BLTC Press Titles

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Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment

Rudolf Steiner

The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian

The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

Julian the Apostate

by Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky






Twenty stadia from Cesarea of Cappadocia, on the wooded spurs of the Argian hills, beside the great Roman road, was a spring of warm, healing water. A block of stone, with coarsely-graven sculptures of human figures and Greek inscriptions, bore witness that the spring had once been consecrated to the brothers Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri. The images of the heathen gods remaining uninjured were held to be the images of the Christian saints Cosmas and Damian.

On the other side of the road, opposite the holy spring, was built a low tavern, covered with straw thatch, with a foully-kept courtyard for cattle, and a shed for fowl and geese. In the tavern could be had goat's cheese, grey bread, honey, olive oil and the sour local wine. The tavern was kept by the crafty Armenian, Syrophenix.

A partition divided the tavern in two parts,— one for the common folk,—the other for more esteemed guests. Under the ceiling, blackened by acrid smoke, hung hams and bunches of scented mountain herbs, for Fortunata, the wife of Syrophenix, was a notable housewife.

The tavern had an evil name. Honest people did not remain there after nightfall. There were rumors of dark deeds done under that low roof. But Syrophenix was cunning, and could give a bribe when need was, and so came forth dry out of the water.

The partition consisted of two slender columns and of an old faded cloak of Fortunata's, instead of a curtain. The columns, with their naive pretension to Doric style, were the one elegance of the inn and the pride of Syrophenix. Once gilded, they were long since cracked and peeled. The once bright purple, but now dusty blue cloak, was variegated with innumerable stains, the traces of all the breakfasts, suppers and dinners that recalled to the beneficent Fortunata ten years of her family life.

In the clean half, shut off by the curtain, on the narrow couch, worn through in many places, beside a table with a pewter mixing-bowl and wine-cups on it, reclined Marcus Scudilo, the Roman military tribune of the sixteenth legion, and the ninth cohort. Marcus was a provincial dandy, with one of those faces at sight of which forward slave-girls and the cheap heterae of the suburbs cried out in simple-hearted ecstacy: "What a handsome man!" At his feet, on the same couch, in an humble and uncomfortable attitude, sat a stout man, red-faced and short of breath, with a bald head and thin, grey hair drawn forward from the nape of his neck to the temples,—Publius Aquila, the centurion of the eighth hundred. At a little distance off, on the floor, twelve Roman legionaries were playing at knuckle-bones.

"I swear by Hercules!" exclaimed Scudilo, "I would rather be the last man in Constantinople than the first in a mouse-hole. Is this life, Publius? Come, answer with a clear conscience,—is this life? You know that nothing is coming but drill and the barracks and the camp. You rot in ja foul marsh and do not see the light!"

"Yes, you may well say it, life here is not gay," assented Publius, "but then how peaceful."

The old centurion was watching the knucklebones. The game was an absorbing one. Pretending to listen to his superior's gossip, and nodding to his words, he watched the game under his brows, and thought: "If the red-headed fellow throws cleverly he is likely to win." Then, for the sake of appearances, Publius asked the tribune, as though the question interested him:

"Why do you say the prefect Helvidius is angry with you?"

"Because of a woman, my friend, all because of a woman."

And Marcus Scudilo, in a fit of talkative confidence, with a great show of mystery, speaking in the centurion's ear, related that the prefect, "that old he-goat Helvidius," was jealous of him on account of a newly-arrived hetera, a LilybaBum. And Scudilo wished to win back the prefect's favor at once by some considerable service. Not far from Cesarea, in the fortress of Macellum, Julian and Gallus were confined,—the cousins of the ruling Emperor Constantius, and nephews of Constantine the Great, the last scions of the illstarred house of Flavius. On ascending the throne, through fear of rivals, Constantius had assassinated his uncle, the father of Julian and Gallus, Constantine's brother, Julius Constantius. Many other victims fell. But Julian and Gallus they spared, sending them to the lonely fortress of Macellum. The prefect in Cesarea was in serious difficulties. Knowing that the new emperor hated the two boys, who reminded him of his crime, Helvidius wished and yet feared to divine the emperor's will. Julian and Gallus lived in perpetual dread of death. The crafty tribune, Seudilo, dreaming of the possibility of a career at court, understood from the hints of his superior that he could not decfde to take the responsibility on himself, and was frightened by the rumors of the escape of Constantine's heirs. Then Marcus Scudilo decided to go with a company of legionaries to Macellum, to arrest the prisoners at his own risk, and to bring them to Cesarea, holding that he had nothing to fear from two youths, mere abandoned orphans, detested by the emperor. By this daring deed, he hoped to regain the favor of the prefect Helvidius, which he had lost for the golden-haired Lilybaeum.

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