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ror but took his wife and Claudia to the theatre, as though to witness an ordinary perform
The ladies seated themselves in the portico, which was the place assigned by Augustus to the female part of the audience; and Lucan left them, apparently to take his place on one of the fourteen rows, assigned to the Equestrian order, which formed the barrier between the orchestra appropriated to the senate and other distinguished persons, and the higher seats occupied by the plebeians.*
Nero, anxious to ensure an audience to witness his triumph, and not considering that the novelty of his own disgraceful exhibition would be a sufficient attraction, had given notice of the event in such a manner as to render it unsafe for any person of dignity to absent himself; insomuch, that several Roman Knights, being rather late, were actually crushed to death in the narrow passages leading to their seats, so dense was the crowd.† Nor was his anxiety confined to the mere col
*For information on the structure and arrangement of the Roman Theatre, see Pompeii, vol. 1, c. 8.
Tac. Ann. XVI, 5.
lection of an audience: it was of still greater importance to secure their favourable opinion; and for this purpose common soldiers were distributed over the theatre to take care that the applause should be kept up without intermission by a set of hirelings, some of whom were severely chastised for having relaxed their efforts through weariness!
Besides these precautions spies and informers were stationed, in different parts of the building, to watch the countenances of the spectators, who carefully noted down and reported to their master any symptom of disgust manifested by the unwary. Among those who did not escape their observation, it may be noticed, was Vespasian the future Emperor, who being so uncourtier-like as to yawn, was insolently reprimanded by one of Nero's freedmen, and only saved himself from more dreadful consequences by a voluntary retirement from
Nero's name was emblazoned in white letters in the list of harpers, and other performers, ainong whom was our friend Lucan. The priority of the different singers was determined by lot; and when Nero's turn arrived, procla
mation was made by a consul, that the divine Emperor would sing a poem of his own composition, styled, "The Metamorphosis of Niobe.'
The author of the piece-about to undergo a stranger metamorphosis than his heroine-then advanced, preceded by the prefects of the Prætorian cohorts, Tigellinus and his colleague, bearing his harp, and followed by the military tribunes, and the most distinguished of his courtiers. At first he only ventured upon the proscenium, or rostrum, from whence he recited his poem ; but being entreated by the populace to exhibit all his accomplishments, he took his place in the orchestra, and conformed to the rules of the stage, which allowed no performer to sit down or to use his pocket-handkerchief.
His voice was neither loud nor clear; and it was in vain that he deepened the scarlet of his naturally red face, and stood tip toe, straining to fill that huge theatre with his unmouthable poetry.
However, having ceased his performance, the master of the world knelt on one knee, and, with outstretched hand and simulated
anxiety, supplicated the lenience of his audience.*
It is almost needless to add, that it was not supplicated in vain. Men of thought and principle indeed felt not only themselves but their nation degraded by this display; but they yielded to compulsion: the sycophants of the tyrant, of course, attempted to outvie each other; and as to the lower orders, they were unfeignedly delighted, and expressed their pleasure in one measured note of applause.
Lucan's turn succeeded. It is impossible to describe the excitement which prevailed; suffice it to say that every eye was fixed upon him with the most vivid suspense; and the more so as he had hardly communicated his determination to any person. The courtiers envied him the opportunity of ingratiating himself with the Emperor: Seneca, who had pressed upon him for once to be content with mediocrity, watched him with painful interest as though distrustful of his advice being followed: his family gazed upon him with agonizing anxiety.
* Suet. in Neron. 21-24.
No individual present, however, scanned his movements with more impatience than the Emperor, who visibly trembled lest this experiment should fail, and he should lose the darling object of his heart.
"Yet," thought he, "Lucan knows that I can either make him half a God, or annihilate him: surely he cannot vanquish me, if he would. Nay, more than that, he will not, if he
This last consideration afforded the Emperor by far the greater consolation: but he knew not the character of his antagonist. Lucan was a man of spirit, and he was a poet. To him honour and reputation were dearer than life; and the determined, dignified step, with which he advanced, manifested at once his resolution even
In those degenerate times of shame
He consequently exerted every energy, and threw all his genius into his performance.
The subject was The Descent of Orpheus into the infernal regions: and the effect of his recitation was such as could hardly have been imagined. One universal deafening shout of