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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Thomyris on the warpath


Having

thus created a sort of "deadlock" situation such as she loves, and in the interval, while Cyrus is gathering forces to attack Thomyris, the author, as is her fashion likewise, surrenders herself to the joys of digression. We have a great deal of retrospective history of Aryante, and at last the famous Scythian philosopher, Anacharsis, is introduced, bringing with him the rest of the Seven Ancient Sages--with whom we could dispense, but are not allowed to do so. There is a Banquet of them all at the end of the first volume of the Part; and they overflow into the second, telling stories about Pisistratus and others, and discussing "love in the _aib_-stract," as frigidly as might be expected, on such points as, "Can you love the same person _twice_?"[184] But the last half of this IX. ii. is fortunately business again. There is much hard fighting with Thomyris, who on one occasion wishes to come to actual sword-play with Cyrus, and of whom we have the liveliest _ecphrasis_, or set description, in the whole romance.

[Sidenote: Thomyris on the warpath.]

As for Thomyris, she was so beautiful that day that there was no one in the world save Mandane, who could have disputed a heart with her[185] without the risk of losing. This Princess was mounted on a fine black horse, trapped with gold; her dress was of cloth of gold, with green panels shot with a little carnation, and was of the

shape of that of Pallas when she is represented as armed. The skirt was caught up on the hip with diamond clasps, and showed buskins of lions' muzzles made to correspond with the rest. Her head-dress was adorned with jewels, and a great number of feathers--carnation, white and green--hung over her beautiful fair tresses, while these, fluttering at the wind's will, mixed themselves with the plumes as she turned her head, and with their careless curls gave a marvellous lustre to her beauty. Besides, as her sleeves were turned up, and caught on the shoulder, while she held the bridle of her horse with one hand and her sword with the other, she showed the loveliest arms in the world. Anger had flushed her complexion, so that she was more beautiful than usual; and the joy of once more seeing Cyrus, and seeing him also in an action respectful towards her,[186] effaced the marks of her immediately preceding fury so completely that he could see nothing but what was amiable and charming.

Thomyris, however, is as treacherous and cruel as she is beautiful; and part of her reason for seeming milder is that more of her troops may turn up and seize him.

On another occasion, owing to false generalship and disorderly advance on the part of the King of Hyrcania, Cyrus is in no small danger, but he "makes good," though at a disastrous expense, and with still greater dangers to meet. Thomyris's youthful son (for young and beautiful widow as she is, she has been an early married wife and a mother), Spargapises, just of military age, is captured in battle, suffers from his captors' ignorance what has been called "the indelible insult of bonds," and though almost instantly released as soon as he is known, stabs himself as disgraced. His body is sent to his mother with all sorts of honours, apologies, and regrets, but she, partly out of natural feeling, partly from her excited state, and partly because her mind is poisoned by false insinuations, sends, after transports of maternal and other rage, a message to Cyrus to the effect that if he does not put himself unreservedly in her hands, she will send him back Mandane dead, in the coffin of Spargapises. And so the last double-volume but one ends with a suitable "fourth act" curtain, as we may perhaps call it.


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