. The bow was
put round, and the time of the oars increased one half; so that at
racing speed she bore down directly towards him and his friends.
He observed the manoeuvring with a perceptible brightening of the
eyes. Her instant answer to the rudder, and the steadiness with
which she kept her course, were especially noticeable as virtues
to be relied upon in action.
"By the Nymphae!" said one of the friends, giving back the roll,
"we may not longer say our friend will be great; he is already great.
Our love will now have famous things to feed upon. What more hast thou
"Nothing more," Arrius replied. "What ye have of the affair is
by this time old news in Rome, especially between the palace and
the Forum. The duumvir is discreet; what I am to do, where go to
find my fleet, he will tell on the ship, where a sealed package
is waiting me. If, however, ye have offerings for any of the
altars to-day, pray the gods for a friend plying oar and sail
somewhere in the direction of Sicily. But she is here, and will
come to," he said, reverting to the vessel. "I have interest in
her masters; they will sail and fight with me. It is not an easy
thing to lay ship side on a shore like this; so let us judge their
training and skill."
"What, is she new to thee?"
"I never saw her before; and, as yet, I know not if she will bring
me one acquaintance."
"Is that well?"
"It matters but little. We of the sea come to know each other
quickly; our loves, like our hates, are born of sudden dangers."
The vessel was of the class called naves liburnicae--long, narrow,
low in the water, and modelled for speed and quick manoeuvre. The bow
was beautiful. A jet of water spun from its foot as she came on,
sprinkling all the prow, which rose in graceful curvature twice
a man's stature above the plane of the deck. Upon the bending of
the sides were figures of Triton blowing shells. Below the bow,
fixed to the keel, and projecting forward under the water-line,
was the rostrum, or beak, a device of solid wood, reinforced and
armed with iron, in action used as a ram. A stout molding extended
from the bow the full length of the ship's sides, defining the
bulwarks, which were tastefully crenelated; below the molding,
in three rows, each covered with a cap or shield of bull-hide,
were the holes in which the oars were worked--sixty on the right,
sixty on the left. In further ornamentation, caducei leaned against
the lofty prow. Two immense ropes passing across the bow marked the
number of anchors stowed on the foredeck.
The simplicity of the upper works declared the oars the chief
dependence of the crew. A mast, set a little forward of midship,
was held by fore and back stays and shrouds fixed to rings on the
inner side of the bulwarks. The tackle was that required for the
management of one great square sail and the yard to which it was
hung. Above the bulwarks the deck was visible.
Save the sailors who had reefed the sail, and yet lingered on the
yard, but one man was to be seen by the party on the mole, and he
stood by the prow helmeted and with a shield.
The hundred and twenty oaken blades, kept white and shining by
pumice and the constant wash of the waves, rose and fell as if
operated by the same hand, and drove the galley forward with a
speed rivalling that of a modern steamer.
So rapidly, and apparently, so rashly, did she come that the landsmen
of the tribune's party were alarmed. Suddenly the man by the prow
raised his hand with a peculiar gesture; whereupon all the oars
flew up, poised a moment in air, then fell straight down. The water
boiled and bubbled about them; the galley shook in every timber,
and stopped as if scared. Another gesture of the hand, and again
the oars arose, feathered, and fell; but this time those on the
right, dropping towards the stern, pushed forward; while those on
the left, dropping towards the bow, pulled backwards. Three times
the oars thus pushed and pulled against each other. Round to the
right the ship swung as upon a pivot; then, caught by the wind,
she settled gently broadside to the mole.
The movement brought the stern to view, with all its garniture--
Tritons like those at the bow; name in large raised letters;
the rudder at the side; the elevated platform upon which the
helmsman sat, a stately figure in full armor, his hand upon the
rudder-rope; and the aplustre, high, gilt, carved, and bent over
the helmsman like a great runcinate leaf.
In the midst of the rounding-to, a trumpet was blown brief and
shrill, and from the hatchways out poured the marines, all in
superb equipment, brazen helms, burnished shields and javelins.
While the fighting-men thus went to quarters as for action, the
sailors proper climbed the shrouds and perched themselves along
the yard. The officers and musicians took their posts. There was
no shouting or needless noise. When the oars touched the mole,
a bridge was sent out from the helmsman's deck. Then the tribune
turned to his party and said, with a gravity he had not before
"Duty now, O my friends."
He took the chaplet from his head and gave it to the dice-player.
"Take thou the myrtle, O favorite of the tesserae!" he said. "If I
return, I will seek my sestertii again; if I am not victor, I will
not return. Hang the crown in thy atrium."
To the company he opened his arms, and they came one by one and
received his parting embrace.
"The gods go with thee, O Quintus!" they said.
"Farewell," he replied.
To the slaves waving their torches he waved his hand; then he
turned to the waiting ship, beautiful with ordered ranks and
crested helms, and shields and javelins. As he stepped upon
the bridge, the trumpets sounded, and over the aplustre rose
the vexillum purpureum, or pennant of a commander of a fleet.
The tribune, standing upon the helmsman's deck with the order of
the duumvir open in his hand, spoke to the chief of the rowers.*
* Called hortator.
"What force hast thou?"
"Of oarsmen, two hundred and fifty-two; ten supernumeraries.
"Making reliefs of--"
"And thy habit?"
"It has been to take off and put on every two hours."
The tribune mused a moment.
"The division is hard, and I will reform it, but not now. The oars
may not rest day or night."
Then to the sailing-master he said,
"The wind is fair. Let the sail help the oars."
When the two thus addressed were gone, he turned to the chief pilot.*
* Called rector.
"What service hast thou had?"
"In what seas chiefly?"
"Between our Rome and the East."
"Thou art the man I would have chosen."
The tribune looked at his orders again.
"Past the Camponellan cape, the course will be to Messina.
Beyond that, follow the bend of the Calabrian shore till Melito
is on thy left, then-- Knowest thou the stars that govern in the
"I know them well."
"Then from Melito course eastward for Cythera. The gods willing,
I will not anchor until in the Bay of Antemona. The duty is urgent.
I rely upon thee."
A prudent man was Arrius--prudent, and of the class which,
while enriching the altars at Praeneste and Antium, was of
opinion, nevertheless, that the favor of the blind goddess
depended more upon the votary's care and judgment than upon
his gifts and vows. All night as master of the feast he had sat
at table drinking and playing; yet the odor of the sea returned
him to the mood of the sailor, and he would not rest until he
knew his ship. Knowledge leaves no room for chances. Having begun
with the chief of the rowers, the sailing-master, and the pilot,
in company with the other officers--the commander of the marines,
the keeper of the stores, the master of the machines, the overseer
of the kitchen or fires--he passed through the several quarters.
Nothing escaped his inspection. When he was through, of the community
crowded within the narrow walls he alone knew perfectly all there was
of material preparation for the voyage and its possible incidents;
and, finding the preparation complete, there was left him but one
thing further--thorough knowledge of the personnel of his command.
As this was the most delicate and difficult part of his task,
requiring much time, he set about it his own way.
At noon that day the galley was skimming the sea off Paestum.
The wind was yet from the west, filling the sail to the master's
content. The watches had been established. On the foredeck the
altar had been set and sprinkled with salt and barley, and before
it the tribune had offered solemn prayers to Jove and to Neptune
and all the Oceanidae, and, with vows, poured the wine and burned
the incense. And now, the better to study his men, he was seated
in the great cabin, a very martial figure.
The cabin, it should be stated, was the central compartment of the
galley, in extent quite sixty-five by thirty feet, and lighted by
three broad hatchways. A row of stanchions ran from end to end,
supporting the roof, and near the centre the mast was visible,
all bristling with axes and spears and javelins. To each hatchway
there were double stairs descending right and left, with a pivotal
arrangement at the top to allow the lower ends to be hitched to
the ceiling; and, as these were now raised, the compartment had
the appearance of a skylighted hall.
The reader will understand readily that this was the heart of
the ship, the home of all aboard--eating-room, sleeping-chamber,
field of exercise, lounging-place off duty--uses made possible by
the laws which reduced life there to minute details and a routine
relentless as death.
At the after-end of the cabin there was a platform, reached by
several steps. Upon it the chief of the rowers sat; in front of
him a sounding-table, upon which, with a gavel, he beat time
for the oarsmen; at his right a clepsydra, or water-clock,
to measure the reliefs and watches. Above him, on a higher
platform, well guarded by gilded railing, the tribune had his
quarters, overlooking everything, and furnished with a couch,
a table, and a cathedra, or chair, cushioned, and with arms and
high back--articles which the imperial dispensation permitted of
the utmost elegance.
Thus at ease, lounging in the great chair, swaying with the motion
of the vessel, the military cloak half draping his tunic, sword in
belt, Arrius kept watchful eye over his command, and was as closely
watched by them. He saw critically everything in view, but dwelt
longest upon the rowers. The reader would doubtless have done
the same: only he would have looked with much sympathy, while,
as is the habit with masters, the tribune's mind ran forward of
what he saw, inquiring for results.
The spectacle was simple enough of itself. Along the sides of the
cabin, fixed to the ship's timbers, were what at first appeared
to be three rows of benches; a closer view, however, showed them
a succession of rising banks, in each of which the second bench
was behind and above the first one, and the third above and behind
the second. To accommodate the sixty rowers on a side, the space
devoted to them permitted nineteen banks separated by intervals of
one yard, with a twentieth bank divided so that what would have
been its upper seat or bench was directly above the lower seat
of the first bank. The arrangement gave each rower when at work
ample room, if he timed his movements with those of his associates,
the principle being that of soldiers marching with cadenced step in
close order. The arrangement also allowed a multiplication of banks,
limited only by the length of the galley.
As to the rowers, those upon the first and second benches sat,
while those upon the third, having longer oars to work, were suffered
to stand. The oars were loaded with lead in the handles, and near the
point of balance hung to pliable thongs, making possible the delicate
touch called feathering, but, at the same time, increasing the
need of skill, since an eccentric wave might at any moment catch
a heedless fellow and hurl him from his seat. Each oar-hole was
a vent through which the laborer opposite it had his plenty of
sweet air. Light streamed down upon him from the grating which
formed the floor of the passage between the deck and the bulwark
over his head. In some respects, therefore, the condition of the
men might have been much worse. Still, it must not be imagined that
there was any pleasantness in their lives. Communication between
them was not allowed. Day after day they filled their places
without speech; in hours of labor they could not see each other's
faces; their short respites were given to sleep and the snatching
of food. They never laughed; no one ever heard one of them sing.
What is the use of tongues when a sigh or a groan will tell all
men feel while, perforce, they think in silence? Existence with
the poor wretches was like a stream under ground sweeping slowly,
laboriously on to its outlet, wherever that might chance to be.
O Son of Mary! The sword has now a heart--and thine the glory!
So now; but, in the days of which we are writing, for captivity
there was drudgery on walls, and in the streets and mines, and the
galleys both of war and commerce were insatiable. When Druilius won
the first sea-fight for his country, Romans plied the oars, and the
glory was to the rower not less than the marine. These benches which
now we are trying to see as they were testified to the change come
with conquest, and illustrated both the policy and the prowess of
Rome. Nearly all the nations had sons there, mostly prisoners of
war, chosen for their brawn and endurance. In one place a Briton;
before him a Libyan; behind him a Crimean. Elsewhere a Scythian,
a Gaul, and a Thebasite. Roman convicts cast down to consort with
Goths and Longobardi, Jews, Ethiopians, and barbarians from the
shores of Maeotis. Here an Athenian, there a red-haired savage
from Hibernia, yonder blue-eyed giants of the Cimbri.
In the labor of the rowers there was not enough art to give occupation
to their minds, rude and simple as they were. The reach forward,
the pull, the feathering the blade, the dip, were all there was of
it; motions most perfect when most automatic. Even the care forced
upon them by the sea outside grew in time to be a thing instinctive
rather than of thought. So, as the result of long service, the poor
wretches became imbruted--patient, spiritless, obedient--creatures of
vast muscle and exhausted intellects, who lived upon recollections
generally few but dear, and at last lowered into the semi-conscious
alchemic state wherein misery turns to habit, and the soul takes on
From right to left, hour after hour, the tribune, swaying in
his easy-chair, turned with thought of everything rather than
the wretchedness of the slaves upon the benches. Their motions,
precise, and exactly the same on both sides of the vessel, after a
while became monotonous; and then he amused himself singling out
individuals. With his stylus he made note of objections, thinking,
if all went well, he would find among the pirates of whom he was
in search better men for the places.
There was no need of keeping the proper names of the slaves brought
to the galleys as to their graves; so, for convenience, they were
usually identified by the numerals painted upon the benches to
which they were assigned. As the sharp eyes of the great man
moved from seat to seat on either hand, they came at last to
number sixty, which, as has been said, belonged properly to the
last bank on the left-hand side, but, wanting room aft, had been
fixed above the first bench of the first bank. There they rested.
The bench of number sixty was slightly above the level of the
platform, and but a few feet away. The light glinting through
the grating over his head gave the rower fairly to the tribune's
view--erect, and, like all his fellows, naked, except a cincture
about the loins. There were, however, some points in his favor.
He was very young, not more than twenty. Furthermore, Arrius was
not merely given to dice; he was a connoisseur of men physically,
and when ashore indulged a habit of visiting the gymnasia to see and
admire the most famous athletae. From some professor, doubtless,
he had caught the idea that strength was as much of the quality
as the quantity of the muscle, while superiority in performance
required a certain mind as well as strength. Having adopted the
doctrine, like most men with a hobby, he was always looking for
illustrations to support it.
The reader may well believe that while the tribune, in the search
for the perfect, was often called upon to stop and study, he was
seldom perfectly satisfied--in fact, very seldom held as long as
on this occasion.
In the beginning of each movement of the oar, the rower's body and
face were brought into profile view from the platform; the movement
ended with the body reversed, and in a pushing posture. The grace
and ease of the action at first suggested a doubt of the honesty
of the effort put forth; but it was speedily dismissed; the firmness
with which the oar was held while in the reach forward, its bending
under the push, were proofs of the force applied; not that only,
they as certainly proved the rower's art, and put the critic in
the great arm-chair in search of the combination of strength and
cleverness which was the central idea of his theory.
In course of the study, Arrius observed the subject's youth;
wholly unconscious of tenderness on that account, he also observed
that he seemed of good height, and that his limbs, upper and nether,
were singularly perfect. The arms, perhaps, were too long, but the
objection was well hidden under a mass of muscle, which, in some
movements, swelled and knotted like kinking cords. Every rib in
the round body was discernible; yet the leanness was the healthful
reduction so strained after in the palaestrae. And altogether there
was in the rower's action a certain harmony which, besides addressing
itself to the tribune's theory, stimulated both his curiosity and
Very soon he found himself waiting to catch a view of the man's
face in full. The head was shapely, and balanced upon a neck broad
at the base, but of exceeding pliancy and grace. The features
in profile were of Oriental outline, and of that delicacy of
expression which has always been thought a sign of blood and
sensitive spirit. With these observations, the tribune's interest
in the subject deepened.
"By the gods," he said to himself, "the fellow impresses me! He
promises well. I will know more of him."
Directly the tribune caught the view he wished--the rower turned
and looked at him.
"A Jew! and a boy!"
Under the gaze then fixed steadily upon him, the large eyes of the
slave grew larger--the blood surged to his very brows--the blade
lingered in his hands. But instantly, with an angry crash, down fell
the gavel of the hortator. The rower started, withdrew his face from
the inquisitor, and, as if personally chidden, dropped the oar half
feathered. When he glanced again at the tribune, he was vastly more
astonished--he was met with a kindly smile.
Meantime the galley entered the Straits of Messina, and, skimming past
the city of that name, was after a while turned eastward, leaving the
cloud over AEtna in the sky astern.
Often as Arrius resumed to his platform in the cabin he returned
to study the rower, and he kept saying to himself, "The fellow
hath a spirit. A Jew is not a barbarian. I will know more of him."
The fourth day out, and the Astroea--so the galley was named--speeding
through the Ionian Sea. The sky was clear, and the wind blew as if
bearing the good-will of all the gods.
As it was possible to overtake the fleet before reaching the bay
east of the island of Cythera, designated for assemblage, Arrius,
somewhat impatient, spent much time on deck. He took note diligently
of matters pertaining to his ship, and as a rule was well pleased.
In the cabin, swinging in the great chair, his thought continually
reverted to the rower on number sixty.
"Knowest thou the man just come from yon bench?" he at length
asked of the hortator.
A relief was going on at the moment.
"From number sixty?" returned the chief.
The chief looked sharply at the rower then going forward.
"As thou knowest," he replied "the ship is but a month from
the maker's hand, and the men are as new to me as the ship."
"He is a Jew," Arrius remarked, thoughtfully.
"The noble Quintus is shrewd."
"He is very young," Arrius continued.
"But our best rower," said the other. "I have seen his oar bend
almost to breaking."
"Of what disposition is he?"
"He is obedient; further I know not. Once he made request of me."
"He wished me to change him alternately from the right to the left."
"Did he give a reason?"
"He had observed that the men who are confined to one side become
misshapen. He also said that some day of storm or battle there might
be sudden need to change him, and he might then be unserviceable."
"Perpol! The idea is new. What else hast thou observed of him?"
"He is cleanly above his companions."
"In that he is Roman," said Arrius, approvingly. "Have you nothing
of his history?"
"Not a word."
The tribune reflected awhile, and turned to go to his own seat.
"If I should be on deck when his time is up," he paused to say,
"send him to me. Let him come alone."
About two hours later Arrius stood under the aplustre of the galley;
in the mood of one who, seeing himself carried swiftly towards an
event of mighty import, has nothing to do but wait--the mood in
which philosophy vests an even-minded man with the utmost calm,
and is ever so serviceable. The pilot sat with a hand upon the
rope by which the rudder paddles, one on each side of the vessel,
were managed. In the shade of the sail some sailors lay asleep,
and up on the yard there was a lookout. Lifting his eyes from
the solarium set under the aplustre for reference in keeping
the course, Arrius beheld the rower approaching.
"The chief called thee the noble Arrius, and said it was thy will
that I should seek thee here. I have come."
Arrius surveyed the figure, tall, sinewy, glistening in the sun,
and tinted by the rich red blood within--surveyed it admiringly,
and with a thought of the arena; yet the manner was not without
effect upon him: there was in the voice a suggestion of life at
least partly spent under refining influences; the eyes were clear
and open, and more curious than defiant. To the shrewd, demanding,
masterful glance bent upon it, the face gave back nothing to mar
its youthful comeliness--nothing of accusation or sullenness or
menace, only the signs which a great sorrow long borne imprints,
as time mellows the surface of pictures. In tacit acknowledgment
of the effect, the Roman spoke as an older man to a younger, not as
a master to a slave.
"The hortator tells me thou art his best rower."
"The hortator is very kind," the rower answered.
"Hast thou seen much service?"
"About three years."
"At the oars?"
"I cannot recall a day of rest from them."
"The labor is hard; few men bear it a year without breaking,
and thou--thou art but a boy."
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