|The Book of Legends|
|by Horace Elisha Scudder|
|Legends to supplement Fifty Famous Stories Retold. Includes the stories of St. George and the Dragon, William Tell, King Cophetua, St. Christopher, The Wandering Jew, and the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, retold in fine English prose. Ages 7-10 |
THE SEVEN SLEEPERS OF EPHESUS
 WHEN Decius was Emperor of
Rome, he hated the Christians, and persecuted them. Now he
went on his travels and came to the city of Ephesus.
There he had altars built, and commanded that all the
people should worship the
gods of the heathen. If there were any Christians there,
they must worship these idols openly or be put to death.
This caused great fright in the city, and there were some
who feared to die, and they did worship the idols though
they had called themselves by the name of Christian. But
there were seven young men who refused to worship the idols,
and remained in their houses praying and fasting.
When Decius heard this, he bade them be brought
before him; and because they were fair and good to look on,
he gave them a little time in which to make up their minds
whether they would worship the idols or be put to death.
So the seven got together, and, because they were willing to
die for the faith, they sold all they had and gave the money
to the poor of
 Ephesus, keeping only a few coins for themselves. Then,
hoping to escape alive, they went secretly from the city to
Mount Celion, not far away, where they found a cave, and
there they hid themselves.
By and by they were hungry, and one of their number, Malchus
by name, went back to the town to buy some bread. He went
disguised, and when he reached Ephesus he heard every one
talking of the seven Christians who had fled. The Emperor
Decius was furious, and was sending soldiers in every
direction to hunt for them.
At that Malchus turned back, and managed to reach the cave
again without being seen. He told his comrades what he had
heard, and they all fell a-weeping. But he gave them the
loaves he had brought, and they all ate, and then, plucking
up courage, they crept into the darkest part of the cave,
and, committing themselves to God, lay down and fell asleep.
Decius was very angry that the seven young men had escaped.
He called their parents, but they could tell him nothing
save that the seven had sold all their goods and given them
to the poor, and then had disappeared. Decius sent in every
direction, but the seven could not be found. Finally he gave
orders that all the caves in the
 neighborhood should be stopped with stones; "for," said
he, "if they should chance to be hiding in any one of them,
there they should stay till the end of the world." So the
cavern in which the seven were hid was blocked up, but the
seven sleepers within knew nothing, heard nothing, that
was going on.
The Emperor Decius died, and all the people of Ephesus died,
and time went on. Little by little, and sometimes by great
leaps, Christianity became the religion of the empire, and
in three hundred and sixty years after this time Theodosius
was emperor and Christianity was the established religion.
One day a shepherd, who had his hut on the side of Mount
Celion, wished to make a wall about his sheepfold, and he
began drawing stone from a large pile. As he drew away one
stone after another, he saw that they stopped the mouth of
a cavern. At last he had drawn them all away, and the
cavern was open to the light and air.
With this the seven sleepers, who had slept soundly for
three hundred and sixty years, awoke. They rubbed their eyes
and sat upright, and began talking over the affairs of
 for they had no thought except that they had slept a night.
"What," they asked Malchus, "do you think Decius will now
"He will surely hunt us down, to force us to worship the
idols," said Malchus. But they all agreed they would sooner
die first. Nevertheless, as the day wore on, they were
hungry enough, and Malchus, taking a few coins from their
little store, said he would go again to the city to buy
bread, and learn what he could of the emperor's doings.
When he left the cavern he saw a heap of stones lying
beside the mouth, for the shepherd had not carried all away.
He was puzzled, and called his comrades to look at them.
They could not any of them remember to have seen
them before. Then Malchus went on his way to the city,
and when he came to one of the gates he looked up and saw
a cross above the gate. He was disturbed, for he thought
something must ail his eyes. He went around and came to
another gate, and there also he saw a cross.
"Am I in a dream?" he asked himself;
but he entered the city, and made
his way to a baker's shop. The city had changed. The
houses looked curiously older, and there were some he
did not remember to have seen before, though he had lived in
Ephesus since he was a boy. But what amazed him most was to
hear one and another say, as they passed him, "The Lord be
with you," "May Jesus bless you." What! why, yesterday, no
one dared pronounce aloud the name of the Saviour!
He entered the shop and laid a piece of money on the
counter and asked for bread. The baker answered him: it was
his own language, and yet it was not. The baker took up
the coin and looked at it curiously. Then he looked at
Malchus, and began whispering to some who stood by.
At that Malchus was sure they had discovered him, and
would take him to the emperor. He begged them to let him
alone. He would give them his money if only they would
not take him to the emperor, and would let him go back to
his friends. The baker said:—
"Not so. It is clear that you have found a treasure.
Show us where it is; show us where the money is that is
hidden, from which you took this piece, and we will share it
with you, and then we will see that no harm comes to you."
For you must know that in old times, when there were many
wars, people used to hide their
 gold and silver in some secret place, meaning to go and dig
it up again when the war was over. But often it happened
that the people who hid their treasure were killed in the
war, and never came back for it. So, all over the East, men
were always hoping they should find these hidden
treasures, which hundreds of years before had been secretly
Now Malchus heard this and knew not what to say; he was
amazed and he was afraid, for above all he wished not to
be made known. So he held his peace. But the baker and
those who stood by became angry, and they put a rope round
his neck and dragged him out into the market-place. They
could not hold their tongues, and soon the news spread that
the young man had found a hid treasure.
A great crowd gathered in the market-place, and Malchus
looked about to find some friend who would speak a good word
for him. But though he scanned all the faces before him, he
could not find a man or woman he ever had seen before, and
it was all as if he were in a dreadful dream.
 Word came to the ears of the governor of Ephesus that there
was a great crowd in the market-place, and a strange man
among them; and the governor and the bishop sent to have
Malchus brought before them, together with the baker and the
baker's men. They heard the story that the baker told, and
they looked at the money. They asked Malchus where the
treasure was which he had found.
"I have found no treasure," said he. "I have nothing but
this coin and one or two others," which he took from his
"Where do you come from?" they asked him.
"I am a native of Ephesus," said he.
"I have been away from the town
but a night, and have returned to-day. I needed some bread,
and I went to the shop of this man," pointing to the baker.
"If you are a native of Ephesus," said the governor, "tell
us the names of your parents, and where they live." Then
Malchus told their names and the street where they lived.
The governor and the bishop looked at each other.
"There are no such people living in Ephesus," said the
governor; "and, what is more, there is no street by that
name. There was one once, many years ago, but it was long
since destroyed to make room for the cathedral. And this
 money! why, it was coined in the reign of the Emperor
Decius. Now we see plainly that you are not speaking the
truth. Tell us where you found the treasure, or it shall go
hard with you."
Then Malchus burst forth:—
"I implore you, in the name of God, answer me a few
questions, and then I will answer yours. Where is the
Emperor Decius? Is he still in Ephesus? or has he left the
"My son," said the bishop, "you speak strange words.
The Emperor Decius has been dead these three
hundred and fifty years or more."
"I am sore perplexed," said Malchus. "But what I say is
true. There are seven of us who fled from the city
yesterday to escape persecution by the emperor. We went and
hid ourselves in a cave on the side of Mount Celion
yonder. Come with me. I will show you the cave and
my comrades, if indeed I be not still in a dream."
"The hand of God is here," said the bishop to the governor.
So they followed Malchus and a great crowd went with them.
And when they came to the cavern, Malchus called joyfully
to his comrades; and they came out, much amazed to see
Malchus returned, and with him so great a multitude.
 Now when the bishop and the governor saw the seven sleepers,
who had thus awaked, they saw they had fresh, ruddy faces,
as those who had slept well and were in perfect health. And
the bishop and the governor and all the people fell down and
praised God for this great wonder. Then a messenger was
sent straightway for the Emperor Theodosius. When he came
and heard the strange news, he too was greatly amazed, and
Malchus said, speaking for the seven:—
"You behold us here whom men counted as dead, and behold we
have risen from the dead. So shall it be with all those who
fall asleep in Jesus. They shall rise again, as if they had
passed the night in sleep, without suffering and without
And when he had said this, the seven sleepers bowed their
heads, and their souls returned to their Maker. The emperor
bent over them, weeping. And he would have had them
enclosed in golden caskets, to be kept in the cathedral.
But that night they appeared to him in a dream, and said
that hitherto they had slept in the earth, and that in the
earth they desired to sleep on, till God should again awaken
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