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- Arachne, Volume 8. - 4/11 -
But he had no time to obey it; an unusually tall, broad-shouldered man, with a thick gray beard and grave, well-formed features, in whom he thought he recognised the great physician Erasistratus, approached Thyone, and asked, "The recluse from the desert with restored sight?"
"The same," replied the matron, and whispered to the other, who was really the famous scientist and leech whom Hermon had desired to seek in Alexandria. "Exhaustion will soon overcome me, and how many important matters I had to discuss with you and the poor fellow yonder!"
The physician laid his hand on the matron's temples, and, raising his voice, said in a tone of grave anxiety: "Exhaustion! It would be better for you, honoured lady, to keep your bed."
"Surely and certainly!" the wife of the chief huntsman instantly assented. "We have already taxed your strength far too long, my noble friend."
This welcome confession produced a wonderful effect upon the other visitors, and very soon the last one had vanished from the space under the awning and the courtyard. Not a single person had vouchsafed Hermon a greeting; for the artist, divested of the highest esteem, had been involved in the ugly suspicion of having driven his uncle from Alexandria, and the monarch was said to have spoken unfavourably of him.
When the last one had left the courtyard, the leech exchanged a quick glance of understanding, which also included Hermon, with Thyone, and the majordomo received orders to admit no more visitors, while Erasistratus exclaimed gaily, "It is one of the physician's principal duties to keep all harmful things--including living ones--from his patient."
Then he turned to Hermon and had already begun to question him about his health, when the majordomo announced another visitor. "A very distinguished gentleman, apparently," he said hastily; "Herophilus of Chalcedon, who would not be denied admittance."
Again the eyes of Erasistratus and the matron met, and the former hastened toward his professional colleague.
The two physicians stopped in the middle of the courtyard and talked eagerly together, while Thyone, with cordial interest, asked Hermon to tell her what she had already partially learned through the freedman Bias.
Finally Erasistratus persuaded the matron, who seemed to have forgotten her previous exhaustion, to share the consultation, but the convalescent's heart throbbed faster as he watched the famous leeches.
If these two men took charge of his case, the most ardent desire of his soul might be fulfilled, and Thyone was certainly trying to induce them to undertake his treatment; what else would have drawn her away from him before she had said even one word about Daphne?
The sculptor saw, as if through a cloud of dust, the three consulting together in the centre of the courtyard, away from the soldiers and messengers.
Hermon had only seen Erasistratus indistinctly, but before his eyes were blinded he had met him beside the sick-bed of Myrtilus, and no one who had once beheld it could forget the manly bearded face, with the grave, thoughtful eyes, whose gaze deliberately sought their goal.
The other also belonged to the great men in the realm of intellect. Hermon knew him well, for he had listened eagerly in the Museum to the lectures of the famous Herophilus, and his image also had stamped itself upon his soul.
Even at that time the long, smooth hair of the famous investigator had turned gray. From the oval of his closely shaven, well-formed face, with the long, thin, slightly hooked nose, a pair of sparkling eyes had gazed with penetrating keenness at the listeners. Hermon had imagined Aristotle like him, while the bust of Pythagoras, with which he was familiar, resembled Erasistratus.
The convalescent could scarcely expect anything more than beneficial advice from Herophilus; for this tireless investigator rarely rendered assistance to the sick in the city, because the lion's share of his time and strength were devoted to difficult researches. The King favoured these by placing at his disposal the criminals sentenced to death. In his work of dissection he had found that the human brain was the seat of the soul, and the nerves originated in it.
Erasistratus, on the contrary, devoted himself to a large medical practice, though science owed him no less important discoveries.
The circle of artists had heard what he taught concerning the blood in the veins and the air bubbles in the arteries, how he explained the process of breathing, and what he had found in the investigation of the beating of the heart.
But he performed his most wonderful work with the knife in his hand as a surgeon. He had opened the body of one of Archias's slaves, who had been nursed by Daphne, and cured him after all other physicians had given him up.
When this man's voice reached Hermon, he repeated to himself the words of refusal with which the great physician had formerly declined to devote his time and skill to him. Perhaps he was right then--and how differently he treated him to-day!
Thyone had informed the famous scientist of everything which she knew from Hermon, and had learned of the last period of his life through Bias.
She now listened with eager interest, sometimes completing Hermon's acknowledgments by an explanatory or propitiating word, as the leeches subjected him to a rigid examination, but the latter felt that his statements were not to serve curiosity, but an honest desire to aid him. So he spoke to them with absolute frankness.
When the examination was over, Erasistratus exclaimed to his professional colleague: "This old woman! Precisely as I would have prescribed. She ordered the strictest diet with the treatment. She rejected every strong internal remedy, and forbade him wine, much meat, and all kinds of seasoning. Our patient was directed to live on milk and the same simple gifts of Nature which I would have ordered for him. The herb juice in the clever sorceress's salve proved the best remedy. The incantations could do no harm. On the contrary, they often produce a wonderful effect on the mind, and from it proceed further."
Here Erasistratus asked to have a description of the troubles which still affected Hermon's vision, and the passionate eagerness with which the leeches gazed into his eyes strengthened the artist's budding hope. Never had he wished more ardently that Daphne was back at his side.
He also listened with keen attention when the scientists finally discussed in low tones what they had perceived, and caught the words, "White scar on the cornea," "leucoma," and "operation." He also heard Herophilus declare that an injury of the cornea by the flame of the torch was the cause of the blindness. In the work which led him to the discovery of the retina in the eye he had devoted himself sedulously to the organs of sight. This case seemed as if it had been created for his friend's keen knife.
What expectations this assurance aroused in the half-cured man, who felt as if the goal was already gained, when, shortly after, Erasistratus, the greatest physician of his time, offered to make the attempt in Alexandria to remove, by a few little incisions, what still dimmed his impaired vision!
Hermon, deeply agitated, thanked the leech, and when Thyone perceived what was passing in his mind she ventured to ask the question whether it would not be feasible to perform the beneficent work here, and, if possible, the next day, and the surgeon was ready to fulfil the wish of the matron and the sufferer speedily. He would bring the necessary instruments with him. It only depended upon whether a suitable room could be found in the crowded city, and Thyone believed that such a one could not be lacking in the great building at her disposal.
A short conversation with the steward confirmed this opinion.
Then Erasistratus appointed the next morning for the operation. During the ceremony of consecrating the temple it would be quiet in the house and its vicinity. The preliminary fasting which he imposed upon his patients Hermon had already undergone.
"The pure desert air here," he added, "will be of the utmost assistance in recovery. The operation is slight, and free from danger. A few days will determine its success. I shall remain here with their Majesties, only--" and here he hesitated doubtfully--" where shall I find a competent assistant?"
Herophilus looked his colleague in the face with a sly smile, saying, "If you credit the old man of Chalcedon with the needful skill, he is at your disposal."
"Herophilus!" cried Thyone, and tears of emotion wet her aged eyes, which easily overflowed; but when Hermon tried to give expression to his fervent gratitude in words, Erasistratus interrupted him, exclaiming, as he grasped his comrade's hand, "It honours the general in his purple robe, when he uses the spade in the work of intrenchment."
Many other matters were discussed before the professional friends withdrew, promising to go to work early the next morning.
They kept their word, and while the temple of the god Turn resounded with music and the chanting of hymns by the priests, whose dying notes entered the windows of the sick-room, while Queen Arsinoe-Philadelphus led the procession, and the King, who was prevented by the gout from entering and passing around the sanctuary at her side, ordered a monument to be erected in commemoration of this festival, the famous leeches toiled busily.
When the music and the acclamations of the crowd died away, their task was accomplished. The great Herophilus had rendered his equally distinguished colleague the aid of an apprentice. When Hermon's lips again tried to pour forth his gratitude, Herophilus interrupted him with the exclamation: "Use the sight you have regained, young master, in creating superb works of art, and I shall be in your debt, since, with little trouble, I was permitted to render a service to the whole Grecian world."
Hermon spent seven long days and nights full of anxious expectation in a darkened room. Bias and a careful old female slave of the Lady Thyone watched him faithfully. Philippus, his wife, and his famous son Eumedes were allowed to pay him only brief visits; but Erasistratus watched the success of the operation every morning. True, it had been by no means dangerous, and certainly would not have required his frequent visits, but it pleased the investigator, reared in the school of Stoics, to watch how
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