We all gladly assented to the plan which he then proposed. It was to withdraw privately as possible to one of his estates in the neighborhood of the city, and there await the unfolding of the scenes that remained yet to be enacted. The plan was at once carried into effect. The estate to which we retreated was about four Roman miles from the walls, situated upon an eminence, and overlooking the city and the surrounding plains. Soon as the shadows of the evening of the first day of the reign of Antiochus had fallen, we departed from Palmyra, and within an hour found ourselves upon a spot as wild and secluded as if it had been within the bosom of a wilderness. The building consists of a square tower of stone, large and lofty, built originally for purposes of war and defence, but now long occupied by those who have pursued the peaceful labors of husbandry. The wildness of the region, the solitariness of the place, the dark and frowning aspect of the impregnable tower, had pleased the fancy of both Gracchus and Fausta, and it has been used by them as an occasional retreat at those times when, wearied of the sound and sight of life, they have needed perfect repose. A few slaves are all that are required to constitute a sufficient household.
Here, Curtius, notwithstanding the troubled aspect of the times, have we passed a few days of no moderate enjoyment. Had there been no other, it would have been enough to sit and witness the happiness of Calpurnius and Fausta. But there have been and are other sources of satisfaction as you will not doubt. We have now leisure to converse at such length as we please upon a thousand subjects which interest us. Seated upon the rocks at nightfall, or upon the lofty battlements of the tower, or at hot noon reclining beneath the shade of the terebinth or palm, we have tasted once again the calm delights we experienced at the Queen's mountain palace. In this manner have we heard from Calpurnius accounts every way instructive and entertaining of his life while in Persia; of the character and acts of Sapor; of the condition of that empire, and its wide-spread population. Nothing seems to have escaped his notice and investigation. At these times and places too do I amuse and enlighten the circle around me by reading such portions of your letters and of Portia's as relate to matters generally interesting—and thus too do we discuss the times, and speculate upon the events with which the future labors in relation to Palmyra.
In the mean time we learn that the city is given up to festivity and excess. Antiochus himself possessing immense riches, is devoting these, and whatever the treasury of the kingdom places within his reach, to the entertainment of the people with shows and games after the Roman fashion, and seems really to have deluded the mass of the people so far as to have convinced them that their ancient prosperity has returned, and that he is the father of their country, a second Odenatus. He has succeeded in giving to his betrayal of the Queen the character and merit of a patriotic act, at least with the creatures who uphold him—and there are no praises so false and gross that they are not heaped upon him, and imposed upon the people in proclamations, and edicts. The ignorant—and where is it that they are not the greater part—stand by, wonder and believe. They cannot penetrate the wickedness of the game that has been played before them, and by the arts of the king and his minions have already been converted into friends and supporters.
The defence of the city is not, we understand, wholly neglected; but having before their eyes some fear of retribution, troops are again levied and organized, and the walls beginning to be put into a state of preparation. But this is all of secondary interest, and is postponed to any object of more immediate and sensual gratification.
But there are large numbers of the late Queen's truest friends, who with Gracchus look on in grief and terror even, at the order of things that has arisen, and prophesying with him a speedy end to it, either from interior and domestic revolution, or a return of the Roman armies, accompanied in either case of course by a wide-spread destruction, have with him also secretly withdrawn from the city, and fled either to some neighboring territory, or retreated to the fastnesses of the rural districts. Gracchus has not ceased to warn all whom he knows and chiefly esteems of the dangers to be apprehended, and urge upon them the duty of a timely escape.
* * * * *
Messengers have arrived from Antiochus to Gracchus, with whom they have held long and earnest conference, the object of which has been to induce him to return to the city, and resume his place at the head of the Senate, the king well knowing that no act of his would so much strengthen his power as to be able to number Gracchus among his friends. But Gracchus has not so much as wavered in his purpose to keep aloof from Antiochus and all concern with his affairs. His contempt and abhorrence of the king would not however, he says, prevent his serving his country, were he not persuaded that in so short a time violence of some sort from without or within would prostrate king and government in the dust.
It was only a few days after the messengers from Antiochus had paid their visit to Gracchus, that as we were seated upon a shaded rock, not far from the tower, listening to Fausta as she read to us, we were alarmed by the sudden irruption of Milo upon our seclusion, breathless, except that he could just exclaim, 'The Romans! The Romans!' As he could command his speech, he said, 'that the Roman army could plainly be discerned from the higher points of the land, rapidly approaching the city, of which we might satisfy ourselves by ascending the tower.'
'Gods! can it be possible,' exclaimed Gracchus, 'that Aurelian can himself have returned? He must have been well on his way to the Hellespont ere the conspiracy broke out.'
'I can easily believe it,' I replied, as we hastened toward the old tower, 'from what I have known and witnessed of the promptness and miraculous celerity of his movements.'
As we came out upon the battlements of the tower, not a doubt remained that it was indeed the Romans pouring in again like a flood upon the plains of the now devoted city. Far as the eye could reach to the west, clouds of dust indicated the line of the Roman march, while the van was already within a mile of the very gates. The roads leading to the capital, in every direction, seemed covered with those who, at the last moment, ere the gates were shut, had rushed forth and were flying to escape the impending desolation. All bore the appearance of a city taken by surprise and utterly unprepared; as we doubted not was the case from what we had observed of its actual state, and from the suddenness of Aurelian's return and approach.
'Now,' said Fausta, 'I can believe that the last days of Palmyra have arrived. It is impossible that Antiochus can sustain the siege against what will now be the tenfold fury of Aurelian and his enraged soldiers.'
A very few days will suffice for its reduction, if long before it be not again betrayed into the power of the assailants.
We have watched with intense curiosity and anxiety the scene that has been performing before our eyes. We are not so remote but that we can see with considerable distinctness whatever takes place, sometimes advancing and choosing our point of observation upon some nearer eminence.
* * * * *
After one day of preparation and one of assault the city has fallen, and Aurelian again entered in triumph; this time in the spirit of revenge and retaliation. It is evident, as we look on horror-struck, that no quarter is given, but that a general massacre has been ordered, both of soldier and citizen. We can behold whole herds of the defenceless populace escaping from the gates or over the walls, only to be pursued—hunted— and slaughtered by the remorseless soldiers. And thousands upon thousands have we seen driven over the walls, or hurled from the battlements of the lofty towers to perish, dashed upon the rocks below. Fausta cannot endure these sights of horror, but retires and hides herself in her apartments.
No sooner had the evening of this fatal day set in, than a new scene of terrific sublimity opened before us as we beheld flames beginning to ascend from every part of the city. They grew and spread till they presently appeared to wrap all objects alike in one vast sheet of fire. Towers, pinnacles and domes, after glittering awhile in the fierce blaze, one after another fell and disappeared in the general ruin. The Temple of the Sun stood long untouched, shining almost with the brightness of the sun itself, its polished shafts and sides reflecting the surrounding fire with an intense brilliancy. We hoped that it might escape, and were certain that it would, unless fired from within—as from its insulated position the flames from the neighboring buildings could not reach it. But we watched not long ere from its western extremity the fire broke forth, and warned us that that peerless monument of human genius, like all else, would soon crumble to the ground. To our amazement however and joy, the flames, after having made great progress, were suddenly arrested, and by some cause extinguished; and the vast pile stood towering in the centre of the desolation, of double size as it seemed, from the fall and disappearance of so many of the surrounding structures.
'This,' said Fausta, 'is the act of a rash and passionate man. Aurelian, before to-morrow's sun is set, will himself repent it. What a single night has destroyed, a century could not restore. This blighted and ruined capital, as long as its crumbling remains shall attract the gaze of the traveller, will utter a blasting malediction upon the name and memory of Aurelian. Hereafter he will be known, not as conqueror of the East and the restorer of the Roman Empire, but as the executioner of Longinus and the ruthless destroyer of Palmyra.'
'I fear that you prophesy with too much truth,' I replied. 'Rage and revenge have ruled the hour, and have committed horrors which no reason and no policy either of the present or of any age, will justify.'
'It is a result ever to be expected,' said Gracchus, 'so long as mankind will prefer an ignorant, unlettered soldier as their ruler. They can look for nothing different from one whose ideas have been formed by the camp alone—whose vulgar mind has never been illuminated by study and the knowledge of antiquity. Such a one feels no reverence for the arts, for learning, for philosophy, nor for man as man—he knows not what these mean—power is all he can comprehend, and all he worships. As long as the army furnishes Rome with her emperors, so long may she know that her name will, by acts like these, be handed down to posterity covered with the infamy that belongs to the polished savage—the civilized barbarian. Come, Fausta, let us now in and hide ourselves from this sight—too sad and sorrowful to gaze upon.'
'I can look now, father, without emotion,' she replied; 'a little sorrow opens all the fountains of grief—too much seals them. I have wept till I can weep no more. My sensibility is, I believe, by this succession of calamities dulled till it is dead.'
Aurelian, we learn, long before the fire had completed its work of destruction, recalled the orders he had given, and labored to arrest the progress of the flames. In this he to a considerable extent succeeded, and it was owing to this that the great temple was saved, and others among the most costly and beautiful structures.
On the third day after the capture of the city and the massacre of the inhabitants, the army of the 'conqueror and destroyer' withdrew from the scene of its glory, and again disappeared beyond the desert. I sought not the presence of Aurelian while before the city, for I cared not to meet him drenched in the blood of women and children. But as soon as he and his legions were departed, we turned toward the city, as children to visit the dead body of a parent.
No language which I can use, my Curtius, can give you any just conception of the horrors which met our view on the way to the walls and in the city itself. For more than a mile before we reached the gates, the roads, and the fields on either hand, were strewed with the bodies of those who, in their attempts to escape, had been overtaken by the enemy and slain. Many a group of bodies did we notice, evidently those of a family, the parents and the children, who, hoping to reach in company some place of security, had all—and without resistance apparently—fallen a sacrifice to the relentless fury of their pursuers. Immediately in the vicinity of the walls and under them the earth was concealed from the eye by the multitudes of the slain, and all objects were stained with the one hue of blood. Upon passing the gates and entering within those walls which I had been accustomed to regard as embracing in their wide and graceful sweep the most beautiful city of the world, my eye met naught but black and smoking ruins, fallen houses and temples, the streets choked with piles of still blazing timbers and the half-burned bodies of the dead. As I penetrated farther into the heart of the city, and to its better built and more spacious quarters, I found the destruction to be less—that the principal streets were standing, and many of the more distinguished structures. But every where—in the streets—upon the porticos of private and public dwellings—upon the steps and within the very walls of the temples of every faith—in all places, the most sacred as well as the most common, lay the mangled carcasses of the wretched inhabitants. None apparently had been spared. The aged were there, with their silvered heads—little children and infants—women, the young, the beautiful, the good—all were there, slaughtered in every imaginable way, and presenting to the eye spectacles of horror and of grief enough to break the heart and craze the brain. For one could not but go back to the day and the hour when they died, and suffer with these innocent thousands a part of what they suffered, when the gates of the city giving way, the infuriated soldiery poured in, and with death written in their faces and clamoring on their tongues, their quiet houses were invaded, and resisting or unresisting, they all fell together beneath the murderous knives of the savage foe. What shrieks then rent and filled the air—what prayers of agony went up to the gods for life to those whose ears on mercy's side were adders'—what piercing supplications that life might be taken and honor spared! The apartments of the rich and the noble presented the most harrowing spectacles, where the inmates, delicately nurtured, and knowing of danger, evil and wrong only by name and report, had first endured all that nature most abhors, and then, there where their souls had died, were slain by their brutal violators with every circumstance of most demoniac cruelty. Happy for those who, like Gracchus, foresaw the tempest and fled. These calamities have fallen chiefly upon the adherents of Antiochus: but among them, alas! were some of the noblest and most honored families of the capital. Their bodies now lie blackened and bloated upon their door-stones—their own halls have become their tombs.
We sought together the house of Gracchus. We found it partly consumed, partly standing and uninjured. The offices and one of the rear wings were burned and level with the ground, but there the flames had been arrested, and the remainder, comprising all the principal apartments, stands as it stood before. The palace of Zenobia has escaped without harm—its lofty walls and insulated position were its protection. The Long Portico, with its columns, monuments, and inscriptions, remains also untouched by the flames and unprofaned by any violence from the wanton soldiery. The fire has fed upon the poorer quarters of the city, where the buildings were composed in greater proportion of wood, and spared most of the great thorough-fares, principal avenues, and squares of the capital, which, being constructed in the most solid manner of stone, resisted effectually all progress of the flames, and though frequently set on fire for the purpose of their destruction, the fire perished from a want of material, or it consumed but the single edifice where it was kindled.
The silence of death and of ruin rests over this once and but so lately populous city. As I stood upon a high point which overlooked a large extent of it, I could discern no signs of life, except here and there a detachment of the Roman guard dragging forth the bodies of the slaughtered citizens, and bearing them to be burned or buried. This whole people is extinct. In a single day these hundred thousands have found a common grave. Not one remains to bewail or bury the dead. Where are the anxious crowds, who when their dwellings have been burned, eagerly rush in as the flames have spent themselves to sorrow over their smoking altars, and pry with busy search among the hot ashes, if perchance they may yet rescue some lamented treasure, or bear away at least the bones of a parent or a child, buried beneath the ruins? They are not here. It is broad day, and the sun shines bright, but not a living form is seen lingering about these desolated streets and squares. Birds of prey are already hovering round, and alighting without apprehension of disturbance wherever the banquet invites them; and soon as the shadows of evening shall fall, the hyena of the desert will be here to gorge himself upon what they have left, having scented afar off upon the tainted breeze the fumes of the rich feast here spread for him. These Roman grave-diggers from the legion of Bassus, are alone upon the ground to contend with them for their prize. O, miserable condition of humanity! Why is it that to man have been given passions which he cannot tame, and which sink him below the brute! Why is it that a few ambitious are permitted by the Great Ruler, in the selfish pursuit of their own aggrandizement, to scatter in ruin, desolation, and death, whole kingdoms—making misery and destruction the steps by which they mount up to their seats of pride! O, gentle doctrine of Christ! doctrine of love and of peace, when shall it be that I and all mankind shall know thy truth, and the world smile with a new happiness under thy life-giving reign!
Fausta, as she has wandered with us through this wilderness of woe, has uttered scarce a word. This appalling and afflicting sight of her beloved Palmyra—her pride and hope—in whose glory her very life was wrapt up—so soon become a blackened heap of ruins—its power departed—its busy multitudes dead, and their dwellings empty or consumed—has deprived her of all but tears. She has only wept. The sensibility which she feared was dead she finds endued with life enough—with too much for either her peace or safety.
As soon as it became known in the neighboring districts that the army of Aurelian was withdrawn, and that the troops left in the camp and upon the walls were no longer commissioned to destroy, they who had succeeded in effecting their escape, or who had early retreated from the scene of danger, began to venture back. These were accompanied by great numbers of the country people, who now poured in either to witness with their own eyes the great horror of the times, or to seek for the bodies of children or friends, who, dwelling in the city for purposes of trade or labor or as soldiers, had fallen in the common ruin. For many days might the streets, and walls, and ruins be seen covered with crowds of men and women, who weeping sought among the piles of the yet unburied and decaying dead, dear relatives, or friends, or lovers, for whom they hoped to perform the last offices of unfailing affection; a hope that was, perhaps, in scarce a single instance fulfilled. And how could any but those in whom love had swallowed up reason once imagine that where the dead were heaped fathoms deep, mangled by every shocking mode of death, and now defaced yet more by the processes of corruption, they could identify the forms which they last saw beautiful in all the bloom of health? But love is love; it feels and cannot reason.
Cerronius Bassus, the lieutenant of Aurelian, has with a humane violence laid hold upon this curious and gazing multitude, and changed them all into buriers of the dead they came to seek and bewail. To save the country, himself and his soldiers from pestilence, he hastens the necessary work of interment. The plains are trenched, and into them the bodies of the citizens are indiscriminately thrown. There now lie in narrow space the multitudes of Palmyra.
The mangled bodies of Antiochus, Herennianus and Timolaus have been found among the slain.
* * * * *
We go no longer to the city, but remain at our solitary tower—now however populous as the city itself. We converse of the past and the future; but most of my speedy departure for Rome.
It is the purpose of Gracchus to continue for a season yet in the quiet retreat where he now is. He then will return to the capital, and become one of those to lay again the foundations of another prosperity.
'Nature,' he says, 'has given to our city a position and resources which, it seems to me, no power of man can deprive her of, nor prevent their always creating and sustaining upon this same spot a large population. Circumstances like the present may oppress and overwhelm for a time, but time will again revive and rebuild, and embellish. I will not for one sit down in inactivity or useless grief, but if Aurelian does not hinder, shall apply the remainder of my days to the restoration of Palmyra. In Calpurnius and Fausta I shall look to find my lieutenants, prompt to execute the commissions intrusted to them by their commander.'
'We shall fall behind,' said Calpurnius, 'I warrant you, in no quality of affection or zeal in the great task.'
'Fausta,' continued Gracchus, 'has as yet no heart but for the dead and the lost. But, Lucius, when you shall have been not long in Rome, you will hear that she lives then but among the living, and runs before me and Calpurnius in every labor that promises advantage to Palmyra.'
'It may be so,' replied Fausta, 'but I have no faith that it will. We have witnessed the death of our country; we have attended the funeral obsequies. I have no belief in any rising again from the dead.'
'Give not way, my child,' said Gracchus, 'to grief and despair. These are among the worst enemies of man. They are the true doubters and deniers of the gods and their providence, who want a spirit of trust and hope. Hope and confidence are the best religion, and the truest worship. I who do not believe in the existence of the gods am therefore to be commended for my religion more than many of the staunchest defenders of Pagan, Christian, or Jewish superstitions, who too often, it seems to me, feel and act as if the world were abandoned of all divine care, and its affairs and events the sport of a blind chance. What is best for man and the condition of the world, must be most agreeable to the gods—to the creator and possessor of the world—be they one or many. Can we doubt which is best for the remaining inhabitants of Palmyra, and the provinces around which are dependent upon her trade—to leave her in her ruin finally and utterly to perish, or apply every energy to her restoration? Is it better that the sands of the desert should within a few years heap themselves over these remaining walls and dwellings, or that we who survive should cleanse, and repair, and rebuild, in the confident hope, before we in our turn are called to disappear, to behold our beloved city again thronged with its thousands of busy and laborious inhabitants? Carthage is again populous as in the days of Hamilcar. You, Fausta, may live to see Palmyra what it was in the days of Zenobia.'
'The gods grant it may be so!' exclaimed Fausta; and a bright smile at the vision her father had raised up before her illuminated her features. She looked for a moment as if the reality had been suddenly revealed to her, and had stood forth in all its glory.
'I do not despair,' continued Gracchus, 'of the Romans themselves doing something toward the restoration of that which they have wantonly and foolishly destroyed.'
'But they cannot give life to the dead, and therefore it is but little that they can do at best,' said Fausta. 'They may indeed rebuild the temple of the Sun, but they cannot give us back the godlike form of Longinus, and kindle within it that intellect that shed light over the world; they may raise again the walls of the citizen's humble dwelling, but they cannot re-animate the bodies of the slaughtered multitudes, and call them out from their trenches to people again the silent streets.'
'They cannot indeed,' rejoined Gracchus; 'they cannot do every thing—they may not do any thing. But I think they will, and that the Emperor himself, when reason returns, will himself set the example. And from you, Lucius, when once more in Rome, shall I look for substantial aid in disposing favorably the mind both of Aurelian and the Senate.'
'I can never be more happily employed,' I replied, 'than in serving either you or Palmyra. You will have a powerful advocate also in Zenobia.'
'Yes,' said Gracchus, 'if her life be spared, which must for some time be still quite uncertain. After gracing the triumph of Aurelian, she, like Longinus, may be offered as a new largess to the still hungering legions.'
'Nay, there I think, Gracchus, you do Aurelian hardly justice. Although he has bound himself by no oath, yet virtually is he sworn to spare Zenobia—and his least word is true as his sword.'
Thus have we passed the last days and hours of my residence here. I should in vain attempt, my Curtius, to tell you how strongly I am bound to this place—to this kingdom and city, and above all to those who survive this destruction. No Palmyrene can lament with more sincerity than I the whirlwind of desolation that has passed over them, obliterating almost their place and name—nor from any one do there ascend more fervent prayers that prosperity may yet return, and these wide-spread ruins again rise and glow in their ancient beauty. Rome has by former acts of unparalleled barbarism covered her name with reproach, but by none has she so drenched it in guilt as by this wanton annihilation—for so do I regard it—of one of the fairest cities and kingdoms of the earth. The day of Aurelian's triumph may be a day of triumph to him, but to Rome it will be a day of never forgotten infamy.
From Piso to Fausta
I trust that you have safely received the letter which, as we entered the Tiber, I was fortunate enough to place on board a vessel bound directly to Berytus. In that I have told you of my journey and voyage, and have said many other things of more consequence still, both to you, Gracchus, and myself.
I now write to you from my own dwelling upon the Coelian, where I have been these many days that have intervened since the date of my former letter. If you have waited impatiently to hear from me again, I hope that I shall now atone for what may seem a too long delay, by telling you of those concerning whom you wish chiefly to hear and know—Zenobia and Julia.
But first let me say that I have found Portia in health, and as happy as she could be after her bitter disappointment in Calpurnius. This has proved a misfortune, less only than the loss of our father himself. That a Piso should live, and be other than a Roman; that he should live and bear arms against his country—this has been to her one of those inexplicable mysteries in the providence of the gods that has tasked her piety to the utmost. In vain has she scrutinized her life to discover what fault has drawn down upon her and her house this heavy retribution. Yet her grief is lightened by what I have told her of the conduct of Calpurnius at Antioch and Emesa. At such times, when I have related the events of those great days, and the part which my brother took, the pride of the Roman has yielded to that of the mother, and she has not been able to conceal her satisfaction. 'Ah,' she would say, 'my brave boy! That was like him! I warrant Zabdas himself was not greater! What might he not be, were he but in Rome!'
Portia is never weary with inquiring into every thing relating to yourself and Gracchus. My letters, many and minute as they have been, so far from satisfying her, serve only as themes for new and endless conversations, in which, as well as I am able, I set before her my whole life while in Palmyra, and every event, from the conversation at the table or in the porticos, to the fall of the city and the death of Longinus. So great is her desire to know all concerning the 'hero Fausta,' and so unsatisfying is the all that I can say, that I shall not wonder if, after the ceremony of the triumph, she should herself propose a journey to Palmyra, to see you once more with her own eyes, and once more fold you in her arms. You will rejoice to be told that she bewails, even with tears, the ruin of the city, and the cruel massacre of its inhabitants. She condemns the Emperor in language as strong as you or I should use. The slaughter of Sandarion and his troops she will by no means allow to be a sufficient justification of the act. And of her opinion are all the chief citizens of Rome.
I have found Curtius and Lucilia also in health. They are at their villa upon the Tiber. The first to greet me there were Laco and Coelia. Their gratitude was affecting and oppressive. Indeed there is no duty so hard as to receive with grace the thanks of those whom you have obliged. Curtius is for once satisfied that I have performed with fidelity the part of a correspondent. He even wonders at my diligence. The advantage is, I believe for the first time, fairly on my side; though you can yourself bear testimony, having heard all his epistles, how many he wrote, and with what vividness and exactness he made Rome to pass before us. I think he will not be prevented from writing to you by anything I can say. He drops in every day, Lucilia sometimes with him, and never leaves us till he has exhausted his prepared questions concerning you, and the great events which have taken place—there remaining innumerable points to a man of his exact turn of mind, about which he must insist upon fuller and more careful information. I think he will draw up a history of the war. I hope he will—no one could do it better.
Aurelian, you will have heard, upon leaving Palmyra, instead of continuing on the route upon which he set out toward Emesa and Antioch, turned aside to Egypt, in order to put down by one of his sudden movements the Egyptian merchant Firmus, who, with a genius for war greater than for traffic, had placed himself at the head of the people, and proclaimed their independence of Rome. As the friend and ally of Zenobia—although he could render her during the siege no assistance—I must pity his misfortunes and his end. News has just reached us that his armies have been defeated, he himself taken and put to death, and his new-made kingdom reduced again to the condition of a Roman province. We now every hour look to hear of the arrival of the Emperor and his armies.
Although there has been observed some secrecy concerning the progress and places of residence of Zenobia, yet we learn with a good degree of certainty that she is now at Brundusium, awaiting the further orders of Aurelian, having gone over-land from Byzantium to Apollonia, and there crossing the Adriatic. I have not been much disturbed by the reports which have prevailed, because I thought I knew too much of the Queen to think them well grounded. Yet I confess I have suffered somewhat when, upon resorting to the capitol or the baths, I have found the principal topic to be the death of Zenobia—according to some, of grief, on her way from Antioch to Byzantium—or, as others had it, of hunger, she having resolutely refused all nourishment. I have given no credit to the rumor, yet as all stories of this kind are a mixture of truth and error, so in this case I can conceive easily that it has some foundation in reality, and I am led to believe from it that the sufferings of the Queen have been great. How indeed could they be otherwise! A feebler spirit than Zenobia's, and a feebler frame would necessarily have been destroyed. With what impatience do I await the hour that shall see her in Rome! I am happily already relieved of all anxiety as to her treatment by Aurelian—no fear need be entertained for her safety. Desirous as far as may be to atone for the rash severity of his orders in Syria, he will distinguish with every possible mark of honor the Queen, her family, and such other of the inhabitants of Palmyra as have been reserved to grace his triumph.
For this august ceremony the preparations are already making. It is the sole topic of conversation, and the single object toward which seem to be bent the whole genius and industry of the capital. It is intended to surpass in magnificence all that has been done by former Emperors or Generals. The materials for it are collecting from every part of the empire, and the remotest regions of Asia and Africa. Every day there arrive cargoes either of wild beasts or of prisoners, destined to the amphitheatre; illustrious captives also from Asia, Germany and Gaul, among whom are Tetricus and his son. The Tiber is crowded with vessels bringing in the treasures drawn from Palmyra—her silver and gold—her statuary and works of art—and every object of curiosity and taste that was susceptible of transportation across the desert and the ocean.
It is now certain that the Queen has advanced as far as Tusculum, where with Julia, Livia, Faustula and Vabalathus, they will remain—at a villa of Aurelian's it is said—till the day of the triumph. Separation seems the more painful as they approach nearer. Although knowing that they would be scrupulously prohibited from all intercourse with any beyond the precincts of the villa itself, I have not been restrained from going again and again to Tusculum, and passing through it and around it in the hope to obtain were it but a distant glimpse of persons to whom I am bound more closely than to any others on earth. But it has been all in vain. I shall not see them till I behold them a part of the triumphal procession of their conqueror.
* * * * *
Aurelian has arrived—the long expected day has come—and is gone. His triumph has been celebrated, and with a magnificence and a pomp greater than the traditionary glories of those of Pompey, Trajan, Titus, or even the secular games of Philip.
I have seen Zenobia!
The sun of Italy never poured a flood of more golden light upon the great capital and its surrounding plains than on the day of Aurelian's triumph. The airs of Palmyra were never more soft. The whole city was early abroad, and, added to our own overgrown population, there were the inhabitants of all the neighboring towns and cities, and strangers from all parts of the empire, so that it was with difficulty and labor only, and no little danger too, that the spectacle could be seen. I obtained a position opposite the capitol, from which I could observe the whole of this proud display of the power and greatness of Rome.
A long train of elephants opened the show, their huge sides and limbs hung with cloth of gold and scarlet, some having upon their backs military towers or other fanciful structures, which were filled with the natives of Asia or Africa, all arrayed in the richest costumes of their countries. These were followed by wild animals, and those remarkable for their beauty, from every part of the world, either led, as in the case of lions, tigers, leopards, by those who from long management of them possessed the same power over them as the groom over his horse, or else drawn along upon low platforms, upon which they were made to perform a thousand antic tricks for the amusement of the gaping and wondering crowds. Then came not many fewer than two thousand gladiators in pairs, all arranged in such a manner as to display to the greatest advantage their well-knit joints, and projecting and swollen muscles. Of these a great number have already perished on the arena of the Flavian, and in the sea fights in Domitian's theatre. Next, upon gilded wagons, and so arranged as to produce the most dazzling effect, came the spoils of the wars of Aurelian—treasures of art, rich cloths and embroideries, utensils of gold and silver, pictures, statues, and works in brass, from the cities of Gaul, from Asia and from Egypt. Conspicuous here over all were the rich and gorgeous contents of the palace of Zenobia. The huge wains groaned under the weight of vessels of gold and silver, of ivory, and of the most precious woods of India. The jewelled wine cups, vases, and golden sculpture of Demetrius attracted the gaze and excited the admiration of every beholder. Immediately after these came a crowd of youths richly habited in the costumes of a thousand different tribes, bearing in their hands, upon cushions of silk, crowns of gold and precious stones, the offerings of the cities and kingdoms of all the world, as it were, to the power and fame of Aurelian. Following these came the ambassadors of all nations, sumptuously arrayed in the habits of their respective countries. Then an innumerable train of captives, showing plainly in their downcast eyes, in their fixed and melancholy gaze, that hope had taken its departure from their breasts. Among these were many women from the shores of the Danube, taken in arms fighting for their country, of enormous stature, and clothed in the warlike costume of their tribes.
But why do I detain you with these things, when it is of one only that you wish to hear. I cannot tell you with what impatience I waited for that part of the procession to approach where were Zenobia and Julia. I thought its line would stretch on forever. And it was the ninth hour before the alternate shouts and deep silence of the multitudes announced that the conqueror was drawing near the capitol. As the first shout arose, I turned toward the quarter whence it came, and beheld, not Aurelian as I expected, but the Gallic Emperor Tetricus—yet slave of his army and of Victoria—accompanied by the prince his son, and followed by other illustrious captives from Gaul. All eyes were turned with pity upon him, and with indignation too that Aurelian should thus treat a Roman, and once—a Senator. But sympathy for him was instantly lost in a stronger feeling of the same kind for Zenobia, who came immediately after. You can imagine, Fausta, better than I can describe them, my sensations, when I saw our beloved friend—her whom I had seen treated never otherwise than as a sovereign Queen, and with all the imposing pomp of the Persian ceremonial—now on foot, and exposed to the rude gaze of the Roman populace—toiling beneath the rays of a hot sun, and the weight of jewels, such as both for richness and beauty, were never before seen in Rome—and of chains of gold, which, first passing around her neck and arms, were then borne up by attendant slaves. I could have wept to see her so—yes, and did. My impulse was to break through the crowd and support her almost fainting form—but I well knew that my life would answer for the rashness on the spot. I could only therefore, like the rest, wonder and gaze. And never did she seem to me, not even in the midst of her own court, to blaze forth with such transcendent beauty—yet touched with grief. Her look was not that of dejection of one who was broken and crushed by misfortune—there was no blush of shame. It was rather one of profound heartbreaking melancholy, Her full eyes looked as if privacy only was wanted for them to overflow with floods of tears. But they fell not. Her gaze was fixed on vacancy, or else cast toward the ground. She seemed like one unobservant of all around her, and buried in thoughts to which all else were strangers, and had nothing in common with. They were in Palmyra, and with her slaughtered multitudes. Yet though she wept not, others did; and one could, see all along, wherever she moved, the Roman hardness yielding to pity, and melting down before the all-subduing presence of this wonderful woman. The most touching phrases of compassion fell constantly upon my ear. And ever and anon as in the road there would happen some rough or damp place, the kind souls would throw down upon it whatever of their garments they could quickest divest themselves of, that those feet, little used to such encounters, might receive no harm. And as when other parts of the procession were passing by, shouts of triumph and vulgar joy frequently arose from the motley crowds, yet when Zenobia appeared, a death-like silence prevailed, or it was interrupted only by exclamations of admiration or pity, or of indignation at Aurelian for so using her. But this happened not long. For when the Emperor's pride had been sufficiently gratified, and just there where he came over against the steps of the capitol, he himself, crowned as he was with the diadem of universal empire, descended from his chariot, and, unlocking the chains of gold that bound the limbs of the Queen, led and placed her in her own chariot—that chariot in which she had fondly hoped herself to enter Rome in triumph—between Julia and Livia. Upon this the air was rent with the grateful acclamations of the countless multitudes. The Queen's countenance brightened for a moment as if with the expressive sentiment, 'The gods bless you!' and was then buried in the folds of her robe. And when after the lapse of many minutes it was again raised and turned toward the people, every one might see that tears burning hot had coursed her cheeks, and relieved a heart which else might well have burst with its restrained emotion. Soon as the chariot which held her had disappeared upon the other side of the capitol, I extricated myself from the crowd and returned home. It was not till the shades of evening had fallen, that the last of the procession had passed the front of the capitol, and the Emperor reposed within the walls of his palace. The evening was devoted to the shows of the theatres.
Seven days succeeding this first day of the triumph have been devoted to games and shows. I attended them not, but escaping from the tumult and confusion of the city, passed them in a very different manner—you will at once conjecture where and with whom. It was indeed as you suppose in the society of Zenobia, Julia, and Livia.
What the immediate destination of the Queen was to be I knew not, nor did any seem to know even so late as the day of the triumph. It was only known that her treatment was to be lenient. But on the day after, it became public in the city, that the Emperor had bestowed upon her his magnificent villa, not far from Hadrian's at Tibur, and at the close of the first day of the triumph a chariot of Aurelian in waiting had conveyed her there. This was to me transporting news, as it will be to you.
On the evening of that day I was at Tibur. Had I been a son or a brother, the Queen could not have received me with more emotion. But I leave it to you to imagine the first moments of our interview. When our greetings were over, the first thought, at least the first question, of Zenobia was, concerning you and Gracchus. All her inquiries, as well as those of Julia, I was happily able to answer in the most exact manner, out of the fulness of your letter. When I had finished this agreeable duty, the Queen said,
'Our happiness were complete, as now it can be, could Fausta and Gracchus be but added to our numbers. I shall hope, in the lapse of days or months, to entice them away for a season from their melancholy home. And yet what better can I offer them here? There they behold their city in ruins; here their Queen. There they already detect some tokens of reviving life; here they would have before them but the picture of decay and approaching death. But these things I ought not to say. Piso, you will be glad to learn the purposes of Aurelian concerning Palmyra. He has already set apart large sums for the restoration of its walls and temples; and what is more and better, he has made Gracchus governor of the city and province, with liberal promises of treasure to carry into effect whatever designs he may conceive as most likely to people again the silent streets, and fill them with the merchants of the East and the West.'
'Aurelian, I am persuaded,' I replied, 'will feel upon him the weight of the strongest motives to do all that he can to repair the injuries he has inflicted. Then too, in addition to this, his nature is generous.'
'It is so,' said Julia. 'How happy if he had been less subject to his passions! The proofs of a generous nature you see here, Piso, every where around us. This vast and magnificent palace, with its extensive grounds, has he freely bestowed upon us; and here, as your eye has already informed you, has he caused to be brought and arranged every article of use or luxury found in the palace of Palmyra, and capable of transportation.'
'I could hardly believe,' I said, 'as I approached the great entrance, and beheld objects so familiar—still more, when I came within the walls and saw around me all that I had seen in Palmyra, that I was indeed in the vicinity of Rome, and had not been by some strange power transported suddenly to Asia. In the rash violence of Aurelian in Syria, and in this reparation, both here and there, of the evil he has committed to the farthest extent possible, you witness a genuine revelation of his character. Would that principle rather than passion were the governing power of his life!'
Although I have passed many days at Tibur, yet have I seen but little of Zenobia. She is silent and solitary. Her thoughts are evidently never with the present, but far back among the scenes of her former life. To converse is an effort. The lines of grief have fixed themselves upon her countenance; her very form and manner are expressive of a soul bowed and subdued by misfortune. Her pride seems no longer, as on the day of the triumph, to bear her up. It is Zenobia before me, but—like her own beautiful capital—it is Zenobia in ruins. That she suffers too from the reproaches of a mind now conscious of its errors I cannot doubt. She blames Aurelian, but I am persuaded she blames with no less severity herself. It is, I doubt not, the image of her desolated country rising before her, that causes her so often in the midst of discourse with us, or when she has been sitting long silent, suddenly to start and clasp her hands, and withdraw weeping to her apartments, or the seclusion of the garden.
'It will be long, very long,' Julia has said to me, 'before Zenobia will recover from this grief—if indeed she ever do. Would that the principles of that faith, which we have learned to believe and prize, were also hers! Life would then still place before her a great object, which now she wants. The past absorbs her wholly—the future is nothing. She dwells upon glories that are departed forever, and is able to anticipate no other, or greater, in this world—nor with certainty in any beyond it.'
I said, 'But doubtless she throws herself at this season upon her Jewish faith and philosophy. She has ever spoken of it with respect at least, if not with affection.'
'I do not,' Julia replied, 'think that her faith in Judaism is of much avail to her. She has found pleasure in reading the sacred books of the Jews, and has often expressed warmly her admiration of the great principles of moral living and of religious belief found in them; but I do not think that she has derived from them that which she conceives to be the sum of all religion and philosophy, a firm belief and hope of immortality. I am sure she has not. She has sometimes spoken as if such a belief possessed likelihood, but never as if she entertained it in the way the Christian does.'
* * * * *
You will rejoice, dear Fausta, to learn that Zenobia no longer opposes me; but waits with impatience for the day when I shall be an inmate of her palace.
What think you is the news to-day in Rome? No other and no less than this—which you may well suppose has for some time been no news to me—that Livia is to be Empress! It has just been made public by authority; and I despatch my letter that you may be immediately informed of it. It has brought another expression upon the countenance of Zenobia.
Curtius and Lucilia have this moment come in, and full of these tidings interrupt me—they with Portia wish to be remembered to you with affection. I shall soon write again—telling you then especially of my interviews with Aurelian, and of Probus. Farewell.
Piso, it will be observed, makes no mention of, nor allusion to, the story recorded by the historian Zosimus, of the Queen's public accusation of Longinus and the other principal persons of Palmyra, as authors of the rebellion, in order to save her own life. It is well known that Zenobia, chiefly on the authority of this historian, has been charged with having laid upon Longinus and her other counsellors, all the blame of the revolt, as if she had been driven by them against her will into the course she pursued. The words of Zosimus are as follows:
'Emisam rediit et Zenobiam cum suis complicibus pro tribunali stitit. Illa causas exponens, et eulpa semet eximens multos alios in medium protulit, qui cam veluti faeminam seduxissent; quorum in numero et Longinus erat.—Itidem alii quos Zenobia detulerat suppliciis adficiebatur.'
This is suspicious upon the face of it. As if Aurelian needed a formal tribunal and the testimony of Zenobia to inform him who the great men of Palmyra were, and her chief advisers. Longinus, at least, we may suppose, was as well known as Zenobia. But if there was a formal tribunal, then evidence was heard—and not upon one side only, but both. If therefore the statements of Zenobia were false, there were Longinus and the other accused persons, with their witnesses, to make it appear so. If they were true—if she had been overruled—led—or driven—by her advisers, then it was not unreasonable that punishment—if some must suffer—should fall where it did.
But against Zosimus may be arrayed the words of Aurelian himself, in a letter addressed to the Roman senate, and preserved by Pollio. He says,
'Nec ego illi (Zenobiae) vitam conservassem nisi cam scissem multum Rom: Reip. profuisse, quum sibi vel liberis suis Orientis servaret imperium.'
Aurelian here says that he would not have spared her life but for one reason, namely, that she had done such signal service to the republic, when either for herself or for her children she had saved the empire in the East. Aurelian spared her life, if he himself is to be believed, because of services rendered to Rome, NOT because by the accusation of others she had cleared herself of the charge of rebellion. Her life was never in any danger, if this be true; and unless it were, she of course had no motive to criminate Longinus in the manner related by Zosimus.
Longinus and his companions suffered therefore, not in consequence of any special accusation—it was not needed for their condemnation—but as a matter of course, because they were leaders and directors of the revolt. It was the usage of war.
Why are Pollio (the biographer of Zenobia) and Vopiscus (the biographer of Aurelian) and Zonaras all silent respecting so remarkable a point of the history of Zenobia? Pollio does not hesitate to say that she had been thought by some to have been partner in the crime of murdering Odenatus and his son Herod—a charge which never found credit in any quarter. Such a biographer surely would not have passed over in silence the unutterable baseness of Zenobia in the accusation of Longinus, if he had ever heard of it and had esteemed it to have come to him as well vouched at least as the other story. Omission under such circumstances is good evidence that it came to him not so well vouched—that is, not vouched at all.
Supposing Zenobia to have been guilty of the crime laid to her charge, could Aurelian have treated her afterwards in the way he did? He not only took her to Rome and gave her a palace at Tibur, and the state of a Queen, but according to some, [Footnote: Filiam (Zenobiae) unam uxorem duxisse Aurellanum; caeteras nobilibus Romanis despondisee.—Zonoras, lib. xii. p. 480.] married one of her daughters. Could he have done all this had she been the mean, base and wicked woman Zosimus makes her out to be? The history of this same eastern expedition furnishes a case somewhat in point, and which may serve to show in what light he would probably have regarded Zenobia. Tyana, a city of Asia Minor, for a long time resisted all his attempts to reduce it. At length it was betrayed into his hands by one of its chief citizens, Heraclammon. How did Aurelian receive and treat him after entering the city? Let Vopiscus reply: 'Nam et Heraclammon proditorem patriae suse sapiens victor occidit.'—'Heraclammon who betrayed his country the conqueror wisely slew.' But this historian has preserved a letter of Aurelian, in which he speaks of this same traitor:
'Aurelianus Aug: Mallio Chiloni. Occidi passus sum cujus quasi beneficio Tyanam recepi. Ego vero proditorem amare non potui; et libenter tuli quod eum milites occiderunt: neque enim mihi fidem servare potuisset qui patriae non pepercit,' etc. He permits Heraclammon to be slain because he could not love a traitor, and because one who had betrayed his country could not be trusted—while Zenobia, if Zosimus is to be believed, whose act was of the same kind—only infinitely more base—he receives and crowns with distinguished honor, and marries her daughter!
'Zosime pretend,' says Tillemont, 'que ce fut Zenobie mesme qui se dechargea sur eux des choses don't on l'accusoit, (ce qui repondroit bien mal a cette grandeur d'ame qu'on lay attribue.')—Hist, des Emp. t. II. p. 212.
The evidence of Zosimus is not of so high a character as justly to weigh against a strong internal improbability, or the silence of other historians. Gibbon says of him, 'In good policy we must use the service of Zosimus without esteeming him or trusting him,' and repeatedly designates him as 'credulous,' 'partial,' 'disingenuous.' By Tillemont he is called a 'bad authority.'
Nothing would seem to be plainer, than that Aurelian spared Zenobia because she was a woman; because she was a beautiful and every way remarkable woman; and as he himself says, because she had protected and saved the empire in the East; and that he sacrificed Longinus and the other chief men of Palmyra, because such was the usage of war.
Page 122. Piso speaks of the prowess of Aurelian, and of the songs sung in the camp in honor of him. Vopiscus has preserved one of these.
'Mille mille, mille, decollavimus, Unus homo mille decollavimus, Mille vivat qui mille occidit. Tantum vini habet nemo Quantum fudit sanguinis.
'Mille Sarmatas, mille Francos Semel et semel occidimus Mille Persas quaerimus.'
The two letters on pages 135 and 137, it will be observed, are nearly the same as those found in Vopiscus.
On page 172, Aurelian is designated by a soldier under the nick-name of 'Hand-to-his-Sword.' Vopiscus also mentions this as a name by which he was known in the army. 'Nam quum essent in exercitu duo Aureliani tribuni, hic, et alius qui cum Valeriano captus est, huic signum (cognomen) exercitus apposuerat "Mannus ad ferrum,"' &c.
Page 280. Piso represents Aurelian as wearing a crown. He was the first since the Tarquins who had dared to invest his brow with that symbol of tyranny. So says Aurelius Victor. 'Iste primus apud Romanos Diadema capiti innexuit; gemmisque et aurata omni veste, quod adhuc fere incognitum Romanis moribus videbatur, usus est.'
On the same page, in the account of the triumph, a chariot of Zenobia is stated to have been exhibited, in which it was her belief that she should enter Rome in triumph, which indeed had been made for that very purpose. This singular fact is confirmed by Vopiscus—'tertius, (currus) quem sibi Zenobia composuerat sperans se urbem Romanam cum eo visuram; quod eam non fefellit, nam cum eo urbem ingressa est victa et triumphata.'