Die Schwestern. EnglishGeorg Ebers / History & Fiction
Produced by David Widger
THE SISTERS, Complete
By Georg Ebers
Translated from the German by Clara Bell
DEDICATION TO HERR EDUARD von HALLBERGER
Allow me, my dear friend, to dedicate these pages to you. I present themto you at the close of a period of twenty years during which a warm andfast friendship has subsisted between us, unbroken by any disagreement.Four of my works have first seen the light under your care and havewandered all over the world under the protection of your name. This, myfifth book, I desire to make especially your own; it was partly writtenin your beautiful home at Tutzing, under your hospitable roof, and Idesire to prove to you by some visible token that I know how to valueyour affection and friendship and the many happy hours we have passedtogether, refreshing and encouraging each other by a full and perfectinterchange of thought and sentiment.
By a marvellous combination of circumstances a number of fragments ofthe Royal Archives of Memphis have been preserved from destruction withthe rest, containing petitions written on papyrus in the Greek language;these were composed by a recluse of Macedonian birth, living in theSerapeum, in behalf of two sisters, twins, who served the god asPourers out of the libations.
At a first glance these petitions seem scarcely worthy of seriousconsideration; but a closer study of their contents shows us thatwe possess in them documents of the greatest value in the historyof manners. They prove that the great Monastic Idea--which under theinfluence of Christianity grew to be of such vast moral and historicalsignificance--first struck root in one of the centres of heathenreligious practices; besides affording us a quite unexpected insightinto the internal life of the temple of Serapis, whose ruined wallshave, in our own day, been recovered from the sand of the desert by theindefatigable industry of the French Egyptologist Monsieur Mariette.
I have been so fortunate as to visit this spot and to search throughevery part of it, and the petitions I speak of have been familiar to mefor years. When, however, quite recently, one of my pupils undertook tostudy more particularly one of these documents--preserved in the RoyalLibrary at Dresden--I myself reinvestigated it also, and this studyimpressed on my fancy a vivid picture of the Serapeum under PtolemyPhilometor; the outlines became clear and firm, and acquired color, andit is this picture which I have endeavored to set before the reader, sofar as words admit, in the following pages.
I did not indeed select for my hero the recluse, nor for my heroinesthe twins who are spoken of in the petitions, but others who might havelived at a somewhat earlier date under similar conditions; for it isproved by the papyrus that it was not once only and by accident thattwins were engaged in serving in the temple of Serapis, but that, on thecontrary, pair after pair of sisters succeeded each other in the officeof pouring out libations.
I have not invested Klea and Irene with this function, but havesimply placed them as wards of the Serapeum and growing up within itsprecincts. I selected this alternative partly because the existingsources of knowledge give us very insufficient information as to theduties that might have been required of the twins, partly for otherreasons arising out of the plan of my narrative.
Klea and Irene are purely imaginary personages, but on the other handI have endeavored, by working from tolerably ample sources, to give afaithful picture of the historical physiognomy of the period in whichthey live and move, and portraits of the two hostile brothers PtolemyPhilometor and Euergetes II., the latter of whom bore the nickname ofPhyskon: the Stout. The Eunuch Eulaeus and the Roman Publius CorneliusScipio Nasica, are also historical personages.
I chose the latter from among the many young patricians living at thetime, partly on account of the strong aristocratic feeling which hedisplayed, particularly in his later life, and partly because hisnickname of Serapion struck me. This name I account for in my own way,although I am aware that he owed it to his resemblance to a person ofinferior rank.
For the further enlightenment of the reader who is not familiar withthis period of Egyptian history I may suggest that Cleopatra, the wifeof Ptolemy Philometor--whom I propose to introduce to the reader--mustnot be confounded with her famous namesake, the beloved of Julius Caesarand Mark Antony. The name Cleopatra was a very favorite one among theLagides, and of the queens who bore it she who has become famous throughShakespeare (and more lately through Makart) was the seventh, the sisterand wife of Ptolemy XIV. Her tragical death from the bite of a viper orasp did not occur until 134 years later than the date of my narrative,which I have placed 164 years B.C.
At that time Egypt had already been for 169 years subject to the ruleof a Greek (Macedonian) dynasty, which owed its name as that of thePtolemies or Lagides to its founder Ptolemy Soter, the son of Lagus.This energetic man, a general under Alexander the Great, when hissovereign--333 B.C.--had conquered the whole Nile Valley, was appointedgovernor of the new Satrapy; after Alexander's death in 323 B.C.,Ptolemy mounted the throne of the Pharaohs, and he and his descendantsruled over Egypt until after the death of the last and most famous ofthe Cleopatras, when it was annexed as a province to the Roman Empire.
This is not the place for giving a history of the successive Ptolemies,but I may remark that the assimilating faculty exercised by the Greeksover other nations was potent in Egypt; particularly as the result ofthe powerful influence of Alexandria, the capital founded by Alexander,which developed with wonderful rapidity to be one of the most splendidcentres of Hellenic culture and of Hellenic art and science.
Long before the united rule of the hostile brothers Ptolemy Philometorand Euergetes--whose violent end will be narrated to the reader of thisstory--Greek influence was marked in every event and detail of Egyptianlife, which had remained almost unaffected by the characteristics offormer conquerors--the Hyksos, the Assyrians and the Persians; and,under the Ptolemies, the most inhospitable and exclusive nation of earlyantiquity threw open her gates to foreigners of every race.
Alexandria was a metropolis even in the modern sense; not merely anemporium of commerce, but a focus where the intellectual and religioustreasures of various countries were concentrated and worked up, andtransmitted to all the nations that desired them. I have resisted thetemptation to lay the scene of my story there, because in Alexandriathe Egyptian element was too much overlaid by the Greek, and thetoo splendid and important scenery and decorations might easily havedistracted the reader's attention from the dramatic interest of thepersons acting.
At that period of the Hellenic dominion which I have described, thekings of Egypt were free to command in all that concerned the internalaffairs of their kingdom, but the rapidly-growing power of the RomanEmpire enabled her to check the extension of their dominion, just as shechose.
Philometor himself had heartily promoted the immigration of Israelitesfrom Palestine, and under him the important Jewish community inAlexandria acquired an influence almost greater than the Greek; and thisnot only in the city but in the kingdom and over their royal protector,who allowed them to build a temple to Jehovah on the shores of theNile, and in his own person assisted at the dogmatic discussions of theIsraelites educated in the Greek schools of the city. Euergetes II., ahighly gifted but vicious and violent man, was, on the contrary, justas inimical to them; he persecuted them cruelly as soon as his brother'sdeath left him sole ruler over Egypt. His hand fell heavily even onthe members of the Great Academy--the Museum, as it was called--ofAlexandria, though he himself had been devoted to the grave labors ofscience, and he compelled them to seek a new home. The exiled sons oflearning settled in various cities on the shores of the Mediterranean,and thus contributed not a little to the diffusion of the intellectualresults of the labors in the Museum.
Aristarchus, the greatest of Philometor's learned contemporaries, hasreported for us a conversation in the king's palace at Memphis. Theverses about the puny child of man, recited by Cleopatra in chapterX., are not genuinely antique; but Friedrich Ritschl--the Aristarchus ofour own days, now dead--thought very highly of them and gave them tome, some years ago, with several variations which had been added by ananonymous hand, then still in the land of the living. I have added tothe first verse two of these, which, as I learned at the eleventh hour,were composed by Herr H. L. von Held, who is now dead, and of whomfurther particulars may be learned from Varnhagen's 'BiographisclaenDenkmalen'. Vol. VII. I think the reader will thank me for directinghis attention to these charming lines and to the genius displayed in themoral application of the main idea. Verses such as these might very wellhave been written by Callimachus or some other poet of the circle of theearly members of the Museum of Alexandria.
I was also obliged in this narrative to concentrate, in one limitedcanvas as it were, all the features which were at once the conditionsand the characteristics of a great epoch of civilization, and to givethem form and movement by setting the history of some of the men thenliving before the reader, with its complications and its denouement. Allthe personages of my story grew up in my imagination from a study of thetimes in which they lived, but when once I saw them clearly in outlinethey soon stood before my mind in a more distinct form, like people ina dream; I felt the poet's pleasure in creation, and as I painted themtheir blood grew warm, their pulses began to beat and their spirit totake wings and stir, each in its appropriate nature. I gave history herdue, but the historic figures retired into the background beside thehuman beings as such; the representatives of an epoch became vehiclesfor a Human Ideal, holding good for all time; and thus it is thatI venture to offer this transcript of a period as really a dramaticromance.
Leipzig November 13, 1879. GEORG EBERS.