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almost alone of the guests paid a courteous attention to the high-born ladies of the party, to whom he frequently addressed polite remarks while the others were intent only in fawning on the great source of power. He, also, alone of all present, conspicuously refrained from pouring out a libation—a circumstance which did not escape the keen eye of the emperor. After interrupted talk on general topics, in which the ladies took part, the conversation drifted to public matters, on which they were not expected to meddle.
“Well, Naso, how was the edict received ?” said the emperor to the prefect, as a splendid roast peacock, with sadly despoiled plumage, was removed.
“As every command of your divine Majesty should be received,” replied Nass," with respectful obedience. One rash fool, indeed, attempted to tear it down from the rostra of the Forum, like that mad wretch at Nicomedia; but he was taken in the act. He expiates to-night his crime, so soon as I shall have wrung from him the names of his fanatical accomplices,”—and he clenched his hands nervously, as though he were himself applying the instruments of torture.
“ And you know well how to do that,” said the emperor with a sneer, for, like all tyrants, he despised and hated the instruments of his tyranny.
“ You may well call them fanatics, good Naso,” chimed in the would-be philosopher, Semphronius;
a greater set of madmen the world never saw. They believe that this Chrestus whom they worship actually rose from the dead. Heard ever any man such utter folly as that! Whereas I lave satisfied myself, from a study of the official records, that he was only a Jewish thaumaturge and conjuror, who used to work pretended miracles by means of dupes and accomplices. And when, for his sedition, he was put to death as the vilest of felons, these accomplices stole his body and gave out that he rose from the dead.”
“I have heard,” said Adauctus gravely, “that the Romans took care to prevent such a trick as that by placing a maniple of soldiers on guard at His grave.”
“Yes, I believe they say so," went on the unabashed Semphronius; “but if they did, the dastards were either overpowered, or they all fell asleep while his fellow-knaves stole his body away."
“ Come now, Semplironius," said the emperor, “that is too improbable a story about a whole maniple of soldiers. You and I know too well, Naso, the Roman discipline to accept such au absurd story as that.”
* Strauss and Renan and their rationalizing school rival this pagan sophist in eliminating the miraculous from the sacred record.
"Oh, if your divine Majesty thinks it improballe, I fully admit that it is so," the supple sophist eagerly replied. "I am inclined to identify this impostor and a kinsman of his who was beheaded by the divine Herod with the Janus and Jambres whose story is told in the sacred books of the Jews. But it is evident, from the identity of name of one of these with the god Janus, that they merely borrowed the story from the Roman mythology. This execrable superstition, they say, was brought to Rome by two brothers named Paulus and Simon Magus. They both expiated their crimes, one in the Mammertine Prison, the other without the Ostian Gate. They say also that when Simon the magician struck the prison wall, a well of water gushed forth for some of their mystic rites; and that when the head of Paulus was smitten off it bounded three times on the ground, and at each spot where it touched a well of water sprang up. But these are stories that no
man can believe."*
"I quite agree with you in that,” said Adauctus.
“Do you, indeed ?" exclaimed the Emperor; “I am glad to know that so brave and trusted an officer can say so.”
* Yet these stories, too incredible for this old pagan, were gravely related to the present writer, on the scene of the alleged miracles, by the credulous Romans of to-day.
“I believe, your Majesty, that half the stories told about the Christians are calumnies that no candid man can receive," continued the young officer.
“You are a bold man to say so, for they have few friends and many enemies at court,” replied Diocletian ; " but we will soon extort their secrets by this edict. Will we not, good Naso ?
“ It will not be my fault if we do not, your divine Majesty,” replied that worthy, with a more hideous leer than usual in his cruel eye.
“Another thing these fools of Christians believe,” interjected the garrulous philosopher, “is, that when they die their souls shall live in some blander clime, and breathe some more ethereal air. 'Tis this that makes them seem to covet martyrdom, as they call it, instead of, like all sane men, shunning death."
“But do not your own poets," chimed in the soft voice of Valeria, “speak of the Elysian fields and the asphodel meadows where the spirits of heroes walk, and of the bark of Charon, who ferries them across the fatal Styx ?"
True, your most august Highness," replied the pedant with grimace intended to be polite, “ but those fables are intended for the vulgar, and not for the cultured classes, to which your Imperial Highness belongs. Even the priests themselves do not believe in the existence of the gods
at whose altars they minister; so that Cicero, you will remember, said that he wondered how one augur could look in the face of another without laughing.'”
“I quite admit,” remarked Adauctus, “ that the priests are often impostors, deceiving the people; but our wisest philosophers—the thoughtful Pliny, the profouud Tacitus, the sage Seneca, and even the eloquent Cicero whom you have quotedteach the probability if not the certainty of a future state, where virtue shall be rewarded and wickedness punished.”
“ What do they know about it any more than any of us?” interrupted the truculent Naso, to whom ethical themes were by no means familiar or welcome. My creed is embodied in the words of that clever fellow, Juvenal, that I used to learn at school• Esse aliquid manes, et subterranea regna, Nec pueri credunt, nisi qui nondum ære lavantur.'»*
“What's the use of all this talk ?" lisped a languid-looking epicurean fup, wlo, sated with dissipation, at twenty-five found life as empty as a sucked orange. “ We cannot alter fate. Lile is short; let us make the most of it. I'd like to press its nectar into a single draught and have
* Sat. ii. 49. “ That the manes are anything, or the nether world anything, not even boys belieye, unless those still in the nursery.”