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- Arachne, Volume 6. - 1/7 -
[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
At the third hour after sunrise a distinguished assemblage of people gathered at the landing place east of the Temple of Poseidon in the great harbour of Alexandria.
Its members belonged to the upper classes, for many had come in carriages and litters, and numerous pedestrians were accompanied by slaves bearing in delicately woven baskets and cornucopias a laurel wreath, a papyrus crown, or bright-hued flowers.
The most aristocratic among the gentlemen had gathered on the western side of the great sanctuary, between the cella and the long row of Doric columns which supported the roof of the marble temple.
The Macedonian Council of the city was already represented by several of its members. Among their number was Archias, Daphne's father, a man of middle height and comfortable portliness, from whose well-formed, beardless face looked forth a pair of shrewd eyes, and whose quick movements revealed the slight irritability of his temperament.
Several members of the Council and wealthy merchants surrounded him, while the grammateus Proclus first talked animatedlv with other government officials and representatives of the priesthood, and then with Archias. The head of the Museum, who bore the title of "high priest," had also appeared there with several members of this famous centre of the intellectual life of the capital. They shared the shade of this part of the temple with distinguished masters of sculpture and painting, architecture and poetry, and conversed together with the graceful animation of Greeks endowed with great intellectual gifts.
Among them mingled, distinguishable neither by costume nor language, a number of prominent patrons of art in the great Jewish community. Their principal, the alabarch, was talking eagerly with the philosopher Hegesias and the Rhodian leech Chrysippus; Queen Arsinoe's favourite, whom at Althea's instigation she had sent with Proclus to receive the returning traveller.
Sometimes all gazed toward the mouth of the harbour, where the expected ship must soon pass the recently completed masterpiece of Sostratus, the towering lighthouse, still shining in its marble purity.
Soon many Alexandrians also crowded the large platform in front of the Temple of Poseidon, and the very wide marble staircase leading from it to the landing place.
Beneath the bronze statues of the Dioscuri, at the right and left of the topmost step, had also gathered the magnificent figures of the Phebi and the younger men from the wrestling school of Timagetes, with garlands on their curling locks, as well as many younger artists and pupils of the older masters.
The statues of the gods and goddesses of the sea and their lofty pedestals, standing at the sides of the staircase, cast upon the marble steps, gleaming in the radiance of the morning sun, narrow shadows, which attracted the male and female chorus singers, who, also wearing beautiful garlands, had come to greet the expected arrival with solemn chants.
Several actors were just coming from rehearsal in the theatre of Dionysus, east of the Temple of Poseidon, of which, like all the stages in the city, Proclus was chief manager.
A pretty dancing girl, who hung on the arm of the youngest, extended her hand with a graceful gesture toward the staircase, and asked:
"Whom can they be expecting there? Probably some huge new animal for the Museum which has been caught somewhere for the King, for yonder stiff wearer of a laurel crown, who throws his head back as though he would like to eat the Olympians and take the King for a luncheon into the bargain, is Straton, the denier of the gods, and the little man with the bullethead is the grammarian Zoilus."
"Of course," replied her companion. "But there, too, is Apollodorus, the alabarch of the Jews, and the heavy money-bag Archias--"
"Why look at them!" cried the younger mime. "It's far better worth while to stretch your neck for those farther in front. They are genuine friends of the Muses--the poets Theocritus and Zenodotus."
"The great Athene, Apollo, and all his nine Pierides, have sent their envoys," said the older actor pathetically, "for there, too, are the sculptors Euphranor and Chares, and the godlike builder of the lighthouse, Sostratus in person."
"A handsome man," cried the girl flute-player, "but vain, I tell you, vain--"
"Self-conscious, you ought to say," corrected her companion.
"Certainly," added the older actor, patting his smooth cheeks and chin with a rose he held in his hand. Who can defend himself against the highest merit, self-knowledge? But the person who is to have this reception, by the staff of Dionysus! if modesty flies away from him like the bird from a girl, it ought Just look there! The tall, broad- shouldered fellow yonder is Chrysippus, the right hand of Arsinoe, as our grammateus Proclus is her left. So probably some prince is expected."
"The gentlemen of the Museum and the great artists yonder would not stir a foot, far less lose so precious a morning hour, for any mere wearer of a crown or sceptre," protested the other actor; "it must be--"
"That the King or the Queen command it," interrupted the older player. "Only Arsinoe is represented here. Or do you see any envoy of Ptolemy? Perhaps they will yet arrive. If there were ambassadors of the great Roman Senate--"
"Or," added the dancer, "envoys from King Antiochus. But--goose that I am!--then they would not be received here, but in the royal harbour at the Lochias. See if I don't prove to be right! Divine honours are to be paid to some newly attracted hero of the intellect. But--just follow my finger! There--yonder--it comes floating along at the left of the island of Antirrhodus. That may be his galley! Magnificent! Wonderfully beautiful! Brilliant! Like a swan! No, no, like a swimming peacock! And the silver embroidery on the blue sails! It glitters and sparkles like stars in the azure sky."
Meanwhile the elder actor, shading his eyes with his hand, had been gazing at the harbour, where, amid the innumerable vessels, the expected one, whose sails were just being reefed, was steered by a skilful hand. Now he interrupted the blond beauty with the exclamation: "It is Archias's Proserpina! I know it well." Then, in a declamatory tone, he continued: "I, too, was permitted on the deck of the glittering vessel, lightly rocked by the crimson waves, to reach my welcome goal; as the guest of peerless Archias, I mean. The most magnificent festival in his villa! There was a little performance there in which Mentor and I allowed ourselves to be persuaded to take part. But just see how the beautiful ship uses the narrow passage between the two triremes, as if it had the bloodleech's power of contraction! But to return to the festival of Archias: the oyster ragout served there, the pheasant pasties--"
Here he interrupted himself, exclaiming in surprise: "By the club of Hercules, the Proserpina is to be received with a full chorus! And there is the owner himself descending the stairs! Whom is she bringing?"
"Come! come!" cried the dancing girl to her companion, dragging him after her, "I shall die of curiosity."
The singing and shouting of many voices greeted the actors as they approached the platform of the Temple of Poseidon.
When from this spot the dancer fixed her eyes upon the landing place, she suddenly dropped her companion's arm, exclaiming: "It is the handsome blind sculptor, Hermon, the heir of the wealthy Myrtilus. Do you learn this now for the first time, you jealous Thersites? Hail, hail, divine Hermon! Hail, noble victim of the ungrateful Olympians! Hail to thee, Hermon, and thy immortal works! Hail, hail, hail!"
Meanwhile she waved her handkerchief with frenzied eagerness, as if she could thus force the blind man to see her, and a group of actors whom Proclus, the grammateus of the Dionysian arts, had sent here to receive Hermon worthily, followed her example.
But her cries were drowned by the singing of the chorus and by thousands of shouting voices, while Hermon was embraced by Archias on board the galley, and then, by his guidance, stepped on shore and ascended the staircase of the Temple of Poseidon.
Before the ship entered the harbour, the artist had had a large goblet of unmixed wine given to him, that he might conquer the emotion that had overpowered him.
Though his blind eyes did not show him even the faintest outline of a figure, he felt as if he was flooded with brilliant sunshine.
While the Proserpina was bearing him past the lighthouse, Gras told him that they had now reached the great harbour, and at the same time he heard the shouts, whistles, signals, and varying sounds of the landing place with its crowded shipping, and of the capital.
His blood surged in his veins, and before his mind rose the vision of the corn-flower blue sky, mirrored in the calm surface of the bluest of seas. The pharos built by Sostratus towered in dazzling whiteness above the tide, and before him rose the noble temple buildings, palaces, and porticoes of the city of Alexandria, with which he was familiar, and before and between them statue after statue of marble and bronze, the whole flooded with radiant golden light.
True, darkness sometimes swallowed this wonderful picture, but an effort of the will was sufficient to show it to him again.
"The Temple of Poseidon!" cried Gras. "The Proserpina is to land at the foot of the steps." And now Hermon listened to the sounds from the shore, whose hum and buzz transported him into the midst of the long- missed city of commerce, knowledge, and arts.
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