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- Hypatia - 6/97 -
mathematical school this morning. It grows! It spreads! We shall conquer yet!'
She sighed. 'How do you know that they have not come to you, as Critias and Alcibiades did to Socrates, to learn a merely political and mundane virtue? Strange! that men should be content to grovel, and be men, when they might rise to the rank of gods! Ah, my father! That is my bitterest grief! to see those who have been pretending in the morning lecture-room to worship every word of mine as an oracle, lounging in the afternoon round Pelagia's litter; and then at night--for I know that they do it--the dice, and the wine, and worse. That Pallas herself should be conquered every day by Venus Pandemos! That Pelagia should have more power than I! Not that such a creature as that disturbs me: no created thing, I hope, can move my equanimity; but if I could stoop to hate--I should hate her--hate her.'
And her voice took a tone which made it somewhat uncertain whether, in spite of all the lofty impassibility which she felt bound to possess, she did not hate Pelagia with a most human and mundane hatred.
But at that moment the conversation was cut short by the hasty entrance of a slave girl, who, with fluttering voice, announced--
'His excellency, madam, the prefect! His chariot has been at the gate for these five minutes, and he is now coming upstairs.'
'Foolish child!' answered Hypatia, with some affectation of indifference. 'And why should that disturb me? Let him enter.'
The door opened, and in came, preceded by the scent of half a dozen different perfumes, a florid, delicate-featured man, gorgeously dressed out in senatorial costume, his fingers and neck covered with jewels.
'The representative of the Caesars honours himself by offering at the shrine of Athene Polias, and rejoices to see in her priestess as lovely a likeness as ever of the goddess whom she serves .... Don't betray me, but I really cannot help talking sheer paganism whenever I find myself within the influence of your eyes.'
'Truth is mighty,' said Hypatia, as she rose to greet him with a smile and a reverence.
'Ah, so they say--Your excellent father has vanished. He is really too modest--honest, though--about his incapacity for state secrets. After all, you know, it was your Minervaship which I came to consult. How has this turbulent Alexandrian rascaldom been behaving itself in my absence?'
'The herd has been eating, and drinking, and marrying, as usual, I believe,' answered Hypatia, in a languid tone.
'And multiplying, I don't doubt. Well, there will be less loss to the empire if I have to crucify a dozen or two, as I positively will, the next riot. It is really a great comfort to a statesman that the masses are so well aware that they deserve hanging, and therefore so careful to prevent any danger of public justice depopulating the province. But how go on the schools?'
Hypatia shook her head sadly.
'Ah, boys will be boys .... I plead guilty myself. Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor. You must not be hard on us .... Whether we obey you or not in private life, we do in public; and if we enthrone you queen of Alexandria, you must allow your courtiers and bodyguards a few court licences. Now don't sigh or I shall be inconsolable. At all events, your worst rival has betaken herself to the wilderness, and gone to look for the city of the gods above the cataracts.'
'Whom do you mean?' asked Hypatia, in a tone most unphilosophically eager.
'Pelagia, of course. I met that prettiest and naughtiest of humanities half-way between here and Thebes, transformed into a perfect Andromache of chaste affection.'
'And to whom, pray?'
'To a certain Gothic giant. What men those barbarians do breed! I was afraid of being crushed under the elephant's foot at every step I took with him!'
'What!' asked Hypatia, 'did your excellency condescend to converse with such savages?'
'To tell you the truth, he had some forty stout countrymen of his with him, who might have been troublesome to a perplexed prefect; not to mention that it is always as well to keep on good terms with these Goths. Really, after the sack of Rome, and Athens cleaned out like a beehive by wasps, things begin to look serious. And as for the great brute himself, he has rank enough in his way,--boasts of his descent from some cannibal god or other,--really hardly deigned to speak to a paltry Roman governor, till his faithful and adoring bride interceded for me. Still, the fellow understood good living, and we celebrated our new treaty of friendship with noble libations-- but I must not talk about that to you. However, I got rid of them; quoted all the geographical lies I had ever heard, and a great many more; quickened their appetite for their fool's errand notably, and started them off again. So now the star of Venus is set, and that of Pallas in the ascendant. Wherefore tell me--what am I to do with Saint Firebrand?'
'Ah, Fairest Wisdom, don't mention that horrid word out of the lecture-room. In theory it is all very well; but in poor imperfect earthly practice, a governor must be content with doing very much what comes to hand. In abstract justice, now, I ought to nail up Cyril, deacons, district visitors, and all, in a row, on the sandfill out side. That is simple enough; but, like a great many simple and excellent things, impossible.'
'You fear the people?'
'Well, my dear lady, and has not the villainous demagogue got the whole mob on his side? Am I to have the Constantinople riots re- enacted here? I really cannot face it; I have not nerve for it; perhaps I am too lazy. Be it so.'
Hypatia sighed. 'Ah, that your excellency but saw the great duel which depends on you alone! Do not fancy that the battle is merely between Paganism and Christianity--'
'Why, if it were, you know, I, as a Christian, under a Christian and sainted emperor, not to mention his august sister--'
'We understand,' interrupted she, with an impatient wave of her beautiful hand. 'Not even between them; not even between philosophy and barbarism. The struggle is simply one between the aristocracy and the mob,--between wealth, refinement, art, learning, all that makes a nation great, and the savage herd of child-breeders below, the many ignoble, who were meant to labour for the noble few. Shall the Roman empire command or obey her own slaves? is the question which you and Cyril have to battle out; and the fight must be internecine.'
'I should not wonder if it became so, really,' answered the prefect, with a shrug of his shoulders. 'I expect every time I ride, to have my brains knocked out by some mad monk.'
'Why not? In an age when, as has been well and often said, emperors and consulars crawl to the tombs of a tent-maker and a fisherman, and kiss the mouldy bones of the vilest slaves? Why not, among a people whose God is the crucified son of a carpenter? Why should learning, authority, antiquity, birth, rank, the system of empire which has been growing up, fed by the accumulated wisdom of ages,-- why, I say, should any of these things protect your life a moment from the fury of any beggar who believes that the Son of God died for him as much as for you, and that he is your equal if not your superior in the sight of his low-born and illiterate deity!' [Footnote: These are the arguments and the language which were commonly employed by Porphyry, Julian, and the other opponents of Christianity.]
'My most eloquent philosopher, this may be--and perhaps is--all very true. I quite agree that there are very great practical inconveniences of this kind in the new--I mean the Catholic faith; but the world is full of inconveniences. The wise man does not quarrel with his creed for being disagreeable, any more than he does with his finger for aching: he cannot help it, and must make the best of a bad matter. Only tell me how to keep the peace.'
'And let philosophy be destroyed?'
'That it never will be, as long as Hypatia lives to illuminate the earth; and, as far as I am concerned, I promise you a clear stage and--a great deal of favour; as is proved by my visiting you publicly at this moment, before I have given audience to one of the four hundred bores, great and small, who are waiting in the tribunal to torment me. Do help me and advise me. What am I to do?'
'I have told you.'
'Ah, yes, as to general principles. But out of the lecture-room I prefer a practical expedient for instance, Cyril writes to me here-- plague on him! he would not let me even have a week's hunting in peace-that there is a plot on the part of the Jews to murder all the Christians. Here is the precious document--do look at it, in pity. For aught I know or care, the plot may be an exactly opposite one, and the Christians intend to murder all the Jews. But I must take some notice of the letter.'
'I do not see that, your excellency.'
'Why, if anything did happen, after all, conceive the missives which would be sent flying off to Constantinople against me!'
'Let them go. If you are secure in the consciousness of innocence, what matter?'
'Consciousness of innocence? I shall lose my prefecture!'
'Your danger would just be as great if you took notice of it.
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