by Gustave Flaubert
In the eastern side of the Dead Sea rose the citadel of Machaerus. It
was built upon a conical peak of basalt, and was surrounded by four
deep valleys, one on each side, another in front, and the fourth in
the rear. At the base of the citadel, crowding against one another, a
group of houses stood within the circle of a wall, whose outlines
undulated with the unevenness of the soil. A zigzag road, cutting
through the rocks, joined the city to the fortress, the walls of which
were about one hundred and twenty cubits high, having numerous angles
and ornamental towers that stood out like jewels in this crown of
stone overhanging an abyss.
Within the high walls stood a palace, adorned with many richly carved
arches, and surrounded by a terrace that on one side of the building
spread out below a wide balcony made of sycamore wood, upon which tall
poles had been erected to support an awning.
One morning, just before sunrise, the tetrarch, Herod-Antipas, came
out alone upon the balcony. He leaned against one of the columns and
looked about him.
The crests of the hill-tops in the valley below the palace were just
discernible in the light of the false dawn, although their bases,
extending to the abyss, were still plunged in darkness. A light mist
floated in the air; presently it lifted, and the shores of the Dead
Sea became visible. The sun, rising behind Machaerus, spread a rosy
flush over the sky, lighting up the stony shores, the hills, and the
desert, and illuming the distant mountains of Judea, rugged and grey
in the early dawn. En-gedi, the central point of the group, threw a
deep black shadow; Hebron, in the background, was round-topped like a
dome; Eschol had her pomegranates, Sorek her vineyards, Carmel her
fields of sesame; and the tower of Antonia, with its enormous cube,
dominated Jerusalem. The tetrarch turned his gaze from it to
contemplate the palms of Jericho on his right; and his thoughts dwelt
upon other cities of his beloved Galilee,--Capernaum, Endor, Nazareth,
Tiberias--whither it might be he would never return.
The Jordan wound its way through the arid plains that met his gaze;
white and glittering under the clear sky, it dazzled the eye like snow
in the rays of the sun.
The Dead Sea now looked like a sheet of lapis-lazuli; and at its
southern extremity, on the coast of Yemen, Antipas recognised clearly
what at first he had been able only dimly to perceive. Several tents
could now be plainly seen; men carrying spears were moving about among
a group of horses; and dying camp-fires shone faintly in the beams of
the rising sun.
This was a troop belonging to the sheikh of the Arabs, the daughter of
whom the tetrarch had repudiated in order to wed Herodias, already
married to one of his brothers, who lived in Italy but who had no
pretensions to power.
Antipas was waiting for assistance and reinforcements from the Romans,
but as Vitellius, the Governor of Syria, had not yet arrived, he was
consumed with impatience and anxiety. Perhaps Agrippa had ruined his
cause with the Emperor, he thought. Philip, his third brother,
sovereign of Batania, was arming himself clandestinely. The Jews were
becoming intolerant of the tetrarch's idolatries; he knew that many
were weary of his rule; and he hesitated now between adopting one of
two projects: to conciliate the Arabs and win back their allegiance,
or to conclude an alliance with the Parthians. Under the pretext of
celebrating his birthday, he had planned to bring together, at a grand
banquet, the chiefs of his troops, the stewards of his domains, and
the most important men from the region about Galilee.
Antipas threw a keen glance along all the roads leading to Machaerus.
They were deserted. Eagles were sweeping through the air high above
his head; the soldiers of the guard, placed at intervals along the
ramparts, slept or dozed, leaning against the walls; all was silent
within the castle.
Suddenly he heard the sound of a distant voice, seeming to come from
the very depths of the earth. His cheek paled. After an instant's
hesitation, he leaned far over the balcony railing, listening
intently, but the voice had died away. Presently it rose again upon
the quiet air; Antipas clapped his hands together loudly, crying:
Instantly a man appeared, naked to the waist, after the fashion of a
masseur at the bath. Although emaciated, and somewhat advanced in
years, he was a giant in stature, and on his hip he wore a cutlass in
a bronze scabbard. His bushy hair, gathered up and held in place by a
kind of comb, exaggerated the apparent size of his massive head. His
eyes were heavy with sleep, but his white teeth shone, his step was
light on the flagstones, and his body had the suppleness of an ape,
although his countenance was as impassive as that of a mummy.
"Where is he?" demanded the tetrarch of this strange being.
Mannaeus made a movement over his shoulder with his thumb, saying:
"Over there--still there!"
"I thought I heard him cry out."
And Antipas, after drawing a deep breath, asked for news of Iaokanann,
afterwards known as St. John the Baptist. Had he been allowed to see
the two men who had asked permission to visit his dungeon a few days
before, and since that time, had any one discovered for what purpose
the men desired to see him?
"They exchanged some strange words with him," Mannaeus replied, "with
the mysterious air of robbers conspiring at the cross-roads. Then they
departed towards Upper Galilee, saying that they were the bearers of
Antipas bent his head for a moment; then raising it quickly, said in a
tone full of alarm:
"Guard him! watch him well! Do not allow any one else to see him. Keep
the gates shut and the entrance to the dungeon closed fast. It must
not even be suspected that he still lives!"
Mannaeus had already attended to all these details, because Iaokanann
was a Jew, and, like all the Samaritans, Mannaeus hated the Jews.
Their temple on the Mount of Gerizim, which Moses had designed to be
the centre of Israel, had been destroyed since the reign of King
Hyrcanus; and the temple at Jerusalem made the Samaritans furious;
they regarded its presence as an outrage against themselves, and a
permanent injustice. Mannaeus, indeed, had forcibly entered it, for
the purpose of defiling its altar with the bones of corpses. Several
of his companions, less agile than he, had been caught and beheaded.
From the tetrarch's balcony, the temple was visible through an opening
between two hills. The sun, now fully risen, shed a dazzling splendour
on its walls of snowy marble and the plates of purest gold that formed
its roof. The structure shone like a luminous mountain, and its
radiant purity indicated something almost superhuman, eclipsing even
its suggestion of opulence and pride.
Mannaeus stretched out his powerful arm towards Zion, and, with
clenched fist and his great body drawn to its full height, he launched
a bitter anathema at the city, with perfect faith that eventually his
curse must be effective.
Antipas listened, without appearing to be shocked at the strength of
When the Samaritan had become somewhat calmer, he returned to the
subject of the prisoner.
"Sometimes he grows excited," said he, "then he longs to escape or
talks about a speedy deliverance. At other times he is as quiet as a
sick animal, although I often find him pacing to and fro in his gloomy
dungeon, murmuring, 'In order that His glory may increase, mine must
Antipas and Mannaeus looked at each other a moment in silence. But the
tetrarch was weary of pondering on this troublesome matter.
The mountain peaks surrounding the palace, looking like great
petrified waves, the black depths among the cliffs, the immensity of
the blue sky, the rising sun, and the gloomy valley of the abyss,
filled the soul of Antipas with a vague unrest; he felt an
overwhelming sense of oppression at the sight of the desert, whose
uneven piles of sand suggested crumbling ampitheatres or ruined
palaces. The hot wind brought an odour of sulphur, as if it had rolled
up from cities accursed and buried deeper than the river-bed of the
These aspects of nature, which seemed to his troubled fancy signs of
the wrath of the gods, terrified him, and he leaned heavily against
the balcony railing, his eyes fixed, his head resting upon his hands.
Presently he felt a light touch upon his shoulder. He turned, and saw
Herodias standing beside him. A purple robe enveloped her, falling to
her sandaled feet. Having left her chamber hurriedly, she wore no
jewels nor other ornaments. A thick tress of rippling black hair hung
over her shoulder and hid itself in her bosom; her nostrils, a little
too large for beauty, quivered with triumph, and her face was alight
with joy. She gently shook the tetrarch's shoulder, and exclaimed
"Caesar is our friend! Agrippa has been imprisoned!"
"Who told thee that?"
"I know it!" she replied, adding: "It was because he coveted the crown
While living upon the charity of Antipas and Herodias, Agrippa had
intrigued to become king, a title for which the tetrarch was as eager
as he. But if this news were true, no more was to be feared from
"The dungeons of Tiberias are hard to open, and sometimes life itself
is uncertain within their depths," said Herodias, with grim
Antipas understood her; and, although she was Agrippa's sister, her
atrocious insinuation seemed entirely justifiable to the tetrarch.
Murder and outrage were to be expected in the management of political
intrigues; they were a part of the fatal inheritance of royal houses;
and in the family of Herodias nothing was more common.
Then she rapidly unfolded to the tetrarch the secrets of her recent
undertakings, telling him how many men had been bribed, what letters
had been intercepted, and the number of spies stationed at the city
gates. She did not hesitate even to tell him of her success in an
attempt to befool and seduce Eutyches the denunciator.
"And why should I not?" she said; "it cost me nothing. For thee, my
lord, have I not done more than that? Did I not even abandon my
After her divorce from Philip, she had indeed left her daughter in
Rome, hoping that, as the wife of the tetrarch, she might bear other
children. Until that moment she had never spoken to Antipas of her
daughter. He asked himself the reason for this sudden display of
During their brief conversation several attendants had come out upon
the balcony; one slave brought a quantity of large, soft cushions, and
arranged them in a kind of temporary couch upon the floor behind his
mistress. Herodias sank upon them, and turning her face away from
Antipas, seemed to be weeping silently. After a few moments she dried
her eyes, declared that she would dream no more, and that she was, in
reality, perfectly happy. She reminded Antipas of their former long
delightful interviews in the atrium; their meetings at the baths;
their walks along the Sacred Way, and the sweet evening rendezvous at
the villa, among the flowery groves, listening to the murmur of
splashing fountains, within sight of the Roman Campagna. Her glances
were as tender as in former days; she drew near to him, leaned against
his breast and caressed him fondly.
But he repelled her soft advances. The love she sought to rekindle had
died long ago. He thought instead of all his misfortunes, and of the
twelve long years during which the war had continued. Protracted
anxiety had visibly aged the tetrarch. His shoulders were bent beneath
his violet-bordered toga; his whitening locks were long and mingled
with his beard, and the sunlight revealed many lines upon his brow, as
well as upon that of Herodias. After the tetrarch's repulse of his
wife's tender overtures, the pair gazed morosely at each other.
The mountain paths began to show signs of life. Shepherds were driving
their flocks to pasture; children urged heavy-laden donkeys along the
roads; while grooms belonging to the palace led the horses to the
river to drink. The wayfarers descending from the heights on the
farther side of Machaerus disappeared behind the castle; others
ascended from the valleys, and after arriving at the palace deposited
their burdens in the courtyard. Many of these were purveyors to the
tetrarch; others were the servants of his expected guests, arriving in
advance of their masters.
Suddenly, at the foot of the terrace on the left, an Essene appeared;
he wore a white robe, his feet were bare, and his demeanour indicated
that he was a follower of the Stoics. Mannaeus instantly rushed
towards the stranger, drawing the cutlass that he wore upon his hip.
"Kill him!" cried Herodias.
"Do not touch him!" the tetrarch commanded.
The two men stood motionless for an instant, then they descended the
terrace, both taking a different direction, although they kept their
eyes fixed upon each other.
"I know that man," said Herodias, after they had disappeared. "His
name is Phanuel, and he will try to seek out Iaokanann, since thou
wert so foolish as to allow him to live."
Antipas said that the man might some day be useful to them. His
attacks upon Jerusalem would gain them the allegiance of the rest of
"No," said Herodias, "the Jews will accept any master, and are
incapable of feeling any true patriotism." She added that, as for the
man who was trying to influence the people with hopes cherished since
the days of Nehemiah, the best policy was to suppress him.
The tetrarch replied that there was no haste about the matter, and
expressed his doubt that any real danger was to be feared from
Iaokanann even affecting to laugh at the idea.
"Do not deceive thyself!" exclaimed Herodias. And she retold the story
of her humiliation one day when she was travelling towards Gilead, in
order to purchase some of the balm for which that region was famous.
"A multitude was standing on the banks of the stream, my lord; many of
the people were putting on their raiment. Standing on a hillock, a
strange man was speaking to the gathering. A camel's-skin was wrapped
about his loins, and his head was like that of a lion. As soon as he
saw me, he launched in my direction all the maledictions of the
prophets. His eyes flamed, his voice shook, he raised his arms as if
he would draw down lightning upon my head. I could not fly from him;
the wheels of my chariot sank in the sand up to the middle; and I
could only crawl along, hiding my head with my mantle, and frozen with
terror at the curses that poured upon me like a storm from heaven!"
Continuing her harangue, she declared that the knowledge that this man
still existed poisoned her very life. When he had been seized and
bound with cords, the soldiers were prepared to stab him if he
resisted, but he had been quite gentle and obedient. After he had been
thrown into prison some one had put venomous serpents into his
dungeon, but strange to say, after a time they had died, leaving him
uninjured. The inanity of such tricks exasperated Herodias. Besides,
she inquired, why did this man make war upon her? What interest moved
him to such actions? His injurious words to her, uttered before a
throng of listeners, had been repeated and widely circulated; she
heard them whispered everywhere. Against a legion of soldiers she
would have been brave; but this mysterious influence, more pernicious
and powerful than the sword, but impossible to grasp, was maddening!
Herodias strode to and fro upon the terrace, white with rage, unable
to find words to express the emotions that choked her.
She had a haunting fear that the tetrarch might listen to public
opinion after a time, and persuade himself it was his duty to
repudiate her. Then, indeed, all would be lost! Since early youth she
had cherished a dream that some day she would rule over a great
empire. As an important step towards attaining this ambition, she had
deserted Philip, her first husband, and married the tetrarch, who now
she thought had duped her.
"Ah! I found a powerful support, indeed, when I entered thy family!"
"It is at least the equal of thine," Antipas replied.
Herodias felt the blood of the kings and priests, her ancestors,
boiling in her veins.
"Thy grandfather was a servile attendant upon the temple of Ascalon!"
she went on, with fury. "Thy other ancestors were shepherds, bandits,
conductors of caravans, a horde of slaves offered as tribute to King
David! My forefathers were the conquerors of thine! The first of the
Maccabees drove thy people out of Hebron; Hyrcanus forced them to be
circumcised!" Then, with all the contempt of the patrician for the
plebeian, the hatred of Jacob for Esau, she reproached him for his
indifference towards palpable outrages to his dignity, his weakness
regarding the Phoenicians, who had been false to him, and his cowardly
attitude towards the people who detested and insulted herself.
"But thou art like them!" she cried; "Dost regret the loss of the Arab
girl who danced upon these very pavements? Take her back! Go and live
with her--in her tent! Eat her bread, baked in the ashes! Drink
curdled sheep's-milk! Kiss her dark cheeks--and forget me!"
The tetrarch had already forgotten her presence, it appeared. He paid
no further heed to her anger, but looked intently at a young girl who
had just stepped out upon the balcony of a house not far away. At her
side stood an elderly female slave, who held over the girl's head a
kind of parasol with a handle made of long, slender reeds. In the
middle of the rug spread upon the floor of the balcony stood a large
open travelling-hamper or basket, and girdles, veils, head-dresses,
and gold and silver ornaments were scattered about in confusion. At
intervals the young girl took one object or another in her hands, and
held it up admiringly. She was dressed in the costume of the Roman
ladies, with a flowing tunic and a peplum ornamented with tassels of
emeralds; and blue silken bands confined her hair, which seemed almost
too luxuriant, since from time to time she raised a small hand to push
back the heavy masses. The parasol half hid the maiden from the gaze
of Antipas, but now and then he caught a glimpse of her delicate neck,
her large eyes, or a fleeting smile upon her small mouth. He noted
that her figure swayed about with a singularly elastic grace and
elegance. He leaned forward, his eyes kindled, his breath quickened.
All this was not lost upon Herodias, who watched him narrowly.
"Who is that maiden?" the tetrarch asked at last.
Herodias replied that she did not know, and her fierce demeanour
suddenly changed to one of gentleness and amiability.
At the entrance to the castle the tetrarch was awaited by several
Galileans, the master of the scribes, the chief of the land stewards,
the manager of the salt mines, and a Jew from Babylon, commanding his
troops of horse. As the tetrarch approached the group, he was greeted
with respectful enthusiasm. Acknowledging the acclamations with a
grave salute, he entered the castle.
As he proceeded along one of the corridors, Phanuel suddenly sprang
from a corner and intercepted him.
"What! Art thou still here?" said the tetrarch in displeasure. "Thou
seekest Iaokanann, no doubt."
"And thyself, my lord. I have something of great importance to tell
At a sign from Antipas, the Essene followed him into a somewhat dark
and gloomy room.
The daylight came faintly through a grated window. The walls were of a
deep shade of crimson, so dark as to look almost black. At one end of
the room stood an ebony bed, ornamented with bands of leather. A
shield of gold, hanging at the head of the bed, shone like a sun in
the obscurity of the apartment. Antipas crossed over to the couch and
threw himself upon it in a half-reclining attitude, while Phanuel
remained standing before him. Suddenly he raised one hand, and
striking a commanding attitude said:
"At times, my lord, the Most High sends a message to the people
through one of His sons. Iaokanann is one of these. If thou oppress
him, thou shalt be punished!"
"But it is he that persecutes me!" exclaimed Antipas. "He asked me to
do a thing that was impossible. Since then he has done nothing but
revile me. And I was not severe with him when he began his abuse of
me. But he had the hardihood to send various men from Machaerus to
spread dissension and discontent throughout my domain. A curse upon
him! Since he attacks me, I shall defend myself."
"Without doubt, he has expressed his anger with too much violence,"
Phanuel replied calmly. "But do not heed that further. He must be set
"One does not let loose a furious animal," said the tetrarch.
"Have no fear of him now," was the quick reply. "He will go straight
to the Arabs, the Gauls, and the Scythians. His work must be extended
to the uttermost ends of the earth."
For a moment Antipas appeared lost in thought, as one who sees a
vision. Then he said:
"His power over men is indeed great. In spite of myself, I admire
"Then set him free!"
But the tetrarch shook his head. He feared Herodias, Mannaeus, and
Phanuel tried to persuade him, promising, as a guaranty of the honesty
of his projects, the submission of the Essenians to the King. These
poor people, clad only in linen, untameable in spite of severe
treatment, endowed with the power to divine the future by reading the
stars, had succeeded in commanding a certain degree of respect.
"What is the important matter thou wouldst communicate to me?" Antipas
inquired, with sudden recollection.
Before Phanuel could reply, a Negro entered the room in great haste.
He was covered with dust, and panted so violently that he could
scarcely utter the single word:
"Has he arrived?" asked the tetrarch.
"I have seen him, my lord. Within three hours he will be here."
Throughout the palace, doors were opening and closing and portieres
were swaying as if in a high wind, with the coming and going of many
persons; there was a murmur of voices; sounds of the moving of heavy
furniture could be heard, and the rattle of silver plates and dishes.
From the highest tower a loud blast upon a conch summoned from far and
near all the slaves belonging to the castle.
The ramparts were thronged with people when at last Vitellius entered
the castle gates, leaning on the arm of his interpreter. Behind them
came an imposing red litter, decorated with plumes and mirrors. The
proconsul wore a toga ornamented with the laticlave, a broad purple
band extending down the front of the garment, indicating his rank; and
his feet were encased in the kind of buskins worn by consuls. A guard
of lictors surrounded him. Against the wall they placed their twelve
fasces--a bundle of sticks with an axe in the centre. And the populace
trembled before the insignia of Roman majesty.
The gorgeous litter, borne by eight men, came to a halt. From it
descended a youth. He wore many pearls upon his fingers, but he had a
protruding abdomen and his face was covered with pimples. A cup of
aromatic wine was offered to him. He drank it, and asked for a second
The tetrarch had fallen upon his knees before the proconsul, saying
that he was grieved beyond words not to have known sooner of the
favour of his presence within those domains; had he been aware of the
approach of his distinguished guest, he would have issued a command
that every person along the route should place himself at the
proconsul's orders. Of a surety, the proconsul's family was descended
direct from the goddess Vitellia. A highway, leading from the
Janiculum to the sea, still bore their name. Questors and consuls were
innumerable in that great family; and as for the noble Lucius, now his
honoured guest, it was the duty of the whole people to thank him, as
the conqueror of the Cliti and the father of the young Aulus, now
returning to his own domain, since the East was the country of the
gods. These hyperboles were expressed in Latin, and Vitellius accepted
He replied that the great Herod was the honour and glory of the
nation; that the Athenians had chosen him to direct the Olympian
games; that he had built temples in the honour of Augustus; had been
patient, ingenious, terrible; and was faithful to all the Caesars.
Between the two marble columns, with bronze capitals, Herodias could
now be seen advancing with the air of an empress, in the midst of a
group of women and eunuchs carrying perfumed torches set in sockets of
The proconsul advanced three steps to meet her. She saluted him with
an inclination of her head.
"How fortunate," she exclaimed, "that henceforth Agrippa, the enemy of
Tiberius, can work harm no longer!"
Vitellius did not understand her allusion, but he thought her a
dangerous woman. Antipas immediately declared that he was ready to do
anything for the emperor.
"Even to the injury of others?" Vitellius asked, significantly.
He had taken hostages from the king of the Parthians, but the emperor
had given no further thought to the matter, because Antipas, who had
been present at the conference, had, in order to gain favour, sent off
despatches bearing the news. From that time he had borne a profound
hatred towards the emperor and had delayed in sending assistance to
The tetrarch stammered in attempting to reply to the query of the
proconsul. But Aulus laughed and said: "Do not be disturbed. I will
The proconsul feigned not to hear this remark. The fortune of the
father depended, in a way, on the corrupt influence of the son; and
through him it was possible that Antipas might be able to procure for
the proconsul very substantial benefits, although the glances that he
cast about him were defiant, and even venomous.
But now a new tumult arose just within the gates. A file of white
mules entered the courtyard, mounted by men in priestly garb. These
were the Sadducees and the Pharisees, who were drawn to Machaerus by
the same ambition: the one party hoping to be appointed public
sacrificers, the other determined to retain those offices. Their faces
were dark, particularly those of the Pharisees, who were enemies of
Rome and of the tetrarch. The flowing skirts of their tunics
embarrassed their movements as they attempted to pass through the
throng; and their tiaras sat unsteadily upon their brows, around which
were bound small bands of parchment, showing lines of writing.
Almost at the same moment, the soldiers of the advance guard arrived.
Cloth coverings had been drawn over their glittering shields to
protect them from the dust. Behind them came Marcellus, the
proconsul's lieutenant, followed by the publicans, carrying their
tablets of wood under their arms.
Antipas named to Vitellius the principle personages surrounding them:
Tolmai, Kanthera, Schon, Ammonius of Alexandria, who brought asphalt
for Antipas; Naaman, captain of his troops of skirmishers, and Jacim,
Vitellius had noticed Mannaeus.
"Who is that man?" he inquired.
The tetrarch by a significant gesture indicated that Mannaeus was the
executioner. He then presented the Sadducees to the proconsul's
Jonathas, a man of low stature, who spoke Greek, advanced with a firm
step and begged that the great lord would honour Jerusalem with a
visit. Vitellius replied that he should probably go to Jerusalem soon.
Eleazar, who had a crooked nose and a long beard, put forth a claim,
in behalf of the Pharisees, for the mantle of the high priest, held in
the tower of Antonia by the civil authorities.
Then the Galileans came forward and denounced Pontius Pilate. On one
occasion, they said, a mad-man went seeking in a cave near Samaria for
the golden vases that had belonged to King David, and Pontius Pilate
had caused several inhabitants of that region to be executed. In their
excitement all the Galileans spoke at once, Mannaeus's voice being
heard above all others. Vitellius promised that the guilty ones should
Fresh vociferations now broke out in front of the great gates, where
the soldiers had hung their shields. Their coverings having now been
removed, on each shield a carving of the head of Caesar could be seen
on the umbo, or central knob. To the Jews, this seemed an evidence of
nothing short of idolatry. Antipas harangued them, while Vitellius,
who occupied a raised seat within the shadow of the colonnade, was
astonished at their fury. Tiberius had done well, he thought, to exile
four hundred of these people to Sardinia. Presently the Jews became so
violent that he ordered the shields to be removed.
Then the multitude surrounded the proconsul, imploring him to abolish
certain unjust laws, asking for privileges, or begging for alms. They
rent their clothing and jostled one another; and at last, in order to
drive them back, several slaves, armed with long staves, charged upon
them, striking right and left. Those nearest the gates made their
escape and descended to the road; others rushed in to take their
place, so that two streams of human beings flowed in and out,
compressed within the limits of the gateway.
Vitellius demanded the reason for the assembling of so great a throng.
Antipas explained that they had been invited to come to a feast in
celebration of his birthday; and he pointed to several men who,
leaning against the battlements, were hauling up immense basket-loads
of food, fruits, vegetables, antelopes, and storks; large fish, of a
brilliant shade of blue; grapes, melons, and pyramids of pomegranates.
At this sight, Aulus left the courtyard and hastened to the kitchens,
led by his taste for gormandizing, which later became the amazement of
As they passed the opening to a small cellar, Vitellius perceived some
objects resembling breast-plates hanging on a wall. He looked at them
with interest, and then demanded that the subterranean chambers of the
fortress be thrown open for his inspection. These chambers were cut
into the rocky foundation of the castle, and had been formed into
vaults, with pillars set at regular distances. The first vault opened
contained old armour; the second was full of pikes, with long points
emerging from tufts of feathers. The walls of the third chamber were
hung with a kind of tapestry made of slender reeds, laid in
perpendicular rows. Those of the fourth were covered with scimitars.
In the middle of the fifth cell, rows of helmets were seen, the crests
of which looked like a battalion of fiery serpents. The sixth cell
contained nothing but empty quivers; the seventh, greaves for
protecting the legs in battle; the eighth vault was filled with
bracelets and armlets; and an examination of the remaining vaults
disclosed forks, grappling-irons, ladders, cords, even catapults, and
bells for the necks of camels; and as they descended deeper into the
rocky foundation, it became evident that the whole mass was a
veritable honeycomb of cells, and that below those already seen were
Vitellius, Phineas, his interpreter, and Sisenna, chief of the
publicans, walked among these gloomy cells, attended by three eunuchs
In the deep shadows hideous instruments, invented by barbarians, could
be seen: tomahawks studded with nails; poisoned javelins; pincers
resembling the jaws of crocodiles; in short, the tetrarch possessed in
his castle munitions of war sufficient for forty thousand men.
He had accumulated these weapons in anticipation of an alliance
against him among his enemies. But he bethought him that the proconsul
might believe, or assert, that he had collected this armoury in order
to attack the Romans; so he hastened to offer explanations of all that
Vitellius had observed.
Some of these things did not belong to him at all, he said: many of
them were necessary to defend the place against brigands and
marauders, especially the Arabs. Many of the objects in the vault had
been the property of his father, and he had allowed them to remain
untouched. As he spoke, he managed to get in advance of the proconsul
and preceded him along the corridors with rapid steps. Presently he
halted and stood close against the wall as the party came up; he spoke
quickly, standing with his hands on his hips, so that his voluminous
mantle covered a wide space of the wall behind him. But just above his
head the top of a door was visible. Vitellius remarked it instantly,
and demanded to know what it concealed.
The tetrarch explained that the door was fastened, and that none could
open it save the Babylonian, Jacim.
"Summon him, then!" was the command.
A slave was sent to find Jacim, while the group awaited his coming.
The father of Jacim had come from the banks of the Euphrates to offer
his services, as well as those of five hundred horsemen, in the
defence of the eastern frontier. After the division of the kingdom,
Jacim had lived for a time with Philip, and was now in the service of
Presently he appeared among the vaults, carrying an archer's bow on
his shoulder and a whip in his hand. Cords of many colours were lashed
tightly about his knotted legs; his massive arms were thrust through a
sleeveless tunic, and a fur cap shaded his face. His chin was covered
with a heavy, curling beard.
He appeared not to comprehend what the interpreter said to him at
first. But Vitellius threw a meaning glance at Antipas, who quickly
made the Babylonian understand the command of the proconsul. Jacim
immediately laid both his hands against the door, giving it a powerful
shove; whereupon it quietly slid out of sight into the wall.
A wave of hot air surged from the depths of the cavern. A winding path
descended and turned abruptly. The group followed it, and soon arrived
at the threshold of a kind of grotto, somewhat larger than the other
An arched window at the back of this chamber gave directly upon a
precipice, which formed a defence for one side of the castle. A
honeysuckle vine, cramped by the low-studded ceiling, blossomed
bravely. The sound of a running stream could be heard distinctly. In
this place was a great number of beautiful white horses, perhaps a
hundred. They were eating barley from a plank placed on a level with
their mouths. Their manes had been coloured a deep blue; their hoofs
were wrapped in coverings of woven grass, and the hair between their
ears was puffed out like a peruke. As they stood quietly eating, they
switched their tails gently to and fro. The proconsul regarded them in
They were indeed wonderful animals; supple as serpents, light as
birds. They were trained to gallop rapidly, following the arrow of the
rider, and dash into the midst of a group of the enemy, overturning
men and biting them savagely as they fell. They were sure-footed among
rocky passes, and would jump fearlessly over yawning chasms; and,
while ready to gallop across the plains a whole day without tiring,
they would stop instantly at the command of the rider.
As soon as Jacim entered their quarters, they trotted up to him, as
sheep crowd around the shepherd; and, thrusting forward their sleek
necks, they looked at him with a gaze like that of inquiring children.
From force of habit, he emitted a raucous cry, which excited them;
they pranced about, impatient at their confinement and longing to run.
Antipas, fearing that if Vitellius knew of the existence of these
creatures, he would take them away, had shut them up in this place,
made especially to accommodate animals in case of siege.
"This close confinement cannot be good for them," said Vitellius, "and
there is a risk of losing them by keeping them here. Make an inventory
of their number, Sisenna."
The publican drew a writing-tablet from the folds of his robe, counted
the horses, and recorded the number carefully.
It was the habit of the agents of the fiscal companies to corrupt the
governors in order to pillage the provinces. Sisenna was among the
most flourishing of these agents, and was seen everywhere with his
claw-like fingers and his eyelids continually blinking.
After a time the party returned to the court. Heavy, round bronze
lids, sunk in the stones of the pavement, covered the cisterns of the
palace. Vitellius noticed that one of these was larger than the
others, and that when struck by his foot it had not their sonority. He
struck them all, one after another; then stamped upon the ground and
"I have found it! I have found the buried treasure of Herod!"
Searching for buried treasure was a veritable mania among the Romans.
The tetrarch swore that no treasure was hidden in that spot.
"What is concealed there, then?" the proconsul demanded.
"Nothing--that is, only a man--a prisoner."
"Show him to me!"
The tetrarch hesitated to obey, fearing that the Jews would discover
his secret. His reluctance to lift the cover made Vitellius impatient.
"Break it in!" he cried to his lictors. Mannaeus heard the command,
and, seeing a lictor step forward armed with a hatchet, he feared that
the man intended to behead Iaokanann. He stayed the hand of the lictor
after the first blow, and then slipped between the heavy lid and the
pavement a kind of hook. He braced his long, lean arms, raised the
cover slowly, and in a moment it lay flat upon the stones. The
bystanders admired the strength of the old man.
Under the bronze lid was a wooden trap-door of the same size. At a
blow of the fist it folded back, allowing a wide hole to be seen, the
mouth of an immense pit, with a flight of winding steps leading down
into the darkness. Those that bent over to peer into the cavern beheld
a vague and terrifying shape in its depths.
This proved to be a human being, lying on the ground. His long locks
hung over a camel's-hair robe that covered his shoulders. Slowly he
rose to his feet. His head touched a grating embedded in the wall; and
as he moved about he disappeared, from time to time, in the shadows of
The rich tiaras of the Romans sparkled brilliantly in the sunlight,
and their glittering sword-hilts threw out glancing golden rays. The
doves, flying from their cotes, circled above the heads of the
multitude. It was the hour when Mannaeus was accustomed to feed them.
But now he crouched beside the tetrarch, who stood near Vitellius. The
Galileans, the priests, and the soldiers formed a group behind them;
all were silent, waiting with painful anticipation for what might
A deep groan, hollow and startling, rose from the pit.
Herodias heard it from the farther end of the palace. Drawn by an
irresistible though terrible fascination, she made her way through the
throng, and, reaching Mannaeus, she leant one hand on his shoulder and
bent over to listen.
The hollow voice rose again from the depths of the earth.
"Woe to thee, Sadducees and Pharisees! Thy voices are like the
tinkling of cymbals! O race of vipers, bursting with pride!"
The voice of Iaokanann was recognised. His name was whispered about.
Spectators from a distance pressed closer to the open pit.
"Woe to thee, O people! Woe to the traitors of Judah, and to the
drunkards of Ephraim, who dwelt in the fertile valleys and stagger
with the fumes of wine!
"May they disappear like running water; like the slug that sinks into
the sand as it moves; like an abortion that never sees the light!
"And thou too, Moab! hide thyself in the midst of the cypress, like
the sparrow; in caverns, like the wild hare! The gates of the fortress
shall be crushed more easily than nut-shells; the walls shall crumble;
cities shall burn; and the scourge of God shall not cease! He shall
cause your bodies to be bathed in your own blood, like wool in the
dyer's vat. He shall rend you, as with a harrow; He shall scatter the
remains of your bodies from the tops of the mountains!"
Of which conqueror was he speaking? Was it Vitellius? Only the Romans
could bring about such an extermination. The people began to cry out:
"Enough! enough! let him speak no more!"
But the prisoner continued in louder tones:
"Beside the corpses of their mothers, thy little ones shall drag
themselves over the ashes of the burned cities. At night men will
creep from their hiding-places to seek a bit of food among the ruins,
even at the risk of being cut down with the sword. Jackals shall pick
thy bones in the public places, where at eventide the fathers were
wont to gather. At the bidding of Gentiles, thy maidens shall be
forced to cease their lamentations and to make music upon the zither,
and the bravest of thy sons shall learn to bend their backs, chafed
with heavy burdens."
The listeners remembered the days of exile, and all the misfortunes
and catastrophes of the past. These words were like the anathemas of
the ancient prophets. The captive thundered them forth like bolts from
Presently his voice became almost as sweet and harmonious as if he
were uttering a chant. He spoke of the world's redemption from sin and
sorrow; of the glories of heaven; of gold in place of clay; of the
desert blossoming like the rose. "That which is now worth sixty pieces
of silver will not cost a single obol. Fountains of milk shall spring
from the rocks; men shall sleep, well satisfied, among the wine-
presses. The people shall prostrate themselves before Thee, and Thy
reign shall be eternal, O Son of David!"
The tetrarch suddenly recoiled from the opening of the pit; the
mention of the existence of a son of David seemed to him like a menace
Iaokanann then poured forth invectives against him for presuming to
aspire to royalty.
"There is no other king than the Eternal God!" he cried; and he cursed
Antipas for his luxurious gardens, his statues, his furniture of
carved ivory and precious woods, comparing him to the impious Ahab.
Antipas broke the slender cord attached to the royal seal that he wore
around his neck, and throwing the seal into the pit, he commanded his
prisoner to be silent.
But Iaokanann replied: "I shall cry aloud like a savage bear, like the
wild ass, like a woman in travail! The punishment of heaven has
already visited itself upon thy incest! May God inflict thee with the
sterility of mules!"
At these words, a sound of suppressed laughter arose here and there
among the listeners.
Vitellius had remained close to the opening of the dungeon while
Iaokanann was speaking. His interpreter, in impassive tones,
translated into the Roman tongue all the threats and invectives that
rolled up from the depths of the gloomy prison. The tetrarch and
Herodias felt compelled to remain near at hand. Antipas listened,
breathing heavily; while the woman, with parted lips, gazed into the
darkness of the pit, her face drawn with an expression of fear and
The terrible man now turned towards her. He grasped the bars of his
prison, pressed against them his bearded face, in which his eyes
glowed like burning coals, and cried:
"Ah! Is it thou, Jezebel? Thou hast captured thy lord's heart with the
tinkling of thy feet. Thou didst neigh to him like a mare. Thou didst
prepare thy bed on the mountain top, in order to accomplish thy
"The Lord shall take from thee thy sparkling jewels, thy purple robes
and fine linen; the bracelets from thine arms, the anklets from thy
feet; the golden ornaments that dangle upon thy brow, thy mirrors of
polished silver, thy fans of ostrich plumes, thy shoes with their
heels of mother-of-pearl, that serve to increase thy stature; thy
glittering diamonds, the scent of thy hair, the tint of thy nails,--
all the artifices of thy coquetry shall disappear, and missiles shall
be found wherewith to stone the adulteress!"
Herodias looked around for some one to defend her. The Pharisees
lowered their eyes hypocritically. The Sadducees turned away their
heads, fearing to offend the proconsul should they appear to
sympathise with her. Antipas was almost in a swoon.
Louder still rose the voice from the dungeon; the neighbouring hills
gave back an echo with startling effect, and Machaerus seemed actually
surrounded and showered with curses.
"Prostrate thyself in the dust, daughter of Babylon, and scourge
thyself! Remove thy girdle and thy shoes, gather up thy garments and
walk through the flowing stream; thy shame shall follow thee, thy
disgrace shall be known to all men, thy bosom shall be rent with sobs.
God execrates the stench of thy crimes! Accursed one! die like a dog!"
At that instant the trap-door was suddenly shut down and secured by
Mannaeus, who would have liked to strangle Iaokanann then and there.
Herodias glided away and disappeared within the palace. The Pharisees
were scandalised at what they had heard. Antipas, standing among them,
attempted to justify his past conduct and to excuse his present
"Without doubt," said Eleazar, "it was necessary for him to marry his
brother's wife; but Herodias was not a widow, and besides, she had a
child, which she abandoned; and that was an abomination."
"You are wrong," objected Jonathas the Sadducee; "the law condemns
such marriages but does not actually forbid them."
"What matters it? All the world shows me injustice," said Antipas,
bitterly; "and why? Did not Absalom lie with his father's wives, Judah
with his daughter-in-law, Ammon with his sister, and Lot with his
Aulus, who had been reposing within the palace, now reappeared in the
court. After he had heard how matters stood, he approved of the
attitude of the tetrarch. "A man should never allow himself to be
annoyed," said he, "by such foolish criticism." And he laughed at the
censure of the priests and the fury of Iaokanann, saying that his
words were of little importance.
Herodias, who also had reappeared, and now stood at the top of a
flight of steps, called loudly:
"You are wrong, my lord! He ordered the people to refuse to pay the
"Is that true?" he demanded. The general response was affirmative,
Antipas adding his word to the declaration of the others.
Vitellius had a misgiving that the prisoner might be able to escape;
and as the conduct of Antipas appeared to him rather suspicious, he
established his own sentinels at the gates, at intervals along the
walls, and in the courtyard itself.
At last he retired to the apartments assigned to him, accompanied by
the priests. Without touching directly upon the question of the
coveted offices of public sacrificers, each one laid his own
grievances before the proconsul. They fairly beset him with complaints
and requests, but he soon dismissed them from his presence.
As Jonathas left the proconsul's apartments he perceived Antipas
standing under an arch, talking to an Essene, who wore a long white
robe and flowing locks. Jonathas regretted that he had raised his
voice in defence of the tetrarch.
One thought now consoled Herod-Antipas. He was no longer personally
responsible for the fate of Iaokanann. The Romans had assumed that
charge. What a relief! He had noticed Phanuel pacing slowly through
the court, and calling him to his side, he pointed put the guards
established by Vitellius, saying:
"They are stronger than I! I cannot now set the prisoner free! It is
not my fault if he remains in his dungeon."
The courtyard was empty. The slaves were sleeping. The day was drawing
to a close, and the sunset spread a deep rosy glow over the horizon,
against which the smallest objects stood out like silhouettes. Antipas
was able to distinguish the excavations of the salt-mines at the
farther end of the Dead Sea, but the tents of the Arabs were no longer
visible. As the moon rose, the effect of the day's excitement passed
away, and a feeling of peace entered his heart.
Phanuel, also wearied by the recent agitating scenes, remained beside
the tetrarch. He sat in silence for some time, his chin resting on his
breast. At last he spoke in confidence to Antipas, and revealed what
he had wished to say.
From the beginning of the month, he said, he had been studying the
heavens every morning before daybreak, when the constellation of
Perseus was at the zenith; Agalah was scarcely visible; Algol was even
less bright; Mira-Cetus had disappeared entirely; from all of which he
augured the death of some man of great importance, to occur that very
night in Machaerus.
Who was the man? Vitellius was too closely guarded to be reached. No
one would kill Iaokanann.
"It is I!" thought the tetrarch.
It might be that the Arabs would return and make a successful attack
upon him. Perhaps the proconsul would discover his relations with the
Parthians. Several men whom Antipas had recognised as hired assassins
from Jerusalem, had escorted the priests in the train of the
proconsul; they all carried daggers concealed beneath their robes. The
tetrarch had no doubt whatever of the exactness of Phanuel's skill in
Suddenly he bethought him of Herodias. He would consult her. He hated
her, certainly, but she might give him courage; and besides, in spite
of his dislike, not all the bonds were yet broken of that sorcery
which once she had woven about him.
When he entered her chamber, he was met by the pungent odour of
cinnamon burning in a porphyry vase and the perfume of powders,
unguents, cloud-like gauzes and embroideries light as feathers, filled
the air with fragrance.
He did not speak of Phanuel's prophecy, nor of his own fear of the
Jews and the Arabs. Herodias had already accused him of cowardice. He
spoke only of the Romans, and complained that Vitellius had not
confided to him any of his military projects. He said he supposed the
proconsul was the friend of Caligula, who often visited Agrippa; and
expressed a surmise that he himself might be exiled, or that perhaps
his throat would be cut.
Herodias, who now treated him with a kind of disdainful indulgence,
tried to reassure him. At last she took from a small casket a curious
medallion, ornamented with a profile of Tiberius. The sight of it, she
said, as she gave it to Antipas, would make the lictors turn pale and
silence all accusing voices.
Antipas, filled with gratitude, asked her how the medallion had come
into her possession.
"It was given to me," was her only answer.
At that moment Antipas beheld a bare arm slipping through a portiere
hanging in front of him. It was the arm of a youthful woman, as
graceful in outline as if carved from ivory by Polyclitus. With a
movement a little awkward and at the same time charming, it felt about
the wall an instant, as if seeking something, then took down a tunic
hanging upon a hook near the doorway, and disappeared.
An elderly female attendant passed quietly through the room, lifted
the portiere, and went out. A sudden recollection pierced the memory
of the tetrarch.
"Is that woman one of thy slaves?" he asked.
"What matters that to thee?" was the disdainful reply.
The great banqueting-hall was filled with guests. This apartment had
three naves, like a basilica, which were separated by columns of
sandalwood, whose capitals were of sculptured bonze. On each side of
the apartment was a gallery for spectators, and a third, with a facade
of gold filigree, was at one end, opposite an immense arch at the
The candelabra burning on the tables, which were spread the whole
length of the banqueting-hall, glowed like clusters of flaming flowers
among the painted cups, the plates of shining copper, the cubes of
snow and heaps of luscious grapes. Through the large windows the
guests could see lighted torches on the terraces of the neighbouring
houses; for this night Antipas was giving a feast to his friends, his
own people, and to anyone that presented himself at the castle.
The slaves, alert as dogs, glided about noiselessly in felt sandals,
carrying dishes to and fro.
The table of the proconsul was placed beneath the gilded balcony upon
a platform of sycamore wood. Rich tapestries from Babylon were hung
about the pavilion, giving a certain effect of seclusion.
Upon three ivory couches, one facing the great hall, and the other two
placed one on either side of the pavilion, reclined Vitellius, his son
Aulus, and Antipas; the proconsul being near the door, at the left,
Aulus on the right, the tetrarch occupying the middle couch.
Antipas wore a heavy black mantle, the texture of which was almost
hidden by coloured embroideries and glittering decorations; his beard
was spread out like a fan; blue powder had been scattered over his
hair, and on his head rested a diadem covered with precious stones.
Vitellius still wore the purple band, the emblem of his rank, crossed
diagonally over a linen toga.
Aulus had tied behind his back the sleeves of his violet robe,
embroidered with silver. His clustering curls were laid in carefully
arranged rows; a necklace of sapphires gleamed against his throat,
plump and white as that of a woman. Crouched upon a rug near him, with
legs crossed was a pretty white boy, upon whose face shone a perpetual
smile. Aulus had found him somewhere among the kitchens and had taken
a violent fancy to him. He had made the child one of his suite, but as
he never could remember his protege's Chaldean name, called him simply
"the Asiatic." From time to time the little fellow sprang up and
played about the dining-table, and his antics appeared to amuse the
At one side of the tetrarch's pavilion were the tables at which were
seated his priests and officers; also a number of persons from
Jerusalem, and the more important men from the Grecian cities. At the
table on the left of the proconsul sat Marcellus with the publicans,
several friends of the tetrarch, and various representatives from
Cana, Ptolemais, and Jericho. Seated at other tables were mountaineers
from Liban and many of the old soldiers of Herod's army; a dozen
Thracians, a Greek and two Germans; besides huntsmen and herdsmen, the
Sultan of Palmyra, and sailors from Eziongaber. Before each guest was
placed a roll of soft bread, upon which to wipe the fingers. As soon
as they were seated, hands were stretched out with the eagerness of a
vulture's claws, seizing upon olives, pistachios, and almonds. Every
face was joyous, every head was crowned with flowers, except those of
the Pharisees, who refused to wear the wreaths, regarding them as a
symbol of Roman voluptuousness and vice. They shuddered when the
attendants sprinkled them with galburnum and incense, the use of which
the Pharisees reserved strictly for services in the Temple.
Antipas observed that Aulus rubbed himself under the arms, as if
annoyed by heat or chafing; and promised to give him three flasks of
the same kind of precious balm that had been used by Cleopatra.
A captain from the garrison of Tiberias who had just arrived, placed
himself behind the tetrarch as protection in case any unexpected
trouble should arise. But his attention was divided between observing
the movements of the proconsul and listening to the conversation of
There was, naturally, much talk of Iaokanann, and other men of his
"It is said," remarked one of the guests, "that Simon of Gitta washed
away his sins in fire. And a certain man called Jesus--"
"He is the worst of them all!" interrupted Eleazar. "A miserable
At this a man sprang up from a table near the tetrarch's pavilion, and
made his way towards the place where Eleazar sat. His face was almost
as pale as his linen robe, but he addressed the Pharisees boldly,
saying: "That is a lie! Jesus has performed miracles!"
Antipas expressed a long-cherished desire to see the man Jesus perform
some of his so-called miracles. "You should have brought him with
you," he said to the last speaker, who was still standing. "Tell us
what you know about him," he commanded.
Then the stranger said that he himself, whose name was Jacob, having a
daughter who was very ill, had gone to Capernaum to implore the Master
to heal his child. The Master had answered him, saying: "Return to thy
home: she is healed!" And he had found his daughter standing at the
threshold of his house, having risen from her couch when the gnomon
had marked the third hour, the same moment when he had made his
supplication to Jesus.
The Pharisees admitted that certain mysterious arts and powerful herbs
existed that would heal the sick. It was said that the marvellous
plant known as "baaras" grew even in Machaerus, the power of which
rendered its consumer invulnerable against all attacks; but to cure
disease without seeing or touching the afflicted person was clearly
impossible, unless, indeed, the man Jesus called in the assistance of
The friends of Antipas and the men from Galilee nodded wisely, saying:
"It is evident that he is aided by demons of some sort!"
Jacob, standing between their table and that of the priests,
maintained a silence at once lofty and respectful.
Several voices exclaimed: "Prove his power to us!"
Jacob leaned over the priests' table, and said slowly, in a half-
suppressed tone, as if awe-struck by his own words:
"Know ye not, then, that He is the Messiah?"
The priests stared at one another, and Vitellius demanded the meaning
of the word. His interpreter paused a moment before translating it.
Then he said that Messiah was the name to be given to one who was to
come, bringing the enjoyment of all blessings, and giving them
domination over all the peoples of the earth. Certain persons believed
that there were to be two Messiahs; one would be vanquished by Gog and
Magog, the demons of the North; but the other would exterminate the
Prince of Evil; and for centuries the coming of this Saviour of
mankind had been expected at any moment.
At this, the priests began to talk in low tones among themselves.
Eleazar addressed Jacob, saying that it had always been understood
that the Messiah would be a son of David, not of a carpenter; and that
he would confirm the law, whereas this Nazarene attacked it.
Furthermore, as a still stronger argument against the pretender, it
had been promised that the Messiah should be preceded by Elias.
"But Elias has come!" Jacob answered.
"Elias! Elias!" was repeated from one end of the banqueting-hall to
In imagination, all fancied that they could see an old man, a flight
of ravens above his head, standing before an altar, which a flash of
lightning illumined, revealing the idolatrous priests that were thrown
into the torrent; and the women, sitting in the galleries, thought of
the widow of Sarepta.
Jacob then declared that he knew Elias; that he had seen him, and that
many of the guests there assembled had seen him!
"His name!" was the cry from all lips.
Antipas fell back in his chair as if a heavy blow had struck him on
the breast. The Sadducees rose from their seats and rushed towards
Jacob. Eleazar raised his voice to a shout in order to make himself
heard. When order was finally restored, he draped his mantle about his
shoulders, and, with the air of a judge, proceeded to put questions to
"Since the prophet is dead--" he began.
Murmurs interrupted him. Many persons believed that Elias was not
dead, but had only disappeared.
Eleazar rebuked those who had interrupted him; and continuing, asked:
"And dost thou believe that he has indeed come to life again?"
"Why should I not believe it?" Jacob replied.
The Sadducees shrugged their shoulders. Jonathas, opening wide his
little eyes, gave a forced, buffoon-like laugh. Nothing could be more
absurd, said he, than the idea that a human body could have eternal
life; and he declaimed, for the benefit of the proconsul, this line
from a contemporaneous poet:
Nec crescit, nec post mortem durare videtur.
By this time Aulus was leaning over the side of the pavilion, with
pale face, a perspiring brow, and both hands outspread on his stomach.
The Sadducees pretended to be deeply moved at the sight of his
suffering, thinking that perhaps the next day the offices of
sacrificers would be theirs. Antipas appeared to be in despair at his
guest's agony. Vitellius preserved a calm demeanour, although he felt
some anxiety, for the loss of his son would mean the loss of his
But Aulus, quickly recovering after he had relieved his over-burdened
stomach, was as eager to eat as before.
"Let some one bring me marble-dust," he commanded, "or clay of Naxos,
sea-water--anything! Perhaps it would do me good to bathe."
He swallowed a quantity of snow; then hesitated between a ragout and a
dish of blackbirds; and finally decided in favour of gourds served in
honey. The little Asiatic gazed at his master in astonishment and
admiration; to him this exhibition of gluttony denoted a wonderful
being belonging to a superior race.
The feast went on. Slaves served the guests with kidneys, dormice,
nightingales, mince-meat dressed with vine-leaves. The priests
discoursed among themselves regarding the supposed resurrection.
Ammonius, pupil of Philon, the Platonist, pronounced them stupid, and
told the Greeks that he laughed at their oracles.
Marcellus and Jacob were seated side by side. Marcellus described the
happiness he had felt under the baptism of Mithra, and Jacob made him
promise to become a follower of Jesus.
The wines of the palm and the tamarisk, those of Safed and of Byblos,
ran from the amphoras into the crateras, from the crateras into the
cups, and from the cups down the guests' throats. Every one talked,
all hearts expanding under the good cheer. Jacim, although a Jew, did
not hesitate to express his admiration of the planets. A merchant from
Aphaka amazed the nomads with his description of the marvels in the
temple of Hierapolis; and they wished to know the cost of a pilgrimage
to that place. Others held fast to the principles of their native
religion. A German, who was nearly blind, sang a hymn celebrating that
promontory in Scandinavia where the gods were wont to appear with
halos around their heads. The people from Sichem declined to eat
turtles, out of deference to the dove Azima.
Several groups stood talking near the middle of the banqueting-hall,
and the vapour of their breath, mingled with the smoke from the
candles, formed a light mist. Presently Phanuel slipped quietly into
the room, keeping close to the wall. He had been out in the open
courtyard, to make another survey of the heavens. He stopped when he
reached the pavilion of the tetrarch, fearing he would be splashed
with drops of oil if he approached the other tables, which, to an
Essene, would be a great defilement.
Suddenly violent blows resounded upon the castle gates. The news of
the imprisonment of Iaokanann had spread rapidly, and now it appeared
that the whole surrounding population was flocking to the castle. Men
with torches were hastening along the roads in all directions; a black
mass of people swarmed in the ravine; and from all throats came the
cry: "Iaokanann! Iaokanann!"
"That man will ruin everything," said Jonathas.
"We shall have no more money if this continues," said the Pharisees.
Accusations, recriminations, and pleadings were heard on all sides.
"Compel them to cease!"
"Thou didst abandon thy religion!"
"Impious as all the Herods!"
"Less impious than thou!" Antipas retorted. "Was it not my father that
erected thy Temple?"
Then the Pharisees, children of the proscribed tribes, partisans of
Mattathias, accused the tetrarch of all the crimes committed by his
The Pharisees had pointed skulls, bristling beards, feeble hands, snub
noses, great round eyes, and their countenances bore a resemblance to
that of a bull-dog. A dozen of these people, scribes and attendants
upon the priests, who picked up their living from the refuse of
holocausts, rushed to the foot of the pavilion and threatened Antipas
with their knives. He attempted to speak to them, being only slightly
protected by some of the Sadducees. Suddenly he perceived Mannaeus at
a distance and made him a sign to approach. The expression on the face
of Vitellius indicated that he regarded all this turmoil as no concern
The Pharisees, leaning against the pavilion, were now beside
themselves with demoniac fury. They broke plates and dashed them upon
the floor. The attendants had served them with a ragout composed of
the flesh of the wild ass, an unclean animal, and their anger knew no
bounds. Aulus rallied them jeeringly apropos of the ass's head, which
he declared they honoured. He flung other sarcasms at them, regarding
their antipathy to the flesh of swine, intimating that no doubt their
hatred arose from the fact that that beast had killed their beloved
Bacchus, and saying it was to be feared they were too fond of wine,
since a golden vine had been discovered in the Temple.
The priests did not understand his sneers, and Phineas, of Galilean
origin, refused to translate them. Aulus suddenly became angry, the
more so because the little Asiatic, frightened at the tumult, had
disappeared. The feast no longer pleased the noble glutton; the dishes
were vulgar, and not sufficiently disguised with delicate flavourings.
After a time his displeasure abated, as he caught sight of a dish of
Syrian lambs' tails, dressed with spices, a favourite dainty.
To Vitellius the character of the Jews seemed frightful. Their God was
like Moloch, several altars to whom he had passed upon his route; and
he recalled the stories he had heard of the mysterious Jew who
fattened small children and offered them as a sacrifice. His Latin
nature was filled with disgust at their intolerance, their
iconoclastic rage, their brutal, stumbling bearing. The proconsul
wished to depart, but Aulus refused to accompany him.
The exaltation of the people increased. They abandoned themselves to
dreams of independence. They recalled the glory of Israel, and a
Syrian spoke of all the great conquerors they had vanquished,--
Antigone, Crassus, Varus.
"Miserable creatures!" cried the enraged proconsul, who had overheard
the Syrian's words.
In the midst of the uproar Antipas remembered the medallion of the
emperor that Herodias had given to him; he drew it forth and looked at
it a moment, trembling, then held it up with its face turned towards
At the same moment, the panels of the gold-railed balcony were folded
back, and, accompanied by slaves bearing wax tapers, Herodias
appeared, her coiffure crowned with an Assyrian mitre, which was held
in place by a band passing under the chin. Her dark hair fell in
ringlets over a scarlet peplum with slashed sleeves. On either side of
the door through which one stepped into the gallery, stood a huge
stone monster, like those of Atrides; and as Herodias appeared between
them, she looked like Cybele supported by her lions. In her hands she
carried a patera, a shallow vessel of silver used by the Romans in
pouring libations; and, advancing to the front of the balcony and
pausing just above the tetrarch's chair, she cried:
"Long live Caesar!"
This homage was repeated by Vitellius, Antipas, and the priests.
But now, beginning at the farthest end of the banqueting-hall, a
murmur of surprise and admiration swept through the multitude. A
beautiful young girl had just entered the apartment, and stood
motionless for an instant, while all eyes were turned upon her.
Through a drapery of filmy blue gauze that veiled her head and throat,
her arched eyebrows, tiny ears, and ivory-white skin could be
distinguished. A scarf of shot-silk fell from her shoulders, and was
caught up at the waist by a girdle of fretted silver. Her full
trousers, of black silk, were embroidered in a pattern of silver
mandragoras, and as she moved forward with indolent grace, her little
feet were seen to be shod with slippers made of the feathers of
When she arrived in front of the pavilion she removed her veil.
Behold! she seemed to be Herodias herself, as she had appeared in the
days of her blooming youth.
Immediately the damsel began to dance before the tetrarch. Her slender
feet took dainty steps to the rhythm of a flute and a pair of Indian
bells. Her round white arms seemed ever beckoning and striving to
entice to her side some youth who was fleeing from her allurements.
She appeared to pursue him, with movements light as a butterfly; her
whole mien was like that of an inquisitive Psyche, or a floating
spirit that might at any moment dissolve and disappear.
Presently the plaintive notes of the gingras, a small flute of
Phoenician origin, replaced the tinkling bells. The attitudes of the
dancing nymph now denoted overpowering lassitude. Her bosom heaved
with sighs, and her whole being expressed profound languor, although
it was not clear whether she sighed for an absent swain or was
expiring of love in his embrace. With half-closed eyes and quivering
form, she caused mysterious undulations to flow downward over her
whole body, like rippling waves, while her face remained impassive and
her twinkling feet still moved in their intricate steps.
Vitellius compared her to Mnester, the famous pantomimist. Aulus was
overcome with faintness. The tetrarch watched her, lost in a
voluptuous reverie, and thought no more of the real Herodias. In fancy
he saw her again as she appeared when she had dwelt among the
Sadducees. Then the vision faded.
But this beautiful thing before him was no vision. The dancer was
Salome, the daughter of Herodias, who for many months her mother had
caused to be instructed in dancing, and other arts of pleasing, with
the sole idea of bringing her to Machaerus and presenting her to the
tetrarch, so that he should fall in love with her fresh young beauty
and feminine wiles. The plan had proved successful, it seemed; he was
evidently fascinated, and Herodias felt that at last she was sure of
retaining her power over him!
And now the graceful dancer appeared transported with the very
delirium of love and passion. She danced like the priestesses of
India, like the Nubians of the cataracts, or like the Bacchantes of
Lydia. She whirled about like a flower blown by the tempest. The
jewels in her ears sparkled, her swift movements made the colours of
her draperies appear to run into one another. Her arms, her feet, her
clothing even, seemed to emit streams of magnetism, that set the
spectators' blood on fire.
Suddenly the thrilling chords of a harp rang through the hall, and the
throng burst into loud acclamations. All eyes were fixed on Salome,
who paused in her rhythmic dance, placed her feet wide apart, and
without bending the knees, suddenly swayed her lithe body downward, so
that her chin touched the floor; and her whole audience,--the nomads,
accustomed to a life of privation and abstinence, the Roman soldiers,
expert in debaucheries, the avaricious publicans, and even the
crabbed, elderly priests--gazed upon her with dilated nostrils.
Next she began to whirl frantically around the table where Antipas the
tetrarch was seated. He leaned towards the flying figure, and in a
voice half choked with the voluptuous sighs of a mad desire, he
sighed: "Come to me! Come!" But she whirled on, while the music of
dulcimers swelled louder and the excited spectators roared their
The tetrarch called again, louder than before: "Come to me! Come! Thou
shalt have Capernaum, the plains of Tiberias! my citadels! yea, the
half of my kingdom!"
Again the dancer paused; then, like a flash, she threw herself upon
the palms of her hands, while her feet rose straight up into the air.
In this bizarre pose she moved about upon the floor like a gigantic
beetle; then stood motionless.
The nape of her neck formed a right angle with her vertebrae. The full
silken skirts of pale hues that enveloped her limbs when she stood
erect, now fell to her shoulders and surrounded her face like a
rainbow. Her lips were tinted a deep crimson, her arched eyebrows were
black as jet, her glowing eyes had an almost terrible radiance; and
the tiny drops of perspiration on her forehead looked like dew upon
She made no sound; and the burning gaze of that multitude of men was
concentrated upon her.
A sound like the snapping of fingers came from the gallery over the
pavilion. Instantly, with one of her movements of bird-like swiftness,
Salome stood erect. The next moment she rapidly passed up a flight of
steps leading to the gallery, and coming to the front of it she leaned
over, smiled upon the tetrarch, and, with an air of almost childlike
naivete, pronounced these words:
"I ask my lord to give me, placed upon a charger, the head of--" She
hesitated, as if not certain of the name; then said: "The head of
The tetrarch sank back in his chair as if stunned.
He had bound himself by his promise to her; and the people awaited his
next movement. But the death that night of some conspicuous man that
had been predicted to him by Phanuel,--what if, by bringing it upon
another, he could avert it from himself, thought Antipas. If Iaokanann
was in very truth the Elias so much talked of, he would have power to
protect himself; and if he were only an ordinary man, his murder was
of no importance.
Mannaeus stood beside his chair, and read his master's thoughts.
Vitellius beckoned him to his side and gave him an order for the
execution, to be transmitted to the soldiers placed on guard over the
dungeon. This execution would be a relief, he thought. In a few
moments all would be over!
But for once Mannaeus did not perform a commission satisfactorily. He
left the hall but soon returned, in a state of great perturbation.
During forty years he had exercised the functions of the public
executioner. It was he that had drowned Aristobulus, strangled
Alexander, burned Mattathias alive, beheaded Zozimus, Pappus,
Josephus, and Antipater; but he dared not kill Iaokanann! His teeth
chattered and his whole body trembled.
He declared that he had seen, standing before the dungeon, the Angel
of the Samaritans, covered with eyes and brandishing a great sword,
glowing and quivering like a flame. He appealed to two of the guards,
who had entered the hall with him, to corroborate his words. But they
said they had seen nothing except a Jewish captain who had attacked
them, and whom they had killed.
The fury of Herodias poured forth in a torrent of invective against
the populace. She clenched the railing of the balcony so fiercely as
to break her nails; the two stone lions at her back seemed to bite her
shoulders and join their voices to hers.
Antipas followed her example; and priests, soldiers, and Pharisees
cried aloud together for vengeance, echoed by the rest of the
gathering, who were indignant that a mere slave should dare to delay
Again Mannaeus left the hall, covering his face with his hands.
The guests found the second delay longer than the first. It seemed
tedious to every one.
Presently a sound of footsteps was heard in the corridor without; then
silence fell again. The suspense was becoming intolerable.
Suddenly the door was flung open and Mannaeus entered, holding at
arm's length, grasping it by the hair, the head of Iaokanann. His
appearance was greeted with a burst of applause, which filled him with
pride and revived his courage.
He placed the head upon a charger and offered it to Salome, who had
descended the steps to receive it. She remounted to the balcony, with
a light step; and in another moment the charger was carried about from
one table to another by the elderly female slave whom the tetrarch had
observed in the morning on the balcony of a neighbouring house, and
later in the chamber of Herodias.
When she approached him with her ghastly burden, he turned away his
head to avoid looking at it. Vitellius threw upon it an indifferent
Mannaeus descended from the pavilion, took the charger from the woman,
and exhibited the head to the Roman captains, then to all the guests
on that side of the hall.
They looked at it curiously.
The sharp blade of the sword had cut into the jaw with a swift
downward stroke. The corners of the mouth were drawn, as if by a
convulsion. Clots of blood besprinkled the beard. The closed eyelids
had a shell-like transparency, and the candelabra on every side
lighted up the gruesome object with terrible distinctness.
Mannaeus arrived at the table where the priests were seated. One of
them turned the charger about curiously, to look at the head from all
sides. Then Mannaeus, having entirely regained his courage, placed the
charger before Aulus, who had just awakened from a short doze; and
finally he brought it again to Antipas and set it down upon the table
beside him. Tears were running down the cheeks of the tetrarch.
The lights began to flicker and die out. The guests departed, and at
last no one remained in the great hall save Antipas, who sat leaning
his head upon his hands, gazing at the head of Iaokanann; and Phanuel,
who stood in the centre of the largest nave and prayed aloud, with
At sunrise the two men who had been sent on a mission by Iaokanann
some time before, returned to the castle, bringing the answer so long
awaited and hoped for.
They whispered the message to Phanuel, who received it with rapture.
Then he showed them the lugubrious object, still resting on the
charger amid the ruins of the feast. One of the men said:
"Be comforted! He has descended among the dead in order to announce
the coming of the Christ!"
And in that moment the Essene comprehended the words of Iaokanann: "In
order that His glory may increase, mine must diminish!"
Then the three, taking with them the head of John the Baptist, set out
upon the road to Galilee; and as the burden was heavy, each man bore
it awhile in turn.