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- Imperial Purple - 2/15 -
infantry against cavalry, one that indemnified those that had not seen the massacres in Thessaly and in Spain. There were public feasts, gifts to everyone. Tables were set in the Forum, in the circuses and theatres. Falernian circulated in amphorae, Chios in barrels. When the populace was gorged there were the red feathers to enable it to gorge again. Of the Rome of Romulus there was nothing left save the gaunt she-wolf, her wide lips curled at the descendants of her nursling.
Later, when in slippered feet Caesar wandered through those lovely gardens of his that lay beyond the Tiber, it may be that he recalled a dream which had come to him as a lad; one which concerned the submission of his mother; one which had disturbed him until the sooth-sayers said: "The mother you saw is the earth, and you will be her master." And as the memory of the dream returned, perhaps with it came the memory of the hour when as simple quaestor he had wept at Gaddir before a statue that was there. Demi-god, yes; he was that. More, even; he was dictator, but the dream was unfulfilled. There were the depths of Hither Asia, the mysteries that lay beyond; there were the glimmering plains of the Caucasus; there were the Vistula and the Baltic; the diadems of Cyrus and of Alexander defying his ambition yet, and what were triumphs and divinity to one who would own the world!
It was this that preoccupied him. The immensity of his successes seemed petty and Rome very small. Heretofore he had forgiven those who had opposed him. Presently his attitude changed, and so subtly that it was the more humiliating; it was not that he no longer forgave, he disdained to punish. His contempt was absolute. The senate made his office of pontifix maximus hereditary and accorded the title of Imperator to his heirs. He snubbed the senate and the honors that it brought. The senate was shocked. Composed of men whose fortunes he had made, the senate was not only shocked, its education in ingratitude was complete. Already there had been murmurs. Not content with disarranging the calendar, outlining an empire, drafting a code while planning fresh beauties, new theatres, bilingual libraries, larger temples, grander gods, Caesar was at work in the markets, in the kitchens of the gourmets, in the jewel-boxes of the virgins. Liberty, visibly, was taking flight. Besides, the power concentrated in him might be so pleasantly distributed. It was decided that Caesar was in the way. To put him out of it a pretext was necessary.
One day the senate assembled at his command. They were to sign a decree creating him king. In order not to, Suetonius says, they killed him, wounding each other in the effort, for Caesar fought like the demon that he was, desisting only when he recognized Brutus, to whom, in Greek, he muttered a reproach, and, draping his toga that he might fall with decency, sank backward, his head covered, a few feet from the bronze wolf that stood, its ears pointed at the letters S. P. Q. R. which decorated a frieze of the Curia.
Brutus turned to harangue the senate; it had fled. He went to the Forum to address the people; there was no one. Rome was strangely empty. Doors were barricaded, windows closed. Through the silent streets gladiators prowled. Night came, and with it whispering groups. The groups thickened, voices mounted. Caesar's will had been read. He had left his gardens to the people, a gift to every citizen, his wealth and power to his butchers. The body, which two slaves had removed, an arm hanging from the litter, had never been as powerfully alive. Caesar reigned then as never before. A mummer mouthed:
"I brought them life, they gave me death."
And willingly would the mob have made Rome the funeral pyre of their idol. In the sky a comet appeared. It was his soul on its way to Olympus.
"I received Rome in brick; I shall leave it in marble," said Augustus, who was fond of fine phrases, a trick he had caught from Vergil. And when he looked from his home on the Palatine over the glitter of the Forum and the glare of the Capitol to the new and wonderful precinct which extended to the Field of Mars, there was a stretch of splendor which sanctioned the boast. The city then was very vast. The tourist might walk in it, as in the London of to-day, mile after mile, and at whatever point he placed himself, Rome still lay beyond; a Rome quite like London--one that was choked with mystery, with gold and curious crime.
But it was not all marble. There were green terraces and porphyry porticoes that leaned to a river on which red galleys passed; there were theatres in which a multitude could jeer at an emperor, and arenas in which an emperor could watch a multitude die; there were bronze doors and garden roofs, glancing villas and temples that defied the sun; there were spacious streets, a Forum curtained with silk, the glint and evocations of triumphal war, the splendor of a host of gods, but it was not all marble; there were rents in the magnificence and tatters in the laticlave of state.
In the Subura, where at night women sat in high chairs, ogling the passer with painted eyes, there was still plenty of brick; tall tenements, soiled linen, the odor of Whitechapel and St. Giles. The streets were noisy with match-peddlers, with vendors of cake and tripe and coke; there were touts there too, altars to unimportant divinities, lying Jews who dealt in old clothes, in obscene pictures and unmentionable wares; at the crossings there were thimbleriggers, clowns and jugglers, who made glass balls appear and disappear surprisingly; there were doorways decorated with curious invitations, gossipy barber shops, where, through the liberality of politicians, the scum of a great city was shaved, curled and painted free; and there were public houses, where vagabond slaves and sexless priests drank the mulled wine of Crete, supped on the flesh of beasts slaughtered in the arena, or watched the Syrian women twist to the click of castanets.
Beyond were gray quadrangular buildings, the stomach of Rome, through which, each noon, ediles passed, verifying the prices, the weights and measures of the market men, examining the fish and meats, the enormous cauliflowers that came from the suburbs, Veronese carrots, Arician pears, stout thrushes, suckling pigs, eggs embedded in grass, oysters from Baiae, boxes of onions and garlic mixed, mountains of poppies, beans and fennel, destroying whatever had ceased to be fresh and taxing that which was.
On the Via Sacra were the shops frequented by ladies; bazaars where silks and xylons were to be had, essences and unguents, travelling boxes of scented wood, switches of yellow hair, useful drugs such as hemlock, aconite, mandragora and cantharides; the last thing of Ovid's and the improper little novels that came from Greece.
On the Appian Way, through green afternoons and pink arcades, fashion strolled. There wealth passed in its chariots, smart young men that smelt of cinnamon instead of war, nobles, matrons, cocottes.
At the other end of the city, beyond the menagerie of the Pantheon, was the Field of Mars, an open-air gymnasium, where every form of exercise was to be had, even to that simple promenade in which the Romans delighted, and which in Caesar's camp so astonished the Verronians that they thought the promenaders crazy and offered to lead them to their tents. There was tennis for those who liked it; racquets, polo, football, quoits, wrestling, everything apt to induce perspiration and prepare for the hour when a gong of bronze announced the opening of the baths--those wonderful baths, where the Roman, his slaves about him, after pasing through steam and water and the hands of the masseur, had every hair plucked from his arms, legs and armpits; his flesh rubbed down with nard, his limbs polished with pumice; and then, wrapped in a scarlet robe, lined with fur, was sent home in a litter. "Strike them in the face!" cried Caesar at Pharsalus, when the young patricians made their charge; and the young patricians, who cared more for their looks than they did for victory, turned and fled.
It was to the Field of Mars that Agrippa came, to whom Rome owed the Pantheon and the demand for a law which should inhibit the private ownership of a masterpiece. There, too, his eunuchs about him, Mecaenas lounged, companioned by Varus, by Horace and the mime Bathylle, all of whom he was accustomed to invite to that lovely villa of his which overlooked the blue Sabinian hills, and where suppers were given such as those which Petronius has described so alertly and so well.
In the hall like that of Mecaenas', one divided against itself, the upper half containing the couches and tables, the other reserved for the service and the entertainments that follow, the ceiling was met by columns, the walls hidden by panels of gems. On a frieze twelve pictures, surmounted by the signs of the zodiac, represented the dishes of the different months. Beneath the bronze beds and silver tables mosaics were set in imitation of food that had fallen and had not been swept away. And there, in white ungirdled tunics, the head and neck circled with coils of amaranth--the perfume of which in opening the pores neutralizes the fumes of wine--the guests lay, fanned by boys, whose curly hair they used for napkins. Under the supervision of butlers the courses were served on platters so large that they covered the tables; sows' breasts with Lybian truffles; dormice baked in poppies and honey, peacock-tongues flavored with cinnamon; oysters stewed in garum--a sauce made of the intestines of fish--sea- wolves from the Baltic; sturgeons from Rhodes; fig-peckers from Samos; African snails; pale beans in pink lard; and a yellow pig cooked after the Troan fashion, from which, when carved, hot sausages fell and live thrushes flew. Therewith was the mulsum, a cup made of white wine, nard, roses, absinthe and honey; the delicate sweet wines of Greece; and crusty Falernian of the year six hundred and thirty-two. As the cups circulated, choirs entered, chanting sedately the last erotic song; a clown danced on the top of a ladder, which he maintained upright as he danced, telling meanwhile untellable stories to the frieze; and host and guests, unvociferously, as good breeding dictates, chatted through the pauses of the service; discussed the disadvantages of death, the value of Noevian iambics, the disgrace of Ovid, banished because of Livia's eyes.
Such was the Rome of Augustus. "Caesar," cried a mime to him one day, "do you know that it is important for you that the people should be interested in Bathylle and in myself?"
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