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Chapter 10 THE SERPENT

  • These clamourings of the populace did not alarm Hamilcar's daughter. She wa_isturbed by loftier anxieties: her great serpent, the black python, wa_rooping; and in the eyes of the Carthaginians, the serpent was at once _ational and a private fetish. It was believed to be the offspring of the dus_f the earth, since it emerges from its depths and has no need of feet t_raverse it; its mode of progression called to mind the undulations of rivers, its temperature the ancient, viscous, and fecund darkness, and the orbit whic_t describes when biting its tail the harmony of the planets, and th_ntelligence of Eschmoun.
  • Salammbo's serpent had several times already refused the four live sparrow_hich were offered to it at the full moon and at every new moon. Its handsom_kin, covered like the firmament with golden spots upon a perfectly blac_round, was now yellow, relaxed, wrinkled, and too large for its body. _ottony mouldiness extended round its head; and in the corners of its eyelid_ight be seen little red specks which appeared to move. Salammbo woul_pproach its silver-wire basket from time to time, and would draw aside th_urple curtains, the lotus leaves, and the bird's down; but it was continuall_olled up upon itself, more motionless than a withered bind-weed; and fro_ooking at it she at last came to feel a kind of spiral within her heart, another serpent, as it were, mounting up to her throat by degrees an_trangling her.
  • She was in despair of having seen the zaimph, and yet she felt a sort of joy, an intimate pride at having done so. A mystery shrank within the splendour o_ts folds; it was the cloud that enveloped the gods, and the secret of th_niversal existence, and Salammbo, horror-stricken at herself, regretted tha_he had not raised it.
  • She was almost always crouching at the back of her apartment, holding he_ended left leg in her hands, her mouth half open, her chin sunk, her ey_ixed. She recollected her father's face with terror; she wished to go awa_nto the mountains of Phoenicia, on a pilgrimage to the temple of Aphaka, where Tanith descended in the form of a star; all kinds of imagining_ttracted her and terrified her; moreover, a solitude which every day becam_reater encompassed her. She did not even know what Hamilcar was about.
  • Wearied at last with her thoughts she would rise, and trailing along he_ittle sandals whose soles clacked upon her heels at every step, she woul_alk at random through the large silent room. The amethysts and topazes of th_eiling made luminous spots quiver here and there, and Salammbo as she walke_ould turn her head a little to see them. She would go and take the hangin_mphoras by the neck; she would cool her bosom beneath the broad fans, o_erhaps amuse herself by burning cinnamomum in hollow pearls. At sunse_aanach would draw back the black felt lozenges that closed the openings i_he wall; then her doves, rubbed with musk like the doves of Tanith, suddenl_ntered, and their pink feet glided over the glass pavement, amid the grain_f barley which she threw to them in handfuls like a sower in a field. But o_ sudden she would burst into sobs and lie stretched on the large bed of ox- leather straps without moving, repeating a word that was ever the same, wit_pen eyes, pale as one dead, insensible, cold; and yet she could hear th_ries of the apes in the tufts of the palm trees, with the continuous grindin_f the great wheel which brought a flow of pure water through the stories int_he porphyry centre-basin.
  • Sometimes for several days she would refuse to eat. She could see in a drea_roubled stars wandering beneath her feet. She would call Schahabarim, an_hen he came she had nothing to say to him.
  • She could not live without the relief of his presence. But she rebelle_nwardly against this domination; her feeling towards the priest was one a_nce of terror, jealousy, hatred, and a species of love, in gratitude for th_ingular voluptuousness which she experienced by his side.
  • He had recognised the influence of Rabbet, being skilful to discern the god_ho send diseases; and to cure Salammbo he had her apartment watered wit_otions of vervain, and maidenhair; she ate mandrakes every morning; she slep_ith her head on a cushion filled with aromatics blended by the pontiffs; h_ad even employed baaras, a fiery-coloured root which drives back fata_eniuses into the North; lastly, turning towards the polar star, he murmure_hrice the mysterious name of Tanith; but Salammbo still suffered and he_nguish deepened.
  • No one in Carthage was so learned as he. In his youth he had studied at th_ollege of the Mogbeds, at Borsippa, near Babylon; had then visite_amothrace, Pessinus, Ephesus, Thessaly, Judaea, and the temples of th_abathae, which are lost in the sands; and had travelled on foot along th_anks of the Nile from the cataracts to the sea. Shaking torches with veil- covered face, he had cast a black cock upon a fire of sandarach before th_reast of the Sphinx, the Father of Terror. He had descended into the cavern_f Proserpine; he had seen the five hundred pillars of the labyrinth of Lemno_evolve, and the candelabrum of Tarentum, which bore as many sconces on it_haft as there are days in the year, shine in its splendour; at times h_eceived Greeks by night in order to question them. The constitution of th_orld disquieted him no less than the nature of the gods; he had observed th_quinoxes with the armils placed in the portico of Alexandria, and accompanie_he bematists of Evergetes, who measure the sky by calculating the number o_heir steps, as far as Cyrene; so that there was now growing in his thoughts _eligion of his own, with no distinct formula, and on that very account ful_f infatuation and fervour. He no longer believed that the earth was forme_ike a fir-cone; he believed it to be round, and eternally falling throug_mmensity with such prodigious speed that its fall was not perceived.
  • From the position of the sun above the moon he inferred the predominance o_aal, of whom the planet itself is but the reflection and figure; moreover, all that he saw in terrestrial things compelled him to recognise the mal_xterminating principle as supreme. And then he secretly charged Rabbet wit_he misfortune of his life. Was it not for her that the grand-pontiff had onc_dvanced amid the tumult of cymbals, and with a patera of boiling water take_rom him his future virility? And he followed with a melancholy gaze the me_ho were disappearing with the priestesses in the depths of the turpentin_rees.
  • His days were spent in inspecting the censers, the gold vases, the tongs, th_akes for the ashes of the altar, and all the robes of the statues down to th_ronze bodkin that served to curl the hair of an old Tanith in the thir_edicule near the emerald vine. At the same hours he would raise the grea_angings of the same swinging doors; would remain with his arms outspread i_he same attitude; or prayed prostrate on the same flag-stones, while aroun_im a people of priests moved barefooted through the passages filled with a_ternal twilight.
  • But Salammbo was in the barrenness of his life like a flower in the cleft of _epulchre. Nevertheless he was hard upon her, and spared her neither penance_or bitter words. His condition established, as it were, the equality of _ommon sex between them, and he was less angry with the girl for his inabilit_o possess her than for finding her so beautiful, and above all so pure. Ofte_e saw that she grew weary of following his thought. Then he would turn awa_adder than before; he would feel himself more forsaken, more empty, mor_lone.
  • Strange words escaped him sometimes, which passed before Salammbo like broa_ightnings illuminating the abysses. This would be at night on the terrac_hen, both alone, they gazed upon the stars, and Carthage spread below unde_heir feet, with the gulf and the open sea dimly lost in the colour of th_arkness.
  • He would set forth to her the theory of the souls that descend upon the earth, following the same route as the sun through the signs of the zodiac. Wit_utstretched arm he showed the gate of human generation in the Ram, and tha_f the return to the gods in Capricorn; and Salammbo strove to see them, fo_he took these conceptions for realities; she accepted pure symbols and eve_anners of speech as being true in themselves, a distinction not always ver_lear even to the priest.
  • "The souls of the dead," said he, "resolve themselves into the moon, as thei_odies do into the earth. Their tears compose its humidity; 'tis a dark abod_ull of mire, and wreck, and tempest."
  • She asked what would become of her then.
  • "At first you will languish as light as a vapour hovering upon the waves; an_fter more lengthened ordeals and agonies, you will pass into the forces o_he sun, the very source of Intelligence!"
  • He did not speak, however, of Rabbet. Salammbo imagined that it was throug_ome shame for his vanquished goddess, and calling her by a common name whic_esignated the moon, she launched into blessings upon the soft and fertil_lanet. At last he exclaimed:
  • "No! no! she draws all her fecundity from the other! Do you not see he_overing about him like an amorous woman running after a man in a field?" An_e exalted the virtue of light unceasingly.
  • Far from depressing her mystic desires, he sought, on the contrary, to excit_hem, and he even seemed to take joy in grieving her by the revelation of _itiless doctrine. In spite of the pains of her love Salammbo threw hersel_pon it with transport.
  • But the more that Schahabarim felt himself in doubt about Tanith, the more h_ished to believe in her. At the bottom of his soul he was arrested b_emorse. He needed some proof, some manifestation from the gods, and in th_ope of obtaining it the priest devised an enterprise which might save at onc_is country and his belief.
  • Thenceforward he set himself to deplore before Salammbo the sacrilege and th_isfortunes which resulted from it even in the regions of the sky. Then h_uddenly announced the peril of the Suffet, who was assailed by three armie_nder the command of Matho—for on account of the veil Matho was, in the eye_f the Carthaginians, the king, as it were, of the Barbarians,—and he adde_hat the safety of the Republic and of her father depended upon her alone.
  • "Upon me!" she exclaimed. "How can I—?"
  • But the priest, with a smile of disdain said:
  • "You will never consent!"
  • She entreated him. At last Schahabarim said to her:
  • "You must go to the Barbarians and recover the zaimph!"
  • She sank down upon the ebony stool, and remained with her arms stretched ou_etween her knees and shivering in all her limbs, like a victim at the altar'_oot awaiting the blow of the club. Her temples were ringing, she could se_iery circles revolving, and in her stupor she had lost the understanding o_ll things save one, that she was certainly going to die soon.
  • But if Rabbetna triumphed, if the zaimph were restored and Carthage delivered, what mattered a woman's life? thought Schahabarim. Moreover, she would perhap_btain the veil and not perish.
  • He stayed away for three days; on the evening of the fourth she sent for him.
  • The better to inflame her heart he reported to her all the invectives howle_gainst Hamilcar in open council; he told her that she had erred, that sh_wed reparation for her crime, and that Rabbetna commanded the sacrifice.
  • A great uproar came frequently across the Mappalian district to Megara.
  • Schahabarim and Salammbo went out quickly, and gazed from the top of th_alley staircase.
  • There were people in the square of Khamon shouting for arms. The Ancient_ould not provide them, esteeming such an effort useless; others who had se_ut without a general had been massacred. At last they were permitted t_epart, and as a sort of homage to Moloch, or from a vague need o_estruction, they tore up tall cypress trees in the woods of the temples, an_aving kindled them at the torches of the Kabiri, were carrying them throug_he streets singing. These monstrous flames advanced swaying gently; the_ransmitted fires to the glass balls on the crests of the temples, to th_rnaments of the colossuses and the beaks of the ships, passed beyond th_erraces and formed suns as it were, which rolled through the town. The_escended the Acropolis. The gate of Malqua opened.
  • "Are you ready?" exclaimed Schahabarim, "or have you asked them to tell you_ather that you abandoned him?" She hid her face in her veils, and the grea_ights retired, sinking gradually the while to the edge of the waves.
  • An indeterminate dread restrained her; she was afraid of Moloch and of Matho.
  • This man, with his giant stature, who was master of the zaimph, ruled Rabbetn_s much as did Baal, and seemed to her to be surrounded by the sam_ulgurations; and then the souls of the gods sometimes visited the bodies o_en. Did not Schahabarim in speaking of him say that she was to vanquis_oloch? They were mingled with each other; she confused them together; both o_hem were pursuing her.
  • She wished to learn the future, and approached the serpent, for auguries wer_rawn from the attitudes of serpents. But the basket was empty; Salammbo wa_isturbed.
  • She found him with his tail rolled round one of the silver balustrades besid_he hanging bed, which he was rubbing in order to free himself from his ol_ellowish skin, while his body stretched forth gleaming and clear like a swor_alf out of the sheath.
  • Then on the days following, in proportion as she allowed herself to b_onvinced, and was more disposed to succour Tanith, the python recovered an_rew; he seemed to be reviving.
  • The certainty that Salammbo was giving expression to the will of the gods the_ecame established in her conscience. One morning she awoke resolved, and sh_sked what was necessary to make Matho restore the veil.
  • "To claim it," said Schahabarim.
  • "But if he refuses?" she rejoined.
  • The priest scanned her fixedly with a smile such as she had never seen.
  • "Yes, what is to be done?" repeated Salammbo.
  • He rolled between his fingers the extremities of the bands which fell from hi_iara upon his shoulders, standing motionless with eyes cast down. At las_eeing that she did not understand:
  • "You will be alone with him."
  • "Well?" she said.
  • "Alone in his tent."
  • "What then?"
  • Schahabarim bit his lips. He sought for some phrase, some circumlocution.
  • "If you are to die, that will be later," he said; "later! fear nothing! an_hatever he may undertake to do, do not call out! do not be frightened! Yo_ill be humble, you understand, and submissive to his desire, which i_rdained of heaven!"
  • "But the veil?"
  • "The gods will take thought for it," replied Schahabarim.
  • "Suppose you were to accompany me, O father?" she added.
  • "No!"
  • He made her kneel down, and keeping his left hand raised and his righ_xtended, he swore in her behalf to bring back the mantle of Tanith int_arthage. With terrible imprecations she devoted herself to the gods, and eac_ime that Schahabarim pronounced a word she falteringly repeated it.
  • He indicated to her all the purifications and fastings that she was t_bserve, and how she was to reach Matho. Moreover, a man acquainted with th_outes would accompany her.
  • She felt as if she had been set free. She thought only of the happiness o_eeing the zaimph again, and she now blessed Schahabarim for his exhortations.
  • It was the period at which the doves of Carthage migrated to Sicily to th_ountain of Eryx and the temple of Venus. For several days before thei_eparture they sought out and called to one another so as to collect together; at last one evening they flew away; the wind blew them along, and the bi_hite cloud glided across the sky high above the sea.
  • The horizon was filled with the colour of blood. They seemed to descen_radually to the waves; then they disappeared as though swallowed up, an_alling of themselves into the jaws of the sun. Salammbo, who watched the_etiring, bent her head, and then Taanach, believing that she guessed he_orrow, said gently to her:
  • "But they will come back, Mistress."
  • "Yes! I know."
  • "And you will see them again."
  • "Perhaps!" she said, sighing.
  • She had not confided her resolve to any one; in order to carry it out with th_reater discretion she sent Taanach to the suburb of Kinisdo to buy all th_hings that she required instead of requesting them from the stewards: vermilion, aromatics, a linen girdle, and new garments. The old slave wa_mazed at these preparations, without daring, however, to ask any questions; and the day, which had been fixed by Schahabarim, arrived when Salammbo was t_et out.
  • About the twelfth hour she perceived, in the depths of the sycamore trees, _lind old man with one hand resting on the shoulder of a child who walke_efore him, while with the other he carried a kind of cithara of black woo_gainst his hip. The eunuchs, slaves, and women had been scrupulously sen_way; no one might know the mystery that was preparing.
  • Taanach kindled four tripods filled with strobus and cadamomum in the corner_f the apartment; then she unfolded large Babylonian hangings, and stretche_hem on cords all around the room, for Salammbo did not wish to be seen eve_y the walls. The kinnor-player squatted behind the door and the young bo_tanding upright applied a reed flute to his lips. In the distance the roar o_he streets was growing feebler, violet shadows were lengthening before th_eristyles of the temples, and on the other side of the gulf the mountai_ases, the fields of olive-trees, and the vague yellow lands undulate_ndefinitely, and were blended together in a bluish haze; not a sound was t_e heard, and an unspeakable depression weighed in the air.
  • Salammbo crouched down upon the onyx step on the edge of the basin; she raise_er ample sleeves, fastening them behind her shoulders, and began he_blutions in methodical fashion, according to the sacred rites.
  • Next Taanach brought her something liquid and coagulated in an alabaste_hial; it was the blood of a black dog slaughtered by barren women on _inter's night amid the rubbish of a sepulchre. She rubbed it upon her ears, her heels, and the thumb of her right hand, and even her nail remaine_omewhat red, as if she had crushed a fruit.
  • The moon rose; then the cithara and the flute began to play together.
  • Salammbo unfastened her earrings, her necklace, her bracelets, and her lon_hite simar; she unknotted the band in her hair, shaking the latter for a fe_inutes softly over her shoulders to cool herself by thus scattering it. Th_usic went on outside; it consisted of three notes ever the same, hurried an_renzied; the strings grated, the flute blew; Taanach kept time by strikin_er hands; Salammbo, with a swaying of her whole body, chanted prayers, an_er garments fell one after another around her.
  • The heavy tapestry trembled, and the python's head appeared above the cor_hat supported it. The serpent descended slowly like a drop of water flowin_long a wall, crawled among the scattered stuffs, and then, gluing its tail t_he ground, rose perfectly erect; and his eyes, more brilliant tha_arbuncles, darted upon Salammbo.
  • A horror of cold, or perhaps a feeling of shame, at first made her hesitate.
  • But she recalled Schahabarim's orders and advanced; the python turne_ownwards, and resting the centre of its body upon the nape of her neck, allowed its head and tail to hang like a broken necklace with both end_railing to the ground. Salammbo rolled it around her sides, under her arm_nd between her knees; then taking it by the jaw she brought the littl_riangular mouth to the edge of her teeth, and half shutting her eyes, thre_erself back beneath the rays of the moon. The white light seemed to envelo_er in a silver mist, the prints of her humid steps shone upon the flag- stones, stars quivered in the depth of the water; it tightened upon her it_lack rings that were spotted with scales of gold. Salammbo panted beneath th_xcessive weight, her loins yielded, she felt herself dying, and with the ti_f its tail the serpent gently beat her thigh; then the music becoming stil_t fell off again.
  • Taanach came back to her; and after arranging two candelabra, the lights o_hich burned in crystal balls filled with water, she tinged the inside of he_ands with Lawsonia, spread vermilion upon her cheeks, and antimony along th_dge of her eyelids, and lengthened her eyebrows with a mixture of gum, musk, ebony, and crushed legs of flies.
  • Salammbo seated on a chair with ivory uprights, gave herself up to th_ttentions of the slave. But the touchings, the odour of the aromatics, an_he fasts that she had undergone, were enervating her. She became so pale tha_aanach stopped.
  • "Go on!" said Salammbo, and bearing up against herself, she suddenly revived.
  • Then she was seized with impatience; she urged Taanach to make haste, and th_ld slave grumbled:
  • "Well! well! Mistress!—Besides, you have no one waiting for you!"
  • "Yes!" said Salammbo, "some one is waiting for me."
  • Taanach drew back in surprise, and in order to learn more about it, said:
  • "What orders to you give me, Mistress? for if you are to remain away—"
  • But Salammbo was sobbing; the slave exclaimed:
  • "You are suffering! what is the matter? Do not go away! take me! When you wer_uite little and used to cry, I took you to my heart and made you laugh wit_he points of my breasts; you have drained them, Mistress!" She struck hersel_pon her dried-up bosom. "Now I am old! I can do nothing for you! you n_onger love me! you hide your griefs from me, you despise the nurse!" An_ears of tenderness and vexation flowed down her cheeks in the gashes of he_attooing.
  • "No!" said Salammbo, "no, I love you! be comforted!"
  • With a smile like the grimace of an old ape, Taanach resumed her task. I_ccordance with Schahabarim's recommendations, Salammbo had ordered the slav_o make her magnificent; and she was obeying her mistress with barbaric tast_ull at once of refinement and ingenuity.
  • Over a first delicate and vinous-coloured tunic she passed a secon_mbroidered with birds' feathers. Golden scales clung to her hips, and fro_his broad girdle descended her blue flowing silver-starred trousers. Nex_aanach put upon her a long robe made of the cloth of the country of Seres, white and streaked with green lines. On the edge of her shoulder she fastene_ square of purple weighted at the hem with grains of sandastrum; and abov_ll these garments she placed a black mantle with a flowing train; then sh_azed at her, and proud of her work could not help saying:
  • "You will not be more beautiful on the day of your bridal!"
  • "My bridal!" repeated Salammbo; she was musing with her elbow resting upon th_vory chair.
  • But Taanach set up before her a copper mirror, which was so broad and hig_hat she could see herself completely in it. Then she rose, and with a ligh_ouch of her finger raised a lock of her hair which was falling too low.
  • Her hair was covered with gold dust, was crisped in front, and hung dow_ehind over her back in long twists ending in pearls. The brightness of th_andelabra heightened the paint on her cheeks, the gold on her garments, an_he whiteness of her skin; around her waist, and on her arms, hands and toes, she had such a wealth of gems that the mirror sent back rays upon her like _un;—and Salammbo, standing by the side of Taanach, who leaned over to se_er, smiled amid this dazzling display.
  • Then she walked to and fro embarrassed by the time that was still left.
  • Suddenly the crow of a cock resounded. She quickly pinned a long yellow vei_pon her hair, passed a scarf around her neck, thrust her feet into blu_eather boots, and said to Taanach:
  • "Go and see whether there is not a man with two horses beneath the myrtles."
  • Taanach had scarcely re-entered when she was descending the galley staircase.
  • "Mistress!" cried the nurse.
  • Salammbo turned round with one finger on her mouth as a sign for discretio_nd immobility.
  • Taanach stole softly along the prows to the foot of the terrace, and from _istance she could distinguish by the light of the moon a gigantic shado_alking obliquely in the cypress avenue to the left of Salammbo, a sign whic_resaged death.
  • Taanach went up again into the chamber. She threw herself upon the groun_earing her face with her nails; she plucked out her hair, and uttere_iercing shrieks with all her might.
  • It occurred to her that they might be heard; then she became silent, sobbin_uite softly with her head in the hands and her face on the pavement.