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The Ruins

Part I, Chapter 2
Here, said I, once flourished an opulent city; here was the seat of a powerful empire. Yes!
these places now so wild and desolate, were once animated by a living multitude; a busy
crowd thronged in these streets, now so solitary. Within these walls, where now reigns
the silence of death, the noise of the arts, and the shouts of joy and festivity incessantly
resounded; these piles of marble were regular palaces; these fallen columns adorned the
majesty of temples; these ruined galleries surrounded public places. Here assembled a
numerous people for the sacred duties of their religion, and the anxious cares of their
subsistence; here industry, parent of enjoyments, collected the riches of all climes, and
the purple of Tyre was exchanged for the precious thread of Serica;* the soft tissues of
Cassimere for the sumptuous tapestry of Lydia; the amber of the Baltic for the pearls and
perfumes of Arabia; the gold of Ophir for the tin of Thule.
* The precious thread of Serica.--That is, the silk originally derived from the
mountainous country where the great wall terminates, and which appears to have been the
cradle of the Chinese empire. The tissues of Cassimere.--The shawls which Ezekiel
seems to have described under the appellation of Choud- choud. The gold of Ophir.--
This country, which was one of the twelve Arab cantons, and which has so much and so
unsuccessfully been sought for by the antiquarians, has left, however, some trace of itself
in Ofor, in the province of Oman, upon the Persian Gulf, neighboring on one side to the
Sabeans, who are celebrated by Strabo for their abundance of gold, and on the other to
Aula or Hevila, where the pearl fishery was carried on. See the 27th chapter of Ezekiel,
which gives a very curious and extensive picture of the commerce of Asia at that period.
And now behold what remains of this powerful city: a miserable skeleton! What of its
vast domination: a doubtful and obscure remembrance! To the noisy concourse which
thronged under these porticoes, succeeds the solitude of death. The silence of the grave is
substituted for the busy hum of public places; the affluence of a commercial city is
changed into wretched poverty; the palaces of kings have become a den of wild beasts;
flocks repose in the area of temples, and savage reptiles inhabit the sanctuary of the gods.
Ah! how has so much glory been eclipsed? how have so many labors been annihilated?
Do thus perish then the works of men--thus vanish empires and nations?
And the history of former times revived in my mind; I remembered those ancient ages
when many illustrious nations inhabited these countries; I figured to myself the Assyrian
on the banks of the Tygris, the Chaldean on the banks of the Euphrates, the Persian
reigning from the Indus to the Mediterranean. I enumerated the kingdoms of Damascus
and Idumea, of Jerusalem and Samaria, the warlike states of the Philistines, and the
commercial republics of Phoenicia. This Syria, said I, now so depopulated, then
contained a hundred flourishing cities, and abounded with towns, villages, and hamlets.*
In all parts were seen cultivated fields, frequented roads, and crowded habitations. Ah!
whither have flown those ages of life and abundance?--whither vanished those brilliant