The House of Sallust

Nicholas Michell

Enter gay Sallust's house — its beauties trace —
Model, in those far times, of Roman grace.
On arch and wall its seal hath ruin set,
But luxury breathes from many a chamber yet.
First, stately pillars, carved by Grecian rule,
Guard the once-thronged and lofty vestibule;
Tread the grand hall, approach the Impluvium's brim,*
Mark its fair marble bed and sculptured rim,
The sumptuous floor with bright mosaics rich,
Statues of gods once placed in many a niche;
For here were kept the Lares, they who shield
Men's homes from harm, and peace and concord yield.
Beyond, where silken screens were wont to fall,
Art heaped her stores, and gleamed the pictured wall;
In mortal hues the gods were shown to men,
And Homer's heroes fought and died again.
Sweeping across, where many a column rears
Its fluted shaft, an airy walk appears,
Opening to cabinets and chambers gay,
And Beauty's bowers long pass'd to dark decay;
Close by, the fair Triclinium blazed with gold,
Where Ceres reigned, and Bacchus laughed of old;
Where, crowned with garlands, leaned the happy guest,
Feasting till suns went down the crimsoned West,
While songs of gay Anacreon fired each soul,
Or softer music o'er their senses stole.
Fronting the hall of Feast, in Summer's heat,
The bowery garden lent a cool retreat;
There choicest statues stood, and sweetly grew
Balm-breathing shrubs, and flowers of gayest hue;
Founts, leaped on high, then purled in rills along,
And birds in cages murmured plaintive song.
Here to calm thought the master might resign
His fevered soul, and, lapped in dreams divine,
Muse with Pythagoras, with Plato soar,
Quaff the rich stream of Greek and Roman lore,
Despite gross sense, confess the spirit's spell,
And half renounce a world he loved so well.
Such was the home of Sallust; well may sigh
The gazer now to muse on days gone by,
To see unroofed those gorgeous classic halls,
Rain stain the pavements, ivy clasp the walls;
While he, the lord, long past the Stygian shore,
Can feast, admire — can gaze, return no more.
Unlike his lettered namesake, nought shall save
His shadowy memory from Oblivion's grave:
He who would hope to live beyond his kind —
Not through vain wealth or pride — must live by mind.

This villa is one of the luxury residences of Pompeii.