The conversation that followed the introduction was profoundly interesting. Eleazar had much to say about his friends at Alexandria, about the other Aquila with whom he had been for some years on terms of intimacy, and many others, not a few of whom turned out, as so often happens, to be mutual acquaintances. Much was said about an eminent native of the city who had lately passed away, the great philosopher Philo. Aquila had made his acquaintance some ten years before, when he had come to Rome with some of his countrymen in the forlorn hope of inducing the Emperor of the time, the madman Caligula, to listen to reason. The unworldly old scholar, who, after fifty years devoted without intermission to study, had left the calm seclusion of his library to champion his race, and had braved without betraying one symptom of fear, the fury of the tyrant, had profoundly impressed all beholders. Aquila had been able to render some little service to the old man, who was in feeble health. He had supplied him with money when, in consequence of unexpected delays, his resources had failed, and had assisted him to acquire some rare books, treatises on philosophy and other similar volumes, to which he calmly turned from the thankless and wearisome business which had brought him to the capital. Eleazar, on the other hand, had done some business for him, after his return to Alexandria, advising him about investing some sums of money which happened to come to him, and finally acting as the executor of his will. From the man it was an easy transition to pass to the teaching. Eleazar had been deeply interested in this, and had had the advantage, thanks to the intimacy which he had enjoyed during the last year of the old man's life, of hearing it expounded in familiar language. He was therefore in a measure prepared for Aquila's application of its central idea of a Divine Word. He had often meditated on the great question, What is this Word? Is it Jehovah under another name? That there was One God and One only was the foundation truth of all his faith; and yet the sages of his race had used language which seemed to have at least a different ring, and now Aquila took up Philo's great doctrine as his text and "preached unto him Jesus." That he was convinced at once must not be supposed. The idea that "the Word was made flesh," that God dwelt for a time in a tabernacle of human flesh, seemed at first almost shocking to him, habituated as he was to thinking of the Deity as dwelling in an unapproachable splendour.
When he was compelled to depart, for the talk was prolonged far into the night, and he was bound to present himself without more delay at his uncle's house, Aquila had put into his hands a copy of the precious document which he himself had received from his fellow townsman Andronicus. With this precious loan Eleazar departed, and having begged permission, on arriving at his uncle's house, to seek his chamber, devoted himself immediately to the study of it. He did not sleep till he had gone through it more than once, and after a few hours of sleep, he studied it again. As soon as courtesy permitted, and what was necessary in the way of business had been transacted, he hurried again to Aquila's house full of an earnest desire to hear all that he could learn. The two—or rather the three, for Priscilla was never willingly absent when such topics were discussed—were deep in talk, when a stranger, of whom we shall hear again in the course of the story, was announced.
"Don't go," said Aquila to his young friend; "we have still much to say to each other, and it is possible that I may be soon disengaged. May I ask, sir, whether it is likely that your business will keep me long?"
"I hope not, sir," replied the newcomer with a courteous inclination of his head. "In fact, I may say that I expect that it will be speedily settled."
The stranger was a Greek who numbered between fifty and sixty years, evidently a gentleman, and if one might judge from his face and general bearing, a man of intelligence, refinement and culture. He was a native of Corinth, a member of what was beyond question the most distinguished family in the city, that of Archias, the founder of Syracuse. Archias was the name that he himself bore, and he claimed to be twenty-second in direct descent from the first of the race. This took back his pedigree over nearly eight hundred years; but the family was really much older than this. His ancestor was the first of his race in the sense that he brought into it the glory of having led with success the most distinguished colony that ever went forth from Corinth to make a new home for itself. But he was then a long descended man. He traced up his line to Hercules, and through Hercules to the Olympian Zeus himself. Practically, however, the distinction of the Archias family depended on the Syracusan episode. Even when the glories of the great Sicilian city had long since passed away, the representative of the house held, both there and in the mother city of Corinth, rank with which no one could claim equality. And Archias the twenty-second, of whom, however, I shall henceforth speak without this cumbrous appendage to his name, was not unworthy of his place.
He now began to explain the business which had brought him to Rome and to the house of Aquila.
"I have the honour," he said, "to be the chief magistrate, or archon, as we are accustomed to call it, of the city of Corinth. In that capacity I have to negotiate for a loan, and I have been recommended to you as a person who might be able and not unwilling to advance the money. Your name was mentioned, I may say, by our right honourable Governor, Lucius Junius Gallio. Let me explain the circumstances under which the loan is called for. It is our habit to renew every fifty years the various belongings of the Isthmian games which the city of Corinth has the honour of conducting. It is needless to go through the items at present. They are all duly stated on a document that I have with me, and which will be produced at the proper time, if the negotiations are carried to a successful issue. It is arranged that the loan shall be paid off by annual instalments of a fiftieth part, together with the interest on so much as remains still due. We thus distribute, as far as may be, the burden between this and succeeding generations. It is secured, I may say, on the customs and harbour dues of the port, or I should rather say the ports, for we derive considerable revenue from both seas. This security is, I can assure you, amply sufficient. One year's income, were it all devoted to this purpose, would suffice for the whole expenditure; but, as I have said, we feel that what is to be enjoyed by the future as well as the present inhabitants of Corinth ought to be apportioned among all."
"This all seems reasonable enough," remarked Aquila. "If the sum you want is not beyond my means, the investment is just what I should like. I should tell you that the money with which I am dealing belongs to my wife."
There is no need to report the conversation any further. Archias produced his paper of particulars, as also, by way of credentials, a letter of introduction from Gallio. When the matter had been fully gone into, it was arranged that Aquila should either come to Corinth himself, or should send a confidential agent, and so satisfy himself by inquiries on the spot and personal inspection that all the circumstances were as the Corinthian magistrate had described them.