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Produced by Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon, Marc
D'Hooghe, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team


By August Strindberg

Translated by Claud Field, M.A.


Maximilian Harden, the well-known critic, writes in the _Zukunft_ (7th
September 1907) of the _Historical Miniatures_:

"A very interesting book, as might be expected, for it is Strindberg's.
And I am bold enough to say a book which should and must be successful
with the public. The writer is not here concerned with Sweden, nor with
Natural History. A philosopher and poet here describes the visions which
a study of the history of mankind has called up before his inner eye.
Julian the Apostate and Peter the Hermit appear on the stage, together
with Attila and Luther, Alcibiades and Eginhard. We see the empires
of the Pharaohs and the Czars, the Athens of Socrates and the 'Merry
England' of Henry VIII. There are twenty brief episodes, and each of
them is alive. So powerful is the writer's faculty of vision, that it
compels belief in his descriptions of countries and men."

"The question whether these cultured circles really were as described,
hardly occurs to us. Never has the remarkable writer shown a more
comprehensive grasp. Since the days of the _Confession of a Fool_,
Strindberg has become a writer of world-wide significance."

[Footnote: one collection of Maximilian Harden's essays is published by
Messrs. Blackwood, and another by Mr. Eveleigh Nash.]



























The old worker in ebony and cabinet-maker, Amram, dwelt by the
river-side in a clay-hut which was covered with palm-leaves. There he
lived with his wife and three children. He was yellow in complexion and
wore a long beard. Skilled in his trade of carving ebony and hard wood,
he attended at Pharaoh's court, and accordingly also worked in the
temples. One morning in midsummer, just before sunrise, he got out of
bed, placed his implements in a bag, and stepped out of his hut. He
remained standing on the threshold for a moment, and, turning to the
east, uttered a low prayer. Then he began to walk between fishermen's
huts, following the black broken bank of the river, where herons and
doves were resting after their morning meal.

His neighbour, the fisherman, Nepht, was overhauling his nets, and
placing carp, grayling, and sheat-fish in the different partitions of
his boat.

Amram greeted him, and wished to say some words in token of

"Has the Nile ceased to rise?" he asked.

"It remains standing at ten yards' height. That means starvation!"

"Do you know why it cannot rise higher than fifteen yards, Nepht?"

"Because otherwise we should drown," answered the fisherman simply.

"Yes, certainly, and that we cannot. The Nile, then, has a Lord who
controls the water-level; and He who has measured out the starry vault,
and laid the foundations of the earth, has set up a wall for the waters,
and this wall, which we cannot see, is fifteen yards high. For during
the great flood in the land of our fathers, Ur of the Chaldees, the
water rose fifteen yards - no more, no less. Yes, Nepht, I say 'we,'
for you are of our people, though you speak another tongue, and honour
strange gods. I wish you a good morning, Nepht, a very good morning."

He left the abashed fisherman, went on, and entered the outskirts of the
city, where began the rows of citizens' houses built of Nile-bricks
and wood. He saw the merchant and money-changer Eleazar taking down his
window-shutters while his assistant sprinkled water on the ground before
the shop. Amram greeted him, "A fine morning, cousin Eleazar."

"I cannot say," answered the tradesman sulkily. "The Nile has remained
stationary, and begins to sink. The times are bad."

"Bad times are followed by good times, as our father Abraham knew; and
when Joseph, Jacob's son, foresaw the seven lean years he counselled
Pharaoh to store up corn in the granaries...."

"May be, but that is a forgotten tale now."

"Yes, and have you also forgotten the promise which the Lord gave to his
friend Abraham?"

"That about the land of Canaan? We have waited four hundred years for
its fulfilment, and now, instead of receiving it, Abraham's children
have become bond-servants."

"Abraham believed through good and through evil days, through joy and
through sorrow, and that was counted to him for righteousness."

"I don't believe at all," Eleazar broke in, "or rather, I believe that
things go backwards, and that I will have to put up my shutters, if
there is a failure in the crops."

Amram went on with a sad face, and came to the market, where he bought a
millet loaf, a piece of an eel, and some onions.

When the market-woman took the piece of money, she spat on it, and when
Amram received his change, he did the same.

"Do you spit on the money, Hebrew?" she hissed.

"One adopts the customs of the country," answered Amram.

"Do you answer, unclean dog?"

"I answer speech, but not abuse."

The Hebrew went on, for a crowd began to gather. He met the barber,
Enoch, and they greeted each other with a sign which the Hebrews had
devised, and which signified, "We believe in the promise to Abraham, and
wait, patient in hope."

Amram reached at last the temple square, passed through the avenue of
Sphinxes, and stood before a little door in the left pylon. He knocked
seven times with his hand; a servant appeared, took Amram by the arm
and led him in. A young priest tied a bandage round his eyes, and, after
they had searched his bag, they took the cabinet-maker by the hand, and
led him into the temple. Sometimes they went up steps, sometimes down
them, sometimes straight-forward. Now and then they avoided pillars,
and the murmur of water was heard; at one time there was a smell of
dampness, at another of incense.

At last they halted, and the bandage was taken off Amram's eyes. He
found himself in a small room with painted walls, some seats, and a
cupboard. A richly-carved ebony door divided this room from a larger
one which on one side opened on to a broad staircase leading down to a
terrace facing eastward.

The priest left Amram alone after he had shown him that the door
required repair, and had, with an unmistakable gesture, enjoined on him
silence and secrecy.

When Amram was left alone, and found himself for the first time within
the sacred walls which could not overawe a Hebrew's mind, he yet felt a
certain alarm at all the mysteriousness, of which he had heard since
his youth. In order to shake off his fear of the unknown, he resolved to
satisfy his curiosity, though at the risk of being turned out, if he met
anyone. As a pretext he took a fine plane in his hand, and entered the
great hall.

It was very spacious. In the midst was a fountain of red granite, with
an obelisk set upright in the basin. The walls were adorned with figures
painted in simple colours, most of them in red ochre, but also in yellow
and black. He drew off his sandals, and went on into a gallery where
stood mummy-coffins leaning against the wall.

Then he entered a domed room, on the vault of which were painted the
great constellations of the northern hemisphere. In the middle of the
room stood a table, on which lay a half-globe covered with designs
resembling the outlines of a map. By the window stood another table,
with a model of the largest pyramid set upon a land-surveyor's board,
with a scale of measurements. Close by stood an alidade, an instrument
for measuring angles.

There was no visible outlet to this room, but after some search the
uninitiated Hebrew found some stairs of acacia-wood leading up through
a wooden tower. He climbed and climbed, but when he looked through the
loopholes, he found himself always on a level with the roof of the
domed room. But he continued to ascend, and after he had again counted
a hundred steps and, looked through a loop hole, he found himself on a
level with the floor of the domed room. Then a wooden door opened, and
an elderly man in half-priestly garb received him with a greeting as
though he were a well-known and expected superior. But when he saw a
stranger, he started, and the two men gazed at each other long, before
they could speak. Amram, who felt unpleasantly surprised, began the
verbal encounter: "Reuben? Don't you know me, the friend of your youth,
and your kinsman in the Promise?"

"Amram, the husband of Jochebed, the son of Kohath! Yes, I know you!"

"And you here! After you have vanished from my sight for thirty years!"

"And you?"

"I was sent for to repair a door; that is all; and when I was left
alone, I wanted to look round.

"I am a scribe in the chief school...."

"And sacrificest to strange gods...."

"No, I do not sacrifice, and I have kept my faith in the promise, Amram.
I have entered this temple in order to learn the secrets of the wise,
and to open from within the fortress which holds Israel captive."

"Secrets? Why should the Highest be secret?"

"Because the common people only understand what is low."

"You do not yourself believe in these animals which you call sacred?"

"No, they are only symbols - visible signs to body forth the invisible.
We priests and scribes revere the Only One, the Hidden, under His
visible shape, the Sun, giver and sustainer of life. You remember, when
we were young, how Pharaoh Amenophis the Fourth forcibly did away with
the ancient gods and the worship of the sacred animals. He passed down
the river from Thebes proclaiming the doctrine of the Unity of God.
Do you know whence he derived that doctrine? From the Israelites, who,
after Joseph's marriage to Asenath, daughter of the High Priest of
On, increased in numbers, and even married daughters of the house of
Pharaoh. But after the death of Amenophis the old order was restored,
the King again resided at Thebes, and the ancient gods were brought out
again, all to please the people."

"And you continue to honour the Only One, the Hidden, the Eternal.

"Yes, we do."

"Is, then, your God not the same as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and

"Probably, since there is only One."

"It is strange. Why, then, do you persecute the Hebrews?"

"Foreigners are not generally loved. You know that our Pharaoh has
lately conquered the Syrian race of Hittites."

"In the land of Canaan and the region round about, in the land of our
fathers, and of the promise. Do you see, the Lord of Zebaoth, our God,
sends him to prepare the way for our people?"

"Do you still believe in the promise?"

"As surely as the Lord liveth! And I am told that the time will be soon
fulfilled when we shall leave our bondage, and go to the promised land."

The scribe did not answer, but his face expressed simultaneously doubt
in Amram's declaration, and the certainty of something quite different
which would soon happen. Amram, who did not wish to have his faith
shaken by any kind of explanations, let the subject drop, and spoke of
something indifferent.

"That is a strange staircase."

"It is an elevator, and not a staircase."

Amram glanced up at the domed roof, and found a new pretext for
continuing the conversation, which he did not wish to drop.

"Does that represent the sky?" he asked.


"And its secrets?"

"Ah, the secrets? They are accessible to all who can understand them."

"Tell them in a few words."

"Astronomy is not my province, and I know little of it, but still I
will tell you in a few words. The vault up there represents the sky,
the board lying on the table, the earth. Now the wise speak thus: In the
beginning Earth (Sibu) and Heaven (Nuit) lay near each other. But the
god of air and of sunlight (Shu) raised the sky, and set it as a vault
over the earth. The fixed constellations which we know form as it were
an impression, like that of a seal on wax, of the earth, and when the
learned study the stars, they can find out the unknown parts of our
earth. Look at the constellations which you know. In the north the Great
Bear; in the south, at a certain season of the year, the Hunter (Orion),
with four stars at the corners and three stars in the middle. These
three we Hebrews call Jacob's Staff, and through the uppermost of them
passes the sky-gauge or equator, which corresponds to the earth-gauge
where the sources of our Nile are said to be.

"You know also the constellation which we specially love - the River
(Nile). Look, how it flees from the Hunter (Orion), and makes as many
windings as the Nile here on earth. Therefore he who wishes to learn the
hidden secrets of earth must learn them from the sky. Our wise men know
only the lands which lie towards the east; but those which lie in the
north under the Great Bear are unknown to us, as also are the lands
towards the west. But it looks as though the lands of the Bear had great
destinies assigned to them. Their numbers are four and three, like those
of the Hunter. Three represents the Divine with its attributes, four
denotes the most perfect possible: three and four together form the
mysterious number seven. To gods sacrifices are offered with the unequal
number, three; to men, with the equal number four.

"This is about all that I have cursorily understood of the secrets of
the sky. If you now wish to understand some of the secrets of the earth,
let us consider the tombs of the Pharaohs. These, apart from their
ostensible purposes of being tombs, have also a hidden one - _i.e._ to
conceal in their numbers and proportions the discoveries of the learned
regarding the mutual relations of Sibus and Nuits. In the first place,
the sepulchre of the Pharaohs, or the Pyramid, operates with the numbers
four and three; the base with four, the sides with three. That was
indeed one of the secrets of the sky. But the base of the Great Pyramid
is 365 ells broad. There you have the 365 days of the year. Now the
triple side of the Pyramid is 186 great ells, or a stadium long. There
you see where our road-measures come from.

"If you multiply the breadth of the base with the number 500, which is
about double the breadth measured in great ells, you obtain a length
which is equivalent to 1/360 of the whole orbital path of the sun in
a year, since the number of days in a lunar year is 360. This length
represents four minutes, and those who live a degree west of us see the
sun rise four minutes later than we do.

"This is all I remember about numbers and proportions. If you wish to
learn more - for example, why the sides of the pyramid are inclined at
an angle of 5l° - you must ask the astronomers. The steps to the funereal
chamber, on the other hand, are inclined at an angle of 27°. This
corresponds to the difference between the axis of the universe and the
axis of the earth."

Amram had listened with special attention to the learned scribe's
explanation of the tombs of the Pharaohs, and when Reuben mentioned
numbers he concentrated his attention still more, as though he wished
to fix something in his mind. Finally he interrupted him, and began to
speak: "You just now mentioned 27°. Good! That is not the inclination
of the axis of the universe, but of the Milky Way, which probably is
the real axis and lies 27° north of the heavenly equator, while the
inclination of the earth's axis to the orbit of the sun is 23°. But you
have forgotten the third Pyramid, that of Menkheres, the base of which
is 107 great ells broad. This number 107 we find again three or five
times in the universe; there are 107 smaller suns between the earth and
the sun; 107 is the distance of the planet Venus, and also of Jupiter
from the sun."

Reuben started. "What? Where did you get all that? Here you let me
stand, and make a fool of me! Where have you learnt that?"

"From our oldest and wisest, who have preserved the memories of their
home at Ur in Chaldaea. You despise Assur, you men of Egypt, for you
believe the Nile is the centre of the earth. But there are many centres
in the infinite. Behind Assur, on the Tigris and Euphrates, there lies
another land with another river. It is called the Land of the Seven
Rivers, because its river debouches into seven mouths as the Nile does."

"The Nile has seven arms, as you say, like the seven-branched

"That betokens the Light of the world, which shall shine from every land
where a river divides itself in order to flow into the sea. The rivers,
you see, are the blood-vessels of the earth, and as these carry blue and
red blood alternately, so our land has its Blue Nile and its Red Nile.
The Blue Nile is poisonous like dark blood, and the Red is fertilising,
life-giving, like red blood. So everything created has its counterpart
above in heaven and below on earth, for all is one, and the Lord of all
is One - One and the Same."

Reuben kept silence and listened. "Speak on!" he said at last.

Amram therefore continued: "The tombs of the Pharaohs have also grown
out of the earth on which they rest. The first or Great Pyramid is built
after the pattern of sea-salt when it crystallises in the warmth of the
sun. If you could look through a dewdrop into a salt-crystal, you would
find it built up of an infinite number of squares just like the Great
Pyramid. But if you let alum crystallise, you will see a whole field of
pyramids. Alum is the salt deposited in clay. There you have the salt of
the earth and of the sea.

"But there is another kind of pyramid with blunted corners. That is the
original form of sulphur when found in chalk. Now we have water, earth,
and chalk with its fire-stone. There is still a third kind of pyramid
with blunted edges; these resemble crystallised flint or rock crystal.
There you have the foundation of the mountains. A closer examination of
the Nile-mud will discover all these primary forms and substances - clay,
salt, sulphur, and flint. Therefore the Nile is the blood of the earth.
And the mountains are the flesh, not the bones."

Reuben, whose Egyptian name was Phater, had regarded Amram while he
spoke with alarm and amazement. When the latter had ceased to speak, he
began, "You are not Amram the worker in ebony and cabinet-maker."

"I am certainly a worker in ebony and cabinetmaker, but I am also of
Israel's priestly line. I am the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, the son
of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. I am a Levite and the
husband of Jochebed. Miriam, and Aaron are the children hitherto born
to me; one unborn I still await. Now I go back to my work; show me the

Phater went in front, but led Amram by another way than that by which
he had come. As they passed by an open door, which led into a large hall
lined with bookcases, Amram stopped, full of curiosity, and wished to
enter, in order to look at the numerous books. But Phater held him back
by his garment, "Don't go in," he said; "the place is full of traps and
snares. The guardian of the library sits concealed in the middle of the
hall, and guards his treasures jealously. He has had the floor made of
dried willow-withes, which creak when they are trodden upon. He hears
anyone stealing in, and he hears if a scribe touches the forbidden
books. He has heard us, and he is feeling after us! Don't you feel as
if cold snake-tongues were touching your cheeks, your forehead, your

"Yes, I do."

"It is he, stretching out the fingers of his soul, as we stretch out an
arm. But now I cut off the feeler which wants to examine us."

He took out a knife, and made a cut through the air in front of them.

Amram felt a sudden glow, and at the same moment saw a great adder
writhing on the ground in its death-struggle.

"You practise magic arts here?" he said.

"Did you not know that?"

"I did not expect it."

At the same instant the wall seemed to open, and they saw a mass of
Nile mud in which crocodiles and snakes twined round each other, while a
hippopotamus trampled threateningly with its forefeet.

Amram was alarmed, but Phater took out an amulet in the shape of a
scarabaeus, and, holding it as a shield in front of him, he passed
through the terrible shapes, which dissolved like smoke, while Amram
followed him.

"The magician only cheats our eyes," said Phater, and as he waved his
hand the whole appearance vanished.

Now they stood again in the first hall, and, pointing to the Nilometer,
Amram said, "Famine!"

"There is no doubt of that. Therefore all superfluous mouths should be


Phater saw that he had made a slip of the tongue.

"I mean," he said, "Pharaoh must consider how to get corn."

"He would find a Joseph useful just now."

"Why?" broke in Phater more vehemently than he intended. "Don't you
know that Joseph the son of Jacob brought the Egyptians to be Pharaoh's
bond-slaves. Your chronicles and ours relate that he made the peasants
mortgage their land in return for help during the seven lean years, and
that, by his doing so, Pharaoh became sole possessor of all the land of

"You are not Reuben; you are Phater the Egyptian, for if you were an
Israelite, you would not have spoken thus. Our ways part. I go to my

Amram laid his hand on the door, and Phater glided into the shadow of
the columns and vanished. But Amram saw by his bent back that he had
evil designs.

* * * * *

When Amram came home in the evening, he found that his wife had borne a
son. He was like other healthy children, but did not cry; after the bath
he was wrapped in linen and laid in the darkest corner of the cottage.

The next day before sunrise Amram went again to his work in the Temple
of the Sun, and was again led into the chamber with his eyes bandaged.
There he was left alone without receiving any counsel or advice
regarding what he was to do. This carelessness seemed to him like
indifference, and indicated a general laxness in the temple servants.
Therefore he again entered the columned hall. He looked uneasily at the
Nilometer, in which the water had sunk. There was no hope of the fifteen
ells of water which the earth needed for the harvest of the year.

He stepped out on the terrace, which looked towards the east, and
entered an open colonnade. But before he went farther, he took the
precaution of dropping small pieces of papyrus to show him the way back.
He went through narrow courtyards, but took care not to climb steps; his
experience of yesterday had warned him. At last he found himself in a
forest of pillars whose tops were crowned with lotus-buds, and, as he
listened, he heard what seemed a faint song of children's voices from
the roof. He laid his ear to a pillar, and heard it more clearly, like
the ringing music of zither and harp. He knew that this was caused by
the sun, which had already warmed the stones of the roof, and was about
to ascend the sky.

He went forward, and suddenly saw a terrace upon which stood a
sacrificial altar. From the terrace, a flight of stairs flanked with
sphinxes descended to the river. Thence there sloped a valley, bounded
on the east by the mountains of the Red Sea. At the altar there stood
a priest in a white linen robe with a purple border. He had raised his
arms towards heaven, and stood motionless. His hands were quite white,
since the blood had sunk into his arms, and the face of the old man
seemed astrain with the strength he had invoked from above. Sometimes
his body shuddered as though streams of fire ran through it. He was
silent, and gazed towards the East. Then the shining edge of the sun's
disk rose above the mountain-ridge, and the white hands of the priest
became transparently crimson like his face. And he opened his mouth and
said: "Sun-god: Lord of the splendour of rays, be Thou extolled in the
morning when Thou risest, and in the evening when Thou descendest. I cry
to Thee, Lord of Eternity, Thou Sun of both horizons, Thou Creator who
hast created Thyself. All the gods shout aloud when they behold Thee, O
King of heaven; my youth is renewed when I see thy beauty. Hail to Thee,
as Thou passest from land to land, Thou Father of the gods!"

He stopped speaking and remained standing, his arms outstretched towards
the sun, as though he absorbed warmth from it.

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