"Unto Caesar"

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#Fiction #Historical
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Excerpt CHAPTER I "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion...."—Psalm xlviii. 2. And it came to pass in Rome after the kalends of September, and when Caius Julius Cæsar Caligula ruled over Imperial Rome. Arminius Quirinius, the censor, was dead. He had died by his own hand, and thus was a life of extortion and of fraud brought to an ignominious end through the force of public opinion, and by the decree of that same Cæsar who himself had largely benefited by the mal-practices of his minion. Arminius Quirinius had committed every crime, sunk to every kind of degradation which an inordinate love of luxury and the insatiable desires of jaded senses had suggested as a means to satisfaction, until the treachery of his own accomplices had thrown the glaring light of publicity on a career of turpitude such as even these decadent times had seldom witnessed ere this. Enough that the end had come at last. A denunciation from the rostrum, a discontented accomplice thirsting for revenge, an angry crowd eager to listen, and within an hour the mighty, much-feared censor was forced to flee from Rome to escape the fury of a populace which would have torn him to pieces, and was ready even to massacre his family and his womenfolk, his clients and his slaves. He escaped to his villa at Ostia. But the Emperor Caligula, having duly enjoyed the profits derived from his favourite's extortions, hurled anathema and the full weight of his displeasure on the man who had been not only fool enough to be found out, but who had compromised the popularity of the Cæsar in the eyes of the people and of the army. Twenty-four hours later the imperial decree went forth that the disgraced censor must end his days in any manner which he thought best—seeing that a patrician and member of the Senate could not be handed over to common justice—and also that the goods of Arminius Quirinius should be publicly sold for the benefit of the State and the profit of those whom the extortioner had wronged. The latter phrase, though somewhat vague, pleased the people and soothed public irritation, and the ephemeral popularity of a half-crazy tyrant was momentarily restored. Be it said however, that less than a month later the Cæsar decided that he himself had been the person most wronged by Arminius, and that the bulk of the profits derived from the sale of the late censor's goods must therefore find its way into the imperial coffers. The furniture of Arminius' house within the city and that of his villa at Ostia had fetched vast sums at a public auction which had lasted three days. Everything had been sold, from the bed with the gilt legs on which the body of the censor had been laid after his death, to the last vase of murra that adorned his walls and the cups of crystal from which his guests had drunk. His pet monkeys were sold and his tame magpies, the pots of flowers out of the hothouses and the bunches of melons and winter grapes ripening under glass. After that it was the turn of the slaves. There were, so I understand, over seven thousand of these: scribes and carpenters, litter-bearers and sculptors, cooks and musicians; there were a quantity of young children, and some half-witted dolts and misshapen dwarfs, kept for the amusement of guests during the intervals of supper. The bulk of them had been sent to the markets of Delos and Phaselis, but the imperator had had the most valuable items amongst the human goods set aside for himself, and not a few choice pieces had found their way into the households of the aediles in charge of the sales: the State too had appropriated some hundreds of useful scribes, sculptors and mechanics, but there were still a thousand or so who—in compliance with the original imperial edict—would have to be sold by public auction in Rome for the benefit of the late censor's defrauded victims. And thus, on this ninth day of September, a human load panting under the heat of this late summer's sun, huddled one against the other, pushed and jostled by the crowd, was exposed to the public gaze in the Forum over against the rostrum Augustini, so that all who had a mind, and a purse withal, might suit their fancy and buy. A bundle of humanity—not over-wretched, for the condition of the slaves in the household of Arminius Quirinius had not been an unhappy one—they all seemed astonished, some even highly pleased, at thus finding themselves the centre of attraction in the Forum, they who had spent their lives in getting humbly out of other people's way....
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