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The western extremity is approached by a flight of steps, of the same breadth as the temple itself. At the eastern, there extends beyond the walls, to a distance equal to the length of the building, a marble platform, upon which stands the altar of sacrifice, and which is ascended by various flights of steps, some little more than a gently rising plain, up which the beasts are led that are destined to the altar.
When this vast extent of wall and column, of the most dazzling brightness, came into view, every where covered, together with the surrounding temples, palaces, and theatres, with a dense mass of human beings, of all climes and regions, dressed out in their richest attire,-music, from innumerable instruments, filling the heavens with harmony,--shouts of the proud and excited populace, every few moments, and from different points, as Aurelian advanced, shaking the air with its thrilling din,—the neighing of horses, the frequent blasts of the trumpet,—the whole made more solemnly imposing by the vast masses of cloud, which swept over the sky, now suddenly unveiling, and again eclipsing the sun, the great god of this idolatry, and from which few could withdraw their gaze; when, at once, this all broke upon my eye and ear, I was like a child who before had never seen aught but his own village, and his own rural temple, in the effect wrought upon me, and the passiveness with which I abandoned myself to the sway of the senses.
Not one there was more ravished by the outward circumstances and show. I thought of Rome's thousand years, of her power, her greatness, and universal empire, and, for a moment, my step was not less proud than that of Aurelian.
But after that moment,—when the senses had had their fill, when the eye had seen the glory, and the ear had fed upon the harmony and the praise, then I thought and felt very differently; sorrow and compassion, for these gay multitudes, were in my heart; prophetic forebodings of disaster, danger, and ruin to those, to whose sacred cause I had linked myself, made my tongue to falter in its speech, and my limbs to tremble. I thought that the superstition, which was upheld by the wealth and the power, whose manifestations were before me, had its root in the very centre of the earth,—far too deep down, for a few, like myself, ever to reach them. I was like one whose last hope of life and escape, is suddenly struck away.
I was roused from these meditations, by our arrival at the eastern front of the temple. Between the two central columns, on a throne of gold and ivory, sat the emperor of the world, surrounded by the senate, the colleges of augurs and haruspices, and by the priests of the various temples of the capital, all in their peculiar costume. Then Fronto, the priest of the temple, when the crier had proclaimed that the hour of worship and sacrifice had come, and had commanded silence to be observed,-standing at the altar, glittering in his white and golden robes, like a messenger of light, bared his head, and lifting his face up toward the sun, offered, in clear and sounding tones, the prayer of dedication.
As he came toward the close of his prayer, he, as is so usual, with loud and almost frantic cries, and importunate repetition, called upon the god to hear him, and then, with appropriate names and praises, invoked
the Father of gods and men, to be present and hear. Just as he had thus solemnly invoked Jupiter by name, and was about to call on the other gods in the same manner, the clouds, which had been deepening and darkening, suddenly obscured the sun; a distant peal of thunder rolled along the heavens, and, at the same moment, from the dark recesses of the temple, a voice of preternatural power came forth, proclaiming, so that the whole multitude heard the words "God is but one; the King eternal, immortal, invisible!"
It is impossible to describe the horror that seized those multitudes. Many cried out with fear, and each seemed to shrink behind the other. Paleness sat upon
The priest paused, as if struck by a power from above. Even the brazen Fronto was appalled. Aurelian leaped from his seat, and by his countenance, white and awe-struck, showed that to him it came, as a voice from the gods. He spoke not, but stood gazing at the dark entrance into the temple, from which the sound had come. Fronto hastily approached him, and whispering but one word, as it were, into his ear, the emperor started; the spell that bound him, was dissolved; and recovering himself, making, indeed, as though a very different feeling had possessed him,-cried out, in fierce tones, to his guards, “ Search the temple! some miscreant, hid away among the columns, profanes thus the worship and the place. Seize him, and drag him forth to instant death!"
The guards of the emperor, and the servants of the temple, rushed in at that bidding. They soon emerged, saying that the search was fruitless. The temple, in all its aisles and apartments, was empty.
The heavens were again obscured by thick clouds, which, accumulating into dark masses, began now nearer and nearer to shoot forth lightning, and roll their thunders. The priest commenced the last office, prayer to the god to whom the new temple had been thus solemnly consecrated. He again bowed his head, and again lifted up his voice. But no sooner had he invoked the god of the temple, and besought his ear, than again, from its dark interior, the same awful sounds issued forth, this time saying, “ Thy gods, o Rome, are false and lying gods; God is but one!”
Aurelian, pale as it seemed to me with superstitious fear, strove to shake it off, giving it, artfully and with violence, the appearance of offended dignity. His voice was a shriek, rather than a human utterance, as it cried out, “ This is but a Christian device; search the temple, till the accursed Nazarene be found, and hew him piecemeal!" More he would have said; but, at the instant, a bolt of lightning shot from the heavens, and lighting upon a large sycamore which shaded a part of the temple court, clove it in twain. The swollen cloud at the same moment burst, and a deluge of rain burst upon the city, the temple, the gazing multitudes, and the kindled altars. The sacred fires went out, in hissing darkness; a tempest of wind whirled the limbs of the slaughtered victims into the air, and abroad over the neighboring streets.
All was confusion, uproar, terror and dismay. The crowds sought safety in the houses of the nearest inhabitants, and the porches of the palaces. Aurelian and the senators, and those nearest him, fled to the interior of the temple. The heavens blazed with the
quick flashing of the lightning; and the temple itself seemed to rock beneath the voice of the thunder. I never knew in Rome so terrific a tempest. The stoutest trembled; for life hung by a thread. Great numbers, it has now been found, in every part of the capital, fell a prey to the fiery bolts. The capitol itself was struck, and the brass statue of Vespasian, in the forum, thrown down and partly melted. The Tiber, in a few hours, overran its banks, and laid much of the city and its borders under water.
To him who, in the love of Nature, holds