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- Imperial Purple - 15/15 -

addressed as Imperatrix, and quite living up to the title. It would not only be interesting, it would give one an insight into just how much the Romans could stand. It would have been curious, also, to have assisted at that superb and poetic ceremonial, in which, having got Tanit from Carthage as consort for Elagabal, he presided, girt with the pomp of church and state, over the nuptials of the Sun and Moon.

He had read Suetonius, and not an eccentricity of the Caesars escaped him. He would not hunt flies by the hour, as Domitian had done, for that would be mere imitation; but he could collect cobwebs, and he did, by the ton. Caligula and Vitellius had been famous as hosts, but the feasts that Heliogabalus gave outranked them for sheer splendor. From panels in the ceiling such masses of flowers fell that guests were smothered. Those that survived had set before them glass game and sweets of crystal. The menu was embroidered on the table-cloth--not the mere list of dishes, but pictures drawn with the needle of the dishes themselves. And presently, after the little jest in glass had been enjoyed, you were served with camel's heels; combs torn from living cocks; platters of nightingale tongues; ostrich brains, prepared with that garum sauce which the Sybarites invented, and of which the secret is lost; therewith were peas and grains of gold; beans and amber peppered with pearl dust; lentils and rubies; spiders in jelly; lion's dung, served in pastry. The guests that wine overcame were carried to bedrooms. When they awoke, there staring at them were tigers and leopards--tame, of course; but some of the guests were stupid enough not to know it, and died of fright.

All this was of a nature to amuse a lad who had made the phallus the chief object of worship; who had banished Jupiter, dismissed Isis; who, over paths that were strewn with lilies, had himself, in the attributes of Bacchus, drawn by tigers; by lions as Mother of the Gods; again, by naked women, as Heliogabalus on his way to wed a vestal, and procure for the empire a child that should be wholly divine.

It amused Rome, too, and his prodigalities in the circus were such that Lampridus admits that the people were glad he was emperor. Neither Caligula nor Nero had been as lavish, and neither Caligula nor Nero as cruel. The atrocities he committed, if less vast than those of Caracalla's, were more acute. Domitian even was surpassed in the tortures invented by a boy, so dainty that he never used the same garments, the same shoes, the same jewels, the same woman twice.

In spite of this, or perhaps precisely on that account, the usual conspirators were at work, and one day this little painted girl, who had prepared several devices for a unique and splendid suicide, was taken unawares and tossed in the latrinae.

In him the glow of the purple reached its apogee. Rome had been watching a crescendo that had mounted with the years. Its culmination was in that hermaphrodite. But the tension had been too great--something snapped; there was nothing left--a procession of colorless bandits merely, Thracians, Gauls, Pannonians, Dalmatians, Goths, women even, with Attila for a climax and the refurbishing of the world.

Rome was still mistress, but she was growing very old. She had conquered step by step. When one nation had fallen, she garrotted another. To vanquish her, the earth had to produce not only new races, but new creeds. The parturitions, as we know, were successful. Already the blue, victorious eyes of Vandal and of Goth were peering down at Rome; already they had whispered together, and over the hydromel had drunk to her fall. The earth's new children fell upon her, not one by one, but all at once, and presently the colossus tottered, startling the universe with the uproar of her agony; calling to gods that had vacated the skies; calling to Jupiter; calling to Isis; calling in vain. Where the thunderbolt had gleamed, a crucifix stood. On the shoulders of a prelate was the purple that had dazzled the world.

Imperial Purple - 15/15

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