Part 3 out of 3
"I have never drunk water so pure nor breathed an air so light, and I
feel that God floats in the breezes that pass."
"Look! it is the evening, O my sister. The blue shadows of night cover
the hills. But soon thou wilt see shining in the dawn the tabernacles
of Light; soon thou wilt behold shine forth the roses of the eternal
They journeyed all night, and, while the crescent moon gleamed on the
silver crests of the waves, they sang psalms and hymns. When the sun
rose, the Libyan desert stretched before them like a huge lion-skin.
At the edge of the desert, and close to a few palm-trees, some white
huts shimmered in the morning light.
"Are those the tabernacles of Light, father?" asked Thais.
"Even so, my daughter and my sister. Yonder is the House of Salvation,
where I will confine you with my own hands."
Soon they saw a number of women busy around the buildings, like bees
round their hives. There were some who baked bread, or prepared
vegetables; many were spinning wool, and the light of heaven shone
upon them like a smile of God. Others meditated in the shade of the
tamarisk trees; their white hands hung by their sides, for, being
filled with love, they had chosen the part of Magdalen, and performed
no work but prayer, contemplation, and ecstasy. They were, therefore,
called the Marys, and were clad in white. Those who worked with their
hands were called the Marthas, and wore blue robes. All wore the hood,
but the younger ones allowed a few curls to show on their foreheads--
unintentionally, it is to be presumed, since it was forbidden by the
rules. A very old lady, tall and white, walked from cell to cell,
leaning on a staff of hard wood. Paphnutius approached her
respectfully, kissed the hem of her veil, and said--
"The peace of the Lord be with thee, venerable Albina. I have brought
to the hive, of which thou art queen, a bee I found lost on a
flowerless road. I took it in the palm of my hand, and revived it with
my breath. I give it to thee."
And he pointed to the actress, who knelt down before the daughter of
Albina cast a piercing glance on Thais, ordered her to rise, kissed
her on the forehead, and then, turning to the monk--
"We will place her," she said, "amongst the Marys."
Paphnutius then related how Thais had been brought to the House of
Salvation, and asked that she should be at once confined in a cell.
The abbess consented, and led the penitent to a hut, which had
remained empty since the death of the virgin Laeta, who had sanctified
it. In this narrow chamber there was but a bed, a table, and a
pitcher, and Thais when she crossed the threshold, felt filled with
"I wish to close the door myself," said Paphnutius, "and put thereon a
seal, which Jesus will come and break with His own hands."
He went to the side of the spring, and took a handful of wet clay,
mixed with it a little spittle and a hair from his head, and plastered
it across the chink of the door. Then, approaching the window, near
which Thais stood peaceful and happy, he fell on his knees and praised
the Lord three times.
"How beautiful are the feet of her who walketh in the paths of
righteousness! How beautiful are her feet, and how resplendent her
He rose, lowered his hood over his eyes, and walked away slowly.
Albina called one of her virgins.
"My daughter," she said, "take to Thais those things which are needful
for her--bread, water, and a flute with three holes."
PART THE THIRD
Paphnutius had returned to the holy desert. He took, near Athribis,
the boat which went up the Nile to carry food to the monastery of
Abbot Serapion. When he disembarked, his disciples advanced to meet
him with great demonstrations of joy. Some raised their arms to
heaven; others, prostrate on the ground, kissed the Abbot's sandals.
For they knew already what the saint had accomplished in Alexandria.
The monks generally received, by rapid and unknown means, information
concerning the safety or glory of the Church. News spread through the
desert with the rapidity of the simoon.
When Paphnutius strode across the sand, his disciples followed him,
praising the Lord. Flavian, who was the oldest member of the
brotherhood, was suddenly seized with a pious frenzy and began to sing
an inspired hymn--
"O blessed day! Now is our father restored to us.
He has returned laden with fresh merits, of which we reap the benefit.
For the virtues of the father are the wealth of the children, and
the sanctity of the Abbot illuminates every cell.
Paphnutius, our father, has given a new spouse to Jesus Christ.
By his wondrous art, he has changed a black sheep into a white sheep.
And now, behold, he has returned to us, laden with fresh merits.
Like unto the bee of the Arsinoetid, heavy with the nectar of flowers.
Even as the ram of Nubia, which could hardly bear the weight of its
Let us celebrate this day by mingling oil with our food."
When they came to the door of the Abbot's cell, they fell on their
knees, and said--
"Let our father bless us, and give each of us a measure of oil to
celebrate his return."
Paul the Fool, who alone had remained standing, asked, "Who is this
man?" and did not recognise Paphnutius. But no one paid any attention
to what he said, as he was known to be devoid of intelligence, though
filled with piety.
The Abbot of Antinoe, locked in his cell, thought--
"I have at last regained the haven of my repose and happiness. I have
returned to my fortress of contentment. But how is it that this roof
of rushes, so dear to me, does not receive me as a friend, and the
walls say not to me, 'Thou art welcome.' Nothing has changed, since my
departure, in this abode I have chosen. There is my table and my bed.
There is the mummy's head which has so often inspired me with salutary
thoughts; and there is the book in which I have so often sought
conceptions of God. And yet nothing that I left is here. The things
appear grievously despoiled of their customary charm, and it seems to
me as though I saw them to-day for the first time. When I look at that
table and couch, that in former days I made with my own hands, that
black, dried head, these rolls of papyrus filled with the sayings of
God, I seem to see the belongings of a dead man. After having known
them all so well, I know them no longer. Alas! since nothing around me
has really changed, it is I who am no longer what I was. I am another.
I am the dead man! What has happened, my God? What has been taken from
me? What is left unto me? And who am I?"
And it especially perplexed him to find, in spite of himself, that his
cell was small, whereas, when viewed by the eye of faith, he ought to
consider it immense, because the infinitude of God began there.
He began to pray, with his face against the ground, and felt a little
happier. He had hardly been an hour in prayer, when a vision of Thais
passed before his eyes. He returned thanks to God--
"Jesus! it is Thou who hast sent her. I acknowledge in that Thy
wonderful goodness; Thou wouldst please me, reassure me and comfort me
by the sight of her whom I have given to Thee. Thou; presentest her to
my eyes with her smile now disarmed; her grace, now become innocent;
her beauty from which I have extracted the sting. To please me, my
God, thou showest her to me as I have prepared and purified her for
Thy designs, as one friend pleasantly reminds another of the rich gift
he has received from him. Therefore I see this woman with delight,
being assured that the vision comes from Thee. Thou dost not forget
that I have given her to Thee, Jesus. Keep her, since she pleases
Thee, and suffer not her beauty to give joy to any but Thyself."
He could not sleep all night, and he saw Thais more distinctly than he
had seen her in the Grotto of Nymphs. He commended himself, saying--
"What I have done, I have done to the glory of God."
Yet, to his great surprise, his heart was not at ease. He sighed.
"Why art thou sad, O my soul, and why dost thou trouble me?"
And his mind was still perturbed. Thirty days he remained in that
condition of sadness which precedes the sore trials of a solitary
monk. The image of Thais never left him day or night. He did not try
to banish it, because he still thought it came from God, and was the
image of a saint. But one morning she visited him in a dream, her hair
crowned with violets, and her very gentleness seemed so formidable,
that he uttered a cry of fright, and woke in an icy sweat. His eyes
were still heavy with sleep, when he felt a moist warm breath on his
face. A little jackal, its two paws placed on the side of the bed, was
panting its stinking breath in his face, and grinning at him.
Paphnutius was greatly astonished, and it seemed to him as though a
tower had given way under his feet. And, in fact, he had fallen, for
his self-confidence had gone. For some time he was incapable of
thought and when he did recover himself, his meditations only
increased his perplexity.
"It is one of two things," he said to himself; "either this vision,
like the preceding ones, came from God, and was a good vision, and it
is my natural perversity which has misrepresented it, as wine turns
sour in a dirty cup. I have, by my unworthiness, changed instruction
into reproach, of which this diabolical jackal immediately took
advantage. Or else this vision came, not from God, but, on the
contrary, from the devil, and was evil. In that case I should doubt
whether the former ones had, as I thought, a celestial origin. I am
therefore incapable of that discernment which is necessary for the
ascetic. In either case it is plain that God is no longer with me,--of
which I feel the effects, though I cannot explain the cause."
He reasoned in this way, and anxiously asked--
"Just God, what trials dost Thou appoint for Thy servants if the
apparitions of Thy saints are a danger for them? Give me to discern,
by an intelligible sign, that which comes from Thee, and that which
comes from the other."
And as God, whose designs are inscrutable, did not see fit to
enlighten his servant, Paphnutius, lost in doubt, resolved not to
think of Thais any more. But his resolutions were vain. Though absent,
she was ever with him. She gazed at him whilst he read, or meditated,
or prayed, or met his eyes wherever he looked. Her imaginary approach
was heralded by a slight sound, such as is made by a woman's dress
when she walks, and the visions had more verisimilitude than reality
itself, which moves and is confused, whereas the phantoms which are
caused by solitude are fixed and unchangeable. She came under various
appearances--sometimes pensive, her head crowned with her last
perishable wreath, clad as at the banquet at Alexandria, in a mauve
robe spangled with silver flowers; sometimes voluptuously in a cloud
of light veils, and bathed in the warm shadows of the Grotto of
Nymphs; sometimes in a serge cassock, pious and radiant with celestial
joy; sometimes tragic, her eyes swimming in the terrors of death, and
showing her bare breast bedewed with the blood from her pierced heart.
What disturbed him the most in these visions was that the wreaths,
tunics, and veils, that he had burned with his own hands, should thus
return; it became evident to him that these things had an imperishable
soul, and he cried--
"Lo, all the countless souls of the sins of Thais come upon me!"
When he turned away his head, he felt that Thais was behind him, and
that made him feel still more uneasy. His torture was cruel. But as
his soul and body remained pure in the midst of all his temptations,
he trusted in God, and gently complained to Him.
"My God, if I went so far to seek her amongst the Gentiles, it was for
Thy sake, and not for mine. It would not be just that I should suffer
for what I have done in Thy behalf. Protect me, sweet Jesus! My
Saviour, save me! Suffer not the phantom to accomplish that which the
body could not. As I have triumphed over the flesh, suffer not the
shadow to overthrow me. I know that I am now exposed to greater
dangers than I ever ran. I feel and know that the dream has more power
than the reality. And how could it be otherwise, since it is itself
but a higher reality? It is the soul of things. Plato, though he was
but an idolater, has testified to the real existence of ideas. At that
banquet of demons to which Thou accompaniedst me, Lord, I heard men--
sullied with crimes truly, but certainly not devoid of intelligence--
agree to acknowledge that we see real objects in solitude, meditation,
and ecstasy; and Thy Scriptures, my God, many times affirm the virtue
of dreams, and the power of visions formed either by Thee, great God,
or by Thy adversary."
There was a new man in him and now he reasoned with God, but God did
not choose to enlighten him. His nights were one long dream, and his
days did not differ from his nights. One morning he awoke uttering
sighs, such as issue, by moonlight, from the tombs of the victims of
crimes. Thais had come, showing her bleeding feet, and whilst he wept,
she had slipped into his couch. There was no longer any doubt; the
image of Thais was an impure image.
His heart filled with disgust, he leaped out of his profaned couch,
and hid his face in his hands that he might not see the daylight. The
hours passed, but they did not remove his shame. All was quiet in the
cell. For the first time for many long days, Paphnutius was alone. The
phantom had at last left him, and even its absence seemed dreadful.
Nothing, nothing to distract his mind from the recollection of the
dream. Full of horror, he thought--
"Why did I not drive her away? Why did I not tear myself from her cold
arms and burning knees?"
He no longer dared to pronounce the name of God near that horrible
couch, and he feared that his cell being profaned, the demons might
freely enter at any hour. His fears did not deceive him. The seven
little jackals, which had never crossed the threshold, entered in a
file, and went and hid under the bed. At the vesper hour, there came
an eighth, the stench of which was horrible. The next day, a ninth
joined the others, and soon there were thirty, then sixty, then
eighty. They became smaller as they multiplied, and being no bigger
than rats, they covered the floor, the couch, and the stool. One of
them jumped on the little table by the side of the bed, and standing
with its four feet together on the death's head, looked at the monk
with burning eyes. And every day fresh jackals came.
To expiate the abominable sin of his dream, and flee from impure
thoughts, Paphnutius determined to leave his cell, which had now
become polluted, go far into the desert, and practise unheard-of
austerities, strange labours, and fresh works of grace. But before
putting his design into action, he went to see old Palemon and ask his
He found him in his garden watering his lettuces. It was the evening.
The blue Nile flowed at the foot of violet hills. The good old man was
walking slowly, in order not to frighten a pigeon that had perched on
"The Lord be with thee, brother Paphnutius," he said. "Admire his
goodness; He sends me the animals that He has created that I may
converse with them of His works, and praise Him in the birds of the
air. Look at this pigeon; note the changing hues of its neck, and say,
is it not a beautiful work of God? But have you not come to talk with
me, brother, on some pious subject? If so, I will put down my
watering-pot, and listen to you."
Paphnutius told the old man about his journey, his return, the visions
of his days and the dreams of his nights,--without omitting the sinful
one--and the pack of jackals.
"Do you not think, father," he added, "that I ought to bury myself in
the desert, and perform some extraordinary austerities that would even
astonish the devil?"
"I am but a poor sinner," replied Palemon, "and I know little about
men, having passed all my life in this garden, with gazelles, little
hares and pigeons. But it seems to me, brother, that your distemper
comes from your having passed too suddenly from the noisy world to the
calm of solitude. Such sudden transitions can but do harm to the
health of the soul. You are, brother, like a man who exposes himself,
almost at the same time, to great heat and great cold. A cough shakes
him, and fever torments him. In your place, brother Paphnutius,
instead of retiring at once into some awful desert, I should take such
amusements as are fitting to a monk and a holy abbot. I should visit
the monasteries in the neighbourhood. Some of them are wonderful, it
is said. That of Abbot Serapion contains, I have been told, a thousand
four hundred and thirty-two cells, and the monks are divided into as
many legions as there are letters in the Greek alphabet. I am even
informed that a certain analogy is observed between the character of
the monks and the shape of the letter by which they are designated,
and that, for example, those who are placed under Z have a tortuous
character, whilst those under I have an upright mind. If I were you,
brother, I should go and assure myself of this with my own eyes, and I
should know no rest until I had seen such a wonderful thing. I should
not fail to study the regulations of the various communities which are
scattered along the banks of the Nile, so as to be able to compare one
with another. Such study is befitting a religious man like yourself.
You have heard say, no doubt, that Abbot Ephrem has drawn up for his
monastery pious regulations of great beauty. With his permission, you
might make a copy of them, as you are a skilful penman. I could not do
so, for my hands, accustomed to wield the spade, are too awkward to
direct the thin reed of the scribe over the papyrus. But you have the
knowledge of letters, brother, and should thank God for it, for
beautiful writing cannot be too much admired. The work of the copyist
and the reader is a great safeguard against evil thoughts. Brother
Paphnutius, why do you not write out the teachings of our fathers,
Paul and Anthony? Little by little you would recover, in these pious
works, peace of soul and mind; solitude would again become pleasant to
your heart, and soon you would be in a condition to recommence those
ascetic works which your journey has interrupted. But you must not
expect much benefit from excessive penitence. When he was amongst us,
our Father Anthony used to say, 'Excessive fasting produces weakness,
and weakness begets idleness. There are some monks who ruin their body
by fasts improperly prolonged. Of them it may be said that they plunge
a dagger into their own breast, and deliver themselves up
unresistingly into the power of the devil.' So said the holy man,
Anthony. I am but a foolish old man, but, by the grace of God, I have
remembered what our father told us."
Paphnutius thanked Palemon and promised to think over his advice. When
he had passed the fence of reeds which enclosed the little garden, he
turned round and saw the good old gardener engaged in watering his
salads, whilst the pigeon walked about on his bent back, and at that
sight Paphnutius felt ready to weep.
On returning to his cell, he found there a strange turmoil, as though
it were filled with grains of sand blown about by a strong wind, and
on looking closer, he saw these moving bodies were myriads of little
jackals. That night he saw in a dream, a high stone column surmounted
by a human face, and he heard a voice which said--
"Ascend this pillar!"
On awaking, he felt confident that this dream had been sent from
heaven. He called his disciples, and addressed them in these words--
"My beloved sons, I must leave you, and go where God sends me. During
my absence obey Flavian as you would me, and take care of our brother
Paul. Bless you. Farewell."
As he strode away, they remained prostrate on the ground, and when
they raised their heads, they saw his tall dark figure on the sandy
He walked day and night until he reached the ruins of the temple,
formerly built by the idolaters, in which he had slept amongst the
scorpions and sirens on his former strange journey. The walls, covered
with magic signs, were still standing. Thirty immense columns, which
terminated in human heads or lotus flowers, still supported a heavy
stone entablature. But, at one end of the temple, a pillar had shaken
off its old burden, and stood isolated. It had for its capital the
head of a woman which smiled, with long eyes and rounded cheeks, and
on her forehead cow's horns.
Paphnutius, on seeing it, recognised the column which had been shown
him in his dream, and he calculated that it was thirty-two cubits
high. He went to the neighbouring village, and ordered a ladder of
that height to be made; and when the ladder was placed against the
pillar, he ascended, knelt down on the top, and said to the Lord--
"Here, then, O God, is the abode Thou hast chosen for me. May I remain
here, in Thy Grace, until the hour of my death."
He had brought no provisions with him, trusting in divine providence,
and expecting that charitable peasants would give him all that he
needed. And, in fact, the next day, about the ninth hour, women came
with their children, bringing bread, dates, and fresh water, which the
boys carried to the top of the column.
The top of the pillar was not large enough to allow the monk to lie at
full length, so that he slept with his legs crossed and his head on
his breast, and sleep was a more cruel torture to him than his wakeful
hours. At dawn the ospreys brushed him with their wings, and he awoke
filled with pain and terror.
It happened that the carpenter who had made the ladder feared God.
Disturbed at the thought that the saint was exposed to the sun and
rain, and fearing that he might fall in his sleep, this pious man
constructed a roof and a railing on the top of the column.
Soon the report of this extraordinary existence spread from village to
village, and the labourers of the valley came on Sundays, with their
wives and children, to look at the stylite. The disciples of
Paphnutius, having learned with surprise the place of this wonderful
retreat, came to him, and obtained from him permission to build their
huts at the foot of the column. Every morning they came and stood in a
circle round the master, and received from him the words of
"My sons," he said to them, "continue like those little children whom
Jesus loved. That is the way of salvation. The sin of the flesh is the
source and origin of all sins; they spring from it as from a parent.
Pride, avarice, idleness, anger, and envy are its dearly beloved
progeny. I have seen this in Alexandria; I have seen rich men carried
away by the vice of lust, which, like a river with a turbid flood,
swept them into the gulf of bitterness."
The abbots Ephrem and Serapion, being informed of his strange
proceeding, wished to behold him with their own eyes. Seeing from
afar, on the river, the triangular sail which was bringing them to
him, Paphnutius could not prevent himself from thinking that God had
made him an example to all solitary monks. The two abbots, when they
saw him, did not conceal their surprise; and, having consulted
together, they agreed in condemning such an extraordinary penance, and
exhorted Paphnutius to come down.
"Such a mode of life is contrary to all usage," they said; "it is
peculiar, and against all rules."
But Paphnutius replied--
"What is the monastic life if not peculiar? And ought not the deeds of
a monk to be as eccentric as he is himself? It was a sign from God
that caused me to ascend here; it is a sign from God that will make me
Every day religious men came to join the disciples of Paphnutius, and
they built for themselves shelters round the aerial hermitage. Several
of them, to imitate the saint, mounted the ruins of the temple; but,
being reproved by their brethren, and conquered by fatigue, they soon
gave up these attempts.
Pilgrims flocked from all parts. There were some who had come long
distances, and were hungry and thirsty. The idea occurred to a poor
widow of selling fresh water and melons. Against the foot of the
column, behind her bottles of red clay, her cups and her fruit under
an awning of blue-and-white striped canvas, she cried, "Who wants to
drink?" Following the example of this widow, a baker brought some
bricks and made an oven close by, in the hope of selling loaves and
cakes to visitors. As the crowd of visitors increased unceasingly, and
the inhabitants of the large cities of Egypt began to come, some man,
greedy of gain, built a caravanserai to lodge the guests and their
servants, camels, and mules. Soon there was, in front of the column, a
market to which the fishermen of the Nile brought their fish, and the
gardeners their vegetables. A barber, who shaved people in the open
air, amused the crowd with his jokes. The old temple, so long given
over to silence and solitude was filled with countless sights and
sounds of life. The innkeepers turned the subterranean vaults into
cellars and nailed on the old pillars signs surmounted by the figure
of the holy Paphnutius, and bearing this inscription in Greek and
Egyptian--"/Pomegranate wine, fig wine, and genuine Cilician beer sold
here/." On the walls, sculptured with pure and graceful carvings, the
shop-keepers hung ropes of onions, and smoked fish, dead hares, and
the carcases of sheep. In the evening, the old occupants of the ruins,
the rats, scuttled in a long row to the river, whilst the ibises,
suspiciously craning their necks, perched on the high cornices, to
which rose the smoke of the kitchens, the shouts of the drinkers, and
the cries of the tapsters. All around, builders laid out streets, and
masons constructed convents, chapels, and churches. By the end of six
months a city was established with a guardhouse, a tribunal, a prison,
and a school, kept by an old blind scribe.
The pilgrims were innumerable. Bishops and other Church dignitaries,
came, full of admiration. The Patriarch of Antioch, who chanced to be
in Egypt at that time, came with all his clergy. He highly approved of
the extraordinary conduct of the stylite, and the heads of the Libyan
Church followed, in the absence of Athanasius, the opinion of the
Patriarch. Having learned which, Abbots Ephrem and Serapion came to
the feet of Paphnutius to apologise for their former mistrust.
"Know, my brothers, that the penance I endure is barely equal to the
temptations which are sent me, the number and force of which astound
me. A man, viewed externally, is but small, and, from the height of
the pillar to which God has called me, I see human beings moving about
like ants. But, considered internally, man is immense; he is as large
as the world, for he contains it. All that is spread before me--these
monasteries, these inns, the boats on the river, the villages, and
what I see in the distance of fields, canals, sand, and mountains--is
nothing in respect to what is in me. I carry in my heart countless
cities and illimitable deserts. And evil--evil and death--spread over
this immensity, cover them all, as night covers the earth. I am, in
myself alone, a universe of evil thoughts."
He spoke thus because the desire for woman was in him.
The seventh month, there came from Alexandria, Bubastis and Sais,
women who had long been barren, hoping to obtain children by the
intercession of the holy man and the virtues of his pillar. They
rubbed their sterile bodies against the stone. There followed a
procession, as far as the eye could reach, of chariots, palanquins,
and litters, which stopped and pushed and jostled below the man of
God. From them came sick people terrible to see. Mothers brought to
Paphnutius young boys whose limbs were twisted, their eyes starting,
their mouth foaming, their voices hoarse. He laid his hands upon them.
Blind men approached, groping with their hands, and raising towards
him a face pierced with two bleeding holes. Paralytics displayed
before him the heavy immobility, the deadly emaciation, and the
hideous contractions of their limbs; lame men showed him their club
feet; women with cancer, holding their bosoms with both hands,
uncovered before him their breasts devoured by the invisible vulture.
Dropsical women, swollen like wine skins were placed on the ground
before him. He blessed them. Nubians, afflicted with elephantiasis,
advanced with heavy steps and looked at him with streaming eyes and
expressionless countenances. He made the sign of the cross over them.
A young girl of Aphroditopolis was brought to him on a litter; after
having vomited blood, she had slept for three days. She looked like a
waxen image, and her parents, who thought she was dead, had placed a
palm leaf on her breast. Paphnutius having prayed to God, the young
girl raised her head and opened her eyes.
As the people reported everywhere the miracles which the saint had
performed, unfortunate persons afflicted with that disease which the
Greeks call "the divine malady," came from all parts of Egypt in
incalculable legions. As soon as they saw the pillar, they were seized
with convulsions, rolled on the ground, writhed, and twisted
themselves into a ball. And--though it is hardly to be believed--the
persons present were in their turn seized with a violent delirium, and
imitated the contortions of the epileptics. Monks and pilgrims, men
and women, wallowed and struggled pell-mell, their limbs twisted,
foaming at the mouth, eating handfuls of earth and prophesying. And
Paphnutius at the top of his pillar felt a thrill of horror pass
through him, and cried to God--
"I am the scapegoat, and I take upon me all the impurities of these
people, and that is why, Lord, my body is filled with evil spirits."
Every time that a sick person went away healed, the people applauded,
carried him in triumph, and ceased not to repeat--
"We behold another well of Siloam!"
Hundreds of crutches already hung round the wonderful column; grateful
women suspended wreaths and votive images there. Some of the Greeks
inscribed distiches, and as every pilgrim carved his name, the stone
was soon covered as high as a man could reach with an infinity of
Latin, Greek, Coptic, Punic, Hebrew, Syrian, and magic characters.
When the feast of Easter came there was such an affluence of people to
this city of miracles that old men thought that the days of the
ancient mysteries had returned. All sorts of people, in all sorts of
costumes, were to be seen there; the striped robes of the Egyptians,
the burnoose of the Arabs, the white drawers of the Nubians, the short
cloak of the Greeks, the long toga of the Romans, the scarlet breeches
of the barbarians, the gold-spangled robes of the courtesans. A veiled
woman would pass on an ass, preceded by black eunuchs, who cleared a
passage for her by the free use of their sticks. Acrobats, having
spread a carpet on the ground, juggled and performed skilful tricks
before a circle of silent spectators. Snake-charmers unrolled their
living girdles. A glittering, dusty, noisy, chattering crowd! The
curses of the camel-drivers beating the animals; the cries of the
hawkers who sold amulets against leprosy and the evil eye; the
psalmody of the monks reciting verses of the Bible; the shrieking of
the women who were prophesying; the shouting of the beggars singing
old songs of the harem; the bleating of sheep; the braying of asses;
the sailors calling tardy passengers; all these confused noises caused
a deafening uproar, over which dominated the strident voices of the
little naked negro boys, running about everywhere selling fresh dates.
And all these human beings stifled under the white sky, in a heavy
atmosphere laden with the perfumes of women, the odour of negroes, the
fumes of cooking and the smoke of gums, which the devotees bought of
the shepherds to burn before the saint.
When night came, fires, torches, and lanterns were lighted everywhere,
and nothing was to be seen but red shadows and black shapes. Standing
amidst a circle of squatting listeners, an old man, his face lighted
by a smoky lamp, related how, formerly, Bitiou had enchanted his
heart, torn it from his breast, placed it in an acacia, and then
transformed himself into a tree. He made gestures, which his shadow
repeated with absurd exaggerations, and the audience uttered cries of
admiration. In the taverns, the drinkers, lying on couches, called for
beer and wine. Dancing girls, with painted eyes and bare stomachs,
performed before them religious or lascivious scenes. In retired
corners, young men played dice or other games, and old men followed
prostitutes. Above all these rose the solitary, unchanging column; the
head with the cow's horns gazed into the shadow, and above it
Paphnutius watched between heaven and earth. All at once the moon rose
over the Nile, like the bare shoulder of a goddess. The hills gleamed
with blue light, and Paphnutius thought he saw the body of Thais
shinning in the glimmer of the waters amidst the sapphire night.
The days passed, and the saint still lived on his pillar. When the
rainy season came, the waters of heaven, filtering through the cracks
in the roof, wetted his body; his stiff limbs were incapable of
movement. Scorched by the sun, and reddened by the dew, his skin
broke; large ulcers devoured his arms and legs. But the desire of
Thais still consumed him inwardly, and he cried--
"It is not enough, great God! More temptations! More unclean thoughts!
More horrible desires! Lord, lay upon me all the lusts of men, that I
may expiate them all! Though it is false that the Greek bitch took
upon herself all the sins of the world, as I heard an impostor once
declare, yet there is a hidden meaning in the fable, the truth of
which I now recognise. For it is true that the sins of the people
enter the soul of the saints, and are lost there as in a well. Thus it
is that the souls of the just are polluted with more filth than is
ever found in the soul of the sinner. And, for that reason, I praise
Thee, O my God, for having made me the cesspool of the world."
One day, a rumour ran through the holy city, and even reached the ears
of the hermit: a very great personage, a man occupying a high
position, the Prefect of the Alexandrian fleet, Lucius Aurelius Cotta,
was about to visit the city--was, indeed, now on his way.
The news was true. Old Cotta, who was inspecting the canals and the
navigation of the Nile, had many times expressed a desire to see the
stylite and the new city, to which the name of Stylopolis had been
given. The Stylopolitans saw the river covered with sails one morning.
Cotta appeared on board a golden galley hung with purple, and followed
by all his fleet. He landed, and advanced, accompanied by a secretary
carrying his tablets, and Aristaeus, his physician, with whom he liked
A numerous suite walked behind him, and the shore was covered with
/laticlaves/[*] and military uniforms. He stopped, some paces from the
column, and began to examine the stylite, wiping his face meanwhile
with the skirt of his toga. Being of a naturally curious disposition,
he had observed many things in the course of his long voyages. He
liked to remember them, and intended to write, after he had finished
his Punic history, a book on the remarkable things he had witnessed.
He seemed much interested by the spectacle before him.
[*] The /laticlave/ was a toga, with a broad purple band, worn by
Roman senators as the distinguishing mark of their high office.
"This is very curious!" he said, puffing and blowing. "And--which is a
circumstance worthy of being recorded--this man was my guest. Yes,
this monk supped with me last year, after which he carried off an
Turning to his secretary--
"Note that, my son, on my tablets; also the dimensions of the column,
not omitting the shape of the top of it."
Then, wiping his face again--
"Persons deserving of belief have assured me that this monk has not
left his column for a single moment since he mounted it a year ago. Is
that possible, Aristaeus?"
"That which is possible to a lunatic or a sick man," replied
Aristaeus, "would be impossible to a man sound in body and mind. Do
you know, Lucius, that sometimes diseases of the mind or body give to
those afflicted by them a strength which healthy men do not possess?
For, as a matter of fact, there is no such thing as good health or bad
health. There are only different conditions of the organs. Having
studied what are called maladies, I have come to consider them as
necessary forms of life. I take pleasure in studying them in order to
be able to conquer them. Some of them are worthy of admiration, and
conceal, under apparent disorder, profound harmonies; for instance, a
quartan fever is certainly a very pretty thing! Sometimes certain
affections of the body cause a rapid augmentation of the faculties of
the mind. You know Creon? When he was a child, he stuttered and was
stupid. But, having cracked his skull by tumbling off a ladder, he
became an able lawyer, as you are aware. This monk must be affected in
some hidden organ. Moreover, this kind of existence is not so
extraordinary as it appears to you, Lucius. I may remind you that the
gymnosophists of India can remain motionless, not merely for a year,
but during twenty, thirty, or forty years."
"By Jupiter!" cried Cotta, "that is a strange madness. For man was
born to move and act, and idleness is an unpardonable crime, because
it is an injury to the State. I do not know of any religion in which
such an objectionable practice is permitted, though it possibly may be
in some of the Asiatic creeds. When I was Governor of Syria, I found
/phalli/ erected in the porches at the city of Hera. A man ascended,
twice a year, and remained there for a week. The people believed that
this man talked with the gods, and interceded with them for the
prosperity of Syria. The custom appeared senseless to me; nevertheless
I did nothing to put it down. For I consider that a functionary ought
not to interfere with the manners and customs of the people, but on
the contrary, to see that they are preserved. It is not the business
of the government to force a religion on a people, but to maintain
that which exists, which, whether good or bad, has been regulated by
the spirit of the time, the place, and the race. If it endeavours to
put down a religion, it proclaims itself revolutionary in its spirit,
and tyrannical in its acts, and is justly detested. Besides, how are
you to raise yourself above the superstitions of the vulgar, except by
understanding them and tolerating them? Aristaeus, I am of opinion
that I should leave this nephelo-coccygian[*] in the air, exposed only
to the indignities the birds shower on him. I should not gain anything
by having him pulled down, but I should by taking note of his thoughts
[*] Nephelo-coccygia, the cloud-city built by the cuckoos, in the
/Birds/ of Aristophanes.
He puffed, coughed, and placed his hand on the secretary's shoulder.
"My child, note down that, amongst certain sects of Christians, it is
considered praiseworthy to carry off courtesans and live upon columns.
You may add that these customs are evidence of the worship of genetic
divinities. But on this point we ought to question him himself."
Then, raising his head, and shading his eyes with his hand, to keep
off the sun, he shouted--
"Hallo, Paphnutius! If you remember that you were once my guest,
answer me. What are you doing up there? Why did you go up, and why do
you stay there? Has this column any phallic signification in your
Paphnutius, considering Cotta as nothing but an idolater, did not
deign to reply. But his disciple, Flavian, approached, and said--
"Illustrious Sir, this holy man takes the sins of the world upon him,
and cures diseases."
"By Jupiter! Do you hear, Aristaeus?" cried Cotta. "This nephelo-
coccygian practises medicine, like you. What do you think of so high a
Aristaeus shook his head.
"It is very possible that he may cure certain diseases better than I
can; such, for instance, as epilepsy, vulgarly called the divine
malady, although all maladies are equally divine, for they all come
from the gods. But the cause of this disease lies, partly, in the
imagination, and you must confess, Lucius, that this monk, perched up
on the head of a goddess, strikes the minds of the sick people more
forcibly than I, bending over my mortars and phials in my laboratory,
could ever do. There are forces, Lucius, infinitely more powerful than
reason and science."
"What are they?" asked Cotta.
"Ignorance and folly," replied Aristaeus.
"I have rarely seen a more curious sight," continued Cotta, "and I
hope that some day an able writer will relate the foundation of
Stylopolis. But even the most extraordinary spectacles should not
keep, longer than is befitting, a serious and busy man from his work.
Let us go and inspect the canals. Farewell, good Paphnutius! or
rather, till our next meeting! If ever you should come down to earth
again, and revisit Alexandria, do not fail to come and sup with me."
These words, heard by all present, passed from mouth to mouth, and
being repeated by the believers, added greatly to the reputation of
Paphnutius. Pious minds amplified and transformed them, and it was
stated that Paphnutius, from the top of his pillar, had converted the
Prefect of the Fleet to the faith of the apostles and the Nicaean
fathers. The believers found a figurative meaning in the last words
uttered by Aurelius Cotta; to them, the supper to which this important
personage had invited the ascetic, was a holy communion, a spiritual
repast, a celestial banquet. The story of this meeting was embroidered
with wonderful details, which those who invented were the first to
believe. It was said that when Cotta, after a long argument, had
embraced the truth, an angel had come from heaven to wipe the sweat
from his brow. The physician and secretary of the Prefect of the Fleet
had also, it was asserted, been converted at the same time. And, the
miracle being public and notorious, the deacons of the principal
churches of Libya recorded it amongst the authentic facts. After that,
it could be said, without any exaggeration, that the whole world was
seized with a desire to see Paphnutius, and that, in the West as well
as the East, all Christians turned their astonished eyes towards him.
The most celebrated cities of Italy sent deputations to him, and the
Roman Caesar, the divine Constantine who favoured the Christian
religion, wrote him a letter which the legates brought to him with
great ceremony. But one night, whilst the budding city at his feet
slept in the dew, he heard a voice, which said--
"Paphnutius, thou art become celebrated by thy works and powerful by
thy word. God has raised thee up for His glory. He has chosen thee to
work miracles, heal the sick, convert the Pagans, enlighten sinners,
confound the Arians, and establish peace in the Church."
"God's will be done!"
The voice continued--
"Arise, Paphnutius, and go seek in his palace the impious Constans,
who, far from imitating the wisdom of his brother, Constantine,
inclines to the errors of Arius and Marcus. Go! The bronze gates shall
fly open before thee, and thy sandals shall resound on the golden
floor of the basilica before the throne of the Caesars, and thy awe-
inspiring voice shall change the heart of the son of Constantinus.
Thou shalt reign over a peaceful and powerful Church. And, even as the
soul directs the body, so shall the Church govern the empire. Thou
shalt be placed above senators, comites, and patricians. Thou shalt
repress the greed of the people, and check the boldness of the
barbarians. Old Cotta, knowing that thou art the head of the
government, will seek the honour of washing thy feet. At thy death thy
/cilicium/ shall be taken to the patriarch of Alexandria, and the
great Athanasius, white with glory, shall kiss it as the relic of a
"Let the will of God be accomplished!"
And making an effort to stand up, he prepared to descend. But the
voice, divining his intention, said--
"Above all, descend not by the ladder. That would be to act like an
ordinary man, and to be unconscious of the gifts that are in thee. A
great saint, like thee, ought to fly through the air. Leap! the angels
are there to support thee. Leap, then!"
"The will of God be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
Extending his long arms like the ragged wings of a huge sick bird, he
was about to throw himself down, when, suddenly, a hideous mocking
laugh rang in his ears. Terrified, he asked--
"Who laughs thus?"
"Ah? ah!" screamed the voice, "we are yet but at the beginning of our
friendship; thou wilt some day be better acquainted with me. My
friend, it was I who caused thee to ascend here, and I ought to be
satisfied at the docility with which thou hast accomplished my wishes.
Paphnutius, I am pleased with thee."
Paphnutius murmured, in a voice stifled by fear--
"Avaunt, avaunt! I know thee now; thou art he who carried Jesus to a
pinnacle of the temple, and showed him all the kingdoms of this
He fell, affrighted, on the stone.
"Why did I not know this sooner?" he thought. "More wretched than the
blind, deaf, and paralysed who trust in me, I have lost all knowledge
of things supernatural, and am more depraved than the maniacs who eat
earth and approach dead bodies. I can no longer distinguish between
the clamours of hell and the voices of heaven. I have lost even the
intuition of the new-born child, who cries when its nurse's breast is
taken from it, of the dog that scents out its master's footsteps, of
the plant that turns towards the sun. I am the laughing-stock of the
devils. So, then, it is Satan who led me here. When he elevated me on
this pedestal, lust and pride mounted with me. It is not the magnitude
of my temptations which terrifies me. Anthony, on his mountain,
suffers the same. I wish that all their swords may pierce my flesh,
before the eyes of the angels. I have even learned to like my
sufferings. But God does not speak to me, and His silence astonishes
me. He has left me--and I had but Him to look to. He leaves me alone
in the horror of His absence. He flies from me. I will follow after
Him. This stone burns my feet. Let me leave quickly, and come up with
With that he seized the ladder which stood against the column, put his
feet on it, and having descended a rung, found himself face to face
with the monster's head; she smiled strangely. He was certain then
that what he had taken for the site of his rest and glory, was but the
diabolical instrument of his trouble and damnation. He hastily
descended and touched the soil. His feet had forgotten their use, and
he reeled. But, feeling on him the shadow of the cursed column, he
forced himself to run. All slept. He traversed, without being seen,
the great square surrounded by wine-shops, inns, and caravanserias,
and threw himself into a by-street which led towards the Libyan Hills.
A dog pursued him, barking, and stopped only at the edge of the
desert. Paphnutius went through a country where there was no road but
the trail of wild beasts. Leaving behind him the huts abandoned by the
coiners, he continued all night and all day his solitary flight.
At last, almost ready to expire with hunger, thirst, and fatigue, and
not knowing if God was still far from him, he came to a silent city
which extended from right to left, and stretched away till it was lost
in the blue horizon. The buildings, which were widely separated and
like each other, resembled pyramids cut off at half their height. They
were tombs. The doors were broken, and in the shadow of the chambers
could be seen the gleaming eyes of hyaenas and wolves who brought
forth their young there, whilst the dead bodies lay on the threshold,
despoiled by robbers, and gnawed by the wild beasts. Having passed
through this funeral city, Paphnutius fell exhausted before a tomb
which stood near a spring surrounded by palm trees. This tomb was much
ornamented, and, as there was no door to it, he saw inside it a
painted chamber, in which serpents bred.
"Here," he sighed, "is the abode I have chosen; the tabernacle of my
repentance and penitence."
He dragged himself to it, drove out the reptiles with his feet, and
remained prostrate on the stone floor for eighteen hours, at the end
of which time he went to the spring, and drank out of his hand. Then
he plucked some dates and some stalks of lotus, the seeds of which he
ate. Thinking this kind of life was good, he made it the rule of his
existence. From morning to night he never lifted his forehead from the
One day, whilst he was thus prostrated, he heard a voice which said--
"Look at these images, that thou mayest learn."
Then, raising his head, he saw, on the walls of the chamber, paintings
which represented lively and domestic scenes. They were of very old
work, and marvellously lifelike. There were cooks who blew the fire,
with their cheeks all puffed out; others plucked geese, or cooked
quarters of sheep in stew-pans. A little farther, a hunter carried on
his shoulders a gazelle pierced with arrows. In one place, peasants
were sowing, reaping, or gathering. In another, women danced to the
sounds of viols, flutes, and harp. A young girl played the theorbo.
The lotus flower shone in her hair, which was neatly braided. Her
transparent dress let the pure forms of her body be seen. Her bosom
and mouth were perfect. The face was turned in profile, and the
beautiful eye looked straight before her. The whole figure was
exquisite. Paphnutius having examined it, lowered his eyes, and
replied to the voice--
"Why dost thou command me to look at these images? No doubt they
represent the terrestrial life of the idolater whose body rests here,
under my feet, at the bottom of a well, in a coffin of black basalt.
They recall the life of a dead man, and are, despite their bright
colours, the shadows of a shadow. The life of a dead man! O vanity!"
"He is dead, but he lived," replied the voice; "and thou wilt die, and
wilt not have lived."
From that day, Paphnutius had not a moment's rest. The voice spoke to
him incessantly. The girl with the theorbo looked fixedly at him from
underneath the long lashes of her eye. At last she also spoke--
"Look. I am mysterious and beautiful. Love me. Exhaust in my arms the
love which torments you. What use is it to fear me? You cannot escape
me; I am the beauty of woman. Whither do you think to fly from me,
senseless fool? You will find my likeness in the radiancy of flowers,
and in the grace of the palm trees, in the flight of pigeons, in the
bounds of the gazelle, in the rippling of brooks, in the soft light of
the moon, and if you close your eyes, you will find me within
yourself. It is a thousand years since the man who sleeps here,
swathed in linen, in a bed of black stone, pressed me to his heart. It
is a thousand years since he received the last kiss from my mouth, and
his sleep is yet redolent with it. You know me well, Paphnutius. How
is it you have not recognised me? I am one of the innumerable
incarnations of Thais. You are a learned monk, and well skilled in the
knowledge of things. You have travelled, and it is by travel a man
learns the most. Often a day passed abroad will show more novelties
than ten years passed at home. You have heard that Thais lived
formerly in Argos, under the name of Helen. She had another existence
in Thebes Hecatompyle. And I was Thais of Thebes. How is it you have
not guessed it? I took, when I was alive, a large share in the sins of
this world, and now reduced here to the condition of a shadow, I am
still quite capable of taking your sins upon me, beloved monk. Whence
comes your surprise? It was certain that, wherever you went, you would
find Thais again."
He struck his forehead against the pavement, and uttered a cry of
terror. And every night the player of the theorbo left the wall,
approached him, and spoke in a clear voice mingled with soft
breathing. And as the holy man resisted the temptations she gave him,
she said to him--
"Love me; yield, friend. As long as you resist me I shall torment you.
You do not know what the patience of a dead woman is. I shall wait, if
necessary, till you are dead. Being a sorceress, I shall put into your
lifeless body a spirit who will reanimate it, and who will not refuse
me what I have asked in vain of you. And think, Paphnutius, what a
strange situation when your blessed soul sees, from the height of
heaven, its own body given up to sin. God, who has promised to return
you this body after the day of judgment and the end of time, will
Himself be much puzzled. How can He place in celestial glory a human
form inhabited by a devil, and guarded by a sorceress? You have not
thought of that difficulty. Nor God either, perhaps. Between
ourselves, He is not very knowing. Any ordinary magician can easily
deceive Him, and if He had not His thunder, and the cataracts of
heaven, the village urchins would pull His beard. He has certainly not
as much sense as the old serpent, His adversary. He, indeed, is a
wonderful artist. If I am so beautiful, it is because he adorned me
with all my attractions. It was he who taught me how to braid my hair,
and to make for myself rosy fingers with agate nails. You have
misunderstood him. When you came to live in this tomb, you drove out
with your feet the serpents which were here, without troubling
yourself to know whether they were of his family, and you crushed
their eggs. I am afraid, my poor friend, you will have a troublesome
business on your hands. You were warned, however, that he was a
musician and a lover. What have you done? You have quarrelled with
science and beauty. You are altogether miserable, and Iaveh does not
come to your help. It is not probable that he will come. Being as
great as all things, he cannot move for want of space, and if, by an
impossibility, he made the least movement, all creation would be
pushed out of place. My handsome hermit, give me a kiss."
Paphnutius was aware that great prodigies are performed by magic arts.
He thought--not without much uneasiness--
"Perhaps the dead man buried at my feet knows the words written in
that mysterious book which exists hidden, not far from here, at the
bottom of a royal tomb. By virtue of these words, the dead, taking the
form which they had upon earth, see the light of the sun and the
smiles of women."
His chief fear was that the girl with the theorbo and the dead man
might come together, as they did in their lifetime, and that he should
see them unite. Sometimes he thought he heard the sound of kissing.
He was troubled in his mind, and now, in the absence of God he feared
to think as much as to feel. One evening, when he was kneeling
prostrate according to his custom, an unknown voice said to him--
"Paphnutius, there are on earth more people than you imagine, and if I
were to show you what I have seen, you would die of astonishment.
There are men with a single eye in the middle of their forehead. There
are men who have but one leg, and advance by jumps. There are men who
change their sex, and the females become males. There are men-trees,
who shoot out roots in the ground. And there are men with no head,
with two eyes, a nose, and a mouth in their breast. Can you honestly
believe that Jesus Christ died for the salvation of these men?"
Another time he had a vision. He saw, in a strong light, a broad road,
rivulets, and gardens. On the road, Aristobulus and Chereas passed at
a gallop on their Syrian horses, and the joyous ardour of the race
reddened the cheeks of the two young men. Beneath a portico,
Callicrates recited his verses; satisfied pride trembled in his voice
and shone in his eyes. In the garden, Zenothemis picked apples of
gold, and caressed a serpent with azure wings. Clad in white, and
wearing a shining mitre, Hermodorus meditated beneath a sacred persea,
which bore, instead of flowers, small heads of pure profile, wearing,
like the Egyptian goddesses, vultures, hawks, or the shining disk of
the moon; whilst in the background, by the side of a fountain, Nicias
studied, on an armillary sphere, the harmonious movements of the
Then a veiled woman approached the monk, holding in her hand a branch
of myrtle. She said to him--
"Look! Some seek eternal beauty, and place their ephemeral life in the
infinite. Others live without much thought. But by that alone they
submit to fair Nature, and they are happy and beautiful in the joy of
living only, and give glory to the supreme artist of all things; for
man is a noble hymn to God. All think that happiness is innocent, and
that pleasure is permitted to man. Paphnutius, if they are right, what
a dupe you have been!"
And the vision vanished.
Thus was Paphnutius tempted unceasingly in body and mind. Satan never
gave him a minute's repose. The solitude of the tomb was more peopled
than the streets of a great city. The devils shouted with laughter,
and millions of imps, evil genii, and phantoms imitated all the
ordinary transactions of life. In the evening, when he went to the
spring, satyrs and nymphs capered round him, and tried to drag him
into their lascivious dances. The demons no longer feared him. They
loaded him with insults, obscene jests, and blows. One day a devil, no
longer than his arm, stole the cord he wore round his waist.
He said to himself--
"Thought, whither hast thou led me?"
And he resolved to work with his hands, in order to give his mind that
rest of which it had need. Near the spring, some banana trees, with
large leaves, grew under the shade of the palms. He cut the stalks,
and carried them to the tomb. He crushed them with a stone, and
reduced them to fibres, as he had seen ropemakers do. For he intended
to make a cord, to replace that which the devil had stolen. The demons
were somewhat displeased at this; they ceased their clamour, and the
girl with the theorbo no longer continued her magic arts, but remained
quietly on the wall. The courage and faith of Paphnutius increased
whilst he pounded the banana stems.
"With Heaven's help," he said to himself, "I shall subdue the flesh.
As to my soul, its confidence is still unshaken. In vain do the
devils, and that accursed woman, try to instil into my mind doubts as
to the nature of God. I will reply to them, by the mouth of the
Apostle John, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.'
That I firmly believe, and that which I believe is absurd, I believe
still more firmly. In fact it should be absurd. If it were not so, I
should not believe; I should know. And it is not that which we know
which gives eternal life; it is faith only that saves."
He exposed the separated fibres to the sun and the dew, and every
morning he took care to turn them, to prevent them rotting; and he
rejoiced to find that he had become as simple as a child. When he had
twisted his cord, he cut reeds to make mats and baskets. The
sepulchral chamber resembled a basket-maker's workshop, and Paphnutius
could pass without difficulty from work to prayer. Yet still God was
not merciful to him, for one night he was awakened by a voice which
froze him with horror, for he guessed that it was the voice of the
The voice called quickly, in a light whisper--
"Helen! Helen! come and bathe with me! come quickly!"
A woman, whose mouth was close to the monk's ear, replied--
"Friend, I cannot rise; a man is lying on me."
Paphnutius suddenly perceived that his cheek rested on a woman's
breast. He recognised the player of the theorbo, who, partly relieved
of his weight, raised her breast. He clung tightly to the sweet, warm,
perfumed body, and consumed with the desire of damnation, he cried--
"Stay, stay, my heavenly one!"
But she was already standing on the threshold. She laughed, and her
smile gleamed in the silver rays of the moon.
"Why should I stay?" she said. "The shadow of a shadow is enough for a
lover endowed with such a lively imagination. Besides, you have
sinned. What more was needed?"
Paphnutius wept in the night, and when the dawn came, he murmured a
prayer that was a meek complaint--
"Jesus, my Jesus, why hast Thou forsaken me! Thou seest the danger in
which I am. Come, and help me, sweet Saviour. Since Thy Father no
longer loves me, and does not hear me, remember that I have but Thee.
From Him nothing is to be hoped; I cannot comprehend Him, and He
cannot pity me. But Thou was born of a woman, and that is why I trust
in Thee. Remember that Thou wast a man. I pray to Thee, not because
Thou art God of God, Light of light, very God of very God, but because
Thou hast lived poor and humble on this earth where now I suffer,
because Satan has tempted Thy flesh, because the sweat of agony has
bedewed Thy face. It is to Thy humanity that I pray, Jesus, my brother
When he had thus prayed, wringing his hands, a terrible peal of
laughter shook the walls of the tomb, and the voice which rang in his
ears on the top of the column, said jeeringly--
"That is a prayer worthy of the breviary of Marcus, the heretic.
Paphnutius is an Arian! Paphnutius is an Arian!"
As though thunderstruck, the monk fell senseless.
When he reopened his eyes, he saw around him monks wearing black
hoods, who poured water on his temples, and recited exorcisms. Many
others were standing outside, carrying palm leaves.
"As we passed through the desert," said one of them, "we heard cries
issuing from this tomb, and, having entered, we found you lying
unconscious on the floor. Doubtless the devils had thrown you down,
and had fled at our approach."
Paphnutius, raising his head, asked in a feeble voice--
"Who are you, my brothers? And why do you carry palms in your hands?
Is it for my burial?"
One of them replied--
"Brother, do you not know that our father, Anthony, now a hundred and
five years old, having been warned of his approaching end, has come
down from Mount Colzin, to which he had retired, to bless his numerous
spiritual children? We are going with palm leaves to greet our holy
father. But how is it, brother, that you are ignorant of such a great
event? Can it be possible that no angel came to this tomb to inform
"Alas!" replied Paphnutius, "I am not worthy of such a favour, and the
only denizens of this abode are demons and vampires. Pray for me. I am
Paphnutius, Abbot of Antinoe, the most wretched of the servants of
At the name of Paphnutius, all waved their palm leaves and murmured
his praises. The monk who had previously spoken, cried in surprise--
"Can it be that thou art that holy Paphnutius, celebrated for so many
works that it was supposed he would some day equal the great Anthony
himself? Most venerable, it was thou who convertedst to God the
courtesan, Thais, and who, raised upon a high column, was carried away
by the seraphs. Those who watched by night, at the foot of the pillar,
saw thy blessed assumption. The wings of the angels encircled thee in
a white cloud, and with thy right hand extended thou didst bless the
dwellings of man. The next day, when the people saw thou wert no
longer there, a long groan rose to the summit of the discrowned
pillar. But Flavian, thy disciple, reported the miracle, and took thy
place as the head. But a foolish man, of the name of Paul, tried to
contradict the general opinion. He asserted that he had seen thee, in
a dream, carried away by the devils; the people wanted to stone him,
and it was a miracle that he escaped death. I am Zozimus, abbot of
these solitary monks whom thou seest prostrate at thy feet. Like them,
I kneel before thee, that thou mayest bless the father with the
children. Then thou shalt relate to us the marvels which God has
deigned to accomplish by thy means."
"Far from having favoured me as thou believest," replied Paphnutius,
"the Lord has tried me with terrible temptations. I was not carried
away by angels. But a shadowy wall is raised in front of my eyes, and
moves before me. I have lived in a dream. Without God all is a dream.
When I made my journey to Alexandria, I heard, in a short space of
time, many discourses, and I learned that the army of errors was
innumerable. It pursues me, and I am compassed about with swords."
"Venerable father, we must remember that the saints, and especially
the solitary saints, undergo terrible trials. If thou wast not carried
to heaven by the seraphs, it is certain that the Lord granted that
favour to thy image, for Flavian, the monks, and the people were
witnesses of thy assumption."
Paphnutius resolved to go and receive the blessing of Anthony.
"Brother Zozimus," he said, "give me one of these palm leaves, and let
us go and meet our father."
"Let us go," replied Zozimus; "military order is most befitting for
monks, who are God's soldiers. Thou and I, being abbots, will march in
front, and the others shall follow us, singing psalms."
They set out on their march, and Paphnutius said--
"God is unity, for He is the truth, which is one. The world is many,
because it is error. We should turn away from all the sights of
nature, even those which appear the most innocent. Their diversity
renders them pleasant, which is a sign that they are evil. For that
reason, I cannot see a tuft of papyrus by the side of still waters
without my soul being imbued with melancholy. All things that the
senses perceive are detestable. The least grain of sand brings danger.
Everything tempts us. Woman is but a combination of all the
temptations scattered in the thin air, on the flowering earth, in the
clear waters. Happy is he whose soul is a sealed vase! Happy is he who
knows how to be deaf, dumb, and blind, and who knows nothing of the
world, in order that he may know God!"
Zozimus, having meditated upon these words, replied as follows--
"Venerable father, it is fitting that I should avow my sins to thee,
since thou hast shown me thy soul. Thus we shall confess to each
other, according to the apostolic custom. Before I was a monk, I led
an abominable life. At Madaura, a city celebrated for its courtesans,
I sought out all kinds of worldly love. Every night I supped in
company with young debauchees and female flute players, and I took
home with me the one who pleased me the best. A saint like thee could
never imagine to what a pitch the fury of my desires carried me.
Suffice it to say that it spared neither matrons nor nuns, and spread
adultery and sacrilege everywhere. I excited my senses with wine, and
was justly known as the heaviest drinker in Madaura. Yet I was a
Christian, and, in all my follies, kept my faith in Jesus crucified.
Having devoured my substance in riotous living, I was beginning to
feel the first attacks of poverty, when I saw one of my companions in
pleasure suddenly struck with a terrible disease. His knees could not
sustain him; his twitching hands refused to obey him; his glazed eyes
closed. Only horrible groans came from his breast. His mind, heavier
than his body, slumbered. To punish him for having lived like a beast,
God had changed him into a beast. The loss of my property had already
inspired me with salutary reflections, but the example of my friend
was of yet greater efficacy; it made such an impression on my heart
that I quitted the world and retired into the desert. There I have
enjoyed for twenty years a peace that nothing has troubled. I work
with my monks as weaver, architect, carpenter, and even as scribe,
though, to say the truth, I have little taste for writing, having
always preferred action to thought. My days are full of joy, and my
nights without dreams, and I believe that the grace of the Lord is in
me, because, even in the midst of the most frightful sins, I have
never lost hope."
On hearing these words, Paphnutius lifted his eyes to heaven and
"Lord, Thou lookest with kindness upon this man polluted by adultery,
sacrilege, and so many crimes, and Thou turnest away from me, who have
always kept Thy commandments! How inscrutable is Thy justice, O my
God! and how impenetrable are Thy ways!"
Zozimus extended his arms.
"Look, venerable father! On both sides of the horizon are long, black
files that look like emigrant ants. They are our brothers, who, like
us, are going to meet Anthony."
When they came to the place of meeting, they saw a magnificent
spectacle. The army of monks extended, in three ranks, in an immense
semicircle. In the first rank stood the old hermits of the desert,
cross in hand, and with long beards that almost touched the ground.
The monks, governed by the abbots Ephrem and Serapion, and also all
the cenobites of the Nile, formed the second line. Behind them
appeared the ascetics, who had come from their distant rocks. Some
wore, on their blackened and dried-up bodies, shapeless rags; others
had for their only clothes, bundles of reeds held together by withies.
Many of them were naked, but God had covered them with a fell of hair
as thick as a sheep's fleece. All held branches of palm; they looked
like an emerald rainbow, or they might have been also compared to the
host of the elect--the living walls of the city of God.
Such perfect order reigned in the assembly, that Paphnutius found,
without difficulty, the monks he governed. He placed himself near
them, after having taken care to hide his face under his hood, that he
might remain unknown, and not disturb them in their pious expectation.
Suddenly, an immense shout arose--
"The saint!" they all cried. "The saint! Behold the great saint,
against whom hell has not prevailed, the well-beloved of God! Our
Then a great silence followed, and every forehead was lowered to the
From the summit of a dune, in the vast void space, Anthony advanced,
supported by his beloved disciples, Macarius and Amathas. He walked
slowly, but his figure was still upright, and showed the remains of a
superhuman strength. His white beard spread over his broad chest, his
polished skull reflected the rays of sunlight like the forehead of
Moses. The keen gaze of the eagle was in his eyes; the smile of a
child shone on his round cheek. To bless his people, he raised his
arms, tired by a century of marvellous works, and his voice burst
forth for the last time, with the words of love.
"How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!"
Immediately, from one end to the other of the living wall, like a peal
of harmonious thunder, the psalm, "Blessed is the man that feareth the
Lord," broke forth.
Accompanied by Macarius and Amathas, Anthony passed along the ranks of
the old hermits, anchorites, and cenobites. This seer, who had beheld
heaven and hell; this hermit, who from a cave in the rock, governed
the Christian Church; this saint, who had sustained the faith of the
martyrs; this scholar, whose eloquence had paralysed the heretics,
spoke tenderly to each of his sons, and bade them a kindly farewell,
on the eve of the blessed death, which God, who loved him, had at last
He said to the abbots Ephrem and Serapion--
"You command large armies, and you are both great generals. Therefore,
you shall put on in heaven an armour of gold, and the Archangel
Michael shall give you the title of kiliarchs of his hosts."
Perceiving the old man Philemon, he embraced him, and said--
"Behold, the kindest and best of all my children. His soul exhales a
perfume as sweet as the flower of the beans he sows every year."
To Abbot Zozimus he addressed these words--
"Thou hast never mistrusted divine goodness, and therefore the peace
of the Lord is in thee. The lily of thy virtues has flowered upon the
dunghill of thy corruption."
To all he spoke words of unerring wisdom.
To the old hermits he said--
"The apostle saw, round the throne of God, eighty old men seated, clad
in white robes, and wearing crowns on their heads."
To the young men--
"Be joyful; leave sadness to the happy ones of this world."
Thus he passed along the front of his filial army, exhorting and
comforting. Paphnutius, seeing him approach, fell on his knees, his
heart torn by fear and hope.
"My father! my father!" he cried in his agony. "My father! come to my
help, for I perish. I have given to God the soul of Thais; I have
lived upon the top of a column, and in the chamber of a tomb. My
forehead, unceasingly in the dust, has become horny as a camel's knee.
And yet God has gone from me. Bless me, my father, and I shall be
saved; shake the hyssop, and I shall be washed, and I shall shine as
Anthony did not reply. He turned to the monks of Antinoe those eyes
whose looks no man could sustain. He gazed for a long time at Paul,
called the Fool; then he made a sign to him to approach. And, as all
were astonished that the saint should address himself to a man who was
not in his senses, Anthony said--
"God has granted to him more grace than to any of you. Lift thy eyes,
my son Paul, and tell me what thou seest in heaven."
Paul the Fool raised his eyes; his face shone, and his tongue was
"I see in heaven," he said, "a bed adorned with hangings of purple and
gold. Around it three virgins keep constant watch that no soul may
approach it, except the chosen one for whom the bed is prepared."
Believing that this bed was the symbol of his glorification,
Paphnutius had already begun to return thanks to God. But Anthony made
a sign to him to be silent, and to listen to the Fool, who murmured in
"The three virgins speak to me; they say unto me: 'A saint is about to
quit the earth; Thais of Alexandria is dying. And we have prepared the
bed of her glory, for we are her virtues--Faith, Fear, and Love.' "
"Sweet child, what else seest thou?"
Paul gazed vacantly from the zenith to the nadir, and from west to
east, when suddenly his eyes fell on the Abbot of Antinoe. His face
grew pale with a holy terror, and his eyeballs reflected invisible
"I see," he murmured. "three demons, who, full of joy, prepare to
seize that man. One of them is like unto a tower, one to a woman, and
one to a mage. All three bear their name, marked with redhot iron; the
first on the forehead, the second on the belly, the third on the
breast, and those names are--Pride, Lust, and Doubt. I have finished."
Having spoken thus, Paul, with haggard eyes and hanging jaw, returned
to his old simple ways.
And, as the monks of Antinoe looked anxiously at Anthony, the saint
pronounced these words--
"God has made known His just judgment. Let us bow to Him and hold our
He passed. He bestowed blessings as he went. The sun, now descended to
the horizon, enveloped him in its glory, and his shadow, immeasurably
elongated by a miracle from heaven, unrolled itself behind him like an
endless carpet, as a sign of the long remembrance this great saint
would leave amongst men.
Upright, but thunderstruck, Paphnutius saw and heard nothing more. One
word alone rang in his ears, "Thais is dying!" The thought had never
occurred to him. Twenty years had he contemplated a mummy's head, and
yet the idea that death would close the eyes of Thais astonished him
"Thais is dying!" An incomprehensible saying! "Thais is dying!" In
those three words what a new and terrible sense! "Thais is dying!"
Then why the sun, the flowers, the brooks, and all creation? "Thais is
dying!" What good was all the universe? Suddenly he sprang forward.
"To see her again, to see her once more!" He began to run. He knew not
where he was, or whither he went, but instinct conducted him with
unerring certainty; he went straight to the Nile. A swarm of sails
covered the upper waters of the river. He sprang on board a barque
manned by Nubians, and lying in the forepart of the boat, his eyes
devouring space, he cried, in grief and rage--
"Fool, fool, that I was, not to have possessed Thais whilst there was
yet time! Fool to have believed that there was anything else in the
world but her! Oh, madness! I dreamed of God, of the salvation of my
soul, of life eternal--as if all that counted for anything when I had
seen Thais! Why did I not feel that blessed eternity was in a single
kiss of that woman, and that without her life was senseless, and no
more than an evil dream? Oh, stupid fool! thou hast seen her, and thou
hast desired the good things of the other world! Oh, coward! thou hast
seen her, and thou hast feared God! God! heaven! what are they? And
what have they to offer thee which are worth the least tittle of that
which she would have given thee? Oh, miserable, senseless fool, who
sought divine goodness elsewhere than on the lips of Thais! What hand
was upon thy eyes? Cursed be he who blinded thee then! Thou couldst
have bought, at the price of thy damnation, one moment of her love,
and thou hast not done it! She opened to thee her arms--flesh mingled
with the perfume of flowers--and thou wast not engulfed in the
unspeakable enchantments of her unveiled breast. Thou hast listened to
the jealous voice which said to thee, 'Refrain!' Dupe, dupe, miserable
dupe! Oh, regrets! Oh, remorse! Oh, despair! Not to have the joy to
carry to hell the memory of that never-to-be-forgotten hour, and to
cry to God, 'Burn my flesh, dry up all the blood in my veins, break
all my bones, thou canst not take from me the remembrance which
sweetens and refreshes me for ever and ever!' . . . Thais is dying!
Preposterous God, if thou knewest how I laugh at Thy hell! Thais is
dying, and she will never be mine--never! never!"
And as the boat came down the river with the current, he remained
whole days lying on his face, and repeating--
"Never! never! never!"
Then, at the idea that she had given herself to others, and not to
him; that she had poured forth an ocean of love, and he had not wetted
his lips therein, he stood up, savagely wild, and howled with grief.
He tore his breast with his nails, and bit the flesh of his arms. He
"If I could but kill all those she has loved!"
The idea of these murders filled him with delicious fury. He dreamed
of killing Nicias slowly and leisurely, looking him full in the eyes
whilst he murdered him. Then suddenly his fury melted away. He wept,
he sobbed. He became feeble and meek. An unknown tenderness softened
his soul. He longed to throw his arms round the neck of the companion
of his childhood and say to him, "Nicias, I love thee, because thou
hast loved her. Talk to me about her. Tell me what she said to thee."
And still, without ceasing, the iron of that phrase entered into his
soul--"Thais is dying!"
"Light of day, silvery shadows of night stars, heavens, trees with
trembling crests, savage beasts, domestic animals, all the anxious
souls of men, do you not hear? 'Thais is dying!' Disappear, ye lights,
breezes, and perfumes! Hide yourselves, ye shapes and thoughts of the
universe! 'Thais is dying!' She was the beauty of the world, and all
that drew near to her grew fairer in the reflection of her grace. The
old man and the sages who sat near her, at the banquet at Alexandria,
how pleasant they were, and how fascinating was their conversation! A
host of brilliant thoughts sprang to their lips, and all their ideas
were steeped in pleasure. And it was because the breath of Thais was
on them that all they said was love, beauty, truth. A delightful
impiety lent its grace to their discourse. They thoroughly expressed
all human splendour. Alas! all that is but a dream. Thais is dying!
Oh, how easy it will be to me to die of her death! But canst thou only
die, withered embryo, fetus steeped in gall and scalding tears?
Miserable abortion, dost thou think thou canst taste death, thou who
hast never known life? If only God exists, that he may damn me. I hope
for it--I wish it. God, I hate Thee--dost Thou hear? Overwhelm me with
Thy damnation. To compel Thee to, I spit in Thy face. I must find an
eternal hell, to exhaust the eternity of rage which consumes me."
The next day, at dawn, Albina received the Abbot of Antinoe at the
"Thou art welcome to our tabernacles of peace, venerable father, for
no doubt, thou comest to bless the saint thou hast given us. Thou
knowest that God, in his mercy, has called her to Him; how couldst
thou fail to know tidings that the angels have carried from desert to
desert? It is true that Thais is about to meet her blessed death. Her
labours are accomplished, and I ought to inform thee, in a few words,
as to her conduct whilst she was still amongst us. After thy
departure, when she was confined in a cell sealed with thy seal, I
sent her, with her food, a flute, similar to those which girls of her
profession play at banquets. I did that to prevent her from falling
into a melancholy mood, and that she should not show less skill and
talent before God than she had shown before men. In this I showed
prudence and foresight, for all day long Thais praised the Lord upon
the flute, and the virgins, who were attracted by the sound of this
invisible flute, said, 'We hear the nightingale of the heavenly
groves, the dying swan of Jesus crucified.' Thus did Thais perform her
penance, when, after sixty days, the door which thou hadst sealed
opened of itself, and the clay seal was broken without being touched
by any human hand. By that sign I knew that the trial thou hadst
imposed upon her was at an end, and that God had pardoned the sins of
the flute-player. From that time she has shared the ordinary life of
my nuns, working and praying with them. She was an example to them by
the modesty of her acts and words, and seemed like a statue of purity
amongst them. Sometimes she was sad; but those clouds soon passed.
When I saw that she was really drawn towards God by faith, hope, and
love, I did not hesitate to employ her talent, and even her beauty,
for the improvement of her sisters. I asked her to represent before us
the actions of the famous women and wise virgins of the Scriptures.
She acted Esther, Deborah, Judith, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and
Mary, the mother of Jesus. I know, venerable father, that thy austere
mind is alarmed at the idea of these performances. But thou thyself
wouldest have been touched if thou hadst seen her in these pious
scenes, shedding real tears, and raising to heaven arms graceful as
palm leaves. I have long governed a community of women, and I make it
a rule never to oppose their nature. All seeds give not the same
flowers. Not all souls are sanctified in the same way. It must also
not be forgotten that Thais gave herself to God whilst she was still
beautiful, and such a sacrifice is, if not unexampled, at least very
rare. This beauty--her natural vesture--has not left her during the
three months' fever of which she is dying. As, during her illness, she
has incessantly asked to see the sky, I have her carried every morning
into the courtyard, near the well, under the old fig tree, in the
shade of which the abbesses of this convent are accustomed to hold
their meetings. Thou wilt find her there, venerable father; but
hasten, for God calls her, and this night a shroud will cover that
face which God made both to shame and to edify this world."
Paphnutius followed her into a courtyard flooded with the morning
light. On the edge of the brick roofs, the pigeons formed a string of
pearls. On a bed, in the shade of the fig tree, Thais lay quite white,
her arms crossed. By her side stood veiled women, reciting the prayers
for the dying.
/"Have mercy, upon me, O God, according to Thy loving kindness:
according unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my
He called her--
She raised her eyelids, and turned the whites of her eyes in the
direction of the voice.
Albina made a sign to the veiled women to retire a few paces.
"Thais!" repeated the monk.
She raised her head; a light breath came from her pale lips.
"Is it thou, my father? . . . Dost thou remember the water of the
spring, and the dates that we picked? . . . That day, my father, love
was born in my heart--the love of life eternal."
She was silent, and her head fell back.
Death was upon her, and the sweat of the last agony bedewed her
forehead. A pigeon broke the still silence with its plaintive cooing.
Then the sobs of the monk mingled with the psalms of the virgins.
/"Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me."/
Suddenly Thais sat up in the bed. Her violet eyes opened wide, and
with a rapt gaze, her arms stretched towards the distant hills, she
said in a clear, fresh voice--
"Behold them--the roses of the eternal dawn!"
Her eyes shone; a slight flush suffused her face. She had revived,
more sweet and more beautiful than ever. Paphnutius knelt down, and
threw his long black arms around her.
"Do not die!" he cried, in a strange voice, which he himself did not
recognise. "I love thee! Do not die! Listen, my Thais. I have deceived
thee? I was but a wretched fool. God, heaven--all that is nothing.
There is nothing true but this worldly life, and the love of human
beings. I love thee! Do not die! That would be impossible--thou art
too precious! Come, come with me! Let us fly? I will carry thee far
away in my arms. Come, let us love! Hear me, O my beloved, and say, 'I
will live; I wish to live.' Thais, Thais, arise!"
She did not hear him. Her eyes gazed into infinity.
"Heaven opens. I see the angels, the prophets, and the saints. . . .
The good Theodore is amongst them, his hands filled with flowers; he
smiles on me and calls me. . . . Two angels come to me. They draw
near. . . . How beautiful they are! I see God!"
She uttered a joyful sigh, and her head fell back motionless on the
pillow. Thais was dead.
Paphnutius held her in a last despairing embrace; his eyes devoured
her with desire, rage, and love.
Albina cried to him--
"Avaunt, accursed wretch!"
And she gently placed her fingers on the eyelids of the dead girl.
Paphnutius staggered back, his eyes burning with flames and feeling
the earth open beneath his feet.
The virgins chanted the song of Zacharias:
/"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel."/
Suddenly their voices stayed in their throat. They had seen the monk's
face, and they fled in affright, crying--
"A vampire! A vampire!"
He had become so repulsive, that passing his hand over his face, he
felt his own hideousness.