Tag Archives: historial romance

QUAINT #27 Arbaces from “The Last Days of Pompeii” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

A depiction of the destruction of Pompeii from the documentary special Pompeii: The Last Day

Arbaces was created by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and appeared in The Last Days of Pompeii (1834). Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron of Knebworth (1803-1873) was a popular, productive, and influential writer for over 40 years. His reputation has unjustly suffered for many decades. Bulwer-Lytton also created Monsieur Favart, Margrave, Mr. Richards, Vril, and Zanoni.

The Last Days of Pompeii is about the lives of several characters in Pompeii in the final days before Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Two friends, Clodius, an effete Roman, and Glaucus, a popular Greek, are walking to the public baths when they see a beautiful, blind flower girl. She is obviously Greek, and this reminds Glaucus of another Greek woman he knew, who he had fallen in love with but had lost contact with. As Glaucus and Clodius speak they run into Arbaces, the Egyptian priest of Isis, a figure of power in Pompeii but one who is unlikable, and both Glaucus and Clodius detest him. Arbaces thinks little of either of them, for he hates the Romans and the Greeks and secretly prays for the return of Egypt to power. Until that time, however, he plots and schemes to accumulate personal power and indulge his own depraved tastes.

Arbaces is an Egyptian living in Pompeii. He is a magician, the “Lord of the Burning Girdle” and “he…from whom all cultivators of magic, from north to south, from east to west, from the Ganges and the Nile to the vales of Thessaly and the shores of the yellow Tiber, have stooped to learn.” In Pompeii he is a figure of fear and respect, in large part because he is rumored to wield the Evil Eye. He has contacts everywhere, especially among the Priests of Isis, whose chief Calenus is his servant and into whose company Arbaces personally inducts a number of priests. Arbaces is far more intelligent than everyone else around him, and even though his magic is humbug he is cunning enough to fool everyone with it.

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