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Gathering Clouds A Tale Of The Days Of St Chrysostom by Frederic William Farrar


Rem Romanam alius circumsteterat metus totius Gothiæ.

Amm. Marcell., xxx.2.

As Chrysostom began to understand the general condition of society and politics at Constantinople he found that there were three predominant and fiercely antagonistic parties. He was more or less concerned with the affairs of them all. In each of the three parties he had some friends; with each he had some points of sympathy. The result was that every trouble and agitation in Constantinople became more or less a trouble or agitation for him, and he had to suffer from

Desperate currents of a whole world's anguish,

Forced through the channel of a single heart.

First, there was the old Conservative Roman party, at the head of which stood his friend Aurelian, who, in spite of the desperate intrigues of his wicked brother, only known to history by the nickname of Typhos, was now in the high position of Prætorian Præfect. The literary exponent of this party was his friend Synesius. Although Constantinople was regarded as the capital of the East, it was called New Rome, and all of the old stock disdained to regard themselves in any other light than that of genuine Romans. They therefore looked with horror on the constant increase of Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Suevi, and Vandals, who now not only crowded the ranks of the Roman army, but constituted at least half of its numerical strength. They saw a fatal menace for the future in the fact that the three commanders-in-chief of the Roman forces -- Stilico, Alaric, and Gaïnas -- the three generals who were thought to monopolise the military genius of the day, were all barbarians. The object of the great oration of Synesius before Arcadius had been to arouse him to a sense of the immediate dangers and of the certain peril to the ultimate fortunes of the Empire involved in this state of things.

Opposed to this Roman party was the Gothic party, headed at Constantinople by Gaïnas, formidable in arms, in numbers, in physical strength, in native manhood, and in military experience. Even if they could have found none but barbarians to help their cause, it would have been difficult to resist them; but they were aided by the incessant intrigues of Romans like Typhos, who cared for nothing but their own pelf and advancement; and also by the intricate feminine intrigues of evil-living ladies like the wife of Typhos. If Gaïnas had even been such a man as Stilico, or, still more, such a man as Fravitta, who, though he still continued to be a Pagan, had married a Roman wife, and felt himself bound by laws of honour and loyalty, the Ostrogoths, who were the nominal defenders of Constantinople, would have constituted a less threatening factor in the problems of the day. But Gaïnas was a man of fierce, restless, unstable character. He was actuated by the passions of ambition and revenge which were common to him with most of his countrymen. He was discontented. He had helped Theodosius both against the usurper Maximus and the usurper Eugenius, and deemed himself inadequately rewarded, though he had received honours and donatives of which his fathers had never dreamed. Unhappily, too, the party of Gaïnas was not only the Gothic party, but the Arian party. The Arians, as we have seen, were still numerous. In the days of Nectarius they had even risen and burnt down the Patriarcheion. Fanatically devoted to their heresy, they were willing to make common cause with the Gothic chieftain, who fancied that even the diadem itself might not be beyond his reach. Arbogast, indeed, had thought that a barbarian could not venture to assume the purple, but things had advanced since the days of Arbogast. Arians had been emperors, and Goths had made emperors; why could not a Goth and an Arian elevate the glory of Wulfila even to the throne of Constantine?

The third party was that of Eutropius: the party of civil officialism and palace favourites, the party of eunuchs and wirepullers. It derived its sole strength from the subservient ineptitude of the reigning emperor, but wielded an immense prestige from the fact that it could invariably command the influence of the Throne.

Typhos, indignant at his brother's elevation to the Præfecture, on which he had set his heart, began to intrigue secretly with Gaïnas, and the unscrupulous wife of Typhos with the wife of Gaïnas. The Goth, full of cunning and suspicion, was willing to utilise them both, but he was much too cautious to betray to them his own private plans.

Those plans were now nearly ripe for action. A kinsman of the Goth -- Tribigild, a military tribune and chieftain of the Gruthongs -- had come to Constantinople partly to compliment Eutropius on his elevation to the Consulship, but in reality to plead for higher office for himself and larger subsidies for his warlike nation.

Eutropius simply dallied with and fooled the Gruthongian chieftain. He despised his tribe as a distant section of the Ostrogoths too numerically feeble to be formidable. After manifold delays he snubbed Tribigild altogether, and sent him back without added pay, without presents, without even the cheap reward of empty titles. It was a fatal impolicy, due too the vertigo of his unwonted exaltation. No doubt such requests as those of Tribigild were an incessant worry to the Court; but Eutropius might have had sufficient foresight to see that a relation of Gaïnas, and a chief of high pretensions, could not be duped and insulted with impunity.

What passed between Gaïnas and Tribigild is not known, but there seems to be little doubt that they concocted between them a disastrous conspiracy.

Angry and dejected, his Scythian breast, as Claudian calls it, inflamed with want, his pride humiliated, his hand empty of gifts, the Gruthongian chieftain made his way home. His wife saw him approaching from a distance, and flew to meet him. She was one of those strong, and lofty-statured Teutonic women, by whose side the enervated Roman ladies looked so puny and slight-natured. She was clad in robes of fine linen, fastened at the breast with a jewelled brooch, and her long, fair tresses were confined by a band clasped with golden serpents. Joyously meeting him, and flinging her white arms round his neck, she asked what titles he had won, what presents he had brought for himself and her, what largesses for his tribe. Doubtless he had some necklace of orient pearls or emeralds for her, and some shield with its golden boss set round with gems to hang upon the wall of his banquet-chamber, and testify the admiration of Arcadius for a loyal chief?

Ask me not!' he answered with sullen anger; I bring nothing. My requests have all been refused. No larger subsidies are conceded. They have not given me the title of Count. I have been insulted -- and by a eunuch.'

Then, in all the old passion of a barbarian woman, his wife tore her cheeks with her nails and poured out her fierce taunts.

Back, then, to your plough,' she said, husbandman, unfit to be a warrior! Fling away the sword, and take to the harrow. Let your Gruthongs sink to the level of an earth-grubbing peasantry. Oh! why did fortune link me with a poltroon? There are other Gothic women whose husbands have not been content to sweat over spades, whose homes are adorned with the spoils of cities that their husbands have laid waste, who are waited on by fair Argive and Laconian maidens. But the chief of their clan was an Alaric, and not a Tribigild.'

My tribe is small,' said Tribigild, my warriors are few.'

Tush!' she said; war will give you allies, war will crowd your ranks. Fling off the half-Roman; be a true Goth once more. They have spurned your fidelity; let them dread your injuries.'

No Goth could resist such appeals. Tribigild roused his tribe, and flew to arms. Multitudes of slaves and barbarians joined him. The rich plains of Phrygia lay before him, and its cities were only defended by walls which had long crumbled into decay. He devastated the whole country with fire and flame, and the terrified people appealed to Constantinople for protection from massacre and ruin.

At first Eutropius affected to make light of the catastrophe which his levity had precipitated. 'It is but an incursion of brigands,' he said to the frightened Emperor. They want chains, not troops. I will send a Prætor, not a Tribune, to punish them.' It was, as Claudian says, the policy of the ostrich, which hides its head in the sand, and thinks that its enemy will not see it. Secretly, however, he sent to negotiate with Tribigild. Experience had given him an immense belief in the omnipotence of bribes. In this instance they were vain. The Gruthong had already enriched himself with abundant spoil. He disdained to accept donatives wrung from fear. He affected to despise the honours which came from an eunuch. What, then, do you want?' said the emissaries.

I want neither a courtship, nor presents, nor a donative,' he answered.

Will nothing content you?'

Yes! I want revenge. Send me the head of the eunuch and I grant you peace.'

Gaïnas made matters much worse by doing his utmost to increase the general consternation. My cousin Tribigild,' he said, is a first-rate general, and those Gruthongs are splendid fighters.'

Eutropius was in despair. At last he summoned such advisers as he could trust. But he had few on whom to rely except dandy youths and loose old men, whose chief glory it was to discover new refinements of luxury for their banquets, and to have peacocks and green parrots among the entremets. The chief subject of their chatter was the description of dresses and the discussion of the rival merits of athletes. Their very rings and their silk dresses were a burden to their decrepit enervation, and their chief aim was to look effeminate and have a good supply of lewd witticisms, while they talked of the wrigglings of acrobats and the dancing of actresses. But now Eutropius told them that affairs were serious. What was he to do?

They agreed that it would be unwise to send Gaïnas to suppress the rebellion. He was a Goth, and could not be trusted to put down Goths. His allegiance was more than suspected, and Tribigild was his cousin. No; there was nothing for it but to appoint Leo general.

Even in that conclave of his creatures the suggestion of Eutropius was received with an ill-suppressed titter, in which his prime favourite, the Spanish ex-cook, Osius, joined. For Leo was a common joke. He was so fat that he could neither walk without waddling nor speak without panting. What soldiers, whether Gothic or Roman, could respect or would obey such a general? Yet he valiantly exclaimed that he would drag this upstart Tribigild and these Gruthongian deserters behind his chariot to Constantinople.

So, while owls screeched their evil omens, he was sent forth to meet his doom, and to feed the Molossian vultures with the carcases of his soldiers. Never was there such a dissipated and ill-disciplined host. No one knew how to choose encampments. No scouts brought news of the enemy; no guides led them by the shortest routes; no sentries watched the vallum at night. Like a disorderly procession, the motley host marched towards the valleys and mountain-passes of the Taurus.

Tribigild, by a pretence of alarm, lulled the Roman army into fatal demoralisation. Leo, with senseless ignorance, had chosen his camp at a spot where a vast marsh at his rear cut off all hope of retreat. His insubordinate army spent the night in revelry and drunkenness. At darkest midnight Tribigild and his Goths burst over the unguarded rampart, and massacred at their will the drowsy and drunken soldiers. There was no battle -- only a slaughter and a rout. Leo mounted his horse, and fled headlong towards the marsh, in which thousands of his miserable soldiers were already floundering. The horse, covered with streaming sweat under the precipitate career and enormous corpulence of its rider, stumbled in the marsh, and flung Leo over its head. The wretched general tried in vain to crawl out on his belly through the mud and slush. Sunk down by his own weight, he died, partly of terror, and partly of suffocation. Tribigild could leave the wasted regions of Phrygia behind him, and burn and pillage at his will the rich plains of Pamphylia and Pisidia.

Arcadius had now no choice but to leave Constantinople practically undefended, and to send Gaïnas to check the dangerous career of the rebel. He crossed the Bosporus, and ostensibly marched to crush the enemy. But dog will not eat dog,' and he practically did nothing. The Emperor was mocked by missives in which Gaïnas lauded Tribigild as the best general of the age, and the Gruthongs as the most invincible soldiers. He saw no hope of defeating them. But they were inclined to be loyal had they not been so grievously offended. If the Emperor would only grant Tribigild's just demand for the head of the Chamberlain -- Gaïnas would not call him Consul -- the chief would lay down his arms and return to his own land. Was the safety of Eutropius to be preferred to the well-being of the entire Empire?

Nor was this all. A new terror began to threaten Arcadius. Bahram IV., King of Persia, had been his friend and faithful ally; but now the anti-Roman party had succeeded in effecting the murder of Bahram, and the first act of his successor, Izdegerd, was to send an army to attack Syria. Surely the omen of the Consulship of Eutropius had been sinister, and even deadly. For worse was still behind. If there was one person whom Arcadius hated, it was Stilico; and if there was one person against whom he cherished a malignant jealousy, it was his brother Honorius, who, though he was such a poor specimen of humanity, was yet on the whole his superior. Honorius and Stilico had disdainfully refused to acknowledge his new Consul, and now it began to be openly rumoured that Stilico, impatient of the disgraces and disorders of the East, meditated the suppression of Arcadius altogether, and the union of the dissevered empires of the East and West under a single emperor. This was the news which, more than any other, made the pale blood of Arcadius run cold.

How will it be with me if I am dispossessed?' asked Arcadius of himself. How if I am rendered incapable of further rule, not only by imprisonment, but by akroteriasm?'

The frightful meaning of that word haunted him. It meant the cutting off of his hands and feet. He pictured to himself an abject cripple lying mutilated in a foul dungeon; and that cripple was himself, while the hated Honorius and the hated Stilico revelled in the purple chambers of the Byzantine Palace.

Harassed to misery by these sources of dread from many quarters, even Arcadius could hardly refrain from asking himself, Can I not avert the worst of these catastrophes by the sacrifice of one wretched old man?'

Whether his hesitation would otherwise have been broken down we cannot tell; but a sudden act of insane folly on the part of the eunuch called down the avalanche on his own head.

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