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with public affairs, and placed under the strict surveillance of Salome, the sister of Herod, whose mind was scarcely less powerful, or astute, than her own. Alexandra saw the danger of her position, and the hollowness of the protection offered to her son by the usurper of his crown; and again she applied to her truest friend and natural ally, the Queen of Egypt, for aid and counsel. Cleopatra, in answer, suggested that there was no safety for herself, or for Aristobulus, save in flight; and that nothing could be done for them and their cause, until they were both under her immediate protection, in Egypt.
The example of Cleopatra, as well as her advice, was adopted by Alexandra. The stratagem by which the Egyptian queen had once effected her own escape from the enemies of her crown and life, to the camp of Cæsar, was imitated by Alexandra. She had two coffers constructed, one to inclose her son, another for herself; a vessel was prepared by her secret agents to embark these cases for Egypt at midnight, and the conduct of the enterprise was committed to Esop, the most faithful and ingenious of her servants.
When all was ready, the lids were closed on the precious deposits, and the coffers, borne on men's shoulders, passed uninterruptedly the gates of her palace. There, however, they were stopped and opened, by order of Herod, and the unfortunate Alexandra and her son arrested for Salome, in her ceaseless vigilance, had discovered all. Herod, affecting only to be amused by the ingenious stratagem, again forgave and embraced his mother-in-law; and seemed rather to despise, than to fear, the schemes of persons so impotent and so enthralled.
Shortly after, Herod resolved on celebrating the Jewish feast of tabernacles in public, with the people of all sects and classes. The gorgeous spirit of Solomon seemed revived. The temple of Jerusalem shone forth in its original glory; the young grand sacrificer, Aristobulus, appeared before its altars, habited in the costly and picturesque splendour of his holy vocation, "to offer sacrifices to God, with the ceremonies ordained by the law."
Aristobulus was but seventeen; but his stature (like Saul's, at the same age,) surpassed that of other men ;
and his extraordinary beauty shone out so brightly, with the majesty of air peculiar to his race,* that_the eyes of the multitude, were fixed on him, with an affection and admiration, approaching to religious awe. The national prestige in favour of his family, the remembrance of the wrongs and valour of his grandfather, Aristobulus, and of his father, Alexander, (both victims to domestic intrigue and Roman power,) and, above all, the recollection of the wise and prosperous reign of his great-grandmother, Alexandra, with the presence of his beautiful and high-spirited sister, and of his august and devoted mother, gave to the acclamations of the Jews a frenzy of enthusiasm, which Herod, the destroyer of that beloved race, the usurper of those honours, could not misunderstand. The feast of tabernacles, however, passed away triumphantly for the young pontiff; and Alexandra was permitted to follow it up by giving a royal fête at her villa at Jericho, to which Herod accepted an invitation.
The pleasure of the day, and the magnificence of the scene, recalled the tradition of " the palace of the forest of cedars," in the great days of Jerusalem. Herod entered into all the revels of the young and the pleasure-seeking; and when the increasing heats of the noontide hour dispersed the guests amid the umbrageous groves fringing the lakes and ponds of a site of oriental loveliness, the king, accompanied by Aristobulus, and some of the royal suite, sought the shades on the water edge. Some threw themselves under the trees; others, in frolic sport, plunged into the deep waters of the lakes: Aristobulus was among the latter; but he alone sunk, to rise no more with life.
At the sight of his dead body, the grief of Alexandra and Mariamne amounted to the wildest frenzy; they suspected with reason, and they denounced with imprudence. When the death of Aristobulus was known, the city of Jerusalem was plunged in such deep grief, that every family gave to this public loss the sorrows of a private misfortune. Herod, also, wept the death of his young brother-in-law, the Lord's anointed; and Alexandra, after a frustrated attempt to destroy herself, suddenly recovered
Josephus, book xv. chap. iii.
her resignation, and seemed to believe in the sincerity of the king's regrets. These were demonstrated by all the marks of affection and respect that could be given in honour of the dead; the funeral obsequies of the last prince and pontiff of the Asmoneans were celebrated with more than royal magnificence: the most precious perfumes were burnt on his tomb, and the most splendid ornaments enriched it.
But Alexandra from that moment lived only for vengeance. She wrote to Cleopatra the details of the death of her murdered son, accused Herod of the crime, and called on the Queen of Egypt, as a woman, a mother, and a sovereign, to avenge it. Cleopatra testified the most active sympathy in her behalf, implored Mark Antony to avenge so heinous a crime: and she who never implored in vain, was not now unsuccessful. "It was you," said Cleopatra, "who placed this usurper Herod on the throne of the young prince he has murdered,* and you are answerable for the crime if you do not avenge it.”
Antony hastened to Laodicea, and cited Herod to appear before him, to answer the awful accusation. Herod saw his danger; and believing that Cleopatra, Alexandra, and Mariamne, the three fates that overruled his destiny, had laid a deep conspiracy against his life, and that certain death awaited him, his rage and jealousy resolved themselves into the dark design of binding up the life of the too well-beloved Mariamne with his own. He consigned to his sister Salome and her husband, Joseph (whom he left regent of Palestine), the order that, in the event of his own death, the execution of Mariamne should instantly follow. He loved her with that intense passion (says Josephus,) and he so feared that the designs of Antony were on the person of the sister, and not to revenge the death of the brother, that he resolved at once to avenge himself, and to prevent any other from possessing her.
Scarcely had Herod arrived at Laodicea, when the report reached Jerusalem that he had been put to death by Mark Antony. Joseph, in love, or in compassion, had betrayed to Mariamne the orders of her ferocious husband; and
* Josephus, book xv. chap. xi.
Alexandra, who had shared this perilous confidence, had taken measures for placing the young queen and her two sons under the protection of the Roman eagles, (the army of Julius being then encamped in the suburbs of Jerusa lem). She was already hastening away with her precious charge, when Herod, to the consternation of many, and the surprise of all, suddenly appeared in his palace in Jerusalem, and threw himself at the feet of Mariamne, more powerful and more enamoured than ever. But the feelings of this unhappy Hebrew princess had now overcome all discretion; and she spurned from her presence, with expressions of hatred and indignation, the master of her destiny, reproaching him with his intention of consummating the destruction of her family, by her own murder.
The treacherous arts of Salome, and the immediate execution of her husband Joseph, the mock trial of Mariamne for a conspiracy against the life and throne of her hus band, filled up the measure of this historic domestic tra gedy. Mariamne was condemned to death, and she died with the calmness of an infant, and the heroism of a martyr;" testifying (says Josephus) the same noble spirit at the moment of her death, which had ennobled her life."
Alexandra now stood alone-childless! She appeared at the trial and execution of her daughter in a state of frantic delirium, furious and prominent among the accusers of that idol and innocent victim, and apparently ready to anticipate the executioner in his office of blood. Some believed that this hallucination was only assumed to soften the heart of Herod, or throw him off his guard; and others thought that it was the degradation of a great, but broken spirit, seeking, by unworthy arts, to preserve the fragment of her own life. Alexandra may have, indeed, still wished to live; for her last act showed she had still something to live for-vengeance! The murderer of her husband, brother, son, daughter, kindred, and friends, still existed; and her wrongs were unavenged!
Whatever had been the violence of Herod's passion for Mariamne during her life, it augmented in intensity after her death. Haunted by his crime and his love, he was said to have become frantic by remorse and affection. He went from one excess of grief and rage to another;
and the violence of his regrets and of his contrition drove him from public life. He abandoned the government of Judea (at the moment it was afflicted by a plague, which he and the nation alike considered as a judgment;) and he flew to the deserts of Samaria, where he was seized with an inflammation of the brain, and with other symptoms beyond the reach of his physician's skill.
It was then that Alexandra recovered her powers of action, and appeared in all her old pertinacity of spirit, and subtilty of resource. She summoned the governor of the two fortresses which dominated Jerusalem, (the one in the heart of the city, the other near the temple, which together commanded the whole country) to surrender them, in the name of the two sons of Herod and of Mariamne; she called on the troops and their officers, and, above all, she called upon the people, to protect the rights of their lineal princes and pontiffs, and to defend their country and their religion; and, struggling for both to the last, with the valour of Judith, and the patriotism of Esther, she fell before a force, against which her spirit and her energies were vainly opposed. Achiab, the nephew of Herod and governor of the citadel, sent a secret intima. tion of the conduct of Alexandra to the mad and dying king. Her name roused his fierce energy, acting like a spell upon his prostrated spirit; and, with the first gleam of returning reason, or of habitual cruelty, he expedited an order for her instant death.
Thus fell Alexandra, the last of the heroic female patriots of Israel—a memorable manifestation of mind under the influence of the outraged affections of maternity, a martyr to physical violence, directed against her rights and life by the passions of man in his high mastery over all, save himself! Herod lived on, feared and execrated; and died a dreadful death, to be cursed to all posterity. The victim of his victims, he "never (says the most favourable of all his historians) recovered his mind, or held any power over his infuriate passions, after the murder of Mariamne;" until, at length, he whom Augustus called "friend," and the world called "great," imbued his hands in the blood of his own sons, and became known to posterity by scarcely any other cognomen, than that well befitting an infanticide" the murderer of the innocents,"