Obrázky na stránke

And his drooped head sinks gradually low-
And through his side the last drops ebbing slow
From the red gash fall heavy, one by one,
Like the first of a thunder shower; and now
The arena swims around him, he is gone,
Ere ceased the inhuman shout which hailed the

wretch who won,

He heard it, but he heeded not. -his eyes
Were with his heart, and that was far away.
He recked not of the life he lost nor prize,
But where his rude hut by the Danube lay,
There were his young barbarians all at play,
I here was their Dacian mother-he, their sire,
Butchered to make a Roman holiday.

An unwonted interest was given to this cruel scene in the Roman amphitheatre, by a novel and unheard of incident which occurred. The brilliant young Roman officer, Ligurius Rufus, we have said, was announced to take part in these games. It was no uncommon thing for military fops, eager to win the applause of the multitude, or to goad their jaded weariness of life into a momentary excitement by a spice of real danger, to enter the lists of the arena; and Ligurius was at once the most brilliant swordsman in the Twelfth Legion, and the most ennuyée and worldweary man in Rome.

He was pitted against a brawny Hercules, the strongest and hugest of the whole school of gladiators—a British prisoner of war, who Lad

been long the pride and boast of the arena. As they stood face to face, the young officer in burnished armour, inlaid with silver and gold, and the mighty thews of his opponent encased in leather and bronze, the betting was heavy in favour of the British giant. Each felt that he had a foeman worthy of his steel. They walked warily around each other, each watching with eager eye every movement of his antagonist. Every thrust on either side was skilfully parried, any advantage of strength on the part of the British warrior being matched by the superior nimbleness of the Roman officer. At last a rapid thrust by Ligurius severed a tendon in the swordarm of his foe, and it fell nerveless by his side. With a giant effort the disabled warrior sprayg upon the Roman as if to crush him by sleer weight; but Ligurius nimbly sprang aside, and his antagonist, slipping in the gory sand, fell headlong to the ground. In an instant the Roman's foot was on his neck and his sword at his breast. With a courteous gesture, Ligurius raised his sword and waved it toward the Emperors' tribune and to the crowded seats of the podium, as if asking the signal to spare the vanquished gladiator, while the despairing look of the latter seemed with mute eloquence to ask for life. Habet! Habet !” rang round the Coliseum, but not a single sign of mercy was made, not a single thumb was reversed. Recipe ferrum," roared the mob at the prostrate giant; and then shouted to Ligurius, “ Occide ! Occide !—Kill! Kill!"

The gallant Roman heeded them as he would heed the howl of wolves. “I am not a butcher," he said, with a defiant sneer, and he sheathed his sword and, much to the surprise of his discomfitted foe, lent his hand to raise him from the ground.

“You are a brave man,” he said, "I want you as a standard bearer for the Twelfth Legion. That is better than making worm's meat of you. Rome may need such soldiers before long.”

The Emperors were not unwilling to grant this novel request of a favourite officer, and the grateful creature, in token of his fidelity, humbly kissed the hand of Ligur us, and followed him from the arena. The cruel mob, however, angered at being deprived of their anticipated spectacle of blood, howled with rage, and demanded the crowning scene of the day's sports—the conflict between the wild beasts and the Christian martyrs.

These hateful scenes had become the impassioned delight of all classes, from the Emperors to the “vile plebs” of Rome. Even woman's pitiful nature forgot its tenderness, and maids and matrons gloated on the cruel spectacle, and the honour was reserved for the Vestal Virgin to give the signal for the mortal stroke. Such scenes created a ferocious thirst for blood throughout society. They overthrew the altar of pity, and impelled to every excess and refinement of barbarity. Even children imitated the cruel sport in their games, schools of gladiators were trained for the work of slaughter, women fought in the arena or lay dead and trampled in the sand.

It is to the eternal praise of Christianity that it suppressed these odious contests, and forever averted the sword of the gladiator from the throat of his victim. The Christian city of Constantinople was never polluted by the atrocious exhibition. A Christian poet eloquently denounced the bloody spectacle. A Christian monk, roused to indignation by the lateful scene, leaped over the barrier to separate the gladiators in the very frenzy of the conflict. The maddened mob, enraged at this interruption of their sport, stoned him to death. But his heroic marty dom produced a moral revulsion against the practice, and the laws of Honorius, to use the language of Gilbon, "abolished forever the human sacrifices of the amphitheatre."

It remains to notice in another chapter the last scene in the stern drama of this

“ Roman holiday.”

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

T a flourish of trumpets the iron-studded

doors of the cells in which the Christians were confined were thrown open, and the destined martyrs walked forth on the arena in the sight of assembled thousands. It was a spectacle to arrest the attention of even the most thoughtless, and to move the sympathy of even the most austere. At the head of the little company walked the good presbyter, Demetrius, his silvery hair and beard and benignant expression of countenance giving him a strikingly venerable aspect. Leaning heavily on his arm, evidently faint in frame but strong in spirit, was his daughter Callirhoë. Robed in white, she looked the embodiment of saintly purity, and in her eyes there beamed a

eroic courage which inspired a wonder that so brave a soul should be shrined in so frail a body, Adauctus, Aurelius, and other Christian confes

« PredošláPokračovať »