The Tour: A Story of Ancient Egypt
The night that hung over the sea was windless and blissfully silver-pure after the glowing splendour of the day; and the great quadrireme glided evenly and softly, as though upon a lake, under a wide firmament of stars. The thin horizon was purely outlined around the oval sea; and on this wide world there was nothing but the stars and the ship.
But the ship resounded with music. There was the constantly repeated melodious phrase of the three hundred rowers, soft and monotone, in a melancholy minor, with ever the same refrain, after which the boatswain gave out the chant, after which the chorus of rowers again threw back their long, hushed phrase of melancholy, the soft, monotonous accompaniment of the wearying work, the musical encouragement to repeat the same movement of the arms and the same bending of the body over the loins.
This music rose in a mournful swell from the ship’s lower deck and harmonizing with it was the soft stroke of the oars, which were like the legs of some graceful sea-animal; the ship herself, with her swanlike raised prow, suggested an elegant monster swimming through the lake-calm waters of that silvery night-world, a monster with a swan’s neck and hundreds of slender, evenly-moving legs and winged with two rose-yellow sails, which rose and bellied gently at the ship’s own motion, but did not swell, because the wind lay still.
While the great, winged navigium glided upon that harmony of slaves’ song and oar-strokes, there came from the rear half-deck the blither song of the sailors idling after their work. It sounded cheerful with deep, bass male voices, without the rowers’ melancholy; and there was one sailor who gave the time in a higher voice, for the seamen were at liberty to sing, but their singing must be artistically led, because melodious music meant a prosperous voyage and averted evil chances and did not let the shrill voices of the sirens ring from under the waters and because the pure sound of the human voice kept away the rocks drifting under the sea and compelled the sea-serpent to dive back into the deep.
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