Die Nilbraut. EnglishGeorg Ebers / History & Fiction
Produced by David Widger
THE BRIDE OF THE NILE
By Georg Ebers
Translated from the German by Clara Bell
The Bride of the Nile needs no preface. For the professional student Imay observe that I have relied on the authority of de Goeje in adheringto my own original opinion that the word Mukaukas is not to be regardedas a name but as a title, since the Arab writers to which I have madereference apply it to the responsible representatives of the ByzantineEmperor in antagonism to the Moslem power. I was unfortunately unable tomake further use of Karabacek's researches as to the Mukaukas.
I shall not be held justified in placing the ancient Horus Apollo(Horapollo) in the seventh century after Christ by any one whoregards the author of the Hieroglyphica as identical with the Egyptianphilosopher of the same name who, according to Suidas, lived underTheodosius, and to whom Stephanus of Byzantium refers, writing soearly as at the end of the fifth century. But the lexicographer Suidasenumerates the works of Horapollo, the philologer and commentatoron Greek poetry, without naming the Hieroglyphica, which is the onlytreatise alluded to by Stephanus. Besides, all the other ancient writerswho mention Horapollo at all leave us quite free to suppose that theremay have been two sages of the same name--as does C. Leemans, who ismost intimately versed in the Hieroglyphica--and the second certainlycannot have lived earlier than the VIIth century, since an accurateknowledge of hieroglyphic writing must have been lost far morecompletely in his time than we can suppose possible in the IVth century.It must be remembered that we still possess well-executed hieroglyphicinscriptions dating from the time of Decius, 250 years after Christ.Thus the Egyptian commentator on Greek poetry could hardly have needed atranslator, whereas the Hieroglyphica seems to have been first renderedinto Greek by Philippus. The combination by which the author calledin Egyptian Horus (the son of Isis) is supposed to have been born inPhilae, where the cultus of the Egyptian heathen was longest practised,and where some familiarity with hieroglyphics must have been preservedto a late date, takes into due account the real state of affairs at theperiod I have selected for my story.
GEORG EBERS. October 1st, 1886.
Half a lustrum had elapsed since Egypt had become subject to theyouthful power of the Arabs, which had risen with such unexampled vigorand rapidity. It had fallen an easy prey, cheaply bought, into thehands of a small, well-captained troop of Moslem warriors; and the fairprovince, which so lately had been a jewel of the Byzantine Empire andthe most faithful foster-mother to Christianity, now owned the sway ofthe Khalif Omar and saw the Crescent raised by the side of the Cross.
It was long since a hotter season had afflicted the land; and the Nile,whose rising had been watched for on the Night of Dropping--the 17th ofJune--with the usual festive preparations, had cheated the hopes of theEgyptians, and instead of rising had shrunk narrower and still narrowerin its bed.--It was in this time of sore anxiety, on the 10th of July,A.D. 643, that a caravan from the North reached Memphis.
It was but a small one; but its appearance in the decayed and desertedcity of the Pyramids--which had grown only lengthwise, like a hugereed-leaf, since its breadth was confined between the Nile and theLibyan Hills--attracted the gaze of the passers-by, though in formeryears a Memphite would scarcely have thought it worth while to turn hishead to gaze at an interminable pile of wagons loaded with merchandise,an imposing train of vehicles drawn by oxen, the flashing maniples ofthe imperial cavalry, or an endless procession wending its way down thefive miles of high street.
The merchant who, riding a dromedary of the choicest breed, conductedthis caravan, was a lean Moslem of mature age, robed in soft silk. Avast turban covered his small head and cast a shadow over his delicateand venerable features.
The Egyptian guide who rode on a brisk little ass by his side, lookedup frequently and with evident pleasure at the merchant's face--not initself a handsome one with its hollow cheeks, meagre beard and largeaquiline nose--for it was lighted up by a pair of bright eyes, fullof attractive thoughtfulness and genuine kindness. But that thisfragile-looking man, in whose benevolent countenance grief andinfirmities had graven many a furrow, could not only command but compelsubmission was legible alike in his thin, firmly-closed lips and in thezeal with which his following of truculent and bearded fighting men,armed to the teeth, obeyed his slightest sign.
His Egyptian attendant, the head of the Hermeneutai--the guild of theDragomans of that period--was a swarthy and surly native of Memphis;whenever he accidentally came too close to the fierce-looking riders ofthe dromedaries he shrunk his shoulders as if he expected a blow or apush, while he poured out question and answer to the Merchant Haschim,the owner of the caravan, without timidity and with the volublegarrulity of his tribe.
You seem very much at home here in Memphis, he observed, when the oldman had expressed his surprise at the decadence and melancholy change inthe city.
Thirty years ago, replied the merchant, my business often brought mehither. How many houses are now empty and in ruins where formerly onlyheavy coin could secure admittance! Ruins on all sides!--Who has socruelly mutilated that fine church? My fellow-believers left everyChristian fane untouched--that I know from our chief Amru himself.
It was the principal church of the Melchites, the Emperor's minions,cried the guide, as if that were ample explanation of the fact. Themerchant, however, did not take it so.
Well, he said, and what is there so dreadful in their creed?
What? said the Egyptian, and his eye flashed wrathfully. What?--Theydismember the divine person of the Saviour and attribute to it twodistinct natures. And then!--All the Greeks settled here, and encouragedby the protection of the emperor, treated us, the owners of the land,like slaves, till your nation came to put an end to their oppression.They drove us by force into their churches, and every true-born Egyptianwas punished as a rebel and a leper. They mocked at us and persecuted usfor our faith in the one divine nature of our Lord.
And so, interrupted the merchant, as soon as we drove out theGreeks you behaved more unmercifully to them and their sanctuaries thanwe--whom you scorn as infidels--did to you!
Mercy?--for them! cried the Egyptian indignantly, as he cast an evileye on the demolished edifice. They have reaped what they sowed; andnow every one in Egypt who does not believe in your One God--blessed bethe Saviour!--confesses the one sole nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.You drove out the Melchite rabble, and then it was our part to demolishthe temples of their wretched Saviour, who lost His divine Unity at thesynod of Chalcedon--damnation wait upon it!
But still the Melchites are fellow-believers with you--they areChristians, said the merchant.
Christians? echoed the guide with a contemptuous shrug. They mayregard themselves as Christians; but I, with every one else great andsmall in this land, am of opinion that they have no right whatever tocall themselves our fellow-believers and Christians. They all areand shall be for ever accursed with their hundreds--nay thousands ofdevilish heresies, by which they degrade our God and Redeemer to thelevel of that idol on the stone pillar. Half a cow and half a man! Why,what rational being, I ask you, could pray to such a mongrel thing? WeJacobites or Monophysites or whatever they choose to call us will notyield a jot or tittle of the divine nature of our Lord and Saviour; andif the old faith must die out, I will turn Moslem and be convertedto your One Omnipotent God; for before I confess the heresies of theMelchites I will be hewn in pieces, and my wife and children with me.Who knows what may be coming to pass? And there are many advantages ingoing over to your side: for the power is in your hands, and long mayyou keep it! We have got to be ruled by strangers; and who would notrather pay small tribute to the wise and healthy Khalif at Medina thana heavy one to the sickly imperial brood of Melchites at Constantinople.The Mukaukas George, to be sure, is not a bad sort of man, and as he sosoon gave up all idea of resisting you he was no doubt of my opinion.Regarding you as just and pious folks, as our next neighbors, andperhaps even of our own race and blood, he preferred you--my brothertold me so--to those Byzantine heretics, flayers of men and thirstingfor blood, but yet, the Mukaukas is as good a Christian as breathes.
The Arab had listened attentively and with a subtle smile to theMemphite, whose duties as guide now compelled him to break off. TheEgyptian made the whole caravan turn down an alley that led into astreet running parallel to the river, where a few fine houses stillstood in the midst of their gardens. When men and beasts were makingtheir way along a better pavement the merchant observed: I knew thefather of the man you were speaking of, very well. He was wealthyand virtuous; of his son too I hear nothing but good. But is hestill allowed to bear the title of governor, or, what did you callhim?--Mukaukas?
Certainly, Master, said the guide. There is no older family than hisin all Egypt, and if old Menas was rich the Mukaukas is richer, bothby inheritance and by his wife's dower. Nor could we wish for a moresensible or a juster governor! He keeps his eye on his underlings too;still, business is not done now as briskly as formerly, for though heis not much older than I am--and I am not yet sixty--he is always ailingand has not been seen out of the house for months. Even when your chiefwants to see him he comes over to this side of the river. It is a pitywith such a man as he; and who was it that broke down his stalwartstrength? Why, those Melchite dogs; you may ask all along the Nile, longas it is, who was at the bottom of any misfortune, and you will alwaysget the same answer: Wherever the Melchite or the Greek sets foot thegrass refuses to grow.
But the Mukaukas, the emperor's representative... the Arab began. TheEgyptian broke in however:
He, you think, must be safe from them? They did not certainly injurehis person; but they did worse, for when the Melchites rose up againstour party--it was at Alexandria, and the late Greek patriarch Cyrushad a finger in that pie--they killed his two sons, two fine, splendidmen--killed them like dogs; and it crushed him completely.
Poor man! sighed the Arab. And has he no child left?
Oh, yes. One son, and the widow of his eldest. She went into a conventafter her husband's death, but she left her child, her little Mary--shemust be ten years old now--to live with her grandparents.
That is well, said the old man, that will bring some sunshine intothe house.
No doubt, Master. And just lately they have had some cause forrejoicing. The only surviving son--Orion is his name--came home only theday before yesterday from Constantinople where he has been for a longtime. There was a to-do! Half the city went crazy. Thousands went out tomeet him, as though he were the Saviour; they erected triumphal arches,even folks of my creed--no one thought of hanging back. One and allwanted to see the son of the great Mukaukas, and the women of coursewere first and foremost!
You speak, however, said the Arab, as though the returning hero werenot worthy of so much honor.
That is as folks think, replied the Egyptian shrugging his shoulders.At any rate he is the only son of the greatest man in the land.
But he does not promise to be like the old man?
Oh, yes, indeed, said the guide. My brother, a priest, and the headof one of our great schools, was his tutor, and he never met such aclever head as Orion's, he tells me. He learnt everything without anytrouble and at the same time worked as hard as a poor man's son. We mayexpect him to win fame and honor--so Marcus says--for his parents andfor the city of Memphis: but for my part, I can see the shady side, andI tell you the women will turn his head and bring him to a bad end. Heis handsome, taller even than the old man in his best days, and he knowshow to make the most of himself when he meets a pretty face--and prettyfaces are always to be met in his path...
And the young rascal takes what he finds! said the Moslem laughing.If that is all you are alarmed at I am glad for the youth. He is youngand such things are allowable.
Nay, Sir, even my brother--he lives now in Alexandria, and is blind andfoolish enough still in all that concerns his former pupil--and evenhe thinks this is a dangerous rock ahead. If he does not change in thisrespect he will wander further and further from the law of the Lord,and imperil his soul, for dangers surround him on all sides like roaringlions. The noble gifts of a handsome and engaging person will lead himto his ruin; and though I do not desire it, I suspect....
You look on the dark side and judge hardly, replied the old man. Theyoung....
Even the young, or at least the Christian young, ought to controlthemselves, though I, if any one, am inclined to make the utmostallowance for the handsome lad--nay, and I may confess: when he smilesat me I feel at once as if I had met with some good-luck; and there area thousand other men in Memphis who feel the same, and still more thewomen you may be sure--but many a one has shed bitter tears on hisaccount for all that.--But, by all the saints!--Talk of the wolf and yousee his tail! Look, there he is!--Halt! Stop a minute, you men; it isworth while, Sir, to tarry a moment.
Is that his fine quadriga in front of the high garden gate yonder?
Those are the Pannonian horses he brought with him, as swift aslightning and as.... But look! Ah, now they have disappeared behind thehedge; but you, high up on your dromedary, must be able to see them. Thelittle maid by his side is the widow Susannah's daughter. This gardenand the beautiful mansion behind the trees belong to her.
A very handsome property! said the Arab.
I should think so indeed! replied the Memphite. The garden goes downto the Nile, and then, what care is taken of it!
Was it not here that Philommon the corn-merchant lived formerly? askedthe old man, as though some memories were coming back to him.
To be sure. He was Susannah's husband and must have been a man of fiftywhen he first wooed her. The little girl is their only child and therichest heiress in the whole province; but she is not altogether grownup though she is sixteen years old--an old man's child, you understand,but a pretty, merry creature, a laughing dove in human form, and soquick and lively. Her own people call her the little water-wagtail.
Good!--Good and very appropriate, said the merchant well pleased. Sheis small too, a child rather than a maiden; but the graceful, gladsomecreature takes my fancy. And the governor's son--what is his name?
Orion, Sir, replied the guide.
And by my beard, said the old man smiling. You have not over-praisedhim, man! Such a youth as this Orion is not to be seen every day. Whata tall fellow, and how becoming are those brown curls. Such as he arespoilt to begin with by their mothers, and then all the other womenfollow suit. And he has a frank, shrewd face with something behind it.If only he had left his purple coat and gold frippery in Constantinople!Such finery is out of place in this dismal ruinous city.
While he was yet speaking the Memphite urged his ass forward, but theArab held him back, for his attention was riveted by what was takingplace within the enclosure. He saw handsome Orion place a small whitedog, a silky creature of great beauty that evidently belonged to him--inthe little maiden's arms saw her kiss it and then put a blade of grassround its neck as if to measure its size. The old man watched them as,both laughing gaily, they looked into each other's eyes and presentlybid each other farewell. The girl stood on tiptoe in front of some rareshrub to reach two exquisite purple flowers that blossomed at the top,hastily plucked them and offered them to him with a deep blush; shepushed away the hand he had put out to support her as she stretchedup for the flowers with a saucy slap; and a bright glance of happinesslighted up her sweet face as the young man kissed the place her fingershad hit, and then pressed the flowers to his lips. The old man looked onwith sympathetic pleasure, as though it roused the sweetest memories inhis mind; and his kind eyes shone as Orion, no less mischievously happythan the young girl, whispered something in her ear; she drew the longstem of grass out of her waist-belt to administer immediate and condignpunishment withal, struck it across his face, and then fled overgrass-plot and flower-bed, as swift as a roe, without heeding hisrepeated shouts of Katharina! bewitching, big damsel, Katharina! tillshe reached the house.
It was a charming little interlude. Old Haschim was still pondering itin his memory with much satisfaction when he and his caravan had gonesome distance further. He felt obliged to Orion for this pretty scene,and when he heard the young man's quadriga approaching at an easy trotbehind him, he turned round to gaze. But the Arab's face had lost itscontentment by the time the four Pannonians and the chariot, overlaidwith silver ornamentation and forming, with its driver, a picture ofrare beauty and in perfect taste, had slowly driven past, to fly onlike the wind as soon as the road was clear, and to vanish presentlyin clouds of dust. There was something of melancholy in his voice as hedesired his young camel-driver to pick up the flowers, which now lay inthe dust of the road, and to bring them to him. He himself had observedthe handsome youth as, with a glance and a gesture of annoyance withhimself, he flung the innocent gift on the hot, sandy highway.
Your brother is right, cried the old man to the Memphite. Women areindeed the rock ahead in this young fellow's life--and he in theirs, Ifear! Poor little girl!
The little water-wagtail do you mean? Oh! with her it may perhaps turnto real earnest. The two mothers have settled the matter already. Theyare both rolling in gold, and where doves nest doves resort.--Thank God,the sun is low down over the Pyramids! Let your people rest at thelarge inn yonder; the host is an honest man and lacks nothing, not evenshade!
So far as the beasts and drivers are concerned, said the merchant,they may stop here. But I, and the leader of the caravan, and some ofmy men will only take some refreshment, and then you must guide us tothe governor; I have to speak with him. It is growing late...
That does not matter, said the Egyptian. The Mukaukas prefers tosee strangers after sundown on such a scorching day. If you have anydealings with him I am the very man for you. You have only to makeplay with a gold piece and I can obtain you an audience at once throughSebek, the house-steward he is my cousin. While you are resting hereI will ride on to the governor's palace and bring you word as to howmatters stand.