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King Candaules   By: (1811-1872)

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By Théophile Gautier

Translated By Lafcadio Hearn



Five hundred years before the Trojan war, and seventeen hundred and fifteen years before our own era, there was a grand festival at Sardes. King Candaules was going to marry. The people were affected with that sort of pleasurable interest and aimless emotion wherewith any royal event inspires the masses, even though it in no wise concerns them, and transpires in superior spheres of life which they can never hope to reach.

As soon as Phoebus Apollo, standing in his quadriga, had gilded to saffron the summits of fertile Mount Tmolus with his rays, the good people of Sardes were all astir, going and coming, mounting or descending the marble stairways leading from the city to the waters of the Pactolus, that opulent river whose sands Midas filled with tiny sparks of gold when he bathed in its stream. One would have supposed that each one of these good citizens was himself about to marry, so solemn and important was the demeanour of all.

Men were gathering in groups in the Agora, upon the steps of the temples and along the porticoes. At every street corner one might have encountered women leading by the hand little children, whose uneven walk ill suited the maternal anxiety and impatience. Maidens were hastening to the fountains, all with urns gracefully balanced upon their heads, or sustained by their white arms as with natural handles, so as to procure early the necessary water provision for the household, and thus obtain leisure at the hour when the nuptial procession should pass. Washerwomen hastily folded the still damp tunics and chlamidæ, and piled them upon mule wagons. Slaves turned the mill without any need of the overseer's whip to tickle their naked and scar seamed shoulders. Sardes was hurrying itself to finish with those necessary everyday cares which no festival can wholly disregard.

The road along which the procession was to pass had been strewn with fine yellow sand. Brazen tripods, disposed along the way at regular intervals, sent up to heaven the odorous smoke of cinnamon and spikenard. These vapours, moreover, alone clouded the purity of the azure above. The clouds of a hymeneal day ought, indeed, to be formed only by the burning of perfumes. Myrtle and rose laurel branches were strewn upon the ground, and from the walls of the palaces were suspended by little rings of bronze rich tapestries, whereon the needles of industrious captives intermingling wool, silver, and gold had represented various scenes in the history of the gods and heroes: Ixion embracing the cloud; Diana surprised in the bath by Actaeon; the shepherd Paris as judge in the contest of beauty held upon Mount Ida between Hera, the snowy armed, Athena of the sea green eyes, and Aphrodite, girded with her magic cestus; the old men of Troy rising to honour Helena as she passed through the Skaian gate, a subject taken from one of the poems of the blind man of Meles. Others exhibited in preference scenes taken from the life of Heracles, the Theban, through flattery to Candaules, himself a Heracleid, being descended from the hero through Alcaeus. Others contented themselves by decorating the entrances of their dwellings with garlands and wreaths in token of rejoicing.

Among the multitudes marshalled along the way from the royal house even as far as the gates of the city, through which the young queen would pass on her arrival, conversation naturally turned upon the beauty of the bride, whereof the renown had spread throughout all Asia; and upon the character of the bridegroom, who, although not altogether an eccentric, seemed nevertheless one not readily appreciated from the common standpoint of observation.

Nyssia, daughter of the Satrap Megabazus, was gifted with marvellous purity of feature and perfection of form; at least such was the rumour spread abroad by the female slaves who attended her, and a few female friends who had accompanied her to the bath; for no man could boast of knowing aught of Nyssia save the colour of her veil and the elegant folds that she involuntarily impressed upon the soft materials which robed her statuesque body... Continue reading book >>

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