Page:The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus.djvu/261

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VIII
211
WIVES OF THE EMPEROR

seen and admired a lady, whom Dion describes, or makes Antonine describe, as Chief Priestess of Vesta. With this designation Preuner emphatically disagrees, accounting for the αρχιέρεια on the grounds that she officiated in the chief worship of Rome, not that she herself was the chief priestess. It was in the early months of the year 221 that Antonine, having seconded Julia Paula, took from her nunnery the Vestal Aquilia Severa, thereby thoroughly shocking the susceptible. We have already discussed the reasons for this act of folly. From a religious point of view there was much to be said by the Emperor, and undoubtedly he said it. From an aesthetic standpoint it was a mistake. There are still in existence a certain number of coins and medals which bear her effigy; these give her the appearance of a sinister and rather evil-looking woman, utterly unlike the helpless Neophyte, young and beautiful, whom various writers have depicted in their efforts to excite our pity for the poor nun forcibly ravished by an unattractive and debauched Emperor.

The whole modern opinion of the community of Vesta is founded on a mistaken view of their position and usefulness. Our ideas of Vestals are largely derived from the conceptions which Egyptian anchorites bequeathed to the esoteric religious communities which flourished during the middle ages. The truth lies in the fact that the Roman Vestals have but one point of contact with the successors of the anchorites, namely, their reputation for chastity, which was, however, grafted on