Page:The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus.djvu/264

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214
CHAP.
LIFE OF ELAGABALUS

theological justification for every sin; and turned with equal avidity to the Mithraic, Egyptian, and even to the Nazarene religion with which Constantine finally replaced the ancient worship, as long as they were all the same thing under a different name; the religion of the Empire with local or foreign mysteries thrown in; the accustomed traditions, miracles, feasts, and nature worship, unfortunately, as men found after Constantine, grown contentious and continually more expensive to maintain.

The Vestals were still the guardians and types of the older theories they professed; they were the link between philosophy and superstition, and as such they played their part admirably: in private much the same as other women, in public exact. Occasionally there was a public scandal, but very rarely. Domitian had recalled the archaic law and had buried one defaulter alive. Claudius, referring to Messalina, had told them that the fate which made him the husband of impure women had destined him to punish such. The lady whom Caracalla buried alive protested, not against the imputation of a broken vow, but because the vow had not been broken satisfactorily enough for her liking.

Apparently Antonine was quite without Roman prejudice in this, or indeed in any other matter. He liked the lady; whether from a religious or an aesthetic point of view is uncertain. If it were the latter, and her portraits do her justice, Antonine's reputation as a judge of female beauty is irretrievably gone. She was frankly old and ugly. Nevertheless he wanted to marry her, and what he wanted he usually