Close by him stood the vacant, highly-ornamented chair of the high-priest, and next to him sat the priests arrived from Chennu, two tall, dark-colored old men. The remainder of the company was arranged in the order of precedency, which they held in the priests’ colleges, and which bore no relation to their respective ages.
But strictly as the guests were divided with reference to their rank, they mixed without distinction in the conversation.
“We know how to value our call to Thebes,” said the elder of the strangers from Chennu, Tuauf, whose essays were frequently used in the schools,—[Some of them are still in existence]—“for while, on one hand, it brings us into the neighborhood of the Pharaoh, where life, happiness, and safety flourish, on the other it procures us the honor of counting ourselves among your number; for, though the university of Chennu in former times was so happy as to bring up many great men, whom she could call her own, she can no longer compare with the House of Seti. Even Heliopolis and Memphis are behind you; and if I, my humble self, nevertheless venture boldly among you, it is because I ascribe your success as much to the active influence of the Divinity in your temple, which may promote my acquirements and achievements, as to your great gifts and your industry, in which I will not be behind you. I have already seen your high-priest Ameni—what a man! And who does not know thy name, Gagabu, or thine, Meriapu?”
“And which of you,” asked the other new-comer, may we greet as the author of the most beautiful hymn to Amon, which was ever sung in the land of the Sycamore? Which of you is Pentaur?”
“The empty chair yonder,” answered Gagabu, pointing to a seat at the lower end of the table, “is his. He is the youngest of us all, but a great future awaits him.”
“And his songs,” added the elder of the strangers. “Without doubt,” replied the chief of the haruspices,—[One of the orders of priests in the Egyptian hierarchy]—an old man with a large grey curly head, that seemed too heavy for his thin neck, which stretched forward—perhaps from the habit of constantly watching for signs—while his prominent eyes glowed with a fanatical gleam. “Without doubt the Gods have granted great gifts to our young friend, but it remains to be proved how he will use them. I perceive a certain freedom of thought in the youth, which pains me deeply. Although in his poems his flexible style certainly follows the prescribed forms, his ideas transcend all tradition; and even in the hymns intended for the ears of the people I find turns of thought, which might well be called treason to the mysteries which only a few months ago he swore to keep secret. For instance he says—and we sing— and the laity hear—
only art Thou, Thou Creator of beings;
And Thou only makest all that is created.