The Last Days of Pompeii
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
Part 2 out of 9
of the deceitful...'
'You knew the jugglings of that impious craft,' answered Apaecides; 'why did
you disguise them from me?--When you excited my desire to devote myself to
the office whose garb I bear, you spoke to me of the holy life of men
resigning themselves to knowledge--you have given me for companions an
ignorant and sensual herd, who have no knowledge but that of the grossest
frauds; you spoke to me of men sacrificing the earthlier pleasures to the
sublime cultivation of virtue--you place me amongst men reeking with all the
filthiness of vice; you spoke to me of the friends, the enlighteners of our
common kind--I see but their cheats and deluders! Oh! it was basely
done!--you have robbed me of the glory of youth, of the convictions of
virtue, of the sanctifying thirst after wisdom. Young as I was, rich,
fervent, the sunny pleasures of earth before me, I resigned all without a
sign, nay, with happiness and exultation, in the thought that I resigned
them for the abstruse mysteries of diviner wisdom, for the companionship of
gods--for the revelations of Heaven--and now--now...'
Convulsive sobs checked the priest's voice; he covered his face with his
hands, and large tears forced themselves through the wasted fingers, and ran
profusely down his vest.
'What I promised to thee, that will I give, my friend, my pupil: these have
been but trials to thy virtue--it comes forth the brighter for thy
novitiate--think no more of those dull cheats--assort no more with those
menials of the goddess, the atrienses of her hall--you are worthy to enter
into the penetralia. I henceforth will be your priest, your guide, and you
who now curse my friendship shall live to bless it.'
The young man lifted up his head, and gazed with a vacant and wondering
stare upon the Egyptian.
'Listen to me,' continued Arbaces, in an earnest and solemn voice, casting
first his searching eyes around to see that they were still alone. 'From
Egypt came all the knowledge of the world; from Egypt came the lore of
Athens, and the profound policy of Crete; from Egypt came those early and
mysterious tribes which (long before the hordes of Romulus swept over the
plains of Italy, and in the eternal cycle of events drove back civilization
into barbarism and darkness) possessed all the arts of wisdom and the graces
of intellectual life. From Egypt came the rites and the grandeur of that
solemn Caere, whose inhabitants taught their iron vanquishers of Rome all
that they yet know of elevated in religion and sublime in worship. And how
deemest thou, young man, that that Egypt, the mother of countless nations,
achieved her greatness, and soared to her cloud-capt eminence of wisdom?--It
was the result of a profound and holy policy. Your modern nations owe their
greatness to Egypt--Egypt her greatness to her priests. Rapt in themselves,
coveting a sway over the nobler part of man, his soul and his belief, those
ancient ministers of God were inspired with the grandest thought that ever
exalted mortals. From the revolutions of the stars, from the seasons of the
earth, from the round and unvarying circle of human destinies, they devised
an august allegory; they made it gross and palpable to the vulgar by the
signs of gods and goddesses, and that which in reality was Government they
named Religion. Isis is a fable--start not!--that for which Isis is a type
is a reality, an immortal being; Isis is nothing. Nature, which she
represents, is the mother of all things--dark, ancient, inscrutable, save to
the gifted few. "None among mortals hath ever lifted up my veil," so saith
the Isis that you adore; but to the wise that veil hath been removed, and we
have stood face to face with the solemn loveliness of Nature. The priests
then were the benefactors, the civilizers of mankind; true, they were also
cheats, impostors if you will. But think you, young man, that if they had
not deceived their kind they could have served them? The ignorant and
servile vulgar must be blinded to attain to their proper good; they would
not believe a maxim--they revere an oracle. The Emperor of Rome sways the
vast and various tribes of earth, and harmonizes the conflicting and
disunited elements; thence come peace, order, law, the blessings of life.
Think you it is the man, the emperor, that thus sways?--no, it is the pomp,
the awe, the majesty that surround him--these are his impostures, his
delusions; our oracles and our divinations, our rites and our ceremonies,
are the means of our sovereignty and the engines of our power. They are the
same means to the same end, the welfare and harmony of mankind. You listen
to me rapt and intent--the light begins to dawn upon you.'
Apaecides remained silent, but the changes rapidly passing over his speaking
countenance betrayed the effect produced upon him by the words of the
Egyptian--words made tenfold more eloquent by the voice, the aspect, and the
manner of the man.
'While, then,' resumed Arbaces, 'our fathers of the Nile thus achieved the
first elements by whose life chaos is destroyed, namely, the obedience and
reverence of the multitude for the few, they drew from their majestic and
starred meditations that wisdom which was no delusion: they invented the
codes and regularities of law--the arts and glories of existence. They
asked belief; they returned the gift by civilization. Were not their very
cheats a virtue! Trust me, whosoever in yon far heavens of a diviner and
more beneficent nature look down upon our world, smile approvingly on the
wisdom which has worked such ends. But you wish me to apply these
generalities to yourself; I hasten to obey the wish. The altars of the
goddess of our ancient faith must be served, and served too by others than
the stolid and soulless things that are but as pegs and hooks whereon to
hang the fillet and the robe. Remember two sayings of Sextus the
Pythagorean, sayings borrowed from the lore of Egypt. The first is, "Speak
not of God to the multitude"; the second is, "The man worthy of God is a god
among men." As Genius gave to the ministers of Egypt worship, that empire in
late ages so fearfully decayed, thus by Genius only can the dominion be
restored. I saw in you, Apaecides, a pupil worthy of my lessons--a minister
worthy of the great ends which may yet be wrought; your energy, your
talents, your purity of faith, your earnestness of enthusiasm, all fitted
you for that calling which demands so imperiously high and ardent qualities:
I fanned, therefore, your sacred desires; I stimulated you to the step you
have taken. But you blame me that I did not reveal to you the little souls
and the juggling tricks of your companions. Had I done so, Apaecides, I had
defeated my own object; your noble nature would have at once revolted, and
Isis would have lost her priest.'
Apaecides groaned aloud. The Egyptian continued, without heeding the
'I placed you, therefore, without preparation, in the temple; I left you
suddenly to discover and to be sickened by all those mummeries which dazzle
the herd. I desired that you should perceive how those engines are moved by
which the fountain that refreshes the world casts its waters in the air. It
was the trial ordained of old to all our priests. They who accustom
themselves to the impostures of the vulgar, are left to practise them--for
those like you, whose higher natures demand higher pursuit, religion opens
more god-like secrets. I am pleased to find in you the character I had
expected. You have taken the vows; you cannot recede. Advance--I will be
'And what wilt thou teach me, O singular and fearful man? New
'No--I have thrown thee into the abyss of disbelief; I will lead thee now to
the eminence of faith. Thou hast seen the false types: thou shalt learn now
the realities they represent. There is no shadow, Apaecides, without its
substance. Come to me this night. Your hand.'
Impressed, excited, bewildered by the language of the Egyptian, Apaecides
gave him his hand, and master and pupil parted.
It was true that for Apaecides there was no retreat. He had taken the vows
of celibacy: he had devoted himself to a life that at present seemed to
possess all the austerities of fanaticism, without any of the consolations
of belief It was natural that he should yet cling to a yearning desire to
reconcile himself to an irrevocable career. The powerful and profound mind
of the Egyptian yet claimed an empire over his young imagination; excited
him with vague conjecture, and kept him alternately vibrating between hope
Meanwhile Arbaces pursued his slow and stately way to the house of Ione. As
he entered the tablinum, he heard a voice from the porticoes of the
peristyle beyond, which, musical as it was, sounded displeasingly on his
ear--it was the voice of the young and beautiful Glaucus, and for the first
time an involuntary thrill of jealousy shot through the breast of the
Egyptian. On entering the peristyle, he found Glaucus seated by the side of
Ione. The fountain in the odorous garden cast up its silver spray in the
air, and kept a delicious coolness in the midst of the sultry noon. The
handmaids, almost invariably attendant on Ione, who with her freedom of life
preserved the most delicate modesty, sat at a little distance; by the feet
of Glaucus lay the lyre on which he had been playing to Ione one of the
Lesbian airs. The scene--the group before Arbaces, was stamped by that
peculiar and refined ideality of poesy which we yet, not erroneously,
imagine to be the distinction of the ancients--the marble columns, the vases
of flowers, the statue, white and tranquil, closing every vista; and, above
all, the two living forms, from which a sculptor might have caught either
inspiration or despair!
Arbaces, pausing for a moment, gazed on the pair with a brow from which all
the usual stern serenity had fled; he recovered himself by an effort, and
slowly approached them, but with a step so soft and echoless, that even the
attendants heard him not; much less Ione and her lover.
'And yet,' said Glaucus, 'it is only before we love that we imagine that our
poets have truly described the passion; the instant the sun rises, all the
stars that had shone in his absence vanish into air. The poets exist only
in the night of the heart; they are nothing to us when we feel the full
glory of the god.'
'A gentle and most glowing image, noble Glaucus.'
Both started, and recognized behind the seat of Ione the cold and sarcastic
face of the Egyptian.
'You are a sudden guest,' said Glaucus, rising, and with a forced smile.
'So ought all to be who know they are welcome,' returned Arbaces, seating
himself, and motioning to Glaucus to do the same.
'I am glad,' said Ione, 'to see you at length together; for you are suited
to each other, and you are formed to be friends.'
'Give me back some fifteen years of life,' replied the Egyptian, 'before you
can place me on an equality with Glaucus. Happy should I be to receive his
friendship; but what can I give him in return? Can I make to him the same
confidences that he would repose in me--of banquets and garlands--of
Parthian steeds, and the chances of the dice? these pleasures suit his age,
his nature, his career: they are not for mine.'
So saying, the artful Egyptian looked down and sighed; but from the corner
of his eye he stole a glance towards Ione, to see how she received these
insinuations of the pursuits of her visitor. Her countenance did not
satisfy him. Glaucus, slightly coloring, hastened gaily to reply. Nor was
he, perhaps, without the wish in his turn to disconcert and abash the
'You are right, wise Arbaces,' said he; 'we can esteem each other, but we
cannot be friends. My banquets lack the secret salt which, according to
rumor, gives such zest to your own. And, by Hercules! when I have reached
your age, if I, like you, may think it wise to pursue the pleasures of
manhood, like you, I shall be doubtless sarcastic on the gallantries of
The Egyptian raised his eyes to Glaucus with a sudden and piercing glance.
'I do not understand you,' said he, coldly; 'but it is the custom to
consider that wit lies in obscurity.' He turned from Glaucus as he spoke,
with a scarcely perceptible sneer of contempt, and after a moment's pause
addressed himself to Ione.
'I have not, beautiful Ione,' said he, 'been fortunate enough to find you
within doors the last two or three times that I have visited your
'The smoothness of the sea has tempted me much from home,' replied Ione,
with a little embarrassment.
The embarrassment did not escape Arbaces; but without seeming to heed it, he
replied with a smile: 'You know the old poet says, that "Women should keep
within doors, and there converse."'
'The poet was a cynic,' said Glaucus, 'and hated women.'
'He spoke according to the customs of his country, and that country is your
'To different periods different customs. Had our forefathers known Ione,
they had made a different law.'
'Did you learn these pretty gallantries at Rome?' said Arbaces, with
'One certainly would not go for gallantries to Egypt,' retorted Glaucus,
playing carelessly with his chain.
'Come, come,' said Ione, hastening to interrupt a conversation which she
saw, to her great distress, was so little likely to cement the intimacy she
had desired to effect between Glaucus and her friend, 'Arbaces must not be
so hard upon his poor pupil. An orphan, and without a mother's care, I may
be to blame for the independent and almost masculine liberty of life that I
have chosen: yet it is not greater than the Roman women are accustomed
to--it is not greater than the Grecian ought to be. Alas! is it only to be
among men that freedom and virtue are to be deemed united? Why should the
slavery that destroys you be considered the only method to preserve us? Ah!
believe me, it has been the great error of men--and one that has worked
bitterly on their destinies--to imagine that the nature of women is (I will
not say inferior, that may be so, but) so different from their own, in
making laws unfavorable to the intellectual advancement of women. Have they
not, in so doing, made laws against their children, whom women are to
rear?--against the husbands, of whom women are to be the friends, nay,
sometimes the advisers?' Ione stopped short suddenly, and her face was
suffused with the most enchanting blushes. She feared lest her enthusiasm
had led her too far; yet she feared the austere Arbaces less than the
courteous Glaucus, for she loved the last, and it was not the custom of the
Greeks to allow their women (at least such of their women as they most
honored) the same liberty and the same station as those of Italy enjoyed.
She felt, therefore, a thrill of delight as Glaucus earnestly replied:
'Ever mayst thou think thus, Ione--ever be your pure heart your unerring
guide! Happy it had been for Greece if she had given to the chaste the same
intellectual charms that are so celebrated amongst the less worthy of her
women. No state falls from freedom--from knowledge, while your sex smile
only on the free, and by appreciating, encourage the wise.'
Arbaces was silent, for it was neither his part to sanction the sentiment of
Glaucus, nor to condemn that of Ione, and, after a short and embarrassed
conversation, Glaucus took his leave of Ione.
When he was gone, Arbaces, drawing his seat nearer to the fair Neapolitan's,
said in those bland and subdued tones, in which he knew so well how to veil
the mingled art and fierceness of his character:
'Think not, my sweet pupil, if so I may call you, that I wish to shackle
that liberty you adorn while you assume: but which, if not greater, as you
rightly observe, than that possessed by the Roman women, must at least be
accompanied by great circumspection, when arrogated by one unmarried.
Continue to draw crowds of the gay, the brilliant, the wise themselves, to
your feet--continue to charm them with the conversation of an Aspasia, the
music of an Erinna--but reflect, at least, on those censorious tongues which
can so easily blight the tender reputation of a maiden; and while you
provoke admiration, give, I beseech you, no victory to envy.'
'What mean you, Arbaces?' said Ione, in an alarmed and trembling voice: 'I
know you are my friend, that you desire only my honour and my welfare. What
is it you would say?'
'Your friend--ah, how sincerely! May I speak then as a friend, without
reserve and without offence?'
'I beseech you do so.'
'This young profligate, this Glaucus, how didst thou know him? Hast thou
seen him often?' And as Arbaces spoke, he fixed his gaze steadfastly upon
Ione, as if he sought to penetrate into her soul.
Recoiling before that gaze, with a strange fear which she could not explain,
the Neapolitan answered with confusion and hesitation: 'He was brought to my
house as a countryman of my father's, and I may say of mine. I have known
him only within this last week or so: but why these questions?'
'Forgive me,' said Arbaces; 'I thought you might have known him longer.
Base insinuator that he is!'
'How! what mean you? Why that term?'
'It matters not: let me not rouse your indignation against one who does not
deserve so grave an honour.'
'I implore you speak. What has Glaucus insinuated? or rather, in what do
you suppose he has offended?'
Smothering his resentment at the last part of Ione's question, Arbaces
continued: 'You know his pursuits, his companions his habits; the comissatio
and the alea (the revel and the dice) make his occupation; and amongst the
associates of vice how can he dream of virtue?'
'Still you speak riddles. By the gods! I entreat you, say the worst at
'Well, then, it must be so. Know, my Ione, that it was but yesterday that
Glaucus boasted openly--yes, in the public baths--of your love to him. He
said it amused him to take advantage of it. Nay, I will do him justice, he
praised your beauty. Who could deny it? But he laughed scornfully when his
Clodius, or his Lepidus, asked him if he loved you enough for marriage, and
when he purposed to adorn his door-posts with flowers?'
'Impossible! How heard you this base slander?'
'Nay, would you have me relate to you all the comments of the insolent
coxcombs with which the story has circled through the town? Be assured that
I myself disbelieved at first, and that I have now painfully been convinced
by several ear-witnesses of the truth of what I have reluctantly told thee.'
Ione sank back, and her face was whiter than the pillar against which she
leaned for support.
'I own it vexed--it irritated me, to hear your name thus lightly pitched
from lip to lip, like some mere dancing-girl's fame. I hastened this
morning to seek and to warn you. I found Glaucus here. I was stung from my
self-possession. I could not conceal my feelings; nay, I was uncourteous in
thy presence. Canst thou forgive thy friend, Ione?'
Ione placed her hand in his, but replied not.
'Think no more of this,' said he; 'but let it be a warning voice, to tell
thee how much prudence thy lot requires. It cannot hurt thee, Ione, for a
moment; for a gay thing like this could never have been honored by even a
serious thought from Ione. These insults only wound when they come from one
we love; far different indeed is he whom the lofty Ione shall stoop to
'Love!' muttered Ione, with an hysterical laugh. 'Ay, indeed.'
It is not without interest to observe in those remote times, and under a
social system so widely different from the modern, the same small causes
that ruffle and interrupt the 'course of love', which operate so commonly at
this day--the same inventive jealousy, the same cunning slander, the same
crafty and fabricated retailings of petty gossip, which so often now suffice
to break the ties of the truest love, and counteract the tenor of
circumstances most apparently propitious. When the bark sails on over the
smoothest wave, the fable tells us of the diminutive fish that can cling to
the keel and arrest its progress: so is it ever with the great passions of
mankind; and we should paint life but ill if, even in times the most
prodigal of romance, and of the romance of which we most largely avail
ourselves, we did not also describe the mechanism of those trivial and
household springs of mischief which we see every day at work in our chambers
and at our hearths. It is in these, the lesser intrigues of life, that we
mostly find ourselves at home with the past.
Most cunningly had the Egyptian appealed to Ione's ruling foible--most
dexterously had he applied the poisoned dart to her pride. He fancied he
had arrested what he hoped, from the shortness of the time she had known
Glaucus, was, at most, but an incipient fancy; and hastening to change the
subject, he now led her to talk of her brother. Their conversation did not
last long. He left her, resolved not again to trust so much to absence, but
to visit--to watch her--every day.
No sooner had his shadow glided from her presence, than woman's pride--her
sex's dissimulation--deserted his intended victim, and the haughty Ione
burst into passionate tears.
THE GAY LIFE OF THE POMPEIAN LOUNGER. A MINIATURE LIKENESS OF THE ROMAN
WHEN Glaucus left Ione, he felt as if he trod upon air. In the interview
with which he had just been blessed, he had for the first time gathered from
her distinctly that his love was not unwelcome to, and would not be
unrewarded by, her. This hope filled him with a rapture for which earth and
heaven seemed too narrow to afford a vent. Unconscious of the sudden enemy
he had left behind, and forgetting not only his taunts but his very
existence, Glaucus passed through the gay streets, repeating to himself, in
the wantonness of joy, the music of the soft air to which Ione had listened
with such intentness; and now he entered the Street of Fortune, with its
raised footpath--its houses painted without, and the open doors admitting
the view of the glowing frescoes within. Each end of the street was adorned
with a triumphal arch: and as Glaucus now came before the Temple of Fortune,
the jutting portico of that beautiful fane (which is supposed to have been
built by one of the family of Cicero, perhaps by the orator himself)
imparted a dignified and venerable feature to a scene otherwise more
brilliant than lofty in its character. That temple was one of the most
graceful specimens of Roman architecture. It was raised on a somewhat lofty
podium; and between two flights of steps ascending to a platform stood the
altar of the goddess. From this platform another flight of broad stairs led
to the portico, from the height of whose fluted columns hung festoons of the
richest flowers. On either side the extremities of the temple were placed
statues of Grecian workmanship; and at a little distance from the temple
rose the triumphal arch crowned with an equestrian statue of Caligula, which
was flanked by trophies of bronze. In the space before the temple a lively
throng were assembled--some seated on benches and discussing the politics of
the empire, some conversing on the approaching spectacle of the
amphitheatre. One knot of young men were lauding a new beauty, another
discussing the merits of the last play; a third group, more stricken in age,
were speculating on the chance of the trade with Alexandria, and amidst
these were many merchants in the Eastern costume, whose loose and peculiar
robes, painted and gemmed slippers, and composed and serious countenances,
formed a striking contrast to the tunicked forms and animated gestures of
the Italians. For that impatient and lively people had, as now, a language
distinct from speech--a language of signs and motions, inexpressibly
significant and vivacious: their descendants retain it, and the learned
Jorio hath written a most entertaining work upon that species of
Sauntering through the crowd, Glaucus soon found himself amidst a group of
his merry and dissipated friends.
'Ah!' said Sallust, 'it is a lustrum since I saw you.'
'And how have you spent the lustrum? What new dishes have you discovered?'
'I have been scientific,' returned Sallust, 'and have made some experiments
in the feeding of lampreys: I confess I despair of bringing them to the
perfection which our Roman ancestors attained.'
'Miserable man! and why?'
'Because,' returned Sallust, with a sigh, 'it is no longer lawful to give
them a slave to eat. I am very often tempted to make away with a very fat
carptor (butler) whom I possess, and pop him slily into the reservoir. He
would give the fish a most oleaginous flavor! But slaves are not slaves
nowadays, and have no sympathy with their masters' interest--or Davus would
destroy himself to oblige me!'
'What news from Rome?' said Lepidus, as he languidly joined the group.
'The emperor has been giving a splendid supper to the senators,' answered
'He is a good creature,' quoth Lepidus; 'they say he never sends a man away
without granting his request.'
'Perhaps he would let me kill a slave for my reservoir?' returned Sallust,
'Not unlikely,' said Glaucus; 'for he who grants a favor to one Roman, must
always do it at the expense of another. Be sure, that for every smile Titus
has caused, a hundred eyes have wept.'
'Long live Titus!' cried Pansa, overhearing the emperor's name, as he swept
patronizingly through the crowd; 'he has promised my brother a quaestorship,
because he had run through his fortune.'
'And wishes now to enrich himself among the people, my Pansa,' said Glaucus.
'Exactly so,' said Pansa.
'That is putting the people to some use,' said Glaucus.
'To be sure, returned Pansa. 'Well, I must go and look after the
aerarium--it is a little out of repair'; and followed by a long train of
clients, distinguished from the rest of the throng by the togas they wore
(for togas, once the sign of freedom in a citizen, were now the badge of
servility to a patron), the aedile fidgeted fussily away.
'Poor Pansa!' said Lepidus: 'he never has time for pleasure. Thank Heaven I
am not an aedile!'
'Ah, Glaucus! how are you? gay as ever?' said Clodius, joining the group.
'Are you come to sacrifice to Fortune?' said Sallust.
'I sacrifice to her every night,' returned the gamester.
'I do not doubt it. No man has made more victims!'
'By Hercules, a biting speech!' cried Glaucus, laughing.
'The dog's letter is never out of your mouth, Sallust,' said Clodius,
angrily: 'you are always snarling.'
'I may well have the dog's letter in my mouth, since, whenever I play with
you, I have the dog's throw in my hand,' returned Sallust.
'Hist!' said Glaucus, taking a rose from a flower-girl, who stood beside.
'The rose is the token of silence,' replied Sallust, 'but I love only to see
it at the supper-table.'
'Talking of that, Diomed gives a grand feast next week,' said Sallust: 'are
you invited, Glaucus?'
'Yes, I received an invitation this morning.'
'And I, too,' said Sallust, drawing a square piece of papyrus from his
girdle: 'I see that he asks us an hour earlier than usual: an earnest of
'Oh! he is rich as Croesus,' said Clodius; 'and his bill of fare is as long
as an epic.'
'Well, let us to the baths,' said Glaucus: 'this is the time when all the
world is there; and Fulvius, whom you admire so much, is going to read us
his last ode.'
The young men assented readily to the proposal, and they strolled to the
Although the public thermae, or baths, were instituted rather for the poorer
citizens than the wealthy (for the last had baths in their own houses), yet,
to the crowds of all ranks who resorted to them, it was a favorite place for
conversation, and for that indolent lounging so dear to a gay and
thoughtless people. The baths at Pompeii differed, of course, in plan and
construction from the vast and complicated thermae of Rome; and, indeed, it
seems that in each city of the empire there was always some slight
modification of arrangement in the general architecture of the public baths.
This mightily puzzles the learned--as if architects and fashion were not
capricious before the nineteenth century! Our party entered by the
principal porch in the Street of Fortune. At the wing of the portico sat
the keeper of the baths, with his two boxes before him, one for the money he
received, one for the tickets he dispensed. Round the walls of the portico
were seats crowded with persons of all ranks; while others, as the regimen
of the physicians prescribed, were walking briskly to and fro the portico,
stopping every now and then to gaze on the innumerable notices of shows,
games, sales, exhibitions, which were painted or inscribed upon the walls.
The general subject of conversation was, however, the spectacle announced in
the amphitheatre; and each new-comer was fastened upon by a group eager to
know if Pompeii had been so fortunate as to produce some monstrous criminal,
some happy case of sacrilege or of murder, which would allow the aediles to
provide a man for the jaws of the lion: all other more common exhibitions
seemed dull and tame, when compared with the possibility of this fortunate
'For my part,' said one jolly-looking man, who was a goldsmith, 'I think the
emperor, if he is as good as they say, might have sent us a Jew.'
'Why not take one of the new sect of Nazarenes?' said a philosopher. 'I am
not cruel: but an atheist, one who denies Jupiter himself, deserves no
'I care not how many gods a man likes to believe in,' said the goldsmith;
'but to deny all gods is something monstrous.'
'Yet I fancy,' said Glaucus, 'that these people are not absolutely atheists.
I am told that they believe in a God--nay, in a future state.'
'Quite a mistake, my dear Glaucus,' said the philosopher. 'I have conferred
with them--they laughed in my face when I talked of Pluto and Hades.'
'O ye gods!' exclaimed the goldsmith, in horror; 'are there any of these
wretches in Pompeii?'
'I know there are a few: but they meet so privately that it is impossible to
discover who they are.'
As Glaucus turned away, a sculptor, who was a great enthusiast in his art,
looked after him admiringly.
'Ah!' said he, 'if we could get him on the arena--there would be a model for
you! What limbs! what a head! he ought to have been a gladiator! A
subject--a subject--worthy of our art! Why don't they give him to the
Meanwhile Fulvius, the Roman poet, whom his contemporaries declared
immortal, and who, but for this history, would never have been heard of in
our neglectful age, came eagerly up to Glaucus. 'Oh, my Athenian, my
Glaucus, you have come to hear my ode! That is indeed an honour; you, a
Greek--to whom the very language of common life is poetry. How I thank you.
It is but a trifle; but if I secure your approbation, perhaps I may get an
introduction to Titus. Oh, Glaucus! a poet without a patron is an amphora
without a label; the wine may be good, but nobody will laud it! And what
says Pythagoras?--"Frankincense to the gods, but praise to man." A patron,
then, is the poet's priest: he procures him the incense, and obtains him his
'But all Pompeii is your patron, and every portico an altar in your praise.'
'Ah! the poor Pompeians are very civil--they love to honour merit. But they
are only the inhabitants of a petty town--spero meliora! Shall we within?'
'Certainly; we lose time till we hear your poem.'
At this instant there was a rush of some twenty persons from the baths into
the portico; and a slave stationed at the door of a small corridor now
admitted the poet, Glaucus, Clodius, and a troop of the bard's other
friends, into the passage.
'A poor place this, compared with the Roman thermae!' said Lepidus,
'Yet is there some taste in the ceiling,' said Glaucus, who was in a mood to
be pleased with everything; pointing to the stars which studded the roof.
Lepidus shrugged his shoulders, but was too languid to reply.
They now entered a somewhat spacious chamber, which served for the purposes
of the apodyterium (that is, a place where the bathers prepared themselves
for their luxurious ablutions). The vaulted ceiling was raised from a
cornice, glowingly colored with motley and grotesque paintings; the ceiling
itself was paneled in white compartments bordered with rich crimson; the
unsullied and shining floor was paved with white mosaics, and along the
walls were ranged benches for the accommodation of the loiterers. This
chamber did not possess the numerous and spacious windows which Vitruvius
attributes to his more magnificent frigidarium. The Pompeians, as all the
southern Italians, were fond of banishing the light of their sultry skies,
and combined in their voluptuous associations the idea of luxury with
darkness. Two windows of glass alone admitted the soft and shaded ray; and
the compartment in which one of these casements was placed was adorned with
a large relief of the destruction of the Titans.
In this apartment Fulvius seated himself with a magisterial air, and his
audience gathering round him, encouraged him to commence his recital.
The poet did not require much pressing. He drew forth from his vest a roll
of papyrus, and after hemming three times, as much to command silence as to
clear his voice, he began that wonderful ode, of which, to the great
mortification of the author of this history, no single verse can be
By the plaudits he received, it was doubtless worthy of his fame; and
Glaucus was the only listener who did not find it excel the best odes of
The poem concluded, those who took only the cold bath began to undress; they
suspended their garments on hooks fastened in the wall, and receiving,
according to their condition, either from their own slaves or those of the
thermae, loose robes in exchange, withdrew into that graceful circular
building which yet exists, to shame the unlaving posterity of the south.
The more luxurious departed by another door to the tepidarium, a place which
was heated to a voluptuous warmth, partly by a movable fireplace,
principally by a suspended pavement, beneath which was conducted the caloric
of the laconicum.
Here this portion of the intended bathers, after unrobing themselves,
remained for some time enjoying the artificial warmth of the luxurious air.
And this room, as befitted its important rank in the long process of
ablution, was more richly and elaborately decorated than the rest; the
arched roof was beautifully carved and painted; the windows above, of ground
glass, admitted but wandering and uncertain rays; below the massive cornices
were rows of figures in massive and bold relief; the walls glowed with
crimson, the pavement was skillfully tessellated in white mosaics. Here the
habituated bathers, men who bathed seven times a day, would remain in a
state of enervate and speechless lassitude, either before or (mostly) after
the water-bath; and many of these victims of the pursuit of health turned
their listless eyes on the newcomers, recognizing their friends with a nod,
but dreading the fatigue of conversation.
>From this place the party again diverged, according to their several
fancies, some to the sudatorium, which answered the purpose of our
vapor-baths, and thence to the warm-bath itself; those more accustomed to
exercise, and capable of dispensing with so cheap a purchase of fatigue,
resorted at once to the calidarium, or water-bath.
In order to complete this sketch, and give to the reader an adequate notion
of this, the main luxury of the ancients, we will accompany Lepidus, who
regularly underwent the whole process, save only the cold bath, which had
gone lately out of fashion. Being then gradually warmed in the tepidarium,
which has just been described, the delicate steps of the Pompeian elegant
were conducted to the sudatorium. Here let the reader depict to himself the
gradual process of the vapor-bath, accompanied by an exhalation of spicy
perfumes. After our bather had undergone this operation, he was seized by
his slaves, who always awaited him at the baths, and the dews of heat were
removed by a kind of scraper, which (by the way) a modern traveler has
gravely declared to be used only to remove the dirt, not one particle of
which could ever settle on the polished skin of the practised bather.
Thence, somewhat cooled, he passed into the water-bath, over which fresh
perfumes were profusely scattered, and on emerging from the opposite part of
the room, a cooling shower played over his head and form. Then wrapping
himself in a light robe, he returned once more to the tepidarium, where he
found Glaucus, who had not encountered the sudatorium; and now, the main
delight and extravagance of the bath commenced. Their slaves anointed the
bathers from vials of gold, of alabaster, or of crystal, studded with
profusest gems, and containing the rarest unguents gathered from all
quarters of the world. The number of these smegmata used by the wealthy
would fill a modern volume--especially if the volume were printed by a
fashionable publisher; Amaracinum, Megalium, Nardum--omne quod exit in
um--while soft music played in an adjacent chamber, and such as used the
bath in moderation, refreshed and restored by the grateful ceremony,
conversed with all the zest and freshness of rejuvenated life.
'Blessed be he who invented baths!' said Glaucus, stretching himself along
one of those bronze seats (then covered with soft cushions) which the
visitor to Pompeii sees at this day in that same tepidarium. 'Whether he
were Hercules or Bacchus, he deserved deification.'
'But tell me,' said a corpulent citizen, who was groaning and wheezing under
the operation of being rubbed down, 'tell me, O Glaucus!--evil chance to thy
hands, O slave! why so rough?--tell me--ugh--ugh!--are the baths at Rome
really so magnificent?' Glaucus turned, and recognized Diomed, though not
without some difficulty, so red and so inflamed were the good man's cheeks
by the sudatory and the scraping he had so lately undergone. 'I fancy they
must be a great deal finer than these. Eh?' Suppressing a smile, Glaucus
'Imagine all Pompeii converted into baths, and you will then form a notion
of the size of the imperial thermae of Rome. But a notion of the size only.
Imagine every entertainment for mind and body--enumerate all the gymnastic
games our fathers invented--repeat all the books Italy and Greece have
produced--suppose places for all these games, admirers for all these
works--add to this, baths of the vastest size, the most complicated
construction--intersperse the whole with gardens, with theatres, with
porticoes, with schools--suppose, in one word, a city of the gods, composed
but of palaces and public edifices, and you may form some faint idea of the
glories of the great baths of Rome.'
'By Hercules!' said Diomed, opening his eyes, 'why, it would take a man's
whole life to bathe!'
'At Rome, it often does so,' replied Glaucus, gravely. 'There are many who
live only at the baths. They repair there the first hour in which the doors
are opened, and remain till that in which the doors are closed. They seem
as if they knew nothing of the rest of Rome, as if they despised all other
'By Pollux! you amaze me.'
'Even those who bathe only thrice a day contrive to consume their lives in
this occupation. They take their exercise in the tennis-court or the
porticoes, to prepare them for the first bath; they lounge into the theatre,
to refresh themselves after it. They take their prandium under the trees,
and think over their second bath. By the time it is prepared, the prandium
is digested. From the second bath they stroll into one of the peristyles,
to hear some new poet recite: or into the library, to sleep over an old one.
Then comes the supper, which they still consider but a part of the bath: and
then a third time they bathe again, as the best place to converse with their
'Per Hercle! but we have their imitators at Pompeii.'
'Yes, and without their excuse. The magnificent voluptuaries of the Roman
baths are happy: they see nothing but gorgeousness and splendor; they visit
not the squalid parts of the city; they know not that there is poverty in
the world. All Nature smiles for them, and her only frown is the last one
which sends them to bathe in Cocytus. Believe me, they are your only true
While Glaucus was thus conversing, Lepidus, with closed eyes and scarce
perceptible breath, was undergoing all the mystic operations, not one of
which he ever suffered his attendants to omit. After the perfumes and the
unguents, they scattered over him the luxurious powder which prevented any
further accession of heat: and this being rubbed away by the smooth surface
of the pumice, he began to indue, not the garments he had put off, but those
more festive ones termed 'the synthesis', with which the Romans marked their
respect for the coming ceremony of supper, if rather, from its hour (three
o'clock in our measurement of time), it might not be more fitly denominated
dinner. This done, he at length opened his eyes and gave signs of returning
At the same time, too, Sallust betokened by a long yawn the evidence of
'It is supper time,' said the epicure; 'you, Glaucus and Lepidus, come and
sup with me.'
'Recollect you are all three engaged to my house next week,' cried Diomed,
who was mightily proud of the acquaintance of men of fashion.
'Ah, ah! we recollect,' said Sallust; 'the seat of memory, my Diomed, is
certainly in the stomach.'
Passing now once again into the cooler air, and so into the street, our
gallants of that day concluded the ceremony of a Pompeian bath.
ARBACES COGS HIS DICE WITH PLEASURE AND WINS THE GAME.
THE evening darkened over the restless city as Apaecides took his way to the
house of the Egyptian. He avoided the more lighted and populous streets;
and as he strode onward with his head buried in his bosom, and his arms
folded within his robe, there was something startling in the contrast, which
his solemn mien and wasted form presented to the thoughtless brows and
animated air of those who occasionally crossed his path.
At length, however, a man of a more sober and staid demeanor, and who had
twice passed him with a curious but doubting look, touched him on the
'Apaecides!' said he, and he made a rapid sign with his hands: it was the
sign of the cross.
'Well, Nazarene,' replied the priest, and his face grew paler; 'what wouldst
'Nay,' returned the stranger, 'I would not interrupt thy meditations; but
the last time we met, I seemed not to be so unwelcome.'
'You are not unwelcome, Olinthus; but I am sad and weary: nor am I able this
evening to discuss with you those themes which are most acceptable to you.'
'O backward of heart!' said Olinthus, with bitter fervor; and art thou sad
and weary, and wilt thou turn from the very springs that refresh and heal?'
'O earth!' cried the young priest, striking his breast passionately, 'from
what regions shall my eyes open to the true Olympus, where thy gods really
dwell? Am I to believe with this man, that none whom for so many centuries
my fathers worshipped have a being or a name? Am I to break down, as
something blasphemous and profane, the very altars which I have deemed most
sacred? or am I to think with Arbaces--what?' He paused, and strode rapidly
away in the impatience of a man who strives to get rid of himself. But the
Nazarene was one of those hardy, vigorous, and enthusiastic men, by whom God
in all times has worked the revolutions of earth, and those, above all, in
the establishment and in the reformation of His own religion--men who were
formed to convert, because formed to endure. It is men of this mould whom
nothing discourages, nothing dismays; in the fervor of belief they are
inspired and they inspire. Their reason first kindles their passion, but
the passion is the instrument they use; they force themselves into men's
hearts, while they appear only to appeal to their judgment. Nothing is so
contagious as enthusiasm; it is the real allegory of the tale of Orpheus--it
moves stones, it charms brutes. Enthusiasm is the genius of sincerity, and
truth accomplishes no victories without it.
Olinthus did not then suffer Apaecides thus easily to escape him. He
overtook and addressed him thus:
'I do not wonder, Apaecides, that I distress you; that I shake all the
elements of your mind: that you are lost in doubt; that you drift here and
there in the vast ocean of uncertain and benighted thought. I wonder not at
this, but bear with me a little; watch and pray--the darkness shall vanish,
the storm sleep, and God Himself, as He came of yore on the seas of Samaria,
shall walk over the lulled billows, to the delivery of your soul. Ours is a
religion jealous in its demands, but how infinitely prodigal in its gifts!
It troubles you for an hour, it repays you by immortality.'
'Such promises,' said Apaecides, sullenly, 'are the tricks by which man is
ever gulled. Oh, glorious were the promises which led me to the shrine of
'But,' answered the Nazarene, 'ask thy reason, can that religion be sound
which outrages all morality? You are told to worship your gods. What are
those gods, even according to yourselves? What their actions, what their
attributes? Are they not all represented to you as the blackest of
criminals? yet you are asked to serve them as the holiest of divinities.
Jupiter himself is a parricide and an adulterer. What are the meaner
deities but imitators of his vices? You are told not to murder, but you
worship murderers; you are told not to commit adultery, and you make your
prayers to an adulterer! Oh! what is this but a mockery of the holiest
part of man's nature, which is faith? Turn now to the God, the one, the
true God, to whose shrine I would lead you. If He seem to you too sublime,
two shadowy, for those human associations, those touching connections
between Creator and creature, to which the weak heart clings--contemplate
Him in His Son, who put on mortality like ourselves. His mortality is not
indeed declared, like that of your fabled gods, by the vices of our nature,
but by the practice of all its virtues. In Him are united the austerest
morals with the tenderest affections. If He were but a mere man, He had
been worthy to become a god. You honour Socrates--he has his sect, his
disciples, his schools. But what are the doubtful virtues of the Athenian,
to the bright, the undisputed, the active, the unceasing, the devoted
holiness of Christ? I speak to you now only of His human character. He
came in that as the pattern of future ages, to show us the form of virtue
which Plato thirsted to see embodied. This was the true sacrifice that He
made for man; but the halo that encircled His dying hour not only brightened
earth, but opened to us the sight of heaven! You are touched--you are
moved. God works in your heart. His Spirit is with you. Come, resist not
the holy impulse; come at once--unhesitatingly. A few of us are now
assembled to expound the word of God. Come, let me guide you to them. You
are sad, you are weary. Listen, then, to the words of God: "Come to me",
saith He, "all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!"'
'I cannot now,' said Apaecides; 'another time.'
'Now--now!' exclaimed Olinthus, earnestly, and clasping him by the arm.
But Apaecides, yet unprepared for the renunciation of that faith--that life,
for which he had sacrificed so much, and still haunted by the promises of
the Egyptian, extricated himself forcibly from the grasp; and feeling an
effort necessary to conquer the irresolution which the eloquence of the
Christian had begun to effect in his heated and feverish mind, he gathered
up his robes and fled away with a speed that defied pursuit.
Breathless and exhausted, he arrived at last in a remote and sequestered
part of the city, and the lone house of the Egyptian stood before him. As
he paused to recover himself, the moon emerged from a silver cloud, and
shone full upon the walls of that mysterious habitation.
No other house was near--the darksome vines clustered far and wide in front
of the building and behind it rose a copse of lofty forest trees, sleeping
in the melancholy moonlight; beyond stretched the dim outline of the distant
hills, and amongst them the quiet crest of Vesuvius, not then so lofty as
the traveler beholds it now.
Apaecides passed through the arching vines, and arrived at the broad and
spacious portico. Before it, on either side of the steps, reposed the image
of the Egyptian sphinx, and the moonlight gave an additional and yet more
solemn calm to those large, and harmonious, and passionless features, in
which the sculptors of that type of wisdom united so much of loveliness with
awe; half way up the extremities of the steps darkened the green and massive
foliage of the aloe, and the shadow of the eastern palm cast its long and
unwaving boughs partially over the marble surface of the stairs.
Something there was in the stillness of the place, and the strange aspect of
the sculptured sphinxes, which thrilled the blood of the priest with a
nameless and ghostly fear, and he longed even for an echo to his noiseless
steps as he ascended to the threshold.
He knocked at the door, over which was wrought an inscription in characters
unfamiliar to his eyes; it opened without a sound, and a tall Ethiopian
slave, without question or salutation, motioned to him to proceed.
The wide hall was lighted by lofty candelabra of elaborate bronze, and round
the walls were wrought vast hieroglyphics, in dark and solemn colors, which
contrasted strangely with the bright hues and graceful shapes with which the
inhabitants of Italy decorated their abodes. At the extremity of the hall,
a slave, whose countenance, though not African, was darker by many shades
than the usual color of the south, advanced to meet him.
'I seek Arbaces,' said the priest; but his voice trembled even in his own
ear. The slave bowed his head in silence, and leading Apaecides to a wing
without the hall, conducted him up a narrow staircase, and then traversing
several rooms, in which the stern and thoughtful beauty of the sphinx still
made the chief and most impressive object of the priest's notice, Apaecides
found himself in a dim and half-lighted chamber, in the presence of the
Arbaces was seated before a small table, on which lay unfolded several
scrolls of papyrus, impressed with the same character as that on the
threshold of the mansion. A small tripod stood at a little distance, from
the incense in which the smoke slowly rose. Near this was a vast globe,
depicting the signs of heaven; and upon another table lay several
instruments, of curious and quaint shape, whose uses were unknown to
Apaecides. The farther extremity of the room was concealed by a curtain,
and the oblong window in the roof admitted the rays of the moon, mingling
sadly with the single lamp which burned in the apartment.
'Seat yourself, Apaecides,' said the Egyptian, without rising.
The young man obeyed.
'You ask me,' resumed Arbaces, after a short pause, in which he seemed
absorbed in thought--'You ask me, or would do so, the mightiest secrets
which the soul of man is fitted to receive; it is the enigma of life itself
that you desire me to solve. Placed like children in the dark, and but for
a little while, in this dim and confined existence, we shape our spectres in
the obscurity; our thoughts now sink back into ourselves in terror, now
wildly plunge themselves into the guideless gloom, guessing what it may
contain; stretching our helpless hands here and there, lest, blindly, we
stumble upon some hidden danger; not knowing the limits of our boundary, now
feeling them suffocate us with compression, now seeing them extend far away
till they vanish into eternity. In this state all wisdom consists
necessarily in the solution of two questions: "What are we to believe? and
What are we to reject?" These questions you desire me to decide.'
Apaecides bowed his head in assent.
'Man must have some belief,' continued the Egyptian, in a tone of sadness.
'He must fasten his hope to something: is our common nature that you inherit
when, aghast and terrified to see that in which you have been taught to
place your faith swept away, you float over a dreary and shoreless sea of
incertitude, you cry for help, you ask for some plank to cling to, some
land, however dim and distant, to attain. Well, then, have not forgotten
our conversation of to-day?'
'I confessed to you that those deities for whom smoke so many altars were
but inventions. I confessed to you that our rites and ceremonies were but
mummeries, to delude and lure the herd to their proper good. I explained to
you that from those delusions came the bonds of society, the harmony of the
world, the power of the wise; that power is in the obedience of the vulgar.
Continue we then these salutary delusions--if man must have some belief,
continue to him that which his fathers have made dear to him, and which
custom sanctifies and strengthens. In seeking a subtler faith for us, whose
senses are too spiritual for the gross one, let us leave others that support
which crumbles from ourselves. This is wise--it is benevolent.'
'This being settled,' resumed the Egyptian, 'the old landmarks being left
uninjured for those whom we are about to desert, we gird up our loins and
depart to new climes of faith. Dismiss at once from your recollection, from
your thought, all that you have believed before. Suppose the mind a blank,
an unwritten scroll, fit to receive impressions for the first time. Look
round the world--observe its order--its regularity--its design. Something
must have created it--the design speaks a designer: in that certainty we
first touch land. But what is that something?--A god, you cry. Stay--no
confused and confusing names. Of that which created the world, we know, we
can know, nothing, save these attributes--power and unvarying
regularity--stern, crushing, relentless regularity--heeding no individual
cases--rolling--sweeping--burning on; no matter what scattered hearts,
severed from the general mass, fall ground and scorched beneath its wheels.
The mixture of evil with good--the existence of suffering and of crime--in
all times have perplexed the wise. They created a god--they supposed him
benevolent. How then came this evil? why did he permit it--nay, why invent,
why perpetuate it? To account for this, the Persian creates a second
spirit, whose nature is evil, and supposes a continual war between that and
the god of good. In our own shadowy and tremendous Typhon, the Egyptians
image a similar demon. Perplexing blunder that yet more bewilders
us!--folly that arose from the vain delusion that makes a palpable, a
corporeal, a human being, of this unknown power--that clothes the Invisible
with attributes and a nature similar to the Seen. No: to this designer let
us give a name that does not command our bewildering associations, and the
mystery becomes more clear--that name is NECESSITY. Necessity, say the
Greeks, compels the gods. Then why the gods?--their agency becomes
unnecessary--dismiss them at once. Necessity is the ruler of all we
see--power, regularity--these two qualities make its nature. Would you ask
more?--you can learn nothing: whether it be eternal--whether it compel us,
its creatures, to new careers after that darkness which we call death--we
cannot tell. There leave we this ancient, unseen, unfathomable power, and
come to that which, to our eyes, is the great minister of its functions.
This we can task more, from this we can learn more: its evidence is around
us--its name is NATURE. The error of the sages has been to direct their
researches to the attributes of necessity, where all is gloom and blindness.
Had they confined their researches to Nature--what of knowledge might we not
already have achieved? Here patience, examination, are never directed in
vain. We see what we explore; our minds ascend a palpable ladder of causes
and effects. Nature is the great agent of the external universe, and
Necessity imposes upon it the laws by which it acts, and imparts to us the
powers by which we examine; those powers are curiosity and memory--their
union is reason, their perfection is wisdom. Well, then, I examine by the
help of these powers this inexhaustible Nature. I examine the earth, the
air, the ocean, the heaven: I find that all have a mystic sympathy with each
other--that the moon sways the tides--that the air maintains the earth, and
is the medium of the life and sense of things--that by the knowledge of the
stars we measure the limits of the earth--that we portion out the epochs of
time--that by their pale light we are guided into the abyss of the
past--that in their solemn lore we discern the destinies of the future. And
thus, while we know not that which Necessity is, we learn, at least, her
decrees. And now, what morality do we glean from this religion?--for
religion it is. I believe in two deities--Nature and Necessity; I worship
the last by reverence, the first by investigation. What is the morality my
religion teaches? This--all things are subject but to general rules; the
sun shines for the joy of the many--it may bring sorrow to the few; the
night sheds sleep on the multitude--but it harbors murder as well as rest;
the forests adorn the earth--but shelter the serpent and the lion; the ocean
supports a thousand barks--but it engulfs the one. It is only thus for the
general, and not for the universal benefit, that Nature acts, and Necessity
speeds on her awful course. This is the morality of the dread agents of the
world--it is mine, who am their creature. I would preserve the delusions of
priestcraft, for they are serviceable to the multitude; I would impart to
man the arts I discover, the sciences I perfect; I would speed the vast
career of civilizing lore: in this I serve the mass, I fulfill the general
law, I execute the great moral that Nature preaches. For myself I claim the
individual exception; I claim it for the wise--satisfied that my individual
actions are nothing in the great balance of good and evil; satisfied that
the product of my knowledge can give greater blessings to the mass than my
desires can operate evil on the few (for the first can extend to remotest
regions and humanize nations yet unborn), I give to the world wisdom, to
myself freedom. I enlighten the lives of others, and I enjoy my own. Yes;
our wisdom is eternal, but our life is short: make the most of it while it
lasts. Surrender thy youth to pleasure, and thy senses to delight. Soon
comes the hour when the wine-cup is shattered, and the garlands shall cease
to bloom. Enjoy while you may. Be still, O Apaecides, my pupil and my
follower! I will teach thee the mechanism of Nature, her darkest and her
wildest secrets--the lore which fools call magic--and the mighty mysteries
of the stars. By this shalt thou discharge thy duty to the mass; by this
shalt thou enlighten thy race. But I will lead thee also to pleasures of
which the vulgar do not dream; and the day which thou givest to men shall be
followed by the sweet night which thou surrenderest to thyself.'
As the Egyptian ceased there rose about, around, beneath, the softest music
that Lydia ever taught, or Iona ever perfected. It came like a stream of
sound, bathing the senses unawares; enervating, subduing with delight. It
seemed the melodies of invisible spirits, such as the shepherd might have
heard in the golden age, floating through the vales of Thessaly, or in the
noontide glades of Paphos. The words which had rushed to the lip of
Apaecides, in answer to the sophistries of the Egyptian, died tremblingly
away. He felt it as a profanation to break upon that enchanted strain--the
susceptibility of his excited nature, the Greek softness and ardour of his
secret soul, were swayed and captured by surprise. He sank on the seat with
parted lips and thirsting ear; while in a chorus of voices, bland and
melting as those which waked Psyche in the halls of love, rose the following
THE HYMN OF EROS
By the cool banks where soft Cephisus flows,
A voice sail'd trembling down the waves of air;
The leaves blushed brighter in the Teian's rose,
The doves couch'd breathless in their summer lair;
While from their hands the purple flowerets fell,
The laughing Hours stood listening in the sky;--
From Pan's green cave to AEgle's haunted cell,
Heaved the charm'd earth in one delicious sigh.
Love, sons of earth! I am the Power of Love!
Eldest of all the gods, with Chaos born;
My smile sheds light along the courts above,
My kisses wake the eyelids of the Morn.
Mine are the stars--there, ever as ye gaze,
Ye meet the deep spell of my haunting eyes;
Mine is the moon--and, mournful if her rays,
'Tis that she lingers where her Carian lies.
The flowers are mine--the blushes of the rose,
The violet--charming Zephyr to the shade;
Mine the quick light that in the Maybeam glows,
And mine the day-dream in the lonely glade.
Love, sons of earth--for love is earth's soft lore,
Look where ye will--earth overflows with ME;
Learn from the waves that ever kiss the shore,
And the winds nestling on the heaving sea.
'All teaches love!'--The sweet voice, like a dream,
Melted in light; yet still the airs above,
The waving sedges, and the whispering stream,
And the green forest rustling, murmur'd 'LOVE!'
As the voices died away, the Egyptian seized the hand of Apaecides, and led
him, wandering, intoxicated, yet half-reluctant, across the chamber towards
the curtain at the far end; and now, from behind that curtain, there seemed
to burst a thousand sparkling stars; the veil itself, hitherto dark, was now
lighted by these fires behind into the tenderest blue of heaven. It
represented heaven itself--such a heaven, as in the nights of June might
have shone down over the streams of Castaly. Here and there were painted
rosy and aerial clouds, from which smiled, by the limner's art, faces of
divinest beauty, and on which reposed the shapes of which Phidias and
Apelles dreamed. And the stars which studded the transparent azure rolled
rapidly as they shone, while the music, that again woke with a livelier and
lighter sound, seemed to imitate the melody of the joyous spheres.
'Oh! what miracle is this, Arbaces,' said Apaecides in faltering accents.
'After having denied the gods, art thou about to reveal to me...'
'Their pleasures!' interrupted Arbaces, in a tone so different from its
usual cold and tranquil harmony that Apaecides started, and thought the
Egyptian himself transformed; and now, as they neared the curtain, a wild--a
loud--an exulting melody burst from behind its concealment. With that sound
the veil was rent in twain--it parted--it seemed to vanish into air: and a
scene, which no Sybarite ever more than rivalled, broke upon the dazzled
gaze of the youthful priest. A vast banquet-room stretched beyond, blazing
with countless lights, which filled the warm air with the scents of
frankincense, of jasmine, of violets, of myrrh; all that the most odorous
flowers, all that the most costly spices could distil, seemed gathered into
one ineffable and ambrosial essence: from the light columns that sprang
upwards to the airy roof, hung draperies of white, studded with golden
stars. At the extremities of the room two fountains cast up a spray, which,
catching the rays of the roseate light, glittered like countless diamonds.
In the centre of the room as they entered there rose slowly from the floor,
to the sound of unseen minstrelsy, a table spread with all the viands which
sense ever devoted to fancy, and vases of that lost Myrrhine fabric, so
glowing in its colors, so transparent in its material, were crowned with the
exotics of the East. The couches, to which this table was the centre, were
covered with tapestries of azure and gold; and from invisible tubes the
vaulted roof descended showers of fragrant waters, that cooled the delicious
air, and contended with the lamps, as if the spirits of wave and fire
disputed which element could furnish forth the most delicious odorous. And
now, from behind the snowy draperies, trooped such forms as Adonis beheld
when he lay on the lap of Venus. They came, some with garlands, others with
lyres; they surrounded the youth, they led his steps to the banquet. They
flung the chaplets round him in rosy chains. The earth--the thought of
earth, vanished from his soul. He imagined himself in a dream, and
suppressed his breath lest he should wake too soon; the senses, to which he
had never yielded as yet, beat in his burning pulse, and confused his dizzy
and reeling sight. And while thus amazed and lost, once again, but in brisk
and Bacchic measures, rose the magic strain:
In the veins of the calix foams and glows
The blood of the mantling vine,
But oh! in the bowl of Youth there glows
A Lesbian, more divine!
As the liquid light,
Its waves through thine eyelids shine!
Fill up, fill up, to the sparkling brim,
The juice of the young Lyaeus;
The grape is the key that we owe to him
From the gaol of the world to free us.
What need to shrink,
When the lambs alone can see us?
Drink, drink, as I quaff from thine eyes
The wine of a softer tree;
Give the smiles to the god of the grape--thy sighs,
Beloved one, give to me.
My glances burn,
And thirst for a look from thee!
As the song ended, a group of three maidens, entwined with a chain of
starred flowers, and who, while they imitated, might have shamed the Graces,
advanced towards him in the gliding measures of the Ionian dance: such as
the Nereids wreathed in moonlight on the yellow sands of the AEgean
wave--such as Cytherea taught her handmaids in the marriage-feast of Psyche
and her son.
Now approaching, they wreathed their chaplet round his head; now kneeling,
the youngest of the three proffered him the bowl, from which the wine of
Lesbos foamed and sparkled. The youth resisted no more, he grasped the
intoxicating cup, the blood mantled fiercely through his veins. He sank
upon the breast of the nymph who sat beside him, and turning with swimming
eyes to seek for Arbaces, whom he had lost in the whirl of his emotions, he
beheld him seated beneath a canopy at the upper end of the table, and gazing
upon him with a smile that encouraged him to pleasure. He beheld him, but
not as he had hitherto seen, with dark and sable garments, with a brooding
and solemn brow: a robe that dazzled the sight, so studded was its whitest
surface with gold and gems, blazed upon his majestic form; white roses,
alternated with the emerald and the ruby, and shaped tiara-like, crowned his
raven locks. He appeared, like Ulysses, to have gained the glory of a
second youth--his features seemed to have exchanged thought for beauty, and
he towered amidst the loveliness that surrounded him, in all the beaming and
relaxing benignity of the Olympian god.
'Drink, feast, love, my pupil!' said he, 'blush not that thou art passionate
and young. That which thou art, thou feelest in thy veins: that which thou
shalt be, survey!'
With this he pointed to a recess, and the eyes of Apaecides, following the
gesture, beheld on a pedestal, placed between the statues of Bacchus and
Idalia, the form of a skeleton.
'Start not,' resumed the Egyptian; 'that friendly guest admonishes us but of
the shortness of life. From its jaws I hear a voice that summons us to
As he spoke, a group of nymphs surrounded the statue; they laid chaplets on
its pedestal, and, while the cups were emptied and refilled at that glowing
board, they sang the following strain:
BACCHIC HYMNS TO THE IMAGE OF DEATH
Thou art in the land of the shadowy Host,
Thou that didst drink and love:
By the Solemn River, a gliding ghost,
But thy thought is ours above!
If memory yet can fly,
Back to the golden sky,
And mourn the pleasures lost!
By the ruin'd hall these flowers we lay,
Where thy soul once held its palace;
When the rose to thy scent and sight was gay,
And the smile was in the chalice,
And the cithara's voice
Could bid thy heart rejoice
When night eclipsed the day.
Here a new group advancing, turned the tide of the music into a quicker and
more joyous strain.
Death, death is the gloomy shore
Where we all sail--
Soft, soft, thou gliding oar;
Blow soft, sweet gale!
Chain with bright wreaths the Hours;
Victims if all
Ever, 'mid song and flowers,
Victims should fall!
Pausing for a moment, yet quicker and quicker danced the silver-footed
Since Life's so short, we'll live to laugh,
Ah! wherefore waste a minute!
If youth's the cup we yet can quaff,
Be love the pearl within it!
A third band now approached with brimming cups, which they poured in
libation upon that strange altar; and once more, slow and solemn, rose the
Thou art welcome, Guest of gloom,
From the far and fearful sea!
When the last rose sheds its bloom,
Our board shall be spread with thee!
All hail, dark Guest!
Who hath so fair a plea
Our welcome Guest to be,
As thou, whose solemn hall
At last shall feast us all
In the dim and dismal coast?
Long yet be we the Host!
And thou, Dead Shadow, thou,
All joyless though thy brow,
Thou--but our passing GUEST!
At this moment, she who sat beside Apaecides suddenly took up the song:
Happy is yet our doom,
The earth and the sun are ours!
And far from the dreary tomb
Speed the wings of the rosy Hours--
Sweet is for thee the bowl,
Sweet are thy looks, my love;
I fly to thy tender soul,
As bird to its mated dove!
Take me, ah, take!
Clasp'd to thy guardian breast,
Soft let me sink to rest:
But wake me--ah, wake!
And tell me with words and sighs,
But more with thy melting eyes,
That my sun is not set--
That the Torch is not quench'd at the Urn
That we love, and we breathe, and burn,
Tell me--thou lov'st me yet!
BOOK THE SECOND
A FLASH HOUSE IN POMPEII, AND THE GENTLEMEN OF THE CLASSIC RING.
TO one of those parts of Pompeii, which were tenanted not by the lords of
pleasure, but by its minions and its victims; the haunt of gladiators and
prize-fighters; of the vicious and the penniless; of the savage and the
obscene; the Alsatia of an ancient city--we are now transported.
It was a large room, that opened at once on the confined and crowded lane.
Before the threshold was a group of men, whose iron and well-strung muscles,
whose short and Herculean necks, whose hardy and reckless countenances,
indicated the champions of the arena. On a shelf, without the shop, were
ranged jars of wine and oil; and right over this was inserted in the wall a
coarse painting, which exhibited gladiators drinking--so ancient and so
venerable is the custom of signs! Within the room were placed several small
tables, arranged somewhat in the modern fashion of 'boxes', and round these
were seated several knots of men, some drinking, some playing at dice, some
at that more skilful game called 'duodecim scriptae', which certain of the
blundering learned have mistaken for chess, though it rather, perhaps,
resembled backgammon of the two, and was usually, though not always, played
by the assistance of dice. The hour was in the early forenoon, and nothing
better, perhaps, than that unseasonable time itself denoted the habitual
indolence of these tavern loungers.
Yet, despite the situation of the house and the character of its inmates, it
indicated none of that sordid squalor which would have characterized a
similar haunt in a modern city. The gay disposition of all the Pompeians,
who sought, at least, to gratify the sense even where they neglected the
mind, was typified by the gaudy colors which decorated the walls, and the
shapes, fantastic but not inelegant, in which the lamps, the drinking-cups,
the commonest household utensils, were wrought.
'By Pollux!' said one of the gladiators, as he leaned against the wall of
the threshold, 'the wine thou sellest us, old Silenus'--and as he spoke he
slapped a portly personage on the back--'is enough to thin the best blood in
The man thus caressingly saluted, and whose bared arms, white apron, and
keys and napkin tucked carelessly within his girdle, indicated him to be the
host of the tavern, was already passed into the autumn of his years; but his
form was still so robust and athletic, that he might have shamed even the
sinewy shapes beside him, save that the muscles had seeded, as it were, into
flesh, that the cheeks were swelled and bloated, and the increasing stomach
threw into shade the vast and massive chest which rose above it.
'None of thy scurrilous blusterings with me,' growled the gigantic landlord,
in the gentle semi-roar of an insulted tiger; 'my wine is good enough for a
carcass which shall so soon soak the dust of the spoliarium.'
'Croakest thou thus, old raven!' returned the gladiator, laughing
scornfully; 'thou shalt live to hang thyself with despite when thou seest me
win the palm crown; and when I get the purse at the amphitheatre, as I
certainly shall, my first vow to Hercules shall be to forswear thee and thy
vile potations evermore.'
'Hear to him--hear to this modest Pyrgopolinices! He has certainly served
under Bombochides Cluninstaridysarchides,' cried the host. 'Sporus, Niger,
Tetraides, he declares he shall win the purse from you. Why, by the gods!
each of your muscles is strong enough to stifle all his body, or I know
nothing of the arena!'
'Ha!' said the gladiator, coloring with rising fury, 'our lanista would tell
a different story.'
'What story could he tell against me, vain Lydon?' said Tetraides, frowning.
'Or me, who have conquered in fifteen fights?' said the gigantic Niger,
stalking up to the gladiator.
'Or me?' grunted Sporus, with eyes of fire.
'Tush!' said Lydon, folding his arms, and regarding his rivals with a
reckless air of defiance. 'The time of trial will soon come; keep your
valor till then.'
'Ay, do,' said the surly host; 'and if I press down my thumb to save you,
may the Fates cut my thread!'
'Your rope, you mean,' said Lydon, sneeringly: 'here is a sesterce to buy
The Titan wine-vender seized the hand extended to him, and griped it in so
stern a vice that the blood spirted from the fingers' ends over the garments
of the bystanders.
They set up a savage laugh.
'I will teach thee, young braggart, to play the Macedonian with me! I am no
puny Persian, I warrant thee! What, man! have I not fought twenty years in
the ring, and never lowered my arms once? And have I not received the rod
from the editor's own hand as a sign of victory, and as a grace to
retirement on my laurels? And am I now to be lectured by a boy?' So saying,
he flung the hand from him in scorn.
Without changing a muscle, but with the same smiling face with which he had
previously taunted mine host, did the gladiator brave the painful grasp he
had undergone. But no sooner was his hand released, than, crouching for one
moment as a wild cat crouches, you might see his hair bristle on his head
and beard, and with a fierce and shrill yell he sprang on the throat of the
giant, with an impetus that threw him, vast and sturdy as he was, from his
balance--and down, with the crash of a falling rock, he fell--while over him
fell also his ferocious foe.
Our host, perhaps, had had no need of the rope so kindly recommended to him
by Lydon, had he remained three minutes longer in that position. But,
summoned to his assistance by the noise of his fall, a woman, who had
hitherto kept in an inner apartment, rushed to the scene of battle. This
new ally was in herself a match for the gladiator; she was tall, lean, and
with arms that could give other than soft embraces. In fact, the gentle
helpmate of Burbo the wine-seller had, like himself, fought in the
lists--nay under the emperor's eye. And Burbo himself--Burbo, the
unconquered in the field, according to report, now and then yielded the palm
to his soft Stratonice. This sweet creature no sooner saw the imminent
peril that awaited her worse half, than without other weapons than those
with which Nature had provided her, she darted upon the incumbent gladiator,
and, clasping him round the waist with her long and snakelike arms, lifted
him by a sudden wrench from the body of her husband, leaving only his hands
still clinging to the throat of his foe. So have we seen a dog snatched by
the hind legs from the strife with a fallen rival in the arms of some
envious groom; so have we seen one half of him high in air--passive and
offenceless--while the other half, head, teeth, eyes, claws, seemed buried
and engulfed in the mangled and prostrate enemy. Meanwhile, the gladiators,
lapped, and pampered, and glutted upon blood, crowded delightedly round the
combatants--their nostrils distended--their lips grinning--their eyes
gloatingly fixed on the bloody throat of the one and the indented talons of
'Habet! (he has got it!) habet!' cried they, with a sort of yell, rubbing
their nervous hands.
'Non habeo, ye liars; I have not got it!' shouted the host, as with a mighty
effort he wrenched himself from those deadly hands, and rose to his feet,
breathless, panting, lacerated, bloody; and fronting, with reeling eyes, the
glaring look and grinning teeth of his baffled foe, now struggling (but
struggling with disdain) in the gripe of the sturdy amazon.
'Fair play!' cried the gladiators: 'one to one'; and, crowding round Lydon
and the woman, they separated our pleasing host from his courteous guest.
But Lydon, feeling ashamed at his present position, and endeavoring in vain
to shake off the grasp of the virago, slipped his hand into his girdle, and
drew forth a short knife. So menacing was his look, so brightly gleamed the
blade, that Stratonice, who was used only to that fashion of battle which we
moderns call the pugilistic, started back in alarm.
'O gods!' cried she, 'the ruffian!--he has concealed weapons! Is that fair?
Is that like a gentleman and a gladiator? No, indeed, I scorn such
fellows.' With that she contemptuously turned her back on the gladiator, and
hastened to examine the condition of her husband.
But he, as much inured to the constitutional exercises as an English
bull-dog is to a contest with a more gentle antagonist, had already
recovered himself. The purple hues receded from the crimson surface of his
cheek, the veins of the forehead retired into their wonted size. He shook
himself with a complacent grunt, satisfied that he was still alive, and then
looking at his foe from head to foot with an air of more approbation than he
had ever bestowed upon him before:
'By Castor!' said he, 'thou art a stronger fellow than I took thee for! I
see thou art a man of merit and virtue; give me thy hand, my hero!'
'Jolly old Burbo!' cried the gladiators, applauding, 'staunch to the
backbone. Give him thy hand, Lydon.'
'Oh, to be sure,' said the gladiator: 'but now I have tasted his blood, I
long to lap the whole.'
'By Hercules!' returned the host, quite unmoved, 'that is the true gladiator
feeling. Pollux! to think what good training may make a man; why, a beast
could not be fiercer!'
'A beast! O dullard! we beat the beasts hollow!' cried Tetraides.
'Well, well said Stratonice, who was now employed in smoothing her hair and
adjusting her dress, 'if ye are all good friends again, I recommend you to
be quiet and orderly; for some young noblemen, your patrons and backers,
have sent to say they will come here to pay you a visit: they wish to see
you more at their ease than at the schools, before they make up their bets
on the great fight at the amphitheatre. So they always come to my house for
that purpose: they know we only receive the best gladiators in Pompeii--our
society is very select--praised be the gods!'
'Yes,' continued Burbo, drinking off a bowl, or rather a pail of wine, 'a
man who has won my laurels can only encourage the brave. Lydon, drink, my
boy; may you have an honorable old age like mine!'
'Come here,' said Stratonice, drawing her husband to her affectionately by
the ears, in that caress which Tibullus has so prettily described--'Come
'Not so hard, she-wolf! thou art worse than the gladiator,' murmured the
huge jaws of Burbo.
'Hist!' said she, whispering him; 'Calenus has just stole in, disguised, by
the back way. I hope he has brought the sesterces.'
'Ho! ho! I will join him, said Burbo; 'meanwhile, I say, keep a sharp eye on
the cups--attend to the score. Let them not cheat thee, wife; they are
heroes, to be sure, but then they are arrant rogues: Cacus was nothing to
'Never fear me, fool!' was the conjugal reply; and Burbo, satisfied with the
dear assurance, strode through the apartment, and sought the penetralia of
'So those soft patrons are coming to look at our muscles,' said Niger. 'Who
sent to previse thee of it, my mistress?'
'Lepidus. He brings with him Clodius, the surest better in Pompeii, and the
young Greek, Glaucus.'
'A wager on a wager,' cried Tetraides; 'Clodius bets on me, for twenty
sesterces! What say you, Lydon?'
'He bets on me!' said Lydon.
'No, on me!' grunted Sporus.
'Dolts! do you think he would prefer any of you to Niger?' said the
athletic, thus modestly naming himself.
'Well, well,' said Stratonice, as she pierced a huge amphora for her guests,
who had now seated themselves before one of the tables, 'great men and
brave, as ye all think yourselves, which of you will fight the Numidian lion
in case no malefactor should be found to deprive you of the option?'
'I who have escaped your arms, stout Stratonice,' said Lydon, 'might safely,
I think, encounter the lion.'
'But tell me,' said Tetraides, 'where is that pretty young slave of
yours--the blind girl, with bright eyes? I have not seen her a long time.'
'Oh! she is too delicate for you, my son of Neptune,' said the hostess, 'and
too nice even for us, I think. We send her into the town to sell flowers
and sing to the ladies: she makes us more money so than she would by waiting
on you. Besides, she has often other employments which lie under the rose.'
'Other employments!' said Niger; 'why, she is too young for them.'
'Silence, beast!' said Stratonice; 'you think there is no play but the
Corinthian. If Nydia were twice the age she is at present, she would be
equally fit for Vesta--poor girl!'
'But, hark ye, Stratonice,' said Lydon; 'how didst thou come by so gentle
and delicate a slave? She were more meet for the handmaid of some rich
matron of Rome than for thee.'
'That is true,' returned Stratonice; 'and some day or other I shall make my
fortune by selling her. How came I by Nydia, thou askest.'
'Why, thou seest, my slave Staphyla--thou rememberest Staphyla, Niger?'
'Ay, a large-handed wench, with a face like a comic mask. How should I
forget her, by Pluto, whose handmaid she doubtless is at this moment!'
'Tush, brute!--Well, Staphyla died one day, and a great loss she was to me,
and I went into the market to buy me another slave. But, by the gods! they
were all grown so dear since I had bought poor Staphyla, and money was so
scarce, that I was about to leave the place in despair, when a merchant
plucked me by the robe. "Mistress," said he, "dost thou want a slave cheap
I have a child to sell--a bargain. She is but little, and almost an infant,
it is true; but she is quick and quiet, docile and clever, sings well, and
is of good blood, I assure you." "Of what country?" said I. "Thessalian."
Now I knew the Thessalians were acute and gentle; so I said I would see the
girl. I found her just as you see her now, scarcely smaller and scarcely
younger in appearance. She looked patient and resigned enough, with her
hands crossed on her bosom, and her eyes downcast. I asked the merchant his
price: it was moderate, and I bought her at once. The merchant brought her
to my house, and disappeared in an instant. Well, my friends, guess my
astonishment when I found she was blind! Ha! ha! a clever fellow that
merchant! I ran at once to the magistrates, but the rogue was already gone
from Pompeii. So I was forced to go home in a very ill humor, I assure you;
and the poor girl felt the effects of it too. But it was not her fault that
she was blind, for she had been so from her birth. By degrees, we got
reconciled to our purchase. True, she had not the strength of Staphyla, and
was of very little use in the house, but she could soon find her way about
the town, as well as if she had the eyes of Argus; and when one morning she
brought us home a handful of sesterces, which she said she had got from
selling some flowers she had gathered in our poor little garden, we thought
the gods had sent her to us. So from that time we let her go out as she
likes, filling her basket with flowers, which she wreathes into garlands
after the Thessalian fashion, which pleases the gallants; and the great
people seem to take a fancy to her, for they always pay her more than they
do any other flower-girl, and she brings all of it home to us, which is more
than any other slave would do. So I work for myself, but I shall soon
afford from her earnings to buy me a second Staphyla; doubtless, the
Thessalian kidnapper had stolen the blind girl from gentle parents. Besides
her skill in the garlands, she sings and plays on the cithara, which also
brings money, and lately--but that is a secret.'
'That is a secret! What!' cried Lydon, 'art thou turned sphinx?'
'Sphinx, no!--why sphinx?'
'Cease thy gabble, good mistress, and bring us our meat--I am hungry,' said
'And I, too,' echoed the grim Niger, whetting his knife on the palm of his
The amazon stalked away to the kitchen, and soon returned with a tray laden
with large pieces of meat half-raw: for so, as now, did the heroes of the
prize-fight imagine they best sustained their hardihood and ferocity: they
drew round the table with the eyes of famished wolves--the meat vanished,
the wine flowed. So leave we those important personages of classic life to
follow the steps of Burbo.
IN the earlier times of Rome the priesthood was a profession, not of lucre
but of honour. It was embraced by the noblest citizens--it was forbidden to
the plebeians. Afterwards, and long previous to the present date, it was
equally open to all ranks; at least, that part of the profession which
embraced the flamens, or priests--not of religion generally but of peculiar
gods. Even the priest of Jupiter (the Flamen Dialis) preceded by a lictor,
and entitled by his office to the entrance of the senate, at first the
especial dignitary of the patricians, was subsequently the choice of the
people. The less national and less honored deities were usually served by
plebeian ministers; and many embraced the profession, as now the Roman
Catholic Christians enter the monastic fraternity, less from the impulse of
devotion than the suggestions of a calculating poverty. Thus Calenus, the
priest of Isis, was of the lowest origin. His relations, though not his
parents, were freedmen. He had received from them a liberal education, and
from his father a small patrimony, which he had soon exhausted. He embraced
the priesthood as a last resource from distress. Whatever the state
emoluments of the sacred profession, which at that time were probably small,
the officers of a popular temple could never complain of the profits of
their calling. There is no profession so lucrative as that which practises
on the superstition of the multitude.
Calenus had but one surviving relative at Pompeii, and that was Burbo.
Various dark and disreputable ties, stronger than those of blood, united
together their hearts and interests; and often the minister of Isis stole
disguised and furtively from the supposed austerity of his devotions; and
gliding through the back door of the retired gladiator, a man infamous alike
by vices and by profession, rejoiced to throw off the last rag of an
hypocrisy which, but for the dictates of avarice, his ruling passion, would
at all time have sat clumsily upon a nature too brutal for even the mimicry
Wrapped in one of those large mantles which came in use among the Romans in
proportion as they dismissed the toga, whose ample folds well concealed the
form, and in which a sort of hood (attached to it) afforded no less a
security to the features, Calenus now sat in the small and private chamber
of the wine-cellar, whence a small passage ran at once to that back
entrance, with which nearly all the houses of Pompeii were furnished.
Opposite to him sat the sturdy Burbo, carefully counting on a table between
them a little pile of coins which the priest had just poured from his
purse--for purses were as common then as now, with this difference--they
were usually better furnished!
'You see,' said Calenus, that we pay you handsomely, and you ought to thank
me for recommending you to so advantageous a market.'
'I do, my cousin, I do,' replied Burbo, affectionately, as he swept the
coins into a leathern receptacle, which he then deposited in his girdle,
drawing the buckle round his capacious waist more closely than he was wont
to do in the lax hours of his domestic avocations. 'And by Isis, Pisis, and
Nisis, or whatever other gods there may be in Egypt, my little Nydia is a
very Hesperides--a garden of gold to me.'
'She sings well, and plays like a muse,' returned Calenus; 'those are
virtues that he who employs me always pays liberally.'
'He is a god,' cried Burbo, enthusiastically; 'every rich man who is
generous deserves to be worshipped. But come, a cup of wine, old friend:
tell me more about it. What does she do? she is frightened, talks of her
oath, and reveals nothing.'
'Nor will I, by my right hand! I, too, have taken that terrible oath of
'Oath! what are oaths to men like us?'
'True oaths of a common fashion; but this!'--and the stalwart priest
shuddered as he spoke. 'Yet,' he continued, in emptying a huge cup of
unmixed wine, 'I own to thee, that it is not so much the oath that I dread
as the vengeance of him who proposed it. By the gods! he is a mighty
sorcerer, and could draw my confession from the moon, did I dare to make it
to her. Talk no more of this. By Pollux! wild as those banquets are which
I enjoy with him, I am never quite at my ease there. I love, my boy, one
jolly hour with thee, and one of the plain, unsophisticated, laughing girls
that I meet in this chamber, all smoke-dried though it be, better than whole
nights of those magnificent debauches.'
'Ho! sayest thou so! To-morrow night, please the gods, we will have then a
'With all my heart,' said the priest, rubbing his hands, and drawing himself
nearer to the table.
At this moment they heard a slight noise at the door, as of one feeling the
handle. The priest lowered the hood over his head.
'Tush!' whispered the host, 'it is but the blind girl,' as Nydia opened the
door, and entered the apartment.
'Ho! girl, and how durst thou? thou lookest pale--thou hast kept late
revels? No matter, the young must be always the young,' said Burbo,
The girl made no answer, but she dropped on one of the seats with an air of
lassitude. Her color went and came rapidly: she beat the floor impatiently
with her small feet, then she suddenly raised her face, and said with a
'Master, you may starve me if you will--you may beat me--you may threaten me
with death--but I will go no more to that unholy place!'
'How, fool!' said Burbo, in a savage voice, and his heavy brows met darkly
over his fierce and bloodshot eyes; 'how, rebellious! Take care.'
'I have said it,' said the poor girl, crossing her hands on her breast.
'What! my modest one, sweet vestal, thou wilt go no more! Very well, thou
shalt be carried.'
'I will raise the city with my cries,' said she, passionately; and the color
mounted to her brow.
'We will take care of that too; thou shalt go gagged.'
'Then may the gods help me!' said Nydia, rising; 'I will appeal to the
'Thine oath remember!' said a hollow voice, as for the first time Calenus
joined in the dialogue.
At these words a trembling shook the frame of the unfortunate girl; she
clasped her hands imploringly. 'Wretch that I am!' she cried, and burst
violently into sobs.
Whether or not it was the sound of that vehement sorrow which brought the
gentle Stratonice to the spot, her grisly form at this moment appeared in
'How now? what hast thou been doing with my slave, brute?' said she,
angrily, to Burbo.
'Be quiet, wife,' said he, in a tone half-sullen, half-timid; 'you want new
girdles and fine clothes, do you? Well then, take care of your slave, or
you may want them long. Voe capiti tuo--vengeance on thy head, wretched
'What is this?' said the hag, looking from one to the other.
Nydia started as by a sudden impulse from the wall against which she had
leaned: she threw herself at the feet of Stratonice; she embraced her knees,
and looking up at her with those sightless but touching eyes:
'O my mistress!' sobbed she, 'you are a woman--you have had sisters--you
have been young like me, feel for me--save me! I will go to those horrible
feasts no more!'
'Stuff!' said the hag, dragging her up rudely by one of those delicate
hands, fit for no harsher labor than that of weaving the flowers which made
her pleasure or her trade; 'stuff! these fine scruples are not for slaves.'
'Hark ye,' said Burbo, drawing forth his purse, and chinking its contents:
'you hear this music, wife; by Pollux! if you do not break in yon colt with
a tight rein, you will hear it no more.'
'The girl is tired,' said Stratonice, nodding to Calenus; 'she will be more
docile when you next want her.'
'You! you! who is here?' cried Nydia, casting her eyes round the apartment
with so fearful and straining a survey, that Calenus rose in alarm from his
'She must see with those eyes!' muttered he.
'Who is here! Speak, in heaven's name! Ah, if you were blind like me, you
would be less cruel,' said she; and she again burst into tears.
'Take her away,' said Burbo, impatiently; 'I hate these whimperings.'
'Come!' said Stratonice, pushing the poor child by the shoulders. Nydia
drew herself aside, with an air to which resolution gave dignity.
'Hear me,' she said; 'I have served you faithfully--I who was brought
up--Ah! my mother, my poor mother! didst thou dream I should come to this?'
She dashed the tear from her eyes, and proceeded: 'Command me in aught else,
and I will obey; but I tell you now, hard, stern, inexorable as you are--I
tell you that I will go there no more; or, if I am forced there, that I will
implore the mercy of the praetor himself--I have said it. Hear me, ye gods,
The hag's eyes glowed with fire; she seized the child by the hair with one
hand, and raised on high the other--that formidable right hand, the least
blow of which seemed capable to crush the frail and delicate form that
trembled in her grasp. That thought itself appeared to strike her, for she
suspended the blow, changed her purpose, and dragging Nydia to the wall,
seized from a hook a rope, often, alas! applied to a similar purpose, and
the next moment the shrill, the agonized shrieks of the blind girl, rang
piercingly through the house.
GLAUCUS MAKES A PURCHASE THAT AFTERWARDS COSTS HIM DEAR.
'HOLLA, my brave fellows!' said Lepidus, stooping his head as he entered the
low doorway of the house of Burbo. 'We have come to see which of you most
honors your lanista.' The gladiators rose from the table in respect to three
gallants known to be among the gayest and richest youths of Pompeii, and
whose voices were therefore the dispensers of amphitheatrical reputation.
'What fine animals!' said Clodius to Glaucus: 'worthy to be gladiators!'
'It is a pity they are not warriors,' returned Glaucus.
A singular thing it was to see the dainty and fastidious Lepidus, whom in a
banquet a ray of daylight seemed to blind--whom in the bath a breeze of air
seemed to blast--in whom Nature seemed twisted and perverted from every
natural impulse, and curdled into one dubious thing of effeminacy and art--a
singular thing was it to see this Lepidus, now all eagerness, and energy,
and life, patting the vast shoulders of the gladiators with a blanched and
girlish hand, feeling with a mincing gripe their great brawn and iron
muscles, all lost in calculating admiration at that manhood which he had
spent his life in carefully banishing from himself.
So have we seen at this day the beardless flutterers of the saloons of
London thronging round the heroes of the Fives-court--so have we seen them
admire, and gaze, and calculate a bet--so have we seen them meet together,
in ludicrous yet in melancholy assemblage, the two extremes of civilized
society--the patrons of pleasure and its slaves--vilest of all slaves--at
once ferocious and mercenary; male prostitutes, who sell their strength as
women their beauty; beasts in act, but baser than beasts in motive, for the
last, at least, do not mangle themselves for money!
'Ha! Niger, how will you fight?' said Lepidus: 'and with whom?'
'Sporus challenges me,' said the grim giant; 'we shall fight to the death, I
'Ah! to be sure,' grunted Sporus, with a twinkle of his small eye.
'He takes the sword, I the net and the trident: it will be rare sport. I
hope the survivor will have enough to keep up the dignity of the crown.'
'Never fear, we'll fill the purse, my Hector,' said Clodius:
'let me see--you fight against Niger? Glaucus, a bet--I back Niger.'
'I told you so,' cried Niger exultingly. 'The noble Clodius knows me; count
yourself dead already, my Sporus.'
Clodius took out his tablet. 'A bet--ten sestertia. What say you?'
'So be it,' said Glaucus. 'But whom have we here? I never saw this hero
before'; and he glanced at Lydon, whose limbs were slighter than those of
his companions, and who had something of grace, and something even of
nobleness, in his face, which his profession had not yet wholly destroyed.
'It is Lydon, a youngster, practised only with the wooden sword as yet,'
answered Niger, condescendingly. 'But he has the true blood in him, and has
'He challenged me,' said Lydon: 'I accept the offer.'
'And how do you fight?' asked Lepidus. 'Chut, my boy, wait a while before
you contend with Tetraides.' Lydon smiled disdainfully.
'Is he a citizen or a slave?' said Clodius.
'A citizen--we are all citizens here,' quoth Niger.
'Stretch out your arm, my Lydon,' said Lepidus, with the air of a
The gladiator, with a significant glance at his companions, extended an arm
which, if not so huge in its girth as those of his comrades, was so firm in
its muscles, so beautifully symmetrical in its proportions, that the three
visitors uttered simultaneously an admiring exclamation.
'Well, man, what is your weapon?' said Clodius, tablet in hand.
'We are to fight first with the cestus; afterwards, if both survive, with
swords,' returned Tetraides, sharply, and with an envious scowl.
'With the cestus!' cried Glaucus; 'there you are wrong, Lydon; the cestus is
the Greek fashion: I know it well. You should have encouraged flesh for
that contest: you are far too thin for it--avoid the cestus.'
'I cannot,' said Lydon.
'I have said--because he has challenged me.'
'But he will not hold you to the precise weapon.'
'My honour holds me!' returned Lydon, proudly.
'I bet on Tetraides, two to one, at the cestus,' said Clodius; shall it be,
Lepidus?--even betting, with swords.'
'If you give me three to one, I will not take the odds, said Lepidus: 'Lydon
will never come to the swords. You are mighty courteous.'
'What say you, Glaucus?' said Clodius.
'I will take the odds three to one.'
'Ten sestertia to thirty.'
Clodius wrote the bet in his book.
'Pardon me, noble sponsor mine,' said Lydon, in a low voice to Glaucus: 'but
how much think you the victor will gain?'
'How much? why, perhaps seven sestertia.'
'You are sure it will be as much?'
'At least. But out on you!--a Greek would have thought of the honour, and
not the money. O Italians! everywhere ye are Italians!'
A blush mantled over the bronzed cheek of the gladiator.
'Do not wrong me, noble Glaucus; I think of both, but I should never have
been a gladiator but for the money.'
'Base! mayest thou fall! A miser never was a hero.'
'I am not a miser,' said Lydon, haughtily, and he withdrew to the other end
of the room.
'But I don't see Burbo; where is Burbo? I must talk with Burbo,' cried
'He is within,' said Niger, pointing to the door at the extremity of the
'And Stratonice, the brave old lass, where is she?' quoth Lepidus.
'Why, she was here just before you entered; but she heard something that
displeased her yonder, and vanished. Pollux! old Burbo had perhaps caught
hold of some girl in the back room. I heard a female's voice crying out;
the old dame is as jealous as Juno.'
'Ho! excellent!' cried Lepidus, laughing. 'Come, Clodius, let us go shares
with Jupiter; perhaps he has caught a Leda.'
At this moment a loud cry of pain and terror startled the group.
'Oh, spare me! spare me! I am but a child, I am blind--is not that
'O Pallas! I know that voice, it is my poor flower-girl!' exclaimed
Glaucus, and he darted at once into the quarter whence the cry rose.
He burst the door; he beheld Nydia writhing in the grasp of the infuriate
hag; the cord, already dabbled with blood, was raised in the air--it was
'Fury!' said Glaucus, and with his left hand he caught Nydia from her grasp;
'how dare you use thus a girl--one of your own sex, a child! My Nydia, my
'Oh? is that you--is that Glaucus?' exclaimed the flower-girl, in a tone
almost of transport; the tears stood arrested on her cheek; she smiled, she
clung to his breast, she kissed his robe as she clung.
'And how dare you, pert stranger! interfere between a free woman and her
slave. By the gods! despite your fine tunic and your filthy perfumes, I
doubt whether you are even a Roman citizen, my mannikin.'
'Fair words, mistress--fair words!' said Clodius, now entering with Lepidus.
'This is my friend and sworn brother; he must be put under shelter of your
tongue, sweet one; it rains stones!'
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