Having once gotten the chance of naming whom he liked to Emperor Valens as dabblers in forbidden arts, the public secretary Palladius entangled many people in his fatal snares like an expert hunter following the obscure track of his prey. Some he charged with having disgraced themselves by the practice of magic, some with being accessory to the treasonable ambitions of others. Even wives were left no time to bewail the misfortunes of their husbands; men were sent immediately to seal up their houses and, in the course of examining the possessions of the condemned paterfamilias, to smuggle in among them old wives’ spells and absurd love-charms designed to endanger innocent folk. When these were read in court, where no law or scruple or sense of justice prevailed to distinguish truth from falsehood, young and old were indiscriminately deprived of their property without any opportunity of defense, although they were quite guiltless, and after suffering wholesale torture were taken off in litters to execution. The result was that throughout the eastern provinces, whole libraries were burned by their owners for fear of a similar fate; such was the terror which seized all hearts. In a word, we all crept about at that time in a Cimmerian darkness, filled with the same fear as the guests of Dionysius of Sicily. While they were stuffing themselves with a meal more dreadful than any degree of hunger, swords hung over their heads suspended by horse hairs from the ceiling of the room in which they were sitting, and kept them in a state of continual terror.
While so much was crashing in ruin, Heliodorus, a hellish contriver with Palladius of all this misery and himself by popular report an astrologer who had been induced by secret overtures from the court to pledge his services, put out his deadly fangs. Every kind of flattery and cajolery was employed to induce him to reveal what he knew or had fabricated. He was solicitously pampered with the choicest viands, and large sums of money were contributed for him to bestow on his whores. His twisted features were to be seen here, there, and everywhere, an object of universal dread. It would be tedious to narrate all the exploits of this gallows bird, but I will give one example of the way in which his boldfaced impudence shook the patriciate to its very foundations. His secret confabulations with courtiers had made him outrageously arrogant, and he was so worthless that there was no crime that he could not be hired to commit. He accused that admirable pair of consuls, the brothers Eusebius and Hypatius, connections by marriage of the former emperor Constantius, of planning to exalt themselves and of using divination to further their designs on the empire, and to make this fabrication more plausible, he added that imperial robes had actually been gotten ready for Eusebius. All this was eagerly swallowed by the dangerous lunatic, whose belief in his right to commit any wrong showed him to be unfit to wield authority of any kind. Anyone whom the informer, who was free from all legal restraint, had the sublime assurance to assert ought to be sent for was inexorably hailed even from the farthest corners of the empire, and the emperor ordered a trial on a criminal charge to be set in motion. For a long time Justice was tightly bound and trampled underfoot, while the abandoned scoundrel persisted in his string of falsehoods. But severe torture failed to extort a confession, and merely demonstrated that the distinguished defendants were utterly devoid of any guilty knowledge. Nevertheless, their false accuser continued to be treated with the same respect as before, while they were visited with exile and pecuniary penalties. Shortly afterward, however, their fines were remitted and they were recalled to the unimpaired enjoyment of their rank and dignity.
© Walter Hamilton. Used with permission of Penguin Books Ltd.
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