A fashionable party and A dinner A La mode in Pompeii.
Meanwhile Sallust and Glaucus were slowly strolling towards the house of Diomed. Despite the habits of his life, Sallust was not devoid of many estimable qualities. He would have been an active friend, a useful citizen—in short, an excellent man, if he had not taken it into his head to be a philosopher. Brought up in the schools in which Roman plagiarism worshipped the echo of Grecian wisdom, he had imbued himself with those doctrines by which the later Epicureans corrupted the simple maxims of their great master. He gave himself altogether up to pleasure, and imagined there was no sage like a boon companion. Still, however, he had a considerable degree of learning, wit, and good nature; and the hearty frankness of his very vices seemed like virtue itself beside the utter corruption of Clodius and the prostrate effeminacy of Lepidus; and therefore Glaucus liked him the best of his companions; and he, in turn, appreciating the nobler qualities of the Athenian, loved him almost as much as a cold muraena, or a bowl of the best Falernian.
‘This is a vulgar old fellow, this Diomed,’ said Sallust: ’but he has some good qualities—in his cellar!’
‘And some charming ones—in his daughter.’
’True, Glaucus: but you are not much moved by them, methinks. I fancy Clodius is desirous to be your successor.’
’He is welcome. At the banquet of Julia’s beauty, no guest, be sure, is considered a musca.’
’You are severe: but she has, indeed, something of the Corinthian about her—they will be well matched, after all! What good-natured fellows we are to associate with that gambling good-for-nought.’
‘Pleasure unites strange varieties,’ answered Glaucus. ’He amuses me...’
’And flatters—but then he pays himself well! He powders his praise with gold-dust.’
‘You often hint that he plays unfairly—think you so really?’
’My dear Glaucus, a Roman noble has his dignity to keep up—dignity is very expensive—Clodius must cheat like a scoundrel, in order to live like a gentleman.’
’Ha ha!—well, of late I have renounced the dice. Ah! Sallust, when I am wedded to Ione, I trust I may yet redeem a youth of follies. We are both born for better things than those in which we sympathize now—born to render our worship in nobler temples than the stye of Epicurus.’
‘Alas!’ returned Sallust, in rather a melancholy tone, ’what do we know more than this—life is short—beyond the grave all is dark? There is no wisdom like that which says “enjoy".’
’By Bacchus! I doubt sometimes if we do enjoy the utmost of which life is capable.’
‘I am a moderate man,’ returned Sallust, ’and do not ask “the utmost”. We are like malefactors, and intoxicate ourselves with wine and myrrh, as we stand on the brink of death; but, if we did not do so, the abyss would look very disagreeable. I own that I was inclined to be gloomy until I took so heartily to drinking—that is a new life, my Glaucus.’