Such indeed were the precautions of human
wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and
recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers
were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by
the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast,
whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And
there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women.
But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the
propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the
conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the
report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on
a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.
Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty
during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius
Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment,
again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but
even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful
from every part of the world find their
-- 381 --
centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was
first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an
immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the
city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their
deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and
perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt,
to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.
offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the
circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or
stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and
exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not,
as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they
were being destroyed.