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New Foes with an Old Face.
BY THE AUTHOR OF YEAST,' AND 'THE SAINT'S TRAGEDY.'
THE DYING WORLD.
IN the upper story of a house in the Museum-street of Alexandria, built and fitted up on the old Athenian model, was a small room. had been chosen by its occupant, not merely on account of its quiet; for though it was tolerably out of hearing of the female slaves who worked, and chattered, and quarrelled under the cloisters of the women's court on the south side, yet it was exposed to the rattle of carriages and the voices of passengers in the fashionable street below, and to strange bursts of roaring, squealing, and trumpeting from the Menagerie, a short way off, on the opposite side of the street. The attraction of the situation lay, perhaps, in the view which it commanded over the wall of the Museum gardens, of flower-beds, shrubberies, fountains, statues, walks, and alcoves, which had echoed for nearly seven hundred years to the wisdom of the Alexandrian sages and poets. School after school, they had all walked, and taught and sung there, beneath the spreading planes and chesnuts, figs and palm-trees. The place seemed fragrant with all the riches of Greek thought and song, since the days when Ptolemy Philadelphus walked there with Euclid and Theocritus, Callimachus and Lycophron.
On the left of the garden stretched the lofty eastern front of the Museum itself, with its picture-galleries, halls of statuary, dininghalls, and lecture-rooms; one huge wing containing that famous library, founded by the father of Philadelphus, which held in the time of Seneca, even after the destruction of a great part of it in Cæsar's siege, four hundred thousand manu
VOL. XLV. NO. CCLXV.
scripts. There it towered up, the wonder of the world, its white roof bright against the rainless blue; and beyond it, among the ridges and pediments of noble buildings, a broad glimpse of the bright blue sea.
The room was fitted up in the purest Greek style, not without an affectation of archaist severity in the forms and subdued half-tints of the frescoes which ornamented the walls with scenes from the old myths of Athene. Yet the general effect, even under the blazing sun which poured in through the mosquito nets of the court-yard windows, was one of exquisite coolness, and cleanliness, and repose. The room had neither carpet, nor fire-place, nor shelves; and the only moveables in it were a sofa-bed, a table, and an arm-chair, all of such delicate and graceful forms, as may be seen on ancient vases of a far earlier period than that whereof we write. But, most probably, had any of us entered that room that morning, we should not have been able to spare a look either for the furniture, or the general effect, or the Museum gardens, or the sparkling Mediterranean beyond; but we should have agreed that the room was quite rich enough for human eyes, for the sake of one treasure which it possessed, and, beside which, nothing was worth a moment's glance. For in the light arm-chair, reading a manuscript which lay on the table, sat a woman, of some five-and-twenty years, evidently the tutelary goddess of that little shrine, dressed, in perfect keeping with the archaism of the chamber, in a simple old snow-white Ionic robe, falling to the feet and reaching to the throat, and of that peculiarly severe and
graceful fashion in which the upper part of the dress falls downward again from the neck to the waist in a sort of cape, entirely hiding the outline of the bust, while it leaves the arms and the point of the shoulders bare. Her dress was entirely without ornament, except the two narrow purple stripes down the front, which marked her rank as a Roman citizen, the gold sandals on her feet, and the gold net, which looped back from her forehead to her neck, hair whose colour and gloss were hardly distinguishable from that of the metal itself, such as Athene herself might have envied for tint, and mass, and ripple. Her features, arms, and feet were of the severest and grandest type of old Greek beauty, at once showing everywhere the high development of the bones, and covering them with that firm, round, ripe outline, and waxy morbidezza of skin, which the old Greeks owed to their continual use, not only of the bath and muscular exercise, but also of daily unguents. There might have seemed to us too much sadness in that clear grey eye; too much self-conscious restraint in those sharp curved lips; too much affectation in the studied severity of her posture as she read, copied, as it seemed, from some old vase or bas-relief. But the glorious grace and beauty of every line of face and figure would have excused, even hidden it, and we should have only recognised the marked resemblance to the ideal portraits of Athene, which adorned every panel of the walls.
She has lifted her eyes off her manuscript; she is looking out with kindling countenance over the gardens of the Museum; her ripe curling Greek lips, such as we never see now even among our own wives and sisters, open. She is talking to herself. Listen!
'Yes. The statues there are broken. The alcoves are silent. The oracles are dumb. And yet-who says that the old faith of heroes and sages is dead? The beautiful can never die. If the gods have deserted their oracles, they have not deserted the souls who aspire to them. If they have ceased to guide nations, they have not ceased to speak to their own elect. If they have cast off the
vulgar herd, they have not cast off Hypatia.
Ay. To believe in the old creeds, while every one else is dropping away from them. . . . To believe in spite of disappointments.... Tohope against hope. ... To show oneself superior to the herd, by seeing boundless depths of living glory in myths which have become dark and dead to them.... To struggle to the last against the new and vulgar superstitions of a rotting age, for the faith of my forefathers, for the old gods, the old heroes, the old sages, who gauged the mysteries of heaven and earth-and perhaps to conquer!-at least to have my reward! To be welcomed into the celestial ranks of the heroic-to rise to the immortal gods, to the ineffable powers, onward, upward ever, through ages and through eternities, till I find my home at last, and vanish in the glory of the Nameless and the Absolute One! . . .
And her whole face flashed out into wild glory, and then sank again suddenly into a shudder of something like fear and disgust, as she saw, watching her from under the wall of the gardens opposite, a crooked, withered Jewish crone, dressed out in the most gorgeous and fantastic style of barbaric finery.
Why does that old hag haunt me? I see her everywhere-till the last month at least-and here she is again! I will ask the prefect to find out who she is, and get rid of her, before she fascinates me with that evil eye. Thank the gods, there she moves away! Foolish!-foolish of me, a philosopher. I, to believe, against the authority of Porphyry himself, too, in evil eyes and magic! But there is my father, pacing up and down in the library.'
As she spoke, the old man entered from the next room. He was a Greek also, but of a more common, and, perhaps, lower type; dark and fiery, thin and graceful; his delicate figure and cheeks, wasted by meditation, harmonized well with the staid and simple philosophic cloak which he wore as a sign of his profession. He paced impatiently up and down the chamber, while his keen, glittering eyes and restless
And her voice took a tone which made it somewhat uncertain whether, in spite of all the lofty impassibility which she felt bound to possess, she did not hate Pelagia with a most human and mundane hatred.
gestures betokened intense inward to hate-I should hate her-hate thought. her.' I have found it. . . . . No; again it escapes-it contradicts itself. Miserable man that I am! If there is faith in Pythagoras, the symbol should be an expanding series of the powers of three; and yet that accursed binary factor will introduce itself. Did not you work the sum out once, Hypatia?'
Sit down, my dear father, and eat. You have tasted no food yet this day.'
What do I care for food! The inexpressible must be expressed. The work must be done, if it cost me the squaring of the circle. How can he, whose sphere lies above the stars, stoop every moment to earth?'
'Ay,' she answered, half bitterly, and would that we could live without food, and imitate perfectly the immortal gods. But while we are in this prison-house of matter, we must wear our chain; even wear it gracefully, if we have the good taste; and make the base necessities of this body of shame symbolic of the diviner food of the reason. There is fruit, with lentils and rice, waiting for you in the next room; and bread, unless you despise it too much.'
The food of slaves!' he answered. 'Well, I will eat, and be ashamed of eating. Stay-did I tell you? Six new pupils in the mathematical school this morning. It grows! It spreads! We shall conquer yet!'
She sighed. How do you know that they have not come to you, as Critias and Alcibiades did to Socrates, to learn a merely political and mundane virtue? Strange! that men should be content to grovel, and be men, when they might rise to the rank of gods! Ah, my father! that is my bitterest grief; to see those who have been pretending in the morning lecture-room to worship every word of mine as an oracle, lounging in the afternoon round Pelagia's litter; and then at nightfor I know that they do it-the dice, and the wine, and worse. Pallas herself should be conquered every day by Venus Pandemos ! That Pelagia should have more power than I! Not that such a creature as that disturbs me: no created thing, I hope, can move my equanimity; but if I could stoop
But at that moment the conversation was cut short by the hasty entrance of a slave girl, who, with fluttering voice, announced
'His excellency, madam, the prefect! His chariot has been at the gate for these five minutes, and he is now coming up stairs.'
"Foolish child!' answered Hypatia, with some affectation of indifference. And why should that disturb me? You, indeed, a daughter of earth, it may; but the philosopher is ready for all things. Let him
The door opened, and in came, preceded by the scent of half-adozen different perfumes, a florid, delicate - featured man, gorgeously dressed out in senatorial costume, his fingers and neck covered with jewels.
The representative of the Cæsars honours himself by offering at the shrine of Athene Polias, and rejoices to see in her priestess as lovely a likeness as ever of the goddess whom she serves. . . . . Don't betray me, but I really cannot help talking sheer paganism whenever I find myself within the influence of your eyes.'
Truth is mighty,' said Hypatia, as she rose to greet him with a smile and a reverence.
'Ah, so they say-Your excellent father has vanished. He is really too modest-honest, though-about his incapacity for state secrets. After all, you know it was your Minervaship which I came to consult. How has this turbulent Alexandrian rascaldom been behaving itself in my absence?'
The herd has been eating, and drinking, and marrying, as usual, I believe," answered Hypatia, in a languid tone.
And multiplying, I don't doubt. Well, there will be less loss to the empire if I have to crucify a dozen or two, as I positively will, the next riot. It is really a great comfort to a statesman, that the masses are so well aware that they deserve hang
ing, and therefore so careful to prevent any danger of publie justice depopulating the province. But how go on the schools?
Hypatia shook her head sadly.
Al. boys will be boys..... I plead guilty myself. Video meliora procoque, deteriora sequor. You innst not be hard on us. . . . . Whether we obey you or not in private life, we do in publie; and if we enthrone you queen of Alexandris, you must allow your courtiers and body-guards a few court licences. Now don't sigh, or I shall be inconsolable. At all events, your worst rival has betaken herself to the wilderness, and gone to look for the city of the gods above the cataracts.' Whom do you mean?" asked Hypatia, in a tone most unphilosophically eager.
Pelagia, of course. I met that prettiest and naughtiest of humanities half-way between here and Thebes, transformed into a perfect Andromache of chaste affection."
And to whom, pray?
To a certain Gothic giant. What men those barbarians do breed! I was afraid of being crushed under the elephant's foot at every step I took with him!'
What! asked Hypatia, did your excellency condescend to converse with such savages?'
To tell you the truth, he had some forty stout countrymen of his with him, who might have been troublesome to a perplexed prefect; not to mention that it is always as well to keep on good terms with these Goths. Really, after the sack of Rome, and Athens cleaned out like a beehive by wasps, things begin to look serious. And as for the great brute himself, he has rank enough, in his way,-boasts of his descent from some cannibal god or other, really hardly deigned to speak to a paltry Roman governor, till his faithful and adoring bride interceded for me. Still, the fellow understood good living, and we cele brated our new treaty of friendship with noble libations-but I must not talk about that to you. However, I got rid of them; quoted all the geographical lies I had ever heard, and a great many more, quickened their appetite for their fool's errand notably, and started them off again.
So now the star of Venus is set, and that of Pallas in the ascendant. Wherefore tell me what am I to do with Saint Firebrand ?' ⚫ Cyril ?' · Cyril.' 'Justice.'
Ah, Fairest Wisdom, don't mention that horrid word out of the lecture-room. In theory it is all very well; but in poor imperfect earthly practice, a governor must be content with doing very much what comes to hand. In abstract justice, now, I ought to nail up Cyril, deacons, district visitors, and all, in a row, on the sandhills outside. That is simple enough; but, like a great many simple and excellent things, impossible."
• You fear the people.'
'Well, my dear lady, and has not the villanous demagogue got the whole mob on his side? Am I to have the Constantinople riots reenacted here? I really cannot face it; I have not nerve for it; perhaps I am too lazy. Be it so.'
Hypatia sighed. Ah, that your excellency but saw the great duel, which depends on you alone! Do not fancy that the battle is merely between Paganism and Christianity
Why, if it were, you know, I, as a Christian, under a Christian and sainted emperor, not to mention his august sister'
We understand,' interrupted she, with an impatient wave of her beautiful hand. Not even between them; not even between philosophy and barbarism. The struggle is simply one between the aristocracy and the mob,-between wealth, refinement, art, learning, all that makes a nation great, and the savage herd of child-breeders below, the many ignoble, who were meant to labour for the noble few. Shall the Roman empire command or obey her own slaves? is the question which you and Cyril have to battle out; and the fight must be internecine.'
'I should not wonder if it became so, really,' answered the prefect, with a shrug of his shoulders. 'I expect, every time I ride, to have my brains knocked out by some mad monk.'
man, and kiss the mouldy bones of the vilest slaves? Why not, among a people whose God is the crucified son of a carpenter? Why should learning, authority, antiquity, birth, rank, the system of empire which has been growing up, fed by the accumulated wisdom of ages,-why, I say, should any of these things protect your life a moment from the fury of any beggar who believes that the Son of God died for him as much as for you, and that he is your equal, if not your superior, in the sight of his low-born and illiterate deity?'
My most eloquent philosopher, this may be-and perhaps is-all very true. I quite agree that there are very great practical inconveniences of this kind in the new-I mean, the catholic faith; but the world is full of inconveniences. The wise man does not quarrel with his creed for being disagreeable, any more than he does with his finger for aching he cannot help it, and must make the best of a bad matter. Only tell me how to keep the peace.' And let philosophy be destroved?'
That it never will be, as long as Hypatia lives to illuminate the earth; and, as far as I am concerned, I promise you a clear stage and a great deal of favour; as is proved by my visiting you publicly at this moment, before I have given audience to one of the four hundred bores, great and small, who are waiting in the tribunal to torment me. Do help me and advise me. What am I to do?'
'I have told you.'
Ah, yes, as to general principles. But out of the lecture-room I prefer a practical expedient: for instance, Cyril writes to me here-plague on him! he would not let me even have a week's hunting in peace-that there is a plot on the part of the Jews to murder all the Christians. Here is the precious document-do look at it, in pity. For aught I know or care, the plot may be an exactly opposite one, and the Christians intend to murder all the Jews. But I must take some notice of the letter.'
I do not see that, your excellency.'
Why, if anything did happen,
after all, conceive the missives which would be sent flying off to Constantinople against me!"
'Let them go. If you are secure in the consciousness of innocence, what matter?'
'Consciousness of innocence! I shall lose my prefecture!'
Your danger would be just as great if you took notice of it. Whatever happened, you would be accused of favouring the Jews.'
And really there might be some truth in the accusation. How the finances of the province would go on without their kind assistance, I dare not think. If those Christians would but lend me their money, instead of building alms-houses and hospitals with it, they might burn the Jews' quarter to-morrow for aught I care. But now.
But now, you must absolutely take no notice of this letter. The very tone of it forbids you, for your own honour, and the honour of the empire. Are you to treat with a man who talks of the masses of Alexandria as the flock whom the King of kings has committed to his rule and care? Does your excellency, or this proud bishop, govern
'Really, my dear lady, I have given up inquiring.'
'But he has not. He comes to you as a person possessing an absolute authority over two-thirds of the population, which he does not scruple to hint to you is derived from a higher source than your own. The consequence is clear. If it be from a higher source than yours, of course it ought to control yours; and you will confess that it ought to control it-you will acknowledge the root and ground of every extravagant claim which he makes, if you deign to reply.'
But I must say something, or I shall be pelted in the streets. You philosophers, however raised above your own bodies you may be, must really not forget that we poor worldlings have bones to be broken.'
Then tell him, and by word of mouth merely, that as the information which he sends you comes from his private knowledge, and concerns not him as bishop, but you as magistrate, you can only take it into consideration when he addresses you