ON THE ORONTES.
WHEN the city came into view, the passengers were on deck, eager that nothing of the scene might escape them. The respectable Jew already introduced to the reader was the principal spokesman.
“The river here runs to the west,” he said, in the way of general answer. “I remember when it washed the base of the walls; but as Roman subjects we have lived in peace, and, as always happens in such times, trade has had its will; now the whole river front is taken up with wharves and docks. Yonder”- the speaker pointed southward- “is Mount Casius, or, as these people love to call it, the Mountains of Orontes, looking across to its brother Amnus in the north; and between them lies the Plain of Antioch. Farther on are the Black Mountains, whence the Ducts of the Kings bring the purest water to wash the thirsty streets and people; yet they are forests in wilderness state, dense, and full of birds and beasts.”
“Where is the lake?” one asked.
“Over north there. You can take horse, if you wish to see it- or, better, a boat, for a tributary connects it with the river.”
“The Grove of Daphne!” he said, to a third inquirer. “Nobody can describe it; only beware! It was begun by Apollo, and completed by him. He prefers it to Olympus. People go there for one look- just one- and never come away. They have a saying which tells it all- ‘Better be a worm and feed on the mulberries of Daphne than a king’s guest.'”
“Then you advise me to stay away from it?”
“Not I! Go you will. Everybody goes, cynic philosopher, virile boy, women, and priests- all go. So sure am I of what you will do that I assume to advise you. Do not take quarters in the city- that will be loss of time; but go at once to the village in the edge of the grove. The way is through a garden, under the spray of fountains. The lovers of the god and his Penaean maid built the town; and in its porticos and paths and thousand retreats you will find characters and habits and sweets and kinds elsewhere impossible. But the wall of the city! there it is, the masterpiece of Xeraeus, the master of mural architecture.”
All eyes followed his pointing finger.
“This part was raised by order of the first of the Seleucidae. Three hundred years have made it part of the rock it rests upon.”
The defence justified the encomium. High, solid, and with many bold angles, it curved southwardly out of view.
“On the top there are four hundred towers, each a reservoir of water,” the Hebrew continued. “Look now! Over the wall, tall as it is, see in the distance two hills, which you may know as the rival crests of Sulpius. The structure on the farthest one is the citadel, garrisoned all the year round by a Roman legion. Opposite it this way rises the Temple of Jupiter, and under that the front of the legate’s residence- a palace full of offices, and yet a fortress against which a mob would dash harmlessly as a south wind.”