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From The Æthiopica: “Heliodorus - An Aethiopian Romance” translated by Thomas Underdowne (Anno 1587), revised and partly rewritten by F. A. Wright; George Routledge & Sons Ltd.: London; New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.; [with additional corrections in the online edition by S. Rhoads;] pp. 258-285.




By this time Syene was plainly besieged, inclosed as though with nets by the Ethiopian army. For Oroöndates, when he heard that the Ethiopians were at hand and had left the Cataracts to march upon Syene, got into the town a little before them, and closed up the gates, and when he had planted his slings and other ordinance upon the wall, he waited to see what they would do. Hydaspes king of Ethiopia heard from his spies at a distance that the Persians were marching to Syene and pursued them in haste with hope of a battle. But he came too late, and therefore lodged his army round about the city without any skirmish, as though he were sitting at a play, and filled all their level country with countless myriads of men and arms and cattle. There his spies found him and presented their prisoners. He took great pleasure to look upon the young couple, and had good affection to them in his mind, as those that should be afterward his own children, although he knew it not then, but especially he counted it good luck that when they were caught they were already in chains. ‘Good,’ he cried, ‘the gods at the beginning deliver our enemies to us in chains. These are our first prisoners and they shall be kept to the end of the war, to be sacrificed at our triumph to the gods, according to the ancient law of Ethiopia.’ After 259 rewarding the spies he sent them and the prisoners to the baggage train, setting guards to keep them who could speak their language and giving them command to look well to them, and let them fare of the best, and keep them from all manner of uncleanness, as things appointed for sacrifice should be kept, and also that their fetters should be changed for bands of gold. For where iron serveth in other countries, gold serveth in Ethiopia.

They did as they were commanded, and taking off their former chains put them in comfort that they should live more easily, and fitted for them fetters of gold. Theagenes laughed hereat and said: ‘Good lord, what means this trim change? Truly fortune flattereth us who exchange iron for gold and being enriched in prison become, because of our fetters, men of worth.’ Chariclea smiled also, and wishing to turn him to other thoughts reminded him of the god’s oracle, and so put him in better hope. Hydaspes then himself assaulted Syene, expecting with his great host that at the first approach he would overthrow the town, walls and all. But for the moment he was repulsed by the defenders who valiantly withstood their enemies’ force and railed at them insolently to anger them the more. Very wroth that they were resolved to endure to the end and had not straight yielded themselves to him, he determined not to waste time with his army in slow delay, nor yet to try such attacks as would let some escape and some be taken, but by a great and invincible siege utterly in a short space to destroy the town. Wherefore he devised this work.

He divided the circle of the wall into parts and to every ten soldiers he gave ten yards, commanding them to make a ditch very deep and very broad. 260 Some digged, others carried the grit away, others raised up a counter-wall against that which was besieged. No man because of their great army durst come out of the town to hinder the work and prevent it being made round the town, while their slings and other engines served to no purpose, since Hydaspes had arranged that the space between the two walls was so great that those who made the ditch were out of reach by their missiles. They soon finished the work by reason of the great number of the labourers, and then he began this other thing. He left between the two ends of the trench a space one hundred feet broad which he ditched to the Nile, bringing the same ever from the lower ground to that which was more high. A man might have likened the work to a long wall, because it kept always a hundred feet in breadth; and was as long as the space between Syene and the Nile. When he had brought this ditch to the banks of the Nile he let into it the water from the river, which in falling from a higher place into a lower and out of the wonderful breadth of the Nile into a narrow trench wrought by hand made a great noise, both at the entry thereto and also in the ditch, so that they might hear it who were a great way off. Which when those who were in Syene saw and understood unto what danger they were brought, because he meant by so encompassing them about to drown their town so that none might escape, being inclosed both by the wall and the water; knowing that there was no safety in waiting they made good shift, as far as time allowed, to help themselves. First they caulked the chinks in the gates with tow and pitch, and then they underpinned the walls to make them stronger. Some brought earth, some stones, some timber, and anything that each had to hand. No man rested, but 261 women, children, and even old man laboured hard; for danger of death refuses the help neither of any age or of any kind. The sturdier youths and the men at arms were set to make a countermine that should reach to the enemies earth work, the manner whereof was thus. They digged a pit first about five yards right down close to the wall and there laid a sure foundation. Then they digged forward, straight to the enemy’s wall, by torchlight, those behind carrying away the earth dug by those before, and heaping it in that part of the city where their gardens were. And this they did, that if the water came into that place which was without earth it might have a path to break out and run away. But the danger came too quickly upon them despite their efforts. The Nile rushed down the long trench, fell very fast into the round ditch, and then flowing everywhere over the banks drowned all the space between the two walls and made it like a marsh. And thus was Syene made an island, and a city which stands in mid country was compassed about with water and beaten upon by the waves of the Nile. The wall of the town withstood the force of the water for one day. But as the water increased and rose high, and sinking through the cracks, which the heat of summer had made in the rich black ground, began to work down and reach the foundations, then the masonry above began to shake and seemed as though it would fall. Wherever the loose ground slipped away the wall tottered and threatened to come down, while the battlements trembled and by their shaking disturbed those that kept guard nearby.

At last, as evening came on, a part of the wall between two towers fell down, not so that the fallen part was beneath the level of the water to let the flood come in, but yet only standing a few feet above 262 and threatening an instant deluge. Wherefore there arose a pitiful cry from all manner of folk that were in the city for the enemy to hear, who lifted up their hands to heaven and called to the gods for help, which was all their hope that was left, and humbly besought Oroöndates to send messengers to Hydaspes to ask for peace. He agreed thereto, being now made even against his will the servant of fortune; but how he should send to his enemies, thus surrounded by water, he knew not, until necessity taught him. For when he had written what he wanted and tied the letter to a stone, he cast the same with a sling instead of a messenger to his enemies, and by this means sent his humble prayers over the waves. But he lost his labour, since the strength of the sling could not overreach that space, but fell into the water. He cast again in the same fashion and again failed, as did all his archers and slingers, although they were zealous to surpass each the other and were shooting for their lives. At length they held up their hands to their enemies, who stood upon their mound and made a spectacle of their trouble, declaring by signs as well as they could what these throws meant. Sometimes they stretched out their hands with palms upturned, like suppliants; sometimes they put them behind their backs, in token that they were ready to receive chains and become their bondmen. Hydaspes perceived that they craved mercy and was himself ready to grant it; for an enemy who yields forces a good man to be generous. But as he had no ready way thereto at that moment, he determined to test them more certainly. He had certain boats ready belonging to the river folk, which he had arranged should come down his trench from the Nile, and had them hauled them up by the circular ditch. He 263 chose ten of the newest of these, and furnishing them with archers and men-at-arms, he told them what to say and sent them to the Persians, equipped with their weapons and ready to fight if those in the town attempted anything that they looked not for. Truly this was a strange sight, that a ship should sail from wall to wall, and a mariner practise his skill in the midst of dry land, and a boat be rowed where the plough was wont to work. And although the art of war ever deviseth novelties, yet then invented it the strangest thing of all, when it made men in ships fight against them that stood upon walls, and joined two armies by sea and land together. The people on the walls, seeing boats full of armed men approaching the walls, seeing boats full of armed men approaching that part of the wall that was fallen down, being themselves full of terror and dismay because of their present danger, suspected those who came to bring them safety — for in extremity everything is a cause of suspicion and of fear — and so began to cast stones and shoot arrows against the men in the boats. In such fashion men deal when they are in despair, accounting everything a gain that delays death. Marry in their aiming they so directed their hands as not to wound them but only prevent them to land. The Ethiopians also shot, but more certainly, as they understood not the Persians’ mind, and killed two or three of them at once, since being grievously wounded they fell off the walls headlong into the water. The fight would have become more fierce, while the one side spared and did but try to hinder, and the Ethiopians very angrily resisted, if a certain old gentleman of Syene had not come and spoken thus to them on the walls: ‘O mad men, infatuated by your fear, why do we now keep those off, whom we humbly prayed to help us before, when contrary to 264 all expectations they have come? If they are friends and bring us peace, then they are our saviours: but if they mean to deal like enemies, they may easily be overcome when they have landed. And what shall we be the better when we have slain them, seeing that so black a cloud hangeth over our heads both by water and by land? Why do we not rather let them come in and see what they have so say?’ Every man thought that he said well, and the governor also commended him. Wherefore moving this way and that from the fallen part of the wall they stood still and laid down their arms.

When the space between the towers was without defenders, the people gave them a signal with a banner that they might land, the Ethiopians drew near, and from the platform of their boats, as it were, addressed their besieged audience: ‘Ye, Persians and men of Syene that be here, Hydaspes king of the east and west Ethiopians, and at this time your king also, knoweth how to overcome his enemies and is also by nature inclined to grant mercy to such as humbly ask it, judging that victory is the work of his soldiers’ valorous arms but that mercy is the sign of his own compassionate spirit. So, although he holds your lives in his hand, to grant or to take away, yet now, since you have humbled yourselves, he delivers you from the known and certain penalty of defeat and allows you to decide at your own pleasure what terms of peace you will. For he is not minded to play the tyrant in this case, but doth so govern man’s estate as to be free from envy hereafter.’ The people of Syene made answer that they committed themselves, their children, and their wives to him, to do with them as he thought good, and if they might live they would render up their city also, which now 265 was in a desperate case and utterly ruined unless the gods and Hydaspes should prevent its fall. Oroöndates for his part declared that he would give up all that for which the war began, and would let him have the city of Phylae and the emerald mines: but he made request that he would not deal hardly with him, nor require himself and his army to surrender. If Hydaspes would keep all the points of courtesy, let him allow him and his soldiers to depart quietly to Elephantina, doing no damage nor raising further strife. Else he had as lief die now as to live any longer and be condemned by the king for betraying his army. Perhaps indeed that would be worse: for now he would have but a simple and usual death; then he would haply have new torments devised for him.

When he had said thus he desired them to take on their boats two of his Persians, under pretence that they should go to Elephantina: and if those in that town would yield, he would do the like without further delay. With this answer the legates departed, taking the two Persians with them, and recounted to Hydaspes how they had sped. He smiled a little and blamed Oroöndates much for his folly, that he, being a man not in his own power but another’s, either to live or die, should argue about conditions. ‘Yet it were foolishly done,’ said he, ‘to destroy so great a number because of one man’s madness’: and so he let those depart to Elephantina whom Oroöndates sent, as though he cared not if they made what provision they could to withstand him. Of his own men he appointed some to make a dam where the Nile entered his trench, and others to cut openings in their earthworks, that so, if no more water came in and the swamp was gradually drained, the ground by Syene might get dry and hard enough to walk upon.


Those that were thus commanded began a little of the work at once, and would have proceeded the next day: but then they could do no more because evening came upon them. Moreover the people in the city also sought all means they could to help themselves, despairing not of the safety that was offered them unlooked for. Some made a mine underneath the ground near to the enemies ditch, guessing the distance, although they could not see, by means of a line wherewith they took the measure. Others stayed up the wall by torch light; which thing they might easily do, because of the stones left when the wall fell inwards. But even when they had done all they could and thought themselves in safety, they were not free from alarms. About midnight a part of the enemies’ mound, just where the Ethiopians that evening had begun to dig through, gave way with a sudden crash. Either it was that the ground had been loosely heaped and was not thick enough, so that the foundation gave way when it was thoroughly wetted. Or else those who were digging the mine caused the lower earth to fall in and slip towards the empty space they made. Or else it was where the Ethiopians had began and after they had ceased for the night the water ran in and once it had broken its way through grew deeper and deeper. Or one may judge it to be the providence of God. Whatever the cause may be, the noise was so great and terrifying that both the Ethiopians and the Syenians thought that the greater part of the walls was fallen down. They who were in the tents kept themselves close, thinking that they were safe for the moment and would know in the morning what it was. But the citizens went round about their walls, and seeing that all was well there thought that their enemies had 267 had some mishap, until the morning took away all this doubt, and the breach was espied and the water gone. For by this time the Ethiopians were damming up the water channel, lowering wooden flood gates which they secured from outside with heavy baulks of timber, and throwing in baskets of earth and bundles of twigs which thousands of men brought up together either in boats or along the bank of the mound. And thus the water went away at length, although for a long time neither of them could come to the other. For the earth was covered with thick mud, and under that which seemed on the top to be dry there was much wetness, which served as a trap both for men and horses when they came.

Thus they passed the time for two or three days, the people of Syene opening their gates in token of peace and the Ethiopians laying aside their arms. And so, although they could not come together, there was a truce and neither side kept watch and ward. The people in the city gave themselves to pastime and pleasure, for it happened that the Nile-feast, the greatest the Egyptians have, fell then, which is kept holy about Midsummer, at what time the flood increaseth and is honoured more than all others for this cause. The Egyptians feign the Nile to be a god, and the greatest of all gods, equal to heaven, because he watereth their country, without clouds or rain that cometh from the air, and thus doth he every year just as well as if it should rain. And this is the common folk’s opinion. The cause why they give him so divine honour is because they think that the mixture of moist and dry is the special cause of the beginning and continuance of man’s life — for the other elements depend on these and are wherever they be — and they deem that moisture proceedeth from the Nile and 268 dryness from the earth. But this every man knoweth. Marry their divines say that the earth is Isis and the Nile Osiris, giving to either a new name. Therefore the goddess yearns for his company and rejoices when he is with her, but mourns when he is absent, hating Typhon as her enemy. The meaning of this tale their divines, men skilful in nature’s secrets, do not reveal to the profane but in the form of a fable only instruct them. Those who are desirous to know their privities they instruct within the temples by the bright light of truth.

Let this suffice to be spoken at this time by the grace of God. As for the great secrets let them be honoured by silence, while we proceed orderly with what was done in Syene. When the Nile-feast was come the inhabitants fell to killing of beasts for sacrifice, and though their bodies were busied with their present perils, yet their minds, as much as they might, were godly disposed. But Oroöndates, waiting his time when the Syenes were fast asleep after their feasting, conveyed his army privily out, having secretly given the Persians warning before at what hour and which gate they should go forth. Moreover orders were given to the officers to leave all the horses and cattle behind, that they might not hinder them on the way, or make a noise whereby they should be discovered, but every man was to take his armour and a board or plank under his arm. When they had come together at the gates, as he had ordered, he threw the planks that each man carried across the mud, laying them so that one touched the other, and thus conducted his army over with little pain and great speed, as if there had been a bridge, since those who came after handed their planks to those who went before. When he got to dry land, he went privily 269 past the Ethiopians, who suspected nothing nor kept watch but slept soundly, and hastened to Elephantina as fast as his breath would give him leave. There he was at once let in; for the two Persians sent from Syene were waiting for his coming every night, as he had arranged, and when they heard the watchword, threw open the gates.

When it was day the people of Syene discovered their flight, suspecting it first when every man missed the Persian who was lodged in his house, and afterwards gathering together and seeing the bridge they had made before the town. Then was the city in great fear again and looked for grievous punishment for this second wrong, because after they had found such clemency at the Ethiopians’ hands they had showed themselves so unfaithful as to let the Persians escape. Wherefore they determined every man to go out of the city, and yield themselves to the Ethiopians, and by oath to confirm their ignorance, if haply they might move them to pity. When all of every age were come together, and had taken boughs in their hands to declare their lowliness and humility, and with tapers and torches burning carried all their gods and holy images in token of peace, and were come over that bridge to the Ethiopians, they fell upon their knees and stayed afar off, and gave all at once a sorrowful and lamentable cry, craving in humble fashion the forgiveness of their offence. And to obtain it the more they laid their infants on the ground before them, and suffered them to go whither they would, so assuaging the Ethiopians with their age, which was without suspicion or blame. The children, frightened perhaps by their parents loud cries and knowing nothing of what was done, left those who had brought them forth and reared them and crawled towards the 270 Ethiopians uttering lisping sounds which would have made any man take compassion upon them, as though fortune had suggested to them that they should go as suppliants.

When Hydaspes saw this, he thought that they craved mercy in more earnest fashion even than they did before, and therefore sent to know what they would have, and why they came out alone without the Persians. They told him all: the Persians’ flight, their innocence, the high feast of the country, and how they privily slipped away while they were busy in the service of their god and were asleep after the banquet: although perchance being without armour they would not have been able to prevent their armed host even if they had known of their plan. When Hydaspes heard this he suspected, as was the truth, that Oroöndates meant some treachery, and therefore sent for the priests alone, and doing obeisance to the holy images, which they had brought with them to ask for mercy, he questioned them as to whether they could tell him anything of the Persians’ plans and whither they were gone and wherein was their greatest trust. They answered that they knew nothing certainly: marry they thought that they had gone to Elephantina, where the chief strength of their army lay, and that Oroöndates chief hope was in his mailed cavalry.

When they had said this, they begged him to lay aside his anger against them and to come into their city as though it were his own. But Hydaspes would not come in then, but sent two troops of armed men to see if there was any suspicion of treachery, and if not to stay as a garrison to defend the city. This done he sent away the people of Syene with gentle promises, and himself went forward with his army, either to 271 receive the Persians, if they set upon him, or if they tarried, to attack them. He had scarcely set his men in array when his scouts gave him warning that the Persians were coming drawn up for battle. For Oroöndates had ordered his main army to assemble at Elephantina and had been compelled to hasten himself to Syene with but a few men when he saw that the Ethiopians, before he expected them, were so near. There being cut off by the enemies’ wall, he asked himself for safety, and having obtained it by a promise to Hydaspes then showed himself the most faithless of men. He arranged for two Persians to cross over with the Ethiopians, under pretence that they should learn the mind of the Persians at Elephantina, whether they would choose to make terms with Hydaspes; but in truth they were to ask whether they were prepared to fight when he himself should be able to slip away. This fraudulent and guileful device he now put into action. For finding them ready he led them forth straightway, and wasted no time in attacking the enemy, putting all his hope in celerity, if he might take him off his guard.

By this time his army could be seen drawn up for battle, taking the eye with its Persian bravery and glistering in silver and gilt armour, as if all the place had been on fire. For the sun just rising shone upon the Persians and gave such a wonderful brightness to their panoplies that it rebounded upon those who were a great way off. On the right wing stood the native Persians and Medes, the men-at-arms in front and the archers who were lightly harnessed behind, that they might shoot the better being defended by them. On the left the Egyptians and Libyans were placed, and slingers and archers with them, and he bade them break out often and assail the side of their 272 enemies’ battle. He himself took the centre, sitting in a brave scythed chariot and for safety surrounded by troops of spearmen on either hand, while in front of him were posted the mailed horsemen, upon trust of whom he ventured to join issue with his enemies. For these men are the most valiant of all the Persian fighters and are set before the others as it were an invincible wall.

The manner of their armament is thus. A picked fellow of great strength putteth upon him a close helmet made in one piece fitting as tightly as a mask. This covereth his head down to his shoulders, saving that there be holes left for him to look out of. In his right hand is a great staff, bigger than a spear; with his left hand he holds the horse’s reins; by his side hangeth a sword; and all his body is covered with a coat of mail. The mail is made thus. With pieces of brass and iron, as big as the palm of a man’s hand, they make a coat, as it were, of scales, laying the end and sides of each piece upon another — so that the nether part of one goeth over the top of the other — and then they sew them together, and this coat lieth upon every part of the body without any ado. It covers every limb, and gives this way and that easily at each movement; for it hath sleeves and reacheth from the neck down to the knees, saving that necessity compels it to be cut between the thighs, that the man may sit upon his horse. Such is their coat of mail, which beateth off all darts and keepeth off all manner of blows. Over their legs to their knees they pull on a boot which is tied to their jacket. They arm their horses also in the same fashion. About his legs they tie greaves and cover his head with a frontal of iron, while from his back down beneath his belly there hangeth a cloth with metal rings which doth both 273 protect him and by reason of its looseness hindereth not his course at all. Being thus appointed and in a manner forced into his armour the man sitteth upon his horse: marry he leapeth not up himself, but others help him, so encumbered is he with the weight of his arms. When the time of battle comes, he gives his horse the reins and spurs him with his heels and rides upon his enemies at full speed like a man made of iron or a statue fashioned with hammers. His great staff at its pointed end is tied with a cord to the horse’s neck and the hinder end is made fast to its buttocks, so that in the conflict it does not yield but helps the horseman’s hand, who does but guide the same aright. Thus it gives the greater blow and runs through every man it hits, and often carries away two men together pierced by one stroke.

With such a band of horsemen and the Persian army thus appointed the governor set out against his enemies, keeping the river ever behind him; for as he was far inferior in numbers to the Ethiopians he planned that the water should be instead of a wall that he might not be surrounded. Hydaspes likewise brought on his army and placed the soldiers of Meroe, who were skilled to fight hand in hand with heavy swords, against the Persians and the Medes on the right wing. The Troglodytes and those who come from the country where the cinnamon grows, light harnessed soldiers and cunning archers and very swift of foot, he set against those who were on the enemy’s left wing. But against their centre, which he heard was the strongest, he set himself and his elephants with towers on their backs, together with the men-at-arms of the Blemmyes and the Seres, whom he instructed what they should do when they came to fight. When the signal was given for battle, among the Persians by 274 trumpet, with the Ethiopians by drum and timbrel, Oroöndates with a shout led on his men to the charge. Hydaspes for his part advanced as slowly as possible step by step, by this means providing that the elephants should not be far from their supports and that the enemies’ cavalry in the centre should be weary before they came to blows. When they were within shot, and the Blemmyes saw that the mailed cavalry were calling on their horses for a charge, they did as Hydaspes had commanded. Leaving the Seres to protect the elephants they ran out from the line against the horsemen, so that those who saw them might have thought that they were mad, who being so few durst encounter so many and so well armed. Thereupon the Persians spurred their horses to go faster than before, thinking that the enemy’s boldness was their gain, and that they would at the first dash overcome them without ado.

But the Blemmyes when they were almost come to hand strokes and in a manner stuck by their spears, suddenly all together fell down and crept under the horses kneeling with one knee upon the ground and sheltering their heads and shoulders beneath, without any harms save that they were trodden a little by their feet. And then they themselves did a strange and unexpected thing. As the horses passed over them they thrust with their swords and wounded them in the belly, so that many of their riders fell, by reason that the horses could not be governed because of their pain and so threw them. Whom, as they lay in heaps, the Blemmyes stabbed under the thighs; for the Persian horseman is not able to move unless he has some one to aid him. Those who escaped with their horses whole then charged against the Seres. But they, as soon as they came near, stepped behind the 275 elephants, as though behind some great tower or hill of refuge. Then there was a great carnage and the horsemen were almost all slain. For their horses, being afraid of the greatness and strange sight of the elephants, thus suddenly revealed, either turned back or ran aside, and caused the main battle to break its array. They who were upon the elephants — six men upon each, two fighting from every side save the behind — shot steadily at the mark from their tower as from a castle, so that the number of their arrows was to the Persians like a cloud. The Ethiopians aimed especially at their enemies eyes, as though they were shooting not for life but to see who were the better archers, and hit their mark so exactly that those who were stricken ran here and there in panic with arrows, as if they had been pipes, piercing their eyes. If any of them against their wills rode out from their ranks, because their houses could not be checked, they fell among the elephants; where they died, being either overthrown and trodden under foot by them or else killed by the Blemmyes and Seres who ran out from behind the elephants as from an ambush, and wounded some with arrows and slew others at close quarters when their horses had cast them to the ground. To be short, those who escaped did nothing worthy of recounting nor hurt the elephants a whit, since the beast is covered with iron when he comes to battle, and if he were not, he hath of nature scales so hard over his body that no spear can enter thereinto.

At last, when all who remained alive were put to flight, the governor with shame enough forsook his chariot and mounting a horse from Nysa fled the battle. The Egyptians and the Libyans who were on the left wing knew nothing thereof, but fought on 276 manfully, though they received many more wounds than they gave; marry they held out valiantly. For the soldiers of the cinnamon country being set against them pressed them hard and drove them to such shifts that they knew not what to do. If they set upon them, these would flee and running ahead would turn their bows behind them and shoot as they fled. But if they retired, then would they pursue them closely and either with slings or little arrows poisoned with dragon’s blood send upon them a swift and grievous death. For in their archery they are more like men at play than at serious work. They wear a round wreath upon their head in which the arrows are set, the feathers turned inwards and the points hanging out like the beams of the sun. In skirmish they take out the arrows therefrom as readily as from a quiver, and leaping and dancing in and out like naked satyrs, they shoot at their enemies. They have no iron heads upon their shafts, but take a bone out of the dragon’s back, whereof they make their arrows an ell long. This done, they sharpen it as well as they can and make a self-barb arrow, so called perhaps from the bare bone.

For some time the Egyptians maintained the battle and received the arrow upon their shields, being stubborn by nature and men who boast — not so much profitably as proudly — that they care not for death: and perhaps also they feared punishment if they left their ranks. But when they heard that the horsemen, their chief strength and hope in battle, were put to flight, and the governor gone, and that the much praised soldiers of the Medes and Persians had done no noble feat, but after hurting the men of Meroe a little and being themselves hurt much more had followed after the rest, they also began to leave 277 fighting and turned in rout. Hydaspes seeing this notable victory from his tower, as from a high hill, sent heralds to them that followed the chase not to kill anyone but to take as many as they could alive, and above all other Oroöndates. Which indeed was done. The Ethiopians drawing their main battles to the left, and extending their deep formation lengthwise, turned their wings round about and so inclosed the Persian army, leaving them no place to flee but across the river: into the which many fell and were in great danger among the horses and scythed chariots and the turmoil of the multitude. Then they perceived that the policy which the governor had used in the conduct of his army was very foolish and to no purpose; because at the first, when he had feared lest his enemies should surround him and led his army so that the Nile was ever at their backs, he marked not that he left for himself no place whereby he might flee. There was he himself taken prisoner, just when Achaemenes the son of Cybele, who had by this time heard the news from Memphis, when about in the tumult to kill him — for he repented now that he had told anything about Arsace since all his proofs had perished. But Achaemenes, although he stabbed him, dealt not a fatal wound, and himself straightway paid the penalty, being stricken through with an arrow by an Ethiopian, who knew the governor and desired to save him, as command had been given, and was offended that any man in flight from his enemies should shamefully set upon his own fellows and take the opportunity that fortune offered as a time to be revenged upon his private adversary.

Oroöndates then was brought in by him who had taken him prisoner. Hydaspes saw that he was ready to swoon and bleeding sore from his wound, and 278 caused the same to be stayed with incantations by those men who are skilled in that art. Wishing therefore, if he might, to save him and to comfort him with words, he said: ‘I grant you your life, friend, with all my heart. It is my glory to surpass my enemies, as long as they withstand me, in valour; but when they are overcome, in generosity. But why were you so false?’ ‘I was false to you,’ said Oroöndates, ‘but true to my own king.’ Then said Hydaspes: ‘What punishment think you that you have deserved, seeing that you are overcome?’ ‘Such as my king ought to take,’ quoth he, ‘from any of your captains that had kept his allegiance to you.’ ‘Truly,’ said Hydaspes, ‘he would commend him and send him away highly rewarded, if he be a true king and not a tyrant, and is desirous that his own men seeing the praise given to others may themselves seek to emulate them. But, good sir, although you say you be faithful, will you not confess that you played the fool in venturing so rashly to oppose so many myriads?’ ‘Perhaps I was not foolish,’ answered the other. ‘I considered my prince’s nature, who doth more punish the cowardly soldier than reward the valiant man. I determined therefore to brave the danger, and either win a great and unexpected victory — for in war opportunity is a great magician — or else if I escaped with my life to leave myself a good excuse, in that I had omitted nothing of what I ought to have done.’

When Hydaspes heard him say this, he praised him greatly, and sent him to Syene, and gave his surgeons charge to look well to him. He himself also with picked men of his army entered the town, and all the citizens of every rank and age came to meet him and cast upon him and his soldiers garlands and such 279 flowers as grow about the Nile, and commended him greatly for his notable victory. As soon as he came within the walls, riding upon an elephant instead of a chariot, he busied his mind about the service of the gods and sacred things, and asked of the origin of the Nile feast, and if they could show him anything worthy to be looked at. They showed him the deep well which gives the measure of the Nile’s flow, like unto that at Memphis, made of smooth stones evenly laid, wherein were lines drawn an ell one from the other; into the which the water of the Nile, brought under the earth by a spring and falling into these lines, declareth to the inhabitants the ebb and flood of the river, by the number of the figures which, bare or covered, do plainly tell the rising and falling of its waters. They showed him also the pointers of their sundials which gave no shadow at midday because the sun about midsummer at Syene is exactly over head and for the same reason shineth upon the water at the bottom of their wells. But Hydaspes marvelled not at this as a strange thing to him, for he saw the like at Meroe. Then they talked of their feast and praised the Nile wonderfully, calling him the sun and author of fruitfulness, the saviour of Upper Egypt and the father and maker of Lower Egypt, bringing down new soil every year, wherefrom the Greeks call him Neilos: he telleth the course of the year by flowing in summer and ebbing in autumn, while he shows the spring by the flowers he brings forth and by the brood of crocodiles. They said indeed that the Nile was himself the year, approving this opinion by his name: for, if the letters thereof are taken as numbers, put together they make three hundred and sixty-five, and so many days are there in the year. But when they added to all this the properties of the 280 plants and flowers and beasts that he breeds Hydaspes said: ‘These fine tales do not belong only to Egypt but to Ethiopia also. And seeing that it is Ethiopia who sends you this river which you deem a god and all the river creatures, you have good cause to honour her as being the mother of your gods.’ ‘We do honour her,’ said the priests, ’both for other reasons and because she has sent us in you a saviour and a god.’

Hydaspes told them that such praise were best left unsaid, and then going to his tent spend the rest of the day in banqueting with the chief lords of Ethiopia and the priests of Syene, giving leave to his army to do the same. There were great herds of cattle, flocks of sheep, many goats and swine, and abundance of wine, whereof the Syenians gave some to the army and some they sold. The next day Hydaspes sat on his royal throne and divided among his soldiers the cattle, horses, and all the other booty taken in the city or in the battle, giving to every man according as he had deserved. When the man who had taken Oroöndates came forward, Hydaspes said: ‘Ask what thou wilt.’ He answered: ‘I need ask nothing, O king, but will be content, if it pleaseth you, with what I have, which I took from Oroöndates, saving his life at your command.’ And therewith he showed him the governor’s dagger, set with precious stones of great value and wonderful much worth, so that some of those that stood by cried out that it was too much for a private man and a jewel more fit for the king. Thereat Hydaspes smiled and said: ‘What can be more fit for a king than that I should be of such greatness of mind as not to be moved by this man’s covetousness but rather to despise it? Besides, the law of battle giveth the victor leave to take whatsoever 281 he findeth on his prisoner’s body. Wherefore we give him permission to keep that which he might have concealed, and we never the wiser.’

After him came those who had taken Theagenes and Chariclea, and said: ‘O king, our booty is not gold nor precious stones, which are of little worth in Ethiopia and cast about by heaps in the king’s palace. We bring you a young man and a maid, brother and sister, born in Greece, who, except your grace, are the tallest and fairest creatures in the world. Wherefore we crave that we also may be partakers of your large liberality and bounty.’ ‘Well remembered,’ said Hydaspes. ‘When you brought them to me before it was in a turmoil and I only looked upon them carelessly. Wherefore let some man bring them hither straightway, and the other prisoners also.’ They were brought out of hand, for one ran immediately to the baggage train without the walls and told their keepers that they should bring them to the king forthwith. They asked one of their guards, whose father was a Greek, whither they should be taken. He answered that king Hydaspes would see them. As soon as they heard the name Hydaspes, they cried out: ‘The gods be our comfort’; because till then they had been afraid lest another was king. Then said Theagenes to Chariclea: ‘Now, my heart, you shall tell the king of our affairs, seeing Hydaspes reigneth, whom you have told me oft was your father.’ Chariclea answered: ‘My dear, great business must be done with great circumspection. For it is necessary that the ends of those things should be done with many circumstances, whose beginnings the gods have made troublesome. Nor is it meet to reveal in a moment that which hath been long a working, especially when the head and principal point, whereon 282 the business of our recognition dependeth, I mean my mother Persina, is now away, although by the favour of the gods we hear that she also is alive.’ ‘But if we be sacrificed,’ said Theagenes, ‘or given away as captives, will not our opportunity to come to Ethiopia be cut away from us?’ ‘You need not fear that,’ said Chariclea, ‘for we have heard divers times ere now that we are kept to be sacrificed to the gods at Meroe. Wherefore you need not think that we shall either be given away or killed before we come there, seeing we are consecrated to the gods, which thing godly men will not undo. But if we yield too quickly to our joy and without consideration tell our story, when there is no one here to know and bear witness thereto, it is to be feared that we shall incense him that heareth us and make him deservedly angry. Perhaps also he will make a mock and jest of it, that we, being prisoners and appointed to slavery, shall be so bold as to say that we are the king’s children, having no probable arguments to prove the same.’ ‘But the tokens,’ said Theagenes, ‘which I know you received and keep upon you, will make for us, and declare that we use no fraud nor falsehood.’ ‘Tokens,’ said Chariclea, ‘are tokens to those who know them and gave me them; but to those who know them not and cannot understand the whole matter they are but a vain treasure: and perhaps would make them lay theft and robbery to our charge. And even though Hydaspes should recognise some of them, who is there to convince him that Persina gave them to me as a mother to her daughter. The surest token, Theagenes, is a mother’s nature, whereby it cometh to pass that that which doth engender is by some secret of nature affected with pity and love toward that which is engendered. Shall we then 283 neglect this, which will make all the rest seem true?’

As they thus talked of these things, they were almost come into the king’s presence; and Bagoas also was brought in with them. As soon as the king saw them stand before him, he lifted himself up a little from his throne, and saying: ‘The gods be merciful to me’ said down again in a study. When his noblemen asked him what he ailed, he made answer: ‘I thought this last night that I had a daughter who suddenly was grown to such a stature as this woman has, and though I took no regard to my dream before, yet now by the beauty of this maid who is like her I remember it again.’ Those who were about him said that it was a fantasy of the mind, which oftentimes foreshadowed things to come; but for the moment he made no more account of it and asked the young folks who they were and whence they came. Chariclea held her peace and Theagenes said that they were brother and sister, born in Greece. ‘O noble Greece,’ cried the king, ‘who at all times dost bring forth good and honest creatures, and now hast provided us with these auspicious victims to be sacrificed in honour of our victory. But why had I not a son also in my dreams?’ he said smilingly to them that were by. ‘This young man, the maid’s brother, who was to come before me should also have been shadowed forth to me in my sleep, according to your account.’ Then turning to Chariclea and speaking Greek — for that tongue is held in honour among the Gymnosophists and princes of Ethiopia — he said: ‘Thou maid, why dost thou hold thy peace and not answer my question?’ Chariclea answered: ‘At the altars of the gods, to whom we understand that we are kept to be sacrificed, you shall know of me and my parents.’ ‘In what 284 country are they?’ asked Hydaspes again. ‘They are here,’ quoth she, ‘and will surely be present when we are offered as sacrifice.’ Thereat Hydaspes smiled and said: ‘This daughter born to me in my sleep dreams that her parents shall be conveyed out of Greece into the midst of Meroe. Let these then be carried away and kept as well as they have been hitherto, to set forth and adorn our sacrifice. But who is he that standeth by them, so like an eunuch?’ One of those who were there answered that he was an eunuch indeed, whose name was Bagoas. ‘Let him go then with these others,’ said the king, ‘not as a sacrifice himself, but to watch and guard this maid, that she may be kept chaste until the time come that she be offered. For eunuchs naturally are very jealous: wherefore they are set to hinder others from those things that they themselves are not able to do.’

When he had said this, he reviewed the other prisoners in order: whereof some, such as seemed born to be slaves, he gave away, but such as were of noble parentage he let go freely. But he picked out ten young men and ten maidens, of those that were most excellent in youth and comeliness, and bade that they should be taken with Theagenes and Chariclea for the same purpose. Then when he had answered every man’s requests, he sent for Oroöndates, who was brought before him in a litter, and said: ‘Since I have now obtained that for which we made this war, namely Phylae and the emerald mines, I am not minded as many men are, nor will I abuse my fortune to get more than others possess. Moreover I do not desire an infinite empire because of this victory, but am content with those boundaries which nature made at first, when she separated Egypt from Ethiopia by the cataracts. Wherefore observing 285 equity I am now returning thither, having got what I came down for. As for thee, if thou live, be governor of all thou hadst before, and tell the king of Persia that thy brother Hydaspes conquered thee in battle, but in moderation of mind gave thee back all that was thine, being desirous to keep thy friendship — which he accounts the fairest of all things among men — although he will not refuse to fight again, if thou shalt attempt anything hereafter. As for these people of Syene I remit them their tribute for ten years and charge you to do the same.’

When he had said this the citizens and the soldiers who were by thanked him and clapped their hands so loud that the noise might be heard a great way off. But Oroöndates stretched out his hands and laying them crossways fell down and did obeisance to him, which thing the Persians are never wont to do to any strange king, and said: ‘Ye that be present, methinketh that I break not the custom of my country if I recognise as king the man who hath given me my governorship, neither do I wrong if I render obeisance to the justest man in the world, who might have slain me. But he gave me my life rather, and although he could have made me his slave, he hath given me my governorship again. Wherefore I promise both the Ethiopians and the Persians that, if I live, I will keep long peace and continual amity and perform to the Syenians that which I am commanded. But if anything should befall me, then I pray that the gods may reward Hydaspes and his house and all his posterity for the good deeds he hath done towards me.’


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