« IndietroContinua »
and piety, through baptism. The great popularity of this preacher alarmed Herod, lest the people should enable him to raise a rebellion. He therefore gladly embraced an opportunity of putting him to death, lest he should fall into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of his forbearance. He was accordingly sent a prisoner to the before-mentioned castle of Machærus, and there put to death. The Jews naturally entertained an opinion that the loss of the army was a punishment on Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure.
Herodias, Agrippa's sister, lived as wife to Herod the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. She felt envious at the great authority of her brother when she saw a greater dignity bestowed on him than on her husband. Her brother had absconded from inability to pay his debts. He was now come back, in the high road to dignity and good fortune. She urged to Herod, that though he formerly was not concerned to be in a lower condition than his father, the author of his birth, he should now aim at the dignity to which his kinsman had arrived. She told him not to endure the contempt, that a man who had admired his riches, should be in greater honour than himself. He must not suffer Agrippa's poverty to purchase greater things than their abundance. It would be shameful to stand lower than one who, the other day, lived on the charity of his family.
These arguments had their effect on his corrupt mind, and produced those mutual family machinations so common in those times and countries. On the accession of Caius, he released Agrippa, who had been in bonds, and gave the tetrarchy of Philip, who was now dead. When Agrippa had arrived at that dignity, he kindled the ambition of his brother tetrarch, who was chiefly induced to hope for the royal authority by his wife Herodias.* She reproached him for his sloth, and said it was only because he would not pay his personal compliments to the new Cæsar, that he was not raised to that high dignity. Cæsar had made Agrippa king from a private station. Much more would he advance him from a tetrarchy to that rank. Herod complied, and went to Caius, who punished him for his ambition, by banishing him into Spain. Agrippa had followed him to prefer an accusation. Caius added this tetrarchy also to Agrippa's previous honours. Herod died in Spain, whither his wife had followed him.
* Delrius, in his Disquisitiones Magicæ, states that Herodias was sometimes identified with the fairy queen. The term the learned Jesuit applies to her is saltatricula : and he gravely argues against the abominable heresy of believing that she any longer leads choral dances on earth. This is second only to the absurdity of the romance writers, who make Mercury the prince of the fairies; and in Orfeo and Heurodis, convert the Grecian story of Orpheus and Eurydice into a Gothic tale, graciously conferring on Heurodis the kingdom of Winchester, the ancient name of which was Thrace! Orpheus's father was descended from King Pluto, and his mother from King Juno. The tale ends melodramatically, and not tragically. Orpheus does not act so like a blockhead as in the Greek version : he makes his escape good, and they both reign safe and sound at Winchester. The history of John the Baptist was considered by our ancestors as altogether mysterious, and gave rise to a great number of superstitious practices on St. John's Eve, particularly that of fern-seed, alluded to by Shakspeare in Henry IV.: “We have the receipt of fern-seed; we walk invisible."
ON THE CHARACTER OF MUCIUS SCAVOLA.
WHEN Porsena, king of Clusium in Etruria, was besieging Rome, provisions became exceedingly scarce and dear in that city. This partisan of the Tarquins entertained hopes, that by converting the siege into a blockade, he should become master of the town. Caius Mucius, a noble youth, was filled with indignation, to think that the Roman people while in bondage under their kings, should never have been besieged by an enemy in any war, and yet that the same people, now in a state of freedom, were blockaded by those very Etrurians whose armies they had often routed. He resolved therefore, by some great and daring effort, to remove such reproach. Livy says, “Primo sua sponte penetrare in hostium castra constituit. dein metuens, ne, si consulum injussu et ignaris omnibus iret, forte deprehensus a custodibus Romanis retraheretur ut transfuga, fortuna tum nobis crimen adfirmante, senatum adiit. Transire Tiberim,' inquit, • Patres, et intrare, si possim, castra hostium volo; non prædo, nec populationum in vicem ultor. majus, si Dii juvant, in animo est facinus.' Adprobant Patres: abdito intra vestem ferro, proficiscitur.' The passages marked in italics
* Lib. ii. cap. 12.
show, that in stating this extraordinary fact, so much the admiration of schoolboys, Livy is sensible that the action itself was criminal, and that the condition to which the city of Rome was reduced, was the only apology for the baseness of assassination. We must, with our superior lights, say that no distress, no approbation even of a Roman senate, no specious gloss of the historian, can justify the morality of such a proceeding.
It was now the second year after the expulsion of the kings. Porsena considered Rome as already sufficiently reduced to admit of their restoration. He was celebrating a sacrifice, to propitiate the gods in favour of that event: Mucius could not venture to enquire which was Porsena, lest his not knowing the king should discover him to be a stranger. He was therefore obliged to trust to fortune and probability. A secretary was close to the king, in the act of paying the soldiers, whose attention therefore was more immediately directed to him. Porsena himself rather seemed to be performing the duties of a priest. This probably led Mucius to mistake the secretary for the king, so that he killed him instead of the intended victim. When brought before the king's tribunal, he stood there single, among a crowd of enemies. Even in this situation, deserted by fortune and threatened with the severest tortures, he declared himself to be a Roman citizen; his name Caius Mucius. He seemed in fact more capable of alarming the invader, than of feeling terror in his own person. He says to him, “ Proinde in hoc discrimen, si juvat adcingere, ut in singulas horas capite dimices tuo; ferrum hostemque in vestibulo habeas regiæ. Hoc tibi juventus Romana indicimus
bellum. Nullam aciem, nullum prælium timueris. Uni tibi, et cum singulis res erit. Quum rex, simul ira infensus, periculoque conterritus, circumdari ignes minitabundus juberet, nisi expromeret propere, quas insidiarum sibi minas per ambages jaceret : En tibi,' inquit, ut sentias, quam vile corpus sit iis, qui magnam gloriam vident : dextramque accenso ad sacrificium foculo injicit. quam quum
velut alienato ab sensu torreret animo; prope adtonitus miraculo rex, quum ab sede sua prosiluisset, amoverique ab altaribus juvenem jussisset, • Tu vero abi,' inquit, in te magis, quam in me hostilia ausus.'»
For the purpose of fixing the admiration on the proper point of this story, and at the same time to do Livy justice, it must be remarked, that the fortitude here displayed, and that of the passive kind, is the part of Scævola's conduct proposed as an example, and the only part to be adopted in spirit, by those who have occasion to show their resolution, under circumstances less shocking and incredible. I say incredible; and it is remarkable that Dionysius has omitted this part of the romantic scene, described by Livy with so much ostentation. He simply imputes to Mucius the politic contrivance of inventing the story of the three hundred youths to save himself. His character in the Greek historian does indeed descend from its heroics. But according to Livy, whose narrative is best known and most popular, Porsena finishes his address by saying, “I dismiss you untouched and unhurt; and discharge you from the penalties which by the laws of war I have a right to inflict." Mucius felt inclined to make some return for this act of favour, and spoke to him thus: “Since I