A Grecian Romance.
BY L. MARIA CHILD.
AUTHOR OF LETTERS FROM NEW YORK, FLOWERS FOR CHILDREN, ETC
The intelligible forms of ancient poets, The fair humanities of old religion, The Power, the Beauty, and the Majesty, That had their haunts in dale or piny mountain. Or forest by slow stream, or pabbly spring, Or chasms and watery depths, all these have vanished— They live no longer in the faith of Reason! But still, the heart doth need a language—still Doth the old instinct bring back the old names. COLERIDGE.
A Spirit hung, Beautiful region! o'er thy towns and farms, Statues, and temples, and memorial tombs, And emanations were perceived. WORDSWORTH.
A NEW AND CORRECTED EDITION.
MY BELOVED BROTHER,
OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY,
To whose Early Influence I owe my Love of Literature
IS RESPECTFULLY AND AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED.
This volume is purely romance; and most readers will consider it romance of the wildest kind. A few kindred spirits, prone to people space "with life and mystical predominance," will perceive a light within the Grecian Temple.
For such I have written it. To minds of different mould, who may think an apology necessary for what they will deem so utterly useless, I have nothing better to offer than the simple fact that I found delight in doing it.
Here let us seek Athenae's towers, The cradle of old Cecrops' race, The world's chief ornament and grace; Here mystic fanes and rites divine, And lamps in sacred splendour shine; Here the gods dwell in marble domes, Feasted with costly hecatombs, That round their votive statues blaze, Whilst crowded temples ring with praise; And pompous sacrifices here Make holidays throughout the year. ARISTOPHANES.
The moon was moving through the heavens in silent glory; and Athens, with all her beautiful variety of villas, altars, statues, and temples, rejoiced in the hallowed light.
The white columns of the lofty Parthenon stood in distinct relief against the clear blue sky; the crest and spear of Pallas Promachos glittered in the refulgent atmosphere, a beacon to the distant mariner; the line of brazen tripods, leading from the Theatre of Dionysus, glowed like urns of fire; and the waters of the Illyssus glanced right joyfully, as they moved onward to the ocean. The earth was like a slumbering babe, smiling in its sleep, because it dreams of Heaven.
In the most ancient and quiet part of the city, not far from the gate Diocharis, was the modest mansion of Anaxagoras; and at this tranquil hour, the grand-daughter of the philosopher, with her beloved companion Eudora, stood on the roof, enjoying the radiant landscape, and the balmy air.
Philothea's tall figure was a lovely union of majesty and grace. The golden hair, which she inherited from a Laconian mother, was tastefully arranged on the top of her head, in a braided crown, over the sides of which the bright curls fell, like tendrils of grapes from the edge of a basket. The mild brilliancy of her large dark eyes formed a beautiful contrast to a complexion fair even to transparency. Her expression had the innocence of infancy; but it was tinged with something elevated and holy, which made it seem like infancy in Heaven.
Eudora had more sparkling eyes, lips more richly coloured, and a form more slender and flexile. Her complexion might have seemed dark, had it not been relieved by a profusion of glossy black hair, a portion of which was fastened with a silver arrow, while the remainder shaded her forehead, and fell over her shoulders.
As they stood side by side, with their arms twined around each other, they were as lovely a sight as the moon ever shone upon. Totally unlike each other, but both excellent in beauty. One might have been a model for the seraphs of Christian faith, the other an Olympian deity.
For a few moments, Philothea stood in earnest silence, gazing upon the bright planet of evening—then, in a tone of deep enthusiasm, she exclaimed:
"It is a night to feel the presence of the gods! Virgin sister of Phoebus, how calm thou art in thy glorious beauty! Thou art filling the world with music—silent to the ear, but audible to the heart! Phidias has embodied the unbreathing harmony in stone, and we worship the fair proportions, as an emanation from the gods. The birds feel it—and wonder at the tune that makes no noise. The whole earth is lulled by its influence. All is motionless; save the Naiades of the stream, moving in wreathed dance to the voiceless melody. See how their shining hair sparkles on the surface of the waters! Surely there is music in this light! Eudora, what is it within us, that listens where there is no sound? Is it thus we shall hear in Elysium?"
In a subdued and troubled voice, her companion answered, "Oh, Philothea, when you talk thus, my spirit is in fear—and now, too, all is so still and bright, that it seems as if the gods themselves were listening to our speech."
"The same mysterious influence impresses me with awe," replied the contemplative maiden: "In such an hour as this, Plato must have received the sublime thought, 'God is truth—and light is his shadow.'"
Eudora drew more closely to her friend, and said, timidly: "Oh, Philothea, do not talk of the gods. Such discourse has a strange and fearful power, when the radiant daughter of Zeus is looking down upon us in all her heavenly majesty. Even the midnight procession of the Panathenaea affected me less deeply."
After a few moments of serious silence, she continued: "I saw it last night, for the first time since my childhood; for you know I was very ill when the festival was last celebrated. It was truly a beautiful and majestic scene! The virgins all clothed in white; the heifers decorated with garlands; the venerable old men bearing branches of olive; the glittering chariots; the noble white horses, obeying the curb with such proud impatience; the consecrated image of Pallas carried aloft on its bed of flowers; the sacred ship blazing with gems and gold; all moving in the light of a thousand torches! Then the music, so loud and harmonious! It seemed as if all Athens joined in the mighty sound. I distinguished you in the procession; and I almost envied you the privilege of embroidering the sacred peplus, and being six long months in the service of Pallas Athenae. I have had so much to say since you returned, and Phidias has so many guests, that I have found little time to ask concerning the magnificent sights you saw within the Acropolis."
"The night would wear away, ere I could describe all I witnessed within the walls of the Parthenon alone," rejoined her companion: "There is the silver-footed throne, on which Xerxes sat, while he watched the battle of Salamis; the scimitar of Mardonius, captured at Plataeae; a beautiful ivory Persephone, on a pedestal of pure gold; and a Methymnean lyre, said to have belonged to Terpander himself, who you know was the first that used seven strings. Victorious wreaths, coins, rings, and goblets of shining gold, are there without number; and Persian couches, and Egyptian sphynxes, and—",
"What do you find so interesting beyond the walls?" asked Eudora, smiling at the earnestness with which her friend gazed in the distance:" Do the slaves, bringing water from the Fountain of Callirhoee, look so very beautiful in the moonlight?"
"I marvel that you can speak so lightly," replied Philothea: "We have as yet heard no tidings concerning the decision in the Court of Cynosarges, on which the fate of Philaemon depends; and you know how severely his high spirit will suffer, if an unfavourable sentence is awarded. Neither of us have alluded to this painful topic. But why have we thus lingered on the house-top, if it were not to watch for the group which, if I mistake not, are now approaching, on their return from Cynosarges?"
"Then it is for Philaemon's sake, that you have so long been looking wistfully toward the Illyssus?" said Eudora, playfully.
"I will not deny that Paralus has had the largest share of my thoughts," replied the simple-hearted maiden; "but for Philaemon, as your betrothed lover, and the favourite pupil of my grandfather, I feel an interest strong enough to keep me on the watch during a less delightful evening than this. I think it must be Paralus who walks in the centre of the group; we have been separated many months; and courtesy to the numerous strangers under his father's roof has prevented our having much discourse to-day. For his sake, I am glad once more to be in my own happy home. He is none the less dear to me because I know that he can never be my husband."
"And why should he not?" exclaimed Eudora: "The blood of princes flowed in the veins of your ancestors. If Anaxagoras is poor, it is because he has preferred wisdom to gold."
With a faint sigh, Philothea answered, "Had the good old man preferred gold to wisdom, I should have loved him less; nor would his instructions have made me such a wife as Paralus deserves; yet Pericles would have better liked the union. He has obtained from his son a solemn promise never to speak to me of marriage. The precaution was unnecessary; for since this new law has passed, I would not marry Paralus, even with his father's consent. I would never be the means of bringing degradation and losses upon him."
"If you still love Paralus, I wonder you can be so quiet and cheerful," said Eudora.
"I wished him to make the required promise, because obedience to parents is our first duty," replied Philothea; "and had I thought otherwise, the laws compel it. But the liberty of loving Paralus, no power can take from me; and in that I find sufficient happiness. I am bound to him by ties stronger than usually bind the hearts of women. My kind grandfather has given me an education seldom bestowed on daughters; and from our childhood, Paralus and I have shared the same books, the same music, and the same thoughts, until our souls seem to be one. When I am very happy, I always see a peculiar brightness on his countenance; and when I am powerfully impressed by any of the fair sights of this beautiful world, or by those radiant deities who live among the stars, often, before I can speak my thoughts, he utters my very words. I sometimes think the gods have united human beings by some mysterious principle, like the according notes of music. Or is it as Plato has supposed, that souls originally one have been divided, and each seeks the half it has lost? Eudora, if you consider how generally maidens are bestowed in marriage without consulting their affections, you must confess that you have reason to feel deeply grateful for your own lot."
"Yet this new law against those of foreign parentage, renders marriage with me as dishonourable as with you," rejoined the maiden: "Nay, it is much more so; for I am a slave, though, by courtesy, they do not call me one."
"But Philaemon has no parents to forbid his choice," said Philothea; "and if the court decide against him, he will incur no fine by a marriage with you; for he himself will then be a sojourner in Athens. The loss of his paternal estates will indeed leave him poor; but he has friends to assist his own energies, and in all probability, your union will not be long delayed. Ah, now I am certain that Anaxagoras approaches, with Paralus and Philaemon. They perceive us; but Paralus does not wave his hand, as he promised to do, if they brought good tidings."
Without appearing to share her anxiety, Eudora carelessly inquired, "Did you witness the Festival of Torches, while you were within the Acropolis? The swiftness of the runners, moving in the light of their own torches, making statues and temples ruddy with the glow as they passed, was truly a beautiful sight. I suppose you heard that Alcibiades gained the prize? With what graceful celerity he darted through the course! I was at Aspasia's house that evening. It is so near the goal, that we could plainly see his countenance flushed with excitement and exercise, as he stood waving his unextinguished torch in triumph."
"I am sorry Phidias considers improvement in music of sufficient consequence to encourage your visits to that dangerous woman," answered Philothea: "It was an unpropitious day for Athens when she came here to invest vice with all the allurements of beauty and eloquence."
"I think women should judge kindly of Aspasia's faults, and remember that they are greatly exaggerated by her enemies," rejoined Eudora; "for she proves that they are fit for something better than mere domestic slaves. Her house is the only one in all Greece where women are allowed to be present at entertainments. What is the use of a beautiful face, if one must be shut up in her own apartment for ever? And what avails skill in music, if there is no chance to display it? I confess that I like the customs Aspasia is trying to introduce."
"And I should like them, if I believed they would make the Grecian women something better than mere domestic slaves," said Philothea; "but such as Aspasia will never raise women out of the bondage in which they are placed by the impurity and selfishness of man. Your own confessions, Eudora, do not speak well for her instructions. Why should a true-hearted woman wish to display her beautiful face, or her skill in music, to any but those on whom her affections are bestowed?"
"It is natural to wish for admiration," replied the handsome maiden: "The goddesses themselves contended for it. You, at least, ought not to judge Aspasia harshly; for she has the idea that you are some deity in disguise; and she has the most extravagant desire to see you."
"Flattery to ourselves does not change the nature of what is wrong," answered Philothea. "Pericles has more than once mentioned Aspasia's wish that I should visit her; but nothing short of my grandfather's express command will ever induce me to do it. Our friends are now entering the gate. Let us go to welcome them."
Eudora hastily excused herself under the plea of duties at home; and Philothea, supposing it might be painful to meet her unfortunate lover in the presence of others, forebore to urge it.
A paternal blessing beamed from the countenance of Anaxagoras, the moment Philothea appeared. Paralus greeted her as a brother welcomes a cherished sister; but in the earnest kindness of his glance was expressed something more deep and heart-stirring than his words implied.
Philaemon, though more thoughtful than usual, received his own and Eudora's friend, with cheerful cordiality. His countenance had the frank and smiling expression of one who truly wishes well to all men, and therefore sees everything reflected in forms of joy. His figure was athletic, while his step and bearing indicated the promptitude and decision of a man who acts spontaneously from his own convictions.
Paralus, far from being effeminate, was distinguished for his dexterity and skill in all the manly sports of the gymnasium; but the purity of his complexion, and the peculiarly spiritual expression of his face, would have been deemed beautiful, even in a woman. The first he probably derived from his mode of life; for, being a strict Pythagorean, he never partook of animal food. The last was the transparent medium of innocence, through which thoughts and affections continually showed their changing forms of life.
In answer to her eager questions, Philothea soon learned that her fears had prophesied aright concerning the decision of the court. Philaemon had been unsuccessful; but the buoyant energy of his character did not yield even to temporary despondency. He spoke of his enemies without bitterness, and of his own prospects with confidence and hope.
Philothea would have immediately gone to convey the tidings to her friend, had not Philaemon early taken his leave, and passed through the garden into the house of Phidias.
Paralus remained until a late hour, alternately talking with the venerable philosopher, and playing upon his flute, while Philothea sung the songs they had learned together.
In the course of conversation, Anaxagoras informed his child that Pericles particularly urged her attendance at Aspasia's next symposium. "I obey my grandfather, without a question," she replied; "but I would much rather avoid this visit, if it were possible."
"Such is likewise my wish," rejoined the philosopher; "but Pericles has plainly implied that he should be offended by refusal; it is therefore necessary to comply with his request."
The maiden looked doubtingly at her lover, as if she deemed his sanction necessary; and the inquiring glance was answered by an affectionate smile. "I need not repeat my thoughts and feelings with regard to Aspasia," said Paralus, "for you know them well; but for many reasons it is not desirable that an estrangement should take place between my father and Anaxagoras. Since, therefore, it has pleased Pericles to insist upon it, I think the visit had better be made. You need not fear any very alarming innovation upon the purity of ancient manners. Even Aspasia will reverence you,"
Philothea meekly yielded to the opinion of her friends; and it was decided that, on the evening after the morrow, she should accompany her grandfather to Aspasia's dwelling.
Before proceeding farther, it is necessary to relate the situation of the several characters introduced in this chapter.
Anaxagoras had been the tutor of Pericles, and still retained considerable influence over him; but there were times when the straightforward sincerity, and uncompromising integrity of the old man were somewhat offensive and troublesome to his ambitious pupil. For the great Athenian statesman, like modern politicians, deemed honesty excellent in theory, and policy safe in practice. Thus admitting the absurd proposition that principles entirely false and corrupt in the abstract are more salutary, in their practical manifestation, than principles essentially good and true.
While Pericles was determined to profit by diseases of the state, the philosopher was anxious to cure them; therefore, independently of personal affection and gratitude, he was willing to make slight concessions, in order to retain some influence over his illustrious pupil.
The celebrated Aspasia was an elegant and voluptuous Ionian, who succeeded admirably in pleasing the good taste of the Athenians, while she ministered to their vanity and their vices. The wise and good lamented the universal depravity of manners, sanctioned by her influence; but a people so gay, so ardent, so intensely enamoured of the beautiful, readily acknowledged the sway of an eloquent and fascinating woman, who carefully preserved the appearance of decorum. Like the Gabrielles and Pompadours of modern times, Aspasia obtained present admiration and future fame, while hundreds of better women were neglected and forgotten. The crowds of wealthy and distinguished men who gathered around her, were profuse in their flattery, and munificent in their gifts; and Pericles so far yielded to her influence, that he divorced his wife and married her.
Philaemon was at that time on terms of intimacy with the illustrious orator; and he earnestly remonstrated against this union, as alike disgraceful to Pericles and injurious to public morals. By this advice he incurred the inveterate dislike of Aspasia; who never rested from her efforts until she had persuaded her husband to procure the revival of an ancient law, by which all citizens who married foreigners, were subjected to a heavy fine; and all persons, whose parents were not both Athenians, were declared incapable of voting in the public assemblies, or of inheriting the estates of their fathers. Pericles the more readily consented to this, because such a law at once deprived many political enemies of power. Philaemon was the son of Chaerilaues, a wealthy Athenian; but his mother had been born in Corinth, though brought to Athens during childhood. It was supposed that this latter circumstance, added to the patriotism of his family and his own moral excellence, would prevent the application of the law in his individual case. But Alcibiades, for reasons unknown to the public, united his influence with that of Aspasia; and their partizans were active and powerful. When the case was tried in the court of illegitimacy at Cynosarges, Philaemon was declared a sojourner in Athens, incapable of holding any office, and dispossessed of his paternal inheritance.
Eudora was a mere infant when Phidias bought her of a poor goatherd in Phelle. The child was sitting upon a rock, caressing a kid, when the sculptor first saw her, and the gracefulness of her attitude attracted his attention, while her innocent beauty touched his heart. She and her nurse had been stolen from the Ionian coast, by Greek pirates. The nurse was sold into slavery, and the babe delivered by one of the pirates to the care of his mother. The little creature, in her lisping way, called herself baby Minta; and this appellation she retained, until Phidias gave her the name of Eudora.
Philothea, the orphan daughter of Alcimenes, son of Anaxagoras, was a year or two older than Eudora. She was brought to Athens, at about the same period; and as they resided very near each other, the habitual intercourse of childhood naturally ripened into mature friendship. No interruption of this constant intimacy occurred, until Philothea was appointed one of the Canephorae, whose duty it was to embroider the sacred peplus, and to carry baskets in the grand procession of the Panathenaea. Six months of complete seclusion within the walls of the Acropolis, were required of the Canephorae. During this protracted absence, Aspasia persuaded Phidias to bring Eudora frequently to her house; and her influence insensibly produced a great change in that young person, whose character was even more flexile than her form.
"With grace divine her soul is blest, And heavenly Pallas breathes within her breast; In wonderous arts than woman more renowned, And more than woman with deep wisdom crowned. HOMER.
It was the last market hour of Athens, when Anaxagoras, Philothea, and Eudora, accompanied by Geta, the favourite slave of Phidias, stepped forth into the street, on their way to Aspasia's residence.
Loud shouts of laughter came from the agoras, and the whole air was filled with the hum of a busy multitude. Groups of citizens lingered about the porticos; Egyptians, Medians, Sicilians, and strangers from all the neighbouring States of Greece, thronged the broad avenue of the Piraeus; women, carrying upon their heads olive jars, baskets of grapes, and vases of water, glided among the crowd, with that majestic motion so peculiar to the peasantry in countries where this custom prevails.
Philothea drew the folds of her veil more closely, and clung timidly to her venerable protector. But neither this, nor increasing twilight, could screen the graceful maidens from observation. Athenians looked back as they passed, and foreigners paused to inquire their name and parentage.
In a few moments they were under the walls of the Acropolis, walking in the shadow of the olive groves, among god-like statues, to which the gathering obscurity of evening gave an impressive distinctness—as if the light departing from the world, stood petrified in marble.
Thence they entered the inner Ceramicus, where Aspasia resided. The building, like all the private houses of Athens, had a plain exterior, strongly contrasted by the magnificence of surrounding temples, and porticos. At the gate, an image of Hermes looked toward the harbour, while Phoebus, leaning on his lyre, appeared to gaze earnestly at the dwelling.
A slave, stationed near the door, lighted the way to the apartment where Aspasia was reclining, with a Doric harp by her side, on which she had just been playing. The first emotion she excited was surprise at the radiant and lucid expression, which mantled her whole face, and made the very blood seem eloquent. In her large dark eye the proud consciousness of intellect was softened only by melting voluptuousness; but something of sadness about her beautiful mouth gave indication that the heavenly part of her nature still struggled with earth-born passions.
A garland of golden leaves, with large drops of pearl, was interwoven among the glossy braids of her hair, and rested on her forehead.
She wore a robe of rich Milesian purple, the folds of which were confined on one shoulder within a broad ring of gold, curiously wrought; on the other they were fastened by a beautiful cameo, representing the head of Pericles. The crimson couch gave a soft flush to the cheek and snowy arm that rested on it; and, for a moment, even Philothea yielded to the enchantment of her beauty.
Full of smiles, Aspasia rose and greeted Eudora, with the ease and gracefulness of one long accustomed to homage; but when the venerable philosopher introduced his child, she felt the simple purity emanating from their characters, and something of embarrassment mingled with her respectful salutation.
Her own face was uncovered, contrary to the custom of Grecian women; and after a few of those casual remarks which everywhere serve to fill up the pauses in conversation, she playfully seized Eudora's veil, and threw it back over her shoulders. She would have done the same to Philothea; but the maiden placed her hand on the half transparent covering, and said, "With your leave, lady, I remain veiled."
"But I cannot give my leave," rejoined Aspasia, playfully, still keeping her hold upon the veil: "I must see this tyrannical custom done away in the free commonwealth of Athens. All the matrons who visit my house agree with me in this point; all are willing to renounce the absurd fashion."
"But in a maiden it would be less seemly," answered Philothea.
Thus resisted, Aspasia appealed to Anaxagoras to exert his authority; adding, in an audible whisper, "Phidias has told me that she is as lovely as the immortals."
With a quiet smile, the aged philosopher replied, "My child must be guided by her own heart. The gods have there placed an oracle, which never misleads or perplexes those who listen to it."
Aspasia continued, "From what I had heard of you, Philothea, I expected to find you above the narrow prejudices of Grecian women. In you I was sure of a mind strong enough to break the fetters of habit. Tell me, my bashful maiden, why is beauty given us, unless it be like sunlight to bless and gladden the world?"
"Lady," replied the gentle recluse, "beauty is given to remind us that the soul should be kept as fair and perfect in its proportions, as the temple in which it dwells."
"You are above ordinary women," said Aspasia; "for you hear me allude to your beauty without affecting to contradict me, and apparently without pleasure."
The sound of voices in earnest conversation announced the approach of Pericles with visiters. "Come to my room for a few moments," said Aspasia, addressing the maidens: "I have just received a magnificent present, which I am sure Eudora will admire. As she spoke, she led the way to an upper apartment. When they opened the door, a soft light shone upon them from a lamp, which a marble Psyche shaded with her hand, as she bent over the couch of Eros.
"Now that we are quite sure of being uninterrupted, you cannot refuse to raise your veil," said Aspasia.
Simply and naturally, the maiden did as she was desired; without any emotion of displeasure or exultation at the eager curiosity of her hostess.
For an instant, Aspasia stood rebuked and silent, in the presence of that serene and holy beauty.
With deep feeling she exclaimed, "Maiden, Phidias spoke truly. Even thus do we imagine the immortals!"
A faint blush gleamed on Philothea's face; for her meek spirit was pained by a comparison with things divine; but it passed rapidly; and her whole soul became absorbed in the lovely statues before her.
Eudora's speaking glance seemed to say, "I knew her beauty would surprise you!" and then, with the eager gayety of a little child, she began to examine the gorgeous decorations of the room.
The couch rested on two sphinxes of gold and ivory, over which the purple drapery fell in rich and massive folds. In one corner, a pedestal of Egyptian marble supported an alabaster vase, on the edge of which were two doves, exquisitely carved, one just raising his head, the other stooping to drink. On a similar stand, at the other side, stood a peacock, glittering with many coloured gems. The head lowered upon the breast formed the handle; while here and there, among the brilliant tail feathers, appeared a languid flame slowly burning away the perfumed oil, with which the bird was filled.
Eudora clapped her hands, with an exclamation of delight. "That is the present of which I spoke," said Aspasia, smiling: "It was sent by Artaphernes, the Persian, who has lately come to Athens to buy pictures and statues for the great king."
As Philothea turned towards her companion, she met Aspasia's earnest gaze. "Had you forgotten where you were?" she asked.
"No, lady, I could not forget that," replied the maiden. As she spoke, she hastily withdrew her eyes from an immodest picture, on which they had accidentally rested; and, blushing deeply, she added, "But there is something so life-like in that slumbering marble, that for a moment I almost feared Eudora would waken it."
"You will not look upon the picture," rejoined Aspasia; "yet it relates a story of one of the gods you reverence so highly. I am told you are a devout believer in these fables?"
"When fiction is the robe of truth, I worship it for what it covers," replied Philothea; "but I love not the degrading fables which poets have made concerning divine beings. Such were not the gods of Solon; for such the wise and good can never be, in this world or another."
"Then you believe in a future existence?" said Aspasia, with an incredulous smile.
With quiet earnestness, Philothea answered:—"Lady, the simple fact that the human soul has ever thought of another world, is sufficient proof that there is one; for how can an idea be formed by mortals, unless it has first existed in the divine mind?"
"A reader of Plato, I perceive!" exclaimed Aspasia: "They told me I should find you pure and child-like; with a soul from which poetry sparkled, like moonlight on the waters. I did not know that wisdom and philosophy lay concealed in its depths."
"Is there any other wisdom, than true simplicity and innocence?" asked the maiden.
With a look of delighted interest, Aspasia took her arm familiarly; saying, "You and I must be friends. I shall not grow weary of you, as I do of other women. Not of you, dearest," she added in an under tone, tapping Eudora's cheek. "You must come here constantly, Philothea. Though I am aware," continued she, smiling, "that it is bad policy for me to seek a guest who will be sure to eclipse me."
"Pardon me, lady," said Philothea, gently disengaging herself: "Friendship cannot be without sympathy."
A sudden flush of anger suffused Aspasia's countenance; and Eudora looked imploringly at her friend, as she said, "You love me, Philothea; and I am sure we are very different."
"I crave pardon," interrupted Aspasia, with haughty impatience. "I should have remembered that the conversation prized by Pericles and Plato, might appear contemptible, to this youthful Pallas, who so proudly seeks to conceal her precious wisdom from ears profane."
"Lady, you mistake me," answered Philothea, mildly: "Your intellect, your knowledge, are as far above mine, as the radiant stars are above the flowers of the field. Besides, I never felt contempt for anything to which the gods had given life. It is impossible for me to despise you; but I pity you."
"Pity!" exclaimed Aspasia, in a piercing tone, which made both the maidens start. "Am I not the wife of Pericles, and the friend of Plato? Has not Phidias modelled his Aphrodite from my form? Is there in all Greece a poet who has not sung my praises? Is there an artist who has not paid me tribute? Phoenicia sends me her most splendid manufactures and her choicest slaves; Egypt brings her finest linen and her metals of curious workmanship; while Persia unrolls her silks, and pours out her gems at my feet. To the remotest period of time, the world,—aye, the world,—maiden, will hear of Aspasia, the beautiful and the gifted!"
For a moment, Philothea looked on her, silently and meekly, as she stood with folded arms, flushed brow, and proudly arched neck. Then, in a soft, sad voice, she answered: "Aye, lady—but will your spirit hear the echo of your fame, as it rolls back from the now silent shores of distant ages?"
"You utter nonsense!" said Aspasia, abruptly: "There is no immortality but fame. In history, the star of my existence will never set—but shine brilliantly and forever in the midst of its most glorious constellation!"
After a brief pause, Philothea resumed: "But when men talk of Aspasia the beautiful and the gifted, will they add, Aspasia the good—the happy—the innocent?"
The last word was spoken in a low, emphatic tone. A slight quivering about Aspasia's lips betrayed emotion crowded back upon the heart; while Eudora bowed her head, in silent confusion, at the bold admonition of her friend.
With impressive kindness, the maiden continued: "Daughter of Axiochus, do you never suspect that the homage you receive is half made up of selfishness and impurity? This boasted power of intellect—this giddy triumph of beauty—what do they do for you? Do they make you happy in the communion of your own heart? Do they bring you nearer to the gods? Do they make the memory of your childhood a gladness, or a sorrow?"
Aspasia sank on the couch, and bowed her head upon her hands. For a few moments, the tears might be seen stealing through her fingers; while Eudora, with the ready sympathy of a warm heart, sobbed aloud.
Aspasia soon recovered her composure. "Philothea," she said, "you have spoken to me as no one ever dared to speak; but my own heart has sometimes uttered the truth less mildly. Yesterday I learned the same lesson from a harsher voice. A Corinthian sailor pointed at this house, and said, 'There dwells Aspasia, the courtezan, who makes her wealth by the corruption of Athens!' My very blood boiled in my veins, that such an one as he could give me pain. It is true the illustrious Pericles has made me his wife; but there are things which even his power, and my own allurements, fail to procure. Ambitious women do indeed come here to learn how to be distinguished; and the vain come to study the fashion of my garments, and the newest braid of my hair. But the purest and best matrons of Greece refuse to be my guests. You, Philothea, came reluctantly—and because Pericles would have it so. Yes," she added, the tears again starting to her eyes—"I know the price at which I purchase celebrity. Poets will sing of me at feasts, and orators describe me at the games; but what will that be to me, when I have gone into the silent tomb? Like the lifeless guest at Egyptian tables, Aspasia will be all unconscious of the garlands she wears.
"Philothea, you think me vain, and heartless, and wicked; and so I am. But there are moments when I am willing that this tongue, so praised for its eloquence, should be dumb forever—that this beauty, which men worship, should be hidden in the deepest recesses of barbarian forests—so that I might again be as I was, when the sky was clothed in perpetual glory, and the earth wore not so sad a smile as now. Oh, Philothea! would to the gods, I had your purity and goodness! But you despise me;—for you are innocent."
Soothingly, and almost tearfully, the maiden replied: "No, lady; such were not the feelings which made me say we could not be friends. It is because we have chosen different paths; and paths that never approach each other. What to you seem idle dreams, are to me sublime realities, for which I would gladly exchange all that you prize in existence. You live for immortality in this world; I live for immortality in another. The public voice is your oracle; I listen to the whisperings of the gods in the stillness of my own heart; and never yet, dear lady, have those two oracles spoken the same language."
Then falling on her knees, and looking up earnestly, she exclaimed, "Beautiful and gifted one! Listen to the voice that tries to win you back to innocence and truth! Give your heart up to it, as a little child led by its mother's hand! Then shall the flowers again breathe poetry, and the stars move in music."
"It is too late," murmured Aspasia: "The flowers are scorched—the stars are clouded. I cannot again be as I have been."
"Lady, it is never too late," replied Philothea: "You have unbounded influence—use it nobly! No longer seek popularity by flattering the vanity, or ministering to the passions of the Athenians. Let young men hear the praise of virtue from the lips of beauty. Let them see religion married to immortal genius. Tell them it is ignoble to barter the heart's wealth for heaps of coin—that love weaves a simple wreath of his own bright hopes, stronger than massive chains of gold. Urge Pericles to prize the good of Athens more than the applause of its populace—to value the permanence of her free institutions more than the splendour of her edifices. Oh, lady, never, never, had any mortal such power to do good!"
Aspasia sat gazing intently on the beautiful speaker, whose tones grew more and more earnest as she proceeded.
"Philothea," she replied, "you have moved me strangely. There is about you an influence that cannot be resisted. It is like what Pindar says of music; if it does not give delight, it is sure to agitate and oppress the heart. From the first moment you spoke, I have felt this mysterious power. It is as if some superior being led me back, even against my will, to the days of my childhood, when I gathered acorns from the ancient oak that shadows the fountain of Byblis, or ran about on the banks of my own beloved Meander, filling my robe with flowers."
There was silence for a moment. Eudora smiled through her tears, as she whispered, "Now, Philothea, sing that sweet song Anaxagoras taught you. He too is of Ionia; and Aspasia will love to hear it."
The maiden answered with a gentle smile, and began to warble the first notes of a simple bird-like song.
"Hush!" said Aspasia, putting her hand on Philothea's mouth, and bursting into tears—"It was the first tune I ever learned; and I have not heard it since my mother sung it to me."
"Then let me sing it, lady," rejoined Philothea: "It is good for us to keep near our childhood. In leaving it, we wander from the gods."
A slight tap at the door made Aspasia start up suddenly; and stooping over the alabaster vase of water, she hastened to remove all traces of her tears.
As Eudora opened the door, a Byzantian slave bowed low, and waited permission to speak.
"Your message?" said Aspasia, with queenly brevity.
"If it please you, lady, my master bids me say he desires your presence."
"We come directly," she replied; and with another low bow, the Byzantian closed the door. Before a mirror of polished steel, supported by ivory Graces, Aspasia paused to adjust the folds of her robe, and replace a curl that had strayed from its golden fillet.
As she passed, she continued to look back at the reflection of her own fair form, with a proud glance, which seemed to say, "Aspasia is herself again!"
Philothea took Eudora's arm, and folding her veil about her, with a deep sigh followed to the room below.
All is prepared—the table and the feast— With due appurtenance of clothes and cushions. Chaplets and dainties of all kinds abound: Here rich perfumes are seen—there cakes and cates Of every fashion; cakes of honey, cakes Of sesamum, and cakes of unground corn. What more? A troop of dancing women fair, And minstrels who may chaunt us sweet Harmodius. ARISTOPHANES.
The room in which the guests were assembled, was furnished with less of Asiatic splendour than the private apartment of Aspasia; but in its magnificent simplicity there was a more perfect manifestation of ideal beauty. It was divided in the middle by eight Ionic columns, alternately of Phrygian and Pentelic marble. Between the central pillars stood a superb statue from the hand of Phidias, representing Aphrodite guided by Love, and crowned by Peitho, goddess of Persuasion. Around the walls were Phoebus and Hermes in Parian marble, and the nine Muses in ivory. A fountain of perfumed water, from the adjoining room, diffused coolness and fragrance, as it passed through a number of concealed pipes, and finally flowed into a magnificent vase, supported by a troop of Naiades.
In a recess stood the famous lion of Myron, surrounded by infant Loves, playing with his paws, climbing his back, and decorating his neck with garlands. This beautiful group seemed actually to live and move in the clear light and deep shadows derived from a silver lamp suspended above.
The walls were enriched with some of the choicest paintings of Apollodorus, Zeuxis, and Polygnotus. Near a fine likeness of Pericles, by Aristolaus, was Aspasia, represented as Chloris scattering flowers over the earth, and attended by winged Hours.
It chanced that Pericles himself reclined beneath his portrait, and though political anxiety had taken from his countenance something of the cheerful freshness which characterized the picture, he still retained the same elevated beauty—the same deep, quiet expression of intellectual power. At a short distance, with his arm resting on the couch, stood his nephew Alcibiades, deservedly called the handsomest man in Athens. He was laughing with Hermippus, the comic writer, whose shrewd, sarcastic and mischievous face was expressive of his calling. Phidias slowly paced the room, talking of the current news with the Persian Artaphernes. Anaxagoras reclined near the statue of Aphrodite, listening and occasionally speaking to Plato, who leaned against one of the marble pillars, in earnest conversation with a learned Ethiopian.
The gorgeous apparel of the Asiatic and African guests, contrasted strongly with the graceful simplicity of Grecian costume. A saffron-coloured mantle and a richly embroidered Median vest glittered on the person of the venerable Artaphernes. Tithonus, the Ethiopian, wore a skirt of ample folds, which scarcely fell below the knee. It was of the glorious Tyrian hue, resembling a crimson light shining through transparent purple. The edge of the garment was curiously wrought with golden palm leaves. It terminated at the waist in a large roll, twined with massive chains of gold, and fastened by a clasp of the far-famed Ethiopian topaz. The upper part of his person was uncovered and unornamented, save by broad bracelets of gold, which formed a magnificent contrast with the sable colour of his vigorous and finely-proportioned limbs.
As the ladies entered, the various groups came forward to meet them; and all were welcomed by Aspasia with earnest cordiality and graceful self-possession. While the brief salutations were passing, Hipparete, the wife of Alcibiades came from an inner apartment, where she had been waiting for her hostess. She was a fair, amiable young matron, evidently conscious of her high rank. The short blue tunic, which she wore over a lemon-coloured robe, was embroidered with golden grasshoppers; and on her forehead sparkled a jewelled insect of the same species. It was the emblem of unmixed Athenian blood; and Hipparete alone, of all the ladies present, had a right to wear it. Her manners were an elaborate copy of Aspasia; but deprived of the powerful charm of unconsciousness, which flowed like a principle of life into every motion of that beautiful enchantress.
The momentary silence, so apt to follow introductions, was interrupted by an Ethiopian boy, who, at a signal from Tithonus, emerged from behind the columns, and kneeling, presented to Aspasia a beautiful box of ivory, inlaid with gold, filled with the choicest perfumes. The lady acknowledged the costly offering by a gracious smile, and a low bend of the head toward the giver.
The ivory was wrought with exquisite skill, representing the imaginary forms of the constellations, studded with golden stars. The whole rested on a golden image of Atlas, bending beneath the weight. The box was passed from hand to hand, and excited universal admiration.
"Were these figures carved by an artist of your own country?" asked Phidias.
With a smile, Tithonus replied, "You ask the question because you see a Grecian spirit in those forms. They were indeed fashioned by an Ethiopian; but one who had long resided in Athens."
"There is truly a freedom and variety in these figures, which I have rarely seen even in Greece," rejoined Phidias; "and I have never met with those characteristics in Ethiopian or Egyptian workmanship."
"They belong not to the genius of those countries," answered Tithonus: "Philosophy and the arts are but a manifestation of the intelligible ideas that move the public mind; and thus they become visible images of the nations whence they emanate. The philosophy of the East is misty and vast—with a gleam of truth here and there, resting like sunlight on the edge of a dark and mighty cloud. Hence, our architecture and statuary is massive and of immense proportions. Greece is free—therefore she has a philosopher, who sees that every idea must have a form, and in every form discovers its appropriate life. And because philosophy has perceived that the principle of vitality and beauty flows from the divine mind into each and every earthly thing, therefore Greece has a sculptor, who can mould his thoughts into marble forms, from which the free grandeur of the soul emanates like a perpetual presence." As he spoke, he bowed low to Plato and Phidias.
"The gigantic statues of Sicily have fair proportions," said Plato; "and they have life; but it is life in deep repose. There is the vastness of eternity, without the activity of time."
"The most ancient statuary of all nations is an image of death; not of sleeping energy," observed Aspasia. "The arms adhere rigidly to the sides, the feet form one block; and even in the face, the divine ideal seems struggling hard to enter the reluctant form. But thanks to Pygmalion of Cyprus, we now have the visible impress of every passion carved in stone. The spirit of beauty now flows freely into the harmonious proportions, even as the oracle is filled by the inspiration of the god. Now the foot bounds from the pedestal, the finger points to the stars, and life breathes from every limb. But in good time the Lybian pipe warns us that the feast is ready. We must not soar too far above the earth, while she offers us the rich treasures of her fruit-trees and vines."
"Yet it is ever thus, when Plato is with us," exclaimed Pericles. "He walks with his head among the stars—and, by a magic influence, we rise to his elevation, until we perceive the shadows of majestic worlds, known in their reality only to the gods. As the approach of Phoebus fills the priestess with prophecy, so does this son of Phoebus impart something of his own eloquence to all who come within its power."
"You speak truly, O Pericles," replied Tithonus; "but it is a truth felt only by those who are in some measure worthy to receive it. Aspasia said wisely, that the spirit of beauty flows in, only where the proportions are harmonious. The gods are ever with us, but few feel the presence of the gods."
Philothea, speaking in a low tone to Eudora, added, "And Plato rejoices in their glorious presence, not only because he walks with his head among the stars, but because he carries in his heart a blessing for every little child."
These words, though spoken almost in a whisper, reached the ear of the philosopher himself; and he turned toward the lovely speaker with a beaming glance, which distinctly told that his choicest blessings were bestowed upon spirits pure and gentle as her own.
Thus conversing, the guests passed between the marble columns, and entered that part of the room where the banquet was prepared. Aspasia filled a golden basket with Athenian olives, Phoenician dates, and almonds of Naxos, and whispering a brief invocation, placed it on a small altar, before an ivory image of Demeter, which stood in the midst of the table. Seats covered with crimson cloth were arranged at the end of the couches, for the accommodation of women; but the men reclined in Asiatic fashion, while beautiful damsels sprinkled perfumes on their heads, and offered water for their hands in vases of silver.
In choosing one to preside over the festivities of the evening, the lot fell upon Tithonus; but he gracefully declined the office, saying it properly belonged to an Athenian.
"Then I must insist that you appoint your successor," said Aspasia.
"Your command partakes little of the democracy of Athenian institutions," answered he, smiling; "but I obey it cheerfully; and will, as most fitting, crown the wisest." He arose, as he spoke, and reverently placed the chaplet on the head of Plato.
"I will transfer it to the most beautiful," rejoined the philosopher; and he attempted to place the garland on the brow of Alcibiades. But the young man prevented him, and exclaimed, "Nay—according to your own doctrines, O admirable Plato, wisdom should wear the crown; since beauty is but its outward form."
Thus urged, Plato accepted the honours of the banquet; and taking a handful of garlands from the golden urn on which they were suspended, he proceeded to crown the guests. He first placed upon Aspasia's head a wreath of bright and variegated flowers, among which the rose and the myrtle were most conspicuous. Upon Hipparete he bestowed a coronal of violets, regarded by the proud Athenians as their own peculiar flower. Philothea received a crown of pure white lilies.
Aspasia, observing this, exclaimed, "Tell me, O Plato, how you knew that wreath, above all the others, was woven for the grand-daughter of Anaxagoras?"
"When I hear a note of music, can I not at once strike its chord?" answered the philosopher: "Even as surely is there an everlasting harmony between the soul of man and the visible forms of creation. If there were no innocent hearts, there would be no white lilies."
A shadow passed over Aspasia's expressive countenance; for she was aware that her own brilliant wreath contained not one purely white blossom. But her features had been well-trained to conceal her sentiments; and her usual vivacity instantly returned.
The remainder of the garlands were bestowed so rapidly, that there seemed scarcely time for deliberate choice; yet Pericles wore the oak leaves sacred to Zeus; and the laurel and olive of Phoebus rested on the brow of Phidias.
A half mischievous smile played round Aspasia's lips, when she saw the wreath of ivy and grape leaves placed on the head of Alcibiades. "Son of Aristo," she exclaimed, "the Phoenician Magii have given you good skill in divination. You have bestowed every garland appropriately."
"It needed little magic," replied Plato, "to know that the oaken leaves belonged to one whose eloquence is so often called Olympian; or that the laurel was due to him who fashioned Pallas Parthenia; and Alcibiades would no doubt contend boldly with any man who professed to worship the god of vineyards with more zeal than himself."
The gay Athenian answered this challenge by singing part of an Anacreontic ode, often repeated during the festivities of the Dionysia:
"To-day I'll haste to quaff my wine, As if to-morrow ne'er should shine; But if to-morrow comes, why then— I'll haste to quaff my wine again.
For death may come with brow unpleasant— May come when least we wish him present, And beckon to the sable shore, And grimly bid us—drink no more!"
This profane song was sung in a voice so clear and melodious, that Tithonus exclaimed, "You err, O Plato, in saying the tuneful soul of Marsyas has passed into the nightingale; for surely it remains with this young Athenian. Son of Clinias, you must be well skilled in playing upon the flute the divine airs of Mysian Olympus?"
"Not I, so help me Dionysus!" lisped Alcibiades. "My music master will tell you that I ever went to my pipes reluctantly. I make ten sacrifices to equestrian Poseidon, where I offer one gift to the Parnassian chorus."
"Stranger, thou hast not yet learned the fashions of Athens," said Anaxagoras, gravely. "Our young equestrians now busy themselves with carved chariots, and Persian mantles of the newest mode. They vie with each other in costly wines; train doves to shower luxuriant perfumes from their wings; and upon the issue of a contest between fighting quails, they stake sums large enough to endow a princess. To play upon the silver-voiced flute is Theban-like and vulgar. They leave that to their slaves."
"And why not leave laughter to the slaves?" asked Hermippus; "since anything more than a graceful smile distorts the beauty of the features? I suppose bright eyes would weep in Athens, should the cheeks of Alcibiades be seen puffed out with vulgar wind-instruments."
"And can you expect the youth of Athens to be wiser than their gods?" rejoined Aspasia. "Pallas threw away her favourite flute, because Hera and Aphrodite laughed at her distorted countenance while she played upon it. It was but a womanly trick in the virgin daughter of Zeus."
Tithonus looked at the speaker with a slight expression of surprise; which Hermippus perceiving, he thus addressed him, in a cool, ironical tone: "O Ethiopian stranger, it is evident you know little of Athens; or you would have perceived that a belief in the gods is more vulgar than flute-playing. Such trash is deemed fit for the imbecility of the aged, and the ignorance of the populace. With equestrians and philosophers, it is out of date. You must seek for it among those who sell fish at the gates; or with the sailors at Piraeus and Phalerum."
"I have visited the Temple of Poseidon, in the Piraeus," observed Aspasia; "and I saw there a multitude of offerings from those who had escaped shipwreck." She paused slightly, and added, with a significant smile, "But I perceived no paintings of those who had been wrecked, notwithstanding their supplications to the god."
As she spoke, she observed that Pericles withdrew a rose from the garland wherewith his cup was crowned; and though the action was so slight as to pass unobserved by others, she instantly understood the caution he intended to convey by that emblem sacred to the god of silence.
At a signal from Plato, slaves filled the goblets with wine, and he rose to propose the usual libation to the gods. Every Grecian guest joined in the ceremony, singing in a recitative tone:
Dionysus, this to thee, God of warm festivity! Giver of the fruitful vine, To thee we pour the rosy wine!
Music, from the adjoining room, struck in with the chorus, and continued for some moments after it had ceased.
For a short time, the conversation was confined to the courtesies of the table, as the guests partook of the delicious viands before them. Plato ate olives and bread only; and the water he drank was scarcely tinged with Lesbian wine. Alcibiades rallied him upon this abstemiousness; and Pericles reminded him that even his great pattern, Socrates, gave Dionysus his dues, while he worshipped the heaven-born Pallas.
The philosopher quietly replied, "I can worship the fiery God of Vintage only when married with Nymphs of the Fountain."
"But tell me, O Anaxagoras and Plato," exclaimed Tithonus, "if, as Hermippus hath said, the Grecian philosophers discard the theology of the poets? Do ye not believe in the Gods?"
Plato would have smiled, had he not reverenced the simplicity that expected a frank and honest answer to a question so dangerous. Anaxagoras briefly replied, that the mind which did not believe in divine beings, must be cold and dark indeed.
"Even so," replied Artiphernes, devoutly; "blessed be Oromasdes, who sends Mithras to warm and enlighten the world! But what surprises me most is, that you Grecians import new divinities from other countries, as freely as slaves, or papyrus, or marble. The sculptor of the gods will scarcely be able to fashion half their images."
"If the custom continues," rejoined Phidias, "it will indeed require a life-time as long as that conferred upon the namesake of Tithonus."
"Thanks to the munificence of artists, every deity has a representative in my dwelling," observed Aspasia.
"I have heard strangers express their surprise that the Athenians have never erected a statue to the principle of Modesty" said Hermippus.
"So much the more need that we enshrine her image in our own hearts," rejoined Plato.
The sarcastic comedian made no reply to this quiet rebuke. Looking toward Artaphernes, he continued: "Tell me, O servant of the great king, wherein the people of your country are more wise in worshipping the sun, than we who represent the same divinity in marble!"
"The principles of the Persian religion are simple, steady, and uniform," replied Artaphernes; "but the Athenian are always changing. You not only adopt foreign gods, but sometimes create new ones, and admit them into your theology by solemn act of the great council. These circumstances have led me to suppose that you worship them as mere forms. The Persian Magii do indeed prostrate themselves before the rising Sun; but they do it in the name of Oromasdes, the universal Principle of Good, of whom that great luminary is the visible symbol. In our solemn processions, the chariot sacred to Oromasdes precedes the horse dedicated to Mithras; and there is deep meaning in the arrangement. The Sun and Zodiac, the Balance and the Rule, are but emblems of truths, mysterious and eternal. As the garlands we throw on the sacred fire feed the flame, rather than extinguish it, so the sublime symbols of our religion are intended to preserve, not to conceal, the truths within them."
"Though you disclaim all images of divinity," rejoined Aspasia, "yet we hear of your Mithras pictured like a Persian King, trampling on a prostrate ox."
With a smile, Artaphernes replied, "I see, lady, that you would fain gain admittance to the Mithraic cave; but its secrets, like those of your own Eleusis, are concealed from all save the initiated."
"They tell us," said Aspasia, "that those who are admitted to the Eleusinian mysteries die in peace, and go directly to the Elysian fields; while the uninitiated wander about in the infernal abyss."
"Of course," said Anaxagoras, "Alcibiades will go directly to Elysium, though Solon groped his way in darkness."
The old philosopher uttered this with imperturbable gravity, as if unconscious of satirical meaning; but some of the guests could scarcely repress a smile, as they recollected the dissolute life of the young Athenian.
"If Alcibiades spoke his real sentiments," said Aspasia, "I venture to say he would tell us that the mystic baskets of Demeter, covered with long purple veils, contain nothing half so much worth seeing, as the beautiful maidens who carry them."
She looked at Pericles, and saw that he again cautioned her, by raising the rose toward his face, as if inhaling its fragrance.
There was a brief pause, which Anaxagoras interrupted, by saying, "The wise can never reverence images merely as images. There is a mystical meaning in the Athenian manner of supplicating the gods with garlands on their heads, and bearing in their hands boughs of olive twined with wool. Pallas, at whose birth we are told gold rained upon the earth, was unquestionably a personification of wisdom. It is not to be supposed that the philosophers of our country consider the sun itself as anything more than a huge ball of fire; but the sight of that glorious orb leads the contemplative soul to the belief in one Pure Intelligence, one Universal Mind, which in manifesting itself produces order in the material world, and preserves the unconfused distinction of infinite varieties."
"Such, no doubt, is the tendency of all reflecting minds," said Phidias; "but in general, the mere forms are worshipped, apart from the sacred truths they represent. The gods we have introduced from Egypt are regarded by the priests of that learned land as emblems of certain divine truths brought down from ancient times. They are like the Hermae at our doors, which outwardly appear to rest on inexpressive blocks of stone; but when opened, they are found to contain beautiful statues of the gods within them. It is not so with the new fables which the Greeks are continually mixing with their mythology. Pygmalion, as we all know, first departed from the rigid outline of ancient sculpture, and impressed life and motion upon marble. The poets, in praise of him, have told us that his ardent wishes warmed a statue into a lovely and breathing woman. The fable is fanciful and pleasing in itself; but will it not hereafter be believed as reality? Might not the same history be told of much that is believed? It is true," added he, smiling, "that I might be excused for favouring a belief in images, since mortals are ever willing to have their own works adored."
"What! does Plato respond to the inquiries of Phidias?" asked Artaphernes.
The philosopher replied: "Within the holy mysteries of our religion is preserved a pure and deep meaning, as the waters of Arethusa flow uncontaminated beneath the earth and the sea. I do not presume to decide whether all that is believed has the inward significancy. I have ever deemed such speculations unwise. If the chaste daughter of Latona always appears to my thoughts veiled in heavenly purity, it is comparatively unimportant whether I can prove that Acteon was torn by his dogs, for looking on the goddess with wanton eyes. Anaxagoras, said wisely that material forms lead the contemplative mind to the worship of ideal good, which is in its nature immortal and divine. Homer tells us that the golden chain resting upon Olympus reaches even to the earth. Here we see but a few of the last links, and those imperfectly. We are like men in a subterranean cave, so chained that they can look only forward to the entrance. Far above and behind us is a glowing fire: and beautiful beings, of every form, are moving between the light and us poor fettered mortals. Some of these bright beings are speaking, and others are silent. We see only the shadows cast on the opposite wall of the cavern, by the reflection of the fire above; and if we hear the echo of voices, we suppose it belongs to those passing shadows. The soul, in its present condition, is an exile from the orb of light; its ignorance is forgetfulness; and whatever we can perceive of truth, or imagine of beauty, is but a reminiscence of our former more glorious state of being. He who reverences the gods, and subdues his own passions, returns at last to the blest condition from which he fell. But to talk, or think, about these things with proud impatience, or polluted morals, is like pouring pure water into a miry trench; he who does it disturbs the mud, and thus causes the clear water to become defiled. When Odysseus removed his armour from the walls, and carried it to an inner apartment, invisible Pallas moved before him with her golden lamp, and filled the place with radiance divine. Telemachus, seeing the light, exclaimed, 'Surely, my father, some of the celestial gods are present.' With deep wisdom, the king of Ithaca replied, 'Be silent. Restrain your intellect, and speak not.'"
"I am rebuked, O Plato," answered Phidias; "and from henceforth, when my mind is dark and doubtful, I will remember that transparent drops may fall into a turbid well. Nor will I forget that sometimes, when I have worked on my statues by torch-light, I could not perceive their real expression, because I was carving in the shadow of my own hand."
"Little can be learned of the human soul, and its connection with the Universal Mind," said Anaxagoras: "These sublime truths seem vague and remote, as Phoeacia appeared to Odysseus like a vast shield floating on the surface of the distant ocean.
"The glimmering uncertainty attending all such speculations, has led me to attach myself to the Ionic sect, who devote themselves entirely to the study of outward nature."
"And this is useful," rejoined Plato: "The man who is to be led from a cave will more easily see what the heavens contain by looking to the light of the moon and the stars, than by gazing on the sun at noon-day."
Here Hermippus interrupted the discourse, by saying, "The son of Clinias does not inform us what he thinks of the gods. While others have talked, he has eaten."
"I am a citizen and a soldier—neither priest nor philosopher," replied Alcibiades: "With a strong arm and a willing heart to fight for my country, I leave others to settle the attributes of her gods. Enough for me, that I regularly offer sacrifices in their temples, and pour libations upon their altars. I care very little whether there be Elysian fields, or not. I will make an Elysium for myself, as long as Aspasia permits me to be surrounded by forms so beautiful, and gives me nectar like this to drink." He replaced the goblet, from which he had drunk deeply, and exclaimed, "By Dionysus! they quaff nothing better than this in voluptuous Ionia!"
"Methinks a citizen and a soldier might find a more worthy model in Spartan, than in Ionian manners," said Anaxagoras; "but the latter truly suits better with the present condition of Athens."
"A condition more glorious than that of any other people upon earth," exclaimed Pericles, somewhat warmly: "The story of Athens, enthroned in her beauty and power, will thrill through generous hearts, long after other nations are forgotten."
"She is like a torch sending forth its last bright blaze, before it is extinguished forever," replied Anaxagoras, calmly: "Where idle demagogues control the revenues of industrious citizens, the government cannot long stand. It is a pyramid with the base uppermost."
"You certainly would not blame the wisdom of Aristides, in allowing the poor as well as the rich, the privilege of voting?" said Pericles.
"A moderate supply of wealth is usually the result of virtuous and industrious habits; and it should be respected merely for what it indicates," rejoined Anaxagoras. "Aristides, and other wise men, in their efforts to satisfy the requirements of a restless people, have opened a sluice, without calculating how it would be enlarged by the rushing waters, until the very walls of the city are undermined by its power."
"But can the safety of the state be secured by merely excluding the vicious poor?" said Plato. "Are there not among us vicious rich men, who would rashly vote for measures destructive of public good, if they could thereby increase their own wealth? He who exports figs to maintain personal splendour, when there is famine in Attica, has perhaps less public virtue than the beggar, who steals them to avoid starvation."
"But the vicious rich man will bribe the beggar to vote as he dictates," replied Anaxagoras; "and thus his power of doing evil becomes two fold."
"Your respect for permanent institutions makes you blind to the love of change, inherent and active in the human mind," said Pericles. "If society be like the heaving ocean, those who would guide their vessels in safety, must obey the winds and the tides."
"Nay, Pericles," replied the old man, earnestly; "if society be a tumultuous ocean, government should be its everlasting shores. If the statesman watches wind and tide only that his own bark may ride through the storm in safety, while every fresh wave sweeps a landmark away, it is evident that, sooner or later, the deluge must come."
The discourse was growing too serious to be agreeable to Pericles, who well knew that some of his best friends deemed he had injured the state, by availing himself too freely of the democratic tendencies of the people. Plato, perceiving this, said, "If it please you, Anaxagoras, we will leave these subjects to be discussed in the Prytaneum and the Agoras. Fair and glorious is the violet-crowned city, and let us trust the gods will long preserve it so."
"Thou hast well spoken, son of Aristo," replied Artaphernes: "Much as I had heard of the glory and beauty of Athens, it far surpasses my hopes. Perhaps I find myself lingering to gaze on the Odeum more frequently than on any other of your magnificent edifices; not for its more impressive beauty; but because it is in imitation of our Great King's Pavilion."
Hermippus looked up, and smiled with ill-natured significance; for Cratinus, the ribald, had openly declared in the theatre, that Pericles needed only to look in his mirror, to discover a model for the sloping roof of the Odeum. Athenian guests were indignant at being thus reminded of the gross allusion to a deformity conspicuous in the head of their illustrious statesman; but Artaphernes, quite unconscious of his meaning, continued: "The noble structure is worthy of him who planned it. Yet the unpretending beauty of some of your small temples makes me feel more as if I were in the presence of a god. I have often marvelled what it is in those fair white columns, that charms me so much more than the palaces of the East, refulgent with gems and gold."
"The beauty that lies within has ever a mysterious power," answered Plato. "An amethyst may beam in the eye of a statue; but what, save the soul itself, can give the expression of soul? The very spirit of harmony is embodied in the proportions of the Parthenon. It is marble music. I sometimes think the whole visible beauty of creation is formed from the music of the Infinite; and that the various joys we feel are but the union of accordant notes in the great chorus of the universe. There is music in the airy dance; music in poetry; music in the glance of a beautiful woman; music in the involutions and inflexions of numbers; above all, there is music in light! And what Light is in this world, Truth is in that glorious world to which the mind of man returns after its long exile. Yes, there is music in light! Hence, Phoebus is god of the Sun and of the Lyre, and Memnon yields sweet sounds to welcome approaching day. For this reason, the disciples of Zoroaster and Pythagoras hail the rising sun with the melody of harps; and the birds pour forth their love of light in song. Perchance the order of the universe is revealed in the story of Thebes rising to the lyre of Amphion; and Ibycus might have spoken sublime truth, when he told of music in the motion of the everlasting stars."
Philothea had listened so earnestly, that for a moment all other thoughts were expelled from her mind. She threw back her veil, and with her whole soul beaming from her face, she exclaimed, "O Plato, I once heard the music of the stars! Ibycus"——
The ardent gaze of Alcibiades restored her to painful consciousness; and, blushing deeply, she replaced her veil. Aspasia smiled; but Plato, with gentle reverence, asked, "What would Philothea say of the divine Ibycus?"
The timid maiden gave no reply; and the tears of innocent shame were seen falling fast upon her trembling arm.
With that ready skill, which ever knows how to adapt itself to the circumstances of the moment, Aspasia gave a signal to her attendants, and at once the mingled melody of voices and instruments burst upon the ear. It was one of the enchanting strains of Olympus the Mysian; and every heart yielded to its influence. A female slave noiselessly brought Aspasia's silver harp, and placed before her guests citharas and lyres, of ivory inlaid with gold. One by one, new voices and instruments joined in the song; and when the music ceased, there was a pause of deep and silent joy.
"Shame to the feast, where the praises of Harmodius are not sung," said Pericles, smiling, as he looked toward Eudora. With rapid fingers the maiden touched her lyre, and sung the patriotic song of Callistratus:
"I'll wreathe my sword with myrtle, as brave Harmodius did, And as Aristogeiton his avenging weapon hid; When they slew the haughty tyrant and regained our liberty, And, breaking down oppression, made the men of Athens free.
"Thou art not, loved Harmodius, thou art not surely dead, But to some secluded sanctuary far away art fled; With the swift-footed Achilleus, unmolested there to rest, And to rove with Diomedes through the islands of the blest.
"I'll wreathe my sword with myrtle, as Aristogeiton did, And as the brave Harmodius his avenging weapon hid; When on Athenae's festival they aimed the glorious blow, And calling on fair freedom, laid the proud Hipparchus low.
"Thy fame, beloved Harmodius, through ages still shall brighten, Nor ever shall thy glory fade, beloved Aristogeiton; Because your country's champions ye nobly dared to be, And striking down the tyrant, made the men of Athens free."
The exhilarating notes stirred every Grecian heart. Some waved their garlands in triumph, while others joined in the music, and kept time with branches of myrtle.
"By Phoebus! a glorious song and divinely sung," exclaimed Alcibiades: "But the lovely minstrel brings danger to our hearts in those sweet sounds, as Harmodius concealed his sword among myrtle leaves."
Hipparete blushed, and with a quick and nervous motion touched her cithara. With a nod and a smile, Aspasia said, "Continue the music, I pray you." The tune being left to her own choice, the young matron sang Anacreon's Ode to the Grasshopper. Her voice was not unpleasing; but it contrasted disadvantageously with the rich intonations of Eudora; and if the truth must be told, that dark-haired damsel was quite too conscious of the fact.
Tithonus expressed an earnest desire to hear one of Pindar's odes; and Philothea, urged by Aspasia, began with a quivering hand to accompany herself on the harp. Her voice was at first weak and trembling; and Plato, to relieve her timidity, joined in the music, which soon gushed forth, clear, deep, and melodious:
"Hail, celestial Poesy! Fair enchantress of mankind! Veiled in whose sweet majesty Fables please the human mind. But, as year rolls after year, These fictitious charms decline; Then, O man, with holy fear, Write and speak of things divine. Of the heavenly natures say Nought unseemly, or profane— Hearts that worship and obey, Are preserved from guilty stain."
Oppressed with the grandeur of the music, and willing to evade the tacit reproach conveyed in the words, Aspasia touched her lyre, and, with mournful tenderness, sung Danae's Hymn to her Sleeping Infant. Then, suddenly changing to a gayer measure, she sang, with remarkable sweetness and flexibility of voice:
"While our rosy fillets shed Blushes o'er each fervid head, With many a cup, and many a smile, The festal moments we beguile. And while the harp impassioned flings Tuneful rapture from the strings, Some airy nymph, with fluent limbs, Through the dance luxuriant swims, Waving in her snowy hand, The leafy Dionysian wand, Which, as the tripping wanton flies, Shakes its tresses to her sighs.
At these words, a troop of graceful maidens, representing the Zephyrs and the Hours, glided in and out, between the marble columns, pelting each other with roses, as they flew through the mazes of the dance.
Presently, the music, more slow and measured in its cadence, announced the dance of Ariadne guiding her lover from the Labyrinth. In obedience to a signal from Aspasia, Eudora sprang forward to hold the silken cord, and Alcibiades darted forward to perform the part of Theseus. Slowly, but gracefully as birds balancing themselves on the air, the maidens went through the difficult involutions of the dance. They smiled on each other, as they passed and repassed; and though Eudora's veil concealed the expression of her features, Philothea observed, with an undefined feeling of apprehension, that she showed no tokens of displeasure at the brief whispers and frequent glances of Alcibiades.
At last, Pericles bade the attendants bring forth the goblet of the Good Genius. A large golden bowl, around which a silver grape-vine twined its luxuriant clusters, was immediately placed before him, filled with the rich juices of the Chian grape. Then Plato, as king of the feast, exclaimed, "The cup of the Good Genius is filled. Pledge him in unmixed wine."
The massive goblet passed among all the guests; some taking a deep draught, and others scarcely moistening their lips with the wine. When the ceremony was finished, Pericles said, "Now, if it pleases Hermippus, we should like to see him in the comic dance, for which he is so celebrated."
Philothea looked earnestly at her grandfather. He instantly understood her wishes, and bade farewell to Aspasia; urging the plea that his child was unused to late hours, and too timid to be in the streets of Athens without his protection. Phidias requested that Eudora might accompany them; and Hipparete likewise asked leave to depart. Aspasia bestowed gifts on her visiters, according to the munificent custom of the country. To Hipparete she gave a bracelet of pearls; to Philothea, a lyre of ivory and gold; and to Eudora, a broad clasp for her mantle, on which the car of Aphrodite, drawn by swans, was painted in enamel, by Polygnotus, the inventor of the art.
Alcibiades chose to remain at his wine; but slaves with torches were in readiness at the gates, and Hipparete lived in the Ceramicus, within sight of Aspasia's dwelling.
A rapid walk soon restored the maidens to their own peaceful homes. Philothea, with the consent of Anaxagoras, went to share the apartment of her friend; which, separated only by a small garden, was almost within hearing of her own.
Much I dislike the beamless mind, Whose earthly vision, unrefined, Nature has never formed to see The beauties of simplicity! Simplicity, the flower of Heaven, To souls elect by nature given." ANACREON.
As the maidens entered their apartment, Eudora rather abruptly dismissed Dione, the aged nurse, who had been waiting their arrival. Her favourite dog was sleeping on the couch; and she gave the little creature a hasty box on the ear, which made him spring suddenly to the floor, and look up in her face, as if astonished at such ungentle treatment.
Philothea stooped down and caressed the animal, with a slightly reproachful glance at her friend.
"He was sleeping on my mantle," said the petulant damsel.
"His soft, white fur could not have harmed it," rejoined her companion; "and you know that Hylax himself, as well as the mantle, was a gift from Philaemon."
Eudora carelesssly tossed the mantle over her embroidery frame, from which it trailed along the dusty floor. Philothea looked earnestly in her face, unable to comprehend such wayward conduct. "It is evident you do not want my company to-night," she said; "I will therefore return to my own apartment."
The peevish maiden slowly untied her sandal, without making any reply. Philothea's voice trembled slightly, as she added, "Good night, Eudora, To-morrow I hope you will tell me how I have offended you."
"Stay! Stay!" exclaimed the capricious damsel; and she laid her hand coaxingly on her friend's arm. Philothea smiled a ready forgiveness.
"I know I am very petulant to-night," said Eudora; "but I do not believe you yourself could listen to Hipparete without being vexed. She is so stupid, and so haughty. I don't think she spoke ten words to-night without having a grasshopper for one of them. She is so proud of her pure Athenian blood! Do you know she has resolved to employ a skilful artificer from Corinth, to make her an ivory box just like the one Tithonus gave Aspasia; but she took care to inform me that it should be inlaid with golden grasshoppers, instead of stars. A wise and witty device, is't not? to put grasshoppers in the paws of transformed Calisto, and fasten them in the belt of Orion. The sky will be so purely Athenian, that Hipparete herself might condescend to be a constellation."
The talkative maiden laughed at her own conceit; and even her more serious companion could not refrain from a smile, as with untiring volubility she continued: "Then she told me that she herself embroidered her grasshopper robe, and bade me admire the excellence of the pattern. She said Plato could not possibly have mistaken the wreath intended for her; knowing, as he did, that her father and mother were both descended from the most ancient families in Athens; and she repeated a list of ancestors with names all ending in ippus and ippides. When, in answer to her question, I acknowledged that the ornament in her hair was beautiful, she told me she would gladly give me one like it, if it were proper for me to wear it. I do so detest the sight of that Athenian emblem! I would walk to the fields of Acharnae, on purpose to crush a grasshopper."
"You put yourself in a singular passion for such a harmless insect," replied Philothea, smiling. "I hope there are none of them within hearing. You know the poets say they rose from the ashes of men, who, when the Muses first had existence, pined away for the love of song; and that after death they go to Parnassus, and inform the most ancient Calliope, the heavenly Urania, and the amorous Erato, concerning the conversation of their votaries. If they are truly the children of song, they will indeed forget their own resentments; but your conversation would be so unlikely to make a favourable impression on the tuneful sisters, that it may be well for you the insects are now sleeping."
"If the tattling tribe were all awake and listening," replied Eudora, "I would freely give them leave to report all I say against Astronomy, or Poetry, or Music. If this be the test, I am willing to be tried with Hipparete at the court of the Muses. If she were less stupid, I think I could tolerate her pride. But I thought she would never have done with a long story about a wine-stain that nearly spoiled her new dove-coloured robe; the finest from the looms of Ecbatana; the pattern not to be matched in all Greece; and Aspasia half wild to obtain one like it. She did not fail to inform me that the slave who had spilled the wine, was tied to the olive-tree in the garden, and whipped six days in succession. I never saw her in my life that she did not remind me of being a slave."
"Dearest Eudora," said Philothea, "how can you make yourself so unhappy on this subject? Has not Phidias, from the first hour he bought you, allowed you all the privileges of a daughter?"