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Boys of the Ages by  Laura Woolsey Lord Scales





[42] The breeze blew fresh and sweet across the open stretches of the Campagna, the sky was blue, the sun was warm, and the whole earth seemed to dance with the joy of spring. It caught hold of little Petronius and sent him running as fast as his legs would carry him down the path from the villa to the little stream he loved, while after him went waddling his pet white goose. She was in great distress at having to hurry so, and her cackling complaints went traveling back on the breeze and warned the old nurse to come quickly after her baby. Petronius was scarcely six years old, but his delight when he was brought away from the city to the great, free places of his father's country place gave wings to his feet and filled his mind with a new idea for every minute. The slave women were kept busy.

Old Aspasia came stumbling after him, crying out frantically, for already she heard the sound of a little waterfall, and she knew that Petronius would not hesitate to plunge into the brook. Happily he waited a moment for his goose, and Aspasia caught him by the [43] hand. "Naughty, what dost thou think to do?" He pointed to a little island in the stream, his favorite playground since he had discovered the slippery stepping-stones that led to it. So the old woman had to guide him across while the goose swam.



Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The stream was the boundary on one side of his father's country place, and beyond was rough, unoccupied country. Until today the little island had always been a dull place to Aspasia and the goose, but today there was something new on the stones. Petronius made a dash toward it. It seemed like a bundle of clothes but as he pulled at it, suddenly a wee baby lay there before his eyes. Aspasia jumped and caught up the child in her arms.

"Alas, alas!" she cried, "poor baby, what is this? Thy father would not lift thee in his arms? Thou art cast out?" For Aspasia knew well what it meant when [44] a baby was abandoned in such a place. Some cruel father had not wanted the little child, and so had not taken him in his arms when he was born, as Marcus Petronius had joyfully taken his little son; and according to the Roman law, if a father did not want his child, he might have him cast away in some lonely place to live or die as chance might be.

"A little boy, too," Aspasia was murmuring, "and nicely wrapped about with fine wool. Ah, Petronius, rejoice, rejoice indeed, that thou hast that about thy neck." She pointed to the gold bulla  shining in the sun, the little charm to guard him from all evil that his father had hung about his neck on the day when he was given his name.

Petronius was tremendously excited and began tugging at the slave's tunic to draw her to the house. But Aspasia shook her head. "I dare not,—who knows? Thy mother will not want to trouble with him, even to gain thereby another slave. No, we must leave the baby." Petronius did not care what she said; off he flew, up the path to the garden where his mother was reclining, fanned by two slaves while a third read to her from the poets. He clutched at his mother's stola, crying wildly, "Veni, veni"  (come, come), and his excitement was so great that she went with him. She had a tender heart and when she saw the tiny baby, sweet and clean and crying piteously, and heard her own little son's pleading for his new plaything, she could not resist them. She bade one of the slaves take the child [45] and care for him. So he was kept and brought up in the slaves' quarters, and he was called Perditus, the lost one. From the beginning he belonged to Petronius, and Petronius was given the only thing found with the baby, a curious little bronze lamp of fine workmanship which had on it a picture of a two-faced god, Janus, the god of beginnings.

"But why two faces?" demanded Petronius.

"He sees both ways, does Janus, the beginning and the end, good and bad things, and mostly bad," Aspasia answered; and added, "Always war, war. Rome making war upon us all." For the old slave woman was a Greek made captive in one of the wars in the East. "And does Janus make the wars begin?" Petronius asked. "No," old Aspasia shook her head, "it is the wicked men who are always fighting, fighting, stealing and killing; they are the ones who make the wars and keep the gates of Janus open."

"What gates?" asked Petronius.

"In Rome," she answered, "and some day thou wilt see them. They say they never will be closed while men make war. Cruel, cruel race," she muttered, "I would I could see those gates shut and no more slaves brought to Rome."

Not understanding, but wondering what it all meant, little Petronius put these things away in his mind.

It was not long afterwards, when the family went back to Rome, that he had a chance to see what the old nurse meant. For his father took him to the [46] Forum, once the market place and now the center of all that happened in Rome. There were the temples of the gods and the open meeting place of the people and the hall in which the senate sat. His father was in great good humor and pointed out men and buildings to his son, as if he were really old enough to care about them and remember. "There is the House of the Vestals," he said, "the Vestals who keep always burning the sacred fire of the state, and so they keep Rome safe. And there is the fountain where the Heavenly Twins, Castor and Pollux,—thou knowest them,—watered their horses after the battle. And yonder there is the temple of Janus, whose faces are on thy lamp."

At that Petronius remembered Aspasia's talk of the gates. "Janus? with the two faces? where?" he asked, and his father showed him a building like a big gateway with bronze doors wide open, and he told his little son again what the nurse had told him, that those doors were open and would stay open as long as wars went on. "I want to see them shut," the little fellow said. "Let's tell them to shut them so we can see." His father laughed and shook his head. "Octavius, who is our only hope, Octavius, whom thou art going to see, he alone can do that. And who knows?" he added. "Perhaps he may accomplish even that. We must wait. But come now, and thou shalt see."



The Sacred Way passed the little circular temple of Vesta (A)  and reached the Forum at the Arch of Augustus (B), and the Temple of the Deified Julius Cæsar (C). Beyond this, across the old Forum Market Place (F), was the new Senate House (G)  planned by Julius Cæsar. The Temple of Janus was to the left nearer the river. (From Breasted, "Ancient Times")

They went to the curia, or senate house, and while Marcus Petronius, who was a senator, went inside, [48] he left his son on the porch of the curia  with a slave, telling him to watch. No one but the senators might go inside, but through the open door Petronius saw many men dressed in pure white togas and seated on benches, and gathered together at one end trophies taken in the wars from conquered peoples. It seemed very solemn to the boy. Then there was a noise as all the senators rose in their places. He looked to see what it meant, and there, nearing the steps of the curia, was a young man with twelve men ahead of him, each carrying a bundle of rods with an ax head in the middle. "The new consul, Octavius, and the twelve lictors," the slave whispered to him. The young man was rather small and a little lame, and he seemed timid, yet he came on resolutely. Something about him pleased the little Petronius, and he called out, "Salve!"  (hail), but the slave bade him hush. Before the young man went inside he stopped to ask the augurs if all was well, for no public meeting was held in Rome without finding out whether the gods approved, and the augurs alone could tell this. They watched a piece of the sky, and when a bird flew across to the right, they assured him that it was a good sign and that the senate had the good will of the gods that day. Then the young man went in, and Petronius saw no more of him. But when his father came home that night he said eagerly, "Thou didst see him, carissime?  And didst mark him well? That was Octavius, the hope of Rome. Forget him not." Impressed by his father's [50] excitement and his own memory of the young man's face, Petronius did not forget, though no one could have told him then that he had looked on the man who was to be Imperator Augustus, the greatest emperor of Rome.



Augustus is shown in his war dress,—the short tunic, the metal breastplate and the cloak thrown over his arm. Cupid is at his feet

That was a memorable day for a little boy, but after it he went back to Perditus and old Aspasia and to the learning of lessons with his mother, for it was from her that he learned to read and to speak his Latin carefully; and from her he came to know the stories of the gods and Rome, of Romulus and Remus, Vesta, Janus and the great Jove. But when he was seven, his mother gave him into his father's keeping, for now she had his baby sister to care for, and it was time that Petronius should learn a boy's lessons from his father. His father was a great man and had once been a friend of Cæsar's. He knew many people and was busy with many affairs; yet he liked to take his son with him of a morning when he walked to the Forum or to have him at his side in the atrium  of his house when clients came to do business or friends came to talk with him, and he taught Petronius to know them all by name.

But as he himself was so busy, he hired a learned Greek called Hieron to teach Petronius; and other boys, sons of his friends, took lessons with him. Hieron taught them to write on a wax tablet with a sharp-pointed stylus such letters as some day one of them might need to write if he became governor of a province; and he taught them to do sums by pushing beads on the abacus and to figure with the difficult Roman [51] numerals. Also they learned by heart the Twelve Tables of the Law. Petronius was fond of school, and he was always ready when very early in the morning Perditus came to fetch his books and to go with him to the schoolroom.



Who this Roman is no one knows, but it is a true portrait of a man who lived about the time of Julius Cæsar or of Augustus. (Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

But when summer came he was even more ready to leave school and home to go to his father's villa. There the days were full of happy sights and sounds: the bees swarming in and out of their hives, the slaves cutting the yellow grain or gathering apricots, pears or figs, the doves strutting about or cooing softly to each other, the peacocks proud of their beauty. And when the hot rays of the sun beat [52] fiercely upon their hilltop, he and Perditus would slip away while the rest of the household was taking its noontime siesta, and would go to the little brook where Perditus had been found. There they would dip and swim and play in and out of the water for hours together.

So the years went on until he was old enough to be sent to the school of the grammaticus, the school where he learned grammar, rhetoric and oratory, and to read Greek and the writings of his own countrymen, so that he might be fitted to become a great man like his father. Always, too, there was enough of gymnastics and exercise to make him strong against the time when he should become a soldier. For though his father had not yet decided on his career, Marcus Petronius expected that like most young Romans his son would join the army for a time. Great was his surprise to find that Petronius himself had definite ideas to the contrary.

It was on the day when all the family were gathered near the Palatine Hill for the ceremony of the casting of the lots to choose a Vestal Virgin. With his father and mother Petronius was there because his sister Julia was one of the little girls of noble family from whom the priest was to choose the new Vestal. It was a sad and solemn moment: a great crowd was there, filling the open spaces and crowding up the steps of the temple. All were looking toward the twenty little girls standing on one side, very young and very beautiful. Petronius, like his parents, felt proud that Julia was thought worthy to be one of them, but at the [53] same time he was distressed and afraid that they were going to lose her. So he watched anxiously, when the Pontifex Maximus, the Chief Priest, with veiled head went to an urn in which were twenty slips of paper, each with the name of a girl upon it. He saw him put in his hand, take one out and when he had read the name walk straight toward Julia. "Amata," he said, "I take thee for a priestess for Vesta to fulfill the sacred rites." Then he put his hand on her head and drew her apart. Julia was chosen. She must go to the House of the Vestals, and there her hair would be cut and a white dress put on her in sign that she had been given to the service of the state to guard the sacred fire which made sure the safety of Rome. It was a great honor and she would have many privileges, but it meant that, little girl though she was, she must leave home. A sob caught in her mother's throat and little Julia gave a piteous glance at her family, but, even with the child, Roman pride came to her help, and she went quietly off. As Petronius, on his way home, passed through the Forum he paid little attention to the temples, for somehow he felt angry with the gods and with Rome itself. What right had they to steal his little sister? But his father was speaking to him. "Here is thy god Janus, son. Still another beginning he sees today." He sighed heavily. "And next time it will be thou. Aye, his doors as ever are wide open, and so soon thy mother and I must bid thee too, vale  [farewell], and send thee off to fight for Rome."

[54] "No," said Petronius, quickly, "I do not wish to go and fight. Let them close the gates of Janus. In other ways will I serve the state." His mother, amazed, turned and looked at him, and she spoke with both relief and scorn, "What! A Roman! And he does not wish to fight!"



This fine statue shows Mars, the war god, at his best. His thoughts are not now on war, for Cupid is playing at his feet

But his father smiled wisely. "It is Hieron and old Aspasia,—they put notions in his head. These Greeks, quite naturally, love not war. But now from the grammaticus  he will learn better things; all the more surely since his new master is a freedman of Octavius and a former teacher of our great triumvir. He will guide our son more wisely and teach him many things."

Petronius did learn many things in the school and gained many honors, and at the end of his schooldays when a debate was set by the master with a prize for the winner, he was chosen to be one of the debaters. It happened that the subject which the master gave was "War and Peace," but no one was willing to speak for Peace. At last Petronius said he would take the unpopular side, since how else could there be a debate! And the prize anyway was for the better argument, not for the better cause. His father felt sorry, but like the other parents he and Petronius' mother went to the school to hear the boys, and a big audience was gathered together.

Petronius was pitted against young Horatius, a fiery, energetic boy with a resounding voice and bold manner. [56] Petronius himself, now nearly seventeen, was tall and slender, full of grace and vigor too, strong in voice and look and will. They argued back and forth, and both boys spoke well. It went better than the usual school debate, and parents and boys became eager and excited. Petronius had the closing speech. Horatius had ended by picturing the glory of Rome when war should have made her "mistress of the world, queen from sea to sea, the guardian of all lands beneath the sun and the darling of the gods." Then Petronius, with white face, rose and spoke, and when he came to his closing sentences his voice was low and earnest.

"Great Janus looks two ways," he said. "With one face he looks towards Mars, the war god, and with the other toward Pax, the goddess of peace. Many worship Mars, for he brings riches and fame; few follow Pax, and those who do are too often those who love idleness, ease, and are cowards at heart. These make peace hateful. And because of them as well as because of those who love to fight, the doors of Janus are kept open. And they will stay open until there comes a man strong and brave enough,"—he paused, and into his memory there flashed the face of the young Octavius. Then, as he went on, his voice was hushed, as if in prophecy. "Perhaps even now he is at hand, rising over the horizon of the state to light the world, a man brave and wise enough to love the state better than fame or plunder. He will know well the arts of war and how to wage it, but he will love better the arts of [57] peace, sculpture, poetry and justice. He will seek not only to conquer lands but the minds of men. Then Rome will be not only mistress of the earth, but mistress of herself, secure in her people's hearts. Then at last two-faced Janus can shut his gates. Would that we might see it!"

Petronius sat down. The audience rustled and whispered; a few were pleased; the boys were openly disgusted. But the master whose business it was to give the prize sat still, thinking. At last he rose and, holding in his hand the roll or book which was the prize, said, "We are not here today to vote for war or peace, nor even to determine which we wish for. But we are here to decide who by the careful use of language, of rhetoric and eloquence has best put forth his case. Therefore to thee, Petronius, I award this book. Go forth from here and prove thyself worthy to follow, when that great sun of whom thou speakest shall indeed rise over our horizon."

"That was it; that was why he won, it was Octavius," the boys said to one another as they went out. "Peace! Great Jove, who wants peace? But Octavius!—say a good word for Octavius and you've fetched the master. Old toady! But what's Petronius thinking of to talk peace like that!"

The boys' feeling against him was plain, and Petronius was miserable. He could not know that the master was so pleased that he had at once sent a copy of his speech to Octavius, his old master; but even [58] that would hardly have made up to him for losing the boys' good opinion. The hurt of it overshadowed everything; even the thought of the coming Liberalia  did not cheer him, though it was a most important festival for him, for then he was going to put on the toga virilis  and become a citizen. His father noticed his sadness and thought he understood it, and he was ready with his remedy when the great day came.

Early in the morning he and Petronius went to the altar of the Lares and Penates of the family. There Petronius took off his bulla, or charm against evil, that he had worn all these years and dedicated it to the household gods; then he exchanged the boy's toga with the purple stripe for the pure white toga such as men wore. That done, his father took him to the Forum, followed by a great crowd of friends and dependents, and there his name was written on the official list of the city. So he became a citizen of Rome. They went to the Capitoline Hill and offered a sacrifice before the temple of great Jove, and they made offerings of little honey-covered cakes to Bacchus, for in the streets old women crowned with ivy were selling them and calling to everybody to buy and honor the jolly Bacchus. The Liberalia  was his festival, and all the city made merry. At his father's house Petronius feasted with many friends. He tried to be gay, but his father saw his trouble.



When all the guests were gone, he called his son to him where he reclined on his couch. "My son," he [59] said, "thou art sad, and why it is I understand. Thou dost not wish to go to join the army, and perhaps it is well. Thou art young yet, and thou art a good scholar. So for another year or two I have decided that thou shalt go to Athens to the University. Marcus Junius sends his son too. Thou shalt go with him." But Petronius shook his head. "I cannot go there," he said, "I wish to go to the wars."

His father sat up in amazement. "But I thought—Never—Always hast thou spoken against arms and fighting."

[60] "It is for that reason that I must go to war. Would you have me marked for a coward? It is so men think of me now."

"Coward!" roared Marcus Petronius. "Who, thinkest thou, would dare call thee a coward? Art thou not my son? And in the games hast thou not over and over again shown thy strength and skill above others? Coward! Pfui!"

But as much as Petronius wanted to go to University, he would not be persuaded, though his father kept urging him to it. At last they agreed to drop the question for a time, hoping for something to settle it. Petronius was free to go about the city, to see and enjoy everything as all the young men did. He went to the Baths, but after his cold plunge and rubdown, when he walked about in the big hall, he felt the cold shoulder turned to him by the other boys. He went to the circus and saw the chariot races, and to the amphitheater, where like all Romans he became wild with excitement over the fights of the gladiators. Sometimes the gladiators fought each other in pairs, sometimes in groups as if it were a mimic battle, and Petronius loved the excitement of it. And yet he was often ashamed, fearing he was too soft-hearted. For when the moment came at the end of the fight when the people were asked to give the sign and turn down their thumbs if they wanted the defeated gladiator killed, he never could bring himself to turn down his thumb with the others. Was he a coward then? Was there no [61] stern fighting stuff in him, no stuff to make a soldier of? The question went round and round in his head, until he felt that he could not stand it much longer.



One day he went to the amphitheater and saw a gladiator die bravely without a quiver, and he found himself envying the man because at least in dying he had made good, and no man could call him a coward. He went out to the city gate and called to Perditus who was waiting with his chariot, and together they drove out upon the broad road leading to the Campagna. He drove so furiously that Perditus swayed on [62] his feet, but Petronius was trying to beat the thoughts that were driving him still faster. What was he going to do? What was he going to do?

Suddenly ahead of him there was a great noise. A band of gladiators, broken loose from their training camp, were rushing riotously up the road. Nothing in their path was safe, and Petronius was just going to face about and make for the city gate and safety, when he saw coming toward him, between him and the rushing gladiators, a heavy carriage, hurrying as fast as the horses could go. It must be a woman in the carriage, and as Petronius looked again he saw a lictor ahead, and so knew it was a Vestal Virgin. At that he lashed his horses ahead and drove full speed. Passing the carriage he saw peering out the white face of the Vestal: it was not his sister, but he hurried on. It might be that by charging furiously into the band he could delay then and give her time to reach the gate. He pulled his dagger from his tunic, passed the whip to Perditus and shouted to him to lash the horses harder. So they charged the gladiators. The frenzied horses trampled or scattered some. Perditus answered for others with his whip, and Petronius, with one hand urging on the horses, with the other thrust before and behind with his dagger. The gladiators struck back with stones or bludgeons. But their ranks were broken up, some lay stunned, some dead, all were delayed, and as the chariot hewed its way through the last of them Petronius looked back and saw the carriage of the Vestal [63] at the gate. She was safe. Petronius, however, was put to it to make his own escape, for the gladiators came after him, and one almost succeeded in jumping into the chariot, while the others dragged at the horses' heads or at him and Perditus. But the good beasts were savage now and, dashing off the gladiators, raced beyond them, and at last the chariot was clear of them all, safe and out of reach. It had been the work of a moment only, but both Petronius and Perditus were bruised, beaten, cut and almost lifeless. It was past nightfall when men and horses at last crawled back into the city.

The next day Rome was ringing with his praises, for the Vestal and lictor had recognized him and spread the story everywhere. Friends once cold came thronging to his house, magistrates and senators came to honor him, but Petronius was not there to see them. He had gone away at dawn. For that very night a summons had come from Octavius through his old teacher telling him to go and join the staff of one of the generals in the East. Petronius needed only to hear the message and he was off, for this was his chance. And he was no longer afraid of himself or of his courage. He knew at last that he could learn to become a good soldier, and that that for him now was the only way to earn peace for himself or for the state.

With his father's blessing he hurried away, but one last thing he did before he started. In the presence of his father and four of the household he declared [64] Perditus a free man and in token of his freedom gave Perditus the only thing which could be said to belong to him,—the little bronze lamp with the two-faced Janus on it which had been wrapped up in his baby clothes. "For Perditus," he said, "thou makest now a new and better beginning." Perditus gladly put on his head the cap which was the sign of liberty, but he refused to part from Petronius and of his own accord went with him to the wars.

So, while the city hummed with their exploits Petronius and Perditus went on their way toward a life of danger and hardship, but both were happier than they had been since they played in the stream as children. Perditus was free in his body, and Petronius was free in his mind from all thoughts of fear and shame. For nearly three years he fought in the East, until Octavius won his great victory at Actium and went back to Rome to be made Imperator. Petronius rode behind him in his triumph, but for two years more he had to be away from Rome and still fight her battles.

But there came a day when everywhere throughout the Empire there was peace. With others of the generals, Petronius came home at the head of his legion. And then, because Rome was at last at peace and could turn to better and more useful things than war, Octavius ordered the gates of Janus to be closed. Petronius went to the Forum, and as with his own eyes he saw the great bronze doors shut he was happy. He was seeing the hope of his boyhood come true.

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