Page:The Amazing Emperor Heliogabalus.djvu/277

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VIII
225
WIVES OF THE EMPEROR

permit of so many weddings and divorces; while the Emperor's inclination, continually veering back to Aquilia, would not have let him try so many others. Dion tells us that Antonine remarried this Vestal before the last and fatal plot was set on foot; a statement which is corroborated by certain Alexandrian coins struck after 29th August 221. It was a proceeding, as far as we can judge, more mad than his first mistake. Admitting that Antonine knew that his first error, in taking the nun to wife, had angered the people, it is impossible for us to imagine why he took her again, thus once more upsetting the city. It was the most unaccountable blunder, and one which would finally alienate those whom he had so lately tried to propitiate. There may have been goodness in the act, kindness towards the woman, who had given up so much for his sake. There is goodness everywhere, often the basis of evil is in that virtue; certainly much madness may be traced to it.

In reading the account of this epoch, one feels as though one were assisting at the spectacle of a gigantic asylum where the inmates were omnipotent. From this disease of madness Rome might have recovered, had not her delirium, which was fine, turned to softening of the brain. Until a century later, there was hope, because the guilt was conscious; it was only when guilt became ignorance, that Rome disappeared.