Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Last Days of Pompeii

3. Chapter III


'HOLLA, my brave fellows!' said Lepidus, stooping his head as he entered the low doorway of the house of Burbo. 'We have come to see which of you most honors your lanista.' The gladiators rose from the table in respect to three gallants known to be among the gayest and richest youths of Pompeii, and whose voices were therefore the dispensers of amphitheatrical reputation.

'What fine animals!' said Clodius to Glaucus: 'worthy to be gladiators!'

'It is a pity they are not warriors,' returned Glaucus.

A singular thing it was to see the dainty and fastidious Lepidus, whom in a banquet a ray of daylight seemed to blind--whom in the bath a breeze of air seemed to blast--in whom Nature seemed twisted and perverted from every natural impulse, and curdled into one dubious thing of effeminacy and art--a singular thing was it to see this Lepidus, now all eagerness, and energy, and life, patting the vast shoulders of the gladiators with a blanched and girlish hand, feeling with a mincing gripe their great brawn and iron muscles, all lost in calculating admiration at that manhood which he had spent his life in carefully banishing from himself.

So have we seen at this day the beardless flutterers of the saloons of London thronging round the heroes of the Fives-court--so have we seen them admire, and gaze, and calculate a bet--so have we seen them meet together, in ludicrous yet in melancholy assemblage, the two extremes of civilized society--the patrons of pleasure and its slaves--vilest of all slaves--at once ferocious and mercenary; male prostitutes, who sell their strength as women their beauty; beasts in act, but baser than beasts in motive, for the last, at least, do not mangle themselves for money!

'Ha! Niger, how will you fight?' said Lepidus: 'and with whom?'

'Sporus challenges me,' said the grim giant; 'we shall fight to the death, I hope.'

'Ah! to be sure,' grunted Sporus, with a twinkle of his small eye.

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