Herman and Thusnelda - George Upton

German and Roman

The legion in which Flavius and Herman served had now been in Rome for more than a year, which gave both of them an opportunity for thorough acquaintance with the habits and the sentiments of the Roman people.

We find Herman living in a dwelling so modest that his comrades in arms often bantered him about it. He was by no means insensible to the artistic accomplishments which beautify life; on the contrary he was often deeply moved at sight of elegant statues or elaborate architecture; but he could not endure that degradation of art by which, instead of elevating the soul to noble and pure things, it drags it down into the service of the baser passions. His pure soul recognized art as the daughter of heaven, and that if it were to bless mankind it must be associated only with pure and noble things.

Herman thought of his own people. "You, my people," he thought, "still retain close fellowship with nature. What a difference between your simple and in some ways rude natural life, and the artificial life of the Romans! And yet how happy you are even in your incomplete mode of life! But you will not always remain in your present environment. Art shall some time erect its altars in your forests; and may a pure fire always flame upon them! May your art and your way of life be inseparable sisters!"

One day his reflections were interrupted by Flavius, who had come to call upon him—a rare event with Flavius. Their views and opinions steadily diverged, as well as their outward circumstances. Herman very properly wore his soldier's dress without any of the decorations which he was entitled to display; Flavius, on the other hand, had become a genuine Roman fop; he frequently spent a long time before his steel mirror, trying to decide what expression and attitudes best became him, and how to arrange the folds of his toga most gracefully. His fatherland had lost all its hold upon him, for he was ashamed of belonging to a people who were regarded as barbarians in Rome and made sport of by its luxuriant aristocrats. He dyed his hair black and wore it short, in the Roman style, lest he should be recognized as a German. When Herman first saw him thus changed, he could hardly repress his anger. But he thought to himself, "It is my brother, my father's son. I must restrain myself." An intense desire seized him to keep his brother from going astray; but it was useless, for Flavius was too deeply sunk in the abyss of Roman life with its excesses and dissipations. Before a year had passed, the brothers were conspicuous figures in the streets of Rome—the one for his physical strength and manliness, the other for his beauty of face and figure. Herman had developed the bearing and personal qualities of the hero; but as the outcome of his excesses, Flavius's cheeks were blanched, and his eyes were dimmed. He was, however, still a handsome man and fond of pleasure, while life was a serious matter to Herman. Flavius's conduct saddened his brother. Upon the occasion of this visit Flavius, laughing, as he had seen prominent Romans laugh, asked his brother, "Herman, why do you persist in living alone in this city of pleasure?"

"Do you call those excesses pleasures, which rob the body of its strength and destroy the peace of the soul?" said Herman.

Flavius laughed again. "You are mistaken," said he. "Consider the pleasures I have; and yet, should war break out again, I will show you I am strong enough to do my part. But let that go. Tell me why you were not at the gladiatorial fight in the theatre yesterday. You were fond of the sword dance at home and often participated in it; and yet when you can enjoy a similar sport upon a grander scale than our people ever conceived, you stay away! You missed a great entertainment yesterday."

"Flavius," replied Herman, "are you so blinded by your luxurious surroundings that you have forgotten the valuable results of our sword dance, especially as compared with these Roman gladiatorial combats? Do you not understand the lofty purpose our father had in view when he introduced it? He meant to educate heroes for the battlefield. That was why he bade all our youths practise it. Look at these gladiatorial contests! In earlier times they possibly may have served some useful purpose, but as conducted to-day they only exhibit the brutality of the people."

Flavius shook his head and laughed contemptuously.

But Herman went on: "I will prove my words. Are there among these gladiators any Roman youths who voluntarily devote themselves to these contests? No! The combatants are purchased slaves, provided by their masters, and forced to contend with one another like wild beasts, which they are sometimes forced to fight! And the Romans indulge in such debasing sports for entertainment! Even their women applaud the gladiators in the circus!"

"But you utterly fail to understand the real object of the sport," replied Flavius. "It is in the circus that the warlike spirit of the Romans is still preserved. Was it not in the ranks of the Roman army we became what we are? Is not this an additional proof of their warlike spirit?

Herman smiled bitterly. "I thoroughly understand the warlike spirit of the Romans," he replied. "It is the same spirit they display in forcing these gladiators to murder one another. Since I have become acquainted with the history of the Roman and other nations, my opinions have changed."

"I am astonished at what you say," answered Flavius. "Have we not fought for three years under the Roman eagles? Are we not held in high esteem by the leaders of the army, whose warlike spirit you question?"

"That may be," replied Herman. "In my youthful enthusiasm I did many things without a clear understanding of what I was doing. But I fully understand the Roman policy now. Its purpose is the destruction of other nations. The victories of this policy are the slaughters of other peoples."

"Well," replied Flavius in a careless way, "since it is so, we cannot change it."

"But," said Herman, rising, "supposing the Romans should pursue the same policy toward our fatherland! Supposing the anticipation of father and Uncle Igomar should be verified! You must well remember it."

Flavius answered: "It cannot, for the Romans have more respect for the Germans than for other nations. You have told me so often enough. But if Germany, whether with or without its consent, becomes a part of the Roman empire I shall not complain. Our people then will enjoy not only the sovereignty of Rome, but the culture of Rome. They will advance and prosper, just as we have since we joined the Roman army."

Herman's eyes blazed with anger. "Traitor! you are no brother of mine," he cried. "Loki, the evil god, must have stolen my real brother from my mother's side when she slept, and taken you from among the enemy to fill his place. Do you suppose Roman sovereignty would not dishonor our people because you enjoy it? In your infatuation you have absorbed the poisonous atmosphere of Roman life, and now you would introduce its pestilential vapor among our people for their destruction. But, I say to you, a union between Rome and Germany will never take place. They will always remain separated, just as Nature has separated them by her great barriers."

Saying this, he turned and went into another apartment. Flavius, crimson with shame and anger, left the house.