Atlantis: Chapter 1

Atlantis: Chapter 1
Atlantis: Chapter 1

 
T
he old man shuffled to a halt and raised his head, as awestruck as he had been the first time he stood before the temple. Nothing like this had yet been built in his native Athens. High above him, the monumental doorway seemed to carry all the weight of the heavens, its colossal pillars casting a moonlit shadow far beyond the temple precinct into the shimmering expanse of the desert. Ahead loomed rows of huge columns, soaring into the cavernous antechamber, their polished surfaces covered with hieroglyphic inscriptions and towering human forms scarcely visible in the spluttering torchlight. The only hint of what lay beyond was a whispering, chilling breeze that brought with it the musty odor of incense as if someone had just opened the doors of a long-sealed burial chamber. The old man shuddered in spite of himself, his philosophical demeanor momentarily giving way to an irrational fear of the unknown, a fear of the power of gods whom he could not placate and who had no interest in the well-being of his people.

“Come, Greek.” The words hissed out of the darkness as the attendant lit his torch from one of the doorway fires, its leaping flame revealing a lithe, wiry physique clad only in a loincloth. As he padded ahead, the bobbing flame was the only mark of his progress. As usual, he stopped at the entrance to the inner sanctum and waited impatiently for the old man, whose stooped form followed behind through the antechamber. The attendant had nothing but contempt for this hellenos, this Greek, with his bald head and unkempt beard, with his endless questions, who kept him waiting in the temple every night far beyond the appointed hour. By writing on his scrolls, the Greek was performing an act properly reserved for the priests.

The war of the worlds: The eve of the war: Chapter one

 

Now the attendant’s contempt had turned to loathe. That very morning his brother Seth had returned from Naucratis, the busy port nearby where the brown flood-water of the Nile debouched into the Great Middle Sea. Seth had been downcast and forlorn. They had entrusted a batch of cloth from their father’s workshop in the Fayum to a Greek merchant who now claimed it was lost in a shipwreck. They were already full of suspicion that the wily Greeks would exploit their ignorance of commerce. Now their foreboding had hardened to hatred. It had been their last hope of escaping a life of drudgery in the temple, condemned to an existence little better than the baboons and cats that lurked in the dark recesses behind the columns.

The attendant peered venomously at the old man as he approached. Lawmaker, they called him. “I will show you,” the attendant whispered to himself, “what my gods think of your laws, you Greek.”

The scene within the inner sanctum could not have been in greater contrast to the forbidding grandeur of the antechamber. A thousand pinpricks of light, like fireflies in the night, sprang from pottery oil lamps around a chamber hewn from the living rock. From the ceiling hung elaborate bronze incense burners, the wispy trails of smoke forming a layer of haze across the room. The walls were set with recesses like the burial niches of a necropolis; only here they were filled not with shrouded corpses and cinerary urns but with tall, open-topped jars brimming over with papyrus scrolls. As the two men descended a flight of steps, the reek of incense grew stronger and the silence was broken by a murmur that became steadily more distinct. Ahead lay two eagle-headed pillars which served as jambs for great bronze doors that opened towards them.

Facing them through the entrance were orderly rows of men, some sitting cross-legged on reed mats and wearing only loincloths, all hunched over low desks. Some were copying from scrolls laid out beside them; others were transcribing dictations from black-robed priests, their low recitations forming the softly undulating chant they had heard as they approached. This was the scriptorium, the chamber of wisdom, a vast repository of written and memorized knowledge passed down from priest to priest since the dawn of history, even before the pyramid builders.

The attendant withdrew into the shadows of the stairwell. He was forbidden from entering the chamber and now began the long wait until the time came to escort the Greek away. But this evening, instead of whiling away the hours in sullen resentment, he took grim satisfaction in the events planned for the night.

 

The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 2

 

The old man pushed past in his eagerness to get on. This was his final night in the temple, his last chance to fathom the mystery that had obsessed him since his previous visit. Tomorrow was the beginning of the month-long Festival of Thoth when all newcomers were barred from the temple. He knew that an outsider would never again be granted an audience with the high priest.

In his haste the Greek stumbled into the room, dropping his scroll and pens with a clatter which momentarily distracted the scribes from their work. He muttered in annoyance and glanced around apologetically before collecting together his bundle and shuffling between the men towards an annex at the far end of the chamber. He ducked under a low doorway and sat down on a reed mat, his previous visits giving him the only intimation that there might be another seated in the darkness before him.

 

“Solon the Lawmaker, I am Amenhotep the high priest.”

The voice was barely audible, little more than a whisper, and sounded as old as the gods. Again it spoke.

“You come to my temple at Saïs, and I receive you. You seek knowledge, and I give what the gods will impart.”

The formal salutations over, the Greek quickly arranged his white robe over his knees and readied his scroll. From the darkness, Amenhotep leaned forward, just enough for his face to be caught in a flickering shaft of light. Solon had seen it many times before, but it still sent a shudder through his soul. It seemed disembodied, a luminous orb suspended in the darkness, like some spectra leering from the edge of the underworld. It was the face of a young man suspended in time as if mummified; the skin was taut and translucent, almost parchment-like, and the eyes were glazed over with the milky sheen of blindness.

Amenhotep had been old before Solon was born. It was said that he had been visited by Homer, in the time of Solon’s great-grandfather, and that it was he who told of the siege of Troy, of Agamemnon and Hector and Helen, and of the wanderings of Odysseus. Solon would have dearly loved to ask him about this and other matters, but in so doing he would be violating his agreement not to question the old priest.

Solon leaned forward attentively, determined not to miss anything in this final visit. At length Amenhotep spoke again, his voice no more than a ghostly exhalation.

“Lawmaker, tell me whereof I spoke yesterday.”

Solon quickly unraveled his scroll, scanning the densely written lines. After a moment he began to read, translating the Greek of his script into the Egyptian language they were now speaking.

 

“A mighty empire once ruled the larger part of the world.” He peered down in the gloom. “Its rulers lived in a vast citadel, up against the sea, a great maze of corridors like nothing seen since. They were ingenious workers in gold and ivory and fearless bullfighters. But then, for defying Poseidon the Sea God, in one mighty deluge, the citadel was swallowed beneath the waves, its people never to be seen again.” Solon stopped reading and looked up expectantly. “That is where you finished.”

After what seemed an interminable silence, the old priest spoke again, his lips scarcely moving and his voice little more than a murmur.

“Tonight, Lawmaker, I will tell you many things. But first let me speak of this lost world, this city of hubris smitten by the gods, this city they called Atlantis.”

 

Many hours later the Greek put down his pen, his hand aching from continuous writing, and wound up his scroll. Amenhotep had finished. Now was the night of the full moon, the beginning of the Festival of Thoth, and the priests must prepare the temple before the supplicants arrived at dawn.

“What I have told you, Lawmaker was here, and nowhere else,” Amenhotep had whispered, his crooked finger slowly tapping his head. “By ancient decree we who cannot leave this temple, we high priests, must keep this wisdom as our treasure. It is only by command of the astrologos, the temple sees, that you are able to be here, by some will of divine Osiris.” The old priest leaned forward, a hint of a smile on his lips. “And, Lawmaker, remember: I do not speak in riddles, like your Greek oracles, but there may be riddles in what I recite. I speak a truth passed down, not a truth of my own devising. You have come for the last time. Go now.” As the deathly face receded into the darkness Solon slowly rose, hesitating momentarily and looking back one last time before stooping out into the now empty scriptorium and making his way towards the torchlit entranceway.

Rosy-fingered dawn was coloring the eastern sky, the faint glow tinting the moonlight which still danced across the waters of the Nile. The old Greek was alone, the attendant had left him as usual outside the precinct. He had sighed with satisfaction as he passed the temple columns, their palm-leaf capitals so unlike the simple Greek forms, and glanced for the last time at the Sacred Lake with its eerie phalanx of obelisks and human-headed sphinxes and colossal statues of the pharaohs. He had been pleased to leave all that behind and was walking contentedly along the dusty road towards the mud-brick village where he was staying. In his hands, he clutched the precious scroll, and over his shoulder hung a satchel weighed down by a heavy purse. Tomorrow, before leaving, he would make his offering of gold to the goddess Neith, as he had promised Amenhotep when they first spoke.

He was still lost in wonderment at what he had heard. A Golden Age, an age of splendor even the pharaohs could not have imagined. A race who mastered every art, in fire and stone and metal. Yet these were men, not giants, not like the Cyclops who built the ancient walls on the Acropolis. They had found the divine fruit and picked it. Their citadel shone like Mount Olympus. They had dared defy the gods, and the gods had struck them down.

Yet they had lived on.

In his reverie, he failed to notice two dark forms that stole out from behind a wall as he was entering the village. The blow caught him completely unaware. As he slumped to the ground and darkness descended, he was briefly aware of hands pulling off his shoulder bag. One of the figures snatched the scroll from his grasp and tore it to shreds, throwing the fragments out of sight down a rubbish-strewn alley. The two figures disappeared as silently as they had come, leaving the Greek bloodied and unconscious in the dirt.

When he came to he would have no memory of that final night in the temple. In his remaining years, he would rarely speak of his time in Saïs and never again put pen to paper. The wisdom of Amenhotep would never again leave the sanctity of the temple and would seem lost forever as the last priests died and the silt of the Nile enveloped the temple and its key to the deepest mysteries of the past.

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The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 3

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