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These clamourings of the populace did not alarm Hamilcar's daughter. She was
disturbed by loftier anxieties: her great serpent, the black python, was drooping;
and in the eyes of the Carthaginians, the serpent was at once a national and a
private fetish. It was believed to be the offspring of the dust of the earth, since it
emerges from its depths and has no need of feet to traverse it; its mode of
progression called to mind the undulations of rivers, its temperature the ancient,
viscous, and fecund darkness, and the orbit which it describes when biting its tail
the harmony of the planets, and the intelligence of Eschmoun.
Salammbo's serpent had several times already refused the four live sparrows
which were offered to it at the full moon and at every new moon. Its handsome
skin, covered like the firmament with golden spots upon a perfectly black ground,
was now yellow, relaxed, wrinkled, and too large for its body. A cottony
mouldiness extended round its head; and in the corners of its eyelids might be
seen little red specks which appeared to move. Salammbo would approach its
silver-wire basket from time to time, and would draw aside the purple curtains,
the lotus leaves, and the bird's down; but it was continually rolled up upon itself,
more motionless than a withered bind-weed; and from looking at it she at last
came to feel a kind of spiral within her heart, another serpent, as it were,
mounting up to her throat by degrees and strangling her.
She was in despair of having seen the zaimph, and yet she felt a sort of joy, an
intimate pride at having done so. A mystery shrank within the splendour of its
folds; it was the cloud that enveloped the gods, and the secret of the universal
existence, and Salammbo, horror-stricken at herself, regretted that she had not
raised it.
She was almost always crouching at the back of her apartment, holding her
bended left leg in her hands, her mouth half open, her chin sunk, her eye fixed.
She recollected her father's face with terror; she wished to go away into the
mountains of Phoenicia, on a pilgrimage to the temple of Aphaka, where Tanith
descended in the form of a star; all kinds of imaginings attracted her and terrified
her; moreover, a solitude which every day became greater encompassed her.
She did not even know what Hamilcar was about.
Wearied at last with her thoughts she would rise, and trailing along her little
sandals whose soles clacked upon her heels at every step, she would walk at
random through the large silent room. The amethysts and topazes of the ceiling
made luminous spots quiver here and there, and Salammbo as she walked
would turn her head a little to see them. She would go and take the hanging
amphoras by the neck; she would cool her bosom beneath the broad fans, or
perhaps amuse herself by burning cinnamomum in hollow pearls. At sunset
Taanach would draw back the black felt lozenges that closed the openings in the
wall; then her doves, rubbed with musk like the doves of Tanith, suddenly
entered, and their pink feet glided over the glass pavement, amid the grains of
barley which she threw to them in handfuls like a sower in a field. But on a
sudden she would burst into sobs and lie stretched on the large bed of ox-leather