Serapis by Georg Ebers
In the great house in the Canopic street it was late ere all was quiet for the night. Even Demetrius, in spite of his fatigue, broke through his rule of "early to bed"; he felt he must see the reaping of the harvest he had sown for his brother.
It had been no easy task to persuade Mary to accede to his importunities, but to his great joy he at last succeeded.
He would have met with a rough dismissal if he had begun by praising Dada and expressing his wish to see her married to Marcus; he had gained his point inch by inch, very quietly; but when he had explained to her that it was in his hands to secure the martyr's crown for her husband she had turned suspicious and ironical, had made him swear that it was true, threatening him with punishments in this world and in the next; but he had let it all pass over his head, had solemnly sworn as she desired him, pledging not merely the salvation of his soul but his possessions in this world; till, at length, convinced that it really was in his power to gratify the dearest wish of her heart, she had yielded somewhat and altered her demeanor. Still, he had not spoken a word to help her through her deliberations and bewilderment, but had left her to fight out the hard struggle with her own soul; not without some malicious enjoyment but also not without anxiety, till the first decisive question was put to him by his stepmother.
She had heard that Dada was quite resolved to be baptized, and having once more made sure of the fact that the girl was anxious to become a Christian, she next asked:
"And it was Marcus who won her to the faith?"
"And you can swear that she is a pure-minded and well-conducted girl?"
Certainly, with the firmest conviction."
"I saw her in the arena--she is pretty, uncommonly charming indeed--and Marcus . . . ?"
"He has set his heart on the girl, and I am sure that his passion is sincere and unselfish. On the other hand I need hardly remind you that in this city there are many women, even among those of the first rank, whose birth and origin are far more doubtful than those of your son's little friend, for she, at any rate, is descended from free and respectable parents. Her uncle's connections are among the best families in Sicily; not that we need trouble ourselves about that, for the wife of Philip's grandson would command respect even if she were only a freed-woman."
"I know, I know," murmured Mary, as though all this were of minor importance in her eyes; and then for some little time she remained silent. At last she looked up and exclaimed in a voice that betrayed the struggle still going on in her soul:
"What have I to care for but my child's happiness? In the sight of God we are all equal--great and small alike; and I myself am but a weak woman, full of defects and sins--but for all that I could have wished that the only son of a noble house might have chosen differently. All I can say is that I must look upon this marriage as a humiliation laid upon me by the Almighty--still, I give it my sanction and blessing, and I will do freely and with my whole heart if my son's bride brings as her marriage-portion the one thing which is the first and last aim of all my desires: The everlasting glory of Apelles. The martyr's crown will open the gates of Heaven to him--who was your father, too, Demetrius. Gain that and I myself will lead the singer to my son's arms."
"That is a bargain!" cried Demetrius--and soon after midnight he had retired to rest, after seeing Mary fulfil her promise to give a parental blessing to the betrothed pair.
A few weeks later Dada and Gorgo were both baptized, and both by the name of Cecilia; and then, at Mary's special entreaty, Marcus' marriage was solemnized with much pomp by the Bishop himself.
Still, and in spite of the lavish demonstrations of more than motherly affection which the widow showered her daughter-in-law, Dada felt a stranger, and ill at ease in the great house in the Canopic way. When Demetrius, a few weeks after their marriage, proposed Marcus that he should undertake the management of family estates in Cyrenaica, she jumped at the suggestion; and Marcus at once decided to act upon it when his brother promised to remain with him for the first year or two, helping him with his advice and instructions.
Their fears lest Mary should oppose the project, proved unfounded; for, though the widow declared that life would be a burden to her without her children, she soon acceded to her son's wishes and admitted that they were kind and wise. She need not fear isolation, for, as the widow of the martyred Apelles, she was the recognized leader of the Christian sisterhood in the town, and preferred working in a larger circle than that of the family. She always spoke with enthusiasm to her visitors of her daughter-in-law Cecilia, of her beauty, her piety and her gentleness; in fact, she did all she could to make it appear that she herself had chosen her son's wife. But she did not care to keep this "beloved daughter" with her in Alexandria, for the foremost position in every department of social life was far more certain to be conceded to the noble widow of a "martyred witness" in the absence of the pretty little converted singer.
So the young couple moved to Cyrenaica, and Dada was happy in learning to govern her husband's large estates with prudence and good sense. The gay singing-girl became a capable housewife, and the idle horse-loving Marcus a diligent farmer. For three years Demetrius staid with them as adviser and superintendent; even afterwards he frequently visited them, and for months at a time, and he was wont to say:
"In Alexandria I am heart and soul, a Heathen, but in the house with your Cecilia I am happy to be a Christian."
Before they quitted the city a terrible blow fell on Eusebius. The sermon he had delivered just before the overthrow of Serapes, to soothe the excited multitude and guide them in the right way, had been regarded by the Bishop of the zealot priests, who happened to be present, as blasphemous and as pandering to the infidels; Theophilus, therefore, had charged his nephew Cyril--his successor in the see--to verify the facts and enquire into the deacon's orthodoxy. It thus came to light that Agne, an Arian, was not only living under his roof, but had been trusted by him to nurse certain sick persons among the orthodox; the old man was condemned by Cyril to severe acts of penance, but Theophilus decided that he must be deprived of his office in the city, where men of sterner stuff were needed, and only allowed the charge of souls in a country congregation.
It was a cruel blow to the venerable couple to be forced to quit the house and the little garden where they had been happy together for half a lifetime; however, the change proved to be to their advantage, for Marcus invited his worthy teacher to be the spiritual pastor of his estates. The churches he built for his peasants were consecrated by Eusebius, whose mild doctrine and kindly influence persuaded many laborers and slaves to be baptized and to join his flock of disciples. But the example and amiability of their young mistress was even more effectual than his preaching. Men and women, slaves and free, all adored and respected her; to imitate her in all she did could only lead to honor and happiness, could only be right and good and wise. Thus by degrees, and without the exertion of any compulsion, the temples and shrines on the Martyr's inheritance were voluntarily abandoned, and fell into ruin and decay.
It was the same on the property of Constantine, which lay at no more than a day's journey from that of Marcus; the two young couples were faithful friends and good neighbors. The estate which had come into Constantine's possession had belonged to Barkas, the Libyan, who, with his troops, had been so anxiously and vainly expected to succor the Serapeum. The State had confiscated his extensive and valuable lands, and the young officer, after retiring from the service, had purchased them with the splendid fortune left to Gorgo by her grandmother.
The two sons of Porphyrius had, as it proved, been so happy as to escape in the massacre at Thessalonica; and as they were Christians and piously orthodox, the old man transferred to them, during his lifetime, the chief share of his wealth; so that henceforth he could live honestly--alienated from the Church and a worshipper of the old gods, without anxiety as to his will. The treasures of art which Constantine and Gorgo found in the house of Barkas they carefully preserved, though, ere long, few heathen were to be found even in this neighborhood which had formerly been the headquarters of rebellion on behalf of the old religion.
Papias was brought up with the children of Marcus and Dada Cecilia, while his sister Agne, finding herself relieved of all care on his account, sought and found her own way through life.
Orpheus, after seeing his parents killed in the fight at the Serapeum, was carried, sorely wounded, to the sick-house of which Eusebius was spiritual director. Agne had volunteered to nurse him and had watched by his couch day and night. Eusebius had also brought Dada and Papias to visit them, and Dada had promised, on behalf of Marcus, that Agne and her brother should always be provided for, even in the event of the good Deacon's death. The little boy was for the moment placed in Eusebius' care, and it was a, cause of daily rejoicing to Agne to hear from the kind old man of all the charming qualities he discovered in the child who was perfectly happy with the old folks, and who, though he was always delighted to see his sister, was quite content to part from her and return home with Eusebius, or with Dada, to whole he was devoted.
Orpheus recognized no one, neither Agne nor the child--and when visitors had been to see him, in his fevered ravings he would talk more vehemently than ever of great Apollo and other heathen divinities. Then he would fancy that he was still fighting in the Serapeum and butchering thousands of Christian foes with his own hand. Agne, whom he rarely recognized for a moment, would talk soothingly to him, and even try to say a few words about the Saviour and the life to come; but he always interrupted her with blasphemous exclamations, and cursed and abused her. Never had she gone through such anguish of soul as by his bed of suffering, and yet she could not help gazing at his face; and when she told herself that he must soon be no more, that the light of his eyes would cease to shine on hers, she felt as though the sun were about to be extinguished and the earth darkened for all time. However, his healthy vigor kept him lingering for many days and nights.
On the last evening of his life he took Agne for a Muse, and calling to her to come to him seized her hand and sank back unconscious, never to move again. She stood there as the minutes slowly passed, waiting in agonized suspense till his hand should be cold in hers; and as she waited she overheard a dialogue between two deaconesses who were watching by a sleeping patient. One of them was telling the other that her sister's husband, a mason, had died an obdurate heathen and a bitter enemy of the Christian Church. Then Dorothea, his widow, had devoted herself to saving his soul; she left her children, abandoning them to the charity of the congregation, and had withdrawn to a cloister to pray in silence and unceasingly for the soul of her deceased husband. At first he used to appear to her in her dreams, with furious gestures, accompanied by centaurs and goat-footed creatures, and had desired her to go home to her children and leave his soil in peace, for that he was in very good quarters with the jolly devils; but soon after she had seen him again with scorched limbs, and he lead implored her to pray fervently for mercy on him, for that they were torturing him cruelly in hell.
Dorothea had then retired into the desert of Kolzoum where she was still living in a cave, feeding on herbs, roots, and shell-fish thrown up on the sea-shore. She had schooled herself to do without sleep, and prayed day and night for her husband's soul; and she lead obtained strength never to think of anything but her own and her husband's salvation, and to forget her children completely. Her fervid devotion had at length met with full reward; for some little time her husband had appeared to her in a robe of shining light and often attended by lovely angels.
Agne had not lost a word of this narrative, and when, next morning, she felt the cold hand of the dead youth and looked at his drawn and pain-stricken features, she shuddered with vague terrors: he, she thought, like Dorothea's husband, must have hell-torments to endure. When she presently found herself alone with the corpse she bent over it and kissed the pale lips, and swore to herself that she would save his soul.
That same evening she went back to Eusebius and told him of her wish to withdraw to the desert of Koizoum and become a recluse. The old man besought her to remain with him, to take charge of her little brother, and not to abandon him and his old wife; for that it was a no less lovely Christian duty to be compassionate and helpful, and cherish the feeble in their old age. His wife added her entreaties and tears; but a sudden chill had gripped Agne's heart; dry-eyed and rigid she resisted their prayers, and took leave of her benefactors and of Papias. Bare-foot and begging her way, she started for the south-east and reached the shores of the Red Sea. There she found the stonemason's widow, emaciated and haggard, with matted hair, evidently dying. Agne remained with her, closed her eyes, and then lived on as Dorothea had lived, in the same cave, till the fame of her sanctity spread far beyond the boundaries of Egypt.
When Papias had grown to man's estate and was installed as steward to Demetrius, he sought his sister many times and tried to persuade her to live with him in his new home; but she never would consent to quit her solitary cell. She would not have exchanged it for a king's palace; for Orpheus appeared to her in nightly visions, radiant with the glories of Heaven; and time was passing and the hour drawing near when she might hope to be with him once more.
The widow Mary, in her later years, made many pilgrimages to holy places and saintly persons, and among others to Agne, the recluse; but she would never be induced to visit Cyrenaica, whither she was frequently invited by her children and grandchildren; some more powerful excitant was needed to prompt her to face the discomforts of a journey.
The old Heathen cults had completely vanished from the Greek capital long before her death. With it died the splendor and the power of the second city in the world; and of all the glories of the city of Serapis nothing now remains but a mighty column--[Known as Pompey's Pillar.]--towering to the skies, the last surviving fragment of the beautiful temple of the sovereign-god whose fall marked so momentous an epoch in the life of the human race. But, like this pillar, outward Beauty--the sense of form that characterized the heathen mind--has survived through the ages. We can gaze up at the one and the other, and wherever the living Truth--the Spirit of Christianity--has informed and penetrated that form of Beauty, the highest hopes of old Eusebius have been realized. Their union is solemnized in Christian Art.