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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 4. - 10/11 -
the soul of our father!"
"Be silent!" cried Cambyses in an overbearing tone, "or I shall have to teach you what is becoming in women and children. Bartja is on far too good terms with fortune to fall in the war. He will live, I hope, to deserve the love which is now so freely flung into his lap like an alms."
"How canst thou speak thus?" cried Kassandane. "In what manly virtue is Bartja wanting? Is it his fault, that he has had no such opportunity of distinguishing himself in the field as thou hast had? You are the king and I am bound to respect your commands, but I blame my son for depriving his blind mother of the greatest joy left to her in her old age. Bartja would have gladly remained here until the Massagetan war, if your self- will had not determined otherwise."
"And what I will is good!" exclaimed Cambyses interrupting his mother, and pale with anger, "I desire that this subject be not mentioned again."
So saying, he left the room abruptly and went into the reception-hall, followed by the immense retinue which never quitted him, whithersoever he might direct his steps.
An hour passed, and still Nitetis and the lovely Atossa were sitting side by side, at the feet of the queen. The Persian women listened eagerly to all their new friend could tell them about Egypt and its wonders.
"Oh! how I should like to visit your home!" exclaimed Atossa. "It must be quite, quite different from Persia and everything else that I have seen yet. The fruitful shores of your great river, larger even than the Euphrates, the temples with their painted columns, those huge artificial mountains, the Pyramids, where the ancient kings be buried--it must all be wonderfully beautiful. But what pleases me best of all is your description of the entertainments, where men and women converse together as they like. The only meals we are allowed to take in the society of men are on New Year's Day and the king's birthday, and then we are forbidden to speak; indeed it is not thought right for us even to raise our eyes. How different it is with you! By Mithras! mother, I should like to be an Egyptian, for we poor creatures are in reality nothing but miserable slaves; and yet I feel that the great Cyrus was my father too, and that I am worth quite as much as most men. Do I not speak the truth? can I not obey as well as command? have I not the same thirst and longing for glory? could not I learn to ride, to string a bow, to fight and swim, if I were taught and inured to such exercises?"
The girl had sprung from her seat while speaking, her eyes flashed and she swung her spindle in the air, quite unconscious that in so doing she was breaking the thread and entangling the flax.
"Remember what is fitting," reminded Kassandane. "A woman must submit with humility to her quiet destiny, and not aspire to imitate the deeds of men."
"But there are women who lead the same lives as men," cried Atossa. "There are the Amazons who live on the shores of the Thermodon in Themiscyra, and at Comana on the Iris; they have waged great wars, and even to this day wear men's armor."
"Who told you this?"
"My old nurse, Stephanion, whom my father brought a captive from Sinope to Pasargadae."
"But I can teach you better," said Nitetis. "It is true that in Themiscyra and Comana there are a number of women who wear soldier's armor; but they are only priestesses, and clothe themselves like the warlike goddess they serve, in order to present to the worshippers a manifestation of the divinity in human form. Croesus says that an army of Amazons has never existed, but that the Greeks, (always ready and able to turn anything into a beautiful myth), having seen these priestesses, at once transformed the armed virgins dedicated to the goddess into a nation of fighting women."
"Then they are liars!" exclaimed the disappointed girl.
"It is true, that the Greeks have not the same reverence for truth as you have," answered Nitetis, "but they do not call the men who invent these beautiful stories liars; they are called poets."
"Just as it is with ourselves," said Kassandane. "The poets, who sing the praises of my husband, have altered and adorned his early life in a marvellous manner; yet no one calls them liars. But tell me, my daughter, is it true that these Greeks are more beautiful than other men, and understand art better even than the Egyptians?"
"On that subject I should not venture to pronounce a judgment. There is such a great difference between the Greek and Egyptian works of art. When I went into our own gigantic temples to pray, I always felt as if I must prostrate myself in the dust before the greatness of the gods, and entreat them not to crush so insignificant a worm; but in the temple of Hera at Samos, I could only raise my hands to heaven in joyful thanksgiving, that the gods had made the earth so beautiful. In Egypt I always believed as I had been taught: 'Life is asleep; we shall not awake to our true existence in the kingdom of Osiris till the hour of death;' but in Greece I thought: 'I am born to live and to enjoy this cheerful, bright and blooming world.'"
"Ah! tell us something more about Greece," cried Atossa; "but first Nebenchari must put a fresh bandage on my mother's eyes."
The oculist, a tall, grave man in the white robes of an Egyptian priest, came forward to perform the necessary operation, and after being kindly greeted by Nitetis, withdrew once more silently into the background. At the same time a eunuch entered to enquire whether Croesus might be allowed to pay his respectful homage to the king's mother.
The aged king soon appeared, and was welcomed as the old and tried friend of the Persian royal family. Atossa, with her usual impetuosity, fell on the neck of the friend she had so sorely missed during his absence; the queen gave him her hand, and Nitetis met him like a loving daughter.
"I thank the gods, that I am permitted to see you again," said Croesus. "The young can look at life as a possession, as a thing understood and sure, but at my age every year must be accepted as an undeserved gift from the gods, for which a man must be thankful."
"I could envy you for this happy view of life," sighed Kassandane. "My years are fewer than yours, and yet every new day seems to me a punishment sent by the Immortals."
"Can I be listening to the wife of the great Cyrus?" asked Croesus. "How long is it since courage and confidence left that brave heart? I tell you, you will recover sight, and once more thank the gods for a good old age. The man who recovers, after a serious illness, values health a hundred-fold more than before; and he who regains sight after blindness, must be an especial favorite of the gods. Imagine to yourself the delight of that first moment when your eyes behold once more the bright shining of the sun, the faces of your loved ones, the beauty of all created things, and tell me, would not that outweigh even a whole life of blindness and dark night? In the day of healing, even if that come in old age, a new life will begin and I shall hear you confess that my friend Solon was right."
"In what respect?" asked Atossa.
"In wishing that Mimnermos, the Colophonian poet, would correct the poem in which he has assigned sixty years as the limit of a happy life, and would change the sixty into eighty."
"Oh no!" exclaimed Kassandane. "Even were Mithras to restore my sight, such a long life would be dreadful. Without my husband I seem to myself like a wanderer in the desert, aimless and without a guide."
"Are your children then nothing to you, and this kingdom, of which you have watched the rise and growth?"
"No indeed! but my children need me no longer, and the ruler of this kingdom is too proud to listen to a woman's advice."
On hearing these words Atossa and Nitetis seized each one of the queen's hands, and Nitetis cried: "You ought to desire a long life for our sakes. What should we be without your help and protection?"
Kassandane smiled again, murmuring in a scarcely audible voice: "You are right, my children, you will stand in need of your mother."
"Now you are speaking once more like the wife of the great Cyrus," cried Croesus, kissing the robe of the blind woman. "Your presence will indeed be needed, who can say how soon? Cambyses is like hard steel; sparks fly wherever he strikes. You can hinder these sparks from kindling a destroying fire among your loved ones, and this should be your duty. You alone can dare to admonish the king in the violence of his passion. He regards you as his equal, and, while despising the opinion of others, feels wounded by his mother's disapproval. Is it not then your duty to abide patiently as mediator between the king, the kingdom and your loved ones, and so, by your own timely reproofs, to humble the pride of your son, that he may be spared that deeper humiliation which, if not thus averted, the gods will surely inflict."
"You are right," answered the blind woman, "but I feel only too well that my influence over him is but small. He has been so much accustomed to have his own will, that he will follow no advice, even if it come from his mother's lips."
"But he must at least hear it," answered Croesus, "and that is much, for even if he refuse to obey, your counsels will, like divine voices, continue to make themselves heard within him, and will keep him back from many a sinful act. I will remain your ally in this matter; for, as Cambyses' dying father appointed me the counsellor of his son in word and deed, I venture occasionally a bold word to arrest his excesses. Ours is the only blame from which he shrinks: we alone can dare to speak our opinion to him. Let us courageously do our duty in this our office: you, moved by love to Persia and your son, and I by thankfulness to that great man to whom I owe life and freedom, and whose son Cambyses is. I know that you bemoan the manner in which he has been brought up; but such late repentance must be avoided like poison. For the errors of the wise the remedy is reparation, not regret; regret consumes the heart, but the effort to repair an error causes it to throb with a noble pride."
"In Egypt," said Nitetis, "regret is numbered among the forty-two deadly sins. One of our principal commandments is, 'Thou shalt not consume thine heart.'"
[In the Ritual of the Dead (indeed in almost every Papyrus of the Dead) we meet with a representation of the soul, whose heart is being weighed and judged. The speech made by the soul is called the negative justification, in which she assures the 42 judges of the dead, that she has not committed the 42 deadly sins which she enumerates. This justification is doubly interesting because it contains nearly the entire moral law of Moses, which last, apart from all national peculiarities and habits of mind, seems to contain
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