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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 3. - 6/10 -
and I can still raise a talent for your temple."
Phryxus expressed his thanks, and Phanes remarked "The Alkmaeonida; will be sure to erect a beautiful edifice, for they are rich and ambitious, and desirous of gaining favor with the Amphiktyons, in order, by their aid, to overthrow the tyrants, secure to themselves a higher position than that of the family to which I belong, and with this, the guidance of state-affairs."
"Is it true, as people say," asked Ibykus, "that next to Agarista with whom Megakles received so rich a dowry, you, Croesus, have been the largest contributor to the wealth of the Alkmaeonidae?"
"True enough," answered Croesus laughing.
"Tell us the story, I beg," said Rhodopis.
"Well," answered Croesus, "Alkmaeon of Athens once appeared at my court; his cheerfulness and cultivation pleased me well, and I retained him near me for some time. One day I showed him my treasure-chambers, at the sight of which he fell into despair, called himself a common beggar and declared that one good handful of these precious things would make him a happy man. I at once allowed him to take as much gold away as he could carry. What think you did Alkaemmon on this? sent for high Lydian riding-boots, an apron and a basket, had the one secured behind him, put the others on, and filled them all with gold, till they could hold no more. Not content with this, he strewed gold-dust in his hair and beard and filled his mouth to that extent that he appeared in the act of choking. In each hand he grasped a golden dish, and thus laden dragged himself out of the treasure-house, falling exhausted as he crossed the threshold. Never have I laughed so heartily as at this sight."
"But did you grant him all these treasures?" said Rhodopis.
"Yes, yes, my friend; and did not think even then, that I had paid too dearly for the experience that gold can make fools even of clever men."
"You were the most generous of monarchs," cried Phanes.
"And make a tolerably contented beggar," answered Croesus. "But tell me, Phryxus, how much has Amasis contributed to your collection?"
"He gave fifty tons of alum."
"A royal gift!"
"And the prince Psamtik?"
"On my appealing to him by his father's munificence, he turned his back on me, and answered with a bitter laugh: 'Collect money for the destruction of your temple, and I am ready to double my father's donation!'"
"Say rather: the true Egyptian! to Psamtik everything foreign is an abomination."
"How much have the Greeks in Naukratis contributed?"
"Beside munificent private donations, each community has given twenty minae."
"That is much."
"Philoinus, the Sybarite, alone sent me a thousand drachmm," and accompanied his gift with a most singular epistle. May I read it aloud, Rhodopis?"
"Certainly," answered she, "it will show you that the drunkard has repented of his late behaviour."
The Delphian began: "Philoinus to Phryxus: It grieves me that at Rhodopis' house the other night I did not drink more; for had I done so I should have lost consciousness entirely, and so have been unable to offend even the smallest insect. My confounded abstemiousness is therefore to blame, that I can no longer enjoy a place at the best table in all Egypt. I am thankful, however, to Rhodopis for past enjoyment, and in memory of her glorious roastbeef (which has bred in me the wish to buy her cook at any price) I send twelve large spits for roasting oxen, --[Rhodopis is said to have sent such a gift to Delphi. Herod.]--and beg they may be placed in some treasure-house at Delphi as an offering from Rhodopis. As for myself, being a rich man, I sign my name for a thousand drachmae, and beg that my gift may be publicly announced at the next Pythian games. To that rude fellow, Aristomachus of Sparta, express my thanks for the effectual manner in which he fulfilled my intention in coming to Egypt. I came hither for the purpose of having a tooth extracted by an Egyptian dentist said to take out teeth without causing much pain.
[The Egyptian dentists must have been very skilful. Artificial teeth have been discovered in the jaws of mummies. See Blumenbach on the teeth of the ancient Egyptians, and on mummies.]
Aristomachus, however, knocked out the defective tooth and so saved me from an operation, the thought of which had often made me tremble. On recovering consciousness, I found that three teeth had been knocked into my mouth, the diseased one and two others, which though healthy, would probably at some future time have caused me pain. Salute Rhodopis and the handsome Phanes from me. You I invite to an entertainment at my house in Sybaris, this day year. We are accustomed to issue invitations somewhat early, on account of my necessary preparations. I have caused this epistle to be written by my slave Sophotatus in an adjoining chamber, as merely to behold the labor of writing causes cramp in my fingers."
A burst of laughter arose at these words, but Rhodopis said: "This letter gives me pleasure; it proves that Philoinus is not bad at heart. Brought up a Sybarite" . . . She was suddenly interrupted by the voice of a stranger, who had entered unperceived, and, after apologizing to the venerable hostess and her guests for appearing without invitation among them, continued thus: "I am Gyges the son of Croesus; and it has not been merely for pastime, that I have ridden over from Sais in two hours lest I should arrive too late!"
"Menon, a cushion for our guest!" cried Rhodopis. "Be welcome to my house and take some repose after your wild, thoroughly Lydian, ride."
"By the dog, Gyges!" exclaimed Croesus.
[An oath of Rhadamanthus used in order to avoid mentioning the names of the gods. Schol. Aristoph. Aves. 520.]
"What brings thee here at this hour? I begged thee not to quit Bartja's side . . . But how thou look'st! what is the matter? has aught happened? speak, speak!"
In the first moment Gyges could not answer a word. To see his beloved father, for whose very life he had been in such anxiety, a safe and happy guest at this rich banquet, seemed to rob him of his speech a second time. At last, however, he was able to say: "The gods be praised, my father, that I see thee safe once more! Think not I forsook my post thoughtlessly. Alas! I am forced to appear as a bird of evil omen in this cheerful assembly. Know at once, ye guests, for I dare not lose time in preparing my words, that a treacherous assault awaits ye!"
They all sprang up as if struck by lightning. Aristomachus silently loosened his sword in its scabbard; Phanes extended his arms as if to discern whether the old athletic elasticity still dwelt there.
"What can it be?--what is their design?" echoed from all sides.
"This house is surrounded by Ethiopian soldiers!" answered Gyges. "A faithful fellow confided to me that the crown-prince had designs on one of your number; he was to be taken alive if possible, but killed if he resisted. Dreading lest thou shouldst be this victim, my father, I sped hither. The fellow had not lied. This house is surrounded. My horse shied on reaching your garden-gate, Rhodopis, jaded as he was. I dismounted, and could discern behind every bush the glitter of weapons and the eager eyes of men lying in ambush. They allowed us, however, to enter unmolested."
At this moment Knakias rushed in crying, "Important news! On my way to the Nile to fetch water with which to prepare the wine-cup, I have just met a man who, in his haste, nearly ran over me.
[The water of the Nile has a very agreeable flavor. It is called by one traveller the champagne among the waters. The ladies of the Sultan's harem send for this water even from Constantinople, and the Arabs say, that if Mahomet had drunk thereof he would have desired to live for ever.]
It was an Ethiop, one of Phanes' boatmen, and he tells that just as he sprang out of the boat to bathe, a royal bark came alongside and a soldier asked the rest of the crew in whose service they were. On the helmsman answering, 'in Phanes' service,' the royal boat passed on slowly. He, however, (the rower who was bathing), seated himself in fun on the rudder of the royal boat, and heard one Ethiopian soldier on board say to another, 'Keep that craft well in sight; now we know where the bird sits, and it will be easy to catch him. Remember, Psamtik has promised us fifty gold rings if we bring the Athenian to Sais dead or alive.' This is the report of Sebek, who has been in your service seven years, O Phanes."
To both these accounts Phanes listened calmly. Rhodopis trembled. Aristomachus exclaimed, "Not a hair of your head shall be touched, if Egypt perish for it!" Croesus advised prudence. A tremendous excitement had mastered the whole party.
At last Phanes broke silence, saying: "Reflection is never more necessary than in a time of danger. I have thought the matter over, and see clearly that escape will be difficult. The Egyptians will try to get rid of me quietly. They know that I intend going on board a Phoecean trireme, which sets sail for Sigeum at a very early hour to-morrow morning, and have therefore no time to lose, if they will seize me. Your garden, Rhodopis, is entirely surrounded, and were I to remain here, your house would no longer be respected as a sanctuary; it would be searched and I taken in it. There can be no doubt that a watch has been set over the Phoecean ship also. Blood shall not be shed in vain on my account."
"But you dare not surrender!" cried Aristomachus.
"No, no, I have a plan," shouted Theopompus the Milesian merchant. "At sunrise to-morrow a ship sails for Miletus laden with Egyptian corn, but not from Naukratis, from Canopus. Take the noble Persian's horse and ride thither. We will cut a way for you through the garden."
"But," said Gyges, "our little band is not strong enough to carry out such an attempt. We number in all ten men, and of these only three have swords; our enemies, on the other hand, number at least a hundred, and
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