The Ash of Centuries
and the Immortal Flame
(Autumn, 116 B.C.)
As night grew quiescent life sought repose in the City of the Sun¹, and lamps were extinguished in the dwellings strewn around the mighty temples that nestled in groves of olive and laurel trees. The moon rose, spilling its rays upon white marble pillars that, looming like titans in the quiet of the night, stood guard over the sacrificial altars of the gods. The columns gazed with wonder and bewilderment toward the towers of Lebanon, perched among rocky debris on the ridges of faraway hills.
In that hour filled with magic stillness, wherein slumbering souls are united with their infinite dreams, Nathan, the son of the High Priest Hiram, arrived bearing a torch and entered into the temple of Astarte.². Hands trembling, he lit the lamps and ignited the thuribles within, sending the aroma of myrrh and frankincense spiralling upward. He arrayed the idol of the adored one with a translucent veil, resembling the shroud of hope that encompasses the human heart, then genuflected before the altar embellished with leaves of ivory and gold. He raised his hands and looked toward the heavens, and from his eyes flowed rivulets of tears that begat streams. He cried out, in a voice rendered faint by painful travails and broken by cruel lovesickness:
"Thy compassion, O supreme Astarte! Compassion, O goddess of love and beauty. Have mercy upon me and stay thou the hand of death from my beloved, whom my soul has chosen in accordance with thy will. The philters and potions of the physicians have fallen.
The City of the Sun is Baalbek, that is, the City of Baal, the god of the sun. The ancients called it the City of the Sun or Heliopolis because it was built for the worship of this deity, and historians are agreed that it was the most beautiful city in Syria. As for the ruins that survive down to our day, most of them were built by the Romans after they had conquered Syria.
Astarte was a great goddess among the ancient Phoenicians, who worshipped her in Tyre and Sidon, in Jubayl and Baalbek. According to them, among her attributes are "igniter of the flame of life and guardian of youth." Greece borrowed her worship from the Phoenicians, calling her Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, and the Romans called her Venus.
Copyright @ Kahlil Gibran.