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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 Sacrifice to Moloch
By Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880)
 
From ‘Salammbô’

A SECTION of the wall of the temple of Moloch was removed, in order to pull the brazen god through without disturbing the ashes on the altar. As soon as the sun rose, the sacred slaves of the temple pushed him to the square of Khamoûn.  1
  He moved backwards, sliding over cylinders; his shoulders overtopped the walls; from the farthest point the Carthaginians who perceived him fled with speed, for it was impossible to contemplate the Baal with impunity, save in the exercise of his wrath.  2
  An odor of aromatics was wafted through the streets. All the temples were thrown open simultaneously, and tabernacles upon chariots, or on litters which pontiffs carried, issued forth. Great plumes of feathers nodded at their corners, and rays flashed from their pointed spires, terminated by globes of crystal, gold, silver, or copper.  3
  These were the Canaanite Baalim, reproductions of the supreme Baal, returning towards their essence to humble themselves before his power, and be lost in his splendor. The canopy of Melkarth, of fine purple, sheltered a flame of bitumen oil; while upon that of Khamoûn, which was of hyacinth color, was erected an ivory phallus bordered with a circle of gems: between the curtains of Eschmoûn, blue as the ether, a Python slept, describing a circle as it bit its tail; and the Dii-Patæci, held in the arms of their priests, their heels dragging on the ground, resembled large babies in swaddling-clothes….  4
  The brazen statue continued to move towards the square of Khamoûn. The Rich, carrying sceptres with emerald apples, started from the far end of Megara; the Elders, crowned with diadems, assembled in Kinisdo; and the masters of finance, the governors of provinces, merchants, soldiers, sailors, and the numerous horde employed at funerals, all displaying the insignia of their magistracy or the instruments of their vocations, converged towards the tabernacles that descended from the Acropolis between the colleges of pontiffs.  5
  In deference to Moloch, they were all bedecked with their most splendid jewels. Diamonds sparkled over their black apparel; but their rings, now too wide, loosely fell from their emaciated hands, and nothing could be more lugubrious than that silent concourse, where brilliant earrings struck against pallid faces, and where gold tiaras encircled foreheads wrinkled by an atrocious despair.  6
  Finally the Baal attained the centre of the square. His pontiffs made an inclosure with trellises to keep back the multitude, and remained themselves at his feet, surrounding him.  7
  The priests of Khamoûn, in reddish woolen robes, aligned before their temple under the columns of the portico; those of Eschmoûn, in white linen mantles, with collars of the heads of hoopoes, wearing conical tiaras, established themselves on the steps of the Acropolis; the priests of Melkarth, in violet tunics, took their position on the western side; the priests of the Abaddirs, swathed in bands of Phrygian stuffs, placed themselves on the eastern side; and ranged on the southern side with the necromancers, all covered with tattooings, were the howlers in patched mantles, the priests of the Dii-Patæci, and the Yidonim, who divined the future by placing a bone of a dead body in their mouths. The priests of Ceres, habited in blue robes, had prudently stopped in Satheb Street, intoning in a low voice a thesmophorion in Megarian dialect….  8
  Meantime a fire of aloe, cedar, and laurel wood burned between the legs of the Colossus. His long wings buried their points in the flame; the unguents with which he had been rubbed now trickled like sweat over his brazen limbs. About the round stone upon which his feet rested, children, enveloped in black veils, formed a motionless circle; and his inordinately long arms allowed the palms of his hands to reach down to them, as if to seize this crown and convey it to the sky.  9
  The Rich, the Elders, the women, and in fact the entire multitude, thronged behind the priests and on the terraces of the houses. The large painted stars revolved no longer; the tabernacles were placed on the ground, and the smoke from the censers rose on high perpendicularly, like gigantic trees spreading their bluish boughs to the centre of the azure. Many of the spectators fainted; others became inert and petrified in their ecstasy; an infinite agony pressed heavily upon their hearts. The clamors one by one died out, and the people of Carthage panted in silence, absorbed in the terror of their desire.  10
  At last the high priest of Moloch passed his right hand beneath the children’s veils, and pulled out a lock of hair from each of their foreheads, which he threw into the flames. Then the men in red mantles intoned a sacred hymn:—  11
  “Homage to thee, O Sun! King of the two Zones! Creator, self-begotten! Father and Mother! Father and Son! God and Goddess! Goddess and God!” and their voices were lost in the explosion of countless instruments, sounding all together to smother the cries of the victims. The scheminith with eight strings, the kinnor with ten, and the nebel with twelve, all twanged, whistled, and thundered forth. Enormous leather bottles stuck full of tubes emitted a sharp rolling noise; the tambourines, beaten with all possible force, resounded with heavy, rapid blows; and despite the fury of the clarions, the salsalim clicked like the wings of locusts.  12
  The sacred slaves with a long hook opened the seven compartments ranged in the body of the Baal. Into the highest division farina was introduced; into the second, two turtle-doves; into the third, an ape; into the fourth, a ram; into the fifth, a lamb; and into the sixth, as they did not possess an ox, a tanned hide from the sanctuary was substituted; the seventh aperture remained gaping.  13
  Before a human victim should be offered, it was deemed best to test the arms of the god. Slender chainlets, passing from the fingers over his shoulders, descended at the back, which men pulled downward, raising to the height of his elbows his two open hands, that in approaching each other came opposite his belly. They worked them several times successively with little jerks. Then the musical instruments were hushed, and the fire roared fiercely.  14
  The pontiffs of Moloch walked to and fro on the large stone slab, examining the multitude.  15
  The first offering must be an individual sacrifice, an oblation perfectly voluntary, which would be effectual to incite others. But no one came forward, and the seven alleys leading from the barrier to the Colossus remained completely empty. To stimulate the people, the priests pulled from their girdles little stilettos, with which they slashed their faces. The Devotees, who had been stretched on the ground outside, were introduced into the inclosure, and a packet of horrible irons was thrown to them: each one chose his torture. They passed spits through their breasts, slit their cheeks, put upon their heads crowns of thorns; then they enlaced their arms together, and surrounding the children, they formed another great circle, ever contracting and expanding. Having reached the balustrade, they threw themselves back, only to eddy outwards again, continually attracting to them the crowd, by the vertigo of their movements, full of blood and cries.  16
  Gradually the people, thus incited, came into the end of the alleys, and threw into the flames pearls, gold vases, cups, all their treasures, and flambeaux.  17
  These offerings became more and more splendid, and kept multiplying. Presently a man who staggered, a man pale and hideous from terror, pushed forward a child; then could be distinguished between the hands of the Colossus a little black mass—it sank into the dark opening. The priests leaned over the edge of the large slab, and a new chant burst out, celebrating the joys of death and the renascence of eternity.  18
  The children mounted up slowly, and as the smoke rose in lofty whirling masses, they seemed from afar to disappear in a cloud. Not one moved. All had been securely bound hand and foot, and the dark drapery prevented them from seeing anything, and from being recognized.  19
  Hamilcar, in a red mantle like that of the priests of Moloch, remained near the Baal, standing before the great toe of his right foot. When the fourteenth child was put in, all the people saw that he made a demonstrative gesture of horror, but quickly resuming his attitude of composure, he crossed his arms, and gazed on the ground. On the other side of the Colossus the grand pontiff likewise remained motionless, bowing his head, upon which was an Assyrian mitre, and observing on his breast the gold plaque covered with prophetic stones, which threw out iridescent lights as the flames struck across them. He grew pale and abstracted.  20
  Hamilcar inclined his head, and they were both so near the pyre that the hem of their robes in rising from time to time swept it.  21
  Moloch’s brazen arms moved more rapidly; they no longer paused. Each time a child was placed upon them, the priests of Moloch extended their hands over the victim to charge upon it the sins of the people, vociferating:—  22
  “These are not men, but oxen!” and the multitude around repeated, “Oxen! Oxen!” The Devotees screamed out, “Lord! eat!” and the priests of Proserpine, conforming in terror to Carthage’s need, mumbled their Eleusinian formula: “Pour forth rain! conceive!” No sooner were the victims placed on the verge of the aperture than they vanished, like a drop of water on a red-hot plate, and whiffs of white smoke curled up through the scarlet glow.  23
  Yet the appetite of the god was not appeased; he still wanted more. In order to supply him, the children were piled on his hands, and were retained there by a great chain.  24
  In the beginning, Devotees tried to count them, in order to note if the total number corresponded to the days of the solar year; but now so many were piled on that it was impossible to distinguish them during the dizzy movements of those horrible arms. All this lasted a long time, until nightfall. Then the interior divisions gave a most sombre glare. For the first time, the burning flesh was visible. Some people even fancied that they recognized hair, limbs, and entire bodies.  25
  The day fell; clouds gathered over the head of the Baal. The pyre, now flameless, made a pyramid of glowing embers that reached to his knees; and all crimson, like a giant covered with blood, with head bent backward, he seemed to reel under the weight of his intoxication. According as the priests urged haste, the frenzy of the people augmented; as the number of victims decreased, some cried out to spare them, others that Moloch must have more. It seemed as though the walls, with their masses of spectators, would crumble beneath the yells of horror and of mystic voluptuousness. Then came into the alleys some faithful ones, dragging their children, who clung to them; and they beat the little hands to make them loose their hold, that they might deliver them to the red men.  26
  Occasionally the musicians paused from sheer exhaustion; and in the lull could be heard the screams of mothers and the crackling of the grease spattering on the coals. The mandrake-drinkers crept on all-fours around the Colossus, roaring like tigers. The Yidonim prophesied; the Devotees chanted with their cleft lips. The railings were broken, for now all wanted to participate in the sacrifice; and fathers whose children were deceased cast into the yawning furnace their effigies, toys, and preserved bones. Those who possessed knives rushed upon the others; they cut each other’s throats in their voracious rage, maddened by the holocaust. The sacred slaves, with bronze winnowing-baskets, took from the edge of the stone slab the fallen cinders, which they tossed high in the air, that the sacrifice should be dispersed over the entire city, and attain to the region of the stars.  27
  The tumultuous noise and vast illumination had attracted the Barbarians to the very foot of the walls. Climbing upon the ruins of the helepolis, they looked on, gaping with horror.  28
 
 
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