A perfect autumn day. Above, the clear sky of Italy; below, a grassy plain, sloping gently down from the brown cliffs and ruined ramparts of old Veii—the city of the ancient Tuscan kings. In the background, under the shade of the oaks, a dozen waiting attendants; and here, in the open space before us, three trim and sturdy Roman youths, all flushed with the exercise of a royal game of ball. Come, boys and girls of to-day, go back with me seventeen and a half centuries, and join the dozen lookers-on as they follow this three-cornered game of ball. They call it the trigon. It is a favorite ball-game with the Roman youth, in which the three players, standing as if on a right-angled triangle, pitch and catch the ball, or pila, at long distances and with the left hand only. It is not so easy as you may think. Try it some time and see for yourself.
"This way—toss it this way, Aufidius; our good Sejus will need more lessons from old Trimalchio, the gladiator, ere he outranks us at trigon."
And with a quick but guarded dash of the left hand the speaker caught the ball as it came spinning toward him, and with as vigorous a "left-hander" sent it flying across to young Sejus.
"Faith, my Marcus," said Sejus, as he caught the ball with difficulty, "the gallop from Lorium has made me somewhat stiff of joint, and I pitch and catch but poorly. Keep the pila flying, and I may grow more elastic, though just now I feel much like our last text from Epictetus, that the good Rusticus gave us yesterday—'a little soul bearing about a corpse.'"
"What then! Art as stiff as that, old Sejus?" gayly shouted Aufidius. "Ho! brace thee up, man," he cried, as he sent the ball whirling across to Marcus; "brace thee up, and use rather the words of our wise young Stoic here—'Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the waters around it.'"
" 'Tis well applied, Aufidius. But—said I all that?" Marcus inquired.
"Ay, so didst thou, my Marcus. 'Tis all down on my tablets." And with merry talk the game went on.
But soon old Ballio, the ordinarius, or upper servant, left the oak shade and said to Marcus: "Come, my master; the water-glass shows that we must soon ride on if we mean to reach Rome by dinner-time."
So the game was broken off, and, after a few nibbles at the cakes and sweetmeats which one of the slaves carried to "stay the stomachs" of the travellers, the call "To horse!" was given, and the party moved on toward the city. The spirits of the lads ran high; and though the one called Marcus had a sedate and quiet look, he was roused into healthy and hearty boyishness as, over the Etruscan plains, they galloped on to Rome.
They had been riding, perhaps, a short half hour, when they saw, coming down a cross-road that entered the highway just beyond them, a large flock of sheep returning from their summer pasturage on the hills, in charge of three shepherds and their families. The game and the gallop had made the boys ripe for mischief; for, though close and patient students, they were in their hours of sport as ready for a frolic as are any school-boys of to-day.
The shepherds, seeing a party of hard riders coming toward them, looked at their sheep anxiously and eyed the strangers suspiciously. For sheep-stealing was of common occurrence in those days, and, when changing pastures, the shepherds were kept constantly on the watch.
The quick eye of Aufidius marked the suspicions of the shepherds.
"Why, Marcus," he exclaimed, "yonder fellows surely take us for highwaymen."
"Highwaymen, indeed!" said Sejus, indignantly. "Dost think the knaves could mistake the noble Marcus Veras for a cowardly sheep-stealer."
"And why not," said Marcus, laughingly. "Man looks at man but as his reason bids him. If shepherds look but for sheep-stealers, to them, at first, all men are sheep-stealers. Come," he added, gayly, "let us not disappoint them. What did our teacher Rusticus tell us but yesterday: 'That which is a hinderance is made a furtherance to an act, and that which is an obstacle on the road helps us on the road.' Shall we not put his text to the test? Behold our obstacle on the road! Let us ride down the sheep!"
The spirit of mischief is contagious. Down the highway dashed the whole party, following the lead of Marcus and his cry of "Forward, friends!" while the now terrified shepherds turned their huddling sheep around, and with many cries and much belaboring struggled back to the cross-road to escape the pretended robbers. But the swift horses soon overtook the slow-footed shepherds, and the laughing riders, with uplifted weapons and shouts of seeming victory, were quickly at the heels of the flock. Then came a change. The shepherds, finding that they could not outrun their pursuers, stopped, wheeled around, and stood on the defensive, laying valiantly about them with crook and staff.
"'Go on and increase in valor, O boy! this is the path to immortality,' "shouted the nimble Aufidius, and with this quotation from Virgil, he swooped down and caught up a struggling lamb.
"What says your philosophy now, O Marcus?" said Sejus as, rather ruefully, he rubbed an aching shin, sore from the ringing thwack of a shepherd's crook.
Marcus dodged a similar blow and replied: "That nothing happens to any man, O Sejus, which he is not fitted by nature to bear. But I have had enough. Let us go our way in peace.
And turning from the fray, the whole party rode rather ingloriously from the field of defeat, while the victors vowed a lamb to Pales, the special patroness of shepherds, for their deliverance from "so blood-thirsty" a band of robbers.
So, flushed and merry over their adventure, the three lads rode on to Rome; but, ere they came in sight of the yellow Tiber, a fleet Numidian slave came running toward them, straight and swift as an arrow, right in the middle of the highway. Marcus recognized him as one of the runners of his uncle, the proconsul Titus Antoninus, and wondered as to his mission. The Numidian stopped short at sight of the party, and, saluting Marcus, handed him a small scroll. The boy unrolled it, and at once his face became grave.
"For me; this for me?" he said, and, in seeming surprise, laid his hand upon the arm of his friend Aufidius. Then, as if remembering that he was a Stoic, whose desire was to show neither surprise, pleasure, nor pain, what might happen, he read the scroll carefully, placed it in his mantle, and said, half aloud: "How ridiculous is he who is surprised at any thing which happens in life!"
"What is it that so disturbs you, O Marcus?" Aufidius asked.
"Friends," said the lad, "this scroll from my uncle Antoninus tells me that I am named by the Emperor's council as prefect of the city while the consuls and magistrates are at the Latin Games."
"Hail to thee, Prefect! hail! hail! hail!" cried Aufidius and Sejus, while the whole company joined in a respectful salute.
"Would it were some one more worthy than I, Aufidius," said Marcus, solemnly.
"Nay, it is rightly decreed, my Marcus," protested his friend, proudly. "Did not Hadrian, the Emperor, himself say of thee: 'Non Verus, sed Verissimus!' and who but thee, Marcus Verissimus—Marcus the most true—should be the governor of Rome?"
"But think of it, friends! I am but a boy after all. Who can respect a prefect of sixteen?" still queried the modest Marcus.
Sejus at once dipped into history.
"And why not, O Marcus?" he asked. "Was not Tiberius Cæsar a public orator at nine, and Augustus a master of the horse at seventeen? Was not Titus a quæstor before he was eighteen, and the great Julius himself a priest of Jupiter at fourteen? And why, then, should not Marcus Verus, in whose veins runs the blood of the ancient kings, rightly be prefect of the city at sixteen?
"Thou art a good pleader, my Sejus," Marcus said pleasantly. "Since, then, I must be prefect, may I be a just one, and take for my motto the text of the good Rusticus: 'If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it.' So, forward, my good friends! The lictors await me at the city gate."
So they pressed forward and, with more decorum, rode along the Via Cassia and across the Milvian Bridge to the broader Via Lata and the city gate. Here an escort of six lictors with their rods of office welcomed Marcus, and, thus accompanied, the young magistrate passed down the Via Lata—the street now known as "the Corso," the Broadway of modern Rome—to the palace of his uncle Antoninus, near the Cœlian Gate.
"Hail, Prefect!" came the welcome of the noble uncle (one of the grand characters of Roman history). "And how fare the hens of Lorium?" For the good pronsul. so soon to be hailed as Cæsar and Emperor, loved the country pleasures and country cares of his farm at Lorium more than all the sculptured magnificence of the imperial city.
"The hens are well conditioned, O Antoninus," answered the boy, simply.
"But what said I?" his uncle exclaimed gayly. "What cares a prefect of Rome for the scratching hens of Lorium? As for me, most noble Prefect, I am but a man from whom neither power nor philosophy can take my natural affections"; and, as the parrot swinging over the doorway croaked out his "Salve!" (Welcome!), arm-in-arm uncle and nephew entered the palace.
Marcus Annius Verus was in all respects a model boy. Not the namby-pamby model that all human boys detest, but a right-minded, right-mannered, healthy, wealthy, and wise young Roman of the second century of the Christian era. At that time (for the world was not yet Christianized) there flourished a race of teachers and philosophers known as Stoics—wise old pagans, who held that the perfect man must be free from passion, unmoved by either joy or grief, taking every thing just as it came, with supreme and utter indifference. A hard rule that, but this lad's teachers had been mainly of the "School of the Stoics," as it was called, and their wise sayings had made so deep an impression on the little Marcus that, when only twelve years old, he set up for a full-fledged Stoic. He put on the coarse mantle that was the peculiar dress of the sect, practised all their severe rules of self-denial, and even slept on the hard floor or the bare ground, denying himself the comfort of a bed, until his good mother, who knew what was best for little fellows, even though they were Stoics, persuaded him to compromise on a quilt. He loved exercise and manly sport; but he was above all a wonderful student—too much of a student, in fact; for, as the old record states, "his excess in study was the only fault of his youth." And yet he loved a frolic, as the adventure with the shepherds proves.
Of the best patrician blood of old Rome; the relative and favorite of the great Emperor Hadrian; a splendid scholar, a capital gymnast, a true friend, a modest and unassuming lad; he was trying, even at sixteen, to make the best of himself, squaring all his actions by the rule that he, in after years, put into words: "I do my duty; other things trouble me not." Is not this young pagan of seventeen centuries back worthy to be held up as a model boy? Manly boys, with good principles, good manners, and good actions, are young gentlemen always, whenever and wherever they may live; and quickly enough, as did young Marcus of Rome, they find their right place in the regard and affections of the people about them.
Well, the days of waiting have passed. The great festival to Jove, the Feriæ Latino, has drawn all the high magistrates to Mount Albanus, and in their stead as prefect of the city, rules the boy Marcus. In one of the basilicæ or law courts of the great Forum, he sits invested with the toga of office, the ring and the purple badge; and, while twelve sturdy lictors guard his curule chair, he listens to the cases presented to him and makes many wise decisions—"in which honor," says the old record, "he acquitted himself to the general approbation." It was here no doubt that he learned the wisdom of the words he wrote in after life: "Do not have such an opinion of things as he who does the wrong, or such as he wishes thee to have, but look at them as they are in truth."
"Most noble Prefect," said one of the court messengers, or accensi, as they were called, "there waits, without, one Lydus the herdsman, demanding justice."
"Bid him enter," said Marcus; and there came into the basilica one whose unexpected appearance brought consternation to Aufidius and Sejus, as they waited in the court, and caused even the calm face of Marcus to flush with surprise. Lydus the herdsman was none other than their old acquaintance, the shepherd of the Etruscan highway!
"Most noble Prefect," said the shepherd, with a low salutation, "I am a free herdsman of Lake Sabatinus, and I ask for justice against a band of terrible highwaymen who lurk on the Via Cassia, near to old Veii. Only three days since, did these lawless fellows beset me and my companions, with our flocks, on the highway, and cruelly rob and maltreat us. I pray thee, let the cohortes vigilum search out and punish these robbers; and let me, too, be fully satisfied for the sheep they did force from me."
"Not so fast, man," said Marcus, as the shepherd concluded his glib recital. "Couldst thou identify these knaves, if once they were apprehended?"
"Ay, that could I, noble Prefect," replied the shepherd, boldly. "They were led on by three as villainous rascals as go unhung, and these had with them a crowd of riotous followers."
"Ha! is it so?" said Marcus. "Aufidius! Sejus! I pray you, step this way." His two friends, in some wonder as to his intention, approached the tribunal; and Marcus, stepping down from his curule chair, placed himself between them. "Three villainous rascals, thou didst say. Were they aught like us, think'st thou?"
"Like you? O noble young Prefect!" began the shepherd, protestingly. But when, at a word from Marcus, the three lads drew back their arms as if to brandish their weapons, and shouted their cry of attack, the mouth of Lydus stood wide open in amazement, his cropped head fairly bristled with fright, and, with a hasty exclamation, he turned on his heel, and fled from the basilica.
"Ho there, bring him back!" Marcus commanded; and guarded by two lictors, Lydus was dragged reluctantly back into the presence of the young prefect.
"So, my shepherd," said Marcus, "thou hast regnized thy villainous rascals. Surely, though, thy fear was larger than thine eyeballs; for thou didst multiply both the followers and the harm done to thee. Thou hast asked for justice, and justice thou shalt have! Forasmuch as I and my companions did frighten thee, though but in sport, it is wise to do well what doth seem but just. I, then, as prefect of the city, do fine Marcus Annius Verus, Aufidius Victorianus, and Sejus Fruscianus, each, one hundred sestertii (about five dollars), for interfering with travellers on the public highway; and I do command the lictors to mark the offenders unless they do straightway pay the fine here laid upon them."
Aufidius and Sejus looked troubled. They had barely a hundred sestertii between them; but Marcus drew forth an amount equal to the three fines, and, handing the money to an accensus, bade him pay the shepherd. With many a bow, Lydus accepted the money, and with the words, "O noble young Prefect! O wise beyond thy years!" he would have withdrawn again.
"Hold!" said Marcus, ascending the tribunal, "hear the rest! Because thou hast placed a false charge before this tribunal, and hast sought to profit by thy lying tongue, I, the Prefect, do command that thou dost pay over to the scribus (clerk of the court) the sum of three hundred sestertii, to be devoted to the service of the poor; and that thou dost wear the wooden collar until thy fine is paid."
Very soberly and ruefully, Lydus paid over as the price of his big stories exactly the sum which he had received from the scribus, and departed from the basilica of the boy prefect, if not a poorer, at least a sadder and a wiser man.
At a word from Marcus, the three lads drew back their arms as if to brandish their weapons, and shouted their cry of attack.
The days of Marcus' magistracy were soon over, and when the great festival of Jove was ended, and the magistrates had returned to the city, the lad gave up the curule chair and the dress and duties of his office, and retired to his mother's house, bearing with him the thanks of the magistrates, the approval of the Emperor, and the applause of the people.
The villa of the matron Domitia Lucilla, the mother of Marcus, stood embowered in delightful gardens on the Cœlian Hill, the most easterly of the famous Seven Hills of Rome. In an age of splendor, when grand palaces lined the streets and covered the hill-slopes of the imperial city, when fortunes were spent upon baths and gardens, or wasted on a gala dress, or on a single meal, this pleasant house was conducted upon a plan that suited the home ways of the mother and the quiet tastes of the son. Let us enter the spacious vestibule. Here in the doorway, or ostium, we stop to note the "Salve!" (Welcome!) wrought in mosaic on the marble floor, and then pass into the atrium, or great living-room of the house, where the female slaves are spinning deftly, and every thing tells of order and a busy life. Now, let us pass on to the spacious court-yard, in the very heart of the house. In the unroofed centre a beautiful fountain shoots its jets of cooling spray from a marble cistern of clear water.
And here, by the shining fountain, in the central court, stand two persons—Marcus and his mother. The lad has laid aside his toga, or outside mantle, and his close-fitting, short-sleeved tunic, scarcely reaching to his knees, shows a well-knit frame and a healthy, sun-browned skin. His mother, dressed in the tunic and long white stola, or outer robe, is of matronly presence and pleasant face. And, as they talk together in low and earnest tones, they watch with loving eyes, from the cool shadows of the high area walls, the motions of the dark-eyed little Annia, a winsome Roman maiden of thirteen, as, perched upon a cage of pet pigeons, she gleefully teases with a swaying peacock plume now the fluttering pigeons and now the wary-eyed Dido, her favorite cat.
"But there is such a thing as too much self-denial, my Marcus," said the mother in answer to some remark of the lad.
"Nay, this is not self-denial, my mother; it is simple justice," replied the boy. "Are not Annia and I children of the same father and mother? Is it just that I should receive all the benefit of our family wealth, and that she should be dependent on my bounty?"
"Divide then thy father's estate, my son. Let Annia and thyself share alike, but give it not all to thy sister," his mother suggested.
"'Receive wealth without arrogance and be ready to let it go,' is what the Stoic Commodus hath taught me," the boy replied. "To whom we love much we should be ready to give much. Is it not so, my mother?"
"So I believe, my son,'' the matron answered.
"And if I seek to act justly in this matter, shall I not follow thy counsels, my mother?" Marcus continued; "for thou hast said, 'No longer talk about the kind of a man a good man ought to be, but be such.'"
"Ah, Marcus," the pleased mother exclaimed, "thou wilt be a happy man, too, if thou canst go ever by the right way, and think and act in the right way, as now. Thou art a good youth."
"And what is goodness, mother," argued the young philosopher, "but the desire to do justice and to practise it, and in this to let desire end? Let me, then, as I desire, give all my father's estate to my sister Annia. My grandfather's is sufficient for my needs. So shall Annia have her fair marriage portion, and we, my mother, shall all be satisfied."
And now, his sister Annia, wearying of her play with the pigeons, dropped her peacock plume and ran merrily toward her brother.
"O Marcus," she cried, "'twill soon be time for the bath. Do come and toss the pila with me;—that is," she added, with mock reverence, "if so grand a person as the prefect of Rome can play at ball!"
"And why not, my Annia," asked her mother, proudly; even the world ruling Julius loved his game of ball." "Ah, but our Marcus is greater than the great Cæsar.
"Is he not, mother?" Annia asked, teasingly.
"Aye, that he is," the mother answered, feelingly; "for, know that he has this day given up to thee, his sister, one half of his heritage, and more—unwise and improvident youth!" she added, fondly.
"So let it end, mother," the boy said, as the pretty Annia sprang to him with a caress. "Come, Annia, let us see who can toss the pila best—a woman of property, such as thou, or the prefect of three days." And as hand in hand the brother and sister passed cheerily through the pillared portico, the mother looked after them with a happy heart and said, as did that earlier noble Roman matron of whom history tells us: "These are my jewels!'
The days passed. Winter grew to spring. The ides of March have come. And now it is one of the spring holidays of Rome, the fourteenth of March in the year 138—the Equiria, or festival of Mars. Rome is astir early, and every street of the great city is thronged with citizens and strangers, slaves and soldiers, all hurrying toward the great pleasure-ground of Rome—the Circus Maximus. Through every portal the crowds press into the vast building, filling its circular scats, anxious for the spectacle. For the magistrate of the games for this day, it is said, is to be the young Marcus Annius, he who was prefect of the city during the last Latin Games; and, more than this, the festival is to close with a grand venatio—a wild-beast hunt!
There is a stir of expectation; a burst of trumpets from the Capitol; and all along the Sacred Street and through the crowded Forum goes up the shout, "Here they come!" With the flutes playing merrily, with swaying standards and sacred statues gleaming in silver and gold, with proud young cadets on horse and on foot, with priests in their robes and guards with crested helms, with strange and marvellous beasts led by burly keepers, with a long string of skilled performers, restless horses, and gleaming chariots, through the Forum and down the Sacred Street winds the long procession, led by the boy magistrate, Marcus of Rome, the favorite of the Emperor. A golden chaplet, wrought in crusted leaves, circles his head; a purple toga drapes his trim, young figure; while the flutes and trumpets play their loudest before him, and the stout guards march at the heels of his bright-bay pony. So into the great circus passes the long procession, and as it files into the arena, two hundred thousand excited people—think, boys, of a circus-tent that holds two hundred thousand people!—rise to their feet and welcome it with hearty hand-clapping. The trumpets sound the prelude, the young magistrate (standing in his suggestus, or state box) flings the mappa, or white flag, into the course as the signal for the start; and, as a ringing shout goes up, four glittering chariots, rich in their decorations of gold and polished ivory, and each drawn by four plunging horses, burst from their arched stalls and dash around the track. Green, blue, red, white—the colors of the drivers stream from their tunics. Around and around they go. Now one and now another is ahead. The people strain and cheer, and many a wager is laid as to the victor. Another shout! The red chariot, turning too sharply, grates against the meta, or short pillar that stands at the upper end of the track, guarding the low central wall; the horses rear and plunge, the driver struggles manfully to control them, but all in vain; over goes the chariot, while the now maddened horses dash wildly on until checked by mounted attendants and led off to their stalls. "Blue! blue!" "Green! green!" rise the varying shouts, as the contending chariots still struggle for the lead. White is far behind. Now comes the seventh or final round. Blue leads! No, green is ahead! Down the home stretch they go in a magnificent dash, neck and neck, and then the cheer of victory is heard, as, with a final spurt the green rider strikes the white cord first and the race is won!
And there, where the race is fiercest and the excitement most intense, sits the staid young Marcus, unmoved, unexcited, busy with his ivory tablets and his own high thoughts! For this wise young Stoic, true to his accepted philosophy, had mastered even the love of excitement—think of that, you circus-loving boys! He has left it on record that, even as a youth, he had learned "to be neither of the green nor of the blue party at the games in the circus," and while he looked upon such shows as dangerous and wasteful (for in those days they cost the state immense sums), he felt, still, that the people enjoyed them, and he said simply: "We cannot make men as we would have them; we must bear with them as they are and make the best of them we can." And so it happened that at this splendid race at which, to please the people, he presided as magistrate, this boy of sixteen sat probably the only unmoved spectator in that whole vast amphitheatre.
Now, in the interval between the races, come the athletic sports; foot-racing and wrestling, rope-dancing and high leaping, quoit-throwing and javelin matches. One man runs a race with a fleet Cappadocian horse; another expert rider drives two bare-backed horses twice around the track, leaping from back to back as the horses dash around. Can you see any very great difference between the circus performance of A. D. 138 and one of A. D. 1886?
Among the throng of "artists" on that far-off March day there came a bright little fellow of ten or eleven years, a rope-dancer and a favorite with the crowd. Light and agile, he trips along the slender rope that stretches high above the arena. Right before the magistrate's box the boy poises in mid air, and even the thoughtful young director of the games looks up at the graceful motions of the boy. Hark! a warning shout goes up; now, another; the poor little rope-dancer, anxious to find favor in the eyes of the young noble, over-exerts himself, loses his balance on the dizzy rope, and, toppling over, falls with a cruel thud to the ground, and lies there before the great state box with a broken neck—dead. Marcus hears the shout, he sees the falling boy. Vaulting from his canopied box he leaps down into the arena, and so tender is he of others, Stoic though he be, that he has the poor rope-dancer's head in his lap even before the attendants can reach him. But no life remains in that bruised little body, and, as Marcus tenderly resigns the dead gymnast to the less sympathetic slaves, he commands that ever after a bed shall be laid beneath the rope as a protection against such fatal falls. This became the rule; and, when next you see the safety-net spread beneath the rope-walkers, the trapeze performers, and those who perform similar "terrific" feats, remember that its use dates back to the humane order of Marcus, the boy magistrate, seventeen centuries ago.
But, in those old days, the people had to be amused—whatever happened. Human life was held too cheaply for a whole festival to be stopped because a little boy was killed, and so the sports went on. Athletes and gymnasts did their best to excel; amidst wild excitement the chariots whirled around and around the course, and then the arena was cleared for the final act—the wild beast hunt.
Dark-eyed little Annia, a winsome Roman maiden of thirteen.
The wary keepers raise the stout gratings before the dens and cages, and the wild animals, freed from their prisons, rush into the great open space, blink stupidly in the glaring light, and then with roar and growl echo the shouts of the spectators. Here are great lions from Numidia and tigers from far Arabia, wolves from the Apennines and bears from Libya, not caged and half-tamed as we see them now, but wild and fierce, loose in the arena. Now the hunters swarm in, on horse and on foot,—trained and supple Thracian gladiators, skilled Gætulian hunters, with archers, and spearmen, and net-throwers. All around the great arena rages the cruel fight. Here, a lion stands at bay; there, a tigress crouches for the spring; a snarling wolf snaps at a keen-eyed Thracian, or a bear with ungainly trot shambles away from the spear of his persecutor. Eager and watchful the hunters shoot and thrust, while the vast audience, more eager, more relentless, more brutal than beast or hunter, applaud and shout and cheer. But the young magistrate, who had, through all his life, a marked distaste for such cruel sport, turns from the arena, and, again taking out his tablets, busies himself with his writing, unmoved by the contest and carnage before him.
The last hunted beast lies dead in the arena; the last valorous hunter has been honored with his palma, or reward, as victor; the slaves stand ready with hook and rope to drag off the slaughtered animals; the great crowd pours out of the vast three-storied building; the shops in the porticos are noisy with the talk of buyers and sellers; the boy magistrate and his escort pass through the waiting throng; and the Festival Games are over. But, ere young Marcus reaches the Forum on his return, a shout goes up from the people, and, just before the beautiful temple of the Twin Gods, Castor and Pollux, where the throng is densest, flowers and wreaths are thrown beneath his pony's feet, and a storm of voices raises the shout:
"Ave Imperator! Ave Cæsar!"
"What means that shout, Aufidius?" he asked his friend, who rode in the escort. But the only reply Aufidius made was to join his voice with that of the enthusiastic throng in a second shout; "Ave Imperator! Auguste, Dii to servent!" (Hail, O Emperor! The gods save your majesty!)
Then Marcus knew that the decree of the dying Emperor Hadrian had been confirmed, and that he, Marcus Annius Verus, the descendant of the ancient kings, the boy philosopher, the unassuming son of a noble mother, had been adopted as the son and successor of his uncle Antoninus, who was to reign after Hadrian's death, and that where he went, through the Forum and up the Sacred Street, there rode the heir to the greatest throne in the world, the future Emperor of Rome.
A Stoic still, unmoved, save for the slight flush that tinged his cheek as he acknowledged the greeting of the happy people, he passed on to his mother's house, and, in that dear home, amid the green gardens of the Cœlian Hill, he heard her lips speak her congratulations, and bent his head to receive her kiss of blessing.
"I lose a son, but gain an emperor," she said.
"No, my mother," the boy replied, proudly, "me thou shalt never lose. For, though I leave this dear home for the palace of the Cæsars, my heart is still here with that noble mother from whom I learned lessons of piety and benevolence and simplicity of life, and abstinence from evil deeds and evil thoughts."
Before five months had passed the great Emperor Hadrian died at Baiæ, in his hill-shaded palace by the sea, and the wise, country-loving uncle of Marcus succeeded to the throne as the Emperor Antoninus Pius. During all his glorious reign of twenty-three years, he had no more devoted admirer, subject, helper, and friend, than his adopted son and acknowledged successor, Marcus, who, in the year A. D. 161, ascended the throne of the Cæsars as the great Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.
The life of this Roman Marcus was one of unsought honors and titles. At six, a knight of the Equestrian Order; at eight, one of the priests of Mars; at twelve, a rigid Stoic; at sixteen, a magistrate of the city; at seventeen, a quæstor, or revenue officer; at nineteen, a consul and Cæsar; at forty, an emperor,—he was always clear-headed and clean-hearted, beloved by his people and honored by all, making this one rule the guide of all his actions: "Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man, to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, with affection and freedom and justice."
A noble boy; a noble man; preserving, as has been said of him, "in a time of universal corruption, a nature sweet, pure, self-denying, and unaffected,"—he teaches us all, boys and men alike, a lesson of real manliness. Here are two of his precepts, which we are none of us too young to remember, none of us too old to forget: "The best way of avenging thyself is not to become like the wrong-doer"; "Let me offer to the gods the best that is in me; so shall I be a strong man, ripened by age, a friend of the public good, a Roman, an emperor, a soldier at his post awaiting the signal of his trumpet, a man ready to quit life without a fear." The foremost boy of his time, manly, modest, princely, brave, and true, we can surely find no more fitting representative with which to open this series of "Historic Boys" that the boy magistrate, Marcus of Rome, the greatest and best of the Antonines.