Quo Vadis A Narrative of the Time of Nero
Part 2 out of 12
done perhaps because her beautiful form was a real ornament to a feast.
Cæsar for that matter had long since ceased to count with any
appearances in his choice of company. At his table the most varied
medley of people of every position and calling found places. Among them
were senators, but mainly those who were content to be jesters as well.
There were patricians, old and young, eager for luxury, excess, and
enjoyment. There were women with great names, who did not hesitate to
put on a yellow wig of an evening and seek adventures on dark streets
for amusement's sake. There were also high officials, and priests who
at full goblets were willing to jeer at their own gods. At the side of
these was a rabble of every sort: singers, mimes, musicians, dancers of
both sexes; poets who, while declaiming, were thinking of the sesterces
which might fall to them for praise of Cæsar's verses; hungry
philosophers following the dishes with eager eyes; finally, noted
charioteers, tricksters, miracle-wrights, tale-tellers, jesters, and the
most varied adventurers brought through fashion or folly to a few days'
notoriety. Among these were not lacking even men who covered with long
hair their ears pierced in sign of slavery.
The most noted sat directly at the tables; the lesser served to amuse in
time of eating, and waited for the moment in which the servants would
permit them to rush at the remnants of food and drink. Guests of this
sort were furnished by Tigellinus, Vatinius, and Vitelius; for these
guests they were forced more than once to find clothing befitting the
chambers of Cæsar, who, however, liked their society, through feeling
most free in it. The luxury of the court gilded everything, and covered
all things with glitter. High and low, the descendants of great
families, and the needy from the pavements of the city, great artists,
and vile scrapings of talent, thronged to the palace to sate their
dazzled eyes with a splendor almost surpassing human estimate, and to
approach the giver of every favor, wealth, and property,--whose single
glance might abase, it is true, but might also exalt beyond measure.
That day Lygia too had to take part in such a feast. Fear, uncertainty,
and a dazed feeling, not to be wondered at after the sudden change, were
struggling in her with a wish to resist. She feared Nero; she feared
the people and the palace whose uproar deprived her of presence of mind;
she feared the feasts of whose shamelessness she had heard from Aulus,
Pomponia Græcina, and their friends. Though young, she was not without
knowledge, for knowledge of evil in those times reached even children's
ears early. She knew, therefore, that ruin was threatening her in the
palace. Pomponia, moreover, had warned her of this at the moment of
parting. But having a youthful spirit, unacquainted with corruption,
and confessing a lofty faith, implanted in her by her foster mother, she
had promised to defend herself against that ruin; she had promised her
mother, herself and also that Divine Teacher in whom she not only
believed, but whom she had come to love with her half-childlike heart
for the sweetness of his doctrine, the bitterness of his death, and the
glory of his resurrection.
She was confident too that now neither Aulus nor Pomponia would be
answerable for her actions; she was thinking therefore whether it would
not be better to resist and not go to the feast. On the one hand fear
and alarm spoke audibly in her soul; on the other the wish rose in her
to show courage in suffering, in exposure to torture and death. The
Divine Teacher had commanded to act thus. He had given the example
himself. Pomponia had told her that the most earnest among the
adherents desire with all their souls such a test, and pray for it. And
Lygia, when still in the house of Aulus, had been mastered at moments by
a similar desire. She had seen herself as a martyr, with wounds on her
feet and hands, white as snow, beautiful with a beauty not of earth, and
borne by equally white angels into the azure sky; and her imagination
admired such a vision. There was in it much childish brooding, but
there was in it also something of delight in herself, which Pomponia had
reprimanded. But now, when opposition to Cæsar's will might draw after
it some terrible punishment, and the martyrdom scene of imagination
become a reality, there was added to the beautiful visions and to the
delight a kind of curiosity mingled with dread, as to how they would
punish her, and what kind of torments they would provide. And her soul,
half childish yet, was hesitating on two sides. But Acte, hearing of
these hesitations, looked at her with astonishment as if the maiden were
talking in a fever. To oppose Cæsar's will, expose oneself from the
first moment to his anger? To act thus one would need to be a child
that knows not what it says. From Lygia's own words it appears that she
is, properly speaking, not really a hostage, but a maiden forgotten by
her own people. No law of nations protects her; and even if it did,
Cæsar is powerful enough to trample on it in a moment of anger. It has
pleased Cæsar to take her, and he will dispose of her. Thenceforth she
is at his will, above which there is not another on earth.
"So it is," continued Acte. "I too have read the letters of Paul of
Tarsus, and I know that above the earth is God, and the Son of God, who
rose from the dead; but on the earth there is only Cæsar. Think of this,
Lygia. I know too that thy doctrine does not permit thee to be what I
was, and that to you as to the Stoics,--of whom Epictetus has told me,--
when it comes to a choice between shame and death, it is permitted to
choose only death. But canst thou say that death awaits thee and not
shame too? Hast thou heard of the daughter of Sejanus, a young maiden,
who at command of Tiberius had to pass through shame before her death,
so as to respect a law which prohibits the punishment of virgins with
death? Lygia, Lygia, do not irritate Cæsar. If the decisive moment
comes when thou must choose between disgrace and death, thou wilt act as
thy faith commands; but seek not destruction thyself, and do not
irritate for a trivial cause an earthly and at the same time a cruel
Acte spoke with great compassion, and even with enthusiasm; and being a
little short-sighted, she pushed her sweet face up to Lygia's as if
wishing to see surely the effect of her words.
But Lygia threw her arms around Acte's neck with childish trustfulness
and said,--"Thou art kind, Acte."
Acte, pleased by the praise and confidence, pressed her to her heart;
and then disengaging herself from the arms of the maiden, answered,--"My
happiness has passed and my joy is gone, but I am not wicked." Then she
began to walk with quick steps through the room and to speak to herself,
as if in despair.
"No! And he was not wicked. He thought himself good at that time, and
he wished to be good. I know that best. All his change came later,
when he ceased to love. Others made him what he is--yes, others--and
Here her eyelids filled with tears. Lygia followed her for some time
with her blue eyes, and asked at last,--"Art thou sorry for him, Acre?"
"I am sorry for him!" answered the Grecian, with a low voice. And again
she began to walk, her hands clinched as if in pain, and her face
"Dost thou love him yet, Acte?" asked Lygia, timidly.
"I love him."
And after a while she added,--"No one loves him but me."
Silence followed, during which Acte strove to recover her calmness,
disturbed by memories; and when at length her face resumed its usual
look of calm sorrow, she said,--
"Let us speak of thee, Lygia. Do not even think of opposing Cæsar; that
would be madness. And be calm. I know this house well, and I judge
that on Cæsar's part nothing threatens thee. If Nero had given command
to take thee away for himself, he would not have brought thee to the
Palatine. Here Poppæa rules; and Nero, since she bore him a daughter,
is more than ever under her influence. No, Nero gave command, it is
true, that thou shouldst be at the feast, but he has not seen thee yet;
he has not inquired about thee, hence he does not care about thee.
Maybe he took thee from Aulus and Pomponia only through anger at them.
Petronius wrote me to have care of thee; and since Pomponia too wrote,
as thou knowest, maybe they had an understanding. Maybe he did that at
her request. If this be true, if he at the request of Pomponia will
occupy himself with thee, nothing threatens thee; and who knows if Nero
may not send thee back to Aulus at his persuasion? I know not whether
Nero loves him over much, but I know that rarely has he the courage to
be of an opinion opposite to his."
"Ah, Acte!" answered Lygia; "Petronius was with us before they took me,
and my mother was convinced that Nero demanded my surrender at his
"That would be bad," said Acte. But she stopped for a while, and then
said,--"Perhaps Petronius only said, in Nero's presence at some supper,
that he saw a hostage of the Lygians at Aulus's, and Nero, who is
jealous of his own power, demanded thee only because hostages belong to
Cæsar. But he does not like Aulus and Pomponia. No! it does not seem
to me that if Petronius wished to take thee from Aulus he would use such
a method. I do not know whether Petronius is better than others of
Cæsar's court, but he is different. Maybe too thou wilt find some one
else who would be willing to intercede for thee. Hast thou not seen at
Aulus's some one who is near Cæsar?"
"I have seen Vespasian and Titus."
"Cæsar does not like them."
"If Seneca advised something, that would be enough to make Nero act
The bright face of Lygia was covered with a blush. "And Vinicius-"
"I do not know him."
"He is a relative of Petronius, and returned not long since from
"Dost thou think that Nero likes him?"
"All like Vinicius."
"And would he intercede for thee?"
Acte smiled tenderly, and said, "Then thou wilt see him surely at the
feast. Thou must be there, first, because thou must,--only such a child
as thou could think otherwise. Second, if thou wish to return to the
house of Aulus, thou wilt find means of beseeching Petronius and
Vinicius to gain for thee by their influence the right to return. If
they were here, both would tell thee as I do, that it would be madness
and ruin to try resistance. Cæsar might not notice thy absence, it is
true; but if he noticed it and thought that thou hadst the daring to
oppose his will, here would be no salvation for thee. Go, Lygia! Dost
thou hear the noise in the palace? The sun is near setting; guests will
begin to arrive soon."
"Thou art right," answered Lygia, "and I will follow thy advice."
How much desire to see Vinicius and Petronius there was in this resolve,
how much of woman's curiosity there was to see such a feast once in
life, and to see at it Cæsar, the court, the renowned Poppæa and other
beauties, and all that unheard-of splendor, of which wonders were
narrated in Rome, Lygia could not give account to herself of a
certainty. But Acte was right, and Lygia felt this distinctly. There
was need to go; therefore, when necessity and simple reason supported
the hidden temptation, she ceased to hesitate.
Acre conducted her to her own unctorium to anoint and dress her; and
though there was no lack of slave women in Cæsar's house, and Acte had
enough of them for her personal service, still, through sympathy for the
maiden whose beauty and innocence had caught her heart, she resolved to
dress her herself. It became clear at once that in the young Grecian,
in spite of her sadness and her perusal of the letters of Paul of
Tarsus, there was yet much of the ancient Hellenic spirit, to which
physical beauty spoke with more eloquence than aught else on earth.
When she had undressed Lygia, she could not restrain an exclamation of
wonder at sight of her form, at once slender and full, created, as it
were, from pearl and roses; and stepping back a few paces, she looked
with delight on that matchless, spring-like form.
"Lygia," exclaimed she at last, "thou art a hundred times more beautiful
But, reared in the strict house of Pomponia, where modesty was observed,
even when women were by themselves, the maiden, wonderful as a wonderful
dream, harmonious as a work of Praxiteles or as a song, stood alarmed,
blushing from modesty, with knees pressed together, with her hands on
her bosom, and downcast eyes. At last, raising her arms with sudden
movement, she removed the pins which held her hair, and in one moment,
with one shake of her head, she covered herself with it as with a
Acte, approaching her and touching her dark tresses, said,--
"Oh, what hair thou hast! I will not sprinkle golden powder on it; it
gleams of itself in one place and another with gold, where it waves. I
will add, perhaps, barely a sprinkle here and there; but lightly,
lightly, as if a sun ray had freshened it. Wonderful must thy Lygian
country be where such maidens are born!
"I do not remember it," answered Lygia; "but Ursus has told me that with
us it is forests, forests, and forests."
"But flowers bloom in those forests," said Acte, dipping her hand in a
vase filled with verbena, and moistening Lygia's hair with it. When she
had finished this work, Acre anointed her body lightly with odoriferous
oils from Arabia, and then dressed her in a soft gold-colored tunic
without sleeves, over which was to be put a snow-white peplus. But
since she had to dress Lygia's hair first, she put on her meanwhile a
kind of roomy dress called synthesis, and, seating her in an armchair,
gave her for a time into the hands of slave women, so as to stand at a
distance herself and follow the hairdressing. Two other slave women put
on Lygia's feet white sandals, embroidered with purple, fastening them
to her alabaster ankles with golden lacings drawn crosswise. When at
last the hair-dressing was finished, they put a peplus on her in very
beautiful, light folds; then Acte fastened pearls to her neck, and
touching her hair at the folds with gold dust, gave command to the women
to dress her, following Lygia with delighted eyes meanwhile.
But she was ready soon; and when the first litters began to appear
before the main gate, both entered the side portico from which were
visible the chief entrance, the interior galleries, and the courtyard
surrounded by a colonnade of Numidian marble.
Gradually people passed in greater and greater numbers under the lofty
arch of the entrance, over which the splendid quadrigæ of Lysias seemed
to bear Apollo and Diana into space. Lygia's eyes were struck by that
magnificence, of which the modest house of Aulus could not have given
her the slightest idea. It was sunset; the last rays were falling on
the yellow Numidian marble of the columns, which shone like gold in
those gleams and changed into rose color also. Among the columns, at
the side of white statues of the Danaides and others, representing gods
or heroes, crowds of people flowed past,--men and women; resembling
statues also, for they were draped in togas, pepluses, and robes,
falling with grace and beauty toward the earth in soft folds, on which
the rays of the setting sun were expiring. A gigantic Hercules, with
head in the light yet, from the breast down sunk in shadow cast by the
columns, looked from above on that throng. Acte showed Lygia senators
in wide-bordered togas, in colored tunics, in sandals with crescents on
them, and knights, and famed artists; she showed her Roman ladies, in
Roman, in Grecian, in fantastic Oriental costume, with hair dressed in
towers or pyramids, or dressed like that of the statues of goddesses,
low on the head, and adorned with flowers. Many men and women did Acte
call by name, adding to their names histories, brief and sometimes
terrible, which pierced Lygia with fear, amazement, and wonder. For her
this was a strange world, whose beauty intoxicated her eyes, but whose
contrasts her girlish understanding could not grasp. In those twilights
of the sky, in those rows of motionless columns vanishing in the
distance, and in those statuesque people, there was a certain lofty
repose. It seemed that in the midst of those marbles of simple lines
demigods might live free of care, at peace and in happiness. Meanwhile
the low voice of Acte disclosed, time after time, a new and dreadful
secret of that palace and those people. See, there at a distance is the
covered portico on whose columns and floor are still visible red stains
from the blood with which Caligula sprinkled the white marble when he
fell beneath the knife of Cassius Chærea; there his wife was slain;
there his child was dashed against a stone; under that wing is the
dungeon in which the younger Drusus gnawed his hands from hunger; there
the elder Drusus was poisoned; there Gemellus quivered in terror, and
Claudius in convulsions; there Germanicus suffered,--everywhere those
walls had heard the groans and death-rattle of the dying; and those
people hurrying now to the feast in togas, in colored tunics, in
flowers, and in jewels, may be the condemned of to-morrow; on more than
one face, perhaps, a smile conceals terror, alarm, the uncertainty of
the next day; perhaps feverishness, greed, envy are gnawing at this
moment into the hearts of those crowned demigods, who in appearance are
free of care. Lygia's frightened thoughts could not keep pace with
Acte's words; and when that wonderful world attracted her eyes with
increasing force, her heart contracted within her from fear, and in her
soul she struggled with an immense, inexpressible yearning for the
beloved Pomponia Græcina, and the calm house of Aulus, in which love,
and not crime, was the ruling power.
Meanwhile new waves of guests were flowing in from the Vicus Apollinis.
From beyond the gates came the uproar and shouts of clients, escorting
their patrons. The courtyard and the colonnades were swarming with the
multitude of Cæsar's slaves, of both sexes, small boys, and pretorian
soldiers, who kept guard in the palace. Here and there among dark or
swarthy visages was the black face of a Numidian, in a feathered helmet,
and with large gold rings in his ears. Some were bearing lutes and
citharas, hand lamps of gold, silver, and bronze, and bunches of
flowers, reared artificially despite the late autumn season. Louder and
louder the sound of conversation was mingled with the plashing of the
fountain, the rosy streams of which fell from above on the marble and
were broken, as if in sobs.
Acte had stopped her narration; but Lygia gazed at the throng, as if
searching for some one. All at once her face was covered with a blush,
and from among the columns came forth Vinicius with Petronius. They
went to the great triclinium, beautiful, calm, like white gods, in their
togas. It seemed to Lygia, when she saw those two known and friendly
faces among strange people, and especially when she saw Vinicius, that a
great weight had fallen from her heart. She felt less alone. That
measureless yearning for Pomponia and the house of Aulus, which had
broken out in her a little while before, ceased at once to be painful.
The desire to see Vinicius and to talk with him drowned in her other
voices. In vain did she remember all the evil which she had heard of
the house of Cæsar, the words of Acte, the warnings of Pomponia; in
spite of those words and warnings, she felt all at once that not only
must she be at that feast, but that she wished to be there. At the
thought that soon she would hear that dear and pleasant voice, which had
spoken of love to her and of happiness worthy of the gods, and which was
sounding like a song in her ears yet, delight seized her straightway.
But the next moment she feared that delight. It seemed to her that she
would be false to the pure teaching in which she had been reared, false
to Pomponia, and false to herself. It is one thing to go by constraint,
and another to delight in such a necessity. She felt guilty, unworthy,
Despair swept her away, and she wanted to weep. Had she been alone, she
would have knelt down and beaten her breast, saying, "Mea culpa! mea
culpa!" Acte, taking her hand at that moment, led her through the
interior apartments to the grand triclinium, where the feast was to be.
Darkness was in her eyes, and a roaring in her ears from internal
emotion; the beating of her heart stopped her breath. As in a dream,
she saw thousands of lamps gleaming on the tables and on the walls; as
in a dream, she heard the shout with which the guests greeted Cæsar; as
through a mist, she saw Cæsar himself. The shout deafened her, the
glitter dazzled, the odors intoxicated; and, losing the remnant of her
consciousness, she was barely able to recognize Acte, who seated her at
the table and took a place at her side.
But after a while a low and known voice was heard at the other side,--"A
greeting, most beautiful of maidens on earth and of stars in heaven. A
greeting to thee, divine Callina!"
Lygia, having recovered somewhat, looked up; at her side was Vinicius.
He was without a toga, for convenience and custom had enjoined to cast
aside the toga at feasts. His body was covered with only a sleeveless
scarlet tunic embroidered in silver palms. His bare arms were
ornamented in Eastern fashion with two broad golden bands fastened above
the elbow; below they were carefully stripped of hair. They were
smooth, but too muscular,--real arms of a soldier, they were made for
the sword and the shield. On his head was a garland of roses. With
brows joining above the nose, with splendid eyes and a dark complexion,
he was the impersonation of youth and strength, as it were. To Lygia he
seemed so beautiful that though her first amazement had passed, she was
barely able to answer,--"A greeting, Marcus."
"Happy," said he, "are my eyes, which see thee; happy my ears, which
hear thy voice, dearer to me than the sound of lutes or citharas. Were
it commanded me to choose who was to rest here by my side at this feast,
thou, Lygia, or Venus, I would choose thee, divine one!"
And he looked at the maiden as if he wished to sate himself with the
sight of her, to burn her eyes with his eyes. His glance slipped from
her face to her neck and bare arms, fondled her shapely outlines,
admired her, embraced her, devoured her; but besides desire, there was
gleaming in him happiness, admiration, and ecstasy beyond limit.
"I knew that I should see thee in Cæsar's house," continued he; "but
still, when I saw thee, such delight shook my whole soul, as if a
happiness entirely unexpected had met me."
Lygia, having recovered herself and feeling that in that throng and in
that house he was the only being who was near to her, began to converse
with him, and ask about everything which she did not understand and
which filled her with fear. Whence did he know that he would find her
in Cæsar's house? Why is she there? Why did Ciesar take her from
Pomponia? She is full of fear where she is, and wishes to return to
Pomponia. She would die from alarm and grief were it not for the hope
that Petronius and he will intercede for her before Cæsar.
Vinicius explained that he learned from Aulus himself that she had been
taken. Why she is there, he knows not. Cæsar gives account to no one
of his orders and commands. But let her not fear. He, Vinicius, is
near her and will stay near her. He would rather lose his eyes than not
see her; he would rather lose his life than desert her. She is his
soul, and hence he will guard her as his soul. In his house he will
build to her, as to a divinity, an altar on which he will offer myrrh
and aloes, and in spring saffron and apple-blossoms; and since she has a
dread of Cæsar's house, he promises that she shall not stay in it.
And though he spoke evasively and at times invented, truth was to be
felt in his voice, because his feelings were real. Genuine pity
possessed him, too, and her words went to his soul so thoroughly that
when she began to thank him and assure him that Pomponia would love him
for his goodness, and that she herself would be grateful to him all her
life, he could not master his emotion, and it seemed to him that he
would never be able in life to resist her prayer. The heart began to
melt in him. Her beauty intoxicated his senses, and he desired her; but
at the same time he felt that she was very dear to him, and that in
truth he might do homage to her, as to a divinity; he felt also
irresistible need of speaking of her beauty and of his own homage. As
the noise at the feast increased, he drew nearer to her, whispered kind,
sweet words flowing from the depth of his soul, words as resonant as
music and intoxicating as wine.
And he intoxicated her. Amid those strange people he seemed to her ever
nearer, ever dearer, altogether true, and devoted with his whole soul.
He pacified her; he promised to rescue her from the house of Cæsar; he
promised not to desert her, and said that he would serve her. Besides,
he had spoken before at Aulus's only in general about love and the
happiness which it can give; but now he said directly that he loved her,
and that she was dear and most precious to him. Lygia heard such words
from a man's lips for the first time; and as she heard them it seemed to
her that something was wakening in her as from a sleep, that some
species of happiness was embracing her in which immense delight was
mingled with immense alarm. Her cheeks began to burn, her heart to
beat, her mouth opened as in wonder. She was seized with fear because
she was listening to such things, still she did not wish for any cause
on earth to lose one word. At moments she dropped her eyes; then again
she raised her clear glance to Vinicius, timid and also inquiring, as if
she wished to say to him, "Speak on!" The sound of the music, the odor
of flowers and of Arabian perfumes, began to daze her. In Rome it was
the custom to recline at banquets, but at home Lygia occupied a place
between Pomponia and little Aulus. Now Vinicius was reclining near her,
youthful, immense, in love, burning; and she, feeling the heat that
issued from him, felt both delight and shame. A kind of sweet weakness,
a kind of faintness and forgetfulness seized her; it was as if
drowsiness tortured her.
But her nearness to him began to act on Vinicius also. His nostrils
dilated, like those of an Eastern steed. The beating of his heart with
unusual throb was evident under his scarlet tunic; his breathing grew
short, and the expressions that fell from his lips were broken. For the
first time, too, he was so near her. His thoughts grew disturbed; he
felt a flame in his veins which he tried in vain to quench with wine.
Not wine, but her marvellous face, her bare arms, her maiden breast
heaving under the golden tunic, and her form hidden in the white folds
of the peplus, intoxicated him more and more. Finally, he seized her
arm above the wrist, as he had done once at Aulus's, and drawing her
toward him whispered, with trembling lips,--"I love thee, Callina,--
"Let me go, Marcus," said Lygia.
But he continued, his eyes mist-covered, "Love me, my goddess!"
But at that moment was heard the voice of Acte, who was reclining on the
other side of Lygia.
"Cæsar is looking at you both."
Vinicius was carried away by sudden anger at Cæsar and at Acte. Her
words had broken the charm of his intoxication. To the young man even a
friendly voice would have seemed repulsive at such a moment, but he
judged that Acte wished purposely to interrupt his conversation with
Lygia. So, raising his head and looking over the shoulder of Lygia at
the young freedwoman, he said with malice:
"The hour has passed, Acte, when thou didst recline near Cæsar's side at
banquets, and they say that blindness is threatening thee; how then
canst thou see him?"
But she answered as if in sadness: "Still I see him. He, too, has short
sight, and is looking at thee through an emerald."
Everything that Nero did roused attention, even in those nearest him;
hence Vinicius was alarmed. He regained self-control, and began
imperceptibly to look toward Cæsar. Lygia, who, embarrassed at the
beginning of the banquet, had seen Nero as in a mist, and afterward,
occupied by the presence and conversation of Vinicius, had not looked at
him at all, turned to him eyes at once curious and terrified.
Acte spoke truly. Cæsar had bent over the table, half-closed one eye,
and holding before the other a round polished emerald, which he used,
was looking at them. For a moment his glance met Lygia's eyes, and the
heart of the maiden was straitened with terror. When still a child on
Aulus's Sicilian estate, an old Egyptian slave had told her of dragons
which occupied dens in the mountains, and it seemed to her now that all
at once the greenish eye of such a monster was gazing at her. She
caught at Vinicius's hand as a frightened child would, and disconnected,
quick impressions pressed into her head: Was not that he, the terrible,
the all-powerful? She had not seen him hitherto, and she thought that he
looked differently. She had imagined some kind of ghastly face, with
malignity petrified in its features; now she saw a great head, fixed on
a thick neck, terrible, it is true, but almost ridiculous, for from a
distance it resembled the head of a child. A tunic of amethyst color,
forbidden to ordinary mortals, cast a bluish tinge on his broad and
short face. He had dark hair, dressed, in the fashion introduced by
Otho, in four curls.
He had no beard, because he had sacrified it recently to Jove,--for
which all Rome gave him thanks, though people whispered to each other
that he had sacrificed it because his beard, like that of his whole
family, was red. In his forehead, projecting strongly above his brows,
there remained something Olympian. In his contracted brows the
consciousness of supreme power was evident; but under that forehead of a
demigod was the face of a monkey, a drunkard, and a comedian,--vain,
full of changing desires, swollen with fat, notwithstanding his youth;
besides, it was sickly and foul. To Lygia he seemed ominous, but above
After a while he laid down the emerald and ceased to look at her. Then
she saw his prominent blue eyes, blinking before the excess of light,
glassy, without thought, resembling the eyes of the dead.
"Is that the hostage with whom Vinicius is in love?" asked he, turning
"That is she," answered Petronius.
"What are her people called?"
"Does Vinicius think her beautiful?"
"Array a rotten olive trunk in the peplus of a woman, and Vinicius will
declare it beautiful. But on thy countenance, incomparable judge, I
read her sentence already. Thou hast no need to pronounce it! The
sentence is true: she is too dry, thin, a mere blossom on a slender
stalk; and thou, O divine æsthete, esteemest the stalk in a woman.
Thrice and four times art thou right! The face alone does not signify.
I have learned much in thy company, but even now I have not a perfect
cast of the eye. But I am ready to lay a wager with Tullius Senecio
concerning his mistress, that, although at a feast, when all are
reclining, it is difficult to judge the whole form, thou hast said in
thy mind already, 'Too narrow in the hips.'"
"Too narrow in the hips," answered Nero, blinking.
On Petronius's lips appeared a scarcely perceptible smile; but Tullius
Senecio, who till that moment was occupied in conversing with Vestinius,
or rather in reviling dreams, while Vestinius believed in them, turned
to Petronius, and though he had not the least idea touching that of
which they were talking, he said,--"Thou art mistaken! I hold with
"Very well," answered Petronius. "I have just maintained that thou hast
a glimmer of understanding, but Cæsar insists that thou art an ass pure
"Habet!" said Cæsar, laughing, and turning down the thumb, as was done
in the Circus, in sign that the gladiator had received a blow and was to
But Vestinius, thinking that the question was of dreams, exclaimed,--
"But I believe in dreams, and Seneca told me on a time that he believes
"Last night I dreamt that I had become a vestal virgin," said Calvia
Crispinilla, bending over the table.
At this Nero clapped his hands, other followed, and in a moment clapping
of hands was heard all around,--for Crispinilla had been divorced a
number of times, and was known throughout Rome for her fabulous
But she, not disconcerted in the least, said,--"Well! They are all old
and ugly. Rubria alone has a human semblance, and so there would be two
of us, though Rubria gets freckles in summer."
"But admit, purest Calvia," said Petronius, "that thou couldst become a
vestal only in dreams."
"But if Cæsar commanded?"
"I should believe that even the most impossible dreams might come true."
"But they do come true," said Vestinius. "I understand those who do not
believe in the gods, but how is it possible not to believe in dreams?"
"But predictions?" inquired Nero. "It was predicted once to me, that
Rome would cease to exist, and that I should rule the whole Orient."
"Predictions and dreams are connected," said Vestinius. "Once a certain
proconsul, a great disbeliever, sent a slave to the temple of Mopsus
with a sealed letter which he would not let any one open; he did this to
try if the god could answer the question contained in the letter. The
slave slept a night in the temple to have a prophetic dream; he returned
then and said: 'I saw a youth in my dreams; he was as bright as the sun,
and spoke only one word, "Black."' The proconsul, when he heard this,
grew pale, and turning to his guests, disbelievers like himself, said:
'Do ye know what was in the letter?'" Here Vestinius stopped, and,
raising his goblet with wine, began to drink.
"What was in the letter?" asked Senecio.
"In the letter was the question: 'What is the color of the bull which I
am to sacrifice: white or black?'"
But the interest roused by the narrative was interrupted by Vitelius,
who, drunk when he came to the feast, burst forth on a sudden and
without cause in senseless laughter.
"What is that keg of tallow laughing at?" asked Nero.
"Laughter distinguishes men from animals," said Petronius, "and he has
no other proof that he is not a wild boar."
Vitelius stopped half-way in his laughter, and smacking his lips,
shining from fat and sauces, looked at those present with as much
astonishment as if he had never seen them before; then he raised his two
hands, which were like cushions, and said in a hoarse voice,--"The ring
of a knight has fallen from my finger, and it was inherited from my
"Who was a tailor," added Nero.
But Vitelius burst forth again in unexpected laughter, and began to
search for his ring in the peplus of Calvia Crispinilla.
Hereupon Vestinius fell to imitating the cries of a frightened woman.
Nigidia, a friend of Calvia,--a young widow with the face of a child and
the eyes of a wanton,--said aloud,--"He is seeking what he has not
"And which will be useless to him if he finds it," finished the poet
The feast grew more animated. Crowds of slaves bore around successive
courses; from great vases filled with snow and garlanded with ivy,
smaller vessels with various kinds of wine were brought forth
unceasingly. All drank freely. On the guests, roses fell from the
ceiling at intervals.
Petronius entreated Nero to dignify the feast with his song before the
guests drank too deeply. A chorus of voices supported his words, but
Nero refused at first. It was not a question of courage alone, he said,
though that failed him always. The gods knew what efforts every success
cost him. He did not avoid them, however, for it was needful to do
something for art; and besides, if Apollo had gifted him with a certain
voice, it was not proper to let divine gifts be wasted. He understood,
even, that it was his duty to the State not to let them be wasted. But
that day he was really hoarse. In the night he had placed leaden weights
on his chest, but that had not helped in any way. He was thinking even
to go to Antium, to breathe the sea air.
Lucan implored him in the name of art and humanity. All knew that the
divine poet and singer had composed a new hymn to Venus, compared with
which Lucretius's hymn was as the howl of a yearling wolf. Let that
feast be a genuine feast. So kind a ruler should not cause such
tortures to his subjects. "Be not cruel, O Cæsar!"
"Be not cruel!" repeated all who were sitting near.
Nero spread his hands in sign that he had to yield. All faces assumed
then an expression of gratitude, and all eyes were turned to him; but he
gave command first to announce to Poppæa that he would sing; he informed
those present that she had not come to the feast, because she did not
feel in good health; but since no medicine gave her such relief as his
singing, he would be sorry to deprive her of this opportunity.
In fact, Poppæa came soon. Hitherto she had ruled Nero as if he had
been her subject, but she knew that when his vanity as a singer, a
charioteer, or a poet was involved, there was danger in provoking it.
She came in therefore, beautiful as a divinity, arrayed, like Nero, in
robes of amethyst color, and wearing a necklace of immense pearls,
stolen on a time from Massinissa; she was golden-haired, sweet, and
though divorced from two husbands she had the face and the look of a
She was greeted with shouts, and the appellation "Divine Augusta."
Lygia had never seen any one so beautiful, and she could not believe her
own eyes, for she knew that Poppæa Sabina was one of the vilest women on
earth. She knew from Pomponia that she had brought Cæsar to murder his
mother and his wife; she knew her from accounts given by Aulus's guests
and the servants; she had heard that statues to her had been thrown down
at night in the city; she had heard of inscriptions, the writers of
which had been condemned to severest punishment, but which still
appeared on the city walls every morning. Yet at sight of the notorious
Poppæa, considered by the confessors of Christ as crime and evil
incarnate, it seemed to her that angels or spirits of heaven might look
like her. She was unable simply to take her eyes from Poppæa; and from
her lips was wrested involuntarily the question,--"Ah, Marcus, can it
But he, roused by wine, and as it were impatient that so many things had
scattered her attention, and taken her from him and his words, said,--
"Yes, she is beautiful, but thou art a hundred times more beautiful.
Thou dost not know thyself, or thou wouldst be in love with thyself, as
Narcissus was; she bathes in asses' milk, but Venus bathed thee in her
own milk. Thou dost not know thyself, Ocelle mi! Look not at her.
Turn thy eyes to me, Ocelle mi! Touch this goblet of wine with thy
lips, and I will put mine on the same place."
And he pushed up nearer and nearer, and she began to withdraw toward
Acte. But at that moment silence was enjoined because Cæsar had risen.
The singer Diodorus had given him a lute of the kind called delta;
another singer named Terpnos, who had to accompany him in playing,
approached with an instrument called the nablium. Nero, resting the
delta on the table, raised his eyes; and for a moment silence reigned in
the triclinium, broken only by a rustle, as roses fell from the ceiling.
Then he began to chant, or rather to declaim, singingly and
rhythmically, to the accompaniment of the two lutes, his own hymn to
Venus. Neither the voice, though somewhat injured, nor the verses were
bad, so that reproaches of conscience took possession of Lygia again;
for the hymn, though glorifying the impure pagan Venus, seemed to her
more than beautiful, and Cæsar himself, with a laurel crown on his head
and uplifted eyes, nobler, much less terrible, and less repulsive than
at the beginning of the feast.
The guests answered with a thunder of applause. Cries of, "Oh, heavenly
voice!" were heard round about; some of the women raised their hands,
and held them thus, as a sign of delight, even after the end of the
hymn; others wiped their tearful eyes; the whole hall was seething as in
a beehive. Poppæa, bending her golden-haired head, raised Nero's hand
to her lips, and held it long in silence. Pythagoras, a young Greek of
marvellous beauty,--the same to whom later the half-insane Nero
commanded the flamens to marry him, with the observance of all rites,--
knelt now at his feet.
But Nero looked carefully at Petronius, whose praises were desired by
him always before every other, and who said,--"If it is a question of
music, Orpheus must at this moment be as yellow from envy as Lucan, who
is here present; and as to the verses, I am sorry that they are not
worse; if they were I might find proper words to praise them."
Lucan did not take the mention of envy evil of him; on the contrary, he
looked at Petronius with gratitude, and, affecting ill-humor, began to
murmur,--"Cursed fate, which commanded me to live contemporary with such
a poet. One might have a place in the memory of man, and on Parnassus;
but now one will quench, as a candle in sunlight."
Petronius, who had an amazing memory, began to repeat extracts from the
hymn and cite single verses, exalt, and analyze the more beautiful
expressions. Lucan, forgetting as it were his envy before the charm of
the poetry, joined his ecstasy to Petronius's words. On Nero's face
were reflected delight and fathomless vanity, not only nearing
stupidity, but reaching it perfectly. He indicated to them verses which
he considered the most beautiful; and finally he began to comfort Lucan,
and tell him not to lose heart, for though whatever a man is born that
he is, the honor which people give Jove does not exclude respect for
Then he rose to conduct Poppæa, who, being really in ill health, wished
to withdraw. But he commanded the guests who remained to occupy their
places anew, and promised to return, In fact, he returned a little
later, to stupefy himself with the smoke of incense, and gaze at further
spectacles which he himself, Petronius, or Tigellinus had prepared for
Again verses were read or dialogues listened to in which extravagance
took the place of wit. After that Paris, the celebrated mime,
represented the adventures of Io, the daughter of Inachus. To the
guests, and especially to Lygia, unaccustomed to such scenes, it seemed
that they were gazing at miracles and enchantment. Paris, with motions
of his hands and body, was able to express things apparently impossible
in a dance. His hands dimmed the air, creating a cloud, bright, living,
quivering, voluptuous, surrounding the half-fainting form of a maiden
shaken by a spasm of delight. That was a picture, not a dance; an
expressive picture, disclosing the secrets of love, bewitching and
shameless; and when at the end of it Corybantes rushed in and began a
bacchic dance with girls of Syria to the sounds of cithara, lutes,
drums, and cymbals,--a dance filled with wild shouts and still wilder
license,--it seemed to Lygia that living fire was burning her, and that
a thunderbolt ought to strike that house, or the ceiling fall on the
heads of those feasting there.
But from the golden net fastened to the ceiling only roses fell, and the
now half-drunken Vinicius said to her,--"I saw thee in the house of
Aulus, at the fountain. It was daylight, and thou didst think that no
one saw thee; but I saw thee. And I see thee thus yet, though that
peplus hides thee. Cast aside the peplus, like Crispinilla. See, gods
and men seek love. There is nothing in the world but love. Lay thy
head on my breast and close thy eyes."
The pulse beat oppressively in Lygia's hands and temples. A feeling
seized her that she was flying into some abyss, and that Vinicius, who
before had seemed so near and so trustworthy, instead of saving was
drawing her toward it. And she felt sorry for him. She began again to
dread the feast and him and herself. Some voice, like that of Pomponia,
was calling yet in her soul, "O Lygia, save thyself!" But something
told her also that it was too late; that the one whom such a flame had
embraced as that which had embraced her, the one who had seen what was
done at that feast and whose heart had beaten as hers had on hearing the
words of Vinicius, the one through whom such a shiver had passed as had
passed through her when he approached, was lost beyond recovery. She
grew weak. It seemed at moments to her that she would faint, and then
something terrible would happen. She knew that, under penalty of
Cæsar's anger, it was not permitted any one to rise till Cæsar rose; but
even were that not the case, she had not strength now to rise.
Meanwhile it was far to the end of the feast yet. Slaves brought new
courses, and filled the goblets unceasingly with wine; before the table,
on a platform open at one side, appeared two athletes to give the guests
a spectacle of wrestling.
They began the struggle at once, and the powerful bodies, shining from
olive oil, formed one mass; bones cracked in their iron arms, and from
their set jaws came an ominous gritting of teeth. At moments was heard
the quick, dull thump of their feet on the platform strewn with saffron;
again they were motionless, silent, and it seemed to the spectators that
they had before them a group chiselled out of stone. Roman eyes
followed with delight the movement of tremendously exerted backs,
thighs, and arms. But the struggle was not too prolonged; for Croton, a
master, and the founder of a school of gladiators, did not pass in vain
for the strongest man in the empire. His opponent began to breathe more
and more quickly: next a rattle was heard in his throat; then his face
grew blue; finally he threw blood from his mouth and fell.
A thunder of applause greeted the end of the struggle, and Croton,
resting his foot on the breast of his opponent, crossed his gigantic
arms on his breast, and cast the eyes of a victor around the hall.
Next appeared men who mimicked beasts and their voices, ball-players and
buffoons. Only a few persons looked at them, however, since wine had
darkened the eyes of the audience. The feast passed by degrees into a
drunken revel and a dissolute orgy. The Syrian damsels, who appeared at
first in the bacchic dance, mingled now with the guests. The music
changed into a disordered and wild outburst of citharas, lutes, Armenian
cymbals, Egyptian sistra, trumpets, and horns. As some of the guests
wished to talk, they shouted at the musicians to disappear. The air,
filled with the odor of flowers and the perfume of oils with which
beautiful boys had sprinkled the feet of the guests during the feast,
permeated with saffron and the exhalations of people, became stifling;
lamps burned with a dim flame; the wreaths dropped side-wise on the
heads of guests; faces grew pale and were covered with sweat. Vitelius
rolled under the table. Nigidia, stripping herself to the waist,
dropped her drunken childlike head on the breast of Lucan, who, drunk in
like degree, fell to blowing the golden powder from her hair, and
raising his eyes with immense delight. Vestinius, with the stubbornness
of intoxication, repeated for the tenth time the answer of Mopsus to the
sealed letter of the proconsul. Tullius, who reviled the gods, said,
with a drawling voice broken by hiccoughs,--"If the spheros of
Xenophanes is round, then consider, such a god might be pushed along
before one with the foot, like a barrel."
But Domitius Afer, a hardened criminal and informer, was indignant at
the discourse, and through indignation spilled Falernian over his whole
tunic. He had always believed in the gods. People say that Rome will
perish, and there are some even who contend that it is perishing
already. And surely! But if that should come, it is because the youth
are without faith, and without faith there can be no virtue. People
have abandoned also the strict habits of former days, and it never
occurs to them that Epicureans will not stand against barbarians. As
for him, he--As for him, he was sorry that he had lived to such times,
and that he must seek in pleasures a refuge against griefs which, if not
met, would soon kill him.
When he had said this, he drew toward him a Syrian dancer, and kissed
her neck and shoulders with his toothless mouth. Seeing this, the
consul Memmius Regulus laughed, and, raising his bald head with wreath
awry, exclaimed,--"Who says that Rome is perishing? What folly! I, a
consul, know better. Videant consules! Thirty legions are guarding our
Here he put his fists to his temples and shouted, in a voice heard
throughout the triclinium,--"Thirty legions! thirty legions! from
Britain to the Parthian boundaries!" But he stopped on a sudden, and,
putting a finger to his forehead, said,--"As I live, I think there are
thirty-two." He rolled under the table, and began soon to send forth
flamingo tongues, roast and chilled mushrooms, locusts in honey, fish,
meat, and everything which he had eaten or drunk.
But the number of the legions guarding Roman peace did not pacify
No, no! Rome must perish; for faith in the gods was lost, and so were
strict habits! Rome must perish; and it was a pity, for still life was
pleasant there. Cæsar was gracious, wine was good! Oh, what a pity!
And hiding his head on the arm of a Syrian bacchanal, he burst into
tears. "What is a future life! Achilles was right,--better be a slave
in the world beneath the sun than a king in Cimmerian regions. And
still the question whether there are any gods--since it is unbelief--is
destroying the youth."
Lucan meanwhile had blown all the gold powder from Nigidia's hair, and
she being drunk had fallen asleep. Next he took wreaths of ivy from the
vase before him, put them on the sleeping woman, and when he had
finished looked at those present with a delighted and inquiring glance.
He arrayed himself in ivy too, repeating, in a voice of deep conviction,
"I am not a man at all, but a faun."
Petronius was not drunk; but Nero, who drank little at first, out of
regard for his "heavenly" voice, emptied goblet after goblet toward the
end, and was drunk. He wanted even to sing more of his verses,--this
time in Greek,--but he had forgotten them, and by mistake sang an ode of
Anacreon. Pythagoras, Diodorus, and Terpnos accompanied him; but
failing to keep time, they stopped. Nero as a judge and an æsthete was
enchanted with the beauty of Pythagoras, and fell to kissing his hands
in ecstasy. "Such beautiful hands I have seen only once, and whose were
they?" Then placing his palm on his moist forehead, he tried to
remember. After a while terror was reflected on his face.
Ah! His mother's--Agrippina's!
And a gloomy vision seized him forthwith.
"They say," said he, "that she wanders by moonlight on the sea around
Baiæ and Bauli. She merely walks,--walks as if seeking for something.
When she comes near a boat, she looks at it and goes away; but the
fisherman on whom she has fixed her eye dies."
"Not a bad theme," said Petronius.
But Vestinius, stretching his neck like a stork, whispered
mysteriously,--"I do not believe in the gods; but I believe in spirits
Nero paid no attention to their words, and continued,--"I celebrated the
Lemuria, and have no wish to see her. This is the fifth year--I had to
condemn her, for she sent assassins against me; and, had I not been
quicker than she, ye would not be listening to-night to my song."
"Thanks be to Cæsar, in the name of the city and the world!" cried
"Wine! and let them strike the tympans!"
The uproar began anew. Lucan, all in ivy, wishing to outshout him, rose
and cried,--"I am not a man, but a faun; and I dwell in the forest.
Eho-o-o-oo!" Cæsar drank himself drunk at last; men were drunk, and
women were drunk. Vinicius was not less drunk than others; and in
addition there was roused in him, besides desire, a wish to quarrel,
which happened always when he passed the measure. His dark face became
paler, and his tongue stuttered when he spoke, in a voice now loud and
commanding,--"Give me thy lips! To-day, to-morrow, it is all one!
Enough of this!
"Cæsar took thee from Aulus to give thee to me, dost understand?
To-morrow, about dusk, I will send for thee, dost understand? Cæsar
promised thee to me before he took thee. Thou must be mine! Give me
thy lips! I will not wait for to-morrow,--give thy lips quickly."
And he moved to embrace her; but Acte began to defend her, and she
defended herself with the remnant of her strength, for she felt that she
was perishing. But in vain did she struggle with both hands to remove
his hairless arm; in vain, with a voice in which terror and grief were
quivering, did she implore him not to be what he was, and to have pity
on her. Sated with wine, his breath blew around her nearer and nearer,
and his face was there near her face. He was no longer the former kind
Vinicius, almost dear to her soul; he was a drunken, wicked satyr, who
filled her with repulsion and terror. But her strength deserted her
more and more. In vain did she bend and turn away her face to escape
his kisses. He rose to his feet, caught her in both arms, and drawing
her head to his breast, began, panting, to press her pale lips with his.
But at this instant a tremendous power removed his arms from her neck
with as much ease as if they had been the arms of a child, and pushed
him aside, like a dried limb or a withered leaf. What had happened?
Vinicius rubbed his astonished eyes, and saw before him the gigantic
figure of the Lygian, called Ursus, whom he had seen at the house of
Ursus stood calmly, but looked at Vinicius so strangely with his blue
eyes that the blood stiffened in the veins of the young man; then the
giant took his queen on his arm, and walked out of the triclinium with
an even, quiet step.
Acte in that moment went after him.
Vinicius sat for the twinkle of an eye as if petrified; then he sprang
up and ran toward the entrance crying,--"Lygia! Lygia!"
But desire, astonishment, rage, and wine cut the legs from under him.
He staggered once and a second time, seized the naked arm of one of the
bacchanals, and began to inquire, with blinking eyes, what had happened.
She, taking a goblet of wine, gave it to him with a smile in her mist-
"Drink!" said she.
Vinicius drank, and fell to the floor.
The greater number of the guests were lying under the table; others were
walking with tottering tread through the triclinium, while others were
sleeping on couches at the table, snoring, or giving forth the excess of
wine. Meanwhile, from the golden network, roses were dropping and
dropping on those drunken consuls and senators, on those drunken
knights, philosophers, and poets, on those drunken dancing damsels and
patrician ladies, on that society all dominant as yet but with the soul
gone from it, on that society garlanded and ungirdled but perishing.
Dawn had begun out of doors.
No one stopped Ursus, no one inquired even what he was doing. Those
guests who were not under the table had not kept their own places; hence
the servants, seeing a giant carrying a guest on his arm, thought him
some slave bearing out his intoxicated mistress. Moreover, Acte was with
them, and her presence removed all suspicion.
In this way they went from the triclinium to the adjoining chamber, and
thence to the gallery leading to Acte's apartments. To such a degree had
her strength deserted Lygia, that she hung as if dead on the arm of
Ursus. But when the cool, pure breeze of morning beat around her, she
opened her eyes. It was growing clearer and clearer in the open air.
After they had passed along the colonnade awhile, they turned to a side
portico, coming out, not in the courtyard, but the palace gardens, where
the tops of the pines and cypresses were growing ruddy from the light of
morning. That part of the building was empty, so that echoes of music
and sounds of the feast came with decreasing distinctness. It seemed to
Lygia that she had been rescued from hell, and borne into God's bright
world outside. There was something, then, besides that disgusting
triclinium. There was the sky, the dawn, light, and peace. Sudden
weeping seized the maiden, and, taking shelter on the arm of the giant,
she repeated, with sobbing,--"Let us go home, Ursus! home, to the house
"Let us go!" answered Ursus.
They found themselves now in the small atrium of Acte's apartments.
Ursus placed Lygia on a marble bench at a distance from the fountain.
Acte strove to pacify her; she urged her to sleep, and declared that for
the moment there was no danger,--after the feast the drunken guests
would sleep till evening. For a long time Lygia could not calm herself,
and, pressing her temples with both hands, she repeated like a child,--
"Let us go home, to the house of Aulus!"
Ursus was ready. At the gates stood pretorians, it is true, but he
would pass them. The soldiers would not stop out-going people. The
space before the arch was crowded with litters. Guests were beginning
to go forth in throngs. No one would detain them. They would pass with
the crowd and go home directly. For that matter, what does he care? As
the queen commands, so must it be. He is there to carry out her orders.
"Yes, Ursus," said Lygia, "let us go."
Acte was forced to find reason for both. They would pass out, true; no
one would stop them. But it is not permitted to flee from the house of
Cæsar; whoso does that offends Cæsar's majesty. They may go; but in the
evening a centurion at the head of soldiers will take a death sentence
to Aulus and Pomponia Græcina; they will bring Lygia to the palace
again, and then there will be no rescue for her. Should Aulus and his
wife receive her under their roof, death awaits them to a certainty.
Lygia's arms dropped. There was no other outcome. She must choose her
own ruin or that of Plautius. In going to the feast, she had hoped that
Vinicius and Petronius would win her from Cæsar, and return her to
Pomponia; now she knew that it was they who had brought Cæsar to remove
her from the house of Aulus. There was no help. Only a miracle could
save her from the abyss,--a miracle and the might of God.
"Acte," said she, in despair, "didst thou hear Vinicius say that Cæsar
had given me to him, and that he will send slaves here this evening to
take me to his house?"
"I did," answered Acte; and, raising her arms from her side, she was
silent. The despair with which Lygia spoke found in her no echo. She
herself had been Nero's favorite. Her heart, though good, could not
feel clearly the shame of such a relation. A former slave, she had
grown too much inured to the law of slavery; and, besides, she loved
Nero yet. If he returned to her, she would stretch her arms to him, as
to happiness. Comprehending clearly that Lygia must become the mistress
of the youthful and stately Vinicius, or expose Aulus and Pomponia to
ruin, she failed to understand how the girl could hesitate.
"In Cæsar's house," said she, after a while, "it would not be safer for
thee than in that of Vinicius."
And it did not occur to her that, though she told the truth, her words
meant, "Be resigned to fate and become the concubine of Vinicius."
As to Lygia, who felt on her lips yet his kisses, burning as coals and
full of beastly desire, the blood rushed to her face with shame at the
mere thought of them.
"Never," cried she, with an outburst, "will I remain here, or at the
house of Vinicius,--never!"
"But," inquired Acte, "is Vinicius hateful to thee?"
Lygia was unable to answer, for weeping seized her anew. Acte gathered
the maiden to her bosom, and strove to calm her excitement. Ursus
breathed heavily, and balled his giant fists; for, loving his queen with
the devotion of a dog, he could not bear the sight of her tears. In his
half-wild Lygian heart was the wish to return to the triclinium, choke
Vinicius, and, should the need come, Cæsar himself; but he feared to
sacrifice thereby his mistress, and was not certain that such an act,
which to him seemed very simple, would befit a confessor of the
But Acte, while caressing Lygia, asked again, "Is he so hateful to
"No," said Lygia; "it is not permitted me to hate, for I am a
"I know, Lygia. I know also from the letters of Paul of Tarsus, that it
is not permitted to defile one's self, nor to fear death more than sin;
but tell me if thy teaching permits one person to cause the death of
"Then how canst thou bring Cæsar's vengeance on the house of Aulus?" A
moment of silence followed. A bottomless abyss yawned before Lygia
"I ask," continued the young freedwoman, "for I have compassion on thee
--and I have compassion on the good Pomponia and Aulus, and on their
child. It is long since I began to live in this house, and I know what
Cæsar's anger is. No! thou art not at liberty to flee from here. One
way remains to thee: implore Vinicius to return thee to Pomponia."
But Lygia dropped on her knees to implore some one else. Ursus knelt
down after a while, too, and both began to pray in Cæsar's house at the
Acte witnessed such a prayer for the first time, and could not take her
eyes from Lygia, who, seen by her in profile, with raised hands, and
face turned heavenward, seemed to implore rescue. The dawn, casting
light on her dark hair and white peplus, was reflected in her eyes.
Entirely in the light, she seemed herself like light. In that pale
face, in those parted lips, in those raised hands and eyes, a kind of
superhuman exaltation was evident. Acte understood then why Lygia could
not become the concubine of any man. Before the face of Nero's former
favorite was drawn aside, as it were, a corner of that veil which hides
a world altogether different from that to which she was accustomed. She
was astonished by prayer in that abode of crime and infamy. A moment
earlier it had seemed to her that there was no rescue for Lygia; now she
began to think that something uncommon would happen, that some aid would
come,--aid so mighty that Cæsar himself would be powerless to resist
it; that some winged army would descend from the sky to help that
maiden, or that the sun would spread its rays beneath her feet and draw
her up to itself. She had heard of many miracles among Christians, and
she thought now that everything said of them was true, since Lygia was
Lygia rose at last, with a face serene with hope. Ursus rose too, and,
holding to the bench, looked at his mistress, waiting for her words.
But it grew dark in her eyes, and after a time two great tears rolled
down her checks slowly.
"May God bless Pomponia and Aulus," said she. "It is not permitted me
to bring ruin on them; therefore I shall never see them again."
Then turning to Ursus she said that he alone remained to her in the
world; that he must be to her as a protector and a father. They could
not seek refuge in the house of Aulus, for they would bring on it the
anger of Cæsar. But neither could she remain in the house of Cæsar or
that of Vinicius. Let Ursus take her then; let him conduct her out of
the city; let him conceal her in some place where neither Vinicius nor
his servants could find her. She would follow Ursus anywhere, even
beyond the sea, even beyond the mountains, to the barbarians, where the
Roman name was not heard, and whither the power of Cæsar did not reach.
Let him take her and save her, for he alone had remained to her.
The Lygian was ready, and in sign of obedience he bent to her feet and
embraced them. But on the face of Acte, who had been expecting a
miracle, disappointment was evident. Had the prayer effected only that
much? To flee from the house of Cæsar is to commit an offence against
majesty which must be avenged; and even if Lygia succeeded in hiding,
Cæsar would avenge himself on Aulus and Pomponia. If she wishes to
escape, let her escape from the house of Vinicius. Then Cæsar, who does
not like to occupy himself with the affairs of others, may not wish even
to aid Vinicius in the pursuit; in every case it will not be a crime
But Lygia's thoughts were just the following: Aulus would not even know
where she was; Pomponia herself would not know. She would escape not
from the house of Vinicius, however, but while on the way to it. When
drunk, Vinicius had said that he would send his slaves for her in the
evening. Beyond doubt he had told the truth, which he would not have
done had he been sober. Evidently he himself, or perhaps he and
Petronius, had seen Cæsar before the feast, and won from him the promise
to give her on the following evening. And if they forgot that day, they
would send for her on the morrow. But Ursus will save her. He will
come; he will bear her out of the litter as he bore her out of the
triclinium, and they will go into the world. No one could resist Ursus,
not even that terrible athlete who wrestled at the feast yesterday. But
as Vinicius might send a great number of slaves, Ursus would go at once
to Bishop Linus for aid and counsel. The bishop will take compassion on
her, will not leave her in the hands of Vinicius; he will command
Christians to go with Ursus to rescue her. They will seize her and bear
her away; then Ursus can take her out of the city and hide her from the
power of Rome.
And her face began to flush and smile. Consolation entered her anew, as
if the hope of rescue had turned to reality. She threw herself on
Acte's neck suddenly, and, putting her beautiful lips to Acte's cheek,
"Thou wilt not betray, Acte, wilt thou?"
"By the shade of my mother," answered the freedwoman, "I will not; but
pray to thy God that Ursus be able to bear thee away."
The blue, childlike eyes of the giant were gleaming with happiness. He
had not been able to frame any plan, though he had been breaking his
poor head; but a thing like this he could do,--and whether in the day or
in the night it was all one to him! He would go to the bishop, for the
bishop can read in the sky what is needed and what is not. Besides, he
could assemble Christians himself. Are his acquaintances few among
slaves, gladiators, and free people, both in the Subura and beyond the
bridges? He can collect a couple of thousand of them. He will rescue
his lady, and take her outside the city, and he can go with her. They
will go to the end of the world, even to that place from which they had
come, where no one has heard of Rome.
Here he began to look forward, as if to see things in the future and
"To the forest? Ai, what a forest, what a forest!"
But after a while he shook himself out of his visions. Well, he will go
to the bishop at once, and in the evening will wait with something like
a hundred men for the litter. And let not slaves, but even pretorians,
take her from him! Better for any man not to come under his fist, even
though in iron armor,--for is iron so strong? When he strikes iron
earnestly, the head underneath will not survive.
But Lygia raised her finger with great and also childlike seriousness.
"Ursus, do not kill," said she.
Ursus put his fist, which was like a maul, to the back of his head, and,
rubbing his neck with great seriousness, began to mutter. But he must
rescue "his light." She herself had said that his turn had come. He
will try all he can. But if something happens in spite of him? In
every case he must save her. But should anything happen, he will
repent, and so entreat the Innocent Lamb that the Crucified Lamb will
have mercy on him, poor fellow. He has no wish to offend the Lamb; but
then his hands are so heavy.
Great tenderness was expressed on his face; but wishing to hide it, he
bowed and said,--"Now I will go to the holy bishop."
Acte put her arms around Lygia's neck, and began to weep. Once more the
freedwoman understood that there was a world in which greater happiness
existed, even in suffering, than in all the excesses and luxury of
Cæsar's house. Once more a kind of door to the light was opened a
little before her, but she felt at once that she was unworthy to pass
LYGIA was grieved to lose Pomponia Græcina, whom she loved with her
whole soul, and she grieved for the household of Aulus; still her
despair passed away. She felt a certain delight even in the thought
that she was sacrificing plenty and comfort for her Truth, and was
entering on an unknown and wandering existence. Perhaps there was in
this a little also of childish curiosity as to what that life would be,
off somewhere in remote regions, among wild beasts and barbarians. But
there was still more a deep and trusting faith, that by acting thus she
was doing as the Divine Master had commanded, and that henceforth He
Himself would watch over her, as over an obedient and faithful child.
In such a case what harm could meet her? If sufferings come, she will
endure them in His name. If sudden death comes, He will take her; and
some time, when Pomponia dies, they will be together for all eternity.
More than once when she was in the house of Aulus, she tortured her
childish head because she, a Christian, could do nothing for that
Crucified, of whom Ursus spoke with such tenderness. But now the moment
had come. Lygia felt almost happy, and began to speak of her happiness
to Acte, who could not understand her, however. To leave everything,--
to leave house, wealth, the city, gardens, temples, porticos, everything
that is beautiful; leave a sunny land and people near to one--and for
what purpose? To hide from the love of a young and stately knight. In
Acte's head these things could not find place. At times she felt that
Lygia's action was right, that there must be some immense mysterious
happiness in it; but she could not give a clear account to herself of
the matter, especially since an adventure was before Lygia which might
have an evil ending,--an adventure in which she might lose her life
simply. Acte was timid by nature, and she thought with dread of what
the coming evening might bring. But she was loath to mention her fears
to Lygia; meanwhile, as the day was clear and the sun looked into the
atrium, she began to persuade her to take the rest needed after a night
without sleep. Lygia did not refuse; and both went to the cubiculum,
which was spacious and furnished with luxury because of Acte's former
relations with Cæsar. There they lay down side by side, but in spite of
her weariness Acte could not sleep. For a long time she had been sad
and unhappy, but now she was seized by a certain uneasiness which she
had never felt before. So far life had seemed to her simply grievous
and deprived of a morrow; now all at once it seemed to her dishonorable.
Increasing chaos rose in her head. Again the door to light began to
open and close. But in the moment when it opened, that light so dazzled
her that she could see nothing distinctly. She divined, merely, that in
that light there was happiness of some kind, happiness beyond measure,
in presence of which every other was nothing, to such a degree that if
Cæsar, for example, were to set aside Poppæa, and love her, Acte, again,
it would be vanity. Suddenly the thought came to her that that Cæsar
whom she loved, whom she held involuntarily as a kind of demigod, was as
pitiful as any slave, and that palace, with columns of Numidian marble,
no better than a heap of stones. At last, however, those feelings which
she had not power to define began to torment her; she wanted to sleep,
but being tortured by alarm she could not. Thinking that Lygia,
threatened by so many perils and uncertainties, was not sleeping either,
she turned to her to speak of her flight in the evening. But Lygia was
sleeping calmly. Into the dark cubiculum, past the curtain which was
not closely drawn, came a few bright rays, in which golden dust-motes
were playing. By the light of these rays Acte saw her delicate face,
resting on her bare arm, her closed eyes, and her mouth slightly open.
She was breathing regularly, but as people breathe while asleep.
"She sleeps,--she is able to sleep," thought Acte. "She is a child
yet." Still, after a while it came to her mind that that child chose to
flee rather than remain the beloved of Vinicius; she preferred want to
shame, wandering to a lordly house, to robes, jewels, and feasts, to the
sound of lutes and citharas.
And she gazed at Lygia, as if to find an answer in her sleeping face.
She looked at her clear forehead, at the calm arch of her brows, at her
dark tresses, at her parted lips, at her virgin bosom moved by calm
breathing; then she thought again,--"How different from me!"
Lygia seemed to her a miracle, a sort of divine vision, something
beloved of the gods, a hundred times more beautiful than all the flowers
in Cæsar's garden, than all the statues in his palace. But in the Greek
woman's heart there was no envy. On the contrary, at thought of the
dangers which threatened the girl, great pity seized her. A certain
motherly feeling rose in the woman. Lygia seemed to her not only as
beautiful as a beautiful vision, but also very dear, and, putting her
lips to her dark hair, she kissed it.
But Lygia slept on calmly, as if at home, under the care of Pomponia
Græcina. And she slept rather long. Midday had passed when she opened
her blue eyes and looked around the cubiculum in astonishment.
Evidently she wondered that she was not in the house of Aulus.
"That is thou, Acte?" said she at last, seeing in the darkness the face
of the Greek.
"Is it evening?"
"No, child; but midday has passed."
"And has Ursus not returned?"
"Ursus did not say that he would return; he said that he would watch in
the evening, with Christians, for the litter."
Then they left the cubiculum and went to the bath, where Acte bathed
Lygia; then she took her to breakfast and afterward to the gardens of
the palace, in which no dangerous meeting might be feared, since Cæsar
and his principal courtiers were sleeping yet. For the first time in her
life Lygia saw those magnificent gardens, full of pines, cypresses,
oaks, olives, and myrtles, among which appeared white here and there a
whole population of statues. The mirror of ponds gleamed quietly;
groves of roses were blooming, watered with the spray of fountains;
entrances to charming grottos were encircled with a growth of ivy or
woodbine; silver-colored swans were sailing on the water; amidst statues
and trees wandered tame gazelles from the deserts of Africa, and rich-
colored birds from all known countries on earth.
The gardens were empty; but here and there slaves were working, spade in
hand, singing in an undertone; others, to whom was granted a moment of
rest, were sitting by ponds or in the shade of groves, in trembling
light produced by sun-rays breaking in between leaves; others were
watering roses or the pale lily-colored blossoms of the saffron. Acte
and Lygia walked rather long, looking at all the wonders of the gardens;
and though Lygia's mind was not at rest, she was too much a child yet to
resist pleasure, curiosity, and wonder. It occurred to her, even, that
if Cæsar were good, he might be very happy in such a palace, in such
But at last, tired somewhat, the two women sat down on a bench hidden
almost entirely by dense cypresses and began to talk of that which
weighed on their hearts most,--that is, of Lygia's escape in the
evening. Acte was far less at rest than Lygia touching its success. At
times it seemed to her even a mad project, which could not succeed. She
felt a growing pity for Lygia. It seemed to her that it would be a
hundred times safer to try to act on Vinicius. After a while she
inquired of Lygia how long she had known him, and whether she did not
think that he would let himself be persuaded to return her to Pomponia.
But Lygia shook her dark head in sadness. "No. In Aulus's house,
Vinicius had been different, he had been very kind, but since
yesterday's feast she feared him, and would rather flee to the Lygians."
"But in Aulus's house," inquired Acte, "he was dear to thee, was he
"He was," answered Lygia, inclining her head.
"And thou wert not a slave, as I was," said Acte, after a moment's
thought. "Vinicius might marry thee. Thou art a hostage, and a
daughter of the Lygian king. Aulus and Pomponia love thee as their own
child; I am sure that they arc ready to adopt thee. Vinicius might marry
But Lygia answered calmly, and with still greater sadness, "I would
rather flee to the Lygians."
"Lygia, dost thou wish me to go directly to Vinicius, rouse him, if he
is sleeping, and tell him what I have told thee? Yes, my precious one,
I will go to him and say, 'Vinicius, this is a king's daughter, and a
dear child of the famous Aulus; if thou love her, return her to Aulus
and Pomponia, and take her as wife from their house.'"
But the maiden answered with a voice so low that Acte could barely hear
"I would rather flee to the Lygians." And two tears were hanging on her
Further conversation was stopped by the rustle of approaching steps, and
before Acte had time to see who was coming, Poppæa Sabina appeared in
front of the bench with a small retinue of slave women. Two of them
held over her head bunches of ostrich feathers fixed to golden wires;
with these they fanned her lightly, and at the same time protected her
from the autumn sun, which was hot yet. Before her a woman from Egypt,
black as ebony, and with bosom swollen as if from milk, bore in her arms
an infant wrapped in purple fringed with gold. Acte and Lygia rose,
thinking that Poppæa would pass the bench without turning attention to
either; but she halted before them and said,--"Acte, the bells sent by
thee for the doll were badly fastened; the child tore off one and put it
to her mouth; luckily Lilith saw it in season."
"Pardon, divinity," answered Acte, crossing her arms on her breast and
bending her head.
But Poppæa began to gaze at Lygia.
"What slave is this?" asked she, after a pause.
"She is not a slave, divine Augusta, but a foster child of Pomponia
Græcina, and a daughter of the Lygian king given by him as hostage to
"And has she come to visit thee?"
"No, Augusta. She is dwelling in the palace since the day before
"Was she at the feast last night?"
"She was, Augusta."
"At whose command?"
"At Cæsar's command."
Poppæa looked still more attentively at Lygia, who stood with bowed
head, now raising her bright eyes to her with curiosity, now covering
them with their lids. Suddenly a frown appeared between the brows of
the Augusta. Jealous of her own beauty and power, she lived in
continual alarm lest at some time a fortunate rival might ruin her, as
she had ruined Octavia. Hence every beautiful face in the palace roused
her suspicion. With the eye of a critic she took in at once every part
of Lygia's form, estimated every detail of her face, and was frightened.
"That is simply a nymph," thought she, "and 'twas Venus who gave birth
to her." On a sudden this came to her mind which had never come before
at sight of any beauty,--that she herself had grown notably older!
Wounded vanity quivered in Poppæa, alarm seized her, and various fears
shot through her head. "Perhaps Nero has not seen the girl, or, seeing
her through the emerald, has not appreciated her. But what would happen
should he meet such a marvel in the daytime, in sunlight? Moreover she
is not a slave, she is the daughter of a king,--a king of barbarians,
it is true, but a king. Immortal gods! she is as beautiful as I am, but
younger!" The wrinkle between her brows increased, and her eyes began
to shine under their golden lashes with a cold gleam.
"Hast thou spoken with Cæsar?"
"Why dost thou choose to be here rather than in the house of Aulus?"
"I do not choose, lady. Petronius persuaded Cæsar to take me from
Pomponia. I am here against my will."
"And wouldst thou return to Pomponia?"
This last question Poppæa gave with a softer and milder voice; hence a
sudden hope rose in Lygia's heart.
"Lady," said she, extending her hand to her, "Cæsar promised to give me
as a slave to Vinicius, but do thou intercede and return me to
"Then Petronius persuaded Cæsar to take thee from Aulus, and give thee
"True, lady. Vinicius is to send for me to-day, but thou art good, have
compassion on me." When she had said this, she inclined, and, seizing
the border of Poppæa's robe, waited for her word with beating heart.
Poppæa looked at her for a while, with a face lighted by an evil smile,
and said,--"Then I promise that thou wilt become the slave of Vinicius
this day." And she went on, beautiful as a vision, but evil. To the
ears of Lygia and Acte came only the wail of the infant, which began to
cry, it was unknown for what reason.
Lygia's eyes too were filled with tears; but after a while she took
Acte's hand and said,--"Let us return. Help is to be looked for only
whence it can come." And they returned to the atrium, which they did
not leave till evening.
When darkness had come and slaves brought in tapers with great flames,
both women were very pale. Their conversation failed every moment.
Both were listening to hear if some one were coming. Lygia repeated
again and again that, though grieved to leave Acte, she preferred that
all should take place that day, as Ursus must be waiting in the dark for
her then. But her breathing grew quicker from emotion, and louder.
Acte collected feverishly such jewels as she could, and, fastening them
in a corner of Lygia's peplus, implored her not to reject that gift and
means of escape. At moments came a deep silence full of deceptions for
the ear. It seemed to both that they heard at one time a whisper beyond
the curtain, at another the distant weeping of a child, at another the
barking of dogs.
Suddenly the curtain of the entrance moved without noise, and a tall,
dark man, his face marked with small-pox, appeared like a spirit in the
atrium. In one moment Lygia recognized Atacinus, a freedman of
Vinicius, who had visited the house of Aulus.
Acte screamed; but Atacinus bent low and said,--"A greeting, divine
Lygia, from Marcus Vinicius, who awaits thee with a feast in his house
which is decked in green."
The lips of the maiden grew pale.
"I go," said she.
Then she threw her arms around Acte's neck in farewell.
THE house of Vinicius was indeed decked in the green of myrtle and ivy,
which had been hung on the walls and over the doors. The columns were
wreathed with grape vine. In the atrium, which was closed above by a
purple woollen cloth as protection from the night cold, it was as clear
as in daylight. Eight and twelve flamed lamps were burning; these were
like vessels, trees, animals, birds, or statues, holding cups filled
with perfumed olive oil, lamps of alabaster, marble, or gilded
Corinthian bronze, not so wonderful as that famed candlestick used by
Nero and taken from the temple of Apollo, but beautiful and made by
famous masters. Some of the lights were shaded by Alexandrian glass, or
transparent stuffs from the Indus, of red, blue, yellow, or violet
color, so that the whole atrium was filled with many colored rays.
Everywhere was given out the odor of nard, to which Vinicius had grown
used, and which he had learned to love in the Orient. The depths of the
house, in which the forms of male and female slaves were movmg, gleamed
also with light. In the triclinium a table was laid for four persons.
At the feast were to sit, besides Vinicius and Lygia, Petronius and
Chrysothemis. Vinicius had followed in everything the words of
Petronius, who advised him not to go for Lygia, but to send Atacinus
with the permission obtained from Cæsar, to receive her himself in the
house, receive her with friendliness and even with marks of honor.
"Thou wert drunk yesterday," said he; "I saw thee. Thou didst act with
her like a quarryman from the Alban Hills. Be not over-insistent, and
remember that one should drink good wine slowly. Know too that it is
sweet to desire, but sweeter to be desired."
Chrysothemis had her own and a somewhat different opinion on this point;
but Petronius, calling her his vestal and his dove, began to explain the
difference which must exist between a trained charioteer of the Circus
and the youth who sits on the quadriga for the first time. Then,
turning to Vinicius, he continued,--"Win her confidence, make her
joyful, be magnanimous. I have no wish to see a gloomy feast. Swear to
her, by Hades even, that thou wilt return her to Pomponia, and it will
be thy affair that to-morrow she prefers to stay with thee."
Then pointing to Chrysothemis, he added,--"For five years I have acted
thus more or less with this timid dove, and I cannot complain of her
Chrysothemis struck him with her fan of peacock feathers, and said,--
"But I did not resist, thou satyr!"
"Out of consideration for my predecessor--"
"But wert thou not at my feet?"
"Yes; to put rings on thy toes."
Chrysothemis looked involuntarily at her feet, on the toes of which
diamonds were really glittering; and she and Petronius began to laugh.
But Vinicius did not give ear to their bantering. His heart was beating
unquietly under the robes of a Syrian priest, in which he had arrayed
himself to receive Lygia.
"They must have left the palace," said he, as if in a monologue.
"They must," answered Petronius. "Meanwhile I may mention the
predictions of Apollonius of Tyana, or that history of Rufinus which I
have not finished, I do not remember why."
But Vinicius cared no more for Apollonius of Tyana than for the history
of Rufinus. His mind was with Lygia; and though he felt that it was
more appropriate to receive her at home than to go in the rôle of a
myrmidon to the palace, he was sorry at moments that he had not gone,
for the single reason that he might have seen her sooner, and sat near
her in the dark, in the double litter.
Meanwhile slaves brought in a tripod ornamented with rams' heads, bronze
dishes with coals, on which they sprinkled bits of myrrh and nard.
"Now they are turning toward the Carinæ," said Vinicius, again.
"He cannot wait; he will run to meet the litter, and is likely to miss
them!" exclaimed Chrysothemis.
Vinicius smiled without thinking, and said,--"On the contrary, I will
But he distended his nostrils and panted; seeing which, Petronius
shrugged his shoulders, and said,--"There is not in him a philosopher to
the value of one sestertium, and I shall never make a man of that son of
"They are now in the Carinæ."
In fact, they were turning toward the Carinæ. The slaves called
lampadarii were in front; others called pedisequii, were on both sides
of the litter. Atacinus was right behind, overseeing the advance. But
they moved slowly, for lamps showed the way badly in a place not lighted
at all. The streets near the palace were empty; here and there only
some man moved forward with a lantern, but farther on the place was
uncommonly crowded. From almost every alley people were pushing out in
threes and fours, all without lamps, all in dark mantles. Some walked
on with the procession, mingling with the slaves; others in greater
numbers came from the opposite direction. Some staggered as if drunk.
At moments the advance grew so difficult that the lampadarii cried,--
"Give way to the noble tribune, Marcus Vinicius!"
Lygia saw those dark crowds through the curtains which were pushed
aside, and trembled with emotion. She was carried away at one moment by
hope, at another by fear.
"That is he!--that is Ursus and the Christians! Now it will happen
quickly," said she, with trembling lips. "O Christ, aid! O Christ,
Atacinus himself, who at first did not notice the uncommon animation of
the street, began at last to be alarmed. There was something strange in
this. The lampadarii had to cry oftener and oftener, "Give way to the
litter of the noble tribune!" From the sides unknown people crowded up
to the litter so much that Atacinus commanded the slaves to repulse them
Suddenly a cry was heard in front of the procession. In one instant all
the lights were extinguished. Around the litter came a rush, an uproar,
Atacinus saw that this was simply an attack; and when he saw it he was
frightened. It was known to all that Cæsar with a crowd of attendants
made attacks frequently for amusement in the Subura and in other parts
of the city. It was known that even at times he brought out of these
night adventures black and blue spots; but whoso defended himself went
to his death, even if a senator. The house of the guards, whose duty it
was to watch over the city, was not very far; but during such attacks
the guards feigned to be deaf and blind.
Meanwhile there was an uproar around the litter; people struck,
struggled, threw, and trampled one another. The thought flashed on
Atacinus to save Lygia and himself, above all, and leave the rest to
their fate. So, drawing her out of the litter, he took her in his arms
and strove to escape in the darkness.
But Lygia called, "Ursus! Ursus!"
She was dressed in white; hence it was easy to see her. Atacinus, with
his other arm, which was free, was throwing his own mantle over her
hastily, when terrible claws seized his neck, and on his head a
gigantic, crushing mass fell like a stone.
He dropped in one instant, as an ox felled by the back of an axe before
the altar of Jove.
The slaves for the greater part were either lying on the ground, or had
saved themselves by scattering in the thick darkness, around the turns
of the walls. On the spot remained only the litter, broken in the
onset. Ursus bore away Lygia to the Subura; his comrades followed him,
dispersing gradually along the way.
The slaves assembled before the house of Vinicius, and took counsel.
They had not courage to enter. After a short deliberation they returned
to the place of conflict, where they found a few corpses, and among them
Atacinus. He was quivering yet; but, after a moment of more violent
convulsion, he stretched and was motionless.
They took him then, and, returning, stopped before the gate a second
time. But they must declare to their lord what had happened.
"Let Gulo declare it," whispered some voices; "blood is flowing from his
face as from ours; and the master loves him; it is safer for Gulo than
Gulo, a German, an old slave, who had nursed Vinicius, and was inherited
by him from his mother, the sister of Petronius, said,--
"I will tell him; but do ye all come. Do not let his anger fall on my
Vinicius was growing thoroughly impatient. Petronius and Chrysothemis
were laughing; but he walked with quick step up and down the atrium.
"They ought to be here! They ought to be here!"
He wished to go out to meet the litter, but Petronius and Chrysothemis
Steps were heard suddenly in the entrance; the slaves rushed into the
atrium in a crowd, and, halting quickly at the wall, raised their hands,
and began to repeat with groaning,--"Aaaa!--aa!"
Vinicius sprang toward them.
"Where is Lygia?" cried he, with a terrible and changed voice.
Then Gulo pushed forward with his bloody face, and exclaimed, in haste
"See our blood, lord! We fought! See our blood! See our blood!"
But he had not finished when Vinicius seized a bronze lamp, and with one
blow shattered the skull of the slave; then, seizing his own head with
both hands, he drove his fingers into his hair, repeating hoarsely,--"Me
miserum! me miserum!"
His face became blue, his eyes turned in his head, foam came out on his
"Whips!" roared he at last, with an unearthly voice.
"Lord! Aaaa! Take pity!" groaned the slaves.
Petronius stood up with an expression of disgust on his face. "Come,
Chrysothemis!" said he. "If 'tis thy wish to look on raw flesh, I will
give command to open a butcher's stall on the Carinæ!"
And he walked out of the atrium. But through the whole house,
ornamented in the green of ivy and prepared for a feast, were heard,
from moment to moment, groans and the whistling of whips, which lasted
almost till morning.
VINICIUS did not lie down that night. Some time after the departure of
Petronius, when the groans of his flogged slaves could allay neither his
rage nor his pain, he collected a crowd of other servants, and, though
the night was far advanced, rushed forth at the head of these to look
for Lygia. He visited the district of the Esquiline, then the Subura,
Vicus Sceleratus, and all the adjoining alleys. Passing next around the
Capitol, he went to the island over the bridge of Fabricius; after that
he passed through a part of the Trans-Tiber. But that was a pursuit
without object, for he himself had no hope of finding Lygia, and if he
sought her it was mainly to fill out with something a terrible night.
In fact he returned home about daybreak, when the carts and mules of
dealers in vegetables began to appear in the city, and when bakers were
opening their shops.
On returning he gave command to put away Gulo's corpse, which no one had
ventured to touch. The slaves from whom Lygia had been taken he sent to
rural prisons,--a punishment almost more dreadful than death. Throwing
himself at last on a couch in the atrium, he began to think confusedly
of how he was to find and seize Lygia.
To resign her, to lose her, not to see her again, seemed to him
impossible; and at this thought alone frenzy took hold of him. For the
first time in life the imperious nature of the youthful soldier met
resistance, met another unbending will, and he could not understand
simply how any one could have the daring to thwart his wishes. Vinicius
would have chosen to see the world and the city sink in ruins rather
than fail of his purpose. The cup of delight had been snatched from
before his lips almost; hence it seemed to him that something unheard of
had happened, something crying to divine and human laws for vengeance.
But, first of all, he was unwilling and unable to be reconciled with
fate, for never in life had he so desired anything as Lygia. It seemed
to him that he could not exist without her. He could not tell himself
what he was to do without her on the morrow, how he was to survive the
days following. At moments he was transported by a rage against her,
which approached madness. He wanted to have her, to beat her, to drag
her by the hair to the cubiculum, and gloat over her; then, again, he
was carried away by a terrible yearning for her voice, her form, her
eyes, and he felt that he would be ready to lie at her feet. He called
to her, gnawed his fingers, clasped his head with his hands. He strove
with all his might to think calmly about searching for her,--and was
unable. A thousand methods and means flew through his head, but one
wilder than another. At last the thought flashed on him that no one
else had intercepted her but Aulus, that in every case Aulus must know
where she was hiding. And he sprang up to run to the house of Aulus.
If they will not yield her to him, if they have no fear of his threats,
he will go to Cæsar, accuse the old general of disobedience, and obtain
a sentence of death against him; but before that, he will gain from them
a confession of where Lygia is. If they give her, even willingly, he
will be revenged. They received him, it is true, in their house and
nursed him,--but that is nothing! With this one injustice they have
freed him from every debt of gratitude. Here his vengeful and stubborn
soul began to take pleasure at the despair of Pomponia Græcina, when the
centurion would bring the death sentence to old Aulus. He was almost
certain that he would get it. Petronius would assist him. Moreover,
Cæsar never denies anything to his intimates, the Augustians, unless
personal dislike or desire enjoins a refusal.
Suddenly his heart almost died within him, under the influence of this
terrible supposition,--"But if Cæsar himself has taken Lygia?"
All knew that Nero from tedium sought recreation in night attacks. Even
Petronius took part in these amusements. Their main object was to seize
women and toss each on a soldier's mantle till she fainted. Even Nero
himself on occasions called these expeditions "pearl hunts," for it
happened that in the depth of districts occupied by a numerous and needy
population they caught a real pearl of youth and beauty sometimes. Then
the "sagatio," as they termed the tossing, was changed into a genuine
carrying away, and the pearl was sent either to the Palatine or to one
of Cæsar's numberless villas, or finally Cæsar yielded it to one of his
intimates. So might it happen also with Lygia. Cæsar had seen her
during the feast; and Vinicius doubted not for an instant that she must
have seemed to him the most beautiful woman he had seen yet. How could
it be otherwise? It is true that Lygia had been in Nero's own house on
the Palatine, and he might have kept her openly. But, as Petronius said
truly, Cæsar had no courage in crime, and, with power to act openly, he
chose to act always in secret. This time fear of Poppæa might incline
him also to secrecy. It occurred now to the young soldier that Aulus
would not have dared, perhaps, to carry off forcibly a girl given him,
Vinicius, by Cæsar. Besides, who would dare? Would that gigantic blue-
eyed Lygian, who had the courage to enter the triclinium and carry her
from the feast on his arm? But where could he hide with her; whither
could he take her? No! a slave would not have ventured that far. Hence
no one had done the deed except Cæsar.
At this thought it grew dark in his eyes, and drops of sweat covered his
forehead. In that case Lygia was lost to him forever. It was possible
to wrest her from the hands of any one else, but not from the hands of
Cæsar. Now, with greater truth than ever, could he exclaim, "Væ misero
mihi!" His imagination represented Lygia in Nero's arms, and, for the
first time in life, he understood that there are thoughts which are
simply beyond man's endurance. He knew then, for the first time, how he
loved her. As his whole life flashes through the memory of a drowning
man, so Lygia began to pass through his. He saw her, heard every word
of hers,--saw her at the fountain, saw her at the house of Aulus, and at
the feast; felt her near him, felt the odor of her hair, the warmth of
her body, the delight of the kisses which at the feast he had pressed on
her innocent lips. She seemed to him a hundred times sweeter, more
beautiful, more desired than ever,--a hundred times more the only one,
the one chosen from among all mortals and divinities. And when he
thought that all this which had become so fixed in his heart, which had
become his blood and life, might be possessed by Nero, a pain seized
him, which was purely physical, and so piercing that he wanted to beat
his head against the wall of the atrium, until he should break it. He
felt that he might go mad; and he would have gone mad beyond doubt, had
not vengeance remained to him. But as hitherto he had thought that he
could not live unless he got Lygia, he thought now that he would not die
till he had avenged her. This gave him a certain kind of comfort. "I
will be thy Cassius Chærea!" [The slayer of Caligula] said he to himself
in thinking of Nero. After a while, seizing earth in his hands from the
flower vases surrounding the impluvium, he made a dreadful vow to
Erebus, Hecate, and his own household lares, that he would have
And he received a sort of consolation. He had at least something to
live for and something with which to fill his nights and days. Then,
dropping his idea of visiting Aulus, he gave command to bear him to the
Palatine. Along the way he concluded that if they would not admit him
to Cæsar, or if they should try to find weapons on his person, it would
be a proof that Cæsar had taken Lygia. He had no weapons with him. He
had lost presence of mind in general; but as is usual with persons
possessed by a single idea, he preserved it in that which concerned his
revenge. He did not wish his desire of revenge to fall away
prematurely. He wished above all to see Acte, for he expected to learn
the truth from her. At moments the hope flashed on him that he might
see Lygia also, and at that thought he began to tremble. For if Cæsar
had carried her away without knowledge of whom he was taking, he might
return her that day. But after a while he cast aside this supposition.
Had there been a wish to return her to him, she would have been sent
yesterday. Acte was the only person who could explain everything, and
there was need to see her before others.
Convinced of this, he commanded the slaves to hasten; and along the road
he thought without order, now of Lygia, now of revenge. He had heard
that Egyptian priests of the goddess Pasht could bring disease on
whomever they wished, and he determined to learn the means of doing
this. In the Orient they had told him, too, that Jews have certain
invocations by which they cover their enemies' bodies with ulcers. He
had a number of Jews among his domestic slaves; hence he promised
himself to torture them on his return till they divulged the secret. He
found most delight, however, in thinking of the short Roman sword which
lets out a stream of blood such as had gushed from Caius Caligula and
made ineffaceable stains on the columns of the portico. He was ready to
exterminate all Rome; and had vengeful gods promised that all people
should die except him and Lygia, he would have accepted the promise.
In front of the arch he regained presence of mind, and thought when he
saw the pretorian guard, "If they make the least difficulty in admitting
me, they will prove that Lygia is in the palace by the will of Cæsar."
But the chief centurion smiled at him in a friendly manner, then
advanced a number of steps, and said,--"A greeting, noble tribune. If
thou desire to give an obeisance to Cæsar, thou hast found an
unfortunate moment. I do not think that thou wilt be able to see him."
"What has happened?" inquired Vinicius.
"The infant Augusta fell ill yesterday on a sudden. Cæsar and the
august Poppæa are attending her, with physicians whom they have summoned
from the whole city."
This was an important event. When that daughter was born to him, Cæsar
was simply wild from delight, and received her with extra humanum
gaudium. Previously the senate had committed the womb of Poppæa to the
gods with the utmost solemnity. A votive offering was made at Antium,
where the delivery took place; splendid games were celebrated, and
besides a temple was erected to the two Fortunes. Nero, unable to be
moderate in anything, loved the infant beyond measure; to Poppæa the
child was dear also, even for this, that it strengthened her position
and made her influence irresistible.
The fate of the whole empire might depend on the health and life of the
infant Augusta; but Vinicius was so occupied with himself, his own case
and his love, that without paying attention to the news of the centurion
he answered, "I only wish to see Acte." And he passed in.
But Acte was occupied also near the child, and he had to wait a long
time to see her. She came only about midday, with a face pale and
wearied, which grew paler still at sight of Vinicius.
"Acte!" cried Vinicius, seizing her hand and drawing her to the middle
of the atrium, "where is Lygia?"
"I wanted to ask thee touching that," answered she, looking him in the
eyes with reproach.
But though he had promised himself to inquire of her calmly, he pressed
his head with his hands again, and said, with a face distorted by pain
and anger,--"She is gone. She was taken from me on the way!"
After a while, however, he recovered, and thrusting his face up to
Acte's, said through his set teeth,--"Acte! If life be dear to thee, if
thou wish not to cause misfortunes which thou are unable even to
imagine, answer me truly. Did Cæsar take her?"
"Cæsar did not leave the palace yesterday."
"By the shade of thy mother, by all the gods, is she not in the palace?"
"By the shade of my mother, Marcus, she is not in the palace, and Cæsar
did not intercept her. The infant Augusta is ill since yesterday, and
Nero has not left her cradle."
Vinicius drew breath. That which had seemed the most terrible ceased to
"Ah, then," said he, sitting on the bench and clinching his fists,
"Aulus intercepted her, and in that case woe to him!"
"Aulus Plautius was here this morning. He could not see me, for I was
occupied with the child; but he inquired of Epaphroditus, and others of
Cæsar's servants, touching Lygia, and told them that he would come again
to see me."
"He wished to turn suspicion from himself. If he knew not what
happened, he would have come to seek Lygia in my house."
"He left a few words on a tablet, from which thou wilt see that, knowing
Lygia to have been taken from his house by Cæsar, at thy request and
that of Petronius, he expected that she would be sent to thee, and this
morning early he was at thy house, where they told him what had
When she had said this, she went to the cubiculum and returned soon with
the tablet which Aulus had left.
Vinicius read the tablet, and was silent; Acte seemed to read the
thoughts on his gloomy face, for she said after a while,--"No, Marcus.
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