Timotheus. I am delighted, my Cousin Lucian, to observe how popular are become your Dialogues of the Dead. Nothing can be so gratifying and satisfactory to a rightly disposed mind, as the subversion of imposture by the force of ridicule. It hath scattered the crowd of heathen gods as if a thunderbolt had fallen in the midst of them. Now, I am confident you never would have assailed the false religion, unless you were prepared for the reception of the true. For it hath always been an indication of rashness and precipitancy, to throw down an edifice before you have collected materials for reconstruction.
Lucian. Of all metaphors and remarks, I believe this of yours, my good cousin Timotheus, is the most trite, and pardon me if I add, the most untrue. Surely we ought to remove an error the instant we detect it, although it may be out of our competence to state and establish what is right. A lie should be exposed as soon as born: we are not to wait until a healthier child is begotten. Whatever is evil in any way should be abolished. The husbandman never hesitates to eradicate weeds, or to burn them up, because he may not happen at the time to carry a sack on his shoulder with wheat or barley in it. Even if no wheat or barley is to be sown in future, the weeding and burning are in themselves beneficial, and something better will spring up.
Timotheus. That is not so certain.
Lucian. Doubt it as you may, at least you will allow that the temporary absence of evil is an advantage.
Timotheus. I think, O Lucian, you would reason much better if you would come over to our belief.
Lucian. I was unaware that belief is an encourager and guide to reason.
Timotheus. Depend upon it, there can be no stability of truth, no elevation of genius, without an unwavering faith in our holy mysteries. Babes and sucklings who are blest with it, stand higher, intellectually as well as morally, than stiff unbelievers and proud sceptics.
Lucian. I do not wonder that so many are firm holders of this novel doctrine. It is pleasant to grow wise and virtuous at so small an expenditure of thought or time. This saying of yours is exactly what I heard spoken with angry gravity not long ago.
Timotheus. Angry! no wonder! for it is impossible to keep our patience when truths so incontrovertible are assailed. What was your answer?
Lucian. My answer was: If you talk in this manner, my honest friend, you will excite a spirit of ridicule in the gravest and most saturnine of men, who never had let a laugh out of their breasts before. Lie to me, and welcome; but beware lest your own heart take you to task for it, reminding you that both anger and falsehood are reprehended by all religions, yours included.
Timotheus. Lucian! Lucian! you have always been called profane.
Lucian. For what? for having turned into ridicule the gods whom you have turned out of house and home, and are reducing to dust?
Timotheus. Well; but you are equally ready to turn into ridicule the true and holy.
Lucian. In other words, to turn myself into a fool. He who brings ridicule to bear against Truth, finds in his hand a blade without a hilt. The most sparkling and pointed flame of wit flickers and expires against the incombustible walls of her sanctuary.
Timotheus. Fine talking! Do you know, you have really been called an atheist?
Lucian. Yes, yes; I know it well. But, in fact, I believe there are almost as few atheists in the world as there are Christians.
Timotheus. How! as few? Most of Europe, most of Asia, most of Africa, is Christian.
Lucian. Show me five men in each who obey the commands of Christ, and I will show you five hundred in this very city who observe the dictates of Pythagoras. Every Pythagorean obeys his defunct philosopher; and almost every Christian disobeys his living God. Where is there one who practises the most important and the easiest of His commands, to abstain from strife? Men easily and perpetually find something new to quarrel about; but the objects of affection are limited in number, and grow up scantily and slowly. Even a small house is often too spacious for them, and there is a vacant seat at the table. Religious men themselves, when the Deity has bestowed on them everything they prayed for, discover, as a peculiar gift of Providence, some fault in the actions or opinions of a neighbour, and run it down, crying and shouting after it, with more alacrity and more clamour than boys would a leveret or a squirrel in the playground. Are our years and our intellects, and the word of God itself, given us for this, O Timotheus?
Timotheus. A certain latitude, a liberal construction. . . .
Lucian. Ay, ay! These ‘liberal constructions’ let loose all the worst passions into those ‘certain latitudes’. The priests themselves, who ought to be the poorest, are the richest; who ought to be the most obedient, are the most refractory and rebellious. All trouble and all piety are vicarious. They send missionaries, at the cost of others, into foreign lands, to teach observances which they supersede at home. I have ridiculed the puppets of all features, all colours, all sizes, by which an impudent and audacious set of impostors have been gaining an easy livelihood these two thousand years.
Timotheus. Gently! gently! Ours have not been at it yet two hundred. We abolish all idolatry. We know that Jupiter was not the father of gods and men: we know that Mars was not the Lord of Hosts: we know who is: we are quite at ease upon that question.
Lucian. Are you so fanatical, my good Timotheus, as to imagine that the Creator of the world cares a fig by what appellation you adore Him? whether you call Him on one occasion Jupiter, on another Apollo? I will not add Mars or Lord of Hosts; for, wanting as I may be in piety, I am not, and never was, so impious as to call the Maker the Destroyer; to call Him Lord of Hosts who, according to your holiest of books, declared so lately and so plainly that He permits no hosts at all; much less will He take the command of one against another. Would any man in his senses go down into the cellar, and seize first an amphora from the right, and then an amphora from the left, for the pleasure of breaking them in pieces, and of letting out the wine he had taken the trouble to put in? We are not contented with attributing to the gods our own infirmities; we make them even more wayward, even more passionate, even more exigent and more malignant: and then some of us try to coax and cajole them, and others run away from them outright.
Timotheus. No wonder: but only in regard to yours: and even those are types.
Lucian. There are honest men who occupy their lives in discovering types for all things.
Timotheus. Truly and rationally thou speakest now. Honest men and wise men above their fellows are they, and the greatest of all discoverers. There are many types above thy reach, O Lucian!
Lucian. And one which my mind, and perhaps yours also, can comprehend. There is in Italy, I hear, on the border of a quiet and beautiful lake, a temple dedicated to Diana; the priests of which temple have murdered each his predecessor for unrecorded ages.
Timotheus. What of that? They were idolaters.
Lucian. They made the type, however: take it home with you, and hang it up in your temple.
Timotheus. Why! you seem to have forgotten on a sudden that I am a Christian: you are talking of the heathens.
Lucian. True! true! I am near upon eighty years of age, and to my poor eyesight one thing looks very like another.
Timotheus. You are too indifferent.
Lucian. No indeed. I love those best who quarrel least, and who bring into public use the most civility and good humour.
Timotheus. Our holy religion inculcates this duty especially.
Lucian. Such being the case, a pleasant story will not be thrown away upon you. Xenophanes, my townsman of Samosata, was resolved to buy a new horse: he had tried him, and liked him well enough. I asked him why he wished to dispose of his old one, knowing how sure-footed he was, how easy in his paces, and how quiet in his pasture. ‘Very true, O Lucian,’ said he; ‘the horse is a clever horse; noble eye, beautiful figure, stately step; rather too fond of neighing and of shuffling a little in the vicinity of a mare; but tractable and good tempered.’ ‘I would not have parted with him then,’ said I. ‘The fact is,’ replied he, ‘my grandfather, whom I am about to visit, likes no horses but what are Saturnized. To-morrow I begin my journey: come and see me set out.’ I went at the hour appointed. The new purchase looked quiet and demure; but he also pricked up his ears, and gave sundry other tokens of equinity, when the more interesting part of his fellow-creatures came near him. As the morning oats began to operate, he grew more and more unruly, and snapped at one friend of Xenophanes, and sidled against another, and gave a kick at a third. ‘All in play! all in play!’ said Xenophanes; ‘his nature is more of a lamb’s than a horse’s.’ However, these mute salutations being over, away went Xenophanes. In the evening, when my lamp had just been replenished for the commencement of my studies, my friend came in striding as if he were still across the saddle. ‘I am apprehensive, O Xenophanes,’ said I, ‘your new acquaintance has disappointed you.’ ‘Not in the least,’ answered he. ‘I do assure you, O Lucian! he is the very horse I was looking out for.’ On my requesting him to be seated, he no more thought of doing so than if it had been in the presence of the Persian king. I then handed my lamp to him, telling him (as was true) it contained all the oil I had in the house, and protesting I should be happier to finish my Dialogue in the morning. He took the lamp into my bedroom, and appeared to be much refreshed on his return. Nevertheless, he treated his chair with great delicacy and circumspection, and evidently was afraid of breaking it by too sudden a descent. I did not revert to the horse: but he went on of his own accord. ‘I declare to you, O Lucian! it is impossible for me to be mistaken in a palfrey. My new one is the only one in Samosata that could carry me at one stretch to my grandfather’s.’ ‘But has he?’ said I, timidly. ‘No; he has not yet,’ answered my friend. ‘To-morrow, then, I am afraid, we really must lose you.’ ‘No,’ said he; ‘the horse does trot hard: but he is the better for that: I shall soon get used to him.’ In fine, my worthy friend deferred his visit to his grandfather: his rides were neither long nor frequent: he was ashamed to part with his purchase, boasted of him everywhere, and, humane as he is by nature, could almost have broken on the cross the quiet contented owner of old Bucephalus.
Timotheus. Am I to understand by this, O Cousin Lucian, that I ought to be contented with the impurities of paganism?
Lucian. Unless you are very unreasonable. A moderate man finds plenty in it.
Timotheus. We abominate the Deities who patronize them, and we hurl down the images of the monsters.
Lucian. Sweet cousin! be tenderer to my feelings. In such a tempest as this, my spark of piety may be blown out. Hold your hand cautiously before it, until I can find my way. Believe me, no Deities (out of their own houses) patronize immorality; none patronize unruly passions, least of all the fierce and ferocious. In my opinion, you are wrong in throwing down the images of those among them who look on you benignly: the others I give up to your discretion. But I think it impossible to stand habitually in the presence of a sweet and open countenance, graven or depicted, without in some degree partaking of the character it expresses. Never tell any man that he can derive no good, in his devotions, from this or from that: abolish neither hope nor gratitude.
Timotheus. God is offended at vain efforts to represent Him.
Lucian. No such thing, my dear Timotheus. If you knew Him at all, you would not talk of Him so irreverently. He is pleased, I am convinced, at every effort to resemble Him, at every wish to remind both ourselves and others of His benefits. You cannot think so often of Him without an effigy.
Timotheus. What likeness is there in the perishable to the Unperishable?
Lucian. I see no reason why there may not be a similitude. All that the senses can comprehend may be represented by any material; clay or fig-tree, bronze or ivory, porphyry or gold. Indeed I have a faint remembrance that, according to your sacred volumes, man was made by God after His own image. If so, man’s intellectual powers are worthily exercised in attempting to collect all that is beautiful, serene, and dignified, and to bring Him back to earth again by showing Him the noblest of His gifts, the work most like His own. Surely He cannot hate or abandon those who thus cherish His memory, and thus implore His regard. Perishable and imperfect is everything human: but in these very qualities I find the best reason for striving to attain what is least so. Would not any father be gratified by seeing his child attempt to delineate his features? And would not the gratification be rather increased than diminished by his incapacity? How long shall the narrow mind of man stand between goodness and omnipotence? Perhaps the effigy of your ancestor Isknos is unlike him; whether it is or no, you cannot tell; but you keep it in your hall, and would be angry if anybody broke it to pieces or defaced it. Be quite sure there are many who think as much of their gods as you think of your ancestor Isknos, and who see in their images as good a likeness. Let men have their own way, especially their way to the temples. It is easier to drive them out of one road than into another. Our judicious and good-humoured Trajan has found it necessary on many occasions to chastise the law-breakers of your sect, indifferent as he is what gods are worshipped, so long as their followers are orderly and decorous. The fiercest of the Dacians never knocked off Jupiter’s beard, or broke an arm off Venus; and the emperor will hardly tolerate in those who have received a liberal education what he would punish in barbarians. Do not wear out his patience: try rather to imitate his equity, his equanimity, and forbearance.
Timotheus. I have been listening to you with much attention, O Lucian! for I seldom have heard you speak with such gravity. And yet, O Cousin Lucian! I really do find in you a sad deficiency of that wisdom which alone is of any value. You talk of Trajan! what is Trajan?
Lucian. A beneficent citizen, an impartial judge, a sagacious ruler; the comrade of every brave soldier, the friend and associate of every man eminent in genius, throughout his empire, the empire of the world. All arts, all sciences, all philosophies, all religions, are protected by him. Wherefore his name will flourish, when the proudest of these have perished in the land of Egypt. Philosophies and religions will strive, struggle, and suffocate one another. Priesthoods, I know not how many, are quarrelling and scuffling in the street at this instant, all calling on Trajan to come and knock an antagonist on the head; and the most peaceful of them, as it wishes to be thought, proclaiming him an infidel for turning a deaf ear to its imprecations. Mankind was never so happy as under his guidance; and he has nothing now to do but to put down the battles of the gods. If they must fight it out, he will insist on our neutrality.
Timotheus. He has no authority and no influence over us in matters of faith. A wise and upright man, whose serious thoughts lead him forward to religion, will never be turned aside from it by any worldly consideration or any human force.
Lucian. True: but mankind is composed not entirely of the upright and the wise. I suspect that we may find some, here and there, who are rather too fond of novelties in the furniture of temples; and I have observed that new sects are apt to warp, crack, and split, under the heat they generate. Our homely old religion has run into fewer quarrels, ever since the Centaurs and Lapiths (whose controversy was on a subject quite comprehensible), than yours has engendered in twenty years.
Timotheus. We shall obviate that inconvenience by electing a supreme Pontiff to decide all differences. It has been seriously thought about long ago: and latterly we have been making out an ideal series down to the present day, in order that our successors in the ministry may have stepping-stones up to the fountain-head. At first the disseminators of our doctrines were equal in their commission; we do not approve of this any longer, for reasons of our own.
Lucian. You may shut, one after another, all our other temples, but, I plainly see, you will never shut the temple of Janus. The Roman Empire will never lose its pugnacious character while your sect exists. The only danger is, lest the fever rage internally and consume the vitals. If you sincerely wish your religion to be long-lived, maintain in it the spirit of its constitution, and keep it patient, humble, abstemious, domestic, and zealous only in the services of humanity. Whenever the higher of your priesthood shall attain the riches they are aiming at, the people will envy their possessions and revolt from their impostures. Do not let them seize upon the palace, and shove their God again into the manger.
Timotheus. Lucian! Lucian! I call this impiety.
Lucian. So do I, and shudder at its consequences. Caverns which at first look inviting, the roof at the aperture green with overhanging ferns and clinging mosses, then glittering with native gems and with water as sparkling and pellucid, freshening the air all around; these caverns grow darker and closer, until you find yourself among animals that shun the daylight, adhering to the walls, hissing along the bottom, flapping, screeching, gaping, glaring, making you shrink at the sounds, and sicken at the smells, and afraid to advance or retreat.
Timotheus. To what can this refer? Our caverns open on verdure, and terminate in veins of gold.
Lucian. Veins of gold, my good Timotheus, such as your excavations have opened and are opening, in the spirit of avarice and ambition, will be washed (or as you would say, purified) in streams of blood. Arrogance, intolerance, resistance to authority and contempt of law, distinguish your aspiring sectarians from the other subjects of the empire.
Timotheus. Blindness hath often a calm and composed countenance; but, my Cousin Lucian! it usually hath also the advantage of a cautious and a measured step. It hath pleased God to blind you, like all the other adversaries of our faith; but He has given you no staff to lean upon. You object against us the very vices from which we are peculiarly exempt.
Lucian. Then it is all a story, a fable, a fabrication, about one of your earlier leaders cutting off with his sword a servant’s ear? If the accusation is true, the offence is heavy. For not only was the wounded man innocent of any provocation, but he is represented as being in the service of the high priest at Jerusalem. Moreover, from the direction and violence of the blow, it is evident that his life was aimed at. According to law, you know, my dear cousin, all the party might have been condemned to death, as accessories to an attempt at murder. I am unwilling to think so unfavourably of your sect; nor indeed do I see the possibility that, in such an outrage, the principal could be pardoned. For any man but a soldier to go about armed is against the Roman law, which, on that head, as on many others, is borrowed from the Athenian; and it is incredible that in any civilized country so barbarous a practice can be tolerated. Travellers do indeed relate that, in certain parts of India, there are princes at whose courts even civilians are armed. But traveller has occasionally the same signification as liar, and India as fable. However, if the practice really does exist in that remote and rarely visited country, it must be in some region of it very far beyond the Indus or the Ganges: for the nations situated between those rivers are, and were in the reign of Alexander, and some thousand years before his birth, as civilized as the Europeans; nay, incomparably more courteous, more industrious, and more pacific; the three grand criterions.
But answer my question: is there any foundation for so mischievous a report?
Timotheus. There was indeed, so to say, an ear, or something of the kind, abscinded; probably by mistake. But high priests’ servants are propense to follow the swaggering gait of their masters, and to carry things with a high hand, in such wise as to excite the choler of the most quiet. If you knew the character of the eminently holy man who punished the atrocious insolence of that bloody-minded wretch, you would be sparing of your animadversions. We take him for our model.
Lucian. I see you do.
Timotheus. We proclaim him Prince of the Apostles.
Lucian. I am the last in the world to question his princely qualifications; but, if I might advise you, it should be to follow in preference Him whom you acknowledge to be an unerring guide; who delivered to you His ordinances with His own hand, equitable, plain, explicit, compendious, and complete; who committed no violence, who countenanced no injustice, whose compassion was without weakness, whose love was without frailty, whose life was led in humility, in purity, in beneficence, and, at the end, laid down in obedience to His Father’s will.
Timotheus. Ah, Lucian! what strangely imperfect notions! all that is little.
Lucian. Enough to follow.
Timotheus. Not enough to compel others. I did indeed hope, O Lucian! that you would again come forward with the irresistible arrows of your wit, and unite with us against our adversaries. By what you have just spoken, I doubt no longer that you approve of the doctrines inculcated by the blessed Founder of our religion.
Lucian. To the best of my understanding.
Timotheus. So ardent is my desire for the salvation of your precious soul, O my cousin! that I would devote many hours of every day to disputation with you on the principal points of our Christian controversy.
Lucian. Many thanks, my kind Timotheus! But I think the blessed Founder of your religion very strictly forbade that there should be any points of controversy. Not only has He prohibited them on the doctrines He delivered, but on everything else. Some of the most obstinate might never have doubted of His Divinity, if the conduct of His followers had not repelled them from the belief of it. How can they imagine you sincere when they see you disobedient? It is in vain for you to protest that you worship the God of Peace, when you are found daily in the courts and market-places with clenched fists and bloody noses. I acknowledge the full value of your offer; but really I am as anxious for the salvation of your precious time as you appear to be for the salvation of my precious soul, particularly since I am come to the conclusion that souls cannot be lost, and that time can.
Timotheus. We mean by salvation exemption from eternal torments.
Lucian. Among all my old gods and their children, morose as some of the senior are, and mischievous as are some of the junior, I have never represented the worst of them as capable of inflicting such atrocity. Passionate and capricious and unjust are several of them; but a skin stripped off the shoulder, and a liver tossed to a vulture, are among the worst of their inflictions.
Timotheus. This is scoffing.
Lucian. Nobody but an honest man has a right to scoff at anything.
Timotheus. And yet people of a very different cast are usually those who scoff the most.
Lucian. We are apt to push forward at that which we are without: the low-born at titles and distinctions, the silly at wit, the knave at the semblance of probity. But I was about to remark, that an honest man may fairly scoff at all philosophies and religions which are proud, ambitious, intemperate, and contradictory. The thing most adverse to the spirit and essence of them all is falsehood. It is the business of the philosophical to seek truth: it is the office of the religious to worship her; under what name is unimportant. The falsehood that the tongue commits is slight in comparison with what is conceived by the heart, and executed by the whole man, throughout life. If, professing love and charity to the human race at large, I quarrel day after day with my next neighbour; if, professing that the rich can never see God, I spend in the luxuries of my household a talent monthly; if, professing to place so much confidence in His word, that, in regard to wordly weal, I need take no care for tomorrow, I accumulate stores even beyond what would be necessary, though I quite distrusted both His providence and His veracity; if, professing that ‘he who giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord’, I question the Lord’s security, and haggle with Him about the amount of the loan; if, professing that I am their steward, I keep ninety-nine parts in the hundred as the emolument of my stewardship; how, when God hates liars and punishes defrauders, shall I, and other such thieves and hypocrites, fare hereafter?
Timotheus. Let us hope there are few of them.
Lucian. We cannot hope against what is: we may, however, hope that in future these will be fewer; but never while the overseers of a priesthood look for offices out of it, taking the lead in politics, in debate, and strife. Such men bring to ruin all religion, but their own first, and raise unbelievers not only in Divine Providence, but in human faith.
Timotheus. If they leave the altar for the market-place, the sanctuary for the senate-house, and agitate party questions instead of Christian verities, everlasting punishments await them.
Timotheus. Certainly: at the very least. I rank it next to heresy in the catalogue of sins; and the Church supports my opinion.
Lucian. I have no measure for ascertaining the distance between the opinions and practices of men; I only know that they stand widely apart in all countries on the most important occasions; but this newly-hatched word heresy, alighting on my ear, makes me rub it. A beneficent God descends on earth in the human form, to redeem us from the slavery of sin, from the penalty of our passions: can you imagine He will punish an error in opinion, or even an obstinacy in unbelief, with everlasting torments? Supposing it highly criminal to refuse to weigh a string of arguments, or to cross-question a herd of witnesses, on a subject which no experience has warranted and no sagacity can comprehend; supposing it highly criminal to be contented with the religion which our parents taught us, which they bequeathed to us as the most precious of possessions, and which it would have broken their hearts if they had foreseen we should cast aside; yet are eternal pains the just retribution of what at worst is but indifference and supineness?
Timotheus. Our religion has clearly this advantage over yours: it teaches us to regulate our passions.
Lucian. Rather say it tells us. I believe all religions do the same; some indeed more emphatically and primarily than others; but that indeed would be incontestably of Divine origin, and acknowledged at once by the most sceptical, which should thoroughly teach it. Now, my friend Timotheus, I think you are about seventy-five years of age.
Timotheus. Nigh upon it.
Lucian. Seventy-five years, according to my calculation, are equivalent to seventy-five gods and goddesses in regulating our passions for us, if we speak of the amatory, which are always thought in every stage of life the least to be pardoned.
Lucian. I am afraid the sourest hang longest on the tree. Mimnermus says:
In early youth we often sigh
Because our pulses beat so high;
All this we conquer, and at last
We sigh that we are grown so chaste.
Lucian. No animal sighs oftener or louder. But, my dear cousin, the quiet swine is less troublesome and less odious than the grumbling and growling and fierce hyena, which will not let the dead rest in their graves. We may be merry with the follies and even the vices of men, without doing or wishing them harm; punishment should come from the magistrate, not from us. If we are to give pain to any one because he thinks differently from us, we ought to begin by inflicting a few smart stripes on ourselves; for both upon light and upon grave occasions, if we have thought much and often, our opinions must have varied. We are always fond of seizing and managing what appertains to others. In the savage state all belongs to all. Our neighbours the Arabs, who stand between barbarism and civilization, waylay travellers, and plunder their equipage and their gold. The wilier marauders in Alexandria start up from under the shadow of temples, force us to change our habiliments for theirs, and strangle us with fingers dipped in holy water if we say they sit uneasily.
Timotheus. This is not the right view of things.
Lucian. That is never the right view which lets in too much light. About two centuries have elapsed since your religion was founded. Show me the pride it has humbled; show me the cruelty it has mitigated; show me the lust it has extinguished or repressed. I have now been living ten years in Alexandria; and you never will accuse me, I think, of any undue partiality for the system in which I was educated; yet, from all my observation, I find no priest or elder, in your community, wise, tranquil, firm, and sedate as Epicurus, and Carneades, and Zeno, and Epictetus; or indeed in the same degree as some who were often called forth into political and military life; Epaminondas, for instance, and Phocion.
Timotheus. I pity them from my soul: they were ignorant of the truth: they are lost, my cousin! take my word for it, they are lost men.
Lucian. Unhappily, they are. I wish we had them back again; or that, since we have lost them, we could at least find among us the virtues they left for our example.
Timotheus. Alas, my poor cousin! you too are blind; you do not understand the plainest words, nor comprehend those verities which are the most evident and palpable. Virtues! if the poor wretches had any, they were false ones.
Lucian. Scarcely ever has there been a politician, in any free state, without much falsehood and duplicity. I have named the most illustrious exceptions. Slender and irregular lines of a darker colour run along the bright blade that decides the fate of nations, and may indeed be necessary to the perfection of its temper. The great warrior has usually his darker lines of character, necessary (it may be) to constitute his greatness. No two men possess the same quantity of the same virtues, if they have many or much. We want some which do not far outstep us, and which we may follow with the hope of reaching; we want others to elevate, and others to defend us. The order of things would be less beautiful without this variety. Without the ebb and flow of our passions, but guided and moderated by a beneficent light above, the ocean of life would stagnate; and zeal, devotion, eloquence, would become dead carcasses, collapsing and wasting on unprofitable sands. The vices of some men cause the virtues of others, as corruption is the parent of fertility.
Timotheus. O my cousin! this doctrine is diabolical.
Lucian. What is it?
Timotheus. Diabolical; a strong expression in daily use among us. We turn it a little from its origin.
Lucian. Timotheus, I love to sit by the side of a clear water, although there is nothing in it but naked stones. Do not take the trouble to muddy the stream of language for my benefit; I am not about to fish in it.
Timotheus. Well, we will speak about things which come nearer to your apprehension. I only wish you were somewhat less indifferent in your choice between the true and the false.
Lucian. We take it for granted that what is not true must be false.
Timotheus. Surely we do.
Lucian. This is erroneous.
Timotheus. Are you grown captious? Pray explain.
Lucian. What is not true, I need not say, must be untrue; but that alone is false which is intended to deceive. A witness may be mistaken, yet would not you call him a false witness unless he asserted what he knew to be false.
Timotheus. Quibbles upon words!
Lucian. On words, on quibbles, if you please to call distinctions so, rests the axis of the intellectual world. A winged word hath stuck ineradicably in a million hearts, and envenomed every hour throughout their hard pulsation. On a winged word hath hung the destiny of nations. On a winged word hath human wisdom been willing to cast the immortal soul, and to leave it dependent for all its future happiness. It is because a word is unsusceptible of explanation, or because they who employed it were impatient of any, that enormous evils have prevailed, not only against our common sense, but against our common humanity. Hence the most pernicious of absurdities, far exceeding in folly and mischief the worship of threescore gods; namely, that an implicit faith in what outrages our reason, which we know is God’s gift, and bestowed on us for our guidance, that this weak, blind, stupid faith is surer of His favour than the constant practice of every human virtue. They at whose hands one prodigious lie, such as this, hath been accepted, may reckon on their influence in the dissemination of many smaller, and may turn them easily to their own account. Be sure they will do it sooner or later. The fly floats on the surface for a while, but up springs the fish at last and swallows it.
Timotheus. Was ever man so unjust as you are? The abominable old priesthoods are avaricious and luxurious: ours is willing to stand or fall by maintaining its ordinances of fellowship and frugality. Point out to me a priest of our religion whom you could, by any temptation or entreaty, so far mislead, that he shall reserve for his own consumption one loaf, one plate of lentils, while another poor Christian hungers. In the meanwhile the priests of Isis are proud and wealthy, and admit none of the indigent to their tables. And now, to tell you the whole truth, my Cousin Lucian, I come to you this morning to propose that we should lay our heads together and compose a merry dialogue on these said priests of Isis. What say you?
Lucian. These said priests of Isis have already been with me, several times, on a similar business in regard to yours.
Timotheus. Malicious wretches!
Lucian. Beside, they have attempted to persuade me that your religion is borrowed from theirs, altering a name a little and laying the scene of action in a corner, in the midst of obscurity and ruins.
Timotheus. The wicked dogs! the hellish liars! We have nothing in common with such vile impostors. Are they not ashamed of taking such unfair means of lowering us in the estimation of our fellow-citizens? And so, they artfully came to you, craving any spare jibe to throw against us! They lie open to these weapons; we do not: we stand above the malignity, above the strength, of man. You would do justly in turning their own devices against them: it would be amusing to see how they would look. If you refuse me, I am resolved to write a Dialogue of the Dead, myself, and to introduce these hypocrites in it.
Lucian. Consider well first, my good Timotheus, whether you can do any such thing with propriety; I mean to say judiciously in regard to composition.
Timotheus. I always thought you generous and open-hearted, and quite inaccessible to jealousy.
Lucian. Let nobody ever profess himself so much as that: for, although he may be insensible of the disease, it lurks within him, and only waits its season to break out. But really, my cousin, at present I feel no symptoms: and, to prove that I am ingenuous and sincere with you, these are my reasons for dissuasion. We believers in the Homeric family of gods and goddesses, believe also in the locality of Tartarus and Elysium. We entertain no doubt whatever that the passions of men and demigods and gods are nearly the same above ground and below; and that Achilles would dispatch his spear through the body of any shade who would lead Briseis too far among the myrtles, or attempt to throw the halter over the ears of any chariot horse belonging to him in the meads of asphodel. We admit no doubt of these verities, delivered down to us from the ages when Theseus and Hercules had descended into Hades itself. Instead of a few stadions in a cavern, with a bank and a bower at the end of it, under a very small portion of our diminutive Hellas, you Christians possess the whole cavity of the earth for punishment, and the whole convex of the sky for felicity.
Timotheus. Our passions are burnt out amid the fires of purification, and our intellects are elevated to the enjoyment of perfect intelligence.
Lucian. How silly then and incongruous would it be, not to say how impious, to represent your people as no better and no wiser than they were before, and discoursing on subjects which no longer can or ought to concern them. Christians must think your Dialogue of the Dead no less irreligious than their opponents think mine, and infinitely more absurd. If indeed you are resolved on this form of composition, there is no topic which may not, with equal facility, be discussed on earth; and you may intersperse as much ridicule as you please, without any fear of censure for inconsistency or irreverence. Hitherto such writers have confined their view mostly to speculative points, sophistic reasonings, and sarcastic interpellations.
Timotheus. Ha! you are always fond of throwing a little pebble at the lofty Plato, whom we, on the contrary, are ready to receive (in a manner) as one of ourselves.
Lucian. To throw pebbles is a very uncertain way of showing where lie defects. Whenever I have mentioned him seriously, I have brought forward, not accusations, but passages from his writings, such as no philosopher or scholar or moralist can defend.
Timotheus. His doctrines are too abstruse and too sublime for you.
Lucian. Solon, Anaxagoras, and Epicurus, are more sublime, if truth is sublimity.
Timotheus. Truth is, indeed; for God is truth.
Lucian. We are upon earth to learn what can be learnt upon earth, and not to speculate on what never can be. This you, O Timotheus, may call philosophy: to me it appears the idlest of curiosity; for every other kind may teach us something, and may lead to more beyond. Let men learn what benefits men; above all things, to contract their wishes, to calm their passions, and, more especially, to dispel their fears. Now these are to be dispelled, not by collecting clouds, but by piercing and scattering them. In the dark we may imagine depths and heights immeasurable, which, if a torch be carried right before us, we find it easy to leap across. Much of what we call sublime is only the residue of infancy, and the worst of it.
The philosophers I quoted are too capacious for schools and systems. Without noise, without ostentation, without mystery, not quarrelsome, not captious, not frivolous, their lives were commentaries on their doctrine. Never evaporating into mist, never stagnating into mire, their limpid and broad morality runs parallel with the lofty summits of their genius.
Timotheus. Genius! was ever genius like Plato’s?
Lucian. The most admired of his Dialogues, his Banquet, is beset with such puerilities, deformed with such pedantry, and disgraced with such impurity, that none but the thickest beards, and chiefly of the philosophers and the satyrs, should bend over it. On a former occasion he has given us a specimen of history, than which nothing in our language is worse: here he gives us one of poetry, in honour of Love, for which the god has taken ample vengeance on him, by perverting his taste and feelings. The grossest of all the absurdities in this dialogue is, attributing to Aristophanes, so much of a scoffer and so little of a visionary, the silly notion of male and female having been originally complete in one person, and walking circuitously. He may be joking: who knows?
Timotheus. Forbear! forbear! do not call this notion a silly one: he took it from our Holy Scriptures, but perverted it somewhat. Woman was made from man’s rib, and did not require to be cut asunder all the way down: this is no proof of bad reasoning, but merely of misinterpretation.
Lucian. If you would rather have bad reasoning, I will adduce a little of it. Farther on, he wishes to extol the wisdom of Agathon by attributing to him such a sentence as this:
‘It is evident that Love is the most beautiful of the gods, because he is the youngest of them.’
Now, even on earth, the youngest is not always the most beautiful; how infinitely less cogent, then, is the argument when we come to speak of the Immortals, with whom age can have no concern! There was a time when Vulcan was the youngest of the gods: was he, also, at that time, and for that reason, the most beautiful? Your philosopher tells us, moreover, that ‘Love is of all deities the most liquid; else he never could fold himself about everything, and flow into and out of men’s souls.’
The three last sentences of Agathon’s rhapsody are very harmonious, and exhibit the finest specimen of Plato’s style; but we, accustomed as we are to hear him lauded for his poetical diction, should hold that poem a very indifferent one which left on the mind so superficial an impression. The garden of Academus is flowery without fragrance, and dazzling without warmth: I am ready to dream away an hour in it after dinner, but I think it insalutary for a night’s repose. So satisfied was Plato with his Banquet, that he says of himself, in the person of Socrates, ‘How can I or any one but find it difficult to speak after a discourse so eloquent? It would have been wonderful if the brilliancy of the sentences at the end of it, and the choice of expression throughout, had not astonished all the auditors. I, who can never say anything nearly so beautiful, would if possible have made my escape, and have fairly run off for shame.’ He had indeed much better run off before he made so wretched a pun on the name of Gorgias. ‘I dreaded,’ says he, ‘lest Agathon, measuring my discourse by the head of the eloquent Gorgias, should turn me to stone for inability of utterance.’
Was there ever joke more frigid? What painful twisting of unelastic stuff! If Socrates was the wisest man in the world, it would require another oracle to persuade us, after this, that he was the wittiest. But surely a small share of common sense would have made him abstain from hazarding such failures. He falls on his face in very flat and very dry ground; and, when he gets up again, his quibbles are well-nigh as tedious as his witticisms. However, he has the presence of mind to throw them on the shoulders of Diotima, whom he calls a prophetess, and who, ten years before the plague broke out in Athens, obtained from the gods (he tells us) that delay. Ah! the gods were doubly mischievous: they sent her first. Read her words, my cousin, as delivered by Socrates; and if they have another plague in store for us, you may avert it by such an act of expiation.
Timotheus. The world will have ended before ten years are over.
Timotheus. It has been pronounced.
Lucian. How the threads of belief and unbelief run woven close together in the whole web of human life! Come, come; take courage; you will have time for your Dialogue. Enlarge the circle; enrich it with a variety of matter, enliven it with a multitude of characters, occupy the intellect of the thoughtful, the imagination of the lively; spread the board with solid viands, delicate rarities, and sparkling wines; and throw, along the whole extent of it, geniality and festal crowns.
Timotheus. What writer of dialogues hath ever done this, or undertaken, or conceived, or hoped it?
Lucian. None whatever; yet surely you yourself may, when even your babes and sucklings are endowed with abilities incomparably greater than our niggardly old gods have bestowed on the very best of us.
Timotheus. I wish, my dear Lucian, you would let our babes and sucklings lie quiet, and say no more about them: as for your gods, I leave them at your mercy. Do not impose on me the performance of a task in which Plato himself, if he had attempted it, would have failed.
Lucian. No man ever detected false reasoning with more quickness; but unluckily he called in Wit at the exposure; and Wit, I am sorry to say, held the lowest place in his household. He sadly mistook the qualities of his mind in attempting the facetious; or, rather, he fancied he possessed one quality more than belonged to him. But, if he himself had not been a worse quibbler than any whose writings are come down to us, we might have been gratified by the exposure of wonderful acuteness wretchedly applied. It is no small service to the community to turn into ridicule the grave impostors, who are contending which of them shall guide and govern us, whether in politics or religion. There are always a few who will take the trouble to walk down among the seaweeds and slippery stones, for the sake of showing their credulous fellow-citizens that skins filled with sand, and set upright at the forecastle, are neither men nor merchandise.
Timotheus. I can bring to mind, O Lucian, no writer possessing so great a variety of wit as you.
Lucian. No man ever possessed any variety of this gift; and the holder is not allowed to exchange the quality for another. Banter (and such is Plato’s) never grows large, never sheds its bristles, and never do they soften into the humorous or the facetious.
Timotheus. I agree with you that banter is the worst species of wit. We have indeed no correct idea what persons those really were whom Plato drags by the ears, to undergo slow torture under Socrates. One sophist, I must allow, is precisely like another: no discrimination of character, none of manner, none of language.
Lucian. He wanted the fancy and fertility of Aristophanes.
Timotheus. Otherwise, his mind was more elevated and more poetical.
Lucian. Pardon me if I venture to express my dissent in both particulars. Knowledge of the human heart, and discrimination of character, are requisites of the poet. Few ever have possessed them in an equal degree with Aristophanes: Plato has given no indication of either.
Timotheus. But consider his imagination.
Lucian. On what does it rest? He is nowhere so imaginative as in his Polity. Nor is there any state in the world that is, or would be, governed by it. One day you may find him at his counter in the midst of old-fashioned toys, which crack and crumble under his fingers while he exhibits and recommends them; another day, while he is sitting on a goat’s bladder, I may discover his bald head surmounting an enormous mass of loose chaff and uncleanly feathers, which he would persuade you is the pleasantest and healthiest of beds, and that dreams descend on it from the gods.
‘Open your mouth, and shut your eyes, and see what Zeus shall send you,’
says Aristophanes in his favourite metre. In this helpless condition of closed optics and hanging jaw, we find the followers of Plato. It is by shutting their eyes that they see, and by opening their mouths that they apprehend. Like certain broad-muzzled dogs, all stand equally stiff and staunch, although few scent the game, and their lips wag, and water, at whatever distance from the net. We must leave them with their hands hanging down before them, confident that they are wiser than we are, were it only for this attitude of humility. It is amusing to see them in it before the tall, well-robed Athenian, while he mis-spells the charms, and plays clumsily the tricks, he acquired from the conjurors here in Egypt. I wish you better success with the same materials. But in my opinion all philosophers should speak clearly. The highest things are the purest and brightest; and the best writers are those who render them the most intelligible to the world below. In the arts and sciences, and particularly in music and metaphysics, this is difficult: but the subjects not being such as lie within the range of the community, I lay little stress upon them, and wish authors to deal with them as they best may, only beseeching that they recompense us, by bringing within our comprehension the other things with which they are entrusted for us. The followers of Plato fly off indignantly from any such proposal. If I ask them the meaning of some obscure passage, they answer that I am unprepared and unfitted for it, and that his mind is so far above mine, I cannot grasp it. I look up into the faces of these worthy men, who mingle so much commiseration with so much calmness, and wonder at seeing them look no less vacant than my own.
Timotheus. You have acknowledged his eloquence, while you derided his philosophy and repudiated his morals.
Lucian. Certainly there was never so much eloquence with so little animation. When he has heated his oven, he forgets to put the bread into it; instead of which, he throws in another bundle of faggots. His words and sentences are often too large for the place they occupy. If a water-melon is not to be placed in an oyster-shell, neither is a grain of millet in a golden salver. At high festivals a full band may enter: ordinary conversation goes on better without it.
Timotheus. There is something so spiritual about him, that many of us Christians are firmly of opinion he must have been partially enlightened from above.
Lucian. I hope and believe we all are. His entire works are in our library. Do me the favour to point out to me a few of those passages where in poetry he approaches the spirit of Aristophanes, or where in morals he comes up to Epictetus.
Timotheus. It is useless to attempt it if you carry your prejudices with you. Beside, my dear cousin, I would not offend you, but really your mind has no point about it which could be brought to contact or affinity with Plato’s.
Lucian. In the universality of his genius there must surely be some atom coincident with another in mine. You acknowledge, as everybody must do, that his wit is the heaviest and lowest: pray, is the specimen he has given us of history at all better?
Timotheus. I would rather look to the loftiness of his mind, and the genius that sustains him.
Lucian. So would I. Magnificent words, and the pomp and procession of stately sentences, may accompany genius, but are not always nor frequently called out by it. The voice ought not to be perpetually nor much elevated in the ethic and didactic, nor to roll sonorously, as if it issued from a mask in the theatre. The horses in the plain under Troy are not always kicking and neighing; nor is the dust always raised in whirlwinds on the banks of Simois and Scamander; nor are the rampires always in a blaze. Hector has lowered his helmet to the infant of Andromache, and Achilles to the embraces of Briseis. I do not blame the prose-writer who opens his bosom occasionally to a breath of poetry; neither, on the contrary, can I praise the gait of that pedestrian who lifts up his legs as high on a bare heath as in a cornfield. Be authority as old and obstinate as it may, never let it persuade you that a man is the stronger for being unable to keep himself on the ground, or the weaker for breathing quietly and softly on ordinary occasions. Tell me, over and over, that you find every great quality in Plato: let me only once ask you in return, whether he ever is ardent and energetic, whether he wins the affections, whether he agitates the heart. Finding him deficient in every one of these faculties, I think his disciples have extolled him too highly. Where power is absent, we may find the robes of genius, but we miss the throne. He would acquit a slave who killed another in self-defence, but if he killed any free man, even in self-defence; he was not only to be punished with death, but to undergo the cruel death of a parricide. This effeminate philosopher was more severe than the manly Demosthenes, who quotes a law against the striking of a slave: and Diogenes, when one ran away from him, remarked that it would be horrible if Diogenes could not do without a slave, when a slave could do without Diogenes.
Timotheus. Surely the allegories of Plato are evidences of his genius.
Lucian. A great poet in the hours of his idleness may indulge in allegory: but the highest poetical character will never rest on so unsubstantial a foundation. The poet must take man from God’s hands, must look into every fibre of his heart and brain, must be able to take the magnificent work to pieces, and to reconstruct it. When this labour is completed, let him throw himself composedly on the earth, and care little how many of its ephemeral insects creep over him. In regard to these allegories of Plato, about which I have heard so much, pray what and where are they? You hesitate, my fair cousin Timotheus! Employ one morning in transcribing them, and another in noting all the passages which are of practical utility in the commerce of social life, or purify our affections at home, or excite and elevate our enthusiasm in the prosperity and glory of our country. Useful books, moral books, instructive books are easily composed: and surely so great a writer should present them to us without blot or blemish: I find among his many volumes no copy of a similar composition. My enthusiasm is not easily raised indeed; yet such a whirlwind of a poet must carry it away with him; nevertheless, here I stand, calm and collected, not a hair of my beard in commotion. Declamation will find its echo in vacant places: it beats ineffectually on the well-furnished mind. Give me proof; bring the work; show the passages; convince, confound, overwhelm me.
Timotheus. I may do that another time with Plato. And yet, what effect can I hope to produce on an unhappy man who doubts even that the world is on the point of extinction?
Lucian. Are there many of your association who believe that this catastrophe is so near at hand?
Timotheus. We all believe it; or rather, we all are certain of it.
Lucian. How so? Have you observed any fracture in the disk of the sun? Are any of the stars loosened in their orbits? Has the beautiful light of Venus ceased to pant in the heavens, or has the belt of Orion lost its gems?
Timotheus. Oh, for shame!
Lucian. Rather should I be ashamed of indifference on so important an occasion.
Timotheus. We know the fact by surer signs.
Lucian. These, if you could vouch for them, would be sure enough for me. The least of them would make me sweat as profusely as if I stood up to the neck in the hot preparation of a mummy. Surely no wise or benevolent philosopher could ever have uttered what he knew or believed might be distorted into any such interpretation. For if men are persuaded that they and their works are so soon about to perish, what provident care are they likely to take in the education and welfare of their families? What sciences will they improve, what learning will they cultivate, what monuments of past ages will they be studious to preserve, who are certain that there can be no future ones? Poetry will be censured as rank profaneness, eloquence will be converted into howls and execrations, statuary will exhibit only Midases and Ixions, and all the colours of painting will be mixed together to produce one grand conflagration: flammantia moenia mundi.
Timotheus. Do not quote an atheist; especially in Latin. I hate the language; the Romans are beginning to differ from us already.
Lucian. Ah! you will soon split into smaller fractions. But pardon me my unusual fault of quoting. Before I let fall a quotation I must be taken by surprise. I seldom do it in conversation, seldomer in composition; for it mars the beauty and unity of style, especially when it invades it from a foreign tongue. A quoter is either ostentatious of his acquirements or doubtful of his cause. And moreover, he never walks gracefully who leans upon the shoulder of another, however gracefully that other may walk. Herodotus, Plato, Aristoteles, Demosthenes, are no quoters. Thucydides, twice or thrice, inserts a few sentences of Pericles: but Thucydides is an emanation of Pericles, somewhat less clear indeed, being lower, although at no great distance from that purest and most pellucid source. The best of the Romans, I agree with you, are remote from such originals, if not in power of mind, or in acuteness of remark, or in sobriety of judgment, yet in the graces of composition. While I admired, with a species of awe such as not Homer himself ever impressed me with, the majesty and sanctimony of Livy, I have been informed by learned Romans that in the structure of his sentences he is often inharmonious, and sometimes uncouth. I can imagine such uncouthness in the goddess of battles, confident of power and victory, when part of her hair is waving round the helmet, loosened by the rapidity of her descent or the vibration of her spear. Composition may be too adorned even for beauty. In painting it is often requisite to cover a bright colour with one less bright; and, in language, to relieve the ear from the tension of high notes, even at the cost of a discord. There are urns of which the borders are too prominent and too decorated for use, and which appear to be brought out chiefly for state, at grand carousals. The author who imitates the artificers of these, shall never have my custom.
Timotheus. I think you judge rightly: but I do not understand languages: I only understand religion.
Lucian. He must be a most accomplished, a most extraordinary man, who comprehends them both together. We do not even talk clearly when we are walking in the dark.
Timotheus. Thou art not merely walking in the dark, but fast asleep.
Lucian. And thou, my cousin, wouldst kindly awaken me with a red-hot poker. I have but a few paces to go along the corridor of life: prithee let me turn into my bed again and lie quiet. Never was any man less an enemy to religion than I am, whatever may be said to the contrary: and you shall judge of me by the soundness of my advice. If your leaders are in earnest, as many think, do persuade them to abstain from quarrelsomeness and contention, and not to declare it necessary that there should perpetually be a religious as well as a political war between east and west. No honest and considerate man will believe in their doctrines, who, inculcating peace and good-will, continue all the time to assail their fellow-citizens with the utmost rancour at every divergency of opinion, and, forbidding the indulgence of the kindlier affections, exercise at full stretch the fiercer. This is certain: if they obey any commander, they will never sound a charge when his order is to sound a retreat: if they acknowledge any magistrate, they will never tear down the tablet of his edicts.
Timotheus. We have what is all-sufficient.
Lucian. I see you have.
Timotheus. You have ridiculed all religion and all philosophy.
Lucian. I have found but little of either. I have cracked many a nut, and have come only to dust or maggots.
Timotheus. To say nothing of the saints, are all philosophers fools or impostors? And, because you cannot rise to the ethereal heights of Plato, nor comprehend the real magnitude of a man so much above you, must he be a dwarf?
Lucian. The best sight is not that which sees best in the dark or the twilight; for no objects are then visible in their true colours, and just proportions; but it is that which presents to us things as they are, and indicates what is within our reach and what is beyond it. Never were any three writers, of high celebrity, so little understood in the main character, as Plato, Diogenes, and Epicurus. Plato is a perfect master of logic and rhetoric; and whenever he errs in either, as I have proved to you he does occasionally, he errs through perverseness, not through unwariness. His language often settles into clear and most beautiful prose, often takes an imperfect and incoherent shape of poetry, and often, cloud against cloud, bursts with a vehement detonation in the air. Diogenes was hated both by the vulgar and the philosophers. By the philosophers, because he exposed their ignorance, ridiculed their jealousies, and rebuked their pride: by the vulgar, because they never can endure a man apparently of their own class who avoids their society and partakes in none of their humours, prejudices, and animosities. What right has he to be greater or better than they are? he who wears older clothes, who eats staler fish, and possesses no vote to imprison or banish anybody. I am now ashamed that I mingled in the rabble, and that I could not resist the childish mischief of smoking him in his tub. He was the wisest man of his time, not excepting Aristoteles; for he knew that he was greater than Philip or Alexander. Aristoteles did not know that he himself was, or knowing it, did not act up to his knowledge; and here is a deficiency of wisdom.
Timotheus. Whether you did or did not strike the cask, Diogenes would have closed his eyes equally. He would never have come forth and seen the truth, had it shone upon the world in that day. But, intractable as was this recluse, Epicurus, I fear, is quite as lamentable. What horrible doctrines!
Lucian. Enjoy, said he, the pleasant walks where you are: repose and eat gratefully the fruit that falls into your bosom: do not weary your feet with an excursion, at the end whereof you will find no resting-place: reject not the odour of roses for the fumes of pitch and sulphur. What horrible doctrines!
Timotheus. Speak seriously. He was much too bad for ridicule.
Lucian. I will then speak as you desire me, seriously. His smile was so unaffected and so graceful, that I should have thought it very injudicious to set my laugh against it. No philosopher ever lived with such uniform purity, such abstinence from censoriousness, from controversy, from jealousy, and from arrogance.
Timotheus. Ah, poor mortal! I pity him, as far as may be; he is in hell: it would be wicked to wish him out: we are not to murmur against the all-wise dispensations.
Lucian. I am sure he would not; and it is therefore I hope he is more comfortable than you believe.
Timotheus. Never have I defiled my fingers, and never will I defile them, by turning over his writings. But in regard to Plato, I can have no objection to take your advice.
Lucian. He will reward your assiduity: but he will assist you very little if you consult him principally (and eloquence for this should principally be consulted) to strengthen your humanity. Grandiloquent and sonorous, his lungs seem to play the better for the absence of the heart. His imagination is the most conspicuous, buoyed up by swelling billows over unsounded depths. There are his mild thunders, there are his glowing clouds, his traversing coruscations, and his shooting stars. More of true wisdom, more of trustworthy manliness, more of promptitude and power to keep you steady and straightforward on the perilous road of life, may be found in the little manual of Epictetus, which I could write in the palm of my left hand, than there is in all the rolling and redundant volumes of this mighty rhetorician, which you may begin to transcribe on the summit of the Great Pyramid, carry down over the Sphinx at the bottom, and continue on the sands half-way to Memphis. And indeed the materials are appropriate; one part being far above our sight, and the other on what, by the most befitting epithet, Homer calls the no-corn-bearing.
Timotheus. There are many who will stand against you on this ground.
Lucian. With what perfect ease and fluency do some of the dullest men in existence toss over and discuss the most elaborate of all works! How many myriads of such creatures would be insufficient to furnish intellect enough for any single paragraph in them! Yet ‘we think this’, ‘we advise that’, are expressions now become so customary, that it would be difficult to turn them into ridicule. We must pull the creatures out while they are in the very act, and show who and what they are. One of these fellows said to Caius Fuscus in my hearing, that there was a time when it was permitted him to doubt occasionally on particular points of criticism, but that the time was now over.
Timotheus. And what did you think of such arrogance? What did you reply to such impertinence?
Lucian. Let me answer one question at a time. First: I thought him a legitimate fool, of the purest breed. Secondly: I promised him I would always be contented with the judgment he had rejected, leaving him and his friends in the enjoyment of the rest.
Timotheus. And what said he?
Lucian. I forget. He seemed pleased at my acknowledgment of his discrimination, at my deference and delicacy. He wished, however, I had studied Plato, Xenophon, and Cicero, more attentively; without which preparatory discipline, no two persons could be introduced advantageously into a dialogue. I agreed with him on this position, remarking that we ourselves were at that very time giving our sentence on the fact. He suggested a slight mistake on my side, and expressed a wish that he were conversing with a writer able to sustain the opposite part. With his experience and skill in rhetoric, his long habitude of composition, his knowledge of life, of morals, and of character, he should be less verbose than Cicero, less gorgeous than Plato, and less trimly attired than Xenophon.
Timotheus. If he spoke in that manner, he might indeed be ridiculed for conceitedness and presumption, but his language is not altogether a fool’s.
Lucian. I deliver his sentiments, not his words: for who would read, or who would listen to me, if such fell from me as from him? Poetry has its probabilities, so has prose: when people cry out against the representation of a dullard, Could he have spoken all that? ‘Certainly no,’ is the reply: neither did Priam implore, in harmonious verse, the pity of Achilles. We say only what might be said, when great postulates are conceded.
Timotheus. We will pretermit these absurd and silly men: but, Cousin Lucian! Cousin Lucian! the name of Plato will be durable as that of Sesostris.
Lucian. So will the pebbles and bricks which gangs of slaves erected into a pyramid. I do not hold Sesostris in much higher estimation than those quieter lumps of matter. They, O Timotheus, who survive the wreck of ages, are by no means, as a body, the worthiest of our admiration. It is in these wrecks, as in those at sea, the best things are not always saved. Hen-coops and empty barrels bob upon the surface, under a serene and smiling sky, when the graven or depicted images of the gods are scattered on invisible rocks, and when those who most resemble them in knowledge and beneficence are devoured by cold monsters below.
Timotheus. You now talk reasonably, seriously, almost religiously. Do you ever pray?
Lucian. I do. It was no longer than five years ago that I was deprived by death of my dog Melanops. He had uniformly led an innocent life; for I never would let him walk out with me, lest he should bring home in his mouth the remnant of some god or other, and at last get bitten or stung by one. I reminded Anubis of this: and moreover I told him, what he ought to be aware of, that Melanops did honour to his relationship.
Timotheus. I cannot ever call it piety to pray for dumb and dead beasts.
Lucian. Timotheus! Timotheus! have you no heart? have you no dog? do you always pray only for yourself?
Timotheus. We do not believe that dogs can live again.
Lucian. More shame for you! If they enjoy and suffer, if they hope and fear, if calamities and wrongs befall them, such as agitate their hearts and excite their apprehensions; if they possess the option of being grateful or malicious, and choose the worthier; if they exercise the same sound judgment on many other occasions, some for their own benefit and some for the benefit of their masters, they have as good a chance of a future life, and a better chance of a happy one, than half the priests of all the religions in the world. Wherever there is the choice of doing well or ill, and that choice (often against a first impulse) decides for well, there must not only be a soul of the same nature as man’s, although of less compass and comprehension, but, being of the same nature, the same immortality must appertain to it; for spirit, like body, may change, but cannot be annihilated.
It was among the prejudices of former times that pigs are uncleanly animals, and fond of wallowing in the mire for mire’s sake. Philosophy has now discovered that when they roll in mud and ordure, it is only from an excessive love of cleanliness, and a vehement desire to rid themselves of scabs and vermin. Unfortunately, doubts keep pace with discoveries. They are like warts, of which the blood that springs from a great one extirpated, makes twenty little ones.
Timotheus. The Hydra would be a more noble simile.
Lucian. I was indeed about to illustrate my position by the old Hydra, so ready at hand and so tractable; but I will never take hold of a hydra, when a wart will serve my turn.
Timotheus. Continue then.
Lucian. Even children are now taught, in despite of Aesop, that animals never spoke. The uttermost that can be advanced with any show of confidence is, that if they spoke at all, they spoke in unknown tongues. Supposing the fact, is this a reason why they should not be respected? Quite the contrary. If the tongues were unknown, it tends to demonstrate our ignorance, not theirs. If we could not understand them, while they possessed the gift, here is no proof that they did not speak to the purpose, but only that it was not to our purpose; which may likewise be said with equal certainty of the wisest men that ever existed. How little have we learned from them, for the conduct of life or the avoidance of calamity! Unknown tongues, indeed! yes, so are all tongues to the vulgar and the negligent.
Timotheus. It comforts me to hear you talk in this manner, without a glance at our gifts and privileges.
Lucian. I am less incredulous than you suppose, my cousin! Indeed I have been giving you what ought to be a sufficient proof of it.
Timotheus. You have spoken with becoming gravity, I must confess.
Lucian. Let me then submit to your judgment some fragments of history which have lately fallen into my hands. There is among them a hymn, of which the metre is so incondite, and the phraseology so ancient, that the grammarians have attributed it to Linus. But the hymn will interest you less, and is less to our purpose, than the tradition; by which it appears that certain priests of high antiquity were of the brute creation.
Timotheus. No better, any of them.
Lucian. Now you have polished the palms of your hands, I will commence my narrative from the manuscript.
Timotheus. Pray do.
Lucian. There existed in the city of Nephosis a fraternity of priests, reverenced by the appellation of Gasteres. It is reported that they were not always of their present form, but were birds aquatic and migratory, a species of cormorant. The poet Linus, who lived nearer the transformation (if there indeed was any), sings thus, in his Hymn to Zeus:
‘Thy power is manifest, O Zeus! in the Gasteres. Wild birds were they, strong of talon, clanging of wing, and clamorous of gullet. Wild birds, O Zeus! wild birds; now cropping the tender grass by the river of Adonis, and breaking the nascent reed at the root, and depasturing the sweet nymphaea; now again picking up serpents and other creeping things on each hand of old Aegyptos, whose head is hidden in the clouds.
‘Oh that Mnemosyne would command the staidest of her three daughters to stand and sing before me! to sing clearly and strongly. How before thy throne, Saturnian! sharp voices arose, even the voices of Heré and of thy children. How they cried out that innumerable mortal men, various-tongued, kid-roasters in tent and tabernacle, devising in their many-turning hearts and thoughtful minds how to fabricate well-rounded spits of beech-tree, how such men having been changed into brute animals, it behoved thee to trim the balance, and in thy wisdom to change sundry brute animals into men; in order that they might pour out flame-coloured wine unto thee, and sprinkle the white flower of the sea upon the thighs of many bulls, to pleasure thee. Then didst thou, O storm-driver! overshadow far lands with thy dark eyebrows, looking down on them, to accomplish thy will. And then didst thou behold the Gasteres, fat, tall, prominent-crested, purple-legged, daedal-plumed, white and black, changeable in colour as Iris. And lo! thou didst will it, and they were men.’
Timotheus. No doubt whatever can be entertained of this hymn’s antiquity. But what farther says the historian?
Lucian. I will read on, to gratify you.
‘It is recorded that this ancient order of a most lordly priesthood went through many changes of customs and ceremonies, which indeed they were always ready to accommodate to the maintenance of their authority and the enjoyment of their riches. It is recorded that, in the beginning, they kept various tame animals, and some wild ones, within the precincts of the temple: nevertheless, after a time, they applied to their own uses everything they could lay their hands on, whatever might have been the vow of those who came forward with the offering. And when it was expected of them to make sacrifices, they not only would make none, but declared it an act of impiety to expect it. Some of the people, who feared the Immortals, were dismayed and indignant at this backwardness; and the discontent at last grew universal. Whereupon, the two chief priests held a long conference together, and agreed that something must be done to pacify the multitude. But it was not until the greater of them, acknowledging his despondency, called on the gods to answer for him that his grief was only because he never could abide bad precedents: and the other, on his side, protested that he was overruled by his superior, and moreover had a serious objection (founded on principle) to be knocked on the head. Meanwhile the elder was looking down on the folds of his robe, in deep melancholy. After long consideration, he sprang upon his feet, pushing his chair behind him, and said, “Well, it is grown old, and was always too long for me: I am resolved to cut off a finger’s breadth.”
‘“Having, in your wisdom and piety, well contemplated the bad precedent,” said the other, with much consternation in his countenance at seeing so elastic a spring in a heel by no means bearing any resemblance to a stag’s. . . . “I have, I have,” replied the other, interrupting him; “say no more; I am sick at heart; you must do the same.”
‘“A cursed dog has torn a hole in mine,” answered the other, “and, if I cut anywhere about it, I only make bad worse. In regard to its length, I wish it were as long again.” “Brother! brother! never be worldly-minded,” said the senior. “Follow my example: snip off it not a finger’s breadth, half a finger’s breadth.”
‘“But,” expostulated the other, “will that satisfy the gods?” “Who talked about them?” placidly said the senior. “It is very unbecoming to have them always in our mouths: surely there are appointed times for them. Let us be contented with laying the snippings on the altar, and thus showing the people our piety and condescension. They, and the gods also, will be just as well satisfied, as if we offered up a buttock of beef, with a bushel of salt and the same quantity of wheaten flour on it.”
‘“Well, if that will do . . . and you know best,” replied the other, “so be it.” Saying which words, he carefully and considerately snipped off as much in proportion (for he was shorter by an inch) as the elder had done, yet leaving on his shoulders quite enough of materials to make handsome cloaks for seven or eight stout-built generals. Away they both went, arm-inarm, and then holding up their skirts a great deal higher than was necessary, told the gods what they two had been doing for them and their glory. About the court of the temple the sacred swine were lying in indolent composure: seeing which, the brotherly twain began to commune with themselves afresh: and the senior said repentantly, “What fools we have been! The populace will laugh outright at the curtailment of our vestures, but would gladly have seen these animals eat daily a quarter less of the lentils.” The words were spoken so earnestly and emphatically that they were overheard by the quadrupeds. Suddenly there was a rising of all the principal ones in the sacred enclosure: and many that were in the streets took up, each according to his temperament and condition, the gravest or shrillest tone of reprobation. The thinner and therefore the more desperate of the creatures, pushing their snouts under the curtailed habiliments of the high priests, assailed them with ridicule and reproach. For it had pleased the gods to work a miracle in their behoof, and they became as loquacious as those who governed them, and who were appointed to speak in the high places. “Let the worst come to the worst, we at least have our tails to our hams,” said they. “For how long?” whined others, piteously: others incessantly ejaculated tremendous imprecations: others, more serious and sedate, groaned inwardly; and, although under their hearts there lay a huge mass of indigestible sourness ready to rise up against the chief priests, they ventured no farther than expostulation. “We shall lose our voices,” said they, “if we lose our complement of lentils; and then, most reverend lords, what will ye do for choristers?” Finally, one of grand dimensions, who seemed almost half-human, imposed silence on every debater. He lay stretched out apart from his brethren, covering with his side the greater portion of a noble dunghill, and all its verdure native and imported. He crushed a few measures of peascods to cool his tusks; then turned his pleasurable longitudinal eyes far toward the outer extremities of their sockets, and leered fixedly and sarcastically at the high priests, showing every tooth in each jaw. Other men might have feared them; the high priests envied them, seeing what order they were in, and what exploits they were capable of. A great painter, who flourished many olympiads ago, has, in his volume entitled the Canon, defined the line of beauty. It was here in its perfection: it followed with winning obsequiousness every member, but delighted more especially to swim along that placid and pliant curvature on which Nature had ranged the implements of mastication. Pawing with his cloven hoof, he suddenly changed his countenance from the contemplative to the wrathful. At one effort he rose up to his whole length, breadth, and height: and they who had never seen him in earnest, nor separate from the common swine of the enclosure, with which he was in the habit of husking what was thrown to him, could form no idea what a prodigious beast he was. Terrible were the expressions of choler and comminations which burst forth from his fulminating tusks. Erimanthus would have hidden his puny offspring before them; and Hercules would have paused at the encounter. Thrice he called aloud to the high priests: thrice he swore in their own sacred language that they were a couple of thieves and impostors: thrice he imprecated the worst maledictions on his own head if they had not violated the holiest of their vows, and were not ready even to sell their gods. A tremor ran throughout the whole body of the united swine; so awful was the adjuration! Even the Gasteres themselves in some sort shuddered, not perhaps altogether at the solemn tone of its impiety; for they had much experience in these matters. But among them was a Gaster who was calmer than the swearer, and more prudent and conciliating than those he swore against. Hearing this objurgation, he went blandly up to the sacred porker, and, lifting the flap of his right ear between forefinger and thumb with all delicacy and gentleness, thus whispered into it: “You do not in your heart believe that any of us are such fools as to sell our gods, at least while we have such a reserve to fall back upon.”
‘“Are we to be devoured?” cried the noble porker, twitching his ear indignantly from under the hand of the monitor. “Hush!” said he, laying it again, most soothingly, rather farther from the tusks: “hush! sweet friend! Devoured? Oh, certainly not: that is to say, not all: or, if all, not all at once. Indeed the holy men my brethren may perhaps be contented with taking a little blood from each of you, entirely for the advantage of your health and activity, and merely to compose a few slender black-puddings for the inferior monsters of the temple, who latterly are grown very exacting, and either are, or pretend to be, hungry after they have eaten a whole handful of acorns, swallowing I am ashamed to say what a quantity of water to wash them down. We do not grudge them it, as they well know: but they appear to have forgotten how recently no inconsiderable portion of this bounty has been conferred. If we, as they object to us, eat more, they ought to be aware that it is by no means for our gratification, since we have abjured it before the gods, but to maintain the dignity of the priesthood, and to exhibit the beauty and utility of subordination.”
‘The noble porker had beaten time with his muscular tail at many of these periods; but again his heart panted visibly, and he could bear no more.
‘“All this for our good! for our activity! for our health! Let us alone: we have health enough; we want no activity. Let us alone, I say again, or by the Immortals! . . . ” “Peace, my son! Your breath is valuable: evidently you have but little to spare: and what mortal knows how soon the gods may demand the last of it?”
‘At the beginning of this exhortation, the worthy high priest had somewhat repressed the ebullient choler of his refractory and pertinacious disciple, by applying his flat soft palm to the signet-formed extremity of the snout.
‘“We are ready to hear complaints at all times,” added he, “and to redress any grievance at our own. But beyond a doubt, if you continue to raise your abominable outcries, some of the people are likely to hit upon two discoveries: first that your lentils would be sufficient to make daily for every poor family a good wholesome porridge; and secondly, that your flesh, properly cured, might hang up nicely against the forthcoming bean-season.” Pondering these mighty words, the noble porker kept his eyes fixed upon him for some instants, then leaned forward dejectedly, then tucked one foot under him, then another, cautious to descend with dignity. At last he grunted (it must for ever be ambiguous whether with despondency or with resignation), pushed his wedgy snout far within the straw subjacent, and sank into that repose which is granted to the just.’
Timotheus. Cousin! there are glimmerings of truth and wisdom in sundry parts of this discourse, not unlike little broken shells entangled in dark masses of seaweed. But I would rather you had continued to adduce fresh arguments to demonstrate the beneficence of the Deity, proving (if you could) that our horses and dogs, faithful servants and companions to us, and often treated cruelly, may recognize us hereafter, and we them. We have no authority for any such belief.
Lucian. We have authority for thinking and doing whatever is humane. Speaking of humanity, it now occurs to me, I have heard a report that some well-intentioned men of your religion so interpret the words or wishes of its Founder, they would abolish slavery throughout the empire.
Timotheus. Such deductions have been drawn indeed from our Master’s doctrine: but the saner part of us receive it metaphorically, and would only set men free from the bonds of sin. For if domestic slaves were manumitted, we should neither have a dinner dressed nor a bed made, unless by our own children: and as to labour in the fields, who would cultivate them in this hot climate? We must import slaves from Ethiopia and elsewhere, wheresoever they can be procured: but the hardship lies not on them; it lies on us, and bears heavily; for we must first buy them with our money, and then feed them; and not only must we maintain them while they are hale and hearty and can serve us, but likewise in sickness and (unless we can sell them for a trifle) in decrepitude. Do not imagine, my cousin, that we are no better than enthusiasts, visionaries, subverters of order, and ready to roll society down into one flat surface.
Lucian. I thought you were maligned: I said so.
Timotheus. When the subject was discussed in our congregation, the meaner part of the people were much in favour of the abolition: but the chief priests and ministers absented themselves, and gave no vote at all, deeming it secular, and saying that in such matters the laws and customs of the country ought to be observed.
Lucian. Several of these chief priests and ministers are robed in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day.
Timotheus. I have hopes of you now.
Lucian. Why so suddenly?
Timotheus. Because you have repeated those blessed words, which are only to be found in our Scriptures.
Lucian. There indeed I found them. But I also found in the same volume words of the same speaker, declaring that the rich shall never see His face in heaven.
Timotheus. He does not always mean what you think He does.
Lucian. How is this? Did He then direct His discourses to none but men more intelligent than I am?
Timotheus. Unless He gave you understanding for the occasion, they might mislead you.
Timotheus. Unquestionably. For instance, He tells us to take no heed of tomorrow: He tells us to share equally all our worldly goods: but we know that we cannot be respected unless we bestow due care on our possessions, and that not only the vulgar but the well-educated esteem us in proportion to the gifts of fortune.
Lucian. The eclectic philosophy is most flourishing among you Christians. You take whatever suits your appetites, and reject the rest.
Timotheus. We are not half so rich as the priests of Isis. Give us their possessions; and we will not sit idle as they do, but be able and ready to do incalculable good to our fellow-creatures.
Lucian. I have never seen great possessions excite to great alacrity. Usually they enfeeble the sympathies, and often overlie and smother them.
Timotheus. Our religion is founded less on sympathies than on miracles. Cousin! you smile most when you ought to be most serious.
Lucian. I was smiling at the thought of one whom I would recommend to your especial notice, as soon as you disinherit the priests of Isis. He may perhaps be refractory; for he pretends (the knave!) to work miracles.
Timotheus. Impostor! who is he?
Lucian. Aulus of Pelusium. Idle and dissolute, he never gained anything honestly but a scourging, if indeed he ever made, what he long merited, this acquisition. Unable to run into debt where he was known, he came over to Alexandria.
Timotheus. I know him: I know him well. Here, of his own accord, he has betaken himself to a new and regular life.
Lucian. He will presently wear it out, or make it sit easier on his shoulders. My metaphor brings me to my story. Having nothing to carry with him beside an empty valise, he resolved on filling it with something, however worthless, lest, seeing his utter destitution, and hopeless of payment, a receiver of lodgers should refuse to admit him into the hostelry. Accordingly, he went to a tailor’s, and began to joke about his poverty. Nothing is more apt to bring people into good humour; for, if they are poor themselves, they enjoy the pleasure of discovering that others are no better off; and, if not poor, there is the consciousness of superiority.
‘The favour I am about to ask of a man so wealthy and so liberal as you are,’ said Aulus, ‘is extremely small: you can materially serve me, without the slightest loss, hazard, or inconvenience. In few words, my valise is empty: and to some ears an empty valise is louder and more discordant than a bagpipe: I cannot say I like the sound of it myself. Give me all the shreds and snippings you can spare me. They will feel like clothes; not exactly so to me and my person, but to those who are inquisitive, and who may be importunate.’
The tailor laughed, and distended both arms of Aulus with his munificence. Soon was the valise well filled and rammed down. Plenty of boys were in readiness to carry it to the boat. Aulus waved them off, looking at some angrily, at others suspiciously. Boarding the skiff, he lowered his treasure with care and caution, staggering a little at the weight, and shaking it gently on deck, with his ear against it: and then, finding all safe and compact, he sat on it; but as tenderly as a pullet on her first eggs. When he was landed, his care was even greater, and whoever came near him was warned off with loud vociferations. Anxiously as the other passengers were invited by the innkeepers to give their houses the preference, Aulus was importuned most: the others were only beset; he was borne off in triumphant captivity. He ordered a bedroom, and carried his valise with him; he ordered a bath, and carried with him his valise. He started up from the company at dinner, struck his forehead, and cried out, ‘Where is my valise?’ ‘We are honest men here,’ replied the host. ‘You have left it, sir, in your chamber: where else indeed should you leave it?’
‘Honesty is seated on your brow,’ exclaimed Aulus; ‘but there are few to be trusted in the world we live in. I now believe I can eat.’ And he gave a sure token of the belief that was in him, not without a start now and then and a finger at his ear, as if he heard somebody walking in the direction of his bedchamber. Now began his first miracle: for now he contrived to pick up, from time to time, a little money. In the presence of his host and fellow-lodgers, he threw a few obols, negligently and indifferently, among the beggars. ‘These poor creatures,’ said he, ‘know a new-comer as well as the gnats do: in one half-hour I am half ruined by them; and this daily.’
Nearly a month had elapsed since his arrival, and no account of board and lodging had been delivered or called for. Suspicion at length arose in the host whether he really was rich. When another man’s honesty is doubted, the doubter’s is sometimes in jeopardy. The host was tempted to unsew the valise. To his amazement and horror he found only shreds within it. However, he was determined to be cautious, and to consult his wife, who, although a Christian like Aulus, and much edified by his discourses, might dissent from him in regard to a community of goods, at least in her own household, and might defy him to prove by any authority that the doctrine was meant for innkeepers. Aulus, on his return in the evening, found out that his valise had been opened. He hurried back, threw its contents into the canal, and, borrowing an old cloak, he tucked it up under his dress, and returned. Nobody had seen him enter or come back again, nor was it immediately that his host or hostess were willing to appear. But, after he had called them loudly for some time, they entered his apartment: and he thus addressed the woman:
‘O Eucharis! no words are requisite to convince you (firm as you are in the faith) of eternal verities, however mysterious. But your unhappy husband has betrayed his incredulity in regard to the most awful. If my prayers, offered up in our holy temples all day long, have been heard, and that they have been heard I feel within me the blessed certainty, something miraculous has been vouchsafed for the conversion of this miserable sinner. Until the present hour, the valise before you was filled with precious relics from the apparel of saints and martyrs, fresh as when on them.’ ‘True, by Jove!’ said the husband to himself. ‘Within the present hour,’ continued Aulus, ‘they are united into one raiment, signifying our own union, our own restoration.’
He drew forth the cloak, and fell on his face. Eucharis fell also, and kissed the saintly head prostrate before her. The host’s eyes were opened, and he bewailed his hardness of heart. Aulus is now occupied in strengthening his faith, not without an occasional support to the wife’s: all three live together in unity.
Timotheus. And do you make a joke even of this? Will you never cease from the habitude?
Lucian. Too soon. The farther we descend into the vale of years, the fewer illusions accompany us: we have little inclination, little time, for jocularity and laughter. Light things are easily detached from us, and we shake off heavier as we can. Instead of levity, we are liable to moroseness: for always near the grave there are more briers than flowers, unless we plant them ourselves, or our friends supply them.
Timotheus. Thinking thus, do you continue to dissemble or to distort the truth? The shreds are become a cable for the faithful. That they were miraculously turned into one entire garment who shall gainsay? How many hath it already clothed with righteousness? Happy men, casting their doubts away before it! Who knows, O Cousin Lucian, but on some future day you yourself will invoke the merciful interposition of Aulus!
Lucian. Possibly: for if ever I fall among thieves, nobody is likelier to be at the head of them.
Timotheus. Uncharitable man! how suspicious! how ungenerous! how hardened in unbelief! Reason is a bladder on which you may paddle like a child as you swim in summer waters: but, when the winds rise and the waves roughen, it slips from under you, and you sink; yes, O Lucian, you sink into a gulf whence you never can emerge.
Lucian. I deem those the wisest who exert the soonest their own manly strength, now with the stream and now against it, enjoying the exercise in fine weather, venturing out in foul, if need be, yet avoiding not only rocks and whirlpools, but also shallows. In such a light, my cousin, I look on your dispensations. I shut them out as we shut out winds blowing from the desert; hot, debilitating, oppressive, laden with impalpable sands and pungent salts, and inflicting an incurable blindness.
Timotheus. Well, Cousin Lucian! I can bear all you say while you are not witty. Let me bid you farewell in this happy interval.
Lucian. Is it not serious and sad, O my cousin, that what the Deity hath willed to lie incomprehensible in His mysteries, we should fall upon with tooth and nail, and ferociously growl over, or ignorantly dissect?
Timotheus. Ho! now you come to be serious and sad, there are hopes of you. Truth always begins or ends so.
Lucian. Undoubtedly. But I think it more reverential to abstain from that which, with whatever effort, I should never understand.
Timotheus. You are lukewarm, my cousin, you are lukewarm. A most dangerous state.
Lucian. For milk to continue in, not for men. I would not fain be frozen or scalded.
Timotheus. Alas! you are blind, my sweet cousin!
Lucian. Well; do not open my eyes with pincers, nor compose for them a collyrium of spurge.
May not men eat and drink and talk together, and perform in relation one to another all the duties of social life, whose opinions are different on things immediately under their eyes? If they can and do, surely they may as easily on things equally above the comprehension of each party. The wisest and most virtuous man in the whole extent of the Roman Empire is Plutarch of Cheronaea: yet Plutarch holds a firm belief in the existence of I know not how many gods, every one of whom has committed notorious misdemeanours. The nearest to the Cheronaean in virtue and wisdom is Trajan, who holds all the gods dog-cheap. These two men are friends. If either of them were influenced by your religion, as inculcated and practised by the priesthood, he would be the enemy of the other, and wisdom and virtue would plead for the delinquent in vain. When your religion had existed, as you tell us, about a century, Caius Caecilius, of Novum Comum, was proconsul in Bithynia. Trajan, the mildest and most equitable of mankind, desirous to remove from them, as far as might be, the hatred and invectives of those whose old religion was assailed by them, applied to Caecilius for information on their behaviour as good citizens. The reply of Caecilius was favourable. Had Trajan applied to the most eminent and authoritative of the sect, they would certainly have brought into jeopardy all who differed in one tittle from any point of their doctrine or discipline. For the thorny and bitter aloe of dissension required less than a century to flower on the steps of your temple.
Timotheus. You are already half a Christian, in exposing to the world the vanities both of philosophy and of power.
Lucian. I have done no such thing: I have exposed the vanities of the philosophizing and the powerful. Philosophy is admirable; and Power may be glorious: the one conduces to truth, the other has nearly all the means of conferring peace and happiness, but it usually, and indeed almost always, takes a contrary direction. I have ridiculed the futility of speculative minds, only when they would pave the clouds instead of the streets. To see distant things better than near is a certain proof of a defective sight. The people I have held in derision never turn their eyes to what they can see, but direct them continually where nothing is to be seen. And this, by their disciples, is called the sublimity of speculation! There is little merit acquired, or force exhibited, in blowing off a feather that would settle on my nose: and this is all I have done in regard to the philosophers: but I claim for myself the approbation of humanity, in having shown the true dimensions of the great. The highest of them are no higher than my tunic; but they are high enough to trample on the necks of those wretches who throw themselves on the ground before them.
Timotheus. Was Alexander of Macedon no higher?
Lucian. What region of the earth, what city, what theatre, what library, what private study, hath he enlightened? If you are silent, I may well be. It is neither my philosophy nor your religion which casts the blood and bones of men in their faces, and insists on the most reverence for those who have made the most unhappy. If the Romans scourged by the hands of children the schoolmaster who would have betrayed them, how greatly more deserving of flagellation, from the same quarter, are those hundreds of pedagogues who deliver up the intellects of youth to such immoral revellers and mad murderers! They would punish a thirsty child for purloining a bunch of grapes from a vineyard, and the same men on the same day would insist on his reverence for the subverter of Tyre, the plunderer of Babylon, and the incendiary of Persepolis. And are these men teachers? are these men philosophers? are these men priests? Of all the curses that ever afflicted the earth, I think Alexander was the worst. Never was he in so little mischief as when he was murdering his friends.
Timotheus. Yet he built this very city; a noble and opulent one when Rome was of hurdles and rushes.
Lucian. He built it! I wish, O Timotheus! he had been as well employed as the stone-cutters or the plasterers. No, no: the wisest of architects planned the most beautiful and commodious of cities, by which, under a rational government and equitable laws, Africa might have been civilized to the centre, and the palm have extended her conquests through the remotest desert. Instead of which, a dozen of Macedonian thieves rifled a dying drunkard and murdered his children. In process of time, another drunkard reeled hitherward from Rome, made an easy mistake in mistaking a palace for a brothel, permitted a stripling boy to beat him soundly, and a serpent to receive the last caresses of his paramour.
Shame upon historians and pedagogues for exciting the worst passions of youth by the display of such false glories! If your religion hath any truth or influence, her professors will extinguish the promontory lights, which only allure to breakers. They will be assiduous in teaching the young and ardent that great abilities do not constitute great men, without the right and unremitting application of them; and that, in the sight of Humanity and Wisdom, it is better to erect one cottage than to demolish a hundred cities. Down to the present day we have been taught little else than falsehood. We have been told to do this thing and that: we have been told we shall be punished unless we do: but at the same time we are shown by the finger that prosperity and glory, and the esteem of all about us, rest upon other and very different foundations. Now, do the ears or the eyes seduce the most easily and lead the most directly to the heart? But both eyes and ears are won over, and alike are persuaded to corrupt us.
Timotheus. Cousin Lucian, I was leaving you with the strangest of all notions in my head. I began to think for a moment that you doubted my sincerity in the religion I profess; and that a man of your admirable good sense, and at your advanced age, could reject that only sustenance which supports us through the grave into eternal life.
Lucian. I am the most docile and practicable of men, and never reject what people set before me: for if it is bread, it is good for my own use; if bone or bran, it will do for my dog or mule. But, although you know my weakness and facility, it is unfair to expect I should have admitted at once what the followers and personal friends of your Master for a long time hesitated to receive. I remember to have read in one of the early commentators, that His disciples themselves could not swallow the miracle of the loaves; and one who wrote more recently says, that even His brethren did not believe in Him.
Timotheus. Yet, finally, when they have looked over each other’s accounts, they cast them up, and make them all tally in the main sum; and if one omits an article, the next supplies its place with a commodity of the same value. What would you have? But it is of little use to argue on religion with a man who, professing his readiness to believe, and even his credulity, yet disbelieves in miracles.
Lucian. I should be obstinate and perverse if I disbelieved in the existence of a thing for no better reason than because I never saw it, and cannot understand its operations. Do you believe, O Timotheus, that Perictione, the mother of Plato, became his mother by the sole agency of Apollo’s divine spirit, under the phantasm of that god?
Timotheus. I indeed believe such absurdities?
Lucian. You touch me on a vital part if you call an absurdity the religion or philosophy in which I was educated. Anaxalides, and Clearagus, and Speusippus, his own nephew, assert it. Who should know better than they?
Timotheus. Where are their proofs?
Lucian. I would not be so indelicate as to require them on such an occasion. A short time ago I conversed with an old centurion, who was in service by the side of Vespasian, when Titus, and many officers and soldiers of the army, and many captives, were present, and who saw one Eleazar put a ring to the nostril of a demoniac (as the patient was called) and draw the demon out of it.
Timotheus. And do you pretend to believe this nonsense?
Lucian. I only believe that Vespasian and Titus had nothing to gain or accomplish by the miracle; and that Eleazar, if he had been detected in a trick by two acute men and several thousand enemies, had nothing to look forward to but a cross — the only piece of upholstery for which Judea seems to have either wood or workmen, and which are as common in that country as direction-posts are in any other.
Timotheus. The Jews are a stiff-necked people.
Lucian. On such occasions, no doubt.
Timotheus. Would you, O Lucian, be classed among the atheists, like Epicurus?
Lucian. It lies not at my discretion what name shall be given me at present or hereafter, any more than it did at my birth. But I wonder at the ignorance and precipitancy of those who call Epicurus an atheist. He saw on the same earth with himself a great variety of inferior creatures, some possessing more sensibility and more thoughtfulness than others. Analogy would lead so contemplative a reasoner to the conclusion that if many were inferior and in sight, others might be superior and out of sight. He never disbelieved in the existence of the gods; he only disbelieved that they troubled their heads with our concerns. Have they none of their own? If they are happy, does their happiness depend on us, comparatively so imbecile and vile? He believed, as nearly all nations do, in different ranks and orders of superhuman beings; and perhaps he thought (but I never was in his confidence or counsels) that the higher were rather in communication with the next to them in intellectual faculties, than with the most remote. To me the suggestion appears by no means irrational, that if we are managed or cared for at all by beings wiser than ourselves (which in truth would be no sign of any great wisdom in them), it can only be by such as are very far from perfection, and who indulge us in the commission of innumerable faults and follies, for their own speculation or amusement.
Timotheus. There is only one such; and he is the devil.
Lucian. If he delights in our wickedness, which you believe, he must be incomparably the happiest of beings, which you do not believe. No god of Epicurus rests his elbow on his armchair with less energetic exertion or discomposure.
Timotheus. We lead holier and purer lives than such ignorant mortals as are not living under Grace.
Lucian. I also live under Grace, O Timotheus! and I venerate her for the pleasures I have received at her hands. I do not believe she has quite deserted me. If my grey hairs are unattractive to her, and if the trace of her fingers is lost in the wrinkles of my forehead, still I sometimes am told it is discernible even on the latest and coldest of my writings.
Timotheus. You are wilful in misapprehension. The Grace of which I speak is adverse to pleasure and impurity.
Lucian. Rightly do you separate impurity and pleasure, which indeed soon fly asunder when the improvident would unite them. But never believe that tenderness of heart signifies corruption of morals, if you happen to find it (which indeed is unlikely) in the direction you have taken; on the contrary, no two qualities are oftener found together, on mind as on matter, than hardness and lubricity.
Believe me, Cousin Timotheus, when we come to eighty years of age we are all Essenes. In our kingdom of heaven there is no marrying or giving in marriage; and austerity in ourselves, when Nature holds over us the sharp instrument with which Jupiter operated on Saturn, makes us austere to others. But how happens it that you, both old and young, break every bond which connected you anciently with the Essenes? Not only do you marry (a height of wisdom to which I never have attained, although in others I commend it), but you never share your substance with the poorest of your community, as they did, nor live simply and frugally, nor purchase nor employ slaves, nor refuse rank and offices in the State, nor abstain from litigation, nor abominate and execrate the wounds and cruelties of war. The Essenes did all this, and greatly more, if Josephus and Philo, whose political and religious tenets are opposite to theirs, are credible and trustworthy.
Timotheus. Doubtless you would also wish us to retire into the desert, and eschew the conversation of mankind.
Lucian. No, indeed; but I would wish the greater part of your people to eschew mine, for they bring all the worst of the desert with them whenever they enter; its smothering heats, its blinding sands, its sweeping suffocation. Return to the pure spirit of the Essenes, without their asceticism; cease from controversy, and drop party designations. If you will not do this, do less, and be merely what you profess to be, which is quite enough for an honest, a virtuous, and a religious man.
Timotheus. Cousin Lucian, I did not come hither to receive a lecture from you.
Lucian. I have often given a dinner to a friend who did not come to dine with me.
Timotheus. Then, I trust, you gave him something better for dinner than bay-salt and dandelions. If you will not assist us in nettling our enemies a little for their absurdities and impositions, let me entreat you, however, to let us alone, and to make no remarks on us. I myself run into no extravagances, like the Essenes, washing and fasting, and retiring into solitude. I am not called to them; when I am, I go.
Lucian. I am apprehensive the Lord may afflict you with deafness in that ear.
Timotheus. Nevertheless, I am indifferent to the world, and all things in it. This, I trust, you will acknowledge to be true religion and true philosophy.
Lucian. That is not philosophy which betrays an indifference to those for whose benefit philosophy was designed; and those are the whole human race. But I hold it to be the most unphilosophical thing in the world to call away men from useful occupations and mutual help, to profitless speculations and acrid controversies. Censurable enough, and contemptible, too, is that supercilious philosopher, sneeringly sedate, who narrates in full and flowing periods the persecutions and tortures of a fellow-man, led astray by his credulity, and ready to die in the assertion of what in his soul he believes to be the truth. But hardly less censurable, hardly less contemptible, is the tranquilly arrogant sectarian, who denies that wisdom or honesty can exist beyond the limits of his own ill-lighted chamber.
Timotheus. What! is he sanguinary?
Lucian. Whenever he can be, he is; and he always has it in his power to be even worse than that, for he refuses his custom to the industrious and honest shopkeeper who has been taught to think differently from himself in matters which he has had no leisure to study, and by which, if he had enjoyed that leisure, he would have been a less industrious and a less expert artificer.
Timotheus. We cannot countenance those hard-hearted men who refuse to hear the word of the Lord.
Lucian. The hard-hearted knowing this of the tender-hearted, and receiving the declaration from their own lips, will refuse to hear the word of the Lord all their lives.
Timotheus. Well, well; it cannot be helped. I see, cousin, my hopes of obtaining a little of your assistance in your own pleasant way are disappointed; but it is something to have conceived a better hope of saving your soul, from your readiness to acknowledge your belief in miracles.
Lucian. Miracles have existed in all ages and in all religions. Witnesses to some of them have been numerous; to others of them fewer. Occasionally, the witnesses have been disinterested in the result.
Timotheus. Now indeed you speak truly and wisely.
Lucian. But sometimes the most honest and the most quiescent have either been unable or unwilling to push themselves so forward as to see clearly and distinctly the whole of the operation; and have listened to some knave who felt a pleasure in deluding their credulity, or some other who himself was either an enthusiast or a dupe. It also may have happened in the ancient religions, of Egypt for instance, or of India, or even of Greece, that narratives have been attributed to authors who never heard of them; and have been circulated by honest men who firmly believed them; by half-honest, who indulged their vanity in becoming members of a novel and bustling society; and by utterly dishonest, who, having no other means of rising above the shoulders of the vulgar, threw dust into their eyes and made them stoop.
Timotheus. Ha! the rogues! It is nearly all over with them.
Lucian. Let us hope so. Parthenius and the Roman poet Ovidius Naso, have related the transformations of sundry men, women, and gods.
Timotheus. Idleness! Idleness! I never read such lying authors.
Lucian. I myself have seen enough to incline me toward a belief in them.
Timotheus. You? Why! you have always been thought an utter infidel; and now you are running, hot and heedless as any mad dog, to the opposite extreme!
Lucian. I have lived to see, not indeed one man, but certainly one animal turned into another; nay, great numbers. I have seen sheep with the most placid faces in the morning, one nibbling the tender herb with all its dew upon it; another, negligent of its own sustenance, and giving it copiously to the tottering lamb aside it.
Timotheus. How pretty! half poetical!
Lucian. In the heat of the day I saw the very same sheep tearing off each other’s fleeces with long teeth and longer claws, and imitating so admirably the howl of wolves, that at last the wolves came down on them in a body, and lent their best assistance at the general devouring. What is more remarkable, the people of the villages seemed to enjoy the sport; and, instead of attacking the wolves, waited until they had filled their stomachs, ate the little that was left, said piously and from the bottom of their hearts what you call grace, and went home singing and piping.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11