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THEODORIC: OR THE SIEGE OF ROME.
His desert speaks loud; and we should wrong it
• MEASURE FOR MEASURE."
In the reign of the Emperor Justinian, on the banks of the Euphrates, retired and alone, lived Ecebolus, once governor of the African Pentapolis, a province of the Eastern empire.
At the time this story commences, he lay sick of a fever. It was midnight, and the light from an untrimmed lamp threw a twilight shade over the spacious room. By his side sat a youth, his head resting on his hand, as he gazed with anxiety and fear on the form which lay before him. The raven locks of the sufferer were scattered in ringlets over bis pillow, and his noble features were distorted, as if restlessness and pain weighed heavily upon him. But he was silent; and it was evident that the struggle between life and death had commenced, and was well nigh completed. The youth who sat by his side, seemed to watch with deep interest the evidences of returning consciousness, as if there was some secret in the bosom of the dying man, which deeply concerned himself, and which he could learn from no one else.
• It is all over !' he exclaimed, as he fancied he saw the last struggle of expiring nature; and bursting into tears, he rose from his seat and moved toward the door. A noise in the direction of the couch caught his ear, and hastening back, he found that the sick man had revived, and was looking him full in the face.
Come near,' he whispered faintly; and the youth placed his ear close to the faltering lips of the speaker. For a moment he remained in this position, trying to catch the struggling speech of the dying man. He stood listening, even after the sufferer had ceased to articulate; when he had said all his strength would permit, he quietly pushed the youth aside. Summoning what vital energy remained, Ecebolus drew from his bosom a rich miniature, and extending it toward the young man, exclaimed, in faltering accents, ‘Beware!'
But the arm which was held forth, was stricken with death, before the youth could grasp the rich treasure which it held, and the miniature fell upon the floor. It sprung open, and he found within evidence which rendered certain all that had been obscurely gathered from the broken speech of the corse before him. “God of the Christian, is it so !' exclaimed the youth, as he smote his breast, and hastened from the apartment.
Theodoric, for such was the name of the youth who attended the last moments of Ecebolus, was a native of Tyre. At the age he was removed to the hills of Yemen, in Arabia. The history of his birth was both a secret and a mystery, to himself and the world. When hurried into the mountains of Yemen, it did not escape his notice, notwithstanding his youth, that the forced retirement had some object other than to rescue him from the vices and temptations of a profligate city. He was protected and guided by Gilimer, the nurse
and friend of his youth, who, with no other friend than Theodoric, sought security under the name of happiness, in an obscure part of the mountains.
But the life of a hermit did not suit his restless and daring spirit. He complained bitterly that in the bloom and freshness of youth, he should be made to anticipate and feel the inactivity of age. The use of the bow and the javelin, the excitement of the chase, and the study of the arts of war, were in turn resorted to, to soothe his spirit, and occupy his time. From childhood he had manifested a predilection for arms, and he early familiarized his mind with the history of the first Romans. But the mystery of his birth sat heavy upon him, and all he could extort from his nurse, was, that he was of noble parents, but that farther knowledge might be the prelude to his destruction. The care with which his existence was concealed from the world; the mystery which hung over him; and the obscure hints which increased rather than diminished his anxiety, all preyed upon his mind, and added to the miseries of his situation.
Twice each year Theodoric and Gilimer visited the banks of the Euphrates, and always met a hearty welcome at the hands of Ecebolus. But they were now received with caution as well as affection ; and after a few days' sojourn, were dismissed with anxiety. Twice during these visits, Theodoric was awakened in the night, and hurried away to the mountains.
When he had attained his twentieth year, the restraints by which he was surrounded became insufferable; and he determined to force every barrier, and make his way into the world. 'I have been guilty of no crime ; I have wronged no man; I have done the world no injustice; then why should I,' exclaimed the noble youth, be shut up in the mountains, like a robber! No,' he continued, as he wiped a tear from his eyes, I will seek the camp, and win my way to death or glory, under the eagles of the empire!'
The youth departed stealthily from his solitary abode, and after many vicissitudes, arrived safely in Italy, at that time the theatre of a bloody war. Theoditus, the king of the Goths, after a feeble struggle to maintain a crown which he purchased with crime, and which he afterward proved bimself unworthy to wear, had been defeated and slain by the legions of Belisarius, who were then in possession of Rome. But the Goths were not disheartened by the loss of their capital; and Vitiges, a successful general in the Illyrian war, was raised by the voice of the soldiery to the head of the nation. A spirit of resistance animated the barbarians; and in a short time Vitiges could boast, that one hundred and fifty thousand fighting men marched under his banner to the siege of Rome. Theodoric, pursuing the Appian Way, which, after a lapse of nine centuries, still preserved its primitive beauty, came in sight of the capital, a few days before the besieging army crossed the Tiber, and commenced the attack upon the city.
As he entered the Asinarian gate, he heard the shouts of the soldiers in the direction of Hadrian's Sepulchre, and with rapid steps he hastened thither. He felt his heart beat quick, as he approached and beheld the eagles under which Cæsar, Pompey, Scilla, Scipio, and others, carried among the nations of the earth the terror and glory
of Rome. The army was formed into a hollow square, and in the centre sat a commanding figure on a bay horse, whom the quick eye of Theodoric recognised at a glance as the immortal Belisarius, of whom Rome might have been proud in the days of Cæsar. He was surrounded by his officers, and was in the act of addressing the army. His frame was large, and formed both for activity and strength. A dark complexion was rendered still darker by the effects of an African sun, during his early campaigns; and a countenance in which there was an expression of energy and decision, wisdom and benevolence, was lit up by a black piercing eye, in a 'front like Mars, to threaten and command.'
• For sixty years,' exclaimed the hero, “have the barbarians of the North defiled by their presence the tombs of our ancestors. You have rescued them by your valor; you cannot now surrender them, without the loss of your honor. Already has Vitiges, with his hosts, pitched their tents at the foot of the Milvian bridge, and threaten Rome with a siege. How long will you,' continued he, addressing the veterans who had fought under his standard in the wars of Persia and Africa, 'how long will you suffer the ignorance of the Goth to eclipse the glory of Rome ? Could I have been persuaded that the Roman people had so far degenerated, that death would be more painful than to surrender to the barbarians the ashes of their ancestors, Theoditus would not have been dethroned, for no greater ignominy could befal him, than to reign over such subjects. If there be one among you who fears the arms of the Goths more than he does the loss of his honor, let him depart for the camp of the barbarians ! Let him forsake the eagles, that he may not incur disgrace beneath the same banners under which, in other countries, he covered himself with glory!
Here the veterans hung their heads, evidently wounded by the suspicions which they imagined lurked under the speech of their general. Belisarius observed it, and continued : No, veterans! you need but to meet the enemy, to prove yourselves worthy of your former glory, and the name of Roman soldiers !' The air was now rent with shouts, and Belisarius gallopped off, his ears deafened with the cries of the people and the army.
At the time Theodoric entered Rome, he had attained his twenlieth year. Nature had cast him in her choicest mould; and notwithstanding his ten years' seclusion fron the world, he excelled in the natural graces of mind, as he did in the elegance and dignity of his person. He was large and muscular, the bloom and freshness of youth were his, and his whole bearing was that of one whom nature intended for command. Yet the mystery which surrounded him gave a serious cast to his thoughts and actions; and upon his countenance, which was of a dark olive hue, there was always an expression of touching melancholy. Such was Theodoric, at the period of which we have been speaking. Where there were not more than forty thousand men to defend a wall twelve miles in circumference, against one hundred and fifty thousand barbarians, it was no difficult matter for one like our hero to obtain permission to join the army. Familiar from his boyhood with the bow, the javelin, and the sword, he felt himself equal, in the use of these weapons, to the oldest veterans ;
and he took upon himself with delight the rank and services of a common soldier.
The walls of Rome, owing to the negligence of the Goths, were to a great extent a heap of ruins. The genius of Belisarius was busily at work to place them in a condition to resist the powerful force which was soon to be brought to bear against them. In a short time all was repaired, except a chasm, still extant, between the Pincian and Flaminian gates, which the prejudices of the Goths and Romans left to the effectual guard of Saint Peter the Apostle. Bastions were constructed; a ditch broad and deep protected the ramparts, upon which were stationed archers and military engines; a chain was drawn across the Tiber; the aqueducts were repaired; the granaries were stored from the fields of Tuscany, Sicily, and Campania; and in fact every thing was done which the quick sight of the general detected as necessary, either to repel an enemy, or subsist an army.
The Gothic general was no less active in preparing to advance the siege, than his great adversary was to repel it; and he beld forth the most liberal promises to those who should distinguish themselves in the great struggle which was about to commence. Moving his army along the Flaminian way, he hastened his steps until he arrived at the Milvian bridge, two miles distant from Rome. A tower which commanded the narrow passage, was thought by Belisarius sufficient to detain the enemy until another could be constructed; and believing that Vitiges was still on the opposite side of the Tiber, he marched out of the Flaminian gate, at the head of one thousand horse, which had been selected for the occasion, to mark the ground, and survey the camp of the barbarians. But he soon found that the soldiers to whose charge the tower had been intrusted, had disappointed his expectations by their unmanly flight, and that he was surrounded by the squadrons of the enemy. Encompassed on all sides, he was recognised by the deserters; and a thousand voices were heard to exclaim, Strike at the bay horse!' Every bow was bent, and every javelin directed to the fated object ; until the guards by whom he was surrounded bowed like grass under the breath of the tempest. The barbarians rushed in to fill up the space, and in a short time Belisarius stood almost single-handed in the midst of the enemy: The foremost of the host fell pierced with thirteen wounds, which truth or fiction has ascribed to the general himself.
• Where are my guards !' he exclaimed, as, almost exhausted, he defended himself against the fearful odds.
• They are dead!' said a youth at his side, as he dealt destruction at every blow. At a moment when the barbarians were confident of triumph, he had darted into the midst of the struggle, like a swooping eagle, and so quick and powerful was his arm, that they fell back in awe, believing for an instant that the protecting spirit of Belisarius had come to the rescue. A moment was given the general to breathe, and rally his remaining strength, when, by the side of the youth, both charged in the direction of another portion of the guards, which were hastening to their relief. But before they could effect their object, the horse of Belisarius sunk under repeated wounds, and being entangled in the trappings, he was dragged down and fastened to the earth. Twenty spears were at once aimed at his life, upon whom all
Italy depended, when the youth leaped upon the ground, and with a sword that Hercules might have been proud to wield, shivered them into a thousand pieces; and slaughtering some, he kept the rest at bay, until both were rescued by the guards.
The general was soon remounted, and concentrating his forces, the death of a thousand Goths, and their complete overthrow, was the effect of a vigorous charge. In the ardor of pursuit, the Romans rushed near the enemy's encampment, when the latter receiving reinforcements, the former were compelled in turn to retreat behind the ramparts. But as they retreated before superior numbers, Belisarius and the youth, side by side, maintained their station in the rear, to check the fury of the Goths, and were the last to enter the city.
•Where,' inquired Belisarius, so soon as order was restored, .is the youth, whose arm seemed to-day endowed with more than mortal power, and whose life appeared guarded with a charm ??
Theodoric stood before him; for he was who had performed such prodigies of valor.
• Who art thou ?? said the general, fixing his piercing eyes upon him ; ' from what country art thou sprung ? — and why hast thou sought the camp of the Romans ?'
With an easy and martial dignity, Theodoric replied, that he had sprung from Tyre, but of late was from the mountains of Yemen; and that his object in coming to Rome was to learn from the first general of the age the art of war.
• You have practised your first lessons nobly, and have set a good example, even to my veterans, young man,' said Belisarius. Rome,' he continued, will have need for your services, before this bloody war is ended ; and your deeds of to-day will not be forgotten.'
Giving special directions touching the care of Theodoric, the general now took his departure, to satisfy himself, from an examination of the outposts, whether or no it would be safe, after the fatigues of the day, to take a few hours' repose.
Theodoric was now in a fair way to fortune and honor. His name was in the mouth of every soldier, and his exploits against the Goths reached the ears of Antonina, the extraordinary wife of the Roman general, who alike delighted in the honors and disgrace of her husband. In writing to the empress, she said: "He is a youth, exceedingly fair, and well proportioned ; and as for a noble courage, and deeds of daring, he far exceeds all other young men of the army. Should he,' continued Antonina, “escape the Goths -- which seems hardly possible, as every day he seeks some new exposure and visit the capital of the East, you will then judge how far all you have heard of this handsome youth falls below what your eyes will then behold.' Antonina remembered the youthful frailties of Theodora, and could not but persuade herself that the subject which would be listened to with pleasure by the lascivious actress of Constantinople, would be equally pleasing to the Empress.
A few days after the affair at the Milvian Bridge, the whole army of the Goths crossed the Tiber, and began to environ the city. But of the fourteen gates, only seven were invested, and Vitiges divided his troops into six camps, each of which was fortified with a ditch and a rampart. On the Circus of the Vatican, a seventh encamp VOL. XV.