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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 1. - 5/11 -


The highest families of Lesbos were forced to leave the country, and fled, some to Sicily, some to the Greek provinces of Italy, and others to Egypt. Alcaeus, the greatest poet of his day, and Charaxus, the brother of that Sappho whose odes it was our Solon's last wish to learn by heart, came here to Naukratis, which had already long been the flourishing centre of commercial communication between Egypt and the rest of the world. Charaxus saw Rhodopis, and soon loved her so passionately, that he gave an immense sum to secure her from the mercenary Xanthus, who was on the point of returning with her to his own country; Sappho wrote some biting verses, derisive of her brother and his purchase, but Alcaeus on the other hand, approved, and gave expression to this feeling in glowing songs on the charms of Rhodopis. And now Sappho's brother, who had till then remained undistinguished among the many strangers at Naukratis, became a noted man through Rhodopis. His house was soon the centre of attraction to all foreigners, by whom she was overwhelmed with gifts. The King Hophra, hearing of her beauty and talent, sent for her to Memphis, and offered to buy her of Charaxus, but the latter had already long, though secretly, given Rhodopis her freedom, and loved her far too well to allow of a separation. She too, loved the handsome Lesbian and refused to leave him despite the brilliant offers made to her on all sides. At length Charaxus made this wonderful woman his lawful wife, and continued to live with her and her little daughter Kleis in Naukratis, until the Lesbian exiles were recalled to their native land by Pittakus. He then started homeward with his wife, but fell ill on the journey, and died soon after his arrival at Mitylene. Sappho, who had derided her brother for marrying one beneath him, soon became an enthusiastic admirer of the beautiful widow and rivalled Alcaeus in passionate songs to her praise.

After the death of the poetess, Rhodopis returned, with her little daughter, to Naukratis, where she was welcomed as a goddess. During this interval Amasis, the present king of Egypt, had usurped the throne of the Pharaohs, and was maintaining himself in its possession by help of the army, to which caste he belonged.

[Amasis, of whom much will be said in our text, reigned 570-526 B. C. His name, in the hieroglyphic signs, was Aahmes or young moon but the name by which he was commonly called was Sa-Nit "Son of Neith." His name, and pictures of him are to be found on stones in the fortress of Cairo, on a relief in Florence, a statue in the Vatican, on sarcophagi in Stockholm and London, a statue in the Villa Albani and on a little temple of red granite at Leyden. A beautiful bust of gray-wacke in our possession probably represents the same king.]

As his predecessor Hophra had accelerated his fall, and brought the army and priesthood to open rebellion by his predilection for the Greek nation, and for intercourse with foreigners generally, (always an abomination in the eyes of the Egyptians), men felt confident that Amasis would return to the old ways, would rigorously exclude foreigners from the country, dismiss the Greek mercenaries, and instead of taking counsel from the Greeks, would hearken only to the commands of the priesthood. But in this, as you must see yourself, the prudent Egyptians had guessed wide of the mark in their choice of a ruler; they fell from Scylla into Charybdis. If Hophra was called the Greeks' friend, Amasis must be named our lover. The Egyptians, especially the priests and the army, breathe fire and flame, and would fain strangle us one and all, off hand, This feeling on the part of the soldiery does not disturb Amasis, for he knows too well the comparative value of their and our services; but with the priests it is another and more serious matter, for two reasons: first, they possess an unbounded influence over the people; and secondly. Amasis himself retains more affection than he likes to acknowledge to us, for this absurd and insipid religion--a religion which appears doubly sacred to its adherents simply because it has existed in this eccentric land--unchanged for thousands of years. These priests make the king's life burdensome to him; they persecute and injure us in every possible way; and indeed, if it had not been for the king's protection, I should long ago have been a dead man. But I am wandering from my tale! As I said before, Rhodopis was received at Naukratis with open arms by all, and loaded with marks of favor by Amasis, who formed her acquaintance. Her daughter Kleis, as is the case with the little Sappho now--was never allowed to appear in the society which assembled every evening at her mother's house, and indeed was even more strictly brought up than the other young girls in Naukratis. She married Glaucus, a rich Phocaean merchant of noble family, who had defended his native town with great bravery against the Persians, and with him departed to the newly-founded Massalia, on the Celtic coast. There, however, the young couple both fell victims to the climate, and died, leaving a little daughter, Sappho. Rhodopis at once undertook the long journey westward, brought the orphan child back to live with her, spent the utmost care on her education, and now that she is grown up, forbids her the society of men, still feeling the stains of her own youth so keenly that she would fain keep her granddaughter (and this in Sappho's case is not difficult), at a greater distance from contact with our sex than is rendered necessary, by the customs of Egypt. To my friend herself society is as indispensable as water to the fish or air to the bird. Her house is frequented by all the strangers here, and whoever has once experienced her hospitality and has the time at command will never after be found absent when the flag announces an evening of reception. Every Greek of mark is to be found here, as it is in this house that we consult on the wisest measures for encountering the hatred of the priests and bringing the king round to our own views. Here you can obtain not only the latest news from home, but from the rest of the world, and this house is an inviolable sanctuary for the persecuted, Rhodopis possessing a royal warrant which secures her from every molestation on the part of the police.

[A very active and strict police-force existed in Egypt, the organization of which is said to have owed much to Amasis' care. We also read in inscriptions and papyrus rolls, that a body of mounted police existed, the ranks of which were generally filled by foreigners in preference to natives.]

Our own songs and our own language are to be heard here, and here we take counsel on the best means for delivering Greece from the ever fresh encroachments of her tyrants.

In a word, this house is the centre of attraction for all Hellenic interests in Egypt, and of more importance to us politically, than our temple, the Hellenion itself, and our hall of commerce.

In a few minutes you will see this remarkable grandmother, and, if we should be here alone, perhaps the grandchild too; you will then at once perceive that they owe everything to their own rare qualities and not to the chances of good fortune. Ah! there they come! they are going towards the house. Cannot you hear the slave-girls singing? Now they are going in. First let them quietly be seated, then follow me, and when the evening is over you shall say whether you repent of having come hither, and whether Rhodopis resembles more nearly a queen or a freed bond-woman."

The houses was built in the Grecian style. It was a rather long, one- storied building, the outside of which would be called extremely plain in the present day; within, it united the Egyptian brilliancy of coloring with the Greek beauty of form. The principal door opened into the entrance-hall. To the left of this lay a large dining-room, overlooking the Nile, and, opposite to this last was the kitchen, an apartment only to be found in the houses of the wealthier Greeks, the poorer families being accustomed to prepare their food at the hearth in the front apartment. The hall of reception lay at the other end of the entrance- hall, and was in the form of a square, surrounded within by a colonnade, into which various chambers opened. This was the apartment devoted to the men, in the centre of which was the household fire, burning on an altar-shaped hearth of rich AEginetan metal-work.

It was lighted by an opening in the roof, which formed at the same time, an outlet for the smoke. From this room (at the opposite end to that on which it opened into the entrance-hall), a passage, closed by a well- fastened door, led into the chamber of the women. This was also surrounded by a colonnade within, but only on three sides, and here the female inhabitants were accustomed to pass their time, when not employed, spinning or weaving, in the rooms lying near the back or garden-door as it was termed. Between these latter and the domestic offices, which lay on the right and left of the women's apartment, were the sleeping-rooms; these served also as places of security for the valuables of the house. The walls of the men's apartment were painted of a reddish-brown color, against which the outlines of some white marble carvings, the gift of a Chian sculptor, stood out in sharp relief. The floor was covered with rich carpets from Sardis; low cushions of panthers' skins lay ranged along the colonnade; around the artistically wrought hearth stood quaint Egyptian settees, and small, delicately-carved tables of Thya wood, on which lay all kinds of musical instruments, the flute, cithara and lyre. Numerous lamps of various and singular shapes, filled with Kiki oil, hung against the walls. Some represented fire-spouting dolphins; others, strange winged monsters from whose jaws the flames issued; and these, blending their light with that from the hearth, illumined the apartment.

In this room a group of men were assembled, whose appearance and dress differed one from the other. A Syrian from Tyre, in a long crimson robe, was talking animatedly to a man whose decided features and crisp, curly, black hair proclaimed him an Israelite. The latter had come to Egypt to buy chariots and horses for Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah--the Egyptian equipages being the most sought after at that time. Close to him stood three Greeks from Asia Minor, the rich folds of whose garments (for they wore the costly dress of their native city Miletus), contrasted strongly with the plain and unadorned robe of Phryxus, the deputy commissioned to collect money for the temple of Apollo at Delphi, with whom they were in earnest conversation. Ten years before, the ancient temple had been consumed by fire; and at this time efforts were being made to build another, and a more beautiful one.

Two of the Milesians, disciples of Anaximander and Anaximenes, were staying then in Egypt, to study astronomy and the peculiar wisdom of the Egyptians at Heliopolis, and the third was a wealthy merchant and ship- owner, named Theopompus, who had settled at Naukratis.

[Anaximander of Miletus, born 611-546, was a celebrated geometrician, astronomer, philosopher and geographer. He was the author of a book on natural phenomena, drew the first map of the world on metal, and introduced into Greece a kind of clock which he seems to have borrowed from the Babylonians. He supposes a primary and not easily definable Being, by which the whole world is governed, and in which, though in himself infinite and without limits, everything material and circumscribed has its foundation. "Chaotic matter" represents in his theory the germ of all created things, from which water, earth, animals, nereids or fish-men, human beings &c. have had their origin.]

Rhodopis herself was engaged in a lively conversation with two Samian Greeks: the celebrated worker in metals, sculptor and goldsmith Theodorus, and the Iambic poet Ibykus of Rhegium, who had left the court of Polykrates for a time in order to become acquainted with Egypt, and were bearers of presents to Amasis from their ruler. Close to the fire lay Philoinus of Sybaris, a corpulent man with strongly-marked features and a sensual expression of face; he was stretched at full-length on a couch covered with spotted furs, and amused himself by playing with his scented curls wreathed with gold, and with the golden chains which fell from his neck on to the long saffron-colored robe that clothed him down to his feet.


An Egyptian Princess, Volume 1. - 5/11

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