THE EMPEROR - PART 1 - VOLUME 1.
THE EMPEROR - PART 1 - VOLUME 1.
Translated by Clara Bell
It is now fourteen years since I planned the story related in these
volumes the outcome of a series of lectures which I had occasion to
deliver on the period of the Roman dominion in Egypt. But the pleasures
of inventive composition were forced to give way to scientific labors
and when I was once more at leisure to try my wings with increase of
power I felt more strongly urged to other flights. Thus it came to pass
that I did I not take the time of Hadrian for the background of a tale
till after I had dealt with the still later period of the early monastic
move in "Homo Sum." Since finishing that romance my old wish to depict
in the form of a story the most important epoch of the history of that
venerable nation to which I have devoted nearly a quarter century of my
life has found its fulfilment. I have endeavored to give a picture of
the splendor of the Pharaonic times in "Uarda" of the subjection of
Egypt to the new Empire of the Persians in "An Egyptian Princess" of the
Hellenic period under the Lagides in "The Sisters" of the Roman dominion
and the early growth of Christianity in "The Emperor" and of the
anchorite spirit--in the deserts and rocks of the Sinaitic Peninsula--in
"Homo Sum." Thus the present work is the last of which the scene will be
laid in Egypt. This series of romances will not only have introduced the
reader to a knowledge of the history of manners and culture in Egypt but
will have facilitated his comprehension of certain dominant ideas which
stirred the mind of the Ancients. How far I may have succeeded in
rendering the color of the times I have described and in producing
pictures that realize the truth I myself cannot venture to judge; for
since even present facts are differently reflected in different minds
this must be still more emphatically the case with things long since past
and half-forgotten. Again and again when historical investigation has
refused to afford me the means of resuscitating some remotely ancient
scene I have been obliged to take counsel of imagination and remember
the saying that 'the Poet must be a retrospective Seer' and could allow
my fancy to spread her wings while I remained her lord and knew the
limits up to which I might permit her to soar. I considered it my lawful
privilege to paint much that was pure invention but nothing that was not
possible at the period I was representing. A due regard for such
possibility has always set the bounds to fancy's flight; wherever
existing authorities have allowed me to be exact and faithful I have
always been so and the most distinguished of my fellow-professors in
Germany England France and Holland have more than once borne witness
to this. But as I need hardly point out poetical and historical truth
are not the same thing; for historical truth must remain as far as
possible unbiassed by the subjective feeling of the writer while
poetical truth can only find expression through the medium of the
As in my last two romances so in "The Emperor" I have added no notes:
I do this in the pleasant conviction of having won the confidence of my
readers by my historical and other labors. Nothing has encouraged me to
fresh imaginative works so much as the fact that through these romances
the branch of learning that I profess has enlisted many disciples whose
names are now mentioned with respect among Egyptologists. Every one who
is familiar with the history of Hadrian's time will easily discern by
trifling traits from what author or from which inscription or monument
the minor details have been derived and I do not care to interrupt the
course of the narrative and so spoil the pleasure of the larger class of
readers. It would be a happiness to me to believe that this tale
deserves to be called a real work of art and as such its first
function should be to charm and elevate the mind. Those who at the same
time enrich their knowledge by its study ought not to detect the fact
that they are learning.
Those who are learned in the history of Alexandria under the Romans may
wonder that I should have made no mention of the Therapeutai on Lake
Mareotis. I had originally meant to devote a chapter to them but Luca's
recent investigations led me to decide on leaving it unwritten. I have
given years of study to the early youth of Christianity particularly in
Egypt and it affords me particular satisfaction to help others to
realize how in Hadrian's time the pure teaching of the Saviour as yet
little sullied by the contributions of human minds conquered--and could
not fail to conquer--the hearts of men. Side by side with the triumphant
Faith I have set that noble blossom of Greek life and culture--Art which
in later ages Christianity absorbed in order to dress herself in her
beautiful forms. The statues and bust of Antinous which remain to us of
that epoch show that the drooping tree was still destined to put forth
new leaves under Hadrian's rule.
The romantic traits which I have attributed to the character of my hero
who travelled throughout the world climbing mountains to rejoice in the
splendor of he rising sun are authentic. One of the most difficult
tasks I have ever set myself was to construct from the abundant but
essentially contradictory accounts of Hadian a human figure in which I
could myself at all believe; still how gladly I set to work to do so!
There was much to be considered in working out this narraive but the
story itself has flowed straight from the ieart of the writer; I can only
hope it may find its way to that of the reader.
LEIPZIG November 1880.
The morning twilight had dawned into day and the sun had risen on the
first of December of the year of our Lord 129 but was still veiled by
milk-white mists which rose from the sea and it was cold.
Kasius a mountain of moderate elevation stands on a tongue of land that
projects from the coast between the south of Palestine and Egypt. It is
washed on the north by the sea which on this day is not gleaming as is
its wont in translucent ultramarine; its more distant depths slowly
surge in blue-black waves while those nearer to shore are of quite a
different hue and meet their sisters that lie nearer to the horizon in a
dull greenish-grey as dusty plains join darker lava beds. The
northeasterly wind which had risen as the sun rose now blew more
keenly wreaths of white foam rode on the crests of the waves though
these did not beat wildly and stormily on the mountain-foot but rolled
heavily to the shore in humped ridges endlessly long as if they were of
molten lead. Still the clear bright spray splashed up when the gulls
dipped their pinions in the water as they floated above it hither and
thither restless and uttering shrill little cries as though driven by
Three men were walking slowly along the causeway which led from the top
of the hill down into the valley but it was only the eldest who walked
in front of the other two who gave any heed to the sky the sea the
gulls and the barren plain that lay silent at his feet. He stopped and
as soon as he did so the others followed his example. The landscape
below him seemed to rivet his gaze and it justified the disapproval with
which he gently shook his head which was somewhat sunk into his beard.
A narrow strip of desert stretched westward before him as far as the eye
could reach dividing two levels of water. Along this natural dyke a
caravan was passing and the elastic feet of the camels fell noiselessly
on the road they trod. The leader wrapped in his white mantle seemed
asleep and the camel-drivers to be dreaming; the dull-colored eagles
by the road-side did not stir at their approach. To the right of the
stretch of flat coast along which the road ran from Syria to Egypt lay
the gloomy sea overhung by grey clouds; to the left lay the desert a
strange and mysterious feature in the landscape of which the eye could
not see the end either to the east or to the west and which looked here
like a stretch of snow there like standing water and again like a
thicket of rushes.
The eldest of our travellers gazed constantly towards heaven or into the
distance; the second a slave who carried rugs and cloaks on his broad
shoulders never took his eyes off his master; and the third a young
free-man looked wearily and dreamily down the road.
A broad path leading to a stately temple crossed that which led from
the summit of the mountain to the coast and the bearded pedestrian
turned up it; but he followed it only for a few steps then he turned his
head with a dissatisfied air muttered a few unintelligible words into
his beard turned round and hastily retraced his steps to the narrow way
down which he went towards the valley. His young companion followed him
without raising his head or interrupting his reverie as if he were his
shadow but the slave lifted his cropped fair head and a stolen smile
crossed his lips as on the left hand side of the Kasius road he caught
sight of a black kid and close beside it an old woman who at the
approach of the three men covered her wrinkled face in alarm with her
dark blue veil.
"That is the reason then!" said the slave to himself with a nod and
blowing a kiss into the air to a black-haired girl who crouched at the
old woman's feet. But she for whom the greeting was intended did not
observe this mute courtship for her eyes followed the travellers and
especially the young man as if spellbound. As soon as the three were
far enough off not to hear her the girl asked with a shiver as if some
desert-spectre had passed by-and in a low voice "Grandmother who was
The old woman raised her veil laid her hand on her grandchild's mouth
"It was he."
The old woman answered with a significant nod but the girl squeezed
herself up against her grandmother with vehement curiosity stretching
out her dusky head to see better and asked softly: "The young one?"
"Silly child! the one in front with a grey beard."
"He? Oh I wish the young one was the Emperor!"
It was in fact Hadrian the Roman Emperor who walked on in silence
before his escort and it seemed as though his advent had given life to
the desert for as he approached the reed-swamp the kites flew up in the
air and from behind a sand-hill on the edge of the broader road which
Hadrian had avoided came two men in priestly robes. They both belonged
to the temple of Baal of Kariotis a small structure of solid stone
which faced the sea and which the Emperor had yesterday visited.
"Do you think he has lost his way?" said one to the other in the
"Hardly" was the answer. "Master said that he could always find a road
again by which he had once gone even in the dark."
"And yet he is gazing more at the clouds than at the road."
"Still he promised us yesterday."
"He promised nothing for certain" interrupted the other.
"Indeed he did; at parting he called out--and I heard him distinctly:
'Perhaps I shall return and consult your oracle.'"
"I think he said 'probably.'"
"Who knows whether some sign he has seen up in the sky may not have
turned him back; he is going to the camp by the sea."
"But the banquet is standing ready for him in our great hall."
"He will find what he needs down there. Come it is a wretched morning
and I am being frozen."
"Wait a little longer-look there."
"He does not even wear a hat to cover his grey hair."
"He has never yet been seen to travel with anything on his head."
"And his grey cloak is not very imperial looking."
"He always wears the purple at a banquet."
"Do you know who his walk and appearance remind me of?"
"Of our late high-priest Abibaal; he used to walk in that ponderous
meditative way and wear a beard like the Emperor's."
"Yes yes--and had the same piercing grey eye."
"He too used often to gaze up at the sky. They have both the same broad
forehead too; but Abibaal's nose was more aquiline and his hair curled
"And our governor's mouth was grave and dignified while Hadrian's lips
twitch and curl at all he says and hears as if he were laughing at it
"Look he is speaking now to his favorite--Antonius I think they call the
"Antinous not Antonius. He picked him up in Bithynia they say."
"He is a beautiful youth."
"Incomparably beautiful! What a figure and what a face! Still I cannot
wish that he were my son."
"The Emperor's favorite!"
"For that very reason. Why he looks already as if he had tried every
pleasure and could never know any farther enjoyment."
On a little level close to the sea-shore and sheltered by crumbling
cliffs from the east wind stood a number of tents. Between them fires
were burning round which were gathered groups of Roman soldiers and
imperial servants. Half-naked boys the children of the fishermen and
camel-drivers who dwelt in this wilderness were running busily hither
and thither feeding the flames with dry stems of sea-grass and dead
desert-shrubs; but though the blaze flew high the smoke did not rise;
but driven here and there by the squalls of wind swirled about close to
the ground in little clouds like a flock of scattered sheep. It seemed
as though it feared to rise in the grey damp uninviting atmosphere.
The largest of the tents in front of which Roman sentinels paced up and
down two and two on guard was wide open on the side towards the sea.
The slaves who came out of the broad door-way with trays on their cropped
heads-loaded with gold and silver vessels plates wine-jars goblets
and the remains of a meal had to hold them tightly with both hands that
they might not be blown over.
The inside of the tent was absolutely unadorned. The Emperor lay on a
couch near the right wall which was blown in and bulged by the wind; his
bloodless lips were tightly set his arms crossed over his breast and
his eyes half closed. But he was not asleep for he often opened his
mouth and smacked his lips as if tasting the flavor of some viand. From
time to time he raised his eyelids--long finely wrinkled and blue-
veined--turning his eyes up to heaven or rolling them to one side and
then downwards towards the middle of the tent. There on the skin of a
huge bear trimmed with blue cloth lay Hadrian's favorite Antinous. His
beautiful head rested on that of the beast which had been slain by his
sovereign and its skull and skin skilfully preserved his right leg
supported on his left knee he flourished freely in the air and his
hands were caressing the Emperor's bloodhound which had laid its sage-
looking head on the boy's broad bare breast and now and then tried to
lick his soft lips to show its affection. But this the youth would not
allow; he playfully held the beast's muzzle close with his hands or
wrapped its head in the end of his mantle which had slipped back from
The dog seemed to enjoy the game but once when Antinous had drawn the
cloak more tightly round its head and it strove in vain to be free from
the cloth that impeded its breathing it set up a loud howl and this
doleful cry made the Emperor change his attitude and cast a glance of
displeasure at the boy lying on the bear-skin but only a glance not a
word of blame. And soon the expression even of his eyes changed and
he fixed them on the lads's figure with a gaze of loving contemplation
as though it were some noble work of art that he could never tire of
admiring. And truly the Immortals had moulded this child of man to such
a type; every muscle of that throat that chest those arms and legs was
a marvel of softness and of power; no human countenance could be more
regularly chiselled. Antinous observing that his master's attention had
been attracted to his play with the dog let the animal go and turned his
large but not very brilliant eyes on the Emperor.
"What are you doing here?" asked Hadrian kindly.
"Nothing" said the boy.
"No one can do nothing. Even if we fancy we have succeeded in doing
nothing we still continue to think that we are unoccupied and to think
is a good deal."
"But I cannot even think."
Every one can think; besides you were not doing nothing for you were
"Yes with the dog." With these words Antinous stretched out his legs on
the ground pushed away the dog and raised his curly head on both hands.
"Are you tired?" asked the Emperor.
"We both kept watch for an equal portion of the night and I who am so
much older feel quite wide awake."
"It was only yesterday that you were saying that old soldiers were the
best for night-watches."
The Emperor nodded and then said:
"At your age while we are awake we live three times as fast as at mine
and so we need to sleep twice as long. You have every right to be tired.
To be sure it was not till three hours after midnight that we climbed the
mountain and how often a supper party is not over before that."
"It was very cold and uncomfortable up there."
"Not till after the sun had risen."
"Ah! before that you did not notice it for till then you were busy
thinking of the stars."
"And you only of yourself--very true."
"I was thinking of your health too when that cold wind rose before Helios
"I was obliged to await his rising."
"And can you discern future events by the way and manner of the rising of
Hadrian looked in surprise at the speaker shook his head in negation
looked up at the top of the tent and after a long pause said in abrupt
sentences with frequent interruptions:
"Day is the present merely and the future is evolved out of darkness;
the corn grows from the clods of the field; the rain falls from the
darkest clouds; a new generation is born of the mother's womb; the limbs
recover their vigor in sleep. And what is begotten of the darkness of
death--who can tell?"
When after saying this the Emperor had remained for some time silent
the youth asked him:
"But if the sunrise teaches you nothing concerning the future why should
you so often break your night's rest and climb the mountain to see it?"
"Why? Why?" repeated Hadrian slowly and meditatively stroking his
grizzled beard; then he went on as if speaking to himself:
"That is a question which reason fails to answer before which my lips
find no words; and if I had them at my command who among the rabble
would understand me? Such questions can best be answered by means of
parables. Those who take part in life are actors and the world is their
stage. He who wants to look tall on it wears the cothurnus and is not a
mountain the highest vantage ground that a man can find for the sole of
his foot? Kasius there is but a hill but I have stood on greater giants
than he and seen the clouds rise below me like Jupiter on Olympus."
"But you need climb no mountains to feel yourself a god" cried Antinous;
"the godlike is your title--you command and the world must obey. With a
mountain beneath his feet a man is nearer to heaven no doubt than he is
on the plain."
"I dare not say what came into my mind."
"I knew a little girl who when I took her on my shoulder would stretch
out her arms and exclaim 'I am so tall!' She fancied that she was taller
than I then and yet was only little Panthea."
"But in her own conception of herself it was she who was tall and that
decides the issue for to each of us a thing is only that which it seems
to us. It is true they call me godlike but I feel every day and a
hundred times a day the limitations of the power and nature of man and
I cannot get beyond them. On the top of a mountain I cease to feel them;
there I feel as if I were great for nothing is higher than my head far
or near. And when as I stand there the night vanishes before my eyes
when the splendor of the young sun brings the world into new life for me
by restoring to my consciousness all that just before had been engulfed
in gloom then a deeper breath swells my breast and my lungs fill with
the purer and lighter air of the heights. Up there alone and in
silence no hint can reach me of the turmoil below and I feel myself one
with the great aspect of nature spread before me. The surges of the sea
come and go the tree-tops in the forest bow and rise fog and mist roll
away and part asunder hither and thither and up there I feel myself so
merged with the creation that surrounds me that often it even seems as
though it were my own breath that gives it life. Like the storks and the
swallows I yearn for the distant land and where should the human eye be
more likely to be permitted at least in fancy to discern the remote
goal than from the summit of a mountain?
"The limitless distance which the spirit craves for seems there to assume
a form tangible to the senses and the eye detects its border line. My