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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 5. - 3/10 -
horses, huge elephants and comical monkeys; rhinoceroses and buffaloes adorned with housings and tassels; double-humped Bactrian camels with gold collars on their shaggy necks; waggon-loads of rare woods and ivory, woven goods of exquisite texture, casks of ingots and gold-dust, gold and silver vessels, rare plants for the royal gardens, and foreign animals for the preserves, the most remarkable of which were antelopes, zebras, and rare monkeys and birds, these last being tethered to a tree in full leaf and fluttering among the branches. Such were the offerings sent to the great king of Persia.
They were the tribute of the conquered nations and, after having been shown to the king, were weighed and tested by treasurers and secretaries, either declared satisfactory, or found wanting and returned, in which case the niggardly givers were condemned to bring a double tribute later.
[At the time of which we are writing, the kings of Persia taxed their kingdom at whatever time and to whatever extent seemed good in their own eyes. Cambyses' successor, Darius, was the first to introduce a regular system of taxation, in consequence of which he was nicknamed "the shopkeeper." Up to a much later period it still remained the duty of certain districts to send natural products to the court Herod. I. 192. Xenoph. Anab. IV. 5.]
The palace-gates were reached without hindrance, the way being kept clear by lines of soldiers and whipbearers stationed on either side of the street.
If the royal progress to the place of sacrifice, when five hundred richly-caprisoned horses had been led behind the king's chariot, could be called magnificent, and the march of the envoys a brilliant spectacle, the great throne-room presented a vision of dazzling and magic beauty.
In the background, raised on six steps, each of which was guarded, as it were, by two golden clogs, stood the throne of gold; above it, supported by four golden pillars studded with precious stones, was a purple canopy, on which appeared two winged discs, the king's Feruer.
[The Feruer or Ferwer is the spiritual part of every man-his soul and reason. It was in existence before the man was horn, joins him at his birth and departs at his death. The Ferwer keeps up a war with the Diws or evil spirits, and is the element of man's preservation in life. The moment he departs, the body returns to its original elements. After death he becomes immortal if he has done well, but if his deeds have been evil he is cast into hell. It is right to call upon the Ferwer and entreat his help. He will bring the prayer before God and on this account is represented as a winged disc.]
Fan-bearers, high in office at the court, stood behind the throne, and, on either side, those who sat at the king's table, his relations and friends, and the most important among the officers of state, the priestly caste and the eunuchs.
The walls and ceiling of the entire hall were covered with plates of burnished gold, and the floor with purple carpets.
Before the silver gates lay winged bulls, and the king's body-guard-their dress consisting of a gold cuirass under a purple overcoat, and the high Persian cap, their swords in golden scabbards glittering with jewels, and their lances ornamented with gold and silver apples, were stationed in the court of the palace. Among them the band of the "Immortals" was easily to be distinguished by their stately forms and dauntless bearing.
Officers, whose duty consisted in announcing and presenting strangers, and who carried short ivory staves, led the deputies into the hall, and up to the throne, where they cast themselves on the ground as though they would kiss the earth, concealing their hands in the sleeves of their robes. A cloth was bound over the mouth of every man before he was allowed to answer the king's questions, lest the pure person of the king should be polluted by the breath of common men.
Cambyses' severity or mildness towards the deputations with whose chiefs he spoke, was proportioned to the obedience of their province and the munificence of their tribute-offerings. Near the end of the train appeared an embassy from the Jews, led by two grave men with sharply-cut features and long beards. Cambyses called on them in a friendly tone to stop.
The first of these men was dressed in the fashion of the Babylonian aristocracy. The other wore a purple robe woven without seam, trimmed with bells and tassels, and held in at the waist by a girdle of blue, red and white. A blue garment was thrown over his shoulders and a little bag suspended around his neck containing the sacred lots, the Urim and Thummin, adorned with twelve precious stones set in gold, and bearing the names of the tribes of Israel. The high-priest's brow was grave and thoughtful. A white cloth was wound round his head, the ends of which hung down to the shoulders.
"I rejoice to behold you once more, Belteshazzar," exclaimed the king to the former of the two men. "Since the death of my father you have not been seen at my gate."
The man thus addressed bowed humbly and answered: "The favor of the king rejoices his servant! If it seem good unto thee, to cause the sun of thy favor to shine on me, thine unworthy servant, so hearken unto my petition for my nation, which thy great father caused to return unto the land of their fathers' sepulchres. This old man at my side, Joshua, the high- priest of our God, hath not feared the long journey to Babylon, that he might bring his request before thy face. Let his speech be pleasing in thine ears and his words bring forth fruit in thine heart."
"I foresee what ye desire of me," cried the king. "Am I wrong, priest, in supposing that your petition refers to the building of the temple in your native land?"
"Nothing can be hidden from the eyes of my lord," answered the priest, bowing low. "Thy servants in Jerusalem desire to behold the face of their ruler, and beseech thee by my mouth to visit the land of their fathers, and to grant them permission to set forward the work of the temple, concerning which thine illustrious father (the favor of our God rest upon him), made a decree."
The king answered with a smile: "You have the craft of your nation, and understand how to choose the right time and words for your petition. On my birthday it is difficult for me to refuse my faithful people even one request. I promise you, therefore, so soon as possible to visit Jerusalem and the land of your fathers."
"By so doing thou wilt make glad the hearts of thy servants," answered the priest; "our vines and olives will bear more fruit at thine approach, our gates will lift up their heads to receive thee, and Israel rejoice with shouts to meet his lord doubly blessed if as lord of the building--"
"Enough, priest, enough!" cried Cambyses. "Your first petition, I have said it, shall not remain unfulfilled; for I have long desired to visit the wealthy city of Tyre, the golden Sidon, and Jerusalem with its strange superstitions; but were I to give permission for the building now, what would remain for me to grant you in the coming year?"
"Thy servants will no more molest thee by their petitions, if thou grant unto them this one, to finish the temple of the Lord their God," answered the priest.
"Strange beings, these men of Palestine!" exclaimed Cambyses. "I have heard it said that ye believe in one God alone, who can be represented by no likeness, and is a spirit. Think ye then that this omnipresent Being requires a house? Verily, your great spirit can be but a weak and miserable creature, if he need a covering from the wind and rain, and a shelter from the heat which he himself has created. If your God be like ours, omnipresent, fall down before him and worship as we do, in every place, and feel certain that everywhere ye will be heard of him!"
"The God of Israel hears his people in every place," exclaimed the high- priest. "He heard us when we pined in captivity under the Pharaohs far from our land; he heard us weeping by the rivers of Babylon. He chose thy father to be the instrument of our deliverance, and will hear my prayer this day and soften thine heart like wise. O mighty king, grant unto thy servants a common place of sacrifice, whither our twelve tribes may repair, an altar on the steps of which they can pray together, a house in which to keep their holy feasts! For this permission we will call down the blessing of God upon thine head and his curse upon thine enemies."
"Grant unto my brethren the permission to build their temple!" added Belteshazzar, who was the richest and most honorable and respected of the Jews yet remaining in Babylon; a man whom Cyrus had treated with much consideration, and of whom he had even taken counsel from time to time.
"Will ye then be peaceable, if I grant your petition?" asked the king. "My father allowed you to begin the work and granted the means for its completion. Of one mind, happy and content, ye returned to your native land, but while pursuing your work strife and contention entered among you. Cyrus was assailed by repeated letters, signed by the chief men of Syria, entreating him to forbid the work, and I also have been lately besought to do the same. Worship your God when and where ye will, but just because I desire your welfare, I cannot consent to the prosecution of a work which kindles discord among you."
"And is it then thy pleasure on this day to take back a favor, which thy father made sure unto us by a written decree?" asked Belteshazzar.
"A written decree?"
"Which will surely be found even to this day laid up in the archives of thy kingdom."
"Find this decree and show it me, and I will not only allow the building to be continued, but will promote the same," answered the king; "for my father's will is as sacred to me as the commands of the gods."
"Wilt thou allow search to be made in the house of the rolls at Ecbatana?" asked Belteshazzar. "The decree will surely be found there."
"I consent, but I fear ye will find none. Tell thy nation, priest, that I am content with the equipment of the men of war they have sent to take the field against the Massagetae. My general Megabyzus commends their looks and bearing. May thy people prove as valiant now as in the wars of my father! You, Belteshazzar, I bid to my marriage feast, and charge you to tell your fellows, Meshach and Abednego, next unto you the highest in the city of Babylon, that I expect them this evening at my table."
"The God of my people Israel grant thee blessing and happiness," answered Belteshazzar bowing low before the king.
"A wish which I accept!" answered the king, "for I do not despise the power of your wonder-working great Spirit. But one word more, Belteshazzar. Many Jews have lately been punished for reviling the gods of the Babylonians. Warn your people! They bring down hatred on themselves by their stiff-necked superstition, and the pride with which they declare their own great spirit to be the only true God. Take
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