From Genesis, Part I of Idolatry ~
It was hardly the largest or most ornate fountain she had ever seen, and she had seen many in her travels, yet the more closely she approached, the more captivated she became. Its lower tier was composed of four remarkably lifelike elephants, facing the four winds, water spouting from their trunks, each creature captured in its own motion and mood. The southerly elephant was stomping in agitation, trunk cocked high and to the side. The easterly animal was bracing defiantly, head lowered and ears back, trunk pointing outwards. She circled to the northerly creature, who bore its burden with resignation, its trunk swinging low. The westerly elephant was the youngest of the four; it seemed eager to trot away at the first excuse, ears perked and flapping happily. She thought the elephants magnificent. She wanted to name them all and feed them and ride the youngest to the sea, where they would sit together in the sand and eat pistachios and watch the waves for hours on end.
The elephants were positioned between four columns, each of which was exotically adorned with bundles of reeds, Egyptian motifs, and capitals of palm fronds. A herd of small antelope peered out from around the columns. Some nibbled on the reeds; others drank from the fountain’s pool. The elephants and columns supported a wide, spouted bowl, around the rim of which lounged the figures of three graceful girls of about Sira’s age: one lay prone, her chin resting on her clasped hands as she admired her own reflection in the water below; another was supine, her leg bent and raised at the knee, her arm hanging loosely off the side of the bowl’s rim, her face to the sun; the third was sitting with her knees drawn to her chest as she contemplated the fountain’s central figure, which stood majestically on a stepped circular dais rising out of the upper pool.
The rendering of the elephants, the antelope, and the three girls was so masterful as to be nearly beyond Sira’s ability to grasp or accept. Surely these living, breathing beings had been turned to stone in an instant by the Gorgons and they would spring to life again the moment the spell was broken. But when her gaze had risen to the top tier, she felt as if she herself might have come under the Gorgons’ spell: her feet were rooted to the spot where she stood. She couldn’t take her eyes off of the figure of the woman above.
At any moment, the woman’s name or title would spring to mind. Sira was certain she recognized her – yet, she couldn’t remember. . . . She was a great queen, or the wife of a dignitary Sira had met, or a distant relative, or a friend of her mother’s – but no, perhaps this was a goddess of whom Sira had not yet heard. . . .
The stone of the fountain was unblemished, practically new by all appearances, barely weathered – which struck Sira as strange: she realized she had never before seen freshly carved, new sculpture in the round. Apparently, it just wasn’t being done anymore. She thought to ask her father why this was so, why the only other such sculptures she had seen, save for the occasional frieze on a government building or mausoleum, was weather-beaten, crumbling or partially destroyed, why it was that the beautiful fountains and statues were always old, deteriorating and historical – relics of the past – and how it could be so, when this could be done? The fountain was perfect and gorgeous and young and uplifting, as fresh and bright as the dawn after a rain-washed night.
Scattered about its lower rim were offerings of flowers and fruit, but there was no clue to the figure’s identity, no identifying prop or symbol. The woman was dressed simply but elegantly in the classic tunica, stola and palla. An exposed swath of the tunica, from the shoulder to the waist, was so sheer and revealing that the woman may as well have been partially nude – the nipple of her right breast and her navel were clearly visible beneath the transparent stone fabric. Flanking the figure, on the steps below, were the figures of two young boys, one sitting, the other kneeling, each holding a tilted amphora from which water flowed and converged to cascade down the steps and into the pool below. The woman wasn’t tall, yet she seemed to stand taller, and more comfortably so, than any sculpted figure Sira had ever seen. Her chin was lifted slightly, arms held loosely to her sides, hands relaxed. She was regal yet approachable, worldly wise yet light of spirit, nothing more and nothing less than a woman standing in the place where she stood, the whole of the earth as her kingdom and home. Sira found her enchantingly beautiful, shiningly intelligent, passionately feminine, faultlessly virtuous – all that a girl could want to see, all that a girl could want to be.
For Sira, it was turning out to be a most extraordinary and wondrous day, and in such a remote, nondescript town, no less. When her family had entered the town’s gate, the place had promised nothing beyond the ordinary, and now she felt as if she were falling deeply in love for the second time within the hour, first with the boy, and now with this woman. . . .
In the twilight of the Roman Empire, a sculptor struggles to keep an 800-year dream alive while honoring the love of his life and raising his adoptive son. Part I of the epic five-part Idolatry series, in which a wealthy young heir and a devout Christian girl find themselves at the heart of a 2400-year struggle for the soul of Western Civilization.
“Beautifully written, on the order of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, with the historical insight of James Michener, it brings to life a time of great thought, great art, and its clash with religious fanaticism. Cordair writes with a poet’s sense of scene and nuance and gives us a great deal of insight into the mind of a sculptor; I found this an exciting and easy read.” ~ Alan Nitikman
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