Messala broke in upon him with a biting laugh.
“Oh, I understand you now. Ishmael, you say, is a usurper, yet to believe an Idumaean sooner than Ishmael is to sting like an adder. By the drunken son of Semele, what it is to be a Jew! All men and things, even heaven and earth, change; but a Jew never. To him there is no backward, no forward; he is what his ancestor was in the beginning. In this sand I draw you a circle- there! Now tell me what more a Jew’s life is? Round and round, Abraham here, Isaac and Jacob yonder, God in the middle. And the circle- by the master of all thunders! the circle is too large. I draw it again-.” He stopped, put his thumb upon the ground, and swept the fingers about it. “See, the thumb-spot is the Temple, the finger-lines Judea. Outside the little space is there nothing of value? The arts! Herod was a builder; therefore he is accursed. Painting, sculpture! to look upon them is sin. Poetry you make fast to your altars. Except in the synagogue, who of you attempts eloquence? In war all you conquer in the six days you lose on the seventh. Such your life and limit; who shall say no if I laugh at you? Satisfied with the worship of such a people, what is your God to our Roman Jove, who lends us his eagles that we may compass the universe with our arms? Hillel, Simeon, Shammai, Abtalion- what are they to the masters who teach that everything is worth knowing that can be known?”
The Jew arose, his face much flushed.
“No, no; keep your place, my Judah, keep your place,” Messala cried, extending his hand.
“You mock me.”
“Listen a little further. Directly”- the Roman smiled derisively- “directly Jupiter and his whole family, Greek and Latin, will come to me, as is their habit, and make an end of serious speech. I am mindful of your goodness in walking from the old house of your fathers to welcome me back and renew the love of our childhood- if we can. ‘Go,’ said my teacher, in his last lecture- ‘go, and, to make your lives great, remember Mars reigns and Eros has found his eyes.’ He meant love is nothing, war everything. It is so in Rome. Marriage is the first step to divorce. Virtue is a tradesman’s jewel. Cleopatra, dying, bequeathed her arts, and is avenged; she has a successor in every Roman’s house. The world is going the same way; so, as to our future, down Eros, up Mars! I am to be a soldier; and you, O my Judah, I pity you; what can you be?”
The Jew moved nearer the pool; Messala’s drawl deepened.
“Yes, I pity you, my fine Judah. From the college to the synagogue; then to the Temple; then- oh, a crowning glory!- the seat in the Sanhedrim. A life without opportunities; the gods help you. But I- “