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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 1. - 2/11 -
The bright unearthly nymph, who dwells 'Mid sunless gold and jewels hid, The lady of the Pyramid."
Fabulous as these stories sound, they still prove that Rhodopis must have been no ordinary woman. Some scholars would place her on a level with the beautiful and heroic Queen Nitokris, spoken of by Julius Africanus, Eusebius and others, and whose name, (signifying the victorious Neith) has been found on the monuments, applied to a queen of the sixth dynasty. This is a bold conjecture; it adds however to the importance of our heroine; and without doubt many traditions referring to the one have been transferred to the other, and vice versa. Herodotus lived so short a time after Rhodopis, and tells so many exact particulars of her private life that it is impossible she should have been a mere creation of fiction. The letter of Darius, given at the end of Vol. II., is intended to identify the Greek Rhodopis with the mythical builder of the Pyramid. I would also mention here that she is called Doricha by Sappho. This may have been her name before she received the title of the "rosy-cheeked one."
I must apologize for the torrent of verse that appears in the love-scenes between Sappho and Bartja; it is also incumbent upon me to say a few words about the love-scenes themselves, which I have altered very slightly in the new edition, though they have been more severely criticised than any other portion of the work.
First I will confess that the lines describing the happy love of a handsome young couple to whom I had myself become warmly attached, flowed from my pen involuntarily, even against my will (I intended to write a novel in prose) in the quiet night, by the eternal Nile, among the palms and roses. The first love-scene has a story of its own to me. I wrote it in half an hour, almost unconsciously. It may be read in my book that the Persians always reflected in the morning, when sober, upon the resolutions formed the night before, while drunk. When I examined in the sunshine what had come into existence by lamplight, I grew doubtful of its merits, and was on the point of destroying the love-scenes altogether, when my dear friend Julius Hammer, the author of "Schau in Dich, und Schau um Dich," too early summoned to the other world by death, stayed my hand. Their form was also approved by others, and I tell myself that the 'poetical' expression of love is very similar in all lands and ages, while lovers' conversations and modes of intercourse vary according to time and place. Besides, I have to deal with one of those by no means rare cases, where poetry can approach nearer the truth than prudent, watchful prose. Many of my honored critics have censured these scenes; others, among whom are some whose opinion I specially value, have lavished the kindest praise upon them. Among these gentlemen I will mention A. Stahr, C. V. Holtei, M. Hartmann, E. Hoefer, W. Wolfsohn, C. Leemans, Professor Veth of Amsterdam, etc. Yet I will not conceal the fact that some, whose opinion has great weight, have asked: "Did the ancients know anything of love, in our sense of the word? Is not romantic love, as we know it, a result of Christianity?" The following sentence, which stands at the head of the preface to my first edition, will prove that I had not ignored this question when I began my task.
"It has often been remarked that in Cicero's letters and those of Pliny the younger there are unmistakeable indications of sympathy with the more sentimental feeling of modern days. I find in them tones of deep tenderness only, such as have arisen and will arise from sad and aching hearts in every land and every age."
A. v. HUMBOLDT. Cosmos II. P. 19.
This opinion of our great scholar is one with which I cheerfully coincide and would refer my readers to the fact that love-stories were written before the Christian era: the Amor and Psyche of Apuleius for instance. Indeed love in all its forms was familiar to the ancients. Where can we find a more beautiful expression of ardent passion than glows in Sappho's songs? or of patient faithful constancy than in Homer's Penelope? Could there be a more beautiful picture of the union of two loving hearts, even beyond the grave, than Xenophon has preserved for us in his account of Panthea and Abradatas? or the story of Sabinus the Gaul and his wife, told in the history of Vespasian? Is there anywhere a sweeter legend than that of the Halcyons, the ice-birds, who love one another so tenderly that when the male becomes enfeebled by age, his mate carries him on her outspread wings whithersoever he will; and the gods, desiring to reward such faithful love, cause the sun to shine more kindly, and still the winds and waves on the "Halcyon days" during which these birds are building their nest and brooding over their young? There can surely have been no lack of romantic love in days when a used-up man of the world, like Antony, could desire in his will that wherever he died his body might be laid by the side of his beloved Cleopatra: nor of the chivalry of love when Berenice's beautiful hair was placed as a constellation in the heavens. Neither can we believe that devotion in the cause of love could be wanting when a whole nation was ready to wage a fierce and obstinate war for the sake of one beautiful woman. The Greeks had an insult to revenge, but the Trojans fought for the possession of Helen. Even the old men of Ilium were ready "to suffer long for such a woman." And finally is not the whole question answered in Theocritus' unparalleled poem, "the Sorceress?" We see the poor love- lorn girl and her old woman-servant, Thestylis, cowering over the fire above which the bird supposed to possess the power of bringing back the faithless Delphis is sitting in his wheel. Simoetha has learnt many spells and charms from an Assyrian, and she tries them all. The distant roar of the waves, the stroke rising from the fire, the dogs howling in the street, the tortured fluttering bird, the old woman, the broken- hearted girl and her awful spells, all join in forming a night scene the effect of which is heightened by the calm cold moonshine. The old woman leaves the girl, who at once ceases to weave her spells, allows her pent- up tears to have their way, and looking up to Selene the moon, the lovers' silent confidante, pours out her whole story: how when she first saw the beautiful Delphis her heart had glowed with love, she had seen nothing more of the train of youths who followed him, "and," (thus sadly the poet makes her speak)
"how I gained my home I knew not; some strange fever wasted me. Ten days and nights I lay upon my bed. O tell me, mistress Moon, whence came my love!"
"Then" (she continues) when Delphis at last crossed her threshold:
"I Became all cold like snow, and from my brow Brake the damp dewdrops: utterance I had none, Not e'en such utterance as a babe may make That babbles to its mother in its dreams; But all my fair frame stiffened into wax,-- O tell me mistress Moon, whence came my love!"
Whence came her love? thence, whence it comes to us now. The love of the creature to its Creator, of man to God, is the grand and yet gracious gift of Christianity. Christ's command to love our neighbor called into existence not only the conception of philanthropy, but of humanity itself, an idea unknown to the heathen world, where love had been at widest limited to their native town and country. The love of man and wife has without doubt been purified and transfigured by Christianity; still it is possible that a Greek may have loved as tenderly and longingly as a Christian. The more ardent glow of passion at least cannot be denied to the ancients. And did not their love find vent in the same expressions as our own? Who does not know the charming roundelay:
"Drink the glad wine with me, With me spend youth's gay hours; Or a sighing lover be, Or crown thy brow with flowers. When I am merry and mad, Merry and mad be you; When I am sober and sad, Be sad and sober too!"
--written however by no poet of modern days, but by Praxilla, in the fifth century before Christ. Who would guess either that Moore's little song was modelled on one written even earlier than the date of our story?
"As o'er her loom the Lesbian maid In love-sick languor hung her head. Unknowing where her fingers stray'd, She weeping turned away and said,' Oh, my sweet mother, 'tis in vain,
I cannot weave as once I wove; So wilder'd is my heart and brain With thinking of that youth I love.'"
If my space allowed I could add much more on this subject, but will permit myself only one remark in conclusion. Lovers delighted in nature then as now; the moon was their chosen confidante, and I know of no modern poem in which the mysterious charm of a summer night and the magic beauty which lies on flowers, trees and fountains in those silent hours when the world is asleep, is more exquisitely described than in the following verses, also by Sappho, at the reading of which we seem forced to breathe more slowly, "kuhl bis an's Herz hinan."
"Planets, that around the beauteous moon Attendant wait, cast into shade Their ineffectual lustres, soon As she, in full-orb'd majesty array'd, Her silver radiance pours Upon this world of ours."
"Thro' orchard plots with fragrance crown'd, The clear cold fountain murm'ring flows; And forest leaves, with rustling sound, Invite to soft repose."
The foregoing remarks seemed to me due to those who consider a love such as that of Sappho and Bartja to have been impossible among the ancients. Unquestionably it was much rarer then than in these days: indeed I confess to having sketched my pair of lovers in somewhat bright colors. But may I not be allowed, at least once, to claim the poet's freedom?
How seldom I have availed myself of this freedom will be evident from the notes included in each volume. They seemed to me necessary, partly in order to explain the names and illustrate the circumstances mentioned in the text, and partly to vindicate the writer in the eyes of the learned. I trust they may not prove discouraging to any, as the text will be found easily readable without reference to the explanations.
Jena, November 23, 1868. GEORG EBERS, DR.
PREFACE TO THE FOURTH GERMAN EDITION.
Two years and a half after the appearance of the third edition of "An Egyptian Princess," a fourth was needed. I returned long since from the
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