E-text prepared by Ron Swanson
ROADS FROM ROME
ANNE C. E. ALLINSON
Author with Francis G. Allinson of "Greek Lands and Letters"
New York The MacMillan Company 1922 All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America Copyright, 1909, 1910, 1913, by the Atlantic Monthly Company. Copyright, 1913, by the MacMillan Company. Set up and electrotyped. Published September, 1913.
Three of the papers in this volume have already appeared in The Atlantic Monthly: "A Poet's Toll," "The Phrase-Maker," and "A Roman Citizen." The author is indebted to the Editors for permission to republish them. The illustration on the title page is reproduced from the poster of the Roman Exposition of 1911, drawn by Duilio Cambeliotti, printed by Dr. E. Chappuis.
PATRI MEO LUCILIO A. EMERY JUSTITIAE DISCIPULO, LEGIS MAGISTRO, LITTERARUM HUMANARUM AMICO
The main purpose of these Roman sketches is to show that the men and women of ancient Rome were like ourselves.
"Born into life!—'tis we, And not the world, are new; Our cry for bliss, our plea, Others have urged it too— Our wants have all been felt, our errors made before."
It is only when we perceive in "classical antiquity" a human nature similar to our own in its mingling of weakness and strength, vice and virtue, sorrow and joy, defeats and victories that we shall find in its noblest literature an intimate rather than a formal inspiration, and in its history either comfort or warning.
A secondary purpose is to suggest Roman conditions as they may have affected or appeared to men of letters in successive epochs, from the last years of the Republic to the Antonine period. Three of the six sketches are concerned with the long and brilliant "Age of Augustus." One is laid in the years immediately preceding the death of Julius Caesar, and one in the time of Trajan and Pliny. The last sketch deals with the period when Hadrian attempted a renaissance of Greek art in Athens and creative Roman literature had come to an end. Its renaissance was to be Italian in a new world.
In all the sketches the essential facts are drawn directly from the writings of the men who appear in them. These facts have been merely cast into an imaginative form which, it is hoped, may help rather to reveal than cloak their significance for those who believe that the roads from Rome lead into the highway of human life.
In choosing between ancient and modern proper names I have thought it best in each case to decide which would give the keener impression of verisimilitude. Consistency has, therefore, been abandoned. Horace, Virgil and Ovid exist side by side with such original Latin names as Julius Paulus. While Como has been preferred to Comum, the "Larian Lake" has been retained. Perugia (instead of Perusia) and Assisi (instead of Assisium) have been used in one sketch and Laurentum, Tusculum and Tibur in another. The modern name that least suggests its original is that of the river Adige. The Latin Atesia would destroy the reader's sense of familiarity with Verona.
My thanks are due to Professor M. S. Slaughter, of the University of Wisconsin, who has had the great kindness to read this book in manuscript. My husband, Francis G. Allinson, has assisted me at every turn in its preparation. With one exception, acknowledged in its place, all the translations are his.
A. C. E. A.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PAGE THE ESTRANGER . . . . . . 1 A POET'S TOLL . . . . . . 37 THE PHRASE-MAKER . . . . . 72 A ROMAN CITIZEN . . . . . 107 FORTUNE'S LEDGER . . . . . 144 A ROAD TO ROME . . . . . . 176
ROADS FROM ROME
In the effort to dull the edge of his mental anguish by physical exhaustion Catullus had walked far out from the town, through vineyards and fruit-orchards displaying their autumnal stores and clamorous with eager companies of pickers and vintagers. On coming back to the eastern gate he found himself reluctant to pass from the heedless activities of the fields to the bustle of the town streets and the formal observances of his father's house. Seeking a quiet interlude, he turned northward and climbed the hill which rose high above the tumultuous Adige. The shadows of the September afternoon had begun to lengthen when he reached the top and threw himself upon the ground near a green ash tree.
The bodily exercise had at least done him this service, that the formless misery of the past weeks, the monstrous, wordless sense of desolation, now resolved itself into a grief for which inner words, however comfortless, sprang into being. Below him Verona, proud sentinel between the North and Rome, offered herself to the embrace of the wild, tawny river, as if seeking to retard its ominous journey from Rhaetia's barbarous mountains to Italy's sea by Venice. Far to the northeast ghostly Alpine peaks awaited their coronal of sunset rose. Southward stretched the plain of Lombardy. Within easy reach of his eye shimmered the lagoon that lay about Mantua. The hour veiled hills and plain in a luminous blue from which the sun's radiance was excluded. Through the thick leaves of the ash tree soughed the evening wind, giving a voice to the dying day. In its moan Catullus seemed to find his own words: "He is dead, he is dead." His brother was dead. This fact became at last clear in his consciousness and he began to take it up and handle it.
The news had come two weeks ago, just as he was on the point of flying from Rome and the autumn fevers to the gaieties of Naples and Baiae. That was an easy escape for a youth whose only taskmasters were the Muses and who worked or played at the behest of his own mood. But his brother, Valerius, had obeyed the will of Rome, serving her, according to her need, at all seasons and in all places. Stationed this year in Asia Minor he had fallen a victim to one of the disastrous eastern fevers. And now Troy held his ashes, and never again would he offer thanks to Jupiter Capitolinus for a safe return to Rome.
As soon as the letter from Valerius's comrade reached him, Catullus had started for Verona. For nearly ten years he had spoken of himself as living in Rome, his house and his work, his friendships and his love knitting him closely, he had supposed, into the city's life. But in this naked moment she had shown him her alien and indifferent face and he knew that he must go home or die. It was not until he saw his father's stricken eyes that he realised that, for once, impulse had led him into the path of filial duty. In the days that followed, however, except by mere presence, neither mourner could help the other. His father's inner life had always been inaccessible to Catullus and now in a common need it seemed more than ever impossible to penetrate beyond the outposts of his noble stoicism. With Catullus, on the other hand, a moved or troubled mind could usually find an outlet in swift, hot words, and, in the unnatural restraint put upon him by his father's speechlessness, his despair, like a splinter of steel, had only encysted itself more deeply. To-day he welcomed the relief of being articulate.
The tie between his brother and himself was formed on the day of his own birth, when the two year old Valerius—how often their old nurse had told the story!—had been led in to see him, his little feet stumbling over each other in happy and unjealous haste. Through the years of tutelage they had maintained an offensive and defensive alliance against father, nurses and teachers; and their playmates, even including Caelius, who was admitted into a happy triumvirate, knew that no intimacy could exact concessions from their fraternal loyalty. Their days were spent in the same tasks and the same play, and the nights, isolating them from the rest of their little world, nurtured confidence and candour. Memories began to gather and to torture him: smiling memories of childish nights in connecting bedrooms, when, left by their nurse to sleep, each boy would slip down into the middle of his bed, just catching sight of the other through the open door in the dim glow of the nightlamp, and defy Morpheus with lively tongue; poignant memories of youthful nights, when elaborate apartments and separate servants had not checked the emergence into wholesome speech of vague ambitions, lusty hopes and shy emotions. It was in one of these nights that Valerius had first hit upon his favourite nickname for his brother. Pretty Aufilena had broken a promise and Catullus had vehemently maintained that she was less honest than a loose woman who kept her part of a bargain. It was surprising that a conversation so trifling should recur in this hour, but he could see again before him his brother's smiling face and hear him saying: "My Diogenes, never let your lantern go out. It will light your own feet even if you never find a truthful woman."
All this exquisite identity of daily life had ended eight years ago. Catullus felt the weight of his twenty-six years when he realised that ever since he and Valerius had ceased to be boys they had lived apart, save for the occasional weeks of a soldier's furloughs. Their outward paths had certainly diverged very widely. He had chosen literature and Valerius the army. In politics they had fallen equally far apart, Catullus following Cicero in allegiance to the constitution and the senate, Valerius continuing his father's friendship for Caesar and faith in the new democratic ideal. Different friendships followed upon different pursuits, and divergent mental characteristics became intensified. Catullus grew more untamed in the pursuit of an untrammelled individual life, subversive of accepted standards, rich in emotional incident and sensuous perception. His adherence to the old political order was at bottom due to an aesthetic conviction that democracy was vulgar. To Valerius, on the contrary, the Republic was the chief concern and Caesar its saviour from fraud and greed. As the years passed he became more and more absorbed in his country's service at the cost of his own inclinations. Gravity and reserve grew upon him and the sacrifice of inherited moral standards to the claims of intellectual freedom would to him have been abhorrent.
And yet there had not been even one day in these eight years when Catullus had felt that he and his brother were not as close to each other as in the old Verona days. He had lived constantly with his friends and rarely with his brother, but below even such friendships as those with Caelius and Calvus, Nepos and Cornificius lay the bond of brotherhood. In view of their lives this bond had seemed to Catullus as incomprehensible as it was unbreakable. And he had often wondered—he wondered now as he lay under the ash tree and listened to the wind—whether it had had its origin in some urgent determination of his mother who had brooded over them both.
She had died before he was six years old, but he had one vivid memory of her, belonging to his fifth birthday, the beginning, indeed, of all conscious memory. The day fell in June and could be celebrated at Sirmio, their summer home on Lake Benacus. In the morning, holding his silent father's hand, he had received the congratulations of the servants, and at luncheon he had been handed about among the large company of June guests to be kissed and toasted. But the high festival began when all these noisy people had gone off for the siesta. Then, according to a deep-laid plan, his mother and Valerius and he had slipped unnoticed out of the great marble doorway and run hand in hand down the olive-silvery hill to the shore of the lake. She had promised to spend the whole afternoon with them. Never had he felt so happy. The deep blue water, ruffled by a summer breeze, sparkled with a million points of crystal light. Valerius became absorbed in trying to launch a tiny red-sailed boat, but Catullus rushed back to his mother, exclaiming, "Mother, mother, the waves are laughing too!" And she had caught him in her arms and smiled into his eyes and said: "Child, a great poet said that long ago. Are you going to be a poet some day? Is that all my bad dreams mean?"
Then she had called Valerius and asked if they wanted a story of the sea, and they had curled up in the hollows of her arms and she had told them about the Argo, the first ship that ever set forth upon the waters; of how, when her prow broke through the waves, the sailors could see white-faced Nereids dance and beckon, and of how she bore within her hold many heroes dedicated to a great quest. It was the first time Catullus had heard the magic tale of the Golden Fleece and in his mother's harp-like voice it had brought him his first desire for strange lands and the wide, grey spaces of distant seas. Then he had felt his mother's arm tighten around him and something in her voice made his throat ache, as she went on to tell them of the sorceress Medea; how she brought the leader of the quest into wicked ways, so that the glory of his heroism counted for nothing and misery pursued him, and how she still lived on in one disguise after another, working ruin, when unresisted, by poisoned sheen or honeyed draught. Catullus began to feel very much frightened, and then all at once his mother jumped up and called out excitedly, "Oh, see, a Nereid, a Nereid!" And they had all three rushed wildly down the beach to the foamy edge of the lake, and there she danced with them, her blue eyes laughing like the waves and her loosened hair shining like the red-gold clouds around the setting sun. They had danced until the sun slipped below the clouds and out of sight, and a servant had come with cloaks and a reminder of the dinner hour.
Now from the hill above Verona Catullus could see the red gold of another sunset and he was alone. Valerius, who had known him with that Nereid-mother, had gone forever. Because they had lain upon the same mother's breast and danced with her upon the Sirmian shore, Catullus had always known that his older brother's sober life was the fruit of a wine-red passion for Rome's glory. And Valerius's knowledge of him—ah, how penetrating that had been!
Across the plain below him stretched the road to Mantua. Was it only last April that upon this road he and Valerius had had that revealing hour? The most devastating of all his memories swept in upon him. Valerius had had his first furlough in two years and they had spent a week of it together in Verona. The day before Valerius was to leave to meet his transport at Brindisi they had repeated a favorite excursion of their childhood to an excellent farm a little beyond Mantua, to leave the house steward's orders for the season's honey.
What a day it had been, with the spring air which set mind and feet astir, the ride along the rush-fringed banks of the winding Mincio and the unworldly hours in the old farmstead! The cattle-sheds were fragrant with the burning of cedar and of Syrian gum to keep off snakes, and Catullus had felt more strongly than ever that in the general redolence of homely virtues, natural activities and scrupulous standards all the noisome life of town and city was kept at bay. The same wooden image of Bacchus hung from a pine tree in the vineyard, and the same weather-worn Ceres stood among the first grain, awaiting the promise of her sheaves. Valerius had been asked by his father's overseer to make inquiries about a yoke of oxen, and Catullus went off to look at the bee-hives in their sheltered corner near a wild olive tree. When he came back he found his brother seated on a stone bench, carving an odd little satyr out of a bit of wood and talking to a fragile looking boy about twelve years old. Valerius's sympathetic gravity always charmed children and Catullus was not surprised to see this boy's brown eyes lifted in eager confidence to the older face.
"So," Valerius was saying, "you don't think we work only to live? I believe you are right. You find the crops so beautiful that you don't mind weeding, and I find Rome so beautiful that I don't mind fighting." "Rome!" The boy's face quivered and his singularly sweet voice sank to a whisper. "Do you fight for Rome? Father doesn't know it, but I pray every day to the Good Goddess in the grainfield that she will let me go to Rome some day. Do you think she will?" Valerius rose and looked down into the child's starry eyes. "Perhaps she will for Rome's own sake," he said. "Every lover counts. What is your name, Companion-in-arms? I should like to know you when you come." "Virgil," the boy answered shyly, colouring and drawing back as he saw Catullus. A farm servant brought up the visitors' horses. "Goodbye, little Virgil," Valerius called out, as he mounted. "A fair harvest to your crops and your dreams."
The brothers rode on for some time without speaking, Valerius rather sombrely, it seemed, absorbed in his own thoughts. When he broke the silence it was to say abruptly: "I wonder if, when he goes to Rome, he will keep the light in those eyes and the music in that young throat." Then he brought his horse close up to his brother's and spoke rapidly as if he must rid himself of the weight of words. "My Lantern Bearer, you are not going to lose your light and your music, are you? The last time I saw Cicero he talked to me about your poetry and your gifts, which you know I cannot judge as he can. He told me that for all your 'Greek learning' and your 'Alexandrian technique' no one could doubt the good red Italian blood in your verses, or even the homely strain of our own little town. I confess I was thankful to hear a literary man and a friend praise you for not being cosmopolitan. I am not afraid now of your going over to the Greeks. But are you in danger of losing Verona in Rome?"
The gathering dusk, the day's pure happiness, the sense of impending separation opened Catullus's heart. "Do you mean Clodia?" he asked straightforwardly. "Did Cicero talk of her too?" "Not only Cicero," Valerius had answered gently, "and not only your other friends. Will you tell me of her yourself?" "What have you heard?" Catullus asked. Valerius paused and then gave a direct and harsh reply: "That she was a Medea to her husband, has been a Juno to her brother's Jupiter and is an easy mistress to many lovers."
After that, Catullus was thankful now to remember, he himself had talked passionately as the road slipped away under their horses' feet. He had told Valerius how cruel the world had been to Clodia. Metellus had been sick all winter and had died as other men die. He had belittled her by every indignity that a man of rank can put upon his wife, but she had borne with him patiently enough. Because she was no Alcestis need she be called a Medea or a Clytemnestra? And because the unspeakable Clodius had played Jupiter to his youngest sister's Juno need Clodia be considered less than a Diana to his Apollo? As for her lovers—his voice broke upon the word—she loved him, Catullus, strange as that seemed, and him only. Of course, like all women of charm, she could play the harmless coquette with other men. He hated the domestic woman—Lucretius's dun-coloured wife, for instance—on whom no man except her mate would cast an eye.
He wanted men to fall at his Love's feet, he thanked Aphrodite that she had the manner and the subtle fire and the grace to bring them there. Her mind was wonderful, too, aflame, like Sappho's, with the love of beauty. That was why he called her Lesbia. He had used Sappho's great love poem (Valerius probably did not know it, but it was like a purple wing from Eros's shoulder) as his first messenger to her, when his heart had grown hot as AEtna's fire or the springs of Thermopylae. She had finally consented to meet him at Allius's house. Afterwards she had told him that the day was marked for her also by a white stone.
If Valerius could only know how he felt! She was the greatest lady in Rome, accoutred with wealth and prestige and incomparable beauty. And she loved him, and was as good and pure and tender-hearted as any unmarried girl in Verona. He was her lover, but often he felt toward her as a father might feel toward a child. Catullus had trembled as he brought out from his inner sanctuary this shyest treasure. And never should he forget the healing sense of peace that came to him when Valerius rode closer and put his arm around his shoulder. "Diogenes," he said, "your flame is still bright. I could wish you had not fallen in love with another man's wife, and if he were still living I should try to convince you of the folly of it. But I know this hot heart of yours is as pure as the snow we see on the Alps in midsummer. That is all I need to know." And they had ridden on in the darkness toward the lights of home.
The wind rose in a fresh wail: "He is dead, he is dead." The touch of his arm was lost in the unawakening night. His perfect speech was stilled in the everlasting silence. A smile, both bitter and wistful, came upon Catullus's lips as he remembered a letter he had had yesterday from Lucretius, bidding him listen to the voice of Nature who would bring him peace. "What is so bitter," his friend had urged, "if it comes in the end to sleep? The wretched cannot want more of life, and the happy men, men like Valerius, go unreluctantly, like well-fed guests from a banquet, to enter upon untroubled rest. Nor is his death outside of law. From all eternity life and death have been at war with each other. No day and no night passes when the first cry of a child tossed up on the shores of light is not mingled with the wailings of mourners. Let me tell you how you may transmute your sorrow. A battle rages in the plain. The earth is shaken with the violent charges of the cavalry and with the tramping feet of men. Cruel weapons gleam in the sun. But to one afar off upon a hill the army is but a bright spot in the valley, adding beauty, it may well be, to a sombre scene. And so, ascending into the serene citadel of Knowledge and looking down upon our noisy griefs, we may find them to be but high lights, ennobling life's monotonous plain. My friend, come to Nature and learn of her. Surely Valerius would have wished you peace."
"Peace, peace!" Catullus groaned aloud. Lucretius seemed as remote as the indifferent gods. Valerius, who knew his feet were shaped for human ways, would have understood that he could not scale the cold steeps of thought. If he suffered in this hour, what comfort was there in the thought of other suffering and other years? If Troy now held Valerius, what peace was there in knowing that its accursed earth once covered Hector and Patroclus also, and would be forever the common grave of Asia and of Europe? What healing had nature or law to give when flesh was torn from flesh and heart estranged from heart beyond recall?
Rising, Catullus looked down upon the unresting river. As he walked homeward, clear-eyed, at last, but unassuaged, he knew that for him also there could never again be peaceful currents. Like the Adige, his tumultuous grief, having its source in the pure springs of childish love, must surge through the years of his manhood, until at last it might lose itself in the vast sea of his own annihilation.
In the capital a dull winter was being prophesied. Only one gleam was discoverable in the social twilight. The Progressives had shipped Cato off to Cyprus and society was rid for one season of a man with a tongue, who believed in economy when money was plentiful, in sobriety when pleasure was multiform and in domestic fidelities when escape was easy. But they had done irreparable mischief in disposing more summarily of Cicero. With the Conservative leader exiled to Greece and the Progressive leader himself taking the eagles into Gaul the winter's brilliance was threatened with eclipse. Pompey was left in Rome, but the waning of his political star, it could not be denied, had dimmed his social lustre. Clodius, of course, was in full swing, triumphant in Caesar's friendship and Cicero's defeat, but if society was able to stomach him, he himself had the audacious honesty to foregather in grosser companionship. Even Lucullus, whose food and wine had come to seem a permanent refuge amid political changes and social shifts, must now be counted out. His mind was failing, and the beautiful Apollo dining room and terraced gardens would probably never be opened again.
In view of the impending handicaps Clodia was especially anxious that a dinner she was to give immediately on her return from Baiae in mid-October should be a conspicuous success. During her husband's consulship two years ago she had won great repute for inducing men of all parties, officials, artists and writers, to meet in her house. Last year, owing to Metellus's sickness and death, she had not done anything on a large scale. This autumn she had come back determined to reassume her position. She was unaffected by the old-fashioned prejudice against widows entertaining and she had nothing to fear from the social skill of this year's consuls.
Her invitations had been hurried out, and now in her private sitting room, known as the Venus Room from its choicest ornament, a life-sized statue of Venus the Plunderer, she was looking over the answers which had been sorted for her by her secretary. The Greek, waiting for further orders, looked at her with admiring, if disillusioned, eyes. Large and robust, her magnificent figure could display no ungraceful lines as she sat on the low carved chair in front of a curtain of golden Chinese silk. Her dress was of a strange sea-green and emeralds shone in her ears and her heavy, black hair. An orange-coloured cat with gleaming, yellow eyes curved its tail across her feet. Above her right shoulder hung a silver cage containing a little bird which chirped and twittered in silly ignorance of its mistress's mood. Anger disfigured her beautiful mouth and eyes. The list of regrets stretched out to sinister length and included such pillars of society as Brutus and Sempronia, Bibulus and Portia. A cynical smile relieved Clodia's sullen lips. Did these braggarts imagine her blind to the fact that if lively Sempronia and stupid Bibulus could conveniently die, Brutus and Portia, who were wiping her off their visiting lists because her feet had strayed beyond the marriage paddock, would make short work of their mourning?
Aurelia's declination she had expected. Her inordinate pride in being Caesar's mother had not modified her arrogant, old-time severity toward the freedom of modern life. But that Calpurnia should plead her husband's absence as an excuse was ominous. Everyone knew that he dictated her social relations. Terentia had been implacable since that amusing winter when Clodia had spread a net for Cicero. For her own sex Clodia had the hawk's contempt for sparrows, but if Caesar as well as Cicero were to withdraw from her arena, she might as well prepare herself for the inverted thumbs of Rome.
On her list of acceptances, outside of her own sisters, who had won intellectual freedom in the divorce courts, she found the names of only two women—virtuous Hortensia, who was proud of her emancipated ideas, and Marcia, who was enjoying her husband's Cyprian business as much as the rest of the world. Men, on the other hand, bachelors and divorces, abounded. Catullus, luckily, was still in Verona, nursing his dull grief for that impossible brother. But she was glad to be assured that his friend, Rufus Caelius, would come. If Terentia and Tullia had tried to poison the mind of Cicero's protege against her, obviously they had not succeeded. He was worth cultivating. His years in Asia Minor had made a man of the world out of a charming Veronese boy and he was already becoming known for brilliant work at the bar. The house he had just bought faced the southern end of her own garden and gave evidence alike of his money and his taste.
And yet, in spite of Caelius's connections, he was still too young to wield social power, and it was with intense chagrin that Clodia realised that his was the most distinguished name upon her dinner list. Indifferent to the opinion of the world as long as she could keep her shapely foot upon its neck, she dreaded more than anything else a loss of the social prestige which enabled her to seek pleasure where she chose. Was this fear at last overtaking her swiftest pace? Her secretary, watching her, prepared himself for one of the violent storms with which all her servants were familiar. But at this moment a house slave came in to ask if she would see Lucretius. "Him and no one else," she answered curtly, and the Greekling slipped thankfully out as the curtains were drawn aside to admit a man, about thirty-five years old, whose face and bearing brought suddenly into the fretful room a consciousness of a larger world, a more difficult arena. Clodia smiled, and her beauty emerged like the argent moon from sullen clouds. An extraordinary friendship existed between this woman who was the bawd of every tongue in Rome, from Palatine to Subura, and this man whose very name was unknown to nine-tenths of his fellow-citizens and who could have passed unrecognised among most of the aristocrats who knew his family or of the literary men who had it from Cicero that he was at work on a magnum opus. Cicero was Lucretius's only close friend, and supposed he had also read every page of Clodia's life, but not even he guessed that a chance conversation had originated a friendship which Clodia found unique because it was sexless, and Lucretius because, within its barriers, he dared display some of his vacillations of purpose. The woman who was a prey of moods seemed to understand that when he chose science as his mistress he had strangled a passion for poetry; and that when he had determined to withdraw from the life of his day and generation and to pursue, for humanity's sake, that Truth which alone is immortal beyond the waxing and waning of nations, he had violated a craving to consecrate his time to the immediate service of Rome. And he, in his turn, who could penetrate beyond the flaming ramparts of the world in his search for causes, had somehow discovered beyond this woman's deadly fires a cold retreat of thought, where all things were stripped naked of pretence.
Their intercourse was fitful and unconventional. Clodia was accustomed to Lucretius's coming at unexpected hours with unexpected demands upon her understanding. He even came, now and then, in those strange moods which Cicero said made him wonder whether the gods had confused neighbouring brews and ladled out madness when they meant to dip from the vat of genius. At such times he might go as abruptly as he came, leaving some wild sentence reechoing behind him. But at all times they were amazingly frank with each other. So now Clodia's eyes met his calmly enough as he said without any preface: "I have come to answer your note. I prefer that my wife should keep out of your circle. You used to have doves about you, who could protect a wren, but they are fluttering away now and your own plumage is appalling." With the phrase his eyes became conscious of her emeralds and her shimmering Cean silks and then travelled to the nude grace of Venus the Plunderer. He faced her violently. "Clodia," he said, slaying a sentence on her lips, "Clodia, do you know that hell is here on this earth and that such as you help to people it? There is no Tityus, his heart eaten out by vultures, save the victim of passion. And what passion is more devouring than that frenzy of the lover which is never satisfied? Venus's garlanded hours are followed by misery. She plunders men of their money, of their liberty, of their character. Duties give way to cups and perfumes and garlands. And yet, amid the very flowers pain dwells. The lover fails to understand and sickness creeps upon him, as men sicken of hidden poison. Tell me," he added brutally, leaning toward her, "for who should know better than you? does not the sweetest hour of love hold a drop of bitter? Why do you not restore your lovers to their reason, to the service of the state, to a knowledge of nature?"
His eyes were hot with pity for the world's pain. Hers grew cold. "Jove," she sneered, "rules the world and kisses Juno between the thunderbolts. Men have been known to conquer the Helvetii with their right hands and bring roses to Venus with their left. Your 'poison' is but the spicy sauce for a strong man's meat, your 'plundering' but the stealing of a napkin from a loaded table. Look for your denizens of hell not among lovers of women, but among lovers of money and of power and of fame. Their dreams are the futile frenzies."
"Dreams!" Lucretius interrupted. Clodia shrank a little from the strange look in his eyes. "Do you, too, dream at night? I worked late last night, struggling to fit into Latin words ideas no Latin mind ever had. Toward morning I fell asleep and then I seemed to be borne over strange seas and rivers and mountains and to be crossing plains on foot and to hear strange noises. These waked me at last and I sprang up and walked out into the Campagna where the dawn was fresh and cool. But all day I have scarcely felt at home. And I may dream again to-night. This time my dead may appear to me. They often do." He walked toward her suddenly and his eyes seemed to bore into hers. "Do you ever dream of your dead?" A horrible fright took possession of her. She fell back against the Venus, her sea-green dress rippling upon the white marble, and covered her eyes with her hands. When she looked again, Lucretius was gone.
How terrible he had been to-day! Dream of the dead, he had said, the dead! And why had he talked of a hidden poison of which men might sicken and die? She felt a silly desire to shriek, to strike her head against the painted wall, to tear the jewels from her ears. The orange cat arched its back and rubbed its head against her. She kicked it fiercely, and its snarl of pain seemed to bring her to her senses. She picked the creature up and stroked it. The bird in the cage broke into a mad little melody. How morbid she was growing! She had been depressed by her ridiculous dinner and Lucretius had been most unpleasant. He was such a fool, too, in his idea of love. The brevity of the heated hours was the flame's best fuel. Venus the Plunderer seemed to smile, and there quickened within her the desire for excitement, for the exercise of power, for the obliterating ecstasies of a fresh amour. She had not had a lover since she accepted Catullus. How the thought of that boy sickened her! He had been so absurd that first day when she went to him at Allius's. After writing her that his heart was an AEtna of imprisoned fire, in the first moment he had reminded her of ice-cold Alps. He had knelt and kissed her foot and then had kissed her lips—her lips!—as coolly as a father might kiss a child. The unleashed passion, the lordly love-making which followed had won her. But that first caress and its fellow at later meetings was like crystal water in strong wine—she preferred hers unmixed. Of a poet she had had enough for one while; if she ever wanted him back she need only say so.
In the mean time it would be a relief to play the game with a man who understood it. Youth she enjoyed, if it were not too inexperienced. Caelius's smile, for instance, boyish and inviting, had seemed to her full of promise. He was worth the winning and was close at hand. Catullus had introduced him, which would add piquancy to her letting the din of the Forum succeed the babbling of Heliconian streams. Suddenly she laughed aloud, cruelly, as another thought struck her. How furious and how impotent Cicero would be! If she could play with this disciple of his, and then divest him of every shred of reputation, she might feel that at last she was avenged on the man whom she had meant to marry (after they had sloughed off Metellus and Terentia) and who had escaped her. Calling back her secretary she ordered writing materials and with her own hand wrote the following note:
"Does Caelius know that Clodia's roses are loveliest at dusk, when the first stars alone keep watch?"
About seven o'clock on a clear evening of early November Catullus arrived in Rome. With the passage of the weeks his jealous grief had learned to dwell with other emotions, and a longing to be with Lesbia, once more admitted, had reassumed its habitual sway. Coming first in guise of the need of comfort, it had impelled him to leave Verona, and on the journey it had grown into a lover's exclusive frenzy. To-morrow he might examine the structure of his familiar life which had been beaten upon by the storm of sorrow. To-night his ears rang and his eyes were misty with the desire to see Lesbia. He had written her that he would call the following morning, but he could not wait. Stopping only to dress after his journey, fitting himself, he shyly thought, to take her loveliness into his arms, he started for the Palatine. The full moon illumined the city, but he had no eyes for the marvel wrought upon temples and porticoes. Clodia's house stood at the farther end of the hill, her gardens stretching towards the Tiber and offering to her intimates a pleasanter approach than the usual thoroughfare. To-night he found the entrance gate still open and made his way through the long avenue of cypress trees, hearing his own heart beat in the shadowed silence. The avenue ended in a wide, open space, dominated by a huge fountain. The kindly moonlight lent an unwonted grace to the coarse workmanship of the marble Nymphs which sprawled in the waters of the central basin, their shoulders and breasts drenched in silvered spray. Upon the night air hung the faint scent of late roses. It had been among summer roses under a summer moon that Catullus had once drunk deepest of Lesbia's honeyed cup. This autumn night seemed freighted with the same warmth and sweetness. He was hurrying forward when he caught sight of two figures turning the corner of a tall box hedge. His heart leaped and then stood still. A woman and a man walked to the fountain and sat down upon the carved balustrade. The woman unfastened her white cloak. The man laughed low and bent and kissed her white throat where it rose above soft silken folds. Clodia loosened the folds. Caelius laughed again.
Catullus never remembered clearly what happened to him that night after he had plunged down the cypress avenue, his feet making no sound on the green turf. In the mad hours he found his first way into haunts of the Subura which later became familiar enough to him, and at dawn he came home spent. Standing at his window, he watched the pitiless, grey light break over Rome. The magic city of the moonlit night, the creation of fragile, reflected radiance, had evanished in bricks and mortar. The city of his heart, also, built of gossamer dreams and faiths, lay before him, reduced to the hideous realities of impure love and lying friendship. In the chaos substituted for his accustomed world he recognised only a grave in Troy.
His servant found him in a delirium and for a week his fever ran high. In it were consumed the illusions of which it had been born. As he gained strength again, he found that his anger against Caelius was more contemptuous than regretful; he discovered a sneering desire for Lesbia's beauty divorced from a regard for her purity. The ashes of his old love for her, the love that Valerius had understood, in the dusk, coming home from Mantua, were hidden away in their burial urn. Should he hold out his cold hands to this new fire? Should he go to her as a suppliant and pay in reiterated torture for Clytemnestra's embrace and for Juno's regilded favours? He was unaccustomed to weighing impulses, to resisting emotions. For the first time in his life slothful reason arose and fought with desire.
The issue of the conflict was still in the balance when, a few days later, a little gold box was brought to him without name or note. Opening it he found a round, white stone. Loosened flame could have leaped no more swiftly to its goal. Lesbia had said a white stone marked in her memory the day she had first given herself to him. She wanted him to come to her. She was holding out to him her white arms. He trembled with a passion which no longer filtered through shyness. The listlessness of his body was gone. His house was not a prison and the Palatine was near. Valerius would never come back from Asia, but Lesbia stood within his hand's sweet reach.
As he made his way through the Forum two drunken wretches shambled past him, and he caught a coarse laugh and the words, "Our Palatine Medea." Why did his ears ring, suddenly, strangely, with the laughter of bright, blue waves and the cadences of a voice telling a child Medea's story? Did he know that not the unawakening night but this brief, garish day separated him from one who had listened to that story with him in the covert of his mother's arms; that not the salt waves of trackless seas but the easy passage of a city street marked his distance from a soldier's grave? He had blamed death for his separation from Valerius. But what Death had been powerless to accomplish his own choice of evil had brought about. Between him and his brother there now walked the Estranger—Life.
A POET'S TOLL
The boy's mother let the book fall, and, walking restlessly to the doorway, flung aside the curtains that separated the library from the larger and open hall. The December afternoon was sharp and cold, and she had courted an hour's forgetfulness within a secluded room, bidding her maid bring a brazier and draw the curtains close, and deliberately selecting from her son's books a volume of Lucretius. But her oblivion had been penetrated by an unexpected line, shot like a poisoned arrow from the sober text:—
Breast of his mother should pierce with a wound sempiternal, unhealing.
That was her own breast, she said to herself, and there was no hope of escape from the fever of its wound. A curious physical fear took possession of her, parching her throat and robbing her of breath. It was a recoil from the conviction that she must continue to suffer because her son, so young even for his twenty-three years, had openly flouted her for one of the harpies of the city and delivered over his manhood to the gossip-mongers of Rome.
Seeking now the sting of the winter air which she had been avoiding, she pushed the heavy draperies aside and hurried into the atrium. Through an opening in the roof a breath from December blew refreshingly, seeming almost to ruffle the hair of the little marble Pan who played his pipes by the rim of the basin sunk in the centre of the hall to catch the rain-water from above. She had taken pains years ago to bring the quaint, goat-footed figure to Rome from Assisi, because the laughing face, set there within a bright-coloured garden, had seemed to her a happy omen on the day when she came as a bride to her husband's house, and in the sullen hours of her later sorrow had comforted her more than the words of her friends.
As she saw it now, exiled and restrained within a city house, a new longing came upon her for her Umbrian home. Even the imperious winds which sometimes in the winter swept up the wide valley, and leaped over the walls of Assisi and shrieked in the streets, were better than the Roman Aquilo which during these last days had been biting into the very corners of the house. And how often, under the winter sun, the northern valley used to lie quiet and serene, its brown vineyards and expectant olive orchards held close within the shelter of the blue hills which stretched protectingly below the snow-covered peaks of the Apennines. How charming, too, the spring used to be, when the vineyards grew green, and the slow, white oxen brought the produce of the plain up the steep slopes to the town.
She wondered now why, in leaving Assisi when Propertius was a child, she had not foreseen her own regretful loneliness. Her reason for leaving had been the necessity of educating her son, but the choice had been made easy by the bitterness in her own life. Her husband had died when the child was eight years old, and a year later her brother, who had bulwarked her against despair, had been killed in the terrible siege of Perugia.
Her own family and her husband's had never been friendly to Caesar's successor. Her husband's large estates had been confiscated when Octavius came back from Philippi, and her brother had eagerly joined Antony's brother in seizing the old Etruscan stronghold across the valley from Assisi and holding it against the national troops. The fierce assaults, the prolonged and cruel famine, the final destruction of a prosperous city by a fire which alone saved it from the looting of Octavius's soldiers, made a profound impression upon all Umbria. Her own home seemed to be physically darkened by evil memories. Her mind strayed morbidly in the shadows, forever picturing her brother's last hours in some fresh guise of horror. She recovered her self-control only through the shock of discovering that her trouble was eating into her boy's life also.
He was a sensitive, shrinking child, easily irritated, and given to brooding. One night she awoke from a fitful sleep to find him shivering by her bed, his little pale face and terrified eyes defined by the moonlight that streamed in from the opposite window. "It is my uncle," he whispered; "he came into my room all red with blood; he wants a grave; he is tired of wandering over the hills." As she caught the child in her arms her mind found a new mooring in the determination to seek freedom for him and for herself from the memories of Assisi, where night brought restless spectres and day revealed the blackened walls and ruins of Perugia.
That was fourteen years ago, but to-day she knew that in Rome she herself had never wholly been at home. Her income had sufficed for a very modest establishment in the desirable Esquiline quarter; and her good, if provincial, ancestry had placed her in an agreeable circle of friends. She and her son had no entree among the greater Roman nobles, but they had a claim on the acquaintance of several families connected with the government and through them she had all the introductions she needed. There was, however, much about city life which offended her tastes. Its restlessness annoyed her, its indifference chilled her. Architecture and sculpture failed to make up to her for the presence of mountain and valley. Ornate temples, crowded with fashionable votaries, more often estranged than comforted her. Agrippa's new Pantheon was now the talk of the day, but to her the building seemed cold and formal. And two years ago, when all Rome flocked to the dedication of the new temple of Apollo on the Palatine, her own excitement had given way to tender memories of the dedication of Minerva's temple in her old home. Inside the spacious Roman portico, with its columns of African marble and its wonderful images of beasts and mortals and gods, and in front of the gleaming temple, with its doors of carven ivory and the sun's chariot poised above its gable peak, she had been conscious chiefly of a longing to see once more the homely market-place of Assisi, to climb the high steps to the exquisite temple-porch which faced southward toward the sunbathed valley, and then to seek the cool dimness within, where the Guardian of Woman's Work stood ready to hear her prayers.
To-day as she walked feverishly up and down, fretted by the walls of her Roman house, her homesickness grew into a violent desire for the old life. Perugia was rebuilt, and rehabilitated, in spite of the conquering name of Augustus superimposed upon its most ancient Etruscan portal. Assisi was plying a busy and happy life on the opposite hillside. The intervening valley, once cowering under the flail of war, was given over now to plenty and to peace. Its beauty, as she had seen it last, recurred to her vividly. She had left home in the early morning. The sky still held the flush of dawn, and the white mists were just rising from the valley and floating away over the tops of the awakening hills. She had held her child close to her side as the carriage passed out under the gate of the town and began the descent into the plain, and the buoyant freshness of the morning had entered into her heart and given her hope for the boy's future. He was to grow strong and wise, his childish impetuosity was to be disciplined, he was to study and become a lawyer and serve his country as his ancestors had before him. His father's broken youth was to continue in him, and her life was to fructify in his and in his children's, when the time came.
The mother bowed her head upon her clenched hands. How empty, empty her hopes had been! Even his boyhood had disappointed her, in spite of his cleverness at his books. The irritability of his childhood had become moroseness, and he had alienated more often than he had attached his friends. A certain passionate sincerity, however, had never been lacking in his worst moods; and toward her he had been a loyal, if often heedless, son. In this loyalty, as the years passed, she had come to place her last hope that he would be deaf to the siren calls of the great city. Outdoor sports and wholesome friendships he had rejected, even while his solitary nature and high-strung temperament made some defense against temptation imperative.
When he was eighteen he refused to go into law, and declared for a literary life. She had tried hard to conceal her disappointment and timid chagrin. She realised that the literary circle in Rome was quite different from any she knew. It was no more aristocratic than her own, and yet she felt intuitively that its standards were even more fastidious and its judgments more scornful. If Propertius were to grow rich and powerful, as the great Cicero had, and win the friendship of the old senatorial families, she could more easily adjust herself to formal intercourse with them than to meeting on equal terms such men as Tibullus and Ponticus and Bassus, and perhaps even Horace and Virgil. But later her sensitive fear that she could not help her son in his new career had been swallowed up in the anguish of learning that he had entirely surrendered himself to a woman of the town. This woman, she had been told, was much older than Propertius, beautiful and accomplished, and the lure of many rich and distinguished lovers. Why should she seek out a slight, pale boy who had little to give her except a heart too honest for her to understand?
When the knowledge first came to her, she had begged for her son's confidence, until, in one of his morose moods, he had flung away from her, leaving her to the weary alternations of hope and fear. Two weeks ago, however, all uncertainty had ended. The sword had fallen. Propertius had published a series of poems boasting of his love, scorning all the ideals of courage and manhood in which she had tried to nurture him, exhibiting to Rome in unashamed nakedness the spectacle of his defeated youth. Since the day when her slave had brought home the volume from the book-store and she had read it at night in the privacy of her bedroom, she had found no words in which to speak to him about his poetry. Any hope that she had ever had of again appealing to him died before his cruel lines:—
Never be dearer to me even love of a mother beloved, Never an interest in life dear, if of thee I'm bereft. Thou and thou only to me art my home, to me, Cynthia, only Father and mother art thou—thou all my moments of joy.
He had, indeed, been affectionate toward her once more, and had made a point of telling her things that he thought would please her. He had even, some days before, seemed boyishly eager for her sympathetic pleasure in an invitation to dine with Maecenas.
"I am made, mother," he said, "if he takes me up."
"Made!" she repeated now to herself. Made into what?
A friend had told her that the Forum was ringing with the fame of this new writer, and that from the Palatine to the Subura his poetry was taking like wildfire. She was dumb before such strange comfort. What was this "fame" to which men were willing to sacrifice their citizenship? Nothing in Rome had so shocked her as the laxity of family life, the reluctance of young men to marry, the frequency of divorce. She had felt her first sympathy with Augustus when he had endeavoured to force through a law compelling honourable marriage. Now, all that was best in her, all her loyalty to the traditions of her family, rose in revolt against a popular favour which applauded the rhymes of a ruined boy and admired the shameless revelations of debauchery.
These plain words, spoken to herself, acted upon her mind like a tonic. In facing the facts at their worst, she gained courage to believe that there must still be something she could do, if she could only grow calmer and think more clearly. She stopped her restless walking, and, taking a chair, forced herself to lean back and rest. The afternoon was growing dark, and a servant was beginning to light the lamps. In the glow of the little yellow flames Pan seemed to be piping a jocund melody.
The frenzy of despair left her, and she began to remember her son's youth and the charming, boyish things about him. Perhaps among his new friends some would love him and help him where she and his earlier friends had failed. There was Virgil, for example. He was older, but Propertius's enthusiasm for him seemed unbounded. He had pored over the Georgics when they came out, and only the other day he had told her that the poet was at work on an epic that would be greater than the Iliad. The boy's likes and dislikes were always violent, and he had said once, in his absurd way, that he would rather eat crumbs from Virgil's table than loaves from Horace's.
She knew that Virgil believed in noble things, and she had heard that he was kind and full of sympathy. As the son of a peasant he did not seem too imposing to her. He had been pointed out to her one day in the street, and the memory of his shy bearing and of the embarrassed flush on his face as he saw himself the object of interest, now gave her courage to think of appealing to him.
Her loosened thoughts hurried on more ambitiously still. Of Maecenas's recent kindness Propertius was inordinately proud. Would it not be possible to reach the great man through Tullus, her son's faithful friend, whose government position gave him a claim upon the prime minister's attention? Surely, if the older man realised how fast the boy was throwing his life away he would put out a restraining hand. She had always understood that he set great store by Roman morals. Rising from her chair with fresh energy, she bade a servant bring her writing materials to the library. The swift Roman night had fallen, and the house looked dull and dim except within the short radius of each lamp. But to her it seemed lit by a new and saving hope.
Nearly a week later Horace was dining quietly with Maecenas. It was during one of the frequent estrangements between the prime minister and his wife, and Maecenas often sent for Horace when the strain of work had left him with little inclination to collect a larger company. The meal was over, and on the polished citron-wood table stood a silver mixing-bowl, and an hospitable array—after the princely manner of the house—of gold cups, crystal flagons, and tall, slender glasses which looked as if they might have been cut out of deep-hued amethyst. The slaves had withdrawn, as it was one of the first nights of the Saturnalia and their duties were lightened by a considerate master. The unusual cold and the savage winds that had held Rome in their grip for the past few days were forgotten within the beautiful dining-room. A multitude of lamps, hanging from the lacquered ceiling, standing around the room on tall AEginetan candelabra, and resting on low, graceful standards on the table itself, threw a warm radiance over the mosaic floor and over the walls painted with architectural designs, through which, as if through colonnades of real marble, charming landscapes lured and beckoned. One of the choicest Greek wines in the host's famous cellar had been brought in for the friends. There was enough snow on Soracte, Maecenas had said laughingly, to justify the oldest Chian, if Horace could forego his Italian numbers and his home-brewed Sabine for one night.
"I will leave both my metre and my stomach to the gods," Horace had retorted, "if you will turn over to them your worry about Rome, and pluck the blossom of the hour with me. Augustus is safe in Spain, you cannot be summoned to the Palatine, and to-morrow is early enough for the noise of the Forum. By the way," he added somewhat testily and unexpectedly, "I wish I could ever get to your house without being held up for 'news.' A perfect stranger—he pretended to know me—stopped me to-night and asked me if I thought there was anything in the rumour that Augustus has no intention of going to get the standards back from the Parthians, but is thinking only of the Spanish gold-mines. 'Does he think to wing our Roman eagles with money or with glory?' he asked, with what I thought was an insolent sneer. I shook him off, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. However," smiling again as he saw a familiar impassiveness settle upon his host's face, "for you to-night there shall be neither Parthians nor budgets. I offer myself as the victim of your thoughts. You may even ask me why I have not published my odes since you last saw me."
Maecenas's eyes brightened with affectionate amusement.
"Well, my friend," he said, "both money and glory would wing your flight. You have the public ear already, and can fix your own royalties with the Sosii. And everybody, from Augustus to the capricious fair, would welcome the published volume. You should think too of my reputation as showman. Messala told me last week that he had persuaded Tibullus to bring out a book of verse immediately, while you and Virgil are dallying between past and future triumphs. I am tempted to drop you both and take up with ambitious youth. Here is Propertius setting the town agog, and yesterday the Sosii told me of another clever boy, the young Ovid, who is already writing verse at seventeen: a veritable rascal, they say, for wit and wickedness, but a born poet."
"If he is that," Horace said, in a tone of irritation very unusual with him, "you had better substitute him for your Propertius. I think his success is little short of scandalous."
"You sound like Tullus," Maecenas said banteringly, "or like the friend of Virgil's father who arrived from Mantua last week and began to look for the good old Tatii and Sabines in Pompey's Portico and the Temple of Isis! Since when have you turned Cato?"
Horace laughed good-humouredly again. "At any rate," he said, "you might have done worse by me than likening me to Tullus. I sometimes wish we were all like him, unplagued by imagination, innocent of Greek, quite sure of the admirableness of admirably administering the government, and of the rightness of everything Roman. What does he think of Propertius's peccadilloes, by the way? He is a friend of the family, is he not?"
"Yes," said Maecenas, "and he is doing his friendly duty with the dogged persistence you would expect. He has haunted me in the Forum lately, and yesterday we had a long talk. His point of view is obvious. A Roman ought to be a soldier, and he ought to marry and beget more soldiers. Propertius boasts of being deaf to the trumpet if a woman weeps, and the woman is one he cannot marry. Ergo, Propertius is a disgrace to his country. It is as clear as Euclid. All the friends of the family, it seems, have taken a hand in the matter. Tullus himself has tried to make the boy ambitious to go to Athens, Bassus has tried to discount the lady's charms, Lynceus has urged the pleasures of philosophy, and Ponticus of writing epics. And various grey-beards have done their best to make a love-sick poet pay court to wisdom. I could scarcely keep from laughing at the look of perplexity and indignation in Tullus's face when he quoted Propertius's reply. The boy actually asked them if they thought the poor flute ought to be set adrift just because swelled cheeks weren't becoming to Pallas! The long and short of it is that he wants me to interfere, and convince Propertius of his public duty. That public duty may conceivably take the form of writing poetry is beyond his grasp."
Horace laughed. "Now, my difficulty," he said, "is just the reverse. I object to this young man because he is a bad poet."
"Why?" Maecenas asked, rather abruptly.
"Because," Horace answered, "he contorts the Latin language and muddies his thought by Alexandrian debris."
Maecenas reached for the silver ladle and slowly filled his cup once more from the mixing-bowl before replying. Then he said in a more serious tone than he had used hitherto:—
"If you will allow me to say so, Flaccus, that is a cheap criticism to come from the keenest critic in Rome. Is it not possible that you are misled by your personal prejudices? You dislike the young man himself, I know, because he is moody and emotional and uncontrolled, and because he considers his own emotions fit subjects for discussion. A boy, self-centred, melancholy, and in love—what do you want of him?"
"Is that quite fair?" Horace answered. "Tibullus is young and in love, and a very Heracleitus for melancholy, and you know that I not only love him as a friend but also value him as a poet, in spite of my belief that elegiac verse is not a fortunate medium for our language. His Latin is limpid and direct, his metre is finished, and his emotion as a lover is properly subordinated to his work as a poet."
"Ah," said Maecenas quickly, "but just there you betray yourself." He hesitated a moment and then went on as if the words were welling up from reluctant depths in his own experience. "Flaccus, you have never loved a woman, have you?"
Horace smiled whimsically. "Not to the extent of surrendering my standards," he said. "So far Mercury has always rescued me in time from both Mars and Venus."
But Maecenas went on gravely, "You are, then, incapacitated for appreciating the force and fervour of a certain kind of genius. I know that you have never understood Catullus, and I have a feeling that something of his spirit is reappearing in this boy to-day. If Propertius lacks his virility and directness, that may well be because of a heart in which there is a stormier conflict of emotions. Certainly his passion transcends the vivacious sentiment of poor Gallus. I tell you, my wary critic, I am almost willing to believe that through this silly young dandy we are getting a new voice in our literature. Who knows? who knows? It is un-Roman, yes, incoherent and moody and subversive of law and order, but is it false to human life? A man may choose to dwell apart with his own heart rather than with Lucretius's science or Virgil's nature, or your own practical philosophy. Certain lines that this boy has written haunt me—perhaps they will prove true:—
Then you will wonder, and often, at me not ignoble a poet; Then midst the talent of Rome I shall be ranked in the van; Then will the youths break silence by side of my grave and be saying: 'Dead! Thou of passion our lord! Great one, O poet, laid low!'"
A silence fell between the friends. Two slaves, their faces flushed with unusual wine, came in to replenish the small lamps on the table, and stole quietly out again. Horace watched his friend with grave affection, knowing well where his thoughts had strayed. Presently Maecenas shook himself with a laugh.
"Exit Terentia's husband," he said, "and reenter the galley-slave of the Roman State. I have, indeed, been thinking for some time that this new talent ought to be deflected into other lines. Its energy would put vitality into national themes. A little less Cynthia and a little more Caesar will please us all. I mean to suggest some historical subjects to the boy. Thinking about them may stiffen up this oversoft Muse of his."
"You speak hopefully," Horace said, "but you have our Hostia (I understand the 'Cynthia' is an open secret) to reckon with. She is not going to loosen her hold on a young man who is making her famous, and whose sudden success with you is due to poetry about her. We have to acknowledge that she is almost as wonderful as the young fool thinks she is."
"Certainly," Maecenas answered, "she has insight. Her favour must have been won by his talent, for he hasn't money enough to meet her price."
"And I," scoffed Horace, "think the dice about equal between her favour and his talent. However, I wish you luck, and shall look for a crop of songs on Caesar and Carthage and the Cimbrians."
With a smile of mutual understanding the friends pledged each other in one last draught of Chian, as Horace rose to take his leave.
"How lately have you heard from Virgil?" Maecenas asked while they waited for Davus to be summoned from the festivities in the servants' hall.
"A letter came yesterday," Horace answered, "and it troubled me greatly. He wrote in one of his blackest moods of despair over the AEneid. He says he feels as if he were caught in a nightmare, trying madly to march along a road, while his feet drag heavily, and his tongue refuses to form sounds and words. I confess that I am anxious, for I think his mind may prey too far upon his physical strength. Only last week Varius told me that he thinks Virgil himself is obsessed by the idea that he may die before he has finished his work, he has begged him so often to promise to destroy whatever is left uncompleted."
A sudden sadness, like the shadow of familiar pain, fell upon Maecenas's face.
"Flaccus, my Flaccus," he exclaimed, "it is I who shall die, die before Virgil finishes his AEneid, or you your Odes. My life will have been futile. The Romans do not understand. They want their standards back from the Parthians, they want the mines of Spain and the riches of Arabia. They cast greedy eyes on Britain and make much ado about ruling Gaul and Asia and Greece and Egypt. And they think that I am one of them. But the Etruscan ghosts within me stir strangely at times, and walk abroad through the citadel of my soul. Then I know that the idlest dream of a dreamer may have form when our civilisation shall have crumbled, and that the verse of a poet, even of this boy Propertius, will outlast the toil of my nights. You and Virgil often tell me that you owe your fortunes to me,—your lives, you sometimes say with generous exaggeration. But I tell you that the day is coming when I shall owe my life to you, when, save for you, I shall be a mere name in the rotting archives of a forgotten state. Why, then, do you delay to fulfill my hope? Virgil at least is working. What are you doing, my best of friends?"
Davus had come in, and was laying the soft, thick folds of a long coat over his master's shoulders, as Maecenas's almost fretful appeal came to an end.
Horace, accustomed to his friend's overstrained moods, and understanding the cure for them, turned toward him with a gentle respect which was free from all constraint or apology. His voice lost its frequent note of good-tempered mockery and became warm with feeling, as he answered:—
"My friend, have patience. You will not die, nor shall I, until I have laid before you a work worthy of your friendship. You are indeed the honour and the glory of my life, and your faith in my lyric gift lifts me to the stars. But you must remember that my Muse is wayward and my vein of genius not too rich. No Hercules will reward my travail, so do not expect of me the birth-pangs that are torturing Virgil. I have time to look abroad on life and to correct tears by wine and laughter while my hands are busy with the file and pumice-stone. Before you know it, the billboards of the Sosii will announce the completed work, and the dedication shall show Rome who is responsible for my offending."
The look of anxious irritability faded from Maecenas's face, and in restored serenity he walked with Horace from the dining-room, through the spacious, unroofed peristyle, where marble pillars and statues, flower-beds and fountains were blanched by the winter moon to one tone of silver, and through the magnificent atrium, where the images of noble ancestors kept their silent watch over the new generation. At the vestibule door a porter, somewhat befuddled by Saturnalian merry-making, was waiting sleepily. When he had opened the door into the street the two friends stood silent a moment in the outer portico, suddenly conscious, after the seclusion of the great house and their evening's talk, of the city life beyond,—hilarious, disordered, without subtlety in desire and regret, rich in the common passions of humanity. At this moment a troop of revelers stumbled past with wagging torches in their drunken hands. Among them, conspicuous in the moonlight, the boy Propertius swayed unsteadily, and pushed back a torn garland from his forehead. Horace turned to Maecenas.
"Cynthia's wine," he said. "Do you expect to extract from the lees an ode to Augustus?"
Maecenas shrugged his shoulders. "Probably," he said, "he will write me a charming poem to explain why he cannot do what I ask. I know the tricks of your tribe."
With a final laugh and a clasp of the hands the friends parted company. Maecenas went back to his library to reread dispatches from Spain before seeking his few hours of sleep. Horace, finding that the wind had gone down, and tempted by the moonlight, turned toward the Subura to stroll for another hour among the Saturnalian crowds.
Propertius made his way past the slave at his own door, who was surprised only by his young master's arrival before daybreak, and stumbled to his bedroom, where the night-lamp was burning. The drinking at Cynthia's—he always thought of her by that name—had been fast and furious. She had been more beautiful than he had ever seen her. Her eyes had shone like stars, and the garlands had hung down over her face and trailed in her cup of yellow wine. And she had told him that he was the only true poet in Rome, and had read his poems aloud in a voice so sweet and clear that he had been nearly crazed with pride and delight. Capriciously she had driven him away early with the other guests, but to-morrow he would see her again, or, perhaps, he could get through her door again to-night—to-night—
His feverish reverie was broken in upon by the frightened and apologetic porter, bringing a letter which his mistress had told him to deliver as soon as the master came home. Propertius dismissed him angrily, and held the letter in an unwilling and shaking hand. Perhaps he would not have read it at all if it had been written on an ordinary wax tablet. But the little parchment roll had an unusual and insistent look about it, and he finally unrolled it and, holding it out as steadily as he could under the small wick of his lamp, read what was written:—
"P. Virgilius Maro to his Propertius, greeting. I hope you will allow me to congratulate you on your recent volume of verse. Your management of the elegiac metre, which my friend Gallus, before his tragic death, taught me to understand, seems to me ennobling and enriching, and in both the fire and the pathos of many of your lines I recognise the true poet. Perhaps you will recognise the rustic in me when I add that I also welcomed a note of love for your Umbrian groves of beeches and pines and for water-meadows which you must have seen, perhaps by the banks of your Clitumnus, filled with white lilies and scarlet poppies. Most of all have I been moved by the candour of your idealism. It is rare indeed in this age to hear any scorn of the golden streams of Pactolus and the jewels of the Red Sea, of pictured tapestries and thresholds of Arabian onyx. The knowledge that things like these are as nothing to you, compared with love, stirs me to gratitude.
"It was in these ways that I was thinking of you yesterday, when I put my own work aside and walked by the shore of the great bay here, looking toward Capri. And will you let a man who has lived nearly a quarter of a century longer than you have add that I wondered also whether before long you will not seek another mistress for your worship, one whose service shall transcend not only riches but all personal passions?
"Like you, I have lain by the Tiber, and watched the skiffs hurrying by, and the slow barges towed along the yellow waves. And my thoughts also have been of the meanness of wealth and of the glory of love. But it was to Rome herself that I made my vows, and in whose service I enlisted. Was there ever a time when she needed more the loyalty of us all? While she is fashioning that Empire which shall be without limit or end and raise us to the lordship of the earth, she runs the risks of attack from impalpable enemies who shall defile her highways and debauch her sons. Arrogance, luxury, violent ambition, false desires, are more to be dreaded than a Parthian victory. The subtle wickedness of the Orient may conquer us when the spears of Britain are of no avail. Antony and Gallus are not the only Romans from whom Egypt has sucked life and honour.
"Like you, again, I am no soldier. Your friends and my friends go lustily to Ionia and Lydia and Gaul and Spain, co-workers, as you say, in a beloved government. Is not Rome, then, all the more left to our defence? You pleased me once by saying that you 'knew every line' of my Georgics. You know, then, that I have believed that the sickened minds of to-day could be healed, if men would but return to the intimacies of the soil and farm. Our great master, Lucretius, preached salvation through knowledge of the physical world. I have ventured to say that it could be found through the kindly help of the country gods. But now I am beginning to see deeper. In Rome herself lie the seeds of a new birth. When men see her as she is in her ancient greatness and her immortal future, will not greed and lust depart from their hearts? I think it must have been at dawn, when the sea was first reddening under the early sun, that AEneas sailed up to the mouth of the Tiber, and found at last the heart of that Hesperia whose shores had seemed ever to recede as he drew near them. Now that our sky is blazing with the midday sun, shall we betray and make void those early hopes? Shall the sistrum of Isis drown our prayers to the gods of our country, native-born, who guard the Tiber and our Roman Palatine?
"I am seeking to write a poem which shall make men reverence their past and build for their future. Will you not help me to work for Rome's need? You have sincerity, passion, talent. You have commended a beautiful woman to me. Will you not let me commend my Mistress to you? Farewell."
The letter slipped from the boy's fingers to the floor. The wonderful voice of Virgil, which made men forget his slight frame and awkward manners, seemed to echo in his ears. In that voice he had heard stately hexameters read until, shutting his eyes, he could have believed Apollo spoke from cloudy Olympus. And this voice condescended now to plead with him and to offer him a new love. Cynthia's voice or his—or his. He tried to distinguish each in his clouded memory—Virgil's praising Rome, Cynthia's praising himself. His head ached violently, and his ears rang. A blind rage seized him because he could not distinguish either voice clearly. The letter was to blame. He would destroy that, and one voice at least would cease its torment. He gathered up the loose roll, twisted it in his trembling fingers, and held it to the flame of the little lamp.
"To Venus—a hecatomb!" he shouted wildly.
As the parchment caught fire, the blaze of light illumined his flushed cheeks and burning eyes, and the boyish curve of his sullen lips.
* * * * *
It was in the spring, when the little marble Pan looked rosy in the warmer sunlight, and the white oxen must have been climbing the steeps of Assisi, that the boy's mother let go her slight hold on life. In Rome the roses were in bloom, and Soracte was veiled in a soft, blue haze.
Tullus came to Maecenas to excuse Propertius from a dinner, and a slave led him into the famous garden where the prime minister often received his guests. Virgil was with him now, and they both cordially greeted the young official. As he gave his message, his face, moulded into firm, strong lines by his habits of thought, was softened as if by a personal regret. The three men stood in silence for a moment, and then Tullus turned impulsively to Maecenas.
"He chose between his mother and his mistress," he said. "When I talked with you in the winter you said that perhaps his mother would have to face death again to give birth to a poet, as she had already to give birth to a child. I have never understood what you meant."
"Ah, Tullus," Maecenas answered, laying his hand affectionately upon the shoulder of the younger man, "I spoke of a law not inscribed on the Twelve Tables, but cut deep in the bedrock of life—is it not, my Virgil?"
But the poet, toward whom he had quickly turned, did not hear him. He stood withdrawn into his own thoughts. A shaft of sun, piercing through the ilex trees, laid upon his white toga a sudden sheen of gold, and Maecenas heard him say softly to himself, in a voice whose harmonies he felt he had never wholly gauged before,—
Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit.—HORACE.
The sun still hung high over a neat little farm among the Sabine hills, although the midday heat had given way to the soft and comforting warmth of a September afternoon. Delicate shadows from dark-leaved ilexes, from tall pines and white poplars, fell waveringly across a secluded grass-plot which looked green and inviting even after the parching summer. The sound of water bickering down the winding way of a stream gave life and coolness to the warm silence. Thick among the tree-trunks on one side grew cornel bushes and sloes, making a solid mass of underbrush, while on the other side there was an opening through which one might catch sight of a long meadow, and arable fields beyond, and even of blue hills along the horizon.
But the master of this charming outlook evidently had his mind on something else. He was a man about fifty-five years old, short and stout, and with hair even greyer than his age warranted. As he leaned back among his cushions on a stone bench, so skilfully placed under an ilex tree that his face was protected while the sun fell across his body, he looked an unromantic figure enough, no better than any other Roman gentleman past his prime, seeking the sunshine and intent on physical comfort. Indeed, only a gracefully low forehead and eyes at once keen and genial saved his face from commonplaceness, and would have led a spectator to feel any curiosity about his meditations.
He had let fall into his lap a letter which had reached him that morning, and which he had just reread. It had travelled all the way from Gaul, and he had opened it eagerly, curious to know with what new idea his younger friend was coquetting, and hoping to hear some interesting literary gossip about their common acquaintances. But the letter had been chiefly filled with questions as to why he had not yet written, and, above all, why he did not send on some verses. Horace still felt the irritation of the first reading, although he had had his lunch and his nap, and had reached the serenest hour of the day. When they said good-by in Rome he had told Florus that he should not write: he was too lazy in these later years to write very regularly to any one except Maecenas, the other part of his soul, and it was foolish of the younger man not to have accepted the situation. As for the request for verses, Horace felt ashamed of the anger it had aroused in him. One would think that he was twenty years old again, with black curls, lively legs, and a taste for iambs, to get so out of patience with poor Florus. But it certainly was annoying to be pressed for odes when he had long ago determined to spend the rest of his life in studying philosophy. To be sure, he had once made that vow too early and had been forced to tune his lyre again after he had thought to hang it in Apollo's temple. He had had a pride in the enthusiastic reception of his new odes, and in the proof that his hand had by no means lost its cunning; but Florus ought to understand that he had at that time yielded to the Emperor's request as equivalent to a command, and that he meant what he said when he declared that he wished to leave the lyric arena.
He had never been unreasonable in his demands on life, nor slow in the contribution of his share. It seemed only just that he should spend the years that were left to him as he chose. People talked about his tossing off an ode as if he could do it at dessert, and spend the solid part of the day in other pursuits. They little dreamed that the solid part of many days had often gone into one of his lyric trifles, and that Polyhymnia, she who had invented the lyre, and struck it herself in Lesbos, was among the most exacting of the Muses. With the departure of his green youth and play-time had gone the inclination, as well as the courage, to set himself such tasks. He had always been interested in reading the moral philosophers, and, whatever his friends said, he meant to keep to his books, and to write, if he wrote at all, in a comfortable, contemplative style.
Besides (so his irritated thoughts ran on), how could Florus expect a man who lived in Rome to write imaginative poetry? How tiresome the days were there! Whenever he went out, some one wanted his help in a dull business matter or dragged him off to a public reading by some equally dull author. Even if he tried to visit his friends, one lived on the Quirinal and one on the Aventine, and the walk between lay through noisy streets filled with clumsy workmen, huge wagons, funeral processions, mad dogs, dirty pigs, and human bores. No notes from the lyre could make themselves heard amid such confusion.
Suddenly his feeling quickened: how good it was to be away just now in this autumnal season, when Rome laboured under leaden winds fraught with melancholy depression, and when his head always gave him trouble and he especially needed quiet and freedom! The afternoon sun enveloped him in a delicious warmth, the shadows on the grass danced gayly, as a faint breeze stirred the branches above his head, the merry little stream near by seemed to prattle of endless content.
The frown above Horace's eyes disappeared, and with it his inner annoyance. Florus was a dear fellow, after all, and although he intended to write him a piece of his mind, he would do it in hexameters, more for his amusement than for his edification. It would be a pretty task for the morning hours to-morrow. Now he meant to be still, and forget his writing tablets altogether. He was glad that his house was empty of guests, much as he had enjoyed the preceding week when a lively company had come over from Tibur, in whose retreat they were spending September, to hunt him out. They had had charming dinners together, falling easily into conversations that were worth while, and by tacit consent forgetting the inanities of town gossip. But at present he liked the quiet even better. He had been walking about his little place more regularly, laughing at his steward who often grew impatient over the tiny crops, and assuring himself of the comfort of the few slaves who ran the farm. And on more extended walks he had felt once more, as he had so often in these long years, the charm of the village people near him, with their friendly manners, their patient devotion to work, and their childlike enjoyment of country holidays.
Certainly, as he grew older and his physical energy diminished (he had not been really well since he was a very young man, and now before his time he felt old), he appreciated more and more his good fortune in owning a corner of the earth so situated. He remembered with amusement that in earlier days he sometimes used to feel bored by the solitude of his farm, at the end of his journey from Rome, and wonder why he had left the lively city. But that was when he was young enough to enjoy the bustle of the streets, and, especially in the evenings, to join the crowds of pleasure-seekers and watch the fortune-tellers and their victims. That he could mingle inconspicuously with the populace he had always counted one of the chief rewards of an inconspicuous income. Now, the quiet of the country and the leisure for reading seemed so much more important. He was not even as anxious as he used to be to go to fashionable Tibur or Tarentum or Baiae in search of refreshment. How pleased Virgil would have been with his rustic content!
The sudden thought brought a smile to his eyes and then a shadow. Virgil had been dead more than ten years, but his loss seemed all at once a freshly grievous thing. So much that was valuable in his life was inextricably associated with him. Horace's mind, usually sanely absorbed in present interests, began, because of a trick of memory, to turn more and more toward the past. Virgil had been one of the first to help him out of the bitterness that made him a rather gloomy young man when the Republic was defeated, and his own little property dissipated, and had introduced him to Maecenas, the source of all his material prosperity and of much of his happiness. And indeed he had justified Virgil's faith, Horace said to himself with a certain pride. He had begun as the obscure son of a freedman, and here he was now, after fifty, one of the most successful poets of Rome, a friend of Augustus, a person of importance in important circles, and withal a contented man.
This last achievement he knew to be the most difficult, as it was the most unusual. And there in the clarifying sunshine he said to himself that the rich treasure of his content had been bought by noble coin: by his temperance and good sense in a luxurious society, by his self-respecting independence in a circle of rich patrons, and perhaps, above all, by his austerely honest work among many temptations to debase the gift the Muses had bestowed upon him. He had had no Stoic contempt for the outward things of this world. Indeed, after he had frankly accepted the Empire he came to feel a pride in the glory of Augustus's reign, as he felt a deep, reconciling satisfaction in its peace, its efforts at restoring public morals, its genuine insistence on a renewed purity of national life. The outward tokens of increasing wealth charmed his eyes, and he took the keenest pleasure in the gorgeous marble pillars and porticoes of many of the houses he frequented, in the beautiful statues, the bronze figures, the tapestries, the gold and silver vessels owned by many of his friends, and in the rich appointments and the perfect service of their dining-rooms, where he was a familiar guest. But he had never wanted these things for himself, any more than he wished for a pedigree and the images of ancestors to adorn lofty halls. He came away from splendid houses more than willing to fall back into plainer ways. Neither had he ever been apologetic toward his friends. If they wanted to come and dine with him on inexpensive vegetables, he would gladly himself superintend the polishing of his few pieces of silver and the setting of his cheap table. If they did not choose to accept his invitations, why, they knew how much their standards amused him. As for his more august friends, the Emperor himself, Maecenas, and Messala, and Pollio, he had always thought it a mere matter of justice and common courtesy to repay their many kindnesses by a cheerful adaptability when he was with them, and by a dignified gratitude. But not even the Emperor could have compelled him to surrender his inner citadel.
Perhaps, after all, that was why Augustus had forced him back to the lyre, in support of his reforms and in praise of the triumphal campaigns of Tiberius and Drusus. An honest mind betokened honest workmanship, and upon such workmanship, rather than upon a subsidised flattery, the imperial intruder wished to stake his repute.
However lightly Horace may from time to time have taken other things, he never trifled with his literary purpose after it had once matured. Even his first satiric efforts had been honestly made; and when he found his true mission of adapting the perfect Greek poetry to Latin measures, there was no airy grace of phrase, no gossamer-like slightness of theme, which did not rest upon the unseen structure of artistic sincerity. That was why in rare solemn moments he believed that his poetry would live, live beyond his own lifetime and his age, even, perhaps, as long as the Pontifex Maximus and the Vestal Virgin should ascend to the Capitol in public processional. He had said laughingly of his published metrical letters that they might please Rome for a day, travel on to the provinces, and finally become exercise-books for school-boys in remote villages. But his odes were different. They were not prosaic facts and comments put into metre: they were poetry. If he were only a laborious bee compared with the soaring swans of Greek lyric, at least he had distilled pure honey from the Parnassian thyme. Now that he had determined to touch the lyre no more, he felt more than ever sure that his lyre had served Rome well. How much better, indeed, than his sword could have served her, in spite of the military ambitions of his youth. What a fool he had been to believe that the Republic could be saved by blood, or that he could be a soldier!