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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Author Topic: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten  (Read 2267 times)
Peggie Welles
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« Reply #15 on: January 25, 2009, 01:21:17 am »

ALEXANDRIA.

The rough outlines of the background of the Gnosis which we have endeavoured to sketch, are of necessity of the vaguest, for each of the many

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subjects touched upon is deserving of a volume or several volumes. Our intention has only been to give some general idea of the manifold lines along which its complicated heredity has to be traced. But our sketch is so vague that perhaps it may be as well, before proceeding further, to give the reader some notion of the more immediate outer conditions in which the Christian Gnosis lived and--we will not say died, but--disappeared. Insistence upon some of the points already touched upon and a few more details may serve to make the matter clearer; and the best spot from which to make our observation is Alexandria, and the best time for a retrospect is the epoch when General Christianity had definitely won its victory and driven the Gnosis from the field.

It should be remembered that in the following sketch we shall attempt to depict only the outer appearances of things; within, as we have already suggested and as we shall show in the sequel, there was a hidden life of great activity. If there was an enormous public library at Alexandria, there were also many private libraries of the inner schools dealing with the sacred science of unseen things. It was precisely from these private circles that all mystic writings proceeded, and we can see from the nature of the Gnostic and other works of this kind which have reached us, that their authors and compilers had access to large libraries of mystic lore.

Let us then carry our minds forward to the A Bird's-eye View of the City. last quarter of the fourth century of the present era, when Hypatia was a girl, after the hopes

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of the School that traced its descent through Plato and Pythagoras from Orpheus, had received so rude a shock from the early death of Julian, the emperor-philosopher; just in time to see the Serapeum still standing, unviolated by the iconoclastic hands of a fanaticism that was the immediate progeny of Jewish Zealotism and entirely foreign to the teaching of the Christ. Let us ascend the great lighthouse, 400 feet high, on the island off the mainland, the world-famous Pharos, and take a bird's-eye view of the intellectual centre of the ancient Western world.

The city lies out before us on a long ribbon of land or isthmus, between the sea front and the great lake towards the south, Lake Mareotis. Far away to the left is the most westerly mouth of the Nile, called the Canopic, and a great canal winds out that way to Canopus, where is the sacred shrine of Serapis. Along it, if it were festival-time, you would see crowds of pilgrims, hastening, on gaily decorated barges, to pay their homage to certain wise priests, one of whom about this time was a distinguished member of the later Platonic School.

The great city with its teeming populace stretches out before us with a sea-frontage of some four or five miles; in shape it is oblong, for when Alexander the Great, hundreds of years ago, in 331 B.C., marked out its original walls with the flour his Macedonian veterans carried (perhaps according to some national rite), he traced it in the form of a chlamys, a scarf twice as long as it was broad. Two great streets or main arteries, in the form

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of a cross, divide it into four quarters. These thoroughfares are far wider than any of our modern streets, and the longer one, parallel to the shore, and extending through the outlying suburbs, has a length of three leagues, so that the Alexandrians consider it quite a journey to traverse their city.

Where these streets cross is a great square surrounded with handsome buildings, and adorned with fountains, statues and trees. There are many other squares and forums also, but none so vast as the great square. Many pillars and obelisks adorn the city; the most conspicuous of them being a flat-topped pillar of red stone, on a hill near the shore, and two obelisks on the shore itself, one of which is the present Cleopatra's Needle.

The island on which we are standing is joined to the main-land by a huge mole almost a mile long, with two water-ways cutting it, spanned with bridges, and defended with towers. This mole helps to form the great harbour on our right, and the smaller and less safe harbour on our left. There is also a third huge dock, or basin, in the north-west quarter of the city, closed also by a bridge.

The two main thoroughfares divide Alexandria into four quarters, which together with the first suburb of the city were originally called by the first five letters of the alphabet. The great quarter on our left is, however, more generally known as the Bruchion, perhaps from the palace Ptolemy Soter set aside to form the nucleus of the great library. It is the Greek quarter, the most fashionable, and architecturally very magnificent. There you see the vast

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mausoleum of Alexander the Great, containing the golden coffin in which the body of the world-conquering hero has been preserved for hundreds of years. There, too, are the splendid tombs of the Ptolemies, who ruled Egypt from the time of the division of Alexander's empire till the latter part of the first century B.C. when the Romans wrested the kingdom from Cleopatra. Observe next the great temple of Poseidon, god of the sea, a favourite deity of the sailor populace. There, too, is the Museum, the centre of the university, with all its lecture rooms and halls, not the original Museum of the Ptolemies, but a later building. Baths, too, you see everywhere, thousands of them, magnificent buildings where the luxurious Alexandrians spend so much of their time.

On the right is the Egyptian quarter, the northwestern, called Rhacotis, a very old name dating back to a time when Alexandria did not exist, and an old Egyptian burg, called Ragadouah, occupied its site. The difference in the style of architecture at once strikes you, for it is for the most part in the more sombre Egyptian style; and that great building you see in the eastern part of the quarter is the far-famed Serapeum; it is not so much a single building as a group of buildings, the temple of course being the chief of them. It is a fort-like place, with plain heavy walls, older than the Greek buildings, gloomy and severe and suited to the Egyptian character; it is the centre of the "Heathen" schools, that is to say, the Barbarian or non-Greek lecture halls. You will always remember the Serapeum by its vast flights of steps bordered with

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innumerable sphinxes, both inside and outside the great gate.

If you could see underneath the buildings, you would be struck with the network of vaults and crypts on which the whole city seems to have been built; these vaults are used mostly as underground cisterns for the storage of water--a most necessary provision in so poorly rain-fed a country as Egypt.

The south-eastern quarter, behind the Bruchion, is the centre of the Jewish colony, which dates back to the days of Alexander himself, and has never numbered less than 40,000 Hebrews.

The great open space to the left of the Bruchion is the Hippodrome or race-course, and further east still along the shore is the fashionable suburb of Nicopolis, where perchance Hypatia lives. On the other side of the city, beyond Rhacotis, is a huge cemetery adorned with innumerable statues and columns, and known as Necropolis.

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