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- Arachne, 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.]
By Georg Ebers
While the market place in Tennis was filling, Archias's white house had become a heap of smouldering ruins. Hundreds of men and women were standing around the scene of the conflagration, but no one saw the statue of Demeter, which had been removed from Hermon's studio just in time. The nomarch had had it locked up in the neighbouring temple of the goddess.
It was rumoured that the divinity had saved her own statue by a miracle; Pamaut, the police officer, said that he had seen her himself as, surrounded by a brilliant light, she soared upward on the smoke that poured from the burning house. The strategist and the nomarch used every means in their power to capture the robbers, but without the least success.
As it had become known that Paseth, Gula's husband, had cast off his wife because she had gone to Hermon's studio, the magistrates believed that the attack had been made by the Biamites; yet Paseth was absent from the city during the assault, and the innocence of the others could also be proved.
Since, for two entire years, piracy had entirely ceased in this neighbourhood, no one thought of corsairs, and the bodies of the incendiaries having been consumed by the flames with the white house, it could not be ascertained to what class the marauders belonged.
The blinded sculptor could only testify that one of the robbers was a negro, or at any rate had had his face blackened, and that the size of another had appeared to him almost superhuman. This circumstance gave rise to the fable that, during the terrible storm of the previous clay, Hades had opened and spirits of darkness had rushed into the studio of the Greek betrayer.
The strategist, it is true, did not believe such tales, but the superstition of the Biamites, who, moreover, aided the Greeks reluctantly to punish a crime which threatened to involve their own countrymen, put obstacles in the way of his measures.
Not until he heard of Ledscha's disappearance, and was informed by the priest of Nemesis of the handsome sum which had been found in the offering box of the temple shortly after the attack, did he arrive at a conjecture not very far from the real state of affairs; only it was still incomprehensible to him what body of men could have placed themselves at the disposal of a girl's vengeful plan.
On the second day after the fire, the epistrategus of the whole Delta, who had accidentally come to the border fortress, arrived at Tennis on the galley of the commandant of Pelusium, and with him Proclus, the grammateus of the Dionysian artists, the Lady Thyone, Daphne, and her companion Chrysilla.
The old hero Philippus was detained in the fortress by the preparations for war.
Althea had returned to Alexandria, and Philotas, who disliked her, had gone there himself, as Chrysilla intimated to him that he could hope for no success in his suit to her ward so long as Daphne had to devote herself to the care of the blinded Hermon.
The epistrategus proceeded with great caution, but his efforts also remained futile. He ordered a report to be made of all the vessels which had entered the harbours and bays of the northeastern Delta, but those commanded by Satabus and his sons gave no cause for investigation; they had come into the Tanite arm of the Nile as lumber ships from Pontus, and had discharged beams and planks for the account of a well-known commercial house in Sinope.
Yet the official ordered the Owl's Nest to be searched. In doing this he made himself guilty of an act of violence, as the island's right of asylum still existed, and this incensed the irritable and refractory Biamites the more violently, the deeper was the reverent awe with which the nation regarded Tabus, who, according to their belief, was over a hundred years old. The Biamites honoured her not only as an enchantress and a leech, but as the ancestress of a race of mighty men. By molesting this aged woman, and interfering with an ancient privilege, the epistrategus lost the aid of the hostile fishermen, sailors, and weavers. Any information from their ranks to him was regarded as treachery; and, besides, his stay in Tennis could be but brief, as the King, on account of the impending war, had summoned him back to the capital.
On the third day after his arrival he left Tennis and sailed from Tanis for Alexandria. He had had little time to attend to Thyone and her guests.
Proclus, too, could not devote himself to them until after the departure of the epistrategus, since he had gone immediately to Tanis, where, as head of the Dionysian artists of all Egypt, he had been occupied in attending to the affairs of the newly established theatre.
On his return to Tennis he had instantly requested to be conducted to the Temple of Demeter, to inspect the blinded Hermon's rescued work.
He had entered the cella of the sanctuary with the expectation of finding a peculiar, probably a powerful work, but one repugnant to his taste, and left it fairly overpowered by the beauty of this noble work of art.
What he had formerly seen of Hermon's productions had prejudiced him against the artist, whose talent was great, but who, instead of dedicating it to the service of the beautiful and the sublime, chose subjects which, to Proclus, did not seem worthy of artistic treatment, or, when they were, sedulously deprived them of that by which, in his eyes, they gained genuine value. In Hermon's Olympian Banquet he--who also held the office of a high priest of Apollo in Alexandria--had even seen an insult to the dignity of the deity. In the Street Boy Eating Figs, the connoisseur's eye had recognised a peculiar masterpiece, but he had been repelled by this also; for, instead of a handsome boy, it represented a starving, emaciated vagabond.
True to life as this figure might be, it seemed to him reprehensible, for it had already induced others to choose similar vulgar subjects.
When recently at Althea's performance he had met Hermon and saw how quickly his beautiful travelling companion allowed herself to be induced to bestow the wreath on the handsome, black-bearded fellow, it vexed him, and he had therefore treated him with distant coldness, and allowed him to perceive the disapproval which the direction taken by his art had awakened in his mind.
In the presence of Hermon's Demeter, the opinion of the experienced man and intelligent connoisseur had suddenly changed.
The creator of this work was not only one of the foremost artists of his day, nay, he had also been permitted to fathom the nature of the deity and to bestow upon it a perfect form.
This Demeter was the most successful personification of the divine goodness which rewards the sowing of seed with the harvest. When Hermon created it, Daphne's image had hovered before his mind, even if he had not been permitted to use her as a model, and of all the maidens whom he knew there was scarcely one better suited to serve as the type for the Demeter.
So what he had seen in Pelusium, and learned from women, was true. The heart and mind of the artist who had created this work were not filled with the image of Althea--who during the journey had bestowed many a mark of favour upon the aging man, and with whom he was obliged to work hand in hand for Queen Arsinoe's plans--but the daughter of Archias, and this circumstance also aided in producing his change of view.
Hermon's blindness, it was to be hoped, would be cured.
Duty, and perhaps also interest, commanded him to show him frankly how highly he estimated his art and his last work.
After the arrival of Thyone and Daphne, Hermon had consented to accompany them on board the Proserpina, their spacious galley. True, he had yielded reluctantly to this arrangement of his parents' old friend, and neither she nor Daphne had hitherto succeeded in soothing the fierce resentment against fate which filled his soul after the loss of his sight and his dearest friend. As yet every attempt to induce him to bear his terrible misfortune with even a certain degree of composure had failed.
The Tennis leech, trained by the Egyptian priests at Sais in the art of healing, who was attached as a pastophorus to the Temple of Isis, in the city of weavers, had covered the artist's scorched face with bandages, and earnestly adjured him never in his absence to raise them, and to keep every ray of light from his blinded eyes. But the agitation which had mastered Hermon's whole being was so great that, in spite of the woman's protestations, he lifted the covering again and again to see whether he could not perceive once more at least a glimmer of the sunlight whose warming power he felt. The thought of living in darkness until the end of his life seemed unendurable, especially as now all the horrors which, hitherto, had only visited him in times of trial during the night assailed him with never-ceasing cruelty.
The image of the spider often forced itself upon him, and he fancied that the busy insect was spreading its quickly made web over his blinded eyes, which he was not to touch, yet over which he passed his hand to free them from the repulsive veil.
The myth related that because Athene's blow had struck the ambitious weaver Arachne, she had resolved, before the goddess transformed her into a spider, to put an end to her disgrace.
How infinitely harder was the one dealt to him! How much better reason he had to use the privilege in which man possesses an advantage over the immortals, of putting himself to death with his own hand when he deems the fitting time has come! What should he, the artist, to whom his eyes brought whatever made life valuable, do longer in this hideous black night, brightened by no sunbeam?
He was often overwhelmed, too, by the remembrance of the terrible end of the friend in whom he saw the only person who might have given him consolation in this distress, and the painful thought of his poverty.
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