Antonina HTML version

under the influence of the worst calamities attending the blockade of Rome by the
Who, it may be asked, knowing the previous character of this man, his frivolity of
disposition, his voluptuous anxiety for unremitting enjoyment and ease, his horror
of the slightest approaches of affliction or pain, would have imagined him capable
of rejecting in disdain all the minor chances of present security and future
prosperity which his unbounded power and wealth might have procured for him,
even in a famine-stricken city, and rising suddenly to the sublime of criminal
desperation, in the resolution to abandon life as worthless the moment it had
ceased to run in the easy current of all former years? Yet to this determination had
he now arrived; and, still more extraordinary, in this determination had he found
others, of his own patrician order, to join him.
The reader will remember his wild announcement of his intended orgie to the
Prefect Pompeianus during the earlier periods of the siege; that announcement
was now to be fulfilled. Vetranio had bidden his guests to the Banquet of Famine.
A chosen number of the senators of the great city were to vindicate their daring by
dying the revellers that they had lived; by resigning in contempt all prospect of
starving, like the common herd, on a lessening daily pittance of loathsome food;
by making their triumphant exit from a fettered and ungrateful life, drowned in
floods of wine, and lighted by the fires of the wealthiest palace of Rome!
It had been intended to keep this frantic determination a profound secret, to let the
mighty catastrophe burst upon the remaining inhabitants of the city like a prodigy
from heaven; but the slaves intrusted with the organisation of the suicide banquet
had been bribed to their tasks with wine, and in the carelessness of intoxication
had revealed to others whatever they heard within the palace walls. The news
passed from mouth to mouth. There was enough in the prospect of beholding the
burning palace and the drunken suicide of its desperate guests to animate even the
stagnant curiosity of a famishing mob.
On the appointed evening the people dragged their weary limbs from all quarters
of the city towards the Pincian Hill. Many of them died on the way; many lost
their resolution to proceed to the end of their journey, and took shelter sullenly in
the empty houses on the road; many found opportunities for plunder and crime as
they proceeded, which tempted them from their destination; but many persevered
in their purpose--the living dragging the dying along with them, the desperate
driving the cowardly before them in malignant sport, until they gained the palace
gates. It was by their voices, as they reached her ear from the street, that the fast-
sinking faculties of Antonina had been startled, though not revived; and there, on
the broad pavement, lay these citizens of a fallen city--a congregation of
pestilence and crime--a starving and an awful band!
The moon, brightened by the increasing darkness, now clearly illuminated the
street, and revealed, in a narrow space, a various and impressive scene.
One side of the roadway in which stood Vetranio's palace was occupied, along
each extremity, as far as the eye could reach at night, by the groves and
outbuildings attached to the senator's mansion. The palace grounds, at the higher
and farther end of the street--looking from the Pincian Gate--crossed it by a wide
archway, and then stretched backward, until they joined the trees of the little