* * * * *
One of the holy men of Syria had passed many years of devotion in the wilderness, and was feeding on the leaves of trees. The king of that country, in the way of a pilgrimage, visited him, and said, “If you can see the propriety of removing into my capital I will prepare an abode, where you may perform your devotions more at ease than in this place, and others may benefit by the blessing of your spiritual communion, and be edified by the example of your pious labors.” The hermit was adverse to this advice, and turned away his face. One of the king’s ministers spoke to him, saying: “For the satisfaction of his Majesty, it were proper that you would for a few days remove into the city, and ascertain the nature of the place; when, if it should prove that your purity might be tarnished by coming in contact with the wicked, you have still the option left of moving back.”
It is reported that they prevailed on the hermit to accompany them into the city; and, in a garden near the sacred residence of the king, prepared for him a dwelling, which, like the mansions of paradise, was rejoicing the heart, and exhilarating the soul.—Its damask roses were blooming as the cheeks of the lovely, and its tufted spikenard like the ringlets of our mistresses. It had as much to fear from the angry blasts of winter as the babe who has not yet tasted its nurse’s milk: boughs of trees on which hung crimson flowers, that gleamed like a flame amidst their dusky foliage.
Forthwith the king sent him a moon-faced damsel.—Such was this delicate crescent of the moon, and fascination of the holy, this form of an angel, and decoration of a peacock, that let them once behold her, and continence must cease to exist in the constitutions of the chaste.
And, in like manner, there followed her a youth of such rare beauty and exquisite symmetry, that the powerful grasp of his charms had broken the wrists of the pious, and tied up behind their backs the arms of the upright.—Mankind stand around him parched with thirst, whilst he, who seems thy cup-bearer, will give thee no drink.—The eye could not be satiated by beholding him, like the dropsical man with water by looking at the river Euphrates.
The hermit began to relish dainty food, and to wear sumptuous apparel; to regale himself with fruits, perfumes, and sweetmeats; and to behold with delight the charms of the handmaid and bondsman. And the wise have said, “The ringlets of the lovely are a chain on the feet of reason, and a snare for the bird of wisdom.”—To the mystery of thy service I devoted my heart, religion, and all my mental faculties; verily, I am now the bird of reason, and thou art the lure and bait.
In short, the good fortune of his many years of sanctity ran to waste, as has been said:—“Whatever he had laid up from theologician, sage, or saint, or of recondite knowledge from the eloquent and pure of spirit, now that he had stooped to mix with a vile world, like the feet of a fly he got entangled in its honey.”