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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 5. - 2/10 -
to the royal city, bringing presents to their ruler and good wishes; they came also to take part in the great sacrifices at which horses, stags, bulls and asses were slaughtered in thousands as offerings to the gods.
At this festival all the Persians received gifts, every man was allowed to ask a petition of the king, which seldom remained unfulfilled, and in every city the people were feasted at the royal expense. Cambyses had commanded that his marriage with Nitetis should be celebrated eight days after the birthday, and all the magnates of the realms should be invited to the ceremony.
The streets of Babylon swarmed with strangers, the colossal palaces on both shores of the Euphrates were overfilled, and all the houses stood adorned in festal brightness.
The zeal thus displayed by his people, this vast throng of human beings, --representing and bringing around him, as it were, his entire kingdom, contributed not a little to raise the king's spirits.
His pride was gratified; and the only longing left in his heart had been stilled by Nitetis' love. For the first time in his life he believed himself completely happy, and bestowed his gifts, not only from a sense of his duty as king of Persia, but because the act of giving was in itself a pleasure.
Megabyzus could not extol the deeds of Bartja and his friends too highly. Cambyses embraced the young warriors, gave them horses and gold chains, called them "brothers" and reminded Bartja, that he had promised to grant him a petition if he returned victorious.
At this Bartja cast down his eyes, not knowing at first in what form to begin his request, and the king answered laughing: "Look, my friends; our young hero is blushing like a girl! It seems I shall have to grant something important; so he had better wait until my birthday, and then, at supper, when the wine has given him courage, he shall whisper in my ear what he is now afraid to utter. Ask much, Bartja, I am happy myself, and wish all my friends to be happy too." Bartja only smiled in answer and went to his mother; for he had not yet opened his heart to her on the matter which lay so near it.
He was afraid of meeting with decided opposition; but Croesus had cleared the way far him by telling Kassandane so much in praise of Sappho, her virtues and her graces, her talents and skill, that Nitetis and Atossa maintained she must have given the old man a magic potion, and Kassandane, after a short resistance, yielded to her darling's entreaties.
"A Greek woman the lawful wife of a Persian prince of the blood!" cried the blind woman. "Unheard of! What will Cambyses say? How can we gain his consent?"
"On that matter you may be at ease, my mother," answered Bartja, "I am as certain that my brother will give his consent, as I am that Sappho will prove an ornament and honor to our house."
"Croesus has already told me much in favor of this maiden," answered Kassandane," and it pleases me that thou hast at last resolved to marry; but never-the-less this alliance does not seem suitable for a son of Cyrus. And have you forgotten that the Achaemenidae; will probably refuse to recognize the child of a Greek mother as their future king, if Cambyses should remain childless?"
"Mother, I fear nothing; for my heart is not set upon the crown. And indeed many a king of Persia has had a mother of far lower parentage than my Sappho." I feel persuaded that when my relations see the precious jewel I have won on the Nile, not one of them will chide me."
"The gods grant that Sappho may be equal to our Nitetis!" answered Kassandane, "I love her as if she were my own child, and bless the day which brought her to Persia. The warm light of her eyes has melted your brother's hard heart; her kindness and gentleness bring beauty into the night of my blind old age, and her sweet earnestness and gravity have changed your sister Atossa from an unruly child into a gentle maiden. But now call them, (they are playing in the garden), and we will tell them of the new friend they are to gain through you."
"Pardon me, my mother," answered Bartja, "but I must beg you not to tell my sister until we are sure of the king's consent."
"You are right, my son. We must conceal your wish, to save Nitetis and Atossa from a possible disappointment. A bright hope unfulfilled is harder to bear than an unexpected sorrow. So let us wait for your brother's consent, and may the gods give their blessing!" Early in the morning of the king's birthday the Persians offered their sacrifices on the shores of the Euphrates. A huge altar of silver had been raised on an artificial hill. On this a mighty fire had been kindled, from which flames and sweet odors rose towards heaven. White-robed magi fed the fire with pieces of daintily-cut sandal-wood, and stirred it with bundles of rods.
A cloth, the Paiti-dhana, was bound round the heads of the priests, the ends of which covered the mouth, and thus preserved the pure fire from pollution by human breath.
[The Persians were ordered to hold this little square piece of cloth before their mouths when they prayed. It was from 2 to 7 fingers broad. Anquetil gives a drawing of it in his Zend-Avesia. Strabo speaks of the Paiti-dhana p. 733. He says the ends of the cloth used as a covering for the head hung down over the mouth.]
The victims had been slaughtered in a meadow near the river, the flesh cut into pieces, sprinkled with salt, and laid out on tender grasses, sprouts of clover, myrtle-blossoms, and laurel-leaves, that the beautiful daughter of Ormuzd, the patient, sacred Earth, might not be touched by aught that was dead or bleeding.
Oropastes, the chief Destur,--[Priest]--now drew near the fire and cast fresh butter into it. The flames leapt up into the air and all the Persians fell on their knees and hid their faces, in the belief that the fire was now ascending to their great god and father. The Magian then took a mortar, laid some leaves and stalks of the sacred herb Haomas within it, crushed them and poured the ruddy juice, the food of the gods, into the flames.
After this he raised his hands to heaven, and, while the other priests continually fed the flames into a wilder blaze by casting in fresh butter, sang a long prayer out of the sacred books. In this prayer the blessing of the gods was called down on everything pure and good, but principally on the king and his entire realm. The good spirits of light, life and truth; of all noble deeds; of the Earth, the universal giver; of the refreshing waters, the shining metals, the pastures, trees and innocent creatures, were praised: the evil spirits of darkness; of lying, the deceiver of mankind; of disease, death and sin; of the rigid cold; the desolating heat; of all odious dirt and vermin, were cursed, together with their father the malignant Ahriman. At the end all present joined in singing the festival prayer: "Purity and glory are sown for them that are pure and upright in heart."
The sacrificial ceremony was concluded with the king's prayer, and then Cambyses, arrayed in his richest robes, ascended a splendid chariot drawn by four snow-white Nicoean horses, and studded with topazes, cornelian and amber, and was conveyed to the great reception-hall, where the deputies and officers from the provinces awaited him.
As soon as the king and his retinue had departed, the priests selected, for themselves, the best pieces of the flesh which had been offered in sacrifice, and allowed the thronging crowd to take the rest.
The Persian divinities disdained sacrifices in the light of food, requiring only the souls of the slaughtered animals, and many a poor man, especially among the priests, subsisted on the flesh of the abundant royal sacrifices.
The prayer offered up by the Magian was a model for those of the Persian people. No man was allowed to ask anything of the gods for himself alone. Every pious soul was rather to implore blessings for his nation; for was not each only a part of the whole? and did not each man share in the blessings granted to the whole kingdom? But especially they were commanded to pray for the king, in whom the realm was embodied and shadowed forth. It was this beautiful surrender of self for the public weal, that had made the Persians great. The doctrines of the Egyptian priesthood represented the Pharaohs as actual divinities, while the Persian monarchs were only called "sons of the gods;" yet the power of the latter was far more absolute and unfettered than that of the former; the reason for this being that the Persians had been wise enough to free themselves from priestly domination, while the Pharaohs, as we have seen, if not entirely under the dominion of the priestly caste, were yet under its influence in the most important matters.
The Egyptian intolerance of all strange religions was unknown in Asia. The conquered Babylonians were allowed by Cyrus to retain their own gods, after their incorporation in the great Asiatic kingdom. The Jews, Ionians and inhabitants of Asia Minor, in short, the entire mass of nations subject to Cambyses remained unmolested in possession of their hereditary religions and customs.
Beside the great altar, therefore, might be seen many a smaller sacrificial flame, kindled in honor of their own divinities, by the envoys from the conquered provinces to this great birthday feast.
Viewed from a distance, the immense city looked like a gigantic furnace. Thick clouds of smoke hovered over its towers, obscuring the light of the burning May sun.
By the time the king had reached the palace, the multitude who had come to take part in the festival had formed themselves into a procession of interminable length, which wandered on through the straight streets of Babylon towards the royal palace.
Their road was strewn with myrtle and palm-branches, roses, poppy and oleander-blossoms, and with leaves of the silver poplar, palm and laurel; the air perfumed with incense, myrrh, and a thousand other sweet odors. Carpets and flags waved and fluttered from the houses.
Music too was there; the shrill peal of the Median trumpet, and soft tone of the Phrygian flute; the Jewish cymbal and harp, Paphlagonian tambourines and the stringed instruments of Ionia; Syrian kettle-drums and cymbals, the shells and drums of the Arians from the mouth of the Indus, and the loud notes of the Bactrian battle-trumpets. But above all these resounded the rejoicing shouts of the Babylonian multitude, subjugated by the Persians only a few short years before, and yet, like all Asiatics, wearing their fetters with an air of gladness so long as the fear of their tyrant was before their eyes.
The fragrant odors, the blaze of color and sparkling of gold and jewels, the neighing of the horses, and shouts and songs of human beings, all united to produce a whole, at once bewildering and intoxicating to the senses and the feelings.
The messengers had not been sent up to Babylon empty-handed. Beautiful
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