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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Arrival at Babylon
By Georg Ebers (1837–1898)
From ‘An Egyptian Princess’

SEVEN weeks later, a long line of chariots and riders of every description wound along the great highway that led from the west to Babylon, the gigantic city which could be seen from a long distance.  1
  Nitetis, the Egyptian princess, sat in a gilt four-wheeled chariot, called a “Harmamaxa.” The cushions were covered with gold brocade; the roof was supported by wooden columns; its sides could be closed by means of curtains.  2
  Her companions, the Persian nobles, the dethroned King of Lydia and his son, rode by the side of her chariot. Fifty carriages and six hundred sumpter-horses followed, and a regiment of Persian soldiers on splendid horses preceded the procession.  3
  The road lay along the Euphrates, through luxuriant fields of wheat, barley, and sesame, which yielded two or even three hundredfold. Slender date-palms, with heavy clusters of fruit, stood in the fields, which were intersected in all directions by canals and conduits. Although it was winter, the sun shone warm and clear in the cloudless sky. The mighty river was crowded with barges and boats, which brought the produce of the Armenian highlands to the Mesopotamian plain, and forwarded to Babylon the greater part of the wares which were brought to Thapsacus from Greece.  4
  Engines, pumps, and water-wheels poured refreshing moisture on the fields and plantations along the banks, which were dotted with numerous villages. Everything indicated that the capital of a civilized and well-governed country was close at hand.  5
  The carriage and suite of Nitetis stopped before a long building of brick covered with bitumen, by the side of which grew numerous plane-trees. Crœsus was helped from his horse, approached the carriage of the Egyptian princess, and cried to her:—“We have reached the last station-house. The high tower that stands out against the horizon is the famous tower of Bel, like your Pyramids one of the greatest achievements of mortal hands. Before the sun sets we shall reach the brazen gates of Babylon. Permit me to help you from the carriage, and to send your women to you into the house. To-day you must dress yourself according to the custom of Persian queens, so that you may be pleasant in the eyes of Cambyses. In a few hours you will stand before your husband. How pale you are! See that your women skillfully paint joyous excitement on your cheeks. The first impression is often decisive, and this is the case with your future husband, more than with any one else. If, as I do not doubt, you please him at first sight, you have won his heart forever. If you displease him, he will, in accordance with his rough habits, scarcely deign to look on you again with kindness. Courage, my daughter. Above all things, remember what I have taught you.”  6
  Nitetis wiped away a tear, and returned:—“How shall I thank you for all your kindness, Crœsus, my second father, my protector and adviser! Oh, do not ever desert me! When the path of my poor life passes through sorrow and grief, remain my guide and protector, as you have been during this long journey over dangerous mountain passes. Thank you, my father, thank you a thousand times.”  7
  With these words, the girl put her beautiful arms round the old man’s neck and kissed him like an affectionate daughter.  8
  When she entered the court of the gloomy house, a man came towards her, followed by a train of Asiatic serving-women. The leader, the chief eunuch, one of the most important Persian court officials, was tall and stout. There was a sweet smile on his beardless face; valuable rings hung from his ears; his arms and legs, his neck, his long womanish garments, were covered with gold ornaments, and his stiff artificial curls were surrounded by a purple fillet, and sent forth a pungent odor. Boges, for this was the eunuch’s name, bowed respectfully to the Egyptian and said, holding his fleshy hand covered with rings before his mouth:—“Cambyses, the ruler of the world, sends me to meet you, O queen, that I may refresh your heart with the dew of his greetings. He further sends to you through me, his poorest slave, the garments of Persian women, that you may approach the gate of the Achæmenidæ in Median dress, as beseems the wife of the greatest of rulers. These women your servants await your commands. They will transform you from an Egyptian emerald into a Persian diamond.” Boges drew back, and with a condescending movement of his hand allowed the host of the inn to present the princess with a most tastefully arranged basket of fruit.  9
  Nitetis thanked both men with friendly words, entered the house, and tearfully put off the robes of her home; the thick plait, the mark of an Egyptian princess, was unfastened, and strange hands clad her in Median fashion.  10
  Meanwhile her companions commanded a meal to be prepared. Nimble servants fetched chairs, tables, and golden utensils from the wagon; the cooks bustled about, and were so ready and eager to help each other that soon, as if by magic, a splendidly laid table where nothing was wanting, down to the very flowers, awaited the hungry travelers.  11
  The same luxury had been displayed during the whole journey, for the sumpter-horses that followed the royal travelers carried every imaginable convenience, from gold-woven waterproof tents down to silver footstools, and the carts that accompanied them bore bakers, cooks, cup-bearers, carvers, men to prepare ointment, wreath-winders, and hair-dressers.  12
  Well-appointed inns were established at regular intervals along the high-road. Here the horses that had fallen on the way were replaced by fresh ones, shady trees offered a pleasant shelter from the heat of the sun, and on the mountains the fires of the inns protected the traveler from cold and snow.  13
  The Persian inns, which resembled our post-houses, were first established by Cyrus the Great, who sought to shorten the enormous distances between the different parts of his realm by means of well-kept roads. He had also organized a regular postal service. At every station the riders with their knapsacks found substitutes on fresh horses ready for instant departure, who, after receiving the letters which were to be forwarded, galloped off post-haste, and when they reached the next inn threw their knapsacks to other riders who stood in readiness. These couriers were called Angares, and were considered the swiftest horsemen in the world.  14
  When the company, who had been joined by Boges the eunuch, rose from table, the door of the inn opened. A long-drawn sigh of admiration was heard, for Nitetis stood before the Persians in the splendid Median court dress, proudly exultant in the consciousness of her beauty, and yet suffused with blushes at her friends’ astonishment.  15
  The servants involuntarily prostrated themselves in the Asiatic manner, but the noble Achæmenidæ bowed low and reverently. It was as if the princess had laid aside all shyness with the simple dress of her home, and assumed the pride and dignity of a queen with the silken garments, heavy with gold and jewels, of a Persian princess.  16
  The deep respect which had just been shown her seemed to please her. With a condescending movement of her hand she thanked her admiring friends; then she turned to the chief eunuch and said to him kindly but proudly:—“You have done your duty. I am not dissatisfied with the robes and the slaves you have provided for me. I shall duly praise your care to my husband. Meanwhile, receive this golden chain as a sign of my gratitude.”  17
  The powerful overseer of the king’s wives kissed her hand and silently accepted the gift. None of his charges had yet treated him with such pride. All the wives whom Cambyses had owned till now were Asiatics, and as they were acquainted with the full power of the chief eunuch, they were accustomed to do all they could to win his favor by means of flattery and submission.  18
  Boges again bowed low to Nitetis; but without paying any further attention to him, she turned to Crœsus and said in a low tone:—“I cannot thank you, my gracious friend, with word or gift for what you have done for me; it will be owing to you alone if my life at this court becomes, if not happy, at least peaceful.” Then she continued in a louder voice, audible to her traveling companions:—“Take this ring, which has not left my hand since our departure from Egypt. Its value is small, its significance great. Pythagoras, the noblest of all the Greeks, gave it to my mother when he came to Egypt to listen to the wise teachings of our priests. She gave it to me when I left home. There is a seven engraved on this simple turquoise. This number, which is indivisible, represents the health of body and soul, for nothing is less divisible than health. If but a small portion of the body suffers, the whole body is ill; if one evil thought nestles in our heart, the harmony of the soul is disturbed. Whenever you look at this seven, let it remind you that I wish you perfect enjoyment of bodily health, and the continuance of that benignity which makes you the most virtuous and therefore the most healthy of men. No thanks, my father, for I should remain in your debt though I should restore to Crœsus the wealth of Crœsus. Gyges, take this Lydian lyre of ivory, and when its strings give forth music, remember the giver. To you, Zopyrus, I give this chain, for I have noticed that you are the most faithful friend of your friends, and we Egyptians put bonds and ropes into the fair hands of our goddess of love and friendship, beautiful Hathor, as a symbol of her binding qualities. To you, Darius, the friend of Egyptian lore and the starry firmament, I give for a keepsake this golden ring, on which you will find the Zodiac engraved by a skillful hand. Bartja, my dear brother-in-law, you shall receive the most precious treasure I possess. Take this amulet of blue stone. My sister Tachot put it round my neck when for the last time I pressed a kiss upon her lips before we fell asleep. She told me this talisman would bring sweet happiness in love to him who wore it. She wept as she spoke, Bartja. I do not know what she was thinking of, but I hope I am carrying out her wish when I lay this treasure in your hand. Think that Tachot is giving it to you through me her sister, and think sometimes of the garden of Sais.”  19
  She had spoken in Greek till then. Now she turned to the servants, who were waiting at a respectful distance, and said in broken Persian:—“You too must accept my thanks. You shall receive a thousand gold staters. Boges,” she added, turning to the eunuch, “I command you to see that the sum is distributed not later than the day after to-morrow! Lead me to my carriage, Crœsus!”  20
  The old man hastened to comply with her request. While he conducted Nitetis to the carriage, she pressed his arm against her breast and whispered, “Are you satisfied with me, my father?”  21
  “I tell you, maiden,” returned the old man, “you will be the first at this court after the king’s mother, for true regal pride is on your brow, and you possess the art of doing great things with small means. Believe me, a trifling gift, chosen as you can choose, will cause greater pleasure to a nobleman than a heap of gold flung down before him. The Persians are accustomed to bestow and to receive costly gifts. They know how to enrich one another. You will teach them to make each other happy. How beautiful you are! Is that right, or do you desire higher cushions? But what is that! Do you not see clouds of dust rolling hither from the town? That must be Cambyses, who is coming to meet you. Keep yourself upright, girl. Above all, try to bear your husband’s glance and return it. Few can bear the fire of his eye. If you succeed in meeting it without fear or embarrassment, you have conquered. Courage, courage, my daughter! May Aphrodite adorn you with her loveliest charms! To horse, my friends! I think the King is coming to meet us.”  22
  Nitetis sat very erect in the golden carriage, and pressed her hands on her heart. The cloud of dust came nearer and nearer. Now bright sunbeams were reflected in the weapons of the approaching host, and darted from the cloud of dust like lightning from a stormy sky. Now the cloud divided, and figures could be distinguished; now the approaching procession vanished behind the thick bushes at a turn of the road; and now, not a hundred feet away, the galloping riders were seen distinctly as they approached nearer and nearer.  23
  The whole procession seemed to consist of a gay crowd of horses, men, purple, gold, silver, and jewels. More than two hundred riders, all on snow-white Nisæan steeds, whose bridles and caparisons glittered with gold bells and buckles, feathers, tassels, and embroidery, were followed by a man who was often carried away by the powerful coal-black horse on which he rode, but who generally proved to the unmanageable, foaming animal that he was strong enough to tame its wildness. The rider, whose knees pressed the horse so that the animal trembled and panted, wore a garment with a scarlet and white pattern, which was embroidered with silver eagles and falcons. His trousers were of purple, his boots of yellow leather. He wore a golden belt round his waist, in which was a short dagger-like sword, whose hilt and sheath were incrusted with jewels. The rest of his dress resembled Bartja’s. His tiara also was surrounded by the blue-and-white fillet of the Achæmenidæ. Thick jet-black hair streamed from it. A thick beard of the same color covered the whole lower portion of his hale, rigid face. His eyes were even darker than his hair and beard, and glittered with a fire that burned instead of warming. A deep red scar, caused by the sword of a Massagetian warrior, marked the lofty brow, large aquiline nose, and thin lips of the rider. His whole bearing bore the stamp of great power and immoderate pride.  24
  Nitetis could not turn her eyes from his form. She had never seen any one like him. She thought she saw the essence of all manliness in the intensely proud face. It seemed to her as if the whole world, but especially she herself, had been created to serve this man. She feared him, and yet her humble woman’s heart longed to cling to this strong man as the vine clings to the elm. She did not know whether the father of all evil, terrible Seth, or the giver of all light, great Ra, was to be imagined in this form.  25
  As light and shade alternate when the heavens are clouded at noon, so did deep red and ashy pallor appear on her face. She forgot the precepts of her fatherly friend; and yet when Cambyses forced his wild snorting steed to stand still by the side of her carriage, she gazed breathlessly into the flashing eyes of the man, for she knew that he was the King, though no one had told her.  26
  The stern face of the ruler of half the world softened more and more, the longer she, urged by a strange impulse, endured his piercing glance. At last he waved his hand in welcome and rode towards her companions, who had dismounted, and who either prostrated themselves in the dust before the King, or stood bowing low, in accordance with Persian custom, hiding their hands in the sleeves of their garments.  27
  Now he himself sprang from his horse. At the same time all his followers swung themselves out of the saddle. The carpet-bearers in his train spread, quick as thought, a heavy purple carpet on the road, so that the King’s foot should not touch the dust. A few seconds later, Cambyses greeted his friends and relations with a kiss.  28
  Then he shook Crœsus’s hand, and ordered him to mount again and accompany him to Nitetis as interpreter.  29
  The highest dignitaries hastened up and helped the King to mount. He gave the signal, and the whole procession moved on. Crœsus rode beside Cambyses by the golden carriage.  30
  “She is beautiful, and pleasing to my heart,” cried the Persian to his Lydian friend. “Now translate to me faithfully what she says in answer to my questions, for I understand only Persian, Babylonian, and Median.”  31
  Nitetis had understood his words. Inexpressible joy filled her heart, and before Crœsus could answer the King she said in a low tone, in broken Persian, “How shall I thank the gods, who let me find favor in your eyes? I am not ignorant of the language of my lord, for this noble old man has instructed me in the Persian language during our long journey. Pardon me if I can answer in broken words only. My time for instruction was short, and my understanding is only that of a poor ignorant maiden.”  32
  The usually stern King smiled. His vanity was flattered by Nitetis’s eagerness to gain his approbation, and this diligence in a woman seemed as strange as it was praiseworthy to the Persian, who was used to see women grow up in ignorance and idleness, thinking of nothing but dress and intrigue.  33
  He therefore answered with evident satisfaction, “I am glad that I can speak to you without an interpreter. Continue to try to learn the beautiful language of my fathers. My companion Crœsus shall remain your teacher in the future.”  34
  “Your command fills me with joy,” said the old man, “for I could not desire a more grateful or more eager pupil than the daughter of Amasis.”  35
  “She confirms the ancient fame of Egyptian wisdom,” returned the King; “and I think that she will soon understand and accept with all her soul the teachings of the magi, who will instruct her in our religion.”  36
  Nitetis looked down. The dreaded moment was approaching. She was henceforth to serve strange gods in place of the Egyptian deities.  37
  Cambyses did not observe her emotion, and continued:—“My mother Cassandane shall initiate you in your duties as my wife. I will conduct you to her myself to-morrow. I repeat what you accidentally overheard: you please me. Look to it that you keep my favor. We will try to make you like our country; and because I am your friend I advise you to treat Boges, whom I sent to meet you, graciously, for you will have to obey him in many things, as he is the superintendent of the harem.”  38
  “He may be the head of the women’s house,” returned Nitetis. “But it seems to me that no mortal but you has a right to command your wife. Give but a sign and I will obey, but consider that I am a princess, and come from a land where weak woman shares the rights of strong men; that the same pride fills my breast which shines in your eyes, my beloved! I will gladly obey you the great man, my husband and ruler; but it is as impossible for me to sue for the favor of the unmanliest of men, a bought servant, as it is for me to obey his commands.”  39
  Cambyses’s astonishment and satisfaction increased. He had never heard any woman save his mother speak like this, and the subtle way in which Nitetis unconsciously recognized and exalted his power over her whole existence satisfied his self-complacency. The proud man liked her pride. He nodded approvingly and said, “You are right. I will have a special house prepared for you. I alone will command you. The pleasant house in the hanging gardens shall be prepared for you to-day.”  40
  “I thank you a thousand times!” cried Nitetis. “If you but knew how you delight me by your gift! Your brother Bartja told me much of the hanging gardens, and none of the splendors of your great realm pleased us as much as the love of the king who built the green mountain.”  41
  “To-morrow you will be able to enter your new dwelling. Tell me how you and the Egyptians liked my envoys?”  42
  “How can you ask! Who could become acquainted with noble Crœsus without loving him? Who could help admiring the excellent qualities of the young heroes, your friends? They have become dear to our house, especially your beautiful brother Bartja, who won all hearts. The Egyptians are averse to strangers, but whenever Bartja appeared among them a murmur of admiration arose from the gaping throng.”  43
  At these words the King’s face grew dark. He gave his horse a heavy blow, so that it reared, turned its head, galloped in front of his retinue, and in a few minutes reached the walls of Babylon….  44
  The walls seemed perfectly impregnable, for they were two hundred cubits high, and their breadth was so great that two carriages could easily pass each other. Two hundred and fifty high towers surmounted and fortified this huge rampart. A greater number of these citadels would have been necessary if Babylon had not been protected on one side by impenetrable marshes. The enormous city lay on both sides of the Euphrates. It was more than nine miles in circumference, and the walls protected buildings which surpassed even the pyramids and the temples of Thebes and Memphis in size….  45
  Nitetis looked with astonishment at this huge gate; with joyful emotion she gazed at the long wide street, which was festively decked in her honor.  46

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