Ben-Hur Table of Contents of the On-Line Edition. Cf. Ben-Hur in Print, at Amazon


“Cleopatra…. Our size of sorrow,

Proportion’d to our cause, must be as great

As that which makes it.-

Enter, below, DIOMEDES.

How now? is he dead?

Diomedes. His death’s upon him, but not dead.”

Antony and Cleopatra (act iv. sc. xiii.).



THE city of Misenum gave name to the promontory which it crowned, a few miles south-west of Naples. An account of ruins is all that remains of it now; yet in the year of our Lord 24- to which it is desirable to advance the reader- the place was one of the most important on the western coast of Italy.*

* The Roman government, it will be remembered, had two harbours in which great fleets were constantly kept- Ravenna and Misenum.

In the year mentioned, a traveller coming to the promontory to regale himself with the view there offered, would have mounted a wall, and, with the city at his back, looked over the bay of Neapolis, as charming then as now; and then, as now, he would have seen the matchless shore, the smoking cone, the sky and waves so softly, deeply blue, Ischia here and Capri yonder; from one to the other and back again, through the purpled air, his gaze would have sported; at last- for the eyes do weary of the beautiful as the palate with sweets- at last it would have dropped upon a spectacle which the modern tourist cannot see- half the reserve navy of Rome astir or at anchor below him. Thus regarded, Misenum was a very proper place for three masters to meet, and at leisure parcel the world among them.

In the old time, moreover, there was a gateway in the wall at a certain point fronting the sea- an empty gateway forming the outlet of a street which, after the exit, stretched itself, in the form of a broad mole, out many stadia into the waves.

The watchman on the wall above the gateway was disturbed, one cool September morning, by a party coming down the street in noisy conversation. He gave one look, then settled into his drowse again.

There were twenty or thirty persons in the party, of whom the greater number were slaves with torches which flamed little and smoked much, leaving on the air the perfume of the Indian nard. The masters walked in advance arm-in-arm. One of them, apparently fifty years old, slightly bald, and wearing over his scant locks a crown of laurel, seemed, from the attentions paid him, the central object of some affectionate ceremony. They all sported ample togas of white wool broadly bordered with purple. A glance had sufficed the watchman. He knew, without question, they were of high rank, and escorting a friend to ship after a night of festivity. Further explanation will be found in the conversation they carried on.