On this moonlight night in the year 528 B. C. a bark was crossing the almost currentless Canopic mouth of the Nile. On the raised deck at the stern of this boat an Egyptian was sitting to guide the long pole-rudder, and the half-naked boatmen within were singing as they rowed. In the open cabin, which was something like a wooden summer-house, sat two men, reclining on low cushions. They were evidently not Egyptians; their Greek descent could be perceived even by the moonlight. The elder was an unusually tall and powerful man of more than sixty; thick grey curls, showing very little attempt at arrangement, hung down over his short, firm throat; he wore a simple, homely cloak, and kept his eyes gloomily fixed on the water. His companion, on the contrary, a man perhaps twenty years younger, of a slender and delicate build, was seldom still. Sometimes he gazed into the heavens, sometimes made a remark to the steersman, disposed his beautiful purple chlanis in fresh folds, or busied himself in the arrangement of his scented brown curls, or his carefully curled beard.
[The chlanis was a light summer-mantle, worn especially by the more elegant Athenians, and generally made of expensive materials. The simpler cloak, the himation, was worn by the Doric Greeks, and principally by the Spartans.]
The boat had left Naukratis, at that time the only Hellenic port in Egypt, about half an hour before.
[This town, which will form the scene of a part of our tale, lies in the northwest of the Nile Delta, in the Saitic Nomos or district, on the left bank of the Canopic mouth of the river. According to Strabo and Eusebius it was founded by Milesians, and Bunsen reckons 749 B. C. It seems that in the earliest times Greek ships were only allowed to enter this mouth of the Nile in case of necessity. The entire intercourse