Quo Vadis A Narrative of the Time of Nero
Part 11 out of 12
"Thou wilt retract! thou wilt!"
"I cannot!" answered Chilo from the floor.
"To the tortures with him!"
At this command the Thracians seized the old man, and placed him on the
bench; then, fastening him with ropes to it, they began to squeeze his
thin shanks with pincers. But when they were tying him he kissed their
hands with humility; then he closed his eyes, and seemed dead.
He was alive, though; for when Tigellinus bent over him and inquired
once again, "Wilt thou retract?" his white lips moved slightly, and from
them came the barely audible whisper,--
Tigellinus gave command to stop the torture, and began to walk up and
down in the atrium with a face distorted by anger, but helpless. At last
a new idea came to his head, for he turned to the Thracians and said,--
"Tear out his tongue!"
THE drama "Aureolus" was given usually in theatres or amphitheatres, so
arranged that they could open and present as it were two separate
stages. But after the spectacle in the gardens of Cæsar the usual
method was omitted; for in this case the problem was to let the greatest
number of people look at a slave who, in the drama, is devoured by a
bear. In the theatres the role of the bear is played by an actor sewed
up in a skin, but this time the representation was to be real. This was
a new idea of Tigellinus. At first Cæsar refused to come, but changed
his mind at persuasion of the favorite. Tigellinus explained that after
what had happened in the gardens it was all the more his duty to appear
before the people, and he guaranteed that the crucified slave would not
insult him as had Crispus. The people were somewhat sated and tired of
blood-spilling; hence a new distribution of lottery tickets and gifts
was promised, as well as a feast, for the spectacle was to be in the
evening, in a brilliantly lighted amphitheatre.
About dusk the whole amphitheatre was packed; the Augustians, with
Tigellinus at the head of them, came to a man,--not only for the
spectacle itself, but to show their devotion to Cæsar and their opinion
of Chilo, of whom all Rome was then talking.
They whispered to one another that Cæsar, when returning from the
gardens, had fallen into a frenzy and could not sleep, that terrors and
wonderful visions had attacked him; therefore he had announced on the
following morning his early journey to Achæa. But others denied this,
declaring that he would be all the more pitiless to the Christians.
Cowards, however, were not lacking, who foresaw that the accusation
which Chilo had thrown into Cæsar's face might have the worst result
possible. In conclusion, there were those who through humanity begged
Tigellinus to stop persecution.
"See whither ye are going," said Barcus Soranus. "Ye wished to allay
people's anger and convince them that punishment was falling on the
guilty; the result is just the opposite."
"True!" added Antistius Verus, "all whisper to one another now that the
Christians were innocent. If that be cleverness, Chilo was right when
he said that your brains could be held in a nut-shell."
Tigellinus turned to them and said: "Barcus Soranus, people whisper
also to one another that thy daughter Servilia secreted her Christian
slaves from Cæsar's justice; they say the same also of thy wife,
"That is not true!" exclaimed Barcus, with alarm.
"Your divorced women wished to ruin my wife, whose virtue they envy,"
said Antistius Verus, with no less alarm.
But others spoke of Chilo.
"What has happened to him?" asked Eprius Marcellus. "He delivered them
himself into the hands of Tigellinus; from a beggar he became rich; it
was possible for him to live out his days in peace, have a splendid
funeral, and a tomb: but, no! All at once he preferred to lose
everything and destroy himself; he must, in truth, be a maniac."
"Not a maniac, but he has become a Christian," said Tigellinus.
"Impossible!" said Vitelius.
"Have I not said," put in Vestinius, "'Kill Christians if ye like; but
believe me ye cannot war with their divinity. With it there is no
jesting'? See what is taking place. I have not burned Rome; but if
Cæsar permitted I would give a hecatomb at once to their divinity. And
all should do the same, for I repeat: With it there is no jesting!
Remember my words to you."
"And I said something else," added Petronius. "Tigellinus laughed when
I said that they were arming, but I say more,--they are conquering."
"How is that? how is that?" inquired a number of voices.
"By Pollux, they are! For if such a man as Chilo could not resist them,
who can? If ye think that after every spectacle the Christians do not
increase, become coppersmiths, or go to shaving beards, for then ye will
know better what people think, and what is happening in the city."
"He speaks pure truth, by the sacred peplus of Diana," cried Vestinius.
But Barcus turned to Petronius.
"What is thy conclusion?"
"I conclude where ye began,--there has been enough of bloodshed."
Tigellinus looked at him jeeringly,--"Ei!--a little more!"
"If thy head is not sufficient, thou hast another on thy cane," said
Further conversation was interrupted by the coming of Cæsar, who
occupied his place in company with Pythagoras. Immediately after began
the representation of "Aureolus," to which not much attention was paid,
for the minds of the audience were fixed on Chilo. The spectators,
familiar with blood and torture, were bored; they hissed, gave out
shouts uncomplimentary to the court, and demanded the bear scene, which
for them was the only thing of interest. Had it not been for gifts and
the hope of seeing Chilo, the spectacle would not have held the
At last the looked-for moment came. Servants of the Circus brought in
first a wooden cross, so low that a bear standing on his hind feet might
reach the martyr's breast; then two men brought, or rather dragged in,
Chilo, for as the bones in his legs were broken, he was unable to walk
alone. They laid him down and nailed him to the wood so quickly that
the curious Augustians had not even a good look at him, and only after
the cross had been fixed in the place prepared for it did all eyes turn
to the victim. But it was a rare person who could recognize in that
naked man the former Chilo. After the tortures which Tigellinus had
commanded, there was not one drop of blood in his face, and only on his
white beard was evident a red trace left by blood after they had torn
his tongue out. Through the transparent skin it was quite possible to
see his bones. He seemed far older also, almost decrepit. Formerly his
eyes cast glances ever filled with disquiet and ill-will, his watchful
face reflected constant alarm and uncertainty; now his face had an
expression of pain, but it was as mild and calm as faces of the sleeping
or the dead. Perhaps remembrance of that thief on the cross whom Christ
had forgiven lent him confidence; perhaps, also, he said in his soul to
the merciful God,-
"O Lord, I bit like a venomous worm; but all my life I was unfortunate.
I was famishing from hunger, people trampled on me, beat me, jeered at
me. I was poor and very unhappy, and now they put me to torture and
nail me to a cross; but Thou, O Merciful, wilt not reject me in this
hour!" Peace descended evidently into his crushed heart. No one
laughed, for there was in that crucified man something so calm, he
seemed so old, so defenceless, so weak, calling so much for pity with
his lowliness, that each one asked himself unconsciously how it was
possible to torture and nail to crosses men who would die soon in any
case. The crowd was silent. Among the Augustians Vestinius, bending to
right and left, whispered in a terrified voice, "See how they die!"
Others were looking for the bear, wishing the spectacle to end at the
The bear came into the arena at last, and, swaying from side to side a
head which hung low, he looked around from beneath his forehead, as if
thinking of something or seeking something. At last he saw the cross
and the naked body. He approached it, and stood on his hind legs; but
after a moment he dropped again on his fore-paws, and sitting under the
cross began to growl, as if in his heart of a beast pity for that
remnant of a man had made itself heard.
Cries were heard from Circus slaves urging on the bear, but the people
Meanwhile Chilo raised his head with slow motion, and for a time moved
his eyes over the audience. At last his glance rested somewhere on the
highest rows of the amphitheatre; his breast moved with more life, and
something happened which caused wonder and astonishment. That face
became bright with a smile; a ray of light, as it were, encircled that
forehead; his eyes were uplifted before death, and after a while two
great tears which had risen between the lids flowed slowly down his
And he died.
At that same moment a resonant manly voice high up under the velarium
"Peace to the martyrs!"
Deep silence reigned in the amphitheatre.
AFTER the spectacle in Cæsar's gardens the prisons were emptied
considerably. It is true that victims suspected of the Oriental
superstition were seized yet and imprisoned, but pursuit brought in
fewer and fewer persons,--barely enough for coming exhibitions, which
were to follow quickly. People were sated with blood; they showed
growing weariness, and increasing alarm because of the unparalleled
conduct of the condemned. Fears like those of the superstitious
Vestinius seized thousands of people. Among the crowds tales more and
more wonderful were related of the vengefulness of the Christian God.
Prison typhus, which had spread through the city, increased the general
dread. The number of funerals was evident, and it was repeated from ear
to ear that fresh piacula were needed to mollify the unknown god.
Offerings were made in the temples to Jove and Libitina. At last, in
spite of every effort of Tigellinus and his assistants, the opinion kept
spreading that the city had been burned at command of Cæsar, and that
the Christians were suffering innocently.
But for this very reason Nero and Tigellinus were untiring in
persecution. To calm the multitude, fresh orders were issued to
distribute wheat, wine, and olives. To relieve owners, new rules were
published to facilitate the building of houses; and others touching
width of streets and materials to be used in building so as to avoid
fires in future. Cæsar himself attended sessions of the Senate, and
counselled with the "fathers" on the good of the people and the city;
but not a shadow of favor fell on the doomed. The ruler of the world
was anxious, above all, to fix in people's minds a conviction that such
merciless punishments could strike only the guilty. In the Senate no
voice was heard on behalf of the Christians, for no one wished to offend
Cæsar; and besides, those who looked farther into the future insisted
that the foundations of Roman rule could not stand against the new
The dead and the dying were given to their relatives, as Roman law took
no vengeance on the dead. Vinicius received a certain solace from the
thought that if Lygia died he would bury her in his family tomb, and
rest near her. At that time he had no hope of rescuing her; half
separated from life, he was himself wholly absorbed in Christ, and
dreamed no longer of any union except an eternal one. His faith had
become simply boundless; for it eternity seemed something incomparably
truer and more real than the fleeting life which he had lived up to that
time. His heart was overflowing with concentrated enthusiasm. Though
yet alive, he had changed into a being almost immaterial, which desiring
complete liberation for itself desired it also for another. He imagined
that when free he and Lygia would each take the other's hand and go to
heaven, where Christ would bless them, and let them live in light as
peaceful and boundless as the light of dawn. He merely implored Christ
to spare Lygia the torments of the Circus, and let her fall asleep
calmly in prison; he felt with perfect certainty that he himself would
die at the same time. In view of the sea of blood which had been shed,
he did not even think it permitted to hope that she alone would be
spared. He had heard from Peter and Paul that they, too, must die as
martyrs. The sight of Chilo on the cross had convinced him that even a
martyr's death could be sweet; hence he wished it for Lygia and himself
as the change of an evil, sad, and oppressive fate for a better.
At times he bad a foretaste of life beyond the grave. That sadness
which hung over the souls of both was losing its former burning
bitterness, and changing gradually into a kind of trans-terrestrial,
calm abandon to the will of God. Vinicius, who formerly had toiled
against the current, had struggled and tortured himself, yielded now to
the stream, believing that it would bear him to eternal calm. He
divined, too, that Lygia, as well as he, was preparing for death,--that,
in spite of the prison walls separating them, they were advancing
together; and he smiled at that thought as at happiness.
In fact, they were advancing with as much agreement as if they had
exchanged thoughts every day for a long time. Neither had Lygia any
desire, any hope, save the hope of a life beyond the grave. Death was
presented to her not only as a liberation from the terrible walls of the
prison, from the hands of Cæsar and Tigellinus,--not only as liberation,
but as the hour of her marriage to Vinicius. In view of this unshaken
certainty, all else lost importance. After death would come her
happiness, which was even earthly, so that she waited for it also as a
betrothed waits for the wedding-day.
And that immense current of faith, which swept away from life and bore
beyond the grave thousands of those first confessors, bore away Ursus
also. Neither had he in his heart been resigned to Lygia's death; but
when day after day through the prison walls came news of what was
happening in the amphitheatres and the gardens, when death seemed the
common, inevitable lot of all Christians and also their good, higher
than all mortal conceptions of happiness, he did not dare to pray to
Christ to deprive Lygia of that happiness or to delay it for long years.
In his simple barbarian soul he thought, besides, that more of those
heavenly delights would belong to the daughter of the Lygian chief, that
she would have more of them than would a whole crowd of simple ones to
whom he himself belonged, and that in eternal glory she would sit nearer
to the "Lamb" than would others. He had heard, it is true, that before
God men are equal; but a conviction was lingering at the bottom of his
soul that the daughter of a leader, and besides of a leader of all the
Lygians, was not the same as the first slave one might meet. He hoped
also that Christ would let him continue to serve her. His one secret
wish was to die on a cross as the "Lamb" died. But this seemed a
happiness so great that he hardly dared to pray for it, though he knew
that in Rome even the worst criminals were crucified. He thought that
surely he would be condemned to die under the teeth of wild beasts; and
this was his one sorrow. From childhood he had lived in impassable
forests, amid continual hunts, in which, thanks to his superhuman
strength, he was famous among the Lygians even before he had grown to
manhood. This, occupation had become for him so agreeable that later,
when in Rome, and forced to live without hunting, he went to vivaria and
amphitheatres just to look at beasts known and unknown to him. The sight
of these always roused in the man an irresistible desire for struggle
and killing; so now he feared in his soul that on meeting them in the
amphitheatre he would be attacked by thoughts unworthy of a Christian,
whose duty it was to die piously and patiently. But in this he
committed himself to Christ, and found other and more agreeable thoughts
to comfort him. Hearing that the "Lamb" had declared war against the
powers of hell and evil spirits with which the Christian faith connected
all pagan divinities, he thought that in this war he might serve the
"Lamb" greatly, and serve better than others, for he could not help
believing that his soul was stronger than the souls of other martyrs.
Finally, he prayed whole days, rendered service to prisoners, helped
overseers, and comforted his queen, who complained at times that in her
short life she had not been able to do so many good deeds as the
renowned Tabitha of whom Peter the Apostle had told her. Even the
prison guards, who feared the terrible strength of this giant, since
neither bars nor chains could restrain it, came to love him at last for
his mildness. Amazed at his good temper, they asked more than once what
its cause was. He spoke with such firm certainty of the life waiting
after death for him, that they listened with surprise, seeing for the
first time that happiness might penetrate a dungeon which sunlight could
not reach. And when he urged them to believe in the "Lamb," it occurred
to more than one of those people that his own service was the service of
a slave, his own life the life of an unfortunate; and he fell to
thinking over his evil fate, the only end to which was death.
But death brought new fear, and promised nothing beyond; while that
giant and that maiden, who was like a flower cast on the straw of the
prison, went toward it with delight, as toward the gates of happiness.
ONE evening Scevinus, a Senator, visited Petronius and began a long
conversation, touching the grievous times in which they were living, and
also touching Cæsar. He spoke so openly that Petronius, though his
friend, began to be cautious. Scevinus complained that the world was
living madly and unjustly, that all must end in some catastrophe more
dreadful still than the burning of Rome. He said that even Augustians
were dissatisfied; that Fenius Rufus, second prefect of the pretorians,
endured with the greatest effort the vile orders of Tigellinus; and that
all Seneca's relatives were driven to extremes by Cæsar's conduct as
well toward his old master as toward Lucan. Finally, he began to hint
of the dissatisfaction of the people, and even of the pretorians, the
greater part of whom had been won by Fenius Rufus.
"Why dost thou say this?" inquired Petronius.
"Out of care for Cæsar," said Scevinus. "I have a distant relative
among the pretorians, also Scevinus; through him I know what takes place
in the camp. Disaffection is growing there also; Caligula, knowest
thou, was mad too, and see what happened. Cassius Chærea appeared. That
was a dreadful deed, and surely there is no one among us to praise it;
still Chærea freed the world of a monster."
"Is thy meaning as follows: 'I do not praise Chærea, but he was a
perfect man, and would that the gods had given us as many such as
possible'?" inquired Petronius.
But Scevinus changed the conversation, and began all at once to praise
Piso, exalting his family, his nobility of mind, his attachment to his
wife, and, finally, his intellect, his calmness, and his wonderful gift
of winning people.
"Cæsar is childless," said he, "and all see his successor in Piso.
Doubtless, too, every man would help him with whole soul to gain power.
Fenius Rufus loves him; the relatives of Annæus are devoted to him
altogether. Plautius Lateranus and Tullius Senecio would spring into
fire for him; as would Natalis, and Subrius Flavius, and Sulpicius
Asper, and Afranius Quinetianus, and even Vestinius."
"From this last man not much will result to Piso," replied Petronius.
"Vestinius is afraid of his own shadow."
"Vestinius fears dreams and spirits," answered Scevinus, "but he is a
practical man, whom people wish wisely to make consul. That in his soul
he is opposed to persecuting Christians, thou shouldst not take ill of
him, for it concerns thee too that this madness should cease."
"Not me, but Vinicius," answered Petronius. "Out of concern for
Vinicius, I should like to save a certain maiden; but I cannot, for I
have fallen out of favor with Ahenobarbus."
"How is that? Dost thou not notice that Cæsar is approaching thee
again, and beginning to talk with thee? And I will tell thee why. He
is preparing again for Achæa, where he is to sing songs in Greek of his
own composition. He is burning for that journey; but also he trembles
at thought of the cynical genius of the Greeks. He imagines that either
the greatest triumph may meet him or the greatest failure. He needs
good counsel, and he knows that no one can give it better than thou.
This is why thou art returning to favor."
"Lucan might take my place."
"Bronzebeard hates Lucan, and in his soul has written down death for the
poet. He is merely seeking a pretext, for he seeks pretexts always."
"By Castor!" said Petronius, "that may be. But I might have still
another way for a quick return to favor."
"To repeat to Bronzebeard what thou hast told me just now."
"I have said nothing!" cried Scevinus, with alarm.
Petronius placed his hand upon the Senator's shoulder. "Thou hast
called Cæsar a madman, thou hast foreseen the heirship of Piso, and hast
said, 'Lucan understands that there is need to hasten.' What wouldst
thou hasten, carissime?"
Scevinus grew pale, and for a moment each looked into the eyes of the
"Thou wilt not repeat!"
"By the hips of Kypris, I will not! How well thou knowest me! No; I
will not repeat. I have heard nothing, and, moreover, I wish to hear
nothing. Dost understand? Life is too short to make any undertaking
worth the while. I beg thee only to visit Tigellinus to-day, and talk
with him as long as thou hast with me of whatever may please thee."
"So that should Tigellinus ever say to me, 'Scevinus was with thee,' I
might answer, 'He was with thee, too, that very day.'"
Scevinus, when he heard this, broke the ivory cane which he had in his
hand, and said,--"May the evil fall on this stick! I shall be with
Tigellinus to-day, and later at Nerva's feast. Thou, too, wilt be
there? In every case till we meet in the amphitheatre, where the last
of the Christians will appear the day after tomorrow. Till we meet!"
"After to-morrow!" repeated Petronius, when alone. "There is no time to
lose. Ahenobarbus will need me really in Achæa; hence he may count with
And he determined to try the last means.
In fact, at Nerva's feast Cæsar himself asked that Petronius recline
opposite, for he wished to speak with the arbiter about Achæa and the
cities in which he might appear with hopes of the greatest success. He
cared most for the Athenians, whom he feared. Other Augustians listened
to this conversation with attention, so as to seize crumbs of the
arbiter's opinions, and give them out later on as their own.
"It seems to me that I have not lived up to this time," said Nero, "and
that my birth will come only in Greece."
"Thou wilt be born to new glory and immortality," answered Petronius.
"I trust that this is true, and that Apollo will not seem jealous. If I
return in triumph, I will offer him such a hecatomb as no god has had so
Scevinus fell to repeating the lines of Horace:--
"Sic te diva potens Cypri, Sic fratres Helenæ, lucida sidera,
Ventorumque regat Pater-"
"The vessel is ready at Naples," said Cæsar. "I should like to go even
At this Petronius rose, and, looking straight into Nero's eyes, said,-
"Permit me, O divinity, to celebrate a wedding-feast, to which I shall
invite thee before others."
"A wedding-feast! What wedding-feast?" inquired Nero.
"That of Vinicius with thy hostage the daughter of the Lygian king. She
is in prison at present, it is true; but as a hostage she is not subject
to imprisonment, and, secondly, thou thyself hast permitted Vinicius to
marry her; and as thy sentences, like those of Zeus, are unchangeable,
thou wilt give command to free her from prison, and I will give her to
The cool blood and calm self-possession with which Petronius spoke
disturbed Nero, who was disturbed whenever any one spoke in that fashion
"I know," said he, dropping his eyes. "I have thought of her and of
that giant who killed Croton."
"In that case both are saved," answered Petronius, calmly.
But Tigellinus came to the aid of his master: "She is in prison by the
will of Cæsar; thou thyself hast said, O Petronius, that his sentences
All present, knowing the history of Vinicius and Lygia, understood
perfectly what the question was; hence they were silent, curious as to
the end of the conversation.
"She is in prison against the will of Cæsar and through thy error,
through thy ignorance of the law of nations," said Petronius, with
emphasis. "Thou art a naive man, Tigellinus; but even thou wilt not
assert that she burnt Rome, and if thou wert to do so, Cæsar would not
But Nero had recovered and begun to half close his near-sighted eyes
with an expression of indescribable malice.
"Petronius is right," said he, after a while.
Tigellinus looked at him with amazement.
"Petronius is right," repeated Nero; "to-morrow the gates of the prison
will be open to her, and of the marriage feast we will speak the day
after at the amphitheatre."
"I have lost again," thought Petronius.
When he had returned home, he was so certain that the end of Lygia's
life had come that he sent a trusty freedman to the amphitheatre to
bargain with the chief of the spoliarium for the delivery of her body,
since he wished to give it to Vinicius.
Evening exhibitions, rare up to that period and given only
exceptionally, became common in Nero's time, both in the Circus and
amphitheatre. The Augustians liked them, frequently because they were
followed by feasts and drinking-bouts which lasted till daylight.
Though the people were sated already with blood-spilling, still, when
the news went forth that the end of the games was approaching, and that
the last of the Christians were to die at an evening spectacle, a
countless audience assembled in the amphitheatre. The Augustians came
to a man, for they understood that it would not be a common spectacle;
they knew that Cæsar had determined to make for himself a tragedy out of
the suffering of Vinicius. Tigellinus had kept secret the kind of
punishment intended for the betrothed of the young tribune; but that
merely roused general curiosity. Those who had seen Lygia at the house
of Plautius told wonders of her beauty. Others were occupied above all
with the question, would they see her really on the arena that day; for
many of those who had heard the answer given Petronius and Nerva by
Cæsar explained it in two ways: some supposed simply that Nero would
give or perhaps had given the maiden to Vinicius; they remembered that
she was a hostage, hence free to worship whatever divinities she liked,
and that the law of nations did not permit her punishment.
Uncertainty, waiting, and curiosity had mastered all spectators. Cæsar
arrived earlier than usual; and immediately at his coming people
whispered that something uncommon would happen, for besides Tigellinus
and Vatinius, Cæsar had with him Cassius, a centurion of enormous size
and gigantic strength, whom he summoned only when he wished to have a
defender at his side,--for example, when he desired night expeditions to
the Subura, where he arranged the amusement called "sagatio," which
consisted in tossing on a soldier's mantle maidens met on the way. It
was noted also that certain precautions had been taken in the
amphitheatre itself. The pretorian guards were increased; command over
them was held, not by a centurion, but by the tribune Subrius Flavius,
known hitherto for blind attachment to Nero. It was understood, then,
that Cæsar wished in every case to guard himself against an outburst of
despair from Vinicius, and curiosity rose all the more.
Every eye was turned with strained gaze to the place where the
unfortunate lover was sitting. He was exceedingly pale, and his
forehead was covered with drops of sweat; he was in as much doubt as
were other spectators, but alarmed to the lowest depth of his soul.
Petronius knew not what would happen; he was silent, except that, while
turning from Nerva, he asked Vinicius whether he was ready for
everything, and next, whether he would remain at the spectacle. To both
questions Vinicius answered "Yes," but a shudder passed through his
whole body; he divined that Petronius did not ask without reason. For
some time he had lived with only half his life,--he had sunk in death,
and reconciled himself to Lygia's death, since for both it was to be
liberation and marriage; but he learned now that it was one thing to
think of the last moment when it was distant as of a quiet dropping
asleep, and another to look at the torment of a person dearer to one
than life. All sufferings endured formerly rose in him anew. Despair,
which had been set at rest, began again to cry in his soul; the former
desire to save Lygia at any price seized him anew. Beginning with the
morning, he had tried to go to the cunicula to be sure that she was
there; but the pretorians watched every entrance, and orders were so
strict that the soldiers, even those whom he knew, would not be softened
by prayers or gold. It seemed to the tribune that uncertainty would
kill him before he should see the spectacle. Somewhere at the bottom of
his heart the hope was still throbbing, that perhaps Lygia was not in
the amphitheatre, that his fears were groundless. At times he seized on
this hope with all his strength. He said in his soul that Christ might
take her to Himself out of the prison, but could not permit her torture
in the Circus. Formerly he was resigned to the divine will in
everything; now, when repulsed from the doors of the cunicula, he
returned to his place in the amphitheatre, and when he learned, from the
curious glances turned on him, that the most dreadful suppositions might
be true, he began to implore in his soul with passionateness almost
approaching a threat. "Thou canst!" repeated he, clenching his fists
convulsively, "Thou canst!" Hitherto he had not supposed that that
moment when present would be so terrible. Now, without clear
consciousness of what was happening in his mind, he had the feeling that
if he should see Lygia tortured, his love for God would be turned to
hatred, and his faith to despair. But he was amazed at the feeling, for
he feared to offend Christ, whom he was imploring for mercy and
miracles. He implored no longer for her life; he wished merely that she
should die before they brought her to the arena, and from the abyss of
his pain he repeated in spirt: "Do not refuse even this, and I will
love Thee still more than hitherto." And then his thoughts raged as a
sea torn by a whirlwind. A desire for blood and vengeance was roused in
him. He was seized by a mad wish to rush at Nero and stifle him there
in presence of all the spectators; but he felt that desire to be a new
offence against Christ, and a breach of His command. To his head flew
at times flashes of hope that everything before which his soul was
trembling would be turned aside by an almighty and merciful hand; but
they were quenched at once, as if in measureless sorrow that He who
could destroy that Circus with one word and save Lygia had abandoned
her, though she trusted in Him and loved Him with all the strength of
her pure heart. And he thought, moreover, that she was lying there in
that dark place, weak, defenceless, deserted, abandoned to the whim or
disfavor of brutal guards, drawing her last breath, perhaps, while he
had to wait, helpless, in that dreadful amphitheatre, without knowing
what torture was prepared for her, or what he would witness in a moment.
Finally, as a man falling over a precipice grasps at everything which
grows on the edge of it, so did he grasp with both hands at the thought
that faith of itself could save her. That one method remained! Peter
had said that faith could move the earth to its foundations.
Hence he rallied; he crushed doubt in himself, he compressed his whole
being into the sentence, "I believe," and he looked for a miracle.
But as an overdrawn cord may break, so exertion broke him. The pallor
of death covered his face, and his body relaxed. He thought then that
his prayer had been heard, for he was dying. It seemed to him that
Lygia must surely die too, and that Christ would take them to Himself in
that way. The arena, the white togas, the countless spectators, the
light of thousands of lamps and torches, all vanished from his vision.
But his weakness did not last long. After a while he roused himself, or
rather the stamping of the impatient multitude roused him.
"Thou art ill," said Petronius; "give command to bear thee home."
And without regard to what Cæsar would say, he rose to support Vinicius
and go out with him. His heart was filled with pity, and, moreover, he
was irritated beyond endurance because Cæsar was looking through the
emerald at Vinicius, studying his pain with satisfaction, to describe it
afterwards, perhaps, in pathetic strophes, and win the applause of
Vinicius shook his head. He might die in that amphitheatre, but he
could not go out of it. Moreover the spectacle might begin any moment.
In fact, at that very instant almost, the prefect of the city waved a
red handkerchief, the hinges opposite Cæsar's podium creaked, and out of
the dark gully came Ursus into the brightly lighted arena.
The giant blinked, dazed evidently by the glitter of the arena; then he
pushed into the centre, gazing around as if to see what he had to meet.
It was known to all the Augustians and to most of the spectators that he
was the man who had stifled Croton; hence at sight of him a murmur
passed along every bench. In Rome there was no lack of gladiators
larger by far than the common measure of man, but Roman eyes had never
seen the like of Ursus. Cassius, standing in Cæsar's podium, seemed
puny compared with that Lygian. Senators, vestals, Cæsar, the
Augustians, and the people gazed with the delight of experts at his
mighty limbs as large as tree-trunks, at his breast as large as two
shields joined together, and his arms of a Hercules. The murmur rose
every instant. For those multitudes there could be no higher pleasure
than to look at those muscles in play in the exertion of a struggle.
The murmur rose to shouts, and eager questions were put: "Where do the
people live who can produce such a giant?" He stood there, in the
middle of the amphitheatre, naked, more like a stone colossus than a
man, with a collected expression, and at the same time the sad look of a
barbarian; and while surveying the empty arena, he gazed wonderingly
with his blue childlike eyes, now at the spectators, now at Cæsar, now
at the grating of the cunicula, whence, as he thought, his executioners
At the moment when he stepped into the arena his simple heart was
beating for the last time with the hope that perhaps a cross was waiting
for him; but when he saw neither the cross nor the hole in which it
might be put, he thought that he was unworthy of such favor,--that he
would find death in another way, and surely from wild beasts. He was
unarmed, and had determined to die as became a confessor of the "Lamb,"
peacefully and patiently. Meanwhile he wished to pray once more to the
Saviour; so he knelt on the arena, joined his hands, and raised his eyes
toward the stars which were glittering in the lofty opening of the
That act displeased the crowds. They had had enough of those Christians
who died like sheep. They understood that if the giant would not defend
himself the spectacle would be a failure. Here and there hisses were
heard. Some began to cry for scourgers, whose office it was to lash
combatants unwilling to fight. But soon all had grown silent, for no
one knew what was waiting for the giant, nor whether he would not be
rcady to struggle when he met death eye to eye.
In fact, they had not long to wait. Suddenly the shrill sound of brazen
trumpets was heard, and at that signal a grating opposite Cæsar's podium
was opened, and into the arena rushed, amid shouts of beast-keepers, an
enormous German aurochs, bearing on his head the naked body of a woman.
"Lygia! Lygia!" cried Vinicius.
Then he seized his hair near the temples, squirmed like a man who feels
a sharp dart in his body, and began to repeat in hoarse accents,--
"I believe! I believe! O Christ, a miracle!"
And he did not even feel that Petronius covered his head that moment
with the toga. It seemed to him that death or pain had closed his eyes.
He did not look, he did not see. The feeling of some awful emptiness
possessed him. In his head there remained not a thought; his lips
merely repeated, as if in madness,--
"I believe! I believe! I believe!"
This time the amphitheatre was silent. The Augustians rose in their
places, as one man, for in the arena something uncommon had happened.
That Lygian, obedient and ready to die, when he saw his queen on the
horns of the wild beast, sprang up, as if touched by living fire, and
bending forward he ran at the raging animal.
From all breasts a sudden cry of amazement was heard, after which came
The Lygian fell on the raging bull in a twinkle, and seized him by the
"Look!" cried Petronius, snatching the toga from the head of Vinicius.
The latter rose and bent back his head; his face was as pale as linen,
and he looked into the arena with a glassy, vacant stare.
All breasts ceased to breathe. In the amphitheatre a fly might be heard
on the wing. People could not believe their own eyes. Since Rome was
Rome, no one had seen such a spectacle.
The Lygian held the wild beast by the horns. The man's feet sank in the
sand to his ankles, his back was bent like a drawn bow, his head was
hidden between his shoulders, on his arms the muscles came out so that
the skin almost burst from their pressure; but he had stopped the bull
in his tracks. And the man and the beast remained so still that the
spectators thought themselves looking at a picture showing a deed of
Hercules or Theseus, or a group hewn from stone. But in that apparent
repose there was a tremendous exertion of two struggling forces. The
bull sank his feet as well as did the man in the sand, and his dark,
shaggy body was curved so that it seemed a gigantic ball. Which of the
two would fail first, which would fall first,--that was the question for
those spectators enamoured of such struggles; a question which at that
moment meant more for them than their own fate, than all Rome and its
lordship over the world. That Lygian was in their eyes then a demigod
worthy of honor and statues. Cæsar himself stood up as well as others.
He and Tigellinus, hearing of the man's strength, had arranged this
spectacle purposely, and said to each other with a jeer, "Let that
slayer of Croton kill the bull which we choose for him"; so they looked
now with amazement at that picture, as if not believing that it could be
In the amphitheatre were men who had raised their arms and remained in
that posture. Sweat covered the faces of others, as if they themselves
were struggling with the beast. In the Circus nothing was heard save
the sound of flame in the lamps, and the crackle of bits of coal as they
dropped from the torches. Their voices died on the lips of the
spectators, but their hearts were beating in their breasts as if to
split them. It seemed to all that the struggle was lasting for ages.
But the man and the beast continued on in their monstrous exertion; one
might have said that they were planted in the earth.
Meanwhile a dull roar resembling a groan was heard from the arena, after
which a brief shout was wrested from every breast, and again there was
silence. People thought themselves dreaming till the enormous head of
the bull began to turn in the iron hands of the barbarian. The face,
neck, and arms of the Lygian grew purple; his back bent still more. It
was clear that he was rallying the remnant of his superhuman strength,
but that he could not last long.
Duller and duller, hoarser and hoarser, more and more painful grew the
groan of the bull as it mingled with the whistling breath from the
breast of the giant. The head of the beast turned more and more, and
from his jaws crept forth a long, foaming tongue.
A moment more, and to the ears of spectators sitting nearer came as it
were the crack of breaking bones; then the beast rolled on the earth
with his neck twisted in death.
The giant removed in a twinkle the ropes from the horns of the bull and,
raising the maiden, began to breathe hurriedly. His face became pale,
his hair stuck together from sweat, his shoulders and arms seemed
flooded with water. For a moment he stood as if only half conscious;
then he raised his eyes and looked at the spectators.
The amphitheatre had gone wild.
The walls of the building were trembling from the roar of tens of
thousands of people. Since the beginning of spectacles there was no
memory of such excitement. Those who were sitting on the highest rows
came down, crowding in the passages between benches to look more nearly
at the strong man. Everywhere were heard cries for mercy, passionate
and persistent, which soon turned into one unbroken thunder. That giant
had become dear to those people enamoured of physical strength; he was
the first personage in Rome.
He understood that the multitude were striving to grant him his life and
restore him his freedom, but clearly his thought was not on himself
alone. He looked around a while; then approached Cæsar's podium, and,
holding the body of the maiden on his outstretched arms, raised his eyes
with entreaty, as if to say,--
"Have mercy on her! Save the maiden. I did that for her sake!"
The spectators understood perfectly what he wanted. At sight of the
unconscious maiden, who near the enormous Lygian seemed a child, emotion
seized the multitude of knights and senators. Her slender form, as
white as if chiselled from alabaster, her fainting, the dreadful danger
from which the giant had freed her, and finally her beauty and
attachment had moved every heart. Some thought the man a father begging
mercy for his child. Pity burst forth suddenly, like a flame. They had
had blood, death, and torture in sufficiency. Voices choked with tears
began to entreat mercy for both.
Meanwhile Ursus, holding the girl in his arms, moved around the arena,
and with his eyes and with motions begged her life for her. Now Vinicius
started up from his seat, sprang over the barrier which separated the
front places from the arena, and, running to Lygia, covered her naked
body with his toga.
Then he tore apart the tunic on his breast, laid bare the scars left by
wounds received in the Armenian war, and stretched out his hands to the
At this the enthusiasm of the multitude passed everything seen in a
circus before. The crowd stamped and howled. Voices calling for mercy
grew simply terrible. People not only took the part of the athlete, but
rose in defense of the soldier, the maiden, their love. Thousands of
spectators turned to Cæsar with flashes of anger in their eyes and with
But Cæsar halted and hesitated. Against Vinicius he had no hatred
indeed, and the death of Lygia did not concern him; but he preferred to
see the body of the maiden rent by the horns of the bull or torn by the
claws of beasts. His cruelty, his deformed imagination, and deformed
desires found a kind of delight in such spectacles. And now the people
wanted to rob him. Hence anger appeared on his bloated face. Self-love
also would not let him yield to the wish of the multitude, and still he
did not dare to oppose it, through his inborn cowardice.
So he gazed around to see if among the Augustians at least, he could not
find fingers turned down in sign of death. But Petronius held up his
hand, and looked into Nero's face almost challengingly. Vestinius,
superstitious but inclined to enthusiasm, a man who feared ghosts but
not the living, gave a sign for mercy also. So did Scevinus, the
Senator; so did Nerva, so did Tullius Senecio, so did the famous leader
Ostorius Scapula, and Antistius, and Piso, and Vetus, and Crispinus, and
Minucius Thermus, and Pontius Telesinus, and the most important of all,
one honored by the people, Thrasea.
In view of this, Cæsar took the emerald from his eye with an expression
of contempt and offence; when Tigellinus, whose desire was to spite
Petronius, turned to him and said,--
"Yield not, divinity; we have the pretorians."
Then Nero turned to the place where command over the pretorians was held
by the stern Subrius Flavius, hitherto devoted with whole soul to him,
and saw something unusual. The face of the old tribune was stern, but
covered with tears, and he was holding his hand up in sign of mercy.
Now rage began to possess the multitude. Dust rose from beneath the
stamping feet, and filled the amphitheatre. In the midst of shouts were
heard cries: "Ahenobarbus! matricide! incendiary!"
Nero was alarmed. Romans were absolute lords in the Circus. Former
Cæsars, and especially Caligula, had permitted themselves sometimes to
act against the will of the people; this, however, called forth
disturbance always, going sometimes to bloodshed. But Nero was in a
different position. First, as a comedian and a singer he needed the
people's favor; second, he wanted it on his side against the Senate and
the patricians, and especially after the burning of Rome he strove by
all means to win it, and turn their anger against the Christians. He
understood, besides, that to oppose longer was simply dangerous. A
disturbance begun in the Circus might seize the whole city, and have
He looked once more at Subrius Flavius, at Scevinus the centurion, a
relative of the senator, at the soldiers; and seeing everywhere frowning
brows, excited faces, and eyes fixed on him, he gave the sign for mercy.
Then a thunder of applause was heard from the highest seats to the
lowest. The people were sure of the lives of the condemned, for from
that moment they went under their protection, and even Cæsar would not
have dared to pursue them any longer with his vengeance.
FOUR Bithynians carried Lygia carefully to the house of Petronius.
Vinicius and Ursus walked at her side, hurrying so as to give her into
the hands of the Greek physician as quickly as possible. They walked in
silence, for after the events of the day they had not power to speak.
Vinicius so far was as if half conscious. He kept repeating to himself
that Lygia was saved; that she was threatened no longer by imprisonment,
or death in the Circus; that their misfortunes had ended once and
forever; that he would take her home and not separate again from her.
This appeared to him the beginning of some other life rather than
reality. From moment to moment he bent over the open litter to look on
the beloved face, which in the moonlight seemed sleeping, and he
repeated mentally, "This is she! Christ has saved her!" He remembered
also that while he and Ursus were carrying her from the spoliarium an
unknown physician had assured him that she was living and would recover.
At this thought delight so filled his breast that at moments he grew
weak, and being unable to walk with his own strength leaned on the arm
of Ursus. Ursus meanwhile was looking into the sky filled with stars,
and was praying.
They advanced hurriedly along streets where newly erected white
buildings shone brightly in the moonlight. The city was empty, save
here and there where crowds of people crowned with ivy, sang and danced
before porticos to the sound of flutes, thus taking advantage of the
wonderful night and the festive season, unbroken from the beginning of
the games. Only when they were near the house did Ursus stop praying,
and say in a low voice, as if he feared to waken Lygia,--
"Lord, it was the Saviour who rescued her from death. When I saw her on
the horns of the aurochs, I heard a voice in my soul saying, 'Defend
her!' and that was the voice of the Lamb. The prison took strength from
me, but He gave it back in that moment, and inspired that cruel people
to take her part. Let His will be done!"
And Vinicius answered,--
"Magnified be His name!"
He had not power to continue, for all at once he felt that a mighty
weeping was swelling his breast. He was seized by an overpowering wish
to throw himself on the earth and thank the Saviour for His miracles and
Meanwhile they had come to the house; the servants, informed by a slave
despatched in advance, crowded out to meet them. Paul of Tarsus had
sent back from Antium the greater part of those people. The misfortune
of Vincius was known to them perfectly; therefore their delight at
seeing those victims which had been snatched from the malice of Nero was
immense, and increased still more when the physician Theocles declared
that Lygia had not suffered serious injury, and that when the weakness
caused by prison fever had passed, she would regain health.
Consciousness returned to her that night. Waking in the splendid
chamber lighted by Corinthian lamps, amidst the odor of verbena and
nard, she knew not where she was, or what was taking place with her.
She remembered the moment in which she had been lashed to the horns of
the chained bull; and now, seeing above her the face of Vinicius,
lighted by the mild rays of the lamp, she supposed herself no longer on
earth. The thoughts were confused in her weakened head; it seemed to
her natural to be detained somewhere on the way to heaven, because of
her tortures and weakness. Feeling no pain, however, she smiled at
Vinicius, and wanted to ask where they were; but from her lips came
merely a low whisper in which he could barely detect his own name.
Then he knelt near her, and, placing his hand on her forehead lightly,
"Christ saved thee, and returned thee to me!"
Her lips moved again with a meaningless whisper; her lids closed after a
moment, her breast rose with a light sigh, and she fell into a deep
sleep, for which the physician had been waiting, and after which she
would return to health, he said.
Vinicius remained kneeling near her, however, sunk in prayer. His soul
was melting with a love so immense that he forgot himself utterly.
Theocles returned often to the chamber, and the golden-haired Eunice
appeared behind the raised curtain a number of times; finally cranes,
reared in the gardens, began to call, heralding the coming day, but
Vinicius was still embracing in his mind the feet of Christ, neither
seeing nor hearing what was passing around him, with a heart turned into
a thanksgiving, sacrificial flame, sunk in ecstasy, and though alive,
half seized into heaven.
PETRONIUS, after the liberation of Lygia, not wishing to irritate Cæsar,
went to the Palatine with other Augustians. He wanted to hear what they
were saying, and especially to learn if Tigellinus was devising
something new to destroy Lygia. Both she and Ursus had passed under the
protection of the people, it is true, and no one could place a hand on
them without raising a riot; still Petronius, knowing the hatred toward
him of the all-powerful pretorian prefect, considered that very likely
Tigellinus, while unable to strike him directly, would strive to find
some means of revenge against his nephew.
Nero was angry and irritated, since the spectacle had ended quite
differently from what he had planned. At first he did not wish even to
look at Petronius; but the latter, without losing cool blood, approached
him, with all the freedom of the "arbiter elegantiarum," and said,--
"Dost thou know, divinity, what occurs to me? Write a poem on the
maiden who, at command of the lord of the world, was freed from the
horns of the wild bull and given to her lover. The Greeks are
sensitive, and I am sure that the poem will enchant them."
This thought pleased Nero in spite of all his irritation, and it pleased
him doubly, first, as a subject for a poem, and second, because in it he
could glorify himself as the magnanimous lord of the earth; hence he
looked for a time at Petronius, and then said,--
"Yes! perhaps thou art right. But does it become me to celebrate my own
"There is no need to give names. In Rome all will know who is meant,
and from Rome reports go through the whole world."
"But art thou sure that this will please the people in Achæa?"
"By Poilux, it will!" said Petronius.
And he went away satisfied, for he felt certain that Nero, whose whole
life was an arrangement of reality to literary plans, would not spoil
the subject, and by this alone he would tie the hands of Tigellinus.
This, however, did not change his plan of sending Vinicius out of Rome
as soon as Lygia's health should permit. So when he saw him next day,
"Take her to Sicily. As things have happened, on Cæsar's part thou art
threatened by nothing; but Tigellinus is ready to use even poison,--if
not out of hatred to you both, out of hatred to me."
Vinicius smiled at him, and said: "She was on the horns of the wild
bull; still Christ saved her."
"Then honor Him with a hecatomb," replied Paetronius, with an accent of
impatience, "but do not beg Him to save her a second time. Dost
remember how Eolus received Ulysses when he returned to ask a second
time for favoring winds? Deities do not like to repeat themselves."
"When her health returns, I will take her to Pomponia Græcina," said
"And thou wilt do that all the better since Pomponia is ill; Antistius,
a relative of Aulus, told me so. Meanwhile things will happen here to
make people forget thee, and in these times the forgotten are the
happiest. May Fortune be thy sun in winter, and thy shade in summer."
Then he left Vinicius to his happiness, but went himself to inquire of
Theocles touching the life and health of Lygia.
Danger threatened her no longer. Emaciated as she was in the dungeon
after prison fever, foul air and discomfort would have killed her; but
now she had the most tender care, and not only plenty, but luxury. At
command of Theocles they took her to the gardens of the villa after two
days; in these gardens she remained for hours. Vinicius decked her
litter with anemones, and especially with irises, to remind her of the
atrium of the house of Aulus. More than once, hidden in the shade of
spreading trees, they spoke of past sufferings and fears, each holding
the other's hand. Lygia said that Christ had conducted him through
suffering purposely to change his soul and raise it to Himself.
Vinicius felt that this was true, and that there was in him nothing of
the former patrician, who knew no law but his own desire. In those
memories there was nothing bitter, however. It seemed to both that
whole years had gone over their heads, and that the dreadful past lay
far behind. At the same time such a calmness possessed them as they had
never known before. A new life of immense happiness had come and taken
them into itself. In Rome Cæsar might rage and fill the world with
terror--they felt above them a guardianship a hundred times mightier
than his power, and had no further fear of his rage or his malice, just
as if for them he had ceased to be the lord of life or death. Once,
about sunset, the roar of lions and other beasts reached them from
distant vivaria. Formerly those sounds filled Vinicius with fear
because they were ominous; now he and Lygia merely looked at each other
and raised their eyes to the evening twilight. At times Lygia, still
very weak and unable to walk alone, fell asleep in the quiet of the
garden; he watched over her, and, looking at her sleeping face, thought
involuntarily that she was not that Lygia whom he had met at the house
of Aulus. In fact, imprisonment and disease had to some extent quenched
her beauty. When he saw her at the house of Aulus, and later, when he
went to Miriam's house to seize her, she was as wonderful as a statue
and also as a flower; now her face had become almost transparent, her
hands thin, her body reduced by disease, her lips pale, and even her
eyes seemed less blue than formerly. The golden-haired Eunice who
brought her flowers and rich stuffs to cover her feet was a divinity of
Cyprus in comparison. Petronius tried in vain to find the former charms
in her, and, shrugging his shoulders, thought that that shadow from
Elysian fields was not worth those struggles, those pains, and those
tortures which had almost sucked the life out of Vinicius. But
Vinicius, in love now with her spirit, loved it all the more; and when
he was watching over her while asleep, it seemed to him that he was
watching over the whole world.
NEWS of the miraculous rescue of Lygia was circulated quickly among
those scattered Christians who had escaped destruction. Confessors came
to look at her to whom Christ's favor had been shown clearly. First
came Nazarius and Miriam, with whom Peter the Apostle was hiding thus
far; after them came others. All, as well as Vinicius, Lygia, and the
Christian slaves of Petronius, listened with attention to the narrative
of Ursus about the voice which he had heard in his soul, and which
commanded him to struggle with the wild bull. All went away consoled,
hoping that Christ would not let His followers be exterminated on earth
before His coming at the day of judgment. And hope sustained their
hearts, for persecution had not ceased yet. Whoever was declared a
Christian by public report was thrown into prison at once by the city
watches. It is true that the victims were fewer, for the majority of
confessors had been seized and tortured to death. The Christians who
remained had either left Rome to wait out the storm in distant
provinces, or had hidden most carefully, not daring to assemble in
common prayer, unless in sand-pits outside the city. They were
persecuted yet, however, and though the games were at an end, the newly
arrested were reserved for future games or punished specially. Though
it was believed in Rome no longer that Christians had caused the
conflagration, they were declared enemies of humanity and the State, and
the edict against them remained in former force.
The Apostle Peter did not venture for a long time to appear in the house
of Petronius, but at last on a certain evening Nazarius announced his
arrival. Lygia, who was able to walk alone now, and Vinicius ran out to
meet him, and fell to embracing his feet. He greeted them with emotion
all the greater that not many sheep in that flock over which Christ had
given him authority, and over the fate of which his great heart was
weeping, remained to him. So when Vinicius said, "Lord, because of thee
the Redeemer returned her to me," he answered: "He returned her because
of thy faith, and so that not all the lips which profess His name should
grow silent." And evidently he was thinking then of those thousands of
his children torn by wild beasts, of those crosses with which the arena
had been filled, and those fiery pillars in the gardens of the "Beast";
for he spoke with great sadness. Vinicius and Lygia noticed also that
his hair had grown entirely white, that his whole form was bent, and
that in his face there was as much sadness and suffering as if he had
passed through all those pains and torments which the victims of Nero's
rage and madness had endured. But both understood that since Christ had
given Himself to torture and to death, no one was permitted to avoid it.
Still their hearts were cut at sight of the Apostle, bent by years,
toil, and pain. So Vinicius, who intended to take Lygia soon to Naples,
where they would meet Pomponia and go to Sicily, implored him to leave
Rome in their company.
But the Apostle placed his hand on the tribune's head and answered,--
"In my soul I hear these words of the Lord, which He spoke to me on the
Lake of Tiberias: 'When thou wert young, thou didst gird thyself, and
walk whither thou wouldst; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt
stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee
whither thou wouldst not.' Therefore it is proper that I follow my
And when they were silent, not knowing the sense of his speech, he
"My toil is nearing its end; I shall find entertainment and rest only in
the house of the Lord."
Then he turned to them saying: "Remember me, for I have loved you as a
father loves his children; and whatever ye do in life, do it for the
glory of God."
Thus speaking, he raised his aged, trembling hands and blessed them;
they nestled up to him, feeling that to be the last blessing, perhaps,
which they should receive from him.
It was destined them, however, to see him once more. A few days later
Petronius brought terrible news from the Palatine. It had been
discovered there that one of Cæsar's freedmen was a Christian; and on
this man were found letters of the Apostles Peter and Paul, with letters
of James, John, and Judas. Peter's presence in Rome was known formerly
to Tigellinus, but he thought that the Apostle had perished with
thousands of other confessors. Now it transpired that the two leaders
of the new faith were alive and in the capital. It was determined,
therefore, to seize them at all costs, for it was hoped that with their
death the last root of the hated sect would be plucked out. Petronius
heard from Vestinius that Cæsar himself had issued an order to put Peter
and Paul in the Mamertine prison within three days, and that whole
detachments of pretorians had been sent to search every house in the
When he heard this, Vinicius resolved to warn the Apostle. In the
evening he and Ursus put on Gallic mantles and went to the house of
Miriam, where Peter was living. The house was at the very edge of the
Trans-Tiber division of the city, at the foot of the Janiculum. On the
road they saw houses surrounded by soldiers, who were guided by certain
unknown persons. This division of the city was alarmed, and in places
crowds of curious people had assembled. Here and there centurions
interrogated prisoners touching Simon Peter and Paul of Tarsus.
Ursus and Vinicius were in advance of the soldiers, and went safely to
Miriam's house, in which they found Peter surrounded by a handful of the
faithful. Timothy, Paul's assistant, and Linus were at the side of the
At news of the approaching danger, Nazarius led all by a hidden passage
to the garden gate, and then to deserted stone quarries, a few hundred
yards distant from the Janiculum Gate. Ursus had to carry Linus, whose
bones, broken by torture, had not grown together yet. But once in the
quarry, they felt safe; and by the light of a torch ignited by Nazarius
they began to consult, in a low voice, how to save the life of the
Apostle who was so dear to them.
"Lord," said Vinicius, "let Nazarius guide thee at daybreak to the Alban
Hills. There I will find thee, and we will take thee to Antium, where a
ship is ready to take us to Naples and Sicily. Blessed will the day and
the hour be in which thou shalt enter my house, and thou wilt bless my
The others heard this with delight, and pressed the Apostle, saying,-
"Hide thyself, sacred leader; remain not in Rome. Preserve the living
truth, so that it perish not with us and thee. Hear us, who entreat
thee as a father."
"Do this in Christ's name!" cried others, grasping at his robes.
"My children," answered Peter, "who knows the time when the Lord will
mark the end of his life?"
But he did not say that he would not leave Rome, and he hesitated what
to do; for uncertainty, and even fear, had been creeping into his soul
for some time. His flock was scattered; the work was wrecked; that
church, which before the burning of the city had been flourishing like a
splendid tree, was turned into dust by the power of the "Beast."
Nothing remained save tears, nothing save memories of torture and death.
The sowing had yielded rich fruit, but Satan had trampled it into the
earth. Legions of angels had not come to aid the perishing,--and Nero
was extending in glory over the earth, terrible, mightier than ever, the
lord of all seas and all lands. More than once had that fisherman of
the Lord stretched his hands heavenward in loneliness and asked: "Lord,
what must I do? How must I act? And how am I, a feeble old man, to
fight with this invincible power of Evil, which Thou hart permitted to
rule, and have victory?"
And he called out thus in the depth of his immense pain, repeating in
spirit: "Those sheep which Thou didst command me to feed are no more,
Thy church is no more; loneliness and mourning are in Thy capital; what
dost Thou command me to do now? Am I to stay here, or lead forth the
remnant of the flock to glorify Thy name in secret somewhere beyond the
And he hesitated, He believed that the living truth would not perish,
that it must conquer; but at moments he thought that the hour had not
come yet, that it would come only when the Lord should descend to the
earth in the day of judgment in glory and power a hundred times greater
than the might of Nero.
Frequently it seemed to him that if he left Rome, the faithful would
follow; that he would lead them then far away to the shady groves of
Galilee, to the quiet surface of the Lake of Tiberias, to shepherds as
peaceful as doves, or as sheep, who feed there among thyme and
pepperwort. And an increasing desire for peace and rest, an increasing
yearning for the lake and Galilee, seized the heart of the fisherman;
tears came more frequently to the old man's eyes.
But at the moment when he made the choice, sudden alarm and fear came on
him. How was he to leave that city, in which so much martyrs' blood had
sunk into the earth, and where so many lips had given the true testimony
of the dying? Was he alone to yield? And what would he answer the Lord
on hearing the words, "These have died for the faith, but thou didst
Nights and days passed for him in anxiety and suffering. Others, who
had been torn by lions, who had been fastened to crosses, who had been
burnt in the gardens of Cæsar, had fallen asleep in the Lord after
moments of torture; but he could not sleep, and he felt greater tortures
than any of those invented by executioners for victims. Often was the
dawn whitening the roofs of houses while he was still crying from the
depth of his mourning heart: "Lord, why didst Thou command me to come
hither and found Thy capital in the den of the 'Beast'?"
For thirty-three years after the death of his Master he knew no rest.
Staff in hand, he had gone through the world and declared the "good
tidings." His strength had been exhausted in journeys and toil, till at
last, when in that city, which was the head of the world, he had
established the work of his Master, one bloody breath of wrath had
burned it, and he saw that there was need to take up the struggle anew.
And what a struggle! On one side Caecsar, the Senate, the people, the
legions holding the world with a circle of iron, countless cities,
countless lands,--power such as the eye of man had not seen; on the
other side he, so bent with age and toil that his trembling hand was
hardly able to carry his staff.
At times, therefore, he said to himself that it was not for him to
measure with the Cæsar of Rome,--that Christ alone could do that.
All these thoughts were passing through his care-filled head, when he
heard the prayers of the last handful of the faithful. They,
surrounding him in an ever narrowing circle, repeated with voices of
"Hide thyself, Rabbi, and lead us away from the power of the 'Beast.'"
Finally Linus also bowed his tortured head before him.
"O lord," said he, "the Redeemer commanded thee to feed His sheep, but
they are here no longer or to-morrow they will not be here; go,
therefore, where thou mayst find them yet. The word of God is living
still in Jerusalem, in Antioch, in Ephesus, and in other cities. What
wilt thou do by remaining in Rome? If thou fall, thou wilt merely swell
the triumph of the 'Beast.' The Lord has not designated the limit of
John's life; Paul is a Roman citizen, they cannot condemn him without
trial; but if the power of hell rise up against thee, O teacher, those
whose hearts are dejected will ask, 'Who is above Nero?' Thou art the
rock on which the church of God is founded. Let us die, but permit not
the victory of Antichrist over the vicegerent of God, and return not
hither till the Lord has crushed him who shed innocent blood."
"Look at our tears!" repeated all who were present.
Tears flowed over Peter's face too. After a while he rose, and,
stretching his hands over the kneeling figures, said,--
"May the name of the Lord be magnified, and may His will be done!"
About dawn of the following day two dark figures were moving along the
Appian Way toward the Campania.
One of them was Nazarius; the other the Apostle Peter, who was leaving
Rome and his martyred co-religionists.
The sky in the east was assuming a light tinge of green, bordered
gradually and more distinctly on the lower edge with saffron color.
Silver-leafed trees, the white marble of villas, and the arches of
aqueducts, stretching through the plain toward the city, were emerging
from shade. The greenness of the sky was clearing gradually, and
becoming permeated with gold. Then the east began to grow rosy and
illuminate the Alban Hills, which seemed marvellously beautiful, lily-
colored, as if formed of rays of light alone.
The light was reflected in trembling leaves of trees, in the dew-drops.
The haze grew thinner, opening wider and wider views on the plain, on
the houses dotting it, on the cemeteries, on the towns, and on groups of
trees, among which stood white columns of temples.
The road was empty. The villagers who took vegtables to the city had
not succeeded yet, evidently, in harnessing beasts to their vehicles.
From the stone blocks with which the road was paved as far as the
mountains, there came a low sound from the bark shoes on the feet of the
Then the sun appeared over the line of hills; but at once a wonderful
vision struck the Apostle's eyes. It seemed to him that the golden
circle, instead of rising in the sky, moved down from the heights and
was advancing on the road. Peter stopped, and asked,--
"Seest thou that brightness approaching us?"
"I see nothing," replied Nazarius.
But Peter shaded his eyes with his hand, and said after a while,
"Some figure is coming in the gleam of the sun." But not the slightest
sound of steps reached their ears. It was perfectly still all around.
Nazarius saw only that the trees were quivering in the distance, as if
some one were shaking them, and the light was spreading more broadly
over the plain. He looked with wonder at the Apostle.
"Rabbi! what ails thee?" cried he, with alarm.
The pilgrim's staff fell from Peter's hands to the earth; his eyes were
looking forward, motionless; his mouth was open; on his face were
depicted astonishment, delight, rapture.
Then he threw himself on his knees, his arms stretched forward; and this
cry left his lips,--
"O Christ! O Christ!"
He fell with his face to the earth, as if kissing some one's feet.
The silence continued long; then were heard the words of the aged man,
broken by sobs,--
"Quo vadis, Domine?"
Nazarius did not hear the answer; but to Peter's ears came a sad and
sweet voice, which said,--
"If thou desert my people, I am going to Rome to be crucified a second
The Apostle lay on the ground, his face in the dust, without motion or
speech. It seemed to Nazarius that he had fainted or was dead; but he
rose at last, seized the staff with trembling hands, and turned without
a word toward the seven hills of the city.
The boy, seeing this, repeated as an echo,--
"Quo vadis, Domine?"
"To Rome," said the Apostle, in a low voice.
And he returned.
Paul, John, Linus, and all the faithful received him with amazement; and
the alarm was the greater, since at daybreak, just after his departure,
pretorians had surrounded Miriam's house and searched it for the
Apostle. But to every question he answered only with delight and
"I have seen the Lord!"
And that same evening he went to the Ostian cemetery to teach and
baptize those who wished to bathe in the water of life.
And thenceforward he went there daily, and after him went increasing
numbers. It seemed that out of every tear of a martyr new confessors
were born, and that every groan on the arena found an echo in thousands
of breasts. Cæsar was swimming in blood, Rome and the whole pagan world
was mad. But those who had had enough of transgression and madness,
those who were trampled upon, those whose lives were misery and
oppression, all the weighed down, all the sad, all the unfortunate, came
to hear the wonderful tidings of God, who out of love for men had given
Himself to be crucified and redeem their sins.
When they found a God whom they could love, they had found that which
the society of the time could not give any one,--happiness and love.
And Peter understood that neither Cæsar nor all his legions could
overcome the living truth,--that they could not overwhelm it with tears
or blood, and that now its victory was beginning. He understood with
equal force why the Lord had turned him back on the road. That city of
pride, crime, wickedness, and power was beginning to be His city, and
the double capital, from which would flow out upon the world government
of souls and bodies.
AT last the hour was accomplished for both Apostles. But, as if to
complete his service, it was given to the fisherman of the Lord to win
two souls even in confinement. The soldiers, Processus and Martinianus,
who guarded him in the Mamertine prison, received baptism. Then came
the hour of torture. Nero was not in Rome at that time. Sentence was
passed by Helius and Polythetes, two freedmen to whom Cæsar had confided
the government of Rome during his absence.
On the aged Apostle had been inflicted the stripes prescribed by law;
and next day he was led forth beyond the walls of the city, toward the
Vatican Hill, where he was to suffer the punishment of the cross
assigned to him. Soldiers were astonished by the crowd which had
gathered before the prison, for in their minds the death of a common
man, and besides a foreigner, should not rouse such interest; they did
not understand that that retinue was composed not of sightseers, but
confessors, anxious to escort the great Apostle to the place of
execution. In the afternoon the gates of the prison were thrown open at
last, and Peter appeared in the midst of a detachment of pretorians.
The sun had inclined somewhat toward Ostia already; the day was clear
and calm. Because of his advanced age, Peter was not required to carry
the cross; it was supposed that he could not carry it; they had not put
the fork on his neck, either, so as not to retard his pace. He walked
without hindrance, and the faithful could see him perfectly.
At moments when his white head showed itself among the iron helmets of
the soldiers, weeping was heard in the crowd; but it was restrained
immediately, for the face of the old man had in it so much calmness, and
was so bright with joy, that all understood him to be not a victim going
to destruction, but a victor celebrating his triumph.
And thus it was really. The fisherman, usually humble and stooping,
walked now erect, taller than the soldiers, full of dignity. Never had
men seen such majesty in his bearing. It might have seemed that he was
a monarch attended by people and military. From every side voices were
"There is Peter going to the Lord!"
All forgot, as it were, that torture and death were waiting for him. He
walked with solemn attention, but with calmness, feeling that since the
death on Golgotha nothing equally important had happened, and that as
the first death had redeemed the whole world, this was to redeem the
Along the road people halted from wonder at sight of that old man; but
believers, laying hands on their shoulders, said with calm voices,--
"See how a just man goes to death,--one who knew Christ and proclaimed
love to the world,"
These became thoughtful, and walked away, saying to themselves, "He
cannot, indeed, be unjust!"
Along the road noise was hushed, and the cries of the street. The
retinue moved on before houses newly reared, before white columns of
temples, over whose summits hung the deep sky, calm and blue. They went
in quiet; only at times the weapons of the soldiers clattered, or the
murmur of prayer rose. Peter heard the last, and his face grew bright
with increasing joy, for his glance could hardly take in those thousands
of confessors. He felt that he had done his work, and he knew now that
that truth which he had been declaring all his life would overwhelm
everything, like a sea, and that nothing would have power to restrain
it. And thus thinking, he raised his eyes, and said: "O Lord, Thou
didst command me to conquer this world-ruling city; hence I have
conquered it. Thou hast commanded me to found here Thy capital; hence I
have founded it. This is Thy city now, O Lord, and I go to Thee, for I
have toiled greatly."
As he passed before temples, he said to them, "Ye will be temples of
Christ." Looking at throngs of people moving before his eyes, he said
to them, "Your children will be servants of Christ"; and he advanced
with the feeling that he had conquered, conscious of his service,
conscious of his strength, solaced,--great. The soldiers conducted him
over the Pons Triumphalis, as if giving involuntary testimony to his
triumph, and they led him farther toward the Naumachia and the Circus.
The faithful from beyond the Tiber joined the procession; and such a
throng of people was formed that the centurion commanding the pretonians
understood at last that he was leading a high-priest surrounded by
believers, and grew alarmed because of the small number of soldiers.
But no cry of indignation or rage was given out in the throng. Men's
faces were penetrated with the greatness of the moment, solemn and full
of expectation. Some believers, remembering that when the Lord died the
earth opened from fright and the dead rose from their graves, thought
that now some evident signs would appear, after which the death of the
Apostle would not be forgotten for ages. Others said to themselves,
"Perhaps the Lord will select the hour of Peter's death to come from
heaven as He promised, and judge the world." With this idea they
recommended themselves to the mercy of the Redeemer.
But round about there was calm. The hills seemed to be warming
themselves, and resting in the sun. The procession stopped at last
between the Circus and the Vatican Hill. Soldiers began now to dig a
hole; others placed on the ground the cross, hammers, and nails, waiting
till all preparations were finished. The crowd, continuing quiet and
attentive, knelt round about.
The Apostle, with his head in the sun-rays and golden light, turned for
the last time toward the city. At a distance lower down was seen the
gleaming Tiber; beyond was the Campus Martius; higher up, the Mausoleum
of Augustus; below that, the gigantic baths just begun by Nero; still
lower, Pompey's theatre; and beyond them were visible in places, and in
places hidden by other buildings, the Septa Julia, a multitude of
porticos, temples, columns, great edifices; and, finally, far in the
distance, hills covered with houses, a gigantic resort of people, the
borders of which vanished in the blue haze,--an abode of crime, but of
power; of madness, but of order,--which had become the head of the
world, its oppressor, but its law and its peace, almighty, invincible,
But Peter, surrounded by soldiers, looked at the city as a ruler and
king looks at his inheritance. And he said to it, "Thou art redeemed
and mine!" And no one, not merely among the soldiers digging the hole
in which to plant the cross, but even among believers, could divine that
standing there among them was the true ruler of that moving life; that
Cæsars would pass away, waves of barbarians go by, and ages vanish, but
that old man would be lord there unbrokenly.
The sun had sunk still more toward Ostia, and had become large and red.
The whole western side of the sky had begun to glow with immense
brightness. The soldiers approached Peter to strip him.
But he, while praying, straightened himself all at once, and stretched
his right hand high. The executioners stopped, as if made timid by his
posture; the faithful held the breath in their breasts, thinking that he
wished to say something, and silence unbroken followed.
But he, standing on the height, with his extended right hand made the
sign of the cross, blessing in the hour of death,--
Urbi et orbi! (the city and the world).
In that same wonderful evening another detachment of soldiers conducted
along the Ostian Way Paul of Tarsus toward a place called Aquæ Salviæ.
And behind him also advanced a crowd of the faithful whom he had
converted; but when he recognized near acquaintances, he halted and
conversed with them, for, being a Roman citizen, the guard showed more
respect to him. Beyond the gate called Tergemina he met Plautilla, the
daughter of the prefect Flavius Sabinus, and, seeing her youthful face
covered with tears, he said: "Plautilla, daughter of Eternal Salvation,
depart in peace. Only give me a veil with which to bind my eyes when I
am going to the Lord." And taking it, he advanced with a face as full
of delight as that of a laborer who when he has toiled the whole day
successfully is returning home. His thoughts, like those of Peter, were
as calm and quiet as that evening sky. His eyes gazed with
thoughtfulness upon the plain which stretched out before him, and to the
Alban Hills, immersed in light. He remembered his journeys, his toils,
his labor, the struggles in which he had conquered, the churches which
he had founded in all lands and beyond all seas; and he thought that he
had earned his rest honestly, that he had finished his work. He felt
now that the seed which he had planted would not be blown away by the
wind of malice. He was leaving this life with the certainty that in the
battle which his truth had declared against the world it would conquer;
and a mighty peace settled down on his soul.
The road to the place of execution was long, and evening was coming.
The mountains became purple, and the bases of them went gradually into
the shade. Flocks were returning home. Here and there groups of slaves
were walking with the tools of labor on their shoulders. Children,
playing on the road before houses, looked with curiosity at the passing
soldiers. But in that evening, in that transparent golden air, there
were not only peace and lovingness, but a certain harmony, which seemed
to lift from earth to heaven. Paul felt this; and his heart was filled
with delight at the thought that to that harmony of the world he had
added one note which had not been in it hitherto, but without which the
whole earth was like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
He remembered how he had taught people love,--how he had told them that
though they were to give their property to the poor, though they knew
all languages, all secrets, and all sciences, they would be nothing
without love, which is kind, enduring, which does not return evil, which
does not desire honor, suffers all things, believes all things, hopes
all things, is patient of all things.
And so his life had passed in teaching people this truth. And now he
said in spirit: What power can equal it, what can conquer it? Could
Cæsar stop it, though he had twice as many legions and twice as many
cities, seas, lands, and nations?
And he went to his reward like a conqueror.
The detachment left the main road at last, and turned toward the east on
a narrow path leading to the Aquæ Salviæ. The red sun was lying now on
the heather. The centurion stopped the soldiers at the fountain, for
the moment had come.
Paul placed Plautilla's veil on his arm, intending to bind his eyes with
it; for the last time he raised those eyes, full of unspeakable peace,
toward the eternal light of the evening, and prayed. Yes, the moment
had come; but he saw before him a great road in the light, leading to
heaven; and in his soul he repeated the same words which formerly he had
written in the feeling of his own finished service and his near end,--
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the
faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness."
ROME had gone mad for a long time, so that the world-conquering city
seemed ready at last to tear itself to pieces for want of leadership.
Even before the last hour of the Apostles had struck, Piso's conspiracy
appeared; and then such merciless reaping of Rome's highest heads, that
even to those who saw divinity in Nero, he seemed at last a divinity of
death. Mourning fell on the city, terror took its lodgment in houses
and in hearts, but porticos were crowned with ivy and flowers, for it
was not permitted to show sorrow for the dead. People waking in the
morning asked themselves whose turn would come next. The retinue of
ghosts following Cæsar increased every day.
Piso paid for the conspiracy with his head; after him followed Seneca,
and Lucan, Fenius Rufus, and Plautius Lateranus, and Flavius Scevinus,
and Afranius Quinetianus, and the dissolute companion of Casar's
madnesses, Tullius Senecio, and Proculus, and Araricus, and Tugurinus,
and Gratus, and Silanus, and Proximus,--once devoted with his whole soul
to Nero,--and Sulpicius Asper. Some were destroyed by their own
insignificance, some by fear, some by wealth, others by bravery. Cæsar,
astonished at the very number of the conspirators, covered the walls
with soldiery and held the city as if by siege, sending out daily
centurions with sentences of death to suspected houses. The condemned
humiliated themselves in letters filled with flattery, thanking Cæsar
for his sentences, and leaving him a part of their property, so as to
save the rest for their children. It seemed, at last, that Nero was
exceeding every measure on purpose to convince himself of the degree in
which men had grown abject, and how long they would endure bloody rule.
After the conspirators, their relatives were executed; then their
friends, and even simple acquaintances. Dwellers in lordly mansions
built after the fire, when they went out on the street, felt sure of
seeing a whole row of funerals. Pompeius, Cornelius, Martialis, Flavius
Nepos, and Statius Domitius died because accused of lack of love for
Cæsar; Novius Priscus, as a friend of Seneca. Rufius Crispus was
deprived of the right of fire and water because on a time he had been
the husband of Poppæa. The great Thrasea was ruined by his virtue; many
paid with their lives for noble origin; even Poppæa fell a victim to the
momentary rage of Nero.
The Senate crouched before the dreadful ruler; it raised a temple in his
honor, made an offering in favor of his voice, crowned his statues,
appointed priests to him as to a divinity. Senators, trembling in their
souls, went to the Palatine to magnify the song of the "Periodonices,"
and go wild with him amid orgies of naked bodies, wine, and flowers.
But meanwhile from below, in the field soaked in blood and tears, rose
the sowing of Peter, stronger and stronger every moment.
VINICIUS to PETRONIUS:
"We know, carissime, most of what is happening in Rome, and what we do
not know is told us in thy letters. When one casts a stone in the
water, the wave goes farther and farther in a circle; so the wave of
madness and malice has come from the Palatine to us. On the road to
Greece, Carinas was sent hither by Cæsar, who plundered cities and
temples to fill the empty treasury. At the price of the sweat and tears
of people, he is building the 'golden house' in Rome. It is possible
that the world has not seen such a house, but it has not seen such
injustice. Thou knowest Carinas. Chilo was like him till he redeemed
his life with death. But to the towns lying nearer us his men have not
come yet, perhaps because there are no temples or treasures in them.
Thou askest if we are out of danger. I answer that we are out of mind,
and let that suffice for an answer. At this moment, from the portico
under which I write, I see our calm bay, and on it Ursus in a boat,
letting down a net in the clear water. My wife is spinning red wool
near me, and in the gardens, under the shade of almond-trees, our slaves
are singing. Oh, what calm carissime, and what a forgetfulness of former
fear and suffering! But it is not the Parcæ as thou writest, who spin
out our lives so agreeably; it is Christ who is blessing us, our beloved
God and Saviour. We know tears and sorrow, for our religion teaches us
to weep over the misfortunes of others; but in these tears is a
consolation unknown to thee; for whenever the time of our life is ended,
we shall find all those dear ones who perished and who are perishing yet
for God's truth. For us Peter and Paul are not dead; they are merely
born into glory. Our souls see them, and when our eyes weep our hearts
are glad with their joy. Oh, yes, my dear friend, we are happy with a
happiness which nothing can destroy, since death, which for thee is the
end of everything, is for us only a passage into superior rest.
"And so days and months pass here in calmness of heart. Our servants
and slaves believe, as we do, in Christ, and that He enjoins love; hence
we love one another. Frequently, when the sun has gone down, or when
the moon is shining in the water, Lygia and I talk of past times, which
seem a dream to us; but when I think how that dear head was near torture
and death, I magnify my Lord with my whole soul, for out of those hands
He alone could wrest her, save her from the arena, and return her to me
forever. O Petronius, thou hast seen what endurance and comfort that
religion gives in misfortune, how much patience and courage before
death; so come and see how much happiness it gives in ordinary, common
days of life. People thus far did not know a God whom man could love,
hence they did not love one another; and from that came their
misfortune, for as light comes from the sun, so does happiness come from
love. Neither lawgivers nor philosophers taught this truth, and it did
not exist in Greece or Rome; and when I say, not in Rome, that means the
whole world. The dry and cold teaching of the Stoics, to which virtuous
people rally, tempers the heart as a sword is tempered, but it makes it
indifferent rather than better. Though why do I write this to thee, who
hast learned more, and hast more understanding than I have? Thou wert
acquainted with Paul of Tarsus, and more than once didst converse long
with him; hence thou knowest better if in comparison with the truth
which he taught all the teachings of philosophers and rhetors are not a
vain and empty jingle of words without meaning. Thou rememberest the
question which he put thee: 'But if Cæsar were a Christian, would ye not
all feel safer, surer of possessing that which ye possess, free of
alarm, and sure of to-morrow?' Thou didst say to me that our teaching
was an enemy of life; and I answer thee now, that, if from the beginning
of this letter I had been repeating only the three words, 'I am happy!'
I could not have expressed my happiness to thee. To this thou wilt
answer, that my happiness is Lygia. True, my friend. Because I love her
immortal soul, and because we both love each other in Christ; for such
love there is no separation, no deceit, no change, no old age, no death.
For, when youth and beauty pass, when our bodies wither and death comes,
love will remain, for the spirit remains. Before my eyes were open to
the light I was ready to burn my own house even, for Lygia's sake; but
now I tell thee that I did not love her, for it was Christ who first
taught me to love. In Him is the source of peace and happiness. It is
not I who say this, but reality itself. Compare thy own luxury, my
friend, lined with alarm, thy delights, not sure of a morrow, thy
orgies, with the lives of Christians, and thou wilt find a ready answer.
But, to compare better, come to our mountains with the odor of thyme, to
our shady olive groves on our shores lined with ivy. A peace is waiting
for thee, such as thou hast not known for a long time, and hearts that
love thee sincerely. Thou, having a noble soul and a good one, shouldst
be happy. Thy quick mind can recognize the truth, and knowing it thou
wilt love it. To be its enemy, like Cæsar and Tigellinus, is possible,
but indifferent to it no one can be. O my Petronius, Lygia and I are
comforting ourselves with the hope of seeing thee soon. Be well, be
happy, and come to us."
Petronius received this letter in Cumæ, whither he had gone with other
Augustians who were following Cæsar. His struggle of long years with
Tigellinus was nearing its end. Petronius knew already that he must
fall in that struggle, and he understood why. As Cæsar fell lower daily
to the role of a comedian, a buffoon, and a charioteer; as he sank
deeper in a sickly, foul, and coarse dissipation,--the exquisite arbiter
became a mere burden to him. Even when Petronius was silent, Nero saw
blame in his silence; when the arbiter praised, he saw ridicule. The
brilliant patrician annoyed his self-love and roused his envy. His
wealth and splendid works of art had become an object of desire both to
the ruler and the all-powerful minister. Petronius was spared so far in
view of the journey to Achæa, in which his taste, his knowledge of
everything Greek, might be useful. But gradually Tigellinus explained
to Cæsar that Carinas surpassed him in taste and knowledge, and would be
better able to arrange in Achæa games, receptions, and triumphs. From
that moment Petronius was lost. There was not courage to send him his
sentence in Rome. Cæsar and Tigellinus remembered that that apparently
effeminate and æsthetic person, who made "day out of night," and was
occupied only in luxury, art, and feasts, had shown amazing industry and
energy, when proconsul in Bithynia and later when consul in the capital.
They considered him capable of anything, and it was known that in Rome
he possessed not only the love of the people, but even of the
pretorians. None of Cæsar's confidants could foresee how Petronius
might act in a given case; it seemed wiser, therefore, to entice him out
of the city, and reach him in a province.
With this object he received an invitation to go to Cumæ with other
Augustians. He went, though suspecting the ambush, perhaps so as not to
appear in open opposition, perhaps to show once more a joyful face
devoid of every care to Cæsar and the Augustians, and to gain a last
victory before death over Tigellinus.
Meanwhile the latter accused him of friendship with the Senator
Scevinus, who was the soul of Piso's conspiracy. The people of
Petronius, left in Rome, were imprisoned; his house was surrounded by
pretorian guards. When he learned this, he showed neither alarm nor
concern, and with a smile said to Augustians whom he received in his own
splendid villa in Cumæ,--
"Ahenobarbus does not like direct questions; hence ye will see his
confusion when I ask him if it was he who gave command to imprison my
'familia' in the capital."
Then he invited them to a feast "before the longer journey," and he had
just made preparations for it when the letter from Vinicius came.
When he received this letter, Petronius grew somewhat thoughtful, but
after a time his face regained its usual composure, and that same
evening he answered as follows:--
"I rejoice at your happiness and admire your hearts, for I had not
thought that two lovers could remember a third person who was far away.
Ye have not only not forgotten me, but ye wish to persuade me to go to
Sicily, so that ye may share with me your bread and your Christ, who, as
thou writtst, has given you happiness so bountifully.
"If that be true, honor Him. To my thinking, however, Ursus had
something to do with saving Lygia, and the Roman people also had a
little to do with it. But since thy belief is that Christ did the work,
I will not contradict. Spare no offerings to Him. Prometheus also
sacrificed himself for man; but, alas! Prometheus is an invention of
the poets apparently, while people worthy of credit have told me that
they saw Christ with their own eyes. I agree with thee that He is the
most worthy of the gods.
"I remember the question by Paul of Tarsus, and I think that if
Ahenobarbus lived according to Christ's teaching I might have time to
visit you in Sicily. In that case we could converse, in the shade of
trees and near fountains, of all the gods and all the truths discussed
by Greek philosophers at any time. To-day I must give thee a brief
"I care for two philosophers only: Pyrrho and Anacreon. I am ready to
sell the rest to thee cheaply, with all the Greek and Roman Stoics.
Truth, Vinicius, dwells somewhere so high that the gods themselves
cannot see it from the top of Olympus. To thee, carissime, thy Olympus
seems higher still, and, standing there, thou callest to me, 'Come, thou
wilt see such sights as thou hast not seen yet!' I might. But I
answer, 'I have not feet for the journey.' And if thou read this letter
to the end, thou wilt acknowledge, I think, that I am right.
"No, happy husband of the Aurora princess! thy religion is not for me.
Am I to love the Bithynians who carry my litter, the Egyptians who heat
my bath? Am I to love Ahenobarbus and Tigellinus? I swear by the white
knees of the Graces, that even if I wished to love them I could not. In
Rome there are a hundred thousand persons at least who have either
crooked shoulders, or big knees, or thin thighs, or staring eyes, or
heads that are too large. Dost thou command me to love these too?
Where am I to find the love, since it is not in my heart? And if thy
God desires me to love such persons, why in His all might did He not
give them the forms of Niobe's children, for example, which thou hast
seen on the Palatine? Whoso loves beauty is unable for that very reason
to love deformity. One may not believe in our gods, but it is possible
to love them, as Phidias, Praxiteles, Miron, Skopas, and Lysias loved.
"Should I wish to go whither thou wouldst lead me, I could not. But
since I do not wish, I am doubly unable. Thou believest, like Paul of
Tarsus, that on the other side of the Styx thou wilt see thy Christ in
certain Elysian fields. Let Him tell thee then Himself whether He would
receive me with my gems, my Myrrhene vase, my books published by Sozius,
and my golden-haired Eunice. I laugh at this thought; for Paul of
Tarsus told me that for Christ's sake one must give up wreaths of roses,
feasts, and luxury. It is true that he promised me other happiness, but
I answered that I was too old for new happiness, that my eyes would be
delighted always with roses, and that the odor of violets is dearer to
me than stench from my foul neighbor of the Subura.
"These are reasons why thy happiness is not for me. But there is one
reason more, which I have reserved for the last: Thanatos summons me.
For thee the light of life is beginning; but my sun has set, and
twilight is embracing my head. In other words, I must die, carissime.
"It is not worth while to talk long of this. It had to end thus. Thou,
who knowest Ahenobarbus, wilt understand the position easily. Tigellinus
has conquered, or rather my victories have touched their end. I have
lived as I wished, and I will die as pleases me.
"Do not take this to heart. No God has promised me immortality; hence
no surprise meets me. At the same time thou art mistaken, Vinicius, in
asserting that only thy God teaches man to die calmly. No. Our world
knew, before thou wert born, that when the last cup was drained, it was
time to go,--time to rest,--and it knows yet how to do that with
calmness. Plato declares that virtue is music, that the life of a sage
is harmony. If that be true, I shall die as I have lived,--virtuously.
"I should like to take farewell of thy godlike wife in the words with
which on a time I greeted her in the house of Aulus, 'Very many persons
have I seen, but thy equal I know not.'
"If the soul is more than what Pyrrho thinks, mine will fly to thee and
Lygia, on its way to the edge of the ocean, and will alight at your
house in the form of a butterfly or, as the Egyptians believe, in the
form of a sparrowhawk. Otherwise I cannot come.
"Meanwhile let Sicily replace for you the gardens of Hesperides; may the
goddesses of the fields, woods, and fountains scatter flowers on your
path, and may white doves build their nests on every acanthus of the
columns of your house."
PETRONIUS was not mistaken. Two days later young Nerva, who had always
been friendly and devoted, sent his freedman to Cumæ with news of what
was happening at the court of Cæsar.
The death of Petronius had been determined. On the morning of the
following day they intended to send him a centurion, with the order to
stop at Cumæ, and wait there for further instructions; the next
messenger, to follow a few days later, was to bring the death sentence.
Petronius heard the news with unruffled calmness.
"Thou wilt take to thy lord," said he, "one of my vases; say from me
that I thank him with my whole soul, for now I am able to anticipate the
And all at once he began to laugh, like a man who has came upon a
perfect thought, and rejoices in advance at its fulfilment.
That same afternoon his slaves rushed about, inviting the Augustians,
who were staying in Cumæ, and all the ladies, to a magnificent banquet
at the villa of the arbiter.
He wrote that afternoon in the library; next he took a bath, after which
he commanded the vestiplicæ to arrange his dress. Brilliant and stately
as one of the gods, he went to the triclinium, to cast the eye of a
critic on the preparations, and then to the gardens, where youths and
Grecian maidens from the islands were weaving wreaths of roses for the
Not the least care was visible on his face. The servants only knew that
the feast would be something uncommon, for he had issued a command to
give unusual rewards to those with whom he was satisfied, and some
slight blows to all whose work should not please him, or who had
deserved blame or punishment earlier. To the cithara players and the
singers he had ordered beforehand liberal pay. At last, sitting in the
garden under a beech, through whose leaves the sun-rays marked the earth
with bright spots, he called Eunice.
She came, dressed in white, with a sprig of myrtle in her hair,
beautiful as one of the Graces. He seated her at his side, and,
touching her temple gently with his fingers, he gazed at her with that
admiration with which a critic gazes at a statue from the chisel of a
"Eunice," asked he, "dost thou know that thou art not a slave this long
She raised to him her calm eyes, as blue as the sky, and denied with a
motion of her head.
"I am thine always," said she.
"But perhaps thou knowest not," continued Petronius, "that the villa,
and those slaves twining wreaths here, and all which is in the villa,
with the fields and the herds, are thine henceforward."
Eunice, when she heard this, drew away from him quickly, and asked in a
voice filled with sudden fear,--
"Why dost thou tell me this?"
Then she approached again, and looked at him, blinking with amazement.
After a while her face became as pale as linen. He smiled, and said
only one word,--
A moment of silence followed; merely a slight breeze moved the leaves of
Petronius might have thought that before him was a statue cut from white
"Eunice," said he, "I wish to die calmly."
And the maiden, looking at him with a heart-rending smile, whispered,--
"I hear thee."
In the evening the guests, who had been at feasts given by Petronius
previously, and knew that in comparison with them even Cæsar's banquets
seemed tiresome and barbarous, began to arrive in numbers. To no one
did it occur, even, that that was to be the last "symposium." Many
knew, it is true, that the clouds of Cæsar's anger were hanging over the
exquisite arbiter; but that had happened so often, and Petronius had
been able so often to scatter them by some dexterous act or by a single
bold word, that no one thought really that serious danger threatened
him. His glad face and usual smile, free of care, confirmed all, to the
last man, in that opinion. The beautiful Eunice, to whom he had
declared his wish to die calmly, and for whom every word of his was like
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