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- A Thorny Path, Volume 10. - 5/9 -
Those who after the insulting occurrences in the Circus had expected to see Caesar raging and storming, were hurried from one surprise to another; for even after his conversation with the night-watch he looked cheerful and contented, and exclaimed: "It is long since you have seen me thus! My own mirror will ask itself if it has not changed owners. It is to be hoped it may have cause to accustom itself to reflect me as a happy man as often as I look in it. The two highest joys of life are before me, and I know not what would be left for me to desire if only Philostratus were here to share the coming days with me."
The grave senator Cassius Dio here stepped forward and observed that there were advantages in their amiable friend's withdrawal from the turmoil of court life. His Life of Apollonius, to which all the world was looking forward, would come all the sooner to a close.
"If only that I might talk to him of the man of Tyana," cried the emperor, "I wish his biographer were here to-day. To possess little and require nothing is the wish of the sage; and I can well imagine circumstances in which one who has enjoyed power and riches to satiety should consider himself blessed as a simple countryman following out the precept of Horace, 'procul negotiis,' plowing his fields and gathering the fruit of his own trees. According to Apollonius, the wise man must also be poor, and, though the citizens of his state are permitted to acquire treasures, the wealthy are looked upon as dishonorable. There is some sense in this paradox, for the possessions that are to be obtained with money are but vulgar joys. I know by experience what it is that purifies the soul, that lifts it up and makes it truly blessed. It does not come of power or riches. Whoso has known it, he to whom it has been revealed--"
He stopped short, surprised at himself; then laughed as he shook his head and exclaimed, "Behold, the tragedy hero in the purple with one foot in an idyl!" and wished the assembled company pleasant slumbers for the short remains of the night.
He gave his hand to a few favored ones; but, as he clasped that of the proconsul Julius Paulinus, who, with unheard-of audacity, had put on mourning garments for his brother-in-law Vindex, beheaded that day, Caesar's countenance grew dark, and, turning his back upon them all, he walked rapidly away. Scarcely had he disappeared when the mourning proconsul exclaimed in his dry manner, as if speaking to himself:
"The idyl is to begin. Would it might be the satyr-play that closes the bloodiest of tragedies!"
"Caesar has not been himself to-day," said the favorite Theocritus; and the senator Cassius Dio whispered to Paulinus, "And therefore he was more bearable to look at."
Old Adventus gazed in astonishment as Arjuna, the emperor's Indian body- slave, disrobed him; for, though Caracalla had entered the apartment with a dark and threatening brow, while his sandals were being unfastened, he laughed to himself, and cried to his old servant with beaming eyes, "To-morrow!" and the chamberlain called down a blessing on the morrow, and on her who was destined to fill the coming years with sunshine for mighty Caesar.
Caracalla, generally an early riser, slept this time longer than on other days. He had retired very late to rest, and the chamberlain therefore put off waking him, especially as he had been troubled by evil dreams, in spite of his happy frame of mind when he sought his couch. When at last he rose he first inquired about the weather, and expressed his satisfaction when he heard that the sun had risen with burning rays, but was now veiled in threatening clouds.
His first visit led him to the court of sacrifice. The offerings had fallen out most favorably, and he rejoiced at the fresh and healthy appearance of the bullocks' hearts and livers which the augurs showed him. In the stomach of one of the oxen they had found a flint arrow- head, and, on showing it to Caracalla, he laughed, and observed to the high-priest Timotheus: "A shaft from Eros's quiver! A hint from the god to offer him a sacrifice on this happy day."
After his bath he caused himself to be arrayed with peculiar care, and then gave orders for the admittance, first, of the prefect of the praetorians, and then of Melissa, for whom a mass of gorgeous flowers stood ready.
But Macrinus was not to be found, although Caesar had commanded him yesterday to give in his report before doing anything else. He had twice come to the antechamber, but had gone away again shortly before, and had not yet returned.
Determined to let nothing damp his spirits, Caesar merely shrugged his shoulders, and gave orders to admit the maiden, and--should they have accompanied her--her father and brother. But neither Melissa nor the men had appeared as yet, though Caracalla distinctly remembered having commanded all three to visit him after the bath, which he had taken several hours later than usual.
Vexed, and yet endeavoring to keep his temper, he went to the window. The sky was overcast, and a sharp wind from the sea drove the first rain- drops in his face.
In the wide square at his feet a spectacle presented itself which would have delighted him at another time, when in better spirits.
The younger men of the city--as many as were of Greek extraction--were trooping in. They were divided into companies, according to the wrestling-schools or the Circus and other societies to which they belonged. The youths marched apart from the married men, and one could see that they came gladly, and hoped for much enjoyment from the events of the day. Some of the others looked less delighted. They were unaccustomed to obey the orders of a despot, and many were ill-pleased to lose a whole day from their work or business. But no one was permitted to absent himself; for, when the chief citizens had invited the emperor to visit their wrestling-schools, he replied that he preferred to inspect the entire male youths of Alexandria in the Stadium. This was situated close by his residence in the Serapeum, and in this great space a spectacle would be afforded to him at one glance, which he could otherwise only enjoy by journeying laboriously from one gymnasium to another. He loved the strong effects produced by great masses; and being on the race-course, the wrestlers and boxers, the runners and discus- throwers, could give proof of their strength, dexterity, and endurance.
It occurred to him at the moment that among these youths and men there might be some of the descendants of the warriors who, under the command of the great Alexander, had conquered the world. Here, then, was an opportunity of gathering round him--rejuvenated and, so to speak, born anew--those troops who, under the guidance of the man whose mission on earth he was destined to accomplish, had won such deathless victories. That was a pleasure he had every right to permit himself, and he wished to show to Melissa the re-created military forces of him to whom, in a former existence, as Roxana, she had been so dear.
Quick as ever to suit the deed to the word, he at once ordered the head citizens to assemble the youth of Alexandria on the morning of the day in question, and to form them into a Macedonian phalanx. He wished to inspect them in the stadium, and they were now marching thither.
He had ordered helmets, shields, and lances to be made after well-known Macedonian patterns and to be distributed to the new Hellenic legion. Later on they might be intrusted with the guarding of the city, should there be a Parthian war; and he required the attendance of the Alexandrian garrison.
The inspection of this Greek regiment would be certain to give pleasure to Melissa. He expected, too, to see Alexander among them. When once his beloved shared the purple with him, he could raise her brother to the command of this chosen phalanx.
Troop after troop streamed on to the course, and he thought he had seldom seen anything finer than these slender youths, marching along with elastic step, and garlands in their black, brown, or golden locks.
When the young noblemen who belonged to the school of Timagetes filed past him, he took such delight in the beauty of their heads, the wonderful symmetry of their limbs strengthened by athletic games, and the supple grace of most of them, that he felt as if some magic spell had carried him back to the golden age of Greece and the days of the Olympian games in the Altis.
What could be keeping Melissa? This sight would assuredly please her, and for once he would be able to say something flattering about her people. One might easily overlook a good deal from such splendid youths.
Carried away by his admiration he waved his scarf to them, which being remarked by the gymnasiarch, who with his two assistants-herculean athletes--walked in front, was answered by him with a loud "Hail, Caesar!"
The youths who followed him imitated his example, and the troop that came after them returned his greeting loud and heartily. The young voices could be heard from afar, and the news soon spread to the last ranks of the first division to whom these greetings were addressed. But, among the men who already were masters of households of their own, there were many who deemed it shameful and unworthy to raise their voices in greeting to the tyrant whose heavy hand had oppressed them more than once; and a group of young men belonging to the party of the "Greens," who ran their own horses, had the fatal audacity to agree among themselves that they would leave Caesar's greeting unanswered. A many- headed crowd is like a row of strings which sound together as soon as the note is struck to which they are all attuned; and so each one now felt sure that his acclamation would only increase the insolence of this fratricide, this bloodstained monster, this oppressor and enemy of the citizens. The succeeding ranks of "Greens" followed the example, and from the midst of a troop of young married men, members in the gymnasium of the society of the Dioscuri, one foolhardy spirit had the reckless temerity to blow a shrill, far-sounding whistle between his fingers.
He found no imitators, but the insulting sound reached the emperor's ear, and seemed to him like the signal-call of Fate; for, before it had died away, the clouds broke, and a stream of brilliant sunshine spread over the race-course and the assembled multitude. The cloudy day that was to have brought happiness to Caesar had been suddenly transformed by the sun of Africa into a bright one; and the radiant light which cheered the hearts of others seemed to him to be a message from above to warn him that, instead of the highest bliss, this day would bring him disappointment and misfortune. He said nothing of this, for there was no one there in whom it would be any relief to confide, or of whose sympathy he could be sure. But those who watched him as he retired from the window saw plainly that the idyl, which he had promised them should begin to-day, would assuredly not do so for the next few hours at least, unless some miracle should occur. No, he would have to wait awhile for the pastoral joys he had promised himself. And it seemed as if, instead of the satyr-play of which old Julius Paulinus had spoken, that fatal whistle had given the signal for another act in Caracalla's terrible
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