Part 2 out of 3
that bitches barked when black Hecate passed through the streets, and
that a woman could inspire love by pouring a philtre into a cup
wrapped in the bleeding skin of a sheep. She thirsted for the unknown;
she called on nameless gods, and lived in perpetual expectation. The
future frightened her, and yet she wished to know it. She surrounded
herself with priests of Isis, Chaldean magi, pharmacopolists, and
professors of the black arts, who invariably deceived her, though she
never tired of being deceived. She feared death, and she saw it
everywhere. When she yielded to pleasure, it seemed to her that an icy
finger would suddenly touch her on the bare shoulder, and she turned
pale, and cried with terror, in the arms which embraced her.
Nicias said to her--
"What does it matter, O my Thais, whether we descend to eternal night
with white locks and hollow cheeks, or, whether this very day, now
laughing to the vast sky, shall be our last? Let us enjoy life; we
shall have greatly lived if we have greatly loved. There is no
knowledge except that of the senses; to love is to understand. That
which we do not know does not exist. What good is it to worry
ourselves about nothing?"
She replied angrily--
"I despise men like you, who hope for nothing and fear nothing. I wish
to know! I wish to know!"
In order to understand the secret of life, she set to work to read the
books of the philosophers, but she did not understand them. The
further the years of her childhood receded from her, the more anxious
she was to recall them. She loved to traverse at night, in disguise,
the alleys, squares, and places where she had grown up so miserably.
She was sorry she had lost her parents, and especially that she had
not been able to love them. When she met any Christian priest, she
thought of her baptism, and felt troubled. One night, when enveloped
in a long cloak, and her fair hair hidden under a black hood, she was
wandering, according to custom, about the suburbs of the city, she
found herself--without knowing how she came there--before the poor
little church of St. John the Baptist. They were singing inside the
church, and a bright light glimmered through the chinks of the door.
There was nothing strange in that, as, for the past twenty years, the
Christians, protected by the conqueror of Maxentius, had publicly
solemnised their festivals. But these hymns seemed more like an ardent
appeal to the soul. As if she had been invited to the mysteries, she
pushed the door open with her arm, and entered the building. She found
a numerous assembly of women, children, and old men, on their knees
before a tomb, which stood against the wall. The tomb was nothing but
a stone coffer, roughly sculptured with vine tendrils and bunches of
grapes; yet it had received great honours, and was covered with green
palms and wreaths of red roses. All round, innumerable lights gleamed
out of the heavy shadow, in which the smoke of Arabian gums seemed
like the folds of angels' robes, and the paintings on the walls
visions of Paradise. Priests, clad in white, were prostrate at the
foot of the sarcophagus. The hymns they sang with the people expressed
the delight of suffering, and mingled, in a triumphal mourning, so
much joy with so much grief, that Thais, in listening to them, felt
the pleasures of life and the terrors of death flowing, at the same
time, through her re-awakened senses.
When they had finished singing, the believers rose, and walked in
single file to the tomb, the side of which they kissed. They were
common men, accustomed to work with their hands. They advanced with a
heavy step, the eyes fixed, the jaw dropped, but they had an air of
sincerity. They knelt down, each in turn, before the sarcophagus, and
put their lips to it. The women lifted their little children in their
arms, and gently placed their cheek to the stone.
Thais, surprised and troubled, asked a deacon why they did so.
"Do you not know, woman," replied the deacon, "that we celebrate
to-day the blessed memory of St. Theodore the Nubian, who suffered for
the faith in the days of the Emperor Diocletian? He lived virtuously
and died a martyr, and that is why, robed in white, we bear red roses
to his glorious tomb."
On hearing these words, Thais fell on her knees, and burst into tears.
Half-forgotten recollections of Ahmes returned to her mind. On the
memory of this obscure, gentle, and unfortunate man, the blaze of
candles, the perfume of roses, the clouds of incense, the music of
hymns, the piety of souls, threw all the charms of glory. Thais
thought in the dazzling glare--
"He was good, and now he has become great and glorious. Why is it that
he is elevated above other men? What is this unknown thing which is
more than riches or pleasure?"
She rose slowly, and turned towards the tomb of the saint who had
loved her, those violet eyes, now filled with tears which glittered in
the candle-light; then, with bowed head, humble, slow, and the last,
with those lips on which so many desires hung, she kissed the stone of
the slave's tomb.
When she returned to her house, she found Nicias, who, with his hair
perfumed, and his tunic thrown open, was reading a treatise on morals
whilst waiting for her. He advanced with open arms.
"Naughty Thais," he said, in a laughing voice, "whilst I was waiting
for you to come, do you know what I saw in this manuscript, written by
the gravest of Stoics? Precepts of virtue and noble maxims: No! On the
staid papyrus, I saw dance thousands and thousands of little Thaises.
Each was no bigger than my finger, and yet their grace was infinite,
and all were the only Thais. There were some who flaunted in mantles
of purple and gold; others, like a white cloud, floated in the air in
transparent drapery. Others again, motionless and divinely nude, the
better to inspire pleasure, expressed no thought. Lastly, there were
two, hand in hand; two so alike that it was impossible to distinguish
one from the other. Both smiled. The first said, 'I am love.' The
other, 'I am death.' "
Thus speaking, he pressed Thais in his arms, and not noticing the
sullen look in her downcast eyes, he went on adding thought to
thought, heedless of the fact that they were all lost upon her.
"Yes, when I had before my eyes the line in which it was written,
'Nothing should deter you from improving your mind,' I read, 'The
kisses of Thais are warmer than fire, and sweeter than honey.' That is
how a philosopher reads the books of other philosophers--and that is
your fault, you naughty child. It is true that, as long as we are what
we are, we shall never find anything but our own thoughts in the
thoughts of others, and that all of us are somewhat inclined to read
books as I have read this one."
She did not hear him; her soul was still before the Nubian's tomb. As
he heard her sigh, he kissed her on the neck, and said--
"Do not be sad, my child. We are never happy in this world, except
when we forget the world.
"Come, let us cheat life--it is sure to take its revenge. Come, let us
But she pushed him away.
"/We/ love!" she cried bitterly. "/You/ never loved any one. And /I/
do not love /you/! No! I do not love you! I hate you! Go! I hate you!
I curse and despise all who are happy, and all who are rich! Go! Go!
Goodness is only found amongst the unfortunate. When I was a child I
knew a black slave who died on the cross. He was good; he was filled
with love, and he knew the secret of life. You are not worthy to wash
his feet. Go! I never wish to see you again!"
She threw herself on her face on the carpet, and passed the night
sobbing and weeping, and forming resolutions to live, in future, like
Saint Theodore, in poverty and humbleness.
The next day, she devoted herself again to those pleasures to which
she was addicted. As she knew that her beauty, though still intact,
would not last very long, she hastened to derive all the enjoyment and
all the fame she could from it. At the theatre, where she acted and
studied more than ever, she gave life to the imagination of sculptors,
painters, and poets. Recognising that there was in the attitudes,
movements, and walk of the actress, an idea of the divine harmony
which rules the spheres, wise men and philosophers considered that
such perfect grace was a virtue in itself, and said, "Thais also is a
geometrician!" The ignorant, the poor, the humble, and the timid
before whom she consented to appear, regarded her as a blessing from
heaven. Yet she was sad amidst all the praise she received, and
dreaded death more than ever. Nothing was able to set her mind at
rest, not even her house and gardens, which were celebrated, and a
proverb throughout the city.
The gardens were planted with trees, brought at great expense from
India and Persia. They were watered by a running brook, and colonnades
in ruins, and imitation rocks, arranged by a skilful artist, were
reflected in a lake, which also mirrored the statues that stood round
it. In the middle of the garden was the Grotto of Nymphs, which owed
its name to three life-size figures of women, which stood on the
threshold. They were represented as divesting themselves of their
garments, and about to bathe. They anxiously turned their heads,
fearing to be seen, and looked as though they were alive. The only
light which entered the building came, tempered and iridescent,
through thin sheets of water. All the walls were hung--as in the
sacred grottoes--with wreaths, garlands, and votive pictures, in which
the beauty of Thais was celebrated. There were also tragic and comic
masks, bright with colours; and paintings representing theatrical
scenes or grotesque figures, or fabulous animals. On a stele in the
centre stood a little ivory Eros of wonderful antique workmanship. It
was a gift from Nicias. In one of the bays was a figure of a goat in
black marble, with shining agate eyes. Six alabaster kids crowded
round its teats; but, raising its cloven hoofs and its ugly head, it
seemed impatient to climb the rocks. The floor was covered with
Byzantine carpets, pillows embroidered by the yellow men of Cathay,
and the skins of Libyan lions. Perfumed smoke arose from golden
censers. Flowering plants grew in large onyx vases. And at the far
end, in the purple shadow, gleamed the gold nails on the shell of a
huge Indian tortoise turned upside down, which served as the bed of
the actress. It was here that every day, to the murmur of the water,
and amid perfumes and flowers, Thais reclined softly, and conversed
with her friends, while awaiting the hour of supper, or meditated in
solitude on theatrical art, or on the flight of years.
On the afternoon after the games, Thais was reposing in the Grotto of
Nymphs. She had noticed in her mirror the first signs of the decay of
her beauty, and she was frightened to think that white hair and
wrinkles would at last come. She vainly tried to comfort herself with
the assurance that she could recover her fresh complexion by burning
certain herbs and pronouncing a few magic words. A pitiless voice
cried, "You will grow old Thais; you will grow old." And a cold sweat
of terror bedewed her forehead. Then, on looking at herself again in
the mirror with infinite tenderness, she found that she was still
beautiful and worthy to be loved. She smiled to herself, and murmured,
"There is not a woman in Alexandria who can rival me in suppleness or
grace or movement, or in splendour of arms, and the arms, my mirror,
are the real chains of love!"
While she was thus thinking she saw an unknown man--thin, with burning
eyes and unkempt beard, and clad in a richly embroidered robe--
standing before her. She let fall her mirror, and uttered a cry of
Paphnutius stood motionless, and seeing how beautiful she was, he
murmured this prayer from the bottom of his heart--
"Grant, my God, that the face of this woman may not be a temptation,
but may prove salutary to Thy servant."
Then, forcing himself to speak, he said--
"Thais, I live in a far country, and the fame of thy beauty has led me
to thee. It is said that thou art the most clever of actresses and the
most irresistible of women. That which is related of thy riches and
thy love affairs seems fabulous, and calls to mind the old story of
Rhodope, whose marvellous history is known by heart to all the boatmen
on the Nile. Therefore I was seized with a desire to know thee, and I
see that the truth surpasses the rumour. Thou art a thousand times
more clever and more beautiful than is reported. And now that I see
thee, I say to myself, 'It is impossible to approach her without
staggering like a drunken man.' "
The words were feigned; but the monk, animated by pious zeal, uttered
them with real warmth. Thais gazed, without displeasure, at this
strange being who had frightened her. The rough, wild aspect, and the
fiery glances of his eyes, astonished her. She was curious to learn
the state of life of a man so different from all others she had met.
She replied, with gentle raillery--
"You seem prompt to admire, stranger. Beware that my looks do not
consume you to the bones! Beware of loving me!"
"I love thee, O Thais! I love thee more than my life, and more than
myself. For thee I have quitted the desert; for thee my lips--vowed to
silence--have pronounced profane words; for thee I have seen what I
ought not to have seen, and heard what it was forbidden to me to hear;
for thee my soul is troubled, my heart is open, and the thoughts gush
out like the running springs at which the pigeons drink; for thee I
have walked day and night across sandy deserts teeming with reptiles
and vampires; for thee I have placed my bare foot on vipers and
scorpions! Yes, I love thee! I love thee, but not like those men who,
burning with the lusts of the flesh, come to thee like devouring
wolves or furious bulls. Thou art dear to them as is the gazelle to
the lion. Their ravening lusts will consume thee to the soul, O woman!
I love thee in spirit and in truth; I love thee in God, and for ever
and ever; that which is in my breast is named true zeal and divine
charity. I promise thee better things than drunkenness crowned with
flowers or the dreams of a brief night. I promise thee holy feasts and
celestial suppers. The happiness that I bring thee will never end; it
is unheard-of, it is ineffable, and such that if the happy of this
world could only see a shadow of it they would die of wonder."
Thais laughed mischievously.
"Friend," she said, "show me this wonderful love. Make haste! Long
speeches would be an insult to my beauty; let us not lose a moment. I
am impatient to taste the felicity you announce; but, to say the
truth, I fear that I shall always remain ignorant of it, and that all
you have promised me will vanish in words. It is easier to promise a
great happiness than to give it. Everyone has a talent of some sort. I
fancy that yours is to make long speeches. You speak of an unknown
love. It is so long since kisses were first exchanged that it would be
very extraordinary if there still remained secrets in love. On this
subject lovers know more than philosophers."
"Do not jest, Thais. I bring thee the unknown love."
"Friend, you come too late. I know every kind of love."
"The love that I bring thee abounds with glory, whilst the loves that
thou knowest breed only shame."
Thais looked at him with an angry eye, a frown gathered on her
"You are very bold, stranger, to offend your hostess. Look at me, and
say if I resemble a creature crushed down with shame. No, I am not
ashamed, and all others who live like me are not ashamed either,
although they are not so beautiful or so rich as I am. I have sown
pleasure in my footsteps, and I am celebrated for that all over the
world. I am more powerful than the masters of the world. I have seen
them at my feet. Look at me, look at these little feet; thousands of
men would pay with their blood for the happiness of kissing them. I am
not very big, and I do not occupy much space on the earth. To those
who look at me from the top of the Serapeium, when I pass in the
street, I look like a grain of rice; but that grain of rice has caused
among men, griefs, despairs, hates, and crimes enough to have filled
Tartarus. Are you not mad to talk to me of shame when all around
proclaims my glory?"
"That which is glory in the eyes of men, is infamy before God. O
woman, we have been nourished in countries so different, that it is
not surprising we have neither the same language nor the same
thoughts! Yet Heaven is my witness that I wish to agree with thee, and
that it is my intention not to leave thee until we share the same
sentiments. Who will inspire me with burning words that will melt thee
like wax in my breath, O woman, that the fingers of my desires may
mould thee as they wish? What virtue will deliver thee to me, O
dearest of souls, that the spirit which animates me, creating thee a
second time, may imprint on thee a fresh beauty, and that thou mayest
cry, weeping for joy, 'It is only now that I am born'? Who will cause
to gush in my heart a fount of Siloam, in which thou mayest bathe and
recover thy first purity? Who will change me into a Jordan, the waves
of which sprinkled on thee, will give thee life eternal?"
Thais was no longer angry.
"This man," she thought, "talks of life eternal and all that he says
seems written on a talisman. No doubt he is a mage, and knows secret
charms against old age and death," and she resolved to offer herself
to him. Therefore, pretending to be afraid of him, she retired a few
steps to the end of the grotto, and sitting down on the edge of the
bed, artfully pulled her tunic across her breast; then, motionless and
mute and her eyes cast down, she waited. Her long eyelashes made a
soft shadow on her cheeks. Her entire attitude expressed modesty; her
naked feet swung gently, and she looked like a child sitting thinking
on the bank of a brook. But Paphnutius looked at her, and did not
move. His trembling knees hardly supported him, his tongue dried in
his mouth, a terrible buzzing rang in his ears. But all at once his
sight failed, and he could see nothing before him but a thick cloud.
He thought that the hand of Jesus had been laid on his eyes, to hide
this woman from them. Reassured by such succour, strengthened and
fortified, he said with a gravity worthy of an old hermit of the
"If thou givest thyself to me, thinkest thou it is hidden from God?"
She shook her head.
"God? Who forces Him to keep His eye always upon the Grotto of Nymphs?
Let Him go away if we offend Him! But why should we offend Him? Since
He has created us, He can be neither angry nor surprised to see us as
He made us, and acting according to the nature He has given us. A good
deal too much is said on His behalf, and He is often credited with
ideas He never had. You yourself, stranger, do you know His true
character? Who are you that you should speak to me in His name?"
At this question the monk, opening his borrowed robe, showed the
cassock, and said--
"I am Paphnutius, Abbot of Antinoe, and I come from the holy desert.
The hand that drew Abraham from Chaldaea and Lot from Sodom has
separated me from the present age. I no longer existed for the men of
this century. But thy image appeared to me in my sandy Jerusalem, and
I knew that thou wert full of corruption, and death was in thee. And
now I am before thee, woman, as before a grave, and I cry unto thee,
'Thais, arise!' "
At the words, Paphnutius, monk, and abbot, she had turned pale with
fright. And now, with dishevelled hair and joined hands, weeping and
groaning, she dragged herself to the feet of the saint.
"Do not hurt me! Why have you come? What do you want of me? Do not
hurt me! I know that the saints of the desert hate women who, like me,
are made to please. I am afraid that you hate me, and want to hurt me.
Go! I do not doubt your power. But know, Paphnutius, that you should
neither despise me nor hate me. I have never, like many of the men I
know, laughed at your voluntary poverty. In your turn, do not make a
crime of my riches. I am beautiful, and clever in acting. I no more
chose my condition than my nature. I was made for that which I do. I
was born to charm men. And you yourself, did you not say just now that
you loved me? Do not use your science against me. Do not pronounce
magic words which would destroy my beauty, or change me into a statue
of salt. Do not terrify me! I am already too frightened. Do not kill
me! I am so afraid of death."
He made a sign to her to rise, and said--
"Child, have no fear. I will utter no word of shame or scorn. I come
on behalf of Him who sat on the edge of the well, and drank of the
pitcher which the woman of Samaria offered to Him; and who, also, when
He supped at the house of Simon, received the perfumes of Mary. I am
not without sin that I should throw the first stone. I have often
badly employed the abundant grace which God has bestowed upon me. It
was not anger, but pity, which took me by the hand to conduct me here.
I can, without deceit, address thee in words of love, for it is the
zeal in my heart which has brought me to thee. I burn with the fire of
charity, and if thy eyes, accustomed only to the gross sights of the
flesh, could see things in their mystic aspect, I should appear unto
thee as a branch broken off the burning bush which the Lord showed on
the mountain to Moses of old, that he might understand true love--that
which envelops us, and which, so far from leaving behind it mere coals
and ashes, purifies and perfumes for ever that which it penetrates."
"I believe you, monk, and no longer fear either deceit or ill-will
from you. I have often heard talk of the hermits of the Thebaid.
Marvellous things have been told concerning Anthony and Paul. Your
name is not unknown to me, and I have heard say that, though you are
still young, you equal in virtue the oldest anchorites. As soon as I
saw you, and without knowing who you were, I felt that you were no
ordinary man. Tell me! can you do for me that which neither the
priests of Isis, nor of Hermes, nor of the celestial Juno, nor the
Chaldean soothsayers, nor the Babylonian magi have been able to
effect? Monk, if you love me, can you prevent me from dying?"
"Woman, whosoever wishes to live shall live. Flee from the abominable
delights in which thou diest for ever. Snatch from the devils, who
will burn it most horribly, that body which God kneaded with His
spittle and animated with his own breath. Thou art consumed with
weariness; come, and refresh thyself at the blessed springs of
solitude; come and drink of those fountains which are hidden in the
desert, and which gush forth to heaven. Careworn soul, come, and
possess that which thou desirest! Heart greedy for joy, come and taste
true joys--poverty, retirement, self-forgetfulness, seclusion in the
bosom of God. Enemy of Christ now, and to-morrow His well-beloved,
come to Him! Come, thou whom I have sought, and thou wilt say, 'I have
found love!' "
Thais seemed lost in meditation on things afar.
"Monk," she asked, "if I adjure all pleasures and do penance, is it
true that I shall be born again in heaven, my body intact in all its
"Thais, I bring thee eternal life. Believe me, for that which I
announce to thee is the truth."
"Who will assure me that it is the truth?"
"David and the prophets, the Scriptures, and the wonders that thou
"Monk, I should like to believe you, for I must confess that I have
not found happiness in this world. My lot in life is better than that
of a queen, and yet I have many bitternesses and misfortunes, and I am
infinitely weary of my existence. All women envy me, and yet sometimes
I have envied the lot of a toothless old woman who, when I was a
child, sold honey-cakes under one of the city gates. Often has the
idea flashed across my mind that only the poor are good, happy, and
blessed, and that there must be great gladness in living humble and
obscure. Monk, you have agitated a storm in my soul, and brought to
the surface that which lay at the bottom. Who am I to believe, alas!
and what is to become of me--and what is life?"
Whilst she thus spoke, Paphnutius was transfigured; celestial joy
beamed in his face.
"Listen!" he said. "I was not alone when I entered this house. Another
accompanied me, another who stands by my side. Him thou canst not see,
because thy eyes are yet unworthy to behold Him; but soon thou shalt
see Him in all His glorious splendour, and thou wilt say, 'He alone is
to be adored.' But now, if He had not placed His gentle hands before
my eyes, O Thais, I should perhaps have fallen into sin with thee, for
of myself I am but weak and sinful. But He saved us both. He is as
good as He is powerful, and His name is the Saviour. He was promised
to the world, by David and the prophets, worshipped in His cradle by
the shepherds and the magi, crucified by the Pharisees, buried by the
holy women, revealed to the world by the apostles, testified to by the
martyrs. And now, having learned that thou fearest death, O woman, He
has come to thy house to prevent thee from dying. Art Thou not here
present with me, Jesus, at this moment, as Thou didst appear to the
men of Galilee, in those wonderful days when the stars, which came
down with thee from heaven, were so near the earth that the holy
innocents could take them in their hands, when they played in their
mothers' arms on the terraces of Bethlehem? Is it not true, Jesus,
that Thou art here present, and that Thou showest me in reality Thy
precious body? Is not Thy face here, and that tear which flows down
Thy cheek a real tear? Yes, the angel of eternal justice shall receive
it, and it shall be the ransom of the soul of Thais. Art Thou not
here, Jesus? Jesus, Thy loving lips open. Thou canst speak; speak, I
hear Thee! And thee, Thais, happy Thais! listen to what the Saviour
Himself says to thee; it is He who speaks, not I. He says, 'I have
sought thee long, O My lost sheep! I have found thee at last! Fly from
Me no more. Let Me take thee by the hands, poor little one, and I will
bear thee on My shoulders to the heavenly fold. Come, My Thais! come,
My chosen one! come, and weep with Me!' "
And Paphnutius fell on his knees, his eyes filled with ecstasy. And
then Thais saw in his face the likeness of the living Christ.
"O vanished days of my childhood!" she sobbed. "O sweet father Ahmes!
good Saint Theodore, why did I not die in thy white mantle whilst thou
didst bear me, in the first dawn of day, yet fresh from the waters of
Paphnutius advanced towards her, crying--
"Thou art baptised! O divine wisdom! O Providence! O great God! I know
now the power which drew me to thee. I know what rendered thee so dear
and so beautiful in my eyes. It was the virtue of the baptismal water,
which made me leave the shadow of God, where I lived, to seek thee in
the poisoned air where men dwell. A drop--a drop, no doubt, of the
water which washed thy body--has been sprinkled in my face. Come, O my
sister, and receive from thy brother the kiss of peace."
And the monk touched with his lips the forehead of the courtesan.
Then he was silent, letting God speak, and nothing was heard in the
Grotto of Nymphs but the sobs of Thais, mingled with the rippling of
the running water.
She wept without trying to stop her tears, when two black slaves
appeared, loaded with stuffs, perfumes, and garlands.
"It was hardly the right time to weep," she said, trying to smile.
"Tears redden the eyes and spoil the complexion, and I must sup
tonight with some friends, and want to be beautiful, for there will be
women there quick to spy out marks of care on my face. These slaves
come to dress me. Withdraw, my father, and allow them to do their
work. They are clever and experienced, and I pay them well for their
services. You see that one who wears thick rings of gold, and shows
such white teeth. I took her from the wife of the pro-consul."
Paphnutius had at first a thought of dissuading Thais, as earnestly as
he could, from going to this supper. But he determined to act
prudently, and asked what persons she would meet there.
She replied that there would be the host, old Cotta, the Prefect of
the Fleet, Nicias, and several other philosophers who loved an
argument, the poet Callicrates, the high priest of Serapis, some young
men whose chief amusement was training horses, and lastly some women,
of whom there was little to be said except that they were young. Then,
by a supernatural inspiration--
"Go amongst them, Thais," said the monk. "Go! But I will not leave
thee. I will go with thee to this banquet, and will remain by thy side
without saying a word."
She burst out laughing. And whilst her two black slaves were busy
dressing her, she cried--
"What will they say when they see that I have a monk of the Thebaid
for my lover?"
When, followed by Paphnutius, Thais entered the banqueting-room, the
guests were already, for the most part, assembled, and reclining on
their couches before the horseshoe table, which was covered with
glittering vessels. In the centre of the table stood a silver basin,
surmounted by four figures of satyrs, who poured out from wine-skins
on the boiled fish a kind of pickle in which they floated. When Thais
appeared, acclamations arose from all sides.
Greetings to the sister of the Graces!
To the silent Melpomene, who can express all things with her looks!
Salutation to the well-beloved of gods and men!
To the much desired!
To her who gives suffering and its cure!
To the pearl of Racotis!
To the rose of Alexandria!
She waited impatiently till this torrent of praise had passed, and
then said to Cotta, the host--
"Lucius, I have brought you a monk of the desert, Paphnutius, the
Abbot of Antinoe. He is a great saint, whose words burn like fire."
Lucius Aurelius Cotta, the Prefect of the Fleet, rose, and replied--
"You are welcome, Paphnutius, you who profess the Christian faith. I
myself have some respect of a religion that has now become imperial.
The divine Constantine has placed your co-religionists in the front
rank of the friends of the empire. Latin wisdom ought, in fact, to
admit your Christ into our pantheon. It was a maxim of our forefathers
that there was something divine in every god. But no more of that. Let
us drink and enjoy ourselves while there is yet time."
Old Cotta spoke tranquilly. He had just studied a new model for a
galley, and had finished the sixth book of his history of the
Carthaginians. He felt sure he had not lost his day, and was satisfied
with himself and the gods.
"Paphnutius," he added, "you see here several men who are worthy to be
loved--Hermodorus, the High Priest of Serapis; the philosophers
Dorion, Nicias, and Zenothemis; the poet Callicrates; young Chereas
and young Aristobulus, both sons of dear old comrades; and near them
Philina and Drosea, who deserve to be praised for their beauty."
Nicias embraced Paphnutius, and whispered in his ear--
"I warned you, brother, that Venus was powerful. It is her gentle
force that has brought you here in spite of yourself. Listen: you are
a man full of piety, but if you do not confess that she is the mother
of the gods, your ruin is certain. Do you know that the old
mathematician, Melanthes, used to say, 'I cannot demonstrate the
properties of a triangle without the aid of Venus'?"
Dorion, who had for some seconds been looking at the new-comer,
suddenly clapped his hands and uttered a cry of surprise.
"It is he, friends! His look, his beard, his tunic--it is he himself!
I met him at the theatre whilst our Thais was acting. He was furiously
excited, and spoke with violence, as I can testify. He is an honest
man, but he will abuse us all; his eloquence is terrible. If Marcus is
the Plato of the Christians, Paphnutius is the Demosthenes. Epicurus,
in his little garden, never heard the like."
Philina and Drosea, however, devoured Thais with their eyes. She wore
on her fair hair a wreath of pale violets, each flower of which
recalled, in a paler hue, the colour of her eyes, so that the flowers
looked like softened glances, and the eyes like sparkling flowers. It
was the peculiar gift of this woman; on her everything lived, and was
soul and harmony. Her robe, which was of mauve spangled with silver,
trailed in long folds with a grace that was almost melancholy and was
not relieved by either bracelets or necklaces. The chief charm of her
appearance was her beautiful bare arms. The two friends were obliged
to admire, in spite of themselves the robe and head-dress of Thais,
though they said nothing to her on the subject.
"How beautiful you are!" said Philina. "You could not have been more
so when you came to Alexandria. Yet my mother, who remembers seeing
you then, says there were few women who were worthy to be compared
"Who is the new lover you have brought?" asked Drosea. "He has a
strange, wild appearance. If there are shepherds of elephants,
assuredly he must resemble one. Where did you find such a wild-looking
friend, Thais? Was it amongst the troglodytes who live under the
earth, and are grimy with the smoke of Hades?"
But Philina put her finger on Drosea's lips.
"Hush! the mysteries of love must remain secret, and it is forbidden
to know them. For my own part, certainly, I would rather be kissed by
the mouth of smoking Etna than by the lips of that man. But our dear
Thais, who is beautiful and adorable as the goddesses, should, like
the goddesses, grant all requests, and not, like us, only those of
nice young men."
"Take care, both of you!" replied Thais. "He is a mage and an
enchanter. He hears words that are whispered, and even thoughts. He
will tear out your heart while you are asleep, and put a sponge in its
place, and the next day, when you drink water, you will be choked to
She watched them grow pale, then she turned away from them, and sat on
a couch by the side of Paphnutius. The voice of Cotta, kind but
imperious, was suddenly heard above the murmur of conversation.
"Friends, let each take his place! Slaves, pour out the honeyed wine!"
Then, the host raising his cup--
"Let us first drink to the divine Constantine and the genius of the
empire. The country should be put first of all, even above the gods,
for it contains them all."
All the guests raised their full cups to their lips. Paphnutius alone
did not drink, because Constantine had persecuted the Nicaean faith,
and because the country of the Christian is not of this world.
Dorion, having drunk, murmured--
"What is one's country? A flowing river. The shores change, and the
waves are incessantly renewed."
"I know, Dorion," replied the Prefect of the Fleet, "that you care
little for the civic virtues, and you think that the sage ought to
hold himself aloof from all affairs. I think, on the contrary, that an
honest man should desire nothing better than to fill a responsible
post in the State. The State is a noble thing."
Hermodorus, the High Priest of Serapis, spoke next--
"Dorion has asked, 'What is one's country?' I will reply that the
altars of the gods and the tombs of ancestors make one's country. A
man is a fellow-citizen by association of memories and hopes."
Young Aristobulus interrupted Hermodorus.
"By Castor! I saw a splendid horse to-day. It belonged to Demophoon.
It has a fine head, small jaw, and strong forelegs. It carries its
neck high and proud, like a cock."
But young Chereas shook his head.
"It is not such a good horse as you say, Aristobulus. Its hoofs are
thin, and the pasterns are too low; the animal will soon go lame."
They were continuing their dispute, when Drosea uttered a piercing
"Oh! I nearly swallowed a fish-bone, as long and much sharper than a
style. Luckily, I was able to get it out of my throat in time! The
gods love me!"
"Did you say, Drosea, that the gods loved you?" asked Nicias, smiling.
"Then they must share the same infirmities as men. Love presupposes
unhappiness on the part of whoever suffers from it, and is a proof of
weakness. The affection they feel for Drosea is a great proof of the
imperfection of the gods."
At these words Drosea flew into a great rage.
"Nicias, your remarks are foolish and not to the point. But that is
your character--you never understand what is said, and reply in words
devoid of sense."
Nicias smiled again.
"Talk away, talk away, Drosea. Whatever you say, we are glad every
time you open your mouth. Your teeth are so pretty!"
At that moment, a grave-looking old man, negligently dressed, walking
slowly, with his head high, entered the room, and gazed at the guests
quietly. Cotta made a sign to him to take a place by his side, on the
"Eucrites," he said, "you are welcome. Have you composed a new
treatise on philosophy this month? That would make, if I calculate
correctly, the ninety-second that has proceeded from the Nile reed you
direct with an Attic hand."
Eucrites replied, stroking his silver beard--
"The nightingale was created to sing, and I was created to praise the
DORION. Let us respectfully salute, in Eucrites, the last of the
stoics. Grave and white, he stands in the midst of us like the image
of an ancestor. He is solitary amidst a crowd of men, and the words he
utters are not heard.
EUCRITES. You deceive yourself, Dorion. The philosophy of virtue is
not dead. I have numerous disciples in Alexandria, Rome, and
Constantinople. Many of the slaves, and some of the nephews of Caesar,
now know how to govern themselves, to live independently, and being
unconcerned with all affairs, they enjoy boundless happiness. Many of
them have revived, in their own person, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.
But if it were true that virtue were for ever extinguished upon the
earth, in what way would the loss of it affect my happiness, since it
did not depend on me whether it existed or perished? Only fools,
Dorion, place their happiness out of their own power. I desire nothing
that the gods do not wish, and I desire all that they do wish. By that
means I render myself like unto them, and share their infallible
content. If virtue perishes, I consent that it should perish, and that
consent fills me with joy, as the supreme effort of my reason or my
courage. In all things my wisdom will copy the divine wisdom, and the
copy will be more valuable than the model; it will have cost greater
care and more work.
NICIAS. I understand. You put yourself on the same level as divine
providence. But if virtue consists only in effort, Eucrites, and in
that intense application by which the disciples of Zeno pretend to
render themselves equal to the gods, the frog, which swelled itself
out to try and become as big as the ox, accomplished a masterpiece of
EUCRITES. You jest, Nicias, and, as usual, you excel in ridicule. But
if the ox of which you speak is really a god, like Apis, or like that
subterranean ox whose high priest I see here, and if the frog, being
wisely inspired, succeed in equalling it, would it not be, in fact,
more virtuous than the ox, and could you refrain from admiring such a
courageous little animal!
Four servants placed on the table a wild pig, still covered with its
bristles. Little pigs, made of pastry, surrounded the animal, as
though they would suckle, to show that it was a sow.
Zenothemis, turning towards the monk, said--
"Friends, a guest has come hither to join us. The illustrious
Paphnutius, who leads such an extraordinary life of solitude, is our
COTTA. You may even add, Zenothemis, that the place of honour is due
to him, because he came without being invited.
ZENOTHEMIS. Therefore, we ought, my dear Lucius, to make him the more
welcome, and strive to do that which would be most agreeable to him.
Now it is certain that such a man cares less for the perfumes of meat
than for the perfumes of fine thoughts. We shall, doubtless, please
him by discussing the doctrine he professes, which is that of Jesus
crucified. For my own part, I shall the more willingly discuss this
doctrine, because it keenly interests me, on account of the number and
the diversity of the allegories it contains. If one may guess at the
spirit by the letter, it is filled with truths, and I consider that
the Christian books abound in divine revelations. But I should not,
Paphnutius, grant equal merit to the Jewish books. They were inspired
not, as it was said, by the Spirit of God, but by an evil genius.
Iaveh, who dictated them, was one of those spirits who people the
lower air, and cause the greater part of the evils, from which we
suffer; but he surpassed all the others in ignorance and ferocity. On
the contrary, the serpent with golden wings, which twined its azure
coils round the tree of knowledge, was made up of light and love. A
combat between these two powers--the one of light and the other of
darkness--was, therefore, inevitable. It occurred soon after the
creation of the world. God had hardly begun to rest after His labors;
Adam and Eve, the first man and the first woman, lived happy and naked
in the Garden of Eden, when Iaveh conceived--to their misfortune--the
design of governing them and all the generations which Eve already
bore in her splendid loins. As he possessed neither the compass nor
the lyre, and was equally ignorant of the science which commands and
the art which persuades, he frightened these two poor children by
hideous apparitions, capricious threats, and thunder-bolts. Adam and
Eve, feeling his shadow upon them, pressed closer to one another, and
their love waxed stronger in fear. The serpent took pity on them, and
determined to instruct them, in order that, possessing knowledge, they
might no longer be misled by lies. Such an undertaking required
extreme prudence, and the frailty of the first human couple rendered
it almost hopeless. The well-intentioned demon essayed it, however.
Without the knowledge of Iaveh--who pretended to see everything, but,
in reality, was not very sharp-sighted--he approached these two
beings, and charmed their eyes by the splendour of his coat and the
brilliancy of his wings. Then he interested their minds by forming
before them, with his body, definite figures, such as the circle, the
ellipse, and the spiral, the wonderful properties of which have since
been recognised by the Greeks. Adam meditated on these figures more
than Eve did. But when the serpent began to speak, and taught the most
sublime truths--those which cannot be demonstrated--he found that Adam
being made of red earth, was of too dull a nature to understand these
subtle distinctions, but that Eve, on the contrary, being more tender
and more sensitive, was easily impressed. Therefore he conversed with
her alone, in the absence of her husband, in order to initiate her
DORION. Permit me, Zenothemis, to interrupt you. I speedily recognised
in the myth you have explained to us an episode in the war of Pallas
Athene against the giants. Iaveh much resembles Typhoon, and Pallas is
represented by the Athenians with a serpent at her side. But what you
have said causes me considerable doubt as to the intelligence or good
faith of the serpent of whom you have spoken. If he had really
possessed knowledge, would he have entrusted it to a woman's little
head, which was incapable of containing it? I should rather consider
that he was like Iaveh, ignorant and a liar, and that he chose Eve
because she was easily seduced, and he imagined that Adam would have
more intelligence and perception.
ZENOTHEMIS. Learn, Dorion, that it is not by perception and
intelligence, but by sensibility, that the highest and purest truths
are reached. That is why women, who, generally, are less reflective
but more sensitive than men, rise more easily to the knowledge of
things divine. In them is the gift of prophecy, and it is not without
reason that Apollo Citharedes, and Jesus of Nazareth, are sometimes
represented clad, like women, in flowing robes. The initiator was
therefore wise--whatever you may say to the contrary, Dorion--in
bestowing light, not on the duller Adam, but on Eve, who was whiter
than milk or the stars. She freely listened to him, and allowed
herself to be led to the tree of knowledge, the branches of which rose
to heaven, and which was bathed with the divine spirit as with a dew.
This tree was covered with leaves which spoke all the languages of
future races of men, and their united voices formed a perfect harmony.
Its abundant fruit gave to the initiated who tasted it the knowledge
of metals, stones, and plants, and also of physical and moral laws;
but this fruit was like fire, and those who feared suffering and death
did not dare to put it to their lips. Now, as she had listened
attentively to the lessons of the serpent, Eve despised these empty
terrors, and wished to taste the fruit which gave the knowledge of
God. But, as she loved Adam, and did not wish him to be inferior to
her, she took him by the hand and led him to the wonderful tree. Then
she picked one of the burning apples, bit it, and proffered it to her
companion. Unfortunately, Iaveh, who was by chance walking in the
garden, surprised them, and seeing that they had become wise, he fell
into a most ungovernable rage. It is in his jealous fits that he is
most to be feared. Assembling all his forces, he created such a
turmoil in the lower air that these two weak beings were terrified.
The fruit fell from the man's hand, and the woman, clinging to the
neck of her luckless husband, said, "I too will be ignorant and suffer
with him." The triumphant Iaveh kept Adam and Eve and all their seed
in a condition of hebetude and terror. His art, which consisted only
in being able to make huge meteors, triumphed over the science of the
serpent, who was a musician and geometrician. He made men unjust,
ignorant, and cruel, and caused evil to reign in the earth. He
persecuted Cain and his sons because they were skilful workmen; he
exterminated the Philistines because they composed Orphic poems, and
fables like those of AEsop. He was the implacable enemy of science and
beauty, and for long ages the human race expiated, in blood and tears,
the defeat of the winged serpent. Fortunately, there arose among the
Greeks learned men, such as Pythagoras, and Plato, who recovered by
the force of genius, the figures and the ideas which the enemy of
Iaveh had vainly tried to teach the first woman. The soul of the
serpent was in them; and that is why the serpent, as Dorion has said,
is honoured by the Athenians. Finally, in these latter days, there
appeared, under human form, three celestial spirits--Jesus of Galilee,
Basilides, and Valentinus--to whom it was given to pluck the finest
fruits of that tree of knowledge, whose roots pass through all the
earth, and whose top reaches to the highest heaven. I have said all
this in vindication of the Christians, to whom the errors of the Jews
are too often imputed.
DORION. If I understood you aright, Zenothemis, you said that three
wonderful men--Jesus, Basilides, and Valentinus--had discovered
secrets which had remained hidden from Pythagoras and Plato, and all
the philosophers of Greece, and even from the divine Epicurus, who,
however, has freed men from the dread of empty terrors. You would
greatly oblige me by telling me by what means these three mortals
acquired knowledge which had eluded the most contemplative sages.
ZENOTHEMIS. Must I repeat to you, Dorion, that science and cogitation
are but the first steps to knowledge, and that ecstasy alone leads to
HERMODORUS. It is true, Zenothemis, that the soul is nourished on
ecstasy, as the cicada is nourished on dew. But we may even say more:
the mind alone is capable of perfect rapture. For man is of a
threefold nature, composed of material body, of a soul which is more
subtle, but also material, and of an incorruptible mind. When,
emerging from the body as from a palace suddenly given over to silence
and solitude and flying through the gardens of the soul, the mind
diffuses itself in God, it tastes the delights of an anticipated
death, or rather of a future life, for to die is to live; and in that
condition, partaking of divine purity, it possesses both infinite joy
and complete knowledge. It enters into the unity which is All. It is
NICIAS. That is very fine; but, to say the truth, Hermodorus, I do not
see much difference between All and Nothing. Words even seem to fail
to make the distinction. Infinity is terribly like nothingness--they
are both inconceivable to the mind. In my opinion perfection costs too
dear; we pay for it with all our being, and to possess it must cease
to exist. That is a calamity from which God Himself is not free, for
the philosophers are doing their best to perfect Him. After all, if we
do not know what it is /not/ to be, we are equally ignorant what it is
to /be/. We know nothing. It is said that it is impossible for men to
agree on this question. I believe--in spite of our noisy disputes--
that it is, on the contrary, impossible for men not to become some day
all at unity buried under the mass of contradictions, a Pelion on
Ossa, which they themselves have raised.
COTTA. I am very fond of philosophy, and study it in my leisure time.
But I never understand it well, except in Cicero's books. Slaves, pour
out the honeyed wine!
CALLICRATES. It is a singular thing, but when I am hungry I think of
the time when the tragic poets sat at the boards of good tyrants, and
my mouth waters. But when I have tasted the excellent wine that you
give us so abundantly, generous Lucius, I dream of nothing but civil
wars and heroic combats. I blush to live in such inglorious times; I
invoke the goddess of Liberty; and I pour out my blood--in imagination
--with the last Romans on the field of Philippi.
COTTA. In the days of the decline of the Republic my ancestors died
with Brutus--for liberty. But there is reason to suspect that what the
Roman people called liberty was only in reality the right to govern
themselves. I do not deny that liberty is the greatest boon a nation
can have. But the longer I live the more I am persuaded that only a
strong government can bestow it on the citizens. For forty years I
have filled high positions in the State, and my long experience has
shown me that when the ruling power is weak the people are oppressed.
Those, therefore, who--like the great majority of rhetoricians--try to
weaken the government, commit an abominable crime. An autocrat, who
governs by his single will, may sometimes cause most deplorable
results; but if he governs by popular consent there is no remedy
possible. Before the majesty of the Roman arms had bestowed peace upon
all the world, the only nations which were happy were those which were
ruled over by intelligent despots.
HERMODORUS. For my part, Lucius, I believe that there is no such thing
as a good form of government, and that we shall never discover one,
because the Greeks, who had so many excellent ideas, were never able
to find one. In that respect, therefore, all hope of ultimate success
is taken from us. Unmistakable signs show that the world is about to
fall into ignorance and barbarism. It has been our lot, Lucius, to
witness terrible events. Of all the mental satisfactions which
intelligence, learning, and virtue can give, all that remains is the
cruel pleasure of watching ourselves die.
COTTA. It is true that the rapacity of the people, and the boldness of
the barbarians, are threatening evils. But with a good fleet, a good
army, and plenty of money----
HERMODORUS. What is the use of deceiving ourselves? The dying empire
will become an easy prey to the barbarians. Cities which were built by
Hellenic genius, or Latin patience, will soon be sacked by drunken
savages. Neither art nor philosophy will exist any longer on the
earth. The statues of the gods will be overturned in the temples, and
in men's hearts as well. Darkness will overcome all minds, and the
world will die. Can we believe that the Sarmatians will ever devote
themselves to intelligent work, that the Germani will cultivate music
and philosophy, and that the Quadi and the Marcomani will adore the
immortal gods? No! we are sliding toward the abyss. Our old Egypt,
which was the cradle of the world, will be its burial vault; Serapis,
the god of Death, will receive the last adoration of mortals, and I
shall have been the last priest of the last god.
At this moment a strange figure raised the tapestry, and the guests
saw before them a little hunchback, whose bald skull rose in a point.
He was clad, in the Asiatic fashion, in a blue tunic, and wore round
his legs, like the barbarians, red breeches, spangled with gold stars.
On seeing him, Paphnutius recognised Marcus the Arian, and fearing
lest a thunderbolt should fall from heaven, he covered his head with
his arms, and grew pale with fright. At this banquet of the demons,
neither the blasphemies of the pagans, nor the horrible errors of the
philosophers, had had any effect on him, but the mere presence of the
heretic quenched his courage. He would have fled, but his eyes met
those of Thais, and he felt at once strengthened. He read in her soul
that she, who was predestined to become a saint, already protected
him. He seized the skirt of her long, flowing robe, and inwardly
prayed to the Saviour Jesus.
A murmur of acclamation welcomed the arrival of the personage who had
been called the Christian Plato. Hermodorus was the first to speak.
"Most illustrious Marcus, we rejoice to see you amongst us, and it may
be said that you come at the right moment. We know nothing of the
Christian doctrine, beyond what is publicly taught. Now, it is certain
that a philosopher, like you, cannot think as the vulgar think, and we
are curious to know your opinion of the principal mysteries of the
religion you profess. Our dear friend, Zenothemis, who, as you know,
is always hunting for symbolic meanings, just now questioned the
illustrious Paphnutius concerning the Jewish books. But Paphnutius
made no reply, and we should not be surprised at that, as our guest
has made a vow of silence, and God has sealed his tongue in the
desert. But you Marcus, who have spoken at the Christian synods, and
even at the councils of the divine Constantine, can if you wish,
satisfy our curiosity by revealing to us the philosophic truths which
are wrapped up in the Christian fables. Is not the first of these
truths the existence of an only God--in whom, for my part, I fervently
MARCUS. Yes, venerable brethren, I believe in an only God, not
begotten--the only Eternal, the origin of all things.
NICIAS. We know, Marcus, that your God created the world. That must
certainly have been a great crisis in His existence. He had already
existed an eternity before He could make up His mind to it. But I
must, in justice, confess that His situation was a most difficult one.
He must continue inactive if He would remain perfect, and must act if
He would prove to Himself His own existence. You assure me that He
decided to act. I am willing to believe you, although it was an
unpardonable imprudence on the part of a perfect God. But tell us,
Marcus, how He set about making the world.
MARCUS. Those who, without being Christians, possess, like Hermodorus
and Zenothemis, the principles of knowledge, are aware that God did
not create the world personally without an intermediary. He gave birth
to an only Son, by whom all things were made.
HERMODORUS. That is quite true, Marcus; and this Son is worshipped
under the various names of Hermes, Mithra, Adonis, Apollo, and Jesus.
MARCUS. I should not be a Christian if I gave Him any other names than
those of Jesus Christ, and Saviour. He is the true Son of God. But He
is not eternal, since He had a beginning; as to thinking that He
existed before He was begotten, we must leave that absurdity to the
Nicaean mules, and the obstinate ass who too long governed the Church
of Alexandria under the accursed name of Athanasius.
At these words Paphnutius, white with horror and his face bedewed with
the sweat of agony made the sign of the cross, but maintained a
"It is clear that the foolish Nicene Creed is a treason against the
majesty of the only God, by compelling Him to share His indivisible
attributes with His own emanation--the Mediator by whom all things
were made. Cease jesting at the true God of the Christians, Nicias,
and learn that, like the lilies of the field, He toils not, neither
does He spin. It was not He who was the worker, it was His only Son,
Jesus, who, having created the world, came afterwards to repair His
handiwork. For the creation could not be perfect, and evil was
necessarily mingled with good.
NICIAS. What is "good," and what is "evil"?
There was a moment's silence, during which Hermodorus, his arm
extended on the cloth, pointed to a little ass in Corinthian metal
which bore two baskets--the one containing white olives, the other
"You see these olives," he said. "The contrast between the colours is
pleasant to the eye, and we are content that these should be light and
those should be dark. But, if they were endowed with thought and
knowledge, the white would say, It is good for an olive to be white,
it is bad for it to be black; and the black olives would hate the
white olives. We judge better, for we are as much above them as the
gods are above us. For man, who only sees a part of things, evil is an
evil; for God, who understands all things, evil is a good. Doubtless
ugliness is ugly, and not beautiful; but if all were beautiful, the
whole would not be beautiful. It is, then, well that there should be
evil, as the second Plato, far greater than the first, has
EUCRITES. Let us talk more morally. Evil is an evil--not for the
world, of which it cannot destroy the indestructible harmony but for
the sinner who does it, and cannot help doing it.
COTTA. By Jupiter? that is a good argument.
EUCRITES. The world is a tragedy by an excellent poet. God, who
composed it, has intended each of us to play a part in it. If he wills
that you shall be a beggar, a prince, or a cripple, make the best of
the part assigned you.
NICIAS. Assuredly it would be well that the cripple should limp like
Hephaistos: it would be well that the madman should indulge in all the
fury of Ajax, that the incestuous woman should repeat the crimes of
Phaedra, that the traitor should betray, that the rascal should lie,
and the murderer kill, and when the piece was played, all the actor--
kings, just men, bloody tyrants, pious virgins, immodest wives, noble-
minded citizens, and cowardly assassins--should receive from the poet
an equal share in the felicitations.
EUCRITES. You distort my thought, Nicias, and change a beautiful young
girl into a hideous Gorgon. I am sorry for you, if you are so ignorant
of the nature of the gods, of justice, and of the eternal laws.
ZENOTHEMIS. For my part, friends, I believe in the reality of good and
evil. But I am convinced that there is not a single human action--were
it even the kiss of Judas--which does not bear within itself the germ
of redemption. Evil contributes to the ultimate salvation of men, and,
in that respect issues from Good, and shares the merits belonging to
Good. This has been admirably expressed by the Christians, in the myth
concerning the man with red hair, who, in order to betray his master,
gave him the kiss of peace, and by such act assured the salvation of
men. Therefore, nothing is, in my opinion, more unjust and absurd than
the hate with which certain disciples of Paul, the tentmaker, pursue
the most unfortunate of the apostles of Jesus without realising that
the kiss of Iscariot--prophesied by Jesus Himself--was necessary,
according to their own doctrine, for the redemption of men, and that
if Judas had not received the thirty pieces, the divine wisdom would
have been impugned, Providence frustrated, its designs upset, and the
world given over to evil, ignorance, and death.
MARCUS. Divine wisdom foresaw that Judas, though he was not obliged to
give the traitor's kiss, would give it, notwithstanding. It thus
employed the sin of Iscariot as a stone in the marvellous edifice of
ZENOTHEMIS. I spoke just now, Marcus, as though I believed that the
redemption of men had been accomplished by Jesus crucified, because I
know that such is the belief of the Christians, and I borrowed their
opinion that I might the better show the mistake of those who believe
in the eternal damnation of Judas. But, in reality, Jesus was, in my
eyes, but the precursor of Basilides and Valentinus. As to the mystery
of the redemption, I will tell you, my dear friends--if you are at all
curious to hear it--how it was really accomplished on earth.
The guests made a sign of assent. Like the Athenian virgins with the
baskets sacred to Ceres, twelve young girls, bearing on their heads
baskets filled with pomegranates and apples, entered the room with a
light step, in time to the music of an invisible flute. They placed
the baskets on the table, the flute ceased, and Zenothemis spoke as
"When Eunoia, 'the thought of God,' had created the world, she
confided the government of the earth to the angels. But they did not
preserve the dispassion befitting masters. Seeing that the daughters
of men were fair, they surprised them in the evening by the wellside,
and united themselves to them. From these unions sprang a turbulent
race, who covered the earth with injustice and cruelty, and the dust
of the roads drank up the blood of the innocent. The sight of this
caused Eunoia infinite grief.
" 'See what I have done!' she sighed, leaning towards the world. 'My
poor children are plunged in misery, and by my fault. Their suffering
is my crime, and I will expiate it. God Himself, who only thinks
through me, would be powerless to restore them to their pristine
purity. That which is done is done, and the creation will remain for
ever imperfect. But, at least, I will not forsake my creatures. If I
cannot make them happy, like me, I can make myself unhappy, like them.
Since I committed the mistake of giving them bodies which dishonour
them, I will myself assume a body like unto theirs, and will go and
live amongst them.'
"Having thus spoken, Eunoia descended to the earth, and was incarnate
in the breast of a woman of Argos. She was born small and feeble, and
received the name of Helen. She submitted to all the labours of this
life, but soon grew in grace and beauty, and became the most desired
of women, as she had determined, in order that her mortal body might
be tried by the most supreme defilements. An inert prey to lascivious
and violent men, she suffered rape and adultery, in expiation of all
the adulteries, all the violences, all the iniquities, and caused, by
her beauty, the ruin of nations, that God might pardon the sins of the
universe. And never was the celestial thought, never was Eunoia, so
adorable as in those days when, as a woman, she prostituted herself to
heroes and shepherds. The poets surmised her divinity when they
painted her so peaceful, superb, and fatal, and when they addressed
that invocation to her, 'A soul as serene as a calm upon the waters.'
"Thus was Eunoia led by pity into evil and suffering. She died, and
the Argives still show her tomb--for it was necessary that she should
know death after lust, and taste the bitter fruit she had sown. But,
emerging from the decomposed flesh of Helen, she became incarnate
again as a woman, and again suffered every form of insult and outrage.
Thus, passing from body to body, throughout all the evil ages, she
takes upon her the sins of the world. Her sacrifice will not be in
vain. Joined to us by the bonds of the flesh, loving us, and weeping
with us, she will effect her redemption and ours, and will carry us,
clinging to her white breast, into the peace of the regained
HERMODORUS. This myth was not unknown to me. I remembered having heard
that, in one of her metamorphoses, the divine Helen lived with the
magician, Simon, in the reign of the Emperor Tiberius. I thought,
however, that her perdition was involuntary, and that she was dragged
down by the angels in their fall.
ZENOTHEMIS. It is true, Hermodorus, that men who were not properly
initiated in the mysteries have imagined that the sad Eunoia was not a
party to her own downfall. But if it were as they assert Eunoia would
not be the expiating courtesan, the victim covered with stains of all
sorts, the bread steeped in the wine of our shame, the pleasant
offering, the meritorious sacrifice, the holocaust, the smoke of which
rises to God. If they were not voluntary, there would be no merit in
CALLICRATES. Does anyone know, Zenothemis in what country, under what
name, in what adorable form, this ever-renascent Helen is living now?
ZENOTHEMIS. A man would have to be very wise indeed to discover such a
secret. And wisdom, Callicrates, is not given to poets, who live in
the rude world of forms and amuse themselves, like children, with
sounds and empty shows.
CALLICRATES. Beware of offending the gods, impious Zenothemis; the
poets are dear to them. The first laws were dictated in verse by the
immortals themselves, and the oracles of the gods are poems. Hymns
have a pleasant sound to celestial ears. Who does not know that the
poets are prophets, and that nothing is hidden from them? Being a poet
myself, and crowned with Apollo's laurel, I will make known to all the
last incarnation of Eunoia. The eternal Helen is close to us; she is
looking at us, and we are looking at her. You see that woman reclining
on the cushions of her couch--so beautiful and so contemplative--whose
eyes shed tears, and whose lips abound with kisses! It is she! Lovely
as in the time of Priam and the halcyon days of Asia, Eunoia is now
PHILINA. What do you say, Callicrates? Our dear Thais knew Paris,
Menelaus, and the Achaians who fought before Ilion! Was the Trojan
horse big, Thais?
ARISTOBULUS. Who speaks of a horse?
"I have drunk like a Thracian!" cried Chereas and he rolled under the
Callicrates, raising his cup, cried--
"If we drink like desperate men, we die unavenged!"
Old Cotta was asleep, and his bald head nodded slowly above his broad
For some time past Dorion had seemed to be greatly excited under his
philosophic cloak. He reeled up to the couch of Thais.
"Thais, I love you, although it is unseemly in me to love a woman."
THAIS. Why did you not love me before?
DORION. Because I had not supped.
THAIS. But I, my poor friend, have drunk nothing but water; therefore
you must excuse me if I do not love you.
Dorion did not wait to hear more, but made towards Drosea, who had
made a sign to him in order to get him away from her friend.
Zenothemis took the place he had left, and gave Thais a kiss on the
THAIS. I thought you more virtuous.
ZENOTHEMIS. I am perfect, and the perfect are subject to no laws.
THAIS. But are you not afraid of sullying your soul in a woman's arms?
ZENOTHEMIS. The body may yield to lust without the soul being
THAIS. Go away! I wish to be loved with body and soul. All these
philosophers are old goats.
The lamps died out one by one. The pale rays of dawn, which entered
between the openings of the hangings, shone on the livid faces and
swollen eyes of the guests. Aristobulus was sleeping soundly by the
side of Chereas, and, in his dreams, devoting all his grooms to the
ravens. Zenothemis pressed in his arms the yielding Philina; Dorion
poured on the naked bosom of Drosea drops of wine, which rolled like
rubies on the white breast, which was shaking with laughter, and the
philosopher tried to catch these drops with his lips, as they rolled
on the slippery flesh. Eucrites rose, and placing his arm on the
shoulder of Nicias, led him to the end of the hall.
"Friend," he said, smiling, "if you can still think at all--of what
are you thinking?"
"I think that the love of women is like a garden of Adonis."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Do you not know, Eucrites, that women make little gardens on the
terraces, in which they plant boughs in clay pots in honour of the
lover of Venus? These boughs flourish a little time, and then fade."
"What does that signify, Nicias? That it is foolish to attach
importance to that which fades?"
"If beauty is but a shadow, desire is but a lightning flash. What
madness it is, then, to desire beauty! Is it not rational, on the
contrary, that that which passes should go with that which does not
endure, and that the lightning should devour the gliding shadow?"
"Nicias, you seem to me like a child playing at knuckle-bones. Take my
advice--be free! By liberty only can you become a man."
"How can a man be free, Eucrites, when he has a body?"
"You shall see presently, my son. Presently you will say, 'Eucrites
was free.' "
The old man spoke, leaning against a porphyry pillar, his face lighted
by the first rays of dawn. Hermodorus and Marcus had approached, and
stood before him by the side of Nicias; and all four, regardless of
the laughter and cries of the drinkers, conversed on things divine.
Eucrites expresses himself so wisely and eloquently, that Marcus
"You are worthy to know the true God."
"The true God is in the heart of the wise man."
Then they spoke of death.
"I wish," said Eucrites, "that it may find me occupied in correcting
my faults, and attentive to all my duties. In the face of death I will
raise my pure hands to heaven, and I will say to the gods, 'Your
images, gods, that you have placed in the temple of my soul, I have
not profaned; I have hung there my thoughts, as well as garlands,
fillets, and wreaths. I have lived according to your providence. I
have lived enough.' "
Thus speaking, he raised his arms to heaven, and he remained
thoughtful a moment. Then he continued, with extreme joy--
"Separate thyself from life, Eucrites, like the ripe olive which
falls; returning thanks to the tree which bore thee, and blessing the
earth, thy nurse."
At these words, drawing from the folds of his robe a naked dagger, he
plunged it into his breast.
Those who listened to him sprang forward to seize his hand, but the
steel point had already penetrated the heart of the sage. Eucrites had
already entered into his rest. Hermodorus and Nicias bore the pale and
bleeding body to one of the couches, amidst the shrill shrieks of the
women, the grunts of the guests disturbed in their sleep, and the
heavy breathing of the couples hidden in the shadow of the tapestry.
Cotta, an old soldier, who slept lightly, woke, approached the corpse,
examined the wound, and cried--
"Call Aristaeus, my physician!"
Nicias shook his head.
"Eucrites is no more," he said. "He wished to die as others wish to
love. He has, like all of us, obeyed his inexpressible desire. And,
lo, now he is like unto the gods, who desire nothing."
Cotta struck his forehead.
"Die! To want to die when he might still serve the State! What
Paphnutius and Thais remained motionless and mute, side by side, their
souls overflowing with disgust, horror, and hope.
Suddenly the monk seized the hand of the actress, and stepping over
the drunkards, who had fallen close to the lascivious couples, and
treading in the wine and blood spilt upon the floor, he led her out of
The sun had risen over the city. Long colonnades stretched on both
sides of the deserted street, and at the end shone the dome of
Alexander's tomb. Here and there on the pavement lay broken wreaths
and extinguished torches. Fresh wafts of the sea could be felt in the
air. Paphnutius, with a look of disgust, tore off his rich robe and
trampled the fragments under his feet.
"Thou hast heard them, my Thais!" he cried. "They have spat forth
every sort of folly and abomination. They dragged the Divine Creator
of all things down the gemonies[*] of the devils of hell, impudently
denied the existence of Good and Evil, blasphemed Jesus, and exalted
Judas. And the most infamous of all, the jackal of darkness, the
stinking beast, the Arian full of corruption and death, opened his
mouth like a yawning sepulchre. My Thais, thou hast seen these filthy
snails crawling towards thee and defiling thee with their sticky
sweat; thou hast seen others, like brutes, sleeping under the heels of
their slaves; thou hast seen them coupling like beasts on the carpet
they had fouled with their vomit; thou hast seen a foolish old man
shed a blood yet viler than the wine which flowed at his debauch, and
at the end of the orgie throw himself in the face of the unforeseen
Christ. Praise be to God! Thou hast seen error and recognised how
hideous it was. Thais, Thais, Thais, recall to mind the follies of
these philosophers, and say if thou wilt go mad with them! Remember
the looks, the gestures, the laughs of their fitting companions, those
two lascivious and malicious strumpets, and say if thou wilt remain
like unto them."
[*] Steps on the Aventine Hill, leading to the Tiber, to which the
bodies of executed criminals were dragged to be thrown into the
river. The word is now obsolete, but was employed by Ben Jonson
(Sejanus) and Massinger (The Roman Actor).--TRANS.
Thais, her heart stirred with horror and disgust at all she had seen
and heard that night, and feeling the indifference and brutality, the
malicious jealousy of women, the heavy weight of useless hours,
"I am weary to death, O my father! Where shall I find rest? I feel
that my face is burning, my head empty, and my arms are so tired that
I should not have the strength to seize happiness were it within reach
of my hand."
Paphnutius gazed at her with loving pity.
"Courage, O my sister! The hour of rest rises for thee, white and pure
as the vapours thou seest rise from the gardens and waters."
They were near the house of Thais, and could see, above the wall, the
tops of the sycamore and fir trees, which surrounded the Grotto of
Nymphs, tremble in the morning breeze. In front of them was a public
square, deserted, and surrounded with steles and votive statues, and
having at each end a semicircular marble seat, supported by figures of
monsters. Thais fell on one of these seats. Then, looking anxiously at
the monk, she asked--
"What must I do?"
"Thou must," replied the monk, "follow Him who has come to seek thee.
He will separate thee from this present life, as the vintager gathers
the cluster that would have rotted on the tree, and bears it to the
wine-press to change it into perfumed wine. Listen! there is, a dozen
hours from Alexandria, towards the west, not far from the sea, a
nunnery, the rules of which, a masterpiece of wisdom, deserve to be
put in lyric verse and sung to the sound of the theorbo and
tambourines. It may truly be said that the women who are there,
submissive to these rules, have their feet upon earth and their faces
in heaven. They desire to be poor, that Jesus may love them, modest,
that He may gaze upon them; chaste that He may wed them. He visits
them every day in the guise of a gardener, His feet bare, His
beautiful hands open--even as He showed Himself to Mary at the
entrance of the tomb. I will conduct thee this very day to this
nunnery, my Thais, and soon, commingling with these holy women, thou
wilt share in their heavenly conversation. They await thee as a
sister. On the threshold of the convent, their mother, the pious
Albina, will give thee the kiss of peace and will say, 'My daughter,
thou art welcome!' "
The courtesan uttered a cry of amazement.
"Albina! a daughter of the Caesars! The great niece of the Emperor
"She herself! Albina, who, born in the purple, has donned the serge,
and a daughter of the masters of this world, has risen to the rank of
servant of Jesus Christ. She will be thy mother."
Thais rose and said--
"Take me to the house of Albina."
And Paphnutius, completing his victory--
"Surely I will conduct thee thither, and there I will place thee in a
cell, where thou shalt weep for thy sins. For it is not fitting that
thou shouldst mingle with the daughters of Albina until thou art
cleansed from thy sins. I will seal the door, and there, a happy
prisoner, thou wilt wait in tears till Jesus Himself come, as a sign
of pardon, to break the seal that I have placed. And doubt not that He
will come, Thais, and how the flesh of thy soul will tremble when thou
shalt feel the fingers of Light placed upon thy eyes to dry thy
Thais said a second time--
"Take me, my father, to the house of Albina."
His heart filled with joy, Paphnutius gazed around him, and tasted,
almost without fear, the pleasure of contemplating the works of
creation; his eyes drank in with joy God's light, and unknown breezes
fanned his cheeks. Suddenly, seeing at one of the corners of the
public square the little door which led to Thais' house, and
remembering that the trees, whose foliage he had been admiring, shaded
the courtesan's garden, he thought of all the impurities which there
sullied the air, to-day so light and pure, and his soul was so grieved
that bitter tears sprang to his eyes.
"Thais," he said, "we must fly without looking back. But we must not
leave behind us the instruments, the witnesses, the accomplices of thy
past crimes; those heavy hangings, those beds, carpets, perfume
censers and lamps, which would proclaim thy infamy! Dost thou wish
that, animated by the demons, and carried by the evil spirit that is
in them, those accursed belongings should pursue thee even to the
desert? It is but too true that there are tables which bring ruin,
seats which serve as the instruments of devils, which act, speak,
strike the ground, and pass through the air. Let all perish which has
seen thy shame! Hasten, Thais, and, whilst the city is yet asleep,
order thy slaves to make, in the centre of this place, a pile, upon
which we will burn all the abominable riches thy dwelling contains."
"Do as you will, my father," she said. "I know that spirits often
dwell in inanimate objects. At night some articles of furniture talk,
either by giving knocks at regular intervals or by emitting little
flashes of light as signals. And even more. Have you remarked, my
father, at the entrance to the Grotto of Nymphs, on the right, a
statue of a naked woman about to bathe? One day I saw, with my own
eyes, that statue turn its head like a living person, and then return
to its ordinary attitude. I was terrified. Nicias, to whom I related
this prodigy, laughed at me; yet there must be some magic in that
statue, for it inspired with violent desires a certain Dalmatian, who
was insensible to my beauty. It is certain that I have lived amongst
enchanted things, and that I was exposed to the greatest perils, for
men have been strangled by the embraces of a bronze statue. Yet it
would be a pity to destroy valuable works made with rare skill, and to
burn my carpets and tapestry would be a great loss. The beautiful
colours of some of them are truly wonderful, and they cost much money
to those who gave them to me. I also possess cups, statues, and
pictures of great price. I do not think they ought to perish. But you
know what is necessary. Do as you will, my father."
Thus saying, she followed the monk to the little door at which so many
garlands and wreaths had been hung, and, when it was opened, she told
the porter to call together all the slaves in the house. Four Indians,
who were employed in the kitchen, were the first to appear. They were
all four yellow men, and each had but one eye. It had cost Thais much
trouble, and given her amusement, to get together these four slaves of
the same race, and all afflicted with the same infirmity. When they
attended at table they excited the curiosity of the guests, and Thais
made them relate the story of their lives. These four waited in
silence. Their assistants followed them. Then came the stablemen, the
huntsmen, the litter-bearers, and the running footmen with muscles
like iron, two gardeners hirsute as Priapus, six ferocious looking
negroes, three Greek slaves--one a grammarian, another a poet, and the
third a singer. They all stood, ranged in order, on the public square,
and were presently joined by the negresses--curious, suspicious,
rolling big round eyes, and each with a huge mouth slit to her
earrings. Lastly, adjusting their veils and languidly dragging their
feet, which were shackled with light gold chains, appeared six sulky-
looking, beautiful white slave-girls. When they were all assembled,
Thais, pointing to Paphnutius, said--
"Do whatever this man commands you; for the spirit of God is in him,
and if you disobey him you will fall dead."
For she had heard, and really believed, that the earth would open and
swallow up in flames and smoke any impious wretch whom a saint of the
desert struck with his staff.
Paphnutius sent away the women and the Greek men-slaves, and said to
"Bring wood to the middle of this place, make a huge fire, and throw
into it pell-mell all that there is in the house and grotto."
They were astonished, and stood motionless, looking at their mistress.
And they still stood inactive and silent, and pressed against each
other, elbow to elbow, suspecting that the order was a joke.
"Obey!" said the monk.
Several of them were Christians. They understood the command, and went
to the house to fetch wood and torches. The others were not indisposed
to imitate them, for, being poor, they hated riches and had a natural
instinct for destruction. Whilst they were building the pile,
Paphnutius said to Thais--
"I thought at one time of fetching the treasurer of one of the
churches of Alexandria (if there still remain one worthy of the name
of church, and that is not defiled by the Arian beasts) and giving him
thy goods, woman, that he might distribute them to widows, and change
the proceeds of crime into the treasure of justice. But such a thought
did not come from God, and I cast it from me, for assuredly it would
be a great offence to the well-beloved of Jesus Christ to offer them
the spoils of thy lust. Thais, all that thou hast touched must be
devoured by the fire, even to its very soul. Thanks be to Heaven,
these tunics and veils, which have seen kisses more innumerable than
the waves of the sea, will only feel now the lips and tongues of the
flames. Hasten, slaves! More wood! More links and torches! And thou,
woman, return to thy house, strip thyself of thy shameful robes, and
ask of the most humble of thy slaves, as an undeserving favour, the
tunic that she puts on when she scrubs the floors."
Thais obeyed. Whilst the Indians knelt down and blew the embers, the
negroes threw on the pile coffers of ivory, ebony, or cedar, which
broke open and let out wreaths, garlands, and necklaces. The smoke
rose in a dark column, as in the holocausts of the old religion. Then
the fire, which had been smouldering, burst out suddenly with a roar
as of some monstrous animal, and the almost invisible flames began to
devour their valuable prey. The slaves worked more eagerly; they
joyfully dragged out rich carpets, veils embroidered with silver, and
flowered tapestry. They staggered under the weight of tables, couches,
thick cushions, and beds with gold nails. Three strong Ethiopians came
hugging the coloured statues of the nymphs, one of which had been
loved as though it were a mortal; and they looked like huge apes
carrying off women. And when the beautiful naked forms fell from the
arms of these monsters, and were broken on the stones, a deep groan
At that moment Thais appeared, her hair unloosed and streaming over
her shoulders, barefooted, and clad in a clumsy coarse garment which
seemed redolent with divine voluptuousness merely from having touched
her body. Behind her came a gardener, carrying, half hidden in his
long beard, an ivory Eros.
She made a sign to the man to stop, and approaching Paphnutius, showed
him the little god.
"My father," she asked, "should this also be thrown into the flames?
It is of marvellous antique work, and is worth a hundred times its
weight in gold. Its loss would be irreparable, for there is not a
sculptor in the world capable of making such a beautiful Eros.
Remember also, my father, that this child is Love, and he should not
be harshly treated. Believe me, Love is a virtue, and if I have
sinned, it is not through him, my father, but against him. Never shall
I regret aught that he has caused me to do, and I deplore only those
things I have done contrary to his commands. He does not allow women
to give themselves to those who do not come in his name. For that
reason he ought to be honoured. Look, Paphnutius, how pretty this
little Eros is! With what grace he hides himself in the gardener's
beard! One day Nicias, who loved me then, brought it to me and said,
'It will remind you of me.' But the roguish boy did not remind me of
Nicias, but of a young man I knew at Antioch. Enough riches have been
destroyed upon this pile, my father! Preserve this Eros, and place it
in some monastery. Those who see it will turn their hearts towards
God, for love leads naturally to heavenly thoughts."
The gardener, already believing that the little Eros was saved, smiled
on it as though it had been a child, when Paphnutius, snatching the
god from the arms which held it, threw it into the flames, crying--
"It is enough that Nicias has touched it to make it replete with
every sort of poison!"
Then, seizing by armfuls the sparkling robes, the purple mantles, the
golden sandals, the combs, strigils, mirrors, lamps, theorbos, and
lyres, he threw them into this furnace, more costly than the funeral
pile of Sardanapalus, whilst, drunken with the rage of destruction,
the slaves danced round, uttering wild yells amid a shower of sparks
One by one, the neighbours, awakened by the noise, opened the windows,
and rubbing their eyes, looked out to see whence the smoke came. Then
they came down, half dressed, and drew near the fire.
"What does it mean?" they wondered.
Amongst them were merchants from whom Thais had often bought perfumes
and stuffs, and they looked on anxiously with long, yellow faces,
unable to comprehend what was going on. Some young debauchees, who,
returning from a supper, passed by there, preceded by their slaves,
stopped, their heads crowned with flowers, their tunics floating, and
uttered loud cries. Attracted by curiosity, the crowd increased
unceasingly, and soon it was known that Thais had been persuaded by
the Abbot of Antinoe to burn her riches and retire to a nunnery.
The shopkeepers thought to themselves--
"Thais is going to leave the city; we shall sell no more to her; it is
dreadful to think of. What will become of us without her? This monk
has driven her mad. He is ruining us. Why let him do it? What is the
use of the laws? Are there no magistrates in Alexandria? Thais does
not think about us and our wives and our poor children. It is a public
scandal. She ought to be compelled to stay in the city."
The young men, on their part, also thought--
"If Thais is going to renounce acting and love, our chief amusements
will be taken from us. She was the glory, delight, and honour of the
stage. She was the joy even of those who had never possessed her. The
women we loved, we loved in her. There were no kisses given in which
she was altogether absent, for she was the joy of all voluptuaries,
and the mere thought that she breathed amongst us excited us to
Thus thought the young men, and one of them, named Cerons, who had
held her in his arms, cried out upon the abduction, and blasphemed
against Christ. In every group the conduct of Thais was severely
"It is a shameful flight!"
"A cowardly desertion!"
"She is taking the bread out of our mouths."
"She is robbing our children."
"She ought at least to pay for the wreaths I have sold to her."
"And the sixty robes she has ordered of me."
"She owes money to everybody."
"Who will represent Iphigenia, Electra, and Polyxena when she is gone?
The handsome Polybia herself will not make such a success as she has
"Life will be dull when her door is closed."
"She was the bright star, the soft moon of the Alexandrian sky."
All the most notorious mendicants of the city--cripples, blind men,
and paralytics--had by this time assembled in the place; and crawling
through the remnants of the riches, they groaned--
"How shall we live when Thais is no longer here to feed us? Every day
the fragments from her table fed two hundred poor wretches, and her
lovers, when they quitted her, threw us as they passed handfuls of
Some thieves, too, also mingled with the crowd, and created a
deafening clamour, and pushed their neighbours, to increase disorder,
and take advantage of the tumult to filch some valuable object.
Old Taddeus, who sold Miletan wool and Tarentan linen, and to whom
Thais owed a large sum of money, alone remained calm and silent in the
midst of the uproar. He listened and watched, and gently stroking his
goat-beard, seemed thoughtful. At last he approached young Cerons, and
pulling him by the sleeve, whispered--
"You are the favoured lover of Thais, handsome youth; show yourself,
and do not allow this monk to carry her off."
"By Pollux and his sister, he shall not!" cried Cerons. "I will speak
to Thais, and without flattering myself, I think she will listen to me
rather than to that sooty-faced Lapithan. Place! Place, dogs!"
And striking with his fist the men, upsetting the old women and
treading on the young children, he reached Thais, and taking her
"Dearest girl," he said, "look at me, remember, and tell me truly if
you renounce love."
But Paphnutius threw himself between Thais and Cerons.
"Impious wretch!" he cried, "beware and touch her not; she is sacred--
she belongs to God."
"Get away, baboon!" replied the young man furiously. "Let me speak to
my sweetheart, or if not I will drag your obscene carcase by the beard
to the fire, and roast you like a sausage."
And he put his hand on Thais. But, pushed away by the monk with
unexpected force, he staggered back four paces and fell at the foot of
the pile amongst the scattered ashes.
Old Taddeus, meanwhile, had been going from one to the other, pulling
the ears of the slaves and kissing the hands of the masters, inciting
each and all against Paphnutius, and had already formed a little band
resolutely determined to oppose the monk who would steal Thais from
Cerons rose, his face black, his hair singed, and choking with smoke
and rage. He blasphemed against the gods, and threw himself amongst
the assailants, behind whom the beggars crawled, shaking their
crutches. Paphnutius was soon enclosed in a circle of menacing fists,
raised sticks, and cries of death.
"To the ravens with the monk! to the ravens!"
"No; throw him in the fire! Burn him alive!"
Seizing his fair prey, he pressed her to his heart.
"Impious men," he cried in a voice of thunder, "strive not to tear the
dove from the eagle of the Lord. But rather copy this woman, and like
she turn your filth into gold. Imitate her example, and renounce the
false wealth which you think you hold and which holds you. Hasten! the
day is at hand, and divine patience begins to grow weary. Repent,
confess your sins, weep and pray. Walk in the footsteps of Thais. Hate
your offenses, which are as great as hers. Which of you, poor or rich,
merchants, soldiers, slaves or eminent citizens, would dare to say,
before God, that he was better than a prostitute? You are all nothing
but living filth, and it is by a miracle of divine goodness that you
do not suddenly turn into streams of mire."
Whilst he spoke flames shot from his eyes; an it seemed as though live
coals came from his lips and those who surrounded him were obliged to
hear him in spite of themselves.
But old Taddeus did not remain idle. He picked up stones and oyster
shells, which he hid in the skirt of his tunic, and not daring to
throw them himself slipped them into the hands of the beggars. Soon
the stones began to fly, and a well-directed shell cut Paphnutius'
face. The blood, which flowed down the dark face of the martyr,
dropped in a new baptism on the head of the penitent, and Thais, half
stifled in the monk's embrace and her delicate skin scratched by the
coarse cassock, felt a thrill of horror and fright.
At that moment a man elegantly dressed, and with a wreath of wild
celery on his head, opened a road for himself through the furious
crowd, and cried--
"Stop! Stop! This monk is my brother!"
It was Nicias, who, having closed the eyes of the philosopher
Eucrites, was passing through the square to return to his house;. and
saw, without very much surprise (for nothing astonished him), the
smoking pile, Thais clad an a serge cassock, and Paphnutius being
"Stop, I tell you; spare my old fellow-scholar; respect the beloved
head of Paphnutius!"
But, being only used to subtle disquisitions with philosophers, he did
not possess that imperious energy which commands vulgar minds. He was
not listened to. A shower of stones and shells fell on the monk, who,
protecting Thais with his body, praised the Lord whose goodness turned
his wounds into caresses. Despairing of making himself heard, and
feeling but too sure that he could not save his friend either by force
or persuasion, Nicias resigned himself to the will of the gods--in
whom he had little confidence--when the idea occurred to him to use a
stratagem which his contempt for men had suddenly suggested to him. He
took from his girdle his purse, which was full of gold and silver, for
he was a pleasure-loving and charitable man, and running up to the men
who were throwing the stones, he chinked the money in their ears. At
first they paid no attention to him, their fury being too great; but
little by little their looks turned towards the chinking gold, and
soon their arms dropped and no longer menaced their victim. Seeing
that he had attracted their eyes and minds, Nicias opened his purse
and threw some pieces of gold and silver amongst the crowd. The more
greedy of them stooped to pick it up. The philosopher, pleased at his
first success, adroitly threw deniers and drachmas here and there. At
the sound of the pieces of money rattling on the pavement, the
persecutors of Paphnutius threw themselves on the ground. Beggars,
slaves, and tradespeople scrambled after the money, whilst, grouped
round Cerons, the patricians watched the struggle and laughed
heartily. Cerons himself quite forgot his wrath. His friends
encouraged the rivals, chose competitors, and made bets, and urged on
the miserable wretches as they would have done fighting dogs. A
cripple without legs having succeeded in seizing a drachma, the
applause was frenetic. The young men themselves began to throw money,
and nothing was to be seen in the square but a multitude of backs,
rising and falling like waves of the sea, under a shower of coins.
Paphnutius was forgotten.
Nicias ran up to him, covered him with his cloak, and dragged him and
Thais into by-streets where they were safe from pursuit. They ran for
some time in silence, and when they thought they were out of reach of
their enemies, they ceased running, and Nicias said, in a tone of
raillery in which a little sadness was mingled--
"It is finished then! Pluto ravishes Proserpine, and Thais will follow
my fierce-looking friend whithersoever he will lead her."
"It is true, Nicias," replied Thais, "that I am tired of living with
men like you, smiling, perfumed, kindly egoists. I am weary of all I
know, and I am, therefore, going to seek the unknown. I have
experienced joy that was not joy, and here is a man who teaches me
that sorrow is true joy. I believe him, for he knows the truth."
"And I, sweetheart," replied Nicias, smiling, "I know the truths. He
knows but one, I know them all. I am superior to him in that respect,
but to tell the truth, it doesn't make me any the prouder nor any the
Then, seeing that the monk was glaring fiercely at him--
"My dear Paphnutius, do not imagine that I think you extremely absurd,
or even altogether unreasonable. And if I were to compare your life
with mine, I could not say which is preferable in itself. I shall
presently go and take the bath which Crobyle and Myrtale have prepared
for me; I shall eat the wing of a Phasian pheasant; then I shall read
--for the hundredth time--some fable by Apuleius or some treatise by
Porphyry. You will return to your cell, where, leaning like a tame
camel, you will ruminate on--I know not what--formulas of incarnations
you have long chewed and rechewed, and in the evening you will swallow
some radishes without any oil. Well, my dear friend, in accomplishing
these acts, so different apparently, we are both obeying the same
sentiment, the only motive for all human actions; we are both seeking
our own pleasure, and striving to attain the same end--happiness, the
impossible happiness. It would be folly on my part to say you were
wrong, dear friend, even though I think myself in the right.
"And you, my Thais, go and enjoy yourself, and be more happy still, if
it be possible, in abstinence and austerity than you have been in
riches and pleasure. On the whole, I should say you were to be envied.
For if in our whole lives, Paphnutius and I have pursued but one kind
of pleasurable satisfaction, you in your life, dear Thais, have tasted
diverse joys such as it is rarely given to the same person to know. I
should really like to be for one hour, a saint like our dear friend
Paphnutius. But that is not possible. Farewell, then, Thais! Go where
the secret forces of nature and your destiny conduct you! Go, and take
with you, whithersoever you go, the good wishes of Nicias! I know that
is mere foolishness, but can I give you anything more than barren
regrets and vain wishes in payment for the delicious illusions which
once enveloped me when I was in your arms, and of which only the
shadow now remains to me? Farewell, my benefactress! Farewell,
goodness that is ignorant of its own existence, mysterious virtue, joy
of men! Farewell to the most adorable of the images that nature has
ever thrown--for some unknown reasons--on the face of this deceptive
Whilst he spoke, deep wrath had been brewing in the monk's heart, and
it now broke forth in imprecations.
"Avaunt, cursed wretch! I scorn thee and hate thee. Go, child of hell,
a thousand times worse than those poor lost ones who just now threw
stones and insults at me! They knew not what they did, and the grace
of God, which I implored for them, may some day descend into their
hearts. But thou, detestable Nicias, thou art but a perfidious venom
and a bitter poison. Thy mouth breathes despair and death. One of thy
smiles contains more blasphemy than issues in a century from the
smoking lips of Satan. Avaunt, backslider!"
Nicias looked at him.
"Farewell, my brother," he said, "and may you preserve until your
life's end your store of faith, hate, and love. Farewell, Thais! It is
in vain that you will forget me, because I shall ever remember you."
On quitting them he walked thoughtfully through the winding streets in
the vicinity of the great cemetery of Alexandria, which are peopled by
the makers of funeral urns. Their shops were full of clay figures
painted in bright colours and representing gods and goddesses, mimes,
women, winged sprites, &c., such as were usually buried with the dead.
He fancied that perhaps some of the little images which he saw there
might be the companions of his eternal sleep; and it seemed to him
that a little Eros, with its tunic tucked up, laughed at him
mockingly. He looked forward to his death, and the idea was painful to
him. To cure his sadness he tried to philosophise, and reasoned thus--
"Assuredly," he said to himself, "time has no reality. It is a simple
illusion of our minds. Then, if it does not exist, how can it bring
death to me? Does that mean that I shall live for ever? No, but I
conclude therefrom that my death is, always has been, as it always
will be. I do not feel it yet, but it is in me, and I ought not to
fear it, for it would be folly to dread the coming of that which has
arrived. It exists, like the last page of a book I read and have not
This argument occupied him all the rest of the way, but without making
him more cheerful; and his mind was filled with dismal thoughts when
he arrived at the door of his house and heard the merry laughter of
Crobyle and Myrtale, who were playing at tennis whilst they were
waiting for him.
Paphnutius and Thais left the city by the Gate of the Moon, and
followed the coast.
"Woman," said the monk, "all that great blue sea could not wash away
He spoke with scorn and anger.
"More filthy than a bitch or a sow, thou hast prostituted to pagans
and infidels a body which the Eternal had intended for a tabernacle,
and thy impurities are such that, now that thou knowest the truth,
thou canst not unite thy lips or join thy hands without a horror of
thyself rising in thy heart."
She followed him meekly, over stony roads, under a burning sun. Her
knees ached from fatigue, and her throat was parched with thirst. But,
far from feeling any of the pity which softens the hearts of the
profane, Paphnutius rejoiced at these propitiatory sufferings of the
flesh which had so sinned. So infuriated was he with holy zeal that he
would have liked to cut with rods the body that had preserved its
beauty as a shining witness to its infamy. His meditations augmented
his pious fury, and remembering that Thais had received Nicias in her
bed, that idea seemed so horrible to him that his blood all flowed
back to his heart, and his breast felt ready to burst. His curses were
stifled in his throat, and he could only grind his teeth. He sprang
forward and stood before her, pale, terrible, and filled with the
Spirit of God--looked into her very soul, and then spat in her face.
She calmly wiped her face and continued to walk on. He followed,
glaring at her in pious anger, as if she had been hell itself. He was
thinking how he could avenge Christ in order that Christ should not
avenge Himself, when he saw a drop of blood that had dripped from the
foot of Thais on the sand. Then a hitherto unknown influence entered
his opened heart, sobs rose to his lips, he wept, he ran and knelt
before her, called her his sister, and kissed her bleeding feet. He
murmured a hundred times, "My sister, my sister, my mother, O most
"Angels of heaven, receive carefully this drop of blood, and bear it
before the throne of the Lord. And may a miraculous anemone blossom on
the sand sprinkled with the blood of Thais, that those who see the
flower may recover purity of heart and feeling. O holy, holy, most
As he prayed and prophesied thus, a lad passed on an ass. Paphnutius
ordered him to descend, seated Thais on the ass, and led it by the
bridle. Towards evening they came to a canal shaded by fine trees; he
tied the ass to the trunk of a date palm, and sitting on a mossy stone
he shared with Thais a loaf, which they ate with salt and hyssop. They
drank fresh water in their hands, and talked of things eternal. She