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" [](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."