There were even birds, to fill the air with music. All the known world, and the far-away mysterious lands of which Alexander’s followers had started legends multiplying centuries ago, had contributed to Rome’s adornment; plunder and trade goods drifted through in spite of distances. The city had become the vortex of the energy, virility and vice of east and west—a glory of marble and gilded cornices, of domes and spires, of costumes, habits, faces, languages—of gorgeousness and squalor—license, privilege and rigid formalism—extravagance—and of innumerable gods.
There was nobility and love of virtue, cheek by jowl with beastliness, nor was it always easy to discover which was which; but the birds sang blithely in the cages in the portico, where the long seat was on which philosophers discoursed to any one who cared to listen. The baths that the Emperor Titus built were the supreme, last touch of all. From furnaces below-ground, where the whipped slaves sweated in the dark, to domed roof where the doves changed hue amid the gleam of gold and colored glass, they typified Rome, as the city herself was of the essence of the world.
The approach to the Thermae of Titus was blocked by litters, some heavy enough to be borne by eight matched slaves and large enough for company. Women oftener than men shared litters with friends; then the troupe of attendants was doubled; slaves were in droves, flocks, hordes around the building, making a motley sight of it in their liveries, which were adaptations of the every-day costumes of almost all the countries of the known world.
Under the entrance portico, between the double row of marble columns, sat a throng of fortune-tellers of both sexes, privileged because the aedile of that year had superstitious leanings, but as likely as not to be driven away, and even whipped, when the next man should succeed to office. In and out among the crowd ran tipsters, touts for gambling dens and sellers of charms; most of them found ready customers among the slaves, who had nothing to do but wait, and stare, and yawn until their masters came out from the baths. They were raw, inexperienced slaves who had not a coin or two to spend.
Within the entrance of the Thermae was a marble court, where better known philosophers discoursed on topics of the day, each to his own group of admirers. A Christian, dressed like any other Roman, held one corner with a crowd around him. There was a tremendous undercurrent of reaction against the prevalent cynical materialism and the vortex of fashion was also the cauldron of new aspirations and the battle-ground of wits.
Beyond the inner entrance were the two disrobing rooms—women to the left, men to the right where slaves, whose insolence had grown into a cultivated art, exchanged the folded garments for a bracelet with a number. Thence, stark-naked, through the bronze doors set in green-veined marble, bathers passed into the vast frigidarium, whose marble plunge was surrounded by a mosaic promenade beneath a bronze and marble balcony.