CHAPTER XV. NIMES.
He was a man of obscure, plebeian birth, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, belonging to a family, the Vipsanian, of which the gentlemen of Rome professed never to have heard, or not to have found it necessary to trouble their heads to learn anything. He was a fine soldier, a man of plain manners, good morals, upright, faithful, unambitious. Octavius Augustus was warmly attached to him, and valued his good qualities and his admirable military genius; and Agrippa on his side was tenderly devoted to his noble friend. Their characters were as unlike as their faces and as their manners. When Octavius became the supreme ruler of the destinies of Rome, he heaped honours on his friend. He made him put away his wife and marry his own daughter Julia. He had children by her, Caius and Lucius, who grew to man's estate and then died, one from a wound, the other of decline, and another son, an ill-conditioned boy, Agrippa Posthumus, put to death, probably by order of Octavius, a commission given on his own deathbed, to save Rome from internecine war.
His daughter, Agrippina, starved herself to death, heartbroken at the murder of her two sons by Tiberius, and despairing at the thought that her other son, the crazy, debauched, cruel Caligula was alone left to represent her family. The other daughter of Agrippa, Julia, was infamous for her debaucheries, and died in banishment. The family was then represented by the second Agrippina, daughter of the first Agrippina, who became the mother of Nero - that son who was his mother's and his brother's murderer, and died finally by his own hand, amidst the execrations of the Roman world.
The sad shadow that lies on the brow of Agrippa almost seems to be cast there by the destiny awaiting his family. Not one drop of his blood mingled with the sacred ichor of the Julian race remains on earth. But other remnants of Agrippa abide. The Pantheon of Rome, and the Pont du Gard near Nimes, aye - and the baths he made for the washerwomen in the water he led into this town, that they might not sully the sacred spring that welled up before the temple of the Nymphs.
Agrippa in his various offices and governorships accumulated great wealth, but he was not a grasping man, nor one who spent his wealth upon himself. Wherever he was, he expended his fortune on improving and embellishing the cities under his sway. Thus it was that for quite an inconsiderable little town, which the classic authors pass over without notice, he lavished very large sums to provide it with excellent water from two springs twenty-five miles distant, not that the river that rises at Nimes is impure, but that a certain awe felt for it withheld the natives from desecrating the sacred waters to common use.
The Pont du Gard which carried the waters by three tiers of arches across the valley of the Gurdon, at a height of one hundred and eighty feet, is one of the most striking and perfect of the monuments left by the Romans in Gaul, or anywhere; and it is certainly remarkable that the two most complete relics of this great people that remain, should have been the work of Agrippa, the Pantheon and the Pont du Gard. This latter is a colossal work. Its length is 873 feet at top, and may well be compared to its advantage with the modern aqueduct that conveys water to the Prado of Montpellier, a more lengthy, but a feeble structure.
The Roman remains in Nimes are held famous everywhere. Nowhere, least of all in Rome, are the relics of that great people of builders to be seen in such perfection. There is the amphitheatre, smaller, but more perfect even, than that at Arles. There is the Maison Carree, a temple almost quite perfect, and of surpassing proportional perfection. Small this temple is: it consists of thirty elegant Corinthian columns, ten of which are disengaged, and form the portico, whereas the remainder are engaged in the naos or sanctuary. No engraving can give an idea of its loveliness. It is the best example we have in Europe, of a temple that is perfectly intact. It is mignon, it is cheerful, it is charming. I found myself unable at any time to pass it without looking round over my shoulder, again and again, and uttering some exclamation of pleasure at the sight of it.
That temple is instructive in a way the ordinary traveller would hardly suspect. It is a valuable example to us of the complete and radical difference that existed between the Pagan and the Christian ideas of worship. The Pagan world had no idea of gathering a congregation together, any more than I may say have the old canons of Florence, or of S. Peter's, Rome, who shut themselves into glass boxes, of bringing all men into one building to unite in prayer and praise. The sanctuaries of the Pagan gods were quite small and dark. Worship was simply an individual matter, a bringing of a sacrifice to an altar. There was nothing like congregational worship in the Jewish temple either. The priest alone went within to offer the incense, whilst the people stood without. But in the Christian church the condition of affairs was completely reversed. The worship of God was to be for all the people, all together, with one heart and one voice. That is why the early Christians in the fourth century never adapted a temple to a church. A temple could not be adapted. The pillars were all outside, and within was a little dark box - the sanctuary - that would not hold more than a couple of score of persons. They could not use the temples; what they wanted were temples turned outside-in, the pillars within forming great halls in which a crowd might be gathered.