Last Days of Pompeii

Chapter VII


WHEN Glaucus left Ione, he felt as if he trod upon air. In the interview with which he had just been blessed, he had for the first time gathered from her distinctly that his love was not unwelcome to, and would not be unrewarded by, her. This hope filled him with a rapture for which earth and heaven seemed too narrow to afford a vent. Unconscious of the sudden enemy he had left behind, and forgetting not only his taunts but his very existence, Glaucus passed through the gay streets, repeating to himself, in the wantonness of joy, the music of the soft air to which Ione had listened with such intentness; and now he entered the Street of Fortune, with its raised footpath—its houses painted without, and the open doors admitting the view of the glowing frescoes within. Each end of the street was adorned with a triumphal arch: and as Glaucus now came before the Temple of Fortune, the jutting portico of that beautiful fane (which is supposed to have been built by one of the family of Cicero, perhaps by the orator himself) imparted a dignified and venerable feature to a scene otherwise more brilliant than lofty in its character. That temple was one of the most graceful specimens of Roman architecture. It was raised on a somewhat lofty podium; and between two flights of steps ascending to a platform stood the altar of the goddess. From this platform another flight of broad stairs led to the portico, from the height of whose fluted columns hung festoons of the richest flowers. On either side the extremities of the temple were placed statues of Grecian workmanship; and at a little distance from the temple rose the triumphal arch crowned with an equestrian statue of Caligula, which was flanked by trophies of bronze. In the space before the temple a lively throng were assembled—some seated on benches and discussing the politics of the empire, some conversing on the approaching spectacle of the amphitheatre. One knot of young men were lauding a new beauty, another discussing the merits of the last play; a third group, more stricken in age, were speculating on the chance of the trade with Alexandria, and amidst these were many merchants in the Eastern costume, whose loose and peculiar robes, painted and gemmed slippers, and composed and serious countenances, formed a striking contrast to the tunicked forms and animated gestures of the Italians. For that impatient and lively people had, as now, a language distinct from speech—a language of signs and motions, inexpressibly significant and vivacious: their descendants retain it, and the learned Jorio hath written a most entertaining work upon that species of hieroglyphical gesticulation.

Sauntering through the crowd, Glaucus soon found himself amidst a group of his merry and dissipated friends.

'Ah!' said Sallust, 'it is a lustrum since I saw you.'

'And how have you spent the lustrum? What new dishes have you discovered?'

'I have been scientific,' returned Sallust, 'and have made some experiments in the feeding of lampreys: I confess I despair of bringing them to the perfection which our Roman ancestors attained.'

'Miserable man! and why?'

'Because,' returned Sallust, with a sigh, 'it is no longer lawful to give them a slave to eat. I am very often tempted to make away with a very fat carptor (butler) whom I possess, and pop him slily into the reservoir. He would give the fish a most oleaginous flavor! But slaves are not slaves nowadays, and have no sympathy with their masters' interest—or Davus would destroy himself to oblige me!'

'What news from Rome?' said Lepidus, as he languidly joined the group.

'The emperor has been giving a splendid supper to the senators,' answered Sallust.

'He is a good creature,' quoth Lepidus; 'they say he never sends a man away without granting his request.'

'Perhaps he would let me kill a slave for my reservoir?' returned Sallust, eagerly.

'Not unlikely,' said Glaucus; 'for he who grants a favor to one Roman, must always do it at the expense of another. Be sure, that for every smile Titus has caused, a hundred eyes have wept.'

'Long live Titus!' cried Pansa, overhearing the emperor's name, as he swept patronizingly through the crowd; 'he has promised my brother a quaestorship, because he had run through his fortune.'

'And wishes now to enrich himself among the people, my Pansa,' said Glaucus.

'Exactly so,' said Pansa.

'That is putting the people to some use,' said Glaucus.

'To be sure, returned Pansa. 'Well, I must go and look after the aerarium—it is a little out of repair'; and followed by a long train of clients, distinguished from the rest of the throng by the togas they wore (for togas, once the sign of freedom in a citizen, were now the badge of servility to a patron), the aedile fidgeted fussily away.

'Poor Pansa!' said Lepidus: 'he never has time for pleasure. Thank Heaven I am not an aedile!'

'Ah, Glaucus! how are you? gay as ever?' said Clodius, joining the group.

'Are you come to sacrifice to Fortune?' said Sallust.

'I sacrifice to her every night,' returned the gamester.

'I do not doubt it. No man has made more victims!'

'By Hercules, a biting speech!' cried Glaucus, laughing.

'The dog's letter is never out of your mouth, Sallust,' said Clodius, angrily: 'you are always snarling.'

'I may well have the dog's letter in my mouth, since, whenever I play with you, I have the dog's throw in my hand,' returned Sallust.

'Hist!' said Glaucus, taking a rose from a flower-girl, who stood beside.

'The rose is the token of silence,' replied Sallust, 'but I love only to see it at the supper-table.'

'Talking of that, Diomed gives a grand feast next week,' said Sallust: 'are you invited, Glaucus?'

'Yes, I received an invitation this morning.'

'And I, too,' said Sallust, drawing a square piece of papyrus from his girdle: 'I see that he asks us an hour earlier than usual: an earnest of something sumptuous.'

'Oh! he is rich as Croesus,' said Clodius; 'and his bill of fare is as long as an epic.'

'Well, let us to the baths,' said Glaucus: 'this is the time when all the world is there; and Fulvius, whom you admire so much, is going to read us his last ode.'

The young men assented readily to the proposal, and they strolled to the baths.

Although the public thermae, or baths, were instituted rather for the poorer citizens than the wealthy (for the last had baths in their own houses), yet, to the crowds of all ranks who resorted to them, it was a favorite place for conversation, and for that indolent lounging so dear to a gay and thoughtless people. The baths at Pompeii differed, of course, in plan and construction from the vast and complicated thermae of Rome; and, indeed, it seems that in each city of the empire there was always some slight modification of arrangement in the general architecture of the public baths. This mightily puzzles the learned—as if architects and fashion were not capricious before the nineteenth century! Our party entered by the principal porch in the Street of Fortune. At the wing of the portico sat the keeper of the baths, with his two boxes before him, one for the money he received, one for the tickets he dispensed. Round the walls of the portico were seats crowded with persons of all ranks; while others, as the regimen of the physicians prescribed, were walking briskly to and fro the portico, stopping every now and then to gaze on the innumerable notices of shows, games, sales, exhibitions, which were painted or inscribed upon the walls. The general subject of conversation was, however, the spectacle announced in the amphitheatre; and each new-comer was fastened upon by a group eager to know if Pompeii had been so fortunate as to produce some monstrous criminal, some happy case of sacrilege or of murder, which would allow the aediles to provide a man for the jaws of the lion: all other more common exhibitions seemed dull and tame, when compared with the possibility of this fortunate occurrence.

'For my part,' said one jolly-looking man, who was a goldsmith, 'I think the emperor, if he is as good as they say, might have sent us a Jew.'

'Why not take one of the new sect of Nazarenes?' said a philosopher. 'I am not cruel: but an atheist, one who denies Jupiter himself, deserves no mercy.'

'I care not how many gods a man likes to believe in,' said the goldsmith; 'but to deny all gods is something monstrous.'

'Yet I fancy,' said Glaucus, 'that these people are not absolutely atheists. I am told that they believe in a God—nay, in a future state.'

'Quite a mistake, my dear Glaucus,' said the philosopher. 'I have conferred with them—they laughed in my face when I talked of Pluto and Hades.'

'O ye gods!' exclaimed the goldsmith, in horror; 'are there any of these wretches in Pompeii?'

'I know there are a few: but they meet so privately that it is impossible to discover who they are.'

As Glaucus turned away, a sculptor, who was a great enthusiast in his art, looked after him admiringly.

'Ah!' said he, 'if we could get him on the arena—there would be a model for you! What limbs! what a head! he ought to have been a gladiator! A subject—a subject—worthy of our art! Why don't they give him to the lion?'

Meanwhile Fulvius, the Roman poet, whom his contemporaries declared immortal, and who, but for this history, would never have been heard of in our neglectful age, came eagerly up to Glaucus. 'Oh, my Athenian, my Glaucus, you have come to hear my ode! That is indeed an honour; you, a Greek—to whom the very language of common life is poetry. How I thank you. It is but a trifle; but if I secure your approbation, perhaps I may get an introduction to Titus. Oh, Glaucus! a poet without a patron is an amphora without a label; the wine may be good, but nobody will laud it! And what says Pythagoras?—"Frankincense to the gods, but praise to man." A patron, then, is the poet's priest: he procures him the incense, and obtains him his believers.'

'But all Pompeii is your patron, and every portico an altar in your praise.'

'Ah! the poor Pompeians are very civil—they love to honour merit. But they are only the inhabitants of a petty town—spero meliora! Shall we within?'

'Certainly; we lose time till we hear your poem.'

At this instant there was a rush of some twenty persons from the baths into the portico; and a slave stationed at the door of a small corridor now admitted the poet, Glaucus, Clodius, and a troop of the bard's other friends, into the passage.

'A poor place this, compared with the Roman thermae!' said Lepidus, disdainfully.

'Yet is there some taste in the ceiling,' said Glaucus, who was in a mood to be pleased with everything; pointing to the stars which studded the roof.

Lepidus shrugged his shoulders, but was too languid to reply.

They now entered a somewhat spacious chamber, which served for the purposes of the apodyterium (that is, a place where the bathers prepared themselves for their luxurious ablutions). The vaulted ceiling was raised from a cornice, glowingly colored with motley and grotesque paintings; the ceiling itself was paneled in white compartments bordered with rich crimson; the unsullied and shining floor was paved with white mosaics, and along the walls were ranged benches for the accommodation of the loiterers. This chamber did not possess the numerous and spacious windows which Vitruvius attributes to his more magnificent frigidarium. The Pompeians, as all the southern Italians, were fond of banishing the light of their sultry skies, and combined in their voluptuous associations the idea of luxury with darkness. Two windows of glass alone admitted the soft and shaded ray; and the compartment in which one of these casements was placed was adorned with a large relief of the destruction of the Titans.

In this apartment Fulvius seated himself with a magisterial air, and his audience gathering round him, encouraged him to commence his recital.

The poet did not require much pressing. He drew forth from his vest a roll of papyrus, and after hemming three times, as much to command silence as to clear his voice, he began that wonderful ode, of which, to the great mortification of the author of this history, no single verse can be discovered.

By the plaudits he received, it was doubtless worthy of his fame; and Glaucus was the only listener who did not find it excel the best odes of Horace.

The poem concluded, those who took only the cold bath began to undress; they suspended their garments on hooks fastened in the wall, and receiving, according to their condition, either from their own slaves or those of the thermae, loose robes in exchange, withdrew into that graceful circular building which yet exists, to shame the unlaving posterity of the south.

The more luxurious departed by another door to the tepidarium, a place which was heated to a voluptuous warmth, partly by a movable fireplace, principally by a suspended pavement, beneath which was conducted the caloric of the laconicum.

Here this portion of the intended bathers, after unrobing themselves, remained for some time enjoying the artificial warmth of the luxurious air. And this room, as befitted its important rank in the long process of ablution, was more richly and elaborately decorated than the rest; the arched roof was beautifully carved and painted; the windows above, of ground glass, admitted but wandering and uncertain rays; below the massive cornices were rows of figures in massive and bold relief; the walls glowed with crimson, the pavement was skillfully tessellated in white mosaics. Here the habituated bathers, men who bathed seven times a day, would remain in a state of enervate and speechless lassitude, either before or (mostly) after the water-bath; and many of these victims of the pursuit of health turned their listless eyes on the newcomers, recognizing their friends with a nod, but dreading the fatigue of conversation.

From this place the party again diverged, according to their several fancies, some to the sudatorium, which answered the purpose of our vapor-baths, and thence to the warm-bath itself; those more accustomed to exercise, and capable of dispensing with so cheap a purchase of fatigue, resorted at once to the calidarium, or water-bath.

In order to complete this sketch, and give to the reader an adequate notion of this, the main luxury of the ancients, we will accompany Lepidus, who regularly underwent the whole process, save only the cold bath, which had gone lately out of fashion. Being then gradually warmed in the tepidarium, which has just been described, the delicate steps of the Pompeian elegant were conducted to the sudatorium. Here let the reader depict to himself the gradual process of the vapor-bath, accompanied by an exhalation of spicy perfumes. After our bather had undergone this operation, he was seized by his slaves, who always awaited him at the baths, and the dews of heat were removed by a kind of scraper, which (by the way) a modern traveler has gravely declared to be used only to remove the dirt, not one particle of which could ever settle on the polished skin of the practised bather. Thence, somewhat cooled, he passed into the water-bath, over which fresh perfumes were profusely scattered, and on emerging from the opposite part of the room, a cooling shower played over his head and form. Then wrapping himself in a light robe, he returned once more to the tepidarium, where he found Glaucus, who had not encountered the sudatorium; and now, the main delight and extravagance of the bath commenced. Their slaves anointed the bathers from vials of gold, of alabaster, or of crystal, studded with profusest gems, and containing the rarest unguents gathered from all quarters of the world. The number of these smegmata used by the wealthy would fill a modern volume—especially if the volume were printed by a fashionable publisher; Amaracinum, Megalium, Nardum—omne quod exit in um—while soft music played in an adjacent chamber, and such as used the bath in moderation, refreshed and restored by the grateful ceremony, conversed with all the zest and freshness of rejuvenated life.

'Blessed be he who invented baths!' said Glaucus, stretching himself along one of those bronze seats (then covered with soft cushions) which the visitor to Pompeii sees at this day in that same tepidarium. 'Whether he were Hercules or Bacchus, he deserved deification.'

'But tell me,' said a corpulent citizen, who was groaning and wheezing under the operation of being rubbed down, 'tell me, O Glaucus!—evil chance to thy hands, O slave! why so rough?—tell me—ugh—ugh!—are the baths at Rome really so magnificent?' Glaucus turned, and recognized Diomed, though not without some difficulty, so red and so inflamed were the good man's cheeks by the sudatory and the scraping he had so lately undergone. 'I fancy they must be a great deal finer than these. Eh?' Suppressing a smile, Glaucus replied:

'Imagine all Pompeii converted into baths, and you will then form a notion of the size of the imperial thermae of Rome. But a notion of the size only. Imagine every entertainment for mind and body—enumerate all the gymnastic games our fathers invented—repeat all the books Italy and Greece have produced—suppose places for all these games, admirers for all these works—add to this, baths of the vastest size, the most complicated construction—intersperse the whole with gardens, with theatres, with porticoes, with schools—suppose, in one word, a city of the gods, composed but of palaces and public edifices, and you may form some faint idea of the glories of the great baths of Rome.'

'By Hercules!' said Diomed, opening his eyes, 'why, it would take a man's whole life to bathe!'

'At Rome, it often does so,' replied Glaucus, gravely. 'There are many who live only at the baths. They repair there the first hour in which the doors are opened, and remain till that in which the doors are closed. They seem as if they knew nothing of the rest of Rome, as if they despised all other existence.'

'By Pollux! you amaze me.'

'Even those who bathe only thrice a day contrive to consume their lives in this occupation. They take their exercise in the tennis-court or the porticoes, to prepare them for the first bath; they lounge into the theatre, to refresh themselves after it. They take their prandium under the trees, and think over their second bath. By the time it is prepared, the prandium is digested. From the second bath they stroll into one of the peristyles, to hear some new poet recite: or into the library, to sleep over an old one. Then comes the supper, which they still consider but a part of the bath: and then a third time they bathe again, as the best place to converse with their friends.'

'Per Hercle! but we have their imitators at Pompeii.'

'Yes, and without their excuse. The magnificent voluptuaries of the Roman baths are happy: they see nothing but gorgeousness and splendor; they visit not the squalid parts of the city; they know not that there is poverty in the world. All Nature smiles for them, and her only frown is the last one which sends them to bathe in Cocytus. Believe me, they are your only true philosophers.'

While Glaucus was thus conversing, Lepidus, with closed eyes and scarce perceptible breath, was undergoing all the mystic operations, not one of which he ever suffered his attendants to omit. After the perfumes and the unguents, they scattered over him the luxurious powder which prevented any further accession of heat: and this being rubbed away by the smooth surface of the pumice, he began to indue, not the garments he had put off, but those more festive ones termed 'the synthesis', with which the Romans marked their respect for the coming ceremony of supper, if rather, from its hour (three o'clock in our measurement of time), it might not be more fitly denominated dinner. This done, he at length opened his eyes and gave signs of returning life.

At the same time, too, Sallust betokened by a long yawn the evidence of existence.

'It is supper time,' said the epicure; 'you, Glaucus and Lepidus, come and sup with me.'

'Recollect you are all three engaged to my house next week,' cried Diomed, who was mightily proud of the acquaintance of men of fashion.

'Ah, ah! we recollect,' said Sallust; 'the seat of memory, my Diomed, is certainly in the stomach.'

Passing now once again into the cooler air, and so into the street, our gallants of that day concluded the ceremony of a Pompeian bath.

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