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Chapter 54

They Visit The Great Central Temple Of Vivenza


The throng that greeted us upon landing were exceedingly boisterous.

"Whence came ye?" they cried. "Whither bound? Saw ye ever such a land
as this? Is it not a great and extensive republic? Pray, observe how
tall we are; just feel of our thighs; Are we not a glorious people?
Here, feel of our beards. Look round; look round; be not afraid;
Behold those palms; swear now, that this land surpasses all others.
Old Bello's mountains are mole-hills to ours; his rivers, rills; his
empires, villages; his palm-trees, shrubs."

"True," said Babbalanja. "But great Oro must have had some hand in
making your mountains and streams.--Would ye have been as great in a
desert?"

"Where is your king?" asked Media, drawing himself up in his robe, and
cocking his crown.

"Ha, ha, my fine fellow! We are all kings here; royalty breathes in
the common air. But come on, come on. Let us show you our great Temple
of Freedom."

And so saying, irreverently grasping his sacred arm, they conducted us
toward a lofty structure, planted upon a bold hill, and supported by
thirty pillars of palm; four quite green; as if recently added; and
beyond these, an almost interminable vacancy, as if all the palms in
Mardi, were at some future time, to aid in upholding that fabric.

Upon the summit of the temple was a staff; and as we drew nigh, a man
with a collar round his neck, and the red marks of stripes upon his
back, was just in the act of hoisting a tappa standard--
correspondingly striped. Other collared menials were going in and out
of the temple.

Near the porch, stood an image like that on the top of the arch we had
seen. Upon its pedestal, were pasted certain hieroglyphical notices;
according to Mohi, offering rewards for missing men, so many hands high.

Entering the temple, we beheld an amphitheatrical space, in the middle
of which, a great fire was burning. Around it, were many chiefs, robed
in long togas, and presenting strange contrasts in their style of
tattooing.

Some were sociably laughing, and chatting; others diligently making
excavations between their teeth with slivers of bamboo; or turning
their heads into mills, were grinding up leaves and ejecting their
juices. Some were busily inserting the down of a thistle into their
ears. Several stood erect, intent upon maintaining striking attitudes;
their javelins tragically crossed upon their chests. They would have
looked very imposing, were it not, that in rear their vesture was
sadly disordered. Others, with swelling fronts, seemed chiefly
indebted to their dinners for their dignity. Many were nodding and
napping. And, here and there, were sundry indefatigable worthies,
making a great show of imperious and indispensable business;

sedulously folding banana leaves into scrolls, and recklessly placing
them into the hands of little boys, in gay turbans and trim little
girdles, who thereupon fled as if with salvation for the dying.

It was a crowded scene; the dusky chiefs, here and there, grouped
together, and their fantastic tattooings showing like the carved work
on quaint old chimney-stacks, seen from afar. But one of their number
overtopped all the rest. As when, drawing nigh unto old Rome, amid the
crowd of sculptured columns and gables, St. Peter's grand dome soars
far aloft, serene in the upper air; so, showed one calm grand forehead
among those of this mob of chieftains. That head was Saturnina's. Gall
and Spurzheim! saw you ever such a brow?--poised like an avalanche,
under the shadow of a forest! woe betide the devoted valleys
below! Lavatar! behold those lips,--like mystic scrolls! Those eyes,--
like panthers' caves at the base of Popocatepetl!

"By my right hand, Saturnina," cried Babbalanja, "but thou wert made
in the image of thy Maker! Yet, have I beheld men, to the eye as
commanding as thou; and surmounted by heads globe-like as thine, who
never had thy caliber. We must measure brains, not heads, my lord; else,
the sperm whale, with his tun of an occiput, would transcend us all."

Near by, were arched ways, leading to subterranean places, whence
issued a savory steam, and an extraordinary clattering of calabashes,
and smacking of lips, as if something were being eaten down there by
the fattest of fat fellows, with the heartiest of appetites, and the
most irresistible of relishes. It was a quaffing, guzzling, gobbling
noise. Peeping down, we beheld a company, breasted up against a board,
groaning under numerous viands. In the middle of all, was a mighty
great gourd, yellow as gold, and jolly round like a pumpkin in
October, and so big it must have grown in the sun. Thence flowed a
tide of red wine. And before it, stood plenty of paunches being filled
therewith like portly stone jars at a fountain. Melancholy to tell,
before that fine flood of old wine, and among those portly old topers,
was a lean man; who occasionally ducked in his bill. He looked like an
ibis standing in the Nile at flood tide, among a tongue-lapping herd
of hippopotami.

They were jolly as the jolliest; and laughed so uproariously, that
their hemispheres all quivered and shook, like vast provinces in an
earthquake. Ha! ha! ha! how they laughed, and they roared. A deaf man
might have heard them; and no milk could have soured within a forty-
two-pounder ball shot of that place.

Now, the smell of good things is no very bad thing in itself. It is
the savor of good things beyond; proof positive of a glorious good meal.
So snuffing up those zephyrs from Araby the blest, those boisterous
gales, blowing from out the mouths of baked boars, stuffed with bread-
fruit, bananas, and sage, we would fain have gone down and partaken.

But this could not be; for we were told that those worthies below,
were a club in secret conclave; very busy in settling certain weighty
state affairs upon a solid basis, They were all chiefs of immense
capacity:--how many gallons, there was no finding out.

Be sure, now, a most riotous noise came up from those catacombs, which
seemed full of the ghosts of fat Lamberts; and this uproar it was,
that heightened the din above-ground.

But heedless of all, in the midst of the amphitheater, stood a tall,
gaunt warrior, ferociously tattooed, with a beak like a buzzard; long
dusty locks; and his hands full of headless arrows. He was laboring
under violent paroxysms; three benevolent individuals essaying to hold
him. But repeatedly breaking loose, he burst anew into his delirium;
while with an absence of sympathy, distressing to behold, the rest of
the assembly seemed wholly engrossed with themselves; nor did they
appear to care how soon the unfortunate lunatic might demolish himself
by his frantic proceedings.

Toward one side of the amphitheatrical space, perched high upon an
elevated dais, sat a white-headed old man with a tomahawk in his hand:
earnestly engaged in overseeing the tumult; though not a word did he
say. Occasionally, however, he was regarded by those present with a
mysterious sort of deference; and when they chanced to pass between
him and the crazy man, they invariably did so in a stooping position;
probably to elude the atmospheric grape and cannister, continually
flying from the mouth of the lunatic.

"What mob is this?" cried Media.

"'Tis the grand council of Vivenza," cried a bystander. "Hear ye not
Alanno?" and he pointed to the lunatic.

Now coming close to Alanno, we found, that with incredible volubility,
he was addressing the assembly upon some all-absorbing subject
connected with King Bello, and his presumed encroachments toward the
northwest of Vivenza.

One hand smiting his hip, and the other his head, the lunatic thus
proceeded; roaring like a wild beast, and beating the air like a
windmill:--

"I have said it! the thunder is flashing, the lightning is crashing!
already there's an earthquake in Dominora! Full soon will old Bello
discover that his diabolical machinations against this ineffable land
must soon come to naught. Who dare not declare, that we are not
invincible? I repeat it, we are. Ha! ha! Audacious Bello must bite the
dust! Hair by hair, we will trail his gory gray beard at the end of
our spears! Ha, ha! I grow hoarse; but would mine were a voice like
the wild bulls of Bullorom, that I might be heard from one end of this
great and gorgeous land to its farthest zenith; ay, to the uttermost
diameter of its circumference. Awake! oh Vivenza. The signs of the
times are portentous; nay, extraordinary; I hesitate not to add,
peculiar! Up! up! Let us not descend to the bathos, when we should
soar to the climax! Does not all Mardi wink and look on? Is the great
sun itself a frigid spectator? Then let us double up our mandibles to
the deadly encounter. Methinks I see it now. Old Bello is crafty, and
his oath is recorded to obliterate us! Across this wide lagoon he
casts his serpent eyes; whets his insatiate bill; mumbles his
barbarous tusks; licks his forked tongues; and who knows when we shall
have the shark in our midst? Yet be not deceived; for though as yet,
Bello has forborn molesting us openly, his emissaries are at work; his
infernal sappers, and miners, and wet-nurses, and midwives, and grave-
diggers are busy! His canoe-yards are all in commotion! In navies his
forests are being launched upon the wave; and ere long typhoons,
zephyrs, white-squalls, balmy breezes, hurricanes, and besoms will be
raging round us!"

His philippic concluded, Alanno was conducted from the place; and
being now quite exhausted, cold cobble-stones were applied to his
temples, and he was treated to a bath in a stream.

This chieftain, it seems, was from a distant western valley, called
Hio-Hio, one of the largest and most fertile in Vivenza, though but
recently settled. Its inhabitants, and those of the vales adjoining,--
a right sturdy set of fellows,--were accounted the most dogmatically
democratic and ultra of all the tribes in Vivenza; ever seeking to
push on their brethren to the uttermost; and especially were they
bitter against Bello. But they were a fine young tribe, nevertheless.
Like strong new wine they worked violently in becoming clear. Time,
perhaps, would make them all right.

An interval of greater uproar than ever now ensued; during which, with
his tomahawk, the white-headed old man repeatedly thumped and pounded
the seat where he sat, apparently to augment the din, though he looked
anxious to suppress it.

At last, tiring of his posture, he whispered in the ear of a chief,
his friend; who, approaching a portly warrior present, prevailed upon
him to rise and address the assembly. And no sooner did this one do
so, than the whole convocation dispersed, as if to their yams; and
with a grin, the little old man leaped from his seat, and stretched
his legs on a mat.

The fire was now extinguished, and the temple deserted.

Herman Melville