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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 2. - 4/9 -
Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes of Miletus, Bias of Priene, Solon of Athens, Pittakus of Lesbos, the most celebrated Hellenic philosophers, had in former and happier days been guests at the court of Croesus in Sardis. His full clear voice sounded like pure song when compared with the shrill tones of Amasis.
[Bias, a philosopher of Ionian origin, flourished about 560 B. C. and was especially celebrated for his wise maxims on morals and law. After his death, which took place during his defence of a friend in the public court, a temple was erected to him by his countrymen. Laert. Diog. I. 88.]
"Now tell me openly," began king Pharaoh--[In English "great house," the high gate or "sublime porte.']--in tolerably fluent Greek, "what opinion hast thou formed of Egypt? Thy judgment possesses for me more worth than that of any other man, for three reasons: thou art better acquainted with most of the countries and nations of this earth; the gods have not only allowed thee to ascend the ladder of fortune to its utmost summit, but also to descend it, and thirdly, thou hast long been the first counsellor to the mightiest of kings. Would that my kingdom might please thee so well that thou wouldst remain here and become to me a brother. Verily, Croesus, my friend hast thou long been, though my eyes beheld thee yesterday for the first time!"
"And thou mine," interrupted the Lydian. "I admire the courage with which thou hast accomplished that which seemed right and good in thine eyes, in spite of opposition near and around thee. I am thankful for the favor shown to the Hellenes, my friends, and I regard thee as related to me by fortune, for hast thou not also passed through all the extremes of good and evil that this life can offer?"
"With this difference," said Amasis smiling, "that we started from opposite points; in thy lot the good came first, the evil later; whereas in my own this order has been reversed. In saying this, however," he added, "I am supposing that my present fortune is a good for me, and that I enjoy it."
"And I, in that case," answered Croesus, "must be assuming that I am unhappy in what men call my present ill-fortune."
"How can it possibly be otherwise after the loss of such enormous possessions?"
"Does happiness consist then in possession?" asked Croesus. "Is happiness itself a thing to be possessed? Nay, by no means! It is nothing but a feeling, a sensation, which the envious gods vouchsafe more often to the needy than to the mighty. The clear sight of the latter becomes dazzled by the glittering treasure, and they cannot but suffer continual humiliation, because, conscious of possessing power to obtain much, they wage an eager war for all, and therein are continually defeated."
Amasis sighed, and answered: "I would I could prove thee in the wrong; but in looking back on my past life I am fain to confess that its cares began with that very hour which brought me what men call my good fortune."--"And I," interrupted Croesus, "can assure thee that I am thankful thou delayedst to come to my help, inasmuch as the hour of my overthrow was the beginning of true, unsullied happiness. When I beheld the first Persians scale the walls of Sardis, I execrated myself and the gods, life appeared odious to me, existence a curse. Fighting on, but in heart despairing, I and my people were forced to yield. A Persian raised his sword to cleave my skull--in an instant my poor dumb son had thrown himself between his father and the murderer, and for the first time after long years of silence, I heard him speak. Terror had loosened his tongue; in that dreadful hour Gyges learnt once more to speak, and I, who but the moment before had been cursing the gods, bowed down before their power. I had commanded a slave to kill me the moment I should be taken prisoner by the Persians, but now I deprived him of his sword. I was a changed man, and by degrees learnt ever more and more to subdue the rage and indignation which yet from time to time would boil up again within my soul, rebellious against my fate and my noble enemies. Thou knowest that at last I became the friend of Cyrus, and that my son grew up at his court, a free man at my side, having entirely regained the use of his speech. Everything beautiful and good that I had heard, seen or thought during my long life I treasured up now for him; he was my kingdom, my crown, my treasure. Cyrus's days of care, his nights so reft of sleep, reminded me with horror of my own former greatness, and from day to day it became more evident to me that happiness has nothing to do with our outward circumstances. Each man possesses the hidden germ in his own heart. A contented, patient mind, rejoicing much in all that is great and beautiful and yet despising not the day of small things; bearing sorrow without a murmur and sweetening it by calling to remembrance former joy; moderation in all things; a firm trust in the favor of the gods and a conviction that, all things being subject to change, so with us too the worst must pass in due season; all this helps to mature the germ of happiness, and gives us power to smile, where the man undisciplined by fate might yield to despair and fear."
Amasis listened attentively, drawing figures the while in the sand with the golden flower on his staff. At last he spoke:
"Verily, Croesus, I the great god, the 'sun of righteousness,' 'the son of Neith,' 'the lord of warlike glory,' as the Egyptians call me, am tempted to envy thee, dethroned and plundered as thou art. I have been as happy as thou art now. Once I was known through all Egypt, though only the poor son of a captain, for my light heart, happy temper, fun and high spirits. The common soldiers would do anything for me, my superior officers could have found much fault, but in the mad Amasis, as they called me, all was overlooked, and among my equals, (the other under- officers) there could be no fun or merry-making unless I took a share in it. My predecessor king Hophra sent us against Cyrene. Seized with thirst in the desert, we refused to go on; and a suspicion that the king intended to sacrifice us to the Greek mercenaries drove the army to open mutiny. In my usual joking manner I called out to my friends: 'You can never get on without a king, take me for your ruler; a merrier you will never find!' The soldiers caught the words. 'Amasis will be our king,' ran through the ranks from man to man, and, in a few hours more, they came to me with shouts, and acclamations of 'The good, jovial Amasis for our King!' One of my boon companions set a field-marshal's helmet on my head: I made the joke earnest, and we defeated Hophra at Momempliis. The people joined in the conspiracy, I ascended the throne, and men pronounced me fortunate. Up to that time I had been every Egyptian's friend, and now I was the enemy of the best men in the nation.
"The priests swore allegiance to me, and accepted me as a member of their caste, but only in the hope of guiding me at their will. My former superiors in command either envied me, or wished to remain on the same terms of intercourse as formerly. But this would have been inconsistent with my new position, and have undermined my authority. One day, therefore, when the officers of the host were at one of my banquets and attempting, as usual, to maintain their old convivial footing, I showed them the golden basin in which their feet had been washed before sitting down to meat; five days later, as they were again drinking at one of my revels, I caused a golden image of the great god Ra be placed upon the richly-ornamented banqueting-table.
[Ra, with the masculine article Phra, must be regarded as the central point of the sun-worship of the Egyptians, which we consider to have been the foundation of their entire religion. He was more especially worshipped at Heliopolis. Plato, Eudoxus, and probably Pythagoras also, profited by the teaching of his priests. The obelisks, serving also as memorial monuments on which the names and deeds of great kings were recorded, were sacred to him, and Pliny remarks of them that they represented the rays of the sun. He was regarded as the god of light, the director of the entire visible creation, over which he reigned, as Osiris over the world of spirits.]
"On perceiving it, they fell down to worship. As they rose from their knees, I took the sceptre, and holding it up on high with much solemnity, exclaimed: 'In five days an artificer has transformed the despised vessel into which ye spat and in which men washed your feet, into this divine image. Such a vessel was I, but the Deity, which can fashion better and more quickly than a goldsmith, has made me your king. Bow down then before me and worship. He who henceforth refuses to obey, or is unmindful of the reverence due to the king, is guilty of death!'
"They fell down before me, every one, and I saved my authority, but lost my friends. As I now stood in need of some other prop, I fixed on the Hellenes, knowing that in all military qualifications one Greek is worth more than five Egyptians, and that with this assistance I should be able to carry out those measures which I thought beneficial.
"I kept the Greek mercenaries always round me, I learnt their language, and it was they who brought to me the noblest human being I ever met, Pythagoras. I endeavored to introduce Greek art and manners among ourselves, seeing what folly lay in a self-willed adherence to that which has been handed down to us, when it is in itself bad and unworthy, while the good seed lay on our Egyptian soil, only waiting to be sown.
"I portioned out the whole land to suit my purposes, appointed the best police in the world, and accomplished much; but my highest aim, namely: to infuse into this country, at once so gay and so gloomy, the spirit and intellect of the Greeks, their sense of beauty in form, their love of life and joy in it, this all was shivered on the same rock which threatens me with overthrow and ruin whenever I attempt to accomplish anything new. The priests are my opponents, my masters, they hang like a dead weight upon me. Clinging with superstitious awe to all that is old and traditionary, abominating everything foreign, and regarding every stranger as the natural enemy of their authority and their teaching, they can lead the most devout and religious of all nations with a power that has scarcely any limits. For this I am forced to sacrifice all my plans, for this I see my life passing away in bondage to their severe ordinances, this will rob my death-bed of peace, and I cannot be secure that this host of proud mediators between god and man will allow me to rest even in my grave!"
"By Zeus our saviour, with all thy good fortune, thou art to be pitied!" interrupted Croesus sympathetically, "I understand thy misery; for though I have met with many an individual who passed through life darkly and gloomily, I could not have believed that an entire race of human beings existed, to whom a gloomy, sullen heart was as natural as a poisonous tooth to the serpent. Yet it is true, that on my journey hither and during my residence at this court I have seen none but morose and gloomy countenances among the priesthood. Even the youths, thy immediate attendants, are never seen to smile; though cheerfulness, that sweet gift of the gods, usually belongs to the young, as flowers to spring."
"Thou errest," answered Amasis, "in believing this gloom to be a universal characteristic of the Egyptians. It is true that our religion requires much serious thought. There are few nations, however, who have so largely the gift of bantering fun and joke: or who on the occasion of a festival, can so entirely forget themselves and everything else but the enjoyments of the moment; but the very sight of a stranger is odious to the priests, and the moroseness which thou observest is intended as retaliation on me for my alliance with the strangers. Those very boys, of whom thou spakest, are the greatest torment of my life. They perform for me the service of slaves, and obey my slightest nod. One might imagine that the parents who devote their children to this service, and who are the highest in rank among the priesthood, would be the most
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