[Illustration: An eagle pecking at the heart of a bearded man, chained to
a rock, with the inscription: "Cor ex est numquam ex cordis regina
OF THE GODS:
AND OTHER TALES
HORACE HOWARD FURNESS
DABO DUOBUS TESTIBUS MEIS
The Twilight of the Gods
The Potion of Lao-Tsze
Abdallah the Adite
Ananda the Miracle Worker
The City of Philosophers
The Demon Pope
The Wisdom of the Indians
The Dumb Oracle
Alexander the Ratcatcher
The Rewards of Industry
The Elixir of Life
The Poet of Panopolis
The Purple Head
A Page from the Book of Folly
The Bell of Saint Euschemon
Bishop Addo and Bishop Gaddo
The Philosopher and the Butterflies
Truth and Her Companions
The Three Palaces
New Readings in Biography
The Poison Maid
THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS
Truth fails not, but her outward forms that bear
The longest date do melt like frosty rime.
The fourth Christian century was far past its meridian, when, high above
the summit of the supreme peak of Caucasus, a magnificent eagle came
sailing on broad fans into the blue, and his shadow skimmed the glittering
snow as it had done day by day for thousands of years. A human figure - or
it might be superhuman, for his mien seemed more than mortal - lifted from
the crag, to which he hung suspended by massy gyves and rivets, eyes
mournful with the presentiment of pain. The eagle's screech clanged on the
wind, as with outstretched neck he stooped earthward in ever narrowing
circles; his huge quills already creaked in his victim's ears, whose flesh
crept and shrank, and involuntary convulsions agitated his hands and feet.
Then happened what all these millenniums had never witnessed. No
thunderbolt had blazed forth from that dome of cloudless blue; no marksman
had approached the inaccessible spot; yet, without vestige of hurt, the
eagle dropped lifeless, falling sheer down into the unfathomable abyss
below. At the same moment the bonds of the captive snapped asunder, and,
projected by an impetus which kept him clear of the perpendicular
precipice, he alighted at an infinite depth on a sun-flecked greensward
amid young ash and oak, where he long lay deprived of sense and motion.
The sun fell, dew gathered on the grass, moonshine glimpsed through the
leaves, stars peeped timidly at the prostrate figure, which remained
prostrate and unconscious still. But as sunlight was born anew in the East
a thrill passed over the slumberer, and he became conscious, first of an
indescribably delicious feeling of restful ease, then of a gnawing pang,
acute as the beak of the eagle for which he at first mistook it. But his
wrists, though still encumbered with bonds and trailing fetters, were
otherwise at liberty, and eagle there was none. Marvelling at his inward
and invisible foe, he struggled to his feet, and found himself contending
with a faintness and dizziness heretofore utterly unknown to him. He dimly
felt himself in the midst of things grown wonderful by estrangement and
distance. No grass, no flower, no leaf had met his eye for thousands of
years, nothing but the impenetrable azure, the transient cloud, sun, moon,
and star, the lightning flash, the glittering peaks of ice, and the
solitary eagle. There seemed more wonder in a blade of grass than in all
these things, but all was blotted in a dizzy swoon, and it needed his
utmost effort to understand that a light sound hard by, rapidly growing
more distinct, was indeed a footfall. With a violent effort he steadied
himself by grasping a tree, and had hardly accomplished so much when a tall
dark maiden, straight as an arrow, slim as an antelope, wildly beautiful
as a Dryad, but liker a Maenad with her aspect of mingled disdain and
dismay, and step hasty as of one pursuing or pursued, suddenly checked her
speed on perceiving him.
"Who art thou?" he exclaimed.
"Gods! Thou speakest Greek!"
"What else should I speak?"
"What else? From whom save thee, since I closed my father's eyes, have I
heard the tongue of Homer and Plato?"
"Who is Homer? Who is Plato?"
The maiden regarded him with a look of the deepest astonishment.
"Surely," she said, "thy gift has been bestowed upon thee to little
purpose. Say not, at least, that thou usest the speech of the Gods to
blaspheme them. Thou art surely yet a votary of Zeus?"
"I a votary of Zeus!" exclaimed the stranger. "By these fetters, no!" And,
weak as he was, the forest rang with his disdainful laughter.
"Farewell," said the maiden, as with dilating form and kindling eye she
gathered up her robes. "I parley with thee no more. Thou art tenfold more
detestable than the howling mob down yonder, intent on rapine and
destruction. They know no better, and can no other. But thou, apt in
speaking the sacred tongue yet brutally ignorant of its treasures, knowing
the father of the Gods only to revile him! Let me pass."
The stranger, if willing to hinder her, seemed little able. His eyes
closed, his limbs relaxed, and without a cry he sank senseless on the
In an instant the maiden was kneeling by his side. Hastily undoing a basket
she carried on her arm, she drew forth a leather flask, and, supporting
the sunken head with one hand, poured a stream of wine through the lips
with the other. As the gurgling purple coursed down his throat the sufferer
opened his eyes, and thanked her silently with a smile of exquisite
sweetness. Removing the large leaves which shaded the contents of the
basket, she disclosed ripe figs and pomegranates, honeycomb and snow-white
curd, lying close to each other in tempting array. The stranger took of
each alternately, and the basket was well-nigh emptied ere his appetite
The observant maiden, meanwhile, felt her mood strangely altered.
"So have I imaged Ulysses to myself," she thought as she gazed on the
stranger's goodly form, full of vigour, though not without traces of age,
the massive brow, the kindly mouth, the expression of far-seeing wisdom.
"Such a man ignorant of letters, and a contemner of Zeus!"
The stranger's eloquent thanks roused her from a reverie. The Greek tongue
fell upon her ear like the sweetest music, and she grieved when its flow
was interrupted by a question addressed directly to herself.
"Can a God feel hunger and thirst?"
"Surely no," she rejoined.
"I should have said the same yesterday," returned the stranger.
"Wherefore not to-day?"
"Dear maiden," responded he, with winning voice and manner, "we must know
each other better ere my tale can gain credence with thee. Do thou rather
unfold what thine own speech has left dark to me. Why the language of the
Gods, as should seem, is here understood by thee and me alone; what foes
Zeus has here other than myself; what is the profane crowd of which thou
didst speak; and why, alone and defenceless, thou ascendest this mountain.
Think of me, if thou wilt, as one fallen from the clouds."
"Strange man," returned the maiden, "who knowest Homer's speech and not
Homer's self, who renouncest Zeus and resemblest him, hear my tale ere I
require thine. Yesterday I should have called myself the last priestess of
Apollo in this fallen land, to-day I have neither shrine nor altar. Moved
by I know not what madness, my countrymen have long ago forsaken the
worship of the Gods. The temples crumbled into ruin, prayer was no longer
offered or sacrifice made as of old, the priestly revenues were plundered;
the sacred vessels carried away; the voice of oracles became dumb; the
divine tongue of Greece was forgotten, its scrolls of wisdom mouldered
unread, and the deluded people turned to human mechanics and fishermen. One
faithful servant of Apollo remained, my father; but 'tis seven days since
he closed his eyes for ever. It was time, for yesternoon the heralds
proclaimed by order of the King that Zeus and the Olympians should be named
no more in Caucasia."
"Ha!" interrupted the stranger, "I see it all. Said I not so?" he shouted,
gazing into the sky as if his eye could pierce and his voice reach beyond
the drifting clouds. "But to thy own tale," he added, turning with a
gesture of command to the astonished Elenko.
"It is soon told," she said. "I knew that it was death to serve the Gods
any more, yet none the less in my little temple did fire burn upon
Apollo's altar this morning. Scarcely was it kindled ere I became aware of
a ruffianly mob thronging to sack and spoil. I was ready for death, but not
at their hands. I caught up this basket, and escaped up the mountain. On
its inaccessible summit, it is reported, hangs Prometheus, whom Zeus (let
me bow in awe before his inscrutable counsels) doomed for his benevolence
to mankind. To him, as Aeschylus sings, Io of old found her way, and from
him received monition and knowledge of what should come to pass. I will try
if courage and some favouring God will guide me to him; if not, I will die
as near Heaven as I may attain. Tell me on thy part what thou wilt, and let
me depart. If thou art indeed Zeus's enemy, thou wilt find enough on thy
side down yonder."
"I have been Zeus's enemy," returned the stranger, mildly and gravely, "I
am so no longer. Immortal hate befits not the mortal I feel myself to have
become. Nor needest thou ascend the peak further. Maiden, I am Prometheus!"
It is a prerogative of the Gods that, when they do speak sooth, mortals
must needs believe them. Elenko hence felt no incredulity at the revelation
of Prometheus, or sought other confirmation than the bonds and broken links
of chain at his wrists and ankles.
"Now," he cried, or rather shouted, "is the prophecy fulfilled with which
of old I admonished the Gods in the halls of Olympus. I told them that Zeus
should beget a child mightier than himself, who should send him and them
the way he had sent his father. I knew not that this child was already
begotten, and that his name was Man. It has taken Man ages to assert
himself, nor has he yet, as it would seem, done more than enthrone a new
idol in the place of the old. But for the old, behold the last traces of
its authority in these fetters, of which the first smith will rid me.
Expect no thunderbolt, dear maiden; none will come: nor shall I regain the
immortality of which I feel myself bereaved since yesterday."
"Is this no sorrow to thee?" asked Elenko.
"Has not my immortality been one of pain?" answered Prometheus. "Now I feel
no pain, and dread one only."
"And that is?"
"The pain of missing a certain fellow-mortal," answered Prometheus, with a
look so expressive that the hitherto unawed maiden cast her eyes to the
ground. Hastening away from the conversation to which, nevertheless, she
inly purposed to return.
"Is Man, then, the maker of Deity?" she asked.
"Can the source of his being originate in himself?" asked Prometheus. "To
assert this were self-contradiction, and pride inflated to madness. But of
the more exalted beings who have like him emanated from the common
principle of all existence, Man, since his advent on the earth, though not
the creator, is the preserver or the destroyer. He looks up to them, and
they are; he out-grows them, and they are not. For the barbarian and
Triballian gods there is no return; but the Olympians, if dead as deities,
survive as impersonations of Man's highest conceptions of the beautiful.
Languid and spectral indeed must be their existence in this barbarian age;
but better days are in store for them."
"And for thee, Prometheus?"
"There is now no place," replied he, "for an impeacher of the Gods. My
cause is won, my part is played. I am rewarded for my love of man by myself
becoming human. When I shall have proved myself also mortal I may haply
traverse realms which Zeus never knew, with, I would hope, Elenko by my
Elenko's countenance expressed her full readiness to accompany Prometheus
as far beyond the limits of the phenomenal world as he might please to
conduct her. A thought soon troubled her delicious reverie, and she
"Peradventure, then, the creed which I have execrated may be truer and
better than that which I have professed?"
"If born in wiser brains and truer hearts, aye," answered Prometheus, "but
of this I can have no knowledge. It seems from thy tale to have begun but
ill. Yet Saturn mutilated his father, and his reign was the Golden Age."
While conversing, hand locked in hand, they had been strolling aimlessly
down the mountain. Turning an abrupt bend in the path, they suddenly found
themselves in presence of an assembly of early Christians.
These confessors were making the most of Elenko's dilapidated temple, whose
smoking shell threw up a sable column in the background. The effigies of
Apollo and the Muses had been dragged forth, and were being diligently
broken up with mallets and hammers. Others of the sacrilegious throng were
rending scrolls, or dividing vestments, or firing the grove of laurel that
environed the shrine, or pelting the affrighted birds as they flew forth.
The sacred vessels, however, at least those of gold and silver, appeared
safe in the guardianship of an episcopal personage of shrewd and jovial
aspect, under whose inspection they were being piled up by a troop of
sturdy young ecclesiastics, the only weapon-bearers among the rabble.
Elenko stood riveted to the ground. Prometheus, to her amazement, rushed
forward to one of the groups with a loud "By all the Gods and Goddesses!"
Following his movements, she saw that the object of his interest was an
enormous dead eagle carried by one of the mob. The multitude, startled by
his cry and his emotion, gazed eagerly at the strangers, and instantly a
shout went up:
"The heathen woman!"
"With a heathen man!"
And clubs began to be brandished, and stones to be picked up from the
Prometheus, to whom the shouts were unintelligible, looked wistfully at
Elenko. As their eyes met, Elenko's countenance, which had hitherto been
all disdain and defiance, assumed an expression of irresolution. A stone
struck Prometheus on the temple, drawing blood; a hundred hands went up,
each weighted with a missile.
"Do as I," cried Elenko to him, and crossed herself.
Prometheus imitated her, not unsuccessfully for a novice.
The uplifted arms were stayed, some even sank down.
By this time the Bishop had bustled to the front, and addressed a torrent
of questions to Prometheus, who merely shook his head, and turned to
inspect the eagle.
"Brethren," said the Bishop, "I smell a miracle!" And, turning to Elenko,
he rapidly proceeded to cross-examine her.
"Thou wert the priestess of this temple?"
"Thou didst leave it this morning a heathen?"
"Thou returnest a Christian?"
Elenko blushed fire, her throat swelled, her heart beat violently. All her
soul seemed concentrated in the gaze she fastened on the pale and bleeding
Prometheus. She remained silent - but she crossed herself.
"Who then has persuaded thee to renounce Apollo?"
Elenko pointed to Prometheus.
"An enemy of Zeus, then?"
"Zeus has not such another enemy in the world."
"I knew it, I was sure of it," exclaimed the Bishop. "I can always tell a
Christian when I see him. Wherefore speaks he not?"
"He is ancient, for all his vigorous mien. His martyrdom began ere our
present speech was, nor could he learn this in his captivity."
"Martyrdom! Captivity!" exclaimed the prelate gleefully, "I thought we were
coming thither. An early martyr, doubtless?"
"A very early martyr."
"Fettered and manacled?"
"Behold his wrists and ankles."
"Tortured, of course?"
"Miraculously kept alive to this day?"
"In an entirely supernatural manner."
"Now," said the Bishop, "I would wager my mitre and ring that his life was
prolonged by the daily ministrations of yonder fowl that he caresses with
such singular affection?"
"Never," replied Elenko, "for one day did that most punctual bird omit to
"Hurrah!" shouted the Bishop. "And now, its mission accomplished, the
blessed creature, as I am informed, is found dead at the foot of the
mountain. Saints and angels! this is glorious! On your knees, ye infidels!"
And down they all went, the Bishop setting the example. As their heads were
bowed to the earth, Elenko made a sign to Prometheus, and when the
multitude looked up, it beheld him in the act of imparting the episcopal
"Tell him that we are all his brethren," said the Bishop, which
announcement became in Elenko's mouth, "Do as I do, and cleave to thy
A procession was formed. The new saint, his convert, and the eagle, rode in
a car at the head of it. The Bishop, surrounded by his bodyguard, followed
with the sacred vessels of Apollo, to which he had never ceased to direct a
vigilant eye throughout the whole proceedings. The multitude swarmed along
singing hymns, or contending for the stray feathers of the eagle. The
representatives of seven monasteries put in their claims for the links of
Prometheus's fetters, but the Bishop scouted them all. He found time to
whisper to Elenko:
"You seem a sensible young person. Just hint to our friend that we don't
want to hear anything about his theology, and the less he talks about the
primitive Church the better. No doubt he is a most intelligent man, but he
cannot possibly be up to all the recent improvements."
Elenko promised most fervently that Prometheus' theological sentiments
should remain a mystery to the public. She then began to reflect very
seriously on the subject of her own morals. "This day," she said to
herself, "I have renounced all the Gods, and told lies enough to last me my
life, and for no other reason than that I am in love. If this is a
sufficient reason, lovers must have a different code of morality from the
rest of the world, and indeed it would appear that they have. Will you die
for me? Yes. Admirable. Will you lie for me? No. Then you don't love me.
[Greek: Ball' eis korakas, eis Tainaron, eis 'Ogg Kogg]."
Elenko soon found that there was no pausing upon the path to which she had
committed herself. As the sole medium of communication between Prometheus
and the religious public, her time was half spent in instructing Prometheus
in the creed in which he was supposed to have instructed her, and half in
framing the edifying sentences which passed for the interpretation of
discourses for the most part far more interesting to herself than if they
had been what they professed to be. The rapt and impassioned attention
which she was observed to bestow on his utterances on such occasions all
but gained her the reputation of a saint, and was accepted as a sufficient
set-off against the unhallowed affection which she could not help
manifesting for the memory of her father. The judicious reluctance of the
Caucasian ecclesiastics to inquire over-anxiously into the creeds and
customs of the primitive Church was a great help to her; and another
difficulty was removed by the Bishop, who, having no idea of encouraging a
rival thaumaturgist, took an early opportunity of signifying that it was
rather in the line of Desmotes (for by this name the new saint passed) to
be the subject than the instrument of miracles, and that, at all events, no
more were to be looked for from him at his time of life. The warmth with
which Elenko espoused this view raised her greatly in his good opinion, and
he was always ready to come to her aid when she became entangled in
chronological or historical difficulties, or seasoned her versions of
Desmotes' speeches with reminiscences of Plato or Marcus Aurelius, or when
her invention failed altogether. On such occasions, if objectors grew
troublesome, the Bishop would thunder, "Brethren, I smell a heresy!" and no
more was said. One minor trouble both to Prometheus and Elenko was the
affection they were naturally expected to manifest towards the carcase of
the wretched eagle, which many identified with the eagle of the Evangelist
John. Prometheus was of a forgiving disposition, but Elenko wished nothing
more ardently than that the whole aquiline race might have but one neck,
and that she might wring it. It somewhat comforted her to observe that the
eagle's plumage was growing thin, while the eagle's custodian was growing
But she had worse troubles to endure than any that eagles could occasion.
The youth of those who resorted to her and Prometheus attracted remark from
the graver members of the community. Young ladies found the precepts of the
handsome and dignified saint indispensable to their spiritual health; young
men were charmed with their purity as they came filtered through the lips
of Elenko. Is man more conceited than woman, or more confiding? Elenko
should certainly have been at ease; no temptress, however enterprising,
could well be spreading her nets for an Antony three hundred years old.
Prometheus, on the contrary, might have found cause for jealousy in many a
noble youth's unconcealed admiration of Elenko. Yet he seemed magnificently
unconscious of any cause for apprehension, while Elenko's heart swelled
till it was like to burst. She had the further satisfaction of knowing
herself the best hated woman in Caucasia, between the enmity of those of
whose admirers she had made an involuntary conquest, and of those who found
her standing between them and Prometheus. Her monopoly of Greek, she felt
sure, was her only security. Two constant attendants at Prometheus's
receptions particularly alarmed her, the Princess Miriam, niece of the
Bishop, a handsome widow accustomed to have things as she wished them; and
a tall veiled woman who seemed unknown to all, but whose unseen eyes, she
instinctively knew, were never averted from the unconscious Prometheus.
It was therefore with some trepidation that she received a summons to the
private apartment of the Princess Miriam.
"Dear friend," the Princess began, "thou knowest the singular affection
which I have invariably entertained for thee."
"Right well do I know it," responded Elenko. ("The thirty-first lie
to-day," she added wearily to herself.)
"It is this affection, dear friend," continued the Princess, "which induces
me on the present occasion to transgress the limits of conventional
propriety, and make a communication distressing to thee, but infinitely
more so to myself."
Elenko implored the Princess to make no such sacrifice in the cause of
friendship, but the great lady was resolute.
"People say," she continued -
"What say they?"
"That thy relation to Desmotes is indiscreet. That it is equivocal. That it
is offensive. That it is sacrilegious. That, in a word, it is improper."
Elenko defended herself with as much energy as her candour would allow.
"Dear friend," said the Princess, "thou dost not imagine that I have part
or lot in these odious imputations? Even could I deem them true, should I
not think charitably of thee, but yesterday a heathen, and educated in
impiety by a foul sorcerer? My poor lamb! But tongues must be stopped, and
I have now to advise thee how this may be accomplished."
"People will always talk so long as thou art the sole medium of
communication with the holy man. Some deem him less ignorant of our speech
than he seems, but concerning this I inquire not: for, in society, what
seems, is. Enough that thy colloquies expose thee to scandal. There is but
one remedy. Thou must yield thy place to another. It is meet that thou
forthwith instruct in that barbarous dialect some matron of unblemished
repute and devout aspirations; no mere ignorant devotee, however, but a
woman of the world, whose prudence and experience may preserve the holy man
from the pitfalls set for him by the unprincipled. Manifestly she must be a
married person, else nought were gained, yet must she not be chargeable
with forsaking her duties towards her husband and children. It follows that
she must be a widow. It were also well that she should be of kin to some
influential personage, to whose counsel she might have recourse in times of
difficulty, and whose authority might protect her against the slanderous
and evil disposed. I have not been able to meet any one endowed with all
these qualifications, excepting myself. I therefore propose to thee that
thou shouldst instruct me in the speech of Desmotes, and when I am
qualified to take thy place my uncle shall elevate thee to the dignity of
Abbess, or bestow thee upon some young clergyman of extraordinary desert."