What a wondrous creature is man! What feats the humblest among us
perform, which, if related of another order of beings, we should deem
By what magic could the young student escape the weary old professor,
who was prosily proving Time merely a form of thought; a proposition of
which, to judge by the little value he appeared to set on the subject of
his discourse, he must himself have been fully persuaded? Without exciting
his suspicions in the smallest degree, the student stole away to a region
inconceivably remote, and presented himself at the portal of a magnificent
palace, guarded by goblins, imps, lions, serpents, and monsters whose
uncouthness forbids description.
A singular transformation seemed to have befallen the student. In the
professor's class he had been noted as timid, awkward, and painfully
respectful. He now strode up with an air of alacrity and defiance,
brandishing a roll of parchments, and confronted the seven principal
goblins, by whom he was successively interrogated.
"Hast thou undergone the seven probations?"
"Yes," said the student.
"Hast thou swallowed the ninety-nine poisons?"
"Ninety-nine times each," said the student.
"Hast thou wedded a Salamander, and divorced her?"
"I have," said the student.
"Art thou at this present time betrothed to a Vampire?"
"I am," said the student.
"Hast thou sacrificed thy mother and sister to the infernal powers?"
"Of course," said the student,
"Hast thou attestations of all these circumstances under the hands and
seals of a thousand and one demons?"
The student displayed his parchments.
"Thou hast undergone every trial," pronounced the seventh goblin; "thou
hast won the right to enter the treasury of the treasurer of all things,
and to choose from it any one talisman at thy liking."
The imps cheered, the goblins congratulated, the serpents shrank
hissing away, the lions fawned upon the student, a centaur bore him upon
his back to the treasurer's presence,
The treasurer, an old bent man, with a single lock of silvery hair,
received the adventurer with civility.
"I have come," said the student, "for the talismans in thy keeping, to
the choice among which I have entitled myself."
"Thou hast fairly earned them," replied the old man, "and I may not say
thee nay. Thou canst, however, only possess any of them in the shape which
it has received at my hands during the long period for which these have
remained in my custody."
"I must submit to the condition," said the student.
"Behold, then, Aladdin's lamp," said the ancient personage, tendering a
tiny vase hardly bigger than a pill-box, containing some grains of a
coarse, rusty powder.
"Aladdin's lamp!" cried the student.
"All of it, at least, that I have seen fit to preserve," replied the
old man. "Thou art but just in time for this even. It is proper to apprise
thee that the virtues of the talisman having necessarily dwindled with its
bulk, it is at present incompetent to evoke any Genie, and can at most
summon an imp, of whose company thou wilt never be able to rid thyself,
inasmuch as the least friction will inevitably destroy what little of the
"Confusion!" cried the young man, "Show me, then, Aladdin's ring."
"Here," replied the old man, producing a plain gold hoop,
"This, at least," asked the student, "is not devoid of virtue?"
"Assuredly not, if placed on the finger of some fair lady. For, its
magic properties depending wholly upon certain engraved characters, which
I have gradually obliterated, it is at present unadapted to any other use
than that of a wedding-ring, which it would subserve to admiration."
"Produce another talisman," commanded the youth,
"These," said the ancient treasurer, holding up two shapeless pieces of
leather, "are the shoes of swiftness, incomparable until I wore them out."
"This, at least, is bright and weighty," exclaimed the student, as the
old man displayed the sword of sharpness.
"In truth a doughty weapon," returned the treasurer, "if wielded by a
stronger arm than thine, for it will no longer fly in the air and smite
off heads of its own accord, since the new blade hath been fitted to the
After a hasty inspection of the empty frame of a magic mirror, and a
fragment of the original setting of Solomon's seal, the youth's eye
lighted upon a volume full of mysterious characters.
"Whose book is this?" he inquired. "Heavens, it is Michael Scott's!"
"Even so," returned the venerable man, "and its spells have lost
nothing of their efficacy. But the last leaf, containing the formula for
dismissing spirits after they have been summoned from the nether world,
hath been removed by me. Inattention to this circumstance hath caused
several most respectable magicians to be torn in pieces, and hath notably
increased the number of demons at large."
"Thou old villain!" shouted the exasperated youth, "is this the way in
which the treasures in thy custody are protected by thee? Deemest thou
that I will brook being thus cheated of my dear-bought talisman? Nay, but
I will deprive thee of thine. Give me that lock of hair."
"O good youth," supplicated the now terrified and humbled old man,
"bereave me not of the source of all my power. Think, only think of the
"I will not think," roared the youth. "Deliver it to me, or I'll rend
it from thy head with my own hands."
With a heavy sigh, Time clipped the lock from his brow and handed it to
the youth, who quitted the place unmolested by any of the monsters.
Entering the great city, the student made his way by narrow and winding
streets until, after a considerable delay, he emerged into a large public
square. It was crowded with people, gazing intently at the afternoon sky,
and the air was rife with a confused murmur of altercations and
"It is." "No, I tell you, it is impossible." "It cannot be." "I see it
move." "No, it's only my eyes are dazzled." "Who could have believed it?"
"Whatever will happen next?"
Following the gaze of the people, the youth discovered that the object
of their attention was the sun, in whose aspect, however, he could
discover nothing unusual.
"No," a man by him was saying, "it positively has not moved for an
hour. I have my instruments by me. I cannot possibly be mistaken."
"It ought to have been behind the houses long ago," said another.
"What's o'clock?" asked a third. The inquiry made many turn their eyes
towards the great clock in the square. It had stopped an hour ago. The
hands were perfectly motionless. All who had watches simultaneously drew
them from their pockets. The motion of each was suspended; so intense, in
turn, was the hush of the breathless crowd, that you could have heard a
single tick, but there was none to hear.
"Time is no more," proclaimed a leader among the people.
"I am a ruined man," lamented a watchmaker.
"And I," ejaculated a maker of almanacks.
"What of quarter-day?" inquired a landlord and a tenant simultaneously.
"We shall never see the moon again," sobbed a pair of lovers.
"It is well this did not happen at night," observed an optimist.
"Indeed?" questioned the director of a gas company.
"I told you the Last Day would come in our time," said a preacher.
It was still long before the people realised that the trance of Time
had paralysed his daughter Mutability as well. Every operation depending
on her silent processes was arrested. The unborn could not come to life.
The sick could not die. The human frame could not waste. Every one in the
enjoyment of health and strength felt assured of the perpetual possession
of these blessings, unless he should meet with accident or violent death.
But all growth ceased, and all dissolution was stayed. Mothers looked with
despair on infants who could never be weaned or learn to walk. Expectant
heirs gazed with dismay on immortal fathers and uncles. The reigning
beauties, the fashionable boxers and opera dancers were in the highest
feather. Nor did the intellectual less rejoice, counting on endless life
and unimpaired faculties, and vowing to extend human knowledge beyond the
conceivable. The poor and the outcast, the sick and the maimed, the
broken-hearted and the dying made, indeed, a dismal outcry, the sincerity
of which was doubted by some persons.
As for our student, forgetting his faithful Vampire, he made his way to
a young lady of great personal attractions, to whom he had been attached
in former days. The sight of her beauty, and the thought that it would be
everlasting, revived his passion. To convince her of the perpetuity of her
charms, and establish a claim upon her gratitude, he cautiously revealed
to her that he was the author of this blissful state of things, and that
Time's hair was actually in his possession.
"Oh, you dear good man!" she exclaimed, "how vastly I am obliged to
you! Ferdinand will never forsake me now."
"Ferdinand! Leonora, I thought you cared for me."
"Oh!" she said, "you young men of science are so conceited!"
The discomfited lover fled from the house, and sought the treasurer's
palace. It had vanished with all its monsters. Long did he roam the city
ere he mixed again with the crowd, which an old meteorologist was
"I ask you one thing," he was saying. "Will it ever rain again?"
"Certainly not," replied a geologist and a metaphysician together.
"Rain being an agent of Time in the production of change, there can be no
place for it under the present dispensation."
"Then will not the crops be burned up? Will the fruits mature? Are they
not withering already? What of wells and rivers, and the mighty sea
itself? Who will feed your cattle? And who will feed you?"
"This concerns us," said the butchers and bakers.
"Us also," added the fishmongers.
"I always thought," said a philosopher, "that this phenomenon must be
the work of some malignant wizard."
"Show us the wizard that we may slay him," roared the mob.
Leonora had been communicative, and the student was immediately
identified by twenty persons. The lock of hair was found upon him, and was
held up in sight of the multitude.
"It moves! it moves!" cried another division of the crowd. All eyes
were bent on the hitherto stationary luminary. It was moving—no, it
wasn't; yes, it certainly was. Dared men believe that their shadows were
actually lengthening? Was the sun's rim really drawing nigh yonder great
edifice? That muffled sound from the vast, silent multitude was,
doubtless, the quick beating of innumerable hearts; but that sharper note?
Could it be the ticking of watches? Suddenly all the public clocks clanged
the first stroke of an hour—an absurdly wrong hour, but it was an hour. No
mortal heard the second stroke, drowned in universal shouts of joy and
gratitude. The student mingled with the mass, no man regarding him.
When the people had somewhat recovered from their emotion, they fell to
disputing as to the cause of the last marvel. No scientific man could get
beyond a working hypothesis. The mystery was at length solved by a very
humble citizen, a barber.
"Why," he said, "the old gentleman's hair has grown again!"
And so it had! And so it was that the unborn came to life, the dying
gave up the ghost, Leonora pulled out a grey hair, and the student told
the professor his dream.
The aged philosopher Aboniel inhabited a lofty tower in the city of
Balkh, where he devoted himself to the study of chemistry and the occult
sciences. No one was ever admitted to his laboratory. Yet Aboniel did not
wholly shun intercourse with mankind, but, on the contrary, had seven
pupils, towardly youths belonging to the noblest families of the city,
whom he instructed at stated times in philosophy and all lawful knowledge,
reserving the forbidden lore of magic and alchemy for himself.
But on a certain day he summoned his seven scholars to the mysterious
apartment. They entered with awe and curiosity, but perceived nothing save
the sage standing behind a table, on which were placed seven crystal
phials, filled with a clear liquid resembling water.
"Ye know, my sons," he began, "with what ardour I am reputed to have
striven to penetrate the hidden secrets of Nature, and to solve the
problems which have allured and baffled the sages of all time. In this
rumour doth not err: such hath ever been my object; but, until yesterday,
my fortune hath been like unto theirs who have preceded me. The little I
could accomplish seemed as nothing in comparison with what I was compelled
to leave unachieved. Even now my success is but partial. I have not
learned to make gold; the talisman of Solomon is not mine; nor can I
recall the principle of life to the dead, or infuse it into inanimate
matter. But if I cannot create, I can preserve. I have found the Elixir of
The sage paused to examine the countenances of his scholars. Upon them
he read extreme surprise, undoubting belief in the veracity of their
teacher, and the dawning gleam of a timid hope that they themselves might
become participators in the transcendent discovery he proclaimed.
Addressing himself to the latter sentiment—"I am willing," he continued,
"to communicate this secret to you, if such be your desire."
An unanimous exclamation assured him that there need be no uncertainty
on this point.
"But remember," he resumed, "that this knowledge, like all knowledge,
has its disadvantages and its drawbacks. A price must be paid, and when ye
come to learn it, it may well be that it will seem too heavy. Understand
that the stipulations I am about to propound are not of my imposing; the
secret was imparted to me by spirits not of a benevolent order, and under
conditions with which I am constrained strictly to comply. Understand also
that I am not minded to employ this knowledge on my own behalf. My
fourscore years' acquaintance with life has rendered me more solicitous
for methods of abbreviating existence, than of prolonging it. It may be
well for you if your twenty years' experience has led you to the same
There was not one of the young men who would not readily have admitted,
and indeed energetically maintained, the emptiness, vanity, and general
unsatisfactoriness of life; for such had ever been the doctrine of their
venerated preceptor. Their present behaviour, however, would have
convinced him, had he needed conviction, of the magnitude of the gulf
between theory and practice, and the feebleness of intellectual persuasion
in presence of innate instinct. With one voice they protested their
readiness to brave any conceivable peril, and undergo any test which might
be imposed as a condition of participation in their master's marvellous
"So be it," returned the sage, "and now hearken to the conditions.
"Each of you must select at hazard, and immediately quaff one of these
seven phials, in one of which only is contained the Elixir of Life. Far
different are the contents of the others; they are the six most deadly
poisons which the utmost subtlety of my skill has enabled me to prepare,
and science knows no antidote to any of them. The first scorches up the
entrails as with fire; the second slays by freezing every vein, and
benumbing every nerve; the third by frantic convulsions. Happy in
comparison he who drains the fourth, for he sinks dead upon the ground
immediately, smitten as it were with lightning. Nor do I overmuch
commiserate him to whose lot the fifth may fall, for slumber descends upon
him forthwith, and he passes away in painless oblivion. But wretched he
who chooses the sixth, whose hair falls from his head, whose skin peels
from his body, and who lingers long in excruciating agonies, a living
death. The seventh phial contains the object of your desire. Stretch forth
your hands, therefore, simultaneously to this table; let each
unhesitatingly grasp and intrepidly drain the potion which fate may allot
him, and be the quality of his fortune attested by the result."
The seven disciples contemplated each other with visages of sevenfold
blankness. They next unanimously directed their gaze towards their
preceptor, hoping to detect some symptom of jocularity upon his venerable
features. Nothing could be descried thereon but the most imperturbable
solemnity, or, if perchance anything like an expression of irony lurked
beneath this, it was not such irony as they wished to see. Lastly, they
scanned the phials, trusting that some infinitesimal distinction might
serve to discriminate the elixir from the poisons. But no, the vessels
were indistinguishable in external appearance, and the contents of each
were equally colourless and transparent.
"Well," demanded Aboniel at length, with real or assumed surprise,
"wherefore tarry ye thus? I deemed to have ere this beheld six of you in
the agonies of death!"
This utterance did not tend to encourage the seven waverers. Two of the
boldest, indeed, advanced their hands half-way to the table, but
perceiving that their example was not followed, withdrew them in some
"Think not, great teacher, that I personally set store by this
worthless existence," said one of their number at last, breaking the
embarrassing silence, "but I have an aged mother, whose life is bound up
"I," said the second, "have an unmarried sister, for whom it is meet
that I should provide."
"I," said the third, "have an intimate and much-injured friend, whose
cause I may in nowise forsake."
"And I an enemy upon whom I would fain be avenged," said the fourth.
"My life," said the fifth, "is wholly devoted to science. Can I consent
to lay it down ere I have sounded the seas of the seven climates?"
"Or I, until I have had speech of the man in the moon?" inquired the
"I," said the seventh, "have neither mother nor sister, friends nor
enemies, neither doth my zeal for science equal that of my fellows. But I
have all the greater respect for my own skin; yea, the same is exceedingly
precious in my sight."
"The conclusion of the whole matter, then," summed up the sage, "is
that not one of you will make a venture for the cup of immortality?"
The young men remained silent and abashed, unwilling to acknowledge the
justice of their master's taunt, and unable to deny it. They sought for
some middle path, which did not readily present itself.
"May we not," said one at last, "may we not cast lots, and each take a
phial in succession, as destiny may appoint?"
"I have nothing against this," replied Aboniel, "only remember that the
least endeavour to contravene the conditions by amending the chance of any
one of you, will ensure the discomfiture of all."
The disciples speedily procured seven quills of unequal lengths, and
proceeded to draw them in the usual manner. The shortest remained in the
hand of the holder, he who had pleaded his filial duty to his mother.
He approached the table with much resolution, and his hand advanced
half the distance without impediment. Then, turning to the holder of the
second quill; the man with the sister, he said abruptly:
"The relation between mother and son is notoriously more sacred and
intimate than that which obtains between brethren. Were it not therefore
fitting that thou shouldst encounter the first risk in my stead?"
"The relationship between an aged mother and an adult son," responded
the youth addressed, in a sententious tone, "albeit most holy, cannot in
the nature of things be durable, seeing that it must shortly be dissolved
by death. Whereas the relationship between brother and sister may endure
for many years, if such be the will of Allah. It is therefore proper that
thou shouldst first venture the experiment."
"Have I lived to hear such sophistry from a pupil of the wise Aboniel!"
exclaimed the first speaker, in generous indignation. "The maternal
"A truce to this trifling," cried the other six; "fulfil the
conditions, or abandon the task."
Thus urged, the scholar approached his hand to the table, and seized
one of the phials. Scarcely, however, had he done so, when he fancied that
he detected something of a sinister colour in the liquid, which
distinguished it, in his imagination, from the innocent transparency of
the rest. He hastily replaced it, and laid hold of the next. At that
moment a blaze of light burst forth upon them, and, thunderstruck, the
seven scholars were stretched senseless on the ground.
On regaining their faculties they found themselves at the outside of
Aboniel's dwelling, stunned by the shock, and humiliated by the part they
had played. They jointly pledged inviolable secrecy, and returned to their
The secret of the seven was kept as well as the secret of seven can be
expected to be; that is to say, it was not, ere the expiration of seven
days, known to more than six-sevenths of the inhabitants of Balkh. The
last of these to become acquainted with it was the Sultan, who immediately
despatched his guards to apprehend the sage, and confiscate the Elixir.
Failing to obtain admission at Aboniel's portal, they broke it open, and,
on entering his chamber, found him in a condition which more eloquently
than any profession bespoke his disdain for the life-bestowing draught. He
was dead in his chair. Before him, on the table, stood the seven phials,
six full as previously, the seventh empty. In his hand was a scroll
inscribed as follows;
"Six times twice six years have I striven after knowledge, and I now
bequeath to the world the fruit of my toil, being six poisons. One more
deadly I might have added, but I have refrained,
"Write upon my tomb, that here he lies who forbore to perpetuate human
affliction, and bestowed a fatal boon where alone it could be innoxious."
The intruders looked at each other, striving to penetrate the sense of
Aboniel's last words. While yet they gazed, they were startled by a loud
crash from an adjacent closet, and were even more discomposed as a large
monkey bounded forth, whose sleek coat, exuberant playfulness, and
preternatural agility convinced all that the deceased philosopher, under
an inspiration of supreme irony, had administered to the creature every
drop of the Elixir of Life.
Although in a manner retired from the world during the fifth and sixth
Christian centuries, the banished Gods did not neglect to keep an eye on
human affairs, interesting themselves in any movement which might seem to
afford them a chance of regaining their lost supremacy, or in any person
whose conduct evinced regret at their dethronement. They deeply
sympathised with the efforts of their votary Pamprepius to turn the revolt
of Illus to their advantage, and excused the low magical arts to which he
stooped as a necessary concession to the spirit of a barbarous age. They
ministered invisibly to Damascius and his companions on their flight into
Persia, alleviating the hardships under which the frames of the veteran
philosophers might otherwise have sunk. It was not, indeed, until the
burning of the Alexandrian library that they lost all heart and lapsed
into the chrysalis-like condition in which they remained until tempted
forth by the young sunshine of the Renaissance.
Such a phenomenon for the fifth century as the Dionysiaca of Nonnus of
Panopolis could not fail to excite their most lively interest. Forty-eight
books of verse on the exploits of Bacchus in the age of pugnacious
prelates and filthy coenobites, of imbecile rulers and rampant robbers, of
the threatened dissolution of every tie, legal, social, or political; an
age of earthquake, war, and famine! Bacchus, who is known from
Aristophanes not to have excelled in criticism, protested that his
laureate was greater than Homer; and, though Homer could not go quite so
far as this, he graciously conceded that if he had himself been an
Egyptian of the fifth century, with a faint glimmering of the poetical
art, and encumbered with more learning than he knew how to use, he might
have written almost as badly as his modern representative. More impartial
critics judged Nonnus's achievement more favourably, and all agreed that
his steadfastness in the faith deserved some special mark of distinction.
The Muses under Pallas's direction (being themselves a little awkward in
female accomplishments) embroidered him a robe; Hermes made a lyre, and
Hephaestus forged a plectrum. Apollo added a chaplet of laurel, and
Bacchus one of ivy. Whether from distrust of Hermes' integrity, or wishing
to make the personal acquaintance of his follower, Phoebus volunteered to
convey the testimonial in person, and accordingly took his departure for
the Egyptian Thebaid.
As Apollo fared through the sandy and rugged wilderness under the
blazing sun of an African summer afternoon, he observed with surprise a
vast crowd of strange figures swarming about the mouth of a cavern like
bees clustering at the entrance to a hive. On a nearer approach he
identified them as a posse of demons besetting a hermit. Words cannot
describe the enormous variety of whatever the universe holds of most
heterogeneous. Naked women of surpassing loveliness displayed their charms
to the anchorite's gaze, sturdy porters bent beneath loads of gold which
they heaped at his feet, other shapes not alien from humanity allured his
appetite with costly dishes or cooling drinks, or smote at him with
swords, or made feints at his eyes with spears, or burned sulphur under
his nose, or displayed before him scrolls of poetry or learning, or
shrieked blasphemies in his ears, or surveyed him from a little distance
with glances of leering affection; while a motley crowd of goblins,
wearing the heads of boars or lions, or whisking the tails of dragons,
winged, or hoofed, or scaled, or feathered, or all at once, incessantly
jostled and wrangled with each other and their betters, mopping and
mowing, grunting and grinning, snapping, snarling, constantly running away
and returning like gnats dancing over a marsh. The holy man sat doggedly
at the entrance of his cavern, with an expression of fathomless stupidity,
which seemed to defy all the fiends of the Thebaid to get an idea into his
head, or make him vary his attitude by a single inch.
"These people did not exist in our time," said Apollo aloud, "or at
least they knew their place, and behaved themselves."
"Sir," said a comparatively grave and respectable demon, addressing the
stranger, "I should wish your peregrinity to understand that these imps
are mere schoolboys—my pupils, in fact. When their education has made
further progress they will be more mannerly, and will comprehend the folly
of pestering an unintellectual old gentleman like this worthy Pachymius
with beauty for which he has no eyes, and gold for which he has no use,
and dainties for which he has no palate, and learning for which he has no
head. But I'll wake him up!" And waving his pupils away, the
paedagogic fiend placed himself at the anchorite's ear, and shouted into
"Nonnus is to be Bishop of Panopolis!"
The hermit's features were instantly animated by an expression of envy
"Nonnus!" he exclaimed, "the heathen poet, to have the see of
Panopolis, of which I was promised the reversion!"
"My dear sir," suggested Apollo, "it is all very well to enliven the
reverend eremite; but don't you think it is rather a liberty to make such
jokes at the expense of my good friend Nonnus?"
"There is no liberty," said the demon, "for there is no joke. Recanted
on Monday. Baptized yesterday. Ordained to-day. To be consecrated
The anchorite poured forth a torrent of the choicest ecclesiastical
curses, until he became speechless from exhaustion, and Apollo, profiting
by the opportunity, addressed the demon:
"Would it be an unpardonable breach of politeness, respected sir, if I
ventured to hint that the illusions your pupils have been trying to impose
upon this venerable man have in some small measure impaired the confidence
with which I was originally inspired by your advantageous personal
"Not in the least," replied the demon, "especially as I can easily make
my words good. If you and Pachymius will mount my back I will transport
you to Panopolis, where you can verify my assertion for yourselves."
The Deity and the anchorite promptly consented, and seated themselves
on the demon's shoulders. The shadow of the fiend's expanded wings fell
black and vast on the fiery sand, but diminished and became invisible as
he soared to a prodigious height, to escape observation from below.
By-and-by the sun's glowing ball touched earth at the extremity of the
horizon; it disappeared, the fires of sunset burned low in the west, and
the figures of the demon and his freight showed like a black dot against a
lake of green sky, growing larger as he cautiously stooped to earth.
Grazing temples, skimming pyramids, the party came to ground in the
precincts of Panopolis, just in time to avoid the rising moon that would
have betrayed them. The demon immediately disappeared. Apollo hastened off
to demand an explanation from Nonnus, while Pachymius repaired to a
neighbouring convent, peopled, as he knew, by a legion of sturdy monks,
ever ready to smite and be smitten in the cause of orthodoxy.
Nonnus sat in his study, wrinkling his brow as he polished his verses
by the light of a small lamp. A large scroll lay open on his knees, the
contents of which seemed to afford him little satisfaction. Forty-eight
more scrolls, resplendent with silver knobs and coquettishly tied with
purple cord, reposed in an adjoining book-case; the forty-eight books,
manifestly, of the Panopolitan bard's Dionysiaca. Homer, Euripides, and
other poets lay on the floor, having apparently been hurriedly dislodged
to make room for divers liturgies and lives of the saints. A set of
episcopal robes depended from a hook, and on a side table stood
half-a-dozen mitres, which, to all appearance, the designated prelate had
been trying on.
"Nonnus," said Phoebus, passing noiselessly through the unresisting
wall, "the tale of thy apostasy is then true?"
It would be difficult to determine whether surprise, delight, or dismay
preponderated in Nonnus's expression as he lifted up his eyes and
recognised the God of Poetry. He had just presence of mind to shuffle his
scroll under an enormous dictionary ere he fell at Apollo's feet.
"O Phoebus," he exclaimed, "hadst thou come a week ago!"
"It is true, then?" said Apollo. "Thou forsakest me and the Muses. Thou
sidest with them who have broken our statues, unroofed our temples,
desecrated our altars, and banished us from among mankind. Thou rejectest
the glory of standing alone in a barbarous age as the last witness to
culture and civilisation. Thou despisest the gifts of the Gods and the
Muses, of which I am even now the bearer. Thou preferrest the mitre to the
laurel chaplet, and the hymns of Gregory to the epics of Homer?"
"O Phoebus," replied Nonnus, "were it any God but thou, I should bend
before him in silence, having nought to reply. But thou art a poet, and
thou understandest the temper of a poet. Thou knowest how beyond other men
he is devoured by the craving for sympathy. This and not vulgar vanity is
his motive of action; his shaft is launched in vain unless he can deem it
embedded in the heart of a friend. Thou mayest well judge what scoffings
and revilings my Dionysiac epic has brought upon me in this evil age; yet,
had this been all, peradventure I might have borne it. But it was not all.
The gentle, the good, the affectionate, they who in happier times would
have been my audience, came about me, saying, Nonnus, why sing the strains
against which we must shut our ears? Sing what we may listen to, and we
will love and honour thee. I could not bear the thought of going to my
grave without having awakened an echo of sympathy, and weakly but not
basely I have yielded, given them what they craved, and suffered them,
since the Muses' garland is not theirs to bestow, to reward me with a
"And what demanded they?" asked Apollo.
"Oh, a mere romance! Something entirely fabulous."
"I must see it," persisted Apollo; and Nonnus reluctantly disinterred
his scroll from under the big dictionary, and handed it up, trembling like
a schoolboy who anticipates a castigation for a bad exercise.
"What trash have we here?" cried Phoebus—
"Αχρονος ην, ακιχητος, εν αρρητω Λογος αρχη,
'Ισοφυης Γενετηρος όμηλικος Τιος αμητωρ,
Και Λογος αυτοφυτοιο Θεου, φως, εκ φαεος φως.
"If it isn't the beginning of the Gospel of John! Thy impiety is worse
than thy poetry!"
Apollo cast the scroll indignantly to the ground. His countenance wore
an expression so similar to that with which he is represented in act to
smite the Python, that Nonnus judged it prudent to catch up his manuscript
and hold it shield-wise before his face.
"Thou doest well," said Apollo, laughing bitterly; "that rampart is
indeed impenetrable to my arrows."
Nonnus seemed about to fall prostrate, when a sharp rap came to the
"That is the Governor's knock," he exclaimed. "Do not forsake me
utterly, O Phoebus!" But as he turned to open the door, Apollo vanished.
The Governor entered, a sagacious, good-humoured-looking man in middle
"Who was with thee just now?" he asked. "Methought I heard voices."
"Merely the Muse," explained Nonnus, "with whom I am wont to hold
"Indeed!" replied the Governor. "Then the Muse has done well to take
herself off, and will do even better not to return. Bishops must have no
flirtations with Muses, heavenly or earthly—not that I am now altogether
certain that thou wilt be a bishop."
"How so?" asked Nonnus, not without a feeling of relief.
"Imagine, my dear friend," returned the Governor, "who should turn up
this evening but that sordid anchorite Pachymius, to whom the see was
promised indeed, but who was reported to have been devoured by vermin in
the desert. The rumour seemed so highly plausible that it must be feared
that sufficient pains were not taken to verify it—cannot have been, in
fact; for, as I said, here he comes, having been brought, as he affirms,
through the air by an angel. Little would it have signified if he had come
by himself, but he is accompanied by three hundred monks carrying cudgels,
who threaten an insurrection if he is not consecrated on the spot. My
friend the Archbishop and I are at our wits' end: we have set our hearts
on having a gentleman over the diocese, but we cannot afford to have
tumults reported at Constantinople. At last, mainly through the mediation
of a sable personage whom no one seems to know, but who approves himself
most intelligent and obliging, the matter is put off till to-morrow, when
them and Pachymius are to compete for the bishopric in public on
conditions not yet settled, but which our swarthy friend undertakes to
arrange to every one's satisfaction. So keep up a good heart, and don't
run away in any case. I know thou art timid, but remember that there is no
safety for thee but in victory. If thou yieldest thou wilt be beheaded by
me, and if thou art defeated thou wilt certainly be burned by Pachymius."
With this incentive to intrepidity the Governor withdrew, leaving the
poor poet in a pitiable state between remorse and terror. One thing alone
somewhat comforted him! the mitres had vanished, and the gifts of the Gods
lay on the table in their place, whence he concluded that a friendly power
might yet be watching over him.
Next morning all Panopolis was in an uproar. It was generally known
that the pretensions of the candidates for the episcopate would be decided
by public competition, and it was rumoured that this would partake of the
nature of an ordeal by fire and water. Nothing further had transpired
except that the arrangements had been settled by the Governor and
Archbishop in concert with two strangers, a dingy Libyan and a handsome
young Greek, neither of whom was known in the city, but in both of whom
the authorities seemed to repose entire confidence. At the appointed time
the people flocked into the theatre, and found the stage already occupied
by the parties chiefly concerned. The Governor and the Archbishop sat in
the centre on their tribunals: the competitors stood on each side,
Pachymius backed by the demon, Nonnus by Apollo; both these supporters, of
course, appearing to the assembly in the light of ordinary mortals. Nonnus
recognised Apollo perfectly, but Pachymius's limited powers of
intelligence seemed entirely engrossed by the discomfort visibly
occasioned him by the proximity of an enormous brass vessel of water,
close to which burned a bright fire. Nonnus was also ill at ease, and
continually directed his attention to a large package, of the contents of
which he seemed instinctively cognisant.
All being ready, the Governor rose from his seat, and announced that,
with the sanction of his Grace the Archbishop, the invidious task of
determining between the claims of two such highly qualified competitors
had been delegated to two gentlemen in the enjoyment of his full
confidence, who would proceed to apply fitting tests to the respective
candidates. Should one fail and the other succeed, the victor would of
course be instituted; should both undergo the probation successfully, new
criterions of merit would be devised; should both fall short, both would
be set aside, and the disputed mitre would be conferred elsewhere. He
would first summon Nonnus, long their fellow-citizen, and now their
fellow-Christian, to submit himself to the test proposed.
Apollo now rose, and proclaimed in an audible voice, "By virtue of the
authority committed to me I call upon Nonnus of Panopolis, candidate for
the bishopric of his native city, to demonstrate his fitness for the same
by consigning to the flames with his own hands the forty-eight execrable
books of heathen poetry composed by him in the days of his darkness and
blindness, but now without doubt as detestable to him as to the universal
body of the faithful." So saying, he made a sign to an attendant, the
wrapping of the package fell away, and the forty-eight scrolls of the
Dionysiaca, silver knobs, purple cords, and all, came to view.
"Burn my poem!" exclaimed Nonnus. "Destroy the labours of twenty-four
years! Bereave Egypt of its Homer! Erase the name of Nonnus from the
tablet of Time!"
"How so, while thou hast the Paraphrase of St. John?" demanded Apollo
"Indeed, good youth," said the Governor, who wished to favour Nonnus,
"methinks the condition is somewhat exorbitant. A single book might
"I am quite content," replied Apollo. "If he consents to burn any of
his books he is no poet, and I wash my hands of him."
"Come, Nonnus," cried the Governor, "make haste; one book will do as
well as another. Hand them up here."
"It must be with his own hands, please your Excellency," said Apollo.
"Then," cried the Governor, pitching to the poet the first scroll
brought to him, "the thirteenth book. Who cares about the thirteenth book?
Pop it in!"
"The thirteenth book!" exclaimed Nonnus, "containing the contest
between wine and honey, without which my epic becomes totally and entirely
"This, then," said the Governor, picking out another, which chanced to
be the seventeenth,
"In my seventeenth book," objected Nonnus, "Bacchus plants vines in
India, and the superiority of wine to milk is convincingly demonstrated."
"Well," rejoined the Governor, "what say you to the twenty-second?"
"With my Hamadryad! I can never give up my Hamadryad!"
"Then," said the Governor, contemptuously hurling the whole set in the
direction of Nonnus, "burn which you will, only burn!"
The wretched poet sat among his scrolls looking for a victim. All his
forty-eight children were equally dear to his parental heart. The cries of
applause and derision from the spectators, and the formidable bellowings
of the exasperated monks who surrounded Pachymius, did not tend to steady
his nerves, or render the task of critical discrimination the easier,
"I won't! I won't!" he exclaimed at last, starting up defiantly. "Let
the bishopric go to the devil! Any one of my similes is worth all the
bishoprics in Egypt!"
"Out on the vanity of these poets!" exclaimed the disappointed
"It is not vanity," said Apollo, "it is paternal affection; and being
myself a sufferer from the same infirmity, I rejoice to find him my true
son after all."
"Well," said the Governor, turning to the demon: "it is thy man's turn
now. Trot him out!"
"Brethren," said the demon to the assembly, "it is meet that he who
aspires to the office of bishop should be prepared to give evidence of
extraordinary self-denial. Ye have seen even our weak brother Nonnus
adoring what he hath burned, albeit as yet unwilling to burn what he hath
adored. How much more may be reasonably expected of our brother Pachymius,
so eminent for sanctity! I therefore call upon him to demonstrate his
humility and self-renunciation, and effectually mortify the natural man,
by washing himself in this ample vessel provided for the purpose"
"Wash myself!" exclaimed Pacyhmius, with a vivacity of which he had
previously shown no token. "Destroy at one splash the sanctity of
fifty-seven years! Avaunt! thou subtle enemy of my salvation! I know thee
who thou art, the demon who brought me hither on his back yesterday."
"I thought it had been an angel," said the Governor.
"A demon in the disguise of an angel of light," said Pachymius.
A tumultuous discussion arose among Pachymius's supporters, some
extolling his fortitude, others blaming his wrongheadedness.
"What!" said he to the latter, "would ye rob me of my reputation? Shall
it be written of me, The holy Pachymius abode in the precepts of the
eremites so long as he dwelt in the desert where no water was, but as soon
as he came within sight of a bath, he stumbled and fell?"
"Oh, father," urged they, "savoureth not this of vaingloriousness? The
demon in the guise of an angel of light, as thou so well saidest even now.
Be strong. Quit thyself valiantly. Think of the sufferings of the
"St. John was cast into a caldron of boiling oil," said one.
"St. Apocryphus was actually drowned," said another.
"I have reason to believe," said a third, "that the loathsomeness of
ablution hath been greatly exaggerated by the heretics."
"I know it has," said another. "I have washed myself once,
though ye might not think it, and can assert that it is by no means as
disagreeable as one supposes."
"That is just what I dread," said Pachymius. "Little by little, one
might positively come to like it! We should resist the beginnings of
All this time the crowd of his supporters had been pressing upon the
anchorite, and had imperceptibly forced him nearer the edge of the vessel,
purposing at a convenient season to throw him in. He was now near enough
to catch a glimpse of the limpid element. Recoiling in horror, he
collected all his energies, and with head depressed towards his chest, and
hands thrust forth as if to ward off pollution—butting, kicking, biting
the air—he rushed forwards, and with a preternatural force deserving to be
enumerated among his miracles, fairly overthrew the enormous vase, the
contents streaming on the crowd in front of the stage.
"Take me to my hermitage!" he screamed. "I renounce the bishopric. Take
me to my hermitage!"
"Amen," responded the demon, and, assuming his proper shape, he took
Pachymius upon his back and flew away with him amid the cheers of the
Pachymius was speedily deposited at the mouth of his cavern, where he
received the visits of the neighbouring anchorites, who came to
congratulate him on the constancy with which he had sustained his fiery,
or rather watery trial. He spent most of his remaining days in the society
of the devil, on which account he was canonised at his death.
"O Phoebus," said Nonnus, when they were alone, "impose upon me any
penance thou wilt, so I may but regain thy favour and that of the Muses.
But before all things let me destroy my paraphrase."
"Thou shalt not destroy it," said Phoebus, "Thou shalt publish it. That
shall be thy penance."
And so it is that the epic on the exploits of Bacchus and the
paraphrase of St. John's Gospel have alike come down to us as the work of
Nonnus, whose authorship of both learned men have never been able to deny,
having regard to the similarity of style, but never could explain until
the facts above narrated came to light in one of the Fayoum papyri
recently acquired by the Archduke Rainer.
Half ignorant, they turned an easy wheel
That set sharp racks at work to pinch and peel.
In the heyday of the Emperor Aurelian's greatness, when his strong
right arm propped Rome up, and hewed Palmyra down, when he surrounded his
capital with walls fifty miles in circuit, and led Tetricus and Zenobia in
triumph through its streets, and distributed elephants among the senators,
and laid Etruria out in vineyards, and contemplated in leisure moments the
suppression of Christianity as a subordinate detail of administration, a
mere ripple on the broad ocean of his policy—at this period Bahram the
First, King of Persia, naturally became disquieted in his mind.
"This upstart soldier of fortune," reflected he, "has an unseemly habit
of overcoming and leading captive legitimate princes; thus prejudicing
Divine right in the eyes of the vulgar. The skin of his predecessor
Valerian, curried and stuffed with straw, hangs to this hour in the temple
at Ctesiphon, a pleasing spectacle to the immortal gods. How would my own
skin appear in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus? This must not be. I will
send an embassy to him, and impress him with my greatness. But how?"
He accordingly convoked his counsellors; the viziers, the warriors, the
magi, the philosophers; and addressed them thus:
"The king deigns to consult ye touching a difficult matter. I would
flatter the pride of Rome, without lowering the pride of Persia. I would
propitiate Aurelian, and at the same time humble him. How shall this be
The viziers, the warriors, and the magi answered not a word. Unbroken
silence reigned in the assembly, until the turn came to the sage Marcobad,
who, prostrating himself, said, "O king, live for ever! In ancient times,
as hath been delivered by our ancestors, Persians were instructed in three
accomplishments—to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth. Persia
still rides and shoots; truth-speaking (praised be Ormuzd!) she hath
discontinued as unbefitting an enlightened nation. Thou needest not,
therefore, scruple to circumvent Aurelian. Offer him that which thou
knowest will not be found in his treasury, seeing that it is unique in
thine own; giving him, at the same time, to understand that it is the
ordinary produce of thy dominions. So, while rejoicing at the gift, shall
he be abashed at his inferiority. I refer to the purple robe of her
majesty the queen, the like of which is not to be found in the whole
earth, neither do any know where the dye that tinges it is produced, save
that it proceeds from the uttermost parts of India."
"I approve thy advice," replied Bahram, "and in return will save thy
life by banishing thee from my dominions. When my august consort shall
learn that thou hast been the means of depriving her of her robe, she will
undoubtedly request that thou mayest be flayed, and thou knowest that I
can deny her nothing. I therefore counsel thee to depart with all possible
swiftness. Repair to the regions where the purple is produced, and if thou
returnest with an adequate supply, I undertake that my royal sceptre shall
be graciously extended to thee."
The philosopher forsook the royal presence with celerity, and his
office of chief examiner of court spikenard was bestowed upon another; as
also his house and his garden, his gold and his silver, his wives and his
concubines, his camels and his asses, which were numerous.
While the solitary adventurer wended his way eastward, a gorgeous
embassy travelled westward in the direction of Rome.
Arrived in the presence of Aurelian, and at the conclusion of his
complimentary harangue, the chief envoy produced a cedar casket, from
which he drew a purple robe of such surpassing refulgence, that, in the
words of the historian who has recorded the transaction, the purple of the
emperor and of the matrons appeared ashy grey in comparison. It was
accompanied by a letter thus conceived:
"Bahram to Aurelian: health! Receive such purple as we have in Persia."
"Persia, forsooth!" exclaimed Sorianus, a young philosopher versed in
natural science, "this purple never was in Persia, except as a rarity. Oh,
the mendacity and vanity of these Orientals!"
The ambassador was beginning an angry reply, when Aurelian quelled the
dispute with a look, and with some awkwardness delivered himself of a
brief oration in acknowledgment of the gift. He took no more notice of the
matter until nightfall, when he sent for Sorianus, and inquired where the
purple actually was produced.
"In the uttermost parts of India," returned the philosopher.
"Well," rejoined Aurelian, summing up the matter with his accustomed
rapidity and clearness of head, "either thou or the Persian king has lied
to me, it is plain, and, by the favour of the Gods, it is immaterial
which, seeing that my ground for going to war with him is equally good in
either case. If he has sought to deceive me, I am right in punishing him;
if he possesses what I lack, I am justified in taking it away. It would,
however, be convenient to know which of these grounds to inscribe in my
manifesto; moreover, I am not ready for hostilities at present; having
first to extirpate the Blemmyes, Carpi, and other barbarian vermin. I will
therefore despatch thee to India to ascertain by personal examination the
truth about the purple. Do not return without it, or I shall cut off thy
head. My treasury will charge itself with the administration of thy
property during thy absence. The robe shall meanwhile be deposited in the
temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. May he have it and thee in his holy
Thus, in that age of darkness, were two most eminent philosophers
reduced to beggary, and constrained to wander in remote and insalubrious
regions; the one for advising a king, the other for instructing an
emperor. But the matter did not rest here. For Aurelian, having continued
the visible deity of half the world for one hundred and fifty days after
the departure of Sorianus, was slain by his own generals. To him succeeded
Tacitus, who sank oppressed by the weight of rule; to him Probus, who
perished in a military tumult; to him Carus, who was killed by lightning;
to him Carinus, who was assassinated by one whom he had wronged; to him
Diocletian, who, having maintained himself for twenty years, wisely
forbore to tempt Nemesis further, and retired to plant cabbages at Salona.
All these sovereigns, differing from each other in every other respect,
agreed in a common desire to possess the purple dye, and when the
philosopher returned not, successively despatched new emissaries in quest
of it. Strange was the diversity of fate which befell these envoys. Some
fell into the jaws of lions, some were crushed by monstrous serpents, some
trampled by elephants at the command of native princes, some perished of
hunger, and some of thirst; some, encountering smooth-browed and dark-tressed
girls wreathing their hair with the champak blossom or bathing by
moonlight in lotus-mantled tanks, forsook their quest, and led thenceforth
idyllic lives in groves of banian and of palm. Some became enamoured of
the principles of the Gymnosophists, some couched themselves for uneasy
slumber upon beds of spikes, weening to wake in the twenty-second heaven.
All which romantic variety of fortune was the work of a diminutive insect
that crawled or clung heedless of the purple it was weaving into the
many-coloured web of human life.
Some thirty years after the departure of the Persian embassy to
Aurelian, two travellers met at the bottom of a dell in trans-Gangetic
India, having descended the hill-brow by opposite paths. It was early
morning; the sun had not yet surmounted the timbered and tangled sides of
the little valley, so that the bottom still lay steeped in shadow, and
glittering with large pearls of limpid dew, while the oval space of sky
circumscribed by the summit glowed with the delicate splendour of the
purest sapphire. Songs of birds resounded through the brake, and the water
lilies which veiled the rivulet trickling through the depths of the
retreat were unexpanded still. One of the wayfarers was aged, the other a
man of the latest period of middle life. Their raiment was scanty and
soiled; their frames and countenances alike bespoke fatigue and hardship;
but while the elder one moved with moderate alacrity, the other shuffled
painfully along by the help of a staff, shrinking every time that he
placed either of his feet on the ground.
They exchanged looks and greetings as they encountered, and the more
active of the two, whose face was set in an easterly direction, ventured a
compassionate allusion to the other's apparent distress.
'I but suffer from the usual effects of crucifixion,' returned the
other; and removing his sandals, displayed two wounds, completely
penetrating each foot.
The Cross had not yet announced victory to Constantine, and was as yet
no passport to respectable society. The first traveller drew back hastily,
and regarded his companion with surprise and suspicion.
"I see what is passing in thy mind," resumed the latter, with a smile;
"but be under no apprehension. I have not undergone the censure of any
judicial tribunal. My crucifixion was merely a painful but necessary
incident in my laudable enterprise of obtaining the marvellous purple dye,
to which end I was despatched unto these regions by the Emperor Aurelian."
"The purple dye!" exclaimed the Persian, for it was he. "Thou hast
"I have. It is the product of insects found only in a certain valley
eastward from hence, to obtain access to which it is before all things
needful to elude the vigilance of seven dragons."
"Thou didst elude them? and afterwards?" inquired Marcobad, with
"Afterwards," repeated Sorianus, "I made my way into the valley, where
I descried the remains of my immediate predecessor prefixed to a cross."
"He who had last made the attempt before me. Upon any one's penetrating
the Valley of Purple, as it is termed, with the design I have indicated,
the inhabitants, observant of the precepts of their ancestors, append him
to a cross by the feet only, confining his arms by ropes at the shoulders,
and setting vessels of cooling drink within his grasp. If, overcome with
thirst, he partakes of the beverage, they leave him to expire at leisure;
if he endures for three days, he is permitted to depart with the object of
his quest. My predecessor, belonging, as I conjecture, to the Epicurean
persuasion, and consequently unable to resist the allurements of sense,
had perished in the manner aforesaid. I, a Stoic, refrained and attained."
"Thou didst bear away the tincture? thou hast it now?" impetuously
interrogated the Persian.
"Behold it!" replied the Greek, exhibiting a small flask filled with
the most gorgeous purple liquid. "What seest thou here?" demanded he
triumphantly, holding it up to the light. "To me this vial displays the
University of Athens, and throngs of fair youths hearkening to the
discourse of one who resembles myself."
"To my vision," responded the Persian, peering at the vial, "it rather
reveals a palace, and a dress of honour. But suffer me to contemplate it
more closely, for my eyes have waxed dim by over application to study."
So saying, he snatched the flask from Sorianus, and immediately turned
to fly. The Greek sprang after his treasure, and failing to grasp
Marcobad's wrist, seized his beard, plucking the hair out by handfuls. The
infuriated Persian smote him on the head with the crystal flagon. It burst
into shivers, and the priceless contents gushed forth in a torrent over
the uncovered head and uplifted visage of Sorianus, bathing every hair and
feature with the most vivid purple.
The aghast and thunderstricken philosophers remained gazing at each
other for a moment.
"It is indelible!" cried Sorianus in distraction, rushing down,
however, to the brink of the little stream, and plunging his head beneath
the waters. They carried away a cloud of purple, but left the purple head
stained as before.
The philosopher, as he upraised his glowing and dripping countenance
from the brook, resembled Silenus emerging from one of the rivers which
Bacchus metamorphosed into wine during his campaign in India. He resorted
to attrition and contrition, to maceration and laceration; he tried
friction with leaves, with grass, with sedge, with his garments; he
regarded himself in one crystal pool after another, a grotesque
anti-Narcissus. At last he flung himself on the earth, and gave free
course to his anguish.
The grace of repentance is rarely denied us when our misdeeds have
proved unprofitable. Marcobad awkwardly approached.
"Brother," he whispered, "I will restore the tincture of which I have
deprived thee, and add thereto an antidote, if such may be found. Await my
return under this camphor tree."
So saying, he hastened up the path by which Sorianus had descended, and
was speedily out of sight.
Sorianus tarried long under the camphor tree, but at last, becoming
weary, resumed his travels, until emerging from the wilderness he entered
the dominions of the King of Ayodhya. His extraordinary appearance
speedily attracted the attention of the royal officers, by whom he was
apprehended and brought before his majesty.
"It is evident," pronounced the monarch, after bestowing his attention
on the case, "that thou art in possession of an object too rare and
precious for a private individual, of which thou must accordingly be
deprived. I lament the inconvenience thou wilt sustain. I would it had
been thy hand or thy foot."
Sorianus acknowledged the royal considerateness, but pleaded the
indefeasible right of property which he conceived himself to have acquired
in his own head.
"In respect," responded the royal logician, "that thy head is conjoined
to thy shoulders, it is thine; but in respect that it is purple, it is
mine, purple being a royal monopoly. Thy claim is founded on anatomy, mine
on jurisprudence. Shall matter prevail over mind? Shall medicine, the most
uncertain of sciences, override law, the perfection of human reason? It is
but to the vulgar observation that thou appearest to have a head at all;
in the eye of the law thou art acephalous."
"I would submit," urged the philosopher, "that the corporal connection
of my head with my body is an essential property, the colour of it a
"Thou mightest as well contend," returned the king, "that the law is
bound to regard thee in thy abstract condition as a human being, and is
disabled from taking cognisance of thy acquired capacity of
smuggler—rebel, I might say, seeing that thou hast assumed the purple."
"But the imputation of cruelty which might attach to your majesty's
"There can be no cruelty where there is no injustice. If any there be,
it must be on thy part, since, as I have demonstrated, so far from my
despoiling thee of thy head, it is thou who iniquitously withholdest mine.
I will labour to render this even clearer to thy apprehension. Thou art
found, as thou must needs admit, in possession of a contraband article
forfeit to the crown by operation of law. What then? Shall the intention
of the legislature be frustrated because thou hast insidiously rendered
the possession of my property inseparable from the possession of
thine? Shall I, an innocent proprietor, be mulcted of my right by thy
fraud and covin? Justice howls, righteousness weeps, integrity stands
aghast at the bare notion. No, friend, thy head has not a leg to stand on.
Wouldst thou retain it, it behoves thee to show that it will be more
serviceable to the owner, namely, myself, upon thy shoulders than
elsewhere. This may well be. Hast thou peradventure any subtleties in
perfumery? any secrets in confectionery? any skill in the preparation of
"I have condescended to none of these frivolities, O king. My study
hath ever consisted in divine philosophy, whereby men are rendered equal
to the gods."
"And yet long most of all for purple!" retorted the monarch, "as I
conclude from perceiving thou hast after all preferred the latter. Thy
head must indeed be worth the taking."
"Thy taunt is merited, O king! I will importune thee no longer. Thou
wilt indeed render me a service in depriving me of this wretched head,
hideous without, and I must fear, empty within, seeing that it hath not
prevented me from wasting my life in the service of vanity and luxury. Woe
to the sage who trusts his infirm wisdom and frail integrity within the
precincts of a court! Yet can I foretell a time when philosophers shall no
longer run on the futile and selfish errands of kings, and when kings
shall be suffered to rule only so far as they obey the bidding of
philosophers. Peace, Knowledge, Liberty—"
The King of Ayodhya possessed, beyond all princes of his age, the art
of gracefully interrupting an unseasonable discourse. He slightly signed
to a courtier in attendance, a scimitar flashed for a moment from its
scabbard, and the head of Sorianus rolled on the pavement; the lips
murmuring as though still striving to dwell with inarticulate fondness
upon the last word of hope for mankind.
It soon appeared that the principle of life was essential to the
resplendence of the Purple Head. Within a few minutes it had assumed so
ghastly a hue that the Rajah himself was intimidated, and directed that it
should be consumed with the body.
The same full-moon that watched the white-robed throng busied with the
rites of incremation in a grove of palms, beheld also the seven dragons
contending for the body of Marcobad. But, for many a year, the maids and
matrons of Rome were not weary of regarding, extolling, and coveting the
priceless purple tissue that glowed in the fane of Jupiter Capitolinus.