« PreviousContinue »
JULIAN AT MACHÆRUS TO NAOMI IN ROME.
MACHÆRUS. - FIRST INTERVIEW WITH HEROD. — THE PLANS
AND RESOURCES OF THE TETRARCH. His HATRED OF THE BAPTIST.– ONIAS. — THE ROYAL FEAST.
TAKENED from dreams in which I was losing myself,
I saw that the reproof of the camel-driver was needed. We accordingly returned towards the path we had left, and moved on in the direction of the city.
The whole prospect to the east was now open to us, as we crossed a part of the promontory of which I have spoken. Machærus, the fortress, stood before us crowning its inaccessible heights with tower and wall; the city, with which it is connected by fortified passages, stretching down the hill as it slopes gently to the north, and spreading out on each side, beyond its embattlements, into suburbs which spoke of both numbers and wealth. The prospect was wild and magnificent. The precipitous heights with trees and shrubs depending from the fissures in which they had fixed their roots, water from secret springs gushing forth and falling from rock to rock till it was lost in unfathomable gulfs below, all crowned with the stately buildings of the city in every form of Greek and Roman art, the fortress at the southern limit towering above the whole, and bidding defiance through its natural defences to the most proved resources of war, presented in their union a scene like no other which I had beheld before in either Europe or Asia. The beauty seemed to me the greater also for the features of dreary desolation that were so many and so appalling in almost every other direction.
In the city above, and among the clefts of the rocks on which it stands, could the eye, pained as it had been by the barrenness of the desert and the shores and surface of the Salt Sea, now rest with an agreeable sense of relief upon the dark hues and heavy masses of this eastern foliage. Over the walls were to be seen the palm, the poplar, the sycamore, and the broad terebinth, shooting up and mingling their forms with those of the columns and pinnacles of Herod's temples and palaces. All that from such distance could be descried, gave signs of a population not insensible to any of the provisions by which life is adorned at least, if not furnished with additional means of happiness -- and we pressed on our way, anxious ere the sun should leave, to pass the gates, and see more and from a nearer point of view of what filled us so with admiration.
As we went still farther to the north on our way towards the gate of the city, we fell in with many travellers taking the same road, and passed the scattered dwellings of those who, as gardeners and husbandmen, supplied the wants of the citizens. A rich soil began to show itself, from which the last products of the harvest were gathering. When we approached the gates, as our view was unobstructed to the east, and in the direction of Herodium, we beheld, as far as the eye could reach, valleys still smiling in a rich luxuriance of vegetation, sprinkled with villages and the insulated dwellings of the peasantry. Upon passing within the walls, we found the city of less extent than it had seemed when seen from the borders of the sea, but at the same time remarkable for the elegance and costliness of its structures, especially its public ones. For Herod the Great having rebuilt Machærus, he obeyed here, as he did wherever he undertook any work for the people, and for which their taxes were to pay, his pas
, sion for magnificence, and accordingly filled it with palaces, markets, temples and porticoes, as his humour inclined. The city in these features of it seems far beyond the demands of the region and of the inhabitants. These are of many nations; -Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Arabians, as well as Jews and Samaritans, being found here, either as permanent citizens, or as strangers resorting hither for purposes of traffic.
We soon found our way to the merchant's house to whom Onias had commended me, who gave me a hospitable welcome to the city of Herod. Upon inquiring after the Tetrarch, and in what way access was to be obtained, and whether he were at present in Machærus, I learned that he was now dwelling in the palace within the fortress, that he was easy of approach, and moreover was with impatience awaiting my arrival, of which Onias had given him warning.
When I had been refreshed by the sleep of a long night, and had satisfied my love of what is new and strange by examining different parts of the lower city, I turned towards the citadel, within which stands the palace of Herod. Although there are in the lower city other palaces, costly and sumptuous, which he also occupies when his inclinations prompt, - yet for the most part, as I have learned, he confines himself to this within the fortress. This place is reached only at one point, and by one passage, which is a bridge, - covered by an arch, and more like a subterranean tunnel than a bridge, thrown across a deep gulf, that separates one part of this mountain from another. On the smaller part stands the Fortress of Machærus, entered in the way I have described. On every other side it is wholly inaccessible; since the precipices which nature has reared are impossible of ascent, and superadded to them are the lofty walls and towers, a hundred cubits and more in height, rebuilt by the great Herod, when they had been demolished by the Romans in their conflict with Aristobulus. Only it must be said, that the structures of Herod are greatly inferior, in both extent and strength, to those that had before been built by our king Alexander.
When I had passed the huge gateways at either extremity of the bridge, both of which were guarded by soldiers, I entered the space enclosed by the walls of the citadel, in the centre of which rose before me the palace of the Tetrarch, magnificent in its vastness, and beautiful by reason of the multitude of its polished columns, its lofty porticos, and the richness of its various decorations. Before it, and surrounding it on all sides, were groves of every fruit tree and flowering plant, brought from all parts of the world. No tree could, I believe, be named, in any way remarkable, distinguished either for its beauty of form, or the flavour of its fruit, or the odour of its blossoms, that might not be found here. In all directions also, fountains of water were throwing up to a great height their refreshing showers or columns. Long ranges of other buildings, designed for the chief officers of the king, for all such as chose to resort to his court, as well as for the great garrison which is always maintained here, were seen in different parts of this large enclosure, seeming almost, for extent, like those I had left on the other side of the bridge. The scene was made to appear full of life also, from the movements of troops of soldiers on the walls or the platforms beneath to the sound of their warlike instruments, and from the numbers of those who appeared to be visitors of the king, and who were walking among the trees or reposing by the side of the fountains. A busy multitude also of slaves were labouring at their different employments, in preserving in their order the grounds and the buildings, or performing the errands committed to them.
I was led to that part of the palace where were situated the private apartments of the Tetrarch, to the room in which he receives those with whom he has any affairs to transact that are to be conducted with privacy. Herod was sitting with writing materials before him as I entered. In his appearance he conformed to what I had looked for. He was not above the middle stature, nor in other respects possessed of any of those remarkable qualities by which the eye is either captivated or awed at once. His countenance easily relaxed into a smile; yet in the smile there is more of a certain sort of derision, or secret contempt, than of anything like mirthfulness or goodwill. His eyes are those of a Jew, quick in their motion, and suddenly and without apparent cause averted from you as you meet
their glance; his beard and hair of a reddish hue, not long, but thick and straight. His garments, of the richest stuffs, were such as become a monarch. His voice is for the most part soft and cheerful; yet often, and unconsciously as it were, sliding into other tones, harsh and imperious, as if they were those most natural. and saluted me with courtesy, using the Latin tongue, which he speaks with readiness and exactness, but rather as if he had learned it of masters, than by much use among those to whom it is a native speech. He asked after the welfare of Onias and his household, expressing much regard for him, and great reliance upon his judgment and valour. He then spake of my journey and of my arrival, and asked if I had before visited these regions.
I answered that I had never until within a short period seen any part of the country of my forefathers, nor until now the Dead Sea and the city of Machærus. I spoke of the wonders of the place, and of the magnificence of his father to whom it owed its existence. “ Yes,” he said, “Herod was a great man.
But it had been better for Israel had he been great as a Jew, rather than as a man and a king. He was a Roman, or a Greek, not a true son of Abraham.”
“ It was very true,” I said, “ and it was the more a matter of rejoicing that his son in that departed from the example of the parent, and was a lover of his own country and people, and their customs, yet without a deadly hatred to others. The people were now in expectation that through him their ancient greatness might be restored."
“ It is my glory,” he replied, “ to be, and to be called a Jew; a lover of the Law, and an observer of its commands. The people of Galilee and Peræa know me only as a Jew. If I am ever King in Israel, I shall be King of Israel.”
I said that I could not doubt that he would be; yet it rested with himself.
“ Young man,” said he, “you speak well and boldly. Onias has commended thee to me. But for his word,