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- A Thorny Path, Volume 9. - 3/8 -
was hissed; while the statues of Vespasian, Titus, Hadrian, and Antonine, met with loud acclamations. That of Septimius Severus, Caracalla's father, to whom the town owed many benefits, was very well received. The images of the gods, too, had very various fates. Serapis, and Alexander, the divine hero of the town, were enthusiastically welcomed, while scarcely a voice was heard on the approach of Zeus-Jupiter and Ares-Mars. They were regarded as the gods of the hated Romans.
The companies of the imperial body-guard, who were placed about the amphitheatre, found no great difference, so long as it was daylight, between the crowd round the Circus of Alexandria and that by the Tiber. What chiefly struck them was the larger number of dusky faces, and the fanciful garb of the Magians. The almost naked rabble, too, with nothing on but a loin-cloth, who wriggled in and out of the throng, ready for any service or errand, formed a feature unknown at Rome. But, as it grew darker, the Romans began to perceive that it was not for nothing that they had come hither.
At Rome, when some great show was promised, of beast-fighting, gladiators, and the like, there were, no doubt, barbarian princes to be seen, and envoys from the remotest ends of the earth in strange and gorgeous array; and there, too, small wares of every kind were for sale. By the Tiber, again, night shows were given, with grand illuminations, especially for the feast of Flora; but here, as soon as the sun had set, and the sports were about to begin, the scene was one never to be forgotten. Some of the ladies who descended from the litters, wore garments of indescribable splendor; the men even displayed strange and handsome costumes as they were helped out of their gilt and plated chariots by their servants. What untold wealth must these men have at their command, to be able to dress their slaves in gold and silver brocade; and the runners, who kept up with the swiftest horses, must have lungs of iron! The praetorians, who had not for many a day seen anything to cause them to forget the motto of the greatest philosopher among their poets--never to be astonished at anything--repeatedly pushed each other with surprise and admiration; nay, the centurion Julius Martialis, who had just now had a visit in camp from his wife and children, in defiance of orders, while Caesar himself was looking on, struck his fist on his greaves, and, exclaiming loudly, "Look out!" pointed to Seleukus's chariot, for which four runners, in tunics with long sleeves, made of sea-green bombyx, richly embroidered with silver, were making a way through the crowd.
The barefooted lads, with their nimble, gazellelike legs, were all well looking, and might have been cast all in one mold. But what struck the centurion and his comrades as most remarkable in their appearance were the flash and sparkle from their slender ankles, as the setting sun suddenly shot a fleeting ray through a rift in the heavy clouds. Each of these fellows wore on his legs gold bands set with precious stones, and the rubies which glittered on the harness of Seleukus's horse were of far greater value.
He, as master of the festival, had come betimes, and this was the first of many such displays of wealth which followed each other in quick succession, as soon as the brief twilight of Egypt had given way to darkness, and the lighting up of the Circus was begun.
Here came a beautifully dressed woman in a roomy litter, over which waved a canopy entirely of white ostrich-plumes, which the evening breeze swayed like a thicket of fern-leaves. This throne was borne by ten black and ten white slave-girls, and before it two fair children rode on tame ostriches. The tall heir of a noble house, who, like Caesar at Rome, belonged to the "Blues," drove his own team of four splendid white horses; and he himself was covered with turquoises, while the harness was set with cut sapphires.
The centurion shook his head in silent admiration. His face had been tanned in many wars, both in the East and West, and he had fought even in distant Caledonia, but the low forehead, loose under lip, and dull eye spoke of small gifts of intellect. Nevertheless, he was not lacking in strength of will, and was regarded by his comrades as a good beast of burden who would submit to a great deal before it became too much for him. But then he would break out like a mad bull, and he might long ago have risen to higher rank, had he not once in such a fit of passion nearly throttled a fellow-soldier. For this crime he had been severely punished, and condemned to begin again at the bottom of the ladder. He owed it chiefly to the young tribune Aurelius Apollinaris that he had very soon regained the centurion's staff, in spite of his humble birth; he had saved that officer's life in the war with the Armenians--to be here, in Alexandria, cruelly mutilated by the hand of his sovereign.
The centurion had a faithful heart. He was as much attached to the two noble brothers as to his wife and children, for indeed he owed them much; and if the service had allowed it he would long since have made his way to the house of Seleukus to learn how the wounded tribune was faring. But he had not time even to see his own family, for his younger and richer comrades, who wanted to enjoy the pleasures of the city, had put upon him no small share of their own duties. Only this morning a young soldier of high birth, who had begun his career at the same time as Martialis, had promised him some tickets of admission to the evening's performance in the Circus if he would take his duty on guard outside the amphitheatre. And this offer had been very welcome to the centurion, for he thus found it possible to give those he loved best, his wife and his mother, the greatest treat which could be offered to any Alexandrian. And now, when anything noteworthy was to be seen outside, he only regretted that he had already some time since conducted them to their seats in one of the upper rows. He would have liked that they, too, should have seen the horses and the chariots and the "Blue" charioteer's turquoises and sapphires; although a decurion observed, as he saw them, that a Roman patrician would scorn to dress out his person with such barbaric splendor, and an Alexandrian of the praetorian guard declared that his fellow-citizens of Greek extraction thought more of a graceful fold than of whole strings of precious stones.
"But why, then, was this 'Blue' so vehemently hailed by the mob!" asked a Pannonian in the guard.
"The mob!" retorted the Alexandrian, scornfully. "Only the Syrians and other Asiatics. Look at the Greeks. The great merchant Seleukus is the richest of them all, but splendid as his horses, his chariots, and his slaves are, he himself wears only the simple Macedonian mantle. Though it is of costly material, who would suspect it? If you see a man swaggering in such a blaze of gems you may wager your house--if you have one--that his birthplace lies not very far from Syria."
"Now, that one, in a mother-of-pearl shell on two wheels, is the Jew Poseidonius," the Pannonian put in. "I am quartered on his father. But he is dressed like a Greek."
At this the centurion, in his delight at knowing something, opened his mouth with a broad grin: "I am a native here," said he, "and I can tell you the Jew would make you answer for it if you took him for anything but a Greek."
"And quite right," added another soldier, from Antioch. "The Jews here are many, but they have little in common with those in Palestine. They wish to pass for Greeks; they speak Greek, assume Greek names, and even cease to believe in the great God their father; they study Greek philosophy, and I know one who worships in the Temple of Serapis."
"Many do the same in Rome," said a man of Ostia. "I know an epigram which ridicules them for it."
At this point they were interrupted, for Martialis pointed to a tall man who was coming toward them, and whom his sharp eye had recognized as Macrinus, the prefect of the praetorians. In an instant the soldiers were erect and rigid, but still many a helmeted head was turned toward the spot where their chief stood talking in an undertone to the Magian Serapion.
Macrinus had persuaded Caesar to send for the exorciser, to test his arts. Immediately after the performance, however late it might be, the Magian was to be admitted to his presence.
Serapion thanked the prefect, and then whispered to him, "I have had a second revelation."
"Not here!" exclaimed Macrinus, uneasily, and, leading away his handsome little son, he turned toward the entrance.
Dusk, meanwhile, had given way to darkness, and several slaves stood ready to light the innumerable little lamps which were to illuminate the outside of the Circus. They edged the high arches which surrounded the two lower stories, and supported the upper ranks of the enormous circular structure. Separated only by narrow intervals, the rows of lights formed a glittering series of frames which outlined the noble building and rendered it visible from afar.
The arches on the ground-floor led to the cells from which the men and beasts were let out into the arena; but some, too, were fitted with shops, where flowers and wreaths, refreshments, drinks, handkerchiefs, fans, and other articles in request, were sold. On the footway between the building and the row of pitch torches which surrounded it, men and women in thousands were walking to and fro. Smart, inquisitive girls were pushing their way singly or in groups, and their laughter drowned the deep, tragical voices of the soothsayers and Magians who announced their magic powers to the passersby. Some of these even made their way into the waiting-rooms of the gladiators and wrestlers, who to-day so greatly needed their support that, in spite of severe and newly enforced prohibitions, many a one stole out into the crowd to buy some effectual charm or protecting amulet.
Where the illuminations were completed, attempts of another kind were being made to work upon the mood of the people; nimble-tongued fellows-- some in the service of Macrinus and some in that of the anxious senate-- were distributing handkerchiefs to wave on Caesar's approach, or flowers to strew in his path. More than one, who was known for a malcontent, found a gold coin in his hand, with the image of the monarch he was expected to hail; and on the way by which Caesar was to come many of those who awaited him wore the caracalla. These were for the most part bribed, and their acclamations were to mollify the tyrant's mood.
As soon as the prefect had disappeared within the building, the praetorian ranks fell out again. It was lucky that among them were several Alexandrians, besides the centurion Martialis, who had not long been absent from their native town; for without them much would have remained incomprehensible. The strangest thing to foreign eyes was a stately though undecorated harmamaxa, out of which stepped first a handsome wreathed youth, then a matron of middle age, and at last an elegantly dressed girl, whose rare beauty made even Martialis--who rarely noticed women--exclaim, "Now, she is to my taste the sweetest-thing of all."
But there must have been something very remarkable about these three; for when they appeared the crowd broke out at first in loud shouts and outcries, which soon turned to acclamations and welcome, though through it all shrill whistles and hisses were heard.
"Caesar's new mistress, the daughter of a gemcutter!" the Alexandrian muttered to his comrades. That handsome boy is her brother, no doubt. He is said to be a mean sycophant, a spy paid by Caesar."
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