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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 1. - 6/11 -

[Sybaris was a town in Lower Italy notorious throughout the ancient world for its luxury. According to Strabo it was founded by Achaeans 262. About 510 it was conquered and destroyed by the Crotoniates and then rebuilt under the name of Thurii.]

Rhodopis had a kind word for each of her guests, but at present she occupied herself exclusively with the two celebrated Sarnians; their talk was of art and poetry. The fire of youth still glowed in the eyes of the Thracian woman, her tall figure was still full and unbent; her hair, though grey, was wound round her beautifully formed head in luxuriant waves, and laid together at the back in a golden net, and a sparkling diadem shone above her lofty forehead.

Her noble Greek features were pale, but still beautiful and without a wrinkle, notwithstanding her great age; indeed her small mouth with its full lips, her white teeth, her eyes so bright and yet so soft, and her nobly-formed nose and forehead would have been beauty enough for a young maiden.

Rhodopis looked younger than she really was, though she made no attempt to disavow her age. Matronly dignity was visible in every movement, and the charm of her manner lay, not in a youthful endeavor to be pleasing, but in the effort of age to please others, considering their wishes, and at the same time demanding consideration in return.

Our two friends now presenting themselves in the hall, every eye turned upon them, and as Phanes entered leading his friend by the hand, the heartiest welcome met him from all sides; one of the Milesians indeed exclaimed: "Now I see what it is that was wanting to our assembly. There can be no merriment without Phanes."

And Philoinus, the Sybarite, raising his deep voice, but not allowing himself for a moment to be disturbed in his repose, remarked: "Mirth is a good thing, and if you bring that with you, be welcome to me also, Athenian."

"To me," said Rhodopis, turning to her new guests, "you are heartily welcome, but not more in your joy than if borne down by sadness. I know no greater pleasure than to remove the lines of care from a friend's brow. Spartan, I venture to address you as a friend too, for the friends of my friends are my own." Aristomachus bowed in silence, but Phanes, addressing himself both to Rhodopis and to the Sybarite, answered: "Well then, my friends, I can content you both. To you, Rhodopis, I must come for comfort, for soon, too soon I must leave you and your pleasant house; Philoinus however can still enjoy my mirth, as I cannot but rejoice in the prospect of seeing my beloved Hellas once more, and of quitting, even though involuntarily, this golden mouse-trap of a country."

"You are going away! you have been dismissed? Whither are you going?" echoed on all sides.

"Patience, patience, my friends," cried Phanes. "I have a long story to tell, but I will rather reserve it for the evening meal. And indeed, dear friend, my hunger is nearly as great as my distress at being obliged to leave you."

"Hunger is a good thing," philosophized the Sybarite once more, "when a man has a good meal in prospect."

"On that point you may be at ease, Philoinus," answered Rhodopis. "I told the cook to do his utmost, for the most celebrated epicure from the most luxurious city in the world, no less a person than Philoinus of Sybaris, would pass a stern judgment on his delicate dishes. Go, Knakias, tell them to serve the supper. Are you content now, my impatient guests? As for me, since I heard Phanes' mournful news, the pleasure of the meal is gone." The Athenian bowed, and the Sybarite returned to his philosophy. "Contentment is a good thing when every wish can be satisfied. I owe you thanks, Rhodopis, for your appreciation of my incomparable native city. What says Anakreon?

"To-day is ours--what do we fear? To-day is ours--we have it here. Let's treat it kindly, that it may Wish at least with us to stay. Let's banish business, banish sorrow; To the gods belongs to-morrow."

"Eh! Ibykus, have I quoted your friend the poet correctly, who feasts with you at Polykrates' banquets? Well, I think I may venture to say of my own poor self that if Anakreon can make better verses, I understand the art of living quite as well as he, though he writes so many poems upon it. Why, in all his songs there is not one word about the pleasures of the table! Surely they are as important as love and play! I confess that the two last are clear to me also; still, I could exist without them, though in a miserable fashion, but without food, where should we be?"

The Sybarite broke into a loud laugh at his own joke; but the Spartan turned away from this conversation, drew Phryxus into a corner, and quite abandoning his usually quiet and deliberate manner, asked eagerly whether he had at last brought him the long wished for answer from the Oracle. The serious features of the Delphian relaxed, and thrusting his hand into the folds of his chiton,--[An undergarment resembling a shirt.]--he drew out a little roll of parchment-like sheepskin, on which a few lines were written.

The hands of the brave, strong Spartan trembled as he seized the roll, and his fixed gaze on its characters was as if it would pierce the skin on which they were inscribed.

Then, recollecting himself, he shook his head sadly and said: "We Spartans have to learn other arts than reading and writing; if thou canst, read the what Pythia says."

The Delphian glanced over the writing and replied: "Rejoice! Loxias (Apollo) promises thee a happy return home; hearken to the prediction of the priestess."

"If once the warrior hosts from the snow-topped mountains descending Come to the fields of the stream watering richly the plain, Then shall the lingering boat to the beckoning meadows convey thee Which to the wandering foot peace and a home will afford. When those warriors come, from the snow-topped mountains descending, Then will the powerful Five grant thee what long they refused."

To these words the Spartan listened with intense eagerness; he had them read over to him twice, then repeated them from memory, thanked Phryxus, and placed the roll within the folds of his garment.

The Delphian then took part in the general conversation, but Aristomachus repeated the words of the Oracle unceasingly to himself in a low voice, endeavoring to impress them on his memory, and to interpret their obscure import.


The doors of the supper-room now flew open. Two lovely, fair-haired boys, holding myrtle-wreaths, stood on each side of the entrance, and in the middle of the room was a large, low, brilliantly polished table, surrounded by inviting purple cushions.

[It was most probably usual for each guest to have his own little table; but we read even in Homer of large tables on which the meals were served up. In the time of Homer people sat at table, but the recumbent position became universal in later times.]

Rich nosegays adorned this table, and on it were placed large joints of roast meat, glasses and dishes of various shapes filled with dates, figs, pomegranates, melons and grapes, little silver beehives containing honey, and plates of embossed copper, on which lay delicate cheese from the island of Trinakria. In the midst was a silver table-ornament, something similar to an altar, from which arose fragrant clouds of incense.

At the extreme end of the table stood the glittering silver cup in which the wine was to be mixed.

[The Greeks were not accustomed to drink unmingled wine. Zaleukus forbade to all citizens the pure juice of the grape under penalty of death, and Solon under very severe penalties, unless required as medicine. The usual mixture was composed of three-fifths water to two-fifths wine.]

This was of beautiful AEginetan workmanship, its crooked handles representing two giants, who appeared ready to sink under the weight of the bowl which they sustained.

Like the altar, it was enwreathed with flowers, and a garland of roses or myrtle had been twined around the goblet of each guest.

The entire floor was strewed with rose-leaves, and the room lighted by many lamps which were hung against the smooth, white, stucco walls.

No sooner were the guests reclining on their cushions, than the fair- haired boys reappeared, wound garlands of ivy and myrtle around the heads and shoulders of the revellers, and washed their feet in silver basins. The Sybarite, though already scented with all the perfumes of Arabia, would not rest until he was completely enveloped in roses and myrtle, and continued to occupy the two boys even after the carver had removed the first joints from the table in order to cut them up; but as soon as the first course, tunny-fish with mustard-sauce, had been served, he forgot all subordinate matters, and became absorbed in the enjoyment of the delicious viands.

Rhodopis, seated on a chair at the head of the table, near the wine-bowl, not only led the conversation, but gave directions to the slaves in waiting.

[The women took their meals sitting. The Greeks, like the Egyptians, had chairs with backs and arms. The form of the solia or throne has become familiar to us from the discoveries at Pompeii and the representations of many gods and distinguished persons. It had a high, almost straight back, and supports for the arms.]

She gazed on her cheerful guests with a kind of pride, and seemed to be devoting her attention to each exclusively, now asking the Delphian how he had succeeded in his mission, then the Sybarite whether he was content with the performances of her cook, and then listening eagerly to Ibykus, as he told how the Athenian, Phrynichus, had introduced the religious dramas of Thespis of Ikaria into common life, and was now representing entire histories from the past by means of choruses, recitative and answer.

Then she turned to the Spartan, remarking, that to him alone of all her guests, instead of an apology for the simplicity of the meal, she felt she owed one for its luxury. The next time he came, her slave Knakias, who, as an escaped Helot, boasted that he could cook a delicious blood- soup (here the Sybarite shuddered), should prepare him a true

An Egyptian Princess, Volume 1. - 6/11

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