|« Prev||The Consulship of Eutropius||Next »|
THE CONSULSHIP OF EUTROPIUS
This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope, to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost.
Henry VIII., iii. 2.
’I have a piece of news for you,’ said Eutyches to his two young friends; ‘quite a first-rate piece of news. And I crow over Philip, who always fancies that he has the monopoly of news.’
‘Out with it,’ said Philip, ‘before you burst!’
‘Who do you think is to be the Consul for next year?’
‘Who? I don’t believe you know; it is mere gossip.’
‘But I do; and the news is certain.’
‘Well, who?’ said Philip.
‘No, no!’ said Eutyches, ‘I am not going to gratify your burning curiosity so cheaply.’
‘I’ll guess it in three guesses.’
‘No you won’t. I’ll give you fellows ten guesses between you. If Philip guesses right I’ll give him a picture of the Archbishop in gold on a blue ground, to stick up on his bedroom-wall; if David guesses right I’ll give him an earthenware vase full of roses from the flower-market; and if neither of you guess in ten guesses, what will you give me?’
‘Sly fellow!’ said Philip. ‘It’s a sort of bet. But if we don’t guess, I’ll go to the brass-market and get you a little bronze——’
‘Who’s the sly fellow now?’ said Eutyches. ’One word for me, and ever so many for yourself. We all know why Philip buys all his presents at the brass-market. We all know why the Archbishop’s bills at a certain shop are so extravagant——’
‘You young scoundrel!’ said Philip. ‘Whoever heard such impudence?’ Eutyches dodged the box on the ear, and Philip chased him round the room. Finally, when the boy was driven into a corner, he snatched up a chair and held it out with its legs towards Philip by way of fortification.
Chrysostom was wondering what made his young friends so lively in the next room, but he was always pleased to think that they were merry and happy in the dull Patriarcheion.
‘What mischief are you boys about?’ he called out from his study.
‘It’s only that noisy Eutyches, sir,’ said Philip. ‘That young person is always up to his pranks.’
‘We all know how staid and quiet you are, Philip,’ said Chrysostom.
‘There now!’ said Eutyches. ‘You’ve disturbed him and maligned me. Now begin your guessing. You first, David.’
‘That’s to give him the best chance,’ said Philip, ‘because the roses will cost less than the picture I mean to win. But I see through you.’
‘As the washerwoman remarked when the bottom of her tub fell out,’ said Eutyches, keeping on the alert for another assault from Philip.
‘Well, if I don’t guess right,’ said David, ‘I’ll give you a little alabaster pen-tray. I guess Aurelian, the new Prætorian Præfect.’
‘He would be a first-rate Consul,’ said Eutyches; ‘but you’re wrong. Now Philip.’
‘Asterius, Count of the East.’
‘Wrong,’ said Eutyches.
‘Cæsarius, Master of the Offices,’ guessed David.
‘Wrong. Philip thinks he’s got it now.’
‘Yes,’ said Philip, ‘the excellent Anthemius. He’s young, and that is the reason why you are surprised.’
‘Ever so wrong!’ said Eutyches.
‘Hellebichus,’ guessed David.
‘Wrong again, David.’
‘I’ve got it!’ said Philip. ’Gaïnas the Goth. It’s no use guessing respectable people, as David does.’
‘Wrong, O master of wisdom! I shall get my bronze—whatever it is to be. There are five wrong guesses. Now try again.’
‘Arcadius himself,’ said David. ‘It will be his fifth Consulship.’
‘Wrong. Now, Philip, try number seven.’
‘Leo the Paunch,’ said Philip. ‘That would account for your excitement.’
‘What! Ajax?’ laughed Eutyches. ‘Ajax the ex-weaver, whose huge body holds such a little mind? No.’
‘I’ll try no respectability this time,’ said David; ’Osius.’
‘Osius the ex-cook! No, David, you’re quite out of it.’
‘I have it,’ said Philip. ‘It’s Count John.’
‘What! the Empress’s handsome favourite? Wronger and wronger. Oh, you imbecilities! You’ve exhausted all your guesses. Philip, go straight to the Chalk——’
‘Take care,’ said Philip.
‘And buy me my bronze, whatever it is,’ said Eutyches. ’I believe you guessed wrong on purpose to get an excuse for going.’
‘Give me one guess more, to soothe my wounded vanity,’ said Philip.
‘It can’t be Eutr—— No, that would be altogether too absurd. Yet it must be somebody odd, or you wouldn’t make such a fuss about it. Let me see…. I have it! It must be that old Pagan, Fravitta the Goth.’
‘Hurrah!’ said Eutyches, clapping his hands. ‘Eleven guesses, and every one of them wrong. Never make the smallest pretence to political sagacity again, Philip.’
‘Do give me only one guess more, to make the round dozen.’
‘Oh you cheat!’ said Eutyches; ‘and then, perhaps, if you guess, you won’t be able to go and see Mir——.’
‘Look out!’ said Philip, seizing him by the collar.
‘I mean you won’t be able to go to the Chalkoprateia after all. Well, one guess more.’
‘Typhos, the demon brother of Aurelian.’
‘Wrong again; and you will be wrong ad infinitum,’ said Eutyches, ‘so I shall get my bronze what’s-his-name after all.’
‘Do tell us,’ said David; ‘we are wild with curiosity.’
‘What do you say to Eutropius himself?’
‘Eutropius!’ they both exclaimed, while
Up went the hushed amaze of hand and eye!
’None other,’ said Eutyches.
‘Good Heavens!’ said Philip. ‘I had his name again and again on the tip of my tongue, and rejected it as too insanely preposterous. Arcadius must have been asleep, and have nominated him in a nightmare.’
‘Very likely; but the new Consuls are to be Eutropius for the East, and Mallius Theodorus for the West.’
‘What a contrast!’ said David. ’Theodorus is a scholar, a poet, a man of blameless integrity, who has written on Plato’s “Ideas” and on the origin of the world, whom men honour for his probity, to whom Augustine dedicated his treatise on the “Happy Life.” Eutropius is——’
‘You will have to leave Philip to express your feelings for you, David,’ said Eutyches. ‘You are quite too gentle; you want a few years at Antioch to enrich your vocabulary.’
‘I will say it for him,’ said Philip, who was too deeply moved to notice the chaff of Eutyches. ’Eutropius is an insect of the harems, an incarnate rapacity, a whisperer of bedchambers, an old, bald, wrinkled creature only one remove above a monkey——’
‘Oh oh, Philip!’ said David. ‘Slack the bow a little.’
‘Well, but——’ said Philip. ‘That a fellow who has filled baths for house-slaves should sit on the curule chair! That a thing accustomed for years to flap fine ladies with peacocks’ fans should sway the world’s imperial fasces! Shades of the Decii! shades of the Camilli! have we come to this?’
‘You ought to have been born in Rome,’ said Eutyches. ’They would like to hear you declaim thus in the Senate. You will see that the East will stand it well enough. We are accustomed to the portentous spectacle of women and eunuch favourites who rule the world. But what will the West say?’
‘It is really an awful business,’ said Philip. ‘I wonder whether he will guess? Let’s ask him.’
‘Sir,’ he said to Chrysostom, going through the curtains, ’can you spare us a minute?’
The kind-hearted Patriarch came in.
‘Eutyches, sir, has been gossiping in the Palace as usual, and——’
‘Philip never does so?’ said Eutyches, ‘though he’s as eager as an Athenian for news; only he’s rather jealous that I have forestalled him.’
‘Never mind him, Eutyches,’ said Chrysostom; ‘we all understand Philip.’
‘And he thinks he has found out who is to be the new Consul,’ said Philip, ‘and he wants you to guess, only he’s too shy to ask.’
‘He need never be shy with me!’ said Chrysostom.
‘We’ve guessed Aurelian, Asterius, Cæsarius, Hellebichus, Anthemius, Gaïnas the Goth, Count John, Leo, Osius, Arcadius himself, Fravitta the Goth, and Typhos, and all twelve guesses were wrong; so you will see, sir, that it must be a very odd appointment. Eutyches has been getting out of us all sorts of presents——’
‘Bronze things, and others,’ said Eutyches, demurely, while Philip kicked his shin under the table.
‘And no doubt wants to get one out of you, sir, unless you hit it off in five guesses.’
‘Very well,’ said Chrysostom, entering into their fun. ’I’ll give Eutyches a little ivory diptych if I don’t succeed; but after your experience perhaps I shall.’
‘Take my advice, sir, and guess the oddest persons you can think of.’
‘I will,’ said Chrysostom. ‘Is it Synesius?’
‘Perhaps it’s this new Count Tribigild, who has come here from the Gruthonges, and whose tribe has to be gratified?’
‘It cannot surely be Amantius, the Empress’s almoner?’
‘No; but you’re getting near it.’
‘Briso, then?’ said the Archbishop.
‘To make up for his broken head,’ said Philip, laughing. ’No, sir; and now Eutyches, who practically told us we were idiots for not guessing, will have to——’
‘How am I to stop his audacious tongue, sir?’ asked Eutyches.
‘You don’t really mean to say that the Emperor has ventured to nominate Eutropius?’
‘You have guessed it, sir,’ said Eutyches, clapping his hands, ’and they didn’t.’
‘Oh! this is serious indeed!’ said Chrysostom. ‘I fear the Chamberlain will have utterly destroyed himself by this insane ambition. It is dementation before doom.’
Philip had rightly anticipated that the effects of the Emperor’s new stupidity would produce a far less intense impression upon the East than upon the West. The East received the strange intelligence with easy laughter, and contented itself with the cynical emphasis with which they called Eutropius the Father of the Emperor. But the first rumours which reached Rome and Milan were received with astonished incredulity, which, on the confirmation of the report, broke out in a thunder of indignation. The Consulship, it was true, was now mainly functional; it was shorn of any effective power. Nevertheless, the Consul stood at the summit of all official rank; he had unquestioned precedence; he gave his name to the year; he was the inheritor of centuries of heroic traditions. And that the honour should be bestowed on an obscure eunuch, born no one knew where, hawked about for sale by Armenian slave-sellers, subject to years of infamous degradations, a curler of women’s hair, who had at last been turned out of doors—as not worth selling, and as too ugly to be even ornamental—to beg his bread in nameless purlieus——! And that such a man was not only to be made a patrician, but to sweep through the streets in gorgeous paludaments, attended by lictors, and to hold the ivory sceptre at the meetings of Senators! It was a portent ominous of blighted harvests and prodigious births or absolute infecundity! It was an outrage on ten centuries of history and thrice three hundred triumphs! It was an omen of frightful decadence. It would make the Roman world the open gibe of hosts of brave barbarians! It must not, it should not be!
The official confirmation reached Honorius in the Court at Milan as he and his warrior father-in-law, the brave Vandal, Stilico, were giving stately audience to an embassy of Germani and Suevi, who had been sent to ask for treaties of peace with promises of allegiance. Their presence was a proof that the glories of Rome were not yet dead, and that she could still boast of Saxons defeated, of Britain defended from the Picts, of subjugated races on the borders of the Danube and the Rhine. Crowds of Italians gazed with a thrill of pride on these stalwart barbarians in their mantles of skin, with their long red moustaches and lofty stature. And was it at such a moment that the dignity of Rome was to be humiliated by the association of her noble Consul, Mallius Theodorus, with a creature swept out of the scum of the Gynæceum? Claudian, the soldier-poet, whom Stilico had elevated into a military tribune, was present at this audience, and he became the impassioned voice of the indignation of the West.
He appealed to the young Honorius. ‘You, O Prince!’ he cried, ‘you, the son of Theodosius the Great, have been four times Consul; and you, O Stilico, victor of a hundred battles, you have been Consul. Will you allow the Imperial fasti to be stained with this foul blot? Will you wage the wars of Rome under these womanish auspices? Are eunuchs to leave their fans and array themselves in the trabea? Are the hands which held umbrellas over dowagers to wield the axes of Latium? Spirits of the warrior dead—Bruti, Cornelii, Scipios, Claudii—start from your marble sepulchres, drive off this half-man who would wear your robes, would parade your insignia! Let the East, if it will, corrupted by the evil models of the Arsacidæ, accept the inert and slavish dominance of creatures who never drew a sword, who rarely stepped out of a bedchamber, who are only fit to fold up Tyrian robes and have the custody of secret jewel-boxes.’
The sonorous lilt of Claudian’s hexameters echoed the wrath of the Western world, and Stilico and Honorius were not sorry to show their contempt for Arcadius and Constantinople by refusing to disgrace the Consular fasti with the eunuch’s name. The year 399, by the first precedent during twelve hundred years, was named after a single Consul. It was the consulship of Mallius Theodorus alone.
Not many in the East could speak Latin; they were more Greeks than Romans. They did not read Claudian’s heroics, and were untouched by his thunderous wrath. On the Calends of January Mallius Theodorus was installed as Consul in the ivory chair in the Capitol at Rome; and Eutropius, in the imperial palace of the Cæsars, was seated in all his grandeur in an ample robe broidered with golden palms, and surrounded by all the nobles and servants and great officials, who were emulous to kiss his hands, or, if more highly favoured, his withered cheeks. And as they bowed the knee before him the hall rang with acclamations which saluted him as the safeguard of the laws and the saviour of his country. Then the palace doors were thrown open, as though it were the residence of Eutropius himself, and in rushed the eager crowd with jests and shouting. After the reception Eutropius, still wearing his palmata vestis, arose, and, surrounded by his lictors and an escort of palace soldiers, went in stately progress to the Curia of Constantine, where he was formally inaugurated. Then he paced all round the Forum with its fine porticoes, and with intoxicated vanity saw images of himself clad in toga or military harness, and equestrian statues of marble and gilded bronze, among those of warrior-benefactors and ancient deities. A host of paid claqueurs rent the air with venal shouts, repeating the pompous titles engraven on the pedestals, and hailing him as the third founder of Constantinople.
How little he realised that he was seated on a razor’s edge! The frenzy of his superhuman success clouded the usual shrewdness of his intellect. It was, as Chrysostom had said, the irony of impending doom. From two opposite directions, little as he had dreamed of it, destruction was marching on him with mighty strides; and Destiny had placed these dazzling crowns upon his head only to smite upon it, with deadlier force, her wedges and her shattering club.
|« Prev||The Consulship of Eutropius||Next »|