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N a bright spring morning in the year of out
Lord 303-it was in the “Ides of March,' about the middle of the month, but the air was balmy as that of June in our northern climetwo note-worthy-looking men were riding along the famous Appian Way, near the city of Rome. The elder of the two, a man of large size and of mighty thiews and sinews, was mounted on a strong and richly-caparisoned horse. He wore the armour of a Roman centurion—a lorica or cuirass, made of plates of bronze, fastened to a flexible body of leather; and cothurni, or a sort of laced boots: reaching to mid-leg. On his back hung his round embossed shield ; by his side, in its sheath, his short, straight sword, and on his head was a burnished helmet, with a sweeping horsehair crest. His face was bronzed with the sun of many climes. But when, for a moment, he reinoved his helmet to cool his brow, one saw that his forehead was high and white. His hair curled close to his head, except where it was worn bare at his temples by the chafing of his helmet, and was already streaked with grey, although he looked not more than five-and forty years of age. Yet the eagle glance of his eye was undimmed, and his firm-set muscles, the haughty expression of his countenance, and the high courage of his bearing, gave evidence that his natural strength was not abated.
His companion contrasted strongly in every respect.
He had a slender, graceful figure, a mubile and expressive face, a mouth of almost feminine softness and beauty, dark and languishing eyes, and long, flowing hair.
He wore a snowy toga, with a brilliant scarlet border of What is still known as “Greek fret; and over this, fastened by a brooch at his throat, a flowing cloak. On his head sat jauntily a soft felt hat, not unlike those still worn by the Italian peasantry, and on his feet were low-laced shoes or sandals. Instead of a sword, he wore at liis side a metal case for his reed-pen and for a scroll of papyrus.
He was in the bloom and beauty of youth, apparently not more than twenty years
The elder of the two was the Roman officer Flaccus Sertorius, a centurion of the 12th Legion, returning with his Greek secretary, Isidorus, from the town of Albano, about seventeen miles from Rome, whither he had been sent on business of state.
“This new edict of the Emperor's,” remarked Sertorius to his secretary, with an air of affable condescension," is likely to give us both work enough to do before long.”
“ Your Excellency forgets," replied Isidorus, with an obsequious inclination of the head," that your humble secretary has not the same means of learning affairs of state as his noble master.”
“Oh, you Grecks learn everything !” said the centurion, with a rather contemptuous laugh. “Trust you for that.”
“We try to make ourselves useful to our patrons,” replied the young man, “and it seenis to be a sort of hereditary habit, fuis my Athenian ancestors were proverbial for seeking to know some new thing."
“Yes, new inanners, new customs, new religions; why, your very name inicaies your adherence to the new-fangled worship of Isis.”
“I hold not altogether that way,” replied the youth. “I belong rather to the eclectic school. My father, Apollodorus, was a priest of Phicebus, and named me, like himself, from the sungod, whom he worshipped; but I found the party of Isis fashionable at court, so I even changed my name and colours to the winning side. When one is at Rome, you know, he must do as the Romans do.”
“Yes, like the degenerate Romans, who forsake the old gods, under whoin the State was great and virtuous and strong,” said the soldier, with an angry gesture. “The more gods, the worse the world becomes. But this new edict will make short work of some of them.”
“ With the Christians you meun," said the su pple Greek. “A most pernicious sect, that deserve extermination with fire and sword.”
“I know little about them,” replied Sertorius, with a sneer,
save that they have increased prodigiously of late. Even in the army and the palace are those known to favour their olscene and contemptible doctrines.”
“ 'Tis whispered that even their sacred liighnesses the Empresses Prisca and Valeria are infecte i with their grovelling superstition," sail the Greek secretary. “Certain it is, they seem to avoid being present at the public sacrifices, as they used to be. But the evil sect has its followers chiefly among the slaves and vile plebs of the poorest Transtiberine region of Rome.”
What do they worship, anyhow?” asked the centurion, with an air of languid curiosity. “They seem to have no temples, nor altars, nor sacrifices.”
They have dark and secret and abominable rites," replied the fawning Greck, eager to gratily the curiosity of his patron with popular slanders against the Christians. “ 'Tis said they worship a low-born peasant, who was crucified for sedition. Some say he had an ass's head,* but that, I doubt not, is a vulgar superstition; and one of our
* I have myself seen in the museum of the Collegio Romano at Rome, a rude caricature which had been scratched upon the wall of the barracks of Nero's palace, representing a min with an ass's head upón a cross, and beneath it the inscription, “ Alexomenos sebete Theon," “ Alexomenus worships his God.” Evidently some Roman soldier had scratched this in an idle hour in derision of the worship of our Lord by his Christian fellow-soldier. Tertullian also refers to the same cal. umny; and Lucian, a pagan writer, speaks of our Lord
a crucified impostor.” It is almost impossible for