Page images
PDF
EPUB

gate, he fell in with a troop of Mussulman horsemen, who took and sold him to a Christian — probably some slavedealer, by whom he was put on board a vessel, with two hundred slaves. A Greek shipof-war, from Syracuse, freed them; and Giovanni, who had also foretold this incident, was restored to his parents. ... Having again become a prisoner, on the occasion of a greater incursion by the enemy, he was again bought by a Christian, and by him sold to another, who dealt in hides with Africa. Struck by his looks, modest bearing, and honesty, this man entrusted him with the management of his house." (Vol. i. p. 512.)

Here his biography, written in the tone of fulsome exaltation and legendary exaggeration common to the accounts of Byzantine saints, connects him with divers adventures of very doubtful authenticity. It however appears certain that he redeemed himself out of bondage and went to Egypt, where he again played the part of a warning monitor, with so great a disregard of persons, that the Jacobite patriarch had him thrown into prison.

*The governor of the province set him free, and he soon after went to Jerusalem, where the Patriarch received him with honour, clothed him in monastic robes, and gave him the name of Elia. In Jerusalem he stayed three years — visited the Jordan, Mounts Tabor and Sinai went then to Alexandria, or more probably to Alexandretta, and was about to pass into Persia, when disturbances in that quarter obliged him to stop at Antioch. The divine voice, which, the legend says, was wont to speak to him in dreams, at Antioch addressed to him an exhortation to go back to his country. the voice of conscience in a noble soul, probably aware how fortune had set in the West against the Mussulmans, or, perhaps, the suggestion of some Byzantine agent, if not of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who sided with the Court of Rome, then anxious to come to an understanding with Basil. Burning with zeal for his faith, tenderly attached to the memory of his parents, and why not, likewise, to that of his country? Elia, who had spent half his life in Sicily and half in Mussulman lands, was the very man for the political apostleship which was to accompany Basil's arms in Sicily.' *(P. 515.)

Accordingly Elia hastened westwards; and we next meet him stealing into the harbour of Palermo on board a merchantship, avowedly but for the purpose of again seeing his mother. What is certain is that he stayed but a short time there, and that he left in haste for the Christian stronghold of Taormina, when a Mussulman squadron hove in sight of the offing-a coincidence somewhat suspicious. At Taormina he encouraged the garrison by confident assurance of the immediate approach of Byzantine forces, and then sped across to Reggio; the inhabitants of which wavered between kindred sympathies and

It was

a

[ocr errors]

the dread at a conflict that would probably be fought in their close neighbourhood. To enlist their selfish prudence in the cause of Christian independence, Elia set himself to predict, with eager earnestness, the impending destruction of the unbelieving host ; so that when a few weeks later events seemed to confirm his assurances, the faint-hearted misgivings of the townspeople of Reggio changed into a rapturous belief in his gift of infallible prophecy. Basil had done what he promised, and sent forth under Nasar, a brave and skilful commander, as powerful an armament as his arsenals could furnish. In spite of inferior numbers, the Mussulman squadron boldly sailed out to meet it. Gallantry was not enough to secure victory against overwhelming odds, and the Byzantine forces, landing triumphantly in Sicily, made such rapid progress as to seem on the point of winning back the island. In all directions the countrypeople, stimulated by Brother Elia's fiery addresses, rose in insurrection, falling upon the retreating Mussulmans and laying waste their property. · But it was above the enervation of a Byzantine population to keep up a continued exertion. In the following spring a new commander came across from Africa, whose skill and energy completely restored the fortunes of Islam. The Christians underwent a defeat, which so thoroughly crushed the spirit of the Byzantine forces, that all who were lucky enough to escape slaughter at once turned their backs on the island, leaving the unhappy Sicilians to their fate, and at the mercy of the conquerors.

From this moment Byzantine rule never more succeeded in asserting its authority to any extent in Sicily; and the desultory struggle against the Mussulmans, which for some years was still kept up, proceeded entirely from the energy of a few unbending spirits, and not from any effective action on the part of the Byzantine Court, which no longer even made a show of exertion. Perched high on an almost perpendicular cliff, on one side overlooking the beautiful plains of Catania, on the other bathed by the sea, Taormina held out till the year 902, the place of shelter for those stubborn souls who, buoyed up by undying conviction in the infallible triumph of the Cross, loved rather a life of perpetual suffering and adventure than peace bought by submission to unbelievers. Of the men who thus could not bring themselves to acquiese in a lasting defeat of their cause, Elia was naturally one. His indefatigable spirit never could forego the hope of being able in the end to bend the iron rod of adversity by sheer strength of will and unrelaxing purpose. For some particular reason not stated, Elia however went from Taormina to Greece for a time,

а

where his proceedings proved of so mysterious a nature as to make the Byzantine governor fall into the strange mistake, of looking upon this great apostle of Christian warfare as a Mussulman spy, and of actually flinging him into prison. The governor's timely death, however, soon set Elia at liberty again; and turning his steps westward, after some further adventures, he now settled

'In a hermitage in the vale of the Saline, between Capes Dell Armi and Pentedattolo, in Calabria, right over Taormina. These changes of dwelling did not coincide with a merely religious apostleship, and Elia seems, at the same time, to have conducted schemes against the Mussulmans in Sicily, and to have acted with the monks who were opposing the elevation of Photius to the Patriarchal See. In the pontificate of Stephen, Elia carried out his plan to visit Rome; and after his return, foretold to the people of Reggio the sack of their town. Withdrawing himself in time to Patras, he again appeared, when aware of the enemy having gone away, and then returned to his hermitage. According to his biographer, to avoid the buzz of popularity, but, as is more likely, to withdraw from a dangerous residence, just overhanging the Strait of Messina, Elia founded a monastery on a new site, probably the hill called Sant Elia, between Palmi and Seminara, where there is still a church. Wandering about Calabria, he kept exhorting the faithful ; . . . and the examples of Epaminondas and Scipio, which he was for ever quoting, show that he contemplated, not merely a theological but likewise a general reform in habits.'

That in these continual flittings, Elia may be assumed to have been impelled quite as much by his old political sympathies, as by purely religious motives, is sufficiently clear from the avowed intercourse which he kept up to the end with the defenders of Taormina. When that last bulwark of Christian heroism was plainly approaching its fall, Elia, who never had lost sight of it, suddenly appeared within the doomed city. Perhaps he may have come with the anxious hope, that by his presence, he might yet stave off the blow impending upon the dying fortunes of Christian power. If so, what he saw on the spot must have rudely dispelled his illusions; for we are told, that with the dread accent of a seer, Elia shrilly warned the townsmen of Taormina that their ruin was at hand; and then, turning his back for ever upon the island of his birth, he sped across the narrow strait, taking up his abode first at Amalfi, but afterwards retiring into the wilds of Calabria. The restless nature of the man could not however remain quiet, and he mixed himself up with a rebellion against the Emperor Leo the Philosopher, which arose out of the troubles that followed on the elevation of Photius to the Patriarchate. The VOL, CXVI. NO. CCXXXVI.

сс

inquiring Emperor's curiosity was excited by the accounts he heard of the Sicilian friar, and with characteristic fondness for what was strange and peculiar, he promised to spare the forfeited life of the rebel ringleader, if Elia would come to him at Constantinople. This proposal be accepted, although declaring that he felt his end to be close upon him. He set sail however, but before he could reach his destination, death finally put a term to his remarkably chequered, and in many respects mysterious career, on the 17th of July or August, 904, in a convent near Thessalonica. The merely wonderworking saint of Byzantine legend is an object that can have small interest for us; but the Brother Elia, who so actively combines within him elements of a religious and political nature, resulting in efforts so stirring, so resolute, and so selfpossessed, is a type characteristic in the highest degree of his time, and well worthy of our attention.

Thus was the Mussulman sovereignty established in Sicily. On the whole, it proved a milder and more generous government than any which existed in Italy under Lombards or Franks. We are too apt to conceive the nature of Mussulman rule under the influence of impressions drawn from the barbarous roughness of the Turks, and from a traditional reverence for the fervour of the crusading spirit. The Mussulman retained the impetuousness of an Arab, and contracted the imperious haughtiness of a privileged conqueror, but except when irritated he was disposed to gentleness and humanity. The principle of political and religious equality, of course, did not enter his head any more than the duty of admitting liberty of contradiction; but he never on system resorted to the tyrannical Inquisition which the Roman Catholic hierarchy employed, dooming peaceful families to extirpation merely with the view of establishing absolute domination. Within such limitations as are inseparable from the political inequality connected with a ruling and a ruled race, the Arab Mussulman conceded the exercise of religions different from his own. The construction of new churches and convents was prohibited; but those already in existence could be kept in repair, and there was no bar to prevent pious bequests. Indeed the religious disabilities seem to have amounted merely to tliis; that the cross could not be carried about abroad, the gospels were not to be read so loud as to annoy good Mussulmans, and the church bells were to be rung with moderation. Slavery certainly existed, but it was of a milder kind than that of the serfs in Christian states, who were bound to the soil without any prospect of the peculiar relief often extended through the kindliness of Mussulman masters. Accustomed

[ocr errors]

himself to unconstraint and freedom, the Arab freely indulged his subjects with liberty in their private concerns, provided they yielded what he considered to be his due as lord, and which he inflexibly exacted. Fostered by such wise dispositions, Mussulman authority in Sicily soon grew into an effective power. Nowhere indeed did it ever attain greater vigour. It seems as if on being transported to the soil of Europe, Arab spirit had gained an infusion of that higher energy which is decidedly peculiar to its races. The slight and ill-defined allegiance originally professed to the emirs of Africa was soon renounced under the impulse of that vehement ambition which ever predominated in Eastern society, and broke up the extent of Mussulman dominion into an assemblage of principalities. The court of the Sicilian princes was preeminently brilliant. Intellectual and political activity was fostered into intensity, and Mussulman Sicily shone as much for literary glory as for adventurous enterprise, in every corner of the Mediterranean Sea-in Italy as in Africa - against the Emperor of the West or against the Emperor of the East; against the Pope or against the aspiring commonwealths of Southern Italy; and last, though not least, in continued conflict with rival Mussulman states. Amongst these, the intricate and shifting relations kept up with Northern Africa are of primary interest, for they exercised a permanent influence upon the condition of Sicily. We would also invite particular attention to the fifth chapter of the third book, where, with great lucidity, he has investigated the Persian origin, and shown the stealthy spread westwards of the secret societies, whose action resulted in the political revolution that raised the Fatimite dynasty to the throne of Egypt.

We thus take leave of a book of rare and sterling merit, the completion of which we hope soon to see. At present M.

. Amari's second volume comprises the History of the Mussulman power in Sicily during its most flourishing epochs, and brings it down to the period when at last undermined by a spirit of reckless turbulence that broke all bounds, it sank beneath the action of criminal conspiracies, that blindly brought into the island a new Christian element in the shape of the Normans. It is the author's intention, in a third volume, to tell the growth in power and establishment of this new force, and to bring his work down to the moment of the complete extinction of the Mussulman race in Sicily in any distinct shape whatever.

a

« PreviousContinue »