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THE DESTRUCTION OF POMPEII.
ONCE upon a time there stood a town in Italy, at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, which was to Rome what Brighton or Hastings is to London-a very fashionable watering-place, at which Roman gentlemen and members of the Senate built villas, to which they were in the habit of retiring from the fatigues of business or the broils of politics. The outsides of all the houses were adorned with frescoes, and every shop glittered with all the colours of the rainbow. At the end of each street there was a charming fountain, and any one who sat down beside it to cool himself had a delightful view of the Mediterranean, then as beautiful, as blue and sunny as it is now. On a fine day, crowds might be seen lounging here; some sauntering up and down in gala dresses of purple, while slaves passed to and fro bearing on their heads splendid vases; others sat on marble benches, shaded from the sun by awnings, and having before them tables covered with wine, and fruit, and flowers. Every house in that town was a little palace, and every palace was like a temple, or one of our great public buildings.
Any one who thinks a mansion in Belgravia the acme of splendour would have been astonished, had he lived in those days, to find how completely the abodes of those Roman lords outshone “the stately homes of England.” On entering the former, the visitor passed through a vestibule decorated with rows of pillars, and then found himself in the impluvium, in which the household gods kept guard over the owner's treasure, which was placed in a safe, or strong-box, secured with brass or iron bands. In this apartment guests were received with imposing ceremony, and the patron heard the complaints, supplications, and adulations of his great band of clients or dependants, who lived on his smiles and bounty, but chiefly on the latter. Issuing thence, the visitor found himself in the tablinum, an apartment paved with mosaic and decorated with paintings, in which were kept the family
papers and archives.
It contained a dining room and a supper room, and a number of sleeping rooms hung with the softest of Syrian cloths; a cabinet filled with rare jewels and antiquities, and sometimes a fine collection of paintings; and last of all, a pillared peristyle, opening out upon the garden, in which the finest fruit hung temptingly in the rich light of a golden sky, and fountains, which flung their waters aloft in every imaginable form and device, cooled the air and discoursed sweet music to the ear; while from behind every shrub there peeped out a statue, or the bust of some great man, carved from the purest white marble, and placed in charming contrast with bouquets of rare flowers springing from stone vases. On the gate there was always the image of a dog, and underneath it the inscription, “ Beware the dog."
The frescoes on the walls represented scenes in the Greek legends, such as “The Parting of Achilles and the beautiful Maid Briseis,” “The Seizure of Europa,” “The Battle of the Amazons,” &c.; many of which are still to be seen in the museum at Naples. The pillars in the peristyle of which we have just spoken were encircled with garlands of flowers, which were renewed every morning. The tables of citron wood were inlaid with silver arabesques; the couches were of bronze, gilt and jewelled, and were furnished with thick cushions and tapestry, embroidered with marvellous skill. When the master gave a dinner party, the guests reclined upon these cushions, washed their hands in silver basins, and dried them with napkins fringed with purple; and having made a libation on the altar of Bacchus, ate oysters brought from the shores of Britain, kids which were carved to the sound of music, and fruits served up on ice in the hottest days of summer; and while the cupbearers filled their golden cups with the rarest and most delicate wines in all the world, other attendants crowned them with flowers wet with dew, and dancers executed the most graceful movements, and singers accompanied by the lyre poured forth an ode of Horace or of Anacreon.
After the banquet, a shower of scented water, scattered from invisible pipes, spread perfume over the apartment; and everything around, even the oil, and the lamps, and the jets of the fountain,
shed forth the most grateful odour; and suddenly from the mosaic of the floor tables of rich dainties, of which we have at the present day no idea, rose, as if by magic, to stimulate the palled appetites of the revellers into fresh activity. When these had disappeared, other tables succeeded them, upon which senators, and consuls, and proconsuls gambled away provinces and empires by the throw of dice; and last of all, the tapestry was suddenly raised, and young girls, lightly attired, wreathed with flowers, and bearing lyres in their hands, issued forth, and charmed sight and hearing by the graceful mazes of the dance.
One day, when such festivities as these were in full activity, Vesuvius sent up a tall and very black column of smoke, something like a pine-tree; and suddenly, in broad noonday, darkness black as pitch came over the scene! There was a frightful din of cries, groans, and imprecations, mingled confusedly together. The brother lost his sister, the husband his wife, the mother her child; for the darkness became so dense that nothing could be seen but the flashes which every now and then darted forth from the summit of the neighbouring mountain. The earth trembled, the houses shook and began to fall, and the sea rolled back from the land as if terrified; the air became thick with dust; and then, amidst tremendous and awful noise, a shower of stones, scoriæ, and pumice fell upon the town and blotted it out for ever!
The inhabitants died just as the catastrophe found themguests in their banqueting halls, brides in their chambers, soldiers at their post, prisoners in their dungeons, thieves in their theft, maidens at the mirror, slaves at the fountain, traders in their shops, students at their books. Some people attempted flight, guided by some blind people, who had walked so long in darkness that no thicker shadows could ever come upon them; but of these many were struck down on the way. When, a few days afterwards, people came from the surrounding country to the place, they found nought but a black, level, smoking plain, sloping to the sea, and covered thickly with ashes! Down, down beneath, thousands and thousands were sleeping “the sleep that knows no
waking," with all their little pomps, and vanities, and frivolities, and pleasures, and luxuries, buried with them.
This took place on the 23rd of August, A.D. 79; and the name of the town thus suddenly overwhelmed with ruins was Pompeii. Sixteen hundred and seventeen years afterwards, curious persons began to dig and excavate on the spot, and lo! they found the city pretty much as it was when overwhelmed. The houses were standing, the paintings were fresh, and the skeletons stood in the very positions and the very places in which death had overtaken their owners so long ago! The marks left by the cups of the tipplers still remained on the counters; the prisoners still wore their fetters, the belles their chains and bracelets; the miser held his hand on his hoarded coin; and the priests were lurking in the hollow images of their gods, from which they uttered responses and deceived the worshippers. There were the altars, with the blood dry and crusted upon them; the stables in which the victims of the sacrifice were kept; and the hall of mysteries, in which were symbolical paintings. The researches are still going on, new wonders are every day coming to light, and we soon shall have almost as perfect an idea of a Roman town in the first century of the Christian era as if we had walked the streets and gossiped with the idle loungers at the fountains. Pompeii is the ghost of an extinct civilization rising up before us.—Illustrated Magazine of Art.
REGULUS BEFORE THE ROMAN SENATE,
In the year 263 before Christ the first Punic War began ; and, after it had continued eight years with varied success, the Romans sent the Consul Regulus, at the head of a large army, to carry the war into Africa. On the passage across the Mediterranean, the Carthaginian fleet, bearing not less than a hundred and fifty thousand men, was met and defeated; but the following year in a battle on land the Romans were defeated with great loss, and Regulus himself, being taken prisoner, was thrown into a dungeon. Five years later the Carthaginians were in turn defeated
in Sicily, with a loss of twenty thousand men, and the capture of more than a hundred of their elephants, which they had trained to fight in the ranks.
It was then that the Carthaginians sent an embassy to Rome with proposals of peace. Regulus was taken from his dungeon to accompany the embassy, the Carthaginians trusting that, weary of his long captivity, he would urge the Senate to accept the proffered terms; but the inflexible Roman persuaded the Senate to reject the proposal and continue the war, assuring his countrymen that the resources of Carthage were nearly exhausted. Bound by his oath to return if peace were not concluded, he voluntarily went back, in spite of the prayers and entreaties of his friends, to meet the fate which awaited him. It is generally stated that after his return to Carthage he was tortured to death by the exasperated Carthaginians. The circumstances of the appearance of Regulus before the Roman Senate, and his heroic self-sacrifice, are described in the following piece :Urge me no more; your prayers are vain, But no! kind Heaven had yet in store And even the tears ye shed:
For me, a conquered slave, When I can lead to Rome again
A joy I thought to feel no more, The bands that once I led;
Or feel but in the grave. When I can raise your legions slain
They deemed, perchance, my haughtier On swarthy Libya's fatal plain,
mood To vengeance from the dead,
Was quelled by chains and solitude; Then will I seek once more a home,
That he who once was brave And lift a freeman's voice in Rome !
Was I not brave ?--had now become
Estranged from honour, as from Rome. Accursed moment! when I woke From faintness all but death,
They bade me to my country bear And felt the coward conqueror's yoke
The offers these have borne; Like venomed serpents wreath
They would have trained my lips to Round every limb: if lip and eye
swear Betrayed no sign of agony,
Which never yet have sworn. Inly I cursed my breath :
Silent their base commands I heard, Wherefore, of all that fought, was I
At length I pledged a Roman's word, The only wretch that could not die?
Unshrinking, to return.
I go, prepared to meet the worst; To darkness and to chains consigned,
But I shall gall proud Carthage first.
The gilded bait they bear;
War, ceaseless war, declare.
Fools as they were, could not mine eye, They led me forth, I thought, to die;- Through their dissembled calmness, spy Oh! in that thought was ecstasy!
The struggles of despair?