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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. 609-613.


Luigi Bramieri.









AFTER the death of the great Julius, who fell a victim to his own inordinate ambition and the ferocious love of liberty in others, a liberty which had no longer force to sustain itself, shaken to its very foundations by the altered character of the people, the terrific Triumvirs commenced their sanguinary reign. Enemies no less of the people than of each other, they contested the empire of the world, being unanimous only in satiating their revenge by a general proscription, which laid the heads of all their private enemies at their feet, disguising their savage cruelty under the hypocritical pretext of consulting the public good. In the immense list of names to be sacrificed at the will of the cowardly, jealous, and mean-spirited Octavius was found that of Lucius Cæsar, maternal uncle to Marc Antony, one of the three Triumvirs.

That wretched and abandoned character, on whom Nature had lavished some of her choicest gifts, had become addicted to almost every species of vice, and frequently been the object of the most eloquent invectives and startling denunciations from the prophetic lips of Tully; ever mindful of which, he had already slaked his thirst of vengeance in that great orator’s blood. He then continued at Rome in order personally to inspect the execution of his savage decrees, apparently feasting his eyes with the sight of lifeless trunks and lacerated limbs, belonging to the most virtuous citizens, who were unable to avoid his rage.

Lucius Cæsar himself imagined he could devise no surer method of escape than by taking refuge in the mansion of his sister Julia. Having been brought up with one another from infancy, nearly of the same age, and greatly resembling each other in point of character and virtue, their mutual devotion and attachment were without bounds, the ties of blood being further cemented by lasting esteem and friendship. Marc Antony’s mother expressed the most heroic contempt for the unjust and cruel decrees of the Triumvirate, though the penalty of 612 death was incurred by any person giving asylum to their proscribed friends. Most probably, too, she believed that her own mansion would be respected; that his barbarous emissaries would not dare to violate the sanctity of these walls in which the mother of one of the tyrants was known to reside. For some time, indeed, the unhappy man experienced the benefit of her influence amidst the surrounding wreck; still it was a doubtful tranquillity, and the anxiety under which he laboured was little less painful than that fate which so many of his friends had experienced. But the society and constant attentions of his beloved sister soon began to make life appear more and more sweet to him, and especially as he perceived that the fiercest among the centurions never ventured to approach his sister Julia’s gates.

One day, however, it happened that a certain officer of the band, either more desperate than his associates, or actuated by that species of fury that is known to take possession of the human breast in moments of bloodshed, having penetrated the secret of his retreat, instantly set out, followed by others bewaring the terrific instruments of their power, towards the dwelling of the noble matron, and knocked furiously for admission at the gates. Her faithful handmaids instantly ran, winged with terror, to their mistress, acquainting her that the house was surrounded with armed men, leaving no possible chance of escape.

The affrighted lady, in her first surprise, ran in distraction from room to room, anxious to find some secret refuge; then weeping and almost abandoned to despair, she clasped her poor brother in her arms, and shed over him a torrent of tears. Her beloved Lucius, believing every embrace would be the last, trembled as he imagined he beheld before him the fearful ensigns of death. At length, somewhat recovering her composure and summoning a firmer spirit, the lady resolved to encounter the fierce invaders of her mansion. To the centurion, who having been refused admittance, was proceeding to force an entrance, the noble matron addressed herself in this truly Roman strain: “Thou vile and bloody miscreant! tool of the most inhuman and pitiless tyrants! think not thou wilt ever reach my Lucius! No; thy weapon, stained with virtuous and innocent blood, shall make its way over this body only, that bore the impious monster you call your master, and whom it terrifies me to call my son — a son, oh, ye gods! who has armed those hands against his mother and his mother’s brother! What can he have left to add to his crimes?”

The majestic gravity and earnestness of her tone, her unshaken firmness and the energetic warmth of her manner, were irresistible; and humanity and reason, addressing them in so holy and beautiful a guise, seemed, at least for the moment, to resume their sway over the indurated hearts of the wretches. The name of her son at the same time appeared to recall them to a sense of duty; and turning away in shame and silence, the centurion led his fierce companions to more sure though less daring scenes of blood.

The noble matron, overjoyed at hearing the sound of their footsteps dying gradually away, hastened to reassure her brother. At the same time she was sensible that she must consider such a visit as a signal of other dangers threatening him near at hand. Long and deeply did 613 she consider a variety of schemes for his more permanent safety, and finally formed a resolution of a noble and perilous nature, which she carried into immediate execution. With the boldness of innocence and virtue, she sallied forth alone; she courageously bent her steps towards the forum, where Marc Antony, with his two colleagues, was seen seated upon the tribunal, and confronting them with the utmost intrepidity, she said, “I come hither to accuse myself! That compassion, to which the unhappy and unjustly persecuted are entitled, added to the tenderest affection which grew up with me from my infant years, has led me to give an asylum to one of your proscribed victims. Perhaps thou knowest him,” she continued, fixing her eyes upon Marc Antony; “perhaps thy hand trembles as it added his name to the fatal list. It is Lucius Cæsar, my own brother and thy uncle. I stand, therefore, before my son under sentence of death. Execute it! I ought to rejoice at it, in a period when no virtuous person must be allowed to live!” Here she was silent, and stood unmoved before the tribunal awaiting their reply. The eyes of Marc Antony were bent upon the ground; for such a moving and heroic appeal from the lips of his mother he was quite unprepared; and some remains of natural affection and the ties of kindred, some faint recollections of younger and better days, when the love of virtue was not extinct, became visible in the struggles of his countenance, which he could not repress. The other Triumvirs, likewise, could not avoid testifying marks of reverence and surprise on witnessing in the heroic Julia such matronly dignity, elevation of soul, and generous affection displayed towards a brother. Though perfectly aware of the reckless ferocity of their character, which had rendered them so fatally formidable to all their fellow-citizens, and to all their relatives, she had not hesitated to confront them upon the very throne of their power; and in taking them by surprise she produced the effect she had intended and desired. They could not repress their admiration; the decree against the life of Lucius was annulled; and the affectionate sister flew into her brother’s arms and sobbed out the delightful tidings which she could not utter. Well did the lofty-minded matron deserve the fame she acquired by so tried and heroic an attachment, and well may history preserve her memory fresh and green, as one of the most illustrious examples of sisterly devotion in the most fearful and trying times.


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