Imaginary Conversations and Poems, by Walter Savage Landor

Epicurus, Leontion, and Ternissa

Ternissa. The broad and billowy summits of yon monstrous trees, one would imagine, were made for the storms to rest upon when they are tired of raving. And what bark! It occurs to me, Epicurus, that I have rarely seen climbing plants attach themselves to these trees, as they do to the oak, the maple, the beech, and others.

Leontion. If your remark be true, perhaps the resinous are not embraced by them so frequently because they dislike the odour of the resin, or some other property of the juices; for they, too, have their affections and antipathies no less than countries and their climes.

Ternissa. For shame! what would you with me?

Epicurus. I would not interrupt you while you were speaking, nor while Leontion was replying; this is against my rules and practice. Having now ended, kiss me, Ternissa!

Ternissa. Impudent man! in the name of Pallas, why should I kiss you?

Epicurus. Because you expressed hatred.

Ternissa. Do we kiss when we hate?

Epicurus. There is no better end of hating. The sentiment should not exist one moment; and if the hater gives a kiss on being ordered to do it, even to a tree or a stone, that tree or stone becomes the monument of a fault extinct.

Ternissa. I promise you I never will hate a tree again.

Epicurus. I told you so.

Leontion. Nevertheless, I suspect, my Ternissa, you will often be surprised into it. I was very near saying, ‘I hate these rude square stones!’ Why did you leave them here, Epicurus?

Epicurus. It is true, they are the greater part square, and seem to have been cut out in ancient times for plinths and columns; they are also rude. Removing the smaller, that I might plant violets and cyclamens and convolvuluses and strawberries, and such other herbs as grow willingly in dry places, I left a few of these for seats, a few for tables and for couches.

Leontion. Delectable couches!

Epicurus. Laugh as you may, they will become so when they are covered with moss and ivy, and those other two sweet plants whose names I do not remember to have found in any ancient treatise, but which I fancy I have heard Theophrastus call ‘Leontion’ and ‘Ternissa’.

Ternissa. The bold, insidious, false creature!

Epicurus. What is that volume, may I venture to ask, Leontion? Why do you blush?

Leontion. I do not blush about it.

Epicurus. You are offended, then, my dear girl.

Leontion. No, nor offended. I will tell you presently what it contains. Account to me first for your choice of so strange a place to walk in: a broad ridge, the summit and one side barren, the other a wood of rose-laurels impossible to penetrate. The worst of all is, we can see nothing of the city or the Parthenon, unless from the very top.

Epicurus. The place commands, in my opinion, a most perfect view.

Leontion. Of what, pray?

Epicurus. Of itself; seeming to indicate that we, Leontion, who philosophize, should do the same.

Leontion. Go on, go on! say what you please: I will not hate anything yet. Why have you torn up by the root all these little mountain ash-trees? This is the season of their beauty: come, Ternissa, let us make ourselves necklaces and armlets, such as may captivate old Sylvanus and Pan; you shall have your choice. But why have you torn them up?

Epicurus. On the contrary, they were brought hither this morning. Sosimenes is spending large sums of money on an olive-ground, and has uprooted some hundreds of them, of all ages and sizes. I shall cover the rougher part of the hill with them, setting the clematis and vine and honeysuckle against them, to unite them.

Ternissa. Oh, what a pleasant thing it is to walk in the green light of the vine trees, and to breathe the sweet odour of their invisible flowers!

Epicurus. The scent of them is so delicate that it requires a sigh to inhale it; and this, being accompanied and followed by enjoyment, renders the fragrance so exquisite. Ternissa, it is this, my sweet friend, that made you remember the green light of the foliage, and think of the invisible flowers as you would of some blessing from heaven.

Ternissa. I see feathers flying at certain distances just above the middle of the promontory: what can they mean?

Epicurus. Cannot you imagine them to be the feathers from the wings of Zethes and Caläis, who came hither out of Thrace to behold the favourite haunts of their mother Oreithyia? From the precipice that hangs over the sea a few paces from the pinasters she is reported to have been carried off by Boreas; and these remains of the primeval forest have always been held sacred on that belief.

Leontion. The story is an idle one.

Ternissa. Oh no, Leontion! the story is very true.

Leontion. Indeed!

Ternissa. I have heard not only odes, but sacred and most ancient hymns upon it; and the voice of Boreas is often audible here, and the screams of Oreithyia.

Leontion. The feathers, then, really may belong to Caläis and Zethes.

Ternissa. I don’t believe it; the winds would have carried them away.

Leontion. The gods, to manifest their power, as they often do by miracles, could as easily fix a feather eternally on the most tempestuous promontory, as the mark of their feet upon the flint.

Ternissa. They could indeed; but we know the one to a certainty, and have no such authority for the other. I have seen these pinasters from the extremity of the Piraeus, and have heard mention of the altar raised to Boreas: where is it?

Epicurus. As it stands in the centre of the platform, we cannot see it from hence; there is the only piece of level ground in the place.

Leontion. Ternissa intends the altar to prove the truth of the story.

Epicurus. Ternissa is slow to admit that even the young can deceive, much less the old; the gay, much less the serious.

Leontion. It is as wise to moderate our belief as our desires.

Epicurus. Some minds require much belief, some thrive on little. Rather an exuberance of it is feminine and beautiful. It acts differently on different hearts; it troubles some, it consoles others; in the generous it is the nurse of tenderness and kindness, of heroism and self-devotion; in the ungenerous it fosters pride, impatience of contradiction and appeal, and, like some waters, what it finds a dry stick or hollow straw, it leaves a stone.

Ternissa. We want it chiefly to make the way of death an easy one.

Epicurus. There is no easy path leading out of life, and few are the easy ones that lie within it. I would adorn and smoothen the declivity, and make my residence as commodious as its situation and dimensions may allow; but principally I would cast under-foot the empty fear of death.

Ternissa. Oh, how can you?

Epicurus. By many arguments already laid down: then by thinking that some perhaps, in almost every age, have been timid and delicate as Ternissa; and yet have slept soundly, have felt no parent’s or friend’s tear upon their faces, no throb against their breasts: in short, have been in the calmest of all possible conditions, while those around were in the most deplorable and desperate.

Ternissa. It would pain me to die, if it were only at the idea that any one I love would grieve too much for me.

Epicurus. Let the loss of our friends be our only grief, and the apprehension of displeasing them our only fear.

Leontion. No apostrophes! no interjections! Your argument was unsound; your means futile.

Epicurus. Tell me, then, whether the horse of a rider on the road should not be spurred forward if he started at a shadow.

Leontion. Yes.

Epicurus. I thought so: it would, however, be better to guide him quietly up to it, and to show him that it was one. Death is less than a shadow: it represents nothing, even imperfectly.

Leontion. Then at the best what is it? why care about it, think about it, or remind us that it must befall us? Would you take the same trouble, when you see my hair entwined with ivy, to make me remember that, although the leaves are green and pliable, the stem is fragile and rough, and that before I go to bed I shall have many knots and entanglements to extricate? Let me have them; but let me not hear of them until the time is come.

Epicurus. I would never think of death as an embarrassment, but as a blessing.

Ternissa. How? a blessing?

Epicurus. What, if it makes our enemies cease to hate us? what, if it makes our friends love us the more?

Leontion. Us? According to your doctrine we shall not exist at all.

Epicurus. I spoke of that which is consolatory while we are here, and of that which in plain reason ought to render us contented to stay no longer. You, Leontion, would make others better; and better they certainly will be, when their hostilities languish in an empty field, and their rancour is tired with treading upon dust. The generous affections stir about us at the dreary hour of death, as the blossoms of the Median apple swell and diffuse their fragrance in the cold.

Ternissa. I cannot bear to think of passing the Styx, lest Charon should touch me; he is so old and wilful, so cross and ugly.

Epicurus. Ternissa! Ternissa! I would accompany you thither, and stand between. Would you not too, Leontion?

Leontion. I don’t know.

Ternissa. Oh, that we could go together!

Leontion. Indeed!

Ternissa. All three, I mean — I said — or was going to say it. How ill-natured you are, Leontion, to misinterpret me; I could almost cry.

Leontion. Do not, do not, Ternissa! Should that tear drop from your eyelash you would look less beautiful.

Epicurus. If it is well to conquer a world, it is better to conquer two.

Ternissa. That is what Alexander of Macedon wept because he could not accomplish.

Epicurus. Ternissa! we three can accomplish it; or any one of us.

Ternissa. How? pray!

Epicurus. We can conquer this world and the next; for you will have another, and nothing should be refused you.

Ternissa. The next by piety: but this, in what manner?

Epicurus. By indifference to all who are indifferent to us; by taking joyfully the benefit that comes spontaneously; by wishing no more intensely for what is a hair’s-breadth beyond our reach than for a draught of water from the Ganges; and by fearing nothing in another life.

Ternissa. This, O Epicurus! is the grand impossibility.

Epicurus. Do you believe the gods to be as benevolent and good as you are? or do you not?

Ternissa. Much kinder, much better in every way.

Epicurus. Would you kill or hurt the sparrow that you keep in your little dressing-room with a string around the leg, because he hath flown where you did not wish him to fly?

Ternissa. No! it would be cruel; the string about the leg of so little and weak a creature is enough.

Epicurus. You think so; I think so; God thinks so. This I may say confidently; for whenever there is a sentiment in which strict justice and pure benevolence unite, it must be His.

Ternissa. O Epicurus! when you speak thus —

Leontion. Well, Ternissa, what then?

Ternissa. When Epicurus teaches us such sentiments as these, I am grieved that he has not so great an authority with the Athenians as some others have.

Leontion. You will grieve more, I suspect, my Ternissa, when he possesses that authority.

Ternissa. What will he do?

Leontion. Why turn pale? I am not about to answer that he will forget or leave you. No; but the voice comes deepest from the sepulchre, and a great name hath its root in the dead body. If you invited a company to a feast, you might as well place round the table live sheep and oxen and vases of fish and cages of quails, as you would invite a company of friendly hearers to the philosopher who is yet living. One would imagine that the iris of our intellectual eye were lessened by the glory of his presence, and that, like eastern kings, he could be looked at near only when his limbs are stiff, by waxlight, in close curtains.

Epicurus. One of whom we know little leaves us a ring or other token of remembrance, and we express a sense of pleasure and of gratitude; one of whom we know nothing writes a book, the contents of which might (if we would let them) have done us more good and might have given us more pleasure, and we revile him for it. The book may do what the legacy cannot; it may be pleasurable and serviceable to others as well as ourselves: we would hinder this too. In fact, all other love is extinguished by self-love: beneficence, humanity, justice, philosophy, sink under it. While we insist that we are looking for Truth, we commit a falsehood. It never was the first object with any one, and with few the second.

Feed unto replenishment your quieter fancies, my sweetest little Ternissa! and let the gods, both youthful and aged, both gentle and boisterous, administer to them hourly on these sunny downs: what can they do better?

Leontion. But those feathers, Ternissa, what god’s may they be? since you will not pick them up, nor restore them to Caläis nor to Zethes.

Ternissa. I do not think they belong to any god whatever; and shall never be persuaded of it unless Epicurus says it is so.

Leontion. O unbelieving creature! do you reason against the immortals?

Ternissa. It was yourself who doubted, or appeared to doubt, the flight of Oreithyia. By admitting too much we endanger our religion. Beside, I think I discern some upright stakes at equal distances, and am pretty sure the feathers are tied to them by long strings.

Epicurus. You have guessed the truth.

Ternissa. Of what use are they there?

Epicurus. If you have ever seen the foot of a statue broken off just below the ankle, you have then, Leontion and Ternissa, seen the form of the ground about us. The lower extremities of it are divided into small ridges, as you will perceive if you look around; and these are covered with corn, olives, and vines. At the upper part, where cultivation ceases, and where those sheep and goats are grazing, begins my purchase. The ground rises gradually unto near the summit, where it grows somewhat steep, and terminates in a precipice. Across the middle I have traced a line, denoted by those feathers, from one dingle to the other; the two terminations of my intended garden. The distance is nearly a thousand paces, and the path, perfectly on a level, will be two paces broad, so that I may walk between you; but another could not join us conveniently. From this there will be several circuitous and spiral, leading by the easiest ascent to the summit; and several more, to the road along the cultivation underneath: here will, however, be but one entrance. Among the projecting fragments and the massive stones yet standing of the boundary-wall, which old pomegranates imperfectly defend, and which my neighbour has guarded more effectively against invasion, there are hillocks of crumbling mould, covered in some places with a variety of moss; in others are elevated tufts, or dim labyrinths of eglantine.

Ternissa. Where will you place the statues? for undoubtedly you must have some.

Epicurus. I will have some models for statues. Pygmalion prayed the gods to give life to the image he adored: I will not pray them to give marble to mine. Never may I lay my wet cheek upon the foot under which is inscribed the name of Leontion or Ternissa!

Leontion. Do not make us melancholy; never let us think that the time can come when we shall lose our friends. Glory, literature, philosophy have this advantage over friendship: remove one object from them, and others fill the void; remove one from friendship, one only, and not the earth nor the universality of worlds, no, nor the intellect that soars above and comprehends them, can replace it!

Epicurus. Dear Leontion! always amiable, always graceful! How lovely do you now appear to me! what beauteous action accompanied your words!

Leontion. I used none whatever.

Epicurus. That white arm was then, as it is now, over the shoulder of Ternissa; and her breath imparted a fresh bloom to your cheek, a new music to your voice. No friendship is so cordial or so delicious as that of girl for girl; no hatred so intense and immovable as that of woman for woman. In youth you love one above the others of your sex; in riper age you hate all, more or less, in proportion to similarity of accomplishments and pursuits — which sometimes (I wish it were oftener) are bonds of union to man. In us you more easily pardon faults than excellences in each other. Your tempers are such, my beloved scholars, that even this truth does not ruffle them; and such is your affection, that I look with confidence to its unabated ardour at twenty.

Leontion. Oh, then I am to love Ternissa almost fifteen months!

Ternissa. And I am destined to survive the loss of it three months above four years!

Epicurus. Incomparable creatures! may it be eternal! In loving ye shall follow no example; ye shall step securely over the iron rule laid down for others by the Destinies, and you for ever be Leontion, and you Ternissa.

Leontion. Then indeed we should not want statues.

Ternissa. But men, who are vainer creatures, would be good for nothing without them: they must be flattered even by the stones.

Epicurus. Very true. Neither the higher arts nor the civic virtues can flourish extensively without the statues of illustrious men. But gardens are not the places for them. Sparrows, wooing on the general’s truncheon (unless he be such a general as one of ours in the last war), and snails besliming the emblems of the poet, do not remind us worthily of their characters. Porticos are their proper situations, and those the most frequented. Even there they may lose all honour and distinction, whether from the thoughtlessness of magistrates or from the malignity of rivals. Our own city, the least exposed of any to the effects of either, presents us a disheartening example. When the Thebans in their jealousy condemned Pindar to the payment of a fine for having praised the Athenians too highly, our citizens erected a statue of bronze to him.

Leontion. Jealousy of Athens made the Thebans fine him; and jealousy of Thebes made the Athenians thus record it.

Epicurus. And jealousy of Pindar, I suspect, made some poet persuade the archons to render the distinction a vile and worthless one, by placing his effigy near a king’s — one Evagoras of Cyprus.

Ternissa. Evagoras, I think I remember to have read in the inscription, was rewarded in this manner for his reception of Conon, defeated by the Lacedemonians.

Epicurus. Gratitude was due to him, and some such memorial to record it. External reverence should be paid unsparingly to the higher magistrates of every country who perform their offices exemplarily; yet they are not on this account to be placed in the same degree with men of primary genius. They never exalt the human race, and rarely benefit it; and their benefits are local and transitory, while those of a great writer are universal and eternal.

If the gods did indeed bestow on us a portion of their fire, they seem to have lighted it in sport and left it; the harder task and the nobler is performed by that genius who raises it clear and glowing from its embers, and makes it applicable to the purposes that dignify or delight our nature. I have ever said, ‘Reverence the rulers.’ Let, then, his image stand; but stand apart from Pindar’s. Pallas and Jove! defend me from being carried down the stream of time among a shoal of royalets, and the rootless weeds they are hatched on!

Ternissa. So much piety would deserve the exemption, even though your writings did not hold out the decree.

Leontion. Child, the compliment is ill turned: if you are ironical, as you must be on the piety of Epicurus, Atticism requires that you should continue to be so, at least to the end of the sentence.

Ternissa. Irony is my abhorrence. Epicurus may appear less pious than some others, but I am certain he is more; otherwise the gods would never have given him ——

Leontion. What? what? let us hear!

Ternissa. Leontion!

Leontion. Silly girl! Were there any hibiscus or broom growing near at hand, I would send him away and whip you.

Epicurus. There is fern, which is better.

Leontion. I was not speaking to you: but now you shall have something to answer for yourself. Although you admit no statues in the country, you might at least, methinks, have discovered a retirement with a fountain in it: here I see not even a spring.

Epicurus. Fountain I can hardly say there is; but on the left there is a long crevice or chasm, which we have never yet visited, and which we cannot discern until we reach it. This is full of soft mould, very moist, and many high reeds and canes are growing there; and the rock itself too drips with humidity along it, and is covered with more tufted moss and more variegated lichens. This crevice, with its windings and sinuosities, is about four hundred paces long, and in many parts eleven, twelve, thirteen feet wide, but generally six or seven. I shall plant it wholly with lilies of the valley, leaving the irises which occupy the sides as well as the clefts, and also those other flowers of paler purple, from the autumnal cups of which we collect the saffron; and forming a narrow path of such turf as I can find there, or rather following it as it creeps among the bays and hazels and sweet-brier, which had fallen at different times from the summit and are now grown old, with an infinity of primroses at the roots. There are nowhere twenty steps without a projection and a turn, nor in any ten together is the chasm of the same width or figure. Hence the ascent in its windings is easy and imperceptible quite to the termination, where the rocks are somewhat high and precipitous; at the entrance they lose themselves in privet and elder, and you must make your way between them through the canes. Do not you remember where I carried you both across the muddy hollow in the footpath?

Ternissa. Leontion does.

Epicurus. That place is always wet; not only in this month of Puanepsion,7 which we are beginning today, but in midsummer. The water that causes it comes out a little way above it, but originates from the crevice, which I will cover at top with rose-laurel and mountain-ash, with clematis and vine; and I will intercept the little rill in its wandering, draw it from its concealment, and place it like Bacchus under the protection of the nymphs, who will smile upon it in its marble cradle, which at present I keep at home.

Ternissa. Leontion, why do you turn away your face? have the nymphs smiled upon you in it?

Leontion. I bathed in it once, if you must know, Ternissa! Why now, Ternissa, why do you turn away yours? have the nymphs frowned upon you for invading their secrets?

Ternissa. Epicurus, you are in the right to bring it away from Athens, from under the eye of Pallas: she might be angry.

Epicurus. You approve of its removal then, my lovely friend?

Ternissa. Mightily. [Aside.] I wish it may break in pieces on the road.

Epicurus. What did you say?

Ternissa. I wish it were now on the road, that I might try whether it would hold me — I mean with my clothes on.

Epicurus. It would hold you, and one a span longer. I have another in the house; but it is not decorated with fauns and satyrs and foliage, like this.

Leontion. I remember putting my hand upon the frightful satyr’s head, to leap in: it seems made for the purpose. But the sculptor needed not to place the naiad quite so near — he must have been a very impudent man; it is impossible to look for a moment at such a piece of workmanship.

Ternissa. For shame! Leontion! — why, what was it? I do not desire to know.

Epicurus. I don’t remember it.

Leontion. Nor I neither; only the head.

Epicurus. I shall place the satyr toward the rock, that you may never see him, Ternissa.

Ternissa. Very right; he cannot turn round.

Leontion. The poor naiad had done it, in vain.

Ternissa. All these labourers will soon finish the plantation, if you superintend them, and are not appointed to some magistrature.

Epicurus. Those who govern us are pleased at seeing a philosopher out of the city, and more still at finding in a season of scarcity forty poor citizens, who might become seditious, made happy and quiet by such employment.

Two evils, of almost equal weight, may befall the man of erudition: never to be listened to, and to be listened to always. Aware of these, I devote a large portion of my time and labours to the cultivation of such minds as flourish best in cities, where my garden at the gate, although smaller than this, we find sufficiently capacious. There I secure my listeners; here my thoughts and imaginations have their free natural current, and tarry or wander as the will invites: may it ever be among those dearest to me! — those whose hearts possess the rarest and divinest faculty, of retaining or forgetting at option what ought to be forgotten or retained.

Leontion. The whole ground then will be covered with trees and shrubs?

Epicurus. There are some protuberances in various parts of the eminence, which you do not perceive till you are upon them or above them. They are almost level at the top, and overgrown with fine grass; for they catch the better soil brought down in small quantities by the rains. These are to be left unplanted: so is the platform under the pinasters, whence there is a prospect of the city, the harbour, the isle of Salamis, and the territory of Megara. ‘What then!’ cried Sosimenes, ‘you would hide from your view my young olives, and the whole length of the new wall I have been building at my own expense between us! and, when you might see at once the whole of Attica, you will hardly see more of it than I could buy.’

Leontion. I do not perceive the new wall, for which Sosimenes, no doubt, thinks himself another Pericles.

Epicurus. Those old junipers quite conceal it.

Ternissa. They look warm and sheltering; but I like the rose-laurels much better: and what a thicket of them here is!

Epicurus. Leaving all the larger, I shall remove many thousands of them; enough to border the greater part of the walk, intermixed with roses.

There is an infinity of other plants and flowers, or weeds as Sosimenes calls them, of which he has cleared his oliveyard, and which I shall adopt. Twenty of his slaves came in yesterday, laden with hyacinths and narcissi, anemones and jonquils. ‘The curses of our vineyards,’ cried he, ‘and good neither for man nor beast. I have another estate infested with lilies of the valley: I should not wonder if you accepted these too.’

‘And with thanks,’ answered I.

The whole of his remark I could not collect: he turned aside, and (I believe) prayed. I only heard ‘Pallas’—‘Father’—‘sound mind’—‘inoffensive man’—‘good neighbour’. As we walked together I perceived him looking grave, and I could not resist my inclination to smile as I turned my eyes toward him. He observed it, at first with unconcern, but by degrees some doubts arose within him, and he said, ‘Epicurus, you have been throwing away no less than half a talent on this sorry piece of mountain, and I fear you are about to waste as much in labour: for nothing was ever so terrible as the price we are obliged to pay the workman, since the conquest of Persia and the increase of luxury in our city. Under three obols none will do his day’s work. But what, in the name of all the deities, could induce you to plant those roots, which other people dig up and throw away?’

‘I have been doing,’ said I, ‘the same thing my whole life through, Sosimenes!’

‘How!’ cried he; ‘I never knew that.’

‘Those very doctrines,’ added I, ‘which others hate and extirpate, I inculcate and cherish. They bring no riches, and therefore are thought to bring no advantage; to me, they appear the more advantageous for that reason. They give us immediately what we solicit through the means of wealth. We toil for the wealth first; and then it remains to be proved whether we can purchase with it what we look for. Now, to carry our money to the market, and not to find in the market our money’s worth, is great vexation; yet much greater has already preceded, in running up and down for it among so many competitors, and through so many thieves.’

After a while he rejoined, ‘You really, then, have not overreached me?’

‘In what, my friend?’ said I.

‘These roots,’ he answered, ‘may perhaps be good and saleable for some purpose. Shall you send them into Persia? or whither?’

‘Sosimenes, I shall make love-potions of the flowers.’

Leontion. O Epicurus! should it ever be known in Athens that they are good for this, you will not have, with all your fences of prunes and pomegranates, and precipices with brier upon them, a single root left under ground after the month of Elaphebolion.8

Epicurus. It is not every one that knows the preparation.

Leontion. Everybody will try it.

Epicurus. And you, too, Ternissa?

Ternissa. Will you teach me?

Epicurus. This, and anything else I know. We must walk together when they are in flower.

Ternissa. And can you teach me, then?

Epicurus. I teach by degrees.

Leontion. By very slow ones, Epicurus! I have no patience with you; tell us directly.

Epicurus. It is very material what kind of recipient you bring with you. Enchantresses use a brazen one; silver and gold are employed in other arts.

Leontion. I will bring any.

Ternissa. My mother has a fine golden one. She will lend it me; she allows me everything.

Epicurus. Leontion and Ternissa, those eyes of yours brighten at inquiry, as if they carried a light within them for a guidance.

Leontion. No flattery!

Ternissa. No flattery! Come, teach us!

Epicurus. Will you hear me through in silence?

Leontion. We promise.

Epicurus. Sweet girls! the calm pleasures, such as I hope you will ever find in your walks among these gardens, will improve your beauty, animate your discourse, and correct the little that may hereafter rise up for correction in your dispositions. The smiling ideas left in our bosoms from our infancy, that many plants are the favourites of the gods, and that others were even the objects of their love — having once been invested with the human form, beautiful and lively and happy as yourselves — give them an interest beyond the vision; yes, and a station — let me say it — on the vestibule of our affections. Resign your ingenuous hearts to simple pleasures; and there is none in man, where men are Attic, that will not follow and outstrip their movements.

Ternissa. O Epicurus!

Epicurus. What said Ternissa?

Leontion. Some of those anemones, I do think, must be still in blossom. Ternissa’s golden cup is at home; but she has brought with her a little vase for the filter — and has filled it to the brim. Do not hide your head behind my shoulder, Ternissa; no, nor in my lap.

Epicurus. Yes, there let it lie — the lovelier for that tendril of sunny brown hair upon it. How it falls and rises! Which is the hair? which the shadow?

Leontion. Let the hair rest.

Epicurus. I must not, perhaps, clasp the shadow!

Leontion. You philosophers are fond of such unsubstantial things. Oh, you have taken my volume! This is deceit.

You live so little in public, and entertain such a contempt for opinion, as to be both indifferent and ignorant what it is that people blame you for.

Epicurus. I know what it is I should blame myself for, if I attended to them. Prove them to be wiser and more disinterested in their wisdom than I am, and I will then go down to them and listen to them. When I have well considered a thing, I deliver it — regardless of what those think who neither take the time nor possess the faculty of considering anything well, and who have always lived far remote from the scope of our speculations.

Leontion. In the volume you snatched away from me so slyly, I have defended a position of yours which many philosophers turn into ridicule — namely, that politeness is among the virtues. I wish you yourself had spoken more at large upon the subject.

Epicurus. It is one upon which a lady is likely to display more ingenuity and discernment. If philosophers have ridiculed my sentiment, the reason is, it is among those virtues which in general they find most difficult to assume or counterfeit.

Leontion. Surely life runs on the smoother for this equability and polish; and the gratification it affords is more extensive than is afforded even by the highest virtue. Courage, on nearly all occasions, inflicts as much of evil as it imparts of good. It may be exerted in defence of our country, in defence of those who love us, in defence of the harmless and the helpless; but those against whom it is thus exerted may possess an equal share of it. If they succeed, then manifestly the ill it produces is greater than the benefit; if they succumb, it is nearly as great. For many of their adversaries are first killed and maimed, and many of their own kindred are left to lament the consequences of the aggression.

Epicurus. You have spoken first of courage, as that virtue which attracts your sex principally.

Ternissa. Not me; I am always afraid of it. I love those best who can tell me the most things I never knew before, and who have patience with me, and look kindly while they teach me, and almost as if they were waiting for fresh questions. Now let me hear directly what you were about to say to Leontion.

Epicurus. I was proceeding to remark that temperance comes next; and temperance has then its highest merit when it is the support of civility and politeness. So that I think I am right and equitable in attributing to politeness a distinguished rank, not among the ornaments of life, but among the virtues. And you, Leontion and Ternissa, will have leaned the more propensely toward this opinion, if you considered, as I am sure you did, that the peace and concord of families, friends, and cities are preserved by it; in other terms, the harmony of the world.

Ternissa. Leontion spoke of courage, you of temperance; the next great virtue, in the division made by the philosophers, is justice.

Epicurus. Temperance includes it; for temperance is imperfect if it is only an abstinence from too much food, too much wine, too much conviviality or other luxury. It indicates every kind of forbearance. Justice is forbearance from what belongs to another. Giving to this one rightly what that one would hold wrongfully in magistrature not in the abstract, and is only a part of its office. The perfectly temperate man is also the perfectly just man; but the perfectly just man (as philosophers now define him) may not be the perfectly temperate one. I include the less in the greater.

Leontion. We hear of judges, and upright ones too, being immoderate eaters and drinkers.

Epicurus. The Lacedemonians are temperate in food and courageous in battle; but men like these, if they existed in sufficient numbers, would devastate the universe. We alone, we Athenians, with less military skill perhaps, and certainly less rigid abstinence from voluptuousness and luxury, have set before it the only grand example of social government and of polished life. From us the seed is scattered; from us flow the streams that irrigate it; and ours are the hands, O Leontion, that collect it, cleanse it, deposit it, and convey and distribute it sound and weighty through every race and age. Exhausted as we are by war, we can do nothing better than lie down and doze while the weather is fine overhead, and dream (if we can) that we are affluent and free.

O sweet sea air! how bland art thou and refreshing! Breathe upon Leontion! breathe upon Ternissa! bring them health and spirits and serenity, many springs and many summers, and when the vine-leaves have reddened and rustle under their feet!

These, my beloved girls, are the children of Eternity: they played around Theseus and the beauteous Amazon; they gave to Pallas the bloom of Venus, and to Venus the animation of Pallas. Is it not better to enjoy by the hour their soft, salubrious influence, than to catch by fits the rancid breath of demagogues; than to swell and move under it without or against our will; than to acquire the semblance of eloquence by the bitterness of passion, the tone of philosophy by disappointment, or the credit of prudence by distrust? Can fortune, can industry, can desert itself, bestow on us anything we have not here?

Leontion. And when shall those three meet? The gods have never united them, knowing that men would put them asunder at the first appearance.

Epicurus. I am glad to leave the city as often as possible, full as it is of high and glorious reminiscences, and am inclined much rather to indulge in quieter scenes, whither the Graces and Friendship lead me. I would not contend even with men able to contend with me. You, Leontion, I see, think differently, and have composed at last your long-meditated work against the philosophy of Theophrastus.

Leontion. Why not? he has been praised above his merits.

Epicurus. My Leontion! you have inadvertently given me the reason and origin of all controversial writings. They flow not from a love of truth or a regard for science, but from envy and ill-will. Setting aside the evil of malignity — always hurtful to ourselves, not always to others — there is weakness in the argument you have adduced. When a writer is praised above his merits in his own times, he is certain of being estimated below them in the times succeeding. Paradox is dear to most people: it bears the appearance of originality, but is usually the talent of the superficial, the perverse, and the obstinate.

Nothing is more gratifying than the attention you are bestowing on me, which you always apportion to the seriousness of my observations.

Leontion. I dislike Theophrastus for his affected contempt of your doctrines.

Epicurus. Unreasonably, for the contempt of them; reasonably, if affected. Good men may differ widely from me, and wiser ones misunderstand me; for, their wisdom having raised up to them schools of their own, they have not found leisure to converse with me; and from others they have received a partial and inexact report. My opinion is, that certain things are indifferent and unworthy of pursuit or attention, as lying beyond our research and almost our conjecture; which things the generality of philosophers (for the generality are speculative) deem of the first importance. Questions relating to them I answer evasively, or altogether decline. Again, there are modes of living which are suitable to some and unsuitable to others. What I myself follow and embrace, what I recommend to the studious, to the irritable, to the weak in health, would ill agree with the commonality of citizens. Yet my adversaries cry out: ‘Such is the opinion and practice of Epicurus!’ For instance, I have never taken a wife, and never will take one; but he from among the mass, who should avow his imitation of my example, would act as wisely and more religiously in saying that he chose celibacy because Pallas had done the same.

Leontion. If Pallas had many such votaries she would soon have few citizens to supply them.

Epicurus. And extremely bad ones, if all followed me in retiring from the offices of magistracy and of war. Having seen that the most sensible men are the most unhappy, I could not but examine the causes of it; and, finding that the same sensibility to which they are indebted for the activity of their intellect is also the restless mover of their jealousy and ambition, I would lead them aside from whatever operates upon these, and throw under their feet the terrors their imagination has created. My philosophy is not for the populace nor for the proud: the ferocious will never attain it; the gentle will embrace it, but will not call it mine. I do not desire that they should: let them rest their heads upon that part of the pillow which they find the softest, and enjoy their own dreams unbroken.

Leontion. The old are all against you, Epicurus, the name of pleasure is an affront to them: they know no other kind of it than that which has flowered and seeded, and of which the withered stems have indeed a rueful look.

Epicurus. Unhappily the aged are retentive of long-acquired maxims, and insensible to new impressions, whether from fancy or from truth: in fact, their eyes blend the two together. Well might the poet tell us:

Fewer the gifts that gnarled Age presents

To elegantly-handed Infancy,

Than elegantly-handed Infancy

Presents to gnarled Age. From both they drop;

The middle course of life receives them all,

Save the light few that laughing Youth runs off with,

Unvalued as a mistress or a flower.

Leontion. Since, in obedience to your institutions, O Epicurus, I must not say I am angry, I am offended at least with Theophrastus for having so misrepresented your opinions, on the necessity of keeping the mind composed and tranquil, and remote from every object and every sentiment by which a painful sympathy may be excited. In order to display his elegance of language, he runs wherever he can lay a censure on you, whether he believes in its equity or not.

Epicurus. This is the case with all eloquent men, and all disputants. Truth neither warms nor elevates them, neither obtains for them profit nor applause.

Ternissa. I have heard wise remarks very often and very warmly praised.

Epicurus. Not for the truth in them, but for the grace, or because they touched the spring of some preconception or some passion. Man is a hater of truth, a lover of fiction.

Theophrastus is a writer of many acquirements and some shrewdness, usually judicious, often somewhat witty, always elegant; his thoughts are never confused, his sentences are never incomprehensible. If Aristoteles thought more highly of him than his due, surely you ought not to censure Theophrastus with severity on the supposition of his rating me below mine; unless you argue that a slight error in a short sum is less pardonable than in a longer. Had Aristoteles been living, and had he given the same opinion of me, your friendship and perhaps my self-love might have been wounded; for, if on one occasion he spoke too favourably, he never spoke unfavourably but with justice. This is among the indications of orderly and elevated minds; and here stands the barrier that separates them from the common and the waste. Is a man to be angry because an infant is fretful? Is a philosopher to unpack and throw away his philosophy, because an idiot has tried to overturn it on the road, and has pursued it with gibes and ribaldry?

Leontion. Theophrastus would persuade us that, according to your system, we not only should decline the succour of the wretched, but avoid the sympathies that poets and historians would awaken in us. Probably for the sake of introducing some idle verses, written by a friend of his, he says that, following the guidance of Epicurus, we should altogether shun the theatre; and not only when Prometheus and Oedipus and Philoctetes are introduced, but even when generous and kindly sentiments are predominant, if they partake of that tenderness which belongs to pity. I know not what Thracian lord recovers his daughter from her ravisher; such are among the words they exchange:


Insects that dwell in rotten reeds, inert

Upon the surface of a stream or pool,

Then rush into the air on meshy vans,

Are not so different in their varying lives

As we are. — Oh! what father on this earth,

Holding his child’s cool cheek within his palms

And kissing his fair front, would wish him man? —

Inheritor of wants and jealousies,

Of labour, of ambition, of distress,

And, cruellest of all the passions, lust.

Who that behold me, persecuted, scorned,

A wanderer, e’er could think what friends were mine,

How numerous, how devoted? with what glee

Smiled my old house, with what acclaim my courts

Rang from without whene’er my war-horse neighed?


Thy fortieth birthday is not shouted yet

By the young peasantry, with rural gifts

And nightly fires along the pointed hills,

Yet do thy temples glitter with grey hair

Scattered not thinly: ah, what sudden change!

Only thy voice and heart remain the same:

No! that voice trembles, and that heart (I feel),

While it would comfort and console me, breaks.

Epicurus. I would never close my bosom against the feelings of humanity; but I would calmly and well consider by what conduct of life they may enter it with the least importunity and violence. A consciousness that we have promoted the happiness of others, to the uttermost of our power, is certain not only to meet them at the threshold, but to bring them along with us, and to render them accurate and faithful prompters, when we bend perplexedly over the problem of evil figured by the tragedians. If there were more of pain than of pleasure in the exhibitions of the dramatist, no man in his senses would attend them twice. All the imitative arts have delight for the principal object: the first of these is poetry; the highest of poetry is tragic.

Leontion. The epic has been called so.

Epicurus. Improperly; for the epic has much more in it of what is prosaic. Its magnitude is no argument. An Egyptian pyramid contains more materials than an Ionic temple, but requires less contrivance, and exhibits less beauty of design. My simile is yet a defective one; for a tragedy must be carried on with an unbroken interest, and, undecorated by loose foliage or fantastic branches, it must rise, like the palm-tree, with a lofty unity. On these matters I am unable to argue at large, or perhaps correctly; on those, however, which I have studied and treated, my terms are so explicit and clear, that Theophrastus can never have misunderstood them. Let me recall to your attention but two axioms.

Abstinence from low pleasures is the only means of meriting or of obtaining the higher.

Kindness in ourselves is the honey that blunts the sting of unkindness in another.

Leontion. Explain to me, then, O Epicurus, why we suffer so much from ingratitude.

Epicurus. We fancy we suffer from ingratitude, while in reality we suffer from self-love. Passion weeps while she says, ‘I did not deserve this from him’; Reason, while she says it, smoothens her brow at the clear fountain of the heart. Permit me also, like Theophrastus, to borrow a few words from a poet.

Ternissa. Borrow as many such as any one will entrust to you, and may Hermes prosper your commerce! Leontion may go to the theatre then; for she loves it.

Epicurus. Girls! be the bosom friends of Antigone and Ismene; and you shall enter the wood of the Eumenides without shuddering, and leave it without the trace of a tear. Never did you appear so graceful to me, O Ternissa — no, not even after this walk do you — as when I saw you blow a fly from the forehead of Philoctetes in the propylëa. The wing, with which Sophocles and the statuary represent him, to drive away the summer insects in his agony, had wearied his flaccid arm, hanging down beside him.

Ternissa. Do you imagine, then, I thought him a living man?

Epicurus. The sentiment was both more delicate and more august from being indistinct. You would have done it, even if he had been a living man; even if he could have clasped you in his arms, imploring the deities to resemble you in gentleness, you would have done it.

Ternissa. He looked so abandoned by all, and so heroic, yet so feeble and so helpless! I did not think of turning around to see if any one was near me; or else, perhaps ——

Epicurus. If you could have thought of looking around, you would no longer have been Ternissa. The gods would have transformed you for it into some tree.

Leontion. And Epicurus had been walking under it this day, perhaps.

Epicurus. With Leontion, the partner of his sentiments. But the walk would have been earlier or later than the present hour; since the middle of the day, like the middle of certain fruits, is good for nothing.

Leontion. For dinner, surely?

Epicurus. Dinner is a less gratification to me than to many: I dine alone.

Ternissa. Why?

Epicurus. To avoid the noise, the heat, and the intermixture both of odours and of occupations. I cannot bear the indecency of speaking with a mouth in which there is food. I careen my body (since it is always in want of repair) in as unobstructed a space as I can, and I lie down and sleep awhile when the work is over.

Leontion. Epicurus! although it would be very interesting, no doubt, to hear more of what you do after dinner —[Aside to him.] now don’t smile: I shall never forgive you if you say a single word — yet I would rather hear a little about the theatre, and whether you think at last that women should frequent it; for you have often said the contrary.

Epicurus. I think they should visit it rarely; not because it excites their affections, but because it deadens them. To me nothing is so odious as to be at once among the rabble and among the heroes, and, while I am receiving into my heart the most exquisite of human sensations, to feel upon my shoulder the hand of some inattentive and insensible young officer.

Leontion. Oh, very bad indeed! horrible!

Ternissa. You quite fire at the idea.

Leontion. Not I: I don’t care about it.

Ternissa. Not about what is very bad indeed? quite horrible?

Leontion. I seldom go thither.

Epicurus. The theatre is delightful when we erect it in our own house or arbour, and when there is but one spectator.

Leontion. You must lose the illusion in great part, if you only read the tragedy, which I fancy to be your meaning.

Epicurus. I lose the less of it. Do not imagine that the illusion is, or can be, or ought to be, complete. If it were possible, no Phalaris or Perillus could devise a crueller torture. Here are two imitations: first, the poet’s of the sufferer; secondly, the actor’s of both: poetry is superinduced. No man in pain ever uttered the better part of the language used by Sophocles. We admit it, and willingly, and are at least as much illuded by it as by anything else we hear or see upon the stage. Poets and statuaries and painters give us an adorned imitation of the object, so skilfully treated that we receive it for a correct one. This is the only illusion they aim at: this is the perfection of their arts.

Leontion. Do you derive no pleasure from the representation of a consummate actor?

Epicurus. High pleasure; but liable to be overturned in an instant: pleasure at the mercy of any one who sits beside me.

Leontion. In my treatise I have only defended your tenets against Theophrastus.

Epicurus. I am certain you have done it with spirit and eloquence, dear Leontion; and there are but two words in it I would wish you to erase.

Leontion. Which are they?

Epicurus. Theophrastus and Epicurus. If you love me, you will do nothing that may make you uneasy when you grow older; nothing that may allow my adversary to say, ‘Leontion soon forgot her Epicurus.’ My maxim is, never to defend my systems or paradoxes; if you undertake it, the Athenians will insist that I impelled you secretly, or that my philosophy and my friendship were ineffectual on you.

Leontion. They shall never say that.

Epicurus. I am not unmoved by the kindness of your intentions. Most people, and philosophers, too, among the rest, when their own conduct or opinions are questioned, are admirably prompt and dexterous in the science of defence; but when another’s are assailed, they parry with as ill a grace and faltering a hand as if they never had taken a lesson in it at home. Seldom will they see what they profess to look for; and, finding it, they pick up with it a thorn under the nail. They canter over the solid turf, and complain that there is no corn upon it; they canter over the corn, and curse the ridges and furrows. All schools of philosophy, and almost all authors, are rather to be frequented for exercise than for freight; but this exercise ought to acquire us health and strength, spirits and good-humour. There is none of them that does not supply some truth useful to every man, and some untruth equally so to the few that are able to wrestle with it. If there were no falsehood in the world, there would be no doubt; if there were no doubt, there would be no inquiry; if no inquiry, no wisdom, no knowledge, no genius: and Fancy herself would lie muffled up in her robe, inactive, pale, and bloated. I wish we could demonstrate the existence of utility in some other evils as easily as in this.

Leontion. My remarks on the conduct and on the style of Theophrastus are not confined to him solely. I have taken at last a general view of our literature, and traced as far as I am able its deviation and decline. In ancient works we sometimes see the mark of the chisel; in modern we might almost suppose that no chisel was employed at all, and that everything was done by grinding and rubbing. There is an ordinariness, an indistinctness, a generalization, not even to be found in a flock of sheep. As most reduce what is sand into dust, the few that avoid it run to a contrary extreme, and would force us to believe that what is original must be unpolished and uncouth.

Epicurus. There have been in all ages, and in all there will be, sharp and slender heads made purposely and peculiarly for creeping into the crevices of our nature. While we contemplate the magnificence of the universe, and mensurate the fitness and adaptation of one part to another, the small philosopher hangs upon a hair or creeps within a wrinkle, and cries out shrilly from his elevation that we are blind and superficial. He discovers a wart, he pries into a pore; and he calls it knowledge of man. Poetry and criticism, and all the fine arts, have generated such living things, which not only will be coexistent with them but will (I fear) survive them. Hence history takes alternately the form of reproval and of panegyric; and science in its pulverized state, in its shapeless and colourless atoms, assumes the name of metaphysics. We find no longer the rich succulence of Herodotus, no longer the strong filament of Thucydides, but thoughts fit only for the slave, and language for the rustic and the robber. These writings can never reach posterity, nor serve better authors near us; for who would receive as documents the perversions of venality and party? Alexander we know was intemperate, and Philip both intemperate and perfidious: we require not a volume of dissertation on the thread of history, to demonstrate that one or other left a tailor’s bill unpaid, and the immorality of doing so; nor a supplement to ascertain on the best authorities which of the two it was. History should explain to us how nations rose and fell, what nurtured them in their growth, what sustained them in their maturity; not which orator ran swiftest through the crowd from the right hand to the left, which assassin was too strong for manacles, or which felon too opulent for crucifixion.

Leontion. It is better, I own it, that such writers should amuse our idleness than excite our spleen.

Ternissa. What is spleen?

Epicurus. Do not ask her; she cannot tell you. The spleen, Ternissa, is to the heart what Arimanes is to Oromazes.

Ternissa. I am little the wiser yet. Does he ever use such hard words with you?

Leontion. He means the evil Genius and the good Genius, in the theogony of the Persians: and would perhaps tell you, as he hath told me, that the heart in itself is free from evil, but very capable of receiving and too tenacious of holding it.

Epicurus. In our moral system, the spleen hangs about the heart and renders it sad and sorrowful, unless we continually keep it in exercise by kind offices, or in its proper place by serious investigation and solitary questionings. Otherwise, it is apt to adhere and to accumulate, until it deadens the principles of sound action, and obscures the sight.

Ternissa. It must make us very ugly when we grow old.

Leontion. In youth it makes us uglier, as not appertaining to it: a little more or less ugliness in decrepitude is hardly worth considering, there being quite enough of it from other quarters: I would stop it here, however.

Ternissa. Oh, what a thing is age!

Leontion. Death without death’s quiet.

Ternissa. Leontion said that even bad writers may amuse our idle hours: alas! even good ones do not much amuse mine, unless they record an action of love or generosity. As for the graver, why cannot they come among us and teach us, just as you do?

Epicurus. Would you wish it?

Ternissa. No, no! I do not want them: only I was imagining how pleasant it is to converse as we are doing, and how sorry I should be to pore over a book instead of it. Books always make me sigh, and think about other things. Why do you laugh, Leontion?

Epicurus. She was mistaken in saying bad authors may amuse our idleness. Leontion knows not then how sweet and sacred idleness is.

Leontion. To render it sweet and sacred, the heart must have a little garden of its own, with its umbrage and fountains and perennial flowers — a careless company! Sleep is called sacred as well as sweet by Homer; and idleness is but a step from it. The idleness of the wise and virtuous should be both, it being the repose and refreshment necessary for past exertions and for future; it punishes the bad man, it rewards the good; the deities enjoy it, and Epicurus praises it. I was indeed wrong in my remark; for we should never seek amusement in the foibles of another, never in coarse language, never in low thoughts. When the mind loses its feeling for elegance, it grows corrupt and grovelling, and seeks in the crowd what ought to be found at home.

Epicurus. Aspasia believed so, and bequeathed to Leontion, with every other gift that Nature had bestowed upon her, the power of delivering her oracles from diviner lips.

Leontion. Fie! Epicurus! It is well you hide my face for me with your hand. Now take it away; we cannot walk in this manner.

Epicurus. No word could ever fall from you without its weight; no breath from you ought to lose itself in the common air.

Leontion. For shame! What would you have?

Ternissa. He knows not what he would have nor what he would say. I must sit down again. I declare I scarcely understand a single syllable. Well, he is very good, to tease you no longer. Epicurus has an excellent heart; he would give pain to no one; least of all to you.

Leontion, I have pained him by this foolish book, and he would only assure me that he does not for a moment bear me malice. Take the volume; take it, Epicurus! tear it in pieces.

Epicurus. No, Leontion! I shall often look with pleasure on this trophy of brave humanity; let me kiss the hand that raises it!

Ternissa. I am tired of sitting: I am quite stiff: when shall we walk homeward?

Epicurus. Take my arm, Ternissa!

Ternissa. Oh! I had forgotten that I proposed to myself a trip as far up as the pinasters, to look at the precipice of Oreithyia. Come along! come along! how alert does the sea air make us! I seem to feel growing at my feet and shoulders the wings of Zethes or Caläis.

Epicurus. Leontion walks the nimblest today.

Ternissa. To display her activity and strength, she runs before us. Sweet Leontion, how good she is! but she should have stayed for us: it would be in vain to try to overtake her.

No, Epicurus! Mind! take care! you are crushing these little oleanders — and now the strawberry plants — the whole heap. Not I, indeed. What would my mother say, if she knew it? And Leontion! she will certainly look back.

Epicurus. The fairest of the Eudaimones never look back: such are the Hours and Love, Opportunity and Leontion.

Ternissa. How could you dare to treat me in this manner? I did not say again I hated anything.

Epicurus. Forgive me!

Ternissa. Violent creature!

Epicurus. If tenderness is violence. Forgive me; and say you love me.

Ternissa. All at once? could you endure such boldness?

Epicurus. Pronounce it! whisper it.

Ternissa. Go, go. Would it be proper?

Epicurus. Is that sweet voice asking its heart or me? let the worthier give the answer.

Ternissa. O Epicurus! you are very, very dear to me; and are the last in the world that would ever tell you were called so.

7 The Attic month of Puanepsion had its commencement in the latter days of October; its name is derived from πυανα, the legumes which were offered in sacrifice to Apollo at that season.

8 The thirteenth of Elaphebolion was the tenth of April.

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38