ARACHNE - VOLUME 5.
ARACHNE - VOLUME 5.
While the market place in Tennis was filling Archias's white house had
become a heap of smouldering ruins. Hundreds of men and women were
standing around the scene of the conflagration but no one saw the statue
of Demeter which had been removed from Hermon's studio just in time.
The nomarch had had it locked up in the neighbouring temple of the
It was rumoured that the divinity had saved her own statue by a miracle;
Pamaut the police officer said that he had seen her himself as
surrounded by a brilliant light she soared upward on the smoke that
poured from the burning house. The strategist and the nomarch used every
means in their power to capture the robbers but without the least
As it had become known that Paseth Gula's husband had cast off his wife
because she had gone to Hermon's studio the magistrates believed that
the attack had been made by the Biamites; yet Paseth was absent from the
city during the assault and the innocence of the others could also be
Since for two entire years piracy had entirely ceased in this
neighbourhood no one thought of corsairs and the bodies of the
incendiaries having been consumed by the flames with the white house
it could not be ascertained to what class the marauders belonged.
The blinded sculptor could only testify that one of the robbers was a
negro or at any rate had had his face blackened and that the size of
another had appeared to him almost superhuman. This circumstance gave
rise to the fable that during the terrible storm of the previous clay
Hades had opened and spirits of darkness had rushed into the studio of
the Greek betrayer.
The strategist it is true did not believe such tales but the
superstition of the Biamites who moreover aided the Greeks reluctantly
to punish a crime which threatened to involve their own countrymen put
obstacles in the way of his measures.
Not until he heard of Ledscha's disappearance and was informed by the
priest of Nemesis of the handsome sum which had been found in the
offering box of the temple shortly after the attack did he arrive at a
conjecture not very far from the real state of affairs; only it was still
incomprehensible to him what body of men could have placed themselves at
the disposal of a girl's vengeful plan.
On the second day after the fire the epistrategus of the whole Delta
who had accidentally come to the border fortress arrived at Tennis on
the galley of the commandant of Pelusium and with him Proclus the
grammateus of the Dionysian artists the Lady Thyone Daphne and her
The old hero Philippus was detained in the fortress by the preparations
Althea had returned to Alexandria and Philotas who disliked her had
gone there himself as Chrysilla intimated to him that he could hope for
no success in his suit to her ward so long as Daphne had to devote
herself to the care of the blinded Hermon.
The epistrategus proceeded with great caution but his efforts also
remained futile. He ordered a report to be made of all the vessels which
had entered the harbours and bays of the northeastern Delta but those
commanded by Satabus and his sons gave no cause for investigation; they
had come into the Tanite arm of the Nile as lumber ships from Pontus and
had discharged beams and planks for the account of a well-known
commercial house in Sinope.
Yet the official ordered the Owl's Nest to be searched. In doing this he
made himself guilty of an act of violence as the island's right of
asylum still existed and this incensed the irritable and refractory
Biamites the more violently the deeper was the reverent awe with which
the nation regarded Tabus who according to their belief was over a
hundred years old. The Biamites honoured her not only as an enchantress
and a leech but as the ancestress of a race of mighty men. By molesting
this aged woman and interfering with an ancient privilege the
epistrategus lost the aid of the hostile fishermen sailors and weavers.
Any information from their ranks to him was regarded as treachery; and
besides his stay in Tennis could be but brief as the King on account
of the impending war had summoned him back to the capital.
On the third day after his arrival he left Tennis and sailed from Tanis
for Alexandria. He had had little time to attend to Thyone and her
Proclus too could not devote himself to them until after the departure
of the epistrategus since he had gone immediately to Tanis where as
head of the Dionysian artists of all Egypt he had been occupied in
attending to the affairs of the newly established theatre.
On his return to Tennis he had instantly requested to be conducted to the
Temple of Demeter to inspect the blinded Hermon's rescued work.
He had entered the cella of the sanctuary with the expectation of finding
a peculiar probably a powerful work but one repugnant to his taste and
left it fairly overpowered by the beauty of this noble work of art.
What he had formerly seen of Hermon's productions had prejudiced him
against the artist whose talent was great but who instead of
dedicating it to the service of the beautiful and the sublime chose
subjects which to Proclus did not seem worthy of artistic treatment
or when they were sedulously deprived them of that by which in his
eyes they gained genuine value. In Hermon's Olympian Banquet he--who
also held the office of a high priest of Apollo in Alexandria--had even
seen an insult to the dignity of the deity. In the Street Boy Eating
Figs the connoisseur's eye had recognised a peculiar masterpiece but he
had been repelled by this also; for instead of a handsome boy it
represented a starving emaciated vagabond.
True to life as this figure might be it seemed to him reprehensible for
it had already induced others to choose similar vulgar subjects.
When recently at Althea's performance he had met Hermon and saw how
quickly his beautiful travelling companion allowed herself to be induced
to bestow the wreath on the handsome black-bearded fellow it vexed him
and he had therefore treated him with distant coldness and allowed him
to perceive the disapproval which the direction taken by his art had
awakened in his mind.
In the presence of Hermon's Demeter the opinion of the experienced man
and intelligent connoisseur had suddenly changed.
The creator of this work was not only one of the foremost artists of his
day nay he had also been permitted to fathom the nature of the deity
and to bestow upon it a perfect form.
This Demeter was the most successful personification of the divine
goodness which rewards the sowing of seed with the harvest. When Hermon
created it Daphne's image had hovered before his mind even if he had
not been permitted to use her as a model and of all the maidens whom he
knew there was scarcely one better suited to serve as the type for the
So what he had seen in Pelusium and learned from women was true. The
heart and mind of the artist who had created this work were not filled
with the image of Althea--who during the journey had bestowed many a mark
of favour upon the aging man and with whom he was obliged to work hand
in hand for Queen Arsinoe's plans--but the daughter of Archias and this
circumstance also aided in producing his change of view.
Hermon's blindness it was to be hoped would be cured.
Duty and perhaps also interest commanded him to show him frankly how
highly he estimated his art and his last work.
After the arrival of Thyone and Daphne Hermon had consented to accompany
them on board the Proserpina their spacious galley. True he had
yielded reluctantly to this arrangement of his parents' old friend and
neither she nor Daphne had hitherto succeeded in soothing the fierce
resentment against fate which filled his soul after the loss of his sight
and his dearest friend. As yet every attempt to induce him to bear his
terrible misfortune with even a certain degree of composure had failed.
The Tennis leech trained by the Egyptian priests at Sais in the art of
healing who was attached as a pastophorus to the Temple of Isis in the
city of weavers had covered the artist's scorched face with bandages
and earnestly adjured him never in his absence to raise them and to keep
every ray of light from his blinded eyes. But the agitation which had
mastered Hermon's whole being was so great that in spite of the woman's
protestations he lifted the covering again and again to see whether he
could not perceive once more at least a glimmer of the sunlight whose
warming power he felt. The thought of living in darkness until the end
of his life seemed unendurable especially as now all the horrors which
hitherto had only visited him in times of trial during the night
assailed him with never-ceasing cruelty.
The image of the spider often forced itself upon him and he fancied that
the busy insect was spreading its quickly made web over his blinded eyes
which he was not to touch yet over which he passed his hand to free them
from the repulsive veil.
The myth related that because Athene's blow had struck the ambitious
weaver Arachne she had resolved before the goddess transformed her into
a spider to put an end to her disgrace.
How infinitely harder was the one dealt to him! How much better reason
he had to use the privilege in which man possesses an advantage over the
immortals of putting himself to death with his own hand when he deems
the fitting time has come! What should he the artist to whom his eyes
brought whatever made life valuable do longer in this hideous black
night brightened by no sunbeam?
He was often overwhelmed too by the remembrance of the terrible end
of the friend in whom he saw the only person who might have given him
consolation in this distress and the painful thought of his poverty.
He was supported solely by what his art brought and his wealthy uncle
allowed him. The Demeter which Archias had ordered had been partially
paid for in advance and he had intended to use the gold--a considerable
sum--to pay debts in Alexandria. But it was consumed with the rest of
his property--tools clothing mementoes of his dead parents and a few
books which contained his favourite poems and the writings of his master
These precious rolls had aided him to maintain the proud conviction of
owing everything which he attained or possessed solely to himself. It
had again become perfectly clear to him that the destiny of earth-born
mortals was not directed by the gods whom men had invented after their
own likeness in order to find causes for the effects which they
perceived but by deaf and blind chance. Else how could even worse
misfortune according to the opinion of most people have befallen the
pure guiltless Myrtilus who so deeply revered the Olympians and
understood how to honour them so magnificently by his art than himself
the despiser of the gods?
But was the death for which he longed a misfortune?
Was the Nemesis who had so swiftly and fully granted the fervent prayer
of an ill-used girl also only an image conjured up by the power of human
It was scarcely possible!
Yet if there was one goddess did not that admit the probability of the
existence of all the others?
He shuddered at the idea; for if the immortals thought felt acted how
terribly his already cruel fate would still develop! He had denied and
insulted almost all the Olympians and not even stirred a finger to the
praise and honour of a single one.
What marvel if they should choose him for the target of their resentment
He had just believed that the heaviest misfortune which can befall a man
and an artist had already stricken him. Now he felt that this too had
been an error; for like a physical pain he realized the collapse of the
proud delusion of being independent of every power except himself freely
and arbitrarily controlling his own destiny owing no gratitude except to
his own might and being compelled to yield to nothing save the
enigmatical pitiless power of eternal laws or their co-operation so
incomprehensible to the human intellect called "chance" which took no
heed of merit or unworthiness.
Must he who had learned to silence and to starve every covetous desire
in order to require no gifts from his own uncle and his wealthy kinsman
and friend and be able to continue to hold his head high as the most
independent of the independent now in addition to all his other woe be
forced to believe in powers that exercised an influence over his every
act? Must he recognise praying to them and thanking them as the demand
of justice of duty and wisdom? Was this possible either?
And believing himself alone since he could not see Thyone and Daphne
who were close by him he struck his scorched brow with his clinched
fist because he felt like a free man who suddenly realizes that a rope
which he can not break is bound around his hands and feet and a giant
pulls and loosens it at his pleasure.
Yet no! Better die than become for gods and men a puppet that obeys
every jerk of visible and invisible hands.
Starting up in violent excitement he tore the bandage from his face and
eyes declaring as Thyone seriously reprimanded him that he would go
away no matter where and earn his daily bread at the handmill like the
blind Ethiopian slave whom he had seen in the cabinetmaker's house at
Then Daphne spoke to him tenderly but her soothing voice caused him
keener pain than his old friend's stern one.
To sit still longer seemed unendurable and with the intention of
regaining his lost composure by pacing to and fro he began to walk;
but at the first free step he struck against the little table in front of
Thyone's couch and as it upset and the vessels containing water fell
with it clinking and breaking he stopped and as if utterly crushed
groped his way back with both arms outstretched to the armchair he had
If he could only have seen Daphne press her handkerchief first to her
eyes from which tears were streaming and then to her lips that he
might not hear her sobs if he could have perceived how Thyone's wrinkled
old face contracted as if she were swallowing a colocynth apple while at
the same time she patted his strong shoulder briskly exclaiming with
forced cheerfulness: "Go on my boy! The steed rears when the hornet
stings! Try again if it only soothes you! We will take everything out
of your way. You need not mind the water-jars. The potter will make new
Then Hermon threw back his burning head rested it against the back of
the chair and did not stir until the bandage was renewed.
How comfortable it felt!
He knew too that he owed it to Daphne; the matron's fingers could not
be so slender and delicate and he would have been more than glad to
raise them to his lips and thank her; but he denied himself the pleasure.
If she really did love him the bond between them must now be severed;
for even if her goodness of heart extended far enough to induce her to
unite her blooming young existence to his crippled one how could he have
accepted the sacrifice without humiliating himself? Whether such a
marriage would have made her happy or miserable he did not ask but he
was all the more keenly aware that if in this condition he became her
husband he would be the recipient of alms and he would far rather he
mentally repeated share the fate of the negro at the handmill.
The expression of his features revealed the current of his thoughts to
Daphne and much as she wished to speak to him she forced herself to
remain silent that the tones of her voice might not betray how deeply
she was suffering with him; but he himself now longed for a kind word
from her lips and he had just asked if she was still there when Thyone
announced a visit from the grammateus Proclus.
He had recently felt that this man was unfriendly to him and again his
anger burst forth. To be exposed in the midst of his misery to the scorn
of a despiser of his art was too much for his exhausted patience.
But here he was interrupted by Proclus himself who had entered the
darkened cabin where the blind man remained very soon after Thyone.
Hermon's last words had betrayed to the experienced courtier how well
he remembered his unkind remarks so he deferred the expression of his
approval and began by delivering the farewell message of the
epistrategus who had been summoned away so quickly.
He stated that his investigations had discovered nothing of importance
except perhaps the confirmation of the sorrowful apprehension that the
admirable Myrtilus had been killed by the marauders. A carved stone had
been found under the ashes and Chello the Tennis goldsmith said he had
had in his own workshop the gem set in the hapless artist's shoulder
clasp and supplied it with a new pin.
While speaking he took Hermon's hand and gave him the stone but the
artist instantly used his finger tips to feel it.
Perhaps it really did belong to the clasp Myrtilus wore for although
still unpractised in groping he recognised that a human head was carved
in relief upon the stone and Mrytilus's had been adorned with the
likeness of the Epicurean.
The damaged little work of art in the opinion of Proclus and Daphne
appeared to represent this philosopher and at the thought that his
friend had fallen a victim to the flames Hermon bowed his head and
exerted all his strength of will in order not to betray by violent sobs
how deeply this idea pierced his heart.
Thyone shrugging her shoulders mournfully pointed to the suffering
artist. Proclus nodded significantly and moving nearer to Hermon
informed him that he had sought out his Demeter and found the statue
uninjured. He was well aware that it would be presumptuous to offer
consolation in so heavy an affliction and after the loss of his dearest
friend yet perhaps Hermon would be glad to hear his assurance that he
whose judgment was certainly not unpractised numbered his work among the
most perfect which the sculptor's art had created in recent years.
"I myself best know the value of this Demeter" the sculptor broke in
harshly. "Your praise is the bit of honey which is put into the mouth of
the hurt child."
"No my friend" Proclus protested with grave decision. "I should
express no less warmly the ardent admiration with which this noble figure
of the goddess fills me if you were well and still possessed your sight.
You were right just now when you alluded to my aversion or let us say
lack of appreciation of the individuality of your art; but this noble
work changes everything and nothing affords me more pleasure than that I
am to be the first to assure you how magnificently you have succeeded in
"The first!" Hermon again interrupted harshly. "But the second and
third will be lacking in Alexandria. What a pleasure it is to pour the
gifts of sympathy upon one to whom we wish ill! But however successful
my Demeter may be you would have awarded the prize twice over to the one
"Wrong my young friend!" the statesman protested with honest zeal.
"All honour to the great dead whose end was so lamentable; but in this
contest--let me swear it by the goddess herself!--you would have remained
victor; for at the utmost nothing can rank with the incomparable save
a work of equal merit and--I know life and art--two artists rarely or
never succeed in producing anything so perfect as this masterpiece at the
same time and in the same place."
"Enough!" gasped Hermon hoarse with excitement; but Proclus with
increasing animation continued: "Brief as is our acquaintance you have
probably perceived that I do not belong to the class of flatterers and
in Alexandria it has hardly remained unknown to you that the younger
artists number me to whom the office of judge so often falls among the
sterner critics. Only because I desire their best good do I frankly
point out their errors. The multitude provides the praise. It will soon
flow upon you also in torrents I can see its approach and as this
blindness if the august Aesculapius and healing Isis aid will pass away
like a dreary winter night it would seem to me criminal to deceive you
about your own ability and success. I already behold you creating other
works to the delight of gods and men; but this Demeter extorts boundless
enthusiastic appreciation; both as a whole and in detail it is
faultless and worthy of the most ardent praise. Oh how long it is
my dear unfortunate friend since I could congratulate any other
Alexandrian with such joyful confidence upon the most magnificent
success! Every word--you may believe it!--which comes to you in
commendation of this last work from lips unused to eulogy is sincerely
meant and as I utter it to you I shall repeat it in the presence of the
King Archias and the other judges."
Daphne with hurried breath deeply flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes
had fairly hung upon the lips of the clever connoisseur. She knew
Proclus and his dreaded absolutely inconsiderate acuteness and was
aware that this praise expressed his deepest conviction. Had he been
dissatisfied with the statue of Demeter or even merely superficially
touched by its beauty he might have shrunk from wounding the unfortunate
artist by censure and remained silent; but only something grand
consummate could lead him to such warmth of recognition.
She now felt it a misfortune that she and Thyone had hitherto been
prevented by anxiety for their patient from admiring his work. Had it
still been light she would have gone to the temple of Demeter at once;
but the sun had just set and Proclus was obliged to beg her to have
As the cases were standing finished at the cabinetmaker's the statue had
been packed immediately under his own direction and carried on board
his ship which would convey it with him to the capital the next day.
While this arrangement called forth loud expressions of regret from
Daphne and the vivacious matron Hermon assented to it for it would at
least secure the ladies until their arrival in Alexandria from a
"Rather" Proclus protested with firm dissent "it will rob you for some
time of a great pleasure and you noble daughter of Archias probably of
the deepest emotion of gratitude with which the favour of the immortals
has hitherto rendered you happy; yet the master who created this genuine
goddess owes the best part of it to your own face."
"He told me himself that he thought of me while at work" Daphne
admitted and a flood of the warmest love reached Hermon's ears in her
agitated tones while greatly perplexed he wondered with increasing
anxiety whether the stern critic Proclus had really been serious in the
extravagant eulogium so alien to his reputation in the city.
Myrtilus too had admired the head of his Demeter and--this he himself
might admit--he had succeeded in it and yet ought not the figure with
its too pronounced inclination forward which it is true corresponded
with Daphne's usual bearing and the somewhat angular bend of the arms
have induced this keen-sighted connoisseur to moderate the exalted strain
of his praise? Or was the whole really so admirable that it would have