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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Amphitheatre
By Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873)
 
From ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’

ON the upper tier (but apart from the male spectators) sat the women, their gay dresses resembling some gaudy flower-bed; it is needless to add that they were the most talkative part of the assembly; and many were the looks directed up to them, especially from the benches appropriated to the young and the unmarried men. On the lower seats round the arena sat the more high-born and wealthy visitors—the magistrates and those of senatorial or equestrian dignity: the passages which, by corridors at the right and left, gave access to these seats, at either end of the oval arena, were also the entrances for the combatants. Strong palings at these passages prevented any unwelcome eccentricity in the movements of the beasts, and confined them to their appointed prey. Around the parapet which was raised above the arena, and from which the seats gradually rose, were gladiatorial inscriptions, and paintings wrought in fresco, typical of the entertainments for which the place was designed. Throughout the whole building wound invisible pipes, from which, as the day advanced, cooling and fragrant showers were to be sprinkled over the spectators. The officers of the amphitheatre were still employed in the task of fixing the vast awning (or velaria) which covered the whole, and which luxurious invention the Campanians arrogated to themselves: it was woven of the whitest Apulian wool, and variegated with broad stripes of crimson. Owing either to some inexperience on the part of the workmen or to some defect in the machinery, the awning, however, was not arranged that day so happily as usual; indeed, from the immense space of the circumference, the task was always one of great difficulty and art—so much so that it could seldom be adventured in rough or windy weather. But the present day was so remarkably still that there seemed to the spectators no excuse for the awkwardness of the artificers; and when a large gap in the back of the awning was still visible, from the obstinate refusal of one part of the velaria to ally itself with the rest, the murmurs of discontent were loud and general.  1
  The ædile Pansa, at whose expense the exhibition was given, looked particularly annoyed at the defect, and vowed bitter vengeance on the head of the chief officer of the show, who, fretting, puffing, perspiring, busied himself in idle orders and unavailing threats.  2
  The hubbub ceased suddenly—the operators desisted—the crowd were stilled—the gap was forgotten—for now, with a loud and warlike flourish of trumpets, the gladiators, marshaled in ceremonious procession, entered the arena. They swept round the oval space very slowly and deliberately, in order to give the spectators full leisure to admire their stern serenity of feature—their brawny limbs and various arms, as well as to form such wagers as the excitement of the moment might suggest.  3
  “Oh!” cried the widow Fulvia to the wife of Pansa, as they leaned down from their lofty bench, “do you see that gigantic gladiator? how drolly he is dressed!”  4
  “Yes,” said the ædile’s wife with complacent importance, for she knew all the names and qualities of each combatant: “he is a retiarius or netter; he is armed only, you see, with a three-pronged spear like a trident, and a net; he wears no armor, only the fillet and the tunic. He is a mighty man, and is to fight with Sporus, yon thick-set gladiator, with the round shield and drawn sword but without body armor; he has not his helmet on now, in order that you may see his face—how fearless it is! By-and-by he will fight with his visor down.”  5
  “But surely a net and a spear are poor arms against a shield and sword?”  6
  “That shows how innocent you are, my dear Fulvia: the retiarius has generally the best of it.”  7
  “But who is yon handsome gladiator, nearly naked—is it not quite improper? By Venus! but his limbs are beautifully shaped!”  8
  “It is Lydon, a young untried man! he has the rashness to fight yon other gladiator similarly dressed, or rather undressed—Tetraides. They fight first in the Greek fashion, with the cestus; afterward they put on armor, and try sword and shield.”  9
  “He is a proper man, this Lydon; and the women, I am sure, are on his side.”  10
  “So are not the experienced bettors: Clodius offers three to one against him.”  11
  “Oh, Jove! how beautiful!” exclaimed the widow, as two gladiators, armed cap-à-pie, rode round the arena on light and prancing steeds. Resembling much the combatants in the tilts of the middle age, they bore lances and round shields beautifully inlaid; their armor was woven intricately with bands of iron, but it covered only the thighs and the right arms; short cloaks extending to the seat gave a picturesque and graceful air to their costume; their legs were naked with the exception of sandals, which were fastened a little above the ankle. “Oh, beautiful! Who are these?” asked the widow.  12
  “The one is named Berbix: he has conquered twelve times. The other assumes the arrogant Nobilior. They are both Gauls.”  13
  While thus conversing, the first formalities of the show were over. To these succeeded a feigned combat with wooden swords between the various gladiators matched against each other. Among these the skill of two Roman gladiators, hired for the occasion, was the most admired; and next to them the most graceful combatant was Lydon. This sham contest did not last above an hour, nor did it attract any very lively interest except among those connoisseurs of the arena to whom art was preferable to more coarse excitement; the body of the spectators were rejoiced when it was over, and when the sympathy rose to terror. The combatants were now arranged in pairs, as agreed beforehand; their weapons examined; and the grave sports of the day commenced amid the deepest silence—broken only by an exciting and preliminary blast of warlike music.  14
  It was often customary to begin the sports by the most cruel of all; and some bestiarius, or gladiator appointed to the beasts, was slain first as an initiatory sacrifice. But in the present instance the experienced Pansa thought better that the sanguinary drama should advance, not decrease, in interest; and accordingly the execution of Olinthus and Glaucus was reserved for the last. It was arranged that the two horsemen should first occupy the arena; that the foot gladiators, paired off, should then be loosed indiscriminately on the stage; that Glaucus and the lion should next perform their part in the bloody spectacle; and the tiger and the Nazarene be the grand finale. And in the spectacles of Pompeii, the reader of Roman history must limit his imagination, nor expect to find those vast and wholesale exhibitions of magnificent slaughter with which a Nero or a Caligula regaled the inhabitants of the Imperial City. The Roman shows, which absorbed the more celebrated gladiators and the chief proportion of foreign beasts, were indeed the very reason why in the lesser towns of the empire the sports of the amphitheatre were comparatively humane and rare; and in this as in other respects, Pompeii was the miniature, the microcosm of Rome. Still, it was an awful and imposing spectacle, with which modern times have, happily, nothing to compare; a vast theatre, rising row upon row, and swarming with human beings, from fifteen to eighteen thousand in number, intent upon no fictitious representation—no tragedy of the stage—but the actual victory or defeat, the exultant life or the bloody death, of each and all who entered the arena!  15
  The two horsemen were now at either extremity of the lists (if so they might be called), and at a given signal from Pansa the combatants started simultaneously as in full collision, each advancing his round buckler, each poising on high his sturdy javelin; but just when within three paces of his opponent, the steed of Berbix suddenly halted, wheeled round, and, as Nobilior was borne rapidly by, his antagonist spurred upon him. The buckler of Nobilior, quickly and skillfully extended, received a blow which otherwise would have been fatal.  16
  “Well done, Nobilior!” cried the prætor, giving the first vent to the popular excitement.  17
  “Bravely struck, my Berbix!” answered Clodius from his seat.  18
  And the wild murmur, swelled by many a shout, echoed from side to side.  19
  The visors of both the horsemen were completely closed (like those of the knights in after times), but the head was nevertheless the great point of assault; and Nobilior, now wheeling his charger with no less adroitness than his opponent, directed his spear full on the helmet of his foe. Berbix raised his buckler to shield himself, and his quick-eyed antagonist, suddenly lowering his weapon, pierced him through the breast. Berbix reeled and fell.  20
  “Nobilior! Nobilior!” shouted the populace.  21
  “I have lost ten sestertia,” said Clodius, between his teeth.  22
  “Habet!” (He has it) said Pansa deliberately.  23
  The populace, not yet hardened into cruelty, made the signal of mercy: but as the attendants of the arena approached, they found the kindness came too late; the heart of the Gaul had been pierced, and his eyes were set in death. It was his life’s blood that flowed so darkly over the sand and sawdust of the arena.  24
  “It is a pity it was so soon over—there was little enough for one’s trouble,” said the widow Fulvia.  25
  “Yes—I have no compassion for Berbix. Any one might have seen that Nobilior did but feint. Mark, they fix the fatal hook to the body—they drag him away to the spoliarium—they scatter new sand over the stage! Pansa regrets nothing more than that he is not rich enough to strew the arena with borax and cinnabar, as Nero used to do.”  26
  “Well, if it has been a brief battle, it is quickly succeeded. See my handsome Lydon on the arena—ay, and the net-bearer too, and the swordsmen! Oh, charming!”  27
  There were now on the arena six combatants: Niger and his net, matched against Sporus with his shield and his short broadsword; Lydon and Tetraides, naked save by a cincture round the waist, each armed only with a heavy Greek cestus; and two gladiators from Rome, clad in complete steel, and evenly matched with immense bucklers and pointed swords.  28
  The initiatory contest between Lydon and Tetraides being less deadly than that between the other combatants, no sooner had they advanced to the middle of the arena than as by common consent the rest held back, to see how that contest should be decided, and wait till fiercer weapons might replace the cestus ere they themselves commenced hostilities. They stood leaning on their arms and apart from each other, gazing on the show, which, if not bloody enough thoroughly to please the populace, they were still inclined to admire because its origin was of their ancestral Greece.  29
  No persons could at first glance have seemed less evenly matched than the two antagonists. Tetraides, though no taller than Lydon, weighed considerably more; the natural size of his muscles was increased, to the eyes of the vulgar, by masses of solid flesh; for, as it was a notion that the contest of the cestus fared easiest with him who was plumpest, Tetraides had encouraged to the utmost his hereditary predisposition to the portly. His shoulders were vast, and his lower limbs thick-set, double-jointed, and slightly curved outward, in that formation which takes so much from beauty to give so largely to strength. But Lydon, except that he was slender even almost to meagreness, was beautifully and delicately proportioned; and the skillful might have perceived that with much less compass of muscle than his foe, that which he had was more seasoned—iron and compact. In proportion, too, as he wanted flesh, he was likely to possess activity; and a haughty smile on his resolute face, which strongly contrasted with the solid heaviness of his enemy’s, gave assurance to those who beheld it and united their hope to their pity; so that despite the disparity of their seeming strength, the cry of the multitude was nearly as loud for Lydon as for Tetraides.  30
  Whoever is acquainted with the modern prize-ring—whoever has witnessed the heavy and disabling strokes which the human fist, skillfully directed, hath the power to bestow—may easily understand how much that happy facility would be increased by a band carried by thongs of leather round the arm as high as the elbow, and terribly strengthened about the knuckles by a plate of iron, and sometimes a plummet of lead. Yet this, which was meant to increase, perhaps rather diminished, the interest of the fray; for it necessarily shortened its duration. A very few blows, successfully and scientifically planted, might suffice to bring the contest to a close; and the battle did not, therefore, often allow full scope for the energy, fortitude, and dogged perseverance that we technically style pluck, which not unusually wins the day against superior science, and which heightens to so painful a delight the interest in the battle and the sympathy for the brave.  31
  “Guard thyself!” growled Tetraides, moving nearer and nearer to his foe, who rather shifted round him than receded.  32
  Lydon did not answer, save by a scornful glance of his quick, vigilant eye. Tetraides struck—it was as the blow of a smith on a vise; Lydon sank suddenly on one knee—the blow passed over his head. Not so harmless was Lydon’s retaliation; he quickly sprang to his feet, and aimed his cestus full on the broad chest of his antagonist. Tetraides reeled—the populace shouted.  33
  “You are unlucky to-day,” said Lepidus to Clodius: “you have lost one bet; you will lose another.”  34
  “By the gods! my bronzes go to the auctioneer if that is the case. I have no less than a hundred sestertia upon Tetraides. Ha, ha! see how he rallies! That was a home stroke: he has cut open Lydon’s shoulder.—A Tetraides!—a Tetraides!”  35
  “But Lydon is not disheartened. By Pollux! how well he keeps his temper! See how dextrously he avoids those hammer-like hands!—dodging now here, now there—circling round and round. Ah, poor Lydon! he has it again.”  36
  “Three to one still on Tetraides! What say you, Lepidus?”  37
  “Well—nine sestertia to three—be it so! What! again Lydon. He stops—he gasps for breath. By the gods, he is down! No—he is again on his legs. Brave Lydon! Tetraides is encouraged—he laughs loud—he rushes on him.”  38
  “Fool—success blinds him—he should be cautious. Lydon’s eye is like a lynx’s!” said Clodius, between his teeth.  39
  “Ha, Clodius! saw you that? Your man totters! Another blow—he falls—he falls!”  40
  “Earth revives him then. He is once more up; but the blood rolls down his face.”  41
  “By the Thunderer! Lydon wins it. See how he presses on him! That blow on the temple would have crushed an ox! it has crushed Tetraides. He falls again—he cannot move—habet!—habet!”  42
  “Habet!” repeated Pansa. “Take them out and give them the armor and swords.”…  43
  While the contest in the amphitheatre had thus commenced, there was one in the loftier benches for whom it had assumed indeed a poignant, a stifling interest. The aged father of Lydon, despite his Christian horror of the spectacle, in his agonized anxiety for his son had not been able to resist being the spectator of his fate. Once amid a fierce crowd of strangers, the lowest rabble of the populace, the old man saw, felt nothing but the form, the presence of his brave son! Not a sound had escaped his lips when twice he had seen him fall to the earth; only he had turned paler, and his limbs trembled. But he had uttered one low cry when he saw him victorious; unconscious, alas! of the more fearful battle to which that victory was but a prelude.  44
  “My gallant boy!” said he, and wiped his eyes.  45
  “Is he thy son?” said a brawny fellow to the right of the Nazarene: “he has fought well; let us see how he does by-and-by. Hark! he is to fight the first victor. Now, old boy, pray the gods that that victor be neither of the Romans! nor, next to them, the giant Niger.”  46
  The old man sat down again and covered his face. The fray for the moment was indifferent to him—Lydon was not one of the combatants. Yet, yet, the thought flashed across him—the fray was indeed of deadly interest—the first who fell was to make way for Lydon! He started, and bent down, with straining eyes and clasped hands, to view the encounter.  47
  The first interest was attracted toward the combat of Niger with Sporus; for this spectacle of contest, from the fatal result which usually attended it, and from the great science it required in either antagonist, was always peculiarly inviting to the spectators.  48
  They stood at a considerable distance from each other. The singular helmet which Sporus wore (the visor of which was down) concealed his face; but the features of Niger attracted a fearful and universal interest from their compressed and vigilant ferocity. Thus they stood for some moments, each eying each, until Sporus began slowly and with great caution to advance, holding his sword pointed, like a modern fencer’s, at the breast of his foe. Niger retreated as his antagonist advanced, gathering up his net with his right hand and never taking his small, glittering eye from the movements of the swordsman. Suddenly, when Sporus had approached nearly at arm’s length, the retiarius threw himself forward and cast his net. A quick inflection of body saved the gladiator from the deadly snare; he uttered a sharp cry of joy and rage and rushed upon Niger; but Niger had already drawn in his net, thrown it across his shoulders, and now fled around the lists with a swiftness which the secutor 1 in vain endeavored to equal. The people laughed and shouted aloud to see the ineffectual efforts of the broad-shouldered gladiator to overtake the flying giant; when at that moment their attention was turned from these to the two Roman combatants.  49
  They had placed themselves at the onset face to face, at the distance of modern fencers from each other; but the extreme caution which both evinced at first had prevented any warmth of engagement, and allowed the spectators full leisure to interest themselves in the battle between Sporus and his foe. But the Romans were now heated into full and fierce encounter: they pushed—returned—advanced on—retreated from each other, with all that careful yet scarcely perceptible caution which characterizes men well experienced and equally matched. But at this moment Eumolpus, the older gladiator, by that dextrous backstroke which was considered in the arena so difficult to avoid, had wounded Nepimus in the side. The people shouted; Lepidus turned pale.  50
  “Ho!” said Clodius, “the game is nearly over. If Eumolpus fights now the quiet fight, the other will gradually bleed himself away.”  51
  “But, thank the gods! he does not fight the backward fight. See!—he presses hard upon Nepimus. By Mars! but Nepimus had him there! the helmet rang again!—Clodius, I shall win!”  52
  “Why do I ever bet but at the dice?” groaned Clodius to himself;—“or why cannot one cog a gladiator?”  53
  “A Sporus!—a Sporus!” shouted the populace, as Niger, now having suddenly paused, had again cast his net, and again unsuccessfully. He had not retreated this time with sufficient agility—the sword of Sporus had inflicted a severe wound upon his right leg; and, incapacitated to fly, he was pressed hard by the fierce swordsman. His great height and length of arm still continued, however, to give him no despicable advantages; and steadily keeping his trident at the front of his foe, he repelled him successfully for several minutes.  54
  Sporus now tried by great rapidity of evolution to get round his antagonist, who necessarily moved with pain and slowness. In so doing he lost his caution—he advanced too near to the giant—raised his arm to strike, and received the three points of the fatal spear full in his breast! He sank on his knee. In a moment more the deadly net was cast over him,—he struggled against its meshes in vain; again—again—again he writhed mutely beneath the fresh strokes of the trident—his blood flowed fast through the net and redly over the sand. He lowered his arms in acknowledgment of defeat.  55
  The conquering retiarius withdrew his net, and leaning on his spear, looked to the audience for their judgment. Slowly, too, at the same moment, the vanquished gladiator rolled his dim and despairing eyes around the theatre. From row to row, from bench to bench, there glared upon him but merciless and unpitying eyes.  56
  Hushed was the roar—the murmur! The silence was dread, for in it was no sympathy; not a hand—no, not even a woman’s hand—gave the signal of charity and life! Sporus had never been popular in the arena; and lately the interest of the combat had been excited on behalf of the wounded Niger. The people were warmed into blood—the mimic fight had ceased to charm; the interest had mounted up to the desire of sacrifice and the thirst of death!  57
  The gladiator felt that his doom was sealed; he uttered no prayer—no groan. The people gave the signal of death! In dogged but agonized submission he bent his neck to receive the fatal stroke. And now, as the spear of the retiarius was not a weapon to inflict instant and certain death, there stalked into the arena a grim and fatal form, brandishing a short, sharp sword, and with features utterly concealed beneath its visor. With slow and measured step this dismal headsman approached the gladiator, still kneeling—laid the left hand on his humbled crest—drew the edge of the blade across his neck—turned round to the assembly, lest, in the last moment, remorse should come upon them; the dread signal continued the same; the blade glittered brightly in the air—fell—and the gladiator rolled upon the sand: his limbs quivered—were still—he was a corpse.  58
  His body was dragged at once from the arena through the gate of death, and thrown into the gloomy den termed technically the “spoliarium.” And ere it had well reached that destination the strife between the remaining combatants was decided. The sword of Eumolpus had inflicted the death-wound upon the less experienced combatant. A new victim was added to the receptacle of the slain.  59
  Throughout that mighty assembly there now ran a universal movement; the people breathed more freely and settled themselves in their seats. A grateful shower was cast over every row from the concealed conduits. In cool and luxurious pleasure they talked over the late spectacle of blood. Eumolpus removed his helmet and wiped his brows; his close-curled hair and short beard, his noble Roman features and bright dark eye, attracted the general admiration. He was fresh, unwounded, unfatigued.  60
  The ædile paused, and proclaimed aloud that as Niger’s wound disabled him from again entering the arena, Lydon was to be the successor to the slaughtered Nepimus and the new combatant of Eumolpus.  61
  “Yet, Lydon,” added he, “if thou wouldst decline the combat with one so brave and tried, thou mayst have full liberty to do so. Eumolpus is not the antagonist that was originally decreed for thee. Thou knowest best how far thou canst cope with him. If thou failest, thy doom is honorable death; if thou conquerest, out of my own purse I will double the stipulated prize.”  62
  The people shouted applause. Lydon stood in the lists; he gazed around; high above he beheld the pale face, the straining eyes of his father. He turned away irresolute for a moment. No! the conquest of the cestus was not sufficient—he had not yet won the prize of victory—his father was still a slave!  63
  “Noble ædile!” he replied, in a firm and deep tone, “I shrink not from this combat. For the honor of Pompeii, I demand that one trained by its long-celebrated lanista shall do battle with this Roman.”  64
  The people shouted louder than before.  65
  “Four to one against Lydon!” said Clodius to Lepidus.  66
  “I would not take twenty to one! Why, Eumolpus is a very Achilles, and this poor fellow is but a tyro!”  67
  Eumolpus gazed hard on the face of Lydon: he smiled; yet the smile was followed by a slight and scarce audible sigh—a touch of compassionate emotion, which custom conquered the moment the heart acknowledged it.  68
  And now both, clad in complete armor, the sword drawn, the visor closed, the two last combatants of the arena (ere man, at least, was matched with beast) stood opposed to each other.  69
  It was just at this time that a letter was delivered to the prætor by one of the attendants of the arena; he removed the cincture—glanced over it for a moment—his countenance betrayed surprise and embarrassment. He re-read the letter, and then muttering,—“Tush! it is impossible!—the man must be drunk, even in the morning, to dream of such follies!”—threw it carelessly aside and gravely settled himself once more in the attitude of attention to the sports.  70
  The interest of the public was wound up very high. Eumolpus had at first won their favor; but the gallantry of Lydon, and his well-timed allusion to the honor of the Pompeiian lanista, had afterward given the latter the preference in their eyes.  71
  “Holla, old fellow!” said Medon’s neighbor to him. “Your son is hardly matched; but never fear, the editor will not permit him to be slain—no, nor the people neither: he has behaved too bravely for that. Ha! that was a home thrust!—well averted by Pollux! At him again, Lydon!—they stop to breathe! What art thou muttering, old boy?”  72
  “Prayers!” answered Medon, with a more calm and hopeful mien than he had yet maintained.  73
  “Prayers!—trifles! The time for gods to carry a man away in a cloud is gone now. Ha! Jupiter, what a blow! Thy side—thy side!—take care of thy side, Lydon!”  74
  There was a convulsive tremor throughout the assembly. A fierce blow from Eumolpus, full on the crest, had brought Lydon to his knee.  75
  “Habet!—he has it!” cried a shrill female voice; “he has it!”  76
  It was the voice of the girl who had so anxiously anticipated the sacrifice of some criminal to the beasts.  77
  “Be silent, child!” said the wife of Pansa, haughtily. “Non habet!—he is not wounded!”  78
  “I wish he were, if only to spite old surly Medon,” muttered the girl.  79
  Meanwhile Lydon, who had hitherto defended himself with great skill and valor, began to give way before the vigorous assaults of the practiced Roman; his arm grew tired, his eye dizzy, he breathed hard and painfully. The combatants paused again for breath.  80
  “Young man,” said Eumolpus, in a low voice, “desist; I will wound thee slightly—then lower thy arm; thou hast propitiated the editor and the mob—thou wilt be honorably saved!”  81
  “And my father still enslaved!” groaned Lydon to himself. “No! death or his freedom.”  82
  At that thought, and seeing that, his strength not being equal to the endurance of the Roman, everything depended on a sudden and desperate effort, he threw himself fiercely on Eumolpus; the Roman warily retreated—Lydon thrust again—Eumolpus drew himself aside—the sword grazed his cuirass—Lydon’s breast was exposed—the Roman plunged his sword through the joints of the armor, not meaning however to inflict a deep wound; Lydon, weak and exhausted, fell forward, fell right on the point; it passed through and through, even to the back. Eumolpus drew forth his blade; Lydon still made an effort to regain his balance—his sword left his grasp—he struck mechanically at the gladiator with his naked hand and fell prostrate on the arena. With one accord, ædile and assembly made the signal of mercy; the officers of the arena approached, they took off the helmet of the vanquished. He still breathed; his eyes rolled fiercely on his foe; the savageness he had acquired in his calling glared from his gaze and lowered upon the brow, darkened already with the shades of death; then with a convulsive groan, with a half-start, he lifted his eyes above. They rested not on the face of the ædile nor on the pitying brows of the relenting judges. He saw them not; they were as if the vast space was desolate and bare; one pale agonizing face alone was all he recognized—one cry of a broken heart was all that, amid the murmurs and the shouts of the populace, reached his ear. The ferocity vanished from his brow; a soft, tender expression of sanctifying but despairing filial love played over his features—played—waned—darkened! His face suddenly became locked and rigid, resuming its former fierceness. He fell upon the earth.  83
  “Look to him,” said the ædile; “he has done his duty!”  84
  The officers dragged him off to the spoliarium.  85
  “A true type of glory, and of its fate!” murmured Arbaces to himself; and his eye, glancing around the amphitheatre, betrayed so much of disdain and scorn that whoever encountered it felt his breath suddenly arrested, and his emotions frozen into one sensation of abasement and of awe.  86
  Again rich perfumes were wafted around the theatre; the attendants sprinkled fresh sand over the arena.  87
  “Bring forth the lion and Glaucus the Athenian,” said the ædile.  88
  And a deep and breathless hush of overwrought interest and intense (yet strange to say not unpleasing) terror lay like a mighty and awful dream over the assembly.
*        *        *        *        *
  89
  The door swung gratingly back—the gleam of spears shot along the wall.  90
  “Glaucus the Athenian, thy time has come,” said a loud and clear voice; “the lion awaits thee.”  91
  “I am ready,” said the Athenian. “Brother and co-mate, one last embrace! Bless me—and farewell!”  92
  The Christian opened his arms; he clasped the young heathen to his breast; he kissed his forehead and cheek; he sobbed aloud; his tears flowed fast and hot over the features of his new friend.  93
  “Oh! could I have converted thee, I had not wept. Oh that I might say to thee, ‘We two shall sup this night in Paradise!’”  94
  “It may be so yet,” answered the Greek with a tremulous voice, “They whom death parts now may yet meet beyond the grave; on the earth—oh! the beautiful, the beloved earth, farewell for ever! Worthy officer, I attend you.”  95
  Glaucus tore himself away; and when he came forth into the air, its breath, which though sunless was hot and arid, smote witheringly upon him. His frame, not yet restored from the effects of the deadly draught, shrank and trembled. The officers supported him.  96
  “Courage!” said one; “thou art young, active, well knit. They give thee a weapon! despair not, and thou mayst yet conquer.”  97
  Glaucus did not reply; but ashamed of his infirmity, he made a desperate and convulsive effort and regained the firmness of his nerves. They anointed his body, completely naked save by a cincture round the loins, placed the stilus (vain weapon!) in his hand, and led him into the arena.  98
  And now when the Greek saw the eyes of thousands and tens of thousands upon him, he no longer felt that he was mortal. All evidence of fear, all fear itself, was gone. A red and haughty flush spread over the paleness of his features; he towered aloft to the full of his glorious stature. In the elastic beauty of his limbs and form; in his intent but unfrowning brow; in the high disdain and in the indomitable soul which breathed visibly, which spoke audibly, from his attitude, his lip, his eye,—he seemed the very incarnation, vivid and corporeal, of the valor of his land; of the divinity of its worship: at once a hero and a god!  99
  The murmur of hatred and horror at his crime which had greeted his entrance died into the silence of involuntary admiration and half-compassionate respect; and with a quick and convulsive sigh, that seemed to move the whole mass of life as if it were one body, the gaze of the spectators turned from the Athenian to a dark uncouth object in the centre of the arena. It was the grated den of the lion.  100
  “By Venus, how warm it is!” said Fulvia, “yet there is no sun. Would that those stupid sailors could have fastened up that gap in the awning!”  101
  “Oh, it is warm indeed. I turn sick—I faint!” said the wife of Pansa; even her experienced stoicism giving way at the struggle about to take place.  102
  The lion had been kept without food for twenty-four hours, and the animal had, during the whole morning, testified a singular and restless uneasiness, which the keeper had attributed to the pangs of hunger. Yet its bearing seemed rather that of fear than of rage; its roar was painful and distressed; it hung its head—snuffed the air through the bars—then lay down—started again—and again uttered its wild and far-resounding cries. And now in its den it lay utterly dumb and mute, with distended nostrils forced hard against the grating, and disturbing, with a heaving breath, the sand below on the arena.  103
  The editor’s lip quivered, and his cheek grew pale; he looked anxiously around—hesitated—delayed; the crowd became impatient. Slowly he gave the sign; the keeper, who was behind the den, cautiously removed the grating, and the lion leaped forth with a mighty and glad roar of release. The keeper hastily retreated through the grated passage leading from the arena, and left the lord of the forest—and his prey.  104
  Glaucus had bent his limbs so as to give himself the firmest posture at the expected rush of the lion, with his small and shining weapon raised on high, in the faint hope that one well-directed thrust (for he knew that he should have time but for one) might penetrate through the eye to the brain of his grim foe.  105
  But to the unutterable astonishment of all, the beast seemed not even aware of the presence of the criminal.  106
  At the first moment of its release it halted abruptly in the arena, raised itself half on end, snuffing the upward air with impatient signs, then suddenly it sprang forward, but not on the Athenian. At half-speed it circled round and round the space, turning its vast head from side to side with an anxious and perturbed gaze, as if seeking only some avenue of escape; once or twice it endeavored to leap up the parapet that divided it from the audience, and on falling, uttered rather a baffled howl than its deep-toned and kingly roar. It evinced no sign either of wrath or hunger; its tail drooped along the sand, instead of lashing its gaunt sides; and its eye, though it wandered at times to Glaucus, rolled again listlessly from him. At length, as if tired of attempting to escape, it crept with a moan into its cage, and once more laid itself down to rest.  107
  The first surprise of the assembly at the apathy of the lion soon grew converted into resentment at its cowardice; and the populace already merged their pity for the fate of Glaucus into angry compassion for their own disappointment.  108
  The editor called to the keeper:—“How is this? Take the goad, prick him forth, and then close the door of the den.”  109
  As the keeper, with some fear but more astonishment, was preparing to obey, a loud cry was heard at one of the entrances of the arena; there was a confusion, a bustle—voices of remonstrance suddenly breaking forth, and suddenly silenced at the reply. All eyes turned in wonder at the interruption, toward the quarter of the disturbance; the crowd gave way, and suddenly Sallust appeared on the senatorial benches, his hair disheveled—breathless—heated—half exhausted. He cast his eyes hastily round the ring. “Remove the Athenian!” he cried; “haste—he is innocent! Arrest Arbaces the Egyptian—HE is the murderer of Apæcides!”  110
  “Art thou mad, O Sallust!” said the prætor, rising from his seat. “What means this raving?”  111
  “Remove the Athenian!—Quick! or his blood be on your head. Prætor, delay, and you answer with your own life to the Emperor! I bring with me the eye-witness to the death of the priest Apæcides. Room there, stand back, give way. People of Pompeii, fix every eye upon Arbaces; there he sits! Room there for the priest Calenus!”  112
  Pale, haggard, fresh from the jaws of famine and of death, his face fallen, his eyes dull as a vulture’s, his broad frame gaunt as a skeleton, Calenus was supported into the very row in which Arbaces sat. His releasers had given him sparingly of food; but the chief sustenance that nerved his feeble limbs was revenge!  113
  “The priest Calenus—Calenus!” cried the mob. “It is he? No—it is a dead man!”  114
  “It is the priest Calenus,” said the prætor, gravely. “What hast thou to say?”  115
  “Arbaces of Egypt is the murderer of Apæcides, the priest of Isis; these eyes saw him deal the blow. It is from the dungeon into which he plunged me—it is from the darkness and horror of a death by famine—that the gods have raised me to proclaim his crime! Release the Athenian—he is innocent!”  116
  “It is for this, then, that the lion spared him, A miracle! a miracle!” cried Pansa.  117
  “A miracle! a miracle!” shouted the people; “remove the Athenian—Arbaces to the lion.”  118
  And that shout echoed from hill to vale—from coast to sea—Arbaces to the lion.  119
  “Officers, remove the accused Glaucus—remove, but guard him yet,” said the prætor. “The gods lavish their wonders upon this day.”  120
  As the prætor gave the word of release, there was a cry of joy: a female voice, a child’s voice; and it was of joy! It rang through the heart of the assembly with electric force; it was touching, it was holy, that child’s voice. And the populace echoed it back with sympathizing congratulation.  121
  “Silence!” said the grave prætor; “who is there?”  122
  “The blind girl—Nydia,” answered Sallust; “it is her hand that has raised Calenus from the grave, and delivered Glaucus from the lion.”  123
  “Of this hereafter,” said the prætor. “Calenus, priest of Isis, thou accusest Arbaces of the murder of Apæcides?”  124
  “I do!”  125
  “Thou didst behold the deed?”  126
  “Prætor—with these eyes—”  127
  “Enough at present—the details must be reserved for more suiting time and place. Arbaces of Egypt, thou hearest the charge against thee—thou hast not yet spoken—what hast thou to say?”  128
  The gaze of the crowd had been long riveted on Arbaces; but not until the confusion which he had betrayed at the first charge of Sallust and the entrance of Calenus had subsided. At the shout, “Arbaces to the lion!” he had indeed trembled, and the dark bronze of his cheek had taken a paler hue. But he had soon recovered his haughtiness and self-control. Proudly he returned the angry glare of the countless eyes around him; and replying now to the question of the prætor, he said, in that accent so peculiarly tranquil and commanding which characterized his tones:—  129
  “Prætor, this charge is so mad that it scarcely deserves reply. My first accuser is the noble Sallust—the most intimate friend of Glaucus! My second is a priest: I revere his garb and calling—but, people of Pompeii! ye know somewhat of the character of Calenus—he is griping and gold-thirsty to a proverb; the witness of such men is to be bought! Prætor, I am innocent!”  130
  “Sallust,” said the magistrate, “where found you Calenus?”  131
  “In the dungeons of Arbaces.”  132
  “Egyptian,” said the prætor, frowning, “thou didst, then, dare to imprison a priest of the gods—and wherefore?”  133
  “Hear me,” answered Arbaces, rising calmly, but with agitation visible in his face. “This man came to threaten that he would make against me the charge he has now made, unless I would purchase his silence with half my fortune; I remonstrated—in vain. Peace there—let not the priest interrupt me! Noble prætor—and ye, O people! I was a stranger in the land—I knew myself innocent of crime—but the witness of a priest against me might yet destroy me. In my perplexity I decoyed him to the cell whence he has been released, on pretense that it was the coffer-house of my gold. I resolved to detain him there until the fate of the true criminal was sealed and his threats could avail no longer; but I meant no worse. I may have erred—but who among ye will not acknowledge the equity of self-preservation? Were I guilty, why was the witness of this priest silent at the trial?—then I had not detained or concealed him. Why did he not proclaim my guilt when I proclaimed that of Glaucus? Prætor, this needs an answer. For the rest, I throw myself on your laws. I demand their protection. Remove hence the accused and the accuser. I will willingly meet, and cheerfully abide by the decision of, the legitimate tribunal. This is no place for further parley.”  134
  “He says right,” said the prætor. “Ho! guards—remove Arbaces—guard Calenus! Sallust, we hold you responsible for your accusation. Let the sports be resumed.”  135
  “What!” cried Calenus, turning round to the people, “shall Isis be thus contemned? Shall the blood of Apæcides yet cry for vengeance? Shall justice be delayed now, that it may be frustrated hereafter? Shall the lion be cheated of his lawful prey? A god! a god!—I feel the god rush to my lips! To the lion—to the lion with Arbaces!”  136
  His exhausted frame could support no longer the ferocious malice of the priest; he sank on the ground in strong convulsions; the foam gathered to his mouth; he was as a man, indeed, whom a supernatural power had entered! The people saw, and shuddered.  137
  “It is a god that inspires the holy man! To the lion with the Egyptian!”  138
  With that cry up sprang, on moved, thousands upon thousands. They rushed from the heights; they poured down in the direction of the Egyptian. In vain did the ædile command; in vain did the prætor lift his voice and proclaim the law. The people had been already rendered savage by the exhibition of blood; they thirsted for more; their superstition was aided by their ferocity. Aroused, inflamed by the spectacle of their victims, they forgot the authority of their rulers. It was one of those dread popular convulsions common to crowds wholly ignorant, half free and half servile, and which the peculiar constitution of the Roman provinces so frequently exhibited. The power of the prætor was a reed beneath the whirlwind; still, at his word the guards had drawn themselves along the lower benches, on which the upper classes sat separate from the vulgar. They made but a feeble barrier; the waves of the human sea halted for a moment, to enable Arbaces to count the exact moment of his doom! In despair, and in a terror which beat down even pride, he glanced his eye over the rolling and rushing crowd; when, right above them, through the wide chasm which had been left in the velaria, he beheld a strange and awful apparition; he beheld, and his craft restored his courage!  139
  He stretched his hand on high; over his lofty brow and royal features there came an expression, of unutterable solemnity and command.  140
  “Behold!” he shouted with a voice of thunder, which stilled the roar of the crowd: “behold how the gods protect the guiltless! The fires of the avenging Orcus burst forth against the false witness of my accusers!”  141
  The eyes of the crowd followed the gesture of the Egyptian, and beheld with dismay a vast vapor shooting from the summit of Vesuvius in the form of a gigantic pine-tree; the trunk, blackness—the branches fire!—a fire that shifted and wavered in its hues with every moment, now fiercely luminous, now of a dull and dying red, that again blazed terrifically forth with intolerable glare!  142
  There was a dead, heart-sunken silence; through which there suddenly broke the roar of the lion, which was echoed back from within the building by the sharper and fiercer yells of its fellow-beast. Dread seers were they of the Burden of the Atmosphere, and wild prophets of the wrath to come!  143
  Then there arose on high the universal shrieks of women; the men stared at each other, but were dumb. At that moment they felt the earth shake under their feet; the walls of the theatre trembled; and beyond in the distance they heard the crash of falling roofs; an instant more, and the mountain cloud seemed to roll toward them, dark and rapid, like a torrent; at the same time it cast forth from its bosom a shower of ashes mixed with vast fragments of burning stone! over the crushing vines, over the desolate streets, over the amphitheatre itself; far and wide, with many a mighty splash in the agitated sea, fell that awful shower!  144
  No longer thought the crowd of justice or of Arbaces; safety for themselves was their sole thought. Each turned to fly—each dashing, pressing, crushing against the other. Trampling recklessly over the fallen, amid groans and oaths and prayers and sudden shrieks, the enormous crowd vomited itself forth through the numerous passages. Whither should they fly? Some, anticipating a second earthquake, hastened to their homes to load themselves with their more costly goods and escape while it was yet time; others, dreading the showers of ashes that now fell fast, torrent upon torrent, over the streets, rushed under the roofs of the nearest houses, or temples, or sheds—shelter of any kind—for protection from the terrors of the open air. But darker, and larger, and mightier, spread the cloud above them. It was a sudden and more ghastly Night rushing upon the realm of Noon!  145
 
Note 1. So called from the office of that tribe of gladiators in following the foe the moment the net was cast, in order to smite him ere he could have time to re-arrange it. [back]
 
 
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