Saronia A Romance of Ancient Ephesus

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ISBN: N/A
Language: English
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CHAPTER I

THE AGORA

The sun had risen in all its splendour, and was flooding the bay and mountains with silvery light. The river Cayster moved on its course, and mixed its waters with the blue of the Ægean Sea, and washed the shores of Samos, appearing like a purple vision on the ocean. Boats and ships of quaint form and gorgeous colouring, propelled by a gentle breeze, moved to and fro, and glided up the shining way which led to the great city of Ephesus, the chief of Ionia, and the home of the goddess. Not far away was shining like a brilliant star the marble pillars of the Temple of Diana. Ephesus was now fully awake, and the people were moving along its streets, some wending their way to the temples to offer their morning devotions, others hastening to the great theatre, and many more directing their course towards their daily toil; for men must work, even within the precincts of a city where all is splendour. The city, with its wealth of art and stores of gold, was envied of conquerors. Situated between the mountains, its inhabitants had a noble chance of making it beautiful, and, being skilled in art and endowed with learning, they built temples of the noblest design, erected statues of the richest order, painted pictures of the grandest conception. Odeum and theatre all sprang forth in magical beauty and power, whilst villas replete with elegance combined to make it one of the loveliest cities, surrounded with hills and groves and the traditions of a line of centuries.

The great market was being filled with men and women offering the most tempting products of the land. Groups were selling and buying fruits, flowers and perfumes, bread, fish and wine. Ribbon-sellers, chaplet-weavers, money-changers—all were there; and the people purchased for their daily needs, whilst others bought rich offerings for the temples of their goddess and their gods.

Here and there the ground was covered with flowers of richest shades and sweetest fragrance, and great branches with clustering blossoms of crimson oleander and myrtle lay around.

From the house of the Roman Lady Venusta the slave Saronia had come to buy. She was clothed in the simplest manner, tall and beautifully formed, with eyes speaking a tale of sadness and a weariness of life; a dignified slave, but a slave nevertheless, purchased but a year ago, and brought hither by a trading-barque from Sidon, in Phœnicia, where she had served as a slave from childhood.

She gathered together her pomegranates, citrons, almonds, olives, and flowers, placed them in her basket of wickerwork, walked out of the market, and passed up the way which led to the home of her mistress. But the splendour to which she hastened was a prison to her. She so full of young life, she who felt within her the rising for supremacy (an unquenchable spirit), she with a mystic flame burning up her soul, felt it was not a home but a waiting-place until the Fates passed by and led her on.

True, Venusta treated Saronia fairly well, but Nika, her daughter, hated her—from the first she hated her. And why this hate? Nika herself could scarcely say; but who has not felt this subtle power to love or hate at first sight—an intuitive something which draws or repels without our reason or consent? Perhaps it was the great sadness of Saronia's eyes, the overflowing influence of a mighty spirit, that Nika disliked so much; or perhaps it was that when Chios, the Greek, came to visit the Romans, he spoke kindly to the slave, and thus Nika detested her. It may be so.

Passing by the great theatre and the Odeum, she went up the shaded way over the side of Mount Coressus, and came to the beautiful home of Venusta, passed in laden with fruit and flowers, great clusters of sweet-scented blossoms falling from the basket as she raised it from her head. For a moment she stood as in a dream, with girdled drapery falling to her feet, and her gaze firmly fixed upon the great temple appearing full in view as she looked through the window, which allowed the sunlight to penetrate into her room.

That night, when her work was done, she mounted the marble steps surrounding the house, and breathed the pleasant, perfumed air which came down the mountain-side and danced through the myrtle groves....