The Last Days of Pompeii
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
Part 8 out of 9
'I may as well take advantage of his shoulders,' thought the prudent Sosia,
hastening to follow him: 'the crowd always give way to a gladiator, so I
will keep close behind, and come in for a share of his consequence.'
The son of Medon strode quickly through the mob, many of whom recognized his
features and profession.
'That is young Lydon, a brave fellow: he fights to-morrow,' said one.
'Ah! I have a bet on him,' said another; 'see how firmly he walks!'
'Good luck to thee, Lydon!' said a third.
'Lydon, you have my wishes,' half whispered a fourth, smiling (a comely
woman of the middle class)--'and if you win, why, you may hear more of me.'
'A handsome man, by Venus!' cried a fifth, who was a girl scarce in her
teens. 'Thank you,' returned Sosia, gravely taking the compliment to
However strong the purer motives of Lydon, and certain though it be that he
would never have entered so bloody a calling but from the hope of obtaining
his father's freedom, he was not altogether unmoved by the notice he
excited. He forgot that the voices now raised in commendation might, on the
morrow, shout over his death-pangs. By nature fierce and reckless, as well
as generous and warm-hearted, he was already imbued with the pride of a
profession that he fancied he disdained, and affected by the influence of a
companionship that in reality he loathed. He saw himself now a man of
importance; his step grew yet lighter, and his mien more elate.
'Niger,' said he, turning suddenly, as he had now threaded the crowd; 'we
have often quarrelled; we are not matched against each other, but one of us,
at least, may reasonably expect to fall--give us thy hand.'
'Most readily,' said Sosia, extending his palm.
'Ha! what fool is this? Why, I thought Niger was at my heels!'
'I forgive the mistake,' replied Sosia, condescendingly: 'don't mention it;
the error was easy--I and Niger are somewhat of the same build.'
'Ha! ha! that is excellent! Niger would have slit thy throat had he heard
'You gentlemen of the arena have a most disagreeable mode of talking,' said
Sosia; 'let us change the conversation.'
'Vah! vah!' said Lydon, impatiently; 'I am in no humor to converse with
'Why, truly,' returned the slave, 'you must have serious thoughts enough to
occupy your mind: to-morrow is, I think, your first essay in the arena.
Well, I am sure you will die bravely!'
'May thy words fall on thine own head!' said Lydon, superstitiously, for he
by no means liked the blessing of Sosia. 'Die! No--I trust my hour is not
'He who plays at dice with death must expect the dog's throw,' replied
Sosia, maliciously. 'But you are a strong fellow, and I wish you all
imaginable luck; and so, vale!'
With that the slave turned on his heel, and took his way homeward.
'I trust the rogue's words are not ominous,' said Lydon, musingly. 'In my
zeal for my father's liberty, and my confidence in my own thews and sinews,
I have not contemplated the possibility of death. My poor father! I am thy
only son!--if I were to fall...'
As the thought crossed him, the gladiator strode on with a more rapid and
restless pace, when suddenly, in an opposite street, he beheld the very
object of his thoughts. Leaning on his stick, his form bent by care and
age, his eyes downcast, and his steps trembling, the grey-haired Medon
slowly approached towards the gladiator. Lydon paused a moment: he divined
at once the cause that brought forth the old man at that late hour.
'Be sure, it is I whom he seeks,' thought he; 'he is horror struck at the
condemnation of Olinthus--he more than ever esteems the arena criminal and
hateful--he comes again to dissuade me from the contest. I must shun him--I
cannot brook his prayers--his tears.'
These thoughts, so long to recite, flashed across the young man like
lightning. He turned abruptly and fled swiftly in an opposite direction.
He paused not till, almost spent and breathless, he found himself on the
summit of a small acclivity which overlooked the most gay and splendid part
of that miniature city; and as there he paused, and gazed along the tranquil
streets glittering in the rays of the moon (which had just arisen, and
brought partially and picturesquely into light the crowd around the
amphitheatre at a distance, murmuring, and swaying to and fro), the
influence of the scene affected him, rude and unimaginative though his
nature. He sat himself down to rest upon the steps of a deserted portico,
and felt the calm of the hour quiet and restore him. Opposite and near at
hand, the lights gleamed from a palace in which the master now held his
revels. The doors were open for coolness, and the gladiator beheld the
numerous and festive group gathered round the tables in the atrium; while
behind them, closing the long vista of the illumined rooms beyond, the spray
of the distant fountain sparkled in the moonbeams. There, the garlands
wreathed around the columns of the hall--there, gleamed still and frequent
the marble statue--there, amidst peals of jocund laughter, rose the music
and the lay.
Away with your stories of Hades,
Which the Flamen has forged to affright us--
We laugh at your three Maiden Ladies,
Your Fates--and your sullen Cocytus.
Poor Jove has a troublesome life, sir,
Could we credit your tales of his portals--
In shutting his ears on his wife, sir,
And opening his eyes upon mortals.
Oh, blest be the bright Epicurus!
Who taught us to laugh at such fables;
On Hades they wanted to moor us,
And his hand cut the terrible cables.
If, then, there's a Jove or a Juno,
They vex not their heads about us, man;
Besides, if they did, I and you know
'Tis the life of a god to live thus, man!
What! think you the gods place their bliss--eh?--
In playing the spy on a sinner?
In counting the girls that we kiss, eh?
Or the cups that we empty at dinner?
Content with the soft lips that love us,
This music, this wine, and this mirth, boys,
We care not for gods up above us--
We know there's no god for this earth, boys!
While Lydon's piety (which accommodating as it might be, was in no slight
degree disturbed by these verses, which embodied the fashionable philosophy
of the day) slowly recovered itself from the shock it had received, a small
party of men, in plain garments and of the middle class, passed by his
resting-place. They were in earnest conversation, and did not seem to
notice or heed the gladiator as they moved on.
'O horror on horrors!' said one; 'Olinthus is snatched from us! our right
arm is lopped away! When will Christ descend to protect his own?'
'Can human atrocity go farther said another: 'to sentence an innocent man to
the same arena as a murderer! But let us not despair; the thunder of Sinai
may yet be heard, and the Lord preserve his saint. "The fool hath said in
his heart, There is no God."'
At that moment out broke again, from the illumined palace, the burden of the
We care not for gods up above us--
We know there's no god for this earth, boys!
Ere the words died away, the Nazarenes, moved by sudden indignation, caught
up the echo, and, in the words of one of their favorite hymns, shouted
THE WARNING HYMN OF THE NAZARENES
Around--about--for ever near thee,
God--OUR GOD--shall mark and hear thee!
On his car of storm He sweeps!
Bow, ye heavens, and shrink, ye deeps!
Woe to the proud ones who defy Him!--
Woe to the dreamers who deny Him!
Woe to the wicked, woe!
The proud stars shall fail--
The sun shall grow pale--
The heavens shrivel up like a scroll--
Hell's ocean shall bare
Its depths of despair,
Each wave an eternal soul!
For the only thing, then,
That shall not live again
Is the corpse of the giant TIME.
Hark, the trumpet of thunder!
Lo, earth rent asunder!
And, forth, on His Angel-throne,
He comes through the gloom,
The Judge of the Tomb,
To summon and save His own!
Oh, joy to Care, and woe to Crime,
He comes to save His own!
Woe to the proud ones who defy Him!
Woe to the dreamers who deny Him!
Woe to the wicked, woe!
A sudden silence from the startled hall of revel succeeded these ominous
words: the Christians swept on, and were soon hidden from the sight of the
gladiator. Awed, he scarce knew why, by the mystic denunciations of the
Christians, Lydon, after a short pause, now rose to pursue his way homeward.
Before him, how serenely slept the starlight on that lovely city! how
breathlessly its pillared streets reposed in their security!--how softly
rippled the dark-green waves beyond!--how cloudless spread, aloft and blue,
the dreaming Campanian skies! Yet this was the last night for the gay
Pompeii! the colony of the hoar Chaldean! the fabled city of Hercules! the
delight of the voluptuous Roman! Age after age had rolled, indestructive,
unheeded, over its head; and now the last ray quivered on the dial-plate of
its doom! The gladiator heard some light steps behind--a group of females
were wending homeward from their visit to the amphitheatre. As he turned,
his eye was arrested by a strange and sudden apparition. From the summit of
Vesuvius, darkly visible at the distance, there shot a pale, meteoric, livid
light--it trembled an instant and was gone. And at the same moment that his
eye caught it, the voice of one of the youngest of the women broke out
hilariously and shrill:-
TRAMP! TRAMP! HOW GAILY THEY GO!
HO, HO! FOR THE MORROW'S MERRY SHOW!
BOOK THE FIFTH
THE DREAM OF ARBACES. A VISITOR AND A WARNING TO THE EGYPTIAN.
THE awful night preceding the fierce joy of the amphitheatre rolled drearily
away, and greyly broke forth the dawn of THE LAST DAY OF POMPEII! The air
was uncommonly calm and sultry--a thin and dull mist gathered over the
valleys and hollows of the broad Campanian fields. But yet it was remarked
in surprise by the early fishermen, that, despite the exceeding stillness of
the atmosphere, the waves of the sea were agitated, and seemed, as it were,
to run disturbedly back from the shore; while along the blue and stately
Sarnus, whose ancient breadth of channel the traveler now vainly seeks to
discover, there crept a hoarse and sullen murmur, as it glided by the
laughing plains and the gaudy villas of the wealthy citizens. Clear above
the low mist rose the time-worn towers of the immemorial town, the red-tiled
roofs of the bright streets, the solemn columns of many temples, and the
statue-crowned portals of the Forum and the Arch of Triumph. Far in the
distance, the outline of the circling hills soared above the vapors, and
mingled with the changeful hues of the morning sky. The cloud that had so
long rested over the crest of Vesuvius had suddenly vanished, and its rugged
and haughty brow looked without a frown over the beautiful scenes below.
Despite the earliness of the hour, the gates of the city were already
opened. Horsemen upon horsemen, vehicle after vehicle, poured rapidly in;
and the voices of numerous pedestrian groups, clad in holiday attire, rose
high in joyous and excited merriment; the streets were crowded with citizens
and strangers from the populous neighborhood of Pompeii; and
noisily--fast--confusedly swept the many streams of life towards the fatal
Despite the vast size of the amphitheatre, seemingly so disproportioned to
the extent of the city, and formed to include nearly the whole population of
Pompeii itself, so great, on extraordinary occasions, was the concourse of
strangers from all parts of Campania, that the space before it was usually
crowded for several hours previous to the commencement of the sports, by
such persons as were not entitled by their rank to appointed and special
seats. And the intense curiosity which the trial and sentence of two
criminals so remarkable had occasioned, increased the crowd on this day to
an extent wholly unprecedented.
While the common people, with the lively vehemence of their Campanian blood,
were thus pushing, scrambling, hurrying on--yet, amidst all their eagerness,
preserving, as is now the wont with Italians in such meetings, a wonderful
order and unquarrelsome good humor, a strange visitor to Arbaces was
threading her way to his sequestered mansion. At the sight of her quaint
and primaeval garb--of her wild gait and gestures--the passengers she
encountered touched each other and smiled; but as they caught a glimpse of
her countenance, the mirth was hushed at once, for the face was as the face
of the dead; and, what with the ghastly features and obsolete robes of the
stranger, it seemed as if one long entombed had risen once more amongst the
living. In silence and awe each group gave way as she passed along, and she
soon gained the broad porch of the Egyptian's palace.
The black porter, like the rest of the world, astir at an unusual hour,
started as he opened the door to her summons.
The sleep of the Egyptian had been usually profound during the night; but,
as the dawn approached, it was disturbed by strange and unquiet dreams,
which impressed him the more as they were colored by the peculiar philosophy
He thought that he was transported to the bowels of the earth, and that he
stood alone in a mighty cavern supported by enormous columns of rough and
primaeval rock, lost, as they ascended, in the vastness of a shadow athwart
whose eternal darkness no beam of day had ever glanced. And in the space
between these columns were huge wheels, that whirled round and round
unceasingly, and with a rushing and roaring noise. Only to the right and
left extremities of the cavern, the space between the pillars was left bare,
and the apertures stretched away into galleries--not wholly dark, but dimly
lighted by wandering and erratic fires, that, meteor-like, now crept (as the
snake creeps) along the rugged and dank soil; and now leaped fiercely to and
fro, darting across the vast gloom in wild gambols--suddenly disappearing,
and as suddenly bursting into tenfold brilliancy and power. And while he
gazed wonderingly upon the gallery to the left, thin, mist-like, aerial
shapes passed slowly up; and when they had gained the hall they seemed to
rise aloft, and to vanish, as the smoke vanishes, in the measureless ascent.
He turned in fear towards the opposite extremity--and behold! there came
swiftly, from the gloom above, similar shadows, which swept hurriedly along
the gallery to the right, as if borne involuntarily adown the sides of some
invisible stream; and the faces of these spectres were more distinct than
those that emerged from the opposite passage; and on some was joy, and on
others sorrow--some were vivid with expectation and hope, some unutterably
dejected by awe and horror. And so they passed, swift and constantly on,
till the eyes of the gazer grew dizzy and blinded with the whirl of an
ever-varying succession of things impelled by a power apparently not their
Arbaces turned away, and, in the recess of the hall, he saw the mighty form
of a giantess seated upon a pile of skulls, and her hands were busy upon a
pale and shadowy woof; and he saw that the woof communicated with the
numberless wheels, as if it guided the machinery of their movements. He
thought his feet, by some secret agency, were impelled towards the female,
and that he was borne onwards till he stood before her, face to face. The
countenance of the giantess was solemn and hushed, and beautifully serene.
It was as the face of some colossal sculpture of his own ancestral sphinx.
No passion--no human emotion, disturbed its brooding and unwrinkled brow:
there was neither sadness, nor joy, nor memory, nor hope: it was free from
all with which the wild human heart can sympathize. The mystery of
mysteries rested on its beauty--it awed, but terrified not: it was the
Incarnation of the sublime. And Arbaces felt the voice leave his lips,
without an impulse of his own; and the voice asked:
'Who art thou, and what is thy task?'
'I am That which thou hast acknowledged,' answered, without desisting from
its work, the mighty phantom. 'My name is NATURE! These are the wheels of
the world, and my hand guides them for the life of all things.'
'And what,' said the voice of Arbaces, 'are these galleries, that strangely
and fitfully illumined, stretch on either hand into the abyss of gloom?'
'That,' answered the giant-mother, 'which thou beholdest to the left, is the
gallery of the Unborn. The shadows that flit onward and upward into the
world, are the souls that pass from the long eternity of being to their
destined pilgrimage on earth. That which thou beholdest to thy right,
wherein the shadows descending from above sweep on, equally unknown and dim,
is the gallery of the Dead!'
'And wherefore, said the voice of Arbaces, 'yon wandering lights, that so
wildly break the darkness; but only break, not reveal?'
'Dark fool of the human sciences! dreamer of the stars, and would-be
decipherer of the heart and origin of things! those lights are but the
glimmerings of such knowledge as is vouchsafed to Nature to work her way, to
trace enough of the past and future to give providence to her designs.
judge, then, puppet as thou art, what lights are reserved for thee!'
Arbaces felt himself tremble as he asked again, 'Wherefore am I here?'
'It is the forecast of thy soul--the prescience of thy rushing doom--the
shadow of thy fate lengthening into eternity as declines from earth.'
Ere he could answer, Arbaces felt a rushing WIND sweep down the cavern, as
the winds of a giant god. Borne aloft from the ground, and whirled on high
as a leaf in the storms of autumn, he beheld himself in the midst of the
Spectres of the Dead, and hurrying with them along the length of gloom. As
in vain and impotent despair he struggled against the impelling power, he
thought the WIND grew into something like a shape--a spectral outline of the
wings and talons of an eagle, with limbs floating far and indistinctly along
the air, and eyes that, alone clearly and vividly seen, glared stonily and
remorselessly on his own.
'What art thou?' again said the voice of the Egyptian.
'I am That which thou hast acknowledged'; and the spectre laughed
aloud--'and my name is NECESSITY.'
'To what dost thou bear me?'
'To the Unknown.'
'To happiness or to woe?'
'As thou hast sown, so shalt thou reap.'
'Dread thing, not so! If thou art the Ruler of Life, thine are my misdeeds,
'I am but the breath of God!' answered the mighty WIND.
'Then is my wisdom vain!' groaned the dreamer.
'The husbandman accuses not fate, when, having sown thistles, he reaps not
corn. Thou hast sown crime, accuse not fate if thou reapest not the harvest
The scene suddenly changed. Arbaces was in a place of human bones; and lo!
in the midst of them was a skull, and the skull, still retaining its
fleshless hollows, assumed slowly, and in the mysterious confusion of a
dream, the face of Apaecides; and forth from the grinning jaws there crept a
small worm, and it crawled to the feet of Arbaces. He attempted to stamp on
it and crush it; but it became longer and larger with that attempt. It
swelled and bloated till it grew into a vast serpent: it coiled itself round
the limbs of Arbaces; it crunched his bones; it raised its glaring eyes and
poisonous jaws to his face. He writhed in vain; he withered--he
gasped--beneath the influence of the blighting breath--he felt himself
blasted into death. And then a voice came from the reptile, which still bore
the face of Apaecides and rang in his reeling ear:
'THY VICTIM IS THY JUDGE! THE WORM THOU WOULDST CRUSH BECOMES THE SERPENT
THAT DEVOURS THEE!'
With a shriek of wrath, and woe, and despairing resistance, Arbaces
awoke--his hair on end--his brow bathed in dew--his eyes glazed and
staring--his mighty frame quivering as an infant's, beneath the agony of
that dream. He awoke--he collected himself--he blessed the gods whom he
disbelieved, that he was in a dream--he turned his eyes from side to
side--he saw the dawning light break through his small but lofty window--he
was in the Precincts of Day--he rejoiced--he smiled; his eyes fell, and
opposite to him he beheld the ghastly features, the lifeless eye, the livid
lip--of the hag of Vesuvius!
'Ha!' he cried, placing his hands before his eyes, as to shut out the grisly
vision, 'do I dream still?--Am I with the dead?'
'Mighty Hermes--no! Thou art with one death-like, but not dead. Recognize
thy friend and slave.'
There was a long silence. Slowly the shudders that passed over the limbs of
the Egyptian chased each other away, faintlier and faintlier dying till he
was himself again.
'It was a dream, then,' said he. 'Well--let me dream no more, or the day
cannot compensate for the pangs of night. Woman, how camest thou here, and
'I came to warn thee,' answered the sepulchral voice of the saga.
'Warn me! The dream lied not, then? Of what peril?'
'Listen to me. Some evil hangs over this fated city. Fly while it be time.
Thou knowest that I hold my home on that mountain beneath which old
tradition saith there yet burn the fires of the river of Phlegethon; and in
my cavern is a vast abyss, and in that abyss I have of late marked a red and
dull stream creep slowly, slowly on; and heard many and mighty sounds
hissing and roaring through the gloom. But last night, as I looked thereon,
behold the stream was no longer dull, but intensely and fiercely luminous;
and while I gazed, the beast that liveth with me, and was cowering by my
side, uttered a shrill howl, and fell down and died, and the slaver and
froth were round his lips. I crept back to my lair; but I distinctly heard,
all the night, the rock shake and tremble; and, though the air was heavy and
still, there were the hissing of pent winds, and the grinding as of wheels,
beneath the ground. So, when I rose this morning at the very birth of dawn,
I looked again down the abyss, and I saw vast fragments of stone borne black
and floatingly over the lurid stream; and the stream itself was broader,
fiercer, redder than the night before. Then I went forth, and ascended to
the summit of the rock: and in that summit there appeared a sudden and vast
hollow, which I had never perceived before, from which curled a dim, faint
smoke; and the vapor was deathly, and I gasped, and sickened, and nearly
died. I returned home. I took my gold and my drugs, and left the
habitation of many years; for I remembered the dark Etruscan prophecy which
saith, "When the mountain opens, the city shall fall--when the smoke crowns
the Hill of the Parched Fields, there shall be woe and weeping in the
hearths of the Children of the Sea." Dread master, ere I leave these walls
for some more distant dwelling, I come to thee. As thou livest, know I in
my heart that the earthquake that sixteen years ago shook this city to its
solid base, was but the forerunner of more deadly doom. The walls of
Pompeii are built above the fields of the Dead, and the rivers of the
sleepless Hell. Be warned and fly!'
'Witch, I thank thee for thy care of one not ungrateful. On yon table
stands a cup of gold; take it, it is thine. I dreamt not that there lived
one, out of the priesthood of Isis, who would have saved Arbaces from
destruction. The signs thou hast seen in the bed of the extinct volcano,'
continued the Egyptian, musingly, 'surely tell of some coming danger to the
city; perhaps another earthquake--fiercer than the last. Be that as it may,
there is a new reason for my hastening from these walls. After this day I
will prepare my departure. Daughter of Etruria, whither wendest thou?'
'I shall cross over to Herculaneum this day, and, wandering thence along the
coast, shall seek out a new home. I am friendless: my two companions, the
fox and the snake, are dead. Great Hermes, thou hast promised me twenty
additional years of life!'
'Aye,' said the Egyptian, 'I have promised thee. But, woman,' he added,
lifting himself upon his arm, and gazing curiously on her face, 'tell me, I
pray thee, wherefore thou wishest to live? What sweets dost thou discover
'It is not life that is sweet, but death that is awful,' replied the hag, in
a sharp, impressive tone, that struck forcibly upon the heart of the vain
star-seer. He winced at the truth of the reply; and no longer anxious to
retain so uninviting a companion, he said, 'Time wanes; I must prepare for
the solemn spectacle of this day. Sister, farewell! enjoy thyself as thou
canst over the ashes of life.'
The hag, who had placed the costly gift of Arbaces in the loose folds of her
vest, now rose to depart. When she had gained the door she paused, turned
back, and said, 'This may be the last time we meet on earth; but whither
flieth the flame when it leaves the ashes?--Wandering to and fro, up and
down, as an exhalation on the morass, the flame may be seen in the marshes
of the lake below; and the witch and the Magian, the pupil and the master,
the great one and the accursed one, may meet again. Farewell!'
'Out, croaker!' muttered Arbaces, as the door closed on the hag's tattered
robes; and, impatient of his own thoughts, not yet recovered from the past
dream, he hastily summoned his slaves.
It was the custom to attend the ceremonials of the amphitheatre in festive
robes, and Arbaces arrayed himself that day with more than usual care. His
tunic was of the most dazzling white: his many fibulae were formed from the
most precious stones: over his tunic flowed a loose eastern robe, half-gown,
half-mantle, glowing in the richest hues of the Tyrian dye; and the sandals,
that reached half way up the knee, were studded with gems, and inlaid with
gold. In the quackeries that belonged to his priestly genius, Arbaces never
neglected, on great occasions, the arts which dazzle and impose upon the
vulgar; and on this day, that was for ever to release him, by the sacrifice
of Glaucus, from the fear of a rival and the chance of detection, he felt
that he was arraying himself as for a triumph or a nuptial feast.
It was customary for men of rank to be accompanied to the shows of the
amphitheatre by a procession of their slaves and freedmen; and the long
'family' of Arbaces were already arranged in order, to attend the litter of
Only, to their great chagrin, the slaves in attendance on Ione, and the
worthy Sosia, as gaoler to Nydia, were condemned to remain at home.
'Callias,' said Arbaces, apart to his freedman, who was buckling on his
girdle, 'I am weary of Pompeii; I propose to quit it in three days, should
the wind favor. Thou knowest the vessel that lies in the harbor which
belonged to Narses, of Alexandria; I have purchased it of him. The day
after tomorrow we shall begin to remove my stores.'
'So soon! 'Tis well. Arbaces shall be obeyed--and his ward, Ione?'
'Accompanies me. Enough!--Is the morning fair?'
'Dim and oppressive; it will probably be intensely hot in the forenoon.'
'The poor gladiators, and more wretched criminals! Descend, and see that
the slaves are marshalled.'
Left alone, Arbaces stepped into his chamber of study, and thence upon the
portico without. He saw the dense masses of men pouring fast into the
amphitheatre, and heard the cry of the assistants, and the cracking of the
cordage, as they were straining aloft the huge awning under which the
citizens, molested by no discomforting ray, were to behold, at luxurious
ease, the agonies of their fellow creatures. Suddenly a wild strange sound
went forth, and as suddenly died away--it was the roar of the lion. There
was a silence in the distant crowd; but the silence was followed by joyous
laughter--they were making merry at the hungry impatience of the royal
'Brutes!' muttered the disdainful Arbaces are ye less homicides than I am?
I slay but in self-defence--ye make murder pastime.'
He turned with a restless and curious eye, towards Vesuvius. Beautifully
glowed the green vineyards round its breast, and tranquil as eternity lay in
the breathless skies the form of the mighty hill.
'We have time yet, if the earthquake be nursing,' thought Arbaces; and he
turned from the spot. He passed by the table which bore his mystic scrolls
and Chaldean calculations.
'August art!' he thought, 'I have not consulted thy decrees since I passed
the danger and the crisis they foretold. What matter?--I know that
henceforth all in my path is bright and smooth. Have not events already
proved it? Away, doubt--away, pity! Reflect O my heart--reflect, for the
future, but two images--Empire and Ione!'
NYDIA, assured by the account of Sosia, on his return home, and satisfied
that her letter was in the hands of Sallust, gave herself up once more to
hope. Sallust would surely lose no time in seeking the praetor--in coming
to the house of the Egyptian--in releasing her--in breaking the prison of
Calenus. That very night Glaucus would be free. Alas! the night
passed--the dawn broke; she heard nothing but the hurried footsteps of the
slaves along the hall and peristyle, and their voices in preparation for the
show. By-and-by, the commanding voice of Arbaces broke on her ear--a
flourish of music rung out cheerily: the long procession were sweeping to
the amphitheatre to glut their eyes on the death-pangs of the Athenian!
The procession of Arbaces moved along slowly, and with much solemnity till
now, arriving at the place where it was necessary for such as came in
litters or chariots to alight, Arbaces descended from his vehicle, and
proceeded to the entrance by which the more distinguished spectators were
admitted. His slaves, mingling with the humbler crowd, were stationed by
officers who received their tickets (not much unlike our modern Opera ones),
in places in the popularia (the seats apportioned to the vulgar). And now,
from the spot where Arbaces sat, his eyes scanned the mighty and impatient
crowd that filled the stupendous theatre.
On the upper tier (but apart from the male spectators) sat women, their gay
dresses resembling some gaudy flower-bed; it is needless to add that they
were the most talkative part of the assembly; and many were the looks
directed up to them, especially from the benches appropriated to the young
and the unmarried men. On the lower seats round the arena sat the more
high-born and wealthy visitors--the magistrates and those of senatorial or
equestrian dignity; the passages which, by corridors at the right and left,
gave access to these seats, at either end of the oval arena, were also the
entrances for the combatants. Strong palings at these passages prevented
any unwelcome eccentricity in the movements of the beasts, and confined them
to their appointed prey. Around the parapet which was raised above the
arena, and from which the seats gradually rose, were gladiatorial
inscriptions, and paintings wrought in fresco, typical of the entertainments
for which the place was designed. Throughout the whole building wound
invisible pipes, from which, as the day advanced, cooling and fragrant
showers were to be sprinkled over the spectators. The officers of the
amphitheatre were still employed in the task of fixing the vast awning (or
velaria) which covered the whole, and which luxurious invention the
Campanians arrogated to themselves: it was woven of the whitest Apulian
wool, and variegated with broad stripes of crimson. Owing either to some
inexperience on the part of the workmen, or to some defect in the machinery,
the awning, however, was not arranged that day so happily as usual; indeed,
from the immense space of the circumference, the task was always one of
great difficulty and art--so much so, that it could seldom be adventured in
rough or windy weather. But the present day was so remarkably still that
there seemed to the spectators no excuse for the awkwardness of the
artificers; and when a large gap in the back of the awning was still
visible, from the obstinate refusal of one part of the velaria to ally
itself with the rest, the murmurs of discontent were loud and general.
The aedile Pansa, at whose expense the exhibition was given, looked
particularly annoyed at the defect, and, vowed bitter vengeance on the head
of the chief officer of the show, who, fretting, puffing, perspiring, busied
himself in idle orders and unavailing threats.
The hubbub ceased suddenly--the operators desisted--the crowd were
stilled--the gap was forgotten--for now, with a loud and warlike flourish of
trumpets, the gladiators, marshalled in ceremonious procession, entered the
arena. They swept round the oval space very slowly and deliberately, in
order to give the spectators full leisure to admire their stern serenity of
feature--their brawny limbs and various arms, as well as to form such wagers
as the excitement of the moment might suggest.
'Oh!' cried the widow Fulvia to the wife of Pansa, as they leaned down from
their lofty bench, 'do you see that gigantic gladiator? how drolly he is
'Yes,' said the aedile's wife, with complacent importance, for she knew all
the names and qualities of each combatant; 'he is a retiarius or netter; he
is armed only, you see, with a three-pronged spear like a trident, and a
net; he wears no armor, only the fillet and the tunic. He is a mighty man,
and is to fight with Sporus, yon thick-set gladiator, with the round shield
and drawn sword, but without body armor; he has not his helmet on now, in
order that you may see his face--how fearless it is!--by-and-by he will
fight with his vizor down.'
'But surely a net and a spear are poor arms against a shield and sword?'
'That shows how innocent you are, my dear Fulvia; the retiarius has
generally the best of it.'
'But who is yon handsome gladiator, nearly naked--is it not quite improper?
By Venus! but his limbs are beautifully shaped!'
'It is Lydon, a young untried man! he has the rashness to fight yon other
gladiator similarly dressed, or rather undressed--Tetraides. They fight
first in the Greek fashion, with the cestus; afterwards they put on armor,
and try sword and shield.'
'He is a proper man, this Lydon; and the women, I am sure, are on his side.'
'So are not the experienced betters; Clodius offers three to one against
'Oh, Jove! how beautiful!' exclaimed the widow, as two gladiators, armed
cap-a-pie, rode round the arena on light and prancing steeds. Resembling
much the combatants in the tilts of the middle age, they bore lances and
round shields beautifully inlaid: their armor was woven intricately with
bands of iron, but it covered only the thighs and the right arms; short
cloaks, extending to the seat, gave a picturesque and graceful air to their
costume; their legs were naked, with the exception of sandals, which were
fastened a little above the ankle. 'Oh, beautiful! Who are these?' asked
'The one is named Berbix--he has conquered twelve times; the other assumes
the arrogant name of Nobilior. They are both Gauls.'
While thus conversing, the first formalities of the show were over. To
these succeeded a feigned combat with wooden swords between the various
gladiators matched against each other. Amongst these, the skill of two
Roman gladiators, hired for the occasion, was the most admired; and next to
them the most graceful combatant was Lydon. This sham contest did not last
above an hour, nor did it attract any very lively interest, except among
those connoisseurs of the arena to whom art was preferable to more coarse
excitement; the body of the spectators were rejoiced when it was over, and
when the sympathy rose to terror. The combatants were now arranged in
pairs, as agreed beforehand; their weapons examined; and the grave sports of
the day commenced amidst the deepest silence--broken only by an exciting and
preliminary blast of warlike music.
It was often customary to begin the sports by the most cruel of all, and
some bestiarius, or gladiator appointed to the beasts, was slain first, as
an initiatory sacrifice. But in the present instance, the experienced Pansa
thought it better that the sanguinary drama should advance, not decrease, in
interest and, accordingly, the execution of Olinthus and Glaucus was
reserved for the last. It was arranged that the two horsemen should first
occupy the arena; that the foot gladiators, paired Off, should then be
loosed indiscriminately on the stage; that Glaucus and the lion should next
perform their part in the bloody spectacle; and the tiger and the Nazarene
be the grand finale. And, in the spectacles of Pompeii, the reader of Roman
history must limit his imagination, nor expect to find those vast and
wholesale exhibitions of magnificent slaughter with which a Nero or a
Caligula regaled the inhabitants of the Imperial City. The Roman shows,
which absorbed the more celebrated gladiators, and the chief proportion of
foreign beasts, were indeed the very reason why, in the lesser towns of the
empire, the sports of the amphitheatre were comparatively humane and rare;
and in this, as in other respects, Pompeii was but the miniature, the
microcosm of Rome. Still, it was an awful and imposing spectacle, with
which modern times have, happily, nothing to compare--a vast theatre, rising
row upon row, and swarming with human beings, from fifteen to eighteen
thousand in number, intent upon no fictitious representation--no tragedy of
the stage--but the actual victory or defeat, the exultant life or the bloody
death, of each and all who entered the arena!
The two horsemen were now at either extremity of the lists (if so they might
be called); and, at a given signal from Pansa, the combatants started
simultaneously as in full collision, each advancing his round buckler, each
poising on high his light yet sturdy javelin; but just when within three
paces of his opponent, the steed of Berbix suddenly halted, wheeled round,
and, as Nobilior was borne rapidly by, his antagonist spurred upon him. The
buckler of Nobilior, quickly and skillfully extended, received a blow which
otherwise would have been fatal.
'Well done, Nobilior!' cried the praetor, giving the first vent to the
'Bravely struck, my Berbix!' answered Clodius from his seat.
And the wild murmur, swelled by many a shout, echoed from side to side.
The vizors of both the horsemen were completely closed (like those of the
knights in after times), but the head was, nevertheless, the great point of
assault; and Nobilior, now wheeling his charger with no less adroitness than
his opponent, directed his spear full on the helmet of his foe. Berbix
raised his buckler to shield himself, and his quick-eyed antagonist,
suddenly lowering his weapon, pierced him through the breast. Berbix reeled
'Nobilior! Nobilior!' shouted the populace.
'I have lost ten sestertia,' said Clodius, between his teeth.
'Habet!--he has it,' said Pansa, deliberately.
The populace, not yet hardened into cruelty, made the signal of mercy; but
as the attendants of the arena approached, they found the kindness came too
late--the heart of the Gaul had been pierced, and his eyes were set in
death. It was his life's blood that flowed so darkly over the sand and
sawdust of the arena.
'It is a pity it was so soon over--there was little enough for one's
trouble,' said the widow Fulvia.
'Yes--I have no compassion for Berbix. Any one might have seen that
Nobilior did but feint. Mark, they fix the fatal hook to the body--they
drag him away to the spoliarium--they scatter new sand over the stage!
Pansa regrets nothing more than that he is not rich enough to strew the
arena with borax and cinnabar, as Nero used to do.'
'Well, if it has been a brief battle, it is quickly succeeded. See my
handsome Lydon on the arena--ay--and the net-bearer too, and the swordsmen!
There were now on the arena six combatants: Niger and his net, matched
against Sporus with his shield and his short broadsword; Lydon and
Tetraides, naked save by a cincture round the waist, each armed only with a
heavy Greek cestus--and two gladiators from Rome, clad in complete steel,
and evenly matched with immense bucklers and pointed swords.
The initiatory contest between Lydon and Tetraides being less deadly than
that between the other combatants, no sooner had they advanced to the middle
of the arena than, as by common consent, the rest held back, to see how that
contest should be decided, and wait till fiercer weapons might replace the
cestus, ere they themselves commenced hostilities. They stood leaning on
their arms and apart from each other, gazing on the show, which, if not
bloody enough, thoroughly to please the populace, they were still inclined
to admire, because its origin was of their ancestral Greece.
No person could, at first glance, have seemed less evenly matched than the
two antagonists. Tetraides, though not taller than Lydon, weighed
considerably more; the natural size of his muscles was increased, to the
eyes of the vulgar, by masses of solid flesh; for, as it was a notion that
the contest of the cestus fared easiest with him who was plumpest, Tetraides
had encouraged to the utmost his hereditary predisposition to the portly.
His shoulders were vast, and his lower limbs thick-set, double-jointed, and
slightly curved outward, in that formation which takes so much from beauty
to give so largely to strength. But Lydon, except that he was slender even
almost to meagreness, was beautifully and delicately proportioned; and the
skilful might have perceived that, with much less compass of muscle than his
foe, that which he had was more seasoned--iron and compact. In proportion,
too, as he wanted flesh, he was likely to possess activity; and a haughty
smile on his resolute face which strongly contrasted the solid heaviness of
his enemy's, gave assurance to those who beheld it, and united their hope to
their pity: so that, despite the disparity of their seeming strength, the
cry of the multitude was nearly as loud for Lydon as for Tetraides.
Whoever is acquainted with the modern prize-ring--whoever has witnessed the
heavy and disabling strokes which the human fist, skillfully directed, hath
the power to bestow--may easily understand how much that happy facility
would be increased by a band carried by thongs of leather round the arm as
high as the elbow, and terribly strengthened about the knuckles by a plate
of iron, and sometimes a plummet of lead. Yet this, which was meant to
increase, perhaps rather diminished, the interest of the fray: for it
necessarily shortened its duration. A very few blows, successfully and
scientifically planted, might suffice to bring the contest to a close; and
the battle did not, therefore, often allow full scope for the energy,
fortitude and dogged perseverance, that we technically style pluck, which
not unusually wins the day against superior science, and which heightens to
so painful a delight the interest in the battle and the sympathy for the
'Guard thyself!' growled Tetraides, moving nearer and nearer to his foe, who
rather shifted round him than receded.
Lydon did not answer, save by a scornful glance of his quick, vigilant eye.
Tetraides struck--it was as the blow of a smith on a vice; Lydon sank
suddenly on one knee--the blow passed over his head. Not so harmless was
Lydon's retaliation: he quickly sprung to his feet, and aimed his cestus
full on the broad breast of his antagonist. Tetraides reeled--the populace
'You are unlucky to-day,' said Lepidus to Clodius: 'you have lost one
bet----you will lose another.'
'By the gods! my bronzes go to the auctioneer if that is the case. I have no
less than a hundred sestertia upon Tetraides. Ha, ha! see how he rallies!
That was a home stroke: he has cut open Lydon's shoulder. A Tetraides!--a
'But Lydon is not disheartened. By Pollux! how well he keeps his temper.
See how dexterously he avoids those hammer-like hands!--dodging now here,
now there--circling round and round. Ah, poor Lydon! he has it again.'
'Three to one still on Tetraides! What say you, Lepidus?'
'Well, nine sestertia to three--be it so! What! again, Lydon? He stops--he
gasps for breath. By the gods, he is down. No--he is again on his legs.
Brave Lydon! Tetraides is encouraged--he laughs loud--he rushes on him.'
'Fool--success blinds him--he should be cautious. Lydon's eye is like the
lynx's,' said Clodius, between his teeth.
'Ha, Clodius! saw you that? Your man totters! Another blow--he falls--he
'Earth revives him, then. He is once more up; but the blood rolls down his
'By the thunderer! Lydon wins it. See how he presses on him! That blow on
the temple would have crushed an ox! it has crushed Tetraides. He falls
again--he cannot move--habet!--habet!'
'Habet!' repeated Pansa. 'Take them out and give them the armor and
'Noble editor,' said the officers, 'we fear that Tetraides will not recover
in time; howbeit, we will try.'
In a few minutes the officers, who had dragged off the stunned and
insensible gladiator, returned with rueful countenances. They feared for
his life; he was utterly incapacitated from re-entering the arena.
'In that case,' said Pansa, 'hold Lydon a subdititius; and the first
gladiator that is vanquished, let Lydon supply his place with the victor.'
The people shouted their applause at this sentence: then they again sunk
into deep silence. The trumpet sounded loudly. The four combatants stood
each against each in prepared and stern array.
'Dost thou recognize the Romans, my Clodius; are they among the celebrated,
or are they merely ordinary?'
'Eumolpus is a good second-rate swordsman, my Lepidus. Nepimus, the lesser
man, I have never seen before: but he is the son of one of the imperial
fiscales, and brought up in a proper school; doubtless they will show sport,
but I have no heart for the game; I cannot win back my money--I am undone.
Curses on that Lydon! who could have supposed he was so dexterous or so
'Well, Clodius, shall I take compassion on you, and accept your own terms
with these Romans?'
'An even ten sestertia on Eumolpus, then?'
'What! when Nepimus is untried? Nay, nay; that is to bad.'
'Well--ten to eight?'
While the contest in the amphitheatre had thus commenced, there was one in
the loftier benches for whom it had assumed, indeed, a poignant--a stifling
interest. The aged father of Lydon, despite his Christian horror of the
spectacle, in his agonized anxiety for his son, had not been able to resist
being the spectator of his fate. One amidst a fierce crowd of strangers--the
lowest rabble of the populace--the old man saw, felt nothing, but the
form--the presence of his brave son! Not a sound had escaped his lips when
twice he had seen him fall to the earth--only he had turned paler, and his
limbs trembled. But he had uttered one low cry when he saw him victorious;
unconscious, alas! of the more fearful battle to which that victory was but
'My gallant boy!' said he, and wiped his eyes.
'Is he thy son said a brawny fellow to the right of the Nazarene; 'he has
fought well: let us see how he does by-and-by. Hark! he is to fight the
first victor. Now, old boy, pray the gods that that victor be neither of
the Romans! nor, next to them, the giant Niger.'
The old man sat down again and covered his face. The fray for the moment
was indifferent to him--Lydon was not one of the combatants. Yet--yet--the
thought flashed across him--the fray was indeed of deadly interest--the
first who fell was to make way for Lydon! He started, and bent down, with
straining eyes and clasped hands, to view the encounter.
The first interest was attracted towards the combat of Niger with Sporus;
for this species of contest, from the fatal result which usually attended
it, and from the great science it required in either antagonist, was always
peculiarly inviting to the spectators.
They stood at a considerable distance from each other. The singular helmet
which Sporus wore (the vizor of which was down) concealed his face; but the
features of Niger attracted a fearful and universal interest from their
compressed and vigilant ferocity. Thus they stood for some moments, each
eyeing each, until Sporus began slowly, and with great caution, to advance,
holding his sword pointed, like a modern fencer's, at the breast of his foe.
Niger retreated as his antagonist advanced, gathering up his net with his
right hand, and never taking his small glittering eye from the movements of
the swordsman. Suddenly when Sporus had approached nearly at arm's length,
the retiarius threw himself forward, and cast his net. A quick inflection
of body saved the gladiator from the deadly snare! he uttered a sharp cry of
joy and rage, and rushed upon Niger: but Niger had already drawn in his net,
thrown it across his shoulders, and now fled round the lists with a
swiftness which the secutor in vain endeavored to equal. The people laughed
and shouted aloud, to see the ineffectual efforts of the broad-shouldered
gladiator to overtake the flying giant: when, at that moment, their
attention was turned from these to the two Roman combatants.
They had placed themselves at the onset face to face, at the distance of
modern fencers from each other: but the extreme caution which both evinced
at first had prevented any warmth of engagement, and allowed the spectators
full leisure to interest themselves in the battle between Sporus and his
foe. But the Romans were now heated into full and fierce encounter: they
pushed--returned--advanced on--retreated from each other with all that
careful yet scarcely perceptible caution which characterizes men well
experienced and equally matched. But at this moment, Eumolpus, the elder
gladiator, by that dexterous back-stroke which was considered in the arena
so difficult to avoid, had wounded Nepimus in the side. The people shouted;
Lepidus turned pale.
'Ho!' said Clodius, 'the game is nearly over. If Eumolpus fights now the
quiet fight, the other will gradually bleed himself away.'
'But, thank the gods! he does not fight the backward fight. See!--he presses
hard upon Nepimus. By Mars! but Nepimus had him there! the helmet rang
again!--Clodius, I shall win!'
'Why do I ever bet but at the dice?' groaned Clodius to himself;--or why
cannot one cog a gladiator?'
'A Sporus!--a Sporus!' shouted the populace, as Niger having now suddenly
paused, had again cast his net, and again unsuccessfully. He had not
retreated this time with sufficient agility--the sword of Sporus had
inflicted a severe wound upon his right leg; and, incapacitated to fly, he
was pressed hard by the fierce swordsman. His great height and length of
arm still continued, however, to give him no despicable advantages; and
steadily keeping his trident at the front of his foe, he repelled him
successfully for several minutes. Sporus now tried, by great rapidity of
evolution, to get round his antagonist, who necessarily moved with pain and
slowness. In so doing, he lost his caution--he advanced too near to the
giant--raised his arm to strike, and received the three points of the fatal
spear full in his breast! He sank on his knee. In a moment more, the
deadly net was cast over him, he struggled against its meshes in vain;
again--again--again he writhed mutely beneath the fresh strokes of the
trident--his blood flowed fast through the net and redly over the sand. He
lowered his arms in acknowledgment of defeat.
The conquering retiarius withdrew his net, and leaning on his spear, looked
to the audience for their judgement. Slowly, too, at the same moment, the
vanquished gladiator rolled his dim and despairing eyes around the theatre.
From row to row, from bench to bench, there glared upon him but merciless
and unpitying eyes.
Hushed was the roar--the murmur! The silence was dread, for it was no
sympathy; not a hand--no, not even a woman's hand--gave the signal of
charity and life! Sporus had never been popular in the arena; and, lately,
the interest of the combat had been excited on behalf of the wounded Niger.
The people were warmed into blood--the mimic fight had ceased to charm; the
interest had mounted up to the desire of sacrifice and the thirst of death!
The gladiator felt that his doom was sealed: he uttered no prayer--no groan.
The people gave the signal of death! In dogged but agonized submission, he
bent his neck to receive the fatal stroke. And now, as the spear of the
retiarius was not a weapon to inflict instant and certain death, there
stalked into the arena a grim and fatal form, brandishing a short, sharp
sword, and with features utterly concealed beneath its vizor. With slow and
measured steps, this dismal headsman approached the gladiator, still
kneeling--laid the left hand on his humbled crest--drew the edge of the
blade across his neck--turned round to the assembly, lest, in the last
moment, remorse should come upon them; the dread signal continued the same:
the blade glittered brightly in the air--fell--and the gladiator rolled upon
the sand; his limbs quivered--were still--he was a corpse.'
His body was dragged at once from the arena through the gate of death, and
thrown into the gloomy den termed technically the spoliarium. And ere it
had well reached that destination, the strife between the remaining
combatants was decided. The sword of Eumolpus had inflicted the death-wound
upon the less experienced combatant. A new victim was added to the
receptacle of the slain.
Throughout that mighty assembly there now ran a universal movement; the
people breathed more freely, and resettled themselves in their seats. A
grateful shower was cast over every row from the concealed conduits. In
cool and luxurious pleasure they talked over the late spectacle of blood.
Eumolpus removed his helmet, and wiped his brows; his close-curled hair and
short beard, his noble Roman features and bright dark eye attracted the
general admiration. He was fresh, unwounded, unfatigued.
The editor paused, and proclaimed aloud that, as Niger's wound disabled him
from again entering the arena, Lydon was to be the successor to the
slaughtered Nepimus, and the new combatant of Eumolpus.
'Yet, Lydon,' added he, 'if thou wouldst decline the combat with one so
brave and tried, thou mayst have full liberty to do so. Eumolpus is not the
antagonist that was originally decreed for thee. Thou knowest best how far
thou canst cope with him. If thou failest, thy doom is honorable death; if
thou conquerest, out of my own purse I will double the stipulated prize.'
The people shouted applause. Lydon stood in the lists, he gazed around;
high above he beheld the pale face, the straining eyes, of his father. He
turned away irresolute for a moment. No! the conquest of the cestus was not
sufficient--he had not yet won the prize of victory--his father was still a
'Noble aedile!' he replied, in a firm and deep tone, 'I shrink not from this
combat. For the honour of Pompeii, I demand that one trained by its
long-celebrated lanista shall do battle with this Roman.'
The people shouted louder than before.
'Four to one against Lydon!' said Clodius to Lepidus.
'I would not take twenty to one! Why, Eumolpus is a very Achilles, and this
poor fellow is but a tyro!'
Eumolpus gazed hard on the face of Lydon; he smiled; yet the smile was
followed by a slight and scarce audible sigh--a touch of compassionate
emotion, which custom conquered the moment the heart acknowledged it.
And now both, clad in complete armor, the sword drawn, the vizor closed, the
two last combatants of the arena (ere man, at least, was matched with
beast), stood opposed to each other.
It was just at this time that a letter was delivered to the proctor by one
of the attendants of the arena; he removed the cincture--glanced over it for
a moment--his countenance betrayed surprise and embarrassment. He re-read
the letter, and then muttering--'Tush! it is impossible!--the man must be
drunk, even in the morning, to dream of such follies!'--threw it carelessly
aside, and gravely settled himself once more in the attitude of attention to
The interest of the public was wound up very high. Eumolpus had at first
won their favor; but the gallantry of Lydon, and his well-timed allusion to
the honour of the Pompeian lanista, had afterwards given the latter the
preference in their eyes.
'Holla, old fellow!' said Medon's neighbor to him. 'Your son is hardly
matched; but never fear, the editor will not permit him to be slain--no, nor
the people neither; he has behaved too bravely for that. Ha! that was a
home thrust!--well averted, by Pollux! At him again, Lydon!--they stop to
breathe. What art thou muttering, old boy
'Prayers!' answered Medon, with a more calm and hopeful mien than he had yet
'Prayers!--trifles! The time for gods to carry a man away in a cloud is
gone now. Ha! Jupiter! what a blow! Thy side--thy side!--take care of thy
There was a convulsive tremor throughout the assembly. A fierce blow from
Eumolpus, full on the crest, had brought Lydon to his knee.
'Habet!--he has it!' cried a shrill female voice; 'he has it!' It was the
voice of the girl who had so anxiously anticipated the sacrifice of some
criminal to the beasts.
'Be silent, child!' said the wife of Pansa, haughtily. 'Non habet!--he is
'I wish he were, if only to spite old surly Medon,' muttered the girl.
Meanwhile Lydon, who had hitherto defended himself with great skill and
valor, began to give way before the vigorous assaults of the practised
Roman; his arm grew tired, his eye dizzy, he breathed hard and painfully.
The combatants paused again for breath.
'Young man,' said Eumolpus, in a low voice, 'desist; I will wound thee
slightly--then lower thy arms; thou hast propitiated the editor and the
mob--thou wilt be honorably saved!'
'And my father still enslaved!' groaned Lydon to himself. 'No! death or his
At that thought, and seeing that, his strength not being equal to the
endurance of the Roman, everything depended on a sudden and desperate
effort, he threw himself fiercely on Eumolpus; the Roman warily
retreated--Lydon thrust again--Eumolpus drew himself aside--the sword grazed
his cuirass--Lydon's breast was exposed--the Roman plunged his sword through
the joints of the armor, not meaning, however, to inflict a deep wound;
Lydon, weak and exhausted, fell forward, fell right on the point: it passed
through and through, even to the back. Eumolpus drew forth his blade; Lydon
still made an effort to regain his balance--his sword left his grasp--he
struck mechanically at the gladiator with his naked hand, and fell prostrate
on the arena. With one accord, editor and assembly made the signal of
mercy--the officers of the arena approached--they took off the helmet of the
vanquished. He still breathed; his eyes rolled fiercely on his foe; the
savageness he had acquired in his calling glared from his gaze, and lowered
upon the brow darkened already with the shades of death; then, with a
convulsive groan, with a half start, he lifted his eyes above. They rested
not on the face of the editor nor on the pitying brows of his relenting
judges. He saw them not; they were as if the vast space was desolate and
bare; one pale agonizing face alone was all he recognized--one cry of a
broken heart was all that, amidst the murmurs and the shouts of the
populace, reached his ear. The ferocity vanished from his brow; a soft, a
tender expression of sanctifying but despairing love played over his
features--played--waned--darkened! His face suddenly became locked and
rigid, resuming its former fierceness. He fell upon the earth.
'Look to him,' said the aedile; 'he has done his duty!'
The officers dragged him off to the spoliarium.
'A true type of glory, and of its fate!' murmured Arbaces to himself, and
his eye, glancing round the amphitheatre, betrayed so much of disdain and
scorn, that whoever encountered it felt his breath suddenly arrested, and
his emotions frozen into one sensation of abasement and of awe.
Again rich perfumes were wafted around the theatre; the attendants sprinkled
fresh sand over the arena.
'Bring forth the lion and Glaucus the Athenian,' said the editor.
And a deep and breathless hush of overwrought interest, and intense (yet,
strange to say, not unpleasing) terror lay, like a mighty and awful dream,
over the assembly.
SALLUST AND NYDIA'S LETTER.
THRICE had Sallust awakened from his morning sleep, and thrice, recollecting
that his friend was that day to perish, had he turned himself with a deep
sigh once more to court oblivion. His sole object in life was to avoid
pain; and where he could not avoid, at least to forget it.
At length, unable any longer to steep his consciousness in slumber, he
raised himself from his incumbent posture, and discovered his favorite
freedman sitting by his bedside as usual; for Sallust, who, as I have said,
had a gentlemanlike taste for the polite letters, was accustomed to be read
to for an hour or so previous to his rising in the morning.
'No books to-day! no more Tibullus! no more Pindar for me! Pindar! alas,
alas! the very name recalls those games to which our arena is the savage
successor. Has it begun--the amphitheatre? are its rites commenced?'
'Long since, O Sallust! Did you not hear the trumpets and the trampling
'Ay, ay; but the gods be thanked, I was drowsy, and had only to turn round
to fall asleep again.'
'The gladiators must have been long in the ring.'
'The wretches! None of my people have gone to the spectacle?'
'Assuredly not; your orders were too strict.'
'That is well--would the day were over! What is that letter yonder on the
'That! Oh, the letter brought to you last night, when you
'Drunk to read it, I suppose. No matter, it cannot be of much importance.'
'Shall I open it for you, Sallust,'
'Do: anything to divert my thoughts. Poor Glaucus!'
The freedman opened the letter. 'What! Greek?' said he: some learned lady,
I suppose.' He glanced over the letter, and for some moments the irregular
lines traced by the blind girl's hand puzzled him. Suddenly, however, his
countenance exhibited emotion and surprise. 'Good gods! noble Sallust! what
have we done not to attend to this before? Hear me read!
'"Nydia, the slave, to Sallust, the friend of Glaucus! I am a prisoner in
the house of Arbaces. Hasten to the praetor! procure my release, and we
shall yet save Glaucus from the lion. There is another prisoner within
these walls, whose witness can exonerate the Athenian from the charge
against him--one who saw the crime--who can prove the criminal in a villain
hitherto unsuspected. Fly! hasten! quick! quick! Bring with you armed men,
lest resistance be made, and a cunning and dexterous smith; for the dungeon
of my fellow-prisoner is thick and strong. Oh! by thy right hand and thy
father's ashes, lose not a moment!"'
'Great Jove!' exclaimed Sallust, starting, 'and this day--nay, within this
hour, perhaps, he dies. What is to be done? I will instantly to the
'Nay; not so. The praetor (as well as Pansa, the editor himself) is the
creature of the mob; and the mob will not hear of delay; they will not be
balked in the very moment of expectation. Besides, the publicity of the
appeal would forewarn the cunning Egyptian. It is evident that he has some
interest in these concealments. No; fortunately thy slaves are in thy
'I seize thy meaning,' interrupted Sallust: 'arm the slaves instantly. The
streets are empty. We will ourselves hasten to the house of Arbaces, and
release the prisoners. Quick! quick! What ho! Davus there! My gown and
sandals, the papyrus and a reed.' I will write to the praetor, to beseech
him to delay the sentence of Glaucus, for that, within an hour, we may yet
prove him innocent. So, so, that is well. Hasten with this, Davus, to the
praetor, at the amphitheatre. See it given to his own hand. Now then, O ye
gods! whose providence Epicurus denied, befriend me, and I will call
Epicurus a liar!'
THE AMPHITHEATRE ONCE MORE.
GLAUCUS and Olinthus had been placed together in that gloomy and narrow cell
in which the criminals of the arena awaited their last and fearful struggle.
Their eyes, of late accustomed to the darkness, scanned the faces of each
other in this awful hour, and by that dim light, the paleness, which chased
away the natural hues from either cheek, assumed a yet more ashy and ghastly
whiteness. Yet their brows were erect and dauntless--their limbs did not
tremble--their lips were compressed and rigid. The religion of the one, the
pride of the other, the conscious innocence of both, and, it may be, the
support derived from their mutual companionship, elevated the victim into
'Hark! hearest thou that shout They are growling over their human blood,'
'I hear; my heart grows sick; but the gods support me.'
'The gods! O rash young man! in this hour recognize only the One God.
Have I not taught thee in the dungeon, wept for thee, prayed for thee?--in
my zeal and in my agony, have I not thought more of thy salvation than my
'Brave friend!' answered Glaucus, solemnly, 'I have listened to thee with
awe, with wonder, and with a secret tendency towards conviction. Had our
lives been spared, I might gradually have weaned myself from the tenets of
my own faith, and inclined to thine; but, in this last hour it were a craven
thing, and a base, to yield to hasty terror what should only be the result
of lengthened meditation. Were I to embrace thy creed, and cast down my
father's gods, should I not be bribed by thy promise of heaven, or awed by
thy threats of hell? Olinthus, no! Think we of each other with equal
charity--I honoring thy sincerity--thou pitying my blindness or my obdurate
courage. As have been my deeds, such will be my reward; and the Power or
Powers above will not judge harshly of human error, when it is linked with
honesty of purpose and truth of heart. Speak we no more of this. Hush!
Dost thou hear them drag yon heavy body through the passage? Such as that
clay will be ours soon.'
'O Heaven! O Christ! already I behold ye!' cried the fervent Olinthus,
lifting up his hands; 'I tremble not--I rejoice that the prison-house shall
be soon broken.'
Glaucus bowed his head in silence. He felt the distinction between his
fortitude and that of his fellow-sufferer. The heathen did not tremble; but
the Christian exulted.
The door swung gratingly back--the gleam of spears shot along the walls.
'Glaucus the Athenian, thy time has come,' said a loud and clear voice; 'the
lion awaits thee.'
'I am ready,' said the Athenian. 'Brother and co-mate, one last embrace!
Bless me--and farewell!'
The Christian opened his arms--he clasped the young heathen to his
breast--he kissed his forehead and cheek--he sobbed aloud--his tears flowed
fast and hot over the features of his new friend.
'Oh! could I have converted thee, I had not wept. Oh! that I might say to
thee, "We two shall sup this night in Paradise!"'
'It may be so yet,' answered the Greek, with a tremulous voice. 'They whom
death part not, may meet yet beyond the grave: on the earth--on the
beautiful, the beloved earth, farewell for ever!--Worthy officer, I attend
Glaucus tore himself away; and when he came forth into the air, its breath,
which, though sunless, was hot and arid, smote witheringly upon him. His
frame, not yet restored from the effects of the deadly draught, shrank and
trembled. The officers supported him.
'Courage!' said one; 'thou art young, active, well knit. They give thee a
weapon! despair not, and thou mayst yet conquer.'
Glaucus did not reply; but, ashamed of his infirmity, he made a desperate
and convulsive effort, and regained the firmness of his nerves. They
anointed his body, completely naked, save by a cincture round the loins,
placed the stilus (vain weapon!) in his hand, and led him into the arena.
And now when the Greek saw the eyes of thousands and tens of thousands upon
him, he no longer felt that he was mortal. All evidence of fear--all fear
itself--was gone. A red and haughty flush spread over the paleness of his
features--he towered aloft to the full of his glorious stature. In the
elastic beauty of his limbs and form, in his intent but unfrowning brow, in
the high disdain, and in the indomitable soul, which breathed visibly, which
spoke audibly, from his attitude, his lip, his eye--he seemed the very
incarnation, vivid and corporeal, of the valor of his land--of the divinity
of its worship--at once a hero and a god!
The murmur of hatred and horror at his crime, which had greeted his
entrance, died into the silence of involuntary admiration and
half-compassionate respect; and with a quick and convulsive sigh, that
seemed to move the whole mass of life as if it were one body, the gaze of
the spectators turned from the Athenian to a dark uncouth object in the
centre of the arena. It was the grated den of the lion!
'By Venus, how warm it is!' said Fulvia; 'yet there is no sun. Would that
those stupid sailors could have fastened up that gap in the awning!'
'Oh! it is warm, indeed. I turn sick--I faint!' said the wife of Pansa;
even her experienced stoicism giving way at the struggle about to take
The lion had been kept without food for twenty-four hours, and the animal
had, during the whole morning, testified a singular and restless uneasiness,
which the keeper had attributed to the pangs of hunger. Yet its bearing
seemed rather that of fear than of rage; its roar was painful and
distressed; it hung its head--snuffed the air through the bars--then lay
down--started again--and again uttered its wild and far-resounding cries.
And now, in its den, it lay utterly dumb and mute, with distended nostrils
forced hard against the grating, and disturbing with a heaving breath, the
sand below on the arena.
The editor's lip quivered, and his cheek grew pale; he looked anxiously
around--hesitated--delayed; the crowd became impatient. Slowly he gave the
sign; the keeper, who was behind the den, cautiously removed the grating,
and the lion leaped forth with a mighty and glad roar of release. The
keeper hastily retreated through the grated passage leading from the arena,
and left the lord of the forest--and his prey.
Glaucus had bent his limbs so as to give himself the firmest posture at the
expected rush of the lion, with his small and shining weapon raised on high,
in the faint hope that one well-directed thrust (for he knew that he should
have time but for one) might penetrate through the eye to the brain of his
But, to the unutterable astonishment of all, the beast seemed not even aware
of the presence of the criminal.
At the first moment of its release it halted abruptly in the arena, raised
itself half on end, snuffing the upward air with impatient sighs; then
suddenly it sprang forward, but not on the Athenian. At half-speed it
circled round and round the space, turning its vast head from side to side
with an anxious and perturbed gaze, as if seeking only some avenue of
escape; once or twice it endeavored to leap up the parapet that divided it
from the audience, and, on failing, uttered rather a baffled howl than its
deep-toned and kingly roar. It evinced no sign, either of wrath or hunger;
its tail drooped along the sand, instead of lashing its gaunt sides; and its
eye, though it wandered at times to Glaucus, rolled again listlessly from
him. At length, as if tired of attempting to escape, it crept with a moan
into its cage, and once more laid itself down to rest.
The first surprise of the assembly at the apathy of the lion soon grew
converted into resentment at its cowardice; and the populace already merged
their pity for the fate of Glaucus into angry compassion for their own
The editor called to the keeper.
'How is this? Take the goad, prick him forth, and then close the door of
As the keeper, with some fear, but more astonishment, was preparing to obey,
a loud cry was heard at one of the entrances of the arena; there was a
confusion, a bustle--voices of remonstrance suddenly breaking forth, and
suddenly silenced at the reply. All eyes turned in wonder at the
interruption, towards the quarter of the disturbance; the crowd gave way,
and suddenly Sallust appeared on the senatorial benches, his hair
disheveled--breathless--heated--half-exhausted. He cast his eyes hastily
round the ring. 'Remove the Athenian,' he cried; 'haste--he is innocent!
Arrest Arbaces the Egyptian--HE is the murderer of Apaecides!'
'Art thou mad, O Sallust!' said the praetor, rising from his seat. 'What
means this raving?'
'Remove the Athenian!--Quick! or his blood be on your head. Praetor, delay,
and you answer with your own life to the emperor! I bring with me the
eye-witness to the death of the priest Apaecides. Room there!--stand
back!--give way! People of Pompeii, fix every eye upon Arbaces--there he
sits! Room there for the priest Calenus!'
Pale, haggard, fresh from the jaws of famine and of death, his face fallen,
his eyes dull as a vulture's, his broad frame gaunt as a skeleton--Calenus
was supported into the very row in which Arbaces sat. His releasers had
given him sparingly of food; but the chief sustenance that nerved his feeble
limbs was revenge!
'The priest Calenus!--Calenus!' cried the mob. 'Is it he? No--it is a dead
'It is the priest Calenus,' said the praetor, gravely. 'What hast thou to
'Arbaces of Egypt is the murderer of Apaecides, the priest of Isis; these
eyes saw him deal the blow. It is from the dungeon into which he plunged
me--it is from the darkness and horror of a death by famine--that the gods
have raised me to proclaim his crime! Release the Athenian--he is
'It is for this, then, that the lion spared him. A miracle! a miracle!'
'A miracle; a miracle!' shouted the people; 'remove the Athenian--Arbaces to
And that shout echoed from hill to vale--from coast to sea--'Arbaces to the
Officers, remove the accused Glaucus--remove, but guard him yet,' said the
praetor. 'The gods lavish their wonders upon this day.'
As the praetor gave the word of release, there was a cry of joy--a female
voice--a child's voice--and it was of joy! It rang through the heart of the
assembly with electric force--it, was touching, it was holy, that child's
voice! And the populace echoed it back with sympathizing congratulation!
'Silence!' said the grave praetor--'who is there?'
'The blind girl--Nydia,' answered Sallust; 'it is her hand that has raised
Calenus from the grave, and delivered Glaucus from the lion.'
'Of this hereafter,' said the praetor. 'Calenus, priest of Isis, thou
accusest Arbaces of the murder of Apaecides?'
'Thou didst behold the deed?'
'Praetor--with these eyes...'
'Enough at present--the details must be reserved for more suiting time and
place. Arbaces of Egypt, thou hearest the charge against thee--thou hast
not yet spoken--what hast thou to say.
The gaze of the crowd had been long riveted on Arbaces: but not until the
confusion which he had betrayed at the first charge of Sallust and the
entrance of Calenus had subsided. At the shout, 'Arbaces to the lion!' he
had indeed trembled, and the dark bronze of his cheek had taken a paler hue.
But he had soon recovered his haughtiness and self-control. Proudly he
returned the angry glare of the countless eyes around him; and replying now
to the question of the praetor, he said, in that accent so peculiarly
tranquil and commanding, which characterized his tones:
'Praetor, this charge is so mad that it scarcely deserves reply. My first
accuser is the noble Sallust--the most intimate friend of Glaucus! my second
is a priest; I revere his garb and calling--but, people of Pompeii! ye know
somewhat of the character of Calenus--he is griping and gold-thirsty to a
proverb; the witness of such men is to be bought! Praetor, I am innocent!'
'Sallust,' said the magistrate, 'where found you Calenus?'
'In the dungeons of Arbaces.'
'Egyptian,' said the praetor, frowning, 'thou didst, then, dare to imprison
a priest of the gods--and wherefore?'
'Hear me,' answered Arbaces, rising calmly, but with agitation visible in
his face. 'This man came to threaten that he would make against me the
charge he has now made, unless I would purchase his silence with half my
fortune: I remonstrated--in vain. Peace there--let not the priest interrupt
me! Noble praetor--and ye, O people! I was a stranger in the land--I knew
myself innocent of crime--but the witness of a priest against me might yet
destroy me. In my perplexity I decoyed him to the cell whence he has been
released, on pretence that it was the coffer-house of my gold. I resolved
to detain him there until the fate of the true criminal was sealed, and his
threats could avail no longer; but I meant no worse. I may have erred--but
who amongst ye will not acknowledge the equity of self-preservation? Were I
guilty, why was the witness of this priest silent at the trial?--then I had
not detained or concealed him. Why did he not proclaim my guilt when I
proclaimed that of Glaucus? Praetor, this needs an answer. For the rest, I
throw myself on your laws. I demand their protection. Remove hence the
accused and the accuser. I will willingly meet, and cheerfully abide by,
the decision of the legitimate tribunal. This is no place for further
'He says right,' said the praetor. 'Ho! guards--remove Arbaces--guard
Calenus! Sallust, we hold you responsible for your accusation. Let the
sports be resumed.'
'What!' cried Calenus, turning round to the people, 'shall Isis be thus
contemned? Shall the blood of Apaecides yet cry for vengeance? Shall
justice be delayed now, that it may be frustrated hereafter? Shall the lion
be cheated of his lawful prey? A god! a god!--I feel the god rush to my
lips! To the lion--to the lion with Arbaces!'
His exhausted frame could support no longer the ferocious malice of the
priest; he sank on the ground in strong convulsions--the foam gathered to
his mouth--he was as a man, indeed, whom a supernatural power had entered!
The people saw and shuddered.
'It is a god that inspires the holy man! To the lion with the Egyptian!'
With that cry up sprang--on moved--thousands upon thousands! They rushed
from the heights--they poured down in the direction of the Egyptian. In
vain did the aedile command--in vain did the praetor lift his voice and
proclaim the law. The people had been already rendered savage by the
exhibition of blood--they thirsted for more--their superstition was aided by
their ferocity. Aroused--inflamed by the spectacle of their victims, they
forgot the authority of their rulers. It was one of those dread popular
convulsions common to crowds wholly ignorant, half free and half servile;
and which the peculiar constitution of the Roman provinces so frequently
exhibited. The power of the praetor was as a reed beneath the whirlwind;
still, at his word the guards had drawn themselves along the lower benches,
on which the upper classes sat separate from the vulgar. They made but a
feeble barrier--the waves of the human sea halted for a moment, to enable
Arbaces to count the exact moment of his doom! In despair, and in a terror
which beat down even pride, he glanced his eyes over the rolling and rushing
crowd--when, right above them, through the wide chasm which had been left in
the velaria, he beheld a strange and awful apparition--he beheld--and his
craft restored his courage!
He stretched his hand on high; over his lofty brow and royal features there
came an expression of unutterable solemnity and command.
'Behold!' he shouted with a voice of thunder, which stilled the roar of the
crowd; 'behold how the gods protect the guiltless! The fires of the
avenging Orcus burst forth against the false witness of my accusers!'
The eyes of the crowd followed the gesture of the Egyptian, and beheld, with
ineffable dismay, a vast vapor shooting from the summit of Vesuvius, in the
form of a gigantic pine-tree; the trunk, blackness--the branches, fire!--a
fire that shifted and wavered in its hues with every moment, now fiercely
luminous, now of a dull and dying red, that again blazed terrifically forth
with intolerable glare!
There was a dead, heart-sunken silence--through which there suddenly broke
the roar of the lion, which was echoed back from within the building by the
sharper and fiercer yells of its fellow-beast. Dread seers were they of the
Burden of the Atmosphere, and wild prophets of the wrath to come!
Then there arose on high the universal shrieks of women; the men stared at
each other, but were dumb. At that moment they felt the earth shake beneath
their feet; the walls of the theatre trembled: and, beyond in the distance,
they heard the crash of falling roofs; an instant more and the
mountain-cloud seemed to roll towards them, dark and rapid, like a torrent;
at the same time, it cast forth from its bosom a shower of ashes mixed with
vast fragments of burning stone! Over the crushing vines--over the desolate
streets--over the amphitheatre itself--far and wide--with many a mighty
splash in the agitated sea--fell that awful shower!
No longer thought the crowd of justice or of Arbaces; safety for themselves
was their sole thought. Each turned to fly--each dashing, pressing,
crushing, against the other. Trampling recklessly over the fallen--amidst
groans, and oaths, and prayers, and sudden shrieks, the enormous crowd
vomited itself forth through the numerous passages. Whither should they fly?
Some, anticipating a second earthquake, hastened to their homes to load
themselves with their more costly goods, and escape while it was yet time;
others, dreading the showers of ashes that now fell fast, torrent upon
torrent, over the streets, rushed under the roofs of the nearest houses, or
temples, or sheds--shelter of any kind--for protection from the terrors of
the open air. But darker, and larger, and mightier, spread the cloud above
them. It was a sudden and more ghastly Night rushing upon the realm of
THE CELL OF THE PRISONER AND THE DEN OF THE DEAD. GRIEF UNCONSCIOUS OF
STUNNED by his reprieve, doubting that he was awake, Glaucus had been led by
the officers of the arena into a small cell within the walls of the theatre.
They threw a loose robe over his form, and crowded round in congratulation
and wonder. There was an impatient and fretful cry without the cell; the
throng gave way, and the blind girl, led by some gentler hand, flung herself
at the feet of Glaucus.
'It is I who have saved thee,' she sobbed; now let me die!'
'Nydia, my child!--my preserver!'
'Oh, let me feel thy touch--thy breath! Yes, yes, thou livest! We are not
too late! That dread door, methought it would never yield! and Calenus--oh!
his voice was as the dying wind among tombs--we had to wait--gods! it seemed
hours ere food and wine restored to him something of strength. But thou
livest! thou livest yet! And I--I have saved thee!'
This affecting scene was soon interrupted by the event just described.
'The mountain! the earthquake!' resounded from side to side. The officers
fled with the rest; they left Glaucus and Nydia to save themselves as they
As the sense of the dangers around them flashed on the Athenian, his
generous heart recurred to Olinthus. He, too, was reprieved from the tiger
by the hand of the gods; should he be left to a no less fatal death in the
neighboring cell? Taking Nydia by the hand, Glaucus hurried across the
passages; he gained the den of the Christian! He found Olinthus kneeling
and in prayer.
'Arise! arise! my friend,' he cried. 'Save thyself, and fly! See! Nature
is thy dread deliverer!' He led forth the bewildered Christian, and pointed
to a cloud which advanced darker and darker, disgorging forth showers of
ashes and pumice stones--and bade him hearken to the cries and trampling
rush of the scattered crowd.
'This is the hand of God--God be praised!' said Olinthus, devoutly.
'Fly! seek thy brethren!--Concert with them thy escape. Farewell!'
Olinthus did not answer, neither did he mark the retreating form of his
friend. High thoughts and solemn absorbed his soul: and in the enthusiasm
of his kindling heart, he exulted in the mercy of God rather than trembled
at the evidence of His power.
At length he roused himself, and hurried on, he scarce knew whither.
The open doors of a dark, desolate cell suddenly appeared on his path;
through the gloom within there flared and flickered a single lamp; and by
its light he saw three grim and naked forms stretched on the earth in death.
His feet were suddenly arrested; for, amidst the terror of that drear
recess--the spoliarium of the arena--he heard a low voice calling on the
name of Christ!
He could not resist lingering at that appeal: he entered the den, and his
feet were dabbled in the slow streams of blood that gushed from the corpses
over the sand.
'Who,' said the Nazarene, 'calls upon the son of God?'
No answer came forth; and turning round, Olinthus beheld, by the light of
the lamp, an old grey-headed man sitting on the floor, and supporting in his
lap the head of one of the dead. The features of the dead man were firmly
and rigidly locked in the last sleep; but over the lip there played a fierce
smile--not the Christian's smile of hope, but the dark sneer of hatred and
defiance. Yet on the face still lingered the beautiful roundness of early
youth. The hair curled thick and glossy over the unwrinkled brow; and the
down of manhood but slightly shaded the marble of the hueless cheek. And
over this face bent one of such unutterable sadness--of such yearning
tenderness--of such fond and such deep despair! The tears of the old man
fell fast and hot, but he did not feel them; and when his lips moved, and he
mechanically uttered the prayer of his benign and hopeful faith, neither his
heart nor his sense responded to the words: it was but the involuntary
emotion that broke from the lethargy of his mind. His boy was dead, and had
died for him!--and the old man's heart was broken!
'Medon!' said Olinthus, pityingly, 'arise, and fly! God is forth upon the
wings of the elements! The New Gomorrah is doomed!--Fly, ere the fires
'He was ever so full of life!--he cannot be dead! Come hither!--place your
hand on his heart!--sure it beats yet?'
'Brother, the soul has fled! We will remember it in our prayers! Thou canst
not reanimate the dumb clay! Come, come--hark! while I speak, yon crashing
walls!--hark! yon agonizing cries! Not a moment is to be lost!--Come!'
'I hear nothing!' said Medon, shaking his grey hair. 'The poor boy, his
love murdered him!'
'Come! come! forgive this friendly force.'
'What! Who could sever the father from the son?' And Medon clasped the body
tightly in his embrace, and covered it with passionate kisses. 'Go!' said
he, lifting up his face for one moment. 'Go!--we must be alone!'
'Alas!' said the compassionate Nazarene, 'Death hath severed ye already!'
The old man smiled very calmly. 'No, no, no!' muttered, his voice growing
lower with each word--'Death has been more kind!'
With that his head drooped on His son's breast--his arms relaxed their
grasp. Olinthus caught him by the hand--the pulse had ceased to beat! The
last words of the father were the words of truth--Death had been more kind!
Meanwhile Glaucus and Nydia were pacing swiftly up the perilous and fearful
streets. The Athenian had learned from his preserver that Ione was yet in
the house of Arbaces. Thither he fled, to release--to save her! The few
slaves whom the Egyptian had left at his mansion when he had repaired in
long procession to the amphitheatre, had been able to offer no resistance to
the armed band of Sallust; and when afterwards the volcano broke forth, they
had huddled together, stunned and frightened, in the inmost recesses of the
house. Even the tall Ethiopian had forsaken his post at the door; and
Glaucus (who left Nydia without--the poor Nydia, jealous once more, even in
such an hour!) passed on through the vast hall without meeting one from whom
to learn the chamber of Ione. Even as he passed, however, the darkness that
covered the heavens increased so rapidly that it was with difficulty he
could guide his steps. The flower-wreathed columns seemed to reel and
tremble; and with every instant he heard the ashes fall cranchingly into the
roofless peristyle. He ascended to the upper rooms--breathless he paced
along, shouting out aloud the name of Ione; and at length he heard, at the
end of a gallery, a voice--her voice, in wondering reply! To rush
forward--to shatter the door--to seize Ione in his arms--to hurry from the
mansion--seemed to him the work of an instant! Scarce had he gained the
spot where Nydia was, than he heard steps advancing towards the house, and
recognized the voice of Arbaces, who had returned to seek his wealth and
Ione ere he fled from the doomed Pompeii. But so dense was already the
reeking atmosphere, that the foes saw not each other, though so near--save
that, dimly in the gloom, Glaucus caught the moving outline of the snowy
robes of the Egyptian.
They hastened onward--those three. Alas! whither? They now saw not a step
before them--the blackness became utter. They were encompassed with doubt
and horror!--and the death he had escaped seemed to Glaucus only to have
changed its form and augmented its victims.
CALENUS AND BURBO. DIOMED AND CLODIUS. THE GIRL OF THE AMPHITHEATRE AND
THE sudden catastrophe which had, as it were, riven the very bonds of
society, and left prisoner and jailer alike free, had soon rid Calenus of
the guards to whose care the praetor had consigned him. And when the
darkness and the crowd separated the priest from his attendants, he hastened
with trembling steps towards the temple of his goddess. As he crept along,
and ere the darkness was complete, he felt himself suddenly caught by the
robe, and a voice muttered in his ear:
'Hist!--Calenus!--an awful hour!'
'Ay! by my father's head! Who art thou?--thy face is dim, and thy voice is
'Not know thy Burbo?--fie!'
'Gods!--how the darkness gathers! Ho, ho!--by yon terrific mountain, what
sudden blazes of lightning!'--How they dart and quiver! Hades is loosed on
'Tush!--thou believest not these things, Calenus! Now is the time to make
'Listen! Thy temple is full of gold and precious mummeries!--let us load
ourselves with them, and then hasten to the sea and embark! None will ever
ask an account of the doings of this day.'
'Burbo, thou art right! Hush, and follow me into the temple. Who cares
now--who sees now--whether thou art a priest or not? Follow, and we will
In the precincts of the temple were many priests gathered around the altars,
praying, weeping, grovelling in the dust. Impostors in safety, they were
not the less superstitious in danger! Calenus passed them, and entered the
chamber yet to be seen in the south side of the court. Burbo followed
him--the priest struck a light. Wine and viands strewed the table; the
remains of a sacrificial feast.
'A man who has hungered forty-eight hours,' muttered Calenus, 'has an
appetite even in such a time.' He seized on the food, and devoured it
greedily. Nothing could perhaps, be more unnaturally horrid than the
selfish baseness of these villains; for there is nothing more loathsome than
the valor of avarice. Plunder and sacrilege while the pillars of the world
tottered to and fro! What an increase to the terrors of nature can be made
by the vices of man!
'Wilt thou never have done?' said Burbo, impatiently; 'thy face purples and
thine eyes start already.'
'It is not every day one has such a right to be hungry. Oh, Jupiter! what
sound is that?--the hissing of fiery water! What! does the cloud give rain
as well as flame! Ha!--what! shrieks? And, Burbo, how silent all is now!
Amidst the other horrors, the mighty mountain now cast up columns of boiling
water. Blent and kneaded with the half-burning ashes, the streams fell like
seething mud over the streets in frequent intervals. And full, where the
priests of Isis had now cowered around the altars, on which they had vainly
sought to kindle fires and pour incense, one of the fiercest of those deadly
torrents, mingled with immense fragments of scoria, had poured its rage.
Over the bended forms of the priests it dashed: that cry had been of
death--that silence had been of eternity! The ashes--the pitchy
streams--sprinkled the altars, covered the pavement, and half concealed the
quivering corpses of the priests!
'They are dead,' said Burbo, terrified for the first time, and hurrying back
into the cell. 'I thought not the danger was so near and fatal.'
The two wretches stood staring at each other--you might have heard their
hearts beat! Calenus, the less bold by nature, but the more griping,
'We must to our task, and away!' he said, in a low whisper, frightened at
his own voice. He stepped to the threshold, paused, crossed over the heated
floor and his dead brethren to the sacred chapel, and called to Burbo to
follow. But the gladiator quaked, and drew back.
'So much the better,' thought Calenus; 'the more will be my booty.' Hastily
he loaded himself with the more portable treasures of the temple; and
thinking no more of his comrade, hurried from the sacred place. A sudden
flash of lightning from the mount showed to Burbo, who stood motionless at
the threshold, the flying and laden form of the priest. He took heart; he
stepped forth to join him, when a tremendous shower of ashes fell right
before his feet. The gladiator shrank back once more. Darkness closed him
in. But the shower continued fast--fast; its heaps rose high and
suffocatingly--deathly vapors steamed from them. The wretch gasped for
breath--he sought in despair again to fly--the ashes had blocked up the
threshold--he shrieked as his feet shrank from the boiling fluid. How could
he escape? he could not climb to the open space; nay, were he able, he could
not brave its horrors. It were best to remain in the cells, protected, at
least, from the fatal air. He sat down and clenched his teeth. By degrees,
the atmosphere from without--stifling and venomous--crept into the chamber.
He could endure it no longer. His eyes, glaring round, rested on a
sacrificial axe, which some priest had left in the chamber: he seized it.
With the desperate strength of his gigantic arm, he attempted to hew his way
through the walls.
Meanwhile, the streets were already thinned; the crowd had hastened to
disperse itself under shelter; the ashes began to fill up the lower parts of
the town; but, here and there, you heard the steps of fugitives cranching
them warily, or saw their pale and haggard faces by the blue glare of the
lightning, or the more unsteady glare of torches, by which they endeavored
to steer their steps. But ever and anon, the boiling water, or the
straggling ashes, mysterious and gusty winds, rising and dying in a breath,
extinguished these wandering lights, and with them the last living hope of
those who bore them.
In the street that leads to the gate of Herculaneum, Clodius now bent his
perplexed and doubtful way. 'If I can gain the open country,' thought he,
'doubtless there will be various vehicles beyond the gate, and Herculaneum
is not far distant. Thank Mercury! I have little to lose, and that little
is about me!'
'Holla!--help there--help!' cried a querulous and frightened voice. 'I have
fallen down--my torch has gone out--my slaves have deserted me. I am
Diomed--the rich Diomed--ten thousand sesterces to him who helps me!'
At the same moment, Clodius felt himself caught by the feet. 'Ill fortune to
thee--let me go, fool,' said the gambler.
'Oh, help me up!--give me thy hand!'
'Is this Clodius? I know the voice! Whither fliest thou?'
'Blessed be the gods! our way is the same, then, as far as the gate. Why
not take refuge in my villa? Thou knowest the long range of subterranean
cellars beneath the basement--that shelter, what shower can penetrate?'
'You speak well,' said Clodius musingly. 'And by storing the cellar with
food, we can remain there even some days, should these wondrous storms
endure so long.'
'Oh, blessed be he who invented gates to a city!' cried Diomed. 'See!--they
have placed a light within yon arch: by that let us guide our steps.'
The air was now still for a few minutes: the lamp from the gate streamed out
far and clear: the fugitives hurried on--they gained the gate--they passed
by the Roman sentry; the lightning flashed over his livid face and polished
helmet, but his stern features were composed even in their awe! He remained
erect and motionless at his post. That hour itself had not animated the
machine of the ruthless majesty of Rome into the reasoning and self-acting
man. There he stood, amidst the crashing elements: he had not received the
permission to desert his station and escape.
Diomed and his companion hurried on, when suddenly a female form rushed
athwart their way. It was the girl whose ominous voice had been raised so
often and so gladly in anticipation of 'the merry show'.
'Oh, Diomed!' she cried, 'shelter! shelter! See'--pointing to an infant
clasped to her breast--'see this little one!--it is mine!--the child of
shame! I have never owned it till this hour. But now I remember I am a
mother! I have plucked it from the cradle of its nurse: she had fled! Who
could think of the babe in such an hour, but she who bore it? Save it! save
'Curses on thy shrill voice! Away, harlot!' muttered Clodius between his
'Nay, girl,' said the more humane Diomed; 'follow if thou wilt. This
way--this way--to the vaults!'
They hurried on--they arrived at the house of Diomed--they laughed aloud as
they crossed the threshold, for they deemed the danger over.
Diomed ordered his slaves to carry down into the subterranean gallery,
before described, a profusion of food and oil for lights; and there Julia,
Clodius, the mother and her babe, the greater part of the slaves, and some
frightened visitors and clients of the neighborhood, sought their shelter.
THE PROGRESS OF THE DESTRUCTION.
THE cloud, which had scattered so deep a murkiness over the day, had now
settled into a solid and impenetrable mass. It resembled less even the
thickest gloom of a night in the open air than the close and blind darkness
of some narrow room. But in proportion as the blackness gathered, did the
lightnings around Vesuvius increase in their vivid and scorching glare. Nor
was their horrible beauty confined to the usual hues of fire; no rainbow
ever rivalled their varying and prodigal dyes. Now brightly blue as the
most azure depth of a southern sky--now of a livid and snakelike green,
darting restlessly to and fro as the folds of an enormous serpent--now of a
lurid and intolerable crimson, gushing forth through the columns of smoke,
far and wide, and lighting up the whole city from arch to arch--then
suddenly dying into a sickly paleness, like the ghost of their own life!
In the pauses of the showers, you heard the rumbling of the earth beneath,
and the groaning waves of the tortured sea; or, lower still, and audible but
to the watch of intensest fear, the grinding and hissing murmur of the
escaping gases through the chasms of the distant mountain. Sometimes the
cloud appeared to break from its solid mass, and, by the lightning, to
assume quaint and vast mimicries of human or of monster shapes, striding
across the gloom, hurtling one upon the other, and vanishing swiftly into
the turbulent abyss of shade; so that, to the eyes and fancies of the
affrighted wanderers, the unsubstantial vapors were as the bodily forms of
gigantic foes--the agents of terror and of death.
The ashes in many places were already knee-deep; and the boiling showers
which came from the steaming breath of the volcano forced their way into the
houses, bearing with them a strong and suffocating vapor. In some places,
immense fragments of rock, hurled upon the house roofs, bore down along the
streets masses of confused ruin, which yet more and more, with every hour,
obstructed the way; and, as the day advanced, the motion of the earth was
more sensibly felt--the footing seemed to slide and creep--nor could chariot
or litter be kept steady, even on the most level ground.
Sometimes the huger stones striking against each other as they fell, broke
into countless fragments, emitting sparks of fire, which caught whatever was
combustible within their reach; and along the plains beyond the city the
darkness was now terribly relieved; for several houses, and even vineyards,
had been set on flames; and at various intervals the fires rose suddenly and
fiercely against the solid gloom. To add to this partial relief of the
darkness, the citizens had, here and there, in the more public places, such
as the porticoes of temples and the entrances to the forum, endeavored to
place rows of torches; but these rarely continued long; the showers and the
winds extinguished them, and the sudden darkness into which their sudden
birth was converted had something in it doubly terrible and doubly
impressing on the impotence of human hopes, the lesson of despair.
Frequently, by the momentary light of these torches, parties of fugitives
encountered each other, some hurrying towards the sea, others flying from
the sea back to the land; for the ocean had retreated rapidly from the
shore--an utter darkness lay over it, and upon its groaning and tossing
waves the storm of cinders and rock fell without the protection which the
streets and roofs afforded to the land. Wild--haggard--ghastly with
supernatural fears, these groups encountered each other, but without the
leisure to speak, to consult, to advise; for the showers fell now
frequently, though not continuously, extinguishing the lights, which showed
to each band the deathlike faces of the other, and hurrying all to seek
refuge beneath the nearest shelter. The whole elements of civilization were
broken up. Ever and anon, by the flickering lights, you saw the thief
hastening by the most solemn authorities of the law, laden with, and
fearfully chuckling over, the produce of his sudden gains. if, in the
darkness, wife was separated from husband, or parent from child, vain was
the hope of reunion. Each hurried blindly and confusedly on. Nothing in
all the various and complicated machinery of social life was left save the
primal law of self-preservation!
Through this awful scene did the Athenian wade his way, accompanied by Ione
and the blind girl. Suddenly, a rush of hundreds, in their path to the sea,
swept by them. Nydia was torn from the side of Glaucus, who, with Ione, was
borne rapidly onward; and when the crowd (whose forms they saw not, so thick
was the gloom) were gone, Nydia was still separated from their side.
Glaucus shouted her name. No answer came. They retraced their steps--in
vain: they could not discover her--it was evident she had been swept along
some opposite direction by the human current. Their friend, their
preserver, was lost! And hitherto Nydia had been their guide. Her
blindness rendered the scene familiar to her alone. Accustomed, through a
perpetual night, to thread the windings of the city, she had led them
unerringly towards the sea-shore, by which they had resolved to hazard an
escape. Now, which way could they wend? all was rayless to them--a maze
without a clue. Wearied, despondent, bewildered, they, however, passed
along, the ashes falling upon their heads, the fragmentary stones dashing up
in sparkles before their feet.
'Alas! alas!' murmured Ione, 'I can go no farther; my steps sink among the
scorching cinders. Fly, dearest!--beloved, fly! and leave me to my fate!'
'Hush, my betrothed! my bride! Death with thee is sweeter than life without
thee! Yet, whither--oh! whither, can we direct ourselves through the gloom?
Already it seems that we have made but a circle, and are in the very spot
which we quitted an hour ago.'
'O gods! yon rock--see, it hath riven the roof before us! It is death to
move through the streets!'
'Blessed lightning! See, Ione--see! the portico of the Temple of Fortune is
before us. Let us creep beneath it; it will protect us from the showers.'
He caught his beloved in his arms, and with difficulty and labor gained the
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