To ensure that permanence each citizen labored. As for the citizen, death was near, and he hastened to live; before the roses could fade he wreathed himself with them. Immortality to him was in his descendants, the continuation of his name, respect to his ashes. Any other form of future life was a speculation, infrequent at that. In anterior epochs Fright had peopled Tartarus, but Fright had gone. The Elysian Fields were vague, wearisome to contemplate; even metempsychosis had no adherents. “After death,” said Caesar, “there is nothing,” and all the world agreed with him. The hour, too, in which three thousand gods had not a single atheist, had gone, never to return. Old faiths had crumbled. None the less was Rome the abridgment of every superstition. The gods of the conquered had always been part of her spoils. The Pantheon had become a lupanar of divinities that presided over birth, and whose rites were obscene; an abattoir of gods that presided over death, and whose worship was gore. To please them was easy. Blood and debauchery was all that was required. That the upper classes had no faith in them at all goes without the need of telling; the atmosphere of their atriums dripped with metaphysics. But of the atheism of the upper classes the people knew nothing; they clung piously to a faith which held a theological justification of every sin, and in the temples fervent prayers were murmured, not for future happiness, for that was unobtainable, nor yet for wisdom or virtue, for those things the gods neither granted nor possessed; the prayers were that the gods would favor the suppliant in his hatreds and in his lusts.
Such was Rome when Verus returned to wed Lucille. Before his car the phallus swung; behind it was the pest. A little before, the Tiber overflowed. Presently, in addition to the pest, famine came. It was patent to everyone that the gods were vexed. There was blasphemy somewhere, and the Christians were tossed to the beasts. Faustine watched them die. At first they were to her as other criminals, but immediately a difference was discerned. They met death, not with grace, perhaps, but with exaltation. They entered the arena as though it were an enchanted garden, the color of the emerald, where dreams came true. Faustine questioned. They were enemies of state, she was told. The reply left her perplexed, and she questioned again. It was then her eyes became inhabited by regret. The past she tried to put from her, but remorse is physical; it declines to be dismissed. She would have killed herself, but she no longer dared. Besides, in the future there was light. In some ray of it she must have walked, for when at the foot of Mount Taurus, in a little Cappadocian village, years later, she died, it was at the sign of the cross.