Quo Vadis A Narrative of the Time of Nero
Part 9 out of 12
More than one hearing this said in spirit: "Woe to me! Petronius with
time before him may return to favor and overturn even Tigellinus." And
they began again to approach him. But the end of the evening was less
fortunate; for Cæsar, at the moment when Petronius was taking leave,
inquired suddenly, with blinking eyes and a face at once glad and
"But why did not Vinicius come?"
Had Petronius been sure that Vinicius and Lygia were beyond the gates of
the city, he would have answered, "With thy permission he has married
and gone." But seeing Nero's strange smile, he answered,--
"Thy invitation, divinity, did not find him at home."
"Say to Vinicius that I shall be glad to see him," answered Nero, "and
tell him from me not to neglect the games in which Christians will
These words alarmed Petronius. It seemed to him that they related to
Lygia directly. Sitting in his litter, he gave command to bear him home
still more quickly than in the morning. That, however, was not easy.
Before the house of Tiberius stood a crowd dense and noisy, drunk as
before, though not singing and dancing, but, as it were, excited. From
afar came certain shouts which Petronius could not understand at once,
but which rose and grew till at last they were one savage roar,--
"To the lions with Christians!"
Rich litters of courtiers pushed through the howling rabble. From the
depth of burnt streets new crowds rushed forth continually; these,
hearing the cry, repeated it. News passed from mouth to mouth that the
pursuit had continued from the forenoon, that a multitude of
incendiaries were seized; and immediately along the newly cleared and
the old streets, through alleys lying among ruins around the Palatine,
over all the hills and gardens were heard through the length and breadth
of Rome shouts of swelling rage,--
"To the lions with Christians!"
"Herd!" repeated Petronius, with contempt; "a people worthy of Cæsar!"
And he began to think that a society resting on superior force, on
cruelty of which even barbarians had no conception, on crimes and mad
profligacy, could not endure. Rome ruled the world, but was also its
ulcer. The odor of a corpse was rising from it. Over its decaying life
the shadow of death was descending. More than once this had been
mentioned even among the Augustians, but never before had Petronius had
a clearer view of this truth that the laurelled chariot on which Rome
stood in the form of a triumphator, and which dragged behind a chained
herd of nations, was going to the precipice. The life of that world-
ruling city seemed to him a kind of mad dance, an orgy, which must end.
He saw then that the Christians alone had a new basis of life; but he
judged that soon there would not remain a trace of the Christians. And
The mad dance would continue under Nero; and if Nero disappeared,
another would be found of the same kind or worse, for with such a people
and such patricians there was no reason to find a better leader. There
would be a new orgy, and moreover a fouler and a viler one.
But the orgy could not last forever, and there would be need of sleep
when it was over, even because of simple exhaustion.
While thinking of this, Petronius felt immensely wearied. Was it worth
while to live, and live in uncertainty, with no purpose but to look at
such a society? The genius of death was not less beautiful than the
genius of sleep, and he also had wings at his shoulders.
The litter stopped before the arbiter's door, which was opened that
instant by the watchful keeper.
"Has the noble Vinicius returned?" inquired Petronius.
"Yes, lord, a moment ago," replied the slave.
"He has not rescued her," thought Petronius. And casting aside his
toga, he ran into the atrium. Vinicius was sitting on a stool; his head
bent almost to his knees with his hands on his head; but at the sound of
steps he raised his stony face, in which the eyes alone had a feverish
"Thou wert late?" asked Petronius.
"Yes; they seized her before midday."
A moment of silence followed.
"Hast thou seen her?"
"Where is she?"
"In the Mamertine prison."
Petronius trembled and looked at Vinicius with an inquiring glance. The
"No," said he. "She was not thrust down to the Tullianum [The lowest
part of the prison, lying entirely underground, with a single opening in
the ceiling. Jugurtha died there of hunger.] nor even to the middle
prison. I paid the guard to give her his own room. Ursus took his
place at the threshold and is guarding her."
"Why did Ursus not defend her?"
"They sent fifty pretorians, and Linus forbade him."
"Linus is dying; therefore they did not seize him."
"What is thy intention?"
"To save her or die with her. I too believe in Christ."
Viicius spoke with apparent calmness; but there was such despair in his
voice that the heart of Petronius quivered from pure pity.
"I understand thee," said he; "but how dost thou think to save her?"
"I paid the guards highly, first to shield her from indignity, and
second not to hinder her flight."
"When can that happen?"
"They answered that they could not give her to me at once, as they
feared responsibility. When the prison will be filled with a multitude
of people, and when the tally of prisoners is confused, they will
deliver her. But that is a desperate thing! Do thou save her, and me
first! Thou art a friend of Cæsar. He himself gave her to me. Go to
him and save me!"
Petronius, instead of answering, called a slave, and, commanding him to
bring two dark mantles and two swords, turned to Vinicius,-
"On the way I will tell thee," said he. "Meanwhile take the mantle and
weapon, and we will go to the prison. There give the guards a hundred
thousand sestertia; give them twice and five times more, if they will
free Lygia at once. Otherwise it will be too late."
"Let us go," said Vinicius.
After a while both were on the street.
"Now listen to me," said Petronius. "I did not wish to lose time. I am
in disfavor, beginning with to-day. My own life is hanging on a hair;
hence I can do nothing with Cæsar. Worse than that, I am sure that he
would act in opposition to my request. If that were not the case, would
I advise thee to flee with Lygia or to rescue her? Besides, if thou
escape, Cæsar's wrath will turn on me. To-day he would rather do
something at thy request than at mine. Do not count on that, however.
Get her out of the prison, and flee! Nothing else is left. If that does
not succeed, there will be time for other methods. Meanwhile know that
Lygia is in prison, not alone for belief in Christ; Poppæa's anger is
pursuing her and thee. Thou hast offended the Augusta by rejecting her,
dost remember? She knows that she was rejected for Lygia, whom she
hated from the first cast of the eye. Nay, she tried to destroy Lygia
before by ascribing the death of her own infant to her witchcraft. The
hand of Poppæa is in this. How explain that Lygia was the first to be
imprisoned? Who could point out the house of Linus? But I tell thee
that she has been followed this long time. I know that I wring thy
soul, and take the remnant of thy hope from thee, but I tell thee this
purposely, for the reason that if thou free her not before they come at
the idea that thou wilt try, ye are both lost."
"Yes; I understand!" muttered Vinicius.
The streets were empty because of the late hour. Their further
conversation was interrupted, however, by a drunken gladiator who came
toward them. He reeled against Petronius, put one hand on his shoulder,
covering his face with a breath filled with wine, and shouted in a
"To the lions with Christians!"
"Mirmillon," answered Petronius, quietly, "listen to good counsel; go
With his other hand the drunken man seized him by the arm,--
"Shout with me, or I'll break thy neck: Christians to the lions!" But
the arbiter's nerves had had enough of those shouts. From the time that
he had left the Palatine they had been stifling him like a nightmare,
and rending his ears. So when he saw the fist of the giant above him,
the measure of his patience was exceeded.
"Friend," said he, "thou hint the smell of wine, and art stopping my
Thus speaking, he drove into the man's breast to the hilt the short
sword which he had brought from home; then, taking the arm of Vinicius,
he continued as if nothing had happened,--
"Cæsar said to-day, 'Tell Vinicius from me to be at the games in which
Christians will appear.' Dost understand what that means? They wish to
make a spectacle of thy pain. That is a settled affair. Perhaps that is
why thou and I are not imprisoned yet. If thou art not able to get her
at once--I do not know--Acte might take thy part; but can she effect
anything? Thy Sicilian lands, too, might tempt Tigellinus. Make the
"I will give him all that I have," answered Vinicius.
From the Carinæ to the Forum was not very far; hence they arrived soon.
The night had begun to pale, and the walls of the castle came out
definitely from the shadow.
Suddenly, as they turned toward the Mamertine prison, Petronius stopped,
"Pretorians! Too late!"
In fact the prison was surrounded by a double rank of soldiers. The
morning dawn was silvering their helmets and the points of their
Vinicius grew as pale as marble. "Let us go on," said he.
After a while they halted before the line. Gifted with an uncommon
memory, Petronius knew not only the officers, but nearly all the
pretorian soldiers. Soon he saw an acquaintance, a leader of a cohort,
and nodded to him.
"But what is this, Niger?" asked he; "are ye commanded to watch the
"Yes, noble Petronius. The prefect feared lest they might try to rescue
"Have ye the order to admit no one?" inquired Vinicius.
"We have not; acquaintances will visit the prisoners, and in that way we
shall seize more Christians."
"Then let me in," said Vinicius; and pressing Petronius's hand, he said,
"See Acte, I will come to learn her answer."
"Come," responded Petronius.
At that moment under the ground and beyond the thick walls was heard
singing. The hymn, at first low and muffled, rose more and more. The
voices of men, women, and children were mingled in one harmonious
chorus. The whole prison began to sound, in the calmness of dawn, like
a harp. But those were not voices of sorrow or despair; on the
contrary, gladness and triumph were heard in them.
The soldiers looked at one another with amazement. The first golden and
rosy gleams of the morning appeared in the sky.
THE cry, "Christians to the lions!" was heard increasingly in every part
of the city. At first not only did no one doubt that they were the real
authors of the catastrophe, but no one wished to doubt, since their
punishment was to be a splendid amusement for the populace. Still the
opinion spread that the catastrophe would not have assumed such dreadful
proportions but for the anger of the gods; for this reason "piacula," or
purifying sacrifices, were commanded in the temples. By advice of the
Sibylline books, the Senate ordained solemnities and public prayer to
Vulcan, Ceres, and Proserpina. Matrons made offerings to Juno; a whole
procession of them went to the seashore to take water and sprinkle with
it the statue of the goddess. Married women prepared feasts to the gods
and night watches. All Rome purified itself from sin, made offerings,
and placated the Immortals. Meanwhile new broad streets were opened
among the ruins. In one place and another foundations were laid for
magnificent houses, palaces, and temples. But first of all they built
with unheard-of haste an enormous wooden amphitheatre in which
Christians were to die. Immediately after that consultation in the house
of Tiberius, orders went to consuls to furnish wild beasts. Tigellinus
emptied the vivaria of all Italian cities, not excepting the smaller
ones. In Africa, at his command, gigantic hunts were organized, in
which the entire local population was forced to take part. Elephants
and tigers were brought in from Asia, crocodiles and hippopotamuses from
the Nile, lions from the Atlas, wolves and bears from the Pyrenees,
savage hounds from Hibernia, Molossian dogs from Epirus, bisons and the
gigantic wild aurochs from Germany. Because of the number of prisoners,
the games were to surpass in greatness anything seen up to that time.
Cæsar wished to drown all memory of the fire in blood, and make Rome
drunk with it; hence never had there been a greater promise of
The willing people helped guards and pretorians in hunting Christians.
That was no difficult labor for whole groups of them camped with the
other population in the midst of the gardens, and confessed their faith
openly. When surrounded, they knelt, and while singing hymns let
themselves be borne away without resistance. But their patience only
increased the anger of the populace, who, not understanding its origin,
considered it as rage and persistence in crime. A madness seized the
persecutors. It happened that the mob wrested Christians from
pretorians, and tore them to pieces; women were dragged to prison by the
hair; children's heads were dashed against stones. Thousands of people
rushed, howling, night and day through the streets. Victims were sought
in ruins, in chimneys, in cellars. Before the prison bacchanalian
feasts and dances were celebrated at fires, around casks of wine.
In the evening was heard with delight bellowing which was like thunder,
and which sounded throughout the city. The prisons were overflowing
with thousands of people; every day the mob and pretorians drove in new
victims. Pity had died out. It seemed that people had forgotten to
speak, and in their wild frenzy remembered one shout alone: "To the
lions with Christians!" Wonderfully hot days came, and nights more
stifling than ever before; the very air seemed filled with blood, crime,
And that surpassing measure of cruelty was answered by an equal measure
of desire for martyrdom,--the confessors of Christ went to death
willingly, or even sought death till they were restrained by the stern
commands of superiors. By the injunction of these superiors they began
to assemble only outside the city, in excavations near the Appian Way,
and in vineyards belonging to patrician Christians, of whom none had
been imprisoned so far. It was known perfectly on the Palatine that to
the confessors of Christ belonged Flavius, Domitilla, Pomponia Græcina,
Cornelius Pudens, and Vinicius. Cæsar himself, however, feared that the
mob would not believe that such people had burned Rome, and since it was
important beyond everything to convince the mob, punishment and
vengeance were deferred till later days. Others were of the opinion,
but erroneously, that those patricians were saved by the influence of
Acte. Petronius, after parting with Vinicius, turned to Acte, it is
true, to gain assistance for Lygia; but she could offer him only tears,
for she lived in oblivion and suffering, and was endured only in so far
as she hid herself from Poppæa and Casar.
But she had visited Lygia in prison, she had carried her clothing and
food, and above all had saved her from injury on the part of the prison-
guards, who, moreover, were bribed already.
Petronius, unable to forget that had it not been for him and his plan of
taking Lygia from the house of Aulus, probably she would not be in
prison at that moment, and, besides, wishing to win the game against
Tigellinus, spared neither time nor efforts. In the course of a few
days he saw Seneca, Domitius Afer, Crispinilla, and Diodorus, through
whom he wished to reach Poppæa; he saw Terpnos, and the beautiful
Pythagoras, and finally Aliturus and Paris, to whom Cæsar usually
refused nothing. With the help of Chrysothemis, then mistress of
Vatinius, he tried to gain even his aid, not sparing in this case and in
others promises and money.
But all these efforts were fruitless. Seneca, uncertain of the morrow,
fell to explaining to him that the Christians, even if they had not
burned Rome, should be exterminated, for the good of the city,--in a
word, he justified the coming slaughter for political reasons. Terpnos
and Diodorus took the money, and did nothing in return for it. Vatinius
reported to Cæsar that they had been trying to bribe him. Aliturus
alone, who at first was hostile to the Christians, took pity on them
then, and made bold to mention to Cæsar the Imprisoned maiden, and to
implore in her behalf. He obtained nothing, however, but the answer,--
"Dost thou think that I have a soul inferior to that of Brutus, who
spared not his own sons for the good of Rome?"
When this answer was repeated to Petronius, he said,--
"Since Nero has compared himself to Brutus, there is no salvation."
But he was sorry for Vinicius, and dread seized him lest he might
attempt his own life. "Now," thought the arbiter, "he is upheld by the
efforts which he makes to save her, by the sight of her, and by his own
suffering; but when all means fail and the last ray of hope is quenched,
by Castor! he will not survive, he will throw himself on his sword."
Petronius understood better how to die thus than to love and suffer like
Meanwhile Vinicius did all that he could think of to save Lygia. He
visited Augustians; and he, once so proud, now begged their assistance.
Through Vitelius he offered Tigellinus all his Sicilian estates, and
whatever else the man might ask; but Tigellinus, not wishing apparently
to offend the Augusta, refused. To go to Cæsar himself, embrace his
knees and implore, would lead to nothing. Vinicius wished, it is true,
to do this; but Petronius, hearing of his purpose, inquired,--
"But should he refuse thee, or answer with a jest or a shameless threat,
what wouldst thou do?"
At this the young tribune's features contracted with pain and rage, and
from his fixed jaws a gritting sound was heard.
"Yes," said Petronius, "I advise thee against this, because thou wouldst
close all paths of rescue."
Vinicius restrained himself, and passing his palm over his forehead,
which was covered with cold sweat, replied,--
"No, no! I am a Christian."
"But thou will forget this, as thou didst a moment ago. Thou hast the
right to ruin thyself, but not her. Remember what the daughter of
Sejanus passed through before death"
Speaking thus he was not altogether sincere, since he was concerned more
for Vinicius than for Lygia. Still he knew that in no way could he
restrain him from a dangerous step as well as by telling him that he
would bring inexorable destruction on Lygia. Moreover he was right; for
on the Palatine they had counted on the visit of the young tribune, and
had taken needful precautions.
But the suffering of Vinicius surpassed human endurance. From the
moment that Lygia was imprisoned and the glory of coming martyrdom had
fallen on her, not only did he love her a hundred times more, but he
began simply to give her in his soul almost religious honor, as he would
a superhuman being. And now, at the thought that he must lose this
being both loved and holy, that besides death torments might be
inflicted on her more terrible than death itself, the blood stiffened in
his veins. His soul was turned into one groan, his thoughts were
confused. At times it seemed to him that his skull was filled with
living fire, which would either burn or burst it. He ceased to
understand what was happening; he ceased to understand why Christ, the
Merciful, the Divine, did not come with aid to His adherents; why the
dingy walls of the Palatine did not sink through the earth, and with
them Nero, the Augustians, the pretorian camp, and all that city of
crime. He thought that it could not and should not be otherwise; and
all that his eyes saw, and because of which his heart was breaking, was
a dream. But the roaring of wild beasts informed him that it was
reality; the sound of the axes beneath which rose the arena told him
that it was reality; the howling of the people and the overfilled
prisons confirmed this. Then his faith in Christ was alarmed; and that
alarm was a new torture, the most dreadful of all, perhaps.
"Remember what the daughter of Sejanus endured before death," said
Petronius to him, meanwhile.
AND everything had failed. Vinicius lowered himself to the degree that
he sought support from freedmen and slaves, both those of Cæsar and
Poppæa; he overpaid their empty promises, he won their good will with
rich gifts. He found the first husband of Poppæa, Rufus Crispinus, and
obtained from him a letter. He gave a villa in Antium to Rufius, her
son by the first marriage; but thereby he merely angered Cæsar, who
hated his step-son. By a special courier he sent a letter to Poppæa's
second husband, Otho, in Spain. He sacrificed his property and himself,
until he saw at last that he was simply the plaything of people; that if
he had pretended that the imprisonment of Lygia concerned him little, he
would have freed her sooner.
Petronius saw this, too. Meanwhile day followed day. The amphitheatre
was finished. The "tesseræ" were distributed,--that is, tickets of
entrance, to the ludus matutinus (morning games). But this time the
morning games, because of the unheard-of number of victims, were to
continue for days, weeks, and months. It was not known where to put the
Christians. The prisons were crammed, and fever was raging in them.
The puticuli--common pits in which slaves were kept--began to be
overfilled. There was fear that diseases might spread over the whole
city hence, haste.
All these reports struck the ears of Vinicius, extinguishing in him the
last hope. While there was yet time, he might delude himself with the
belief that he could do something, but now there was no time. The
spectacles must begin. Lygia might find herself any day in a cuniculum
of the circus, whence the only exit was to the arena. Vinicius, not
knowing whither fate and the cruelty of superior force might throw her,
visited all the circuses, bribed guards and beast-keepers, laying before
them plans which they could not execute. In time he saw that he was
working for this only,--to make death less terrible to her; and just
then he felt that instead of brains he had glowing coals in his head.
For the rest he had no thought of surviving her, and determined to
perish at the same time. But he feared lest pain might burn his life
out before the dreadful hour came. His friends and Petronius thought
also that any day might open the kingdom of shadows before him. His
face was black, and resembled those waxen masks kept in lararia. In his
features astonishment had grown frigid, as if he hid no understanding of
what had happened and what might happen. When any one spoke to him, he
raised his hands to his face mechanically, and, pressing his temples,
looked at the speaker with an inquiring and astonished gaze. He passed
whole nights with Ursus at Lygia's door in the prison; if she commanded
him to go away and rest, he returned to Petronius, and walked in the
atrium till morning. The slaves found him frequently kneeling with
upraised hands or lying with his face to the earth. He prayed to
Christ, for Christ was his last hope. Everything had failed him. Only a
miracle could save Lygia; hence he beat the stone flags with his
forehead and prayed for the miracle.
But he knew enough yet to understand that Peter's prayers were more
important than his own. Peter had promised him Lygia, Peter had
baptized him, Peter had performed miracles, let him give aid and rescue.
And a certain night he went to seek the Apostle. The Christians, of
whom not many remained, had concealed him now carefully even from other
brethren, lest any of the weaker in spirit might betray him wittingly or
unwittingly. Vinicius, amid the general confusion and disaster,
occupied also in efforts to get Lygia out of prison, had lost sight of
Peter, he had barely seen him once from the time of his own baptism till
the beginning of the persecution. But betaking himself to that
quarryman in whose hut he was baptized, he learned that there would be a
meeting outside the Porta Salaria in a vineyard which belonged to
Cornelius Pudens. The quarryman offered to guide him, and declared that
he would find Peter there. They started about dusk, and, passing beyond
the wall, through hollows overgrown with reeds, reached the vineyard in
a wild and lonely place. The meeting was held in a wine-shed. As
Vinicius drew near, the murmur of prayer reached his ears. On entering
he saw by dim lamplight a few tens of kneeling figures sunk in prayer.
They were saying a kind of litany; a chorus of voices, male and female,
repeated every moment, "Christ have mercy on us." In those voices,
deep, piercing sadness and sorrow were heard.
Peter was present. He was kneeling in front of the others, before a
wooden cross nailed to the wall of the shed, and was praying. From a
distance Vinicius recognized his white hair and his upraised hands. The
first thought of the young patrician was to pass through the assembly,
cast himself at the Apostle's feet, and cry, "Save!" but whether it was
the solemnity of the prayer, or because weakness bent the knees under
Vinicius, he began to repeat while he groaned and clasped his hands:
"Christ have mercy!" Had he been conscious, he would have understood
that his was not the only prayer in which there was a groan; that he was
not the only one who had brought with him his pain, alarm, and grief.
There was not in that assembly one soul which had not lost persons dear
to the heart; and when the most zealous and courageous confessors were
in prison already, when with every moment new tidings were borne about
of insults and tortures inflicted on them in the prisons, when the
greatness of the calamity exceeded every imagination, when only that
handful remained, there was not one heart there which was not terrified
in its faith, which did not ask doubtfully, Where is Christ? and why
does He let evil be mightier than God? Meanwhile they implored Him
despairingly for mercy, since in each soul there still smouldered a
spark of hope that He would come, hurl Nero into the abyss, and rule the
world. They looked yet toward the sky; they listened yet; they prayed
yet with trembling. Vinicius, too, in proportion as they repeated,
"Christ have mercy on us!" was seized by such an ecstasy as formerly in
the quarryman's hut. Now from the depths they call on Him in the
profoundness of their sorrow, now Peter calls on Him; so any moment the
heavens may be rent, the earth tremble to its foundations, and He appear
in infinite glory, with stars at His feet, merciful, but awful. He will
raise up the faithful, and command the abysses to swallow the
Vinicius covered his face with both hands, and bowed to the earth.
Immediately silence was around him, as if fear had stopped further
breathing on the lips of all present. And it seemed to him that
something must happen surely, that a moment of miracle would follow. He
felt certain that when he rose and opened his eyes he would see a light
from which mortal eyes would be blinded, and hear a voice from which
hearts would grow faint.
But the silence was unbroken. It was interrupted at last by the sobbing
of women. Vinicius rose and looked forward with dazed eyes. In the
shed, instead of glories not of earth, shone the faint gleam of
lanterns, and rays of the moon, entering through an opening in the roof,
filled the place with silvery light. The people kneeling around
Vinicius raised their tearful eyes toward the cross in silence; here and
there sobbing was heard, and from outside came the warning whistles of
watchmen. Meanwhile Peter rose, and, turning to the assembly, said,-
"Children, raise your hearts to the Redeemer and offer Him your tears."
After that he was silent.
All at once was heard the voice of a woman, full of sorrowful complaint
"I am a widow; I had one son who supported me. Give him back, O Lord!"
Silence followed again. Peter was standing before the kneeling
audience, old, full of care. In that moment he seemed to them
decrepitude and weakness personified. With that a second voice began to
"Executioners insulted my daughter, and Christ permitted them!"
Then a third,--
"I alone have remained to my children, and when I am taken who will give
them bread and water?"
Then a fourth,--
"Linus, spared at first, they have taken now and put to torture, O
Then a fifth,-
"When we return to our houses, pretorians will seize us. We know not
where to hide."
"Woe to us! Who will protect us?"
And thus in that silence of the night complaint after complaint was
heard. The old fisherman closed his eyes and shook his white head over
that human pain and fear. New silence followed; the watchman merely
gave out low whistles beyond the shed.
Vinicius sprang up again, so as to break through the crowd to the
Apostle and demand salvation; but on a sudden he saw before him, as it
were, a precipice, the sight of which took strength from his feet. What
if the Apostle were to confess his own weakness, affirm that the Roman
Cæsar was stronger than Christ the Nazarene? And at that thought terror
raised the hair on his head, for he felt that in such a case not only
the remnant of his hope would fall into that abyss, but with it he
himself, and all through which he had life, and there would remain only
night and death, resembling a shoreless sea.
Meanwhile Peter began to speak in a voice so low at first that it was
barely possible to hear him,--
"My children, on Golgotha I saw them nail God to the cross. I heard the
hammers, and I saw them raise the cross on high, so that the rabble
might gaze at the death of the Son of Man. I saw them open His side,
and I saw Him die. When returning from the cross, I cried in pain, as
ye are crying, 'Woe! woe! O Lord, Thou art God! Why hast Thou permitted
this? Why hast Thou died, and why hast Thou tormented the hearts of us
who believed that Thy kingdom would come?'
"But He, our Lord and God, rose from the dead the third day, and was
among us till He entered His kingdom in great glory.
"And we, seeing our little faith, became strong in heart, and from that
time we are sowing His grain."
Here, turning toward the place whence the first complaint came, he began
in a voice now stronger,--
"Why do ye complain? God gave Himself to torture and death, and ye wish
Him to shield you from the same. People of little faith, have ye
received His teaching? Has He promised you nothing but life? He comes
to you and says, 'Follow in my path.' He raises you to Himself, and ye
catch at this earth with your hands, crying, 'Lord, save us!' I am dust
before God, but before you I am His apostle and vicegerent. I speak to
you in the name of Christ. Not death is before you, but life; not
tortures, but endless delights; not tears and groans, but singing; not
bondage, but rule! I, God's apostle, say this: O widow, thy son will
not die; he will be born into glory, into eternal life, and thou wilt
rejoin him! To thee, O father, whose innocent daughter was defiled by
executioners, I promise that thou shalt find her whiter than the lilies
of Hebron! To you, mothers, whom they are tearing away from your
orphans; to you who lose fathers; to you who complain; to you who will
see the death of loved ones; to you the careworn, the unfortunate, the
timid; to you who must die,--in the name of Christ I declare that ye
will wake as if from sleep to a happy waking, as if from night to the
light of God. In the name of Christ, let the beam fall from your eyes,
and let your hearts be inflamed."
When he had said this, he raised his hand as if commanding, and they
felt new blood in their veins, and also a quiver in their bones; for
before them was standing, not a decrepit and careworn old man, but a
potentate, who took their souls and raised them from dust and terror.
"Amen!" called a number of voices.
From the Apostle's eyes came a light ever increasing, power issued from
him, majesty issued from him, and holiness. Heads bent before him, and
he, when the "Amen" ceased, continued:--
"Ye sow in tears to reap in joy. Why fear ye the power of evil? Above
the earth, above Rome, above the walls of cities is the Lord, who has
taken His dwelling within you. The stones will be wet from tears, the
sand steeped in blood, the valleys will be filled with your bodies, but
I say that ye are victorious. The Lord is advancing to the conquest of
this city of crime, oppression, and pride, and ye are His legions! He
redeemed with His own blood and torture the sins of the world; so He
wishes that ye should redeem with torture and blood this nest of
injustice. This He announces to you through my lips."
And he opened his arms, and fixed his eyes upward; the hearts almost
ceased to beat in their breasts, for they felt that his glance beheld
something which their mortal sight could not see.
In fact, his face had changed, and was overspread with serenity; he
gazed some time in silence, as if speechless from ecstasy, but after a
while they heard his voice,--
"Thou art here, O Lord, and dost show Thy ways to me. True, O Christ!
Not in Jerusalem, but in this city of Satan wilt Thou fix Thy capital.
Here out of these tears and this blood dost Thou wish to build Thy
Church. Here, where Nero rules to-day, Thy eternal kingdom is to stand.
Thine, O Lord, O Lord! And Thou commandest these timid ones to form the
foundation of Thy holy Zion of their bones, and Thou commandest my
spirit to assume rule over it, and over peoples of the earth. And Thou
art pouring the fountain of strength on the weak, so that they become
strong; and now Thou commandest me to feed Thy sheep from this spot, to
the end of ages. Oh, be Thou praised in Thy decrees by which Thou
commandest to conquer. Hosanna! Hosanna!"
Those who were timid rose; into those who doubted streams of faith
flowed. Some voices cried, "Hosanna!" others, "Pro Christo!" Then
silence followed. Bright summer lightning illuminated the interior of
the shed, and the pale, excited faces.
Peter, fixed in a vision, prayed a long time yet; but conscious at last,
he turned his inspired face, full of light, to the assembly, and said,--
"This is how the Lord has overcome doubt in you; so ye will go to
victory in His name."
And though he knew that they would conquer, though he knew what would
grow out of their tears and blood, still his voice quivered with emotion
when he was blessing them with the cross, and he said,--
"Now I bless you, my children, as ye go to torture, to death, to
They gathered round him and wept. "We are ready," said they; "but do
thou, O holy head, guard thyself, for thou art the vicegerent who
performs the office of Christ."
And thus speaking, they seized his mantle; he placed his hands on their
heads, and blessed each one separately, just as a father does children
whom he is sending on a long journey.
And they began at once to go out of the shed, for they were in a hurry,
to their houses, and from them to the prisons and arenas. Their thoughts
were separated from the earth, their souls had taken flight toward
eternity, and they walked on as if in a dream, in ecstasy opposing that
force which was in them to the force and the cruelty of the "Beast."
Nereus, the servant of Pudens, took the Apostle and led him by a secret
path in the vineyard to his house. But Vinicius followed them in the
clear night, and when they reached the cottage of Nereus at last, he
threw himself suddenly at the feet of the Apostle.
"What dost thou wish, my Son?" asked Peter, recognizing him.
After what he had heard in the vineyard, Vinicius dared not implore him
for anything; but, embracing his feet with both hands, he pressed his
forehead to them with sobbing, and called for compassion in that dumb
"I know. They took the maiden whom thou lovest. Pray for her."
"Lord," groaned Vinicius, embracing his feet still more firmly,--"Lord,
I am a wretched worm; but thou didst know Christ. Implore Him,--take her
And from pain he trembled like a leaf; and he beat the earth with his
forehead, for, knowing the strength of the Apostle, he knew that he
alone could rescue her.
Peter was moved by that pain. He remembered how on a time Lygia
herself, when attacked by Crispus, lay at his feet in like manner
imploring pity. He remembered that he had raised her and comforted her;
hence now he raised Vinicius.
"My son," said he, "I will pray for her; but do thou remember that I
told those doubting ones that God Himself passed through the torment of
the cross, and remember that after this life begins another,--an eternal
"I know; I have heard!" answered Vinicius, catching the air with his
pale lips; "but thou seest, lord, that I cannot! If blood is required,
implore Christ to take mine,--I am a soldier. Let Him double, let Him
triple, the torment intended for her, I will suffer it; but let Him
spare her. She is a child yet, and He is mightier than Cæsar, I
believe, mightier. Thou didst love her thyself; thou didst bless us.
She is an innocent child yet."
Again he bowed, and, putting his face to Peter's knees, he repeated,--
"Thou didst know Christ, lord,--thou didst know Him. He will give ear
to thee; take her part."
Peter closed his lids, and prayed earnestly. The summer lightning
illuminated the sky again. Vinicius, by the light of it, looked at the
lips of the Apostle, waiting sentence of life or death from them. In
the silence quails were heard calling in the vineyard, and the dull,
distant sound of treadmills near the Via Salaria.
"Vinicitis," asked the Apostle at last, "dost thou believe?"
"Would I have come hither if I believed not?" answered Vinicius.
"Then believe to the end, for faith will remove mountains. Hence,
though thou wert to see that maiden under the sword of the executioner
or in the jaws of a lion, believe that Christ can save her. Believe,
and pray to Him, and I will pray with thee."
Then, raising his face toward heaven, he said aloud,--
"O merciful Christ, look on this aching heart and console it! O
merciful Christ, temper the wind to the fleece of the lamb! O merciful
Christ, who didst implore the Father to turn away the bitter cup from
Thy mouth, turn it from the mouth of this Thy servant! Amen."
But Vinicius, stretching his hand toward the stars, said, groaning,--
"I am Thine; take me instead of her."
The sky began to grow pale in the east.
VINICIUS, on leaving the Apostle, went to the prison with a heart
renewed by hope. Somewhere in the depth of his soul, despair and terror
were still crying; but he stifled those voices. It seemed to him
impossible that the intercession of the vicegerent of God and the power
of his prayer should be without effect. He feared to hope; he feared to
doubt. "I will believe in His mercy," said he to himself, "even though
I saw her in the jaws of a lion." And at this thought, even though the
soul quivered in him and cold sweat drenched his temples, he believed.
Every throb of his heart was a prayer then. He began to understand that
faith would move mountains, for he felt in himself a wonderful strength,
which he had not felt earlier. It seemed to him that he could do things
which he had not the power to do the day before. At moments he had an
impression that the danger had passed. If despair was heard groaning
again in his soul, he recalled that night, and that holy gray face
raised to heaven in prayer.
"No, Christ will not refuse His first disciple and the pastor of His
flock! Christ will not refuse him! I will not doubt!" And he ran
toward the prison as a herald of good news.
But there an unexpected thing awaited him.
All the pretorian guards taking turn before the Mamertine prison knew
him, and generally they raised not the least difficulty; this time,
however, the line did not open, but a centurion approached him and
"Pardon, noble tribune, to-day we have a command to admit no one."
"A command?" repeated Vinicius, growing pale.
The soldier looked at him with pity, and answered,--
"Yes, lord, a command of Cæsar. In the prison there are many sick, and
perhaps it is feared that visitors might spread infection through the
"But hast thou said that the order was for to-day only?"
"The guards change at noon."
Vinicius was silent and uncovered his head, for it seemed to him that
the pileolus which he wore was of lead.
Meanwhile the soldier approached him, and said in a low voice,
"Be at rest, lord, the guard and Ursus are watching over her." When he
had said this, he bent and, in the twinkle of an eye, drew with his long
Gallic sword on the flag stone the form of a fish.
Vinicius looked at him quickly.
"And thou art a pretorian?"
"Till I shall be there," answered the soldier, pointing to the prison.
"And I, too, worship Christ."
"May His name be praised! I know, lord, I cannot admit thee to the
prison, but write a letter, I will give it to the guard."
"Thanks to thee, brother."
He pressed the soldier's hand, and went away. The pileolus ceased to
weigh like lead. The morning sun rose over the walls of the prison, and
with its brightness consolation began to enter his heart again. That
Christian soldier was for him a new witness of the power of Christ.
After a while he halted, and, fixing his glance on the rosy clouds above
the Capitol and the temple of Jupiter Stator, he said,--
"I have not seen her to-day, O Lord, but I believe in Thy mercy."
At the house he found Petronius, who, making day out of night as usual,
had returned not long before. He had succeeded, however, in taking his
bath and anointing himself for sleep.
"I have news for thee," said he. "To-day I was with Tullius Senecio,
whom Cæsar also visited. I know not whence it came to the mind of the
Augusta to bring little Rufius with her,--perhaps to soften the heart of
Cæsar by his beauty. Unfortunately, the child, wearied by drowsiness,
fell asleep during the reading, as Vespasian did once; seeing this,
Ahenobarbus hurled a goblet at his step-son, and wounded him seriously.
Poppæa fainted; all heard how Cæsar said, 'I have enough of this brood!'
and that, knowest thou, means as much as death."
"The punishment of God was hanging over the Augusta," answered Vinicius;
"but why dost thou tell me this?"
"I tell thee because the anger of Poppæa pursued thee and Lygia;
occupied now by her own misfortune, she may leave her vengeance and be
more easily influenced. I will see her this evening and talk with her."
"Thanks to thee. Thou givest me good news."
"But do thou bathe and rest. Thy lips are blue, and there is not a
shadow of thee left."
"Is not the time of the first 'ludus matutinus' announced?" inquired
"In ten days. But they will take other prisons first. The more time
that remains to us the better. All is not lost yet."
But he did not believe this; for he knew perfectly that since to the
request of Aliturus, Cæsar had found the splendidly sounding answer in
which he compared himself to Brutus, there was no rescue for Lygia. He
hid also, through pity, what he had heard at Senecio's, that Cæsar and
Tigellinus had decided to select for themselves and their friends the
most beautiful Christian maidens, and defile them before the torture;
the others were to be given, on the day of the games, to pretorians and
Knowing that Vinicius would not survive Lygia in any case, he
strengthened hope in his heart designedly, first, through sympathy for
him; and second, because he wished that if Vinicius had to die, he
should die beautiful,--not with a face deformed and black from pain and
"To-day I will speak more or less thus to Augusta," said he: "'Save
Lygia for Vinicius, I will save Ruflus for thee.' And I will think of
"One word spoken to Ahenobarbus at the right moment may save or ruin any
one. In the worst case, we will gain time."
"Thanks to thee," repeated Vinicius.
"Thou wilt thank me best if thou eat and sleep. By Athene! In the
greatest straits Odysseus had sleep and food in mind. Thou hast spent
the whole night in prison, of course?"
"No," answered Vinicius; "I wished to visit the prison to-day, but there
is an order to admit no one. Learn, O Petronius, if the order is for
to-day alone or till the day of the games."
"I will discover this evening, and to-morrow morning will tell thee for
what time and why the order was issued. But now, even were Helios to go
to Cimmerian regions from sorrow, I shall sleep, and do thou follow my
They separated; but Vinicius went to the library and wrote a letter to
Lygia. When he had finished, he took it himself to the Christian
centurion who carried it at once to the prison. After a while he
returned with a greeting from Lygia, and promised to deliver her answer
Vinicius did not wish to return home, but sat on a stone and waited for
Lygia's letter. The sun had risen high in the heavens, and crowds of
people flowed in, as usual, through the Clivus Argentarius to the Forum.
Hucksters called out their wares, soothsayers offered their services to
passers-by, citizens walked with deliberate steps toward the rostra to
hear orators of the day, or tell the latest news to one another. As the
heat increased, crowds of idlers betook themselves to the porticos of
the temples, from under which flew from moment to moment, with great
rustle of wings, flocks of doves, whose white feathers glistened in the
sunlight and in the blue of the sky.
From excess of light and the influence of bustle, heat, and great
weariness, the eyes of Vinicius began to close. The monotonous calls of
boys playing mora, and the measured tread of soldiers, lulled him to
sleep. He raised his head still a number of times, and took in the
prison with his eyes; then he leaned against a Stone, sighed like a
child drowsy after long weeping, and dropped asleep.
Soon dreams came. It seemed to him that he was carrying Lygia in his
arms at night through a strange vineyard. Before him was Pomponia
Græcina lighting the way with a lamp. A voice, as it were of Petronius
called from afar to him, "Turn back!" but he did not mind the call, and
followed Pomponia till they reached a cottage; at the threshold of the
cottage stood Peter. He showed Peter Lygia, and said, "We are coming
from the arena, lord, but we cannot wake her; wake her thou." "Christ
himself will come to wake her," answered the Apostle.
Then the pictures began to change. Through the dream he saw Nero, and
Poppæa holding in her arms little Ruflus with bleeding head, which
Petronius was washing and he saw Tigellinus sprinkling ashes on tables
covered with costly dishes, and Vitelius devouring those dishes, while a
multitude of other Augustians were sitting at the feast. He himself was
resting near Lygia; but between the tables walked lions from out whose
yellow manes trickled blood. Lygia begged him to take her away, but so
terrible a weakness had seized him that he could not even move. Then
still greater disorder involved his visions, and finally all fell into
He was roused from deep sleep at last by the heat of the sun, and shouts
given forth right there around the place where he was sitting. Vinicius
rubbed his eyes. The street was swarming with people; but two runners,
wearing yellow tunics, pushed aside the throng with long staffs, crying
and making room for a splendid litter which was carried by four stalwart
In the litter sat a man in white robes, whose face was not easily seen,
for he held close to his eyes a roll of papyrus and was reading
"Make way for the noble Augustian!" cried the runners.
But the street was so crowded that the litter had to wait awhile. The
Augustian put down his roll of papyrus and bent his head, crying,--
"Push aside those wretches! Make haste!"
Seeing Vinicius suddenly, he drew back his head and raised the papyrus
Vinicius drew his hand across his forehead, thinking that he was
In the litter was sitting Chilo.
Meanwhile the runners had opened the way, and the Egyptians were ready
to move, when the young tribune, who in one moment understood many
things which till then had been incomprehensible, approached the litter.
"A greeting to thee, O Chilo!" said he.
"Young man," answered the Greek, with pride and importance, endeavoring
to give his face an expression of calmness which was not in his soul,
"be greeted, but detain me not, for I am hastening to my friend, the
Vinicius, grasping the edge of the litter and looking him straight in
the eyes, said with a lowered voice,--
"Didst thou betray Lygia?"
"Colossus of Memnon!" cried Chilo, with fear.
But there was no threat in the eyes of Vinicius; hence the old Greek's
alarm vanished quickly. He remembered that he was under the protection
of Tigellinus and of Cæsar himself,--that is, of a power before which
everything trembled,--that he was surrounded by sturdy slaves, and that
Vinicins stood before him unarmed, with an emaciated face and body bent
At this thought his insolence returned to him. He fixed on Vinicius his
eyes, which were surrounded by red lids, and whispered in answer,--
"But thou, when I was dying of hunger, didst give command to flog me."
For a moment both were silent; then the dull voice of Vinicius was
"I wronged thee, Chilo."
The Greek raised his head, and, snapping his fingers which in Rome was a
mark of slight and contempt, said so loudly that all could hear him,--
"Friend, if thou hast a petition to present, come to my house on the
Esquiline in the morning hour, when I receive guests and clients after
And he waved his hand; at that sign the Egyptians raised the litter, and
the slaves, dressed in yellow tunics, began to cry as they brandished
"Make way for the litter of the noble Chilo Chilonides! Make way, make
LYGIA, in a long letter written hurriedly, took farewell to Vinicius
forever. She knew that no one was permitted to enter the prison, and
that she could see Vinicius only from the arena. She begged him
therefore to discover when the turn of the Mamertine prisoners would
come, and to be at the games, for she wished to see him once more in
life. No fear was evident in her letter. She wrote that she and the
others were longing for the arena, where they would find liberation from
imprisonment. She hoped for the coming of Pomponia and Aulus; she
entreated that they too be present. Every word of her showed ecstasy,
and that separation from life in which all the prisoners lived, and at
the same time an unshaken faith that all promises would be fulfilled
beyond the grave.
"Whether Christ," wrote she, "frees me in this life or after death, He
has promised me to thee by the lips of the Apostle; therefore I am
thine." She implored him not to grieve for her, and not to let himself
be overcome by suffering. For her death was not a dissolution of
marriage. With the confidence of a child she assured Vinicius that
immediately after her suffering in the arena she would tell Christ that
her betrothed Marcus had remained in Rome, that he was longing for her
with his whole heart. And she thought that Christ would permit her
soul, perhaps, to return to him for a moment, to tell him that she was
living, that she did not remember her torments, and that she was happy.
Her whole letter breathed happiness and immense hope. There was only
one request in it connected with affairs of earth,--that Vinicius should
take her body from the spoliarium and bury it as that of his wife in the
tomb in which he himself would rest sometime.
He read this letter with a suffering spirit, but at the same time it
seemed to him impossible that Lygia should perish under the claws of
wild beasts, and that Christ would not take compassion on her. But just
in that were hidden hope and trust. When he returned home, he wrote
that he would come every day to the walls of the Tullianum to wait till
Christ crushed the walls and restored her. He commanded her to believe
that Christ could give her to him, even in the Circus; that the great
Apostle was imploring Him to do so, and that the hour of liberation was
near. The converted centurion was to bear this letter to her on the
But when Vinicius came to the prison next morning, the centurion left
the rank, approached him first, and said,--
"Listen to me, lord. Christ, who enlightened thee, has shown thee
favor. Last night Cæsar's freedman and those of the prefect came to
select Christian maidens for disgrace; they inquired for thy betrothed,
but our Lord sent her a fever, of which prisoners are dying in the
Tullianum, and they left her. Last evening she was unconscious, and
blessed be the name of the Redeemer, for the sickness which has saved
her from shame may save her from death."
Vinicius placed his hand on the soldier's shoulder to guard himself from
falling; but the other continued,--
"Thank the mercy of the Lord! They took and tortured Linus, but, seeing
that he was dying, they surrendered him. They may give her now to thee,
and Christ will give back health to her."
The young tribune stood some time with drooping head; then raised it and
said in a whisper,--
"True, centurion. Christ, who saved her from shame, will save her from
death." And sitting at the wall of the prison till evening, he returned
home to send people for Linus and have him taken to one of his suburban
But when Petronius had heard everything, he determined to act also. He
had visited the Augusta; now he went to her a second time. He found her
at the bed of little Rufius. The child with broken head was struggling
in a fever; his mother, with despair and terror in her heart, was trying
to save him, thinking, however, that if she did save him it might be
only to perish soon by a more dreadful death.
Occupied exclusively with her own suffering, she would not even hear of
Vinicius and Lygia; but Petronius terrified her.
"Thou hast offended," said he to her, "a new, unknown divinity. Thou,
Augusta, art a worshipper, it seems, of the Hebrew Jehovah; but the
Christians maintain that Chrestos is his son. Reflect, then, if the
anger of the father is not pursuing thee. Who knows but it is their
vengeance which has struck thee? Who knows but the life of Rufius
depends on this,--how thou wilt act?"
"What dost thou wish me to do?" asked Poppæa, with terror.
"Mollify the offended deities."
"Lygia is sick; influence Cæsar or Tigellinus to give her to Vinicius."
"Dost thou think that I can do that?" asked she, in despair.
"Thou canst do something else. If Lygia recovers, she must die. Go
thou to the temple of Vesta, and ask the virgo magna to happen near the
Tullianum at the moment when they are leading prisoners out to death,
and give command to free that maiden. The chief vestal will not refuse
"But if Lygia dies of the fever?"
"The Christians say that Christ is vengeful, but just; maybe thou wilt
soften Him by thy wish alone."
"Let Him give me some sign that will heal Rufius."
Petronius shrugged his shoulders.
"I have not come as His envoy; O divinity, I merely say to thee, Be on
better terms with all the gods, Roman and foreign."
"I will go!" said Poppæa, with a broken voice.
Petronius drew a deep breath. "At last I have done something." thought
he, and returning to Vinicius he said to him,--
"Implore thy God that Lygia die not of the fever, for should she
survive, the chief vestal will give command to free her. The Augusta
herself will ask her to do so."
"Christ will free her," said Vinicius, looking at him with eyes in which
fever was glittering.
Poppæa, who for the recovery of Rufius was willing to burn hecatombs to
all the gods of the world, went that same evening through the Forum to
the vestals, leaving care over the sick child to her faithful nurse,
Silvia, by whom she herself had been reared.
But on the Palatine sentence had been issued against the child already;
for barely had Poppæa's litter vanished behind the great gate when two
freedmen entered the chamber in which her son was resting. One of these
threw himself on old Silvia and gagged her; the other, seizing a bronze
statue of the Sphinx, stunned the old woman with the first blow.
Then they approached Rufius. The little boy, tormented with fever and
insensible, not knowing what was passing around him, smiled at them, and
blinked with his beautiful eyes, as if trying to recognize the men.
Stripping from the nurse her girdle, they put it around his neck and
pulled it. The child called once for his mother, and died easily. Then
they wound him in a sheet, and sitting on horses which were waiting,
hurried to Ostia, where they threw the body into the sea.
Poppæa, not finding the virgo magna, who with other vestals was at the
house of Vatinius, returned soon to the Palatine. Seeing the empty bed
and the cold body of Silvia, she fainted, and when they restored her she
began to scream; her wild cries were heard all that night and the day
But Cæsar commanded her to appear at a feast on the third day; so,
arraying herself in an amethyst-colored tunic, she came and sat with
stony face, golden-haired, silent, wonderful, and as ominous as an angel
BEFORE the Flavii had reared the Colosseum, amphitheatres in Rome were
built of wood mainly; for that reason nearly all of them had burned
during the fire. But Nero, for the celebration of the promised games,
had given command to build several, and among them a gigantic one, for
which they began, immediately after the fire was extinguished, to bring
by sea and the Tiber great trunks of trees cut on the slopes of Atlas;
for the games were to surpass all previous ones in splendor and the
number of victims.
Large spaces were given therefore for people and for animals. Thousands
of mechanics worked at the structure night and day. They built and
ornamented without rest. Wonders were told concerning pillars inlaid
with bronze, amber, ivory, mother of pearl, and transmarine tortoise-
shells. Canals filled with ice-cold water from the mountains and
running along the seats were to keep an agreeable coolness in the
building, even during the greatest heat. A gigantic purple velarium
gave shelter from the rays of the sun. Among the rows of seats were
disposed vessels for the burning of Arabian perfumes; above them were
fixed instruments to sprinkle the spectators with dew of saffron and
verbena. The renowned builders Severus and Celer put forth all their
skill to construct an amphitheatre at once incomparable and fitted for
such a number of the curious as none of those known before had been able
Hence, the day when the ludus matutinus was to begin, throngs of the
populace were awaiting from daylight the opening of the gates, listening
with delight to the roars of lions, the hoarse growls of panthers, and
the howls of dogs. The beasts had not been fed for two days, but pieces
of bloody flesh had been pushed before them to rouse their rage and
hunger all the more. At times such a storm of wild voices was raised
that people standing before the Circus could not converse, and the most
sensitive grew pale from fear.
With the rising of the sun were intoned in the enclosure of the Circus
hymns resonant but calm. The people heard these with amazement, and
said one to another, "The Christians! the Christians!" In fact, many
detachments of Christians had been brought to the amphitheatre that
night, and not from one place, as planned at first, but a few from each
prison. It was known in the crowd that the spectacles would continue
through weeks and months, but they doubted that it would be possible to
finish in a single day those Christians who had been intended for that
one occasion. The voices of men, women, and children singing the
morning hymn were so numerous that spectators of experience asserted
that even if one or two hundred persons were sent out at once, the
beasts would grow tired, become sated, and not tear all to pieces before
evening. Others declared that an excessive number of victims in the
arena would divert attention, and not give a chance to enjoy the
As the moment drew near for opening the vomitoria, or passages which led
to the interior, people grew animated and joyous; they discussed and
disputed about various things touching the spectacle. Parties were
formed praising the greater efficiency of lions or tigers in tearing.
Here and there bets were made. Others however talked about gladiators
who were to appear in the arena earlier than the Christians; and again
there were parties, some in favor of Samnites, others of Gauls, others
of Mirmillons, others of Thracians, others of the retiarii.
Early in the morning larger or smaller detachments of gladiators began
to arrive at the amphitheatre under the lead of masters, called lanistæ.
Not wishing to be wearied too soon, they entered unarmed, often entirely
naked, often with green boughs in their hands, or crowned with flowers,
young, beautiful, in the light of morning, and full of life. Their
bodies, shining from olive oil, were strong as if chiselled from marble;
they roused to delight people who loved shapely forms. Many were known
personally, and from moment to moment were heard: "A greeting, Furnius!
A greeting, Leo! A greeting, Maximus! A greeting, Diomed!" Young
maidens raised to them eyes full of admiration; they, selecting the
maiden most beautiful, answered with jests, as if no care weighed on
them, sending kisses, or exclaiming, "Embrace me before death does!"
Then they vanished in the gates, through which many of them were never
to come forth again.
New arrivals drew away the attention of the throngs. Behind the
gladiators came mastigophori; that is, men armed with scourges, whose
office it was to lash and urge forward combatants. Next mules drew, in
the direction of the spoliarium, whole rows of vehicles on which were
piled wooden coffins. People were diverted at sight of this, inferring
from the number of coffins the greatness of the spectacle. Now marched
in men who were to kill the wounded; these were dressed so that each
resembled Charon or Mercury. Next came those who looked after order in
the Circus, and assigned places; after that slaves to bear around food
and refreshments; finally, pretorians, whom every Cæsar had always at
hand in the amphitheatre.
At last the vomitoria were opened, and crowds rushed to the centre. But
such was the number of those assembled that they flowed in and flowed in
for hours, till it was a marvel that the Circus could hold such a
countless multitude. The roars of wild beasts, catching the exhalations
of people, grew louder. While taking their places, the spectators made
an uproar like the sea in time of storm.
Finally, the prefect of the city came, surrounded by guards; and after
him, in unbroken line, appeared the litters of senators, consuls,
pretors, ediles, officials of the government and the palace, of
pretorian officers, patricians, and exquisite ladies. Some litters were
preceded by lictors bearing maces in bundles of rods; others by crowds
of slaves. In the sun gleamed the gilding of the litters, the white and
varied colored stuffs, feathers, earrings, jewels, steel of the maces.
From the Circus came shouts with which the people greeted great
dignitaries. Small divisions of pretorians arrived from time to time.
The priests of various temples came somewhat later; only after them were
brought in the sacred virgins of Vesta, preceded by lictors.
To begin the spectacle, they were waiting now only for Cæsar, who,
unwilling to expose the people to over-long waiting, and wishing to win
them by promptness, came soon, in company with the Augusta and
Petronius arrived among the Augustians, having Vinicius in his litter.
The latter knew that Lygia was sick and unconscious; but as access to
the prison had been forbidden most strictly during the preceding days,
and as the former guards had been replaced by new ones who were not
permitted to speak with the jailers or even to communicate the least
information to those who came to inquire about prisoners, he was not
even sure that she was not among the victims intended for the first day
of spectacles. They might send out even a sick woman for the lions,
though she were unconscious. But since the victims were to be sewed up
in skins of wild beasts and sent to the arena in crowds, no spectator
could be certain that one more or less might not be among them, and no
man could recognize any one. The jailers and all the servants of the
amphitheatre had been bribed, and a bargain made with the beast-keepers
to hide Lygia in some dark corner, and give her at night into the hands
of a confidant of Vinicius, who would take her at once to the Alban
Hills. Petronius, admitted to the secret, advised Vinicius to go with
him openly to the amphitheatre, and after he had entered to disappear in
the throng and hurry to the vaults, where, to avoid possible mistake, he
was to point out Lygia to the guards personally.
The guards admitted him through a small door by which they came out
themselves. One of these, named Cyrus, led him at once to the
Christians. On the way he said,--
"I know not, lord, that thou wilt find what thou art seeking. We
inquired for a maiden named Lygia, but no one gave us answer; it may be,
though, that they do not trust us."
"Are there many?" asked Vinicius.
"Many, lord, had to wait till to-morrow."
"Are there sick ones among them?"
"There were none who could not stand."
Cyrus opened a door and entered as it were an enormous chamber, but low
and dark, for the light came in only through grated openings which
separated it from the arena. At first Vinicius could see nothing; he
heard only the murmur of voices in the room, and the shouts of people in
the amphitheatre. But after a time, when his eyes had grown used to the
gloom, he saw crowds of strange beings, resembling wolves and bears.
Those were Christians sewed up in skins of beasts. Some of them were
standing; others were kneeling in prayer. Here and there one might
divine by the long hair flowing over the skin that the victim was a
woman. Women, looking like wolves, carried in their arms children sewed
up in equally shaggy coverings. But from beneath the skins appeared
bright faces and eyes which in the darkness gleamed with delight and
feverishness. It was evident that the greater number of those people
were mastered by one thought, exclusive and beyond the earth,--a thought
which during life made them indifferent to everything which happened
around them and which could meet them. Some, when asked by Vinicius
about Lygia, looked at him with eyes as if roused from sleep, without
answering his questions; others smiled at him, placing a finger on their
lips or pointing to the iron grating through which bright streaks of
light entered. But here and there children were crying, frightened by
the roaring of beasts, the howling of dogs, the uproar of people, and
the forms of their own parents who looked like wild beasts. Vinicius as
he walked by the side of Cyrus looked into faces, searched, inquired, at
times stumbled against bodies of people who had fainted from the crowd,
the stifling air, the heat, and pushed farther into the dark depth of
the room, which seemed to be as spacious as a whole amphitheatre.
But he stopped on a sudden, for he seemed to hear near the grating a
voice known to him. He listened for a while, turned, and, pushing
through the crowd, went near. Light fell on the face of the speaker,
and Vinicius recognized under the skin of a wolf the emaciated and
implacable countenance of Crispus.
"Mourn for your sins!" exclaimed Crispus, "for the moment is near. But
whoso thinks by death itself to redeem his sins commits a fresh sin, and
will be hurled into endless fire. With every sin committed in life ye
have renewed the Lord's suffering; how dare ye think that that life
which awaits you will redeem this one? To-day the just and the sinner
will die the same death; but the Lord will find His own. Woe to you,
the claws of the lions will rend your bodies; but not your sins, nor
your reckoning with God. The Lord showed mercy sufficient when He let
Himself be nailed to the cross; but thenceforth He will be only the
judge, who will leave no fault unpunished. Whoso among you has thought
to extinguish his sins by suffering, has blasphemed against God's
justice, and will sink all the deeper. Mercy is at an end, and the hour
of God's wrath has come. Soon ye will stand before the awful Judge in
whose presence the good will hardly be justified. Bewail your sins, for
the jaws of hell are open; woe to you, husbands and wives; woe to you,
parents and children."
And stretching forth his bony hands, he shook them above the bent heads;
he was unterrified and implacable even in the presence of death, to
which in a while all those doomed people were to go. After his words,
were heard voices: "We bewail our sins!" Then came silence, and only
the cry of children was audible, and the beating of hands against
The blood of Vinicius stiffened in his veins. He, who had placed all
his hope in the mercy of Christ, heard now that the day of wrath had
come, and that even death in the arena would not obtain mercy. Through
his head shot, it is true, the thought, clear and swift as lightning,
that Peter would have spoken otherwise to those about to die. Still
those terrible words of Crispus filled with fanaticism that dark chamber
with its grating, beyond which was the field of torture. The nearness
of that torture, and the throng of victims arrayed for death already,
filled his soul with fear and terror. All this seemed to him dreadful,
and a hundred times more ghastly than the bloodiest battle in which he
had ever taken part. The odor and heat began to stifle him; cold sweat
came out on his forehead. He was seized by fear that he would faint
like those against whose bodies he had stumbled while searching in the
depth of the apartment; so when he remembered that they might open the
grating any moment, he began to call Lygia and Ursus aloud, in the hope
that, if not they, some one knowing them would answer.
In fact, some man, clothed as a bear, pulled his toga, and said,--
"Lord, they remained in prison. I was the last one brought out; I saw
her sick on the couch."
"Who art thou?" inquired Viniciug.
"The quarryman in whose hut the Apostle baptized thee, lord. They
imprisoned me three days ago, and to-day I die."
Vinicius was relieved. When entering, he had wished to find Lygia; now
he was ready to thank Christ that she was not there, and to see in that
a sign of mercy. Meanwhile the quarryman pulled his toga again, and
"Dost remember, lord, that I conducted thee to the vineyard of
Cornelius, when the Apostle discoursed in the shed?"
"I saw him later, the day before they imprisoned me, He blessed me, and
said that he would come to the amphitheatre to bless the perishing. If
I could look at him in the moment of death and see the sign of the
cross, it would be easier for me to die. If thou know where he is,
lord, inform me."
Vinicius lowered his voice, and said,--
"He is among the people of Petronius, disguised as a slave. I know not
where they chose their places, but I will return to the Circus and see.
Look thou at me when ye enter the arena. I will rise and turn my face
toward them; then thou wilt find him with thy eyes."
"Thanks to thee, lord, and peace be with thee."
"May the Redeemer be merciful to thee."
Vinicius went out of the cuniculum, and betook himself to the
amphitheatre, where he had a place near Petronius among the other
"Is she there?" inquired Petronius.
"No; she remained in prison."
"Hear what has occurred to me, but while listening look at Nigidia for
example, so that we may seem to talk of her hair-dressing. Tigellinus
and Chilo are looking at us now. Listen then. Let them put Lygia in a
coffin at night and carry her out of the prison as a corpse; thou
divinest the rest?"
"Yes," answered Vinicius.
Their further conversation was interrupted by Tullius Senecio, who,
bending toward them, asked,--
"Do ye know whether they will give weapons to the Christians?"
"We do not," answered Petronius. "I should prefer that arms were
given," said Tullius; "if not, the arena will become like butcher's
shambles too early. But what a splendid amphitheatre!"
The sight was, in truth, magnificent. The lower seats, crowded with
togas were as white as snow. In the gilded podium sat Cæsar, wearing a
diamond collar and a golden crown on his head; next to him sat the
beautiful and gloomy Augusta, and on both sides were vestal virgins,
great officials, senators with embroidered togas, officers of the army
with glittering weapons,--in a word, all that was powerful, brilliant,
and wealthy in Rome. In the farther rows sat knights; and higher up
darkened in rows a sea of common heads, above which from pillar to
pillar hung festoons of roses, lilies, ivy, and grapevines.
People conversed aloud, called to one another, sang; at times they broke
into laughter at some witty word which was sent from row to row, and
they stamped with impatience to hasten the spectacle.
At last the stamping became like thunder, and unbroken. Then the
prefect of the city, who rode around the arena with a brilliant retinue,
gave a signal with a handkerchief, which was answered throughout the
amphitheatre by "A-a-a!" from thousands of breasts.
Usually a spectacle was begun by hunts of wild beasts, in which various
Northern and Southern barbarians excelled; but this time they had too
many beasts, so they began with andabates,--that is, men wearing helmets
without an opening for the eyes, hence fighting blindfold. A number of
these came into the arena together, and slashed at random with their
swords; the scourgers with long forks pushed some toward others to make
them meet. The more select of the audience looked with contempt and
indifference at this spectacle; but the crowd were amused by the awkward
motions of the swordsmen. When it happened that they met with their
shoulders, they burst out in loud laughter. "To the right!" "To the
left!" cried they, misleading the opponents frequently by design. A
number of pairs closed, however, and the struggle began to be bloody.
The determined combatants cast aside their shields, and giving their
left hands to each other, so as not to part again, struggled to the
death with their right. Whoever fell raised his fingers, begging mercy
by that sign; but in the beginning of a spectacle the audience demanded
death usually for the wounded, especially in the case of men who had
their faces covered and were unknown. Gradually the number of
combatants decreased; and when at last only two remained, these were
pushed together; both fell on the sand, and stabbed each other mutually.
Then, amid cries of "Peractum est!" servants carried out the bodies,
youths raked away the bloody traces on the sand and sprinkled it with
leaves of saffron.
Now a more important contest was to come,--rousing interest not only in
the herd, but in exquisites; during this contest young patricians made
enormous bets at times, often losing all they owned. Straightway from
hand to hand went tablets on which were written names of favorites, and
also the number of sestertia which each man wagered on his favorite.
"Spectati"--that is, champions who had appeared already on the arena and
gained victories--found most partisans; but among betters were also
those who risked considerably on gladiators who were new and quite
unknown, hoping to win immense sums should these conquer. Cæsar himself
bet; priests, vestals, senators, knights bet; the populace bet. People
of the crowd, when money failed them, bet their own freedom frequently.
They waited with heart-beating and even with fear for the combatants,
and more than one made audible vows to the gods to gain their protection
for a favorite.
In fact, when the shrill sound of trumpets was heard, there was a
stillness of expectation in the amphitheatre. Thousands of eyes were
turned to the great bolts, which a man approached dressed like Charon,
and amid the universal silence struck three times with a hammer, as if
summoning to death those who were hidden behind them. Then both halves
of the gate opened slowly, showing a black gully, out of which
gladiators began to appear in the bright arena. They came in divisions
of twenty-five, Thracians, Mirmillons, Samnites, Gauls, each nation
separately, all heavily armed; and last the retiarii, holding in one
hand a net, in the other a trident. At sight of them, here and there on
the benches rose applause, which soon turned into one immense and
unbroken storm. From above to below were seen excited faces, clapping
hands, and open mouths, from which shouts burst forth. The gladiators
encircled the whole arena with even and springy tread, gleaming with
their weapons and rich outfit; they halted before Cæsar's podium, proud,
calm, and brilliant. The shrill sound of a horn stopped the applause;
the combatants stretched their right hands upward, raised their eyes and
heads toward Cæsar, and began to cry or rather to chant with drawling
"Ave, Cæsar imperator! Morituri te salutant!"
Then they pushed apart quickly, occupying their places on the arena.
They were to attack one another in whole detachments; but first it was
permitted the most famous fencers to have a series of single combats, in
which the strength, dexterity, and courage of opponents were best
exhibited. In fact, from among the Gauls appeared a champion, well
known to lovers of the amphitheatre under the name of Lanio, a victor in
many games. With a great helmet on his head, and in mail which formed a
ridge in front of his powerful breast and behind, he looked in the gleam
of the golden arena like a giant beetle. The no less famous retiarius
Calendio came out against him.
Among the spectators people began to bet.
"Five hundred sestertia on the Gaul!"
"Five hundred on Calendio!"
"By Hercules, one thousand!"
Meanwhile the Gaul, reaching the centre of the arena, began to withdraw
with pointed sword, and, lowering his head, watched his opponent
carefully through the opening of his visor; the light retiarius,
stately, statuesque, wholly naked save a belt around his loins, circled
quickly about his heavy antagonist, waving the net with graceful
movement, lowering or raising his trident, and singing the usual song of
"Non te peto, piscem peto; Quid me fugis, Galle?"
["I seek not thee, I seek a fish; Why flee from me O Gaul?"]
But the Gaul was not fleeing, for after a while he stopped, and standing
in one place began to turn with barely a slight movement, so as to have
his enemy always in front, in his form and monstrously large head there
was now something terrible, The spectators understood perfectly that
that heavy body encased in bronze was preparing for a sudden throw to
decide the battle. The retiarius meanwhile sprang up to him, then
sprang away, making with his three-toothed fork motions so quick that
the eye hardly followed them. The sound of the teeth on the shield was
heard repeatedly; but the Gaul did not quiver, giving proof by this of
his gigantic strength. All his attention seemed fixed, not on the
trident, but the net which was circling above his head, like a bird of
ill omen. The spectators held the breath in their breasts, and followed
the masterly play of the gladiators. The Gaul waited, chose the moment,
and rushed at last on his enemy; the latter with equal quickness shot
past under his sword, straightened himself with raised arm, and threw
The Gaul, turning where he stood, caught it on his shield; then both
sprang apart. In the amphitheatre shouts of "Macte!" thundered; in the
lower rows they began to make new bets. Cæsar himself, who at first had
been talking with Rubria, and so far had not paid much attention to the
spectacle, turned his head toward the arena.
They began to struggle again, so regularly and with such precision in
their movements, that sometimes it seemed that with them it was not a
question of life or death, but of exhibiting skill. The Gaul escaping
twice more from the net, pushed toward the edge of the arena; those who
held bets against him, not wishing the champion to rest, began to cry,
"Bear on!" The Gaul obeyed, and attacked. The arm of the retiarius was
covered on a sudden with blood, and his net dropped. The Gaul summoned
his strength, and sprang forward to give the final blow. That instant
Calendio, who feigned inability to wield the net, sprang aside, escaped
the thrust, ran the trident between the knees of his opponent, and
brought him to the earth.
The Gaul tried to rise, but in a twinkle he was covered by the fatal
meshes, in which he was entangled more and more by every movement of his
feet and hands. Meanwhile stabs of the trident fixed him time after
time to the earth. He made one more effort, rested on his arm, and
tried to rise; in vain! He raised to his head his falling hand which
could hold the sword no longer, and fell on his back. Calendio pressed
his neck to the ground with the trident, and, resting both hands on the
handle of it, turned toward Cæsar's box.
The whole Circus was trembling from plaudits and the roar of people.
For those who had bet on Calendio he was at that moment greater than
Cæsar; but for this very reason animosity against the Gaul vanished from
their hearts. At the cost of his blood he had filled their purses. The
voices of the audience were divided. On the upper seats half the signs
were for death, and half for mercy; but the retiarius looked only at the
box of Cæsar and the vestals, waiting for what they would decide.
To the misfortune of the fallen gladiator, Nero did not like him, for at
the last games before the fire he had bet against the Gaul, and had lost
considerable sums to Licinus; hence he thrust his hand out of the
podium, and turned his thumb toward the earth.
The vestals supported the sign at once. Calendio knelt on the breast of
the Gaul, drew a short knife from his belt, pushed apart the armor
around the neck of his opponent, and drove the three-edged blade into
his throat to the handle.
"Peractum est!" sounded voices in the amphitheatre.
The Gaul quivered a time, like a stabbed bullock, dug the sand with his
heels, stretched, and was motionless.
Mercury had no need to try with heated iron if he were living yet. He
was hidden away quickly, and other pairs appeared. After them came a
battle of whole detachments. The audience took part in it with soul,
heart, and eyes. They howled, roared, whistled, applauded, laughed,
urged on the combatants, grew wild. The gladiators on the arena,
divided into two legions, fought with the rage of wild beasts; breast
struck breast, bodies were intertwined in a death grapple, strong limbs
cracked in their joints, swords were buried in breasts and in stomachs,
pale lips threw blood on to the sand. Toward the end such terrible fear
seized some novices that, tearing themselves from the turmoil, they
fled; but the scourgers drove them back again quickly to the battle with
lashes tipped with lead. On the sand great dark spots were formed; more
and more naked and armed bodies lay stretched like grain sheaves. The
living fought on the corpses; they struck against armor and shields, cut
their feet against broken weapons, and fell. The audience lost self-
command from delight; and intoxicated with death breathed it, sated
their eyes with the sight of it, and drew into their lungs the
exhalations of it with ecstasy.
The conquered lay dead, almost every man. Barely a few wounded knelt in
the middle of the arena, and trembling stretched their hands to the
audience with a prayer for mercy. To the victors were given rewards,--
crowns, olive wreaths. And a moment of rest came, which, at command of
the all-powerful Cæsar, was turned into a feast. Perfumes were burned
in vases. Sprinklers scattered saffron and violet rain on the people.
Cooling drinks were served, roasted meats, sweet cakes, wine, olives,
and fruits. The people devoured, talked, and shouted in honor of Cæsar,
to incline him to greater bounteousness. When hunger and thirst had
been satisfied, hundreds of slaves bore around baskets full of gifts,
from which boys, dressed as Cupids, took various objects and threw them
with both hands among the seats. When lottery tickets were distributed,
a battle began. People crowded, threw, trampled one another; cried for
rescue, sprang over rows of seats, stifled one another in the terrible
crush, since whoever got a lucky number might win possibly a house with
a garden, a slave, a splendid dress, or a wild beast which he could sell
to the amphitheatre afterward. For this reason there were such
disorders that frequently the pretorians had to interfere; and after
every distribution they carried out people with broken arms or legs, and
some were even trampled to death in the throng.
But the more wealthy took no part in the fight for tesseræ. The
Augustians amused themselves now with the spectacle of Chilo, and with
making sport of his vain efforts to show that he could look at fighting
and blood-spilling as well as any man. But in vain did the unfortunate
Greek wrinkle his brow, gnaw his lips, and squeeze his fists till the
nails entered his palms. His Greek nature and his personal cowardice
were unable to endure such sights. His face grew pale, his forehead was
dotted with drops of sweat, his lips were blue, his eyes turned in, his
teeth began to chatter, and a trembling seized his body. At the end of
the battle he recovered somewhat; but when they attacked him with
tongues, sudden anger seized him, and he defended himself desperately.
"Ha, Greek! the sight of torn skin on a man is beyond thy strength!"
said Vatinius, taking him by the beard.
Chilo bared his last two yellow teeth at him and answered,--
"My father was not a cobbler, so I cannot mend it."
"Macte! habet (Good! he has caught it!)" called a number of voices; but
others jeered on.
"He is not to blame that instead of a heart he has a piece of cheese in
his breast," said Senecio.
"Thou art not to blame that instead of a head thou hast a bladder,"
"Maybe thou wilt become a gladiator! thou wouldst look well with a net
on the arena."
"If I should catch thee in it, I should catch a stinking hoopoe."
"And how will it be with the Christians?" asked Festus, from Liguria.
"Wouldst thou not like to be a dog and bite them?"
"I should not like to be thy brother."
"Thou Mæotian copper-nose!"
"Thou Ligurian mule!"
"Thy skin is itching, evidently, but I don't advise thee to ask me to
"Scratch thyself. If thou scratch thy own pimple, thou wilt destroy
what is best in thee,"
And in this manner they attacked him. He defended himself venomously,
amid universal laughter. Cæsar, clapping his hands, repeated, "Macte!"
and urged them on. After a while Pertronius approached, and, touching
the Greek's shoulder with his carved ivory cane, said coldly,--
"This is well, philosopher; but in one thing thou hast blundered: the
gods created thee a pickpocket, and thou hast become a demon. That is
why thou canst not endure."
The old man looked at him with his red eyes, but this time somehow he
did not find a ready insult. He was silent for a moment; then answered,
as if with a certain effort,--
"I shall endure."
Meanwhile the trumpets announced the end of the interval. People began
to leave the passages where they had assembled to straighten their legs
and converse. A general movement set in with the usual dispute about
seats occupied previously. Senators and patricians hastened to their
places. The uproar ceased after a time, and the amphitheatre returned
to order. On the arena a crowd of people appeared whose work was to dig
out here and there lumps of sand formed with stiffened blood.
The turn of the Christians was at hand. But since that was a new
spectacle for people, and no one knew how the Christians would bear
themselves, all waited with a certain curiosity. The disposition of the
audience was attentive but unfriendly; they were waiting for uncommon
scenes. Those people who were to appear had burned Rome and its ancient
treasures. They had drunk the blood of infants, and poisoned water;
they had cursed the whole human race, and committed the vilest crimes.
The harshest punishment did not suffice the roused hatred; and if any
fear possessed people's hearts, it was this: that the torture of the
Christians would not equal the guilt of those ominous criminals.
Meanwhile the sun had risen high; its rays, passing through the purple
velarium, had filled the amphitheatre with blood-colored light. The
sand assumed a fiery hue, and in those gleams, in the faces of people,
as well as in the empty arena, which after a time was to be filled with
the torture of people and the rage of savage beasts, there was something
terrible. Death and terror seemed hovering in the air. The throng,
usually gladsome, became moody under the influence of hate and silence.
Faces had a sullen expression.
Now the prefect gave a sign. The same old man appeared, dressed as
Charon, who had called the gladiators to death, and, passing with slow
step across the arena amid silence, he struck three times again on the
Throughout the amphitheatre was heard the deep murmur,--
"The Christians! the Christians!"
The iron gratings creaked; through the dark openings were heard the
usual cries of the scourgers, "To the sand!" and in one moment the arena
was peopled with crowds as it were of satyrs covered with skins. All
ran quickly, somewhat feverishly, and, reaching the middle of the
circle, they knelt one by another with raised heads. The spectators,
judging this to be a prayer for pity, and enraged by such cowardice,
began to stamp, whistle, throw empty wine-vessels, bones from which the
flesh had been eaten, and shout, "The beasts! the beasts!" But all at
once something unexpected took place. From out the shaggy assembly
singing voices were raised, and then sounded that hynm heard for the
first time in a Roman amphitheatre, "Christus regnat!" ["Christ
Astonishment seized the spectators. The condemned sang with eyes raised
to the velarium. The audience saw faces pale, but as it were inspired.
All understood that those people were not asking for mercy, and that
they seemed not to see the Circus, the audience, the Senate, or Cæsar.
"Christus regnat!" rose ever louder, and in the seats, far up to the
highest, among the rows of spectators, more than one asked himself the
question, "What is happening, and who is that Christus who reigns in the
mouths of those people who are about to die?" But meanwhile a new
grating was opened, and into the arena rushed, with mad speed and
barking, whole packs of dogs,--gigantic, yellow Molossians from the
Peloponnesus, pied dogs from the Pyrenees, and wolf-like hounds from
Hibernia, purposely famished; their sides lank, and their eyes
bloodshot. Their howls and whines filled the amphitheatre. When the
Christians had finished their hymn, they remained kneeling, motionless,
as if petrified, merely repeating in one groaning chorus, "Pro Christo!
Pro Christo!" The dogs, catching the odor of people under the skins of
beasts, and surprised by their silence, did not rush on them at once.
Some stood against the walls of the boxes, as if wishing to go among the
spectators; others ran around barking furiously, as though chasing some
unseen beast. The people were angry. A thousand voices began to call;
some howled like wild beasts; some barked like dogs; others urged them
on in every language. The amphitheatre was trembling from uproar. The
excited dogs began to run to the kneeling people, then to draw back,
snapping their teeth, till at last one of the Molossians drove his teeth
into the shoulder of a woman kneeling in front, and dragged her under
Tens of dogs rushed into the crowd now, as if to break through it. The
audience ceased to howl, so as to look with greater attention. Amidst
the howling and whining were heard yet plaintive voices of men and
women: "Pro Christo! Pro Christo!" but on the arena were formed
quivering masses of the bodies of dogs and people. Blood flowed in
streams from the torn bodies. Dogs dragged from each other the bloody
limbs of people. The odor of blood and torn entrails was stronger than
Arabian perfumes, and filled the whole Circus.
At last only here and there were visible single kneeling forms, which
were soon covered by moving squirming masses.
Vinicius, who at the moment when the Christians ran in, stood up and
turned so as to indicate to the quarryman, as he had promised, the
direction in which the Apostle was hidden among the people of Petronius,
sat down again, and with the face of a dead man continued to look with
glassy eyes on the ghastly spectacle. At first fear that the quarryman
might have been mistaken, and that perchance Lygia was among the
victims, benumbed him completely; but when he heard the voices, "Pro
Christo!" when he saw the torture of so many victims who, in dying,
confessed their faith and their God, another feeling possessed him,
piercing him like the most dreadful pain, but irresistible. That
feeling was this,--if Christ Himself died in torment, if thousands are
perishing for Him now, if a sea of blood is poured forth, one drop more
signifies nothing, and it is a sin even to ask for mercy. That thought
came to him from the arena, penetrated him with the groans of the dying,
with the odor of their blood. But still he prayed and repeated with
parched lips, "O Christ! O Christ! and Thy Apostle prayed for her!"
Then he forgot himself, lost consciousness of where he was. It seemed
to him that blood on the arena was rising and rising, that it was coming
up and flowing out of the Circus over all Rome. For the rest he heard
nothing, neither the howling of dogs nor the uproar of the people nor
the voices of the Augustians, who began all at once to cry,--
"Chilo has fainted!"
"Chilo has fainted!" said Petronius, turning toward the Greek.
And he had fainted really; he sat there white as linen, his head fallen
back, his mouth wide open, like that of a corpse.
At that same moment they were urging into the arena new victims, sewed
up in skins.
These knelt immediately, like those who had gone before; but the weary
dogs would not rend them. Barely a few threw themselves on to those
kneeling nearest; but others lay down, and, raising their bloody jaws,
began to scratch their sides and yawn heavily.
Then the audience, disturbed in spirit, but drunk with blood and wild,
began to cry with hoarse voices,--
"The lions! the lions! Let out the lions!"
The lions were to be kept for the next day; but in the amphitheatres the
people imposed their will on every one, even on Cæsar. Caligula alone,
insolent and changeable in his wishes, dared to oppose them, and there
were cases when he gave command to beat the people with clubs; but even
he yielded most frequently. Nero, to whom plaudits were dearer than all
else in the world, never resisted. All the more did he not resist now,
when it was a question of mollifying the populace, excited after the
conflagration, and a question of the Christians, on whom he wished to
cast the blame of the catastrophe.
He gave the sign therefore to open the cuniculum, seeing which, the
people were calmed in a moment. They heard the creaking of the doors
behind which were the lions. At sight of the lions the dogs gathered
with low whines, on the opposite side of the arena. The lions walked
into the arena one after another, immense, tawny, with great shaggy
heads. Cæsar himself turned his wearied face toward them, and placed
the emerald to his eye to see better. The Augustians greeted them with
applause; the crowd counted them on their fingers, and followed eagerly
the impression which the sight of them would make on the Christians
kneeling in the centre, who again had begun to repeat the words, without
meaning for many, though annoying to all, "Pro Christo! Pro Christo!"
But the lions, though hungry, did not hasten to their victims. The
ruddy light in the arena dazzled them and they half closed their eyes as
if dazed. Some stretched their yellowish bodies lazily; some, opening
their jaws, yawned,--one might have said that they wanted to show their
terrible teeth to the audience. But later the odor of blood and torn
bodies, many of which were lying on the sand, began to act on them.
Soon their movements became restless, their manes rose, their nostrils
drew in the air with hoarse sound. One fell suddenly on the body of a
woman with a torn face, and, lying with his fore paws on the body,
licked with a rough tongue the stiffened blood: another approached a man
who was holding in his arms a child sewed up in a fawn's skin.
The child, trembling from crying, and weeping, clung convulsively to the
neck of its father; he, to prolong its life even for a moment, tried to
pull it from his neck, so as to hand it to those kneeling farther on.
But the cry and the movement irritated the lion. All at once he gave
out a short, broken roar, killed the child with one blow of his paw, and
seizing the head of the father in his jaws, crushed it in a twinkle.
At sight of this all the other lions fell upon the crowd of Christians.
Some women could not restrain cries of terror; but the audience drowned
these with plaudits, which soon ceased, however, for the wish to see
gained the mastery. They beheld terrible things then: heads
disappearing entirely in open jaws, breasts torn apart with one blow,
hearts and lungs swept away; the crushing of bones under the teeth of
lions. Some lions, seizing victims by the ribs or loins, ran with mad
springs through the arena, as if seeking hidden places in which to
devour them; others fought, rose on their hind legs, grappled one
another like wrestlers, and filled the amphitheatre with thunder.
People rose from their places. Some left their seats, went down lower
through the passages to see better, and crowded one another mortally.
It seemed that the excited multitude would throw itself at last into the
arena, and rend the Christians in company with the lions. At moments an
unearthly noise was heard; at moments applause; at moments roaring,
rumbling, the clashing of teeth, the howling of Molossian dogs; at times
Cæsar, holding the emerald to his eye, looked now with attention. The
face of Petronius assumed an expression of contempt and disgust. Chilo
had been borne out of the Circus.
But from the cuniculum new victims were driven forth continually.
From the highest row in the amphitheatre the Apostle Peter looked at
them. No one saw him, for all heads were turned to the arena; so he
rose and as formerly in the vineyard of Cornelius he had blessed for
death and eternity those who were intended for imprisonment, so now he
blessed with the cross those who were perishing under the teeth of wild
beasts. He blessed their blood, their torture, their dead bodies turned
into shapeless masses, and their souls flying away from the bloody sand.
Some raised their eyes to him, and their faces grew radiant; they smiled
when they saw high above them the sign of the cross. But his heart was
rent, and he said, "O Lord! let Thy will be done. These my sheep perish
to Thy glory in testimony of the truth. Thou didst command me to feed
them; hence I give them to Thee, and do Thou count them, Lord, take
them, heal their wounds, soften their pain, give them happiness greater
than the torments which they suffered here."
And he blessed them one after another, crowd after crowd, with as much
love as if they had been his children whom he was giving directly into
the hands of Christ. Then Cæsar, whether from madness, or the wish that
the exhibition should surpass everything seen in Rome so far, whispered
a few words to the prefect of the city. He left the podium and went at
once to the cuniculum. Even the populace were astonished when, after a
while, they saw the gratings open again. Beasts of all kinds were let
out this time,--tigers from the Euphrates, Numidian panthers, bears,
wolves, hyenas, and jackals. The whole arena was covered as with a
moving sea of striped, yellow, flax-colored, dark-brown, and spotted
skins. There rose a chaos in which the eye could distinguish nothing
save a terrible turning and twisting of the backs of wild beasts. The
spectacle lost the appearance of reality, and became as it were an orgy
of blood, a dreadful dream, a gigantic kaleidoscope of mad fancy. The
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