An Egyptian Princess (Chapter 2, page 2 of 17)


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Chapter 2

Then she turned to the Spartan, remarking, that to him alone of all her guests, instead of an apology for the simplicity of the meal, she felt she owed one for its luxury. The next time he came, her slave Knakias, who, as an escaped Helot, boasted that he could cook a delicious blood-soup (here the Sybarite shuddered), should prepare him a true Lacedaemonian repast.

When the guests had eaten sufficiently they again washed their hands; the plates and dishes were removed, the floor cleansed, and wine and water poured into the bowl.

[The Symposium began after the real meal. Not till that was over did the guests usually adorn themselves with wreaths, wash their hands with Smegma or Smema (a kind of soap) and begin to drink.] At last, when Rhodopis had convinced herself that the right moment was come, she turned to Phanes, who was engaged in a discussion with the Milesians, and thus addressed him: "Noble friend, we have restrained our impatience so long that it must surely now be your duty to tell us what evil chance is threatening to snatch you from Egypt and from our circle. You may be able to leave us and this country with a light heart, for the gods are wont to bless you Ionians with that precious gift from your very birth, but we shall remember you long and sadly. I know of no worse loss than that of a friend tried through years, indeed some of us have lived too long on the Nile not to have imbibed a little of the constant, unchanging Egyptian temperament. You smile, and yet I feel sure that long as you have desired to revisit your dear Hellas, you will not be able to leave us quite without regret. Ah, you admit this? Well, I knew I had not been deceived. But now tell us why you are obliged to leave Egypt, that we may consider whether it may not be possible to get the king's decree reversed, and so keep you with us."

Phanes smiled bitterly, and replied: "Many thanks, Rhodopis, for these flattering words, and for the kind intention either to grieve over my departure, or if possible, to prevent it. A hundred new faces will soon help you to forget mine, for long as you have lived on the Nile, you are still a Greek from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, and may thank the gods that you have remained so. I am a great friend of constancy too, but quite as great an enemy of folly, and is there one among you who would not call it folly to fret over what cannot be undone? I cannot call the Egyptian constancy a virtue, it is a delusion. The men who treasure their dead for thousands of years, and would rather lose their last loaf than allow a single bone belonging to one of their ancestors to be taken from them, are not constant, they are foolish. Can it possibly make me happy to see my friends sad? Certainly not! You must not imitate the Egyptians, who, when they lose a friend, spend months in daily-repeated lamentations over him. On the contrary, if you will sometimes think of the distant, I ought to say, of the departed, friend, (for as long as I live I shall never be permitted to tread Egyptian ground again), let it be with smiling faces; do not cry, 'Ah! why was Phanes forced to leave us?' but rather, 'Let us be merry, as Phanes used to be when he made one of our circle!' In this way you must celebrate my departure, as Simonides enjoined when he sang: "If we would only be more truly wise, We should not waste on death our tears and sighs, Nor stand and mourn o'er cold and lifeless clay More than one day.

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