HEAVEN had given to Glaucus every blessing but one: it had given him beauty, health, fortune, genius, illustrious descent, a heart of fire, a mind of poetry; but it had denied him the heritage of freedom. He was born in Athens, the subject of Rome. Succeeding early to an ample inheritance, he had indulged that inclination for travel so natural to the young, and had drunk deep of the intoxicating draught of pleasure amidst the gorgeous luxuries of the imperial court.
He was an Alcibiades without ambition. He was what a man of imagination, youth, fortune, and talents, readily becomes when you deprive him of the inspiration of glory. His house at Rome was the theme of the debauchees, but also of the lovers of art; and the sculptors of Greece delighted to task their skill in adorning the porticoes and exedrae of an Athenian. His retreat in Pompeii—alas! the colors are faded now, the walls stripped of their paintings!—its main beauty, its elaborate finish of grace and ornament, is gone; yet when first given once more to the day, what eulogies, what wonder, did its minute and glowing decorations create—its paintings—its mosaics! Passionately enamoured of poetry and the drama, which recalled to Glaucus the wit and the heroism of his race, that fairy mansion was adorned with representations of AEschylus and Homer. And antiquaries, who resolve taste to a trade, have turned the patron to the professor, and still (though the error is now acknowledged) they style in custom, as they first named in mistake, the disburied house of the Athenian Glaucus 'THE HOUSE OF THE DRAMATIC POET'.
Previous to our description of this house, it may be as well to convey to the reader a general notion of the houses of Pompeii, which he will find to resemble strongly the plans of Vitruvius; but with all those differences in detail, of caprice and taste, which being natural to mankind, have always puzzled antiquaries. We shall endeavor to make this description as clear and unpedantic as possible.
You enter then, usually, by a small entrance-passage (called cestibulum), into a hall, sometimes with (but more frequently without) the ornament of columns; around three sides of this hall are doors communicating with several bedchambers (among which is the porter's), the best of these being usually appropriated to country visitors. At the extremity of the hall, on either side to the right and left, if the house is large, there are two small recesses, rather than chambers, generally devoted to the ladies of the mansion; and in the centre of the tessellated pavement of the hall is invariably a square, shallow reservoir for rain water (classically termed impluvium), which was admitted by an aperture in the roof above; the said aperture being covered at will by an awning. Near this impluvium, which had a peculiar sanctity in the eyes of the ancients, were sometimes (but at Pompeii more rarely than at Rome) placed images of the household gods—the hospitable hearth, often mentioned by the Roman poets, and consecrated to the Lares, was at Pompeii almost invariably formed by a movable brazier; while in some corner, often the most ostentatious place, was deposited a huge wooden chest, ornamented and strengthened by bands of bronze or iron, and secured by strong hooks upon a stone pedestal so firmly as to defy the attempts of any robber to detach it from its position. It is supposed that this chest was the money-box, or coffer, of the master of the house; though as no money has been found in any of the chests discovered at Pompeii, it is probable that it was sometimes rather designed for ornament than use.
In this hall (or atrium, to speak classically) the clients and visitors of inferior rank were usually received. In the houses of the more 'respectable', an atriensis, or slave peculiarly devoted to the service of the hall, was invariably retained, and his rank among his fellow-slaves was high and important. The reservoir in the centre must have been rather a dangerous ornament, but the centre of the hall was like the grass-plot of a college, and interdicted to the passers to and fro, who found ample space in the margin. Right opposite the entrance, at the other end of the hall, was an apartment (tablinum), in which the pavement was usually adorned with rich mosaics, and the walls covered with elaborate paintings. Here were usually kept the records of the family, or those of any public office that had been filled by the owner: on one side of this saloon, if we may so call it, was often a dining-room, or triclinium; on the other side, perhaps, what we should now term a cabinet of gems, containing whatever curiosities were deemed most rare and costly; and invariably a small passage for the slaves to cross to the further parts of the house, without passing the apartments thus mentioned. These rooms all opened on a square or oblong colonnade, technically termed peristyle. If the house was small, its boundary ceased with this colonnade; and in that case its centre, however diminutive, was ordinarily appropriated to the purpose of a garden, and adorned with vases of flowers, placed upon pedestals: while, under the colonnade, to the right and left, were doors admitting to bedrooms, to a second triclinium, or eating-room (for the ancients generally appropriated two rooms at least to that purpose, one for summer, and one for winter—or, perhaps, one for ordinary, the other for festive, occasions); and if the owner affected letters, a cabinet, dignified by the name of library—for a very small room was sufficient to contain the few rolls of papyrus which the ancients deemed a notable collection of books.
At the end of the peristyle was generally the kitchen. Supposing the house was large, it did not end with the peristyle, and the centre thereof was not in that case a garden, but might be, perhaps, adorned with a fountain, or basin for fish; and at its end, exactly opposite to the tablinum, was generally another eating-room, on either side of which were bedrooms, and, perhaps, a picture-saloon, or pinacotheca. These apartments communicated again with a square or oblong space, usually adorned on three sides with a colonnade like the peristyle, and very much resembling the peristyle, only usually longer. This was the proper viridarium, or garden, being commonly adorned with a fountain, or statues, and a profusion of gay flowers: at its extreme end was the gardener's house; on either side, beneath the colonnade, were sometimes, if the size of the family required it, additional rooms.
At Pompeii, a second or third story was rarely of importance, being built only above a small part of the house, and containing rooms for the slaves; differing in this respect from the more magnificent edifices of Rome, which generally contained the principal eating-room (or caenaculum) on the second floor. The apartments themselves were ordinarily of small size; for in those delightful climes they received any extraordinary number of visitors in the peristyle (or portico), the hall, or the garden; and even their banquet-rooms, however elaborately adorned and carefully selected in point of aspect, were of diminutive proportions; for the intellectual ancients, being fond of society, not of crowds, rarely feasted more than nine at a time, so that large dinner-rooms were not so necessary with them as with us. But the suite of rooms seen at once from the entrance, must have had a very imposing effect: you beheld at once the hall richly paved and painted—the tablinum—the graceful peristyle, and (if the house extended farther) the opposite banquet-room and the garden, which closed the view with some gushing fount or marble statue.
The reader will now have a tolerable notion of the Pompeian houses, which resembled in some respects the Grecian, but mostly the Roman fashion of domestic architecture. In almost every house there is some difference in detail from the rest, but the principal outline is the same in all. In all you find the hall, the tablinum, and the peristyle, communicating with each other; in all you find the walls richly painted; and all the evidence of a people fond of the refining elegancies of life. The purity of the taste of the Pompeians in decoration is, however, questionable: they were fond of the gaudiest colors, of fantastic designs; they often painted the lower half of their columns a bright red, leaving the rest uncolored; and where the garden was small, its wall was frequently tinted to deceive the eye as to its extent, imitating trees, birds, temples, etc., in perspective—a meretricious delusion which the graceful pedantry of Pliny himself adopted, with a complacent pride in its ingenuity.
But the house of Glaucus was at once one of the smallest, and yet one of the most adorned and finished of all the private mansions of Pompeii: it would be a model at this day for the house of 'a single man in Mayfair'—the envy and despair of the coelibian purchasers of buhl and marquetry.
You enter by a long and narrow vestibule, on the floor of which is the image of a dog in mosaic, with the well-known 'Cave canem'—or 'Beware the dog'. On either side is a chamber of some size; for the interior part of the house not being large enough to contain the two great divisions of private and public apartments, these two rooms were set apart for the reception of visitors who neither by rank nor familiarity were entitled to admission in the penetralia of the mansion.
Advancing up the vestibule you enter an atrium, that when first discovered was rich in paintings, which in point of expression would scarcely disgrace a Rafaele. You may see them now transplanted to the Neapolitan Museum: they are still the admiration of connoisseurs—they depict the parting of Achilles and Briseis. Who does not acknowledge the force, the vigour, the beauty, employed in delineating the forms and faces of Achilles and the immortal slave!
On one side the atrium, a small staircase admitted to the apartments for the slaves on the second floor; there also were two or three small bedrooms, the walls of which portrayed the rape of Europa, the battle of the Amazons, etc.
You now enter the tablinum, across which, at either end, hung rich draperies of Tyrian purple, half withdrawn. On the walls was depicted a poet reading his verses to his friends; and in the pavement was inserted a small and most exquisite mosaic, typical of the instructions given by the director of the stage to his comedians.
You passed through this saloon and entered the peristyle; and here (as I have said before was usually the case with the smaller houses of Pompeii) the mansion ended. From each of the seven columns that adorned this court hung festoons of garlands: the centre, supplying the place of a garden, bloomed with the rarest flowers placed in vases of white marble, that were supported on pedestals. At the left hand of this small garden was a diminutive fane, resembling one of those small chapels placed at the side of roads in Catholic countries, and dedicated to the Penates; before it stood a bronzed tripod: to the left of the colonnade were two small cubicula, or bedrooms; to the right was the triclinium, in which the guests were now assembled.
This room is usually termed by the antiquaries of Naples 'The Chamber of Leda'; and in the beautiful work of Sir William Gell, the reader will find an engraving from that most delicate and graceful painting of Leda presenting her newborn to her husband, from which the room derives its name. This charming apartment opened upon the fragrant garden. Round the table of citrean wood, highly polished and delicately wrought with silver arabesques, were placed the three couches, which were yet more common at Pompeii than the semicircular seat that had grown lately into fashion at Rome: and on these couches of bronze, studded with richer metals, were laid thick quiltings covered with elaborate broidery, and yielding luxuriously to the pressure.
'Well, I must own,' said the aedile Pansa, 'that your house, though scarcely larger than a case for one's fibulae, is a gem of its kind. How beautifully painted is that parting of Achilles and Briseis!—what a style!—what heads!—what a-hem!'
'Praise from Pansa is indeed valuable on such subjects,' said Clodius, gravely. 'Why, the paintings on his walls!—Ah! there is, indeed, the hand of a Zeuxis!'
'You flatter me, my Clodius; indeed you do,' quoth the aedile, who was celebrated through Pompeii for having the worst paintings in the world; for he was patriotic, and patronized none but Pompeians. 'You flatter me; but there is something pretty—AEdepol, yes—in the colors, to say nothing of the design—and then for the kitchen, my friends—ah! that was all my fancy.'
'What is the design?' said Glaucus. 'I have not yet seen your kitchen, though I have often witnessed the excellence of its cheer.'
'A cook, my Athenian—a cook sacrificing the trophies of his skill on the altar of Vesta, with a beautiful muraena (taken from the life) on a spit at a distance—there is some invention there!'
At that instant the slaves appeared, bearing a tray covered with the first preparative initia of the feast. Amidst delicious figs, fresh herbs strewed with snow, anchovies, and eggs, were ranged small cups of diluted wine sparingly mixed with honey. As these were placed on the table, young slaves bore round to each of the five guests (for there were no more) the silver basin of perfumed water, and napkins edged with a purple fringe. But the aedile ostentatiously drew forth his own napkin, which was not, indeed, of so fine a linen, but in which the fringe was twice as broad, and wiped his hands with the parade of a man who felt he was calling for admiration.
'A splendid nappa that of yours,' said Clodius; 'why, the fringe is as broad as a girdle!'
'A trifle, my Clodius: a trifle! They tell me this stripe is the latest fashion at Rome; but Glaucus attends to these things more than I.'
'Be propitious, O Bacchus!' said Glaucus, inclining reverentially to a beautiful image of the god placed in the centre of the table, at the corners of which stood the Lares and the salt-holders. The guests followed the prayer, and then, sprinkling the wine on the table, they performed the wonted libation.
This over, the convivialists reclined themselves on the couches, and the business of the hour commenced.
'May this cup be my last!' said the young Sallust, as the table, cleared of its first stimulants, was now loaded with the substantial part of the entertainment, and the ministering slave poured forth to him a brimming cyathus—'May this cup be my last, but it is the best wine I have drunk at Pompeii!'
'Bring hither the amphora,' said Glaucus, 'and read its date and its character.'
The slave hastened to inform the party that the scroll fastened to the cork betokened its birth from Chios, and its age a ripe fifty years.
'How deliciously the snow has cooled it!' said Pansa. 'It is just enough.'
'It is like the experience of a man who has cooled his pleasures sufficiently to give them a double zest,' exclaimed Sallust.
'It is like a woman's "No",' added Glaucus: 'it cools, but to inflame the more.'
'When is our next wild-beast fight?' said Clodius to Pansa.
'It stands fixed for the ninth ide of August,' answered Pansa: 'on the day after the Vulcanalia—we have a most lovely young lion for the occasion.'
'Whom shall we get for him to eat?' asked Clodius. 'Alas! there is a great scarcity of criminals. You must positively find some innocent or other to condemn to the lion, Pansa!'
'Indeed I have thought very seriously about it of late,' replied the aedile, gravely. 'It was a most infamous law that which forbade us to send our own slaves to the wild beasts. Not to let us do what we like with our own, that's what I call an infringement on property itself.'
'Not so in the good old days of the Republic,' sighed Sallust.
'And then this pretended mercy to the slaves is such a disappointment to the poor people. How they do love to see a good tough battle between a man and a lion; and all this innocent pleasure they may lose (if the gods don't send us a good criminal soon) from this cursed law!'
'What can be worse policy,' said Clodius, sententiously, 'than to interfere with the manly amusements of the people?'
'Well thank Jupiter and the Fates! we have no Nero at present,' said Sallust.
'He was, indeed, a tyrant; he shut up our amphitheatre for ten years.'
'I wonder it did not create a rebellion,' said Sallust.
'It very nearly did,' returned Pansa, with his mouth full of wild boar.
Here the conversation was interrupted for a moment by a flourish of flutes, and two slaves entered with a single dish.
'Ah, what delicacy hast thou in store for us now, my Glaucus?' cried the young Sallust, with sparkling eyes.
Sallust was only twenty-four, but he had no pleasure in life like eating—perhaps he had exhausted all the others: yet had he some talent, and an excellent heart—as far as it went.
'I know its face, by Pollux!' cried Pansa. 'It is an Ambracian Kid. Ho (snapping his fingers, a usual signal to the slaves) we must prepare a new libation in honour to the new-comer.'
'I had hoped said Glaucus, in a melancholy tone, 'to have procured you some oysters from Britain; but the winds that were so cruel to Caesar have forbid us the oysters.'
'Are they in truth so delicious?' asked Lepidus, loosening to a yet more luxurious ease his ungirdled tunic.
'Why, in truth, I suspect it is the distance that gives the flavor; they want the richness of the Brundusium oyster. But, at Rome, no supper is complete without them.'
'The poor Britons! There is some good in them after all,' said Sallust. 'They produce an oyster.'
'I wish they would produce us a gladiator,' said the aedile, whose provident mind was musing over the wants of the amphitheatre.
'By Pallas!' cried Glaucus, as his favorite slave crowned his streaming locks with a new chaplet, 'I love these wild spectacles well enough when beast fights beast; but when a man, one with bones and blood like ours, is coldly put on the arena, and torn limb from limb, the interest is too horrid: I sicken—I gasp for breath—I long to rush and defend him. The yells of the populace seem to me more dire than the voices of the Furies chasing Orestes. I rejoice that there is so little chance of that bloody exhibition for our next show!'
The aedile shrugged his shoulders. The young Sallust, who was thought the best-natured man in Pompeii, stared in surprise. The graceful Lepidus, who rarely spoke for fear of disturbing his features, ejaculated 'Hercle!' The parasite Clodius muttered 'AEdepol!' and the sixth banqueter, who was the umbra of Clodius, and whose duty it was to echo his richer friend, when he could not praise him—the parasite of a parasite—muttered also 'AEdepol!'
'Well, you Italians are used to these spectacles; we Greeks are more merciful. Ah, shade of Pindar!—the rapture of a true Grecian game—the emulation of man against man—the generous strife—the half-mournful triumph—so proud to contend with a noble foe, so sad to see him overcome! But ye understand me not.'
'The kid is excellent,' said Sallust. The slave, whose duty it was to carve, and who valued himself on his science, had just performed that office on the kid to the sound of music, his knife keeping time, beginning with a low tenor and accomplishing the arduous feat amidst a magnificent diapason.
'Your cook is, of course, from Sicily?' said Pansa.
'Yes, of Syracuse.'
'I will play you for him,' said Clodius. 'We will have a game between the courses.'
'Better that sort of game, certainly, than a beast fight; but I cannot stake my Sicilian—you have nothing so precious to stake me in return.'
'My Phillida—my beautiful dancing-girl!'
'I never buy women,' said the Greek, carelessly rearranging his chaplet.
The musicians, who were stationed in the portico without, had commenced their office with the kid; they now directed the melody into a more soft, a more gay, yet it may be a more intellectual strain; and they chanted that song of Horace beginning 'Persicos odi', etc., so impossible to translate, and which they imagined applicable to a feast that, effeminate as it seems to us, was simple enough for the gorgeous revelry of the time. We are witnessing the domestic, and not the princely feast—the entertainment of a gentleman, not an emperor or a senator.
'Ah, good old Horace!' said Sallust, compassionately; 'he sang well of feasts and girls, but not like our modern poets.'
'The immortal Fulvius, for instance,' said Clodius.
'Ah, Fulvius, the immortal!' said the umbra.
'And Spuraena; and Caius Mutius, who wrote three epics in a year—could Horace do that, or Virgil either said Lepidus. 'Those old poets all fell into the mistake of copying sculpture instead of painting. Simplicity and repose—that was their notion; but we moderns have fire, and passion, and energy—we never sleep, we imitate the colors of painting, its life, and its action. Immortal Fulvius!'
'By the way,' said Sallust, 'have you seen the new ode by Spuraena, in honour of our Egyptian Isis? It is magnificent—the true religious fervor.'
'Isis seems a favorite divinity at Pompeii,' said Glaucus.
'Yes!' said Pansa, 'she is exceedingly in repute just at this moment; her statue has been uttering the most remarkable oracles. I am not superstitious, but I must confess that she has more than once assisted me materially in my magistracy with her advice. Her priests are so pious, too! none of your gay, none of your proud, ministers of Jupiter and Fortune: they walk barefoot, eat no meat, and pass the greater part of the night in solitary devotion!'
'An example to our other priesthoods, indeed!—Jupiter's temple wants reforming sadly,' said Lepidus, who was a great reformer for all but himself.
'They say that Arbaces the Egyptian has imparted some most solemn mysteries to the priests of Isis,' observed Sallust. 'He boasts his descent from the race of Rameses, and declares that in his family the secrets of remotest antiquity are treasured.'
'He certainly possesses the gift of the evil eye,' said Clodius. 'If I ever come upon that Medusa front without the previous charm, I am sure to lose a favorite horse, or throw the canes nine times running.'
'The last would be indeed a miracle!' said Sallust, gravely.
'How mean you, Sallust?' returned the gamester, with a flushed brow.
'I mean, what you would leave me if I played often with you; and that is—nothing.'
Clodius answered only by a smile of disdain.
'If Arbaces were not so rich,' said Pansa, with a stately air, 'I should stretch my authority a little, and inquire into the truth of the report which calls him an astrologer and a sorcerer. Agrippa, when aedile of Rome, banished all such terrible citizens. But a rich man—it is the duty of an aedile to protect the rich!'
'What think you of this new sect, which I am told has even a few proselytes in Pompeii, these followers of the Hebrew God—Christus?'
'Oh, mere speculative visionaries,' said Clodius; 'they have not a single gentleman amongst them; their proselytes are poor, insignificant, ignorant people!'
'Who ought, however, to be crucified for their blasphemy,' said Pansa, with vehemence; 'they deny Venus and Jove! Nazarene is but another name for atheist. Let me catch them—that's all.'
The second course was gone—the feasters fell back on their couches—there was a pause while they listened to the soft voices of the South, and the music of the Arcadian reed. Glaucus was the most rapt and the least inclined to break the silence, but Clodius began already to think that they wasted time.
'Bene vobis! (Your health!) my Glaucus,' said he, quaffing a cup to each letter of the Greek's name, with the ease of the practised drinker. 'Will you not be avenged on your ill-fortune of yesterday? See, the dice court us.'
'As you will,' said Glaucus.
'The dice in summer, and I an aedile!' said Pansa, magisterially; 'it is against all law.'
'Not in your presence, grave Pansa,' returned Clodius, rattling the dice in a long box; 'your presence restrains all license: it is not the thing, but the excess of the thing, that hurts.'
'What wisdom!' muttered the umbra.
'Well, I will look another way,' said the aedile.
'Not yet, good Pansa; let us wait till we have supped,' said Glaucus.
Clodius reluctantly yielded, concealing his vexation with a yawn.
'He gapes to devour the gold,' whispered Lepidus to Sallust, in a quotation from the Aulularia of Plautus.
'Ah! how well I know these polypi, who hold all they touch,' answered Sallust, in the same tone, and out of the same play.
The third course, consisting of a variety of fruits, pistachio nuts, sweetmeats, tarts, and confectionery tortured into a thousand fantastic and airy shapes, was now placed upon the table; and the ministri, or attendants, also set there the wine (which had hitherto been handed round to the guests) in large jugs of glass, each bearing upon it the schedule of its age and quality.
'Taste this Lesbian, my Pansa,' said Sallust; 'it is excellent.'
'It is not very old,' said Glaucus, 'but it has been made precocious, like ourselves, by being put to the fire:—the wine to the flames of Vulcan—we to those of his wife—to whose honour I pour this cup.'
'It is delicate,' said Pansa, 'but there is perhaps the least particle too much of rosin in its flavor.'
'What a beautiful cup!' cried Clodius, taking up one of transparent crystal, the handles of which were wrought with gems, and twisted in the shape of serpents, the favorite fashion at Pompeii.
'This ring,' said Glaucus, taking a costly jewel from the first joint of his finger and hanging it on the handle, 'gives it a richer show, and renders it less unworthy of thy acceptance, my Clodius, on whom may the gods bestow health and fortune, long and oft to crown it to the brim!'
'You are too generous, Glaucus,' said the gamester, handing the cup to his slave; 'but your love gives it a double value.'
'This cup to the Graces!' said Pansa, and he thrice emptied his calix. The guests followed his example.
'We have appointed no director to the feast,' cried Sallust.
'Let us throw for him, then,' said Clodius, rattling the dice-box.
'Nay,' cried Glaucus, 'no cold and trite director for us: no dictator of the banquet; no rex convivii. Have not the Romans sworn never to obey a king? Shall we be less free than your ancestors? Ho! musicians, let us have the song I composed the other night: it has a verse on this subject, "The Bacchic hymn of the Hours".'
The musicians struck their instruments to a wild Ionic air, while the youngest voice in the band chanted forth, in Greek words, as numbers, the following strain:—
THE EVENING HYMN OF THE HOURS I Through the summer day, through the weary day, We have glided long; Ere we speed to the Night through her portals grey, Hail us with song!— With song, with song, With a bright and joyous song; Such as the Cretan maid, While the twilight made her bolder, Woke, high through the ivy shade, When the wine-god first consoled her. From the hush'd, low-breathing skies, Half-shut look'd their starry eyes, And all around, With a loving sound, The AEgean waves were creeping: On her lap lay the lynx's head; Wild thyme was her bridal bed; And aye through each tiny space, In the green vine's green embrace The Fauns were slily peeping— The Fauns, the prying Fauns— The arch, the laughing Fauns— The Fauns were slily peeping! II Flagging and faint are we With our ceaseless flight, And dull shall our journey be Through the realm of night, Bathe us, O bathe our weary wings In the purple wave, as it freshly springs To your cups from the fount of light— From the fount of light—from the fount of light, For there, when the sun has gone down in night, There in the bowl we find him. The grape is the well of that summer sun, Or rather the stream that he gazed upon, Till he left in truth, like the Thespian youth, His soul, as he gazed, behind him. III A cup to Jove, and a cup to Love, And a cup to the son of Maia; And honour with three, the band zone-free, The band of the bright Aglaia. But since every bud in the wreath of pleasure Ye owe to the sister Hours, No stinted cups, in a formal measure, The Bromian law makes ours. He honors us most who gives us most, And boasts, with a Bacchanal's honest boast, He never will count the treasure. Fastly we fleet, then seize our wings, And plunge us deep in the sparkling springs; And aye, as we rise with a dripping plume, We'll scatter the spray round the garland's bloom; We glow—we glow, Behold, as the girls of the Eastern wave Bore once with a shout to the crystal cave The prize of the Mysian Hylas, Even so—even so, We have caught the young god in our warm embrace We hurry him on in our laughing race; We hurry him on, with a whoop and song, The cloudy rivers of night along— Ho, ho!—we have caught thee, Psilas!
The guests applauded loudly. When the poet is your host, his verses are sure to charm.
'Thoroughly Greek,' said Lepidus: 'the wildness, force, and energy of that tongue, it is impossible to imitate in the Roman poetry.'
'It is, indeed, a great contrast,' said Clodius, ironically at heart, though not in appearance, 'to the old-fashioned and tame simplicity of that ode of Horace which we heard before. The air is beautifully Ionic: the word puts me in mind of a toast—Companions, I give you the beautiful Ione.'
'Ione!—the name is Greek,' said Glaucus, in a soft voice. 'I drink the health with delight. But who is Ione?'
'Ah! you have but just come to Pompeii, or you would deserve ostracism for your ignorance,' said Lepidus, conceitedly; 'not to know Ione, is not to know the chief charm of our city.'
'She is of the most rare beauty,' said Pansa; 'and what a voice!'
'She can feed only on nightingales' tongues,' said Clodius.
'Nightingales' tongues!—beautiful thought!' sighed the umbra.
'Enlighten me, I beseech you,' said Glaucus.
'Know then...' began Lepidus.
'Let me speak,' cried Clodius; 'you drawl out your words as if you spoke tortoises.'
'And you speak stones,' muttered the coxcomb to himself, as he fell back disdainfully on his couch.
'Know then, my Glaucus,' said Clodius, 'that Ione is a stranger who has but lately come to Pompeii. She sings like Sappho, and her songs are her own composing; and as for the tibia, and the cithara, and the lyre, I know not in which she most outdoes the Muses. Her beauty is most dazzling. Her house is perfect; such taste—such gems—such bronzes! She is rich, and generous as she is rich.'
'Her lovers, of course,' said Glaucus, 'take care that she does not starve; and money lightly won is always lavishly spent.'
'Her lovers—ah, there is the enigma!—Ione has but one vice—she is chaste. She has all Pompeii at her feet, and she has no lovers: she will not even marry.'
'No lovers!' echoed Glaucus.
'No; she has the soul of Vestal with the girdle of Venus.'
'What refined expressions!' said the umbra.
'A miracle!' cried Glaucus. 'Can we not see her?'
'I will take you there this evening, said Clodius; 'meanwhile...' added he, once more rattling the dice.
'I am yours!' said the complaisant Glaucus. 'Pansa, turn your face!'
Lepidus and Sallust played at odd and even, and the umbra looked on, while Glaucus and Clodius became gradually absorbed in the chances of the dice.
'By Pollux!' cried Glaucus, 'this is the second time I have thrown the caniculae' (the lowest throw).
'Now Venus befriend me!' said Clodius, rattling the box for several moments. 'O Alma Venus—it is Venus herself!' as he threw the highest cast, named from that goddess—whom he who wins money, indeed, usually propitiates!
'Venus is ungrateful to me,' said Glaucus, gaily; 'I have always sacrificed on her altar.'
'He who plays with Clodius,' whispered Lepidus, 'will soon, like Plautus's Curculio, put his pallium for the stakes.'
'Poor Glaucus!—he is as blind as Fortune herself,' replied Sallust, in the same tone.
'I will play no more,' said Glaucus; 'I have lost thirty sestertia.'
'I am sorry...' began Clodius.
'Amiable man!' groaned the umbra.
'Not at all!' exclaimed Glaucus; 'the pleasure I take in your gain compensates the pain of my loss.'
The conversation now grew general and animated; the wine circulated more freely; and Ione once more became the subject of eulogy to the guests of Glaucus.
'Instead of outwatching the stars, let us visit one at whose beauty the stars grow pale,' said Lepidus.
Clodius, who saw no chance of renewing the dice, seconded the proposal; and Glaucus, though he civilly pressed his guests to continue the banquet, could not but let them see that his curiosity had been excited by the praises of Ione: they therefore resolved to adjourn (all, at least, but Pansa and the umbra) to the house of the fair Greek. They drank, therefore, to the health of Glaucus and of Titus—they performed their last libation—they resumed their slippers—they descended the stairs—passed the illumined atrium—and walking unbitten over the fierce dog painted on the threshold, found themselves beneath the light of the moon just risen, in the lively and still crowded streets of Pompeii.
They passed the jewellers' quarter, sparkling with lights, caught and reflected by the gems displayed in the shops, and arrived at last at the door of Ione. The vestibule blazed with rows of lamps; curtains of embroidered purple hung on either aperture of the tablinum, whose walls and mosaic pavement glowed with the richest colors of the artist; and under the portico which surrounded the odorous viridarium they found Ione, already surrounded by adoring and applauding guests!
'Did you say she was Athenian?' whispered Glaucus, ere he passed into the peristyle.
'No, she is from Neapolis.'
'Neapolis!' echoed Glaucus; and at that moment the group, dividing on either side of Ione, gave to his view that bright, that nymph-like beauty, which for months had shone down upon the waters of his memory.
Last modified 4 January 2007