« AnteriorContinuar »
many Jews, but thou, O Edom, art a veritable heaven of bright color, and my soul is glorified by thee, for the eye is the window of the soul. But let me not forget, O God of my fathers, that the beauty of Petra is even as the beauty of Gillul-Gillul in her scarlet cloak and full of shame and all manner of unrighteousness.'
He prayed again to be delivered from temptation as toward this scarlet woman.
Then followed he the windings of the high walls of the valley, along a pavement which ran beside their feet. Astonished and sore amazed was he at the countless excavations, the lofty beauty of their pillars, their pediments, their capitals and cornices, their files on files of gleaming statues.
As he followed the wall of massive rock about the vast oval of the city, he beheld from time to wondering time, immense side valleys, which also were lined with tier on tier of temples, tombs and dwellings, beautifully carven and flaming to the enraptured eye.
Into certain of these side valleys he turned, still wondering, for, behold! as he fared on farther and farther into the branching rifts within the mountains, he saw to right and to left innumerable lesser gorges, running out and branching also, and all the branchings were lined with the shining fronts of tombs and of temples and of the houses of the living.
And he said, "What wonder that the Greeks call Edom 'Petra,' which meaneth 'a rock,' or that the inhabitants of this city (seeing that they know no better) are given to the worship of stones.”
He climbed a zigzag stairway, which was carven in innumerable flights, winding among splendid houses, and went on up to the top of the city's rampart. There he beheld a score of the “High Places" of the city, with altars and lavers, platforms for dancing, and seats for the congregations.
He looked off southward, in the way of Sinai. And behold, there was a great cloud there. And innumerable heat-lightnings shot across the cloud. He stretched his hands above the city, and cried: “Ye Petrans! Ye are like unto your very houses, which are only half removed and cut away from Nature. Still ye worship Nature in a stone, learning little from Jerusalem, and making great confusion in your minds-of Nature (which is creature only) with Nature's Creator, which is God."
And having returned to the parent valley where the greater portion of the carven city was, he beheld that, in the center of that val. ley, was another and even greater city, which he had only partly be
held before, constructed of buildings that were not cut out of the living rock, but were set and builded upward by the hands of men.
And here, in the streets of the builded and not carven city, were many open squares, where trampling caravans met, coming slowly in, with profit or with loss, some from Felix Arabia, some from Alexandria, or Joppa, or Damascus, others from Mygdonia and Philadelphia, or from Persia, Serica, and the Other East. And shelter was round these humming marts for all the beasts that had come in from the desert, and likewise inns for the masters of caravans and the cameldrivers.
The masters, he saw, set their freight on benches, crying it to the world in drowsy, long-accustomed voices—the spices of India, the balsam and myrrh of Hadramaut, robust slaves and rainbowed peacocks, carpets and bright hangings and black boxes and dull gray sacks of silver and ivory and gold (which is full of temptation) and little almug trees and chattering apes, and clinking bags of cold, hard precious stones.
And Samson marvelled at these things, likewise at the great earrings of the men and the chains of gold upon the camels' necks, and the wondrous muscles of the indolent slaves which should earn much money for knowing masters. And something stirred strangely within him, and again he knew not what.
And he went on farther, about the busy streets and markets of the great city of stone, in the midst of a Babel of voices—where, now, for many centuries, only the prowling Bedouin and the lonely bat inhabit. All the rest is silence, for Petra is merely the tomb, rather the bleached-out skeleton, of a mighty city and of a worship which hath been.
Still Samson went on. The motley scenes of life and commercial activity made the hours short. But ever he appeared to himself withdrawn from these things, though in the midst of them-a man set apart by the Lord, and solitary. Yet always there was something stirred within him, he knew not what.
Said he to himself, “By the splendor of the Holy Temple, such things are not for a priest of the Almighty." He went therefore and watched a band of acrobats performing at the corner of a street. One of these, nicknamed “Opisthotonos," distorted the nature of his being, for he threw himself backward till he rested merely on his toes and the crown of his head. Then he trotted with mincing steps round about a tiny circle of which his down-turned head was the center.
Samson heard a near voice, "My master being a philosopher,
knoweth everything, and can prove that anything is either right or wrong, or that it is both wrong and right also, either at different times or even at the same time. He is better with his mouth than this man Opisthotonos with his heels and his head."
“Pooh!" said another voice, “my master is a skeptic. The skeptics are philosophers too, and they have shown that never a man can know anything at all. He is much admired in all the corners of this city, yea even in Alexandria also."
“Alexandria!” cried the first voice, in deepest scorn. “Alexandria! Why my master, though he cometh never adown from yonder lofty height whereon he dwelleth, is known in all the corners of the universe, even in far off-"
“Known for a fool!” returned the other slave in anger. "Do not all men understand that he worshippeth not knowledge, but only the name of having it! Well, therefore, is he denominated 'Philostephanus,' for that," But Samson turned upon the slaves, and inquired of them, “Do
“ ye truly know the house of Philostephanus, and can ye shew it me?"
Now he that was servant unto Philostephanus, made answer: “My name is ‘Stupidus,' and I am slave to him thou seekest—that great master. See! I will shew you his house."
And he went a little way with him, and said: “Seest thou the steps that rise above yon fountain? Those are the steps that are taken by them that go up unto him. See how they zigzag unto dizzy heights, crossing and re-crossing, anon disappearing into tunnels -follow thou my finger still—and yet reappearing in the scarlet light and again darting into deep wells of darkness-seest thou ?”
Samson said, “I see, though it is bewildering."
Continued Stupidus, “Then comest thou out at length on yon level platform. Great and high and white and cold it is up thither. And just at the back of the platform is his house, a retired strange look all about it. Now I must be gone to get my master parchment.”
Samson, with a quiver at his heart, went up the winding rocks, higher and higher, dizzier and more dizzy, and with ever greater difficulty to find his way, until he had come at length unto the loftypillared porch which formed the cold and carven front of the house of Philostephanus——this man which bore a certain relationship unto Lampadephorus.
The winds sang very lonely in this lofty place.
And Samson turned and saw the city all below him. Even the tombs and the dwellings and the temples that were cut the highest in the rocks, were all below the calmly supercilious house of Philostephanus
Samson's heart misgave him. But, placing his hand within his bosom, he felt of the letter which he had received from Lampadephorus. Taking courage again, he knocked at the calmly echoing doors of Philostephanus
CHRISTMAS BEFORE CHRIST
SAMSON-SOLOMON of Cyrene was let into Philostephanus's house, and then was shown unto the great owner thereof, who, having read the letter of the lamp-bearer, said unto the Jew: “Thou art indeed more than wlcome here, not merely for thine own sake but also for the sake of him that sent thee.”
And the Jew took up his inn in the house of Philostephanus, and studied with that man many days. And they had much converse at times about the Greek. But never did Philostephanus descend the zigzag stairway to the haunts of common men.
Now Philostephanus was tall, slight, and very pale and purblind. And ever he looked like one that peered out into a thick fog or darkness.
He had once had a wife, so said he to the Jew, Philosophia, dead these many years, by whom he had had two daughters (and these he presented in due season unto Samson) Solitudo, by name, and Arrogantia. These would sit in the rocky yard before their father's residence, for long, long hours, leaning over the parapet and gazing steadfastly into the nether city; Solitudo crying, at intervals, “I am so lonely-would that a crowd were come," and Arrogantia answer. ing, “Better be contented, Sister, than to mingle with the vulgar multitude." And up would go her eyebrows yet a little further. Sometimes, as she leaned across the rocky parapet, she voided her spittle on the common crowd beneath.
And Philostephanus informed the Jew that these were not all the children which he had had, but that, having, in years gone by, now and then condescended to ramble among the huts and cottages of the lower city, there, on a time, he had had, by a slattern, Multitudo, an illegitimate and unworthy daughter whom he had come to know as Indignitas. Since which time he had lived retired in his rocky mansion, far away from noise, strife, and all the rudeness and ignorance of the common people. “They value my little learning
vastly more," said he, "for that I dwell away from them and live upon a height."
And space and time and matter and the origin of things were all discussed by the proud and learned Philostephanus, but to the Jew, it seemed that his erudite friend had little affection either for one view or for another, if only his hearer would applaud either the learning or the eloquence of his master.
On a day, when, as it happened, the Master would teach his disciple in the outer air, then went he and Solomon forth to the rocky, fenced-in space which there was before the mansion.
And here they sate in learned leisure for a while near the dizzy edge, gazing down on humming marts and silent tombs, and the frivolous sounds of men, men who were stuttering and fretting away their noisy hour before they, too, were gathered into the calmness and stillness of the rocks.
Then said Philostephanus, of a sudden: “I would ask thee as about Messiah, O Jew, for many of our philosophers have spoken concerning him, and I am troubled deeply."
But the Jew rose up, and craved his pardon, and descended to the lower city, for he said in his heart: “I have heretofore suffered
: when I spake of our religion. Why now should I do that dangerous thing again?"
And when he had come to the market place, he heard a master of a caravan complaining: "Woe is me! That only I had a dozen jars of oil, or ere I start out into the desert! I would give half a silver talent for an even dozen-scarce as oil is here among the rocks. But oil cannot be had.”
The Jew said unto him, “Wouldst thou even so ?”
The man said, “Even so. For I have sought in all the shops of Petra, and oil is not to be had. Hast thou oil ?"
The Jew said, “Wait.”
For he had heard, ere this, of a rich man of the city, who was not a merchant but who had gathered too much oil. And he went to that man, saying: “Hast thou oil, and wilt thou part with it?”
“Even so," said the man.
And he brought together him that wanted to gather oil and him that wanted to part with oil. And both they twain were glad, yet the Jew had gained for himself a quarter of a talent also. He said, “There were great joy for me in this, were I not chosen for El-Shaddai."
“Chosen thou art," said a sweet voice near by.