BEFORE the Flavii had reared the Colosseum, amphitheatres in Rome were
built of wood mainly; for that reason nearly all of them had burned
during the fire. But Nero, for the celebration of the promised games,
had given command to build several, and among them a gigantic one, for
which they began, immediately after the fire was extinguished, to bring
by sea and the Tiber great trunks of trees cut on the slopes of Atlas;
for the games were to surpass all previous ones in splendor and the
number of victims.
Large spaces were given therefore for people and for animals. Thousands
of mechanics worked at the structure night and day. They built and
ornamented without rest. Wonders were told concerning pillars inlaid
with bronze, amber, ivory, mother of pearl, and transmarine tortoise-
shells. Canals filled with ice-cold water from the mountains and
running along the seats were to keep an agreeable coolness in the
building, even during the greatest heat. A gigantic purple velarium
gave shelter from the rays of the sun. Among the rows of seats were
disposed vessels for the burning of Arabian perfumes; above them were
fixed instruments to sprinkle the spectators with dew of saffron and
verbena. The renowned builders Severus and Celer put forth all their
skill to construct an amphitheatre at once incomparable and fitted for
such a number of the curious as none of those known before had been able
Hence, the day when the ludus matutinus was to begin, throngs of the
populace were awaiting from daylight the opening of the gates, listening
with delight to the roars of lions, the hoarse growls of panthers, and
the howls of dogs. The beasts had not been fed for two days, but pieces
of bloody flesh had been pushed before them to rouse their rage and
hunger all the more. At times such a storm of wild voices was raised
that people standing before the Circus could not converse, and the most
sensitive grew pale from fear.
With the rising of the sun were intoned in the enclosure of the Circus
hymns resonant but calm. The people heard these with amazement, and
said one to another, "The Christians! the Christians!" In fact, many
detachments of Christians had been brought to the amphitheatre that
night, and not from one place, as planned at first, but a few from each
prison. It was known in the crowd that the spectacles would continue
through weeks and months, but they doubted that it would be possible to
finish in a single day those Christians who had been intended for that
one occasion. The voices of men, women, and children singing the
morning hymn were so numerous that spectators of experience asserted
that even if one or two hundred persons were sent out at once, the
beasts would grow tired, become sated, and not tear all to pieces before
evening. Others declared that an excessive number of victims in the
arena would divert attention, and not give a chance to enjoy the
As the moment drew near for opening the vomitoria, or passages which led
to the interior, people grew animated and joyous; they discussed and
disputed about various things touching the spectacle. Parties were
formed praising the greater efficiency of lions or tigers in tearing.
Here and there bets were made. Others however talked about gladiators
who were to appear in the arena earlier than the Christians; and again
there were parties, some in favor of Samnites, others of Gauls, others
of Mirmillons, others of Thracians, others of the retiarii.
Early in the morning larger or smaller detachments of gladiators began
to arrive at the amphitheatre under the lead of masters, called lanistę.
Not wishing to be wearied too soon, they entered unarmed, often entirely
naked, often with green boughs in their hands, or crowned with flowers,
young, beautiful, in the light of morning, and full of life. Their
bodies, shining from olive oil, were strong as if chiselled from marble;
they roused to delight people who loved shapely forms. Many were known
personally, and from moment to moment were heard: "A greeting, Furnius!
A greeting, Leo! A greeting, Maximus! A greeting, Diomed!" Young
maidens raised to them eyes full of admiration; they, selecting the
maiden most beautiful, answered with jests, as if no care weighed on
them, sending kisses, or exclaiming, "Embrace me before death does!"
Then they vanished in the gates, through which many of them were never
to come forth again.
New arrivals drew away the attention of the throngs. Behind the
gladiators came mastigophori; that is, men armed with scourges, whose
office it was to lash and urge forward combatants. Next mules drew, in
the direction of the spoliarium, whole rows of vehicles on which were
piled wooden coffins. People were diverted at sight of this, inferring
from the number of coffins the greatness of the spectacle. Now marched
in men who were to kill the wounded; these were dressed so that each
resembled Charon or Mercury. Next came those who looked after order in
the Circus, and assigned places; after that slaves to bear around food
and refreshments; finally, pretorians, whom every Cęsar had always at
hand in the amphitheatre.
At last the vomitoria were opened, and crowds rushed to the centre. But
such was the number of those assembled that they flowed in and flowed in
for hours, till it was a marvel that the Circus could hold such a
countless multitude. The roars of wild beasts, catching the exhalations
of people, grew louder. While taking their places, the spectators made
an uproar like the sea in time of storm.
Finally, the prefect of the city came, surrounded by guards; and after
him, in unbroken line, appeared the litters of senators, consuls,
pretors, ediles, officials of the government and the palace, of
pretorian officers, patricians, and exquisite ladies. Some litters were
preceded by lictors bearing maces in bundles of rods; others by crowds
of slaves. In the sun gleamed the gilding of the litters, the white and
varied colored stuffs, feathers, earrings, jewels, steel of the maces.
From the Circus came shouts with which the people greeted great
dignitaries. Small divisions of pretorians arrived from time to time.
The priests of various temples came somewhat later; only after them were
brought in the sacred virgins of Vesta, preceded by lictors.
To begin the spectacle, they were waiting now only for Cęsar, who,
unwilling to expose the people to over-long waiting, and wishing to win
them by promptness, came soon, in company with the Augusta and
Petronius arrived among the Augustians, having Vinicius in his litter.
The latter knew that Lygia was sick and unconscious; but as access to
the prison had been forbidden most strictly during the preceding days,
and as the former guards had been replaced by new ones who were not
permitted to speak with the jailers or even to communicate the least
information to those who came to inquire about prisoners, he was not
even sure that she was not among the victims intended for the first day
of spectacles. They might send out even a sick woman for the lions,
though she were unconscious. But since the victims were to be sewed up
in skins of wild beasts and sent to the arena in crowds, no spectator
could be certain that one more or less might not be among them, and no
man could recognize any one. The jailers and all the servants of the
amphitheatre had been bribed, and a bargain made with the beast-keepers
to hide Lygia in some dark corner, and give her at night into the hands
of a confidant of Vinicius, who would take her at once to the Alban
Hills. Petronius, admitted to the secret, advised Vinicius to go with
him openly to the amphitheatre, and after he had entered to disappear in
the throng and hurry to the vaults, where, to avoid possible mistake, he
was to point out Lygia to the guards personally.
The guards admitted him through a small door by which they came out
themselves. One of these, named Cyrus, led him at once to the
Christians. On the way he said,--
"I know not, lord, that thou wilt find what thou art seeking. We
inquired for a maiden named Lygia, but no one gave us answer; it may be,
though, that they do not trust us."
"Are there many?" asked Vinicius.
"Many, lord, had to wait till to-morrow."
"Are there sick ones among them?"
"There were none who could not stand."
Cyrus opened a door and entered as it were an enormous chamber, but low
and dark, for the light came in only through grated openings which
separated it from the arena. At first Vinicius could see nothing; he
heard only the murmur of voices in the room, and the shouts of people in
the amphitheatre. But after a time, when his eyes had grown used to the
gloom, he saw crowds of strange beings, resembling wolves and bears.
Those were Christians sewed up in skins of beasts. Some of them were
standing; others were kneeling in prayer. Here and there one might
divine by the long hair flowing over the skin that the victim was a
woman. Women, looking like wolves, carried in their arms children sewed
up in equally shaggy coverings. But from beneath the skins appeared
bright faces and eyes which in the darkness gleamed with delight and
feverishness. It was evident that the greater number of those people
were mastered by one thought, exclusive and beyond the earth,--a thought
which during life made them indifferent to everything which happened
around them and which could meet them. Some, when asked by Vinicius
about Lygia, looked at him with eyes as if roused from sleep, without
answering his questions; others smiled at him, placing a finger on their
lips or pointing to the iron grating through which bright streaks of
light entered. But here and there children were crying, frightened by
the roaring of beasts, the howling of dogs, the uproar of people, and
the forms of their own parents who looked like wild beasts. Vinicius as
he walked by the side of Cyrus looked into faces, searched, inquired, at
times stumbled against bodies of people who had fainted from the crowd,
the stifling air, the heat, and pushed farther into the dark depth of
the room, which seemed to be as spacious as a whole amphitheatre.
But he stopped on a sudden, for he seemed to hear near the grating a
voice known to him. He listened for a while, turned, and, pushing
through the crowd, went near. Light fell on the face of the speaker,
and Vinicius recognized under the skin of a wolf the emaciated and
implacable countenance of Crispus.
"Mourn for your sins!" exclaimed Crispus, "for the moment is near. But
whoso thinks by death itself to redeem his sins commits a fresh sin, and
will be hurled into endless fire. With every sin committed in life ye
have renewed the Lord's suffering; how dare ye think that that life
which awaits you will redeem this one? To-day the just and the sinner
will die the same death; but the Lord will find His own. Woe to you,
the claws of the lions will rend your bodies; but not your sins, nor
your reckoning with God. The Lord showed mercy sufficient when He let
Himself be nailed to the cross; but thenceforth He will be only the
judge, who will leave no fault unpunished. Whoso among you has thought
to extinguish his sins by suffering, has blasphemed against God's
justice, and will sink all the deeper. Mercy is at an end, and the hour
of God's wrath has come. Soon ye will stand before the awful Judge in
whose presence the good will hardly be justified. Bewail your sins, for
the jaws of hell are open; woe to you, husbands and wives; woe to you,
parents and children."
And stretching forth his bony hands, he shook them above the bent heads;
he was unterrified and implacable even in the presence of death, to
which in a while all those doomed people were to go. After his words,
were heard voices: "We bewail our sins!" Then came silence, and only
the cry of children was audible, and the beating of hands against
The blood of Vinicius stiffened in his veins. He, who had placed all
his hope in the mercy of Christ, heard now that the day of wrath had
come, and that even death in the arena would not obtain mercy. Through
his head shot, it is true, the thought, clear and swift as lightning,
that Peter would have spoken otherwise to those about to die. Still
those terrible words of Crispus filled with fanaticism that dark chamber
with its grating, beyond which was the field of torture. The nearness
of that torture, and the throng of victims arrayed for death already,
filled his soul with fear and terror. All this seemed to him dreadful,
and a hundred times more ghastly than the bloodiest battle in which he
had ever taken part. The odor and heat began to stifle him; cold sweat
came out on his forehead. He was seized by fear that he would faint
like those against whose bodies he had stumbled while searching in the
depth of the apartment; so when he remembered that they might open the
grating any moment, he began to call Lygia and Ursus aloud, in the hope
that, if not they, some one knowing them would answer.
In fact, some man, clothed as a bear, pulled his toga, and said,--
"Lord, they remained in prison. I was the last one brought out; I saw
her sick on the couch."
"Who art thou?" inquired Viniciug.
"The quarryman in whose hut the Apostle baptized thee, lord. They
imprisoned me three days ago, and to-day I die."
Vinicius was relieved. When entering, he had wished to find Lygia; now
he was ready to thank Christ that she was not there, and to see in that
a sign of mercy. Meanwhile the quarryman pulled his toga again, and
"Dost remember, lord, that I conducted thee to the vineyard of
Cornelius, when the Apostle discoursed in the shed?"
"I saw him later, the day before they imprisoned me, He blessed me, and
said that he would come to the amphitheatre to bless the perishing. If
I could look at him in the moment of death and see the sign of the
cross, it would be easier for me to die. If thou know where he is,
lord, inform me."
Vinicius lowered his voice, and said,--
"He is among the people of Petronius, disguised as a slave. I know not
where they chose their places, but I will return to the Circus and see.
Look thou at me when ye enter the arena. I will rise and turn my face
toward them; then thou wilt find him with thy eyes."
"Thanks to thee, lord, and peace be with thee."
"May the Redeemer be merciful to thee."
Vinicius went out of the cuniculum, and betook himself to the
amphitheatre, where he had a place near Petronius among the other
"Is she there?" inquired Petronius.
"No; she remained in prison."
"Hear what has occurred to me, but while listening look at Nigidia for
example, so that we may seem to talk of her hair-dressing. Tigellinus
and Chilo are looking at us now. Listen then. Let them put Lygia in a
coffin at night and carry her out of the prison as a corpse; thou
divinest the rest?"
"Yes," answered Vinicius.
Their further conversation was interrupted by Tullius Senecio, who,
bending toward them, asked,--
"Do ye know whether they will give weapons to the Christians?"
"We do not," answered Petronius. "I should prefer that arms were
given," said Tullius; "if not, the arena will become like butcher's
shambles too early. But what a splendid amphitheatre!"
The sight was, in truth, magnificent. The lower seats, crowded with
togas were as white as snow. In the gilded podium sat Cęsar, wearing a
diamond collar and a golden crown on his head; next to him sat the
beautiful and gloomy Augusta, and on both sides were vestal virgins,
great officials, senators with embroidered togas, officers of the army
with glittering weapons,--in a word, all that was powerful, brilliant,
and wealthy in Rome. In the farther rows sat knights; and higher up
darkened in rows a sea of common heads, above which from pillar to
pillar hung festoons of roses, lilies, ivy, and grapevines.
People conversed aloud, called to one another, sang; at times they broke
into laughter at some witty word which was sent from row to row, and
they stamped with impatience to hasten the spectacle.
At last the stamping became like thunder, and unbroken. Then the
prefect of the city, who rode around the arena with a brilliant retinue,
gave a signal with a handkerchief, which was answered throughout the
amphitheatre by "A-a-a!" from thousands of breasts.
Usually a spectacle was begun by hunts of wild beasts, in which various
Northern and Southern barbarians excelled; but this time they had too
many beasts, so they began with andabates,--that is, men wearing helmets
without an opening for the eyes, hence fighting blindfold. A number of
these came into the arena together, and slashed at random with their
swords; the scourgers with long forks pushed some toward others to make
them meet. The more select of the audience looked with contempt and
indifference at this spectacle; but the crowd were amused by the awkward
motions of the swordsmen. When it happened that they met with their
shoulders, they burst out in loud laughter. "To the right!" "To the
left!" cried they, misleading the opponents frequently by design. A
number of pairs closed, however, and the struggle began to be bloody.
The determined combatants cast aside their shields, and giving their
left hands to each other, so as not to part again, struggled to the
death with their right. Whoever fell raised his fingers, begging mercy
by that sign; but in the beginning of a spectacle the audience demanded
death usually for the wounded, especially in the case of men who had
their faces covered and were unknown. Gradually the number of
combatants decreased; and when at last only two remained, these were
pushed together; both fell on the sand, and stabbed each other mutually.
Then, amid cries of "Peractum est!" servants carried out the bodies,
youths raked away the bloody traces on the sand and sprinkled it with
leaves of saffron.
Now a more important contest was to come,--rousing interest not only in
the herd, but in exquisites; during this contest young patricians made
enormous bets at times, often losing all they owned. Straightway from
hand to hand went tablets on which were written names of favorites, and
also the number of sestertia which each man wagered on his favorite.
"Spectati"--that is, champions who had appeared already on the arena and
gained victories--found most partisans; but among betters were also
those who risked considerably on gladiators who were new and quite
unknown, hoping to win immense sums should these conquer. Cęsar himself
bet; priests, vestals, senators, knights bet; the populace bet. People
of the crowd, when money failed them, bet their own freedom frequently.
They waited with heart-beating and even with fear for the combatants,
and more than one made audible vows to the gods to gain their protection
for a favorite.
In fact, when the shrill sound of trumpets was heard, there was a
stillness of expectation in the amphitheatre. Thousands of eyes were
turned to the great bolts, which a man approached dressed like Charon,
and amid the universal silence struck three times with a hammer, as if
summoning to death those who were hidden behind them. Then both halves
of the gate opened slowly, showing a black gully, out of which
gladiators began to appear in the bright arena. They came in divisions
of twenty-five, Thracians, Mirmillons, Samnites, Gauls, each nation
separately, all heavily armed; and last the retiarii, holding in one
hand a net, in the other a trident. At sight of them, here and there on
the benches rose applause, which soon turned into one immense and
unbroken storm. From above to below were seen excited faces, clapping
hands, and open mouths, from which shouts burst forth. The gladiators
encircled the whole arena with even and springy tread, gleaming with
their weapons and rich outfit; they halted before Cęsar's podium, proud,
calm, and brilliant. The shrill sound of a horn stopped the applause;
the combatants stretched their right hands upward, raised their eyes and
heads toward Cęsar, and began to cry or rather to chant with drawling
"Ave, Cęsar imperator! Morituri te salutant!"
Then they pushed apart quickly, occupying their places on the arena.
They were to attack one another in whole detachments; but first it was
permitted the most famous fencers to have a series of single combats, in
which the strength, dexterity, and courage of opponents were best
exhibited. In fact, from among the Gauls appeared a champion, well
known to lovers of the amphitheatre under the name of Lanio, a victor in
many games. With a great helmet on his head, and in mail which formed a
ridge in front of his powerful breast and behind, he looked in the gleam
of the golden arena like a giant beetle. The no less famous retiarius
Calendio came out against him.
Among the spectators people began to bet.
"Five hundred sestertia on the Gaul!"
"Five hundred on Calendio!"
"By Hercules, one thousand!"
Meanwhile the Gaul, reaching the centre of the arena, began to withdraw
with pointed sword, and, lowering his head, watched his opponent
carefully through the opening of his visor; the light retiarius,
stately, statuesque, wholly naked save a belt around his loins, circled
quickly about his heavy antagonist, waving the net with graceful
movement, lowering or raising his trident, and singing the usual song of
"Non te peto, piscem peto; Quid me fugis, Galle?"
["I seek not thee, I seek a fish; Why flee from me O Gaul?"]
But the Gaul was not fleeing, for after a while he stopped, and standing
in one place began to turn with barely a slight movement, so as to have
his enemy always in front, in his form and monstrously large head there
was now something terrible, The spectators understood perfectly that
that heavy body encased in bronze was preparing for a sudden throw to
decide the battle. The retiarius meanwhile sprang up to him, then
sprang away, making with his three-toothed fork motions so quick that
the eye hardly followed them. The sound of the teeth on the shield was
heard repeatedly; but the Gaul did not quiver, giving proof by this of
his gigantic strength. All his attention seemed fixed, not on the
trident, but the net which was circling above his head, like a bird of
ill omen. The spectators held the breath in their breasts, and followed
the masterly play of the gladiators. The Gaul waited, chose the moment,
and rushed at last on his enemy; the latter with equal quickness shot
past under his sword, straightened himself with raised arm, and threw
The Gaul, turning where he stood, caught it on his shield; then both
sprang apart. In the amphitheatre shouts of "Macte!" thundered; in the
lower rows they began to make new bets. Cęsar himself, who at first had
been talking with Rubria, and so far had not paid much attention to the
spectacle, turned his head toward the arena.
They began to struggle again, so regularly and with such precision in
their movements, that sometimes it seemed that with them it was not a
question of life or death, but of exhibiting skill. The Gaul escaping
twice more from the net, pushed toward the edge of the arena; those who
held bets against him, not wishing the champion to rest, began to cry,
"Bear on!" The Gaul obeyed, and attacked. The arm of the retiarius was
covered on a sudden with blood, and his net dropped. The Gaul summoned
his strength, and sprang forward to give the final blow. That instant
Calendio, who feigned inability to wield the net, sprang aside, escaped
the thrust, ran the trident between the knees of his opponent, and
brought him to the earth.
The Gaul tried to rise, but in a twinkle he was covered by the fatal
meshes, in which he was entangled more and more by every movement of his
feet and hands. Meanwhile stabs of the trident fixed him time after
time to the earth. He made one more effort, rested on his arm, and
tried to rise; in vain! He raised to his head his falling hand which
could hold the sword no longer, and fell on his back. Calendio pressed
his neck to the ground with the trident, and, resting both hands on the
handle of it, turned toward Cęsar's box.
The whole Circus was trembling from plaudits and the roar of people.
For those who had bet on Calendio he was at that moment greater than
Cęsar; but for this very reason animosity against the Gaul vanished from
their hearts. At the cost of his blood he had filled their purses. The
voices of the audience were divided. On the upper seats half the signs
were for death, and half for mercy; but the retiarius looked only at the
box of Cęsar and the vestals, waiting for what they would decide.
To the misfortune of the fallen gladiator, Nero did not like him, for at
the last games before the fire he had bet against the Gaul, and had lost
considerable sums to Licinus; hence he thrust his hand out of the
podium, and turned his thumb toward the earth.
The vestals supported the sign at once. Calendio knelt on the breast of
the Gaul, drew a short knife from his belt, pushed apart the armor
around the neck of his opponent, and drove the three-edged blade into
his throat to the handle.
"Peractum est!" sounded voices in the amphitheatre.
The Gaul quivered a time, like a stabbed bullock, dug the sand with his
heels, stretched, and was motionless.
Mercury had no need to try with heated iron if he were living yet. He
was hidden away quickly, and other pairs appeared. After them came a
battle of whole detachments. The audience took part in it with soul,
heart, and eyes. They howled, roared, whistled, applauded, laughed,
urged on the combatants, grew wild. The gladiators on the arena,
divided into two legions, fought with the rage of wild beasts; breast
struck breast, bodies were intertwined in a death grapple, strong limbs
cracked in their joints, swords were buried in breasts and in stomachs,
pale lips threw blood on to the sand. Toward the end such terrible fear
seized some novices that, tearing themselves from the turmoil, they
fled; but the scourgers drove them back again quickly to the battle with
lashes tipped with lead. On the sand great dark spots were formed; more
and more naked and armed bodies lay stretched like grain sheaves. The
living fought on the corpses; they struck against armor and shields, cut
their feet against broken weapons, and fell. The audience lost self-
command from delight; and intoxicated with death breathed it, sated
their eyes with the sight of it, and drew into their lungs the
exhalations of it with ecstasy.
The conquered lay dead, almost every man. Barely a few wounded knelt in
the middle of the arena, and trembling stretched their hands to the
audience with a prayer for mercy. To the victors were given rewards,--
crowns, olive wreaths. And a moment of rest came, which, at command of
the all-powerful Cęsar, was turned into a feast. Perfumes were burned
in vases. Sprinklers scattered saffron and violet rain on the people.
Cooling drinks were served, roasted meats, sweet cakes, wine, olives,
and fruits. The people devoured, talked, and shouted in honor of Cęsar,
to incline him to greater bounteousness. When hunger and thirst had
been satisfied, hundreds of slaves bore around baskets full of gifts,
from which boys, dressed as Cupids, took various objects and threw them
with both hands among the seats. When lottery tickets were distributed,
a battle began. People crowded, threw, trampled one another; cried for
rescue, sprang over rows of seats, stifled one another in the terrible
crush, since whoever got a lucky number might win possibly a house with
a garden, a slave, a splendid dress, or a wild beast which he could sell
to the amphitheatre afterward. For this reason there were such
disorders that frequently the pretorians had to interfere; and after
every distribution they carried out people with broken arms or legs, and
some were even trampled to death in the throng.
But the more wealthy took no part in the fight for tesserę. The
Augustians amused themselves now with the spectacle of Chilo, and with
making sport of his vain efforts to show that he could look at fighting
and blood-spilling as well as any man. But in vain did the unfortunate
Greek wrinkle his brow, gnaw his lips, and squeeze his fists till the
nails entered his palms. His Greek nature and his personal cowardice
were unable to endure such sights. His face grew pale, his forehead was
dotted with drops of sweat, his lips were blue, his eyes turned in, his
teeth began to chatter, and a trembling seized his body. At the end of
the battle he recovered somewhat; but when they attacked him with
tongues, sudden anger seized him, and he defended himself desperately.
"Ha, Greek! the sight of torn skin on a man is beyond thy strength!"
said Vatinius, taking him by the beard.
Chilo bared his last two yellow teeth at him and answered,--
"My father was not a cobbler, so I cannot mend it."
"Macte! habet (Good! he has caught it!)" called a number of voices; but
others jeered on.
"He is not to blame that instead of a heart he has a piece of cheese in
his breast," said Senecio.
"Thou art not to blame that instead of a head thou hast a bladder,"
"Maybe thou wilt become a gladiator! thou wouldst look well with a net
on the arena."
"If I should catch thee in it, I should catch a stinking hoopoe."
"And how will it be with the Christians?" asked Festus, from Liguria.
"Wouldst thou not like to be a dog and bite them?"
"I should not like to be thy brother."
"Thou Męotian copper-nose!"
"Thou Ligurian mule!"
"Thy skin is itching, evidently, but I don't advise thee to ask me to
"Scratch thyself. If thou scratch thy own pimple, thou wilt destroy
what is best in thee,"
And in this manner they attacked him. He defended himself venomously,
amid universal laughter. Cęsar, clapping his hands, repeated, "Macte!"
and urged them on. After a while Pertronius approached, and, touching
the Greek's shoulder with his carved ivory cane, said coldly,--
"This is well, philosopher; but in one thing thou hast blundered: the
gods created thee a pickpocket, and thou hast become a demon. That is
why thou canst not endure."
The old man looked at him with his red eyes, but this time somehow he
did not find a ready insult. He was silent for a moment; then answered,
as if with a certain effort,--
"I shall endure."
Meanwhile the trumpets announced the end of the interval. People began
to leave the passages where they had assembled to straighten their legs
and converse. A general movement set in with the usual dispute about
seats occupied previously. Senators and patricians hastened to their
places. The uproar ceased after a time, and the amphitheatre returned
to order. On the arena a crowd of people appeared whose work was to dig
out here and there lumps of sand formed with stiffened blood.
The turn of the Christians was at hand. But since that was a new
spectacle for people, and no one knew how the Christians would bear
themselves, all waited with a certain curiosity. The disposition of the
audience was attentive but unfriendly; they were waiting for uncommon
scenes. Those people who were to appear had burned Rome and its ancient
treasures. They had drunk the blood of infants, and poisoned water;
they had cursed the whole human race, and committed the vilest crimes.
The harshest punishment did not suffice the roused hatred; and if any
fear possessed people's hearts, it was this: that the torture of the
Christians would not equal the guilt of those ominous criminals.
Meanwhile the sun had risen high; its rays, passing through the purple
velarium, had filled the amphitheatre with blood-colored light. The
sand assumed a fiery hue, and in those gleams, in the faces of people,
as well as in the empty arena, which after a time was to be filled with
the torture of people and the rage of savage beasts, there was something
terrible. Death and terror seemed hovering in the air. The throng,
usually gladsome, became moody under the influence of hate and silence.
Faces had a sullen expression.
Now the prefect gave a sign. The same old man appeared, dressed as
Charon, who had called the gladiators to death, and, passing with slow
step across the arena amid silence, he struck three times again on the
Throughout the amphitheatre was heard the deep murmur,--
"The Christians! the Christians!"
The iron gratings creaked; through the dark openings were heard the
usual cries of the scourgers, "To the sand!" and in one moment the arena
was peopled with crowds as it were of satyrs covered with skins. All
ran quickly, somewhat feverishly, and, reaching the middle of the
circle, they knelt one by another with raised heads. The spectators,
judging this to be a prayer for pity, and enraged by such cowardice,
began to stamp, whistle, throw empty wine-vessels, bones from which the
flesh had been eaten, and shout, "The beasts! the beasts!" But all at
once something unexpected took place. From out the shaggy assembly
singing voices were raised, and then sounded that hynm heard for the
first time in a Roman amphitheatre, "Christus regnat!" ["Christ
Astonishment seized the spectators. The condemned sang with eyes raised
to the velarium. The audience saw faces pale, but as it were inspired.
All understood that those people were not asking for mercy, and that
they seemed not to see the Circus, the audience, the Senate, or Cęsar.
"Christus regnat!" rose ever louder, and in the seats, far up to the
highest, among the rows of spectators, more than one asked himself the
question, "What is happening, and who is that Christus who reigns in the
mouths of those people who are about to die?" But meanwhile a new
grating was opened, and into the arena rushed, with mad speed and
barking, whole packs of dogs,--gigantic, yellow Molossians from the
Peloponnesus, pied dogs from the Pyrenees, and wolf-like hounds from
Hibernia, purposely famished; their sides lank, and their eyes
bloodshot. Their howls and whines filled the amphitheatre. When the
Christians had finished their hymn, they remained kneeling, motionless,
as if petrified, merely repeating in one groaning chorus, "Pro Christo!
Pro Christo!" The dogs, catching the odor of people under the skins of
beasts, and surprised by their silence, did not rush on them at once.
Some stood against the walls of the boxes, as if wishing to go among the
spectators; others ran around barking furiously, as though chasing some
unseen beast. The people were angry. A thousand voices began to call;
some howled like wild beasts; some barked like dogs; others urged them
on in every language. The amphitheatre was trembling from uproar. The
excited dogs began to run to the kneeling people, then to draw back,
snapping their teeth, till at last one of the Molossians drove his teeth
into the shoulder of a woman kneeling in front, and dragged her under
Tens of dogs rushed into the crowd now, as if to break through it. The
audience ceased to howl, so as to look with greater attention. Amidst
the howling and whining were heard yet plaintive voices of men and
women: "Pro Christo! Pro Christo!" but on the arena were formed
quivering masses of the bodies of dogs and people. Blood flowed in
streams from the torn bodies. Dogs dragged from each other the bloody
limbs of people. The odor of blood and torn entrails was stronger than
Arabian perfumes, and filled the whole Circus.
At last only here and there were visible single kneeling forms, which
were soon covered by moving squirming masses.
Vinicius, who at the moment when the Christians ran in, stood up and
turned so as to indicate to the quarryman, as he had promised, the
direction in which the Apostle was hidden among the people of Petronius,
sat down again, and with the face of a dead man continued to look with
glassy eyes on the ghastly spectacle. At first fear that the quarryman
might have been mistaken, and that perchance Lygia was among the
victims, benumbed him completely; but when he heard the voices, "Pro
Christo!" when he saw the torture of so many victims who, in dying,
confessed their faith and their God, another feeling possessed him,
piercing him like the most dreadful pain, but irresistible. That
feeling was this,--if Christ Himself died in torment, if thousands are
perishing for Him now, if a sea of blood is poured forth, one drop more
signifies nothing, and it is a sin even to ask for mercy. That thought
came to him from the arena, penetrated him with the groans of the dying,
with the odor of their blood. But still he prayed and repeated with
parched lips, "O Christ! O Christ! and Thy Apostle prayed for her!"
Then he forgot himself, lost consciousness of where he was. It seemed
to him that blood on the arena was rising and rising, that it was coming
up and flowing out of the Circus over all Rome. For the rest he heard
nothing, neither the howling of dogs nor the uproar of the people nor
the voices of the Augustians, who began all at once to cry,--
"Chilo has fainted!"
"Chilo has fainted!" said Petronius, turning toward the Greek.
And he had fainted really; he sat there white as linen, his head fallen
back, his mouth wide open, like that of a corpse.
At that same moment they were urging into the arena new victims, sewed
up in skins.
These knelt immediately, like those who had gone before; but the weary
dogs would not rend them. Barely a few threw themselves on to those
kneeling nearest; but others lay down, and, raising their bloody jaws,
began to scratch their sides and yawn heavily.
Then the audience, disturbed in spirit, but drunk with blood and wild,
began to cry with hoarse voices,--
"The lions! the lions! Let out the lions!"
The lions were to be kept for the next day; but in the amphitheatres the
people imposed their will on every one, even on Cęsar. Caligula alone,
insolent and changeable in his wishes, dared to oppose them, and there
were cases when he gave command to beat the people with clubs; but even
he yielded most frequently. Nero, to whom plaudits were dearer than all
else in the world, never resisted. All the more did he not resist now,
when it was a question of mollifying the populace, excited after the
conflagration, and a question of the Christians, on whom he wished to
cast the blame of the catastrophe.
He gave the sign therefore to open the cuniculum, seeing which, the
people were calmed in a moment. They heard the creaking of the doors
behind which were the lions. At sight of the lions the dogs gathered
with low whines, on the opposite side of the arena. The lions walked
into the arena one after another, immense, tawny, with great shaggy
heads. Cęsar himself turned his wearied face toward them, and placed
the emerald to his eye to see better. The Augustians greeted them with
applause; the crowd counted them on their fingers, and followed eagerly
the impression which the sight of them would make on the Christians
kneeling in the centre, who again had begun to repeat the words, without
meaning for many, though annoying to all, "Pro Christo! Pro Christo!"
But the lions, though hungry, did not hasten to their victims. The
ruddy light in the arena dazzled them and they half closed their eyes as
if dazed. Some stretched their yellowish bodies lazily; some, opening
their jaws, yawned,--one might have said that they wanted to show their
terrible teeth to the audience. But later the odor of blood and torn
bodies, many of which were lying on the sand, began to act on them.
Soon their movements became restless, their manes rose, their nostrils
drew in the air with hoarse sound. One fell suddenly on the body of a
woman with a torn face, and, lying with his fore paws on the body,
licked with a rough tongue the stiffened blood: another approached a man
who was holding in his arms a child sewed up in a fawn's skin.
The child, trembling from crying, and weeping, clung convulsively to the
neck of its father; he, to prolong its life even for a moment, tried to
pull it from his neck, so as to hand it to those kneeling farther on.
But the cry and the movement irritated the lion. All at once he gave
out a short, broken roar, killed the child with one blow of his paw, and
seizing the head of the father in his jaws, crushed it in a twinkle.
At sight of this all the other lions fell upon the crowd of Christians.
Some women could not restrain cries of terror; but the audience drowned
these with plaudits, which soon ceased, however, for the wish to see
gained the mastery. They beheld terrible things then: heads
disappearing entirely in open jaws, breasts torn apart with one blow,
hearts and lungs swept away; the crushing of bones under the teeth of
lions. Some lions, seizing victims by the ribs or loins, ran with mad
springs through the arena, as if seeking hidden places in which to
devour them; others fought, rose on their hind legs, grappled one
another like wrestlers, and filled the amphitheatre with thunder.
People rose from their places. Some left their seats, went down lower
through the passages to see better, and crowded one another mortally.
It seemed that the excited multitude would throw itself at last into the
arena, and rend the Christians in company with the lions. At moments an
unearthly noise was heard; at moments applause; at moments roaring,
rumbling, the clashing of teeth, the howling of Molossian dogs; at times
Cęsar, holding the emerald to his eye, looked now with attention. The
face of Petronius assumed an expression of contempt and disgust. Chilo
had been borne out of the Circus.
But from the cuniculum new victims were driven forth continually.
From the highest row in the amphitheatre the Apostle Peter looked at
them. No one saw him, for all heads were turned to the arena; so he
rose and as formerly in the vineyard of Cornelius he had blessed for
death and eternity those who were intended for imprisonment, so now he
blessed with the cross those who were perishing under the teeth of wild
beasts. He blessed their blood, their torture, their dead bodies turned
into shapeless masses, and their souls flying away from the bloody sand.
Some raised their eyes to him, and their faces grew radiant; they smiled
when they saw high above them the sign of the cross. But his heart was
rent, and he said, "O Lord! let Thy will be done. These my sheep perish
to Thy glory in testimony of the truth. Thou didst command me to feed
them; hence I give them to Thee, and do Thou count them, Lord, take
them, heal their wounds, soften their pain, give them happiness greater
than the torments which they suffered here."
And he blessed them one after another, crowd after crowd, with as much
love as if they had been his children whom he was giving directly into
the hands of Christ. Then Cęsar, whether from madness, or the wish that
the exhibition should surpass everything seen in Rome so far, whispered
a few words to the prefect of the city. He left the podium and went at
once to the cuniculum. Even the populace were astonished when, after a
while, they saw the gratings open again. Beasts of all kinds were let
out this time,--tigers from the Euphrates, Numidian panthers, bears,
wolves, hyenas, and jackals. The whole arena was covered as with a
moving sea of striped, yellow, flax-colored, dark-brown, and spotted
skins. There rose a chaos in which the eye could distinguish nothing
save a terrible turning and twisting of the backs of wild beasts. The
spectacle lost the appearance of reality, and became as it were an orgy
of blood, a dreadful dream, a gigantic kaleidoscope of mad fancy. The
measure was surpassed. Amidst roars, howls, whines, here and there on
the seats of the spectators were heard the terrified and spasmodic
laughter of women, whose strength had given way at last. The people
were terrified. Faces grew dark. Various voices began to cry, "Enough!
But it was easier to let the beasts in than drive them back again.
Cęsar, however, found a means of clearing the arena, and a new amusement
for the people. In all the passages between the seats appeared
detachments of Numidians, black and stately, in feathers and earrings,
with bows in their hands. The people divined what was coming, and
greeted the archers with a shout of delight. The Numidians approached
the railing, and, putting their arrows to the strings, began to shoot
from their bows into the crowd of beasts. That was a new spectacle
truly. Their bodies, shapely as if cut from dark marble, bent backward,
stretched the flexible bows, and sent bolt after bolt. The whizzing of
the strings and the whistling of the feathered missiles were mingled
with the howling of beasts and cries of wonder from the audience.
Wolves, bears, panthers, and people yet alive fell side by side. Here
and there a lion, feeling a shaft in his ribs, turned with sudden
movement, his jaws wrinkled from rage, to seize and break the arrow.
Others groaned from pain. The small beasts, falling into a panic, ran
around the arena at random, or thrust their heads into the grating;
meanwhile the arrows whizzed and whizzed on, till all that was living
had lain down in the final quiver of death.
Hundreds of slaves rushed into the arena armed with spades, shovels,
brooms, wheelbarrows, baskets for carrying out entrails, and bags of
sand. They came, crowd after crowd, and over the whole circle there
seethed up a feverish activity. The space was soon cleared of bodies,
blood, and mire, dug over, made smooth, and sprinkled with a thick layer
of fresh sand. That done, Cupids ran in, scattering leaves of roses,
lilies, and the greatest variety of flowers. The censers were ignited
again, and the velarium was removed, for the sun had sunk now
considerably. But people looked at one another with amazement, and
inquired what kind of new spectacle was waiting for them on that day.
Indeed, such a spectacle was waiting as no one had looked for. Cęsar,
who had left the podium some time before, appeared all at once on the
flowery arena, wearing a purple mantle, and a crown of gold. Twelve
choristers holding citharę followed him. He had a silver lute, and
advanced with solemn tread to the middle, bowed a number of times to the
spectators, raised his eyes, and stood as if waiting for inspiration.
Then he struck the strings and began to sing,--
"O radiant son of Leto, Ruler of Tenedos, Chilos, Chrysos, Art thou he
who, having in his care The sacred city of Ilion, Could yield it to
Argive anger, And suffer sacred altars, Which blazed unceasingly to his
honor, To be stained with Trojan blood? Aged men raised trembling hands
to thee, O thou of the far-shooting silver bow, Mothers from the depth
of their breasts Raised tearful cries to thee, Imploring pity on their
offspring. Those complaints might have moved a stone, But to the
suffering of people Thou, O Smintheus, wert less feeling than a stone!"
The song passed gradually into an elegy, plaintive and full of pain. In
the Circus there was silence. After a while Cęsar, himself affected,
"With the sound of thy heavenly lyre Thou couldst drown the wailing, The
lament of hearts. At the sad sound of this song The eye to-day is filled
with tears, As a flower is filled with dew, But who can raise from dust
and ashes That day of fire, disaster, ruin? O Smintheus, where wert thou
Here his voice quivered and his eyes grew moist. Tears appeared on the
lids of the vestals; the people listened in silence before they burst
into a long unbroken storm of applause.
Meanwhile from outside through the vomitoria came the sound of creaking
vehicles on which were placed the bloody remnants of Christians, men,
women, and children, to be taken to the pits called "puticuli."
But the Apostle Peter seized his trembling white head with his hands,
and cried in spirit,--
"O Lord, O Lord! to whom hast Thou given rule over the earth, and why
wilt Thou found in this place Thy capital?"