Hypatia, by Charles Kingsley

Chapter xxv

Seeking After a Sign

‘What answer has he sent back, father?’ asked Hypatia, as Theon re-entered her chamber, after delivering that hapless letter to Philammon.

‘Insolent that he is! he tore it to fragments and tied forth without a word.’

‘Let him go, and desert us like the rest, in our calamity!’

‘At least, we have the jewels.’

‘The jewels? Let them be returned to their owner. Shall we defile ourselves by taking them as wages for anything — above all, for that which is unperformed?’

‘But, my child, they were given to us freely. He bade me keep them; and — and, to tell you the truth, I must keep them. After this unfortunate failure, be sure of it, every creditor we have will be clamouring for payment.’

‘Let them take our house and furniture, and sell us as slaves, then. Let them take all, provided we keep our virtue.’

‘Sell us as slaves? Are you mad?’

‘Not quite mad yet, father,’ answered she with a sad smile. ‘But how should we be worse than we are now, were we slaves? Raphael Aben–Ezra told me that he obeyed my precepts, when he went forth as a houseless beggar; and shall I not have courage to obey them myself, if the need come? The thought of his endurance has shamed my luxury for this many a month. After all, what does the philosopher require but bread and water, and the clear brook in which to wash away the daily stains of his earthly prison-house? Let what is fated come. Hypatia struggles with the stream no more!’

‘My daughter! And have you given up all hope? So soon disheartened! What! Is this paltry accident to sweep away the purposes of years? Orestes remains still faithful. His guards have orders to garrison the house for as long as we shall require them.’

‘Send them away, then. I have done no wrong, and I fear no punishment.’

‘You do not know the madness of the mob; they are shouting your name in the streets already, in company with Pelagia’s.’

Hypatia shuddered. Her name in company with Pelagia’s! And to this she had brought herself!

‘I have deserved it! I have sold myself to a lie and a disgrace! I have stooped to truckle, to intrigue! I have bound myself to a sordid trickster! Father! never mention his name to me again! I have leagued myself with the impure and the bloodthirsty, and I have my reward! No more politics for Hypatia from henceforth, my father; no more orations and lectures; no more pearls of Divine wisdom cast before swine. I have sinned in divulging the secrets of the Immortals to the mob. Let them follow their natures! Fool that I was, to fancy that my speech, my plots, could raise them above that which the gods had made them!’

‘Then you give up our lectures? Worse and worse! We shall be ruined utterly!’

‘We are ruined utterly already. Orestes? There is no help in him. I know the man too well, my father, not to know that he would give us up to-morrow to the fury of the Christians were his own base life — even his own baser office — in danger.’

‘Too true — too true! I fear,’ said the poor old man, wringing his hands in perplexity. ‘What will become of us — of you, rather? What matter what happens to the useless old star-gazer? Let him die! To-day or next year is alike to him. But you, you! Let us escape by the canal. We may gather up enough, even without these jewels, which you refuse, to pay our voyage to Athens, and there we shall be safe with Plutarch; he will welcome you — all Athens will welcome you — we will collect a fresh school — and you shall be Queen of Athens, as you have been Queen of Alexandria!’

‘No, father. What I know, henceforth I will know for myself only. Hypatia will be from this day alone with the Immortal Gods!’

‘You will not leave me?’ cried the old man, terrified.

‘Never on earth!’ answered she, bursting into real human tears, and throwing herself on his bosom. ‘Never — never! father of my spirit as well as of my flesh! — the parent who has trained me, taught me, educated my soul from the cradle to use her wings! — the only human being who never misunderstood me — never thwarted me — never deceived me!’

‘My priceless child! And I have been the cause of your ruin!’

‘Not you! — a thousand times not you! I only am to blame! I tampered with worldly politics. I tempted you on to fancy that I could effect what I so rashly undertook. Do not accuse yourself unless you wish to break my heart! We can be happy together yet. — A palm-leaf hut in the desert, dates from the grove, and water from the spring — the monk dares be miserable alone in such a dwelling, and cannot we dare to be happy together in it?’

‘Then you will escape?’

‘Not to-day. It were base to flee before danger comes. We must hold out at our post to the last moment, even if we dare not die at it like heroes. And to-morrow I go to the lecture-room — to the beloved Museum, for the last time, to take farewell of my pupils. Unworthy as they are, I owe it to myself and to philosophy to tell them why I leave them.’

‘It will be too dangerous — indeed it will!’

‘I could take the guards with me, then. And yet — no. . . . They shall never have occasion to impute fear to the philosopher. Let them see her go forth as usual on her errand, strong in the courage of innocence, secure in the protection of the gods. So, perhaps, some sacred awe, some suspicion of her divineness, may fall on them at last.’

‘I must go with you.’

‘No, I go alone. You might incur danger where I am safe. After all, I am a woman. . . . And, fierce as they are, they will not dare to harm me.’

The old man shook his head.

‘Look now,’ she said smilingly, laying her hands on his shoulders, and looking into his face. . . . ‘You tell me that I am beautiful, you know; and beauty will tame the lion. Do you not think that this face might disarm even a monk?’

And she laughed and blushed so sweetly, that the old man forgot his fears, as she intended that he should, and kissed her and went his way for the time being, to command all manner of hospitalities to the soldiers, whom he prudently determined to keep in his house as long as he could make them stay there; in pursuance of which wise purpose he contrived not to see a great deal of pleasant flirtation between his valiant defenders and Hypatia’s maids, who, by no means so prudish as their mistress, welcomed as a rare boon from heaven an afternoon’s chat with twenty tall men of war.

So they jested and laughed below, while old Theon, having brought out the very best old wine, and actually proposed in person, by way of mending matters, the health of the Emperor of Africa, locked himself into the library, and comforted his troubled soul with a tough problem of astronomy, which had been haunting him the whole day, even in the theatre itself. But Hypatia sat still in her chamber, her face buried in her hands, her heart full of many thoughts; her eyes of tears. She had smiled away her father’s fears; she could not smile away her own.

She felt, she hardly knew why, but she felt as clearly as if a god had proclaimed it to her bodily ears, that the crisis of her life was come: that her political and active career was over, and that she must now be content to be for herself, and in herself alone, all that she was, or might become. The world might be regenerated: but not in her day; — the gods restored; but not by her. It was a fearful discovery, and yet hardly a discovery. Her heart had told her for years that she was hoping against hope — that she was struggling against a stream too mighty for her. And now the moment had come when she must either be swept helpless down the current, or, by one desperate effort, win firm land, and let the tide roll on its own way henceforth. . . . Its own way?. . . . Not the way of the gods, at least; for it was sweeping their names from off the earth. What if they did not care to be known? What if they were weary of worship and reverence from mortal men, and, self-sufficing in their own perfect bliss, recked nothing for the weal or woe of earth? Must it not be so? Had she not proof of it in everything which she beheld? What did Isis care for her Alexandria? What did Athens care for her Athens?. . . . And yet Homer and Hesiod, and those old Orphic singers, were of another mind. . . . Whence got they that strange fancy of gods counselling, warring, intermarrying, with mankind, as with some kindred tribe?

‘Zeus, father of gods and men.’. . . . Those were words of hope and comfort. . . . But were they true? Father of men? Impossible! — not father of Pelagia, surely. Not father of the base, the foul, the ignorant. . . . Father of heroic souls, only, the poets must have meant. . . . But where were the heroic souls now? Was she one? If so, why was she deserted by the upper powers in her utter need? Was the heroic race indeed extinct? Was she merely assuming, in her self-conceit, an honour to which she had no claim? Or was it all a dream of these old singers? Had they, as some bold philosophers had said, invented gods in their own likeness, and palmed off on the awe and admiration of men their own fair phantoms?. . . . It must be so. If there were gods, to know them was the highest bliss of man. Then would they not teach men of themselves, unveil their own loveliness to a chosen few, even for the sake of their own honour, if not, as she had dreamed once, from love to those who bore a kindred flame to theirs?. . . . What if there were no gods? What if the stream of fate, which was sweeping away their names; were the only real power? What if that old Pyrrhonic notion were the true solution of the problem of the Universe? What if there were no centre, no order, no rest, no goal — but only a perpetual flux, a down-rushing change? And before her dizzying brain and heart arose that awful vision of Lucretius, of the homeless Universe falling, falling, falling, for ever from nowhence toward nowhither through the unending ages, by causeless and unceasing gravitation, while the changes and efforts of all mortal things were but the jostling of the dust-atoms amid the everlasting storm. . . .

It could not be! There was a truth, a virtue, a beauty, a nobleness, which could never change, but which were absolute, the same for ever. The God-given instinct of her woman’s heart rebelled against her intellect, and, in the name of God, denied its lie. . . . Yes — there was virtue, beauty. . . . And yet — might not they, too, be accidents of that enchantment, which man calls mortal life; temporary and mutable accidents of consciousness; brilliant sparks, struck out by the clashing of the dust-atoms? Who could tell?

There were those once who could tell. Did not Plotinus speak of a direct mystic intuition of the Deity, an enthusiasm without passion, a still intoxication of the soul, in which she rose above life, thought, reason, herself, to that which she contemplated, the absolute and first One, and united herself with that One, or, rather, became aware of that union which had existed from the first moment in which she emanated from the One? Six times in a life of sixty years had Plotinus risen to that height of mystic union, and known himself to be a part of God. Once had Porphyry attained the same glory. Hypatia, though often attempting, had never yet succeeded in attaining to any distinct vision of a being external to herself; though practice, a firm will, and a powerful imagination, had long since made her an adept in producing, almost at will, that mysterious trance, which was the preliminary step to supernatural vision. But her delight in the brilliant, and, as she held, divine imaginations, in which at such times she revelled, had been always checked and chilled by the knowledge that, in such matters, hundreds inferior to her in intellect and in learning — ay, saddest of all, Christian monks and nuns, boasted themselves her equals — indeed, if their own account of their visions was to be believed, her superiors — by the same methods which she employed. For by celibacy, rigorous fasts, perfect bodily quiescence, and intense contemplation of one thought, they, too, pretended to be able to rise above the body into the heavenly regions, and to behold things unspeakable, which nevertheless, like most other unspeakable things, contrived to be most carefully detailed and noised abroad. . . . And it was with a half feeling of shame that she prepared herself that afternoon for one more, perhaps one last attempt, to scale the heavens, as she recollected how many an illiterate monk and nun, from Constantinople to the Thebaid, was probably employed at that moment exactly as she was. Still, the attempt must be made. In that terrible abyss of doubt, she must have something palpable, real; something beyond her own thoughts, and hopes, and speculations, whereon to rest her weary faith, her weary heart. . . . Perhaps this time, at least, in her extremest need, a god might vouchsafe some glimpse of his own beauty . . . . Athene might pity at last. . . . Or, if not Athene, some archetype, angel, demon. . . . And then she shuddered at the thought of those evil and deceiving spirits, whose delight it was to delude and tempt the votaries of the gods, in the forms of angels of light. But even in the face of that danger, she must make the trial once again. Was she not pure and spotless as Athene’s self? Would not her innate purity enable her to discern, by an instinctive antipathy, those foul beings beneath the fairest mask? At least, she must make the trial. . . .

And so, with a look of intense humility, she began to lay aside her jewels and her upper robes. Then, baring her bosom and her feet, and shaking her golden tresses loose, she laid herself down upon the conch, crossed her hands upon her breast, and, with upturned ecstatic eyes, waited for that which might befall.

There she lay, hour after hour, as her eye gradually kindled, her bosom heaved, her breath came fast: but there was no more sign of life in those straight still limbs, and listless feet and hands, than in Pygmalion’s ivory bride, before she bloomed into human flesh and blood. The sun sank towards his rest; the roar of the city grew louder and louder without; the soldiers revelled and laughed below: but every sound passed through unconscious ears, and went its way unheeded. Faith, hope, reason itself, were staked upon the result of that daring effort to scale the highest heaven. And, by one continuous effort of her practised will, which reached its highest virtue, as mystics hold, in its own suicide, she chained down her senses from every sight and sound, and even her mind from every thought, and lay utterly self-resigned, self-emptied, till consciousness of time and place had vanished, and she seemed to herself alone in the abyss.

She dared not reflect, she dared not hope, she dared not rejoice, lest she should break the spell. . . . Again and again had she broken it at this very point, by some sudden and tumultuous yielding to her own joy or awe; but now her will held firm. . . . She did not feel her own limbs, hear her own breath. . . . A light bright mist, an endless network of glittering films, coming, going, uniting, resolving themselves, was above her and around her. . . . Was she in the body or out of the body?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The network faded into an abyss of still clear light. . . . A still warm atmosphere was around her, thrilling through and through her. . . . She breathed the light, and floated in it, as a mote in the mid-day beam. . . . And still her will held firm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Far away, miles, and aeons, and abysses away, through the interminable depths of glory, a dark and shadowy spot. It neared and grew. . . . A dark globe, ringed with rainbows. . . . What might it be? She dared not hope. . . . It came nearer, nearer, nearer, touched her. . . . The centre quivered, flickered, took form — a face. A god’s? No — Pelagia’s.

Beautiful, sad, craving, reproachful, indignant, awful. . . . Hypatia could bear no more: and sprang to her feet with a shriek, to experience in its full bitterness the fearful revulsion of the mystic, when the human reason and will which he has spurned reassert their God-given rights; and after the intoxication of the imagination, come its prostration and collapse.

And this, then, was the answer of the gods! The phantom of her whom she had despised, exposed, spurned from her! ‘No, not their answer — the answer of my own soul! Fool that I have been! I have been exerting my will most while I pretended to resign it most! I have been the slave of every mental desire, while I tried to trample on them! What if that network of light, that blaze, that globe of darkness, have been, like the face of Pelagia, the phantoms of my own imagination — ay, even of my own senses? What if I have mistaken for Deity my own self? What if I have been my own light, my own abyss?. . . . Am I not my own abyss, my own light — my own darkness?’ And she smiled bitterly as she said it, and throwing herself again upon the couch, buried her head in her hands, exhausted equally in body and in mind.

At last she rose, and sat, careless of her dishevelled locks, gazing out into vacancy. ‘Oh for a sign, for a token! Oh for the golden days of which the poets sang, when gods walked among men, fought by their side as friends! And yet. . . . are these old stories credible, pious, even modest? Does not my heart revolt from them? Who has shared more than I in Plato’s contempt for the foul deeds, the degrading transformations, which Homer imputes to the gods of Greece? Must I believe them now? Must I stoop to think that gods, who live in a region above all sense, will deign to make themselves palpable to those senses of ours which are whole aeons of existence below them? Degrade themselves to the base accidents of matter? Yes! That, rather than nothing!. . . . Be it even so. Better, better, better, to believe that Ares fled shrieking and wounded from a mortal man — better to believe in Zeus’s adulteries and Hermes’s thefts — than to believe that gods have never spoken face to face with men! Let me think, lest I go mad, that beings from that unseen world for which I hunger have appeared, and held communion with mankind, such as no reason or sense could doubt — even though those beings were more capricious and baser than ourselves! Is there, after all, an unseen world? Oh for a sign, a sign!’

Haggard and dizzy, she wandered into her ‘chamber of the gods’; a collection of antiquities, which she kept there rather as matters of taste than of worship. All around her they looked out into vacancy with their white soulless eyeballs, their dead motionless beauty, those cold dreams of the buried generations. Oh that they could speak, and set her heart at rest! At the lower end of the room stood a Pallas, completely armed with aegis, spear, and helmet; a gem of Athenian sculpture, which she had bought from some merchants after the sack of Athens by the Goths. There it stood severely fair; but the right hand, alas! was gone; and there the maimed arm remained extended, as if in sad mockery of the faith of which the body remained, while the power was dead and vanished.

She gazed long and passionately on the image of her favourite goddess, the ideal to which she had longed for years to assimilate herself; till — was it a dream? was it a frolic of the dying sunlight? or did those lips really bend themselves into a smile?

Impossible! No, not impossible. Had not, only a few years before, the image of Hecate smiled on a philosopher? Were there not stories of moving images, and winking pictures, and all the material miracles by which a dying faith strives desperately — not to deceive others — but to persuade itself of its own sanity? It had been — it might be — it was —!

No! there the lips were, as they had been from the beginning, closed upon each other in that stony self-collected calm, which was only not a sneer. The wonder, if it was one, had passed: and now — did her eyes play her false, or were the snakes round that Medusa’s head upon the shield all writhing, grinning, glaring at her with stony eyes, longing to stiffen her with terror into their own likeness?

No! that, too, passed. Would that even it had stayed, for it would have been a sign of life! She looked up at the face once more: but in vain — the stone was stone; and ere she was aware, she found herself clasping passionately the knees of the marble.

‘Athene! Pallas! Adored! Ever Virgin! Absolute reason, springing unbegotten from the nameless One! Hear me! Athene! Have mercy on me! Speak, if it be to curse me! Thou who alone wieldest the lightnings of thy father, wield them to strike me dead, if thou wilt; only do something! — something to prove thine own existence — something to make me sure that anything exists beside this gross miserable matter, and my miserable soul. I stand alone in the centre of the universe! I fall and sicken down the abyss of ignorance, and doubt, and boundless blank and darkness! Oh, have mercy! I know that thou art not this! Thou art everywhere and in all things! But I know that this is a form which pleases thee, which symbolises thy nobleness! T know that thou hast deigned to speak to those who — Oh! what do I know? Nothing! nothing! nothing!

And she clung there, bedewing with scalding tears the cold feet of the image, while there was neither sign, nor voice, nor any that answered.

On a sudden she was startled by a rustling near; and, looking round, saw close behind her the old Jewess.

‘Cry aloud!’ hissed the hag, in a tone of bitter scorn; ‘cry aloud, for she is a goddess. Either she is talking, or pursuing, or she is on a journey; or perhaps she has grown old, as we all shall do some day, my pretty lady, and is too cross and lazy to stir. What! her naughty doll will not speak to her, will it not? or even open its eyes, because the wires are grown rusty? Well, we will find a new doll for her, if she chooses.’

‘Begone, hag! What do you mean by intruding here?’ said Hypatia, springing up; but the old woman went on coolly —

‘Why not try the fair young gentleman over there?’ pointing to a copy of the Apollo which we call Belvedere —‘What is his name? Old maids are always cross and jealous, you know. But he — he could not be cruel to such a sweet face as that. Try the fair young lad! Or, perhaps, if you are bashful, the old Jewess might try him for you?’

These last words were spoken with so marked a significance, that Hypatia, in spite of her disgust, found herself asking the hag what she meant. She made no answer for a few seconds, but remained looking steadily into her eyes with a glance of fire, before which even the proud Hypatia, as she had done once before, quailed utterly, so deep was the understanding, so dogged the purpose, so fearless the power, which burned within those withered and shrunken sockets.

‘Shall the old witch call him up, the fair young Apollo, with the beauty-bloom upon his chin? He shall come! He shall come! I warrant him he must come, civilly enough, when old Miriam’s finger is once held up.’

‘To you? Apollo, the god of light, obey a Jewess?’

‘A Jewess? And you a Greek?’ almost yelled the old woman. ‘And who are you who ask? And who are your gods, your heroes, your devils, you children of yesterday, compared with us? You, who were a set of half-naked savages squabbling about the siege of Troy, when our Solomon, amid splendours such as Rome and Constantinople never saw, was controlling demons and ghosts, angels and archangels, principalities and powers, by the ineffable name? What science have you that you have not stolen from the Egyptians and Chaldees? And what had the Egyptians which Moses did not teach them? And what have the Chaldees which Daniel did not teach them? What does the world know but from us, the fathers and the masters of magic — us, the lords of the inner secrets of the universe! Come, you Greek baby — as the priests in Egypt said of your forefathers, always children, craving for a new toy, and throwing it away next day — come to the fountainhead of all your paltry wisdom! Name what you will see, and you shall see it!’

Hypatia was cowed; for of one thing there was no doubt — that the woman utterly believed her own words; and that was a state of mind of which she had seen so little, that it was no wonder if it acted on her with that overpowering sympathetic force, with which it generally does, and perhaps ought to, act on the human heart. Besides, her school had always looked to the ancient nations of the East for the primeval founts of inspiration, the mysterious lore of mightier races long gone by. Might she not have found it now?

The Jewess saw her advantage in a moment, and ran on, without giving her time to answer —

‘What sort shall it be, then? By glass and water, or by the moonlight on the wall, or by the sieve, or by the meal? By the cymbals, or by the stars? By the table of the twenty-four elements, by which the Empire was promised to Theodosius the Great, or by the sacred counters of the Assyrians, or by the sapphire of the Hecatic sphere? Shall I threaten, as the Egyptian priests used to do, to tear Osiris again in pieces, or to divulge the mysteries of Isis? I could do so, if I chose; for I know them all and more. Or shall I use the ineffable name on Solomon’s seal, which we alone, of all the nations of the earth, know? No; it would be a pity to waste that upon a heathen. It shall be by the sacred wafer. Look here! — here they are, the wonder-working atomies! Eat no food this day, except one of these every three hours, and come to me to-night at the house of your porter, Eudaimon, bringing with you the black agate; and then — why then, what you have the heart to see, you shall see!’

Hypatia took the wafers, hesitating —

‘But what are they?’

‘And you profess to explain Homer? Whom did I hear the other morning lecturing away so glibly on the nepenthe which Helen gave the heroes, to fill them with the spirit of joy and love; how it was an allegory of the inward inspiration which flows from spiritual beauty, and all that? — pretty enough, fair lady; but the question still remains, what was it? and I say it was this. Take it and try; and then confess, that while you can talk about Helen, I can act her; and know a little more about Homer than you do, after all.’

‘I cannot believe you! Give me some sign of your power, or how can I trust you?’

‘A sign? — A sign? Kneel down then there, with your face toward the north; you are over tall for the poor old cripple.’

‘I? I never knelt to human being.’

‘Then consider that you kneel to the handsome idol there, if you will — but kneel!’

And, constrained by that glittering eye, Hypatia knelt before her.

‘Have you faith? Have you desire? Will you submit? Will you obey? Self-will and pride see nothing, know nothing. If you do not give up yourself, neither God nor devil will care to approach. Do you submit?’

‘I do! I do!’ cried poor Hypatia, in an agony of curiosity and self-distrust, while she felt her eye quailing and her limbs loosening more and more every moment under that intolerable fascination.

The old woman drew from her bosom a crystal, and placed the point against Hypatia’s breast. A cold shiver ran through her. . . . The witch waved her hands mysteriously round her head, muttering from time to time, ‘Down! down, proud spirit!’ and then placed the tips of her skinny fingers on the victim’s forehead. Gradually her eyelids became heavy; again and again she tried to raise them, and dropped them again before those fixed glaring eyes. . . ., and in another moment she lost consciousness. . . .

When she awoke, she was kneeling in a distant part of the room, with dishevelled hair and garments. What was it so cold that she was clasping in her arms? The feet of the Apollo! The hag stood by her, chuckling to herself and clapping her hands.

‘How came I here? What have I been doing?’

‘Saying such pretty things! — paying the fair youth there such compliments, as he will not be rude enough to forget in his visit to-night. A charming prophetic trance you have had! Ah ha! you are not the only woman who is wiser asleep than awake! Well, you will make a very pretty Cassandra-or a Clytia, if you have the sense. . . . It lies with you, my fair lady. Are you satisfied now? Will you have any more signs? Shall the old Jewess blast those blue eyes blind to show that she knows more than the heathen?’

‘Oh, I believe you — I believe,’ cried the poor exhausted maiden. ‘I will come; and yet —’

‘Ah! yes! You had better settle first how he shall appear.’

‘As he wills! — let him only come! only let me know that he is a god. Abamnon said that gods appeared in a clear, steady, unbearable light, amid a choir of all the lesser deities, archangels, principalities, and heroes, who derive their life from them.’

‘Abamnon was an old fool, then. Do you think young Phoebus ran after Daphne with such a mob at his heels? or that Jove, when he swam up to Leda, headed a whole Nile-flock of ducks, and plover, and curlews? No, he shall come alone — to you alone; and then you may choose for yourself between Cassandra and Clytia. . . . Farewell. Do not forget your wafers, or the agate either, and talk with no one between now and sunset. And then — my pretty lady!’

And laughing to herself, the old hag glided from the room.

Hypatia sat trembling with shame and dread. She, as a disciple of the more purely spiritualistic school of Porphyry, had always looked with aversion, with all but contempt, on those theurgic arts which were so much lauded and employed by Iamblicus, Abamnon, and those who clung lovingly to the old priestly rites of Egypt and Chaldaea. They had seemed to her vulgar toys, tricks of legerdemain, suited only for the wonder of the mob. . . . She began to think of them with more favour now. How did she know that the vulgar did not require signs and wonders to make them believe?. . . . How, indeed? for did she not want such herself? And she opened Abamnon’s famous letter to Porphyry, and read earnestly over, for the twentieth time, his subtle justification of magic, and felt it to be unanswerable. Magic? What was not magical? The whole universe, from the planets over her head to the meanest pebble at her feet, was utterly mysterious, ineffable, miraculous, influencing and influenced by affinities and repulsions as unexpected, as unfathomable, as those which, as Abamnon said, drew the gods towards those sounds, those objects, which, either in form, or colour, or chemical properties, were symbolic of, or akin to, themselves. What wonder in it, after all? Was not love and hatred, sympathy and antipathy, the law of the universe? Philosophers, when they gave mechanical explanations of natural phenomena, came no nearer to the real solution of them. The mysterious ‘Why?’ remained untouched. . . . All their analyses could only darken with big words the plain fact that the water hated the oil with which it refused to mix, the lime loved the acid which it eagerly received into itself, and, like a lover, grew warm with the rapture of affection. Why not? What right had we to deny sensation, emotion, to them, any more than to ourselves? Was not the same universal spirit stirring in them as in us? And was it not by virtue of that spirit that we thought, and felt, and loved? — Then why not they, as well as we? If the one spirit permeated all things, if its all-energising presence linked the flower with the crystal as well as with the demon and the god, must it not link together also the two extremes of the great chain of being? bind even the nameless One itself to the smallest creature which bore its creative impress? What greater miracle in the attraction of a god or an angel, by material incense, symbols, and spells, than in the attraction of one soul to another by the material sounds of the human voice? Was the affinity between spirit and matter implied in that, more miraculous than the affinity between the soul and the body? — than the retention of that soul within that body by the breathing of material air, the eating of material food? Or even, if the physicists were right, and the soul were but a material product or energy of the nerves, and the sole law of the universe the laws of matter, then was not magic even more probable, more rational? Was it not fair by every analogy to suppose that there might be other, higher beings than ourselves, obedient to those laws, and therefore possible to be attracted, even as human beings were, by the baits of material sights and sounds?. . . . If spirit pervaded all things, then was magic probable; if nothing but matter had existence, magic was morally certain. All that remained in either case was the test of experience. . . . And had not that test been applied in every age, and asserted to succeed? What more rational, more philosophic action than to try herself those methods and ceremonies which she was assured on every hand had never failed but through the ignorance or unfitness of the neophyte?. . . . Abamnon must be right. . . . She dared not think him wrong; for if this last hope failed, what was there left but to eat and drink, for to-morrow we die?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kingsley/charles/hypatia/chapter25.html

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:48