The Procurator of Judea
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Title: The Procurator of Judea
Author: Anatole France
Translator: Michael Wooff
Release Date: February 26, 2019 [EBook #58967]
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Produced by Michael Wooff
The Procurator of Judea
Anatole France (1844-1924)
Aelius Lamia, born in Italy of illustrious parents, had not yetput off the patrician's white toga with the purple stripe whenhe went to Athens to study philosophy there in the schools.He afterwards set up in Rome and, in his house in the Exquiliae,led the life of a voluptuary amid debauched youths. But, afterhaving been accused of being in an illegitimate relationshipwith Lepida, the wife of a consul, Sulpicius Quirinus, and whenhe was found guilty, he was exiled by Tiberius Caesar. He wasthen in his twenty-fourth year. For the eighteen years hisexile lasted he wandered over Syria, Palestine, Cappadocia andArmenia, staying for long periods in Antioch, Caesarea Maritimaand Jerusalem. When, after the death of Tiberius, Caius Juliuswas raised to the imperial purple, Lamia was allowed to returnto Rome. He even recovered a part of his wealth. His woes hadmade him wise.
He avoided all dealings with free-born women, did not intriguefor public office, kept away from marks of favour and livedhidden in his house in the Exquiliae. Putting into writingthe noteworthy things he had seen in his far-off travels, hewas creating, he said, from his past sufferings, a diversionfor the hours he had these days at his disposal. In the midstof these serene labours, and while he was assiduously thinkingon the works of Epicurus, he saw, with a modicum of surpriseand a certain amount of sadness, old age creeping up on him.In his sixty-second year, tormented by a quite inconvenient cold,he went to take the waters at Baiae. This shore, formerly dearto common kingfishers, was at that time frequented by wealthy,pleasure-seeking Romans. For a week Lamia had been living aloneand friendless in their brilliant company, when, one day, afterdinner, feeling fit, he took it into his head to climb the hillswhich, covered with vines like devotees of Bacchus, overlook thewaves of the sea.
Having reached the summit, he sat down at the side of a pathbeneath a terebinth, and allowed his gaze to wander over thebeautiful landscape. On his left the Phlegraean Fields, pallidand bare, stretched out as far as the ruins of Cumae. On hisright Cape Misenus dug its sharp spur into the Tyrrhenian Sea.At his feet, to the west, the rich town of Baiae, hugging theshoreline's graceful curve, displayed its gardens, its villaspeopled with statues, its porticos and its marble terraces onthe edge of the blue sea in which dolphins played. In frontof him, on the other side of the gulf, on the Campanian coast,gilded by the sun that was already low in the sky, shone thetemples, crowned by the bay trees of the Pausilipon, and, onthe far horizon, Vesuvius spluttered and laughed.
Lamia pulled from a fold of his toga a roll containing theTreatise on Nature of Epicurus, stretched out on the groundand started to read. But the cries of a slave warned him toget up to make way for a litter that was coming up the narrowpath through the vines. As the open litter came nearer,Lamia saw, stretched out on the cushions, a hugely fat oldman who, head in hand, looked out with an eye both sombreand proud. His aquiline nose came down to his lips, madetight by a prominent chin and powerful jaws.
Right away, Lamia was sure he knew that face. He hesitatedthough for a moment in putting a name to it. Then he all ofa sudden rushed to the litter in a transport of surprise andjoy:
"Pontius Pilate!" he exclaimed. "Gods be praised. It hasbeen given to me to see you again!"
The old man motioned to the slaves to stop and focused hisattention on the man now greeting him.
"Pontius, my dear host," the latter continued. "Have twentyyears sufficed to make my hair white enough and my cheekssunken enough for you to no longer recognize your friendAelius Lamia?"
On hearing this name, Pontius Pilate got down from the litterin as sprightly a manner as the weariness due to his age andthe gravity of his bearing allowed him. And he twice huggedAelius Lamia.
"It's certainly good to see you again," he said. "Alas, youremind me of the old days, when I was procurator of Judea inthe province of Syria. I saw you for the first time thirtyyears ago. It was in Caesarea where you came to drag out thevexations of your exile. I was quite happy to mitigate themsomewhat, and you, out of friendship, Lamia, followed me tothat sad Jerusalem where the Jews filled me to the brim withbitterness and disgust. You stayed as my guest and mycompanion for more than ten years, and we both of us, talkingof Rome, consoled ourselves, you for your misfortunes, me formy promotions."
Lamia again embraced him.
"That's not all, Pontius. You fail to recall that you usedin my favour your credit with Herod Antipas and opened yourpurse to me liberally."
"Don't even mention it," Pontius replied, "since, when youwere back in Rome, you sent me by one of your freed men a sumof money that paid me off with interest."
"I don't think I'm out of your debt for any amount of money,
Pontius. But tell me, have the gods granted what your heart
desired? Do you enjoy all the happiness that you deserve?
Speak to me of your family, your fortune, your health!"
"I've retired to Sicily where I own lands that I cultivate andsell the wheat. My eldest daughter, my very dear Pontia, nowa widow, lives with me and keeps house for me. Thanks be tothe gods, I have not lost the strength of my faculties or mymemory. But old age does not come without a long processionof aches and pains. I suffer atrociously from gout. And yousee me at present seeking in the Phlegraean Fields a remedy formy afflictions. This land that burns, from which, at night,flames escape, exhales acrid vapours of sulphur which, so theysay, soothe pain and restore flexibility to joints and limbs.That's what the doctors assure me of anyway."
"May it be what you experience yourself, Pontius! But, goutand insect bites notwithstanding, you hardly look as old as me,though you are, in fact, ten years older. It's certain you'veretained more vigour than I ever had, and I'm glad to find youstill so robust. Why, dear heart, did you so prematurely rejectpublic office? Why, after you left your governorship in Judea,did you live on your estates in Sicily in voluntary exile? Tellme what you got up to from the moment that I ceased to be thereas a witness to your actions. You were preparing to put down aSamaritan revolt when I left for Cappadocia, where I was hopingto derive some profit from raising mules and horses. Sincethen I haven't laid eyes on you. What was the success of thatexpedition? Tell me about it. I'm interested in everythingthat's happened to you."
Pontius Pilate shook his head sadly.
"A natural solicitude," he said, "and a feeling of duty led meto perform my public functions not only diligently but with loveof them too. But hatred dogged me constantly. Intrigue andslander broke my life while the sap was still rising and blastedthe fruit it should have made ripe. You've asked me about theSamaritan revolt. Let's sit down on this mound. I can tellyou about it in just a few words. Those events are as freshin my mind today as if they had happened yesterday. A man ofthe people, potently eloquent, as many are in Syria, persuadedthe Samaritans to take up arms and gather on Mount Gerizim,which is held to be a holy place in this region, and he sworeto show them the sacred vessels that an eponymous hero, orrather a local prophet by the name of Moses, had hidden thereback in the time of Evander and Aeneas, our founding father.On the strength of this assurance the Samaritans revolted.But, warned in time to stop them, I had the mountain occupiedby infantry detachments and positioned cavalry to keep watchover approaches to it. These prudent measures were neededurgently. Already the rebels were besieging the town ofTyrathaba, to be found at the foot of Mount Gerizim. Idispersed them easily and nipped the revolt in the bud.Then, to make an example with a minimum of victims, I had therevolt's leaders executed. But you know, Lamia, how dependentI was on the goodwill of Proconsul Vitellius who governed theprovince of Syria not for Rome but against Rome and thoughtthat the provinces of the Empire could be portioned out likefarms to tetrarchs. The principal men among the Samaritansfell weeping with hatred of me at his feet. To hear them,nothing was further from their mind than to disobey Caesar.I had acted provocatively, and it was to resist my violentattack on them that they had gathered about Tyrathaba. AndVitellius heard their complaints and, entrusting the affairsof Judea to his friend Marcellus, he ordered me to justifyhow I had acted before the emperor. My heart heavy withpain and resentment, I took to the sea. As I drew near tothe coast of Italy, Tiberius, worn out by age and the caresof empire, died suddenly on Cape Misenus, the horn of whichyou can see from here lengthening in the evening mist. Ipleaded my case to Caius, his successor, who was naturallybright and was well acquainted with the affairs of Syria.But marvel with me at this, Lamia, at how my misfortunepersisted till it brought about my downfall. Caius hadkept close to him in Rome the Jew Agrippa, his companion,his childhood friend, whom he loved more than his life.Agrippa looked with favour on Vitellius because Vitelliuswas the enemy of Antipas, whom Agrippa hated most intensely.The emperor sided with his Jewish friend and would not evengrant me an audience. I was forced to stay under a cloudof undeserved disgrace. Swallowing my tears, nourished bygall, I retired to my lands in Sicily where I should havedied of regret had my sweet Pontia not come to console herfather. I planted wheat and grew the fattest ears of itin all the island. Today my life is done. Posterity willjudge between Vitellius and me."
"Pontius," Lamia replied, "I'm convinced that you acted towardsthe Samaritans to the best of your ability and in the soleinterest of Rome. But did you not on that occasion give in tooeasily to that impetuous bravery that always dragged you intothings? You know that in Judea, even though younger than youwere and therefore more ardent, it often fell to me to enjoinon you mildness and leniency."
"Leniency to Jews!" cried Pontius Pilate. "Despite your havinglived among them, you know little of these enemies of the humanrace. Both proud and base, combining ignominious cowardice withinvincible obstinacy, they undermine both love and hate. My wayof thinking, Lamia, is founded on the maxims of the divineAugustus. Already, when I was appointed procurator of Judea,the earth was majestically robed in the Pax Romana. Proconsulsno longer got rich from the sack of provinces as they were