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Chapter 74 Epilogue

  • AT first the revolt of the Gallic legions under Vindex did not seem ver_erious. Caesar was only in his thirty-first year, and no one was bold enoug_o hope that the world could be freed so soon from the nightmare which wa_tifling it. Men remembered that revolts had occurred more than once among th_egions, — they had occurred in previous reigns, — revolts, however, whic_assed without involving a change of government; as during the reign o_iberius, Drusus put down the revolt of the Pannonian legions. "Who," said th_eople, "can take the government after Nero, since all the descendants of th_ivine Augustus have perished?" Others, looking at the Colossus, imagined hi_ Hercules, and thought that no force could break such power. There were thos_ven who since he went to Acima were sorry for him, because Helius an_olythetes, to whom he left the government of Rome and Italy, governed mor_urderously than he had.
  • No one was sure of life or property. Law ceased to protect. Human dignity an_irtue had perished, family bonds existed no longer, and degraded hearts di_ot even dare to admit hope. From Greece came accounts of the incomparabl_riumphs of Caesar, of the thousands of crowns which he had won, the thousand_f competitors whom he had vanquished. The world seemed to be one orgy o_uffoonery and blood; but at the same time the opinion was fixed that virtu_nd deeds of dignity had ceased, that the time of dancing and music, o_rofligacy, of blood, had come, and that life must flow on for the future i_hat way. Caesar himself, to whom rebellion opened the road to new robberies,
  • was not concerned much about the revolt of the legions and Vindex; he eve_xpressed his delight on that subject frequently. He did not wish to leav_chaea even; and only when Helius informed him that further delay might caus_he loss of dominion did he move to Naples.
  • There he played and sang, neglecting news of events of growing danger. In vai_id Tigellinus explain to him that former rebellions of legions had n_eaders, while at the head of affairs this time was a man descended from th_ncient kings of Gaul and Aquitania, a famous and tried soldier. "Here,"
  • answered Nero, "the Greeks listen to me, — the Greeks, who alone know how t_isten, and who alone are worthy of my song." He said that his first duty wa_rt and glory. But when at last the news came that Vindex had proclaimed him _retched artist, he sprang up and moved toward Rome. The wounds inflicted b_etronius, and healed by his stay in Greece, opened in his heart anew, and h_ished to seek retribution from the Senate for such unheard-of injustice.
  • On the road he saw a group cast in bronze, representing a Gallic warrior a_vercome by a Roman knight; he considered that a good omen, and thenceforward,
  • if he mentioned the rebellious legions and Vindex, it was only to ridicul_hem. His entrance to the city surpassed all that had been witnessed earlier.
  • He entered in the chariot used by Augustus in his triumph. One arch of th_ircus was destroyed to give a road to the procession. The Senate, knights,
  • and innumerable throngs of people went forth to meet him. The walls tremble_rom shouts of "Hail, Augustus! Hail, Hercules! Hail, divinity, th_ncomparable, the Olympian, the Pythian, the immortal!" Behind him were born_he crowns, the names of cities in which he had triumphed; and on tablets wer_nscribed the names of the masters whom he had vanquished. Nero himself wa_ntoxicated with delight, and with emotion he asked the Augustians who stoo_round him, "What was the triumph of Julius compared with this?" The idea tha_ny mortal should dare to raise a hand on such a demigod did not enter hi_ead. He felt himself really Olympian, and therefore safe. The excitement an_he madness of the crowd roused his own madness. In fact, it might seem in th_ay of that triumph that not merely Caesar and the city, but the world, ha_ost its senses.
  • Through the flowers and the piles of wreaths no one could see the precipice.
  • Still that same evening columns and walls of temples were covered wit_nscriprions, describing Nero's crimes, threatening him with coming vengeance,
  • and ridiculing him as an artist. From mouth to mouth went the phrase, "He san_ill he roused the Gauls." Alarming news made the rounds of the city, an_eached enormoua measures. Alarm seized the Augustians. People, uncertain o_he future, dazed not express hopes or wishes; they hardly dared to feel o_hink.
  • But he went on living only in the theatre and music. Instruments newl_nvented occupied him, and a new water-organ, of which trials were made on th_alatine. With childish mind, incapable of plan or action, he imagined that h_ould ward off danger by promises of spectacles and theatrical exhibition_eaching far into the future, Persons nearest him, seeing that instead o_roviding means and an army, he was merely searching for expressions to depic_he danger graphically, began to lose their heads. Others thought that he wa_imply deafening himself and others with quotations, while in his soul he wa_larmed and terrified. In fact, his acts became feverish. Every day a thousan_ew plans flew through his head. At times he sprang up to rush out agains_anger; gave command to pack up his lutes and citharae, to arm the young slav_omen as Amazons, and lead the legions to the East. Again he thought to finis_he rebellion of the Gallic legions, not with war, but with song; and his sou_aughed at the spectacle which was to follow his conquest of the soldiers b_ong. The legionaries would surround him with tears m their eyes; he woul_ing to them an epinicium, after which the golden epoch would begin for hi_nd for Rome. At one time he called for blood; at another he declared that h_ould be satisfied with governing in Egypt. He recalled the prediction whic_romised him lordship in Jerusalem, and he was moved by the thought that as _andering minstrel he would earn his daily bread, — that cities and countrie_ould honor in him, not Caesar, the lord of the earth, but a poet whose lik_he world had not produced before. And so he struggled, raged, played, sang,
  • changed his plan, changed his quotations, changed his life and the world int_ dream absurd, fantastic, dreadful, into an uproarious hunt composed o_nnatural expressions, bad verses, groans, tears, and blood; but meanwhile th_loud in the west was increasing and thickening every day. The measure wa_xceeded; the insane comedy was nearing its end.
  • When news that Galba and Spain had joined the uprising came to his ears, h_ell into rage and madness. He broke goblets, overturned the table at a feast,
  • and issued orders which neither Helius nor Tigeliinus himself dared t_xecute. To kill Gauls resident in Rome, fire the city a second time, let ou_he wild beasts, and transfer the capital to Alexandria seemed to him great,
  • astonishing, and easy. But the days of his dominion had passed, and even thos_ho shared in his former crimes began to look on him as a madman.
  • The death of Vindex, and disagreement in the revolting legions seemed,
  • however, to turn the scale to his side. Again new feasts, new triumphs, an_ew sentences were issued in Rome, till a certain night when a messenge_ushed up on a foaming horse, with the news that in the city itself th_oldiers had raised the standard of revolt, and proclaimed Galba Caesar.
  • Nero was asleep when the messenger came; but when he woke he called in vai_or the night-guard, which watched at the entrance to his chambers. The palac_as empty. Slaves were plundering in the most distant corners that which coul_e taken most quickly. But the sight of Nero frightened them; he wandere_lone through the palace, filling it with cries of despair and fear.
  • At last his freedmen, Phaon, Sporus, and Epaphroditus, came to his rescue.
  • They wished him to flee, and said that there was no time to be lost; but h_eceived himself still. If he should dress in mourning and speak to th_enate, would it resist his prayers and eloquence? If he should use all hi_loquence, his rhetoric and skill of an actor, would any one on earth hav_ower to resist him? Would they not give him even the prefecture of Egypt?
  • The freedmen, accustomed to flatter, had not the boldness yet to refuse hi_irectly; they only warned him that before he could reach the Forum the peopl_ould tear him to pieces, and declared that if he did not mount his hors_mmediately, they too would desert him.
  • Phaon offered refuge in his villa outside the Nomentan Gate. After a whil_hey mounted horses, and, covering Nero's head with a mantle, they gallope_ff toward the edge of the city. The night was growing pale. But on th_treets there was a movement which showed the exceptional nature of the time.
  • Soldiers, now singly and now in small groups, were scattered through the city.
  • Not far from the camp Caesar's horse sprang aside suddenly at sight of _orpse. The mantle slipped from his head; a soldier recognized Nero, and,
  • confused by the unexpected meeting, gave the military salute. While passin_he pretorian camp, they heard thundering shouts in honor of Galba. Ner_nderstood at last that the hour of death was near. Terror and reproaches o_onscience seized him. He declared that he saw darkness in front of him in th_orm of a black cloud. From that cloud came forth faces in which he saw hi_other, his wife, and his brother. His teeth were chattering from fright;
  • still his soul of a comedian found a kind of charm in thc horror of th_oment. To be absolute lord of the earth and lose all things, seemed to hi_he height of tragedy; and faithful to himself, he played the first role t_he end. A fever for quotations took possession of him, and a passionate wis_hat those present should preserve them for posterity. At moments he said tha_e wished to die, and called for Spiculus, the most skilled of all gladiator_n killing. At moments he declaimed, "Mother, wife, father, call me to death!"
  • Flashes of hope rose in him, however, from time to time, — hope vain an_hildish. He knew that he was going to death, and still he did not believe it.
  • They found the Nomentan Gate open. Going farther, they passed near Ostrianum,
  • where Peter had taught and baptized. At daybreak they reached Phaon's villa.
  • There the freedmen hid from him no longer the fact that it was, time to die.
  • He gave command then to dig a grave, and lay on the ground so that they migh_ake accurate measurement. At sight of the earth thrown up, however, terro_eized him. His fat face became pale, and on his forehead sweat stood lik_rops of dew in the morning. He delayed. In a voice at once abject an_heatrical, he declared that the hour had not come yet; then he began again t_uote. At last he begged them to burn his body. "What an artist is perishing!"
  • repeated he, as if in amazement.
  • Meanwhile Phaon's messenger arrived with the announcement that the Senate ha_ssued the sentence that the "parricide" was to be punished according t_ncient custom.
  • "What is the ancient custom?" asked Nero, with whitened lips.
  • "They will fix thy neck in a fork, flog thee to death, and hurl thy body int_he Tiber," answered Epaphroditus, abruptly.
  • Nero drew aside the robe from his breast.
  • "It is time, then!" said he, looking into the sky. And he repeated once more,
  • "What an artist is perishing!"
  • At that moment the tramp of a horse was heard. That was the centurion comin_ith soldiers for the head of Ahenobarbus.
  • "Hurry!" cried the freedmen.
  • Nero placed the knife to his neck, but pushed it only timidly. It was clea_hat he would never have courage to thrust it in. Epaphroditus pushed his han_uddenly, — the knife sank to the handle. Nero's eyes turned in his head,
  • terrible, immense, frightened.
  • "I bring thee life!" cried the centurion, entering.
  • "Too late!" said Nero, with a hoarse voice; then he added, —
  • "Here is faithfulness!"
  • In a twinkle death seized his head. Blood from his heavy neck gushed in a dar_tream on the flowers of the garden. His legs kicked the ground, and he died.
  • On the morrow the faithful Acte wrapped his body in costly stuffs, and burne_im on a pile filled with perfumes.
  • And so Nero passed, as a whirlwind, as a storm, as a fire, as war or deat_asses; but the basilica of Peter rules till now, from the Vatican heights,
  • the city, and the world.
  • Near the ancient Ports Capens stands to this day a little chapel with th_nscription, somewhat worn: Quo Vadis, Domine?