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Quo Vadis, A Narrative of the Time of Nero
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PETRONIUS woke only about midday, and as usual greatly wearied. The
evening before he had been at one of Nero's feasts, which was prolonged till late
at night. For some time his health had been failing. He said himself that he woke
up benumbed, as it were, and without power of collecting his thoughts. But the
morning bath and careful kneading of the body by trained slaves hastened
gradually the course of his slothful blood, roused him, quickened him, restored
his strength, so that he issued from the elaeothesium, that is, the last division of
the bath, as if he had risen from the dead, with eyes gleaming from wit and
gladness, rejuvenated, filled with life, exquisite, so unapproachable that Otho
himself could not compare with him, and was really that which he had been
called, -- arbiter elegantiarum.
He visited the public baths rarely, only when some rhetor happened there who
roused admiration and who was spoken of in the city, or when in the ephebias
there were combats of exceptional interest. Moreover, he had in his own "insula"
private baths which Celer, the famous contemporary of Severus, had extended
for him, reconstructed and arranged with such uncommon taste that Nero himself
acknowledged their excellence over those of the Emperor, though the imperial
baths were more extensive and finished with incomparably greater luxury.
After that feast, at which he was bored by the jesting of Vatinius with Nero,
Lucan, and Seneca, he took part in a diatribe as to whether woman has a soul.
Rising late, he used, as was his custom, the baths. Two enormous balneatores
laid him on a cypress table covered with snow-white Egyptian byssus, and with
hands dipped in perfumed olive oil began to rub his shapely body; and he waited
with closed eyes till the heat of the laconicum and the heat of their hands passed
through him and expelled weariness.
But after a certain time he spoke, and opened his eyes; he inquired about the
weather, and then about gems which the jeweller Idomeneus had promised to
send him for examination that day. It appeared that the weather was beautiful,
with a light breeze from the Alban hills, and that the gems had not been brought.
Petronius closed his eyes again, and had given command to bear him to the
tepidarium, when from behind the curtain the nomenclator looked in, announcing
that young Marcus Vinicius, recently returned from Asia Minor, had come to visit
Petronius ordered to admit the guest to the tepidarium, to which he was borne
himself. Vinicius was the son of his oldest sister, who years before had married
Marcus Vinicius, a man of consular dignity from the time of Tiberius. The young
man was serving then under Corbulo against the Parthians, and at the close of
the war had returned to the city. Petronius had for him a certain weakness
bordering on attachment, for Marcus was beautiful and athletic, a young man
who knew how to preserve a certain aesthetic measure in his profligacy; this,
Petronius prized above everything.