Zenobia; or, The Fall of Palmyra
It is with difficulty that I persuade myself, that it is I who am sitting and writing to you from this great city of the East. Whether I look upon the face of nature, or the works of man, I see every thing different from what the West presents; so widely different, that it seems to me, at times, as if I were subject to the power of a dream. But I rouse myself, and find that I am awake, and that it is really I, your old friend and neighbor, Piso, late a dweller upon the Coelian hill, who am now basking in the warm skies of Palmyra, and, notwithstanding all the splendor and luxury by which I am surrounded, longing to be once more in Rome, by the side of my Curtius, and with him discoursing, as we have been wont to do, of the acts and policy of the magnificent Aurelian.
But to the purpose of this letter, which is, in agreement with my promise, to tell you of my fortunes since I parted from you, and of my good or ill success, as it may be, in the prosecution of that affair which has driven me so far from my beloved Rome. O, Humanity! why art thou so afflicted? Why have the immortal gods made the cup of life so bitter? And why am I singled out to partake of one that seems all bitter? My feelings sometimes overmaster my philosophy. You can forgive this, who know my sorrows. Still I am delaying to inform you concerning my journey and my arrival. Now I will begin.
As soon as I had lost sight of you weeping on the quay, holding in your hand the little Gallus, and of the dear Lucilia leaning on your arm, and could no longer, even by mounting upon the highest part of the vessel, discern the waving of your hands, nor cause you to see the fervor with which I returned the sign of friendship, I at once left off thinking of you, as far as I could, and to divert my thoughts, began to examine, as if I had never seen them before, the banks of the yellow Tiber. At first the crowds of shipping, of every form and from every part of the world, distracted the sight, and compelled me to observe what was immediately around me. The cries of the sailors, as they were engaged in managing different parts of their vessels, or as they called out in violent and abusive terms to those who passed them, or as their several galleys struck against each other in their attempts to go up or down the river, together with the frequent roarings and bellowings of whole cargoes of wild beasts from the deserts of Asia and Africa destined to the amphitheatre, intermingled with the jargon of an hundred different barbarian languages from the thousands who thronged the decks of this fleet of all nations,—these sights and sounds at first wholly absorbed me, and for a moment shut all the world besides—even you—out of my mind. It was a strange yet inspiring scene, and gave me greater thoughts than ever of the power and majesty of Rome. Here were men and ships that had traversed oceans and continents to bring the offerings of their toil, and lay them at the feet of the mistress of the world. And over all this bustle, created by the busy spirit of commerce, a splendor and gayety were thrown by numerous triremes and boats of pleasure, which, glittering under the light of a summer's morning sun, were just setting out upon some excursion of pleasure, with streamers floating from the slender masts, music swelling up from innumerable performers, and shouts of merry laughter from crowds of the rich and noble youths of the city, who reclined upon the decks, beneath canopies of the richest dyes. As these Cleopatra barges floated along with their soft burden, torrents of vituperative epithet were poured upon them by the rough children of Neptune, which was received with an easy indifference, or returned with no lack of ability in that sort of warfare, according to the temper or breeding of the parties.
When the novelty of this scene was worn out, for though often seen it is ever new, and we had fallen a few miles below the city, to where the eye first meets the smiling face of the country, I looked eagerly around, first upon one, and then upon the other bank of the river, in search of the villas of our fortunate citizens, waiting impatiently till the well-known turn of the stream should bring me before yours, where, with our mutual friends, we have passed so many happy days. It was not long before I was gratified. Our vessel gracefully doubled the projecting point, blackened with that thick grove of pine, and your hospitable dwelling greeted my eyes; now, alas! again, by that loved and familiar object, made to overflow with tears. I was obliged, by one manly effort, to leap clear of the power of all-subduing love, for my sensibilities were drawing upon me the observation of my fellow-passengers. I therefore withdrew from the side of the vessel where I had been standing, and moving to that part of it which would best protect me from what, but now, I had so eagerly sought, sat down and occupied myself in watching the movements and the figures of the persons whom chance had thrown into my company, and with whom I was now, for so many days, to be shut up in the narrow compass of our merchant-barque. I had sat but a little while, when the master of the ship, passing by me, stopped, and asked if it was I who was to land at Utica—for that one, or more than one, he believed, had spoken for a passage only to that port.
'No, truly,' I replied; and added: 'Do you, then, cross over to Utica?—that seems to me far from a direct course for those bound to Syria.'
'Better round-about,' rejoined he, in his rough way, 'than risk Scylla and Charybdis; and so would you judge, were the bowels of my good ship stored with your wealth, as they are, it may be, with that of some of your friends. The Roman merchant likes not that narrow strait, fatal to so many, but prefers the open sea, though the voyage be longer. But with this wind—once out of this foul Tiber—and we shall soon see the white shores of Africa. Truly, what a medley we seem to have on board! Jews, Romans, Syrians, Greeks, soldiers, adventurers, merchants, pedlers, and, if I miss not, Christians too; and you, if I miss not again, the only patrician. I marvel at your taking ship with so spotted a company, when there are these gay passenger-boats, sacred to the trim persons of the capital, admitting even not so much as a case of jewels besides.'
'Doubtless it would have been better on some accounts,' I replied, 'but my business was urgent, and I could not wait for the sailing of the packet-boats; and besides, I am not unwilling to adventure where I shall mix with a greater variety of my own species, and gain a better knowledge of myself by the study of others. In this object I am not likely to be disappointed, for you furnish me with diverse samples, which I can contemplate at my leisure.'
'If one studied so as to know well the properties of fishes or animals,' rejoined he, in a sneering tone, 'it would be profitable, for fishes can be eaten, and animals can be used: but man! I know little that he is good for, but to bury, and so fatten the soil. Emperors, as being highest, should be best, and yet, what are they? Whether they have been fools or madmen, the Tiber has still run blood, and the air been poisoned by the rotting carcasses of their victims. Claudius was a good man, I grant; but the gods, I believe, envied us our felicity, and so took him.'
'I trust,' said I, 'that the present auspices will not deceive us, and that the happiness begun under that almost divine ruler, will be completed under him whom he designated as most worthy of the sceptre of the world, and whose reign—certainly we may say it—has commenced so prosperously. I think better of man than you do, and I cannot but believe that there will yet rise up among us those who shall feel what power, almost of a god, is lodged in the will of a Roman emperor, and will use it like a god to bless, not curse mankind. Why may not Nature repeat the virtuous Antonines! Her power is not spent. For myself, I have faith that Aurelian will restore not so much the greatness, as the peace and happiness of the empire.'
'So have not I,' cried the master of the ship: 'is he not sprung from the loins of a peasant? Has not the camp been his home? Was not a shield his cradle? Such power as his will craze him. Born to it, and the chance were better. Mark a sailor's word: he will sooner play the part of Maximin, than that of Antonine or Severus, or of our late good Claudius. When he feels easy in the saddle, we shall see what he will do. So far, the blood of barbarians, slain in battle, has satisfied him: when once in Rome, that of citizens will be sweeter. But may the gods befriend us!'
At this point of our discourse, we were interrupted by loud vociferations from the forward part of the vessel, where I had long observed a crowd of the passengers, who seemed engaged in some earnest conversation. The tones now became sharp and angry, and the group suddenly dispersed, separating this way and that, as the hoarse and commanding voice of the master of the ship reached them, calling upon them to observe the rules of the vessel, which allowed of no riot or quarrelling. Toward me there moved one whom I hardly know how to describe, and yet feel that I must. You will here doubtless exclaim, 'Why obliged to describe? Why say so much of accidental companions?' But you will answer yourself, I feel persuaded, my Curtius, by supposing that I should not particularly notice a mere companion of the voyage, unless he had connected himself in some manner with my fortunes. Such has been the case with this person, and one other whom I will shortly introduce to you. As I was saying, then, when that group dispersed, one of its number moved toward me, and seated himself at my side. He was evidently a Roman and a citizen. His features were of no other nation. But with all the dignity that characterized him as a Roman, there were mixed a sweetness and a mildness, such as I do not remember to have seen in another. And in the eye there was a melancholy and a deepness, if I may say so, more remarkable still. It was the eye of one who was all sorrow, all love, and all purity; in whom the soul had undisputed sway over the passions and the senses. I have seen an expression which has approached it, in some of our priests, but far below it in power and beauty. My first impulse was to address him, but his pallid and thoughtful countenance, together with that eye, restrained me, and I know not how I should have overcome this strange diffidence, had not the difficulty been removed by the intervention of a third party. This was no other than one of those travelling Jews, who infest all cities, towns and regions, and dwell among all people, yet mix with none. He was bent almost double by the weight of large packages of goods, of all descriptions, which he carried, part before and part behind him, and which he had not laid aside, in the hope, I suppose, of effecting some sales among the passengers.
'Here's old Isaac the Jew,' cried he, as he approached toward where I sat, and then stood before me resting his pannier of articles upon a pile of merchandise, which lay there—'here's old Isaac the Jew, last from Rome, but a citizen of the world, now on his way to Carthage and Syria, with all sorts of jewelry and ornaments: nothing that a lady wants that's not here—or gentleman either. Most noble Sir, let me press upon you this steel mirror, of the most perfect polish: see the setting too; could the fancy of it be better? No? You would prefer a ring: look then at this assortment—iron and gold rings—marriage, seal, and fancy rings—buckles too: have you seen finer? Here too are soaps, perfumes, and salves for the toilet—hair-pins and essences. Perhaps you would prefer somewhat a little more useful. I shall show you then these sandals and slippers; see what a charming variety—both in form and color: pretty feet alone should press these—think you not so? But, alas! I cannot tempt you.'
'How is it possible,' said I, 'for another to speak when thy tongue wags so fast? Those rings I would gladly have examined, and now that thou hast discharged that volley of hoarse sounds, I pray thee open again that case. I thank thee for giving me an occupation.'
'Take care!' replied the voluble Jew, throwing a quick and mischievous glance toward the Roman whom I have already mentioned—'take care how my friend here of the new faith hears thee or sees the, an' thou wouldst escape a rebuke. He holds my beauties here and my calling in high contempt, and as for occupation, he thinks one never need be idle who has himself to converse with.'
'What you have last uttered is true,' replied the person whom he addressed: 'he need never want for employment, who possesses the power of thought. But as to thy trade, I object not to that, nor to what thou sellest: only to being myself a buyer.'
'Ha! thou wilt not buy? Trust Isaac for that. I keep that which shall suit all, and enslave all. I would have made thee buy of me before, but for the uproar of those soldiers.'
While uttering these words, he had placed the case of rings in my hands to examine them, and was engaged himself in exploring the depths of a large package, from which he at length triumphantly drew forth a parchment roll.
'Now open all thine eyes, Nazarene,' cried the Jew, 'and thou shalt see what thou shalt. Look!'
And so saying, he unfolded the first portion of the roll, upon which the eye of the Roman had no sooner fallen, than his face suddenly glowed as if a god shone through him, and reverently seizing the book, he exclaimed:
'I thank thee, Jew; thou hast conquered: I am a customer too. Here is my purse—take what thou wilt.'
'Hold, hold!' interrupted the Jew, laughing, 'I have not done with thee yet; what thou hast bought in Greek, I would now sell thee again in Latin. Thy half convert, the soldier Macer, would greet this as a cordial to his famishing soul. Take both, and thou hast them cheaper.'
'Your cunning hardly deserves such a reward,' said the Christian, as I now perceived him to be, 'but you have said well, and I not unwillingly obey your suggestions. Pay yourself now for both, and give them to me carefully rolled up.'
'No better sale than this shall I make to-day, and that too to a Jew-hating Nazarene. But what matters it whom I tax for the upholding of Jerusalem? Surely it is sweeter, when the cruel Roman or the heretic Christian is made unconsciously to build at her walls.'
Thus muttered the Jew to himself, as he skilfully bound into a parcel the Christian's books.
'And now, most excellent Sir,' said he, turning toward me, 'what do you find worthy your own or your lady's finger? Here is another case—perhaps these may strike you as rarer for their devices, or their workmanship. But they are rather better suited to the tastes of the rich Palmyrenes, to whom I am bearing them.'
'Ah!' I exclaimed, 'these are what I want. This seal ring, with the head of Zenobia, for which I sought in vain in Rome, I will buy, nor care for its cost, if thou canst assure me of its resemblance to the great Queen. Who was the artist?'
'As I stand here, a true son of Abraham,' he replied, 'it was worked by a Greek jeweller, who lives hard by the Temple of Fortune, and who has engraved it after a drawing made by a brother, an inhabitant of Palmyra. Two such artists in their way are not to be found. I myself, moreover, bore the original drawing from Demetrius to his brother in Rome, and that it is like the great Queen, I can well testify, for I have often seen her. Her marvellous beauty is here well expressed, or as well as that which partakes so much more of heaven than of earth can be. But look at these, too! Here I have what I look to do well with. See! heads of Odenatus! Think you not they will take well? These also are done with the same care as the others, and by the same workmen. Nothing of the kind has as yet been seen in Palmyra, nor indeed in Rome. Happy Isaac!—thy fortune is made! Come, put them on thy finger, and observe their beauty. King and Queen—how lovingly they sit there together! 'Twas just so when Odenatus was alive. They were a noble and a loving pair. The Queen yet weeps for him.'
'Jew,' said I, 'on thy word I purchase these. Although thy name is in no good repute, yet thy face is honest, and I will trust thee so far.'
'The name of the unfortunate and the weak is never in repute,' said Isaac, as he took my money and folded up the rings, his whole manner suddenly changing. 'The Jew is now but a worm, writhing under the heel of the proud Roman. Many a time has he, however, as thou well knowest, turned upon his destroyer, and tasted the sweetness of a brief revenge. Why should I speak of the massacres of Egypt, Cyrene, and Syria in the days of Trajan? Let Rome beware! Small though we seem, the day will yet arrive when the glory of Zion shall fill the whole earth—and He shall come, before whom the mighty Emperor of Rome shall tremble in his palaces.—This is what I say. Thanks to the great Aurelian, that even a poor son of Abraham may speak his mind and not lose his head. Here's old Isaac: who'll buy of old Isaac—rings—pins—and razors,—who'll buy?'
And so singing, he turned away, and mixed with the passengers in the other parts of the vessel. The wild glare of his eye, and deep, suppressed tone of his voice, as he spoke of the condition and hopes of his tribe, startled and moved me, and I would willingly have prolonged a conversation with one of that singular people, about whom I really know nothing, and with none of whom had I ever before come in contact. When I see you again, I shall have much to tell you of him; for during the rest of the voyage we were often thrown together, and, as you will learn, he has become of essential service to me in the prosecution of my objects.
No sooner had Isaac withdrawn from our company, than I embraced the opportunity to address myself to the remarkable-looking person whom I have already in part described.
'It is a great testimony,' I said, turning toward him, 'which these Jews bear to their national religion. I much doubt if Romans, under similar circumstances of oppression, would exhibit a constancy like theirs. Their attachment too is to an invisible religion, as one may say, which makes it the more remarkable. They have neither temples, altars, victims, nor statues, nor any form of god or goddess, to which they pay real or feigned adoration. Toward us they bear deep and inextinguishable hate, for our religion not less than for our oppressions. I never see a Jew threading our streets with busy steps, and his dark, piercing eye, but I seem to see an assassin, who, with Caligula, wishes the Roman people had but one neck, that he might exterminate the whole race with a single blow. Toward you, however, who are so nearly of his own faith, I suppose his sentiments are more kindly. The Christian Roman, perhaps, he would spare.'
'Not so, I greatly fear,' replied the Christian. 'Nay, the Jew bears a deeper hatred toward us than toward you, and would sooner sacrifice us; for the reason, doubtless, that we are nearer him in faith than you; just as our successful emperors have no sooner found themselves securely seated, than they have first turned upon the members of their own family, that from this, the most dangerous quarter, there should be no fear of rival or usurper. The Jew holds the Christian—though in some sort believing with him—as a rival—a usurper—a rebel; as one who would substitute a novelty for the ancient creed of his people, and, in a word, bring ruin upon the very existence of his tribe. His suspicions, truly, are not without foundation; but they do not excuse the temper with which he regards us. I cast no imputation upon the virtues of friend Isaac, in what I say. The very spirit of universal love, I believe, reigns in his soul. Would that all of his race were like him.'
'What you say is new and strange,' I replied. 'I may possibly bring shame upon myself, by saying so, but it is true. I have been accustomed to regard Christians and Jews as in effect one people; one, I mean, in opinion and feeling. But in truth I know nothing. You are not ignorant of the prejudice which exists toward both these races, on the part of the Romans. I have yielded, with multitudes around me, to prevailing ideas, taking no steps to learn their truth or error. Our writers, from Tacitus to the base tools—for such they must have been—who lent themselves to the purposes of the bigot Macrianus, and who filled the city with their accounts of the Christians, have all agreed in representing your faith as a dark and mischievous superstition. I have, indeed, been struck with the circumstance, that while the Jews make no converts from among us, great numbers are reported to have joined the Christians; and of those, not a few of the higher orders. The late Emperor Philip, I think it clear, was a Christian. This might have taught me that there is a wide difference between the Christian and the Jew. But the general hatred toward both the one and the other, together with the persecutions to which they have been exposed, have made me more than indifferent to their merits,'
'I trust the time will come,' replied the Christian, 'when our cause will be examined on the ground of its merits. Why may we not believe that it has now come? The Roman world is at peace. A strong and generous prince is upon the throne. Mild and just laws restrain the furious bigotry of an ignorant and sanguinary priesthood. Men of intelligence and virtue adorn our profession, from whom those who are anxious to know the truth can hear it; and copies of our sacred books both in Greek and Latin abound, whence may easily be learned the true principles of our faith, and the light of whose holy pages would instantly dispel the darkness by which the minds of many, even of the virtuous and well-disposed, are oppressed. It is hardly likely that a fitter opportunity will soon offer for an examination of the claims of Christianity. We have nothing to dread but the deadness and indifference of the public mind. It is not credible that polytheism should stand a day upon any fair comparison of it with the religion of Christ. You yourself are not a believer (pardon my boldness) in the ineffable stupidities of the common religion. To suppose you were—I see by the expression of your countenance—would be the unpardonable offence. I sincerely believe, that nothing more is wanting to change you, and every intelligent Roman, from professed supporters of the common religion, (but real infidels,) into warm believers and advocates of the doctrine of Christ—but simply this—to read his sayings, and the delineation of his character, as they have been written down by some of his followers. You are, I see, incredulous, but not more so than I was myself only a year ago; yet you behold me a Christian. I had to contend against, perhaps, far more adverse influences than would oppose you. You start with surprise that I should give evidence that I know you; but I have many a time seen you at the shop of Publius, and have heard you in your addresses to the people.
'I am the son of a priest of the Temple of Jupiter—of a man, who, to a mildness and gentleness of soul that would do honor to the Christian, added a faith in the religion of his fathers, deep-struck and firm-rooted as the rocks of ocean. I was his assistant in the duties of his office. My childish faith was all he could wish it; I reverenced a religion which had nurtured virtues like his. In process of time, I became myself a father. Four children, more beautiful than ever visited the dreams of Phidias, made my dwelling a portion of Elysium, as I then thought. Their mother—but why should I speak of her? It is enough to say, she was a Roman mother. At home, it was my supreme happiness to sport with my little ones, or initiate them into the elements of useful knowledge. And often, when at the temple preparing for the days of ceremony, my children were with me; and my labors were nothing, cheered by the music of their feet running upon the marble pavements, and of their merry voices echoing among the columns and arches of the vast interior. O days thrice happy! They were too happy to last. Within the space of one year—one cruel year—these four living idols were ravished from my arms by a prevailing disease. My wife, broken-hearted, soon followed them, and I was left alone. I need not describe my grief: I will only say, that with bitter imprecations I cursed the gods. 'Who are ye,' I cried, 'who sit above in your secure seats, and make your sport of human wo? Ye are less than men. Man though I am, I would not inflict upon the meanest slave the misery ye have poured upon my defenceless head. Where are your mercies?' I was frantic. How long this lasted I cannot tell, for I took no note of time. I was awakened, may I not say saved, by a kind neighbor whom I had long known to be a Christian. He was a witness of my sufferings, and with deep compassion ministered to my necessities. 'Probus,' said he, 'I know your sorrows, and I know your wants. I have perceived that neither your own thoughts, nor all the philosophy of your venerable father, have brought you peace. It's not surprising: ye are but men, and ye have but the power and the wisdom of men. It is aid from the Divinity that you want. I will not discourse with you; but I leave with you this book, which I simply ask you to read.' I read it—and read it—again and again; and I am a Christian. As the Christian grew up within me, my pains were soothed, and days, once days of tears and unavailing complaints, are now days of calm and cheerful duty: I am a new man.'
I cannot describe to you, my Curtius, the effect of this little narrative upon myself, or upon those who, as he spoke, had gathered round, especially those hard-featured soldiers. Tears flowed down their weather-beaten faces, and one of them—Macer, as I afterward learned—cried out: 'Where now are the gods of Rome?' Probus started from his seat, apparently for the first time conscious of any other listener beside myself, and joined the master of the vessel at the helm. I resigned myself to meditation; and that night fell asleep, thinking of the Christian and his book.
Leaving now Ostia and its fleet, greater even than that of the Tiber, five days brought us in sight of the African shore, but quite to the west of Utica. So, coasting along, we presently came off against Hippo, and then doubling a promontory, both Utica and Carthage were at once visible—Utica nearer, Carthage just discernible in the distance. All was now noise and bustle, as we rapidly drew near the port. Many of our passengers were to land here, and they were busily employed, with the aid of the sailors, in collecting their merchandise or their baggage. The soldiers destined to the African service here left us, together with the Jew Isaac and the Christian Probus. I was sorry to lose them, as beside them there was not one on board, except the governor of the ship, from whose company or conversation I could derive either pleasure or knowledge. They are both, however, destined to Palmyra, and I shall soon expect them to join me here. You smile at my speaking thus of a travelling Jew and a despised Christian, but in the issue you will acknowledge your as well as my obligations to them both. I confess myself attached to them. As the Jew turned to bid me farewell, before he sprang on shore, he said:
'Most noble Piso, if thou forsakest the gods of Rome, let it be for the synagogue of the children of Abraham, whose faith is not of yesterday. Be not beguiled by the specious tongue of that heretic Probus. I can tell thee a better story than his.'
'Fear not, honest Isaac,' I cried; 'I am not yet so weary of the faith of my ancestors. That cannot be altogether despicable, which has had power to bind in one mass the whole Roman people for so many ages I shall be no easy convert to either you or Probus. Farewell, to meet in Tadmor.'
Probus now passed me, and said: 'If I should not see you in the Eastern capital, according to my purpose, I trust I shall in Rome. My dwelling is in the Livian way not far from the Pantheon, opposite the well-known house of Vitruvius, still so called; or, at the shop of the learned Publius, I may be seen every morning, and may there be always heard of.'
I assured him, that no affairs could be so pressing, after I should return to Rome, as not to allow me to seek him, but that I hoped the fates would not interpose to deprive me of the pleasure of first seeing him in Palmyra.
So we parted. And very soon after, the merchandise and passengers being all landed, we set sail again, and stood out to sea. I regretted that we were not to touch at Carthage, as my desire had always been strong to see that famous place. An adverse wind, however, setting in from the North, drove us farther toward the city than the pilot intended to have gone, and I thus obtained quite a satisfactory glimpse of the African capital. I was surprised at the indications of its vastness and grandeur. Since its attempted restoration by Augustus, it has advanced steadily to almost its former populousness and magnificence. Nothing could be more imposing and beautiful, than its long lines of buildings, its towers, walls, palaces, and columns, seen through the warm and rosy mist of an African sky. I could hardly believe that I was looking but upon a provincial city, a dependant upon almighty Rome. It soon sank below the horizon, as its glory had sunk once before.
I will not detain you long with our voyage, but will only mark out its course. Leaving the African shore, we struck across to Sicily, and coasting along its eastern border, beheld with pleasure the towering form of Aetna, sending up into the heavens a dull and sluggish cloud of vapors. We then ran between the Peloponnesus and Crete, and so held our course till the Island of Cyprus rose like her own fair goddess from the ocean, and filled our eyes with a beautiful vision of hill and valley, wooded promontory, and glittering towns and villas. A fair wind soon withdrew us from these charming prospects, and after driving us swiftly and roughly over the remainder of our way, rewarded us with a brighter and more welcome vision still—the coast of Syria and our destined port, Berytus.
As far as the eye could reach, both toward the North and the South, we beheld a luxuriant region, crowded with villages, and giving every indication of comfort and wealth. The city itself, which we rapidly approached, was of inferior size, but presented an agreeable prospect of warehouses, public and private edifices, overtopped here and there by the lofty palm, and other trees of a new and peculiar foliage. Four days were consumed here in the purchase of slaves, camels, and horses, and in other preparations for the journey across the Desert. Two routes presented themselves, one more, the other less direct; the last, though more circuitous, appeared to me the more desirable, as it would take me within sight of the modern glories and ancient remains of Heliopolis. This, therefore, was determined upon; and on the morning of the fifth day we set forward upon our long march. Four slaves, two camels, and three horses, with an Arab conductor, constituted our little caravan; but for greater safety we attached ourselves to a much larger one than our own, in which we were swallowed up and lost, consisting of travellers and traders, from all parts of the world, and who were also on their way to Palmyra, as a point whence to separate to various parts of the vast East. It would delight me to lay before you with the distinctness and minuteness of a picture, the whole of this novel, and to me most interesting route; but I must content myself with a slight sketch, and reserve fuller communications to the time when, once more seated with you upon the Coelian, we enjoy the freedom of social converse.
Our way through the valleys of Libanus, was like one long wandering among the pleasure grounds of opulent citizens. The land was every where richly cultivated, and a happier peasantry, as far as the eye of the traveller could judge, nowhere exists. The most luxuriant valleys of our own Italy are not more crowded with the evidences of plenty and contentment. Upon drawing near to the ancient Baalbec, I found on inquiry of our guide, that we were not to pass through it, as I had hoped, nor even very near it, not nearer than between two and three miles. So that in this I had been clearly deceived by those of whom I had made the most exact inquiries at Berytus. I thought I discovered great command of myself, in that I did not break the head of my Arab, who doubtless, to answer purposes of his own, had brought me thus out of my way for nothing. The event proved, however, that it was not for nothing; for soon after we had started on our journey, on the morning of the second day, turning suddenly round the projecting rock of a mountain ridge, we all at once beheld, as if a veil had been lifted up, Heliopolis and its suburbs, spread out before us in all their various beauty. The city lay about three miles distant. I could only, therefore, identify its principal structure, the Temple of the Sun, as built by the first Antonine. This towered above the walls, and over all the other buildings, and gave vast ideas of the greatness of the place, leading the mind to crowd it with other edifices that should bear some proportion to this noble monument of imperial magnificence. As suddenly as the view of this imposing scene had been revealed, so suddenly was it again eclipsed, by another short turn in the road, which took us once more into the mountain valleys. But the overhanging and impenetrable foliage of a Syrian forest, shielding me from the fierce rays of a burning sun, soon reconciled me to my loss—more especially as I knew that in a short time we were to enter upon the sandy desert, which stretches from the Anti-Libanus almost to the very walls of Palmyra.
Upon this boundless desert we now soon entered. The scene which it presented was more dismal than I can describe. A red moving sand—or hard and baked by the heat of a sun such as Rome never knows—low gray rocks just rising here and there above the level of the plain, with now and then the dead and glittering trunk of a vast cedar, whose roots seemed as if they had outlasted centuries—the bones of camels and elephants, scattered on either hand, dazzling the sight by reason of their excessive whiteness—at a distance occasionally an Arab of the desert, for a moment surveying our long line, and then darting off to his fastnesses—these were the objects which, with scarce any variation, met our eyes during the four wearisome days that we dragged ourselves over this wild and inhospitable region. A little after the noon of the fourth day, as we started on our way, having refreshed ourselves and our exhausted animals at a spring which here poured out its warm but still grateful waters to the traveller, my ears received the agreeable news that toward the east there could now be discerned the dark line, which indicated our approach to the verdant tract that encompasses the great city. Our own excited spirits were quickly imparted to our beasts, and a more rapid movement soon revealed into distinctness the high land and waving groves of palm trees which mark the site of Palmyra.
It was several miles before we reached the city, that we suddenly found ourselves—landing as it were from a sea upon an island or continent—in a rich and thickly peopled country. The roads indicated an approach to a great capital, in the increasing numbers of those who thronged them, meeting and passing us, overtaking us, or crossing our way. Elephants, camels, and the dromedary, which I had before seen only in the amphitheatres, I here beheld as the native inhabitants of the soil. Frequent villas of the rich and luxurious Palmyrenes, to which they retreat from the greater heats of the city, now threw a lovely charm over the scene. Nothing can exceed the splendor of these sumptuous palaces. Italy itself has nothing which surpasses them. The new and brilliant costumes of the persons whom we met, together with the rich housings of the animals they rode, served greatly to add to all this beauty. I was still entranced, as it were, by the objects around me, and buried in reflection, when I was roused by the shout of those who led the caravan, and who had attained the summit of a little rising ground, saying, 'Palmyra! Palmyra!' I urged forward my steed, and in a moment the most wonderful prospect I ever beheld—no, I cannot except even Rome—burst upon my sight. Flanked by hills of considerable elevation on the East, the city filled the whole plain below as far as the eye could reach, both toward the North and toward the South. This immense plain was all one vast and boundless city. It seemed to me to be larger than Rome. Yet I knew very well that it could not be—that it was not. And it was some time before I understood the true character of the scene before me, so as to separate the city from the country, and the country from the city, which here wonderfully interpenetrate each other and so confound and deceive the observer. For the city proper is so studded with groups of lofty palm trees, shooting up among its temples and palaces, and on the other hand, the plain in its immediate vicinity is so thickly adorned with magnificent structures of the purest marble, that it is not easy, nay it is impossible at the distance at which I contemplated the whole, to distinguish the line which divided the one from the other. It was all city and all country, all country and all city. Those which lay before me I was ready to believe were the Elysian Fields. I imagined that I saw under my feet the dwellings of purified men and of gods. Certainly they were too glorious for the mere earth-born. There was a central point, however, which chiefly fixed my attention, where the vast Temple of the Sun stretched upward its thousand columns of polished marble to the heavens, in its matchless beauty casting into the shade every other work of art of which the world can boast. I have stood before the Parthenon, and have almost worshipped that divine achievement of the immortal Phidias. But it is a toy by the side of this bright crown of the Eastern capital. I have been at Milan, at Ephesus, at Alexandria, at Antioch; but in neither of those renowned cities have I beheld any thing that I can allow to approach in united extent, grandeur, and most consummate beauty, this almost more than work of man. On each side of this, the central point, there rose upward slender pyramids—pointed obelisks—domes of the most graceful proportions, columns, arches and lofty towers, for number and for form, beyond my power to describe. These buildings, as well as the walls of the city, being all either of white marble, or of some stone as white, and being every where in their whole extent interspersed, as I have already said, with multitudes of overshadowing palm trees, perfectly filled and satisfied my sense of beauty, and made me feel for the moment, as if in such a scene I should love to dwell, and there end my days. Nor was I alone in these transports of delight. All my fellow-travellers seemed equally affected: and from the native Palmyrenes, of whom there were many among us, the most impassioned and boastful exclamations broke forth. 'What is Rome to this?' they cried: 'Fortune is not constant. Why may not Palmyra be what Rome has been—mistress of the world? Who more fit to rule than the great Zenobia? A few years may see great changes. Who can tell what shall come to pass?' These, and many such sayings, were uttered by those around me, accompanied by many significant gestures and glances of the eye. I thought of them afterward. We now descended the hill, and the long line of caravan moved on toward the city.
I fear lest the length of my first letter may have fatigued you, my Curtius, knowing as I so well do, how you esteem brevity. I hope at this time not to try your patience. But, however I may weary or vex you by my garrulity, I am sure of a patient and indulgent reader in the dear Lucilia, to whom I would now first of all commend myself. I salute her, and with her the little Gallus. My writing to you is a sufficient proof that I myself am well.
By reason of our delaying so long on that little hill, and at other points, for the sake of drinking in full draughts of the unrivalled beauty which lay spread over all the scenery within the scope of our vision, we did not approach the walls of the city till the last rays of the sun were lingering upon the higher buildings of the capital. This rendered every object so much the more beautiful; for a flood of golden light, of a richer hue, it seemed to me, than our sun ever sheds upon Rome, rolled over the city, and plain, and distant mountains, giving to the whole a gorgeousness altogether beyond any thing I ever saw before, and agreeing well with all my impressions of oriental magnificence. It was soon under the right aspect. Not one expectation was disappointed but rather exceeded as we came in sight of the vast walls of the city, and of the 'Roman Gate'—so it is called—through which we were to make our entrance. It was all upon the grandest scale. The walls were higher, and more frequently defended by square massy towers springing out of them, than those of Rome. The towers, which on either side flanked the gateway, and which were connected by an immense arch flung from one to the other, were particularly magnificent. No sooner had we passed through, than we found ourselves in a street lined as it were with palaces. It was of great width—-we have no street like it in this respect—of an exact level, and stretched onward farther than the eye could distinctly reach, being terminated by another gate similar to that by which we had entered. The buildings on either side were altogether of marble, of Grecian design—the city is filled with Greek artists of every description—frequently adorned with porticos of the most rich and costly construction and by long ranges of private dwellings, interrupted here and there by temples of religion, edifices of vast extent belonging to the state, or by gardens attached to the residences of the luxurious Palmyrene nobility.
'It is well for Palmyra,' here muttered my slave Milo, 'that the Emperor has never, like us, travelled this way.'
'Why so, Milo?' said I.
'I simply think,' rejoined he, 'that he would burn it down; and it were a pity so many fine buildings should be destroyed. Was there not once a place called Carthage? I have heard it said that it was as large as Rome, and as well garnished with temples, and that for that reason the Romans 'blotted it out.' The people here may thank the desert which we have crossed, that they are not as Carthage. Aurelian, I trow, little dreams what glory is to be won here in the East, or else he would not waste his time upon the savage Goths,'
'The Romans are no longer barbarians,' I replied, 'as they were once. They build up now, instead of demolishing. Remember that Augustus rebuilt Carthage, and that the first Antonine founded that huge and beautiful temple which rose out of the midst of Baalbec; and besides—if I am not mistaken—many of the noblest monuments of art in this very city are the fruit of his munificence.'
'Gods, what a throng is here!' ejaculated Milo, little heeding, apparently, what I had said; 'how are we to get our beasts along? They pay no more regard to us, either, than if we were not Romans. Could any one have believed that a people existed of such strange customs and appearance? What carriages!—what wagons!—what animals!—what fantastical attire!—and from every corner of the earth, too, as it would seem! But it is a pretty sight. Pity though but they could move as quick, as they look well. Fellow, there! you will gratify us if you will start your camels a little out of our way. We wish to make toward the house of Gracchus, and we cannot pass you.'
The rider of the camel turned round his turbaned head, and fixing upon Milo a pair of fierce eyes, bade him hold his peace:
'Did he not see the street was crowded?'
'I see it is filled with a set of dull idlers,' replied Milo, 'who want nothing but Roman rods to teach them a quick and wholesome movement. Friend, lend me thy cudgel; and I will engage to set thy beasts and thee too in motion. If not, consider that we are new comers, and Romans withal, and that we deserve some regard.'
'Romans!' screamed he: 'may curses light on you You swarm here like locusts, and like them you come but to devour. Take my counsel: turn your faces the other way, and off to the desert again! I give you no welcome, for one. Now pass on—if on you still will go—and take the curse of Hassan the Arab along with you.'
'Milo,' said I, 'have a care how you provoke these Orientals. Bethink yourself that we are not now in the streets of Rome. Bridle your tongue betimes, or your head may roll off your shoulders before you can have time to eat your words to save it'
'I am a slave indeed,' answered Milo, with some dignity for him, 'but I eat other food than my own words. In that there hangs something of the Roman about me.'
We were now opposite what I discovered, from the statues and emblems upon it and surrounding it, to be the Temple of Justice, and I knew therefore that the palace on the other side of the street, adorned with porticos, and partly hidden among embowering trees and shrubs, must be the dwelling of Gracchus.
We turned down into a narrower street, and after proceeding a little way, passed under a massy arched gateway, and found ourselves in the spacious court-yard of this princely mansion. Slaves soon surrounded us, and by their alacrity in assisting me to dismount, and in performing every office of a hospitable reception, showed that we were expected guests, and that my letters announcing my intended visit had been received. Leaving my slaves and effects to the care of the servants of the house, I followed one who seemed to be a sort of head among them, through walks bordered with the choicest trees, flowers and shrubs, opening here and there in the most graceful manner to reveal a statue of some sylvan god reclining under the shade, and soon reached the rear of the house, which I entered by a flight of marble steps. Through a lofty hall I passed into a saloon which seemed the reception-room of the palace, where I had hardly arrived, and obtained one glance at my soiled dress and sun-burnt visage in the mirror, than my ear caught the quick sound of a female foot hastening over the pavement of the hall, and turning suddenly I caught in my arms the beautiful Fausta. It was well for me that I was so taken by surprise, for I acted naturally, which I fear I should not have done if I had had a moment to deliberate before I met her; for she is no longer a girl, as in Rome, running and jumping after her slave to school, but a nearly full-grown woman, and of a beauty so imposing as might well cause embarrassment in a youth of even more pretensions than myself.
'Are you indeed,' said I, retaining each hand in mine, but feeling that in spite of all my assumed courage I was covered with blushes, 'are you indeed the little Fausta? Truly there must be marvellous virtues in the air of Palmyra. It is but six years since you left Rome, and then, as I remember—-shall I mention such a thing?—you were but twelve, and now though but'—
'O,' cried she, 'never begin such a speech! it will only trouble you before you can end it. How glad I am to see you! Welcome, dear Lucius, to Palmyra! If open hearts can make you happy here, you will not fail to be so. But how did you leave all in Rome? First, your friend Marcus? and Lucilia? and the noble, good Portia? Ah! how happy were those days in Rome! Come sit on these cushions by this open window. But more than all, how does the dear pedagogue and dialectician, the learned Solon? Is he as wise yet as his great namesake? O what days of merriment have his vanity and simplicity afforded me! But he was a good soul. Would he could have accompanied you. You are not so far out of leading-strings that you could not have taken him with you as a travelling Mentor. In truth, nothing could have given me more pleasure.'
'I came away in great haste, dear Fausta,' said I, 'with scarce a moment for preparation of any kind. You have but this morning received my letter, which was but part of a day in advance of me. If I could have done it, I should have given you more timely notice. I could not therefore look out for companions for the way. It would however have been a kindness to Solon, and a pleasure to me. But why have I not before asked for your father? is not Gracchus at home?—and is he well?'
'He is at home, or rather he is in the city,' replied Fausta, 'and why he makes it so late before returning, I cannot tell: but you will soon see him. In the mean time, let my slaves show you where to find your rooms, that you may rest and prepare for supper.'
So saying, she clapped her hands, and a tall Ethiopian, with a turban as white as his face was black, quickly made his appearance and took me in his charge.
'Look well after your toilet,' cried Fausta, laughing as I left the room; 'we think more of costume here than they do in Rome.'
I followed my dark conductor through many passages to a distant part of the building, where I found apartments furnished with every luxury, and already prepared for my use.
'Here I have carefully placed your baggage,' said the slave as I entered the room, 'and whatever else I thought you might need. Call Hannibal when you wish for my services; I am now yours. This door leads to a small room where will lodge your own slave Milo; the others are in the stables.' Thus delivering himself, he departed.
The windows of my apartment opened upon the wide street by which we had entered the city, not immediately, but first upon a border of trees and flowers, then upon a low wall, here and there crowned with a statue or a vase, which separated the house from the street, and last upon the street itself, its busy throngs and noble structures. I stood for a moment enjoying the scene, rendered more impressive by the dim but still glowing light of the declining day. Sounds of languages which I knew not fell upon my ear, sent forth by those who urged along through the crowds their cattle, or by those who would draw attention to the articles which they had to sell. All was new and strange, and tended, together with my reflections upon the business which had borne me so far from my home and you, to fill me with melancholy. I was roused from my reverie by the voice of Milo.
'If,' said he, 'the people of these eastern regions understand better than we of Rome the art of taking off heads, they certainly understand better, as in reason they should, the art of making them comfortable while they are on: already I have taken a longer draught at a wine skin than I have been blessed with since I was in the service of the most noble Gallienus. Ah, that was life! He was your true philosopher who thought life, made for living. These Palmyrenes seem of his school.'
'Leave philosophy, good Milo, and come help me dress; that is the matter now in hand. Unclasp these trunks and find something that shall not deform me.'
So desirous was I, you perceive, to appear well in the eyes of the fair Fausta.
It was now the appointed hour to descend to the supper room, and as I was about to leave my apartment, hardly knowing which way to move, the Ethiopian, Hannibal, made his appearance, to serve as my conductor.
I was ushered into an apartment, not large, but of exquisite proportions—circular, and of the most perfect architecture, on the Greek principles. The walls, thrown into panels between the windows and doors, were covered with paintings, admirable both for their design and color; and running all around the room, and attached to the walls, was a low and broad seat, covered with cushions of the richest workmanship and material. A lofty and arched ceiling, lighted by invisible lamps, represented a banquet of the gods, offering to those seated at the tables below a high example of the manner in which the divine gifts should be enjoyed. This evening, at least, we did not use the privileges which that high example sanctioned. Fausta was already in the room, and rose with affectionate haste to greet me again.
'I fear my toilet has not been very successful, Fausta,' said I, 'for my slave Milo was too much elated by the generous wines with which his companions had plied him, as a cordial after the fatigues of the journey, to give me any of the benefit of his taste or assistance. I have been my own artificer on this occasion, and you must therefore be gentle in your judgments.'
'I cannot say that your fashions are equally tasteful with those of our Palmyrenes, I must confess. The love of the beautiful, the magnificent, and the luxurious, is our national fault, Lucius; it betrays itself in every department of civil and social life, and not unfrequently declines into a degrading effeminacy. If any thing ruin us, it will be this vice. I assure you I was rather jesting than in earnest, when I bade you look to your toilet. When you shall have seen some of our young nobles, you will find reason to be proud of your comparative simplicity. I hear, however, that you are not now far behind us in Rome—nay, in many excesses, you go greatly beyond us. We have never yet had a Vitellius, a Pollio, or a Gallienus. And may the sands of the desert bury us a thousand fathoms deep, ere such monsters shall be bred and endured in Palmyra!'
'I perceive,' said I, 'that your sometime residence in Rome has not taught you to love your native country less. If but a small portion of the fire which I see burning in your eye warm the hearts of the people, it will be no easy matter for any external foe to subdue you, however vice and luxury may do it.'
'There are not many, I believe,' replied Fausta, 'of your or my sex in Palmyra, who would with more alacrity lay down their lives for their country and our sweet and noble Queen, than I. But believe me, Lucius, there are multitudes who would do it as soon. Zenobia will lead the way to no battle-field where Fausta, girl though she be, will not follow. Remember what I say, I pray you, if difficulty should ever again grow up—which the gods forefend!—between us and Rome. But, truth to say, we are in more danger from ourselves than from Rome.'
We were now suddenly interrupted by the loud and cheerful voice of Gracchus, exclaiming, as he approached us from the great hall of the palace, 'How now!—How now!—whom have we here? Are my eyes and ears true to their report—Lucius Piso? It is he indeed. Thrice welcome to Palmyra! May a visit from so good and great a house be an augury of good. You are quick indeed upon the track of your letter. How have you sped by the way? I need not ask after your own welfare, for I see it, but I am impatient to learn all that you can tell me of friends and enemies in Rome. I dare say, all this has been once told to Fausta, but, as a penalty for arriving while I was absent, it must be repeated for my special pleasure. But come, that can be done while we sit at table; I see the supper waits.'
In this pleasant mood did the father of Fausta, and now, as you know, one of the chief pillars of the province or kingdom—whichever it must be called—receive me. I was struck with the fine union in his appearance and manner of courtly ease, and a noble Roman frankness. His head, slightly bald, but cast in the truest mould of manly beauty, would have done honor to any of his illustrious ancestors; and his figure was entirely worthy of that faultless crown. I confess I experienced a pang of regret that one so fitted to sustain and adorn the greatness of his parent country had chosen to cast his fortunes so far from the great centre and heart of the Empire. After the first duties of the table had been gone through with, and my hunger—real hunger—had been appeased by the various delicacies which my kind hostess urged upon me noways unwilling to receive such tokens of regard, I took up the questions of Gracchus, and gave him a full account of our social and political state in Rome, to all which Fausta too lent a greedy ear, her fine face sparkling with the intelligence which beamed out from every feature. It was easy to see how deep an interest she takes in matters to which her sex are usually so insensible. It is indescribable, the imperial pride and lofty spirit of independence which at times sat upon her brow and curled her lip. She seems to me made to command. She is indeed courteous and kind, but you not with difficulty see that she is bold, aspiring and proud, beyond the common measure of woman. Her beauty is of this character. It is severe, rather than in any sense soft or feminine. Her features are those of her father, truly Roman in their outline, and their combined expression goes to impress every beholder with the truth that Roman blood alone, and that too of all the Gracchi, runs in her veins. Her form harmonizes perfectly with the air and character of the face. It is indicative of great vigor and decision in every movement; yet it is graceful, and of such proportions as would suit the most fastidious Greek. I am thus minute in telling you how Fausta struck me, because I know the interest you and Lucilia both take in her, and how you will desire to have from me as exact a picture as I can draw. Be relieved, my dear friends, as to the state of my heart, nor indulge in either hopes or suspicions in this direction. I assure you I am not yet a captive at the fair feet of Fausta, nor do I think I shall be. But if such a thing should happen, depend upon my friendship to give you the earliest intelligence of the event. Whoever shall obtain the heart of Fausta, will win one of which a Caesar might be proud. But to return to our present interview and its event.
No sooner had I ended my account of the state of affairs at Rome, than Gracchus expressed, in the strongest terms, his joy that we were so prosperous. 'It agrees,' said he, 'with all that we have lately heard. Aurelian is in truth entitled to the praise which belongs to a reformer of the state. The army has not been under such discipline since the days of Vespasian. He has now, as we learn by the last arrival of news from the North, by the way of Antioch, nearly completed the subjection of the Goths and Alemanni, and rumors are afloat of an unpleasant nature, of an Eastern expedition. For this no ground occurs to me except, possibly, an attempt upon Persia, for the rescue of Valerian, if yet he be living, or for the general vindication of the honor of Rome against the disgraceful successes of the Great King. I cannot for one moment believe that toward Palmyra any other policy will be adopted than that which has been pursued for the last century and a half, and emphatically sanctioned, as you well know, by both Gallienus and Claudius. Standing on the honorable footing, as nominally a part of the empire of Rome, but in fact a sovereign and independent power, we enjoy all that we can desire in the form of political privileges. Then for our commerce, it could not be more flourishing, or conducted on more advantageous terms even to Rome itself. In one word, we are contented, prosperous, and happy, and the crime of that man would be great indeed, who, from any motive of personal ambition, or any policy of state, would disturb our existing relations of peace and friendship with all the world.'
To this I replied: 'I most sincerely trust that no design, such as you hint at, exists in the mind of Aurelian. I know him, and know him to be ambitious and imperious, as he is great in resources and unequalled in military science, but withal he is a man of wisdom, and in the main, of justice too. That he is a true lover of his country, I am sure; and that the glory of that country is dearer to him than all other objects—that it rises in him almost to a species of madness—this I know too; and it is from this quarter, if from any, that danger is to be apprehended. He will have Rome to be all in all. His desire is that it should once more possess the unity that it did under the Antonines. This idea, dwelt upon, may lead him into enterprises from which, however defended on the ground of the empire's glory, will result in nothing but discredit to himself and injury to the state. I too have heard the rumors of which you speak, but I cannot give them one moment's credence; and I pray most fervently that, springing as they do no one knows whence nor on what authority resting, they will not be permitted to have the least effect upon the mind of the Queen, nor upon any of her advisers. She is now in reality an independent sovereign, reigning over an immense empire, stretching from Egypt to the shores of the Euxine, from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, and she still stands upon the records of the senate as a colleague—even as when Odenatus shared the throne with her—of the Emperor. This is a great and a fortunate position. The gods forbid that any intemperance on the part of the Palmyrenes should rouse the anger or the jealousy of the fierce Aurelian!'
Could I have said less than this? But I saw in the countenances of both, while I was speaking, especially in the honest, expressive one of Fausta, that they could brook no hint of inferiority or of dependence on the part of their country; so deep a place has the great Zenobia secured for herself in the pride and most sacred affections of this people.
'I will not, with you, Piso,' said Gracchus, 'believe that the Emperor will do aught to break up the present harmony. I will have faith in him; and I shall use all the influence that I may possess in the affairs of the state to infuse a spirit of moderation into our acts, and above all into our language; for one hasty word uttered in certain quarters may lead to the ruin of kingdoms that have taken centuries to attain their growth. But this I say: let there only come over here from the West the faintest whisper of any purpose on the part of Aurelian to consider Zenobia as holding the same position in regard to Rome as Tetricus in Gaul, and that moment a flame is kindled throughout Palmyra that nothing but blood can quench. This people, as you well know, has been a free people from the earliest records of history, and they will sink under the ruins of their capital and their country, ere they will bend to a foreign power.'
'That will they!—that will they, indeed!' cried Fausta; 'there is not a Palmyrene who, had he two lives, would not give one for liberty, and the other for his good Queen. You do not know Zenobia, Lucius, nor can you tell, therefore, how reasonable the affection is which binds every heart to her as to a mother or a sister.'
'But enough of this for the present,' said Gracchus; 'let us leave the affairs of nations, and ascend to those of private individuals—for I suppose your philosophy teaches you, as it does me, that individual happiness is the object for which governments are instituted, and that they are therefore less than this. Let us ascend, I say, from the policy of Rome and of Aurelian, to the private affairs of our friend Lucius Piso; for your letter gives me the privilege of asking you to tell us, in all frankness and love, what, beside the pleasure of seeing us, brings you so far from Rome. It is, you hint, a business of a painful nature. Use me and Fausta, as you would in Rome Portia and the good Lucilia, with the same freedom and the same assurance of our friendship.'
'Do so, indeed,' added Fausta, with affectionate warmth, 'and feel that, in addressing us, you are entrusting your thoughts to true and long-tried friends.'
'I have,' replied I, 'but little to communicate, but that little is great in its interest, and demands immediate action; and touching what shall be most expedient to be done, I shall want and shall ask your deliberate counsel. You are well aware, alas! too well aware, of the cruel fate of my parent, the truly great Cneius Piso, whom to name is always a spring of strength to my virtues. With the unhappy Valerian, to whom he clung to the last, resolved to die with him, or suffer with him whatever the fates should decree, he passed into captivity; but of too proud a spirit to endure the indignities which were heaped upon the Emperor, and which were threatened him, he—so we have learned—destroyed himself. He found an opportunity, however, before he thus nobly used his power, to exhort my poor brothers not at once, at least, to follow his example, 'You are young,' said he, 'and have more strength than I, and the gods may interpose and deliver you. Hope dwells with youth, as it dies with age. Do not despair. I feel that you will one day return to Rome. For myself, I am a decayed trunk, at best, and it matters little when I fall, or where I lie. One thing, at least, I cannot bear; it would destroy me if I did not destroy myself. I am a Roman and a Piso, and the foot of a Persian shall never plant itself upon my neck. I die.' My elder brother, thinking example a more powerful kind of precept than words, no sooner was assured of the death of his father, than he too opened his veins, and perished. And so we learned had Calpurnius done, and we were comparatively happy in the thought that they had escaped by a voluntary death the shame of being used as footstools by the haughty Sapor, and the princes of his court. But a rumor reached us a few days before I left Rome, that Calpurnius is yet living. We learn, obscurely, that being favorably distinguished and secretly favored by the son of Sapor, he was persuaded to live, and wait for the times to open a way for his escape. You may imagine both my grief and my joy on this intelligence. The thought that he should so long have lain in captivity and imprisonment, and no step have been taken toward his rescue, has weighed upon me with a mountain weight of sorrow. Yet at the same time, I have been supported by the hope that his deliverance may be effected, and that he may return to Rome once more, to glad the eyes of the aged Portia. It is this hope which has brought me to Palmyra, as perhaps the best point whence to set in motion the measures which it shall be thought wisest to adopt. I shall rely much upon your counsel.' No sooner had I spoken thus, than Fausta quickly exclaimed:
'O father, how easily, were the Queen now in Palmyra, might we obtain through her the means of approaching the Persian King with some hope of a successful appeal to his compassion!—and yet'—She hesitated and paused.
'I perceive,' said Gracchus, 'what it is that checks your speech. You feel that in this matter Zenobia would have no power with the Persian monarch or court. The two nations are now, it is true, upon friendly terms; but a deep hatred exists in the heart of Sapor toward Zenobia. The successive defeats which he suffered, when Odenatus and his Queen took it upon them to vindicate the honor of Rome, and revenge the foul indignities cast upon the unfortunate Valerian, will never be forgotten; and policy only, not love or regard, keeps the peace between Persia and Palmyra. Sapor fears the power of Zenobia, supported, as he knows she would be in case of rupture, by the strength of Rome; and moreover, he is well aware that Palmyra serves as a protecting wall between him and Rome, and that her existence as an independent power is vital to the best interests of his kingdom. For these reasons harmony prevails, and in the event of war between us and Rome, we might with certainty calculate upon Persia as an ally. Still Sapor is an enemy at heart. His pride, humbled as it was by that disastrous rout, when his whole camp and even his wives fell into the hands of the Royal Odenatus, will never recover from the wound, and will prompt to acts of retaliation and revenge, rather than to any deed of kindness. While his public policy is, and doubtless will continue to be, pacific, his private feelings are, and ever will be, bitter. I see not how in this business we can rely with any hope of advantage upon the interposition of the Queen. If your brother is ever rescued, it must, I think, be achieved by private enterprise.'
'Your words,' said I, 'have pierced me through with grief, and dispelled in a moment the brightest visions. All the way from Rome have I been cheered by the hope of what the Queen, at your solicitation, would be able to attempt and accomplish in my behalf. But it is all over. I feel the truth of what you have urged. I see it—I now see it—private enterprise can alone effect his deliverance, and from this moment I devote myself to that work. If Rome leave her Emperor to die in captivity, so will not I my brother. I will go myself to the den of this worse than barbarian king, and bring thence the loved Calpurnius, or leave my own body there for that beast to batten on. It is now indeed thirteen years since Calpurnius left me, a child in Rome, to join the Emperor in that ill-fated expedition. But it is with the distinctness of a yesterday's vision that he now stands before my eyes, as he then stood that day he parted from us, glittering in his brilliant armor, and his face just as brilliant with the light of a great and trusting spirit. As he turned from the last embraces of the weeping Portia, he seized me in his arms, who stood jingling his sword against his iron greaves, and imprinting upon my cheek a kiss, bade me grow a man at once, to take care of the household, while they were gone with the good Emperor to fight the enemies of Rome in Asia. He was, as I remember him, of a quick and fiery temper, but he was always gentle toward me, and has bound me to him forever,'
'The gods prosper you!' cried Fausta, 'as surely they will. It is a pious work to which you put your hand, and you will succeed.'
'Do not, Fausta,' said Gracchus, 'lend the weight of your voice to urge our friend to measures which may be rather rash than wise, and may end only in causing a greater evil than what already exists. Prudence must govern us as well as affection. By venturing yourself at once into the dominion of Persia, upon such an errand, it is scarcely less than certain that you would perish, and without effecting your object. We ought to consider, too, I think, what the condition and treatment of Calpurnius are, before too great a risk is incurred for his rescue. He has now, we are to remember, been at the capital of the great king thirteen years. You have hinted that he had been kindly regarded by the son of Sapor. Possibly his captivity amounts to no more than a foreign residence—a sort of exile. Possibly he may, in this long series of years, have become changed into a Persian. I understand your little lip, Fausta, and your indignant frown, Lucius; but what I suggest is among things possible, it cannot be denied; and can you deny it?—not so very unlikely, when you think what the feelings of one must have been to be so wholly forgotten and abandoned by his native country, and that country, Rome, the mistress of the world, who needed but to have stretched forth the half of her power to have broken for ever the chains of his slavery, as well as of the thousands who with him have been left to linger out their lives in bondage. If Calpurnius has been distinguished by the son of Sapor, his lot, doubtless, has been greatly lightened, and he may now be living as a Persian prince. My counsel is, therefore, that the truth in this regard be first obtained, before the life of another son, and the only inheritor of so great a name, be put in jeopardy. But what is the exact sum of what you have learned, and upon which we may rely, and from which reason and act?'
'Our knowledge,' I replied, 'is derived from a soldier, who, by a great and happy fortune, escaped and reached his native Rome. He only knew what he saw when he was first a captive, and afterward, by chance, had heard from others. He was, he said, taken to serve as a slave about the palace of the King, and it was there that for a space he was an eye-witness to the cruel and insulting usage of both Valerian and Calpurnius. That was but too true, he said, which had been reported to us, that whenever the proud Sapor went forth to mount his horse, the Emperor was brought, in the face of the whole court, and of the populace who crowded round, to serve as his footstool. Clothed in the imperial purple, the unfortunate Valerian received upon his neck the foot of Sapor, and bore him to his saddle. It was the same purpose that Calpurnius was made to serve for the young prince Hormisdas. But, said the soldier, the prince pitied the young and noble Roman, and would gladly, at the beginning, have spared him the indignity put upon him by the stern command of his haughty and cruel father. He often found occasion at these times, while standing with his foot upon his neck, to speak with Calpurnius, and to express his regrets and his grief for his misfortunes, and promise redress, and more, if he ever came to the throne. But the soldier was soon removed from the vicinity of the Royal palace, and saw no more of either Valerian or Calpurnius. What came to his ears was, generally, that while Valerian was retained exclusively for the use of Sapor, Calpurnius was after a time relinquished as entirely into the hands of Hormisdas, in whose own palace he dwelt, but with what portion of freedom, he knew not. That he was living at the time he escaped, he was certain. This, Gracchus, is the sum of what we have heard; in addition only, that the Emperor sank under his misfortunes, and that his skin, fashioned over some substance so as exactly to resemble the living man, is preserved by Sapor, as a monument of his triumph over the legions of Rome.'
'It is a pitiful story,' said Fausta, as I ended: 'for a brave man it has been a fate worse than death; but having survived the first shame, I fear me my father's thought will prove a too true one, and that long absence, and indignation at neglect, and perhaps gratitude and attachment to the prince, who seems to have protected him, will have weaned him from Rome. So that we cannot suffer you, Lucius, to undertake so long and dangerous a journey upon so doubtful an errand. But those can be found, bold and faithful, who for that ample reward with which you could so easily enrich them, would venture even into the heart of Ecbatana itself, and bring you back your brother alive, or advertise you of his apostasy or death.'
'What Fausta says is just,' observed Gracchus, 'and in few words prescribes your course. It will not be a difficult thing, out of the multitudes of bold spirits who crowd the capital, Greek, Roman, Syrian, and Arab, to find one who will do all that you could do, and I may add, both more and better. You may find those who are familiar with the route, who know the customs of Persia, who can speak its language, and are even at home in her capitals, and who would be infinitely more capable than either you or I, or even Fausta, to manage to a happy issue an enterprise like this. Let this then be our decision; and be it now our united care to find the individual to whom we may commit this dear but perilous service. And now enough of this. The city sleeps, and it were better that we slept with it. But first, my child, bring harmony into our spirits by one of those wild, sad airs which you are accustomed to sing to me upon the harp of the Jews. It will dispose Lucius to pleasant dreams.'
I added my importunities, and Fausta rising, moved to an open window, through which the moon was now pouring a flood of silver light, and seating herself before the instrument which stood there, first swept its strings with an easy and graceful hand.
'I wish,' said she, 'I could give you the song which I am going to sing in the language of the Hebrews, for it agrees better, I think, with the sentiment and the character of the music, than the softer accents of the Greek. But every thing is Greek now.'
So saying, she commenced with a prelude more sweetly and profoundly melancholy than even the wailing of the night wind among the leafless trees of the forest. This was followed by—an ode shall I call it?—or a hymn?—for it was not what we mean by a song. Nor was the music like any other music I had ever heard, but much more full of passion; broken, wild, plaintive, triumphant by turns, it stirred all the deepest feelings of the heart. It seemed to be the language of one in captivity, who, refusing to sing one of the songs of his country for the gratification of his conquerors, broke out into passionate strains of patriotism, in which he exalted his desolated home to the Heavens, and prophesied in the boldest terms her ultimate restoration to power and glory. The sentiment lost nothing coming to the ear clothed in the rich music of Fausta's voice, which rose and sank, swelled and died away, or was full of tears or joy, as agreed with the theme of the poet. She was herself the poet, and the captive, and the Jew, so wholly did she abandon herself to the sway of the thoughts which she was expressing. One idea alone, however, had possessed me while she sang—to which, the moment she paused, I first gave utterance. 'And think you, Fausta,' said I, 'that while the captive Jew remembers his country, the captive Roman will forget his? Never! Calpurnius, if he lives, lives a Roman. For this I thank your song. Melancholy and sad in itself, it has bred joy in my soul. I shall now sleep well.' So saying, we separated.
Thus was passed my first evening in Palmyra.
With what pleasure do I again sit down, dear Curtius and Lucilia, to tell you how I have passed my time, and what I have been able to accomplish, since I last wrote; thrice happy that I have to report of success rather than of defeat in that matter which I have undertaken. But first, let me thank you for all the city gossip, with which you so greatly entertained me in your joint epistle. Although I pass my hours and days in this beautiful capital as happily as I could any where out of Rome, still my letters from home are a great addition to my enjoyment. After rising from perusal of yours and my mother's, I was a new man. Let me beg you—which indeed I need hardly do—to send each letter of mine, as you receive it, to Portia, and in return receive and read those which I have written and shall continue to write to her. To you I shall give a narrative of events; to her, I shall pour out sentiment and philosophy, as in our conversation we are wont to do. I shall hope soon to have somewhat of interest to say of the state of letters here, and of my interviews with distinguished men. So soon as the Queen shall return from her excursion through some of her distant provinces, I shall call upon Gracchus to fulfil his promise, and make me known to the great Longinus, now with the Queen absent. From my intercourse with him I shall look to draw up long and full reports of much that shall afford both entertainment and instruction to you all.
I have now passed several days in Palmyra, and have a mass of things to say. But instead of giving you a confused report, I shall separate one thing from another, and set down each according to the time and manner in which it happened. This is what I know you desire, and this is what I shall do.
I cannot easily tell you how delicious was my slumber after that last day of fatiguing travel, and that evening of to me the most exciting converse. I dreamed that night of Calpurnius rescued and returned; and ever as he was present to my sleeping fancy, the music of Fausta's harp and voice was floating near.
Hannibal was early at my door to warn me of the hour of the morning meal, Milo being still under the influences of the evening's potation. I was shown to a different apartment from that in which we had supped, but opening into it. It was a portico rather than a room, being on two sides open to the shrubbery, with slender Ionic pillars of marble supporting the ceiling, all joined together by the light interlacings of the most gorgeous creeping plants. Their odors filled the air. A fountain threw up in the most graceful forms its clear water, and spread all around an agreeable coolness. Standing at those points where flights of steps led down to the walks and plots of grass and flowers, which wound about the palace, the eye wandered over the rich scene of verdure and blossom which they presented, and then rested where it can never rest too often or too long, upon the glittering shafts of the Temple of the Sun. This morning prospect, from this single point, I thought was reward enough for my long voyage and hot journey over the desert. It inspired more cheerful thoughts than the same scene as I had seen it the evening before from the windows of my chamber. I could not but draw omens of good from the universal smile that beamed upon me from the earth and the heavens. Fausta's little hand suddenly placed within mine, and the cheerful greeting of her voice, awoke me from my dreamy state.
'Your countenance shows that you have slept well, Lucius,' said she; 'it is bright as the morning itself. Your dreams must have been favorable. Or else is it the wonder-working power of a Palmyrene air that has wrought so with you since the last evening? Tell me, have you not slept as you never slept in Rome?'
'I have slept well, indeed,' I replied, 'but I believe it was owing rather to your harp and Jewish ode, than to any mysterious qualities of the air. Your music haunted the chambers of my brain all night, and peopled them with the forms of those whom I love, and whose memory it last evening recalled so vividly. Mostly I dreamed of Calpurnius, and of his return to Rome, and with him came ever your image dimly seen hovering round, and the strains of your voice and harp. These are to me auguries of good, even as if the voice of a god had spoken. I shall once more embrace a brother—and what is even more, a Roman.'
'The gods grant it may be so!' replied Fausta: 'A prayer which I repeat,' cried Gracchus, as he approached us from the hall, through which I had just passed. 'I have thought much of your affair since I parted from you last evening, and am more than ever persuaded that we came to a true decision touching the steps best to be taken. To-day I shall be much abroad, and shall not forget to search in every direction for one who may be intrusted with this nice, and difficult, and withal dangerous business. I can now think of no messenger who bids so fair to combine all the qualities we most desire, as the Jew. I know but few of that tribe, and those are among the rich. But then those rich are connected in various ways with the poor—for to a marvellous extent they are one people—-it is the same you know in Rome—and through them I think I may succeed.'
'Now have you,' I quickly added, 'again poured light into my mind. Half our labor is over. I know a Jew whose capacities could not be more fitting for this enterprise. I saw much of him on board the vessel which took us first to the African coast, where, at Utica, it set him on shore, bringing me farther on to Berytus. He is a true citizen of the world—knows all languages, and all people, and all places. He has all the shrewdness of his race—-their intelligence, their enthusiasm, and, I may add, their courage. He is a traveller by profession, and a vender of such things as any will buy, and will go wherever he may hope to make large gains wherewith to do his share toward "building again the walls of Jerusalem," as he calls it. He has a home in every city of the East. It was toward Palmyra that he was bending his way: and, as I now remember, promised that he would see me here not many days after I should arrive, and have the pleasure, as he trusted, to sell me more of his goods; for you must be told that I did indeed traffic with him, however little it became a patrician of Rome. And here I have about me, in a little casket, some rings which I purchased of him, having upon them heads of Zenobia and Odenatus, resembling the originals to the life, as he assured me with much asseveration. See, Fausta, here they are. Look now, and tell me if he has spoken in this instance the truth; if so, it will be a ground for trusting him farther.'
'Beautiful!' exclaimed both Gracchus and Fausta. 'He has indeed dealt honestly with you. Nothing can be more exact than these resemblances, and the workmanship is worthy the hand of Demetrius the Greek.'
'Provincials,' said I, 'ever know the capital and its fashions better than citizens. Now never till Isaac, my Jew friend, rehearsed to me the praises of Demetrius the jeweller, had I ever heard his name, or aught concerning his skill, and here in the heart of Asia he seems a household word.'
'It is so, indeed,' said Gracchus. 'I do not doubt that the fashionable artists of every kind in Rome are better known to the followers of fashion in Palmyra than they are to the patricians themselves. Wanting the real greatness of Rome, we try to surpass her in the trappings of greatness. We are well represented by the frog of AEsop; happy, if our swelling pride do not destroy us. But these rings—they are indeed of exquisite art. The head of Odenatus is truer to life, methinks, than that of the Queen.'
'And how can poor stone and gold set out the divine beauty and grace of Zenobia!' cried Fausta. 'This is beautiful to you now, Lucius, but it will be so no longer when you shall have seen her. Would that she were here! It seems as if the sun were gone from the heavens, when she is absent from us on these long excursions among her distant subjects.'
'Till then, dear Fausta,' said I, 'deign to wear on that only finger which I see ungraced by a ring, this head of your so much vaunted Queen; afterward wear it, if you will, not for her sake, but mine.'
So saying, upon her finger which she held out to me—and which how beautiful it was I shall not say—I attempted to pass the ring, but alas! it was too small, and would not, with all the gentle force I dared to use, go on.
'Here is an omen, Fausta,' said I; 'the Queen cannot be forced upon your hand. I fear your friendship is threatened.'
'Oh! never entertain any such apprehension,' interrupted Fausta. 'It is quite needless. Here is plenty of room on this neighbor finger. It is quite right that Aurelian, you know, should give way to Zenobia: so, away with the Emperor!' and she snapped the ring across the pavement of the Portico—'and now, Lucius, invest me with that burning beauty.'
'And now do you think you deserve it? I marvel, Gracchus, at the boldness of these little girls. Verily, they bid fair to mount up over our heads. But come, your finger: there—one cannot but say it becomes you better than the fierce Aurelian. As for the deposed Emperor, he is henceforward mine. Thus I re-instate him.' In saying which, I pursued and picked up the discarded ring, and gave to it the most honored place upon my right hand.
Fausta now, first laughingly bidding me welcome to the ring, called us to the table, where the breakfast, consisting of fruits in greater proportion than with us, awaited us. Much talk now ensued concerning the city, its growth and numbers, power and probable destiny. I was satisfied from what fell from each, that the most ambitious designs are entertained by both the court and people, and that their wonderful successes have bred in them a real belief that they should have nothing to fear from the valor or power of Rome, under any circumstances of collision. When this was through, Gracchus, rising from his seat and pacing slowly up and down the portico, spoke of my private affairs, and with great kindness went over again the whole ground. The result was the same.
'Our way, then,' he said, 'is clear. Wait a few days for your fellow traveller, Isaac. If he appears, well,—if not, we must then search the quarter of the Jews for one who may do as good service perhaps. I now leave you, with a suggestion to Fausta that she should take it upon her to drive you round the city, and into the suburbs. No one can perform the office of a guide better than she.'
'If Fausta will take that trouble upon her,' I replied, 'it will give me——'
'A great deal of pleasure, you were going to say; so it will me. I am sure we shall enjoy it. If I love any thing, it is to reveal to a proud Roman the glories of Palmyra. Take away from a Roman that ineffable air which says "Behold embodied in me the majesty of Rome!" and there remains a very agreeable person. But for those qualities of mind and manners which fit men and women for society, the Roman men and women must yield to the Palmyrenes. So I think, who have seen somewhat of both—and so think—gainsay my authorities if you have the courage—Longinus and the Bishop of Antioch. I see that you are disturbed. No wonder. Longinus, though a philosopher, is a man of the world, who sees through its ways as clearly as he does through the mysticism of Plato, and that asks for good eyes; and for the bishop—there is not so finished a gentleman in all the East. His appointments are not less exquisite than those of the highest noble either of Antioch or Palmyra. If an umpire in any question of manners were to be chosen, it would be he.'
'As for the Greek,' I rejoined, 'I am predisposed to admit his superior claims. I will surrender to him with alacrity my doubts both in manners and philosophy. For I hold there is a philosophy in manners, nay, even in clothes, and that the highest bred intellect will on that very account best perceive the nice distinctions and relations, in the exact perception and observance of which the highest manners consist. Such an one may offend against the last device in costume—and the last refinement in the recondite art of a bow—but he will eternally excel in all that we mean by breeding. Your bishop I know nothing of, but your account of him strikes me not very agreeably. These Christian bishops, methinks, are taking upon themselves too much. And besides, if what I gathered of the theory of their religion from a passenger on board the Mediterranean trader, be correct, they depart greatly from the severity of their principles, when they so addict themselves to the practices of courts and of the rich. I received from this Christian a beautiful idea of his faith, and only lamented that our companionship was broken off before I had had time fully to comprehend all he had to say. The character of this man, and his very countenance, seemed as arguments to support the strict opinions which he advanced. This bishop, I think, can scarcely do his faith the same service.'
'I know him not much,' said Fausta, 'and of his faith, nothing. He has great power over the Princess Julia, and it would not much amaze me if, by and by, she declared herself a Christian. It is incredible how that superstition spreads. But here is our carriage. Come, let us forth.'
So, breaking off our talk, we betook ourselves to the carriage. How shall I find language, my Curtius, to set before you with the vividness of the reality, or with any approach to it, the pictures which this drive through and around Palmyra caused to pass successively before me? You know indeed, generally, what the city is, from the reports of former travellers, especially from the late book of Spurius, about which and its speculations much was said a little while since. But let me tell you, a more one-sided, one-eyed, malignant observer never thrust himself upon the hospitalities of a free, open-hearted people, than that same Spurius, poet and bibliopole. His very name is an offence to the Palmyrenes, who, whatever national faults they may have, do not deserve the deep disgrace of being brought before the world in the pages of so poor a thing as the said Ventidius Spurius. Though it will not be my province to treat as an author of the condition, policy, and prospects of Palmyra, yet to you and my friends I shall lay myself open with the utmost freedom, and shall refrain from no statement or opinion that shall possess, or seem to do so, truth or importance.
The horses springing from under the whip of the charioteer, soon bore us from the great entrance of the palace into the midst of the throng that crowded the streets. The streets, seen now under the advantages of a warm morning sun adding a beauty of its own to whatever it glanced upon, showed much more brilliantly than ours of Rome. There is, in the first place, a more general sumptuousness in equipage and dress, very striking to the eye of a Roman. Not perhaps that more wealth is displayed, but the forms and the colors, through which it displays itself, are more various, more tasteful, more gorgeous. Nothing can exceed, nothing equals, it is said, any where in the world, the state of the Queen and her court; and this infects, if I may use so harsh a word, the whole city. So that, though with far less of real substantial riches than we have, their extravagance and luxury are equal, and their taste far before us. Then every thing wears a newer, fresher look than in Rome. The buildings of the republic, which many are so desirous to preserve, and whole streets even of ante-Augustan architecture, tend to spread around here and there in Rome a gloom—to me full of beauty and poetry—but still gloom. Here all is bright and gay. The buildings of marble—the streets paved and clean—frequent fountains of water throwing up their foaming jets, and shedding around a delicious coolness—temples, and palaces of the nobles, or of wealthy Palmyrene merchants—altogether present a more brilliant assemblage of objects than I suppose any other city can boast. Then conceive, poured through these long lines of beautiful edifices, among these temples and fountains, a population drawn from every country of the far East, arrayed in every variety of the most showy and fanciful costume; with the singular animals, rarely seen in our streets, but here met at every turn—elephants, camels, and dromedaries, to say nothing of the Arabian horses, with their jewelled housings, with every now and then a troop of the Queen's cavalry, moving along, to the sound of their clanging trumpets—conceive, I say, this ceaseless tide of various animal life poured along among the proud piles, and choking the ways, and you will have some faint glimpse of the strange and imposing reality.
Fausta was in raptures at my transports, and in her pleasant but deep-meaning way, boasted much over the great capital of the world. So we rode along, slowly, because of the crowded state of the streets, and on account of my desire to observe the manners and ways of the people—their shops, which glittered with every rare work of art—and the devices, so similar in all places of trade, by which the seller attracts the buyer. I was engrossed by objects of this sort, when Fausta's voice drew my attention another way.
'Now,' said she, 'prepare yourself for the glory of Palmyra; look when we shall suddenly turn round the next corner, on the left, and see what you shall see.'
The chariot soon whirled round the indicated corner, and we found ourselves in full view of the Temple of the Sun, so famous throughout the world. Upon a vast platform of marble, itself decorated with endless lines of columns—elsewhere of beauty and size sufficient for the principal building, but here a mere appendage—stood in solitary magnificence this peerless work of art. All I could do was, and the act was involuntary, to call upon the charioteer to rein up his horses and let me quietly gaze. In this Fausta, nothing unwilling, indulged me. Then, when satisfied with this the first point of view, we wound slowly round the spacious square upon which it stands, observing it well in all directions, and taking my fill of that exalted but nameless pleasure which flows in upon the soul from the contemplation of perfect excellence.
'This is, if I err not, Fausta, the work of a Greek artist.'
'It is,' said she: 'here both Romans and Palmyrenes must acknowledge their inferiority, and indeed all other people. In every city of the world, I believe, all the great works of art are the offspring of Grecian genius and Grecian taste. Truly, a wonderful people! In this very city, our artists—our men of letters—even the first ministers of state—all are Greeks. But come, let us move on to the Long Portico, an edifice which will astonish you yet more than even the Temple of the Sun, through your having heard of it so much less. We shall reach it in about half a Roman mile.'
This space was soon passed, and the Portico stood revealed with its interminable ranges of Corinthian columns, and the busy multitudes winding among them, and, pursuing their various avocations, for which this building offers a common and convenient ground. Here the merchants assemble and meet each other. Here various articles of more than common rarity are brought and exhibited for sale. Here the mountebanks resort, and entertain the idle and lovers of amusement with their fantastic tricks. And here strangers from all parts of the world may be seen walking to and fro, observing the customs of the place, and regaling themselves at the brilliant rooms, furnished with every luxury, which are opened for their use, or else at the public baths which are found in the immediate neighborhood. The Portico does not, like the Temple, stand upon an elevated platform, but more upon a level with the streets. Its greatness is derived from its extreme length, and its exquisitely-perfect designs and workmanship, as seen in the graceful fluted columns and the rich entablature running round the whole. The life and achievements of Alexander are sculptured upon the frieze; the artist—a Greek also—having been allowed to choose his own theme.
'Fausta,' said I, 'my soul is steeped in beauty. It will be to no purpose to show me more now. I am like one who has eaten too much—forgive the figure—delicacies are lost upon him.'