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The Hammer by  Alfred J. Church

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ANTIOCHUS

[19] THE greater part of the population of Joppa, which, like most seaside towns, was somewhat cosmopolitan in its habits and ways of thinking, had hurried down to the shore to watch the arrival of the great Syrian King. And, indeed, his fleet was a sight worth seeing. Thirty ships, all of them with three banks of oars, were formed in a semicircle, the arc of which was parallel with the line of the shore. They were war-vessels, the finest and swiftest that the Syrian fleet possessed, manned with picked crews, and now gay with all the sumptuous adornments that befitted a peaceful errand. The day was perfectly windless, and the sea as calm as a lake. This circumstance made it possible for the squadron to preserve the order of its advance with an exactitude which would not have been possible had it been moving under sail. On the prow of each vessel stood a flute-player, and the rowers dipped their [20] oars in time to his music. Each player had his eyes fixed on a conductor who was posted on the royal vessel, a five-banked ship, which occupied a position slightly in advance of the semicircle. Time was thus kept throughout the squadron—a result, however, not obtained, as may easily be imagined, without a vast amount of practice. The sight of the thousands of oars, as they were dipped and lifted again in rhythmical regularity, with the sunshine flashing upon them, was beautiful in the extreme. As for the ship that carried King Antiochus, it was a gorgeous spectacle. The ropes were of gaily-coloured silk; the hull was brilliant with gold. The figure-head was the head and bust of a sea-nymph, exquisitely wrought in silver. The poop was covered with a crimson awning.

As the squadron approached the harbour, a convenience which the Joppa of to-day no longer possesses, the royal ship fell back, allowing the leading vessels on either side of the semicircle to precede it to the pier. From these a company of troops, splendidly arrayed in gilded armour, disembarked, and formed two lines, between which the King was to walk.

The Syrian King was a young man of about two-and-twenty years, tall, and well made, and not without a certain dignity of presence. His face, too, at first sight would have been pronounced handsome. It was of the true Greek type: the forehead and [21] nose forming an almost uninterrupted straight line. This line, however, receded too much, giving something of an expression of weakness. But for this the features of the young Syrian king might have been described as bearing a singular resemblance to those of the great Alexander. Youthful as he was, his complexion, naturally of a beautiful delicacy, was already flushed with excess. But the most sinister characteristic of his face was to be found in the restless look of his prominent eyes. The descendants of the brilliant soldier, the ablest and most upright of the generals of Alexander, who had founded the Syrian kingdom, had sadly degenerated under the corrupting influences of power. The hideous example of lust and cruelty had been set and improved upon by generation after generation, till the fatal taint of madness, always the avenger of such wickedness, had been developed in the race.

The Council of Joppa had sent a deputation of their body, headed by their president, Josedech, to receive the visitor with such respect as might lawfully be shown to a heathen. Greeting and compliments could be exchanged without any loss of ceremonial purity. Nor would there be any harm in presenting a gift. To sit down to meat with an [22] unbeliever, was, of course, out of the question; but this difficulty had been overcome by the complaisance of a wealthy Greek merchant, who, for sufficient reasons of his own had offered to entertain the visitor.

The councillors saluted the King, not with the extravagant form of "Live for ever!" but with the more moderate form of "Peace be with you." Antiochus answered with a careless greeting. At the same time he turned to one of his courtiers, and said in a whisper which was heard, as it was meant to be heard, by others besides the persons addressed, "Look! what a set of he-goats. And faugh! how they smell!" The young King, who was exceedingly vain of his good looks, had the fancy of making himself up as the beardless Apollo, and, of course, the court followed the fashion that he set. The insulting words did not fail to reach the ears of the elders, but they affected not to have heard them. The president then proceeded to deliver his address of welcome. It was sufficiently civil, but, as may be supposed, not enthusiastic. The speaker hoped that friendly relations might continue to exist between the Jewish people and the kingdom of Syria. He was glad to receive on Jewish soil a powerful monarch who, he trusted, would be favourably impressed with what he should see and hear. If his subjects had any grievances they would find [23] prompt redress; the King would doubtless do the same for Jewish merchants who considered themselves aggrieved.

To this address, which, after the manner of such documents, was somewhat verbose and lengthy, Antiochus listened with ill-concealed impatience; perhaps it would be more correct to say, with impatience that was not concealed at all. He fidgeted about; he interjected disparaging remarks that must have been distinctly heard a long way off. He even corrected the speaker when he made a slip in Greek idiom. Still the elders preserved an imperturbable calm, though a keen observer might have seen the flush rising upon their faces.

The address of welcome ended, it only remained to offer the customary present. An attendant stepped forward carrying a robe of honour, a piece of native manufacture, which, without being particularly splendid, was sufficiently handsome and valuable to be adequate to the occasion. But it did not please the young King, who, indeed, was scarcely in the humour to be pleased with anything. One of his followers received it from the hands of the attendant, and Antiochus, according to the usual etiquette, should have touched it, saying at the same time a few words of politeness. What he did was to take it from the hands of the courtier who had received it, shake it out, and hold it from him at arm's length, eyeing it, at [24] the same time, with an expression of undisguised contempt. Even this was not all. Turning his back upon the elders he dropped the robe on the head of one of his attendants, and, by a sudden movement, twisted it round his neck, bursting out at the same time into a loud horse-laugh. The laugh was, of course, dutifully echoed by his courtiers; but to the Joppa crowd it seemed no laughing matter. An angry murmur ran through it. The front ranks made a menacing movement forwards, while stones began to fly from behind. On the other hand, the soldiers of the King's bodyguard drew their swords, and began to form up behind him. They were not properly prepared, however, for a conflict; for, as they had come only on a service of ceremony, they had nothing with them but their swords and light ornamental breastplates.

Everything wore a most threatening look, when there occurred an interruption that was probably welcome to every one, except, it may be, the hot-headed and reckless young sovereign himself. The deputation from Jerusalem had arrived. The high priest, anticipating, as we have seen, some trouble, had despatched them at the very earliest opportunity, and had urged them to make the best of their way to their destination. At the same time, that their presence might have something more than moral weight, he had sent a squadron of cavalry.

[25] The deputation, with their escort following close behind, now made their way through the crowd.

The high priest was represented by his kinsman Phinehas—who had found a substitute for his unfashionable name in Phineus—by Menander, who has been already mentioned, and by two Greeks, of whom our acquaintance Cleon was one. Josedech and his companions willingly left the management of affairs in the hands of the new arrivals, and retired from the scene. Leaping from his horse, Phinehas, or Phineus, prostrated himself in Eastern fashion at the feet of Antiochus, and his companions followed his example, while the escort of cavalry saluted. "Rise," said Antiochus, whose good humour began to return when he found himself treated with what he conceived to be proper respect. He even condescended to reach out his royal hand, and assist the envoy to recover his feet. Phineus proceeded to deliver an address of welcome which was certainly not wanting in florid compliment. It might even have been called profane, for Antiochus was described not only as magnificent, illustrious, victorious (to mention a few only of the speaker's exuberant supply of epithets), but even as divine. The speech ended, an attendant presented a richly-chased casket of gold, filled with coins, fresh from the Syrian mint, and bearing the features and superscription of Antiochus himself. The King received it with [26] something like empressement, and after speaking a few words of thanks, passed it to his treasurer. At the same time he took a bag of silver from one of his attendants, and condescended to scatter some of the pieces among the crowd that lined the quays, with his royal hands. As may be supposed, a vigorous scramble ensued, and not a few of the spectators were tumbled over the edge into the shallow water below. Others jumped in of their own accord after some of the pieces which had fallen short. A general burst of laughter was the result, and the situation lost the gravity which had been so alarming a few minutes before.

The King now recognized an old acquaintance in Cleon. Antiochus, handed over in his childhood as a hostage by his father, had spent his boyhood and youth in Rome. The somewhat austere manners of that city had not pleased him, and he was glad to find in the young Greek an acquaintance more congenial than the young Marcelli, sons of the priest of that name, under whose charge he had been put. Cleon had come to Rome to seek his fortune, and had found employment in assisting the comic poet Cæcilius in making his translations from the Greek. Poets, however, were not so well paid as to be able to spare much for their assistants, and Cleon had been very glad to act as the young prince's teacher, a post which his guardian the priest had [27] found it very difficult to fill. Tutor and pupil had been on the most friendly terms. The elder man was indulgent, exacted no more than the youth was willing to learn, and, possibly thinking that all the necessary austerity was supplied by the Roman guardian, winked at various indulgences which would not have approved themselves to his employer. Antiochus retained a grateful recollection of the complaisant youth who had made things so agreeable for him in the days of his captivity.

"Hail, Cleon, most delightful of teachers, behold the most thankful of pupils!"

And he embraced the Greek, kissing him on both cheeks.

"So you, too," he went on, "have escaped from that dismal prison-house across the sea! Was there ever a place, think you, more unfit for a gentleman to live in? And how have you fared since I saw you? I hope that Fortune has had something pleasant in store for you."

"She could have done nothing better, Sire, than to thus give me the pleasure of seeing you."

"Oh, what a compliment! I see that your tongue has not lost its dexterous twist. But I suppose I must attend to this stupid business here. Why can't they let one come quietly, and see what people really are. I dare say there are some good fellows here as elsewhere; but all these ceremonies and speech-making and fine clothes tire me to death. [28] Well, we shall find a chance of having some talk together before long. Anyhow, you will come and see me at Antioch. I will make you court-poet, or general-in-chief, or high priest of Aphrodite! I know that you can do anything that you choose to turn your hand to."

While this conversation was going on the Greek merchant who had volunteered to entertain the royal visitor was waiting to be introduced. This ceremony performed by Phineus, he proceeded to give his invitation.

"Will your Highness be pleased to accept such humble hospitality as I can offer? My house and all that is within it are at your service."

"Pleased! of course I shall be pleased," returned the King, in boisterous good humour. "I know what your 'humble hospitality' means. It is you merchants that can afford to do things handsomely. You make the money, and we can only spend it. What with armies and fleets and legions of servants, who eat us up like so many locusts, we never have a drachma that we can call our own. As for me, I am easily satisfied. Give me a mullet, a piece of roast kid, a flask of good wine, and a pretty girl to hand the cup, and I want no more. Lead on."

The procession moved on to the merchant's house. This reached, the King, who declared that he wanted his midday sleep, was at once shown to his apartments.

[29] It was some six hours later when the banquet, for which the host had made magnificent preparations, was ready. The company was assembled, and was fairly numerous, though it did not contain the true élite  of Joppa society. With one or two not very respectable exceptions, the representatives of the high-class Jewish families were absent. But there were plenty of strangers in the town, and the room was sufficiently full. The trading community was present in force: Greeks, Syrians, Egyptians, Carthaginians, and even a Greek-speaking Gaul from Marseilles, were present. Rome was represented by two Roman knights, who were doing a profitable business in money-lending, and who had the name of pretty nearly every noble in Syria on their books.

But the guest of the evening was absent. The company waited with the patience with which royal personages are waited for on such occasions. At last, when an hour had gone beyond the time fixed for the entertainment, the host ventured to send up to the King's apartment, with a humble reminder that the banquet was ready. But the apartment was empty!

"What can have become of him?" was the thought in every one's mind, not unaccompanied by a certain anxiety in the older courtiers, who had observed with dismay the reckless proceedings of their master.

At last a thought struck Cleon. He took the [30] chief of the King's attendants aside and communicated to him his suspicions. "I saw something of his Highness's ways at Rome," he said, "and I can guess what has happened. He always had a fancy for disguises, for dressing himself up as a sailor or an artizan, and going to some very curious places in the city. Often and often have I been with him—to keep him out of mischief, you know—and, by the gods! it was well I did. I remember his being very nearly stabbed one night in a low wine-shop in the Suburra. And now I remember that this morning his Highness said something about wanting to see what the people really were, without all this ceremony. Let us question the porter whether he has seen any one go out."

The porter was questioned accordingly. At first he could give no information. At last he remembered observing two young men in sailor's dress passing the gate about three hours before. He had taken no need of them. Sailors had been coming and going all day, with various articles which they were bringing up from the ship, and he had supposed that these were two of the number. Here the man's wife struck in with the information that she had noticed the two sailors, thinking that there was something odd about their appearance; their clothes were very shabby, but they had a superior [31] air. Neither the man nor his wife knew anything more; but they thought that the two had turned in the direction of the harbour after leaving the house.

Under these circumstances search seemed hopeless, and might, indeed, do more harm than good. Perhaps the safest plan would be to let the young man find his way back for himself. After some discussion, however, it was resolved that Cleon, after first changing the dress which he had donned for the banquet for something less conspicuous, should look in at some of the wine-shops near the harbour, which were suggested as likely places for the search by the character of the King's disguise.

Cleon was successful beyond his expectation. His attention was attracted by the sound of boisterous laughter proceeding from a tavern whose windows fronted the place where the King had landed. The place was crowded to overflowing, and even the pavement before the house was thronged with idlers, who were content to hear what they could of the fun inside without having any score to pay. With no little difficulty Cleon edged his way into the principal room. It was a strange scene that met his eye. The room was crowded with Phœnician and Greek sailors, with here and there the swarthy face of a Moor among them, The guests sat on benches, closely packed together, and every one had a huge earthenware cup in his hand and a pitcher of wine at his feet. At the further end of the room [32] was a small platform reserved for the performers who were accustomed to entertain the audience. A couple of dancing-girls had just exhibited a dance of the boisterous kind which was specially favoured by the seafaring spectators; and now his Syrian Majesty was doing his best to entertain the company with the burlesque of a Roman electioneering oration. He spoke in Greek, or, rather, the mixture of tongues, the Lingua Franca of the time, which did duty for Greek in the seaport towns of the Eastern Mediterranean; and he used with considerable effect the broad Roman accent. His speech, could it be reproduced, would be dull or even unintelligible to us, but his audience found it highly entertaining. The Greeks, always quick-witted, caught the points with admirable readiness, and the others laughed, if not for any other reason, at least for sympathy. The most completely successful part was where the orator, who affected to be a candidate for the consulship, propounded a grand scheme, according to which the citizens of Rome were to live in idleness, supported by the contributions of the whole world. When the attention of the audience began to flag, the young Prince, with an audacious presence of mind that would have become a veteran performer, suddenly changed the entertainment. Sticking a tall cap on his head, he proceeded to give a ludicrous imitation of the solemn dance of the priests of Mars. Cleon had [33] seen the original performance in Rome, and he could not but confess that the slow, awkward movement, and droning chant which the performer adapted to a popular song of a somewhat equivocal kind, was a very clever piece of work.


[Illustration]

ANTIOCHUS IN THE TAVERN.

A few minutes afterwards Antiochus retired, breathless with his exertions, and Cleon made his way after him.

"So you are here," burst out the King. "Good, was it not?"

"Excellent, my lord," returned Cleon; "but you must excuse me if I ask you to come back. The banquet is ready, and the company are waiting for you."

"Confound the company; there is much better company here. I will stop where I am."

Cleon remonstrated and argued; at first, it seemed, with no effect. Finally, however, by a judicious mixture of flattery and promises, and specially, by enlarging on the opportunity that there would be of electrifying the élite of Joppa by a display of eloquence, he induced the King to come away. Antiochus was eaten up with a vanity that was almost insane, and he was as proud of his capacity for serious oratory as he was of his talents as a buffoon.

Unfortunately the eloquence was never displayed. The King had drunk largely of the heady wine which was a favourite with the nautical customers of the [34] tavern, and he applied himself with equal diligence to the more refined vintages which he found on the table of Stratocles, his entertainer. The company drank his health in bumpers; and, not to be outdone, a huge capacity for drink being, as he thought, one of his most honourable distinctions, he pledged them in return by draining, a cup of a royal size. This was a final effort. He spoke a few hesitating sentences, frequently interrupted by hiccoughs, staggered, and but for the prompt attention of his attendants, who had indeed observed his condition, would have fallen to the ground. Nothing remained but to carry him out of the banqueting hall.

It was late in the afternoon of the following day before he was sufficiently recovered from the effects of his debauch to start for Jerusalem. A halt for the night was made about halfway, and late in the afternoon of the next day the cavalcade approached Jerusalem. Jason came out to meet his guest. He had done his utmost to bring a reputable company with him, but his efforts had not been very successful. The respectable part of the population of the city was conspicuously absent, a mixed multitude of strangers and half-breeds, brutal in manners and squalid in appearance, represented the Jewish nation. Fortunately it was dark, and the torchlight procession with which the King was escorted into the city did something to conceal [35] by its picturesque effects the general meanness of the affair. Antiochus, however, did not fail to notice the character of the gathering, and indeed rallied his host on his ragged and disreputable followers. But his good humour did not seem to be disturbed. He admired the decorations of the palace, was loud in praise of Jason's taste in art, and indeed admired one statuette so much that his host felt compelled to offer it for his acceptance, much against his will, for it was supposed to be an original by Scopas, and to be worth at least five talents. The next day came a visit to the Temple. The King shrugged his shoulders at what he was pleased to consider the tastelessness of its architecture, suggested to his host that he had better pull the whole place down and build it again in a better style, and offered him the services of his own architect and a painter who, he said, had a quite unequalled skill for such subjects as a dance of satyrs and nymphs, and would cover the walls of the new building with some really elegant designs. But if the architecture of the Temple did not please him, he expressed a genuine admiration for some of its contents. There was a greedy light in his eye as he looked at the rich furniture and gorgeous vessels—and this, though Jason, having certain views of his own, had the prudence not to show him the chamber which contained the most massive treasures of the place. But whatever Antiochus may have thought, he said nothing but what was civil and [36] pleasant. It may be supposed, however, that days of such a guest would be enough, and it was with unmixed delight that at the end of a week Jason saw him depart for Phenicé.


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