DIALOGUES OF THE GODS
DIALOGUES OF SEA GODS
DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD
1. Diogenes & Pollux
2. Charon & Menippus
3. Shades, Pluto & Menippus
4. Menippus & Cerberus
5. Menippus & Hermes
6. Menippus & Aeacus
7. Menippus & Tantalus
8. Menippus & Chiron
9. Menippus & Tiresias
10. Menippus & Trophonius
11. Diogenes & Heracles
12. Philip & Alexander
13. Diogenes & Alexander
14. Hermes & Charon
15. Pluto & Hermes
16. Terpsion & Pluto
17. Zenophatus & Callidemides
18. Cnemon & Damnippus
19. Simylus & Polystratus
20. Charon & Hermes
DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD
21. Crates & Diogenes
22. Diogenes & Antisthenes
23. Ajax & Agamemnon
24. Minos & Sostratus
25. Alexander & Hannibal
26. Achilles & Antilochus
27. Aeacus & Protesilaus
28. Protesilaus & Pluto
29. Diogenes & Mausolus
30. Nireus & Menippus
DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD, TRANSLATED BY H. W. & F. G. FOWLER
21 (11). CRATES AND DIOGENES
Did you know Moerichus of Corinth, Diogenes? A shipowner, rolling in money, with a cousin called Aristeas, nearly as rich. He had a Homeric quotation:—Wilt thou heave me? shall I heave thee?1
What was the point of it?
Why, the cousins were of equal age, expected to succeed to each other's wealth, and behaved accordingly. They published their wills, each naming the other sole heir in case of his own prior decease. So it stood in black and white, and they vied with each other in showing that deference which the relation demands. All the prophets, astrologers, and Chaldean dream-interpreters alike, and Apollo himself for that matter, held different views at different times about the winner; the thousands seemed to incline now to Aristeas's side, now to Moerichus's.
And how did it end? I am quite curious.
They both died on the same day, and the properties passed to Eunomius and Thrasycles, two relations who had never had a presentiment of it. They had been crossing from Sicyon to Cirrha, when they were taken aback by a squall from the north-west, and capsized in mid-channel.
Cleverly done. Now, when we were alive, we never had such designs on one another. I never prayed for Antisthenes's death, with a view to inheriting his staff--though it was an extremely serviceable one, which he had cut himself from a wild olive; and I do not credit you, Crates, with ever having had an eye to my succession; it included the tub, and a wallet with two pints of lupines in it.
Why, no; these things were superfluities to me—and to yourself, indeed. The real necessities you inherited from Antisthenes, and I from you; and in those necessities was more grandeur and majesty than in the Persian Empire.
You allude to—
Wisdom, independence, truth, frankness, freedom.
To be sure; now I think of it, I did inherit all this from Antisthenes, and left it to you with some addition.
Others, however, were not interested in such property; no one paid us the attentions of an expectant heir; they all lad their eyes on gold, instead.
Of course; they had no receptacle for such things as we could give; luxury had made them so leaky—as full of holes as a worn-out purse. Put wisdom, frankness, or truth into them, and it would have dropped out; the bottom of the bag would have let them through, like the perforated cask into which those poor Danaids are always pouring. Gold, on the other hand, they could grip with tooth or nail or somehow.
Result: our wealth will still be ours down here; while they will arrive with no more than one penny, and even that must be left with the ferryman.
1. Homer, Il. xxiii. 724. When Ajax and Odysseus have wrestled for some time without either's producing any impression, and the spectators are getting p. 124 tired of it, the former proposes a change in tactics. "Let us hoist--try you with me or I with you." The idea evidently is that each in turn is to offer only a passive resistance, and let his adversary try to fling him thus.' Leaf.
22 (27). DIOGENES, ANTISTHENES AND CRATES
Now, friends, we have plenty of time; what say you to a stroll? we might go to the entrance and have a look at the new-comers—what they are and how they behave.
The very thing. It will be an amusing sight—some weeping, some imploring to be let go, some resisting; when Hermes collars them, they will stick their heels in and throw their weight back; and all to no purpose.
Very well; and meanwhile, let me give you my experiences on the way down.
Yes, go on, Crates; I dare say you saw some entertaining sights.
We were a large party, of which the most distinguished were Ismenodorus, a rich townsman of ours, Arsaces, ruler of Media, and Oroetes the Armenian. Ismenodorus had been murdered by robbers going to Eleusis over Cithaeron, I believe. He was moaning, nursing his wound, apostrophizing the young children he had left, and cursing his foolhardiness. He knew Cithaeron and the Eleutherae district were all devastated by the wars, and yet he must take only two servants with him—with five bowls and four cups of solid gold in his baggage, too. Arsaces was an old man of rather imposing aspect; he expressed his feelings in true barbaric fashion, was exceedingly angry at being expected to walk, and kept calling for his horse. In point of fact it had died with him, it and he having been simultaneously transfixed by a Thracian pikeman in the fight with the Cappadocians on the Araxes. Arsaces described to us how he had charged far in advance of his men, and the Thracian, standing his ground and sheltering himself with his buckler, warded off the lance, and then, planting his pike, transfixed man and horse together.
How could it possibly be done simultaneously?
Oh, quite simple. The Median was charging with his thirty-foot lance in front of him; the Thracian knocked it aside with his buckler; the point glanced by; then he knelt, received the charge on his pike, pierced the horse's chest—the spirited beast impaling itself by its own impetus—, and finally ran Arsaces through groin and buttock. You see what happened; it was the horse's doing rather than the man's. However, Arsaces did not at all appreciate equality, and wanted to come down on horseback. As for Oroetes, he was so tender-footed that he could not stand, far less walk. That is the way with all the Medes--once they are off their horses, they go delicately on tiptoe as if they were treading on thorns. He threw himself down, and there he lay; nothing would induce him to get up; so the excellent Hermes had to pick him up and carry him to the ferry; how I laughed!
When I came down, I did not keep with the crowd; I left them to their blubberings, ran on to the ferry, and secured a comfortable seat for the passage. Then as we crossed, they were divided between tears and sea-sickness, and gave me a merry time of it.
You two have described your fellow passengers; now for mine. There came down with me Blepsias, the Pisatan usurer, Lampis, an Acarnanian freelance, and the Corinthian millionaire Damis. The last had been poisoned by his son, Lampis had cut his throat for love of the courtesan Myrtium, and the wretched Blepsias is supposed to have died of starvation; his awful pallor and extreme emaciation looked like it. I inquired into the manner of their deaths, though I knew very well. When Damis exclaimed upon his son, `You only have your deserts,' I remarked,—an old man of ninety living in luxury yourself with your million of money, and fobbing off your eighteen-year son with a few pence! As for you, sir Acarnanian'—he was groaning and cursing Myrtium—, `why put the blame on Love? it belongs to yourself; you were never afraid of an enemy—took all sorts of risks in other people's service—and then let yourself be caught, my hero, by the artificial tears and sighs of the first wench you came across.' Blepsias uttered his own condemnation, without giving me time to do it for him: he had hoarded his money for heirs who were nothing to him, and been fool enough to reckon on immortality. I assure you it was no common satisfaction I derived from their whinings.
But here we are at the gate; we must keep our eyes open, and get the earliest view. Lord, lord, what a mixed crowd! and all in tears except these babes and sucklings. Why, the hoary seniors are all lamentation too; strange! has madam Life given them a love-potion? I must interrogate this most reverend senior of them all.—Sir, why weep, seeing that you have died full of years? has your excellency any complaint to make, after so long a term? Ah, but you were doubtless a king.
A provincial governor, then?
No, nor that.
I see; you were wealthy, and do not like leaving your boundless luxury to die.
You are quite mistaken; I was near ninety, made a miserable livelihood out of my line and rod, was excessively poor, childless, a cripple, and had nearly lost my sight.
And you still wished to live?
Ay, sweet is the light, and dread is death; would that one might escape it!
You are beside yourself, old man; you are like a child kicking at the pricks, you contemporary of the ferryman. Well, we need wonder no more at youth, when age is still in love with life; one would have thought it should court death as the cure for its proper ills.—And now let us go our way, before our loitering here brings suspicion on us: they may think we are planning an escape.
23 (29). AJAX AND AGAMEMNON
If you went mad and wrought your own destruction, Ajax, in default of that you designed for us all, why put the blame on Odysseus? Why would you not vouchsafe him a look or a word, when he came to consult Tiresias that day? you stalked past your old comrade in arms as if he was beneath your notice.
Had I not good reason? My madness lies at the door of my solitary rival for the arms.
Did you expect to be unopposed, and carry it over us all without a contest?
Surely, in such a matter. The armour was mine by natural right, seeing I was Achilles's cousin. The rest of you, his undoubted superiors, refused to compete, recognizing my claim. It was the son of Laertes, he that I had rescued scores of times when he would have been cut to pieces by the Phrygians, who set up for a better man and a stronger claimant than I.
Blame Thetis, then, my good sir; it was she who, instead of delivering the inheritance to the next of kin, brought the arms and left the ownership an open question.
No, no; the guilt was in claiming them—alone, I mean.
Surely, Ajax, a mere man may be forgiven the sin of coveting honour—that sweetest bait for which each one of us adventured; nay, and he outdid you there, if a Trojan verdict counts.
Who inspired that verdict?1 I know, but about the Gods we may not speak. Let that pass; but cease to hate Odysseus? ’tis not in my power, Agamemnon, though Athene's self should require it of me.
1. Athene is meant. The allusion is to Homer, Od. xi. 547, a passage upon the contest for the arms of Achilles, in which Odysseus states that 'The judges were the sons of the Trojans, and Pallas Athene.'
24 (30). MINOS AND SOSTRATUS
Sostratus, the pirate here, can be dropped into Pyriphlegethon, Hermes; the temple-robber shall be clawed by the Chimera; and lay out the tyrant alongside of Tityus, there to have his liver torn by the vultures. And you honest fellows can make the best of your way to Elysium and the Isles of the Blest; this it is to lead righteous lives.
A word with you, Minos. See if there is not some justice in my plea.
What, more pleadings? Have you not been convicted of villany and murder without end?
I have. Yet consider whether my sentence is just.
Is it just that you should have your deserts? If so, the sentence is just.
Well, answer my questions; I will not detain you long.
Say on, but be brief; I have other cases waiting for me.
The deeds of my life—were they in my own choice, or were they decreed by Fate?
Decreed, of course.
Then all of us, whether we passed for honest men or rogues, were the instruments of Fate in all that we did?
Certainly; Clotho prescribes the conduct of every man at his birth.
Now suppose a man commits a murder under compulsion of a power which he cannot resist, an executioner, for instance, at the bidding of a judge, or a bodyguard at that of a tyrant. Who is the murderer, according to you?
The judge, of course, or the tyrant. As well ask whether the sword is guilty, which is but the tool of his anger who is prime mover in the affair.
I am indebted to you for a further illustration of my argument. Again: a slave, sent by his master, brings me gold or silver; to whom am I to be grateful? who goes down on my tablets as a benefactor?
The sender; the bringer is but his minister.
Observe then your injustice! You punish us who are but the slaves of Clotho's bidding, and reward these, who do but minister to another's beneficence. For it will never be said that it was in our power to gainsay the irresistible ordinances of Fate?
Ah, Sostratus; look closely enough, and you will find plenty of inconsistencies besides these. However, I see you are no common pirate, but a philosopher in your way; so much you have gained by your questions. Let him go, Hermes; he shall not be punished after that. But mind, Sostratus, you must not put it into other people's heads to ask questions of this kind.
25 (12). ALEXANDER, HANNIBAL, MINOS AND SCIPIO
Libyan, I claim precedence of you. I am the better man.
Then let Minos decide.
Who are you both?
This is Hannibal, the Carthaginian: I am Alexander, the son of Philip.
Bless me, a distinguished pair! And what is the quarrel about?
It is a question of precedence. He says he is the better general: and I maintain that neither Hannibal nor (I might almost add) any of my predecessors was my equal in strategy; all the world knows that.
Well, you shall each have your say in turn: the Libyan first.
Fortunately for me, Minos, I have mastered Greek since I have been here; so that my adversary will not have even that advantage of me. Now I hold that the highest praise is due to those who have won their way to greatness from obscurity; who have clothed themselves in power, and shown themselves fit for dominion. I myself entered Spain with a handful of men, took service under my brother, and was found worthy of the supreme command. I conquered the Celtiberians, subdued Western Gaul, crossed the Alps, overran the valley of the Po, sacked town after town, made myself master of the plains, approached the bulwarks of the capital, and in one day slew such a host, that their finger-rings were measured by bushels, and the rivers were bridged by their bodies. And this I did, though I had never been called a son of Ammon; I never pretended to be a god, never related visions of my mother; I made no secret of the fact that I was mere flesh and blood. My rivals were the ablest generals in the world, commanding the best soldiers in the world; I warred not with Medes or Assyrians, who fly before they are pursued, and yield the victory to him that dares take it. Alexander, on the other hand, in increasing and extending as he did the dominion which he had inherited from his father, was but following the impetus given to him by Fortune. And this conqueror had no sooner crushed his puny adversary by the victories of Issus and Arbela, than he forsook the traditions of his country, and lived the life of a Persian; accepting the prostrations of his subjects, assassinating his friends at his own table, or handing them over to the executioner. I in my command respected the freedom of my country, delayed not to obey her summons, when the enemy with their huge armament invaded Libya, laid aside the privileges of my office, and submitted to my sentence without a murmur. Yet I was a barbarian all unskilled in Greek culture; I could not recite Homer, nor had I enjoyed the advantages of Aristotle's instruction; I had to make a shift with such qualities as were mine by nature.—It is on these grounds that I claim the pre-eminence. My rival has indeed all the lustre that attaches to the wearing of a diadem, and—I know not—for Macedonians such things may have charms: but I cannot think that this circumstance constitutes a higher claim than the courage and genius of one who owed nothing to Fortune, and everything to his own resolution.
Not bad, for a Libyan.—Well, Alexander, what do you say to that?
Silence, Minos, would be the best answer to such confident self-assertion. The tongue of Fame will suffice of itself to convince you that I was a great prince, and my opponent a petty adventurer. But I would have you consider the distance between us. Called to the throne while I was yet a boy, I quelled the disorders of my kingdom, and avenged my father's murder. By the destruction of Thebes, I inspired the Greeks with such awe, that they appointed me their commander-in-chief; and from that moment, scorning to confine myself to the kingdom that I inherited from my father, I extended my gaze over the entire face of the earth, and thought it shame if I should govern less than the whole. With a small force I invaded Asia, gained a great victory on the Granicus, took Lydia, Ionia, Phrygia,—in short, subdued all that was within my reach, before I commenced my march for Issus, where Darius was waiting for me at the head of his myriads. You know the sequel: yourselves can best say what was the number of the dead whom on one day I dispatched hither. The ferryman tells me that his boat would not hold them; most of them had to come across on rafts of their own construction. In these enterprises, I was ever at the head of my troops, ever courted danger. To say nothing of Tyre and Arbela, I penetrated into India, and carried my empire to the shores of Ocean; I captured elephants; I conquered Porus; I crossed the Tanais, and worsted the Scythians—no mean enemies—in a tremendous cavalry engagement. I heaped benefits upon my friends: I made my enemies taste my resentment. If men took me for a god, I cannot blame them; the vastness of my undertakings might excuse such a belief. But to conclude. I died a king: Hannibal, a fugitive at the court of the Bithynian Prusias—fitting end for villany and cruelty. Of his Italian victories I say nothing; they were the fruit not of honest legitimate warfare, but of treachery, craft, and dissimulation. He taunts me with self-indulgence: my illustrious friend has surely forgotten the pleasant time he spent in Capua among the ladies, while the precious moments fleeted by. Had I not scorned the Western world, and turned my attention to the East, what would it have cost me to make the bloodless conquest of Italy, and Libya, and all, as far West as Gades? But nations that already cowered beneath a master were unworthy of my sword.—I have finished, Minos, and await your decision; of the many arguments I might have used, these shall suffice.
First, Minos, let me speak.
And who are you, friend? and where do you come from?
I am Scipio, the Roman general, who destroyed Carthage, and gained great victories over the Libyans.
Well, and what have you to say?
That Alexander is my superior, and I am Hannibal's, having defeated him, and driven him to ignominious flight. What impudence is this, to contend with Alexander, to whom I, your conqueror, would not presume to compare myself!
Honestly spoken, Scipio, on my word! Very well, then: Alexander comes first, and you next; and I think we must say Hannibal third. And a very creditable third, too.
26 (15). ACHILLES AND ANTILOCHUS
Achilles, what you were saying to Odysseus the other day about death was very poor-spirited; I should have expected better things from a pupil of Chiron and Phoenix. I was listening; you said you would rather be a servant on earth to some poor hind 'of scanty livelihood possessed,' than king of all the dead. Such sentiments might have been very well in the mouth of a poor-spirited cowardly Phrygian, dishonourably in love with life: for the son of Peleus, boldest of all Heroes, so to vilify himself, is a disgrace; it gives the lie to all your life; you might have had a long inglorious reign in Phthia, and your own choice was death and glory.
In those days, son of Nestor, I knew not this place; ignorant whether of those two was the better, I esteemed that flicker of fame more than life; now I see that it is worthless, let folk up there make what verses of it they will. ’Tis dead level among the dead, Antilochus; strength and beauty are no more; we welter all in the same gloom, one no better than another; the shades of Trojans fear me not, Achaeans pay me no reverence; each may say what he will; a man is a ghost, 'or be he churl, or be he peer.' It irks me; I would fain be a servant, and alive.
But what help, Achilles? ’tis Nature's decree that by all means all die. We must abide by her law, and not fret at her commands. Consider too how many of us are with you here; Odysseus comes ere long; how else? Is there not comfort in the common fate? ’tis something not to suffer alone. See Heracles, Meleager, and many another great one; they, methinks, would not choose return, if one would send them up to serve poor destitute men.
Ay, your intent is friendly; but I know not, the thought of the past life irks me—and each of you too, if I mistake not. And if you confess it not, the worse for you, smothering your pain.
Not the worse, Achilles; the better; for we see that speech is unavailing. Be silent, bear, endure—that is our resolve, lest such longings bring mockery on us, as on you.
27 (19). AEACUS AND PROTESILAUS
Now then, Protesilaus, what do you mean by assaulting and throttling Helen?
Why, it was all her fault that I died, leaving my house half built, and my bride a widow.
You should blame Menelaus, for taking you all to Troy after such a light-o'-love.
That is true; he shall answer it.
No, no, my dear sir; Paris surely is the man; he outraged all rights in carrying off his host's wife with him. He deserves throttling, if you like, and not from you only, but from Greeks and barbarians as well, for all the deaths he brought upon them.
Ah, now I have it. Here, you—you Paris! you shall not escape my clutches.
Oh, come, sir, you will never wrong one of the same gentle craft as yourself. Am I not a lover too, and a subject of your deity? against love you know (with the best will in the world) how vain it is to strive; ’tis a spirit that draws us whither it will.
There is reason in that. Oh, would that I had Love himself here in these hands!
Permit me to charge myself with his defence. He does not absolutely deny his responsibility for Paris's love; but that for your death he refers to yourself, Protesilaus. You forgot all about your bride, fell in love with fame, and, directly the fleet touched the Troad, took that rash senseless leap, which brought you first to shore and to death.
Now it is my turn to correct, Aeacus. The blame does not rest with me, but with Fate; so was my thread spun from the beginning.
Exactly so; then why blame our good friends here?
28 (23). PROTESILAUS, PLUTO AND PERSEPHONE
Lord, King, our Zeus! and thou, daughter of Demeter! Grant a lover's boon!
What do you want? who are you?
Protesilaus, son of Iphiclus, of Phylace, one of the Achaean host, the first that died at Troy. And the boon I ask is release and one day's life.
Ah, friend, that is the love that all these dead men love, and none shall ever win.
Nay, dread lord, ’tis not life I love, but the bride that I left new wedded in my chamber that day I sailed away—ah me, to be slain by Hector as my foot touched land! My lord, that yearning gives me no peace. I return content, if she might look on me but for an hour.
Did you miss your dose of Lethe, man?
Nay, lord; but this prevailed against it.
Oh, well, wait a little; she will come to you one day; it is so simple; no need for you to be going up.
My heart is sick with hope deferred; thou too, O Pluto, hast loved; thou knowest what love is.
What good will it do you to come to life for a day, and then renew your pains?
I think to win her to come with me, and bring two dead for one.
It may not be; it never has been.
Bethink thee, Pluto. 'Twas for this same cause that ye gave Orpheus his Eurydice; and Heracles had interest enough to be granted Alcestis; she was of my kin.
Would you like to present that bare ugly skull to your fair bride? will she admit you, when she cannot tell you from another man? I know well enough; she will be frightened and run from you, and you will have gone all that way for nothing.
Husband, doctor that disease yourself: tell Hermes, as soon as Protesilaus reaches the light, to touch him with his wand, and make him young and fair as when he left the bridal chamber.
Well, I cannot refuse a lady. Hermes, take him up and turn him into a bridegroom. But mind, you sir, a strictly temporary one.
29 (24). DIOGENES AND MAUSOLUS
Why so proud, Carian? How are you better than the rest of us?
Sinopean, to begin with, I was a king; king of all Caria, ruler of many Lydians, subduer of islands, conqueror of well-nigh the whole of Ionia, even to the borders of Miletus. Further, I was comely, and of noble stature, and a mighty warrior. Finally, a vast tomb lies over me in Halicarnassus, of such dimensions, of such exquisite beauty as no other shade can boast. Thereon are the perfect semblances of man and horse, carved in the fairest marble; scarcely may a temple be found to match it. These are the grounds of my pride: are they inadequate?
Kingship—beauty—heavy tomb; is that it?
It is as you say.
But, my handsome Mausolus, the power and the beauty are no longer there. If we were to appoint an umpire now on the question of comeliness, I see no reason why he should prefer your skull to mine. Both are bald, and bare of flesh; our teeth are equally in evidence; each of us has lost his eyes, and each is snub-nosed. Then as to the tomb and the costly marbles, I dare say such a fine erection gives the Halicarnassians something to brag about and show off to strangers: but I don't see, friend, that you are the better for it, unless it is that you claim to carry more weight than the rest of us, with all that marble on the top of you.
Then all is to go for nothing? Mausolus and Diogenes are to rank as equals?
Equals! My dear sir, no; I don't say that. While Mausolus is groaning over the memories of earth, and the felicity which he supposed to be his, Diogenes will be chuckling. While Mausolus boasts of the tomb raised to him by Artemisia, his wife and sister, Diogenes knows not whether he has a tomb or no—the question never having occurred to him; he knows only that his name is on the tongues of the wise, as one who lived the life of a man; a higher monument than yours, vile Carian slave, and set on firmer foundations.
30 (25). NIREUS, THERSITES AND MENIPPUS
Here we are; Menippus shall award the palm of beauty. Menippus, am I not better-looking than he?
Well, who are you? I must know that first, mustn't I?
Nireus and Thersites.
Which is which? I cannot tell that yet.
One to me; I am like you; you have no such superiority as Homer (blind, by the way) gave you when he called you the handsomest of men; he might peak my head and thin my hair, our judge finds me none the worse. Now, Menippus, make up your mind which is handsomer.
I, of course, I, the son of Aglaia and Charopus,
Comeliest of all that came ’neath Trojan walls.
But not comeliest of all that come ’neath the earth, as far as I know. Your bones are much like other people's; and the only difference between your two skulls is that yours would not take much to stove it in. It is a tender article, something short of masculine.
Ask Homer what I was, when I sailed with the Achaeans.
Dreams, dreams. I am looking at what you are; what you were is ancient history.
Am I not handsomer here, Menippus?
You are not handsome at all, nor any one else either. Hades is a democracy; one man is as good as another here.
And a very tolerable arrangement too, if you ask me.
A NECROMANTIC EXPERIMENT
Me. All hail, my roof, my doors, my hearth and home! How sweet again to see the light and thee!
Phi. Menippus the cynic, surely; even so, or there are visions about. Menippus, every inch of him. What has he been getting himself up like that for? sailor's cap, lyre, and lion-skin? However, here goes.--How are you, Menippus? where do you spring from? You have disappeared this long time.
Me. Death's lurking-place I leave, and those dark gates Where Hades dwells, a God apart from Gods.
Phi. Good gracious! has Menippus died, all on the quiet, and come to life for a second spell?
Me. Not so; a living guest in Hades I.
Phi. But what induced you to take this queer original journey?
Me. Youth drew me on--too bold, too little wise.
Phi. My good man, truce to your heroics; get off those iambic stilts, and tell me in plain prose what this get-up means; what did you want with the lower regions? It is a journey that needs a motive to make it attractive.
Me. Dear friend, to Hades' realms I needs must go,
To counsel with Tiresias of Thebes.
Phi. Man, you must be mad; or why string verses instead of talking like one friend with another?
Me. My dear fellow, you need not be so surprised. I have just been in Euripides's and Homer's company; I suppose I am full to the throat with verse, and the numbers come as soon as I2 open my mouth. But how are things going up here? what is Athens about?
Phi. Oh, nothing new; extortion, perjury, forty per cent, face-grinding.
Me. Poor misguided fools! they are not posted up in the latest lower-world legislation; the recent decrees against the rich will be too much for all their evasive ingenuity.
Phi. Do you mean to say the lower world has been making new regulations for us?
Me. Plenty of them, I assure you. But I may not publish them, nor reveal secrets; the result might be a suit for impiety in the court of Rhadamanthus.
Phi. Oh now, Menippus, in Heaven's name, no secrets between friends! you know I am no blabber; and I am initiated, if you come to that.
Me. ’Tis a hard thing you ask, and a perilous; yet for you I must venture it. It was resolved, then, that these rich who roll in money and keep their gold under lock and key like a Danae------
Phi. Oh, don't come to the decrees yet; begin at the beginning. I am particularly curious about your object in going, who showed you the way, and the whole story of what you saw and heard down there; you are a man of taste, and sure not to have missed anything worth looking at or listening to.
3Me. I can refuse you nothing, you see; what is one to do, when a friend insists? Well, I will show you first the state of mind which put me on the venture. When I was a boy, and listened to Homer's and Hesiod's tales of war and civil strife--
and they do not confine themselves to the Heroes, but include the Gods in their descriptions, adulterous Gods, rapacious Gods, violent, litigious, usurping, incestuous Gods--, well, I found it all quite proper, and indeed was intensely interested in it. But as I came to man's estate, I observed that the laws flatly contradicted the poets, forbidding adultery, sedition, and rapacity. So I was in a very hazy state of mind, and could not tell what to make of it. The Gods would surely never have been guilty of such behaviour if they had not considered it good; and yet law-givers would never have recommended avoiding it, if avoidance had not seemed desirable.
In this perplexity, I determined to go to the people they4 call philosophers, put myself in their hands, and ask them to make what they would of me and give me a plain reliable map of life. This was my idea in going to them; but the effort only shifted me from the frying-pan into the fire; it was just among these that my inquiry brought the greatest ignorance and bewilderment to light; they very soon convinced me that the real golden life is that of the man in the street. One of them would have me do nothing but seek pleasure and ensue it; according to him, Happiness was pleasure. Another recommended the exact contrary--toil and moil, bring the body under, be filthy and squalid, disgusting and abusive--concluding always with the tags from Hesiod about Virtue, or something about indefatigable pursuit of the ideal. Another bade me despise money, and reckon the acquisition of it as a thing indifferent; he too had his contrary, who declared wealth a good in itself. I will spare you their metaphysics; I was sickened with daily doses of Ideas, Incorporeal Things, Atoms, Vacua, and a multitude more. The extraordinary thing was that people maintaining the most opposite views would each of them produce convincing plausible arguments; when the same thing was called hot and cold by different persons, there was no
refuting one more than the other, however well one knew that it could not be hot and cold at once. I was just like a man dropping off to sleep, with his head first nodding forward, and then jerking back.
5Yet that absurdity is surpassed by another. I found by observation that the practice of these same people was diametrically opposed to their precepts. Those who preached contempt of wealth would hold on to it like grim death, dispute about interest, teach for pay, and sacrifice everything to the main chance, while the depreciators of fame directed all their words and deeds to nothing else but fame; pleasure, which had all their private devotions, they were almost unanimous in condemning.
6Thus again disappointed of my hope, I was in yet worse case than before; it was slight consolation to reflect that I was in numerous and wise and eminently sensible company, if I was a fool still, all astray in my quest of Truth. One night, while these thoughts kept me sleepless, I resolved to go to Babylon and ask help from one of the Magi, Zoroaster's disciples and successors; I had been told that by incantations and other rites they could open the gates of Hades, take down any one they chose in safety, and bring him up again. I thought the best thing would be to secure the services of one of these, visit Tiresias the Boeotian, and learn from that wise seer what is the best life and the right choice for a man of sense. I got up with all speed and started straight for Babylon. When I arrived, I found a wise and wonderful Chaldean; he was white-haired, with a long imposing beard, and called Mithrobarzanes. My prayers and supplications at last induced him to name a price for conducting me down.
7Taking me under his charge, he commenced with a new moon, and brought me down for twenty-nine successive mornings to the Euphrates, where he bathed me, apostrophizing the rising
sun in a long formula, of which I never caught much; he gabbled indistinctly, like bad heralds at the Games; but he appeared to be invoking spirits. This charm completed, he spat thrice upon my face, and I went home, not letting my eyes meet those of any one we passed. Our food was nuts and acorns, our drink milk and hydromel and water from the Choaspes, and we slept out of doors on the grass. When he thought me sufficiently prepared, he took me at midnight to the Tigris, purified and rubbed me over, sanctified me with torches and squills and other things, muttering the charm aforesaid, then made a magic circle round me to protect me from ghosts, and finally led me home backwards just as I was; it was now time to arrange our voyage.
He himself put on a magic robe, Median in character, and8 fetched and gave me the cap, lion's skin, and lyre which you see, telling me if I were asked my name not to say Menippus, but Heracles, Odysseus, or Orpheus.
Phi. What was that for? I see no reason either for the get-up or for the choice of names.
Me. Oh, obvious enough; there is no mystery in that. He thought that as these three had gone down alive to Hades before us, I might easily elude Aeacus's guard by borrowing their appearance, and be passed as an habitué; there is good warrant in the theatre for the efficiency of disguise.
Dawn was approaching when we went down to the river to9 embark; he had provided a boat, victims, hydromel, and all necessaries for our mystic enterprise. We put all aboard, and then,
Troubled at heart, with welling tears, we went.
[paragraph continues] For some distance we floated down stream, until we entered the marshy lake in which the Euphrates disappears. Beyond this we came to a desolate, wooded, sunless spot; there we landed, Mithrobarzanes leading the way, and proceeded to dig a pit,
slay our sheep, and sprinkle their blood round the edge. Meanwhile the Mage, with a lighted torch in his hand, abandoning his customary whisper, shouted at the top of his voice an invocation to all spirits, particularly the Poenae and Erinyes,
Hecat's dark might, and dread Persephone,
with a string of other names, outlandish, unintelligible, and polysyllabic.
10As he ended, there was a great commotion, earth was burst open by the incantation, the barking of Cerberus was heard far off, and all was overcast and lowering;
Quaked in his dark abyss the King of Shades;
for almost all was now unveiled to us, the lake, and Phlegethon, and the abode of Pluto. Undeterred, we made our way down the chasm, and came upon Rhadamanthus half dead with fear. Cerberus barked and looked like getting up; but I quickly touched my lyre, and the first note sufficed to lull him. Reaching the lake, we nearly missed our passage for that time, the ferry-boat being already full; there was incessant lamentation, and all the passengers had wounds upon them; mangled legs, mangled heads, mangled everything; no doubt there was a war going on. Nevertheless, when good Charon saw the lion's skin, taking me for Heracles, he made room, was delighted to give me a passage, and showed us our direction when we got off.
11We were now in darkness; so Mithrobarzanes led the way, and I followed holding on to him, until we reached a great meadow of asphodel, where the shades of the dead, with their thin voices, came flitting round us. Working gradually on, we reached the court of Minos; he was sitting on a high throne, with the Poenae, Avengers, and Erinyes standing at the sides. From another direction was being brought a long row of persons chained together; I heard that they were adulterers, procurers, publicans, sycophants, informers, and all the filth
that pollutes the stream of life. Separate from them came the rich and usurers, pale, pot-bellied, and gouty, each with a hundredweight of spiked collar upon him. There we stood looking at the proceedings and listening to the pleas they put in; their accusers were orators of a strange and novel species.
Phi. Who, in God's name? shrink not; let me know all.
Me. It has not escaped your observation that the sun projects certain shadows of our bodies on the ground.
Phi. How should it have?
Me. These, when we die, are the prosecutors and witnesses who bring home to us our conduct on earth; their constant attendance and absolute attachment to our persons secures them high credit in the witness-box.
Well, Minos carefully examined each prisoner, and sent him12 off to the place of the wicked to receive punishment proportionate to his transgressions. He was especially severe upon those who, puffed up with wealth and authority, were expecting an almost reverential treatment; he could not away with their ephemeral presumption and superciliousness, their failure to realize the mortality of themselves and their fortunes. Stripped of all that made them glorious, of wealth and birth and power, there they stood naked and downcast, reconstructing their worldly blessedness in their minds like a dream that is gone; the spectacle was meat and drink to me; any that I knew by sight I would come quietly up to, and remind him of his state up here; what a spirit had his been, when morning crowds lined his hall, expectant of his coming, being jostled or thrust out by lacqueys! at last my lord Sun would dawn upon them, in purple or gold or rainbow hues, not unconscious of the bliss he shed upon those who approached, if he let them kiss his breast or his hand. These reminders seemed to annoy them.
Minos, however, did allow his decision to be influenced in one13
case. Dionysius of Syracuse was accused by Dion of many unholy deeds, and damning evidence was produced by his shadow; he was on the point of being chained to the Chimera, when Aristippus of Cyrene, whose name and influence are great below, got him off on the ground of his constant generosity as a patron of literature.
14We left the court at last, and came to the place of punishment. Many a piteous sight and sound was there--cracking of whips, shrieks of the burning, rack and gibbet and wheel; Chimera tearing, Cerberus devouring; all tortured together, kings and slaves, governors and paupers, rich and beggars, and all repenting their sins. A few of them, the lately dead, we recognized. These would turn away and shrink from observation; or if they met our eyes, it would be with a slavish cringing glance--how different from the arrogance and contempt that had marked them in life! The poor were allowed half-time in their tortures, respite and punishment alternating. Those with whom legend is so busy I saw with my eyes--Ixion, Sisyphus, the Phrygian Tantalus in all his misery, and the giant Tityus--how vast, his bulk covering a whole field!
15Leaving these, we entered the Acherusian plain, and there found the demi-gods, men and women both, and the common dead, dwelling in their nations and tribes, some of them ancient and mouldering, 'strengthless heads,' as Homer has it, others fresh, with substance yet in them, Egyptians chiefly, these--so long last their embalming drugs. But to know one from another was no easy task; all are so like when the bones are bared; yet with pains and long scrutiny we could make them out. They lay pell-mell in undistinguished heaps, with none of their earthly beauties left. With all those anatomies piled together as like as could be, eyes glaring ghastly and vacant, teeth gleaming bare, I knew not how to tell Thersites from Nireus the beauty, beggar Irus from the Phaeacian king, or cook
[paragraph continues] Pyrrhias from Agamemnon's self. Their ancient marks were gone, and their bones alike--uncertain, unlabelled, indistinguishable.
When I saw all this, the life of man came before me under16 the likeness of a great pageant, arranged and marshalled by Chance, who distributed infinitely varied costumes to the performers. She would take one and array him like a king, with tiara, bodyguard, and crown complete; another she dressed like a slave; one was adorned with beauty, another got up as a ridiculous hunchback; there must be all kinds in the show. Often before the procession was over she made individuals exchange characters; they could not be allowed to keep the same to the end; Croesus must double parts and appear as slave and captive; Maeandrius, starting as slave, would take over Polycrates's despotism, and be allowed to keep his new clothes for a little while. And when the procession is done, every one disrobes, gives up his character with his body, and appears, as he originally was, just like his neighbour. Some, when Chance comes round collecting the properties, are silly enough to sulk and protest, as though they were being robbed of their own instead of only returning loans. You know the kind of thing on the stage--tragic actors shifting as the play requires from Creon to Priam, from Priam to Agamemnon; the same man, very likely, whom you saw just now in all the majesty of Cecrops or Erechtheus, treads the boards next as a slave, because the author tells him to. The play over, each of them throws off his gold-spangled robe and his mask, descends from the buskin's height, and moves a mean ordinary creature; his name is not now Agamemnon son of Atreus or Creon son of Menoeceus, but Polus son of Charicles of Sunium or Satyrus son of Theogiton of Marathon. Such is the condition of mankind, or so that sight presented it to me.
Phi. Now, if a man occupies a costly towering sepulchre, or17
leaves monuments, statues, inscriptions behind him on earth, does not this place him in a class above the common dead?
Me. Nonsense, my good man; if you had looked on Mausolus himself--the Carian so famous for his tomb--, I assure you, you would never have stopped laughing; he was a miserable unconsidered unit among the general mass of the dead, flung aside in a dusty hole, with no profit of his sepulchre but its extra weight upon him. No, friend, when Aeacus gives a man his allowance of space--and it never exceeds a foot's breadth--, he must be content to pack himself into its limits. You might have laughed still more if you had beheld the kings and governors of earth begging in Hades, selling salt fish for a living, it might be, or giving elementary lessons, insulted by any one who met them, and cuffed like the most worthless of slaves. When I saw Philip of Macedon, I could not contain myself; some one showed him to me cobbling old shoes for money in a corner. Many others were to be seen begging--people like Xerxes, Darius, or Polycrates.
18Phi. These royal downfalls are extraordinary almost incredible. But what of Socrates, Diogenes, and such wise men?
Me. Socrates still goes about proving everybody wrong, the same as ever; Palamedes, Odysseus, Nestor, and a few other conversational shades, keep him company. His legs, by the way, were still puffy and swollen from the poison. Good Diogenes pitches close to Sardanapalus, Midas, and other specimens of magnificence. The sound of their lamentations and better-day memories keeps him in laughter and spirits; he is generally stretched on his back roaring out a noisy song which drowns lamentation; it annoys them, and they are looking out for a new pitch where he may not molest them.
19Phi. I am satisfied. And now for that decree which you told me had been passed against the rich.
Me. Well remembered; that was what I meant to tell you about, but I have somehow got far astray. Well, during my stay the presiding officers gave notice of an assembly on matters of general interest. So, when I saw every one flocking to it, I mingled with the shades and constituted myself a member. Various measures were decided upon, and last came this question of the rich. Many grave accusations were preferred against them, including violence, ostentation, pride, injustice; and at last a popular speaker rose and moved this decree.
'Whereas the rich are guilty of many illegalities on earth, 20 harrying and oppressing the poor and trampling upon all their rights, it is the pleasure of the Senate and People that after death they shall be punished in their bodies like other malefactors, but their souls shall be sent on earth to inhabit asses, until they have passed in that shape a quarter-million of years, generation after generation, bearing burdens under the tender mercies of the poor; after which they shall be permitted to die. Mover of this decree--Cranion son of Skeletion of the deme Necysia in the Alibantid 1 tribe.' The decree read, a formal vote was taken, in which the people accepted it. A snort from Brimo and a bark from Cerberus completed the proceedings according to the regular form.
So went the assembly. And now, in pursuance of my original21 design, I went to Tiresias, explained my case fully, and implored him to give me his views upon the best life. He is a blind little old man, pale and weak-voiced. He smiled and said:--'My son, the cause of your perplexity, I know, is the fact that doctors differ; but I may not enlighten you; Rhadamanthus forbids.' 'Ah, say not so, father,' I exclaimed; 'speak out, and
leave me not to wander through life in a blindness worse than yours.' So he drew me apart to a considerable distance, and whispered in my ear:--'The life of the ordinary man is the best and most prudent choice; cease from the folly of metaphysical speculation and inquiry into origins and ends, utterly reject their clever logic, count all these things idle talk, and pursue one end alone--how you may do what your hand finds to do, and go your way with ever a smile and never a passion.'
So he, and sought the lawn of asphodel.
22It was now late, and I told Mithrobarzanes that our work was done, and we might reascend. 'Very well, Menippus,' said he, 'I will show you an easy short cut.' And taking me to a place where the darkness was especially thick, he pointed to a dim and distant ray of light--a mere pencil admitted through a chink. 'There,' he said, 'is the shrine of Trophonius, from which the Boeotian inquirers start; go up that way, and you will be on Grecian soil without more ado.' I was delighted, took my leave of the Mage, crawled with considerable difficulty through the aperture, and found myself, sure enough, at Lebadea.
166:1 The four names are formed from words meaning skull, skeleton, corpse, anatomy.
Her. So gay, Charon? What makes you leave your ferry to come up here? You are quite a stranger in the upper world.
Ch. I thought I should like to see what life is like; what men do with it, and what are these blessings of which they all lament the loss when they come down to us. Never one of them has made the passage dry-eyed. So I got leave from Pluto to take a day off, like that Thessalian lad 1, you know; and here I am,
in the light of day. I am in luck, it seems, to fall in with you. You will show me round, of course, and point out all that is to be seen, as you know all about it.
Her. I have no time, good ferryman. I am bound on certain errands of the Upper Zeus, certain human matters. He is short-tempered: any loitering on my part, and he may hand me over to you Powers of Darkness for good and all; or treat me as he did Hephaestus the other day--hurl me down headlong from the threshold of Heaven; there would be a pair of lame cupbearers then, to amuse the gods.
Ch. And you would leave an old messmate wandering at large on the face of the earth? Think of the cruises we have sailed together, the cargoes you and I have handled! You might remember one thing, son of Maia; I have never set you down to bale or row. You lie sprawling about the deck, you great strong lubber, snoring away, or chatting the whole trip through with any communicative shade you can find; and the old man plies both oars at once. Come, stand by me, like a true son of Zeus as you are, and show me all the ins and outs, there's a dear lad. I want to see something of life before I go back, and if you leave me in the lurch, I shall be no better off than a blind man: he comes to grief because he is always in the dark, and, contrariwise, I can make nothing of it in the light. Do me this good turn, and I'll not forget it.
Her. Clearly this is to be a flogging matter for me. There2 will go some shrewd knocks to the settlement of this reckoning. However, I must give you a helping hand. What is one to do, when a friend is so pressing? Now, as to going over everything thoroughly, it is out of the question; it would take us years. Meanwhile, I should have the hue-and-cry out after me, you would be neglecting your ghostly work, Pluto would lose the shades that you ought to be shipping over all that time, and Aeacus would never take a single toll, and would be
proportionately furious. We have only to think, therefore, of contriving you a general view of what is going on.
Ch. You must do the best you can for me. I know nothing of the matter, being a stranger up here.
Her. The main thing is to get an elevation from which you may see in every direction. If you could come up to Heaven, we should be saved any further trouble; you would then have a good bird's-eye view of everything. But it would be sacrilege for one so conversant with phantoms to set foot in the courts of Zeus. Let us lose no time, therefore, in looking out a good high mountain.
3Ch. You know what I sometimes say to you on the ship, Hermes.--If a sudden gust strikes the sail from a new quarter, and the waves are rising high, you landsmen know not what to make of it; you are for taking in sail, or slackening the sheet, or letting her go before the wind, and then I tell you not to trouble your heads, for I know what to do. Well, now it is your turn; you are sailing this ship; do as you think best, and I'll sit quiet, as a passenger should, and obey orders.
Her. Just so; leave it to me, and I will find a good look-out. How would Caucasus do? Or is Parnassus higher? Olympus, perhaps, is higher than either of them. Olympus! stay, that reminds me; I have a happy thought. But there is work for two here; I shall want your assistance.
Ch. Give your orders, I'll bear a hand, to the best of my ability.
Her. Homer tells us how the sons of Aloeus 1 (they were but two, like ourselves) took it into their heads, when they were yet children, to drag up Ossa from its foundations, and plant it on the top of Olympus, and then Pelion on the top of all; they thought that would serve as a ladder for getting into heaven. The two boys were rightly punished for their presumption.
[paragraph continues] But we have no design against the Gods: why should not we take the hint, and make an erection of mountains piled one on the top of another? From such a height we should get a better view.
Ch. What, shall we two be able to lift Pelion or Ossa? 4
Her. Why not? We are gods; I should hope we are as good as those two infants.
Ch. Yes; but I should never have thought we could do such a job as that.
Her. Ah, my dear Charon, you don't understand these things; you have no imagination. To the lofty spirit of Homer this is simplicity itself. Just a couple of lines, and the mountains are in place;--we have only to walk up. I wonder you make such a marvel of this. You know Atlas, of course? He holds up the entire heaven by himself, Gods and all. And I dare say you have heard how my brother Heracles relieved him once, and took the burden on his own shoulders for a time?
Ch. Yes, I have heard it. But you and the poets best know whether it is true.
Her. Oh, perfectly true. What should induce wise men to lie?--Come, let us get to work on Ossa first; for so the master-builder directs:
On Ossa leafy Pelion.
[paragraph continues] There! What think you of this? Is it suave work? is it poetry? I must run up, and see whether we shall want another5 storey. Oh dear, we are no way up as yet. On the East, it is all I can do to make out Ionia and Lydia; on the West is nothing but Italy and Sicily; on the North, nothing to be seen beyond the Danube; and on the South, Crete, none too clear. It looks to me as if we should want Oeta, my nautical friend; and Parnassus into the bargain.
Ch. So be it; but take care not to make the height too great for the width; or down we shall come, ladder and all, and pay our footing in the Homeric school of architecture with a cracked crown apiece.
Her. No fear; all will be safe enough. Pass Oeta along. Now trundle Parnassus up. There; I'll go up again. . . . That's better! A fine view. You can come now.
Ch. Give me a hand up, Hermes. This is an erection, and no mistake!
Her. Well, you know, you would see everything. Safety is one thing, my friend, and sight-seeing is another. Here is my hand; hang on, and keep clear of the slippery bits. There, now you are up. Let us sit down; here are two peaks, one for each of us. Now take a general look round at the prospect.
Ch. I see a vast stretch of land, and a huge lake surrounding it, and mountains, and rivers bigger than Cocytus and Pyriphlegethon; and men, tiny little things! and I suppose their dens.
Her. Dens? Those are cities!
6Ch. I tell you what it is, Hermes; all this is no use. Here have we been shifting about Parnassus (Castalia and all complete), and Oeta, and these others, and we might have spared ourselves the trouble!
Her. How so?
Ch. Why, I can make nothing out up here. These cities and mountains look for all the world like a map. It is men that I am after; I want to see what they do, and hear what they say. That is what I was laughing about just now, when first you met me, and asked me what the joke was. I had heard something that tickled me hugely.
Her. And what might that be?
Ch. One of them had been asked by a friend to dinner, I think it was, the next day. 'Depend on it,' says he, 'I'll be
with you.' And before the words were out of his mouth, down came a tile--started somehow from the roof--and he was a dead man! Ha, ha, thought I, that promise will never be kept. So I think I shall go down again; I want to see and hear.
Her. Sit where you are. I will soon put that right; you7 shall see with the best; Homer has a charm for this too. Now, the moment I say the lines, there must be no more dull eyes; all must be clear as daylight. Don't forget!
Ch. Say on.
See, from before thine eyes I lift the veil;
So shalt thou clearly know both God and man.
[paragraph continues] Well? Are the eyes any better?
Ch. A marvellous improvement! Lynceus is blind to me. Now, the next thing I want is information. I have some questions to ask. Will you have them couched in the Homeric style, to convince you that I am not wholly unversed in his poems?
Her. And how should you know anything of Homer? A seaman, chained to the oar!
Ch. Come, come; no abuse of my profession. The fact is, when he died, and I ferried him over, I heard a good many of his ballads, and a few of them still run in my head. There was a pretty stiff gale on at the time, too. You see, he began singing a song about Posidon, which boded no good to us mariners,--how Posidon gathered the clouds, and stirred the depths with his trident, as with a ladle, and roused the whirlwind, and a good deal more (enough to raise a storm of itself),--when suddenly there came a black squall which nearly capsized the boat. The poet was extremely ill, and disgorged such an avalanche of minstrelsy (Scylla, Charybdis, the Cyclops, all came up bodily), that I had no difficulty in preserving a few snatches. I should like to know, for instance, 8
Who is yon hero, stout and strong and tall,
O’ertopping all mankind by head and shoulders?
Her. That is Milo of Croton, the athlete. He has just picked up a bull, and is carrying it along the race-course; and the Greeks are applauding him.
Ch. It would be more to the point, if they were to offer their congratulations to me. I shall presently be picking up Milo himself, and putting him into my boat; that will be after he has had his fall from Death, that most invincible of antagonists, who will have him on his back before he knows what is happening. We shall hear a sad tale then, no doubt, of the crowns and the applause he has left behind him. Meanwhile, he is mightily elated over the bull exploit, and the distinction it has won him. What is one to think? Does it ever occur to him that he must die some day?
Her. How should he think of death? He is at his zenith.
Ch. Well, never mind him. We shall have sport enough with him before long; he will come aboard with no strength 9left to pick up a gnat, let alone a bull. But pray,
Who is yon haughty hero?
[paragraph continues] No Greek, to judge by his dress.
Her. That is Cyrus, son of Cambyses, who transferred to the Persians the ancient empire of the Medes. He has lately conquered Assyria, and reduced Babylon; and now it looks as if he meditated an invasion of Lydia, to complete his dominion by the overthrow of Croesus.
Ch. And whereabouts is Croesus?
Her. Look over there. You see the great city with the triple wall? That is Sardis. And there, look, is Croesus himself, reclining on a golden couch, and conversing with Solon the Athenian. Shall we listen to what they are saying?
Ch. Yes, let us.
10Cr. Stranger, you have now seen my stores of treasure, my heaps
of bullion, and all my riches. Tell me therefore, whom do you account the happiest of mankind?
Ch. What will Solon say, I wonder?
Her. Trust Solon; he will not disgrace himself.
So. Croesus, few men are happy. Of those whom I know, the happiest, I think, were Cleobis and Biton, the sons of the Argive priestess.
Ch. Ah, he means those two who yoked themselves to a waggon, and drew their mother to the temple, and died the moment after. It was but the other day.
Cr. Ah. So they are first on the list. And who comes next?
So. Tellus the Athenian, who lived a righteous life, and died for his country.
Cr. And where do I come, reptile?
So. That I am unable to say at present, Croesus; I must see you end your days first. Death is the sure test;--a happy end to a life of happiness.
Ch. Bravo, Solon; you have not forgotten us! As you say, Charon's ferry is the proper place for the decision of these questions.--But who are these men whom Croesus is sending11 out? And what have they got on their shoulders?
Her. Those are bars of gold; they are going to Delphi, to pay for an oracle, which oracle will presently be the ruin of Croesus. But oracles are a hobby of his.
Ch. Oh, so that is gold, that glittering yellow stuff, with just a tinge of red in it. I have often heard of gold, but never saw it before.
Her. Yes, that is the stuff there is so much talking and squabbling about.
Ch. Well now, I see no advantages about it, unless it is an advantage that it is heavy to carry.
Her. Ah, you do not know what it has to answer for; the wars and plots and robberies, the perjuries and murders; for
this men will endure slavery and imprisonment; for this they traffic and sail the seas.
Ch. For this stuff? Why, it is not much different from copper. I know copper, of course, because I get a penny from each passenger.
Her. Yes, but copper is plentiful, and therefore not much esteemed by men. Gold is found only in small quantities, and the miners have to go to a considerable depth for it. For the rest, it comes out of the earth, just the same as lead and other metals.
Ch. What fools men must be, to be enamoured of an object of this sallow complexion; and of such a weight!
Her. Well, Solon, at any rate, seems to have no great affection for it. See, he is making merry with Croesus and his outlandish magnificence. I think he is going to ask him a question. Listen.
12So. Croesus, will those bars be any use to Apollo, do you think?
Cr. Any use! Why there is nothing at Delphi to be compared to them.
So. And that is all that is wanting to complete his happiness, eh?--some bar gold?
So. Then they must be very hard up in Heaven, if they have to send all the way to Lydia for their gold supply?
Cr. Where else is gold to be had in such abundance as with us?
So. Now is any iron found in Lydia?
Cr. Not much.
So. Ah; so you are lacking in the more valuable metal.
Cr. More valuable? Iron more valuable than gold?
So. Bear with me, while I ask you a few questions, and I will convince you it is so.
So. Of protector and protégé, which is the better man?
Cr. The protector, of course.
So. Now in the event of Cyrus's invading Lydia--there is some talk of it--shall you supply your men with golden swords? or will iron be required, on the occasion?
Cr. Oh, iron.
So. Iron accordingly you must have, or your gold would be led captive into Persia?
So. Oh, we will hope for the best. But it is clear, on your own admission, that iron is better than gold.
Cr. And what would you have me do? Recall the gold, and offer the God bars of iron?
So. He has no occasion for iron either. Your offering (be the metal what it may) will fall into other hands than his. It will be snapped up by the Phocians, or the Boeotians, or the God's own priests; or by some tyrant or robber. Your goldsmiths have no interest for Apollo.
Cr. You are always having a stab at my wealth. It is all envy!
Her. This blunt sincerity is not to the Lydian's taste. Things13 are come to a strange pass, he thinks, if a poor man is to hold up his head, and speak his mind in this frank manner! He will remember Solon presently, when the time comes for Cyrus to conduct him in chains to the pyre. I heard Clotho, the other day, reading over the various dooms. Among other things, Croesus was to be led captive by Cyrus, and Cyrus to be murdered by the queen of the Massagetae. There she is: that Scythian woman, riding on a white horse; do you see?
Her. That is Tomyris. She will cut off Cyrus's head, and put it into a wine-skin filled with blood. And do you see his son, the boy there? That is Cambyses. He will succeed to his father's throne; and, after innumerable defeats in Libya
and Ethiopia, will finally slay the god Apis, and die a raving madman.
Ch. What fun! Why, at this moment no one would presume to meet their eyes; from such a height do they look down on the rest of mankind. Who would believe that before long one of them will be a captive, and the other have his head in a bottle of14 blood?--But who is that in the purple robe, Hermes?--the one with the diadem? His cook has just been cleaning a fish, and is now handing him a ring,--'in yonder sea-girt isle'; '’tis, sure, some king.'
Her. Ha, ha! A parody, this time.--That is Polycrates, tyrant of Samos. He is extremely well pleased with his lot: yet that slave who now stands at his side will betray him to the satrap Oroetes, and he will be crucified. It will not take long to overturn his prosperity, poor man! This, too, I had from Clotho.
Ch. I like Clotho; she is a lady of spirit. Have at them, madam! Off with their heads! To the cross with them! Let them know that they are men. And let them be exalted in the meantime; the higher they mount, the heavier will be the fall. I shall have a merry time of it hereafter, identifying their naked shades, as they come aboard; no more purple robes then; no tiaras; no golden couches!
15Her. So much for royalty; and now to the common herd. Do you see them, Charon;--on their ships and on the field of battle; crowding the law-courts and following the plough; usurers here, beggars there?
Ch. I see them. What a jostling life it is! What a world of ups and downs! Their cities remind me of bee-hives. Every man keeps a sting for his neighbour's service; and a few, like wasps, make spoil of their weaker brethren. But what are all these misty shapes that beset them on every side?
Her. Hopes, Fears, Follies, Pleasures, Greeds, Hates, Grudges,
and such like. They differ in their habits. The Folly is a domestic creature, with vested rights of its own. The same with the Grudge, the Hate, the Envy, the Greed, the Know-not, and the What's-to-do. But the Fear and the Hope fly overhead. The Fear swoops on its prey from above; sometimes it is content with startling a man out of his wits, sometimes it frightens him in real earnest. The Hope hovers almost within reach, and just when a man thinks he is going to catch it, off it flies, and leaves him gaping--like Tantalus in the water, you know. Now look closely, and you will make out16 the Fates up aloft, spinning each man his spindle-full; from that spindle a man hangs by a narrow thread. Do you see what looks like a cobweb, coming down to each man from the spindles?
Ch. I see each has a very slight thread. They are mostly entangled, one with another, and that other with a third.
Her. Of course they are. Because the first man has got to be murdered by the second, and he by the third; or again, B is to be A's heir (A's thread being the shorter), and C is to be B's. That is what the entangling means. But you see what thin threads they all have to depend on. Now here is one drawn high up into the air; presently his thread will snap, when the weight becomes too much for it, and down he will come with a bang: whereas yonder fellow hangs so low that when he does fall it makes no noise; his next-door neighbours will scarcely hear him drop.
Ch. How absurd it all is!
Her. My dear Charon, there is no word for the absurdity of17 it. They do take it all so seriously, that is the best of it; and then, long before they have finished scheming, up comes good old Death, and whisks them off, and all is over! You observe that he has a fine staff of assistants at his command;--agues, consumptions, fevers, inflammations, swords, robbers, hemlock,
juries, tyrants,--not one of which gives them a moment's concern so long as they are prosperous; but when they come to grief, then it is Alack! and Well-a-day! and Oh dear me! If only they would start with a clear understanding that they are mortal, that after a brief sojourn on the earth they will wake from the dream of life, and leave all behind them,--they would live more sensibly, and not mind dying so much. As it is, they get it into their heads that what they possess they possess for good and all; the consequence is, that when Death's officer calls for them, and claps on a fever or a consumption, they take it amiss; the parting is so wholly unexpected. Yonder is a man building his house, urging the workmen to use all dispatch. How would he take the news, that he was just to see the roof on and all complete, when he would have to take his departure, and leave all the enjoyment to his heir?--hard fate, not once to sup beneath it! There again is one rejoicing over the birth of a son; the child is to inherit his grandfather's name, and the father is celebrating the occasion with his friends. He would not be so pleased, if he knew that the boy was to die before he was eight years old! It is natural enough: he sees before him some happy father of an Olympian victor, and has no eyes for his neighbour there, who is burying a child; that thin-spun thread escapes his notice. Behold, too, the money-grubbers, whom the aforesaid Death's-officers will never permit to be money-spenders; and the noble army of litigant neighbours!
18Ch. Yes! I see it all; and I ask myself, what is the satisfaction in life? What is it that men bewail the loss of? Take their kings; they seem to be best off, though, as you say, they have their happiness on a precarious tenure; but apart from that, we shall find their pleasures to be outweighed by the vexations inseparable from their position--worry and anxiety, flattery here, conspiracy there, enmity everywhere; to say
nothing of the tyranny of Sorrow, Disease, and Passion, with whom there is confessedly no respect of persons. And if the king's lot is a hard one, we may make a pretty shrewd guess at that of the commoner. Come now, I will give you a similitude19 for the life of man. Have you ever stood at the foot of a waterfall, and marked the bubbles rising to the surface and gathering into foam? Some are quite small, and break as soon as they are born. Others last longer; new ones come to join them, and they swell up to a great size: yet in the end they burst, as surely as the rest; it cannot be otherwise. There you have human life. All men are bubbles, great or small, inflated with the breath of life. Some are destined to last for a brief space, others perish in the very moment of birth: but all must inevitably burst.
Her. Homer compares mankind to leaves. Your simile is full as good as his.
Ch. And being the things they are, they do--the things you20 see; squabbling among themselves, and contending for dominion and power and riches, all of which they will have to leave behind them, when they come down to us with their penny apiece. Now that we are up here, how would it be for me to cry out to them at the top of my voice, to abstain from their vain endeavours, and live with the prospect of Death before their eyes? 'Fools' (I might say), 'why so much in earnest? Rest from your toils. You will not live for ever. Nothing of the pomp of this world will endure; nor can any man take anything hence when he dies. He will go naked out of the world, and his house and his lands and his gold will be another's, and ever another's.' If I were to call out something of this sort, loud enough for them to hear, would it not do some good? Would not the world be the better for it?
Her. Ah, my poor friend, you know not what you say. Ignorance21 and deceit have done for them what Odysseus did for his
crew when he was afraid of the Sirens; they have waxed men's ears up so effectually, that no drill would ever open them. How then should they hear you? You might shout till your lungs gave way. Ignorance is as potent here as the waters of Lethe are with you. There are a few, to be sure, who from a regard for Truth have refused the wax process; men whose eyes are open to discern good and evil.
Ch. Well then, we might call out to them?
Her. There again: where would be the use of telling them what they know already? See, they stand aloof from the rest of mankind, and scoff at all that goes on; nothing is as they would have it. Nay, they are evidently bent on giving life the slip, and joining you. Their condemnations of folly make them unpopular here.
Ch. Well done, my brave boys! There are not many of them, though, Hermes.
Her. These must serve. And now let us go down.
22Ch. There is still one thing I had a fancy to see. Show me the receptacles into which they put the corpses, and your office will have been discharged.
Her. Ah, sepulchres, those are called, or tombs, or graves. Well, do you see those mounds, and columns, and pyramids, outside the various city walls? Those are the store-chambers of the dead.
Ch. Why, they are putting flowers on the stones, and pouring costly essences upon them. And in front of some of the mounds they have piled up faggots, and dug trenches. Look: there is a splendid banquet laid out, and they are burning it all; and pouring wine and mead, I suppose it is, into the trenches! What does it all mean?
Her. What satisfaction it affords to their friends in Hades, I am unable to say. But the idea is, that the shades come up, and get as close as they can, and feed upon the savoury steam of the meat, and drink the mead in the trench.
Ch. Eat and drink, when their skulls are dry bone? But I am wasting my breath: you bring them down every day;--you can say whether they are likely ever to get up again, once they are safely underground! That would be too much of a good thing! You would have your work cut out for you and no mistake, if you had not only to bring them down, but also to take them up again when they wanted a drink. Oh, fools and blockheads! You little know how we arrange matters, or what a gulf is set betwixt the living and the dead!
The buried and unburied, both are Death's.
He ranks alike the beggar and the king;
Thersites sits by fair-haired Thetis’ son.
Naked and withered roam the fleeting shades
Together through the fields of asphodel.
Her. Bless me, what a deluge of Homer! And now I think23 of it, I must show you Achilles's tomb. There it is on the Trojan shore, at Sigeum. And across the water is Rhoeteum, where Ajax lies buried.
Ch. Rather small tombs, considering. Now show me the great cities, those that we hear talked about in Hades; Nineveh, Babylon, Mycenae, Cleonae, and Troy itself. I shipped numbers across from there, I remember. For ten years running I had no time to haul my boat up and clean it.
Her. Why, as to Nineveh, it is gone, friend, long ago, and has left no trace behind it; there is no saying whereabouts it may have been. But there is Babylon, with its fine battlements and its enormous wall. Before long it will be as hard to find as Nineveh. As to Mycenae and Cleonae, I am ashamed to show them to you, let alone Troy. You will throttle Homer, for certain, when you get back, for puffing them so. They were prosperous cities, too, in their day; but they have gone the way of all flesh. Cities, my friend, die, just like men;
stranger still, so do rivers! Inachus is gone from Argos--not a puddle left.
Ch. Oh, Homer, Homer! You and your 'holy Troy,' and your 'city of broad streets,' and your 'strong-walled Cleonae'! 24--By the way, what is that battle going on over there? What are they murdering one another about?
Her. It is between the Argives and the Lacedaemonians. The general who lies there half-dead, writing an inscription on the trophy with his own blood, is Othryades.
Ch. And what were they fighting for?
Her. For the field of battle, neither more nor less.
Ch. The fools! Not to know that though each one of them should win to himself a whole Peloponnesus, he will get but a bare foot of ground from Aeacus! As to yonder plain, one nation will till it after another, and many a time will that trophy be turned up by the plough.
Her. Even so. And now let us get down, and put these mountains to rights again. After which, I must be off on my errand, and you back to your ferry. You will see me there before long, with the day's contingent of shades.
Ch. I am much obliged to you, Hermes; the service shall be perpetuated in my records. Thanks to you, my outing has been a success. Dear, dear, what a world it is!--And never a word of Charon!
167:1 See Protesilaus in Notes.
169:1 See Otus in Notes.
VOYAGE TO THE LOWER WORLD
Charon. Clotho. Hermes. Shades. Rhadamanthus. Tisiphone. Lamp. Bed
Cha. You see how it is, Clotho; here has all been ship-shape and ready for a start this long time; the hold baled out, the mast stepped, the sail hoisted, every oar in its rowlock; it is no fault of mine that we don't weigh anchor and sail. ’Tis Hermes keeps us; he should have been here long ago. Not a passenger on board, as you may see; and we might have made the trip three times over by this. Evening is coming on now; and never a penny taken all day! I know how it will be: Pluto will think I have been wanting to my work. It is not I that am to blame, but our fine gentleman of a supercargo. He is just like any mortal: he has taken a drink of their Lethe up there, and forgotten to come back to us. He'll be wrestling with the lads, or playing on his lyre, or giving his precious gift of the gab a good airing; or he's off after plunder, the rascal, for what I know: ’tis all in the day's work with him. He is getting too independent: he ought to remember that he belongs to us, one half of him.
Clo. Well, well, Charon; perhaps he has been busy: Zeus may2 have had some particular occasion for his services in the upper world; he has the use of him too, remember.
Cha. That doesn't say that he should make use of him beyond
what's reasonable. Hermes is common property. We have never kept him here when he was due to go. No, I know what it is. In these parts of ours all is mist and gloom and darkness, and nothing to be had but asphodel and libations and sacrificial cakes and meats. Yonder in Heaven, all's bright, with plenty of ambrosia, and no end of nectar. Small wonder that he likes to loiter there. When he leaves us, ’tis on wings; it is as though he escaped from prison. But when the time comes for return, he tramps it on foot, and has much ado to get here at all.
3Clo. Well, never mind now; here he comes, look, and a fine host of passengers with him; a fine flock, rather; he hustles them along with his staff like so many goats. But what's this? One of them is bound, and another enjoying the joke; and there is one with a wallet slung beside him, and a stick in his hand; a cantankerous-looking fellow; he keeps the rest moving. And just look at Hermes! Bathed in perspiration, and his feet covered with dust! See how he pants; he is quite out of breath. What is the matter, Hermes? Tell us all about it; you seem disturbed.
Her. The matter is that this rascal ran away; I had to go after him, and had well nigh played you false for this trip, I can tell you.
Clo. Why, who is he? What did he want to run away for?
Her. His motive is sufficiently clear: he had a preference for remaining alive. He is some king or tyrant, as I gather from his piteous allusions to blessedness no longer his.
Clo. And the fool actually tried to run away, and thought to prolong his life when the thread of Fate was exhausted?
4Her. Tried! He would have got clean away, but for that capital fellow there with the club; he gave me a hand, and we caught and bound him. The whole way along, from the moment that Atropus handed him over to me, he dragged and
hung back, and dug his heels into the ground: it was no easy work getting him along. Every now and then he would take to prayers and entreaties: Would I let him go just for a few minutes? he would make it worth my while. Of course I was not going to do that; it was out of the question.--Well, we had actually got to the very pit's mouth, when somehow or other this double-dyed knave managed to slip off, whilst I was telling over the Shades to Aeacus, as usual, and he checking them by your sister's invoice. The consequence was, we were one short of tally. Aeacus raised his eyebrows. 'Hermes,' he said, 'everything in its right place: no larcenous work here, please. You play enough of those tricks in Heaven. We keep strict accounts here: nothing escapes us. The invoice says 1,004; there it is in black and white. You have brought me one short, unless you say that Atropus was too clever for you.' I coloured up at that; and then all at once I remembered what had happened on the way, and when I looked round and this fellow was nowhere to be seen, I knew that he must have made off, and I set off after him along the road to the upper world, as fast as I could go. My worthy friend here volunteered for the service; so we made a race of it, and caught the runaway just as he got to Taenarum! It was a near thing.
Clo. There now, Charon! And we were beginning to accuse5 Hermes of neglect.
Cha. Well, and why are we waiting here, as if there had not been enough delay already?
Clo. True. Let them come aboard. I'll to my post by the gangway, with my notebook, and take their names and countries as they come up, and details of their deaths; and you can stow them away as you get them.--Hermes, let us have those babies in first; I shall get nothing out of them.
Her. Here, skipper. Three hundred of them, including those that were exposed.
Cha. A precious haul, on my word!-These are but green grapes, Hermes.
Her. Who next, Clotho? The Unwept?
6Clo. Ah! I take you.--Yes, up with the old fellows. I have no time to-day for prehistoric research. All over sixty, pass on! What's the matter with them? They don't hear me; they are deaf with age. I think you will have to pick them up, like the babies, and get them along that way.
Her. Here they are; fine well-matured fruit, gathered in due season; three hundred and ninety-eight of them.
Cha. Nay, nay; these are no better than raisins.
Clo. Bring up the wounded next, Hermes. Now I can get to work. Tell me how you were killed. Or no; I had better look at my notes, and call you over. Eighty-four due to be killed in battle yesterday, in Mysia, These to include Gobares, son of Oxyartes.
Clo. The seven who killed themselves for love. Also Theagenes, the philosopher, for love of the Megarian courtesan.
Her. Here they are, look.
Clo. And the rival claimants to thrones, who slew one another?
Clo. And the one murdered by his wife and her paramour?
Her. Straight in front of you.
Clo. Now the victims of the law,--the cudgelled and the crucified. And where are those sixteen who were killed by robbers?
Her. Here; you may know them by their wounds. Am I to bring the women too?
Clo. Yes, certainly; and all who were shipwrecked; it is the same kind of death. And those who died of fever, bring them too,7 the doctor Agathocles and all. Then there was a Cynic philosopher, who was to have succumbed to a dinner with
[paragraph continues] Dame Hecate, eked out with sacrificial eggs and a raw cuttlefish; where is he?
Cy. Here I stand this long time, my good Clotho.--Now what had I done to deserve such a weary spell of life? You gave me pretty nearly a spindleful of it. I often tried to cut the thread and away; but somehow it never would give.
Clo. I left you as a censor and physician of human frailties; pass on, and good luck to you.
Cy. No, by Zeus! First let us see our captive safe on board. Your judgement might be perverted by his entreaties.
Clo. Let me see; who is he? 8
Her. Megapenthes, son of Lacydes; tyrant.
Clo. Come up, Megapenthes.
Me. Nay, nay, my lady Clotho; suffer me to return for a little while, and I will come of my own accord, without waiting to be summoned.
Clo. What do you want to go for?
Me. I crave permission to complete my palace; I left the building half-finished.
Clo. Pooh! Come along.
Me. Oh Fate, I ask no long reprieve. Vouchsafe me this one day, that I may inform my wife where my great treasure lies buried.
Clo. Impossible. ’Tis Fate's decree.
Me. And all that money is to be thrown away?
Clo. Not thrown away. Be under no uneasiness. Your cousin Megacles will take charge of it.
Me. Oh, monstrous! My enemy, whom from sheer good nature I omitted to put to death?
Clo. The same. He will survive you for rather more than forty years; in the full enjoyment of your harem, your wardrobe, and your treasure.
Me. It is too bad of you, Clotho, to hand over my property to my worst enemy.
Clo. My dear sir, it was Cydimachus's property first, surely? You only succeeded to it by murdering him, and butchering his children before his eyes.
Me. Yes, but it was mine after that.
Clo. Well, and now your term of possession expires.
9Me. A word in your ear, madam; no one else must hear this.--Sirs, withdraw for a space.--Clotho, if you will let me escape, I pledge myself to give you a quarter of a million sterling this very day.
Clo. Ha, ha! So your millions are still running in your head?
Me. Shall I throw in the two mixing-bowls that I got by the murder of Cleocritus? They weigh a couple of tons apiece; refined gold!
Clo. Drag him up. We shall never get him to come on board by himself.
Me. I call you all to witness! My city-wall, my docks, remain unfinished. I only wanted five days more to complete them.
Clo. Never mind. It will be another's work now.
Me. Stay! One request I can make with a clear conscience.
Me. Suffer me only to complete the conquest of Persia; . . . and to impose tribute on Lydia; . . . and erect a colossal monument to myself, . . . and inscribe thereon the military achievements of my life. Then let me die.
Clo. Creature, this is no single day's reprieve: you would want something like twenty years.
10Me. Oh, but I am quite prepared to give security for my expeditious return. Nay, I could provide a substitute, if preferred--my well-beloved!
Clo. Wretch! How often have you prayed that he might survive you!
Me. That was a long time ago. Now,--I see a better use for him.
Clo. But he is due to be here, shortly, let me tell you. He is to be put to death by the new sovereign.
Me. Well, Clotho, I hope you will not refuse my last request. 11
Clo. Which is?
Me. I should like to know how things will be, now that I am gone.
Clo. Certainly; you shall have that mortification. Your wife will pass into the hands of Midas, your slave; he has been her gallant for some time past.
Me. A curse on him! 'Twas at her request that I gave him his freedom.
Clo. Your daughter will take her place in the harem of the present monarch. Then all the old statues and portraits which the city set up in your honour will be overturned,--to the entertainment, no doubt, of the spectators.
Me. And will no friend resent these doings?
Clo. Who was your friend? Who had any reason to be? Need I explain that the cringing courtiers who lauded your every word and deed were actuated either by hope or by fear--time-servers every man of them, with a keen eye to the main chance?
Me. And these are they whose feasts rang with my name! who, as they poured their libations, invoked every blessing on my head! Not one but would have died before me, could he have had his will; nay, they swore by no other name.
Clo. Yes; and you dined with one of them yesterday, and it cost you your life. It was that last cup you drank that brought you here.
Me. Ah, I noticed a bitter taste.--But what was his object?
Clo. Oh, you want to know too much. It is high time you came on board.
12Me. Clotho, I had a particular reason for desiring one more glimpse of daylight. I have a burning grievance!
Clo. And what is that? Something of vast importance, I make no doubt.
Me. It is about my slave Carion. The moment he knew of my death, he came up to the room where I lay; it was late in the evening; he had plenty of time in front of him, for not a soul was watching by me; he brought with him my concubine Glycerium (an old affair, this, I suspect), closed the door, and proceeded to take his pleasure with her, as if no third person had been in the room! Having satisfied the demands of passion, he turned his attention to me. 'You little villain,' he cried, 'many’s the flogging I've had from you, for no fault of mine!' And as he spoke he plucked out my hair and smote me on the face. 'Away with you,' he cried finally, spitting on me, 'away to the place of the damned!'--and so withdrew. I burned with resentment: but there I lay stark and cold, and could do nothing. That baggage Glycerium, too, hearing footsteps approaching, moistened her eyes and pretended she had been weeping for me; and withdrew sobbing, and repeating my name.--If I could but get hold of them------
13Clo. Never mind what you would do to them, but come on board. The hour is at hand when you must appear before the tribunal.
Me. And who will presume to give his vote against a tyrant?
Clo. Against a tyrant, who indeed? Against a Shade, Rhadamanthus will take that liberty. He is strictly impartial, as you will presently observe, in adapting his sentences to the requirements of individual cases. And now, no more delay.
Me. Dread Fate, let me be some common man,--some
pauper! I have been a king,--let me be a slave! Only let me live!
Clo. Where is the one with the stick? Hermes, you and he must drag him up feet foremost. He will never come up by himself.
Her. Come along, my runagate. Here you are, skipper. And I say, keep an eye------
Cha. Never fear. We'll lash him to the mast.
Me. Look you, I must have the seat of honour.
Clo. And why exactly?
Me. Can you ask? Was I not a tyrant, with a guard of ten thousand men?
Cy. Oh, dullard! And you complain of Carion's pulling your hair! Wait till you get a taste of this stick; you shall know what it is to be a tyrant.
Me. What, shall a Cynic dare to raise his staff against me? Sirrah, have you forgotten the other day, when I had all but nailed you to the cross, for letting that sharp censorious tongue of yours wag too freely?
Cynic. Well, and now it is your turn to be nailed,--to the mast.
Mi. And what of me, mistress? Am I to be left out of the14 reckoning? Because I am poor, must I be the last to come aboard?
Clo. Who are you?
Mi. Micyllus the cobbler.
Clo. A cobbler, and cannot wait your turn? Look at the tyrant: see what bribes he offers us, only for a short reprieve. It is very strange that delay is not to your fancy too.
Mi. It is this way, my lady Fate. I find but cold comfort in that promise of the Cyclops: 'Outis shall be eaten last,' said he; but first or last, the same teeth are waiting. And then, it is not the same with me as with the rich. Our lives are what they call 'diametrically opposed.' This tyrant, now, was
thought happy while he lived; he was feared and respected by all: he had his gold and his silver; his fine clothes and his horses and his banquets; his smart pages and his handsome ladies,--and had to leave them all. No wonder if he was vexed, and felt the tug of parting. For I know not how it is, but these things are like birdlime: a man's soul sticks to them, and will not easily come away; they have grown to be a part of him. Nay, ’tis as if men were bound in some chain that nothing can break; and when by sheer force they are dragged away, they cry out and beg for mercy. They are bold enough for aught else, but show them this same road to Hades, and they prove to be but cowards. They turn about, and must ever be looking back at what they have left behind them, far off though it be,--like men that are sick for love. So it was with the fool yonder: as we came along, he was for running away; and now15 he tires you with his entreaties. As for me, I had no stake in life; lands and horses, money and goods, fame, statues,--I had none of them; I could not have been in better trim: it needed but one nod from Atropus,--I was busied about a boot at the time, but down I flung knife and leather with a will, jumped up, and never waited to get my shoes, or wash the blacking from my hands, but joined the procession there and then, ay, and headed it, looking ever forward; I had left nothing behind me that called for a backward glance. And, on my word, things begin to look well already. Equal rights for all, and no man better than his neighbour; that is hugely to my liking. And from what I can learn there is no collecting of debts in this country, and no taxes; better still, no shivering in winter, no sickness, no hard knocks from one's betters. All is peace. The tables are turned: the laugh is with us poor men; it is the rich that make moan, and are ill at ease.
16Clo. To be sure, I noticed that you were laughing, some time ago. What was it in particular that excited your mirth?
Mi. I'll tell you, best of Goddesses. Being next door to a tyrant up there, I was all eyes for what went on in his house; and he seemed to me neither more nor less than a God. I saw the embroidered purple, the host of courtiers, the gold, the jewelled goblets, the couches with their feet of silver: and I thought, this is happiness. As for the sweet savour that arose when his dinner was getting ready, it was too much for me; such blessedness seemed more than human. And then his proud looks and stately walk and high carriage, striking admiration into all beholders! It seemed almost as if he must be handsomer than other men, and a good eighteen inches taller. But when he was dead, he made a queer figure, with all his finery gone; though I laughed more at myself than at him: there had I been worshipping mere scum on no better authority than the smell of roast meat, and reckoning happiness by the blood of Lacedaemonian sea-snails! There was Gniphon the17 usurer, too, bitterly reproaching himself for having died without ever knowing the taste of wealth, leaving all his money to his nearest relation and heir-at-law, the spendthrift Rhodochares, when he might have had the enjoyment of it himself. When I saw him, I laughed as if I should never stop: to think of him as he used to be, pale, wizened, with a face full of care, his fingers the only rich part of him, for they had the talents to count,--scraping the money together bit by bit, and all to be squandered in no time by that favourite of Fortune, Rhodochares!--But what are we waiting for now? There will be time enough on the voyage to enjoy their woebegone faces, and have our laugh out.
Clo. Come on board, and then the ferryman can haul up the anchor.
Cha. Now, now! What are you doing here? The boat18 is full. You wait till to-morrow. We can bring you across in the morning.
Mi. What right have you to leave me behind,--a shade of twenty-four hours' standing? I tell you what it is, I shall have you up before Rhadamanthus. A plague on it, she's moving! And here I shall be left all by myself. Stay, though: why not swim across in their wake? No matter if I get tired; a dead man will scarcely be drowned. Not to mention that I have not a penny to pay my fare.
Clo. Micyllus! Stop! You must not come across that way; Heaven forbid!
Mi. Ha, ha! I shall get there first, and I shouldn't wonder.
Clo. This will never do. We must get to him, and pick him up. . . . Hermes, give him a hand up.
19Cha. And where is he to sit now he is here? We are full up, as you may see.
Her. What do you say to the tyrant's shoulders?
Clo. A good idea that.
Cha. Up with you then; and make the rascal's back ache. And now, good luck to our voyage!
Cy. Charon, I may as well tell you the plain truth at once. The penny for my fare is not forthcoming; I have nothing but my wallet, look, and this stick. But if you want a hand at baling, here I am; or I could take an oar; only give me a good stout one, and you shall have no fault to find with me.
Cha. To it, then; and I'll ask no other payment of you.
Cy. Shall I tip them a stave?
Cha. To be sure, if you have a sea-song about you.
Cy. I have several. Look here though, an opposition is starting: a song of lamentation. It will throw me out.
20Sh. Oh, my lands, my lands!--Ah, my money, my money!--Farewell, my fine palace!--The thousands that fellow will have to squander!--Ah, my helpless children!--To think of the vines I planted last year! Who, ah who, will pluck the grapes?------
Her. Why, Micyllus, have you never an Oh or an Ah? It is
quite improper that any shade should cross the stream, and make no moan.
Mi. Get along with you. What have I to do with Ohs and Ahs? I'm enjoying the trip!
Her. Still, just a groan or two. It's expected.
Mi. Well, if I must, here goes.--Farewell, leather, farewell! Ah, Soles, old Soles!--Oh, ancient Boots!--Woe's me! Never again shall I sit empty from morn till night; never again walk up and down, of a winter's day, naked, unshod, with chattering teeth! My knife, my awl, will be another's: whose, ah! whose?
Her. Yes, that will do. We are nearly there.
Cha. Wait a bit! Fares first, please. Your fare, Micyllus;21 every one else has paid; one penny.
Mi. You don't expect to get a penny out of the poor cobbler? You're joking, Charon; or else this is what they call a 'castle in the air.' I know not whether your penny is square or round.
Cha. A fine paying trip this, I must say! However,--all ashore! I must fetch the horses, cows, dogs, and other livestock. Their turn comes now.
Clo. You can take charge of them for the rest of the way, Hermes. I am crossing again to see after the Chinamen, Indopatres and Heramithres. They have been fighting about boundaries, and have killed one another by this time.
Her. Come, shades, let us get on;--follow me, I mean, in single file.
Mi. Bless me, how dark it is! Where is handsome Megillus22 now? There would be no telling Simmiche from Phryne. All complexions are alike here, no question of beauty, greater or less. Why, the cloak I thought so shabby before passes muster here as well as royal purple; the darkness hides both alike. Cyniscus, whereabouts are you?
Cy. Use your ears; here I am. We might walk together. What do you say?
Mi. Very good; give me your hand.--I suppose you have been admitted to the mysteries at Eleusis? That must have been something like this, I should think?
Cy. Pretty much. Look, here comes a torch-bearer; a grim, forbidding dame. A Fury, perhaps?
Mi. She looks like it, certainly.
23Her. Here they are, Tisiphone. One thousand and four.
Ti. It is time we had them. Rhadamanthus has been waiting.
Rhad. Bring them up, Tisiphone. Hermes, you call out their names as they are wanted.
Cy. Rhadamanthus, as you love your father Zeus, have me up first for examination.
Cy. There is a certain shade whose misdeeds on earth I am anxious to denounce. And if my evidence is to be worth anything, you must first be satisfied of my own character and conduct.
Rhad. Who are you?
Cy. Cyniscus, your worship; a student of philosophy.
Rhad. Come up for judgement; I will take you first. Hermes, summon the accusers.
24Her. If any one has an accusation to bring against Cyniscus here present, let him come forward.
Cy. No one stirs!
Rhad. Ah, but that is not enough, my friend. Off with your clothes; I must have a look at your brands.
Cy. Brands? Where will you find them?
Rhad. Never yet did mortal man sin, but he carried about the secret record thereof, branded on his soul.
Cy. Well, here I am stripped. Now for the 'brands.'
Rhad. Clean from head to heel, except three or four very faint marks, scarcely to be made out. Ah! what does this mean? Here is place after place that tells of the iron; all
rubbed out apparently, or cut out. How do you explain this, Cyniscus? How did you get such a clean skin again?
Cy. Why, in old days, when I knew no better, I lived an evil life, and acquired thereby a number of brands. But from the day that I began to practise philosophy, little by little I washed out all the scars from my soul,--thanks to the efficiency of that admirable lotion.
Rhad. Off with you then to the Isles of the Blest, and the excellent company you will find there. But we must have your impeachment of the tyrant before you go. Next shade, Hermes!
Mi. Mine is a very small affair, too, Rhadamanthus; I shall25 not keep you long. I have been stripped all this time; so do take me next.
Rhad. And who may you be?
Mi. Micyllus the cobbler.
Rhad. Very well, Micyllus. As clean as clean could be; not a mark anywhere. You may join Cyniscus. Now the Tyrant.
Her. Megapenthes, son of Lacydes, wanted! Where are you off to? This way! You there, the Tyrant! Up with him, Tisiphone, neck and crop.
Rhad. Now, Cyniscus, your accusation and your proofs. Here is the party.
Cy. There is in fact no need of an accusation. You will very26 soon know the man by the marks upon him. My words however may serve to unveil him, and to show his character in a clearer light. With the conduct of this monster as a private citizen, I need not detain you. Surrounded with a bodyguard, and aided by unscrupulous accomplices, he rose against his native city, and established a lawless rule. The persons put to death by him without trial are to be counted by thousands, and it was the confiscation of their property that gave him his enormous wealth. Since then, there is no conceivable iniquity
which he has not perpetrated. His hapless fellow-citizens have been subjected to every form of cruelty and insult. Virgins have been seduced, boys corrupted, the feelings of his subjects outraged in every possible way. His overweening pride, his insolent bearing towards all who had to do with him, were such as no doom of yours can adequately requite. A man might with more security have fixed his gaze upon the blazing sun, than upon yonder tyrant. As for the refined cruelty of his punishments, it baffles description; and not even his familiars were exempt. That this accusation has not been brought without sufficient grounds, you may easily satisfy yourself, by summoning the murderer's victims.--Nay, they need no summons; see, they are here; they press round as though they would stifle him. Every man there, Rhadamanthus, fell a prey to his iniquitous designs. Some had attracted his attention by the beauty of their wives; others by their resentment at the forcible abduction of their children; others by their wealth; others again by their understanding, their moderation, and their unvarying disapproval of his conduct.
27Rhad. Villain, what have you to say to this?
Me. I committed the murders referred to. As for the rest, the adulteries and corruptions and seductions, it is all a pack of lies.
Cy. I can bring witnesses to these points too, Rhadamanthus.
Rhad. Witnesses, eh?
Cy. Hermes, kindly summon his Lamp and Bed. They will appear in evidence, and state what they know of his conduct.
Her. Lamp and Bed of Megapenthes, come into court. Good, they respond to the summons.
Rhad. Now, tell us all you know about Megapenthes. Bed, you speak first.
Bed. All that Cyniscus said is true. But really, Mr. Rhadamanthus, I don't quite like to speak about it; such strange things used to happen overhead.
Rhad. Why, your unwillingness to speak is the most telling evidence of all!--Lamp, now let us have yours.
Lamp. What went on in the daytime I never saw, not being there. As for his doings at night, the less said the better. I saw some very queer things, though, monstrous queer. Many is the time I have stopped taking oil on purpose, and tried to go out. But then he used to bring me close up. It was enough to give any lamp a bad character.
Rhad. Enough of verbal evidence. Now, just divest yourself28 of that purple, and we will see what you have in the way of brands. Goodness gracious, the man's a positive network! Black and blue with them! Now, what punishment can we give him? A bath in Pyriphlegethon? The tender mercies of Cerberus, perhaps?
Cy. No, no. Allow me,--I have a novel idea; something that will just suit him.
Rhad. Yes? I shall be obliged to you for a suggestion.
Cy. I fancy it is usual for departed spirits to take a draught of the water of Lethe?
Rhad. Just so.
Cy. Let him be the sole exception.
Rhad. What is the idea in that?29
Cy. His earthly pomp and power for ever in his mind; his fingers ever busy on the tale of blissful items;--’tis a heavy sentence!
Rhad. True. Be this the tyrant's doom. Place him in fetters at Tantalus's side,--never to forget the things of earth.