網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

larger and heavier. Time produces little effect on such buildings as these. The heavy stone slabs of the roofs resting on the massive walls make the structure as firm as if built of solid masonry; and the black basalt used is almost as hard as iron. There can scarcely be a doubt, therefore, that these are the very cities erected and inhabited by the Rephaim, the aboriginal occupants of Bashan; and the language of Ritter appears to be true : “ These buildings remain as eternal witnesses of the conquest of Bashan by Jehovah.”

We have thus in Kerioth and its sister cities some of the most ancient houses of which the world can boast; and in looking at them, and wandering among them, and passing night after night in them, my mind was led away back to the time, now nearly four thousand years ago, when the kings of the east warred with the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, and with the Emim in the plain of Kiriathaim. Some of the houses in which I slept were most probably standing at the period of that invasion. How strange to occupy houses of which giants were the architects, and a race of giants the original owners ! The temples and tombs of Upper Egypt are of great interest, as the works of one of the most enlightened nations of antiquity; the palaces of Nineveh are still more interesting, as the memorials of a great city which lay buried for two thousand years; but the massive houses of Kerioth scarcely yield in interest to either. They are antiquities of another kind. . In size, they cannot vie with the temples of Karnac; in splendour, they do not approach the palaces of Khorsabad; yet they are the memorials of a race of giant warriors that has been extinct for more than three thousand years, and of which Og, king of Bashan, was one of the last representatives; and they are, I believe, the only specimens in the world of the ordinary private dwellings of remote antiquity. The monuments designed by the genius and reared by the wealth of imperial Rome are fast mouldering to ruin in this land-temples, palaces, tombs, fortresses, are all shattered, or prostrate in the dust; but the simple, massive houses of the Rephaim are in many cases perfect as if only completed yesterday.

J. L. PORTER.

A JOURNEY TO PALMYRA.

In the year 1691 a company of English merchants, resident in Aleppo, heard strange reports of the ruins of a magnificent city away in the centre of the Syrian desert. The reports reached them from various sources;—from Baghdad traders, who had traversed the desert with their caravans; from native peddlers and armourers who followed the footsteps of the wandering Bedawîn ; from Arab sheikhs who ruled the tribes and led the raids of the Anezeh and Beni Shemâl. One and all told the story of the great city. Such palaces and temples, such ranges of columns and heaps of ruins, such tombs and castles, such multitudes of inscriptions, and statues, and monuments the world had never seen as were there, grouped around the fountains and scattered over the desolate plain of Tadmor. The glowing descriptions were like a romance from Antar or a tale from the Arabian Nights.

“The ground,
League beyond league, like one great cemetery,
Is covered o'er with mouldering monuments;
And, let the living wander where they will,
They cannot leave the footsteps of the dead."

Making every allowance for Oriental exaggeration, and the magic influence of Eastern fancy, the merchants thought there must be some foundation of fact-enough, at least, to repay the toil and expense of an expedition. It was a serious matter, in those days, to penetrate the desert; it is a work of some difficulty and danger even yet: but an expedition was organized; guides and guards were hired; the pathless waste was traversed; and the adventurous travellers were richly repaid, by the discovery of the long lost ruins of “Tadmor in the wilderness,”—the city founded by Solomon and ruled by Zenobia. In a few months all Europe resounded with the story of their adventures, and the glowing descriptions of the desert city.

For more than half a century the interesting narrative of the Aleppo merchants was read with a kind of semi-scepticism. The leading facts were not questioned. None went so far as to doubt that the classic Palmyra had been discovered; but it was generally thought that the descriptions of the ruins were highly coloured, and that when other travellers should explore and describe them, uninfluenced by the excitement of a great discovery, by those feelings of romance which sometimes encircle as a halo the minds of antiquarian and geographical pioneers, the real, matter-of-fact' character and state of the ancient city would become known.

In the year 1751 another celebrated expedition reached Palmyra. It was well organized, fully equipped, and the objects it aimed at were successfully accomplished. The expedition was planned and carried out by men who, from their great learning, classic tastes, and previous travels in Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor, were in every respect qualified satisfactorily to explore, delineate, and describe the city. They were supplied with the best books and instruments, and accompanied by an accomplished architect and draughtsman. They spent two weeks surveying, measuring, sketching, drawing plans, and copying inscriptions; and they returned across the desert with full portfolios, and a caravan of camels laden with marbles and works of art. The splendid folio which they afterwards published * will give such as have not visited the city the best idea of its wonderful remains. This great work showed European scholars that the narrative of the Aleppo merchants, instead of being exaggerated, fell short of the truth.

In describing the ruins of Palmyra it would be almost impossible to exaggerate. There is nothing like them in the world. The sight of them from the adjoining hill-top is like a dream of fairy-land. True, there are in Athens and other cities of Greece single buildings chaster in style, and more perfect in execution, than any of which Palmyra can boast; there are also in Egypt and Syria structures of more colossal magnitude; but in no other spot in the world can we find such vast numbers of temples, palaces, colonnades, tombs and monuments, grouped together so as to be seen at a single glance.

*"The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tadmor in the Desert." London, 1753.

THE ISHMAELITES.

[ocr errors]

My journey to Palmyra was somewhat adventurous. My whole party consisted of an English friend, an Arab sheikh, and a camel driver,-four men in all, mounted on three dromedaries. To attempt to go from Damascus to Tadmor, through a hundred miles of desert infested by prowling bandits and overrun by hostile Bedawîn, with such an escort, may probably appear a little rash; and looking back upon it now, from the calm seclusion of my library, where the excitement and romance of Eastern travel find no place, I am inclined to think it was rash. It had these good effects, however :-it led me away from the ordinary and direct route; it brought me into close contact with a number of friendly tribes; it gave me large experience of genuine Arab hospitality; and it afforded me, besides, some very palpable, if not very pleasant, illustrations of the truth of the prophecy pronounced of old on Ishmael and his posterity : “He will be a wild man ; his band will be against every man, and every man's hand against him.”

It was the fifth morning of our journey, and the sheikh told us that by noon we should see the ruins of Tadmor.

For three whole days we had already marched through the desert; not, however, the desert of boyhood's fancy,-a plain of drifting sand, blazing in the fierce sunbeams, and bounded by the circle of the horizon. This desert had more pleasing features. There were long ranges and clustering groups of mountains, presenting an agreeable variety of form and outline, and occasionally also of colour, though the general hue was that light gray, or yellowish white, so characteristic of the limestone strata of Syria. Here and there a bluff of dark red sandstone, or a dike of black trap, or a graceful cone of snow-white chalk, broke the uniformity. At one or two points I saw a singular combination of colours in the same peak,—white, red, pink, and black,-reminding one of the gorgeous hues of the cliffs of Edom. Between the mountains were long, winding vales, and deep, rugged glens, now in early spring all spangled with the bright red anemone and poppy and gay convolvulus, intermixed with a few, a very few, tufts of green grass and green

weeds. In all other respects it was a desert. Not a single house or sign of settled habitation was there; not a solitary patch of cultivated ground was anywhere to be seen; not a drop of water, in stream, fountain, well, or tank, did we ever meet with ; not a tree or green shrub appeared on the sides of those bare, desolate hills. This is just such a region as the Old Testament writers would have called Midbar (the name usually given to the peninsula of Sinai and the “wilderness of wandering"),-a region devoid of cultivation and settled inhabitant, but affording good pasture for flocks and herds.

The desert was now all alive with the great tribe of the Anezeh, who claim its pastures as their own. Every few miles we came upon a little circlet of black tents pitched in some retired vale, or near some secret well ; and when we saw the droves of camels covering the country for miles and miles, and the flocks of sheep and goats, we learned how the flocks and herds of Israel were fed during their forty years wandering in the midbar of Sinai.

Many strange and interesting traits of Arab life and law came under our notice. Whenever our path led us near an encampment, as was frequently the case, we always found some active sheikh, or venerable patriarch, sitting "in his tent door;" and as soon as we were within hail, we heard the earnest words of welcome and invitation, which the Old Testament Scriptures had rendered long ago familiar to us : “Stay, my lord, stay. Pass not on till thou hast eaten bread, and rested under thy servant's tent. Alight and remain until thy servant kill a kid and prepare a feast.” Again and again were these invitations given and urged in such a way that we found it impossible to resist them. In fact, our progress was seriously delayed by this truly patriarchal hospitality; and more than once or twice we were witnesses of the almost inconceivable rapidity with which the kid was killed, prepared, and served

up

with “butter and milk,” after the manner of Abraham's feast at Mamre.

Another trait of desert life we also noticed. On several occasions we suddenly and unexpectedly found ourselves close to a

« 上一頁繼續 »