The waters of the Nile had begun to rise again. Two months had passed away since Phanes’ disappearance, and much had happened.
The very day on which he left Egypt, Sappho had given birth to a girl, and had so far regained strength since then under the care of her grandmother, as to be able to join in an excursion up the Nile, which Croesus had suggested should take place on the festival of the goddess Neith. Since the departure of Phanes, Cambyses’ behavior had become so intolerable, that Bartja, with the permission of his brother, had taken Sappho to live in the royal palace at Memphis, in order to escape any painful collision. Rhodopis, at whose house Croesus and his son, Bartja, Darius and Zopyrus were constant guests, had agreed to join the party.
On the morning of the festival-day they started in a gorgeously decorated boat, from a point between thirty and forty miles below Memphis, favored by a good north-wind and urged rapidly forward by a large number of rowers.
A wooden roof or canopy, gilded and brightly painted, sheltered them from the sun. Croesus sat by Rhodopis, Theopompus the Milesian lay at her feet. Sappho was leaning against Bartja. Syloson, the brother of Polykrates, had made himself a comfortable resting-place next to Darius, who was looking thought fully into the water. Gyges and Zopyrus busied themselves in making wreaths for the women, from the flowers handed them by an Egyptian slave.
“It seems hardly possible,” said Bartja, “that we can be rowing against the stream. The boat flies like a swallow.”
“This fresh north-wind brings us forward,” answered Theopompus. “And then the Egyptian boatmen understand their work splendidly.”
“And row all the better just because we are sailing against the stream,” added Croesus. “Resistance always brings out a man’s best powers.”
“Yes,” said Rhodopis, “sometimes we even make difficulties, if the river of life seems too smooth.”
“True,” answered Darius. “A noble mind can never swim with the stream. In quiet inactivity all men are equal. We must be seen fighting, to be rightly estimated.”
“Such noble-minded champions must be very cautious, though,” said Rhodopis, “lest they become contentious, and quarrelsome. Do you see those melons lying on the black soil yonder, like golden balls? Not one would have come to perfection if the sower had been too lavish with his seed. The fruit would have been choked by too luxuriant tendrils and leaves. Man is born to struggle and to work, but in this, as in everything else, he must know how to be moderate if his efforts are to succeed. The art of true wisdom is to keep within limits.”
“Oh, if Cambyses could only hear you!” exclaimed Croesus. “Instead of being contented with his immense conquests, and now thinking for the welfare of his subjects, he has all sorts of distant plans in his head. He wishes to conquer the entire world, and yet, since Phanes left, scarcely a day has passed in which he has not been conquered himself by the Div of drunkenness.”