Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

leucian courtesans with music, singing scurrilous and farcical songs upon Crassus' cowardice and effeminacy.

These things were to amuse the populace: after which Surena assembled the senate of Seleucia, and produced the obscene books of Aristides called Milesiacs.' Neither was this a groundless invention, to blacken the Romans. For the books, being actually found in the baggage of Rustius, gave Surena an excellent opportunity of saying many sharp and satirical things of the Romans, who even in the time of war could not refrain from such abominable publications and libidinous practices.

This scene reminded the Seleucians of the wise remark of Esop. They saw, that Surena had placed the Milesian obscenities in the fore-part of the wallet, and behind they beheld a Parthian Sybaris 4, with a long train of carriages full of harlots; insomuch, that his army resembled the serpents called Scytalæ. Fierce and formidable in its head, it presented nothing but pikes, artillery, and war-horses; while the tail ridiculously enough exhibited nothing but prostitutes, musical instruments, and nights spent in singing and riot with prostitutes. Rustius was undoubtedly to be blam ed; but it was an impudent thing in the Parthians to censure the Milesiacs, when many of the Arsacidæ, who filled the throne, were sons of Milesian or Ionian, courtesans.

During these transactions, Orodes was reconciled to Artavasdes the Armenian, and had agreed to a marriage. between that prince's sister, and his son Pacorus. Upon this occasion, they freely went to each other's enter

41 One of the Bodleian MSS. has it Roscius;' perhaps one of the two brothers of that name already mentioned.

42 Sybaris was a town in Lucania, famous for its luxury and effeminacy. (L.)

The fable alluded to is that, which Persius has moralised in his two excellent lines ::

Ut nemo in sese tentat descendere, nemo!

At præcedenti spectatur mantica tergo.

(iv. 23.)

For the Scytale, see Columella de R. R. vi. 17., and for a specific against the dangerous wounds inflicted by its small teeth, Plin. H. N. xxxii. 5.*

tainments, in which many of the Greek tragedies were presented. For Orodes was not unversed in the Grecian literature; and Artavasdes had himself written tragedies, as well as orations and histories, some of which are still extant. In one of these entertainments, while they were yet at table, the head of Crassus was brought to the door. Jason, a tragedian of the city of Tralles, was rehearsing the Baccha of Euripides, and in the midst of the tragical adventures of Pentheus and Agave. All the company were expressing their admiration of the pieces, when Sillaces entering the apartment prostrated himself before the king, and laid Crassus' head at his feet. The Parthians welcomed it with acclamations of joy, and the attendants by the king's order placed Sillaces at the table. Upon this, Jason gave one of the actors the habit of Pentheus, in which he had himself appeared and putting on that of Agave, with the frantic air and all the enthusiasm of a Bacchanal, sung the part in which Agave presents the head of Pentheus upon her Thyrsus, fancying it to be that of a young lion:

Hither our toils we bring: On yonder mountain
We pierced the lordly savage (43).

Finding the company extremely delighted, he went on:
The Chorus asks,

Agave answers,

"Who gave the glorious blow?"

"Mine, mine's the prize."

Pomaxæthres, who was then sitting at the table, on hearing this started up, and would have taken the head from Jason, insisting that that part belonged to him, and not to the actor. The king, highly diverted, made Pomaxæthres the presents usual upon such occasions, and rewarded Jason with a talent. The expedition of Crassus was a real tragedy, and such was the exodium 44 (or farce) after it.

43 Bacch. 1168.*

44 Exodium, in its original sense, signified the catastrophe of the tragedy,' the unravelling of the plot;' and it preserved that sense among

45

Divine justice, however, punished Orodes for his cruelty, and Surena for his perjury. The prince, envying the glory which his general had acquired, soon afterward put him to death ; but losing his son Pacorus in a battle with the Romans, he fell into a languishing disorder, which changed to a dropsy. His second son, Phraates, seized this opportunity to give him aconite. Finding however that the poison worked only upon the watery humour, and was carrying off the disease, he took a shorter method, and strangled him with his own hands46.

the Greeks. But, when the Romans began to act their light satirical pieces (of which they had always been very fond) after their tragedies, they transferred to them the denomination in question.

45 Cir. B. C. 52.*

46 There have been more execrable characters, but there is not perhaps in the whole history of mankind one more contemptible, than that of Crassus. His ruling passion was the most sordid lust of wealth; and to this the whole of his conduct, political, popular, and military, was subservient. If he ever exhibited any public munificence, it was with him no more than a species of commerce. By thus treating the people, he was laying out his money in the purchase of provinces. When Syria fell to his lot, his transports did not spring from the great ambition of carrying the Roman eagles into the east: they were only the joy of a miser, when he stumbles upon a hidden treasure. Dazzled with the prospect of barbarian gold, he grasped with eagerness a command, for which he had no adequate capacity. We find him embarrassed by the slightest difficulties in his military operations, and when his obstinacy would permit him, taking his measures from the advice of his lieutenants. We indignantly behold the Roman squadrons standing, by his arrangement, as a mark for the Parthian archers, and incapable of acting either on the offensive or the defensive. The Romans could not be ignorant of the Parthian method of attacking and retreating, when they had before spent so much time in Armenia. The fame of their cavalry must surely have been known in a country where it was so much dreaded. It was therefore the first business of the Roman general to have avoided those countries which might give them any advantage in the equestrian action. But the hot scent of eastern treasure made him a dupe even to the gross arts of the barbarians; and, to arrive at this the nearest way, he sacrificed the lives of thirty thousand Romans.

348

NICIAS AND CRASSUS

COMPARED.

ONE of the first things which occurs in this comparison is, that Nicias gained his wealth in a less exceptionable manner than Crassus. The working of mines indeed does not seem very suitable to a man of Nicias' character, where the persons employed are commonly malefactors or barbarians, some of whom toil in fetters, till the damps and unwholesome air put an end to their existence. But it is comparatively an honourable pursuit, when placed in parallel with getting an estate by the confiscations of Sylla, or by buying houses in the midst of fires. Yet Crassus dealt as openly in these things, as he did in agriculture and usury. As to the other matters - for which he was reproached, and which he denied, viz. his selling his vote in the senate, his extorting money from the allies, his over-reaching silly women by flattery, and his undertaking the defence of bad men; nothing of this kind was ever imputed to Nicias, even by slander herself. With regard to his wasting his money upon those who made a trade of impeachments, to prevent their doing him any harm, it was a circumstance which exposed him to ridicule, and unworthy perhaps of a Pericles and an Aristides; but necessary for him, with his innate timidity of character. It was a thing of which Lycurgus the orator afterward made a merit to the people: when censured for having brought off one of these trading informers, "I rejoice," said he, "that after having been so long employed in the ad

ministration, I am discovered to have given money, and not taken it."

As to their expences, Nicias appears to have been the more public-spirited. His offerings to the gods, and the games and tragedies with which he entertained the people, were so many proofs of noble and generous sentiments. It is true, all that Nicias laid out in this manner, and indeed his whole estate, amounted only to a small part of what Crassus expended at once, in entertaining so many myriads of men and supplying them afterward with bread. But I should be surprised, if there were any one, who did not perceive that this vice is nothing but an inequality and inconsistency of character; particularly, when he observes men honourably expending that money which they have dishonourably accumulated. So much with respect to their riches.

If we consider their behavour in the administration, we shall not find in Nicias any instance of cunning, injustice, violence, or effrontery. On the contrary, he suffered Alcibiades to impose upon him, and was ever timid in his applications to the people. Whereas Crassus in turning from his friends to his enemies, and back again as his interest required, is justly charged with illiberal duplicity. Neither could he deny that he made use of violence to obtain the consulship, when he hired ruffians to lay their hands upon Cato and Domitius. In the assembly held for the allotment of the provinces many citizens were wounded, and four actually killed. Nay, Crassus himself struck a senator named Lucius Annalius' one of his opponents, upon the face with his fist (a circumstance which escaped us in his Life), and drove him out of the Forum covered with blood.

But, if Crassus was too violent and tyrannical in his proceedings, Nicias was as much too cowardly. His poltronery, and mean submission to the most abandoned persons in the state, deserves the greatest reproach. Besides, Crassus displayed some magnanimity and dignity of sentiment in contending, not with such wretches as Cleon and Hyperbolus, but with the glory of Cæsar and the three triumphs of Pompey. In fact, he ably maintained the dispute with them for power, and in the high

« IndietroContinua »