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- Imperial Purple - 4/15 -


When matrimony occurred, divorce was its natural consequence. Incompatibility was sufficient cause. Cicero, who has given it to history that the best women counted the years not numerically, but by their different husbands, obtained a divorce on the ground that his wife did not idolize him.

Divorce was not obligatory. Matrimony was. According to a recent law whoso at twenty-five was not married, whoso, divorced or widowed, did not remarry, whoso, though married, was without children, was regarded as a public enemy and declared incapable of inheriting or of serving the state. To this law, one of Augustus' stupidities which presently fell into disuse, only a technical observance was paid. Men married just enough to gain a position or inherit a legacy; next day they got a divorce. At the moment of need a child was adopted; the moment passed, the child was disowned. But if the law had little value, at least it shows the condition of things. Moreover, if in that condition Tiberius participated, it was not because he did not differ from other men.

"Ho sempre amato la solitaria vita," Petrarch, referring to himself, declared, and Tiberius might have said the same thing. He was in love with solitude; ill with efforts for the unattained; sick with the ingratitude of man. Presently it was decided that he had lived long enough. He was suffocated--beneath a mattress at that. Caesar had dreamed of a universal monarchy of which he should be king; he was murdered. That dream was also Antony's; he killed himself. Cato had sought the restoration of the republic, and Brutus the attainment of virtue; both committed suicide. Under the empire dreamers fared ill. Tiberius was a dreamer.

In a palace where a curious conception of the love of Atalanta and Meleager was said to figure on the walls, there was a door on which was a sign, imitated from one that overhung the Theban library of Osymandias--Pharmacy of the Soul. It was there Tiberius dreamed.

On the ivory shelves were the philtres of Parthenius, labelled De Amatoriis Affectionibus, the Sybaris of Clitonymus, the Erotopaegnia of Laevius, the maxims and instructions of Elephantis, the nine books of Sappho. There also were the pathetic adventures of Odatis and Zariadres, which Chares of Mitylene had given to the world; the astonishing tales of that early Cinderella, Rhodopis; and with them those romances of Ionian nights by Aristides of Milet, which Crassus took with him when he set out to subdue the Parthians, and which; found in the booty, were read aloud to the people that they might judge the morals of a nation that pretended to rule the world.

Whether such medicaments are serviceable to the soul is problematic. Tiberius had other drugs on the ivory shelves--magic preparations that transported him to fabulous fields. There was a work by Hecataesus, with which he could visit Hyperborea, that land where happiness was a birthright, inalienable at that; yet a happiness so sweet that it must have been cloying; for the people who enjoyed it, and with it the appanage of limitless life, killed themselves from sheer ennui. Theopompus disclosed to him a stranger vista--a continent beyond the ocean--one where there were immense cities, and where two rivers flowed--the River of Pleasure and the River of Pain. With Iambulus he discovered the Fortunate Isles, where there were men with elastic bones, bifurcated tongues; men who never married, who worshipped the sun, whose life was an uninterrupted delight, and who, when overtaken by age, lay on a perfumed grass that produced a voluptuous death. Evhemerus, a terrible atheist, whose Sacred History the early bishops wielded against polytheism until they discovered it was double-edged, took him to Panchaia, an island where incense grew; where property was held in common; where there was but one law--Justice, yet a justice different from our own, one which Hugo must have intercepted when he made an entrancing yet enigmatical apparition exclaim:

"Tu me crois la Justice, je suis la Pitie."

And in this paradise there was a temple, and before it a column, about which, in Panchaian characters, ran a history of ancient kings, who, to the astonishment of the tourist, were found to be none other than the gods whom the universe worshipped, and who in earlier days had announced themselves divinities, the better to rule the hearts and minds of man.

With other guides Tiberius journeyed through lands where dreams come true. Aristeas of Proconnesus led him among the Arimaspi, a curious people who passed their lives fighting for gold with griffons in the dark. With Isogonus he descended the valley of Ismaus, where wild men were, whose feet turned inwards. In Albania he found a race with pink eyes and white hair; in Sarmatia another that ate only on alternate days. Agatharcides took him to Libya, and there introduced him to the Psyllians, in whose bodies was a poison deadly to serpents, and who, to test the fidelity of their wives, placed their children in the presence of snakes; if the snakes fled they knew their wives were pure. Callias took him further yet, to the home of the hermaphrodites; Nymphodorus showed him a race of fascinators who used enchanted words. With Apollonides he encountered women who killed with their eyes those on whom they looked too long. Megasthenes guided him to the Astomians, whose garments were the down of feathers, and who lived on the scent of the rose.

In his cups they all passed, confusedly, before him; the hermaphrodites whispered to the rose-breathers the secrets of impossible love; the griffons bore to him women with magical eyes; the Albanians danced with elastic feet; he heard the shrill call of the Psyllians, luring the serpents to death; the column of Panchaia unveiled its mysteries; the Hyperboreans the reason of their fear of life, and on the wings of the chimera he set out again in search of that continent which haunted antiquity and which lay beyond the sea.

IV

THE PURSUIT OF THE IMPOSSIBLE

"Another Phaethon for the universe," Tiberius is reported to have muttered, as he gazed at his nephew Caius, nicknamed Caligula, who was to suffocate him with a mattress and rule in his stead.

To rule is hardly the expression. There is no term in English to convey that dominion over sea and sky which a Caesar possessed, and which Caligula was the earliest to understand. Augustus was the first magistrate of Rome, Tiberius the first citizen. Caligula was the first emperor, but an emperor hallucinated by the enigma of his own grandeur, a prince for whose sovereignty the world was too small.

Each epoch has its secret, sometimes puerile, often perplexing; but in its maker there is another and a more interesting one yet. Eliminate Caligula, and Nero, Domitian, Commodus, Caracalla and Heliogabalus would never have been. It was he who gave them both raison d'etre and incentive. The lives of all of them are horrible, yet analyze the horrible and you find the sublime.

Fancy a peak piercing the heavens, shadowing the earth. It was on a peak such as that the young emperors of old Rome balanced themselves, a precipice on either side. Did they look below, a vertigo rose to meet them; from above delirium came, while the horizon, though it hemmed the limits of vision, could not mark the frontiers of their dream. In addition there was the exaltation that altitudes produce. The valleys have their imbeciles; it is from mountains the poet and madman come. Caligula was both, sceptred at that; and with what a sceptre! One that stretched from the Rhine to the Euphrates, dominated a hundred and fifty million people; one that a mattress had given and a knife was to take away; a sceptre that lashed the earth, threatened the sky, beckoned planets and ravished the divinity of the divine.

To wield such a sceptre securely requires grace, no doubt, majesty too, but certainly strength; the latter Caligula possessed, but it was the feverish strength of one who had fathomed the unfathomable, and who sought to make its depths his own. Caligula was haunted by the intangible. His sleep was a communion with Nature, with whom he believed himself one. At times the Ocean talked to him; at others the Earth had secrets which it wished to tell. Again there was some matter of moment which he must mention to the day, and he would wander out in the vast galleries of the palace and invoke the Dawn, bidding it come and listen to his speech. The day was deaf, but there was the moon, and he prayed her to descend and share his couch. Luna declined to be the mistress of a mortal; to seduce her Caligula determined to become a god.

Nothing was easier. An emperor had but to open his veins, and in an hour he was a divinity. But the divinity which Caligula desired was not of that kind. He wished to be a god, not on Olympus alone, but on earth as well. He wished to be a palpable, tangible, living god; one that mortals could see, which was more, he knew, than could be said of the others. The mere wish was sufficient--Rome fell at his feet. The patent of divinity was in the genuflections of a nation. At once he had a temple, priests and flamens. Inexhaustible Greece was sacked again. The statues of her gods, disembarked at Rome, were decapitated, and on them the head of Caius shone.

Heretofore his dress had not been Roman, nor, for that matter, the dress of a man. On his wrists were bracelets; about his shoulders was a mantle sewn with gems; beneath was a tunic, and on his feet were the high white slippers that women wore. But when the god came the costume changed. One day he was Apollo, the nimbus on his curls, the Graces at his side; the next he was Mercury, wings at his heels, the caduceus in his hand; again he was Venus. But it was as Jupiter Latialis, armed with the thunderbolt and decorated with a great gold beard, that he appeared at his best.

The role was very real to him. After the fashion of Olympians he became frankly incestuous, seducing vestals, his sisters too, and gaining in boldness with each metamorphosis, he menaced the Capitoline Jove. "Prove your power," he cried to him, "or fear my own!" He thundered at him with machine-made thunder, with lightning that flashed from a pan. "Kill me," he shouted, "or I will kill you!" Jove, unmoved, must have moved his assailant, for presently Caligula lowered his voice, whispered in the old god's ear, questioned him, meditated on his answer, grew perplexed, violent again, and threatened to send him home.

These interviews humanized him. He forgot the moon and mingled


Imperial Purple - 4/15

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