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Serapis
by Georg Ebers
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Orpheus, after seeing his parents killed in the fight at the Serapeum, was carried, sorely wounded, to the sick-house of which Eusebius was spiritual director. Agne had volunteered to nurse him and had watched by his couch day and night. Eusebius had also brought Dada and Papias to visit them, and Dada had promised, on behalf of Marcus, that Agne and her brother should always be provided for, even in the event of the good Deacon's death. The little boy was for the moment placed in Eusebius' care, and it was a, cause of daily rejoicing to Agne to hear from the kind old man of all the charming qualities he discovered in the child who was perfectly happy with the old folks, and who, though he was always delighted to see his sister, was quite content to part from her and return home with Eusebius, or with Dada, to whole he was devoted.

Orpheus recognized no one, neither Agne nor the child—and when visitors had been to see him, in his fevered ravings he would talk more vehemently than ever of great Apollo and other heathen divinities. Then he would fancy that he was still fighting in the Serapeum and butchering thousands of Christian foes with his own hand. Agne, whom he rarely recognized for a moment, would talk soothingly to him, and even try to say a few words about the Saviour and the life to come; but he always interrupted her with blasphemous exclamations, and cursed and abused her. Never had she gone through such anguish of soul as by his bed of suffering, and yet she could not help gazing at his face; and when she told herself that he must soon be no more, that the light of his eyes would cease to shine on hers, she felt as though the sun were about to be extinguished and the earth darkened for all time. However, his healthy vigor kept him lingering for many days and nights.

On the last evening of his life he took Agne for a Muse, and calling to her to come to him seized her hand and sank back unconscious, never to move again. She stood there as the minutes slowly passed, waiting in agonized suspense till his hand should be cold in hers; and as she waited she overheard a dialogue between two deaconesses who were watching by a sleeping patient. One of them was telling the other that her sister's husband, a mason, had died an obdurate heathen and a bitter enemy of the Christian Church. Then Dorothea, his widow, had devoted herself to saving his soul; she left her children, abandoning them to the charity of the congregation, and had withdrawn to a cloister to pray in silence and unceasingly for the soul of her deceased husband. At first he used to appear to her in her dreams, with furious gestures, accompanied by centaurs and goat-footed creatures, and had desired her to go home to her children and leave his soil in peace, for that he was in very good quarters with the jolly devils; but soon after she had seen him again with scorched limbs, and he lead implored her to pray fervently for mercy on him, for that they were torturing him cruelly in hell.

Dorothea had then retired into the desert of Kolzoum where she was still living in a cave, feeding on herbs, roots, and shell-fish thrown up on the sea-shore. She had schooled herself to do without sleep, and prayed day and night for her husband's soul; and she lead obtained strength never to think of anything but her own and her husband's salvation, and to forget her children completely. Her fervid devotion had at length met with full reward; for some little time her husband had appeared to her in a robe of shining light and often attended by lovely angels.

Agne had not lost a word of this narrative, and when, next morning, she felt the cold hand of the dead youth and looked at his drawn and pain-stricken features, she shuddered with vague terrors: he, she thought, like Dorothea's husband, must have hell-torments to endure. When she presently found herself alone with the corpse she bent over it and kissed the pale lips, and swore to herself that she would save his soul.

That same evening she went back to Eusebius and told him of her wish to withdraw to the desert of Koizoum and become a recluse. The old man besought her to remain with him, to take charge of her little brother, and not to abandon him and his old wife; for that it was a no less lovely Christian duty to be compassionate and helpful, and cherish the feeble in their old age. His wife added her entreaties and tears; but a sudden chill had gripped Agne's heart; dry-eyed and rigid she resisted their prayers, and took leave of her benefactors and of Papias. Bare-foot and begging her way, she started for the south-east and reached the shores of the Red Sea. There she found the stonemason's widow, emaciated and haggard, with matted hair, evidently dying. Agne remained with her, closed her eyes, and then lived on as Dorothea had lived, in the same cave, till the fame of her sanctity spread far beyond the boundaries of Egypt.

When Papias had grown to man's estate and was installed as steward to Demetrius, he sought his sister many times and tried to persuade her to live with him in his new home; but she never would consent to quit her solitary cell. She would not have exchanged it for a king's palace; for Orpheus appeared to her in nightly visions, radiant with the glories of Heaven; and time was passing and the hour drawing near when she might hope to be with him once more.

The widow Mary, in her later years, made many pilgrimages to holy places and saintly persons, and among others to Agne, the recluse; but she would never be induced to visit Cyrenaica, whither she was frequently invited by her children and grandchildren; some more powerful excitant was needed to prompt her to face the discomforts of a journey.

The old Heathen cults had completely vanished from the Greek capital long before her death. With it died the splendor and the power of the second city in the world; and of all the glories of the city of Serapis nothing now remains but a mighty column—[Known as Pompey's Pillar.]—towering to the skies, the last surviving fragment of the beautiful temple of the sovereign-god whose fall marked so momentous an epoch in the life of the human race. But, like this pillar, outward Beauty—the sense of form that characterized the heathen mind—has survived through the ages. We can gaze up at the one and the other, and wherever the living Truth—the Spirit of Christianity—has informed and penetrated that form of Beauty, the highest hopes of old Eusebius have been realized. Their union is solemnized in Christian Art.



ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS FOR THE ENTIRE SERAPIS:

Christian hypocrites who pretend to hate life and love death Christianity had ceased to be the creed of the poor Great happiness, and mingled therefor with bitter sorrow He may talk about the soul—what he is after is the girl He spoke with pompous exaggeration It is not by enthusiasm but by tactics that we defeat a foe Love means suffering—those who love drag a chain with them People who have nothing to do always lack time Perish all those who do not think as we do Pretended to see nothing in the old woman's taunts Rapture and anguish—who can lay down the border line Reason is a feeble weapon in contending with a woman To her it was not a belief but a certainty Trifling incident gains importance when undue emphasis is laid Very hard to imagine nothingness Whether man were the best or the worst of created beings Words that sounded kindly, but with a cold, unloving heart

THE END

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