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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPausanias, The Spartan: An Unfinished Historical Romance - Book 1 - Chapter 2
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Pausanias, The Spartan: An Unfinished Historical Romance - Book 1 - Chapter 2 Post by :nonliteral Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :892

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Pausanias, The Spartan: An Unfinished Historical Romance - Book 1 - Chapter 2

BOOK I CHAPTER II

On a couch, beneath his voluptuous awning, reclined Pausanias. The curtains, drawn aside, gave to view the moonlit ocean, and the dim shadows of the shore, with the dark woods beyond, relieved by the distant lights of the city. On one side of the Spartan was a small table, that supported goblets and vases of that exquisite wine which Maronea proffered to the thirst of the Byzantine, and those cooling and delicious fruits which the orchards around the city supplied as amply as the fabled gardens of the Hesperides, were heaped on the other side. Towards the foot of the couch, propped upon cushions piled on the floor, sat Gongylus, conversing in a low, earnest voice, and fixing his eyes steadfastly on the Spartan. The habits of the Eretrian's life, which had brought him in constant contact with the Persians, had infected his very language with the luxuriant extravagance of the East. And the thoughts he uttered made his language but too musical to the ears of the listening Spartan.

"And fair as these climes may seem to you, and rich as are the gardens and granaries of Byzantium, yet to me who have stood on the terraces of Babylon and looked upon groves covering with blossom and fruit the very fortresses and walls of that queen of nations,--to me, who have roved amidst the vast delights of Susa, through palaces whose very porticoes might enclose the limits of a Grecian city,--who have stood, awed and dazzled, in the courts of that wonder of the world, that crown of the East, the marble magnificence of Persepolis--to me, Pausanias, who have been thus admitted into the very heart of Persian glories, this city of Byzantium appears but a village of artisans and fishermen. The very foliage of its forests, pale and sickly, the very moonlight upon these waters, cold and smileless, ah, if thou couldst but see! But pardon me, I weary thee?"

"Not so," said the Spartan, who, raised upon his elbow, listened to the words of Gongylus with deep attention. "Proceed." "Ah, if thou couldst but see the fair regions which the great king has apportioned to thy countryman Demaratus. And if a domain, that would satiate the ambition of the most craving of your earlier tyrants, fall to Demaratus, what would be the splendid satrapy in which the conqueror of Plataea might plant his throne?"

"In truth, my renown and my power are greater than those ever possessed by Demaratus," said the Spartan musingly.

"Yet," pursued Gongylus, "it is not so much the mere extent of the territories which the grateful Xerxes could proffer to the brave Pausanias--it is not their extent so much that might tempt desire, neither is it their stately forests, nor the fertile meadows, nor the ocean-like rivers, which the gods of the East have given to the race of Cyrus. There, free from the strange constraints which our austere customs and solemn Deities impose upon the Greeks, the beneficent Ormuzd scatters ever-varying delights upon the paths of men. All that art can invent, all that the marts of the universe can afford of the rare and voluptuous, are lavished upon abodes the splendour of which even our idle dreams of Olympus never shadowed forth. There, instead of the harsh and imperious helpmate to whom the joyless Spartan confines his reluctant love, all the beauties of every clime contend for the smile of their lord. And wherever are turned the change-loving eyes of Passion, the Aphrodite of our poets, such as the Cytherean and the Cyprian fable her, seems to recline on the lotus leaf or to rise from the unruffled ocean of delight. Instead of the gloomy brows and the harsh tones of rivals envious of your fame, hosts of friends aspiring only to be followers will catch gladness from your smile or sorrow from your frown. There, no jarring contests with little men, who deem themselves the equals of the great, no jealous Ephor is found, to load the commonest acts of life with fetters of iron custom. Talk of liberty! Liberty in Sparta is but one eternal servitude; you cannot move, or eat, or sleep, save as the law directs. Your very children are wrested from you just in the age when their voices sound most sweet. Ye are not men; ye are machines. Call you this liberty, Pausanias? I, a Greek, have known both Grecian liberty and Persian royalty Better be chieftain to a king than servant to a mob! But in Eretria, at least, pleasure was not denied. In Sparta the very Graces preside over discipline and war only."

"Your fire falls upon flax," said Pausanias, rising, and with passionate emotion. "And if you, the Greek of a happier state, you who know but by report the unnatural bondage to which the Spartans are subjected, can weary of the very name of Greek, what must be the feelings of one who from the cradle upward has been starved out of the genial desires of life? Even in earliest youth, while yet all other lands and customs were unknown, when it was duly poured into my ears that to be born a Spartan constituted the glory and the bliss of earth, my soul sickened at the lesson, and my reason revolted against the lie. Often when my whole body was lacerated with stripes, disdaining to groan, I yet yearned to strike, and I cursed my savage tutors who denied pleasure even to childhood with all the madness of impotent revenge. My mother herself (sweet name elsewhere) had no kindness in her face. She was the pride of the matronage of Sparta, because of all our women Alithea was the most unsexed. When I went forth to my first crypteia, to watch, amidst the wintry dreariness of the mountains, upon the movements of the wretched Helots, to spy upon their sufferings, to take account of their groans, and if one more manly than the rest dared to mingle curses with his groans, to mark _him for slaughter, as a wolf that threatened danger to the fold; to lurk, an assassin, about his home, to dog his walks, to fall on him unawares, to strike him from behind, to filch away his life, to bury him in the ravines, so that murder might leave no trace; when upon this initiating campaign, the virgin trials of our youth, I first set forth, my mother drew near, and girding me herself with my grandsire's sword, 'Go forth,' she said, 'as the young hound to the chase, to wind, to double, to leap on the prey, and to taste of blood. See, the sword is bright; show me the stains at thy return,'"

"Is it then true, as the Greeks generally declare," interrupted Gongylus, "that in these campaigns, or crypteias, the sole aim and object is the massacre of Helots?"

"Not so," replied Pausanias; "savage though the custom, it smells not so foully of the shambles. The avowed object is to harden the nerves of our youth. Barefooted, unattended, through cold and storm, performing ourselves the most menial offices necessary to life, we wander for a certain season daily and nightly through the rugged territories of Laconia.(11) We go as boys--we come back as men.(12) The avowed object, I say, is increment to hardship, but with this is connected the secret end of keeping watch on these half-tamed and bull-like herds of men whom we call the Helots. If any be dangerous, we mark him for the knife. One of them had thrice been a ringleader in revolt. He was wary as well as fierce. He had escaped in three succeeding crypteias. To me, as one of the Heraclidae, was assigned the honour of tracking and destroying him. For three days and three nights I dogged his footsteps, (for he had caught the scent of the pursuers and fled,) through forest and defile, through valley and crag, stealthily and relentlessly. I followed him close. At last, one evening, having lost sight of all my comrades, I came suddenly upon him as I emerged from a wood. It was a broad patch of waste land, through which rushed a stream swollen by the rains, and plunging with a sullen roar down a deep and gloomy precipice, that to the right and left bounded the waste, the stream in front, the wood in the rear. He was reclining by the stream, at which, with the hollow of his hand, he quenched his thirst. I paused to gaze upon him, and as I did so he turned and saw me. He rose, and fixed his eyes on mine, and we examined each other in silence. The Helots are rarely of tall stature, but this was a giant. His dress, that of his tribe, of rude sheep-skins, and his cap made from the hide of a dog increased the savage rudeness of his appearance. I rejoiced that he saw me, and that, as we were alone, I might fight him fairly. It would have been terrible to slay the wretch if I had caught him in his sleep."

"Proceed," said Gongylus, with interest, for so little was known of Sparta by the rest of the Greeks, especially outside the Peloponnesus, that these details gratified his natural spirit of gossiping inquisitiveness.

"'Stand!' said I, and he moved not. I approached him slowly. 'Thou art a Spartan,' said he, in a deep and harsh voice, 'and thou comest for my blood. Go, boy, go, thou art not mellowed to thy prime, and thy comrades are far away. The shears of the Fatal deities hover over the thread not of my life but of thine.' I was struck, Gongylus, by this address, for it was neither desperate nor dastardly, as I had anticipated; nevertheless, it beseemed not a Spartan to fly from a Helot, and I drew the sword which my mother had girded on. The Helot watched my movements, and seized a rude and knotted club that lay on the ground beside him.

"'Wretch,' said I, 'darest thou attack face to face a descendant of the Heraclidae? In me behold Pausanias, the son of Cleombrotus.'

"'Be it so; in the city one is the god-born, the other the man-enslaved. On the mountains we are equals.'

"'Knowest thou not,' said I, 'that if the Gods condemned me to die by thy hand, not only thou, but thy whole house, thy wife and thy children, would be sacrificed to my ghost?"

"'The earth can hide the Spartan's bones as secretly as the Helot's,' answered my strange foe. 'Begone, young and unfleshed in slaughter as you are; why make war upon me? My death can give you neither gold nor glory. I have never harmed thee or thine. How much of the air and sun does this form take from the descendant of the Heraclidae?'

"'Thrice hast thou raised revolt among the Helots, thrice at thy voice have they risen in bloody, though fruitless, strife against their masters.'

"'Not at my voice, but at that of the two deities who are the war-gods of slaves--Persecution and Despair.'(13) "Impatient of this parley, I tarried no longer. I sprang upon the Helot. He evaded my sword, and I soon found that all my agility and skill were requisite to save me from the massive weapon, one blow of which would have sufficed to crush me. But the Helot seemed to stand on the defensive, and continued to back towards the wood from which I had emerged. Fearful lest he would escape me, I pressed hard on his footsteps. My blood grew warm; my fury got the better of my prudence. My foot stumbled; I recovered in an instant, and, looking up, beheld the terrible club suspended over my head; it might have fallen, but the stroke of death was withheld. I misinterpreted the merciful delay; the lifted arm left the body of my enemy exposed. I struck him on the side; the thick hide blunted the stroke, but it drew blood. Afraid to draw back within the reach of his weapon, I threw myself on him, and grappled to his throat. We rolled on the earth together; it was but a moment's struggle. Strong as I was even in boyhood, the Helot would have been a match for Alcides. A shade passed over my eyes; my breath heaved short. The slave was kneeling on my breast, and, dropping the club, he drew a short knife from his girdle. I gazed upon him grim and mute. I was conquered, and I cared not for the rest.

"The blood from his side, as he bent over me, trickled down upon my face. "'And this blood,' said the Helot, 'you shed in the very moment when I spared your life; such is the honour of a Spartan. Do you not deserve to die?'

"'Yes, for I am subdued, and by a slave. Strike!'

"'There,' said the Helot in a melancholy and altered tone, 'there speaks the soul of the Dorian, the fatal spirit to which the Gods have rendered up our wretched race. We are doomed--doomed--and one victim will not expiate our curse. Rise, return to Sparta, and forget that thou art innocent of murder.'

"He lifted his knee from my breast, and I rose, ashamed and humbled.

"At that instant I heard the crashing of the leaves in the wood, for the air was exceedingly still. I knew that my companions were at hand. 'Fly,' I cried; 'fly. If they come I cannot save thee, royal though I be. Fly.'

"'And _wouldest thou save me!' said the Helot in surprise.

"'Ay, with my own life. Canst thou doubt it? Lose not a moment. Fly. Yet stay;' and I tore off a part of the woollen vest that I wore. 'Place this at thy side; staunch the blood, that it may not track thee. Now begone!'

"The Helot looked hard at me, and I thought there were tears in his rude eyes; then catching up the club with as much ease as I this staff, he sped with inconceivable rapidity, despite his wound, towards the precipice on the right, and disappeared amidst the thick brambles that clothed the gorge. In a few moments three of my companions approached. They found me exhausted, and panting rather with excitement than fatigue. Their quick eyes detected the blood upon the ground. I gave them no time to pause and examine. 'He has escaped me--he has fled,' I cried; 'follow,' and I led them to the opposite part of the precipice from that which the Helot had taken. Heading the search, I pretended to catch a glimpse of the goatskin ever and anon through the trees, and I stayed not the pursuit till night grew dark, and I judged the victim was far away."

"And he escaped?"

"He did. The crypteia ended. Three other Helots were slain, but not by me. We returned to Sparta, and my mother was comforted for my misfortune in not having slain my foe by seeing the stains on my grandsire's sword, I will tell thee a secret, Gongylus"--(and here Pausanias lowered his voice, and looked anxiously toward him)---"since that day I have not hated the Helot race. Nay, it may be that I have loved them better than the Dorian."

"I do not wonder at it; but has not your wounded giant yet met with his death?"

"No, I never related what had passed between us to any one save my father. He was gentle for a Spartan, and he rested not till Gylippus--so was the Helot named--obtained exemption from the black list. He dared not, however, attribute his intercession to the true cause. It happened, fortunately, that Gylippus was related to my own foster-brother, Alcman, brother to my nurse; and Alcman is celebrated in Sparta, not only for courage in war, but for arts in peace. He is a poet, and his strains please the Dorian ear, for they are stern and simple, and they breathe of war. Alcman's merits won forgiveness for the offences of Gylippus. May the Gods be kind to his race!"

"Your Alcman seems one of no common intelligence, and your gentleness to him does not astonish me, though it seems often to raise a frown on the brows of your Spartans."

"We have lain on the same bosom," said Pausanias touchingly, "and his mother was kinder to me than my own. You must know that to those Helots who have been our foster-brothers, and whom we distinguish by the name of Mothons, our stern law relaxes. They have no rights of citizenship, it is true, but they cease to be slaves;(14) nay, sometimes they attain not only to entire emancipation, but to distinction. Alcman has bound his fate to mine. But to return, Gongylus. I tell thee that it is not thy descriptions of pomp and dominion that allure me, though I am not above the love of power, neither is it thy glowing promises, though blood too wild for a Dorian runs riot in my veins; but it is my deep loathing, my inexpressible disgust for Sparta and her laws, my horror at the thought of wearing away life in those sullen customs, amid that joyless round of tyrannic duties, in my rapture at the hope of escape, of life in a land which the eye of the Ephor never pierces; this it is, and this alone, O Persian, that makes me (the words must out) a traitor to my country, one who dreams of becoming a dependent on her foe."

"Nay," said Gongylus eagerly; for here Pausanias moved uneasily, and the colour mounted to his brow. "Nay, speak not of dependence. Consider the proposals that you can alone condescend to offer to the great king. Can the conqueror of Plataea, with millions for his subjects, hold himself dependent, even on the sovereign of the East? How, hereafter, will the memories of our sterile Greece and your rocky Sparta fade from your mind: or be remembered only as a state of thraldom and bondage, which your riper manhood has outgrown!"

"I will try to think so, at least," said Pausanias gloomily. "And, come what may, I am not one to recede. I have thrown my shield into a fearful peril; but I will win it back or perish. Enough of this, Gongylus. Night advances. I will attend the appointment you have made. Take the boat, and within an hour I will meet you with the prisoners at the spot agreed on, near the Temple of Aphrodite. All things are prepared?"

"All," said Gongylus, rising, with a gleam of malignant joy on his dark face. "I leave thee, kingly slave of the rocky Sparta, to prepare the way for thee, as Satrap of half the East."

So saying he quitted the awning, and motioned three Egyptian sailors who lay on the deck without. A boat was lowered, and the sound of its oars woke Pausanias from the reverie into which the parting words of the Eretrian had plunged his mind.


Notes:

(11) Plat. Leg. i. p. 633. See also Müller's Dorians, vol. ii. p. 41.

(12) Pueros puberos--neque prius in urbem redire quam viri facti essent.--Justin, iii. 3.

(13) When Themistocles sought to extort tribute from the Andrians, he said, "I bring with me two powerful gods--Persuasion and Force." "And on our side," was the answer, "are two deities not less powerful--Poverty and Despair!"

(14) The appellation of Mothons was not confined to the Helots who claimed the connection of foster-brothers, but was given also to household slaves.

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