The unwritten law of the ancient Egyptians demanded that a famous dancer or singer should retire at the height of her career, or die. Amaremu, the wonderful dancer, confessed to the Priest of the Temple that she had decided to die after dancing the Song of the Sylphides. The Priest, who was a great musician, asked her to rehearse the dance for him and he would improvise music for it. The verses are written on the story as related in a papyrus found by Dr. Paul Schliemann in the recent excavations of the Temple of Sais. The instrument used by the Priest was a horn fashioned from a human skull. It was known as the Dead Throat, or the Skull Horn, and was used in all great orchestras in ancient Egypt.
Amaremu the dancer, (oh, a dancer of dreams was Amaremu)
Unto the Priest of the Temple, the Temple of Sais, drew nigh.
She had reached the height of her triumph, and now, as all men knew,
She must dance no more or die.
Amaremu the dancer (oh, Amaremu was a dancer of songs)
Unto the Priest of the Temple, the Temple of Sais, said:
'I will dance the Song of the Sylphides, once more for the waiting throngs;
Then go my way with the dead.'
Then answered the Priest to the dancer (to Amaremu, dancer of love):
'Show me the dance of the Sylphides and teach me its rhythm and time;
I will shape you an air on the Skull Horn; I will play for you as you move
Through the Song of the wordless rhyme.'
Amaremu the dancer (dancer of anthems and hymns to the sun)
Danced in the Temple of Sais, alone for the Priest who played.
Slowly the notes from the Skull Horn came quivering one by one,
And slowly the dancer swayed.
Slowly at first, then faster, swayed Amaremu, dancer of life's delight;
And faster and louder and wilder the notes of the Skull Horn grew;
And the Priest was a priest no longer, but a man alone at night
With the dancer Amaremu.
Faster and wilder and madder danced Amaremu, danced Amaremu;
She flung down garment by garment; she tore off veil by veil;
And the face of the Priest was pallid, and his breath came hard as he drew
From the Skull Horn, sounds like a wail.
Amaremu the dancer (the dancer of dream, and song, or rite and feast,
Dancer of mighty emotions, dancer of terrible joys)
Stood nude in the Temple of Sais, stood nude before the Priest,
In the beauty that destroys.
Amaremu the dancer (oh, Amaremu was dance and song and dream)
Stood white in her awful beauty while the pale Priest brought a note
Like the mingled shout of a devil and a soul's despairing scream
From the Skull Horn's hollow throat.
Amaremu the dancer (the dancer of the Sylphides' Song of Death)
Had finished her dance of passion, and the Priest had ceased to play.
And white as a marble statue, like a statue without breath,
In the dead Priest's arms she lay.
Poems of Problems. By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
London : Gay and Hancock, 1914.
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