Essays and Miscellanies, by Plutarch

The Banquet of the Seven Wise Men.

The Seven — Solon, Dias, Thales, Anacharsis, Cleobulus, Pittacus, Chilo.

Niloxenus, Eumetis, Alexidemus Periander, Ardalus, Aesop, Cleodemus, Mnesiphilus, Chersias, Gorgias, Diocles.

Diocles to Nicarchus

No wonder, my friend Nicarchus, to find old truths so disguised, and the words and actions of men so grossly and misrepresented and lamely delivered, seeing people are so disposed to give ear and credit to fictions of yesterday’s standing. For there were not merely seven present at that feast, as you were informed; there were more than double the number. I was there myself in person familiarly acquainted with Periander (my art had gained me his acquaintance); and Thales boarded at my house, at the request and upon the recommendation of Periander. Whoever then gave you that account of our feast did it very inadequately; it is plain he did it upon hearsay and that he was not there among us. Now, that we are together and at leisure, and possibly we may not live to find an opportunity so convenient another time, I will (as you wish it) give you a faithful account of the whole proceedings at that meeting.

Periander had prepared a dinner for us, not in the town, but in a dining-hall which stands close to the temple of Venus, to whom there was a sacrifice that day. For having neglected the duty ever since his mother died for love, he was resolved now to atone for the omission, being warned so to do by the dreams of Melissa. In order thereunto, there was provided a rich chariot for every one of the guests. It was summer-time, and every part of the way quite to the seaside was hardly passable, by reason of throngs of people and whole clouds of dust. As soon as Thales espied the chariot waiting at the door, he smilingly discharged it, and we walked through the fields to avoid the press and noise. There was in our company a third person, Niloxenus a Naucratian, an eminent man, who was very intimately acquainted with Solon and Thales in Egypt; he had a message to deliver to Bias, and a letter sealed, the contents whereof he knew not; only he guessed it contained a second question to be resolved by Bias, and in case Bias undertook not to answer it, he had in commission to impart it to the wisest men in Greece. What a fortune is this (quoth Niloxenus) to find you all together! This paper (showing it us) I am bringing to the banquet. Thales replied, after his wonted smiling way, If it contains any hard question, away with it to Priene. Bias will resolve it with the same readiness he did your former problem. What problem was that? quoth he. Why, saith Thales, a certain person sent him a beast for sacrifice with this command, that he should return him that part of his flesh which was best and worst; our philosopher very gravely and wisely pulled out the tongue of the beast, and sent it to the donor; — which single act procured him the name and reputation of a very wise man. It was not this act alone that advanced him in the estimation of the world, quoth Niloxenus; but he joyfully embraces what you so carefully shun, the acquaintance and friendship of kings and great men; and whereas he honors you for divers great accomplishments, he particularly admires you for this invention, that with little labor and no help of any mathematical instrument you took so truly the height of one of the pyramids; for fixing your staff erect at the point of the shadow which the pyramid cast, two triangles being thus made by the tangent rays of the sun, you demonstrated that what proportion one shadow had to the other, such the pyramid bore to the stick.

But, as I said, you are accused of being a hater of kings, and certain false friends of yours have presented Amasis with a paper of yours stuffed with sentences reproachful to majesty; as for instance, being at a certain time asked by Molpagoras the Ionian, what the most absurd thing was you had observed in your notice, you replied, An old king. Another time, in a dispute that happened in your company about the nature of beasts, you affirmed that of wild beasts, a king, of tame, a flatterer, was the worst. Such apothegms must needs be unacceptable to kings, who pretend there is vast difference between them and tyrants. This was Pittacus’s reply to Myrsilus, and it was spoken in jest, quoth Thales; nor was it an old king I said I should marvel at, but an old pilot. In this mistake however, I am much of the youth’s mind who, throwing a stone at a dog, hit his stepmother, adding, Not so bad. I therefore esteemed Solon a very wise and good man, when I understood he refused empire; and if Pittacus had not taken upon himself a monarchy, he had never exclaimed, O ye gods! how hard a matter it is to be good! And Periander, however he seems to be sick of his father’s disease, is yet to be commended that he gives ear to wholesome discourses and converses only with wise and good men, rejecting the advice of Thrasybulus my countryman who would have persuaded him to chop off the heads of the leading men. For a prince that chooses rather to govern slaves than freemen is like a foolish farmer, who throws his wheat and barley in the streets, to fill his barns with swarms of locusts and whole cages of birds. For government has one good thing to make amends for its many evils, namely, honor and glory, provided one rules good men as being better than they and great men because greater than they. But he that having ascended the throne minds only his own interest and ease, is fitter to tend sheep or to drive horses or to feed cattle than to govern men.

But this stranger (continues he) has engaged us in a deal of impertinent chat, for we have omitted to speak or offer any discourse suitable to the occasion and end of our meeting; for doubtless it becomes the guest as well as the host, to make preparation beforehand. It is reported that the Sybarites used to invite their neighbors’ wives a whole twelve-month before to their entertainments, that they might have convenient time to trim and adorn themselves; for my part, I am of opinion, that he who would feast as he should ought to allow himself more time for preparation than they, it being a more difficult matter to compose the mind into an agreeable temper than to fit one’s clothes for the outward ornament of the body. For a prudent man comes not hither only to fill his belly, as if he were to fill a bottle, but to be sometimes grave and serious, sometimes pleasant, sometimes to listen to others, and sometimes to speak himself what may benefit or divert the company, if the meeting is intended for any good use or purpose. For if the victuals be not good, men may let them alone, or if the wine be bad, men may use water; but for a weak-brained, impertinent, unmannerly, shallow fellow-commoner there is no cure; he mars all the mirth and music, and spoils the best entertainment in the world. And it will be no easy business to lay aside a sullen temper; since we find divers men, angered in their debauches, have yet remembered the provocation to their dying day, the spite remaining like a surfeit arising from wrong done or an insult received in drinking. Wherefore Chilo did very well and wisely; for when he invited yesterday, he would not promise to come till he had a particular given him of all their names who were to meet him. For, quoth he, if my business calls me to sea or I am pressed to serve my prince in his wars, there is a necessity upon me to rest contented with whatever company I fall into, though never so unsuitable to my quality or disagreeable to my nature and humor; but voluntarily and needlessly to associate myself with any riffraff rabble would ill become any man pretending to but common discretion.

The Egyptian skeleton which they brought into their feasts and exposed to the view of their guests, with this advice, that they should not in their merriment forget they would shortly be themselves such as that was — though it was a sight not so acceptable (as may be supposed) — had yet this conveniency and use, to incite the spectators not to luxury and drunkenness but to mutual love and friendship, persuading them not to protract a life in itself short and uncertain by a tedious course of wickedness.

In discourses of this kind we spent our time by the way, and were now come to the house. Here Thales would not be washed, for he had but a while before anointed himself; wherefore he took a round to view the horse-race and the wrestling-place, and the grove upon the water-side, which was neatly trimmed and beautified by Periander; this he did, not so much to satisfy his own curiosity (for he seldom or never admired anything he saw), but that he might not disoblige Periander or seem to overlook or despise the glory and magnificence of our host. Of the rest every one, after he had anointed and washed himself, the servants introduced into a particular room, purposely fitted and prepared for the men; they were guided thither through a porch, in which Anacharsis sat, and there was a certain young lady with him combing his hair. This lady stepping forward to welcome Thales, he kissed her most courteously, and smiling said: Madam, make our host fair and pleasant, so that, being (as he is) the mildest man in the world, he may not be fearful and terrible for us to look on. When I was curious to inquire who this lady was, he said, Do you not yet know the wise and famous Eumetis? for so her father calls her, though others call her after her father’s name Cleobulina. Doubtless, saith Niloxenus, they call her by this name to commend her judgment and wit, and her reach into the more abstruse and recondite part of learning; for I have myself in Egypt seen and read some problems first started and discussed by her. Not so, saith Thales, for she plays with these as with cockal-bones, and deals boldly with all she meets; she is a person of an admirable understanding, of a shrewd capacious mind, of a very obliging conversation, and one that prevails upon her father to govern his subjects with the greatest mildness. How democratic she is appears, saith Niloxenus, plainly to any that observes her simple innocent garb. But pray, continues he, wherefore is it that she shows such affection to Anacharsis? Because, replied Thales, he is a temperate and learned man, who fully and freely makes known to her those mysterious ways of dieting and physicing the sick which are now in use among the Scythians; and I doubt not she now coaxes and courts the old gentleman at the rate you see, taking this opportunity to discourse with him and learn something of him.

As we were come near the dining-room, Alexidemus the Milesian, a bastard son of Thrasybulus the Tyrant, met us. He seemed to be disturbed, and in an angry tone muttered to himself some words which we could not distinctly hear; but espying Thales, and recovering himself out of his disorder, he complained how Periander had put an insufferable affront upon him. He would not permit me, saith he, to go to sea, though I earnestly importuned him, but he would press me to dine with him. And when I came as invited, he assigned me a seat unbecoming my person and character, Aeolians and islanders and others of inferior rank being placed above me; whence it is easy to infer how meanly he thinks of my father, and it is undeniable how this affront put upon me rebounds disgracefully in my parent’s face. Say you so? quoth Thales, are you afraid lest the place lessen or diminish your honor and worth, as the Egyptians commonly hold the stars are magnified or lessened according to their higher or lower place and position? And are you more foolish than that Spartan who, when the prefect of the music had appointed him to sit in the lowest seat in the choir, replied, This is prudently done, for this is the ready way to bring this seat into repute and esteem? It is a frivolous consideration, where or below whom we sit; and it is a wiser part to adapt ourselves to the judgment and humor of our right and left hand man and the rest of the company, that we may approve ourselves worthy of their friendship, when they find we take no pet at our host, but are rather pleased to be placed near such good company. And whosoever is disturbed upon the account of his place seems to be more angry with his neighbor than with his host, but certainly is very troublesome and nauseous to both.

These are fine words, and no more, quoth Alexidemus, for I observe you, the wisest of men, as ambitious as other men; and having said thus, he passed by us doggedly and trooped off. Thales, seeing us admiring the insolence of the man, declared he was a fellow naturally of a blockish, stupid disposition; for when he was a boy, he took a parcel of rich perfume that was presented to Thrasybulus and poured it into a large bowl and mixing it with a quantity of wine, drank it off and was ever hated for it. As Thales was talking after this fashion, in comes a servant and tells us it was Periander’s pleasure we would come in and inform him what we thought of a certain creature brought into his presence that instant, whether it were so born by chance or were a monster and omen; — himself seeming mightily affected and concerned, for he judged his sacrifice polluted by it. At the same time he walked before us into a certain house adjoining to his garden-wall, where we found a young beardless shepherd, tolerably handsome, who having opened a leathern bag produced and showed us a child born (as he averred) of a mare. His upper parts as far as his neck and his hands, was of human shape, and the rest of his body resembled a perfect horse; his cry was like that of a child newly born. As soon as Niloxenus saw it, he cried out. The gods deliver us; and away he fled as one sadly affrighted. But Thales eyed the shepherd a considerable while, and then smiling (for it was his way to jeer me perpetually about my art) says he, I doubt not, Diocles, but you have been all this time seeking for some expiatory sacrifice, and meaning to call to your aid those gods whose province and work it is to avert evils from men, as if some greet and grievous thing had happened. Why not? quoth I, for undoubtedly this prodigy portends sedition and war, and I fear the dire portents thereof may extend to myself, my wife, and my children, and prove all our ruin; since, before I have atoned for my former fault, the goddess gives us this second evidence and proof of her displeasure. Thales replied never a word, but laughing went out of the house. Periander, meeting him at the door, inquired what we thought of that creature; he dismissed me, and taking Periander by the hand, said, Whatsoever Diocles shall persuade you to do, do it at your best leisure; but I advise you either not to have such youthful men to keep your mares, or to give them leave to marry. When Periander heard him out, he seemed infinitely pleased, for he laughed outright, and hugging Thales in his arms he kissed him; then saith he, O Diocles, I am apt to think the worst is over, and what this prodigy portended is now at an end; for do you not apprehend what a loss we have sustained in the want of Alexidemus’s good company at supper?

When we entered into the house, Thales raising his voice inquired where it was his worship refused to be placed; which being shown him, he sat himself in that very place, and prayed us to sit down by him, and said, I would gladly give any money to have an opportunity to sit and eat with Ardalus. This Ardalus was a Troezenian by birth, by profession a minstrel, and a priest of the Ardalian Muses, whose temple old Ardalus had founded and dedicated. Here Aesop, who was sent from Croesus to visit Periander, and withal to consult the oracle at Delphi, sitting by and beneath Solon upon a low stool, told the company this fable: A Lydian mule, viewing his own picture in a river, and admiring the bigness and beauty of his body, raises his crest; he waxes proud, resolving to imitate the horse in his gait and running; but presently, recollecting his extraction, how that his father was but an ass at best, he stops his career and cheeks his own haughtiness and bravery. Chilo replied, after his short concise way, You are slow and yet try to run, in imitation of your mule.

Amidst these discourses in comes Melissa and sits her down by Periander; Eumetis followed and came in as we were at supper; then Thales calls to me (I sat me down above Bias), Why do you not make Bias acquainted with the problems sent him from the King by Niloxenus this second time, that he may soberly and warily weigh them? Bias answered, I have been already scared with that news. I have known that Bacchus is otherwise a powerful deity, and for his wisdom is termed [Greek omitted] that is, THE INTERPRETER; therefore I shall undertake it when my belly is full of wine. Thus they jested and reparteed and played one upon another all the while they sat at table. Observing the unwonted frugality of Periander at this time, I considered with myself that the entertainment of wise and good men is a piece of good husbandry, and that so far from enhancing a man’s expenses in truth it serves to save charge, the charge (to wit) of costly foreign unguents and junkets, and the waste of the richest wines, which Periander’s state and greatness required him every day in his ordinary treats to expend. Such costly provisions were useless here, and Periander’s wisdom appeared in his frugality. Moreover, his lady had laid aside her richer habit, and appeared in an ordinary, but a very becoming dress.

Supper now ended, and Melissa having distributed the garlands, we offered sacrifice; and when the minstrel had played us a tune or two, she withdrew. Then Ardalus inquired of Anacharsis, if there were women fiddlers at Scythia. He suddenly and smartly replied, There are no vines there. Ardalus asked a second question, whether the Scythians had any gods among them. Yes, quoth Anacharsis, and they understand what men say to them; nor are the Scythians of the Grecian opinion (however these last may be the better orators), that the gods are better pleased with the sounds of flutes and pipes than with the voice of men. My friend, saith Aesop, what would you say if you saw our present pipe-makers throw away the bones of fawns and hind-calves, to use those of asses, affirming they yield the sweeter and more melodious sound? Whereupon Cleobulina made one of her riddles about the Phrygian flute, . . . in regard to the sound, and wondered that an ass, a gross animal and so alien from music should yet supply bones so fit for harmony. Therefore it is doubtless, quoth Niloxenus, that the people of Busiris blame us Naucratians for using pipes made of asses’ bones it being an insufferable crime in an of them to listen to the flute or cornet, the sound thereof being (as they esteem it) so like the braying of an ass; and you know an ass is hateful to the Egyptians on account of Typhon.

There happening here a short silence, Periander, observing Niloxenus willing but not daring to speak, said: I cannot but commend the civility of those magistrates who give audience first to strangers and afterwards to their own citizens; wherefore I judge it convenient that we inhabitants and neighbors should proceed no farther at present in our discourse, and that now attention be given to those royal propositions sent us from Egypt, which the worthy Niloxenus is commissioned to deliver to Bias, who wishes that he and we may scan and examine them together. And Bias said: For where or in what company would a man more joyfully adventure to give his opinion than here in this? And since it is his Majesty’s pleasure that I should give my judgment first, in obedience to his commands I will do so, and afterwards they shall come to every one of you in order.

Then Niloxenus delivered the paper to Bias, who broke up the seal and commanded it to be read in all their hearing. The contents were these:

Amasis the king of Egypt, to Bias, the wisest of the Grecians, greeting. There is a contest between my brother of Ethiopia and myself about wisdom; and being baffled in divers other particulars, he now demands of me a thing absurd and impracticable; for he requires me to drink up the ocean dry. If I be able to read this his riddle, divers cities and towns now in his possession are to be annexed to my kingdom; but if I cannot resolve this hard sentence, and give him the right meaning thereof, he requires of me my right to all the towns bordering upon Elephantina. Consider with speed the premises, and let me receive your thoughts by Niloxenus. Pray lose no time. If in anything I can be serviceable to your city or friends, you may command me. Farewell.

Bias, having perused and for a little time meditated upon the letter, and whispering Cleobulus in the ear (he sat by him), exclaimed: What a narration is here, O Niloxenus! Will Amasis, who governs so many men and is seized of so many flourishing territories, drink up the ocean for the gain of a few paltry, beggarly villages? Niloxenus replied with a smile: Consider, good sir, what is to be done, if he will obey. Why then, said Bias, let Amasis require the Ethopian king to stop the stream which from all parts flow and empty themselves in the ocean, until he have drunk out the whole remainder; for I conceive he means the present waters, not those which shall flow into it hereafter. Niloxenus was so overjoyed at this answer, that he could not contain himself. He hugged and kissed the author, and the whole company liked his opinion admirably well; and Chilo laughing desired Niloxenus to get aboard immediately before the sea was consumed, and tell his master he should mind more how to render his government sweet and potable to his people, than how to swallow such a quantity of salt water. For Bias, he told him, understands these things very well, and knows how to oblige your lord with very useful instructions, which if he vouchsafe to attend, he shall no more need a golden basin to wash his feet, to gain respect from his subjects; all will love and honor him for his virtue, though he were ten thousand times more hateful to them than he is. It were well and worthily done, quoth Periander, if all of us did pay him our first-fruits in this kind by the poll (as Homer said). Such a course would bring him an accession of profit greater than the whole proceeds of the voyage, besides being of great use to ourselves.

To this point it is fit that Solon should first speak, quoth Chilo, not only because he is the eldest in the company and therefore sits uppermost at table, but because he governs and gives laws to the amplest and most complete and flourishing republic in the world, that of Athens. Here Niloxenus whispered me in the ear: O Diocles, saith he, how many reports fly about and are believed, and how some men delight in lies which they either feign of their own heads or most greedily swallow from the mouths of others. In Egypt I heard it reported how Chilo had renounced all friendship and correspondence with Solon, because he maintained the mutability of laws. A ridiculous fiction, quoth I, for then he and we must have renounced Lycurgus, who changed the laws and indeed the whole government of Sparta.

Solon, pausing awhile, gave his opinion in these words. I conceive that monarch, whether king or tyrant, were infinitely to be commanded, who would exchange his monarchy for a commonwealth. Bias subjoined, And who would be first and foremost in conforming to the laws of his country. Thales added, I reckon that prince happy, who, being old, dies in his bed a natural death. Fourthly, Anacharsis, If he alone be a wise man. Fifthly, Cleobulus said, If he trust none of his courtiers. Sixthly, Pittacus spake thus, If he could so treat his subjects that they feared not him but for him. Lastly, Chilo concluded thus, A magistrate ought to meditate no mortal thing but everything immortal.

When all had given in their judgments upon this point, we requested Periander to let us know his thoughts. Disorder and discontent appearing in his countenance, he said, These opinions are enough to scare any wise man from affecting, empire. These things, saith Aesop after his reproving way, ought rather to have been discussed privately among ourselves, lest we be accounted antimonarchical while we desire to be esteemed friends and loyal counsellors. Solon, gently touching him on the head and smiling, answered: Do you not perceive that any one would make a king more moderate and a tyrant more favorable, who should persuade him that it is better not to reign than to reign? Who would believe you before the oracle delivered unto you, quoth Aesop which pronounced that city happy that heard but one crier. Yes, quoth Solon, and Athens, now a commonwealth, hath but one crier and one magistrate, the law, though the government be democratical; but you, my friend, have been so accustomed to the croaking of ravens and the prating of jays, that you do not hear clearly your own voice. For you maintain it to be the happiness of a city to be under the command of one man, and yet account it the merit of a feast if liberty is allowed every man to speak his mind freely upon what subject he pleases. But you have not prohibited your servants’ drunkenness at Athens, Aesop said, as you have forbidden them to love or to use dry ointments. Solon laughed at this; but Cleodorus the physician said: To use dry ointment is like talking when a man is soaked with wine; both are very pleasant. Therefore, saith Chilo, men ought the more carefully to avoid it. Aesop proceeds, Thales seemed to imply that he should soon grow old.

Periander said laughing: We suffer deservedly, for, before we have perfected any remarks upon the letter, we are fallen upon disputes foreign to the matter under consideration; and therefore I pray, Niloxenus, read out the remainder of your lord’s letter, and slip not this opportunity to receive what satisfaction all that are present shall be able to give you. The command of the king of Ethiopia, says Niloxenus, is no more and no less than (to use Archilochus’s phrase) a broken scytale; that is, the meaning is inscrutable and cannot be found out. But your master Amasis was more mild and polite in his queries; for he commanded him only to resolve him what was most ancient, most beautiful, greatest, wisest, most common, and withal, what was most profitable, most pernicious, most strong, and most easy. Did he resolve and answer every one of these questions? He did, quoth Niloxenus, and do you judge of his answers and the soundness thereof: and it is my Prince’s purpose not to misrepresent his responses and condemn unjustly what he saith well, so, where he finds him under a mistake, not to suffer that to pass without correction. His answers to the foresaid questions I will read to you. — What is most ancient? Time. What is greatest? The World. What is wisest? Truth. What is most beautiful? The light. What is most common? Death. What is most profitable? God. What is most Pernicious? An evil genius. What is strongest? Fortune. What is most easy? That which is pleasant.

When Niloxenus had read out these answers, there was a short silence among them; by and by Thales desires Niloxenus to inform him if Amasis approved of these answers. Niloxenus said, he liked some and disliked others. There is not one of them right and sound, quoth Thales, but all are full of wretched folly and ignorance. As for instance, how can that be most ancient whereof part is past, part is now present, and part is yet to come; every man knows it is younger than ourselves and our actions. As to his answer that truth is the most wise thing, it is as incongruous as if he had affirmed the light to be an eye if he judged the light to be the most beautiful how could he omit the sun; as to his solutions concerning the gods and evil genuises, they are full of presumption and peril. What he saith of Fortune is void of sense, for her inconstancy and fickleness proceed from want of strength and power. Nor is death the most common thing; the living are still at liberty, it hath not arrested them. But lest we be blamed as having a faculty to find fault only, we will lay down our opinions of these things, and compare them with those of the Ethiopian; I offer my self first, if Niloxenus pleases, to deliver my opinion on every one singly and I will relate both questions and answers in that method and order in which they were sent to Ethiopia and read to us. What is most ancient Thales answered, God, for he had no beginning. What is greatest? Place; the World contains all other things, this surrounds and contains the world. What is most beautiful? The world; for whatever is framed artificially and methodically is a part of it. What is most wise? Time; for it has found out some things already, it will find out the rest in due time. What is most common Hope; for they that want other things are masters of this. What is most profitable? Virtue; for by a right managery of other things she makes them all beneficial and advantageous. What is most pernicious? Vice; for it depraves the best things we enjoy. What is most strong? Necessity; for this alone is insuperable. What is most easy? That which is most agreeable to nature; for pleasures themselves are sometimes tedious and nauseating.

All the consult approved of Thale’s solutions. Cleodemus said: My friend Niloxenus, it becomes kings to propound and resolve such questions; but the insolence of that barbarian who would have Amasis drink the sea would have been better fitted by such a smart reprimand as Pittacus gave Alyattes, who sent an imperious letter to the Lesbians. He made him no other answer, but to bid him spend his time in eating his hot bread and onions.

Periander, here assumed the discourse, and said: It was the manner of the ancient Grecians heretofore, O Cleodemus, to propound doubts to one another; and it hath been told us, that the most famous and eminent poets used to meet at the grave of Amphidamas in Chalcis. This Amphidamas was a leading commander, one that had perpetual wars with the Eretrians, and at last lost his life in one of the battles fought for the possession of the Lelantine plain. Now, because the writings of those poets were set to verse and so made the argument more knotty and the decision more arduous, and the great names of the antagonists, Homer and Hesiod, whose excellence was so well known, made the umpires timorous and shy to determine; they therefore betook themselves to these sorts of questions, and Homer, says Lesches, propounded this riddle:—

Tell me, O Muse, what never was
And never yet shall be.

Hesiod answered readily and extempore in this wise:—

When steeds with echoing hoof, to win
The prize, shall run amain;
And on the tomb of lofty Jove
Their chariots break in twain.

For this reply he was infinitely commended and got the tripod. Pray tell me, quoth Cleodemus, what difference there is between these riddles and those of Eumetis, which she frames and invents to recreate herself with as much pleasure as other virgins make nets and girdles? They may be fit to offer and puzzle women withal; but for men to beat their brains to find out their mystery would be mighty ridiculous. Eumetis looked like one that had a great mind to reply; but her modesty would not permit her, for her face was filled with blushes. But Aesop in her vindication asked: Is it not much more ridiculous that all present cannot resolve the riddle she propounded to us before supper? This was as follows:—

A man I saw, who by his fire
Did set a piece of brass
Fast to a man, so that it seemed
To him it welded was.

Can you tell me, said he, how to construe this, and what the sense of it may be? No, said Cleodemus, it is no profit to know what it means. And yet, quoth Aesop, no man understands this thing better and practises it more judiciously and successfully than yourself. If you deny it, I have my witnesses ready; for there are your cupping-glasses. Cleodemus laughed outright; for of all the physicians in his time, none used cupping-glasses like him, he being a person that by his frequent and fortunate application thereof brought them first into request in the world.

Mnesiphilus the Athenian, a friend and favorite of Solon’s, said: O Periander, our discourse, as our wine, ought to be distributed not according to our power or priority, but freely and equally, as in a popular state; for what hath been already discoursed concerning kingdoms and empires signifies little to us who live in a democracy. Wherefore I judge it convenient that every one of you, commencing with Solon, should freely and impartially declare his sense of a popular state. The motion pleased all the company; then saith Solon: My friend Mnesiphilus, you heard, together with the rest of this good company, my opinion concerning republics; but since you are willing to hear it again, I hold that city or state happy and most likely to remain free, in which those that are not personally injured are yet as forward to try and punish wrongdoers as that person who is wronged. Bias added, Where all fear the law as they fear a tyrant. Thirdly, Thales said, Where the citizens are neither too rich nor too poor. Fourthly, Anacharsis said, Where, though in all other respects they are equal, yet virtuous men are advanced and vicious persons degraded. Fifthly, Cleobulus said, Where the rulers fear reproof and shame more than the law. Sixthly, Pittacus said, Where evil men are kept from ruling, and good men from not ruling. Chilo, pausing a little while, determined that the best and most enduring state was where the subject minded the law most and the lawyers least. Periander concluded with his opinion, that all of them would best approve that democracy which came next and was likest to an aristocracy.

After they had ended this discourse, I begged they would condescend to direct me how to govern a house; for they were few who had cities and kingdoms to govern, compared with those who had houses and families to manage. Aesop laughed and said: I hope you except Anacharsis out of your number; for having no house he glories because he can be contented with a chariot only, as they say the sun is whirled about from one end of the heavens to the other in his chariot. Therefore, saith Anacharsis, he alone, or he principally, is most free among the gods, and ever at his own liberty and dispose. He governs all, and is governed and subject to none, but he rides and reigns; and you know not how magnificent and broad his chariot is; if you did, you would not thus floutingly depreciate our Scythian chariots. For you seem in my apprehension to call these coverings made of wood and mud houses, as if you should call the shell and not the living creature a snail. Therefore you laughed when Solon told you how, when he viewed Croesus’s palace and found it richly and gloriously furnished, he yet could not yield he lived happily until he had tried the inward and invisible state of his mind; for a man’s felicity consists not in the outward and visible favors and blessings of fortune, but in the inward and unseen perfections and riches of the mind. And you seem to have forgot your own fable of the fox, who, contending with the leopard as to which possessed more colors and spots, and having referred the matter in controversy to the arbitration of an umpire, desired him to consider not so much the outside as the inside; for, saith he, I have more various and different fetches and tricks in my mind than he has marks or spots in his body. You regard only the handiwork of carpenters and masons and stone-cutters, and call this a house; not what one hath within, his children, his wife, his friends and attendants, with whom if a man lived in an emmet’s bed or a bird’s nest, enjoying in common the ordinary comforts of life, this man may be affirmed to live a happy and a fortunate life.

This is the answer I purpose to return Aesop, quoth Anacharsis, and I tender it to Diocles as my share in this discourse; only let the rest give in their opinions, if they please. Solon thought that house most happy where the estate was got without injustice, kept without distrust, and spent without repentance. Bias said, That house is happy where the master does freely and voluntarily what the law would else compel him to do. Thales held that house most happy where the master had most leisure and respite from business. Cleobulus said, That in which the master is more beloved than feared. Pittacus said, most that is happy where superfluities are not required and necessaries are not wanting. Chilo added, that house is most happy where one rules as a monarch in his kingdom. And he proceeded, when a certain Lacedaemonian desired Lycurgus to establish a democracy in the city. Go you, friend, replied he, and try the experiment first in your own house.

When they had all given in their opinions upon this point, Eumetis and Melissa withdrew. Then Periander called for a large bowl full of wine, and drank to Chilo; and Chilo too drank to Bias. Ardalus then standing up called to Aesop, and said: Will you not hand the cup to your friends at this end of the table, when you behold those persons there swilling up all that good liquor, and imparting none to us here as if the cup were that of Bathycles. But this cup, quoth Aesop, is no public cup, it hath stood so long by Solon’s trenchard. Then Pittacus called to Mnesiphilus: Why, saith he, does not Solon drink, but act in contradiction to his own verses? —

I love that ruby god, whose blessings flow
In tides, to recreate my thirsty maw;
Venus I court, the Muses I adore,
Who give us wine and pleasures evermore.

Anacharsis subjoined: He fears your severe law, my friend Pittacus, wherein you decreed the drunkard a double punishment. You seem, said Pittacus, a little to fear the penalty, who have adventured heretofore, and now again before my face, to break that law and to demand a crown for the reward of your debauch. Why not, quoth Anacharsis, when there is a reward promised to the hardest drinker? Why should I not demand my reward, having drunk down all my fellows? — or inform me of any other end men drive at in drinking much wine, but to be drunk. Pittacus laughed at this reply, and Aesop told them this fable: The wolf seeing a parcel of shepherds in their booth feeding upon a lamb, approaching near them — What a bustle and noise and uproar would there have been, saith he, if I had but done what you do! Chilo said: Aesop hath very justly revenged himself upon us, who awhile ago stopped his mouth; now he observes how we prevented Mnesiphilus’s discourse, when the question was put why Solon did not drink up his wine.

Mnesiphilus then spake to this effect: I know this to be the opinion of Solon, that in every art and faculty, divine and human, the work which is done is more desired than the instrument wherewith it is done, and the end than the means conducing to that end; as, for instance, a weaver thinks a cloak or coat more properly his work than the ordering of his shuttles or the divers motions of his beams. A smith minds the soldering of his irons and the sharpening of the axe more than those little things accessory to these main matters, as the kindling of the coals and preparing the stone-dust. Yet farther, a carpenter would justly blame us, if we should affirm it is not his work to build houses or ships but to bore holes or to make mortar; and the Muses would be implacably incensed with him that should say their business is only to make harps, pipes and such musical instruments, not the institution and correcting of manners and the government of those men’s passions who are lovers of singing and masters of music. And agreeably copulation is not the work of Venus, nor is drunkenness that of Bacchus; but love and friendship, affection and familiarity, which are begot and improved by and the means of these. Solon terms these works divine, and he professes he loves and now prosecutes them in his declining years as vigorously as ever in his youthful days. That mutual love between man and wife is the work of Venus, the greatness of the pleasure affecting their bodies mixes and melts their very souls; divers others, having little or no acquaintance before, have yet contracted a firm and lasting friendship over a glass of wine, which like fire softened and melted their tempers, and disposed them for a happy union. But in such a company, and of such men as Periander hath invited, there is no need of can and chalice, but the Muses themselves throwing a subject of discourse among you, as it were a sober cup, wherein is contained much of delight and drollery and seriousness too, do hereby provoke, nourish, and increase friendship among you, allowing the cup to rest quietly upon the bowl, contrary to the rule which Hesiod (Hesiod, “Works and Days,” 744.) gives for those who have more skill for carousing than for discoursing.

Though all the rest with stated rules we bound
Unmix’d, unmeasured are thy goblets crown’d
(“Iliad” iv. 261.)

for it was the old Greek way, as Homer here tells us, to drink one to another in course and order. So Ajax gave a share of his meat to his next neighbor.

When Mnesiphilus had discoursed after this manner, in comes Chersias the poet, whom Periander had lately pardoned and received into favor upon Chilo’s mediation. Saith Cherias: Does not Jupiter distribute to the gods their proportion and share sparingly and severally, as Agamemnon did to his commanders when his guests pledged one another? If, O Chersias, quoth Cleodemus, as you narrate, certain pigeons bring him ambrosia every meal, winging with a world of hardship through the rocks called PLANCTAE (or WANDERING), can you blame him for his sparingness and frugality and dealing out to his guests by measure?

I am satisfied, quoth Chersias, and since we are fallen upon our old discourse of housekeeping, which of the company can remember what remains to be said thereof? There remains, if I mistake not, to show what that measure is which may content any man. Cleobulus answered: The law has prescribed a measure for wise men; but as touching foolish ones I will tell you a story I once heard my father relate to my brother. On a certain time the moon begged of her mother a coat that would fit her. How can that be done, quoth the mother, for sometime you are full, sometimes the one half of you seems lost and perished, sometimes only a pair of horns appear. So, my Chersias, to the desires of a foolish immoderate man no certain measure can be fitted; for according to the ebbing and flowing of his lust and appetite, and the frequent or seldom casualties that befall him, accordingly his necessities ebb and flow, not unlike Aesop’s dog, who, being pinched and ready to starve with the cold winter, was a mind to build himself a house; but when summer came on, he lay all along upon the ground, and stretching himself in the sun thought himself monstrous big, and thought it unnecessary and besides no small labor to build him a house portionable to that bulk and bigness. And do you not observe, O Chersias, continues he, many poor men — how one while they pinch their bellies, upon what short commons they live, how sparing and niggardly and miserable they are; and another while you may observe the same men as distrustful and covetous withal, as if the plenty of the city and county, the riches of king and kingdom were not sufficient to preserve them from want and beggary.

When Chersias had concluded this discourse, Cleodemus began thus: We see you that are wise men possessing these outward goods after an unequal manner. Good sweet sir, answered Cleobulus, the law weaver-like hath distributed to every man a fitting, decent, adequate portion, and in your profession your reason does what the law does here — when you feed, or diet, or physic your patient, you give not the quantity he desires, but what you judge to be convenient for each in his circumstances. Ardalus inquires: Epimenides, to abstain from all other victuals, and to content himself with a little composition of his own, which the Greeks call [Greek omitted] (HUNGER-RELIEVING)? This he takes into his mouth and chews, and eats neither dinner nor supper. This instance obliged the whole company to be a little while silent, until Thales in a jesting way replied, that Epimenides did very wisely, for hereby he saved the trouble and charge of grinding and boiling his meat, as Pittacus did. I myself sojourning as Lesbos overheard my landlady, as she was very busy at her hand-mill, singing as she used to do her work, “Grind mill; grind mill; for even Pittacus the prince of great Mitylene, grinds” [Greek footnote ommitted]. Quoth Solon: Ardalus, I wonder you have not read the law of Epimenides’s frugality in Hesiod’s writings, who prescribes him and others this spare diet; for he was the person that gratified Epimenides with the seeds of this nutriment, when he directed him to inquire how great benefit a man might receive by mallows and asphodel (Hesiod, “Works and Days,” 41.) Do you believe, said Periander, that Hesiod meant this literally; or rather that, being himself a great admirer of parsimony, he hereby intended to exhort men to use mean and spare diet, as most healthful and pleasant? For the chewing of mallows is very wholesome, and the stalk of asphodel is very luscious; but this “expeller of hunger and thirst” I take to be rather physic than natural food, consisting of honey and I know not what barbarian cheese, and of many and costly drugs fetched from foreign parts. If to make up this composition so many ingredients were requisite, and so difficult to come by and so expensive, Hesiod might have kept his breath to cool his pottage, and never blessed the world with the discovery. And yet I admire how your landlord, when he went to perform the great purification for the Delians not long since, could overlook the monuments and patterns of the first aliment which the people brought into the temple — and, among other cheap fruits such as grow of themselves, the mallows and the asphodel; the usefulness and innocency whereof Hesiod seemed in his work to magnify. Moreover, quoth Anacharsis, he affirms both plants to be great restoratives. You are in the right, quoth Cleodemus; for it is evident Hesiod was no ordinary physician, who could discourse so learnedly and judiciously of diet, of the nature of wines, and of the virtue of waters and baths, and of women, the proper times for procreation, and the site and position of infants in the womb; insomuch, that (as I take it) Aesop deserves much more the name of Hesiod’s scholar and disciple than Epimenides, whose great and excellent wisdom the fable of the nightingale and hawk demonstrates. But I would gladly hear Solon’s opinion in this matter; for having sojourned long at Athens and being familiarly acquainted with Epimenides, it is more than probable he might learn of him the grounds upon which he accustomed himself to so spare a diet.

To what purpose, said Solon, should I trouble him or myself to make inquiry in a matter so plain? For if it be a blessing next to the greatest to need little victuals, then it is the greatest felicity to need none at all. If I may have leave to deliver my opinion, quoth Cleodemus, I must profess myself of a different judgment, especially now we sit at table; for as soon as the meat is taken away, what belongs to those gods that are the patrons of friendship and hospitality has been removed. As upon the removal of the earth, quoth Thales, there must needs follow an universal confusion of all things, so in forbidding men meat, there must needs follow the dispersion and dissolution of the family, the sacred fire, the cups, the feasts and entertainment’s, which are the principal and most innocent diversions of mankind; and so all the comforts of society are at end. For to men of business some recreation is necessary, and the preparation and use of victuals conduces much thereunto. Again, to be without victuals would tend to the destruction of husbandry, for want whereof the earth would soon be overgrown with weeds, and through the sloth of men overflowed with waters. And together with this, all arts would fail which are supported and encouraged hereby; nay, more, take away hospitality and the use of victuals and the worship and honor of the gods will sink and perish; the sun will have but small and the moon yet smaller reverence if thy afford men only light and heat. And who will build an altar or offer sacrifices to Jupiter Pluvius, or to Ceres the patroness of husbandmen, or to Neptune the preserver of plants and trees? Or how can Bacchus be any longer termed the donor of all good things, if men make no further use of the good things he gives? What shall men sacrifice? What first-fruits shall they offer? In short, the subversion and confusion of the greatest blessings attend this opinion. Promiscuously and indefatigable to pursue all sorts of pleasures I own to be brutish, and to avoid all with a suitable aversion equally blockish, let the mind then freely enjoy such pleasures as are agreeable to its nature and temper. But for the body, there is certainly no pleasure more harmless and commendable and fitting than that which springs from a plentiful table — which is granted by all men, for, placing this in the middle, men converse with one another and share in the provision. As to the pleasures of the bed, men use these in the dark, reputing the use thereof shameful and beastly as well as the total disuse of the pleasures of the table.

Cleodemus having finished this long harangue, I began to this effect. You omit one thing, my friend, how they that decry food decry sleep too, and they that declaim against sleep declaim against dreams in the same breath, and so destroy the primitive and ancient way of divination. Add to this, that our whole life will be of one form and fashion, and our soul enclosed in a body to no purpose; many and those the principal parts thereof are naturally so formed and fashioned as to be organs of nutriment; so the tongue, the teeth, the stomach, and the liver, whereof none are idle, none framed for other use, so that whosoever hath no need of nutriment has no need of his body; that is, in other words, no man hath any need of himself, for every man hath a body of his own. This I have thought fit to offer in vindication of our bellies; if Solon or any other has anything to object to what I have said, I am willing to hear him.

Yea, doubtless, replies Solon, or we may be reputed more injudicious than the Egyptians. For when any person dies among them, they open him and show him so dissected to the sun; his guts they throw into the river, to the remaining parts they allow a decent burial, for they think the body now pure and clean; and to speak truly they are the foulest parts of the body, and like that lower hell crammed with dead carcasses and at the same time flowing with offensive rivers, such as flame with fire and are disturbed with tempests. No live creature feeds upon another living creature, but we first take away their lives, and in that action we do them great wrong. Now the very plants have life in them — that is clear and manifest, for we perceive they grow and spread. But to abstain from eating flesh (as they say Orpheus of old did) is more a pretence than a real avoiding of an injury proceeding from the just use of meat. One way there is, and but one way, whereby a man may avoid offence, namely by being contented with his own, not coveting what belongs to his neighbor. But if a man’s circumstances be such and so hard that he cannot subsist without wronging another man, the fault is God’s, not his. The case being such with some persons, I would fain learn if it be not advisable to destroy, at the same time with injustice, these instruments of injustice, the belly, stomach, and liver, which have no sense of justice or appetite to honesty, and therefore may be fitly compared to your cook’s implements, his knives and his caldrons, or to a baker’s chimney and bins and kneading-tubs. Verily one may observe the souls of some men confined to their bodies, as to a house of correction, barely to do the drudgery and to serve the necessities thereof. It was our own case but even now. While we minded our meat and our bellies, we had neither eyes to see nor ears to hear; but now the table is taken away, we are free to discourse among ourselves and to enjoy one another; and now our bellies are full, we have nothing else to do or care for. And if this condition and state wherein we at present are would last our whole life, we having no wants to fear nor riches to covet (for a desire of superfluities attends a desire of necessaries), would not our lives be much more comfortable and life itself much more desirable?

Yea, but Cleodemus stiffly maintains the necessity of eating and drinking, else we shall need tables and cups, and shall not be able to offer sacrifice to Ceres and Proserpina. By a parity of reason there is a necessity there should be contentions and wars, that men may have bulwarks and citadels and fortifications by land, fleets and navies abroad at sea, and that having slain hundreds, we may offer Hecatombs after the Messenian manner. By this reason we shall find men grudging their own health, for (they will say) there will be no need of down or feather beds unless they are sick; and so those healing gods, and particularly Esculapius, will be vast sufferers, for they will infallibly lose so many fat and rich sacrifices yearly. Nay, the art of chirurgery will perish, and all those ingenious instruments that have been invented for the cure of man will lie by useless and insignificant. And what great difference is there between this and that? For meat is a medicine against hunger, and such as use a constant diet are said to cure themselves — I mean such as use meat not for wantonness but of necessity. For it is plain, the prejudices we receive by feeding far surmount the pleasures. And the enjoyment of eating fills a very small place in our bodies and very little time. But why should I trouble you or myself with a catalogue of the many vexations which attend that man who is necessitated to provide for a family, and the many difficulties which distract him in his undertaking? For my part, I verily believe Homer had an eye to this very thing, when, to prove the immortality of the gods, he made use of this very argument, that they were such because they used no victuals;

For not the bread of man their life sustains,
Nor wine’s inflaming juice supplies their veins;
(“Iliad,” v. 341.)

intimating meat to be the cause of death as well as the means of sustaining and supporting life. From hence proceed divers fatal distempers caused much more by fulness than by fasting; and to digest what we have eaten proves frequently a harder matter than to provide and procure what we eat. And when we solicitously inquire beforehand what we should do or how we should employ ourselves if we had not such care and business to take up our time, this is as if Danaus’s daughters should trouble their heads to know what they should do if they had no sieves to fill with water. We drudge and toil for necessaries, for want of better and nobler occupation. As slaves then who have gained their freedom do now and then those drudgeries and discharge those servile employments and offices for their own benefit which they undertook heretofore for their masters’ advantage, so the mind of man, which at present is enslaved to the body and the service thereof, when once it becomes free from this slavery, will take care of itself, and spend its time in contemplation of truth without distraction or disturbance. Such were our discourses upon this head, O Nicarchus.

And before Solon had fully finished, in came Gorgias, Periander’s brother, who was just returned from Taenarum, whither he had been sent by the advice of the oracle to sacrifice to Neptune and to conduct a deputation. Upon his entrance we welcomed him home; and Periander having among the rest saluted him, Gorgias sat by him upon a bed, and privately whispered something to his brother which we could not hear. Periander by his various gestures and motions discovered different affections; sometimes he seemed sad and melancholic, by and by disturbed and angry; frequently he looked as doubtful and distrustful men use to do; awhile after he lifts up his eyes, as is usual with men in a maze. At last recovering himself, saith he, I have a mind to impart to you the contents of this embassy; but I scarce dare do it, remembering Thales’s aphorism, how things impossible or incredible are to be concealed and only things credible and probable are to be related. Bias answered, I crave leave to explain Thales’s saying, We may distrust enemies, even though they speak things credible, and trust friends, even though they relate things incredible; and I suppose by enemies he meant vicious men and foolish, and by friends, wise and good men. Then, brother Gorgias, quoth Periander, I pray relate the whole story particularly.

Gorgias in obedience to his brother’s command began his story thus:—

When we had fasted now for three days and offered sacrifice upon each of those days, we were all resolved to sit up the third night and spend it in pastime and dancing. The moon shone very bright upon the water, and the sea was exceeding calm and still; this we saw, for we sported ourselves upon the shore. Being thus taken up, all of a sudden we espied a wonderful spectacle off at sea, making with incredible expedition to the adjoining promontory. The violence of the motion made the sea foam again, and the noise was so loud, that the whole company forsook their sport and ran together toward the place, admiring what the matter should be. Before we could make a full discovery of the whole, the motion was so rapid, we perceived divers dolphins, some swimming in a ring or circle, others hastening amain to that part of the shore which was most shallow, and others following after and (as it were) bringing up the rear. In the middle there was a certain heap which we could perceive above the water; but we could not distinctly apprehend what it was, till drawing near the shore we saw all the dolphins flocking together, and having made near the land they safely surrendered their charge, and left out of danger a man breathing and shaking himself. They returned to the promontory, and there seemed to rejoice more than before for this their fortunate undertaking. Divers in the company were affrighted and ran away; myself and a few more took courage, and went on to see and satisfy ourselves what this unusual matter might be; there we found and instantly knew our old acquaintance Arion the musician, who told us his name. He wore that very garment he used when he strove for mastery. We brought him into our tent and found he had received no damage in his passage, save only a little lassitude by the violence of the motion. He told us the whole story of his adventure — a story incredible to all but such as saw it with their eyes. He told us how, when he had determined to leave Italy, being hastened away by Periander’s letters, he went aboard a Corinthian merchantman then in port and ready to sail; being off at sea with the winds favorable, he observed the seamen bent to ruin him, and the master of the vessel told him as much, and that they purposed to execute their design upon him that very night. In this distress, the poor man (as if inspired by his good Genius) girds about him his heretofore victorious, now his mourning cloak, with a brave resolution to compose and sing his own epitaph, as the swans when they apprehend the approaches of death are reported to do. Being thus habited, he told the seamen he was minded to commit the protection of himself and his fellow-passengers to the providence of the gods in a Pythian song; then standing upon the poop near the side of the vessel, and having invoked the help and assistance of all the sea gods, he strikes up briskly and sings to his harp. Before he had half finished his carol, the sun set, and he could discern Peloponnesus before him. The seamen thought it tedious to tarry for the night, wherefore they resolved to murder him immediately, to which purpose they unsheathed their swords. Seeing this, and observing the steersman covering his face, he leaped into the sea as far as he could; but before his body sunk he found himself supported by dolphins. At first he was surprised with care and trouble; but by and by, finding himself marching forward with much ease and security, and observing a whole shoal of dolphins flocking about him and joyfully contending which should appear most forward and serviceable in his preservation, and discerning the vessel at a considerable distance behind, he apprehended the nimbleness of his porters; then, and not till then, his fears forsook him, and he professed he was neither so fearful of death nor desirous of life as he was full of ambitious desire, that he might show to all men that he stood in the grace and favor of the gods, and that he might himself have a firm belief in them. In his passage, as he lifted up his eyes toward heaven, and beheld the stars glittering and twinkling and the moon full and glorious, and the sea calm all about her as she seemed to rise out of it, and yielding him (as it were) a beaten track; he declared, he thought God’s justice had more eyes than one, and that with these innumerable eyes the gods beheld what was acted here below both by sea and land. With such contemplations he performed his voyage less anxiously, which much abated the tediousness thereof and was a comfort and refreshment to him in his solitude and danger. At last, arriving near the promontory which was both steep and high, and fearing danger in a straight course and direct line, they unanimously veered about, and making to shore with a little compass for security they delivered Arion to us in safety, so that he plainly perceived and with thanks acknowledged a Providence.

When Arion had finished this narrative of his escape, I asked him (quoth Gorgias) whither the ship was bound; he told me for Corinth, but it would not be there very suddenly, for when he leaped out of the ship and was carried (as he conceived) about five hundred furlongs, he perceived a calm, which must needs much retard their arrival who were aboard. Gorgias added that, having learned the names of the pilot and master and the colors of the ship, he immediately despatched out ships and soldier to examine all the ports, all this while keeping Arion concealed, lest the criminals should upon notice of His deliverance escape the pursuit of justice. This action happened very luckily; for as soon as he arrived at Corinth, news was brought him that the same ship was in port, and that his party had seized it and secured all the men, merchants and others. Whereupon Periander commanded Gorgias’s discretion and zeal, desiring him to proceed and lose no time, but immediately to clap them in close prison, and to suffer none to come at them to give the least notice of Arion’s miraculous escape.

Gentlemen, quoth Aesop, I remember you derided my dialogue of the daws and rooks; and now you can admire and believe as improbable a story of dolphins. You are mightily out, said I, for this is no novel story which we believe, but it is recorded in the annals of Ino and Athamas above a thousand years ago. These passages are supernatural, quoth Solon and much above our reason; what befell Hesiod is of a lower kind, and more proper for our discourse, and if you have not heard of it before, it is worth your hearing.

Hesiod once sojourned at the same house in Locris with a certain Milesian. In this his sojourning time it happened the gentleman’s daughter was got with child by the Milesian which being discovered, the whole family concluded Hesiod, if not guilty, must be privy to the fact. His innocence was but a weak fence against their jealousy and aspersions; and therefore, rashly censuring him guilty, the brothers of the woman waylaid him in his return home, and slew him and his companion Troilus near the shrine of Nemean Jove in Locris. Their carcasses they threw into the sea; that of Troilus was carried into the river Daphnus, and rested upon a certain rock compassed with waters, just above the surface of the sea, which rock bears his name to this day. The body of Hesiod was no sooner fallen upon the surface of the water, but a company of dolphins received it, and conveyed it to Rhium and Molyeria. It happened the Locrians were assembled at Rhium that day to feast and make merry according to the custom which continues still among them. As soon as they perceived a carcass floating or rather swimming towards them, they hastened, not without admiration, to see what it was; and knowing the body to be Hesiod’s, they instantly resolved to find out the murderers. It proved an easy discovery. After conviction they threw them headlong alive into the sea, and ordered their houses to be demolished to the very foundations. The body they buried in the grove of the temple of Jove, that no foreigner might find it out; the reason of this act was that the Orchomenians had searched far and near for it at the instigation of the oracle, who promised them the greatest felicity if they could get the bones of Hesiod and bury them in their city. Now if dolphins are so favorable to dead men, it is very probable they have a strong affection for the living, especially for such as delight in music, whether vocal or instrumental. And this we know undoubtedly, that these creatures delight infinitely in music; they love it, and if any man sings or plays, they will quietly come by the side of the ship, and listen till the music is ended. When children bathe in the water and sport themselves, you shall have a parcel of them flock together and sport and swim by them; and they may do it the more securely, since it is a breach of the law of Nature to hurt them. You never heard of any man that fishes for them purposely or hurts them wilfully, unless falling into the nets they spoil the sport, and so, like bad children, are corrected for their misdemeanors. I very well remember the Lesbians told me how a maid of their town was preserved from drowning by them.

It was a very true story, quoth Pittacus, and there are divers still alive who will attest it, if need be. The builders or founders of Lesbos were commanded by the oracle to sail till they came to a haven called Mesogaeum, there they should sacrifice a bull to Neptune, and for the honor of Amphitrite and the sea-nymphs they should offer a virgin. The principal persons in this colony were seven in number; the eighth was one Echelaus by name, and appointed head of the rest by the oracle himself; and he was a bachelor. A daughter of one of these seven was to be sacrificed, but who it should be was to be decided by lot, and the lot fell upon Smintheus’s sister. Her they dressed most richly, and so apparelled they conveyed her in abundance of state to the water-side, and having composed a prayer for her, they were now ready to throw her overboard. There was in the company a certain ingenuous young gentleman whose name was Enalus; he was desperately in love with this young lady, and his love prompted him to endeavor all he could for her preservation, or at least to perish in the attempt. In the very moment she was to be cast away, he clasps her in his arms and throws himself and her together into the sea. Shortly after there was a flying report they were both conveyed safe to land. A while after Enalus was seen at Lesbos, who gave out they were preserved by dolphins. I could tell you stories more incredible than these, such as would amuse some and please others; but it is impossible to command men’s faith. The sea was so tempestuous and rough, the people were afraid to come too near the waters, when Enalus arrived. A number of polypuses followed him even to Neptune’s temple, the biggest and strongest of which carried a great stone. This Enalus dedicated, and this stone is therefore called Enalus to this day. To be short and to speak all in a few words — he that knows how to distinguish between the impossible and the unusual, to make a difference between the unlikely and the absurd, to be neither too credulous nor too distrustful — he hath learned your lesson, Do not overdo. ([Greek omitted], NE QUID NIMIS.)

Anacharsis after all this discourse spake to this purpose: Since Thales has asserted the being of a soul in all the principal and most noble parts of the universe, it is no wonder that the most commendable acts are governed by an overruling Power; for, as the body is the organ of the soul, so the soul is an instrument in the hand of God. Now as the body has many motions of its own proceeding from itself, but the best and most from the soul, so the soul acts some things by its own power, but in most things it is subordinate to the will and power of God, whose glorious instrument it is. To me it seems highly unreasonable — and I should be but too apt to censure the wisdom of the gods, if I were convinced — that they use fire, and water, and wind, and clouds, and rain for the preservation and welfare of some and for the detriment and destruction of others, while at the same time they make no use of living creatures that are doubtless more serviceable to their ends than bows are to the Scythians or harps or pipes to the Greeks.

Chersias the poet broke off this discourse, and told the company of divers that were miraculously preserved to his certain knowledge, and more particularly of Cypselus, Periander’s father, who being newly born, his adversary sent a party of bloody fellows to murder him. They found the child in his nurse’s arms, and seeing him smile innocently upon them, they had not the heart to hurt him, and so departed; but presently recalling themselves and considering the peremptoriness of their orders, they returned and searched for him, but could not find him, for his mother had hid him very carefully in a chest. (Called [Greek omitted] in Greek, whence the child was named Cypelus.(G.)) When he came to years of discretion, and understood the greatness of his former danger and deliverance, he consecrated a temple at Delphi to Apollo, by whose care he conceived himself preserved from crying in that critical time, and by his cries from betraying his own life. Pittacus, addressing his discourse to Periander, said: It is well done of Chersias to make mention of that shrine, for this brings to my mind a question I several times purposed to ask you but still forgot, namely — To what intent all those frogs were carved upon the palm-tree before the door, and how they affect either the deity or the dedicator? Periander remitted him to Chersias for answer, as a person better versed in these matters for he was present when Cypselus consecrated the shrine. But Chersias smiling would not satisfy them, until they resolved him the meaning of these aphorisms; “Do not overdo,” “Know thyself,” but particularly and principally this — which had scared divers from wedlock and others from suretyship and others for speaking at all — “promise, and you are ruined.” What need we to explain to you these, when you yourself have so mightily magnified Aesop’s comment upon each of them. Aesop replied: When Chersias is disposed to jest with me upon these subjects, and to jest seriously, he is pleased to father such sayings and sentences upon Homer, who, bringing in Hector furiously flying upon others, yet at another time represents him as flying from Ajax son of Telamon, (“Iliad,” xi. 542.)— an argument that Hector knew himself. And Homer made Ulysses use the saying “Do not overdo,” when he besought his friend Diomedes not to commend him, too much nor yet to censure him too much. And for suretyship he exposes it as a matter unsafe, nay highly dangerous, declaring that to be bound for idle and wicked men is full of hazard. (“Iliad,” x. 249; “Odyssey,” viii. 351.) To confirm this, Chersias reported how Jupiter had thrown Ate headlong out of heaven, because she was by when he made the promise about the birth of Hercules whereby he was circumvented.

Here Solon broke in: I advise, that we now give ear to Homer —

But now the night extends her awful shade:
The Goddess parts you: be the night obeyed.
(“Iliad,” vii. 282.)

If it please the company then, let us sacrifice to the Muses, to Neptune, and to Amphitrite, and so bid each adieu for this night.

This was the conclusion of that meeting, my dear Nicarchus.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24