Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero

Author: Henryk Sienkiewicz

Chapter XXXII

PETRONIUS went home shrugging his shoulders and greatly dissatisfied. It was evident to him that he and Vinicius had ceased to understand each other, that their souls had separated entirely. Once Petronius had immense influence over the young soldier. He had been for him a model in everything, and frequently a few ironical words of his sufficed to restrain Vinicius or urge him to something. At present there remained nothing of that; such was the change that Petronius did not try his former methods, feeling that his wit and irony would slip without effect along the new principles which love and contact with the uncomprehended society of Christians had put in the soul of Vinicius. The veteran sceptic understood that he had lost the key to that soul. This knowledge filled him with dissatisfaction and even with fear, which was heightened by the events of that night. "If on the part of the Augusta it is not a passing whim but a more enduring desire," thought Petronius, "one of two things will happen, — either Vinicius will not resist her, and he may be ruined by any accident, or, what is like him to-day, he will resist, and in that event he will be ruined certainly, and perhaps I with him, even because I am his relative, and because the Augusta, having included a whole family in her hatred, will throw the weight of her influence on the side of Tigellinus. In this way and that it is bad." Petronius was a man of courage and felt no dread of death; but since he hoped nothing from it, he had no wish to invite it. After long meditation, he decided at last that it would be better and safer to send Vinicius from Rome on a journey. Ah! but if in addition he could give him Lygia for the road, he would do so with pleasure. But he hoped that it would not be too difficult to persuade him to the journey without her. He would spread a report on the Palatine then of Vinicius’s illness, and remove danger as well from his nephew as himself. The Augusta did not know whether she was recognized by Vinicius; she might suppose that she was not, hence her vanity had not suffered much so far. But it might be different in the future, and it was necessary to avoid peril. Petronius wished to gain time, above all; for he understood that once Caesar set out for Acbaea, Tigellinus, who comprehended nothing in the domain of art, would descend to the second place and lose his influence. In Greece Petronius was sure of victory over every opponent.

Meanwhile he determined to watch over Vinicius, and urge him to the journey. For a number of days he was ever thinking over this, that if he obtained an edict from Caesar expelling the Christians from Rome, Lygia would leave it with the other confessors of Christ, and after her Vinicius too. Then there would be no need to persuade him. The thing itself was possible. In fact it was not so long since, when the Jews began disturbances out of hatred to the Christians, Claudius, unable to distinguish one from the other, expelled the Jews. Why should not Nero expel the Christians? There would be more room in Rome without them. After that "floating feast" Petronius saw Nero daily, both on the Palatine and in other houses. To suggest such an idea was easy, for Nero never opposed suggestions which brought harm or ruin to any one. After mature decision Petronius framed a whole plan for himself. He would prepare a feast in his own house, and at this feast persuade Caesar to issue an edict. He had even a hope, which was not barren, that Caesar would confide the execution of the edict to him. He would send out Lygia with all the consideration proper to the mistress of Vinicius to Baiae, for instance, and let them love and amuse themselves there with Christianity as much as they liked.

Meanwhile he visited Vinicius frequently, first, because he could not, despite all his Roman selfishness, rid himself of attachment to the young tribune, and second, because he wished to persuade him to the journey. Vinicius feigned sickness, and did not show himself on the Palatine, where new plans appeared every day. At last Petronius heard from Caesar’s own lips that three days from then he would go to Antium without fall. Next morning he went straightway to inform Vinicius, who showed him a list of persons invited to Annum, which list one of Caesar’s freedmen had brought him that morning.

"My name is on it; so is thine," said he. "Thou wilt find the same at thy house on returning."

"Were I not among the invited," replied Petronius, "it would mean that I must die; I do not expect that to happen before the journey to Ackea. I shall be too useful to Nero. Barely have we come to Rome," said he, on looking at the list, "when we must leave again, and drag over the road to Antium. But we must go, for this is not merely an invitation, it is a command as well."

"And if some one would not obey?"

"He would be invited in another style to go on a journey notably longer, — one from which people do not return. What a pity that thou hast not obeyed my counsel and left Rome in season! Now thou must go to Antium."

"I must go to Antium. See in what times we live and what vile slaves we are!"

"Hast thou noticed that only to-day?"

"No. but thou hast explained to me that Christian teaching is an enemy of life, since it shackles it. But can their shackles be stronger than those which we carry? Thou hast said, ’Greece created wisdom and beauty, and Rome power.’ Where is our power?"

"Call Chilo and talk with him. I have no desire to-day to philosophize.

By Hercules! I did not create these times, and I do not answer for them.

Let us speak of Antium. Know that great danger is awaiting thee, and it would be better, perhaps, to measure strength with that Ursus who choked Croton than to go there, but still thou canst not refuse."

Vinicius waved his hand carelessly, and said, — "Danger! We are all wandering in the shadow of death, and every moment some head sinks in its darkness."

"Am I to enumerate all who had a little sense, and therefore, in spite of the times of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, lived eighty and ninety years? Let even such a man as Domitius Afer serve thee as an example. He has grown old quietly, though 21! his life he has been a criminal and a villain."

"Perhaps for that very reason!" answered Vinicius.

Then he began to glance over the list and read: "Tigellinus, Vatinius, Sextus Africanus, Aquilinus Regulut, Suilius Nerulinus, Eprius Marcellus, and so on! What an assembly of ruffians and scoundrels! And to say that they govern the world! Would it not become them better to exhibit an Egyptian or Syrian divinity through villages, jingle sistra, and earn their bread by telling fortunes or dancing?"

"Or exhibiting learned monkeys, calculating dogs, or a flute-playing ass," added Petronius. "That is true, but let us speak of something more important. Summon thy attention and listen. I have said on the Palatine that thou art ill, unable to leave the house; still thy name is on the list, which proves that some one does not credit my stories and has seen to this purposely. Nero cares nothing for the matter, since for him thou art a soldier, who has no conception of poetry or music, and with whom at the very highest he can talk only about races in the Circus. So Poppaea must have seen to putting down thy name, which means that her desire for thee was not a passing whim, and that she wants to win thee."

"She is a daring Augusta."

"Indeed she is daring, for she may ruin herself beyond redemption. May Venus inspire her, however, with another love as soon as possible; but since she desires thee thou must observe the very greatest caution. She has begun to weary Bronieheard already; he prefers Rubria now, or Pythagoras, but, through consideration of self, he would wreak the most horrible vengeance on us."

"In the grove I knew not that she was speaking to me; but thou wert listening. I said that I loved another, and did not wish her. Thou knowest that."

"I implore thee, by all the infernal gods, lose not the remnant of reason which the Christians have left in thee. How is it possible to hesitate, having a choice between probable and certain destruction? Have I not said already that if thou hadst wounded the Augusta’s vanity, there would have been no rescue for they? Dy Hades! if life has grown hateful to thee, better open thy veins at once, or cast thyself on a sword, for shouldst thou offend Poppae, a less easy death may meet thee. It was easier once to converse with thee. What concerns thee specially? Would this affair cause thee loss, or hinder thee from loving thy Lygia? Remember, besides, that Poppxa saw her on the Palatine. It will not be difficult for her to guess why thou art rejecting such lofty favor, and she will get Lygia even from under the earth. Thou wilt ruin not only thyself, but Lygia too. Dost understand?"

Vinicius listened as if thinking of something else, and at last he said, —

"I must see her."

"Who? Lygia?"


"Dost thou know where she is?"

"Then thou wilt begin anew to search for her in old cemeteries and beyond the Tiber?"

"I know not, but I must see her."

"Well, though she is a Christian, it may turn out that she has more judgment than thou; and it will ccrtainly, unless she wishes thy ruin."

Vinicius shrugged his shoulders. "She saved me from the hands of Ursus."

"Then hurry, for Bronzebeard will not postpone his departure. Sentences of death may be issued in Antium also."

But Vinicius did not hear. One thought alone occupied him, an interview with Lygia; hence he began to think over methods.

Meanwhile something intervened which might set aside every difficulty. Chilo came to his house unexpectedly.

He entered wretched and worn, with signs of hunger on his face and in rags; but the servants, who had the former command to admit him at all hours of the day or night, did not dare to detain him, so he went straight to the atrium, and standing before Vinicius said, — "May the gods give thee immortality, and share with thee dominion over the world."

Vinicius at the first moment wished to give the order to throw him out of doors; but the thought came to him that the Greek perhaps knew something of Lygia, and curiosity overcame his disgust.

"Is that thou?" asked he. "What has happened to thee?"

"Evil, O son of Jove," answered Chio. "Real virtue is a ware for which no one inquires now, and a genuine sage must be glad of this even, that once in five days he has something with which to buy from the butcher a sheep’s head, to gnaw in a garret, washing it down with his tears. Ah, lord! What thou didst give me I paid Atractus for books, and afterward I was robbed and ruined. The slave who was to write down my wisdom fled, taking the remnant of what thy generosity bestowed on me. I am in misery, but I thought to myself: To whom can I go, if not to thee, O Serapis, whom I love and deify, for whom I have exposed my life?"

"Why hast thou come, and what dost thou bring?"

"I come for aid, O Baal, and I bring my misery, my tears, my love, and finally the information which through love for thee I have collected. Thou rememberest, lord, I told thee once how I had given a slave of the divine Petronius one thread from the girdle of the Paphian Venus? I know now that it helped her, and thou, O descendant of the Sun, who knowest what is happening in that house, knowest also what Eunice is there. I have another such thread. I have preserved it for thee, lord."

Here he stopped, on noticing the anger which was gathering on the brows of Vinicius, and said quickly, so as to anticipate the outburst, —

"I know where the divine Lygia is living; I will show thee the street and the house."

Vinicius repressed the emotion with which that news filled him, and said, — "Where is she?"

"With Linus, the elder priest of the Christians. She is there with Ursus, who goes as before to the miller, a namesake of thy dispensator Demas. Yes, Demas! Ursus works in the night; so if thou surround the house at night, thou wilt not find him. Linus is old, and besides him there are only two aged women in the house."

"Whence dost thou know all this?"

"Thou rememberest, lord, that the Christians had me in their hands, and spared me. True, Glaucus was mistaken in thinking that I was the cause of his misfortunes; but he believed that I was, poor man, and he believes so yet. Still they spared me. Then be not astonished, lord, that gratitude filled my heart. I am a man of former, of better times. This was my thought:

Am I to desert friends and benefactors? Would 1 not have been hard-hearted not to inquire about them, not to learn what was happening to them, how health was serving them, and where they were living? By the Pessinian Cybele! I am not capable of such conduct. At first 1 was restrained by fear that they might interpret my wishes incorrectly. But the love which I bore them proved greater than my fear, and the ease with which they forgive every injustice lent me special courage. But above all I was thinking of thee, lord. Our last attempt ended in defeat; but can such a son of Fortune be reconciled with defeat? So I prepared victory for thee. The house stands apart. Thou mayst give command to thy slaves to surround it so that not a mouse could escape. My lord, on thee alone it depends to have that magnanimous king’s daughter in thy house this very night. But should that happen, remember that the cause of it is the very poor and hungry son of my father."

The blood rushed to Vinicius’s head. Temptation shook all his being again. Yes; that was the method, and this time a certain one. Once he has Lygia in his house, who can take her? Once he makes Lygia his mistress, what will be left to her, unless to remain so forever? And let all religions perish! What will the Christians mean to him then, with their mercy and forbidding faith? Is it not time to shake himself free of all that? Is it not time to live as all live? What will Lygia do later, save to reconcile her fate with the religion which she professes? That, too, is a question of inferior significance. Those are matters devoid of importance. First of all, she will be his, — and his this very day. And it is a question, too, whether that religion will hold out in her soul against the world which is new to her, against luxury, and excitements to which she must yield. All may happen to-day. He needs only to detain Chio, and give an order at dark. And then delight without end! "What has my life been?" thought Vinicius; "suffering, unsatisfied desire, and an endless propounding of problems without answer." In this way all will be cut short and ended. He recollected, it is true, that he had promised not to raise a hand against her. But by what had he sworn? Not by the gods, for he did not believe in them; not by Christ, for he did not believe in him yet. Finally, if she feels injured, he will marry her, and thus repair the wrong. Yes; to that he feels bound, for to her he is indebted for life. Here he recalled the day in which with Croton he had attacked her retreat; he remembered the Lygian’s fist raised above him, and all that had happened later. He saw her again bent over his couch, dressed in the garb of a slave, beautiful as a divinity, a benefactress kind and glorified. His eyes passed to the larariuni unconsciously, and to the little cross which she left him before going. Will he pay for all that by a new attack? Will he drag her by the hair as a slave to his cubiculum? And how will he be able to do so, since he not only desires but loves her, and he loves her specially because she is as she is? All at once he felt that it was not enough for him to have her in the house, it was not enough to seize her in his arms by superior force; he felt that his love needed something more, — her consent, her loves and her soul. Blessed that roof, if she come under it willingly; blessed the moment, blessed the day, blessed his life. Then the happiness of both will be as inexhaustible as the ocean, as the sun. But to seize her by violence would be to destroy that happiness forever, and at the same time to destroy, and defile that which is most precious and alone beloved in life. Terror seized him now at the very thought of this. He glanced at Chio, who, while watching him, pushed his hands under his rags and scratched himself uneasily. That instant, disgust unspeakable took possession of Vinicius, and a wish to trample that former assistant of his, as he would a foul worm or venomous serpent. In an instant he knew what to do. But knowing no measure in anything, and following the impulse of his stern Roman nature, he turned toward Club and said, — "I will not do what thou advisest, but, lest thou go without just reward,

I will command to give thee three hundred stripes in the domestic prison." Chilo grew pale. There was so much cold resolution in the beautiful face of Vinicius that he could not deceive himself for a moment with the hope that the promised reward was no more than a cruel jest.

Hence he threw himself on his knees in one instant, and bending double began to groan in a broken voice, — "How, O king of Persia? Why? —O pyramid of kindness! Colossus of mercy! For what? — I am old, hungry, unfortunate — I have served thee — dost thou repay in this manner?"

"As thou didst the Christians," said Vinicius. And he called the dispensator. But Chilo sprang toward his feet, and, embracing them convulsively, talked, while his face was covered with deathly pallor, — "O lord, O lord! I am old! Fifty, not three hundred stripes. Fifty are enough! A hundred, not three hundred! Oh, mercy, mercy!"

Vinicius thrust him away with his foot, and gave the order. In the twinkle of an eye two powerful Quadi followed the dispensator, and, seizing Chilo by the remnant of his hair, tied his own rags around his neck and dragged him to the prison.

"In the name of Christ!" called the Greek, at the exit of the corridor.

Vmicius was left alone. The order just issued roused and enlivened him.

He endeavored to collect his scattered thoughts, and bring them to order. He felt great relief, and the victory which he had gained over himself filled him with comfort. He thought that he had made some great approach toward Lygia, and that some high reward should be given him. At the first moment it did not even occur to him that he had done a grievous wrong to Chio, and had him flogged for the very acts for which he had rewarded him previously. He was too much of a Roman yet to be pained by another man’s suffering, and to occupy his attention with one wretched Greek. Had he even thought of Chio’s suffering he would have considered that he had acted properly in giving command to punish such a villain. But he was thinking of Lygia, and said to her: I will not pay thee with evil for good; and when thou shalt learn how I acted with him who strove to persuade me to raise hands against thee, thou wilt be grateful. But here he stopped at this thought:

Would Lygia praise his treatment of Chio? The religion which she professes commands forgiveness; nay, the Christians forgave the villain, though they had greater reasons for revenge. Then for the first time was heard in his soul the cry: "In the name of Christ!" He remembered then that Chilo had ransomed himself from the hands of Ursus with such a cry, and he determined to remit the remainder of the punishment.

With that object he was going to summon the dispensator, when that person stood before him, and said,— "Lord, the old man has fainted, and perhaps he is dead. Am I to command further flogging?"

"Revive him and bring him before me."

The chief of the atrium vanished behind the curtain, but the revival could not have been easy, for Vinicius waited a long time and was growing impatient, when the slaves brought in Chio, and disappeared at a signal.

Chilo was as pale as linen, and down his legs threads of blood were flowing to the mosaic pavement of the atrium. He was conscious, however, and, fabling on his knees, began to speak, with extended hands, — "Thanks to thee, lord. Thou art great and merciful."

"Dog," said Vinicius, "know that I forgave thee because of that Christ to whom I owe my own life."

"O lord, I will serve Him and thee."

"Be silent and listen. Rise! Thou wilt go and show mc the house in which Lygia dwel1s."

Chilo sprang up; but he was barely on his feet when he grew more deathly pale yet, and said in a failing voice, — "Lord, I am really hungry — I will go, lord, I will go! but I have not the strength. Command to give me even remnants from the plate of thy dog, and I will go."

Vinicius commanded to give him food, a piece of gold, and a mantle. But Chio, weakened by stripes and hunger, could not go to take food, though terror raised the hair on his head, lest Vinicius might mistake his weakness for stubbornness and command to flog him anew.

"Only let wine warm me," repeated he, with chattering teeth, "I shall be able to go at once, even to Magna Graecia."

He regained some strength after a time, and they went out.

The way was long, for, like the majority of Christians, Linus dwelt in the Trans-Tiber, and not far from Miriam. At last Chibo showed Vinicius a small house, standing apart, surrounded by a wall covered entirely with ivy, and said,-----

"Here it is, lord."

"Well," said Vinicius, "go thy way now, but listen first to what I tell thee. Forget that thou hast served me; forget where Miriam, Peter, and Glaucus dwell; forget also this house, and all Christians. Thou wilt come every month to my house, where Demas, my freedman, will pay thee two pieces of gold. But shouldst thou spy further after Christians, I will have thee flogged, or delivered into the hands of the prefect of the city."

Chilo bowed down, and said, — "I will forget."

But when Vinicius vanished beyond the corner of the street, he stretched his hands after him, and, threatening with his fists, exclaimed, — "By Ate and the Furies! I will not forget!"

Then he grew faint again.


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Chicago: Henryk Sienkiewicz, "Chapter XXXII," Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Stanley Young in Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=GMDCFZCB43RREBL.

MLA: Sienkiewicz, Henryk. "Chapter XXXII." Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Stanley Young, in Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=GMDCFZCB43RREBL.

Harvard: Sienkiewicz, H, 'Chapter XXXII' in Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=GMDCFZCB43RREBL.