The Last Days of Pompeii

Author: Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton  | Date: 1834

Chapter VI



IN the history I relate, the events are crowded and rapid as those of the drama. I write of an epoch in which days sufficed to ripen the ordinary fruits of years.

Meanwhile, Arbaces had not of late much frequented the house of Ione; and when he had visited her he had not encountered Glaucus, nor knew he, as yet, of that love which had so suddenly sprung up between himself and his designs. In his interest for the brother of Ione, he had been forced, too, a little while, to suspend his interest in Ione herself. His pride and his selfishness were aroused and alarmed at the sudden change which had come over the spirit of the youth. He trembled lest he himself should lose a docile pupil, and Isis an enthusiastic servant. Apaecides had ceased to seek or to consult him. He was rarely to be found; he turned sullenly from the Egyptian- nay, he fled when he perceived him in the distance. Arbaces was one of those haughty and powerful spirits accustomed to master others; he chafed at the notion that one once his own should ever elude his grasp. He swore inly that Apaecides should not escape him.

It was with this resolution that he passed through a thick grove in the city, which lay between his house and that of Ione, in his way to the latter; and there, leaning against a tree, and gazing on the ground, he came unawares on the young priest of Isis.

’Apaecides!’ said he- and he laid his hand affectionately on the young man’s shoulder.

The priest started; and his first instinct seemed to be that of flight. ’My son,’ said the Egyptian, ’what has chanced that you desire to shun me?’

Apaecides remained silent and sullen, looking down on the earth, as his lips quivered, and his breast heaved with emotion.

’Speak to me, my friend,’ continued the Egyptian. ’Speak. Something burdens thy spirit. What hast thou to reveal?’

’To thee- nothing.’

’And why is it to me thou art thus unconfidential?’

’Because thou hast been my enemy.’

’Let us confer,’ said Arbaces, in a low voice; and drawing the reluctant arm of the priest in his own, he led him to one of the seats which were scattered within the grove. They sat down- and in those gloomy forms there was something congenial to the shade and solitude of the place.

Apaecides was in the spring of his years, yet he seemed to have exhausted even more of life than the Egyptian; his delicate and regular features were worn and colourless; his eyes were hollow, and shone with a brilliant and feverish glare: his frame bowed prematurely, and in his hands, which were small to effeminacy, the blue and swollen veins indicated the lassitude and weakness of the relaxed fibres. You saw in his face a strong resemblance to Ione, but the expression was altogether different from that majestic and spiritual calm which breathed so divine and classical a repose over his sister’s beauty. In her, enthusiasm was visible, but it seemed always suppressed and restrained; this made the charm and sentiment of her countenance; you longed to awaken a spirit which reposed, but evidently did not sleep. In Apaecides the whole aspect betokened the fervour and passion of his temperament, and the intellectual portion of his nature seemed, by the wild fire of the eyes, the great breadth of the temples when compared with the height of the brow, the trembling restlessness of the lips, to be swayed and tyrannised over by the imaginative and ideal. Fancy, with the sister, had stopped short at the golden goal of poetry; with the brother, less happy and less restrained, it had wandered into visions more intangible and unembodied; and the faculties which gave genius to the one threatened madness to the other.

’You say I have been your enemy,’ said Arbaces, ’I know the cause of that unjust accusation: I have placed you amidst the priests of Isis- you are revolted at their trickeries and imposture- you think that I too have deceived you- the purity of your mind is offended- you imagine that I am one of the deceitful...’

’You knew the jugglings of that impious craft,’ answered Apaecides; ’why did you disguise them from me?- When you excited my desire to devote myself to the office whose garb I bear, you spoke to me of the holy life of men resigning themselves to knowledge- you have given me for companions an ignorant and sensual herd, who have no knowledge but that of the grossest frauds; you spoke to me of men sacrificing the earthlier pleasures to the sublime cultivation of virtue- you place me amongst men reeking with all the filthiness of vice; you spoke to me of the friends, the enlighteners of our common kind- I see but their cheats and deluders! Oh! it was basely done!- you have robbed me of the glory of youth, of the convictions of virtue, of the sanctifying thirst after wisdom. Young as I was, rich, fervent, the sunny pleasures of earth before me, I resigned all without a sign, nay, with happiness and exultation, in the thought that I resigned them for the abstruse mysteries of diviner wisdom, for the companionship of gods- for the revelations of Heaven- and now- now...’

Convulsive sobs checked the priest’s voice; he covered his face with his hands, and large tears forced themselves through the wasted fingers, and ran profusely down his vest.

’What I promised to thee, that will I give, my friend, my pupil: these have been but trials to thy virtue- it comes forth the brighter for thy novitiate- think no more of those dull cheats- assort no more with those menials of the goddess, the atrienses of her hall- you are worthy to enter into the penetralia. I henceforth will be your priest, your guide, and you who now curse my friendship shall live to bless it.’

The young man lifted up his head, and gazed with a vacant and wondering stare upon the Egyptian.

’Listen to me,’ continued Arbaces, in an earnest and solemn voice, casting first his searching eyes around to see that they were still alone. ’From Egypt came all the knowledge of the world; from Egypt came the lore of Athens, and the profound policy of Crete; from Egypt came those early and mysterious tribes which (long before the hordes of Romulus swept over the plains of Italy, and in the eternal cycle of events drove back civilisation into barbarism and darkness) possessed all the arts of wisdom and the graces of intellectual life. From Egypt came the rites and the grandeur of that solemn Caere, whose inhabitants taught their iron vanquishers of Rome all that they yet know of elevated in religion and sublime in worship. And how deemest thou, young man, that that Egypt, the mother of countless nations, achieved her greatness, and soared to her cloud-capt eminence of wisdom?- It was the result of a profound and holy policy. Your modern nations owe their greatness to Egypt- Egypt her greatness to her priests. Rapt in themselves, coveting a sway over the nobler part of man, his soul and his belief, those ancient ministers of God were inspired with the grandest thought that ever exalted mortals. From the revolutions of the stars, from the seasons of the earth, from the round and unvarying circle of human destinies, they devised an august allegory; they made it gross and palpable to the vulgar by the signs of gods and goddesses, and that which in reality was Government they named Religion. Isis is a fable- start not!- that for which Isis is a type is a reality, an immortal being; Isis is nothing. Nature, which she represents, is the mother of all things- dark, ancient, inscrutable, save to the gifted few. "None among mortals hath ever lifted up my veil," so saith the Isis that you adore; but to the wise that veil hath been removed, and we have stood face to face with the solemn loveliness of Nature. The priests then were the benefactors, the civilisers of mankind; true, they were also cheats, impostors if you will. But think you, young man, that if they had not deceived their kind they could have served them? The ignorant and servile vulgar must be blinded to attain to their proper good; they would not believe a maxim- they revere an oracle. The Emperor of Rome sways the vast and various tribes of earth, and harmonises the conflicting and disunited elements; thence come peace, order, law, the blessings of life. Think you it is the man, the emperor, that thus sways?- no, it is the pomp, the awe, the majesty that surround him- these are his impostures, his delusions; our oracles and our divinations, our rites and our ceremonies, are the means of our sovereignty and the engines of our power. They are the same means to the same end, the welfare and harmony of mankind. You listen to me rapt and intent- the light begins to dawn upon you.’

Apaecides remained silent, but the changes rapidly passing over his speaking countenance betrayed the effect produced upon him by the words of the Egyptian- words made tenfold more eloquent by the voice, the aspect, and the manner of the man.

’While, then,’ resumed Arbaces, ’our fathers of the Nile thus achieved the first elements by whose life chaos is destroyed, namely, the obedience and reverence of the multitude for the few, they drew from their majestic and starred meditations that wisdom which was no delusion: they invented the codes and regularities of law- the arts and glories of existence. They asked belief; they returned the gift by civilisation. Were not their very cheats a virtue! Trust me, whosoever in yon far heavens of a diviner and more beneficent nature look down upon our world, smile approvingly on the wisdom which has worked such ends. But you wish me to apply these generalities to yourself; I hasten to obey the wish. The altars of the goddess of our ancient faith must be served, and served too by others than the stolid and soulless things that are but as pegs and hooks whereon to hang the fillet and the robe. Remember two sayings of Sextus the Pythagorean, sayings borrowed from the lore of Egypt. The first is, "Speak not of God to the multitude"; the second is, "The man worthy of God is a god among men." As Genius gave to the ministers of Egypt worship, that empire in late ages so fearfully decayed, thus by Genius only can the dominion be restored. I saw in you, Apaecides, a pupil worthy of my lessons- a minister worthy of the great ends which may yet be wrought; your energy, your talents, your purity of faith, your earnestness of enthusiasm, all fitted you for that calling which demands so imperiously high and ardent qualities: I fanned, therefore, your sacred desires; I stimulated you to the step you have taken. But you blame me that I did not reveal to you the little souls and the juggling tricks of your companions. Had I done so, Apaecides, I had defeated my own object; your noble nature would have at once revolted, and Isis would have lost her priest.’

Apaecides groaned aloud. The Egyptian continued, without heeding the interruption.

’I placed you, therefore, without preparation, in the temple; I left you suddenly to discover and to be sickened by all those mummeries which dazzle the herd. I desired that you should perceive how those engines are moved by which the fountain that refreshes the world casts its waters in the air. It was the trial ordained of old to all our priests. They who accustom themselves to the impostures of the vulgar, are left to practise them- for those like you, whose higher natures demand higher pursuit, religion opens more god-like secrets. I am pleased to find in you the character I had expected. You have taken the vows; you cannot recede. Advance- I will be your guide.’

’And what wilt thou teach me, O singular and fearful man? New cheats- new...’

’No- I have thrown thee into the abyss of disbelief; I will lead thee now to the eminence of faith. Thou hast seen the false types: thou shalt learn now the realities they represent. There is no shadow, Apaecides, without its substance. Come to me this night. Your hand.’

Impressed, excited, bewildered by the language of the Egyptian, Apaecides gave him his hand, and master and pupil parted.

It was true that for Apaecides there was no retreat. He had taken the vows of celibacy: he had devoted himself to a life that at present seemed to possess all the austerities of fanaticism, without any of the consolations of belief It was natural that he should yet cling to a yearning desire to reconcile himself to an irrevocable career. The powerful and profound mind of the Egyptian yet claimed an empire over his young imagination; excited him with vague conjecture, and kept him alternately vibrating between hope and fear.

Meanwhile Arbaces pursued his slow and stately way to the house of Ione. As he entered the tablinum, he heard a voice from the porticoes of the peristyle beyond, which, musical as it was, sounded displeasingly on his ear- it was the voice of the young and beautiful Glaucus, and for the first time an involuntary thrill of jealousy shot through the breast of the Egyptian. On entering the peristyle, he found Glaucus seated by the side of Ione. The fountain in the odorous garden cast up its silver spray in the air, and kept a delicious coolness in the midst of the sultry noon. The handmaids, almost invariably attendant on Ione, who with her freedom of life preserved the most delicate modesty, sat at a little distance; by the feet of Glaucus lay the lyre on which he had been playing to Ione one of the Lesbian airs. The scene- the group before Arbaces, was stamped by that peculiar and refined ideality of poesy which we yet, not erroneously, imagine to be the distinction of the ancients- the marble colunms, the vases of flowers, the statue, white and tranquil, closing every vista; and, above all, the two living forms, from which a sculptor might have caught either inspiration or despair!

Arbaces, pausing for a moment, gazed on the pair with a brow from which all the usual stern serenity had fled; he recovered himself by an effort, and slowly approached them, but with a step so soft and echoless, that even the attendants heard him not; much less Ione and her lover.

’And yet,’ said Glaucus, ’it is only before we love that we imagine that our poets have truly described the passion; the instant the sun rises, all the stars that had shone in his absence vanish into air. The poets exist only in the night of the heart; they are nothing to us when we feel the full glory of the god.’

’A gentle and most glowing image, noble Glaucus.’

Both started, and recognised behind the seat of Ione the cold and sarcastic face of the Egyptian.

’You are a sudden guest,’ said Glaucus, rising, and with a forced smile.

’So ought all to be who know they are welcome,’ returned Arbaces, seating himself, and motioning to Glaucus to do the same.

’I am glad,’ said Ione, ’to see you at length together; for you are suited to each other, and you are formed to be friends.’

’Give me back some fifteen years of life,’ replied the Egyptian, ’before you can place me on an equality with Glaucus. Happy should I be to receive his friendship; but what can I give him in return? Can I make to him the same confidences that he would repose in me- of banquets and garlands- of Parthian steeds, and the chances of the dice? these pleasures suit his age, his nature, his career: they are not for mine.’

So saying, the artful Egyptian looked down and sighed; but from the corner of his eye he stole a glance towards Ione, to see how she received these insinuations of the pursuits of her visitor. Her countenance did not satisfy him. Glaucus, slightly colouring, hastened gaily to reply. Nor was he, perhaps, without the wish in his turn to disconcert and abash the Egyptian.

’You are right, wise Arbaces,’ said he; ’we can esteem each other, but we cannot be friends. My banquets lack the secret salt which, according to rumour, gives such zest to your own. And, by Hercules! when I have reached your age, if I, like you, may think it wise to pursue the pleasures of manhood, like you, I shall be doubtless sarcastic on the gallantries of youth.’

The Egyptian raised his eyes to Glaucus with a sudden and piercing glance.

’I do not understand you,’ said he, coldly; ’but it is the custom to consider that wit lies in obscurity.’ He turned from Glaucus as he spoke, with a scarcely perceptible sneer of contempt, and after a moment’s pause addressed himself to Ione.

’I have not, beautiful Ione,’ said he, ’been fortunate enough to find you within doors the last two or three times that I have visited your vestibule.’

’The smoothness of the sea has tempted me much from home,’ replied Ione, with a little embarrassment.

The embarrassment did not escape Arbaces; but without seeming to heed it, he replied with a smile: ’You know the old poet says, that "Women should keep within doors, and there converse."’

’The poet was a cynic,’ said Glaucus, ’and hated women.’

’He spake according to the customs of his country, and that country is your boasted Greece.’

’To different periods different customs. Had our forefathers known Ione, they had made a different law.’

’Did you learn these pretty gallantries at Rome?’ said Arbaces, with ill-suppressed emotion.

’One certainly would not go for gallantries to Egypt,’ retorted Glaucus, playing carelessly with his chain.

’Come, come,’ said Ione, hastening to interrupt a conversation which she saw, to her great distress, was so little likely to cement the intimacy she had desired to effect between Glaucus and her friend, ’Arbaces must not be so hard upon his poor pupil. An orphan, and without a mother’s care, I may be to blame for the independent and almost masculine liberty of life that I have chosen: yet it is not greater than the Roman women are accustomed to- it is not greater than the Grecian ought to be. Alas! is it only to be among men that freedom and virtue are to be deemed united? Why should the slavery that destroys you be considered the only method to preserve us? Ah! believe me, it has been the great error of men- and one that has worked bitterly on their destinies- to imagine that the nature of women is (I will not say inferior, that may be so, but) so different from their own, in making laws unfavourable to the intellectual advancement of women. Have they not, in so doing, made laws against their children, whom women are to rear?- against the husbands, of whom women are to be the friends, nay, sometimes the advisers?’ Ione stopped short suddenly, and her face was suffused with the most enchanting blushes. She feared lest her enthusiasm had led her too far; yet she feared the austere Arbaces less than the courteous Glaucus, for she loved the last, and it was not the custom of the Greeks to allow their women (at least such of their women as they most honoured) the same liberty and the same station as those of Italy enjoyed. She felt, therefore, a thrill of delight as Glaucus earnestly replied:

’Ever mayst thou think thus, Ione- ever be your pure heart your unerring guide! Happy it had been for Greece if she had given to the chaste the same intellectual charms that are so celebrated amongst the less worthy of her women. No state falls from freedom- from knowledge, while your sex smile only on the free, and by appreciating, encourage the wise.’

Arbaces was silent, for it was neither his part to sanction the sentiment of Glaucus, nor to condemn that of Ione, and, after a short and embarrassed conversation, Glaucus took his leave of Ione.

When he was gone, Arbaces, drawing his seat nearer to the fair Neapolitan’s, said in those bland and subdued tones, in which he knew so well how to veil the mingled art and fierceness of his character:

’Think not, my sweet pupil, if so I may call you, that I wish to shackle that liberty you adorn while you assume: but which, if not greater, as you rightly observe, than that possessed by the Roman women, must at least be accompanied by great circumspection, when arrogated by one unmarried. Continue to draw crowds of the gay, the brilliant, the wise themselves, to your feet- continue to charm them with the conversation of an Aspasia, the music of an Erinna- but reflect, at least, on those censorious tongues which can so easily blight the tender reputation of a maiden; and while you provoke admiration, give, I beseech you, no victory to envy.’

’What mean you, Arbaces?’ said Ione, in an alarmed and trembling voice: ’I know you are my friend, that you desire only my honour and my welfare. What is it you would say?’

’Your friend- ah, how sincerely! May I speak then as a friend, without reserve and without offence?’

’I beseech you do so.’

’This young profligate, this Glaucus, how didst thou know him? Hast thou seen him often?’ And as Arbaces spoke, he fixed his gaze steadfastly upon Ione, as if he sought to penetrate into her soul.

Recoiling before that gaze, with a strange fear which she could not explain, the Neapolitan answered with confusion and hesitation: ’He was brought to my house as a countryman of my father’s, and I may say of mine. I have known him only within this last week or so: but why these questions?’

’Forgive me,’ said Arbaces; ’I thought you might have known him longer. Base insinuator that he is!’

’How! what mean you? Why that term?’

’It matters not: let me not rouse your indignation against one who does not deserve so grave an honour.’

’I implore you speak. What has Glaucus insinuated? or rather, in what do you suppose he has offended?’

Smothering his resentment at the last part of Ione’s question, Arbaces continued: ’You know his pursuits, his companions his habits; the comissatio and the alea (the revel and the dice) make his occupation; and amongst the associates of vice how can he dream of virtue?’

’Still you speak riddles. By the gods! I entreat you, say the worst at once.’

’Well, then, it must be so. Know, my Ione, that it was but yesterday that Glaucus boasted openly- yes, in the public baths- of your love to him. He said it amused him to take advantage of it. Nay, I will do him justice, he praised your beauty. Who could deny it? But he laughed scornfully when his Clodius, or his Lepidus, asked him if he loved you enough for marriage, and when he purposed to adorn his door-posts with flowers?’

’Impossible! How heard you this base slander?’

’Nay, would you have me relate to you all the comments of the insolent coxcombs with which the story has circled through the town? Be assured that I myself disbelieved at first, and that I have now painfully been convinced by several ear-witnesses of the truth of what I have reluctantly told thee.’

’Ione sank back, and her face was whiter than the pillar against which she leaned for support.

’I own it vexed- it irritated me, to hear your name thus lightly pitched from lip to lip, like some mere dancing-girl’s fame. I hastened this morning to seek and to warn you. I found Glaucus here. I was stung from my self-possession. I could not conceal my feelings; nay, I was uncourteous in thy presence. Canst thou forgive thy friend, Ione?’

Ione placed her hand in his, but replied not.

’Think no more of this,’ said he; ’but let it be a warning voice, to tell thee how much prudence thy lot requires. It cannot hurt thee, Ione, for a moment; for a gay thing like this could never have been honoured by even a serious thought from Ione. These insults only wound when they come from one we love; far different indeed is he whom the lofty Ione shall stoop to love.’

’Love!’ muttered Ione, with an hysterical laugh. ’Ay, indeed.’

It is not without interest to observe in those remote times, and under a social system so widely different from the modern, the same small causes that ruffle and interrupt the ’course of love’, which operate so commonly at this day- the same inventive jealousy, the same cunning slander, the same crafty and fabricated retailings of petty gossip, which so often now suffice to break the ties of the truest love, and counteract the tenor of circumstances most apparently propitious. When the bark sails on over the smoothest wave, the fable tells us of the diminutive fish that can cling to the keel and arrest its progress: so is it ever with the great passions of mankind; and we should paint life but ill if, even in times the most prodigal of romance, and of the romance of which we most largely avail ourselves, we did not also describe the mechanism of those trivial and household springs of mischief which we see every day at work in our chambers and at our hearths. It is in these, the lesser intrigues of life, that we mostly find ourselves at home with the past.

Most cunningly had the Egyptian appealed to Ione’s ruling foible- most dexterously had he applied the poisoned dart to her pride. He fancied he had arrested what he hoped, from the shortness of the time she had known Glaucus, was, at most, but an incipient fancy; and hastening to change the subject, he now led her to talk of her brother. Their conversation did not last long. He left her, resolved not again to trust so much to absence, but to visit- to watch her- every day.

No sooner had his shadow glided from her presence, than woman’s pride- her sex’s dissimulation- deserted his intended victim, and the haughty Ione burst into passionate tears.


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Chicago: Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, "Chapter VI," The Last Days of Pompeii Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2024,

MLA: Bulwer-Lytton, Edward George Earle Lytton. "Chapter VI." The Last Days of Pompeii, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Bulwer-Lytton, EG, 'Chapter VI' in The Last Days of Pompeii. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2024, from