From "The Italian Novelists" translated from the originals with Critical and Biographical Notices by Thomas Roscoe; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; [undated edition, c. 1900; first published, c. 1824]; pp. 594-596.
In the Roman annals has been preserved the name of Vedio Pollione, a rich patrician, and a striking example of the character above alluded to. Indeed, to so great an extreme did he carry his luxurious taste in regard to the delicacies of his table, that he kept a private fishpond of lampreys, which he was accustomed to feed with human blood, to give them a more poignant relish. To this character of a complete gourmand he added the most refined cruelty, inventing new kinds of chastisement for his slaves, which he took pleasure in applying on the slightest occasions of offence; yet, notwithstanding the ferocity of his character, it could not be denied that he displayed the utmost courtesy and refinement of manners in public, insomuch as to attract the particular notice and esteem of the Emperor Augustus. On one occasion he fixed to take supper with Pollio at his own house on a certain day. We may easily imagine the extraordinary display of luxury and delicacy of every kind to greet the eyes of the imperial guest. The flesh of every animal, most judiciously and exquisitely disguised, was laid under contribution; fish of the greatest rarity and most delicious taste, the finest fruits the seasons of every country could afford, were all presented in plate and vases of the richest material and workmanship. The feast in fact was glorious, and went off with the most charming conviviality and success, until the rarest wines began to be more freely circulated, and the joy and satisfaction of the Emperor was at its height; even the slaves seemed to catch the enlivening influence as they offered their best services with steady foot and light hand. All indeed, except one unfortunate, who happened to be carrying a fine crystal vase, when unluckily his foot slipped, and it fell with a crash to the ground. With the most careless air, Pollio, turning his head, ordered him to be thrown 596 into the fishpond, to give a higher relish to the lampreys. But the poor slave, terrified at the idea of so shocking a fate, ran and threw himself at the Emperor’s feet, beseeching that he would obtain for him some other kind of death. Not a little surprised at both the novelty and severity of the sentence, the monarch told the slave to rise, adding “Go, offer up thy thanks to Jupiter Omnipotent, who brought me hither to sup with thy master to-night: thou art a lucky slave!” Then turning towards Pollio with a reproving countenance, he gave orders that all the fine crystals should be thrown into the pond, instead of the poor slave’s carcase, and thus gave his courtier a lesson in humanity at the expense of his taste for fish.
* The above story is announced as having been borrowed from Seneca, “De Ira,” lib. iii.
† This incident is stated to have really occurred, as it is here related, to a gentleman who acted thus generously in return.