'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.


Victorian Overview Sir Edward G. D. Bulwer-Lytton Sir Edward G. D. Bulwer-Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii

Last modified 4 January 2007