“ O ROME, my country, city of the soul! ” sang Byron, in his full chest-notes, and with that large and unabashed sentimentalism of his, by virtue of which he speaks, whether they will or no, for the simpler sentimentalists of all succeeding time. But the love of which these o’er-familiar words begin the lyric declaration, the special devotion to Rome as a mystic entity, Rome the queen, Rome the mistress, Rome the enslaver, is a form of enthusiasm almost as old as the seven hills of her visible throne. Its fitful and boyish beginnings may be detected even in the earlier Latin literature, and it is already, in the days of Horace and of Vergil, a fervid and exalted sentiment. Not, however, until the sovereign lady of cities had been sadly discrowned, her rich robes rent by the rude hands of Alaric, and the fiery fragments of her sibylline books dispersed upon all the winds, did her spell over the hearts of men become complete, From that time onward she has been, to the more romantic spirits of every land, the irresistible and immortal siren, who may suffer the worst, and suffer it indefinitely, but while the world lasts cannot die. Ever since then, that is to say, from the second decade of the fifth Christian century, the devotees of the ideal Rome have been talking the same figurative and impassioned language, — a form of speech which we all recognize when we hear it, and which most of us, at one time or another, have stammeringly essayed to use. The elegiacs of Rutilius blend, in the memory, with those of Arthur Hugh Clough, and haunt us like bits out of the different cantos of a continuous poem.
Of the facts in the life of Claudius Rutilius Numatianus, who thus leads off in the long love chant of the ages, very little is precisely known. He was born in Gaul, at or near the city which is now Toulouse, but he lived a long while in Rome, where he attained the dignity of præfectus urbi. After the sack of the capital by Alaric, and when the Visigothic hordes had surged over into Gaul, pillaging and laying waste the country as they went, Rutilius followed in their wake to look after his hereditary estates, and gather together the wrecks of his fortune. He doubtless hoped, when he went, some day to return to Rome; but there, nevertheless, on the far confines of Spain, he appears to have passed the remainder of his days, heart-sick at times for the lost splendors of the world’s bright centre; and there, in 417, during the reign of the Emperor Honorius, he wrote out, in smooth and touching verse, — almost worthy, some of it, of the great days of Roman poesy, — a description of his homeward journey. Cl. Rutilii de Reditu suo Itinerarium, — such is the form which Wernsdorf, the keenest and most industrious of his critics, thinks that the author himself gave to his work, which was to have consisted of several cantos or books, but of which we possess only the first and a fragment of the second. We are able, however, to follow the leisurely traveler, step by step, from the port of Ostia to a point on the riviera di levante, somewhere between Pisa and Genoa ; and we feel, before we abruptly part, that we have been admitted into the confidence of a singular and very interesting man.
He is interesting most of all from the fact that in this, the hora novissima of the Olympian deities, he was an unswerving believer in the old religion. He had already seen at Rome, with poignant grief, the new faith flourishing rankly, crowds of the baser sort flocking daily to the standard of the cross, sacrifices forbidden, temples robbed of their fair statues and costly offerings, and all this with no apparent effort on the part of the insulted gods to punish the sacrilege or stay the everywhere rising flood of gross impiety. Nor is it possible to refuse our sympathy to Rutilius as he thus takes his firm stand on behalf of a fated order, and lifts up his musical voice in clear championship of a losing cause.
The tale of his reluctantly undertaken journey toward the desecrated altars and waste farms of his early home is prefaced by a sort of overture or invocation, on this wise : —
Missed the unspeakable boon granted the children of Rome ?
Know there is time no more to the dwellers in Rome, the belovèd,
Early and late no more, under her infinite charm.
Happy beyond compute the sons of mortals appointed
Unto that marvelous prize, birth on the consecrate soil!
Who to the rich estate of the heirs of Roman patricians
Add thy illustrious fame, city without a peer!
Happiest these! but following close in the order of blessing,
They who have come from afar, seeking a Latian home.
Wide to their pilgrim feet the Senate opens its portal, —
‘ Come, all ye who are fit; come, and be aliens no more! ’
So they sit with the mighty, and share the honors of empire, —
Share in their worship, too, kneeling where all do adore;
Thrill with the State’s great life as aye the earth and its ether,
Unto the uttermost pole, thrills with the being of Jove.”
After this rapt beginning the Itinerarium proceeds more soberly, as follows : —
Native of Gallic fields, Gaul now summons me home.
Long have the wars been raging, the land lies waste and neglected,
Fair no more to behold, filling with sorrow the heart.
Lightly we scoff at a prosperous folk, but a country afflicted
Calls with imperious voice unto her recreant sons.
Thus in the home of my sires, the while I weep for its downfall,
Straight will I turn me to toil. Sorrow shall be my spur,
For it is meet to bethink me how, season by season increasing,
Ever the ruin spreads, gathering while I delay.
Meet, at least, after all these years, on the ashes of burning,
Pastoral huts to restore, shelter for lowly swains.
Ah, if I knew that language of yours, ye murmuring fountains,
Knew what the laurels repeat, leaf unto whispering leaf,
Sure I should hear them chiding, chiding my tardy endeavor,
Calling for favoring gales, bidding me hasten on ! ”
Rutilius then proceeds to tell us why he elected to travel by sea. The Aurelian Way, it seems, was virtually impracticable. The road-bed was out of repair, and very few of the bridges had been rebuilt since their destruction during the Gothic invasion. Most of the houses of entertainment likewise had been burned at the same time, and the few which remained standing were all but deserted. We are led to suspect, however, by the length of Rutilius’s explanation and its rather apologetic tone, that it was not, in his day, considered quite the dignified thing to proceed by boat along that stretch of the Mediterranean coast; and it is amusing to observe that a very similar impression prevails in our own time. Mr. Samuel Rogers did, indeed, consider it well to complete his experiences by sailing from Spezia to Genoa. That canto of his Italy which describes the voyage is entitled The Felucca, and he professes himself sedately satisfied with the result of the adventure. Not so the latest traveler whose written testimony we happen to possess concerning the charms of that classic bit of sea. He was a German, and he sent back to an English friend on the Western Riviera, who had been meaning to follow his example, a postal card of earnest dissuasion. “ Le voyage n’a pas réussi,” he summed up, in their ordinary medium of communication, “ à cause du bruyard (fogue).”
During this frivolous digression of ours, Rutilius has taken his fond first farewell of the Eternal City, and set out to meet the boats at the mouth of the Tiber. He was to embark not at Ostia, but at Portus Trajani, named in honor of the Emperor who had caused to be built those magnificent docks and warehouses, the outlines of whose foundations may still be traced among the marshes, though now more than two miles inland. Ostia was destined to recover its importance as a seaport in the succeeding century, and again, for a time, to outrank the newer harbor; but, at that moment, Rutilius tells us that
“ Save for Æneas’ coming its glory is wholly departed.”
He left Rome by the Porta Portuensis, along with a numerous escort of regretful friends. The gate in question was not exactly the modern Porta Portese. — the mediæval walls having been withdrawn very considerably in this quarter, — so that the traveler made his exit at a point lower down on the Via Portuensis, which followed the right bank of the Tiber from the city to the sea.
His progress, as he tells us, was but slow at first, owing to the constant succession of tearful farewells which had to be taken of his companions, as they turned back, one by one. If the site of the venerable grove of the Arval Brethren has been correctly determined, Rutilius passed it midway on his route to the coast, just before entering on that stretch of sad and colorless meadow land, which the narcissus clothes so fitly with its pale sweetness every spring. When at last, in the early twilight, he reached the harbor, only one friend remained with him, Rufius Volusianus, — the same, perhaps, to whom the Itinerarium was inscribed. He was a youth of high promise and position, albeit the claim of royal descent which his friend puts forward on his behalf will stand a critical inspection little better than sundry more modern genealogies. The surname Volusianus was undoubtedly a very old one in the family of Rufius, and, on the other hand, we read, in the eleventh book of the Æneid, that, when a report reached the council of Latin princes that the Trojan invader was meditating an immediate attack on their camp, the orders for defense issued by Turnus comprised the following injunction : —
“ Tu, Voluse armari Volscorum edice maniplis Due, ait, et Rutulos. ”
From these two premises Rutilius deduces the somewhat hasty conclusion that Volusus was the hereditary name of the Rutulian kings, and that from these kings his comrade was descended. Mythical pretensions quite apart, Rufius appears to have been a man who shed lustre on the name he bore, and we wish that more could be definitely learned about him.
They arrived at the shore to find that the boatmen had flatly refused to set out that evening, and consequently they would have to wait a full fortnight for an auspicious aspect of the moon. Rufius was unable to remain with his friend during the whole of this period of enforced inaction, but a young cousin of Rutilius was glad to take a holiday from his law studies, and join the latter by the sea ; and, entertaining one another as best they might, these two whiled away the interval of the waning and dark of the moon. Doubtless they found much to interest them in and about the already decayed city of Ostia, although we naturally hear nothing of that which constitutes for the traveler of to-day by far the most thrilling memory associated with her silent streets. What signified to this pair of idle Gallo-Romans the trance of unearthly peace — “firstfruits of the Spirit” —in which Monica and Augustine here sat out, by an open window which gave upon sea, their last mortal hours together ? Rutilius had very possibly never heard of either, although Monica died in his lifetime, and probably while he lived in Rome. And less even than the solemn parting of mother and son, which might have stirred his human sympathies a little, would the fable have appealed to our exile of the angel in the guise of a little child, who met St. Augustine upon these gleaming sands, and dispelled by an incredibly simple argument his doubts concerning the Trinity. Doctrine and doubt alike would have seemed foolishness to the pious pagan; Arian and Trinitarian were as one to him. All he professed to know or care about the matter was, that the gods had afflicted mankind for their sins with a new madness, and we are not sorry to be spared his rationalizing and supercilious version of the baby angel’s apparition among the pebbles of the shore.
Settled weather came with the crescent moon, the season being autumn, and at last the sailors were ready. Palladius then returned to Rome, and Rutilius makes pensive note of his final departure : —
When the first gleam in the east suffers the fields to be seen.”
Quite a fleet of vessels appears to have set sail in that gray dawn, small craft which could hug the coast, so as to be ready to put into harbor at the first threatening of storm, and furnished with oars against the contingency of a contrary wind. One would have liked a more detailed description of the boat in which Rutilius made his voyage, but the scenery seems at once to have engaged his entire attention. The configuration of the coast near the mouth of the Tiber has greatly changed since the beginning of the fifth century, at which time the shore must have run almost in a straight line from Tor Paterno to the modern village of Palo. The latter occupies the site of Alsium, which is the first spot noted by Rutilius : —
Gorgeous palaces now, humble hamlets of yore ; ”
and, as a matter of fact, the ruins of what was apparently a single stupendous country-seat still stretch for more than a mile along this part of the shore. Alsium was always a favorite retreat of the Romans. Pompey we know had a villa there to which he came on his return from Africa, and so had Marcus Aurelius. In earlier days both towns had been dependencies of the great Etruscan city of Cære, and at Pyrgi there was once a marvelously rich temple dedicated to Juno, and plundered by Dionysius of Syracuse. Nothing remains of Pyrgi, except the polygonal blocks of Pelasgic masonry, which have been incorporated in the substructions of its picturesque mediæval fortress.
Cære itself, commandingly seated upon its abrupt table-land, about five miles inland, was next pointed out by the sailors, a city immemorially old, but still tolerably prosperous. It is absolutely deserted now, for the town of Cervetri, though preserving the ancient name (Cære compounded with Vetus), lies wholly without the circuit of the original walls. gateway, with a half-effaced inscription beneath it, plainly visible from the water, he at once identified as the figure of Inuus, or Faunas himself. Cluverius, however, in his Antiquities of Italy, points out that Rutilius was clearly wrong, because Castrum Inui was in Latium, not in Etruria; and the pastoral god over the gateway must, he thinks, have been Silvanus, whose cult flourished greatly in Cære and all the region round about.
Further on, Rutilius observed the outlines of the choked and deserted harbor of Castrum Novum, traces of which remained as late as the seventeenth century. No doubt existed in his mind that this was the Castrum Inui mentioned by Vergil;1 and an archaic statue over a
The voyagers made only forty miles the first day, and put in for the night at Centumcellæ. For all the vicissitudes of fortune which this port has undergone, a better description than that of Rutilius could hardly be given of the modern harbor of Civita Vecchia. The curving moles, each terminated by a lighthouse; the narrow entrance for ships, yet further protected by an artificial breakwater, thrown up only a short distance outside, and of the same length as the opening, — these are still the characteristics of the port. Even the hot baths in the suburbs, which Rutilius and his companions visited with so much interest, are a feature of the place today. The greater part of the immense Roman establishment is, indeed, a ruin ; but certain of the original reservoirs are still in sufficiently good repair to hold the water brought down by an aqueduct which follows the line of Trajan’s from the hot springs in the hills, twenty miles distant. Rutilius betrays a little skepticism concerning the story of the miraculous discovery of these springs, but relates it circumstantially, nevertheless.
Early next morning, — “ roscida crepuscula,” — when first the dewy twilight began to glimmer in the dark blue heaven, they were off once more ; and after passing “ the scant remains of Graviscæ,” a site much wrangled over by the antiquarians, they skirted the piny shore until their attention was arrested by the wonderful walls of Cosa. Now, as then, these walls encircle the summit of the single hill which breaks the low line of the coast for many miles; and the hill is worth climbing, not only for the exquisite prospect which it affords, but for the sake of the walls themselves, which afford a liberal education in the successive modes of mural construction.
With an apology for mentioning anything so absurd, and no apparent premonition of the fate of Bishop Hatto, Rutilius then recounts a queer legend to the effect that Cosa had once been stormed and taken, and the inhabitants driven into exile, by an army of rats. Of course he does not believe it, but so runs the tale.
Made we the port that hears Hercules’ eminent name.”
The deep natural bay on the southern side of the promontory of Monte Argentaro still goes by the name of Port’ Ercole, and offers a scene of wonderful animation in the height of the tunny season. Here the spot was pointed out to our travelers where Lepidus, the unsuccessful rival of Sylla, encamped the night before he fled to Sardinia, and the talk of the little company turned on him, and on three other men of the same name, — the triumvir and his son, and Lepidus, brother-in-law of Caligula, — who had all been concerned in political conspiracies, and had all died violent deaths.
“ And at the present moment ” — continues Rutilius, but then pulls himself up abruptly. “ Let posterity tell the rest,” he says with enigmatical caution ; and we apply in vain to other sources for the faintest scrap of information about the Lepidus of Rutilius’s day.
Taking advantage of the stiff breeze which sprang up during the night-time, they were away before dawn, rounding the Argentarian promontory, “only six miles across, but six and thirty around,” as Rutilius rather wearily notes ; and one wonders that the energetic Romans never cut through the two narrow Strips of sand which connect the mountain with the mainland, and between which lies the great salt lagoon, whose deadly emanations poison the whole region in summer. Slowly and with constant tacking they moved on to the northern side of Monte Argentaro, where is now a fortified harbor. But Rutilius alludes to no haven ; neither does he mention the tunny fisheries, though these were already famous in Strabo’s day. Doubtless this was one of the industries which had been ruined, for the time being, by the Gothic inroad, of which Rutilius had been forcibly reminded, as they passed the cape, by the sight of the wellwooded island of Igilium, where many fugitives from Rome had found shelter. “ Though it be near to Rome, yet is it far from the Goths,” he observes; whereby we judge that these voluntary exiles were still lingering in their green retreat. Did they delay their return, one wonders, month by month, and year by year, until they no longer cared to go; and are the fishermen and farmers who people the island of Giglio to-day the descendants of those lotus-eaters of old ? It is a fascinating possibility.
Rutilius has nothing more to tell us about the mainland until the mouth of the Umbro is reached, “ a not ignoble river; ” and we surmise that, the sea being quiet, the captain of the craft ventured to make a straight course to this place from the outlying point of Argentaro. There is no safe anchorage at the mouth of the Ombrone to-day, but Rutilius very much wished to put in there, and he exults not a little over the discomfiture of the sailors, who had insisted on pushing forward. No sooner had they advanced to where return was out of the question than the wind failed entirely, and they were fain to beach their boats and “ camp out ” over night. In the morning a dead calm still prevailed, and the reluctant mariners took to their oars, making, however, but little headway. The iron mines of Elba are noted by Rutilius as the only interesting feature of that island, and it was doubtless while their slow progress kept it in view that he found time to note down upon his tablets, and perhaps even to polish to its present perfection, the rather trite disquisition which he gives us in this place on the superiority of that useful metal to the more enticing gold.
While the sun was yet high, the weary crew struck work, and put into Faleria. There is no longer a vestige at this place, whether of harbor or town, and for at least one half of the year the region is completely deserted. Rutilius, however, beheld it on a gay and picturesque festa, of the kind which appealed most strongly to his pagan sympathies : —
Lighten with sober glee spirits a-weary with toil;
When celestial Osiris, the god of the later sowing,
Spurs the exultant seeds, bidding the crops reappear.”
Landing for a rural walk, the travelers contrived presently to stray into the grounds of a villa, which they found beautifully shaded, and furnished with sundry broad, shallow pools of sea-water, where all manner of fish were gayly disporting. They did not in the least realize that these were stock-ponds, maintained to furnish the Roman market with delicacies, but stood in innocent admiration, until up rushed the keeper in a fury, accusing them of trespass, taking them to task for every twig they had plucked, and claiming damages for their disturbance of his fish. The trespassers — for I think we must admit that they were such — retaliated by flinging at their enemy, in no very choice language, the charge that he was a Jew. Rutilius is always glad of the chance to vent, whether upon Jew or Christian, a little of his concentrated disdain, insomuch that even in recounting this affair he works himself into a rage, and concludes by wishing to the gods that Judæa had never been conquered by Pompey or Titus : —
Until the subjugate race holdeth its victors in thrall.”
Had Rutilius possibly been borrowing, at fifty per cent., of the Hebrews in Rome; or did the Jew keeper exact a heavy fine from him and his companions, or even, by chance, come off conqueror in their undignified battle of words ? We shall never know, and must hasten to reëmbark with the voyagers.
Another night has passed, and
“ Now, in the teeth of Boreas, pull we hard at the rowing,
While the stars once more fly to the cover of day;
Passing the safe retreat of the Populonian harbor,
Hollowed by Nature’s self, deep in the meadows withdrawn.
Never a mole is here, and never a far-gleaming Pharos
Holdeth its beacon aloft, pointing the mariner’s way;
Only the men of old, laying hold of the rocky foundation,
There where the summit ascends, clear of the violent waves,
Reared for a twofold use the walls of a menacing fortress, —
Guard of the landsman’s home, guide for the narrows below.
These, by the ravening tooth of time, the relentless destroyer,
Wasted away long syne, shorn of their pristine pride,
Lift but a broken crown to-day on the height of the headland, —
Lift but their towers unroofed, shapeless and mantled with weeds.
Mortal bodies are these of ours. Why mourn that they perish,
We who have seen with our eyes even great cities can die ? ”
Fourteen and a half centuries have elapsed since Rutilius mused over mouldering Populonia, and what would the poet say could he now revisit the spot ? Surely his first emotion would be one of speechless awe at the discovery that dissolution does not always follow death. For as the mortal frame of Santa Chiara sleeps peaceful and unaltered in the crypt at Assisi, so the decay of the dead city has been mysteriously arrested; the massive blocks of ancient masonry remain as in Rutilius’s day, and the jagged line of the wall is yet visible above the hilltop, which commands, both landward and seaward, a prospect of rare beauty even for this portion of the Mediterranean coast.
Here the news overtook Rutilius that his friend, Rufius, had been made prefect of Rome, and, much gratified by the intelligence, he proceeded gayly upon his way : —
While Eöus returns, riding his rosiest steed,
While the uncertain shapes of the cloudhung Corsican mountains
Pierce the erepusculent air, shadows that vie with the shades ;
Aye as the tenuous curve of Luna, new-horn in the ether,
Cheats the unsatisfied eye, vanishing e’en while it shines.
Here so narrow the strait that severs the isle from the mainland,
Fain are we to revive garrulous legends of yore,
How to the strand Cyrnæan once came the shepherdess Corsa,
Led by the loud-lowing herd, swimming the watery way.”
The vaguely seen outlines of Corsica served merely to remind the voyager of this childish fable, and to afford him a mild jestlietic gratification, untouched by any foreboding of the thunderbolt of war long afterwards to be forged in the soft heart of those misty mountains.
Very different, were the emotions with which he identified an insignificant island a little farther on. The thought of the Christian anchorites, who had taken refuge in that place, kindled into a blaze his religious animosities, and thus he delivers himself at their expense : —
Haunt of the squalid recluse, hiding from splendors of day.
Monks, the name they elect to bear, and the Greek appellation
Gives us the scheme of their life, — solitude, silence, and woe;
Trembling before the buffets of Fate, they shrink from her favors,
Hasten to suffer to-day, dreading the morrow’s pang.
Never before was man possessed by such idiot madness;
Blessing of life he will none, fearing its possible bane! ”
Rutilius turns impatiently away from this unwelcome topic, in order to describe the tortuous and difficult channel which had to be navigated before they could find anchorage for the night in a roadstead near Volterra, “ verily named of right the Volterranean shallows.” Rain overtook them here, and our traveler made for the villa of a friend, where he was warmly welcomed, and whence he was taken to inspect the salt-works for which the region was famous. We are told all about the shallow tanks where the sea-water was evaporated by the summer sun, until only a thin layer of pure, white salt remained, shining like hoarfrost. So interesting, indeed, did Rutilius find all this, and so well did he like his sojourn at Volterra, that he found it hard to tear himself away ; nor had he been long en route before something occurred which revived, in an aggravated form, his anti-Christian transports of the day before. They sighted the island of Gorgon, which the elder Pliny calls Urgo, and here the poet breaks forth with renewed bitterness : —
How in perpetual death lingers a, scion of Rome.
Lately one of ourselves was he, and of lineage noble,
Wed to a loving wife, greatly by Nature endowed ;
But of the Furies impelled, forsaking his gods and his country,
Lo where the credulous fool skulks in yon isle impure!
Dreaming, in his delusion, that filth is ambrosia celestial,
Smiting himself with a scourge crueler far than the gods!
Verily this belief is worse than the poison of Circe:
She did but change men’s frames; this can disfigure the soul ! ”
A striking spectacle this, of the perfectly natural and absolutely impotent anger of Rutilius !
The next halting-place of the travelers was at Pisa, where there was then a safe harbor, protected by a bank of seaweed, over which vessels could ride, but which effectually broke the force of the waves. On one side rose Triturrita, the House of the Three Towers, a magnificent villa, built out into the sea on artificial foundations, like those at Baiæ. The weather was now beautiful and the wind exactly in their favor, but Rutilius was fain to stop over long enough to visit the city of Pisæ, which then, as now, lay several miles inland ; and in describing its position he makes the following extraordinary statement: “ Arnus and Auser encircle the town with confluent waters.” To-day, of course, the Arno bisects the town, which is undoubtedly much larger than its classical namesake ; but the curious thing is that the Auser, or Serchio, so far from joining the Arno, runs fully five miles distant across the plain, and empties into the sea by a distinct mouth.
The father of Rutilius had been proconsul in this region, where his memory was revered as that of a just and equitable ruler; and the son had a most flattering reception for the sake of the sire. By way of returning the compliments of the Pisans, the poet pronounced the province charming and its customs highly civilized ; and he readily allowed himself to be persuaded that the bright day was a “ weather-breeder,” and that he would do well to protract his stay.
A storm did in fact overtake him here, but not before he had borne his part in an exciting and successful boarhunt. The tempest, when it broke, was furious ; the sea ran exceptionally high, and flecks of foam were carried a long way inland, spotting the fields with white. This circumstance leads Rutilius to reflect a little upon the origin and uses of the tides, concerning which he finally propounds the following sage theory, or rather choice of theories : —
Else do the waves feed the stars, making them sparkle and shine.”
It was, perhaps, a reminiscence of this pregnant suggestion which led Mrs. Browning, in the person of Aurora Leigh, to make the bewildering remark that, when they had parted from the Italian shore, they felt themselves thrown out “ as a pasture to the stars.”
The second book of the Itinerarium opens with the departure from Pisa : —
Clear we the Pisan port, shaping our course for the main;
Placidly smiles the level sea in the shimmering sunlight,
Softly the sibilant wave speaks to the furrowing prow.”
The moment has come for saying farewell in good earnest to Italy. The foreboding was evidently strong upon Rutilius that he was leaving that fair land forever, and he strove to embrace it all, in a single comprehensive backward look. He notes the eccentric shape of the peninsula, “like that of an over-long oak-leaf,” its dimensions and geographical features, passing on to its terrible recent misfortunes and the darkness of the political outlook. The Emperor Honorius he may not arraign ; it is Stilicho, the supposed betrayer of Italy to Alaric, — Stilicho, the disgraced and righteously murdered general, — whom he charges with all the present woes of his dear, adopted country. The crowning iniquity of Stilicho — the sin for which Rutilius can conceive neither excuse nor expiation in any possible world — was his contempt of the elder gods ; and we see plainly that the poet, in his withering diatribe, is attacking the whole series of Christian emperors under cover of their late agent: —
Quenched be the Stygian torch, lost in a gloomier shade :
One on the mortal fell, the other on the immortal ;
One his mother slew, one the mother of earth.”
It is a curious fact, nevertheless, that while the culminating charge which Rutilius brings against Stilicho — that of having himself given the order for the destruction of the sibylline books — is quite unsubstantiated, there is plenty of proof that he was guilty of two other very notorious and, in pagan eyes, atrocious acts of sacrilege, to which no allusion is here made. He did strip of their golden plating the doors of the temple of Capitoline Jove ; and he suffered his wife, Serena, to snatch from the neck of a statue of Cybele, mother of the gods, and appropriate to her own adornment, an ancient and very precious necklace, while a horrified Vestal stood by, protesting against the outrage. Perhaps these were among the other and quite unspeakable crimes of Stilicho which Rutilius had still in mind when he suddenly checked his anathemas to observe the beautiful effect produced by the white walls of the city of Luna, which were built of what we now call Carrara marble. He gives us but a few words, however, concerning the
“ town of the Sun’s fair sister,
Walls than lilies more white, peaks that out-glitter the snow ; ”
and then the curtain of oblivion falls without warning, and our pleasant journeyings with Rutilius are barred by that reliqua desiderantur which has baffled so much modern curiosity. Of his further progress along the riviera di ponente we know nothing, nor of the reception which awaited him in Gaul. We must picture to ourselves as best we can his dreary existence as an Arian and barbarian subject; how, and how long, de lived on, looking in vain for the day when the deities of Rome should reassert their supremacy, loyal to his latest breath, we feel very sure, to them and the city of his love. It was thus that the musings of Rutilius had run, during those October days when he was detained at Portus Trajani: —
Straining’ my eager gaze, follow the curve of its hills;
Reveling still in the prospect of earth’s most exquisite region,
While the desire of the eye fancy to vision restores.
Not by low-hanging smoke-wreaths know I where rises that city
Whose is the headship of earth, whose are the citadel-queens;
Rather a space of serener sky and a whiteness in heaven
Signal the summits clear, signal the seven of fame.
There is perpetual sunshine; there to my fond recollection
Rome to the fairest of days addeth a light of her own. ”
And here, where the voice of Rutilius may well have failed through emotion, let the wistful singer of yesterday take up the strain : —
Therefore farewell, ye walls, palaces, pillars, and domes!
Therefore farewell, far-seen, ye peaks of the mythic Albano,
Seen from Montorio’s height, Tibur and Æsula’s hills!
Ah, could we once, ere we go, could we stand while to ocean descending
Sinks o’er the yellow dark plain, slowly, the yellow broad sun ;
Stand, from the forest emerging at sunset at once in the champaign,
Open, but studded with trees, chestnuts umbrageous and old, —
Nemi imbedded in wood, Nemi inurned in the hill !
Therefore farewell, ye plains and ye hills and the city eternal!
Therefore farewell! We depart, but to behold you again. ”
There is reason to believe that the flattering dream of a return to Rome was equally delusive in the case of her Christian and her pagan adorer. The failing steps of Clough were stayed at Florence, as we know ; and never again after Rutilius sailed away in the dark autumnal morning was he to behold the tawny windings of the Tiber and the templed hill of Jove. The city which faded from the yearning gaze of Rutilius was the Rome of the emperors, only a little tarnished, as yet, in its external splendor. The Rome of the popes had risen and flourished and fallen into decrepitude before Clough said good-by ; and now the city of the seven hills and the city of the eighth are alike menaced by the piano regolatore of free and united Italy. Progress runs riot in the streets of gallant Umberto’s capital, but outside — only a very little way outside — are the avenues of nameless ruin and the sunlit reaches of the hushed Campagna still. This is the place for a revery on the sweet March mornings, when the young grass is golden-green, and the distant fruit-trees sprinkled among the olives are like puffs of pale rose-colored vapor rising out of a sea of silver-gray. No sound is in the still air save the note of a solitary lark high overhead, and a soft patter upon the grass-plain yonder, — the multitudinous footfall of a passing flock.
Here haply it may befall you, as you lounge in the shadow of some friendly tomb, suddenly to see gliding along the narcissus-beds the stately ghost of Rome, with an unwonted softness in the haughty eyes which have not lighted upon you. Rise, then, and make your reverence ; and bring to the bar of that old wisdom, if you will, whatever question may torment you ; as, why should a man like Rutilius be born out of due time, his best faith stultified beforehand, his valor vain, his hopes inevitably forlorn? Why, through some incomprehensible reversal of the moral action of the universe, do gifts which might have blessed mankind work only for its confusion ? So runs your impatient questioning; but the answer of the Genius is supremely calm. “ It is the secret of life itself, ever failing, ever regenerate. I may by no means reveal it, but I and this dreaming Campagna of mine, we know it well.”
H. W. P. & L. D.
- “ Prometios, Gastrumque Inui, Bolamqne Coramque.” (Æn., vi. 775.)↩