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- Serapis, Volume 6. - 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
The spacious Hippodrome was filled with some thousands of spectators. At first many rows of seats had been left vacant, though usually on the eve of the great races, the people would set out soon after midnight and every place would be filled long before the games began; indeed the upper tiers of the tribune, which were built of wood and were free to all comers, with standing-room behind, were commonly so crowded early in the morning that the crush ended in a free fight.
On this occasion, the storm of the previous night, the anxiety caused by the conflict round the Serapeum, and the prevalent panic as to the approaching end of the world, kept great numbers away from their favorite diversion; but when the sky recovered its radiant blue, and when it became known that the statue of Serapis had escaped uninjured in the siege of his sanctuary--when Cynegius, the Imperial legate, and Evagrius, the city-prefect, had entered the theatre with much pomp, followed by several senators and ladies and gentlemen of rank-Christians, Heathen, and Jews--the most timid took courage; the games had been postponed for an hour, and before the first team was led into the arched shed whence the chariots started, the seats, though less densely packed than usual, were amply filled.
The number of chariots entered for competition was by no means smaller than on former occasions, for the heathen had strained every nerve to show their fellow-citizens of different creeds, and especially Caesar's representative, that, in spite of persecution and in defiance of Imperial edicts, they were still a power worthy of consideration. The Christians, on their part, did their utmost to outdo the idolaters on the same ground where, not long since, they had held quite the second place.
The Bishop's epigram: That Christianity had ceased to be the religion of the poor, was amply confirmed; the greater proportion of the places for senators, officials and rich citizens were occupied by its adherents, and the men and women who professed the Faith were by no means behind their heathen peers in magnificence of dress and jewels.
The horses, too, entered by the Christians could not fail to please the connoisseur, as they punctually made their appearance behind the starting-place, though he might have felt more confidence--and not without reason--in the heathen steeds, and more particularly in their drivers, each of whom had won on an average nine races out of ten.
The horses in the quadriga with which Marcus, the son of Mary, made his appearance in the arena had never before been driven in the Hippodrome. Demetrius, the owner's brother, had bred and trained them--four magnificent black Arabs--and they excited much interest among the knowing judges who were wont to collect and lounge about the 'oppidum', as it was called, behind the 'carceres'--[The covered sheds or stalls in which the horses were brought to wait for the start.]--to inspect the racers, predict the winner, offer counsel to the drivers, and make bets. These perfect creatures were perhaps as fine as the famous team of golden bays belonging to Iphicrates, which so often had proved victorious; but the agitatores, or drivers, attracted even more interest than the horses. Marcus, though he knew how to handle the reins--he had already been seen in experimental races--could hardly hold his own against Hippias, the handsome young heathen, who, like most of the drivers in the arena, was an agitator by profession. A story was told of his having driven over a bridge which was not quite as wide as the outside edges of his chariot- wheels; and there were many witnesses to the feat he had performed of writing his mistress' name with his chariot-tracks in the sand of the Hippodrome.
The betting was freest and the wagers highest on Hippias and the team belonging to Iphicrates. Some few backed Marcus and his Arabs, but for smaller sums; and when they compared the tall but narrow-shouldered figure of the young Christian with the heroic breadth of Hippias' frame, and his delicate features, dreamy blue eyes and downy black moustache with the powerful Hermes-head of his rival, they were anxious about their money. If his brother now, the farmer Demetrius--who was standing by the horses' heads--or some well-known agitator had held the reins, it would have been a pleasure and a profit to back such horses. Marcus had been abroad, too, and men shrugged their shoulders over that, for it was not till the last few days that he had been seen exercising his horses in the Hippodrome.
Time was going on, and the Imperial envoy, who had been elected to preside as judge, at length took his place; Demetrius whispered a few last words of advice to his brother and went back into the arena. He had secured a good place on the stone podium and on the shady side, though there were several seats vacant among those belonging to his family; but he did not care to occupy one of these, preferring to keep out of the way of his step-mother, who had made her appearance with a senator and his wife to whom she was related. He had not seen her for two days; his promise to Karnis that he would try to find Dada, had kept him fully occupied, and he had done his best in all earnest to discover the girl.
The honest indignation with which this young creature had refused his splendid offers, in spite of the modest circumstances of her life, had roused his respect, and he had felt it an insult to himself and to his brother when Gorgo had spoken of her with contempt. For his part, he had never met with any one more fascinating; he could not cease dreaming of her, and the thought that she might be swallowed up in the foul mire of a great city made him miserable. His brother had the first claim on her and he would not dispute it; while he had sought her unweariedly in every resort of the young and gay--nay even in Canopus--he had only meant to place her in safety, as a treasure which runs a risk of being lost to the family, though, when at last its possession is secured, it becomes the property of the member who can prove the best right of ownership. But all his efforts had been in vain; and it was in an unhappy mood that he went at last to the Hippodrome. There the bitter hostility and party- feeling which he had everywhere observed during his present visit to his native city, were not less conspicuous than they had been in the streets. The competing chariots usually arrived at the amphitheatre in grand procession, but this had not been thought advisable in the prevailing excitement; they had driven into the oppidum singly and without any display; and the images of the gods, which in former days had always been placed on the spina before the games began, had long since fallen into disuse.
[The spina was the division down the middle of the arena. At each end of it were placed the metae or goals, at a distance from it of about 13 feet. The spina was originally constructed of wood, subsequently it was of stone, and its height was generally about 29 feet. The spina in the Circus of Caracalla was more than 900 feet long.]
All this was vexatious to Demetrius, and when he had taken his seat it was in no pleasant temper that he looked round at the ranks of spectators.
His step-mother was sitting on the stuffed bench covered with lion-skins which was reserved for the family. Her tunic and skirt displayed the color blue of the Christian charioteer, being made of bright blue and silver brocade of a beautiful pattern in which the cross, the fish, and the olive-branch were elegantly combined. Her black hair was closely and simply smoothed over her temples and she wore no garland, but a string of large grey pearls, from which hung a chaplet of sapphires and opals, lying on her forehead. A veil fell over the back of her head and she sat gazing into her lap as if she were absorbed in prayer; her hands were folded and held a cross. This placid and demure attitude she deemed becoming to a Christian matron and widow. Everyone might see that she had not come for worldly pleasure, but merely to be present at a triumph of her fellow-Christians--and especially her son--over the idolaters. Everything about her bore witness to the Faith, even the pattern on her dress and the shape of her ornaments; down to the embroidery on her silk gloves, in which a cross and an anchor were so designed as to form a Greek X, the initial letter of the name of Christ. Her ambition was to appear simple and superior to all worldly vanities; still, all she wore must be rich and costly, for she was here to do honor to her creed. She would have regarded it as a heathen abomination to wear wreaths of fresh and fragrant flowers, though for the money which that string of pearls had cost she might have decked the circus with garlands from end to end, or have fed a hundred poor for a twelvemonth. It seems so much easier to cheat the omniscient Creator of the Universe than our fellow-fools!
So Dame Maria sat there in sour and virtuous dignity, looking like the Virgin Mary as painters and sculptors were at that time wont to represent her; and her farmer-son shuddered whenever his eye fell on his step- mother. It did him good, by contrast, to hear a hearty peal of laughter that came up from the lowest ranks of the podium. When he had discovered the spot from whence it proceeded he could hardly believe his eyes, for there sat the long-sought Dada, between an old man and a young woman, laughing as though something had just occurred to amuse her extremely. Demetrius stretched his limbs with a feeling of relief and satisfaction; then he rose, and seeing his city agent seated just behind the girl, he begged him to change places with him, as he thought it advisable not to lose sight of the game now it was caught; the old man was very ready to oblige him and went up to the other seat with a meaning smile.
For the first time since she could recollect anything Dada had spent a sleepless night. Whether the wind and thunder would have sufficed to keep her awake who can tell; but the thoughts that had whirled through her brain had been varied and exciting enough to rob her of sleep. Her own people who were fighting for Serapis--how were they faring; and Agne --what had become of her? Then her mind turned to the church, and the worthy old priest's sermon; to the races that she was to see--and the face and figure of the handsome young Christian rose vividly and irresistibly before her fancy. Of course--of course, she wished his horses to win; but it was strange enough that she, Karnis' niece, should be on the side of the Christians. Stranger still that she had entirely ceased to believe in all the abuse which, from her earliest childhood, she had heard heaped on the followers of the crucified Jew. It could only be that Karnis had never been able to forgive them for having ruined his theatre at Tauromenium, and so, perhaps, had never known them thoroughly.
She had enjoyed many a happy hour at the festivals of the old gods; and they were no doubt beautiful and festive divinities, or terrible when they were wroth; still, in the depths of her soul there had for some time lurked a vague, sweet longing which found no fulfilment in any heathen temple. She knew no name for it and would have found it hard to describe, but in the church, listening to the prayers and hymns and the
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