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?