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- Arachne, Volume 6. - 3/7 -
Yet the rash answer weighed heavily on his mind; but it could no longer be recalled that day, and was believed, for Thyone whispered, "We shall succeed in reconciling the terrible being."
Again the light tremour ran through him, but it lasted only an instant; for Chrysilla, the representative of the dead mistress of the house, whose duty it was to assign the guests their places, called to Hermon, "The beautiful Glycera does you the honour of choosing you for a neighbour" and, before the sentence was finished, Archias himself seized his arm and led him to the cushions at the side of the much- courted beauty.
The guests began the banquet in a very joyous mood.
Greek gaiety, and the quick intellect and keen wit of the Alexandrians, combined with the choicest viands of the luxurious capital, where the wines and dainties of all the countries of the Mediterranean found sellers and buyers, and the cook's vocation was developed into a fine art, to spice this banquet with a hundred charms for the mind and senses. To-day the principal place in this distinguished circle of famous men, great and wealthy nobles, beautiful and aristocratic women, was awarded to the blind sculptor. He was pledged by every one who had admired his Demeter, who compassionated his sad fate, or who desired to be agreeable to him or his host.
Every kind remark about his person, his blindness, and his masterpiece was repeated to him and, after the wine and the effort to attract Daphne's attention and shine in the presence of his beautiful neighbour had heated and winged his thoughts, he found an apt reply to each noteworthy word.
When the dessert was finally eaten, and after sunset, in the brilliant light of the lamps and candles, greater attention was paid to the mixing vessels, all remained silent to listen to his fervid speech.
Glycera had asked him, at the beginning of the banquet, to tell her about the attack in Tennis. Now he yielded to her wish that he should repeat the captivating tale to the others, and the spirits of the wine helped him to perform the task with such animation that his hearers listened to his description in breathless suspense, and many eyes rested on the handsome face of the great blind artist as if spellbound.
When he paused, loud applause rewarded him, and as it reached him from every part of the spacious room, his deep, resonant voice put him in communication even with the more distant guests, and he might have been taken for the symposiarch or director of the banquet.
This conspicuous position of the feted artist did not please every one, and a rhetorician, famed for his sharp tongue, whispered to his neighbour, one of Hermon's older fellow-artists, "What his eyes have lost seems to benefit his tongue." The sculptor answered: "At any rate, the impetuous young artist might succeed better in proving himself, by its assistance, a good entertainer, than in creating more mediocre masterpieces like the Demeter."
Similar remarks were made on other cushions; but when the philosopher Hegesias asked the famous sculptor Euphranor what he thought of Hermon's Demeter, the kindly old man answered, "I should laud this noble work as a memorable event, even if it did not mark the end, as well as the beginning, of its highly gifted creator's new career."
Nothing of this kind was uttered near Hermon. Everything that reached him expressed delight, admiration, sympathy, and hope. At dessert the beautiful Glycera divided her apple, whispering as she gave him one half, "Let the fruit tell you what the eyes can no longer reveal, you poor and yet so abundantly rich darling of the gods."
He murmured in reply that his happiness would awake the envy of the immortals if, in addition, he were permitted to feast upon the sight of her beauty.
Had he been able to see himself, Hermon, who, as a genuine Greek, was accustomed to moderate his feelings in intercourse with others, would have endeavoured to express the emotions of joy which filled his heart with more reserve, and to excel his companions at the festival less recklessly.
His enthusiastic delight carried many away with him; others, especially Daphne, were filled with anxious forebodings by his conduct, and others still with grave displeasure.
Among the latter was the famous leech Erasistratus, who shared Archias's cushions, and had been solicited by the latter to try to restore his blind nephew's sight. But the kindly physician, who gladly aided even the poorest sufferer, curtly and positively refused. To devote his time and skill to a blind man who, under the severest of visitations, lulled himself so contentedly in happiness, he considered unjust to others who desired recovery more ardently.
"When the intoxication of this unbridled strength passes away, and is followed by a different mood," remarked the merchant, "we will talk of this matter again," and the confident tone of his deep voice gave the simple sentence such significance that the learned leech held out his hand, saying: "Only where deep, earnest longing for recovery fills the sufferer's mind will the gods aid the physician. We will wait for the change which you predict, Archias!"
The guests did not disperse until late, and the best satisfied of all was the grammateus Proclus, who had taken advantage of the rich merchant's happy mood, and his own warm intercession in behalf of his nephew's work, to persuade Archias to advance Queen Arsinoe a large sum of money for an enterprise whose object he still carefully concealed.
The highly honoured blind artist spent the night under his uncle's roof.
Hermon rose from his couch the next morning alert and ready for new pleasures.
He had scarcely left the bath when envoys from the Ephebi and the younger artists invited him to the festivities which they had arranged in his honour. He joyously accepted, and also promised messengers from many of Archias's friends, who wished to have the famous blind sculptor among their guests, to be present at their banquets.
He still felt as if he were intoxicated, and found neither disposition nor time for quiet reflection. His great strength, fettered as it were by his loss of sight, now also began to stir. Fate itself withheld him from the labour which he loved, yet in return it offered him a wealth of varying pleasure, whose stimulating power he had learned the day before. He still relished the draught from the beaker of homage proffered by his fellow-citizens; nay, it seemed as if it could not lose its sweetness for a long time.
He joined the ladies before noon, and his newly awakened feeling of joy beamed upon them scarcely less radiantly than yesterday. Though Thyone might wonder that a man pursued by Nemesis could allow himself to be borne along so thoughtlessly by the stream of pleasure, Daphne certainly did not grudge him the festal season which, when it had passed, could never return to the blind artist. When it was over, he would yearn for the quiet happiness at her side, which gazed at him like the calm eyes of the woman he loved. With her he would cast anchor for the remainder of his life; but first must come the period when he enjoyed the compensation now awarded to him for such severe sufferings.
His heart was full of joy as he greeted Daphne and the Lady Thyone, whom he found with her; but his warm description of the happy emotion which had overpowered him at the abundant honours lavished upon him was interrupted by Archias.
In his usual quick, brisk manner, he asked whether Hermon wished to occupy the beautiful villa with the magnificent garden on Lake Mareotis, inherited from Myrtilus, which could scarcely be reached in a vehicle from the Brucheium in less than an hour, or the house situated in the centre of the city, and Hermon promptly decided in favour of the latter.
His uncle, and probably the ladies also, had expected the contrary. Their silence showed this plainly enough, and Hermon therefore added in a tone of explanation that later the villa would perhaps suit his condition better, but now he thought it would be a mistake to retire to the quiet which half the city was conspiring to disturb. No one contradicted him, and he left the women's apartment with a slight feeling of vexation, which, however, was soon jested away by the gay friends who sought him.
When he removed to the city house the next day, he had not yet found time for a serious talk with Daphne. His uncle, who had managed the estate of Myrtilus, and wished to give Hermon an account of his inheritance, was refused by the blind artist, who assured him that he knew Archias had greatly increased rather than diminished his property, and thanked him sincerely and warmly. In the convenient and spacious city house the young sculptor very soon thought he had good reason to be satisfied with his choice.
Most of his friends were busy artists, and what loss of time every visit to the remote villa would have imposed upon them, what haste he himself would have been obliged to use to reach home from the bath, where he often spent many hours, from the wrestling school, from the meetings of fashionable people in the Paneum gardens, and at sunset by the seashore on the royal highway in the Brucheium. All these places were very far from the villa. It would have required whole hours, too, to reach a famous cookshop in the Canopus, at whose table he liked to assemble beloved guests or revel with his friends. The theatre, the Odeum, most of the public buildings, as well as the houses of his best friends, and especially the beautiful Glycera, were easily reached from his city home, and, among the temples, that of Demeter, which he often visited to pray, offer sacrifices, and rejoice in the power of attraction which his statue of the goddess exerted upon the multitude. It stood at the back of the cella in a place accessible to the priesthood alone, visible only through the open doors, upon a pedestal which his fellow-artists pronounced rather too high. Yet his offer to have it made smaller was not accepted, because had it been lower the devout supplicants who stood there to pray could not have raised their eyes to it.
It was not only at the festivals of the dead that he went to the Greek cemetery, where he had had a magnificent monument erected for his dead mother. If his head ached after a nocturnal carouse, or the disagreeable alarming chill stole over him which he had felt for the first time when he falsely answered Thyone that he was still under the ban of Nemesis, he went to the family monuments, supplied them with gifts, had sacrifices offered to the souls of the beloved dead, and in this way sometimes regained a portion of his lost peace of mind.
The banquet in the evening always dispelled whatever still oppressed him on his return home from these visits, for, though months had elapsed
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