by H. Rider Haggard
My dear Mother,
I have for a long while hoped to be allowed to dedicate some book of mine to you, and now I bring you this work, because whatever its shortcomings, and whatever judgment may be passed upon it by yourself and others, it is yet the one I should wish you to accept.
I trust that you will receive from my romance of "Cleopatra" some such pleasure as lightened the labour of its building up; and that it may convey to your mind a picture, however imperfect, of the old and mysterious Egypt in whose lost glories you are so deeply interested.
Your affectionate and dutiful Son,
H. Rider Haggard.
January 21, 1889.
The history of the ruin of Antony and Cleopatra must have struck many students of the records of their age as one of the most inexplicable of tragic tales. What malign influence and secret hates were at work, continually sapping their prosperity and blinding their judgment? Why did Cleopatra fly at Actium, and why did Antony follow her, leaving his fleet and army to destruction? An attempt is made in this romance to suggest a possible answer to these and some other questions.
The reader is asked to bear in mind, however, that the story is told, not from the modern point of view, but as from the broken heart and with the lips of an Egyptian patriot of royal blood; no mere beast-worshipper, but a priest instructed in the inmost mysteries, who believed firmly in the personal existence of the gods of Khem, in the possibility of communion with them, and in the certainty of immortal life with its rewards and punishments; to whom also the bewildering and often gross symbolism of the Osirian Faith was nothing but a veil woven to obscure secrets of the Sanctuary. Whatever proportion of truth there may have been in their spiritual claims and imaginings, if indeed there was any, such men as the Prince Harmachis have been told of in the annals of every great religion, and, as is shown by the testimony of monumental and sacred inscriptions, they were not unknown among the worshippers of the Egyptian Gods, and more especially of Isis.
Unfortunately it is scarcely possible to write a book of this nature and period without introducing a certain amount of illustrative matter, for by no other means can the long dead past be made to live again before the reader's eyes with all its accessories of faded pomp and forgotten mystery. To such students as seek a story only, and are not interested in the faith, ceremonies, or customs of the Mother of Religion and Civilisation, ancient Egypt, it is, however, respectfully suggested that they should exercise the art of skipping, and open this tale at its Second Book.
That version of the death of Cleopatra has been preferred which attributes her end to poison. According to Plutarch its actual manner is very uncertain, though popular rumour ascribed it to the bite of an asp. She seems, however, to have carried out her design under the advice of that shadowy personage, her physician, Olympus, and it is more than doubtful if he would have resorted to such a fantastic and uncertain method of destroying life.
It may be mentioned that so late as the reign of Ptolemy Epiphanes, pretenders of native blood, one of whom was named Harmachis, are known to have advanced their claims to the throne of Egypt. Moreover, there was a book of prophecy current among the priesthood which declared that after the nations of the Greeks the God Harsefi would create the "chief who is to come." It will therefore be seen that, although it lacks historical confirmation, the story of the great plot formed to stamp out the dynasty of the Macedonian Lagidae and place Harmachis on the throne is not in itself improbable. Indeed, it is possible that many such plots were entered into by Egyptian patriots during the long ages of their country's bondage. But ancient history tells us little of the abortive struggles of a fallen race.
The Chant of Isis and the Song of Cleopatra, which appear in these pages, are done into verse from the writer's prose by Mr. Andrew Lang, and the dirge sung by Charmion is translated by the same hand from the Greek of the Syrian Meleager.
In the recesses of the desolate Libyan mountains that lie behind the temple and city of Abydus, the supposed burying place of the holy Osiris, a tomb was recently discovered, among the contents of which were the papyrus rolls whereupon this history is written. The tomb itself is spacious, but otherwise remarkable only for the depth of the shaft which descends vertically from the rock-hewn cave, that once served as the mortuary chapel for the friends and relatives of the departed, to the coffin-chamber beneath. This shaft is no less than eighty-nine feet in depth. The chamber at its foot was found to contain three coffins only, though it is large enough for many more. Two of these, which in all probability inclosed the bodies of the High Priest, Amenemhat, and of his wife, father and mother of Harmachis, the hero of this history, the shameless Arabs who discovered them there and then broke up.
The Arabs broke the bodies up. With unhallowed hands they tore the holy Amenemhat and the frame of her who had, as it is written, been filled with the spirit of the Hathors—tore them limb from limb, searching for treasure amidst their bones—perhaps, as is their custom, selling the very bones for a few piastres to the last ignorant tourist who came their way, seeking what he might destroy. For in Egypt the unhappy, the living find their bread in the tombs of the great men who were before them.
But as it chanced, some little while afterwards, one who is known to this writer, and a doctor by profession, passed up the Nile to Abydus, and became acquainted with the men who had done this thing. They revealed to him the secret of the place, telling him that one coffin yet remained entombed. It seemed to be the coffin of a poor person, they said, and therefore, being pressed for time, they had left it unviolated. Moved by curiosity to explore the recesses of a tomb as yet unprofaned by tourists, my friend bribed the Arabs to show it to him. What ensued I will give in his own words, exactly as he wrote it to me:
"I slept that night near the Temple of Seti, and started before daybreak on the following morning. With me were a cross-eyed rascal named Ali—Ali Baba I named him—the man from whom I got the ring which I am sending you, and a small but choice assortment of his fellow thieves. Within an hour after sunrise we reached the valley where the tomb is. It is a desolate place, into which the sun pours his scorching heat all the long day through, till the huge brown rocks which are strewn about become so hot that one can scarcely bear to touch them, and the sand scorches the feet. It was already too hot to walk, so we rode on donkeys, some way up the valley—where a vulture floating far in the blue overhead was the only other visitor—till we came to an enormous boulder polished by centuries of action of sun and sand. Here Ali halted, saying that the tomb was under the stone. Accordingly, we dismounted, and, leaving the donkeys in charge of a fellah boy, went up to the rock. Beneath it was a small hole, barely large enough for a man to creep through. Indeed it had been dug by jackals, for the doorway and some part of the cave were entirely silted up, and it was by means of this jackal hole that the tomb had been discovered. Ali crept in on his hands and knees, and I followed, to find myself in a place cold after the hot outside air, and, in contrast with the light, filled with a dazzling darkness. We lit our candles, and, the select body of thieves having arrived, I made an examination. We were in a cave the size of a large room, and hollowed by hand, the further part of the cave being almost free from drift-dust. On the walls are religious paintings of the usual Ptolemaic character, and among them one of a majestic old man with a long white beard, who is seated in a carved chair holding a wand in his hand.[*] Before him passes a procession of priests bearing sacred images. In the right hand corner of the tomb is the shaft of the mummy-pit, a square-mouthed well cut in the black rock. We had brought a beam of thorn-wood, and this was now laid across the pit and a rope made fast to it. Then Ali—who, to do him justice, is a courageous thief—took hold of the rope, and, putting some candles into the breast of his robe, placed his bare feet against the smooth sides of the well and began to descent with great rapidity. Very soon he had vanished into blackness, and the agitation of the cord alone told us that anything was going on below. At last the rope ceased shaking and a faint shout came rumbling up the well, announcing Ali's safe arrival. Then, far below, a tiny star of light appeared. He had lit the candle, thereby disturbing hundreds of bats that flitted up in an endless stream and as silently as spirits. The rope was hauled up again, and now it was my turn; but, as I declined to trust my neck to the hand-over-hand method of descent, the end of the cord was made fast round my middle and I was lowered bodily into those sacred depths. Nor was it a pleasant journey, for, if the masters of the situation above had made any mistake, I should have been dashed to pieces. Also, the bats continually flew into my face and clung to my hair, and I have a great dislike of bats. At last, after some minutes of jerking and dangling, I found myself standing in a narrow passage by the side of the worthy Ali, covered with bats and perspiration, and with the skin rubbed off my knees and knuckles. Then another man came down, hand over hand like a sailor, and as the rest were told to stop above we were ready to go on. Ali went first with his candle—of course we each had a candle—leading the way down a long passage about five feet high. At length the passage widened out, and we were in the tomb-chamber: I think the hottest and most silent place that I ever entered. It was simply stifling. This chamber is a square room cut in the rock and totally devoid of paintings or sculpture. I held up the candles and looked round. About the place were strewn the coffin lids and the mummied remains of the two bodies that the Arabs had previously violated. The paintings on the former were, I noticed, of great beauty, though, having no knowledge of hieroglyphics, I could not decipher them. Beads and spicy wrappings lay around the remains, which, I saw, were those of a man and a woman.[+] The head had been broken off the body of the man. I took it up and looked at it. It had been closely shaved—after death, I should say, from the general indications—and the features were disfigured with gold leaf. But notwithstanding this, and the shrinkage of the flesh, I think the face was one of the most imposing and beautiful that I ever saw. It was that of a very old man, and his dead countenance still wore so calm and solemn, indeed, so awful a look, that I grew quite superstitious (though as you know, I am pretty well accustomed to dead people), and put the head down in a hurry. There were still some wrappings left upon the face of the second body, and I did not remove them; but she must have been a fine large woman in her day.
[*] This, I take it, is a portrait of Amenemhat himself.— Editor.
[+] Doubtless Amenemhat and his wife.—Editor.
"'There the other mummy,' said Ali, pointing to a large and solid case that seemed to have been carelessly thrown down in a corner, for it was lying on its side.
"I went up to it and carefully examined it. It was well made, but of perfectly plain cedar-wood—not an inscription, not a solitary God on it.
"'Never see one like him before,' said Ali. 'Bury great hurry, he no "mafish," no "fineesh." Throw him down here on side.'
"I looked at the plain case till at last my interest was thoroughly aroused. I was so shocked by the sight of the scattered dust of the departed that I had made up my mind not to touch the remaining coffin—but now my curiosity overcame me, and we set to work.
"Ali had brought a mallet and a cold chisel with him, and, having set the coffin straight, he began upon it with all the zeal of an experienced tomb-breaker. And then he pointed out another thing. Most mummy-cases are fastened by four little tongues of wood, two on either side, which are fixed in the upper half, and, passing into mortices cut to receive them in the thickness of the lower half, are there held fast by pegs of hard wood. But this mummy case had eight such tongues. Evidently it had been thought well to secure it firmly. At last, with great difficulty, we raised the massive lid, which was nearly three inches thick, and there, covered over with a deep layer of loose spices (a very unusual thing), was the body.
"Ali looked at it with open eyes—and no wonder. For this mummy was not as other mummies are. Mummies in general lie upon their backs, as stiff and calm as though they were cut from wood; but this mummy lay upon its side, and, the wrappings notwithstanding, its knees were slightly bent. More than that, indeed, the gold mask, which, after the fashion of the Ptolemaic period, had been set upon the face, had worked down, and was literally pounded up beneath the hooded head.
"It was impossible, seeing these things, to avoid the conclusion that the mummy before us had moved with violence since it was put in the coffin.
"'Him very funny mummy. Him not "mafish" when him go in there,' said Ali.
"'Nonsense!' I said. 'Who ever heard of a live mummy?'
"We lifted the body out of the coffin, nearly choking ourselves with mummy dust in the process, and there beneath it half hidden among the spices, we made our first find. It was a roll of papyrus, carelessly fastened and wrapped in a piece of mummy cloth, having to all appearance been thrown into the coffin at the moment of closing.[*]
[*] This roll contained the third unfinished book of the history. The other two rolls were neatly fastened in the usual fashion. All three are written by one hand in the Demotic character.—Editor.
"Ali eyed the papyrus greedily, but I seized it and put it in my pocket, for it was agreed that I was to have all that might be discovered. Then we began to unwrap the body. It was covered with very broad strong bandages, thickly wound and roughly tied, sometimes by means of simple knots, the whole working the appearance of having been executed in great haste and with difficulty. Just over the head was a large lump. Presently, the bandages covering it were off, and there, on the face, lay a second roll of papyrus. I put down my hand to lift it, but it would not come away. It appeared to be fixed to the stout seamless shroud which was drawn over the whole body, and tied beneath the feet—as a farmer ties sacks. This shroud, which was also thickly waxed, was in one piece, being made to fit the form like a garment. I took a candle and examined the roll and then I saw why it was fast. The spices had congealed and glued it to the sack-like shroud. It was impossible to get it away without tearing the outer sheets of papyrus.[*]
[*] This accounts for the gaps in the last sheets of the second roll. —Editor.
"At last, however, I wrenched it loose and put it with the other in my pocket.
"Then we went on with our dreadful task in silence. With much care we ripped loose the sack-like garment, and at last the body of a man lay before us. Between his knees was a third roll of papyrus. I secured it, then held down the light and looked at him. One glance at his face was enough to tell a doctor how he had died.
"This body was not much dried up. Evidently it had not passed the allotted seventy days in natron, and therefore the expression and likeness were better preserved than is usual. Without entering into particulars, I will only say that I hope I shall never see such another look as that which was frozen on this dead man's face. Even the Arabs recoiled from it in horror and began to mutter prayers.
"For the rest, the usual opening on the left side through which the embalmers did their work was absent; the finely-cut features were those of a person of middle age, although the hair was already grey, and the frame was that of a very powerful man, the shoulders being of an extraordinary width. I had not time to examine very closely, however, for within a few seconds from its uncovering, the unembalmed body began to crumble now that it was exposed to the action of the air. In five or six minutes there was literally nothing left of it but a wisp of hair, the skull, and a few of the larger bones. I noticed that one of the tibiae—I forget if it was the right or the left—had been fractured and very badly set. It must have been quite an inch shorter than the other.
"Well, there was nothing more to find, and now that the excitement was over, what between the heat, the exertion, and the smell of mummy dust and spices, I felt more dead than alive.
"I am tired of writing, and this ship rolls. This letter, of course, goes overland, and I am coming by 'long sea,' but I hope to be in London within ten days after you get it. Then I will tell you of my pleasing experiences in the course of the ascent from the tomb-chamber, and of how that prince of rascals, Ali Baba, and his thieves tried to frighten me into handing over the papyri, and how I worsted them. Then, too, we will get the rolls deciphered. I expect that they only contain the usual thing, copies of the 'Book of the Dead,' but there may be something else in them. Needless to say, I did not narrate this little adventure in Egypt, or I should have had the Boulac Museum people on my track. Good-bye, 'Mafish Fineesh,' as Ali Baba always said."
In due course, my friend, the writer of the letter from which I have quoted, arrived in London, and on the very next day we paid a visit to a learned acquaintance well versed in Hieroglyphics and Demotic writing. The anxiety with which we watched him skilfully damping and unfolding one of the rolls and peering through his gold-rimmed glasses at the mysterious characters may well be imagined.
"Hum," he said, "whatever it is, this is not a copy of the 'Book of the Dead.' By George, what's this? Cle—Cleo—Cleopatra——Why, my dear Sirs, as I am a living man, this is the history of somebody who lived in the days of Cleopatra, the Cleopatra, for here's Antony's name with hers! Well, there's six months' work before me here—six months, at the very least!" And in that joyful prospect he fairly lost control of himself, and skipped about the room, shaking hands with us at intervals, and saying "I'll translate—I'll translate it if it kills me, and we will publish it; and, by the living Osiris, it shall drive every Egyptologist in Europe mad with envy! Oh, what a find! what a most glorious find!"
And O you whose eyes fall upon these pages, see, they have been translated, and they have been printed, and here they lie before you—an undiscovered land wherein you are free to travel!
Harmachis speaks to you from his forgotten tomb. The walls of Time fall down, and, as at the lightning's leap, a picture from the past starts upon your view, framed in the darkness of the ages.
He shows you those two Egypts which the silent pyramids looked down upon long centuries ago—the Egypt of the Greek, the Roman, and the Ptolemy, and that other outworn Egypt of the Hierophant, hoary with years, heavy with the legends of antiquity and the memory of long-lost honours.
He tells you how the smouldering loyalty of the land of Khem blazed up before it died, and how fiercely the old Time-consecrated Faith struggled against the conquering tide of Change that rose, like Nile at flood, and drowned the ancient Gods of Egypt.
Here, in his pages, you shall learn the glory of Isis the Many-shaped, the Executrix of Decrees. Here you shall make acquaintance with the shade of Cleopatra, that "Thing of Flame," whose passion-breathing beauty shaped the destiny of Empires. Here you shall read how the soul of Charmion was slain of the sword her vengeance smithied.
Here Harmachis, the doomed Egyptian, being about to die, salutes you who follow on the path he trod. In the story of his broken years he shows to you what may in its degree be the story of your own. Crying aloud from that dim Amenti[*] where to-day he wears out his long atoning time, he tells, in the history of his fall, the fate of him who, however sorely tried, forgets his God, his Honour, and his Country.
[*] The Egyptian Hades or Purgatory.—Editor.
BOOK I—THE PREPARATION OF HARMACHIS
OF THE BIRTH OF HARMACHIS; THE PROPHECY OF THE HATHORS; AND THE SLAYING OF THE INNOCENT CHILD
By Osiris who sleeps at Abouthis, I write the truth.
I, Harmachis, Hereditary Priest of the Temple, reared by the divine Sethi, aforetime a Pharaoh of Egypt, and now justified in Osiris and ruling in Amenti. I, Harmachis, by right Divine and by true descent of blood King of the Double Crown, and Pharaoh of the Upper and Lower Land. I, Harmachis, who cast aside the opening flower of our hope, who turned from the glorious path, who forgot the voice of God in hearkening to the voice of woman. I, Harmachis, the fallen, in whom are gathered up all woes as waters are gathered in a desert well, who have tasted of every shame, who through betrayal have betrayed, who in losing the glory that is here have lost the glory which is to be, who am utterly undone—I write, and, by Him who sleeps at Abouthis, I write the truth.
O Egypt!—dear land of Khem, whose black soil nourished up my mortal part—land that I have betrayed—O Osiris!—Isis!—Horus!—ye Gods of Egypt whom I have betrayed!—O ye temples whose pylons strike the sky, whose faith I have betrayed!—O Royal blood of the Pharaohs of eld, that yet runs within these withered veins—whose virtue I have betrayed!—O Invisible Essence of all Good! and O Fate, whose balance rested on my hand—hear me; and, to the day of utter doom, bear me witness that I write the truth.
Even while I write, beyond the fertile fields, the Nile is running red, as though with blood. Before me the sunlight beats upon the far Arabian hills, and falls upon the piles of Abouthis. Still the priests make orison within the temples at Abouthis that know me no more; still the sacrifice is offered, and the stony roofs echo back the people's prayers. Still from this lone cell within my prison-tower, I, the Word of Shame, watch thy fluttering banners, Abouthis, flaunting from thy pylon walls, and hear the chants as the long procession winds from sanctuary to sanctuary.
Abouthis, lost Abouthis! my heart goes out toward thee! For the day comes when the desert sands shall fill thy secret places! Thy Gods are doomed, O Abouthis! New Faiths shall make a mock of all thy Holies, and Centurion shall call upon Centurion across thy fortress-walls. I weep—I weep tears of blood: for mine is the sin that brought about these evils and mine for ever is their shame.
Behold, it is written hereafter.
Here in Abouthis I was born, I, Harmachis, and my father, the justified in Osiris, was High Priest of the Temple of Sethi. And on that same day of my birth Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, was born also. I passed my youth in yonder fields watching the baser people at their labours and going in and out at will among the great courts of the temples. Of my mother I knew naught, for she died when I yet hung at the breast. But before she died in the reign of Ptolemy Auletes, who is named the Piper, so did the old wife, Atoua, told me, my mother took a golden uraeus, the snake symbol of our Royalty of Egypt, from a coffer of ivory and laid it on my brow. And those who saw her do this believed that she was distraught of the Divinity, and in her madness foreshadowed that the day of the Macedonian Lagidae was ended, and that Egypt's sceptre should pass again to the hand of Egypt's true and Royal race. But when my father, the old High Priest Amenemhat, whose only child I was, she who was his wife before my mother having been, for what crime I know not, cursed with barrenness by Sekhet: I say when my father came in and saw what the dying woman had done, he lifted up his hands towards the vault of heaven and adored the Invisible, because of the sign that had been sent. And as he adored, the Hathors[*] filled my dying mother with the Spirit of Prophecy, and she rose in strength from the couch and prostrated herself thrice before the cradle where I lay asleep, the Royal asp upon my brow, crying aloud:
[*] The Egyptian Parcae or Fates.—Editor.
"Hail to thee, fruit of my womb! Hail to thee, Royal child! Hail to thee, Pharaoh that shalt be! Hail to thee, God that shalt purge the land, Divine seed of Nekt-nebf, the descended from Isis. Keep thee pure, and thou shalt rule and deliver Egypt and not be broken. But if thou dost fail in thy hour of trial, then may the curse of all the Gods of Egypt rest upon thee, and the curse of thy Royal forefathers, the justified, who ruled the land before thee from the age of Horus. Then in life mayst thou be wretched, and after death may Osiris refuse thee, and the judges of Amenti give judgment against thee, and Set and Sekhet torment thee, till such time as thy sin is purged, and the Gods of Egypt, called by strange names, are once more worshipped in the Temples of Egypt, and the staff of the Oppressor is broken, and the footsteps of the Foreigner are swept clean, and the thing is accomplished as thou in thy weakness shalt cause it to be done."
When she had spoken thus, the Spirit of Prophecy went out of her, and she fell dead across the cradle where I slept, so that I awoke with a cry.
But my father, Amenemhat, the High Priest, trembled, and was very fearful, both because of the words which had been said by the Spirit of the Hathors through the mouth of my mother, and because what had been uttered was treason against Ptolemy. For he knew that, if the matter should come to the ears of Ptolemy, Pharaoh would send his guards to destroy the life of the child concerning whom such things were prophesied. Therefore, my father shut the doors, and caused all those who stood by to swear upon the holy symbol of his office, and by the name of the Divine Three, and by the Soul of her who lay dead upon the stones beside them, that nothing of what they had seen and heard should pass their lips.
Now among the company was the old wife, Atoua, who had been the nurse of my mother, and loved her well; and in these days, though I know not how it had been in the past, nor how it shall be in the future, there is no oath that can bind a woman's tongue. And so it came about that by-and-by, when the matter had become homely in her mind, and her fear had fallen from her, she spoke of the prophecy to her daughter, who nursed me at the breast now that my mother was dead. She did this as they walked together in the desert carrying food to the husband of the daughter, who was a sculptor, and shaped effigies of the holy Gods in the tombs that are fashioned in the rock—telling the daughter, my nurse, how great must be her care and love toward the child that should one day be Pharaoh, and drive the Ptolemies from Egypt. But the daughter, my nurse, was so filled with wonder at what she heard that she could not keep the tale locked within her breast, and in the night she awoke her husband, and, in her turn, whispered it to him, and thereby compassed her own destruction, and the destruction of her child, my foster-brother. For the man told his friend, and the friend was a spy of Ptolemy's, and thus the tale came to Pharaoh's ears.
Now, Pharaoh was much troubled thereat, for though when he was full of wine he would make a mock of the God of the Egyptians, and swear that the Roman Senate was the only God to whom he bowed the knee, yet in his heart he was terribly afraid, as I have learned from one who was his physician. For when he was alone at night he would scream and cry aloud to the great Serapis, who indeed is no true God, and to other Gods, fearing lest he should be murdered and his soul handed over to the tormentors. Also, when he felt his throne tremble under him, he would send large presents to the temples, asking a message from the oracles, and more especially from the oracle that is at Philae. Therefore, when it came to his ears that the wife of the High Priest of the great and ancient Temple of Abouthis had been filled with the Spirit of Prophecy before she died, and foretold that her son should be Pharaoh, he was much afraid, and summoning some trusty guards—who, being Greeks, did not fear to do sacrilege—he despatched them by boat up the Nile, with orders to come to Abouthis and cut off the head of the child of the High Priest and bring it to him in a basket.
But, as it chanced, the boat in which the guards came was of deep draught, and, the time of their coming being at the lowest ebb of the river, it struck and remained fast upon a bank of mud that is opposite the mouth of the road running across the plains to Abouthis, and, as the north wind was blowing very fiercely, it was like to sink. Thereon the guards of Pharaoh called out to the common people, who laboured at lifting water along the banks of the river, to come with boats and take them off; but, seeing that they were Greeks of Alexandria, the people would not, for the Egyptians do not love the Greeks. Then the guards cried that they were on Pharaoh's business, and still the people would not, asking what was their business. Whereon a eunuch among them who had made himself drunk in his fear, told them that they came to slay the child of Amenemhat, the High Priest, of whom it was prophesied that he should be Pharaoh and sweep the Greeks from Egypt. And then the people feared to stand longer in doubt, but brought boats, not knowing what might be meant by the man's words. But there was one amongst them—a farmer and an overseer of canals—who was a kinsman of my mother's and had been present when she prophesied; and he turned and ran swiftly for three parts of an hour, till he came to where I lay in the house that is without the north wall of the great Temple. Now, as it chanced, my father was away in that part of the Place of Tombs which is to the left of the large fortress, and Pharaoh's guards, mounted on asses, were hard upon us. Then the messenger cried to the old wife, Atoua, whose tongue had brought about the evil, and told how the soldiers drew near to slay me. And they looked at each other, not knowing what to do; for, had they hid me, the guards would not have stayed their search till I was found. But the man, gazing through the doorway, saw a little child at play:
"Woman," he said, "whose is that child?"
"It is my grandchild," she answered, "the foster-brother of the Prince Harmachis; the child to whose mother we owe this evil case."
"Woman," he said, "thou knowest thy duty, do it!" and he again pointed at the child. "I command thee, by the Holy Name!"
Atoua trembled exceedingly, because the child was of her own blood; but, nevertheless, she took the boy and washed him and set a robe of silk upon him, and laid him on my cradle. And me she took and smeared with mud to make my fair skin darker, and, drawing my garment from me, set me to play in the dirt of the yard, which I did right gladly.
Then the man hid himself, and presently the soldiers rode up and asked of the old wife if this were the dwelling of the High Priest Amenemhat? And she told them yea, and, bidding them enter, offered them honey and milk, for they were thirsty.
When they had drunk, the eunuch who was with them asked if that were the son of Amenemhat who lay in the cradle; and she said "Yea—yea," and began to tell the guards how he would be great, for it had been prophesied of him that he should one day rule them all.
But the Greek guards laughed, and one of them, seizing the child, smote off his head with a sword; and the eunuch drew forth the signet of Pharaoh as warrant for the deed and showed it to the old wife, Atoua, bidding her tell the High Priest that his son should be King without a head.
And as they went one of their number saw me playing in the dirt and called out that there was more breeding in yonder brat than in the Prince Harmachis; and for a moment they wavered, thinking to slay me also, but in the end they passed on, bearing the head of my foster-brother, for they loved not to murder little children.
After a while, the mother of the dead child returned from the market-place, and when she found what had been done, she and her husband would have killed Atoua the old wife, her mother, and given me up to the soldiers of Pharaoh. But my father came in also and learned the truth, and he caused the man and his wife to be seized by night and hidden away in the dark places of the temple, so that none saw them more.
But I would to-day that it had been the will of the Gods that I had been slain of the soldiers and not the innocent child.
Thereafter it was given out that the High Priest Amenemhat had taken me to be as a son to him in the place of that Harmachis who was slain of Pharaoh.
OF THE DISOBEDIENCE OF HARMACHIS; OF THE SLAYING OF THE LION; AND OF THE SPEECH OF THE OLD WIFE, ATOUA
And after these things Ptolemy the Piper troubled us no more, nor did he again send his soldiers to seek for him of whom it was prophesied that he should be Pharaoh. For the head of the child, my foster-brother, was brought to him by the eunuch as he sat in his palace of marble at Alexandria, flushed with Cyprian wine, and played upon the flute before his women. And at his bidding the eunuch lifted up the head by the hair for him to look on. Then he laughed and smote it on the cheek with his sandal, bidding one of the girls crown Pharaoh with flowers. And he bowed the knee, and mocked the head of the innocent child. But the girl, who was sharp of tongue—for all of this I heard in after years—said to him that "he did well to bow the knee, for this child was indeed Pharaoh, the greatest of Pharaohs, and his name was the Osiris and his throne was Death."
Auletes was much troubled at these words, and trembled, for, being a wicked man, he greatly feared entering into Amenti. So he caused the girl to be slain because of the evil omen of her saying; crying that he would send her to worship that Pharaoh whom she had named. And the other women he sent away, and played no more upon the flute till he was once again drunk on the morrow. But the Alexandrians made a song on the matter, which is still sung about the streets. And this is the beginning of it—
Ptolemy the Piper played Over dead and dying; Piped and played he well. Sure that flute of his was made Of the dank reed sighing O'er the streams of Hell. There beneath the shadows grey, With the sisters three, Shall he pipe for many a day. May the Frog his butler be! And his wine the water of that countrie— Ptolemy the Piper!
After this the years passed on, nor did I, being very little, know anything of the great things that came to pass in Egypt; nor is it my purpose to set them out here. For I, Harmachis, having little time left to me, will only speak of those things with which I have been concerned.
And as the time went on, my father and the teachers instructed me in the ancient learning of our people, and in such matters appertaining to the Gods as it is meet that children should know. So I grew strong and comely, for my hair was black as the hair of the divine Nout, and my eyes were blue as the blue lotus, and my skin was like the alabaster within the sanctuaries. For now that these glories have passed from me I may speak of them without shame. I was strong also. There was no youth of my years in Abouthis who could stand against me to wrestle with me, nor could any throw so far with the sling or spear. And I much yearned to hunt the lion; but he whom I called my father forbade me, telling me that my life was of too great worth to be so lightly hazarded. But when I bowed before him and prayed he would make his meaning clear to me, the old man frowned and answered that the Gods made all things clear in their own season. For my part, however, I went away in wroth, for there was a youth in Abouthis who with others had slain a lion which fell upon his father's herds, and, being envious of my strength and beauty, he set it about that I was cowardly at heart, in that when I went out to hunt I only slew jackals and gazelles. Now, this was when I had reached my seventeenth year and was a man grown.
It chanced, therefore, that as I went sore at heart from the presence of the High Priest, I met this youth, who called to me and mocked me, bidding me know the country people had told him that a great lion was down among the rushes by the banks of the canal which runs past the Temple, lying at a distance of thirty stadia from Abouthis. And, still mocking me, he asked me if I would come and help him slay this lion, or would I go and sit among the old women and bid them comb my side lock? This bitter word so angered me that I was near to falling on him; but in place therefore, forgetting my father's saying, I answered that if he would come alone, I would go with him and seek this lion, and he should learn if I were indeed a coward. And at first he would not, for, as men know, it is our custom to hunt the lion in companies; so it was my hour to mock. Then he went and fetched his bow and arrows and a sharp knife. And I brought forth my heavy spear, which had a shaft of thorn-wood, and at its end a pomegranate in silver, to hold the hand from slipping; and, in silence, we went, side by side, to where the lion lay. When we came to the place, it was near sundown; and there, upon the mud of the canal-bank, we found the lion's slot, which ran into a thick clump of reeds.
"Now, thou boaster," I said, "wilt thou lead the way into yonder reeds, or shall I?" And I made as though I would lead the way.
"Nay, nay," he answered, "be not so mad! The brute will spring upon thee and rend thee. See! I will shoot among the reeds. Perchance, if he sleeps, it will arouse him." And he drew his bow at a venture.
How it chanced I know not, but the arrow struck the sleeping lion, and, like a flash of light from the belly of a cloud, he bounded from the shelter of the reeds, and stood before us with bristling mane and yellow eyes, the arrow quivering in his flank. He roared aloud in fury, and the earth shook.
"Shoot with the bow," I cried, "shoot swiftly ere he spring!"
But courage had left the breast of the boaster, his jaw dropped down and his fingers unloosed their hold so that the bow fell from them; then, with a loud cry he turned and fled behind me, leaving the lion in my path. But while I stood waiting my doom, for though I was sore afraid I would not fly, the lion crouched himself, and turning not aside, with one great bound swept over me, touching me not. He lit, and again he bounded full upon the boaster's back, striking him such a blow with his great paw that his head was crushed as an egg thrown against a stone. He fell down dead, and the lion stood and roared over him. Then I was mad with horror, and, scarce knowing what I did, I grasped my spear and with a shout I charged. As I charged the lion lifted himself up above me. He smote at me with his paw; but with all my strength I drove the broad spear into his throat, and, shrinking from the agony of the steel, his blow fell short and did no more than rip my skin. Back he fell, the great spear far in his throat; then rising, he roared in pain and leapt twice the height of a man straight into the air, smiting at the spear with his forepaws. Twice he leapt thus, horrible to see, and twice he fell upon his back. Then his strength spent itself with his rushing blood, and, groaning like a bull, he died; while I, being but a lad, stood and trembled with fear now that all cause of fear had passed.
But as I stood and gazed at the body of him who had taunted me, and at the carcass of the lion, a woman came running towards me, even the same old wife, Atoua, who, though I knew it not as yet, had offered up her flesh and blood that I might be saved alive. For she had been gathering simples, in which she had great skill, by the water's edge, not knowing that there was a lion near (and, indeed, the lions, for the most part, are not found in the tilled land, but rather in the desert and the Libyan mountains), and had seen from a distance that which I have set down. Now, when she was come, she knew me for Harmachis, and, bending herself, she made obeisance to me, and saluted me, calling me Royal, and worthy of all honour, and beloved, and chosen of the Holy Three, ay, and by the name of the Pharaoh! the Deliverer!
But I, thinking that terror had made her sick of mind, asked her of what she would speak.
"Is it a great thing," I asked, "that I should slay a lion? Is it a matter worthy of such talk as thine? There live, and have lived, men who have slain many lions. Did not the Divine Amen-hetep the Osirian slay with his own hand more than a hundred lions? Is it not written on the scarabaeus that hangs within my father's chamber, that he slew lions aforetime? And have not others done likewise? Why then, speakest thou thus, O foolish woman?"
All of which I said, because, having now slain the lion, I was minded, after the manner of youth, to hold it as a thing of no account. But she did not cease to make obeisance, and to call me by names that are too high to be written.
"O Royal One," she cried, "wisely did thy mother prophecy. Surely the Holy Spirit, the Knepth, was in her, O thou conceived by a God! See the omen. The lion there—he growls within the Capitol at Rome—and the dead man, he is the Ptolemy—the Macedonian spawn that, like a foreign weed, hath overgrown the land of Nile; with the Macedonian Lagidae thou shalt go to smite the lion of Rome. But the Macedonian cur shall fly, and the Roman lion shall strike him down, and thou shalt strike down the lion, and the land of Khem shall once more be free! free! Keep thyself but pure, according to the commandment of the Gods, O son of the Royal House; O hope of Khemi! be but ware of Woman the Destroyer, and as I have said, so shall it be. I am poor and wretched; yea, stricken with sorrow. I have sinned in speaking of what should be hid, and for my sin I have paid in the coin of that which was born of my womb; willingly have I paid for thee. But I have still of the wisdom of our people, nor do the Gods, in whose eyes all are equal, turn their countenance from the poor; the Divine Mother Isis hath spoken to me—but last night she spake—bidding me come hither to gather herbs, and read to thee the signs that I should see. And as I have said, so it shall come to pass, if thou canst but endure the weight of the great temptation. Come hither, Royal One!" and she led me to the edge of the canal, where the water was deep, and still and blue. "Now gaze upon that face as the water throws it back. Is not that brow fitted to bear the double crown? Do not those gentle eyes mirror the majesty of kings? Hath not the Ptah, the Creator, fashioned that form to fit the Imperial garb, and awe the glance of multitudes looking through thee to God?
"Nay, nay!" she went on in another voice—a shrill old wife's voice—"I will—be not so foolish, boy—the scratch of a lion is a venomous thing, a terrible thing; yea, as bad as the bite of an asp—it must be treated, else it will fester, and all thy days thou shalt dream of lions; ay, and snakes; and, also, it will break out in sores. But I know of it—I know. I am not crazed for nothing. For mark! everything has its balance—in madness is much wisdom, and in wisdom much madness. La! la! la! Pharaoh himself can't say where the one begins and the other ends. Now, don't stand gazing there, looking as silly as a cat in a crocus-coloured robe, as they say in Alexandria; but just let me stick these green things on the place, and in six days you'll heal up as white as a three-year-child. Never mind the smart of it, lad. By Him who sleeps at Philae, or at Abouthis, or at Abydus—as our divine masters have it now—or wherever He does sleep, which is a thing we shall all find out before we want to—by Osiris, I say, you'll live to be as clean from scars as a sacrifice to Isis at the new moon, if you'll but let me put it on.
"Is it not so, good folk?"—and she turned to address some people who, while she prophesied, had assembled unseen by me—"I've been speaking a spell over him, just to make a way for the virtue of my medicine—la! la! there's nothing like a spell. If you don't believe it, just you come to me next time your wives are barren; it's better than scraping every pillar in the Temple of Osiris, I'll warrant. I'll make 'em bear like a twenty-year-old palm. But then, you see, you must know what to say—that's the point—everything comes to a point at last. La! la!"
Now, when I heard all this, I, Harmachis, put my hand to my head, not knowing if I dreamed. But presently looking up, I saw a grey-haired man among those who were gathered together, who watched us sharply, and afterwards I learned that this man was the spy of Ptolemy, the very man, indeed, who had wellnigh caused me to be slain of Pharaoh when I was in my cradle. Then I understood why Atoua spoke so foolishly.
"Thine are strange spells, old wife," the spy said. "Thou didst speak of Pharaoh and the double crown and of the form fashioned by Ptah to bear it; is it not so?"
"Yea, yea—part of the spell, thou fool; and what can one swear by better nowadays than by the Divine Pharaoh the Piper, whom, and whose music, may the Gods preserve to charm this happy land?—what better than by the double crown he wears—grace to great Alexander of Macedonia? By the way, you know about everything: have they got back his chlamys yet, which Mithridates took to Cos? Pompey wore it last, didn't he?—in his triumph, too—just fancy Pompey in the cloak of Alexander!—a puppy-dog in a lion's skin! And talking of lions—look what this lad hath done—slain a lion with his own spear; and right glad you village folks should be to see it, for it was a very fierce lion—just see his teeth and his claws—his claws!—they are enough to make a poor silly old woman like me shriek to look at them! And the body there, the dead body—the lion slew it. Alack! he's an Osiris[*] now, the body—and to think of it, but an hour ago he was an everyday mortal like you or me! Well, away with him to the embalmers. He'll soon swell in the sun and burst, and that will save them the trouble of cutting him open. Not that they will spend a talent of silver over him anyway. Seventy days in natron—that's all he's likely to get. La! la! how my tongue does run, and it's getting dark. Come, aren't you going to take away the body of that poor lad, and the lion, too? There, my boy, you keep those herbs on, and you'll never feel your scratches. I know a thing or two for all I'm crazy, and you, my own grandson! Dear, dear, I'm glad his Holiness the High Priest adopted you when Pharaoh—Osiris bless his holy name—made an end of his son; you look so bonny. I warrant the real Harmachis could not have killed a lion like that. Give me the common blood, I say—it's so lusty."
[*] The soul when it has been absorbed in the Godhead.— Editor.
"You know too much and talk too fast," grumbled the spy, now quite deceived. "Well, he is a brave youth. Here, you men, bear this body back to Abouthis, and some of you stop and help me skin the lion. We'll send the skin to you, young man," he went on; "not that you deserve it: to attack a lion like that was the act of a fool, and a fool deserves what he gets—destruction. Never attack the strong until you are stronger."
But for my part I went home wondering.
OF THE REBUKE OF AMENEMHAT; OF THE PRAYER OF HARMACHIS; AND OF THE SIGN GIVEN BY THE HOLY GODS
For a while as I, Harmachis, went, the juice of the green herbs which the old wife, Atoua, had placed upon my wounds caused me much smart, but presently the pain ceased. And, of a truth, I believe that there was virtue in them, for within two days my flesh healed up, so that after a time no marks remained. But I bethought me that I had disobeyed the word of the old High Priest, Amenemhat, who was called my father. For till this day I knew not that he was in truth my father according to the flesh, having been taught that his own son was slain as I have written; and that he had been pleased, with the sanction of the Divine ones, to take me as an adopted son and rear me up, that I might in due season fulfil an office about the Temple. Therefore I was much troubled, for I feared the old man, who was very terrible in his anger, and ever spoke with the cold voice of Wisdom. Nevertheless, I determined to go in to him and confess my fault and bear such punishment as he should be pleased to put upon me. So with the red spear in my hand, and the red wounds on my breast, I passed through the outer court of the great temple and came to the door of the place where the High Priest dwelt. It is a great chamber, sculptured round about with the images of the solemn Gods, and the sunlight comes to it in the daytime by an opening cut through the stones of the massy roof. But at night it was lit by a swinging lamp of bronze. I passed in without noise, for the door was not altogether shut, and, pushing my way through the heavy curtains that were beyond, I stood with a beating heart within the chamber.
The lamp was lit, for the darkness had fallen, and by its light I saw the old man seated in a chair of ivory and ebony at a table of stone on which were spread mystic writings of the words of Life and Death. But he read no more, for he slept, and his long white beard rested upon the table like the beard of a dead man. The soft light from the lamp fell on him, on the papyri and the gold ring upon his hand, where were graven the symbols of the Invisible One, but all around was shadow. It fell on the shaven head, on the white robe, on the cedar staff of priesthood at his side, and on the ivory of the lion-footed chair; it showed the mighty brow of power, the features cut in kingly mould, the white eyebrows, and the dark hollows of the deep-set eyes. I looked and trembled, for there was about him that which was more than the dignity of man. He had lived so long with the Gods, and so long kept company with them and with thoughts divine, he was so deeply versed in all those mysteries which we do but faintly discern, here in this upper air, that even now, before his time, he partook of the nature of the Osiris, and was a thing to shake humanity with fear.
I stood and gazed, and as I stood he opened his dark eyes, but looked not on me, nor turned his head; and yet he saw me and spoke.
"Why hast thou been disobedient to me, my son?" he said. "How came it that thou wentest forth against the lion when I bade thee not?"
"How knowest thou, my father, that I went forth?" I asked in fear.
"How know I? Are there, then, no other ways of knowledge than by the senses? Ah, ignorant child! was not my Spirit with thee when the lion sprang upon thy companion? Did I not pray Those set about thee to protect thee, to make sure thy thrust when thou didst drive the spear into the lion's throat! How came it that thou wentest forth, my son?"
"The boaster taunted me," I answered, "and I went."
"Yes, I know it; and, because of the hot blood of youth, I forgive thee, Harmachis. But now listen to me, and let my words sink into thy heart like the waters of Sihor into the thirsty sand at the rising of Sirius.[*] Listen to me. The boaster was sent to thee as a temptation, he was sent as a trial of thy strength, and see! it has not been equal to the burden. Therefore thy hour is put back. Hadst thou been strong in this matter, the path had been made plain to thee even now. But thou hast failed, and therefore thy hour is put back."
[*] The dog-star, whose appearance marked the commencement of the overflow of the Nile.—Editor.
"I understand thee not, my father," I answered.
"What was it, then, my son, that the old wife, Atoua, said to thee down by the bank of the canal?"
Then I told him all that the old wife had said.
"And thou believest, Harmachis, my son?"
"Nay," I answered; "how should I believe such tales? Surely she is mad. All the people know her for mad."
Now for the first time he looked towards me, who was standing in the shadow.
"My son! my son!" he cried; "thou art wrong. She is not mad. The woman spoke the truth; she spoke not of herself, but of the voice within her that cannot lie. For this Atoua is a prophetess and holy. Now learn thou the destiny that the Gods of Egypt have given to thee to fulfil, and woe be unto thee if by any weakness thou dost fail therein! Listen: thou art no stranger adopted into my house and the worship of the Temple; thou art my very son, saved to me by this same woman. But, Harmachis, thou art more than this, for in thee and me alone yet flows the Imperial blood of Egypt. Thou and I alone of men alive are descended, without break or flaw, from that Pharaoh Nekt-nebf whom Ochus the Persian drove from Egypt. The Persian came and the Persian went, and after the Persian came the Macedonian, and now for nigh upon three hundred years the Lagidae have usurped the double crown, defiling the land of Khem and corrupting the worship of its Gods. And mark thou this: but now, two weeks since, Ptolemy Neus Dionysus, Ptolemy Auletes the Piper, who would have slain thee, is dead; and but now hath the Eunuch Pothinus, that very eunuch who came hither, years ago, to cut thee off, set at naught the will of his master, the dead Auletes, and placed the boy Ptolemy upon the throne. And therefore his sister Cleopatra, that fierce and beautiful girl, has fled into Syria; and there, if I err not, she will gather her armies and make war upon her brother Ptolemy: for by her father's will she was left joint-sovereign with him. And, meanwhile, mark thou this, my son: the Roman eagle hangs on high, waiting with ready talons till such time as he may fall upon the fat wether Egypt and rend him. And mark again: the people of Egypt are weary of the foreign yoke, they hate the memory of the Persians, and they are sick at heart of being named 'Men of Macedonia' in the markets of Alexandria. The whole land mutters and murmurs beneath the yoke of the Greek and the shadow of the Roman.
"Have we not been oppressed? Have not our children been butchered and our gains wrung from us to fill the bottomless greed and lust of the Lagidae? Have not the temples been forsaken?—ay, have not the majesties of the Eternal Gods been set at naught by these Grecian babblers, who have dared to meddle with the immortal truths, and name the Most High by another name—by the name of Serapis—confounding the substance of the Invisible? Does not Egypt cry aloud for freedom?—and shall she cry in vain? Nay, nay, for thou, my son, art the appointed way of deliverance. To thee, being sunk in eld, I have decreed my rights. Already thy name is whispered in many a sanctuary, from Abu to Athu; already priests and people swear allegiance, even by the sacred symbols, unto him who shall be declared to them. Still, the time is not yet; thou art too green a sapling to bear the weight of such a storm. But to-day thou wast tried and found wanting.
"He who would serve the Gods, Harmachis, must put aside the failings of the flesh. Taunts must not move him, nor any lusts of man. Thine is a high mission, but this thou must learn. If thou learn it not, thou shalt fail therein; and then, my curse be on thee! and the curse of Egypt, and the curse of Egypt's broken Gods! For know thou this, that even the Gods, who are immortal, may, in the interwoven scheme of things, lean upon the man who is their instrument, as a warrior on his sword. And woe be to the sword that snaps in the hour of battle, for it shall be thrown aside to rust or perchance be melted with fire! Therefore, make thy heart pure and high and strong; for thine is no common lot, and thine no mortal meed. Triumph, Harmachis, and in glory thou shalt go—in glory here and hereafter! Fail, and woe—woe be on thee!"
He paused and bowed his head, and then went on:
"Of these matters thou shalt hear more hereafter. Meanwhile, thou hast much to learn. To-morrow I will give thee letters, and thou shalt journey down the Nile, past white-walled Memphis to Annu. There thou shalt sojourn certain years, and learn more of our ancient wisdom beneath the shadow of those secret pyramids of which thou, too, art the Hereditary High Priest that is to be. And meanwhile, I will sit here and watch, for my hour is not yet, and, by the help of the Gods, spin the web of Death wherein thou shalt catch and hold the wasp of Macedonia.
"Come hither, my son; come hither and kiss me on the brow, for thou art my hope, and all the hope of Egypt. Be but true, soar to the eagle crest of destiny, and thou shalt be glorious here and hereafter. Be false, fail, and I will spit upon thee, and thou shalt be accursed, and thy soul shall remain in bondage till that hour when, in the slow flight of time, the evil shall once more grow to good and Egypt shall again be free."
I drew near, trembling, and kissed him on the brow. "May all these things come upon me, and more," I said, "if I fail thee, my father!"
"Nay!" he cried, "not me, not me; but rather those whose will I do. And now go, my son, and ponder in thy heart, and in thy secret heart digest my words; mark what thou shalt see, and gather up the dew of wisdom, making thee ready for the battle. Fear not for thyself, thou art protected from all ill. No harm may touch thee from without; thyself alone can be thine own enemy. I have said."
Then I went forth with a full heart. The night was very still, and none were stirring in the temple courts. I hurried through them, and reached the entrance to the pylon that is at the outer gate. Then, seeking solitude, and, as it were, to draw near to heaven, I climbed the pylon's two hundred steps, until at length I reached the massive roof. Here I leaned my breast against the parapet, and looked forth. As I looked, the red edge of the full moon floated up over the Arabian hills, and her rays fell upon the pylon where I stood and the temple walls beyond, lighting the visages of the carven Gods. Then the cold light struck the stretch of well-tilled lands, now whitening to the harvest, and as the heavenly lamp of Isis passed up to the sky, her rays crept slowly down to the valley, where Sihor, father of the land of Khem, rolls on toward the sea.
Now the bright beams kissed the water that smiled an answer back, and now mountain and valley, river, temple, town, and plain were flooded with white light, for Mother Isis was arisen, and threw her gleaming robe across the bosom of the earth. It was beautiful, with the beauty of a dream, and solemn as the hour after death. Mightily, indeed, the temples towered up against the face of night. Never had they seemed so grand to me as in that hour—those eternal shrines, before whose walls Time himself shall wither. And it was to be mine to rule this moonlit land; mine to preserve those sacred shrines, and cherish the honour of their Gods; mine to cast out the Ptolemy and free Egypt from the foreign yoke! In my veins ran the blood of those great Kings who await the day of Resurrection, sleeping in the tombs of the valley of Thebes. My spirit swelled within me as I dreamed upon this glorious destiny, I closed my hands, and there, upon the pylon, I prayed as I had never prayed before to the Godhead, who is called by many names, and in many forms made manifest.
"O Amen," I prayed, "God of Gods, who hast been from the beginning; Lord of Truth, who art, and of whom all are, who givest out thy Godhead and gatherest it up again; in the circle of whom the Divine ones move and are, who wast from all time the Self-begot, and who shalt be till time—hearken unto me.[*]
[*] For a somewhat similar definition of the Godhead see the funeral papyrus of Nesikhonsu, a Princess of the Twenty- first Dynasty.—Editor.
"O Amen—Osiris, the sacrifice by whom we are justified, Lord of the Region of the Winds, Ruler of the Ages, Dweller in the West, the Supreme in Amenti, hearken unto me.
"O Isis, great Mother Goddess, mother of the Horus—mysterious Mother, Sister, Spouse, hearken unto me. If, indeed, I am the chosen of the Gods to carry out the purpose of the Gods, let a sign be given me, even now, to seal my life to the life above. Stretch out your arms towards me, O ye Gods, and uncover the glory of your countenance. Hear! ah, hear me!" And I cast myself upon my knees and lifted up my eyes to heaven.
And as I knelt, a cloud grew upon the face of the moon covering it up, so that the night became dark, and the silence deepened all around—even the dogs far below in the city ceased to howl, while the silence grew and grew till it was heavy as death. I felt my spirit lifted up within me, and my hair rose upon my head. Then of a sudden the mighty pylon seemed to rock beneath my feet, a great wind beat about my brows and a voice spoke within my heart:
"Behold a sign! Possess thyself in patience, O Harmachis!"
And as the voice spoke, a cold hand touched my hand, and left somewhat within it. Then the cloud rolled from the face of the moon, the wind passed, the pylon ceased to tremble, and the night was as the night had been.
As the light came back, I gazed upon that which had been left within my hand. It was a bud of the holy lotus new breaking into bloom, and from it came a most sweet scent.
And while I gazed behold! the lotus passed from my grasp and was gone, leaving me astonished.
OF THE DEPARTURE OF HARMACHIS AND OF HIS MEETING WITH HIS UNCLE SEPA, THE HIGH PRIEST OF ANNU EL RA; OF HIS LIFE AT ANNU, AND OF THE WORDS OF SEPA
At the dawning of the next day I was awakened by a priest of the temple, who brought word to me to make ready for the journey of which my father had spoken, inasmuch as there was an occasion for me to pass down the river to Annu el Ra. Now this is the Heliopolis of the Greeks, whither I should go in the company of some priests of Ptah at Memphis who had come hither to Abouthis to lay the body of one of their great men in the tomb that had been prepared near the resting place of the blessed Osiris.
So I made ready, and the same evening, having received letters and embraced my father and those about the temple who were dear to me, I passed down the banks of Sihor, and we sailed with the south wind. As the pilot stood upon the prow and with a rod in his hand bade the sailor-men loosen the stakes by which the vessel was moored to the banks, the old wife, Atoua, hobbled up, her basket of simples in her hand, and, calling out farewell, threw a sandal after me for good chance, which sandal I kept for many years.
So we sailed, and for six days passed down the wonderful river, making fast each night at some convenient spot. But when I lost sight of the familiar things that I had seen day by day since I had eyes to see, and found myself alone among strange faces, I felt very sore at heart, and would have wept had I not been ashamed. And of all the wonderful things I saw I will not write here, for, though they were new to me, have they not been known to men since such time as the Gods ruled in Egypt? But the priests who were with me showed me no little honour and expounded to me what were the things I saw.
On the morning of the seventh day we came to Memphis, the city of the White Hall. Here, for three days I rested from my journey and was entertained of the priests of the wonderful Temple of Ptah the Creator, and shown the beauties of the great and marvellous city. Also I was led in secret by the High Priest and two others into the holy presence of the God Apis, the Ptah who deigns to dwell among men in the form of a bull. The God was black, and on his forehead there was a white square, on his back was a white mark shaped like an eagle, beneath his tongue was the likeness of a scarabaeus, in his tail were double hairs, and a plate of pure gold hung between his horns. I entered the place of the God and worshipped, while the High Priest and those with him stood aside, watching earnestly. And when I had worshipped, saying the words which had been told me, the God knelt, and lay down before me. Then the High Priest and those with him, who, as I heard in after time, were great men of Upper Egypt, approached wondering, and, saying no word, made obeisance to me because of the omen. And many other things I saw in Memphis that are too long to write of here.
On the fourth day some priests of Annu came to lead me to Sepa, my uncle, the High Priest of Annu. So, having bidden farewell to those of Memphis, we crossed the river and rode on asses two parts of a day's journey through many villages, which we found in great poverty because of the oppression of the tax-gatherers. Also, as we went, I saw for the first time the great pyramids that are beyond the image of the God Horemkhu, that Sphinx whom the Greeks name Harmachis, and the Temples of the Divine Mother Isis, Queen of the Memnonia, and the God Osiris, Lord of Rosatou, of which temples, together with the Temple of the worship of the Divine Menkau-ra, I, Harmachis, am by right Divine the Hereditary High Priest. I saw them and marvelled at their greatness and the white carven limestone, and red granite of Syene, that flashed the sun's rays back to heaven. But at this time I knew nothing of the treasure that was hid in Her, which is the third among the pyramids—would I had never known of it!
And so at last we came within sight of Annu, which after Memphis has been seen is no large town, but stands on raised ground, before which are lakes fed by a canal. Behind the town is the inclosed field of the Temple of the God Ra.
We dismounted at the pylon, and were met beneath the portico by a man not great of stature, but of noble aspect, having his head shaven, and with dark eyes that twinkled like the further stars.
"Hold!" he cried, in a great voice which fitted his weak body but ill. "Hold! I am Sepa, who opens the mouth of the Gods!"
"And I," I said, "am Harmachis, son of Amenemhat, Hereditary High Priest and Ruler of the Holy City Abouthis; and I bear letters to thee, O Sepa!"
"Enter," he said. "Enter!" scanning me all the while with his twinkling eyes. "Enter, my son!" And he took me and led me to a chamber in the inner hall, closed to the door, and then, having glanced at the letters that I brought, of a sudden he fell upon my neck and embraced me.
"Welcome," he cried, "welcome, son of my own sister, and hope of Khem! Not in vain have I prayed the Gods that I might live to look upon thy face and impart to thee the wisdom which perchance I alone have mastered of those who are left alive in Egypt. There are few whom it is lawful that I should teach. But thine is the great destiny, and thine shall be the ears to hear the lessons of the Gods."
And he embraced me once more and bade me go bathe and eat, saying that on the morrow he would speak with me further.
This of a truth he did, and at such length that I will forbear to set down all he said both then and afterwards, for if I did so there would be no papyrus left in Egypt when the task was ended. Therefore, having much to tell and but little time to tell it, I will pass over the events of the years that followed.
For this was the manner of my life. I rose early, I attended the worship of the Temple, and I gave my days to study. I learnt of the rites of religion and their meaning, and of the beginning of the Gods and the beginning of the Upper World. I learnt of the mystery of the movements of the stars, and of how the earth rolls on among them. I was instructed in that ancient knowledge which is called magic, and in the way of interpretation of dreams, and of the drawing nigh to God. I was taught the language of symbols and their outer and inner secrets. I became acquainted with the eternal laws of Good and Evil, and with the mystery of that trust which is held of man; also I learnt the secrets of the pyramids—which I would that I had never known. Further, I read the records of the past, and of the acts and words of the ancient kings who were before me since the rule of Horus upon earth; and I was made to know all craft of state, the lore of earth, and with it the history of Greece and Rome. Also I learnt the Grecian and Roman tongues, of which indeed I already had some knowledge—and all this while, for five long years, I kept my hands clean and my heart pure, and did no evil in the sight of God or man; but laboured heavily to acquire all things, and to prepare myself for the destiny that awaited me.
Twice every year greetings and letters came from my father Amenemhat, and twice every year I sent back my answers asking if the time had come to cease from labour. And so the days of my probation sped away till I grew faint and weary at heart, for being now a man, ay and learned, I longed to make a beginning of the life of men. And often I wondered if this talk and prophecy of the things that were to be was but a dream born of the brains of men whose wish ran before their thought. I was, indeed, of the Royal blood, that I knew: for my uncle, Sepa the Priest, showed me a secret record of the descent, traced without break from father to son, and graven in mystic symbols on a tablet of the stone of Syene. But of what avail was it to be Royal by right when Egypt, my heritage, was a slave—a slave to do the pleasure and minister to the luxury of the Macedonian Lagidae—ay, and when she had been so long a serf that, perchance, she had forgotten how to put off the servile smile of Bondage and once more to look across the world with Freedom's happy eyes?
Then I bethought me of my prayer upon the pylon tower of Abouthis and of the answer given to my prayer, and wondered if that, too, were a dream.
And one night, as, weary with study, I walked within the sacred grove that is in the garden of the temple, and mused thus, I met my uncle Sepa, who also was walking and thinking.
"Hold!" he cried in his great voice; "why is thy face so sad, Harmachis? Has the last problem that we studied overwhelmed thee?"
"Nay, my uncle," I answered, "I am overwhelmed indeed, but not of the problem; it was a light one. My heart is heavy, for I am weary of life within these cloisters, and the piled-up weight of knowledge crushes me. It is of no avail to store up force which cannot be used."
"Ah, thou art impatient, Harmachis," he answered; "it is ever the way of foolish youth. Thou wouldst taste of the battle; thou dost tire of watching the breakers fall upon the beach, thou wouldst plunge into them and venture the desperate hazard of the war. And so thou wouldst be going, Harmachis? The bird would fly the nest as, when they are grown, the swallows fly from the eaves of the Temple. Well, it shall be as thou desirest; the hour is at hand. I have taught thee all that I have learned, and methinks that the pupil has outrun his master," and he paused and wiped his bright black eyes, for he was very sad at the thought of my departure.
"And whither shall I go, my uncle?" I asked rejoicing; "back to Abouthis to be initiated into the mysteries of the Gods?"
"Ay, back to Abouthis, and from Abouthis to Alexandria, and from Alexandria to the Throne of thy fathers, Harmachis! Listen, now; things are thus: Thou knowest how Cleopatra, the Queen, fled into Syria when that false eunuch Pothinus set the will of her father Auletes at naught and raised her brother Ptolemy to the sole lordship of Egypt. Thou knowest also how she came back, like a Queen indeed, with a great army in her train, and lay at Pelusium, and how at this juncture the mighty Caesar, that great man, that greatest of all men, sailed with a weak company hither to Alexandria from Pharsalia's bloody field in hot pursuit of Pompey. But he found Pompey already dead, having been basely murdered by Achillas, the General, and Lucius Septimius, the chief of the Roman legions in Egypt, and thou knowest how the Alexandrians were troubled at his coming and would have slain his lictors. Then, as thou hast heard, Caesar seized Ptolemy, the young King, and his sister Arsinoe, and bade the army of Cleopatra and the army of Ptolemy, under Achillas, which lay facing each other at Pelusium, disband and go their ways. And for answer Achillas marched on Caesar, and besieged him straitly in the Bruchium at Alexandria, and so, for a while, things were, and none knew who should reign in Egypt. But then Cleopatra took up the dice, and threw them, and this was the throw she made—in truth, it was a bold one. For, leaving the army at Pelusium, she came at dusk to the harbour of Alexandria, and alone with the Sicilian Apollodorus entered and landed. Then Apollodorus bound her in a bale of rich rugs, such as are made in Syria, and sent the rugs as a present to Caesar. And when the rugs were unbound in the palace, behold! within them was the fairest girl on all the earth—ay, and the most witty and the most learned. And she seduced the great Caesar—even his weight of years did not avail to protect him from her charms—so that, as a fruit of his folly, he wellnigh lost his life, and all the glory he had gained in a hundred wars."
"The fool!" I broke in—"the fool! Thou callest him great; but how can the man be truly great who has no strength to stand against a woman's wiles? Caesar, with the world hanging on his word! Caesar, at whose breath forty legions marched and changed the fate of peoples! Caesar the cold! the far-seeing! the hero!—Caesar to fall like a ripe fruit into a false girl's lap! Why, in the issue, of what common clay was this Roman Caesar, and how poor a thing!"
But Sepa looked at me and shook his head. "Be not so rash, Harmachis, and talk not with so proud a voice. Knowest thou not that in every suit of mail there is a joint, and woe to him who wears the harness if the sword should search it out! For Woman, in her weakness, is yet the strongest force upon the earth. She is the helm of all things human; she comes in many shapes and knocks at many doors; she is quick and patient, and her passion is not ungovernable like that of man, but as a gentle steed that she can guide e'en where she will, and as occasion offers can now bit up and now give rein. She has a captain's eye, and stout must be that fortress of the heart in which she finds no place of vantage. Does thy blood beat fast in youth? She will outrun it, nor will her kisses tire. Art thou set toward ambition? She will unlock thy inner heart, and show thee roads that lead to glory. Art thou worn and weary? She has comfort in her breast. Art thou fallen? She can lift thee up, and to the illusion of thy sense gild defeat with triumph. Ay, Harmachis, she can do these things, for Nature ever fights upon her side; and while she does them she can deceive and shape a secret end in which thou hast no part. And thus Woman rules the world. For her are wars; for her men spend their strength in gathering gains; for her they do well and ill, and seek for greatness, to find oblivion. But still she sits like yonder Sphinx, and smiles; and no man has ever read all the riddle of her smile, or known all the mystery of her heart. Mock not! mock not! Harmachis; for he must be great indeed who can defy the power of Woman, which, pressing round him like the invisible air, is often strongest when the senses least discover it."
I laughed aloud. "Thou speakest earnestly, my uncle Sepa," I said; "one might almost think that thou hadst not come unscathed through this fierce fire of temptation. Well, for myself, I fear not woman and her wiles; I know naught of them, and naught do I wish to know; and I still hold that this Caesar was a fool. Had I stood where Caesar stood, to cool its wantonness that bale of rugs should have been rolled down the palace steps, into the harbour mud."
"Nay, cease! cease!" he cried aloud. "It is evil to speak thus; may the Gods avert the omen and preserve to thee this cold strength of which thou boastest. Oh! man, thou knowest not!—thou in thy strength and beauty that is without compare, in the power of thy learning and the sweetness of thy tongue—thou knowest not! The world where thou must mix is not a sanctuary as that of the Divine Isis. But there—it may be so! Pray that thy heart's ice may never melt, so thou shalt be great and happy and Egypt shall be delivered. And now let me take up my tale—thou seest, Harmachis, even in so grave a story woman claims her place. The young Ptolemy, Cleopatra's brother, being loosed of Caesar, treacherously turned on him. Then Caesar and Mithridates stormed the camp of Ptolemy, who took to flight across the river. But his boat was sunk by the fugitives who pressed upon it, and such was the miserable end of Ptolemy.
"Thereon, the war being ended, though she had but then borne him a son, Caesarion, Caesar appointed the younger Ptolemy to rule with Cleopatra, and be her husband in name, and he himself departed for Rome, bearing with him the beautiful Princess Arsinoe to follow his triumph in her chains. But the great Caesar is no more. He died as he had lived, in blood, and right royally. And but now Cleopatra, the Queen, if my tidings may be trusted, has slain Ptolemy, her brother and husband, by poison, and taken the child Caesarion to be her fellow on the throne, which she holds by the help of the Roman legions, and, as they say, of young Sextus Pompeius, who has succeeded Caesar in her love. But, Harmachis, the whole land boils and seethes against her. In every city the children of Khem talk of the deliverer who is to come—and thou art he, Harmachis. The time is almost ripe. The hour is nigh at hand. Go thou back to Abouthis and learn the last secrets of the Gods, and meet those who shall direct the bursting of the storm. Then act, Harmachis—act, I say, and strike home for Khem, rid the land of the Roman and the Greek, and take thy place upon the throne of thy divine fathers and be a King of men. For to this end thou wast born, O Prince!"
OF THE RETURN OF HARMACHIS TO ABOUTHIS; OF THE CELEBRATION OF THE MYSTERIES; OF THE CHANT OF ISIS; AND OF THE WARNING OF AMENEMHAT
On the next day I embraced my uncle Sepa, and with an eager heart departed from Annu back to Abouthis. To be short, I came thither in safety, having been absent five years and a month, being now no more a boy but a man full grown and having my mind well stocked with the knowledge of men and the ancient wisdom of Egypt. So once again I saw the old lands, and the known faces, though of these some few were wanting, having been gathered to Osiris. Now, as, riding across the fields, I came nigh to the enclosure of the Temple, the priests and people issued forth to bid me welcome, and with them the old wife, Atoua, who, but for a few added wrinkles that Time had cut upon her forehead, was just as she had been when she threw the sandal after me five long years before.
"La! la! la!" she cried; "and there thou art, my bonny lad; more bonny even than thou wert! La! what a man! what shoulders! and what a face and form! Ah, it does an old woman credit to have dandled thee! But thou art over-pale; those priests down there at Annu have starved thee, surely? Starve not thyself: the Gods love not a skeleton. 'Empty stomach makes empty head' as they say at Alexandria. But this is a glad hour; ay, a joyous hour. Come in—come in!" and as I lighted down she embraced me.
But I thrust her aside. "My father! where is my father?" I cried; "I see him not!"
"Nay, nay, have no fear," she answered; "his Holiness is well; he waits thee in his chamber. There, pass on. O happy day! O happy Abouthis!"
So I went, or rather ran, and reached the chamber of which I have written, and there at the table sat my father, Amenemhat, the same as he had been, but very old. I came to him and, kneeling before him, kissed his hand, and he blessed me.
"Look up, my son," he said, "let my old eyes gaze upon thy face, that I may read thy heart."
So I lifted up my head, and he looked upon me long and earnestly.
"I read thee," he said at length; "thou art pure and strong in wisdom; I have not been deceived in thee. Oh, the years have been lonely; but I did well to send thee hence. Now, tell me of thy life; for thy letters have told me little, and thou canst not know, my son, how hungry is a father's heart."
And so I told him; we sat far into the night and talked together. And in the end he bade me know that I must now prepare to be initiated into those last mysteries that are learned of the chosen of the Gods.
And so it came about that for a space of three months I prepared myself according to the holy customs. I ate no meat. I was constant in the sanctuaries, in the study of the secrets of the Great Sacrifice and of the woe of the Holy Mother. I watched and prayed before the altars. I lifted up my soul to God; ay, in dreams I communed with the Invisible, till at length earth and earth's desires seemed to pass from me. I longed no more for the glory of this world, my heart hung above it as an eagle on his outstretched wings, and the voice of the world's blame could not stir it, and the vision of its beauty brought no delight. For above me was the vast vault of heaven, where in unalterable procession the stars pass on, drawing after them the destinies of men; where the Holy Ones sit upon their burning thrones, and watch the chariot-wheels of Fate as they roll from sphere to sphere. O hours of holy contemplation! who, having once tasted of your joy could wish again to grovel on the earth? O vile flesh to drag us down! I would that thou hadst then altogether fallen from me, and left my spirit free to seek Osiris!
The months of probation passed but too swiftly, and now the holy day drew near when I was in truth to be united to the universal Mother. Never hath Night so longed for the promise of the Dawn; never hath the heart of a lover so passionately desired the sweet coming of his bride, as I longed to see Thy glorious face, O Isis! Even now that I have been faithless to Thee, and Thou art far from me, O Divine! my soul goes out to Thee, and once more I know——But as it is bidden that I should draw the veil, and speak of things which have not been told since the beginning of this world, let me pass on and reverently set down the history of that holy morn.
For seven days the great festival had been celebrated, the suffering of the Lord Osiris had been commemorated, the grief of the Mother Isis had been sung and glory had been done to the memory of the coming of the Divine Child Horus, the Son, the Avenger, the God-begot. All these things had been carried out according to the ancient rites. The boats had floated on the sacred lake, the priests had scourged themselves before the sanctuaries, and the images had been borne through the streets at night.
And now, as the sun sank on the seventh day, once more the great procession gathered to chant the woes of Isis and tell how the evil was avenged. We went in silence from the temple, and passed through the city ways. First came those who clear the path, then my father Amenemhat in all his priestly robes, and the wand of cedar in his hand. Then, clad in pure linen, I, the neophyte, followed alone; and after me the white-robed priests, holding aloft banners and emblems of the Gods. Next came those who bear the sacred boat, and after them the singers and the mourners; while, stretching as far as the eye could reach, all the people marched, clad in melancholy black because Osiris was no more. We went in silence through the city streets till at length we came to the wall of the temple and passed in. And as my father, the High Priest, entered beneath the gateway of the outer pylon, a sweet-voiced woman singer began to sing the Holy Chant, and thus she sang:
"Sing we Osiris dead, Lament the fallen head: The light has left the world, the world is grey. Athwart the starry skies The web of Darkness flies, And Isis weeps Osiris passed away. Your tears, ye stars, ye fires, ye rivers, shed, Weep, children of the Nile, weep for your Lord is dead!"
She paused in her most sweet song, and the whole multitude took up the melancholy dirge:
"Softly we tread, our measured footsteps falling Within the Sanctuary Sevenfold; Soft on the Dead that liveth are we calling: 'Return, Osiris, from thy Kingdom cold! Return to them that worship thee of old!'"
The chorus ceased, and once again she sang:
"Within the court divine The Sevenfold sacred shrine We pass, while echoes of the Temple walls Repeat the long lament The sound of sorrow sent Far up within the imperishable halls, Where, each in the other's arms, the Sisters weep, Isis and Nephthys, o'er His unawaking sleep."
And then again rolled forth the solemn chorus of a thousand voices:
"Softly we tread, our measured footsteps falling Within the Sanctuary Sevenfold; Soft on the Dead that liveth are we calling: 'Return, Osiris, from thy Kingdom cold! Return to them that worship thee of old!'" It ceased, and sweetly she took up the song:
"O dweller in the West, Lover and Lordliest, Thy love, thy Sister Isis, calls thee home! Come from thy chamber dun Thou Master of the Sun, Thy shadowy chamber far below the foam! With weary wings and spent Through all the firmament, Through all the horror-haunted ways of Hell, I seek thee near and far, From star to wandering star, Free with the dead that in Amenti dwell. I search the height, the deep, the lands, the skies, Rise from the dead and live, our Lord Osiris, rise!"
"Softly we tread, our measured footsteps falling Within the Sanctuary Sevenfold; Soft on the Dead that liveth are we calling: 'Return, Osiris, from thy Kingdom cold! Return to them that worship thee of old!'"
Now in a strain more high and glad the singer sang:
"He wakes—from forth the prison We sing Osiris risen, We sing the child that Nout conceived and bare. Thine own love, Isis, waits The Warden of the Gates, She breathes the breath of Life on breast and hair, And in her breast and breath Behold! he waketh, Behold! at length he riseth out of rest; Touched with her holy hands, The Lord of all the Lands, He stirs, he rises from her breath, her breast! But thou, fell Typhon, fly, The judgment day drawn nigh, Fleet on thy track as flame speeds Horus from the sky."
"Softly we tread, our measured footsteps falling Within the Sanctuary Sevenfold; Soft on the Dead that liveth are we calling: 'Return, Osiris, from thy Kingdom cold! Return to them that worship thee of old!'"
Once more, as we bowed before the Holy, she sang, and sent the full breath of her glad music ringing up the everlasting walls till the silence quivered with her round notes of melody, and the hearts of those who hearkened stirred strangely in the breast. And thus, as we walked, she sang the song of Osiris risen, the song of Hope, the song of Victory:
"Sing we the Trinity, Sing we the Holy Three, Sing we, and praise we and worship the Throne, Throne that our Lord hath set— There peace and truth are met There in the Halls of the Holy alone! There in the shadowings Faint of the folded wings, There shall we dwell and rejoice in our rest, We that thy servants are! Horus drive ill afar! Far in the folds of the dark of the West!"
Again, as her notes died away, thundered forth the chorus of all the voices:
"Softly we tread, our measured footsteps falling Within the Sanctuary Sevenfold; Soft on the Dead that liveth are we calling: 'Return, Osiris, from thy Kingdom cold! Return to them that worship thee of old!'"
The chanting ceased, and as the sun sank the High Priest raised the statue of the living God and held it before the multitude that was now gathered in the court of the temple. Then, with a mighty and joyful shout of:
"Osiris our hope! Osiris! Osiris!"
the people tore their black wrappings from their dress, revealing the white robes they wore beneath, and, as one man, they bowed before the God, and the feast was ended.
But for me the ceremony was only begun, for to-night was the night of my initiation. Leaving the inner court I bathed myself, and, clad in pure linen, passed, as it is ordained, into an inner, but not the inmost, sanctuary, and laid the accustomed offerings on the altar. Then, lifting my hands to heaven, I remained for many hours in contemplation, striving, by holy thoughts and prayer, to gather up my strength against the mighty moment of my trial.
The hours sped slowly in the silence of the temple, till at length the door opened and my father Amenemhat, the High Priest, came in, clad in white, and leading by the hand the Priest of Isis. For, having been married, he did not himself enter into the mysteries of the Holy Mother.
I rose to my feet and stood humbly before them.
"Art thou ready?" said the priest, lifting the lamp he held so that its light fell upon my face. "O thou chosen one, art thou ready to see the glory of the Goddess face to face?"
"I am ready," I answered.
"Behold thee," he said again, in solemn tones, "it is no small thing. If thou wilt carry out this thy last desire, understand, royal Harmachis, that now this very night thou must die for a while in the flesh, what time thy soul shall look on spiritual things. And if thou diest and any evil shall be found within thy heart, when thou comest at last into that awful presence, woe unto thee, Harmachis, for the breath of life shall no more enter in at the gateway of thy mouth, thy body shall utterly perish, and what shall befall thy other parts, if I know, I may not say.[*] Art thou prepared to be taken to the breast of Her who Was and Is and Shall Be, and in all things to do Her holy will; for Her, while she shall so command, to put away the thought of earthly woman; and to labour always for Her glory till at the end thy life is gathered to Her eternal life?"
[*] According to the Egyptian religion the being Man is composed of four parts: the body, the double or astral shape (ka), the soul (bi), and the spark of life sprung from the Godhead (khou).—Editor.
"I am," I answered; "lead on."
"It is well," said the priest. "Noble Amenemhat, we go hence alone."
"Farewell, my son," said my father; "be firm and triumph over things spiritual as thou shalt triumph over things earthly. He who would truly rule the world must first be lifted up above the world. He must be at one with God, for thus only shall he learn the secrets of the Divine. But beware! The Gods demand much of those who dare to enter the circle of their Divinity. If they go back therefrom, they shall be judged of a sharper law, and scourged with a heavier rod, for as their glory is, so shall their shame be. Therefore, make thy heart strong, royal Harmachis! And when thou speedest down the ways of Night and enterest the Holies, remember that from him to whom great gifts have been given shall gifts be required again. And now—if, indeed, thy mind be fixed—go whither it is not as yet given me to follow thee. Farewell!"
For a moment as my heart weighed these heavy words, I wavered, as well as I might. But I was filled with longing to be gathered to the company of the Divine ones, and I knew that I had no evil in me, and desired to do only the thing that is just. Therefore, having with so much labour drawn the bowstring to my ear, I was fain to let fly the shaft. "Lead on," I cried with a loud voice; "lead on, thou holy Priest! I follow thee!"
And we went forth.
OF THE INITIATION OF HARMACHIS; OF HIS VISIONS; OF HIS PASSING TO THE CITY THAT IS IN THE PLACE OF DEATH; AND OF THE DECLARATIONS OF ISIS, THE MESSENGER
In silence we passed into the Shrine of Isis. It was dark and bare—only the feeble light from the lamp gleamed faintly upon the sculptured walls, where, in a hundred effigies, the Holy Mother suckled the Holy Child.
The priest closed the doors and bolted them. "Once again," he said, "art thou ready, Harmachis?"
"Once again," I answered, "I am ready."
He spoke no more; but, having lifted up his hands in prayer, led me to the centre of the Holy, and with a swift motion put out the lamp.
"Look before thee, Harmachis!" he cried; and his voice sounded hollow in the solemn place.
I gazed and saw nothing. But from the niche that is high in the wall, where is hid that sacred symbol of the Goddess on which few may look, there came a sound as of the rattling rods of the sistrum.[*] And as I listened, awestruck, behold! I saw the outline of the symbol drawn as with fire upon the blackness of the air. It hung above my head, and rattled while it hung. And, as it turned, I clearly saw the face of the Mother Isis that is graven on the one side, and signifies unending Birth, and the face of her holy sister, Nephthys, that is graven on the other, and signifies the ending of all birth in Death.
[*] A musical instrument peculiarly sacred to Isis of which the shape and rods had a mystic significance.—Editor.
Slowly it turned and swung as though some mystic dancer trod the air above me, and shook it in her hand. But at length the light went out, and the rattling ceased.
Then of a sudden the end of the chamber became luminous, and in that white light I beheld picture after picture. I saw the ancient Nile rolling through deserts to the sea. There were no men upon its banks, nor any signs of man, nor any temples to the Gods. Only wild birds moved on Sihor's lonely face, and monstrous brutes plunged and wallowed in his waters. The sun sank in majesty behind the Libyan Desert and stained the waters red; the mountains towered up towards the silent sky; but in mountain, desert, and river there was no sign of human life. Then I knew that I saw the world as it had been before man was, and a terror of its loneliness entered my soul.
The picture passed and another rose up in its place. Once again I saw the banks of Sihor, and on them crowded wild-faced creatures, partaking of the nature of the ape more than of the nature of mankind. They fought and slew each other. The wild birds sprang up in affright as the fire leapt from reed huts given by foemen's hands to flame and pillage. They stole and rent and murdered, dashing out the brains of children with axes of stone. And, though no voice told me, I knew that I saw man as he was tens of thousands of years ago, when first he marched across the earth.
Yet another picture. Again I beheld the banks of Sihor; but on them fair cities bloomed like flowers. In and out their gates went men and women, passing to and fro from wide, well-tilled lands. But I saw no guards or armies, and no weapons of war. All was wisdom, prosperity, and peace. And while I wondered, a glorious Figure, clad in raiment that shone as flame, came from the gates of a shrine, and the sound of music went before and followed after him. He mounted an ivory throne which was set in a market-place facing the water: and as the sun sank called in all the multitudes to prayer. With one voice they prayed, bending in adoration. And I understood that herein was shown the reign of the Gods on earth, which was long before the days of Menes.
A change came over the dream. Still the same fair city, but other men—men with greed and evil on their faces—who hated the bonds of righteous doing, and set their hearts on sin. The evening came; the glorious Figure mounted the throne and called to prayer, but none bowed themselves in adoration.
"We are aweary of thee!" they cried. "Make Evil King! Slay him! slay him! and loose the bonds of Evil! Make Evil King!"
The glorious Shape rose up, gazing with mild eyes upon those wicked men.
"Ye know not what ye ask," he cried; "but as ye will, so be it! For if I die, by me, after much travail, shall ye once again find a path to the Kingdom of Good!"
Even as he spoke, a Form, foul and hideous to behold, leapt upon him, cursing, slew him, tore him limb from limb, and amidst the clamour of the people sat himself upon the throne and ruled. But a Shape whose face was veiled passed down from heaven on shadowy wings, and with lamentations gathered up the rent fragments of the Being. A moment she bent herself upon them, then lifted up her hands and wept. And as she wept, behold! from her side there sprang a warrior armed and with a face like the face of Ra at noon. He, the Avenger, hurled himself with a shout upon the Monster who had usurped the throne, and they closed in battle, and, struggling ever in a strait embrace, passed upward to the skies.