HAT happiness to Ione! what bliss to be ever by the side of Glaucus, to hear his voice!—And she too can see him!'
Such was the soliloquy of the blind girl, as she walked alone and at twilight to the house of her new mistress, whither Glaucus had already preceded her. Suddenly she was interrupted in her fond thoughts by a female voice.
'Blind flower-girl, whither goest thou? There is no pannier under thine arm; hast thou sold all thy flowers?'
The person thus accosting Nydia was a lady of a handsome but a bold and unmaidenly countenance: it was Julia, the daughter of Diomed. Her veil was half raised as she spoke; she was accompanied by Diomed himself, and by a slave carrying a lantern before them—the merchant and his daughter were returning home from a supper at one of their neighbors'.
'Dost thou not remember my voice?' continued Julia. 'I am the daughter of Diomed the wealthy.'
'Ah! forgive me; yes, I recall the tones of your voice. No, noble Julia, I have no flowers to sell.'
'I heard that thou wert purchased by the beautiful Greek Glaucus; is that true, pretty slave?' asked Julia.
'I serve the Neapolitan, Ione,' replied Nydia, evasively.
'Ah! and it is true, then...'
'Come, come!' interrupted Diomed, with his cloak up to his mouth, 'the night grows cold; I cannot stay here while you prate to that blind girl: come, let her follow you home, if you wish to speak to her.'
'Do, child,' said Julia, with the air of one not accustomed to be refused; 'I have much to ask of thee: come.'
'I cannot this night, it grows late,' answered Nydia. 'I must be at home; I am not free, noble Julia.'
'What, the meek Ione will chide thee?—Ay, I doubt not she is a second Thalestris. But come, then, to-morrow: do—remember I have been thy friend of old.'
'I will obey thy wishes,' answered Nydia; and Diomed again impatiently summoned his daughter: she was obliged to proceed, with the main question she had desired to put to Nydia unasked.
Meanwhile we return to Ione. The interval of time that had elapsed that day between the first and second visit of Glaucus had not been too gaily spent: she had received a visit from her brother. Since the night he had assisted in saving her from the Egyptian, she had not before seen him.
Occupied with his own thoughts—thoughts of so serious and intense a nature—the young priest had thought little of his sister; in truth, men, perhaps of that fervent order of mind which is ever aspiring above earth, are but little prone to the earthlier affections; and it had been long since Apaecides had sought those soft and friendly interchanges of thought, those sweet confidences, which in his earlier youth had bound him to Ione, and which are so natural to that endearing connection which existed between them.
Ione, however, had not ceased to regret his estrangement: she attributed it, at present, to the engrossing duties of his severe fraternity. And often, amidst all her bright hopes, and her new attachment to her betrothed—often, when she thought of her brother's brow prematurely furrowed, his unsmiling lip, and bended frame, she sighed to think that the service of the gods could throw so deep a shadow over that earth which the gods created.
But this day when he visited her there was a strange calmness on his features, a more quiet and self-possessed expression in his sunken eyes, than she had marked for years. This apparent improvement was but momentary—it was a false calm, which the least breeze could ruffle.
'May the gods bless thee, my brother!' said she, embracing him.
'The gods! Speak not thus vaguely; perchance there is but one God!'
'What if the sublime faith of the Nazarene be true? What if God be a monarch—One—Invisible—Alone? What if these numerous, countless deities, whose altars fill the earth, be but evil demons, seeking to wean us from the true creed? This may be the case, Ione!'
'Alas! can we believe it? or if we believed, would it not be a melancholy faith answered the Neapolitan. 'What! all this beautiful world made only human!—mountain disenchanted of its Oread—the waters of their Nymph—that beautiful prodigality of faith, which makes everything divine, consecrating the meanest flowers, bearing celestial whispers in the faintest breeze—wouldst thou deny this, and make the earth mere dust and clay? No, Apaecides: all that is brightest in our hearts is that very credulity which peoples the universe with gods.'
Ione answered as a believer in the poesy of the old mythology would answer. We may judge by that reply how obstinate and hard the contest which Christianity had to endure among the heathens. The Graceful Superstition was never silent; every, the most household, action of their lives was entwined with it—it was a portion of life itself, as the flowers are a part of the thyrsus. At every incident they recurred to a god, every cup of wine was prefaced by a libation; the very garlands on their thresholds were dedicated to some divinity; their ancestors themselves, made holy, presided as Lares over their hearth and hall. So abundant was belief with them, that in their own climes, at this hour, idolatry has never thoroughly been outrooted: it changes but its objects of worship; it appeals to innumerable saints where once it resorted to divinities; and it pours its crowds, in listening reverence, to oracles at the shrines of St. Januarius or St. Stephen, instead of to those of Isis or Apollo.
But these superstitions were not to the early Christians the object of contempt so much as of horror. They did not believe, with the quiet scepticism of the heathen philosopher, that the gods were inventions of the priests; nor even, with the vulgar, that, according to the dim light of history, they had been mortals like themselves. They imagined the heathen divinities to be evil spirits—they transplanted to Italy and to Greece the gloomy demons of India and the East; and in Jupiter or in Mars they shuddered at the representative of Moloch or of Satan.
Apaecides had not yet adopted formally the Christian faith, but he was already on the brink of it. He already participated the doctrines of Olinthus—he already imagined that the lively imaginations of the heathen were the suggestions of the arch-enemy of mankind. The innocent and natural answer of Ione made him shudder. He hastened to reply vehemently, and yet so confusedly, that Ione feared for his reason more than she dreaded his violence.
'Ah, my brother!' said she, 'these hard duties of thine have shattered thy very sense. Come to me, Apaecides, my brother, my own brother; give me thy hand, let me wipe the dew from thy brow—chide me not now, I understand thee not; think only that Ione could not offend thee!'
'Ione,' said Apaecides, drawing her towards him, and regarding her tenderly, 'can I think that this beautiful form, this kind heart, may be destined to an eternity of torment?'
'Dii meliora! the gods forbid!' said Ione, in the customary form of words by which her contemporaries thought an omen might be averted.
The words, and still more the superstition they implied, wounded the ear of Apaecides. He rose, muttering to himself, turned from the chamber, then, stopping, half way, gazed wistfully on Ione, and extended his arms.
Ione flew to them in joy; he kissed her earnestly, and then he said:
'Farewell, my sister! when we next meet, thou mayst be to me as nothing; take thou, then, this embrace—full yet of all the tender reminiscences of childhood, when faith and hope, creeds, customs, interests, objects, were the same to us. Now, the tie is to be broken!'
With these strange words he left the house.
The great and severest trial of the primitive Christians was indeed this; their conversion separated them from their dearest bonds. They could not associate with beings whose commonest actions, whose commonest forms of speech, were impregnated with idolatry. They shuddered at the blessing of love, to their ears it was uttered in a demon's name. This, their misfortune, was their strength; if it divided them from the rest of the world, it was to unite them proportionally to each other. They were men of iron who wrought forth the Word of God, and verily the bonds that bound them were of iron also!
Glaucus found Ione in tears; he had already assumed the sweet privilege to console. He drew from her a recital of her interview with her brother; but in her confused account of language, itself so confused to one not prepared for it, he was equally at a loss with Ione to conceive the intentions or the meaning of Apaecides.
'Hast thou ever heard much,' asked she, 'of this new sect of the Nazarenes, of which my brother spoke?'
'I have often heard enough of the votaries,' returned Glaucus, 'but of their exact tenets know I naught, save that in their doctrine there seemeth something preternaturally chilling and morose. They live apart from their kind; they affect to be shocked even at our simple uses of garlands; they have no sympathies with the cheerful amusements of life; they utter awful threats of the coming destruction of the world; they appear, in one word, to have brought their unsmiling and gloomy creed out of the cave of Trophonius. Yet,' continued Glaucus, after a slight pause, 'they have not wanted men of great power and genius, nor converts, even among the Areopagites of Athens. Well do I remember to have heard my father speak of one strange guest at Athens, many years ago; methinks his name was PAUL. My father was amongst a mighty crowd that gathered on one of our immemorial hills to hear this sage of the East expound: through the wide throng there rang not a single murmur!—the jest and the roar, with which our native orators are received, were hushed for him—and when on the loftiest summit of that hill, raised above the breathless crowd below, stood this mysterious visitor, his mien and his countenance awed every heart, even before a sound left his lips. He was a man, I have heard my father say, of no tall stature, but of noble and impressive mien; his robes were dark and ample; the declining sun, for it was evening, shone aslant upon his form as it rose aloft, motionless, and commanding; his countenance was much worn and marked, as of one who had braved alike misfortune and the sternest vicissitude of many climes; but his eyes were bright with an almost unearthly fire; and when he raised his arm to speak, it was with the majesty of a man into whom the Spirit of a God hath rushed!
'"Men of Athens!" he is reported to have said, "I find amongst ye an altar with this inscription:
To an Unknown God
Ye worship in ignorance the same Deity I serve.
To you unknown till now, to you be it now revealed."
'Then declared that solemn man how this great Maker of all things, who had appointed unto man his several tribes and his various homes—the Lord of earth and the universal heaven, dwelt not in temples made with hands; that His presence, His spirit, were in the air we breathed—our life and our being were with Him. "Think you," he cried, "that the Invisible is like your statues of gold and marble? Think you that He needeth sacrifice from you: He who made heaven and earth?" Then spoke he of fearful and coming times, of the end of the world, of a second rising of the dead, whereof an assurance had been given to man in the resurrection of the mighty Being whose religion he came to preach.
'When he thus spoke, the long-pent murmur went forth, and the philosophers that were mingled with the people, muttered their sage contempt; there might you have seen the chilling frown of the Stoic, and the Cynic's sneer; and the Epicurean, who believeth not even in our own Elysium, muttered a pleasant jest, and swept laughing through the crowd: but the deep heart of the people was touched and thrilled; and they trembled, though they knew not why, for verily the stranger had the voice and majesty of a man to whom "The Unknown God" had committed the preaching of His faith.'
Ione listened with wrapt attention, and the serious and earnest manner of the narrator betrayed the impression that he himself had received from one who had been amongst the audience that on the hill of the heathen Mars had heard the first tidings of the word of Christ!
Last modified 4 January 2007