Lords of the World - Alfred J. Church


Scipio had furnished Polybius with a letter addressed to Mummius, who, as one of the consuls of the year, was likely, sooner or later, to take command of the forces that were to operate against Corinth. Thanks to this he found no difficulty in obtaining for himself and Cleanor access to the great man. He had also the advantage of having made the consul's acquaintance during his sojourn in Italy. Mummius was a "new man", one of the class which their enemies describe as up-starts, their friends as "self-made men". He was rude and uncultured, with just so much education as enabled him to spell through a state document and sign his name. But if he was ignorant and unrefined, on the other hand he was honest, a plain man who did his duty up to his light, not given either to self-indulgence or greed, and humane at least up to the Roman average.

The friends found him immersed in business, a kind of business, too, with which he was wholly unfitted to deal. This, however, did not prevent him greeting Polybius in friendly fashion, and speaking a few words of welcome to Cleanor.

"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" he asked, when these salutations had been exchanged.

Polybius briefly described what he had seen, and suggested that some steps should be taken to put a stop to this waste of valuable property.

"This sort of thing is quite beyond me," exclaimed the consul in some irritation. "I don't understand what you mean by these treasures of art. However, I will see to it. But I have done a good stroke of business for the treasury. There are hundreds of statues about the city, which, indeed, is fairly blocked up with them. What they could want with so many I can't conceive. As for being statues of great men, as they tell me, I can hardly believe it. Why, the whole country is not a quarter of the size of Italy, and we haven't a half or anything like a half. But as to the statues. The agents of King Eumenes of Pergamus were here yesterday, and gave me five thousand sesterces apiece for the pick of a hundred statues. That makes a fine sum of money, more than a knight's qualification, as you know."

"Five thousand apiece! is that all?" cried Polybius. "I don't know, of course, what the statues were, but I am pretty sure that King Eumenes would send an agent who knew what he was about. And if he had the first pick, I should say that the king has made the best bargain that he ever made in his life. Five thousand, indeed! It would not have been a bad stroke of business, I should say, if he had paid fifty thousand. I know that he gave double that to Diagoras of Rhodes for Myron's Dancing Faun."

"You astonish me," said Mummius. "I never dreamt of such sums. Why, at Interamna—my native place, you know—they put up a statue of my father, twice the size of life, and the sculptor thought himself very well paid with five thousand sesterces, the town finding the stone. But I suppose you know all about these things. However, I have passed my word, and I can't go back from my bargain. But the king didn't get quite the pick, as you call it. I sent Duilius my quĉstor round the city to look about him and choose a cargo of specimens to send over to Rome. He told me that he knew something about these matters. And he can speak Greek, which is something."

At this point of the conversation one of the consul's lictors knocked at the door and announced that the transport contractors had called by appointment.

Polybius and his companion offered to go away. "No," said Mummius, "there is nothing private, and I have something else to say to you afterwards. Bring them in," he went on, speaking to the lictor.

The contractors were three in number, the owners of as many transport ships. They had undertaken to convey three ship-loads of statues to Rome. One of them had a catalogue of these works of art, which he handed to the consul. Mummius had another copy.

"Would you be good enough," he said to Polybius, "to go over the list with these gentlemen. You will tell we whether it is all right, and you will see what sort of choice Duilius has made.

The list contained some two hundred items in all, and there was scarcely one of them which Polybius did not know or had not heard as being a master-piece in its way. There were works amongst them of all the famous sculptors of Greece, from Phidias downwards—Polyclitus, Myron, Praxiteles, and the masters of the Rhodian and the Pergamene schools.

"Well," said the historian, when the list had been carefully gone through, "Duilius has done his business very well. He has got the pick of the treasures of Corinth. And King Eumenes, though he has done exceedingly well, can hardly have made the extravagantly good bargain that I thought. Yes, this is a very fine list indeed."

The consul's face grew visibly brighter.

"That is good hearing," he cried. "I shan't have done so badly after all; but I wish very much that I had seen you a little sooner. Now, my friends," he went on, addressing himself to the contractors, "you hear what this gentleman says. He is a friend of mine, and knows all about these matters. You understand that you have a very valuable cargo. Are your transports water-tight and seaworthy in every way?"

"Certainly, sir," said the spokesman of the three. "I don't believe you could find better ships between the Pillars and Tyre."

"Well, I hope they are what you say. But mind this, you are answerable for the cargo. I paid your price, and I expect you to do your work. Mind this, if you lose them, you will replace them with others just as good. Isn't that fair, Polybius?"

"Certainly, sir," said the Greek, preserving a quite masterly command of his countenance.

This business concluded, the consul went on:

"You have done me, or tried to do me, a good turn; I only wish that you had come a few hours sooner. Now I should like to show you that I am grateful. You have heard, I suppose, of Diĉus?"

"Not a word, sir," replied the historian, "except that he disappeared after the battle."

"Well," said Mummius, "he is dead. He poisoned himself at some place in Arcadia. His property, of course, is confiscated. I am told that there are about thirty talents of silver and half a talent of gold. Whatever the amount, half of it is at your service."

"I thank you, sir," returned Polybius, "but I don't care to enrich myself with what has belonged to a countryman. Diĉus was no friend of mine, but I should not like it to be said that I have been a gainer by his death."

"You are an honest man," cried the consul, and I wish that there were more like you here, and, for the matter of that, at Rome. But can I do anything for you?"

"Yes, sir, you can," said Polybius. "Let me use this money to redeem some of these poor creatures who are to be sold. I know many of them; some I may almost call friends. It is heart-rending for one who has seen them as they were to see them as they are now."

"Good!" answered Mummius, "you shall have the whole of the money, and I will tell the quĉstor to see that it goes as far as possible. There shall be no bidding against you. And now farewell; but you and your young friend must dine with me to-day."