“The next step I took into the world was at Apollonia, in Thrace, where I was born of a beautiful Greek slave, who was the mistress of Eutyches, a great favorite of the emperor Zeno. That prince, at his restoration, gave me the command of a cohort, I being then but fifteen years of age; and a little afterwards, before I had even seen an army, preferred me, over the heads of all the old officers, to be a tribune.
“As I found an easy access to the emperor, by means of my father’s intimacy with him, he being a very good courtier — or, in other words, a most prostitute flatterer — so I soon ingratiated myself with Zeno, and so well imitated my father in flattering him, that he would never part with me from about his person. So that the first armed force I ever beheld was that with which Marcian surrounded the palace, where I was then shut up with the rest of the court.
“I was afterwards put at the head of a legion and ordered to march into Syria with Theodoric the Goth; that is, I mean my legion was so ordered; for, as to myself, I remained at court, with the name and pay of a general, without the labor or the danger.
“As nothing could be more gay, i. e., debauched, than Zeno’s court, so the ladies of gay disposition had great sway in it; particularly one, whose name was Fausta, who, though not extremely handsome, was by her wit and sprightliness very agreeable to the emperor. With her I lived in good correspondence, and we together disposed of all kinds of commissions in the army, not to those who had most merit, but who would purchase at the highest rate. My levee was now prodigiously thronged by officers who returned from the campaigns, who, though they might have been convinced by daily example how ineffectual a recommendation their services were, still continued indefatigable in attendance, and behaved to me with as much observance and respect as I should have been entitled to for making their fortunes, while I suffered them and their families to starve.
“Several poets, likewise, addressed verses to me, in which they celebrated my achievements; and what, perhaps, may seem strange to us at present, I received all this incense with most greedy vanity, without once reflecting that, as I did not deserve these compliments, they should rather put me in mind of my defects.
“My father was now dead, and I became so absolute in the emperor’s grace that one unacquainted with courts would scarce believe the servility with which all kinds of persons who entered the walls of the palace behaved towards me. A bow, a smile, a nod from me, as I passed through cringing crowds, were esteemed as signal favors; but a gracious word made any one happy; and, indeed, had this real benefit attending it, that it drew on the person on whom it was bestowed a very great degree of respect from all others; for these are of current value in courts, and, like notes in trading communities, are assignable from one to the other. The smile of a court favorite immediately raises the person who receives it, and gives a value to his smile when conferred on an inferior: thus the smile is transferred from one to the other, and the great man at last is the person to discount it. For instance, a very low fellow hath a desire for a place. To whom is he to apply? Not to the great man; for to him he hath no access. He therefore applies to A, who is the creature of B, who is the tool of C, who is the flatterer of D, who is the catamite of E, who is the pimp of F, who is the bully of G, who is the buffoon of I, who is the husband of K, who is the whore of L, who is the bastard of M, who is the instrument of the great man. Thus the smile descending regularly from the great man to A, is discounted back again, and at last paid by the great man.
“It is manifest that a court would subsist as difficultly without this kind of coin as a trading city without paper credit. Indeed, they differ in this, that their value is not quite so certain, and a favorite may protest his smile without the danger of bankruptcy.
“In the midst of all this glory the emperor died, and Anastasius was preferred to the crown. As it was yet uncertain whether I should not continue in favor, I was received as usual at my entrance into the palace to pay my respects to the new emperor; but I was no sooner rumped by him than I received the same compliment from all the rest; the whole room, like a regiment of soldiers, turning their backs to me all at once: my smile now was become of equal value with the note of a broken banker, and every one was as cautious not to receive it.
“I made as much haste as possible from the court, and shortly after from the city, retreating to the place of my nativity, where I spent the remainder of my days in a retired life in husbandry, the only amusement for which I was qualified, having neither learning nor virtue.
“When I came to the gate Minos again seemed at first doubtful, but at length dismissed me; saying though I had been guilty of many heinous crimes, in as much as I had, though a general, never been concerned in spilling human blood, I might return again to earth.
“I was now again born in Alexandria, and, by great accident, entering into the womb of my daughter-inlaw, came forth my own grandson, inheriting that fortune which I had before amassed.
“Extravagance was now as notoriously my vice as avarice had been formerly; and I spent in a very short life what had cost me the labor of a very long one to rake together. Perhaps you will think my present condition was more to be envied than my former: but upon my word it was very little so; for, by possessing everything almost before I desired it, I could hardly ever say I enjoyed my wish: I scarce ever knew the delight of satisfying a craving appetite. Besides, as I never once thought, my mind was useless to me, and I was an absolute stranger to all the pleasures arising from it. Nor, indeed, did my education qualify me for any delicacy in other enjoyments; so that in the midst of plenty I loathed everything. Taste for elegance I had none; and the greatest of corporeal blisses I felt no more from than the lowest animal. In a word, as while a miser I had plenty without daring to use it, so now I had it without appetite.
“But if I was not very happy in the height of my enjoyment, so I afterwards became perfectly miserable; being soon overtaken by disease, and reduced to distress, till at length, with a broken constitution and broken heart, I ended my wretched days in a jail: nor can I think the sentence of Minos too mild, who condemned me, after having taken a large dose of avarice, to wander three years on the banks of Cocytus, with the knowledge of having spent the fortune in the person of the grandson which I had raised in that of the grandfather.
“The place of my birth, on my return to the world, was Constantinople, where my father was a carpenter. The first thing I remember was, the triumph of Belisarius, which was, indeed, most noble show; but nothing pleased me so much as the figure of Gelimer, king of the African Vandals, who, being led captive on this occasion, reflecting with disdain on the mutation of his own fortune, and on the ridiculous empty pomp of the conqueror, cried out, VANITY, VANITY, ALL IS MERE VANITY.’
“I was bred up to my father’s trade, and you may easily believe so low a sphere could produce no adventures worth your notice. However, I married a woman I liked, and who proved a very tolerable wife. My days were passed in hard labor, but this procured me health, and I enjoyed a homely supper at night with my wife with more pleasure than I apprehend greater persons find at their luxurious meals. My life had scarce any variety in it, and at my death I advanced to Minos with great confidence of entering the gate: but I was unhappily obliged to discover some frauds I had been guilty of in the measure of my work when I worked by the foot, as well as my laziness when I was employed by the day. On which account, when I attempted to pass, the angry judge laid hold on me by the shoulders, and turned me back so violently, that, had I had a neck of flesh and bone, I believe he would have broke it.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50