A TALE OF THE THIRD CENTURY
A TALE OF THE THIRD CENTURY
JOHN HENRY CARDINAL NEWMAN
"Love thy God, and love Him only, And thy breast will ne'er be lonely. In that One Great Spirit meet All things mighty, grave, and sweet. Vainly strives the soul to mingle With a being of our kind; Vainly hearts with hearts are twined: For the deepest still is single. An impalpable resistance Holds like natures still at distance. Mortal: love that Holy One, Or dwell for aye alone." DE VERE
LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO. 39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON NEW YORK AND BOMBAY 1904
All rights reserved
HENRY WILLIAM WILBERFORCE.
To you alone, who have known me so long, and who love me so well, could I venture to offer a trifle like this. But you will recognise the author in his work, and take pleasure in the recognition.
J. H. N.
It is hardly necessary to say that the following Tale is a simple fiction from beginning to end. It has little in it of actual history, and not much claim to antiquarian research; yet it has required more reading than may appear at first sight.
It is an attempt to imagine and express, from a Catholic point of view, the feelings and mutual relations of Christians and heathens at the period to which it belongs, and it has been undertaken as the nearest approach which the Author could make to a more important work suggested to him from a high ecclesiastical quarter.
September 13, 1855.
POSTSCRIPTS TO LATER EDITIONS.
February 8, 1856.—Since the volume has been in print, the Author finds that his name has got abroad. This gives him reason to add, that he wrote great part of Chapters I., IV., and V., and sketched the character and fortunes of Juba, in the early spring of 1848. He did no more till the end of last July, when he suddenly resumed the thread of his tale, and has been successful so far as this, that he has brought it to an end.
Without being able to lay his finger upon instances in point, he has some misgiving lest, from a confusion between ancient histories and modern travels, there should be inaccuracies, antiquarian or geographical, in certain of his minor statements, which carry with them authority when they cease to be anonymous.
February 2, 1881.—October, 1888.—In a tale such as this, which professes in the very first sentence of its Advertisement to be simple fiction from beginning to end, details may be allowably filled up by the writer's imagination and coloured by his personal opinions and beliefs, the only rule binding on him being this—that he has no right to contravene acknowledged historical facts. Thus it is that Walter Scott exercises a poet's licence in drawing his Queen Elizabeth and his Claverhouse, and the author of "Romola" has no misgivings in even imputing hypothetical motives and intentions to Savonarola. Who, again, would quarrel with Mr. Lockhart, writing in Scotland, for excluding Pope, or Bishops, or sacrificial rites from his interesting Tale of Valerius?
Such was the understanding, as to what I might do and what I might not, with which I wrote this story; and to make it clearer, I added in the later editions of this Advertisement, that it was written "from a Catholic point of view;" while in the earlier, bearing in mind the interests of historical truth, and the anachronism which I had ventured on at page 82 in the date of Arnobius and Lactantius, I said that I had not "admitted any actual interference with known facts without notice," questions of religious controversy, when I said it, not even coming into my thoughts. I did not consider my Tale to be in any sense controversial, but to be specially addressed to Catholic readers, and for their edification.
This being so, it was with no little surprise I found myself lately accused of want of truth, because I have followed great authorities in attributing to Christians of the middle of the third century what is certainly to be found in the fourth,—devotions, representations, and doctrines, declaratory of the high dignity of the Blessed Virgin. If I had left out all mention of these, I should have been simply untrue to my idea and apprehension of Primitive Christianity. To what positive and certain facts do I run counter in so doing, even granting that I am indulging my imagination? But I have allowed myself no such indulgence; I gave good reasons long ago, in my "Letter to Dr. Pusey" (pp. 53-76), for what I believe on this matter and for what I have in "Callista" described.
CHAP. PAGE I. SICCA VENERIA 1 II. CHRISTIANITY IN SICCA 14 III. AGELLIUS IN HIS COTTAGE 25 IV. JUBA 30 V. JUCUNDUS AT SUPPER 39 VI. GOTHS AND CHRISTIANS 51 VII. PERSECUTION IN THE OFFING 64 VIII. THE NEW GENERATION 80 IX. JUCUNDUS BAITS HIS TRAP 92 X. THE DIVINE CALLISTA 111 XI. CALLISTA'S PREACHING, AND WHAT CAME OF IT 122 XII. A DEATH 135 XIII. AND RESURRECTION 145 XIV. A SMALL CLOUD 159 XV. A VISITATION 168 XVI. WORSE AND WORSE 178 XVII. CHRISTIANOS AD LEONES 189 XVIII. AGELLIUS FLITS 199 XIX. A PASSAGE OF ARMS 212 XX. HE SHALL NOT LOSE HIS REWARD 226 XXI. STARTLING RUMOURS 235 XXII. JUCUNDUS PROPOUNDS HIS VIEW OF THE SITUATION 239 XXIII. GURTA 256 XXIV. A MOTHER'S BLESSING 266 XXV. CALLISTA IN DURANCE 274 XXVI. WHAT CAN IT ALL MEAN? 281 XXVII. AM I A CHRISTIAN? 291 XXVIII. A SICK CALL 305 XXIX. CONVERSION 317 XXX. TORRES VEDRAS 329 XXXI. THE BAPTISM 343 XXXII. THE IMPERIAL RESCRIPT 352 XXXIII. A GOOD CONFESSION 357 XXXIV. THE MARTYRDOM 366 XXXV. THE CORPO SANTO 371 XXXVI. LUX PERPETUA SANCTIS TUIS, DOMINE 377
A TALE OF THE THIRD CENTURY.
In no province of the vast Roman empire, as it existed in the middle of the third century, did Nature wear a richer or a more joyous garb than she displayed in Proconsular Africa, a territory of which Carthage was the metropolis, and Sicca might be considered the centre. The latter city, which was the seat of a Roman colony, lay upon a precipitous or steep bank, which led up along a chain of hills to a mountainous track in the direction of the north and east. In striking contrast with this wild and barren region was the view presented by the west and south, where for many miles stretched a smiling champaign, exuberantly wooded, and varied with a thousand hues, till it was terminated at length by the successive tiers of the Atlas, and the dim and fantastic forms of the Numidian mountains. The immediate neighbourhood of the city was occupied by gardens, vineyards, corn-fields, and meadows, crossed or encircled here by noble avenues of trees or the remains of primeval forests, there by the clustering groves which wealth and luxury had created. This spacious plain, though level when compared with the northern heights by which the city was backed, and the peaks and crags which skirted the southern and western horizon, was discovered, as light and shadow travelled with the sun, to be diversified with hill and dale, upland and hollow; while orange gardens, orchards, olive and palm plantations held their appropriate sites on the slopes or the bottoms. Through the mass of green, which extended still more thickly from the west round to the north, might be seen at intervals two solid causeways tracking their persevering course to the Mediterranean coast, the one to the ancient rival of Rome, the other to Hippo Regius in Numidia. Tourists might have complained of the absence of water from the scene; but the native peasant would have explained to them that the eye alone had reason to be discontented, and that the thick foliage and the uneven surface did but conceal what mother earth with no niggard bounty supplied. The Bagradas, issuing from the spurs of the Atlas, made up in depth what it wanted in breadth of bed, and ploughed the rich and yielding mould with its rapid stream, till, after passing Sicca in its way, it fell into the sea near Carthage. It was but the largest of a multitude of others, most of them tributaries to it, deepening as much as they increased it. While channels had been cut from the larger rills for the irrigation of the open land, brooks, which sprang up in the gravel which lay against the hills, had been artificially banked with cut stones or paved with pebbles; and where neither springs nor rivulets were to be found, wells had been dug, sometimes to the vast depth of as much as 200 fathoms, with such effect that the spurting column of water had in some instances drowned the zealous workmen who had been the first to reach it. And, while such were the resources of less favoured localities or seasons, profuse rains descended over the whole region for one half of the year, and the thick summer dews compensated by night for the daily tribute extorted by an African sun.
At various distances over the undulating surface, and through the woods, were seen the villas and the hamlets of that happy land. It was an age when the pride of architecture had been indulged to the full; edifices, public and private, mansions and temples, ran off far away from each market-town or borough, as from a centre, some of stone or marble, but most of them of that composite of fine earth, rammed tight by means of frames, for which the Saracens were afterwards famous, and of which specimens remain to this day, as hard in surface, as sharp at the angles, as when they first were finished. Every here and there, on hill or crag, crowned with basilicas and temples, radiant in the sun, might be seen the cities of the province or of its neighbourhood, Thibursicumber, Thugga, Laribus, Siguessa, Sufetula, and many others; while in the far distance, on an elevated table-land under the Atlas, might be discerned the Colonia Scillitana, famous about fifty years before the date of which we write for the martyrdom of Speratus and his companions, who were beheaded at the order of the proconsul for refusing to swear by the genius of Rome and the emperor.
If the spectator now takes his stand, not in Sicca itself, but about a quarter of a mile to the south-east, on the hill or knoll on which was placed the cottage of Agellius, the city itself will enter into the picture. Its name, Sicca Veneria, if it be derived (as some suppose) from the Succoth benoth, or "tents of the daughters," mentioned by the inspired writer as an object of pagan worship in Samaria, shows that it owed its foundation to the Phoenician colonists of the country. At any rate, the Punic deities retained their hold upon the place; the temples of the Tyrian Hercules and of Saturn, the scene of annual human sacrifices, were conspicuous in its outline, though these and all other religious buildings in it looked small beside the mysterious antique shrine devoted to the sensual rites of the Syrian Astarte. Public baths and a theatre, a capitol, imitative of Rome, a gymnasium, the long outline of a portico, an equestrian statue in brass of the Emperor Severus, were grouped together above the streets of a city, which, narrow and winding, ran up and down across the hill. In its centre an extraordinary spring threw up incessantly several tons of water every minute, and was inclosed by the superstitious gratitude of the inhabitants with the peristylium of a sacred place. At the extreme back, towards the north, which could not be seen from the point of view where we last stationed ourselves, there was a sheer descent of rock, bestowing on the city, when it was seen at a distance on the Mediterranean side, the same bold and striking appearance which attaches to Castro Giovanni, the ancient Enna, in the heart of Sicily.
And now, withdrawing our eyes from the panorama, whether in its distant or nearer objects, if we would at length contemplate the spot itself from which we have been last surveying it, we shall find almost as much to repay attention, and to elicit admiration. We stand in the midst of a farm of some wealthy proprietor, consisting of a number of fields and gardens, separated from each other by hedges of cactus or the aloe. At the foot of the hill, which sloped down on the side furthest from Sicca to one of the tributaries of the rich and turbid river of which we have spoken, a large yard or garden, intersected with a hundred artificial rills, was devoted to the cultivation of the beautiful and odoriferous khennah. A thick grove of palms seemed to triumph in the refreshment of the water's side, and lifted up their thankful boughs towards heaven. The barley harvest in the fields which lay higher up the hill was over, or at least was finishing; and all that remained of the crop was the incessant and importunate chirping of the cicadae, and the rude booths of reeds and bulrushes, now left to wither, in which the peasant boys found shelter from the sun, while in an earlier month they frightened from the grain the myriads of linnets, goldfinches, and other small birds who, as in other countries, contested with the human proprietor the possession of it. On the south-western slope lies a neat and carefully dressed vineyard, the vine-stakes of which, dwarfish as they are, already cast long shadows on the eastern side. Slaves are scattered over it, testifying to the scorching power of the sun by their broad petasus, and to its oppressive heat by the scanty subligarium, which reached from the belt or girdle to the knees. They are engaged in cutting off useless twigs to which the last showers of spring have given birth, and are twisting those which promise fruit into positions where they will be safe both from the breeze and from the sun. Everything gives token of that gracious and happy season which the great Latin poets have hymned in their beautiful but heathen strains; when, after the heavy rains, and raw mists, and piercing winds, and fitful sun-gleams of a long six months, the mighty mother manifests herself anew, and pours out the resources of her innermost being for the life and enjoyment of every portion of the vast whole;—or, to apply the lines of a modern bard—
"When the bare earth, till now Desert and bare, unsightly, unadorned, Brings forth the tender grass, whose verdure clads Her universal face with pleasant green; Then herbs of every leaf, that sudden flower, Opening their various colours, and make gay Her bosom, swelling sweet; and, these scarce blown, Forth flourishes the clustering vine, forth creeps The swelling gourd, up stands the corny reed Embattled in her fields, and the humble shrub, And bush with frizzled hair implicit; last Rise, as in dance, the stately trees, and spread Their branches hung with copious fruit, or gem Their blossoms; with high woods the hills are crowned With tufts the valleys, and each fountain side With borders long the rivers; that earth now Seems like to heaven, a seat where gods might dwell, Or wander with delight, and love to haunt Her sacred shades."
A snatch from some old Greek chant, with something of plaintiveness in the tone, issues from the thicket just across the mule-path, cut deep in the earth, which reaches from the city gate to the streamlet; and a youth, who had the appearance of the assistant bailiff or procurator of the farm, leaped from it, and went over to the labourers, who were busy with the vines. His eyes and hair and the cast of his features spoke of Europe; his manner had something of shyness and reserve, rather than of rusticity; and he wore a simple red tunic with half sleeves, descending to the knee, and tightened round him by a belt. His legs and feet were protected by boots which came half up his calf. He addressed one of the slaves, and his voice was gentle and cheerful.
"Ah, Sansar!" he cried, "I don't like your way of managing these branches so well as my own; but it is a difficult thing to move an old fellow like you. You never fasten together the shoots which you don't cut off, they are flying about quite wild, and the first ox that passes through the field next month for the ploughing will break them off."
He spoke in Latin; the man understood it, and answered him in the same language, though with deviations from purity of accent and syntax, not without parallel in the talkee-talkee of the West Indian negro.
"Ay, ay, master," he said, "ay, ay; but it's all a mistake to use the plough at all. The fork does the work much better, and no fear for the grape. I hide the tendril under the leaf against the sun, which is the only enemy we have to consider."
"Ah! but the fork does not raise so much dust as the plough and the heavy cattle which draw it," returned Agellius; "and the said dust does more for the protection of the tendril than the shade of the leaf."
"But those huge beasts," retorted the slave, "turn up great ridges, and destroy the yard."
"It's no good arguing with an old vinedresser, who had formed his theory before I was born," said Agellius good-humouredly; and he passed on into a garden beyond.
Here were other indications of the happy month through which the year was now travelling. The garden, so to call it, was a space of several acres in extent; it was one large bed of roses, and preparation was making for extracting their essence, for which various parts of that country are to this day celebrated. Here was another set of labourers, and a man of middle age was surveying them at his leisure. His business-like, severe, and off-hand manner bespoke the villicus or bailiff himself.
"Always here," said he, "as if you were a slave, not a Roman, my good fellow; yet slaves have their Saturnalia; always serving, not worshipping the all-bounteous and all-blessed. Why are you not taking holiday in the town?"
"Why should I, sir?" asked Agellius; "don't you recollect old Hiempsal's saying about 'one foot in the slipper, and one in the shoe.' Nothing would be done well if I were a town-goer. You engaged me, I suppose, to be here, not there."
"Ah!" answered he, "but at this season the empire, the genius of Rome, the customs of the country, demand it, and above all the great goddess Astarte and her genial, jocund month. 'Parturit almus ager;' you know the verse; do not be out of tune with Nature, nor clash and jar with the great system of the universe."
A cloud of confusion, or of distress, passed over Agellius's face. He seemed as if he wished to speak; at length he merely said, "It's a fault on the right side in a servant, I suppose."
"I know the way of your people," Vitricus replied, "Corybantians, Phrygians, Jews, what do you call yourselves? There are so many fantastic religions now-a-days. Hang yourself outright at your house-door, if you are tired of living—and you are a sensible fellow. How can any man, whose head sits right upon his shoulders, say that life is worth having, and not worth enjoying?"
"I am a quiet being," answered Agellius, "I like the country, which you think so tame, and care little for the flaunting town. Tastes differ."
"Town! you need not go to Sicca," answered the bailiff, "all Sicca is out of town. It has poured into the fields, and groves, and river side. Lift up your eyes, man alive, open your ears, and let pleasure flow in. Be passive under the sweet breath of the goddess, and she will fill you with ecstasy."
It was as Vitricus had said; the solemn feast-days of Astarte were in course of celebration; of Astarte, the well-known divinity of Carthage and its dependent cities, whom Heliogabalus had lately introduced to Rome, who in her different aspects was at once Urania, Juno, and Aphrodite, according as she embodied the idea of the philosopher, the statesman, or the vulgar; lofty and intellectual as Urania, majestic and commanding as Juno, seductive as the goddess of sensuality and excess.
"There goes the son of as good and frank a soldier as ever brandished pilum," said Vitricus to himself, "till in his last years some infernal god took umbrage at him, and saddled him and his with one of those absurd superstitions which are as plentiful here as serpents. He indeed was too old himself to get much harm from it; but it shows its sour nature in these young shoots. A good servant, but the plague's in his bones, and he will rot."
His subordinate's reflections were of a different character: "The very air breathes sin to-day," he cried; "oh that I did not find the taint of the city in these works of God! Alas! sweet Nature, the child of the Almighty, is made to do the fiend's work, and does it better than the town. O ye beautiful trees and fair flowers, O bright sun and balmy air, what a bondage ye are in, and how do ye groan till you are redeemed from it! Ye are bond-slaves, but not willingly, as man is; but how will you ever be turned to nobler purpose? How is this vast, this solid establishment of error, the incubus of many thousand years, ever to have an end? You yourselves, dear ones, will come to nought first. Anyhow, the public way is no place for me this evening. They'll soon be back from their accursed revelry."
A sound of horns and voices had been heard from time to time through the woods, as if proceeding from parties dispersed through them; and in the growing twilight might be seen lights, glancing and wandering through the foliage. The cottage in which Agellius dwelt was on the other side of the hollow bridle-way which crossed the hill. To make for home he had first to walk some little distance along it; and scarcely had he descended into it for that purpose, when he found himself in the front of a band of revellers, who were returning from some scene of impious festivity. They were arrayed in holiday guise, as far as they studied dress at all; the symbols of idolatry were on their foreheads and arms; some of them were intoxicated, and most of them were women.
"Why have you not been worshipping, young fellow?" said one.
"Comely built," said another, "but struck by the furies. I know the cut of him."
"By Astarte," said a third, "he's one of those sly Gnostics! I have seen the chap before, with his hangdog look. He is one of Pluto's whelps, first cousin to Cerberus, and his name's Channibal."
On which they all began to shout out, "I say, Channibal, Channibal, here's a lad that knows you. Old fellow, come along with us;" and the speaker made a dash at him.
On this Agellius, who was slowly making his way past them on the broken and steep path, leapt up in two or three steps to the ridge, and went away in security; when one woman cried out, "O the toad, I know him now; he is a wizard; he eats little children; didn't you see him make that sign? it's a charm. My sister did it; the fool left me to be one of them. She was ever doing so" (mimicking the sign of the cross). "He's a Christian, blight him! he'll turn us into beasts."
"Cerberus, bite him!" said another, "he sucks blood;" and taking up a stone, she made it whiz past his ear as he disappeared from view. A general scream of contempt and hatred followed. "Where's the ass's head? put out the lights, put out the lights! gibbet him! that's why he has not been with honest people down in the vale." And then they struck up a blasphemous song, the sentiments of which we are not going even to conceive, much less to attempt in words.
CHRISTIANITY IN SICCA.
The revellers went on their way; Agellius went on his, and made for his lowly and lonely cottage. He was the elder of the two sons of a Roman legionary of the Secunda Italica, who had settled with them in Sicca, where he lost their mother, and died, having in his old age become a Christian. The fortitude of some confessors at Carthage in the persecution of Severus had been the initial cause of his conversion. He had been posted as one of their guards, and had attended them to the scene of their martyrdom, in addition to the civil force, to whom in the proconsulate the administration of the law was committed. Therefore, happily for him, it could not fall to his duty to be their executioner, a function which, however revolting to his feelings, he might not have had courage to decline. He remained a pagan, though he could not shake off the impression which the martyrs had made upon him; and, after completing his time of service, he retired to the protection of some great friends in Sicca, his brother's home already. Here he took a second wife of the old Numidian stock, and supported himself by the produce of a small piece of land which had been given to him for life by the imperial government. If trial were necessary in order to keep alive the good seed which had been sown in his heart, he found a never-failing supply of that article in the companion of his declining years. In the hey-day of her youth she might have been fitted to throw a sort of sunshine, or rather torchlight, on a military carouse; but now, when poor Strabo, a man well to do in the world, looking for peace, had fallen under her arts, he found he had surrendered his freedom to a malignant, profligate woman, whose passions made her better company for evil spirits than for an invalided soldier. Indeed, as time went on, the popular belief, which she rather encouraged, went to the extent that she actually did hold an intercourse with the unseen world; and certainly she matured in a hatred towards God and man, which would naturally follow, and not unnaturally betoken, such intercourse. The more, then, she inflicted on him her proficiency in these amiable characteristics, the more he looked out for some consolation elsewhere; and the more she involved herself in the guilt or the repute of unlawful arts, the more was he drawn to that religion, where alone to commune with the invisible is to hold intercourse with heaven, not with hell. Whether so great a trial supplied a more human inducement for looking towards Christianity, it is impossible to say. Most men, certainly Roman soldiers, may be considered to act on mixed motives; but so it was in fact, that, on his becoming in his last years a Christian, he found, perhaps discovered, to his great satisfaction, that the Church did not oblige him to continue or renew a tie which bound him to so much misery, and that he might end his days in a tranquillity which his past life required, and his wife's presence would have precluded. He made a good end; he had been allowed to take the blessed sacrament from the altar to his own home on the last time he had been able to attend a synaxis of the faithful, and thus had communicated at least six months within his decease; and the priest who anointed him at the beginning of his last illness also took his confession. He died, begging forgiveness of all whom he had injured, and giving large alms to the poor. This was about the year 236, in the midst of that long peace of the Church, which was broken at length by the Decian persecution.
This peace of well-nigh fifty years had necessarily a peculiar, and not a happy effect upon the Christians of the proconsulate. They multiplied in the greater and the maritime cities, and made their way into positions of importance, whether in trade or the governmental departments; they extended their family connections, and were on good terms with the heathen. Whatever jealousy might be still cherished against the Christian name, nevertheless, individual Christians were treated with civility, and recognised as citizens; though among the populace there would be occasions, at the time of the more solemn pagan feasts, when accidental outbursts might be expected of the antipathy latent in the community, as we have been recording in the foregoing chapter. Men of sense, however, began to understand them better, and to be more just to the reasonableness of their faith. This would lead them to scorn Christianity less, but it would lead them to fear it more. It was no longer a matter merely for the populace to insult, but for government deliberately to put down. The prevailing and still growing unbelief among the lower classes of the population did but make a religion more formidable, which, as heathen statesmen felt, was able to wield the weapons of enthusiasm and zeal with a force and success unknown even to the most fortunate impostors among the Oriental or Egyptian hierophants. The philosophical schools were impressed with similar apprehensions, and had now for fifty years been employed in creating and systematising a new intellectual basis for the received paganism.
But, while the signs of the times led to the anticipation that a struggle was impending between the heads of the state religion and of the new worship which was taking its place, the great body of Christians, laymen and ecclesiastics, were on better and better terms, individually, with the members of society, or what is now called the public; and without losing their faith or those embers of charity which favourable circumstances would promptly rekindle, were, it must be confessed, in a state of considerable relaxation; they often were on the brink of deplorable sins, and sometimes fell over the brink. And many would join the Church on inferior motives as soon as no great temporal disadvantage attached to the act; or the families of Christian parents might grow up with so little of moral or religious education as to make it difficult to say why they called themselves members of a divine religion. Mixed marriages would increase both the scandal and the confusion.
"A long repose," says St. Cyprian, speaking of this very period, "had corrupted the discipline which had come down to us. Every one was applying himself to the increase of wealth; and, forgetting both the conduct of the faithful under the Apostles, and what ought to be their conduct in every age, with insatiable eagerness for gain devoted himself to the multiplying of possessions. The priests were wanting in religious devotedness, the ministers in entireness of faith; there was no mercy in works, no discipline in manners. Men wore their beards disfigured, and woman dyed their faces. Their eyes were changed from what God made them, and a lying colour was passed upon the hair. The hearts of the simple were misled by treacherous artifices, and brethren became entangled in seductive snares. Ties of marriage were formed with unbelievers; members of Christ abandoned to the heathen. Not only rash swearing was heard, but even false; persons in high place were swollen with contemptuousness; poisoned reproaches fell from their mouths, and men were sundered by unabating quarrels. Numerous bishops, who ought to be an encouragement and example to others, despising their sacred calling, engaged themselves in secular vocations, relinquished their sees, deserted their people, strayed among foreign provinces, hunted the markets for mercantile profits, and tried to amass large sums of money, while they had brethren starving within the Church; took possession of estates by fraudulent proceedings, and multiplied their gains by accumulated usuries."(1)
The relaxation which would extend the profession of Christianity in the larger cities would contract or extinguish it in remote or country places. There would be little zeal to keep up Churches, which could not be served without an effort or without secular loss. Carthage, Utica, Hippo, Milevis, or Curubis, was a more attractive residence than the towns with uncouth African names, which amaze the ecclesiastical student in the Acts of the Councils. Vocations became scarce; sees remained vacant; congregations died out. This was pretty much the case with the Church and see of Sicca. At the time of which we write, history preserves no record of any bishop as exercising his pastoral functions in that city. In matter of fact there was none. The last bishop, an amiable old man, had in the course of years acquired a considerable extent of arable land, and employed himself principally, for lack of more spiritual occupation, in reaping, stacking, selling, and sending off his wheat for the Roman market. His deacon had been celebrated in early youth for his boldness in the chase, and took part in the capture of lions and panthers (an act of charity towards the peasants round Sicca) for the Roman amphitheatre. No priests were to be found, and the bishop became parochus till his death. Afterwards infants and catechumens lost baptism; parents lost faith, or at least love; wanderers lost repentance and conversion. For a while there was a flourishing meeting-house of Tertullianists, who had scared more humble minds by pronouncing the eternal perdition of every Catholic; there had also been various descriptions of Gnostics, who had carried off the clever youths and restless speculators; and then there had been the lapse of time, gradually consuming the generation which had survived the flourishing old days of the African Church. And the result was, that in the year 250 it was difficult to say of whom the Church of Sicca consisted. There was no bishop, no priest, no deacon. There was the old mansionarius or sacristan; there were two or three pious women, married or single, who owed their religion to good mothers; there were some slaves who kept to their faith, no one knew how or why; there were a vast many persons who ought to be Catholics, but were heretics, or nothing at all, or all but pagans, and sure to become pagans on the asking; there were Agellius and his brother Juba, and how far these two had a claim to the Christian name we now proceed to explain.
They were about the ages of seven and eight when their father died, and they fell under the guardianship of their uncle, whose residence at Sicca had been one of the reasons which determined Strabo to settle there. This man, being possessed of some capital, drove a thriving trade in idols, large and small, amulets, and the like instruments of the established superstition. His father had come to Carthage in the service of one of the assessors of the proconsul of the day; and his son, finding competition ran too high to give him prospect of remuneration in the metropolis, had opened his statue-shop in Sicca. Those modern arts which enable an English town in this day to be so fertile in the production of ware of this description for the markets of the pagan East, were then unknown; and Jucundus depended on certain artists whom he imported, especially on two Greeks, brother and sister, who came from some isle on the Asian coast, for the supply of his trade. He was a good-natured man, self-indulgent, positive, and warmly attached to the reigning paganism, both as being the law of the land and the vital principle of the state; and, while he was really kind to his orphan nephews, he simply abominated, as in duty bound, the idiotic cant and impudent fee-fa-fum, to which, in his infallible judgment, poor old Strabo had betrayed his children. He would have restored them, you may be quite sure, to their country and to their country's gods, had they acquiesced in the restoration: but in different ways these little chaps, and he shook his head as he said it, were difficult to deal with. Agellius had a very positive opinion of his own on the matter; and as for Juba, though he had no opinion at all, yet he had an equally positive aversion to have thrust on him by another any opinion at all, even in favour of paganism. He had remained in his catechumen state since he grew up, because he found himself in it; and though nothing would make him go forward in his profession of Christianity, no earthly power would be able to make him go back. So there he was, like a mule, struck fast in the door of the Church, and feeling a gratification in his independence of mind. However, whatever his profession might be, still, as time went on, he plainly took after his step-mother, renewed his intercourse with her after his father's death, and at length went so far as to avow that he believed in nothing but the devil, if even he believed in him. It was scarcely safe, however, to affirm that the senses of this hopeful lad were his own.
Agellius, on the other hand, when a boy of six years old, had insisted on receiving baptism; had perplexed his father by a manifestation of zeal to which the old man was a stranger; and had made the good bishop lose the corn-fleet which was starting for Italy from his importunity to learn the Catechism. Baptized he was, confirmed, communicated; but a boy's nature is variable, and by the time Agellius had reached adolescence, the gracious impulses of his childhood had in some measure faded away, though he still retained his faith in its first keenness and vigour. But he had no one to keep him up to his duty; no exhortations, no example, no sympathy. His father's friends had taken him up so far as this, that by an extraordinary favour they had got him a lease for some years of the property which Strabo, a veteran soldier, had held of the imperial government. The care of this small property fell upon him, and another and more serious charge was added to it. The long prosperity of the province had increased the opulence and enlarged the upper class of Sicca. Officials, contractors, and servants of the government had made fortunes, and raised villas in the neighbourhood of the city. Natives of the place, returning from Rome, or from provincial service elsewhere, had invested their gains in long leases of state lands, or of the farms belonging to the imperial res privata or privy purse, and had become virtual proprietors of the rich fields or beautiful gardens in which they had played as children. One of such persons, who had had a place in the officium of the quaestor, or rather procurator, as he began to be called, was the employer of Agellius. His property adjoined the cottage of the latter; and, having first employed the youth from recollection of his father, he confided to him the place of under-bailiff from the talents he showed for farm-business.
Such was his position at the early age of twenty-two; but honourable as it was in itself, and from the mode in which it was obtained, no one would consider it adapted, under the circumstances, to counteract the religious languor and coldness which had grown upon him. And in truth he did not know where he stood further than that he was firm in faith, as we have said, and had shrunk from a boy upwards, from the vice and immorality which was the very atmosphere of Sicca. He might any day be betrayed into some fatal inconsistency, which would either lead him into sin, or oblige him abruptly to retrace his steps, and find a truer and safer position. He was not generally known to be a Christian, at least for certain, though he was seen to keep clear of the established religion. It was not that he hid, so much as that the world did not care to know, what he believed. In that day there were many rites and worships which kept to themselves—many forms of moroseness or misanthropy, as they were considered, which withdrew their votaries from the public ceremonial. The Catholic faith seemed to the multitude to be one of these; it was only in critical times, when some idolatrous act was insisted on by the magistrate, that the specific nature of Christianity was tested and detected. Then at length it was seen to differ from all other religious varieties by that irrational and disgusting obstinacy, as it was felt to be, which had rather suffer torments and lose life than submit to some graceful, or touching, or at least trifling observance which the tradition of ages had sanctioned.
AGELLIUS IN HIS COTTAGE.
The cottage for which Agellius was making, when last we had sight of him, was a small brick house consisting of one room, with a loft over it, and a kitchen on the side, not very unlike that holy habitation which once contained the Eternal Word in human form with His Virgin Mother, and Joseph, their guardian. It was situated on the declivity of the hill, and, unlike the gardens of Italy, the space before it was ornamented with a plot of turf. A noble palm on one side, in spite of its distance from the water, and a group of orange-trees on the other, formed a foreground to the rich landscape which was described in our opening chapter. The borders and beds were gay with the lily, the bacchar, amber-coloured and purple, the golden abrotomus, the red chelidonium, and the variegated iris. Against the wall of the house were trained pomegranates, with their crimson blossoms, the star-like pothos or jessamine, and the symbolical passionflower, which well became a Christian dwelling.
And it was an intimation of what would be found within; for on one side of the room was rudely painted a red cross, with doves about it, as is found in early Christian shrines to this day. So long had been the peace of the Church, that the tradition of persecution seemed to have been lost; and Christians allowed themselves in the profession of their faith at home, cautious as they might be in public places; as freely as now in England, where we do not scruple to raise crucifixes within our churches and houses, though we shrink from doing so within sight of the hundred cabs and omnibuses which rattle past them. Under the cross were two or three pictures, or rather sketches. In the centre stood the Blessed Virgin with hands spread out in prayer, attended by the holy Apostles Peter and Paul on her right and left. Under this representation was rudely scratched upon the wall the word, "Advocata," a title which the earliest antiquity bestows upon her. On a small shelf was placed a case with two or three rolls or sheets of parchment in it. The appearance of them spoke of use indeed, but of reverential treatment. These were the Psalms, the Gospel according to St. Luke, and St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, in the old Latin version, The Gospel was handsomely covered, and ornamented with gold.
The apartment was otherwise furnished with such implements and materials as might be expected in the cottage of a countryman: one or two stools and benches for sitting, a table, and in one corner a heap of dried leaves and rushes, with a large crimson coverlet, for rest at night. Elsewhere were two millstones fixed in a frame, with a handle attached to the rim of one of them, for grinding corn. Then again, garden tools; boxes of seeds; a vessel containing syrup for assuaging the sting of the scorpion; the asir-rese or anagallis, a potent medicine of the class of poisons, which was taken in wine for the same mischance. It hung from the beams, with a large bunch of atsirtiphua, a sort of camomile, smaller in the flower and more fragrant than our own, which was used as a febrifuge. Thence, too, hung a plentiful gathering of dried grapes, of the kind called duracinae; and near the door a bough of the green bargut or psyllium, to drive away the smaller insects.
Poor Agellius felt the contrast between the ungodly turmoil from which he had escaped, and the deep stillness into which he now had entered; but neither satisfied him quite. There was no repose out of doors, and no relief within. He was lonely at home, lonely in the crowd. He needed the sympathy of his kind; hearts which might beat with his heart; friends with whom he might share his joys and griefs; advisers whom he might consult; minds like his own, who would understand him—minds unlike his own, who would succour and respond to him. A very great trial certainly this, in which the soul is flung back upon itself; and that especially in the case of the young, for whom memory and experience do so little, and wayward and excited feelings do so much. Great gain had it been for Agellius, even in its natural effect, putting aside higher benefits, to have been able to recur to sacramental confession; but to confession he had never been, though once or twice he had attended the public homologesis of the Church. Shall we wonder that the poor youth began to be despondent and impatient under his trial? Shall we not feel for him, though we may be sorry for him, should it turn out that he was looking restlessly into every corner of the small world of acquaintance in which his lot lay, for those with whom he could converse easily, and interchange speculation, argument, aspiration, and affection?
"No one cares for me," he said, as he sat down on his rustic bench. "I am nothing to any one; I am a hermit, like Elias or John, without the call to be one. Yet even Elias felt the burden of being one against many; even John asked at length in expostulation, 'Art Thou He that shall come?' Am I for ever to have the knowledge, without the consolation, of the truth? am I for ever to belong to a great divine society, yet never see the face of any of its members?"
He paused in his thoughts, as if drinking in the full taste and measure of his unhappiness. And then his reflections took a turn, and he said, suddenly, "Why do I not leave Sicca? What binds me to my father's farm? I am young, and my interest in it will soon expire. What keeps me from Carthage, Hippo, Cirtha, where Christians are so many?" But here he stopped as suddenly as he had begun; and a strange feeling, half pang, half thrill, went through his heart. And he felt unwilling to pursue his thought, or to answer the question which he had asked; and he settled into a dull, stagnant condition of mind, in which he seemed hardly to think at all.
Be of good cheer, solitary one, though thou art not a hero yet! There is One that cares for thee, and loves thee, more than thou canst feel, love, or care for thyself. Cast all thy care upon Him. He sees thee, and is watching thee; He is hanging over thee, and smiles in compassion at thy troubles. His angel, who is thine, is whispering good thoughts to thee. He knows thy weakness; He foresees thy errors; but He holds thee by thy right hand, and thou shalt not, canst not escape Him. By thy faith, which thou hast so simply, resolutely retained in the midst of idolatry; by thy purity, which, like some fair flower, thou hast cherished in the midst of pollution, He will remember thee in thy evil hour, and thine enemy shall not prevail against thee!
What means that smile upon Agellius's face? It is the response of the child to the loving parent. He knows not why, but the cloud is past. He signs himself with the holy cross, and sweet reviving thoughts enliven him. He names the sacred Name, and it is like ointment poured out upon his soul. He rises; he kneels down under the dread symbol of his salvation; and he begins his evening prayer.
There was more of heart, less of effort, less of mechanical habit, in Agellius's prayers that night, than there had been for a long while before. He got up, struck a light, and communicated it to his small earthen lamp. Its pale rays feebly searched the room and discovered at the other end of it Juba, who had silently opened the door, and sat down near it, while his brother was employed upon his devotions. The countenance of the latter fell, for he was not to go to sleep with the resignation and peace which had just before been poured into his breast. Yet why should he complain? we receive consolation in this world for the very purpose of preparing us against trouble to come. Juba was a tall, swarthy, wild-looking youth. He was holding his head on one side as he sat, and his face towards the roof; he nodded obliquely, arched his eyebrows, pursed up his lips, and crossed his arms, while he gave utterance to a strange, half-whispered laugh.
"He, he, he!" he cried; "so you are on your knees, Agellius."
"Why shouldn't I be at this hour," answered Agellius, "and before I go to bed?"
"O, every one to his taste, of course," said Juba; "but to an unprejudiced mind there is something unworthy in the act."
"Why, Juba?" said his brother somewhat sharply; "don't you profess any religion at all?"
"Perhaps I do, and perhaps I don't," answered Juba; "but never shall it be a bowing and scraping, crawling and cringing religion. You may take your oath of that."
"What ails you to come here at this time of night?" asked Agellius; "who asked for your company?"
"I will come just when I please," said the other, "and go when I please. I won't give an account of my actions to any one, God or man, devil or priest, much less to you. What right have you to ask me?"
"Then," said Agellius, "you'll never get peace or comfort as long as you live, that I can tell you, let alone the life to come."
Juba kept silent for awhile, and bit his nails with a smile on his face, and his eyes looking askance upon the ground. "I want no more than I have; I am well content," he said.
"Contented with yourself," retorted Agellius.
"Of course," Juba replied; "whom ought one to wish rather to content?"
"I suppose, your Creator."
"Creator," answered Juba, tossing back his head with an air of superiority; "Creator;—that, I consider, is an assumption."
"O, my dear brother," cried Agellius, "don't go on in that dreadful way!"
" 'Go on!' who began? Is one man to lay down the law, and not the other too? Is it so generally received, this belief of a Creator? Who have brought in the belief? The Christians. 'Tis the Christians that began it. The world went on very well without it before their rise. And now, who began the dispute but you?"
"Well, if I did," answered Agellius; "but I didn't. You began in coming here; what in the world are you come for? by what right do you disturb me at this hour?"
There was no appearance of anger in Juba; he seemed as free from feeling of every kind, from what is called heart, as if he had been a stone. In answer to his brother's question, he quietly said, "I have been down there," pointing in the direction of the woods.
An expression of sharp anguish passed over his brother's face, and for a moment he was silent. At length he said, "You don't mean to say you have been down to poor mother?"
"I do," said Juba.
There was again a silence for a little while; then Agellius renewed the conversation. "You have fallen off sadly, Juba, in the course of the last several years."
Juba tossed his head, and crossed his legs.
"At one time I thought you would have been baptized," his brother continued.
"That was my weakness," answered Juba; "it was a weak moment: it was just after the old bishop's death. He had been kind to me as a child; and he said some womanish words to me, and it was excusable in me."
"Oh that you had yielded to your wish!" cried Agellius.
Juba looked superior. "The fit passed," he said. "I have come to a juster view of things. It is not every one who has the strength of mind. I consider that a logical head comes to a very different conclusion;" and he began wagging his own, to the right and left, as if it were coming to a great many.
"Well," said Agellius, gaping, and desiring at least to come to a conclusion of the altercation, "what brings you here so late?"
"I was on my way to Jucundus," he answered, "and have been delayed by the Succoth-benoth in the grove across the river."
Here they were thrown back upon their controversy. Agellius turned quite white. "My poor fellow," he said, "what were you there for?"
"To see the world," answered Juba; "it's unmanly not to see it. Why shouldn't I see it? It was good fun. I despise them all, fools and idiots. There they were, scampering about, or lying like hogs, all in liquor. Apes and swine! However, I will do as others do, if I please. I will be as drunk as they, when I see good. I am my own master, and it would be no kind of harm."
"No harm! why, is it no harm to become an ape or a hog?"
"You don't take just views of human nature," answered Juba, with a self-satisfied air. "Our first duty is to seek our own happiness. If a man thinks it happier to be a hog, why, let him be a hog," and he laughed. "This is where you are narrow-minded. I shall seek my own happiness, and try this way, if I please."
"Happiness!" cried Agellius; "where have you been picking up all this stuff? Can you call such detestable filth happiness?"
"What do you know about such matters?" asked Juba. "Did you ever see them? Did you ever try them? You would be twice the man you are if you had. You will not be a man till you do. You are carried off your legs in your own way. I'd rather get drunk every day than fall down on all fours as you do, crawling on your stomach like a worm, and whining like a hound that has been beaten."
"Now, as I live, you shan't stop here one instant longer!" cried out Agellius, starting up. "Be off with you! get away! what do you come here to blaspheme for? who wants you? who asked for you? Go! go, I say! take yourself off! Why don't you go? Keep your ribaldry for others."
"I am as good as you any day," said Juba.
"I don't set myself up," answered Agellius, "but it's impossible to confound Christian and unbeliever as you do."
"Christian and unbeliever!" said Juba, slowly. "I suppose, when they are a-courting each other, they are confounded." He looked hard at Agellius, as if he thought he had hit a blot. Then he continued, "If I were a Christian, I'd be so in earnest: else I'd be an honest heathen."
Agellius coloured somewhat, and sat down, as if under embarrassment.
"I despise you," said Juba; "you have not the pluck to be a Christian. Be consistent, and fizz upon a stake; but you're not made of that stuff. You're even afraid of uncle. Nay, you can be caught by those painted wares, about which, when it suits your purpose, you can be so grave. I despise you," he continued, "I despise you, and the whole kit of you. What's the difference between you and another? Your people say, 'Earth's a vanity, life's a dream, riches a deceit, pleasure a snare. Fratres charissimi, the time is short;' but who love earth and life and riches and pleasure better than they? You are all of you as fond of the world, as set upon gain, as chary of reputation, as ambitious of power, as the jolly old heathen, who, you say, is going the way of the pit."
"It is one thing to have a conscience," answered Agellius; "another thing to act upon it. The conscience of these poor people is darkened. You had a conscience once."
"Conscience, conscience," said Juba. "Yes, certainly, once I had a conscience. Yes, and once I had a bad chill, and went about chattering and shivering; and once I had a game leg, and then I went limping; and so, you see, I once on a time had a conscience. O yes, I have had many consciences before now—white, black, yellow, and green; they were all bad; but they are all gone, and now I have none."
Agellius said nothing; his one wish, as may be supposed, was to get rid of so unwelcome a visitor.
"The truth is," continued Juba, with the air of a teacher—"the truth is, that religion was a fashion with me, which is now gone by. It was the complexion of a particular stage of my life. I was neither the better nor the worse for it. It was an accident, like the bloom on my face, which soon," he said, spreading his fingers over his dirty-coloured cheeks, and stroking them, "which soon will disappear. I acted according to the feeling, while it lasted; but I can no more recall it than my first teeth, or the down on my chin. It's among the things that were."
Agellius still keeping silence from weariness and disgust, he looked at him in a significant way, and said, slowly, "I see how it is; I have penetration enough to perceive that you don't believe a bit more about religion than I do."
"You must not say that under my roof," cried Agellius, feeling he must not let his brother's charge pass without a protest. "Many are my sins, but unbelief is not one of them."
Juba tossed his head. "I think I can see through a stone slab as well as any one," he said. "It is as I have said; but you're too proud to confess it. It's part of your hypocrisy."
"Well," said Agellius coldly, "let's have done. It's getting late, Juba; you'll be missed at home. Jucundus will be inquiring for you, and some of those revelling friends of yours may do you a mischief by the way. Why, my good fellow," he continued, in surprise, "you have no leggings. The scorpions will catch hold of you to a certainty in the dark. Come, let me tie some straw wisps about you."
"No fear of scorpions for me," answered Juba; "I have some real good amulets for the occasion, which even boola-kog and uffah will respect."
Saying this, he passed out of the room as unceremoniously as he had entered it, and took the direction of the city, talking to himself, and singing snatches of wild airs as he went along, throwing back and shaking his head, and now and then uttering a sharp internal laugh. Disdaining to follow the ordinary path, he dived down into the thick and wet grass, and scrambled through the ravine, which the public road crossed before it ascended the hill. Meanwhile he accompanied his quickened pace with a louder strain, and it ran as follows:—
"The little black Moor is the mate for me, When the night is dark, and the earth is free, Under the limbs of the broad yew-tree.
"'Twas Father Cham that planted that yew, And he fed it fat with the bloody dew Of a score of brats, as his lineage grew.
"Footing and flaunting it, all in the night, Each lock flings fire, each heel strikes light; No lamps need they, whose breath is bright."
Here he was interrupted by a sudden growl, which sounded almost under his feet, and some wild animal was seen to slink away. Juba showed no surprise; he had taken out a small metal idol, and whispering some words to it, had presented it to the animal. He clambered up the bank, gained the city gate, and made his way for his uncle's dwelling, which was near the temple of Astarte.
JUCUNDUS AT SUPPER.
The house of Jucundus was closed for the night when Juba reached it, or you would see, were you his companion, that it was one of the most showy shops in Sicca. It was the image-store of the place, and set out for sale, not articles of statuary alone, but of metal, of mosaic work, and of jewellery, as far as they were dedicated to the service of paganism. It was bright with the many colours adopted in the embellishment of images, and the many lights which silver and gold, brass and ivory, alabaster, gypsum, talc, and glass reflected. Shelves and cabinets were laden with wares; both the precious material, and the elaborated trinket. All tastes were suited, the popular and the refined, the fashion of the day and the love of the antique, the classical and the barbarian devotion. There you might see the rude symbols of invisible powers, which, originating in deficiency of art, had been perpetuated by reverence for the past: the mysterious cube of marble sacred among the Arabs, the pillar which was the emblem of Mercury or Bacchus, the broad-based cone of Heliogabalus, the pyramid of Paphos, and the tile or brick of Juno.
There, too, were the unmeaning blocks of stone with human heads, which were to be dressed out in rich robes, and to simulate the human form. There were other articles besides, as portable as these were unmanageable: little Junos, Mercuries, Dianas, and Fortunas, for the bosom or the girdle. Household gods were there, and the objects of personal devotion: Minerva or Vesta, with handsome niches or shrines in which they might reside. There, too, were the brass crowns, or nimbi which were intended to protect the heads of the gods from bats and birds. There you might buy, were you a heathen, rings with heads on them of Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Serapis, and above all Astarte. You would find there the rings and signets of the Basilidians; amulets too of wood or ivory: figures of demons, preternaturally ugly; little skeletons, and other superstitious devices. It would be hard, indeed, if you could not be pleased, whatever your religious denomination—unless indeed you were determined to reject all the appliances and objects of idolatry indiscriminately—and in that case you would rejoice that it was night when you arrived there, and, in particular, that darkness swallowed up other appliances and objects of pagan worship, which to darkness were due by a particular title, and by darkness were best shrouded, till the coming of that day when all things, good and evil, shall be made light.
The shop, as we have said, was closed, concealed from view by large lumbering shutters, and made secure by heavy bars of wood. So we must enter by the passage or vestibule on the right side, and that will conduct us into a modest atrium, with an impluvium on one side, and on the other the triclinium or supper-room, backing the shop. Jucundus had been pleasantly engaged in a small supper-party; and, mindful that a symposium should lie within the number of the Graces and of the Muses, he had confined his guests to two, the young Greek Aristo, who was one of his principal artists, and Cornelius the son of a freedman of a Roman of distinction, who had lately got a place in one of the scrinia of the proconsular officium, and had migrated into the province from the imperial city where he had spent his best days.
The dinner had not been altogether suitable to modern ideas of good living. The grapes from Tacape, and the dates from the lake Tritonis, the white and black figs, the nectarines and peaches, and the watermelons, address themselves to the imagination of an Englishman, as well as of an African of the third century. So also might the liquor derived from the sap or honey of the Getulian palm, and the sweet wine, called melilotus, made from the poetical fruit found upon the coast of the Syrtis. He would have been struck, too, with the sweetness of the mutton; but he would have asked what the sheep's tails were before he tasted them, and found how like marrow the firm substance ate of which they consisted. He would have felt he ought to admire the roes of mullets, pressed and dried, from Mauritania; but he would have thought twice before he tried the lion cutlets though they had the flavour of veal, and the additional gout of being imperial property, and poached from a preserve. But when he saw the indigenous dish, the very haggis and cock-a-leekie of Africa, in the shape of—(alas! alas! it must be said, with whatever apology for its introduction)—in shape, then, of a delicate puppy, served up with tomatoes, with its head between its fore-paws, we consider he would have risen from the unholy table, and thought he had fallen upon the hospitality of some sorceress of the neighbouring forest. However, to that festive board our Briton was not invited, for he had some previous engagement that evening, either of painting himself with woad, or of hiding himself to the chin in the fens; so that nothing occurred to disturb the harmony of the party, and the good humour and easy conversation which was the effect of such excellent cheer.
Cornelius had been present at the Secular Games in the foregoing year, and was full of them, of Rome, and of himself in connection with it, as became so genuine a cockney of the imperial period. He was full of the high patriotic thoughts which so solemn a celebration had kindled within him. "O great Rome!" he said, "thou art first, and there is no second. In that wonderful pageant which these eyes saw last year was embodied her majesty, was promised her eternity. We die, she lives. I say, let a man die. It's well for him to take hemlock, or open a vein, after having seen the Secular Games. What was there to live for? I felt it; life was gone; its best gifts flat and insipid after that great day. Excellent—Tauromenian, I suppose? We know it in Rome. Fill up my cup. I drink to the genius of the emperor."
He was full of his subject, and soon resumed it. "Fancy the Campus Martius lighted up from one end to the other. It was the finest thing in the world. A large plain, covered, not with streets, not with woods, but broken and crossed with superb buildings in the midst of groves, avenues of trees, and green grass, down to the water's edge. There's nothing that isn't there. Do you want the grandest temples in the world, the most spacious porticoes, the longest racecourses? there they are. Do you want gymnasia? there they are. Do you want arches, statues, obelisks? you find them there. There you have at one end the stupendous mausoleum of Augustus, cased with white marble, and just across the river the huge towering mound of Hadrian. At the other end you have the noble Pantheon of Agrippa, with its splendid Syracusan columns, and its dome glittering with silver tiles. Hard by are the baths of Alexander, with their beautiful groves. Ah! my good friend! I shall have no time to drink if I go on. Beyond are the numerous chapels and fanes which fringe the base of the Capitoline hill; the tall column of Antoninus comes next, with its adjacent basilica, where is kept the authentic list of the provinces of the empire, and of the governors, each a king in power and dominion, who are sent out to them. Well, I am now only beginning. Fancy, I say, this magnificent region all lighted up; every temple to and fro, every bath, every grove, gleaming with innumerable lamps and torches. No, not even the gods of Olympus have anything that comes near it. Rome is the greatest of all divinities. In the dead of night all was alive; then it was, when nature sleeps exhausted, Rome began the solemn sacrifices to commemorate her thousand years. On the banks of the Tiber, which had seen AEneas land, and Romulus ascend to the gods, the clear red flame shot up as the victims burned. The music of ten thousand horns and flutes burst forth, and the sacred dances began upon the greensward. I am too old to dance; but, I protest, even I stood up and threw off. We danced through three nights, dancing the old millenary out, dancing the new millenary in. We were all Romans, no strangers, no slaves. It was a solemn family feast, the feast of all the Romans."
"Then we came in for the feast," said Aristo; "for Caracalla gave Roman citizenship to all freemen all over the world. We are all of us Romans, recollect, Cornelius."
"Ah! that was another matter—a condescension," answered Cornelius. "Yes, in a certain sense, I grant it; but it was a political act."
"I warrant you," retorted Aristo, "most political. We were to be fleeced, do you see? so your imperial government made us Romans, that we might have the taxes of Romans, and that in addition to our own. You've taxed us double; and as for the privilege of citizenship, much it is, by Hercules, when every snob has it who can wear a pileus or cherish his hair."
"Ah! but you should have seen the procession from the Capitol," continued Cornelius, "on, I think, the second day; from the Capitol to the Circus, all down the Via Sacra. Hosts of strangers there, and provincials from the four corners of the earth, but not in the procession. There you saw, all in one coup-d'oeil, the real good blood of Rome, the young blood of the new generation, and promise of the future; the sons of patrician and consular families, of imperators, orators, conquerors, statesmen. They rode at the head of the procession, fine young fellows, six abreast; and still more of them on foot. Then came the running horses and the chariots, the boxers, the wrestlers, and other combatants, all ready for the competition. The whole school of gladiators then turned out, boys and all, with their masters, dressed in red tunics, and splendidly armed. They formed three bands, and they went forward gaily, dancing and singing the Pyrrhic. By-the-bye, a thousand pair of gladiators fought during the games—a round thousand, and such clean-made, well-built fellows, and they came against each other so gallantly! You should have see it; I can't go through it. There was a lot of satyrs, jumping and frisking, in burlesque of the martial dances which preceded them. There was a crowd of trumpeters and horn-blowers; ministers of the sacrifices with their victims, bulls and rams, dressed up with gay wreaths; drivers, butchers, haruspices, heralds; images of gods with their cars of ivory or silver, drawn by tame lions and elephants. I can't recollect the order. O! but the grandest thing of all was the Carmen, sung by twenty-seven noble youths, and as many noble maidens, taken for the purpose from the bosoms of their families to propitiate the gods of Rome. The flamens, augurs, colleges of priests, it was endless. Last of all came the emperor himself."
"That's the late man," observed Jucundus, "Philip; no bad riddance his death, if all's true that's said of him."
"All emperors are good in their time and way," answered Cornelius; "Philip was good then, and Decius is good now;—whom the gods preserve!"
"True," said Aristo, "I understand; an emperor cannot do wrong, except in dying, and then everything goes wrong with him. His death is his first bad deed; he ought to be ashamed of it; it somehow turns all his great virtues into vices."
"Ah! no one was so good an emperor as our man, Gordianus," said Jucundus, "a princely old man, living and dead; patron of trade and of the arts; such villas! he had enormous revenues. Poor old gentleman! and his son too. I never shall forget the day when the news came that he was gone. Let me see, it was shortly after that old fool Strabo's death—I mean my brother; a good thirteen years ago. All Africa was in tears; there was no one like Gordianus."
"That's old world philosophy," said Aristo; "Jucundus, you must go to school. Don't you see that all that is, is right; and all that was, is wrong? 'Te nos facimus, Fortuna, deam,' says your poet; well, I drink 'to the fortunes of Rome,'—while it lasts."
"You're a young man," answered Cornelius, "a very young man, and a Greek. Greeks never understand Rome. It's most difficult to understand us. It's a science. Look at this medal, young gentleman; it was one of those struck at the games. Is it not grand? 'Novum saeculum,' and on the reverse, 'AEternitati.' Always changing, always imperishable. Emperors rise and fall; Rome remains. The eternal city! Isn't this good philosophy?"
"Truly, a most beautiful medal," said Aristo, examining it, and handing it on to his host. "You might make an amulet of it, Jucundus. But as to eternity, why, that is a very great word; and, if I mistake not, other states have been eternal before Rome. Ten centuries is a very respectable eternity; be content, Rome is eternal already, and may die without prejudice to the medal."
"Blaspheme not," replied Cornelius: "Rome is healthier, more full of life, and promises more, than at any former time, you may rely upon it. 'Novum saeculum!' she has the age of the eagle, and will but cast her feathers to begin a fresh thousand."
"But Egypt," interposed Aristo, "if old Herodotus speaks true, scarcely had a beginning. Up and up, the higher you go, the more dynasties of Egyptian kings do you find. And we hear strange reports of the nations in the far east, beyond the Ganges."
"But I tell you, man," rejoined Cornelius, "Rome is a city of kings. That one city, in this one year, has as many kings at once as those of all the kings of all the dynasties of Egypt put together. Sesostris, and the rest of them, what are they to imperators, prefects, proconsuls, vicarii, and rationales? Look back at Lucullus, Caesar, Pompey, Sylla, Titus, Trajan. What's old Cheops' pyramid to the Flavian amphitheatre? What is the many-gated Thebes to Nero's golden house, while it was? What the grandest palace of Sesostris or Ptolemy but a second-rate villa of any one of ten thousand Roman citizens? Our houses stand on acres of ground, they ascend as high as the Tower of Babylon; they swarm with columns like a forest; they pullulate into statues and pictures. The walls, pavements, and ceilings are dazzling from the lustre of the rarest marble, red and yellow, green and mottled. Fountains of perfumed water shoot aloft from the floor, and fish swim in rocky channels round about the room, waiting to be caught and killed for the banquet. We dine; and we feast on the head of the ostrich, the brains of the peacock, the liver of the bream, the milk of the murena, and the tongue of the flamingo. A flight of doves, nightingales, beccaficoes are concentrated into one dish. On great occasions we eat a phoenix. Our saucepans are of silver, our dishes of gold, our vases of onyx, and our cups of precious stones. Hangings and carpets of Tyrian purple are around us and beneath us, and we lie on ivory couches. The choicest wines of Greece and Italy crown our goblets, and exotic flowers crown our heads. In come troops of dancers from Lydia, or pantomimes from Alexandria, to entertain both eye and mind; or our noble dames and maidens take a place at our tables; they wash in asses' milk, they dress by mirrors as large as fish-ponds, and they glitter from head to foot with combs, brooches, necklaces, collars, ear-rings, armlets, bracelets, finger-rings, girdles, stomachers, and anklets, all of diamond and emerald. Our slaves may be counted by thousands, and they come from all parts of the world. Everything rare and precious is brought to Rome: the gum of Arabia, the nard of Assyria, the papyrus of Egypt, the citron-wood of Mauretania, the bronze of AEgina, the pearls of Britain, the cloth of gold of Phrygia, the fine webs of Cos, the embroidery of Babylon, the silks of Persia, the lion-skins of Getulia, the wool of Miletus, the plaids of Gaul. Thus we live, an imperial people, who do nothing but enjoy themselves and keep festival the whole year; and at length we die—and then we burn: we burn—in stacks of cinnamon and cassia, and in shrouds of asbestos, making emphatically a good end of it. Such are we Romans, a great people. Why, we are honoured wherever we go. There's my master, there's myself; as we came here from Italy, I protest we were nearly worshipped as demi-gods."
"And perhaps some fine morning," said Aristo, "Rome herself will burn in cinnamon and cassia, and in all her burnished Corinthian brass and scarlet bravery, the old mother following her children to the funeral pyre. One has heard something of Babylon, and its drained moat, and the soldiers of the Persian."
A pause occurred in the conversation as one of Jucundus's slaves entered with fresh wine, larger goblets, and a vase of snow from the Atlas.
GOTHS AND CHRISTIANS.
Cornelius was full of his subject, and did not attend to the Greek. "The wild-beasts hunts," he continued, "ah, those hunts during the games, Aristo! they were a spectacle for the gods. Twenty-two elephants, ten panthers, ten hyaenas (by-the-bye, a new beast, not strange, however, to you here, I suppose), ten camelopards, a hippopotamus, a rhinoceros—I can't go through the list. Fancy the circus planted throughout for the occasion, and turned into a park, and then another set of wild animals, Getes and Sarmatians, Celts and Goths, sent in against them, to hunt down, capture and kill them, or to be killed themselves."
"Ah, the Goths!" answered Aristo; "those fellows give you trouble, though, now and then. Perhaps they will give you more. There is a report in the praetorium to-day that they have crossed the Danube."
"Yes, they will give us trouble," said Cornelius, drily; "they have given us trouble, and they will give us more. The Samnites gave us trouble, and our friends of Carthage here, and Jugurtha, and Mithridates; trouble, yes, that is the long and the short of it; they will give us trouble. Is trouble a new thing to Rome?" he asked, stretching out his arm, as if he were making a speech after dinner, and giving a toast.
"The Goths give trouble, and take a bribe," retorted Aristo; "this is what trouble means in their case: it's a troublesome fellow who hammers at our door till we pay his reckoning. It is troublesome to raise the means to buy them off. And the example of these troublesome savages is catching; it was lately rumoured that the Carpians had been asking the same terms for keeping quiet."
"It would ill become the majesty of Rome to soil her fingers with the blood of such vermin," said Cornelius; "she ignores them."
"And therefore she most majestically bleeds us instead," answered Aristo, "that she may have treasure to give them. We are not so troublesome as they; the more's the pity. No offence to you, however, or to the emperor, or to great Rome, Cornelius. We are over our cups; it's only a game of politics, you know, like chess or the cottabus. Maro bids you 'parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos;' but you have changed your manners. You coax the Goths and bully the poor African."
"Africa can show fight, too," interposed Jucundus, who had been calmly listening and enjoying his own wine; "witness Thysdrus. That was giving every rapacious Quaestor a lesson that he may go too far, and find a dagger when he demands a purse."
He was alluding to the revolt of Africa, which led to the downfall of the tyrant Maximin and the exaltation of the Gordians, when the native landlords armed their peasantry, killed the imperial officer, and raised the standard of rebellion in the neighbouring town from impatience of exactions under which they suffered.
"No offence, I say, Cornelius, no offence to eternal Rome," said Aristo, "but you have explained to us why you weigh so heavy on us. I've always heard it was a fortune at Rome for a man to have found out a new tax. Vespasian did his best; but now you tax our smoke, and our very shadow; and Pescennius threatened to tax the air we breathe. We'll play at riddles, and you shall solve the following:—Say who is she that eats her own limbs, and grows eternal upon them? Ah, the Goths will take the measure of her eternity!"
"The Goths!" said Jucundus, who was warming into conversational life, "the Goths! no fear of the Goths; but," and he nodded significantly, "look at home; we have more to fear indoors than abroad."
"He means the praetorians," said Cornelius to Aristo, condescendingly; "I grant you that there have been several untoward affairs; we have had our problem, but it's a thing of the past, it never can come again. I venture to say that the power of the praetorians is at an end. That murder of the two emperors the other day was the worst job they ever did; it has turned the public opinion of the whole world against them. I have no fear of the praetorians."
"I don't mean praetorians more than Goths," said Jucundus; "no, give me the old weapons, the old maxims of Rome, and I defy the scythe of Saturn. Do the soldiers march under the old ensign? do they swear by the old gods? do they interchange the good old signals and watchwords? do they worship the fortune of Rome; then I say we are safe. But do we take to new ways? do we trifle with religion? do we make light of Jupiter, Mars, Romulus, the augurs, and the ancilia? then I say, not all our shows and games, our elephants, hyaenas, and hippopotamuses, will do us any good. It was not the best thing, no, not the best thing that the soldiers did, when they invested that Philip with the purple. But he is dead and gone." And he sat up and leant on his elbow.
"Ah! but it will be all set right now," said Cornelius, "you'll see."
"He'd be a reformer, that Philip," continued Jucundus, "and put down an enormity. Well, they call it an enormity; let it be an enormity. He'd put it down; but why? there's the point; why? It's no secret at all," and his voice grew angry, "that that hoary-headed Atheist Fabian was at the bottom of it; Fabian, the Christian. I hate reforms."
"Well, we had long wished to do it," answered Cornelius, "but could not manage it. Alexander attempted it near twenty years ago. It's what philosophers have always aimed at."
"The gods consume philosophers and the Christians together!" said Jucundus devoutly. "There's little to choose between them, except that the Christians are the filthier animal of the two. But both are ruining the most glorious political structure that the world ever saw. I am not over-fond of Alexander either."
"Thank you in the name of philosophy," said the Greek.
"And thank you in the name of the Christians," chimed in Juba.
"That's good!" cried Jucundus; "the first word that hopeful youth has spoken since he came in, and he takes on him to call himself a Christian."
"I've a right to do so, if I choose," said Juba; "I've a right to be a Christian."
"Right! O yes, right! ha, ha!" answered Jucundus, "right! Jove help the lad! by all manner of means. Of course, you have a right to go in malam rem in whatever way you please."
"I am my own master," said Juba; "my father was a Christian. I suppose it depends on myself to follow him or not, according to my fancy, and as long as I think fit."
"Fancy! think fit!" answered Jucundus, "you pompous little mule! Yes, go and be a Christian, my dear child, as your doting father went. Go, like him, to the priest of their mysteries; be spit on, stripped, dipped; feed on little boys' marrow and brains; worship the ass; and learn all the foul magic of the sect. And then be delated and taken up, and torn to shreds on the rack, or thrown to the lions and so go to Tartarus, if Tartarus there be, in the way you think fit. You'll harm none but yourself, my boy. I don't fear such as you, but the deeper heads."
Juba stood up with a look of offended dignity, and, as on former occasions, tossed the head which had been by implication disparaged. "I despise you," he said.
"Well, but you are hard on the Christians," said Aristo. "I have heard them maintain that their superstition, if adopted, would be the salvation of Rome. They maintain that the old religion is gone or going out; that something new is wanted to keep the empire together; and that their worship is just fitted to the times."
"All I say to the vipers," said Jucundus, "is, 'Let well alone. We did well enough without you; we did well enough till you sprang up.' A plague on their insolence; as if Jew or Egyptian could do aught for us when Numa and the Sibyl fail. That is what I say, Let Rome be true to herself and nothing can harm her; let her shift her foundation, and I would not buy her for this water-melon," he said, taking a suck at it. "Rome alone can harm Rome. Recollect old Horace, 'Suis et ipsa Roma viribus ruit.' He was a prophet. If she falls, it is by her own hand."
"I agree," said Cornelius; "certainly, to set up any new worship is treason; not a doubt of it. The gods keep us from such ingratitude! We have grown great by means of them, and they are part and parcel of the law of Rome. But there is no great chance of our forgetting this; Decius won't; that's a fact. You will see. Time will show; perhaps to-morrow, perhaps next day," he added, mysteriously.
"Why in the world should you have this frantic dread of these poor scarecrows of Christians," said Aristo, "all because they hold an opinion? Why are you not afraid of the bats and the moles? It's an opinion: there have been other opinions before them, and there will be other opinions after. Let them alone and they'll die away; make a hubbub about them and they'll spread."
"Spread?" cried Jucundus, who was under the twofold excitement of personal feeling and of wine, "spread, they'll spread? yes, they'll spread. Yes, grow, like scorpions, twenty at a birth. The country already swarms with them; they are as many as frogs or grasshoppers; they start up everywhere under one's nose, when one least expects them. The air breeds them like plague-flies; the wind drifts them like locusts. No one's safe; any one may be a Christian; it's an epidemic. Great Jove! I may be a Christian before I know where I am. Heaven and earth! is it not monstrous?" he continued, with increasing fierceness. "Yes, Jucundus, my poor man, you may wake and find yourself a Christian, without knowing it, against your will. Ah! my friends, pity me! I may find myself a beast, and obliged to suck blood and live among the tombs as if I liked it, without power to tell you how I loathe it, all through their sorcery. By the genius of Rome something must be done. I say, no one is safe. You call on your friend; he is sitting in the dark, unwashed, uncombed, undressed. What is the matter? Ah! his son has turned Christian. Your wedding-day is fixed, you are expecting your bride; she does not come; why? she will not have you; she has become a Christian. Where's young Nomentanus? Who has seen Nomentanus? in the forum, or the campus, in the circus, in the bath? Has he caught the plague or got a sunstroke? Nothing of the kind; the Christians have caught hold of him. Young and old, rich and poor, my lady in her litter and her slave, modest maid and Lydia at the Thermae, nothing comes amiss to them. All confidence is gone; there's no one we can reckon on. I go to my tailor's: 'Nergal,' I say to him, 'Nergal, I want a new tunic,' The wretched hypocrite bows, and runs to and fro, and unpacks his stuffs and cloths, like another man. A word in your ear. The man's a Christian, dressed up like a tailor. They have no dress of their own. If I were emperor, I'd make the sneaking curs wear a badge, I would; a dog's collar, a fox's tail, or a pair of ass's ears. Then we should know friends from foes when we meet them."
"We should think that dangerous," said Cornelius; "however, you are taking it too much to heart; you are making too much of them, my good friend. They have not even got the present, and you are giving them the future, which is just what they want."
"If Jucundus will listen to me," said Aristo, "I could satisfy him that the Christians are actually falling off. They once were numerous in this very place; now there are hardly any. They have been declining for these fifty years; the danger from them is past. Do you want to know how to revive them? Put out an imperial edict, forbid them, denounce them. Do you want them to drop away like autumn leaves? Take no notice of them."
"I can't deny that in Italy they have grown," said Cornelius; "they have grown in numbers and in wealth, and they intermarry with us. Thus the upper class becomes to a certain extent infected. We may find it necessary to repress them; but, as you would repress vermin, without fearing them."
"The worshippers of the gods are the many, and the Christians are the few," persisted Aristo; "if the two parties intermarry, the weaker will get the worst of it. You will find the statues of the gods gradually creeping back into the Christian chapel; and a man must be an honest fellow who buys our images, eh, Jucundus?"
"Well, Aristo," said the paterfamilias, whose violence never lasted long, "if your sister's bright eyes win back my poor Agellius you will have something more to say for yourself than, at present, I grant."
"I see," said Cornelius, gravely, "I begin to understand it. I could not make out why our good host had such great fear for the stability of Rome. But it is one of those things which the experience of life has taught me. I have often seen it in the imperial city itself. Whenever you find a man show special earnestness against these fanatics, depend on it there is something that touches him personally in the matter. There was a very great man, the present Flamen Dialis, for whom I have unbounded respect; for a long time I was at a loss to conceive why a person of his weight, sound, sensible, well-judging, should have such a fear of the Christians. One day he made an oration against them in the senate-house; he wanted to send them to the rack. But the secret came out; the good man was on the rack himself about his daughter, who persisted in calling herself a Christian, and refused to paint her face or go to the amphitheatre. To be sure, a most trying affair this for the old gentleman. The venerable Pater Patratus, too, what suppers he gave! a fine specimen of the Lucullus type; yet he was always advocating the lictor and the commentariensis in the instance of the Christian. No wonder; his wife and son were disgracing him in the eyes of the whole world by frequenting the meetings of these Christians. However, I agree with Decius, they must be put down. They are not formidable, but they are an eyesore."
Here the rushing of the water-clock which measured time in the neighbouring square, ceased, signifying thereby that the night was getting on. Juba had already crept into the dark closet which served him for a sleeping-place; had taken off his sandals, and loosened his belt; had wrapt the serpent he had about him round his neck, and was breathing heavily. Jucundus made the parting libation, and Cornelius took his leave. Aristo rose too; and Jucundus, accompanying them to the entrance, paid the not uncommon penalty of his potations, for the wine mounted to his head, and he returned into the room, and sat him down again with an impression that Aristo was still at table.
"My dear boy," he said, "Agellius is but a wet Christian; that's all, not obstinate, like his brother there. 'Twas his father; the less we say about him the better; he's gone. The Furies make his bed for him! an odious set! Their priests, little ugly men. I saw one when I was a boy at Carthage. So unlike your noble Roman Saliares, or your fine portly priest of Isis, clad in white, breathing odours like spring flowers; men who enjoyed this life, not like that sour hypocrite. He was as black as an Ethiopian, and as withered as a Saracen, and he never looked you in the face. And, after all, the fellow must die for his religion, rather than put a few grains of golden incense on the altar of great Jove. Jove's the god for me; a glorious, handsome, curly god—but they are all good, all the gods are good. There's Bacchus, he's a good, comfortable god, though a sly, treacherous fellow—a treacherous fellow. There's Ceres, too; Pomona; the Muses; Astarte, too, as they call her here; all good;—and Apollo, though he's somewhat too hot in this season, and too free with his bow. He gave me a bad fever once. Ah! life's precious, most precious; so I felt it then, when I was all but gone to Pluto. Life never returns, it's like water spilt; you can't gather it up. It is dispersed into the elements, to the four winds. Ah! there's something more there than I can tell; more than all your philosophers can determine."