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Chapter 51

  • THE cry, "Christians to the lions!" was heard increasingly in every part o_he city. At first not only did no one doubt that they were the real author_f the catastrophe, but no one wished to doubt, since their punishment was t_e a splendid amusement for the populace. Still the opinion spread that th_atastrophe would not have assumed such dreadful proportions but for the ange_f the gods; for this reason "piacuia," or purifying sacrifices, wer_ommanded in the temples. By advice of the Sibylline books, the Senat_rdained solemnities and public prayer to Vulcan, Ceres, and Proserpina.
  • Matrons made offerings to Juno; a whole procession of them went to th_eashore to take water and sprinkle with it the statue of the goddess. Marrie_omen prepared feasts to the gods and night watches. All Rome purified itsel_rom sin, made offerings, and placated the Immortals. Meanwhile new broa_treets were opened among the ruins. In one place and another foundations wer_aid for magnificent houses, palaces, and temples. But first of all they buil_ith unheard-of haste an enormous wooden amphitheatre in which Christians wer_o die. Immediately after that consultation in the house of Tiberius, order_ent to consuls to furnish wild beasts. Tigellinus emptied the vivaria of al_talian cities, not excepting the smaller ones. In Africa, at his command,
  • gigantic hunts were organized, in which the entire local population was force_o take part. Elephants and tigers were brought in from Asia, crocodiles an_ippopotamuses from the Nile, lions from the Atlas, wolves and bears from th_yrenees, savage hounds from Hibernia, Molossian dogs from Epirus, bisons an_he gigantic wild aurochs from Germany. Because of the number of prisoners,
  • the games were to surpass in greatness anything seen up to that time. Caesa_ished to drown all memory of the fire in blood, and make Rome drunk with it;
  • hence never had there been a greater promise of bloodshed.
  • The willing people helped guards and pretorians in hunting Christians. Tha_as no difficult labor for whole groups of them camped with the othe_opulation in the midst of the gardens, and confessed their faith openly. Whe_urrounded, they knelt, and while singing hymns let themselves be borne awa_ithout resistance. But their patience only increased the anger of th_opulace, who, not understanding its origin, considered it as rage an_ersistence in crime. A madness seized the persecutors. It happened that th_ob wrested Christians from pretorians, and tore them to pieces; women wer_ragged to prison by the hair; children's heads were dashed against stones.
  • Thousands of people rushed, howling, night and day through the streets.
  • Victims were sought in ruins, in chimneys, in cellars. Before the priso_acchanalian feasts and dances were celebrated at fires, around casks of wine.
  • In the evening was heard with delight bellowing which was like thunder, an_hich sounded throughout the city. The prisons were overflowing with thousand_f people; every day the mob and pretorians drove in new victims. Pity ha_ied out. It seemed that people had forgotten to speak, and in their wil_renzy remembered one shout alone: "To the lions with Christians!" Wonderfull_ot days came, and nights more stifling than ever before; the very air seeme_illed with blood, crime, and madness.
  • And that surpassing measure of cruelty was answered by an equal measure o_esire for martyrdom, — the confessors of Christ went to death willingly, o_ven sought death till they were restrained by the stern commands o_uperiors. By the injunction of these superiors they began to assemble onl_utside the city, in excavations near the Appian Way, and in vineyard_elonging to patrician Christians, of whom none had been imprisoned so far. I_as known perfectly on the Palatine that to the confessors of Christ belonge_lavius, Domitilla, Pomponia Graecina, Cornelius Pudens, and Vinicius. Caesa_imself, however, feared that the mob would not believe that such people ha_urned Rome, and since it was important beyond everything to convince the mob,
  • punishment and vengeance were deferred till later days. Others were of th_pinion, but erroneously, that those patricians were saved by the influence o_cte. Petronius, after parting with Vinicius, turned to Acte, it is true, t_ain assistance for Lygia; but she could offer him only tears, for she live_n oblivion and suffering, and was endured only in so far as she hid hersel_rom Poppaea and Casar.
  • But she had visited Lygia in prison, she had carried her clothing and food,
  • and above all had saved her from injury on the part of the prison-guards, who,
  • moreover, were bribed already.
  • Petronius, unable to forget that had it not been for him and his plan o_aking Lygia from the house of Aulus, probably she would not be in prison a_hat moment, and, besides, wishing to win the game against Tigellinus, spare_either time nor efforts. In the course of a few days he saw Seneca, Domitiu_fer, Crispinilla, and Diodorus, through whom he wished to reach Poppaea; h_aw Terpnos, and the beautiful Pythagoras, and finally Aliturus and Paris, t_hom Caesar usually refused nothing. With the help of Chrysothemis, the_istress of Vatinius, he tried to gain even his aid, not sparing in this cas_nd in others promises and money.
  • But all these efforts were fruitless. Seneca, uncertain of the morrow, fell t_xplaining to him that the Christians, even if they had not burned Rome,
  • should be exterminated, for the good of the city, — in a word, he justifie_he coming slaughter for political reasons. Terpnos and Diodorus took th_oney, and did nothing in return for it. Vatinius reported to Caesar that the_ad been trying to bribe him. A.liturus alone, who at first was hostile to th_hristians, took pity on them then, and made bold to mention to Caesar th_mprisoned maiden, and to implore in her behalf. He obtained nothing, however,
  • but the answer, —
  • "Dost thou think that I have a soul inferior to that of Brutus, who spared no_is own sons for the good of Rome?"
  • When this answer was repeated to Petronius, he said, —
  • "Since Nero has compared himself to Brutus, there is no salvation."
  • But he was sorry for Vinicius, and dread seized him lest he might attempt hi_wn life. "Now," thought the arbiter, "he is upheld by the efforts which h_akes to save her, by the sight of her, and by his own suffering; but when al_eans fail and the last ray of hope is quenched, by Castor! he will no_urvive, he will throw himself on his sword." Petronius understood better ho_o die thus than to love and suffer like Vinicius.
  • Meanwhile Vinicius did all that he could think of to save Lygia. He visite_ugustians; and he, once so proud, now begged their assistance. Throug_itelius he offered Tigellinus all his Sicilian estates, and whatever else th_an might ask; but Tigellinus, not wishing apparently to offend the Augusta,
  • refused. To go to Caesar himself, embrace his knees and implore, would lead t_othing. Vinicius wished, it is true, to do this; but Petronius, hearing o_is purpose, inquired, —
  • "But should he refuse thee, or answer with a jest or a shameless threat, wha_ouldst thou do?"
  • At this the young tribune's features contracted with pain and rage, and fro_is fixed jaws a gritting sound was heard.
  • "Yes," said Petronius, "I advise thee against this, because thou wouldst clos_ll paths of rescue."
  • Vinicius restrained himself, and passing his palm over his forehead, which wa_overed with cold sweat, replied, —
  • "No, no! I am a Christian."
  • "But thou will forget this, as thou didst a moment ago. Thou hast the right t_uin thyself, but not her. Remember what the daughter of Sejanus passe_hrough before death"
  • Speaking thus he was not altogether sincere, since he was concerned more fo_inicius than for Lygia. Still he knew that in no way could he restrain hi_rom a dangerous step as well as by telling him that he would bring inexorabl_estruction on Lygia. Moreover he was right; for on the Palatine they ha_ounted on the visit of the young tribune, and had taken needful precautions.
  • But the suffering of Vinicius surpassed human endurance. From the moment tha_ygia was imprisoned and the glory of coming martyrdom had fallen on her, no_nly did he love her a hundred times more, but he began simply to give her i_is soul almost religious honor, as he would a superhuman being. And now, a_he thought that he must lose this being both loved and holy, that beside_eath torments might be inflicted on her more terrible than death itself, th_lood stiffened in his veins. His soul was turned into one groan, his thought_ere confused. At times it seemed to him that his skull was filled with livin_ire, which would either burn or burst it. He ceased to understand what wa_appening; he ceased to understand why Christ, the Merciful, the Divine, di_ot come with aid to His adherents; why the dingy walls of the Palatine di_ot sink through the earth, and with them Nero, the Augustians, the pretoria_amp, and all that city of crime. He thought that it could not and should no_e otherwise; and all that his eyes saw, and because of which his heart wa_reaking, was a dream. But time roaring of wild beasts informed him that i_as reality; the sound of the axes beneath which rose the arena told him tha_t was reality; the howling of the people and the overfilled prisons confirme_his. Then his faith in Christ was alarmed; and that alarm was a new torture,
  • the most dreadful of all, perhaps.
  • "Remember what the daughter of Sejanus endured before death," said Petroniu_o him, meanwhile.