Last Days of Pompeii eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 565 pages of information about Last Days of Pompeii.
patricians, was subsequently the choice of the people.  The less national and less honored deities were usually served by plebeian ministers; and many embraced the profession, as now the Roman Catholic Christians enter the monastic fraternity, less from the impulse of devotion than the suggestions of a calculating poverty.  Thus Calenus, the priest of Isis, was of the lowest origin.  His relations, though not his parents, were freedmen.  He had received from them a liberal education, and from his father a small patrimony, which he had soon exhausted.  He embraced the priesthood as a last resource from distress.  Whatever the state emoluments of the sacred profession, which at that time were probably small, the officers of a popular temple could never complain of the profits of their calling.  There is no profession so lucrative as that which practises on the superstition of the multitude.

Calenus had but one surviving relative at Pompeii, and that was Burbo.  Various dark and disreputable ties, stronger than those of blood, united together their hearts and interests; and often the minister of Isis stole disguised and furtively from the supposed austerity of his devotions; and gliding through the back door of the retired gladiator, a man infamous alike by vices and by profession, rejoiced to throw off the last rag of an hypocrisy which, but for the dictates of avarice, his ruling passion, would at all time have sat clumsily upon a nature too brutal for even the mimicry of virtue.

Wrapped in one of those large mantles which came in use among the Romans in proportion as they dismissed the toga, whose ample folds well concealed the form, and in which a sort of hood (attached to it) afforded no less a security to the features, Calenus now sat in the small and private chamber of the wine-cellar, whence a small passage ran at once to that back entrance, with which nearly all the houses of Pompeii were furnished.

Opposite to him sat the sturdy Burbo, carefully counting on a table between them a little pile of coins which the priest had just poured from his purse—­for purses were as common then as now, with this difference—­they were usually better furnished!

‘You see,’ said Calenus, that we pay you handsomely, and you ought to thank me for recommending you to so advantageous a market.’

‘I do, my cousin, I do,’ replied Burbo, affectionately, as he swept the coins into a leathern receptacle, which he then deposited in his girdle, drawing the buckle round his capacious waist more closely than he was wont to do in the lax hours of his domestic avocations.  ’And by Isis, Pisis, and Nisis, or whatever other gods there may be in Egypt, my little Nydia is a very Hesperides—­a garden of gold to me.’

‘She sings well, and plays like a muse,’ returned Calenus; ’those are virtues that he who employs me always pays liberally.’

‘He is a god,’ cried Burbo, enthusiastically; ’every rich man who is generous deserves to be worshipped.  But come, a cup of wine, old friend:  tell me more about it.  What does she do? she is frightened, talks of her oath, and reveals nothing.’

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Last Days of Pompeii from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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