Andre Malraux recounts an extraordinary story in his book, Hote de passage, (Editions Gallimard). One day, in 1957, the Director of the Museums of France, Georges Salles, brings him the photo of an ancient cloth which is in Baghdad. He says to him:
“Look, we have the possibility of acquiring this cloth for the Louvre for the price of five hundred thousand francs; but not one conservator is capable of finding out where it comes from. What do you think?”
Andre Malraux looks at the photo. It represents a piece of material on which the writer thinks that he can see the outline of a sort of logo or an heraldic butterfly. He answers:
“I don’t know to what style to attach this sort of design. Perhaps to Sassanide art… But Sassanide art has no butterflies… Perhaps Parthe art… In fact, I don’t know…”
Georges Salles says:
“You neither. I was hoping that you could help me… Well, there is nothing left but to ask Madame Khodaripacha…”
Andre Malraux asks who this person is, and hears:
“A clairvoyant. The most extraordinary one of this time… In any case, the best since Madame Fraya…
Andre Malraux sighs the sigh of the sceptical. Nevertheless, a few days later, he agrees to accompany the Director of the Museums of France to the home of the Pythia. She receives them in her salon where a big wood fire is burning. Next to her, a cat. Georges Salles shows her the photo and askes her what she thinks of it. He explains that they would like to know where this cloth comes from, its date, and the signification of the butterfly…
The clairvoyant runs the fingernails of her right hand over the photo. After a moment, she says:
“It isn’t a butterfly. It’s a stain… a bloodstain, and the cloth was folded in two…”
She is asked for the date… Told to go back in time…
Mme Khodari closes her eyes. Rapidly, she enters into a state close to hypnosis.
“It’s very far, very far in space… The Orient… And it’s a very ancient time… There is the obsession of a god. And all is decided in camel country… There is a battlefield, at night. There was fighting. A king is searching among the dead. Behind, there are lantern carriers…”
It seems as if a film is rapidly unfolding behind her closed eyes. She is seeing scenes that she is trying to describe in a few words.
“There is a river like the Nile… a bridge of boats… another king… Women are pouring wine… There are herds of sheep… There are Whites on horses and coloured men on… on what? Enormous animals that I don’t know, multicoloured… Animals that have disappeared? But the Whites are not cavemen, more like Romans…”
Georges Salles asks if she can see their costumes.
“They have naked legs… also something like the pants of the Zouaves, but white…
Andre Malraux is very impressed. And despite his scepticism, he is beginning to ask himself if this woman, who is there, next to him, comfortably installed in her XXth Century apartment, between her whisky and her cat, is not watching events which occurred in Antiquity. Georges Salles asks if she can see the country.
“It’s a mountainous desert… And the man I see is a chief of the Whites.”
Andre Malraux thinks that it might be Scipio. She continues:
“He is cleanshaven. His light hair covers his forehead. There are three women. When he alights from his horse, he walks very quickly. Ah! the animals are going to charge. They raise their trunks. They are… I see better now… painted elephants… Oh, there are even golden ones! In front of them, there are soldiers all… bristling with iron spikes, like chestnuts. They are carrying scythes… The man is going to die, but later…”
At this moment, the cat meows and jumps onto Andre Malraux, its fur standing on end. Mme Khodari says:
“Don’t worry. He always does that when I see death…”
“The man is opposite another one mounted on one of the painted elephants.”
This time, Andre Malraux is wondering if it mightn’t be Hannibal. The clairvoyant continues:
“The man is going towards the desert. Although, he is the one who has won the battle… He was thinking about a friend he has killed… Wood is brought… It is a funeral pyre… a ceremony… The pyre burns… flames! And then more caravans, camels, donkeys with big blue collars…”
Mme Khodari suddenly turns toward Andre Malraux:
“My dear Maitre, could you stop thinking about that cross? It’s getting in my way…”
Andre Malraux is astounded. For a few seconds, he has in fact been thinking about a cross made from two little branches that Father de Foucauld was wearing in the Hoggar Hermitage. The clairvoyant takes up where she had left off:
“Now, it’s the desert… Although, all the chiefs have leaves on their helmets… Yes, leaves. And there are wagons of some sort…”
Georges Salles asks:
“No, long covered wagons. Mats are hanging down. Inside, men, ten, fifteen… They are gesticulating, they are singing, they are drunk… Ah! now, the man is lying down on the deck of a big vessel. The soldiers are on little boats… They pass before him, acclaim him. He waves to them. There are crocodiles…”
She stops for a few instants, then says:
“I don’t see anything else. Ah yes! Now, I see a very big tent. With rooms made by tapisteries. A crowd of women advance… There are hundreds of them… It is a wedding.”
Georges Salles asks:
“Do you distinguish the man’s face?”
“What are his eyes like?”
“Oh! One blue, one black!…”
Georges Salles then looks at Andre Malraux. They are both thinking of Alexander of Macedonia, Alexander the Great, who had eyes like that…
To be continued.