The Emperor. Complete
The Emperor. Complete
The Emperor – Complete
It is now fourteen years since I planned the story related in these volumes, the outcome of a series of lectures which I had occasion to deliver on the period of the Roman dominion in Egypt. But the pleasures of inventive composition were forced to give way to scientific labors, and when I was once more at leisure to try my wings with increase of power I felt more strongly urged to other flights. Thus it came to pass that I did I not take the time of Hadrian for the background of a tale till after I had dealt with the still later period of the early monastic move in “Homo Sum.” Since finishing that romance my old wish to depict, in the form of a story, the most important epoch of the history of that venerable nation to which I have devoted nearly a quarter century of my life, has found its fulfilment. I have endeavored to give a picture of the splendor of the Pharaonic times in “Uarda,” of the subjection of Egypt to the new Empire of the Persians in “An Egyptian Princess,” of the Hellenic period under the Lagides in “The Sisters,” of the Roman dominion and the early growth of Christianity in “The Emperor,” and of the anchorite spirit—in the deserts and rocks of the Sinaitic Peninsula—in “Homo Sum.” Thus the present work is the last of which the scene will be laid in Egypt. This series of romances will not only have introduced the reader to a knowledge of the history of manners and culture in Egypt, but will have facilitated his comprehension of certain dominant ideas which stirred the mind of the Ancients. How far I may have succeeded in rendering the color of the times I have described and in producing pictures that realize the truth, I myself cannot venture to judge; for since even present facts are differently reflected in different minds, this must be still more emphatically the case with things long since past and half-forgotten. Again and again, when historical investigation has refused to afford me the means of resuscitating some remotely ancient scene, I have been obliged to take counsel of imagination and remember the saying that ‘the Poet must be a retrospective Seer,’ and could allow my fancy to spread her wings, while I remained her lord and knew the limits up to which I might permit her to soar. I considered it my lawful privilege to paint much that was pure invention, but nothing that was not possible at the period I was representing. A due regard for such possibility has always set the bounds to fancy’s flight; wherever existing authorities have allowed me to be exact and faithful I have always been so, and the most distinguished of my fellow-professors in Germany, England, France and Holland, have more than once borne witness to this. But, as I need hardly point out, poetical and historical truth are not the same thing; for historical truth must remain, as far as possible, unbiassed by the subjective feeling of the writer, while poetical truth can only find expression through the medium of the artist’s fancy.
As in my last two romances, so in “The Emperor,” I have added no notes: I do this in the pleasant conviction of having won the confidence of my readers by my historical and other labors. Nothing has encouraged me to fresh imaginative works so much as the fact that through these romances the branch of learning that I profess has enlisted many disciples whose names are now mentioned with respect among Egyptologists. Every one who is familiar with the history of Hadrian’s time will easily discern by trifling traits from what author or from which inscription or monument the minor details have been derived, and I do not care to interrupt the course of the narrative and so spoil the pleasure of the larger class of readers. It would be a happiness to me to believe that this tale deserves to be called a real work of art, and, as such, its first function should be to charm and elevate the mind. Those who at the same time enrich their knowledge by its study ought not to detect the fact that they are learning.
Those who are learned in the history of Alexandria under the Romans may wonder that I should have made no mention of the Therapeutai on Lake Mareotis. I had originally meant to devote a chapter to them, but Luca’s recent investigations led me to decide on leaving it unwritten. I have given years of study to the early youth of Christianity, particularly in Egypt, and it affords me particular satisfaction to help others to realize how, in Hadrian’s time, the pure teaching of the Saviour, as yet little sullied by the contributions of human minds, conquered—and could not fail to conquer—the hearts of men. Side by side with the triumphant Faith I have set that noble blossom of Greek life and culture—Art which in later ages, Christianity absorbed in order to dress herself in her beautiful forms. The statues and bust of Antinous which remain to us of that epoch, show that the drooping tree was still destined to put forth new leaves under Hadrian’s rule.
The romantic traits which I have attributed to the character of my hero, who travelled throughout the world, climbing mountains to rejoice in the splendor of he rising sun, are authentic. One of the most difficult tasks I have ever set myself was to construct from the abundant but essentially contradictory accounts of Hadian a human figure in which I could myself at all believe; still, how gladly I set to work to do so! There was much to be considered in working out this narrative, but the story itself has flowed straight from the heart of the writer; I can only hope it may find its way to that of the reader.
LEIPZIG, November, 1880.
The morning twilight had dawned into day, and the sun had risen on the first of December of the year of our Lord 129, but was still veiled by milk-white mists which rose from the sea, and it was cold.
Kasius, a mountain of moderate elevation, stands on a tongue of land that projects from the coast between the south of Palestine and Egypt. It is washed on the north by the sea which, on this day, is not gleaming, as is its wont, in translucent ultramarine; its more distant depths slowly surge in blue-black waves, while those nearer to shore are of quite a different hue, and meet their sisters that lie nearer to the horizon in a dull greenish-grey, as dusty plains join darker lava beds. The northeasterly wind, which had risen as the sun rose, now blew more keenly, wreaths of white foam rode on the crests of the waves, though these did not beat wildly and stormily on the mountain-foot, but rolled heavily to the shore in humped ridges, endlessly long, as if they were of molten lead. Still the clear bright spray splashed up when the gulls dipped their pinions in the water as they floated above it, hither and thither, restless and uttering shrill little cries, as though driven by terror.
Three men were walking slowly along the causeway which led from the top of the hill down into the valley, but it was only the eldest, who walked in front of the other two, who gave any heed to the sky, the sea, the gulls, and the barren plain that lay silent at his feet. He stopped, and as soon as he did so, the others followed his example. The landscape below him seemed to rivet his gaze, and it justified the disapproval with which he gently shook his head, which was somewhat sunk into his beard. A narrow strip of desert stretched westward before him as far as the eye could reach, dividing two levels of water. Along this natural dyke a caravan was passing, and the elastic feet of the camels fell noiselessly on the road they trod. The leader, wrapped in his white mantle, seemed asleep, and the camel-drivers to be dreaming; the dull-colored eagles by the road-side did not stir at their approach. To the right of the stretch of flat coast along which the road ran from Syria to Egypt, lay the gloomy sea, overhung by grey clouds; to the left lay the desert, a strange and mysterious feature in the landscape, of which the eye could not see the end, either to the east or to the west, and which looked here like a stretch of snow, there like standing water, and again like a thicket of rushes.
The eldest of our travellers gazed constantly towards heaven or into the distance; the second, a slave who carried rugs and cloaks on his broad shoulders, never took his eyes off his master; and the third, a young, free-man, looked wearily and dreamily down the road.
A broad path, leading to a stately temple, crossed that which led from the summit of the mountain to the coast, and the bearded pedestrian turned up it; but he followed it only for a few steps, then he turned his head with a dissatisfied air, muttered a few unintelligible words into his beard, turned round and hastily retraced his steps to the narrow way, down which he went towards the valley. His young companion followed him without raising his head or interrupting his reverie, as if he were his shadow, but the slave lifted his cropped fair head and a stolen smile crossed his lips as on the left hand side of the Kasius road he caught sight of a black kid, and close beside it an old woman who, at the approach of the three men covered her wrinkled face in alarm with her dark blue veil.
“That is the reason then!” said the slave to himself with a nod, and blowing a kiss into the air to a black-haired girl who crouched at the old woman’s feet. But she, for whom the greeting was intended, did not observe this mute courtship, for her eyes followed the travellers, and especially the young man, as if spellbound. As soon as the three were far enough off not to hear her, the girl asked with a shiver, as if some desert-spectre had passed by-and in a low voice “Grandmother, who was that?”
The old woman raised her veil, laid her hand on her grandchild’s mouth, and whispered:
“It was he.”
The old woman answered with a significant nod, but the girl squeezed herself up, against her grandmother, with vehement curiosity stretching out her dusky head to see better, and asked softly: “The young one?”
“Silly child! the one in front with a grey beard.”
“He? Oh, I wish the young one was the Emperor!”
It was in fact Hadrian, the Roman Emperor, who walked on in silence before his escort, and it seemed as though his advent had given life to the desert, for as he approached the reed-swamp, the kites flew up in the air, and from behind a sand-hill on the edge of the broader road which Hadrian had avoided, came two men in priestly robes. They both belonged to the temple of Baal of Kariotis, a small structure of solid stone, which faced the sea, and which the Emperor had yesterday visited.
“Do you think he has lost his way?” said one to the other, in the Phoenician tongue.
“Hardly,” was the answer. “Master said that he could always find a road again by which he had once gone, even in the dark.”
“And yet he is gazing more at the clouds than at the road.”
“Still, he promised us yesterday.”
“He promised nothing for certain,” interrupted the other.
“Indeed he did; at parting he called out—and I heard him distinctly: ‘Perhaps I shall return and consult your oracle.’”
“I think he said ‘probably.’”
“Who knows whether some sign he has seen up in the sky may not have turned him back; he is going to the camp by the sea.”
“But the banquet is standing ready for him in our great hall.”
“He will find what he needs down there. Come, it is a wretched morning, and I am being frozen.”
“Wait a little longer-look there.”
“He does not even wear a hat to cover his grey hair.”
“He has never yet been seen to travel with anything on his head.”
“And his grey cloak is not very imperial looking.”
“He always wears the purple at a banquet.”
“Do you know who his walk and appearance remind me of?”
“Of our late high-priest, Abibaal; he used to walk in that ponderous, meditative way, and wear a beard like the Emperor’s.”
“Yes, yes—and had the same piercing grey eye.”
“He too used often to gaze up at the sky. They have both the same broad forehead, too; but Abibaal’s nose was more aquiline, and his hair curled less closely.”
“And our governor’s mouth was grave and dignified, while Hadrian’s lips twitch and curl at all he says and hears, as if he were laughing at it all.”
“Look, he is speaking now to his favorite—Antonius I think they call the pretty boy.”
“Antinous, not Antonius. He picked him up in Bithynia, they say.”