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       A King of Tyre: A Tale of the Times of Ezra and Nehemiah, p.1

           James M. Ludlow
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A King of Tyre: A Tale of the Times of Ezra and Nehemiah


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  A KING OF TYRE

  _A Tale of the Times of_

  EZRA AND NEHEMIAH

  BYJAMES M. LUDLOW

  AUTHOR OF "THE CAPTAIN OF THE JANIZARIES" ETC.

  Logo]

  NEW YORKHARPER & BROTHERS, FRANKLIN SQUARE1891

  Copyright, 1891, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

  _All rights reserved._

  A KING OF TYRE.

  CHAPTER I.

  The island city of Tyre lay close to the Syrian coast. It seemed tofloat among the waves that fretted themselves into foam as they rolledin between the jagged rocks, and spread over the flats, retiring againto rest in the deep bosom of the Mediterranean. The wall that encircledthe island rose in places a hundred cubits, and seemed from a distanceto be an enormous monolith. It was therefore called Tsur, or Tyre, whichmeans The Rock. At the time of our narrative, about the middle of thefifth century B.C., the sea-girt city contained a dense mass ofinhabitants, who lived in tall wooden houses of many stories; for theground space within the walls could not lodge the multitude who pursuedthe various arts and commerce for which the Tyrians were, of all theworld, the most noted. The streets were narrow, often entirely closed tothe sky by projecting balconies and arcades--mere veins and arteries forthe circulation of the city's throbbing life.

  For recreation from their dyeing-vats, looms, and foundries, theartisan people climbed to the broad spaces on the top of the walls,where they could breathe the sweet sea air, except when the easterlywind was hot and gritty with dust from the mainland, a few bow-shotsdistant. The men of commerce thronged the quay of the Sidonian harbor atthe north end of the island, or that of the Egyptian harbor on the southside--two artificial basins which were at all times crowded with ships;for the Tyrian merchantmen scoured all the coast of the Great Sea, evenventuring through the straits of Gades, and northward to the coasts ofBritain, and southward along the African shore; giving in barter for thecrude commodities they found, not only the products of their ownworkshops, but the freight of their caravans that climbed the Lebanonsand wearily tracked across the deserts to Arabia and Babylon. The peopleof fashion paraded their pride on the Great Square, in the heart of thecity--called by the Greeks the Eurychorus--where they displayed theirrich garments in competition with the flowers that grew, almost asartificially, in gay parterres amid the marble blocks of the pavement.

  But one day a single topic absorbed the conversation of all classesalike, in the Great Square, on the walls, and along the quays.Councillors of state and moneyed merchants debated it with bowed headsand wrinkled brows. Moulders talked of it as they cooled themselves atthe doorways of their foundries. Weavers, in the excitement of theirwrangling over it, forgot to throw the shuttle. Seamen, lounging on theheaps of cordage, gave the subject all the light they could strike fromoaths in the names of all the gods of all the lands they had ever sailedto. Even the women, as they stood in the open doorways, piloting theirwords between the cries of the children who bestrode their shoulders orclung to their feet, pronounced their judgment upon the all-absorbingtopic.

  A bulletin had appeared on the Great Square proclaiming, in the name ofthe High Council of Tyre, a stupendous religious celebration. Vast sumsof money had been appropriated from the city treasury, and more wasdemanded from the people. A multitude of animals was to be sacrificed,and even the blood of human victims should enrich the altar, that thusmight be purchased the favor of Almighty Baal.

  To understand this proclamation, we must know the circumstances that ledto it.

  The Phoenician prestige among the nations had for many years beensteadily waning. The political dominance of Persia, with her capital farover the deserts at Susa, was less humiliating to this proud people thanwas the growing commercial importance of the Greeks across the sea. Fornot only had the Greeks whipped the Phoenicians in naval battles, as atSalamis and Eurymedon, but they were displacing Phoenician wares inforeign markets, and teaching the Greek language, customs, and religionto all the world. Yet the Greeks were thought by the Tyrians to be butan upstart people. They had not so many generations, as thePhoenicians had ages, of glorious history.

  How could Phoenicia regain the supremacy? This was the all-absorbingquestion which appealed to the patriotism, and still more to the purses,of the Tyrians, and of their neighbors along the coast.

  Many were the wiseacres who readily solved this problem to their ownsatisfaction. Thus, for example, the priests of Melkarth--the name theygave to Baal in his special office as guardian of the city--had a theoryof their own. It was to the effect that the gods were offended at thegrowing laxity of worship, and especially at the falling-off of thetemple revenues, which were in great measure the sumptuous perquisitesof the priests themselves. They were especially disaffected towardstheir young king, Hiram, whom they regarded as an obstacle to anyreforms on this line. Hiram had spent his early training years with thefleet, and was conversant with the faiths and customs of many countries.Thus he was educated to a cosmopolitan, not to say sceptical, habit ofmind, and was led to doubt whether any movement that originated in theambition of a horde of unscrupulous and superstitious priests could winthe favor of the gods, even admitting that such supernal beings existed,of which the king was reported to have expressed a doubt.

  King Hiram had been but a few months on the throne, to which he hadsucceeded on the death of his father, when he opened the meeting of theGreat Council which issued the proclamation regarding the sacrifice.

  His Majesty sat upon the bronze throne. Above him shone a canopy ofbeaten gold. At his back hung a curtain of richest Tyrian purple, in thecentre of which gleamed a silver dove with outspread wings, the symbolof Tyre from those ancient days when its commerce and renown began tofly abroad over the world.

  Hiram's face was typically Phoenician, and betokened the clear tide ofhis racial blood. His forehead was broad, and prominent at the brows.His eyes were gleaming black. His nose started as if with the purpose ofbeing Jewish, but terminated in the expanded nostril that suggested theEgyptian. His hair was black, with the slightest touch of red, which,however, only strong light would reveal. He wore the conical cap of thesailor, for his pride of naval command had never become secondary toeven his sense of royal dignity; and many a time had he declared that atrue Phoenician king was chiefly king of the sea. The royal cap wasdistinguished from that of common sailors by the uraeus, or wingedserpent's crest, which was wrought in golden needlework upon the front.The king's throat and chest were bare, except for a purple mantle whichhung from his left shoulder, and crossed his body diagonally; and for abroad collar of silk embroidered with silver threads, which shone incontrast with his weather-bronzed skin. His arms were clasped above theelbows with heavy spirals of gold. He wore a loose white chiton, orundergarment, which terminated above the knees, and revealed as knotty apair of legs as ever balanced so graceful a figure. But one thing marredhis appearance--a deep scar on his chin, the memorial of a hand-to-handfight with Egyptian pirates off the mouth of the Nile.

  The king leaned upon one of the lion-heads that made the arms of histhrone. One foot rested upon a footstool of bronze; the other in thespotted fur of a leopard, spread upon the dais.

  Sitting thus, he spoke of the subject before the council. At first hescarcely changed his easy attitude. He traced the rise of the Greekpower with voluble accuracy, for he had studied the problems itpresented in another school than that of Phoenician prejudices. As heproceeded he warmed with the kindling of h
is own thoughts, and,straightening himself on the throne, gesticulated forcibly, making thehuge arm of the chair tremble under the stroke of his fist, as if themoulded bronze were the obdurate heads of his listeners. At length,fully heated with the excitement of his speech, and by the antagonismtoo plainly revealed in the faces of some of his courtiers, he rose fromhis throne, and stood upon the leopard skin as he concluded with thesewords:

  "Let me speak plainly, O leaders of Phoenicia, as a king of men shouldspeak to kingly men! Why does the Greek outstrip us? Because he isstronger. Why is he stronger? Because he is wiser. Why is he wiser?Because he learns from all the world; and we, though we trade with allthe tribes of men, learn from none. Our guide-marks are our ownfootprints, which we follow in endless circles. We boast, O Phoenicians,that we have taught the world its alphabet, but we ourselves have nobooks beyond the tablets on which we keep the accounts of our ships, ourcaravans, and our shambles. It is our shame, O men of Tyre! We haveinstructed the sailors of the Great Sea to guide their ships by thestars, but in all our customs of government and religion we dare notleave the coast-line of our ancient notions. We go up and down thechannels of our prejudice; ay, we ground ourselves in our ignorance.

  "And hear, O ye priests! Our religion as practised is our disgrace. IfBaal be the intelligence that shines in the sun, he despises us for ourstupidity. Nay, scowl if ye will! But look at the statues of our gods! AGreek boy could carve as finely with the dough he eats. Look at ourtemples! The Great Hiram built a finer one than we possess fivecenturies ago, there in Jerusalem, for the miserable Jews to worshiptheir Jehovah in. Ye say that Baal is angry with us. And well he may be!For we open not our minds to the brightness of his beams: we hide in theshadows of things that are old and decayed, even as the lizards crawl inthe shadow of the ruins that everywhere mark our plains.

  "Ye say, O priests, that we must sacrifice more to Baal. Truly! But itis not the sacrifice of death, rather the real offering of life, of ourwiser thoughts, our braver enterprise, that Baal would have.

  "This, this is the end of all my speaking, O men of Tyre! Heap up yourtreasures, and burn them if ye will! Slaughter your beasts! Toss yourbabes into the fire of Moloch! But know ye that your king gives you nosuch commandment; nor will he have more of such counsel."

  So saying, King Hiram strode down from the dais, and left the councilchamber. As he passed out, the members rose and made deep obeisance; buttheir bowed forms did not conceal from him their scowling faces.

  The councillors, left alone, gathered close together, evidently not fordebate, but to confirm one another in some predetermined purpose. Theirwords were bitter. Old Egbalus, the high priest of Baal-Melkarth for theyear, thanked his god that the throne of Tyre had lost its power, sinceone so utterly blasphemous, so traitorous, had come to occupy it.

  "That travelling Greek, Herodotus, who is even now his guest, hasbewitched the king with his talk," sneered one.

  "Or with his Greek gold," timidly ventured another.

  The last speaker was a young man, in princely attire, with markedresemblance to King Hiram; but such resemblance as is often noticedbetween an ugly and a beautiful face; certain features attestingkinship, while, at the same time, they proclaim the utmost difference ofcharacter. This person was Prince Rubaal, cousin to Hiram, and, in theevent of the death of the latter without issue, the heir to the crown.His naturally selfish disposition had brewed nothing but gall sinceHiram's accession. From polite disparagement he lapsed into the habit ofopen contempt for the person, and bitter antagonism to the interests ofhis royal relative. That the king was hostile to the pretensions of thepriestly guild was sufficient to make Rubaal their slavish adherent.

  The sneer with which he attributed a mercenary motive to the kingbrought him a look of blandest encouragement from the high priest,Egbalus.

  This latter dignitary, however, instantly cast a less complacent andmore inquisitive glance into the face of another councillor, Ahimelek.How much was meant by that look can be understood only by recalling thecharacter and career of this man.

  Ahimelek was small in stature, of low, broad brow, thin lips, restlessgray eyes, which seemed to focus upon nothing, as if afraid of revealingthe thought back of them; as a partridge, when disturbed, flits in alldirections except over its own nest. He was the richest merchant inTyre, the largest ship-owner in all Phoenicia. His fleets were passing,like shuttles on the loom of his prosperity, between Tyre and Cyprus,Carthage and Gades. His caravans, too, were well known on every routefrom Damascus to Memphis. He inherited the wealth of several generationsof merchants, and also their ancestral shrewdness. His waking dream wasto surpass them all by allying his financial power with the politicalprestige of the royal house of Tyre. To this end he had spared neithermoney nor sycophancy in order to gain the favor of the late king.

  It was therefore with genuine elation that the merchant had noted thegrowing intimacy between Hiram and his daughter, the fair Zillah.

  From childhood Prince Hiram and Zillah had been much together, the oldking having been, in the chronic depletion of his treasury, as littleaverse to a family alliance with the money-bags of Ahimelek as thataristocrat was to guarding his bags with the royal seal. Indeed, on morethan one occasion the king had discovered an authority in Ahimelek'sdarics that was lacking in his own mandates. It was rumored that therecognition of Hiram's sovereignty by the court at Susa had beendeferred until the appointment of Ahimelek as his chamberlain gavepromise of substantial benefit to the politicians who surrounded theGreat King, Artaxerxes.

  It is true, however, that the personal attractions of Zillah, withoutsuch reasons of state, had captivated young Prince Hiram. She was thegoddess who inspired his dreams during his voyages, and into her ear, onhis return, he narrated his adventures, and confessed his most secretprojects and ambitious hopes. On the very day of his coronation, a yearbefore our story begins, he left the great hall of ceremony, not toreturn to his palace, but to visit the mansion of Ahimelek, and then andthere placed his crown upon the head of Zillah, claiming heroft-repeated promise to be his queen. That very night, too, thedelighted merchant had given the hand of his daughter into that of herroyal suitor, accepting from him a splendid gift as the marriagepurchase, and presenting to him in return the dowry contract, which inthis case was the bonding of his estate to pay in cash a thousand minasof gold, and half the revenues of his trade in perpetuity.

  But later events had disturbed the equanimity of Ahimelek. The growingdisaffection of the priestly guild towards King Hiram was too ominous tobe disregarded. Their power over the people had never been challengedwith impunity. Could the king maintain himself against them?

  One act of Zillah herself had seemed to endanger her royal prospects. Itwas a sacred custom for the wife of a Phoenician king to become also apriestess of the goddess Astarte, thus consolidating the sacerdotal androyal authorities. Into this sacred office Zillah had refused to enter;in which determination she was doubtless influenced by the prejudices ofher royal lover.

  To Ahimelek's fears, therefore, the crown of Tyre seemed suspended by aslender thread over an abyss from which he could not rescue it if itshould fall. He therefore had, on various pretexts, postponed themarriage. But his scheming mind discerned a refuge for his ambition inthe fact that Rubaal was a jealous rival for the heart of Zillah.Indeed, much of that young man's hostility to his cousin was due to hiswounded affections. It therefore seemed clear to Ahimelek that, in theevent of the overthrow of King Hiram, there would be an equalopportunity for his own aggrandizement in transferring his daughter'shand to that of the new king. Such were the thoughts that disturbedAhimelek as he sat at the council table.

  The high priest, Egbalus, had already fathomed the perplexity of themerchant's mind when he gave him that questioning glance.

  Ahimelek's eyes fluttered more than ever as they met the inquisitorialgaze of the priest. What would he not give to know the future? On whichside should he cast his vote?

  Egbalus was too subtle a politician to pre
ss the query to a definiteanswer in the council hall. He knew his man, and knew that if Ahimelekdid not dare go with the priests, neither would he dare to oppose them.

  Other members of the council were more readily subservient. Indeed, thepredominating influence of Egbalus in public affairs had already madeitself felt in the selection of the persons who were nominally theking's advisers. He knew, indeed he owned, them all.

  The decree ordaining the splendid sacrifice was therefore issued. Theproclamation was quickly posted on the temple gate, the door of thecouncil chamber, and in the Great Square.

  Would the king oppose it? If so, it would bring on the conflict thepriests desired, and had long been preparing for.

 
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