Vergilius stood beside the emperor that day when, at the Ars Pacis Augustas, he addressed the people.
“I have been reading,” he said, “the words of a certain dreamer of Judea, who, in the olden time, wrote of a day when swords should be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks, and when peace should reign among the nations of the earth. Well, give me an army for a hundred years, good people, and then I may voice the will of the gods that iron be used no more to plough its way in living flesh, but only to turn the furrow and to prune the tree. Meanwhile, believe me, every man must learn to love honor and virtue, and to respect his neighbor, and the gods above all.”
A hundred years! The playful emperor knew not how quickly a man passes and how slowly, how exceeding slowly, moves the great procession of mankind. But so it befell; the very right hand of Jupiter had helped in the sowing of that seed which, as it grew, was to lift the foundations of his power.
Vergilius left the scene with Augustus. They rode away in the royal litter.
“In all the great cities men are speaking to-day of the value of peace and honor,” said the subtle emperor—a sceptic in religion, a cynic in philosophy, a rake in private life, and a conqueror who commanded “peace” with a trained army of four hundred and fifty thousand men.
“It is a great thing to do,” said the young knight.
“Give me men enough to say it, and if they grow not weary I will bring the world to believe that the sun is only the breast-plate of Jupiter,” said Augustus. “Honor and peace are good things—do not forget that, my young friend. Give the words to your tongue, not flippantly, but with a sober eye, and often, my brave knight—often. You leave to-morrow—have you made ready?”
“Ready but for the leave-taking;” this with a sigh.
“It ill becomes you to be cast down. Shake your heart with laughter—it will roll away the stone of regret. Buy a fool, my young friend. For five thousand denarii you may obtain a most excellent fool.”
He knew the price of all, from the hewer of wood to the crowned king, but only he could afford a slave like that.
“I should prefer a wise man,” said the young knight.
“Philosophers are more expensive,” the father continued, craftily—“twenty thousand denarii, and dear at that. They will teach you little but discontent. I recommend a grammarian.”
The old emperor turned his cunning eyes upon the face of Vergilius.
“Forty thousand, at least, for a good one,” he added; “but a youth of your talent should remember the value of immortal fame.” Word and look were a hint to the young man that he should prepare himself with all diligence for an active career in the senate. The youth understood their meaning and was a trifle comforted. There was no promise nor the least warrant for a claim—it was only the emperor’s way of guiding.