Cleopatra by Georg Ebers
Gorgias went to his work without delay. When the twin statues were only waiting to be erected in front of the Theatre of Dionysus, Dion sought him. Some impulse urged him to talk to his old friend before leaving the city with his betrothed bride. Since they parted the latter had accomplished the impossible; for the building of the wall on the Choma, ordered by Antony, was commenced, the restoration of the little palace at the point, and many other things connected with the decoration of the triumphal arches, were arranged. His able and alert foreman found it difficult to follow him as he dictated order after order in his writing-tablet.
The conversation with his friend was not a long one, for Dion had promised Barine and her mother to accompany them to the country. Notwithstanding the betrothal, they were to start that very day; for Caesarion had called upon Barine twice that morning. She had not received him, but the unfortunate youth's conduct induced her to hasten the preparations for her departure.
To avoid attracting attention, they were to use Archibius's large travelling chariot and Nile boat, although Dion's were no less comfortable.
The marriage was to take place in the "abode of peace." The young Alexandrian's own ship, which was to convey the newly wedded pair to Alexandria, bore the name of Peitho, the goddess of persuasion, for Dion liked to be reminded of his oratorical powers in the council. Henceforward it would be called the Barine, and was to receive many an embellishment.
Dion confided to his friend what he had learned in relation to the fate of the Queen and the fleet, and, notwithstanding the urgency of the claims upon Gorgias's time, he lingered to discuss the future destiny of the city and her threatened liberty; for these things lay nearest to his heart.
"Fortunately," cried Dion, "I followed my inclination; now it seems to me that duty commands every true man to make his own house a nursery for the cultivation of the sentiments which he inherited from his forefathers and which must not die, so long as there are Macedonian citizens in Alexandria. We must submit if the superior might of Rome renders Egypt a province of the republic, but we can preserve to our city and her council the lion's share of their freedom. Whatever may be the development of affairs, we are and shall remain the source whence Rome draws the largest share of the knowledge which enriches her brain."
"And the art which adorns her rude life," replied Gorgias. "If she is free to crush us without pity, she will fare, I think, like the maiden who raises her foot to trample on a beautiful, rare flower, and then withdraws it because it would be a crime to destroy so exquisite a work of the Creator."
"And what does the flower owe to your maiden," cried Dion, "or our city to Rome? Let us meet her claims with dignified resolution, then I think we shall not have the worst evils to fear."
"Let us hope so. But, my friend, keep your eyes open for other than Roman foes. Now that it will become known that you do not love her, beware of Iras. There is something about her which reminds me of the jackal. Jealousy!--I believe she would be capable of the worst--"
"Yet," Dion interrupted, "Charmian will soften whatever injury Iras plans to do me, and, though I cannot rely much upon my uncle, Archibius is above both and favours us and our marriage."
Gorgias uttered a sigh of relief, and exclaimed, "Then on to happiness!"
"And you must also begin to provide for yours," replied Dion warmly. "Forbid your heart to continue this wandering, nomad life. The tent which the wind blows down is not fit for the architect's permanent residence. Build yourself a fine house, which will defy storms, as you built my palace. I shall not grudge it, and have already said, the times demand it."
"I will remember the advice," replied Gorgias. "But six eyes are again bent upon me for direction. There are so many important things to be done while we waste the hours in building triumphal arches for the defeated--trophies for an overthrow. But your uncle has just issued orders to complete the work in the most magnificent style. The ways of destiny and the great are dark; may the brightest sunshine illumine yours! A prosperous journey! We shall hear, of course, when you celebrate the wedding, and if I can I shall join you in the Hymenaeus. Lucky fellow that you are! Now I'm summoned from over yonder! May Castor and Pollux, and all the gods favourable to travel, Aphrodite, and all the Loves attend your trip to Irenia, and protect you in the realm of Eros and Hymen!"
With these words the warm-hearted man clasped his friend to his breast for the first time. Dion cordially responded, and at last shook his hard right hand with the exclamation:
"Farewell, then, till we meet in Irenia on the wedding day, you dear, faithful fellow."
Then he entered the chariot which stood waiting, and Gorgias gazed after him thoughtfully. The hyacinthine purple cloak which Dion wore that day had not vanished from his sight when a loud crashing, rattling, and roaring arose behind him. A hastily erected scaffold, which was to support the pulleys for raising the statues, had collapsed. The damage could be easily repaired, but the accident aroused a troubled feeling in the architect's mind. He was a child of his time, a period when duty commanded the prudent man to heed omens. Experience also taught him that when such a thing happened in his work something unpleasant was apt to occur within the circle of his friends. The veil of the future concealed what might be in store for the beloved couple; but he resolved to keep his eyes open on Dion's behalf and to request Archibius to do the same.
The pressure of work, however, soon silenced the sense of uneasiness. The damage was speedily repaired, and later Gorgias, sometimes with one, sometimes with another tablet or roll of MS. in his hand, issued the most varied orders.
Gradually the light of this dismal day faded. Ere the night, which threatened to bring rain and storm, closed in, he again rode on his mule to the Bruchium to overlook the progress of the work in the various buildings and give additional directions, for the labour was to be continued during the night.
The north wind was now blowing so violently from the sea that it was difficult to keep the torches and lamps lighted. The gale drove the drops of rain into his face, and a glance northward showed him masses of black clouds beyond the harbour and the lighthouse. This indicated a bad night, and again the boding sense of coming misfortune stole over him. Yet he set to work swiftly and prudently, helping with his own hands when occasion required.
Night closed in. Not a star was visible in the sky, and the air, chilled by the north wind, grew so cold that Gorgias at last permitted his body slave to wrap his cloak around him. While drawing the hood over his head, he gazed at a procession of litters and men moving towards Lochias.
Perhaps the Queen's children were returning home from some expedition. But probably they were rather private citizens on their way to some festival celebrating the victory; for every one now believed in a great battle and a successful issue of the war. This was proved by the shouts and cheers of the people, who, spite of the storm, were still moving to and fro near the harbour.
The last of the torch-bearers had just passed Gorgias, and he had told himself that a train of litters belonging to the royal family would not move through the darkness so faintly lighted, when a single man, bearing in his hand a lantern, whose flickering rays shone on his wrinkled face, approached rapidly from the opposite direction. It was old Phryx, Didymus's house slave, with whom the architect had become acquainted, while the aged scholar was composing the inscription for the Odeum which Gorgias had erected. The aged servant had brought him many alterations of his master's first sketch, and Gorgias had reminded him of it the previous day.
The workmen by whom the statues had been raised to the pedestal, amid the bright glare of torches, to the accompaniment of a regular chant, had just dropped the ropes, windlasses, and levers, when the architect recognized the slave.
What did the old man want at so late an hour on this dark night? The fall of the scaffold again returned to his mind.
Was the slave seeking for a member of the family? Did Helena need assistance? He stopped the gray-haired man, who answered his question with a heavy sigh, followed by the maxim, "Misfortunes come in pairs, like oxen." Then he continued: "Yesterday there was great anxiety. Today, when there was so much rejoicing on account of Barine, I thought directly, 'Sorrow follows joy, and the second misfortune won't be spared us.' And so it proved."
Gorgias anxiously begged him to relate what had happened, and the old man, drawing nearer, whispered that the pupil and assistant of Didymus--young Philotas of Amphissa, a student, and, moreover, a courteous young man of excellent family--had gone to a banquet to which Antyllus, the son of Antony, had invited several of his classmates. This had already happened several times, and he, Phryx, had warned him, for, when the lowly associate with the lofty, the lowly rarely escape kicks and blows. The young fellow, who usually had behaved no worse than the other Ephebi, had always returned from such festivities with a flushed face and unsteady steps, but to-night he had not even reached his room in the upper story. He had darted into the house as though pursued by the watch, and, while trying to rush up the stairs--it was really only a ladder-he had made a misstep and fell. He, Phryx, did not believe that he was hurt, for none of his limbs ached, even when they were pulled and stretched, and Dionysus kindly protected drunkards; but some demon must have taken possession of him, for he howled and groaned continually, and would answer no questions. True, he was aware, from the festivals of Dionysus, that the young man was one of those who, when intoxicated, weep and lament; but this time something unusual must have occurred, for in the first place his handsome face was coloured black and looked hideous, since his tears had washed away the soot in many places, and then he talked nothing but a confused jargon. It was a pity.
When an attempt was made, with the help of the garden slave, to carry him to his room, he dealt blows and kicks like a lunatic. Didymus now also believed that he was possessed by demons, as often happens to those who, in falling, strike their heads against the ground, and thus wake the demons in the earth. Well, yes, they might be demons, but only those of wine. The student was just "crazy drunk," as people say. But the old gentleman was very fond of his pupil, and had ordered him, Pliryx, to go to Olympus, who, ever since he could remember, had been the family physician.
"The Queen's leech?" asked Gorgias, disapprovingly, and when the slave assented, the architect exclaimed in a positive tone: "It is not right to force the old man out of doors in such a north wind. Age is not specially considerate to age. Now that the statues stand yonder, I can leave my post for half an hour and will go with you. I don't think a leech is needed to drive out these demons."
"True, my lord, true!" cried the slave, "but Olympus is our friend. He visits few patients, but he will come to our house in any weather. He has litters, chariots, and splendid mules. The Queen gives him whatever is best and most comfortable. He is skilful, and perhaps can render speedy help. People must use what they have."
"Only where it is necessary," replied the architect. "There are my two mules; follow me on the second. If I don't drive out the demons, you will have plenty of time to trot after Olympus."
This proposal pleased the old slave, and a short time after Gorgias entered the venerable philosopher's tablinum.
Helena welcomed him like an intimate friend. Whenever he appeared she thought the peril was half over. Didymus, too, greeted him warmly, and conducted him to the little room where the youth possessed by demons lay on a divan.
He was still groaning and whimpering. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, and, whenever any member of the household approached, he pushed him away.
When Gorgias held his hands and sternly ordered him to confess what wrong he had done, he sobbed out that he was the most ungrateful wretch on earth. His baseness would ruin his kind parents, himself, and all his friends.
Then he accused himself of having caused the destruction of Didymus's granddaughter. He would not have gone to Antyllus again had not his recent generosity bound him to him, but now he must atone-ay, atone. Then, as if completely crushed, he continued to mumble the word, "atone!" and for a time nothing more could be won from him.
Didymus, however, had the key to the last sentence. A few weeks before, Philotas and several other pupils of the rhetorician whose lectures in the museum he attended had been invited to breakfast with Antyllus. When the young student loudly admired the beautiful gold and silver beakers in which the wine was served, the reckless host cried: "They are yours; take them with you." When the guests departed the cup-bearer asked Philotas, who had been far from taking the gift seriously, to receive his property. Antyllus had intended to bestow the goblets; but he advised the youth to let him pay their value in money, for among them were several ancient pieces of most artistic workmanship, which Antony, the extravagant young fellow's father, might perhaps be unwilling to lose.
Thereupon several rolls of gold solidi were paid to the astonished student--and they had been of little real benefit, since they had made it possible for him to keep pace with his wealthy and aristocratic classmates and share many of their extravagances. Yet he had not ceased to fulfil his duty to Didymus.
Though he sometimes turned night into day, he gave no serious cause for reproof. Small youthful errors were willingly pardoned; for he was a good-looking, merry young fellow, who knew how to make himself agreeable to the entire household, even to the women.
What had befallen the poor youth that day? Didymus was filled with compassion for him, and, though he gladly welcomed Gorgias, he gave him to understand that the leech's absence vexed him.
But, during a long bachelor career in Alexandria, a city ever gracious to the gifts of Bacchus, Gorgias had become familiar with attacks like those of Philotas and their treatment, and after several jars of water had been brought and he had been left alone a short time with the sufferer, the philosopher secretly rejoiced that he had not summoned the grey-haired leech into the stormy night for Gorgias led forth his pupil with dripping hair, it is true, but in a state of rapid convalescence.
The youth's handsome face was freed from soot, but his eyes were bent in confusion on the ground, and he sometimes pressed his hand upon his aching brow. It needed all the old philosopher's skill in persuasion to induce him to speak, and Philotas, before he began, begged Helena to leave the room.
He intended to adhere strictly to the truth, though he feared that the reckless deed into which he had suffered himself to be drawn might have a fatal effect upon his future life.
Besides, he hoped to obtain wise counsel from the architect, to whom he owed his speedy recovery, and whose grave, kindly manner inspired him with confidence; and, moreover, he was so greatly indebted to Didymus that duty required him to make a frank confession--yet he dared not acknowledge one of the principal motives of his foolish act.
The plot into which he had been led was directed against Barine, whom he had long imagined he loved with all the fervour of his twenty years. But, just before he went to the fatal banquet, he had heard that the young beauty was betrothed to Dion. This had wounded him deeply; for in many a quiet hour it had seemed possible to win her for himself and lead her as his wife to his home in Amphissa. He was very little younger than she, and if his parents once saw her, they could not fail to approve his choice. And the people in Amphissa! They would have gazed at Barine as if she were a goddess.
And now this fine gentleman had come to crush his fairest hopes. No word of love had ever been exchanged between him and Barine, but how kindly she had always looked at him, how willingly she had accepted trivial services! Now she was lost. At first this had merely saddened him, but after he had drunk the wine, and Antyllus, Antony's son, in the presence of the revellers, over whom Caesarion presided as "symposiarch"--[Director of a banquet.]--had accused Barine of capturing hearts by magic spells, he had arrived at the conviction that he, too, had been shamefully allured and betrayed.
He had served for a toy, he said to himself, unless she had really loved him and merely preferred Dion on account of his wealth. In any case, he felt justified in cherishing resentment against Barine, and with the number of goblets which he drained his jealous rage increased.
When urged to join in the escapade which now burdened his conscience he consented with a burning brain in order to punish her for the wrong which, in his heated imagination, she had done him.
All this he withheld from the older men and merely briefly described the splendid banquet which Caesarion, pallid and listless as ever, had directed, and Antyllus especially had enlivened with the most reckless mirth.
The "King of kings" and Antony's son had escaped from their tutors on the pretext of a hunting excursion, and the chief huntsman had not grudged them the pleasure--only they were obliged to promise him that they would be ready to set out for the desert early the next morning.
When, after the banquet, the mixing-vessels were brought out and the beakers were filled more rapidly, Antyllus whispered several times to Caesarion and then turned the conversation upon Barine, the fairest of the fair, destined by the immortals for the greatest and highest of mankind. This was the "King of kings," Caesarion, and he also claimed the favour of the gods for himself. But everybody knew that Aphrodite deemed herself greater than the highest of kings, and therefore Barine ventured to close her doors upon their august symposiarch in a manner which could not fail to be unendurable, not only to him but to all the youth of Alexandria. Whoever boasted of being one of the Ephebi might well clench his fist with indignation, when he heard that the insolent beauty kept young men at a distance because she considered only the older ones worthy of her notice. This must not be! The Ephebi of Alexandria must make her feel the power of youth. This was the more urgently demanded, because Caesarion would thereby be led to the goal of his wishes.
Barine was going into the country that very evening. Insulted Eros himself was smoothing their way. He commanded them to attack the arrogant fair one's carriage and lead her to him who sought her in the name of youth, in order to show her that the hearts of the Ephebi, whom she disdainfully rejected, glowed more ardently than those of the older men on whom she bestowed her favours.
Here Gorgias interrupted the speaker with a loud cry of indignation, but old Didymus's eyes seemed to be fairly starting from their sockets as he hoarsely shouted an impatient:
And Philotas, now completely sobered, described with increasing animation the wonderful change that had taken place in the quiet Caesarion, as if some magic spell had been at work; for scarcely had the revellers greeted Antyllus's words with shouts of joy, declaring themselves ready to avenge insulted youth upon Barine, than the "King of kings" suddenly sprang from the cushions on which he had listlessly reclined, and with flashing eyes shouted that whoever called himself his friend must aid him in the attack.
Here he was urged to still greater haste by another impatient "Go on!" from his master, and hurriedly continued his story, describing how they had blackened their faces and armed themselves with Antyllus's swords and lances. As the sun was setting they went in a covered boat through the Agathodamon Canal to Lake Mareotis. Everything must have been arranged in advance; for they landed precisely at the right hour.
As, during the trip, they had kept up their courage by swallowing the most fiery wine, Philotas had staggered on shore with difficulty and then been dragged forward by the others. After this he knew nothing more, except that he had rushed with the rest upon a large harmamaxa,--[A closed Asiatic travelling-carriage with four wheels]--and in so doing fell. When he rose from the earth all was over.
As if in a dream he saw Scythians and other guardians of the peace seize Antyllus, while Caesarion was struggling on the ground with another man. If he was not mistaken it was Dion, Barine's betrothed husband.
These communications were interrupted by many exclamations of impatience and wrath; but now Didymus, fairly frantic with alarm, cried:
"And the child--Barine?"
But when Philotas's sole reply to this question was a silent shake of the head, indignation conquered the old philosopher, and clutching his pupil's chiton with both hands, he shook him violently, exclaiming furiously:
"You don't know, scoundrel? Instead of defending her who should be dear to you as a child of this household, you joined the rascally scorners of morality and law as the accomplice of this waylayer in purple!"
Here the architect soothed the enraged old man with expostulations, and the assertion that everything must now yield to the necessity of searching for Barine and Dion. He did not know which way to turn, in the amount of labour pressing upon him, but he would have a hasty talk with the foreman and then try to find his friend.
"And I," cried the old man, "must go at once to the unfortunate child.-My cloak, Phryx, my sandals!"
In spite of Gorgias's counsel to remember his age and the inclement weather, he cried angrily:
"I am going, I say! If the tempest hurls me to the earth, and the bolts of Zeus strike me, so be it. One misfortune more or less matters little in a life which has been a chain of heavy blows of Fate. I buried three sons in the prime of manhood, and two have been slain in battle. Barine, the joy of my heart, I myself, fool that I was, bound to the scoundrel who blasted her joyous existence; and now that I believed she would be protected from trouble and misconstruction by the side of a worthy husband, these infamous rascals, whose birth protects them from vengeance, have wounded, perhaps killed her betrothed lover. They trample in the dust her fair name and my white hair!--Phryx, my hat and staff."
The storm had long been raging around the house, which stood close by the sea, and the sailcloth awning which was stretched over the impluvium noisily rattled the metal rings that confined it. Now so violent a gust swept from room to room that two of the flames in the three-branched lamp went out. The door of the house had been opened, and drenched with rain, a hood drawn over his black head, Barine's Nubian doorkeeper crossed the threshold.
He presented a pitiable spectacle and at first could find no answer to the greetings and questions of the men, who had been joined by Helena, her grandmother leaning on her arm; his rapid walk against the fury of the storm had fairly taken away his breath.
He had little, however, to tell. Barine merely sent a message to her relatives that, no matter what tales rumour might bring, she and her mother were unhurt. Dion had received a wound in the shoulder, but it was not serious. Her grandparents need have no anxiety; the attack had completely failed.
Doris, who was deaf, had listened vainly, holding her hand to her ear, to catch this report; and Didymus now told his granddaughter as much as he deemed it advisable for her to know, that she might communicate it to her grandmother, who understood the movements of her lips.
The old man was rejoiced to learn that his granddaughter had escaped so great a peril uninjured, yet he was still burdened by sore anxiety. The architect, too, feared the worst, but by dint of assuring him that he would return at once with full details when he had ascertained the fate of Dion and his betrothed bride, he finally persuaded the old man to give up the night walk through the tempest.
Philotas, with tears in his eyes, begged them to accept his services as messenger or for any other purpose; but Didymus ordered him to go to bed. An opportunity would be found to enable him to atone for the offence so recklessly committed.
The scholar's peaceful home was deprived of its nocturnal repose, and when Gorgias had gone and Didymus had refused Helena's request to have the aged porter take her to her sister, the old man remained alone with his wife in the tablinum.
She had been told nothing except that thieves had attacked her granddaughter, Barine, and slightly wounded her lover; but her own heart and the manner of the husband, at whose side she had grown grey, showed that many things were being concealed. She longed to know the story more fully, but it was difficult for Didymus to talk a long time in a loud tone, so she silenced her desire to learn the whole truth. But, in order to await the architect's report, they did not go to rest.
Didymus had sunk into an armchair, and Doris sat near at her spindle, but without drawing any threads from her distaff. When she heard her husband sigh and saw him bury his face in his hands, she limped nearer to him, difficult as it was for her to move, and stroked his head, now nearly bald, with her hand. Then she uttered soothing words, and, as the anxious, troubled expression did not yet pass from his wrinkled face, she reminded him in faltering yet tender tones how often they had thought they must despair, and yet everything had resulted well.
"Ah! husband," she added, "I know full well that the clouds hanging over us are very black, and I cannot even see them clearly, because you show them at such a distance. Yet I feel that they threaten us with sore tribulation. But, after all, what harm can they do us, if we only keep close together, we two old people and the children of the children whom Hades rent from us? We need only to grow old to perceive that life has a head with many faces. The ugly one of to-day can last no longer than you can keep that deeply furrowed brow. But you need not coerce yourself for my sake, husband. Let it be so. I need merely close my eyes to see how smooth and beautiful it was in youth, and how pleasant it will look when better days say, 'Here we are!'"
Didymus, with a mournful smile, kissed her grey hair and shouted into her left ear, which was a little less deaf than the other:
"How young you are still, wife!"