Zenobia - or, The Fall of Palmyra
by William Ware
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

'"It is, gracious king."

'"Dost thou swear it?"

'"I swear it by the great God of Light!"

'The countenance of the Emperor now grew black with as it seemed mingled fury and contempt. Antiochus started, and his cheek paled. A little light reached his thick brain.

'"Romans," cried Aurelian, "pardon me for so abusing your ears! And you, our royal captives! I knew not that such baseness lived—still less that it was here. Thou foul stigma upon humanity! Why opens not the earth under thee, but that it loathes and rejects thee! Is a Roman like thee, dost thou think, to reward thy unheard-of treacheries? Thou knowest no more what a Roman is, than what truth and honor are. Soldiers! seize yonder miscreant, write traitor on his back, and spurn him forth the camp. His form and his soul both offend alike. Hence, monster!"

'Antiochus was like one thunderstruck. Trembling in every joint, he sought to appeal to the Emperor's mercy, but the guard stopped his mouth, and dragged him from the tent. His shrieks pierced the air as the soldiers scourged him beyond the encampment.

'"It was not for me," said Aurelian, as these ceased to be heard, "to refuse what fate threw into my hands. Though I despise the traitorous informer, I could not shut my ear to the facts he revealed, without myself betraying the interests of Rome. But, believe me, it was information I would willingly have spared, My infamy were as his to have rewarded the traitor. Fear not, great Queen; I pledge the word of a Roman and an Emperor for thy safety. Thou art safe both from Roman and Palmyrene."

'"What I have but now been witness of," replied the Queen, "assures me that in the magnanimity of Aurelian I may securely rest."

'"As the Queen uttered these words, a sound as of a distant tumult, and the uproar of a multitude, caught the ears of all within the tent.

'"What mean these tumultuous cries?" inquired Aurelian of his attending guard. "They increase and approach."

'"It may be but the soldiers at their game with Antiochus," replied Probus.

'But it was not so. At the moment a Centurion, breathless, and with his head bare, rushed madly into the tent.

'"Speak," said the Emperor, "what is it?"

'"The legions!" said the Centurion, as soon as he could command his words, "the legions are advancing, crying out for the Queen of Palmyra! They have broken from their camp and their leaders, and in one mixed body come to surround the Emperor's tent."

'"As he ended, the fierce cries of the enraged soldiery were distinctly heard, like the roaring of a forest torn by a tempest. Aurelian, baring his sword, and calling upon his friends to do the same, sprang toward the entrance of the tent. They were met by the dense throng of the soldiers, who now pressed against the tent, and whose savage yells now could be heard,—

'"The head of Zenobia."—"Deliver the Queen to our will."—"Throw out the head of Zenobia, and we will return to our quarters."—"She belongs to us."

'At the same moment the sides of the tent were thrown up, showing the whole plain filled with the heaving multitude, and being itself instantly crowded with the ringleaders and their more desperate associates. Zenobia, supporting the Princess, who clung to her, and pale through a just apprehension of every horror, but otherwise firm and undaunted, cried out to Aurelian, "Save us, O Emperor, from this foul butchery!"

'"We will die else!" replied the Emperor; who with the word, sprang upon a soldier making toward the Queen, and with a blow clove him to the earth. Then swinging round him that sword which had drunk the blood of thousands, and followed by the gigantic Sandarion, by Probus, and Carus, a space around the Queen was soon cleared.

'"Back, ruffians," cried Aurelian, in a voice of thunder, "for you are no longer Romans! back to the borders of the tent. There I will hear your complaints." The soldiers fell back, and their ferocious cries ceased.

'"Now," cried the Emperor, addressing them, "what is your will, that thus in wild disorder you throng my tent?"

'One from the crowd replied—"Our will is that the Queen of Palmyra be delivered to us as our right, instantly. Thousands and thousands of our bold companions lie buried upon these accursed plains, slain by her and her fiery engines. We demand her life. It is but justice, and faint justice too."

'"Her life!"—"Her life!"—arose in one shout from the innumerable throng.

'The Emperor raised his hand, waving his sword dropping with the blood of the slain soldier; the noise subsided; and his voice, clear and loud like the tone of a trumpet, went to the farthest bounds of the multitude.

'"Soldiers," he cried, "you ask for justice; and justice you shall have."—"Aurelian is ever just!" cried many voices.—"But you shall not have the life of the Queen of Palmyra."—He paused; a low murmur went through the crowd.—"Or you must first take the life of your Emperor, and of these who stand with him."—The soldiers were silent.—"In asking the life of Zenobia," he continued, "you know not what you ask. Are any here who went with Valerian to the Persian war?" A few voices responded, "I was there,—and I,—and I."—"Are there any here whose parents, or brothers, or friends fell into the tiger clutches of the barbarian Sapor, and died miserably in hopeless captivity?"—Many voices every where throughout the crowd were heard in reply, "Yes, yes,—Mine were there, and mine."—"Did you ever hear it said," continued Aurelian, "that Rome lifted a finger for their rescue, or for that of the good Valerian?"—They were silent, some crying, "No, no."—"Know then, that when Rome forgot her brave soldiers and her Emperor, Zenobia remembered and avenged them; and Rome fallen into contempt with the Persian, was raised to her ancient renown by the arms of her ally, the brave Zenobia, and her dominions throughout the East saved from the grasp of Sapor only by her valor. While Gallienus wallowed in sensuality and forgot Rome, and even his own great father, the Queen of Palmyra stood forth, and with her royal husband, the noble Odenatus, was in truth the savior of the empire. And is it her life you would have? Were that a just return? Were that Roman magnanimity? And grant that thousands of your brave companions lie buried upon these plains: it is but the fortune of war. Were they not slain in honorable fight, in the siege of a city, for its defence unequalled in all the annals of war? Cannot Romans honor courage and conduct, though in an enemy? But you ask for justice. I have said you shall have justice. You shall. It is right that the heads and advisers of this revolt, for such the senate deems it, should be cut off. It is the ministers of princes who are the true devisers of a nation's acts. These, when in our power, shall be yours. And now, who, soldiers! stirred up this mutiny, bringing inexpiable shame upon our brave legions? Who are the leaders of the tumult?"

'Enough were found to name them;

'"Firmus! Carinus! the Centurions Plancus! Tatius! Burrhus! Valens! Crispinus!"

'"Guards! seize them and hew them down. Soldiers! to your tents." The legions fell back as tumultuously as they had come together; the faster, as the dying groans of the slaughtered ringleaders fell upon their ears.

'The tent of the Emperor was once more restored to order. After a brief conversation, in which Aurelian expressed his shame for the occurrence of such disorders in the presence of the Queen, the guard were commanded to convey back to the palace of Seleucus, whence they had been taken, Zenobia and the Princess.'

Such are the principal matters contained in the communications of Nichomachus.

When the facts contained in them became known, the senate, the council, the army, and the people, agreed in the belief, that the Queen's safety and their own would now be best secured by an immediate capitulation. Accordingly, heralds bearing letters from Longinus, in the name of the council, proceeded to the Roman camp. No other terms could be obtained than a verbal promise that the city, the walls, and the common people should be spared; but the surrender, beyond that, must be unconditional.

Upon learning the terms prescribed by the conqueror, many were for further resistance. 'The language of Aurelian,' they said, 'is ambiguous. He will spare the city, walls, and common people. Are our senators and counsellors to be sacrificed? Are they, who have borne the burden of the day, now to be selected, as the only ones who are to suffer? It shall not be so.'

Generous sentiments like these were heard on all sides. But they were answered and overcome, by Gracchus especially, and others. Said Gracchus to the people, 'Doubtless punishment will be inflicted by Rome upon some. Our resistance is termed by her, rebellion, revolt, conspiracy; the leaders will be sought and punished. It is ever her course. But this is a light evil compared with a wide-spread massacre of this whole population, the destruction of these famous temples, the levelling of these proud walls. Aurelian has said that these shall he spared. His word, though an unwritten and informal one, may he trusted. My counsel is, that it be at once accepted. What if a few grey heads among us are taken off? That will not touch the existence or prosperity of Palmyra. You can spare them. Your children will soon grow up to take our places, and fill them, I hope, with a better wisdom.'

But such words only served at first the more to strengthen the people in their resolution, that their rulers should not be the only sacrifice. None were loved throughout the city more than Gracchus and Otho, none revered like Longinus. It was a long and painful struggle between affection and the convictions of reason before it ended, and the consent of the people was obtained to deliver up the city to the mercy of Aurelian. But it was obtained.

I was sitting with Fausta and Calpurnius, speaking of the things that had happened, and of the conduct of the Queen, when Gracchus entered and joined us, informing us that 'ambassadors were now gone to the camp of Aurelian, clothed with authority to deliver up the city into his hands. So that now the end has drawn on, and Palmyra ceases to exist.'

Fausta, although knowing that this must happen, and might at any moment, could not hear the fatal words, announcing the death of her country, as she deemed it, and quenching forever in darkness the bright dreams upon which she had fed so long, without renewed grief. We were a long time silent.

'Something yet remains,' at length Gracchus resumed, 'for us to resolve upon and do. Before many hours have elapsed, a Roman army will fill the streets of the city, perhaps our houses also, and a general plunder may be commenced of all the valuables we possess. It will be useless to conceal what it will be well enough known, from the manner in which we live, must be beneath our roof. It will but expose our lives. Yet, Fausta, your jewels, valued by you as gifts, and other things precious for the same or a like reason, may easily be secreted, nor yet be missed by the licensed robbers. See to this, my child; but except this there is now naught to do concerning such affairs, but to sit still and observe the general wreck. But there are other and weightier matters to be decided upon, and that at once.'

'Concerning the care of ourselves, you mean?' said Fausta.

'I do,' replied Gracchus.

'I,' said Fausta, 'would remain here, where I am.'

'It is that which I wish,' replied her father. 'I commit you to the care of Lucius. For Calpurnius, he must leave you, and as he would live, fly if that yet be possible beyond the walls, or conceal himself within them.'

'Never!' said Calpurnius; 'I can do neither. I have never shunned a danger—and I cannot.'

'Let pride and passion now,' said Gracchus, 'go fast asleep. We have no occasion for them; they are out of place, dealing as we now do with stern necessities. Your life will be especially sought by Aurelian; it is a life that cannot be spared. Fausta needs you. In you she must find, or nowhere, father, husband, friend. Lucius, when these troubles are over, will return to Rome, and I shall be in the keeping of Aurelian. You must live; for her sake, if not for your own.'

'For mine too, surely, if for hers,' replied Calpurnius.

'Father,' said Fausta, throwing her arms around him, 'why, why must you fall into the hands of Aurelian? Why not, with Calpurnius, fly from these now hated walls?'

'My daughter!' replied Gracchus, 'let not your love of me make you forgetful of what I owe my own name and our country's. Am I not bound by the words of Aurelian?—"He will spare the city and the common people"—reserving for himself their rulers and advisers. Were they all to fly or shrink into concealment, can we doubt that then the fury of the fierce Roman would discharge itself upon the helpless people, and men, women and children suffer in our stead? And shall I fly while the rest are true to their trust?'

'The gods forbid!' sobbed Fausta.

'Now you are yourself again. Life is of little account with me. For you I would willingly hold on upon it, though in any event my grasp would be rapidly growing weaker and weaker; age would come and weaken and dissolve it. But for myself, I can truly say, I survey the prospect of death with indifference. Life is one step; death is another. I have taken the first, I am as ready to take the second. But to preserve life, agreeable as I have found it, by any sacrifice—'

'O, that were dying twice!' said Fausta; 'I know it.'

'Be thankful then that I shall die but once, and so dry your tears. Of nothing am I more clear, than that if the loss of my head will bring security to the city and the people, I can offer it to the executioner with scarce a single regret. But let us leave this. But few hours remain to do what is yet to be done.'

It was so indeed. Already the commotion in the streets indicated that the entrance of the Roman army was each moment expected.

It was determined that Calpurnius should avail himself of the old conduit, and fly beyond the walls. To this he consented, though with pain; and bidding us farewell, departed. Fausta retired to fulfil the injunctions of her father, while Gracchus employed himself in arranging a few papers, to be entrusted to my keeping.

In the course of a few hours the gates of the city were thrown open, and the army of the conqueror made its unobstructed entrance. Soon as the walls were secured, the towers of the gates, and the arms of the Queen's remaining forces, Aurelian himself approached, and by the Roman gate passed into a city that had cost him so dear to gain. He rode through its principal streets and squares, gazing with admiration at the magnificence which every where met his view. As he arrived at the far-famed Temple of the Sun, and was told to what deity it was dedicated, he bared his head, flung himself from his horse, and on foot, followed by an innumerable company of Romans, ascended its long flight of steps, and there within its walls returned solemn thanks to the great God of Light, the protecting deity of his house, for the success that had crowned his arms.

When this act of worship had been performed, and votive offerings had been hung upon the columns of the temple, the Emperor came forth, and after visiting and inspecting all that was beautiful and rare, made proclamation of his will concerning the city and its inhabitants. This was, that all gold and silver, precious stones, all pictures, statues, and other works of art, were to be placed in the hands of the Romans, and that all the members of the Queen's senate and council, with the nobility, were to be delivered up as prisoners of war, together with certain specified portions of the army. Beyond these requisitions, the persons and property of the citizens were to be respected. No violence of any kind on the part of the soldiers would be allowed, or pardoned if committed.

Immediately upon this, the Roman army was converted into a body of laborers and artisans, employed in the construction of wains of every form and size, for the transportation across the desert to the sea-coast, of whatever would adorn the triumph of Aurelian, or add to the riches of the great capital of the world. Vast numbers of elephants and camels were collected from the city, and from all the neighboring territory, with which to drag the huge and heavy loaded wagons through the deep sands and over the rough and rocky plains of Syria. The palaces of the nobles and the wealthy merchants have been stripped of every embellishment of art and taste. The private and public gardens, the fountains, the porticos, have each and all been robbed of every work, in either marble or brass, which had the misfortune or the merit to have been wrought by artists of distinguished names. The palaces of the Queen and of Longinus were objects of especial curiosity and desire, and, as it were, their entire contents, after being secured with utmost art from possibility of injury, have been piled upon carriages prepared for them, ready for their journey toward Rome. It was pitiful to look on and see this wide desolation of scenes, that so little while ago had offered to the eye all that the most cultivated taste could have required for its gratification. The citizens stood around in groups, silent witnesses of the departing glories of their city and nation.

But the sight saddest of all to behold, was that of the senators and counsellors of Palmyra, led guarded from the city to the camp of Aurelian. All along the streets through which they passed, the people stood in dumb and motionless array, to testify in that expressive manner their affection and their grief. Voices were indeed occasionally heard invoking the blessings of the gods upon them, or imprecating curses upon the head of the scourge Aurelian. Whenever Longinus and Gracchus appeared, their names were uttered in the tones with which children would cry out to venerated parents, whom they beheld for the last time; beheld borne away from them by a power they could not resist to captivity or death. No fear of the legion that surrounded them availed to repress or silence such testimonies of regard. And if confidence was reposed in the Roman soldiery, that they would not, because conquerors and the power was theirs, churlishly deny them the freedom to relieve in that manner their over-burdened hearts, it was not—happy was I, as a Roman, to witness it—misplaced. They resented it not either by word or look or act, but moved on like so many statues in mail, turning neither to the one hand nor the other, nor apparently so much as hearing the reproaches which were by some lavished upon them and their Emperor.

Livia, Faustula, and the other inmates of the palace have joined Zenobia and Julia, by order of Aurelian, at the house of Seleucus. The Caesars, Herennianus and Timolaus, have fled or concealed themselves; Vabalathus has surrendered himself, and has accompanied the princesses to the Roman camp.

How desolate is the house of Gracchus, deprived of its princely head!—especially as the mind cannot help running forward and conjecturing the fate which awaits him. Fausta surrenders herself to her grief—loss of country and of parent, at one and the same moment, is loss too great for her to bear with fortitude. Her spirit, so alive to affection and every generous sentiment, is almost broken by these sorrows and disappointments. I did not witness the parting between her and Gracchus, and happy am I that I did not. Her agony was in proportion to her love and her sensibility. I have not met her since. She remains within her own apartments, seen only by her favorite slaves. A double darkness spreads around while Fausta too is withdrawn.

It appeared to me now, my Curtius, as if something might be done on my part in behalf of Gracchus. According to the usages of Rome, the chief persons among the prisoners, and who might be considered as the leaders of the rebellion, I knew would die either at once, or at farthest, when Aurelian should re-enter Rome as the conqueror of the East. I considered that by reason of the growing severity of the Emperor toward all, friends as well as foes—amounting, as many now deem, to cruelty—the danger to Gracchus was extreme, beyond any power perhaps to avert. Yet I remembered, at the same time, the generous traits in Aurelian's character; his attachment toward old friends; his gratitude for services rendered him in the early part of his life, while making his way up through the lower posts of the army. It seemed to me that he was open to solicitation; that he would not refuse to hear me—a friend—the son of Cneius Piso—with what object soever I might present myself before him: and that, consequently, there was from this quarter a ray of hope, however small, for the father of our beloved Fausta.

Accordingly, so soon as the affairs at first calling for the entire devotion of Aurelian were through, and I knew that his leisure would allow of an interruption, I sought the Roman camp, and asked an audience of the Emperor. It was immediately granted.

As I entered his tent, Aurelian was seated at a table holding in his hand a parchment scroll, which he seemed intently considering. His stern countenance lowered over it like a thunder-cloud. I stood there where I had entered a few moments before he seemed aware of the presence of any one. His eye then falling almost accidentally upon me, he suddenly rose, and with the manner of his ancient friendship warmly greeted me.

'I am glad,' said he, 'to meet so true a Roman in these distant parts.'

'I am still a true Roman,' I replied, 'notwithstanding I have been, during this siege, upon the side of the enemy.'

'I doubt it not. I am not ignorant of the causes that led you to Palmyra, and have detained you there. Henceforward your Roman blood must be held of the purest, for as I learn, and since I have seen can believe, they are few who have come within the magic circle of the late Queen, who have not lost their name and freedom—themselves fastening on the chains of her service.'

'You have heard truly. Her court and camp are filled with those who at first perhaps sought her capital, as visiters of curiosity or traffic, but being once within the marvellous influence of her presence, have remained there her friends or servants. She is irresistible.'

'And well nigh so in war too. In Rome they make themselves merry at my expense, inasmuch as I have been warring thus with a woman—not a poet in the garrets of the Via Coeli, but has entertained the city with his couplets upon the invincible Aurelian, beset here in the East by an army of women, who seem likely to subdue him by their needles or their charms. Nay, the Senate looks on and laughs. By the immortal gods! they know not of what they speak. Julius Caesar himself, Piso, never displayed a better genius than this woman. Twice have I saved my army but by stratagem. I give the honor of those days to Zenobia. It belongs to her rather than to me. Palmyra may well boast of Antioch and Emesa. Your brother did her good service there. I trust, for your sake and for mine, he will not fall into my hands.'

That dark and cruel frown, which marks Aurelian, grew above and around his eyes.

'I never,' he continued, 'forgive a traitor to his country.'

'Yet,' I ventured to say, 'surely the circumstances of his captivity, and long abandonment, may plead somewhat in extenuation of his fault.'

'Never. His crime is beyond the reach of pardon.'

Aurelian had evidently supposed that I came to seek favor for Calpurnius. But this I had not intended to do, as Calpurnius had long ago resolved never again to dwell within the walls of Rome, I then opened the subject of my visit.

'I have come,' I said, 'not to seek the pardon of Calpurnius Piso. Such, to my grief, is his hostility toward Rome, that he would neither seek nor accept mercy at her hands. He has forsworn his country, and never willingly will set foot within her borders. He dwells henceforward in Asia. But there is another—'

'You would speak of Gracchus. It cannot be. Longinus excepted, he is the first citizen of Palmyra. If the Queen be spared, these must suffer. It is due to the army, and to justice, and to vengeance. The soldiers have clamored for the blood of Zenobia, and it has been at no small cost that her and her daughter's life have been redeemed. But I have sworn it, they shall live; my blood shall flow before theirs. Zenobia has done more for Rome than many an Emperor. Besides, I would that Rome should see with her own eyes who it is has held even battle with Roman legions so long, that they may judge me to have had a worthy antagonist. She must grace my triumph.'

'I truly thank the gods,' I said, 'that it is so resolved! Fortune has placed me, while in her dominions, near the Queen, and though a Roman, I have come to love and revere her even like a Palmyrene. Would that the like clemency might be shown toward Gracchus! There is no greatness like mercy.'

'I may not, noble Piso, win glory to myself at the cost of Rome. On the field of battle I and Rome win together. In pardoning her enemies fallen into my power, I may indeed crown myself with the praise of magnanimity in the eye of the world, while by the same act I wound my country. No rebellion is quelled, till the heads that moved and guided it are off—off. Who is ignorant that Longinus, that subtle Greek, has been the master-spring in this great revolt? and hand and hand with him Gracchus? Well should I deserve the gibes and sneers of the Roman mob, if I turned my back upon the great work I have achieved, leaving behind me spirits like these to brew fresh trouble. Nor, holding to this as it may seem to you harsh decision, am I forgetful, Piso, of our former friendship; nor of the helping hand often stretched out to do me service of Cneius Piso, your great parent. I must trust in this to your generosity or justice, to construe me aright. Fidelity to Rome must come before private friendship, or even gratitude. Am I understood?'

'I think so.'

'Neither must you speak to me of Longinus the learned Greek—the accomplished scholar—the great philosopher. He has thrown aside the scholar and the philosopher in putting on the minister. He is to me known only as the Queen's chief adviser; Palmyra's strength; the enemy of Rome. As such he has been arrayed against me; as such he has fallen a prisoner into my hands; as such he must feel the sword of the Roman executioner. Gracchus—I would willingly for thy sake, Piso, spare him—the more, as I hear thou art betrothed to his far-famed daughter, she who upon the fields of Antioch and Emesa filled with amazement even Roman soldiers.'

To say that instead of me it was Calpurnius to whom she was betrothed, would seem to have sealed the fate of Gracchus at the moment there was a gleam of hope. I only said,

'She was the life of the Queen's army. She falls but little below her great mistress.'

'I believe it. These women of Palmyra are the true wonder of the age. When for the first time I found myself before Zenobia and her daughter, it is no shame for me to confess that it was hard for the moment to believe myself Aurelian and conqueror. I was ready to play the subject; I scarce kept myself from an oriental prostration. Never, Piso, was such beauty seen in Rome. Rome now has an Empress worthy of her—unless a Roman Emperor may sue in vain. Think you not with me? You have seen the Princess Julia?'

You can pity me, Curtius and Lucilia. I said only,

'I have. Her beauty is rare indeed, but by many, nay by most, her sister, the Princess Livia, is esteemed before her.'

'Hah! Nay, but that cannot be. The world itself holds not another like the elder Princess, much less the same household. He seemed as if he would have added more, but his eye fell upon the scroll before him, and it changed the current of his thoughts and the expression of his countenance, which again grew dark as when I first entered the tent. He muttered over as to himself the names of 'Gracchus,' 'Fausta,' 'the very life of their cause,' 'the people's chief trust,' and other broken sentences of the same kind. He then suddenly recommenced:

'Piso, I know not that even I have power to grant thy suit. I have saved, with some hazard, the life of the Queen and her daughter; in doing it I promised to the soldiers, in their place, the best blood of Palmyra, and theirs it is by right. It will not be easy to wrest Gracchus from their hands. It will bring danger to myself, to the Queen, and to the empire. It may breed a fatal revolt. But, Piso, for the noble Portia's sake, the living representative of Cneius Piso my early friend, for thine, and chiefly for the reason that thou art affianced to the warlike daughter of the princely Palmyrene—'

'Great Prince,' said I—for it was now my turn to speak,—'pardon me that I break in upon your speech, but I cannot by a deception, however slight and unintentional, purchase the life even of a friend.'

'To what does this tend?'

'It is not I who am affianced to the daughter of Gracchus, but Calpurnius Piso my brother and the enemy of Rome. If my hope for Gracchus rests but where you have placed it, it must be renounced. Rumor has dealt falsely with you.'

'I am sorry for it. You know me, Piso, well enough to believe me—I am sorry for it. That plea would have availed me more than any. Yet it is right that he should die, It is the custom of war. The legions clamor for his death—it has been promised—it is due to justice and revenge. Piso, he must die!'

I however did not cease to importune. As Aurelian had spoken of Portia, I too spoke of her, and refrained not from bringing freshly before his memory the characters of both my parents, and especially the services of my father. The Emperor was noways displeased, but on the contrary, as I recurred to the early periods of his career, when he was a Centurion in Germany, under tutelage to the experienced Cneius Piso, he himself took up the story, and detained me long with the history of his life and actions, while serving with and under my father—and then afterward when in Gaul, in Africa, and in the East. Much curious narrative, the proper source of history, I heard from the great actor himself, during this long interview. It was terminated by the entrance of Sandarion, upon pressing business with the Emperor, whereupon I withdrew, Gracchus not being again named, but leaving his fate in the hands of the master of the world, and yet—how often has it been so with our Emperors—the slave of his own soldiers. I returned to the city.

The following day I again saw Fausta—now pale, melancholy and silent. I told her of my interview with Aurelian, and of its doubtful issue. She listened to me with a painful interest, as if wishing a favorable result, yet not daring to hope. When I had ended, she said,

'You have done all, Lucius, that can be done, yet it avails little or nothing. Would that Aurelian had thought women worthy his regard so much as to have made me a prisoner too. I can now feel how little one may fear death, dying in a certain cause. Palmyra is now dead, and I care no more for life. And if Gracchus is to die too, how much rather would I die with him, than live without him. And this is not as it may seem, infidelity to Calpurnius. I love him better than I ever thought to have loved anything beside Palmyra and Gracchus. But my love for these is from my infancy, and is in reason stronger than the other. The gods make it so, not I. I love Calpurnius with all that is left. When does the army depart?'

'To-morrow, as I learn. I shall follow it to Emesa, for it is there, so it is reported, that the fate of the prisoners will be decided.'

'Do so, Lucius, and by bribery, cunning, or force, find your way to the presence of Gracchus. Be not denied. Tell him—but no, you know what I would say; I cannot—' and a passionate flood of tears came to her relief.

The preparations of the army are now completed. The city has been drained of its wealth and its embellishments. Scarce anything is left but the walls and buildings, which are uninjured, the lives and the industry of the inhabitants. Sandarion is made Governor of the city and province, with, as it seems to me, a very incompetent force to support his authority. Yet the citizens are, as they have been since the day the contest was decided, perfectly peaceable—nay, I rather should say, stupid and lethargic. There appear to be on the part of Aurelian no apprehensions of future disturbance.

I have stood upon the walls and watched till the last of the Romans has disappeared beyond the horizon, Two days have been spent in getting into motion and beyond the precincts of the city and suburbs, the army with its innumerable wagons—its long trains of elephants, and camels, and horses. Not only Palmyra, but the whole East, seems to have taken its departure for the Mediterranean. For the carriages were hardly to be numbered which have borne away for the Roman amphitheatres wild animals of every kind, collected from every part of Asia, together with innumerable objects of curiosity and works of art.

Letter XVI.

I write to you, Curtius, as from my last you were doubtless led to expect, from Emesa, a Syrian town of some consequence, filled now to overflowing with the Roman army. Here Aurelian reposes for a while, after the fatigues of the march across the desert, and here justice is to be inflicted upon the leaders of the late revolt, as by Rome it is termed.

The prisons are crowded with the great, and noble, and good, of Palmyra. All those with whom I have for the last few months mingled so much, whose hospitality I have shared, whose taste, accomplishments, and elegant displays of wealth I have admired, are now here immured in dungeons, and awaiting that death which their virtues, not their vices nor their crimes, have drawn upon them. For I suppose it will be agreed, that if ever mankind do that which claims the name and rank of virtue, it is when they freely offer up their lives for their country, and for a cause which, whatever may be their misjudgment in the case, they believe to be the cause of liberty. Man is then greater in his disinterestedness, in the spirit with which he renounces himself, and offers his neck to the axe of the executioner, than he can be clothed in any robe of honor, or sitting upon any throne of power. Which is greater in the present instance, Longinus, Gracchus, Otho—or Aurelian—I cannot doubt for a moment; although I fear that you, Curtius, were I to declare my opinion, would hardly agree with me. Strange that such a sacrifice as this which is about to be made, can be thought to be necessary! It is not necessary; nor can Aurelian himself in his heart deem it so. It is a peace-offering to the blood-thirsty legions, who, well do I know it—for I have been of them—- love no sight so well as the dying throes of an enemy. It is, I am told, with an impatience hardly to be restrained within the bounds of discipline, that they wait for the moment, when their eyes shall be feasted with the flowing blood and headless trunks of the brave defenders of Palmyra. I see that this is so, whenever I pass by a group of soldiers, or through the camp. Their conversation seems to turn upon nothing else than the vengeance due to them upon those who have thinned their ranks of one half their numbers, and who, themselves shielded by their walls, looked on and beheld in security the slaughter which they made. They cry out for the blood of every Palmyrene brought across the desert. My hope for Gracchus is small; not more, however, because of this clamor of the legions, than on account of the stern and almost cruel nature of Aurelian himself. He is himself a soldier. He is one of the legions. His sympathies are with them, one of whom he so long has been, and from whom he sprang. The gratifications which he remembers himself so often to have sought and so dearly to have prized, he is willing to bestow upon those who he knows feel as he once did. He may speak of his want of power to resist the will of the soldiers; but I almost doubt his sincerity, since nothing can equal the terror and reverence with which he is regarded throughout the army; reverence for his genius, terror for his passions, which, when excited, rage with the fury of a madman, and wreak themselves upon all upon whom the least suspicion falls, though among his most trusted friends. To this terror, as you well know, his bodily strength greatly adds.

It was my first office to seek the presence of Gracchus. I found, upon inquiry, that both he and Longinus were confined in the same prison, and in the charge of the same keeper. I did not believe that I should experience difficulty in gaining admission to them, and I found it so.

Applying to the jailer for admittance to Gracchus the Palmyrene, I was told that but few were allowed to see him, and such only whose names had been given him. Upon giving him my name, he said that it was one which was upon his list, and I might enter. 'Make the most of your time,' he added, 'for to-morrow is the day set for the general execution.'

'So soon?' I said.

'Aye,' he replied, 'and that is scarce soon enough to keep the soldiers quiet. Since they have lost the Queen, they are suspicious lest the others, or some of them, may escape too,—so that they are well guarded, I warrant you.'

'Is the Queen,' I asked, 'under your guard, and within the same prison?'

'The Queen?' he rejoined, and lowering his tone added, 'she is far enough from here. If others know it not, I know that she is well on her way to Rome. She has let too much Roman blood for her safety within reach of Roman swords, I can tell you—Aurelian notwithstanding. That butchery of the Centurions did neither any good.'

'You say to-morrow is the day appointed for the execution?'

'So I said. But you will scarce believe it when you see the prisoners. They seem rather as if they were for Rome upon a journey of pleasure, than so soon for the axe. But walk in. And when you would be let out, make a signal by drawing the cord which you will find within the inner ward.'

I passed in, and meeting another officer of the prison, was by him shown the door that led to the cell of Gracchus, and the cord by which I was to make the necessary signal.

I unbarred the door and entered. Gracchus, who was pacing to and fro in his apartment, upon seeing who his visiter was, greeted me in his cordial, cheerful way. His first inquiry was,

'Is Fausta well?'

'I left her well; well as her grief would allow her to be.'

'My room is narrow, Piso, but it offers two seats. Let us sit. This room is not our hall in Palmyra, nor the banqueting room—this window is too small—nay, it is in some sort but a crevice—and this ceiling is too low—and these webs of the spider, the prisoner's friend, are not our purple hangings—but it might all be worse. I am free of chains, I can walk the length of my room and back again, and there is light enough from our chink to see a friend's face by. Yet far as these things are from worst, I trust not to be annoyed or comforted by them long. You have done kindly, Piso, to seek me out thus remote from Palmyra, and death will be lighter for your presence. I am glad to see you.'

'I could not, as you may easily suppose, remain in Palmyra, and you here and thus. For Fausta's sake and my own, I must be here. Although I should not speak a word, nor you, there is a happiness in being near and in seeing.'

'There is. Confinement for a long period of time were robbed of much of its horror, if there were near you but a single human countenance, and that a stranger's, upon which you might look, especially if you might read there pity and affection. Then if this countenance should be that of one known and beloved, it would be almost like living in society, even though speech were prohibited. Tyrants know this—these walls are the proof of it. Aurelian is not a tyrant in this sense. He is not without magnanimity. Are you here with his knowledge?'

'By his express provision. The jailer had been furnished with my name. You are right surely, touching the character of Aurelian. Though rude and unlettered, and severe almost to cruelty, there are generous sentiments within which shed a softening light, if inconstant, upon the darker traits. I would conceal nothing from you, Gracchus; as I would do nothing without your approbation. I know your indifference to life. I know that you would not purchase a day by any unworthy concession, by any doubtful act or word. Relying with some confidence upon the generosity of Aurelian—'

'Why, Lucius, so hesitating and indirect? You would say that you have appealed to Aurelian for my life—and that hope is not extinct in your mind of escape from this appointed death.'

'That is what I would say. The Emperor inclines to spare your life, but wavers. Shall I seek another interview with him? And is there any argument which you would that I should urge?—or—would you rather that I should forbear? It is, Gracchus, because I feared lest I had been doing you a displeasing and undesired service, that I have now spoken.'

'Piso, it is the simple truth when I say that I anticipate the hour and the moment of death with the same indifference and composure that I do any, the most common event. I have schooled myself to patience. Acquiescence in the will of the gods—if gods there are—or which is the same thing, in the order of events, is the temper which, since I have reflected at all, I have cultivated, and to which I can say I have fully attained. I throw myself upon the current of life, unresisting, to be wafted withersoever it will. I look with desire neither to this shore nor the opposite, to one port nor another, but wherever I am borne and permitted to act, I straightway find there and in that my happiness. Not that one allotment is not in itself preferable to another, but that there being so much of life over which man has no control, and cannot, if he would, secure his felicity, I think it wiser to renounce all action and endeavor concerning it—receiving what is sent or happens with joy if it be good, without complaint if it be evil. In this manner have I secured an inward calm, which has been as a fountain of life. My days, whether they have been dark ones or bright, as others term them, have flowed along a smooth and even current. Under misfortune, I believe I have enjoyed more from this my inward frame, than many a son of prosperity has in the very height of his glory. That which so disturbs the peace of multitudes—even of philosophers—the prospect of death, has occasioned me not one moment's disquiet. It is true, I know not what it is—do I know what life is?—but that is no reason why I should fear it. One thing I know, which is this, that it will come, as it comes to all, and that I cannot escape it. It may take me where it will, I shall be content. If it be but a change, and I live again elsewhere, I shall be glad, especially if I am then exempt from evils in my condition which assail me here; if it be extinction of being, it will but resemble those nights when I sleep without dreaming—it will not yield any delights, but it will not bring affright nor torment. I desire not to entertain, and I do not entertain either hope or fear. I am passive. My will is annihilated. The object of my life has been to secure the greatest amount of pleasure—that being the best thing of which we can conceive. This I have done by acting right. I have found happiness, or that which we agree to call so, in acting in accordance with that part of my nature which prescribes the lines of duty: not in any set of philosophical opinions; not in expectations in futurity; not in any fancies or dreams; but in the substantial reality of virtuous action. I have sought to treat both myself and others in such a way, that afterward I should not hear from either a single word of reproach. In this way of life I have for the most part succeeded, as any one can who will apply his powers as he may if he will. I have at this hour, which it may be is the last of my life, no complaints to make or hear against myself. So too in regard to others. At least I know not that there is one living whom I have wronged, and to whom I owe the least reparation. Now therefore by living in the best manner for this life on earth, I have prepared myself in the best manner for death, and for another life, if there be one. If there be none—still what I have enjoyed I have enjoyed, and it has been more than any other manner of life could have afforded. So that in any event, I am like a soldier armed at all points. To me, Piso, to die is no more than to go on to live. Both are events: to both I am alike indifferent; I know nothing about either. As for the pain of death, it is not worthy a moment's thought, even if it were considerable—but it appears to me that it is not. I have many times witnessed it, and it has ever seemed that death, so far from being represented by any word signifying pain, would be better expressed by one that should stand for insensibility. The nearer death the nearer apathy. There is pain which often precedes it, in various forms of sickness; but this is sickness, not death. Such pains we often endure and recover; worse often than apparently are endured by those who die.'

'I perceive then, Gracchus, that I have given you neither pain nor pleasure by any thing I have done.'

'Not that exactly. It has given me pleasure that you have sought to do me a service. For myself, it will weigh but little whether you succeed or fail. Your intercession has not displeased me. It cannot affect my good name. For Fausta's sake—'at her name he paused as if for strength—'and because she wishes it, I would rather live than die. Otherwise my mind is even-poised, inclining neither way.'

'But would it not afford you, Gracchus, a sensible pleasure, if, supposing you are now to die, you could anticipate with certainty a future existence? You are now, you say, in a state of indifference, as to life or death? Above all you are delivered from all apprehensions concerning death and futurity. This is, it cannot be denied, a great felicity. You are able to sit here calm and composed. But it seems to me, if you were possessed of a certain expectation of immortality, you would be very much animated and transported, as it were, with the prospect of the wonderful scenes so soon to be revealed. If, with such a belief, you could turn back your eye upon as faultless and virtuous a life as you have passed, you would cast it forward with feelings far from those of indifference.'

'What you assert is very true: doubtless it would be as you say. I can conceive that death may be approached not only with composure, but with a bursting impatience; just as the youthful traveller pants to leap from the vessel that bears him to a foreign land. This would be the case if we were as secure of another and happier life as we are certain that we live now. In future ages, perhaps through the discoveries of reason, perhaps by disclosures from superior beings, it may be so universally, and death come to be regarded even with affection, as the great deliverer and rewarder. But at present it is very different; I have found no evidence to satisfy me in any of the systems of ancient or modern philosophers, from Pythagoras to Seneca, and our own Longinus, either of the existence of a God, or of the reality of a future life. It seems to me oftentimes in certain frames of mind, but they are transient, as if both were true; they feel true, but that is all. I find no evidence beyond this inward feeling at all complete and sufficient; and this feeling is nothing, it is of the nature of a dream, I cannot rely upon it. So that I have, as I still judge, wisely intrenched myself behind indifference. I have never indulged in idle lamentations over evils that could not be removed, nor do I now. Submission is the law of my life, the sum of my philosophy.'

'The Christians,' I here said, 'seem to possess that which all so much desire, a hope, amounting to a certain expectation, of immortality. They all, so I am informed, the poor and the humble, as well as the rich and the learned, live while they live, as feeling themselves to be only passengers here, and when they die, die as those who pass from one stage of a journey to another. To them death loses its character of death, and is associated rather in their minds with life. It is a beginning rather than an ending; a commencement, not a consummation; being born, not dying.'

'So I have heard; but I have never considered their doctrine. The Christian philosophy or doctrine is almost the only one of all, which lay claim to such distinction, that I have not studied. I have been repelled from that I suppose by seeing it in so great proportion the property of the vulgar. What they so rejoiced in, it has appeared to me, could not at the same time be what would yield me either pleasure or wisdom. At least in other things the vulgar and the refined seek their knowledge and their pleasures from very different sources. I cannot conceive of the same philosophy approving itself to both classes. Do you learn, Piso, when the time for the execution of the prisoners is appointed?'

'To-morrow, as I heard from the jailer.'

'To-morrow. It is well. Yet I marvel that the jailer told not me. I am somewhat more concerned to know the hour than you, yet to you he has imparted what he has withheld from me. He is a partial knave. Have you yet seen Longinus?'

'I have not, but shall visit him in the morning.'

'Do so. He will receive you with pleasure. Tell me if he continues true in his affections for the Queen. His is a great trial, laboring, as at first he did, to turn her from the measures that have come to this end; now dying, because at last, out of friendship for her rather than anything else, he espoused her cause. Yet it is almost the same with me. And for myself, the sweetest feeling of this hour is, that I die for Zenobia, and that perhaps my death is in part the sacrifice that spares her. Incomparable woman! how the hearts of those who have known thee are bound to thee, so that thy very errors and faults are esteemed to be virtues!'

Our conversation here ended, and I turned from the prison, resolved to seek the presence of Aurelian. I did so. He received me with urbanity as before, but neither confirmed my hopes nor my fears. I returned again to the cell of Gracchus, with whom, in various, and to me most instructive conversation, we passed the remainder of the day.

In the morning, with a spirit heavy and sad, burdened indeed with a grief such as I never before had experienced, I turned to seek the apartment of Longinus. It was not far from that of Gracchus. The keeper of the prison readily admitted me, saying, 'that free intercourse was allowed the prisoners with all whom it was their desire to see, and that there were several friends of Longinus already with him.' With these words he let fall a heavy bar, and the door of the cell creaked upon its hinges.

The room into which I passed seemed a dungeon, rather than any thing else or better, for the only light it had, came from a small barred window far above the reach. Longinus was seated near a massy central column, to which he was bound by a chain; his friends were around him, with whom he appeared to have been engaged in earnest conversation, He rose as I approached him, and saluted me with the grace that is natural to him, and which is expressive, not more of his high breeding, than of an inward benevolence that goes forth and embraces all who draw near him.

'Although,' said he, 'I am forsaken of that which men call fortune, yet I am not forgotten by my friends. So that the best things remain. Piso, I rejoice truly to see you. These whom you behold are pupils and friends whom you have often met at my house, if this dim light will allow you to distinguish them.'

'My eyes are not yet so used to darkness as to see with much distinctness, but I recognise well-known faces.'

After mutual salutations, Longinus said, 'Let me now first inquire concerning the daughter of Gracchus, that bright emanation of the Deity. I trust in the gods she is well!'

'I left her,' I replied, 'overwhelmed by sorrow. To lose at once country, parent, and friends, is loss too great I fear for her. Death to Gracchus will he death also to her.'

'The temper of Fausta is too sanguine, her heart too warm: she was designed for a perpetual prosperity. The misfortunes that overtake her friends she makes more than her own. Others' sufferings—her own she could bear—falling upon her so thickly, will, if they leave her life, impart a lasting bitterness to it. It were better perhaps that she died with us. Gracchus you have found altogether Gracchus?'

'I have. He is in the prison as he was in his own palace. His thoughts will sometimes wander to his daughter—oftener than he would—and then in the mirror of the face you behold the inward sorrow of the heart, but it is only a momentary ruffling of the surface, and straightway it is calm again. Except this only, and he sits upon his hard seat in the same composure as if at the head of the Senate.'

'Gracchus,' said Longinus in reply, 'is naturally great; he is a giant! the ills of life, the greater and the lesser, which assail and subdue so many, can make nothing of him. He is impenetrable, immovable. Then he has aided nature by the precepts of philosophy. What he wanted of insensibility to evil, he has added from a doctrine, to which he himself clings tenaciously, to which he refers and will refer, as the spring of his highest felicity, but from which I—so variously are we constituted—shrink with unfeigned horror. Doubtless you all know what it is?'

'We do.'

'I grant it thus much; that it steels the mind against pain; that it is unrivalled in its power to sear and harden the soul; and that if it were man's common lot to be exposed to evil, and evil chiefly, it were a philosophy to be greatly coveted. But it is benumbing, deadening in its influences. It oppresses the soul and overlays it; it delivers it by rendering it insensible, not by imparting a new principle of vitality beyond the reach of earthly ill. It does the same service that a stupifying draught does to him who is about to submit to the knife of the surgeon, or the axe of the executioner. But is it not nobler to meet such pains fortified in no other way than by a resolute purpose to bear them as well as the nature the gods have given you will allow? And suppose you shrink or give signs of suffering? that does not impeach the soul. It is rather the gods themselves who cry out through you: you did not; it was your corporeal nature, something beside your proper self. It is to be no subject of humiliation to us, or of grief, that when the prospect of acute suffering is before us; or, still more, when called to endure it, we give many tokens of a keen sensibility; so it be that at the same time we remain unshaken in our principles, and ready to bear what we must.'

'And what,' asked the young Cleoras, a favorite disciple of the philosopher, 'is it in your case that enables you to meet misfortune and death without shrinking? If you take not shelter behind indifference, what other shield do you find to be sufficient?'

'I know,' said Longinus, 'that you ask this question not because you have never heard from me virtually at least its answer, but because you wish to hear from me at this hour, whether I adhere with firmness to the principles I have ever inculcated, respecting death, and whether I myself derive from them the satisfactions I have declared them capable to impart. It is right and well that you do so. And I on my part take pleasure in repeating and re-affirming what I have maintained and taught. But I must be brief in what I say, more so than I have been in replying to your other inquiries, Cleoras and Bassus, for I perceive by the manner in which the rays of the sun shoot through the bars of the window, that it is not long before the executioner will make his appearance. It affords me then, I say, a very especial satisfaction, to declare in the presence of so many worthy friends, my continued attachment and hearty devotion to the truths I have believed and taught, concerning the existence of a God, and the reality of a future and immortal life. Upon these two great points I suffer from no serious doubts, and it is from this belief that I now derive the serenity and peace which you witness. All the arguments which you have often heard from me in support of them, now seem to me to be possessed of a greater strength than ever—I will not repeat them, for they are too familiar to you, but only re-affirm them, and pronounce them, as in my judgment, affording a ground for our assurance in the department of moral demonstration, as solid and sufficient as the reasonings of Euclid afford in the science of geometry. I believe in a supreme God and sovereign ruler of the world, by whose wisdom and power all things and beings have been created, and are sustained, and in whose presence I live and enjoy, as implicitly as I believe the fifth proposition of Euclid's first book. I believe in a future life with the like strength. It is behind these truths, Cleoras, that I entrench myself at this hour; these make the shield which defends me from the assaults of fear and despair, that would otherwise, I am sure, overwhelm me.'

'But how do they defend you, Longinus,' asked Cleoras—'by simply rendering you inaccessible to the shafts which are directed against you, or by any other and higher operation upon the soul?'

'Were it only,' replied the philosopher, 'that truth made me insensible and indifferent, I should pray rather to be left to the tutelage of nature. I both despise and abhor doctrines that can do no more than this. I desire to bless the gods that the philosophy I have received and taught has performed for me a far more essential service. This elevates and expands: it renders nature as it were superior to itself and its condition: it causes the soul to assert its entire supremacy over its companion, the body, and its dwelling-place the earth, and in the perfect possession of itself to inhabit a better world of its own creation: it infinitely increases all its sensibilities, and adds to the constitution received from nature, what may be termed new senses, so vividly does it come to apprehend things, which to those who are unenlightened by this excellent truth, are as if they had no existence, their minds being invested with no faculty or power whereby to discern and esteem them. So far from carrying those who embrace it farther toward insensibility and indifference, which may truly be called a kind of death, it renders them intensely alive, and it is through the transforming energies of this new life that the soul is made not insensible to pain, but superior to it, and to all the greater ills of existence. It soars above them. The knowledge and the belief that fill it furnish it with wings by which it is borne far aloft, even at the very time that the body is in the deepest affliction. Gracchus meets death with equanimity, and that is something. It is better than to be convulsed with vulgar and excessive fear. But it is a state of the soul very inferior to what exists in those who truly receive the doctrines which I have taught. I, Cleoras, look upon death as a release, not from a life which has been wholly evil, for I have, through the favor of the gods, enjoyed much, but from the dominion of the body and the appetites which clog the soul and greatly hinder it in its efforts after a perfect virtue and a true felicity. It will open a way for me into those elysian realms in whose reality all men have believed, a very few excepted, though few or none could prove it. Even as the great Roman could call that "O glorious day," that should admit him to the council of the gods, and the society of the great and good who had preceded him, so can I in like manner designate the day and hour which are now present. I shall leave you whom I have known so long; I shall be separated from scenes familiar and beloved through a series of years; the arts and the sciences, which have ministered so largely to my happiness, in these forms of them I shall lose; the very earth itself, venerable to my mind for the events which have passed upon it, and the genius it has nurtured and matured, and beautiful too in its array of forms and colors, I shall be conversant with no more. Death will divide me from them all: but it will bear me to worlds and scenes of a far exceeding beauty: it will introduce me to mansions inconceivably more magnificent than anything which the soul has experience of here; above all it will bring me into the company of the good of all ages, with whom I shall enjoy the pleasures of an uninterrupted intercourse. It will place me where I shall be furnished with ample means for the prosecution of all those inquiries which have engaged me on earth, exposed to none or fewer of the hindrances which have here thronged the way. All knowledge and all happiness will then be attainable. Is death to be called an evil, or is it to be feared or approached with tears and regrets, when such are to be its issues?'

'By no means,' said Cleoras; 'it is rather to be desired. If my philosophy were as deep and secure as yours, Longinus, I should beg to exchange places with you. I should willingly suffer a brief pain to be rewarded so largely. But I find within me no such strong assurance.'

'That,' replied Longinus, 'is for want of reflection. It is only by conversing with itself that the soul rises to any height of faith. Argument from abroad is of but little service in the comparison. I have often discoursed with you concerning these things, and have laid open before you the grounds upon which my convictions rest. But I have ever taught that consciousness was the true source of belief, and that of this you could possess yourselves only through habits of profound attention. What I believe I feel. I cannot communicate the strength of my belief to another, because it is mysteriously generated within, interweaving itself with all my faculties and affections, and abundantly imparting itself to them, but at the same time inseparable from them in such a sense that I can offer it as I can a portion of my reason or my knowledge, to any whom I might desire to benefit. It is in truth in its origin the gift of God, strengthened and exalted infinitely by reflection. It is an instinct. Were it otherwise, why could I not give to you all I possess myself, and possess because I have by labor acquired it? Whereas, though I believe so confidently myself, I find no way in which to bestow the same good upon you. But each one will possess it, I am persuaded, in the proportion in which he prepares himself by a pure life and habitual meditation. It will then reveal itself with new strength every day. So will it also be of service to contemplate the characters and lives of those who have lived illustriously, both for their virtue and their philosophy. To study the character of Plato will be more beneficial in this regard than to ponder the arguments of the Phoedo. Those arguments are trivial, fanciful, and ingenious, rather than convincing. And the great advantage to be derived from the perusal of that treatise is, as it shall be regarded as a sublime expression of the confidence with which its author entertained the hope of immortality. It is as a part of Plato's biography—of the history of his mind—that it is valuable. Through meditation, through inward purity, through the contemplation of bright examples, will the soul be best prepared for the birth of that feeling or conviction that shall set before you with the distinctness and certainty of actual vision the prospect of immortality.'

'But are there, Longinus, after all, no waverings of the mind, no impertinent doubts, no overcasting shadows, which at all disturb your peace, or impair the vividness of your faith? Are you wholly superior to fear—the fear of suffering and death?'

'That is not, Cleoras, so much to ask whether I still consider my philosophy as sufficient, and whether it be so, as whether or not I am still a man, and therefore a mixed and imperfect being. But if you desire the assurance, I can answer you, and say that I am but a man, and therefore notwithstanding my philosophy subject to infirmity and to assaults from the body, which undoubtedly occasion me some distress. But these seasons are momentary. I can truly affirm, that although there have been and still are conflicts, the soul is ever conqueror, and that too by very great odds. My doubts and fears are mere flitting shadows; my hope, a strong and unchanging beam of light. The body sometimes slips from beyond my control and trembles, but the soul is at the very same time secure in herself and undaunted. I present the same apparent contradiction that the soldier often does upon the field of battle; he trembles and turns pale as he first springs forward to encounter the foe, but his arm is strong and his soul determined at the very same moment, and no death nor suffering in prospect avails to alarm or turn him back. Do not therefore, although I should exhibit signs of fear, imagine that my soul is terrified, or that I am forsaken of those steadfast principles to which I have given in my allegiance for so long a time.'

'We will not, Longinus,' said they all.

Longinus here paused, and seemed for a time buried in meditation. We were all silent—or the silence was broken only by the sobs of those who could not restrain their grief.

'I have spoken to you, my friends,' he at length resumed, 'of the hope of immortality, of the strength it yields, and of its descent from God. But think not that this hope can exist but in the strictest alliance with virtue. The hope of immortality without virtue is a contradiction in terms. The perpetuation of vice, or of any vicious affections or desires, can be contemplated only with horror. If the soul be without virtue, it is better that it should perish. And if deep stained with vice, it is to be feared that the very principle of life may be annihilated. As then you would meet the final hour, not only with calmness, but with pleasant expectations, cherish virtue in your souls; reverence the divinity; do justly by all; obey your instincts, which point out the right and the wrong; keep yourselves pure; subdue the body. As virtue becomes a habit and a choice, and the soul, throughout all its affections and powers, harmonizes with nature and God, will the hope of immortality increase in strength till it shall grow to a confident expectation. Remember that virtue is the golden key, and the only one, that unlocks the gates of the celestial mansions.'

I here asked Longinus if he was conscious of having been influenced in any of his opinions by Christianity. 'I know,' I said, 'that in former conversations you have ever objected to that doctrine. Does your judgment remain the same?'

'I have not read the writings of the Christians, yet am I not wholly ignorant of them, since it were impossible to know with such familiarity the Princess Julia, and not arrive at some just conceptions of what that religion is. But I have not received it. Yet even as a piece of polished metal takes a thousand hues from surrounding objects, so does the mind; and mine may have been unconsciously colored and swayed by the truths of Christianity, which I have heard so often stated and defended. Light may have fallen upon it from that quarter as well as from others. I doubt not that it has. For although I cannot myself admit that doctrine, yet am I now, and have ever been, persuaded of its excellence, and that upon such as can admit it, it must exert a power altogether beneficial. But let us now, for the little time that remains, turn to other things. Piso, know you aught concerning the Queen? I have not seen her since the day of her flight, nor have I heard concerning her that which I could trust.'

I then related at length all that I knew.

'Happy would it have been for her and for all, had my first counsels prevailed! Yet am I glad that fortune spares her. May she live to hear of Palmyra once more restored to opulence and glory. I was happy in her service. I am now happy, if by my death, as by my life, I can avert from her evil that otherwise might overtake her. For her, or for the Princess, there is no extremity I would not endure, as there have been no services I have not rejoiced to perform. The only favor I have asked of Aurelian was, to be permitted a last interview with my great pupils; it did not agree with my opinions of him, that I was denied so reasonable a request.'

'Perhaps,' said I, 'it is in my power to furnish the reason, having been informed, since reaching Emesa, that the Queen, with her attendants and the Princesses, had been sent on secretly toward Rome, that they might be placed beyond the risk of violence on the part of the legions. He himself was doubtful of his power to protect them.'

'For the sake of both am I glad to hear the explanation,' replied Longinus.

As he uttered these words, the sound of steps was heard as of several approaching the door of the room. Then the heavy bar of the door was let fall, and the key turned in the wards of the lock. We knew that the last moments of Longinus had arrived. Although knowing this so well, yet we still were not ready for it, and a horror as of some unlooked-for calamity came over us. Cleoras wept without restraint; and threw himself down before Longinus, embraced his knees, and as the officers entered and drew near, warned them away with threatening language. It was with difficulty that Longinus calmed him. He seemed to have lost the possession of his reason.

The jailer, followed by a guard, now came up to Longinus, and informed him that the hour appointed for his execution had arrived.

Longinus replied, 'that he was ready to go with him, but must first, when his chains were taken off, be permitted to address himself to the gods. For,' said he, 'we ought to undertake no enterprise of moment, especially ought we not to venture into any unknown and untried scenes without first asking their guidance, who alone have power to carry us safely through.'

'This we readily grant,' replied the jailer; who then taking his hammer struck off the chain that was bound around the middle of his body.

Longinus then, without moving from where he sat, bent his head, and covering his face with his hands remained a few moments in that posture. The apartment was silent as if no one had been in it. Even Cleoras was by that sight taught to put a restraint upon the expression of his feelings.

When these few moments were ended, Longinus raised his head, and with a bright and smiling countenance said to the jailer that he was now ready.

He then went out in company with the guard and soldiers, we following in sad procession. The place of execution was in front of the camp, all the legions being drawn round to witness it. Aurelian himself was present among them.

Soon as we came in sight of that fatal place, and of the executioner standing with his axe lifted upon his shoulder, Longinus suddenly stopped, his face became pale and his frame trembled. He turned and looked upon us who were immediately behind him, and held up his hands, but without speaking, which was as much as to say, 'you perceive that what I said was very likely to happen has come to pass, and the body has obtained a momentary triumph.' He paused however not long, making then a sign to the soldiers that he was ready to proceed. After a short walk from that spot we reached the block and the executioner.

'Friend,' said he now to the executioner, 'I hope your axe is sharp, and that you are skilful in your art; and yet it is a pity if you have had so much practice as to have become very dexterous in it.'

'Ten years service in Rome,' he replied, 'may well make one so, or he must be born with little wit. Distrust not my arm, for it has never failed yet. One blow, and that a light one, is all I want, if it be as it ought, a little slanting. As for this edge—feel it if thou wilt—it would do for thy beard.'

Longinus had now divested himself of whatever parts of his garments would obstruct the executioner in his duty, and was about to place his head in the prescribed place, when he first turned to us and again held out his hands, which now trembled no longer.

'You see,' said he, in a cheerful voice, 'that the soul is again supreme. Love and cultivate the soul, my good friends, and you will then be universal conquerors, and throughout all ages. It will never betray you. Now, my new friend, open for me the gates of immortality, for you are in truth a celestial porter.' So saying, he placed himself as he was directed to do, and at a single blow, as he had been promised, the head of Longinus was severed from his body.

Neither the head nor the body was delivered to the soldiers, nor allowed to be treated with disrespect. This favor we had obtained of Aurelian. So after the executioner had held up the head of the philosopher, and shown it to the soldiers, it was together with the body given to our care, and by us sent to Palmyra.

On this same day perished Otho, Seleucus, Gabrayas, Nicanor—all, in a word, of the Queen's council, and almost all of the senate. Some were reserved for execution at another time, and among these I found, as I went sadly toward the cell of Gracchus, was the father of Fausta.

The keeper of the prison admitted me with a more cheerful air than before, and with a significant shake of the head. I heeded him but little, pressing on to meet Gracchus.

'So,' I exclaimed, 'it is not to-day'—

'No,' rejoined Gracchus, visibly moved, 'nor to-morrow, Piso. Read here.' And placing a parchment in my hand, turned away.

It contained a full and free remission of punishment, and permission to return immediately to Palmyra.

'The gods be praised! the gods be praised!' I cried as I embraced him, 'Is not this better, Gracchus?'

'It is,' said he, with emphasis. 'It is a great boon. I do not deny it. For Fausta's sake I rejoice—as for myself, all is strictly true which I have said to you. But I forget all now, save Fausta and her joy and renewed life. Would, O would, that Longinus could have returned to Palmyra with me!'—and then, for the first time, Gracchus gave way to grief, and wept aloud.

In the morning we set out for Palmyra. Farewell.

Letter XVII.

I write again from Palmyra.

We arrived here after a day's hard travel. The sensation occasioned by the unexpected return of Gracchus seemed to cause a temporary forgetfulness of their calamities on the part of the citizens. As we entered the city at the close of the day, and they recognised their venerated friend, there were no hounds to the tumultuous expressions of their joy. The whole city was abroad. It were hard to say whether Fausta herself was more pained by excess of pleasure, than was each citizen who thronged the streets as we made our triumphal entry.

A general amnesty of the past having been proclaimed by Sandarion immediately after the departure of Aurelian with the prisoners whom he chose to select, we found Calpurnius already returned. At Fausta's side he received us as we dismounted in the palace-yard. I need not tell you how we passed our first evening. Yet it was one of very mixed enjoyment. Fausta's eye, as it dwelt upon the beloved form of her father, seemed to express unalloyed happiness. But then again, as it was withdrawn at those moments when, his voice kept not her attention fixed upon himself, she fell back upon the past and the lost, and the shadows of a deep sadness would gather over her. So in truth was it with us all—especially, when at the urgency of the rest, I related to them the interviews I had had with Longinus, and described to them his behavior in the prison and at the execution.

'I think,' said Fausta, 'that Aurelian, in the death of Longinus, has injured his fame far more than by the capture of Zenobia and the reduction of Palmyra he has added to it. Posterity will not readily forgive him for putting out, in its meridian blaze, the very brightest light of the age. It surely was an unnecessary act.'

'The destruction of prisoners, especially those of rank and influence, is,' said I, 'according to the savage usages of war—and Aurelian defends the death of Longinus by saying, that in becoming the first adviser of Zenobia, he was no longer Longinus the philosopher, but Longinus the minister and rebel.'

'That will be held,' she replied, 'as a poor piece of sophistry. He was still Longinus. And in killing Longinus the minister, he basely slew Longinus the renowned philosopher, the accomplished scholar, the man of letters and of taste; the great man of the age; for you will not say that either in Rome or Greece there now lives his equal.'

'Fausta,' said Gracchus, 'you are right. And had Aurelian been any more or higher than a soldier, he would not have dared to encounter the odium of the act; but in simple truth he was, I suppose, and is utterly insensible to the crime he has committed, not against an individual or Palmyra, but against the civilized world and posterity; a crime that will grow in its magnitude as time rolls on, and will forever and to the remotest times blast the fame and the name of him who did it. Longinus belonged to all times and people, and by them will be avenged. Aurelian could not understand the greatness of his victim, and was ignorant that he was drawing upon himself a reproach greater than if he had sacrificed in his fury the Queen herself, and half the inhabitants of Palmyra. He will find it out when he reaches Rome. He will find himself as notorious there, as the murderer of Longinus, as he will be as conqueror of the East.'

'There was one sentiment of Aurelian,' I said, 'which he expressed to me when I urged upon him the sparing of Longinus, to which you must allow some greatness to attach. I had said to him that it was greater to pardon than to punish, and that for that reason—"Ah," he replied, interrupting me, "I may not gain to myself the fame of magnanimity at the expense of Rome. As the chief enemy of Rome in this rebellion, Rome requires his punishment, and Rome is the party to be satisfied, not I."'

'I grant that there is greatness in the sentiment. If he was sincere, all we can say is this—that he misjudged in supposing Rome to need the sacrifice. She needed it not. There were enough heads like mine, of less worth, that would do for the soldiers—for they are Rome in Aurelian's vocabulary.'

'Men of humanity and of letters,' I replied, 'will, I suppose, decide upon this question one way, politicians and soldiers another.'

'That, I believe,' rejoined Gracchus, 'is nearly the truth.'

When wearied by a prolonged conversation, we sought the repose of our pillows; each one of us happier by a large and overflowing measure than but two days before we had ever thought to be again.

The city is to all appearance tranquil and acquiescent under its bitter chastisement. The outward aspect is calm and peaceful. The gates are thrown open, and the merchants and traders are returning to the pursuits of traffic; the gentry and nobles are engaged in refitting and re-embellishing their rifled palaces; and the common people have returned in quiet to the several channels of their industry.

I have made however some observations, which lead me to believe that all is not so settled and secure as it seems to be, and that however the greater proportion of the citizens are content to sit down patiently under the rule of their new masters, others are not of their mind. I can perceive that Antiochus, who under the general pardon proclaimed by Sandarion has returned to the city, is the central point of a good deal of interest among a certain class of citizens. He is again at the head of the same licentious and desperate crew as before; a set of men, like himself, large in their resources, lawless in their lives, and daring in the pursuit of whatever object they set before them. To one who knows the men, their habits and manners, it is not difficult to see that they are engaged in other plans than appear upon the surface. Yet are their movements so quietly ordered as to occasion no general observation or remark. Sandarion, ignorant whence danger might be expected to arise, appears not to indulge suspicions of one nor another. Indeed, from the smallness of the garrison, from the whole manner both of the governor and those who are under him, soldiers and others, it is evident that no thought of a rising on the part of the populace has entered their minds.

* * * * *

A few days have passed, and Gracchus and Fausta, who inclined not to give much heed to my observations, both think with me—indeed, to Gracchus communication has been made of the existence of a plot to rescue the city from the hands of the Romans, in which he has been solicited to join.

Antiochus himself has sought and obtained an interview with Gracchus.

Gracchus has not hesitated to reject all overtures from that quarter. We thus learn that the most desperate measures are in agitation—weak and preposterous too as they are desperate, and must in the end prove ruinous. Antiochus, we doubt not, is a tool in the hands of others, but he stands out as the head and centre of the conspiracy. There is a violent and a strong party, consisting chiefly of the disbanded soldiers, but of some drawn from every class of the inhabitants, whose object is by a sudden attack to snatch the city from the Roman garrison; and placing Antiochus on the throne, proclaim their independence again, and prepare themselves to maintain and defend it. They make use of Antiochus because of his connection with Zenobia, and the influence he would exert through that prejudice, and because of his sway over other families among the richest and most powerful, especially the two princes, Herennianus and Timolaus—and because of his fool-hardiness. If they should fail, he, they imagine, will be the only or the chief sacrifice—and he can well be spared. If they succeed, it will be an easy matter afterward to dispose of him, if his character or measures as their king should displease them, and exalt some other and worthier in his room.

'And what, father,' said Fausta, 'said you to Antiochus?'

'I told him,' replied Gracchus, 'what I thought, that the plan struck me not only as frantic and wild, but foolish—that I for myself should engage in no plot of any kind, having in view any similar object, much less in such a one as he proposed. I told him that if Palmyra was destined ever to assert its supremacy and independence of Rome, it could not be for many years to come, and then by watching for some favorable juncture in the affairs of Rome in other parts of the world. It might very well happen, I thought, that in the process of years, and when Palmyra had wholly recruited her strength after her late and extreme sufferings—that there might occur some period of revolution or inward commotion in the Roman empire, such as would leave her remote provinces in a comparatively unprotected state. Then would be the time for re-asserting our independence; then we might spring upon our keepers with some good prospect of overpowering them, and taking again to ourselves our own government. But now, I tried to convince him, it was utter madness, or worse, stupidity, to dream of success in such an enterprise. The Romans were already inflamed and angry; not half appeased by the bloody offering that had just been made; their strength was undiminished—for what could diminish the strength of Rome?—and a rising could no sooner take place, than her legions would again be upon us, and our sufferings might be greater than ever. I entreated him to pause, and to dissuade those from action who were connected with him. I did not hesitate to set before him a lively picture of his own hazard in the affair; that he, if failure ensued, would be the first victim. I urged moreover, that a few, as I held his number to be, had no right to endanger, by any selfish and besotted conduct, the general welfare, the lives and property of the citizens; that not till he felt he had the voice of the people with him ought he to dare to act; and that although I should not betray his councils to Sandarion, I should to the people, unless I received from him ample assurance that no movement should be made without a full disclosure of the project to all the principal citizens, as representatives of the whole city.'

'And how took he all that?' we asked.

'He was evidently troubled at the vision I raised of his' own head borne aloft upon a Roman pike, and not a little disconcerted at what I labored to convince him were the rights of us all in the case. I obtained from him in the end a solemn promise that he would communicate what I had said to his companions, and that they would forbear all action till they had first obtained the concurrence of the greater part of the city. I assured him however, that in no case and under no conceivable circumstances could he or others calculate upon any co-operation of mine. Upon any knowledge which I might obtain of intended action, I should withdraw from the city.'

'It is a sad fate,' said Fausta, 'that having just escaped with our lives and the bare walls of our city and dwellings from the Romans, we are now to become the prey of a wicked faction among ourselves. But, can you trust the word of Antiochus that he will give you timely notice if they go on to prosecute the affair? Will they not now work in secret all the more, and veil themselves even from the scrutiny of citizens?'

'I hardly think they can escape the watchful eyes that will be fixed upon them,' replied Gracchus; 'nor do I believe that however inclined Antiochus might be to deceive me, those who are of his party would agree to such baseness. There are honorable men, however deluded, in his company.'

* * * * *

Several days have passed, and our fears are almost laid. Antiochus and the princes have been seen as usual frequenting the more public streets, lounging in the Portico, or at the places of amusement. And the evenings have been devoted to gayety and pleasure—Sandarion himself, and the officers of his legion, being frequent visiters at the palace of Antiochus, and at that of the Caesars, lately the palace of Zenobia.

During this interval we have celebrated with all becoming rites the marriage of Fausta and Calpurnius, hastened at the urgency of Gracchus, who feeling still very insecure of life, and doubtful of the continued tranquillity of the city, wished to bestow upon Calpurnius the rights of a husband, and to secure to Fausta the protection of one. Gracchus seems happier and lighter of heart since this has been done—so do we all. It was an occasion of joy, but as much of tears also. An event which we had hoped to have been graced by the presence of Zenobia, Julia, and Longinus, took place almost in solitude and silence. But of this I have written fully to Portia.

* * * * *

That which we have apprehended has happened. The How has been struck, and Palmyra is again, in name at least, free and independent.

Early on the morning after the marriage of Fausta, we were alarmed by the sounds of strife and commotion in the streets—by the cries of those who pursued, and of those who fled and fought. It was as yet hardly light. But it was not difficult to know the cause of the uproar, or the parties engaged. We seized our arms, and prepared ourselves for defence, against whatever party, Roman or Palmyrene, should make an assault. The preparation was however needless, for the contest was already decided. The whole garrison, with the brave Sandarion at their head, has been massacred, and the power of Palmyra is in the hands of Antiochus and his adherents. There has been in truth no fighting, it has been the murder rather of unprepared and defenceless men. The garrison was cut off in detail while upon their watch by overwhelming numbers. Sandarion was despatched in his quarters, and in his bed, by the very inhuman wretches at whose tables he had just been feasted, from whom he had but a few hours before parted, giving and receiving the signs of friendship. The cowardly Antiochus it was who stabbed him as he sprang from his sleep, encumbered and disabled by his night-clothes. Not a Roman has escaped with his life.

Antiochus is proclaimed king, and the streets of the city have resounded with the shouts of this deluded people, crying, 'long live Antiochus!' He has been borne in tumult to the great portico of the temple of the Sun, where, with the ceremonies prescribed for the occasion, he has been crowned king of Palmyra and of the East.

While these things were in progress—the now king entering upon his authority, and the government forming itself—Gracchus chose and acted his part.

'There is little safety,' he said, 'for me now, I fear, anywhere—but least of all here. But were I secure of life, Palmyra is now to be a desecrated and polluted place, and I would fain depart from it. I could not remain in it, though covered with honor, to see Antiochus in the seat of Zenobia, and Critias in the chair of Longinus. I must go, as I respect myself and as I desire life. Antiochus will bear me no good will, and no sooner will he have become easy in his seat and secure of his power, than he will begin the work for which his nature alone fits him, of cold-blooded revenge, cruelty, and lust. I trust indeed that his reign will end before that day shall arrive—but it may not—and it will be best for me and for you, my children, to remove from his sight. If he sees us not, he may forget us.'

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse