Part 1 out of 3
Etext prepared by Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
and John Bickers, email@example.com
by ANATOLE FRANCE
Robert B. Douglas
PART I. THE LOTUS
PART II. THE PAPYRUS
THE PAPYRUS (resumed)
PART III. THE EUPHORBIA
PART THE FIRST
In those days there were many hermits living in the desert. On both
banks of the Nile numerous huts, built by these solitary dwellers, of
branches held together by clay, were scattered at a little distance
from each other, so that the inhabitants could live alone, and yet
help one another in case of need. Churches, each surmounted by a
cross, stood here and there amongst the huts, and the monks flocked to
them at each festival to celebrate the services or to partake of the
Communion. There were also, here and there on the banks of the river,
monasteries, where the cenobites lived in separate cells, and only met
together that they might the better enjoy their solitude.
Both hermits and cenobites led abstemious lives, taking no food till
after sunset, and eating nothing but bread with a little salt and
hyssop. Some retired into the desert, and led a still more strange
life in some cave or tomb.
All lived in temperance and chastity; they wore a hair shirt and a
hood, slept on the bare ground after long watching, prayed, sang
psalms, and, in short, spent their days in works of penitence. As an
atonement for original sin, they refused their body not only all
pleasures and satisfactions, but even that care and attention which in
this age are deemed indispensable. They believed that the diseases of
our members purify our souls, and the flesh could put on no adornment
more glorious than wounds and ulcers. Thus, they thought they
fulfilled the words of the prophet, "The desert shall rejoice and
blossom as the rose."
Amongst the inhabitants of the holy Thebaid, there were some who
passed their days in asceticism and contemplation; others gained their
livelihood by plaiting palm fibre, or by working at harvest-time for
the neighbouring farmers. The Gentiles wrongly suspected some of them
of living by brigandage, and allying themselves to the nomadic Arabs
who robbed the caravans. But, as a matter of fact, the monks despised
riches, and the odour of their sanctity rose to heaven.
Angels in the likeness of young men, came, staff in hand, as
travellers, to visit the hermitages; whilst demons--having assumed the
form of Ethiopians or of animals--wandered round the habitations of
the hermits in order to lead them into temptation. When the monks went
in the morning to fill their pitcher at the spring, they saw the
footprints of Satyrs and Aigipans in the sand. The Thebaid was, really
and spiritually, a battlefield, where, at all times, and more
especially at night, there were terrible conflicts between heaven and
The ascetics, furiously assailed by legions of the damned, defended
themselves--with the help of God and the angels--by fasting, prayer,
and penance. Sometimes carnal desires pricked them so cruelly that
they cried aloud with pain, and their lamentations rose to the starlit
heavens mingled with the howls of the hungry hyaenas. Then it was that
the demons appeared in delightful forms. For though the demons are, in
reality, hideous, they sometimes assume an appearance of beauty which
prevents their real nature from being recognised. The ascetics of the
Thebaid were amazed to see in their cells phantasms of delights
unknown even to the voluptuaries of the age. But, as they were under
the sign of the Cross, they did not succumb to these temptations, and
the unclean spirits, assuming again their true character, fled at
daybreak, filled with rage and shame. It was not unusual to meet at
dawn one of these beings, flying away and weeping, and replying to
those who questioned it, "I weep and groan because one of the
Christians who live here has beaten me with rods, and driven me away
The power of the old saints of the desert extended over all sinners
and unbelievers. Their goodness was sometimes terrible. They derived
from the Apostles authority to punish all offences against the true
and only God, and no earthly power could save those they condemned.
Strange tales were told in the cities, and even as far as Alexandria,
how the earth had opened and swallowed up certain wicked persons whom
one of these saints struck with his staff. Therefore they were feared
by all evil-doers, and particularly by mimes, mountebanks, married
priests, and prostitutes.
Such was the sanctity of these holy men that even wild beasts felt
their power. When a hermit was about to die, a lion came and dug a
grave with its claws. The saint knew by this that God had called him,
and he went and kissed all his brethren on the cheek. Then he lay down
joyfully, and slept in the Lord.
Now that Anthony, who was more than a hundred years old, had retired
to Mount Colzin with his well-beloved disciples, Macarius and Amathas,
there was no monk in the Thebaid more renowned for good works than
Paphnutius, the Abbot of Antinoe. Ephrem and Serapion had a greater
number of followers, and in the spiritual and temporal management of
their monasteries surpassed him. But Paphnutius observed the most
rigorous fasts, and often went for three entire days without taking
food. He wore a very rough hair shirt, he flogged himself night and
morning, and lay for hours with his face to the earth.
His twenty-four disciples had built their huts near his, and imitated
his austerities. He loved them all dearly in Jesus Christ, and
unceasingly exhorted them to good works. Amongst his spiritual
children were men who had been robbers for many years, and had been
persuaded by the exhortations of the holy abbot to embrace the
monastic life, and who now edified their companions by the purity of
their lives. One, who had been cook to the Queen of Abyssinia, and was
converted by the Abbot of Antinoe, never ceased to weep. There was
also Flavian, the deacon, who knew the Scriptures, and spoke well; but
the disciple of Paphnutius who surpassed all the others in holiness
was a young peasant named Paul, and surnamed the Fool, because of his
extreme simplicity. Men laughed at his childishness, but God favoured
him with visions, and by bestowing upon him the gift of prophecy.
Paphnutius passed his life in teaching his disciples, and in ascetic
practices. Often did he meditate upon the Holy Scriptures in order to
find allegories in them. Therefore he abounded in good works, though
still young. The devils, who so rudely assailed the good hermits, did
not dare to approach him. At night, seven little jackals sat in the
moonlight in front of his cell, silent and motionless, and with their
ears pricked up. It was believed that they were seven devils, who,
owing to his sanctity, could not cross his threshold.
Paphnutius was born at Alexandria of noble parents, who had instructed
him in all profane learning. He had even been allured by the
falsehoods of the poets, and in his early youth had been misguided
enough to believe that the human race had all been drowned by a deluge
in the days of Deucalion, and had argued with his fellow-scholars
concerning the nature, the attributes, and even the existence of God.
He then led a life of dissipation, after the manner of the Gentiles,
and he recalled the memory of those days with shame and horror.
"At that time," he used to say to the brethren, "I seethed in the
cauldron of false delights."
He meant by that that he had eaten food properly dressed, and
frequented the public baths. In fact, until his twentieth year he had
continued to lead the ordinary existence of those times, which now
seemed to him rather death than life; but, owing to the lessons of the
priest Macrinus, he then became a new man.
The truth penetrated him through and through, and--as he used to say--
entered his soul like a sword. He embraced the faith of Calvary, and
worshipped Christ crucified. After his baptism he remained yet a year
amongst the Gentiles, unable to cast off the bonds of old habits. But
one day he entered a church, and heard a deacon read from the Bible,
the verse, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and
give to the poor." Thereupon he sold all that he had, gave away the
money in alms, and embraced the monastic life.
During the ten years that he had lived remote from men, he no longer
seethed in the cauldron of false delights, but more profitably
macerated his flesh in the balms of penitence.
One day when, according to his pious custom, he was recalling to mind
the hours he had lived apart from God, and examining his sins one by
one, that he might the better ponder on their enormity, he remembered
that he had seen at the theatre at Alexandria a very beautiful actress
named Thais. This woman showed herself in the public games, and did
not scruple to perform dances, the movements of which, arranged only
too cleverly, brought to mind the most horrible passions. Sometimes
she imitated the horrible deeds which the Pagan fables ascribe to
Venus, Leda, or Pasiphae. Thus she fired all the spectators with lust,
and when handsome young men, or rich old ones, came, inspired with
love, to hang wreaths of flowers round her door, she welcomed them,
and gave herself up to them. So that, whilst she lost her own soul,
she also ruined the souls of many others.
She had almost led Paphnutius himself into the sins of the flesh. She
had awakened desire in him, and he had once approached the house of
Thais. But he stopped on the threshold of the courtesan's house,
partly restrained by the natural timidity of extreme youth--he was
then but fifteen years old--and partly by the fear of being refused on
account of his want of money, for his parents took care that he should
commit no great extravagances.
God, in His mercy, had used these two means to prevent him from
committing a great sin. But Paphnutius had not been grateful to Him
for that, because at that time he was blind to his own interests, and
did not know that he was lusting after false delights. Now, kneeling
in his cell, before the image of that holy cross on which hung, as in
a balance, the ransom of the world, Paphnutius began to think of
Thais, because Thais was a sin to him, and he meditated long,
according to ascetic rules, on the fearful hideousness of the carnal
delights with which this woman had inspired him in the days of his sin
and ignorance. After some hours of meditation the image of Thais
appeared to him clearly and distinctly. He saw her again, as he had
seen her when she tempted him, in all the beauty of the flesh. At
first she showed herself like a Leda, softly lying upon a bed of
hyacinths, her head bowed, her eyes humid and filled with a strange
light, her nostrils quivering, her mouth half open, her breasts like
two flowers, and her arms smooth and fresh as two brooks. At this
sight Paphnutius struck his breast and said--
"I call Thee to witness, my God, that I have considered how heinous
has been my sin."
Gradually the face of the image changed its expression. Little by
little the lips of Thais, by lowering at the corners of the mouth,
expressed a mysterious suffering. Her large eyes were filled with
tears and lights; her breast heaved with sighs, like the sighing of a
wind that precedes a tempest. At this sight Paphnutius was troubled to
the bottom of his soul. Prostrating himself on the floor, he uttered
"Thou who hast put pity in our hearts, like the morning dew upon the
fields, O just and merciful God, be Thou blessed! Praise! praise be
unto Thee! Put away from Thy servant that false tenderness which
tempts to concupiscence, and grant that I may only love Thy creatures
in Thee, for they pass away, but Thou endurest for ever. If I care for
this woman, it is only because she is Thy handiwork. The angels
themselves feel pity for her. Is she not, O Lord, the breath of Thy
mouth? Let her not continue to sin with many citizens and strangers.
There is great pity for her in my heart. Her wickednesses are
abominable, and but to think of them makes my flesh creep. But the
more wicked she is, the more do I lament for her. I weep when I think
that the devils will torment her to all eternity."
As he was meditating in this way, he saw a little jackal lying at his
feet. He felt much surprised, for the door of his cell had been closed
since the morning. The animal seemed to read the Abbot's thoughts, and
wagged its tail like a dog. Paphnutius made the sign of the cross and
the beast vanished. He knew then that, for the first time, the devil
had entered his cell, and he uttered a short prayer; then he thought
again about Thais.
"With God's help," he said to himself, "I must save her." And he
The next morning, when he had said his prayers, he went to see the
sainted Palemon, a holy hermit who lived some distance away. He found
him smiling quietly as he dug the ground, as was his custom. Palemon
was an old man, and cultivated a little garden; the wild beasts came
and licked his hands, and the devils never tormented him.
"May God be praised, brother Paphnutius," he said, as he leaned upon
"God be praised!" replied Paphnutius. "And peace be unto my brother."
"The like peace be unto thee, brother Paphnutius," said Palemon; and
he wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve.
"Brother Palemon, all our discourse ought to be solely the praise of
Him who has promised to be wheresoever two or three are gathered
together in His Name. That is why I come to you concerning a design I
have formed to glorify the Lord."
"May the Lord bless thy design, Paphnutius, as He has blessed my
lettuces. Every morning He spreads His grace with the dew on my
garden, and His goodness causes me to glorify Him in the cucumbers and
melons which He gives me. Let us pray that He may keep us in His
peace. For nothing is more to be feared than those unruly passions
which trouble our hearts. When these passions disturb us we are like
drunken men, and we stagger from right to left unceasingly, and are
like to fall miserably. Sometimes these passions plunge us into a
turbulent joy, and he who gives way to such, sullies the air with
brutish laughter. Such false joy drags the sinner into all sorts of
excess. But sometimes also the troubles of the soul and of the senses
throw us into an impious sadness which is a thousand times worse than
the joy. Brother Paphnutius, I am but a miserable sinner, but I have
found, in my long life, that the cenobite has no foe worse than
sadness. I mean by that the obstinate melancholy which envelopes the
soul as in a mist, and hides from us the light of God. Nothing is more
contrary to salvation, and the devil's greatest triumph is to sow
black and bitter thoughts in the heart of a good man. If he sent us
only pleasurable temptations, he would not be half so much to be
feared. Alas! he excels in making us sad. Did he not show to our
father Anthony a black child of such surpassing beauty that the very
sight of it drew tears? With God's help, our father Anthony avoided
the snares of the demon. I knew him when he lived amongst us; he was
cheerful with his disciples, and never gave way to melancholy. But did
you not come, my brother, to talk to me of a design you had formed in
your mind? Let me know what it is--if, at least, this design has for
its object the glory of God."
"Brother Palemon, what I propose is really to the glory of God.
Strengthen me with your counsel, for you know many things, and sin has
never darkened the clearness of your mind."
"Brother Paphnutius, I am not worthy to unloose the latchet of thy
sandals, and my sins are as countless as the sands of the desert. But
I am old, and I will never refuse the help of my experience."
"I will confide in you, then, brother Palemon, that I am stricken with
grief at the thought that there is, in Alexandria, a courtesan named
Thais, who lives in sin, and is a subject of reproach unto the
"Brother Paphnutius, that is, in truth, an abomination which we do
well to deplore. There are many women amongst the Gentiles who lead
lives of that kind. Have you thought of any remedy for this great
"Brother Palemon, I will go to Alexandria and find this woman, and,
with God's help, I will convert her; that is my intention; do you
approve of it, brother?"
"Brother Paphnutius, I am but a miserable sinner, but our father
Anthony used to say, 'In whatsoever place thou art, hasten not to
leave it to go elsewhere.' "
"Brother Palemon, do you disapprove of my project?"
"Dear Paphnutius, God forbid that I should suspect my brother of bad
intentions. But our father Anthony also said, 'Fishes die on dry land,
and so is it with those monks who leave their cells and mingle with
the men of this world, amongst whom no good thing is to be found.' "
Having thus spoken, the old man pressed his foot on the spade, and
began to dig energetically round a fig tree laden with fruit. As he
was thus engaged, there was a rustling in the bushes, and an antelope
leaped over the hedge which surrounded the garden; it stopped,
surprised and frightened, its delicate legs trembling, then ran up to
the old man, and laid its pretty head on the breast of its friend.
"God be praised in the gazelle of the desert," said Palemon.
He went to his hut, the light-footed little animal trotting after him,
and brought out some black bread, which the antelope ate out of his
Paphnutius remained thoughtful for some time, his eyes fixed upon the
stones at his feet. Then he slowly walked back to his cell, pondering
on what he had heard. A great struggle was going on in his mind.
"The hermit gives good advice," he said to himself; "the spirit of
prudence is in him. And he doubts the wisdom of my intention. Yet it
would be cruel to leave Thais any longer in the power of the demon who
possesses her. May God advise and conduct me."
As he was walking along, he saw a plover, caught in the net that a
hunter had laid on the sand, and he knew that it was a hen bird, for
he saw the male fly to the net, and tear the meshes one by one with
its beak, until it had made an opening by which its mate could escape.
The holy man watched this incident, and as, by virtue of his holiness,
he easily comprehended the mystic sense of all occurrences, he knew
that the captive bird was no other than Thais, caught in the snares of
sin, and that--like the plover that had cut the hempen threads with
its beak--he could, by pronouncing the word of power, break the
invisible bonds by which Thais was held in sin. Therefore he praised
God, and was confirmed in his first resolution. But then seeing the
plover caught by the feet, and hampered by the net it had broken, he
fell into uncertainty again.
He did not sleep all night, and before dawn he had a vision. Thais
appeared to him again. There was no expression of guilty pleasure on
her face, nor was she dressed according to custom in transparent
drapery. She was enveloped in a shroud, which hid even a part of her
face, so that the Abbot could see nothing but the two eyes, from which
flowed white and heavy tears.
At this sight he began to weep, and believing that this vision came
from God, he no longer hesitated. He rose, seized a knotted stick, the
symbol of the Christian faith, and left his cell, carefully closing
the door, lest the animals of the desert and the birds of the air
should enter, and befoul the copy of the Holy Scriptures which stood
at the head of his bed. He called Flavian, the deacon, and gave him
authority over the other twenty-three disciples during his absence;
and then, clad only in a long cassock, he bent his steps towards the
Nile, intending to follow the Libyan bank to the city founded by the
Macedonian monarch. He walked from dawn to eve, indifferent to
fatigue, hunger, and thirst; the sun was already low on the horizon
when he saw the dreadful river, the blood-red waters of which rolled
between the rocks of gold and fire.
He kept along the shore, begging his bread at the door of solitary
huts for the love of God, and joyfully receiving insults, refusals, or
threats. He feared neither robbers nor wild beasts, but he took great
care to avoid all the towns and villages he came near. He was afraid
lest he should see children playing at knuckle-bones before their
father's house, or meet, by the side of the well, women in blue
smocks, who might put down their pitcher and smile at him. All things
are dangerous for the hermit; it is sometimes a danger for him to read
in the Scriptures that the Divine Master journeyed from town to town
and supped with His disciples. The virtues that the anchorites
embroider so carefully on the tissue of faith, are as fragile as they
are beautiful; a breath of ordinary life may tarnish their pleasant
colours. For that reason, Paphnutius avoided the towns, fearing lest
his heart should soften at the sight of his fellow men.
He journeyed along lonely roads. When evening came, the murmuring of
the breeze amidst the tamarisk trees made him shiver, and he pulled
his hood over his eyes that he might not see how beautiful all things
were. After walking six days, he came to a place called Silsile. There
the river runs in a narrow valley, bordered by a double chain of
granite mountains. It was there that the Egyptians, in the days when
they worshipped demons, carved their idols. Paphnutius saw an enormous
sphinx carved in the solid rock. Fearing that it might still possess
some diabolical properties, he made the sign of the cross, and
pronounced the name of Jesus; he immediately saw a bat fly out of one
of the monster's ears, and Paphnutius knew that he had driven out the
evil spirits which had been for centuries in the figure. His zeal
increased, and picking up a large stone, he threw it in the idol's
face. Then the mysterious face of the sphinx expressed such profound
sadness that Paphnutius was moved. In fact, the expression of
superhuman grief on the stone visage would have touched even the most
unfeeling man. Therefore Paphnutius said to the sphinx--
"O monster, be like the satyrs and centaurs our father Anthony saw in
the desert, and confess the divinity of Jesus Christ, and I will bless
thee in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
When he had spoken a rosy light gleamed in the eyes of the sphinx; the
heavy eyelids of the monster quivered and the granite lips painfully
murmured, as though in echo to the man's voice, the holy name of Jesus
Christ; therefore Paphnutius stretched out his right hand, and blessed
the sphinx of Silsile.
That being done, he resumed his journey, and the valley having grown
wider, he saw the ruins of an immense city. The temples, which still
remained standing, were supported by idols which served as columns,
and--by the permission of God--these figures with women's heads and
cow's horns, threw on Paphnutius a long look which made him turn pale.
He walked thus seventeen days, his only food a few raw herbs, and he
slept at night in some ruined palace, amongst the wild cats and
Pharaoh's rats, with which mingled sometimes, women whose bodies ended
in a scaly tail. But Paphnutius knew that these women came from hell,
and he drove them away by making the sign of the cross.
On the eighteenth day, he found, far from any village, a wretched hut
made of palm leaves, and half buried under the sand which had been
driven by the desert wind. He approached it, hoping that the hut was
inhabited by some pious anchorite. He saw inside the hovel--for there
was no door--a pitcher, a bunch of onions, and a bed of dried leaves.
"This must be the habitation of a hermit," he said to himself.
"Hermits are generally to be found near their hut, and I shall not
fail to meet this one. I will give him the kiss of peace, even as the
holy Anthony did when he came to the hermit Paul, and kissed him three
times. We will discourse of things eternal, and perhaps our Lord will
send us, by one of His ravens, a crust of bread, which my host will
willingly invite me to share with him."
Whilst he was thus speaking to himself, he walked round the hut to see
if he could find any one. He had not walked a hundred paces when he
saw a man seated, with his legs crossed, by the side of the river. The
man was naked; his hair and beard were quite white, and his body
redder than brick. Paphnutius felt sure this must be the hermit. He
saluted him with the words the monks are accustomed to use when they
meet each other.
"Peace be with you, brother! May you some day taste the sweet joys of
The man did not reply. He remained motionless, and appeared not to
have heard. Paphnutius supposed this was due to one of those
rhapsodies to which the saints are accustomed. He knelt down, with his
hands joined, by the side of the unknown, and remained thus in prayer
till sunset. Then, seeing that his companion had not moved, he said to
"Father, if you are now out of the ecstasy in which you were lost,
give me your blessing in our Lord Jesus Christ."
The other replied without turning his head--
"Stranger, I understand you not, and I know not the Lord Jesus
"What!" cried Paphnutius. "The prophets have announced Him; legions of
martyrs have confessed His name; Caesar himself has worshipped Him,
and, but just now, I made the sphinx of Silsile proclaim His glory. Is
it possible that you do not know Him?"
"Friend," replied the other, "it is possible. It would even be
certain, if anything in this world were certain."
Paphnutius was surprised and saddened by the incredible ignorance of
"If you know not Jesus Christ," he said, "all your works serve no
purpose, and you will never rise to life immortal."
The old man replied--
"It is useless to act, or to abstain from acting. It matters not
whether we live or die."
"Eh, what?" asked Paphnutius. "Do you not desire to live through all
eternity? But, tell me, do you not live in a hut in the desert as the
"It seems so."
"Do I not see you naked, and lacking all things?"
"It seems so."
"Do you not feed on roots, and live in chastity?"
"It seems so."
"Have you not renounced all the vanities of this world?"
"I have truly renounced all those vain things for which men commonly
"Then you are like me, poor, chaste, and solitary. And you are not so
--as I am--for the love of God, and with a hope of celestial
happiness! That I cannot understand. Why are you virtuous if you do
not believe in Jesus Christ? Why deprive yourself of the good things
of this world if you do not hope to gain eternal riches in heaven?"
"Stranger, I deprive myself of nothing which is good, and I flatter
myself that I have found a life which is satisfactory enough, though--
to speak more precisely--there is no such thing as a good or evil
life. Nothing is itself, either virtuous or shameful, just or unjust,
pleasant or painful, good or bad. It is our opinion which gives those
qualities to things, as salt gives savour to meats."
"So then, according to you there is no certainty. You deny the truth
which the idolaters themselves have sought. You lie in ignorance--like
a tired dog sleeping in the mud."
"Stranger, it is equally useless to abuse either dogs or philosophers.
We know not what dogs are or what we are. We know nothing."
"Old man, do you belong, then, to the absurd sect of sceptics? Are you
one of those miserable fools who alike deny movement and rest, and who
know not how to distinguish between the light of the sun and the
shadows of night?"
"Friend, I am truly a sceptic, and of a sect which appears
praiseworthy to me, though it seems ridiculous to you. For the same
things often assume different appearances. The pyramids of Memphis
seem at sunrise to be cones of pink light. At sunset they look like
black triangles against the illuminated sky. But who shall solve the
problem of their true nature? You reproach me with denying
appearances, when, in fact, appearances are the only realities I
recognise. The sun seems to me illuminous, but its nature is unknown
to me. I feel that fire burns--but I know not how or why. My friend,
you understand me badly. Besides, it is indifferent to me whether I am
understood one way or the other."
"Once more. Why do you live on dates and onions in the desert? Why do
you endure great hardships? I endure hardships equally great, and,
like you, I live in abstinence and solitude. But then it is to please
God, and to earn eternal happiness. And that is a reasonable object,
for it is wise to suffer now for a future gain. It is senseless, on
the contrary, to expose yourself voluntarily to useless fatigue and
vain sufferings. If I did not believe--pardon my blasphemy, O
uncreated Light!--if I did not believe in the truth of that which God
has taught us by the voice of the prophets, by the example of His Son,
by the acts of the Apostles, by the authority of councils, and by the
testimony of the martyrs,--if I did not know that the sufferings of
the body are necessary for the salvation of the soul--if I were, like
thee, lost in ignorance of sacred mysteries--I would return at once
amongst the men of this day, I would strive to acquire riches, that I
might live in ease, like those who are happy in this world, and I
would say to the votaries of pleasure, 'Come, my daughters, come, my
servants, come and pour out for me your wines, your philtres, your
perfumes.' But you, foolish old man! you deprive yourself of all these
advantages; you lose without hope of any gain; you give without hope
of any return, and you imitate foolishly the noble deeds of us
anchorites, as an impudent monkey thinks, by smearing a wall, to copy
the picture of a clever artist. What, then, are your reasons, O most
besotted of men?"
Paphnutius spoke with violence and indignation, but the old man
"Friend," he replied, gently, "what matter the reasons of a dog
sleeping in the dirt or a mischievous ape?"
Paphnutius' only aim was the glory of God. His anger vanished, and he
apologised with noble humility.
"Pardon me, old man, my brother," he said, "if zeal for the truth has
carried me beyond proper bounds. God is my witness, that it is thy
errors and not thyself that I hate. I suffer to see thee in darkness,
for I love thee in Jesus Christ, and care for thy salvation fills my
heart. Speak! give me your reasons. I long to know them that I may
The old man replied quietly--
"It is the same to me whether I speak or remain silent. I will give my
reasons without asking yours in return, for I have no interest in you
at all. I care neither for your happiness nor your misfortune, and it
matters not to me whether you think one way or another. Why should I
love you, or hate you? Aversion and sympathy are equally unworthy of
the wise man. But since you question me, know then that I am named
Timocles, and that I was born at Cos, of parents made rich by
commerce. My father was a shipowner. In intelligence he much resembled
Alexander, who is surnamed the Great. But he was not so gross. In
short, he was a man of no great parts. I had two brothers, who, like
him, were shipowners. As for me, I followed wisdom. My eldest brother
was compelled by my father to marry a Carian woman, named Timaessa,
who displeased him so greatly that he could not live with her without
falling into a deep melancholy. However, Timaessa inspired our younger
brother with a criminal passion, and this passion soon turned to a
furious madness. The Carian woman hated them both equally; but she
loved a flute-player, and received him at night in her chamber. One
morning he left there the wreath which he usually wore at feasts. My
two brothers, having found this wreath, swore to kill the flute-
player, and the next day they caused him to perish under the lash, in
spite of his tears and prayers. My sister-in-law felt such grief that
she lost her reason, and these three poor wretches became beasts
rather than human beings, and wandered insane along the shores of Cos,
howling like wolves and foaming at the mouth, and hooted at by the
children, who threw shells and stones at them. They died, and my
father buried them with his own hands. A little later his stomach
refused all nourishment, and he died of hunger, though he was rich
enough to have bought all the meats and fruits in the markets of Asia.
He was deeply grieved at having to leave me his fortune. I used it in
travels. I visited Italy, Greece, and Africa without meeting a single
person who was either wise or happy. I studied philosophy at Athens
and Alexandria, and was deafened by noisy arguments. At last I
wandered as far as India, and I saw on the banks of the Ganges a naked
man, who had sat there motionless with his legs crossed for more than
thirty years. Climbing plants twined round his dried up body, and the
birds built their nests in his hair. Yet he lived. At the sight of him
I called to mind Timaessa, the flute-player, my two brothers, and my
father, and I realised that this Indian was a wise man. 'Men,' I said
to myself, 'suffer because they are deprived of that which they
believe to be good; or because, possessing it they fear to lose it; or
because they endure that which they believe to be an evil. Put an end
to all beliefs of this kind, and the evils would disappear.' That is
why I resolved henceforth to deem nothing an advantage, to tear myself
entirely from the good things of this world, and to live silent and
motionless, like the Indian."
Paphnutius had listened attentively to the old man's story.
"Timocles of Cos," he replied, "I own that your discourse is not
wholly devoid of sense. It is, in truth, wise to despise the riches of
this world. But it would be absurd to despise also your eternal
welfare, and render yourself liable to be visited by the wrath of God.
I grieve at your ignorance, Timocles, and I will instruct you in the
truth, in order that knowing that there really exists a God in three
hypostases, you may obey this God as a child obeys its father."
Timocles interrupted him.
"Refrain, stranger, from showing me your doctrines, and do not imagine
that you will persuade me to share your opinions. All discussions are
useless. My opinion is to have no opinion. My life is devoid of
trouble because I have no preferences. Go thy ways, and strive not to
withdraw me from the beneficent apathy in which I am plunged, as
though in a delicious bath, after the hardships of my past days."
Paphnutius was profoundly instructed in all things relating to the
faith. By his knowledge of the human heart, he was aware that the
grace of God had not fallen on old Timocles, and the day of salvation
for this soul so obstinately resolved to ruin itself had not yet come.
He did not reply, lest the power given for edification should turn to
destruction. For it sometimes happens, in disputing with infidels,
that the means used for their conversion may steep them still farther
in sin. Therefore they who possess the truth should take care how they
"Farewell, then, unhappy Timocles," he said; and heaving a deep sigh,
he resumed his pious pilgrimage through the night.
In the morning, he saw the ibises motionless on one leg at the edge of
the water, which reflected their pale pink necks. The willows
stretched their soft grey foliage to the bank, cranes flew in a
triangle in the clear sky, and the cry of unseen herons was heard from
the sedges. Far as the eye could reach, the river rolled its broad
green waters o'er which white sails, like the wings of birds, glided,
and here and there on the shores, a white house shone out. A light
mist floated along the banks, and from out the shadow of the islands,
which were laden with palms, flowers, and fruits, came noisy flocks of
ducks, geese, flamingoes, and teal. To the left, the grassy valley
extended to the desert its fields and orchards in joyful abundance;
the sun shone on the yellow wheat, and the earth exhaled forth its
fecundity in odorous wafts. At this sight, Paphnutius fell on his
knees, and cried--
"Blessed be the Lord, who has given a happy issue to my journey. O
God, who spreadest Thy dew upon the fig trees of the Arsiniote, pour
Thy grace upon Thais, whom Thou hast formed with Thy love, as Thou
hast the flowers and trees of the field. May she, by Thy loving care,
flourish like a sweet-scented rose in the heavenly Jerusalem."
And every time that he saw a tree covered with blossom, or a bird of
brilliant plumage, he thought of Thais. Keeping along the left arm of
the river and through a fertile and populous district, he reached, in
a few days, the city of Alexandria, which the Greeks have surnamed the
Beautiful and the Golden. The sun had risen an hour, when he beheld,
from the top of a hill, the vast city, the roofs of which glittered in
the rosy light. He stopped, and folded his arms on his breast.
"There, then," he said, "is the delightful spot where I was born in
sin; the bright air where I breathed poisonous perfumes; the sea of
pleasure where I heard the songs of the sirens. There is my cradle,
after the flesh; my native land--in the parlance of the men of these
days! A rich cradle, an illustrious country, in the judgment of men!
It is natural that thy children should reverence thee like a mother,
Alexandria, and I was begotten in thy magnificently adorned breast.
But the ascetic despises nature, the mystic scorns appearances, the
Christian regards his native land as a place of exile, the monk is not
of this earth. I have turned away my heart from loving thee,
Alexandria. I hate thee! I hate thee for thy riches, thy science, thy
pleasures, and thy beauty. Be accursed, temple of demons! Lewd couch
of the Gentiles, tainted pulpit of Arian heresy, be thou accursed! And
thou, winged son of heaven who led the holy hermit Anthony, our
father, when he came from the depths of the desert, and entered into
the citadel of idolatry to strengthen the faith of believers and the
confidence of martyrs, beautiful angel of the Lord, invisible child,
first breath of God, fly thou before me, and cleanse, by the beating
of thy wings, the corrupted air I am about to breathe amongst the
princes of darkness of this world!"
Having thus spoken, he resumed his journey. He entered the city by the
Gate of the Sun. This gate was a handsome structure of stone. In the
shadow of its arch, crowded some poor wretches, who offered lemons and
figs for sale, or with many groans and lamentations, begged for an
An old woman in rags, who was kneeling there, seized the monk's
cassock, kissed it, and said--
"Man of the Lord, bless me, that God may bless me. I have suffered
many things in this world that I may have joys in the world to come.
You come from God, O holy man, and that is why the dust of your feet
is more precious than gold."
"The Lord be praised!" said Paphnutius, and with his half-closed hand
he made the sign of redemption on the old woman's head.
But hardly had he gone twenty paces down the street, than a band of
children began to jeer at him, and throw stones, crying--
"Oh, the wicked monk! He is blacker than an ape, and more bearded than
a goat! He is a skulker! Why not hang him in an orchard, like a wooden
Priapus, to frighten the birds? But no; he would draw down the hail on
the apple-blossom. He brings bad luck. To the ravens with the monk! to
the ravens!" and stones mingled with the cries.
"My God, bless these poor children!" murmured Paphnutius.
And he pursued his way, thinking.
"I was worshipped by the old woman, and hated and despised by these
children. Thus the same object is appreciated differently by men who
are uncertain in their judgment and liable to error. It must be owned
that, for a Gentile, old Timocles was not devoid of sense. Though
blind, he knew he was deprived of light. His reasoning was much better
than that of these idolaters, who cry from the depths of their thick
darkness, 'I see the day!' Everything in this world is mirage and
moving sand. God alone is steadfast."
He passed through the city with rapid steps. After ten years of
absence he would still recognise every stone, and every stone was to
him a stone of reproach that recalled a sin. For that reason he struck
his naked feet roughly against the kerb-stones of the wide street, and
rejoiced to see the bloody marks of his wounded feet. Leaving on his
left the magnificent portico of the Temple of Serapis, he entered a
road lined with splendid mansions, which seemed to be drowsy with
perfumes. Pines, maples, and larches raised their heads above the red
cornices and golden acroteria. Through the half-open doors could be
seen bronze statues in marble vestibules, and fountains playing amidst
foliage. No noise troubled the stillness of these quiet retreats. Only
the distant strains of a flute could be heard. The monk stopped before
a house, rather small, but of noble proportions, and supported by
columns as graceful as young girls. It was ornamented with bronze
busts of the most celebrated Greek philosophers.
He recognised Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno, and
having knocked with the hammer against the door, he waited, wrapped in
"It is vanity to glorify in metal these false sages; their lies are
confounded, their souls are lost in hell, and even the famous Plato
himself, who filled the earth with his eloquence, now disputes with
A slave opened the door, and seeing a man with bare feet standing on
the mosaic threshold, said to him roughly--
"Go and beg elsewhere, stupid monk, or I will drive you away with a
"Brother," replied the Abbott of Antinoe, "all that I ask is that you
conduct me to your master, Nicias."
The slave replied, more angrily than before--
"My master does not see dogs like you."
"My son," said Paphnutius, "will you please do what I ask, and tell
your master that I desire to see him.
"Get out, vile beggar!" cried the porter furiously; and he raised his
stick and struck the holy man, who, with his arms crossed upon his
breast, received unmovedly the blow, which fell full in his face, and
then repeated gently--
"Do as I ask you, my son, I beg."
The porter tremblingly murmured--
"Who is this man who is not afraid of suffering?"
And he ran and told his master.
Nicias had just left the bath. Two pretty slave girls were scraping
him with strigils. He was a pleasant-looking man, with a kind smile.
There was an expression of gentle satire in his face. On seeing the
monk, he rose and advanced with open arms.
"It is you!" he cried, "Paphnutius, my fellow-scholar, my friend my
brother! Oh, I knew you again, though, to say the truth, you look more
like a wild animal than a man. Embrace me. Do you remember the time
when we studied grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy together? You were,
even then, of a morose and wild character, but I liked you because of
your complete sincerity. We used to say that you looked at the
universe with the eyes of a wild horse, and it was not surprising you
were dull and moody. You needed a pinch of Attic salt, but your
liberality knew no bounds. You cared nothing for either your money or
your life. And you had the eccentricity of genius, and a strange
character which interested me deeply. You are welcome, my dear
Paphnutius, after ten years of absence. You have quitted the desert;
you have renounced all Christian superstitions, and now return to your
old life. I will mark this day with a white stone."
"Crobyle and Myrtale," he added, turning towards the girls, "perfume
the feet, hands, and beard of my dear guest."
They smiled, and had already brought the basin, the phials, and the
metal mirror. But Paphnutius stopped them with an imperious gesture,
and lowered his eyes that he might not look upon them, for they were
naked. Nicias brought cushions for him, and offered him various meats
and drinks, which Paphnutius scornfully refused.
"Nicias," he said, "I have not renounced what you falsely call the
Christian superstition, which is the truth of truths. 'In the
beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything
made that was made. In Him was the life, and the life was the light of
"My dear Paphnutius," replied Nicias, who had now put on a perfumed
tunic, "do you expect to astonish me by reciting a lot of words
jumbled together without skill, which are no more than a vain murmur?
Have you forgotten that I am a bit of a philosopher myself? And do you
think to satisfy me with some rags, torn by ignorant men from the
purple garment of AEmilius, when AEmilius, Porphyry, and Plato, in all
their glory, did not satisfy me! The systems devised by the sages are
but tales imagined to amuse the eternal childishness of men. We divert
ourselves with them, as we do with the stories of /The Ass/, /The
Tub/, and /The Ephesian Matron/, or any other Milesian fable."
And, taking his guest by the arm, he led him into a room where
thousands of papyri were rolled up and lay in baskets.
"This is my library," he said. "It contains a small part of the
various systems which the philosophers have constructed to explain the
world. The Serapeium itself, with all its riches, does not contain
them all. Alas! they are but the dreams of sick men."
He compelled his guest to sit down in an ivory chair, and sat down
himself. Paphnutius scowled gloomily at all the books in the library,
"They ought all to be burned."
"Oh, my dear guest, that would be a pity!" replied Nicias. "For the
dreams of sick men are sometimes amusing. Besides, if we should
destroy all the dreams and visions of men, the earth would lose its
form and colours, and we should all sleep in a dull stupidity."
Paphnutius continued in the same strain as before--
"It is certain that the doctrines of the pagans are but vain lies. But
God, who is the truth, revealed Himself to men by miracles, and He was
made flesh, and lived among us."
"You speak well, my dear Paphnutius, when you say that he was made
flesh. A God who thinks, acts, speaks, who wanders through nature,
like Ulysses of old on the glaucous sea, is altogether a man. How do
you expect that we should believe in this new Jupiter, when the
urchins of Athens, in the time of Pericles, no longer believed in the
"But let us leave all that. You did not come here; I suppose, to argue
about the three hypostases. What can I do for you, my dear fellow-
"A good deed," replied the Abbot of Antinoe. "Lend me a perfumed
tunic, like the one you have just put on. Be kind enough to add to the
tunic, gilt sandals, and a vial of oil to anoint my beard and hair. It
is needful also, that you should give me a purse with a thousand
drachmae in it. That, O Nicias, is what I came to ask of you, for the
love of God, and in remembrance of our old friendship."
Nicias made Crobyle and Myrtale bring his richest tunic; it was
embroidered, after the Asiatic fashion, with flowers and animals. The
two girls held it open, and skilfully showed its bright colours,
waiting till Paphnutius should have taken off the cassock which
covered him down to his feet. But the monk having declared that they
should rather tear off his flesh than this garment, they put on the
tunic over it. As the two girls were pretty, they were not afraid of
men, although they were slaves. They laughed at the strange appearance
of the monk thus clad. Crobyle called him her dear satrap, as she
presented him with the mirror, and Myrtale pulled his beard. But
Paphnutius prayed to the Lord, and did not look at them. Having tied
on the gilt sandals, and fastened the purse to his belt, he said to
Nicias, who was looking at him with an amused expression--
"O Nicias, let not these things be an offence in your eyes. For know
that I shall make pious use of this tunic, this purse, and these
"My dear friend," replied Nicias, "I suspect no evil, for I believe
that men are equally incapable of doing evil or doing good. Good and
evil exist only in the opinion. The wise man has only custom and usage
to guide him in his acts. I conform with all the prejudices which
prevail at Alexandria. That is why I pass for an honest man. Go,
friend, and enjoy yourself."
But Paphnutius thought that it was needful to inform his host of his
"Do you know Thais," he said, "who acts in the games at the theatre?"
"She is beautiful," replied Nicias, "and there was a time when she was
dear to me. For her sake, I sold a mill and two fields of corn, and I
composed in her honour three books full of detestably bad verses.
Surely beauty is the most powerful force in the world, and were we so
made that we could possess it always, we should care as little as may
be for the demiurgos, the logos, the aeons, and all the other reveries
of the philosophers. But I am surprised, my good Paphnutius, that you
should have come from the depths of the Thebaid to talk about Thais."
Having said this, he sighed gently. And Paphnutius gazed at him with
horror, not conceiving it possible that a man should so calmly avow
such a sin. He expected to see the earth open, and Nicias swallowed up
in flames. But the earth remained solid, and the Alexandrian silent,
his forehead resting on his hand, and he smiling sadly at the memories
of his past youth. The monk rose, and continued in solemn tones--
"Know then, O Nicias, that, with the aid of God, I will snatch this
woman Thais from the unclean affections of the world, and give her as
a spouse to Jesus Christ. If the Holy Spirit does not forsake me,
Thais will leave this city and enter a nunnery."
"Beware of offending Venus," replied Nicias. "She is a powerful
goddess, she will be angry with you if you take away her chief
"God will protect me," said Paphnutius. "May He also illumine thy
heart, O Nicias, and draw thee out of the abyss in which thou art
And he stalked out of the room. But Nicias followed him, and overtook
him on the threshold, and placing his hand on his shoulder whispered
into his ear the same words--
"Beware of offending Venus; her vengeance is terrible."
Paphnutius, disdainful of these trivial words, left without turning
his head. He felt only contempt for Nicias; but what he could not bear
was the idea that his former friend had received the caresses of
Thais. It seemed to him that to sin with that woman was more
detestable than to sin with any other. To him this appeared the height
of iniquity, and he henceforth looked upon Nicias as an object of
execration. He had always hated impurity, but never before had this
vice appeared so heinous to him; never before had it so seemed to
merit the anger of Jesus Christ and the sorrow of the angels.
He felt only a more ardent desire to save Thais from the Gentiles, and
that he must hasten to see the actress in order to save her.
Nevertheless, before he could enter her house, he must wait till the
heat of the day was over, and now the morning had hardly finished.
Paphnutius wandered through the most frequented streets. He had
resolved to take no food that day, in order to be the less unworthy of
the favours he had asked of the Lord. To the great grief of his soul,
he dared not enter any of the churches in the city, because he knew
they were profaned by the Arians, who had overturned the Lord's table.
For, in fact, these heretics, supported by the Emperor of the East,
had driven the patriarch Athanasius from his episcopate, and sown
trouble and confusion among the Christians of Alexandria.
He therefore wandered about aimlessly, sometimes with his eyes fixed
on the ground in humility, and sometimes raised to heaven in ecstasy.
After some time, he found himself on the quay. Before him lay the
harbour, in which were sheltered innumerable ships and galleys, and
beyond them, smiling in blue and silver, lay the perfidious sea. A
galley, which bore a Nereid at its prow, had just weighed anchor. The
rowers sang as the oars struck the water; and already the white
daughter of the waters, covered with humid pearls, showed no more than
a flying profile to the monk. Steered by her pilot, she cleared the
passage leading from the basin of the Eunostos, and gained the high
seas, leaving a glittering trail behind her.
"I also," thought Paphnutius, "once desired to embark singing on the
ocean of the world. But I soon saw my folly, and the Nereid did not
carry me away."
Lost in his thoughts, he sat down upon a coil of rope, and went to
sleep. During his sleep, he had a vision. He seemed to hear the sound
of a clanging trumpet, and the sky became blood red, and he knew that
the day of judgment had come. Whilst he was fervently praying to God,
he saw an enormous monster coming towards him, bearing on its forehead
a cross of light, and he recognised the sphinx of Silsile. The monster
seized him between its teeth, without hurting him, and carried him in
its mouth, as a cat carries a kitten. Paphnutius was thus conveyed
across many countries, crossing rivers and traversing mountains, and
came at last to a desert place, covered with scowling rocks and hot
cinders. The ground was rent in many places, and through these
openings came a hot air. The monster gently put Paphnutius down on the
ground, and said--
And Paphnutius, leaning over the edge of the abyss, saw a river of
fire which flowed in the interior of the earth, between two cliffs of
black rocks. There, in a livid light, the demons tormented the souls
of the damned. The souls preserved the appearance of the bodies which
had held them, and even wore some rags of clothing. These souls seemed
peaceful in the midst of their torments. One of them, tall and white,
his eyes closed, a white fillet across his forehead, and a sceptre in
his hand, sang; his voice filled the desert shores with harmony; he
sang of gods and heroes. Little green devils pierced his lips and
throat with red-hot irons. And the shade of Homer still sang. Near by,
old Anaxagoras, bald and hoary, traced figures in the dust with a
compass. A demon poured boiling oil into his ear, yet failed, however,
to disturb the sage's meditations. And the monk saw many other
persons, who, on the dark shore by the side of the burning river,
read, or quietly meditated, or conversed with other spirits while
walking,--like the sages and pupils under the shadow of the sycamore
trees of Academe. Old Timocles alone had withdrawn from the others,
and shook his head like a man who denies. One of the demons of the
abyss shook a torch before his eyes, but Timocles would see neither
the demon nor the torch.
Mute with surprise at this spectacle, Paphnutius turned to the
monster. It had disappeared, and, in place of the sphinx, the monk saw
a veiled woman, who said--
"Look and understand. Such is the obstinacy of these infidels, that,
even in hell, they remain victims of the illusions which deluded them
when on earth. Death has not undeceived them; for it is very plain
that it does not suffice merely to die in order to see God. Those who
are ignorant of the truth whilst living, will be ignorant of it
always. The demons which are busy torturing these souls, what are they
but agents of divine justice? That is why these souls neither see them
nor feel them. They were ignorant of the truth, and therefore unaware
of their own condemnation, and God Himself cannot compel them to
"God can do all things," said the Abbot of Antinoe.
"He cannot do that which is absurd," replied the veiled woman. "To
punish them, they must first be enlightened, and if they possessed the
truth, they would be like unto the elect."
Vexed and horrified, Paphnutius again bent over the edge of the abyss.
He saw the shade of Nicias smiling, with a wreath of flowers on his
head, sitting under a burnt myrtle tree. By his side was Aspasia of
Miletus, gracefully draped in a woollen cloak, and they seemed to talk
together of love and philosophy; the expression of her face was sweet
and noble. The rain of fire which fell on them was as a refreshing
dew, and their feet pressed the burning soil as though it had been
tender grass. At this sight Paphnutius was filled with fury.
"Strike him, O God! strike him!" he cried. "It is Nicias! Let him
weep! let him groan! let him grind his teeth! He sinned with Thais!"
And Paphnutius woke in the arms of a sailor, as strong as Hercules,
"Quietly! quietly! my friend! By Proteus, the old shepherd of the
seals, you slumber uneasily. If I had not caught hold of you, you
would have tumbled into the Eunostos. It is as true as that my mother
sold salt fish, that I saved your life."
"I thank God," replied Paphnutius.
And, rising to his feet, he walked straight before him, meditating on
the vision which had come to him whilst he was asleep.
"This vision," he said to himself, "is plainly an evil one; it is an
insult to divine goodness to imagine hell is unreal. The dream
certainly came from the devil."
He reasoned thus because he knew how to distinguish between the dreams
sent by God and those produced by evil angels. Such discernment is
useful to the hermit, who lives surrounded by apparitions, and who, in
avoiding men, is sure to meet with spirits. The deserts are full of
phantoms. When the pilgrims drew near the ruined castle, to which the
holy hermit, Anthony, had retired, they heard a noise like that which
goes up from the public square of a large city at a great festival.
The noise was made by the devils, who were tempting the holy man.
Paphnutius remembered this memorable example. He also called to mind
St. John the Egyptian, who for sixty years was tempted by the devil.
But John saw through all the tricks of the demon. One day, however,
the devil, having assumed the appearance of a man, entered the grotto
of the venerable John, and said to him, "John, you must continue to
fast until to-morrow evening." And John, believing that it was an
angel who spoke, obeyed the voice of the demon, and fasted the next
day until the vesper hour. That was the only victory that the Prince
of Darkness ever gained over St. John the Egyptian, and that was but a
trifling one. It was therefore not astonishing that Paphnutius knew at
once that the vision which had visited him in his sleep was an evil
Whilst he was gently remonstrating with God for having given him into
the power of the demons, he felt himself pushed and dragged amidst a
crowd of people who were all hurrying in the same direction. As he was
unaccustomed to walk in the streets of a city, he was shoved and
knocked from one passer to another like an inert mass; and being
embarrassed by the folds of his tunic, he was more than once on the
point of falling. Desirous of knowing where all these people could be
going, he asked one of them the cause of this hurry.
"Do you not know, stranger," replied he, "that the games are about to
begin, and that Thais will appear on the stage? All the citizens are
going to the theatre, and I also am going. Would you like to accompany
It occurred to him at once that it would further his design to see
Thais in the games, and Paphnutius followed the stranger. In front of
them stood the theatre, its portico ornamented with shining masks, and
its huge circular wall covered with innumerable statues. Following the
crowd, they entered a narrow passage, at the end of which lay the
amphitheatre, glittering with light. They took their places on one of
the seats, which descended in steps to the stage, which was empty but
magnificently decorated. There was no curtain to hide the view, and on
the stage was a mound, such as used to be erected in old times to the
shades of heroes. This mound stood in the midst of a camp. Lances were
stacked in front of the tents, and golden shields hung from masts,
amidst boughs of laurel and wreaths of oak. On the stage all was
silence, but a murmur like the humming of bees in a hive rose from the
vast hemicycle filled with spectators. All their faces, reddened by
the reflection from the purple awning which waved above them, turned
with attentive curiosity towards the large, silent stage, with its
tomb and tents. The women laughed and ate lemons, and the regular
theatre-goers called gaily to one another from their seats.
Paphnutius prayed inwardly, and refrained from uttering any vain
words, but his neighbour began to complain of the decline of the
"Formerly," he said, "clever actors used to declaim, under a mask, the
verses of Euripides and Menander. Now they no longer recite dramas,
they act in dumb show; and of the divine spectacles with which Bacchus
was honoured in Athens, we have kept nothing but what a barbarian--a
Scythian even--could understand--attitude and gesture. The tragic
mask, the mouth of which was provided with metal tongues that
increased the sound of the voice; the cothurnus, which raised the
actors to the height of gods; the tragic majesty and the splendid
verses that used to be sung, have all gone. Pantomimists, and dancing
girls with bare faces, have replaced Paulus and Roscius. What would
the Athenians of the days of Pericles have said if they had seen a
woman on the stage? It is indecent for a woman to appear in public. We
must be very degenerate to permit it. It is as certain as that my name
is Dorion, that woman is the natural enemy of man, and a disgrace to
"You speak wisely," replied Paphnutius; "woman is our worst enemy. She
gives us pleasure, and is to be feared on that account."
"By the immovable gods," cried Dorion, "it is not pleasure that woman
gives to man, but sadness, trouble, and black cares. Love is the cause
of our most biting evils. Listen, stranger. When I was a young man I
visited Troezene, in Argolis, and I saw there a myrtle of a most
prodigious size, the leaves of which were covered with innumerable
pinholes. And this is what the Troezenians say about that myrtle.
Queen Phaedra, when she was in love with Hippolytos, used to recline
idly all day long under this same tree. To beguile the tedium of her
weary life she used to draw out the golden pin which held her fair
locks, and pierce with it the leaves of the sweet-scented bush. All
the leaves were riddled with holes. After she had ruined the poor
young man whom she pursued with her incestuous love, Phaedra, as you
know, perished miserably. She locked herself up in her bridal chamber,
and hanged herself by her golden girdle from an ivory peg. The gods
willed that the myrtle, the witness of her bitter misery, should
continue to bear, in its fresh leaves, the marks of the pin-holes. I
picked one of these leaves, and placed it at the head of my bed, that
by the sight of it I might take warning against the folly of love, and
conform to the doctrine of the divine Epicurus, my master, who taught
that all lust is to be feared. But, properly speaking, love is a
disease of the liver, and one is never sure of not catching the
"Dorion, what are your pleasures?"
Dorion replied sadly--
"I have only one pleasure, and, it must be confessed, that it is not a
very exciting one; it is meditation. When a man has a bad digestion,
he must not look for any others."
Taking advantage of these words, Paphnutius proceeded to initiate the
Epicurean into those spiritual joys which the contemplation of God
procures. He began--
"Hear the truth, Dorion, and receive the light."
But he saw then that all heads were turned towards him, and everybody
was making signs for him to be quiet. Dead silence prevailed in the
theatre, broken at last by the strains of heroic music.
The play began. The soldiers left their tents, and were preparing to
depart, when a prodigy occurred--a cloud covered the summit of the
funeral pile. Then the cloud rolled away, and the ghost of Achilles
appeared, clad in golden armour. Extending his arms towards the
warriors, he seemed to say to them, "What! do you depart, children of
Danaos? do you return to the land I shall never behold again, and
leave my tomb without any offerings?" Already the principal Greek
chieftains pressed to the foot of the pile. Acamas, the son of
Theseus, old Nestor, Agamemnon, bearing a sceptre and with a fillet on
his brow, gazed at the prodigy. Pyrrhus, the young son of Achilles,
was prostrate in the dust. Ulysses, recognisable by the cap which
covered his curly hair, showed by his gestures that he acquiesced in
the demand of the hero's shade. He argued with Agamemnon, and their
words might be easily guessed--
"Achilles," said the King of Ithaca, "is worthy to be honoured by us,
for he died gloriously for Hellas. He demands that the daughter of
Priam, the virgin Polyxena, should be immolated on his tomb. Greeks!
appease the manes of the hero, and let the son of Peleus rejoice in
But the king of kings replied--
"Spare the Trojan virgins we have torn from the altars. Sufficient
misfortunes have already fallen on the illustrious race of Priam."
He spoke thus because he shared the couch of the sister of Polyxena,
and the wise Ulysses reproached him for preferring the couch of
Cassandra to the lance of Achilles.
The Greeks showed they shared the opinion of Ulysses, by loudly
clashing their weapons. The death of Polyxena was resolved on, and the
appeased shade of Achilles vanished. The music--sometimes wild and
sometimes plaintive--followed the thoughts of the personages in the
drama. The spectators burst into applause.
Paphnutius, who applied divine truth to everything murmured--
"This fable shows how cruel the worshippers of false gods were."
"All religions breed crimes," replied the Epicurean. "Happily, a
Greek, who was divinely wise, has freed men from foolish terrors of
Just at that moment, Hecuba, her white hair dishevelled, her robe
tattered, came out of the tent in which she was kept captive. A long
sigh went up from the audience, when her woeful figure appeared.
Hecuba had been warned by a prophetic dream, and lamented her
daughter's fate and her own. Ulysses approached her, and asked her to
give up Polyxena. The old mother tore her hair, dug her nails into her
cheeks, and kissed the hands of the cruel chieftain, who, with
unpitying calmness, seemed to say--
"Be wise, Hecuba, and yield to necessity. There are amongst us many
old mothers who weep for their children, now sleeping under the pines
And Hecuba, formerly queen of the most flourishing city in Asia, and
now a slave, bowed her unhappy head in the dust.
Then the curtain in front of one of the tents was raised, and the
virgin Polyxena appeared. A tremor passed through all the spectators.
They had recognised Thais. Paphnutius saw again the woman he had come
to seek. With her white arm she held above her head the heavy curtain.
Motionless as a splendid statue, she stood, with a look of pride and
resignation in her violet eyes, and her resplendent beauty made a
shudder of commiseration pass through all who beheld her.
A murmur of applause uprose, and Paphnutius, his soul agitated, and
pressing both hands to his heart, sighed--
"Why, O my God, hast thou given this power to one of Thy creatures?"
Dorion was not so disturbed. He said--
"Certainly the atoms, which have momentarily met together to form this
woman, present a combination which is agreeable to the eye. But that
is but a freak of nature, and the atoms know not what they do. They
will some day separate with the same indifference as they came
together. Where are now the atoms which formed Lais or Cleopatra? I
must confess that women are sometimes beautiful. But they are liable
to grievous afflictions, and disgusting inconveniences. That is patent
to all thinking men, though the vulgar pay no attention to it. And
women inspire love, though it is absurd and ridiculous to love them."
Such were the thoughts of the philosopher and the ascetic as they
gazed on Thais. They neither of them noticed Hecuba, who turned to her
daughter, and seemed to say by her gestures--
"Try to soften the cruel Ulysses. Employ your tears, your beauty, and
Thais--or rather Polyxena herself--let fall the curtain of the tent.
She made a step forward, and all hearts were conquered. And when, with
firm but light steps, she advanced towards Ulysses, her rhythmic
movements, which were accompanied by the sound of flutes, created in
all present such happy visions, that it seemed as though she were the
divine centre of all the harmonies of the world. All eyes were bent on
her; the other actors were obscured by her effulgence, and were not
noticed. The play continued, however.
The prudent son of Laertes turned away his head, and hid his hand
under his mantle, in order to avoid the looks and kisses of the
suppliant. The virgin made a sign to him to fear nothing. Her tranquil
"I follow you, Ulysses, and bow to necessity--because I wish to die.
Daughter of Priam, and sister of Hector, my couch, which was once
worthy of Kings, shall never receive a foreign master. Freely do I
quit the light of day."
Hecuba, lying motionless in the dust, suddenly rose and enfolded her
daughter in a last despairing embrace. Polyxena gently, but
resolutely, removed the old arms which held her. She seemed to say--
"Do not expose yourself, mother, to the fury of your master. Do not
wait until he drags you ignominiously on the ground in tearing me from
your arms. Better, O well-beloved mother, to give me your wrinkled
hand, and bend your hollow cheeks to my lips."
The face of Thais looked beautiful in its grief. The crowd felt
grateful to her for showing them the forms and passions of life
endowed with superhuman grace, and Paphnutius pardoned her present
splendour on account of her coming humility, and glorified himself in
advance for the saint he was about to give to heaven.
The drama neared its end. Hecuba fell as though dead, and Polyxena,
led by Ulysses, advanced towards the tomb, which was surrounded by the
chief warriors. A dirge was sung as she mounted the funeral pile, on
the summit of which the son of Achilles poured out libations from a
gold cup to the manes of the hero. When the sacrificing priests
stretched out their arms to seize her, she made a sign that she wished
to die free and unbound, as befitted the daughter of so many kings.
Then, tearing aside her robe, she bared her bosom to the blow.
Pyrrhus, turning away his head, plunged his sword into her heart, and
by a skilful trick, the blood gushed forth over the dazzling white
breast of the virgin, who, with head thrown back, and her eyes
swimming in the horrors of death, fell with grace and modesty.
Whilst the warriors enshrouded the victim with a veil, and covered her
with lilies and anemones, terrified screams and groans rent the air,
and Paphnutius, rising from his seat, prophesied in a loud voice.
"Gentiles? vile worshippers of demons! And you Arians more infamous
than the idolaters!--learn! That which you have just seen is an image
and a symbol. There is a mystic meaning in this fable, and very soon
the woman you see there will be offered, a willing and happy
sacrifice, to the risen God."
But already the crowd was surging in dark waves towards the exits. The
Abbot of Antinoe, escaping from the astonished Dorion, gained the
door, still prophesying.
An hour later he knocked at the door of the house of Thais.
The actress then lived in the rich Racotis quarter, near the tomb of
Alexander, in a house surrounded by shady gardens, in which a brook,
bordered with poplars, flowed amidst artificial rocks. An old black
slave woman, loaded with rings, opened the door, and asked what he
"I wish to see Thais," he replied. "God is my witness that I came here
for no other purpose."
As he wore a rich tunic, and spoke in an imperious manner, the slave
allowed him to enter.
"You will find Thais," she said, "in the Grotto of Nymphs."
PART THE SECOND
Thais was born of free, but poor, parents, who were idolaters. When
she was a very little girl, her father kept, at Alexandria, near the
Gate of the Moon, an inn, which was frequented by sailors. She still
retained some vivid, but disconnected, memories of her early youth.
She remembered her father, seated at the corner of the hearth with his
legs crossed--tall, formidable, and quiet, like one of those old
Pharaohs who are celebrated in the ballads sung by blind men at the
street corners. She remembered also her thin, wretched mother,
wandering like a hungry cat about the house, which she filled with the
tones of her sharp voice, and the glitter of her phosphorescent eyes.
They said in the neighbourhood that she was a witch, and changed into
an owl at night, and flew to see her lovers. It was a lie. Thais knew
well, having often watched her, that her mother practised no magic
arts, but that she was eaten up with avarice, and counted all night
the gains of the day. The idle father and the greedy mother let the
child live as best it could, like one of the fowls in the poultry-
yard. She became very clever in extracting, one by one, the oboli from
the belt of some drunken sailor, and in amusing the drinkers with
artless songs and obscene words, the meaning of which she did not
know. She passed from knee to knee, in a room reeking with the odours
of fermented drinks and resiny wine-skins; then, her cheeks sticky
with beer and pricked by rough beards, she escaped, clutching the
oboli in her little hand, and ran to buy honey-cakes from an old woman
who crouched behind her baskets under the Gate of the Moon. Every day
the same scenes were repeated, the sailors relating their perilous
adventures, then playing at dice or knuckle-bones, and blaspheming the
gods, amid their shouting for the best beer of Cilicia.
Every night the child was awakened by the quarrels of the drunkards.
Oyster-shells would fly across the tables, cutting the heads of those
they hit, and the uproar was terrible. Sometimes she saw, by the light
of the smoky lamps, the knives glitter, and the blood flow.
It humiliated her to think that the only person who showed her any
human kindness in her young days was the mild and gentle Ahmes. Ahmes,
the house-slave, a Nubian blacker than the pot he gravely skimmed, was
as good as a long night's sleep. Often he would take Thais on his
knee, and tell her old tales about underground treasure-houses
constructed for avaricious kings, who put to death the masons and
architects. There were also tales about clever thieves who married
kings' daughters, and courtesans who built pyramids. Little Thais
loved Ahmes like a father, like a mother, like a nurse, and like a
dog. She followed the slave into the cellar when he went to fill the
amphorae, and into the poultry-yard amongst the scraggy and ragged
fowls, all beak, claws, and feathers, who flew swifter than eagles
before the knife of the black cook. Often at night, on the straw,
instead of sleeping, he built for Thais little water-mills, and ships
no bigger than his hand, with all their rigging.
He had been badly treated by his masters; one of his ears was torn,
and his body covered with scars. Yet his features always wore an air
of joyous peace. And no one ever asked him whence he drew the
consolation in his soul, and the peace in his heart. He was as simple
as a child. As he performed his heavy tasks, he sang, in a harsh
voice, hymns which made the child tremble and dream. He murmured, in a
gravely joyous tone--
"Tell us, Mary, what thou hast seen where thou hast been?
I saw the shroud and the linen cloths, and the angels seated on the tomb.
And I saw the glory of the Risen One."
She asked him--
"Father, why do you sing about angels seated on a tomb?"
And he replied--
"Little light of my eyes, I sing of the angels because Jesus, our
Lord, is risen to heaven."
Ahmes was a Christian. He had been baptised, and was known as Theodore
at the meetings of the faithful, to which he went secretly during the
hours allowed him for sleep.
At that time the Church was suffering the severest trials. By order of
the Emperor, the churches had been thrown down, the holy books burned,
the sacred vessels and candlesticks melted. The Christians had been
deprived of all their honours, and expected nothing but death. Terror
reigned over all the community at Alexandria, and the prisons were
crammed with victims. It was whispered with horror amongst the
faithful, that in Syria, in Arabia, in Mesopotamia, in Cappadocia, in
all the empire, bishops and virgins had been flogged, tortured,
crucified or thrown to wild beasts. Then Anthony, already celebrated
for his visions and his solitary life, a prophet, and the head of all
the Egyptian believers, descended like an eagle from his desert rock
on the city of Alexandria, and, flying from church to church, fired
the whole community with his holy ardour. Invisible to the pagans, he
was present at the same time at all the meetings of Christians,
endowing all with the spirit of strength and prudence by which he was
animated. Slaves, in particular, were persecuted with singular
severity. Many of them, seized with fright, denied the faith. Others,
and by far the greater number, fled to the desert, hoping to live
there, either as hermits or robbers. Ahmes, however, frequented the
meetings as usual, visited the prisoners, buried the martyrs, and
joyfully professed the religion of Christ. The great Anthony, who saw
his unshaken zeal, before he returned into the desert, pressed the
black slave in his arms, and gave him the kiss of peace.
When Thais was seven years old, Ahmes began to talk to her of God.
"The good Lord God," he said, "lived in heaven like a Pharaoh, under
the tents of His harem, and under the trees of His gardens. He was the
Ancient of Ancients, and older than the world; and He had but one Son,
the Prince Jesus, whom He loved with all His heart, and who surpassed
in beauty the virgins and the angels. And the good Lord God said to
" 'Leave My harem and My palace, and My date trees and My running
waters. Descend to earth for the welfare of men. There Thou shalt be
like a little child, and Thou shalt live poor amongst the poor.
Suffering shall be Thy daily bread, and Thou shalt weep so profusely
that Thy tears shall form rivers, in which the tired slave shall bathe
with delight. Go, My Son!'
"Prince Jesus obeyed the good Lord, and He came down to earth, to a
place named Bethlehem of Judaea. And He walked in fields, amidst the
flowering anemones, saying to His companion--
" 'Blessed are they who hunger, for I will lead them to My Father's
table! Blessed are they who thirst, for they shall drink of the
fountains of heaven! Blessed are they who weep, for I will dry their
tears with veils finer than those of the almehs!'
"That is why the poor loved Him, and believed in Him. But the rich
hated Him; fearing that He should raise the poor above them. At that
time, Cleopatra and Caesar were powerful on the earth. They both hated
Jesus, and they ordered the judges and priests to put Him to death. To
obey the Queen of Egypt, the princes of Syria erected a cross on a
high mountain, and they caused Jesus to die on this cross. But women
washed His corpse, and buried it; and Prince Jesus, having broken the
door of His tomb, rose again to the good Lord, His Father.
"And, from that time, all those who believed in Him go to heaven.
"The Lord God opens His arms, and says to them--
" 'Ye are welcome, because ye love the Prince, My Son. Wash, and then
"They bathe to the sound of beautiful music, and, all the time they
are eating, they see almehs dancing, and they listen to tales that
never end. They are dearer to the good Lord God than the light of His
eyes, because they are His guests, and they shall have for their
portion the carpets of His house, and the pomegranates of His
Ahmes often spoke in this strain, and thus taught the truth to Thais.
She wondered, and said--
"I should like to eat the pomegranates of the good Lord."
"Only those who are baptised may taste the fruits of heaven."
And Thais asked to be baptised. Seeing by this that she believed in
Jesus, the slave resolved to instruct her more fully, so that, being
baptised, she might enter the Church; and he loved her as his
The child, unloved and uncared for by its selfish parents, had no bed
in the house. She slept in a corner of the stable amongst the domestic
animals, and there Ahmes came to her every night secretly.
He gently approached the mat on which she lay, and sat down on his
heels, his legs bent and his body straight--a position hereditary to
his race. His face and his body, which was clothed in black, were
invisible in the darkness; but his big white eyes shone out, and there
came from them a light like a ray of dawn through the chinks of a
door. He spoke in a husky, monotonous tone, with a slight nasal twang
that gave it the soft melody of music heard at night in the streets.
Sometimes the breathing of an ass, or the soft lowing of an ox,
accompanied, like a chorus of invisible spirits, the voice of the
slave as he recited the gospels. His words flowed gently in the
darkness, which they filled with zeal, mercy, and hope; and the
neophyte, her hand in that of Ahmes, lulled by the monotonous sounds,
and the vague visions in her mind, slept calm and smiling, amid the
harmonies of the dark night and the holy mysteries, gazed down on by a
star, which twinkled between the joists of the stable-roof.
The initiation lasted a whole year, till the time when the Christians
joyfully celebrate the festival of Easter. One night in the holy week,
Thais, who was already asleep on her mat, felt herself lifted by the
slave, whose eyes gleamed with a strange light. He was clad, not as
usual in a pair of torn drawers, but in a long white cloak, beneath
which he pressed the child, whispering to her--
"Come, my soul! Come, light of my eyes! Come, little sweetheart! Come
and be clad in the baptismal robes!"
He carried the child pressed to his breast. Frightened and yet
curious, Thais, her head out of the cloak, threw her arms round her
friend's neck, and he ran with her through the darkness. They went
down narrow, black alleys; they passed through the Jews' quarter; they
skirted a cemetery, where the osprey uttered its dismal cry; they
traversed an open space, passing under crosses on which hung the
bodies of victims, and on the arms of the crosses the ravens clacked
their beaks. Thais hid her head in the slave's breast. She did not
dare to peep out all the rest of the way. Soon it seemed to her that
she was going down under ground. When she reopened her eyes she found
herself in a narrow cave, lighted by resin torches, on the walls of
which were painted standing figures, which seemed to move and live in
the flickering glare of the torches. They were men clad in long tunics
and carrying branches of palm, and around them were lambs, doves, and
tendrils of vine.
Amongst these figures, Thais recognised Jesus of Nazareth, by the
anemones flowering at his feet. In the centre of the cave, near a
large stone font filled with water, stood an old man clad in a scarlet
dalmatic embroidered with gold, and on his head a low mitre. His thin
face ended in a long beard. He looked gentle and humble, in spite of
his rich costume. This was Bishop Vivantius, an exiled dignitary of
the Church of Cyrene, who now gained his livelihood by weaving common
stuffs of goats' hair. Two poor children stood by his side. Close by,
an old negress unfolded a little white robe. Ahmes set the child down
on the ground, and kneeling before the Bishop, said--
"Father, this is the little soul, the child of my soul. I have brought
her that you may, according to your promise, and if it please your
holiness, bestow on her the baptism of life."
At these words the Bishop opened his arms, and showed his mutilated
hands. His nails had been torn out because he had maintained the faith
in the days of persecution. Thais was frightened, and threw herself
into the arms of Ahmes. But the kind words of the priest reassured
"Fear nothing, dearly beloved little one. Thou hast here a spiritual
father, Ahmes, who is called Theodore amongst the faithful, and a kind
mother in grace, who has prepared for thee, with her own hands, a
And turning towards the negress--
"She is called Nitida," he added, "and is a slave in this world, but
in heaven she will be a spouse of Jesus."
Then he said to the child neophyte--
"Thais, dost thou believe in God, the Father Almighty; and in His only
Son, who died for our salvation; and in all that the apostles taught?"
"Yes," replied together the negro and negress, who held her by each
By the Bishop's orders, Nitida knelt down and undressed Thais. The
child was quite naked; round her neck was an amulet. The Pontiff
plunged her three times into the baptismal font. The acolytes brought
the oil, with which Vivantius anointed the catechumen, and the salt, a
morsel of which he placed on her tongue. Then, having dried that body
which was destined, after many trials, to life immortal, the slave
Nitida put on Thais the white robe she had woven.
The Bishop gave to each and all the kiss of peace, and, the ceremony
being terminated, took off his sacerdotal insignia.
When they had left the crypt, Ahmes said--
"We ought to rejoice that we have this day brought a soul to the good
Lord God; let us go to the house of your Holiness and spend the rest
of the night in rejoicing."
"Thou hast well said, Theodore," replied the Bishop, and he led the
little band to his house, which was quite near. It consisted of a
single room, furnished with a couple of looms, a heavy table, and a
worn-out carpet. As soon as they had entered,
"Nitida," cried the Nubian, "bring hither the stove and the jar of
oil, and we will have a good supper."
Saying thus, he drew from under his cloak some little fish which he
had kept concealed, and lighted a fire and fried them. The Bishop, the
girl, the two boys, and the two slaves sat in a ring on the carpet,
ate the fried fish, and blessed the Lord. Vivantius spoke of the
torture he had undergone, and prophesied the speedy triumph of the
Church. His language was grotesque, and full of word-play and
rhetorical tropes. He compared the life of the just to a tissue of
purple, and to explain the mystery of baptism, he said--
"The Divine Spirit floated on the waters, and that is why Christians
receive the baptism of water. But demons also inhabit the brooks;
springs consecrated to nymphs are especially dangerous, and there are
certain waters which cause various maladies, both of the soul and of
Sometimes he spoke enigmatically, and the child listened to him with
profound awe and wonder. At the end of the repast he offered his
guests a little wine, and this unloosed their tongues, and they began
to sing lamentations and hymns. Ahmes and Nitida then rose, and danced
a Nubian dance which they had learned as children, and which, no
doubt, had been danced by their tribe since the early ages of the
world. It was a love dance; waving their arms, and moving their bodies
in rhythmic measure, they feigned, in turn, to fly from and to pursue
each other. Their big eyes rolled, and they showed their gleaming
teeth in broad grins.
In this strange manner did Thais receive the holy rite of baptism.
She loved amusements, and, as she grew, vague desires were created in
her mind. All day long she danced and sang with the children in the
streets, and when at night she returned to her father's house, she was
"Crooked twist, why do you stay in the house?
I comb the wool, and the Miletan threads.
Crooked twist, what did your son die of?
He fell from the white horses into the sea."
She now began to prefer the company of boys and girls to that of the
gentle and quiet Ahmes. She did not notice that her friend was not so
often with her. The persecution having relented, the Christians were
able to assemble more regularly, and the Nubian frequented these
meetings assiduously. His zeal increased, and he sometimes uttered
mysterious threats. He said that the rich would not keep their wealth.
He went to the public places to which the poorer Christians used to
resort, and assembling together all the poor wretches who were lying
in the shade of the old walls, he announced to them that all slaves
would soon be free, and that the day of justice was at hand.
"In the kingdom of God," he said, "the slaves will drink new wine and
eat delicious fruits; whilst the rich, crouching at their feet like
dogs, will devour the crumbs from their table."
These sayings were noised abroad through all that quarter of the city,
and the masters feared that Ahmes might incite the slaves to revolt.
The innkeeper hated him intensely, though he carefully concealed his
One day, a silver salt-cellar, reserved for the table of the gods,
disappeared from the inn. Ahmes was accused of having stolen it--out
of hate to his master and to the gods of the empire. There was no
proof of the accusation, and the slave vehemently denied the charge.
Nevertheless, he was dragged before the tribunal, and as he had the
reputation of being a bad servant, the judge condemned him to death.
"As you did not know how to make a good use of your hands," he said,
"they will be nailed to the cross."
Ahmes heard the verdict quietly, bowed to the judge most respectfully,
and was taken to the public prison. During the three days that
remained to him, he did not cease to preach the gospel to the
prisoners, and it was related afterwards that the criminals, and the
gaoler himself, touched by his words, believed in Jesus crucified.
He was taken to the very place which one night, less than two years
before, he had crossed so joyfully, carrying in his cloak little
Thais, the daughter of his soul, his darling flower. When his hands
were nailed to the cross, he uttered no complaint, but many times he
sighed and murmured, "I thirst."
His agony lasted three days and three nights. It seemed hardly
possible that human flesh could have endured such prolonged torture.
Many times it was thought he was dead; the flies clustered on his
eyelids, but suddenly he would reopen his bloodshot eyes. On the
morning of the fourth day, he sang, in a voice clearer and purer than
that of a child--
"Tell us, Mary, what thou hast seen where thou hast been?"
Then he smiled and said--
"They come, the angels of the good Lord. They bring me wine and fruit.
How refreshing is the fanning of their wings!"
And he expired.
His features preserved in death an expression of ecstatic happiness.
Even the soldiers who guarded the cross were struck with wonder.
Vivantius, accompanied by some of the Christian brethren, claimed the
body, and buried it with the remains of the other martyrs in the crypt
of St. John the Baptist, and the Church venerated the memory of Saint
Theodore the Nubian.
Three years later, Constantine, the conquerer of Maxentius, issued an
edict which granted toleration to the Christians, and the believers
were not henceforth persecuted, except by heretics.
Thais had completed her eleventh year when her friend was tortured to
death, and she felt deeply saddened and shocked. Her soul was not
sufficiently pure to allow her to understand that the slave Ahmes was
blessed both in his life and his death. The idea sprang up in her
little mind that no one can be good in this world except at the cost
of the most terrible sufferings. And she was afraid to be good, for
her delicate flesh could not bear pain.
At an early age, she had given herself to the lads about the port, and
she followed the old men who wandered about the quarter in the
evening, and with what she received from them she bought cakes and
As she did not take home any of the money she gained, her mother
continually ill-treated her. To get out of reach of her mother's arm,
she often ran, bare-footed, to the city walls, and hid with the
lizards. There she thought with envy of the ladies she had seen pass
her, richly dressed, and in a litter surrounded by slaves.
One day, when she had been beaten more brutally than usual, she was
crouching down beside the gate, motionless and sulky, when an old
woman stopped in front of her, looked at her for some moments in
silence, and then cried--
"Oh, the pretty flower! the beautiful child! Happy is the father who
begot thee, and the mother who brought thee into the world!"
Thais remained silent, with her eyes fixed on the ground. Her eyelids
were red, and it was evident she had been weeping.
"My white violet," continued the old woman, "is not your mother happy
to have nourished a little goddess like you, and does not your father,
when he sees you, rejoice from the bottom of his heart?"
To which the child replied, as though talking to herself--
"My father is a wine-skin swollen with wine, and my mother a greedy
The old woman glanced to right and left, to see if she were observed.
Then, in a fawning voice--
"Sweet flowering hyacinth, beautiful drinker of light, come with me,
and you shall have nothing to do but dance and smile. I will feed you
on honey cakes, and my son--my own son--will love you as his eyes. My
son is handsome and young; he has but little beard on his chin; his
skin is soft, and he is, as they say, a little Acharnian pig."
"I am quite willing to go with you."
And she rose and followed the old woman out of the city.
The old woman, who was named Moeroe, went from city to city with a
troupe of girls and boys, whom she taught to dance, and then hired out
to rich people to appear at feasts.
Guessing that Thais would soon develop into a most beautiful woman,
she taught her--with the help of a whip--music and prosody, and she
flogged with leather thongs those beautiful legs, when they did not
move in time to the strains of the cithara. Her son--a decrepit
abortion, of no age and no sex--ill-treated the child, on whom he
vented the hate he had for all womankind. Like the dancing-girls whose
grace he affected, he knew, and taught Thais, the art of pantomime,
and how to mimic, by expression, gesture, and attitude, all human
passions, and more especially the passions of love. He was a clever
master, though he disliked his work; but he was jealous of his pupil,
and as soon as he discovered that she was born to give men pleasure,
he scratched her cheeks, pinched her arms, or pricked her legs, as a
spiteful girl would have done. Thanks, however, to his lessons, she
quickly became an excellent musician, pantomimist, and dancer. The
brutality of her master did not at all surprise her; it seemed natural
to her to be badly treated. She even felt some respect for the old
woman, who knew music and drank Greek wine. Moeroe, when she came to
Antioch, praised her pupil to the rich merchants of the city who gave
banquets, both as a dancer and a flute-player. Thais danced and
pleased. She accompanied the rich bankers, when they left the table,
into the shady groves on the banks of the Orontes. She gave herself to
all, for she knew nothing of the price of love. But one night that she
had danced before the most fashionable young men of the city, the son
of the pro-consul came to her, radiant with youth and pleasure, and
said, in a voice that seemed redolent of kisses--
"Why am I not, Thais, the wreath which crowns your hair, the tunic
which enfolds your beautiful form, the sandal on your pretty foot? I
wish you to tread me under foot as a sandal; I wish my caresses to be
your tunic and your wreath. Come, sweet girl! come to my house, and
let us forget the world."
She looked at him whilst he was speaking, and saw that he was
handsome. Suddenly she felt a cold sweat on her face. She turned green
as grass; she reeled; a cloud descended before her eyes. He again
implored her to come with him, but she refused. His ardent looks, his
burning words were vain, and when he took her in his arms to try and
drag her away, she pushed him off rudely. Then he implored her, and
shed tears. But a new, unknown, and invincible passion dominated her
heart, and she still resisted.
"What madness!" said the guests. "Lollius is noble, handsome, and
rich, and a dancing-girl treats him with scorn!"
Lollius returned home alone that night, quite love-sick. He came in
the morning, pale and red-eyed, and hung flowers at the dancing-girl's
But Thais was frightened and troubled; she avoided Lollius, and yet he
was continually in her mind. She suffered, and she did not know the
cause of her complaint. She wondered why she had thus changed, and why
she was melancholy. She recoiled from all her lovers; they were
hateful to her. She loathed the light of day, and lay on her bed all
day, sobbing, and with her head buried in the pillows. Lollius
contrived to gain admittance, and came many times, but neither his
pleadings nor his execrations had any effect on the obdurate girl. In
his presence, she was as timid as a virgin, and would say nothing
"I will not! I will not!"
But at the end of a fortnight she gave in, for she knew that she loved
him; she went to his house and lived with him. They were supremely
happy. They passed their days shut up together, gazing into each
other's eyes, and babbling a childish jargon. In the evening, they
walked on the lonely banks of the Orontes, and lost themselves in the
laurel woods. Sometimes they rose at dawn, to go and gather hyacinths
on the slopes of Sulpicus. They drank from the same cup, and he would
take a grape from between her lips with his mouth.
Moeroe came to Lollius, and cried and shrieked that Thais should be
restored to her.
"She is my daughter," she said, "my daughter, who has been torn from
me. My perfumed flower--my own bowels--!"
Lollius gave her a large sum of money, and sent her away. But, as she
came back to demand some more gold staters, the young man had her put
in prison, and the magistrates having discovered that she was guilty
of many crimes, she was condemned to death, and thrown to the wild
Thais loved Lollius with all the passion of her mind, and the
bewilderment of innocence. She told him, and told him truly from the
bottom of her heart--
"I have never loved any one but you."
"You are not like any other woman."
The spell lasted six months, but it broke at last. Thais suddenly felt
that her heart was empty and lonely. Lollius no longer seemed the same
to her. She thought--
"What can have thus changed me in an instant? How is it that he is now
like any other man, and no longer like himself?"
She left him, not without a secret desire to find Lollius again in
another, as she no longer found him in himself. She thought it would
be less dull to live with someone she had never loved, than with one
she had ceased to love. She appeared, in the company of rich
debauchees, at those sacred feasts at which naked virgins danced in
the temples, and troops of courtesans swam across the Orontes. She
took part in all the pleasures of the fashionable and depraved city;
and she assiduously frequented the theatres, at which clever mimes
from all countries performed amidst the applause of a crowd greedy for
She carefully observed the mimes, dancers, comedians, and especially
the women, who in tragedies represented goddesses in love with young
men, or mortals loved by the gods. Having discovered the secrets by
which they pleased the audience, she thought to herself that she was
more beautiful and could act better. She went to the manager, and
asked to be admitted into the troupe. Thanks to her beauty, and to the
lessons she had received from old Moeroe, she was received, and
appeared on the stage in the part of Dirce.
She met with but indifferent success, for she was inexperienced, and
the admiration of the spectators had not been aroused by hearing her
praises sung. But after she had played small parts for a few months,
the power of her beauty burst forth with such effect that all the city
was moved. All Antioch crowded to the theatre. The imperial
magistrates and the chief citizens were compelled, by the force of
public opinion, to show themselves there. The porters, sweepers, and
dock labourers went without bread and garlic, that they might pay for
their places. Poets composed epigrams in her honour. Bearded
philosophers inveighed against her in the baths and gymnasia; when her
litter passed, Christian priests turned away their heads. The
threshold of her door was wreathed with flowers, and sprinkled with
blood. She received so much money from her lovers that it was no
longer counted, but measured by the medimnus, and all the treasure
hoarded by miserly old men was poured out at her feet. But she was
placid and unmoved. She rejoiced, with quiet pride, in the admiration
of the public and the favour of the gods, and was so much loved that
she loved herself.
After she had several years enjoyed the admiration and affection of
the Antiochians, she was taken with a desire to revisit Alexandria,
and show her glory in that city in which, as a child, she had wandered
in want and shame, hungry and lean as a grasshopper in the middle of a
dusty road. The golden city joyfully welcomed her, and loaded her with
fresh riches; when she appeared in the games it was a triumph.
Countless admirers and lovers came to her. She received them with
indifference, for she at last despaired of meeting another Lollius.
Amongst many others, she met the philosopher Nicias, who desired to
possess her, although he professed to have no desires. In spite of his
riches, he was intelligent and modest. But his delicate wit and
beautiful sentiments failed to charm her. She did not love him and
sometimes his refined irony even irritated her. His perpetual doubts
hurt her, for he believed in nothing, and she believed in everything.
She believed in divine providence, in the omnipotence of evil spirits,
in spells, exorcisms, and eternal justice; she believed in Jesus
Christ, and in the goddess of good of the Syrians; she believed also
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