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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter XL

Innocents Abroad

Chapter XL


This has been a stirring day. The Superintendent of the railway put a
train at our disposal, and did us the further kindness of accompanying us
to Ephesus and giving to us his watchful care. We brought sixty scarcely
perceptible donkeys in the freight cars, for we had much ground to go
over. We have seen some of the most grotesque costumes, along the line
of the railroad, that can be imagined. I am glad that no possible
combination of words could describe them, for I might then be foolish
enough to attempt it.

At ancient Ayassalook, in the midst of a forbidding desert, we came upon
long lines of ruined aqueducts, and other remnants of architectural
grandeur, that told us plainly enough we were nearing what had been a
metropolis, once. We left the train and mounted the donkeys, along with
our invited guests--pleasant young gentlemen from the officers' list of
an American man-of-war.

The little donkeys had saddles upon them which were made very high in
order that the rider's feet might not drag the ground. The preventative
did not work well in the cases of our tallest pilgrims, however. There
were no bridles--nothing but a single rope, tied to the bit. It was
purely ornamental, for the donkey cared nothing for it. If he were
drifting to starboard, you might put your helm down hard the other way,
if it were any satisfaction to you to do it, but he would continue to
drift to starboard all the same. There was only one process which could
be depended on, and it was to get down and lift his rear around until his
head pointed in the right direction, or take him under your arm and carry
him to a part of the road which he could not get out of without climbing.
The sun flamed down as hot as a furnace, and neck-scarfs, veils and
umbrellas seemed hardly any protection; they served only to make the long
procession look more than ever fantastic--for be it known the ladies were
all riding astride because they could not stay on the shapeless saddles
sidewise, the men were perspiring and out of temper, their feet were
banging against the rocks, the donkeys were capering in every direction
but the right one and being belabored with clubs for it, and every now
and then a broad umbrella would suddenly go down out of the cavalcade,
announcing to all that one more pilgrim had bitten the dust. It was a
wilder picture than those solitudes had seen for many a day. No donkeys
ever existed that were as hard to navigate as these, I think, or that had
so many vile, exasperating instincts. Occasionally we grew so tired and
breathless with fighting them that we had to desist,--and immediately the
donkey would come down to a deliberate walk. This, with the fatigue, and
the sun, would put a man asleep; and soon as the man was asleep, the
donkey would lie down. My donkey shall never see his boyhood's home
again. He has lain down once too often. He must die.

We all stood in the vast theatre of ancient Ephesus,--the stone-benched
amphitheatre I mean--and had our picture taken. We looked as proper
there as we would look any where, I suppose. We do not embellish the
general desolation of a desert much. We add what dignity we can to a
stately ruin with our green umbrellas and jackasses, but it is little.
However, we mean well.

I wish to say a brief word of the aspect of Ephesus.

On a high, steep hill, toward the sea, is a gray ruin of ponderous blocks
of marble, wherein, tradition says, St. Paul was imprisoned eighteen
centuries ago. From these old walls you have the finest view of the
desolate scene where once stood Ephesus, the proudest city of ancient
times, and whose Temple of Diana was so noble in design, and so exquisite
of workmanship, that it ranked high in the list of the Seven Wonders of
the World.

Behind you is the sea; in front is a level green valley, (a marsh, in
fact,) extending far away among the mountains; to the right of the front
view is the old citadel of Ayassalook, on a high hill; the ruined Mosque
of the Sultan Selim stands near it in the plain, (this is built over the
grave of St. John, and was formerly Christian Church ;) further toward
you is the hill of Pion, around whose front is clustered all that remains
of the ruins of Ephesus that still stand; divided from it by a narrow
valley is the long, rocky, rugged mountain of Coressus. The scene is a
pretty one, and yet desolate--for in that wide plain no man can live, and
in it is no human habitation. But for the crumbling arches and monstrous
piers and broken walls that rise from the foot of the hill of Pion, one
could not believe that in this place once stood a city whose renown is
older than tradition itself. It is incredible to reflect that things as
familiar all over the world to-day as household words, belong in the
history and in the shadowy legends of this silent, mournful solitude.
We speak of Apollo and of Diana--they were born here; of the
metamorphosis of Syrinx into a reed--it was done here; of the great god
Pan--he dwelt in the caves of this hill of Coressus; of the Amazons--this
was their best prized home; of Bacchus and Hercules both fought the
warlike women here; of the Cyclops--they laid the ponderous marble blocks
of some of the ruins yonder; of Homer--this was one of his many
birthplaces; of Cirmon of Athens; of Alcibiades, Lysander, Agesilaus--
they visited here; so did Alexander the Great; so did Hannibal and
Antiochus, Scipio, Lucullus and Sylla; Brutus, Cassius, Pompey, Cicero,
and Augustus; Antony was a judge in this place, and left his seat in the
open court, while the advocates were speaking, to run after Cleopatra,
who passed the door; from this city these two sailed on pleasure
excursions, in galleys with silver oars and perfumed sails, and with
companies of beautiful girls to serve them, and actors and musicians to
amuse them; in days that seem almost modern, so remote are they from the
early history of this city, Paul the Apostle preached the new religion
here, and so did John, and here it is supposed the former was pitted
against wild beasts, for in 1 Corinthians, xv. 32 he says:

     "If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus,"
     &c.,

when many men still lived who had seen the Christ; here Mary Magdalen
died, and here the Virgin Mary ended her days with John, albeit Rome has
since judged it best to locate her grave elsewhere; six or seven hundred
years ago--almost yesterday, as it were--troops of mail-clad Crusaders
thronged the streets; and to come down to trifles, we speak of meandering
streams, and find a new interest in a common word when we discover that
the crooked river Meander, in yonder valley, gave it to our dictionary.
It makes me feel as old as these dreary hills to look down upon these
moss-hung ruins, this historic desolation. One may read the Scriptures
and believe, but he can not go and stand yonder in the ruined theatre and
in imagination people it again with the vanished multitudes who mobbed
Paul's comrades there and shouted, with one voice, "Great is Diana of the
Ephesians!" The idea of a shout in such a solitude as this almost makes
one shudder.

It was a wonderful city, this Ephesus. Go where you will about these
broad plains, you find the most exquisitely sculptured marble fragments
scattered thick among the dust and weeds; and protruding from the ground,
or lying prone upon it, are beautiful fluted columns of porphyry and all
precious marbles; and at every step you find elegantly carved capitals
and massive bases, and polished tablets engraved with Greek inscriptions.
It is a world of precious relics, a wilderness of marred and mutilated
gems. And yet what are these things to the wonders that lie buried here
under the ground? At Constantinople, at Pisa, in the cities of Spain,
are great mosques and cathedrals, whose grandest columns came from the
temples and palaces of Ephesus, and yet one has only to scratch the
ground here to match them. We shall never know what magnificence is,
until this imperial city is laid bare to the sun.

The finest piece of sculpture we have yet seen and the one that impressed
us most, (for we do not know much about art and can not easily work up
ourselves into ecstasies over it,) is one that lies in this old theatre
of Ephesus which St. Paul's riot has made so celebrated. It is only the
headless body of a man, clad in a coat of mail, with a Medusa head upon
the breast-plate, but we feel persuaded that such dignity and such
majesty were never thrown into a form of stone before.

What builders they were, these men of antiquity! The massive arches of
some of these ruins rest upon piers that are fifteen feet square and
built entirely of solid blocks of marble, some of which are as large as a
Saratoga trunk, and some the size of a boarding-house sofa. They are not
shells or shafts of stone filled inside with rubbish, but the whole pier
is a mass of solid masonry. Vast arches, that may have been the gates of
the city, are built in the same way. They have braved the storms and
sieges of three thousand years, and have been shaken by many an
earthquake, but still they stand. When they dig alongside of them, they
find ranges of ponderous masonry that are as perfect in every detail as
they were the day those old Cyclopian giants finished them. An English
Company is going to excavate Ephesus--and then!

And now am I reminded of--

                    THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SLEEPERS.

In the Mount of Pion, yonder, is the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. Once
upon a time, about fifteen hundred years ago, seven young men lived near
each other in Ephesus, who belonged to the despised sect of the
Christians. It came to pass that the good King Maximilianus, (I am
telling this story for nice little boys and girls,) it came to pass, I
say, that the good King Maximilianus fell to persecuting the Christians,
and as time rolled on he made it very warm for them. So the seven young
men said one to the other, let us get up and travel. And they got up and
traveled. They tarried not to bid their fathers and mothers good-bye, or
any friend they knew. They only took certain moneys which their parents
had, and garments that belonged unto their friends, whereby they might
remember them when far away; and they took also the dog Ketmehr, which
was the property of their neighbor Malchus, because the beast did run his
head into a noose which one of the young men was carrying carelessly, and
they had not time to release him; and they took also certain chickens
that seemed lonely in the neighboring coops, and likewise some bottles of
curious liquors that stood near the grocer's window; and then they
departed from the city. By-and-by they came to a marvelous cave in the
Hill of Pion and entered into it and feasted, and presently they hurried
on again. But they forgot the bottles of curious liquors, and left them
behind. They traveled in many lands, and had many strange adventures.
They were virtuous young men, and lost no opportunity that fell in their
way to make their livelihood. Their motto was in these words, namely,
"Procrastination is the thief of time." And so, whenever they did come
upon a man who was alone, they said, Behold, this person hath the
wherewithal--let us go through him. And they went through him. At the
end of five years they had waxed tired of travel and adventure, and
longed to revisit their old home again and hear the voices and see the
faces that were dear unto their youth. Therefore they went through such
parties as fell in their way where they sojourned at that time, and
journeyed back toward Ephesus again. For the good King Maximilianus was
become converted unto the new faith, and the Christians rejoiced because
they were no longer persecuted. One day as the sun went down, they came
to the cave in the Mount of Pion, and they said, each to his fellow, Let
us sleep here, and go and feast and make merry with our friends when the
morning cometh. And each of the seven lifted up his voice and said, It
is a whiz. So they went in, and lo, where they had put them, there lay
the bottles of strange liquors, and they judged that age had not impaired
their excellence. Wherein the wanderers were right, and the heads of the
same were level. So each of the young men drank six bottles, and behold
they felt very tired, then, and lay down and slept soundly.

When they awoke, one of them, Johannes--surnamed Smithianus--said, We are
naked. And it was so. Their raiment was all gone, and the money which
they had gotten from a stranger whom they had proceeded through as they
approached the city, was lying upon the ground, corroded and rusted and
defaced. Likewise the dog Ketmehr was gone, and nothing save the brass
that was upon his collar remained. They wondered much at these things.
But they took the money, and they wrapped about their bodies some leaves,
and came up to the top of the hill. Then were they perplexed. The
wonderful temple of Diana was gone; many grand edifices they had never
seen before stood in the city; men in strange garbs moved about the
streets, and every thing was changed.

Johannes said, It hardly seems like Ephesus. Yet here is the great
gymnasium; here is the mighty theatre, wherein I have seen seventy
thousand men assembled; here is the Agora; there is the font where the
sainted John the Baptist immersed the converts; yonder is the prison of
the good St. Paul, where we all did use to go to touch the ancient chains
that bound him and be cured of our distempers; I see the tomb of the
disciple Luke, and afar off is the church wherein repose the ashes of the
holy John, where the Christians of Ephesus go twice a year to gather the
dust from the tomb, which is able to make bodies whole again that are
corrupted by disease, and cleanse the soul from sin; but see how the
wharves encroach upon the sea, and what multitudes of ships are anchored
in the bay; see, also, how the city hath stretched abroad, far over the
valley behind Pion, and even unto the walls of Ayassalook; and lo, all
the hills are white with palaces and ribbed with colonnades of marble.
How mighty is Ephesus become!

And wondering at what their eyes had seen, they went down into the city
and purchased garments and clothed themselves. And when they would have
passed on, the merchant bit the coins which they had given him, with his
teeth, and turned them about and looked curiously upon them, and cast
them upon his counter, and listened if they rang; and then he said, These
be bogus. And they said, Depart thou to Hades, and went their way. When
they were come to their houses, they recognized them, albeit they seemed
old and mean; and they rejoiced, and were glad. They ran to the doors,
and knocked, and strangers opened, and looked inquiringly upon them. And
they said, with great excitement, while their hearts beat high, and the
color in their faces came and went, Where is my father? Where is my
mother? Where are Dionysius and Serapion, and Pericles, and Decius? And
the strangers that opened said, We know not these. The Seven said, How,
you know them not? How long have ye dwelt here, and whither are they
gone that dwelt here before ye? And the strangers said, Ye play upon us
with a jest, young men; we and our fathers have sojourned under these
roofs these six generations; the names ye utter rot upon the tombs, and
they that bore them have run their brief race, have laughed and sung,
have borne the sorrows and the weariness that were allotted them, and are
at rest; for nine-score years the summers have come and gone, and the
autumn leaves have fallen, since the roses faded out of their cheeks and
they laid them to sleep with the dead.

Then the seven young men turned them away from their homes, and the
strangers shut the doors upon them. The wanderers marveled greatly, and
looked into the faces of all they met, as hoping to find one that they
knew; but all were strange, and passed them by and spake no friendly
word. They were sore distressed and sad. Presently they spake unto a
citizen and said, Who is King in Ephesus? And the citizen answered and
said, Whence come ye that ye know not that great Laertius reigns in
Ephesus? They looked one at the other, greatly perplexed, and presently
asked again, Where, then, is the good King Maximilianus? The citizen
moved him apart, as one who is afraid, and said, Verily these men be mad,
and dream dreams, else would they know that the King whereof they speak
is dead above two hundred years agone.

Then the scales fell from the eyes of the Seven, and one said, Alas, that
we drank of the curious liquors. They have made us weary, and in
dreamless sleep these two long centuries have we lain. Our homes are
desolate, our friends are dead. Behold, the jig is up--let us die. And
that same day went they forth and laid them down and died. And in that
self-same day, likewise, the Seven-up did cease in Ephesus, for that the
Seven that were up were down again, and departed and dead withal. And
the names that be upon their tombs, even unto this time, are Johannes
Smithianus, Trumps, Gift, High, and Low, Jack, and The Game. And with
the sleepers lie also the bottles wherein were once the curious liquors:
and upon them is writ, in ancient letters, such words as these--Dames of
heathen gods of olden time, perchance: Rumpunch, Jinsling, Egnog.

Such is the story of the Seven Sleepers, (with slight variations,) and I
know it is true, because I have seen the cave myself.

Really, so firm a faith had the ancients this legend, that as late as
eight or nine hundred years ago, learned travelers held it in
superstitious fear. Two of them record that they ventured into it, but
ran quickly out again, not daring to tarry lest they should fall asleep
and outlive their great grand-children a century or so. Even at this day
the ignorant denizens of the neighboring country prefer not to sleep in
it.

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