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- Arachne, Volume 4. - 4/10 -
Alexandria, and no city in the world can offer a more beautiful scene than is visible from the mountain in the Paneum gardens."
"Certainly not," protested the young hipparch, who had studied in Athens. "I stood on the Acropolis; I was permitted to visit Rhodes and Miletus--"
"And you saw nothing more beautiful there," cried Proclus. "The aristocratic Roman envoys, who left us a short time ago, admitted the same thing. They are just men, for the view from the Capitol of their growing city is also to be seen. When the King's command led me to the Tiber, many things surprised me; but, as a whole, how shall I compare the two cities? The older Rome, with her admirable military power: a barbarian who is just beginning to cultivate more refined manners-- Alexandria: a rich, aristocratic Hellene who, like you, my young friend, completed her education in Ilissus, and unites to the elegant taste and intellect of the Athenian the mysterious thoughtfulness of the Egyptian, the tireless industry of the Jew, and the many-sided wisdom and brilliant magnificence of the other Oriental countries."
"But who disdains to dazzle the eyes with Asiatic splendour," interrupted Philotas.
"And yet what do we not hear about the unprecedented luxury in the royal palace!" growled the gray-haired warrior.
"Parsimony--the gods be praised!--no one need expect from our royal pair," Althea broke in; "but King Ptolemy uses his paternal wealth for very different purposes than glittering gems and golden chambers. If you disdain my guidance, honoured hero, at least accept that of some genuine Alexandrian. Then you will understand Proclus's apt simile. You ought to begin with the royal palaces in the Brucheium."
"No, no-with the harbour of Eunostus!" interrupted the grammateus.
"With the Soma!" cried the young hipparch, while Daphne wished to have the tour begin in the Paneum gardens.
"They were already laid out when we left Alexandria," said Thyone.
"And they have grown marvellously, as if creative Nature had doubled her powers in their behalf," Hermon added eagerly. "But man has also wrought amazing miracles here. Industrious hands reared an actual mountain. A winding path leads to the top, and when you stand upon the summit and look northward you at first feel like the sailor who steps on shore and hears the people speak a language which is new to him. It seems like a jumble of meaningless sounds until he learns, not only to understand the words, but also to distinguish the sentences. Temples and palaces, statues and columns appear everywhere in motley confusion. Each one, if you separate it from the whole and give it a careful examination, is worthy of inspection, nay, of admiration. Here are light, graceful creations of Hellenic, yonder heavy, sombre ones of Egyptian art, and in the background the exquisite azure of the eternal sea, which the marvellous structure of the heptastadium unites to the land; while on the island of Pharos the lighthouse of Sostratus towers aloft almost to the sky, and with a flood of light points out the way to mariners who approach the great harbour at night. Countless vessels are also at anchor in the Eunostus. The riches of the whole earth flow into both havens. And the life and movement there and in the inland harbour on Lake Mareotis, where the Nile boats land! From early until late, what a busy throng, what an abundance of wares--and how many of the most valuable goods are made in our own city! for whatever useful, fine, and costly articles industrial art produces are manufactured here. The roof has not yet been put on many a factory in which busy workers are already making beautiful things. Here the weaver's shuttle flies, yonder gold is spun around slender threads of sheep guts, elsewhere costly materials are embroidered by women's nimble fingers with the prepared gold thread. There glass is blown, or weapons and iron utensils are forged. Finely polished knives split the pith of the papyrus, and long rows of workmen and workwomen gum the strips together. No hand, no head is permitted to rest. In the Museum the brains of the great thinkers and investigators are toiling. Here, too, reality asserts its rights. The time for chimeras and wretched polemics is over. Now it is observing, fathoming, turning to account, nothing more!"
"Gently, my young friend," Proclus interrupted the artist. "I know that you, too, sat at the feet of some of the philosophers in the Museum, and still uphold the teachings of Straton, which your fellow-pupil, King Ptolemy, outgrew long ago. Yet he, also, recognised in philosophy, first of all, the bond which unites the widely sundered acquisitions of the intellect, the vital breath which pervades them, the touchstone which proves each true or false. If the praise of Alexandria is to be sung, we must not forget the library to which the most precious treasures of knowledge of the East and West are flowing, and which feeds those who thirst for knowledge with the intellectual gains of former ages and other nations. Honour, too, to our King, and, that I may be just, to his illustrious wife; for wherever in the Grecian world a friend of the Muses appears, whether he is investigator, poet, architect, sculptor, artist, actor, or singer, he is drawn to Alexandria, and, that he may not be idle, work is provided. Palaces spring from the earth quickly enough."
"Yet not like mushrooms," Hermon interrupted, "but as the noblest, most carefully executed creations of art-sculpture and painting provide for their decoration both without and within."
"And," Proclus went on, "abodes are erected for the gods as well as for men, both Egyptian and Hellenic divinities, each in their own style, and so beautiful that it must be a pleasure for them to dwell under the new roof."
"Go to the gardens of the Paneum, friends!" cried young Philotas; and Hermon, nodding to Thyone, added gaily: "Then you must climb the mountain and keep your eyes open while you are ascending the winding path. You will find enough to do to look at all the new sights. You will stand there with dry feet, but your soul will bathe in eternal, imperishable, divine beauty."
"The foe of beauty!" exclaimed Proclus, pointing to the sculptor with a scornful glance; but Daphne, full of joyous emotion, whispered to Hermon as he approached her: "Eternal, divine beauty! To hear it thus praised by you makes me happy."
"Yes," cried the artist, "what else should I call what has so often filled me with the deepest rapture? The Greek language has no more fitting expression for the grand and lofty things that hovered before me, and which I called by that chameleon of a word. Yet I have a different meaning from what appears before you at its sound. Were I to call it truth, you would scarcely understand me, but when I conjure before my soul the image of Alexandria, with all that springs from it, all that is moving, creating, and thriving with such marvellous freedom, naturalness, and variety within it, it is not alone the beauty that pleases the eye which delights me; I value more the sound natural growth, the genuine, abundant life. To truth, Daphne, as I mean it."
He raised his goblet as he spoke and drank to her.
She willingly pledged him, but, after removing her lips from the cup, she eagerly exclaimed: "Show it to us, with the mind which animates it, in perfect form, and I should not know wherein it was to be distinguished from the beauty which hitherto has been our highest goal."
Here the helmsman's loud shout, "The light of Pelusium!" interrupted the conversation. The bright glare from the lighthouse of this city was really piercing the misty night air, which for some time had again concealed the moon.
There was no further connected conversation, for the sea was now rising and falling in broad, leaden, almost imperceptible waves. The comfort of most of Philippus's guests was destroyed, and the ladies uttered a sigh of relief when they had descended from the lofty galley and the boats that conveyed them ashore, and their feet once more pressed the solid land. The party of travellers went to the commandant's magnificent palace to rest, and Hermon also retired to his room, but sleep fled from his couch.
No one on earth was nearer to his heart and mind than Daphne, and it often seemed as if her kind, loyal, yet firm look was resting upon him; but the memory of Ledscha also constantly forced itself upon his mind and stirred his blood. When he thought of the menacing fire of her dark eyes, she seemed to him as terrible as one of the unlovely creatures born of Night, the Erinyes, Apate, and Eris.
Then he could not help recalling their meetings in the grove of Astarte, her self-forgetting, passionate tenderness, and the wonderfully delicate beauty of her foreign type. True, she had never laughed in his presence; but what a peculiar charm there was in her smile! Had he really lost her entirely and forever? Would it not yet be possible to obtain her forgiveness and persuade her to pose as the model of his Arachne?
During the voyage to Pelusium he had caught Althea's eye again and again, and rejected as an insult her demand to give her his whole love. The success of the Arachne depended upon Ledscha, and on her alone. He had nothing good to expect from the Demeter, and during the nocturnal meditation, which shows everything in the darkest colours, his best plan seemed to be to destroy the unsuccessful statue and not exhibit it for the verdict of the judges.
But if he went to work again in Tennis to model the Arachne, did not love for Daphne forbid him to sue afresh for Ledscha's favour?
What a terrible conflict of feelings!
But perhaps all this might gain a more satisfactory aspect by daylight. Now he felt as though he had entangled himself in a snare. Besides, other thoughts drove sleep from his couch.
The window spaces were closed by wooden shutters, and whenever they moved with a low creaking or louder banging Hermon started and forgot everything else in anxiety about his invalid friend, whose suffering every strong wind brought on again, and often seriously increased.
Three times he sprang up from the soft wool, covered with linen sheets, and looked out to convince himself that no storm had risen. But, though masses of black clouds concealed the moon and stars, and the sea beat heavily against the solid walls of the harbour, as yet only a sultry breeze of no great strength blew on his head as he thrust it into the night air.
This weather could scarcely be dangerous to Myrtilus, yet when the morning relieved him from the torturing anxiety which he had found under his host's roof instead of rest and sleep, gray and black clouds were sweeping as swiftly over the port and the ramparts beside him as if they were already driven by a tempest, and warm raindrops besprinkled his face.
He went, full of anxiety, to take his bath, and, while committing the care of the adornment of his outer man to one of the household slaves, he determined that unless--as often happened in this country--the sun gained the victory over the clouds, he would return to Tennis and join Myrtilus.
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