Clio - Anatole France - ebook

Along the hill-side he came, following a path which skirted the sea. His forehead was bare, deeply furrowed and bound by a fillet of red wool. The sea-breeze blew his white locks over his temples and pressed the fleece of a snow-white beard against his chin. His tunic and his feet were the colour of the roads which he had trodden for so many years.

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Anatole France





The Château de Vaux le Vicomte is a translation of the text of a sumptuously illustrated volume descriptive of this wonderful monument of human frailty and ambition, published in 1888 by Lemercier et Cie with plates by Rodolphe Pfnor. Although the text has not been published apart from the plates in France, it seemed only fitting to include a translation of The Château de Vaux le Vicomte in a complete edition of Monsieur Anatole France's works.



Along the hill-side he came, following a path which skirted the sea. His forehead was bare, deeply furrowed and bound by a fillet of red wool. The sea-breeze blew his white locks over his temples and pressed the fleece of a snow-white beard against his chin. His tunic and his feet were the colour of the roads which he had trodden for so many years. A roughly made lyre hung at his side. He was known as the Aged One, and also as the Bard. Yet another name was given him by the children to whom he taught poetry and music, and many called him the Blind One, because his eyes, dim with age, were overhung by swollen lids, reddened by the smoke of the hearths beside which he was wont to sit when he sang. But his was no eternal night, and he was said to see things invisible to other men. For three generations he had been wandering ceaselessly to and fro. And now, having sung all day to a King of Ægea, he was returning to his home, the roof of which he could already see smoking in the distance; for now, after walking all night without a halt for fear of being overtaken by the heat of the day, in the clear light of the dawn he could see the white Kyme, his birthplace. With his dog at his side, leaning on his crooked staff, he walked with slow steps, his body upright, his head held high because of the steepness of the way leading down into the narrow valley and because he was still vigorous in his age. The sun, rising over the mountains of Asia, shed a rosy light over the fleecy clouds and the hill-sides of the islands that studded the sea. The coast-line glistened. But the hills that stretched away eastward, crowned with mastic and terebinth, lay still in the freshness and the shadow of night.

The Aged One measured along the incline the length of twelve times twelve lances and found, on the left, between the flanks of twin rocks, the narrow entrance to a sacred wood. There, on the brink of a spring, rose an altar of unhewn stones.

It was half hidden by an oleander the branches of which were laden with dazzling blossoms. The well-trodden ground in front of the altar was white with the bones of victims. All around, the boughs of the olive-trees were hung with offerings. And farther on, in the awesome shadow of the gorge, rose two ancient oaks, bearing, nailed to their trunks, the bleached skulls of bulls. Knowing that this altar was consecrated to Phœbus, the Aged One plunged into the wood, and, taking by its handle a little earthenware cup which hung from his belt, he bent over the stream which, flowing over a bed of wild parsley and water-cress, slowly wound its way down to the meadow. He filled his cup with the spring-water, and, because he was pious, before drinking he poured a few drops before the altar. He worshipped the immortal gods, who know neither pain nor death, while on earth generation follows generation of suffering men. He was conscious of fear; and he dreaded the arrows of Leto's sons. Full of sorrows and of years, he loved the light of day and feared death. For this reason an idea occurred to him. He bent the pliable trunk of a sapling, and drawing it towards him hung his earthenware cup from the topmost twig of the young tree, which, springing back, bore the old man's offering up to the open sky.

White Kyme, wall-encircled, rose from the edge of the sea. A steep highway, paved with flat stones, led to the gate of the town. This gate had been built in an age beyond man's memory, and it was said to be the work of the gods. Carved upon the lintel were signs which no man understood, yet they were regarded as of good omen. Not far from this gate was the public square, where the benches of the elders shone beneath the trees. Near this square, on the landward side, the Aged One stayed his steps. There was his house. It was low and small, and less beautiful than the neighbouring house, where a famous seer dwelt with his children. Its entrance was half hidden beneath a heap of manure, in which a pig was rooting. This dunghill was smaller than those at the doors of the rich. But behind the house was an orchard, and stables of unquarried stone, which the Aged One had built with his own hands. The sun was climbing up the white vault of heaven, the sea wind had fallen. The invisible fire in the air scorched the lungs of men and beasts. For a moment the Aged One paused upon the threshold to wipe the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. His dog, with watchful eye and hanging tongue, stood still and panted.

The aged Melantho, emerging from the house, appeared on the threshold and spoke a few pleasant words. Her coming had been slow, because a god had sent an evil spirit into her legs which swelled them and made them heavier than a couple of wine-skins. She was a Carian slave and in her youth the King had bestowed her on the bard, who was then young and vigorous. And in her new master's bed she had conceived many children. But not one was left in the house. Some were dead, others had gone away to practise the art of song or to steer the plough in distant Achaian cities, for all were richly gifted. And Melantho was left alone in the house with Areta, her daughter-in-law, and Areta's two children.

She went with the master into the great hall with its smoky rafters. In the midst of it, before the domestic altar, lay the hearthstone covered with red embers and melted fat. Out of the hall opened two stories of small rooms; a wooden staircase led to the upper chambers, which were the women's quarters. Against the pillars that supported the roof leant the bronze weapons which the Aged One had borne in his youth, in the days when he followed the kings to the cities to which they drove in their chariots to recapture the daughters of Kyme whom the heroes had carried away. From one of the beams hung the skin of an ox.

The elders of the city, wishful to honour the bard, had sent it to him on the previous day. He rejoiced at the sight of it. As he stood drawing a long breath into a chest which was shrunken with age, he took from beneath his tunic, with a few cloves of garlic remaining from his alfresco supper, the King of Ægea's gift; it was a stone fallen from heaven and precious, for it was of iron, though too small for a lance-tip. He brought with him also a pebble which he had found on the road. On this pebble, when looked at in a certain light, was the form of a man's head. And the Aged One, showing it to Melantho, said:

"Woman, see, on this pebble is the likeness of Pakoros, the blacksmith; not without permission of the gods may a stone thus present the semblance of Pakoros."

And when the aged Melantho had poured water over his feet and hands in order to remove the dust that defiled them, he grasped the shin of beef in his arms, placed it on the altar and began to tear it asunder. Being wise and prudent, he did not delegate to women or to children the duty of preparing the repast; and, after the manner of kings, he himself cooked the flesh of beasts.

Meanwhile Melantho coaxed the fire on the hearth into a flame. She blew upon the dry twigs until a god wrapped them in fire. Though the task was holy, the Aged One suffered it to be performed by a woman because years and fatigue had enfeebled him. When the flames leapt up he cast into them pieces of flesh which he turned over with a fork of bronze. Seated on his heels, he inhaled the smoke; and as it filled the room his eyes smarted and watered; but he paid no heed because he was accustomed to it and because the smoke signified abundance. As the toughness of the meat yielded to the fire's irresistible power, he put fragments of it into his mouth and, slowly masticating them with his well-worn teeth, ate in silence. Standing at his side, the aged Melantho poured the dark wine into an earthenware cup like that which he had given to the god.

When he had satisfied hunger and thirst, he inquired whether all in house and stable was well. And he inquired concerning the wool woven in his absence, the cheese placed in the vat and the ripe olives in the press. And, remembering that his goods were but few, he said:

"The heroes keep herds of oxen and heifers in the meadows. They have a goodly number of strong and comely slaves; the doors of their houses are of ivory and of brass, and their tables are laden with pitchers of gold. The courage of their hearts assured them of wealth, which they sometimes keep until old age. In my youth, certes, I was not inferior to them in courage, but I had neither horses nor chariots, nor servants, nor even armour strong enough to vie with them in battle and to win tripods of gold and women of great beauty. He who fights on foot with poor weapons cannot kill many enemies, because he himself fears death. Wherefore, fighting beneath the town walls, in the ranks, with the serving men, never did I win rich spoil."

The aged Melantho made answer:

"War giveth wealth to men and robs them of it. My father, Kyphos, had a palace and countless herds at Mylata. But armed men despoiled him of all and slew him. I myself was carried away into slavery, but I was never ill-treated because I was young. The chiefs took me to their bed and never did I lack food. You were my best master and the poorest."

There was neither joy nor sadness in her voice as she spoke.

The Aged One replied:

"Melantho, you cannot complain of me, for I have always treated you kindly. Reproach me not with having failed to win great wealth. Armourers are there and blacksmiths who are rich. Those who are skilled in the construction of chariots derive no small advantage from their labours. Seers receive great gifts. But the life of minstrels is hard."

The aged Melantho said:

"The life of many men is hard."

And with heavy step she went out of the house, with her daughter-in-law, to fetch wood from the cellar. It was the hour when the sun's invincible heat prostrates men and beasts, and silences even the song of the birds in the motionless foliage. The Aged One stretched himself upon a mat, and, veiling his face, fell asleep.

As he slumbered he was visited by a succession of dreams, which were neither more beautiful nor more unusual than those which he dreamed every day. In these dreams appeared to him the forms of men and of beasts. And, because among them he recognized some whom he had known while they lived on the green earth and who having lost the light of day had lain beneath the funeral pile, he concluded that the shades of the dead hover in the air, but that, having lost their vigour, they are nothing but empty shadows. He learned from dreams that there exist likewise shades of animals and of plants which are seen in sleep. He was convinced that the dead, wandering in Hades, themselves form their own image, since none may form it for them, unless it were one of those gods who love to deceive man's feeble intellect. But, being no seer, he could not distinguish between false dreams and true; and, weary of seeking to understand the confused visions of the night, he regarded them with indifference as they passed beneath his closed eyelids.

On awakening, he beheld, ranged before him in an attitude of respect, the children of Kyme, whom he instructed in poetry and music, as his father had instructed him. Among them were his daughter-in-law's two sons. Many of them were blind, for a bard's life was deemed fitting for those who, bereft of sight, could neither work in the fields nor follow heroes to war.

In their hands they bore the offerings in payment for the bard's lessons, fruit, cheese, a honeycomb, a sheep's fleece, and they waited for their master's approval before placing it on the domestic altar.

The Aged One, having risen and taken his lyre which hung from a beam in the hall, said kindly:

"Children, it is just that the rich should give much and the poor less. Zeus, our father, hath unequally apportioned wealth among men. But he will punish the child who withholds the tribute due to the divine bard."

The vigilant Melantho came and took the gifts from the altar. And the Aged One, having tuned his lyre, began to teach a song to the children, who with crossed legs were seated on the ground around him.

"Hearken," he said, "to the combat between Patrocles and Sarpedon. This is a beautiful song."

And he sang. He skilfully modulated the sounds, applying the same rhythm and the same measure to each line; and, in order that his voice should not wander from the key, he supported it at regular intervals by striking a note upon his three-stringed lyre. And, before making a necessary pause, he uttered a shrill cry, accompanied by a strident vibration of strings. After he had sung lines equal in number to double the number of fingers on his two hands, he made the children repeat them. They cried them out all together in a high voice, as, following their master's example, they touched the little lyres which they themselves had carved out of wood and which gave no sound.

Patiently the Aged One sang the lines over and over until the little singers knew every word. The attentive children he praised, but those who lacked memory or intelligence he struck with the wooden part of his lyre, and they went away to lean weeping against a pillar of the hall. He taught by example, not by precept, because he believed poesy to be of hoary antiquity and beyond man's judgment. The only counsels which he gave related to manners. He bade them:

"Honour kings and heroes, who are superior to other men. Call heroes by their own name and that of their father, so that these names be not forgotten. When you sit in assemblies gather your tunic about you and let your mien express grace and modesty."

Again he said to them:

"Do not spit in rivers, because rivers are scared. Make no change, either through weakness of memory or of your own imagining, in the songs I teach you, and when a king shall say unto you: 'These songs are beautiful. From whom did you learn them?' you shall answer: 'I learnt them from the Aged One of Kyme, who received them from his father, whom doubtless a god had inspired.'" Of the ox's shin, there yet remained a few succulent morsels. Having eaten one of them before the hearth and smashed the bone with an axe of bronze, in order to extract the marrow, of which he alone in the house was worthy to partake, he divided the rest of the meat into portions which should nourish the women and children for the space of two days.

Then he realized that soon nothing would be left of this nutritious food, and he reflected:

"The rich are loved by Zeus and the poor are not. All unwittingly I have doubtless offended one of those gods who live concealed in the forests or the mountains, or perhaps the child of an immortal; and it is to expiate my involuntary crime that I drag out my days in a penurious old age. Sometimes, without any evil intention, one commits actions which are punishable because the gods have not clearly revealed unto men that which is permitted and that which is forbidden. And their will remains obscure." Long did he turn over those thoughts in his mind, and, fearing the return of cruel hunger, he resolved not to remain idly in his dwelling that night, but this time to go towards the country where the Hermos flows between rocks and whence can be seen Orneia, Smyrna and the beautiful Hissia, lying upon the mountain, which, like the prow of some Phœnician boat, plunges into the sea. Wherefore, at the hour when the first stars glimmer in the pale sky, he girded himself with the cord of his lyre and went forth, along the sea-shore, toward the dwellings of rich men, who, during their lengthy feasts, love to hearken to the praise of heroes and the genealogies of the gods.

Having, according to his custom, journeyed all night, in the rosy dawn of morning he descried a town perched upon a high headland, and he recognized the opulent Hissia, dove-haunted, which from the summit of her rock looks down upon the white islands sporting like nymphs in the glistening sea. Not far from the town, on the margin of a spring, he sat down to rest and to appease his hunger with the onions which he had brought in a fold of his tunic.

Hardly had he finished his meal when a young girl, bearing a basket on her head, came to the spring to wash linen. At first she looked at him suspiciously, but, seeing that he carried a wooden lyre slung over his torn tunic and that he was old and overcome with fatigue, she approached him fearlessly, and, suddenly, seized with pity and veneration, she filled the hollows of her hands with drops of water with which she moistened the minstrel's lips.

Then he called her a king's daughter; he promised her a long life, and said:

"Maiden, desire floats in a cloud about thy girdle. Happy the man who shall lead thee to his couch. And I, an old man, praise thy beauty like the bird of night which cries all unheeded upon the nuptial roof. I am a wandering bard. Daughter, speak unto me pleasant words."

And the maiden answered:

"If, as you say and as it seemeth, you are a musician, then no evil fate brings you to this town. For the rich Meges to-day receiveth a guest who is dear to him; and to the great of the town, in honour of his guest, he giveth a sumptuous feast. Doubtless he would wish them to hear a good minstrel. Go to him. From this very spot you may see his house. From the seaward side it cannot be approached, because it is on that high breeze-swept headland, which juts out into the waves. But if you enter the town on the landward side, by the steps cut in the rock, which lead up the vine-clad hill, you will easily distinguish from all the other houses the abode of Meges. It has been recently whitewashed, and it is more spacious than the rest." And the Aged One, rising with difficulty on limbs which the years had stiffened, climbed the steps cut in the rock by the men of old, and, reaching the high table-land whereon is the town of Hissia, he readily distinguished the house of the rich Meges.

To approach it was pleasant, for the blood of freshly slaughtered bulls gushed from its doors and the odour of hot fat was perceptible all around. He crossed the threshold, entered the great banqueting-hall and, having touched the altar with his hand, approached Meges, who was carving the meat and ordering the servants. Already the guests were ranged about the hearth, rejoicing in the prospect of a plenteous repast. Among them were many kings and heroes. But the guest whom Meges desired to honour by this banquet was a King of Chios, who, in quest of wealth, had long navigated the seas and endured great hardship. His name was Oineus. All the guests admired him because, like Ulysses in earlier days, he had escaped from innumerable shipwrecks, shared in the islands the couch of enchantresses and brought home great treasure. He told of his travels and his labours, interspersing them with inventions, for he had a nimble wit.

Recognizing the bard by the lyre which hung at his side, the rich Meges addressed the Aged One and said:

"Be welcome. What songs knowest thou?"

The Aged One made answer:

"I know 'The Strife of Kings' which brought such great disaster to the Achaians, I know 'The Storming of the Wall.' And that song is beautiful. I know also 'The Deception of Zeus,' 'The Embassy' and 'The Capture of the Dead.' And these songs are beautiful. I know yet more—six times sixty very beautiful songs."

Thus did he give it to be understood that he knew many songs; but the exact number he could not tell.

The rich Meges replied in a mocking tone:

"In the hope of a good meal and a rich gift, wandering minstrels ever say that they know many songs; but, put to the test, it is soon seen that they remember but a few lines, with the constant repetition of which they tire the ears of heroes and of kings."

The Aged One answered wisely:

"Meges," he said, "you are renowned for your wealth. Know that the number of the songs I know is not less than that of the bulls and heifers which your herdsmen drive to graze on the mountain." Meges, admiring the Old Man's intelligence, said to him kindly:

"A small mind would not suffice to contain so great a number of songs. But, tell me, is what thou knowest about Achilles and Ulysses really true? For many are the lies in circulation touching those heroes."

And the bard made answer:

"All that I know of the heroes I received from my father, who learned it from Muses themselves, for in earlier days in cave and forest the immortal Muses visited divine singers. No inventions will I mingle with the ancient tales."

Thus did he speak, and wisely. Nevertheless to the songs he had known from his youth upward he was wont to add lines taken from other songs or the fruit of his own imagination. He himself had composed wellnigh the whole of certain songs. But, fearing lest man should disapprove of them, he did not confess them to be his own work. The heroes preferred the ancient tales which they believed to have been dictated by a god, and they objected to new songs. Wherefore, when he repeated lines of his own invention, he carefully concealed their origin. And, as he was a true poet and followed all the ancient traditions, his lines differed in no way from those of his ancestors; they resembled them in form and in beauty, and, from the beginning, they were worthy of immortal glory.

The rich Meges was not unintelligent. Perceiving the Aged One to be a good singer, he gave him a place of honour by the hearth and said to him:

"Old Man, when we have satisfied our hunger, thou shalt sing to us all thou knowest of Achilles and Ulysses. Endeavour to charm the ears of Oineus, my guest, for he is a hero full of wisdom."

And Oineus, who had long wandered over the sea, asked the minstrel whether he knew "The Voyages of Ulysses." But the return of the heroes who had fought at Troy was still wrapped in mystery, and no one knew what Ulysses had suffered in his wanderings over the pathless sea.

The Old Man answered:

"I know that the divine Ulysses shared Circe's couch and deceived the Cyclops by a crafty wile. Women tell tales about it to one another. But the hero's return to Ithaca is hidden from the bards. Some say that he returned to possess his wife and his goods, others that he put away Penelope because she had admitted her suitors to her bed, and that he himself, punished by the gods, wandered ceaselessly among the people, an oar upon his shoulder."

Oineus replied:

"In my travels I have heard that Ulysses died at the hands of his son."

Meanwhile Meges distributed the flesh of oxen among his guests. And to each one he gave a fitting morsel. Oineus praised him loudly.

"Meges," he said, "one can see that you are accustomed to give banquets."

The oxen of Meges were fed upon the sweetsmelling herbs which grow on the mountain-side. Their flesh was redolent thereof, and the heroes could not consume enough of it. And, as Meges was constantly refilling a capacious goblet which he afterwards passed to his guests, the repast was prolonged far into the day. No man remembered so rich a feast.

The sun was going down into the sea, when the herdsmen who kept the flocks of Meges upon the mountain came to receive their share of the wine and victuals. Meges respected them because they grazed the herds not with the indolence of the herdsmen of the plain, but armed with lances of iron and girded with armour in order to defend the oxen against the attacks of the people of Asia. And they were like unto kings and heroes, whom they equalled in courage. They were led by two chiefs, Peiros and Thoas, whom the master had chosen as the bravest and the most intelligent. And, indeed, handsomer men were not to be seen. Meges welcomed them to his hearth as the illustrious protectors of his wealth. He gave them wine and meat as much as they desired.

Oineus, admiring them, said to his host:

"In all my travels, I have never seen men with limbs so well formed and muscular as those of these two master herdsmen."

Then Meges uttered injudicious words. He said: "Peiros is the stronger in wrestling, but Thoas the swifter in the race."

At these words, the two herdsmen looked angrily at one another, and Thoas said to Peiros:

"You must have given the master some maddening drink to make him say that you are the better wrestler."

Then Peiros answered Thoas testily:

"I flatter myself that I can conquer you in wrestling. As for racing, I leave to you the palm which the master has given. For you who have the heart of a stag could not fail to possess his feet."

But the wise Oineus checked the herdsmen's quarrel. He artfully told tales showing the danger of wrangling at feasts. And, as he spoke well, he was approved. Peace having been restored, Meges said to the Aged One:

"My friend, sing us 'The Wrath of Achilles' and the 'Gathering of the Kings.'"

And the Aged One, having tuned his lyre, poured forth into the thick atmosphere of the hall great gusts of sound.

He drew deep breaths, and all the guests hearkened in silence to the measured words which recalled ages worthy to be remembered. And many marvelled how so old a man, one withered by age like a vine-branch which beareth neither fruit nor leaves, could emit such powerful notes. For they did not understand that the power of the wine and the habit of singing imparted to the musician a strength which otherwise would have been denied him by enfeebled nerve and muscle.

At intervals a murmur of praise rose from the assembly like a strong gust of wind in the forest. But suddenly the herdsmen's dispute, appeased for a while, broke out afresh. Heated with wine, they challenged one another to wrestle and to race. Their wild cries rose above the musician's voice, and vainly he endeavoured to make the harmonious sounds which proceeded from his mouth and his lyre heard by the assembly. The herdsmen who followed Peiros and Thoas, flushed with wine, struck their hands and grunted like hogs. They had long formed themselves into rival bands which shared the chiefs' enmity.

"Dog!" cried Thoas.

And he struck Peiros a blow on the face which drew blood from his mouth and nostrils. Peiros, blinded, butted with his forehead against the chest of Thoas and threw him backwards, his ribs broken. Straightway the rival herdsmen cast themselves upon one another, exchanging blows and insults.

In vain did Meges and the Kings endeavour to separate the combatants. Even the wise Oineus himself was repulsed by the herdsmen whom a god had bereft of reason. Brass vessels flew through the air on all sides. Great ox-bones, smoking torches, bronze tripods rose and fell upon the combatants. The interlaced bodies of men rolled over the hearth on which the fire was dying, in the midst of the liquor which flowed from the burst wine-skins.

Dense darkness enveloped the hall, a darkness full of groans and imprecations. Arms, maddened by frenzy, seized glowing logs and hurled them into the darkness. A blazing twig struck the minstrel as he stood still and silent.

Then a voice louder than all the noise of combat cursed these impious men and this profane house. And, pressing his lyre to his breast, he went out of the dwelling and walked along the high headland by the sea. To his wrath had given place a great feeling of fatigue and a bitter disgust with men and with life.

A longing for union with the gods filled his breast. All things lay wrapped in soft shadows, the friendly silence and the peace of night. Westward, over the land which men say is haunted by the shades of the dead, the divine moon, hanging in the clear sky, shed silver blossoms upon the smiling sea. And the aged Homer advanced over the high headland until the earth, which had borne him so long, failed beneath his feet.




In a land of mists, near a shore which was beaten by the restless sea and swept by billowy waves of sand raised by the Ocean winds, the Atrebates had settled on the shifting banks of a broad stream. There, amid pools of water and in forests of oak and of birch, they lived protected by their stockades of felled tree-trunks. There they bred horses excellent for draught-work, large-headed, short-necked, broad-chested and muscular, and with powerful haunches. On the outskirts of the forest they kept huge swine, wild as boars. With their great dogs they hunted wild beasts, the skulls of which they nailed on to the walls of their wooden houses. They lived on the flesh of these creatures and on fish, both of the salt-water and the fresh. They grilled their meat and seasoned it with salt, vinegar and cumin. They drank wine, and, at their stupendous feasts, seated at their round tables, they grew drunken. There were among them women who, acquainted with the virtue of herbs, gathered henbane, vervain and that healing plant called savin, which grows in the moist hollows of rocks. From the sap of the yew-tree they concocted a poison. The Atrebates had also priests and poets who knew things hidden from ordinary men.

These forest-dwellers, these men of the marsh and the beach, were of high stature. They wore their fair hair long, and they wrapped their great white bodies in mantles of wool of the colour of the vine-leaf when it grows purple in the autumn. They were subject to chiefs who held sway over the tribes.