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- Arachne, Volume 6. - 5/7 -


departure of a new art. But for that very reason, let me confess it, I regret to see you fall back from your bold advance. You now claim for your work that it cleaves strictly to Nature, because the model is taken from life itself. It does not become me to doubt this, yet the stamp of divinity which your Demeter bears is found in no mortal woman. Understand me correctly! This is certainly no departure from the truth, for the ideal often deserves this lofty name better than anything the visible world offers to the eye; but hitherto you have done honour to another truth. If I comprehend your art aright, its essence is opposed to the addition of superhuman dignity and beauty, with which you, or the model you used, strove to ennoble and deify your Demeter. Admirably as you succeeded in doing so, it forces your work out of the sphere of reality, whose boundary I never before saw you cross by a single inch. Whether this occurred unconsciously to you in an hour of mental ecstasy, or whether you felt that you still lacked the means to represent the divine, and therefore returned to the older methods, I do not venture to decide. But at the first examination of your work I was conscious of one thing: It means for you a revolution, a rupture with your former aspirations; and as--I willingly confess it--you had been marvellously successful, it would have driven you, had your sight been spared, out of your own course and into the arms of the ancients, perhaps to your material profit, but scarcely to the advantage of art, which needs a renewal of its vital energies."

"Let me assure you, my lord," Hermon protested, "that had I remained able to continue to create, the success of the Demeter would never, never have rendered me faithless to the conviction and method of creation which I believed right; nay, before losing my sight, my whole soul was absorbed in a new work which would have permitted me to remain wholly and completely within the bounds of reality."

"The Arachne?" asked the King.

"Yes, my lord," cried Hermon ardently. "With its completion I expected to render the greatest service, not only to myself, but to the cause of truth."

Here Ptolemy interrupted with icy coldness: "Yet you were certainly wrong; at least, if the Thracian Althea, who is the personification of falsehood, had continued to be the model." Then he changed his tone, and with the exclamation: "You are protected from the needs of life, unless your rich uncle throws his property into the most insatiable of gulfs. May Straton's philosophy help you better to sustain your courage in the darkness which surrounds you than it has aided me to bear other trials!" he left the room.

Thus ended the artist's conversation with the King, from which Hermon had expected such great results and, deeply agitated, he ordered the driver of his horses to take him to Daphne. She was the only person to whom he could confide what disappointment this interview had caused him.

Others had previously reproached him, as the King had just done, with having, in the Demeter, become faithless to his artistic past. How false and foolish this was! Many a remark from the critics would have been better suited to Myrtilus's work than to his. Yet his fear in Tennis had not been true. Only Daphne's sweet face did not suit his more vigorous method of emphasizing distinctions.

What a many-hued chameleon was the verdict upon works of plastic art! Once--on his return to the capital--thousands had united in the same one, and now how widely they differed again!

His earlier works, which were now lauded to the skies, had formerly invited censure and vehement attacks.

What would he not have given for the possibility of seeing his admired work once more!

As his way led past the Temple of Demeter, he stopped near it and was guided to the sanctuary.

It was filled with worshippers, and when, in his resolute manner, he told the curator and the officiating priest that he wished to enter the cella, and asked for a ladder to feel the goddess, he was most positively refused.

What he requested seemed a profanation of the sacred image, and it would not do to disturb the devout throng. His desire to lower the pedestal could not be gratified.

The high priest who came forward upheld his subordinates and, after a short dispute, Hermon left the sanctuary with his wish unfulfilled.

Never had he so keenly lamented his lost vision as during the remainder of the drive, and when Daphne received him he described with passionate lamentation how terribly blindness embittered his life, and declared himself ready to submit to the severest suffering to regain his sight.

She earnestly entreated him to apply to the great physician Erasistratus again, and Hermon willingly consented. He had promised to attend a banquet given that day by the wealthy ship-owner Archon. The feast lasted until early morning, but toward noon Hermon again appeared in his uncle's house, and met Daphne full of joyous confidence, as if he were completely transformed.

While at Archon's table he had determined to place his cure in the hands of higher powers. This was the will of Fate; for the guest whose cushion he shared was Silanus, the host's son, and the first thing he learned from him was the news that he was going the next day, with several friends, to the oracle of Amon in the Libyan Desert, to ask it what should be done for his mother, who had been for several years an invalid whom no physician could help. He had heard from many quarters that the counsel of the god, who had greeted Alexander the Great as his son, was infallible.

Then Hermon had been most urgently pressed by the young man to accompany him. Every comfort would be provided. One of his father's fine ships would convey them to Paraetonium, where tents, saddle horses, and guides for the short land journey would be ready.

So he had promised to go with Silanus, and his decision was warmly approved by his uncle, Daphne, and the gray-haired Pelusinian couple. Perhaps the god would show the blind man the right path to recovery. He would always be able to call the skill of the Alexandrian leeches to his aid.

Soon after Hermon went on board Archon's splendidly equipped vessel and, instead of a tiresome journey, began a new and riotous period of festivity.

Lavish provision had been made for gay companions of both sexes, merry entertainment by means of dancing, music, and song, well filled dishes and mixing vessels, and life during the ride through the coast and desert regions was not less jovial and luxurious than on the ship.

It seemed to the blind man like one vast banquet in the dark, interrupted only by sleep.

The hope of counsel from the gods cheered the depressed mood which had weighed upon him for several weeks, and rich young Silanus praised the lucky fate which had enabled him to find a travelling companion whose intellect and wit charmed him and the others, and often detained them over the wine until late into the night.

Here, too, Hermon felt himself the most distinguished person, the animating and attracting power, until it was said that the voyage was over, and the company pitched their tents in the famous oasis near the Temple of Amon.

The musicians and dancers, with due regard to propriety, had been left behind in the seaport of Paraetonium. Yet the young travellers were sufficiently gay while Silanus and Hermon waited for admission to the place of the oracle. A week after their arrival it was opened to them, yet the words repeated to them by the priest satisfied neither Hermon nor Archon's son, for the oracle advised the latter to bring his mother herself to the oasis by the land road if she earnestly desired recovery, while to Hermon was shouted the ambiguous saying:

"Only night and darkness spring from the rank marsh of pleasure; Morning and day rise brightly from the starving sand."

Could Silanus's mother, who was unable to move, endure the desert journey? And what was the meaning of the sand, from which morning and day--which was probably the fresh enjoyment of the light--were to rise for Hermon? The sentence of the oracle weighed heavily upon him, as well as on Archon's son, who loved his mother, and the homeward journey became to the blind man by no means a cheerful but rather a very troubled dream.

Thoughtful, very disturbed, dissatisfied with himself, and resolved to turn his back upon the dreary life of pleasure which for so long a time had allowed him no rest, and now disgusted him, he kept aloof from his travelling companions, and rejoiced when, at Alexandria, he was led ashore in the harbour of Eunostus.

CHAPTER VII.

Hermon entered his house with drooping head.

Here he was informed that the grammateus of the Dionysian artists had already called twice to speak to him concerning an important matter. When he came from the bath, Proclus visited him again. His errand was to invite him to a banquet which was to take place that evening at his residence in a wing of the royal palace.

But Hermon was not in the mood to share a joyous revel, and he frankly said so, although immediately after his return he had accepted the invitation to the festival which the whole fellowship of artists would give the following day in honour of the seventieth birthday of the old sculptor Euphranor. The grammateus alluded to this, and most positively insisted that he could not release him; for he came not only by his own wish, but in obedience to the command of Queen Arsinoe, who desired to tell the creator of the Demeter how highly she esteemed his work and his art. She would appear herself at dessert, and the banquet must therefore begin at an unusually early hour. He, Proclus, was to have the high honour of including the royal lady among his guests solely on Hermon's account, and his refusal would be an insult to the Queen.

So the artist found himself obliged to relinquish his opposition. He did this reluctantly; but the Queen's attention to him and his art flattered his vanity and, if he was to abandon the intoxicating and barren life of pleasure, it could scarcely be done more worthily than at a festival where the King's consort intended to distinguish him in person.

The banquet was to begin in a few hours, yet he could not let the day pass without seeing Daphne and telling her the words of the oracle. He longed, with ardent yearning, for the sound of her voice, and still more to unburden his sorely troubled soul to her.


Arachne, Volume 6. - 5/7

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