PETRONIUS AND THE TWO-FACED JANUS
THE ROMAN SOLDIER
 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
 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.
A ROMAN CHILD OF THE TIME OF AUGUSTUS
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
 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
 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
 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
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 ROMAN FORUM ABOUT THE TIME OF AUGUSTUS
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,
 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
 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.
THE EMPEROR AUGUSTUS
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
 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.
A FINE OLD ROMAN
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
 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
 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
 "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
Petronius was pitted against young Horatius, a fiery,
energetic boy with a resounding voice and bold manner.
 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
 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
"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
 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.
THE PERISTYLE, OR COURT, OF A HOUSE AT POMPEII
When all the guests were gone, he called his son to him
where he reclined on his couch. "My son," he
 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."
 "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
"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
 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.
CHARIOT AND HORSES
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
 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
 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
 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
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.