The End of Carthage
The younger Scipio lost no time in handing over the precious volume which had been so nearly lost, and so fortunately recovered, to the general, reporting, of course, the circumstances of its rescue. At the same time he described the relation in which Daphne and her mother stood to Cleanor, and hinted that his friend seemed to have a keener interest in the girl than a young man would ordinarily feel for his foster-sister.
"This is not the place for women," said the elder Scipio, "and the sooner these two are out of it, the better. Now, what is to be done?"
"Would not my Aunt Cornelia receive them for a time if you could contrive to send them to her?"
"An excellent idea, my Lucius!" cried the general. "It shall be done, and by good luck, there is opportunity this very day. I am sending off a galley with despatches for the Senate, and some private letters of my own. Lollius is in command, and there is not a more trustworthy man in the fleet. I will put the women into his charge. And I will write to my mother—she will still be in Rome when the galley arrives—and ask her to give them hospitality. We must hope that my cousin, Tiberius, will not fall in love with the damsel. Is she beautiful?"
"As beautiful a girl as ever I saw. But you need not be alarmed. I am pretty sure that the young lady will not have a look or a thought for anyone in Italy."
"I will send an orderly to Cleanor to explain, and leave him to arrange the business. So that is settled. Now for public matters. Yesterday I opened the sealed instructions which I brought with me when I left Rome, and which I was not to read till Carthage was taken. They are, as I feared, to the effect that the city is to be razed to the ground. Now, I make no secret to anybody—in any case I should speak openly to you—that this policy is not to my liking. I don't like the principle of it. If it were being done with a view to the future safety of Rome, I should still hesitate, thinking it to be, even in that view, a policy of doubtful advantage. But this is not the motive. It is the doing of the capitalists and the traders. They want to destroy every port but those which they can dominate themselves, and so to get all the trade of the world into their own hands. We shall see the same thing—mark my words—over again at Corinth; and Rome will have the disgrace of having destroyed, and it may be in one year, two of the great capitals of the world. I hate such doings, and I don't care who knows it. Still, the thing has to be done. But there are matters to be arranged first. One thing I have made up my mind about, and happily the Senate leaves it to my discretion. I have a free hand in dealing with the spoil, with a general proviso that I am to consult, as in my judgment may seem best, the interests of the Commonwealth. Whatever there is of real value that can be given back to its rightful owners shall be given back. Now, Carthage has for three hundred years and more been robbing the Greek cities in Sicily. She has had, at one time or other, pretty nearly every one of them, except Syracuse, in her power. The gold and silver that she has taken from them are gone beyond remedy, but the works of art remain, and can be given back. I have taken some trouble to inquire into the matter, and I have got a list here, which has been made up for me in Sicily, of some of the chief things that we may expect to find. Some may have been lost; some may have fallen into private hands and disappeared—the history of some of the specimens goes back, I hear, a long time. Well, I have appointed yourself, Lucius, and two other officers with you to enquire into this matter. See which of these things you can find, and report to me. Most of the Sicilian cities that are interested in the matter have sent envoys to the camp, as I dare say you know. If you can find the articles it will be easy enough, I do not doubt, to find claimants."
The work of the commission proved to be one of considerable magnitude. There were, it was found, hundreds of works of art which bore in their appearance the manifest signs of a Greek origin. The Phœnician genius was not entirely barren in the province of art. In some directions, on the contrary, it was remarkably fertile. But it never attained to, it did not even attempt, except in a conventional and even grotesque fashion, the representation of the human form. Any really graceful or even natural similitude of man or woman that was found in Carthaginian temple or house was certainly the spoil of some Greek city. Many of the less important works were unknown; about some there was much doubt; their pedigree was uncertain, sometimes through accident, sometimes through fraud, for most of the impostures known to the modern world of art are inheritances from the ancient. But there were some famous treasures about which there was no possibility of doubt. Such was the Artemis of Segesta, one of the noblest figures that ancient sculpture produced. It was colossal in size, and yet retained in a singular degree the delicacy of girlish beauty. The figure was represented with a quiver richly gilded hanging from the shoulder; the left hand carried a bow; in the right was a burning torch, which imitated, with a fidelity that would hardly have been thought possible in marble, the contours of flame. The envoys from Segesta positively wept with joy when they found themselves in possession of the long-lost treasure of their city.
In a very different style of art, the characteristic product of a later and more reflective age, was the figure of the poet Stesichorus, carried away by the Carthaginians when they destroyed the city of Himera, and now about to be restored to the townspeople of Thermæ, which occupied its site and inherited its traditions. The poet was represented as an old man, frail and stooping, with one hand holding a book. The whole expression was admirably suited to the serious character of his verse.
But the most celebrated of all the art treasures now about to return to their proper homes was the Bull of Agrigentum. The Agrigentines regarded this figure with a reverence that was very surprising, seeing how it recalled a time of discreditable servitude. Scipio happened to come in when the precious possession was made over to them, and could not help improving the occasion.
"This is, I understand, the monstrous invention of one of your own citizens," he said. "He made it for your tyrant Phalaris; it was to be heated from underneath, and the groans of the victims inclosed in it pleased the brutal caprice of that monster of cruelty, by imitating, as he thought, the bellowings of a bull. I do not know which was most to be condemned, the servility of the artist or the cruelty of the tyrant. Do you not think, men of Agrigentum, that you have happily exchanged the brutality of your own citizens, whom you suffered thus to lord it over you, for the justice and clemency of the Roman people?"
While this business was being completed, the work of collecting the general spoil of the city had been going on briskly. Scipio had dealt liberally with the troops in this matter. Some generals in similar circumstances, whether from anxiety for their own enrichment or from zeal to make as large a profit as possible for the public purse, overreach themselves. They exact too much from the men, and thus they are habitually deceived. Scipio was personally disinterested in a remarkable degree; and he did not care to be greedy on account of the treasury. Simple and well-defined rules were laid down for the conduct of the troops. There were certain things which a man might keep for himself, if he brought other things into a common stock. At the end of seven days the fiat of destruction which had gone out against Carthage was to be executed. A body of men was detailed for the purpose. Combustibles were disposed in various parts of the city, and at a fixed time these were to be kindled.
"Well," said the young Scipio to Cleanor as they stood together after superintending the embarkation of the last cargo of statues and pictures destined for Sicily, "well, the last act of the drama is nearly over. Shall we go to see the final scene together?"
"I don't know," replied the young Greek. "I feel half disposed to cover my head till it is all past."
"I can understand," said Scipio. "Still, I can't see, after what has happened, that you owe much gratitude to Carthage."
"Perhaps not," was the answer. "Yet it was all the country that I had. And, anyhow, it is an awful thing to see a city that once had her hopes, and good hopes too, of ruling the world, flare out into nothing, like a piece of wood-shaving. However, I will come. To what place are you thinking of going?"
"To the citadel, or what was the citadel. The chief told me that he should be there at sunset. I must own that I am very curious to see how he takes it. This, you must know, is not his doing. His friends fought hard in the Senate against the decree of destruction; but the majority would have it, and there was nothing for him but to carry it out"
When the two friends reached the citadel the chief was already there, surrounded by his staff, his generals of division, and the chief officers of the legions. The spectacle of the burning city was magnificently terrible. The wind was blowing from behind them, and rolled away the smoke in huge volumes towards the sea. Now and then it lulled, and then a dense cloud covered the whole place, save some tower or spire which rose here and there out of it. As the light rapidly failed, for the sun was just setting when the two friends reached the height, the heavy smoke clouds became more and more penetrated with a fiery glow, and this again grew into one universal, all-embracing blaze of light, as the flames gained a more commanding hold on the doomed city. Everything was as plainly to be seen as if it had been noonday. All the while a confused roar came up to the height where the spectators stood, varied now and then by the tremendous crash of some huge structure falling in sudden ruin to the earth.
The general stood intently watching the scene, but without a word, and the group surrounding him, overawed by the solemnity of his mood, maintained a profound silence, broken only by some almost involuntary cry, when a burst of fiercer flame rose to the heavens. When the second watch was about half spent—for the hours had seemed to pass as minutes, so overpowering was the interest of the spectacle—he turned away. Some awful vision of the future seemed to reveal itself to his soul. He caught Polybius by the hand and said:
"Will anyone do for Rome what I have been doing for Carthage?"
And as he turned away he was heard to murmur to himself the line in which Hector, touched in the midst of his triumph by a dark prevision of the future, foretold the fall of his country,
Then, throwing a fold of his toga over his face, Scipio burst into a passion of tears.