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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 5. - 1/10 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
AN EGYPTIAN PRINCESS, Part 1.
By Georg Ebers
The next day Nitetis removed to the country-house in the hanging-gardens, and began a monotonous, but happy and industrious life there, according to the rules laid down by Croesus. Every day she was carried to Kassandane and Atossa in a closely shut-up litter. Nitetis soon began to look upon the blind queen as a beloved and loving mother, and the merry, spirited Atossa nearly made up to her for the loss of her sister Tachot, so far away on the distant Nile. She could not have desired a better companion than this gay, cheerful girl, whose wit and merriment effectually prevented homesickness or discontent from settling in her friend's heart. The gravity and earnestness of Nitetis' character were brightened by Atossa's gaiety, and Atossa's exuberant spirits calmed and regulated by the thoughtful nature of Nitetis.
Both Croesus and Kassandane were pleased and satisfied with their new daughter and pupil, and Oropastes extolled her talents and industry daily to Cambyses. She learnt the Persian language unusually well and quickly; Cambyses only visited his mother when he hoped to find Nitetis there, and presented her continually with rich dresses and costly jewels. But the highest proof of his favor consisted in his abstaining from visiting her at her house in the hanging-gardens, a line of conduct which proved that he meant to include Nitetis in the small number of his real and lawful wives, a privilege of which many a princess in his harem could not boast.
The grave, beautiful girl threw a strange spell over this strong, turbulent man. Her presence alone seemed enough to soften his stubborn will, and he would watch their games for hours, his eyes fixed on her graceful movements. Once, when the ball had fallen into the water, the king sprang in after it, regardless of his costly apparel. Nitetis screamed on seeing his intention, but Cambyses handed her the dripping toy with the words: "Take care or I shall be obliged to frighten you again." At the same time he drew from his neck a gold chain set with jewels and gave it to the blushing girl, who thanked him with a look which fully revealed her feelings for her future husband.
Croesus, Kassandane and Atossa soon noticed that Nitetis loved the king. Her former fear of this proud and powerful being had indeed changed into a passionate admiration. She felt as if she must die if deprived of his presence. He seemed to her like a, glorious and omnipotent divinity, and her wish to possess him presumptuous and sacrilegious; but its fulfilment shone before her as an idea more beautiful even than return to her native land and reunion with those who, till now, had been her only loved ones.
Nitetis herself was hardly conscious of the strength of her feelings, and believed that when she trembled before the king's arrival it was from fear, and not from her longing to behold him once more. Croesus, however, had soon discovered the truth, and brought a deep blush to his favorite's cheek by singing to her, old as he was, Anacreon's newest song, which he had learnt at Sais from Ibykus
"We read the flying courser's name Upon his side in marks of flame; And by their turban'd brows alone The warriors of the East are known. But in the lover's glowing eyes, The inlet to his bosom lies; Through them we see the tiny mark, Where Love has dropp'd his burning spark" --Paegnion 15
And thus, in work and amusement, jest, earnest, and mutual love, the weeks and months passed with Nitetis. Cambyses' command that she was to be happy in his land had fulfilled itself, and by the time the Mesopotamian spring-tide (January, February and March), which succeeds the rainy month of December, was over, and the principal festival of the Asiatics, the New Year, had been solemnized at the equinox, and the May sun had begun to glow in the heavens, Nitetis felt quite at home in Babylon, and all the Persians knew that the young Egyptian princess had quite displaced Phaedime, the daughter of Otanes, in the king's favor, and would certainly become his first and favorite wife.
Boges sank considerably in public estimation, for it was known that Cambyses had ceased to visit the harem, and the chief of the eunuchs had owed all his importance to the women, who were compelled to coax from Cambyses whatever Boges desired for himself or others. Not a day passed on which the mortified official did not consult with the supplanted favorite Phaedime, as to the best means of ruining Nitetis, but their most finely spun intrigues and artifices were baffled by the strength of king's love and the blameless life of his royal bride.
Phaedime, impatient, mortified, and thirsting for vengeance, was perpetually urging Boges to some decided act; he, on the contrary, advised patience.
At last, however, after many weeks, he came to her full of joy, exclaiming: "I have devised a little plan which must ruin the Egyptian woman as surely as my name is Boges. When Bartja comes back, my treasure, our hour will have arrived."
While saying this the creature rubbed his fat, soft hands, and, with his perpetual fulsome smile, looked as if he were feasting on some good deed performed. He did not, however, give Phaedime the faintest idea of the nature of his "little plan," and only answered her pressing questions with the words: "Better lay your head in a lion's jaws, than your secret in the ears of a woman. I fully acknowledge your courage, but at the same time advise you to remember that, though a man proves his courage in action, a woman's is shown in obedience. Obey my words and await the issue in patience." Nebenchari, the oculist, continued to attend the queen, but so carefully abstained from all intercourse with the Persians, that he became a proverb among them for his gloomy, silent ways. During the day he was to be found in the queen's apartments, silently examining large rolls of papyri, which he called the book of Athotes and the sacred Ambres; at night, by permission of the king and the satraps of Babylon, he often ascended one of the high towers on the walls, called Tritantaechmes, in order to observe the stars.
The Chaldaean priests, the earliest astronomers, would have allowed him to take his observations from the summit of the great temple of Bel, their own observatory, but he refused this offer decidedly, and persisted in his haughty reserve. When Oropastes attempted to explain to him the celebrated Babylonian sun-dial, introduced by Anaximander of Miletus into Greece, he turned from the Magian with a scornful laugh, saying: "We knew all this, before you knew the meaning of an hour."
Nitetis had shown Nebenchari much kindness, yet he took no interest in her, seemed indeed to avoid her purposely, and on her asking whether she had displeased or offended him, answered: "For me you are a stranger. How can I reckon those my friends, who can so gladly and so quickly forget those they loved best, their gods, and the customs of their native land?"
Boges quickly discovered this state of feeling on the part of Nebenchari, and took much pains to secure him as an ally, but the physician rejected the eunuch's flatteries, gifts, and attentions with dignity.
No sooner did an Angare appear in the court of the palace with despatches for the king, than Boges hastened to enquire whether news from the Tapuri had arrived.
At length the desired messenger appeared, bringing word that the rebels were subdued, and Bartja on the point of returning.
Three weeks passed--fresh messengers arrived from day to day announcing the approach of the victorious prince; the streets glittered once more in festal array, the army entered the gates of Babylon, Bartja thanked the rejoicing multitude, and a short time after was in the arms of his blind mother.
Cambyses received his brother with undisguised warmth, and took him to the queen's apartments, when he knew that Nitetis would be there.
For he was sure the Egyptian girl loved him; his previous jealousy seemed a silly fancy now, and he wished to give Bartja an opportunity of seeing how entirely he trusted his bride.
Cambyses' love had made him mild and gentle, unwearied in giving and in doing good. His wrath slumbered for a season, and around the spot where the heads of those who had suffered capital punishment were exhibited as a warning to their fellow-men, the hungry, screeching crows now wheeled, in vain.
The influence of the insinuating eunuchs (a race who had never been seen within the gates of Cyrus until the incorporation of Media, Lydia and Babylon, in which countries they had filled many of the highest offices at court and in the state), was now waning, and the importance of the noble Achaemenidae increasing in proportion; for Cambyses applied oftener to the latter than to the former for advice in matters relating to the welfare of the country.
The aged Hystaspes, father of Darius, governor of Persia proper and cousin to the king; Pharnaspes, Cambyses' grandfather on the mother's side; Otanes, his uncle and father-in-law. Intaphernes, Aspathines, Gobryas, Hydarnes, the general Megabyzus, father of Zopyrus, the envoy Prexaspes, the noble Croesus, and the old warrior Araspes; in short, the flower of the ancient Persian aristocracy, were now at the court of Cambyses.
To this must be added that the entire nobility of the realm, the satraps or governors of the provinces, and the chief priests from every town were also assembled at Babylon to celebrate the king's birthday.
[The king's birthday was the principal feast among the Persians, and called "the perfect feast." Herod. I. 133. Birthdays were held in much honor by the ancients, and more especially those of their kings. Both the great bilingual Egyptian tablets, which we possess (the Rosetta stone, line 10 of hieroglyphic text; Gr. text, line 46. and the edict of Canopus ed. Lepsius, hieroglyphic text 1. 3. Gr. text 1. 5.) mention the celebration of the birthday of one of the Ptolemies; and even of Rameses II., so early as the 14th century B. C. we read: "There was joy in heaven on his birthday."]
The entire body of officials and deputies streamed from the provinces up
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