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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 2. - 3/9 -
From words they were proceeding to deeds, but the police were not to be trifled with, and by a vigorous use of their staves, the tumult was soon stilled. The large, gay sails, easily to be distinguished among the brown, white and blue ones of the smaller Nile-boats which swarmed around them, came nearer and nearer to the expectant throng. Then at last the crown-prince and the dignitaries arose from their seats. The royal band of trumpeters blew a shrill and piercing blast of welcome, and the first of the expected boats stopped at the landing-place.
It was a rather long, richly-gilded vessel, and bore a silver sparrow- hawk as figure-head. In its midst rose a golden canopy with a purple covering, beneath which cushions were conveniently arranged. On each deck in the forepart of the ship sat twelve rowers, their aprons attached by costly fastenings.
[Splendid Nile-boats were possessed, in greater or less numbers, by all the men of high rank. Even in the tomb of Ti at Sakkara, which dates from the time of the Pyramids, we meet with a chief overseer of the vessels belonging to a wealthy Egyptian.]
Beneath the canopy lay six fine-looking men in glorious apparel; and before the ship had touched the shore the youngest of these, a beautiful fair-haired youth, sprang on to the steps.
Many an Egyptian girl's mouth uttered a lengthened "Ah" at this glorious sight, and even the grave faces of some of the dignitaries brightened into a friendly smile.
The name of this much-admired youth was Bartja.
[This Bartja is better known under the name of Smerdis, but on what account the Greeks gave him this name is not clear. In the cuneiform inscriptions of Bisitun or Behistun, he is called Bartja, or, according to Spiegel, Bardiya. We have chosen, for the sake of the easy pronunciation, the former, which is Rawlinson's simplified reading of the name.]
He was the son of the late, and brother of the reigning king of Persia, and had been endowed by nature with every gift that a youth of twenty years could desire for himself.
Around his tiara was wound a blue and white turban, beneath which hung fair, golden curls of beautiful, abundant hair; his blue eyes sparkled with life and joy, kindness and high spirits, almost with sauciness; his noble features, around which the down of a manly beard was already visible, were worthy of a Grecian sculptor's chisel, and his slender but muscular figure told of strength and activity. The splendor of his apparel was proportioned to his personal beauty. A brilliant star of diamonds and turquoises glittered in the front of his tiara. An upper garment of rich white and gold brocade reaching just below the knees, was fastened round the waist with a girdle of blue and white, the royal colors of Persia. In this girdle gleamed a short, golden sword, its hilt and scabbard thickly studded with opals and sky-blue turquoises. The trousers were of the same rich material as the robe, fitting closely at the ankle, and ending within a pair of short boots of light-blue leather.
The long, wide sleeves of his robe displayed a pair of vigorous arms, adorned with many costly bracelets of gold and jewels; round his slender neck and on his broad chest lay a golden chain.
Such was the youth who first sprang on shore. He was followed by Darius, the son of Hystaspes, a young Persian of the blood royal, similar in person to Bartja, and scarcely less gorgeously apparelled than he. The third to disembark was an aged man with snow-white hair, in whose face the gentle and kind expression of childhood was united, with the intellect of a man, and the experience of old age. His dress consisted of a long purple robe with sleeves, and the yellow boots worn by the Lydians;--his whole appearance produced an impression of the greatest modesty and a total absence of pretension.
[On account of these boots, which are constantly mentioned, Croesus was named by the oracle "soft-footed."]
Yet this simple old man had been, but a few years before, the most envied of his race and age; and even in our day at two thousand years' interval, his name is used as a synonyme for the highest point of worldly riches attainable by mankind. The old man to whom we are now introduced is no other than Croesus, the dethroned king of Lydia, who was then living at the court of Cambyses, as his friend and counsellor, and had accompanied the young Bartja to Egypt, in the capacity of Mentor.
Croesus was followed by Prexaspes, the king's Ambassador, Zopyrus, the son of Megabyzus, a Persian noble, the friend of Bartja and Darius; and, lastly, by his own son, the slender, pale Gyges, who after having become dumb in his fourth year through the fearful anguish he had suffered on his father's account at the taking of Sardis, had now recovered the power of speech.
Psamtik descended the steps to welcome the strangers. His austere, sallow face endeavored to assume a smile. The high officials in his train bowed down nearly to the ground, allowing their arms to hang loosely at their sides. The Persians, crossing their hands on their breasts, cast themselves on the earth before the heir to the Egyptian throne. When the first formalities were over, Bartja, according to the custom of his native country, but greatly to the astonishment of the populace, who were totally unaccustomed to such a sight, kissed the sallow cheek of the Egyptian prince; who shuddered at the touch of a stranger's unclean lips, then took his way to the litters waiting to convey him and his escort to the dwelling designed for them by the king, in the palace at Sais.
A portion of the crowd streamed after the strangers, but the larger number remained at their places, knowing that many a new and wonderful sight yet awaited them.
"Are you going to run after those dressed-up monkeys and children of Typhon, too?" asked an angry priest of his neighbor, a respectable tailor of Sais. "I tell you, Puhor, and the high-priest says so too, that these strangers can bring no good to the black land! I am for the good old times, when no one who cared for his life dared set foot on Egyptian soil. Now our streets are literally swarming with cheating Hebrews, and above all with those insolent Greeks whom may the gods destroy!
[The Jews were called Hebrews (Apuriu) by the Egyptians; as brought to light by Chabas. See Ebers, Aegypten I. p. 316. H. Brugsch opposes this opinion.]
"Only look, there is the third boat full of strangers! And do you know what kind of people these Persians are? The high-priest says that in the whole of their kingdom, which is as large as half the world, there is not a single temple to the gods; and that instead of giving decent burial to the dead, they leave them to be torn in pieces by dogs and vultures."
[These statements are correct, as the Persians, at the time of the dynasty of the Achaemenidae, had no temples, but used fire-altars and exposed their dead to the dogs and vultures. An impure corpse was not permitted to defile the pure earth by its decay; nor might it be committed to the fire or water for destruction, as their purity would be equally polluted by such an act. But as it was impossible to cause the dead bodies to vanish, Dakhmas or burying- places were laid out, which had to be covered with pavement and cement not less than four inches thick, and surrounded by cords to denote that the whole structure was as it were suspended in the air, and did not come in contact with the pure earth. Spiegel, Avesta II.]
"The tailor's indignation at hearing this was even greater than his astonishment, and pointing to the landing-steps, he cried:
"It is really too bad; see, there is the sixth boat full of these foreigners!"
"Yes, it is hard indeed!" sighed the priest, "one might fancy a whole army arriving. Amasis will go on in this manner until the strangers drive him from his throne and country, and plunder and make slaves of us poor creatures, as the evil Hyksos, those scourges of Egypt, and the black Ethiopians did, in the days of old."
"The seventh boat!" shouted the tailor.
"May my protectress Neith, the great goddess of Sais, destroy me, if I can understand the king," complained the priest. "He sent three barks to Naukratis, that poisonous nest hated of the gods, to fetch the servants and baggage of these Persians; but instead of three, eight had to be procured, for these despisers of the gods and profaners of dead bodies have not only brought kitchen utensils, dogs, horses, carriages, chests, baskets and bales, but have dragged with them, thousands of miles, a whole host of servants. They tell me that some of them have no other work than twining of garlands and preparing ointments. Their priests too, whom they call Magi, are here with them. I should like to know what they are for? of what use is a priest where there is no temple?"
The old King Amasis received the Persian embassy shortly after their arrival with all the amiability and kindness peculiar to him.
Four days later, after having attended to the affairs of state, a duty punctually fulfilled by him every morning without exception, he went forth to walk with Croesus in the royal gardens. The remaining members of the embassy, accompanied by the crown-prince, were engaged in an excursion up the Nile to the city of Memphis.
The palace-gardens, of a royal magnificence, yet similar in their arrangement to those of Rhodopis, lay in the north-west part of Sais, near the royal citadel.
Here, under the shadow of a spreading plane-tree, and near a gigantic basin of red granite, into which an abundance of clear water flowed perpetually through the jaws of black basalt crocodiles, the two old men seated themselves.
The dethroned king, though in reality some years the elder of the two, looked far fresher and more vigorous than the powerful monarch at his side. Amasis was tall, but his neck was bent; his corpulent body was supported by weak and slender legs: and his face, though well-formed, was lined and furrowed. But a vigorous spirit sparkled in the small, flashing eyes, and an expression of raillery, sly banter, and at times, even of irony, played around his remarkably full lips. The low, broad brow, the large and beautifully-arched head bespoke great mental power, and in the changing color of his eyes one seemed to read that neither wit nor passion were wanting in the man, who, from his simple place as soldier in the ranks, had worked his way up to the throne of the Pharaohs. His voice was sharp and hard, and his movements, in comparison with the deliberation of the other members of the Egyptian court, appeared almost morbidly active.
The attitude and bearing of his neighbor Croesus were graceful, and in every way worthy of a king. His whole manner showed that he had lived in frequent intercourse with the highest and noblest minds of Greece.
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