Four Beasts In One- The Homo-Cameleopard by Edgar Allan Poe


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1850
FOUR BEASTS IN ONE- THE HOMO-CAMELEOPARD
by Edgar Allan Poe

Chacun a ses vertus.
CREBILLON’S Xerxes.

ANTIOCHUS EPIPHANES is very generally looked upon as the Gog of
the prophet Ezekiel. This honor is, however, more properly
attributable to Cambyses, the son of Cyrus. And, indeed, the character
of the Syrian monarch does by no means stand in need of any
adventitious embellishment. His accession to the throne, or rather his
usurpation of the sovereignty, a hundred and seventy-one years
before the coming of Christ; his attempt to plunder the temple of
Diana at Ephesus; his implacable hostility to the Jews; his
pollution of the Holy of Holies; and his miserable death at Taba,
after a tumultuous reign of eleven years, are circumstances of a
prominent kind, and therefore more generally noticed by the historians
of his time than the impious, dastardly, cruel, silly, and whimsical
achievements which make up the sum total of his private life and
reputation.

Let us suppose, gentle reader, that it is now the year of the
world three thousand eight hundred and thirty, and let us, for a few
minutes, imagine ourselves at that most grotesque habitation of man,
the remarkable city of Antioch. To be sure there were, in Syria and
other countries, sixteen cities of that appellation, besides the one
to which I more particularly allude. But ours is that which went by
the name of Antiochia Epidaphne, from its vicinity to the little
village of Daphne, where stood a temple to that divinity. It was built
(although about this matter there is some dispute) by Seleucus
Nicanor, the first king of the country after Alexander the Great, in
memory of his father Antiochus, and became immediately the residence
of the Syrian monarchy. In the flourishing times of the Roman
Empire, it was the ordinary station of the prefect of the eastern
provinces; and many of the emperors of the queen city (among whom
may be mentioned, especially, Verus and Valens) spent here the greater
part of their time. But I perceive we have arrived at the city itself.
Let us ascend this battlement, and throw our eyes upon the town and
neighboring country.
“What broad and rapid river is that which forces its way, with
innumerable falls, through the mountainous wilderness, and finally
through the wilderness of buildings?”
That is the Orontes, and it is the only water in sight, with the
exception of the Mediterranean, which stretches, like a broad
mirror, about twelve miles off to the southward. Every one has seen
the Mediterranean; but let me tell you, there are few who have had a
peep at Antioch. By few, I mean, few who, like you and me, have had,
at the same time, the advantages of a modern education. Therefore
cease to regard that sea, and give your whole attention to the mass of
houses that lie beneath us. You will remember that it is now the
year of the world three thousand eight hundred and thirty. Were it
later- for example, were it the year of our Lord eighteen hundred
and forty-five, we should be deprived of this extraordinary spectacle.
In the nineteenth century Antioch is- that is to say, Antioch will be-
in a lamentable state of decay. It will have been, by that time,
totally destroyed, at three different periods, by three successive
earthquakes. Indeed, to say the truth, what little of its former
self may then remain, will be found in so desolate and ruinous a state
that the patriarch shall have removed his residence to Damascus.
This is well. I see you profit by my advice, and are making the most
of your time in inspecting the premises- in

-satisfying your eyes
With the memorials and the things of fame
That most renown this city.-

I beg pardon; I had forgotten that Shakespeare will not flourish for
seventeen hundred and fifty years to come. But does not the appearance
of Epidaphne justify me in calling it grotesque?
“It is well fortified; and in this respect is as much indebted to
nature as to art.”
Very true.
“There are a prodigious number of stately palaces.”
There are.
“And the numerous temples, sumptuous and magnificent, may bear
comparison with the most lauded of antiquity.”
All this I must acknowledge. Still there is an infinity of mud huts,
and abominable hovels. We cannot help perceiving abundance of filth in
every kennel, and, were it not for the over-powering fumes of
idolatrous incense, I have no doubt we should find a most
intolerable stench. Did you ever behold streets so insufferably
narrow, or houses so miraculously tall? What gloom their shadows
cast upon the ground! It is well the swinging lamps in those endless
colonnades are kept burning throughout the day; we should otherwise
have the darkness of Egypt in the time of her desolation.
“It is certainly a strange place! What is the meaning of yonder
singular building? See! it towers above all others, and lies to the
eastward of what I take to be the royal palace.”
That is the new Temple of the Sun, who is adored in Syria under
the title of Elah Gabalah. Hereafter a very notorious Roman Emperor
will institute this worship in Rome, and thence derive a cognomen,
Heliogabalus. I dare say you would like to take a peep at the divinity
of the temple. You need not look up at the heavens; his Sunship is not
there- at least not the Sunship adored by the Syrians. That deity will
be found in the interior of yonder building. He is worshipped under
the figure of a large stone pillar terminating at the summit in a cone
or pyramid, whereby is denoted Fire.
“Hark- behold!- who can those ridiculous beings be, half naked, with
their faces painted, shouting and gesticulating to the rabble?”
Some few are mountebanks. Others more particularly belong to the
race of philosophers. The greatest portion, however- those
especially who belabor the populace with clubs- are the principal
courtiers of the palace, executing as in duty bound, some laudable
comicality of the king’s.
“But what have we here? Heavens! the town is swarming with wild
beasts! How terrible a spectacle!- how dangerous a peculiarity!”
Terrible, if you please; but not in the least degree dangerous. Each
animal if you will take the pains to observe, is following, very
quietly, in the wake of its master. Some few, to be sure, are led with
a rope about the neck, but these are chiefly the lesser or timid
species. The lion, the tiger, and the leopard are entirely without
restraint. They have been trained without difficulty to their
present profession, and attend upon their respective owners in the
capacity of valets-de-chambre. It is true, there are occasions when
Nature asserts her violated dominions;- but then the devouring of a
man-at-arms, or the throttling of a consecrated bull, is a
circumstance of too little moment to be more than hinted at in
Epidaphne.
“But what extraordinary tumult do I hear? Surely this is a loud
noise even for Antioch! It argues some commotion of unusual interest.”
Yes- undoubtedly. The king has ordered some novel spectacle- some
gladiatorial exhibition at the hippodrome- or perhaps the massacre
of the Scythian prisoners- or the conflagration of his new palace-
or the tearing down of a handsome temple- or, indeed, a bonfire of a
few Jews. The uproar increases. Shouts of laughter ascend the skies.
The air becomes dissonant with wind instruments, and horrible with
clamor of a million throats. Let us descend, for the love of fun,
and see what is going on! This way- be careful! Here we are in the
principal street, which is called the street of Timarchus. The sea
of people is coming this way, and we shall find a difficulty in
stemming the tide. They are pouring through the alley of Heraclides,
which leads directly from the palace;- therefore the king is most
probably among the rioters. Yes;- I hear the shouts of the herald
proclaiming his approach in the pompous phraseology of the East. We
shall have a glimpse of his person as he passes by the temple of
Ashimah. Let us ensconce ourselves in the vestibule of the
sanctuary; he will be here anon. In the meantime let us survey this
image. What is it? Oh! it is the god Ashimah in proper person. You
perceive, however, that he is neither a lamb, nor a goat, nor a satyr,
neither has he much resemblance to the Pan of the Arcadians. Yet all
these appearances have been given- I beg pardon- will be given- by the
learned of future ages, to the Ashimah of the Syrians. Put on your
spectacles, and tell me what it is. What is it?
“Bless me! it is an ape!”
True- a baboon; but by no means the less a deity. His name is a
derivation of the Greek Simia- what great fools are antiquarians!
But see!- see!- yonder scampers a ragged little urchin. Where is he
going? What is he bawling about? What does he say? Oh! he says the
king is coming in triumph; that he is dressed in state; that he has
just finished putting to death, with his own hand, a thousand
chained Israelitish prisoners! For this exploit the ragamuffin is
lauding him to the skies. Hark! here comes a troop of a similar
description. They have made a Latin hymn upon the valor of the king,
and are singing it as they go:

Mille, mille, mille,
Mille, mille, mille,
Decollavimus, unus homo!
Mille, mille, mille, mille, decollavimus!
Mille, mille, mille,
Vivat qui mille mille occidit!
Tantum vini habet nemo
Quantum sanguinis effudit!*

Which may be thus paraphrased:

A thousand, a thousand, a thousand,
A thousand, a thousand, a thousand,
We, with one warrior, have slain!
A thousand, a thousand, a thousand, a thousand.
Sing a thousand over again!
Soho!- let us sing
Long life to our king,
Who knocked over a thousand so fine!
Soho!- let us roar,
He has given us more
Red gallons of gore
Than all Syria can furnish of wine!

* Flavius Vospicus says, that the hymn here introduced was sung by
the rabble upon the occasion of Aurelian, in the Sarmatic war, having
slain, with his own hand, nine hundred and fifty of the enemy.

“Do you hear that flourish of trumpets?”
Yes: the king is coming! See! the people are aghast with admiration,
and lift up their eyes to the heavens in reverence. He comes;- he is
coming;- there he is!
“Who?- where?- the king?- do not behold him- cannot say that I
perceive him.”
Then you must be blind.
“Very possible. Still I see nothing but a tumultuous mob of idiots
and madmen, who are busy in prostrating themselves before a gigantic
cameleopard, and endeavoring to obtain a kiss of the animal’s hoofs.
See! the beast has very justly kicked one of the rabble over- and
another- and another- and another. Indeed, I cannot help admiring
the animal for the excellent use he is making of his feet.”
Rabble, indeed!- why these are the noble and free citizens of
Epidaphne! Beasts, did you say?- take care that you are not
overheard. Do you not perceive that the animal has the visage of a
man? Why, my dear sir, that cameleopard is no other than Antiochus
Epiphanes, Antiochus the Illustrious, King of Syria, and the most
potent of all the autocrats of the East! It is true, that he is
entitled, at times, Antiochus Epimanes- Antiochus the madman- but
that is because all people have not the capacity to appreciate his
merits. It is also certain that he is at present ensconced in the
hide of a beast, and is doing his best to play the part of a
cameleopard; but this is done for the better sustaining his dignity
as king. Besides, the monarch is of gigantic stature, and the dress
is therefore neither unbecoming nor over large. We may, however,
presume he would not have adopted it but for some occasion of
especial state. Such, you will allow, is the massacre of a thousand
Jews. With how superior a dignity the monarch perambulates on all
fours! His tail, you perceive, is held aloft by his two principal
concubines, Elline and Argelais; and his whole appearance would be
infinitely prepossessing, were it not for the protuberance of his
eyes, which will certainly start out of his head, and the queer
color of his face, which has become nondescript from the quantity of
wine he has swallowed. Let us follow him to the hippodrome, whither
he is proceeding, and listen to the song of triumph which he is
commencing:

Who is king but Epiphanes?
Say- do you know?
Who is king but Epiphanes?
Bravo!- bravo!
There is none but Epiphanes,
No- there is none:
So tear down the temples,
And put out the sun!

Well and strenuously sung! The populace are hailing him ‘Prince of
Poets,’ as well as ‘Glory of the East,’ ‘Delight of the Universe,’
and ‘Most Remarkable of Cameleopards.’ They have encored his
effusion, and do you hear?- he is singing it over again. When he
arrives at the hippodrome, he will be crowned with the poetic wreath,
in anticipation of his victory at the approaching Olympics.
“But, good Jupiter! what is the matter in the crowd behind us?”
Behind us, did you say?- oh! ah!- I perceive. My friend, it is well
that you spoke in time. Let us get into a place of safety as soon as
possible. Here!- let us conceal ourselves in the arch of this
aqueduct, and I will inform you presently of the origin of the
commotion. It has turned out as I have been anticipating. The
singular appearance of the cameleopard and the head of a man, has, it
seems, given offence to the notions of propriety entertained, in
general, by the wild animals domesticated in the city. A mutiny has
been the result; and, as is usual upon such occasions, all human
efforts will be of no avail in quelling the mob. Several of the
Syrians have already been devoured; but the general voice of the
four-footed patriots seems to be for eating up the cameleopard. ‘The
Prince of Poets,’ therefore, is upon his hinder legs, running for his
life. His courtiers have left him in the lurch, and his concubines
have followed so excellent an example. ‘Delight of the Universe,’
thou art in a sad predicament! ‘Glory of the East,’ thou art in
danger of mastication! Therefore never regard so piteously thy tail;
it will undoubtedly be draggled in the mud, and for this there is no
help. Look not behind thee, then, at its unavoidable degradation; but
take courage, ply thy legs with vigor, and scud for the hippodrome!
Remember that thou art Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus the
Illustrious!- also ‘Prince of Poets,’ ‘Glory of the East,’ ‘Delight
of the Universe,’ and ‘Most Remarkable of Cameleopards!’ Heavens!
what a power of speed thou art displaying! What a capacity for
leg-bail thou art developing! Run, Prince!- Bravo, Epiphanes! Well
done, Cameleopard!- Glorious Antiochus!- He runs!- he leaps!- he
flies! Like an arrow from a catapult he approaches the hippodrome! He
leaps!- he shrieks!- he is there! This is well; for hadst thou,
‘Glory of the East,’ been half a second longer in reaching the gates
of the Amphitheatre, there is not a bear’s cub in Epidaphne that
would not have had a nibble at thy carcase. Let us be off- let us
take our departure!- for we shall find our delicate modern ears
unable to endure the vast uproar which is about to commence in
celebration of the king’s escape! Listen! it has already commenced.
See!- the whole town is topsy-turvy.
“Surely this is the most populous city of the East! What a
wilderness of people! what a jumble of all ranks and ages! what a
multiplicity of sects and nations! what a variety of costumes! what
a Babel of languages! what a screaming of beasts! what a tinkling of
instruments! what a parcel of philosophers!”
Come let us be off.
“Stay a moment! I see a vast hubbub in the hippodrome; what is the
meaning of it, I beseech you?”
That?- oh, nothing! The noble and free citizens of Epidaphne
being, as they declare, well satisfied of the faith, valor, wisdom,
and divinity of their king, and having, moreover, been eye-witnesses
of his late superhuman agility, do think it no more than their duty
to invest his brows (in addition to the poetic crown) with the wreath
of victory in the footrace- a wreath which it is evident he must
obtain at the celebration of the next Olympiad, and which,
therefore, they now give him in advance.
THE END

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