Saturday, October 9, 2010

The High Priest

IT had only been in sheer despair that Tyre had held out after her fleet lost the command of the sea. Able now to attack the city at any point that he might choose, Alexander abandoned the mole which he had been at such vast pains to construct, and commenced operations on the opposite side of the island, against the wall that fronted the open sea. The battering-rams were put on shipboard, and so brought to bear upon any weak places that had been discovered; and of these the Tyrians, confident of always being able to keep command of the sea, had left not a few. A first attempt failed; a second, made on a perfectly calm day, succeeded, and a considerable length of wall was broken down. A breach having been thus made, the ships that bore the battering-rams were withdrawn, and others carrying pontoons took their places. Two storming parties landed, one commanded by an officer of the name of Admetus, the other by Alexander in person. Admetus, who was the first to scale the wall, was killed by the stroke of a javelin, but his party made good their footing; and the king, landing his guards, was equally successful. The defenders of the wall abandoned it, but renewed the fight in the streets of the city. The battle raged most fiercely in the precincts of the Chapel of Agenor, the legendary founder of Tyre. The building had been strongly fortified, but it was taken at last, and the garrison was put to the sword. Before nightfall all Tyre was in the hands of Alexander. The king exacted a frightful penalty for the obstinate resistance which had baffled him for nearly a year. But he respected the Temple of Melkarth, where Azemilcus and a few of the Tyrian nobles had taken sanctuary, and the Sidonian prince had the satisfaction of saving more than a thousand victims from slavery or death. They took refuge in the galleys that were under his command, and Alexander either did not know of their escape, or, as is more probably the case, did not care to inquire about it. Hundreds of the principal citizens were executed; the remainder, numbering, it is said, thirty thousand, were sold as slaves.

Melkarth, whose city had been thus depopulated, was then honoured with a splendid sacrifice. All the soldiers, in full armour, marched round the temple; games, including a torch race, were held in the precincts; while the battering-ram that had made the first breach in the wall, and the galley that had first broken the boom guarding the harbour, were deposited within the temple itself.

"And now," said the king, at the banquet with which the great festival of Melkarth was concluded, "we will settle with that insolent priest who would not help us against these Tyrian rebels."

"Sir," said Hephaestion, "it is said that the god whom these Hebrews worship is mighty." And he went on to relate some of the marvels of Jewish history of which he had lately been hearing.

The king, who had something of a Roman's respect for foreign religions, listened with attention. "Have you heard anything of this kind?" he went on, addressing Charidemus. "Did your friend Manasseh tell you anything like this?"

Charidemus, as it happened, had been greatly impressed by his conversations with the Jew. The story of the end of Belshazzar, and of the mysterious hand that came out upon the palace wall, as the impious king sat with his nobles, drinking out of the sacred vessels of the temple, and that wrote his doom in letters of fire, had particularly struck him, and he now repeated it. Alexander heard it in silence, sternly checking some scoff on which one of his younger courtiers ventured when it was finished.

His resolve, however, to visit the seat of this formidable Deity was strengthened rather than weakened; and on the following day he set out with a select body of troops and a numerous retinue of native princes, leaving the main body of the army in charge of Parmenio, to follow the road which led to Egypt—which country he proposed next to deal with—over the Maritime Plain of Palestine. The distance between Tyre and Jerusalem was somewhat under a hundred miles, and was traversed in about six days. It was the evening of the seventh when he reached the hill-top, now known by the name of Scopus, or the Outlook, which is the northern spur of the ridge of Olivet. Fronting him stood the Hill of Sion, crowned with the Temple buildings, not yet, indeed, grown to the majestic strength which they attained in later days, but still not wanting in impressiveness and dignity. Below were the walls, now restored to their old strength, which had withstood more than one conqueror in his march, and the city, which, during more than a century of prosperity and peace, had more than repaired the desolation of the last siege. Just then it was made singularly picturesque by the greenery of the booths of branches, under the shade of which the people were keeping the Feast of Tabernacles, and which crowded every open space in the city.

But the attention of the visitors was arrested by a remarkable procession that met them as they reached the crest of the hill. At the head of it walked the High Priest, in all the magnificence of his robes of office. He wore a long garment or tunic of blue, made of the finest linen, that reached to below his knees. Below this were drawers of white linen, while the feet were protected by sandals. The upper part of his person was covered by the vestment known as the ephod, the tunic above described being "the robe of the ephod." The ephod was a mixture of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet, and was richly embroidered. On each shoulder was a large onyx, while the breast was covered with the splendid "Breastplate of Judgment," with its twelve precious stones, and round the waist was the "girdle dyed of many hues with gold interwoven with it." Round the bottom of the robe of the ephod were pomegranates wrought in blue, purple, and scarlet, and golden bells. Behind this gorgeous figure came the priests in their robes of spotless white, and behind these again a crowd of citizens in holiday attire.

The king stepped out from the ranks, and saluted the High Priest. So full of respect was his gesture that his attendants expressed, or at least looked, their surprise.

"I adore," said the king, "not the priest, but the God whom he serves. And this very man, clothed in these very robes, I now remember myself to have seen in a dream before I crossed into Asia. I had been considering with myself how I might best win the dominion over these lands, and he exhorted me boldly to cross over, for he would himself conduct my army and give me his blessing. Seeing him therefore this day I both thank the God whose servant he is for that which I have already attained, and beseech Him that I may attain yet more, even the fulfillment of all that is in my heart."

A solemn entry into the Temple, a sacrifice conducted by the king according to the High Priest's directions, and the offering of some splendid gifts to the treasury followed, and the king did not fail to enforce his compliments by conferring on his new subjects substantial privileges. The Jews were henceforth to live under their own laws; every seventh year, as they reaped no harvests, they were to pay no tribute; the same immunity was to be extended to all of Jewish race that might be found within the borders of the Persian kingdom. The High Priest, on the other hand, engaged to furnish a contingent from his nation for the Macedonian army. He only stipulated, and the king readily agreed, that the recruits should not be required to do anything that might be at variance with the law which they were bound to observe.

These matters concluded, Charidemus was summoned to the royal presence.

"Are you bent," asked the king, "on going with me into Egypt?"

"To tell you the truth, my lord," answered the young man, "I had not thought of it one way or the other."

"Well," said Alexander, "I have something for you to do here. First, you will take charge of the queen, who does not wish to travel just now. Then I want you to recruit and drill some of these sturdy Jews for me. They look like fine stuff for soldiers; and, if they are anything like their fathers, they should fight well. The High Priest thinks that you will do best in the Galilee country, where the people are not quite so stiff about their law. But you can settle these matters with Hephaestion, who knows my mind."

Queen Barsiné, who was expecting shortly to become a mother, had made interest with the king to have the young Macedonian put in charge of her establishment, partly because she had great confidence in him, partly because she had a kindly interest in his attachment to her niece, a feeling which, of course, had not escaped her quick woman's eyes.

The eight months that followed were, perhaps, the happiest that Charidemus ever enjoyed. A little walled town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee had been chosen for Barsiné's residence during her husband's absence in Egypt, and Charidemus was appointed its governor. He was in command of a garrison of some hundred and fifty men, and had a couple of light galleys at his disposal, His duties were of the lightest. Two or three veterans, who had grown a little too old to carry the pike, drilled under his superintendence a couple of thousand sturdy Galilæan peasants, who had eagerly answered the summons to enlist under the great conqueror's banners. This work finished, he had the rest of his time at his own disposal. The more of it he could contrive to spend with Clearista, the happier of course he was.

As long as the summer lasted, and, indeed, far into the autumn, there were frequent excursions on the lake, Clearista being accompanied by her gouvernante, the daughter of a Laconian farmer, who had been with her from her infancy. The waters then as now abounded with fish, and Charidemus was delighted to teach his fair companion some of the secrets of the angler's craft. As the year advanced there was plenty of game to be found in the forests of the eastern shore. The young Macedonian was a skilful archer, and could bring down a running deer without risk of injuring the choice portions of the flesh by an ill-aimed shaft. He found a keener delight in pursuing the fiercer creatures that haunted the oak glades of Bashan, and many were the trophies, won from wild boar and wolf and bear, that, to the mingled terror and delight of Clearista, he used to bring back from his hunting excursions.

Nor were books wholly forgotten. Charidemus had always had some of a student's taste, and Barsiné had imparted to her niece some of her own love of culture. The young soldier even began—so potent an inspirer is love—to have literary ambitions. He wrote, but was too shy to exhibit, poems about his lady's virtues and beauty. He even conceived a scheme of celebrating the victories of Alexander in an heroic poem, and carried it out to the extent of composing some five or six hundred hexameters which he read to the admiring Clearista. Unfortunately they were lost along with other treasures of antiquity.

Meanwhile little or nothing in which he would have cared to have a part had been happening elsewhere. Alexander's march through Egypt was not a campaign, but a triumphal procession. The Persian satrap had made no attempt at resistance, and the population gladly welcomed their new masters. They hated the Persians, who scorned and insulted their religion, and eagerly turned to the more tolerant Greek. So the country was annexed without a blow being struck. Grand functions of sacrifice, in which Alexander was careful to do especial honour to Egyptian deities, with splendid receptions and banquets, fully occupied the time; and then there was the more useful labour of beginning a work which was to be the most permanent monument of the conqueror's greatness, the foundation of the city of Alexandria. Charondas, who was attached to the king's personal suite, kept his friend informed of events by letters which reached him with fair regularity.

"Charondas to Charidemus, greeting.

"I have just returned safe—thanks to the gods—from a journey which I thought more than once likely to be my last. Know that the king conceived a desire to visit the Temple of Zeus Ammon, where there is an oracle famous for being the most truth-speaking in the world. Not even the Pythia at Delphi—so it is said—more clearly foresees the future, and a more important matter, it must be confessed, more plainly expounds what she foresees. The king took with him some five thousand men, many more, in my judgment, than it was expedient to take, seeing that the enemy most to be dreaded in such an expedition, to wit, thirst, is one more easily to be encountered by a few than by a multitude. At the first we marched westwards, keeping close to the sea, through a region that is desolate indeed, and void of inhabitants, but rather because it has been neglected by men than because it refuses to receive them. There are streams, some of which, it is said, do not fail even when the summer is hottest, and in some places grass, and in many shrubs.

“Thus we journeyed without difficulty for a distance of about 1,600 stadia. Then we turned southward; and here began our difficulties and dangers. The difficulty always is to find the right way, for such a track as there is will often be altogether hidden in a very short space of time; and so it was with us. The danger is lest the traveller, so wandering from the way, should perish of hunger and thirst, for it is not possible that he should carry much provision with him. How, then, you will ask, did we escape? Truly I cannot answer except by saying that it was through the good fortune of Alexander, not without the intervention of some Divine power. Many marvellous things were told me about the means by which we were guided on our way. Some averred that two serpents, of monstrous size, went before the army, uttering cries not unlike to human speech. Of these I can only aver that I neither saw nor heard them, and that I have had no speech with any that did see or hear, although not a few have borne witness to them second-hand, affirming that they had heard the story from those that had been eye-witnesses. The same I am constrained to say concerning the ravens which some declared to have been guides to the army. I saw them not, nor know any that did see them. But I had some converse with a native of these parts who was hired to be our guide. This man, I found, trusted neither to serpents, whether dumb or not, nor to ravens, but to the stars. And I noticed that he was much perplexed and troubled by what seemed a matter of rejoicing to the rest of us, namely, that the sky became overcast with clouds. We were rejoiced by the rain which assured us that we should not perish of thirst; but he complained that his guides were taken from him. Nevertheless, as the clouds were sometimes broken, he was not wholly deprived of the help in which he trusted.

"Let it suffice, then, to say that we got safely to our journey's end, not without assistance from the gods. No more beautiful place have I seen, though doubtless my pleasure in seeing it was the greater by reason of the desolation of the region through which we had passed. It is, as it were, an island in the sand, nowhere more than forty stadia across, covered with olives and palms, and watered by a spring, the marvels of which, unlike the serpents and the ravens, I can affirm of my own knowledge. That it is coldest at noonday and hottest at midnight, I have myself found by touching it. Or was this, you will perhaps say, by contrast only, because my own body was subject to exactly the opposite disposition? It may be so; nevertheless in such matters common tradition and belief are not wholly without value.

"You will ask, What said the Oracle? To the king it said that without doubt he was the son of Ammon; to others that they would do well, if they reverenced him as being such. Whether more be intended by this than what Homer says of Achilles and other great heroes that they were Zeus-descended I cannot say. Many take it to be so, and some are not a little displeased. Last night I heard two soldiers talking together on this matter. 'Comrade,' said one to the other, 'if I had King Philip for my father, I should be content, nor seek another.' 'Aye,' returned the other, 'thou sayest true. If Alexander be the chicken, truly Philip was the egg.' 'But now,' the first speaker went on, 'but now they say that the king's father was this Ammon. Didst ever see such a god? It is like a Pan with the goat-part uppermost. And who ever heard talk of a hero that had Pan for his father? Nay, nay, I would liefer have a plain honest Macedonian for my father, so he had head and legs like a man, than all the Ammons in the world.' So many talk in the camp, though there are some who are ready to say and do anything that may bring advancement. But these are dangerous matters to trust even to paper. We will talk of them, if need be, when we meet. Till then, farewell!"

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