Diodorus has recorded an impressive Egyptian ceremonial, the judgment of the dead by the living. When the corpse, duly embalmed, had been placed by the margin of the Acherusian Lake, and before consigning it to the bark that was to bear it across the waters to its final resting-place, it was permitted to the appointed judges to hear all accusations against the past life of the deceased, and if proved, to deprive the corpse of the rites of sepulture. From this singular law not even kings were exempt.
With sable plume and nodding crest,
They bore him to his dreamless rest,
A cold and abject thing;
Before the whisper of whose name
Strong hearts had quailed in fear and shame,
While nations knelt to fling
The victor's laurel at his feet;
Now gorgeous pall and winding-sheet,
Were all that royalty could bring
To mark the despot and the king:
In solemn state they swept the glowing strand,
To meet the conclave of the judgment band.
And soon, with bright, exultant eye,
Where fierce revenge flashed wild and high,
Accusers gathered fast;
From prison-keep and living grave
Came forth the mutilated slave,
With faltering step aghast;
And sightless men with silver hair,
The record of their dungeon air,
Who for long years had sought to die,
And wrestled with their agony
Till thought grew wild and intellect grew dim,
The clanking fetters' mark on every limb.
With pallid cheek and eager prayer
And maniac laugh of dark despair
The widowed mother stood;
And, with white lips, an orphan throng
Rehearsed a fearful tale of wrong
And misery and blood.
And strong in virtue others came,
Unnumbered victims to proclaim
Of vengeance, perfidy, and dread,
Who slumbered with the silent dead.
The world might start, the sable plumes might wave,
But for that haughty king there was no grave.
O! ye who press life's crowded mart,
With hurrying step and bounding heart,
A solemn lesson glean;
Beware, lest, when ye cross that stream
Whose breaking surges farthest gleam,
No mortal eye hath seen,
Discordant voices wake the shore
The struggling spirit would explore,
And to the trembling soul deny
Its latest resting-place on high;
Our acts are Judges, that must meet us there
With seraph smiles of light, or fiendish glare.