'Listen to me,' continued Arbaces, in an earnest and solemn voice, casting first his searching eyes around to see that they were still alone. 'From Egypt came all the knowledge of the world; from Egypt came the lore of Athens, and the profound policy of Crete; from Egypt came those early and mysterious tribes which (long before the hordes of Romulus swept over the plains of Italy, and in the eternal cycle of events drove back civilization into barbarism and darkness) possessed all the arts of wisdom and the graces of intellectual life. From Egypt came the rites and the grandeur of that solemn Caere, whose inhabitants taught their iron vanquishers of Rome all that they yet know of elevated in religion and sublime in worship. And how deemest thou, young man, that that Egypt, the mother of countless nations, achieved her greatness, and soared to her cloud-capt eminence of wisdom?—It was the result of a profound and holy policy. Your modern nations owe their greatness to Egypt—Egypt her greatness to her priests. Rapt in themselves, coveting a sway over the nobler part of man, his soul and his belief, those ancient ministers of God were inspired with the grandest thought that ever exalted mortals. From the revolutions of the stars, from the seasons of the earth, from the round and unvarying circle of human destinies, they devised an august allegory; they made it gross and palpable to the vulgar by the signs of gods and goddesses, and that which in reality was Government they named Religion. Isis is a fable—start not!—that for which Isis is a type is a reality, an immortal being; Isis is nothing. Nature, which she represents, is the mother of all things—dark, ancient, inscrutable, save to the gifted few. "None among mortals hath ever lifted up my veil," so saith the Isis that you adore; but to the wise that veil hath been removed, and we have stood face to face with the solemn loveliness of Nature. The priests then were the benefactors, the civilizers of mankind; true, they were also cheats, impostors if you will. But think you, young man, that if they had not deceived their kind they could have served them? The ignorant and servile vulgar must be blinded to attain to their proper good; they would not believe a maxim—they revere an oracle. The Emperor of Rome sways the vast and various tribes of earth, and harmonizes the conflicting and disunited elements; thence come peace, order, law, the blessings of life. Think you it is the man, the emperor, that thus sways?—no, it is the pomp, the awe, the majesty that surround him—these are his impostures, his delusions; our oracles and our divinations, our rites and our ceremonies, are the means of our sovereignty and the engines of our power. They are the same means to the same end, the welfare and harmony of mankind. You listen to me rapt and intent—the light begins to dawn upon you.'
Apaecides remained silent, but the changes rapidly passing over his speaking countenance betrayed the effect produced upon him by the words of the Egyptian—words made tenfold more eloquent by the voice, the aspect, and the manner of the man.
'While, then,' resumed Arbaces, 'our fathers of the Nile thus achieved the first elements by whose life chaos is destroyed, namely, the obedience and reverence of the multitude for the few, they drew from their majestic and starred meditations that wisdom which was no delusion: they invented the codes and regularities of law—the arts and glories of existence. They asked belief; they returned the gift by civilization. Were not their very cheats a virtue! Trust me, whosoever in yon far heavens of a diviner and more beneficent nature look down upon our world, smile approvingly on the wisdom which has worked such ends. But you wish me to apply these generalities to yourself; I hasten to obey the wish. The altars of the goddess of our ancient faith must be served, and served too by others than the stolid and soulless things that are but as pegs and hooks whereon to hang the fillet and the robe. Remember two sayings of Sextus the Pythagorean, sayings borrowed from the lore of Egypt. The first is, "Speak not of God to the multitude"; the second is, "The man worthy of God is a god among men." As Genius gave to the ministers of Egypt worship, that empire in late ages so fearfully decayed, thus by Genius only can the dominion be restored. I saw in you, Apaecides, a pupil worthy of my lessons—a minister worthy of the great ends which may yet be wrought; your energy, your talents, your purity of faith, your earnestness of enthusiasm, all fitted you for that calling which demands so imperiously high and ardent qualities: I fanned, therefore, your sacred desires; I stimulated you to the step you have taken. But you blame me that I did not reveal to you the little souls and the juggling tricks of your companions. Had I done so, Apaecides, I had defeated my own object; your noble nature would have at once revolted, and Isis would have lost her priest.'
Apaecides groaned aloud. The Egyptian continued, without heeding the interruption.
'I placed you, therefore, without preparation, in the temple; I left you suddenly to discover and to be sickened by all those mummeries which dazzle the herd. I desired that you should perceive how those engines are moved by which the fountain that refreshes the world casts its waters in the air. It was the trial ordained of old to all our priests. They who accustom themselves to the impostures of the vulgar, are left to practise them—for those like you, whose higher natures demand higher pursuit, religion opens more god-like secrets. I am pleased to find in you the character I had expected. You have taken the vows; you cannot recede. Advance—I will be your guide.'
'And what wilt thou teach me, O singular and fearful man? New cheats—new...'
'No—I have thrown thee into the abyss of disbelief; I will lead thee now to the eminence of faith. Thou hast seen the false types: thou shalt learn now the realities they represent. There is no shadow, Apaecides, without its substance. Come to me this night. Your hand.'
Impressed, excited, bewildered by the language of the Egyptian, Apaecides gave him his hand, and master and pupil parted.
It was true that for Apaecides there was no retreat. He had taken the vows of celibacy: he had devoted himself to a life that at present seemed to possess all the austerities of fanaticism, without any of the consolations of belief It was natural that he should yet cling to a yearning desire to reconcile himself to an irrevocable career. The powerful and profound mind of the Egyptian yet claimed an empire over his young imagination; excited him with vague conjecture, and kept him alternately vibrating between hope and fear. [CH 6]
Last modified 4 January 2007