Gustave Flaubert.

Salammbo online

. (page 21 of 25)
Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSalammbo → online text (page 21 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


He announced that six thousand Gaulish Mercenaries were coming, and that
the king of Macedonia was sending soldiers.

But on the second day the springs diminished, and on the evening of the
third they were completely dried up. Then the decree of the Ancients
passed everywhere from lip to lip, and the priests of Moloch began their
task.

Men in black robes presented themselves in the houses. In many instances
the owners had deserted them under pretence of some business, or of some
dainty that they were going to buy; and the servants of Moloch came and
took the children away. Others themselves surrendered them stupidly.
Then they were brought to the temple of Tanith, where the priestesses
were charged with their amusement and support until the solemn day.

They visited Hamilcar suddenly and found him in his gardens.

"Barca! we come for that that you know of - your son!" They added that
some people had met him one evening during the previous moon in the
centre of the Mappalian district being led by an old man.

He was as though suffocated at first. But speedily understanding that
any denial would be in vain, Hamilcar bowed; and he brought them into
the commercial house. Some slaves who had run up at a sign kept watch
all round about it.

He entered Salammbo's room in a state of distraction. He seized Hannibal
with one hand, snatched up the cord of a trailing garment with the
other, tied his feet and hands with it, thrust the end into his mouth
to form a gag, and hid him under the bed of the ox-hides by letting an
ample drapery fall to the ground.

Afterwards he walked about from right to left, raised his arms, wheeled
round, bit his lips. Then he stood still with staring eyelids, and
panted as though he were about to die.

But he clapped his hands three times. Giddenem appeared.

"Listen!" he said, "go and take from among the slaves a male child from
eight to nine years of age, with black hair and swelling forehead! Bring
him here! make haste!"

Giddenem soon entered again, bringing forward a young boy.

He was a miserable child, at once lean and bloated; his skin looked
greyish, like the infected rag hanging to his sides; his head was sunk
between his shoulders, and with the back of his hand he was rubbing his
eyes, which were filled with flies.

How could he ever be confounded with Hannibal! and there was no time
to choose another. Hamilcar looked at Giddenem; he felt inclined to
strangle him.

"Begone!" he cried; and the master of the slaves fled.

The misfortune which he had so long dreaded was therefore come, and with
extravagant efforts he strove to discover whether there was not some
mode, some means to escape it.

Abdalonim suddenly spoke from behind the door. The Suffet was being
asked for. The servants of Moloch were growing impatient.

Hamilcar repressed a cry as though a red hot iron had burnt him; and
he began anew to pace the room like one distraught. Then he sank down
beside the balustrade, and, with his elbows on his knees, pressed his
forehead into his shut fists.

The porphyry basin still contained a little clear water for Salammbo's
ablutions. In spite of his repugnance and all his pride, the Suffet
dipped the child into it, and, like a slave merchant, began to wash him
and rub him with strigils and red earth. Then he took two purple squares
from the receptacles round the wall, placed one on his breast and the
other on his back, and joined them together on the collar bones with
two diamond clasps. He poured perfume upon his head, passed an
electrum necklace around his neck, and put on him sandals with heels of
pearl, - sandals belonging to his own daughter! But he stamped with shame
and vexation; Salammbo, who busied herself in helping him, was as pale
as he. The child, dazzled by such splendour, smiled and, growing bold
even, was beginning to clap his hands and jump, when Hamilcar took him
away.

He held him firmly by the arm as though he were afraid of losing him,
and the child, who was hurt, wept a little as he ran beside him.

When on a level with the ergastulum, under a palm tree, a voice was
raised, a mournful and supplicant voice. It murmured: "Master! oh!
master!"

Hamilcar turned and beside him perceived a man of abject appearance, one
of the wretches who led a haphazard existence in the household.

"What do you want?" said the Suffet.

The slave, who trembled horribly, stammered:

"I am his father!"

Hamilcar walked on; the other followed him with stooping loins, bent
hams, and head thrust forward. His face was convulsed with unspeakable
anguish, and he was choking with suppressed sobs, so eager was he at
once to question him, and to cry: "Mercy!"

At last he ventured to touch him lightly with one finger on the elbow.

"Are you going to - ?" He had not the strength to finish, and Hamilcar
stopped quite amazed at such grief.

He had never thought - so immense was the abyss separating them from
each other - that there could be anything in common between them. It
even appeared to him a sort of outrage, an encroachment upon his
own privileges. He replied with a look colder and heavier than an
executioner's axe; the slave swooned and fell in the dust at his feet.
Hamilcar strode across him.

The three black-robed men were waiting in the great hall, and standing
against the stone disc. Immediately he tore his garments, and rolled
upon the pavement uttering piercing cries.

"Ah! poor little Hannibal! Oh! my son! my consolation! my hope! my life!
Kill me also! take me away! Woe! Woe!" He ploughed his face with his
nails, tore out his hair, and shrieked like the women who lament at
funerals. "Take him away then! my suffering is too great! begone! kill
me like him!" The servants of Moloch were astonished that the great
Hamilcar was so weak-spirited. They were almost moved by it.

A noise of naked feet became audible, with a broken throat-rattling like
the breathing of a wild beast speeding along, and a man, pale, terrible,
and with outspread arms appeared on the threshold of the third gallery,
between the ivory pots; he exclaimed:

"My child!"

Hamilcar threw himself with a bound upon the slave, and covering the
man's mouth with his hand exclaimed still more loudly:

"It is the old man who reared him! he calls him 'my child!' it will make
him mad! enough! enough!" And hustling away the three priests and their
victim he went out with them and with a great kick shut the door behind
him.

Hamilcar strained his ears for some minutes in constant fear of seeing
them return. He then thought of getting rid of the slave in order to
be quite sure that he would see nothing; but the peril had not wholly
disappeared, and, if the gods were provoked at the man's death, it might
be turned against his son. Then, changing his intention, he sent him
by Taanach the best from his kitchens - a quarter of a goat, beans, and
preserved pomegranates. The slave, who had eaten nothing for a long
time, rushed upon them; his tears fell into the dishes.

Hamilcar at last returned to Salammbo, and unfastened Hannibal's cords.
The child in exasperation bit his hand until the blood came. He repelled
him with a caress.

To make him remain quiet Salammbo tried to frighten him with Lamia, a
Cyrenian ogress.

"But where is she?" he asked.

He was told that brigands were coming to put him into prison. "Let them
come," he rejoined, "and I will kill them!"

Then Hamilcar told him the frightful truth. But he fell into a passion
with his father, contending that he was quite able to annihilate the
whole people, since he was the master of Carthage.

At last, exhausted by his exertions and anger, he fell into a wild
sleep. He spoke in his dreams, his back leaning against a scarlet
cushion; his head was thrown back somewhat, and his little arm,
outstretched from his body, lay quite straight in an attitude of
command.

When the night had grown dark Hamilcar lifted him up gently, and,
without a torch, went down the galley staircase. As he passed through
the mercantile house he took up a basket of grapes and a flagon of pure
water; the child awoke before the statue of Aletes in the vault of gems,
and he smiled - like the other - on his father's arm at the brilliant
lights which surrounded him.

Hamilcar felt quite sure that his son could not be taken from him. It
was an impenetrable spot communicating with the beach by a subterranean
passage which he alone knew, and casting his eyes around he inhaled
a great draught of air. Then he set him down upon a stool beside some
golden shields. No one at present could see him; he had no further need
for watching; and he relieved his feelings. Like a mother finding her
first-born that was lost, he threw himself upon his son; he clasped him
to his breast, he laughed and wept at the same time, he called him
by the fondest names and covered him with kisses; little Hannibal was
frightened by this terrible tenderness and was silent now.

Hamilcar returned with silent steps, feeling the walls around him, and
came into the great hall where the moonlight entered through one of the
apertures in the dome; in the centre the slave lay sleeping after his
repast, stretched at full length upon the marble pavement. He looked at
him and was moved with a sort of pity. With the tip of his cothurn he
pushed forward a carpet beneath his head. Then he raised his eyes and
gazed at Tanith, whose slender crescent was shining in the sky, and felt
himself stronger than the Baals and full of contempt for them.

The arrangements for the sacrifice were already begun.

Part of a wall in the temple of Moloch was thrown down in order to draw
out the brazen god without touching the ashes of the altar. Then as
soon as the sun appeared the hierodules pushed it towards the square of
Khamon.

It moved backwards sliding upon cylinders; its shoulders overlapped the
walls. No sooner did the Carthaginians perceive it in the distance than
they speedily took to flight, for the Baal could be looked upon with
impunity only when exercising his wrath.

A smell of aromatics spread through the streets. All the temples
had just been opened simultaneously, and from them there came forth
tabernacles borne upon chariots, or upon litters carried by the
pontiffs. Great plumes swayed at the corners of them, and rays were
emitted from their slender pinnacles which terminated in balls of
crystal, gold, silver or copper.

These were the Chanaanitish Baalim, offshoots of the supreme Baal, who
were returning to their first cause to humble themselves before his
might and annihilate themselves in his splendour.

Melkarth's pavilion, which was of fine purple, sheltered a petroleum
flare; on Khamon's, which was of hyacinth colour, there rose an ivory
phallus bordered with a circle of gems; between Eschmoun's curtains,
which were as blue as the ether, a sleeping python formed a circle with
his tail, and the Pataec gods, held in the arms of their priests, looked
like great infants in swaddling clothes with their heels touching the
ground.

Then came all the inferior forms of the Divinity: Baal-Samin, god of
celestial space; Baal-Peor, god of the sacred mountains; Baal-Zeboub,
god of corruption, with those of the neighbouring countries and
congenerous races: the Iarbal of Libya, the Adramelech of Chaldaea,
the Kijun of the Syrians; Derceto, with her virgin's face, crept on
her fins, and the corpse of Tammouz was drawn along in the midst of a
catafalque among torches and heads of hair. In order to subdue the kings
of the firmament to the Sun, and prevent their particular influences
from disturbing his, diversely coloured metal stars were brandished
at the end of long poles; and all were there, from the dark Neblo, the
genius of Mercury, to the hideous Rahab, which is the constellation of
the Crocodile. The Abbadirs, stones which had fallen from the moon, were
whirling in slings of silver thread; little loaves, representing the
female form, were born on baskets by the priests of Ceres; others
brought their fetishes and amulets; forgotten idols reappeared, while
the mystic symbols had been taken from the very ships as though Carthage
wished to concentrate herself wholly upon a single thought of death and
desolation.

Before each tabernacle a man balanced a large vase of smoking incense on
his head. Clouds hovered here and there, and the hangings, pendants,
and embroideries of the sacred pavilions might be distinguished amid
the thick vapours. These advanced slowly owing to their enormous weight.
Sometimes the axles became fast in the streets; then the pious took
advantage of the opportunity to touch the Baalim with their garments,
which they preserved afterwards as holy things.

The brazen statue continued to advance towards the square of Khamon. The
rich, carrying sceptres with emerald balls, set out from the bottom
of Megara; the Ancients, with diadems on their heads, had assembled in
Kinisdo, and masters of the finances, governors of provinces, sailors,
and the numerous horde employed at funerals, all with the insignia of
their magistracies or the instruments of their calling, were making
their way towards the tabernacles which were descending from the
Acropolis between the colleges of the pontiffs.

Out of deference to Moloch they had adorned themselves with the most
splendid jewels. Diamonds sparkled on their black garments; but their
rings were too large and fell from their wasted hands, - nor could there
have been anything so mournful as this silent crowd where earrings
tapped against pale faces, and gold tiaras clasped brows contracted with
stern despair.

At last the Baal arrived exactly in the centre of the square. His
pontiffs arranged an enclosure with trellis-work to keep off the
multitude, and remained around him at his feet.

The priests of Khamon, in tawny woollen robes, formed a line before
their temple beneath the columns of the portico; those of Eschmoun, in
linen mantles with necklaces of koukouphas' heads and pointed tiaras,
posted themselves on the steps of the Acropolis; the priests of
Melkarth, in violet tunics, took the western side; the priests of the
Abbadirs, clasped with bands of Phrygian stuffs, placed themselves on
the east, while towards the south, with the necromancers all covered
with tattooings, and the shriekers in patched cloaks, were ranged the
curates of the Pataec gods, and the Yidonim, who put the bone of a dead
man into their mouths to learn the future. The priests of Ceres, who
were dressed in blue robes, had prudently stopped in the street of
Satheb, and in low tones were chanting a thesmophorion in the Megarian
dialect.

From time to time files of men arrived, completely naked, their arms
outstretched, and all holding one another by the shoulders. From
the depths of their breasts they drew forth a hoarse and cavernous
intonation; their eyes, which were fastened upon the colossus, shone
through the dust, and they swayed their bodies simultaneously, and at
equal distances, as though they were all affected by a single movement.
They were so frenzied that to restore order the hierodules compelled
them, with blows of the stick, to lie flat upon the ground, with their
faces resting against the brass trellis-work.

Then it was that a man in a white robe advanced from the back of the
square. He penetrated the crowd slowly, and people recognised a priest
of Tanith - the high-priest Schahabarim. Hootings were raised, for the
tyranny of the male principle prevailed that day in all consciences, and
the goddess was actually so completely forgotten that the absence of her
pontiffs had not been noticed. But the amazement was increased when he
was seen to open one of the doors of the trellis-work intended for
those who intended to offer up victims. It was an outrage to their god,
thought the priests of Moloch, that he had just committed, and they
sought with eager gestures to repel him. Fed on the meat of the
holocausts, clad in purple like kings, and wearing triple-storied
crowns, they despised the pale eunuch, weakened with his macerations,
and angry laughter shook their black beards, which were displayed on
their breasts in the sun.

Schahabarim walked on, giving no reply, and, traversing the whole
enclosure with deliberation, reached the legs of the colossus; then,
spreading out both arms, he touched it on both sides, which was a solemn
form of adoration. For a long time Rabbet had been torturing him, and
in despair, or perhaps for lack of a god that completely satisfied his
ideas, he had at last decided for this one.

The crowd, terrified by this act of apostasy, uttered a lengthened
murmur. It was felt that the last tie which bound their souls to a
merciful divinity was breaking.

But owing to his mutilation, Schahabarim could take no part in the cult
of the Baal. The men in the red cloaks shut him out from the enclosure;
then, when he was outside, he went round all the colleges in succession,
and the priest, henceforth without a god, disappeared into the crowd. It
scattered at his approach.

Meanwhile a fire of aloes, cedar, and laurel was burning between the
legs of the colossus. The tips of its long wings dipped into the flame;
the unguents with which it had been rubbed flowed like sweat over its
brazen limbs. Around the circular flagstone on which its feet rested,
the children, wrapped in black veils, formed a motionless circle; and
its extravagantly long arms reached down their palms to them as though
to seize the crown that they formed and carry it to the sky.

The rich, the Ancients, the women, the whole multitude, thronged behind
the priests and on the terraces of the houses. The large painted stars
revolved no longer; the tabernacles were set upon the ground; and the
fumes from the censers ascended perpendicularly, spreading their bluish
branches through the azure like gigantic trees.

Many fainted; others became inert and petrified in their ecstasy.
Infinite anguish weighed upon the breasts of the beholders. The
last shouts died out one by one, - and the people of Carthage stood
breathless, and absorbed in the longing of their terror.

At last the high priest of Moloch passed his left hand beneath the
children's veils, plucked a lock of hair from their foreheads, and threw
it upon the flames. Then the men in the red cloaks chanted the sacred
hymn:

"Homage to thee, Sun! king of the two zones, self-generating Creator,
Father and Mother, Father and Son, God and Goddess, Goddess and God!"
And their voices were lost in the outburst of instruments sounding
simultaneously to drown the cries of the victims. The eight-stringed
scheminiths, the kinnors which had ten strings, and the nebals which
had twelve, grated, whistled, and thundered. Enormous leathern bags,
bristling with pipes, made a shrill clashing noise; the tabourines,
beaten with all the players' might, resounded with heavy, rapid blows;
and, in spite of the fury of the clarions, the salsalim snapped like
grasshoppers' wings.

The hierodules, with a long hook, opened the seven-storied compartments
on the body of the Baal. They put meal into the highest, two
turtle-doves into the second, an ape into the third, a ram into the
fourth, a sheep into the fifth, and as no ox was to be had for the
sixth, a tawny hide taken from the sanctuary was thrown into it. The
seventh compartment yawned empty still.

Before undertaking anything it was well to make trial of the arms of the
god. Slender chainlets stretched from his fingers up to his shoulders
and fell behind, where men by pulling them made the two hands rise to a
level with the elbows, and come close together against the belly; they
were moved several times in succession with little abrupt jerks. Then
the instruments were still. The fire roared.

The pontiffs of Moloch walked about on the great flagstone scanning the
multitude.

An individual sacrifice was necessary, a perfectly voluntary oblation,
which was considered as carrying the others along with it. But no one
had appeared up to the present, and the seven passages leading from the
barriers to the colossus were completely empty. Then the priests, to
encourage the people, drew bodkins from their girdles and gashed their
faces. The Devotees, who were stretched on the ground outside, were
brought within the enclosure. A bundle of horrible irons was thrown to
them, and each chose his own torture. They drove in spits between their
breasts; they split their cheeks; they put crowns of thorns upon their
heads; then they twined their arms together, and surrounded the children
in another large circle which widened and contracted in turns. They
reached to the balustrade, they threw themselves back again, and then
began once more, attracting the crowd to them by the dizziness of their
motion with its accompanying blood and shrieks.

By degrees people came into the end of the passages; they flung into
the flames pearls, gold vases, cups, torches, all their wealth; the
offerings became constantly more numerous and more splendid. At last a
man who tottered, a man pale and hideous with terror, thrust forward
a child; then a little black mass was seen between the hands of the
colossus, and sank into the dark opening. The priests bent over the edge
of the great flagstone, - and a new song burst forth celebrating the joys
of death and of new birth into eternity.

The children ascended slowly, and as the smoke formed lofty eddies as
it escaped, they seemed at a distance to disappear in a cloud. Not
one stirred. Their wrists and ankles were tied, and the dark drapery
prevented them from seeing anything and from being recognised.

Hamilcar, in a red cloak, like the priests of Moloch, was beside the
Baal, standing upright in front of the great toe of its right foot. When
the fourteenth child was brought every one could see him make a great
gesture of horror. But he soon resumed his former attitude, folded his
arms, and looked upon the ground. The high pontiff stood on the other
side of the statue as motionless as he. His head, laden with an Assyrian
mitre, was bent, and he was watching the gold plate on his breast; it
was covered with fatidical stones, and the flame mirrored in it formed
irisated lights. He grew pale and dismayed. Hamilcar bent his brow; and
they were both so near the funeral-pile that the hems of their cloaks
brushed it as they rose from time to time.

The brazen arms were working more quickly. They paused no longer. Every
time that a child was placed in them the priests of Moloch spread
out their hands upon him to burden him with the crimes of the people,
vociferating: "They are not men but oxen!" and the multitude round
about repeated: "Oxen! oxen!" The devout exclaimed: "Lord! eat!" and
the priests of Proserpine, complying through terror with the needs of
Carthage, muttered the Eleusinian formula: "Pour out rain! bring forth!"

The victims, when scarcely at the edge of the opening, disappeared like
a drop of water on a red-hot plate, and white smoke rose amid the great
scarlet colour.

Nevertheless, the appetite of the god was not appeased. He ever wished
for more. In order to furnish him with a larger supply, the victims were
piled up on his hands with a big chain above them which kept them in
their place. Some devout persons had at the beginning wished to count
them, to see whether their number corresponded with the days of
the solar year; but others were brought, and it was impossible to
distinguish them in the giddy motion of the horrible arms. This lasted
for a long, indefinite time until the evening. Then the partitions
inside assumed a darker glow, and burning flesh could be seen. Some even
believed that they could descry hair, limbs, and whole bodies.

Night fell; clouds accumulated above the Baal. The funeral-pile, which
was flameless now, formed a pyramid of coals up to his knees; completely
red like a giant covered with blood, he looked, with his head
thrown back, as though he were staggering beneath the weight of his
intoxication.

In proportion as the priests made haste, the frenzy of the people
increased; as the number of the victims was diminishing, some cried
out to spare them, others that still more were needful. The walls, with
their burden of people, seemed to be giving way beneath the howlings
of terror and mystic voluptuousness. Then the faithful came into the
passages, dragging their children, who clung to them; and they beat them
in order to make them let go, and handed them over to the men in red.
The instrument-players sometimes stopped through exhaustion; then the
cries of the mothers might be heard, and the frizzling of the fat as it


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21 23 24 25

Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSalammbo → online text (page 21 of 25)