Gateway to the Classics: Lucius, Adventures of a Roman Boy by Alfred J. Church
Lucius, Adventures of a Roman Boy by  Alfred J. Church


The voyage of the Argo  was prosperous to the end. The weather was uninterruptedly fine, while the merchant was right, it seemed, in having no fear of the pirates. Several times, indeed, craft that had a very suspicious appearance hove in sight; but they seemed to be satisfied by a nearer sight of the Argo. Whether it was the number of armed men whom she could show—once or twice these were mustered for the benefit, it seemed, of a stranger that happened to approach, or the sight of some particular emblem that she carried, and which only a person learned in such matters could interpret, Lucius did not know. About ten days after the rescue the merchant said to the two young people, "To-morrow at dawn, if this wind holds good, we shall be at the mouth of the Cydnus, and from there to Tarsus is not far. Shorten your slumbers, for it will be a sight worth seeing."

The calculation was very nearly correct. The sun had but just showed itself above the horizon when the Argo, having successfully crossed the bar of the river, anchored on the inner side. Some custom-house formalities had then to be gone through, and a pilot, acquainted with the somewhat intricate channel of the river, had to be taken on board. Later in the day she pursued her course up the river to Tarsus itself, which was distant about eight miles from the sea. The river up which they were travelling was a clear and rapid stream, so rapid, in fact, that they were obliged sometimes to have recourse to towing from the bank, and as clear as a mountain torrent. "The clearest and coldest in the world," said the merchant, though Lucius was inclined to put in a word for his own Fibrenus at home. "As for its clearness, you can see for yourself; and yet here it has received the drainage of a great city. Above Tarsus it is literally like crystal. As for its coldness, you remember how Alexander of Macedon, plunging into it one day when heated from a march, caught a fever which came very near to putting an end to his conquests."

Tarsus lay before them, the gilded roofs of its temples and halls glittering in the sun, and on the sky-line behind the city towered the heights of the Taurus range, some of the loftiest summits being still tipped with snow, though midsummer was now long past. A somewhat laborious passage of about three hours brought the travellers to the city. Below it the river broadened out into a lake which was used as a harbor, and in which was ranged a goodly array of trading-ships. Tarsus itself was divided into two portions by the river, a division from which, indeed, it took its name of the wings. Handsome bridges spanned the stream, on either side of which embankments, massively constructed of stone, furnished two splendid promenades. A constant stream of carriages, of riders, and of pedestrians passed to and fro, for the day was now drawing towards sunset, and it was the hour for the rank and fashion of the city to show itself.

"'Tis one of the gayest and richest cities in the world, and, what is better, one of the most learned. Young men come here to be taught from all Asia, ay, and from the West too. Indeed, Tarsus holds itself to be pretty nearly as good in the way of learning as Athens itself."

The merchant, as soon as his ship had entered the river, had sent a message to the city announcing his arrival. Hence the house which he had hired, and where he had been for some time expected, was pretty well prepared for the reception of his party, and Lucius found himself in exceedingly comfortable quarters. His first care was to write a long letter to his father, in which he related his adventures, described how he was situated, and asked instructions for the future. He was of course enthusiastic about his host, though he said very little about his host's daughter. The conclusion of his letter ran thus: "You will doubtless in any case set these circumstances before Marcus Tullius, and ask his advice. My host advises this the more urgently because, as he says, Marcus Tullius has intimate relations with certain great men in these parts. Nor am I without hope that as he would have helped in Sicily, though this the Fates have forbidden, so he will help in Asia. I should be sorry to return to Arpinum, which otherwise I should revisit with supreme delight, bringing back nothing but a tale of misfortunes. I pray you, therefore, dearest father, yourself to lay my case before Marcus Tullius as speedily as possible, but assuring him at the same time that I would myself have written to him if I had not feared to make myself troublesome to him with my affairs."

This letter written and despatched, there was nothing for it but to wait patiently for an answer, which indeed could hardly arrive before the end of three months. "My dear young friend," said the merchant when Lucius spoke of his delay in a tone of complaint which, to tell the truth, was just a little affected,—"my dear young friend, what do you want? Here are you not quite eighteen, and you have gone through more adventures than many men of eighty. I positively can't remember how many chances you have had already of being knocked on the head or drowned. Let the Fates have a quiet time with your thread of life. If the lady with the shears has always got them so close, she may make a mistake some day and cut it short when it is not intended. Give yourself a rest for a time, or you will have lived out all your life before you are twenty. And mind," he added, changing his bantering tone to one of earnest kindness, "mind, not a word of being a burden to me. Let the letters be as tardy as they will—remember that possibly they may not be in time to catch the last ship east-ward—you will always be welcome here. And now let us join the fashionable people by the riverside."

It was impossible to doubt the sincerity of the merchant's kind assurances, and Lucius was delighted to accept the situation. He was far from finding the time hang heavy on his hands. For an hour or two he was accustomed to help the merchant with his business affairs. This work was itself an education. It was like a new world opening before him when the young Roman began to realize the vast extent of a great merchant's business. It seemed to have branches which reached over all the dominions of the Republic, and even beyond them. The great man had an interest in the produce of the palm-groves of Palestine; he had mortgages on wheat farms in Egypt and Africa. Thousands of oxen and ten thousands of sheep on the uplands of Phrygia, if they did not actually belong to him, were in pawn for money which he had lent to their owners. Kings were among his debtors, and very often, he used to complain, but indifferent paymasters. "Not that they are not honest," he was wont to say, "but they seem to have every thing but money, armies of slaves, but not a gold piece." Then he had vineyards in Campania, a marble-quarry in the Ægean, and a silver-mine in Thrace. The varieties of merchandise in which he dealt were positively bewildering. Wheat from Egypt, dates from Syria, silk from the far East, elephants, lions, and panthers for the shows of Rome and of the great Italian cities, purple dye from Tyre, pearls fished out from the depths by Red Sea divers, jewels from Indian mines, works of art from Greek cities, Persian embroideries, arrows from Scythia and swords from Damascus, were some of the goods in which he traded.

The merchant, however, did not demand from his young friend more than a short time daily; and he took care that he should not miss the more regular opportunities for education which the city afforded. Lucius now found his knowledge of Greek to be of the greatest possible use. The teaching of the professors, for Tarsus was a regular university and had teachers of the greatest eminence, was delivered in this language. At first he had some difficulty in following them; but he had constant practice at home, and in the course of a very short time could not only understand what was said with perfect ease, but could talk the language fluently if not very elegantly. It was no small help to him that he had to rehearse all that he heard to a most enthusiastic pupil at home. The university of Tarsus was not so far before its age as to open the doors of its class-rooms to women, and Philareté, who was a keen student, was therefore obliged to receive her instructions second-hand. Lucius had no disposition to be idle or inattentive; had he had it ever so strongly, he would soon have been shamed out of it by the girl's energy and perseverance. As it was he made a progress that was most unusual, and that surprised both his teachers and his fellow-pupils. His Roman pride had at first been grievously wounded by the contempt with which he found himself treated. Barbarian!" he would hear his class-fellows mutter when he happened to blunder over an accent or an idiom. He had known, of course, before that to the Greeks all races but their own were barbarians; but it nevertheless tried his temper not a little to have this practical experience. However, he soon won a place of distinction among his fellows. After about two months of attendance on the rhetoric class, the professor, not perhaps without a mischievous desire to make sport of the young foreigner, proposed that he should take the affirmative side in the discussion on one of the themes on which it was usual to practise the ingenuity of the class. The case was thus stated:

A woman of Smyrna was accused of poisoning her husband. She did not deny the accusation, but pleaded "not guilty" on the ground of justification. This husband, she alleged, had murdered her son born in a former marriage. Was she deserving of death, or no?

Lucius' first impulse was to decline the office; but Philareté strongly urged him to accept, and he was unwilling to refuse. The side for which he was to plead was not the one which appealed to the popular sympathies. But as a Roman he was strongly impressed with the supremacy of law, and felt that it ought to be vindicated even against sentiments that are praiseworthy in themselves. He bestowed a great deal of pains on his thesis, and was at the same time in no small degree indebted to the suggestions and corrections of Philareté. His first few sentences were halting and confused; but he warmed to his subject as he went on, moved not a little by the eager attention which Philareté, who was one of a considerable audience from without, fixed upon him. A loud roar of applause greeted his peroration, for the Greeks were always generous in acknowledging merit, and the "barbarian" never had to complain again of any affronts.

There were other things, perhaps more effective then, as they might be more effective now, than his rhetoric, which made his fellow-students regard him with respect. In his own peculiar Roman exercises there was no one in Tarsus who could approach him. His horsemanship was admirable—there was not an animal in Tarsus so unruly that it could manage to throw him. His swimming was unmatched both for speed and distance. The young Greeks vowed that he must be another Leander when they saw him swim out in the bay till they could no longer distinguish him among the waves. With the quoit, the javelin, and the bow he soon rivaled the best, and though he never learned to row as well as some, yet in the boat-races on the bay his sturdy strength and unfailing condition never failed to help his comrades to success.

Amidst these employments and amusements the days passed quickly enough. The young man, for such he was rapidly growing to be, would not have been ill content, however much they had been prolonged. The consequence was, that though he was delighted to get once more some tidings of home and friends, it was not without some misgivings that a pleasant time was about to come to an end, that he recognized on a letter which was one day put into this hands his father's seal. The letter had come by the last eastward-bound ship, and the rate with which it had travelled was considered a marvel of speed. After a budget of home news which would be less interesting to our readers than they were to Lucius, the writer went on: "I went without delay to Marcus Tullius, who, according to his custom, was at home during the games at Rome, for as you know he does not love such amusements, and laid your letter before him. He desired me to say that he did not regret your departure from Sicily, even though it had been brought about in so violent a way, seeing that it had ended well; that things are going ill in that province, and that it can be to no one's profit to be mixed up with the doings of its governor; that he thinks he can serve you effectually by the letter of commendation herewith enclosed. At the same time he was very urgent with me that I should accept on your behalf certain moneys, which you may hereafter repay or no as you may think fit or find possible. This, after some demur, I accepted, deeming it to be the duty of a generous man to accept a kindness which is generously offered. You will therefore receive herewith a bill of exchange for 200,000 sesterces which I have bought of a company of knights trading to Cilicia and the parts thereabouts, for which, I do not doubt, your host the merchant will give you money down. And that you may distinguish that which you owe to my affection for you, and that for which you are indebted to the friendship of Marcus Tullius, I inform you that of this sum I have furnished one-third only. Let Theron of Tarentum and Philareté his daughter know that I, together with your mother, render them most hearty thanks. All the gods preserve you! Farewell!"

The letter enclosed was in the following words:

"Marcus Tullius Cicero to King Deiotarus greeting. I commend to you Lucius Marius of Arpinum, a friend and fellow citizen. Know that he is of kindred not only respectable but distinguished, and that he shows himself worthy of it by many and great virtues. He has already passed through many dangers unhurt. For this reason I the more willingly commend him to you, knowing that you will find him not only prudent and courageous, but also, what sometimes seems to be of more importance even than these things, fortunate. Farewell!"

"And who, pray, is King Deiotarus?" asked Lucius of his host, to whom he hastened to communicate his letters and their contents.

"Tetrarch, or, I should rather say, king of Galatia. He has done good service to Rome, and has been well paid for it. To be quite honest, I do not like all that I have heard of him. Still, he will be sure to deal fairly with you, a Roman citizen, and coming as you do with such a recommendation. I should recommend you to go, and to go at once; for such a letter as you have from Marcus Tullius loses much of its weight if it is not presented without delay. You know, my dear boy, I don't want to get rid of you. You have been to me like the son whom I once wished to have, but whom the gods never saw fit to give me. But it is the best host who speeds the parting guest, and I see here an opening for you. There will be stirring times in Asia yet, for Mithradates is not by any means at the end of his resources, and if I know you, you would not thank me if I were to keep you out of what is going on. And now for your plans. There will be a caravan starting in a few days for Pessinus, which, you should know, is the king's capital. You can't do better than go with it. It is about three hundred and fifty miles, and you will do it before the worst of the winter comes on. Now as to money. You have got, you say, a little gold still in your purse; well, don't take any more, but let me give you a letter of credit to a correspondent that I have at Pessinus. You might leave a hundred thousand sesterces in my hands, to see whether I can make any thing more of them. And you must not be offended if I settle with the master of the caravan for your passage-money. I shall make a better bargain with him than you will; and if some day you are rich—and there is something still to be picked up in these parts, though the times are not what they were—and I am poor, then you shall pay me back."

When the little party met at the evening meal Lucius guessed that Philareté had heard the news. Her usual gayety was somewhat eclipsed, her cheeks were pale, and her eyes had something of the look of recent tears. But she said nothing on the subject, and Lucius was equally silent. The merchant, too, was not in his usual spirits, and all felt something like relief when the hour for separating arrived. The next day Lucius, who was almost too excited to sleep, was early astir. Descending to the morning-room for the draught of milk and the crust of bread with which he was accustomed to break his fast, he saw Philareté in the garden and hastened to join her. She gave him her hand, and he noticed as he raised it to his lips that it trembled in his grasp. She made an effort to speak in her old tone:

"So you are going to leave us and seek your fortune among the Galatians?"

"Ah, Philareté, you know I am bound to go! I must go out into the world as those before me went out. You would be the first to blame me if I held back."

"Yes," cried the girl, with a flash of the old fire in her eyes, "go; you are not one to choose the distaff when you may have the sword."

"And you will think of me when I am gone," said the young Roman, clasping her right hand between his own, and gazing into her eyes as earnestly as if they held some secret which he wished to discover.

Thinking about him was just what Philareté had been doing for months past, ever since the morning, indeed, when they rode together into Heraclea. It was what she had been doing as she lay awake more than half the night, and had not ceased to do when, towards daybreak, she fell into a restless sleep. It was what she was certain to do still more constantly when he should have left them. But to be asked to do so! That was a different thing. The girl had been brought up very much alone. She had had no girl companions to chatter to her about sweethearts, and if she had begun to love she hardly knew it. Lucius was her comrade, fellow-student, friend, perhaps brother. But now she began to have a dim consciousness that he might be, nay, that he was, something more.

"Think of you!" she said, with the instinct of concealment which a woman never seems to lose; "of course. Father and I will think of you till we see you again."

But her eyes, wont as they were to meet his with so frank a gaze, were drooped upon the ground, and her voice faltered. Lucius went on:

"Dearest, may I speak? Every thing between us is unequal. You are the daughter of kings that traced back their line to Jupiter: my grandfather was a peasant. You are wealthy: I have nothing but my sword. And yet I dare to love you. I must say it before I go. I don't ask you to answer me. Being nothing more than I am I must not expect an answer. Still, I could not leave you without telling you something of what is in my heart. And if I come back having done something, something more," he added with an effort to smile, "than being taken prisoner and being shipwrecked, perhaps then I shall dare to ask you a question which I dare not ask to-day."

For a few moments he stood holding the girl's hand. He did not ask for an answer, and yet he seemed to hope that an answer would come. Then he unloosed the clasp, and turned as if to depart. The girl joined her hands in a little gesture of appeal, lifted her eyes for a moment to her companion's face, and whispered:

"O Lucius, I will think of you; and you will come back, will you not?"

The lovers, if we may so call them, had been too much engaged with each other to notice the approach of a third person. The merchant had something to say to Lucius, and, not finding him in the house, had come out to look for him in the garden. A bystander would have been amused to watch the expression of astonishment, and even dismay, that came over his face, as, standing close to the young people, but half hidden by a shrub of bay, he listened to their conversation. When it reached the point to which we have brought it he judged it to be about time to interfere.


"Here's a fine state of affairs," he cried.

"Here is a fine state of affairs!" he cried, in a tone which was meant to be angry, but which was at least half amused. "Who would have thought of a boy and a girl making all this fuss? Pray, my dear sir, how old are you that you must be thinking of a wife, for that, I suppose, is the plain meaning of your fine language?"

"I am eighteen to-day," answered Lucius with as much dignity as he could command.

"Eighteen! truly a mature age, and fit to undertake all the responsibilities of life! And this young lady is seventeen, if I remember right. Truly you are not disposed to let life slip by! And your means, young man? You at least ought to have enough to buy the torches for the procession."

The young Roman stood shamefaced and confused, but after a few moments' silence he plucked up courage to answer: "Oh, sir! I cannot say that I have not thought of marriage, but I have not spoken of it. I know that it is too hopelessly far off. And I have said nothing to your daughter that I should have been unwilling for you to hear. Not did I intend to go without asking your  leave to hope."

"Hope!" said the merchant. "I can't prevent your doing that. But, to be serious, I hadn't thought of any thing like this for my daughter. To tell you the truth, I had not noticed that she had grown up into a woman. And if ever the thought of a husband for her has crossed my mind, it has been of a man of her own race. Still, I do not wish to put an absolute veto  on this matter. There must be no engagement. This may be a boy-and-girl fancy. She may see, you may see, some one you like better. Ah, you may shake your wise heads and groan, but I have known such things happen! And you must make your way in the world. I have enough for you both, it is true; but you are not one, I am sure, that would like to live on a wife's money. You will have thought, perhaps, that it was very base of me to talk of your means, but we merchants have a way of looking at this side of the question. And now, mind, no more of this, for the present at all events. Come, Lucius, I have some business to talk over with you. And you, my darling," drawing the girl to him and kissing her fondly, "get you to your embroidery, and believe me that I am not angry with you. And," he added in a whisper, "if you must think of a young man, I am not sure that our Lucius here is not as good a subject for your thoughts as any."

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