|The Story of the Romans|
|by Helene A. Guerber|
| Elementary history of Rome, presenting short stories of the great heroes, mythical and historical, from Aeneas and the founding of Rome to the fall of the western empire. Around the famous characters of Rome are graphically grouped the great events with which their names will forever stand connected. Vivid descriptions bring to life the events narrated, making history attractive to the young, and awakening their enthusiasm for further reading and study. Ages 10-14 |
THE TERRIBLE BANQUET
 TITUS was succeeded by his brother Domitian, who
began his reign in a most praiseworthy way.
Unfortunately, however, Domitian was a gambler and a
lover of pleasure. He was lazy, too, and soon banished
all the philosophers and mathematicians from Rome,
saying that he had no use for such tiresome people.
No other emperor ever gave the people so many public
shows. Domitian delighted in the circus, in races of
all kinds, and in all athletic games and tests of
skill. He was a good marksman and a clever archer.
Such was his pride in his skill that he often forced a
slave to stand up before him, at a certain distance,
and then shot arrows between the fingers of his
outspread hand. Of course this was very cruel, because
if the emperor missed his aim, or if the man winced, it
meant either maiming or death to the poor slave.
Domitian, however, was cruel in many things besides
sport, and delighted in killing everything he could lay
hands on. We are told that he never entered a room
without catching, torturing, and killing every fly.
One day a slave was asked whether the emperor were
alone, and he answered: "Yes; there is not even a fly
Domitian's cruelty and vices increased with every day
of his reign, and so did his vanity. As he wished to
enjoy the honors of a triumph, he made an excursion
into Germany, and came back to Rome, bringing his own
slaves dressed to represent captives.
Jealous of the fame of Agricola, the general who had
 subdued Britain, Domitian summoned him home, under the
pretext of rewarding him. While Agricola was in Rome,
the northern barbarians made several invasions, and the
King of the Dacians inflicted a severe defeat on the
So great, however, was the emperor's jealousy of his
best general, that he made Agricola stay at home rather
than let him win any more victories. Before many
years, too, this great general was found dead, and no
one knew the cause of his death; so the Romans all
believed that Domitian had hired some one to murder
As Domitian was not brave enough to fight the Dacians
himself, he bribed them to return home. Then, coming
back to Rome, he had a triumph awarded him just as if
he had won a great victory. Not content with these
honors, he soon ordered that the Romans should worship
him as a god, and had gold and silver statues of
himself set up in the temples.
Domitian was never so happy as when he could frighten
people, or cause them pain. You will therefore not be
surprised to hear about the strange banquet, or dinner
party, to which he once invited his friends.
When the guests arrived at the palace, they were led to
a room all hung in black. Here they were waited upon
by tiny servants with coal-black faces, hands, and
garments. The couches, too, were spread with black,
and before each guest was a small black column, looking
like a monument, and bearing his name. The guests were
waited upon in silence, and given nothing but "funeral
baked meats," while mournful music, which sounded like
a wail, constantly fell upon their ears.
 Knowing how cruel and capricious Domitian could be, the
guests fancied that their last hour had come, and that
they would leave the banquet hall only to be handed
over to the executioner's hands. Imagine their relief,
therefore, when they were allowed to depart unharmed!
On the next day, the children who had waited upon them
at table, and whose faces and hands had been blackened
only for that occasion, came to bring them the little
columns on which their names were inscribed. These,
too, had lost their funeral hue, and the guests could
now see that they were made of pure gold.
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