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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 4. - 4/11 -
Greek divinities, and the Nile-boats were greeted with a loud cry of "Ailinos" on their arrival in the harbor.
A bridal wreath, composed of a hoop of gold wound round with scented violets, was presented to Nitetis by a troop of young girls in holiday dresses, the act of presentation being performed by Sappho, as the most beautiful among the maidens of Naukratis.
On accepting the gift Nitetis kissed her forehead in token of gratitude. The triremes were already waiting; she went on board, the rowers took their oars and began the Keleusma.
[The measure of the Keleusma was generally given by a flute-player, the Trieraules. AEschylus, Persians 403. Laert. Diog. IV. 22. In the Frogs of Aristophanes the inhabitants of the marshes are made to sing the Keleusma, v. 205. The melody, to the measure of which the Greek boatmen usually timed their strokes.]
Ailinos rang across the water from a thousand voices. Bartja stood on the deck, and waved a last loving farewell to his betrothed; while Sappho prayed in silence to Aphrodite Euploia, the protectress of those who go down to the sea in ships. A tear rolled down her cheek, but around her lips played a smile of love and hope, though her old slave Melitta, who accompanied her to carry her parasol, was weeping as if her heart would break. On seeing, however, a few leaves fall from her darling's wreath, she forgot her tears for a moment and whispered softly: "Yes, dear heart, it is easy to see that you are in love; when the leaves fall from a maiden's wreath, 'tis a sure sign that her heart has been touched by Eros.
Seven weeks after Nitetis had quitted her native country, a long train of equipages and horsemen was to be seen on the king's highway from the west to Babylon, moving steadily towards that gigantic city, whose towers might already be descried in the far distance.
[The great road called the "king's road," of which we shall have more to say, was made by Cyrus and carefully kept up by Darius.]
The principal object in this caravan was a richly-gilded, four-wheeled carriage, closed in at the sides by curtains, and above by a roof supported on wooden pillars. In this vehicle, called the Harmamaxa, resting on rich cushions of gold brocade, sat our Egyptian Princess.
[Harmamaxa--An Asiatic travelling carriage. The first mention of these is in Xenophon's Anabasis, where we find a queen travelling in such a vehicle. They were later adopted by the Romans and used for the same object.]
On either side rode her escort, viz.: the Persian princes and nobles whom we have already learnt to know during their visit to Egypt, Croesus and his son.
Behind these, a long train, consisting of fifty vehicles of different kinds and six hundred beasts of burden, stretched away into the distance, and the royal carriage was preceded by a troop of splendidly-mounted Persian cavalry.
The high-road followed the course of the Euphrates, passing through luxuriant fields of wheat, barley and sesame yielding fruit two, and sometimes even three, hundred-fold. Slender date-palms covered with golden fruit were scattered in every direction over the fields, which were thoroughly irrigated by means of canals and ditches.
It was winter, but the sun shone warm and bright from a cloudless sky. The mighty river swarmed with craft of all sizes, either transporting the products of Upper Armenia to the plains of Mesopotamia, or the wares of Greece and Asia Minor from Thapsakus to Babylon.
[Thapsakus--An important commercial town on the Euphrates, and the point of observation from which Eratosthenes took his measurements of the earth.]
Pumps and water-wheels poured refreshing streams over the thirsty land, and pretty villages ornamented the shores of the river. Indeed every object gave evidence that our caravan was approaching the metropolis of a carefully governed and civilized state.
Nitetis and her retinue now halted at a long brick house, roofed with asphalte, and surrounded by a grove of plane-trees.
[Asphalte--Nearly all authorities, ancient as well as modern, report that bitumen, which is still plentifully found in the neighborhood of Babylon, was used by the Babylonians as mortar. See, besides the accounts of ancient writers, W. Vaux, 'Nineveh and Persepolis'. Burnt bitumen was used by Assyrians for cement in building.]
Here Croesus was lifted from his horse, and approaching the carriage, exclaimed: "Here we are at length at the last station! That high tower which you see on the horizon is the celebrated temple of Bel, next to the Pyramids, one of the most gigantic works ever constructed by human hands. Before sunset we shall have reached the brazen gates of Babylon. And now I would ask you to alight, and let me send your maidens into the house; for here you must put on Persian apparel, to appear well-pleasing in the eyes of Cambyses. In a few hours you will stand before your future husband. But you are pale! Permit your maidens to adorn your cheeks with a color that shall look like the excitement of joy. A first impression is often a final one, and this is especially true with regard to Cambyses. If, which I doubt not, you are pleasing in his eyes at first, then you have won his love for ever; but if you should displease him to-day he will never look kindly on you again, for he is rough and harsh. But take courage, my daughter, and above all, do not forget the advice I have given you." Nitetis dried her tears as she answered: "How can I ever thank you, O Croesus, my second father, my protector and adviser, for all your goodness? Oh, forsake me not in the days to come! and if the path of my life should lead through grief and care, be near to help and guide me as you did on the mountain-passes of this long and dangerous journey. A thousand times I thank thee, O my father!"
And, as she said these words, the young girl threw her arms around the old man's neck and kissed him tenderly.
On entering the court-yard, a tall stout man, followed by a train of Asiatic serving-maidens, came forward to meet them. This was Boges, the chief of the eunuchs, an important official at the Persian court. His beardless face wore a smile of fulsome sweetness; in his ears hung costly jewelled pendents; his neck, arms, legs and his effeminately long garments glittered all over with gold chains and rings, and his crisp, stiff curls, bound round by a purple fillet, streamed with powerful and penetrating perfumes.
Making a low and reverential obeisance before Nitetis, and holding, the while, his fat hands overloaded with rings before his mouth, he thus addressed her: "Cambyses, lord of the world, hath sent me to thee, O Queen, that I may refresh thy heart with the dew of his salutations. He sendeth thee likewise by me, even by me the lowest of his servants, Persian raiment, that thou, as befitteth the consort of the mightiest of all rulers, mayest approach the gates of the Achaemenidae in Median garments. These women whom thou seest are thy handmaidens, and only await thy bidding to transform thee from an Egyptian jewel into a Persian pearl."
The master of the caravansary then appeared, bearing, in token of welcome, a basket of fruits arranged with great taste.
Nitetis returned her thanks to both these men in kind and friendly words; then entering the house laid aside the dress and ornaments of her native land, weeping as she did so, allowed the strangers to unloose the plait of hair which hung down at the left side of her head, and was the distinctive mark of an Egyptian princess, and to array her in Median garments.
[In almost all the Egyptian pictures, the daughters and sons of the Pharaohs are represented with these locks of hair, plaited and reaching from the forehead to the neck. Rosellini, Mon. stor. II. 123. Lepsius, Denkmaler. The daughter of Rameses II. is drawn thus, and we have examples of the same in many other pictures.]
In the meantime, a repast had been commanded by the princes who accompanied her. Eager and agile attendants rushed to the baggage- waggons, fetching thence, in a few moments, seats, tables, and golden utensils of all kinds. The cooks vied with them and with each other, and as if by magic, in a short space of time a richly-adorned banquet for the hungry guests appeared, at which even the flowers were not wanting.
During the entire journey our travellers had lived in a similar luxury, as their beasts of burden carried every imaginable convenience, from tents of water-proof materials inwrought with gold, down to silver foot- stools; and in the vehicles which composed their train were not only bakers, cooks, cup-bearers and carvers, but perfumers, hair-dressers and weavers of garlands. Beside these conveniences, a well-fitted up caravansary, or inn, was to be found about every eighteen miles along the whole route, where disabled horses could be replaced, the plantations around which afforded a refreshing shelter from the noonday heat, or their hearths a refuge from the snow and cold on the mountain-passes.
The kingdom of Persia was indebted for these inns (similar to the post- stations of modern days) to Cyrus, who had endeavored to connect the widely-distant provinces of his immense dominions by a system of well- kept roads, and a regular postal service. At each of these stations the horseman carrying the letter-bag was relieved by a fresh man on a fresh steed, to whom the letters were transferred, and who, in his turn, darted off like the wind, to be again replaced at a similar distance by another rider. These couriers, called Angari, were considered the swiftest horsemen in the world.
[Herodotus V. 14. 49-52. Persian milestones are still to be found among the ruins of the old king's road, which led from Nineveh to Ecbatana. The Kurds call them keli-Shin (blue pillars).]
Just as the banqueters, amongst whom Boges had taken his seat, were rising from table, the door opened, and a vision appeared, which drew prolonged exclamation of surprise from all the Persians present. Nitetis, clad in the glorious apparel of a Median princess, proud in the consciousness of her triumphant beauty, and yet blushing like a young girl at the wondering admiration of her friends, stood before them.
The attendants involuntarily fell on their faces before her, according to the custom of the Asiatics, and the noble Achaemenidae bowed low and reverentially; for it seemed as if Nitetis has laid aside all her former bashfulness and timidity with her simple Egyptian dress, and with the splendid silken garments of a Persian princess, flashing as they were with gold and jewels, had clothed herself in the majesty of a queen.
The deep reverence paid by all present seemed agreeable to her, and thanking her admiring friends by a gracious wave of the hand, she turned
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