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Introduction and Key


Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation
An Introduction to The Parousia: A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of the Lord's Second Coming
by James Stuart Russell (1878) // Written by
Todd Dennis, Curator





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070: Clement: First Epistle of Clement

075: Baruch: Apocalypse Of Baruch

075: Barnabus: Epistle of Barnabus

090: Esdras 2 / 4 Ezra

100: Odes of Solomon

150: Justin: Dialogue with Trypho

150: Melito: Homily of the Pascha

175: Irenaeus: Against Heresies

175: Clement of Alexandria: Stromata

198: Tertullian: Answer to the Jews

230: Origen: The Principles | Commentary on Matthew | Commentary on John | Against Celsus

248: Cyprian: Against the Jews

260: Victorinus: Commentary on the Apocalypse "Alcasar, a Spanish Jesuit, taking a hint from Victorinus, seems to have been the first (AD 1614) to have suggested that the Apocalyptic prophecies did not extend further than to the overthrow of Paganism by Constantine."

310: Peter of Alexandria

310: Eusebius: Divine Manifestation of our Lord

312: Eusebius: Proof of the Gospel

319: Athanasius: On the Incarnation

320: Eusebius: History of the Martyrs

325: Eusebius: Ecclesiastical History

345: Aphrahat: Demonstrations

367: Athanasius: The Festal Letters

370: Hegesippus: The Ruin of Jerusalem

386: Chrysostom: Matthew and Mark

387: Chrysostom: Against the Jews

408: Jerome: Commentary on Daniel

417: Augustine: On Pelagius

426: Augustine: The City of God

428: Augustine: Harmony

420: Cassian: Conferences

600: Veronica Legend

800: Aquinas: Eternity of the World




1265: Aquinas: Catena Aurea

1543: Luther: On the Jews

1555: Calvin: Harmony on Evangelists

1556: Jewel: Scripture

1586: Douay-Rheims Bible

1598: Jerusalem's Misery ; The dolefull destruction of faire Ierusalem by Tytus, the Sonne of Vaspasian

1603: Nero : A New Tragedy

1613: Carey: The Fair Queen of Jewry

1614: Alcasar: Vestigatio arcani sensus in Apocalypsi

1654: Ussher: The Annals of the World

1658: Lightfoot: Commentary from Hebraica

1677: Crowne - The Destruction of Jerusalem

1764: Lardner: Fulfilment of our Saviour's Predictions

1776: Edwards: History of Redemption

1785: Churton: Prophecies Respecting the Destruction of Jerusalem

1801: Porteus: Our Lord's Prophecies

1802: Nisbett: The Coming of the Messiah

1805: Jortin: Remarks on Ecclesiastical History

1810: Clarke: Commentary On the Whole Bible

1816: Wilkins: Destruction of Jerusalem Related to Prophecies

1824: Galt: The Bachelor's Wife

1840: Smith: The Destruction of Jerusalem

1841: Currier: The Second Coming of Christ

1842: Bastow : A (Preterist) Bible Dictionary

1842: Stuart: Interpretation of Prophecy

1843: Lee: Dissertations on Eusebius

1845: Stuart: Commentary on Apocalypse

1849: Lee: Inquiry into Prophecy

1851: Lee: Visions of Daniel and St. John

1853: Newcombe: Observations on our Lord's Conduct as Divine Instructor

1854: Chamberlain: Restoration of Israel

1854: Fairbairn: The Typology of Scripture

1859: "Lee of Boston": Eschatology

1861: Maurice: Lectures on the Apocalypse

1863: Thomas Lewin : The Siege of Jerusalem

1865: Desprez: Daniel (Renounced Full Preterism)

1870: Fall of Jerusalem and the Roman Conquest

1871: Dale: Jewish Temple and Christian Church (PDF)

1879: Warren: The Parousia

1882: Farrar: The Early Days of Christianity

1883: Milton S. Terry: Biblical Hermeneutics

1888: Henty: For The Temple

1891: Farrar: Scenes in the days of Nero

1896: Lee : A Scholar of a Past Generation

1902: Church: Story of the Last Days of Jerusalem

1917: Morris: Christ's Second Coming Fulfilled

1985: Lee: Jerusalem; Rome; Revelation (PDF)

1987: Chilton: The Days of Vengeance

2001: Fowler: Jesus - The Better Everything

2006: M. Gwyn Morgan - AD69 - The Year of Four Emperors

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D. D. D.

Dolce color d'oriental zaffiro,
Che s'accoglieva nel sereno aspetto
Dell'aer puro infino al prinio giro,
Agli occhi miei ricomincio diletto,
Tosto ch'io usci fuor dell'aura morta,
Che ni'avea contristato gli occhi e'l petto.
DANTE, Purgatorio, I. 13-18.

The orient sapphire's hue of sweetest tone,
Which gathered in the aspect calm and bright
Of that pure air as far as heaven's first zone,

Now to mine eyes brought back the old delight
Soon as I passed forth from the dead dank air
Which eyes and heart had veiled with saddest night.

 I HAVE endeavoured to choose a title for this book which
shall truly describe its contents. The ' Darkness ' of
which I speak is the darkness of a decadent Paganism;
the ' Dawn ' is the dawn of Christianity. Although the
story is continuous, I have called it 'Scenes in the Days
of Nero,' because the outline is determined by the actual
events of Pagan and Christian history, more than by the
fortunes of the characters who are here introduced. In
other words, the fiction is throughout controlled and dom-
inated by historic facts. The purport of this tale is no
less high and serious than that which I have had in view
in every other book which I have written. It has been
the illustration of a supreme and deeply interesting prob-
lem the causes, namely, why a religion so humble in its
origin and, so feeble in its earthly resources as Christianity,
won so majestic a victory over the power, the glory, and
the intellect of the civilised world.

The greater part of the following story has been for
some years in manuscript, and, since it was designed, and
nearly completed, several books have appeared which deal
with the same epoch. Some of these I have not seen.
From none of them have I consciously borrowed even the
smallest hint.

Those who are familiar with the literature of the first
century will recognise that even for the minutest allusions


and particulars I have contemporary authority. Expres-
sions and incidents which, to some, might seem to be
startlingly modern, are in reality suggested by passages in
the satirists, epigrammatists, and romancers of the Empire,
or by anecdotes preserved in the grave pages of Seneca
and the elder Pliny. I have, of course, so far assumed
the liberty accorded to writers of historic fiction as occa-
sionally to deviate, to a small extent, from exact chronology,
but such deviations are very trivial in comparison with
those which have been permitted to others, and especially
to the great masters of historic fiction.

All who know most thoroughly the real features of that
Pagan darkness which was deepest before the Christian
dawn will see that scarcely even by the most distant
allusion have I referred to some of the worst features in
the life of that day. While I have not extenuated the
realities of cruelty and bloodshed, I have repeatedly
softened down their more terrible incidents and details.
To have altered that aspect of monotonous misery which
pained and wearied its ancient annalist would have been
to falsify the real characteristics of the age with which
I had to deal.

The book is not a novel, nor is it to be judged as a
novel. The outline has been imperatively decided for me
by the exigencies of fact, not by the rules of art. I have
been compelled to deal with an epoch which I should
never have touched if I had not seen, in the features
which it presented, one main explanation of an historical
event the most sacred and the most interesting on which
the mind can dwell.

The same object has made it inevitable that, at least in
passing glimpses, the figures of several whose names are


surrounded with hallowed associations should appear in
these pages. I could not otherwise bring out the truths
which it was my aim to set forth. But in this matter I
do not think that any serious reader will accuse me of
irreverence. Onesimus, Pudens, Claudia, and a few others,
must be regarded as imaginary persons, except in name,
but scarcely in one incident have I touched the Preachers
of early Christianity with the finger of fiction. They were,
indeed, men of like passions with ourselves, and as St.
Chrysostom says of St. Paul, ' Even if he was Paul, he
was yet a man ; ' but recognising their sacred dignity, I
have almost entirely confined their words to words of
revelation. Even if I had done more than this, I might
plead the grave sanction and example of Dante, and
Milton, and Browning. But the small liberty which I have
dared to use has only been in directions accorded by the
cycle of such early legends as may be considered to be
both innocent and hallowed.





























nurra PASB













































NOTES . 587





f Orainus, cave despuas, ocelle,
Ne poenas Nemesis reposcat a te :
Est vehemens Dea ; laedere hanc caveto.'

CATULL. Carm. L. 18-20.

THE Palace of the Csesars was a building of extraordinary
spaciousness and splendour, which had grown with the grow-
ing power of the emperors. The state entrance was in the
Vicus Apollinis, which led into the Via Sacra. It was an
Arch, twenty-nine feet high, surmounted by a statue of
Apollo and Diana driving a chariot of four horses, the work
of Lysias. Passing the Propylsea the visitor entered the
sacred area, paved with white marble and surrounded by
fifty -two fluted columns of Numidian giallo antico, with its
soft tints of rose and gold. Between these stood statues
of the Danaides, with their father Danaus brandishing a
naked sword. In the open spaces before them were the
statues of their miserable Egyptian husbands, each reining
his haughty steed. Here, too, among other priceless works
of art, stood the famous Hercules of Lysippus, clothed in his
lion's skin and leaning on his club. On one side was the
Temple of Apollo, built of the marble of Luna, designed by
Bupalos and Anthermos of Chios. On the top of its pedi-
ment was the chariot of Apollo in gilt bronze, and the great
bronze valves were incrusted with ivory bas-reliefs of the
triumph over Niobe, and the panic-stricken flight of the
Gauls from Delphi. Behind this temple was the shrine of
Vesta, and on the west side the famous Palatine Library,
large enough to accommodate the whole Senate, and divided
into two compartments, Greek and Latin. In its vestibule
was a bronze statue, fifty feet high, which is said to have
represented Augustus with the attributes of Apollo. 1

1 Xote 1. Palace of the Csesars. (See Lanciani's Ancient Rome in the
light of Modern Discoveries, pp. 107-133.) For Notes see end of Volume.


face stamped on thousands of coins and medals ? Had she
not shown, in contrast to her predecessor, the beautiful and
abandoned Messalina, how dignified could be a matron's
rule ?

Yes, the world was at her feet ; and by every glance and
every gesture she showed her consciousness of a grandeur
such as no woman had hitherto attained. Her agents and
spies were numberless. The Court was with her, for in the
days of Claudius the Court meant the all-powerful freedmen,
who impudently ruled and pillaged their feeble master ; and if
she could not seduce the stolid fidelity of his secretary Nar-
cissus, she had not disdained to stoop to the still more power-
ful Pallas. The people were with her, for she was the sole
surviving child of the prince whom they had regarded with
extravagant affection. The intellect of Borne was on her side,
for Seneca, always among her favourites, had been recalled by
her influence from his banishment in feverous Corsica, and,
holding the high position of tutor to her son, was devoted to
her cause. The Praetorian guards were on her side, for Bur-
rus, their bold and honest commander, owed his office to her
request. The power of gold was hers, for her coffers had been
filled to bursting by an immeasurable rapacity. The power
of fascination was hers, for few of those whom she wished to
entangle were able to resist her spells. Above all she could
rely absolutely upon herself. Undaunted as her mother, the
elder Agrippina ; popular as her father, the adored German-
icus ; brilliant and audacious as her grandmother, Julia, the
unhappy daughter of Augustus ; full of masculine energy and
aptitude for business as her grandfather Agrippa who else
could show such gifts or command such resources ? But she
had not yet drunk to the dregs the cup of ambition which she
had long ago lifted to her eager lips.

She was sitting on a low broad-backed seat, enriched with
gilding and ivory, in the gorgeous room which was set aside
for her special use. It was decorated with every resource of
art, and the autumnal sunlight which was falling through its
warm and perfumed air glinted on statuettes of gold and sil-
ver, on marble bas-reliefs of exquisite fancy, and on walls
which glowed with painted peacocks, winged genii, and
graceful arabesques.

Her face was the index of a soul which onlv used the


meaner passions as aids to the gratification of the grander
ambitions. No one who saw her, as she leant back in her
easy half-recumbent attitude, could have doubted that he was
in the presence of a lady born to rule, and in whose veins
flowed the noblest blood of the most ancient families of Rome.
She was thirty-seven years old, but was still in the zenith of
her imperious charms, and her figure had lost none of the
smooth and rounded contour of youth. Her features were
small and delicate, the forehead well shaped, the eyes singu-
larly bright, and of a light blue, under finely marked eyebrows.
Her nose was slightly aquiline, the mouth small and red and
beautiful, while the slight protrusion of the upper lip gave to
it an expression of decided energy. Her hair was wavy, and
fell in multitudes of small curls over her forehead and cheeks,
but was confined at the back of the head in a golden net from
which a lappet embroidered with pearls and sapphires fell
upon her neck, half concealed by one soft and glowing tress.

She sat there deep in thought, and her mind was not occu-
pied with the exquisite image of herself reflected from the
silver mirror which hung bright and large upon the wall be-
fore her. Her expression was that which she wears in her
bust in the Capitol the expression of one who is anxious,
and waits. One sandalled foot rested on the ankle of the
other, and her fair hands were lightly folded on her robe.
That robe was the long stola worn by noble matrons. It
swept down to her feet and its sleeves reached to the elbows,
where they were fastened by brooches of priceless onyx, leav-
ing bare the rest of her shapely arms. Two large pearls were
in her ears, but she had laid aside her other ornaments. On
a little marble abacus beside her lay her many-jewelled rings,
her superb armlets set with rubies, and the murenula a
necklace of linked and flexile gold glittering with gems
which had encircled her neck at the banquet from which she
just had risen. Her attitude was one of rest ; but there was
no rest in the bosom which rose and fell unequally with her
varying moods no rest in the countenance with its look of
proud and sleepless determination. She was alone, but a
frequent and impatient glance showed that she expected some
one to enter. She had dismissed her slaves, and was devoting
her whole soul to the absorbing design for which at that
moment she lived, and in the accomplishment of which she


face stamped 011 thousands of coins and medals ? Had she
not shown, in contrast to her predecessor, the beautiful and
abandoned Messalina, how dignified could be a matron's
rule ?

Yes, the world was at her feet ; and by every glance and
every gesture she showed her consciousness of a grandeur
such as no woman had hitherto attained. Her agents and
spies were numberless. The Court was with her, for in the
days of Claudius the Court meant the all-powerful freedmen,
who impudently ruled and pillaged their feeble master ; and if
she could not seduce the stolid fidelity of his secretary Nar-
cissus, she had not disdained to stoop to the still more power-
ful Pallas. The people were with her, for she was the sole
surviving child of the prince whom they had regarded with
extravagant affection. The intellect of Eome was on her side,
for Seneca, always among her favourites, had been recalled by
her influence from his banishment in feverous Corsica, and,
holding the high position of tutor to her son, was devoted to
her cause. The Praetorian guards were on her side, for Bur-
rus, their bold and honest commander, owed his office to her
request. The power of gold was hers, for her coffers had been
filled to bursting by an immeasurable rapacity. The power
of fascination was hers, for few of those whom she wished to
entangle were able to resist her spells. Above all she could
rely absolutely upon herself. Undaunted as her mother, the
elder Agrippina ; popular as her father, the adored German -
icus ; brilliant and audacious as her grandmother, Julia, the
unhappy daughter of Augustus ; full of masculine energy and
aptitude for business as her grandfather Agrippa who else
could show such gifts or command such resources ? But she
had not yet drunk to the dregs the cup of ambition which she
had long ago lifted to her eager lips.

She was sitting on a low broad-backed seat, enriched with
gilding and ivory, in the gorgeous room which was set aside
for her special use. It was decorated with every resource of
art, and the autumnal sunlight which was falling through its
warm and perfumed air glinted on statuettes of gold and sil-
ver, on marble bas-reliefs of exquisite fancy, and on walls
which glowed with painted peacocks, winged genii, and
graceful arabesques.

Her face was the index of a soul which onlv used the


meaner passions as aids to the gratification of the grander
ambitions. No one who saw her, as she leant back in her
easy half-recumbent attitude, could have doubted that he was
in the presence of a lady born to rule, and in whose veins
flowed the noblest blood of the most ancient families of Rome.
She was thirty-seven years old, but was still in the zenith of
her imperious charms, and her figure had lost none of the
smooth and rounded contour of youth. Her features were
small and delicate, the forehead well shaped, the eyes singu-
larly bright, and of a light blue, under finely marked eyebrows.
Her nose was slightly aquiline, the mouth small and red and
beautiful, while the slight protrusion of the upper lip gave to
it an expression of decided energy. Her hair was wavy, and
fell in multitudes of small curls over her forehead and cheeks,
but was confined at the back of the head in a golden net from
which a lappet embroidered with pearls and sapphires fell
upon her neck, half concealed by one soft and glowing tress.

She sat there deep in thought, and her mind was not occu-
pied with the exquisite image of herself reflected from the
silver mirror which hung bright and large upon the wall be-
fore her. Her expression was that which she wears in her
bust in the Capitol the expression of one who is anxious,
and waits. One sandalled foot rested on the ankle of the
other, and her fair hands were lightly folded on her robe.
That robe was the long stola worn by noble matrons. It
swept down to her feet and its sleeves reached to the elbows,
where they were fastened by brooches of priceless onyx, leav-
ing bare the rest of her shapely arms. Two large pearls were
in her ears, but she had laid aside her other ornaments. On
a little marble abacus beside her lay her many-jewelled rings,
her superb armlets set with rubies, and the murenula a
necklace of linked and flexile gold glittering with gems
which had encircled her neck at the banquet from which she
just had risen. Her attitude was one of rest ; but there was
no rest in the bosom which rose and fell unequally with her
varying moods no rest in the countenance with its look of
proud and sleepless determination. She was alone, but a
frequent and impatient glance showed that she expected some
one to enter. She had dismissed her slaves, and was devoting
her whole soul to the absorbing design for which at that
moment she lived, and in the accomplishment of which she


persuaded herself that she was ready to die. That design was
the elevation of her Nero, at the first possible moment, to the
throne whose dizzy steps were so slippery with blood.

In the achievement of her purpose no question of right and
wrong for a moment troubled her. Guilt had no horror for
that fair woman. She had long determined that neither the
stings of conscience nor the fear of peril should stop her
haughty course. To her, as to most of the women of high
rank in the Rome of the Empire, crime was nothing from
which to shrink, and virtue was but an empty name. Phi-
losophers she knew talked of virtue. It was interesting to
hear Seueca descant upon it, as she had sometimes heard him
do to her boy, while she sat in an adjoining room only sepa-
rated from them by an embroidered curtain. But she had
long ago convinced herself that this was fine talk, and noth-
ing more. Priests pretended to worship the gods ; but what
were the gods ? Had not the Senate made her ancestor
Augustus a god, and Tiberius, and her mad brother Caligula,
and his little murdered baby, the child of Csesonia, which had
delighted its father by its propensity to scratch ? If such
beings were gods, to whom incense was burned and altars
smoked, assuredly she need not greatly trouble herself about
the inhabitants of Olympus.

Nemesis ? Was there such a thing as Nemesis ? Did a
Presence stalk behind the guilty, with leaden pace, with feet
shod in wool, which sooner or later overtook them which
cast its dark shadow at last beyond their footsteps which
gradually came up to them, laid its hand upon their shoulders,
clutched them, looked them in the face, drove into their heads
the adamantine nail whose blow was death ? For a few
moments her countenance was troubled ; but it was not lon<*
before she had driven away the gloomy thought with a dis*
dainful smile. It was true that there had been calamity
enough in the bloodstained annals of her kinsfolk : calamity
all tlje more deadly in proportion to their awful growth in
power and wealth. Her thoughts reverted to the story of her
nearest relatives. She thought of the days of Tiberius, when
men scarcely dared to speak above a whisper, and when mur-
der lurked at the entrance of every noble home. Her uncles
Gaius and Lucius Caesar had died in the prime of their age.
Had they been poisoned by Sejanus ? Her other uncle, the


young Agrippa Posthumus born after the death of his
father, Agrippa had been killed in a mad struggle with the
centurion whom Livia had sent to murder him in his lonely
exile. Her mother had been cruelly murdered ; her aunt, the
younger Julia, had died in disgrace and exile on a wretched
islet. Her two brothers, Nero and Drusus, had come to
miserable ends in the flower of their days. Her third brother,
the Emperor Caligula, had been assassinated by conspirators.
The two Julias, her sister and her cousin, had fallen victims
to the jealous fury of the Empress Messalina. The name of
her sister Drusilla had been already stained with a thousand
shames. She was the sole survivor of a family of six princes
and princesses, all of whom, in spite of all the favours of for-
tune, had come, in the bloom of life, to violent and shameful
ends. She had herself been banished by her brother to the
island of Pontia, and had been made to carry on her journey,
in her bosom, the irmrned ashes of her brother-in-law, Lepidus,
with whom, as with others, her name had been dishonourably
involved. She had already been twice a widow, and the
world said that she had poisoned her second husband, Cris-
pus Passienus. What did she care what the world said ?
But even if she had poisoned that old and wealthy orator
what then ? His wealth had been and would be very
useful to her. Since that day her fortunes had been golden.
She had been recalled from her dreary banishment. Her
soul had been as glowing iron in the flame of adversity ;
but the day of her adversity had passed. When the time
was ripe she had made her magnificent way in the Court
of her uncle Claudius until she became his wife, and had
swept all her rivals out of her path by her brilliant beauty
and triumphant intrigues.

She thought of some of those rivals, and as she thought
of them an evil smile lighted up her beautiful features.

Messalina, her predecessor did not everything seem to
be in her favour ? Claudius had doted on her ; she fooled
him to the top of his bent. She had borne him two fair
children, and the emperor loved them. Who could help
loving the reserved but noble Britannicus, the gentle and
innocent Octavia ? No doubt Messalina had felt certain
that, her boy should succeed his father. But how badly
she had managed ! How silly had been her preference for


pleasure over ambition 1 How easily Agrippina had con-
trived that, without her taking any overt share in the
catastrophe, Messaliria should destroy herself by her own
shainelessness, and perish, while still little more than girl,
by the sword of the executioner, in a pre-eminence of
shame !

And Lollia Paulina ? What might she not have done
with her enormous riches ? Agrippina could recall her
not at one of the great Court gatherings, but at an ordi-
nary marriage supper, in which she had appeared in a dress
embroidered from head to foot with alternate rows of pearls
and emeralds, with emeralds in her hair, emeralds of deep-
est lustre on her fingers, a carcanet of emeralds the finest
Borne had ever seen around her neck. Yet this was not
her best dress, and her jewels were said to be worth eighty
millions of sesterces. 1 She remembered with what a stately
step, with what a haughty countenance the great heiress, who
had for a short time been Empress as wife of Caligula, passed
among the ranks of dazzled courtiers, with the revenues of a
province upon her robes. Well, she had dared to be a com-
petitor with Agrippina for the hand of Claudius. It required
no small skill to avert the deeply seated Roman prejudice
against the union of an uncle with his niece ; yet Agrippina
had won thanks to the freedman Pallas, and to other things.
She procured the banishment of Lollia, and soon afterwards a
tribune was sent and she was bidden to kill herself. The
countenance of the thinker darkened for a moment as she
remembered the evening when the tribune had returned, and
had taken out of its casket the terrible proof that her
vengeance was accomplished. How unlike was that ghastly
relic to the head whose dark locks had been wreathed with
emeralds !

And Domitia Lepida, her sister-in-law, the mother of the
Empress Messalina, the aunt of her son Nero, the former
wife of her own husband, Crispus Passienus ? She was
wealthy as herself, beautiful as herself, noble as herself,
unscrupulous as herself. She might have been a powerful
ally, but how dared she to compete for the affections of
Nero ? How dared she to be indulgent when Agrippina
was severe? The boy had been brought up in her houso

1 Note 2. Lollia Paulina's jewels.


when his father was dead and his mother an exile. His
chances had seemed very small then, and Lepida had so
shamefully neglected him that his only tutors were a bar-
ber and a dancer. But now that he held the glorious posi-
tion of Prince of the Roman Youth ; now that he wore
the manly toga, while Britannicus only stood in humble
boy's dress the embroidered robe, and the golden bulla
round his neck to avert the evil eye ; now that it seemed
probable to all that Nero, the adopted son of Claudius,
would be the future Emperor instead of Britannicus, his
real son, it was all very well for Domitia to fondle and
pamper him. It was a hard matter to get rid of Lepida,
for Narcissus, the faithful guardian of Claudius, had op-
posed the attempt to get her put to death. Nevertheless,
Agrippina seldom failed in her purposes ; and as for Lepida
and Narcissus their turn might come !

She could only recall one insult which she had not avenged.
The senator Galba was rich, and was said by the astrologers
to have an imperial nativity. She had therefore made love
to him so openly that his mother, Livia Ocellina, had once
slapped her in the face. If she had not made Galba and his
virago-mother feel the weight of her vengeance, it was only
because they were too insignificant to be any longer worthy
of her attention. She was too proud to take revenge on
minor opposition. The eagle, she thought, does not trouble
itself about the mole.

Enough ! Her thoughts were getting too agitated ! She
must go step by step ; but who would dare to say that she
would not succeed ? The wit and purpose of a woman against
the world ! ' Yes, Nero, my Nero, thou shalt be Emperor yet !
Thou shalt rule the world, and I have always ruled thee, and
will rule thee still. Thy weak nature is under my dominance ;
and I, whose heart is hard as the diamond, shall be Empress
of the world. Nemesis if there be a Nemesis must bide
her time.'

She murmured the words in a low tone to herself ; but at
this point her reverie was broken.



'Occidat dum imperet.' TAC. Ann. xiv. 9.

A VOICE was heard in the corridor, the curtain was drawn
aside, and a youth of sixteen, but who had nearly com-
pleted his seventeenth year, entered the room.

He was still in the bloom of his youthful beauty. His
face was stamped with all the nobility of the Domitian
race from which he sprang. It had not as yet a trace of
that ferocity engendered in later years from an immense
vanity clouded by a dim sense of mediocrity. It was perfectly
smooth, and there was nothing to give promise of the famous
brazen beards of his ancestors, unless it were the light hair,
with its slight tinge of red, which was so greatly admired in
antiquity, and which looked golden when it caught the sun-
light. Round the forehead it was brushed back, but it
covered his head with a mass of short and shining curls,
and grew low down over the white neck. His face had not
yet lost the rose of youth, though its softness spoke of a
luxurious life. The eyes were of light grey, and the ex-
pression was not ungenial, though, owing to his short sight,
his forehead often wore the appearance of a slight frown.
He was of middle height, and of those fine proportions
which made his flatterers compare him to the youthful
God of Song.

' Nero ! ' exclaimed his mother ; ' I thought you were still
in the banquet hall. If the Emperor awakes he may notice
your absence.'

'There is little fear of that,' said Nero, laughing. 'I
left the Emperor snoring on his couch, and the other guests
decorously trying to suppress the most portentous yawns.
They, poor wretches, will have to stay on till midnight or


later, unless Narcissus sets them free from the edifying
spectacle of a semi-divinity quite intoxicated.'

' Hush ! ' said Agrippiua, severely. ' This levity is boyish
and ill-timed. Jest at what you like, but never at the majesty
of the Imperial power not even in private, not even to me.
And remember that palace walls have ears. Did you leave
Octavia at the table ? '

'I did.'

' Imprudent ! ' said his mother. ' You know what pains
I have taken to keep her from seeing too much of her father
except when we are present. Claudius sometimes sleeps off
the fumes of wine, and after a doze he can talk as sensibly as
he ever does. Was Britannicus in the Hall ? '

' Britannicus ? ' said Nero. ' Of course not. You have
taken pains enough, mother, to keep him in the background.
According to the antique fashion which the Emperor has re-
vived of late, you saw him at the banquet, sitting at the end
of the seat behind his father. But the boys have been
dismissed with their pedagogues long ago, and, for all I know,
Britannicus has been sent to bed.'

' And for whose sake do I take these precautions ? ' asked
the Empress. ' Is it not for your sake, ungrateful ? Is it not
that you may wear the purple, and tower over the world as
the Imperator Rornanus ? '

' For my sake,' thought Nero, ' and for her own sake, too.'
But he said nothing ; and as he had not attained to the art of
disguising his thoughts from that keenest of observers, he bent
down, to conceal a smile, and kissed his mother's cheek, with
the murmured words, ' Best of mothers ! '

' Best of mothers ! Yes ; but for how long ? ' said Agrippina.
' When once I have seated you on the throne ' She
broke off her sentence. She had never dared to tell her son
the fearful augury which the Chaldeans had uttered of him :
' He shall be Emperor, and shall kill his mother.' He had
never dreamed that she had returned the answer : ' Let him
slay me, so he be Emperor.'

' Optima mater, now and always,' he replied. But I am
angry with Britannicus very angry ! ' and he stamped his

' Why ? The boy is harmless enough. I thought you had
him completely under your power. You seem to be very


good friends, and I have seen you sitting together, and train-
ing your magpies and jays to talk, quite amicably. Nay,
though Hritannicus hates me, I almost won his heart for
two minutes by promising to give him my talking-thrush,
which eyos us so curiously from its cage.' *

' Give it to me, mother,' said Nero. ' A thrush that cau
talk as yours can is the greatest rarity in the world, and
worth ten times over its weight in gold.'

'No, Nero; Hritannicus shall have it. I like to see him
devoting himself to such trifles. I have other views for you.
Hut what has the poor l>oy done to offend you ?'

1 1 met him in the Gelotian House,' said Nero, ' and how do
you think he dared to address me ? Me by sacred adoption
the son of Claudius, and, therefore, his elder brother?'

* How ? '

1 1 said to him, quite civilly, "Good morning, Britannicus."
Ho had actually the audacity to reply, "Good morning,
Ahnmbarlnia !" AhenolMirbus, indeed I I hate the name.
I stand nearer to the divine Augustus than he does. 2 What
did ho mean by it 'f '

Agrippina broke into a ripple of laughter. ' The poor harm-
less lad!' she said. 'It merely was because his wits were
wool-gathering, as his father's always are. No doubt he dis-
likes you ho lias good reason to do so; but ho meant nothing
by it.'

' 1 doubt that,' answered the youth. ' I suspect that he was
prompted to insult me by Narcissus, or Pudens, or the knight
Julius Ponsus or some of the people who are still about him.'

'Ah!' said Agrippina, thoughtfully, 'Narcissus is our most
dangerous enemy. He is much too proud of his ivory rod and
prn'tor's insignia. Hut ho is not unassailable. The Emperor
was not pleased with the failure of the canal for draining Lake
Fucinus, and perhaps I can get Domitius Afer or some one
else, to accuse him of embezzling the funds. How else could
he have amassed 400,000,000 sesterces? He has the gout
very badly, and 1 will persuade him that it is necessary for
him to go to Campania for the benefit of his health. When
once he is out of the way- But, Nero, I am expecting a
visit from Pallas, with whom I have much important business.

1 Not* 8. Agrippinn'M tnlking thnuh.
Not* 4. Nero Genealogy.


Go back to the hall, my boy, and keep your eyes open always
as to what is going on.'

' I will go back,' said Nero ; ' but, mother, I sometimes wish
that all this was over. I wish I had not been forced to marry
Octavia. I shall never like her. I should like to have '

He stopped, and blushed crimson, for his mother's eagle
eye was upon him, and he had almost let out the secret of
his sudden and passionate love for Acte, the beautiful freed-
woman of his wife.

' Well ? ' said Agrippina suspiciously, but not ill-pleased to
see how her son quailed before her imperious glance. ' Go on.'

4 1 meant nothing particular,' he stammered, his cheek still
dyed with its deep blush, ' but that I sometimes wish I were
not going to be Emperor at all Julius was murdered.
Augustus, they say, was poisoned. Tiberius was suffocated.
My uncle Gaius was stabbed with many wounds. The life is
not a happy one, and the dagger-stab too often finds its way
through the purple.'

' Degenerate boy ! ' said Agrippina ; ' I do not wonder that
you blush. Is it such a nothing to be a Lord of the World ?
Have you forgotten that you are a grandson of Germanicus,
and that the blood of the Caesars as well as of the Douiitii
flows in your veins? One would think you were as ordinary
a boy as Britannicus. For shame ! '

4 Well, well, mother,' he said, ' you always get your own
way with every ona Pallas is in the anteroom, and I must


Nero kissed her, and took his leave. Immediately after-
wards the slave announced that Pallas was awaiting the
pleasure of the Empress.



1 It is the curse of kings to be attended
By slaves who take their humours for a warrant
To break into the bloody house of life.'


THE autumn twilight had by this time faded, but one silver
lamp, standing on a slab of softly glowing marble, shed a dim
light through the room when the freedman was ushered into
it. He was a man of portly presence, and of demeanour
amazingly haughty for one who had once bawled ' Sea-urchins
for sale ! ' in the Subura, and come over the sea from his
native Arcadia with his feet chalked as a common slave.
His immense wealth, his influence over the Emperor, and his
advocacy of the claims of Agrippina to her uncle's hand, to-
gether with the honours bestowed upon him by the mean
adulation of the Senate, had raised him to the pinnacle of his
power. Agrippina had stooped to the lowest depths to pur-
chase his adherence, and now there was absolute confidence
between them. He was ready to betray the too-indulgent
master who had raised him from the dust and heaped upon
him gifts and privileges, for which the noblest Consul might
have sighed in vain.

Pallas was in a grave mood. The air was full of portents.
A tale was on every lip among the common people that a pig
had been born with the talons of a hawk. A swarm of bees
had settled on the top of the Capitol. The tents and stand-
ards of the soldiers had been struck with fire from heaven.
In that year a quaestor, an aedile, a tribune, a praetor, and a
consul had all died within a few months of each other.
Claudius had nominated two consuls, but had only nominated
them for a single month. Had he misgivings about his ap-
proaching fate ? Agrippina was not superstitious, and she


listened to these stories of the Greek freedman with the in-
difference of disdain. But it was far otherwise when he told
her that Narcissus had been heard to utter very dangerous
speeches. He had said that whether Britannicus or Nero
succeeded, he himself was doomed to perish. Britannicus
would hate him as the man who had brought about the death
of his mother Messalina. Nero would hate him, because he
had opposed his adoption, and the marriage of his mother to
the Emperor, both which events had been achieved by the
rival influence of Pallas. Still Narcissus was faithful to his
kind master, and Britannicus was the Emperor's son. The
freedman had been seen to embrace Britannicus; he had
spoken of him as the ' true image of Claudius ; ' had stretched
forth his hands now to him and now to heaven, and had
prayed ' that the boy might grow speedily to man's estate, and
drive away the enemies of his father, even if he also took
vengeance on the slayer of his mother.'

Agrippina listened to this report with anxious disquietude,
and Pallas told her further that lately the Emperor had often
pressed Britannicus and Octavia to his heart ; had spoken of
their wrongs ; had declared that they should not be ousted
from their place in his affections by the crafty and upstart
sou of such a wretch as Domitius Ahenobarbus, of whom it
might be said, as the orator Licinius Crassus said of his an-
cestor, ' No wonder his beard was of brass, since his tongue
was of iron, and his heart of lead.' Claudius often repeated
himself, and when he saw his son he had several times used
the Greek proverb, 6 rpcaa-as /cat Ida-erai, ' he who wounded
shall also heal you.'

But worse news followed, and Agrippina grasped the side
of her couch with an impulse of terror, when, last of all, Pallas
told her that, on that very evening, the Emperor, in his cups,
had been heard to mutter to some of his intimates ' that he
more than suspected the designs of his wife ; and that it had
always been his destiny to bear the flagitious conduct of his
consorts for a time, but at last to avenge it.'

As she heard these words Agrippina stood up, her arms out-
stretched, her fine nostril dilated, her whole countenance
inflamed with rage and scorn. 'The dotard !' she exclaimed,
' the miserable, drivelling, drunken dotard ! He to speak
thus of me ! Pallas, the hour for delay is over. It is time


to act. But,' she added, ' Narcissus is still here. He loves
his master ; he watches over him with sleepless vigilance. I
dare attempt nothing while he remains about the Court.'

' He is crippled with the gout/ answered Pallas. ' He suf-
fers excruciating agony. He cannot hold out much longer.
I told him that you strongly recommended him to try the
sulphur baths of Siuuessa. He is nearly certain to take the
hint. In a week or two at the latest he will ask leave of
absence, for his life is a torture.'

'Good!' whispered the Empress; and then, dropping her
voice to a whisper, she hissed into the ear of the freedman,
' Claudius must not live.'

' You need not drop your voice, Augusta,' said Pallas. 'No
slave is near. I placed one of my own attendants in the cor-
ridor, and forbade him on pain of death to let anyone approach
your chamber.'

' You ventured to tell him that ? ' asked Agrippina, amazed
at the freed man's boldness.

' Not to tell him that,' answered Pallas. ' Do you suppose
that I would degrade myself by speaking to one of my own
slaves, or even of my own freedrnen I who, as the senate
truly says, am descended from Evander and the ancient kings
of Arcadia, though I deign to be among Caesar's servants ?
No ! a look, a sign, a wave of the hand is sufficient command
from me. If anything more is wanted I write it down on my
tablets. I rejoice as I told the senate when they offered me
four million sesterces to serve Caesar and retain my poverty.'

' The insolent thrall ! ' thought Agrippina ; ' and he says this
to me who know that he was one of the common slaves of
Antonia, the Emperor's mother, and still has to conceal under
his hair the holes bored in his ears. And he talks of his
poverty to me, though I know as well as he does how he has
amassed sixty million sesterces by robbery in fourteen years !'
But she instantly concealed the disdainful smile which flitted
across her lips, and repeated in a low voice, ' Claudius must
die !'

' The plan has its perils,' said the freedman.

' Not if it remains unknown to the world,' she replied.
' And who will dare to reveal it, when they know that to
allude to it is death ? '

' If you are the daughter of the beloved Germanicus.' he


said, ' the Emperor is his brother. The soldiers would never
rise against him.'

'I did not think of the Praetorians,' said Agrippina. 'There
are other means. In the prison beneath this palace is one
who will help me.'

' Locusta ? ' whispered Pallas, with an involuntary shudder.
' But the Emperor has a prcegustator who tastes every dish
and every cup.'

' Yes ! The eunuch Halotus,' answered Agrippina. ' He is
in my pay ; he will do my bidding.'

' But Claudius also has a physician.'

' Yes ! The illustrious Xenophou of Cos,' answered the
Empress, with a meaning smile.

Pallas raised his hands, half in horror, half in admiration.
Careless of every moral consideration, he had never dipped his
hands in blood. He had lived in the midst of a profoundly
corrupt society from his earliest youth. He knew that poison-
ings were frequent amid the gilded wickedness and hollow
misery of the Roman aristocracy. He knew that they had
been far from infrequent in the House of Caesar, and that
Eudernus, the physician of Drusus, son of the Emperor Tibe-
rius, had poisoned his lord. Yet before the cool hardihood of
Agrippina's criminality he stood secretly appalled. Would it
not have been better for him, after all, to have followed the
example of Narcissus, and to have remained faithful to his
master ? How long would he be necessary to the Empress
and her son ? And when he ceased to be useful, what would
be his fate ?

Agrippina read his thoughts in his face, and said, ' I sup-
pose that Claudius is still lingering over the wine cup.
Conduct me back to him. Acerronia, my lady-in-waiting,
will follow us.'

' He has been carried to his own room,' said Pallas ; ' but
if you wish to see him, I will attend you.'

He led the way, and gave the watchword of the night to
the Prsetorian guards and their officer, Pudens. The room of
the Emperor was only across the court, and the slaves and
freedmen and pages who kept watch over it made way for the
Augusta and the all-powerful freedman.

' The Emperor still sleeps,' said the groom of the chamber
as they entered.


' Good,' answered Agrippina. ' You may depart. We have
business to transact with him, and will await his wakening.
Give me the lamp. Acerronia will remain without.'

The slave handed her a golden lamp richly chased, and left
the chamber. There on a couch of citron-wood lay the Em-
peror, overcome, as was generally the case in the evening,
with the quantities of strong wine he had drunk. His
breathing was deep and stertorous ; his thin grey hairs
were dishevelled; his purple robe stained, crumpled, and
disordered. His mouth was open, his face flushed ; the
laurel wreath had fallen awry over his forehead, and, in the
imbecile expression of intoxication, every trace of dignity and
nobleness was obliterated from his features.

They stood and looked at him under the lamp which
Agrippina uplifted so that the light might stream upon his

'Sot and dotard!' she exclaimed, in low tones, but full of
scorn and hatred. ' Did not his own mother, Antonia, call
him " a portent of a man " ? I am not surprised that my
brother Gaius once ordered him to be flung into the Rhone ;
or that he and his rude guests used to slap him on the face,
and pelt him with olives and date-stones when he fell asleep
at the table. I have often seen them smear him with grape
juice, and draw his stockings over his hands, that he might
rub his face with them when he awoke ! To think that such
a man should be lord of the world, when my radiant Nero, so
young, so beautiful, so gifted, might be seated on his throne
for all the world to admire and love ! '

'The Emperor has learning,' said Pallas, looking on him
with pity. ' His natural impulses are all good. He has been
a very kind and indulgent master.'

'He ought never to have been Emperor at all,' she an-
swered, vehemently. ' That he is so is the merest accident.
We owe no thanks to the Praetorian Gratus, who found him
hidden behind a curtain on the day that my brother Gaius
was murdered, and pulled him out by the legs: still less
thanks to that supple intriguing Jew, Herod Agrippa, who
persuaded the wavering senate to salute him Emperor. Why,
all his life long he has been a mere joke. Augustus called
him " a poor little wretch," and as a boy he used to be beaten
bv a common groom.'


'He has been a kind master,' said the freedman once more;
b^d as he spoke he sighed.

The Empress turned on him. "Will you dare to desert
me ? ' she said. ' Do you not know that, at this moment,
Narcissus has records and letters in his possession which
would hand me over to the fate of Messalina, and you to the
fate of the noble C. Silius ? '

' I desert you not,' he answered, gloomily ; ' I have gone
too far. But it is dangerous for us to remain alone any
longer. I will retire.'

He bowed low and left the room, but before he went out
he turned and said, very hesitatingly, ' He is safe with you ? '

' Go ! ' she answered, in a tone of command. ' Agrippina
does not use the dagger; and there are slaves and soldiers
and freedmen at hand, who would come rushing in at the
slightest sound.'

She was alone with Claudius, and seeing that it would be
many hours before he woke from his heavy slumber, she
gently drew from his finger the beryl, engraved with an
eagle the work of Myron which he wore as his signet
rincj. Then she called for Acerronia, and, throwing over her

O ' O

face and figure a large veil, bade her show the ring to the
centurion Pudens, and tell him to lead them towards the
entrance of the Palace prisons, as there was one of the
prisoners whom she would see.

Pudens received the order and felt no surprise. He who
had anything to do with the Palace knew well that the air of
it was tremulous with dark intrigues. He went before them
to the outer door of the subterranean cells, and unlocked it.
Even within the gate slaves were on guard ; but, although no
one recognised the veiled figure, a glance at the signet ring
sufficed to make them unlock for her the cell in which
Locusta was confined.

Agrippiua entered alone. By a lamp of earthernware sat
the woman who had played her part in so many crimes. She
was imprisoned on the charge of having been concerned in
various murders, but in those awful times she was too useful
to be put to death. The phials and herbs which had been her
stock-in-trade were left in her possession.

' I need/ said the Empress, in a tone of voice which she
hardly took the trouble to disguise, 'a particular kind of


poison : not one to destroy life too suddenly ; not one which
will involve a lingering illness ; but one which will first
disturb the intellect, and so bring death at last.'

' And who is it that thus commands ? ' asked Locusta, lifting
up to her visitor a face which would have had some traces of
beauty but for its hard wickedness. ' It is not to everyone
that I supply poisons. Who knows but what you may be
some slave plotting against our lord and master, Claudius ?
They who use me must pay me, and I must have my

' Is that warrant enough ? ' said Agrippina, showing her the
signet ring.

' It is,' said Locusta, no longer doubtful that her visitor was,
as she had from the first suspected, the Empress herself. 'But
what shall be my reward, Aug '

' Finish that word,' said the Empress, ' and you shall die on
the rack to-morrow. Fear not, you shall have reward enough.
For the present take this ; ' and she flung upon the table a
purse full of gold.

Suspiciously yet greedily the prisoner seized it/and opening
it with trembling fingers saw how rich was her guerdon.
She went to a chest which lay in the corner of the room and,
bending over it with the lamp, produced a small box, in which
lay some flakes and powder of a pale yellow colour.

' This,' she said, ' will do what you desire. Sprinkle it over
any well-cooked dish, and it will not be visible. A few flakes
of it will cause first delirium, then death. It has been tested.'

Without a word Agrippina took it, and, slightly waving her
hand, glided out of the cell. Acerronia awaited her, and
Pudens again went before them towards the apartments of
the Empress and her ladies.




' Une grande reine, fille, femme, mere de rois si puissants.' BOSSUET,
Oraison Funebre d? Henrietta de France.

1 Boletos . . . optimi quidem hos cibi, sed immeuso exemplo incrimen
adductos.' PLINY, N. H. xxii. 46.

A FORTNIGHT had elapsed since the evening which we have
described. Claudius, worn out with the heavy cares of state,
to which he always devoted a conscientious, if somewhat
bewildered, attention, had fallen into ill health, which was
increased by his unhappy intemperance. Unwilling at all
times to allow himself a holida}', even in his advancing years,
he had at last been persuaded to visit Sinuessa, near the
mouth of the River Vulturous, in the hope that its charming
climate and healing waters might restore him to his .usual
strength. He had there enjoyed a few days of quiet, during
which his suspicions had been lulled to sleep by the incessant
assiduities of Agrippina. His children had accompanied him,
and Agrippina had been forced to coucea 1 the furious jealousy
with which she witnessed the signs of affection which he
began to lavish upon them. She did not dare to delay any
longer the terrible crime which she had for some time medi-
tated. She stood on the edge of a precipice. There was peril
in every day's procrastination. What if Pallas, whose scruples
she had witnessed, should feel an impulse of repentance
should fling himself at his master's feet, confess all, and hurry
her to execution, as Narcissus had hurried Messalina ? The
weak mind of Claudius was easily stirred to suspicions. He
had already shown marked signs of uneasiness. Halotus,
Xenophon, Locusta they knew all. Could so frightful a
secret be kept ? Might not any whisper or any accident re-
veal it ? If she would end this harassing uncertainty and
reap the glittering reward of crime, there must be no delay.


She had intended to cany out the fatal deed at Sinuessa,
but Claudius felt restless ; and as a few days of country air
had refreshed his health and spirits, he hurried back to Home
on October 13, A..D. 54. She felt that, if she was not prompt,
Narcissus, the vigilant guardian of his master, might return,
and the opportunity might slip away for ever.

They had scarcely reached the Palace when she bade
Acerronia to summon Halotus to her presence as secretly
as possible.

The eunuch entered a wrinkled and evil specimen of hu-
manity, who had grown grey in the household of Claudius.

' The Emperor,' she said, ' is far from well. His appetite
needs to be enticed by the most delicate kinds of food. You
will see that his tastes are consulted in the supper of this

' Madam,' said the slave, ' there is nothing of which the
noble Claudius is fonder than boletus mushrooms. They are
scarce, but a small dish of them has been procured.'

' Let them be brought here, that I may see them.'

Halotus returned in a few moments, followed by a slave,
who set the mushrooms before her on a silver dish, and
retired. They were few in number, but one was peculiarly

' I will consult the physician Xenophon, whether they
will suit the Emperor's health,' said Agrippina. 'He is in

Passing into an adjoining room, which was empty, she
hastily drew from her bosom the little box which Locusta
had given her, and sprinkled the yellow flakes and powder
among the sporules on the pink inner surface of the mush-
room. Then returning she said,

' Halotus, this dainty must be reserved for the table of the
Emperor alone, and T design this mushroom particularly for
him. He will be pleased at the care which I have taken to
stimulate his appetite. And if I have reason to be satisfied
with you, your freedom is secured your fortune made.'

The eunuch bowed ; but as he left the room he thrust his
tongue into his cheek, and his wrinkled face bore an ugly

The evening came. The supper party was small, for
Claudius still longed for quiet, and had been glad, in the re-


tirement of Sinuessa, to lay aside the superb state of the
imperial household. Usually when he was at Eome the hall
was crowded with guests ; but on this day he had desired
that only a few friends should be present. At the sigma, or
semicircular table at which he reclined, there were no others
except Agrippina, who was next to him, Pallas, Octavia, and
Nero. Burrus, the commander of the Praetorian camp, was in
attendance, and Seneca, Nero's tutor; but they were at
another sigma, with one or two distinguished senators who
had been asked to meet them.

Except Halotus and Pallas, there was not one person in
the room who had the least suspicion of the tragedy which
was about to be enacted. Yet there fell on all the guests
one of those unaccountable spells of silence and depression
which are so often the prelude to great calamities. At the
lower table, indeed, Burrus tried to enliven the guests with
the narrative of scenes which he had witnessed in Germany
and Britain in days of active service, and told once more
how he had received the wound which disabled his left
hand. But to these stories they listened with polite apathy,
nor could they be roused from their languor by the studied
impromptus of Seneca. At the upper table Nero, startled
by a few vague words which his mother had dropped early
in the day, was tirnid and restless. The young Octavia
she was but fourteen years old was habitually taciturn
in the presence of her husband, Nero, who even in these
early days had conceived an aversion, which he was not al-
ways able to conceal, for the bride who had been forced upon
him by his mother's ambition. Claudius talked but little,
for he was intent, as usual, on the pleasures of the table,
and all conversation with him soon became impossible, as
he drained goblet after goblet of Massic wine. Agrippina
alone affected cheerfulness as she congratulated the Emperor
on his improving health, and praised the wisdom which
had at last induced him to yield to her loving entreaties,
and to take a much-needed holiday.

' And now, Caesar,' she said, ' I have a little surprise for
you. There is, I know, nothing which you like better than
these rare boleti. They are entirely for ourselves. I shall
take some ; the rest are for you, especially this the finest
I could procure.'


With her own white and jewelled hand she took from
the dish the fatal mushroom, and handed it to her husband.
He greedily ate the dainty, and thanked her. Not long
after he looked wildly round him, tried in vain to speak,
rose from the table, and, staggering, fell back into the arms
of the treacherous Halotus.

The unfortunate Emperor was carried out of the triclinium
by his attendants. Such an end of the banquet was common
enough after he had sat long over the wine, but that he should
be removed so suddenly before the supper was half over was
an unwonted circumstance.

The slaves had carried him into the adjoining Nymphaeum,
a room adorned with rare plants, and were splashing his face
with the water of the fountain. Xenophon was summoned,
and gave orders that he should be at once conveyed to his
chamber. The guests caught one last glimpse of his senseless
form as the slaves hurriedly carried it back through the

Seneca and Burrus exchanged terrified glances, but no
word was spoken until Agrippina whispered to Pallas to
dismiss the guests. He rose, and told them that the Em-
peror had suddenly been taken ill, but that the illness did not
seem to be serious. A night's rest would doubtless set him
right. Meanwhile the Empress was naturally anxious, and
as she desired to tend her suffering husband, it was better
that all strangers should take their farewell.

As they departed, they heard her ordering the preparation
of heated cloths and fomentations, as she hurried to the sick
room. The Emperor lay gasping and convulsed, sometimes
unconscious, sometimes in a delirium of agony ; and it was
clear that the quantities of wine which he had drunk might
tend to dilute the poison, possibly even to counteract its
working. Hour after hour passed by, and Claudius still
breathed. Xenophon, the treacherous physician, saw the
danger. Assuring those present in the chamber of the dying
man that quiet was essential to his recovery, he urged the
Empress to have the room cleared, and to take upon herself
the duties of nurse. His commands were obeyed, and under
pretence that he might produce some natural relief by irritating
the throat, Xenophon sent for a large feather. The feather of
a flamingo was brought, and when the slaves had retired, he


smeared it with a rapid and deadly poison. The effect was
instant. The swollen form of the Emperor heaved with the
spasm of a last struggle, and he lay dead before them.

Not a tear did Agrippina shed, not one sigh broke from the
murderess, as her uncle and husband breathed his last.

' It must not be known that he is dead,' she whispered.
( Watch here. I will give out that he has fallen into a re-
freshing sleep, and will probably awake in his accustomed
health. Fear not for your reward ; it shall be immense when
my Nero reigns. But much has first to be done.'

She hurried to her room, and despatched messengers in all
directions, though it was now near midnight. She sent to the
Priests, bidding them to offer vows to all the gods for the
Emperor's safety ; she ordered the Consuls to convoke the
Senate, and gave them secret directions that, while they
prayed for Claudius, they should be prepared for all emer-
gencies. Special despatches were sent to Seneca and Burrus.
The former was to prepare an address which Nero might, if
necessary, pronounce before the Senate ; the latter was to
repair to the Palace at earliest dawn and await the issue of

Meanwhile she gave the strictest orders that the Palace
gates should be guarded, and that none should be allowed to
enter or to leave unless they could produce written permission.
All this was easy for her. The Palace was full of her creatures.
Britannicus and Octavia had been gradually deprived of nearly
all who were known to be faithful to their interests. They
were kept in profound ignorance that death had robbed them
of the one natural protector, who loved them with a tenderness
which had often been obscured by the bedazed character of his
intellect, but which had never been for one moment quenched.
All that they learnt from the spies and traitors who were
placed about their persons was that the Emperor had been
taken suddenly ill, but was already recovering, and was now
in a peaceful slumber.

Having taken all these precautions, and secured that no
one except Pallas or herself should be admitted during the
night into the room where Xenophon kept watch beside the
corpse, Agrippina retired to her chamber. One thing alone
troubled her. Before she retired she had looked for a
moment on the nightly sky, and saw on the far horizon a


gleam unknown to her. She called her Greek astrologer
and asked him what it was. He paused, and for a moment
looked alarmed. ' It is a comet,' he said.

' Is that an omen of disaster ? '

The learned slave was too politic to give it that inter-
pretation. ' It may,' he said, ' portend the brilliant in-
auguration of a new reign.'

She was reassured by the answer, and laid herself down to
rest. Though greatly excited by the events of the day, and
the immense cares which fell upon her, she slept as sweetly as
a child. No 'pale faces looked in upon her slumber; no
shriek rang through her dreams; no fancy troubled her of
gibbering spectre or Fury from the abyss. She had given
orders that she should be awakened in a few hours, and by
the time that the first grey light shuddered in the east she
had dressed herself in rich array, and, with a sense of positive
exultation, stepped out of her room, calm and perfumed, to
achieve that which had been for years the main ambition, of
her life.




1 Esse aliquos Manes et subterranea regna

Nee pueri credimt, nisi qui nondum sere lavautur,
Sed tu vera puta.' Juv. Sat. ii. 149-153.

AGRIPPINA. had long contrived to secure the absolute devotion
of her slaves, clients, and freedinen. In that vast household
of at least sixteen hundred persons, all courteously treated
and liberally paid, there were many who were ready to go any
lengths in support of their patroness. Among them was the
freed man Mnester. who knew but little of her crimes, but was
enthusiastic in her interests. She made constant use of him
on that eventful day.

Among her slaves were some of the Chaldaeai and casters of
horoscopes, so common in those times, in whom she placed a
superstitious confidence. Her first care was to consult them,
and she determined to take no overt step until they should
announce that the auspicious hour had come. She then
hastened to the chamber where Xenophon still kept his
watch beside the man whom he had murdered. He kept that
watch with perfect indifference. His was a soul entirely
cynical and atheistic ; greedy of gain only, casehardened by
crime. The bargain between him and the Empress was
perfectly understood between them. Enormous wealth would
be the price of his silence and success ; death would punish
his failure.

There was nothing to be seen but the dead form covered
from head to foot by a purple coverlet.

She pointed to it. ' He must still be supposed to be alive,'
she said. ' The Chaldasans say that the omens are still in-
auspicious. How are we to keep the secret for some hours
longer ? '


'Asclepiades teaches,' answered the physician, with the
scarcely veiled sneer which marked his tone of voice, ' how
good it is that the pains of dying men should be dissi-
pated by comedy and song. The Empress can order some
comedians to play in the adjoining chamber. If they cannot
avail the divine Claudius, they will at least serve to amuse
my humble self, and I have now been in this room for many
hours '

' Does any one suspect that he is dead ? '

' No, Augusta,' he answered. ' To dissipate the too sus-
picious silence. I have occasionally made curious sounds, at
which I am an adept. They will delude any chance listener
into the belief that my patient is still alive.'

For a moment her soul was shocked by the suggestion of
sending for the mummers. But she saw that it would help to
prevent the truth from leaking out. For one instant she lifted
the purple robe and looked on the old man of sixty-four, who
had thus ended his reign of fourteen years. She dropped it
over the features, which, in the majesty of death, had lost all
their coarseness and imbecility, and showed the fine lineaments
of his ancestors. The moment afterwards she was sorry that
she had done it. That dead face haunted all her after life.

Leaving the chamber without a word, she gave orders that,
as the Emperor was now awake, and had asked for something
to amuse him, some skilled actors of comedy should be sent
for to play to him from the adjoining room. They came and
did their best, little knowing that their coarse jests and riot-
ous fun did but insult the sacred majesty of death. After an
hour or two Xenophou, who had been laughing uproariously,
came out, thanked them in the Emperor's name, and dismissed

But Agrippina had hastened to one of the audience rooms,
in which the Palace abounded, and sent for Britannicus and
Octavia, and for their half-sister Antonia. She embraced them
with effusive fondness. It was her special object to detain
Britannicus in her presence, lest if but one faithful friend dis-
covered that Claudius was dead, he might summon the adher-
ents of the young prince, and present him to the people as the
true heir to the throne. With pretext after pretext she de-
tained him by her side, telling him of the pride and comfort
which she felt in his resemblance to the Emperor, calling him


a true Caesar, a true Claudius. Again and again she drew him
to her knee ; she held him by the hand ; she passed her
jewelled fingers through his hair ; she amused him with the
pretence of constant messages to the sick-room of his father.
And all the while her soul was half-sick with anxiety, for the
Chaldaeans still sent to say that the hour was inauspicious, and
she did not fail to observe that the boy, as much as he dared
to show his feelings, saw through her hypocrisy, resented her
caresses. He burned to visit the bedside of his father, and was
bitterly conscious that something was going on of which he and
his sisters were the special victims. For he was a noble and
gifted boy. Something he had of the high bearing of his race,
something, too, of the soft beauty of his mother. His tutor,
the grammarian Sosibius, had done for him all that had been
permitted, and though Britannicus had purposely been kept
in the background by the wiles of his stepmother, the teacher
had managed to inspire him with liberal culture, and to enrich
his memory with some grand passages of verse. Nero was more
than three years his senior, and in superficial qualities and
graces outshone him ; but keen observers whispered that though
Britannicus could not sing or paint or drive a chariot like his
stepbrother, and was less fascinating in manner and appear-
ance, he would far surpass Nero in all manly and Roman
virtues. The heart of Octavia was full of unspeakable mis-
givings. Motherless, unloved, neglected, she had known no
aspect of life except its tragedy, and none had as yet taught
her any possible region in which to look for comfort under the
burden of the intolerable mystery.

The morning hours passed heavily, and Agrippina was al-
most worn out by the strain put upon her. In vain she tried
to interest Britannicus in the talking-thrush, which had greatly
amused him on previous occasions. She went so far as to
give him her white nightingale, which was regarded as one of
the greatest curiosities in Borne. It had been bought for a
large sum of money, and presented to her. Pliny, among his
researches in natural history, had never heard of another l At
another time Britannicus would have been enraptured by so
interesting and valuable a gift ; but now he saw that it was the
object of the Empress simply to detain him and his friends
from any interference with her own designs. He thanked her
1 Note 5. Agrippina's white nightingale.


coldly, and declined to rob her of a possession which all Eome
desired to see.

At last he grew beyond measure impatient. ' I am certain,'
he said, ' that my fattier is very ill, and that he would wish to
see me. Augusta, must I be kept in this room like a child
among women ? Let me go to the Emperor.'

' Wait,' she said, ' for a little longer, dear Britannicus. You
surely would not waken the Emperor from the sleep which
may prove to be the saving of his life ? It is getting towards
noon ; you must be hungry. The slaves shall bring us our
prandium here.'

It was said to save time, but Britannicus saw that it would
be vain to escape. The door was beset with soldiers and with
the slaves and freedmen of the Empress. Some great event
was evidently at hand. The halls and corridors were full of
hurrying footsteps. Outside they heard the clang of armed
men, who inarched down the Vicus Apollinis, and stopped at
the vestibule of the Palace.

Then Pallas entered, and, with a deep obeisance, said,
'Augusta, I grieve to be the bearer of evil tidings. The
Emperor is dead.'

Octavia burst into a storm of weeping at the terrible intel-
ligence, for she had been partially deceived by the protesta-
tions of Agrippina. Britannicus sat down and covered his
face with his hands. He had always assumed that he would
at least share the throne with the youth whom Claudius, at
the wearying importunities of his mother, had needlessly
adopted, and had repented of having adopted. But he loved
his father, who had always been kind to him, and at that dread-
ful moment no selfish thought intruded on his anguish. After
the first burst of sorrow, he got up from his seat, and tenderly
clasped the hand of his sister.

' Octavia,' he said, ' we are orphans now fatherless,
motherless, the last of our race. We will be true to each
other. Take courage. Be comforted. Antonia,' he added,
gently taking his half-sister by the hand, ' I will be a loyal
brother to you both.'




' Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi ! '

'Agrippina terris alterum vonenum, sibique ante omnes, Neronem suum
dedit.' PLINY, N. H. xxii. 46.

AGRIPPINA did not attend any longer to the children of
Claudius ; she threw off the mask. For by this time the
sundial on the wall marked the hour of noon, and the
Chaldaeaus were satisfied with the auspices. Her quickened
sense of hearing caught the sounds for which she had long
been listening. She heard the Palace doors thrown open. She
heard the voice of Burrus commanding the soldiers to salute
their Emperor. She heard shout on shout, ' Nero Emperor !
Nero Emperor ! Long live Nero ! Long live the grandson of
Germanicus ! '

She sprang out into the balcony, and there caught one
glimpse of her son. His fair face was flushed with pride and
excitement ; the sun shone upon his golden hair which flowed
down his neck ; his slight but well-knit limbs were clothed
in the purple of an Emperor. She saw him lean on the arm
of the Prsetorian Prsefect as, surrounded by some of the chief
military tribunes, he walked to the guard-house of the cohort
which protected the imperial residence.

'Praetorians,' said Burrus, in a loud voice, 'behold your
Emperor, Nero Claudius Caesar.'

' Nero ? ' asked one or two voices. ' But where is Bri-
tannicus ? '

They looked round. No one was visible but Nero, and
their question was drowned in the cheers of their comrades.

'Bring out the richest lectica/ they cried; and it was
ready in an instant. Nero was placed in it, and Burrus,
springing on his war-horse, and followed by the select cohort



of imperial cavalry, rode by his side. The Prsefect was in full
armour, and his cuirass was enriched with gems and gold.
He held his drawn sword in his hand, lifting it again and
again to excite the soldiers to louder cheers.

Then followed the very delirium of Agrippina's triumph.
Messenger after messenger entered to tell her that the air was
ringing with endless acclamations in honour of her son. The
beautiful and happy youth promised to the soldiers the same
donative of fifteen sestertia to each man which Claudius had
given at his succession, and the guardsmen accepted him with
rapture, and hastily swore to him their oaths of allegiance.

Then with gleaming ensigns, and joyous songs, and shouting,
and clapping of hands, they bore him in long procession to
the Senate House, to obtain the ratification which the Con-
script Fathers dared not refuse. At first, indeed, there had
been a few shouts, ' Britannicus ! Where is Britannicus ?
Where is the true son of Claudius ? ' And she inwardly
made a note of the fact that the centurion Pudens and the
knight Julius Densus had been among the number of those
who raised the shout. Britannicus, too, had heard the cry,
faint as it was by comparison ; but when he attempted to
escape out of the room, Agrippina imperiously waved him
back, and Pallas detained him by the arm. He sat down in
despair, and once more covered his face with his hands, while
now it was the turn of Octavia to caress and comfort him.
But the plot was already accomplished. The few who would
have favoured his cause seemed to be swept away by the
general stream. The boy had been kept so designedly in the
background, that many of the people hardly knew whether he
was alive or dead. He felt that he was powerless, and he had
heard among the shouts of the soldiers the cry, 'All hail,
Augusta ! All hail, the daughter of our Germanicus ! ' He
resigned himself to his fate, and Agrippina, intent on her own
plans, and absorbed in the intensity of her emotions, no longer
noticed his presence.

Suddenly, however, he started from his seat, and stood
before her. His face was pale as death, but his eyes shone
with indignant light.

'Why am not I, too, proclaimed Emperor?' he exclaimed.
' I do not believe that my father meant to rob me of my in-
heritance. I am his son, not his adopted son. This is a


conspiracy. Where is my father's will ? Why is it not
taken to the senate, and there recited ? '

The Empress was amazed at the sudden outburst. Was
this the boy who seemed so meek and so helpless ? This must
be seen to !

' Foolish boy,' she said ; ' you are but a child. You have
not yet assumed the manly garb. How can a boy like you
bear the burden of the world's empire ? Fear not ; your
brother Nero will take care of you.'

' Take care of me ! ' repeated Britannicus, indignantly, re-
straining with difficulty the torrent of wild words which
sprang to his lips. 'It is a conspiracy ! ' he cried. ' You
have robbed me of my inheritance to give it to your son

Agrippina lifted up her arm as if she would have struck
him, but Pallas interposed. Firmly, but not ungently, he
laid his hand on the young prince's mouth.

' Hush,' he said, ' ere you do yourself fatal harm. Boy,
these questions are not for you or me to settle. They are for
the Senate, and the Praetorians, and the Roman people. If
the soldiers have elected Nero, and the senators have con-
firmed their choice, he is your Emperor, and you must obey.'

'It is useless to resist, my brother,' said Octavia, sadly.
'Our father is dead. Narcissus has been sent away. We
have none to help us.'

'None to help you, ungrateful girl !' said Agrippina. 'Are
not you now the Empress ? Have you not the glory of being
Nero's bride ? '

Octavia answered not. ' Our father is dead,' she said again.
' May we not go, Augusta, and weep by his bedside ? '

' Go ! ' answered Agrippina ; ' and I for my part will see that
he is enrolled among the gods, and honoured with a funeral
worthy of the House of Caesar.' Then, turning to her atten-
dants, she issued her orders.

' Put a cypress at the door of the Palace. Let the body be
dressed in imperial robes, and incense burned in the chamber.
See that every preparation is made for a royal funeral, and
that the flute-players, the wailing-women, the designators,
with their black lictors, be all in readiness.'

But while Agrippina was giving directions to the archi-
mimus who was to represent the dead Emperor at the funeral,


and was examining the waxen masks of his ancestral Claudii,
which were to be worn in the procession, the boy and girl
were permitted to visit the chamber of the dead. They bent
over the corpse of their father, and fondled his cold hands,
and let their tears fall on his pale face, and felt something of
the bitterness of death in that sudden and shattering bereave-
ment, which changed for ever the complexion of their lives.

Nero, meanwhile, was addressing the Senate amidst en-
raptured plaudits in the finely turned and epigrammatic
phrases of Seneca, which breathed the quintessence of wise
government and Stoic magnanimity. He would rule, he said,
on the principles which guided Augustus; and the senators
seemed as if they would never end their plaudits when to the
offer of the title ' Father of his Country ' lie modestly replied,
' Not till I shall have deserved it.'

Agrippina, after having ordered the details of the funeral
procession, finally dismissed her murdered husband from her
thoughts, and gave directions that her son, on his return to
the Palace, should be received with a fitting welcome. She
summoned all the slaves and freedmen of that mass of de-
pendants which made of the Palace not a household, but a
city. They were marshalled in throngs by their offices and
nationalities in the vast hall. They were arrayed in their
richest apparel, and were to scatter flowers and garlands under
the feet of the new Emperor as he advanced. The multitudes
of the lowest and least distinguished slaves were to stand in
the farther parts of the hall ; next to them the more educated
and valuable slaves, and next to them the freedmen. In the
inner ring were placed all the most beautiful and accomplished
of the pages, their long and perfumed curls falling over their
gay apparel, while some who had the sweetest voices were to
break out into a chorus of triumphal songs. Then Nero was
to be conducted to the bath, and afterwards a sumptuous
banquet was to be served to a hundred guests. There was
but a short time for these preparations ; but the wealth of the
Caesars was unbounded, and their resources inexhaustible, and
since the slaves were to be counted by hundreds, and each had
his own minute task assigned to him, everything was done as
if by magic.

The afternoon was drawing in when new bursts of shouting
proclaimed that, through the densely crowded streets, in which


every lattice and balcony and roof was now thronged with
myriads of spectators, Nero was returning from the Curia to
the Palace with his guard of Praetorians.

Walking between the two Consuls, with Burrus and Seneca
attending him in white robes, followed by crowds of the great-
est Roman nobles, and by the soldiers clashing their arms,
singing their rude songs, and exulting in the thought of their
promised donative, the young ruler of the world returned.
The scene which greeted him when the great gates of the
Palace were thrown open was gay beyond description. The
atrium glowed in zones of light and many-coloured shadow.
The autumnal sunbeams streamed over the gilded chapiters,
glancing from lustrous columns of yellow and green and
violet-coloured marble, and lighting up the open spaces
adorned with shrubs and flowers. The fountains were plash-
ing musically into marble and alabaster basins. Between
rows of statues, the work of famed artificers, were crowded
the glad and obsequious throngs of the rejoicing house.

Agrippina was seated on a gilded chair of state at the
farther end of the hall, her arms resting on the wings of the
two sphinxes by which it was supported. She was dressed in
the chlamys, woven of cloth of gold, in which Pliny saw her
when she had dazzled the spectators as she sat by the side of
Claudius in the great festival at the opening of the Ernissarium
of the Fucine Lake. Beneath this was her rich stola, woven
of Tarentine wool and scarlet in colour, but embroidered with
pearls. It left bare from the elbow her shapely arms, which
were clasped with golden bracelets enriched with large stones
of opal and amethyst.

The moment that she caught sight of her son she descended
from her seat with proud step, and Nero advanced to meet
her. He was bending to kiss her hand, but the impulses of
nature overcame the stateliness of Roman etiquette, and for
one instant mother and son were locked in each other's arms
in a warm embrace, amid the spontaneous acclamations of the
many spectators.

That evening Agrippina had ascended to the giddiest
heights of her soaring ambition. Her son was Emperor,
and she fancied he would be as clay in her strong hands.
Alone of all the great Roman world it would be her unspeak-
able glory that she was not only the descendant of emperors,


but the sister, the wife, and the mother of an Emperor. She
was already Augusta and Empress in title, and she meant
with almost unimpeded sway to rule the world. And while
she thus let loose every winged wish over the flowery fields
of hope, and suffered her fancy to embark on a sea of glory,
the thought of her husband lying murdered there in an ad-
joining room did not cast the faintest shadow over her
thoughts. She was about to deify him, and to acquire a sort
of sacredness herself by becoming his priestess was not
that enough ? She sat revolving her immense plans of
domination, when Nero joined her, flushed from the ban-
quet, and weary with the excitement of the day. While
he was bidding her good night, and they were exchanging
eager congratulations on the magnificent success of his com-
mencing rule, the tribune of the Palace guard came to ask
the watchword for the night.

Without a moment's hesitation Nero gave as the watchword,

But late into the darkness, in the room of death, unnoticed,
unasked for, Britannicus and Octavia mingled their sad tears
and their low whispers of anguish, beside the rapidly black-
ening corpse of the father who had been the lord of the world.
Yesterday though his impudent freedmen had for years
been selling, plundering, and murdering in his name two
hundred millions of mankind had lifted up their eyes to him
as the arbiter of life and death, of happiness and misery. By
to-morrow nothing would be left but a handful of ashes in a
narrow urn. Of all who had professed to Iqve and to adore
him, not one was there to weep for him except these two ; for
their half-sister, Antonia, had been content merely to see the
corpse, and had then retired. No one witnessed their agony
of bereavement, their helplessness of sorrow, except the dark-
dressed slave who tended the golden censer which filled the
death chamber with the fumes of Arabian incense. And for
them there w r as no consolation. The objects of their nominal
worship were shadowy and unreal. The gods of the heathen
were but idols, of whom the popular legends were base and
foolish. Such gods as those had no heart to sympathise, no
invisible and tender hand to wipe away their orphan tears.



' Palpitantibus prsecordiis vivitur.' SENECA, Ep. Ixxii.

' Sseculo premimur gravi,
Quo scelera regnant.'

ID. Octav. act. ii.

IF there was one man in all Rome whom the world envied
next to the young Emperor, or even more than the Emperor
himself, it was his tutor, Seneca. He was the leading man in
Rome. By the popular critics of the day his style was thought
the finest which any Roman had written, though the Emperor
Gaius, in one of his lucid intervals, had wittily remarked that
it was ' sand without lime.' His abilities were brilliant, his
wealth was immense. In all ordinary respects he was in-
nocent and virtuous he was innocence and virtue itself
compared with the sanguinary oppressors and dissolute
Epicureans by whom he was surrounded on every side.

But his whole life and character were ruined by the attempt
to achieve an impossible compromise, which disgraced and
could not save him. A philosopher had no place in the im-
pure Court of the Caesars. To be at once a Stoic and a minister
of Nero was an absurd endeavour. Declamations in favour of
poverty rang hollow on the lips of a man whose enormous
usury poured in from every part of the Empire. The praises
of virtue sounded insincere from one who was living in the
closest intercourse with men and women steeped in unblush-
ing wickedness. And Seneca was far from easy in his own
mind. He was surrounded by flatterers, but he knew that he
was not ranked with patriots like Paetus Thrasea, and genuine
philosophers like Comutus and Musonius Rufus. Unable to
resist temptations to avarice and ambition, he felt a deep
misgiving that the voice of posterity would honour their
perilous independence, while it spoke doubtfully of his endless


Yet he might have been so happy ! His mother, Helvia,
was a woman who, in the dignity of her life and the simplicity
of her desires, set an example to the matrons of Kome, multi-
tudes of whom, in the highest circles, lived in an atmosphere of
daily intrigue and almost yearly divorce. His aunt, Marcia,
was a lady of high virtue and distinguished ability. His wife,
Paulina, was tender and loving. His pretty boy, Marcus,
whose bright young life was so soon to end, charmed all by his
mirthfuluess and engaging ways. His gardens were exquisitely
beautiful, and he never felt happier than when he laid aside his
cares and amused himself by running races with his little
slaves. His palace was splendid and stately, and he needed
not to have burdened himself with the magnificence which
gave him no pleasure and only excited a dangerous envy. It
would have been well for him if he had devoted his life to
literature arid philosophy. But he entered the magic circle of
the Palace, and with a sore conscience was constantly driven
to do what he disapproved, and to sanction what he hated.

Short as was the time which had elapsed since the death of
Claudius, he was already aware that in trying to control Nero
he was holding a wolf by the ears. Some kind friend had
shown him a sketch, brought from Pompeii, of a grasshopper
driving a griffin, and he knew that, harmless as it looked, the
griffin was meant for himself and the grasshopper for Nero.
Men regarded him as harnessed to the car of the frivolous
pupil whom he was unable to control.

He was sitting in his study one afternoon, and the low wind
sounded mournfully through the trees outside. It was a room
of fine proportions, and the shelves were crowded with choice
books. There were rolls of vellum or papyrus, stained saffron-
colour at the back, and fastened to sticks of ebony, of which
the bosses were gilded. All the most valuable were enclosed
in cases of purple parchment, with their titles attached to
them in letters of vermilion. There was scarcely a book there
which did not represent the best art of the famous booksellers,
the Sosii, in the Vicus Sandalarius, whose firm was as old as
the days of Horace. A glance at the library showed the taste
as well as the wealth of the eminent owner the ablest, the
richest, the most popular, the most powerful of the Roman

They who thought his lot so enviable little knew that his


pomp and power brought him nothing except an almost sleep-
less anxiety. Every visitor who came to him that morning
spoke of subjects which either tortured him with misgivings or
vexed him with a touch of shame.

The first to visit Seneca that day was his brother Gallic, with
whom he enjoyed a long, confidential, and interesting conversa-
tion. Gallic, to whom every one gave the epithet of : sweet '
and ' charming,' and of whom Seneca said that those who loved
him to the utmost did not love him enough, had recently
returned from the proconsulship of Achaia. He had just been
nominated Consul as a reward for his services. The brothers
had much to tell each other. Gallio described some of his
experiences, and made Seneca laugh by a story of how a Jewish
Rabbi had been dragged before his tribunal by the Jews of
Corinth, who were infuriated with him because he had joined
this new, strange, and execrable sect of Christians. This Jew's
name was Paulus, and his countrymen accused him of worship-
ping a malefactor who, for some sedition or other but probably
only to please the turbulent Jews had been crucified, in the
reign of Tiberius, by the Procurator Pontius Pilatus.

' I naturally refused to have anything to do with their abject
superstition,' said Gallio.

'Abject enough,' answered Seneca ; ' but is our mythology much
better ? '

Gallio answered with a shrug of the shoulders.

' They are the gods of the mob,' he said, ' not ours ; and they
are useful to the magistrates.'

' A new god has recently been added to their number,' said
Seneca, ' the divine Claudius.'

'Yes,' said Gallio, significantly; 'he has been dragged to
heaven with a hook ! But you have not let me finish my story.
It appears that this Paulus was a tent-maker, and for some
reason or other, in spite of his absurd beliefs, he had gained
the confidence of Erastus, the city chamberlain, and of a great
many Greeks ; for, strange to say, he had so I am told
preached a very remarkable and original code of ethics. It is
almost inconceivable that a man can hold insane doctrines,
and yet conform to a lofty morality. Yet such seems to have
been the case with this strange person. I looked at him with
curiosity. He was dressed in the common Eastern costume of
the Jews, wearing a turban and a coarse striped robe flung


over his tunic. He was short, and had the aquiline nose and
general type of Judaic features. But though his eyes were
sadly disfigured by ophthalmia, there was something extra-
ordinary about his look. You know how those Jews can yell
when once their Eastern stolidity is roused to fury. Even in
Rome we have had some experience of that ; and you remem-
ber how Cicero was once almost terrified out of recollection of
his speech by the clamour they made, and had to speak in a
whisper that they might not hear what he said. To stand in
the midst of a mob of such dirty, wildly gesticulating creatures,
shouting, cursing, waving their garments in the air, flinging up
handfuls of dust, is enough to terrify even a Roman. I, as
you know, am a tolerably cool personage, yet I was half ap-
palled, and had to assume a disdainful indifference which I
was far from feeling. But this man stood there unmoved. If
he had been a Regulus or a Fabricius he could not have been
more undaunted, as he looked on his infuriated persecutors
witli a glance of pitying forgiveness. Every now and then he
made a conciliatory gesture, and tried to speak ; but though he
spoke in Hebrew, which usually pacifies these fanatics to silence,
they would not listen to him for an instant. But the perfect
dignity, the nobleness of attitude and aspect, with which that
worn little Jew stood there, filled me with admiration. And
his face ! that of Paetus Thrasea is not more striking. The
spirit of virtue and purity, and something more which I can-
not describe, seemed to breathe from it. It is an odd fact, but
those Jews seem to produce not only the ugliest and the hand-
somest, but also the best and worst of mankind. I sat quiet
in my curule chair, and let the Jews yell, telling them once more
that, as no civil crime was charged against Paulus, I refused
to be a judge in matters of their superstition. At last, getting
tired, I ordered the lictors to clear the prsetorium, which they
did with infinite delight, driving the yelling Jews before them
like chaff, and not sparing the blows of their fasces. I thought
I had done with the matter then ; but not at all ! It was the
turn of the Greeks now. They resented the fact that the Jews
should be allowed to make a riot, and they sided with Paulus.
He was hurried by his friends into a place of safety ; but the
Greeks seized the head of the Jewish Synagogue a fellow
named Sosthenes and administered to him a sound beating
underneath my very tribunal.'


' Did you not interfere ? ' asked Seneca.
" Not I,' said Gallio. ' On the contrary, I nearly died with
laughing. What did it matter to a Eoman and a philosopher
like me whether a rabble of idle Greeks, most of them the
scum of the Forum, beat any number of Jews black and blue ?
It is what we shall have to do to the whole race before long.
But, somehow, the face of that Paulus haunted me. They tell
me that he was educated at Tarsus, and he was evidently a man
of culture. I wanted to get at him, and have a talk with him.
I heard that he had been lodging in a squalid lane of the city
with a Jewish tent-maker named Aquila, who was driven from
Borne by the futile edict of Claudius. But my lictor either
could not or would not find out the obscure haunt where he
hid himself. The Christians were chary of information, and
perhaps, after all, it was as well not to demean myself by talk-
ing to a ringleader of a sect whom all men detest for their
enormities. If report says true, the old Bacchanalians, whose
gang was broken up two hundred years ago, were nothing to
them.' J

' I have heard their name,' said Seneca. ' Our slaves prob-
ably know a good deal more about the matter than we do, if
one took the trouble to ask them. But unless they stir up a
riot at Eome I shall not trouble the Emperor by mentioning

At this point of the conversation a slave announced that
Seneca's other brother, the knight Marcus Annseus Mela, and
his son Lucan, were waiting in the atrium.

' Admit them,' said Seneca. ' Ah, brother, and you, my
Lucan, perhaps it would have been a better thing for us all if
we had never left our sunny Cordova.'

' I don't know that,' said Mela. ' I prefer to be at Rome, a
senator in rank, though I choose the station of a knight. To
be procurator of the imperial demesnes is more lucrative, as
well as more interesting, than looking after our father's es-
tates in Spain.'

' What does the poet say ? ' asked Gallio, turning to the
young Spaniard, a splendid youth of seventeen, whose earlier
poems had already been received with unbounded applause,
and whose dark eyes glowed with the light of genius and pas-

1 Note 6. The Bacchanalians.


sion. ' Is he content to stand only second as a poet if second
to Silius Italicus, and Caesius Bassus, and young Persius ? '

' Well,' said Lucan, ' perhaps a man might equal Silius
without any superhuman merit. Persius, like myself, is
still young, but I would give up any skill of mine for his
delightful character. And, as for Rome, if to be a constant
guest at Nero's table and to hear him read by the hour his
own bad poetry be a thing worth living for, then I am bet-
ter off at Rome than at Cordova.'

' His poetry is not so very bad,' said Seneca.

' Oh ! it is magnificent,' answered Lucau, and, with mock
rapture, he repeated some of Nero's lines :

' Witness thou, Attis ! thou, whose lovely eyes
Could e'en surprise the mother of the skies !
Witness the dolphin, too, who cleaves the tides,
And flouncing rides on Nereus' sea-green sides ;
Witness thou likewise, Hannibal divine,
Thou who didst chine the long ribb'd Apennine ! ' 1

What assonance ! What realism ! What dainty euphuistic
audacity ! As Persius says, ' It all seems to swim and melt in
the mouth ! '

' Well, well,' replied the philosopher, ' at least you will
admit that he might be worse employed than in singing
and versifying ? '

' An Emperor might be better employed/ said the young
man ; ' and with him I live on tenter-hooks. I heartily wish
that lie had never summoned me from Athens, or done me the
honour of calling me his intimate friend. Frankly, I do not
like him. Much as he tries to conceal it, he is horribly jeal-
ous of me. He does all he can to make me suppress my
poems, though he affects to praise them ; and though, of course,
when he reads me his verses, I cry "Evge ! " and " So^&s! " at
every line, as needs must when the master of thirty legions
writes, yet he sees through my praise. And I really cannot
always suppress my smiles. The other day he told me that
the people called his voice " divine." A minute after, as
though meaning to express admiration for his verses, I re-
peated his phrase

' "Thou d'st think it thundered under th' earth." 2
1 Note 7. Nero's poetry. 2 ' Sub terris tonuisse putes.'


He was furious ! He took it for a twofold reflection, on his
voice and on his alliteration ; and I was desperately alarmed.
It was hard work to pacify him with a deluge of adulation.'

Seneca sighed. ' Be careful, Lucan,' he said, ' be careful !
The character of Nero is rapidly altering. At present I have
kept back the tiger in him from tasting blood; but when he
does he will bathe his jaws pretty deeply. It is ill jesting
when one's head is in a wild beast's mouth.'

' And yet,' said Gallio, ' I have heard you say that no one
could compare the marisuetude even of the aged Augustus with
that of the youthful Nero.'

Seneca thought it disagreeable to be reminded of his politic
inconsistencies. ' I wish to lead him to clemency,' he said,
* even if he be cruel. But he is his father's son. You know
what Lucius Domitius was. He struck out the eye of a
Roman knight, and he purposely ran over and trampled on a
poor child in the Appian road. Have I ever told you that the
night after I was appointed his tutor 1 dreamt that rny pupil
was Caligula ? '

There was an awkward pause, and to turn the conversation,
Lucan suddenly asked, ' Uncle, do you believe in Babylonians
and their horoscopes ? '

' No,' said the philosopher. ' The star of each man's destiny
is in his heart.'

' Do you not ? Well, I will not say that I do. And yet
would you like to hear what a friend told me ? He said that
he had been a mathematicus under Apollonius of Tyana.'

' Tell us,' said his father, Mela. ' I am not so wise as our
Seneca, and I feel certain that there is something in the pre-
dictions of the astrologers.'

' He told me,' said Lucan, ' that he had read by the stars
that, before ten years are over, you, my uncles, and you, my
father, and I, and ' here the young poet shuddered ' my
mother, Atilla and all of you through my fault would die
deaths of violence. Oh, ye gods, if there be gods, avert this
hideous prophecy ! '

' Come, Lucan,' said Seneca. ' this is superstition worthy
of a Jew, almost of a Christian. The Chaldseans are arrant
quacks. Each man makes his own omens. I am Nero's tutor ;
you, his friend ; our whole family is in the full blaze of favour
and prosperity. But, hark ! I hear a soldier's footstep in the


hall. Burrus is coining to see me on important state business.
Farewell, now, but sup with me this evening, if you will
share my simplicity.'

' Simplicity ! ' answered Mela, with a touch of envy, ' your
humble couches are inlaid with tortoise-shell ; and your table
shines with crystal and myrrbine vases embossed with gems.'

' What does it matter whether the goblets of a philosopher
be of crystal or of clay ? ' answered Seneca gaily ; ' and as for my
poor Thyiue tables with ivory feet, which every one talks of,
Cicero was a student, and he was not rich, yet he had one
table which cost 500,000 sesterces. One may surely admire
the tigrine stripes and panther-like spots of the citron-wood
without being a Lucullus or an Apicius.'

' But you have five hundred such tables,' said Mela, ' worth
I am afraid to say how many million sesterces.'

Seneca smiled a little uneasily. ' Accepimus peritura peri-
turi ; we and our possessions are but for a day,' he said, ' and
even calumny will bear witness that on those citron tables
nothing more sumptuous is usually served to me personally
than water and vegetables and fruit.'

Then with a whispered caution to Lucan to control his
vehement impulses and act with care, the ' austere intriguer '
said farewell to his kinsmen, and rose to greet his colleague



'Videtur mihi cadere in sapientem segritudo.' Cic. Tusc. Disp. iii. 4.

BURRUS was a man in the prime of life, whose whole bearing
was that of an honest and fearless Roman ; but his look was
gloomy, and those who had seen him when he escorted Nero
to the camp and the senate house, noticed how fast the
wrinkles seemed to be gathering on his open brow.

We need not repeat the conversation which took place
between the friendly ministers, but it was long and troubled.
Burrus felt, no less strongly than Seneca, that affairs at Court
were daily assuming a more awkward complexion. The mass
of the populace, and of the nobles, rejoicing in the general
tranquillity, were happily ignorant of facts which filled with
foreboding the hearts of the two statesmen. The nobles and
the people praised with rapture the speech which Nero had pro-
nounced before the Senate after the funeral honours had been
paid to the murdered Claudius. ' I have,' he said, ' no wrongs
to avenge ; no ill feeling towards a single human being. I
will maintain the purity and independence of legal trials. In
the Palace there shall be no bribery and no intrigues. I will
command the army, but in no particular will I encroach upon
the prerogatives of the Conscript Fathers.' Critics recognised
in the speech the style and sentiments of Seneca, but that
only showed that at last philosophy was at the helm of
state. And the Fathers had really been allowed to enact
some beneficent and useful measures. It was the beginning
of a period of government of which the public and ex-
ternal beneficence was due to Seneca and the Praetorian
Prsefect, who acted together in perfect harmony, and with
whom Nero was too indolent to interfere. Long afterwards,
so great a ruler as Trajan said that he would emulate, but


could not hope to equal, the fame of Nero's golden quin-

But, meanwhile, unknown to the Eoman world in general,
the 'golden quinquennium' was early stained with infamy and
blood ; and the contemporary Pliny says that all through his
reign Nero was an enemy of the human race. 1

The turbulent ambition of Agrippina was causing serious
misgivings. When the senators were summoned to meet in
the Palace she contrived to sit behind a curtain and hear all
their deliberations. When Nero was about to receive the
Armenian ambassadors she would have scandalised the
majesty of Koine by taking her seat unbidden beside him
on the throne, if Seneca had not had the presence of mind to
whisper to the Emperor that he should step down to meet his
mother and lead her to a seat. Worse than this, she had
ordered the murder, not only of Narcissus, but of the noble
Junius Silanus, whose brother, the affianced suitor of Octavia
before her marriage with Nero, she had already got rid of by
false accusations which broke his heart. She was doubly
afraid of Junius, both because the blood of Augustus flowed
in his veins, and because she feared that he might one day be
the avenger of his brother, though he was a man of mild dis-
position. She sent the freedman Helius and the knight
Publius Celer, who were procurators in Asia, to poison him
at a banquet, and the deed was done with a cynical boldness
which disdained concealment. So ended the great-great-grand-
son of Augustus, whom his great-great-grandfather had just
lived to see. It was only with difficulty that Seneca and
Burrus had been able to stop more tragedies, and they had
succeeded in making the world believe in Nero's unique
clemency by the anecdote, everywhere retailed by Seneca,
that when called upon to sign a death-warrant he had ex-
claimed, 'I wish I did not know how to write!' It was
looked on as a further sign of grace that he had forbidden the
prosecution of the knight Julius Densus, who was charged
with favour towards the wronged Britannicus.

But now a new trouble had arisen. Nero began to seek the

company of such effeminate specimens of the 'gilded youth'

of Rome as Otho and Tullius Senecio. They were his ready

tutors in every vice, and he was a pupil whose fatal aptitude

1 PLINY, N. H. vii. 6.


soon equalled, if it did not surpass, the viciousness of his

Partly through their bad influence, he had devoted himself
heart and soul to Acte, the beautiful freedwoman of Octavia.
It was impossible that any secret of the Palace could long
be concealed from the vigilant eyes of Agrippina. She had
discovered the amour, and had burst into furious reproaches.
What angered her was, not that the Emperor should disgrace
himself by vice, but that a freedwoman should interfere with
the supremacy of her will, and be a rival with her for the
affections of her son. A little forbearance, a little cairn
advice, might have proved a turning point in the life of one
who was not yet an abandoned libertine, but rather a shy and
timid youth dabbling with his first experiences of wrong.
His nature, indeed, was endowed with the evil legacy of many
an hereditary taint, but if it was as wax to the stamp of evil,
it was not as yet incapable of being moulded into good. But
Agrippina committed two fatal errors. At first she was
loudly indignant, and when by such conduct she had terrified
her son into the confidence of Otho and Senecio, she saw her
mistake too late, and flew into the opposite extreme of com-
plaisance. Nero at that time regarded her with positive
dread, but his fear was weakened when he saw that, on the
least sign of his displeasure, she passed from fierce objurga-
tions to complete submission. In dealing with her son,
Agrippina lost the astuteness which had carried her triumph-
antly through all her previous designs.

But at this point Seneca also made a mistake no less ruin-
ous. If he had remonstrated, and endeavoured to awaken his
pupil to honourable ambition, it was not impossible that the
world might have found in Nero a better Emperor than most
of his predecessors. Instead of this, the philosopher adopted
the fatal policy of concession. He even induced his cousin
Anuoeus Serenus, the Prsefect of the police, to shield Nero by
pretending that he was himself in love with Acte, and by
conveying to her the presents which were, in reality, sent to
her by the Emperor. Seneca soon learnt by experience that
the bad is never a successful engine to use against the worst,
and that fire cannot be quenched by pouring oil upon it.
When Nero had been encouraged by a philosopher to think
lightly of immorality, the reins of his animal nature were


seized by ' the unspiritual god Circumstance,' aiid with mad
pace he plunged into the abyss.

Burrus had come to tell Seneca that Nero's passion for
Acte was going to such absurd lengths that he talked of
suborning two .Romans of consular dignity to swear that the
slave girl, who had been brought from Asia, was in reality a
descendant of Attalus, King of Pergamus ! The Senate would
be as certain to accept the statement as they had been to
pretend belief that Pallas was a scion of Evander arid the
ancient kings of Arcadia; and Nero had actually expressed
to Burrus a desire to divorce Octavio and marry Acte !

' What did you say to him ? ' asked Seneca.

' I told him frankly that, if he divorced Octavia, he ought
to restore her dower.'

' Her dower ? '

' Yes the Roman Empire. He holds it because Claudius
adopted him as the husband of his daughter.'

' What did he say ? '

' He pouted like a chidden boy, and I have not the least
doubt that he will remember the answer against me.'

' But, Burrus,' said Seneca, ' I really think that we had
better promote, rather than oppose, this love-affair. Acte is
harmless and innocent. She will never abuse her influence
to injure so much as a fly ; nay, more, she may wean Nero
from far more dangerous excesses. I think that in this case
a little connivance may be the truest policy. To tell you the
truth, I have endeavoured to prevent scandal by removing all
difficulties out of the way.'

' You are a philosopher,' said Burrus, ' and I suppose you
know best. It would not have been my way. We often
perish by permitted things. But, since you do not take so
serious a view of this matter as I did, I will say no more.
Forgive a brief interview. My duties at the camp require my
presence. Farewell.'

Seneca, as we have seen, had spent a somewhat agitated
day, but he had one more visitor before the afternoon meal.
It was the philosopher Cornutus, who had been a slave in the
family of the Annaei, but was now free and had risen to the
highest literary distinction by his philosophical writings.

' Cornutus is always a welcome visitor,' he said, as he rose
to greet him ; ' never more so than this morning. I want


to consult you, in deep confidence, about the Emperor's

' Can Seneca need any advice about education ? ' said Cor-
nutus. ' Who has written so many admirable precepts on the
subject ? '

Seneca, with infinite plausibility, related to his friend the
arguments which he had just used to Burrus. He felt a rest-
less desire that the Stoic should approve of what he had done.
To fortify his opinion he quoted Zeno and other eminent
philosophers, who had treated graver offences than that of
Nero as mere adiaphora things of no real moment. Cor-
nutus, however, at once tore asunder his w T eb of sophistry.

' A thing is either right or wrong,' he said ; ' if it is wrong
no amount of expediency can sanction it, no skill of special
pleading can make it other than reprehensible. The passions
cannot be checked by sanctioning their indulgence, but by
training youth in the manliness of self-control. You wish to
prevent the Emperor from disgracing himself with the crimes
which rendered execrable the reigns of Tiberius and Gaius.
Can you do it otherwise than by teaching him that what he
ought to do is also what he can do ? Is the many-headed
monster of the young man's impulses to be checked by giving
it the mastery, or rather by putting it under the dominion of
his reason ? '

' I cannot judge by abstract considerations of ethics. I
must judge as a statesman,' said Seneca, somewhat offended.

' Then, if you are only a statesman, do not pretend to act as
a philosopher. I speak to you frankly, as one Stoic to another.'

Seneca said nothing. It was evident that he felt deeply
hurt by the bluntness of Cornutus, who paused for a moment,
regarding him with a look of pity. Then he continued.

' If it pains you to hear the truth I will be silent ; but if
you wish me to speak without reserve, you are committing
two fatal errors. You dream of controlling passion by in-
dulging it. You are conceding liberty in one set of vices in
the vain hope of saving Nero from another. But all vices
are inextricably linked together. And you have committed
a second mistake, not only by addressing your pupil in lan-
guage of personal flattery, but also by inflating him with a
belief in his own illimitable power.' 1

1 Note 8.


' Nero is Emperor/ answered Seneca curtly, ' and, after all,
he can do whatever he likes.'

' Yet even as Emperor he can be told the truth,' replied
Cornutus. 'I for one ventured to offend him yesterday.'

' In what way ? '

' Your nephew Lucan was belauding Nero's fantastic verses,
and said he wished Nero would write four hundred volumes.
" Four hundred ! " I said ; " that is far too many." " Why ?"
said Lucan; "Chrysippus, whom you are always praising,
wrote four hundred." " Yes," I answered, " but they were of
use to mankind ! " Nero frowned portentously, and I received
warning looks from all present; but if a true man is to
turn flatterer to please an Emperor, what becomes of his
philosophy ? '

' Yes/ sighed Seneca : ' but your pupil Persius is a youth of
the sweetest manners and the purest heart ; whereas Nero is

' A finer young Roman than Persius never lived/ replied
the Stoic, ' but if I had encouraged Persius in the notion that
vice was harmless, Persius might have been Nero.'

' Cornutus/ said the statesman and as he said it he sighed
deeply ' your lot is humbler and happier than mine. I do
not follow, but I assent ; I am crushed by an awful weight of
uncertainty, and sometimes life seems a chaos of vanities. I
wish to rise to a loftier grade of virtue, but I am preoccupied
with faults. All I can require of myself is, not to be equal
to the best, but only to be better than the bad.' l

' He who aims highest/ said the uncompromising freedman,
' will reach the loftiest ideal. And surely it is hypocrisy to
use fine phrases when you do not intend to put your own
advice into practice.'

Seneca was always a little toucny about his style, and he
was now thoroughly angry, for he was not accustomed to be
thus bluntly addressed by one so immeasurably beneath him
in rank. ' Fine phrases ! ' he repeated, in a tone of deep
offence. ' It pleases you to be rude, Cornutus. Perhaps the
day will come when the "fine phrases" of Seneca will still be
read, though the name of Cornutus, and even of Musonius,
is forgotten.'

' Very possibly/ answered the uncompromising freedman.
1 Note 9.


' Nevertheless, I agree with Musonius that stylists who do not
act up to their own precepts should be called fiddlers and not

When Cornutus rose to leave, the feelings of the most en-
vied man in Rome were far from enviable. He would have
given much to secure the Stoic's approval. And yet the
sophistries by which he blinded his own bitter feelings were
unshaken. ' Cornutus,' he said to himself, ' is not only discour-
teous but unpractical. Theory is one thing ; life another.
We are in Rome, not in Plato's Atlantis.'

Seneca lived to find out that facing both ways is certain
failure, and that a man cannot serve two masters.

In point of fact the struggle was going on for the prepon-
derance of influence over Nero. Agrippina thought that she
could use him as a gilded figurehead of the ship of state,
while she stood at the helm and directed the real course.
Burrus and Seneca, distrusting her cruelty and ambition, be-
lieved that they could render her schemes nugatory, and con-
vert Nero into a constitutional prince. Both efforts were
alike foiled. The passions which were latent in the tempera-
ment of the young Emperor were forced into rank growth by
influences incomparably less virile than that of his mother,
and incomparably more vile than those of the soldier and
the philosopher. Otho was a more effective tutor than
Seneca, and Seneca's own vacillation paved the way for Otho's
corrupting spell. Claudius had been governed by an ' aristo-
cracy of valets ; ' Nero was to be governed neither by the
daughter of Gerrnanicus nor by the Stoic moralist, but by a
despicable fraternity of minions, actors, and debauchees.



' Res pertricosa est, Cotile, bellus homo.' MARTIAL, iii. 63.

NERO had been spending the morning with some of the new
friends whose evil example was rapidly destroying in his
mind every germ of decency or virtue. Though it was still
but noon, he was dressed in a loose synthesis a dress of light
green, unconfined by any girdle, and he had soft slippers on
his feet. This negligence was due only to the desire for selfish
comfort, for in other respects he paid extreme attention to his
personal appearance. His fair hair was curled and perfumed,
and his hands were covered with splendid gems.

But even a brief spell of imperial power, with late hours,
long banquets, deep gambling, and reckless dissipation, had
already left their brand upon his once attractive features.
His cheeks had begun to lose the rose and glow of youth
and to assume the pale and sodden appearance which in
a few years obliterated the last traces of beauty and dignity
from his ruined face.

With him sat and lounged and yawned and gossiped and
flattered a choice assemblage of spirits more wicked than him-

The room in which they were sitting was one of the most
private apartments of the Palace. It had been painted in the
reign of Gaius with frescoes graceful and brilliant, but such
as would now be regarded as proofs of an utterly depraved
taste. As lie glanced at the works of art with which the
chamber was decorated, Otho thought, not without compla-
cency, of the day when the prediction made to him by an as-
trologer should be fulfilled, and he too would be Emperor of
Borne. He highly approved of frescoes such as these, though
even Ovid and Propertius had complained of their corrupting


Otho was now nearly twenty-three years old, and was a
characteristic product of imperial civilisation. His face was
smooth, for he had artificially prevented the growth of a beard.
To hide his baldness, which he regarded as the most cruel
wrong of the unjust gods, he wore a wig, so natural and close-
fitting as scarcely to be recognisable, and this was arranged in
front in the fashion which he set, and which Nero followed.
Four rows of symmetrical curls half hid the narrow forehead.
Those curls had cost his barber two hours' labour that morning,
and they were dyed with a Batavian pomade into the blonde
colour which was the most admired. In figure Otho was
small; his legs were bowed, and his feet ill-shaped, but his
large eyes and beautiful mouth gave him a sweet and engaging,
though effeminate, expression. Indeed, effeminacy was his main
characteristic, and there was a touch of effeminacy even in the
much belauded suicide to which his destiny was leading him.
When he was a boy, his father was so disgusted by his ways
that he flogged him like the lowest of his slaves. He was one
of those creatures of perfumed baths, delicate languor, soft
manners, and disordered appetites, who, in that age, so often
took refuge from a depraved life in a voluntary death. 1 He
was entirely impecunious, and was loaded with debts a cir-
cumstance which he did not regard as any obstacle to a life
of boundless extravagance. In order to get introduced to Nero
he had the effrontery to make love to a plain and elderly freed-
woman, who had some influence at Court. When he had once
secured an introduction he became the ardent friend of Nero,
and the intimate accomplice of his worst dissipations. Being
six years older than the Emperor, and far more accomplished
in vice, he exercised a spell which rapidly undermined the
grave lessons of Burrus and Seneca. Precociously corrupt,
serenely egotistical, cynical in dishonour, and gangrened to the
depth of his soul by debauchery, Otho, though still a youth,
had so completely got rid of the moral sense as to present to
the world a spectacle of unruffled self-content. A radiant and
sympathetic softness reigned smiling on his smooth and almost
boyish face.

By the side of Otho lounged another youth, whose name
was Tullius Senecio. He was wealthy and reckless, and he
had made himself a leader of fashion among the young Eoman

1 See Nisard : Poetes de la Decadence, i. 91 .


nobles. With them was the brilliant Petronius Arbiter, a
man of refined culture and natural wit, but the most cynically
shameless liver and talker even in Borne. The group was com-
pleted by the able and rough -ton gued but not over-scrupulous
Vestinus, the dissolute Quintianus, and the singularly hand-
some Tigellinus, who was as yet only at the beginning of
his cnreer, but who, of all the minions of that foul Court,
became the most cruel, the most treacherous, and the most

And yet weariness reigned supreme over these luxurious
votaries of fashion. They had at first tried to get some amuse-
ment out of the antics of Massa,a half-witted boy, and Asturco,
a dwarf ; but when they had teased Massa into sullenness, and
Asturco into tears and bellowings of rage, Petronius interfered,
and voted such amusements boorish and in bad taste. Then
they tried to kill time by betting and gambling over games at
marbles and draughts. The ' pieces ' (latrunculi and ocellata)
of glass, ivory, and silver lay scattered over tables, just as they
were when the players got tired of the games, and the draught
boards (tabnlce latruncularice) had been carelessly tossed on the
floor. Then they sent for plates of honey-apples, and bowls of
Falernian wine, and took an extemporised meal. Nero even
condescended to amuse himself with rolling little ivory cha-
riots down a marble slab, and betting on their speed. Still
they all felt that the hours were somewhat leaden-footed, till
a bright thought struck the Emperor. He had passed some of
his early years in poverty, and this circumstance, together
with his sesthetic appreciation of things beautiful, made him
delight in showing his treasures to his intimates. By way of
finding something to do, he suggested to his friends that they
should come and look at the wardrobes of the former em-
presses, which were under the charge of a multitude of dressers,
folders, and jewellers. Orders were given that everything
should be laid out for their inspection. Except Petronius,
they all had an effeminate passion for jewellery, and they
whiled away an hour in inspecting the robes, stiff with gold
brocade and broideries of pearl, sapphire, and emerald.

By this time Nero was in high good-humour, and seized the
opportunity of a little ostentation towards the ' lisping haw-
thorn-buds ' of fashion by whom he was surrounded.

He chose out a superb cameo, on which was carved a Venus


Anadyoraene, aud gave it to Otho. ' There,' he Said ; ' that
will adorn the neck of your fair Poppsea. Vestiims, this opal
was the one for the sake of which Mark Antony procured the
proscription of the senator Nonius. You don't deserve it, for
you can be very rude '

' Free speech is a compliment to strong emperors,' said
Vestinus, hardly concealing the irony of his tone.

'Ah, well!' continued Nero, ' I shall not give it you for
your deserts, but because it will look splendid on the ivory
arm of your Statilia. A more fitting present tc you would be
this little viper enclosed in amber ; 1 the viper is your malice,
the amber your flattery. And what on earth am I to give you,
Senecio ? or you, Petronius ? You are devoted to so many
fair ladies, that I should have to give you the whole wardrobe ;
but I will give you, Senecio, a silken fillet embroidered with
pearls ; and, Petronius, Nature has set out this agate I be-
lieve it is from the spoils of Pyrrhus for no one but you,
for she has marked on it an outline of Apollo and the Muses.
Quintianus, this ring with Hylas on it will just suit you.'

There was a hidden sarcasm in much which he had said
even while he distributed his gifts, and not a few serpents
hissed among the flowery speeches interchanged in this bad
society. But they all thanked him effusively for presents so

At this point a sudden thought suggested itself to Nero.
He had not seen much of his mother for the last few days,
and being in buoyant spirits, and thoroughly pleased with
himself, he chose out the most splendid robe and ornaments,
and bade some of the wardrobe-keepers to carry them to the
apartments of the Augusta, with the message that they were
a present from her son. ' And do you,' he said to his freed-
man Polycletus, ' bring me back word of what the Empress
says in thanks.'

Nero and his friends returned to the room in which they
had been sitting, and had begun to play at dice for large
stakes, when Polycletus came back, flushed and excited.

Nero was himself a little uneasy at what he had done.
His mother, with her unlimited resources, hardly needed a
present of this kind. As long as she was Empress, all these
robes had been her own ; and Nero was exercising an uu-

1 Mart. iv. 59.


wonted sort of patronage when he sent this gift by the hands
of an attendant. There was a certain vulgarity in his atten-
tion, which was all the worse because it was ostentatious.
And yet, if Agrippina had been wise, she would have shown
greater command over her temper, and have prevented that
tragic widening of the ' little rift within the lute ' which soon
silenced the music of a mother's love.

' Well, and was the Augusta pleased ? ' asked Nero, looking
up from his dice.

' I will report to the Emperor when he is alone,' said the

' Tush, man ! ' answered Nero, nervously. ' We are all
friends here, and if my mother was very effusive in her com-
pliments, they will pardon it.'

' She returned no praises and no thanks.'

' Ha ! that was ungracious. Tell me exactly what she did.'

' She asked me who were with you, and I mentioned the
names of those present.'

'What business is it of hers ?' said Nero, reddening, as he
noticed the significant glances interchanged between Otho and
Vestinus, the latter of whom whispered a Greek proverb about
boys tied to their mother's apron-strings.

' She then asked whether you had given any other presents,
and I said that you had. " To whom ? " she asked.'

' A regular cross-examination ! ' whispered Vestinus.

' I said that you had made presents to Otho, Vestinus, and

'You need not have been so very communicative, Poly-
cletus,' said Nero ; ' but go on.'

' Her lip curled as I mentioned the names.'

' We are not favourites of the Augusta, alas ! ' lisped Otho.

' But what did she say about the robe ? '

' She barely glanced at the robe and jewels, and when she
had finished questioning me. she stamped her foot, tossed the
dress over a seat, and scattered the gems over the floor.'

Nero grew very red, and as the freedman again remained
silent, he asked whether the Augusta had sent no message.

Polycletus hesitated.

' Go on, man ! ' exclaimed Nero, impatiently. ' In any case
you are not to blame for anything she said.'

'I am ashamed to repeat the Augusta's words,' said the


messenger. ' But, if I must tell you, she said : " My son gives
a part to me, who have given all to him. Whatever he has he
owes to me. He sends me these, I suppose, that I may put
in no claim to the rest. Let him keep his finery. There are
tilings that I value more highly." And then she rose, and
spurning with her foot the robe which lay in her way, she
swept out of the room.'

Nero bit his lip, and his eyes gleamed with rage. He was
maddened by the meaning smiles of Senecio, and the expres-
sion of cynical amusement which passed over the face of

Otho came to the rescue. ' Do not be disturbed, Nero/ he
said. 'Agrippina only forgot for the moment that you are
now Emperor.'

' The Augusta evidently thinks that you are still a boy in
the purple-bordered toga,' sneered Tigellinus.

Nero dashed down his dice-box, overturned the table at
which they were sitting, and began to pace the room in
extreme agitation. He had not yet quite shaken off the
familiarity of his mother's dominance. He was genuinely
afraid of her, and he knew to what fearful lengths she might
be hurried by her passion and her hate.

' I cannot stand it,' he muttered to himself. ' I am no
match for Agrippina. Who knows but what she may prepare
a mushroom, or something else, for me ? I hate Rome. I
hate the Empire. I will lay aside the purple. I only want
to enjoy myself. I will go to Rhodes and live there. I can
sing, if I can do nothing else, and if all else fails, I will sup-
port myself with singing in the streets of Alexandria. The
astrologers have promised me that I shall be king in Jeru-
salem, or somewhere in the East. Here I am utterly

He flung himself angrily on a couch, and a red spot rose
upon his cheeks. ' I wonder how she dares to insult me
thus ! If I had sent the robe and jewels to Octavia, the poor
child would have touched heaven with her finger. If I had sent
them to Acte, her soft eyes would have beamed with love.
Of what use is it to be Emperor, if my mother is to flout and
domineer like this ? '

' Does not Caesar know what gives her this audacity ? '
asked Tigellinus, in a low tone.


' No,' answered Nero ; ' except it be that she has ruled me
from a child.'

' It is/ said the adventurer, ' because Pallas abets her, and

He paused.

' Pallas ? Who is Pallas ? ' said the Emperor. ' An ex-
slave nothing more. I am not afraid of him. I will
dismiss him at once, and if he gives the least trouble, I will
threaten him with an inquisition into his account. He shall
go and end his Pallas-ship. 1 But what else were you going
to say ? '

' Agrippina domineers/ he whispered in the Emperor's ear,
' because Britaunicus is alive.'

' Britaunicus ? ' answered Nero.

He said no more, but his brow became dark as night.

1 Note 10.




' We were, fair queen,

Two lads that thought there was no more behind,
But such a day to-morrow as to-day,
And to be boy eternal.'

SHAKESPEARE, The Winter's Tale, i. 2.

THERE were few youths in Home more deserving of pity than
the son of Claudius. Britannicus saw himself not only super-
seded, but deliberately neglected and thrust into the back-
ground. The intrigues of his stepmother had succeeded, and
he, the true heir to the Empire, was a cipher in the Palace of
the Caesars. The suite of apartments assigned to his use and
that of his immediate attendants was in one of the least fre-
quented parts of the Palace. He often heard from the banquet
hall and reception rooms, as he passed by them unnoticed, the
sounds of revelry, in which he was only allowed on rare occa-
sions to participate. Agrippina, in her varying moods, treated
him sometimes with studied coolness and insulting patronage,
sometimes with a sort of burning and maudlin affection, as
though she were touched by the furies of remorse. The latter
mood was more intolerable to him than the former. Some-
times, when she strained him to her steely heart, he felt as if
he could have thrust her from him with loathing, and he made
his relations with her more difficult because he was too little
of an actor to conceal his dislike. Nero usually met him with
sneering banter, but he, too, at times, seemed as though he
would like to be treated by him with at least the semblance
of brotherly cordiality. He found his chief comfort in the
society of Octavia. She was, nominally, the Empress, and Nero,
though he shunned her to the utmost of his power, had not
yet dared to rob her of the dignities which surrounded her
exalted rank. It was in the company of his sister that
Britanuicus spent his happiest hours. Octavia, as often as


she dared, invited him to be present on festive occasions, and
in her apartments he could find refuge for a time from the
most detested of the spies with whom his stepmother had
surrounded him from his early boyhood.

There was but one person about him whom he really trusted
and loved. It was the centurion Puclens, who, being one of
the imperial guard called excubitores, was often stationed at
one point or other of the Palace. So vast was the interior of
that pile of architecture, so intricate its structure, owing to the
numerous additions which had been made to it by each suc-
ceeding Emperor, that for a boy bent, as Britannicus was, on
occasionally eluding the intolerable watchfulness of his
nominal slaves, it was not difficult to conceal his movements.
Happily, too, he had one boyish friend whom he loved, and
who loved him, with entire affection. It was Titus, the elder
son of Vespasian. Even as a boy he gave promise of the fine
moral qualities by which he was afterwards distinguished.
His father was a soldier who had risen by merit to high com-
mand, and had even been Consul ; but his grandfather was
only a humble provincial, and, as his family was poor, he little
dreamed that he too was destined to the purple of which his
friend had been deprived. He was only a month or two older
than Britannicus. They shared the same studies and the
same games, and there was something contagious in his healthy
vigour and imperturbable good humour. It was at least some
alleviation to the sorrows of the younger boy that this manly
and virtuous lad, with his short curly hair and athletic frame,
was always ready to exert himself to brighten his loneliness
and divert his thoughts. Painters might have called the
features of Titus plebeian, but in his eyes and rnouth there
was an expression of honesty and sweetness which endeared
him to the heart of the lonely prince, who admired him far
more than any of the boys in the noblest families.

The political insignificance of the Flavian family had been
one reason why Agrippina had chosen Titus as a companion
for the son of Claudius, instead of some scion of the old aris-
tocracy of Rome. It was well for Britannicus that his fellow-
pupil came of a race purer and simpler than that of the
youthful patricians.

The two boys had been educated together for some years ;
and Titus, when he became Emperor, still retained a fond


affection for the companion of his youth, to^ whom he erected
an equestrian statue. There was a story, known to very few,
which might have endangered the life of Titus, had it been
divulged. One day, when the two boys were learning their les-
sons together, Narcissus had brought in one of the foreign phy-
siognomists who were known as metoposcopi, to look at them
from behind a curtain. The man did not know who they were ;
he only knew that they were in some way connected with the
Palace. After carefully studying their faces, he said that the
elder of the two, Titus, should certainly become Emperor, but
the younger as certainly should not. At that time Britannicus
was heir to the throne. Narcissus was superstitious, and his
heart misgave him ; but he derived some comfort from the
absurd improbability of a prophecy that a boy who had been
born in so humble a house, and was only the descendant of a
Cisalpine haymaker, should ever wear the purple of the Caesars.
He was too kind-hearted to let the anecdote be generally
known, for even as a boy Titus was liked by every one, if he
was not yet ' the darling of the human race.'

One day, as Titus went across the viridarium, or chief green
court of the Palace, he saw a little slave-boy struggling hard
to repress his sobs. His kindly nature was touched by the
sight. He had not been trained in the school of those haughty
youths who thought it a degradation to speak to their slaves ;
his father, Vespasian, being himself of lowly origin, held, with
Seneca, that slaves, after all, were men, and might become
dear and faithful friends.

' What is your name, and why do you weep, my little man? '
asked Titus.

' They call me Epictetus,' said the child ; ' and I am the
slave of Epaphroditus, the Emperor's secretary. I fell and
hurt my leg very badly against the marble rim of the fountain.
Don't be angry with me. I will bear the pain.' l

' A born Stoic ! ' said Titus, smiling. ' But what is the mat-
ter with your leg ? '

' I will tell you, sir,' answered Epictetus. ' Being deformed
and useless, as you see, my master thought that he might turn
me to some account by having me taught philosophy, and he
made me capsarius 2 to his son, who attends the lectures of
Musonius Kufus. Musonius, who is kind and good, let me sit
1 Note 11. 2 A slave who carried boys' books to school.


in a corner and listen. I am not a Stoic yet, but I shall try
to be one some day.'

' But even now you have not told me how you came to be

The young slave blushed. ' Eight weeks ago,' he said, ' I
was walking past the door of the triclinium, when a slave
came out with some crystal vases on a tray. He ran against
me, and one of the vases fell and was broken. He charged me
with having broken it, and Epaphroditus ordered my leg to be
twisted. It hurt me terribly, but Musonius had taught me to
endure, and I only cried out, " If you go on, you will break
my leg." He went on, and broke it. I did not give way then,
and I am ashamed that you saw me crying now.'

' Poor lad ! Come with me to Prince Britannicus and tell
him that story. He is kind, and will pity you, and perhaps
get the Empress Octavia to do something for you.'

Epictetus limped after Titus, and Britannicus was pleased
with the slave-boy's quaint fortitude and the preternatural
gravity of his face. He often sat on the floor while the two
friends talked or played at draughts, and would sometimes
retail to them what he had heard in the lectures of Musonius.
They laughed at his na'ivete, but something of the teaching
stuck. The Stoicism of Titus had its germ in those boyish

One other friend, strange to say, Britannicus had near at
hand, though she could not openly have much conversation
with him. It was the fair freedwoman Acte. Her situation
in the Palace did not argue in her a depraved mind. She had
not been trained in an atmosphere which made her suppose
that there was anything sinful in her relations with the Em-
peror. Brought from Asia in early youth, she was practically
no more than a slave, though she had been emancipated by
Claudius. The will of a master, even if that master was far
below an Emperor, was regarded as a necessary law. 1 But
Acte had a good heart, and so far from being puffed up by the
ardent affection of Nero, her one desire was to use her in-
fluence for the benefit of others. For Britannicus she felt the
deepest pity. She had even aroused the anger of her lover by
pleading in his behalf, and though it was impossible that she
should do more than interchange with him an occasional
1 Note 12. Slaves.


salutation, the boy gratefully recognised that'Acte did her
best to gain for him every indulgence and relaxation in her

Britannicus had inherited some of his father's fondness for
history. He was never happier than when Titus told him
some of the stories which he had heard from Vespasian about
his campaigns in Britain. He had even persuaded Pudens to
go with him to visit the old British chief, Caractacus or, to
give him his right name, Caradoc who had kept the Romans
at bay for nine years, until he was betrayed to them by the
treacherous Queen Cartismandua. And much had come of
this visit ; for there Pudens saw for the first time the daughter
of Caradoc, the yellow-haired British princess Claudia, and
had fallen deeply in love with her. The grey King of the
Silures, whose manly eloquence had moved the admiration of
Claudius on the day when he had been led along in triumph,
was eating away his heart in a strange laud. He rejoiced to
see the son of the Emperor who had spared his life, and he
delighted the boy's imagination with many a tale of the
Druids, and Moua, and the wild Silurian hills and the vast
rushing rivers, and the hunting of the wolf and the wild-boar
in the marshes and forests of Caer Leon and Caer Went.
While Caractacus was telling these stories there was ample
opportunity for Pudens to improve his acquaintance with the
fair Claudia, who talked to him with a yearning heart of her
home on the silver Severn, which Pudens had once visited as
a very young soldier.

These interviews made Britannicus eager to form the
acquaintance of Aulus Plautius, the conqueror of the southern
part of that far island. Plautius stood well at Court, and had
been greatly honoured by Claudius, who had condescended to
walk by his side in the ovation which rewarded the successful
campaigns of four years. Britannicus gained easy permission
to visit the old general, and at his house he met his wife,
Pomponia Gra3cina.

This lady was regarded at Rome as a paragon of faithful
friendship. She had been deeply attached in early youth to
her royal kinswoman Julia, the granddaughter of Tiberius.
Julia had been one of the victims of the cruelty of Messalina,
and from the day of her execution, for forty years, Pomponia
never appeared but in mourning garments, and it was said,


though without truth, that she never wore a smile upon her

But though she smiled but rarely, the beauty of Pomponia
was exquisite from her look of serenity and contentment. She
was unlike the other ladies of Eornan society. She never
tinged her face with walnut juice, or painted it with rouge
and cerussa, or reared her tresses into an elaborate edifice of
curls, or sprinkled them with gold dust, or breathed of Assyrian
odours. Her life and her dress were exquisitely simple. She
wore no ornaments, or few. She rarely appeared at any
banquet, and then only with her husband at the houses of
the graver and more virtuous senators. Vice was involuntarily
abashed at her presence. The talk which Eoman matrons
sometimes did not blush to hear was felt to be impossible
where Pomponia was present, nor would any one have dreamed
of introducing loose gymnasts or Gaditanian dancers as the
amusement of any guests of whom she was one. Hence she
was more and more neglected by the jewelled dandies and
divorced ladies, who fluttered amid the follies of a heartless
aristocracy, and gradually the gossiping pleasure-hunters of
Rome came to hate her because her whole life was a rebuke
of the degradation of a corrupt society.

Hatred soon took the form of whispered accusations. The
suspicion was first broached by Calvia Crispinilla, a lady
whose notoriously evil character elevated her high in the con-
fidence of Nero, and who, in spite of her rank, was afterwards
proud of the infamy of being appointed keeper of the ward-
robe of his favourite Sporus.

Talking one day to J&lia, Petina, a divorced wife of Claudius
and mother of his daughter Antonia, she expressed her dislike
of Pomponia, and said, ' It is impossible that any worshipper
of our gods should live a life so austere as Pomponia's. Hark,
in your ears, Petina. She must be ' and sinking her voice
to a tragic whisper she said ' she must be a secret Christian.'

' Well/ said Petina, ' what does it matter ? Nero himself
worships the Syrian goddess, and they say that the lovely
Poppsea Sabina, the wife of Otho, is a Jewess.'

' A Jewess ! oh, that is comparatively respectable,' said
Crispinilla. 'Why, Berenice, the charming sister ahem!
the very deeply attached sister of Agrippa, you know, is a
Jewess ; and what diamonds that woman has ! But a Chris-


tian ! Why, the very word has a taint of vulgarity about it,
and leaves a bad flavour in the mouth ! None but unspeak-
able slaves and cobblers and Phrygian runaways belong to
those worshippers of the god Onokoites and the head of an
ass.' 1

What malice had invented as a calumny happened in this
instance to be a truth. Pomponia was indeed a secret Chris-
tian. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and none can tell
whence it cometh or whither it goeth. She had accompanied
her husband when he had been sent to subdue Britain, and
had known the agonies of long and intensely anxious separation
from him, and during those periods of trial she had been com-
pelled to be much alone, and part of the time she had spent
in Gaul. Persis, her confidential handmaid, had met one of
the early missionaries of the faith, had heard his message, had
been converted. Accident had revealed the fact to the noble
Eomau lady ; and as she talked with Persis in many a long
and lonely hour, her heart too had been touched by grace, and
a life always pure had now become the life of a saint of God.

Plautius was glad to notice the manly interest taken by
Britaunicus in the country from which his name had been
derived, and in martial achievements rather than in the
debasing effeminacies of the Boman nobles. He always
welcomed the boy's presence, and introduced him to the kind
hospitalities of his wife. Both parents were glad that a scion
of the Caesars who seemed to show the old Roman virtues of
modesty and manliness should be a frequent companion of
their own son, the young Aulus. To Pomponia the son of
Claudius felt strongly drawn. She was wholly unlike any
type of woman he had ever seen ; she seemed to be separated
by whole worlds of difference from such ladies as his own
mother. Messaliua, or his stepmother, Agrippina ; and though
she only dressed in simple and sombre garments, yet the
peace and sweetness which breathed from her countenance
made her more lovely in his eyes than the great wives of
Consuls and senators whom he had so often seen sweeping
through gilded chambers on the Palatine in their gleaming
and gold-embroidered robes. He noticed, too, that his sister,
the Empress Octavia, never visited her without coming home
in a happier and more contented mood.

1 Note 13. Onokoites.


One day, being more than ever filled with admiration for
her goodness, he had spoken to her freely of all his bitter
trials, of all his terrible misgivings. She had impressed on
him the duties of resignation and forgiveness ; and had tried
to show him that in a mind conscious of integrity he might
have a possession better and more abiding than if he sat amid
numberless temptations to baseness on an uneasy throne.

' You speak,' he said, ' like Musonius Kufus ; for the young
Phrygian slave, Epictetus, whom Titus took compassion on
and sometimes brings to our rooms, has told me much about
his Stoic lectures. But there is something I know not
what in your advice which is higher and more cheerful
than in his. '

Pomponia smiled. ' Much that Musonius teaches is true
and beautiful,' she said ; ' but there is a diviner truth in the
world than his.'

Britannicus was silent for a moment, and then, hesitatingly
and with reluctance, he said, 'Will you forgive me, noble
Pomponia, if I ask you a question ? '

The pale countenance of the lady grew a shade paler, and
she replied, ' You might ask me what I should not think it
right to answer.'

' You know,' said the boy, ' that at banquets and other
gatherings I cannot help hearing the gossip and scandal which
they talk all the day long. And all the worst ladies per-
sons like Crispinilla and Petina and Silana seem to hate
you, I know not why ; and they said that you would be ac-
cused some day of holding a foreign superstition.'

Pomponia clasped her hands, and uttered a few words
which Britaunicus could not hear. Then, turning to him,
she said, ' Perhaps Musonius has quoted those lines of Cle-
anthes, " Lead me, Father of the world. I will follow
thee, even though I weep." a We can never prevent the
wicked from accusing us, but we can always give the lie
to their accusations by innocent lives.'

' What they said besides, must have been an absurd and
wicked lie,' continued Britannicus. ' They said ' and here
he made the sign of averting an evil omen which has been
prevalent in Italy from the earliest days ' that you
were dare I speak the vulgar word ? a Christian.'
1 Note 14. Lines of Cleanthes.


'And what do you know about the Christians, Britannicus ? '
' In truth I know very little, for I am not allowed to go
about much ; but Titus, who hears more than I do, tells me
that they meet at night, and kill a babe, and drink its blood ;
and bind themselves by horrid oaths; and tie dogs to the
lamp-stands, and hark them on to throw over the lamps, and
are afterwards guilty of dreadful orgies. And they worship
an ass's head.'

' What makes you believe that slanderous nonsense ? '
' Why, Titus is fond of scratching his name on the wall, and
when we were going out of the psedagogium in the House of
Gelotius, which, you know, is now used as a training school
for the pages, he scrawled Titus Flavins Vespasianus leaves the
pcedagogium, and then drew a little sketcli of a donkey, and
underneath it Toil, little ass, as I have done, and it will do
you good. I laughed at him for scribbling on the wall, and to
make fun of him I wrote underneath

' " I wonder, oh wall, that your stones do not fall,
Bescribbled all o'er with the nonsense of all."

And I told him that I should put up a notice like that at the
Portus Portuensis, which begs boys and idlers not to scarify
(scarificare) the walls. But while I was writing the lines, I
caught sight of an odd picture which some one had scratched
there. It was a figure with an ass's head on a cross, and un-
derneath it " Alexamenos adores God." I asked Titus what it
meant, and suggested that it was a satire on the worship of
the Egyptian Anubis. But Titus said, " No ! that is intended
to annoy the Christians.'" 1

' Well, Britannicns,' said Pomponia, 'I know something more
about these poor Christians than that. All these are lies. I
dare say you have read, or Sosibius has read to you, some of
the writings of Seneca ? '

' No/ said Britannicus, reddening. ' Seneca is my brother
Nero's tutor. It is he, and Agrippina, and Pallas, who have
done away with the will of my father, Claudius. I don't care
to hear anything he says. He is not a true philosopher, like
Musonius or Cornutus. He only writes fine things which he
does not believe.'

' A man may write very true things, Prince,' said Pomponia.

1 Note 15. Ancient wall-scribblings.


yet uot live up to them I have here same of his letters,
which his friend Lucil,ius has shown. me. Let me read yo*
a tew passaged.'

She took down the scroll of purple vellum, out which she
had copied some of the letters, and, unrolling it, read a sen-
tence here and there :

' " God is near y&u, is with you, is within yew,. A. sacred
spirit dwells within us, the observer and guardian of all our
evil and our good ; tker*. is no good, man without God.'

1 " What advantage is it th<it anything is hidden f'ro-m man?
Jfotking it closed to God.''

' " \>enfrotn a co-rner it is /wssible to spring up into heaven.
i*e, fJwref&re, and,f&mti l!i<i>*clf into afa^iion -wvrtJiy of God."

' " Do you witdi to remit r the t/oda pro-pitious. ? Be virtuous;
fa ho-nour tiiem it is enough to imitate them,.'

' " You must live for unuUter, if yvu wisli to live for yowr-

' " In every good man, God dwells.' 1 1

' I could read you more thoughts like these from
Seneca's letters. Are they uot true and beautiful ? '

' I wish his own acts were as true aud beautiful/ answered
Kritamticus. ' But what hits this to do with the Christians?'

' This: every oae of those thoughts, and many much deeper,
are commonplaces among Christians; but the difference be-
tween them and the worshippers of the gods is that they
possess other truths which make these real* They alone are

' And they do not worship an ass's head ? "Well, at any rate,
Christus or Chrestus, whom they do worship, wascruciiied ia
Palestine by Pontius Pilatus.'

' And does suffering prevent a man from being divine ? All
Romans worship Hercules, yet they believe, or profess to be--
lieve, that he was burnt alive on lEta.'

Britannicus was silent, tor he had always thought it a
colossal insanity on the part of the Christians to worship one
who had been crucified like a slave.

' Tell me,' said Pumponiii, ' when Epictetus reads you hia
notes of the lecture* of Musouius, does not the name of
Socrates sometimes occur in them ? '

1 For thse and similar p*sagt* of s^mx;*, **> Bpp> 31, 41, 73 ; Dt
i. ; Ac.


said the youtitf prince; 'it occurs constantly,
talked l Socrates OH a porfect pattern, and all

I, til, divim- '

' And liow did KoeraUjs di'- ''

'Ho w.'w poisoned ly thu AthontariH with hemlock in their
common pnon.'

'As a jniil;lw;U>r ? '


' HOCK it, tlin, provcj him to bo worthlcHH tfiat he, too, died
tlii- <l'-.iUi of a flon ? And are all philoHojiht-rM 1'ooln for ex-
tending HO inucli reverence to a poisoned criminal ? '

' I never thought of that/ Mid I'.ritanniciiM.

' And arc all the other nt.oricH ,'ihoul, thcHc (JhriHtiat)H Yum ?'
lie awked, aft<*r a mime.

'They are/ aid I'omponia. '.Some day, perhapa, you Mhall
judge for your own nelf.'




'Quos, per flagitia invisos, vulgus Christianos appellabat.' TACITUS,
Ann. xv. 44.

THE young son of Claudius, burdened as he was by a sense
of wrong, was not only cheered by the kindness of the con-
queror of Britain, but had been deeply interested in all that
he had heard from his high-minded wife. Pomponia had
warned him that to mention the subject of their conversation
might needlessly imperil her life, and to no one did he venture
to say a word on the subject except to Pudeus. It struck him
that in the words and bearing of the handsome young soldier
there was something not unlike the moral sincerity which he
admired and loved in Pomponia Graecina.

'Pudens,' he said to him the next morning, when Titus was
absent, ' what do you think of the Christians ? '

Pudeus started ; but, recovering himself, he said, coldly,
' The Christians in Rome are humble and persecuted. Most
persons confuse them with the Jews, but many Jews are
nobler specimens than the beggars on the bridges, and many
Christians are not Jews at all.'

' Are they such wretches as men say ? '

' No, Britannicus, they are not. A man may call himself a
Christian, and be a bad man; but it is so perilous to be a
Christian that most of them are perfectly sincere. They
preach innocence, and they practise it. You know well
enough that the air is full of lies, and certainly not one-
tenth part of what is said of the Christians has in it the
least truth.'

The time had not yet come for Pudens to avow that his
Claudia had been secretly baptised by an early missionary
in Britain, as Pomponia had been in Gaul ; and that he
himself was beginning seriously to study the doctrines of
the hated sect.


But the next time Britannicus was able to visit Pomponia,
he asked her it there were any Christian books which he
might read.

' There are the old Jewish books,' said Pornpouia, ' which
Christians regard as sacred, and which a few Romans have
read out of curiosity, for they were translated into Greek
nearly four hundred years ago. But they are rare, and it
is not easy to get them. And even if you read them, there is
much in them which we Romans cannot understand.'

' But has no Christian written anything ? '

' Scarcely anything,' she said. ' You know the Christians
are mostly very poor, and some of them quite illiterate. But
there is a great Christian teacher named Paulus of Tarsus,
and many who have heard him preach in Ephesus and in
Philippi, and even in Athens and Corinth, say that his words
are like things of life. My friend Sergius Paulus, the late
Proconsul of Cyprus, has met him, and spoke of him with
enthusiastic reverence. He has written nothing as yet except
two short letters to the Christians in Thessalonica. They are
only casual letters, and do not enter into the life of Jesus the
Christ, or the general belief of Christians. But I have them
here, and will read parts of them to you if you like.'

She read to him the opening salutation, and on his express-
ing astonishment that he could join 'much affliction' with
'joy,' she explained to him that this was the divine paradox
of all Christianity, in which sorrow never destroyed joy, but
sometimes brought out a deeper joy, even as there are flowers
which pour forth their sweetest perfumes in the midnight.

Then she read him the exhortations to purity and holiness, 1
and asked him l whether that sounded like the teaching of
men who practised the evil deeds of which the Christians were
accused by the popular voice.'

He sat silent, and she read him the passage about the
coming day of the Lord, and the sons of light, and the
armour of righteousness. 2 Lastly, she read him the con-
cluding part of the Second Letter, with its exhortations to
diligence and order.

' I think,' she said, ' that in one passage Paulus may per-
haps refer in a mysterious way to your father, the late Emperor.
He is speaking of the coming of some lawless tyrant and
* 1 Thess. iv. 1-8. 2 1 Thess. v. 1-11.


enemy of God before the day of the Lord ; and he adds, " only
he who letteth will let, until lie be taken away." '

' The Greek words 6 Kare^wv' she said, ' might be rendered
in Latin qui claudit. The Christians are so surrounded by
enemies that they are sometimes obliged to express them-
selves in cryptograms, and Linus tells me that some Christians
see in the words qui claudit an allusion to your father, Clau-
dius. If so, Paulus seems to think that the day of the Lord's
return is very near.'

The young prince, though he had but a dim sense of
what some of the phrases meant, was struck with what he
had heard. There was something in the morality more
vivid and more searching than anything which Epictetus
had reported, or than Sosibius had read to him out of Zeno
and Chrysippus. And besides the high morality there
were tones which caused a more thrilling chord to vibrate
within him than anything of which he had yet dreamed.
The morality seemed to be elevated to a purer region of
life and hope, and, in spite of the strange style, to be
transfused through and through with a divine emotion.

' And these,' he said, ' are the men whom they charge
with every kind of atrocity ! Surely, Pomponia, the world
is rife with lies ! Would it be too dangerous for you to let
me see and speak to some of the Christian teachers ? You
might disguise me ; it is quite easy. Even Pudens need not
know ; he never feels dull,' he added with a smile, 'if he may
talk to Claudia, who is staying with you now.'

' There was an excellent Jewish workman 'here named
Aquila of Pontus,' she said. ' You might have talked to
him, but he left Eome when the Jews were banished in
your father's days. He used to mend the awning over the
viridarium, and those which kept the sun from blazing too
hotly into our Cyzicene room. 1 He sometimes brought
with him his still more excellent wife, Prisca. They knew
Paulus, and said that he had promised some day to come
to Rome. I am obliged to be very careful ; but perhaps
you can speak to Linus, who is the Elder of the Christians
in Eome.'

' But, Pomponia, the Christians believe, you tell me, in a
leader named Jesus ; is he the same as Christus or Chrestos ? '
1 Note 16. Cyzicene room.


' He is.'

' Is there any one in Eome who has seen him ? '

' He was put to death,' said Pomponia, bowing her head,
'more than twenty years ago, when Tiberius was Emperor.
But His disciples, who lived with Him, whom He called
Apostles or messengers, were many of them young men,
and they are living still.'

' Had Paulus of Tarsus ever seen him ? '

' In heavenly vision, yes ; but not when He was teaching
in Palestine. But there was one disciple whom He loved
very dearly, and who is now living in Jerusalem, though
Agrippa I. beheaded his elder brother. Perhaps he may some
day come to Rome.'

' But you, Pomponia, must have heard much about Christus.
Tell me, then, something about him. How could a Judaean
peasant be, as you say Jesus was, divine ? '

' Self-sacrifice for the sake of others is always divine,' said
Pomponia. ' Even in Greek mythology the gods assume the
likeness of men in order to help and deliver them. Does not
the poet tell us how Apollo once kept, as a slave, the oxen of
Admetus ? how Hercules was the servant of Eurystheus ?
how Jupiter came to visit Baucis and Philemon ? Is it so
strange that the God of all should reveal Himself to man as
man ? Doubtless you have read with your tutor the grandest
play of ^Eschylus the " Prometheus Bound." Does not the
poet there sing that Prometheus, who is the type of humanity,
can never be delivered until some god descends for him into
the black depths of Tartarus ? And does not Plato say that
man will never know God until He has revealed Himself in
the guise of suffering man; and that "when all is on the
verge of destruction, God sees the distress of the universe,
and, placing himself at the rudder, restores it to order " ? 1
And does not Seneca teach that man cannot save himself? 2
Seneca even says, " Do you wonder that men go to the gods ?
God comes to men yea, even into men." No one laughs at
such thoughts in the most popular of our philosophers ; why
should they laugh at Christians for believing them ? '

' But what made his disciples believe that Christus was a
Son of God ?' he asked.

1 Plat. Politicus, 16; comp. Phcedo, 78.

2 Note 17. The unconscious prophecies of heathendom.


Sitting quietly there, she told him, that day, of the Jews as
the people who had kept alive for centuries the knowledge of
the one true God ; of their age-long hopes of a Deliverer ; of
their prophecies ; and of the coming of the Baptist. On his
next visit she told him of Jesus, and read to him parts of one
of the old sketches of His ministry which were current, in the
form of notes and fragments, among Christians who had heard
the preaching of Peter or other Apostles. Lastly, she told
him some of His miracles, and the story of His death and
resurrection. ' He spake,' she said, ' as never man spake.
He did what man never did. Above all, He rose from the
dead the third day. Even the centurion who watched the
crucifixion returned to Jerusalem and said, " Truly this was
a Son of God ! "

Britannicus felt almost stunned by the rush of new emo-
tions. His mind, like that of most boys of his age at Rome,
was almost a blank as regards any belief in the old mythology.
In Stoicism he had found some half-truths which attracted
his Roman nature ; but its doctrines were stern, and proud,
and harshly repressive of feelings which he felt to be natural
and not ignoble. Here, at last, in Christianity, he hear<\
truths which, while they elevated the character of man even
to heaven while they kindled his aspirations and fortified
his endurance were suited also to soothe, to calm, to console.
He had heard them to the best advantage. They had been
told him, not by lips of untaught slaves and humble workmen,
but by the noblest of Roman matrons. She spoke in Latin
worthy of the best days of Cicero, and adorned all she said
not only by the sweetness of her voice and the grace of her
language, but also by her broad sympathies and her cultivated
intelligence. Most of all, her words came weighty with the
consistency of a life which, in comparison with that of the
women around her, shone like a star in the darkness. It was
this beauty of holiness which won him first and most. He
saw it in Pudens, whom he suspected of stronger Christian
leanings than he had acknowledged. He saw it conspicu-
ously in Claudia,

' A flower of meekness on a stem of grace,'

before whose beautiful personality the tinsel compliments of
her many admirers seemed to sink into shamed silence. The


precocious maidens of the great consular families hated Claudia
because, in her white and simple dress, and her long natural
fair hair, unadorned by a single flower or gem, she outshone
their elaborate beauty. Yet they saw, and were astonished to
see, that no youth not even an Otho or a Petronius or any
of the most hardened libertines dared to speak a light word
to one who looked as chaste as ' the consecrated snow on
Dian's lap.'

Britannicus did not venture to breathe a word to Titus of a
secret which was not his own ; but there was one person from
whom he could have no secret, and that was the young
Empress, his sister Octavia. When he could be secure that
no spy was at hand, that no ear was listening at the door, that
no eye was secretly watching him, he would talk to her with
wonder and admiration of all that he had heard. She was no
less impressed than he, and without venturing to embrace the
new faith, both sister and brother found a vague source of
hope and strength in what they had learnt from Pomponia.
To them it was like a faint rose of dawn, seen from a dark
valley, shining far off upon the summit of icy hills. And as
they learnt more of what the Gospel meant, and learnt even
to pour forth dim prayer into the unknown, they were able to
discover, by certain signs, that not a few of the slaves in the
household of Csesar Patrobas, Eubulus, Philologus, Try-
phsena, and others were secret Christians. The manner in
which they discovered that these slaves were Christians was
very simple. Pomponia, implicitly trusting the young Caesar,
had ventured to teach him the Greek Christian watchword,
'I%6v<t, ' fish.' l The brother and sister found that if, in the
presence of several slaves, they brought in this word in any
unusual manner, a slave who was a Christian would at once,
if only for a second, glance quickly up at them. When they
had thus assured themselves of the religion of a few of their
attendants, whom they invariably found to be the most up-
right and trustworthy, they would repeat the word again, in a
lower voice and a more marked manner, when they passed
them ; and if the slave in reply murmured low the word
t%#u8toy or pisciculus (i. e. little fish), they no longer felt in
doubt. The use which they made of their knowledge was
absolutely innocent. Often they did not say a word more on

1 Note 18.


the subject to their slaves and freedmen. Only they knew
that, among the base instruments of a wicked tyranny by
whom they were on every side surrounded, there was at least
a presumption that these would be guilty of no treacherous or
dishonourable deed.

And thus, while Agrippina was growing daily more furious
and discontented; while Seneca and Burrus were plunged
into deeper and deeper anxieties; while Psetus Thrasea, and
Musonius, and Cornutus found it more and more necessary to
entrench themselves in the armour of a despairing fortitude ;
while Nero was sinking lower and lower into the slough of
vice Octavia and Britaunicus began to draw nearer to the
Unknown God, and found that when the sea of calamity does
not mingle its bitter waters with the sea of guilt, calamity
itself might be full of divine alleviations. Agrippina and
Nero were provoked by their appearance and bearing. The
last thing which they would have suspected was that the
Christianity which, in common with all Koine, they regarded
as an execrable superstition, should have found its way into
patrician circles should even have met with favourable
acceptance under the roof of the Caesars. When they saw the
disinherited Britannicus playing ball in the tennis-court, or
beating his young fellow-pupils in races in the gardens, or
wrestling not unsuccessfully with the sturdy and ruddy Titus,
they were astonished to think that a boy who had been robbed
of all his rights should be poor spirited enough to throw him-
self into enjoyments in which his merry and musical laugh
often rang out louder than that of any of his companions.
What hope or what consolation could sustain him ? They
jealously fancied that some plot must be afoot ; but suspicion
was disarmed by the boy's transparent frankness and innocence
of manner. And Octavia they treated her as a nullity ;
they permitted themselves to indulge in every sneer and
slight which they could devise. More than once Nero, fresh
from some revel and lost to shame, had seized her by her
long, dark tresses, or struck her with his brutal hand. Yet
no passionate murmur had betrayed her resentment. What
could be the secret of a beatitude which no misfortunes
seemed wholly able to destroy?



'Non tressis agaso.' PERSIOS, v. 76.

BUT we must now turn for a time from the Palace of the
Emperor and the grand houses of the nobles crowded with
ancestral images, gleaming with precious marbles, enriched
with Greek statues of priceless beauty, to the squalid taverns
and lodging-houses of the poorest of that vast and mongrel
populace which surged through the streets of Rome.

It was not an Italian populace, but was composed of the
dregs of all nations, which had been flowing for several
generations into the common sewer of Rome. It congregated
in all the humbler and narrower streets ; in the Velabrum it
bawled mussels and salt fish for sale ; it thronged the cook-
shops of the Esquiline ; it crowded densely into the cheaper
baths ; it swarmed in the haunts of vice which gave so bad a
name to the Subura. Long ago the Syrian Orontes had
flowed into the Tiber, and brought with it its flute-players,
and dancers, and immoralities. 1 Long ago, when the Forum
loungers dared to howl at him, the great Scipio had stormed
at them as step-sons of Italy as people who had no father
and no mother and bidden them to be silent.

The city was almost as much a Greek as it was a Roman
city. But, besides this, it abounded in Orientals. Here would
be heard the shaken sistra of the Egyptian Serapis, whose
little temple in the Campus Martius was crowded by credulous
women. Here you would be met by the drunken Galli of the
Phrygian Cybele, whose withered, beardless faces, cracked
voices, orgiastic dances, and gashings of themselves with
knives, made their mendicancy more offensive than the
importunities of the beggars who lounged all day about the
Sublician and Fabrician bridges, or half-stormed the carriages

1 Juv. Sat. iii. 60-65.


of the nobles as they slowly drove up the steep hill of Aricia.
Of tliis promiscuous throng to say nothing of Asiatics,
Gauls, Germans, Spaniards, arid Scythians some were

' From farthest south,

Syene, and where the shadow both way falls,
Meroe, Nilotic isle ; and more to west
The realm of Bocchus to the Blackmoor sea ;
From India and the Golden Chersonese,
And iitmost Indian isle, Taprobane,
Dusk faces with white silken turbans wreathed.'

One quarter of the city that across the Tiber was
largely given up to Jews. They had flocked to Home in
extraordinary numbers after the visit of Pompey to Jeru-
salem. Sober Eoman burghers long remembered with as-
tonishment, and something of alarm, the wild wail which
they raised at the funeral of Julius Caesar, who had always
been their generous patron. They were numerous enough,
and organised enough, to make it a formidable matter to
offend them, though the majority of them conspicuous
everywhere by the basket and hay which they carried to
keep their food clean from Gentile profanation pursued
the humblest crafts, and sold sulphur-matches or mended
broken pottery, while the lowest of all told fortunes, or
begged, or cheated, with cringing mien. The persistence
and ability of many of their race had, however, gained them
a footing in the houses of the great. Aliturus, the actor, was
at this moment a favourite of Nero, and of Rome. The
authors of that age Martial, Juvenal, Persius, Tacitus
abound with wondering and stinging allusions to the votaries
of Mosaism.

They made many converts, and the splendid beauty of
Berenice and Drusilla, the daughters of Herod Agrippa I..
together with the wealth of their brother, Agrippa II., had
given them a prominent position in distinguished circles. To
their father, the brilliant adventurer Agrippa I., the favourite
of Caligula, Claudius had practically owed his elevation to the
Empire, since he it was who induced the senators to acquiesce
in that uncouth dominion.

The streets of Rome were full of persons who lived in
semi-pauperism ; lazzaroni who had nothing to depend upon
but the sportula or dole supplied by noble and wealthy
families, or grants of corn made at nominal prices by the


Emperor. They lived anyhow, by their wits and by their
vices. In that sunny climate the wants of life are few,
and they found abundance of excitement and amusement,
while they could hardly be left to starve amid the universal
profusion which sometimes squandered millions of sesterces
over a single meal.

But few of the dregs of the people presented a more
miserable aspect than a Phrygian youth who was loitering
aimlessly about the Forum near the hour of noon. The
Forum was nearly deserted, for most of the people were
taking their siesta, and the youth sat down, looking the
picture of wretchedness. He was pale and thin, as though
he had gone through many hardships. His tunic was soiled
and ragged, and he appeared to be, as he was, a homeless and
friendless stranger, alone among the depraved and selfish
millions of the world's capital.

While he was thinking what he had best do to allay the
pangs of hunger, he saw a young student enter the Forum
followed by a little slave. He paid no particular attention
to them, but a few moments later his curiosity was aroused,
first by hearing the blows of an axe, and then by seeing the
student run hastily out of the Forum with the slave-child at
his heels. Strolling to the corner from which the sounds had
come, he found himself opposite to the lattice- work which
projected over the shops of the silversmiths, and seeing an axe
lying on the ground, picked it up, and examined it. Alarmed
by a rush of feet, he looked up and saw the ' bucket-men ' 1
(as the mob nicknamed the police) running up to him.
While he was wondering what they could want, he found
himself rudely arrested, and saluted with a volley of violent
abuse. 2

' What have I done ? ' he asked in Greek.

'What have you done, you thievish rascal ? You ask that,
when we have caught you, axe in hand, hewing at and stealing
the lead of the roof ? '

The youth, who knew Latin imperfectly, was too much
puzzled and confused to understand the objurgations addressed

1 Sparteoli, ' bucket-men,' was the slang terra for the police, perhaps from
the spartum, or rope-basket covered with pitch, in which they carried water as

2 Note 19. Arrest of Onesimus.



to him ; but a crowd of idlers rapidly collected, and speaking
to one of them, he was answered in Greek that the people of
the neighbourhood had long been blamed for stealing the lead
from the silversmiths. They had not done it, and were indig-
nant at being falsely accused. And now, as he had been
caught in the act, he would be haled off to the court of the
City Praetor, and it would be likely to go hard with him. If
he got off with thirty lashes he might think himself lucky.
More probably he would be condemned to branding, or
since an example was needed to the cross.

The youth could only cry, aud wring his hands, and protest
his innocence ; but his protests were met by the jeers of the

' Ah ! ' said one, ' how will you like to have the three letters
branded with a hot iron right across your forehead ? That
won't make the girls like your face better.'

' Whose slave are yon ? ' asked another. ' Won't you catch
it from your master ! You '11 have to work chained in the
slave-jail or at the mill, and may bid good-bye to the sunlight
for a year or two at least.'

' Slave ? ' said another. ' I don't believe he 's a slave. He
looks too ragged and starved. He 's had no regular rations
for a long time, I '11 be bound.'

' A runaway, I expect,' said a third. ' Well, anyhow he '11
have to give an account of himself, unless he likes to have a
ride on the little horse, 1 or have his neck wedged tight into a
wooden fork.'

' Furcifer ? Gallows-bird ! ' cried others of the crowd.
'And we honest citizens are to be accused of stealing because
of his tricks ! '

' It 's a sad pity, too,' said a young woman ; ' for look how
handsome he is with those dark Asiatic eyes ! '

As most of these remarks had been poured out in voluble
and slang Latin, the young Phrygian could only make out
enough to know that he was in evil case ; and, weakened
as he was by exposure and insufficient food, he could but
feebly plead for mercy, and protest that he had done no

But the police had not dragged him far when they saw
Pudens and Titus approaching them down the Viminal Hill,
1 Equuleus was an instrument of torture.


on which the centurion lived. At the sight of a centurion in
the armour of the Praetorians, and a boy who wore a golden
bulla, and whom some of them recognised as a son of the
brave general Vespasian, the crowd made way. As they
passed by, Titus noticed the youth's distress, and, compas-
sionate as usual, begged Pudens to ask what was the matter.
The vigiles briefly explained how they had seized their
prisoner, who must have been guilty of the lead-stealing
complained of, for the axe was in his hand, and no one
else was near.

' What have you to say for yourself ? ' asked the centurion.

' I am innocent,' said the prisoner, in Greek ; ' the axe is
not mine. I only picked it up to look at it. It must have
been a young student who was using it, for I saw him run
out of the Forum with his slave.'

Pudens and Titus exchanged glances, for they had met the
student and slave still hurrying rapidly along. He was
the real culprit, but he had heard the silversmiths call for
the police, and had taken to his heels. Pudens had seen
him stop at the house of a knight a street or two distant,
and run up the steps with a speed which a Roman regarded
as very undignified.

' Come with me,' he said to the police, ' and I think I can
take you to the real offender. This youth is innocent, though
things look against him.'

Followed by the crowd, who grumbled a little at losing the
enjoyment of watching the trial, Pudens led them to the
knight's house. The little slave was amusing himself with
hopping to and fro under the vestibule.

' Keep back, Quirites,' said the head vigil. ' The centurion
and I will ask a question here.'

' Do you know this axe, my small salaputium J ? ' said

' Yes,' said the child with alacrity, for he was too young to
understand the situation. 'It is ours. We dropped it not
long ago.'

' The case is clear,' said Pudens. ' I will be witness ; ' and
he offered his ears for the officer to touch. 2 ' Meanwhile you
can set this youth free.'

1 Salaputium, ' hop-o'-my-thumb.'

2 To offer the ears to be touched was a sign of willingness to give witness.
See Hor. Sat, ix. 77 ; and for the reason of the custom, Pliny, N. H. xi. 103.


The officer touched his ear with the recogiiised formula.
' Eemember, you will be my witness in this case.'

The student was arrested, but his father got him off by a
large secret bribe to the police arid to the silversmiths. The
crowd dispersed, and Pudens and Titus, without waiting to
watch the issue of the affair, turned their steps towards the
Vicus Apollinis, which led to the Palace.

Soon afterwards they heard footsteps behind them, and,
turning round, saw the youth whom they had rescued.

' What more do you want ? ' said Pudens, in answer to his
eager, appealing look. ' I have got you out of your trouble ;
is not that enough ? '

'I am weak, and hungry, and a stranger,' said the youth,

' He wants money,' whispered Titus, and drawing a denarius
from the breast of his toga, he put it into his hand.

But, kneeling down, the stranger seized the hem of the
scarlet sagum which Pudens happened to be wearing, and
kissing it, exclaimed, ' Oh, sir, take me into your household !
I will do anything ! '

'Who are you?'

'My name is Ouesimus.'

' A good name, and of good omen. 1 What are you ? You
look like a slave. Not a runaway slave, I hope ? '

' No sir,' said Onesimus, to whom a lie came as easy as to
most of his race. ' I lived at Colossse. I was kidnapped by a
slave-dealer, but I escaped.'

' And you want to go back to Colossse ? '

' No sir. I am left an orphan. I want to earn my living

' Take him,' said Titus. ' You have plenty of room for an
extra slave, and I like his looks.'

But Pudens hesitated.

' A Phrygian slave ! ' he said ; ' why even proverbs warn me
against him.' He quoted two, sotto voce, to Titus ' Worst of
the Mysians,' used of persons despicably bad ; and ' More
cowardly than a Phrygian hare.'

' Well,' said Titus, ' I will give you proverb for proverb ;
" Phrygians are improved by scourging." ' 2

s, 'profitable.' St. Paul plays on the meaning of the name in
Philemon, 10, 11.

2 Cic. Pro Ftacco, 27 : ' Phrygium plagis solere fieri meliorem.'


' Yes,' answered Pudens ; ' but I am not accustomed to rule
my slaves by the whip.'

The boy had not heard them, for they spoke in low tones,
but he marked the hesitation of Pudens, and, still crying bit-
terly, stooped as though to make marks with his finger on the
ground. His motion was quick, but Pudens saw that he had
drawn in the dust very rapidly a rude outline of a fish, which
he had almost instantaneously obliterated with a movement of
his palm.

Pudens understood the sign. The youth was, or had been,
a Christian, and knew that if Pudens happened to be a Chris-
tian too his favour would be secured.

' Follow me,' he said. ' My household is small and humble>
but I have just lost my lacquey, who died of fever. I will
speak to my head ireedman. Perhaps, when we have heard
something more about you, he will let you fill the vacant




"EKCUTTOS 8e irejpa^rot inrb rf/y ISlas iifiBvu'ias ff\Ko/j.fjos nal $e\ta6/ji(vos.
S. JAC. Ep. i. 14.

w tfov^ip&v, ALCIPHK. Ep. iii. 38.

THE real history of Onesinms was this. He had been born at
Thyatira ; his parents had once been in a respectable position,
but his father had been unfortunate, and when the boy became
an orphan he had sunk so low in the world that, to save him
from the pangs of hunger, the creditors sold him as a slave to
the purple-factory of which Lydia who afterwards became St.
Paul's convert at Philippi was part-owner. There he had learnt
a great deal about the purple-trade and the best way of folding
and keeping purple robes. But he was wild and careless and fond
of pleasure, and the head workman, not finding him profitable
or easy to manage, had again offered him for sale. He was a
quick, good-looking boy, and Philemon, a gentleman of Colossse,
touched with his forlorn look as he stood on the slave-platform
(catasta) with his feet chalked and a description (titulus) round
his neck, had felt compassion for him and had bought him. Not
long after this, Philemon, with his wife Apphia, his son Ar-
chippus, and several slaves of their household, had been con-
verted by St. Paul. The Apostle had not, indeed, visited the
strange Phrygian city, where the Lycus flows under its natural
bridges of gleaming travertine ; but Philemon and his party
had gone down to witness the great Asian games at Ephesus,
and to view the treasures of the famous Temple of Artemis,
which was one of the wonders of the world. There they had
heard Paul preach in the hall of the rhetorician Tyrannus,
and, being of sweet and serious disposition, had been pro-
foundly impressed by the message of the gospel. The grace
of God had taken possession of their hearts. They exulted in
the purity, the hope, and the gladness of Christianity, and
under the fostering care of Epaphras, to whose charge St. Paul


had entrusted the churches of the Lycian valley, they had
finally been led to the full acceptance of the gospel, and had
been baptised in the waters of their native river.

Onesimus had not been baptised with them, though lie had
learnt something of Christianity as a young catechumen. He
had lived in daily contact with these good people from early
boyhood, and they had treated him with a kindness and con-
sideration which was in marked contrast to the brutal manner
of most Pagans towards the human beings whom they regarded
as chattels of which they were the indefeasible owners. But
Colossse was a sleepy and decaying city. It offered none of
the pleasures and excitements which Onesimus had tasted
at Thyatira and Ephesus. He longed to escape from the
narrow valley of the dull town ; to hear in the streets of
Ephesus the shrill wail of the priests of CyLele ; to gaze at
the superb Artemisian processions; to sit palpitating with
enthusiasm as he watched the chariots dash past him in wild
career in the circus, or the gorgeous spectacles of the amphi-
theatre. Above all he sighed and yearned for Rome, for he
had often heard of its glory, its magnificence, its unchecked
indulgeucies. He was only a slave only one of those
Phrygian slaves, who were the least esteemed ; but he had
been free born. The passions of the Asiatic Greek were
strong in him. Other slaves had made their way why
should not he ? He was strong, clever, good-looking was
he not certain to secure some fortune in the world ?

The ' tempting opportunity ' met the ' susceptible dispo-
sition.' Philemon was engaged in the wool-dyeing which
formed the most prosperous industry of Colossas, and on a
certain day after the great fair of Laodicea considerable sums
were paid to him. He had never had any reason to distrust
Onesimus, and the youth knew where the money was kept.
One day, when Philemon had been summoned by business to
Hierapolis and was likely to be absent for a week, Onesimus
abstracted some of the gold coins enough, he thought, to
take him safely to Eome if necessary and absconded to
Ephesus. There, for a few days, he enjoyed himself in vis-
iting the marvels and amusements of the city. But a fair
youth, in servile dress, alone, in a crowded town, could
hardly escape falling among companions of the lowest type.
Fain would they have plunged him into vice and dissipation;


but though the runaway was not always truthful, and had
fallen into dishonesty, he was far from being depraved. One
who had breathed in a pure Christian household the dewy
dawn of the Christian faith, and had watched its purple glow
transfiguring the commonest elements of life, could hardly
sink to the depths of Satan in the great weltering sea of
heathen wickedness. Fallen as he was, he never wholly lost
his self-respect, and when he had satisfied his first wild im-
pulse he longed to return and plead for forgiveness. After
all, how infinitely more happy had he been in sleepy Colossae
than in tumultuous Ephesus S But for a slave to abscond
from a kind master, and in absconding to steal his master's
gold, was not only a heinous but a capital offence. He did
not know but what Philemon, good and kind as he was,
might still deem it right to uphold the laws of the State, and
to hand him over to the magistrates. And then he shuddered
to think of what awaited him : what blows, what brandings,
what wearing of the furca, or thrusting into the stocks, or
being made to work in the mines or the galleys, or among
the chained wretches of some public slave-prison. The soft
nature of the Eastern shrank from such horrors, and almost
more from the intolerable sense of shame which would over-
whelm him when he stood for the first time a convict-fugitive
in his master's house.

His ill-got money was soon ill-gone. A little of it was lost
in gambling ; some he had to squander on worthless com-
panions, who tried to insinuate themselves into his favour, or
to terrify him with their suspicions ; the rest was stolen one
night in the low lodging which he had been obliged to seek.
Penniless, and sick at heart, he hurried down to the great
quay of the city, and offered to work his passage to Italy in a
galley. Landed in Italy he had begged his way to Rome, and
in Rome he had sunk to the wretchedness in which we first
saw him. No career seemed open to him but a career of
vice ; no possibility offered of earning his daily bread but by
criminal courses. He sank back horrified from the rascality
which he had witnessed on every side, among those who,
being past feeling, and having their consciences seared as with
a hot iron, wrought all uncleanness with greediness. He grew
more and more emaciated, more and more wretched, sleeping
under arches or porticoes, and depending for his scant supply of


polenta on the chance of a farthing flung to him now and then
in scornful alms. The accident which threw him in the path
of Pudens came only just in time to save him from ruin and

Nereus, the freedman of Pudeus, was not unwilling to get
for nothing an active youth who might turn out to be a useful
slave ; and in that household he once more found kindness and
happiness. It is true that Pudens was not yet an open
Christian, but several of his slaves were, as Onesimus soon
discovered; and he had learnt by experience that, among
Christian men and women, he was safe from a thousand
miseries and a thousand temptations. The busy thronging,
rushing life of Eome delighted his quick intelligence, and all
the more from the contrast it presented to the silent streets of
Colossse, and the narrow valley of its strange white stream.

He had several adventures, and such principles of right-
eousness as were left to him were severely tried. Some of
the young slaves whom he encountered took him to the
theatres, and in the pantomimic displays and Atellan fables a
cynical shamelessness reigned supreme. To witness the act-
ing of a Paris or an Aliturus was to witness consummate
human skill and beauty pandering to the lowest instincts of
humanity. Yet Onesimus could not keep away from these
scenes, though Stachys and Nereus and Junia and others of
the Christian slaves of Pudens did their best, when the chance
offered, to save him from the vortex of such perilous dissipation.

Still more brutalising, still more destructive of every element
of pureness and kindness were the gladiatorial games. Of these
he had no experience. In the provinces they were compara-
tively rare, and Philemon had forbidden his slaves ever to be
present in the amphitheatre when they were exhibited.
Onesimus, who had nothing cruel in his nature, had so far
preserved a sort of respect for the wishes of Philemon, that
he determined not to witness a gladiatorial show. When the
great day came, all the slaves were talking of the prowess of
Gallina and Syrus, two famous gladiators, and of the magni-
ficent number of lions and tigers which were to be exhibited.

He could not help being interested in a topic which seemed
so absorbing, but he still meant to keep away. Some of his
comrades, however, thought that scruples which might suit a
Cicero and a Seneca were quite out of place in a Phrygian


foot-boy, and seized him in the street and said, ' We are going
to take you to the amphitheatre by force.'

' It is of no use to take me,' said Onesimus, repeating a
sentiment which he had heard from Philemon. ' I am not
going to see fine fellows fine Dacians arid Britons hack
one another to pieces to please a multitude of whom the
majority deserve life much less than the gladiators them-

' Di magni, salaputium disertum ! ' exclaimed Lygdus, one
of the gay and festal company who belonged to Caesar's
household. ' I heard Epictetus say something of the kind,
and we all know that the poor little fellow is only a small
echo of Musonitis. But you, Onesimus, cannot pretend to be
a philosopher, and instead of talking seditious nonsense against
the majesty of the Roman people, go you shall.'

'Well then, you will have to drag me there by force,' said

' Never mind ; go you shall,' said Lygdus ; and, seizing him
by the neck and arms, they hurried him along with them
into the top seats set apart for slaves and the proletariat.

When once there, Onesimus had not the wisdom to behave
as young Alypius did three centuries later, and to close his
eyes. On the contrary, he caught fire, almost from the first
moment, with the wild excitement, and returned home pa-
ganised in every fibre of his being by the horrid voluptuous
maddening scene which he had witnessed in which he had
taken part. All that was sweet and pure and tender in the
lessons which he had learnt in the house of Philemon seemed
to have been swept away for the time in that crimson tide of
blood, in that demoniac spectacle of strong men sacrificed as
on a Moloch-altar for the amusement of the idle populace.
The more splendid the agility of the nets-man, the more
brawny the muscles of the Samnite, the more dazzling the
sweep of the miraiillo's steel, the more vivid was the excite-
ment of watching the glazing eye and ebbing life. It was
thrilling to see the supreme moments and most unfathorned
mysteries of existence turned into the spectacle of a holiday ;
and even to help in deciding by the movement of a thumb
whether some blue-eyed German from the Teutobergiau
forests should live or die. What wonder was it that waves
of emotion swept over the assembled multitude as the gusts


of a summer tempest sweep over the waving corn ? What
wonder that the hearts of thousands, as though they were the
heart of one man, throbbed together in fierce sympathy, and
became like a wild ^Eolian harp, of which the strings were
beaten into murmurs or shrieks or sobs by some intermittent
hurricane ? In the concentrated passion of those hours, when
every pulse leapt and tingled with excitement, the youth
seemed to live through years in moments ; his whole being
palpitated with a delicious horror, which annihilated all the
ordinary interests of life. Here, for the mere dissipation of
time, the most consummate tragedies were enacted as part of
a scenic display. The spasms of anguish and the heroism of
endurance were but the passing incidents of a gymnastic show.

When Onesimus returned to his cell that night he was a
changed being. For a long time he could not sleep, and
when lie did sleep the tumult of the arena still rolled through
his troubled dreams. His fellow-slaves, long familiar with
such games, were amused to hear him start up from his pallet
with shouts of Habet ! Occide ! Verbera ! and all the wild
cries of the amphitheatre, and from these bloodshot dreams
he would awake panting as from a nightmare, while the chant
of the gladiators, Ave, Ccesar ! Morituri te salutamus, still
woke its solemn echoes in his ears.

All life looked stale and dull to the Phrygian slave when
the glow of an Italian morning entering his cell aroused him
to the duties of the day. Slaves, even in a humble home like
that of Pudeus, were so numerous as to make those duties
inconceivably light. For the greater part of the day his
time was his own, for all he had to do was to wait on Pudens
when he went out, carrying anything which his master might
require. But henceforth his thoughts were day-dreams, and,
when not engaged in work, he found nothing to do but to join
in the gossip of his fellow-slaves. Their talk turned usually
on three subjects their masters, and all the low society
slanders of the city ; the delights of the taverns ; the merits of
rival gladiators and charioteers, whose names were on every
lip. Such conversation led of.course to incessant betting, and
many a slave lost the whole amount of his savings again and
again by backing the merits of a Pacideianus or a Spicillus ;
or by running up too long scores at the cook-shop (popina)
to which his fellow-slaves resorted ; or by trying to win the


affections of some favourite female flute-player from Syria OT

Gambling, too, was the incessant diversion of these idle
hordes. Thefamilia of Pudens only consisted of the modest
number of thirty, but the slave population of Eome was of
colossal magnitude, and there was a terrible free-masonry
among the members of this wretched and corrupted class. The
companions of Onesimus were not chiefly to be found in the
household to which he belonged, but among the lewd idlers
whom he picked up as acquaintances in every street. With
these he played at dice, and sauntered about, and jested, and
drank, and squabbled, and betted, until he was on the high
road towards being as low a specimen of the slave-world
as any of them all a beautiful human soul caught in the
snare of the devil, lured by the glittering bait of vice, to
be dragged forth soon to die lacerated and gasping upon the

Hitherto a very little had sufficed him, but now he began
to need money money for gambling, money for the taverns,
money to spend in the same sins and follies in which the
slaves about him spent their days. He could indeed have
gained it, had he sunk so low, in a thousand nefarious ways;
and, gifted as he was with a quick and supple intelligence, as
well as with no small share of the beauty of his race, he
might have run away once more, or have secured his purchase
into many a pagan household, where he might have become
the pampered favourite of some luxurious master. Such, in
such a city as Rome, would have been the certain fate of any
youth like him, had it not been for the truths which he had
heard from Epaphras in the house of Philemon. When he
was most willing to forget those holy lessons they still hung"
about him and gave him checks. The grace of God still
lived as a faint spark, not wholly quenched, under the
whitening embers of his life. He could not forget that what
were now his pleasures had once been pains, arid sometimes
amid the stifling atmosphere of a dissipation which rapidly
tended to become pleasureless, his soul seemed to ' gasp
among the shallows,' sore athirst for purer air.

But he resisted these retarding influences, and by fiercer
draughts of excitement strove to dispel the pleadings of the
still small voice.


It was not long before he felt hard pressed, for he had
gambled away the little he had earned.

He had stolen before he would steal again.

The slaves of Pudens were mostly of a simpler and more
faithful class than those of the more luxurious houses. There
was no need for Pudens to take great precautions about the
safety of his money. Most of it was safe in the hands of his
banker (mensarius), but sums which to a slave would seem
considerable were locked up in a chest under the charge of
Nereus. Nereus, as we have already mentioned, was a
Christian, and Onesimus, until he had begun to degenerate,
had felt warmly drawn towards his daughter Junia. He
thought, too, that the simple maiden was not wholly indif-
ferent to him. But Nereus had watched his career, and as
it became too probable that the Phrygian would sink into
worthlessness, he had taken care that Onesimus and his
daughter should scarcely ever meet.

But when, as in every Roman house, a multitude live in a
confined space, the whole ways of the house become known
to all, and Onesimus knew the place where Nereus kept the
ready money of his master. He watched his opportunity
when all but a few members of the household were absent
to witness a festival, from which he had purposely absented
himself on a plea of sickness. The only persons left at home
were Nereus and others who, being Christians, avoided giving
the smallest sanction to pagan ceremonies. The house was
still as the grave in the noontide, when the youth glided into
the cell of the sleeping Nereus, and deftly abstracted from
his tunic the key which he wanted. Armed with this, he
slipped into the tablinum, or private room, of Pudens whom
he knew to be on duty at the Palace and had already
opened the casket in which he kept his money, when he was
startled by a low voice and a gliding footstep.

He had not been unobserved. Nereus was too faithful,
and too much aware of the dishonesty of the unhappy class
to which he belonged, to leave his master's interests unpro-
tected. He had directed his daughter always to be watchful
at the hour when he knew that a theft was most feasible.
Junia, from the apartments of the female slaves, on the other
side of the house, had heard some one moving stealthily along
the passage. Hidden behind a statue, she had observed a


slave stealing into her father's cell, bad followed lightly, and
with a pang of shame had seen the youth of whom she had
thought as a lover make his way noiselessly to the room of
his master.

She followed him to the entrance ; she saw him open the
casket ; and she grew almost sick with terror when she
thought of the frightful punishment possibly even cruci-
fixion itself which might follow the crime he was on the
eve of committing. She would fain have stopped him, but
did not dare to enter the chamber ; and, meanwhile, for some
reason the youth was lingering.

He was lingering because there rang in his ear a voiceless
memory of words which Epaphras had quoted as a message of
Paul of Tarsus. The still voice said to him : ' Let him that
stole steal no more ; but rather let him labour, working with
his hands.'

He was trying to suppress the mutiny of 'the blushing
shamefast spirit' within him, as he thought of the games and
the dice-box and the Subura, when he was thrilled through
and through by a terrified and scarcely audible whisper of
his name

' Onesimus ! '

He turned round, and with nervous haste relocking the
casket, hurried into the passage. There, with head bowed
over her hands, he saw the figure of a young girl. For one
instant she raised her face as he came out, and he ex-
claimed 'Junia ! '

She raised her hand with a warning gesture, put her finger
to her lips, and vanished. She fled towards the garden "be-
hind the farthest precincts of the house, and he overtook her
in a walk sheltered from view by a trellis covered with the
leaves of a spreading vine.

' Junia,' he said, flinging himself on his knees, ' will you
betray me ? '

The girl stood pale and trembling. ' Onesimus,' she said,
' I conceal nothing from my father.'

'From your father? 01), Junia, he would drag me before
Pudens. Would you see me beaten, perhaps to death, with
the leaded thongs ? Would you hear me shriek under the
horrible scutica ? Could you bear to see the crows tearing my
flesh as I hung on the cross ? '


' Pudens is just and kind,' she said, faintly , ' he never
inflicts upon his slaves such horrors as these.'

'No,' answered Onesimus, bitterly ; ' it would suffice to send
me, chained, to work in some sunless pit to the music of
clanking fetters. II would suffice to brand three letters on
my forehead, and turn me into the world to starve as a spec-
tacle of shame.'

'Onesimus,' she said, 'would God I could She
stopped, confused and terrified, for she did not know that
Onesimus had ever heard the truths of Christianity.

'Junia/he exclaimed, 'you are a Christian; so am I'
and he marked on the gravel the monogram of Christ.

' Alas ! ' she answered, ' a Christian you cannot be. It
seems that you have heard of Jesus ; but Christians cannot
steal, and cannot live as you have been living. Christians
are innocent.'

' Then you will betray me ? Ah ! but if you do, you are
in my power. Christianity is a foreign superstition. The
City Praetor '

' Base,' she answered, ' and baser than I thought. Know
you not' and a light came into her eye, and a glow over all
her face ' that a Christian can suffer ? that even a Chris-
tian slave-girl does not fear at all to die ? '

He thought that she had never looked so beautiful so
like one of the angels of whom he had heard in the gatherings
at Colossse. But the sight of the gladiators hacking each
other to pieces had inured him to cruelty and blood had
filled him with fierce egotism, and indifference to human life.
A horrible thought suddenly leapt upon him as with a tiger's
leap. Why not get rid of the sole witness of his crime ?

' Then you will betray me to chains, to branding, to the
scourge, to the cross ? ' he asked, fiercely.

Weeping, hiding her face in her hands, she said : ' What
duty tells me, I must do. I must tell my father.'

In an instant the devil had Onesimus in his grip. He
thrust his right hand into his bosom, where he had purposely
concealed a dagger.

' Then die ! ' he exclaimed, seizing her with his left hand,
while the steel gleamed in the sun.

The girl moved not ; but his own shriek startled the air, as
he felt a hand come down on his shoulder with the grasp of a


vice. The dagger was wrenched out of his hand ; he was
whirled round, the blow of a powerful fist stretched him on
the path, and a foot which seemed as if it would crush out his
life was placed upon his breast.

' Oh, father, spare him ! ' said Junia.

Nereus still kept his foot on the prostrate youth, still held
the dagger in his hand ; his eyes still flashed, his whole frame
was dilated with righteous indignation. He had misunder-
stood the meaning of the scene.

' Explain ! ' he said. ' Junia ! You here alone with Onesi-
rnus in the vine-walk, at the lonely noon ! How did he in-
veigle you here ? Did he dare to insult you ? '

The girl had risen ; and while Onesimus lay on the ground,
stunned with the violence of his fall, she told her father all
that had happened.-

Nereus spurned the youth with his foot.

' And I once thought,' he said, ' that he was a secret Chris-
tian ! I once thought that some day he might be worthy to
be the husband of my Junia ! A thief ! a would-be murderer !
This comes of harbouring a strange Phrygian in an honest

' Father, forgive him ! ' said Junia. ' Are not we forgiven ? '

' The wrong to me the threat against the life of the child
I love yes, that might be forgiven,' said Nereus ; ' forgiven
if repented of. But how can I do otherwise than tell Pudens ?
How can I keep this youth a member of the household ? '

And again, moved by strong passion, he spurned him with
his foot.

' Is there one house in Eome, father,' she said, ' in which
there are not thieves ? in which there are not men aye, and
women too who steal, and would murder if they could ?
Is he worse than thousands whom yet we do not see chained
in the prisons or rotting on the crosses ? And have we not
all sinned ? and did not Jesus say, "Forgive one another your
trespasses " ? '

A half-suppressed groan from Onesimus stopped the con-

' I know not what to do,' said Nereus. ' Go back, my child,
to your cell and to your distaff. I will see you soon. And
you,' he said, ' thrice-wretched boy, come with me. :

He dragged Onesimus from the ground, and was in such a


transport of wrath that he could not refrain from shaking him
by the shoulders with the roughest and most contemptuous
violence, before he thrust him into the house, and into the
cell which had been assigned to him. Then, calling two of
his fellow-slaves, Stachys and Amplias, Christians like him-
self, whom he could implicitly trust, he bade them bind
Ouesimus hand and foot, and leave him, not unwatched, till
he should have time to consider his case.




1 Asper et immitis, breviter vis omnia dicam ?
Dispeream si te mater amare potest.'

SUETON. Tib. 59.

NERO was now firmly seated on the throne of the Empire.
Its cares sat lightly on him. The government went on
admirably without him. He had nothing to do but to glut
himself with enjoyments, and to make what he could of the
kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.

At first, like one dazed with a sudden outburst of light, he
had been unable to understand the immensity of his own
power. For the first month of his reign he could hardly
realise that he was more than a boy. He had always been
passionately fond of chariot races, which as a boy he had not
been permitted to frequent. One day, while at his lessons, he
had been deploring to his companions the fate of a charioteer
of the green faction who had been thrown out of his chariot
and dragged to death by his own horses. His master, over-
hearing the conversation, reproved him, and the boy, with a
clever and ready lie, said, ' I was only talking about Hector
being dragged round the walls of Troy by Achilles.' And
now he might watch the races all day long and plunge into
the hottest rivalry of the factions, and neither in this pursuit
nor in any other was there a single human being to say him

The only thing which troubled him was the jealous inter-
ference of his mother. Agrippina still clutched with desperate
tenacity at the vanishing fruits of the ambition for the sake of
which all her crimes had been committed. She had sold her
soul, and was beating back the conviction that she had sold it
for nought. How could that slight boy of seventeen, whom
as a child she had so often chastised with her own hand,
dream of resisting her ? Was not her nature, compared with


his, as adamant to clay ? She had been a princess of the
blood from infancy, surrounded by near relatives who had
been adored in life and deified after death ; she had enjoyed
power during two reigns, and now at last she had fancied that
she would control the Empire for the remainder of her life.
Was not her skill in intrigue as great as that of Livia ? Was
not her indomitable purpose even more intense ? She forgot
that Livia had been, what Caligula called her, Ulysses stolatus,
'a Ulysses in petticoats,' a woman with absolute control over
her own emotions. Agrippina, on the other hand, was full of
a wild passion which ruined her caution and precipitated her

And she forgot, more fatally, the total collapse of all Livia's
soaring ambitions. Livia had procured the death of prince
after prince who stood between her son Tiberius and the
throne. Tiberius did indeed become Emperor, but ' had
Zimri peace who slew his master ' ? Pliny calls Tiberius
'confessedly the gloomiest of men.' He himself wrote to the
Senate that he felt himself daily destroyed by all the gods and
goddesses. And, after all, his only son died, and he was
succeeded by Caligula, the bad and brutal son of the hated
and murdered Gerinanicus and the hated and murdered
Agrippina the elder. He might have said with the blood-
stained usurper of our great tragedy :

' Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe ;
Thence to be wrench' d with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding.'

Was it likely to be otherwise with her son Nero ?

Nero slight boy as she thought him had hardly "been
seated on the throne when he began to slip out of her control.
Pallas, her secret lover, her chief supporter, was speedily
ejected and disgraced. Seneca and Burrus were botli opposed
to her influence, and neither of them dreaded her vengeance.
Suitors for favours were more anxious to secure the inter-
cession of Acte than hers. Nero, surrounded by dissolute
young aristocrats, and also by adventurers, buffoons and
parasites, was daily showing himself more indifferent to her
threats, her commands, even her reasonable wishes. He liked
to parade his new-born freedom. She felt sure that among


the circle of his familiar companions, she and her pretensions
were turned into ridicule. Her proud cheek flushed even in
solitude to think that she, who, for Nero's sake, had dared all,
should have been superseded in her influence by such curled
and jewelled weaklings as Otho, and ousted from her son's
affections by a meek freedwomau like Acte. How terribly
had she miscalculated ! In the reign of Claudius she had
been the mightiest person in the Court arid in the State.
Had she become the murderess of her husband only to trans-
fer from herself into the hands of men whom she despised
too much to hate, the power which was once her own ? Had
she flung away the substance and only grasped a flickering
shadow ?

A thousand plans of revenge crossed her mind, only to be
rejected. The die was cast. The deeds done were irrevocable.
It only remained for her to dree the judgment for her crimes,
and to take such few steps as still were possible to her along
the precipice's edge. She had plucked a tempting fruit, and
she found that its taste was poison ; she had nursed a serpent
in her bosom, and its sting was death.

But she would not resign her power without at least one
mad struggle to retain it. She still had access to the Emperor
whenever she desired, and many a wild scene had occurred
between the mother and the sou. In such interviews she let
her tongue run riot. She refrained from nothing. She no
longer attempted to conceal from him that Claudius had died
by her hand. She wrapped the youth round in the whirlwind
of her sulphurous passion ; she raised her voice so loud in a
storm of reproaches and recriminations that sometimes even
the freedmen and soldiers outside the imperial apartments
heard the fierce voices of altercation, and were in doubt
whether they should not rush in and interfere. And often
the feeble nature of Nero cowered before her menaces as she
poured on him a flood of undisguised contempt. Sometimes she
wrapped him in a storm of satire and sarcasm. She upbraided
him with his unmanliness ; she contrasted him unfavourably
with Britannicus ; she told him that he was more fit to be an
actor of melodrama, or a tenth-rate charioteer, or a fiftieth-rate
singer, than to be the Emperor of Rome.

' To think,' she said, raising her voice almost to a scream,
as he sat before her in sullen silence 'to think that the


blood of the Domitii and of the Neros and of the Caesars is in
your veins ! You an emperor ! Yes ; an emperor of panto-
mime ! You have nothing of the Kornan, much less of the
ruler, nay, not even of the man, in you. Who made you
Emperor? Who but I?'

' I wish you had left me alone, then,' he answered, desper-
ately. ' It is no such pleasure to be Emperor with you to spy
on me and domineer over me.'

' Spy on you ? Domineer over you ? Ungrateful ! In-
famous ! You, who have made a slave-girl the rival of your
mother ! Let me tell you, Ahenobarbus, that I at least am
the daughter of Germanicus, though you are wholly unworthy
to be his grandson. Whence did you get your pale and feeble
blood ? Not from me, coward and weakling as you are ; not
from your father Dornitius, who, if he was cruel, was at least
a man ! He would not have chosen such creatures as Otho
and Senecio for his friends. He had a man's taste and a man's
ambition. He would have blushed to be father of a singing
and painting girl like you ! But beware ! You are an agrippa ;
you were born feet-foremost a certain augury of future
misery.' *

Stung to the quick by these reproaches, trembling with
impotent anger to hear his effeminate vanity to which his
comrades burnt daily incense thus ruthlessly insulted, and
angry, above all, that his mother dared to pour contempt on
his cherished accomplishments, Nero's timid nature at last
turned in self-defence.

'I am Emperor now, at any rate,' he said ; ' and ere now the
wives and sisters, if not the mothers, of the Caesars have had
to cool their rage on the rocks of Gyara or Pontia ! '

' You dare to threaten me ? ' she cried. ' You to threaten
me ; rne, your mother; me, who have toiled and schemed, aye.
and committed crimes for you, from a child ; me, whose womb
bare you, whose hand has often beaten you ; me, to whom you
owe it that you are not at this moment a disgraced and
penniless boy !'

'You call me an actor. Are not you more than half an
actress ? ' he said, in a sneering tone.

Agrippina sprang from her seat in a burst of passion.

' Oh, if there be gods ! ' she exclaimed, uplifting her hands,
1 Note 20. Agrippas.


' let them hear me ! Infernal Furies at least there are, for I
have felt them ! Oh ! may they avenge on you my wrongs ! '

Nero cared but little for the curse. He was not supersti-
tious. He thought how Senecio and Petronius would laugh
at the notion of there being real Furies or subterranean gods !

' You know more of the Furies than I do, then,' he said, in
a mocking tone. ' Besides, I have an amulet. Look at this ! '

He handed to her the icuncula puellaris the wooden doll
which had been given him in the streets, with the myste-
rious promise that it would prove to be a charm against every
malignant influence. He honoured it as Louis XL did the
little leaden saint which he wore in his hat when he had
ceased to honour anything else. She glanced at it with utter
scorn ; then, to his horror, flung it on the ground and spurned
it away.

' And you are Pontifex Maximus ! ' she said, concentrating
into the words a world of unmitigated scorn.

Nero was silent, but his look was so dark that, fearing lest
she should have gone too far, she said in calmer tones, ' You
have a better amulet than that paltry image, and one which
your mother gave you. But your follies render it unavailing.'

She pointed to a golden armlet, in which was set the skin
of a serpent, which he wore on his right arm. The serpent
had been found gliding in his room near his cradle ; or, per-
haps, according to another story, its cast-off skin had been
found beside his pillow. Many legends had sprung up about
it. The populace believed that it was a sacred spirit which
had protected him, and had driven from his infant cradle the
murderers sent by Messalina to destroy him. But, while
Nero was yet a child, Agrippina had had the skin of the ser-
pent curiously set in a jewelled armlet of great value, with
rubies for its eyes, and emeralds marking the traces of its
scales, and had clasped it on Nero's arm, and bidden him to
wear it forever. And as his life advanced in golden pros-
perity she had come to believe, or to half believe, that there
was some mysterious charm about it for a mind may be
atheistical and yet profoundly superstitious.

But as she gazed at it with a sort of fascination, she was
seized by one of the violent reactions of feeling which often
sweeps over a mind untrained in the control of its passions.
It brought before her the image of a little boy, whose sweet


and sunny face looked the picture of engaging innocence;
whose golden hair, when it caught the sunlight, shone like an
aureole round his head ; whose blue eyes danced with childish
glee at the sight of what was beautiful ; to whom his mother
was all in all ; who had often flung his arms round her neck,
in joy and in sorrow, with the fondness of a loving child.
That child stood before her through her crimes Emperor of
Rome. He stood there, hateful and hating her on his lips
the nickering smile of mockery ; on his once bright forehead
the scowl of anger. Yet whom had she in all the world be-
sides ? Her father had been murdered ; her mother mur-
dered ; three of her brothers murdered ; her sisters were dead,
and had died in shame ; her first husband dead ; two others of
her husbands poisoned and by her ; her lovers dead, or ban-
ished far away. She knew that a chaos of hatred yawned wide
and deep around her ; she knew that in all the wide world
no single person, except possibly one or two of her freedmen,
cared for her. In her agony, in her loneliness, she had tried
of late to win something like forgiveness, something like
tolerance, if not affection, from the deeply injured Britannicus
and Octavia. She pitied the sorrows and wrongs which she
had herself inflicted on them. She had even learnt to admire
some gracious quality in them both, for which she could find
no name. But, alas ! she soon found that, while they were
perfect in courtesy, they could never love her. The life, the
affection of her son was the sole thing left her ; and he was
turning against her with a feeling akin to loathing stamped
upon his face.

All these thoughts rushed over her mind like a tornado.
Unable to bear them, she ended the interview by a passion of
uncontrollable weeping. And, as she wept, she held out her
appealing arms to her son, and wailed :

' Oli, Nero, forgive my wild words. Whom have we but one
another ? In this drowning sea must we not sink or rise to-
gether ? My son ! my son ! your mother pleads with you.
Forgive me kiss me ; let Agrippina feel once more that she
has the love of the son for whose sole sake she has lived for
whom she would gladly die ! '

A noble nature would have been moved by the tragic ap-
peal of so proud a mother ; but the nature of Nero, essentially
mean, had become constantly meaner. He trembled before


those who confronted him with boldness ; but he triumphed
over all who showed that they feared him. He wanted to
feel perfectly independent. The only person whose power he
feared was his mother. And here was this all-dreaded
mother pleading with him, at whose lightest look he had been
accustomed for years to tremble ! He was not in the least-
moved ; he only intended to secure the ascendency of which,
in that struggle, he had won the first step.

' You curse me,' he said, ' one moment, and the next you
are all tears and entreaties. Do you think that it is only
your amulet that keeps me from your Furies? You have dis-
honoured my image ; see how much I care for your amulet.
I will never wear it again.'

He unclasped the armlet from his wrist, and flung it to the
other end of the room.

' There ! ' he said. ' You may have it ; I have done with
it !' And with these words he turned his back upon her, and
went out without a farewell.

It seemed a small matter, and what else could she expect
from such a being as her son a youth soft without tender-
ness, caressing without affection, cruel without courage ?

She stood and looked towards the curtain through which
he had disappeared. She stood with gleaming eyes and di-
lated nostrils, and firm -set lips. Every tear was dried up in
her burning glance, as she outstretched her clenched hand
and vowed a terrible vengeance.

' wronged Britannicus ! ' she murmured ; ' wronged
Octavia ! cannot 1 even now redress your wrongs ? Alas ! it
cannot be. Their first act would be to avenge the injured
manes of Claudius. But does not Rubellius Plautus live, and
Cornelius Sulla ? Could I not even yet brush this mean and
thankless actor like an insect from my path son though he
be and seat one of them upon the throne of the Csesars ? '

She picked up the armlet with the serpent's skin. 'It shall
be as he said,' she murmured ; ' he shall never wear or see it

When his hour of doom had conie, Nero searched for that
amulet in vain !



'The skipping king, he ambled up and down
With shallow jesters and rash bavin wits,
Soon kindled and soon burned . carded his state,
Mingled his royalty with capering fools,
Had his great name profaned with their scorns.'

1. Henry IV. iii. 2.

NERO tried to persuade himself that he cared little for such
scenes as that which we have witnessed ; but in reality they
troubled him. It required a strong effort to shake off their
effects, and they left his small pleasure-loving nature in a
state of tremor and disgust. He longed to escape from them
to some complete retirement, where, away from all pomp, he
could give himself up, heart and soul, to selfish eestheticism
and voluptuous delight.

He had villas at Antium and at Baise, but even they were
more public than he desired, and he determined to escape from
the noise and heat and worry of Rome to an enchanting lodge
which had been designed by the architects, Severus arid Celer,
in one of the wildest gorges of the Simbruine ridge of the
Apennines, a little above the modern town of Subiaco. Through
this gorge the icy stream of the Anio forces its way, leaping
down into the valley beneath in tumultuous cataracts. By
damming the river the architects had with consummate taste
and skill, caused it to spread into three mountain lakes, three
hundred feet above the valley. On either side of the gorge they
had built a hunting-lodge half hidden amid the dense foliage,
and the two villas for such they practically were had
been united by a bridge which spanned the abyss with a
graceful arch at a stupendous height above the valley. Nature
and art combined to make the scene supremely beautiful. The
grounds and gardens of the villas spread down to the smiling
vale beneath, by walks under overhanging rocks, tapestried


with the luxuriant growth of creepers and wild flowers.
Underfoot the moss of softest emerald was now variegated
with the red autumnal leaves. Where the pure runnels
trickled down little gullies of the rocks they were brightened
with maidenhair and arborescent ferns. The artificial sheets
of water, in which many water-fowl swam undisturbed, were
overshadowed by beeches and oaks and golden platanes which
late autumn had touched with her fiery finger.

It was an enchanting spot. Gay shallops were always ready
on the artificial lakes if any guest cared to row or to plunge in
the cool bright water. On the smooth lawn the ' gemmy pea-
cocks,' as the Latin poets called them, strutted and displayed
their Indian glories, mingled with tame pheasants and par-
tridges. Kids leaped and sported about the rocky slopes.
The cushat-doves cooed from the groves, and white pigeons
from the dove-cotes would come crowding round for maize-grain
at the slightest call. The Ehodian hens clucked contentedly
about the farmyard, which was crowded also with geese and
guinea-fowls. The long-haired young town-slaves, full of
frolic, worked in the garden in mock obedience to the orders
of the country bailiff; but the gardener did not attach much
importance to their labours, for they were far more intent on
pilfering the best fruit they could find in the granaries than on
cultivating the soil ; and the rustics knew that to offend them
was as much as their place was worth.

The lodges themselves made no pretence to the Csesarean
magnificence of the Palace at Eome. But their simplicity
did not exclude the exercise of luxurious taste in their con-
struction and adornment. All the rooms were brightened with
lovely frescoes painted by the most famous rhyparographists.
On the walls of the richer apartments there were orbs of
porphyry and lapis lazuli. The impltivium, into which fell
the ceaseless plash of a musical fountain, was a basin of
Thasian stone, once a rarity even in temples, and the stop
which regulated the play of the water was formed into the
winged figure of a child moulded in silver. In the centre of
the hall, which was tessellated with small pieces of blue and
white marble, there was an exquisite copy of the doves of
Scopas. Statues by such masters as Myron and Praxiteles
stood between the pillars of the peristyle. The windows were
filled with glass, and between them were abaci of peacock-


marble, supported on the gilded wings of Cupids, and of
griffins which looked in opposite directions. On these slabs of
marble stood some of the gold and silver plate which Augustus
had ordered to be made out of the statuettes of precious metals
which had been erected to him by too-adulatory provincials.
On other tables of ivory and fragrant woods lay engraved gems
and cameos, or curiosities, brought from all lands. The walls
of the small but precious library were covered, in imitation of
the famous library of Apollo, with medallions of the most
famous Greek and Eoman authors in repousse" work of gold
and silver, or moulded of Corinthian bronze. Poets, historians,
jurists, orators were grouped together, and between the groups
were framed specimens of the most exquisite palaeography.

Nero was going for the first time to take possession of this
enchanting retreat, the loveliness of which had kindled the
surprise and admiration of the few who had seen it. He
started from Rome with a splendid retinue. He himself rode
in a light car, inlaid with ivory and silver, and was followed
by an army of a thousand slaves and retainers. One of the
earliest lessons which he learnt was that his resources were
practically boundless, so that from the first he broke out into
unheard-of extravagance. His mules were shod with silver.
The muleteers were dressed in liveries of Canusian wool, dyed
scarlet. The runners in front of his chariot, and the swarthy
cohort of outriders from Mazaca in Numidia, selected for their
skill in horsemanship, were adorned with bracelets and trap-
pings of gold. The more delicate slaves had their faces covered
with masks, or tinged with cosmetics, lest their complexions
should suffer from the sunlight. Many of the slaves had no
other office than to carry, with due care, the lyres and other
musical instruments which were required for the theatrical

Agrippina, devoured with chagrin and resentment, had
indeed been asked to accompany him, but in a way so
insultingly ungracious, that she declined. She dreaded to
share with him a place so retired, in which she knew that
almost every hour \vould fill her with disgust and anger. She
had chosen instead to go alone to her stately villa at Bauli, on
the Campanian shore. There, if she had little else to occupy
her time, she could continue her own memoirs, or amuse her-
self with the lampreys and mullets, which were so tame that


they would come at her call, and feed out of her hand. Her
husband's mother, Antonia, had attached earrings to one pet
lamprey, so that people used to visit the villa to see it.
Agrippina followed her example.

Octavia followed Nero. She had not been suffered to pos-
sess any villa which she could call her own, and much as
Nero would have liked to leave her behind, he was compelled
by public opinion to observe a certain conventional respect for
his Empress, the daughter of Claudius. The sedan in which
she travelled was carried by eight stalwart Bithynian porters,
but she was not honoured with any splendour or observance,
and had only a modest retinue out of her six hundred nominal
attendants. Still humbler was the following of Britanuicus.
He had been bidden to come partly because it would have
seemed shameful to leave him alone in Rome during an un-
healthy season, when even persons of low position were driven
into the country by the month in which Libitina claimed her
most numerous victims ; and also because Nero was glad to
keep him in sight. He was happy enough, for Titus was with
him, and Pndens was one of the escort ; and as Epaphroditus
necessarily attended his master, Nero, it was not difficult to
get leave for Epictetus to come in his train. The two kind-
hearted boys thought that the pale face of the slave-child
might gain a touch of rose from the fresh winds of the

Very few ladies were invited. It was necessary, indeed,
that one or two should accompany Octavia ; and Nero, for
his own reasons, wished Junia Silana and Calvia Crispinilla
to be of the party. These were ladies with whom a young
matron like Octavia could scarcely exchange a word, but
happily for her, Flavia Domitilla, the wife of Vespasian,
was asked to accompany the Empress. Vespasian, who had
just returned from his proconsulate, had been summoned
to have an interview with Nero on the state of affairs in
Africa, and to stay for some days. Acte was in the train
of Nero, but, though she rarely saw Octavia, the unfortunate
Empress little knew that the presence of Domitilla, the
only lady to whom she could speak without a shudder, was
really due to the private suggestion of the lovely and kind-
hearted freed woman. Flavia Domitilla was of the humblest
origin, and her father had occupied no higher office than


that of a quaestor's clerk. That no nobler companion had
been sought for her would have been regarded as an insult
by any lady of haughty character; but Octavia preferred
the society of the honest matron to that of a thousand

Seneca and Burrus were invited for a brief visit only,
and as Nero liked to give a flavour of intellectuality to the
society which he gathered round him, Lucan was asked, as
the rising poet of the day ; and Silius Italicus, as a sort of
established poet laureate ; and Persius, the young Etrurian
knight, who, though but twenty-one years old, was so warmly
eulogised by his tutor, Cornutus, that great things were
expected of him. None of his satires had yet seen the
light, but his head would hardly have been safe if Nero
could have read some of the lines locked up in his writing-
desk. With these had been also invited C. Plinius Secundus,
a wealthy knight, thirty-four years of age, in whose encyclo-
paedic range of knowledge it was hoped that the guests might
find an endless fund of amusement and anecdote in their
more serious moments.

But while Nero liked to keep up the credit of dabbling in
literary pursuits, the choice spirits to whom he looked for his
real delight were very different from these graver personages.
The fashionable elegance of Otho and the luxurious cynicism
of Petronius were indispensable for his amusement. Tigel-
linus was too intimate to be excluded ; and with these came
Vatinius, the witty buffoon and cobbler of Beneventum, an
informer of the lowest class. This cobbler's chief recom-
mendations were personal deformity, an outrageous tongue,
and an abnormally prominent nose. He avenged himself on
society for the wrongs inflicted on him by nature. He rejoiced
in the immortality of having given his name to a drinking-cup
with a long nozzle, which has preserved his memory in the
verse of Juvenal and Martial.

Here Nero enjoyed life to his heart's content. The happy
accident that the villa really consisted of two edifices, separated
by the bridge across the glen, enabled him to keep his least
welcome guests in the Villa Castor, and his chosen companions
in the Villa Pollux.

In the grounds of the Villa Castor, Seneca and Burrus had
rooms in which they could transact with their secretaries their


ministerial and military business. Pliny could bury himself
among the rarer treasures of the library, or amuse his leisure
by seeing what further he could learn about the habits of the
flamingoes and other foreign birds, which were carefully kept
in cages and fed from the hands of the visitors. For Britan-
nicus and Titus, who often asked Persius to be their companion,
there was the resource of the tennis-court, the gymnastic room,
and rowing, bathing, and fishing in the lakes ; and Persius,
who had heard all about Epictetus from his young patron,
sometimes let the little slave sit at his feet while he read choice
passages of old Eoman poems in works which had been found
for him by the clever librarian.

The meals were held separately in the two villas, though
sometimes all the guests were invited to Nero's table. He
varied his amusements in every possible way. Sometimes he
would take a long swim in the cold lake ; sometimes he would
fish with a purple line and a golden hook, though he caught
fewer fish in a morning than Britannicus would catch in an
hour. He delighted to spend hours at a time with the harpist
Terpnos or the singer Diodorus, who trained him how to use
what it had become the fashion to describe as his celestial

He soon got tired of the small restraint upon his amuse-
ments which resulted from the presence of the graver guests
across the bridge. But they helped to form an audience for
him in the room which had been fitted up as a theatre. One
evening he had been displaying his accomplishments to all
the guests at both villas, and had been received by the listen-
ing slaves and courtiers with tumults of applause. The others
were obliged, or felt themselves obliged, to join in the clap-
ping ; but Nero could read in their faces that they were
unwilling listeners. Seneca blushed, and his smooth tongue
stumbled, as he attempted to express his gratification. Burrus
looked on with profound disapproval. A look of involuntary
scorn stole over the grave features of Persius, whom Nero
already hated, because the young man's virginal modesty
formed such a contrast to his own shamelessness. But, worst
of all, the blunt soldier, Vespasian, to the intense amusement
of Titus and Britannicus, had first of all begun to nod, and
then had fallen asleep with his mouth wide open, and had
snored had actually and audibly snored, so that all the


audience heard it, while Nero was chanting his own divine
verses with the most bewitching trills of his own divine
voice !

Nero, in his rage, half thought of having him arrested on
the charge of high treason an accusation of which the
meshes were equally adapted to entangle the most daring
criminals and the most trivial offenders. But when he
poured out his wrath to Petronius, his elegant friend laughed
immoderately, and pacified Nero's offended vanity by dwel-
ling on Vespasian's somnolence as a proof of his vulgarity.

'I suppose, then,' said Nero, ' I must say with Horace,
" solvuntur risu tabulae "V

' Yes,' said Petronius, ' and you may add " tu missus alibis."
Why not make a clean sweep of these dreadful old fogies in
the Villa Castor ? Pliny has told us all we care to know
about flamingoes and lampreys. Seneca's pomposities grow
stale. We have been sufficiently amused for the present by
the blushes of Persius, and the good Silius Italicus is as
tedious as his own epic. Give them a respectful farewell.
Send for Paris the actor, and Aliturus the pantomime, and
some of your fairest slaves to wait on us at our choicest
banquets. Let us dismiss this humbug of respectability and
pluck the blossom of the days.'

The advice fell on congenial ears. It was intimated to the
guests in the Villa Castor that they might present their
respects to the Emperor, and disperse where they chose.
They were not sorry to depart from such dubious neighbours
as those in the Villa Pollux. Vespasian and Titus were
rudely sent off the next morning, without being permitted to
see Nero again. Flavia Domitilla accompanied them, and as
the presence of Britannicus was always a trouble to Nero, he
was allowed to spend the rest of the autumn in the humble
Sabine villa of Vespasian's family at Phalacrine, near Reate,
where he would not only have Titus as a companion, but also
his cousins the two young sons of Vespasian's brother,
Flavius Sabinus.

' Among those dull farmers,' said Nero, ' he is not likely to
have any nonsense put into his head. Let him eat beans and
bacon, and grow as sluggish as his friends.'

To Nero and the fashionable nobles of his time every man
was sluggish and plebeian who did not care to season his re-
creation with a variety of vices.



' Who dares, who dares,
In purity of manhood stand upright
And say " This man 's a flatterer " ? If one be,
So are they all ...

the learned pate
Ducks to the golden fool.'

Timon of Athens, iv. 3.

MOKE and more luxurious and irregular became the amuse-
ments of the Villa Pollux. Paganism is protected from com-
plete exposure by the enormity of its own vices. To show
the divine reformation wrought by Christianity it must suffice
that, once for all, the Apostle of the Gentiles seized heathen-
dom by the hair, and branded indelibly on her forehead the
stigma of her shame.

Leaving altogether on one side the darker aspects of the
life to which Nero and his boon companions now abandoned
themselves, neither shall we dwell much upon

' Their gorgeous gluttonies and sumptuous feasts
On citron table and Atlantic stone.'

If the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of
life could have brought to Nero and Otho any happiness, they
might have been happy. They could lift to their lips the cup
of pleasure crowned to the brim. They soon found it to be
an envenomed goblet, sparkling with the wine of demons.
The rage of luxury, the insanity of egotism, the abandonment
to every form of self-indulgence, served only to plunge them
into deeper lassitude, and, last of all, into more irretrievable
disgust. For, though men have bodies, they still are spirits,
and when their bodies have command over their spirits, they
only become a lower kind of beast.

To Nero, while he was yet a boy, had been offered all that
carnal minds think the highest boons. The ancient philoso-
phers used to discuss the question, ' Whether any one would


still remain perfectly virtuous if he were endowed with the
ring of Gyges, which had the power to make a man invisible.'
To Nero had been given alike the ring of Gyges and the lamp
of Aladdin. While he was still young and beautiful, and not
ungifted, all that was fell and foul in the seductions of the
Palace arid the Amphitheatre assailed his feeble nature. It
was hardly strange that his whole being gave way and he
became a prodigy of wickedness. At heart, perhaps, he was
not essentially worse than thousands of youths have been,
but his crimes, unchecked by any limitations of law or of re-
sources, were enacted under the glare of publicity, on the
world's loftiest stage.

Nor must it be forgotten that he saw and enjoyed all the
best, the loveliest, the most intoxicating that could be devised
by an epoch which strove madly after pleasure. Thus, when
Paris and Aliturus came to the villa, the guests saw in those
two actors the most perfect grace set off by the highest advan-
tages, and trained for years by the most artistic skill. They
represented the finished result of all that the world could
produce in seductive art. Such actors, originally selected for
their beauty and genius, made it the effort of their lives to
express by the poetry of movement every burning passion
and soft desire which can agitate the breast. Their rhythmic
action, their mute music, their inimitable grace of motion in
the dance, brought home to the spectator each scene which
they impersonated more powerfully than description, or paint-
ing, or sculpture. Carried away by the glamour of involun-
tary delusion, the gazers seemed to see before them every in-
cident which they chose to represent. Nothing was neglected
which seemed likely to add to the pleasure of the audience.
The rewards of success were splendid wealth, popularity,
applause from numberless spectators, the passionate admiration
of society, the partiality even of emperors and empresses, and
all the power which such influence bestowed. A successful
mimic actor, when he sprang on the stage in his glittering
and close-fitting dress, knew that if he could once exercise on
the multitude his potent spell he might easily become the
favourite of the rulers of the world, as Bathyllus was of
Maecenas, and Mnester of Caligula, and another Paris was of
the Empress Domitia.

Paris was a Greek, and his face was a perfect example of



the fine Greek ideal, faultless in its lines and youthful con-
tour. Aliturus was by birth a Jew, and was endowed with
the splendid beauty which still makes some young Arabs the
types of perfect manhood. Both of them danced after supper
on the day which succeeded their arrival, and it was hard to
say which of them excelled the other. 1

First Paris danced, in his fleshings of the softest Canusian
wool, dyed a light red. His dress revealed the perfect out-
line of a figure that united fineness with strength. He repre-
sented in pantomimic dance the scene of Achilles in the island
of Scyros. He brought every incident arid person before their
eyes the virgins as they spun in the palace of their father,
Lycomedes ; the fair youth concealed as a virgin in the midst
of them, and called Pyrrha from his golden locks ; the maiden
Deidamia, whom he loved ; the eager summons of Ulysses
at his gate ; the ear-shattering trumpet of Diornedes ; the
presents brought by the disguised ambassadors ; the young
warrior betraying himself by the eagerness with which he
turns from jewels and ornaments to nodding helmet and
bright cuirass ; the doffing of his feminine apparel ; the leap-
ing forth in his gleaming panoply. Nothing could be more
marvellous than the whole impersonation. So vivid was the
illusion that the guests of Nero could hardly believe that they
had seen but one young man before them, and not a company
of varied characters.

Yet hardly less subtle was the kindling of the imagination
when Aliturus ' danced,' as it was called, the ' Death of
Hector' in the tragic style which had first been introduced
by the celebrated Bathyllus of Alexandria. They seemed to
see the hero bid farewell to his Andromache, and go bounding
forth to meet the foe ; to see enacted before them the Might of
Hector ; the deceitful spectre of Deiphobus ; the combat ; the
dying prophecy ; the corpse of the gallant Trojan dragged
round the walls of Troy ; Priam and Hecuba tearing their grey
locks. They seemed to hear the wild wail of Andromache,
the tender plaint of Helen, the frenzied utterances of Cassan-
dra ; and when the scene ended there was not one of them who
was not thrilled through and through with pity, with terror,
with admiration.

These scenes were innocent and not ignoble, but softer and
1 Note 21. Ancient dancing.


more voluptuous impersonations followed ; for when another
and less known actor named Hylas painted blue, and drag-
ging a fish's tail behind him had acted the part of the sea-
god Glaucus, to rest the two chief performers, then Paris set
forth the story of Ariadne and Bacchus ; and Aliturus sank
to yet lower depths in dancing the favourite pantomime of

Such were among the amusements of Nero's evenings, and
part of the pleasure consisted in knowing that he and his
guests were enjoying at their leisure a near view of the
unequalled genius which enraptured the shouting myriads of
Koine when witnessed from a distance after long hours of
waiting to secure a place. Further, they had the advantage
of watching the speaking faces of the miinists, which in the
theatre were hidden by a mask. It is needless to add that
Nero rewarded with immense donations the artists whose skill
he so passionately admired. And yet for Paris it had been
happier if, instead of dazzling the multitude, he had remained
the humble slave of Domitia. For in later days Nero, envy-
ing him the tumults of applause he won, tried to emulate his
skill. Paris did his best to teach him, but the attempt was
hopeless. Nothing could then make the obese form of the
Emperor graceful, or his thin legs agile. And since he could
not rival him, he made the poor wretch pay the penalty by
putting him to death.

But no such dread foreboding was in the happy actor's
mind as he witnessed the spell which he cast over the minds
of his audience and audience it might fitly be called, for the
actor had spoken to them in the eloquence of rhythmic gesture.

The conversation turned naturally on the art of dancing.

' Paris,' said Petronius, whose aesthetic sympathies had been
intensely gratified, ' I know not whether you missed the usual
accompaniments of pipes and flutes, and still more the
thundering reverberations of applause from the enraptured
myriads, but I never heard you to greater advantage.'

' Heard me ? Saw me, you mean,' said Paris, with a
pleasant smile.

'No !' said Petronius, ' we have heard, not seen, you. You
have not spoken a word, but your feet and your hands have
surpassed the eloquence even of lips "tinct with Hyblean
honeycombs." '


* You remind me of what Demetrius the Cynic said to me,'
answered Paris.

' What was that ? '

' Do not think me vain if I tell the story,' said the actor.
' I do not tell it in my own honour, but only for the glory of
my art. Demetrius had been railing and snarling at us poor
pantomimes, and said that the only pleasure of the spectators
was derived, not from our dancing, but from the flutes and
songs. I asked him to let me show him a specimen of what
I could do.'

' Happy Demetrius !' said Lucan.

' He was fair-minded enough to consent, and I danced to
him the story of Mars and Venus. I tried to bring before
him their love, their betrayal by Helios, the rage and jealousy
of Vulcan, their capture in the golden net, their confusion,
the entreaties of Venus, the intercession of the gods. Deme-
trius was fairly conquered, and he said to me, " Fellow ! "
(you observe that he was anything but civil !), " I don't
merely see but I hear your acting, and you seern to me to speak
with your very hands." '

' Well done, Demetrius ! ' said Otho. ' And perhaps you
don't know, Paris, that a Greek writer, Lesbonax, calls you,
not philosophers, but cheirosophers hand-wise.'

' I can cap your story, Paris,' said Nero. ' The other day a
barbarian nobleman from Pontus came to me on some foreign
business and brought me some splendid presents. When he
left I asked him if I could do anything for him. " Yes," he
said. " Will you make me a present of the beautiful dancer
whom I saw in the theatre ? " That was you, Paris ; and of
course I told him that you were much too precious to be given
away, and that, if I did, we should have Eome in an uproar.
"But," I said, "of what possible use would he be to you?''
" He can interpret things without words," he replied ; " and I
want some one to explain my wishes to my barbarous neigh-
bours " ! '

'Nobody has said any of these fine things about me,'
remarked Aliturus, ruefully.

'Well, I will tell you a compliment paid to you, Aliturus,'
said Petronius. ' Another barbarian, who came to me with a
letter of introduction from the Proconsul of Africa, saw you
act a scene which involved five impersonations. He was


amazed at your versatility. " That man," he observed, " has
but one body, but he has many minds." '

' Thank you, kind Petronius ! ' said Aliturus.

' But now tell us,' asked Nero, ' whether in acting you
really feel the emotions you express.'

' When the character is new to us we feel them intensely,'
said the Jewish pantomime. ' Have you never heard, Caesar,
what happened to Pylades, when he played the part of the
mad hero of " Ajax " ? It seemed as if he really went mad
with the hero whom he personated. He sprang on one of the
attendants who was beating time to the music, and rent off
his robe. The actor who represented the victorious Ulysses
stood by him in triumph, and Pylades, tearing a heavy flute
from the hands of one of the choraulse, dealt Ulysses so violent
a blow on the head that he broke the flute and would have
broken the head too, if the actor had not been protected by
his helmet. He even hurled javelins at Augustus himself.
The audience in the theatre was so powerfully affected by the
passion of the scene that they went mad too, and leapt up
from their seats and shouted, and flung off their garments.
Finally, Pylades, unconscious of what he was doing, walked
down from the stage to the orchestra and took his seat
between two Consulars, who were rather alarmed lest Ajax
should flagellate them with his scourge as he had been flagel-
lating the cattle which in his madness he took for Greeks.'

'A curious and interesting anecdote, my Aliturus,' said
Petronius ; ' but Paris has not yet told us whether he misses
the multitudinous applause of Home.'

' All Kome is here,' said Paris with a bow to the Emperor.
' We actors need nothing but the sunshine of approval, and
did not the sun, even before it rose above the horizon, bathe
Nero in its rays ? '

' So my nurses have told me,' said Nero.

c Trust an actor to pay a compliment,' whispered Vatinius
to Tigellinus.

' Or a poet either,' said Tigellinus, with a glance at Lucan.

' Or an adventurer and a parasite either,' returned the
irascible Spaniard, who had overheard the innuendo.

' Now, if I am to be the arbiter elegantiarum, I will allow
no quarrels,' said Petronius. ' And I at least am grateful to
Paris and Aliturus, and mean to show my gratitude by a com-


pliment. Don't class me among the poets who recite in the
dog-days, for my little poem written while Paris was dan-
cing "Achilles" is only four lines long. Spare my blushes
and let Lucan as he is a poet read it.'

' Don't let him read it,' whispered Tigellmus ; ' he will read
it badly on purpose.'

But Petronius handed his little waxen tablets to Lucan,
who, with a glance of disdain at Tigellmus, read with perfect
expression the four celebrated lines :

' He fights, plays, revels, loves and whirls, and stands,
Speaks with mute eloquence and rhythmic hands.
Silence is voiceful through each varying part,
In each fair feature ' t is the crown of Art. ' *

A loud exclamation of ' Euge, ! ' and ' 5*o</><y9 / ' burst from
the hearers when Lucan had read these admirable lines ; and
the two actors repaid the poet by the most gracious of their
bows and smiles. Nor did they confine their gratitude to
smiles, but gave further specimens of some of the laughable
dances which were in vogue, such as 'the owl' and 'the
grimace,' ending with a spectacle at once graceful and inno-
cent namely, the lovely flower-dance with its refrain of

' Where are my roses, where my violets, where my parsleys fair ? '

They went to bed that night each of them the happy
possessor of twelve thousand sesterces. When Agrippina, a
month later, heard this, she reproached Nero for his gross

' What did I give them ? ' he asked.

' You paid them twelve thousand sesterces each for a night's

' Did I ? ' said Nero, glad to show his defiance. ' I never
knew before that I was so mean ;' and he immediately ordered
the sum to be doubled.


' Pugnat, ludit, amat, bacchatur, vertitur, astat,

lllustrat verum, cuncta decore replet ;
Tot linguas, tot membra viro : mirabilis ars est
Quae facit articulos, ore silente, loqui.'




Ou iravaofJiatTas Xdpiras
Movcrais ffvyKara/j.iyvLis.


' Esclave ! apporte-moi des roses,
Le parfum des roses est doux.'


AMONG the pleasant distractions of the villa, the dilettantism
of literature and art were not forgotten. Nero regarded it as
one of his serious occupations to practice singing and harp-
playing, Afterwards, when his friends gathered round him,
they would write verses, or recite, or lounge on purple couches,
listening to Epaphroditus as he read to them the last news
from the teeming gossip of Rome. Satires and scandalous
stories often created a flutter of excitement in the reception-
rooms of the capital, and were keenly enjoyed by all, except
those, often entirely innocent and worthy persons, who were
perfectly defenceless against these calumnies, and felt them
like sparks of fire, or poisoned arrows rankling in the flesh.

One morning, when the stay of the courtiers at the villa
was drawing to a close, Epaphroditus announced to them
that he had a sensation for them of the first magnitude. The
trifle which he would read to them was perhaps a little broad
in parts, but he was sure that Csesar would excuse it. It was
called, he said, by a curious name, Apokolokyntosis. This was
in truth a clever invention of the librarian himself, for he
did not venture to mention its real title, which was Ludus de
morte Claudii Caesar is.

' Apocolokyutosis ? ' asked Nero ; ' why, that means gourdi-
fication or pumpkinification ! One has heard of deification,
but what on earth does " gourdification " mean ? '

' Perhaps, Caesar, in this instance it means the same thing,'
said Epaphroditus ; ' but have I your permission to read it ? '

The guests Lucan among them settled themselves in
easy positions and listened. The reader had not finished a


dozen sentences before they found that they were hearing
the most daring and brilliant satire which antiquity had as
yet produced.

It was a satire on the death of Claudius, and it was not
long before peal after peal of astonished laughter rang from all
the group.

It began by a jesting refusal to quote any authority for the
events the writer was going to relate. If any one wanted
evidence he referred to the senator who had sworn that he
had seen Brasilia mounting to heaven, and would be equally
rea<iy to swear that he had seen Claudius stalking thitherward
with unequal steps along the Appian road, by which Augustus
and Tiberius had also gone to heaven.

' It was late autumn, verging on winter it was, in fact,
October 13. As for the hour, that was uncertain, but might
be generally described as noontide, when Claudius was trying
to die. Since he found it hard to die, Mercury, who had al-
ways admired his learning, began to abuse one of the Fates
for keeping him alive for sixty-three years. Why could not
she allow the astrologers to be right for once, who had been
predicting his demise every month ? Yet, no wonder ! for
how could they cast the horoscope of a man so imperfect that
he could hardly be said to have ever been born ? "I only
meant," pleads Clotho, " to keep him alive a little longer, till
he had made all the rest of the world Bo man citizens. But
since you order it, he shall die." Thereupon she opened a
casket, and took out three spindles one on which was wound
the life-thread of Claudius, and on the other two those of the
two idiots, Augurinus and Baba, both of whom, she said,
should die about the same time, that Claudius might have
fitting company,

' She said, and broke short the royal period of stolid life.'
At this point the author bursts into poetry, and describes how
Lachesis chooses a thread of gold instead of wool, and joyously
weaves a web of surpassing loveliness. The life it represents
is to surpass the years of Tithonus and of Nestor. Phoebus
comes and cheers her on her task with heavenly song, bidding
her weave on.

'Let him whose thread you are weaving,' he sings, 'exceed
the space of mortal life, for he is like me in countenance, like
me in beauty, and not inferior in song or voice. He shall


accord happy times to the weary, and shall burst the silence
of the laws, like the rising of the morning or the evening star,
or of rosy dawn at sunrise. Such a Caesar is at hand, such a
Nero shall Rome now behold ! his bright countenance beams
with attempered lustre, and his neck is lovely with its flowing
locks ! ' So sang Apollo, and Lachesis did even more thau he
required. Meanwhile, Claudius died while listening to the
comedians. Then, after a touch of inconceivable coarseness,
the writer adds, ' What happened on earth I need not tell you,
for we none of us forget our own felicity, but I will tell you
what happened in heaven.' Jupiter is informed that a being
is approaching who is tall, grey-haired, and looks menacing,
because he shakes his head and drags his right foot. He is
asked to what country he belongs, and returns an entirely un-
intelligible answer in no distinguishable dialect. As Hercules
is a travelled person, Jupiter sends him to enquire to what class
of human beings the new-comer appertains. Hercules had
never seen a portent like this, with a voice like that of a sea-
monster, and thought that this must be his thirteenth labour ;
but, on looking, perceived that it was a sort of man, and
addressed him in Greek. Claudius answers in Greek, and
would have imposed on Hercules, had not Fever, who had
accompanied Claudius, said, ' He is not from Ilium ; he is a
genuine Gaul, born near Lyons, and, like a true Gaul, he took
Rome/ Claudius got into a rage at this, but no one could
comprehend his jargon ; he had made a signal that Fever
should be decapitated, and one might have thought that all
present were his freed men, for no one cared for what he said.
Hercules addresses him in severe tones, and Claudius says,
' You of all the gods, Hercules, ought to know me and support
me, for I sat all July and August listening to lawyers before
your temple.' A discussion follows, and then Jupiter asks the
gods how they will vote. Janus thinks there are too many
gods already. Godhead has become cheap of late. He votes
that no more men shall be made gods. Claudius, however,
since he is akin to the divine Augustus, and has himself made
Livia a goddess, seems likely to gain the majority of votes ;
but Augustus rises and pleads against this strange candidate
for godship with indignant eloquence. 'This man,' he pleads,
' caused the death of my daughter and my grand-daughter,
the two Julias, and my descendant, L. Silanus. Also he lias


condemned many unheard. Jupiter, who has reigned so many
years, has only broken one leg the leg of Vulcan and has
once hung Juno from heaven : but Claudius, inspired by
female jealousies and the intrigues of a varletry of pampered
freedmen, has killed his wife, Messalina, and a multitude of
others. Who would believe that they were gods, if they made
this portent a god ? Bather let him be expelled from Olympus
within three days.'

Accordingly, Mercury puts a rope round his neck, and
drags him towards Tartarus. On the way they meet a vast
crowd, who all rejoice except a few lawyers. It was, in fact,
the funeral procession of Claudius himself, and he wants to
stop and look at it ; but Mercury covers him with a veil, that
no one may recognize him, and drags him along. Narcissus
had preceded him by a shorter route, and Mercury bids the
freedman hurry on to announce the advent of Claudius to the
shades. Narcissus speedily arrives among them, gouty
though he was, since the descent is steep, and shouts in a
loud voice, ' Claudius Csesar is coming.' Immediately a crowd
of shades shouts out, ' We have found him ; let us rejoice ! '
They advance to meet him among them Messalina and her
lover, Mnester the pantomime, and numbers of his kinsmen
whom he had put to death. ' Why, all my friends are here ! '
exclaims Claudius, quite pleased. ' How did you all get here ? '
*Do;z/oMask us?' said Pedo Pompeius ; 'you most cruel of
men, who killed us all ? ' Pedo drags him before the judg-
ment-seat of ^Sacus, and accuses him on the Cornelian law of
having put to death thirty senators, three hundred and
fifteen Roman knights, and two hundred and twenty-one
other persons. Claudius, terrified, looks round him for an
advocate, but does not see one. Publius Petronius wants to
plead for him, but is not allowed to do so. He is condemned.
Deep silence falls on them all, as they wait to hear his pun-
ishment. It is to be as endless as that of Sisyphus, Tantalus,
and Ixiou ; it is to be a toil and a desire futile and frustrate
and without end. He is to throw dice forever in a dice-
box without a bottom !

No sooner said than done ! Claudius began at once to seek
the dice, which forever escaped him. Every time he at-
tempted to throw them they slipped through, and the throw,
though constantly attempted, could never be performed.


Then all of a sudden appears Caligula, and demands that
Claudius should be recognised as his slave. He produces
witnesses who swear that they have seen Caligula scourge
him and slap him, and beat him. He is assigned to Caligula,
who hands him over to his freedman, Menander, to be his
legal assessor.

Such was this daring satire, of which we can hardly esti-
mate the audacity and wit written as it was within a year
of events which the Roman Senate and Roman people pro-
fessed to regard as profoundly solemn.

Nero was convulsed with laughter throughout, and was
equally delighted by the insults upon his predecessor and
the flattery of himself.

When the speaker's voice ceased, a burst of applause came
from the lips of the hearers ; and Lucan turned to the grati-
fied Nero and repeated the lines which described his radiant
beauty, his song, and the brilliant prognostications of his com-
ing reign.

' Yes,' said Otho ; ' that is true poetry

' " Such is our Csesar ; such, happy Rome,
Thy radiant Nero gilds his Palace home ;
His gentle looks with tempered splendour shine,
Round his fair neck his golden tresses twine." '

and, in the intimacy of friendship, he ventured to pass his
hand over the soft golden hair which flowed over the neck of
the proud and happy youth.

' How witty it is, and how powerful ! ' said Petronius.
' Who could have written it ? '

Lucan gave a meaning smile. He had not been dismissed
from the Villa Castor with the other guests, because the Em-
peror, although jealous of him, could not help admiring his
fiery, original, and declamatory genius.

' You smile, Lucan,' said Otho ; ' surely your uncle Sen-
eca that grave and stately philosopher could not have
written this sparkling farce ? '

' Seneca ? ' said Vestinus ; ' what, he who grovelled at the
feet of the freedman Polybius, and told him that the one su-
preme consolation to him for the loss of his wife would be
the divine beneficence of the Pumpkinity whom here he paints
as an imbecile slaverer ? '


' I think Seneca deserves to be brought up on a charge of
treason, if he really wrote it,' said Tigellinus.

'Nonsense, Tigellinus,' said Petronius ; 'you need not be
so sanguinary. The thing is but a jest, after all. On the
stage we allow the freest and broadest jokes against the
twelve greater gods, and even the Capitoliue Jupiter ; why
should not a wit jest harmlessly upon the deified Claudius,
now that he has died of eating a mushroom ? '

' You are right,' said Nero ; ' the author is too witty to be
punished ; and now I always call mushrooms " the food of
the gods." But was Seneca the writer ? ' he asked, turning to

' I think I may say quite confidently that he was not'
said Lucau, a little alarmed by the savage remark of Tigel-
linus. In point of fact, he believed that the brochure had
been written by his own father, Marcus Annaeus Mela, but he
felt it desirable that the secret should be kept.

' We all know that the Annaji are loyal,' sneered Tigel-

' As loyal, at any rate, as men who would sell their souls
for an aureus,' answered the Spaniard. He looked full at
Tigellinus, who remembered the scene, and put it down in
his note-book for the day of vengeance.

But Petronius loved elegance, and did not care for quarrels,
and he tried to turn the conversation from unpleasant sub-
jects. ' Lucan,' he asked, ' have you written any verses about
Nero ? If so, pray let us have the pleasure of hearing them.'

Lucan was far from unwilling to show that he too could
flatter, and he recited the lines of colossal adulation from tl.i.-
opening of the ' Pharsalia.' Even the civil wars, he sang, wii h
all their slaughter, were not too heavy a price to pay for tin-
blessing of having obtained a Nero ; and he begs him to In-
careful what part of Olympus he chooses for his future resi-
dence, lest the burden of his greatness should disturb the
equilibrium of the world I 1

Nero had just heard the deification of Claudius torn to
shreds with mortal sarcasm, but his own vanity was im-
pervious to any wound, and he eagerly drank in the adula-
tion which with no more sincerity than that which had
been addressed to his predecessor by the Senate and people

1 Note 22. Lncan's flatteries.


of Rome assured him of the honour of plenary divinity
among the deities of heaven in whom, nevertheless, he
scarcely even affected to believe.

He turned to Petronius and asked him to recite his poern
on the Sack of Troy. Petronius did so, and the Emperor
listened with eager interest. It was a subject which fasci-
nated him.

' Ah ! ' he said, ' to see a city in flames that would be
worth living for ! I have tried to write something on that
subject myself.'

All present, of course, pressed him to favour them with
his poem, and after a little feminine show of reluctance,
and many protestations of mock modesty, he read them,
in an affected voice, some verses which were marked in
every phrase by the falsetto of the age. It was evident
that they had been painfully elaborated. Indeed, as they
looked at the note-book from which the Emperor read they
saw that the labor limce had been by no means wanting.
The book, which afterwards fell into the hands of Suetonius,
was scratched and scrawled over in every direction, and
it showed that many a turn of expression had been altered
twenty times before it became tinkling enough and fantastic
enough to suit Nero's taste. It was clear from the tone in
which he read them that the most bizarre lines were exactly
those that pleased him best, and they were therefore the ones
which his flatterers selected for their loudest applause.

' " Filled the grim horns with Mimallonean buzz " '

repeated Lu can. ' How energetic ! how picturesque !'

'He is laughing at you in his sleeve, Caesar/ whispered

Tigellinus ; 'and he thinks his own most impromptu line

far superior.'

Lucan did not overhear the remark, and he proceeded to

quote and praise the three lines on the river Tigris, which

. ' " Deserts the Persian realms he loved to lave,

And to non-seekers shows his sought-for wave."

Now those lines I feel sure will live.'

' Of course they will,' said Tigellinus, ' long after your poems
are forgotten.'

The young poet only shrugged his shoulders, and turned


on the adventurer a glance of disdain. Petrouius, however,
who disliked and despised Tigellinus, was now thoroughly
disgusted by his malignity, and did not hesitate to express
his contempt. ' Tigelliuus,' he said. ' if you are so rude I
shall -ask Cresar to dismiss you. What nonsense on your
part to pretend to know anything about poetry ! You know
even less than Calvisius Sabinus, who confounds Achilles with
Ulysses, and has bought ten slaves who know all the poets by
heart to prompt him when he makes a mistake.' 1

Tigellinus reddened with anger, but he did not venture to

' For my part,' said Senecio, ' I prefer the line

' " Thou who didst chine the long-ribb'd Apennine,"

not to speak of the fine effect of the spondaic, there is the
daring image.'

' There is something finer than both,' said Petronius, and he
quoted a line of real beauty which Seneca has preserved for
us in his ' Natural Questions; and in which Nero describes
the ruffled iridescence of a dove's neck :

' Fair Cytherea's startled doves illume
With sheeny lustre every glancing plume.' 2

' Many,' said the polished courtier, ' have seen the mingled
amethyst and emerald on the necks of doves and peacocks,
but it has been reserved for Caesar to describe it.'

Somehow or other, in spite of all they said, Nero was not
satisfied. He had an uneasy misgiving that all of them
except Petronius whom he knew to be genuinely good-
natured were only fooling him to the top of his bent,
Not that this misgiving at all disturbed his conceit. He
was convinced that he was a first-rate poet, as well as a
first-rate singer and lyrist, and indeed a first-rate artist in
all respects. It was the thing of which he was most proud,
and if these people were only pretending to recognise his
enormous merits, that was simply the result of their

'Thank you, friends,' he said. "What you say of me,

1 Sen. Ep. 21.

2 Sen. Nat. Qucest. i. 5: ' Colla Cytheriacse splendent agitata columbfe.
Ut ait Nero C.Bsar disertissime.'


Lucan, is very kind, but ' he felt it necessary to show his
superiority by a little criticism 'I should not recommend
you to publish your poem just yet. It is crude in parts.
It is too Spanish and provincial. It wants a great deal of
polishing before it can reach the aesthetic standard.'

Lucan bowed, and bit his lip. He felt that among these
poetasters he was like a Triton among minnows, and his
sense of mortification was so bitter that he could not trust
himself to speak, lest he should risk his head by insulting
Nero to his face.

The group broke up. Only Petronius, Paris, and Tigellinus

' Petronius,' said Nero, ' you are a genuine poet. What do
you think of Persius and Lucan as poets ? '

' Lucan is more of a rhetorician than a poet,' said Petronius,
' arid Persius more of a Stoic pedagogue. Both have merits, but
neither of them can say anything simply and naturally. They
are laboured, artificial, declamatory, monotonous, and more or
less unoriginal. Their " honeyed globules of words " are only
a sign of decadence.' 1

' And what do you think of my poetry ? ' asked the
Emperor, sorely thirsting for a compliment.

' A Caesar must be supreme in all he does,' said Petronius,
with one of his enigmatical smiles.

He rose, and bowed as he left the room, leaving Nero
puzzled and dissatisfied.

' Oh, Paris ! ' exclaimed Nero, flinging his arm round the
actor's neck, ' you alone are to be envied. You are a supreme
artist. No one is jealous of you. When I see you on the
stage, moving the people at your will to tears or to laughter,
or kindling them to the most delicious emotions when I
hear the roar of applause which greets you as you stand forth
in all your grace, and make the huge theatre ring with your
fine penetrating voice, I often wish we could change our parts,
and I be the actor, and you the Emperor.'

' You mock a poor mummer, Caesar,' said Paris ; ' but if I
am to amuse you after the banquet to-night you must let me
go and arrange something with Aliturus.'

Nero was left alone with Tigellinus. He yawned wearily.

1 Petron. Sat. 1, ' Melliti verborum globuli.'


' How tedious all life is!' he said. 'Well, never mind, there
is the banquet of the night to look forward to.'

' Yes,' said Tigellinus, ' and when we are heated with wine
we will wander out into the grounds ; and in the caves and
winding pathways Petrouius and Crispinilla have invented a
new amusement for you.'

' What is it ? '

' Do not ask me, Caesar, and you will all the more enjoy its

' Yes, but our time here is rapidly drawing to a close,
and then comes Rome again, and all the boredom of the
Senate, and of hearing causes, and entertaining dull people
of consequence. And there I must more or less play at

' Why must you, Caesar ? Cannot you do exactly as you
like ? Who is there to question you ? '

' My mother, Agrippina, if no one else.'

' You have only one reason to fear the Augusta.'

' What is that ? '

' Because, Caesar, as I have already warned you, she is
making much of Britannicus. I have reason to believe
that she is also plotting to secure the elevation of Rubellius
Plautus or Sulla. She is not at all too old to marry either
of them, and both of them have imperial blood in their

' Rubellius Plautus ? ' asked Nero ; ' why, he is a peaceful
pedant. And that miserable creature Sulla cares for nothing
but his dinner.'

'We shall see in time,' said Tigellinus; ' but meanwhile, so
long as Britannicus lives

' Finish your sentence.'

' So long as Britannicus lives, Nero is not safe.'

Nero sank into a gloomy reverie. He had not suspected
that the dark-eyed adventurer had designs as deep as those
of Sejanus himself. That guilty and intriguing minister of
Tiberius was only a Roman knight, and the whole family of
Germanicus, as well as the son and the grandson of Drusus,
stood in the direct line of descent as heirs to the throne. Yet
he had for years worked on with the deliberate intention of
clearing every one of them from his path, and climbing to
that throne himself.


Why should not Tigellinus follow a similiar course ? He
had persuaded Nero that he knew something about soldier-
ship. He had made himself popular among the Praetorian
guards. Burrus might be got rid of, and Tigellinus, by
pandering to Nero's worst instincts, encouraging his alarms,
and awakening his jealousies, might come to be accepted as an
indispensable guardian of his interests, and so be made the
Prcgtorian Prsefect. Once let him gain that position, and he
might achieve almost anything. Octavia would evidently be
childless. Nero was the last of his race. It would be just
as well to get rid, beforehand, of all possible rivals to his
ambitious designs. Plautus and Sulla might wait, but noth-
ing could be done till Britannicus was put out of the way.
It would then be more easy to deal with Agrippina and with

So he devised ; and the spirits of evil laughed, knowing
that he was but paving the road for his own headlong

But that night no one was gayer and more smiling than he
at the soft Ionian festival, where they were waited on by
boys robed in white and crowned with roses. It had been
spread in the viridarium, a green garden surrounded by trees
cut and twisted into quaint shapes of birds and beasts by the
ars topiaria. The larger dishes were spread on the marble
rim of a fountain, while the smaller ones floated among the
water-lilies in vessels made in the shape of birds or fish. By
one novel and horrible refinement of luxury, a fish was caught
and boiled alive during the feast in a transparent vase, that
the guests might watch its dying gleams of ruby and emerald.
When the drinking was finished they went into the groves
and gardens of the villa, and the surprise which had been pre-
pared for Nero was a loose sylvan pageant. Every grove and
cavern and winding walk had been illuminated at twilight by
lamps which hung from tree to tree. In the open spaces
naiads were bathing in the lake, and leaving trails of light in
the water, and uplifting their white arms, which glittered like
gold in the moonlight; and youths with torches sprang out of
the lurking-places dressed like fauns or satyrs, and danced
with maidens in the guise of hamadryads, and crowned the
guests with flowers, and led them to new dances and new
orgies and new revelries, while their cries and songs woke


innumerable echoes, which mocked the insulted majesty of
the night.

And in those very caves, four hundred years later, there
came and lived a boy a little younger than Nero was, and
amid the pleasances of the villas, which had fallen to ruin,
and in the lonely caverns high up among the hills, he made
his solitary home. He had deserted the world, disgusted and
disillusioned with the wickedness of Borne. And once, when
the passions of the flesh seemed to threaten him, he rushed
out of his cave and rolled his naked body on the thorns where
now the roses grow. And multitudes were struck by his
holiness and self-devotion, and monasteries rose on every crag,
and the scene, once desecrated by the enchantments of the sor-
ceress Sense, was purified by the feet of saintly men, and
the cavern where young slaves had lurked in the guise of
the demons of the Gentiles is now called the Holy Cave.

That boy of fourteen was Benedict. The name of Nero has
rotted for more than eighteen centuries, but to this day the
memory of St. Benedict is fragrant as his own roses ; for

' Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust.'




' At secura quies, et uescia fallere vita,
Dives opum variarum, at latis otia fundis,

Mugitusque bourn, mollesque sub avbore somni,

Et patiens operum exignoque assueta juventus,
Sacra Deum, sanctique patres.'

VIUG. Georg. ii. 467.

OCTAVIA was left in the comparative desertion of the Villa
Castor, without even the homely companionship of Vespa-
sian's wife. The respectable guests had departed. There
was scarcely a person about her to whom she could speak.
As for her young husband, he treated her with habitual
neglect and open scorn. His conduct towards her was due
partly to the indifference which he had always felt, partly to
jealousy lest he should be thought to owe the Empire to his
union with her. He therefore followed his own devices ; and
she desired no closer intercourse with him, for she shrank
from the satyr which lay beneath his superficial graces. She
was best pleased that he should be out of her sight. The
void of an unloved heart was preferable to the scenes which
took place between them when Nero's worst qualities were
evoked by the repulsion which she could not wholly conceal.
Accustomed to hourly adulation, it was intolerable to him
that from those who constituted his home circle he never
received the shadow of a compliment. He was disturbed by
the sense that those who knew him most intimately saw
through him most completely. His mother did not abstain
from telling him what he really was with an almost brutal
frankness ; his wife seemed to shrink from him as though
there were pollution in his touch.

As there was little occasion for him to pay any regard to
conventionalities in the retirement of Subiaco, he rarely paid


the Empress even a formal visit rarely even crossed the
bridge which divided one villa from the other.

Octavia spent the long hours in loneliness. She some-
times relieved the tedium of her days by sending loving
letters to her brother at Phalacrine, and sometimes sum-
moned one of the young slave-maidens to sit and read to
her. While Nero associated with the most worthless slaves,
Octavia selected for her attendants the girls whose modest
demeanour had won her notice, and whom she generally
found to be Christians. Christianity, though overwhelmed
with slanders, was not yet suppressed by law ; and in the
lowest ranks of society, where no one cared what religion
any one held, the sole reason which induced the slaves to
conceal their faith was the ridicule which the acknowledg-
ment of it involved. The cross, which was in those days the
gibbet of the vilest malefactors, was to all the world an emblem
only of shame and horror. It was a thing scarcely to be men-
tioned, because its associations of disgrace and agony were so
intense as to disturb the equanimity of the luxurious. And
when a Christian slave was taunted with the gibe that he
worshipped ' a crucified malefactor,' how could he explain a
truth which was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the
Greeks foolishness ?

Octavia, whom sorrow had taught to be kind, was gentle
in her demeanour to her slaves. The multitude of girls who
waited on a patrician matron had a terrible time of it \vheri
their mistresses happened to be in an ill-humour. The gilded
boudoirs of the Aventine not unfrequently rang with shrieks.
As one entered the stately hall one heard the clanking chain
of the ostiarius, who, with his dog and his staff, occupied the
little cell by the entrance ; and if a visitor came a little too
soon for the banquet he might be greeted by the cries which
followed the whistling strokes of the scourge, or might meet
some slave-girl with dishevelled hair and bleeding cheeks,
rushing from the room of a mistress whom she had infuriated
by the accidental displacement of a curl. The slaves of Oc-
tavia had no such cruelties to dread. Lydus, who kept her
chair; Hilara, who arranged her robes; Aurelia, who had charge
of her lap-dog; Aponia, who adorned her tresses ; Verania, who
prepared her sandals, had nothing to fear from her. There
was not one of her slaves who did not love the young mistress,


whose lot seemed less happy than that of the humblest of them

And thus it happened that Tryphsena and others of her
slaves were not afraid to speak freely, when she seemed to in-
vite their confidence. From Britannicus she had heard what
Pomponia had taught him ; she had found from these meek
followers of the 'foreign superstition,' that their beliefs and
practice were inconceivably unlike the caricatures of them
which were current among the populace. Because all men
hated them, they were accused of hating all men ; but Octavia
found that love, no less than purity and meekness, was among
their most essential duties. She was obliged to exercise the
extremest caution in the expression of her own opinions, but
she felt an interest deeper than she could express in all that
Tryphaena told her of the chief doctrines of Christianity. And
though she could scarcely form any judgment on what she
heard, she felt a sense of support in truths which, if they did
not convince her reason, yet kindled her imagination and
touched her heart. One doctrine of the Christians came home
to her with quickening power the doctrine of the life ever-
lasting. In Paganism that doctrine had no practical existence.
The poets' dream of meadows of asphodel and islands of the
blest, where Achilles and Tydides unbound the helmets from
their shadowy hair, and where the thin eidola of kings and
heroes pursued a semblance of their earthly life, had little
meaning for her. Like Britannicus, she was fond of reading
the best Greek poets. But there was no hopefulness in them.
In Pindar she read

' By night, by day,

The glorious sun
Shines equal, where the blest,

Their labours done,
Repose forever in unbroken rest.' J

And in Homer

'Tliee to the Elysian plain, earth's farthest end,
Where Rhadamanthns dwells the gods shall send ',
There mortals easiest pass the careless hour,
No lingering winter there, nor snow, nor shower ;
But Ocean ever, to refresh mankind,
Breathes the shrill spirit of the western wind.'

1 Find. 01. ii. 119.


But she had only to unroll the manuscript a little further, and
was chilled to the heart by the answer of Agamemnon to the
greeting of Ulysses :

' Talk not of reigning in this dolorous gloom,
Nor think vain words, he cried, can ease my doom
Better by far laboriously to bear
A weight of woe, and breathe the vital air,
Slave to the meanest hind that begs his bread,
Than reign the sceptred monarch of the dead ! '

And though Cicero had written his Tusculan disputations to
prove the doctrine of immortality, had he not, in his letters
and speeches, spoken of that doctrine as a mere pleasing spec-
ulation, which might be discussed with interest, but which no
one practically held ? Yet to these good Christians that doc-
trine was an unshakable conviction, a truth which consoled
their heaviest afflictions. To them the eternal, though unseen,
was ever present. It was not something future, but a condition
of which they breathed the atmosphere both here and now.
To them the temporal was the shadowy ; the eternal was the
only real.

While Octavia was thus silently going through the divine
education which was to prepare her for all that was to come,
Britannicus was supremely happy in the Sabine farm. Its
homeliness and security furnished a delightful contrast to the
oppressive splendour of the Palace at Eome. There, in the far
wild country, he had none but farm labourers about him, ex-
cept the members of the Flavian family, who, on the father's
side, rose but little above the country folk. He was as happy
as the day was long. He could lay aside all thoughts of rank
and state, could dress as he liked, and do as he liked, and roam
over the pleasant hills, and fish in the mountain streams, with
no chance of meeting any one but simple peasant lads. With
Titus and his two cousins, young Flavius Sabinus and Flavius
Clemens, he could find sympathy in every mood, whether grave
or gay. Titus with his rude health, his sunny geniality, his
natural courtesy a boy ' tingling with life to the finger tips '
was a friend in whose society it was impossible to be dull.
Flavius Clemens was a youth of graver nature. The shadow
of far-distant martyrdom, which would dash to the ground his
splendid earthly prospects, seemed to play over his early years.
He had already been brought into contact with Christian in-


fluences, and showed the though tfulness, the absence of
intriguing ambition, and the dislike to pagan amusements,
which stamped him in the vulgar eyes of his contemporaries
as a youth of ' most contemptible indolence.' A fourth boy
was often with them. It was Dornitian, the younger brother
of Titus, destined hereafter to be the infamy of his race. He
was still a child, and a stranger unable to read the mind's con-
struction in the face would have pronounced that he was the
best-looking of the five boys. For his cheeks wore a glow of
health as ruddy as his brother's, and his features were far
softer. But it was not a face to trust, and Britannicus, trained
in a palace to recognize what was indicated by the expression
of every countenance, never felt any liking for the sly younger
son of Vespasian.

Vespasian was proud of his farm, and was far more at home
there than in the reception-rooms of Nero. He was by no
means ashamed of the humility of his origin. As he sat in
his little villa, he used to tell people that his ancestor was
only one of the Umbrian farmers, who, during the civil war
between Marius and Sylla, had settled at Eeate and married
a Sabine maiden. Amazed indeed would those humble pro-
genitors have been if they had been told that their great-
grandson would be an Emperor of Rome ! Nothing made
him laugh more heartily than the attempt of his flatterers to
deduce his genealogy from a companion of Hercules. He had
not a single bust or waxen image of any illustrious ancestor
to boast of, but was proud that the cities of Asia had reared
a statue to his father, Sabinus, with the inscription, ' To the
honest publican.'

He delighted to recall the memories of Cincinnatus and
Fabricius and the old dictators, who had been taken from
the plough-tail, and to whom their wives had to bring the
single toga they possessed in order that they might meet
the ambassadors of the Senate when they were summoned to
subdue the enemies of Rome. He was never happier than when
he took the boys round with him to visit his horses and his
cows, and even Domitilla's hens. He delighted in the rude
plenty of the house, the delicious cream, the fresh eggs, the
crisp oat-cakes, the beautiful apples at breakfast, the kid and
stewed fruits of the midday meal. Any one who watched
those rustic meals would little have conjectured that, in that


low, unadorned room, with the watch-dogs slumbering before
the hearth, they saw before them three emperors, two con-
suls and a princess. Still less would he have dreamed that
one of them only would die peacefully in his bed ; that, of
those five boys, four would be the victims of murder, and one
of martyrdom ; and that the younger Domitilla, though she did
not share her husband's matyrdom, would die in a bleak and
lonely island as a confessor of the faith. Our life lies before
us, and the mercy of Divine Providence hides its issues in
pitchy night.

Vespasian alone of that little company was old enough to
feel in all its fulness the blessing of a temporary escape from
the horrible world of Rome, which tossed like a troubled sea
whose waters cast up mire and dirt. He knew, as those lads
could hardly know, that it was a world of insolence and pas-
sion, of treachery and intrigue, of ruthless cruelty and un-
fathomable corruption. He had seen the government of it
pass from a madman like Caligula to a half-dazed blunderer
like Claudius, and knew that the two had been preceded by a
Tiberius, and succeeded by a Nero. One morning, when the
weather did not permit them to go out to their usual outdoor
sports, the boys had amused themselves with a genealogy of the
CaBsars, in which they had become interested in consequence
of some questions about the descendants of Augustus. As
the blunt soldier looked at them while they bent over the
genealogy, he became very thoughtful. For that stem of the
Caesars had something portentous in its characteristics. It
was a grim reflex of the times. Here were emperors who
had married five or six wives, and empresses who had mar-
ried four or five husbands, and some of these marriages had
been fruitful ; and yet the Csesars were hardly Csesars at all,
but a mixed breed of ancient Claudii, Domitii, Silani, and of
modern Octavii and Agrippas. The genealogy showed a con-
fused mass of divorces and adoptions, and neither the men
nor the women of the royal house were safe. Many of the
women were adulteresses ; many of the men were murderers
or murdered victims. Out of sixteen empresses, six had been
killed and seven divorced. Julia, daughter of Augustus,
after three marriages, had been banished by her father for
shameless misconduct, and Tiberius had ordered her to be
starved to death at Ehegium. Could Augustus have felt no


anguish in his proud spirit, when he had to write to a young
patrician ' You have committed an indiscretion in going to
visit my daughter at Baise ' ? or when on hearing that Phoebe,
Julia's i'reedwoman, had hanged herself, he cried ' Would that
I bad been the father of that Phoebe ' ? And, alas ! what multi-
tudes of his descendants had equalled Julia alike in misery
and shame ! Death and infamy had rioted in that deplora-
ble family. Well might Augustus exclaim, in the line of
Homer :

' Would I had died unwed, uor been the father of children ! '

When the people demanded the recall of the two Julias, after
five or six years of exile, he exclaimed in a burst of indig-
nation and anguish, ' I wish you similar wives and similar
daughters.' He described his wife Scribonia, his daughter
Julia, and his granddaughter Julia the younger as 'his three
cancers.' l

But while the boys were eagerly talking together, and dis-
cussing those Caesars, and members of their family, who from
the time of Julius Caesar downward had been deified, Vespa-
sian suddenly grew afraid lest the same thought which struck
him should strike them. In those days he did not dream
that he too should wear the purple and die the apparent
founder of a dynasty. He was not, indeed, unaware of
various prognostics which were supposed to portend for him
a splendid fate. At Phalacrine, his native hamlet, was
an ancient oak sacred to Mars, which had put out a new
branch at the birth of each of the three children of his father,
Sabinus. The third, which represented himself, grew like a
great tree. Sabinus, after consulting an augur, told his
mother, Tertulla, that her grandson would become a Caesar.
But Vespasian shared the feelings of the old lady, who had
only laughed immoderately at the prophecy, and remarked,
' How odd it is that I am in my senses, while my son has
gone raving mad ! '

Seeing that the boys were fascinated by the grandeur of
Caesarism, he rolled up the sternma. ' Do not be ambitious,
lads,' he said. ' Could the name of Imperator or the sight of
your radiated heads upon a coin, give you more happiness
than you are enjoying here and now ? '

1 Note 23. The Stemma Ccesarum.


The advice of Vespasian was perfectly sincere. In his
homely way he saw too deeply into the heart of things to care
for the outside veneer. It was his mother, Vespasia Polla
the daughter of the military tribune who, led on by dreams
and omens, had forced him into the career of civil honours.
His brother obtained the right to wear the laticlave, or broad
purple stripe on the toga, and the silver C on the boots, which
marked the rank of senator. Vespasian was unwilling to lay
aside the narrow stripe, the angusticlave, which showed him
to be of equestrian rank. He only yielded to the pressure, and
even to the abuse, of his mother, who asked him how long he
meant to be the lacquey the anteambulo of his brother.
He had nearly thrown up his public life in disgust, when
during his sedileship Gaius had ordered the soldiers to cover
him with mud, and to heap mud into the folds of his em-
broidered magisterial robe, because he found the roads insuf-
ficiently attended to. He had practised the advice he was
now giving.

' My head has been struck on coins,' said Britannicus, with
a sigh; ' but I can't say that it has made me much happier.'

' You are as happy as Nero is,' said Titus. ' I am quite
sure that all the revels at Subiaco will not be worth the
boar-hunt we mean to have to-morrow.'

' Clemens,' said Vespasian, ' Domitilla tells me that yester-
day morning you were learning my favourite poem, the
" Epode " of Horace about the pleasures of country life, and
the lines of Virgil on the same subject. As we have nothing
special to do this morning, suppose you repeat the poems
to us, while the boys and I make a formido for our next

The boys got out the long line of string, and busied them-
selves with tying to it, at equal distances, the crimson
feathers which were to frighten the deer into the nets ; while
Flavius, standing up, recited feelingly and musically the well-
known lines of the Venusian poet, whose Sabine farm lay at
no great distance from the place where they were living

' Blessed is he remote as were the mortals
Of the first age, from business and its cares

Who ploughs paternal fields with his own oxen,
Free from the bonds of credit or of debt.

No soldier he, roused by the savage trumpet,
Not his to shudder at the angry sea ;


His life escapes from the contentious Forum,
And shuns the insolent thresholds of the great.' 1

And when, to the great delight of his uncle, he had finished
repeating this poem, he repeated the still finer lines of Virgil,
who pronounces ' Happy above human happiness the husband-
men for whom far beyond the shock of arms earth pours her
plenteous sustenance.' 2

The boys talked together on all sorts of subjects ; only if
Domitian was with them, they were instinctively careful about
what they said. For Dornitiau could never forget that Britau-
nicus was a prince. If Britaimicus became Emperor he might
be highly useful in many ways, and it was worth Domitian's
while to insinuate himself into his favour. In this he soon saw
that he would fail. The young prince disliked him, and could
not entirely conceal his dislike under his habitual courtesy.
Domitian then changed his tactics. He would try to be Nero's
friend, and if he could find out anything to the disadvantage
of Britannicus, so much the better. He had already attracted
the notice of two courtiers the dissolute Clodius Pollio, who
had been a praetor, and the senator Nerva, both of whom stood
well with the Emperor. Already this young reprobate had
all the baseness of an informer. But in this direction also his
little plans were defeated, for in his presence Britanuicus was
as reticent as to Titus he was unreserved.

Britannicus was to have had a room to himself, in considera-
tion of his exalted rank, but he asked to share the sleeping-
room of Titus and Clemens. They went to bed at an early
hour, for Vespasian was still a poor man, and oil was expensive.
But they often talked together before they fell asleep. Titus
would rarely hear a word about the Christians. He declared
that they were no better than the worshippers of the dog-
headed Anubis, and he appealed to the caricature of the
Dornus Gelotiana as though it proved the reality of the asper-
sions against them. He was, however, never tired of talking
about the Jews. He had seen Agrippa ; he had been dazzled
into a boyish love by the rich eastern beauty of Berenice.
The dim foreshadowing of the future gave him an intense in-
terest in the nation whose destiny he was to affect so power-
fully in after years. Stories of the Jewish Temple seemed to

1 Hor. Epod. ii. 1 ; Lord Lytton's version.
2 Virg. Georg. ii. 458.


have a fascination for him. But he was as credulous about the
Jews as the rest of his race, and believed the vague scandals
that they were exiles from Crete, and a nation of lepers, and
about Moses and the herd of asses which afterwards found a
place in Tacitus and later historians.

Another subject about which he liked to talk was Stoicism.
He thought nothing so grand as the doctrine that the ideal
wise man was the most supreme of kings. He was full of
high arguments, learnt through Epictetus, to prove that the
wise man would be happy even in the bull of Phalaris, and he
quoted Lucretius and Virgil to prove that he would be always

' If to know

Causes of things, and far below
His feet to feel the lurid flow
Of terror, and insane distress,
And headlong fate, be happiness.'

At all of which propositions Britannicus was inclined to laugh
good-naturedly, and to ask much to the indignation of his
friend if Musoiiius was happy when he had a bad tooth-

Finding him unsympathetic on the subject of the Christians,
Britannicus ceased to speak of them. On the other hand, he
soon discovered that Clemens knew more about them than

' Are you a Christian, Flavins ? ' asked Britannicus, when
they were alone, after one of these conversations.

' I have not been baptised,' he answered. ' No one is re-
garded as a full Christian until he has been admitted into their
church by baptism.'

' Baptism ? What is that ?

' It is the washing with pure water,' said Clemens. ' Our
Roman ceremonies are pompous and cumbersome. It is not
so with the Christians. Their symbols are the simplest things
in the world. Water, the sign of purification from guilt ; bread
and wine, the common elements of life, taken in remembrance
of Christ who died for them.'

' And are the elders of these Christians the presbyters, as
they call them the same sort of persons as our priests ? '

' I should hope not ! ' said Clemens. ' They are simple and
blameless men more like the best of the philosophers, and
more consistent, though not so learned;


The entrance of Dornitiau whom they more than sus-
pected of having listened at the door stopped their conver-
sation. But what Britannicus had heard filled him with
deeper interest, and he felt convinced that the Christians were
possessors of a secret more precious than any which Seneca or
Musonius had ever taught.

But the happy days at the Sabine farm drew to an end.
When November was waning to its close it was time to return
from humble Phalacrine and its russet hills, to the smoke and
wealth and roar of Eome.




' Quoi cum sit viridissimo nupta flore puella
Et puella tenellulis delicatior haedis,
Asservauda mgellulis diligentius uvis,
Ludere hanc sinit, ut lubet.'

CATULL. Carm. xvii. 14.

WE left Onesimus bound hand and foot in his cell, and ex-
pecting the severest punishment. His crimes had been hei-
nous, although the thought of escaping detection by slaying
Junia had only been a momentary impulse, such as could
never have flashed across his mind if it had not been inflamed
by the furies of the amphitheatre. As he looked back in his
deep misery, he saw how fatally all his misfortunes dated from
the self-will with which he had resisted light and knowledge.
He might by this time have been good and honoured in the
house of Philemon, less a slave than a brother beloved. He
might have been enfranchised, and in any case have enjoyed
that happy freedom of soul which he had so often witnessed
in those whom Christ had made free indeed. And now his
place was among the lowest of the low. ISTereus had of course
reported to Pudens his attempt at theft. Pudens was sorry
for the youth, for he had liked him, and saw in him the germs
of better things. But such a crime could not be passed over
with impunity. Onesimus was doomed to the scourge, as well
as to a trinundine 1 of solitude on bread and water, while he
remained fettered in his cell.

The imprisonment, the shame, the solitariness which was a
cruel trial to one of his quick disposition, were very salutary
to him. They checked him in a career which might have
ended in speedy shipwreck. And while his heart was sore
every kind influence was brought to bear upon him. Pudens

1 A period of seventeen days.


visited him and tried to rouse him to penitence and manliness.
Kerens awoke in his mind once more the dying embers of his
old faith. Above all, Junia came one day to the door of his
prison, and spoke a few words of courage and hope, which
more than all else made him determined to struggle back to
better ways.

His punishment ended, and he was forgiven. He resumed
his duties, and took a fresh start, in the hope of better things.

Nero had returned to Rome, and drew still closer his bond
of intimacy with Otho. Otho was his evil genius. In vain
did Agrippina attempt to keep her son in the paths of outward
conformity with the requirements of his position. In vain
did Seneca and Burrus remind him of the responsibilities of
an Emperor of Rome. Otho became his model, and Otho
represented to one half of the Roman population the ideal
which they themselves most desired and admired. All the
voluptuous testheticism, all the diseased craving in Nero's
mind for the bizarre, the monstrous, and the impossible ; all
the ' opera bouffe ' elements of his character, with its perverted
instincts as of a tenth-rate artist, were strengthened and
stimulated by his intercourse with Otho.

As a matter of course, the command of unlimited treasures
followed the possession of an unchallenged autocracy. Though
there was a theoretical distinction between the public ex-
chequer and the privy purse, there was no real limit between
the two. This ' deified gamin ' had complete command of the
resources of Italy and the provinces. Cost was never allowed
to stand in the way of his grotesque extravagance. A boy was
the lord of the world a bad boy who delighted in such
monkey-tricks as taking his stand secretly on the summit of
the proscenium in the theatre, setting the actors and panto-
mimes by the ears, and flinging missiles at people's heads.

Shortly after his return to Rome he gave a banquet, and
the chief new feature of the entertainment was that the head
of each guest had been sprinkled with precious perfumes.
Otho determined that he would not be outdone. He was
laden with debts ; but what did that matter when he might
look forward some day to exhausting some rich province with
rapine? He asked Nero to sup with him, and determined
that he would set the fashion to imperial magnificence.

The banqueters were nine in number : Otho and Nero ;


'Petronius, as the 'arbiter of elegance' ; Tigellinus, as the most
pliable of parasites ; the actor Paris, because of his wit, grace,
and beauty ; Vatinius, as the most unspeakable of buffoons ;
Clodius Pollio, an ex-praetor, Pedanius Secimdns, the Prsefect
of the city, and Octavius Sagitta, a tribune of the people,
whom Nero liked for their dissolute manners.

Pricelessuess and refinement as refinement was under-
stood by the most effeminate of Roman exquisites were to
be the characteristics of the feast. The dining-room was a
model of the latest and most fashionable art. It was not large,
but its roof was upheld by alternate columns of the rare
marbles of Synnada and Carystus the former with crimson
streaks, the latter green- veined while the two columns at
the entrance showed the golden yellow of the quarries of
Numidia, and the fretted roof was richly gilded and varied
with arabesques of blue and crimson. The walls were inlaid
with mother-of-pearl, alternated with slabs of ivory delicately
flushed with rose-colour. The chandeliers were of antique
shapes, and further light was given by candelabra of gold.
In front of Nero was one of exquisite workmanship, which
represented Silenus lying on a rock, with his head leaning
against a tree which overshadowed it. The table was of
cedar wood, supported by pillars of ivory, and it sparkled with
goblets of gold and silver embossed by Mys and Mentor,
among which were scattered amber cups, and chrysendeta
which were of silver rimmed with gold. The bowls in which
the rare wines were mixed were of pure crystal or the rubied
glass of Alexandria. Although it was winter, garlands of
exotic roses were provided for every guest, and these garlands
were fastened to lappets of perfumed silk. None but the
most youthful and beautiful of Otho's slaves bright Greeks,
and dark Egyptians, and fair-haired Germans, in sumptuous
dresses, one or two of whom Otho had purchased for no less
than eight hundred pounds were permitted to wait upon
the guests.

The supper was no supper of Trimalchio, with its coarse
and heavy gluttonies. Everything was delicate and rechercM.
The oysters were from Kichborough ; the lampreys from the
fishponds of a senator who was said to have flung into them
more than one slave who had offended him ; the mullet came
from Tauromenos ; the milk-cheeses from Sarsina ; the fruits


seemed to have been produced in defiance of the seasons, and the
roses were as plentiful as though it were midsummer. There
were two tiny dishes which represented the last and most
extravagant devices of Roman gourrnandise, for one was com-
posed of the tongues of nightingales, the other of the brains
of Sainian peacocks and African flamingoes, of which the
iridescent and crimson feathers adorned the silver plates
on which they lay. Sea and land had been swept with mad
prodigality to furnish every luxury which money could pro-
cure. The wines were of the rarest vintages ; and whereas
four kinds of wine were thought an extravagance in the days
of Julius Caesar, Otho set eighty different sorts of wine before
his guests, besides other kinds of delicate drinks. To relieve
the plethora of luxuries the guests sometimes alternated hot
burning mushrooms with pieces of ice.

But the most admired invention of extravagance was the
one in which Otho had specially designed to outdo the luxury
of Caesar. The Romans were devoted to delicious odours.
Nero had ordered perfumes to be sprinkled on the hair of his
guests ; but after this had been done to those who reclined at
Otho's banquet, 'the boys who stood behind them took off
their loose slippers and bathed their feet also in liquid
essences a device of which, up to this time, the luxury of
an Apicius had never dreamed. And while the guests were
still admiring this daring innovation, Otho made a sign with
his jewelled hand to Polytimus, the chief favourite among his
slaves, who immediately turned two taps of ivory and gold,
and then, to the soft breathing of flutes, two fountains sprang
into the air, from silver basins, and refreshed the banqueters
with a fine dew of the most exquisite fragrance.

To those frivolous spirits all this unbridled materialism
seemed to be the one thing which raised them nearest to the
gods ; and they felt a thrill of delight when it was whispered
that for that single supper Otho had expended a sum of four
million sesterces. 1

The conversation during the meal was vapid and licentious.
Beginning with the weather, it proceeded to discuss the
gladiators, actors, dancers, and charioteers. Then it repeated
all the most recent pasquinades and coarse jokes which had

1 Note 24. Otho's banquet.


been attached to the statues in the Forum. Then it turned to
scandal, and

' Raged like a fire among the noblest names,
Imputing and polluting,'

until it might have seemed that in all Eome not one man was
honest, nor one woman pure. To say such things of many
of the leading senators and patricians would have been not
far from the truth ; but the gossip became far more piquant
when it dwelt on the immense usury of Seneca, and gave vent
to the worst innuendoes about his private life ; or when it
tried to blacken with its poisonous breath the fair fame of a
Psetus Thrasea or a Helvidius Priscus. Yet another resource
was boundless adulation of the Emperor and abuse of every
other authority, particularly of the Senate, of which Nero, like
Gaius, was intensely jealous. It was on this occasion that
Vatinius surpassed himself by tbe celebrated remark, ' I hate
you, Csesar, because you are a senator.' After a time, however,
scandal and adulation palled, as did the smart procacity of the
young slaves, who were trained to say witty and impudent
things. And as by that time the drinking bout had begun,
after the healths were finished the guests were amused by the
strains of the choraulse and the dances of Andalusian girls.

Among the amusements which Otho had provided was a
ventriloquist, who took off all the chief lawyers of the day in
a fashion first set by Mutus, in the reign of Tiberius. But
the jaded, rose-crowned guests found that the evening was
beginning to drag, and then they took to gambling. Nero
caught the epidemic of extravagance, and that night he bet
four hundred sesterces, not on each cast only, but on each
point of the dice.

It was understood that, though the supper and its con-
comitant orgies were prolonged for hours, there was to be no
deliberate drunkenness. Claudius had habitually indulged in
a voracity which, on one occasion, had made him turn aside
from his own judgment-seat to intrude himself as a guest at
one of the celebrated banquets of the Salian priests, of which
the appetising smell had reached him from the Temple of
Mars. But by Otho and Petronius such forms of animalism
were condemned as betraying a want of aesthetic breeding,
and they sought to stimulate the lassitude of satiety by other


forms of indulgence. That night they proposed to initiate
Nero into a new sensation, by persuading him to join the
roysterers who, like the Mohawks in the reign of Queen
Anne, went about the streets insulting sober citizens, break-
ing open shops, and doing all the damage and mischief in
their power. It was this which made that evening memor-
able in Nero's reign, because it was the first instance of a
folly which filled genuine Eomans with anger and disdain.

But before we touch on these adventures, another incident
must be mentioned, which produced a far deeper effect upon
the annals of the world. It was on the evening of that sup-
per that Nero first saw Poppsea Sabina.

Poppsea Sabina, though before her marriage to Otho she
had been married to Rufius Crispinus, the Prsetorian Prsefect
of Claudius, and had been the mother of a boy, still retained
the youthful and enchanting loveliness which became an
Empire's curse. She was a bride well suited in all respects
to the effeminate and reckless Otho. If he paid priceless
sums for the perruque which no one could distinguish from
his natural hair, and used only the costliest silver mirrors,
she equalled his absurdities by having her mules shod with
gold, and by keeping five hundred she-asses to supply the
milk in which she bathed her entire person, with the object
of keeping her beautiful complexion in all its softness of hue
and contour. And, when she travelled, the hot sunbeams
were never allowed to embrown her cheeks, which she en-
tirely covered with a fine and fragrant unguent.

Otho was sincerely attached to her. He was proud of
possessing as his bride the haughtiest, the most sumptuous,
and the most entrancingly fair of all the ladies in Rome.
Before the death of Rufius Crispinus he had estranged her
affections from her husband ; and it was more than suspected
that her object in accepting Otho had not only been her ad-
miration for his luxurious prodigality, but also an ulterior
design of casting her sorcery over the youthful Nero. Otho
had often praised her beauty to the Emperor, for it was a
boastfulness from which he could not refrain. But he did
not wish that Nero should see her. He knew too well the
inflammable disposition of the youthful Caesar, and the soar-
ing ambition of his own unscrupulous consort. In this pur-
pose he had been abetted secretly by Agrippina, who felt an


instinctive dread of Poppsea, and who, if the day of her law-
less exercise of power had not been ended within two months
of her son's accession, would have made Poppsea undergo the
fate which she had already inflicted on Lollia Paulina. By
careful contrivance Otho had managed to keep Poppaea at a
distance from Nero. The task was easier, because Nero was
short-sighted, and Poppaea, either in affectation of modesty,
or from thinking that it became her, adopted the fashion of
Eastern women, in covering the lower part of her face with
a veil when she went forth in public.

But that evening Nero, for the first time, saw her near at
hand and face to face, and she had taken care that he should
see her in the full lustre of her charms.

Beyond all doubt she was not only dazzlingly beautiful, but
also possessed that spell of brilliant and mobile expression,
and the consummate skill in swaying the minds of men,
which in earlier days had enabled Cleopatra to kindle the
love of Julius Caesar, and to hold empery over the heart of
Marcus Antonius. Her features were almost infantile in
their winning piquancy, and wore an expression of the most
engaging innocence. Her long and gleaming tresses, which
almost the first among the ladies of Rome she sprinkled with
gold, were not tortured and twisted into strange shapes, but
parted in soft, natural waves over her forehead, and flowed
with perfect grace over her white neck, setting off the ex-
quisite shape of her head. She was dressed that evening in
robes which made up for their apparent simplicity by their
priceless value. They were of the most delicate colours and
the most exquisite textures. The tunic was of that pale
shining gold which the ancients described by the word 'hya-
line ' ; the stola was of saffron colour. Her dress might have
been described in terms like those which the poet applies to
his sea-nymph

'Her vesture showed the yellow samphire-pod,
Her girdle the dove-coloured wave serene ; '

and, indeed, the sea-nymph's robe had already been described
by Ovid, speaking of the dress known as undulata

Hie, tindas imitatus, habet quoque nomen ab undis,
Crediderim nymphas hac ego veste tegi.'


She had divined the reasons which led Otho to prevent
her from meeting the Emperor ; but she was ambitious of a
throne, and, while using neither look nor word which awoke
suspicion in her husband's mind, she smiled to think how
vain would be his attempt to set a man's clumsy diplomacy
against a woman's ready wit.

' My Otho,' she had said to him, ' you are about to enter-
tain the Emperor this evening at a supper such as Borne has
not yet seen. The feast which Sestius Gallus gave to Tiberius,
the supper which Agrippa the Elder gave to Gaius, and which
helped him to a kingdom, were very well in their way ; but
they were vulgar and incomplete in comparison with that of
which your guests will partake, to-night.'

' I know it, Poppasa,' he said ; ' and though my own taste
sets the standard in Rome, I know how much the arrange-
ments of my banquet will owe to the suggestions of my
beautiful wife.'

' And ought not the wife, whom you are pleased to call
beautiful, at least to welcome into the house our imperial
guest ? Will it not be a marked rudeness if the matron of
the house has no word wherewith to greet the Csesar as he
steps across her threshold ? Will he be content with the
croaking " Salve, Ccesar ! " of the parrot whom you have hung
in his gilded cage at the entrance of the atrium ?'

' Poppsea is lovely,' said Otho, ' and Nero is what he is.
Would you endanger the life of the last of the Salvii, merely
for the pleasure of letting a short-sighted youth, perhaps a
would-be lover, stare at you a little more closely ? '

A pout settled on the delicate lips of Poppsea, as she turned
away with the remark : ' I thought, Otho, that I had been to
you too faithful a bride to find in you an unreasonable hus-
band. Is there any lady in Rome except myself who would
be deemed unworthy to see the Emperor when he sups in her
house ? Have I deserved that you should cast this slur upon
me as though I I, whose piety is known to all the Romans
were a Julia or an Agr I mean, a Messalina ? '

Otho tried to bring back her lips to their usual smile,
but he did not wish to give way unless he were absolutely
obliged to do so. He said :

' You must not adopt these tragic tones, my sweet Poppasa.
This is but a bachelor's party. You shall meet Nero some


day in this house when all the noblest matrons of Rome
are with you to sanction your presence, and you shall out-
shine them all. But there are guests coming to-night whom
I should not care for Poppaea to greet, though I have asked
them as companions of Nero. Surely you would not demean
yourself by speaking to a Vatiuius or a Paris, to say nothing
of a Tigellinus or a Sagitta.'

' I need not see or speak to any of the others, Otho,'
said Poppaea ; ' but surely I have a right to ask that when
the slave sees the gilded letica with its purple awnings
I may for one moment advance across the hall, and tell
Nero that Poppaea Sabina greets the friend of her lord, and
thanks him for honouring their poor house with his august

' Well, Poppaea,' said Otho, ' if it must be so it must.
You know that I can never resist your lightest petition,
and I would rather give up the banquet altogether than see
tears in those soft eyes, and that expression of displeasure
against Otho on your lips.'

So, when Nero arrived, Poppaea met him, and, brief as
was the interview, she had thrown into it all the sorcery of a
potent enchantress. A sweet and subtle odour seemed to
wrap her round in its seductive atmosphere, and every word
and look and gesture, while it was meant to seem exquisitely
simple, had been profoundly studied with a view to its effect.
Poppaea was well aware that Nero was accustomed to effron-
tery, and that Acte had won his heart by her maidenly reserve.
Nothing, therefore, could have been more sweetly modest than
Poppaea's greeting. Only for one moment had she unveiled
her whole face and let the light of her violet eyes flow through
his soul. There was one observer who fully understood the
pantomime. It was Paris, who read the real motives of Pop-
paea and was lost in admiration at so superb a specimen of
acting. His knowledge of physiognomy, his insight into
human nature, his mastery of his art, enabled him to see
the truth which Nero did not even suspect, that this lovely
lady with the infantile features was ' a fury with a Grace's

She saw that her glance had produced the whole effect
which she had intended. Nero was amazed, and for the mo-
ment confused. He had never experienced such witchery as


this. Acte was modest and beautiful, but to compare Acte
with Poppsea was to set a cygnet beside a swan. Poppaea
vanished the moment her greeting had been delivered, but
Nero stood silent. Almost the first word he said to his host
struck like a death-knell on Otho's heart.

' Otho,' he said, ' how much luckier you are than I am !
You have the loveliest and most charming wife in Rome: I
have the coldest and least attractive.'

' Let not Caesar disparage the sharer of his throne,' said
Otho, concealing under measured phrases his deep alarm.
' The Empress Octavia is as beautiful as she is noble.'

But Nero could hardly arouse himself to admire and enjoy
the best banquet of his reign, until he had called for his tablets,
and written on them a message for Poppsea. ' I am thanking
your lovely lady for her entertainment,' said the Emperor,
as he handed his tablets to his freedman Doryphorus, and
told him to take them to the lady of the house. But what
he had really written was a request that Poppaea would deign
to greet him for a moment during some pause in the long

He made the requisite opportunity by saying that he would
cool himself in the viridarium, and again he found Poppsea a
miracle of reserve and sweetness. From that moment he de-
termined, if it could in any way be compassed, to take her from
her husband.

But this, as we have said, was not the only adventure of the
evening. When the revel was over, the guests, instead of going
home in pompous retinue attended by their slaves, determined
to enjoy a frolic in the streets. ' Flown with insolence and
wine,' they persuaded the Emperor to disguise himself in the
dress of a simple burgher and to roam with them along the
Velabrum and the Snbura and every street in which they were
likely to meet returning guests.

They all accompanied him except Vatinius, who was too
weak and deformed to suit their purpose. The streets of Rome
were dark at night. The expedient of public lamps, or even
of lamps hung outside each house, had never occurred to a
people that revelled in expensiveness. Hence it was dangerous
for unprotected persons to go out at night, and the police had


more than they could really do. Nero and his companions
were able, with perfect impunity, to insult, annoy and injure
group after group of sober or peaceful citizens, whom the
exigencies of duty or society had compelled to return to their
homes after dark without a slave to bear a lantern or a torch.
They enjoyed the novel sensation of terrifying timid women
and of throwing harmless passengers into the gutters, indulging
in every form of rowdyism which could furnish a moment's

The custom of ' tossing in a blanket ' is not modern but
ancient ; only that among the ancients a large sat/urn or war-
cloak was used, as our schoolboys use a blanket. 1 That night
the party of aristocratic Mohawks caught several poor burghers,
and amused themselves with terrifying them almost out of
their wits by this boisterous amusement. It needed, however,
a spice of cruelty to make it still more piquant ; and when
they had tossed one of their victims as high as they could they
suddenly let go of the saguin, and suffered him to fall, bruised,
and often stunned, to the ground, while they made good their

But they were not allowed to have it all their own way. As
they were near the Milvian Bridge it happened that Pudens
met them. He was accompanied by Onesimus, who carried a
lantern of bronze and horn, and by Nereus and Junia, who
followed at a little distance. They had been, in considerable
secrecy, to a Christian gathering, and were on their way home-
wards when they met these roving sons of Belial, two of whom
also carried lanterns. The stalwart form of Pudens looked
sufficiently formidable in the circle of dim light to prevent
them from annoying him ; but when they caught sight of the
veiled figure of Junia they thought that her father Nereus, who
was evidently only a slave, would be unable to protect her
from their rude familiarities.

' Ha, maiden ! ' exclaimed Otho. ' What, veiled though it is
night ? Do you need protection from Cotytto ? Come, bring
me the lantern here; let us look at a face which will be pre-
sumably pretty.'

Junia shrank back, and Otho seized, and was attempting by
force to uplift her veil when a blow from the oaken cudgel of
Nereus benumbed his arm. But the Emperor, secure in the

1 See Note 25. Tossing in a blanket.


numbers of his companions, came up to the trembling slave-
girl, who little dreamed whose was the hand laid upon her

' Oh,' he said, ' when slave-girls are so modest there is
nothing so effective for their education as the sayatio. What
say you, comrades ? It will be a novel excitement to toss a

' Brutes ! ' said Pudens, ' whoever you are brutes and not
Komans ! Would you insult and injure a modest maiden, slave
though she be ? Stand back at your peril.'

But Nero, excited with wine, and closely followed by Pollio
and Sagitta, was still endeavouring to drag away Junia, who
clung convulsively to her i'ather, when a blow from the strong
hand of Pudens sent him staggering to the wall. He stumbled
over a stone in the street, the mask slipped down from his face,
and Pudens saw who it was. The sense of the peril in which
he and his slaves were involved, at once flashed upon his mind.
There was at least a chance that Nero had not recognised him
in the darkness. He hastily whispered to Onesimus to put
out his lantern and, if possible, those of their assailants also.
The Phrygian rose to the occasion. Springing upon Petronius,
he dashed the lantern out of his grasp by the suddenness of
his assault, and, whirling his staff into the air, struck with all
his force at the hand of Paris, who held the other lantern. The
lights were extinguished by the fall of the lanterns, and cover-
ing his own under his tunic he called on Pudens and Nereus
to follow him closely, and seized Junia by the hand. The
by-ways of the streets had become familiar to him, and
while the revellers were discomfited, and were absorbed in
paying attention to Nero, whose face was bleeding, they all
four made their escape, and got home by a more circuitous

' The bucket-men are coming, Emperor,' said Paris.

None of the party wanted the police to recognise them, or
to have the trouble of an explanation which was sure to get
talked of to their general discredit, and feeling a little crest-
fallen, they all hurried off. to a secret entrance of the Palatine.

This was a rough beginning for Nero in his career of a prac-
tical joker. But the delights of such adventures were too
keen to be foregone. He had not recognised Pudens, who
took care not to look too closely at the bruise on Nero's cheek


when he went next morning to the Palace. In general he
was safe in attacking small and feeble parties of citizens ;
but not long afterwards he received another rebuff from the
senator Julius Montanus, whose wife he insulted as they were
returning from supper at a friend's house. Montanus, like
Pudens, had recognised the Emperor, but he had not the
prudence to conceal his knowledge. Alarmed that he should
have struck and wounded the sacrosanct person of a Caesar,
he was unwise enough to apologise. The consequence was
natural. Had he held his tongue he might have escaped.
Nero did not care to be detected in his escapades, and he
ordered Montanus to commit suicide.

Having, however, been hurt more than once in these
nocturnal encounters by men who had some courage, he made
assurance doubly sure by taking witli him some gladiators
who were always to be within call if required. He was thus
able to continue his pranks with impunity until they, too,
lost their novelty, and began to pall upon a mind in which
every spark of virility was dead, and which was rapidly
degenerating into a mass of sensuous egotism.



' Hopes have precarious life :
They are oft blighted, withered, snapped sheer off
In vigorous growth, and turned to rottenness ;
But faithfulness can feed on suffering
And knows no disappointment.'


FAR different was the way in which Britannicus had spent
the memorable evening of Otho's supper.

He was thrown largely upon himself and his own resources.
If Titus happened to be absent; if Epaphroditus did not
chance to bring with him the quaint boy Epictetus ; if the
duties of Pudens summoned him elsewhere, he had few with
whom he could converse in his own apartments. Sometimes
Burrus visited him, and was kind ; but he could hardly for-
give Burrus for his share in Agrippina's plot. Seneca
occasionally came to see him, and Seneca felt a genuine wish
to alleviate the boy's unhappy lot. But Seneca had been
Nero's supporter, and Britannicus could not quite get over the
misgiving that his fine sentences were insincere. And at last
an incident occurred which made it impossible for him ever to
speak to Seneca without dislike. One day Nero had sent for
his brother, and Britannicus, entering the Emperor's room
before he came in, saw a copy or the Lucius de morte Claudii
Cccsaris lying on the table. Naturally enough he had not
heard of this ferocious satire upon his unhappy father.
Attracted by the oddness of the title ' Apokolokyntosis,'
which the librarian had written on the outer case, he took up
the book, and had read the first few columns when Nero
entered. As he read, his soul burned with inexpressible
indignation. His father had received a sumptuous Csesarean
funeral ; he had been deified by the decree of the Senate ; a


grand temple had been reared in his honour on the Coelian
hill ; priests and priestesses had been appointed to worship
his divinity. He knew very well that this might be regarded
as a conventional officialism ; but that the writer of this book
should thus openly laugh in the face of Rome, her religion,
and her Empire ; that he should class Claudius with two
miserable idiots like Augurinus and Baba; that he should
brutally ridicule his absence of mind, his slavering lips, his
ungainly aspect, and represent the Olympian deities in con-
sultation as to whether he was a god, a human being, or a sea-
monster this seemed to him an act of shameless hypocrisy.
He had seen how the Romans prostrated themselves in the
dust before his father in his lifetime, as it were to lick his
sandals ; how Seneca himself had blazoned his earthly godship
in paragraphs of sonorous eloquence. Yet here, on the table
of his successor and adopted son, was a satire replete in every
line with enormous slanders. And who could have "written
it? Britannicus could think of no one but Seneca; and all
the more since the marks on the manuscript showed that
Nero had read it, and read it with amused appreciation.

When Nero entered he found Britannicus standing by the
table transfixed with auger. His cheeks were crimson with
shame and indignation. Panting with wrath, he was unable
even to return the greeting of Nero, who looked at him with
astonishment till he saw the scroll from which he had been
reading. Nero instantly snatched it out of his hand. He
was vexed that the boy had seen it. It had not been intended
for his eyes. But now that the mischief was done he thought
it better to make light of it.

' Oh,' he said, ' I see that you have been reading that fool-
ish satire. Don't be in such a state of mind about it. It is
meant for a mere jest.'

' A jest ! ' exclaimed Britannicus, as soon as he found voice
to speak. * It is high treason against the religion of Rome,
against the majesty of the Empire.'

' Nonsense ! ' said Nero, with a shrug of his shoulders. ' If
I don't mind it, why should you ? You are but a boy.
Leave such matters to those who understand them, and know
more of the world.'

' Why do you always treat me as a child ? ' asked Britan-
nicus indignantly. ' I am nearly fifteen years old. ' I arn


older than you were when my father allowed you to assume
the manly toga.' 1

' Yes,' said the Emperor ; ' but there are differences. I am
Nero, and you are Britaimicus. I shall not let you have
the manly toga just yet ; the golden Imlla and the prsetexta
suit you a great deal better.'

Britaimicus turned away to conceal the emotion which
pride forbade him to show. He was about to leave the
audience-room when Nero called him.

' Listen, Britaimicus,' he said. ' Do not provoke me too far.
Do not forget that I am Emperor. When Tiberius came to
the throne there was a young prince named Agrippa Posthu-
mus. When Gaius came to the throne there was a young
prince named Tiberius Gemellus.'

' The Emperor Gaius adopted Tiberius Gemellus, and made
him Prince of the Youth/ said Britannicus ; ' you have never
done that for me.'

' You interrupt me,' said Nero. ' Do you happen to remem-
ber what became of those two boys ? '

Britannicus remembered only too well. Through the arts
of Livia, Agrippa Posthunms, accused of a ferocious tempera-
ment, had been first banished to the Island Pandataria, then
violently murdered. Tiberius Gemellus had not been mur-
dered, because the news of such a death would have sounded
ill ; but he had had the sword placed against his heart, and
had been taught to kill himself, so that his death might wear
the semblance of suicide.

Nero left time for such recollections to pass through his
brother's mind, and then he slowly added, ' And now that
Nero has corne to the throne, there happens to be a young
prince named Britannicus.'

Britannicus shuddered. 'Do you menace me with mur-
der?' he asked.

Nero only laughed. 'What need have I to menace?' he
asked. ' Do you not know that I have but to lift a finger, if
it so pleases me, and you die ? But don't be alarmed. It does
not please me at present.'

Britannicus turned very pale. He knew that Nero's words
conveyed no idle boast. He was but a down-trodden boy

1 Note 26. - Ae of Britannicus.


the orphan son of a murdered mother ; of a father foully dealt
with, infamously calumniated. What cared the Eoman world
whether he perished or not, or how he perished ? He choked
down the sob which rose, and left his brother's presence in
silence ; but, as he traversed the long corridor to the room of
Octavia, he could not help asking himself, with dread fore-
bodings, what would be his fate ? Would he be starved, like
the younger Drusus ? or poisoned, like the elder ? or bidden
to end his own life, like poor young Tiberius Gemellus ? or
assassinated by violence, like Agrippa Posthumus ? How
was he better than they ? And if he perished, who would
care to avenge him ? But, oh God ! if there were such a God
as He in whom the Christians believed, what a world was this
into which he had been plunged ! What sin had he or his an-
cestors committed, that these hell-dogs of wrong and murder
banned his steps from birth ? The old Eomans had been
strong and noble and simple. Even in the days of Augustus
they could thrill to the lesson of Virgil :

'Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento ;
Hae tibi erunt artes, pacisque imponere morem,
Parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos. '

Whence the present dearth of all nobleness ? What creep-
ing paralysis of immoral apathy had stricken this corrupt and
servile aristocracy, this nerveless and obsequious Senate ?
From what black pit of Acheron had surged up the slime of
universal corruption which polluted every class around him
with ignoble debaucheries ? He saw on every side of him a
remorseless egotism, an unutterable sadness, the fatalism of
infidelity and despair. A poisoning of the blood with physi-
cal and moral madness seemed to have become the heritage
of the ruling Caesars. Where could he look for relief? Men
had ceased to believe in the gods. The Stoics had nothing
better to offer than hard theories and the possibility of suicide
and what a thing must life be if it had no more precious
privilege than the means of its own agonising and violent
suppression !

Britannicus was intelligent beyond his years, and thoughts
like these chased each other through his mind as he made his
way with slow and painful steps to the rooms of his sister. For
an instant the thought of a rebellion flashed across his mind,
but it was at once rejected. What could he do ? He was


but a friendless boy. He felt as if he had heard the sentence
of early death ; as if his innocence were nothing to such gods
as those whom his childhood had been taught to name ; as if
the burden of an intolerable world were altogether too heavy
for him to understand or to bear. And yet he was not unsup-
ported by some vague hope in the dim, half-explored regions
of that new gospel of which he now had heard.

To Octavia the visits of her brother were almost the only
happiness left. As he entered she dismissed the slaves, for she
saw at a glance that some profound emotion had swept over
his mind, and longed to give him consolation.

In their forlornness the brother and sister always tried
to spare each other any needless pang. Octavia had never
hinted to Britannicus that Nero's base hand had often been
lifted to strike her. She did not tell him that on that morn-
ing he had seized her by the hair, and in the frenzy of his
rage had almost strangled her. Nor would he tell her about
the infamous attack on their father's memory which he had
seen on Nero's table. He little dreamt that she knew of it
already, nay, even that, with coarse malice, Nero had shown
it to her, and read passages aloud in her tortured hearing on
purpose to humiliate and trouble her. Still less would he
reveal the threat which seemed to give fresh significance to
the feline gleam which he had caught a few days before in
the eyes of the horrible Locusta.

Yet by secret intuition each of them divined something of
what was in the heart of the other.

When Britannicus entered he found his sister gazing with
a sad smile at a gold coin of the island of Teos, which lay on
the palm of her hand.

' What amuses you in that coin ? ' he asked.

' Look at it,' she said, pointing to the inscription eai/
'Ofcrafiiav 'the goddess Octavia.' 1 'I was thinking,
Britannicus, that if the other goddesses are as little happy
as I am, I should prefer to be a mortal!'

Her brother smiled too, but remained silent. He dreaded
to deepen her sorrow.

' Have you nothing to tell me, Britannicus ? ' she asked.
' What is it which makes you so much sadder than your wont ? '

' Nothing that I can tell you,' he answered. ' But oh, Octa-

1 A coin of Teos with this inscription is still extant. Mionnet, iv. 123.


via, what thoughts strike you when you look round upon this
Palace and society ? Is there no such thing as virtue ? ' he
asked impetuously. ' The Eoinans used to honour it. Who
cares for virtue now, except one or two philosophers ? and '

' Speak on, Britannicus,' she said. ' Agrippina is less our
enemy than she was. She has withdrawn her spies. We
are not worth the hatred of any one else. Of the slaves
who chiefly wait on me, most are faithful, and some are

' You have guessed my meaning, Octavia. Of the men
and women around us, how very few there are, except
the Christians, who are pure and good. How comes it ? '

' Their strange faith sustains them.'

' But does it not seem inconceivable that the gods or
that God, if there be but one, should have revealed the
truth to barbarian Jews ?'

' I don't know, Britannicus. Who is the most virtuous
person you know I mean, excepting the Christians ? '

' Have we met any except perhaps Persius and my
Titus ? and well, perhaps the most virtuous of all is that
little slave, Epictetus.'

'Yet Epictetus is a Phrygian, and a slave, and deformed,
and lame. And as for the Jews, you know that your friend
Titus thinks them the most interesting people in the world :
and it is whispered that some of the noblest ladies in
Koine Otho's wife among them have secretly embraced

' Poppaea does little credit to their religion if all be true
that is said of her. But Pomponia is a Christian, and
Claudia, the fairest maiden in Rome. Whether they hold
truth or falsehood I know not, but if religion has anything
to do with goodness there seems to be no religion like

'Britannicus,' she answered, 'like you, I am deeply
interested in all that Pomponia has told me ; but I will
tell you what has struck me most. Nero, and Seneca, and
Agrippina, and all the rest of them, are full of misery and
despair, though they are rich, and praised, and powerful ;
but these Christians, on the other hand, are paupers, hated,
persecuted and yet happy. It is that which amazes me
most of all.'


Britannicus sighed. 'Octavia,' he said, 'I would gladly
know more of this foreign superstition, which makes men
good amid wickedness, and joyful amid afflictions ; which
makes women like Pomporiia, and girls like Claudia, and
boys like Flavius Clemens.'

' Let us, then, sup to-night with Pomponia,' said Octavia.
' She knows that I am lonely, arid she has told me that
her old general and herself will always delight to see us,
if I will come without state and share their simplicity
Nero sups to-night with Otho. No one will prevent us
from going together to the house of one whose loyalty is
so little suspected as that of Aulus Plautius.'

And thus it was that while Nero revelled, and drank,
and made the streets of his capital unsafe with riot and
assault, Britannicus was present at the first Christian as-
sembly which he had ever witnessed.





Avriita, ol (is XpHTrbv irfiri<TTfVK6Tfs xpriffrol rt elffi Kal \4yovrou,
CJLEM. ALEX. Strom, ii. 4.

AULUS PIAUTIUS, without any pretence to be a philosopher
or a republican, prided himself on retaining the antique
fashion of Roman simplicity. His house was in every way a
contrast to that of Otho. It excited the laughter of the dan-
dies of the new school, with its old rude statuary, its hard
couches, its plain tables, its floor of simple black and white
marble, the limited number of faithful and sober slaves,
among whom but few were Greeks, and not one resembled
the pampered pages who were the pride of more modern
establishments. The whole service of the house was modest
and yet stately ; and the conqueror of Britain, so far from
blushing at the moderate fortune and Roman surround-
ings which showed that he at least had not plundered the
provinces which he had governed, was, on the contrary,
pleased that men should see this example of honesty and

Pudeus was in command of the escort of the Empress ;
and it was on his return from the Palace to his own house
that the rencontre with Nero occurred which has been
already narrated. Caractacus, too, and Claudia were present,
though the guests were few ; and young Flavius Clemens
had been invited to meet the children of Claudius. After
the modest supper was over, the Empress and her brother
enjoyed a conversation with their noble hostess, and learnt
from her that in one of the outer offices of the house of
Plautius the Christian assembly was that night to be held.
It would have been too dangerous for Octavia to be present,
but Pomponia had many Christian slaves and some freed-
men who shared her secret, and were men and women of


unquestioned fidelity. Britannicus had now heard from
her a great deal about the elementary doctrines of the new
faith. There seemed to be no reason why she should any
longer refuse his desire to be an eye-witness of Christian
worship. She had spoken on the subject to Linus, the
bishop of the Gentile community ; and, without revealing
any name, had told him that a young stranger, for whom
she could vouch as one who would not be guilty of any
treachery, would be entrusted with the watchword, and
would be present at the evening prayers. Flavius Clemens
was also to be present as a companion to Britannicus.
Pomponia's own son, a bright boy, named Aulus Plautius
after his father, had not yet been taught any of the truths
of Christianity. His mother had trained him in all high
and noble things ; but the general, who knew that she had
' taken up unusual religious views,' had laid on her his
injunctions not to teach them without his permission to
their son.

So retired had been the life of the young prince, and so
intentional the seclusion in which he had been brought up,
that few knew him by sight. But to prevent the danger of
his being recognised by any chance informer, Pomponia so
altered his appearance that even Octavia might have failed to
recognise him. The Flavian boy was at that time a person of
little or no importance, and it was not necessary that he
should be disguised. Pornponius, who stayed with the Em-
press, entrusted Britaunicus to the charge of Pudens, who,
though not yet baptised, was now a recognised catechumen.
He had been at Christian gatherings before, and was all the
more glad to go this evening, because Claudia also was to be
present, in whom the soul of the centurion was more and
more bound up. But to avoid all possibility of suspicion he
placed his faithful Nereus in charge of the young stranger,
while he himself stood a little apart, and watched.

The heart of the noble boy beat fast as he entered that un-
wonted scene. The room in which the Christians met was a
large granary in which Plautius stored the corn which came
from his Sicilian estates. It was as well lighted as circum-
stances admitted, but chiefly by the torches and lanterns of
those who had come from all parts of the city to be present at
this winter evening assembly.


Britanuicus was astonished at, their numbers. He was quite
unaware that a religion so strange a religion of yesterday,
whose founder had perished in Palestine little more than
twenty years before already numbered such a multitude of
adherents in the imperial city. Clemens whispered to him
that this was but one congregation, and represented only a
fraction of the entire number of believers in Rome, who formed
a multitude which no single room could have accommodated.
He told him, further, that though the Jewish and the Eomau
or, as they call them, the Gentile converts formed a
common brotherhood, only separated from each other by a few
national observances, they usually worshipped at Rome in
separate communities.

If Britanuicus was surprised by the numbers of the Christians,
he was still more surprised by their countenances. The major-
ity were slaves, whose native home was Greece or Asia. Their
faces bore the stamp which had been fixed on them by years
of toil and hardship ; but even on the worn features of the
aged there was something of the splendour and surprise of the
divine secret. The young prince saw that they were in
possession of something more divine than the world could
understand. For the first time he beheld not one or two only,
but a blessed company of faithful people who had felt the
peace of God which passeth all understanding.

The children also rilled him with admiration. He had seen
lovely slaves in multitudes ; there were throngs of them in the
Palace and in the houses of men like Otho and Petronius.
But their beauty was the beauty of the flesh alone. How 7 little
did it resemble the sweet and sacred innocence which bright-
ened the eyes of these boys and girls who had been brought
up in the shelter of Christian homes !

But he was struck most of all with the youths. How many
Roman youths had he seen who had been trained in wealthy
households, in whom had been fostered from childhood every
evil impulse of pride and passion ! He daily saw the young
men who were the special favourites of his brother Nero.
Many of them had inherited the haughty beauty of patrician
generations ; but luxury and wine had left their marks upon
them, and if they had been set side by side with these, whose
features glowed with health and purity and self-control, how
would the pallid faces of those dandies have looked like a


fulfilment of the forebodings which even Horace had ex-
pressed !

Nothing could have been more simple than the order of
worship. The Christians had ended the Agape, the common
meal of brotherly love, consisting of bread and fish and wine.
They had exchanged the kiss of peace. The tables had now
been removed by the young and smiling acolytes, and the
seats arranged in front of the low wooden desk at which
Linus and the elders and deacons stood. They had 110 dis-
tinctive dress, but wore the ordinary tunic or cloak of daily
life, though evidently the best and neatest that they could
procure. In such a community, so poor, so despised, there
could be no pomp of ritual, but the lack of it was more than
compensated by the reverent demeanour which made each
Christian feel that, for the time being, this poor granary was
the house of God and the gate of heaven. They knelt or
stood in prayer as though the mud floor were sacred as the
rocks of Sinai, and every look and gesture was happy as of
those who felt that not only angels and archangels were among
them, but the invisible presence of their Lord Himself.

First they prayed ; and Britannicus had never before
heard real prayers. But here were men and women, the
young and the old, to whom prayer evidently meant direct
communion with the Infinite and the Unseen ; to whom the
solitude of private supplication, and the community of worship,
were alike admissions into the audience-chamber of the Divine.
Never had he heard such outpourings of the soul, in all the
rapture of trust, to a Heavenly Father. How different seemed
such intercourse with the Eternal from the vague conventional
aspirations of the Stoics towards an incomprehensible Soul of
the Universe, which had no heart for pity and no arm to save !

But a new and yet more powerful sensation was kindled in
his mind, when at the close of the prayers they sang a hymn.
It was a hymn to Christ, beginning

' Faithful the saying,
Great the mystery Christ !
Manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the spirit ;
Seen of angels ;
Preached among the nations ;
Believed on in the world ;
Received up in glory ! '


Britannicus listened entranced to the mingled voices as they
rose and fell in exquisite cadence. He had heard in theatres
all the most famous singers of Kome ; he had heard the chosen
youths and the maidens chanting in the temple processions ; he
had heard the wailing over the dead, and the Thalassio-chorus
of the bridal song. But he had heard nothing which distantly
resembled this melody and harmony of voices wedded to holy
thoughts ; aud, although there were no instruments, the ' an-
gelical soft trembling voices ' seemed to him like echoes from
some new and purer region of existence. He rejoiced, there-
fore, when they began yet another hymn, of which the first
verse was

' Awake thee, them sleeper,
And from the dead arise,
And Christ shall dawn upon thee,
To light thy slumbering eyes.' 1

When the hymn was over they sat down, and Linus rose to
speak to them a few words of exhortation. He reminded
them that they had been called from darkness to light, and
from the power of Satan unto God. He told them that they
had fled to the rock of Christ amid a weltering sea of human
wickedness, and though the darkness was around them he
bade them to walk in the light, since they were the children
of light. Many of them had lived of old in the vices and sins
of heathendom, but they were washed, they were justified,
they were sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the
Spirit of their God. Were not their bodies temples of the
Holy Ghost which dwelt in them, except they were repro-
bates ? Since, then, they were in the Spirit, let them bring
forth the fruits of the Spirit love, joy, peace, long-suffering,
gentleness, meekness, goodness, charity against which there
was no law. The world was passing away and the fashion of
it ; their own lives were but as the withering grass and the
fading flower ; and was not the day of the Lord at hand ?
Would He not speedily return to judge His people ? Would
not that day come as a thief in the night, and how should
they stand its probatory fire unless they were safe in the love
of their Kedeeming Lord ?

So far had he proceeded when a mighty answering ' MA-
KANATHA' of the deeply-moved assembly smote the air, and

1 Eph. v. 14 (apparently the fragment of a hymn).


immediately afterwards Britaimicus stood transfixed and
thrilled to the very depths of his whole being.

For now a voice such as he had never heard a sound un-
earthly and unaccountable seemed not only to strike his
ears but to grasp his very heart. It was awful in its range, its
tone, its modulations, its startling, penetrating, appalling power;
and although he was unable to understand its utterance, it
seemed to convey the loftiest eloquence of religious transport,
thrilling with rapture and conviction. And, in a moment or
two, other voices joined it. The words they spoke were ex-
alted, intense, impassioned, full of mystic significance. They
did not speak in their ordinary familiar tongue, but in what
seemed to be as it were the essence and idea of all languages,
though none could tell whether it was Hebrew, or Greek, or
Latin, or Persian. It resembled now one and now the other,
as some overpowering and unconscious impulse of the moment
might direct. The burden of the thoughts of the speakers
seemed to be the ejaculation of ecstasy, of amazement, of
thanksgiving, of supplication, of passionate dithyramb or
psalm. They spoke not to each other, or to the congregation, but
seemed to be addressing their inspired soliloquy to God. And
among these strange sounds of many voices, all raised in sweet
accord of entranced devotion, there were some which no one
could rightly interpret. The other voices seemed to interpret
themselves. They needed no translation into significant
language, but spontaneously awoke in the hearts of the hear-
ers the echo of the impulse from which they sprang. There
were others which rang on the air more sharply, more tumul-
tuously, like the clang of a cymbal or the booming of hollow
brass, and they conveyed no meaning to any but the speakers,
who, in producing these barbarous tones, felt carried out of
themselves. But there was no disorderly tumult in the vari-
ous voices. They were reverberations of one and the same
supernatural ecstasy echoes awakened in different conscious-
nesses by one and the same, intense emotion.

Britannicus had heard the Glossolalia the gift of the
tongue. He had been a witness of the Pentecostal marvel,
a phenomenon which heathendom had never known.

Nor had he only heard it, or witnessed it. For as the voices
began to grow fainter, as the whole assembly sat listening in
the hush of awful expectation, the young prince himself felt


as if a spirit passed before him, and the hair of his flesh stood
up ; he felt as if a Power and a Presence stronger than his own
dominated his being ; annihilated his inmost self ; dealt with
him as a player does who sweeps the strings of an instrument
into concord or discord at his will. He felt ashamed of the
impulse ; he felt terrified by it : but it breathed all over and
around and through him, like the mighty wind ; it filled his
soul as with ethereal fire ; it seemed to inspire, to uplift, to
dilate his very soul; and finally it swept him onward as with
numberless rushings of congregated wings. The passion within
him was burning into irresistible utterance, and, in another
moment, through that humble throng of Christians would have
rung in impassioned music the young voice of the last of the
Claudii pouring forth things unutterable, had not the struggle
ended by his uttering one cry, and then sinking into a faint.
Before that unwonted cry from the voice of a boy the assembly
sank into silence, and after two or three moments the impulse
left him. Panting, unconscious, not knowing where he was,
or whether he had spoken or not, or how to explain or account
for the heart-shaking inspiration which had seemed to carry
him out of himself beyond all mountain barriers and over un-
fathomable seas, the boy sank back into the arms of Pudens,
who, alarmed and amazed and half ashamed, had sprung for-
ward to catch him as he fell.

As he seemed to be in a swoon, one of the young acolytes
came to him, and gently bathed his face with cold water. And
meanwhile as the hour was late, and they all had to get home
in safety through the dark streets and lanes through which
they had come some of them from considerable distances
Linus rose, and with uplifted hand dismissed the congregation
with the words of blessing in the name of the Father, the Son,
and the Holy Ghost.

Pudens and Nereus carried back the still half-unconscious
boy into the house of Pomponia, where his sister awaited
him. Octavia was alarmed at the wildness of his look, but
the fresh air had already revived him. ' I am quite well,' he
said, as the Empress bent anxiously over him, 'but I am tired,
and should like to be silent. Let us go home, Octavia.'

' The escort is waiting,' said Pudens.

So they bade farewell to Pomponia, and the soldiers saw them
safely to the Palace.


When they had started, Claudia said : ' Oh, Pomponia, while
he was at the gathering the Power came upon him ; he seemed
scarcely able to resist it ; but for his fainting I believe that he
would have spoken with the tongue ! '

Pomponia clasped her hands, and bowed her head in silent




' Even then

The princely blood flows in his cheek, he sweats,
Strains his young nerves, and puts himself in posture.'

SHAKESPEARE, Cymbeline, iii. 3.

NERO was chary of showing his bruised face. He daily
smeared it with the juice of an herb called tliapsia from the
island of Thapsos where it was found, and with a mixture of
wax and frankincense, but it retained for some days the marks
of the buffet which he had received from the arm of Pudens.
From Octavia he did not care to conceal either that or any
other disgrace. He had reduced his unhappy girl-bride to
such a condition that she dared ask him no question.
From Agrippina he would gladly have concealed it, but he
had been unable as yet to break the habit of paying her a
daily visit. Intensely miserable was that visit to them both,
and, except when Nero chose to bring his friends and attend-
ants with him, the salutations often ended with the stormiest

They did on this occasion.

The Augusta at once noticed the bruise on Nero's cheek,
and she was perfectly aware of the cause of it ; for she had
not sunk so completely out of the old habits of power as not
to have spies in her pay who kept her well informed of the
Emperor's proceedings.

Supremely wretched, but even in her wretchedness agitated
by the furies of pride and passion, she had scarcely received
his cold kiss when she began to taunt her son.

' Caesar looks gallantly to-day,' she said ; ' for all the world
like some clumsy gladiator who has been hit while practising
with wooden foils.'

Nero maintained a sulky silence.


She added : ' No doubt it is as worthy of a Eoman Emperor
to roam about at night and join in street brawls with slaves
as it is for him to sing, and write verses, and dance on the

' How do you know that I have roamed the streets ? '

Unwittingly she had betrayed herself, but in an instant she
recovered from her confusion.

' What Otho and your other boon companions do such as
they are is notorious ; and when Caesar has a black eye the
event is hard to account for in any ordinary way.'

' Say rather that your spies have told you about it,' said

' And if they have,' she said defiantly ' what then ? '

' Why this,' he answered ; ' that, as I have told you before,
I am Emperor, and mean to be Emperor ; and if you do not
choose to be taught it by fair means, by all the gods, you shall
be taught it by foul.'

' By all the gods ? ' said Agrippina, repeating his oath.
' Are you not afraid of their wrath ? '

Nero smiled a peculiar smile. ' Not at all,' he said. ' Why
should I fear gods when I can make them myself ? ' l

Agrippina was stung by the sense of her impotence, and
maddened by the shipwreck of her ambition ; but she was
too proud and fierce to abandon the contest.

' If you do not fear any gods,' she said, ' you shall fear me.
Britannicus has nearly arrived at the age of manhood. He is
the son of Claudius ; you are not. But for me he would have
been Emperor ; by my aid he may yet sit upon his father's
throne. Then once more Eome shall see a man ruling her,
and not a singer and a dandy.'

Nero, filled with fury, clenched his fist, and strode forward
as though he would strike her.

She sprang up with flashing eyes. 'Would you dare to
strike me ?' she shrieked. 'By heavens, if you did, I would
that moment stab you to the heart.'

At the word she drew from her robe a dagger which she
always carried there, and raised it in her right hand, while
her bosom heaved with passion.

Nero sprang back, but Agrippina, as though in the revulsion
of disdain, dropped the dagger at her feet.

1 Note 27. Making gods.


' You would make a fine tragedian, mother,' said Nero, with
a bitter sneer.

The excess of Agrippina's rage seemed to stifle her. ' One
hope, at least, the gods have left me,' she gasped forth, as soon
as she could find voice to speak. ' Britaunicus yet lives ; I
will take him with me to the Praetorian camp. I will see
whether the soldiers will listen to the daughter of Germanicus,
or to Burrus with his mutilated hand and Seneca with his
professorial tongue.'

' I am tired of all this,' answered Nero. ' Only remember
that some day you may provoke me too far. There are such
persons as informers ; there is such a law as that of Icesa
ma jest as.'

He left her, as he almost always left her now, in angry
displeasure, but he did not seriously fear her threats. He
had been trained to think himself incomparably superior to
Britannicus. Agrippina herself had encouraged the wide-
spread scandal that it was one thing to be a son of
Messalina, and quite another to be a son of Claudius.
Besides, he traced no steady ambition in the boy. So long
as he was left to amuse himself with Titus, he gave hardly
any trouble, nor had he, so far as Nero knew, a single par-
tisan who could for a moment withstand the combined
authority and popularity of such men as Seneca and the
Praetorian PrEefect. Still he disliked being threatened so
constantly with the claims of the son of Claudius. Tigellinus
was always hissing his name in his ears, and Agrippina
blazoning him as a resource wherewith to secure her ven-
geance. If Britannicus were not so insignificant, it might
be well to put him out of the way.

A few days afterwards, when his face had nearly resumed
its ordinary hue, he determined to celebrate the Saturnalia
with a party mainly composed of youthful nobles.

Otho of course was there, and the guests whom he had
invited to the villa in the Apennines. Among the others
were Nerva, now a young man of twenty-three, and Ves-
pasian, with his two sons, Titus and Domitian, who, with a
few other boys, were asked to meet Britannicus. Piso
Licinianus, a youth of seventeen, of high lineage and blame-
less manners, was of a very different stamp from Nero's
favourite companions, but Nero chose to pay him the com-


pliment of commanding his presence. Among the elder
guests of the miscellaneous party were invited Galba, a man
in the prime of life, who since his return from Africa had
been living in retirement, and Vitellius, who, though only
forty, had been already infamous under four emperors, and
who rose to the highest position in spite of the fact that he
was notorious for gluttony alone.

A curious incident occurred at the beginning of the banquet.
Among the crowded slaves who waited on the guests was a
Christian who, like Agabus and the daughters of Philip,
possessed in a high degree that peculiar gift of prophecy
which is known as second sight. His name was Herodion ;
and Apelles, one of his fellow-slaves in Caesar's household, in
pointing out the guests, mentioned the rumour that Nerva's
horoscope had been cast by an astrologer, who had predicted
that he should succeed to the Empire ; and that Augustus
had laid his hands on the head of Galba when he was a boy,
and had said to him, ' Thou too, my child, shalt have a taste
of empire.'

' I do not believe in horoscopes,' said Herodiou.

' Not believe in the Chaidseans ? ' replied the other. ' Ah,
I remember, thou art one of those Christians, who worship
well, never mind. But canst thou deny that the prognosti-
cations of our augurs, and the answers of our oracles, often
come true ? '

' They do,' said Herodion. ' We believe that the demons
have such power sometimes permitted them. There was, for
instance, a maid with the spirit of Python at Philippi, whose
fame has even reached to Kome. But ' and here he paused
long, and gazed with earnest and troubled countenance on the
assembled guests.

'What is it ? ' asked Apelles.

'Apelles/ answered Herodion, 'thou art honest, and lovest
me. Dare I tell thee that as I gaze on these guests I seem
to see them as through a mist of blood ? '

' Thou art safe with me,' answered Apelles. ' Should I be
likely to betray the kind sharer of my cell, who nursed me
last year through that long and terrible fever ? '

But Herodion sank into silence, though his glance grew
more and more troubled as he looked around him. Whatever
it may have been granted him to see or to divine, he spoke no


more. But among those guests there were no less than eight
future emperors Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus,
Doinitian, Nerva, and Trajan, then a little child, who was led
in by a slave ; and six of these, as well as Nero and Britan-
nicus, and Piso Liciuianus, were destined to violent deaths.
Apelles recalled the scene years afterwards, when he too had
become a convert to Christianity.

The joyous licence of the Saturnalia put an end to all
stiffness of ceremonial. The banquet was gay and mirthful,
and as so many youths and boys were present the amusements
were purposely kept free from such scenes as disgraced the
suppers at Subiaco and the palace of Otho. It was agreed
that the younger guests should cast lots which should be the
king of the feast. Nero threw the Venus-throw of four sixes,
and was accordingly elected with acclamation to the mirthful
office. The rex ruled with undisputed sway, and all were
obliged to obey his bidding, Good taste and natural kindness
usually prevented him from any flagrant abuse of his office.

While the staid elders looked on with smiles, Nero and
the younger part of the company amused themselves with
various games.

' And now,' said the Emperor, ' you must all obey your
symposiarch, and I am going to tell you each in turn what
to do.'

Otho was bidden to take off his garland, and place it on
the head of the person whom he loved best ; and of course
he placed it on the head of Nero.

Lucan, as he was fond of stories, was bidden to tell a com-
plete story in one minute ; and with surprising readiness he
quoted the two Greek lines

'A, finding some gold, left a rope ou the ground ;
B, missing his gold, used the rope which he found.' 1

' Piso Licinianus, you are to pay me the highest compli-
ment you can.'

Piso was no flatterer, and did not like the command, but
after a moment's hesitation he quoted Horace's lines

' How great thy debt to Nero's race,

Rome, let red Metaurus say,
Slain Hasdrubal, and Victory's grace,

First granted on that glorious day.'

1 Note 28. Greek epigram.


' That is a compliment to my ancestors, not to me,' said
Nero ; ' but I will let you off, for, though I am Eex, I am
not Tyrannus.'

' Now, Petronius, you are a poet, so I am going to give you
a hard command. I will give you five minutes, and you are
to produce a line which shall read the same backwards and

' Impossible, Csesar,' said Petrouius.

' Nevertheless, I require the impossibility, or you will
have to drink by way of fine at least nine cyathi of neat

With humble apologies, Petronius seized his tablets, and
before the five minutes had expired he read the line

' Eoma tibi subito motibus ibit Amor.'

'Your line is not Latin, and does not make sense,' said
Nero. ' I should have told you to make me a compliment
instead of our grave Licinianus. But now, Senecio, I order
you to quote the epitaph which best expresses your view
of life.'

Senecio obeyed, and his selection was very characteristic.

It was

' Eat, drink, enjoy tbyself : the rest is nothing.' l

' What would our small Epictetus say to that ? ' whispered
Titus in the ear of Britannicus.

Other guests achieved the tasks appointed them with more
or less success, and they awaited with some curiosity the in-
junction which Nero would lay on Britannicus. Britannicus
did not feel much anxiety about it, for he supposed it would
be of the same playful and frivolous character as the rest.
He did not imagine that his brother would single him out at
a genial gathering to put upon him a public insult by order-
ing him to do anything which would cause a blush. He was
therefore struck with amazement when Nero said :

' And now, Britannicus, get up, walk into the middle of
the room, and there sing us a song.'

A low and scarcely audible murmur of disapproval ran
round the room. As it was the Saturualitian festival, the

1 Note 29. Epitaph.


slaves were not only present as spectators of these social
games, but were allowed by custom to indulge in an almost un-
limited licence of satire even against their masters. But that
a prince of the blood should be called upon to sing to sing
in public, before a number of noble Eomaris, and even in the
presence of slaves, was regarded as an indignity of the dead-
liest description. It was a violation of immemorial custom.
It was a demand entirely outrageous. The hot blood rushed
to the cheeks of Britaimicus, and suffused his brow and neck.
An indignant refusal sprang to his lips. If Pudens had been
near he would at least have glanced at him to see what he
would advise ; but, to his deep grief, Pudens had been re-
moved to a post in the camp, and his place had been taken
by a tribune named Julius Pollio, whom Britannicus dis-
trusted at a glance. The pause was becoming seriously awk-
ward, and many of the guests betrayed uneasiness, when
Britanuicus heard Titus, who sat next to him, whisper in a
low voice, ' It is a shame ; but you had better try, for fear
worse should happen.'

Then Britannicus summoned up all his courage and all his
dignity. He rose and walked with a firm step into the mid-
dle of the triclinium, asked the harpist Terpuos, whom he
saw standing near with his harp in his hand, to give him a
note, and in a voice sweet and clear began to sing one of the
finest choruses from the ' Andromache' of the old Roman poet,
Ennius. It described the ruin of the House of Priam. ' I
have seen,' says Andromache, the captive wife of Hector, ' the
palace with its roof embossed and fretted with gold and ivory,
and all its lofty portals, wrapped in conflagration. I have
seen Priam slain with violence, and the altar of Jove incarna-
dined with blood. What protection shall I seek ? Whither
shall I fly ? What shall be my place of exile ? Robbed of
citadel and city, whither shall I fare ? Shattered and scat-
tered are the altars of my home and native land ! The shrines
are calcined by flame ; scorched are their lofty walls, and
warped their beams of fir by the strong heat.' J

Nero listened in astonishment and alarm. The strain
which the boy had chosen for his song was conceived in the
grandest and most heroic style of the old Roman poetry, and
was incomparably nobler and manlier than the conceits and

iNote 30.


tintinnabulations which were in modern vogue. The taste
the knowledge, the readiness, shown in the selection of sucK
a strain were remarkable. And was this Britannicus who
sang ? Nero was always displaying and boasting of his
divine voice, but it was harsh as a crow's in- comparison with
the ringing notes of his modest brother. And then the mean-
ing of the song ? Was it not aimed at Nero and his usurpa-
tion ? Did it not show decisively the thoughts which were
filling the soul of the dispossessed prince, and his clear con-
sciousness that he had been robbed of his hereditary rights ?

But there was something worse than this. For by the
time that Britannicus had ended his song, the brief winter
twilight had nearly ended, and the banqueting-room lay
deep in shadow. It was too dark to distinguish individual
faces, and this fact, together with the liberty of the jocund
season, made those present less careful to conceal their
thoughts. No sooner had the voice of Britaunicus ceased
than a murmur of spontaneous applause arose on every side,
and not only of applause, but of pity and favour. Nero had
meant to humiliate his brother : but, on the contrary, his
brother had so behaved under trying circumstances as to
win all hearts !

Jealousy, rage, hatred, swept in turbulent gusts across the
Emperor's soul. He would have liked to strike Britanuicus,
to scourge those insolent guests. But he did not dare to take
any overt step, for there had been no overt offence. Britan-
nicus had been bidden to obey the festive order of the King
of the Feast, and he had accomplished the behest as the
others had done, in a way which kindled admiration. To act
as if the chorus from Ennius had been aimed at himself

would have been to betray uneasiness and confess wrono--



He could not, however, conceal, and took no pains to con-
ceal, his petulant spleen. Praise of another was poison to
Nero. That the merit of any one else should be admitted
seemed like a reflection on himself. ' They call Britannicus
as good as me ! ' was a thought which filled his little soul
with spite and wrath.

'This is poor stuff,' he said, in high dudgeon, pretending to
yawn in the most insulting way he could. ' Who would have
expected mock heroics at the Saturnalia ? ' Then he rose, and



said, with a slight wave of the hand, ' I arn tired of this. I
bid farewell to the guests. You may go without ceremony.'

Every one felt that the Emperor's ill-humour had thrown
a deadly chill over the gladdest night of the year. With
mutual glancings, and slight shrugs of the shoulder, and
almost imperceptible liftings of the eyebrow, they departed.
Only Tigellinus remained.

' What does Caesar think of Britannicus now ? ' he asked in
malignant triumph.

' I think,' said Nero, savagely, ' that swans sing sweetest
before they die.'

' Ah-h ! ' said the base plotter ; and he knew that now the
first step in the Sejanus-course of his ambition was accom-

But Britannicus went straight from the supper to the rooms
of his sister. Octavia sat there in the old Roman fashion of
matronly simplicity. She was spinning wool at her distaff,
and with kind heart she often gave what she spun to the
children of her slaves. And while she spun, a maiden was
reading to her.

It was the Christian girl Tryphasna. Usually she read
from the Roman poets, and Octavia was never tired of hear-
ing the finer odes of Horace, or the ^Eneid and Bucolics of
Virgil. Sometimes she listened to the history of Livy, and to
the treatises of Seneca, which she liked better than their
author. But this evening Trvphsena between whom and
her young mistress there was a confidence akin to affection
had timidly asked ' whether she might read a Christian
writing.' She knew that the Empress had been interested in
the Christians by the conversation of Pomponia, and she was
anxious to show how shamefully her brethren and sisters in
the faith were misrepresented and slandered.

She drew forth from her bosom a manuscript, which had
been lent her as a precious favour by the Christian Presbyter
Cletus. It was a copy of a general letter of the Apostle
Peter, which had been written to encourage the struggling
Christian communities. It was not the letter which we now
know as the First Epistle of St. Peter, which was written per-
haps ten years later, but one of those circular addresses which
touched, as did so many of the Epistles, upon the same
universal duties, and used in many passages the same form of


words. She had read the beautiful passage about obeying the
ordinances of man for the Lord's sake, and putting to silence
by well-doing the ignorance of foolish men. And pausing
there, she asked ' whether Octavia was interested in it, and
whether she should continue.'

'Yes, Tryphseua,' she said, 'continue this strange letter.
How different it is from the treatise of Seneca which you
were reading to me the other day ! There rings through it
I know not what accent of elevation and sincerity.'

The girl then read the noble advice to slaves, and Octavia
no longer wondered that Christian slaves so invariably de-
served the comprehensive epithet offrugi. How well would
it be if the worthless multitude of the slave population the
cunning veteratores, the impudent vernce, the abject coprece
the pampered minions of luxury, the frivolous Greeklings
could act in the spirit of such exhortations !

Then she read the duty of husbands towards their wives,
and of wives towards their husbands. Octavia bowed her
head. She thought of all the numberless divorces ; of the
ladies who reckoned their years by the number of their hus-
bands ; of the scandals caused by the women who stooped to
court gladiators and charioteers ; of the fires of hell which
Nero's unfaithfulness had kindled on her own hearth. She
could think of the home of Psetus Thrasea as happy; but
scarcely of another except that of Pomponia and Pomponia
was a Christian.

Tryphsena had just begun the following passage :

' Finally, be ye all like-minded '

when Britannicus entered. He did not know what was being
read, and Octavia put her finger on her lip, and made a sign
to him to sit down and listen.
The slave-girl continued

'Finally, be ye all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tender-
hearted, humble-minded ; not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling ;
but contrariwise blessing ; for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit
a blessing. For,

He that would love life,

And see good days,

Let him refrain his tongue from evil,

And his lips that they speak no guile :

And let him turn away from evil, and do good ;

Let him seek peace, and pursue it.'


Britannicus listened in astonishment. ' Who wrote those
noble words ? ' he asked. ' It cannot be Chrysippus ; the
Greek is too modern, and too unpolished. Is this some new
philosopher? Has something been recently published by
Cornutus or Musonius ? '

' Perhaps you will see, if Tryphsena reads a little further,'
said the Empress.

The slave-girl continued

' And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good ?
But if ye suffer for the sake of righteousness, blessed are ye : and fear not
their fear, neither be troubled ; but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord

'It is a Christian writing ! ' exclaimed the boy, in a low
voice ; and when he again caught the thread of the exhor-
tation, Tryphsena was reading

' For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well-doing rather
than for evil-doing ; because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous
for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.'

'Go, Tryphseiia,' said Octavia, deeply moved. 'I would
talk with my brother alone.'

' A Christian writing ! ' said Britannicus again, as the slave-
girl quietly glided out of the room. ' Who wrote it ? '

' Tryphseiia says it is part of a letter written to Christians,
who are scattered everywhere, by a fisherman, Peter of Galilee,
who, she says, was one of the apostles of Christus.'

' Octavia,' said Britannicus, ' I feel as if voices out of
heaven were calling me. I feel as if this unknown Christus
were drawing me irresistibly to Himself. It is a message to
me and a message before my death.'

' Your death, Britannicus ? ' said the Empress, starting, and
turning pale. ' Oh, withdraw those ill-omened words.'

'Do not fear omens, Octavia. But you must hear what
has happened to me.'

' You have been at the Saturnalitian feast, and you are soon
to lay aside the golden ball and the embroidered toga,' said
Octavia, proudly; 'and very well you will look in your new
manly toga and the purple tunic underneath it.'

' Yes, but it reminds me of Homer. It is a " purple death,"
as Alexander the Great called it.'

' Why are your thoughts so full of gloom ? ' asked his sister,


pushing back the hair from his forehead, and looking into his

He told her all that had happened that night. She saw the
fatal significance of what had occurred.

' Oh ! ' she exclaimed, sobbing, ' the gods are too cruel.
What have we done that they should thus afflict our inno-
cence ? I lift up my hands against them.'

'Hush, Octavia ! All these ridiculous and polluted deities
who believes in them any longer ? But they represent the
Divine, and what the Divine does must be for some good end,
and we must breast the storm like Romans and like rulers, if
we cannot reach the peace of which this poor Christian fisher'
man has written.'

'Our mother disgraced and slain; our father murdered,
ourselves surrounded with perils ; Nero on the throne. Oh.
Britannicus ! wherein have we offended ? '

'We have not offended, my Octavia. The good suffer as
well as the bad. The good are often made better by their

' Oh, my brother ! my brother ! ' sobbed Octavia. ' I will
not spare you. I cannot part from you. I have no one left
but you. You shall not, you must not, die.'

He gently disengaged the arms of his sister from his neck,
and kissed her cheek.

' I must not linger here any longer to-night,' he said.
' Farewell ; not, I trust, forever, though I see that Nero
has dismissed our friend Pudens, and put an ill-looking
stranger in his place. But, Octavia, something some
voice like that of a god within me tells me that it will
be happier to die than to live.'

That evening, when Tigellinus left him, Nero first realised,
with a start of horror, that he was on the eve of a fearful
crime. By a rare accident he was alone. One of the reasons
why he knew so little of himself was that he scarcely ever
endured a moment's solitude. From the time that he awoke
in the morning till the latest hour of his nightly revels,
he was surrounded by flatterers and favourites, by dissolute
young nobles or adoring slaves. It was only for an occasional


hour or two of state business that he saw any person of
dignity or moral worth. This evening he would have been
encircled by his usual throng of idlers if he had not broken
up the banquet in anger long before the expected time.

He was alone, and his thoughts naturally reverted to the
song of Britannicus, and to his own fierce mortification. The
words ' He shall die ! ' broke from his lips. But at that
moment, looking up, his glance was arrested by two busts
of white marble, standing out from the wall on pedestals of
porphyry. He remembered the day on which they had been
placed there by the orders of Claudius, in whose private
tablinum he chanced to be sitting. One was a beautiful like-
ness of Britannicus at the age of six years. The other was a
bust of himself in the happy and radiant days of his early
boyhood, before guilt had clouded his brow and stained his

He rose and stood before the bust of Britannicus. For
some years they had been inmates of the same palace. They
had been playmates, and at first, before the development of
Agrippina's darker plots, there had been between them some
shadow of affection. Nero had always felt that there was a
winning charm about the character and bearing of his adop-
tive brother. Anger and jealousy whispered, ' Kill him ; '
conscience pleaded. ' Dip not your young hands in blood.
There has been enough of crime already. You know how
Claudius died, and who was his murderess, and for whose
gain. Let it suffice. Britannicus is no conspirator. It is
not too late, even yet, to make him your friend.'

He turned to his own bust. It represented a face fairer,
more joyous, more mobile than that of the son of Claudius.
' I was a very pretty child,' said Nero, and then gazed
earnestly into the mirror which hung between the busts.
It showed him a face, of which the features were the same,
but of which the expression was changed, and on which
many a bad passion, recklessly indulged, had already stamped
its debasing seal.

' Ye gods ! how altered I am ! ' he murmured ; and he hid
his face in his hands, as though to shut out the image in the

And then his dark hour came upon him. The paths of
virtue which he had abandoned looked enchantingly beautiful


to him. He saw them, and pined his loss. Was amendment
hopeless ? Might he not dismiss his evil friends, send Tigel-
linus to an island, banish Poppeea from his thoughts, return
to the neglected Octavia, abandon his vicious courses, live
like a true Roman ? Was he about to develop into a Tiberius
or a Caligula he who had hated not long ago to sign the
death-warrant of a criminal ? Should history record of him
hereafter that he had dyed the commencement of his power
with the indelible crimson of a brother's blood ?

' I am a tyrant and a murderer,' lie cried. ' I am falling,
falling headlong. Cannot I check myself in this career ? Ye
gods ! ye gods ! '

Whom had he to help him to choose the difficult course ?
Who would encourage him to turn his back on his past self ?
The philosophers, he felt, despised him. He could recall the
cold, disapproving glances of Musonius, and Cornutus, and
Demetrius the Cynic, on the rare occasions when he had seen
them. And as for Seneca, of what use would it be to send
for him ? ' I have learnt to distrust Seneca,' he said to him-
self. ' He might have advised me better than he did in the
matter of Acte.'

But the powers of evil never lightly resign a soul in which
they have once planted their throne, and they took care to
bring back upon Nero's heart a great flood of jealousy, suspi-
cion, and dislike. And as he gave himself up to these ill-
feelings, he began to feel how disagreeable it would be to
grow up year by year with such a youth as Britanuicns
beside him. It would be impossible to keep him in leading-
strings, or to thrust him wholly into the background. What
if the virtues of Britannicus should only throw into relief the
vices of Nero ? ' No,' he said ; ' Britannicus must die.'

So Nero deliberately chose the evil and refused the good,
and the narrow wicket-gate of repentance was closed behind
him, and the enemies of his soul flung wide open before him
the portals of crime, and the wild steeds of his passions, as
they sprang forth on their down-hillward path, soon flung
from his seat the charioteer who had seemed inclined for one
brief instant to tighten the reins and check their headlong




' Cast thine eye

On yon young boy. I'll tell tliee what, my friend,
He is a very serpent in my way ;
And, wheresoe'er this foot of mine doth tread,
He lies before me. Dost thou understand me ?
Thou art his keeper

SHAKESPEARE, King John, iii. 3.

AT this time a change came over the fortunes of Onesimus.

Pudens had been dismissed from his post among the
excubitors of the Palace, under the semblance of honourable
promotion, but in reality because Nero was doubly displeased
by his fidelity to Britannicus and by the blow which (as he
had accidentally discovered) Pudens had given him during
the nocturnal encounter. But, as he had been an excubitor
for so long, he had been accustomed to keep some of his
armour and a few books in a room in the Palace, and he sent
Onesimus to fetch them.

As he went to this room under the guidance of one of
Caesar's slaves, Onesimus heard a low voice singing the bur-
den of one of the Phrygian songs with which he had been
familiar in old days at Thyatira,

He was a creature of impulse, and, without thinking what
he was doing, he took up the refrain of the song.

Immediately the door opened, and a beautiful dark-eyed
girl asked in an agitated voice, and in the dialect of Phrygia,
who had taken up the song.

The sound of his native tongue sent through the heart of
Onesimus that indescribable thrill which we feel when past
recollections are suddenly brought home to us in long-
accumulated arrears. Greek had been spoken in the
household of Philemon. He had scarcely heard his native
Phrygian since he had been a free-born child, before he


had incurred the stain of being sold as a slave. He an-
swered in Phrygian that he had known the song since he
was a child at his mother's knee in Thyatira.

' In Thyatira ? ' said the girl ; then gazing at him long and
earnestly, she flung up her arms and exclaimed, ' Can this be
Onesimus ? '

' Do you know my name, lady ? ' he asked in surprise.

' Look at me,' she answered. ' It is twelve years since we
met, but do you not recall -

He fixed his eyes on her face and said in a troubled voice,
' You are like Eunice, the daughter of my mother's sister, with
whom I was brought up as a child.'

' Hush ! ' she exclaimed ; ' step aside for a moment, Onesi-
mus ; I am Eunice, but for many years I have not been
known by that name. When the fortunes of our house were
ruined I too was sold as a slave with you to the purple
factory of Lydia; but a freedman of the Emperor Clau-
dius saw me and brought me to wait upon the Empress
Messalina. He thought my name too fine, and changed it
to Acte.'

' Acte ? ' burst out Onesimus ; ' then you are,' he broke off
and remained silent.

A blush suffused the girl's cheek. ' A slave,' she said,
' is forced to do her master's bidding. Nero loved me sin-
cerely, and I loved him, and I was ignorant and very young.
But it is past. The affections of Nero are turned elsewhere ;
yet none can say that I have ever used my influence for any
but kind ends.'

' I reproached you not, Acte,' said Onesimus, ' if I must call
you by your new name. I have far too much wherewith to
reproach myself.'

' Meet me here,' said Acte, ' two hours after noon, and you
shall tell me all your story, and how I can help you.'

Onesimus came that afternoon. He and Acte had been
like brother and sister in the house at Thyatira in happier
days, and he told her his sad story and all his sufferings, and
how he had been rescued by the compassion of Pudens, and
how, even in the house of Pudens, he had not shown himself
worthy of the centurion's kindness, and how he loved Junia
and all his fears and all his hopes.

' Should you like to be one of Caesar's household ? ' asked


Acte. ' If so, I do not doubt that I can get you a place by
mentioning your name to the steward of the Empress.'

For the slave of a poor soldier the offer involved immense
promotion and still larger possibilities. The thought of Junia
checked Onesimus for a moment, but Acte told him that, if
he rose in the house of Caesar, there lay before him the far
nearer chances of emancipation and riches, so that he would
be more likely in due time to make Junia his own. She did
not conceal from him that, in such a community as the sixteen
hundred imperial slaves, the temptations to every form of
wrong-doing were far deadlier than in a humble and more
modest familia ; but she longed to have near her one whom
she could trust as a brother and a friend. Onesimus had
acquired at Thyatira a good knowledge of all that concerned
the purchase and the preservation of purple. It would not be
difficult for Acte, without her name appearing in the matter,
to secure him a place as the purple-keeper in the household
of Octavia. She knew that Parrnenio, the servus a purpura,
had died recently, and that the qualifications for the post were
a little less common than those which sufficed for the major-
ity of slaves.

Onesimus, therefore, grasped at the dazzling bait of better
pay and loftier position. That evening he spoke to JSTereus.
who, after consulting Pudens, told him that there would be
no difficulty, whether by exchange or otherwise, in permitting
his acceptance of the offer which had been made to him.

The great men who visited Caesar looked down upon the hun-
dreds of slaves who thronged the Palace as beings separated
from themselves by an immeasurable abyss of inferiority ; but to
the mass of paupers who formed the chief part of the population
servitude to the Emperor seemed a condition of enviable bril-
liance. We are told that when Felicio was promoted to the post
of Ccesar's cobbler, he at once became a personage of importance,
and was flattered on every side. Onesimus had much the same
experience. Among those who knew him he found that he
had risen indefinitely by the exchange which transferred him
to the office of servus a purpura in the household of Octavia.

He was received into the slaves' quarters with the showers of
sweetmeats and the other humble festivities which welcomed
the advent of a new slave ; and on the evening of his admis-
sion Acte sent for him.


' Onesimus,' she said, ' I have it in my power to befriend
you ; and if you will be faithful you may rise to posts of
the greatest importance. But such promotion must depend
on your character. May I trust you ? '

' Surely, Acte ! '

' Then let me confide to you a secret of the deepest import.
You have seen the Prince Britannicus ? '

' Yes. ' He looks a noble boy.'

' I fear that his life is imperilled it is not necessary to say
by whom. I could weep when I think of the dangers which
threaten him. Your office will give you opportunities of
sometimes seeing him. It is not possible that I should meet
you often ; but here is a coin which has on it the head of
Britannicus. If ever I send you one of these coins, as though
I wanted you to purchase something, will you come to me at
once ? It will be a sign that he is menaced.'

Ouesirnus promised ; and, in truth, the need for watch-
fulness was very pressing ; for, on the day which followed
the evening of the Saturnalitiau games, Nero, fretting with
jealousy and alarm, summoned Julius Pollio, the tribune on
whom had been bestowed the post which Pudens had occu-
pied, and sent him with a message to Locusta. She was
allowed to move about the Palace, but was under the nominal
charge of the guardsmen.

It might well seem amazing that a youth whose disposi-
tion was not innately cruel, and who a few years before had
been a timid, blushing boy, caring mainly for art and amuse-
ment, should have developed, in so brief a space of time, into
the murderer of his brother. But the effects produced by the
vertigo of autocracy on a mean disposition are rapid as well
as terrible. He had soon discovered that it was in his power
to do exactly what he liked ; and when he had learnt to
regard himself as a god on earth, to whose wishes every law,
divine and human, must give way, there was no vice of which
he did not rapidly become capable. What was the life of a
young boy, who stood in his way, to one who had unchal-
lenged power over the life and death of millions of subjects
over all the civilised world ?

And yet the fate of his predecessors showed him that the
pinnacle of absolute power was a place of constant peril.
The loss of empire would mean inevitably the loss also of


life. Was this peevish lad to be a source of constant dan-
ger to the darling of the soldiers, of the mob, and of the
world ?

He had no reason to approach Julius Pollio with any of
the circumspection with which Shakespeare represents King
John as opening his designs to Hubert. When, at the sug-
gestion of Tigellinus, he had appointed Pollio to supersede
Pudeus, he knew the sort of man whom he would have at his
beck. He simply said to the tribune

' I want some poison. Locusta is under your charge. Tell
her to prepare some for me.' He did not trouble himself to
mention the person for whom the poison was intended.

Locusta was too familiar with her trade to hesitate. Had
she not taught many a guilty wife, in spite of rumour, in
spite of the populace, to bury undetected the blackening body
of her husband ? Her fiendish nature rejoiced at the con-
sciousness of secret power. She supplied Pollio with a poison
which was, she assured him, of tried efficacy, and she again
received a large sum of money in reward for her services.
Nero knew that among the wretches by whom his mother
had surrounded Britannicus, and not all of whom had been
removed, it would be easy to find some one who would
administer the poison. He decided that the deed should be
done at some private meal, and by the hands of one of the boy's
tutors, who never thought of shrinking from the infamy. In
that midnight and decadence of a dying Paganism the crime
of ordinary murder was too cheap to excite remorse.

But it was impossible that all this should pass unobserved.
Acte had been brought under Christian influences, and was
anxious by all means in her power to atone for the unintended
wrong which her beauty had inflicted upon Octavia. Nero
was no longer her lover, though she still lived in the Palace,
and held a high position as one for whom the Emperor had
once conceived so strong an infatuation. She had her own
slaves assigned to her, and of these some were Christians. In
her self-imposed task of watching over the life of Britannicus
she asked them to obtain information of any circumstance that
seemed to threaten him with danger. From them she learnt
that Nero had been closeted with Julius Pollio ; that Pollio
had paid a visit to Locusta ; and that, when Locusta had sent
a small vial to Nero, the Emperor had summoned to his


presence the tutor of Britaimicus, who had been observed
to carry away the vial in his closed hand. Her spies
further told her that, by watching and listening, they had
ascertained that the poison was to be given to the son of
Claudius, not at supper but at the light midday meal which
he took with Titus. After they had been enjoying vigorous
exercise in the morning the boys usually showed an excellent

More than this they could not discover ; but this much Acte
confided to Onesimus, and implored him to keep watch, and if
possible, devise some means by which to forewarn Britannicus
of his imminent peril.

At first the quick Phrygian youth, who was understood to
be under the patronage of Acte, had been a favourite in the
household, and he found little difficulty in making friends with
the cooks and other slaves who superintended the meals of the
imperial family. By a visit to the kitchen in which he
flattered the cook and his young assistants by the lively
curiosity which he expressed about the various dishes, and the
enthusiasm with which he admired their skill he learnt that,
as a special treat, a beccafico was to be sent in for the pran-
dium of Britannicus, and he conjectured that it would be poi-
soned. That the cook was innocent of any evil design he was
sure, and he guessed that the fig-pecker would be poisoned by
some slave of higher office about the young prince's person.
But he knew not how to forewarn the unsuspecting boy. The
time was short. It was not easy to find an excuse by which
he whose duty lay in a different part of the Palace could
find access to the apartments of Britannicus. And whom
could he warn ? There was scarcely an instance known in
which any one had dared to interfere between an emperor and
his victims. In the general paralysis of servility, in the
terror inspired by the little despicable human god, in the
indifference to bloodshed caused by the games of the amphi-
theatre, why should any one be troubled by one death the
more ?

But Onesimus, less familiar with a world so plague-stricken
with torpid corruption, felt in his heart a spring of pity for the
doomed boy. After rejecting plan after plan as impossible, it
flashed upon him that he might get a message conveyed to
Titus. He had but a few minutes left, and Titus could


not be found until he and the prince, still warm and
glowing from their game of ball, entered the parlour.
Onesimus grew desperate, and, boldly summoning a young
slave, sent him to Titus with the extemporised message
that the centurion Pudens urgently desired to speak with

Titus went into the hall, and recognised Onesimus as the-
youth whom his own kindness had first brought under the
notice of Pudens. The Phrygian led him to a remote part of
the hall, behind one of the statues of the Danaides, and
whispered to him, ' Britannicus is in danger. Let him not
touch the bird which has been provided for his lunch. Oh,
stay not to ask me anything,' he added, when Titus seemed
inclined to question him further ; ' hurry back, if you would
save his life.'

Titus hurried back, but the meal was quite informal, and
Britannicus, hungry with exercise, had already helped himself
to the dainty set before him.

' Give me some of that fig-pecker,' said Titus desperately ;
' I am very fond of those birds ; we catch them at Reate.'

Britannicus at once handed the dish to him with a smile.
' I don't know what Epictetus would think,' he said, ' of a Stoic
who is fond of dainties.'

' It is meant exclusively for you, Sir,' said the pcRdagogus,
hastily. ' I wonder that Titus should be so greedy.'

Titus blushed; but the remark helped him out of a
serious difficulty. He had thought in vain how he could
avoid eating the bird which Onesimus had told him was

' After that remark,' he answered, ' of course I cannot touch

' Then give it back to Britannicus,' said the tutor.

' Nay,' said the prince ; ' if Titus is to be called greedy for
liking it, I must be greedy too. I have had enough. Besides
there is a taste about it which I do not like. Bread and a few
olives are more than enough.'

He pushed away his plate, and when they had risen from
the table, he looked curiously at his friend.

Titus blushed again. ' I know,' he whispered, ' that you
will not think me greedy, Britannicus.'

' Titus,' he answered, ' you know something.'


' Ask me nothing/ said Titus ; ' I was only just in time, if,
indeed, I have been in time.'

Britannieus was silent. He suspected that some attempt
had been made upon his life, and that it had been partially
frustrated by the faithfulness of his friend. He had no doubt
on the subject, when, a little later, he was seized with violent
pains. Happily, however, he had scarcely more than tasted
of the beccafico, and in the fit of sickness which followed,
nature came to his relief. His recovery was aided by the pure
and glowing state of his health. After a few hours of excru-
ciating agony he sank into a long refreshing sleep.

He woke in the twilight, to find himself lying on a couch,
while Octavia and Titus, sitting on either side of him, were
rubbing his cold hands.

' Where am I ? ' he asked. ' Oh, I remember ! ' And he said
no more ; but he took the hand of Titus, and drew his sister
near to him and kissed her.

The hearts of all three were too full for words, but as they
sat there a message came that the Augusta was coming to visit

Agrippina was of course admitted, and left her attendants
at the door. As the lovely haughty lady entered, they could
not help observing, even by the dim light of the two silver
lamps which had just been lit, that a change had passed over
her features, and that she had been weeping. Haughty they
still were, but wrath and disappointment and failure, purchased
at the cost of crime, had stamped them with an expression of
agony, as though she wore the brand of Cain. When she heard
of the sudden illness of Britannieus, she divined its cause too
well. While her power was waning so rapidly, she had been
no longer able to maintain the elaborate system of espionage
which had helped her when she was Empress ; but she, too,
was aware that Pollio had visited Locusta, and the misgiving
had seized her that the poison might be meant for herself.
That it turned out to be for Britannieus was hardly less appall-
ing to her. She felt that her imprudence had made Nero jealous
of him, and that his death would deprive her of her last re-
source. She rejoiced, therefore, unfeignedly at the boy's
recovery, and when she visited him he saw that, for the first
time, she spoke with genuine kindness to Octavia, and that
her expressions of pity and condolence to himself were sincere.


There was no feigning in the hot teardrops which fell on his
cheek when she kissed him, and as he lay there, weak and
pale, she felt, with deepening remorse for the wrongs which
she had inflicted on him, that he did not shrink from her

Nero, too, sent messages of enquiry to ' his beloved brother '
by his freedman, Claudius Etruscus. As he heard them, the
old spirit of Britannicus flashed out.

' Tell Csesar,' he said, ' that this time his poi

Before the word could be spoken, Titus with hasty gesture
placed his hand over his friend's mouth, and Agrippina,
knowing well that every syllable would be reported, and in-
terpreted in the most malignant manner, turned her queenly
head to the freedman who had brought the message.

' Tell the Emperor that his brother is much better, but is
still light-headed. Claudius Etruscus,' she said, ' you pass for
an honest man. I pray you, do not mention to Nero any-
thing which Britanuicus has spoken in his delirium.'

Etruscus bent low, and, touched by passing pity at the
scene which he had witnessed, he determined to abstain from
reporting what he had heard. ' The Augusta,' he said, ' has
always been kind to me. Her wish shall be obeyed.'

But Nero was restless and anxious, and was pacing to and
fro like a caged wild beast. The thought of plots and perils
haunted him. That morning, as he passed along the covered
way which led from the Palace into the theatre, he had seen
the red stain of the blood of Caligula on the walls a red
stain which could not be washed out and felt a spasm of
suffocation as if a dagger were at his throat. He was
frightened to hear from Etruscus that Agrippina was with his
brother. Were they conspiring to bring about a revolution ?
He would himself go and see.

He had been drinking, and as he entered took no notice of
Titus or of Octavia. To Agrippina he only vouchsafed a cold
salute, and she, dreading another scene in the presence of
witnesses, rose and left the chamber. He took the cold hand
of Britannicus in his own hot and feverish grasp, and a
pang of hatred shot through him as he felt it shrink at
his touch. The boy was propped up on his couch with
pillows, and a hectic spot burned on each of his pallid
cheeks ; but his eyes were filled with strange light, and, as


he fixed them on the face of Nero, they seemed to read his
inmost soul.

Nero averted his glance. He dared not look upon his
victim. Indeed, under that steady gaze, the consciousness of
his crime brought the tell-tale crimson over his face. He
was not yet too far gone to blush, though the days were
rapidly approaching in which he would wear a front of brass.

He muttered some hypocritical words of condolence,
which rang false and were overdone. Britannicus spoke

Octavia said, ' Pardon his silence, Nero ; he is too weak
to thank you.'

' I did not ask you to interfere,' answered Nero brutally.

' I give you such thanks as are due,' said Britannicus in a
faint voice ; but he tried to withdraw his hand from Nero's

Nero rose in a towering passion. ' I came to inquire about
your illness. You meet me with scowls and ingratitude,'
lie said, flinging away the hand of Britannicus. ' If you do
not choose to behave as a brother, I will make you feel that
you are a subject. Octavia and Titus, you may retire.'

' Oh, do not leave me alone. I am very ill,' pleaded the
poor prince. ' Indeed, indeed I cannot be left alone.'

The terrible thought which had flashed through the mind
of Nero the thought that, if left alone, the boy might be
killed that night had woke its reflection in the mind of
Britannicus. But Nero strode angrily out of the room, and
neither repeated nor withdrew his command.

' May the spirits of all the good protect thee ! ' said Octavia,
as she fondly kissed her brother. ' I dare not stay ; it might
be the worse for thee if I did.'

' But I will stay, Empress,' said Titus, ' and I will do my
best for him.'

When the young Empress had withdrawn, Titus beckoned
to her faithful freedwoman Pythias, and told her to send for
Onesimus. He came, and Titus, after slipping into his hand
an aureus, which the Empress had left for him as a reward for
his faithful warning, begged him to be on the alert, and to
return in an hour. The Phrygian went to Acte, and told her
all that had occurred. She kept him near at hand, and in a
short time informed him that two of Nero's worst creatures



Tigellinus and Doryphorus were closeted with the
Emperor, and that there was too much reason to fear that
some deadly measure would be attempted that evening.

Such was indeed the case. For now, to the joy of Tigel-
linus, Nero had openly declared that Britannicus must be
swept out of his path ; had even admitted to him that poison
had been attempted, and had failed.

' How soon do you wish the deed to be done ? ' asked the
wicked adventurer.

' If we are to prevent some accursed plot,' said Nero, 'it
cannot be too soon.'

' To-night ? '

' To-night, if you will,' answered Nero, ' but it must be
secret. There must be no scandal. A story must be trumped
up. The Augusta must be deceived. Octavia must be de-
ceived. None of his adherents must know of it, unless they
can be trusted to hold their tongues.'

' Nearly all the people about him are in our pay,' said
Tigellinus. ' I think it can be done.'

That night no soldier was on guard near the room of
Britannicus, and Titus regarded this as a fatal sign. When
he received from Onesimus the intelligence which Acte had
given him, he said that he would draw his own bed across the
door of the Prince's room inside, so that none could enter
without his knowledge. He asked Onesimus to keep watch
in concealment outside, and make a noise if any one should

' I can imitate exactly the bark of the Empress's lap-dog,'
said Onesimus, ' for Aponia, who has charge of it, often lets
me tease it. If I make this noise in the quiet of the night
it is sure to set other dogs barking, and then I will spring out
of my hiding-place as if the sound had awoke me.'

Proud of the confidence reposed in him, proud to be the
guard of a Caesar's life, Onesimus put on a black lacerna,
shrouded himself in a dark corner, hidden behind the shield
of an Amazon. The Palace sank to deep silence, broken only
by the faint, distant tramp of the sentinel who kept watch
outside the passage which led to the cubiculum of the Em-

About an hour after midnight he heard a stealthy footstep
approaching, and saw the occasional gleam of a lantern which


was hidden under the cloak of the murderer. Breathless
with anxiety, he watched and listened. The slave came near
to the room of Britannicus. Noiselessly he placed his lan-
tern on the floor, then he drew a large dagger, and Onesi-
mus saw its blade flash in the light as the wretch examined
it. One instant more and his hand was thrusting an oiled
key into the lock.

Then it was that Onesimus gave a short, sharp sound like
the bark of a pet dog. The murderer started violently.
Onesimus repeated the sound, which was immediately taken
up by a dog which belonged to one of the freedwomen.
Hesitating no longer, he leapt out of his shelter with the
challenge, ' Who goes there ? ' and at the same moment Titus,
who had slept in his clothes, unfastened the door, and sprang
in front of it with a sword in his hand.

Without staying an instant longer the murderer dashed
down his lantern and fled, lor slaves and freedmen were
heard stirring on every side. Onesimus did not attempt to
pursue him, but quietly slipped back to his own cell. He
knew that for that night the dark plot was frustrated and
Britannicus was safe.

To the slaves whom the noise had disturbed Titus only said
that he had been troubled by the nightmare, and bade them
return to sleep. But not a few of them shrewdly suspected
that they had not been told the whole truth.




' For life, with all it yields of joy and woe,
And hope and fear believe the aged friend
Is just a chance of the prize of learning love ;
How love might be. hath been indeed, and is ;
And that we hold thenceforth to the uttermost
Such prize, despite the envy of the world.'

BROWNING, A Death in the. Desert.

IT was New Year's Day in Eome. The day was kept as a
universal holiday. Everybody aimed at cheerfulness, and
abstained from any word of evil omen. Quarrels were sus-
pended ; calumny was hushed. Fires were kindled on every
side, and fed with scented woods and leaves of odorous saffron.
The gilded fretwork of every temple-roof glimmered with
twinkling reflections of the sacred flames. All the people
were clad in white, and went in procession to the Capitol.
The lictors were provided with new fasces ; the magistrates
were clad in new purple, and assumed, for the first time,
their curule chairs of ivory. The white oxen of Clitumnus
were led for sacrifice to the altar of Jupiter, their necks
wreathed with garlands. Friends exchanged presents, which,
even when they were of trifling value, yet served to show
that they had not forgotten to express their love. Among
presents from Octavia, and Titus, and Pudens, and Pomponia,
and other friends, Britannicus, who had now recovered, was
greeted by P^pictetus with the customary gift of gilded dates
called strence, whence the French etrennes and a little honey
in its snowy comb. These the poor lame boy had bought, with
such copper coins as he had been able to save, at the little
market for such trifles near the Porta Mugionis ; and he had
not forgotten to bring a few sprigs of vervain, good-naturedly
given to him as an augury of blessing by one of the priests at
the half-forgotten shrine of Vacuna, on the Sacred Way. But
Britannicus had received more splendid presents than these.


Agrippiua had given him a double-branched silver candela-
brum, up the shaft of which crept a wild-cat towards two
unsuspecting birds perched on either dish above. But when
he showed it to Octavia she shuddered. To her fancy it
seemed as if Nero were the wild-cat, and herself and her
brother the harmless birds.

Never had Britannicus and Octavia been more sad than in
the days which followed Nero's frustrated plots to assassinate
his brother. They knew that further attempts would not be
long delayed. On February 13 Britannicus would be fifteen
years old, and it would be impossible to withhold from him
the manly toga. But he felt sure that the sword was dangling
by a hair over his neck, and that he would not long be
suffered to live.

And thus, in the dawn of youth, he found himself in a
situation so terrible that it has shaken the fortitude of many
a full-grown man. Even the iron nerves of Cromwell w r ere
affected by the daily danger of assassination ; and now Britan-
nicus never sat down to a meal without dread of treachery,
and never went to bed without a misgiving as to whether that
sleep would not be his last. From the latter terror Titus
1-elieved him as much as he could, by nightly drawing his own
couch across the door. Onesimus had told Titus that if any
deed of darkness were in immediate contemplation he would
be almost sure to hear of it from Acte. Yet, in spite of all,
the poor boy's mind might have been unhinged by the secret
and manifold dangers with which the hatred of the Emperor
surrounded him, had it not been for the lessons which he had
heard from the humble followers of the gospel. Never could
he forget the awful expansion and dilatation of spirit which
had accompanied the emotion he had experienced at the
Christian gathering. At that moment he had felt a foretaste
of immortality.

And, happily for the Empress and himself, there remained
one more transcendent experience before the fall of the
thunderbolt which separated them from each other.

The Ides of January were kept as a festival to Jupiter, and
the next day was also the anniversary on which Octavianus
had been saluted by the title of Augustus. The day was
therefore observed with various ceremonies, and, as they were
chiefly of a public character, it was easier for the children of


Claudius to move about with less observation than usual.
They had long desired to hear the words of one who had seen
Jesus, and on the morning of January 14 a letter reached
Octavia from Pomponia, conveying a cautious intimation that
now their wish could be granted. Their young companion
Flavius Clemens was to visit the Palace in the afternoon, and
after they had supped with Aulus Plautius they were to
arrange the way in which the rest of the evening should be

When the supper was over, the two boys, Clemens and
Britannicus, disguised in the dress of humble slaves, went with
Pudens down the Velabrum and along the bank of the Tiber,
which they crossed by the island and the Fabrician and
Cestian bridges. The region in which they found themselves
was poor and squalid, and was largely inhabited by Jews.
The Jewish and Gentile Christians at this early period
worshipped in separate communities, but they met together
on so great an occasion as the visit of an Apostle. But the
laws about assemblies and foreign superstitions were a two-
edged sword which might easily be wielded with fatal effect,
and it was desirable for the Christians to hold their gatherings
with as little publicity as possible, in order to escape the
hatred both of Jews and Pagans. This meeting, therefore,
was to be held at a remote spot in the hollow of one of the
arenarice, or sand-pits, and those who attended it were to use
one or other of the Christian watchwords. They were to
approach the place in scattered groups and from different
directions, while scouts were stationed in the neighbourhood
to give instant signal of approaching danger.

Using these precautions, Britannicus and his attendants
found themselves among the latest arrivals at the rendezvous.
The winter darkness, deepened by the overhanging sides of the
tufa quarry, rendered it necessary to have a few lights, but
most of the assembled Christians extinguished or concealed
their lamps. The dimness, the silence, the starry sky which
overhung them, the strained expectation, the signs of intense
devotion, made the scene overwhelming in its solemnity. At
last a little group of the chief Christian presbyters, headed
by Linus, was seen to approach. They passed under the
shadow of the cliffs, and emerged before the table, on which
one or two lamps were burning. Then the presbyters


divided to the right and left hand, and the light fell full on the
face and figure of one man who stepped a pace or two to the

He was dressed, as was not unusual at Home, in Eastern
costume. He was a man a little past the prime of life. The
hair which escaped from under his turban was already sprinkled
with grey. His dark eyes seemed to be lighted from within
by a spiritual fire ; his figure was commanding, his attitude
full of dignity. His face was a perfect oval, and the features
were of the finest type of Eastern manhood. When once you
had gazed upon him it seemed impossible to take the eyes from
a countenance so perfect in its light and spiritual beauty a
countenance in which a fiery vehemence was exquisitely
tempered by a pathetic tenderness. His whole appearance
was magnetic. It seemed to flash into all around him its
own nobleness, and to kindle there that flame of love to God
and man which burnt on the altar of his own heart. That
such a soul should be convinced of a truth seemed alone suffi-
cient to convince others. That such lips should testify to a
fact rendered all disbelief of the fact impossible to those who
once fell under his influence. That such a man could be the
herald of a new religion seemed like a certain pledge that
the faith which he held must sooner or later overcome the

In his aspect was something indescribably different from
that worn by the noblest philosophers of Rome. On all sides,
in the Roman amphitheatre and in the Roman streets, you saw
faces which were cruel, and proud, and seamed with every
evil passion ; faces cunning, and sly, and leering, and degraded ;
the slavish faces of those, who were slaves in soul, and the
ignoble faces of those whom an ignoble society had cowed by
its terror and degraded by its vice. Even in the Senate you
saw noble lineaments on which servility, and care, and a life
spent under tyrants and in households where every slave might
be a potential enemy, had impressed the stamp of gloom
and fear. But in the face of this Apostle there was softness
as well as strength, and hope as well as courage. His
eyes shone with a joy which seemed to brighten in the
midst of affliction, as the stars brighten in the deepening

As he entered the whole assembly rose to their feet by a


spontaneous movement of reverence, and then no less spon-
taneously some of those present fell upon their knees. But
instantly his voice was heard, as, in an accent of command,
almost of sternness, he bade them rise.

' Rise,' he said, ' brethren and saints. What homage is this ?
We are men of like passions with yourselves. I do not
mistake your feelings. Ye think that such reverence must
be due to a disciple whom, unworthy as he was, yet Jesus
loved. But know ye not that every true saint among you
is nearer to Him now by His Spirit than it was possible for
us to be in the days of His flesh ? Has not our brother
Paul taught you in his preaching that your bodies are
temples of the Holy Ghost, who dwelleth in you, except ye be
reprobate ? '

Then Linus rose and said, ' Let us kneel and thank God in
prayer that He has suffered an Apostle of His Son to visit us,
and then we will join in a common hymn.'

When the simple prayer was over they united their voices
in that earliest Christian hymn which has been happily pre-
served for us by Clement of Alexandria. They began in ac-
cents soft and sweet and low

' Shepherd of sheep that own
Their Master on the throne,
Stir up Thy children weak
With guileless lips to speak,
In hymn and song, Thy praise,
Guide of their infant ways.'

Then the strain swelled louder

' King of saints, Lord,
Mighty, all-conquering Word ;
Son of the highest God,
Wielding His wisdom's rod ;
Our stay when cares annoy,
Giver of endless joy ;
Of all our mortal race
Saviour, of boundless grace,
O Jesus, hear ! ' 1

They knelt down once more, and the strain of thanksgiving
rose among them, with no confusion in its blended utterance,
as they responded to the words of their bishop. And when
the voices ceased Nereus, the slave of Pudens, said, after

1 Note 31. Early Christian hymns.


a brief pause, ' O that John of Bethsaida would tell us first
of that Resurrection whereof he is one of the appointed
witnesses ! '

John rose, and gave them the narrative which long years
after he embodied in his Gospel.

He told them of the startling words of Mary of Magdala on
that first glad Easter morning ; and how he himself and Peter
ran together to the empty tomb, ere yet they knew the Scrip-
ture that He must rise again from the dead.

He told them of the vision of angels which appeared in
the tomb to Mary, and how Jesus had spoken to her in the

He told of the appearance to the Ten, and the words of
peace ; and again, on the next Sunday, to the Eleven, when He
convinced the doubting Thomas, and bade him to be not faith-
less, but believing.

He told them of the appearance on the shore of the misty
silver sea, and of His last behest to Simon Peter ; and he cor-
rected the false impression as to what had been said concerning
himself, which had not been, as had been mistakenly reported,
that he should not die, but ' If I will that he tarry till I come,
what is that to thee ? '

And as he spoke these words, in a voice which rose like a
divine melody, the attention grew more and more rapt, and, as
he ended, the awful, penetrating, thrilling sound of the tongue
began to be heard. But John checked it by a gentle lifting of
his hand, and Linus said, ' Let the spirits of the prophets be
subject to the prophets. Let us rather hear the witness of the

Then Hernias, slave of Pedauius Secundus, the City Praetor,
rose, and asked, ' What meant the Lord by those words, " that
he tarry till I come " ? When should be the day of His
coming ? '

' That question we also asked,' said John, ' before His death ;
and though He spake of signs of the times, like the redness
aud lowering of the sky, yet He added to us, " Of that day
and that hour knoweth no man no, not even the angels in
heaven, nor the Son, but the Father." '

' And are there no signs of the time now ? ' asked Linus.

' There are many,' he answered, ' by which we may know
that the coming of the Lord is even at the door. I have walked


through this Babylon, and have seen all the splendour of her
merchandise, as of Tyrus in old days, and amid it all slaves
and souls of men. Yea, and as I have witnessed all the
cruelty and all the vileness, like the scum of that seething cal-
dron which the prophet saw of old, I feel compelled to ask
with him, "Shall I not judge for these things?" saith the
Lord ; " shall not My soul be avenged on such a nation as
this ? " Yea, sometimes a voice seems to ring within me
which says, " Woe, woe ! to the dwellers upon earth ! " The
great tribulation must come of which the Lord spake and the
Antichrist must be revealed, and God must accomplish the
number of the elect.'

' The night is drawing in, brother, revered in the Lord,'
said Linus ; ' and it were well that we should speedily sepa-
rate to our homes. But ere we part give to us one word of
exhortation of how we are to save ourselves from this unto-
ward generation.'

The Apostle raised his hands towards heaven, and his eye
seemed to be lit with heavenly ecstasy as he answered in this
brief exhortation : ' My children, love one another. Love is
the fulfilling of the law. There is no fear in love. Perfect
love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment. He that fear-
eth is not made perfect in love. And this commandment have
we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.'

When he had thus exhorted them they broke out with pas-
sionate jubilance in the hymn

' Fisher of men, the blest,
Out of the world's unrest,
Out of sin's troubled sea
Taking us, Lord, to Thee,
With choicest fish, good store,
Drawing thy nets to shore,

' Lead us, Shepherd true ;
Thy mystic sheep, we sue !
path where Christ hath trod,
way that leads to God,
Word, abiding aye,
endless Light on high,
O glorious Life of all
That on their Maker call,
Christ Jesus, hear.'

All present knelt in prayer, ending with the united utter-
ance of the words that the Lord had taught ; and the great


Amen rose like the low sound of distant thunder. Then the
Apostle raised his hands and blessed them. Again the Amen
and the solemn Maranatha rolled through the air like the
sound of mighty waters, and after a moment of deep stillness
the assembly peaceably departed.

Britannicus and his attendants, wishing to avoid notice,
waited for a time, until the twinkling streams of light from the
torches and lanterns carried by the worshippers grew fainter
and more scattered. Hence it happened that they were left
the last in the arenaria, except the little group of deacons
and presbyters who stood round John of Bethsaida. The
young prince had been deeply moved by the look and by the
words of the Beloved Disciple. He wished to see him nearer,
and whispered to Pudens not to go until he had passed them,
for never yet had he seen so glorious a specimen of lofty and
holy manhood.

But the boy's heart thrilled with strange emotion as the
Apostle paused on his way, and, standing before the little
group, fixed his eyes upon his face, approached him, and softly
laid his hand upon his shoulder.

He motioned to all except Flavius Clemens to stand aside,
and he was left speaking to the two youths.

' My sons/ he asked, ' do ye believe in the Lord Jesus
Christ ? '

The youths were silent, till Britannicus, who felt in his heart
the confidence of an exceeding peace, said

' My father, I know not. All that you have said to us is
beautiful as a song of heaven. It stirs my heart ; it seems to
give wings to my spirit ; but I know too little, and all is yet
too strange.'

' My son/ said the Apostle, ' go in peace. It is given me to
know who thou art ; thy slave's attire does not conceal thee
from me. Nay, start not ; none else shall know. But the
seed hath been sown in thy young heart ; it shall blossom
and bear fruit in a life beyond. For there is a baptism, not
of water only, but of blood. Would to God that thou might-
est remain for the furtherance of the kingdom of His Son ;
but it may not be. And my message to thee is, " Be strong,
and He shall comfort thine heart, and put thou thy trust in
the Lord." '

He laid his right hand gently on the young prince's head


and blessed him, and his whole soul seemed to thrill under
that holy touch.

' And hast thou no word for me, my father ? ' said Flavius

The Apostle turned towards him, and kindly laying his left
hand on the boy's dark curls, he said

' I say to thee, as the Lord said to another, " And thou too,
my son, when thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself and
wentest whither thou wouldest ; but when thou shalt be old
another shall gird thee and carry .thee whither thou wouldest
not." Thy life shall be prolonged, and thou shalt rise to great
things ; but thy heart shall be the Lord's, and many a year
hence thou too shalt be His witness. One of you shall see
my face no more, but the Angel of His Presence bless you

He spoke, and passed out of their sight into the gloom,
leaving in their hearts a sound as of angelic music, a light as
of purple wings. Neither of them spoke, or could speak. In
silence and haste they made their way back over the dark
flowing river to the house of Aulus Plautius. Flavius was
conducted home by faithful Christian slaves, while the escort
of the Empress accompanied her and her brother to the Palace,
which still rang with sounds of revelry. And that night Titus
wondered at the radiant serenity of the countenance of his
friend, and Britannicus slept as sweetly as a child ; and as he
slumbered the spirits of the blessed dead seemed to keep
guard over him, and he smiled to hear strange snatches of
immortal melody.



' Circe inter vernas nota Neronis.' TURNUS, Fr.

NERO had been angered beyond measure by the failure of both
his attempts upon the life of his brother, but he had also been
a little terrified. A feeling of the eternal sanctity of the moral
law had scarcely ever found a place in his slight and frivolous
mind ; but he was by no means free from superstition. He
did not believe seriously in the gods ; but he believed more or
less in omens, and for a time he wavered in the dreadful pur-
pose of committing his earliest unpardonable crime.

But he could not waver long. Britannicus was rapidly ap-
proaching his fifteenth year. It was evident that he was also
developing new powers. He was already nearly as tall as
Nero, and while Nero's early beauty was beginning to fade the
face of Britannicus became constantly nobler. All this Nero
observed with deepening rancour, and to this was added a
secret terror. He began to fear lest the Prsetorians should
find out their mistake in rejecting this princely boy for one
who, in spite of his small accomplishments, was so far his in-
ferior. He never visited Agrippina without noticing that in
some way she regarded Britannicus, if not as the mainstay of
her hopes, at least as the ultimate resource of her vengeance
and despair.

But it was Sophonius Tigellinus who had the chief hand in
goading Nero to the final consummation of his guilt. The
Emperor was not by nature sanguinary ; his cruelty was only
developed amid the rank growth of his other vices.

He was planning with Tigellinus a banquet of unusual
splendour which was to be held at the Feralia the Roman
All Souls' Day, a festival in honour of the dead on
February 7.

' You will have to give another banquet, Caesar,' said Tigel-
linus, ' on the Ides (February 13).'



' Because that day is the fifteenth birthday of Britanuicus ;
and I presume that then you will let him assume the manly

' You are always dragging in the name of Britannicus,' said
Nero. ' I hate it, and I hate him.'

' On the contrary,' said the Praetorian ; ' I should say that
you love him very much. Who can tell how soon he may be
your successor ? '

' My successor ? ' answered Nero, scowling. ' What do you
mean ? '

' I meant no offence, Caesar/ said Tigellinus ; ' forgive the
faithfulness of a friend and an honest soldier who loves you.
Do you not see what a fine young fellow Britannicus is grow-
ing ? Octavia brings you no children. He must in any case
succeed you.'

Nero paced the room, as he always did when he felt agitated ;
and, after leaving his remarks to work, Tigellinus added

' Besides it is not easy to divine the plans of the Augusta,
with whom at present you are on such bad terms ? '

Nero strode up and down with still more passion, and
Tigellinus continued at intervals to heap fuel on the flames of
his fury.

'You heard the murmurs of applause which greeted his
insolent song the other night ? '

Nero nodded.

' Do you think that the Praetorians are absolutely loyal to
you ? I have heard them talking about Britannicus among
themselves. Pudens, I know, is a favourite officer of theirs,
and he adores Britannicus. Supposing it came to civil war,
do you think that you would be quite sure to win ?'

Nero still said nothing.

' Why not put an end to the difficulty ? Rome is sick at
the thought of another civil war. Every one would be glad
if you put your brother out of the way. And really, why
should you hesitate ? You have attempted it twice already,
only you have been unlucky.'

By this time the subtle tempter had worked the Emperor
into a frenzy of wrath and fear. The crime had long been
assuming shape in his mind, and in point of fact he had
already incurred its guilt.


' It shall be done on the Ides,' he said. ' Send Julius Pollio
to me.'

Tigellinus struck while the iron was hot, and the tribune
was in attendance before Nero's rage had had time to cool.

' Bring Locusta here at once,' he said.

The tribune executed the command, and Locusta's green
eye gleamed even more balefully than was its wont when the
tribune ushered her into the Emperor's chamber.

But Nero received them both with a burst of petulant

' You have failed me ! ' he exclaimed. ' You are traitors,
both of you. While you are taking measures to shield your-
selves you leave me obnoxious to the worst perils. I told
you to provide me with a sure poison.'

' We were but anxious to avert suspicion, Emperor,' said
Locusta, in the soft tones which involuntarily reminded the
hearer of a serpent's hiss. ' You know there is a Julian law
against murder and poisoning.'

The anger of Nero showed itself in mean, ignoble ways,
and, like a bad boy in a passion, he was not ashamed to
strike Locusta in the face.

' Don't talk of the Julian law to me, woman,' he said ; ' as
if I was afraid of the laws ! Make me a poison which shall
work like a dagger-stab, or you shall be ordered off for exe-
cution to-morrow on the old charges.'

Locusta shrank from his blow, and for one instant glared
at him as though she would have liked to poison him. But
she knew his power, and felt sure of his rewards ; so she
merely said

' Britannicus is such a strong, healthy boy, that the task is
less easy. But Csesar shall have his wish. I have a poison
here which will do the work.'

' Try it, then, on some animal,' he said.

'I dare say the tribune could procure me a kid,' said

A slave was despatched to find a kid, and when the bound-
ing, playful creature was brought Locusta dropped some of
the poison on a piece of bread dipped in milk.

The kid ate the bread and milk, and frisked no more but
lay down and curled up its limbs, which quivered with con-
vulsive twitchinss.


* Leave the poison to work/ she said, ' and if Csesar will
summon me an hour hence the kid will be dead.'

An hour later she was summoned. The kid lay on the
ground, feeble and with glazing eyes ; but it was not dead,
and Nero was in the worst of humours. He pointed to the
little creature and said

' Woman, you are trifling with me ! Add henbane, or hem-
lock, or any other infernal thing you like, to your accursed
poison. It must be made stronger.'

Locusta dropped other ingredients into the phial, and an-
other animal was sent for. The slave brought a little pig.
Some of the poison was sprinkled on a leaf of lettuce. The
creature ate it, and in a few moments died in spasms.

' That will do,' said Nero, flinging to the woman a purse of
gold. ' If all goes as I desire, you shall have ample recom-
pense. But breathe one syllable about this matter, and you
shall die under the scourge.'

She went, leaving the phial in his hands. He struck a
silver bell, and ordered Tigellinus to be summoned.

'I have decided/ he said to the Praetorian. 'Britanuicus
shall die/

'You will deserve the title of "father of your country,"
which you so modestly rejected/ said Tigellinus. ' Augustus
received that title on the Nones of February, more than
eighty years ago ; doubtless the Senate will confer it upon
you soon after the Ides.'

' But how is the deed to be done ? ' asked Nero gloomily.
' I shrink from the business even if it be necessary.'

' What are you afraid of, Caesar ? '

' The voice of the people. It can shake the throne of the

' How will the people know anything about it ? '

' Britannicus has a prcegustator, just as I and Agrippina
have. If that wretch is poisoned too, every one will know
what has taken place/

' His prcegustator is ? '

' A freed man named Syneros/

' In your pay, of course ? '

Nero nodded.

' And you can trust him ? '

Nero nodded asain.


' Then leave the rest to me,' said Tigellinus, ' and do not
trouble yourself any further in the matter. If I have your
orders, regard the deed as done.'

' I give no orders/ said Nero ; ' but here is Locusta's

Glad of her success in having twice saved the life of
Britannicus, Acte was more than ever determined to be a
watchful guardian over him. She was feverishly anxious to
ascertain every plot formed against him, and had gone so far
as to take a step of extreme peril. She had heard that, in the
reign of Tiberius, when evidence had been wanted against the
Consular Sabinus, three persons of no less rank than senator
had concealed themselves in the roof, and looked down
through Judas-holes, to report his conversation. Might she
not use for good the devices which had been perverted to such
deadly ends ? At any rate she would try. She ascertained
from Tigellinus that Nero had been amusing himself by trying
the efficacy of certain poisons, and he mentioned this in
answer to Acte's inquiries as to the reason why his slaves had
carried a dead kid out of Nero's room.

But Acte learnt more by her other devices. The rooms
which she occupied happened to adjoin the apartment as-
signed to Tigellinus; and by pretending a desire for some
small repairs she had ordered the marble panelling of her
room to be removed in one corner, and a cupboard to be con-
structed behind it. A person concealed in this recess could,
by the aid of a few holes perforated in the walls, hear what
was going on in the room of Tigellinus. Then she sent to
Onesimus the coin on which was the head of Britannicus,
and when he came to her room she concealed him in the
recess, and he overheard enough to make him suspect that
Britannicus was to be poisoned a week later.

The information was vague, and to act upon it was perilous ;
but Acte told Onesimus to inform Titus, and then to use their
combined wit to defeat, at all costs, the wicked plan.

And this Onesimus meant to do, and might have done but
for his own misconduct.

He was weak in character, and if he had gone astray in the
safe obscurity of the house of Pudens he was liable to far
worse temptations in thefamilia of the Palace. All his old



companions cringed to the handsome slave of Octavia, who
might rise, as others had done, to be an all-powerful freed-
man. With his youth, his quickness, his good looks, who
could tell whether he might not even become a favourite of
Cassar himself, and have untold influence and power ? Onesi-
mus found himself the centre of flattering attention in the
slave world both of the Palace and the city. He began to think
himself a person of importance. Was he not under the imme-
diate patronage of Acte, and, in order to avoid scandal, had it
not even been necessary to make it known that he was her kins-
man and foster-brother, brought up under the same roof?

Onesimus was too unstable to withstand the combined
temptations by which he was surrounded. The image of
Junia might have acted as an amulet, but he scarcely ever
got an opportunity of seeing her, for Nereus looked upon him
witli anything but favour. He kept aloof from Christians,
for he never heard them mentioned except with contempt and
hatred, and he liked the atmosphere of compliment and plea-
sure. Slaves naturally imitate the vices of their masters, and
the wicked world of the aristocracy was reflected in darker
colours in the wicked world of servile myriads. Flinging all
that he had learnt of morals to the winds, betting, gambling,
frequenting the lewdest shows of the theatre and the most
sanguinary spectacles of the games, and forever haunting the
cook-shops, the taverns, and the Subura, he spent his almost
unlimited leisure in that vicious idleness above which only
the best slaves had strength to rise.

And so it happened that at the time when he ought to
have been most on the alert he got entangled in a low dispute
at a drinking bout, and returned to the Palace not only
wounded and smeared with blood, but also in a state of shame-
ful intoxication. In this guise Nero had seen him, and,
without even knowing his name, or anything about him, had
furiously ordered him to be taken to his steward, Callicles,
for severe punishment. He had again been scourged, put
into fetters, thrust into a prison, and fed on bread and
water. This disgrace was concealed from Acte, and while
she was relying upon his quick intelligence to convey a
warning to Britannicus, and to devise means of frustrating
the plot of Tigelliuus, Onesimus lay sick, and shamed, and
fettered in a prison among the lowest of offending slaves.




1 The citron board, the bowl embossed with gems,
And tender foliage wildly wreathed around
Of seeming ivy . . . whate'er is known
Of rarest acquisition ; Tyrian garbs,
Neptunian Albion's high testaceous food,
And flavoured Chian wines with incense fumed,
To slake patrician thirst.'

DYER, Ruins of Rome.

WE are far more likely to underrate than to exaggerate the
splendour of a great Csesarean banquet. It differed wholly
from the soft, luxurious, disreputable feast of voluptuous de-
bauchees at which we have been present in the house of Otho.
Nothing was allowed to disturb its magnificent decorum.

Nero's feast was arranged in the highest style of imperial
grandeur. Many a gilded and ivory lectica, borne by African
slaves in rich liveries and surrounded by crowds of freedmen
and clients, had been carried down the Sacred Way and the
Street of Apollo ; and if any distinguished nobles looked
through the curtains the populace raised a cheer. The guests
were set down under the great arch of the state entrance.

The noblest senators were there, and the representatives of
the oldest families of Rome, and not a few who were destined
to wear hereafter the purple shroud of imperial power. Most
of them came dressed in togas of dazzling whiteness, and
there were few who did not display the broad purple band of
the senator, or at least the narrower band of the Roman
knight. The knights were conspicuous by their large gold
rings, the senators by the crescent of silver or of ivory which
they wore in the front of their shoes. Those who, like Otho,
were professional dandies were clothed in the most elaborate
dresses, but nearly all the guests wore gay tunics under their
white togas, which, during the banquet, they laid aside for
the lighter and more elegant loose dress of green, violet, or


other vernal colours. Nero himself received them in a paluda-
ment bordered with golden stars. Agrippina was dressed in
robes of rich violet, and on her neck was a great opal from
the spoils of Mithridates. Octavia had arrayed herself in one
of the most costly dresses from the imperial wardrobe, and
her stola was of that amethystine tint the use of which Nero
afterwards reserved for himself alone.

But many of the other ladies were hardly less splendid in
their attire. The necklaces which reached to their breasts had
often as many as fifty fine rubies dependent from their links
of gold. Some of them carried fans of peacocks' feathers.
Some were dressed in robes variegated with soft and bril-
liantly coloured plumage ; the mantles of others had broad
bands of gold sewed across the folds at the breast; others
wore robes of interchanging sheen, or of the favourite mallow-
colour, or Coan dresses of fine linen, woven with gold thread.
The whole atrium looked like a bed of flowers, and even the
pavement flashed with the light of jewelled feet.

When the guests entered the vast triclinium they were
almost dazzled with the display of splendour which greeted
them. Beautiful statues of youths stood round the room,
holding in their hands lamps of gold, which filled the house
with the fragrance of perfumed oil. Other cressets of fan-
tastic workmanship hung by golden chains from the gilded
fretwork of the roof, which was so constructed that its aspect
and colouring could be altered between each course, and that
scented essences and little presents of flowers and ornaments
could be showered down upon the guests. The great triclinia
and sigma-tables of Mauretanian citron and ivory blazed with
gold and silver. The goblets from which the guests drank
were enriched with gems. The oldest and richest wines of
the Opimiam, Falernian, and Setine vintages stood cooling in
vases full of snow, round which were twined wreaths of ivy
and of roses. In front of Nero's seat was a superb candela-
brum of solid gold representing a tree with lamps hanging
from its boughs like golden fruit. It belonged to the Palatine
Temple of Apollo, and had been one of the spoils taken by
Alexander the Great at the sack of Thebes. 1 Among the
other ornaments of the table were a handled vase of white
and purple, for which Nero had paid a million sesterces, and

1 Pliny, A". ZT.xxxiv. 8.


the myrrhine goblet which alone Augustus had reserved for
himself from the treasures of Cleopatra. There were also
some of the vasa diatreta, curious triumphs of art in which a
reticulated shell-work of pale blue was fastened by threads of
glass to the opalescent vase within. Even the sawdust which
was scattered over the polished floor was dyed with minium
and breathed of saffron. Underneath the tables had been
sprinkled a mixture of vervain and maidenhair, which was
believed to promote hilarity in the guests. 1 Vitellius, as he
gloated on the veins of the thyine table at which he sat, and
the glories with which it was laden, exclaimed, ' If Jupiter
and Nero were both to invite me to dinner, I should accept
the invitation of Nero.' 2

Even the ancients had a custom closely analogous to our
' saying grace.' Before the guests sat down, a number of boys,
in white robes of byssus, placed npon the table figures of the
lares, and carrying round a jar of wine, exclaimed, ' May the
gods be favourable ! '

When the ice had been broken by the usual commonplaces,
there was no lack of animated and even brilliant conversation
among the most polished representatives of a society in which
conversation was an art. Much of the talk, indeed, was trivial,
and much was scandalous. This was the inevitable result of
a tyranny which had driven even literature into such safe
ineptitudes as the imaginary conversations between a mush-
room and a fig-pecker, which had earned an immense reward
from the Emperor Tiberius. Seneca, Burrus, and Paetus
Thrasea, who were present and sat at the same sigma, talked
on the foreign affairs of the Empire, canvassed the doings
of Felix in Palestine and the movements of Tiridates in
Armenia. Lucan was eagerly discussing with Otho the
sources of the Nile. Not a few of the ladies were listen-
ing to stories of magic and vampires and were -wolves told
them by travelled youths from Athens or Ephesus, and gossip
amply rilled up the talk of others.

Britannicus, with some of the youngest scions of noble
families, sat, instead of reclining, at a lower table than the
elder guests. Augustus had introduced, and Claudius had
kept up, the custom of young guests dining on these public

1 Plutarch, Sympos. i. 2 Note 32.


occasions in less state, and being served with a less luxurious

Tne boy had no suspicion of danger, for Acte, though sur-
prised not to have heard from Onesimus, did not know that
her purpose had failed in consequence of the levity and folly
of her foster-brother. The face of the young prince was
radiant, for his heart was full of peace. His whole soul
seemed to be expanded by the larger horizons which had
opened before him since he had learnt about the truths and
promises of the new faith. The light of the dawn, which
shone for him upon the distant hills, seemed to shed its rays
even upon the evil and troubled world. He maintained a
pleasant talk, broken by many a happy and innocent laugh.
His peril had been mercifully hidden from him, and on the
previous night he had had a dream so happy, and so unlike
anything which he had imagined as possible, that he hardly
knew how to tell it to Titus and Clemens, who sat on either
side of him.

In his dream he had seemed to himself to be sinking to
sleep amid strains of melody more tender than any which he
had ever heard. And, while his soul was thus lapped in
Elysium, a winged youth, whose face looked pure as the
flowers of spring, and whose wings were coloured like the
rainbow, had come to him and offered him his choice between
purple with a diadem, and. a white robe with a wreath of
lilies. He had chosen the white robe, and with a radiant
smile the Vision dropped on the ground the purple robe, and
Britannicus saw that it was rent with dagger-thrusts and
stained with blood. Then the youth had taken Britannicus
by the hand and led him through a vale of fire unhurt into a
pleasant land beyond. Bright hands had there clothed him in
the robe of shining white, and had placed the wreath of lilies
round his hair. After that he looked up, and on every side
of him were clouds of light, full of glittering faces ; and two
other winged youths grasped him by the hands, and led him
along a vista of light towards a throne, which looked like a
sapphire ; but, before he could see who sat thereon, he awoke
in such an ecstasy that he lay quivering with joy till the
music and the fragrance died away. Never in all his life had
he experienced such unutterable blessedness, and it seemed
to him as if he could never be unhappy again.


But while Britaunicus was thus supremely happy the lord
of the banquet was miserable. How could he be happy ? On
one side of him reclined his mother, once so passionately fond
of him, now bitter, furious, and sarcastic a woman whose
life was poisoned by the disappointment of her ambition.
On the other side of him reclined his wife, Octavia, young,
beautiful, not unaccomplished, but to him cold as death. He
could buy the venal love of as many as he chose, but he
could command no love that was not either purchasable or
shameful. The fires of Tartarus were burning on the altar of
his Penates, and his own heart was smouldering with secret
crimes, which could only be shared with the most villainous
or the most despicable of mankind.

And of all the guests how few were even tolerably happy,
except one or two of the boys at the table of Britannicus !
Under that thin film of iridescence what abysses of misery
filled the Stygian pool of the society which lay beneath !

Among the guests that night was the young king Herod
Agrippa II. He sat in a conspicuous position at the highest
table. As a boy he had been at Rome, but this was the first
time that he had been present at any public gathering for many
years. He had only just arrived on a mission from Palestine.
He had inherited Chalcis, the little kingdom of his uncle
Herod, but he was anxious to add to this domain the city of
Tiberias and part of Galilee, where Herod Antipas had ruled,
and this year the Emperor granted his wish. Nero had
entrusted him to the care of Gallic, with whom he was
eagerly conversing in Greek, arid whom he overwhelmed with
multitudes of questions. They spoke low, and, as they re-
clined at the banquet side by side, there was little chance of
their being overheard, though their conversation was often of
that kind which was the more interesting from its being some-
what dangerous.

' How gay Caesar's guests must be,' said Agrippa ; ' they are
all smiles ! '

' It is with many of them the fixed smile of a mask,' said
Gallio. ' They smile to hide their misery.'

It was necessary for the success of Agrippa 's mission that he


should stand well at Rome, and know something about the
chief members of Roman society. He therefore asked Gallic
the names and history of some of the guests. We will follow
his pointed fingers, and perhaps the answers of Gallio may
enable us to realise something more of the condition of things
in pagan Rome. For Gallio did not spare a single reputation.
He did not require to invent. Malignity had no need to
search with candles. She only had to tell the truth, and
there were few guests there whose reputation did not wither
at her breath.

Agrippa first wanted to know something about the ladies
who were present, and Gallio drew caustic sketches of Pop-
psea, on whom Nero's eyes were constantly fastened, and of
Calvia Crispinilla. Agrippa's attention was next attracted by
Domitia Lepida, whose tutulus, or conical head-dress, it was
the exclusive task of a slave-maiden to adorn.

' That lady,' said Gallio, ' is the Emperor's aunt. She used
to neglect him, but now that he is Emperor she worships the
very ground on which he treads.'

' And who is that lady in the sea-green Coan dress whose
hair seems to be powdered with gold dust ? '

' That is Junia Silana, nominally a bosom friend of Agrip-
pina, really her deadliest enemy. Observe that lady near her,
whose grey hairs are so elaborately dyed, arid her cheeks so
thickly rouged, and who is dressed with such juvenility. She
is ^lia Catella. Would you believe that, though she is nearly
eighty, she still dances?'

'0 temporal mores!' said Agrippa. 'That exclamation
sufficed for Cicero a hundred years ago ; but he would want
stronger expletives now.'

'I will give you Horace for your Cicero. Did he not

' " What has not cankering Time made worse ?

Viler than grandsires, sires beget
Ourselves, yet baser, soon to curse
The world with offspring baser yet." '

' Is there no honest and virtuous woman here ? ' asked the
young king.

Gallio pointed a little mockingly to the king's sister, the
beautiful Berenice, who had come with him to Rome. She
was now twenty-six, but had lost none of her voluptuous


loveliness. In her ears were earrings, each formed of three
orient pearls, and the famous diamond on her finger a gem
of priceless value, her brother's gift blazed conspicuously at
every movement of her hand.

Agrippa blushed and bit his lips ; and Gallic always cour-
teous, added with seriousness, ' There are some, but not many.
My brother, Seneca, is not complimentary to the ladies. He
speaks of them as "animal impudens, ferum, cupiditatum
incontinens," * which is, to say the least, ungrateful of him, for
our mother, Helvia, was perfect ; and our aunt, Marcia, gained
him his earliest honours ; and his own wife, Paulina she
sits there is one of the Roman matrons who almost deserve
the obsolete epitaph, " She stayed at home ; she spun wool."
I think, however, that Seneca exaggerates the number of
the ladies, who, he says, count the years not by the consuls,
but by the number of their divorced husbands.' 2

' Point rne to another such lady as Paulina,' said Agrippa.

' There is one,' answered Gallic, bending his head towards
the Empress Octavia ; ' and there is another.' He pointed to
a lady dressed simply in a white stola beneath a light-blue
palla, who wore no jewels except the cameos which fastened
the loops of her sleeve. It was Antistia, the wife of Antistius
Verus, the daughter of Eubellius Plautus. 'Antistia,' said
Gallia, ' is as pure and devoted a lady as you could find any-
where. There, too, sits Servilia, daughter of Barea Sorauus ;
and yonder is Arria, wife of Psetus Thrasea. Pomponia
Grsecina, wife of Aulus Plautius, is the sweetest and noblest
matron in Eome ; but she avoids Court society, and she is not
here. Nor is Claudia, the fairest of maidens, the daughter of
King Caractacus.'

' And who is that handsome and venerable old man at the
second table ? '

'The handsome and venerable old man his name is
Domitius Afer is, I am sorry to say, a handsome and
venerable old scoundrel. He is, or rather was, the greatest
orator of his day as the Emperor Tiberius said, a born
orator, suojure disertus. But he has been neither more nor
less than an informer, and one of bad character. He would
have lost his head under Caligula, but he pretended to be so
thunderstruck and overwhelmed by the mad Emperor's elo-
1 De Const. Sap. 14. 2 Sen. De Benef. iii. 16.


quence that he not only saved his life but rose into high
favour. But it is time for him to leave off making speeches.
Whenever he attempts a great oration now, half his hearers
laugh and the other half blush.'

' And the young man near him ? '

' King,' said Gallio, ' I shall begin to think that you are a
physiognomist, and are picking out some of the worst persons
present. That is another informer ; his name is M. Aquillius
Eegulus. He is a fortune-hunter as well as an informer. He
has earned by infamy a fortune of sixty million sesterces. I
had better tell you at once that there are several of them
nearly as bad. That brazen-faced man is Suilius Neruliuus,
who helped Messalina to ruin Valerius Asiaticus. He was
convicted of taking bribes as a judge even in the reign of
Tiberius. And, worst of the w r hole company, there is Eprius
Marcellus, a splendid orator, but a man, as you see, of savage
countenance, whose eyes flash their fiercest flame, and whose
voice rolls its loudest thunder, when he is denouncing any
person of special virtue.'

' Well,' said Agrippa, ' unless I am tiring your courtesy 1
will turn to another table. Who is that extremely stout
personage with a red face, bushy eyebrows, and apoplectic
neck, who is devouring his dainties with such brutal
voracity ?'

' He is a very distinguished person named Vitellius, chiefly
distinguished, however, for eating and drinking. He is de-
scended from a cobbler and a cook. He began his childhood
with Tiberius at Caprese. His father set up golden statues of
the freedmen Narcissus and Pallas among his household gods,
by which merit he won a statue on the rostra. Our friend
then turned charioteer to please Gains, gambler to please
Claudius, and has now curried favour with Nero by urging
him to sing. His domestic history is not amiable. He had
by his first wife a son named Petroniauus, to whom she left
her wealth. Vitellius made him drink a cup of poison, which
he says that the youth had prepared for him'

' I shall begin to believe,' said Agrippa, ' that the Greek
sage was right when he said, " Most men are bad." Why,
Berytus would not show more dubious characters nor even

' But there are some honest men,' said Gallio, ' as well as


virtuous women. Burrus is fairly honest ; Fenius Rufus is in-
differently honest ; Psetus Thrasea is honest, though iu these
days even he has to dissemble ; Helvidius Priscus, Barea
Soranus, and Arulenus Rusticus, friends of Thrasea, are as
honest as the day. So is that old man Lucius Saturninus,
who, strange to say, in spite of his worth, has reached the age
of ninety-three without being either killed or banished.'

' I will only ask you one more name. Who is the man to
whom Dornitius Afer is talking ? '

'His name is Fabricius Veiento. At present he is only
known as the editor of a book called " Codicilli" which is
immensely popular and is bringing him in a fortune. It is
composed of the spiciest libels against every senator of note
whom he ventures to attack. He has found that one secret
of getting rich is to pander to the appetite for scandal,
and half the people who are talking so fast around us are
whispering stories which he has discovered or invented foi

At this moment their conversation was rudely interrupted.




' Fratrum, conjugum, pareatum neces, alia solita parentibus ausi.' TAG.
Hist. v. 3.

A CRY rang through the banquet-room !

It was the cry of Titus. Every guest started as if a thun-
derbolt had fallen. In that guilty time, when obscene wings
flapped about so many gilded roofs, when the sword dangled
by a hair over so many noble heads, when foes cut throats
by a whisper, when any day might expose a man to denun-
ciation for imaginary crimes by one of the slaves whom he
regarded as his natural enemies, any sudden movement, any
unexpected event, was enough to drive the blood from the
blanching cheek. But when such a cry so wild, so startling.
rang over the tumultuous sounds of an imperial banquet,
they knew not whether the very earth was not about to open
beneath their feet.

What had happened ?

Britannicus, as we have said, was in no alarm that evening.
Of all times and places it seemed the least likely to attempt
his poisoning. The fact that at this feast he had his appointed
prcegustator, and that two deaths would terribly reveal a crime,
was, he thought, a sufficient safeguard.

But these were the very reasons why Tigellinus had ar-
ranged that Nero's desire for his brother's murder should be
carried out that night. He fancied that no one would sus-
pect Nero of choosing a scene of such festive splendour and
unusual publicity for a crime so dark.

The ingenuity of wickedness easily got over the difficulty
about the prccgustator. This man was one of the smooth, civil,
plausible wretches who abounded at that epoch. He was a
Greek slave named Syneros, trained in the worst vices and
ready to sell his soul at any time for a few sestertia. He


handed to Britannicus a myrrhirie goblet filled with some
mulled Falernian, which he tasted first. It had been purposely
made so hot that no one could driuk it. The prince gave
it back, and told Syrieros to put some cold water to it. The
slave did so, and into that cold water which he had hidden
in a vial of Alexandrian glass behind one of the coolers full of
snow had been already dropped the deadly potion which
Locusta had given to Nero.

Britannicus drank it unsuspectingly, and Titus had taken it
up and drunk a little, when his eye caught sight of Britaunicus,
and with the cry which had alarmed those three hundred
guests he had dropped the myrrh in e vase, crashing it to shivers
on the mosaic floor.

For Britannicus had scarcely finished his draught when with
one wild look he clutched the arm of Titus, and then, half
supported by Clemens, sank speechless and breathless from his
seat. It seemed as if in one instant the swift poison had per-
vaded all his limbs. His last conscious thought had been for
another. Titus remembered with undying gratitude, that the
clutch upon his arm had saved his life. He felt sure that with
one and the same flash of intuition Britannicus had recognised
that the draught was poisoned, and had tried to prevent Titus
from drinking it.

But when the guests turned their eyes to the table where
the young prince was sitting they saw the terror-stricken look
on the faces of Titus and the other boys, and Flavins Clemens
supporting in his arms the white and convulsed form of the
son of Claudius. At that spectacle many of them leapt from
their couches, and even began to fly in different directions.
Who could tell what charges of plots might be founded on
such an incident, and who might be involved in them ? But
those who were more familiar with the mysteries of the Court,
though they had started to their feet, stood rooted in their
places with their eyes fixed on Nero, waiting for some sign to
guide or reassure them.

And then Nero showed the consummate coolness of vil-
lainy which could hardly have been expected from so young
a murderer. He was short-sighted, but he could very well
guess what had happened, and he had his little speech ready
prepared. Indeed, he had been repeating it over to himself
while he vainly endeavoured to get up a conversation with his


mother or his wife. Putting his emerald to his eye, 1 he raised
himself on one elbow from his soft mass of cushions, and said,
amid the dead silence

' Oh, I see what is the matter. My brother Britannicus,
poor boy, has been afflicted from childhood with the comi-
tial disease. His epileptic fit will soon be over, and all his
senses will return. Pray resume your places, my friends.
Do not let the mirth of the banquet be disturbed by this
little accident.'

Agrippiua was in a ferment of alarm. She could scarcely
believe her ears. That ready lie about the epilepsy ! She
knew and many of the guests knew that Britannicus was
a fine strong lad, who had never had an epileptic attack in
his life. One thing only could have happened. Britannicus,
in whom rested the last hopes of her vengeance and her am-
bition, must have been poisoned by his brother. Infernal
gods ! was it possible ? Could this have been the deed of that
youth whom it seemed but yesterday that she had clasped to
her bosom as a lovely, rosy, smiling child ? Panic, consterna-
tion seized her. ' How long,' she thought, ' will he abstain
from the prophesied murder of me, his mother ? ' She panted ;
she shuddered in every limb ; she required all her efforts not
to faint ; she grew white and red by turns, and those who were
watching her saw the cup of wine which she seized shake so
violently in her trembling hand that she spilled half its con-
tents over her bosom.

' She, at least, is as innocent of this as Octavia herself,'
whispered Seneca to Burrus. ' But, oh ! horror ! where will
these things end ? '

Octavia looked as though she had been turned to marble.
She spoke no word ; she made no sign. Agrippina had tried
in vain to prevent her speaking countenance from betraying
the violence of her emotions ; but Octavia, young as she still
was, and little more than a child, had been taught from her
earliest years to hide her emotions under a mask of impas-
sibility ; and, indeed, the blow which had thus fallen upon
her was beyond her power to realise. The awful grief struck
her dumb. One shrinking motion, one stifled scream, and
she reclined there as though she were dead as pale and
as motionless, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, conscious of

1 Pliny, N. H. xxxvii. 16.


nothing, her white cheek looking all the more ghastly from
the crimson roses which circled her dark tresses and fell
twining over her fair neck.

But how should the mirth of the banquet be resumed ?
The stereotyped smile on the features of Seneca looked like
a grin of anguish. The brow of Psetus Thrasea was dark as
a thunder-cloud. Clemens and several of the prince's boyish
friends were weeping audibly and uncontrollably, while Titus,
already feeling ill as well as terrified, was sobbing with his
head on the table. Nero himself in vain attempted a fitful
hilarity, which could wake no echo among guests of whom

' Like the Ithaeensiau suitors of old time,
Stared with great eyes, and laughed with alien lips,
And knew not what they meant."

So dense a cloud fell over their minds that it was a relief to
all when, without waiting for the termination of the banquet,
Nero dismissed his guests, availing himself of the excuse that
the comitial disease had always been regarded as an evil ornen,
and that, though he hoped his brother's attack would prove
but slight, he saw how deeply it had affected the spirits of his

They had come to that superb feast in pride and gaiety ;
they hurried home in horror and alarm.




' Tu quoque extinctus jaces
Deflende nobis semper, infelix puer,
Modo sidus orbis, coluraen Augustse doinus,

SENECA, Octavia.

THE poor young prince was carried by the slaves to his
cubiculum. The poison had been like a dagger-thrust ; but
he was not quite dead. He lay at first unconscious, his breast
heaving with irregular spasmodic sighs. Acte stole into his
chamber, wept over him, strove to revive him, and, if possible,
to assuage his pangs. It was too late. He did not recognise
her. The moment he could escape from the triclinium Titus
came, and found the slave-boy Epictetus sitting at the foot of
the couch, with his head covered. ' He yet lives/ said the
boy, raising for one moment a cheek down which, in spite of
every Stoic lesson, the tears chased each other fast. Titus sat
down by his friend, called his name, clasped his hand, and
wailed aloud without restraint. One almost imperceptible
pressure of the hand proved that there was an instant recog-
nition. A Christian slave had secretly brought Linus into the
room, which was easy in so numerous a household ; and bend-
ing over him Linus sprinkled his brow with pure water, raising
up his eyes and his hands to heaven. None present knew
what it meant ; but Britannicus knew. A lambent smile lit
his features for a moment, like the last gleam of a fading sun-
set, for he understood that he had been baptised.

It was the last conscious impression of his young life. The
moment that the banquet ended, Octavia, still in her splendid
apparel, hurried wildly to the chamber. It was a chamber of
death. Already the incense was burning, already the cypress
had been placed before the Propylaea of the Palatine. The


boy lay there, silent, noble, beautiful, pale as a statue carved
in alabaster; and Octavia disburdened the long-pent agony
of repression in such a storm of weeping that her attendants
tried to lead her away. But she tore off her jewels, and flung
her arms round the corpse of her brother, and laid her head
upon his breast, and sobbed aloud. Father, mother, brother,
her first young and noble lover, Silanus all who had ever
loved and cared for her were gone. He was the last of
all his race. The last male Claudius, whose line was de-
rived through that long and splendid ancestry of well-nigh
seven hundred years, was lying before her on that lowly

He was to be buried that very night, as though he had been
a pauper and not the noblest boy of an imperial aristocracy.
There was something fatally suspicious in the rapidity with
which every preparation was made.

The obolus for Charon was put under his tongue ; the fair
young body was arrayed in its finest robe, was laid on a bier,
and was carried to the vestibule with its feet towards the
door ; and as it lay there Titus brought in his hand a wreath
of lilies, which he had begged from the keeper of the exotic
flowers, and placed it on the innocent forehead of his friend.
He turned away with the words, which could scarcely make
their way through sobs, ' Farewell ! forever farewell ! ' But
he never forgot that boyish affection ; and long years after,
when he was Emperor, he placed in the Palace a statue of
Britaunicus in gold, and at solemn processions he had an
equestrian statuette of ivory carried before him which repre-
sented the young prince whose love to him had been far truer
and closer than that of his own brother.

Only for one instant did Nero venture to look on his handi-
work. He came into the vestibule in his festal robes, his
eyes heavy, the garland still on his dishevelled hair, accom-
panied by Tigellinus and Senecio.

' I suppose he died in the fit ? ' he said to one of the slaves.

' He breathed his last,' answered the man, ' within an hour
of being carried from the feast.'

Something disquieted Nero. Furtively pointing his finger
towards the dead boy, he said something to Tigellinus.

' A little chalk will set that right,' whispered Tigellinus in
reply, and he gave an order into the ear of his confidential


slave. Leave the corpse a moment,' he said aloud to the
attendants ; ' the Emperor wishes to take a last look at his

The slave of Tigellinus brought a piece of chalk ; and Nero,
with his own hand, chalked over some livid patches on the
dead boy's face, which already betrayed the horrible virulence
of the poison.

' Why linger in the charnel-house ? ' said Senecio affectedly.
'Csesar, may we not have some more wine to refresh our
sorrow ? '

They turned away, and, before they were outside the
hall, a light laugh woke a shuddering echo along the fretted

The bearers were on the point of lifting the bier when
Agrippina entered. The dullest of the spectators could see
that there was nothing feigned in her anguish as she wept
and tore her hair. She grieved for Britannicus, whom she
had so irreparably wronged, but hers was a wild and selfish
grief, the grief of rage and frustrated purposes. She had
built upon this boy's life to keep her son in terror of her in-
fluence. She saw now of what crimes Nero had already
become capable. He who in so brief a space had developed
into a fratricide, how long would it be ere he would spare
the life of an obnoxious mother ? She felt, even then, in a
bitterness of soul which could not be expressed, that even-
handed justice was commending the ingredients of the
poisoned chalice to her own lips.

The obsequies were not only disgracefully hurried, but dis-
gracefully mean. Every ceremony which marked a great
public funeral was omitted. There were no lictors dressed in
black ; no siticines with mourning strains ; nor prceficce, or wail-
ing women ; no lessus, or funeral dirge. Happily too, as some
thought, there were not the customary buffoons, nor the archi-
mimus to imitate the words and actions of the deceased.
Though he was the noblest of the noble, no liberated slaves
walked before his bier, nor men who wore the waxen images
of his long line of ancestors. No relations followed him
men with veiled heads, women with unbound tresses. Many
a freedman, even many a slave, had a longer funeral proces-
sion than the last of the Claudii.

They bore him to his funeral amid storms of rain, which


seemed to betoken the wrath of Heaven. The spectators
were few, but those few saw by the struggling light of their
lanterns that where the rain had washed off the chalk the
pale face was marked with patches of black. They saw this,
and pointed it out to one another in silence.

The last offices were paid in haste by the drenched and
half-frightened attendants. The body was laid on the small
rough pyre. Julius Denstis was there, and Pudens, and Titus,
and" Flavins Clemens. Nero had not the grace to be present.
With averted face Pudens thrust in the torch. The rain had
damped the wood, and at first it would not kindle, but they
threw oil and resin into it. At last it blazed up ; the body
was consumed : the glowing embers were quenched with wine.
A handful of white ashes in a silver urn, a sad memory in a
few loving hearts, were all that remained on earth of the poi-
soned son of an emperor of Rome.

But, when all were gone, a few Christians stole from under
the dense shadow of the trees in that lonely spot, and bowed
their heads in prayer, and sang a low hymn. And among
them was he whose hand of blessing had rested on the young
prince's head, and whose voice of prophecy had foretold his

And to Pomponia Greecina and her husband, and to Pudens,
Claudia, Titus, Epictetus, and one or two faithful slaves, the
world was poorer than before ; but in the heart of the hapless
Octavia there was a void which on earth could never be filled
up. And her heart would haply have broken altogether but
for the consolations which she received from Pomponia, and
from Tryphsena, her Christian slave. For Pomponia had re-
ceived a letter from Ephesus, where, at that time, Paul of
Tarsus was labouring ; and the friend who wrote it told her
something of Paul's teaching respecting the resurrection of the
dead. One passage in particular, which this friend quoted to
her, rang in her memory : ' It is sown in corruption, it is raised
in incorruption ; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory ;
it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power ; it is sown a
natural bod} 7 , it is raised a spiritual body.' And so, as there
remained for Octavia less and less hope of any joy on earth,
glimpses were opened to her more and more of a hope beyond
the grave. And one passage in particular from one of the
old Jewish books, which Linus had pointed out to Pomponia,


seemed to her more lovely than any fragment of lyric
song, and constantly woke a sweet echo in her thoughts. It

' Thy dead men shall live ; together with my dead body shall they arise.
Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust ; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs,
and the earth shall bring to life her shades.'




' Caritas quse est inter natos et parentes clhimi nisi detestabili scelere non
potest.' Cic. Lad. viii. 28.

THERE were some who thought it an unparalleled tragedy that
Britannicus should not only have died so young, but also at a
banquet, and so suddenly, and by the hand of a bitter enemy,
and under his very eyes. There were few in the Pagan world
who realised the truth that he who needed their shuddering
pity was not the boy who perished, but the youth who mur-
dered him.

At first Nero was alarmed by what he had done. He thought
that he would be haunted by the manes of the wronged Bri-
tannicus. He shunned Octavia, and if he met her was forced
to avert his glance. He faced his mother with shy morose-
ness. He never dared to sleep alone. The sound of a shaken
leaf terrified him. A thunderstorm, which happened a few
days later, drove him into a paroxysm of terror, during which,
like Gaius before him, he hid himself under a bed, and sent
for the skin of a seal as a fancied protection against the flame
of heaven.

But it was not thus that he was to feel the wrath of God.
The doom was past, but the punishment deferred. The most
terrible part of his retribution was that he was let alone to fill
to the brim the cup of his iniquity. Sin was to be to him the
punishment of sin, and the avenging scourge was put into the
hand of his own vices. The first fearful crime which he had
committed ought to have lit up his dark conscience with its
fierce, unnatural, revealing glare. It did so for a moment, but
only to leave him in deeper darkness. His moral sense was
hardened to a still deadlier callosity, until he developed into
the execration of mankind.


What helped him to this rapid obduracy was the vileness
and hypocrisy of the world around him.

The death of Britannicus had to be announced to the Senate.
The eyes of Nero had to weep crocodile tears, and the pen of
Seneca to be employed in venal falsities. No one could doubt
the hand of Seneca in the elegant pathos of the sentence which
told the Conscript Fathers that deaths so immature as that of
Britannicus were subjects of such bitter grief that his funeral
had been hurried over in accordance with the ancestral custom
which forbade the protraction of anguish by public oration or
funeral obsequies.

' I have lost the aid of my brother/ continued the specious
oration which Nero learnt by heart ; ' no hopes are left to me
save in the commonwealth. A prince like myself, who is now
the sole survivor of a family born to the supremest dignity,
needs all the love and all the help of the Senate and the

Even the semblance of sorrow was abandoned almost before
the cypress had been moved from the doors of the Palatine.
Nero was anxious to implicate others as far as possible in the
frightful responsibility which he had himself incurred. Bri-
tannicus had left a considerable heritage in houses, villas, and
personal possessions, which had come to him from his father
and mother. Nero, who as yet had not squandered a treasure
which might well have been deemed inexhaustible, had no need
of these things, and was eager to get rid of them. He there-
fore distributed them among leading senators, giving a pleasant
villa to Seneca and a town house to Burrus. He thought that
gifts would serve as a sort of hush-money, and both statesmen
felt with inward anguish that they were the price of blood.
Seneca was specially humiliated. He knew what men thought
and said of him in secret, and his own conscience could not
accept the facile excuse that it would have been fatal to refuse
a largesse which was meant to bind his destiny irrevocably
with that of the guilty Emperor. He thanked Nero for his
munificence, and acted as if nothing had happened. Yet the
inward voice spoke to him with unmistakable clearness. He
called himself a Stoic : he wrote grand eulogies of virtue and
simplicity. Ought he to have entered the magic circle of a
court steeped in licentiousness and blood ? Ought he to
have yielded to the avarice which made his usury so notor-


ious ? Would Peetus Thrasea have accepted gifts intended to
screen complicity with murder ? Would such gifts have been
offered to the modest poverty of Cornutus or Musouius ? or, if
so, would they not have faced exile or death rather than accept
them ? Conscience worked so painfully that he could not in-
duce himself to visit the villa which had been presented to
him on the death of Britaunicus. ' Alas ! ' he moaned sadly
to himself in the watches of the night, ' it is a viscosum bene-
ficium, a kindness smeared with birdlime.'

But the great mass of the Roman world, lying as it did in
wickedness, was pleased rather than otherwise to hear of the
death which they all knew to have been the murder of
the sou of Claudius. The horrors of the civil wars were still
vivid in many recollections, and knowing that rival princes
rarely lived in concord, they hailed with satisfaction the bold
iniquity which had succeeded in ridding them of a nightmare
of the future. The story of the murder of a young and inno-
cent prince, the only son of their late deified Emperor, sounded
rather ugly, no doubt ; but did not nine-tenths of them expose
their own superfluous children ? Had not Claudius himself
exposed the infant of his wife Petina ? And what was death ?
Was it not a dreamless sleep, which anyone might be glad to
exchange for the present state of things, and which many of
them would probably seek by suicide ?

And why should Nero trouble himself any more about a
death which scarcely caused so much as a ripple on the bitter
and stagnant pool of Roman society ? On the contrary he
and all Rome felt a glow of conscious virtue when, a few days
later, an order was given to execute a knight, named Antonius,
as a poisoner, and publicly to burn his poisons. When Locusta
heard that fact she smiled grimly. But what had she to fear ?

There was one breast in which the earthquake of excitement,
caused by the murder of Britannicus, did not soon subside.
Octavia, in the depth of her anguish, had known where to find
something of consolation. Not so Agrippina. To her also
Nero had offered presents, which she refused with disdainful
sullenness. Her soul was full of madness. Was she to be
totally defeated by the slight, contemptible son on whom she
had built all her hopes ?

Not without a struggle would she abandon the power
which it had been the object of her life to attain, and the


fabric of which she had with her own hand shattered to the

Suddenly as the Nemesis had come upon her, she would
not yet admit herself to be defeated. She was rich ; she would
be yet richer. She had friends, and she held many a secret
interview with them. Octavia might still become in her hands
an engine for political purposes, and Agrippina constantly
embraced and consoled her. Every tribune and centurion who
attended her levies was received with extreme graciousness.
She paid her court to all the nobles of high birth and promis-
ing ability. She thought that even now it was not too late
to create a conspiracy, and put a fitting leader at the head
of it.

But all her efforts were broken like foam on the rock of the
Emperor's deified autocracy and the unscrupulous wickedness
of the favourites by whom he was surrounded. At the sugges-
tion of Otho and Tigellinus, Nero dealt blow after blow at the
dignity of his mother. One day she no longer saw the two
lictors who attended her litter, and was told that they had
been discharged by the Emperor. Soon afterwards she missed
the accustomed escort of soldiers who guarded her chambers,
and heard with sinking heart that they had been removed.
Worst of all, she was suddenly deprived of the body-guard of
tall, blue-eyed, fair-haired Germans, to whom she had grown
attached, and who were the most splendid outward sign of
her imperial station. And, as though all this were not enough,
at last the final thunderbolt was launched. She received a
message from her son that he had assigned to her, as her resi-
dence, the house of his grandmother Antonia. She was dis-
missed from the Palace in which so many of her years had
been spent in order that the courtiers who thronged the
audience-hall of the Emperor might have no excuse for
paying their respects at the same time to her.

Her feelings, as she left the chambers of the Palatine for a
private residence, must be imagined rather than described.
Her heart was too dry for tears. She felt humiliated to
the very dust, and tasted the bitterness of a thousand deaths.
All hope of re-establishing her empire over the heart of
her son was gone. Thenceforth he scarcely saw her. If he
came to visit her, he came, as though to evidence his distrust,
amid a throng of soldiers and centurions, did not speak to


her in private, and departed after a cold, hurried, and formal

She felt how poisonous was the fruit of ambition by which
she had been allured. Her power had never been more than
the pale reflection of the imperial despotism, and after her
breach with Nero it crumbled to ashes.

From that moment she felt that the coloured bubble of her
life had burst. Never had she been so wretched. Her exile
at Pandataria had been but brief, and she was then young,
and she had many schemes on hand, and might hope for im-
measurable success. But now her last arrow had sped from
the string, and had fallen useless to the ground. The cold
shadow of her son's displeasure blighted her whole being. She

in whose honour coins had been struck; in whose name
decrees had run ; under whose auspices colonies had been
founded ; to whom kings and governors had once made their
appeal, and for whose ambition kingdoms had been too small

suddenly found she was nothing and nobody. Even such
a creature as Calvia Crispinilla had more influence, and was
more sought after than she. The house of Antonia, in which
she lived, was shunned like a lazar-house by all who wished
to stand well with Nero. No one visited her, no one consoled
her. no one helped to dissipate her weariness. The only ex-
ceptions were a few ladies whom she knew too well to trust.
They did not come to see her out of affection, but because
they hated her. and liked to annoy her with the cold curiosity
of an insulting pity. Among these was Junia Silana. In old
days she had been a bosom-friend of the Augusta, but the
ostensible friendship gave ample opportunity for feline ameni-
ties on both sides. Junia had been the wife of the handsome
Silius, who had fallen a victim to the love of Messalina. In
her early widowhood she had been sought in marriage by
Sextius Africauus, but Agrippina, not wishing to see him made
too powerful by the ample wealth of the childless Silana, had
confidentially dissuaded him from the marriage, by telling him
that Silana was a woman of dissolute character, and was now
getting on in years. The secret had reached the ears of Silana,
and while openly she continued to speak of her ' sweetest and
dearest Agrippina,' she vowed an exemplary revenge.

And now that the time seemed ripe, she matured her


It would be useless to trump up the old charges that
Agrippina mourned the murder of Britannicus, or spread
abroad the wrongs of Outavia. She determined to devise
something entirely new, and to charge Agrippina with the
design of marrying and forming a conspiracy with Rubellius
Plautus, who, like Nero, was, on the mother's side, a great-
great-grandson of the deified Augustus. Silana sent two of
her freedmen, Iturius and Calvisius, with this intelligence to
Atimetus, a freedman of Domitia, Nero's aunt. Atimetus
had once been a fellow-slave with Paris. He went to his old
friend, and urged him to go at once to Nero, and to de-
nounce the supposed plot with all his consummate vehe-
mence and skill.

The actor was not naturally a villain, but he had been
trained in an abominable school, and had erased the words
' ought ' and ' ought not ' from his vocabulary as completely
as most of his contemporaries. That night, at a late hour, he
hurried to the Emperor, not in the glittering dress which us-
ually set off his perfect beauty, but in dark and disordered
array. His familiarity with Nero procured him at all times a
ready entrance into the Palace. He found the Emperor still
carousing amid his favourites, and he was received with a
burst of welcome by the flushed and full-fed guests.

' Now this is good of you, Paris,' said Nero. ' You alone
were wanting to our mirth. Come, brim this crystal vase
with our best Falernian, and then let us see a spectacle which
would thrill the Muses and the Graces even if Apollo were
with them. But can this be Paris? our bright, gay,
lovely Paris ? Why, what is the matter ? '

' Matter enough,' said Paris, in such accents of woe, and
with such a flood of tears, that the guests could not help weep-
ing with him. ' Dare I speak, Caesar ? '

' Tell us all,' said Nero, raising himself on his elbow in
agitation. ' What has happened ? Have the legions revolted ?
Is the prretoriiim in an uproar ? '

' Not yet,' said Paris ; ' but - Agrippina '

' Ha ! ' said Nero. ' Go on ' - for the actor's voice seemed
to be speechless with emotion.

' Agrippina and Kubellius Plautus '

Nero was listening with painful interest ; and, pretending
to recover himself with a great effort, Paris told them the


fictitious plot, and succeeded in rousing the Emperor to such
a pitch of terror that he started from his couch and tore his

' Agrippina shall die ! ' he exclaimed ; ' and Eubellius
Plautus shall die. Here, give me my tablets. Despatch
instant orders for their arrest and execution. And send for
Burrus no ! he is the creature of my mother ; she made
him Praetorian Prsefect. My foster-brother Csecina Tuscus
shall command the Praetorians, and Burrus shall die. Quick,
quick, send for Seneca ; not a moment is to be lost ! '

Late as was the hour, one of the centurions on guard was
despatched to the Palace of Seneca. He was reading the
' Republic ' of Plato to his wife, Paulina, and his friend Fa-
bius Rusticus, after a frugal supper in a modestly furnished
room. When the slave announced that he was summoned by
soldiers from the Palace, Paulina arid Rusticus grew deadly
pale ; and Seneca, though he strove to conceal his emotion,
trembled in every limb. He ordered the centurion to be
admitted, and, striving to conceal the agitation of his voice,
asked if he knew why the Emperor desired his presence at so
late an hour. The centurion did not know, but said that the
Emperor seemed to be alarmed about something, and needed
the advice of his minister. Seneca demanded his toga, and
hastened to the Palace. Nero told him what Paris had dis-
closed. He did not believe in the reality of the plot, but in
those days anything was possible. He, however, pledged his
own life on the fidelity of Burrus, and urged the Emperor
to summon him into his presence. Burrus came, and listened

' It is a serious matter,' he said, ' to order the execution of
anyone without allowing an opportunity for defence. It
would be still more serious to execute without a trial an
Augusta, and your own mother.'

' Think again,' said Nero. ' Rubellius Plautus has the
blood of the Csesars in his veins, and my mother is capable of
anything to get power.'

' I need not think again,' answered Burrus, bluntly.
' When once I have made up my mind, I do not alter it.'

Nero frowned, but Burrus only added : ' There are no ac-
cusers. You are relying on the sole voice of Paris, a freed-
man of a hostile family, and you have only heard his story


late at night during a drinking bout. Surely the life of even
a common citizen ought not to be sworn away so cheaply,
much less the life of an Empress.'

Nero, sobered by the gravity of these considerations, still
kept a sullen silence ; but Burrus would not yield.

' Caesar, we will examine her at earliest dawn. If we find
her guilty she shall die.'

By this time the Km | fetor's terror had exhausted itself, and
he was weary. Agrippina's residence was surrounded with
a guard, and at daylight Seneca and Burrus went together to
question her. They were accompanied by a number of Nero's
most trusted freedmen, who were to report the trial, and to
act as spies Wh on the ministers and the Augusta.

To IK? summoned from her sleep into such a presence to
see her house surrounded with soldiers to be aware that
some unknown crisis of the utmost gravity was at hand,
might well have shaken the strongest nerves. But, in spite
of the horror of this unknown mystery, the indomitable wo-
man swept into the presence of the two statesmen with a
demeanour not only undaunted, but conspicuously haughty.
The soldier and the philosopher rose at her entrance, and the
freed men bowed low. The freed men she did not deign to
notice, but slightly inclined her head as she motioned the two
ministers to le seated, and herself sat down on a stately chair
covered with purple cushions.

' And now,' she said, ' as this seems to be a solemn au-
dience, I airi informed that the Kmperor lias sent you two,
and these other persons' glancing at the freedmen
' to speak with rne. What may be rny son's pleasure ? '

' Augusta,' said Burrus in his sternest tones, ' this is, as
you have said, a serious occasion ; you are accused of nothing
fchort of high treason.'

The charge in days like those was awful enough to have
forced back the blood into her heart, and for one instant she
felt as if the solid earth were about to yawn beneath her feet
But in that instant she rallied all the fonjcs of her nature.
She looked, indeed, pale as a statue, but not the faintest
tremor was perceptible in her accents as she exclaimed in a
tone of the most freezing irony,

' Indeed ? / am accused ? and of hiih treason ?'

' You are accused/ said Burrus, ' of desiring to form a party


among the legionaries to raise Kubellius Plautus to the throuc
and then to marry him.'

Agrippina's only answer was a scornful laugh.

' Poor Itubellius Plautus ! the " golden sheep " of my brother
Gains ! '

' You will find it no matter for laughter. The Emperor is
seriously alarmed,' said Hurrus.

' I have no other answer to an accusation so ridiculous.'

'The Augusta has not been so careful as she might have
been,' said Seneca, in his mildest manner. ' Those frequent
secret meetings with her friends ; that courting of senators of
influence; those attentions to military personages ; those open
complaints about the children of Claudius, have aroused

Agrippina turned upon the speaker her (lashing glance, and
he quailed beneath it. ' Is this your philosophic gratitude?'
she said. ' But for me, you might have been dying of malaria
in Corsica ; and you, Burrus, might have remained a tenth-
rate tribune.'

' We are but obeying the Emperor's behests,' said Burrus, in
a less threatening tone.

' And, pray, who are my accusers ?'

' Late last night this charge was laid before the Emperor by

'By Paris!' said Agrippina, in tones of crushing scorn.
' Paris is an actor, a buffoon, a pantomime, a thing of infamy
whom I scarcely brook to name. Pray, go on.'

' He had been sent by Atimetus, the ireedman of Domitia.'

' Domitia and her slave concubine!' said Agrippina.
' Of him I deign no word ; but she what has she been doing
all these years ? While I was arranging the adoption of
Nero, his marriage with Octavia, his promotion to the pro-
consular dignity, his nomination as a future Consul, all that
led to his imperial elevation what was she doing ? Improv-
ing her fishponds ! And now she wants to rob me of my
Nero, and for that purpose gets up a pantomime with her
paramour and her dancer ! Pray, is that all l . '

' The sources of the information were Iturius and Calvisius.'

' Iturius and Calvisius 1 ex-slaves, spendthrifts, de-
bauchees, the scum of the earth, who want to repair their
squalid bankruptcies by the gain of turning informers. They


are nobodies ; poor pieces on the draughts-board. Who
moved them ? '

' Junia Silaua.'

' Junia Silana! Ah ! now I understand it all the whole
vile plot from beginning to end ! Silana false wife, false
friend, evil woman what does she know of the sacredness
of motherhood? Children cannot be got rid of by their
mother so easily as lovers are by an adulteress. So ! I am to
be branded with the fictitious infamy of parricide, and Nero
with its actual guilt, that two broken-down freedmen may re-
pay their debts to the old woman their mistress ?

' And you, sirs,' she said, raising herself to the full height of
her stature, ' ought you not to blush for the sorry part you
have played ? Instead of repaying me the gratitude which
you owe to one who recalled you, Seneca, from your disgrace-
ful exile, and raised you, Burrus, from the dust instead of
making the Emperor ashamed of attaching a feather's- weight
of importance to this paralytic comedy of pantomimes,
scoundrels, and rancorous old women you have encouraged
him to try and humiliate me ! I am ashamed of you,' she
cried, with the imperious gesture which had often made bold
men tremble; 'for as for these gentlemen' and she
glanced at the freedmen 'they, of course, must do as they
are bid. And so, such are my accusers ! Who will bear
witness that I have ever tampered with the city cohorts ? who
that I have intrigued in the provinces ? who that I have
bribed one slave or one freedinan ? They charge me with
mourning for the death of Britannicus. Why, had Britannicus
become emperor, whose head would have fallen sooner than
that of his mother's enemy and his own ? And Eubellius
Plautus if he were emperor would he be able for a single
month to protect me from accusers who, alas ! would be able
to charge me, not with the incautious freedom of a mother's
indignant utterance, but with deeds from which I can be
absolved by no one but that son for whose sake they were

For one moment her nature broke down under the rush of
her emotion, and her glowing cheek was bathed in tears ; but,
recovering herself before she could dash the tears aside, she
repudiated the awkward attempts at consolation offered by
her judges, who themselves were deeply moved.


' Enough ! * she said. ' Sirs, I have done with you. By the
claims of the innocent and the calumniated, if not by the
rights of a mother, I demand an interview with my son this
very day this very hour.'

While yet the two ministers, and even the freedmen in
spite of the open scorn which she had manifested towards
them were under the spell of her powerful ascendency,
they declared to Nero her complete innocence of the charges
laid against her. Relieved from his alarm, Nero came to her.
Receiving him with calm dignity, she said not a word about
her innocence, which she chose to assume as a matter of
course ; not a word about the gratitude which he owed to her,
lest she should seem to be casting it in his teeth. She only
begged for rewards for her friends, and the punishment of her
defeated adversaries. Nero was unable to resist her demands.
Silana was banished from Italy ; Calvisius and Iturius were
expelled from Rome ; Atimetus was executed. Paris alone
was spared, because he was too dear to the Emperor to permit
of his being punished. The men for whom Agrippina asked
favours were men of honour. Fsenius Rufus was made com-
missioner of the corn market ; Arruntius Stella was made
superintendent of the games which Nero was preparing to
exhibit ; the learned Balbillus was made governor of Egypt.
Nero was intensely jealous of Rubellius Plautus, but his hour
had not yet come.

It was the last flash of Agrippina's dying power, and it
encouraged a few to visit her once more. One or two in-
dependent senators, pitying her misfortunes, came to salute
her, and some of the Roman matrons. Yet among these
women there was not one whom she could either respect or
trust. She had sinned so deeply in her days of power that
women like the younger Arria, wife of Pietus Thrasea, and
Servilia, the daughter of Barea Soranus, and Sextia, the
mother of Antistius Vetus, held aloof from her. Paulina, the
wife of Seneca, cordially disliked her, and the Vestal Virgins
had never lent her the countenance of their private friendship.

But one noble lady came to her, who had never paid her
the least court in the days of her splendour. It was Pomponia
Graecina. She came on the evening of that memorable trial,
and found the Empress prostrate with the reaction which
followed the tumultuous passion of the scenes through which


she had passed. She lay on her couch an object for even her
enemies to pity. The strong, imperial, ambitious princess
was utterly broken down in her only the weeping, broken-
hearted woman remained. In spite of her apparent victory,
her life, and all its aims, and all it held dear, lay in ruins
around her. Even hope was gone. What remained for her
but remorse, and anguish, and the cup of humiliation, and the
agonising recollection of a brilliant past which she had herself
destroyed ? There were no loyal friends around her. No
children's faces smiled upon her. There was no brother, or
sister, or daughter to comfort her. Those to whom she had
been a benefactress either felt no gratitude, or did not dare to
show it, or deemed that she had forfeited it by crimes. Home-
less, desolate, unloved, left like a stranded wreck by the ebb-
ing tide upon a naked shore, she lay there weeping like a
child. Oh ! that she had been innocent, like her own mother
like one or two whom she had known; but, alas! she
could only look back upon a life of guilt, flecked here and
there with blood which nothing could wash out. And now
the Retribution which she had doubted and defied the
Retribution which had been stealing with silent footstep be-
hind her had broken upon her crowned with fire, and had
smitten her into the dust with a blow from which she never
could uprise.

And while her head burned and throbbed, and her veins
seemed to be full of liquid flame, and ghosts of those who had
perished by her machinations glimmered upon her haunted
imagination in the deepening gloom, her lady in waiting, Acer-
ronia, came to announce a visitor.

' Did I not say that I would see no one else to-day ? '
said Agrippina, wearily. ' I am worn out, and fain would

' It is Pomponia Grsecina. She told the janitor that though
you might not see others who belong to the Court, perhaps you
would see her.'

' Yes ; I will see her. She is not like the rest of them.
She is sincere, and her presence is like balm.'

Pomponia entered, and could scarcely believe that the
lady who lay there, with her dress disregarded, her face
haggard and stricken, her eyes dim, her cheeks stained
with tears, her hair dishevelled, and, as Pomponia thought,


of a perceptibly greyer tinge than when she had seen her
last was indeed the once magnificent and all-powerful

An impulse of pity overcame her, and she knelt down by
the couch of the unhappy Empress, who pressed her fevered
lips to her cheeks, and then wept uncontrollably with her head
on Pomponia's shoulder.

The two ladies presented a strange contrast, not only in their
dress, but in their entire aspect. Agrippina was still arrayed
in the magnificent robes in which she had received her son,
and which, irksome as they were, she had been too weary to
lay aside. Pomponia was in the dark mourning dress which
she had worn for so many years since the death of the friend
of her childhood, Julia, the grand-daughter of Tiberius and
mother of Rubellius Plautus. The tresses of Agrippiua, though
disarranged, showed the elaborate care of the ornatrix. Pom-
ponia wore her dark hair, now beginning to silver, in the sim-
plest bands, and without an ornament. But the chief differ-
ence was in their faces. Pride and cruel determination, as
well as calamity, had left their marks on the noble lineaments
of the daughter of Germanicus ; over the calm face of the wife
of Plautius it was evident that the shadows of many a sorrow
had been cast, but the sorrow was irradiated by hope and
gladness, and in her eyes was the sweet light of the Peace of

'Augusta,' she said, 'I have come to congratulate you
on the defeat of a nefarious conspiracy. I thought I
should find you happier after many trials. Pardon me
if I have thrust myself too presumptuously upon your

' Not so,' said Agrippina. ' You are always welcome ; and
more so now than ever. You sought me not in my hour of
prosperity. No one would come to me in my hour of ruin
who did not wish me well.'

' It is not, I trust, an hour of ruin. The plot against you has
been ignominiously defeated. You may have many happy
days in store.'

' Nay, Pomponia ; happiness can never be linked again with
the name of Agrippina. It is a dream. I did not find it in
the days of my splendour ; it is little likely that I should find
it when all desert me and I am brought low. I know no one



who is happy. We are the slaves and play things of a horrible
destiuy, which is blind and pitiless and irresistible. Are you
happy ? '

' Yes, Augusta, I am happy, though hardly, perhaps, in the
sense you mean. To me, as to all of us, life has brought bitter
trials. These dark robes tell of the loss of one whom I loved
as my own soul, and even at this moment I am threatened
with terrible calamity perhaps with exile, perhaps with
death. On all sides, there are terrors and anxieties, and the
state of society seems to portend catastrophe and the vengeance
of heaven, for wickedness can hardly go to any greater lengths
than now. Yet I am happy.'

' Oh, that you would give me your secret ! ' said the Em-
press. ' I can read character ; I can detect the accents of sin-
cerity. These words of yours are no pompous and hollow
Stoic paradox.'

Pomponia hesitated. The woman before her was, as she
well knew, steeped in crime from her childhood. Of what
avail would it be, without any of the evangelic preparation,
to tell her of Jesus and the Resurrection ? Could there be
the remotest possibility of exciting in her mind anything
but contempt by telling her at that moment of the Cross
which was to the Romans something between a horror and a

' Agrippina,' she answered, ' the day may come when I may
tell you more of the strange secret. It is not mine only ; it is
meant for all the world. But it cannot be attained, it cannot
be approached, without humility and repentance for wrong-
doing, and the love of virtue, and of something higher than
virtue, and the lifting to heaven of holy hands.'

'Alas!' said Agrippina; 'you speak to me in a strange
language. The Greek tragedians are always telling us that
when blood has fallen to the ground it has fallen for ever. Can
wrong be atoned for ? Can guilt be washed away ? '

' It can,' said Pomponia, gently ; and she longed to speak the
words which lingered in her memory from the letter of Peter
of Bethsaida ' Redeemed . . . with precious blood, as of a lamb
without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ.'
But to Agrippina they would at that time have been simply

' I have heard of the mysteries,' said the Empress, ' and of


the taurobolies. Would it be of any avail if I too were to
crouch in a hollow, and let the blood of a bull which has been
sacrificed to the gods drop over me ? '

' It would not/ said Pomponia. ' God does not require of
us things so revolting, nor any mere external ceremonies and
superstitions. What that sacred and supreme Majesty requires
of us is innocence alone. 1 Can you not pray to Him, Au-
gusta ? You have read Homer, and you know how the old
poet sings about At&, and the Litai, the Prayers which follow
in her path.'

' Ate ? Ah ! I know that fearful deity,' groaned Agrippina.
'She is the Fury Megsera. I have seen her petrifying face
turned towards me. She is the Harpy Celaeno. I have often
heard her in the banquet-halls of the Palatine, and thought of
Phiueus and his polluted feasts. But the Prayers will you
not repeat me the lines, Pomponia ? '

Pomponia repeated the famous lines of the old bard of
Chios :

' The gods (the only great and only wise)
Are mov'd by offerings, vows, and sacrifice ;
Offending man their high commission wins,
And daily prayers atone for daily sins.
Prayers are Jove's daughters of celestial race,
Lame are their feet, and wrinkled is their face ;
With humble mien, and with dejected eyes
Constant they follow, where Injustice flies.
Who hears these daughters of almighty Jove,
For him they mediate to the throne above ;
When man rejects the humble suit they make
The Sire reven'ges for the daughters' sake.' 2

' Alas ! they have been strangers to me, those Prayers,' said
Agrippina ; ' and though you have spoken truth to me, I see
that you have not told me all.'

'There are times for all things,' said Pomponia, as she rose
to leave ; ' and perhaps, if you will think of what we have
said, the day may come when you will be able to bear more.
Farewell, Augusta ; you need rest and quiet. Pardon me if
I have wearied you.'

' Farewell, Pomponia,' said the Empress ; ' you are good
and true. Your words have been to me as soft and pure as
the falling snow. I know not whether the Litai of whom
Homer speaks may plead for us through another.'

1 Lactantius. 2 7Z. ix. 502 (Pope).


' They may.'

' Then will you ask them to say something which may avert
the fury of Ate from one who, to you, is not ashamed to con-
fess that she is wretched above all women ? '

' May you find peace ! ' murmured the noble lady, as the
Empress once more kissed her, and pressed her to her heart.
'All may find it who seek it rightly from the Heavenly




1 Tan to vogl' io che vi sia manifesto,
Pur che mia coscienza non mi garra,
Che alia fortuna, come vuol, son presto.'

DANTE, Inf. xv. 91-93.

POMPONIA. had incidentally mentioned to Agrippina that she
was threatened by a calamity, and it was indeed a serious
one. It was strange that one so retired in her mode of life,
and so entirely free from rancour and malice, should yet have
been the butt of calumny. Yet such was the case. It was
the tribute which vice paid to virtue. The base mob of Eoman
matrons avenged themselves on the chaste wife of the con-
queror of Britain for the involuntary shame which they felt
as they contrasted her life with theirs. Her constancy ; her
silence amid the universal buzz and roar of gossip and spite ;
her aloofness from the cliques and coteries of a scandalous
society ; her love of good works ; her discountenance of their
loose talk and complicated intrigues ; her absence from the
games and theatres ; the simplicity of her dress, her home,
her manners, her hospitality ; the calmness of her temper, and
even the sort of sacred beauty on which time seemed to make
no impression, made her an object of hatred to the Calvia
Crispinillas and the ^Elia Catellas of the capital. Her pres-
ence among them was like a perpetual reproach, and they
determined, if possible, to get rid of her. They would have
said of her what the wicked say of the righteous in the Book
of Wisdom, that they would lie in wait for her, because
she was ' clean contrary to their doings, and objected to their

But how was it to be done ? Would it not be easy to set
an informer to work ? Pomponia was wealthy, and since an
informer got a grant of a fourth part of the property of any one
who was condemned on his accusation, there were men who


sat watching for their opportunity like a crowd of obscene and
greedy vultures. Aulus Plautius was a person of distinction,
and it might be dangerous to offend him ; but if an informer
of the front rank, like the eloquent Eprius Marcellus, could
not be induced to undertake the risk, surely they might secure
the services of a Veiento, a Messallinus, or a Regulus. And
as for corroborative evidence of any charge, they thought that
it could be obtained with the utmost ease among the herd of
dehumanised slaves who thronged every considerable house.
If they could not witness to facts, they were first-rate hands
at inventing fictions. If the masters were a terror to their
slaves, a slave might any day become a terror to an obnoxious
master. It was personally disagreeable to tremble before
beings who seemed so abject, but there was some con-
venience in having such agents at hand for the ruin of
an enemy.

But what charge could be brought against a lady so
blameless as Pomponia ? To accuse her of conspiracy, or
poisoning, or magic, would sound too preposterous; and it
would be impossible to find against her the sort of evidence
of evil manners which had amply sufficed in old and even
in recent days to confound a lady who was disliked. The
question was carefully discussed in a secret meeting of some
of the worst beldames of social distinction, and as it was
clear that Pomponia took no part in the public religious
ceremonies, they agreed to get her charged with being guilty
of 'a foreign superstition.'

The wretches whose business it was to work up a case of
this kind, and who were largely bribed to enable them to
carry out their designs, began secretly to worm their way
on various pretexts into the household of Plautius. Their
success was smaller than their hopes. They found that
there was some peculiar element in that familia. Many
of the slaves and the few chief freedmen were Christians,
but the secret was faithfully kept. Danger made them
vigilant, and they had been carefully selected for worth
and character. The female slaves, without exception, were
devoted to a mistress who never addressed to them an
unkind word, and who made their lives a paradise of
happiness when compared with those who attended the
toilettes of pagan ladies. The male slaves were no less


faithful to the heads of a household in which they were
treated with generosity and consideration. The spies of
the informers could scarcely find a slave in the whole
family whom they could ternpt to drunkenness and indis-
creet babbling. All that they could learn from the gossip
of the least worthy was that Pomponia did not burn
incense in the Lararium, or attend the temples. The in-
formers had to content themselves with these meagre facts,
trusting to perjury and invention to do the rest. Kegulus
undertook the case. The sound of his name was sufficient
to strike a chill into an innocent and honest heart, and feel-
ing certain of success, or, at the worst, of impunity, he laid
before the Emperor a public information that Pomponia
Grsecina was the guilty votary of a foreign superstition.

The friends and relatives of Pomponia had heard rumours
that some attack of the kind was in contemplation ; but in
the days of the Empire such rumours were rife, and they
often came to nothing. When the charge was published they
were filled with consternation. They knew that it mattered
very little whether it was true or false. The result would
turn on the influences which had been brought to bear on
Nero. If Nero favoured the prosecution, Pomponia might be
as innocent as a new-born child, yet it was certain that she
would be condemned. One could commit no fault so slight
but what Csesar's house might be mixed up with it. Had
not Julius GraBcinus been put to death under Gaius simply
because he was too honest a man ? Were not the wretched
little islets of Gyara and Tremerus crowded with illustrious
and innocent exiles ? If beauty and wealth and imperial
blood had not saved the two Julias, or the two Agrippiuas,
what should save a lady so alien from the common interests
of Koman society as the wife of Plautius ?

One thing saved her.

Nothing had been more remote from her mind than any
thought of self-interest when she visited Agrippina. She had
gone to see her chiefly because she knew that the threshold,
once thronged with suitors and applicants, had now become
so solitary, and because an habitual sense of pity drew her to
the side of the unfortunate. Her sole object had been, if
possible to bring a little peace and consolation to a sister-
woman, whose dejection and misery could only be measured


by the height from which she had fallen. True that Agrippina
was guilty. True that every law of the moral world must
have been violated if impunity were granted her as the sequel
of so many and such various crimes. But there was nothing
Pharisaic in Pomponia's heart. Familiar with sorrow, she
was sensitive to the influence of compassion, and she had
learnt from the lips of Christian teachers that there may be
recovery and forgiveness even for the most fallen. She had
gone to the Empress with no desire but to speak gentle and
healing words.

Yet it was that little unnoticed impulse of natural kindness
and Christian charity which saved her fortunes, perhaps even
her life.

For Eegulus was rich, eloquent, unscrupulous, formidable ;
and Nero was intensely timid and suspicious. The notion of
a 'foreign superstition' was mixed up with that of magic;
and magic was supposed to be chiefly practised for treasonable
ends. If a panic were created in Nero's mind, it was certain
that the feeble Senate would interpose no barrier to his sug-
gestions of punishment.

But at the moment of consternation in the heart of
Pomponia's friends, Agrippina did one of the few good
deeds of her unhappy life. Availing herself of the momen-
tary resuscitation of her influence, she no sooner heard of the
information laid against Pomponia, than she wrote a letter to
the Emperor strongly urging the innocence and goodness of
the wife of Plautius, and entreating him not to stain with a
deed of needless injustice the annals of his rule. Nero was
struck with his mother's letter, and with the fact that she
should have taken the trouble to intercede for one who had
never pretended to pay court to her, and whose character was
the antithesis of her own. Octavia also ventured to say a few
words of pleading earnestness for her friend. Nero had as yet
no grudge, either against Pomponia, whose sombre robe was
rarely visible in the Palace, or against her brave, loyal, and
simple-minded husband. On the other hand, he did not like
to check the activity of the informers. Domitian said in after
years, ' The prince who does not check informers, encourages
them.' Nero did not dream of checking them. Seneca, who
was a friend of Plautius, and who had been grieved by the
news of this attack upon one whom he and the ladies of his


family highly esteemed, suggested to Nero a way out of the
difficulty. ' Follow,' he said, ' the ancient custom, and permit
Pomponia to be tried at home by her husband, relatives, and

The Emperor accepted the suggestion, and the meeting of
the domestic tribunal was fixed to take place on the next
nundiue. When Pomponia was told of the Emperor's deci-
sion, she felt that her prayers had been heard, and that her
pardon was secured, although it was not impossible that the
trial might elicit painful secrets, which, for the sake of others,
she thought it her duty to conceal.

She asked Seneca himself to undertake her defence, and he
gladly assumed the task. Plautius sat in his own atrium, and
had summoned only those of his family whom he could trust.
The evidence on which the informers and their patrons relied
was slight and negative, and Seneca had no difficulty in tearing
it to pieces. To the intense relief and heartfelt gratitude of
Pomponia, she was not definitely charged with being a Chris-
tian. Indeed, that specific charge could hardly be urged,
because no proof was forthcoming. Eegulus skilfully made
the most of old precedents. He told how, nearly a hundred
years ago, the Senate had decreed the destruction of the
Temples of Isis and Serapis (B. c. 46), and how ^rnilius
Paul us had been the first to shatter the doors with an axe.
He mentioned the stern dealings with the Bacchanalians
(B. c. 186). He told how (B. c. 139) the priests of Sabazius
had been driven from Rome. Referring to the days of the
Empire, he mentioned the edict of Claudius against the Jews,
and reminded Aulus that Tiberius had banished four thousand
Jews to Sardinia. He appealed triumphantly to the old law of
the Twelve Tables, ' Let no one separately worship foreign
gods.' When the accusers had mentioned every unfavourable
circumstance, and when, on the other hand, an abundance of
testimony had been elicited to prove the habitual purity and
blamelessness of Pomponia's life, Seneca rose to argue for her
honourable acquittal.

' What was meant,' he asked, ' by a " foreign superstition " ?
Was the worship of Tsis a foreign superstition ? Was the
worship of the Pessinuntiaii Cybele a foreign superstition ?
Was the worship of Ia6 if that were the secret name of the
deity by the Jews a foreign superstition ? The State was


entirely unconcerned with any of these private beliefs. When,
indeed, the votaries of any strange cult were guilty of riotous,
licentious, and dishonest conduct, they were justly punished.
Referring to the precedents quoted by Eegulus, he said that
the priests of Isis had deserved the vengeance which fell upon
them for having betrayed the stupid credulity of a Roman
lady. The Jews, who had been guilty of cheating and
embezzlement in the matter of purple hangings for the
Temple, were rightly punished. Claudius had been justified
in driving all the Jews from Rome when they made tumults
at the instigation of one Chrestus; but on the other hand,
Julius Ciesar had always been favourable to the Jews, and
Augustus had by public edict protected their Sabbatli. The
priests of the Syrian goddess were for the most part worthless
vagabonds, and no one was sorry when they were detected
and executed for their nefarious practices. The State took no
cognisance of opinions, but only of evil practices. A Roman
matron, by way of supposed purification, had gone down to
the wintry Tiber, had broken the ice, had plunged into the
freezing waters, and had crawled across the Campus Martius
with bleeding knees. In such acts we might see the workings
of a foreign superstitution ; but of no such act of no secret
visit to the base temple of Serapis of no dealings with the
mutilated priests of Cybele of no lightings of lamps at
Jewish festivals, had Pomponia been guilty. And who, he
asked, can allege one immoral deed, one malefic practice
against the noble wife of the conqueror of Britain ? Is it to
her discredit that she differs from so many of the noble ladies
in Rome ? Do we blame her or rather admire her, that she
lias never betrayed a friend, or changed a husband, or exposed
an infant, or plundered a province, or ruined a reputation ?
Is it to be her destruction that her life has ever been simple,
and her words sincere ? Or is she to be banished because,
through long years, she has continued to mourn for a friend,
when so many forget their dearest relatives in less than a
month ? Cicero mourned the death of a slave, though he was
half ashamed of his sensibility ; Crassus wept for the death of
a favourite lamprey. Is it a crime to cherish a beloved
memory ? What evidence is there against Pomponia ? Have
not her slaves, though Regulus has tampered with them,
shown themselves entirely faithful ? And what wonder ?


Most of us treat our slaves as though they were enemies
as though they could not claim the rights of human beings.
She has treated her slaves as men and women like ourselves ;
as sharers of her home ; as heirs with her of the common
slavery of life and death. She has asked their aid ; she has
admitted them to festive tables ; she' has sought their love,
and not their fear. She has lived, as we should all live, like
a member of one great brotherhood, of which all are bound
to mutual assistance. She has done good in secret. In the
midst of wealth she has been as one who is poor. She has
stretched her hand to the shipwrecked ; shown his path to the
wanderer ; divided her bread with the hungry ; and has been,
as so few are, a friend to the distressed.

' But she does not go to the theatre ! Is that to be ac-
counted a crime ? Rather let us erect a statue to a virtue
which can still blush for infamies at which so many women
dare to be spectators. Is the licence of the Fescenuiues, and
the grossness of the Atellan plays, acted by slaves whom the
ancient laws branded with shame, a fit amusement for pure
matrons ? If these be deemed tolerable, what shall be said of
the softer luxury, the subtler indecency, the more fascinating
corruption of the modern mimes ? Instead of blaming Pom-
pouia for not patronising such spectacles, let us commend
her example !

' Or is it a sign of moroseness and alienation from the cus-
toms of her country, that she is never to be seen among the
multitudes of every rank and age who gaze witli frenzied
delight at the gladiatorial shows ? Nay, she is to be ap-
plauded for shunning scenes so fatal to true morality ! It is
shocking enough to see noble beasts ruthlessly mangled, and
once, at least, a cry of compassion has risen from the dense
throngs when they saw that frightful combat between five
hundred Gaetulians and twenty elephants. But their com-
passion was for the elephants ! 1 How much deeper is the
compassion due to the unhappy human beings whose carcases
encrimson the white sands of the amphitheatre ! Augustus
tried to check and limit this savagery. To see men torn by
wild beasts in the morning, and hacking each other to pieces
in the afternoon and that as a mere amusement, to kill
the time is simply degrading, however much custom may
* Pliny, N. H. viii. 7.


sanction it. It is true that Cicero invented an excuse for his
brutality of pleasure, this delirium of homicide, by the absurd
plea that it stimulated courage. The courage of the tiger,
which leaps with bare breast on the hunter's steel, exists in
the lowest of the human race, without the need for this
bloody stimulus. Man should be to man a sacred thing ; the
only result of gazing at such scenes is to destroy this gener-
ous sense of a common humanity. It may be said that the
gladiators, or those who fight the wild beasts, are often crim-
inals. Be it so ; but are we criminals also ? If riot, why
should we condemn ourselves to the shame of gloating over
the supreme agony and mystery of death ?

' But Pomponia is charged with speaking as though there
were but one God. Well, do we not read even in the sacred
poems of Orpheus

' " One God, one Hades, one Sun, and one Dionysus ? "

Does not Varro, one of the most honoured of Roman writers,
distinguish carefully between the mythology of poets, the
religion of the commonwealth, and the beliefs of philoso-
phers ? It is true that he deprecated the revelation of these
truths to the multitude, because there is no way to keep
them in order but by illusions. Yet scarcely an old woman
or beardless boy in Rome really believes in these fables ; and
it is a good thing that they do not. If they attached genuine
credence to the supposed deeds of this rabble of gods, they
would have patrons and examples of every lust and of every
crime. But they are dimly aware that Stator, Liber, Hercu-
les, Mercury, are but names or manifestations of one Divine
Existence. The mysteries are divulged ; the oracles are
dumb ; and as the wailing spirits cried to Epitherses thirty
years ago as he sailed past the promontory of Paludes,
" Great Pan is dead." 1

' A person, then, who can regard it as criminal to reject the
popular belief must be ignorant of all philosophy and all
literature. Is any one bound to suppose that there really is
such a god as Panic ; or such goddesses as Muta, Febris, and
Strenia ? Are the Greek poets to be condemned who have
repeatedly spoken of one God ? God is everywhere. He is
that without which nothing is. He comes to men ; He comes

i Plutarch, De Defect. Orac. p. 419, &.


into men. No one is good without God. Pomponia's char-
acter alone is sufficient to prove that there is nothing harmful
in her belief. To the God who is near us, to the sacred Spirit
who dwells with us, the observer and guardian of all our
evil and our good, she has been supremely true. The image
of the gods cannot be formed with gold and silver, or such
materials, but with the beauty and dignity of liumau souls.
God is best worshipped, not by sacrifices of bulls, but by in-
nocence and rectitude.

'And you, Aulus, you know what a wife Pomponia has
been to you, how chaste, how gentle, how faithful ! How
often have you found her quietly spinning wool among her
modest maidens, when other matrons are sitting at riotous
banquets, or gazing at dishonourable scenes! How wisely
and quietly has she managed your fortunes, and governed
your family ' How true and tender she was as a mother to
the little boy whose immature death you wept, whose ashes
are inurned in the tomb of your house ! How purely has she
trained your youthful Aulus ! To whom save to her does
he owe that beautiful mixture of manly courage and virginal
modesty which distinguishes him among the youth of Rome ?
And will you, at the word of a vile informer actuated by base
greed, and set on by female rancour will you desecrate the
shrine of your own household gods ? Will you dishonour the
fame of your ancestors ? Will you sever a union which has
been to you so fruitful of blessings ? Remember how she
smiled on you on the day that you walked in proud ovation
with Csesar by your side ! Remember how she shared the
toils, the hardships, the anxieties of your campaigns in that
far-off Thule, which was subdued by your valour ! Remember
how by her sympathy she has diminished all your troubles,
and intensified all your joys ! And will you hand over such
a wife, and such a mother so gentle, so pure, so noble
to the fury of the executioner ? Will you see the sword flash
down upon a head which has often rested on your breast ?
Or will you coldly and sternly dismiss your innocent and
well-loved wife to end her days on some dreary island-rock,
arnid the storms of Adria or the Tyrrhene Sea ? Yours, O
Aulus, yours and not hers, will be the infamy ; yours, not
hers, will be the loss ! Not hers the shame for no in-
former, and no unjust condemnation can fix a stain upon


the guiltless ; not hers the misery for wherever she goes
she will carry the God within her, since in each one of us,
as our- great poet says,

'"Some god is dwelling, though we know not who."

You may banish her to Pontia or Pandataria, but every-
where she will see the sunlight and the stars, and will feel
that she is not abandoned. When we enter a dense forest,
we are struck with awe at its huge tree-trunks, its spreading
boughs, its dark shade, and we feel that the Divine is there ;
when we enter some cavern in the hills, we feel the presence
of a Deity : but we feel it much more when we see a brave
and pure soul rising superior to the menaces of calamity.
Look at her, Aulus, where she sits. In her calmness, in her
fortitude, in the serene and tranquil beauty of a counte-
nance on which no vice has set its mark, see the living
proof of her freedom from all blame ! Proclaim to Csesar,
to Regulus. to the society of Rome, to all the world, that
Pomponia has done or thought nothing unworthy of the
immortal gods, nothing unworthy of her ancestors, of her
husband, and of her home ! '

Many a cry of applause had greeted Seneca, as he thus ven-
tured to pour forth, in the secrecy of a domestic tribunal, the
thoughts which he had often uttered to his friends, and even
published in his writings. He sat down amid a murmur of
admiration, during which not a few of the noblest of his audi-
tors pressed round him with expressions of warmest congrat-
ulation, and Amplias, the Christian freedman of Pomponia, in
a burst of enthusiasm, bent down and kissed his hand. He
was deeply gratified by the impression he had made, for when
there was nothing to arouse his fear or imperil his ambition,
he felt a genuine happiness in doing deeds of kindness. But
he raised his hands for silence while the assembly awaited the
decision of those whom Plautius had asked to be his assessors
in the judgment.

They consulted together for a few moments, and then, amid
the deepest silence, Plautius rose. He was almost too much
moved to speak. It required all his Roman firmness and
dignity to force back the tears which were brimming in his
eyes, and to control into steadiness the voice which seemed
ready to break ; but he succeeded. Rising with dignity, he
said :


' Friends and kinsmen, I have consulted with those who
have shared with ine the responsibility of judgment. We are
agreed. The evidence is altogether worthless. Pomponia is
innocent of anything hostile to religion, or forbidden by the
laws of Rome. Friends and kinsmen, I thank you for your
presence and your counsel, and I thank you most of all, illus-
trious Seneca. I thank the Emperor, that he has spared us
the pain and anxiety of a public trial, and I shall announce to
him, and to all Rome, that Aulus Plautius will thank the gods,
even till death, that they have given him a wife so innocent,
so noble, and so chaste.'

Pomponia raised her eyes and her clasped hands to heaven
in a transport of gratitude, and as she did so a sudden burst of
sunshine streamed through the window, and glorified her face.
The lambent flame played over her hair, and lit up her fea-
tures, and gave to her calm beauty a heavenly radiance. This
was regarded as a complete justification of the sentence of ac-
quittal, and a visible proof of the divine favour. The hall re-
sounded with acclamations, and Claudia, who had been among
the witnesses of the scene, flung herself into the arms of Pom-
ponia, who tenderly folded the fair British maiden to her heart,
while Puclens looked on with a happy smile.

And when Pomponia retired to her own room, she knelt
down, and with bowed head, and clasped hands, and out-
stretched arms, poured out her thanks to Him who had been
her protector in this most painful trial of her life. She was a
confessor and a martyr, in will if not in deed ; for though she
had not been called upon to declare herself a Christian, she
had been prepared to do so if the question had been put to her.
When Plautius entered he found her praying, and as she rose
at his entrance he saw upon her features a beauty even brighter
than that which she had caught from the sunbeam which had
shone upon her in the hall.

' My wife,' he said to her very tenderly, as he kissed her. ' I
know not what to think of thy beliefs. Thou hast not con-
cealed from me that thou art of this new sect. I know that
men call it despicable and execrated ; but if it makes its vota-
ries such as thou art, it is more blessed and more potent than
the worship of the gods of Rome.'

' My Aulus,' she answered, ' I know well that as yet thou
canst not think with me. Yet thou, too, art dear to God, for


thou hast felt after Him if happily thou mightest find Him.
Our teachers say that He is no respecter of persons, but that
in every nation he that seeketh Him and doeth righteousness,
as thou dost, is accepted of Him. Fear not, my husband ; in
the next world, as in this, we shall be united, for thou art not
far from the kingdom of heaven.'




' Magnam reru sine dubio fecerimus si servulum infelicem in ergastulum
miserimus.' SENECA, De Ira, Hi. 32.

WE left Onesimus in a prison cell among the substructions of
the Palatine, his back sore with scourging, his soul torn with
shame and indignation. He cursed his folly, without repent-
ing of his faults. Once more he had thrown away every ele-
ment of prosperity ; and his manner of looking on life was
so entirely selfish that the source of his self-reproach was
rather the shipwreck of his chances than the moral instability
which had led to it. No news reached him in his prison. It
was not till his liberation that he learnt the fate of Britanni-
cus a fate which, if he had continued steadfast in duty, he
might have averted or delayed.

He knew that he could not be restored to his trusted posi-
tion as the servus a purpura of the Empress. He would lose
that, and with it lose all the flattery and gain which accrued
so easily to the higher slaves of Caesar's household. He doubted
whether even Acte's influence could screen him from the
consequences of an offense so deadly as misconduct in the
august presence of the imperial divinity. But he felt a des-
perate pride and a morbid shame which made him determine
to conceal all traces of himself and his misdemeanour from
Acte's knowledge.

His behaviour in prison was refractory, for the jailer had
taken a strong dislike to him, and delighted to humiliate this
bird of finer feather than those who usually came under his
charge. He was quite safe in doing so. There was little com-
passion in the breast of the steward who managed the slaves,
and rarely, if ever, did he take the trouble to inquire how a
prisoner was getting on, or whether he was alive or dead.
Amid blows and insults the heavy days dragged on, and



seemed interminable to the poor Phrygian youth. In the des-
peration of idleness he tried to find some amusement from
scribbling with a nail on the plaster wall of his dungeon, and
one day, thinking of the drunken bout which had reduced him
to this level, he defiantly scrawled ' When I am set free, I will
drain every wine-jar in the house.' 1

' Will you ? ' said the jailer, who had entered unobserved as
he finished his scrawl. ' You won't have a chance just yet,
my fine friend.'

He gave Onesimus a blow with his whip, which made
him writhe with anguish, and said, ' Thank Aimbis, I shall
be rid of you to-day. You are sent to the slave-prison (er-

' Who sends me ? ' asked Onesimus shuddering.

' What 's that to you, crucisalus ? ' said the slave, dealing
him another blow. 'Oh you writhe, do you, my fine bird?
What will you do when the bulls' hides rattle the cottabus
on your shoulders ? '

What he said was true. That evening Onesimus was loaded
with fetters and taken into the country.

The sight of slaves in chains being hurried off to punishment
was far too familiar to excite much notice in the streets of
Rome, but it was torture to Onesimus to be thus exposed
to the gaze and jeers of idle passers-by. He felt a painful
dread lest any of his friends above all, lest Acte, or Pudens,
or Titus, or Junia should see him in this wretched and dis-
graceful guise. No one, however, saw him, and that evening
he was safely lodged in the slave-jail attached to Nero's villa
at Antium.

The slave-jail was a perfect hell on earth. It presented
the spectacle of human beings in their worst aspect, entirely
dehumanised by despair and misery. The slaves who were
imprisoned there w T ere treated like wild beasts, and became
no better than wild beasts, with less of rage but more of
malice and foulness. They worked in chains, and were
driven to work with scourges. Torture and starvation were
the sole methods of government. They were a herd of
wretches clothed in rags, ill-fed, untended, unpitied, passing
their days and nights under filthy conditions and in pesti-
lential air, hateful and hating one another. Some of them
1 An actual ancient graffito of some imprisoned slave.


were men half mad and wholly untameable, who could not
be depended upon except so far as they were coerced by vio-
lence. Others were pure barbarians, only speaking a few
words of any intelligible language, and therefore useless in
a town famtiia. Others were criminals only exempted from
death because of the value of their labour. Some of them
knew that there was little chance of their being taken thence,
unless it were to be crucified, and that when death released
them, their bodies would be carelessly flung to rot amid
the seething abominations of the corpse-pits (putwuli) like
that which Onesimus had once seen in Rome near the Esqui-
line hill.

The only slaves who retained any vestige of decency and
self-respect in these seething masses of human misery and
degradation, were those who found themselves denizens of an
ergastulum for a short period, at the caprice of a master or
mistress. The experience was so terrible that it cowed the
most contumacious into trembling servility. A few came there
for no real fault, who were far less guilty of any misdoing
than the owners who subjected them to this dreaded punish-
ment. Sometimes a page or favourite who had been tempted
to speak pertly in consequence of too much petting, or a youth
who had been goaded into rebellion by the intolerable tyranny
of a freedman, or a slave whose blood had been turned into
flame by some atrocious wrong, learnt forever the hopeless-
ness of his condition, and the abjectness of his servitude, by
being sent there for a week or even for a month. Emerging
from that den of despair, a human being felt the conviction
enter like iron into his soul, that slaves were not men, and
had none of the rights of men ; and that, unless they wished
to throw away their lives altogether, no complaisance to an
owner could be too abject, and nothing must be considered
criminal which an owner required of his human chattel.

Oaths, and curses, and the lowest abysses of vileness in
human conduct, and that blackness of darkness which follows
the extinction of the last spark of humanity in the soul
of man, and the clanking of fetters all day long, and the
shrieks of the tortured, and the yelling of the scourged, and
jests more horrible than weeping, and the manifold leprosies
of all moral and physical disease all this Onesimus had to
witness, and had to endure, in the slave-jail at Antium. We


have read what prisons were before the days of Howard;
what penal settlements and convict ships were forty years
ago ; but men trained in the most rudimentary principles of
Christianity could not, under the worst circumstances, sink
quite so low, or be so wholly beyond the sphere of pity, as the
offscourings of pagan slavery, the scum of the misery of all
nations, huddled into these abodes of death.

It was soon whispered among the wretches there that the
handsome Phrygian youth had been high in place among the
attendants of Octavia, and had been favoured and promoted
by Acte. In their baseness they exulted at his humiliation,
and the extent to which his soul revolted from their malice
happily helped to preserve him from the contamination which
would have been involved in their friendliness. He lived
from day to day in the sullen silence of an indomitable pur-
pose. He did not know how long he would be kept there.
He waited a month, sustained by fierce resolve, and then
determined that, at the cost of life itself even if it should
end in feeding the crows upon a cross he would attempt his
escape. He knew that he had many foes among the strug-
gling envies of Caesar's palace, and lie suspected that Nero's
dispensator purposely intended to forget him, and to leave him
there to rot.

After a few days he was left comparatively unmolested by
his companions in misfortune, for there was no amusement to
be got out of his savage taciturnity. Once, when one of the
ruder denizens had tried to molest him, Onesimus struck him
so furious a blow with his fettered hands that he was looked
upon as dangerous. As he glanced round at the degraded
ugliness of the majority of the prisoners, whose faces only
varied in degrees of villany, he had less than no desire to join
their society. He saw but one on whom he could look with
any pleasure, or from whom he could hope for any sympathy.
This was a young man of honest and pleasant countenance,
whose name, he learnt, was Hernias, and who bore himself
under his misfortunes with sweetness and dignity. Like
Onesimus, he seemed to find his only relief in the strenuous
performance of the tasks allotted to him by the ergastularius,
and as Onesimus watched him he felt convinced that he was
there for no crime, and also that he was a Christian.

His conjecture was turned into a certainty by an accident.


One day, as Hermas was digging the stubborn soil, something
dropped out of the fold of his dress. He snatched it up
hastily and in confusion, and seemed relieved when he noticed
that no one but Onesimus had seen him. But the quick eyes
of the Phrygian had observed that what he dropped was a tiny
fish rudely fashioned in glass, on which had been painted the
one word CQClC, ' May'st thou save ! ' They were not un-
common among Christians, and some of them have been found
in the catacombs.

The fettered slaves were taken out in gangs every morn-
ing under the guardianship of armed drivers, whose whips
enforced diligence, and whose swords protected them from
assault. The refractory were soon reduced to discipline, but
those who worked diligently were not often tormented. In
the various works of tillage, Onesimus, hampered though he
was by his intolerable manacles, found some outlet for his
pent-up anguish and hard remorse. But no one can live
without some human intercourse, and one day, when Hermas
was working beside him, and none of the rest were near,
Onesimus glanced up at him and said the one word '
' Fish.'

Quick as lightning came the whispered answer '
' a little fish,' by which Hermas meant to imply that he was
a weak and humble Christian.

' And you ? ' he asked. ' Are you one of us ? '

Onesimus sadly shook his head. ' Perhaps I was, or might
have been, a Christian once.'

'Have you been illuminated and fallen away, unhappy
one ? '

' Ask me no more/ said Ouesimus. ' I am a lost wretch.'

' The Good Shepherd,' said Hermas, ' carne to seek and
save the lost.'

' Is is vain to talk to me,' said Onesimus. ' Tell me of
yourself. You are not a criminal, or a madman, or a bar-
barian, like these.'

'Talk not of them with scorn,' said Hermas. 'Are they
worse than the harlots and sinners whose friend Christ was ? '

Onesimus would not talk of Christ. 'I never saw you,'
he said, ' in Caesar's household.'

' No,' said Hermas ; ' I was the slave of Pedanius Secundus,
the city Prsefect. He has no rustic prison, and, being a friend


of Nero, he asked his freedman to get leave to send me

' But why ? '

' He bade me do what I could not do. Seeing that I was
strong and vigorous, he wanted me to marry one of his slave-
girls. The worshippers of the gods know nothing of what
marriage means. I loved a Christian maiden ; I refused the
union with a girl of evil character, who, being beautiful, had
been the victim of Pedauius already. He scourged me ; he
tortured me ; he threatened to fling me into his fish-ponds ;
and, when I still held out, he sent me here.'

' Is there no escape from this horrible place ? '

' When you go in again, look round you, and see how hope-
less is the attempt. The ergastulum is half subterranean. Its
windows are narrow, and high above our heads. If we at-
tempted to escape, the least noise would wake the jailers, and
some of these around us would be the first to curry favour by
helping to defeat our plan.'

' Is bribery useless ? '

' Even if I could get the money, I do not think it right to


'Because I think that Christ means us to endure all He
sends. I trust in Him. If He sends me hunger, I bear it. If
He casts me down, I believe that in due time He will lift me
up. If He suffers me to be sent to prison, I try to turn the
prison into His Temple. But I feel sure that He will deliver
me and that soon.'

Hernias was not wrong. His incarceration was short, be-
cause he was one of the few slaves in the family of Pedanius
whom the Prsefect could trust. Pedanius was a man whose
cruel indifference and imperious temper made him more than
usually obnoxious to his slaves. He lived in terror of them,
and tried to avert danger by inspiring terror into them. He
could not do without Hernias. He did not know that he was
a Christian ; but he knew that in other houses besides his
own there had recently sprung up a class of slaves honest and
faithful, and that Hermas was one of them. He married his
slave-girl to another youth, and Hermas was set free.

And then Onesimus, seeing that every other method of
escape was impossible, tried the effects of bribery. He had


managed, though with infinite difficulty, to conceal the gold
piece which Octavia had given him, and lie had noted that one of
the underlings of the prison-keeper seemed to be not unkindly
disposed to him. He was a man named Croto, chosen for the
office because his stalwart proportions and herculean strength
would make him formidable to any unruly slave ; but there
was a certain rough honesty and kindliness in his face which
made Onesirnus think that he might move his compassion.

Seizing his opportunity one day, as Croto passed him in the
field, he boldly whispered,

' Croto, if I gave you an aureus, would you swear to let me
have a chance to escape ? '

Croto looked long and hard at his beautiful face, and walked
on without a word. But as he returned from his rounds he
touched him, and said,

' Yes ; I pity you. You are not like the rest of this herd of
swine. Such things as an escape have happened ere now, and
no one is the wiser. Masters don't care to ask many questions.'

' I will trust you,' said Onesimus ; and tearing the aureus
from the hem of his dark serge dress, he slipped it into Croto's

' Keep awake to-night. The two who guard the door shall
be drunk. Get up a disturbance after midnight ; be near the
door, and when it opens The plan may fail, but it is the
only chance I can give you.'

Onesimus pointed in despair to the fetters on his feet.

'When a slave has shown himself quiet and reasonable,
they are sometimes removed ; and yours shall be. But the
manacles on your wrists must remain ; they are never removed
at night.'

Oiiesimus made his plans. At the dead of night, when the
prison was plunged in darkness for oil was much too dear
to be wasted on chained slaves he raised a great outcry, as
though he had been suddenly attacked. The slaves sprang up
from their pallets, heavy and confused with sleep. But One-
simus had all his senses on the alert, and by violently pushing
one, jostling against another, and striking a third, he soon had
the whole place in a tumultuous uproar of rage and panic,
during which he quietly crouched down beside the door. It
was opened by the sleepy and drunken guardians, to find the
cause of the disturbance, and, before they could be reinforced


by their more sober colleagues, Ouesimus dashed the lamp out
of the hand of one of them, tripped up the other, and ran to
hide himself in the dark corner of an adjacent street, behind the
Temple of Fortune. He succeeded, though with great pain, in
forcing one hand free from the chain ; and hiding the other,
with the rnanacle which dangled from it, under his sleeve, he
determined, at the first gleam of light, to try and find some
assembly of Christians. He knew that it was their custom to
meet at earliest dawn in secret places generally, if possible,
the secluded entrance to some sand-pit to sing hymns to
Christ as God, before the slumbering pagan population began
to stir. He was fortunate, for soon, with senses pretematu-
rally quickened by peril, he heard at no great distance the
faint sound of a hymn. He made his way towards the spot,
and concealed himself till the congregation should break up.
He knew that the last to leave was generally the Presbyter ;
and, waiting for him, he called him as he passed.

The Presbyter started, and said, 'Who goes there ?'

Onesinms stepped out of his hiding-place, and said, ' Oh, for
the love of Christ, help me to get free from this chain ! '

' Thou usest the language of a Christian,' said the Presby-
ter, ' but thy chain would prove thee a fugitive or a criminal.'

' I have erred,' said Onesinms ; ' but I am not a criminal.'

' The Presbyter fixed on him a long and troubled look.

'Thou hast adjured me,' he said, 'in the name of Christ: I
dare not refuse. But neither must I, for thy sake, imperil the
brethren. Hide thyself again. I will send my son, Stepha-
nus, to file thy chain, and then thou must depart. If thou hast
erred, may Christ forgive thee ! '

It was not many minutes before the young man came, and,
Avithout a word, filed the thinnest part of the manacle till
Onesimus was free.

' Peace be with thee, brother!' said Stephaniis. 'Men begin
to stir. Thou wilt be in danger. We dare not shelter thee.
It were best to hide here till nightfall. Food shall be
brought thee.'

Onesimus saw that the advice was good. Search might be
made for him ; but Antium was a large place, and the sand-pit
might escape observation. It was so ; bread and water were
left near his hiding-place, and at night he made his way to'
Gaieta, which was twenty miles away from Antium.




' Matrisque Deuin chorus iritrat, et ingeiis
Semivir, obscseno facies reverenda minori,

Jam pridem cui rauca cohors, cui tympana ceduut
Plebeia, et Phrygia vestitur bucca tiara.'

Juv. Sat. vi. 511.

ONESIMUS was still in evil case. Everywhere he was looked
upon with suspicious eyes. The mass of the population felt
an aversion for fugitive slaves, and such, at the first glance,
they conjectured him to be. His dress was a slave's dress
he had no means of changing it and his hand still bore the
bruises of the manacle. There was nothing for him to do but
to beg his way, and he rarely got anything but scraps of food
which barely sufficed to keep body and soul together. In
those days there had long been visible that sure sign of
national decadence,

' Wealth, a monster gorged
'Mid starving populations.'

1 Huge estates,' says Pliny, ' ruined Italy.' Along the roads
villas were visible here and there, among umbrageous groves
of elm and chestnut, and their owners, to whom belonged the
land for miles around, often did not visit these villas once in
a year. Onesimus would gladly have laboured, but labour
was a drug in the market. The old honest race of Eoman
farmers, who ate their beans and bacon in peace and plenty
by fount and stream, and who each enlisted the services of a
few free labourers and their sons, had almost entirely disap-
peared. The fields were tilled by gangs of slaves, whose only
home was often an ergastulum, and who worked in chains.
Luxury surrounded itself with hordes of superfluous and
vicious ministers ; but these were mainly purchased from
foreign slave-markets, and a slave who had already been in


service was regarded as a veterator, up to every trick and
villany for otherwise no master would have parted with
him. A good, honest, sober, well-behaved slave, on whose
fidelity and love a master could trust, was regarded as a
treasure ; and happy were the nobles or wealthy knights and
burghers who possessed a few such slaves to rid them from the
terror of being surrounded by thieves and secret foes. But
how was Onesimus, now for a second time a fugitive, to find
his way again into any honourable household ? As he thought
of the fair lot which might have befallen him, he sat down
by the dusty road and wept. He was hungry, and in rags.
Life lay wasted and disgraced behind him, while the pros-
pect of the future was full of despair and shame. He was a
prodigal among the swine in a far country, and no man gave
him even the husks to eat.

Misery after misery assailed him. One night as he slept
under a plane tree in the open air the wolves came down
from the neighbouring hills, and he only saved his life from
their hungry rage by the agility with which he climbed the
tree. One day as he came near a villa to beg for bread he
was taken for a spy of bandits. The slaves set a fierce
Molossian dog upon him, and he would have been torn to
pieces if he had not dropped on all fours, and confronted the
dog with such a shout that the Molossus started back, and
Onesimus had time to dash a huge stone against his snarling
teeth, which drove him howling away.

For one who thus wandered through the country there
were abundant proofs of the wretchedness and wickedness of
the lower classes of Pagan life. He observed one day the
blackened ruins of a large farm-house with its ricks and cattle-
sheds, and not far from it he saw the white skeleton of a
man chained to the hollow trunk of an aged fig-tree. The
spot seemed to be shunned by all human beings, as though
the curse of God were upon it. Onesimus was wandering
curiously about it, and trying to appease his hunger with a
few ears of corn from one of the half-burnt ricks, when the
shout of a shepherd on a distant hill attracted his attention.
He went to the man, who shared with him some of his black
barley-bread, and told him that he had shouted to warn him
from an 'ill-omened and fatal place.' 'Why ill-omened and
fatal?' asked Onesimus. 'The place belonged,' answered the


peasant, ' to a master who had entrusted the care of it to a
head slave. This man, though married, deserted his wife for
a free woman of foreign extraction, whom his master had
brought to the villa. The fury of his slave-wife turned into
raging madness. She burnt all her husband's accounts and
possessions. She thrust a torch into every rick and barn, and
when she saw the flames mount high, tied herself to her little
son, and precipitated herself with him into a deep well. The
master, furious at his losses, and shocked by such a tragedy,
inflicted a terrible vengeance on the guilty slave. Stripping
him naked, he chained him to the fig-tree, of which the hollow
trunk had been the immemorial nest of swarms of bees. He
smeared the wretch's body with honey, and left him to perish.'
The bleaching skeleton had become the terror of the neigh-
bourhood. No one dared to touch it, and the place, haunted
with dark spirits of crime and retribution, was shunned far and
wide as an accursed spot.

Sickened with miseries, Onesimus gradually made his
way to Pompeii. Every street and wall of the bright little
Greek town bore witness to the depths of degradation into
which the inhabitants had fallen, and the youth found that
the radiant scene, under the shadow of Vesuvius and its
glorious vineyards by that blue and sparkling sea, was a
garden of God indeed, but, like that of the Cities of the
Plain, awaiting the fire and brimstone which were to fall
on it from heaven. He was specially disgusted because,
alien as he was now from all Christian truth, he saw on
the walls of a large assembly-room in the Street of the Baths
a mass of scribblings full of deadly insults towards the
Christians. One in particular offended him, for, by way of
coarse satire on some Christian teacher, it said :

' Mulus hie muscellas docuit.'
' Here a mule taught small flies.'

It was evidently no place for any one who still loved
Christianity. Hurrying from its fascination of corruption,
to which he felt it only too possible that he might succumb,
he was for some time reduced to the very brink of starva-
tion, and was at last driven to live on such fruits and
berries as he could pluck from the trees and hedges. Once,
while he was trying to reach some wild crab-apples in a


place by the side of a little stream, which was overgrown
with dense foliage, he slipped, and fell crashing through
the brushwood into the deep and muddy water which was
hidden by the undergrowth. Too weak to rise and struggle,
he could only just support himself by clinging to a bough,
when his cries were heard. A labourer came and rescued
him, and left him sitting in the sunlight to dry his soaking
rags. And now he thought that there was nothing left him
but to die, and seriously meditated whether it would not be
best to fling himself into the green-covered sludge of black
water from which he had been rescued, and so to end his

A sound arrested him, and, lifting his head, he saw a group
of the eunuch priests of the Syrian goddess approaching along
the road, one of whom shook the jingling sistrum which had
attracted his attention. They were a company of seven, and
were men taken from the dregs of the populace. With them
was a stout youth, who rode an ass which carried their various
properties, the chief of which were musical instruments,
and the image of the goddess wrapped in an embroidered

As they passed they eyed him curiously, and stopped a few
paces beyond him as though for a consultation.

' A likely youth,' he heard one of them say, ' though now
he looks thin and miserable. We have long wanted another
servant. Would not he do for us, Philebus ? '

' Probably a runaway slave,' said another.

' What does that matter to us ? ' said Philebus. ' We can
say that he called himself free-born, and told us that he ran
away from the cruelties of a step-mother or anything else
we choose to invent. I will go and question him.'

Philebus was an old man with a wizened and wrinkled face.
The top of his head was bald ; the rest of his grey locks were
trained to hang round his head in long curls.

' Are you hungry ? ' he asked.

Onesimus nodded.

' Here is bread for you, and some flesh of kid, and some

Onesimus ate and drank with ravenous eagerness, and the
old man asked him, ' A fugitive slave ? '

'I was free born.'


' Hum-m ! ' muttered Philebus, incredulously. ' Well, you
are wet, hungry, ragged, miserable. Will you be our servant ? '

' I am not going to be a priest of the Syrian goddess,' said
Onesirnus, with horror.

' No one asked you to be/ answered Philebus, with a sneer.
.' You will have light work, good pay, good food.'

' What do you want me to do ? '

' Only to help in tending the ass, and cooking our meals,
and going round with the bag for us when we perform.'

The youth paused. Could he, once a Christian, accept this
degrading servitude to the vilest of mankind ? Yet, after all,
what was servitude ? What was degradation ? Could he be
more miserable than he was ? To be a servant of the Galli
was better than the suicide and the dimly imagined horrors
of that unknown world which he had just been about to

' I will come,' he said.

The old man brought him a tunic in place of his soaked and
torn dress, gave him more wine and food, and taking him to
the rest congratulated them on their new and handsome

Then began a mode of life which Onesimus could never
recall in after years without a blush of shame and indignation
a life of squalor, mendicity, and imposture, made more vile
by the sanction of abject superstition. In the morning, when
the priests drew near to any place where a few spectators
could be gathered together, they set out in motley array,
dressed in many-coloured robes, and with yellow caps of linen
or woollen on their heads. They smeared their faces with a
dye, and painted their eyes with henna. Some of them put
on white tunics, embroidered with stripes of purple, and
fastened with a girdle, and on their feet they wore shoes
dyed of a saffron colour. They placed on the back of the ass
the image of their goddess in its silken covering, and then,
with wild cries, began a dervish-like dance to the tones of the
flute played by their youthful attendant. During this dance
they bared their arms to the shoulder, and flourished aloft
swords and axes. In this way they wandered through various
hamlets till they reached the villa of a wealthy landowner.
Here they determined to exhibit the full extent of their mer-
cenary fanaticism. Looking on the ground, turning from side


to side with various contortions, whirling themselves round
and round till their long curls streamed from their heads, they
bit their arms, and at length cut some of their veins with the
weapons which they carried. Then Philebus simulated a sort
of epileptic fit. Falling to the ground, with long sobs, which
seemed to shake his whole body, he rolled about, accusing
himself of the deadliest crimes, like one possessed. After
this he seized a scourge, of which tiie long leathern thongs
were studded with bones, and scourged himself with all the
endurance of a fakir, till the soil was wet with the blood
which streamed from his own wounds and the gashes of his
comrades. The crowd looked on with a sort of stupor at the
hideous spectacle, and when it ended it was the part of
Ouesimus, on the attraction of whose personal appearance
the wretches relied, to go round with a bag for the offerings
of copper and silver coins which were abundantly bestowed
on them by the distorted religionism of the spectators. The
Galli were further rewarded with gifts in kind. One peasant
brought them milk, another bread, and corn, and cheeses, and
barley ; and a fanner gave them a cask of wine. All these
were placed in sacks, side by side with the image of the
goddess, upon the ass, which, as the flute-player wittily re-
marked to Onesirnus, 'was now both a barn and a temple.'
In this way they made spoil of all the country side.

Occasionally they were even more successful. If they
found a farmer specially credulous, they would tell him that
their goddess was thirsty, and needed the blood of a rarn,
promising him a prophecy of the future if he would provide
one for sacrifice. The sacrificial victim afforded them an
excellent banquet, to which they would invite the lowest
scoundrels, and fearlessly reveal themselves in their true
colours. Once one of the country landowners, named Bri-
tinuus, awe-struck by their supposed sanctity, invited the
whole company to the hospitality of his farm. Their stay
might have been prolonged but for two accidents. The cook
had been ordered to prepare a side of venison for a feast, but
this was stolen ; and, while he was in despair at the punish-
ment which would be inflicted on him for the loss, his wife
suggested that they should secretly kill the ass of the priests,
and cook part of it instead of the lost venison. But when
the cook came to the stable, the ass took fright, and rushed


straight through the house into the dining-room of the farmer,
upsetting the table with a huge crash. The next day a boy
burst in, with his face as white as a sheet, and told the terrified
Britinnus that a dog had gone mad, had sprung among the
hounds, and had bitten not only some of them and some of
the farm-cattle, but also Myrtilus, the muleteer, and Hep-
hsestion, the cook, and Hypatius, the footman. On this Bri-
tinnus assumed that the Galli had brought him ill luck, and
sent the whole troupe about their business.

In the neighbourhood of one town they took to fortune-
telling. Binding each person who consulted them to absolute
secrecy, they showed their lack of invention by returning the
same oracle to all. It was simplicity itself, consisting of the
two lines

' The oxen plough the furrowed soil,
And harvests rich repay their toil.'

Whether they were asked about plans for a matrimonial
alliance, or the heirdom to an estate, or anything else, this
oracle admitted of any interpretation they chose to put upon

Altogether sickened with his companions and with their
way of living, Oiiesimus was farther troubled by the insight
into every hidden wound and portent of pagan wickedness
which came to his ears, or which he witnessed in these
country wanderings. Long afterwards, when he was an old
man in Ephesus, he used to tell these stories to his friends,
to urge them to yet more zealous effort for the healing of that
heathen wickedness of which the whole head was sick and
the whole heart faint.

On one occasion, for instance, in his wanderings, the Galli
had been unable to collect an audience, because the entire
population of the little town of Varia was absorbed in the
interest of a trial which affected the family of one of their
prominent residents. A wealthy burgher had been left a
widower with an only son, a boy of modest character, and
devoted to his studies. Some years afterwards he married
again, and another son was born to him. By the time this
second boy was twelve years old his half-brother had grown
into manhood, and his step-mother, who hated him for his
virtues, determined to poison him. Summoning a slave


who was in her confidence, she sent him to a physician
to purchase poison, which she mixed in a cup of wine
and placed ready for the youth at the next meal. It
happened, however, that her own boy, returning hot and
thirsty from school, saw the wine on the table and drank
it. He had scarcely finished the draught, when he fell
to the ground as dead. The slave who attended him filled
the air with his clamour, and when the inmates of the house
came flocking in, one accused another of the crime. The
master of the house was out, and his wife sent to inform
him that her boy had been poisoned, that her step-son was
the murderer. The husband was crushed to the earth by the
double calamity. His boy was dead ; the elder son, of whom
he had been so proud, was to be tried for murder. Scarcely
were the boy's obsequies finished when the hapless father, his
grey hairs defiled with dust, hastened to the Forum, and
there embraced the knees of the magistrates, and besought
them to avenge him on the fratricide. The local Senate was
assembled, and the herald summoned the accuser. Onesi-
rnus, who had nothing to do that day, was present at the
trial. He heard the old man plead pathetically against the
son who had been the pride of his life and home ; he heard
the youth, with all the calm of innocence, deny the charge.
There was no evidence against him but the word of his step-
mother and her confidential slave. This man stood up with
a front of brass, and declared that the youth had been ac-
tuated by jealousy of his brother, and had poisoned him.
There was nothing to rebut this evidence, and every jury-
man was prepared to drop into the brazen urn the fatal
ticket marked with the letter C, for condemno, which would
have handed over the offender to be first scourged until his
bones were laid bare, and then to be sewed up in a sack witk
a cock, a dog, and a viper, and to be flung into the sea.
The heart of Onesimus bled for the youth. With his in-
stinctive power of reading character, he felt convinced of
his innocence. But while with palpitating heart he awaited
the voting, an aged physician arose, and, covering the orifice
of the voting-urn with his hand, he said : ' Fathers, let me
prevent the triumph of an infamous woman and a perjured
slave. That wretch came to me as a physician, and offered
me a hundred gold pieces for a poison. I read crime in the


man's face, and put the gold in a purse, which I made him
stamp with his seal. Here is the bag. Seize his hand, take
off his iron ring, and see whether this be not his seal. If it
is, clearly he, and not the poor youth yonder, was the pur-
chaser of the poison.' Onesimus turned his eyes on the slave.
His face had assumed a deadly pallor, and all his limbs had
burst into a cold sweat ; but even when his seal was recog-
nised, he continued to stammer protestations of his innocence.
He was tortured, but would not confess. Then the physician
rose with a mysterious smile. ' Enough of tortures,' he said.
' The time has come to unravel this web of villany. I sold to
yonder wretch, not poison, but mandragora. If, indeed, the
boy drank that draught, he does but sleep. About this time
he will be awakening, and may be brought back to the light
of day.' The magistrates at once sent messengers to the
sepulchre where the boy's body had been laid. The father
with his own hands removed the cover of the tomb, and there
lay the little lad, unchanged, and just beginning to awake,
with intense astonishment depicted on his features. Striv-
ing in vain to express his joy in words, the happy father
father once more of two dear sons, both of whom he thought
that he had lost folded the child to his heart in a close
embrace, and carried him as he was, with all his grave-clothes
about him, to the judgment seat. Terror-stricken by such
a portent, the woman confessed her crime, and was sentenced
to perpetual banishment ; the slave was crucified. 1

Next morning Onesimus, as he accompanied the priests
and their ass, saw the criminal hanging naked on his cross.
He was a man of fine proportions and in the prime of life,
and his strength was slowly ebbing away in horrible and
feverish torture. The Galli as they passed spat on him, but
Onesimus stayed behind. The wretch was not only living,
though in extreme agony, but would probably continue to live
for two days more, unless the wolves got at him or the
magistrates thought fit to send their lictors to end his life
by two blows of a ponderous mallet in order to save the
trouble of having the cross watched. It was no base curiosity
which made the Phrygian linger by that spectacle of shame
and anguish. It was rather an awful pity a heart-rending
remembrance. Sunk, fallen, ruined, guilty as he himself

* Note 33.


was, he yet could not see without horror this awful reminder
of One who had perished, since his own birth, in Palestine,
and in whom he had not yet ceased to believe as a Saviour,
though he had fallen away from his heavenly calling.

The man turned towards him his tortured face and glazing
eyes. ' By all the infernal gods,' he said, ' give me something
to quench iny thirst.'

' There are no infernal gods,' Onesimus said, ' but I will
give thee ;' and taking out from the bag which he carried a
bottle of the common posca sour wine which was the or-
dinary drink of the peasantry he poured a full draught
into an earthenware cup and held it to the sufferer's lips.
This he could easily do, for the cross (as always) was raised
but a little from the ground.

' God help thee ! ' he said, as he turned away. ' He helped
the robber on Golgotha,' he murmured to himself ; ' who
knows whether he may not find even this poor wretch in
his hour of agony yea, and even me ? '

' My blessing would be a curse,' moaned the crucified slave,
' or I would say, " The gods bless tJiee who canst pity such as
I am." '

Onesimus left him there in the pathos and tragedy of his
awful helplessness. The youth's soul was appalled by the
sense of the mystery of human life and human agony, and it
came home to him, as it had never done before, that the
solution of the fearful riddle of human wickedness could only
lie, if anywhere, in the life and death of Him in whom in
some sense he believed, but whose peace he did not know.

Before he joined his base troupe of companions he looked
back for a moment. There, in the blinding sunlight of the
Italian noon, stood the cross, accursed of God and man, the
gibbet of the malefactor, the infamy of the slave, confronting
the eye of heaven with a sight which, no less than that of the
Thyestean banquet, might have made the sun itself turn dark ;
and there, upon it, a mass of living agony, conscious, and
burning with thirst, and blinded with glare, and unpitied, and
burdened with an awful load of guilt, hung the human victim
who had once played an innocent child beside his mother's
knee. The soul of Onesimus was harrowed as he gazed on
that awful insult to humanity. The existence of crucifixion
showed how far the shadow had advanced on the dial-plate


of Eome's history. That form of punishment so cynical,
so ruthless, so abhorrent, which less than three centuries later
was to be abolished by the indignation of mankind had
been not indigenous in the Western world. It hud only been
borrowed by Koine, in the days of her commencing corruption,
from the dark and cruel East. That such a spectacle should
be permitted to the gaze of women and little children ; that
it should indurate still further the callosity of hardened
hearts, was in itself a token of degeneracy. The heart of
Ouesimus was full even to bursting as he saw that fearful
instrument of inhuman vengeance standing there by the road-
side among the darting lizards and chirping cicalas and mur-
muring bees ; and the goats stared at it with glassy eyes as
they cropped the luxuriant grass at the very feet of the vic-
tim in whom the majestic ideal of manhood was thus horribly
laughed to scorn.

Onesimus, as he finally turned away, felt it more degrading
than ever to continue his present life. Its plenty and coarse
comfort, accompanied as it was by the necessity of spending
his days with these sexless and lying vagabonds, filled him
with a sense of nameless humiliation. Yet what could he
do ? What other choice had he save to starve or to commit
suicide ? For then he remembered with a start that he was
twice a thief, twice a fugitive, almost a murderer ; that he
had betrayed the trust reposed in him by Acte ; that by his
mad drunkenness he had insulted the majesty of Nero. In
every sense even his fellow-slaves would have called him
furcifer. And if he were once detected, in spite of the dye
with which he had stained his face, and the blond wig by
which the Galli had tried at once to conceal his identity and
to enhance his beauty, what awaited him ? Was he, too,
destined to feed the wild birds upon the cross ?

It seemed as if that would be better than to beg from the
gulled throngs of peasants, and dupe the credulity of farmers,
and witness day by day the stupid and loathly self-gashing
and self-scourging of these deplorable eunuch priests. More
than once he thought that he would get up by night, seize
the image of the Syrian goddess, and fling her into the greenest
and slimiest pool he could find, among the efts and water-
beetles and frogs; while he himself would plunge into the path-
less wastes until he should gain the sea-shore, work his passage


on board a ship to Troas or Ephesus, and so making his way
back to quiet Colossae, would fling himself at the feet of
Philemon and implore the forgiveness which he felt sure
would not be long withheld.

But that ' unseen Providence which men nickname chance '
came to rescue him from his unhealthy bondage. As they
were starting for one of their exhibitions in their usual
motley and many-coloured gear, the Galli suddenly heard
the sound of horses' hoofs, and, before they knew where to
turn, a body of mounted soldiers came thundering down upon
them, drew their swords, surrounded and seized the whole
company, and, beating the wretched priests with their fists
and the Hat of their swords, called them thieves and all other
opprobrious names, and charged them with having stolen a
golden beaker from a neighbouring temple of the Mother of the
Gods. In vain the Galli protested and swore their innocence
and threatened the soldiers with the vengeance of the Syrian
goddess for this insult to her ministers. The soldiers si-
lenced their curses with blows, and, tearing away the cover-
ing of the image, found the golden beaker wrapped up
within it.

Detected in their theft, the priests were still unabashed.
After an evening sacrifice they had watched their oppor-
tunity, concealed the sacred cup of Cybele, and at the grey
dawn had made their way out of the pomcerium of the city,
trusting to get sufficiently far to elude pursuit. The beaker
was, however, ancient and valuable, and the police asked the
mounted soldiers to help them in tracking the fugitives.

' It was not a theft,' said Philebus, who was archigallus.
' The Mother of the Gods freely lent the beaker to her sister
the Syrian goddess, who intended shortly to return it to
her. You cannot escape her wrath for this outrage.'

The soldiers and their decurio broke into loud laughter at
the threat, and without ceremony put gyves on the wrists of
the seven Galli. They consulted whether they should also
arrest Onesimus and the flute-player, but Onesimus said that
he was ignorant of the theft, that neither he nor his com-
panion who were acting as slaves of the priests had ever
been permitted to see the contents of the silken veil. The
soldiers believed him, and all the more because they did not
care to burden themselves with too many prisoners. They


took the Galli to Naples, where Onesimus was afterwards
told that they had been scourged, imprisoned, and mulcted
of all they possessed.

Free once more, and not troubling himself about their
fate, Onesimus asked the flute-player what he meant to do.
Finding that he regarded his present calling as too comfort-
able a berth to be given up, Onesimus left him and made
his way disconsolately to Baise.



'Laudabile est infelicis scire misereri.' VAL. MAX. v. i. 8.

CAST once more on his own resources, Onesimus tried his
chance of earning a living in the streets. He had a little
money in hand, and, seeing that the street vendors drove a
brisker trade in drink than in anything else, he bought two or
three dozen bottles of posca, and sold them at a small profit
to the poorer wayfarers. In this, as in all his adventures,
his good looks were of use to him, for men and women alike
were more inclined to buy of a lively and pleasant youth than
of the wandering Jews and beggars who sometimes attempted
the same trade. He began to think that, for the present, he
could keep soul and body together in this way ; but he had
been rash in choosing a place so near Rome, and still more
rash in discarding his disguise.

For one day, as he was calling out the merits of his
wine in his clear, ringing voice, and making the people
laugh witli his jokes, Dama, the steward of the lovely villa
which Nero owned at Baia3, caught sight of him. The man
had often been to the Palace on business connected with his
accounts, and had noticed Onesimus, then dressed in gay attire
and at the zenith of his prosperity, as a youth high in favour
in the imperial household. He had heard from Callicles,
Nero's dispensator, of the drunken escapade which had put so
sudden an end to his good fortune, and of his subsequent flight
from the ergastulum. Now the flight of any slave, but above
all of one of Cesar's slaves, was so capital an offence that
Callicles had asked his friend to keep a good lookout for the
recovery of the fugitive. A glance made him nearly sure
of the identity of Onesimus, but to be quite certain he took
out a copy of the reward which had been offered. It ran as
follows :


' Wanted, a fugitive slave,

Aged about 17.
Handsome, with dark curly hair,

Named Onesimus.

Any one who will give him up, or indicate
where he may be arrested, shall receive a reward of
a thousand sesterces.'

To be quite sure of his prey, Dama stole away so as to ap-
proach Onesiinus from behind, and coming up to him tapped
him smartly on the shoulder and said ' Onesimus.'

' Yes ? ' said Onesiinus with a violent start, taken completely
off his guard.

' I thought so,' said Dama, with an unpleasant smile. ' Come
with me, my gay fugitive. Csesar can't possibly spare such a
lively and good-looking slave as you; and I shall be very glad
of a thousand sesterces.'

Onesimus tried to dart away in flight, but the remorseless
hand of Dama clutched his shoulder with too tight a grasp, and
with a gesture of despair he remained silent.

' Eescue ! rescue ! ' cried some of the crowd who pitied
him, and with whom he was a favourite ; and as no soldiers
or police were in sight one or two stepped forward to give the
youth a chance.

' Eescue ? ' said Dama, looking around him with cool
contempt. ' Don't you know who I am ? Do you dare to
interfere with the arrest of a runaway from Caesar's
Palace ? '

The crowd fell back awe-struck before the awful name of
Caesar, and Datna despatched a slave to bring fetters from
Nero's villa hard by. Onesimus was once more a chained
criminal with a destiny before him even more horrible than
any of which he had yet been in danger. He thought of the
poor wretch to whom he had given drink as he hung on his
cross. Would that be his own fate of agony now in the flush
and heyday of his youth ?

Next morning he was sent off towards Rome. He thought
of trying to communicate with Acte, who had been deeply
grieved by losing sight of him. But this was impossible.
There was no one to take any message for him. He was told
that not only Callicles on whom fell in part the disgrace of
his escape but Nero himself was bitterly incensed against
him, first, for his unpardonable indiscretion, then for his flight,


and lastly though this was a secret motive because it had
come to his ears that Onesimus had beeu the slave who had
defeated the midnight attempt on the life of Britannicus.
Onesimus, when he had drunk too much Sabine wine, had
sometimes forgotten all reticence, and Nero believed that it
was through him that certain dark secrets of the Palace had
come to be whispered among the lower orders of the Eoman
population. Acte herself would have been powerless to defend
him. One day Octavia, finding that her purple robes had been
looked after less skilfully than they had been when under his
care, had asked some question about him in the presence
of Nero. The Emperor \vas angry at the mention of his
name. Some slaves had been in the room on the occasion,
and the circumstance had become notorious in the gossip of
the Palace. The unhappy young Phrygian was told that he
would probably be crucified ; but if riot, he would be tied to
the furca and scourged, perhaps to death, with the horrible

On his arrival at Rome the order was given. He was to
be beaten practically to death. In indescribable anguish
of soul he spent what he believed to be his last night on

Next morning the furca two pieces of wood nailed
together in the shape of the letter ^ was placed on his
neck, his hands were fast bound to the ends of the wood,
and he was led out towards the Esquiline, where afterwards
his corpse would be flung into the common pit.

He was too much stunned and stupefied even to pray.
The iron had entered deep into his soul. He looked on
himself as a lost apostate who would end a life of miserable
failure by entering into the outer gloom beyond, where he
feared that the face of the Saviour of whom he once had
heard would be utterly turned away from him.

But his hour had not yet come.

Stooping under the furca, with his arms already cramped
by their unnatural position, he was led by the slaves and
lictors who were to preside at his execution into the Vicus
Tuscus on the way to the Esquiline. But as they entered
the long street a boy who was strolling towards the Gelotian
house caught sight of them, and no sooner had his quick eye
seen them than he took in the whole situation at a glance.


It was Titus, much sobered from the gay lad he once
had been, and still pale from the illness caused by the sip
he had taken of the poison which had carried off Britanni-
cus. He recognised Onesimus, and a Palace rumour had
that morning made him aware of the Phrygian's peril.
He looked on the slave-youth as a protege of his own, for
his admission into the family of Pudens had been mainly
due to his intercession. He also felt grateful to him for his
ready services towards the murdered friend of his youth,
and his kindly heart was filled with pity.

A way of saving him had flashed across his mind, and, bid-
ding his slaves follow him, he darted off at a pace too swift
for Roman dignity. In an adjoining street he met as he
was well aware that he should meet a beautiful and stately
lady whom he knew, and who was very fond of him. It was
Lselia, the senior vestal, the Virgo Maxima.

Greeting her with extreme reverence, he yet ventured to
make her an unsuspecting agent in his little plot.

' Noble Lselia,' he said, with the charm of manner which
few could resist, and with a ready fertility of invention, ' I
have just seen in the book-shop of Atrectus, in the Argiletum,
just opposite the Forum of Julius, a charming little copy of
Virgil's Eclogues with such a good portrait ! You promised
me a present on my last birthday, and said I should choose it
myself. May I have that book, and will you come and buy
it for me ? It is my birthday to-day.'

' Certainly,' said the vestal, with a smile. ' For a boy like
you, so good and steady, I would do much more than that.'
She little guessed that the birthday was a fib extemporised by
Titus for his own purposes, for his birthday was on Decem-
ber 30.

'Thanks, dear vestal,' said Titus. 'Will you not come by
this short cut ? '

He led her by the hand, her lictor following, into the Vicus
Tuscus, which was close by the Argiletum', where he well
knew that she would not fail to meet Onesimus and his escort.
As they approached he said :

' Oh, Laelia, how I should like to have your privilege of
saving the lives of the wretched ! See, there is some miser-
able slave whom they are taking to scourge or crucify. Will
you not intercede for him ? '


Tor a poor furcifer like that?' asked Lselia. 'Our high
privilege is used for nobles at the lowest, for freedmen.'

' Are not slaves men like ourselves ? ' he asked. ' Musonius
says so ; and Seneca says so. Look, what a fine youth he is !
He looks as if he had been free-born ; and I dare say he has
done nothing really wrong.'

Lselia glanced at the pallid, beautiful face of the sufferer. It
would hardly have touched her heart, accustomed as she had
been to the massacres of the arena, to which Nero of late
years had invited the vestal virgins. But there was some-
thing in his youth, and something in the earnest pleading of
her favourite Titus something perhaps also in the sense of
power which decided her to interfere.

' Stop ! ' she said to the lictors and soldiers, as they bowed
reverently before her majestic presence. 'By virtue of my
office, I bid you take off that furca, and spare the life of
your prisoner.'

' He is a runaway slave, whom for great misdemeanours the
Emperor has ordered to be scourged,' said Callicles, stepping

' Dare you disobey the Virgo Maxima ? ' asked Lselia, with
flashing eye. ' Do you think that even the Emperor will in-
sult the majesty of Vesta and her sacred fire, by questioning
the immemorial prerogative of her eldest vestal ? Take off
the furca at once ! '

The very lictors were overawed by her gesture of command.
They hastily unbound the tired arms of Onesimus, and took
the furca off his neck. What would happen to him he knew
not, but he knew that for the time his life was saved.

' Thanks, kindest of vestals,' said Titus, gratefully kissing
the purple hem of her mffibulum, and not betraying by look or
sign that Onesimus was known to him. 'I never saw a ves-
tal exercise her prerogative before, and I am so glad to have
seen it. May Vesta reward your sleep with her divinest
dreams ! May Opiconsiva bless you ! '

' Opiconsiva ? ' said the vestal with difficulty suppressing a
smile; 'is the boy laughing at me? What do you know of
Opiconsiva ? '

'Not much,' said Titus, 'except that she has something to
do with vestals ; and if so, Lselia must be very dear to her ! '

Onesimus, with his usual quickness, took his cue from the


conduct of Titus. The right of the vestals was well known
in Rome, though it was rarely used, for they were not often
seen in the streets. But it was understood that, in order to
be valid, the meeting of vestal and criminal must be acciden-
tal. Lselia would have been seriously displeased had she
known that she was in reality the victim of a little plot on
the part of her boy-friend, and Titus was in some trepidation
till he had hurried the vestal past the prisoner, and to the
choice book-stall which was spread with the purple bindings
of Atrectus. There she not only purchased for him the copy
of Virgil, but, as he had quoted Seneca, she also gave him a
radiant little volume of some of his treatises from the shop
of his bookseller, Dorus, hard by. When she gave him this
second gift the delighted youth felt a little compunction at his

No one knew what he had done ; but, when he narrated
the incident to Pudens, the tribune suspected the real state of
the case, for the boy's eye twinkled suspiciously as he told his
little story with the most innocent candour.





' Inde metus maculat poeuarum prsemia vitae,
Circumretit enira vis atque injuria quemque . . .
Nee facile est placidam ac pacatam degere vitam
Qui violat facteis communia federa vitee.'

LUCRET. De Her. Nat. v. 1151.

THE career and character of Nero grew darker every year,
for every year more fully revealed to him the awful abso-
luteness of his autocracy. No one dreamed of disputing his
will. Every desire, however frivolous, however shameful, how-
ever immense, was instantly gratified. His Court was pro-
lific of the vilest characters. There was scarcely a man near
his person who did not daily extol his power, his wit, his
accomplishments, his beauty, his divinity. ' Do you not yet
know that you are Caesar ? ' they whispered to him if he
hesitated for a moment to commit some deadly crime, or
plunge into some unheard-of prodigality.

All things went on much as usual in the corrupt, trem-
bling world of Rome. To-day some wealthy nobleman would
commit suicide, amid the laudations of his friends, out of
utter weariness of life. To-morrow all Rome would be talk-
ing of the trial of some provincial governor who had gorged
himself with the rapine of a wealthy province. Or everybody
would be whispering a series of witty pasquinades, attributed
to Antistius Sosianus or Fabricius Veiento, full of lacerating
innuendoes, aimed now at the Emperor and now at some pro-
minent senator. Paetus Thrasea and the peril he incurred by
his opposition to the Court furnished a frequent subject of
conversation, both to his Stoic admirers and to the rabble of
venal senators, who cordially hated him. ' To put Thrasea to
death would be to slay virtue itself,' said the graver citizens.


'He is a pompous sham, who wants taking down,' said the
gilded youth.

It was a fearful comment on the wretchedness of the times
that most of the prominent thinkers and statesmen looked on
self-destruction as the sole path to freedom, and the hest boon
of heaven. They thought it a proof of philosophic heroism
when a man died calmly by his own hand, though the act
involves no more courage than the vilest of mankind can
evince. Seneca tells with rapture the story of the death of
Julius Canus. The Emperor Gaius had said to him, after a
quarrel, ' That you may not deceive yourself, I have ordered
you to be led to execution.' ' I thank you, excellent prince,'
said Canus. Ten days passed, and Canus spent them without
the smallest sign of trepidation, awaiting the tyrant's mandate.
When the centurion arrived at his house with the order that
he was to die, he was playing at draughts. He first counted
the pieces, and then said with a smile to his friend, ' Mind
you don't claim the victory when I am dead. You, centurion,
will be the witness that I have one piece more than he has.'
Observing the grief of his friends, he said, ' Why are you sad?
You are perplexed about the question whether souls are
immortal or not. In a moment or two I shall know. If I
can come back I will tell you.' l

The letters, and all the latest writings, of Seneca vibrate
with terror. They are full of the thought of death, and doubt-
less he lived with the sense of such grim satisfaction as could
be derived from the thought that if life became too unbear-
able he could end it. ' And death/ he said to himself, ' means
only " not to be." ' 2

And all this was felt even in Nero's 'golden quinquen-
nium ' ! Men boasted of the happiness of the days in which
their lot was cast, but they knew that under their vine-
yards burnt the fires of a volcano. Common conversation,
home life, dinner parties, literature, philosophy, virtue, wealth,
were all dangerous. Neither retirement nor obscurity always
availed to save a man. The only remedy was to learn en-
durance ; not to fill too prominent a place ; not to display too
much ability; never to speak in public without a digression in

1 Sen. De Tranq. An. xiv. 7.

2 Sen. Up. liv. : ' Mors est non esse.' Troades, v. 393: ' Post mortem nihil
est, ipsaque Mors nihil.


flattery of the Emperor ; to pretend cheerfulness though one
felt anguish ; and to thank the tyrant for the deadliest injuries,
like the rich knight who thanked Gains when he had killed
his son.

Now and then some painful incident, like the bitumen
which floats up from the Dead Sea depths, showed the foul-
ness which lay beneath the film of civilisation. Such, for
instance, was the fate of Octavius Sagitta, the tribune of the
people, and one of Nero's intimates, who was banished for the
brutal murder of a married lady who had played fast and
loose with his affections. Such, too, was the savage attack
made upon Seneca in the Senate by the aged informer Publius
Suillius, whose sneers and denunciations caused bitter anguish
to the unhappy philosopher. But Nero recked little of such
scenes ; and as time went on, he fell wholly under the influ-
ence which, even more than that of Tigellinus, developed his
worst impulses. He became more and more enslaved by the
fatal fascinations of the wife of Otho.

Poppaea had every charm and every gift except that of
virtue. From the moment that she had riveted the wander-
ing fancy of Nero at the banquet of her husband, she felt
sure that her succession to the splendour of an Augusta was
only a matter of time. There were obstacles in the way.
Otho loved her to distraction. Nero still admired him, and
did not think of putting him to death. Nor did he venture
to defy public opinion by taking her from her husband, as
Augustus had taken Livia from the elder Tiberius. Octavia
was Empress, and as the daughter of Claudius, she had a
hold on the affections of the people. As the niece of Ger-
manicus, she was dear to the soldiers. Her life was blame-
less, and Agrippina was anxious to protect her, though she
knew that it was impossible to make Nero a faithful hus-
band. Octavia retained the distinction of a consort, if she
had none of the love which was a wife's due.

Poppaea determined to surmount these difficulties, and she
it was who gradually goaded her imperial lover to the worst
crimes which disgrace his name. Through two murders and
two divorces she waded her way to a miserable throne.

Her first husband was Rufius Crispinus, by whom she had
a son. She had accepted the advances of Otho, who passed
for the finest of the young Roman aristocrats ; but she aimed



from the first at becoming Empress, and it was with this aim
that she had flung her spells over Nero. Her consummate
beauty was enhanced by the utmost refinements of a coquette.
She pretended to love Nero passionately for his own sake, as
though she had become enamoured of his personal beauty ; yet
while she thus allured his devotion, she carefully checked
his advances with a bewitching semblance of modesty. She
played the part of the honourable Roman matron. She ex-
tolled the open-handed liberality and artistic grace of Otho.
She taunted Nero with his love for a freedwoman like Acte.
Above all, she missed no opportunity of deepening his irri-
tation against his mother. She saw the instinctive fear of
Agrippina which Nero could never quite throw off, and feel-
ing convinced that so long as the Empress-mother lived she
could not supplant Octavia, she made it her aim to goad
Nero to her murder or banishment. Whenever she saw him
most enraptured with her charms when his hand wandered
to the golden tresses, full of burning gleams in the sun-
light, which Nero had astonished the poets by describing as
' amber- hued,' and which were the despair and envy of the Ro-
niaii ladies she would push his hand aside, and tell him that
she was much happier as the wife of Otho than she could be
in a palace where her lover was still subject to the maternal
sway of one who detested her. Nero became haunted by the
fixed impression that he could never be free and never be
happy while Agrippina lived. PoppaBa did not even hesitate
to taunt him. ' You a Caesar! ' she said. 'Why, you are not
even a free man ! You are still a schoolboy tied to your
mother's girdle ! '

Nero saw but little of Agrippina. She spent much of her
time at one or other of her numerous villas, and rarely occu-
pied the palace of Antonia at Rome. Yet he felt sure that
during her sullen isolation she had never abandoned her
designs. She might seem to be living in retirement, busy with
the improvement of her gardens, or amusing herself with her
talking starlings and nightingales ; but he knew her too well
to imagine that she acquiesced in a defeat which she might
yet retrieve. She was but forty-two years old, and in past
days she had shown that she knew how to wait. It was known
that she was writing her own memoirs, and that their scanda-
lous pages abounded in accusations against others, so dark as


to render men more credulous of the worst accusations which
were launched against herself. How could Nero tell what
might be passing between her and Octavia when they ex-
changed visits ? His timid and conscience-stricken nature
often imagined that she might be intriguing with Faustus
Sulla or Rubellius Plautus, both of whom, like himself, were
scions of the imperial family of the Caesars. He saw in her
the one fatal obstacle to the fulfilment of his desires.

And she, in those grim years of terror, knew well that Pop-
paea was no gentle girl like Acte, but would strive to trample
on her rivals as Agrippina herself had done in former years.
The struggle against Poppaea and her beauty and her ambition
would be a straggle of life and death. And, indeed, the
bitterness of death was almost past, for her son stooped to the
most ignoble methods for rendering her life miserable, and
humiliating her even to the dust. At Rome he set on his
emissaries to harass her with lawsuits ; and, stooping to yet
more vulgar baseness, he paid the lowest of the populace to
annoy her with coarse jests and infamous reproaches, which
they shouted at her from boat or roadside, when she was rest-
ing at her country houses.

An attempt was made to poison her at a banquet given by
Otho ; but Agrippina was wary and abstemious. She had
watchful slaves and freedmen near her person, and the attempt
failed. Nero persuaded himself that his mother was watching
him like a tiger-cat in act to spring. It was not only Poppaea
who inflamed his hatred. Tigellinus also had his own designs.
He suggested that Otho should first be got out of the way,
and then that the death of Agrippina should leave the path
open for Nero's union with the siren who had mastered his
soul. Octavia, without Agrippina to help her, was hardly
considered in the light of an obstacle. She could be swept
aside with ease.

The first step was soon taken. Otho was sent as governor
to Lusitania. So long as he was there he could not stand in
Nero's way. The exile cherished his love for Poppaea to the
last ; and during his brief spell of empire he induced the
Senate to honour her with statues. But he never saw her

One day, as Nero sat, with Tigellinus by his side, looking
on at a sham sea-fight, for the purpose of which the arena had


been flooded, they were struck with one of the novelties which
Arruntius Stella, the president of the games, had devised for
the amusement of the populace. During the fight one of the
vessels had been so constructed as to go to pieces, to pour a
number of armed men out of its hold, and then to be reunited
into a trireme as before.

Tigellinus touched the arm of Nero, and Nero, filled with
the same thought, turned to him a glance of intelligence.

' The sea is a treacherous element,' said Tigellinus.
' All sorts of strange and unaccountable accidents happen
at sea.'

' 1 wonder who could make me a ship of that kind,' said
the Emperor.

' Your old tutor, Anicetus. He is at this moment admiral
of the fleet at Misenum. Stella would put at his disposal the
artist who contrived this vessel. One like it could be made
in a few weeks, and magnificently adorned for the use of the

' How could she be induced to go on board ? '

' She is at Antium ; you are going to Baise. The Feast of
Minerva is coming on. You must be reconciled to her pub-
licly, must invite her to your villa, and must place the galley
at her disposal.'

The sea-fight went on, but it was observed that after the
new contrivance of the mechanical ship, Nero did not pay
much attention to it. He was apparently lost in thought. He
was impatiently revolving in his mind the intolerable condi-
tions by which he was surrounded. On the one side was his
mother, haughty, menacing, powerful in spite of her de-
thronement ; and, on the other, Poppsea entangling him in her
sorceries, worrying him with importunities, goading him to
matricide with envenomed taunts. And behind them both
stood the spectre of his tormenting conscience, with thrilling
whisper and outstretched hand.

And thus it was that the world went on. In that age
morality had well-nigh vanished because faith was well-nigh
dead. Man cannot live without a conscience or without God.
Guilty pleasure is brief-lived, and afterwards it stingeth like
a serpent. It is self-slain by the Nemesis of satiety. The
wickedest age the world has ever seen was also the most
incurably sad.


Bat for the poor Christians of Home, though the days were
so evil, life had neither tumult nor terror. They had found
that which more than compensated them for the trials of the
world. Their life was a spiritual life. To them, to live was
Christ. They possessed the strange secret of joy in sorrow,
the boast of which upon the lips of the Stoics was an idle
vaunt. That secret lay in a spiritual conviction, an indom-
itable faith, above all, in an In-dwelling Presence which
breathed into their souls a peace which the world could
neither give nor take away. The life which was to most
of their contemporaries a tragedy without dignity, or a
comedy without humour, was to them a gift sweet and
sacred, a race to be bravely run under that lucent cloud
which shone with the faces of angel witnesses, a mystery
indeed, yet a mystery luminous with a ray which streamed
to them out of God's Eternity from the Glory of their Eisen



' It was not in the battle,

No tempest gave the shock ;
She sprang no fatal leak,

She ran upon no rock '


' Hsec monstra Neroni
Nee jussse quondam prrestiteratis aquae.'

MART. iv. 63.

BALE in the springtide of A. D. 59 must have heen as lovely a
place as the world can show. Its blue sky, its soft air, its
sparkling sea, its delightful shore, its dry hard yellow sands
and rocks gleaming in the clear water, its green and wooded
heights, combined with its healing waters and splendid build-
ings to make it a fairyland of beauty and enjoyment. Marius,
Pompey, Ccesar, had built villas there, and the whole line of
coast to Puteoli had gradually become crowded with the gay
houses of the Eoraan aristocracy. Temples, and baths, and
theatres, and palaces rose on every side, among groves enriched
with grottoes and blooming like a garden'of enchantment with
fruits and flowers. Passing the promontory of Misenum, the
traveller first arrived at the bright town of Baise itself, and
then at the more quiet and exclusive Bauli, until he reached
the lakes of Lucrine and Avernus, of which the former had
been joined to the sea by a canal, and protected by the
magnificent causeway of Agrippina's grandfather Agrippa.
Beyond these was Puteoli, with the stately and pillared
fane of Serapis, the ruins of which still attest its former

The festive splendour of the lovely and dissolute resort was
heightened by the universal holiday of the Quinquatrus, or
Feast of Minerva. It was kept almost like our Christmas-
tide. All the boys had five days' holiday, beginning on March


19, and were at home from their various schools, adding fresh
mirth to the joyous watering-place. There were exhibitions
of wild beasts, and plays, and poetic and oratorical contests ;
and on the fifth day of the festival, which was called the
Tubilustrium, all the trumpets were blown, and the sacred
implements of the temples lustrated.

By this time Nero had accustomed himself to the thought
of getting rid of his mother by treacherous violence. His five
years of empire had inspired him with audacity and confidence.
His passion for Poppaea burned with ever fiercer flame. His
hatred for Agrippina, as the main obstacle in the path of his
desires, grew daily more sullen ; and Poppaea had aroused his
fears by persuading him that his mother was plotting against
his life. Since poison had failed, and he shrank from using
the dagger, he had determined to follow the deadly suggestion
of Tigellinus, and to make it appear that the Augusta had
perished in an accident at sea.

To prepare the way for his purpose, he began to express his
determination to be reconciled with his mother. ' The anger
of parents,' he said, ' must be cheerfully borne. It is my duty
as a son to soothe my mother's irritation. I long to be on
good terms with her once more.' Again and again he repeated
these sentiments to various persons, and he took care that they
should reach the ears of his mother. Octavia herself, grateful
for the efforts of Agrippiua on her behalf, told the Augusta
that Nero's feelings seemed to be undergoing a change, and
that perhaps he would restore to her, spontaneously, her
former honours. The hope kindled by this intelligence fell on
the last days of the Empress-mother like a ray of cruel sun-
shine out of the thunder-clouds which had so long been gather-
ing around her. It was natural that in her misery she should
be credulous of good tidings, and perhaps her heart was soft-
ened to her son by the fact that she was now living in the
villa at Antium where she had given him birth, and in which
nearly every room recalled the memories of his childish
brightness, and the winning trustfulness of a heart as yet
unstained, of a beauty as yet unshadowed by evil secrets and
base desires. The villa was full of splendour. The Apollo
Belvedere and the Fighting Gladiator were but two of the
many statues which adorned it. But what was art, what was
splendour to a mind diseased ? She found more happiness


in the tame birds which would settle on her finger, and the
yellow brown-marbled lampreys which came to feed out of
her hand.

On March 18, the day before the Feast of Minerva began,
her heart throbbed with pleasure to receive a delightful letter
from her sou. Couched in the most loving terms, it conveyed
to her a genial invitation to come to him at Baise, and there
to spend, in due mirth and feast, the first day of the festival.
' Fancy that I am a schoolboy once more,' wrote Nero, ' and
that you, my loving mother, are welcoming me home for my
holidays.' How could Agrippina help indulging the hope that
better days had at last begun to dawn ? The next morning,
gladder than she had ever been since her husband's murder,
she made her way through the grounds of her villa to the little
haven where was moored the Liburnian galley which she used
for excursions along the shore.

Agrippina thought that Nature had never looked lovelier as
she glided over the flashing waves, and her stalwart rowers in
gay liveries,

' Bending to their oars with splash and strain,
Made white with foam the green and purple sea.'

They had hardly rounded Cape Misenum when they met the
imperial yacht in which Nero had sailed to meet her. He
came on board her galley, warmly embraced her, and accom-
panied her to the landing-stage of her villa at Bauli, where
he bade her farewell, saying that they would meet again
in the evening. ' And look, mother,' he said, ' I have
provided that you shall be conducted to BaiaB with proper

He pointed to a yacht anchored under the trees of her villa,
manned with the imperial marines, and superb with flutter-
ing pennons and decorations of gilding and vermilion. It was
more splendid than any to which she had been accustomed in
the days when, as the sole Augusta and as all-powerful with
Claudius, she wielded the resources of the Empire. This
yacht, he told her, was to be rowed in front of her Liburnian,
and to announce her arrival. There it lay, making a lovely
show, and casting its bright broken reflection on the dancing
sunlit waters. She was delighted, for she loved magnificence,
both for its own sake and for the impression which it makes


on the multitude ; and she took this as an omen that Nero
would restore to her the body-guard of Germans and the es-
cort of Praetorians the withdrawal of which had cut her most
deeply to the heart.

As Agrippina rested after her voyage, she prepared to array
herself in her richest and most jewelled robes. She was full
of bright anticipations, and thought that now the tortures of
the last five years were at an end. The whole world had
turned for her to thorns ; would some new rose-bud now unfold
itself among them ? Hardly ! It was the custom of ladies on
the first day of the Quinquatrus to consult astrologers and
fortune-tellers, and the answers of those whom Agrippina
consulted that day were far from encouraging. And a dis-
agreeable incident occurred during the morning. While she
was being dressed, the message was brought her that, in the
concourse of vessels which had attended the Emperor, one of
them had accidentally crashed into her own galley, and so
broken its sides that it was temporarily unfit for service :
happily, however, she could now sail on board the bright vessel
which had been sent to wait upon her.

Little did the unhappy woman know that all this had been
pre-arranged, and that the chief reason why Nero had sailed to
meet her was in order to make the disabling of her galley
wear the aspect of a colourable accident !

But she felt an unaccountable unwillingness to go on board
the untried vessel. She had heard mysterious hints of
danger, too impalpable to be understood, but sufficient to
awaken a dim suspicion. Her astrologer, whom she again
consulted, vaguely indicated that a storm might arise, and it
might be as well for her to go to Baias by the road. These
faint surmises were emphasised by the arbitrary foreboding of
her own heart, which every now and then seemed to pause in
its beating, and to chill her happiness with the suspense of
the unknown. In vain she tried to dispel these vague
spiritual fears. At the last moment she ordered her litter
to be prepared, and, making some excuse about the better
protection of her robes, had herself conveyed to Baise by

She was received with open arms from the moment that,
with queenly step, she descended from her litter. The guests,
and the many slaves, all in their finest array, were grouped


around the entrance, and broke into a respectful murmur of
greeting and applause as the gleam of the westering sun
flashed on the diamonds, emeralds, and sapphires which
encircled her neck and arms and thickly encrusted the broi-
dery of her inner robe. The assembled nobles and courtiers
bowed low, the attendants almost prostrated themselves as she
advanced towards her son. He seemed to be in his brightest
mood of hilarity and affection. He welcomed her with play-
ful sentences and attractive tenderness. He himself con-
ducted her to the banquet, which, to add to its delight, was
spread in a room where the couches were so arranged that
each guest could have a full view on one side of that ' golden
shore of happy Venus,' proud with the gifts of nature and of
art; and, on the other side, of the river with its painted shal-
lops and merry holiday-makers. No refinement of luxury or
beauty was lacking to the banquet. Nero assured her but
she knew that no one could believe a word he said he had
himself caught the fish by a line from the window beneath
which the sea-waves flowed. Then there were plates of meli-
mela, sweet as honeycombs, glowing rosily from their baskets
of silver filagree, and olives from Picenum, and cinnamon from
the shop of Niceros in Eome, which was so choice that, as he
solemnly assured his wealthy purchasers, it could only be pro-
cured from the nest of the Phoenix.

Nero insisted that Agrippina should occupy the seat of
honour at the table above himself. When she gently remon-
strated, he said, ' To whom is the precedence due but to the
mother who gave me both my life and my Empire ? ' Never
had he seemed to her to shine with more princely charm
than at that entertainment ! He exerted himself to display
all his geniality and all his accomplishments. He bade her
look at the sea, and quoted some lines of young Martial to
her :

4 The wavelets wake from their purple sleep,
The soft breeze ruffles the dimpling deep,
Gently the painted shallops glide,
Borne by the breeze o'er the rippling tide.'

Sometimes he entered with grave dignity upon questions of
State, which he respectfully submitted to her maturer judg-
ment ; at other times, dropping the tone of confidential inquiry,
he plunged into almost boyish gaiety, and interchanged wit-


ticisms with the younger nobles to beguile her into laughter.
His conduct was a consummate piece of acting, which would
not have disgraced Paris or Aliturus, and Agrippina fell into
the snare. At first the shadowy foreboding flitted every now
and then across her soul, but now she dismissed it. Surely
all those blandishments were sincere! After all, was not she
his mother ? was not he her son ? What was more natural
than such a reconciliation between two who were so dear to
each other ? The hours sped by almost unnoticed, and the
exhilaration of the rich wine of which, on an occasion so joy-
ful, she freely partook, added to the hope and bliss which for
four weary summers had been strangers to her heart.

But at last it was time to leave, for the banquet and its
amusements had prolonged themselves far into the evening.
Even Nero, frivolous, corrupt, abandoned as he was, felt the
awful solemnity of the moment when he would for the last
time behold in life the mother to whom he owed so immense a
debt. He strained her again and again to his heart ; he gazed
long and earnestly into the eyes which were so soon to be closed
forever ; he covered her hands and her cheeks and even her
eyes with his passionate kisses. Almost he wished that the
terrible deed had never been contemplated, that the sham rec-
onciliation had indeed been real. ' Farewell, dear mother,' he
said, almost with a sob, which came easily to a nature so
superficially emotional. ' Take care of your health for my
sake.' And then, handing her to the charge of Anicetus, he
turned hastily away.

With deep obeisances, but with a smile in his evil eye, the
admiral, who had once been a slave, conducted her on board
the fatal ship, along the planks which had been covered with
purple for her proud footsteps. He led her to the stern,
where a canopy of purple silk, fringed with golden broider-
ings, overshadowed the sumptuous couch on which she was
now glad to rest. There were but two attendants with her,
her lady-in-waiting, Acerronia Polla, and Crepereius Gallus.
Little did those three dream that it was to be their last night
on earth !

The night was as enchanting as only a night of the spring
on the shores of Italy can be. Overhead, in the deep blue
vault, numberless stars seemed to hang like golden cressets,
raining their large lustre over that unequalled scene. Beneath


the rhythmic strokes of the rowers the sea flashed into brighter
phosphorescence in the shadow of the boat, and the waves
rolled away in molten gold. From the near coast, as they
steered northwards, the air seemed to come laden with the
perfume of flowers from the gardens and blossoming trees.
Countless spectators watched the gilded barque, and their
torches glimmered along the crowded sands, and the music of
their gay songs and serenades came to the happy voyagers.
The balm and peacefulness and beauty of the night seemed to
set its seal on the reunion of hearts too long divided, and for
that hour of blessedness it almost seemed worth while to have

Acerronia, bending over the feet of the Empress as she re-
clined on the couch, was congratulating her with all her
heart on the warmth with which she had been received, and
was indulging in a hundred flattering auguries of the future.
Surely Agrippina would now be restored to her full honours as
Augusta ! Once more she would have her home in the Palace
of the Caesars, and ride in a carriage to the capital, and be
surrounded by her tall and glittering body-guard ! ' He
kissed your eyes, Augusta/ said Acerronia, ' as though he
would embrace your very soul.' l To Agrippina also at that

' Hope enchanted smiled, and waved her golden hair. '

Crepereius stood near them, only joining in the conversation
by an occasional word of congratulation, but enjoying with the
two ladies the happy events of the day and the splendour of
the balmy night.

Suddenly a whistle was heard from near the prow, where
Anicetus was standing. The whistle was followed by a fright-
ful crash. The gay canopy over the Empress had been weighted
with lead, and so contrived that by the pulling of a rope it
could be freed from its supports. Down it rushed upon the
heads of the unsuspecting victims. Crepereius, who was
standing up, was instantly crushed to death ; but not so
the two ladies. They were protected by the side of the boat
and of the couch on which the Empress was resting. Half
stunned by the terrible accident, they had scarcely realised
what had occurred before they saw the galley in a state of

1 Pliny, A". H. xi. 54 : ' Oculos cum osculamur, animum ipsum


indescribable confusion. Only a few of the sailors shared
the hideous secret with Anicetus ; and as the machinery
had failed to act for the loosing of the canopy ought to
have been accompanied by the dissolution of the vessel
they rushed to the larboard in order to upset the boat by
their weight. Those who had not been warned of the intended
murder rushed to the starboard to prevent an accident. Fierce
cries and discordant commands sounded on every side. Half
wild with selfish terror, Acerronia struggled from the de'bris of
the canopy and screamed out, ' I am the Empress ; help the
mother of the Caesar.' A shower of fierce blows, dealt on her
head with oars and boat-hooks, was the answer to her cr} r and
the punishment of her faithlessness. In a moment she too lay
outstretched in death. Agrippina was sobered by peril from
the fumes of the Falernian of which she had plentifully par-
taken, and was enabled, by her familiarity with guilty plots, to
take in at a glance the significance of the scene. She kept
perfect silence. The murder of Acerronia showed her that
it was her own life which was being deliberately attempted
under pretence of a shipwreck ; but she clung fiercely to
that life, horrible as it had become, and little as she could
now hope ultimately to escape the machinations of her son.
Taking advantage of the confusion and the darkness, she
dropped herself unobserved into the sea. She was a good
swimmer, and boldly struck out for the land ; though she
then first became conscious that during the scuffle she had
received a wound in the shoulder, either from the falling
canopy or from the oar of one of the conspirators. Every
stroke was painful ; she was weighted by her heavy robes, and
she doubted whether her strength would hold out; but still
she swam for the land with all her remaining force. Surely
the silent stars had never looked down on a stranger scene !
Here was a matron who but recently had swayed the world, a
half-deified Empress, the great-granddaughter of Augustus, the
daughter of Germanicus, the wife and priestess of one deified
Emperor, and the mother of the Feigning Caesar, swimming
for her life in the jewelled robes which she had worn at the
imperial banquet swimming for her life in the dark waves,
which became phosphorescent at every stroke, and thus trying
to escape to land from the gilded barge which had been mur-
derously wrecked by the contrivance of her son !


It happened that Pudens as one of the officers in charge
of the Praetorian escort, was spending his holiday at Baise,
and had asked Titus to accompany him. King Caractacus
and Claudia were also there, and had accepted the invitation
of Pudens to join him and their young favourite Titus for a
moonlight sail on one of the scores of painted shallops in
which the visitors to the watering-place were enjoying the
beauty of the night. The youth's eyes had been following the
gay vessel which bore Agrippina to Bauli. He saw that there
had been some strange disaster; he had heard the crash of the
falling canopy, and the discordant tumult of cries and groans
which followed. He had seen a splash in the water, and ob-
served the golden divided ripple behind some one who was
evidently swimming to escape. He instantly steered the
pleasure-boat toward the swimmer, as did some fishermen
in another vessel who, then as now, were plying their trade by
night. The unhappy Empress first reached the boat of Pudens,
and the centurion stretched out his strong arm to rescue her.
As she grasped it the light of a torch upheld by Titus shone
on his face, and she recognised the young friend of Britanni-
cus. He, too, by the same light caught the flash of her
jewels, and saw who she was.

' Immortal gods ! ' he exclaimed, ' it is the Empress
Agrippina ! '

Claudia at once pressed to her side. Her face was deadly
pale, and the blood of Acerronia had left on it some ghastly
spots of crimson. The sleeve of her robe was stained with
blood from the wound in her shoulder She was almost too
exhausted to speak, but she faintly whispered, ' Hush ! Do not
mention my name. Let me be unknown.'

They laid her on the cushioned seat, and .Claudia, sitting
beside her, clasped her hand, wrung the sea-water from the
folds of her dripping robe, tenderly parted the wet disordered
tresses which clung about her face, and covered her with a
mantle, while, at her request, they rowed her towards the
Lucrine lake and the landing-place of her villa. Titus bade
the fisher-boat accompany them, for their own little pinnace
was overloaded. When they touched the land he offered to
run up to the villa and order her slaves to bring a litter for
their mistress. The Empress, however, entreated them not to
wait, but to carry her. as best they could, for she was too


weak to walk. A rude litter was hastily constructed from a
bench of the fishing-boat, and in this humble and pathetic
guise the Augusta was carried by Pudens and Titus into the
hall of her house, where a group of wondering and terrified
slaves awaited her.

The news had spread like wildfire among the thousands
of idlers who were promenading on the shore, and tumult
reigned among them. What did it mean ? The night was ab-
solutely calm. There were no rocks in the bay. No collision
had occurred. That there could have been a real shipwreck
was impossible. The gods themselves, by the exceptional
calmness of sea and air, seemed to have interfered to expose
the hypocritical pretence of any accident. But if there could
have been no accident, what was it that had happened ?
What were they to do ? They were in wild excitement. All
along the shore of the bay were crowds of men and women,
who had streamed out of the villas at the news of some va-
riously reported disaster. No one knew the real facts of the
case. The strangest tales were repeated from mouth to mouth,
and on all sides were heard agitated questions and startling
but discordant answers. The sea-road and the sands and
the causeway of the Lucrine lake glimmered with countless
torches, which flowed now in one direction, now in another,
like streams of fire. The one steady report was that the Em-
press had been shipwrecked, and was in danger of her life ;
and the one object was to get a share in the credit of saving
her. The piers and boats were crowded with an impatient
throng. Some stood at the very edge of the summer waves ;
others waded neck deep into the warm and glowing water, and
stood with outstretched hands staring over the sea to catch
sight of any floating form. Amid the confusion, the little
pleasure-boat of Pudens was seen rippling its golden path
toward Baiae from the landing-stage of Agrippina's villa, and
was instantly surrounded by throngs of eager questioners.
In answer to the confused inquiries, Pudens and Titus said
that undoubtedly the splendid state galley had, in some way
or other, been shipwrecked, but that the Empress-mother had
escaped by swimming, and was now safe at her own villa.

As the news spread among the multitudes, they streamed
off to the villa at Bauli to convey their congratulations and
to surround the house and gardens with applauding cries.


Most of them felt an agreeable sensation in the fact that a
first-rate incident had occurred to break the monotony of
idleness and vulgar dissipation.

But Agrippina was lying in her chamber, shivering, agitated,
with aching body and despairing soul. The undaunted woman
had betrayed to her slaves and household no sign that she
was aware of what had been intended. She only told them
that her galley had been shipwrecked, and her life marvellously
preserved. She expressed her deep regret at the loss of her
friends Acerronia and Crepereius, and ordered the will of the
former to be produced, and all her effects sealed. Not till then
did she withdraw into privacy, to meditate on what she should
do. All was too plain now ! She understood that sugared
letter which had summoned her from Antium ! She under-
stood why her son had sailed to Cape Misenum to meet her ;
why her own galley had been purposely run into ; why the
gorgeous state-barge had been pressed upon her acceptance !
She saw through the exquisite banquet, the hypocritical
caresses, the murder so deliberately and diabolically planned.
. . . Alas ! alas !

Eevenge, the appeal to force, was out of the question.
She was ill and miserable, and felt drained of all her
energies. The crowd buzzed and shouted outside ; but she
gauged too well their cowardly and vacillating nature to
rely on any protection from them. She knew that at the
sight of a dozen soldiers they would be scattered like the
chaff. And who would strike a blow for her ? Not the mob,
for she was universally hated ; not the nobles or the Senate,
for they loved her not, and were in any case too selfish,
too servile, and too much steeped in dissolute luxury to lift
a hand on her behalf. Would the Praetorians rise at her
bidding ? It was more than doubtful ; and if they would,
she was at Bauli and they at Rome.

But one thistledown of hope remained to bear the weight
of her ruined fortunes. Was it possible that, at the last
moment, her son would relent ? Those farewell embraces
seemed to express something genuine. Perhaps when he
found that he had, in spite of himself, escaped the guilt of
actual matricide, he might come to a better mind. The
gods had offered him one more opportunity for repentance :
would he embrace it ? Yes ; she came to the decision that


her best course was to feign ignorance of the design of which
she had been the victim, and to trust to the reawakenment of
filial affection in Nero's mind.

She summoned to her presence her freedman Lucius

'Go to the Emperor,' she said, 'and tell him that, by the
merciful protection of the gods, his mother has been saved
from a terrible disaster. Anxious as he must naturally be
about my safety, ask him not to cherish any solicitude, but
to postpone for the present the visit which he will wish to
pay me. I am greatly in need of rest.'

Agerinus set out, little foreseeing that he too was poten-
tially a murdered man. Agrippina ill, disenchanted, utterly
weary of the world once more lay on her couch, with throb-
bing brows and lacerated soul, a pi - ey to unspeakable anguish.
A single slave-maiden was her attendant; a single golden
lamp shed its dim light from its marble stand over her room.
In her utmost need there was not one to whom she could
speak, or in whom she could confide. Oh, how she longed for
one hour of Pomponia's company, for one whisper of the con-
solation which had once fallen for a moment like the dew
upon her soul ! But Baiae was the last place where Pom-
ponia would be likely to be found.

The slave-girl, withdrawn into the shadow, and engaged in
spinning wool, looked up furtively again and again at the face of
the Empress, who was too much absorbed in her own thoughts
to notice her. The girl saw passion after passion chase each
other like dark clouds across Agrippina's face. At one moment
the clenched hand, the quivering nostril, the flashing glance,
showed that the thought of possible vengeance was passing
through her soul. Then for a moment a softer expression would
smooth her features, as she dreamed of the possibility of her
son's remorse. Then terror would express itself on her features
as she recognised the frightfuluess of her position. Last of all,
an infinite languor seemed to droop through her whole being, as
she resigned herself to sullen despair.

In those dark uncertain hours she realised all the error and
infatuation of her life. Impunity, after so many crimes ?
Impunity, when the menacing spectres of perjury and adul-
tery and murder kept starting upon her out of the darkness ?
Crispus Passienus poisoned ; Lucius Silanus hounded to death



by lying informers ; his murdered brother Junius ; her hus-
band Claudius were they all to be unavenged ? Had the
gods no thunderbolts ? Had the guilty ever escaped them ?
Had Tiberius died in peace after his atrocities and crimes ?
Had Gaius died in peace amid the tears of his beloved ? Had
Messalina escaped the consequences of her debaucheries and
murders ? Did not the violated laws of heaven put into the
hand of their transgressors their whips of flame ? And as she
began to realise that Retribution dogs guilt like its own
inevitable shadow, the line of the old Greek poet rang
ominously in her memory :

' Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.
Though in patience long He waiteth, with exactness grinds He all.'

And, all the while, the nightingales in the gardens of her
villa were pealing forth their ecstasy, and the stars shone,
and the soft wind breathed of perfume.




' Sua quemque fraus, suum facinus, suum scelus, sua audacia, de sanitate
ac mente deturbat. Hae sunt impiorum furiae, hre flainmae, hae faces.' Cic.
In Pisonem, xx. 46.

NERO, in a mood of fearful restlessness, awaited news of the
issue of his design. Long ere this he ought to have received
the intelligence which would relieve his life of a great burden.
Hardly for a moment did the enormity of the crime he was
committing press upon a soul given up to shameful self-indul-
gence. He only yearned to be rid of a figure which frightened
him, and checked the rushing chariot-wheels of his passions.
Once free from his mother and her threats, he would marry
Poppaea and give himself up to whatever his heart desired.
Too uneasy to sleep, too much occupied with anxiety to follow
his usual pleasures, he talked to Tigellinus, who alone was
with him, pacing up and down the hall of his villa, tossing
down goblet after goblet of wine, and trying to conjure before
his imagination the scene which was being enacted. Surely
it could not fail ! And, if it succeeded, the dead tell no tales,
and the sea- waves would keep the secret ! Every one had
seen the warmth of his attention to his mother, and the
affectionate tenderness with which he had bidden her fare-
well. What remained but publicly to deplore with tears the
sad bereavement which had been inflicted on his youth by
the treachery of winds and waves, and then to decree to his
mother's memory the temples and the altars which would be
ostentatious proofs of his filial regard ?

But how was it that no news had reached him ? Three
or four hours had passed. By this time the deed must have
been done. Something had happened so much was certain ;
for though he dared not send out to inquire, as though he
suspected that anything was wrong, yet from the balcony
he saw the torches moving in hurried streams hither and


thither, and he could hear the distant cries of excitement and

A messenger was announced.

' Who is it ? ' asked Nero anxiously.

' The centurion Pudens,' said the slave ; ' and he is accom-
panied by Titus Flavius.'

Nero started at the name, for it recalled the night of the
murder of Britannicus.

' What do they want ? '

'They have important tidings, which they will tell to
Caesar's ears alone.'

' Admit them. See that the guard is on duty close at

Pudens and the youth were ushered into Nero's presence,
and, in answer to his agitated inquiries, told him all that had
occurred, and how they had helped to rescue the Empress as
she was saving herself by swimming. They were dismissed,
each with a handsome gift ; and scarcely had they left the
room when Nero, pale as death, and with a heart which
throbbed with painful palpitations, flung himself on a couch
and turned a terrified look on his accomplice.

' The plan has been bungled,' he said. ' I am ruined. My
mother has been wounded. She knows all.'

Tigellinus feared that in his terror he would swoon away,
and sprinkled his face with water.

' What will she do ? ' asked Nero in a faint voice. ' Will she
arm her slaves to attack and murder me ? Will she rouse the
soldiers ? Will she go to Rome and accuse me of matricide
before the Senate and the people ? '

The older and robuster villany of Tigellinus was not terri-
fied by these alarms ; but he too saw that the situation was
serious, and did not know what to advise.

Nero, shaking with alarm, sent messengers in fiery haste for
Burrus and Seneca, both of whom had come from Rome to
Baise at his request to attend upon him during the Quinquatrus.
They were roused from their beds at the dead of night, and
hurried to Nero's villa. He told them that, after his mother
had left him, her vessel had been wrecked, and that she had
swam to land with no worse hurt than a slight wound ; but he
added, ' She suspects that I have attempted her life : and how
am I to escape her vengeance ? '


Burrus and Seneca stood silent and thuuderstricken. They
were innocent of the vile attempt. Dim rumours of some
grave crime which was in contemplation had indeed reached
them : and in Nero's court everything seemed credible. The
murder had been the design of the execrable Anicetus and the
yet more execrable Tigellinus, and had only been revealed to
kindred spirits such as Poppiea. But they at once saw
through the story which Nero told them, in which he had
indeed betrayed himself.

It was a moment of anguish and of degradation for them
both. The blunt, honest soldier was thinking of his happier
youth, in which virtue was not compelled to breathe so con-
taminated an atmosphere. He was secretly cursing the day
on which ambition had led him to espouse the cause of Nero,
and so to be dragged into loathed complicity with so many

And through the heart of Seneca there shot a pang of yet
keener agony. He a philosopher ; he a Stoic ; he a writer of so
many high-soaring moral truths ; he so superior to the vile and
vulgar standard of his age to what had he now sunk ! Was
this corrupt fratricide this would-be murderer of his mother
the timid boy who, little more than five years before, had
been entrusted to his tutelage ? And was he now called upon
to advise the most feasible way in which a matricide could
be accomplished ? Was he, of all men, to be the Pylades
to this viler Orestes ? Was it to the edge of such a preci-
pice that he had been led by the devious ways of a selfish
ambition ?

A nobler path was open to him had he desired it. Why
should he not have urged Nero to visit his mother, to
expostulate with her if need be, to be reconciled with her
in reality ? Might he not have told him that, if Agrippina
were really conspiring, it would be better for him to run that
risk than to stain his hands in a mother's blood ? Titus was
not a professed philosopher like Seneca, yet Titus rose sponta-
neously to that height of virtue in later years. He knew that
his brother Domitian was working in secret as his deadly
enemy, yet he only took him gently aside, and entreated
him to behave more worthily of a brother. And when he
saw that his entreaty had failed, he did indeed weep as he sat
at the games, but he would not shed his brother's blood.


Alas ! the conscience of Seneca did not suggest to him this
means by which he could extricate himself. That Agrippina
was, at such a crisis, preparing to rebel against her son he
did not believe; but might she not so whispered to him
once more the demon of concession might she not become
dangerous hereafter? In other words, must he not help the
Emperor to accomplish his fell purpose ? The silence became

At lust Seneca turned his troubled eyes on Burrus, as though
to inquire whether it would be safe to command the execution
of Agrippina by the Praetorians.

Burrus understood his look and bluntly replied that such a
thing was not to be thought of. The Praetorians would never
lift a hand against the daughter of Germanicus. The same
thought had been in his mind as in that of Seneca, though he
liad blushed to give it utterance. But now that he saw the
drift of his colleague's purpose, he gulped down his scruples,
and said with sullen brevity, ' Let Auicetus complete what he
has begun.'

Anicetus had been on board the deceitful vessel, and, on
the failure of the device, had made his way with all speed
iu a rowing boat to the Emperor's villa. He entered at the
moment when Burrus spoke. Nero turned on him a look
of rage, and, walking up to him, stammered into his ear
the threat that his life should pay the penalty of his clumsy

' Be calm, Csesar,' he replied in a whisper ; ' your wish shall
still be accomplished. Only give me your authority to end
the business.'

Anicetus hated Agrippina for private reasons, and he knew
that, if she were not put to death, she would demand vengeance
upon him, since the treachery on board the vessel could not
have been effected without his cognizance. ' Leave it in my
hands,' he said. ' If Seneca and Burrus are too timid to
strike a blow for their Emperor, at least Anicetus will not

' Thanks, Anicetus,' said Nero, changing his mood. ' To-day,
for the first time, I feel secure. Now I begin to recognise
that I am indeed Emperor. And a freedman is the author of
the boon ! '

He frowned at his two ministers to reprove their backward-


iiess in murder, and effusively grasped the hand of the admi-
ral. Burrus, as he looked at his scowling countenance, felt a
fresh pang of remorse that he had ever deserted the cause of
Britannicus. Seneca said to his agonised conscience, ' If one
would be the friend of a tyrant, one must not only wink at
crimes, but commit them without a moment's hesitation, how-
ever heinous they may be.'

While Anicetus was hastily suggesting the steps to be taken,
the announcement came that one of Agrippina's attendants
Lucius Agerinus was waiting outside with a verbal message
from the Augusta. Before he was admitted Nero whispered
something to Anicetus. ' Yes, yes,' said the admiral, ' the
plan is excellent.'

Both Seneca and Burrus were amazed and shocked at the
stupid and shameless comedy which was then enacted before
their eyes. Agerinus had hardly begun to deliver his mes-
sage when Nero, stepping up to him, dropped a sword at his
feet. It fell with a clang on the white and purple mosaic,
and instantly Nero and Anicetus began to clamour, ' Murder !
treason ! murder ! he has been sent by Agrippina to stab the
Emperor ! '

At this shout the body-guard came running in, and Agerinus
was loaded with chains. Anicetus now had the excuse he
needed. He summoned a band of soldiers and marines, and,
accompanied by Herculeius, one of his naval captains, and
Obaritus, an officer of the marines, he made his way to the
villa at Bauli, giving out that he was ordered to execute
Agrippina, who had just been detected in an attempt to
assassinate her son.

They found the precincts of the villa thronged by a curious
crowd. These they drove away, and surrounded the grounds
with guards. The slaves dispersed in all directions. Agrip-
pina was still in her dimly lighted room, growing momently
more alarmed because Agerinus did not return and she re-
ceived no message from Nero. Nearer and nearer came the
tread of feet till they heard the soldiers enter the atrium.
There followed a brief altercation as the murderers scattered
the few faithful attendants who would still have guarded the
door of the chamber. The slave-girl rose to fly.

' Dost thou also desert me ? ' said the Empress bitterly.

But the girl's figure had scarcely disappeared when the


door was rudely burst open, and she saw the cruel face of her
enemy Anicetus, who held his drawn sword in his hand.

For a moment they stopped before her imperious gesture.

' If you have come from my son to inquire after my health,'
she said, ' tell him that T am better. If you have come
to commit a crime, I will not believe that you have his

' We have his authority/ said Anicetus. ' Behold his
signet- ring ! '

They advanced upon her. She sprang from her couch and
stood erect. Then the brutal Herculeius struck her a blow
on the head with his baton, and Anicetus aimed his sword
at her breast. She avoided the stroke, and, rending her
tunic, ' Strike here/ she said, pointing to her womb ; ' it
bore a monster ! '

She fell, stricken down, and thrust through with many
deadly wounds.

Thus ended that career of wickedness and splendour.
Almost from the day which consummated her many crimes
she heard behind her the fatal footstep of the avenger. Her
murder of Claudius had placed the diadem upon the brow of
her own murderer. For that young murderer she had felt
the frantic love of a tigress for the cub which she licks and
fondles. And now the tiger-whelp had shown the nature
which it inherited.

When Nero received the news that his mother was dead,
he would not trust to any testimony. With wild haste and
utmost secrecy he went to the villa at Bauli. With trem-
bling hand he drew the winding-sheet from the face, and
gazed on the corpse. The colour fled from his cheeks ; but
after a moment or two he grew bolder. The matricide was
still the aesthete. ' I did not know/ he said, ' that I had so
beautiful a mother.' Then he hurried back.

That same night they carried her corpse to the funeral
pyre. It was laid upon a couch from her banquet-hall, for
lack of a regular bier. Hurried and scant and humble were
her obsequies. Her ashes were laid in a mean grave near
the road to Misenum, where the villa of the dictator Caesar


crowned an eminence which commanded a wide view of the

During the remaining ten years of her son's reign, the site
of her sepulchre was left unhonoured and no mound was
raised above her ashes. But the spot was not forgotten, and
to this day the peasant points to the Sepolcro d' Agrippina.
One instance of faithfulness gave a yet more pathetic interest
to the spot where so many lofty hopes were quenched in
blood. Before the pyre was kindled, Mnester, her loyal
freedrnan, stabbed himself over her corpse. He would not
survive a mistress who, whatever had been her crimes, had
been kind to him, and whom he loved.

What pathos is there in the fact that even the worst and
most criminal of human souls have rarely died entirely un-
loved! Even a Marat, even a Robespierre, even a Borgia,
even an Agrippina, found at least one to mourn when they
were dead.




' Pallidumque visa
Matris lampade respicis Neronem.'

STAT. Sylv. II. vii. 118.

' Prima est haec ultio, quod se
Judice nemo nocens absolvitur.'

Juv. Sat. xiii. 2.

THEKE is a marvellous force of illumination in a great crime,
but it is the lurid illumination of the lightning-flash, revealing
to the lost Alpine wanderer the precipices which yawn on
every side of him. While the murder was yet to do, Nero
could talk of it lightly and eagerly among the accomplices
who were in the secret. To the irresponsible Emperor of the
world it did not seem so great a matter to order the murder
of a mother. But when the deed was done, when he had got
back to his Baian villa, when the pale face flecked with
crimson bloodstains came hauntingly back upon his memory,
a horror of great darkness fell upon him. Then first he real-
ised the atrocious magnitude of his crime, and every moment
there rang in his ears a damning accusation. The very birds
of the air seemed to flit away from him, twittering ' Matricide !
matricide ! ' He drank more Falernian from the glittering
table, on which yet lay the remains of the banquet, but it
seemed as if all his senses were too preternaturally acute
with horror to be dulled by wine. He lay down to sleep,
but strange sounds seemed to be creeping through the dead
stillness of the night, which made him shudder with alarm.
If he closed his eyes, there flashed at once upon them the
pale face, the firm-set lips, the splashes of blood. The dead
eyes of his mother seemed to open upon him with a gleam of
vengeance. Till that night he had never known what it was
to dream. He started up with a shriek and summoned his


attendants round him, and paced np and down in a frenzy of
delirium, declaring that when the dawn came he would cer-
tainly be slain. They persuaded him to lie down again, but
scarcely had he dropped into an uneasy sleep when it seemed
to him as though he saw the three Furies sweeping down
upon him with the blue snakes gleaming in their hair and
the torches shaken in their hands, while his mother, who
pointed them to him, shrieked aloud, ' Ho ! murderer of thy
mother ! no sleep henceforth for thee ! '

Leaping once more from that couch of agony, he sat mute,
and trembling in every limb, his clenched hands buried in his
hair, waiting in anguish the break of day. When the first
beam of dawn lit the east, it showed a youth whose pallid
features were haggard with agonies of fear.

If there had been a spark of nobleness in the Komau world,
the indignation of a people's moral sense might have sprung
to arms and smitten the tyrant while he was yet red-handed
from his crime. Nothing was farther from the general inten-
tion. The universal desire was to 'skin and film the ulcerous
place ' with adulation and hypocrisy. Men, not naturally evil
or case-hardened, were carried away by the tide of complai-
sance to the imperial murderer. As though to leave no chance
for any feelings of penitence to work, all classes began to
flood him with congratulations. The fears which at the mo-
ment he half mistook for remorse vanished like the early
dew, for society seized upon the convention that Agrippina,
detected in a plot against the life of her son, had been justly
executed. The tribunes and centurions of the Praetorians,
Burrus at their head, came to Nero that morning, poured
their felicitations upon him, pressed his hands, expressed
their effusive joy that he had escaped from so sudden a peril
created by his mother's crime. His friends crowded to the
temples to thank the gods for his safety. There was scarcely
a town of Campania which did not express its joy by sending
deputations and offering victims. Distant provinces caught
the infection, and Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul surpassed
all the rest by the fulsome entreaty which they sent by their
ambassador, Julius Africanus, 'that Nero would endure his
felicity with fortitude ! ' Certainly it did not seem as if there
were much cause for fear ! In a few days Nero became an
adept at the counter-hypocrisy with which he feigned to


weep over the fate of his mother, and to be grieved by his
own deliverance !

But places cannot change their aspect as do the looks of
men. From the windows and gardens of Nero's villa were
always visible the sea which he had attempted to pollute, the
long line of shore which he had stained with a mother's
blood. The aspect of nature in that lovely spot had lost its
fascination. It seemed to be eloquent with mute reproach.
And what were those sounds which assailed his ears at the
dead of night ? What meant that blast of a solitary trumpet,
blown by no earthly breath, from the promontory of Mise-
iium? What meant those ghostly wailings which seemed to
shriek around his mother's grave ? He could not endure this
haunted place. He fled to Naples.

From thence he despatched to the Senate a letter, of which
the conceits betrayed, alas ! the hand of Seneca. ' As yet,' he
wrote, ' I cannot believe, I do not rejoice, that I am safe/
Men of letters admired the euphuistic phrases and despised
their author. The letter did not mention any details, but left
it to be inferred that Agrippina, detected in an attempt to
murder her son, had committed suicide. And then with un-
manly malignity it dwelt on the long catalogue of her crimes
her bitter enmities, her immense ambition, her unscrupulous
intrigues. To her it attributed all the cruelties of the reign
of Claudius, and it ended by saying that her death was a
public blessing. The more cynical of the senators laughed at
the absurdities of this missive, for it narrated Agrippina's ship-
wreck as though it had been accidental, and tried to gain cre-
dence for the gross absurdity that a woman barely saved from
drowning had chosen the moment of her rescue to send off to
murder her only son in the midst of his fleets and cohorts !

But though men shook their heads at Seneca, they plunged
no less emulously into the vortex of criminal adulation. Pub-
lic thanksgivings were decreed to all the gods ; annual games
at the Quinquatrus ; a golden statue to Minerva in the senate-
house, with a statue of the Emperor beside it. The birthday
of Agrippina was pronounced accursed. Such abject servility
was too much for the haughty spirit of Paetus Thrasea. He
rose from his seat and left the senate-house in silence, and a
blush rose to the cheek of not a few who did not dare to
follow him.


Yet, after all, Nero was so timid that six months elapsed
before he ventured once more to face the people of his capi-
tal. An eclipse of the sun had happened during the thanks-
giving decreed by the Senate. Fourteen regions of the city
had been struck by lightning. Would these portents of
heaven awaken the tardy indignation of men ? Every piece
of news, however trivial, frightened him. He was told the
ridiculous story that a woman had given birth to a snake.
Was that meant by the gods, if there were any, for a scornful
symbol of himself ? There were hours in which it seemed to
him as if the Empire itself would be a poor price for the pur-
chase of one day of the innocence which he had so frightfully

But the foul creatures who swarmed about him assured him
with the effrontery of experienced villany that he need not
be in the least anxious as to the obsequiousness of the Senate
and the zeal of the people.

' You will find yourself more popular than before,' they
said. 'Every one detested Agrippina. Go to Eome with con-
fidence, and you will see that you are as much adored as ever.'

They were right in their conjectures. Even Nero was
amazed at the abandon of welcome, the delirium of ostentatious
applause with which he was received, while his hands were
still red-wet with his mother's blood. The people thronged
forth by their tribes to greet him. The senators were in
festal array. They were surrounded by their wives and chil-
dren. Stages had been built all along the road, in which the
spectators had purchased their places to look on as at a tri-
umph. Incense burned in the streets ; the shouts of myriads
of voices rent the air. Eome received him not as a murderer,
but rather as a great conqueror or a human god. And he, as
he rode in his gilded chariot through those serried files of
cheering flatterers, proudly upheld his head, tossed back the
curls from his forehead, smiled, and bent low, and, accepting
these greetings as a tribute to his merits, drowned deep within
his heart all sense of shame. With long retinue and dazzling
pomp he visited the Capitol, gave thanks to Jupiter, best
and greatest, and returned to the Palace ' a victor over the
public servitude.'

Yet even so he could not escape. He dared not be left
alone. The manes of his mother haunted him by day and by


night. In vain he practised the old expiatory rites to rid
himself of the menacing phantom. On the night of May 13,
two months after Agrippina's death, he determined to go
through the mummery of the Lemuralia, which some of his
credulous advisers had told him would be efficacious. At
midnight, amid the dead silence, he stole with naked feet to
the water of the fountain in the atrium, and there, trembling
with excitement, washed his hands thrice. Then with his
thumb and finger, he filled his mouth with nine black beans,
and, full of superstitious horror, flung them one by one behind
him over his shoulder, saying each time, ' With these beans
redeem me and mine.' Arrived at his chamber he again dipped
his hands in water, and beat a great brazen gong to terrify
the pursuing ghost. 1 Then he turned round, and peered with
a frightened glance into the darkness ; and as he peered
was even this expiation all in vain ? what were those glim-
mering lights ? What was that white and wavy form ? A
shriek rang through the villa, and Nero sank fainting into the
arms of the timid minions who had awaited the result of the
expiation and rushed forward at his cry.

The following year, when he had returned to the city, he re-
peated this antiquated rite, and he commanded the vestals to
bear him specially in mind when, on the Ides of May, they
flung from the Sublician Bridge into the Tiber the thirty little
figures called argei, made of bulrushes, which were supposed
to be in lieu of human sacrifices.

Then he tried yet further forms of magic and yet darker
rites of propitiation to the infernal powers, in which it was
whispered that human blood the blood of murdered infants
formed part of the instruments of sorcery. But he could
learn no secrets of the future ; he could evoke no powers who
could ward away that white menacing spectre which gleamed
upon him if at any moment he found himself alone in the
hours of night.

Nero became a haunted man. The whole earth seemed to
him to be 'made of glass 5 to reveal his turpitude. He knew
in his miserable heart that the very street boys of Eome
the ragged urchins of the slaves and gladiators were aware
of the crime which he had committed. Kind friends kept
Mm informed, under pretence of officious indignation, that

1 Note 34.


one night an infant had been found exposed in the Forum
with a scrap of parchment round its neck, on which was
written, ' / expose you, lest you should murder your mother ; '
and that, another night, a sack had been hung round the neck
of his statue as though to threaten him with the old weird
punishment of parricides. Once, when he was looking on at
one of the rude plays known as Atellane, the actor Datus had
to pronounce the line,

' Good health to you, father ; good health to you, mother , '

and, with the swift inimitable gestures of which the quick Ital-
ian people never missed the significance, he managed to indi-
cate Claudius dying of poison and Agrippina swimming for her
life. The populace roared out its applause at an illusion so
managed that it could hardly be resented ; and once again, when
coming to the line,

' Death drags you by the foot.'

Datus indicated Nero's hatred to the Senate by pointing signif-
icantly to Nero at the word ' death ' and to the senatorial seats
as he emphasized the word ' you!

But Nero was liable to insults still more direct. Could he
not read with his own eyes the graffito scrawled upon every
blank space of wall in Rome : ' Nero, Orestes, Alonceon, matri-
cidce ' ? He could not detect or punish these anonymous
scrawlers, but he would have liked to punish men of rank,
whom he well knew to have written stinging satires against
him, branding him with every kind of infamy.

Two resources alone were adequate to dissipate the terrors
of his conscience the intoxication of promiscuous applause
and the self-abandonment to a sensuality which grew ever more
shameless as the restraints of Agrippina's authority and Seneca's
influence were removed.

Nero had long delighted to sing to the harp at his own ban-
quets in citharcedic array. To the old Eoman dignity such
conduct seemed unspeakably degrading in the Emperor of the
legions. Yet Nero divulged his shame to the world by having
himself represented in statues and on coins in the dress of a
harpist, his lips open as though in the act of song, his lyre half
supported on a baldric embossed with gems, his tunic falling
in variegated folds to his feet, and his arms covered by the


chlamys, while with his delicate left hand he twanged the
strings, and with his right struck them with the golden
plectrum. The pains which he took to preserve his voice,
which after all was dull and harsh, were almost incredible.
Following the advice of every quack who chose to pass
himself off as an expert, he used to walk about with his
thick neck encircled in a puffy handkerchief, to sleep with
a plate of lead on his chest, and to live for a month at a time
on peas cooked in oil.

To give him more opportunities for display he instituted the
Juvenalia to celebrate his arrival at full manhood, as marked
by the shaving of his beard. His first beard was deposited
iu a box of gold, adorned with costly pearls, and he dedicated
it to the Capitoline Jupiter. But even this event in his
life was accompanied by a crime. Shortly before he laid
aside his beard he paid a visit to his aunt Domitia, who was

Laying her hand on the soft down, she said to him in her
blandishing way, ' As soon as I have received this, I am ready
to die.'

Nero turned round to the loose comrades who usually at-
tended him and whispered, with a coarse jest, 'Then I will
shave it off at once.'

From that sick-bed Domitia, who was almost the last of
Nero's living relatives, never rose again. The Eoman world
suspected foul play on the part of the physicians at Nero's or-
der. Certain it is that he seized all her ample possessions, and
suppressed her will.




' Commorabor inter homicidas, inclusus turpiore custodia et sordido cellarum
situ.' 'In ludo fui, qua pcena nullam graviorem scelera noverunt, cujus ad
comparationein ergastulum leve est.' QUINCTILIAN.

ALTHOUGH the intervention of the vestal and the kindly ruse
of Pudens had saved the life of Onesimus, his condition was
far from enviable. He was once more now for the third
time in his life in overwhelming disgrace. It is true that all
the legal customs were observed, in a house controlled by that
respect for archaeology of which the fashion had been set by
Augustus. The chains were taken off his limbs and flung out
of the court through the impluvium. None the less he felt
that he was marked and shunned. One day, after his escape,
Nero passed him in one of the corridors, and, struck by the
appearance of a handsome youth, beckoned him to approach.
He came forward trembling, and the Emperor, peering into
his face, recognised the purple-keeper of Octavia. Inspired
by sudden disgust at the memories thus called to his recol-
lection, he summoned his dispensator Callicles into his pres-
ence, and ordered him to get rid of ' that worthless Phrygian.'

' Shall I put him in prison, or have him sent again to the
ergastulum at Antium ? ' asked Callicles.

' Neither,' said Nero. ' The City Praetor, Pedanius Secundus,
is about to give some votive games of beasts and gladiators.
Make a present to him of this youth.'

Onesirnus heard the words, and his heart sank within him.
But resistance was useless. On his way he passed the door of
Acte's apartments, and not without peril ventured to sing a
few notes of the old Thyatiran ballad which had first at-
tracted her notice. She heard it, and came out.

' That youth comes from my native land,' she said to the
dispeusator. ' Step back a few paces and let me have a word
with him.'



Callicles would hardly have granted the favour to any one
else, but every one loved Acte, and he only said, ' If Nero
should come ? ' . . .

' I will hold you clear/ said Acte.

Onesimus, overcome with shame, knelt on one knee, kissed
the fringe of her robe, and whispered, ' Oh, Acte, I am con-
demned to be a gladiator.'

' In which school ? '

' Under Eutulus, the trainer of Pedanius Secundus the
cruellest man in Borne.'

He told her something of his story, and she saw that to
help him was beyond her power. All she could do was to
slip into his hand her own purse, and to tell him that if ever
the day came when she could befriend him she would do her
utmost. More she dared not say, for the suspicious eyes of
Callicles were upon her, and she had to repress the emotion
which agitated her frame.

In the school of Butulus, Ouesimus experienced a phase
of misery even deeper than in the slave-prison of Antium.
Once more he was the companion of felons of every dye and
fugitives of every nationality. Every day came the severe
drill, the coarse food which was worse than hunger, the
odious society of hardened ruffians, the recounting of the
brutal tragedies with which they were familiar. Among
them all he found but one whose society he could tolerate.
He was a dark-haired, blue-eyed Briton, young like himself,
but in all other respects unlike him. For ^Equoreus, as they
called him, was full of manly pride and hardihood, and had
none of the subtle softness of the Asiatic in his temperament.
He had been reduced to his hard lot for no other crime
than the outburst of a passionate independence. He had
been brought over with Caractacus, as one of the Britons
pre-eminent in stature and beauty to grace the ovation of
Claudius and Aulus Plautius. He had not been treated
cruelly, for the admiration inspired by the dauntless bearing
of the British king had secured protection to his country-
men ; but Glanydon to give him his Silurian name
loathed the effeminate luxuries of Borne, and, forgetting
that he was a captive, had once struck in the face a
Praetorian officer who insulted him. For this offence he
had been first scourged and then handed over to the master


of the gladiators. It was ordered that he should fight, as
soon as lie was trained, in some great display. Onesimus
saw that the young Briton shared his own disgust at the
orgies of ribald talk in which their fellows indulged. The
two had no other friends, and they were drawn together
for mutual defence against the rude horse-play of their
comrades. Glanydon was one of the class of gladiators
called Samnites, who fought in heavy armour, while, after
various trials, the trainer (lanista) decided that the excep-
tional activity of Onesimus marked him out for the work
of a net-thrower (retiarius). Their training had to be hurried
on at the utmost speed, for the games were to take place
within a month.

The other gladiators sometimes talked of their lot with
pretended rapture. They spoke of the liberal supply of food,
of the presents sent them, of the favour with which they
were regarded by fair ladies even by the wives and
daughters of great patricians of the fame they acquired, so
that their prowess and the comparison of their merits was
one of the commonest topics of talk at Roman dinner-parties.
They boasted of the delight of seeing their likenesses painted
in red on the play-bills ; of the shouts with which a favourite
fighter was welcomed ; of the yell of applause which greeted
them when they had performed a gallant feat ; of the chance
of retiring with wreaths and gifts and money, when they had
earned by their intrepidity the wooden foil. 1

' Poor wretches,' said Onesimus to Glanydon ; ' they do not
talk of the panic which sometimes seizes them, and how they
are howled at when, in ignominious defeat, they fly to the end
of the arena to beg for their lives ; how, when they see over-
whelming odds against them and grim death staring them in
the face, they are still driven into the fight with cracking
scourges and plates of iron heated red hot ; nor but what is
the use of talking of all this, Glanydon ? you know it all
better than I do.'

' Brutal, bloody, slaves and women, are these Eomans,' cried
Glanydon. * The Druids of my native land served the gods
with cruel rites, but they did not play with death as though
it were a pretty toy, as these weaklings do. And to think

1 Note 35. The Gladiators' School.


that by arms and discipline they conquered my countrymen!
Oh, for one hour again under Caradoc or under Boudicca ! I
would never leave another field alive.'

' You do not, then, fear death ? ' said Oiiesimus.

' Why should I ? What has life for me ? The maiden 1
loved is in her hut on my Silurian hills. I shall never see
her more, nor set foot on those purple mist-clad mountains.
I shall be butchered to amuse these swine. Death ! No,' he
said, while he indignantly dashed away the tear which had
burst forth at the thought of his home ' I do not fear death,
but I hate to die thus.'

' Did your Druids think that death ended all ? '

Glanydon turned his blue eyes on the speaker. ' I do not
think they did. There were mysteries which they hid from
us. But ' . . .

With amazement Onesimus saw him sketch in the dust the
helmet of a mirmillo, of which the crest was a dolphin. The
Phrygian said nothing, but scratched in the dust the same
symbol. Glanydon started up and seized his hand. 'A
Christian ? ' he asked in amazement ; ' and yet here ? '

' You too are here,' said Onesimus, hanging his head.

' Ah, yes ! ' said the Briton ; ' but surely for no crime.
What could I do but strike a wretch viler than a worm ?
Nor have I been illuminated my teacher would not baptise
me till he could see proof that I had controlled the fierce
outbursts of passion.'

' Your teacher ? '

' There came from Jerusalem an old white-haired man.
They called him Joseph. He had seen the Christ ; he had
buried Him in his own tomb. But you, Onesimus ? '

' I am no better than a renegade. My own follies have
brought me here. There is no more hope for ine. Ask me
no more.'

'Do you fear death?' asked the Briton. 'If so, I pity
your lot.'

' The gods or God if there be but one God cannot be
worse than men,' answered Onesimus gloomily.

Glanydon was silent. After a pause, he said, ' I am a rude
barbarian, as they call me here ; yet he who taught me spoke
much of " love for all and hope for all." '

Onesimus sat with bowed head, and the Briton was moved.


' We are brothers,' he said. ' Even in this hell we can love
one another.'

But one sickening thought was in the breasts of both of
them. They had sat side by side in daily intercourse ; their
common friendlessness, their common sympathies, had thrown
them together in the closest bonds, and those bonds had been
strengthened by the discovery that both had been taught at
least the rudiments of a holy faith. But the day of the games
was rapidly approaching, and the chances of the lot, or the
caprice of the Praetor, might easily cause them to be pitted
against each other. It was horrible to think that either of
them might be compelled to drive sword or dagger into the
throat or heart of his friend.

' Supposing that we are matched together ? ' said Glariydou,
the evening before the display.

' Then we must fight,' said Onesimus. ' Have we not taken
the oath " to be bound, to be burned, to be scourged, to be
slain," or do anything else that is required of us as legitimate
gladiators, giving up alike our souls and our bodies ? ' 1

' Which of us will win ? ' asked Glanydou, with a sad

' You/ said the Phrygian. ' You are stronger than I am,
and taller.'

' Yes, but you are quicker and more active, and you can't
tell how I hate that net of yours. I know you will catch me
in it '

' If I do, you will still have fought so well that the people
will all turn down their thumbs, and you will be spared. A
tall fine fellow like you is just the gladiator whom the Eomari
ladies like to look at, and they won't have you killed in your
first fight. But as for me a mere Phrygian slave ! Yes,
Glanydon, to-morrow your short sword will perhaps be red
with my blood.'

' Never ! ' said Glanydon. ' I will fight because I must, and
will do my best ; and when my blood is up I might kill you
or any other opponent in the blind heat of the combat ; but as
for slaughtering in cold blood I could not do it least of all
could I murder the friend I love.'

' You won't be able to help yourself, Glanydon. And we
netsmen (worse luck !) have our faces uncovered. Many of

1 Note 36. The Gladiator's Oath.


the spectators, like the late " divine " Claudius, as they call
him, like to see us killed, because our dying expression is not
concealed by a helmet.'

' But why should we not both escape?' asked the Briton.
' Perhaps before this time to-morrow we may each be the happy
possessor of the ivory ticket with " Sp." 1 upon it, or even of
the palm and the foil. Who knows but what by our bravery
we may be rude donati? '

' Don't you know, then, that to-morrow's games will very
likely be sine missione ? We must either die or kill.'

The Briton had not been aware of it. He sank into gloomy
silence. Onesimus gently laid his hand on his friend's shoul-
der, and said, ' Well, perhaps, like Priscus and Verrus, we may
both be victors and both vanquished. Pugnavere pares, succu-
buere pares.'

Glanydon shook his head. He said, ' Let us talk no more,
or we shall both be unmanned. Life death to-morrow ;
the rudis or the stab ? Which shall it be ? '

' It is in God's hands,' said Onesimus, ' if what we have
been taught is true.'

With that awful issue before them, overshadowed by mis-
givings and almost with despair, finding life horrible, yet
shrinking from the death which neither of them dared to
regard with full Christian hope, the two youths lay down on
their pallets. Before they closed their eyes in sleep, each of
them had breathed some sort of unuttered cry into the dim

1 For Spectatus a gladiator who had made his d&mi in the arena.




' Quid vesani sibi vult ars impia ludi ?
Quid mortes juvenum ? quid sanguine parta voluptas ? '

' Mera homicidia sunt.' SENECA, Ep. 7.

THE morning broke in cloudless splendour. Long before the
dawn thousands of the Eoman populace had thronged into
the amphitheatre to secure the best places. The City Prseieet
was known to be a man of taste and a favourite of Nero, and
the Emperor himself was certain to grace the display with
his idolised presence. The pairs of gladiators were not
numerous, nor were there many wild beasts ; but everything
was to be choice of its kind, and it was rumoured that some
beautiful foreign youths were to make their first appearance
as fighters.

About eleven o'clock the rays of the sun became too strong
for comfort, and a huge awning, decorated with gay streamers,
was drawn over the audience by gilded cords.

By this time the amphitheatre, except the seats reserved
for distinguished persons, was thronged from the lowest seats
to the topmost ambulatory, where stood a dense array of slaves
and of the lowest proletariat. They did not get tired of
waiting, for the scene was one of continual bustle and bright-
ness, as group after group of burghers, in their best array,
took their seats with their wives and families. Any well-
known patrician or senator was greeted with applause or with
hisses. The buzz of general conversation sometimes rose into
a roar of laughter, and sometimes sank into a hush of expec-
tancy. Little incidents kept occurring every moment. Inter-
lopers tried to thrust themselves into the fourteen rows of
seats which were set apart for the knights, and an altercation
often ensued between the seat-keeper, Oceanus, and these
impostors. Now the people laughed at the unceremonious


way in which he shook one of them who, to escape notice,
had pretended to be asleep. They were still more amused
when the impatient official turned out a finely dressed per-
sonage who protested that he was a knight, but unluckily
dropped in the scuffle a large key, which showed him to be a

At last the shouting of the multitude who thronged about
the principal entrance announced the arrival of the Preefect.
Amid the acclamations of the populace, the magnificent pro-
cession by which Pedauius was accompanied passed round the
arena to the reserved seats. Pedanius was scarcely seated,
when the Emperor, surrounded by a group of his most bril-
liant courtiers, took his place in the imperial box. As the
roar of applause continued, he rose again and again with his
hand on his heart, to bow and cringe before the public
omnia serviliter pro imperio. For the mob of Rome was at
once his master and his slave, and was as ready at slight
excuse to burst into open menaces as into blasphemous
adulation. Nero was as well aware as Tiberius that 'he was
only holding a wolf by the ears ; ' and he often quoted the
saying of that keen observer, that few realised ' what a mon-
ster Empire was.'

Then Pedanius rose in his seat and flung down the
scarlet napkin which was the signal that the sports were
to begin.

The opening amusements were harmless and curious. First
a number of German aurochs were led round the circus.
They had been trained to stand still while boys hung from
their huge horns, or danced and fenced standing on their broad
backs. A tiger was guided by its keeper with a chain of flowers.
Four chariots swept past in succession, the first drawn by
leopards with gay silken harness, the second by stags champ-
ing golden bits, the third by shaggy bisons, the fourth by four
camels who amused the people by their expression of super-
cilious disapproval. Then an elephant performed some clumsy
dances under the bidding of its black keeper. Next a winged
boy led in a wild boar by a purple halter. Last of all, a tame
lion was introduced, which, to the delight of the shouting
populace, dandled a hare in its paws without hurting it, and
then suffered its keeper to put his head and his hand in its
open mouth. But at this point a frightful tragedy occurred.


Wherever the dazzling white sand of the arena chanced to
have been disturbed or stained, it was raked smooth, and fresh
sand sprinkled, by boys dressed as Cupids with glittering wings.
One of these boys, presuming on the lion's tarneness, hit it
rather sharply with his rake. The royal brute had been already
excited by hearing the howling of the animals of all sorts with
which the vivarium was crowded, as well as by the shouts of
the spectators, and its keeper had stupidly neglected to notice
the signs of its rising rage. But when the sharp edge of the
rake struck it, the lion's inane bristled, and with a terrific snarl
he first laid the poor lad dead with one stroke of his paw, and
then sprang with a mighty bound upon a second lad, on whose
quivering limbs he fleshed his claws and teeth. 1 A cry of
horror and alarm rose from the people, and those who sat just
above the level of the amphitheatre started up in terror, for
they were only protected from the wild beasts by rails, which
had been finished off with amber and silver, but did not look
very strong. The brute, which had thus shown ' a wild trick
of its ancestors/ was soon overpowered, for the keeper was
skilled in the use of the lasso. But this incident did but whet
the appetite of the spectators for blood. They shouted to
Pedanius to begin the venatio and the wild-beast fights which
formed the morning show. No expense had been spared to
sate the insatiable cruelty of the mob. For an hour or two
longer they were gratified with a prodigality of anguish.
Ostriches and giraffes were chased round and round, and shot
to death with arrows. Wild beasts fought with tame beasts
and with wild beasts, and beasts with men. Bears, lions, and
tigers were worried and hacked by armed bestiarii, and some-
times a bestiarius in his turn lay rolling on the sand, crushed
by a bear or torn by the fierce struggles of a panther. Lastly,
some unskilled, defenceless criminals were turned loose into
the amphitheatre amid a fresh batch of animals, infuriated by
hunger and mad with excitement. None of the poor weapon-
less wretches sine armis, sine arte, seminudi could stand
up for a moment against the bear's hug or the tiger's leaps.
They stood in attitudes of despairing stupefaction, watching
the horrible rolling gait of the bears, or the crouching of the
tigers as they glared on them with yellow eyeballs and bristling
manes, lashing their haunches with their tails, and at last,

1 Marl. ii. 75.


with a hoarse carnivorous roar, curving their backs for the final
spring. The venatio degenerated into a mere butchery meant
to fill up the time. 1

All this was regarded as child's play in comparison with
the luxury of courage, skill, and massacre which was ex-
pected in the afternoon ; but it was already too much for
one of the spectators. This was the philosophic thaumaturge
Apollonius of Tyaua, who happened to be paying a brief visit
to Psetus Thrasea. Thrasea had been compelled to be pres-
ent, because he knew that everything which he did or failed
to do was watched with deadly suspicion ; and Apollonius had
accompanied his host from a desire to see the strange animals
which were to be exhibited. At first he had looked on with
real delight and interest ; but when he saw the noble creatures
wantonly killed, his Greek instinct for the beautiful was dis-
gusted. He had been shocked by the callousness with which
the vast audience had recovered from its momentary fright
when the two poor boys had been slain by the lions ; but
when he saw them shouting with delight while the arena was
wet with the blood of mangled men and tortured beasts, he
turned his back on the amphitheatre with disdain and horror,
and whispered in the ear of his companion, ' Eome is a Bac-
chante rolling in blood and mud.'

Of all these scenes Onesimus and Glanydon had been
spectators ; and such spectacles were little calculated to dispel
the gloom of dreadful anticipation which hung over the com-
ing afternoon. They had marched in the procession of gladi-
ators which formed part of the opening pomp, and from behind
a lattice-work of one of the dressing-rooms they could see all
that was going on. But now the rays of the early summer
were pouring a dazzling flood of warmth and light which
penetrated even through the awning. The vast audience re-
quired a little rest. The awning was sprinkled with per-
fumes. Saffron-water fell in a delicate dew upon the hot and
tired multitude. The passages between the seats were flushed
with pure cold water. Refreshments and baskets of fruit
were freely handed about, and while they were enjoying
the light mid-day meal every one chatted freely with his

' Who are those in the podium with the Emperor ? ' asked

1 Note 37. Gladiatorial Games.


a provincial from Gaul of the young Spaniard who sat beside

'Don't you know ? ' said Martial, for he it was. ' That well-
dressed, handsome, smiling man is Petronius. The tall senator
with the intellectual face is Seneca. He is a countryman of
whom I am proud.'

' Seneca ! ' said the provincial ; ' the greatest man of his age !
Only to think that I have seen Seneca !'

Martial only smiled. Such enthusiasm was refreshing.

'The young man with black hair who sits just behind him
with a frown on his forehead is his nephew Lucau, the poet.
The king in purple robe is Herod Agrippa II., with his lovely
sister Berenice by his side. Just watch the flash of that dia-
mond on her neck. That splendid fellow with fair hair, all
smiles, who has grace and beauty in every movement, is the
actor Paris, and beside him is his friend and rival, Aliturus.
The exquisite, who looks as if he would be paralyzed by the
weight of his own rings, is Senecio.'

' And that lady with her face half veiled, so that you only
catch a glimpse now and then of her loveliness ? '

'That is Poppeea, Otho's wife. No wonder Nero loves
her better than that pale sad lady who sits among the six

' Yet she, too, is young and beautiful. Who is she ? '

' The Empress.'

' Octavia, the daughter of Claudius ? May the gods bless
her ! '

The provincial gazed long at Octavia.

'But now tell me,' he continued, 'who is that purpureal
personage, with large rings, scarlet boots, and a very white
forehead ? '

Martial laughed aloud. ' His forehead may well be white,'
he said. ' Do you know what it is made of ? '

' Made of ? ' asked the young Gaul in astonishment.

' Yes. It is made of sticking-plaster ! If you took it off,
what do you think you would see under it? '

' His skin, I suppose.'

' His skin, yes ! But with three letters on it.'

' What three letters ? '

' Simplicitas ! ' said Martial ; ' the three letters F. U.


'Is he a thief?' asked the Gaul. 'Then why do they let
him sit there among the knights ? '

1 Because his thieving has made him rich,' answered

'But his riches don't make him honest; and every one
seems to be treating him with great respect.'

Martial laughed long and loud. ' Sapientia ! ' he ex-
claimed, ' Innocentia ! From what new Atlantis do you
come ? Don't you know that at Rome the rule always is
" Riches first, virtue next " ? '

' If that be the rule at Rome,' said the other, 1 1 should pre-
fer to live at Ulubrse or at Venta Belgarum.'

But Martial had no more time to listen to a morality so
refreshingly unsophisticated. ' Hush ! ' lie said. ' Tiiey are
going to scatter down the presents and the lottery tickets
on us.'

First came a shower of countless coins of thin metal, every
one of which was stamped with a wanton image. Then all
kinds of little presents like those exchanged at the Saturnalia.
The audience did not exert themselves to catch these, but it
was very different when handfuls of lottery tickets were flung
among them. For these they scrambled wildly, and with
many a curse and blow ; for he who secured one might find
himself the happy possessor of a slave, a statue, a fine vase, a
rare foreign bird, a suit of armour, a Molossian dog, a Spanish
horse, or even a villa ; although the mystery which the number
concealed could not be made known till he presented the ticket
the next day.

But by this time the attendants with rakes were scraping
the surface of the arena smooth, and sprinkling it afresh with
dazzling white sand brought in ship-loads from Africa, to hide
the crimson stains of the life-blood of animals and men. For
now was to begin the splendid exhibition of strength and skill
and pluck, and the awful pageantry of death, under that blue
sky, under that gleaming sunlight ; and men and women were
preparing themselves to be thrilled with sanguinary and
voluptuous excitement which would make the blood course
through their veins like fire. Most of the gladiators were men
of approved prowess, stalwart and well known ; and from the
senators' seats to the topmost gallery bets were being freely
laid on their chances of victory, and on those who should be


left dead at evening, indifferent forever to those, wild shouts.
The only two who were not spedati the only two tiros who
were to make their appearance were the young British
captive and the young Phrygian slave.

The long defiant blast of a trumpet smote the air ; the fold-
ing doors of the main entrance were flung open, and, headed
by their trainer, the gladiators in a body marched in proud
procession and with firm steps to the space beneath the
podium, on which stood the gilded chair of the Emperor.
They were only sixty in number, but had been selected for
their skill and physique, and belonged to various classes of
gladiators. They were clad in glittering array their hel-
mets, their shields, and even their greaves, richly embossed
and gilded.

And none were more curiously scanned than Onesimus,
who walked last of the net-throwers, and Glanydou, who
closed the file of the Samnites. It was impossible not to ob-
serve the towering stature and herculean mould of the Briton,
the lithe and sinewy frame of the dark-eyed Asiatic. Then
the Praetor once more flung down the napkin, in sign that the
fighting should begin. Grouped under the Emperor's seat,
they all uplifted to him their right hands and chanted in
monotone their sublime greeting : ' Hail, Csesar ! we who are
about to die salute thee!'

Nero flung them a careless glance, and scarcely broke
the animated conversation which he was holding with

Before the hard fighting began there was some preliminary
skirmishing among all the gladiators, with blunt weapons,
merely to display their skill ; and a pair of andabatce amused
the people by their difficulties in fighting practically blindfold,
for their loose helmets had no eyelet-holes.

Then the trumpet blew once more, and a herald cried out,
' Lay aside your blunt swords and fight with sharp swords ; '
and Pedanius examined the weapons to see that they were
duly sharp. The display began with the contests of the
horsemen and the charioteers (essedarii). It was not long
before two of the chariots were broken, and their wounded
occupants flung down under the hoofs of their own plunging

Next, two horsemen, both of them popular favourites, of


well-tried prowess and well-matched strength, rode out on
white horses to fight each other in mortal conflict. Hippias
wore a short mantle of blue, and rode from the east side of
the arena; Aruus, in a red mantle, rode from the western
side. Both wore on their heads golden helmets, and military
standards were carried before them. 1 The combat between
them was long and fierce, for each knew that it was to be his
last. They charged each other furiously, raining on heads and
shoulders a tempest of blows, till, after a tremendous bout,
Aruus thrust his spear through a joint in the armour of Hip-
pias, and the stream of crimson blood which followed was
greeted by the roar of ' Habet ! ' from eighty thousand throats.
The rider fell lifeless. He required no finishing stroke, and
the mob cried, ' Peracturn est ! ' (' There 's an end of him ! ')
This contest had excited much interest from the fame of the
fighters, and large sums of money changed hands on the
result. One of the senators, named Csecina, had hit on an
ingenious way of telling his distant friends whether they had
lost or gained. Since Hippias was in blue, and Aruns in red,
he had carried with him into the amphitheatre a number of
swallows in two cages, of which some were painted blue and
some red; and, since Aruns had slain his adversary, he let
loose those which were painted red. 2

After this the other mounted gladiators joined combat. In
a very short time nearly all were wounded, and three acknowl-
edged their defeat. Dropping their swords or javelins, they
upheld their clenched hands with one finger extended to plead
for mercy. The plea was vain. No handkerchief was waved
in sign of mercy, and, standing over them, the victors callously
drove their swords into the throats of their defeated comrades.
The poor conquered fighters did not shrink. They looked up
at the shouting populace with something of disdain on their
faces, as though to prove that they thought nothing of death,
and did not wish to be pitied. To see that none were sham-
ming dead, a figure entered disguised as Charon, who smote
them with his hammer ; but the work of the sword had been
done too faithfully he only smote the corpses of the slain. 3

By this time the whole atmosphere of the place seemed to
reek with the suffocating fumes of blood, which acted like

1 See Isidor. Orig. xviii. 53. 2 Pliny, N. H. x. 34.

' 2 Note 38. Dead Gladiators.


intoxication on the brutalised passions of the multitude.
They awaited with savage eagerness the next combat, which
was to be the main show of the afternoon. Twelve Sain-
nites and mirmillos were to be matched against as many
net-throwers and chasers ; and the contest was all the
more thrilling because the latter were very lightly clad, so
that every wound and gash was visible in all its horror
on their naked limbs, while the unhelmed faces showed
every triumphant or agonised expression which swept across
them in that stormy scene.

After half an hour's fighting in terrible earnest, in which
each side had exchanged many a well-aimed blow, and had
shown prodigies of skill, valour, and swiftness, many of the
gladiators had fallen, and others dropped their arms in
sign of defeat. Their vanquishers strode over them await-
ing the signal to be executioners of their brethren. The
fight was stopped till the signal had been given with ruth-
less unanimity. The defeated men, like those who had
been killed before them, gazed without blenching on the
hard and lolling multitude, as though to show by their
calm demeanour how easy a thing it was to die.

But to make sure that they had been really killed, once
more a slave entered, who, for variety's sake, was dressed
in the wings and carried the serpent-rod of Mercury. He
touched each corpse with a red-hot iron wand. No limb
shrank from his touch. Other attendants, therefore, laid the
dead on biers which the admiring spectators observed to
be inlaid with amber and they were carried out through
the gate of Libitina into the spoliarium, where they were
carelessly flung out in a heap. 1

So far both the tiros had escaped. They had instinctively
avoided each other, and neither had butchered his opponent
except in fair fight. Of the eight who survived, four were
Samnites and mirmillos, four were net-throwers. They
thought that the fight was over and that they might
severally be regarded as victors, and might look for the
gifts of crowns and money, or even of the foil which set
them free from the horrid trade. They stepped back beyond
the lines which the trainer had marked, resting on their
arms, and expecting to be ushered out of the triumphal gate.

1 Sen. Ep. xciii. 12; Quinct. Decl. 7.


The multitude had far other intentions. They were not yet
sated with slaughter ; they had not yet gloated long enough
on faces convulsed with the death-agony ; they wanted to
see how the beautiful young Phrygian would look when an
opponent stood over him with a sword at his throat.

But the soul of Glanydon was filled with disgust and dis-
dain. He loathed those fat, shouting, comfortable burghers,
those hard-faced women, those finical dandies, of whom he
felt that he could have driven a score before him like sheep.
He strode to the barriers and set his back against them,
refusing to fight.

A yell of fury rose from the people. ' Kill him ! ' they
shouted. 'Kill him! scourge him! burn him! Why is he
so afraid of cold steel ? Why can't he die like a man ? Ho !
scourgers, lash the youth into the combat again, to make the
sides equal.'

The Briton stood as in a dream, and as his thoughts reverted
to his home and the maiden whom he loved, the amphitheatre
swam before his eyes. Five or six mastigophori came run-
ning up to him, and he felt the curling lash of one of them
come stinging round his body. The agony aroused him.
With a cry as of a wounded lion he sprang on the scourger,
and with one buffet laid him senseless, while the others fled
in confusion before him. Then, witli the boldness of despair,
he strode under the podium, and, raising his clenched fist,
cursed the Emperor aloud.

' Murderer of thy mother !' he cried ; ' thou infamy of man-
hood, I will fight again. But think not that thou shalt escape.
Speedily the doom shall overtake thee, and thy death shall be
more shameful and horrible than mine.'

He had thundered forth so loudly his indignant words that
they rang through the whole amphitheatre, and the wildest
tumult arose. The Emperor cowered back in his seat, pale
with superstitious terror, yet almost suffocated with rage ; and
his favourite page, springing up from the low stool at his feet,
began to sprinkle his face with perfume.

The Praetorians drew their swords, and in one moment
would have slain the criminal who thus dared to blaspheme
their human god. That a common gladiator a thing to flesh
men's swords upon should dare to curse the Emperor! It
was a portent I But there was no time to interfere, for, with


a shout, Glanydon sprang back among the gladiators, and be-
gan so furious an affray that the other side gave way and
fled. He sprang on an opponent, and the crimson rush that
followed his sword-thrust again awoke the deep ' Habet ! ' of
the excited crowd. But as he pressed on, now blind with
fury, he fell, face forward, over the loose helmet of a slain
mirmillo, and before tie could recover himself a netsman,
seizing his opportunity, flung his net, entangled the limbs of
the Briton by a dexterous twist, and, without waiting for any
signal, drove his trident into his breast. The Briton died
without a groan. But the advantage of the light-armed
fighters was only momentary. Their courage had been
daunted by Glanydon, and, after a few moments of flight
and fight, the Samnites were victorious and the net-throwers
were all wounded and dropped their arms, except Onesimus.
They knelt with their forefingers uplifted, and, as they had
fought with courage and had been hardly used, handkerchiefs
began to be waved in their favour and thumbs to be turned
downwards. Octavia and Acte had both recognised the face
of Onesimus as he retreated before one of the Samnites, and
failed to entangle him by the throw of his net. Filled with
pity, they turned their thumbs downward in sign that the
combat should be stopped and the lives of the defeated be

But unhappily Onesimus was only a few feet distant from
Nero, and Nero had recognised him too. The curse of Glany-
dou had shaken the Emperor's nerves. He was in a peculiarly
brutal mood, and, with thumb turned towards his breast, he
gave the fatal sign that the four netsmen should be slain.
Three of them were so deeply wounded already that their
limbs were bathed in blood, and without an instant's pause
the Samnites thrust their swords through them to the hilt.
But the sight seemed to inspire Onesimus with some divine
despair. He seized his trident and dagger he had already
gathered the net round his shoulder and, springing towards
one of the Samnites, flung, entangled, tripped, and stabbed
him. Plucking his trident from the wound, but not waiting
to recover his net, he flew on the second and smote him down.
The third, who was already staggering from a wound received
earlier in the fight dropped his arms and upheld his forefinger,

and, before the fourth could recover from his amazement,



Onesimus, leaving the defeated combatant, had again seized
his net and chased his opponent with it in act to throw. Being
far superior in speed, he swiftly overtook him, flung the net
and, hurling his opponent to the ground, brandished his dagger
over him. The peopled walls of the amphitheatre rang with
shouts of delight and admiration. Never had they seen a more
astonishing and gallant feat. This retiarius and he a mere
tiro had, single-handed, defeated four Samnites in succession.
The thing was unheard of. Every thumb was turned up for
Onesimus to give the finishing stroke to his conquered enemy,
and thousands of voices clamoured that, as the sole surviving
victor of the combat, he should be rewarded \v 7 ith the palm
and foil.

But the brief spasm of wrath was over. Onesimus could
not and would not butcher his comrades in cold blood. He
recognised in the young Samnite a gladiator named Kalendio,
one of the least objectionable of his fellows in the school
the only one who had never gone out of his way to annoy or
taunt him. At the same moment he caught sight of the body
of Glanydon. A rush of tears blinded him ; he flung down
net and dagger and trident, and, retreating to the barrier, stood
there with folded arms. The acclamations which had greeted
his prowess were followed by a groan of astonishment and
disappointment. Kalendio had by this time torn and cut
himself free from the net, and sprang upon the unhappy
Phrygian who had spared his life. Onesimus did not resist
him or appeal for mercy ; the Samnite, who was an utter
stranger to the scruples and compunctions which had led
Onesimus to spare him, drove his sword into him ; life and
sense flowed from him, and he fell heavily upon the bloody



1 Sanguinem quoque gladiatorum bibunt, ut viveutibus poculis, coraitiales
morbi ... At hercule illi ex homine ipso sorbere efficacissimum putant
calidurn spirautemque, et una ipsam animam ex osculo vulnerum.' PLINY,
N. H. xxviii. 2.

A FEW days before the scene described in the last chapter
there had been gladness in the bright but humble home of
Pudens. He had risen to the rank of a priinipilar centurion,
and was now in a position to ask the British king Caradoc for
the hand of his lovely Claudia. He had only delayed his
nuptials until he felt himself able to give his bride a secure
and fitting home. Everything was fresh and beautiful in
the adornments of the house. The atrium was full of
flowers and statues, the door was hung with garlands, the
frescoes in the tablinum and triclinium were all new. No
mythological scene had been admitted, but the walls of the
triclinium were painted with festoons of fruit and flowers
and trellises of roses, among which little winged genii held
their sports ; and the tablinum with scenes of street life and
the toils of agriculture, and purple vineyards, as perfect
as the pencil of Dorotheus could make them. One little
corner of the fresco was universally admired as a master-
piece. Pudens had asked the painter to imitate one of the
vases of iridescent glass which were then in fashion, and,
in honour of Claudia, to till it with lilies. Pudens had
greatly admired a similar painting on the wall of the house
of Germanicus on the Palatine (where it may be seen to
this day), and in reproducing it Dorotheus had surpassed

The betrothal had taken place some time before, and on that
occasion Pudens had given to his future bride a golden neck-
lace of old Etrurian workmanship, with pendants of amethyst.


It gleamed round her fair neck as she sat waiting for the bridal
summons in her father's house, trying to dispel the gloom
which fell on the old king when he recalled that he was losing
for a time the light of his home.

All the ordinary conventions of a Roman marriage were
carried out, except such as were purely pagan. Claudia was
dressed in a long white tunic with purple fringe, bound round
the waist with an embroidered girdle. Her bridal veil and
her shoes were of bright yellow, as custom required, and the
long fair hair which fell over her shoulders had been duly
parted with the point of a spear. It was evening, and the
three youths who were to accompany her stood laughing
in the vestibule, and ready to start. One of them was
Titus, who was to carry before her a torch of white-thorn ;
the other two were Flavius Clemens and young Aulus Plau-
tius, who walked on either side to support her arms. The
fourth lad, who was called the camillus, and who carried in
a vase some of the bride's jewels and childish playthings,
was Marcus, the blight little son of Seneca. She herself
bore in her hand a distaff and spindle full of wool, as a
type of domestic industry. Outside the door waited her
friends, five of whom carried wax candles and the others
pine-wood torches. And so, with songs and laughter and
snatches of the old Thalassio, the happy procession made its
way through the streets till they reached the door of Pudens.
When she had wound wool round the doorposts and touched
them with wolfs fat, his groomsmen who were chiefly his
brother-officers lifted Claudia across the threshold to pre-
vent any ill-omened stumble. Within the vestibule stood
Pudens, with fire and water. These she had to touch, as sym-
bols of purification, which might be regarded as Christian no
less than pagan ; and then she spoke the marriage formula
' Where thou art Gaius I am Gaia.' After this she was led to
a seat upon an outspread sheepskin, and Pudens handed to
her the keys of the house. The bridal supper followed, and
its mirth was none the less sparkling from its perfect

By the wish of both Pudens and Claudia, the slaves of
the household were invited to have their share in the fes-
tivities, which lasted for several days. But the newly
wedded pair had in store for Nereus and his daughter


Junia a bliss which they had uot dared to anticipate. At
the close of the week of rejoicing he bade them, with a
smile, to accompany him to the Praetor's tribunal. The
order could have but one meaning that he meant to set
them free. The tears rushed into the old slave's eyes.
Nereus and Junia had, indeed, learnt to be content with
any condition to which God called them, but now that
liberty had spontaneously been offered they felt an almost
incommunicable joy.

Pudens sympathised with them in their emotion, and, with
a few cheering words, bade them walk behind him towards
the Forum. The ceremony of emancipation was very brief.
The centurion stated to the Praetor that he wished to manumit
Nereus and Junia of whom the latter had been born in his
house for their great merits and long faithfulness. The
Praetor's lictor laid a rod on each of their heads, with a slight
blow, and turned them each round ; then the Praetor declared
them free in accordance with the right of citizens, and they
became liberti. On their return home, the rest of the familia,
formerly their fellow-slaves, received them with showers of
sweetmeats and clapping of hands and congratulations, and
were allowed to hold one more humble banquet in their

Nereus still wished to serve Pudens and Claudia as their
freedman ; but it was arranged that he should live in lodg-
ings near the house. He and Junia soon made the new home
of their freedom look as pleasant as their circumstances
admitted, and one evening they were sitting hand in hand
thanking the Lord of their life for His mercy, when a timid
knock was heard. Opening the door, Junia saw a pretty
slave-girl, who asked to speak with her in private. Junia
had known her as one of the slaves of Pedanius Secundus,
and felt the deepest pity for her because she was afflicted
with epilepsy a disease which among the ancients was so
ill-omened as to be the cause of endless trouble and distress.

There was but one remedy for the disease which the
ancients thought perfectly efficacious, and it is conceivable
that the desperate nature of this remedy may have had some
mysterious effect upon the nerves, and have proved in some
cases to be a real cure through its influence on the mind of
the sufferer. It was to drink blood from a recent wound.


The consequences of a fit of epilepsy were disastrous. It
was called the comitial disease, because its occurrence put an
end to the most important business of the commonwealth by
necessitating the dissolution of any public assembly. Con-
sequently, persons so afflicted were condemned to a life of
misery, and could never move about with freedom. Their
presence in a house was regarded as a misfortune, and they
were sometimes got rid of to save trouble. The pretty face
and winning ways of poor young Syra had saved her, but
since she heard of the supposed cure for her malady her one
desire had been to avail herself of it.

This had made her go frequently to the games of the
amphitheatre, and linger near the gate of Libitina, through
which the confector, who had, when necessary, to give the
finishing stroke, dragged the dead and wounded gladiators
into the spoliarium. She had thus attracted the notice of
the youug slave Phlegon, who held this horrible office.

That he did so was not his own fault. He too was a slave
of Pedanius, who had cruelly degraded him to this place in
the amphitheatre as a punishment for a trivial offence, fol-
lowed by an outbreak of resentment, when, in his younger
days, he had been a favourite cup-bearer of his master. It
would be useless to aver that his character had not been
somewhat brutalised by the hideous duties forced upon him ;
but he regarded himself as the victim of necessity, and there-
fore as not responsible a view not without a grim element
of truth in the case of a pagan slave. Seeing Syra as she
lingered about the amphitheatre, he had been struck by her
helpless prettiness, and she had learnt to admire a face which
still retained its good looks, if not its good expression. They
fell in love with each other ; but when she was forced to tell
him of her misfortune, he declared all question of marriage
to be impossible unless she were cured of her comitial disease.
He had himself persuaded her to corne this evening to the
spoliarium after the games, and to try the remedy which
alone seemed to offer any chance of success.

But poor Syra dared not go alone through the darkening,
crowded, and vicious streets, and thought that Junia, as she
was now a freedwoman, could protect her. Junia was always
actuated by the principle as well as by the instinct of kind-
ness. Not guessing the object of the girl's errand, but


knowing her hapless love for Phlegon, she consented to
accompany her. It cost her a pang to leave her father on
that happy evening, but she knew that with him, no less than
with herself, the claims of charity were paramount, and all
the more towards those who seemed to need it most.

' Could you find no better youth to love than one of so dire
a trade, Syra ? ' she gently asked the girl, as, with their heads
covered with shawls, they went in the deepening dusk down
the Via Sacra towards the amphitheatre.

' It is not his fault, Junia. He hates it. His heart is
naturally pitiful. He was brought up in the midst of luxury
in the house of Pedanius, where he was a favourite. But
Pedanius is a wretch, and once he treated Phlegon so cruelly
that, in a fit of rage, the boy struck him. He might have
been crucified for it, or flung to the lampreys ; but, instead of
that, Pedanius made him take to this work in the amphi-
theatre. How else could he live ? '

' There are some lives worse than death,' said Junia.

'Well/ answered Syra ; ' many a time he has longed to stab
himself with his own sword ; but ... he loves me.'

' I did not mean that he should have killed himself,' said
Junia ; ' none of us have a right to fling away the life which
God gives us. I meant that it would be worth while facing


any risk to escape doing wrong.'

'Nothing can be wrong which our masters make us do,'
answered Syra simply ; and Junia could only sigh, for she
knew that this was an axiom with both slaves and their

By this time they had reached the outer door of the
spoliarium,and, in answer to a whispered watchword, Phlegon
admitted Syra, who promised to return very speedily, while
Junia waited for her outside.

A few moments only had elapsed when Syra sprang out of
the door agitated and breathless.

' Oh, Junia !' she cried ; ' I did it ! 1 did it ! '

'Did what?'

C I have drunk some blood from a fresh wound, and I am

' Horrible ! ' said Junia, with a shudder, now for the first
time understanding what Syra had come for.

' Yes ; it was horrible,' said the girl ; ' but how could I help


it ? Every one who saw me in a fit, however slight, used to
spit so as to avert the omen. I tried everything first. I
tried galbanum, garlic, hellebore; I ate some young swallows;
I tried to get a bit of the liver of an elephant, or the brain
of a earn el, which they say is a certain remedy. 1 But how
could I ? Never mind ! I am cured now. But oh, Junia ! '
exclaimed the girl, ' as he lay there '

'As who lay there ?'

'The young gladiator who fought so bravely to-day, and
was dragged out by the hook as dead well, he is not dead !
His limbs were warm. I put my hand on his heart; there
was a faint pulse.'

' But who is he ? '

' I thought you knew him, for he was once a slave in your
house that young Phrygian.'

'Onesimus!' exclaimed Junia, with a startled cry.

' Yes ; that was his name. Did you not know that he
fought as a net-thrower to-day ?'

' N"o/ she answered faintly. ' We never go to the games. I
had long lost sight of him, and thought that he had left Rome,
or was dead. Syra, save him !'

' Phlegon will be glad to save him, if it can be done undis-
covered. He loathes stabbing the poor gladiators when they
have not quite been killed. Yet, if it were discovered that he
spared but one of them, he would certainly be torn to pieces
or crucified.'

Junia's mind was instantly made up. At all costs, Onesimus
should have such chance of life secured to him as nature ren-
dered possible. She told Syra to let Phlegon speak with her.
Entering the spoliarium, and repressing the awful sense of
repugnance which almost made her faint as the dim light of
his lamp glimmered over the heap of mangled corpses, she re-
cognised the features of Onesimus, and convinced herself that
the spark of life was not wholly quenched in him. Then,
putting into the hand of the confector a gold coin which had
been the gift of Claudia, she entreated him to let her come
back and remove the hapless youth. He consented, and
touched by her anguish, he himself took the body of the
gladiator in his arms, laid him on his own pallet of straw, and
poured some common Sabine wine down his throat. Junia,
1 Pliny, N. H. xxiii. 63 and passim.


meanwhile, thankful now for the slave-girl's company, went
to the house of Linus, which was near at hand, and implored
his aid. The good old pastor readily consented, and, when it
was quite dark, took a mule and went with the two girls to the
door of the spoliarium, where Phlegon awaited them.

He had not been idle. With such rough kindness as was
possible to him he had washed away in tepid water the stains
of blood from the breast and face of the poor gladiator, and had
bandaged the deep wounds in his breast.

With tender care they lifted the still unconscious Phrygian
upon a bundle of soft clothes which they had laid upon the
mule. Linus, though the task was not without peril, agreed
to tend and give him shelter for that night.

Then Junia fled back through the deserted streets. Nereus
had begun to be anxious at her long delay, and listened to her
story with a grave face. He had never liked Onesimus, and
the youth's many sins and errors might well have shaken his
confidence. But he and Junia had read not long before the
letter which Paul of Tarsus had written to their brother-
Christians in Corinth ; and, if he wavered for a moment, he
was decided in the cause of mercy by Junia's whispered
words, ' Love suffereth long and is kind ; love thinketh no
evil ; beareth all things ; believeth all things ; endureth all
things ; hopeth all things.'

It was agreed that after dark next evening Nereus should
remove the dreadfully wounded sufferer from the house of
Linus. Pudens, to whom he told the whole story, arranged,
with Claudia's full consent, that Oiiesimus, as a former mem-
ber of the household, should be concealed and tended in the
hut of one of their country slaves who had charge of a
little farm not far from Aricia. This peasant was a Christian,
and he carried out the injunctions of his master with faithful

For many weeks Onesimus hung between life and death ;
at last, slowly, very slowly, he began to recover. Youth and
the natural strength of his constitution, aided by the fresh
air of the country, the pure milk, the quiet, the simple whole-
some food, and the fact that there was nothing to thwart the
recuperative forces of nature, won the day in the battle, and
once more Death released the victim whom he seemed to hold
securely in his grasp.




' Vallis Aricinai sylva pvsecinctus opaca
Est lacus, antiqua religione sacer.'

OVID, Fast. iii. 263.

WHEN Onesimus recovered full consciousness he did not re-
cognise his unfamiliar surroundings, and was too weak to
piece together the broken threads of his memory. Gradually
he recalled the incidents of the past. He remembered the
gladiators' school, the fight in the amphitheatre, the death of
Glanydon, the recoil of feeling which prevented him from
killing the Sarnnite Kalendio, even the sensation which he
felt when the sword-thrust pierced his ribs. All the rest was
darkness. Where was he ? How had he been rescued from
the spoliarium ? How had he escaped the finishing blow of
the confector ?

Old Dromo, the vineyard-keeper, was very reticent, for he
did not wish to endanger any of those who had taken part in
the youth's deliverance. But the quick intelligence of One-
simus, working upon broken hints conjectured that Kerens
and Junia, as members of his old familia, must have had
some share in saving his life. Pudens, when he visited his
vineyard to receive his accounts, came and saw him, and spoke
a few kindly words ; but the youth could see that the cen-
turion had lost his old regard for him. He saw no one else,
except occasionally one of the peasant neighbours. Junia, of
course, came not. Such a visit would have been impossible
to her maiden modesty. What could she do but silently
combat a love which she felt to be hopeless ? How could she
ever marry a gladiator with such a past, and with so hopeless
a probable future a renegade, to all appearance, from the
faith of Christ ? She could but pray for him, and then strive
to prevent her thoughts from turning to him any more. And
Nereus came not to see him. He distrusted him, as he thought


of all the crimes through which he must have fallen, from the
position of a Christian brother, into such a sink of degradation
as a gladiators' school.

Lonely, disgraced, abandoned, in deadly peril of his life
from a hundred sources if once he should be recognised,
prostrated by weakness, often suffering torments from the
pain of wounds which as yet were but half healed, Onesimus
sank deeper and deeper into despair. Repentance and the love
of God may often grow in the midst of adversity, like some
Alpine gentian amid the snows ; but sometimes there is a
deadliness in the chill of hopeless misfortune which kills every
green leaf of faith. The youth, smitten by so many calamities,
began to feel as though the river of his life, which might have
been so full and rejoicing, had lost itself in mud and sand.
His sun had gone down while it yet was day. What was he
to do ? How could he live ? Why had they saved him ? If
Nereus and Junia and Pudeus had done it, by what means he
knew not, it was a cruel kindness. Why should they have
preserved him to a destiny so miserable ? Junia must despise
him now : why should she have wished that his life should be
spared ?

He murmured against God in his heart. He cursed the day
of his birth. He had had many chances and recklessly flung
away one after another. Sometimes he thought of Christ and
of all that he had heard from the lips of Paul in Ephesus
about the Friend of publicans and sinners. But had he not
denied the faith ? Had he not lived like an apostate ? If
Christ could still love him, why was he left in all this misery
and hopelessness ? Why did no ray of light gleam through
his darkened sky ?

And thus he made his heart like the clay which th'e fire
does but harden, not like the gold which it melts. But, not-
withstanding his despair, he grew stronger. In two or three
months his wounds healed, and he was free to leave his couch
of hay and beechen leaves and to wander about the exquisite
scenery of his temporary home. Aricia was built in a valley,
the crater of an extinct volcano, at the foot of the Alban
Mount. Below it the Lacus Nemorensis, ' the Mirror of Diana,'
lay gleaming like a transparent emerald, while the steep lava
slopes which descended to its level were rich with vineyards
and groves and flowers.


But he seldom ventured out in the broad daylight. Aricia
lay on the Appian road, only sixteen miles from Rome, and
its hill was the haunt of a throng of clamorous beggars, who
assailed with their importunity every vehicle that passed
along that 'queen of ways.' Hundreds were familiar with
the features of Onesimus, and, though their beauty was now
impaired by pallor and emaciation, he might again be re-
cognised, with fatal consequences. He only went out after
sunset, and by the unfrequented paths which led him towards
the grove of Diana and the Nemorensian lake. The lower
slopes of the Albau Mount were so overshadowed with
dense foliage that, among the woods, he could easily escape
observation and indulge without disturbance in his melan-
choly thoughts.

One day, as he sat under a huge chestnut-tree, he heard
the pipe of a shepherd lad driving home his herd of goats from
the upland pastures ; and, as the hut of the boy's parents ad-
joined the lodge of Pudens' vineyard, he recognised him as an
acquaintance whose name was Ofellus. But instead of coming
up to talk with him, as usual, the boy gave a low whistle and
beckoned. Onesimus thought that Ofellus only wanted to
play a game at mora after he had herded his goats, but the
boy laid a finger on his lip, and made signs to him to be on
his guard until they had got some distance from the place
where he was sitting.

'What is the matter ?' whispered the Phrygian, in alarm.
* Is any one pursuing me ? '

'No,' answered Ofellus, 'but if the king sees you he will
think you mean mischief.'

' The king ! What king ? '

' Don't you know ? ' said the boy. ' Come and help me to
drive in my goats, and I will tell you.'

When they were well out of the grove, and the goats, with
their frisking kids, which gave Ofellus so much trouble, were
safe in their pen, the boy said : ' We may speak aloud now ;
but don't you really know who the king is ? '

' I did not know that Romans had had a king since
Tarquin the Proud,' said Onesimus, laughing; 'unless you
mean some Jewish or Eastern Alabarch, like Herod or Izates.'

' No, no,' said Ofellus, ' but the priest of yon temple has
been called for ases "the King of the Grove.'"



' I don't know why, except that there are some sacrifices
which only a king can offer ; so they have to call him king,
just as they call one of the priests at Rome " the King of the
Sacred Rites." '

' Well, but why were you in such terror of this so-called
king ? '

Again the boy lifted up his hands in astonishment, with
the question, 'Don't you know?'

Onesimus explained that he was an Asiatic, and did not,
know much about the neighbourhood of Rome. Ofellus there-
fore garrulously poured out the legend of the place. ' There
was once some Greek or other,' he said, ' named Hippolytus,
who had vowed to live a virgin life for Diana. He was killed
by the jealousy of his father, who got Neptune to frighten
his chariot horses with a sea monster. So the poor youth was
flung out of his chariot, and dragged to death. Then Diana
brought him here, and raised him to life again, and called him
Virbius, and he was her priest. But, because he was raised to
life, every priest has to murder his predecessor before he can
be priest himself.'

' And may any one kill the priest who can ? '

'Yes, but first they've to pluck the golden bough.'

' The golden bough ? '

' Yes. It is not really golden, you know ; it is that yellow-
white plant, which grows on an old oak in the wood.'

' Mistletoe ? ' said Onesimus.

' Yes. If a man wants to be king he has to pluck it,
and then fight or murder the present king. If he fails
he is killed; if he wins he kills the king, and becomes
king in his place.'

'Is the king often killed?'

' Very often. Some runaway slave is sure to kill him,
and so escape the cross or the branding-iron. Hardly a
year passes that he is not attacked. My father says that,
before I was born, one king, who was very strong and fierce,
was priest for a good many years; and then the Emperor
Caligula, out of sheer mad malice, sent a strong young slave
on purpose to kill him.'

' But what harm would the king have done to us ? '

' None to a boy like me, nor to one who is free-born ; but '


' You take me for a runaway slave ? ' asked Onesimus.

Ofellus nodded his head, and added, 'I saw the king
among the trees.' And then he quoted an old Roman song

' The dim lake that sleeps
Beneath Aricia's trees ;
The trees in whose dim shadow

The ghastly priest doth reign :
The priest who slew the slayer,
And shall himself be slain.'

Onesimus, too, had seen the Priest of Diana ; but, as he was
some distance off, had not observed him closely. Now, how-
ever, the goat-boy's words seized his attention. Whoever
succeeded in killing the Nemorensian King was secure from
the consequences of all past misdeeds, and had ample main-
tenance and a tine spacious temple to live in. Wandering
down the rocky bed of the stream sacred to Egeria, Onesimus
had seen the shrine, and had wondered why the trees
around it were hung with so many gay woollen streamers,
and so many votive tablets ; and why women came to it
from Rome with garlands on their heads and torches in
their hands ; and why they treated the priest with so much

Surely the man's life was a ghastly one, with a murder on
his conscience and a murderer on his track ! Yet a terrible
purpose gradually fixed itself in the mind of Onesimus. He
persuaded himself that he was utterly God-forsaken ; that
such a deluge of calamities could not otherwise have come
upon him. Every hope of his life was frustrated ; for him
there seemed no future possibility of honesty, or happiness, or
home, and his heart was burdened with the sore weight of a
hopeless love. Why should he not become the King of the
Arician Grove? ' Th.e king is always a runaway slave'
Those words of Ofellus rang in his ear. He was regaining
strength. He was swift of foot. His gladiatorial training
had taught him how to wield a sword. If Christ had forsaken
him, why should not he forsake Christ ? What mattered it
that he would soon be murdered in his turn ? For a few
years, at any rate, he might keep his life, and be in honour,
and share in gay festivals. He resolved to watch for his op-
portunity, and to try his chance.

Full of his desperate purpose, he stole under the dark


shadows of the trees, with no guide but the straggling star-
light, to find the great oak which Ofellus had described to
him. It grew deep in the green hollow close beside the lake,
and the hoary mistletoe tufted its upper branches. He climbed
the tree, plucked ' the golden bough,' and waited for the rising
of the moon to attack the Arician priest if he came out of the
temple, as he usually did, before he went to rest.

It was not long before the moon began to silver the dense
foliage of the grove, and then he heard a wicket open, and
from the place where he knelt crouched among the brushwood
he saw the tall figure of the priest, whose shadow fell across
the sward and almost reached his hiding-place. He was a
gaunt-looking man, but of powerful frame. He carried a
large sword in his hand and looked round him suspiciously
on every side. 1 In his excitement Onesimus moved, and a
fallen branch snapped under his foot. The priest looked
round with a startled glance, and Onesimus could see his
features working in the moonlight. He had armed himself
for his frightful purpose with the only weapon he could find
a reaping-hook, which he took down from Dromo's wall.
Listening intently, the priest walked along the grassy path,
but as no other sound followed he seemed to relax his vigi-
lance and turned back. Then, with a sudden shout, Onesimus
sprang upon him.

But habitual terror had made the priest an adept at self-
defence. It was impossible to take him wholly off his guard.
At the first sound he turned, quick as lightning, and, drop-
ping his sword, seized with one arm the hand which grasped
the reaping-hook the gleam of which he had caught in the
moonlight and with the other dealt Onesimus a blow on
the face which knocked him stunned upon the turf. To stoop
over his prostrate form and wrench from his grasp the reap-
ing-hook, was the work of a moment. With a scornful laugh
he flung the weapon over the wall which enclosed the sacred
shrine, and then placed his foot on the youth's breast.

Onesimus came to his senses, felt the heavy foot on his
breast, and opened his eyes.

' So,' said the priest, with a grim laugh, ' you wanted to be
Rex Nemorensis, did you ? It 's none so enviable a post, let

1 Note 39. The King of the Grove.


me tell you ; and it will take a stronger and craftier man than
you to kill Croto when his day comes.'

' Kill me at once,' said the Phrygian, with a groan.

Croto stooped to pick up his sword, and placed its point at
the throat of his assailant ; but he paused. ' By Hercules,'
he said ' or perhaps officially I ought to say by Virbius I
have seen this face before ! '

Onesimus looked up at him, and dimly recalled the slave-
prison at Antium.

' Do you know me ? ' asked the priest.

' I once gave an aureics to a man named Croto to let me
escape from a slave-prison. You are like him.'

' I am Croto,' said the priest, again laughing grimly. ' Is
that how you repay your benefactor ? Do you know that it
is through you I am here, and am never sure any day of not
being murdered before evening ? Some sneaking slave be-
trayed that I had let you escape from Antium. I was
threatened with chains and torture. I had seen enough of
that sort of thing, so I fled. I thought of Aricia ; plucked
the golden bough, as I see you have done ; and killed Manius,
my predecessor.'

' I did not know,' answered Onesimus. ' Kill me. I ask
nothing better.'

But Croto still did not drive home the sword. 'Poor
wretch ! ' he said. ' You are but a youth, and are you tired
of life already ? '

' Utterly tired, or I should not have been the wicked fool I
have shown myself to-night.'

' Why should I kill thee ? ' said Croto. ' Swear never again
to attack me, and thou shalt go unscathed.'

' It would be kinder to kill a wretch whom God hates.'

' Go,' said Croto. ' Diana has so many victims, she can
spare this one. Give me your " golden bough," and let us
part good friends.'

Onesimus rose, miserable and crestfallen. ' I am penniless,'
he said, ' or I would try to show myself grateful.'

' Tush ! ' answered Croto. ' I am King of the Grove and
priest of Diana and of Virbius whoever Virbius was/ he
added under his breath. ' The women give me so many offer-
ings that, but for the never knowing where or when the sword
will smite, I should be as fat as a Salian, and I feed nearly as


well. Nay, poor lad, I can well do something for thee and
never feel the loss. I have more money than I know what
to do with, for I can never leave the grove. Take some. I
dare say you will need it.'

He forced into the youth's hands a leather bag, full of
silver coins, and turned away. Onesimus stood abashed in
the moonlight. Then he burst into tears. He had found
pity and magnanimity in the heart of the doomed and
murderous fugitive ! Was there no hope for such a man ?
Shall any germ of good in man's soul perish unperfected ?
Shall generosity and forgiveness pass without their reward ?
The unexpected mercy extended to him by the grim priest
of Virbius, in that dark wood of ISTemi, brought a blessing
to Onesimus, and as he went back to Dromo's hut, the
whole scene the lake, the white mist, the moonlit-silvered
foliage, the twinkling of the stars, the song of the nightin-
gale, the silence of the hills fell with a healing touch on
the anguish of his heart.




' Frigidus a rostris manat per com pita rumor.'

HOR. Sat. II. vi. 50.

' Servos in numero hominum esse lion pateris ? ' SEN. EV. xlvii., an
Macrob. Sat. i. 11.

HOME was in a state of wild excitement. The city had hardly
been more agitated when the news of Caligula's murder had
spread among the citizens. The assassination of an emperor
was always a possible event. The little human divinity was
certain to make so many enemies, arid was envied by so many
powerful rivals, that the fate of Caesar after Caesar made it no
more than a nine days' wonder if another fell. But the victim
this time was net a Caesar. It was one of the chief men in
the city, a man of consular rank no less a person than the
Praefect of the city, Pedauius Secundus.

And the dread news was whispered from mouth to mouth
that he had been murdered by one of his own slaves !

The people in the Forum and the Vekbrum and the Sub-
ura and at Libo's Well, and the merchants at the Janus, and
the patricians in their palaces, and the priests in the temples,
and the boys of Rome as they played on the steps of the
Julian Basilica, were all discussing this sinister event.

Tigellinus and Petronius, and a group of courtiers, were
sanding together under the porch of the Temple of Castor
when the news reached them. They eagerly questioned the

' Is it certain that the murderer was a slave ? ' asked
Tigellinus in tones of horror.

'He was caught red-handed,' said the messenger. 'The
dagger was wrenched from him, dripping with blood. His
name is Vibius and he does not deny the crime.'

' And what was his motive ? '


' Some say that the Praefect had promised him his liberty
for a certain sum of money. The slave pinched himself for
years to raise it, and when he brought the money Pedanius
broke his bargain.'

The hearers only shrugged their shoulders.

' That happens commonly enough,' said Caecina Tuscus,
Nero's foster-brother, who had himself been born a slave.

' It only meant,' said Senecio, ' that the Praefect had
changed his mind.'

' Others say,' continued the man, ' that Pedanius had a
favourite, who had been also a favourite of Vibius, who was
driven wildly jealous.'

' The notion of a slave presuming to have a favourite ! '
lisped the effeminate Quintianus. ' What next ? '

' How many slaves had Pedanius ? ' asked Petronius.

' Four hundred.'

' Is that all ? ' said Tigellinus. ' It is lucky that he had
no more. They will be executed, every one of them that's
one comfort. Let us thank the gods for the Silanian law.'

They saw Seneca approaching them ; and it was evident
that he had heard the news, for his face wore a look of sorrow
and alarm.

' How say you, Seneca ? ' asked Lucan ; ' is the Silanian
law to be carried out, and are all Pedanius's four hundred
slaves to die ? '

' I should hope not,' said the philosopher, indignantly.
' What ! are we to butcher this multitude, of whom three
hundred and ninety-nine are probably innocent ? The Sila-
nian law is fit for barbarians. Every good feeling within us
abhors the cruel wrong of murdering young and old, innocent
and guilty, in one promiscuous massacre.'

' But that the Prsefect of Rome should be murdered by one
of his own slaves ! ' murmured his hearers.

' By one of his own slaves but maddened, report says, by
an intolerable wrong.'

' Wrong ? ' answered Vestinus, in surprise. ' Are not, then,
our slaves our chattels ? Has a slave rights ? '

'He has the rights of a human being,' answered Seneca.
' Are not our slaves of the same flesh and blood as we ?
Has not a slave feelings ? Has not a slave passions ? '

' Yes ; very bad passions,' said young Vedius Pollio.


' Do they stand alone in that respect ? ' asked Seneca, .fixing
a keen look on him. ' Do masters never show bad passions ? '

Every one understood the allusion, for in the days of Au-
gustus the young man's ancestor, Vedius Pollio, had ordered
a slave to be flung into the fish-pond to feed the lampreys,
merely because he fell and broke a crystal vase. Augustus,
who was dining with Pollio that day, was so indignant that
he ordered the slave to be set free, and every crystal vase in
the house to be broken.

' Seneca will begin to think himself mistaken if I say that
/ agree with him,' said Petronius. ' Nevertheless, I do. I
cannot bear to enter a friend's house and hear it clanking with
chains and ringing with yells, like an ergastulum.'

' Petronius is the soul of good nature,' said Cassius Longi-
nus ; ' but I pity Rome if those maudlin views prevail.'

' Yes,' echoed the fierce Cingonius Varro ; ' so many slaves
so many foes. We nobles live all our lives in a sort of belea-
guered garrison. If the Senate does not do its duty, I shall

' Who makes our slaves our foes ? ' answered Seneca. ' Mine
are not. Most of them are faithful to me. They are my
humble friends. I believe they love me. I know that many
of them would die for me. We become slaves ourselves
because we have so many.'

' Tush ! ' said Scsevinus. ' These sentimentalities will ruin
us. Why, some of us have a thousand slaves, and some of
us have more. We don't know their names, and have to
keep a nomenclator to tell us. Galba is the only person I
know who keeps up the ridiculous old fashion of all the slaves
and freedmen coming in twice daily, to say " Good morning "
and " Good evening." Are we to waste our time in trying to
curry favour with them ? I rule mine by the lash and the
chain and the torture. Ha ! Pudens, my grave newly-wedded
pvimipilar ; here will be some work for you.'

' Never ! ' said Pudens. ' I would rather resign my com-
mission than carry out the Silanian law and superintend the
slaughter of the innocent.'

' And you, my young Titus ? ' asked Petronius. ' I hear
you are going soon to see some military service. Do you
think that your step-mother Caen is and the boy Domitiau
will be able to keep your slaves in order ? '


' We have but few, Petronius,' said Titus ; ' but they love us.
When I was ill, all the familia were as tender in their atten-
tions as if they had been brothers.'

' Like to like,' whispered Tigellinus. ' He is half of slave-
origin himself.'

'And what may your origin be ?' asked Vestinus, to whom
the remark had been made, and who loathed Tigellinus.

The rumour had spread that all the slaves of Pedanius were
to be executed, and the attitude of the people grew very
threatening. Many of them had been slaves themselves,
and many of them lived in intimacy with the slave popula-
tion, which immensely outnumbered the freedmen. Familiar
with the insolence and the exactions of the wealthy, they
assembled in throngs and demanded that there should be
a trial, and that the innocent should be spared. Their lan-
guage became so menacing that the Senate was hastily con-
vened. It was hoped by all the more just and kind of the
senators that mild counsels would prevail, and the Silanian
decree be repealed or modified. They pointed out that the
extreme rarity of the crime showed that the peril was not
great; that, in this particular instance, Pedanius, besides
being a merciless master, had provoked his own fate ; that
there was not a tittle of evidence to prove the complicity of
the familia in this deed of isolated vengeance ; that it would
be monstrous to kill innocent boys and girls, and faithful men
and women, for one madman's crime. But the Senate was
carried away partly by the selfish fears of many of its mem-
bers, and partly by the impassioned speech of Cassius Longi-
nus. An eminent jurist, a conservative who considered the
traditions of the past incomparably superior to the wisdom of
the present, a man of great wealth, high rank, and a certain
Eoman integrity, he rose in his place, and threw the weight
of his influence into the scale of the old pagan ruthlessness.

' Often have I been present, Conscript Fathers,' he said,
' at meetings of the Senate in which I have only protested
by my silence against the innovations which are almost
invariably for the worse. I did not wish you to think that
I was unduly biassed by my personal studies, nor did I
wish to weaken such weight as I may possess by too fre-
quent and fruitless interpositions. But to-day the com-
monwealth demands my undivided efforts. A consular of


Home has been murdered in his own house by a slave's
treachery, and an unrepealed decree of the Senate threatens
punishment to the whole family of slaves who neither pre-
vented nor revealed the plot. Decree impunity for them,
that when the chief magistracy of the city has been no
protection we may each of us, forsooth, be defended by our
own dignity ! Who can be protected by any number of
slaves, if four hundred were not enough to protect Peda-
nius Secundus ? If fear did not suffice to make his slaves
vigilant, which of us will be safe ? There are some who
do not blush to pretend,' he continued, darting an angry
glance at Seneca, ' that the murderer did but avenge his
own wrongs ! Let us, then, pronounce at once that Pe-
dariius was justly murdered ! Are we to argue a case
which our wiser ancestors have already decided ? Why,
even if the decision had now to be made for the first time,
do you imagine that a slave would have had the daring to
murder his master without one threat, without one rash
murmur about his design ? He concealed his plan, for-
sooth ; he prepared his dagger, and no one knew of it !
Could he, then, with equal facility pass through the slaves
who were on night-watch, unfasten the doors of the bed-
chamber, carry in a light, perpetrate the bloody deed, with-
out one person being aware of it ? Guilt betrays itself be-
forehand in many ways. If slaves reveal to us our peril, we
can live, though we be single among multitudes, safe among
those who tremble for themselves at the worst not un-
avenged among the guilty. Our ancestors looked with
suspicion on the character of slaves, even when the slaves,
born on their estates or in their houses, had learnt from
infancy to love their master. But in these days we count
nations among our households. Their rites are different ;
their religions are foreign or nil. We cannot keep in order
this sink and scum of humanity except by fear. But, you
say, " some of the innocent will perish among them." Be
it so ! Are no brave soldiers beaten to death with rods
when a routed army is punished by decimation ? No great
example can be inflicted without some unfairness, but the pub-
lic advantage outweighs the individual injustice ; and in any
case, if four hundred slaves do perish, it will be a cheap loss. '
There was more than one senator who burned to refute


the glittering sophisms and cruel hardness of the jurist's
speech; but Psetus Thrasea was absent, as he often was,
and Seneca was cowed by his habitual timidity. He felt
how easily he could have torn the speech of Longinus into
chreds, and with what genuine lightnings of indignant convic-
tion he could have shattered its pedantries and its inhuman-
ity. But he had not the nerve to confront the impulses of
a selfish panic. He longed to plead the cause of mercy and
of justice, as he was so well capable of doing, and had the
murmurs of dissent which the speech of Cassius evoked
been but a little louder he might have plucked up courage
and have saved the Senate from a deed of blood. But it
was whispered on all sides that Nero leaned to severity,
and Seneca's heart failed him once more. The murmurs
died away ; and Cingonius Varro, emboldened by the devil-
ish plea of necessity, rose to propose further that not only
the slaves of Pedanius should be killed, but all the freed-
men who lived under his roof be banished. Nero, however,
made known that, while he did not wish the ancient sever-
ity to be mitigated, neither did he wish it to be increased,
and the proposal dropped without a seconder.

But let us notice in passing that retribution followed
cruelty. The merciless met with no mercy themselves. Cas-
sius, who meanwhile had become blind, was not long after-
wards banished by Nero to unwholesome Sardinia. Varro, a
little later, was put to death by Galba just after he had be-
come Consul elect. Many who thus voted for the murder of
the innocent were murdered though innocent themselves.

The Senate might decree, but the people were indignant
even to fury. Those who knew one or other of these poor
slaves, and knew their innocence of what had been an act
of sudden fury on the part of Vibius, did their utmost to
raise a tumult. Hennas, the slave of Pedanius, whom
Onesimus had seen in the Antian ergastulum, was known
to all the Christians as one of their brethren ; and though
their principles forbade them to resist the decree of the
state by violence, their lamentations and appeals that some
pity should be extended to the victims stirred the hearts of
the multitude. And they knew that many senators and
Praetorians were in their favour. At one time an attempt
at rescue seemed probable. A crowd armed with stones and


torches gathered in front of the house of Pedanius, where
the four hundred slaves were now in chains under a guard
of soldiers. But they were terrified hy the blind deification
of the imperial authority, and a mixed and cowardly mob
found no leader to inspirit them to attack the house.

Titus was deeply moved and excited, and he went to his
old friend Pudens to see if anything could be done. Pudens
was dreading lest he should be appointed to see the exe-
cution carried out. When Claudia, hanging on his shoulder
and looking into his manly face with her innocent blue eyes,
entreated him to fear God rather than man, he assured
her with a kiss and a smile, that at all costs, even at the
cost of martyrdom, he would refuse. But Nereus had told
him about poor Hernias, and the sweet and engaging charac-
ter of that young man was so well known in the Christian
community, that Pudens would have been ready if possible
to provide for his escape.

' I wish,' said Titus, ' that Onesimus had not been killed
as he is said to have been at the last gladiatorial show.
There is a rumour that, after all, he escaped with his life,
but if so he has disappeared, poor fellow, no one knows
where. He helped us when Britannicus was in danger.
He might help us now.'

The centurion shook his head. He knew nothing of the
attack on the King of the Grove, and supposed that One-
simus was still with Dromo at Aricia, but he thought it
safest to say nothing about him even to Titus.

They could think of no step to take ; but Nereus, who,
as a confidential freedinan, had been present, heard the hint,
and he determined to act upon it on his own responsibility.
He knew that Onesimus was not available, but he knew a
young Christian slave-boy named Protasius in the house of
Pudens who had been acquainted with some of the home-
born slaves of Pedanius, and was thus familar with the
slaves' cells in his house. There was no time to lose. The
massacre was to be carried out the next day. Nereus went
to the boy, who said that he knew of a little neglected
window half hidden by thick bushes in the peristyle, and
if he could only get there he could make his way to the cell
of Hernias. The night would be dark and moonless, yet the
risk would be terrific, the chance almost hopeless. But the


Christians were taught not to hold their lives dear unto
themselves, and they considered that martyrdom in the
cause of duty was the most glorious of crowns. Further
than this, they always acted together, as a faithful, secret,
well-organized body. With the connivance of the Preeto-
rian Vitalis, who was a Christian, Nereus found means to get
the boy introduced into the house, and, creeping along in
the darkness, he found Hermas tied with cords in his cell.
He had taken a knife with him, the rope was quickly
severed, and both he and Hermas, knowing every intricacy
of the house and grounds, got away in safety with an ease
which they attributed to the special interposition of Heaven
in their behalf. What were those glimmering lights which
seemed to flash and fade in the dim silence as they stole
through the peristyle ? Was not some white angel of God
helping to deliver them, as angels had stood by the three
youths in the furnace, and had liberated Peter and John
from prison ? The belief aided them, for it gave them a
confidence which was ready for any emergency, and con-
tributed in no small measure to the unheard-of facility of
their escape.

Nereus had confided to Junia his secret attempt to save
Hermas, and she pleaded that something should be done at
the same time to save the hapless Syra, who in the mean time
had been married to Phlegon. But this proved to be impos-
sible. All the women slaves were shut up in the triclinium
together, and the door was carefully guarded. Syra remained
among the doomed. Phlegon was still technically the slave
of Pedanius, but as he was not in the household he had been
passed over. This was poor Syra's only comfort, and it was
taken from her. Phlegon left his duties at the spoliariura,
and behaved so menacingly in the mob that he was seized
and, on the evidence of a freedman, included in those set
apart for execution.

Meanwhile, after the humiliating adventure in the grove of
Diana, Onesimus was unwilling to linger at Aricia. With no
plan, but in the restlessness of despair, he disguised himself
as well as he could, and by unfrequented paths slunk back to
Rome, not knowing and not caring what might befall him
there. He slept under the vestibule of the Temple of Mars,
and ne