July 27, 2011 · 12:00 am
A depiction of the destruction of Pompeii from the documentary special Pompeii: The Last Day
Arbaces was created by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and appeared in The Last Days of Pompeii (1834). Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron of Knebworth (1803-1873) was a popular, productive, and influential writer for over 40 years. His reputation has unjustly suffered for many decades. Bulwer-Lytton also created Monsieur Favart, Margrave, Mr. Richards, Vril, and Zanoni.
The Last Days of Pompeii is about the lives of several characters in Pompeii in the final days before Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Two friends, Clodius, an effete Roman, and Glaucus, a popular Greek, are walking to the public baths when they see a beautiful, blind flower girl. She is obviously Greek, and this reminds Glaucus of another Greek woman he knew, who he had fallen in love with but had lost contact with. As Glaucus and Clodius speak they run into Arbaces, the Egyptian priest of Isis, a figure of power in Pompeii but one who is unlikable, and both Glaucus and Clodius detest him. Arbaces thinks little of either of them, for he hates the Romans and the Greeks and secretly prays for the return of Egypt to power. Until that time, however, he plots and schemes to accumulate personal power and indulge his own depraved tastes.
Arbaces is an Egyptian living in Pompeii. He is a magician, the “Lord of the Burning Girdle” and “he…from whom all cultivators of magic, from north to south, from east to west, from the Ganges and the Nile to the vales of Thessaly and the shores of the yellow Tiber, have stooped to learn.” In Pompeii he is a figure of fear and respect, in large part because he is rumored to wield the Evil Eye. He has contacts everywhere, especially among the Priests of Isis, whose chief Calenus is his servant and into whose company Arbaces personally inducts a number of priests. Arbaces is far more intelligent than everyone else around him, and even though his magic is humbug he is cunning enough to fool everyone with it.
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March 9, 2011 · 12:00 am
Cahina was created by Leo Charles Dessar and appears in A Royal Enchantress (1900). Dessar (1847-1924) was a New York judge who was a part of the corrupt Tammany Hall political system.
There was a real Cahina (alternatively, “Kahena” or “Kahina”), a Queen of the Berbers in the 7th and 8th Century C.E. who fought against the Muslim invasion. Gibbons wrote about her in Volume 2, Chapter 514 of his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
The Greeks were expelled, but the Arabians were not yet masters of the country. In the interior provinces the Moors or Berbers, so feeble under the first Caesars, so formidable to the Byzantine princes, maintained a disorderly resistance to the religion and power of the successors of Mohammed. Under the standard of their queen Cahina the independent tribes acquired some degree of union and discipline; and as the Moors respected in their females the character of a prophetess, they attacked the invaders with an enthusiasm similar to their own. The veteran bands of Hassan were inadequate to the defence of Africa: the conquests of an age were lost in a single day; and the Arabian chief overwhelmed by the torrent, retired to the confines of Egypt, and expected, five years, the promised succours of the caliph. After the retreat of the Saracens, the victorious prophetess assembled the Moorish chiefs, and recommended a measure of strange and savage policy.
“Our cities,” said she, “and the gold and silver which they contain, perpetually attract the arms of the Arabs. These vile metals are not the objects of our ambition; we content ourselves with the simple productions of the earth. Let us destroy these cities; let us bury in their ruins those pernicious treasures; and when the avarice of our foes shall be destitute of temptation, perhaps they will cease to disturb the tranquility of a warlike people.” The proposal was accepted with unanimous applause. From Tangier to Tripoli the buildings, or at least the fortifications, were demolished, the fruit trees were cut down, the means of subsistence were extirpated, fertile and populous garden was changed into desert, and the historians of a more recent period could discern the frequent traces of the prosperity and devastation of their ancestors. Such is the tale of the modern Arabians.
In the foreword to A Royal Enchantress Dessar wrote that he was struck by Gibbon’s passage: “the meager account of this beautiful Prophetess Queen of the Berbers was inspiring, yet irritating: it suggested so much, yet told so little.” From this Dessar spun an entertaining historical fantasy.
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