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.