Quo Vadis?

Author: Henryk Sienkiewicz  | Date: 1896

Chapter XIX

BARELY had Vinicius finished reading when Chilo pushed quietly into his library, unannounced by any one, for the servants had the order to admit him at every hour of the day or night.

"May the divine mother of thy magnanimous ancestor Aeneas be full of favor to thee, as the son of Maia was kind to me."

"What dost thou mean?" asked Vinicius, springing from the table at which he was sitting.

Chilo raised his head and said, "Eureka!"

The young patrician was so excited that for a long time he could not utter a word.

"Hast thou seen her?" asked he, at last.

"I have seen Ursus, lord, and have spoken with him."

"Dost thou know where they are secreted?"

"No, lord. Another, through boastfulness, would have let the Lygian know that he divined who he was; another would have tried to extort from him the knowledge of where he lived, and would have received either a stroke of the fist,- after which all earthly affairs would have become indifferent to him,- or he would have roused the suspicion of the giant and caused this,- that a new hiding-place would be found for the girl, this very night perhaps. I did not act thus. It suffices me to know that Ursus works near the Emporium, for a miller named Demas, the same name as that borne by thy freedman; now any trusted slave of thine may go in the morning on his track, and discover their hiding place. I bring thee merely the assurance that, since Ursus is here, the divine Lygia also is in Rome, and a second news that she will be in Ostrianum to-night, almost certainly-"

"In Ostrianum? Where is that?" interrupted Vinicius, wishing evidently to run to the place indicated.

"An old hypogeum between the Viae Salaria and Nomentana. That pontifex maximus of the Christians, of whom I spoke to thee, and whom they expected somewhat later, has come, and to-night he will teach and baptize in that cemetery. They hide their religion, for, though there are no edicts to prohibit it as yet, the people hate them, so they must be careful. Ursus himself told me that all, to the last soul, would be in Ostrianum to-night, for every one wishes to see and hear him who was the foremost disciple of Christ, and whom they call Apostle. Since among them women hear instruction as well as men, Pomponia alone perhaps of women will not be there; she could not explain to Aulus, a worshipper of the ancient gods, her absence from home at night. But Lygia, lord, who is under the care of Ursus and the Christian elders, will go undoubtedly with other women."

Vinicius, who had lived hitherto in a fever, and upheld as it were, by hope alone, now that his hope seemed fulfilled felt all at once the weakness that a man feels after a journey which has proved beyond his strength. Chilo noticed this, and resolved to make use of it.

"The gates are watched, it is true, by thy people, and the Christians must know that. But they do not need gates. The Tiber, too, does not need them; and though it is far from the river to those roads, it is worth while to walk one road more to see the ’Great Apostle’. Moreover they may have a thousand ways of going beyond the walls, and I know that they have. In Ostrianum thou wilt find Lygia; and even should she not be there, which I will not admit, Ursus will be there, for he has promised to kill Glaucus. He told me himself that he would be there, and that he would kill him. Dost hear, noble tribune? Either thou wilt follow Ursus and learn where Lygia dwells, or thou wilt command thy people to seize him as a murderer, and, having him in thy hand, thou wilt make him confess where he has hidden Lygia. I have done my best! Another would have told thee that he had drunk ten cantars of the best wine with Ursus before he wormed the secret out of him; another would have told thee that he had lost a thousand sestertia to him in

scriptae duodecim, or that he had bought the intelligence for two thousand; I know that thou wouldst repay me doubly, but in spite of that, once in my life- I mean, as always in my life- shall be honest, for I think, as the magnanimous Petronius says, that thy bounty exceeds all my hopes and expectations."

Vinicius, who was a soldier and accustomed not only to take counsel of himself in all cases, but to act, was overcome by a momentary weakness and said,-

"Thou wilt not deceive thyself as to my liberality, but first thou wilt go with me to Ostrianum."

"I, to Ostrianum?" inquired Chilo, who had not the least wish to go there. "I, noble tribune, promised thee to point out Lygia, but I did not promise to take her away for thee. Think, lord, what would happen to me if that Lygian bear, when he had torn Glaucus to pieces, should convince himself straightway that he had torn him not altogether justly? Would he not look on me (of course without reason) as the cause of the accomplished murder? Remember, lord, that the greater philosopher a man is, the more difficult it is for him to answer the foolish questions of common people; what should I answer him were he to ask me why I calumniated Glaucus? But if thou suspect that I deceive thee, I say, pay me only when I point out the house in which Lygia lives, show me to-day only a part of thy liberality, so that if thou, lord (which may all the gods ward from thee), succumb to some accident, I shall not be entirely without recompense. Thy heart could not endure that."

Vinicius went to a casket called "arca", standing on a marble pedestal, and, taking out a purse, threw it to Chilo.

"There are scrupula," said he; "when Lygia shall be in my house, thou wilt get the same full of aurei."

"Thou art Jove!" exclaimed Chilo.

But Vinicius frowned.

"Thou wilt receive food here," said he; "then thou mayest rest. Thou wilt not leave this house till evening, and when night falls thou wilt go with me to Ostrianum."

Fear and hesitation were reflected on the Greek’s face for a time; but afterward he grew calm, and said,-

"Who can oppose thee, lord! Receive these my words as of good omen, just as our great hero received words like them in the temple of Ammon. As to me, these ’scruples’" (here he shook the purse) "have outweighed mine, not to mention thy society, which for me is delight and happiness."

Vinicius interrupted him impatiently, and asked for details of his conversation with Ursus. From them it seemed clear that either Lygia’s hiding-place would be discovered that night, or he would be able to seize her on the road back from Ostrianum. At thought of this, Vinicius was borne away by wild delight. Now, when he felt clearly sure of finding Lygia, his anger against her, and his feeling of offence almost vanished. In return for that delight he forgave her every fault. He thought of her only as dear and desired, and he had the same impression as if she were returning after a long journey. He wished to summon his slaves and command them to deck the house with garlands. In that hour he had not a complaint against Ursus, even. He was ready to forgive all people everything. Chilo, for whom, in spite of his services, he had felt hitherto a certain repulsion, seemed to him for the first time an amusing and also an uncommon person. His house grew radiant; his eyes and his face became bright. He began again to feel youth and the pleasure of life. His former gloomy suffering had not given him yet a sufficient measure of how he loved Lygia. He understood this now for the first time, when he hoped to possess her. His desires woke in him, as the earth, warmed by the sun, wakes in spring; but his desires this time were less blind and wild, as it were, and more joyous and tender. He felt also within himself energy without bounds, and was convinced that should he but see Lygia with his own eyes, all the Christians on earth could not take her from him, nor could Caesar himself.

Chilo, emboldened by the young tribune’s delight, regained power of speech and began to give advice. According to him, it behooved Vinicius not to look on the affair as won, and to observe the greatest caution, without which all their work might end in nothing. He implored Vinicius not to carry off Lygia from Ostrianum. They ought to go there with hoods on their heads, with their faces hidden, and restrict themselves to looking at all who were present from some dark corner. When they saw Lygia, it would be safest to follow her at a distance, see what house she entered, surround it next morning at daybreak, and take her away in open daylight. Since she was a hostage and belonged specially to Caesar, they might do that without fear of law. In the event of not finding her in Ostrianum they could follow Ursus, and the result would be the same. To go to the cemetery with a crowd of attendants was impracticable,- that might draw attention to them easily; then the Christians need only put out the lights, as they did when she was intercepted, and scatter in the darkness, or betake themselves to places known to them only. But Vinicius and he should arm, and, still better, take a couple of strong, trusty men to defend them in case of need.

Vinicius saw the perfect truth of what he said, and, recalling Petronius’s counsel, commanded his slaves to bring Croton. Chilo, who knew every one in Rome, was set at rest notably when he heard the name of the famous athlete, whose superhuman strength in the arena he had wondered at more than once, and he declared that he would go to Ostrianum. The purse filled with great aurei seemed to him much easier of acquisition through the aid of Croton.

Hence he sat down in good spirits at the table to which, after a time, he was called by the chief of the atrium.

While eating, he told the slaves that he had obtained for their master a miraculous ointment. The worst horse, if rubbed on the hoofs with it, would leave every other far behind. A certain Christian had taught him how to prepare that ointment, for the Christian elders were far more skilled in enchantment and miracles than even the Thessalians, though Thessaly was renowned for its witches. The Christians had immense confidence in him- why, any one easily understands who knows what a fish means. While speaking he looked sharply at the eyes of the slaves, in the hope of discovering a Christian among them and informing Vinicius. But when the hope failed him, he fell to eating and drinking uncommon quantities, not sparing praises on the cook, and declaring that he would endeavor to buy him of Vinicius. His joyfulness was dimmed only by the thought that at night he must go to Ostrianum. He comforted himself, however, as he would go in disguise, in darkness, and in the company of two men, one of whom was so strong that he was the idol of Rome; the other a patrician, a man of high dignity in the army. "Even should they discover Vinicius," said he to himself, "they will not dare to raise a hand on him; as to me, they will be wise if they see the tip of my nose even."

He fell then to recalling his conversation with the laborer; and the recollection of that filled him again with delight. He had not the least doubt that that laborer was Ursus. He knew of the uncommon strength of the man, from the narratives of Vinicius, and those who had brought Lygia from Caesar’s palace. When he inquired of Euricius touching men of exceptional strength, there was nothing remarkable in this, that they pointed out Ursus. Then the confusion and rage of the laborer at mention of Vinicius and Lygia left him no doubt that those persons concerned him particularly; the laborer had mentioned also his penance for killing a man,- Ursus had killed Atacinus; finally, the appearance of the laborer answered perfectly to the account which Vinicius had given of the Lygian. The change of name was all that could provoke doubt, but Chilo knew that frequently Christians took new names at baptism.

"Should Ursus kill Glaucus," said Chilo to himself, "that will be better still; but should he not kill him, that will be a good sign, for it will show how difficult it is for Christians to murder. I described Glaucus as a real son of Judas, and a traitor to all Christians; I was so eloquent that a stone would have been moved, and would have promised to fall on the head of Glaucus. Still I hardly moved that Lygian bear to put his paw on him. He hesitated, was unwilling, spoke of his penance and compunction. Evidently murder is not common among them. Offences against one’s self must be forgiven, and there is not much freedom in taking revenge for others. Ergo, stop! think, Chilo, what can threaten thee? Glaucus is not free to avenge himself on thee. If Ursus will not kill Glaucus for such a great crime as the betrayal of all Christians, so much the more will he not kill thee for the small offence of betraying one Christian. Moreover, when I have once pointed out to this ardent wood-pigeon the nest of that turtle-dove, I will wash my hands of everything, and transfer myself to Naples. The Christians talk, also, of a kind of washing of the hands; that is evidently a method by which, if a man has an affair with them, he may finish it decisively. What good people these Christians are, and how ill men speak of them! O God! such is the justice of this world. But I love that religion, since it does not permit killing; but if it does not permit killing, it certainly does not permit stealing, deceit, or false testimony; hence I will not say that it is easy. It teaches, evidently, not only to die honestly, as the Stoics teach, but to live honestly also. If ever I have property and a house, like this, and slaves in such numbers as Vinicius, perhaps I shall be a Christian as long as may be convenient. For a rich man can permit himself everything, even virtue. This is a religion for the rich; hence I do not understand how there are so many poor among its adherents. What good is it for them, and why do they let virtue tie their hands? I must think over this sometime. Meanwhile praise to thee, Hermes! for helping me discover this badger. But if thou hast done so for the two white yearling heifers with gilded horns, I know thee not. Be ashamed, O slayer of Argos! such a wise god as thou, and not foresee that thou wilt get nothing! I will offer thee my gratitude; and if thou prefer two beasts to it, thou art the third beast thyself, and in the best event thou shouldst be a shepherd, not a god. Have a care, too, lest I, as a philosopher, prove to men that thou art non-existent, and then all will cease to bring thee offerings. It is safer to be on good terms with philosophers."

Speaking thus to himself and to Hermes, he stretched on the sofa, put his mantle under his head, and was sleeping when the slave removed the dishes. He woke,- or rather they roused him,- only at the coming of Croton. He went to the atrium, then, and began to examine with pleasure the form of the trainer, an ex-gladiator, who seemed to fill the whole place with his immensity. Croton had stipulated as to the price of the trip, and was just speaking to Vinicius.

"By Hercules! it is well, lord," said he, "that thou hast sent today for me, since I shall start to-morrow for Beneventum, whither the noble Vatinius has summoned me to make a trial, in presence of Caesar, of a certain Syphax, the most powerful negro that Africa has ever produced. Dost thou imagine, lord, how his spinal column will crack in my arms, or how besides I shall break his black jaw with my fist?"

"By Pollux! Croton, I am sure that thou wilt do that," answered Vinicius.

"And thou wilt act excellently," added Chilo. "Yes, to break his jaw, besides! That’s a good idea and a deed which befits thee. But rub thy limbs with olive oil to-day, my Hercules, and gird thyself, for know this, you mayst meet a real Cacus. The man who is guarding that girl in whom the worthy Vinicius takes interest, has exceptional strength very likely."

Chilo spoke thus only to rouse Croton’s ambition.

"That is true," said Vinicius; "I have not seen him, but they tell me that he can take a bull by the horns and drag him wherever he pleases."

"Oi!" exclaimed Chilo, who had not imagined that Ursus was so strong.

But Croton laughed, from contempt. "I undertake, worthy lord," said he, "to bear away with this hand whomever thou shalt point out to me, and with this other defend myself against seven such Lygians, and bring the maiden to thy dwelling though all the Christians in Rome were pursuing me like Calabrian wolves. If not, I will let myself be beaten with clubs in this impluvium."

"Do not permit that, lord," cried Chilo. "They will hurl stones at us, and what could his strength effect? Is it not better to take the girl from the house,- not expose thyself or her to destruction?"

"This is true, Croton," said Vinicius.

"I receive thy money, I do thy will! But remember, lord, that to-morrow I go to Beneventum."

"I have five hundred slaves in the city," answered Vinicius.

He gave them a sign to withdraw, went to the library himself, and sitting down wrote the following words to Petronius,-

"The Lygian has been found by Chilo. I go this evening with him and Croton to Ostrianum, and shall carry her off from the house to-night or to-morrow. May the gods pour down on thee everything favorable. Be well, O carissime! for joy will not let me write further."

Laying aside the reed then, be began to walk with quick step; for besides delight, which was overflowing his soul, he was tormented with fever. He said to himself that to-morrow Lygia would be in that house. He did not know how to act with her, but felt that if she would love him he would be her servant. He recalled Acte’s assurance that he had been loved, and that moved him to the uttermost. Hence it would be merely a question of conquering a certain maiden modesty, and a question of certain ceremonies which Christian teaching evidently commanded. But if that were true, Lygia, when once in his house, would yield to persuasion of superior force; she would have to say to herself, "It has happened!" and then she would be amiable and loving.

But Chilo appeared and interrupted the course of these pleasant thoughts.

"Lord," said the Greek, "this is what has come to my head. Have not the Christians signs, ’passwords’, without which no one will be admitted to Ostrianum? I know that it is so in houses of prayer, and I have received those passwords from Euricius; permit me then to go to him, lord, to ask precisely, and receive the needful signs."

"Well, noble sage," answered Vinicius, gladly; "thou speakest as a man of forethought, and for that praise belongs to thee. Thou wilt go, then, to Euricius, or whithersoever it may please thee; but as security thou wilt leave on this table here that purse which thou hast received from me."

Chilo, who always parted with money unwillingly, squirmed; still he obeyed the command and went out. From the Carinae to the Circus, near which was the little shop of Euricius, it was not very far; hence he returned considerably before evening.

"Here are the signs, lord. Without them they would not admit us. I have inquired carefully about the road. I told Euricius that I needed the signs only for my friends; that I would not go myself, since it was too far for my advanced age; that, moreover, I should see the Great Apostle myself to-morrow, and he would repeat to me the choicest parts of his sermon."

"How! Thou wilt not be there? Thou must go!" said Vinicius.

"I know that I must; but I will go well hooded, and I advise thee to go in like manner, or we may frighten the birds."

In fact they began soon to prepare, for darkness had come on the world. They put on Gallic cloaks with hoods, and took lanterns; Vinicius, besides, armed himself and his companions with short, curved knives; Chilo put on a wig, which he obtained on the way from the old man’s shop, and they went out, hurrying so as to reach the distant Nomentan Gate before it was closed.


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Chicago: Henryk Sienkiewicz, "Chapter XIX," Quo Vadis? Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=85JF529RUGMCFNF.

MLA: Sienkiewicz, Henryk. "Chapter XIX." Quo Vadis?, Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=85JF529RUGMCFNF.

Harvard: Sienkiewicz, H, 'Chapter XIX' in Quo Vadis?. Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=85JF529RUGMCFNF.