CHAPTER 9 It was the fifth anniversary of that resolution of the senate fathers to consecrate the…
It was the fifth anniversary of that resolution of the senate fathers to consecrate the altar of Peace. Pilgrims thronged the city, and some had journeyed far. Tens of thousands surrounded the great monument, immense and beautiful beyond any in the knowledge of men. It signalized a remarkable state of things—the world was at peace. More than seven centuries before that day an idea had entered the heart of a prophet; now it was in the very heart of the world. This heap of marble, under pagan gods, had given it grand, if only partial, expression. There was no symbol of war in the long procession of its upper frieze, and its lower was like a sculptured song of peace wrought in fruits and bees and birds and blossoms. Here was a mighty plant flowering twice a year and giving its seed to the four winds. Every July and January its erection was celebrated in the imperial republic.
Vergilius stood beside the emperor that day when, at the Ars Pacis Augustas, he addressed the people.
"I have been reading," he said, "the words of a certain dreamer of Judea, who, in the olden time, wrote of a day when swords should be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks, and when peace should reign among the nations of the earth. Well, give me an army for a hundred years, good people, and then I may voice the will of the gods that iron be used no more to plough its way in living flesh, but only to turn the furrow and to prune the tree. Meanwhile, believe me, every man must learn to love honor and virtue, and to respect his neighbor, and the gods above all."
A hundred years! The playful emperor knew not how quickly a man passes and how slowly, how exceeding slowly, moves the great procession of mankind. But so it befell; the very right hand of Jupiter had helped in the sowing of that seed which, as it grew, was to lift the foundations of his power.
Vergilius left the scene with Augustus. They rode away in the royal litter.
"In all the great cities men are speaking to-day of the value of peace and honor," said the subtle emperor—a sceptic in religion, a cynic in philosophy, a rake in private life, and a conqueror who commanded "peace" with a trained army of four hundred and fifty thousand men.
"It is a great thing to do," said the young knight.
"Give me men enough to say it, and if they grow not weary I will bring the world to believe that the sun is only the breast-plate of Jupiter," said Augustus. "Honor and peace are good things—do not forget that, my young friend. Give the words to your tongue, not flippantly, but with a sober eye, and often, my brave knight—often. You leave to-morrow—have you made ready?"
"Ready but for the leave-taking;" this with a sigh.
"It ill becomes you to be cast down. Shake your heart with laughter—it will roll away the stone of regret. Buy a fool, my young friend. For five thousand denarii you may obtain a most excellent fool."
He knew the price of all, from the hewer of wood to the crowned king, but only he could afford a slave like that.
"I should prefer a wise man," said the young knight.
"Philosophers are more expensive," the father continued, craftily—"twenty thousand denarii, and dear at that. They will teach you little but discontent. I recommend a grammarian."
The old emperor turned his cunning eyes upon the face of Vergilius.
"Forty thousand, at least, for a good one," he added; "but a youth of your talent should remember the value of immortal fame." Word and look were a hint to the young man that he should prepare himself with all diligence for an active career in the senate. The youth understood their meaning and was a trifle comforted. There was no promise nor the least warrant for a claim—it was only the emperor's way of guiding.
They were now passing a row of shops on the Via Claudia. The emperor, putting his hand out of the door, motioned to his lecticarii and they halted.
"Come with me," said the great man. They left the litter and entered a large shop. There Augustus bought many gifts for the young man—new arms, a beautiful corselet, a girdle of the look of knitted gold—for the Roman wore a girdle in Judea—articles of apparel suited to the climate of the Far East. The shop had filled with people, who tried to cover their curiosity by the purchase of trifles.
"This cloth would make a fine toga," said the shopkeeper.
The emperor surveyed it closely.
"Let me hold it up to the light and then you will see its texture," the other continued.
"You are a hard master," said Augustus.
"You would have us walk on the house-tops to show the fineness of our togas? It is enough. Let us pass, good people."
A cheer, starting at the shop door, went to the far sides of the city. It signified that the emperor was out among the people and in his best mood.
Their nomenclator cleared a way for them to the litter and they sat down again, facing each other, the emperor and the boy.
"If I had your riches," the great man remarked, as they went on, "I wonder what I should do with them."
"You jest with me, good father," said Vergilius.
"Nay, but I envy you; for have you not youth and love and the beauty of Apollo?"
He laid his hand upon the arm of the boy, and there was in his voice and manner a gentleness to make one regret that he lived not in a better time; for, perhaps, after all, he was what he had to be as the ruthless conqueror of a savage world.
"And I--- what have I but burdens I dare not lay aside? When I sleep, even, they press upon me. I am weary—but if I should let them fall, what, think you, would happen?"
His keen eyes, seeing before them, possibly, the great down-rush to madness, pressed a glance into the very soul of the young man. The latter started to reply, but with a look the emperor forbade him.
"Think, good youth—learn to think. It will profit you—there is so little competition. By-and-by Rome will need you."
Gently, forcefully this teacher of statesmen had given the young knight his first lesson. It was nearing its end now. The litter had stopped hard by the gate of the Lady Lucia.
"I wonder how you knew my destination," said Vergilius.
"You credit me with small discernment. Learn to know things that are not told you—it is the beginning of wisdom."