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Chapter 49

  • PETRONIUS went borne. Nero and Tigcllinus went to Poppaea's atrium, where the_ere expected by people with whom the prefect had spoken already.
  • There were two Trans-Tiber rabbis in long solemn robes and mitred, a youn_opyist, their assistant, together with Chilo. At sight of Caesar the priest_rew pale from emotion, and, raising their hands an arm's length, bent thei_eads to his hands.
  • "Be greeted, O ruler of the earth, guardian of the chosen people, and Caesar, lion among men, whose reign is like sunlight, like the cedar of Lebanon, lik_ spring, like a palm, like the balsam of Jericho,"
  • "Do ye refuse to call me god?" inquired Nero.
  • The priests grew still paler. The chief one spoke again, —
  • "Thy words, O lord, are as sweet as a cluster of grapes, as a ripe fig,— fo_ehovah filled thy heart with goodness! Thy father's predecessor, Caesa_aius, was stern; still our envoys did not call him god, preferring deat_tself to violation of the law."
  • "And did not Caligula give command to throw them to the lions?"
  • "No, lord; Caesar Caius feared Jehovah's anger."
  • And they raised their heads, for the name of the powerful Jehovah gave the_ourage; confident in his might, they looked into Nero's eyes with mor_oldness.
  • "Do ye accuse the Christians of burning Rome?" inquired Caesar. "We, lord, accuse them of this alone, — that they are enemies of the law, of the huma_ace, of Rome, and of thee; that long since they have threatened the city an_he world with fire! The rest will be told thee by this man, whose lips ar_nstained by a lie, for in his mother's veins flowed the blood of the chose_eople."
  • Nero turned to Chio: "Who art thou?"
  • "One who honors thee, O Cyrus; and, besides, a poor Stoic—"
  • "I hate the Stoics," said Nero. "I hate Thrasea; I hate Musonius and Cornutus.
  • Their speech is repulsive to me; their contempt for art, their voluntar_qualor and filth."
  • "O lord, thy master Seneca has one thousand tables of citrus wood. At thy wis_ will have twice as many. I am a Stoic from necessity. Dress my stoicism, _adiant One, in a garland of roses, put a pitcher of wine before it; it wil_ing Anacreon in such strains as to deafen every Epicurean."
  • Nero, who was pleased by the title "Radiant," smiled and said,— "Thou dos_lease me."
  • "This man is worth his weight in gold!" cried Tigellinus.
  • "Put thy liberality with my weight," answered Chilo, "or the wind will blow m_eward away."
  • "He would not outweigh Vitelius," put in Caesar.
  • "Eheu! Silver-bowed, my wit is not of lead."
  • "I see that thy faith does not hinder thee from calling me a god."
  • "O Immortal! My faith is in thee; the Christians blaspheme against that faith, and I hate them."
  • "What dost thou know of the Christians?"
  • "Wilt thou permit me to weep, O divinity?"
  • "No," answered Nero; "weeping annoys me."
  • "Thou art triply right, for eyes that have seen thee should be free of tear_orever. O lord, defend me against my enemies."
  • "Speak of the Christians," said Poppaea, with a shade of impatience.
  • "It will be at thy command, O Isis," answered Chilo. "From youth I devote_yself to philosophy, and sought truth. I sought it among the ancient divin_ages, in the Academy at Athens, and in the Serapeum at Alexandria. When _eard of the Christians, I judged that they formed some new school in which _ould find certain kernels of truth; and to my misfortune I made thei_cquaintance. The first Christian whom evil fate brought near me was on_laucus, a physician of Naples. From him I learned in time that they worship _ertain Chrestos, who promised to exterminate all people and destroy ever_ity on earth, but to spare them if they helped him to exterminate th_hildren of Deucalion. For this reason, O lady, they hate men, and poiso_ountains; for this reason in their assemblies they shower curses on Rome, an_n all temples in which our gods are honored. Chrestos was crucified; but h_romised that when Rome was destroyed by fire, he would come again and giv_hristians dominion over the world."
  • "People will understand now why Rome was destroyed," interrupted Tigellinus.
  • "Many understand that already, O lord, for I go about in the gardens, I go t_he Campus Martius, and teach. But if ye listen to the end, ye will know m_easons for vengeance. Glaucus the physician did not reveal to me at firs_hat their religion taught hatred. On the contrary, he told me that Chresto_as a good divinity, that the basis of their religion was love. My sensitiv_eart could not resist such a truth; hence I took to loving Glaucus, I truste_im, I shared every morsel of bread with him, every copper coin, and dost tho_now, lady, how he repaid me? On the road from Naples to Rome he thrust _nife into my body, and my wife, the beautiful and youthful Berenice, he sol_o a slave-merchant. If Sophocles knew my history — but what do I say? On_etter than Sophocles is listening."
  • "Poor man!" said Poppaeua.
  • "Whoso has seen the face of Aphrodite is not poor, lady; and I see it at thi_oment. But then I sought consolation in philosophy. When I came to Rome, _ried to meet Christian elders to obtain justice against Glaucus. I though_hat they would force him to yield up my wife. I became acquainted with thei_hief priest; I became acquainted with another, named Paul, who was in priso_n this city, but was liberated afterward; I became acquainted with the son o_ebedee, with Linus and Clitus and many others. I know where they lived befor_he fire, I know where they meet. I can point out one excavation in th_atican Hill and a cemetery beyond the Nomentan Gate, where they celebrat_heir shameless ceremonies. I saw the Apostle Peter. I saw how Glaucus kille_hildren, so that the Apostle might have something to sprinkle on the heads o_hose present; and I saw Lygia, the foster-child of Pomponia Graecina, wh_oasted that though unable to bring the blood of an infant, she brought th_eath of an infant, for she bewitched the little Augusta, thy daughter, _yrus, and thine, O Isis!"
  • "Dost hear, Caesar?" asked Poppaea.
  • "Can that be!" exclaimed Nero.
  • "I could forgive wrongs done myself," continued Chio, "but when I heard o_ours, I wanted to stab her. Unfortunately I was stopped by the nobl_inicius, who loves her."
  • "Vinicius? But did she not flee from him?"
  • "She fled, but he made search for her; he could not exist without her. Fo_retched pay I helped him in the search, and it was I who pointed out to hi_he house in which she lived among the Christians in the Trans-Tiber. We wen_here together, and with us thy wrestler Croton, whom the noble Viicius hire_o protect him. But Ursus, Lygia's slave, crushed Croton. That is a man o_readful strength, O Lord, who can break a bull's neck as easily as anothe_ight a poppy stalk. Auluae and Pomponia loved him because of that."
  • "By Hercules," said Nero, "the mortal who crushed Croton deserves a statue i_he Forum. But, old man, thou art mistaken or art inventing, for Viniciu_illed Croton with a knife."
  • "That is how people calumniate the gods. O lord, I myself saw Croton's rib_reaking in the arms of Ursus, who rushed then on Viicius and would hav_illed him but for Lygia. Vinicius was ill for a long time after that but the_ursed him in the hope that through love he would become a Christian. In fact, he did become a Christian."
  • "Vinicius?"
  • "Yes."
  • "And, perhaps, Petronius too?" inquired Tigellinus, hurriedly. Chio squirmed, rubbed his hands, and said, —
  • "I admire thy penetration, O lord. He may have become one! He may very wel_ave become one."
  • "Now I understand why he defended the Christians."
  • Nero laughed: "Petronius a Christian! Petronius an enemy of life and luxury!
  • Be not foolish; do not ask me to believe that, since I am ready not to believ_nything."
  • "But the noble Vinicius became a Christian, lord. I swear by that radianc_hich comes from thee that I speak the truth, and that nothing pierces me wit_uch disgust as lying. Pomponia Graecina is a Christian, little Aulus is _hristian, Lygia is a Christian, and so is Vinicius. I served him faithfully, and in return, at the desire of Glaucus the physician, he gave command to flo_e, though I am old and was sick and hungry. And I have sworn by Hades that _ill not forget that for him. O lord, avenge my wrongs on them, and I wil_eliver to thee Peter the Apostle and Linus and Clitus and Glaucus an_rispus, the highest ones, and Lygia and Ursus. I will point out hundreds o_hem to you, thousands; I will indicate their houses of prayer, th_emeteries, all thy prisons will not hold them! Without me ye could not fin_hem. In misfortunes I have sought consolation; hitherto in philosophy alone, now I will find it in favors that will descend on me. I am old, and have no_nown life; let me begin."
  • "It is thy wish to be a Stoic before a full plate," said Nero. "Whoso render_ervice to thee will fill it by that same."
  • "Thou art not mistaken, O philosopher."
  • But Poppaeca did not forget her enemies. Her fancy for Vinicius was, indeed, rather a momentary whim, which had risen under the influence of jealousy, anger, and wounded vanity. Still the coolness of the young patrician touche_er deeply, and filled her heart with a stubborn feeling of offence. Thi_lone, that he had dared to prefer anothe'r, seemed to her a crime calling fo_engeance. As to Lygia, she hated her from the first moment, when the beaut_f that northern lily alarmed her, Petronius, who spoke of the too narrow hip_f the girl, might talk what he pleased into Caesar, but not into the Augusta.
  • Poppaea the critic understood at one cast of the eye that in all Rome Lygi_lone could rival and even surpass her. Thenceforth she vowed her ruin.
  • "Lord," said she, "avenge our child."
  • "Hasten!" cried Chio, "hasten! Otherwise Vinicius will hide her. I will poin_ut the house to which she returned after the fire."
  • "I will give thee ten men, and go this moment," said Tigellinus.
  • "O lord! thou hast not seen Croton in the arms of Ursus; if thou wilt giv_ifty men, I will only show the house from a distance. But if ye will no_mprison Vinicius, I am lost."
  • Tigellinus looked at Nero. "Would it not be well, O divinity, to finish a_nce with the uncle and nephew?"
  • Nero thought a moment and answered, —
  • "No, not now. People would not believe us if we tried to persuade them tha_etronius, Vinicius, or Pomponia Graecina had fired Rome. Their houses wer_oo beautiful. Their turn will come later; to-day other victims are needed."
  • "Then, O lord, give me soldiers as a guard," said Chilo. "See to this, Tigellinus."
  • "Thou wilt lodge meanwhile with me," said the prefect to Chilo. Delight beame_rom the face of the Greek.
  • "I will give up all! only hasten! — hasten!" cried he, with a hoarse voice.