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We leaned over the rail, watching them and admiring the boatmen while we tried to recognize the native language. The Diplomat came along and informed us that it was Arabic, mixed with Italian, the former heavily predominating. The Arabs had once occupied the island for two hundred and twenty years, he said, and left their language, their architecture, and their customs. He had been trying his Arabic on some natives who had come aboard and they could almost understand it.
The Patriarch, who had been early on deck, came up full of enthusiasm. There was a Phoenician temple in Malta which he was dying to visit. It was the first real footprint, thus far, of his favorite tribe, and though we have learned to restrain the Patriarch when he unlimbers on Phoenicians, we let him get off this time, softened, -perhaps, by the thought of the ruined temple.
The Phoenicians had, of course, been the first settlers of Malta, he told us, thirty-five hundred years ago, when Rome had not been heard of and Greece was mere mythology; after which preliminary the Patriarch really got down to business.
"We are told by Sanchuniathon," he said, "in the Phoinikika, which was not only a cosmogony but a necrological diptych, translated into Greek by Philo of Byblus, with commentary by Porphyry and preserved by Eusebius in fragmentary form, that the Phoenicians laid the foundations of the world's arts, sciences, and religions, though the real character of their own faith has been but imperfectly expiscated. We are told-"
The Horse-Doctor laid his hand reverently but firmly on the Patriarch's arm.
"General,” he said (the Patriarch's ship title is General)--"General, we all love you, and we all respect your years and your learning. We will stand almost anything from you, even the Phænicians; but don't crowd us, General-don't take advantage of our goodnature. We'll try to put up with Sanchuniathon and Porphyry and those other old dubs, but when you turned loose that word 'expiscated' I nearly lost control of myself and threw you overboard."
The bugle blew the summons to go ashore. Amidst a clatter of Maltese we descended into the boats and started for the quay. Sitting thus low down upon the water, one could get an idea of the little shut-in harbor, one of the deepest and finest in the world. We could not see its outlet, or the open water, for the place is like a jug, and the sides are high and steep. They are all fortified, too, and looking up through the gloomy morning at the grim bastions and things, the place loomed sombre enough and did not invite enthusiasm. It was too much like Gibraltar in its atmosphere, which was not surprising, for it is an English stronghold—the second in importance in these waters. Gibraltar is the gateway, Malta is the citadel of the Mediterranean, and England to-day commands both.
But Malta has had a more picturesque history than Gibraltar. Its story has been not unlike that of Algiers, and many nations have fought for it and shed blood and romance along its shores, and on all the lands about. We touched mythology, too, here, for the first time; and Bible history. Long ago, even before the Phænicians, the Cyclops-a race of oneeyed giants-owned Malta, and here Calypso, daughter of Atlas, lived and enchanted Ulysses when he happened along this way and was shipwrecked on the “wooded island of Ogygia, far apart from men." I am glad they do not call it that any more.
It is hard to say Ogygia, and it is no longer a wooded isle. It is little more than a rock, in fact, covered with a thin, fertile soil, and there are hardly any trees to be discovered anywhere. But there were bowers and groves in Ulysses' time, and Calypso wooed him among the greenery and in a cave which is pointed out to this day. She promised him immortality if he would forget his wife and native land, and marry her, but Ulysses postponed his decision, and after a seven-year sample of the matrimony concluded he didn't care for perpetual existence on those terms.
Calypso bore him two sons, and when he sailed away died of grief. Ulysses returned to Penelope, but he was disqualified for the simple life of Ithaca, and after he had slain her insolent suitors and told everybody about his travels he longed to go sailing away again to other adventures and islands, and Calypsos, perhaps, “beyond the baths of all the western stars.” Such was life even then.
The Biblical interest of Malta concerns a shipwreck, too. St. Paul on his way to Italy to preach the gospel was caught in a great tempest, the Euroclydon, which continued for fourteen days. Acts xxvii, xxviii contain the story, which is very interesting and beautiful.
Here is a brief summary.
"And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up in the wind, we let her drive.
"And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay upon us, all hope that we should be saved was taken away.”
Paul comforted them and told how an angel had stood by him, assuring him that he, Paul, would appear before Cæsar and that all with him would be saved. “Howbeit, we must be cast upon a certain island."
The island was Melita (i.e., Malta), and "falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground.”
There were two hundred and sixteen souls in the vessel, and all got to land somehow.
"And the barbarous people showed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold."
Paul remained three months in Malta and preached the gospel and performed miracles there, which is a better record than Ulysses made. He also banished the poison snakes, it is said. It was the Euroclydon that swept the trees from Malta, and nineteen hundred years have not repaired the ravage of that storm.
Gods, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Germans, Spanish, Knights of Jerusalem, French, and English have all battled for Malta because of its position as a stronghold, a watch-tower between the eastern and western seas. All of them have fortified it more or less, until to-day it is a sort of
museum of military works, occupied and abandoned.
After the Gods, the Phoenicians were the first occupants, and with all due deference to the Patriarch, they were skedaddling out of Canaan at the time, because Joshua was transacting a little business in warfare which convinced them that it was time to grow up with new countries farther west.
The Knights of Jerusalem-also known as the Knights of St. John and the Knights of Rhodes—were the last romantic inheritors. The Knights were originally hospital nurses who looked after pilgrims that went to visit the Holy Sepulchre, nearly a thousand years ago. They became great soldiers in time: knightly crusaders with sacred vows of chastity and service to the Lord. Charles V. of Spain gave them the Island of Malta, and they became the Knights of Malta henceforth. They did not maintain their vows by and by, but became profligates and even pirates. Meantime they had rendered mighty service to the Mediterranean and the world at large.
They prevented the terrible Turk from overrunning and possessing all Europe. Under John de la Valette, the famous Grand Master, Malta stood a Turkish siege that lasted four months, with continuous assault and heavy bombardments. The Turks gave it up at last and sailed away, after a loss of over twenty thousand men.
Only seven thousand Maltese and two hundred and sixty knights were killed, and it is said that before he died each knight had anywhere from fifty to a hundred dead Turks to his credit. It must have been hard to