HOMO SUM - VOLUME 4.
HOMO SUM - VOLUME 4.
The light in the town which had attracted Paulus was in Petrus' house
and burnt in Polykarp's room which formed the whole of a small upper-
story which the senator had constructed for his son over the northern
portion of the spacious flat roof of the main building. The young man
had arrived about noon with the slaves he had just procured had learned
all that had happened in his absence and had silently withdrawn into his
own room after supper was ended. Here he still lingered over his work.
A bed a table on and under which lay a multitude of wax-tablets
papyrus-rolls metal-points and writing-reeds with a small bench on
which stood a water-jar and basin composed the furniture of this room;
on its whitewashed walls hung several admirable carvings in relief and
figures of men and animals stood near them in long rows. In one corner
near a stone water-jar lay a large damp shining mass of clay.
Three lamps fastened to stands abundantly lighted this work-room but
chiefly a figure standing on a high trestle which Polykarp's fingers
were industriously moulding.
Phoebicius had called the young sculptor a fop and not altogether
unjustly for he loved to be well dressed and was choice as to the cut
and color of his simple garments and he rarely neglected to arrange his
abundant hair with care and to anoint it well; and yet it was almost
indifferent to him whether his appearance pleased other people or no
but he knew nothing nobler than the human form and an instinct which he
did not attempt to check impelled him to keep his own person as nice as
he liked to see that of his neighbor.
Now at this hour of the night he wore only a shirt of white woollen
stuff with a deep red border. His locks usually so well-kept seemed
to stand out from his head separately and instead of smoothing and
confining them he added to their wild disorder for as be worked he
frequently passed his hand through them with a hasty movement. A bat
attracted by the bright light flew in at the open window--which was
screened only at the bottom by a dark curtain--and fluttered round the
ceiling; but he did not observe it for his work absorbed his whole soul
and mind. In this eager and passionate occupation in which every nerve
and vein in his being seemed to bear a part no cry for help would have
struck his ear--even a flame breaking out close to him would not have
caught his eye. His cheeks glowed a fine dew of glistening sweat
covered his brow and his very gaze seemed to become more and more firmly
riveted to the sculpture as it took form under his hand. Now and again
he stepped back from it and leaned backwards from his hips raising his
hands to the level of his temples as if to narrow the field of vision;
then he went up to the model and clutched the plastic mass of clay as
though it were the flesh of his enemy.
He was now at work on the flowing hair of the figure before him which
had already taken the outline of a female head and he flung the bits of
clay which he removed from the back of it to the ground as violently
as though he were casting them at an antagonist at his feet. Again his
finger-tips and modelling-tool were busy with the mouth nose cheeks
and eyes and his own eyes took a softer expression which gradually grew
to be a gaze of ecstatic delight as the features he was moulding began
to agree more and more with the image which at this time excluded every
other from his imagination.
At last with glowing cheeks he had finished rounding the soft form of
the shoulders and drew back once more to contemplate the effect of the
completed work; a cold shiver seized him and he felt himself impelled
to lift it up and dash it to the ground with all his force. But he soon
mastered this stormy excitement he pushed his hand through his hair
again and again and posted himself with a melancholy smile and with
folded hands in front of his creation; sunk deeper and deeper in his
contemplation of it he did not observe that the door behind him was
opened although the flame of his lamps flickered in the draught and
that his mother had entered the work-room and by no means endeavored to
approach him unheard or to surprise him. In her anxiety for her
darling who had gone through so many bitter experiences during the past
day she had not been able to sleep. Polykarp's room lay above her
bedroom and when his steps over head betrayed that though it was now
near morning he had not yet gone to rest she had risen from her bed
without waking Petrus who seemed to be sleeping. She obeyed her
motherly impulse to encourage Polykarp with some loving words and
climbing up the narrow stair that led to the roof she went into his
room. Surprised irresolute and speechless she stood for some time
behind the young man and looked at the strongly illuminated and
beautiful features of the newly-formed bust which was only too like its
well-known prototype. At last she laid her hand on her son's shoulder
and spoke his name. Polykarp stepped back and looked at his mother in
bewilderment like a man roused from sleep; but she interrupted the
stammering speech with which he tried to greet her by saying gravely
and not without severity as she pointed to the statue "What does this
"What should it mean mother?" answered Polykarp in a low tone and
shaking his head sadly. "Ask me no more at present for if you gave me
no rest and even if I tried to explain to you how to-day--this very day
--I have felt impelled and driven to make this woman's image still you
could not understand me--no nor any one else."
"God forbid that I should ever understand it!" cried Dorothea. "'Thou
shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife' was the commandment of the Lord on
this mountain. And you? You think I could not understand you? Who
should understand you then if not your mother? This I certainly do not
comprehend that a son of Petrus and of mine should have thrown all the
teaching and the example of his parents so utterly to the wind. But what
you are aiming at with this statue it seems to me is not hard to guess.
As the forbidden-fruit hangs too high for you you degrade your art and
make to yourself an image that resembles her according to your taste.
Simply and plainly it comes to this; as you can no longer see the Gaul's
wife in her own person and yet cannot exist without the sweet presence
of the fair one you make a portrait of clay to make love to and you
will carry on idolatry before it as once the Jews did before the golden
calf and the brazen serpent."
Polykarp submitted to his mother's angry blame in silence but in painful
emotion. Dorothea had never before spoken to him thus and to hear such
words from the very lips which were used to address him with such heart-
felt tenderness gave him unspeakable pain. Hitherto she had always been
inclined to make excuses for his weaknesses and little faults nay the
zeal with which she had observed and pointed out his merits and
performances before strangers as well as before their own family had
often seemed to him embarrassing. And now? She had indeed reason to
blame him for Sirona was the wife of another she had never even noticed
his admiration and now they all said had committed a crime for the
sake of a stranger. It must seem both a mad and a sinful thing in the
eyes of men that he of all others should sacrifice the best he had--his
Art--and how little could Dorothea who usually endeavored to understand
him comprehend the overpowering impulse which had driven him to his
He loved and honored his mother with his whole heart and feeling that
she was doing herself an injustice by her false and low estimate of his
proceedings he interrupted her eager discourse raising his hands
imploringly to her.
"No mother no!" he exclaimed. "As truly as God is my helper it is
not so. It is true that I have moulded this head but not to keep it
and commit the sin of worshipping it but rather to free myself from the
image that stands before my mind's eye by day and by night in the city
and in the desert whose beauty distracts my mind when I think and my
devotions when I try to pray. To whom is it given to read the soul of
man? And is not Sirona's form and face the loveliest image of the Most
High? So to represent it that the whole charm that her presence
exercises over me might also be felt by every beholder is a task that I
have set myself ever since her arrival in our house. I had to go back to
the capital and the work I longed to achieve took a clearer form; at
every hour I discovered something to change and to improve in the pose of
the head the glance of the eye or the expression of the mouth. But
still I lacked courage to put the work in hand for it seemed too
audacious to attempt to give reality to the glorious image in my soul by
the aid of gray clay and pale cold marble; to reproduce it so that the
perfect work should delight the eye of sense no less than the image
enshrined in my breast delights my inward eye. At the same time I was
not idle I gained the prize for the model of the lions and if I have
succeeded with the Good Shepherd blessing the flock which is for the
sarcophagus of Comes and if the master could praise the expression of
devoted tenderness in the look of the Redeemer I know--nay do not
interrupt me mother for what I felt was a pure emotion and no sin--
I know that it was because I was myself so full of love that I was
enabled to inspire the very stone with love. At last I had no peace and
even without my father's orders I must have returned home; then I saw her
again and found her even more lovely than the image which reigned in my
soul. I heard her voice and her silvery bell-like laughter--and then--
and then--. You know very well what I learned yesterday. The unworthy
wife of an unworthy husband the woman Sirona is gone from me for ever
and I was striving to drive her image from my soul to annihilate it and
dissipate it--but in vain! and by degrees a wonderful stress of creative
power came upon me. I hastily placed the lamps took the clay in my
hand and feature by feature I brought forth with bitter joy the image
that is deeply graven in my heart believing that thus I might be
released from the spell. There is the fruit which was ripened in my
heart but there where it so long has dwelt I feel a dismal void and
if the husk which so long tenderly enfolded this image were to wither and
fall asunder I should not wonder at it.--To that thing there clings the
best part of my life."
"Enough!" exclaimed Dorothea interrupting her son who stood before her
in great agitation and with trembling lips. "God forbid that that mask
there should destroy your life and soul. I suffer nothing impure within
my house and you should not in your heart. That which is evil can never
more be fair and however lovely the face there may look to you it looks
quite as repulsive to me when I reflect that it probably smiled still
more fascinatingly on some strolling beggar. If the Gaul brings her back
I will turn her out of my house and I will destroy her image with my own
hands if you do not break it in pieces on the spot."
Dorothea's eyes were swimming in tears as she spoke these words. She had
felt with pride and emotion during her son's speech how noble and high-
minded he was and the idea that this rare and precious treasure should
be spoilt or perhaps altogether ruined for the sake of a lost woman
drove her to desperation and filled her motherly heart with indignation.
Firmly resolved to carry out her threat she stepped towards the figure
but Polykarp placed himself in her way raising his arm imploringly to
defend it and saying "Not to-day--not yet mother! I will cover it up
and will not look at it again till to-morrow but once--only once--I must
see it again by sunlight."
"So that to-morrow the old madness may revive in you!" cried Dorothea.
"Move out of my way or take the hammer yourself."
"You order it and you are my mother" said Polykarp.
He slowly went up to the chest in which his tools and instruments lay
and bitter tears ran down his cheeks as he took his heaviest hammer in
When the sky has shown for many days in summer-blue and then suddenly
the clouds gather for a storm when the first silent but fearful flash
with it noisy but harmless associate the thunder-clap has terrified the
world a second and third thunder-bolt immediately follow. Since the
stormy night of yesterday had broken in on the peaceful industrious and
monotonous life by the senator's hearth many things had happened that
had filled him and his wife with fresh anxiety.
In other houses it was nothing remarkable that a slave should run away
but in the senator's it was more than twenty years since such a thing had
occurred and yesterday the goat-herd Miriam had disappeared. This was
vexatious but the silent sorrow of his son Polykarp was a greater
anxiety to Petrus. It did not please him that the youth who was usually
so vehement should submit unresistingly and almost indifferently to the
Bishop Agapitus who prohibited his completing his lions. His son's sad
gaze his crushed and broken aspect were still in his mind when at last
he went to rest for the night; it was already late but sleep avoided him
even as it had avoided Dorothea. While the mother was thinking of her
son's sinful love and the bleeding wound in his young and betrayed heart
the father grieved for Polykarp's baffled hopes of exercising his art on
a great work and recalled the saddest bitterest day of his own youth;
for he too had served his apprenticeship under a sculptor in Alexandria
had looked up to the works of the heathen as noble models and striven to
form himself upon them. He had already been permitted by his master to
execute designs of his own and out of the abundance of subjects which
offered themselves he had chosen to model an Ariadne waiting and
longing for the return of Thescus as a symbolic image of his own
soul awaiting its salvation. How this work had filled his mind! how
delightful had the hours of labor seemed to him!--when suddenly his
stern father had come to the city had seen his work before it was quite
finished and instead of praising it had scorned it; had abused it as a
heathen idol and had commanded Petrus to return home with him
immediately and to remain there for that his son should be a pious
Christian and a good stone-mason withal--not half a heathen and a maker
of false gods.
Petrus had much loved his art but he offered no resistance to his
father's orders; he followed him back to the oasis there to superintend
the work of the slaves who hewed the stone to measure granite-blocks for
sarcophagi and pillars and to direct the cutting of them. His father
was a man of steel and he himself a lad of iron and when he saw himself
compelled to yield to his father and to leave his master's workshop to
abandon his cherished and unfinished work and to become an artizan and
mail of business he swore never again to take a piece of clay in his
hand or to wield a chisel. And he kept his word even after his fathers
death; but his creative instincts and love of art continued to live and
work in him and were transmitted to his two sons.
Antonius was a highly gifted artist and if Polykarp's master was not
mistaken and if he himself were not misled by fatherly affection his
second son was on the high road to the very first rank in art--to a
position reached only by elect spirits.
Petrus knew the models for the Good Shepherd and for the lions and
declared to himself that these last were unsurpassable in truth power
and majesty. How eagerly must the young artist long to execute them in
hard stone and to see them placed in the honored though indeed pagan
spot which was intended for them. And now the bishop forbade him the
work and the poor fellow might well be feeling just as he himself had
felt thirty years ago when he had been commanded to abandon the immature
first-fruits of his labor.
Was the bishop indeed right? This and many other questions agitated the
sleepless father and as soon as he heard that his wife had risen from
her bed to go to her son whose footsteps he too could hear overhead he
got up and followed her.
He found the door of the work-room open and himself unseen and unheard
he was witness to his wife's vehement speech and to the lad's
justification while Polykarp's work stood in the full light of the
lamps exactly in front of him.
His gaze was spell-bound to the mass of clay; he looked and looked and
was not weary of looking and his soul swelled with the same awe-struck
sense of devout admiration that it had experienced when for the first
time in his early youth he saw with his own eyes the works of the great
old Athenian masters in the Caesareum.
And this head was his son's work!
He stood there greatly overcome his hands clasped together holding his
breath till his mouth was dry and swallowing his tears to keep them from
falling. At the same time he listened with anxious attention so as not
to lose one word of Polykarp's.
"Aye thus and thus only are great works of art begotten" said he to
himself "and if the Lord had bestowed on me such gifts as on this lad
no father nay no god should have compelled me to leave my Ariadne
unfinished. The attitude of the body was not bad I should say--but the
head the face--Aye the man who can mould such a likeness as that has
his hand and eye guided by the holy spirits of art. He who has done that
head will be praised in the latter days together with the great Athenian
masters--and he-yes he merciful Heaven! he is my own beloved son!"
A blessed sense of rejoicing such as he had not felt since his early
youth filled his heart and Dorothea's ardor seemed to him half pitiful
and half amusing.
It was not till his duteous son took the hammer in his hand that he
stepped between his wife and the bust saying kindly:
"There will be time enough to-morrow to destroy the work. Forget the
model my son now that you have taken advantage of it so successfully.
I know of a better mistress for you--Art--to whom belongs everything of
beauty that the Most High has created--In Art in all its breadth and
fulness not fettered and narrowed by any Agapitus."
Polykarp flung himself into his father's arms and the stern man hardly
master of his emotions kissed the boy's forehead his eyes and his
At noon of the following day the senator went to the women's room and
while he was still on the threshold he asked his wife--who was busy at
"Where is Polykarp? I did not find him with Antonius who is working at
the placing of the altar and I thought I might find him here."
"After going to the church" said Dorothea "he went up the mountain.
Go down to the workshops Marthana and see if your brother has come
Her daughter obeyed quickly and gladly for her brother was to her the
dearest and seemed to her to be the best of men. As soon as the pair
were alone together Petrus said while he held out his hand to his wife
with genial affection "Well mother--shake hands." Dorothea paused for
an instant looking him in the face as if to ask him "Does your pride
at last allow you to cease doing me an injustice?" It was a reproach
but in truth not a severe one or her lips would hardly have trembled so
tenderly as she said.
"You cannot be angry with me any longer and it is well that all should
once more be as it ought."
All certainly had not been "as it ought" for since the husband and wife
had met in Polykarp's work-room they had behaved to each other as if
they were strangers. In their bedroom on the way to church and at
breakfast they had spoken to each no more than was absolutely necessary
or than was requisite in order to conceal their difference from the
servants and children. Up to this time an understanding had always
subsisted between them that had never taken form in words and yet that
had scarcely in a single case been infringed that neither should ever
praise one of their children for anything that the other thought
blameworthy and vice versa.
But in this night her husband had followed up her severest condemnation
by passionately embracing the wrong-doer. Never had she been so stern in
any circumstances while on the other hand her husband so long as she
could remember had never been so softhearted and tender to his son and
yet she had controlled herself so far as not to contradict Petrus in
Polykarp's presence and to leave the work-room in silence with her
"When we are once alone together in the bedroom" thought she "I will
represent to him his error as I ought and he will have to answer for
But she did not carry out this purpose for she felt that something must
be passing in her husband's mind that she did not understand; otherwise
how could his grave eyes shine so mildly and kindly and his stern lips
smile so affectionately after all that had occurred when he lamp in
hand had mounted the narrow stair.
He had often told her that she could read his soul like an open book but
she did not conceal from herself that there were certain sides of that
complex structure whose meaning she was incapable of comprehending.
And strange to say she ever and again came upon these incomprehensible
phases of his soul when the images of the gods and the idolatrous
temples of the heathen or when their sons' enterprises and work were the
matters in hand. And yet Petrus was the son of a pious Christian; but
his grandfather had been a Greek heathen and hence perhaps a certain
something wrought in his blood which tormented her because she could not
reconcile it with Agapitus' doctrine but which she nevertheless dared
not attempt to oppose because her taciturn husband never spoke out with
so much cheerfulness and frankness as when he might talk of these things
with his sons and their friends who often accompanied them to the oasis.
Certainly it could be nothing sinful that at this particular moment
seemed to light up her husband's face and restore his youth.
"They just are men" said she to herself "and in many things they have
the advantage of us women. The old man looks as he did on his wedding-
day! Polykarp is the very image of him as every one says and now
looking at the father and recalling to my mind how the boy looked when
he told me how he could not refrain from making Sirona's portrait I must
say that I never saw such a likeness in the whole course of my life."
He bid her a friendly good night and extinguished the lamp. She would
willingly have said a loving word to him for his contented expression
touched and comforted her but that would just then have been too much
after what she had gone through in her son's workroom. In former years
it had happened pretty often that when one of them had caused
dissatisfaction to the other and there had been some quarrel between
them they had gone to rest unreconciled but the older they grew the
more rarely did this occur and it was now a long time since any shadow
had fallen on the perfect serenity of their married life.
Three years ago on the occasion of the marriage of their eldest son
they had been standing together looking up at the starry sky when
Petrus had come close up to her and had said "How calmly and peacefully
the wanderers up there follow their roads without jostling or touching
one another! As I walked home alone from the quarries by their friendly
light I thought of many things. Perhaps there was once a time when the
stars rushed wildly about in confusion crossing each other's path while
many a star flew in pieces at the impact. Then the Lord created man and
love came into the world and filled the heavens and the earth and he
commanded the stars to be our light by night; then each began to respect
the path of the other and the stars more rarely came into collision till
even the smallest and swiftest kept to its own path and its own period
and the shining host above grew to be as harmonious as it is numberless.
Love and a common purpose worked this marvel for he who loves another
will do him no injury and he who is bound to perfect a work with the
help of another will not hinder nor delay him. We two have long since
found the right road and if at any time one of us is inclined to cross
the path of the other we are held back by love and by our common duty
namely to shed a pure light on the path of our children."
Dorothea had never forgotten these words and they came into her mind now
again when Petrus held out his hand to her so warmly; as she laid hers in
it she said:
"For the sake of dear peace well and good--but one thing I cannot leave
unsaid. Soft-hearted weakness is not usually your defect but you will
utterly spoil Polykarp."
"Leave him let us leave him as he is" cried Petrus kissing his wife's
brow. "It is strange how we have exchanged parts! Yesterday you were