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Chapter 46

  • The city burned on. The Circus Maximus had fallen in ruins. Entire streets an_lleys in parts which began to burn first were falling in turn. After ever_all pillars of flame rose for a time to the very sky. The wind had changed,
  • and blew now with mighty force from the sea, bearing toward the Celian, th_squiline, and the Viminal rivers of flame, brands, and cinders. Still th_uthorities provided for rescue. At command of Tigellinus, who had hastene_rom Antium the third day before, houses on the Esquiline were torn down s_hat the fire, reaching empty spaces, died of itself. That was, however,
  • undertaken solely to save a remnant of the city; to save that which wa_urning was not to be thought of. There was need also to guard against furthe_esults of the ruin. Incalculable wealth had perished in Rome; all th_roperty of its citizens had vanished; hundreds of thousands of people wer_andering in utter want outside the walls. Hunger had begun to pinch thi_hrong the second day, for the immense stores of provisions in the city ha_urned with it. In the universal disorder and in the destruction of authorit_o one had thought of furnishing new supplies. Only after the arrival o_igellinus were proper orders sent to Ostia; but meanwhile the people ha_rown more threatening.
  • The house at Aqua Appia, in which Tigellinus lodged for the moment, wa_urrounded by crowds of women, who from morning till late at night cried,
  • "Bread and a roof!" Vainly did pretorians, brought from the great camp betwee_he Via Salaria and the Nomentana, strive to maintain order of some kind. Her_nd there they were met by open, armed resistance. In places weaponless crowd_ointed to the burning city, and shouted, "Kill us in view of that fire!" The_bused Caesar, the Augustians, the pretorians; excitement rose every moment,
  • so that Tigellinus, looking at night on the thousands of fires around th_ity, said to himself that those were fires in hostile camps.
  • Besides flour, as much baked bread as possible was brought at his command, no_nly from Ostia, but from all towns and neighboring villages. When the firs_nstalment came at night to the Emporium, the people broke the chief gat_oward the Aventine, seized all supplies in the twinkle of an eye, and cause_errible disturbance. In the light of the conflagration they fought fo_oaves, and trampled many of them into the earth. Flour from torn bag_hitened like snow the whole space from the granary to the arches of Drusu_nd Germanicus. The uproar continued till soldiers seized the building an_ispersed the crowd with arrows and missiles.
  • Never since the invasion by the Gauls under Brennus had Rome beheld suc_isaster. People in despair compared the two conflagrations. But in the tim_f Brennus the Capitol remained. Now the Capitol was encircled by a dreadfu_reath of flame. The marbles, it is true, were not blazing; but at night, whe_he wind swept the flames aside for a moment, rows of columns in the loft_anctuary of Jove were visible, red as glowing coals. In the days of Brennus,
  • moreover, Rome had a disciplined integral people, attached to the city and it_ltars; but now crowds of a many-tongued populace roamed nomad-like around th_alls of burning Rome, — people composed for the greater part of slaves an_reedmen, excited, disorderly, and ready, under the pressure of want, to tur_gainst authority and the city.
  • But the very immensity of the fire, which terrified every heart, disarmed th_rowd in a certain measure. After the fire might come famine and disease; an_o complete the misfortune the terrible heat of July had appeared. It wa_mpossible to breathe air inflamed both by fire and the sun. Night brought n_elief, on the contrary it presented a hell. During daylight an awful an_minous spectacle met the eye. In the centre a giant city on heights wa_urned into a roaring volcano; round about as far as the Alban Hills was on_oundless camp, formed of sheds, tents, huts, vehicles, bales, packs, stands,
  • fires, all covered with smoke and dust, lighted by sunrays reddened by passin_hrough smoke, — everything filled with roars, shouts, threats, hatred an_error, a monstrous swarm of men, women, and children. Mingled with Quiite_ere Greeks, shaggy men from the North with blue eyes, Africans, and Asiatics;
  • among citizens were slaves, freedmen, gladiators, merchants, mechanics,
  • servants, and soldiers, — a real sea of people, flowing around the island o_ire.
  • Various reports moved this sea as wind does a real one. These reports wer_avorable and unfavorable. People told of immense supplies of wheat an_lothing to be brought to the Emporium and distributed gratis. It was said,
  • too, that provinces in Asia and Africa would be stripped of their wealth a_aesar's command, and the treasures thus gained be given to the inhabitants o_ome, so that each man might build his own dwelling. But it was noised abou_lso that water in the aqueducts had been poisoned; that Nero intended t_nnihilate the city, destroy the inhabitants to the last person, then move t_reece or to Egypt, and rule the world from a new place. Each report ran wit_ightning speed, and each found belief among the rabble, causing outbursts o_ope, anger, terror, or rage. Finally a kind of fever mastered those nomadi_housands. The belief of Christians that the end of the world by fire was a_and, spread even among adherents of the gods, and extended daily. People fel_nto torpor or madness. In clouds lighted by the burning, gods were see_azing down on the ruin; hands were stretched toward those gods then t_mplore pity or send them curses.
  • Meanwhile soldiers, aided by a certain number of inhabitants, continued t_ear down houses on the Esquiine and the Culian, as also in the Trans-Tiber;
  • these divisions were saved therefore in considerable part. But in the cit_tself were destroyed incalculable treasures accumulated through centuries o_onquest; priceless works of art, splendid temples, the most preciou_onuments of Rome's past, and Rome's glory. They foresaw that of all Rom_here would remain barely a few parts on the edges, and that hundreds o_housands of people would be without a roof. Some spread reports that th_oldiers were tearing down houses not to stop the fire, but to prevent an_art of the city from being saved. Tigellinus sent courier after courier t_ntium, imploring Caesar in each letter to come and calm the despairing peopl_ith his presence. But Nero moved only when fire had seized the "domu_ransitoria," and he hurried so as not to miss the moment in which th_onflagration should bc at its highest.
  • Meanwhile fire had reached the Via Nomentana, but turned from it at once wit_ change of wind toward the Via Lata and the Tiber. It surrounded the Capitol,
  • spread along the Forum Boarium, destroyed everything which it had spare_efore, and approached the Palatine a second time.
  • Tigellinus, assembling all the pretorian forces, despatched courier afte_ourier to Caesar with an announcement that he would lose nothing of th_randeur of the spectacle, for the fire had increased.
  • But Nero, who was on the road, wished to come at night, so as to sate himsel_ll the better with a view of the perishing capital. Therefore he halted, i_he neighborhood of Aqua Albana, and, summoning to his tent the tragedia_liturus, decided with his aid on posture, look, and expression; learne_itting gestures, disputing with the actor stubbornly whether at the words "_acred city, which seemed more enduring than Ida," he was to raise both hands,
  • or, holding in one the forminga, drop it by his side and raise only the other.
  • This question seemed to him then more important than all others. Starting a_ast about nightfall, he took counsel of Petronius also whether to the line_escribing the catastrophe he might add a few magnificent blasphemies agains_he gods, and whether, considered from the standpoint of art, they would no_ave rushed spontaneously from the mouth of a man in such a position, a ma_ho was losing his birthplace.
  • At length he approached the walls about midnight with his numerous court,
  • composed of whole detachments of nobles, senators, knights, freedmen, slaves,
  • women, and children. Sixteen thousand pretorians, arranged in line of battl_long the road, guarded the peace and safety of his entrance, and held th_xcited populace at a proper distance. The people cursed, shouted, and hisse_n seeing the retinue, but dared not attack it. In many places, however,
  • applause was given by the rabble, which, owning nothing, had lost nothing i_he fire, and which hoped for a more bountiful distribution than usual o_heat, olives, clothing, and money. Finally, shouts, hissing, and applaus_ere drowned in the blare of horns and trumpets, which Tigellinus had cause_o be sounded.
  • Nero, on arriving at the Ostian Gate, halted, and said, "Houseless ruler of _ouseless people, where shall I lay my unfortunate head for the night?"
  • After he had passed the Clivus Delphini, he ascended the Appian aqueduct o_teps prepared purposely. After him followed the Augustians and a choir o_ingers, bearing citharaee, lutes, and other musical instruments.
  • And all held the breath in their breasts, waiting to learn if he would sa_ome great words, which for their own safety they ought to remember. But h_tood solemn, silent, in a purple mantle, and a wreath of golden laurels,
  • gazing at the raging might of the flames. When Terpnos gave him a golden lute,
  • he raised his eyes to the sky, filled with the conflagration, as if he wer_aiting for inspiration.
  • The people pointed at him from afar as he stood in the bloody gleam. In th_istance fiery serpents were hissing. The ancient and most sacred edifice_ere in flames: the temple of Hercules, reared by Evander, was burning; th_emple of Jupiter Stator was burning, the temple of Luna, built by Serviu_ullius, the house of Numa Pompiius, the sanctuary of Vesta with the penate_f the Roman people; through waving flames the Capitol appeared at intervals;
  • the past and the spirit of Rome was burning. But he, Caesar, was there with _ute in his hand and a theatrical expression on his face, not thinking of hi_erishing country, but of his posture and the prophetic words with which h_ight describe best the greatness of the catastrophe, rouse most admiration,
  • and receive the warmest plaudits. He detested that city, he detested it_nhabitants, beloved only his own songs and verses; hence he rejoiced in hear_hat at last he saw a tragedy like that which he was writing. The verse-make_as happy, the declaimer felt inspired, the seeker for emotions was delighte_t the awful sight, and thought with rapture that even the destruction of Tro_as as nothing if compared with the destruction of that giant city. What mor_ould he desire? There was world-ruling Rome in flames, and he, standing o_he arches of the aqueduct with a golden lute, conspicuous, purple, admired,
  • magnificent, poetic. Down below, somewhere in the darkness, the people ar_uttering and storming. But let them mutter! Ages will pass, thousands o_ears will go by, but mankind will remember and glorify the poet, who in tha_ight sang the fall and the burning of Troy. What was Homer compared with him?
  • What Apollo himself with his hollowed-out lute?
  • Here he raised his hands and, striking the strings, pronounced the words o_riam.
  • "O nest of my fathers, O dear cradle!" His voice in the open air, with th_oar of the conflagration, and the distant murmur of crowding thousands,
  • seemed marvellously weak, uncertain, and low, and the sound of th_ccompaniment like the buzzing of insects. But senators, dignitaries, an_ugustians, assembled on the aqueduct, bowed their heads and listened i_ilent rapture. He sang long, and his motive was ever sadder. At moments, whe_e stopped to catch breath, the chorus of singers repeated the last verse;
  • then Nero cast the tragic "syrma" [[8]](footnotes.xml#footnote_8) from hi_houlder with a gesture learned from Aliturus, struck the lute, and sang on.
  • When at last he had finished the lines composed, he improvised, seekin_randiose comparisons in the spectacle unfolded before him. His face began t_hange. He was not moved, it is true, by the destruction of his country'_apital; but he was delighted and moved with the pathos of his own words t_uch a degree that his eyes filled with tears on a sudden. At last he droppe_he lute to his feet with a clatter, and, wrapping himself in the "syrma,"
  • stood as if petrified, like one of those statues of Niobe which ornamented th_ourtyard of the Palatine. Soon a storm of applause broke the silence. But i_he distance this was answered by the howling of multitudes. No one doubte_hen that Caesar had given command to burn the city, so as to afford himself _pectacle and sing a song at it. Nero, when he heard that cry from hundreds o_housands, turned to the Augustians with the sad, resigned smile of a man wh_s suffering from injustice. "See," said he, "how the Quirites value poetr_nd me." "Scoundrels!" answered Vatinius. "Command the pretorians, lord, t_all on them." Nero turned to Tigellinus, — "Can I count on the loyalty of th_oldiers?" "Yes, divinity," answered the prefect. But Petronius shrugged hi_houlders, and said, — "On their loyalty, yes, but not on their numbers.
  • Remain meanwhile where thou art, for here it is safest; but there is need t_acify the people." Seneca was of this opinion also, as was Licinus th_onsul. Meanwhile the excitement below was increasing. The people were armin_ith stones, tent-poles, sticks from the wagons, planks, and various pieces o_ron. After a while some of the pretorian leaders came, declaring that th_ohorts, pressed by the multitude, kept the line of battle with extrem_ifficulty, and, being without orders to attack, they knew not what to do. "_ods," said Nero, "what a night!" On one side a fire, on the other a ragin_ea of people. And he fell to seeking expressions the most splendid t_escribe the danger of the moment, but, seeing around him alarmed looks an_ale faces, he was frightened, with the others. "Give me my dark mantle with _ood!" cried he; "must it come really to battle?" "Lord," said Tigellinus, i_n uncertain voice, "I have done what I could, but danger is threatening.
  • Speak, O lord, to the people, and make them promises." "Shall Caesar speak t_he rabble? Let another do that in my name. Who will undertake it?" "I!"
  • answered Petronius, calmly. "Go, my friend; thou art most faithful to me i_very necessity. Go, and spare no promises." Petronius turned to the retinu_ith a careless, sarcastic expression, — "Senators here present, also Piso,
  • Nerva, and Senecio, follow me." Then he descended the aqueduct slowly. Thos_hom he had summoned followed, not without hesitation, but with a certai_onfidence which his calmness had given them. Petronius, halting at the foo_f the arches, gave command to bring him a white horse, and, mounting, rod_n, at the head of the cavalcade, between the deep ranks of pretorians, to th_lack, howling multitude; he was unarmed, having only a slender ivory can_hich he carried habitually. When he had ridden up, he pushed his horse int_he throng. All around, visible in the light of the burning, were upraise_ands, armed with every manner of weapon, inflamed eyes, sweating faces,
  • bellowing and foaming lips. A mad sea of people surrounded him and hi_ttendants; round about was a sea of heads, moving, roaring, dreadful. Th_utbursts increased and became an unearthly roar; poles, forks, and eve_words were brandished above Petronius; grasping hands were stretched towar_is horse's reins and toward him, but he rode farther; cool, indifferent,
  • contemptuous. At moments he struck the most insolent heads with his cane, a_f clearing a road for himself in an ordinary crowd; and that confidence o_is, that calmness, amazed the raging rabble. They recognized him at length,
  • and numerous voices began to shout, — "Petronius! Arbiter Elegantiarum!
  • Petronius! Petronius!" was heard on all sides. And as that name was repeated,
  • the faces about became less terrible, the uproar less savage: for tha_xquisite patrician, though he had never striven for the favor of th_opulace, was still their favorite. He passed for a humane and magnanimou_an; and his popularity had increased, especially since the affair of Pedaniu_ecundus, when he spoke in favor of mitigating the cruel sentence condemnin_ll the slaves of that prefect to death. The a slaves more especially love_im thenceforward with that unbounded love which the oppressed or unfortunat_re accustomed to give those who show them even small sympathy. Besides, i_hat moment was added curiosity as to what Caesar's envoy would say, for n_ne doubted that Caesar had sent him. He removed his white toga, bordered wit_carlet, raised it in the air, and waved it above his head, in sign that h_ished to speak. "Silence! Silence!" cried the people on all sides. After _hile there was silence. Then he straightened himself on the horse and said i_ clear, firm voice, — "Citizens, let those who hear me repeat my words t_hose who are more distant, and bear yourselves, all of you, like men, no_ike beasts in the arena." "We will, we will!" "Then listen. The city will b_ebuilt. The gardens of Lucullus, Maaecenas, Caesar, and Agrippina will b_pened to you. To-morrow will begin the distribution of wheat, wine, an_lives, so that every man may be full to the throat. Then Caesar will hav_ames for you, such as the world has not seen yet; during these games banquet_nd gifts will be given you. Ye will be richer after the fire than before it."
  • A murmur answered him which spread from the centre in every direction, as _ave rises on water in which a stone has been cast. Those nearer repeated hi_ords to those more distant. Afterward were heard here and there shouts o_nger or applause, which turned at length into one universal call of "Panem e_ircenses!!!" Petronius wrapped himself in his toga and listened for a tim_ithout moving, resembling in his white garment a marble statue. The uproa_n-creased, drowned the roar of the fire, was answered from every side an_rom ever-increasing distances. But evidently the envoy had something to add,
  • for he waited. Finally, commanding silence anew, he cried, — "I promised yo_anem et cireenses; and now give a shout in honor of Caesar, who feeds an_lothes you; then go to sleep, dear populace, for the dawn will begin befor_ong." He turned his horse then, and, tapping lightly with his cane the head_nd faces of those who stood in his way, he rode slowly to the pretoria_anks. Soon he was under the aqueduct. He found almost a panic above, wher_hey had not understood the shout "Panem et circenses," and supposed it to b_ new outburst of rage. They had not even expected that Petronius would sav_imself; so Nero, when he saw him, ran to the steps, and with face pale fro_motion, inquired,— "Well, what are they doing? Is there a battle?" Petroniu_rew air into his lungs, breathed deeply, and answered, — "By Pollux! they ar_weating! and such a stench! Will some one give me an epilimma? — for I a_aint." Then he turned to Caesar. "I promised them," said he, "wheat, olives,
  • the opening of the gardens, and games. They worship thee anew, and are howlin_n thy honor. Gods, what a foul odor those plebeians have!" "I had pretorian_eady," cried Tigellinus; "and hadst thou not quieted them, the shouters woul_ave been silenced forever. It is a pity, Caesar, that thou didst not let m_se force." Petronius looked at him, shrugged his shoulders, and added, — "Th_hance is not lost. Thou mayst have to use it to-morrow." "No, no!" crie_aesar, "I will give command to open the gardens to them, and distribut_heat. Thanks to thee, Petronius, I will have games; and that song, which _ang to-day, I will sing publicly." Then he placed his hands on the arbiter'_houlder, was silent a moment, and starting up at last inquired, — "Tell m_incerely, how did I seem to thee while I was singing?" "Thou wert worthy o_he spectacle, and the spectacle was worthy of thee," said Petronius. "But le_s look at it again," said he, turning to the fire, "and bid farewell t_ncient Rome."