As Hypatia went forth the next morning, in all her glory, with a crowd of philosophers and philosophasters, students, and fine gentlemen, following her in reverend admiration across the street to her lecture-room, a ragged beggar-man, accompanied by a huge and villainous-looking dog, planted himself right before her, and extending a dirty hand, whined for an alms.
Hypatia, whose refined taste could never endure the sight, much less the contact, of anything squalid and degraded, recoiled a little, and bade the attendant slave get rid of the man with a coin. Several of the younger gentlemen, however, considered themselves adepts in that noble art of ‘upsetting’ then in vogue in the African universities, to which we all have reason enough to be thankful, seeing that it drove Saint Augustine from Carthage to Rome; and they, in compliance with the usual fashion of tormenting any simple creature who came in their way by mystification and insult, commenced a series of personal witticisms, which the beggar bore stoically enough. The coin was offered him, but he blandly put aside the hand of the giver, and keeping his place on the pavement, seemed inclined to dispute Hypatia’s farther passage.
‘What do you want? Send the wretch and his frightful dog away, gentlemen!’ said the poor philosopher in some trepidation.
‘I know that dog,’ said one of them; ‘it is Aben–Ezra’s. Where did you find it before it was lost, you rascal.’
‘Where your mother found you when she palmed you off upon her goodman, my child — in the slave-market. Fair Sybil, have you already forgotten your humblest pupil, as these young dogs have, who are already trying to upset their master and instructor in the angelic science of bullying?’
And the beggar, lifting his broad straw hat, disclosed the features of Raphael Aben–Ezra. Hypatia recoiled with a shriek of surprise.
‘Ah! you are astonished. At what, I pray?’
‘To see you, sir, thus!’
‘Why, then? You have been preaching to us all a long time the glory of abstraction from the allurements of sense. It augurs ill, surely, for your estimate either of your pupils or of your own eloquence, if you are so struck with consternation because one of them has actually at last obeyed you.’
‘What is the meaning of this masquerade, most excellent sir?’ asked Hypatia and a dozen voices beside.
‘Ask Cyril. I am on my way to Italy, in the character of the New Diogenes, to look, like him, for a man. When I have found one, I shall feel great pleasure in returning to acquaint you with the amazing news. Farewell! I wished to look once more at a certain countenance, though I have turned, as you see, Cynic; and intend henceforth to attend no teacher but my dog, who will luckily charge no fees for instruction; if she did, I must go untaught, for my ancestral wealth made itself wings yesterday morning. You are aware, doubtless, of the Plebiscitum against the Jews, which was carried into effect under the auspices of a certain holy tribune of the people?’
‘And dangerous, my dear lady. Success is inspiriting. . . . and Theon’s house is quite as easily sacked, as the Jews’ quarter. . . . Beware.’
‘Come, come, Aben–Ezra,’ cried the young men; ‘you are far too good company for us to lose you for that rascally patriarch’s fancy. We will make a subscription for you, eh? And you shall live with each of us, month and month about. We shall quite lose the trick of joking without you.’
‘Thank you, gentlemen. But really you have been my butts far too long for me to think of becoming yours. Madam, one word in private before I go.’
Hypatia leant forward, and speaking in Syriac, whispered hurriedly —
‘Oh, stay, sir, I beseech you: You are the wisest of my pupils — perhaps my only true pupil. . . . My father will find some concealment for you from these wretches; and if you need money, remember, he is your debtor. We have never repaid you the gold which —’
‘Fairest Muse, that was but my entrance-fee to Parnassus. It is I who am in your debt; and I have brought my arrears, in the form of this opal ring. As for shelter near you,’ he went on, lowering his voice, and speaking like her, in Syriac —‘Hypatia the Gentile is far too lovely for the peace of mind of Raphael the Jew.’ And he drew from his finger Miriam’s ring and offered it.
‘Impossible!‘said Hypatia, blushing scarlet: ‘I cannot accept it.’
‘I beseech you. It is the last earthly burden I have, except this snail’s prison of flesh and blood. My dagger will open a crack through that when it becomes intolerable. But as I do not intend to leave my shell, if I can help it, except just when and how I choose, and as, if I take this ring with me, some of Heraclian’s Circumcellions will assuredly knock my brains out for the sake of it-I must entreat.’
‘Never! Can you not sell the ring, and escape to Synesius? He will give you shelter.’
‘The hospitable hurricane! Shelter, yes; but rest, none. As soon pitch my tent in the crater of Aetna. Why, he will be trying day and night to convert me to that eclectic farrago of his, which he calls philosophic Christianity. Well, if you will not have the ring, it is soon disposed of. We Easterns know how to be magnificent, and vanish as the lords of the world ought.’
And he turned to the philosophic crowd.
‘Here, gentlemen of Alexandria! Does any gay youth wish to pay his debts once and for all? — Behold the Rainbow of Solomon, an opal such as Alexandria never saw before, which would buy any one of you, and his Macedonian papa, and his Macedonian mamma, and his Macedonian sisters, and horses, and parrots, and peacocks, twice over, in any slave-market in the world. Any gentleman who wishes to possess a jewel worth ten thousand gold pieces, will only need to pick it out of the gutter into which I throw it. Scramble for it, you young Phaedrias and Pamphili! There are Laides and Thaides enough about, who will help you to spend it.’
And raising the jewel on high, he was in the act of tossing it into the street, when his arm was seized from behind, and the ring snatched from his hand. He turned, fiercely enough, and saw behind him, her eyes flashing fury and contempt, old Miriam.
Bran sprang at the old woman’s throat in an instant; but recoiled again before the glare of her eye. Raphael called the dog off, and turning quietly to the disappointed spectators —
‘It is all right, my luckless friends. You must raise money for yourselves, after all; which, since the departure of my nation, will be a somewhat more difficult matter than ever. The over-ruling destinies, whom, as you all know so well when you are getting tipsy, not even philosophers can resist, have restored the Rainbow of Solomon to its original possessor. Farewell, Queen of Philosophy! When I find the man, you shall hear of it. Mother, I am coming with you for a friendly word before we part, though’ he went on, laughing, as the two walked away together, ‘it was a scurvy trick of you to balk one of The Nation of the exquisite pleasure of seeing those heathen dogs scrambling in the gutter for his bounty.’
Hypatia went on to the Museum, utterly bewildered by this strange meeting, and its still stranger end. She took care, nevertheless, to betray no sign of her deep interest till she found herself alone in her little waiting-room adjoining the lecture-hall; and there, throwing herself into a chair, she sat and thought, till she found, to her surprise and anger, the tears trickling down her cheeks. Not that her bosom held one spark of affection for Raphael. If there had ever been any danger of that the wily Jew had himself taken care to ward it off, by the sneering and frivolous tone with which he quashed every approach to deep feeling, either in himself or in others. As for his compliments to her beauty, she was far too much accustomed to such, to be either pleased or displeased by them. But she felt, as she said, that she had lost perhaps her only true pupil; and more — perhaps her only true master. For she saw clearly enough, that under that Silenus’ mask was hidden a nature capable of — perhaps more than she dare think of. She had always felt him her superior in practical cunning; and that morning had proved to her what she had long suspected, that he was possibly also her superior in that moral earnestness and strength of will for which she looked in vain among the enervated Greeks who surrounded her. And even in those matters in which he professed himself her pupil, she had long been alternately delighted by finding that he alone, of all her school, seemed thoroughly and instinctively to comprehend her every word, and chilled by the disagreeable suspicion that he was only playing with her, and her mathematics and geometry, and meta-physic and dialectic, like a fencer practising with foils, while he reserved his real strength for some object more worthy of him. More than once some paradox or question of his had shaken her neatest systems into a thousand cracks, and opened up ugly depths of doubt, even on the most seemingly-palpable certainties; or some half-jesting allusion to those Hebrew Scriptures, the quantity and quality of his faith in which he would never confess, made her indignant at the notion that he considered himself in possession of a reserved ground of knowledge, deeper and surer than her own, in which he did not deign to allow her to share.
And yet she was irresistibly attracted to him. That deliberate and consistent luxury of his, from which she shrank, he had always boasted that he was able to put on and take off at will like a garment: and now he seemed to have proved his words; to be a worthy rival of the great Stoics of old time. Could Zeno himself have asked more from frail humanity? Moreover, Raphael had been of infinite practical use to her. He worked out, unasked, her mathematical problems; he looked out authorities, kept her pupils in order by his bitter tongue, and drew fresh students to her lectures by the attractions of his wit, his arguments, and last, but not least, his unrivalled cook and cellar. Above all he acted the part of a fierce and valiant watch-dog on her behalf, against the knots of clownish and often brutal sophists, the wrecks of the old Cynic, Stoic, and Academic schools, who, with venom increasing, after the wont of parties, with their decrepitude, assailed the beautifully bespangled card-castle of Neo–Platonism, as an empty medley of all Greek philosophies with all Eastern superstitions. All such Philistines had as yet dreaded the pen and tongue of Raphael, even more than those of the chivalrous Bishop of Cyrene, though he certainly, to judge from certain of his letters, hated them as much as he could hate any human being; which was after all not very bitterly.
But the visits of Synesius were few and far between; the distance between Carthage and Alexandria, and the labour of his diocese, and, worse than all, the growing difference in purpose between him and his beautiful teacher, made his protection all but valueless. And now Aben–Ezra was gone too, and with him were gone a thousand plans and hopes. To have converted him at last to a philosophic faith in the old gods! To have made him her instrument for turning back the stream of human error I . . . How often had that dream crossed her! And now, who would take his place? Athanasius? Synesius in his good-nature might dignify him with the name of brother, but to her he was a powerless pedant, destined to die without having wrought any deliverance on the earth, as indeed the event proved. Plutarch of Athens? He was superannuated. Syrianus? A mere logician, twisting Aristotle to mean what she knew, and he ought to have known, Aristotle never meant. Her father? A man of triangles and conic sections. How paltry they all looked by the side of the unfathomable Jew! — Spinners of charming cobwebs. . . . . But would the flies condescend to be caught in them? Builders of pretty houses. . . . . If people would but enter and live in them! Preachers of superfine morality. . . . which their admiring pupils never dreamt of practising. Without her, she well knew, philosophy must die in Alexandria. And was it her wisdom — or other and more earthly charms of hers — which enabled her to keep it alive? Sickening thought! Oh, that she were ugly, only to test the power of her doctrines!
Ho! The odds were fearful enough already; she would be glad of any help, however earthly and carnal. But was not the work hopeless? What she wanted was men who could act while she thought. And those were just the men whom she would find nowhere but — she knew it too well — in the hated Christian priesthood. And then that fearful Iphigenia sacrifice loomed in the distance as inevitable. The only hope of philosophy was in her despair!. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
She dashed away the tears, and proudly entered the lecture-hall, and ascended the tribune like a goddess, amid the shouts of her audience. . . . What did she care for them? Would they do what she told them? She was half through her lecture before she could recollect herself, and banish from her mind the thought of Raphael. And at that point we will take the lecture up. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
‘Truth? Where is truth but in the soul itself? Facts, objects, are but phantoms matter-woven — ghosts of this earthly night, at which the soul, sleeping here in the mire and clay of matter, shudders and names its own vague tremors sense and perception. Yet, even as our nightly dreams stir in us the suspicion of mysterious and immaterial presences, unfettered by the bonds of time and space, so do these waking dreams which we call sight and sound. They are divine messengers, whom Zeus, pitying his children, even when he pent them in this prison-house of flesh, appointed to arouse in them dim recollections of that real world of souls whence they came. Awakened once to them; seeing, through the veil of sense and fact, the spiritual truth of which they are but the accidental garment, concealing the very thing which they make palpable, the philosopher may neglect the fact for the doctrine, the shell for the kernel, the body for the soul, of which it is but the symbol and the vehicle. What matter, then, to the philosopher whether these names of men, Hector or Priam, Helen or Achilles, were ever visible as phantoms of flesh and blood before the eyes of men? What matter whether they spoke or thought as he of Scios says they did? What matter, even, whether he himself ever had earthly life? The book is here — the word which men call his. Let the thoughts thereof have been at first whose they may, now they are mine. I have taken them to myself, and thought them to myself, and made them parts of my own soul. Nay, they were and ever will be parts of me; for they, even as the poet was, even as I am, are but a part of the universal soul. What matter, then, what myths grew up around those mighty thoughts of ancient seers? Let others try to reconcile the Cyclic fragments, or vindicate the Catalogue of ships. What has the philosopher lost, though the former were proved to be contradictory, and the latter interpolated? The thoughts are there, and ours, Let us open our hearts lovingly to receive them, from whencesoever they may have come. As in men, so in books, the soul is all with which our souls must deal; and the soul of the book is whatsoever beautiful, and true, and noble we can find in it. It matters not to us whether the poet was altogether conscious of the meanings which we can find in him. Consciously or unconsciously to him, the meanings must be there; for were they not there to be seen, how could we see them? There are those among the uninitiate vulgar — and those, too, who carry under the philosophic cloak hearts still uninitiate — who revile such interpretations as merely the sophistic and arbitrary sports of fancy. It lies with them to show what Homer meant, if our spiritual meanings be absurd; to tell the world why Homer is admirable, if that for which we hold him up to admiration does not exist in him. Will they say that the honour which he has enjoyed for ages was inspired by that which seems to be his first and literal meaning? And more, will they venture to impute that literal meaning to him? can they suppose that the divine soul of Homer could degrade itself to write of actual and physical feastings, and nuptials, and dances, actual nightly thefts of horses, actual fidelity of dogs and swineherds, actual intermarriages between deities and men, or that it is this seeming vulgarity which has won for him from the wisest of every age the title of the father of poetry? Degrading thought! fit only for the coarse and sense-bound tribe who can appreciate nothing but what is palpable to sense and sight! As soon believe the Christian scriptures, when they tell us of a deity who has hands and feet, eyes and ears, who condescends to command the patterns of furniture and culinary utensils, and is made perfect by being born — disgusting thought! — as the son of a village maiden, and defiling himself with the wants and sorrows of the lowest slaves!’
‘It is false! blasphemous! The Scriptures cannot lie!’ cried a voice from the farther end of the room.
It was Philammon’s. He had been listening to the whole lecture; and yet not so much listening as watching, in bewilderment, the beauty of the speaker, the grace of her action, the melody of her voice, and last, but not least, the maze of her rhetoric, as it glittered before his mind’s eye like a cobweb diamonded with dew. A sea of new thoughts and questions, if not of doubts, came rushing in at every sentence on his acute Greek intellect, all the more plentifully and irresistibly because his speculative faculty was as yet altogether waste and empty, undefended by any scientific culture from the inrushing flood. For the first time in his life he found himself face to face with the root-questions of all thought —‘What am I, and where?’ ‘What can I know?’ And in the half-terrified struggle with them, he had all but forgotten the purpose for which he entered the lecture-hall. He felt that he must break the spell. Was she not a heathen and a false prophetess? Here was something tangible to attack; and half in indignation at the blasphemy, half in order to force himself into action, he had sprung up and spoken.
A yell arose. ‘Turn the monk out!”Throw the rustic through the window!’ cried a dozen young gentlemen. Several of the most valiant began to scramble over the benches up to him; and Philammon was congratulating himself on the near approach of a glorious martyrdom, when Hypatia’s voice, calm and silvery, stifled the tumult in a moment.
‘Let the youth listen, gentlemen. He is but a monk and a plebeian, and knows no better; he has been taught thus. Let him sit here quietly, and perhaps we may be able to teach him otherwise.’
And without interrupting, even by a change of tone, the thread of her discourse, she continued —
‘Listen, then, to a passage from the sixth book of the Iliad, in which last night I seemed to see glimpses of some mighty mystery. You know it well: yet I will read it to you; the very sound and pomp of that great verse may tune our souls to a fit key for the reception of lofty wisdom. For well said Abamnon the Teacher, that “the soul consisted first of harmony and rhythm, and ere it gave itself to the body, had listened to the divine harmony. Therefore it is that when, after having come into a body, it hears such melodies as most preserve the divine footstep of harmony, it embraces such, and recollects from them that divine harmony, and is impelled to it, and finds its home in it, and shares of it as much as it can share.”’
And therewith fell on Philammon’s ear, for the first time, the mighty thunder-roll of Homer’s verse —
So spoke the stewardess: but Hector rushed From the house, the same way back, down stately streets, Through the broad city, to the Scaian gates, Whereby he must go forth toward the plain, There running toward him came Andromache, His ample-dowered wife, Eetion’s child — Eetion the great-hearted, he who dwelt In Thebe under Placos, and the woods Of Placos, ruling over Kilic men. His daughter wedded Hector brazen-helmed, And met him then; and with her came a maid, Who bore in arms a playful-hearted babe An infant still, akin to some fair star, Only and well-loved child of Hector’s house, Whom he had named Scamandrios, but the rest Astyanax, because his sire alone Upheld the weal of Ilion the holy. He smiled in silence, looking on his child But she stood close to him, with many tears; And hung upon his hand, and spoke, and called him. ‘My hero, thy great heart will wear thee out; Thou pitiest not thine infant child, nor me The hapless, soon to be thy widow; The Greeks will slay thee, falling one and all Upon thee: but to me were sweeter far, Having lost thee, to die; no cheer to me Will come thenceforth, if thou shouldst meet thy fate; Woes only: mother have I none, nor sire. For that my sire divine Achilles slew, And wasted utterly the pleasant homes Of Kilic folk in Thebe lofty-walled, And slew Eetion with the sword! yet spared To strip the dead: awe kept his soul from that. Therefore he burnt him in his graven arms, And heaped a mound above him; and around The damsels of the Aegis-holding Zeus, The nymphs who haunt the upland, planted elms. And seven brothers bred with me in the halls, All in one day went down to Hades there; For all of them swift-foot Achilles slew Beside the lazy kine and snow-white sheep. And her, my mother, who of late was queen Beneath the woods of Places, he brought here Among his other spoils; yet set her free Again, receiving ransom rich and great. But Artemis, whose bow is all her joy, Smote her to death within her father’s halls. Hector! so thou art father to me now, Mother, and brother, and husband fair and strong! Oh, come now, pity me, and stay thou here Upon the tower, nor make thy child an orphan And me thy wife a widow; range the men Here by the fig-tree, where the city lies Lowest, and where the wall can well be scaled; For here three times the best have tried the assault Round either Ajax, and Idomeneus, And round the Atridai both, and Tydeus’ son, Whether some cunning seer taught them craft, Or their own spirit stirred and drove them on.’ Then spake tall Hector, with the glancing helm All this I too have watched, my wife; yet much I hold in dread the scorn of Trojan men And Trojan women with their trailing shawls, If, like a coward, I should skulk from war. Beside, I have no lust to stay; I have learnt Aye to be bold, and lead the van of fight, To win my father, and myself, a name. For well I know, at heart and in my thought, The day will come when Ilios the holy Shall lie in heaps, and Priam, and the folk Of ashen-speared Priam, perish all. But yet no woe to come to Trojan men, Nor even to Hecabe, nor Priam king, Nor to my brothers, who shall roll in dust, Many and fair, beneath the strokes of foes, So moves me, as doth thine, when thou shalt go Weeping, led off by some brass-harnessed Greek, Robbed of the daylight of thy liberty, To weave in Argos at another’s loom, Or bear the water of Messeis home, Or Hypereia, with unseemly toils, While heavy doom constrains thee, and perchance The folk may say, who see thy tears run down, “This was the wife of Hector, best in fight At Ilium, of horse-taming Trojan men.” So will they say perchance; while unto thee Now grief will come, for such a husband’s loss, Who might have warded off the day of thrall. But may the soil be heaped above my corpse Before I hear thy shriek and see thy shame!’ He spoke, and stretched his arms to take the child, But back the child upon his nurse’s breast Shrank crying, frightened at his father’s looks. Fearing the brass and crest of horse’s hair Which waved above the helmet terribly. Then out that father dear and mother laughed, And glorious Hector took the helmet off, And laid it gleaming on the ground, and kissed His darling child, and danced him in his arm; And spoke in prayer to Zeus, and all the gods ‘Zeu, and ye other gods, oh grant that this My child, like me, may grow the champion here As good in strength, and rule with might in Troy That men may say, “The boy is better far Than was his sire,” when he returns from war, Bearing a gory harness, having slain A foeman, and his mothers heart rejoice. Thus saying, on the hands of his dear wife He laid the child; and she received him back In fragrant bosom, smiling through her tears.
[Footnote: The above lines are not meant as a ‘translation,’ but as an humble attempt to give the literal sense in some sort of metre. It would be an act of arrogance even to aim at success where Pope and Chapman failed. It is simply, I believe, impossible to render Homer into English verse; because, for one reason among many, it is impossible to preserve the pomp of sound, which invests with grandeur his most common words. How can any skill represent the rhythm of Homeric Greek in a language which — to take the first verse which comes to hand — transforms ‘boos megaloio boeien,’ into ‘great ox’s hide’?]
‘Such is the myth. Do you fancy that in it Homer meant to hand down to the admiration of ages such earthly commonplaces as a mother’s brute affection, and the terrors of an infant? Surely the deeper insight of the philosopher may be allowed without the reproach of fancifulness, to see in it the adumbration of some deeper mystery!
‘The elect soul, for instance — is not its name Astyanax, king of the city; by the fact of its ethereal parentage, the leader and lord of all around it, though it knows it not? A child as yet, it lies upon the fragrant bosom of its mother Nature, the nurse and yet the enemy of man — Andromache, as the poet well names her, because she fights with that being, when grown to man’s estate, whom as a child she nourished. Fair is she, yet unwise; pampering us, after the fashion of mothers, with weak indulgences; fearing to send us forth into the great realities of speculation, there to forget her in the pursuit of glory, she would have us while away our prime within the harem, and play for ever round her knees. And has not the elect soul a father, too, whom it knows not? Hector, he who is without — unconfined, unconditioned by Nature, yet its husband? — the all-pervading, plastic Soul, informing, organising, whom men call Zeus the lawgiver, Aether the fire, Osiris the lifegiver; whom here the poet has set forth as the defender of the mystic city, the defender of harmony, and order, and beauty throughout the universe? Apart sits his great father — Priam, the first of existences, father of many sons, the Absolute Reason; unseen, tremendous, immovable, in distant glory; yet himself amenable to that abysmal unity which Homer calls Fate, the source of all which is, yet in Itself Nothing, without predicate, unnameable.
‘From It and for It the universal Soul thrills through the whole Creation, doing the behests of that Reason from which it overflowed, unwillingly, into the storm and crowd of material appearances; warring with the brute forces of gross matter, crushing all which is foul and dissonant to itself, and clasping to its bosom the beautiful, and all wherein it discovers its own reflex; impressing on it its signature, reproducing from it its own likeness, whether star, or daemon, or soul of the elect:— and yet, as the poet hints in anthropomorphic language, haunted all the while by a sadness — weighed down amid all its labours by the sense of a fate — by the thought of that First One from whom the Soul is originally descended; from whom it, and its Father the Reason before it, parted themselves when they dared to think and act, and assert their own free will.
‘And in the meanwhile, alas! Hector, the father, fights around, while his children sleep and feed; and he is away in the wars, and they know him not-know not that they the individuals are but parts of him the universal. And yet at moments — oh! thrice blessed they whose celestial parentage has made such moments part of their appointed destiny — at moments flashes on the human child the intuition of the unutterable secret. In the spangled glory of the summer night — in the roar of the Nile-flood, sweeping down fertility in every wave — in the awful depths of the temple-shrine — in the wild melodies of old Orphic singers, or before the images of those gods of whose perfect beauty the divine theosophists of Greece caught a fleeting shadow, and with the sudden might of artistic ecstasy smote it, as by an enchanter’s wand, into an eternal sleep of snowy stone — in these there flashes on the inner eye a vision beautiful and terrible, of a force, an energy, a soul, an idea, one and yet million-fold, rushing through all created things, like the wind across a lyre, thrilling the strings into celestial harmony — one life-blood through the million veins of the universe, from one great unseen heart, whose thunderous pulses the mind hears far away, beating for ever in the abysmal solitude, beyond the heavens and the galaxies, beyond the spaces and the times, themselves but veins and runnels from its all-teeming sea.
‘Happy, thrice happy! they who once have dared, even though breathless, blinded with tears of awful joy, struck down upon their knees in utter helplessness, as they feel themselves but dead leaves in the wind which sweeps the universe — happy they who have dared to gaze, if but for an instant, on the terror of that glorious pageant; who have not, like the young Astyanax, clung shrieking to the breast of mother Nature, scared by the heaven-wide flash of Hector’s arms, and the glitter of his rainbow crest! Happy, thrice happy,! even though their eyeballs, blasted by excess of light, wither to ashes in their sockets! — Were it not a noble end to have seen Zeus, and die like Semele, burnt up by his glory? Happy, thrice happy! though their mind reel from the divine intoxication, and the hogs of Circe call them henceforth madmen and enthusiasts. Enthusiasts they are; for Deity is in them, and they in It. For the time, this burden of individuality vanishes, and recognising themselves as portions of the universal Soul, they rise upward, through and beyond that Reason from whence the soul proceeds, to the fount of all — the ineffable and Supreme One — and seeing It, become by that act portions of Its essence. They speak no more, but It speaks in them, and their whole being, transmuted by that glorious sunlight into whose rays they have dared, like the eagle, to gaze without shrinking, becomes an harmonious vehicle for the words of Deity, and passive itself, utters the secrets of the immortal gods! What wonder if to the brute mass they seem as dreamers? Be it so. . . . Smile if you will. But ask me not to teach you things unspeakable, above all sciences, which the word-battle of dialectic, the discursive struggles of reason, can never reach, but which must be seen only, and when seen confessed to be unspeakable. Hence, thou disputer of the Academy! — hence, thou sneering Cynic! — hence, thou sense-worshipping Stoic, who fanciest that the soul is to derive her knowledge from those material appearances which she herself creates!. . . . hence —; and yet no: stay and sneer if you will. It is but a little time — a few days longer in this prison-house of our degradation, and each thing shall return to its own fountain; the blood-drop to the abysmal heart, and the water to the river, and the river to the shining sea; and the dew-drop which fell from heaven shall rise to heaven again, shaking off the dust-grains which weighed it down, thawed from the earth-frost which chained it here to herb and sward, upward and upward ever through stars and suns, through gods, and through the parents of the gods, purer and purer through successive lives, till it enters The Nothing, which is The All, and finds its home at last.’. . . .
And the speaker stopped suddenly, her eyes glistening with tears, her whole figure trembling and dilating with rapture. She remained for a moment motionless, gazing earnestly at her audience, as if in hopes of exciting in them some kindred glow; and then recovering herself, added in a more tender tone, not quite unmixed with sadness —
‘Go now, my pupils. Hypatia has no more for you to-day. Go now, and spare her at least — woman as she is after all — the shame of finding that she has given you too much, and lifted the veil of Isis before eyes which are not enough purified to behold the glory of the goddess. — Farewell!’
She ended: and Philammon, the moment that the spell of her voice was taken off him, sprang up, and hurried out through the corridor into the street. . . .
So beautiful! So calm and merciful to him So enthusiastic towards all which was noble! Had not she too spoken of the unseen world, of the hope of immortality, of the conquest of the spirit over the flesh, just as a Christian might have done? Was the gulf between them so infinite? If so, why had her aspirations awakened echoes in his own heart — echoes too, just such as the prayers and lessons of the Laura used to awaken? If the fruit was so like, must not the root be like also?. . . . Could that be a counterfeit? That a minister of Satan in the robes of an angel of light? Light, at least, it was purity, simplicity, courage, earnestness, tenderness, flashed out from eye, lip, gesture. . . . A heathen, who disbelieved?. . . . What was the meaning of it all?
But the finishing stroke yet remained which was to complete the utter confusion of his mind. For before he had gone fifty yards up the street, his little friend of the fruit-basket, whom he had not seen since he vanished under the feet of the mob in the gateway of the theatre, clutched him by the arm, and burst forth, breathless with running —
‘The — gods — heap their favours — on those who — who least deserve them! Rash and insolent rustic! And this is the reward of thy madness!’
‘Off with you!’ said Philammon, who had no mind at the moment to renew his acquaintance with the little porter. But the guardian of parasols kept a firm hold on his sheepskin.
‘Fool! Hypatia herself commands! Yes, you will see her, have speech with her! while I— I the illuminated — I the appreciating — I the obedient — I the adoring — who for these three years past have grovelled in the kennel, that the hem of her garment might touch the tip of my little finger — I— I— I—’
‘What do you want, madman?’
‘She calls for thee, insensate wretch! Theon sent me — breathless at once with running and with envy — Go! favourite of the unjust gods!’
‘Who is Theon?’
‘Her father, ignorant! He commands thee to be at her house — here-opposite — to-morrow at the third hour. Hear and obey! There they are coming out of the Museum, and all the parasols will get wrong! Oh, miserable me!’ And the poor little fellow rushed back again, while Philammon, at his wits’ end between dread and longing, started off, and ran the whole way home to the Serapeium, regardless of carriages, elephants, and foot-passengers; and having been knocked down by a surly porter, and left a piece of his sheepskin between the teeth of a spiteful camel-neither of which insults he had time to resent-arrived at the archbishop’s house, found Peter the Reader, and tremblingly begged an audience from Cyril.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56